A/N: Well this took a loooooot longer than it should have. Ah well. At least I got it in before the year ended. Anybody still out there?
Dawn of Hospitality
Interruptions, Part VIII
Snow fell from the sky, drifting down at a lazy pace to the forest below. It clung to everything it touched; creating a sheet of white that covered almost everything. The winter chill was unforgiving as well, biting through Michael's winter gear like it was nothing. Despite this, he smiled, holding out a hand to catch one of the frozen fractals in his gloved palm.
"A pretty little rock, isn't it?" he asked.
Beside him, his companion gave a snort that spoke otherwise.
"Snow, cold, and more snow," Miles grumbled, "I miss Altara."
"Altara had desert wyrms," Michael said.
"It was warm."
"You complained of the heat when you were there."
"Yeah, well, somebody has to bitch. Might as well be me."
"You're a saint," Michael chuckled, standing from his foxhole and trying to work a kink from his neck.
"Oh, I know," the private sighed, all dramatics, "It's a difficult job, but somebody's gotta do it."
"I'm going to try and find some morning grub. Would you like something, your holiness?"
"Just the usual seven-courser. Think I'll go light today."
Leaving the man shivering in their foxhole, Michael shook his head as he walked. Around him, other guardsmen were trying to stay warm, huddled around fires roasting whatever game they were lucky enough to kill. Michael stopped by one such group, a local herbivore lying gutted nearby.
"Keeping the eye nimble, I see," Michael said, crouching down next to the fire to warm his hands.
Sitting nearby with a longlas in his lap, Luc merely smirked before he resumed cleaning the weapon.
"Hey, don't knock it," Cyrus urged, lazily picking his teeth, "It tastes better than it smells."
"For once, he may be right," Tim chuckled. "I'll guess you're here for two?"
"Miles sends his thanks," Michael said, accepting the two steaming cups the big man poured.
"I'm sure he does."
While he was prepared to say something in his friends defense, the words died on his lips as he saw Luc stiffen, head shooting up to look at the sky above. A moment later, Michael heard it too.
The food dropped from Michael's hands, forgotten, and he was already moving by the time the first shell fell.
"INCOMING!" he bellowed.
The guardsmen around him shot into action as the first shell fell, breakfast and other items being sent flying as the bombardment continued to fall around them. Even with the carnage around him, Michael continued on, unhindered, ushering others into cover as he headed for his own foxhole.
Vaulting over a fallen tree, Michael felt a pang of relief as he caught sight of relative safety. Miles was still there, waving him closer. Michael had almost made it when he saw something out of the corner of his eye.
The man stumbled as a tree shattered nearby, sending debris in every direction as he took another hesitant step forward before finally crumpling to the ground. Michael stopped, looking between the man and Miles for only a moment, before he took off towards the fallen man.
Michael found the private on his side, eyes wide and gasping for air as he clutched at the shard of wood sticking out of his chest.
"Throne above... Hang on, Putnam," Michael said, covering him as a nearby shell threw up more debris, "I got you."
"S-Sarge…" the younger man whimpered.
"I'm here, kid."
Michael hooked an arm under each of Putnam's armpits, beginning to drag him as he risked a glance back. Miles looked to be muttering every curse he knew, scrambling from the foxhole and running towards them to try and help. He shouted something, but his words were lost in the sounds of chaos around them.
Turning back around, Michael lo-
An earth-shattering bang deafened him, vision going black and body going numb.
He felt himself moving upward, tumbling through the air. The darkness gave way, just in time for him to see the ground rushing up to meet…
In an instant the smell of smoke, the ringing in his ears, and the chill vanished. In it's place was a comfortable warmth, a soft bed beneath him, and the smell of what he hoped was bacon. Shutting his eyes again for a moment, he let out a sigh, instinctively flexing his right leg. The mechanical half whirred to life, much faster than the half still flesh; the familiar ach stubbornly refusing to leave. Deciding sleep wasn't coming back, and no long being an appealing option, he leaned up and ran a hand through his hair. It was still early, the sun only beginning to peak through the glass door leading out onto the balcony. Getting up and stretching he questioned, not for the first time, the quality of the fold out as his back popped more times than he'd prefer.
"You're up early."
