"What the hell...?"
You pulled out the object in the box and examined it with pure bewilderment. Twisted scraps of metal and shards of glass shined with an orange glow from the lanterns around you, reflecting the light directly into your eyes, making it all the more difficult to identify you newfound present. Circuits, wires, and gears littered every possible side, save for a perfectly flat side - most likely a base - and you had to wonder if they actually served any purpose or were simply there for decoration. It was hard to determine, since it was basically just an array of bits randomly embedded into a small dome of metal.
“So it’s either a random invention,” you mumbled to yourself, “Or it’s modern art…”
Either way, it was something you probably had no use for, but it would certainly make for a nice paperweight if nothing else. Carefully placing your new present back in it’s surprisingly well-wrapped box and scanned your eyes around the tavern. With the party nearing its imminent end, people had already donned on their winter wardrobe and hovered around the pair of doors. However, no one actually stepped outside and everyone was still happily conversing and laughing with each other. Would it be rude to make an abrupt exit now that you’d given and received a gift? Probably, but you didn’t feel like putting up with any more nonsense and needed a good night’s rest.
So, with present snugly tucked under your arm, you made your way through the crowd, down to the cellar, and retrieved your jacket. With mostly everyone already wearing their jackets and whatnot, there were only a few coats hung on the nearby shelves and kegs, making it easy to spot your jacket resting on a nearby hook, quickly wrestle the layer back on, and head up the cellar stairs, just in time to see Parvis and Strife heading out the door.
“Merry Christmas,” the former of the two smiled to you as he followed behind Strife, who just gave a curt nod of acknowledgement. You simply mirrored Strife’s actions and nodded back.
All in all, it wasn’t the most possible worst way to spend your Christmas, but it most definitely wasn’t the best. How anyone could tolerate obnoxious crowds and a smothering pub was beyond your comprehension. You continued to ponder and complain to yourself as you followed behind Ridgedog and stepped outside.
So, naturally, you were caught off guard when you felt someone tap your shoulder.
While you managed to suppress a startled yelp, you obviously flinched before quickly turning on your heel and seeing a familiar spaceman standing in front of you.
“Are you leaving already?” he asked, giving you a smile.
“Yeah,” you shrugged, “It’s late, I’ve got my present, and it’s a bit of a trek to get back home,”
“Oh, you’re base is far from here?”
“Not really,” you explained, “But it’s more difficult with the snow,”
“Well, if you want,” Lewis looked back to his small group of friends lounging about at a nearby table, before facing you once more, “You could always stay at the farm, for the night - that is. There’s food, water, a place to sleep, and it’s perfectly secure,”
The more you studied him, the more obvious it was that Lewis was… leading you into something. His smile was just a bit too eager, and he kept glancing to the table to the left of him. You looked to the table of guests and tried to see what he kept looking at.
“What’s the catch,” you finally asked, not wanting to waste any more time than you had already.
Lewis gave an obviously nervous laugh as he stretched the back of his head, “Um… It’s Duncan. You see, he might have had a bit too much to drink, an-”
“What?” you would’ve been lying if you hadn’t felt a small twinge of satisfaction when Lewis’ originally nervous expression turn into shock, “What do you mean “no”?”
“I’ve seen what he’s like when he’s drunk, and I don’t want to be stuck babysitting him,” you snapped, “I’ve had a pretty lukewarm night and I don’t think dealing with “Drunkan” is going to fix that any time soon,”
“C’mon! He’s too drunk to get home, even with someone else’s help, and I’ve got to take care of Simon. All you have to do is keep an eye on him and make sure he doesn’t hurt himself,”
“I’ve got a feeling hurting himself is going to be the least of his problems…”
“Please?” he begged, “I promise I’ll make it up to you however I can,”
You were well aware of the damage Duncan was capable of inflicting when he was sober; you shuddered to imagine what kind of chaos he could cause when he was drunk and void of what little judgement he had left. However, at another glance at the small crowd at their delegated table, you spotted said mad scientist leaning back on the sofa, his trademark goggles askew on his forehead -one lens covering his right eye and the other resting on his bangs - and his jacket lying on the floor at his feet. Though you couldn’t tell due to the distance, you had a feeling he was either asleep or on the verge of passing out. Perhaps, by some cosmic fate, he wouldn’t be as much of a burden as you feared? As you drummed your fingers against the cardboard box holding your present, a glance back to Lewis showed a pair of pleading eyes and hopeful smile.
