Sorry about the lengthy wait between updates.
My Neighbour is a Spartan
If a young Gabby Edwards had been told that one day she would be designing formal clothing for elites, she would have laughed herself silly.
"So, can you explain why you don't just use the formal-wear you already have?" Gabby asked, flicking through a series of images on the datapad Thel had set before her. The pictures made her the designer in her quiver with anticipation. And the challenge of designing clothing for another race-
Gabby had to stop her fingers from twitching, so eager they were to hold a pencil and start sketching.
Thel's claws clicked as he drummed them on the surface of the desk. They were in a small meeting room, one with an actual plant in it. She may have picked the seat closest to the greenery, just so she could get a whiff of the freshness.
"It is...reminiscent of the prophets influence. We wish to sever all ties with those mongrels."
Gabby tried not to focus on the simmering anger she detected, knowing it wasn't directed at she. "How is it reminiscent of that?"
A claw skimmed over some silvery script, something Gabby didn't understand. "This is the language of the Forerunners. It is inscribed upon every grab for events such as this."
Stifling a smile, Gabby asked, "and just whose idea was it to have a ball upon our return?"
She thought that he grimaced. "I do not know. Though it seemed like a good idea, before I fully understood what a ball was."
It was impossible to keep the grin away. "You mean the dancing part of it?"
"Alright, I won't poke fun." She smirked, "Or I'll dance around the issue."
"Gabrielle." He said in a warning tone, though there was a slight glimmer of amusement to his sunset eyes. "You seem in a fine mood today."
A delighted flush stole over her skin, it was impossible to keep the giddy grin off her face. "I've reason to be happy."
A deep, rumbling chuckle came from him, causing her to raise a questioning brow.
"It is nothing," he swept a hand gracefully through the air. "You are acquainted with the members of Alpha and Omega, yes?"
"Good, they have agreed to field any questions you may have. All designs must meet my approval, of course, but they will help you where they can."
"Not to seem rude, but why me?"
"It was passed onto me that you have experience in designing garments, and I trust that you will approach this task with respect and intelligence, knowing how important this event will be."
"High praise from the Arbiter." She murmured, inwardly preening, "How much leeway do I have with this?"
He blinked. "You accept this task?"
"Sure, I haven't been able to do more than make a few costumes for my niece and some of her friends. And this looks like it will be fun."
"Fun?" Thel drew his head up. "Creating formal wear for Elites is fun?"
Gabby opened her mouth, shut it, and then said, "Is something wrong with that?"
"No," he shook his head gracefully, "certainly not. I was expecting you to be more daunted by this undertaking."
"It's just clothing, Thel. And I do understand that what you wear will be leaving an impression on everyone. Looks are everything at balls, especially UNSC hosted ones with press and dignitaries and those people." She smiled reassuringly, petting his armoured forearm. "I know what I'm doing."
"What are you doing?"
Gabby growled out a cuss, stabbing the screen with her finger.
"I don't know! How the hell do I work this thing?"
The projected 3D model of an elite looked like it was wearing a moo-moo.
Adrian finally stopped laughing long enough to take a desperate gulp of air. She threw a wadded up paper ball at him. The ball bounced off his head while Mia'tee glided over and fixed the model for her.
"Thanks," Gabby said, focusing on the model. "I think that I'll stick to the sketchpad and leave this thing alone for now."
"A wise decision," the Elite said in her double-toned voice.
"Are you well, Adrian?" Stevens asked, dragging herself away from flipping through some of the sketches Gabby had already drawn.
Taking the seat opposite the other blonde, Gabby returned to working on her ideas. She already had some designs that the Elites approved of. She was trying to work some metal segments into the outfits, to show status like their armour did. It was proving tricky.
"I'm guessing that you guys will be going to this ball."
That shut Adrian up. "Yeah," he said glumly, dragging himself into a chair. "I hate these fruity dances. I didn't even go to my prom, Coach Dickens dance lessons had me running for the hills."
"I can guess what a bunch of highschoolers would have called him behind his back," Gabby snorted, making a minor adjustment to a shoulder arrangement. Note to self, shoulder pads are a big no.
He grinned, "Oh yeah, Coach Dick was a menace. Looked like a yeti stuffed into gym shorts a size too small."
Mia'tee narrowed her serpentine gaze, "What is a yeti?"
Adrian launched into a graphic explanation, while Stevens leaned a little closer to Gabby, lowering her tone as if she was about to whisper a secret.
"Why are you doing this?" Stevens asked, icy eyes speculative. "Making all of this will take more than the few days it will take us to get back to earth. Don't you have a farm to run?"
A quick glance told her that the others had drifted away. "I love my farm, but design had always been my passion."
Gabby nearly rolled her eyes good-naturedly. "And Thel asked me too. If you're pressing the question I guess scuttlebutt is bursting at the seams."