Smiling, Michael turned to see Riiana in the kitchen conjoined with the living room, going about preparing breakfast. Working out a kink in his neck, Michael joined her, watching her work from his place leaned against the wall.
"I don't hear a smoke detector," he noted, "Call me crazy, but I think you're getting better at this."
Riiana rolled her eyes, but brightened all the same at his praise.
"It's out last day," she said, "I thought we should start it off with a nice meal."
Michael hummed his agreement, wordlessly moving alongside her to help. She made no objection, and together the two made good progress.
"I can't say I'm not sad to see it end," he said, "I've had fun."
"I like to think we all have," she smirked, "Even Xelus."
"Even Xelus," he echoed, chuckling.
They continued to work on in comfortable silence, both knowing where the other would be and what to do. However, being close to a mind reader did have its drawbacks. They were nearly done when Riiana paused, giving Michael a curious sideways glance. He hoped she wouldn't press the issue, but as he saw her trying to act 'casual' he knew it was too late.
"Sleep well?" she asked.
"Well enough," Michael said, not exactly lying.
She didn't seem happy with the answer, but didn't press it.
"I'm sorry about last night," she continued, "We were out so late, when we finally returned I may have… nodded off before we could read."
"Hey, don't worry about it," he said, "Tali's a handful. I can attest to that."
She nodded, though her worry remained. Hands wringing together, she seemed to be debating on going further. Her train of thought was then brought to a careening halt as she felt a pair of arms wrap around her waist, a surprised gasp escaping her. Michael only chuckled, nuzzling her neck as he held onto her.
"You worry too much," he whispered.
Certain the others were still asleep, and finding his embrace too much to fight, Riiana leaned into him and frowned. She took a hand in hers and gently squeezed.
"Just… tell me you're ok," she asked.
He kissed her shoulder, holding her close.
Finally smiling, Riiana closed her eyes and enjoyed his company, her worries soothed.
"Our bacon's also burning."
"Oh, for Isha's sake!"
The Eldar shot out of his arms, saying a few choice words that almost left him laughing too hard to help.
"There's another one. What does that make now?"
"Amused answer: five."
Sitting at a bench, watching the massive crowd surge on, the two men found their own entertainment as they watched a pair of older humans go by. Neither one had been thrilled to be 'volunteered' to tag along with the sisters for a little holiday shopping, and had been guarding the same bench for what felt like an eternity outside one of the shops. However as time went on, they quickly discovered an interesting pattern in human behavior. It seemed almost every elderly human couple was similar in a basic way, with the woman always leading the way and talking about something while the man dutifully trailed behind.
K!113r had waved it off as coincidence the first two times, but now he felt the need to take notes for further study as Tai laughed.
"I believe that means I win," the Tau grinned, holding out his hand.
Looking more stoic than usual, if that was even possible, K!113r reached his hand out over Tai's. A handful of credits fell into his waiting palm, leaving the Tau dumbfounded as he switched between staring at the money in his hand and the Necron beside him.
"How did you do that?" he asked.
"Answer: Magic," K!113r said, wiggling his fingers a moment before crossing one leg over the other and leaning back. The decision of leaving his newspaper back at the room was soon becoming one he regretted. Stuffing his won bet away, Tai contemplated risking venturing inside the store to try and find the two.
"Didn't they say they'd only be a minute?" he asked.
"Answer: Indeed," K!113r said, faking cheerfulness, "Twenty minutes ago."
"Kill me now," Tai groaned, placing his head in his hands.
"Query: Any way in particular you desire?"
"What are my options?"
The good doctor was ready to list off a number of interesting and creative ways to see the deed done when he noted a familiar pair of figures appearing through the crowd. Nudging his companion, he stood to his feet with only a minor creaking of his joints.
"Query: Did you find what you were looking for?" K!113r asked.
"Maybe," Briana winked, "Maybe not."
"So we just sat there for nothing," Tai sighed.
"Don't be so sure," Riiana said, sharing some of her sister's fun, "We simply want things to be a surprise."
"Besides," Briana quipped, "You two got something for your person. We're just doing the same."
"Tentative Statement: Combined, the two of us took less than half an hour."