You sighed, “Just this once, and you owe me!”
“Oh, thank you!” Lewis said, trapping you in a quick hug, forcing the box in your hands to press painfully hard against your stomach, before letting you go and practically dragging you over to the table. Once there, he carefully leaned over to Simon, who was also leaning back with his metal helmet covering his head.
“Simon,” the spaceman began, placing a hand on his friend’s shoulder and gently shaking him back and forth, “C’mon, wake up,”
An irritated grumble was partially muffled by the helmet that Simon eventually lifted from his face.
“Whu… What time is it?”
“It’s almost midnight,” Lewis replied with an amused smile, “C’mon, we’ve got to get back home…,”
“Alright, alright,” He groaned, slowly sitting up in the chair with Lewis’ assistance, “Ugh… I’m so fucking drunk right now,”
“I’m sure you are,” Lewis smiled, slowly helping him out of the chair and across the room. You watched as he helped the stumbling, bumbling Dwarf make it eventually to the entrance of the tavern, at which point the taller of the two looked back to you with a nervous smile.
“Thanks again, for looking after Duncan,” he said. You rolled your eyes, but there was the slightest hint of a smirk curling the corners of your mouth.
“Just get Simon home safely,” you snapped.
Without any more delay, Lewis and Simon slowly stumbled out of the building, leaving you with a still comatose Duncan lying beside you.
Instantly you considered the possibility of simply walking away and leaving Duncan in his drunken stupor, but if he were to wake up still intoxicated… well… the enormous flying demon in the glass cadge behind you was forewarning enough. So, with a heavy sigh, you carefully leaned forward.
After a moment to examine the damage, it was clear that your half-hearted attempt to keep Duncan even the slightest bit sober were - much like the man, himself - wasted. While a set of disheveled blond bangs covered the majority of his face, you could still see that his cheeks and forehead were a bright pink and the beginning of dark rings encircled his half-lidded eyes as they aimlessly glanced around the room.
“Hey, Duncan? Can you hear me?” you grabbed him by the shoulder and shook him back and forth - far less gently than Lewis did with Simon - and watched as he slowly began to respond. A tired mix between a grumble and moan crawled out of his throat as he rubbed his eyes and sat upright.
“Hmn… What?” he looked around the room, partially bloodshot eyes scanning the tavern before settling on you, “Is the party over? Where is everyone?”
“The party ended a little while ago; everybody’s left,”
“Well… what about you?”
“Lewis wanted me to stay back and take care of you,” you answered with a sigh, “I’m supposed to take you to the farm house keep an eye on you while you sober up,”
“I can take care of myself just fine,” he said, standing up and out of his seat. Of course, he stumbled and flopped back onto the sofa with a soft giggle.
He’s just drunk, you thought to yourself as you placed your present on the table.
“Sure you can,” you mumbled, quickly taking Duncan’s hand and slung his arm over your shoulders. With a quick (and somewhat painless) pull, you managed to bring the drunken technomancer to his uncoordinated feet.
“Will you at least let me help you get to the farm house?”
With a weak noise of disagreement from Duncan, you grabbed your present in your free hand and the two of you slowly shuffled out of the tavern and into the snowy night.
The farm house wasn’t far from the tavern - not even in the slightest - and the gravel pathway leading to it had been mostly cleared of the snow and ice, but that didn’t stop the short trek from being an enormous hassle.
“We’re going to that building over there, right?” asked Duncan, who was pretty much resting his head on your shoulder, as he pointed to the rooftops lying just beyond the now barren vineyards and apiaries.
“Right,” you answered.
“Alright then,” Duncan said, abruptly straightening his posture and removing his arm from your shoulders.
“What do you think you’re doing?” you asked as the blond-haired man beside you took two drunken steps forward.
