Just as Cold as the North Pole
She had tried to talk Kem into driving, but that had somehow lead to the topic of zombies and the quality of her driving and in the end Pak had been goaded into driving. Yet again she told herself she had to get a new car. It was the salt on the roads, she worried about the paint and the body of the old car. But it hadn't snowed in a couple of days and so she didn't think the roads were too bad.
As usual in the winter Pak was bundled up in the extreme, a heavy wool coat, gloves, scarf, gloves, hat and that was in the car with the heater going. If they had been planning on staying outside she would probably consider putting a second coat on. Pak had once described herself as a delicate tropical creature, it was at least half true.
The 'Lil Bird was neatly pulled into a spot on the strip. She didn't trust the mall since getting stuck in an elevator the previous Christmas. Besides the strip was tastefully decked out of the season lights, poinsettias and so forth. Even Pak, who could be a bit of a Grinch, had to admit it rather put her in the proper mood as she slid out from behind the wheel and out into the frigid (in her opinion) night air. At least the stores would be warm she reminded herself as she pulled her scarf up over her face.
"Where did we want to start? And don't say at the beginning.â€
"Such a nice new kitchen to do that in.â€ She lamented before explaining. "Like those scissors they give little kids, round and colorful and wouldn't cut paper. There must be a knife equivalent, you know pretty but completely harmless... like Eiryk."
That last bit was rather inspired Pak thought as they wandered. She leaned hard in the direction that seemed to indicate cutting boards. What she really wanted to know was what to get Kem and Aishe either together or separate so Pak was keeping a very sharp eye out for something either of them might be interested in. So far, they were not helping and she was not buying Kem a new car. He had a perfectly good one now.
Being a voracious reader Pak had been in the book store in Meridian quite a bit. She had become rather fond of Grisha and had no problem using him as a source. Cris... well she was still sort of intimidated by him but the old man she liked. Regardless, she shook her head a bit at Aishe.
"Well I was trying to help you out but I'll be happy to take that idea off your hands if you want."
There were far too many cutting boards to choose from. Pak found herself just staring at them. She had no idea how you picked one or why there were so many options. Maybe she should make a cutting board gift basket, one for every occasion and a back up in case this one got nicked too. Pak just stood there and blinked, thoroughly confused.
Kem was the first to speak. "You think Eiryk's... harmless?"
Had Pak met Eiryk? The man knew how to wield an axe, among other things, and even if he wasn't carrying weaponry he managed to take out entire buildings at a time through sheer clumsiness and bad luck. He was one of the most dangerous people Kem could recall meeting in quite some time... and he considered Eiryk a friend!
"We're talking about the same guy, yes? Viking, about yea high," Kem gestured with his hand to about where Eiryk's head reached on him. "Has been known to collapse entire fragile ecosystems with a sneeze? That Eiryk?"
Pak was smoking something. He and Aishe exchanged a glance before they split off and went their own ways. Kem quickly found an immersion blender that Alex should like; he'd done a little research on it already, looking into one for his own kitchen for when their friends were over. He found Pak by the cutting boards looking confused.
Glancing at the wall Kem pointed at one, a classy, hard wood board. "Wood is better than plastic," he said. "It's porous. It draws in bacteria and the bacteria dies off. Plastic, bacteria hangs around."
He could probably go on, having read a bunch of reviews on the topic already, but he opted not to. He was already frightening Pak, as she claimed.
Laughing softly at Kem's take on Eiryk's effect on the world around him, Aishe went off to browse. She returned to find both Kem and Pak at the wall of cutting boards, with Kem softly spewing out the information he had on the topic. She chuckled again. Kem had started down the path of a new hobby, first with Reign, now with Alex. He had always had a pretty modern kitchen but he hadn't really utilized it up until a few months ago.
"Spent some time on consumer reports lately?" she asked him, poking him gently in the ribs. "You guys need to make me more chocolate things."
She waited there, sliding her arm around Kiamhaat's waist, for Pak to make a decision one way or another.
