Pumpkin Scissors-Protect Me Now

Ch. 1

"Wha…that's all it took?" 2nd Lieutenant Alice Malvin heard him say before she passed out. She might have slapped him again had she any strength left. Perhaps the wine really did go to her head, or perhaps the stress and tension and all her efforts from the fight had finally caught up to her. After all, it wasn't easy fighting for your life in high heels. In the end, her strategy worked. No one died, and no one lost their honor, save for the greedy Marquis Paolo, but even he was penitent. Everyone was safe when all was said and done, so she let herself relax and fall, knowing the Corporal would catch her.

And he did, going so far as to lift her right off the ground, she suddenly realized. Strange she could remember it now, the next morning. In fact, he might have carried her all the way home. Corporal Randal Oland…she dimly recalled his somber, deep voice muttering somewhere above her, and the eerie sensation of floating. She remembered hearing her sisters' voices, indistinct but unmistakable. Perhaps they had all taken the carriage back home because they didn't want to wake her. But no, the big guy wouldn't have been able to fit in the carriage, so…the jeep? Reality had mixed with her memories and dreams at this point. She suddenly saw her dear great-grandfather again, holding her as a child. He had smiled at her, carrying her as gently as a china doll, patting her head as he always did. But the dream didn't match her memory. Her great-grandfather's arms weren't solid as tree trunks, nor were his hands so calloused and scarred. And her great-grandfather certainly never whispered, "Good night, Miss Malvin," in her ear.

Impertinent oaf, Alice thought, her cheeks burning as she realized what the Corporal must have done. He deserves another slap for that! How dare him! What am I, a sack of potatoes? Just wait until I see him today! I'll show him I'm not a child that needs coddling!

She gasped and blushed even more. Actually, seeing him was the last thing she wanted to do. She had a ready excuse. She was supposed to get married, but she had called off the engagement for Lionel's sake. It was her duty not to invoke any sort of dishonor to his name, so she had told him she wouldn't inherit the title of Contessa after all. The title of her house would go to her brother in time. She was sure she had made herself clear, but Lionel…well, he didn't seem to want to take no for an answer. How embarrassing if he still had the wrong idea! She didn't have to see her comrades at all for the next few days.

At the same time, she was angry with her sisters, her father, and the noble society in general. . It was supposed to be the biggest day of her life, and her closest companions in the army weren't even invited. Stupid nobility protocols…no one had thought to ask. She tried to stay mad, but deep down she knew it was only to cover up the fluttering in her chest that suddenly appeared from out of nowhere.

It was just like how her three faithful comrades suddenly appeared out of nowhere the night before, bursting in on the ballroom at breakneck speed because of the ice. And there was the Corporal, flying out of the jeep and getting shot up again for her sake, saving her from a reckless group of homeless men that had forced their way in to confront the greedy Marquis Paolo with evidence of his embezzlement. The tingle on the back of her neck was never wrong. She had been thinking about the Corporal all night, even to her fiancé, Master Lionel Taylor's bemusement. Surely Lionel had been joking about his "jealousy."

However, she was worried. The Corporal stood at about seven feet or more, and while he wasn't impervious, she had thought he was utterly unshakeable. She was wrong. His reaction to the death of the mysterious creature merely named 908 made her see he was far more fragile than he looked. He had sobbed like his soul was shattered. It was the only time he refused to open up. His big, sad eyes, blue-grey as a snowstorm were dark and closed off to her. Why? What had he done? She wondered if he was sinking further into PTSD-Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He seemed quite happy to be a part of Section Three, but perhaps it was because he knew they were supposed to be the cheery, relaxed war-relief unit. Not anymore. Ever since he joined, they delved further and further into real missions with real danger, uncovering a conspiracy involving state-of-the-art war technology and weaponry, the likes of which neither the State nor the Republic had in their possession.

And yet, despite his awkward, gentle manner, he was flying to her side that night, protecting her with his body without a second's hesitation. She rushed to him, asking if he was all right. He looked at her then, as he'd never seen her before.

Flustered, Alice recalled his expression. How he had just stared at her with almost childlike wonder! She was used to the foppish banter of people like Master Schultz, the silver tongues of the nobility, but nothing prepared her for the simple, naked honesty of the Corporal's reaction.

"Incredible…" he breathed, almost to himself, "Just…so…incredible." It was like he was hypnotized. Alice supposed she slapped him just so he'd snap out of it. Hmm…maybe he hadn't really deserved that one.

The last time he had seen her in a dress had been brief and messy, not to mention the sun had already set. Besides, he had been in that…other mode, and had just switched it off, recovering from his wounds as he often did. And the dress…well, it was meant for travel, not for dancing in.

The rest of the time she'd been in uniform alongside him. Were her sisters right after all? Was she really so much of a tomboy that he had never noticed her like that before? But…why would he notice her…like that… at all?

Alice again recalled the calloused, rough hand that patted her head. It had trailed down the side of her face, unhurried and unassuming, becoming a caress almost without meaning to. She gasped again as she realized he must have carried her all the way into her bedchamber. How could her sisters let him? He didn't…see anything, did he? She was in her nightgown, not the tattered remains of her dress. No man had ever entered her bedroom before. She wouldn't even allow Lionel to do such a thing! A dozen slaps wouldn't make up for this faux pas! And why did he say Miss Malvin instead of her proper military title? Forget the slaps! Two dozen lashes wouldn't be enough!

Alice sighed and held her head in her hands. The damage was done, and what was she all worked up for anyway? How unbecoming of a lieutenant and a Malvin! She glanced at the time and muttered a curse. She was late! She hurried out of her nightgown, ringing for her personal assistants to draw her bath. She bristled and fussed and barked orders to them, doing anything she could so to stop thinking about a certain pair of big, sad eyes that had looked upon her with such innocent fascination. She couldn't decide what troubled her more, his reaction…or her own?