Paul looked up as the Man in the pointed hat and travel-stained robes opened his gate and strode in as if he owned the Shire, and sighed silently as he stood and offered a polite greeting. "Good morning!"
The blue-eyed Man scowled down at him and thumped his staff into one of Paul's prize flowerbeds. "What do you mean? Do you mean to wish me a good morning or do you mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not? Or perhaps you mean to say that you feel good on this particular morning. Or are you simply stating that this is a morning to be good on?"
Paul raised an eyebrow, but kept his temper; no need to be rude, after all. "All of them at once, I suppose."
The Man smiled at him, and leaned forward to pull him into a one-armed hug. "And it is a good morning! Do you know why?"
"...no?" Paul said, trying to pull away from the smiling — and incredibly muscular — maniac.
The Man tightened his grip. "Because today is the first day of your great adventure, Paul Kariya! What do you think of that?" He slapped Paul on the back hard enough to stagger him.
"Adventure?!" Paul yelped, and straightened his shoulders and his waistcoat. "Adventures are nasty, disturbing, uncomfortable things. Horribly improper, adventures. People never stop gossiping about Adventurers, and they make you late for dinner! No, I think you have the wrong smial, good sir, and you most definitely have the wrong Hobbit!" He raised his chin, and raised it again, to give the Man a proper glare, folding his hands away behind him. "I wish you good day, sir!"
"Well, goodness gracious; to think that I, the Great Wizard Gretzky, greatest wizard who's ever lived, would live to be good day'd by one of the sons of Sharon Kariya!"
Paul's eyes widened and he blanked his face; he remembered his Mama's many tales of the Great Gretzky, and Mama would be disappointed if he were to turn away an old family friend. Even if Father would be equally disappointed if he let the noisy, disruptive fellow in. Paul hesitated a moment, but good manners won out; he was used to father's disappointment, and it would make Mama smile. So! Decision made, he opened the door and ushered the Great Gretzky in. "I'm sorry if I offended you. Please be welcome, sir." No need to be rude to such an ...esteemed guest. At least his Mama would be happy to see the Man.
Several hours of tooth-gritting, jaw-clenching anecdotes and reminiscences about the wonders of their travels later, the ever-smiling Gretzky had Mama grinning and giggling, Father off in his study, and Steve, Martin and Noriko all out running 'urgent' errands they'd suddenly remembered: "oh what a shame, must go, goodbye, have fun!"
The Wizard's latest anecdote paused momentarily, and Paul dutifully nodded and "Mmm'd?" encouragingly. The anecdote continued, and then another, and another... surely the Man could not possibly be old enough to have travelled so much, and have so very many stories?
Paul "Mmm'd" again, clenching his jaw against a yawn. Still, the Wizard had said he was travelling with a Company of Dwarves he'd left at the inn, so he must leave soon, to have dinner with them.
Paul smiled politely at another comment, and then realised as an awkward silence fell that Gretzky had meant to make a joke. "Ahahahaa?" he tried.
"You must excuse Paul," his mother said, for the second or third time. "He's very shy, you know."
"Never mind, Sharon!" Gretzky said. "I'll soon work that out of him, when we go Adventuring!"
"Mm," Paul said, blank-faced, and his Mama frowned and tapped the back of his hand. "Don't be so rude, Paul; he's only trying to help you. It's a great opportunity."
"Oh yes," said Gretzky. "It's not every Hobbit I'd ask on an Adventure, you know!" He grinned, teeth everywhere, and Paul was uncomfortably reminded of tales he'd heard of big sea fish with row upon row of teeth like scythes, big enough to eat a Troll.
Somebody knocked at the door, and Paul almost leapt out of his seat at the chance to escape. "Don't worry, Mama. I'll get it!" he said, as he ran for freedom. Or, well, the hallway; close enough. The visitor knocked at the door again, and Paul straightened his waistcoat and jacket, smoothing a hand over his hair to make sure it was lying flat.
Opening the door, he said, "Good eve—" and stopped; the dwarf before him, shining gold in the sunset, was possibly the most handsome male Paul had ever seen, tall and well-muscled, his hair flowing in the evening breeze. And he was smiling at Paul, looking as happy to see him as if they were long-lost friends reunited.