"Oh, please," the Dark Eldar waved a dismissive hand, "You're exaggerating."
"Statement: I have a built-in timer. I do not exaggerate."
The others stared, uncertain.
"…Clarification: Unless, of course, it suits me."
"Thank you for clearing that one up for us, doc," Briana said, mimicking his typical monotone.
"Answer: A pleasure, my dear. Query: Shall we be on our way?" K!113r asked, extending his arm like any true gentleman.
"Indeed we shall," she giggled, accepting his arm.
Tai and Riiana exchanged amused, if somewhat confused, glances as they began trying to guess who had bought what.
"Eh… you sure about this, oomie?"
"What? Do you not like it?"
"I'm not what'dya call a professional, Boss, but I don't fink it'll fit a girl like her."
Jones looked between Romminal and the shotgun in his hands, looking like little more than a toy in his large hands.
"Perhaps you have a point," Jones sighed, "I just don't usually have to do this sort of thing. What do you suggest, then?"
The Ork scratched his head, looking deep in thought as Jones scanned the gun store. He wasn't sure to be appalled at the firepower for sale, or respect the variety. Instead, he did both.
"She… uh… likes da shiny bits," Romminal suggested.
"Ork, I'm not that clueless. But jewelry seems… odd."
"Bah, not the kind ye wear, dingus! Flashy kind, wif da buttons'n such."
"…Ah. I knew that."
Jones thought it over, head swaying side to side as he debated with himself. Finally, he nodded.
"So you have a point," he admitted, waving back to the shotgun, "But… what if it was pink?"
"What? It's a-unhand me, Ork! I sai-let go!"
Dragging the astartes by the scruff of his collar, Romminal only chuckled at the odd stares he received as they left.
"Leave it to da Ork to make all da decisions…"
How could a little girl disappear so fast?
"Tali?" Michael called, moving through the isles. "Tali, come on now out now."
One second she had been by his side, going on about ideas for a gift, and the next she had simply vanished. He passed by other shoppers, trying not to draw too much attention while still keeping an eye out. He continued down different isles, looking for a bobbing head of black hair.
It wasn't until he was in the electronics' section that he heard something behind him, and as he passed a row of televisions that displayed a feed from a nearby camera that he saw movement. Smiling, he stopped an isle over to look at a string of cords for various things.
He heard the faintest hint of a footfall and spun around.
Tali let out a excited squeak at the surprise, having been ready to do the same to him. The squeak turned into an embarrased giggle as Michael tussled her hair.
"Have fun?" Michael asked.
"Yup!" Tali beamed, trying and failing to hide something behind her back.
"Come on then, let's see it."
Grinning, she brought the item into view and held it up with pride. At first, Michael was surprised, eyebrows rising higher and higher until they threatened to take flight, then he smirked and gave a pleased nod.
"You really think so?"
"I do. We'll have to wait and see what the doc thinks, though."
Happy with her find, Tali pulled on Michael's arm all the way to the counter, eager to get back.
'…And I shall hear, tho' soft you tread above me
And all my dreams will warm and sweeten me
For you'll not fail to tell me that you love me
I'll simply sleep in peace until you come to me.'
The room was quiet for only a breath before applause broke, the three men on stage grinning to one another and bowing. Then they rose, the middle one straightening himself and grabbing the microphone.
"I think that's enough 'a that," McCollins said. "Now our next song, like most of our songs, have no squirrels in it..."
The crowd laughed and cheered as the men broke into a new song, upbeat and cheerful compared to the soft and somber one before. A few of the more rowdy (and less sober) of the party goers took to the dance floor, stomping along with the beat and having a laugh. From their table, away from the ruckus, everyone sat and watched the men play with varying interest.
"Of all the humans I've met, those three are certainly among the most… unique," Tai said.
"Wait until they've had a few drinks," Jones chuckled.
"Bemused statement: I will gladly wait," K!113r added.
"Well I can't," Briana smirked, "Who's ready for presents?"
"I am!" Tali said.
"Heh. Why not?" Romminal shrugged.
"Joy." Xelus deadpanned.
Presents were placed on the table, one for everyone. Each was pushed around to their designated person, at least a small curiosity stirring in all of them. Sliding Tali's to her, Michael tilted his head as she looked from it to him.