"OK so harmless is a bad adjective. I'll try again later.â€
She just knew he'd never deliberately hurt her so in that respect he was totally harmless.
"Really? I thought they wanted plastic because it could be sanitized.â€
Now she was confused. This was now another reason not to cook, the rules kept changing. Deciding it was high time they get out of here. She grabbed a wooden one and a small plastic one that said something about fruits and vegetables and declared herself done.
"Did you two want to come over for Christmas? We can have Eiryk and Alex and who ever over as well, one big happy family.â€
That was a big social step for Pak who didn't extend many, if any, invitations and she was a bit nervous. The last time she had been a 'hostess' she'd gotten paid and had done private entertaining after the fact. But this was why she'd gotten the bigger place and let Eiryk trick it out wasn't it.
"Plastic is harder to sanitize sometimes. When the knife cuts into it it creates a ridge for bacteria to cling to and eh, never mind, it's all technical crap."
He cut himself off before he found himself giving a lecture. The cutting board didn't much matter with modern sanitation anyway; a dishwasher safe plastic would be easily cleaned anyway. Wood was, however, easier on the knife. Plastic could blunt it.
The debate of wood versus plastic continued on in Kem's head, where he kept it contained lest he bore the heck out of his fiance and friend. he was surprised by Pak for the second time in just a few minutes when she invited him over with Aishe for Christmas.
"Christmas in the new place? Of course. Sounds like fun." He turned to look at Aishe. "We can make it, right?"
He'd been invited to multiple parties this year. Maybe it was his new role within the Clan, maybe not. Whatever the reason he was trying to make at least an appearance at most of them, but there were a couple in particular he actually wanted to go to. Aishe was sort of unofficially keeping track of them all with him.
They made their purchases and headed toward the door, back out into the cold to keep shopping for their friends.
"We can make it if it's on Christmas," she said.
Christmas Eve was out; she and Kiamhaat were heading to Cris's. Cris and Rowan's, she corrected herself. They were living together. Both of them had to be on duty, or at least on call, on Christmas Day so they were celebrating a little early. Aishe wished Pak were a bit better acquainted with her Creator and his partner. it'd be nice to have one big holiday party instead of a bunch of slightly smaller ones, but it didn't matter... the more they celebrated, the more they remembered how special is was to have friends and family around.
In the meantime Aishe was pleased to see Pak inviting people into her home. Eiryk would be ecstatic. He'd been one of the biggest supporters of Pak's upgrade. Aishe was sure there might be a co-worker or two there as well, since Pak seemed to get along fairly well with them. The more people she opened up to, the better.
As they headed out into the cold night once again Aishe looked both ways. "Well we have Alex covered," she said. "We have a head start on Eiryk. Next," she glanced at Kem, "on our list anyway, is Cris."
She sighed as she looked down at her Creator's name on the list. She had ideas about his gift but it was tough to narrow them down. Really she wanted to give him everything. There were a few people in her world she loved unconditionally, like her parents, where nothing they could do would ever change her feelings. Kem was right at the top of the list. Cris was immediately below him. Or next to him, if it was a double-row sort of mental list, she supposed. Pak, too, was quickly rising to it.
"I want to get him something that he can share with Rowan," she said thoughtfully. "It doesn't have to be anything big. But they get so little time to really do things together, I want whatever we get them to be something meant to share."
She shrugged her shoulders. "So let's keep walking. Who's next on your list, Pak? Without knowing exactly what to get for Cris and Rowan the sky's the limit. Stay on the lookout for something good for Alfarinn too."
Kem would have a better idea there, maybe. He'd known Alfarinn for far longer than any of them.
It was a little odd that Kem had become so popular but she didn't tease him about it. It was a little depressing she didn't have anywhere else to go for the holidays, but as long as her few close friends were around that was all that mattered. And she had never questioned that Kem and Aishe would come if asked.
"Good. I'll fry a turkey or something."