"Teemu Selanne," the Dwarf said, and took Paul's hand—
Paul squeaked as a shock ran through his fingers, and clutched the Dwarf;s hand tighter.
The Dwarf paused momentarily, bowing over Paul's hand, then grinned up at him. "Forever at your service."
"I, ah — forever?" Paul blinked at his — his soulmate?! His soulmate, on his doorstep. A Dwarf. Paul blinked again and flexed his tingly fingers, stunned. "Ah. Yes. Well."
Teemu dropped a light kiss on Paul's cheek and winked, smiling, as if this was all some great joke, and they should share it together.
Paul blushed, and hoped the fading glow of sunset would hide it. "Hm. Uh, Paul... Paul Kariya... at yours. Forever." He turned his hand in Teemu's — Mr. Selanne's hand and shook it firmly.
Teemu smiled again and turned him around their gripping hands, throwing his free arm across Paul's shoulders as he escorted him into his own home.
Paul twitched in his embrace and looked up at him. "Teemu... have we met before?"
Teemu laughed, kindly. "No. But I can tell we will become the best of friends! Now, which way, Paul? Is it down here?" He steered Paul down the hallway, towards the sound of Gretzky's laugh.
Paul blinked up at him; he really was remarkably handsome. And warm. And Paul felt so safe, in his arms.... "Is...Is what down where?"
Teemu squeezed Paul's shoulder and steered them into the front room. "Supper? And I want to thank you and your family for inviting us to dinner, it really is very kind of you," he said, and finally let go of Paul as he dropped a kiss on Mama's hand. "You are a wonderful hostess and a credit to your Race, Mistress Kariya."
"Oh!" Mama looked surprised for a moment, glancing at Gretzky, and then smiled. "Of course, we're happy to have you—"
Paul couldn't hold in a snort. Mama might well be happy to have such guests, but she'd have been much happier with time to prepare a proper meal. Honestly — wizards!
"Please, take off your coat," Mama continued, "Sit, sit. Tea?"
"Thank you." He shrugged out of his coat and looked around, hesitating.
"I'll take that," Paul said, and stepped out into the hall. Glancing quickly behind him, he lifted Teemu's coat up to his nose and inhaled the scents. His soulmate! A Dwarf! And now he was going to have to go on a dratted Adventure with that thrice-damned Wizard, and Gretzky was going to be unbearably smug about it all the way, ugh. He rubbed his face in Teemu's coat. And then muttered to himself, "you old fool, nothing sadder than a desperate spinster, honestly!" and hastily hung Teemu's coat up, smoothing it down. He should just have time to sneak into the kitchen and start preparing a meal for Teemu and their surprise guests—
Somebody knocked at the door. Paul groaned and let his head fall forward, hiding his face in Teemu's coat
He opened the door to yet another tall, muscular, smiling Dwarf. "Greetings—"
"Good evening," said the Dwarf, politely. "Joe Sakic, at your service." He bowed. "Is my brother here?"
"Your— oh, Teemu?" Paul coughed, "I mean, Mr. Selanne. Yes?"
"Excellent!" Mr. Sakic clapped his hands together and shouldered past Paul. "Brother!" he yelled, striding into the smial. Teemu ran out of the front room and crashed into his brother, forehead first, CRACK!
"No, please, do come in," muttered Paul, closing the door behind Mr. Sakic. "You're more than welcome, let me take your coat—"
"Thank you," smiled Mr. Sakic, and dropped his coat and then his weapons into Paul's arms.
And after that it was a stream of Dwarves, a river, a flashing flood!
Three dwarves from the Russian hills, who spoke Common with a thick accent: "Pavel Bure, at your service," the first had said, "and these are my cousins, Sasha, he speaks a little Common—"
The tall, gap-toothed one with a broken nose and two axes smiled and grabbed Paul's shoulders, kissing him on both cheeks. "Alexander Ovechkin, at your service, Paul Kariya! Call me Sasha."