“I can get there on my own just fine,” he said with a smirk, just as he set foot on a small patch of ice. Unsurprisingly, he instantly slipped and lost his balance, and he would’ve fallen back and hit with the ground if you hadn’t been there to cushion his fall. You reached out with your free hand to steady the both of you - you were still holding onto your present with your left hand - but Duncan still somehow managed to collide the back of his head with your face.
Once the faint ringing in your ears died down, you looked back to Duncan who simply gave a nervous smile. With an irritated sigh, you grabbed Duncan’s hand and continued to the farm house.
“Remember, he’s drunk,” you grumbled.
Thankfully, you got to the farm house without any more interruptions, and you were more than happy to practically drag Duncan up the stairs and toss him onto one of the beds.
“Alright,” you sighed to yourself, “I just have to last the night, and then someone will come by in the morning and keep watch over him if he hasn’t sobered up by then,”
With another sigh, you ran a hand through you hair and looked up at Duncan. He’d fallen asleep the moment he hit the mattress, but it looks like it he was breathing perfectly fine and he wasn’t going to vomit - you hoped. To a complete stranger, he probably looked as innocent as a sleeping child. It wasn’t a a terrible comparison.
“He really is like a little kid sometimes,” you laughed to yourself, “Always causing chaos and grief for others, but he never goes out of his way to hurt people,”
You continued to silently think to yourself, occasionally directing your attention to Duncan, when you finally realized something. While the bottom floor of the house was heated with furnace, the top floor was completely exposed to the elements with enormous holes in the walls rather than closable windows.
“Jesus Christ,” you muttered, noticing just the faintest traces of steam leave your breath, “This place is freezing…”
You quickly rose to your feet and headed downstairs. Surely Sjin or Lewis had some spare blankets or something to board up the ‘windows’. All of the chests you found were void of anything you could use to stop the cool from coming in, but you were able to find a few spare blankets in one of the kitchen cabinets.
“I guess this’ll do,” you sighed, taking the wool blankets and closing the door.
You turned on your heel, and nearly screamed when you saw Duncan standing at the bottom of the stairs.
“Duncan! What’re you doing up? I thought you were sleeping?”
“Thirsty,” he answered, rubbing his eyes. With his wrinkled clothes and ruffled hair, he really did remind you of a child.
“Oh,” you sighed, “I’ll get you a glass. You should probably stay down here anyways; I can start a fire in the furnace,”
“Alright,” Duncan mumbled, dragging out one of the chairs from the kitchen table and unceremoniously dropped himself into the seat. He watched with tired eyes as you placed the blankets beside him before opening another set of cabinets and grabbing a glass.
“Here,” you said, placing the glass right in front of him before turning your attention to the wall of furnaces right next to the table. “How are you feeling?”
“Hungry, tired, and thirsty,” he answered, taking the glass.
“Well you probably shouldn’t be eating anything right now,” you answered, grabbing a few logs resting by the wall, “You’re still pretty drunk,”
Eventually you succeeded in getting a fire started in the very center furnace, and soon enough you could feel the faintest traces of heat make its way into the room. With a few more logs placed around the fire, you turned your attention back to Duncan, who was still sitting in his chair, but this time examining a familiar box.
“Oh,” you smiled as he toyed with the bow, “That’s the present I picked out. What happened to your present anyway?”
“Um… I think I left it in the tavern,” he answered, “I’ll get it in the morning,”
“Okay then,” you said, taking the seat across from him and grabbing your present. You opened the box and place your still unknown present in the middle of the table for him to poke and prod at, but you were surprise when he just stared at it with a lazy smile.
“Do you know what it is?” you asked.
“Of course I do,” he smiled.
“After all, I made it,”
Curious, you watched as he carefully took the object, studying the various parts and sides before reaching into his pocket and pulling out a small wind-up key. Was it a wind up toy? A little old-fashioned for a Christmas present. You wanted to ask Duncan where he got a wind-up toy - or maybe he made it - but decided it was probably best to just let him work. Eventually he placed the object back down, but instead of any movement, you could just barely hear the faintest traces of music.