Or call and order one. It would be a very small party but one or two humans would be there so food was required.
She wondered about Cris and Rowan a bit. Mostly because she was leery of Cris, but Pak had issues with authority. She didn't doubt that he was a good person or Aishe wouldn't have been nearly so fond of him. Maybe if she got to know him she'd be more relaxed around him, but their paths didn't cross too often so Pak didn't think that would happen any time soon. So she simply settled for being non-judgmental.
"Well... you two but that'll have to wait. And David."
David was her second in command. A nice man and handled a very demanding job very well. Some how they had become friends.
There was also Mara, but she certainly couldn't say that in front of Kem.
"Do you think Bao even celebrates Christmas or is he just the Grinch?"
There was also Artemis. Just because they'd agreed not to pursue a romantic relationship didn't mean she didn't like him and didn't consider him a friend. But she didn't want to talk about that right now.
"Maybe Rowan and Cris play chess? There is a great antique store around the corner that might have a decent board or know where to get one."
Pak, frying a turkey? The notion was just... wrong. Pak, cooking, just didn't seem right. But then, Pak might have decided to go and get all domesticated when she'd moved into her new place.
He lifted his shoulders helplessly at Pak's speculation about Bao. Kem had no idea; Pak was in a far better position to make guesses about her Creator than he was. "He's not green enough to be the Grinch," he offered.
"He must celebrate something," he continued, giving it some consideration. He wasn't a Christian himself, after all, but he still celebrated... well, having people.
Pak's suggestion of a chess board wasn't a bad one but Kem suspected Cris probably already had one, given what he knew about Aishe's Creator. He waited for her to confirm that herself but in the meantime he nodded at Pak.
"Let's look at the antique store. If nothing else it'll be interesting."
Pak's suggestion made her look up. "He definitely has a chess board," she said, wincing as she brought to mind that particular set. Cris had beaten her on several occasions. Granted, he was teaching her strategy and tactics while he did, but she had yet to win a game. It was exhausting and frustrating but she knew it was a good thing to learn. And she had to admit she did like the chess board Cris had, with its little tiny metal playing pieces.
"He made it himself," she said with a little smile.
She followed along toward the antique store still considering her gift options. A game would be nice but she really didn't know what to get. She sort of wanted to get them tickets to a show, to the opera, to a play, something to get them out of the Towers for a little bit and into a venue where neither of them could be bothered by work troubles for a few hours.
Aishe figured she'd look around the antiques store for inspiration, anyway. You never knew what sort of treasures you'd find and with Kem along they would know for sure what actually was worthwhile. Not only was he a history buff, but having loved through most of it and having psychometry to boot, he could always tell what was real and what was fake. It was a little like cheating but Aishe was willing to let it slide.
Which was a long time ago. She just didn't do it frequently. Pak did make that one meal for Aishe a few year or so ago but that had all been traditional Siamese food and not too far out of her comfort zone. So if she decided to cook it would be an adventure, but it hardly seemed polite to ask Alex to cook if she was asking him over so, while she wasn't sure how she'd do it, Pak would manage the food.
"And I don't think he has a dog and his heart might be more than two sizes too small."
Some one would, in fact, have to show Pak an X-ray to prove that Bao had a heart. She was still a bit surprised they were actually getting along and that he wasn't the monster she'd always thought he was. Pak raised her eyebrows at Kem. He'd met Bao he had some idea how disinclined Bao was to celebrate anything.
Pak, who was an avid chess player and regularly beat Bao and had helped write MARI's chess program, was impressed. She was also dreadfully curious what a hand made chess board might look like. Maybe Cris was human, as much as any of them were, after all.
"I've never gone to the trouble of making my boards. That is rather impressive."
She wondered for a bit if she were to make a board what sort of motif she'd use. Maybe it was possible to make the pieces out of circuit boards and processes. Something to think about.
As they opened the door and a bell rang cheerily Pak loosened her scarf and pulled off her gloves. It was a warm store.
"Do you think you can custom make a Tiddly Winks set?"