Paul struggled free, and smoothed his hair, his ruffled clothes. "Ah, Sasha."
"—and Zhenya," Pasha continued, "he hardly speaks any Common, but he's a good boy, not rude at all." He muttered something in Russian Dwarvish at the boy, who shuffled his feet and nodded.
Zhenya looked at Paul, then recited, slowly and carefully, "Evgeni Malkin, at your service." He waved a hand, then pointed at his own chest. "Zhenya, please."
"Zhenya," Paul tried, and then kept trying, frowning at himself, until he got it right. "Zhenya."
After them, just as he was filling the oven with roast and pies, three cousins all wearing red and carrying long bladed staffs with feathers tied to them, Mr. Sharper — who tried to scrape his boots clean on Mama's glory box; Mr. Tazer — who was in the midst of a violent argument with the short blonde cousin, wrestling him to the floor in the middle of the hall, and knocking the mirror quite askew; and Mr. Kaner, the blond, who insisted on calling Paul "Mr. Kirayi" despite several corrections; he appeared to think it was a great joke, and so did his cousins, who promptly joined in with it!
If Paul hadn't met Teemu Selanne first, he would have been absolutely convinced that Dwarves were all terrible beings. And still the flood of Dwarves continued!
Three more Dwarvish cousins in elaborate helmets and heavy armour, all carrying huge heavy weapons, Mr. Henrik, Mr. Dominik, and Mr. Nicklas, who were at least wonderfully polite and well-mannered.
Just as he was serving Dinner — late enough to be Supper; Paul's stomach was growling like a small bear, and he had to serve his guests before he could eat himself — there was yet another knock at the door. More Dwarves! And the smial was already so crowded, with Father and his siblings, Gretzky taking up more space than was entirely necessary, and eight dwarves; how would more possibly fit?
"You're late," he snapped, throwing the door open. "Paul Kariya, at your service I'm sure, now get in before you let all the warm air out." He grabbed the shortest dwarf and pulled.
Well, he tried to pull; the short Dwarf set himself, bent knees, and didn't move an inch. "Prince Sidney-Crosby," he said. "At your service, sir."
Paul dropped his hand and closed his eyes, taking a moment to breathe; there was a reason he hated socialising, and it was because of moments like this. "Your Highness," he said, "Please be welcome in my family's home."
The Prince nodded, smiling awkwardly, and looked over to the taller Dwarves. The long-haired brunette stepped forward. "Prince Jaromir-Jagr," he said, and gripped Paul's hand like he wanted to break it. "I'm Sidney's older brother."
"Ah, welcome, Your Highness," Paul said, and shook his hand out, wincing. He hesitated to offer his hand to the oldest Dwarf, but the short-haired brunette smiled at him.
"King Mario-Lemieux," he said. "Thank you for making us welcome in your home, Mr. Kariya."
Paul winced. Three royals, and Gretzky hadn't said a word of warning. Damn him.
Luckily, Father and Mama and Mama's wooden spoon had managed to save enough food to feed all four of them — though nothing that would befit the status of a KIng and two Princes — and enough ale made everyone happy.
Paul tucked himself tighter under Teemu's arm, ignoring his Father's frown, when Sharpy spoke of the many horrors of the dragon, gleefully enjoying every wince he provoked from the Kariyas and the younger Dwarves, and then listened as they sang sad songs of their lost home in various Dwarvish dialects, Teemu's chest thrumming under his ear, his heart beating steady and strong — "And all for me," Paul muttered, smiling, and then blushed when the room stopped to stare at them.
"You — stop drinking, and go to bed." Father ordered. "Your behaviour is becoming quite improper, Paul—"
"No." Paul said. Then curled up tighter to Teemu when his family stared at him. He looked at his Father. "My behaviour is perfectly proper, Father. Mr. Selanne is my soulmate."
Father blinked, then turned his glare to Teemu. "Is what my son says true?"
"It is," Teemu said, curling his arm around Paul even tighter. "Your son is my One."
"Hmph. Very well," Father said, and waved his hand. "You have my permission to court and marry."
The Dwarves started whooping and hollering, and Father winced, but sent Noriko out to fetch the good wine and some small cakes.