“You made a music box?” you asked.
“Kind of,” he shrugged, “Just watch, okay?”
You wanted to argue, but the smile on Duncan’s face forced you to at least give him a chance. So, you looked at the strange lump resting in front of you.
Lights illuminated, sheets unraveled, and cogs began to turn. Curious and confused, you continued to stare at the music box in front of you, and watched in amazement as it slowly came to life. Metal and glass limbs unfurled themselves from the base and stretched up to the sky, growing and thinning until they roughly the width of a thread. Soon, what was once a crude mass of metal had transformed into a small robot in the shape of a person, moving- no, dancing along the table’s surface. The movements were jerky and brief, but the figure itself still held a sense of grace.
You looked up to Duncan, his face glowing from the fire in the furnace, and gave you a smile. It was… enchanting. The melody of the music box, the snow falling outside, the glow and crackle of the fires - it all seemed to add a certain magic to the air. The same nostalgic kind of magic you got from childhood fairy-tales and shaking snow globes. When the song finally ended the dancing figure bowed and slowly reverted back into its original shape.
“Wow…” was all you could say.
Duncan laughed at your dumbstruck expression before placing the key on the table in front of you.
“There was supposed to be a spare wind-up key in the box, but I guess I accidentally forgot about it,”
“It’s amazing,” you laughed. Curiously, you grabbed the robot and examined it once more. This time, you noticed the cuts, the joints, all of the pieces you’d originally assumed as random which were now all aligned in their proper place. You quickly grabbed the key and placed both belongings back in the box for safekeeping.
You looked back up at Duncan, who still had a grin on his face, and smiled, “Do you think you’ll be able to fall asleep without getting sick,”
“I think so,” he answered.
“Alright then,” you smiled, grabbing the extra blankets and your present. You lead in front of Duncan, up the stairs and to the beds, where you abruptly tossed a blanket onto each bed. You were just about to crawl into bed when you noticed the gaping holes in the walls again and sighed.
“Hang on,” you said, “I’ll be right back,”
Duncan instantly pushed himself onto his elbows as you began to walk away.
“What…?” he asked.
“I need to find something to cover these damn windows,” you sighed, “Honestly, what kind of architect makes a house without any glass windows,”
“Do you have to?” he asked. You failed to notice the growing anxiousness in his voice.
“It’s getting pretty windy out there, and the blankets won’t be enough. Don’t worry, though, I’ll be right back,”
You’d just begun to walk away from the beds, and from Duncan, when you felt a hand grab onto the back of your jacket.
“Wait,” he mumbled, tugging at the fabric.
“Um… What’re you doing?”
“Don’t leave,” he pulled at your coat once again, forcing you to take a few steps back.
“I’ll only be gone for a few minutes,” you said trying to pull your coat out of his grasp.
“So you’re just gonna leave me? Just like everyone else?”
“You’re just going to leave like Kim, and Lewis, and Sjin, aren’t you?” he continued, “Don’t leave me all by myself…”
Dammit. He’s still drunk.
“Well then what should I do?” you scoffed, “Because if I don’t so something, we’ll freeze overnight,”
Duncan paused, giving you the perfect opportunity to free your jacket from his grip, and furrow his brow together in thought. You expected him to grumble something and let you go off, so imagine your surprise when he rose to his feet and made his way to the other side of his bed.
You sighed, “What’re you doing now?”
Duncan just gave you a smug grin as he grabbed the bed and began pushing it. You quickly stepped back and out of the way of the oncoming furniture, and watched as he pushed the two beds right next to each other. He gave you a proud smile as he crawled back into bed and quickly threw the sheets over both mattresses. Meanwhile, all you could do was stand there, dumbstruck and slightly red in the face.
“Oh no!” you laughed, “There is no way I’m sleeping in the same bed with you,”
“Why not?” he laughed.
“Because it’s stupid,” you answered, though you still had a smile on.
“No it’s not!” he said, “Look, we can keep each other warm, you don’t have to go around and cover up the windows, and finally get some sleep. C’mon, please?”