He noticed Aishe's wince; he grinned. He knew she loved spending time with Cris, but often that time meant she was being pulverized one way or another. Kem couldn't sympathize too much really; Cris was teaching Aishe things she needed to know, both to be one of them and to be in Security. He also knew she didn't mind one bit, and actually enjoyed it, but seemed to be of the opinion that complaining about it was her prerogative as Cris's child.
Yet another debate he refused to get in the middle of, as he would be torn between which vampire to side with.
They reached the antique shop and Kem shrugged at Pak's question. "I'm sure you can custom make anything."
Aishe had shown Pak the adorable clockwork raccoon Cris had made for her while he was away. She showed it to anyone who came to their house, really. It had a place of honor upon her night stand.
"I don't see why you couldn't," she said about Pak's idea. She didn't really know what her friend's obsession with Tiddly Winks was but if Pak wanted a custom set (whatever that entailed), Aishe was sure someone somewhere could make her one.
She smiled at the sound of the bell and the rush of warm air as Pak opened the door of the shop. Following Pak in, she looked around with interest at the area they found themselves entering.
Origami Pak decided suddenly. She would like to try and make a board out of origami pieces. Certainly it had been done before and she could probably even find patterns for the pieces but she'd like to come up with her own design. Granted she didn't know Cris nearly well enough to give such a gift to him, but she'd like to have it and if some one else wanted one, well she might be willing to do that.
"You don't think gold and jade Tiddly Winks are a bit over the top?"
She was half kidding. Mostly she was just trying to get a rise out of Kem, it was a hobby of hers. She still had no idea what to get for Kem. It was nearly impossible to find something that showed how much he meant to her, he and Aishe both, but Pak did try.
What she did see, almost immediately and wandered over to try was a old kaleidoscope. She put her eye to it and held it up to the light. The colors and patterns were beautiful. If she could find a way to smuggle it out of the store, she'd get it for Aishe. While Pak was getting better about dropping her subterfuge around Aishe, maybe this would make up for the times she stayed closed off.
Trying not to draw too much attention to the toy Pak wandered a bit more through the store pausing to look at a rather substantial bit of furniture.
"I get the feeling most of this is over the top for David. I mean is a seventeen hundreds wardrobe appropriate from you boss?"
He brushed his hand over a chest of drawers and nodded to himself. A map spread out in his head, a visual timeline of its history. It wasn't German as advertised but more Slavic, at least in origin. Close enough, he supposed, for the average collector.
He smiled at Pak's suggestion about her game set, refusing to rise to the bait.
"Anything you like. Just beware Eiryk's wrath."
He wasn't the one whose approval was required. Pak was the one who'd have to face down a viking in a decoration rampage. Eiryk seemed to take Pak's newbolace very seriously. Personally even.
He continued to brush his hands over various pieces of furniture, noting their ages and origins as he did. When he reached the wardrobe he touched it and nodded.
"Early 1900s actually," he murmured under his voice to Pak. "Nicely done though."
It was a good imitation but an imitation nonetheless.
She watched quietly as Kem touched certain pieces, knowing he was getting a sense of where they had come from and when as he did so. She was a little glad that particular talent was not one of hers; it seemed very confusing to her.
Aishe wandered off a bit as the wardrobe became a topic of conversation. She hoped Pak wasn't seriously considering such a gift for a coworker, but she didn't think so. It seemed a bit excessive. As she looked through a display of toys something shiny caught her eye. She reached out and picked up a toy animal, a rabbit, made of some reddish metal. Copper or bronze? When she inspected it more closely she discovered its ears moved and its legs were jointed as if it might be able to sit up. Its eyes might once have had stones in them but were now empty of color.
Aishe couldn't help but wonder if the rabbit was Cris's work. Or if he knew whose it was or how it had been made. Perhaps he would like it regardless. She picked it up carefully. It wasn't the only present she would buy but it could be one of a few.