Crossing her arms over her chest, Stevens leaned back, casting a curious look up and down Gabby. "You could say that," she cocked her head to the side, "but there is a lot going on right now."
Trepidation gnawed at her. "Such as?"
"Such as the Chief being spotted leaving the guest wing very early this rotation."
Gabby had no reason to be embarrassed, nor did she feel inclined to be. All she did was smile, going back to her sketching. There weren't any regulations against what they had done.
Steven's though...Gabby frowned, peering back over at her. "What?"
Seeing no reason to lie, Gabby nodded. "Nothing happened, not really."
Maybe she did lie a little.
"But you two are...together?"
Gabby thought about it. They hadn't discussed anything, but they had settled into a new part of their relationship, not wanting to define anything. They loved each other, and that was enough for now. There was still so much to explore before labels came into it.
"In a sense," she admitted quietly, even as saying it out loud made a part of her squeal with excitement, "we love each other."
While Steven's did smile, she looked a little disappointed. "I guess I lose then."
"Lose?" Gabby sat straighter, eyes widening, "bets? You placed bets on us?"
"Yep, and I lost."
Stunned, and a little angry, Gabby gaped at who she thought had been more mature than the men in her squad. "Why?"
"Because there are still people on board that think that Chief is a robot. A betting pool like this says otherwise. Crude as it may seem, we were just trying to help."
Still a little miffed, Gabby sighed. "I guess I can see that. Scuttlebutt is impossible to stop anyway."
Stevens smirked, chuckling under her breath. "Very true. You know the elites have already given you a nickname?"
Worried, and a little curious, Gabby eyed the four gathered around the nearest pool table. The recreational room was far emptier this time, but this time the quiet was nice. "What is it?"
Her smirk pulled up into a smile. "The Demons Mate."
Gabby buried her face into her hands. "Oh Jesus."
Steven's laughed. It was a quiet sound, but hearty and rich, making her shoulders shudder and her eyes crinkle. The skin around her scar pulled strangely as the woman smiled broadly.
"Yeah, it's a little odd, but considering just who the Demon is and how the Elites respect him? I wouldn't take offense."
Gabby certainly wouldn't be. In truth, she felt a strange little thrill of pleasure warm her from the inside out at the title.
"Anyway, if you are actually upset about the betting just harass one of those idiots," Stevens pointed lazily at Adrian and Mia'Tee at the other end of the room. Adrian was drawing a cartoonish yeti on a spare piece of paper. "They made the most profit."
Rolling a shoulder dismissively, Gabby went back to sketching, eyes flicking over to Mia'Tee every now and then for referencing. "Nah, so long as no harm comes from this I won't cause any trouble." She met Steven's gaze sternly. "And so long as the bets don't get any more personal."
Seeing the seriousness that Gabby projected, the other wiped any amusement from her countenance. "You got it. I can't control most of the ship, but we're on your side, the Chiefs side."
A smile pulled at the corners of her mouth. "Thanks." Her smile got a little wider, a little softer and sweeter. "Really, it's nice that John's got people like you in the military crowd."
Steven's lent her arm on the table, resting her chin in her hand with a subdued look of wonder. She watched Gabby like one might look at a miracle unfolding before them.
"What?" Gabby asked at the intense look.
"Holy shit," Steven's breathed around a chuckle, "you really have fallen for him."
Gabby sat back in her chair, remembering the warmth she had been surrounded by when she'd woken up on the couch hours ago. She had felt so safe and secure wrapped in John's arms, with his heart beat drumming against her ear. It had been hard to get up, the desire to stay curled against him almost winning out with her need to use the damn bathroom.
"Yeah," Gabby said, heart beating faster at the thought of the man she loved, "I really have."
"Damn girl," Steven's whistled, "you are so far gone that even cupid can't keep up."
"Shut up," she lightly whacked the soldier on the shoulder as her face tinged pink. "You're right, but shut it."
The other snorted, fighting a smirk.
Later, the group held a whole table, so similar to the metal slabs bolted to the floor in her highschool, in the mess hostage for dinner. The rest of the mixed squads were already there.
The elites had some oddly...colourful things on their trays, but Gabby was quite happy with the assortment of rehydrated lumps that could or could not be vegetables in front of her. With enough gravy slathered over everything she couldn't see the unappetising lumps anyway.
She worked in her notebook as the others chattered, content to simply be in the presence of others. She had a number of designs that were both pleasing to elites and humans. She was making an effort to integrate some metal plating into the designs without it looking threatening, merely strong.
Though no matter how she ended up dressing Thel or the others they would still look intimidating, even if she decked them in bubblegum pink and feather boas.
"What are you doing?"
Gabby very nearly shrieked and stabbed the pencil at the presence suddenly behind her, but managed to refrain herself at the last second. She had to control herself when around skittish creatures like horses.