Teemu smiled down at Paul, and Paul smiled back at him, full of quiet joy. After a short, endless moment of staring joyously into each other's eyes, Teemu shook himself and dropped a kiss on the tip of Paul's nose. One of the Dwarves — Paul suspected Sharpy — made a comment about the joys of marital relations, and Paul ducked his head and blushed.
Teemu looked up, glaring around the table. "Paul Kariya is my One, now and forever, and I'll challenge any who harms him or tries to take him from me."
Paul thumped Teemu in the chest. "Don't be ridiculous. No-one's going to challenge you for me—"
"They might! You're perfect, so—"
"—and even if they did, I'm perfectly capable of killing anyone who'd try myself."
Prince Jaromir-Jagr snorted. "Really? You, a mighty warrior? You look more like a grocer to me."
"Hush, Jaro," said King Mario-Lemieux. "We meant no offence, Mr. Kariya, Mrs. Kariya." He looked at Paul. "What is your chosen weapon — sword or knives? Axe or spear? Bow?"
"Pebbles," Paul answered, raising his chin. "And a handkerchief."
Prince Jaromir-Jagr blinked at him, then suddenly slapped his knee and guffawed. "An excellent joke, little one! You almost had me!" He raised a mug of ale in salute, then gulped it all down, giggling, "Pebbles and a handkerchief, by Mahal!"
Kaner sat up though, and whispered in the ear of Prince Sidney-Crosby, who snapped a considering look at Paul, whispered again with Kaner, and then nodded at the King. "I'd like to see your skill, if you wouldn't mind?"
"Well, I'd love to show you, but it's late," Paul demurred. "You wouldn't be ab;e to see much, this time of night—"
"Now, what kind of fool do you take my brother for?" Prince Jaromir-Jagr interrupted. "It was a good joke, I'll give you that, but no need to keep up the ridiculous pretence that you have any skill with weapons, still less that a handkerchief and some pebbles could kill a man."
And after that, Father and Teemu both agreed — at Gretzky's suggestion, the meddling fool — that nothing would satisfy Paul's impugned honour but a display of skill. Which is how Paul ended up shivering in the garden by torchlight, ignoring the Dwarves as they placed bets with each other on his skill (Kaner and Prince Sidney-Crosby, surprisingly) or lack thereof (Prince Jaromir-Jagr, unsurprisingly), twisting his handkerchief into a slingshot and aiming at a pig's head balanced on a stool.
Ten minutes later, after putting a stone through the pig's forehead and two more through each eye, throwing fast enough to keep three stones in the air at once, hitting moving targets and knocking several leaves off a tree at the end of the garden, Prince Jaromir-Jagr, now significantly poorer, apologised and shook his hand, and Kaner and Prince Sidney-Crosby — "Please, call me Sid; I hate awkward conversations, and you've definitely earned the right" — were asking him for tips, Tazer listening in, and Sasha writing it all down in his notebook as Pasha translated into Russian Dwarvish.
Father looked satisfied that family honour had been restored, and Mama and his brothers and sister looked proud of him for standing up to Gretzky, Prince Jaromir-Jagr, and the Dwarves.
King Mario-Lemieux smiled and clapped him on the shoulder. "Well! Well, indeed! It seems we have our Company after all!"
Paul turned to Teemu, who was silent and wide-eyed beside him. "Well?"
"I, I've never seen—. You—." Teemu snapped his mouth closed and took a breath in through his nose. "Come." He held a hand out to Paul, waving it impatiently. "I will help you pack your things. Now."
Paul thought of that: Teemu packing his things, touching his things. In his room. His bedroom. Which had a bed in it. The two of them, alone together...
"The door stays open, of course," Mama said. Paul shot her a betrayed look. "Don't look at me like that, young man. The door stays open." She winked at him, merrily. "Now run along and pack for your adventure!"
"Paul. Will you come with me?" Teemu held his hand out.
"You have to ask? I'll follow you to the ends of Middle Earth," Paul said, and grabbed his soulmate's hand, dragging him off to his bedroom.