First she would ask Kem to look at it though, out of curiosity. She wanted to know exactly how old it was. She also couldn't find a mechanism to make the rabbit move though she suspected it could. Cris would probably know. This was his sort of thing.
Pak thought that would work. Of course, she also couldn't quite figure out how to get Alex on her side over Eiryk's. Apparently this plan had some flaws in it, but it was her plan and she was willing to develop it.
"Maybe I just won't keep it on display. Or I could think about this for a while, it seems like the jade would chip if you played with it."
And then what was the point of having it. Maybe the bowl could be jade...
For now, Pak let the idea go as she watched Kem. She suspected that he was playing with one of his more interesting abilities. She knew that the a fore mentioned Viking would have quite liked to have a similar gift, something about not getting jiped in places like this.
At his pronouncement Pak snorted derisively, but she didn't raise her voice loud enough to make a scene or irritate the sales people, or person, some times during the holidays she couldn't quite tell who was an employee and who was browsing, or even be heard by any one but Kem, maybe Aishe.
"Not original? Well then I can't get this for David. I'm not about to get him a cheap," she checked the price and raised an eyebrow, "expensive knock off."
Furniture obviously wasn't going to be appropriate, so she shrugged and looked around for something else.
"You don't suppose they have an Atari 830?"
That would be the kind of antique that would appeal to a geek. Knowing David he'd probably try and get the ancient modem working and that would be entertaining.
Alex didn't strike Kem as the disloyal or competitive type. Even when playing wii games he wasn't a die-hard competitor, although Kem suspected in real sports he played to win. That much was evident from the few tennis stories he and Eiryk had shared. He recalled being mildly impressed at the time that Alexander could keep up with a vampire opponent. Granted, it was Eiryk, who tended to trip himself up as often as not, but Kem knew how hard he could hit a ball. The newly-spackled and painted section of his and Aishe's living room wall was a testament to Eiryk's strength and enthusiasm, if not his control.
They had also learned to double-check his wii-mote strap for a snug fit.
He leaned down over Pak's shoulder to look at the high price on the wardrobe. "Yikes," he said softly. He wasn't a professional appraiser, but that seemed steep even for the period it was supposed to be.
Pak's next question made him laugh again. "No," he said, nudging his friend in the shoulder. "Try Ebay. Good idea though."
Aishe returned to them about then, holding something small in her hands. It was a toy rabbit, made of copper perhaps, hunched down on all fours, about five or six inches high. Silently she smiled up at Kem and extended her hands, holding the rabbit up toward him.
Kem understood her quiet request. He picked the rabbit up, turned it around, looked at it for a few moments, and then invoked his psychometry. The image of a map was vivid in his head, a faded and yellowed parchment that rolled out and zoomed in on a very specific location, adventure-movie style. It stayed in one place as his timeline ticked along, for a very long time.
Suddenly it zipped over with a dotted red line to a new place marked with an X. There it remained again, for quite a while before moving on to twelve or thirteen locations in rapid succession that made him slightly ill. Then, fortunately, it settled once more, moving only a few more times but in such minor increments it didn't matter.
"It was born in south Germany," he said, using the modern name of the country although back when the rabbit had been made the region had gone by a different name. "Around, oh, I don't know. The 16th century. It stayed there until the 1700s. Then it went to England until the late 1800s. After that it moved around quite a bit from about 1920 to 1980. Then it settled just outside Nachton and stayed there until it came here."
He turned the rabbit over again, feeling an irregularity on the inside of a paw. "Look, it has a mark," he said. Inscribed on the paw was a heart with a bar beneath it. Kem shrugged and handed it back. That was all he could tell from the rabbit. His psychometry didn't give him stories or images. It just told him where things had been and when. Great trick for parties and fantastic trick for archaeologists. Not so wonderful for knowing who made a thing, which was what he assumed Aishe had wanted to know.
"It's really nicely made," he mused. "I imagine Cris might like it."
He made the obvious guess at what Aishe wanted it for. There was only one person they knew who might truly enjoy seeing the rabbit, not only enjoy it but appreciate it.