"Christ, John," she gasped, pressing a hand to her thundering heart, "I told you not to sneak up on me."
The others weren't sure whether to be amused or concerned. Her face had gone bone-white, and there was a tremor to her hands.
John cocked a brow, not looking contrite, but apologetic. "Sorry, habit."
"Yeah, well, I'm still putting a bell around your neck when we get home. Last time someone snuck up on me I wound up with a needle jabbed in my neck."
He blinked, and then he looked truly sorry. "Gabby-"
"Don't," she held up a hand as if to physically halt the words she knew he was going to say, "it isn't your fault Reynolds and his minion were assholes."
All she got in return was a non-descript hmpf before he took a seat beside her.
Haze saluted John before watching her closely. "You alright there, Gabby?"
She waved the concern off. "Yeah, I'm fine. Just startled." She tapped the end of John's nose with her pencil. "And I was serious about the bell."
John managed a small smirk. He wasn't fond of public displays or anything, but the fact that he has chosen to sit so close to her with other people around was touching. And his eyes were still that gentle, sweet brown that had her heart melting into a big puddle of goo.
Stevens was smiling behind the rim of her cup. The others flicked curious glances their way occasionally, but didn't say anything and went back to their chattering.
Gabby could tell that others in the mess recognised John as the Chief, and Gabby as the kidnapped civilian (and boy did that title leave her rankled), but if John heard any gossip starting up he neglected to mention it.
"What are you working on?" he reiterated, sipping from a mug that smelt like it had coffee in it.
She pushed the try away completely and pulled the notebook closer. After that fright, unintentional or not, her appetite was gone. "A project for Thel, um, Arbiter."
She flicked through a few pages, showing him various designs. John looked fairly amused by some of the more...outgoing designs (which, she would admit, were mostly for amusement), but murmured approval at the latest ones.
"What are they for?"
"A ball. Bunch of big-wigs and reps will be there, and the Elites don't have any formal wear that that suits them now they separate from the Covenant." Hazel eyes were slightly cheeky as she grinned at him. "Arbiter said that you mentioned that I liked designing and could sew." He hadn't said it specifically, but it wasn't hard to figure it out.
"I did," he shrugged a shoulder, but there was a faint smile on his face. "I didn't think that something like this would happen though. You don't mind?"
"'course I don't, not only is this fun, but he's my friend."
"Wait," Haze spread his arms wide, as if he were keeping two frothing combatants apart, "I thought you just got nominated for this because you did a degree or something, but you're friends with him? The Arbiter?"
It was only because John was beside her, sides pressed together, than she felt the subtle tension winding his muscles up. Now they were all watching her curiously. Even the elites were silent, though their gaze held more scrutiny.
Steven's chuckled, shaking her head. "Spartans, Elites, don't tell me that you've got a secret Grunt penpal hiding somewhere?"
That drew a fair few chuckles. "No, I don't."
William rubbed his thumb back and forth over his chin. "Makes sense."
It is only when the squads threw questioning gazes his way that Gabby realised he had not meant to say that aloud. He flushes deeply, squirming in his seat.
"What makes sense, Locksley?" John's voice was a gentle rumble against her side, sending a quiet thrill tingling along her skin.
"Um, sir, knowing the relationships between Mrs. Edwards, the Arbiter and yourself," he fumbled awkwardly, "it makes more sense as to why she was kidnapped in the first place. The connections, plus whatever evidence Reynolds and his lackey would likely have planted, would have pointed to some fabricated crime that would have had the media salivating at the story."
Though he nodded, John's eyes were tight. Underneath the table, she pressed her ankle a little more firmly against his, offering silent support. He did not look at her, but his leg shifted so that it too pressed back.
"That's what the theory is." John watched William with a considering light to his eyes. "I'd appreciate it if you put together a report on your theory, or theories if you have more, and send them to your commanding officer. I'll let her know they're coming, and get you access to the investigation."
William was stunned, unblinking and eyes wide until Yanks slapped him on the back. "Lookit you! Impressing everyone with your Sherlockian-ness, and with only info that you've gotten from the scuttlebutt."
"Shuddup," he grumbled to his beaming squadmate. "I'll get right on it, sir."
John dipped his head as the man, looking just a little more confidant than before, left the room, Yanks skipping after him and chattering his ear off.
"I think that you just made his day," Gabby said with a grin, nudging his arm with her shoulder. "You big softy."
John just reached around and gently yanked the hood of her borrowed jumper up and pulled it over her face.
The squads chuckles and laughter had her blushing, and maybe John really didn't care if the scuttlebutt would be racing around with jet-powered speed before they even left the mess, because he was smiling so softly and looking at her like that that even the unappetising mush on her tray would pick up on the affection between them.