You wanted to scream objections, but by now it was probably two in the morning, pitch black and snowing outside, and you still had to keep an eye on Duncan, who was looking up at you with pleading eyes. With a sigh, you simply repeated the same mantra you’d been repeating all night and made your way to the bed.
“I hope you understand,” you sighed, taking off your coat and shoes, and getting under the covers right beside Duncan, “I’m only doing this because you’re drunk and I have to keep an eye on you,”
He laughed and you turned to see his drunken smile.
“Ya know, you’re a lot nicer than everybody thinks you are,”
“Of course I am,” you sighed with a smirk.
“No, really,” he said, both of you unaware that he was inching closer, “Everybody think’s you’re this cold and nasty businesswoman, but in reality you’re really nice. You’ve taken care of me all night, even though you didn’t have to; that has to mean something,”
“Lewis was begging me,”
“You still could’ve said no,”
“You’re just drunk,” you scoffed with a laugh, turning your back to him.
When you heard the sound of fabric rustling, you’d assumed Duncan was just making himself more comfortable, so of course you nearly screamed when you felt his arms wrap around your waist and his chest flush against your back. He rested his head on your shoulder, and you could feel your heartbeat increase.
“What if I told you I’m not nearly as drunk as you think I am?” he suggested, his breath tickling the shell of your ear. You honestly thought that your pulse was going to rupture an artery or that your stomach was going to snap in two, but you still tried your hardest to sound as cool and unfazed as possible.
“I wouldn’t believe you,” you answered.
You could actually feel Duncan when he laughed, and a part of you wanted to instantly jump out of bed.
“Good-night,” he answered.
When you woke up that morning, the first thing you realized was that you definitely were not sleeping in the same position as you were during the night. Instead of sleeping with Duncan resting behind you, you seemed to have turned over in your sleep and were now facing said scientist and curled up against him, with his arms still wrapped around your waist. He was still asleep, of course - and therefore unaware of your reddening face - and had a serene look on his face as he quietly breathed in and out. You smirked when you saw that his goggles - while once again askew - were still resting on his head.
“Duncan,” you called out, much more softly than last time, “Time to wake up,”
You watched with a smile as he slowly stirred awake, before he finally opened his eyes and gave you a smile.
“Hungover?” you asked.
“Not really,” he laughed, “Like I said, I didn’t have a lot to drink,”
“Does that mean you could’ve taken care of yourself last night?”
“Probably,” he shrugged, “But it was good to have some nice company,”
You smiled, “So, I guess this means you have to get back home now?”
“I guess, but I wouldn’t mind spending the rest of the day here, with you,”
You couldn’t help but smile at the half-compliment. You were just about to get out of bed when you heard the sound of a creaking floorboard, followed by,
“OH JESUS CHRST!”
You both instantly looked up from each other, and were shocked to see Lewis and Kim standing at the top of the stairs, eyes wide and faces bright red.
“Sorry!” he shouted, trying to avoid any eye-contact whatsoever, “OhGodI’msosorry! I didn’t mean to walk in on you two; I’ll just leave now!”
“‘Leave now’? What’re you guys talking about…” you muttered, just seconds before realization struck you in the head.
“T-This isn’t what it looks like at all!” you shouted, throwing the covers off your body and grabbing your shoes.
“Nonono!” the Kim screamed as they nervously headed down the stairs, “I don’t need to see that!”
“Guys!” you called back, “W-We weren’t doing anything! We literally just woke up!”
You quickly chased after them, down the stairs and to the kitchen, but by the time you’d gotten to the front door, Lewis was nowhere in sight and Kim was already flying off into the distance. As the latter of the two vanished into the horizon, you sighed and hung your head in dismay.
“Well that was… a thing,” you sighed, listening as Duncan’s footsteps made their way to the kitchen.
“Look on the bright side,” he laughed as he placed a hand on your shoulder.
“What bright side?” you asked.
He smiled and took your hand in his, “We have the entire house all to ourselves, and no one to bother us,”
You smiled at the thought.
“So,” he began, “What do you want to do first?”
You smirked and quickly leaned in and kissed the bridge of his nose.
“I think I’m going to close these windows and make us some coffee,”