"Is something wrong?" Riiana asked from her place next to Tali, noticing her hesitance.
"No," Tali squirmed sheepishly, touching the present with care, "It's just…"
With surprising care, she removed the bow from the top of the box and placed it on Michael's chest. When she received even more confused stares than before, she smiled.
"You're my present. Both of you."
Riiana smiled, while Michael seemed lost for words as Tali hugged him.
"Thank you." she said, voice muffled against his shoulder.
It took everything for Michael to keep his voice from faltering.
"It's what we're here for, munchkin," he chuckled, sharing a warm smile with Riiana as she stroked the girl's hair.
"Come on," she urged, "Time for another present."
Tai let out a yawn, feeling particularly lazy as he sat on the old couch. A day home, and he felt like he needed a vacation from their vacation. Not that it hadn't been fun, but it had been pretty tiring after things wound down. They were all sad to see it go, but the biggest thing Tai would remember would be that confounded hotel owner almost catching him on fire. At least it was only an almost.
The doorbell rang and he looked up from his dataslate. Most of the others were either at work, shopping, or in their own rooms doing… whatever it was they did. So playing doorman fell to him.
Sighing, he rose to his feet with effort. The door chimed again.
"I'm coming I'm coming…" he grumbled.
Making his way to the door and opening it, his previous thoughts of a nap disappeared as he stared at the figure in front of him. Stared up at might have been a better term.
"Can I… help you?" he asked.
"Yes," the woman said, "Is there a Doctor… K, here?"
"He lives here," Tai answered, growing suspicious. "Why?"
"Pardon me, where are my manners?" she smiled, giving a small bow, "I am Sister Arryn, from the Order of Serenity, and an assistant at Saint Arya's Orphanage. I've come to get a runaway of mine."
A/N: See you guys next year! :D
Unknown- The wait was crazy, I know, but such is life.
BeautysHarlequin- Heh. Don't do badly on my acount, but I'm glad you enjoyed yourself. Hope I can keep up the good work.
WolfPaladin- Always happy to please. Ah, the NSA. My old nemesis...
Fictitious-Historian- Not quite the 500 word chapters of ye old days, eh?
Bradykins98- DOH is a nice, sunny place. That doesn't mean the rest of the galaxy is still a mean place, mind you.
Saxonk- I used to think I shouldn't, but to be honest I think talking with people has gotten me as many fans as the story itself.
PunkNeverDie- We've all got skeletons. Some have more than others.
bob- Heh... I feel like I'm just repeating myself, but although it's just you showing support, I'd like for people to hold off until they reach the most recent chapter before reviewing. Not that I don't want them, but one person reviewing multiple chapters makes my review number skyrocket, and there are plenty of other stories that could use the love as well.
Schadenfreude555- It's been what? Two years? I hoped I had improved at least a little. My earlier works are, admittedly... rough.
Lord Farsight- Things will be revealed in due time. Just be prepared for when they are.
not my real name- One can never have enough dakka. It's simply impossible.
Mastadon-King- Also, super awesome. Best sandvich ever.
Officer Hot-Pants- She grows on you. Whether or not that's a good thing is up for debate.
WOLF- Everything has a time and place. We'll just have to be patient.
George1997x- I hope this chapter pleases the fans of the Riichael ship. As for the second half, the thought of something forcing the races together has come to mind. Whether or not it'll happen... well, anything's possible.
speaker of babbel- Many thanks, friend! I hope for more adventures down the road.
amerdism- Well, it's not soon, but better late than never, eh?
Benthino- I wouldn't go so far as to call it that... but I'll keep going so long as people want to know more.
Cyrus Donovan- 'Nids once landed on Australia. They lasted half an hour.
TheMysticalFett- I try, friend. Glad you're enjoying it.
redstarzombie- Michael has a knack for being able to shrug off some serious hurt. Sometimes it's played for laughs. Other times...
Black Vendetta- I'll... take that as a compliment.
CMVreud- Thanks for the reviews, man, but again I repeat what I said to Bob. Nothing personal, I just like to earn each review I get.
ArMeGaDon- Khorne and I have met before. I prefer the company of Tzeentch, though. I like a person with degrees in snark.