Gabby pushed the hood back with a laugh, ignoring the people outside of their table would weren't even bothering to pretend they weren't watching anymore. She went back to sketching as the others wrapped up dinner.
They spent another twenty minutes just talking, making an effort to include John in on the conversation as Gabby become so involved in sketching that everything else faded to a drone around her.
"Mrs. Edwards," a deep-toned, almost melodious in the strange sub-harmonic hum all elites had, voice draw her from her tunnel-vision, "I have just received an order to escort you to the Arbiters office. He wishes to see the progress you have made."
This was the first time she had heard Ulys speak, he had been only a silent fixture by Steven's side. It took her a moment to blink the world outside her sketchbook back into focus.
"Alrighty." John slid out so that she could do the same. Damn bench chairs.
"I have a meeting as well," he said in explanation when she raised a brow in question. With her sketchbook already two-thirds full, not to mention the loose sheets of larger paper folded up and tucked within, Gabby felt confidant that she had a lot of stuff to show Thel.
Outside the mess, they had to go separate ways. John hesitated only for a second, but Ulys still caught the flickering glance.
The elite held a closed fist over his heart, bowing his head slightly. "It is a great honour to be tasked with this duty. No harm shall befall the Demon's Mate while I stand guard," he intoned, and John's eyebrows made a valiant effort to join his hairline. "Fear not for her safety while under my care."
Gabby was so red in the face she likely resembled a tomato. "It's what the Elite's are calling me, apparently."
"...I see." John looked ready to start laughing. "I leave her in your care then, Ulys."
While she was a miffed at being passed around from body-guard to body-guard in disguise, Gabby understood that she was an unauthorised civilian on a military vessel.
With another grin he took off.
"I have no idea how to get to Thel, um, Arbiters," she corrected for the second time, "office from here, so lead on."
Ulys did so, but he gave her a look she thought might have been consideration. He did not break the silence for a time, and it wasn't uncomfortable by any means, until they were in an elevator. Once a harried looking pair with armfuls of blue-prints and papers left and they were alone, did he speak his mind.
"You truly call him friend, don't you?"
Gabby shook her head clear of design ideas, having retreated into her headspace again. It was obvious whom he spoke of.
"Well, yes, I do."She cleared her throat. "Is something bothering you about that?"
"Not in the way you may be thinking," he admitted quietly, though as he seemed so serene all the time she had a hard time imagining him raising his voice at all. "I have witnessed and experienced the hostility of many humans; your...easy acceptance of a Sanghelli as a friend is perplexing. Let alone the one whom has led campaigns against your kind."
They stepped from the elevator their pace steady but unhurried. She sighed, choosing her words carefully. "I wasn't always so accepting of the Alliance after the War, I lost friends, and I know people that are shadows of themselves from loss or trauma. It took time, absorbing new ideas often does since we are a breathtakingly stubborn race most of the time, but I came around. My uncle talked some sense into me too, and knowing how important Th-ugh, Arbiter, was to John was just another reason to accept him."
Talking to him, getting to know him, and hearing that he does regret the loss of life, was important too."
"Even though he may have, even if indirectly, killed someone you care for?"
Now that was a tough question.
Her thumb swept back and forth across the surface of her sketchbook idly as she thought. "My parents were killed by a human. Not even in a battle." She admitted softly, an old ache in her chest throbbing like a bruise. "They were the most important people to me, and for a while I did hate the person that had caused their death, even though it wasn't really his fault." She ran a hand through her hair. "Hate is like poison. It can do no good, and holding onto it turns people into something worse. Humanity has warred with each other, over religion, power, money, and other things, and though it takes time, we heal, we move on."
"Time," Ulys rumbled, "seems to pass so slowly when balanced on a daggers edge."
"I suppose it does."
When they reached a hallway that they had a number of official nameplates plastered to several door, Ulys spoke again. "I will remain outside."
Before she knocked, Gabby made sure to meet his eyes even though it just about killed her neck to bend it that far back.
"I enjoyed our talk. Thank you for escorting me here."
If he was surprised, Ulys did not show it. He merely dipped his head slightly.
"You are a credit to your people, Demon's Mate. May your ancestors guide your steps," he said.
"And may your foes tremble before you," she said, remembering the traditional way Thel had mentioned elites greeted those worthy of respect before they had joined the Covenant.
He had clearly not been expecting her to know this formality. Laughter that was hearty and loud echoed from his large chest, mandibles flicking with each chortle.
This interaction gave her hope. A hope that burned in her heart like a candle in complete and utter darkness. A hope for a future without blood and war and screams of the dying.
Gabby smiled, clutching the sketchbook to her chest, and knocked on the door.
Short chapter, and mostly a filler to set up what happens next.
Though the updates may come slowly, I will finish the story. I may not be as inspired as I once was, but we will get to the end.