She listened to his explanation about the Journey of the Bunny with a little bit of awe; she loved this ability of Kem's. It was like having a little storybook at your fingertips.
"South Germany? I wonder if it might be Cris's," Aishe said. Then she shrugged. "The odds have to be off the charts though."
It was a small world but not that small. What were the odds she'd actually stumble on an old toy her Creator had made here in a Nachton antiques shop? Either way she nodded at Kem, looking at the mark he pointed out to her.
"I don't think that would be his, but I'm not sure," she said, trying to recall if her little raccoon bore any such mark. She didn't think it wore a heart; she'd have remembered that.
"I think it was meant to move but I can't figure out how," she said, pointing at the little fissures by the ears and legs that seemed to indicate that maybe it was jointed.
When Kem read her thoughts Aishe grinned and nodded, looking over at Pak to see if she'd had a good look at the rabbit too. "Yeah, I want to get it for him," she said. "I bet he can make it move."
It might have seemed like work to anyone else, but Aishe knew Cris enjoyed this sort of thing. She suspected he might like repairing the rabbit, if indeed it was broken. It wasn't 'the' present she wanted to get for him and for Rowan, but it would do as a nice little side gift.
"Did you find anything you like yet?" Aishe asked, turning to Pak.
Nudging Kem back Pak found she had a good idea for David, at least David. That would be a great toy to play with and if she could get the Commodore 64 up and running...
"Careful or you'll get one too."
She said rather cheerfully. It wasn't much of a threat for Kem, but it was the thought that counted or something.
While, in some respects, it was the most natural thing in the world that she and Kem now shared a bond Pak wasn't one hundred percent used to it and found herself shaking her head as if to clear it as he went to town with the little toy Aishe had brought over.
Once the rabbit's pedigree had been established and she had a chance Pak took a good look at the toy.
"Damned thing is older than I am, and in better shape."
Pak groused, but truthfully she was fascinated. It was very intricate work and how it had survived in one piece all these years, to the point that it might be restored was impressive. For some reason the whole situation reminded her of The Velveteen Rabbit, but it had been years since she'd read that book and could be miles off.
"No. I think most of this is over the top for most of my Christmas shopping."
Except that kaleidoscope. She -thought- she'd seen Aishe rather enjoying it. How one got it out of the store with out her seeing or knowing though Pak hadn't worked out just yet.
"Bring it on. I can find a way to put Carmen on that, too."
It was still something they did once in a while, hide in the garage and play Carmen. Only for a few minutes here and there, when the mood struck.
After Kem told Aishe about her lost and found bunny he simply looked on as she speculated, although he knew she could feel his doubt through the bond they all shared.
"It would be a little bit oddly coincidental," he said. "You're right though, I bet Cris would be interested in it if nothing else."
Personally he thought the toy would be a great gift for Cris, given what he now knew about the man's hobbies. Funny, without Aishe he probably never would have understood anything about Cris in spite of knowing him since he'd joined the Clan. Not well, obviously. Kem still felt a sense of debt whenever he was around Cris, and the feeling that he was somehow inadequate. He tried to hide it, though, because he didn't want Aishe picking up on it.
"Well, should we go get it for him?"
Aishe nodded at him with a smile and they went to the counter to pay for their purchase. The salesman was kind enough to rummage around under his counter and locate a box big enough for the rabbit, stuffing it with tissue so it wouldn't be jostled at all while they continued their shopping.
He happened to agree with Pak's assessment of the antique store as a place to find gifts. It really was coincidental that Aishe had found something intriguing to get for Cris. He knew she was in the dark on what to get for Cris's partner but, never having met the infamous Rowan himself, Kem could offer her no help there.
When it seemed like they were all prepared to go back out into the cold Kem took the bag that held Aishe's recent purchase, thanked the proprietor, and opened the door to a blast of chilly air. He shivered, but headed back out into the cold Nachton night anyhow.