[personal profile] purplekitte
Title: One Day More, chapter 1 (other chapters)
Fandom: Warhammer 40k
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: 2187
Summary: A Silent Sister has a conversation with Leman Russ on the way to Prospero.


Mahina liked the wolves.

It made the men laugh, when the wolves barrelled her over, and comment how they could take off more than her head in a bite if they hadn’t been ordered not to. They took jesting bets on how far down her chest the teeth would go in the first bite before she was gobbled up. Even compared to her sisters, she was the only one who had to wear her powersword across her back rather than at a hip lest it drag on the ground.

Mahina didn’t care much for men. Her sisters did not jest, but they thought little of her when there were no combat drills or chores for her. She was the least and youngest among them to have taken vows, drab as a sparrow among firebirds and as out of place for it. At least she had the wolves.

Mahina crept through the Hrafnkel like a shadow. At least she wasn’t half deaf like the Chapter-serfs who chattered so and never listened. She could hear voices or footsteps or servo-motors from ages away and avoid them down other corridors of the ship. Schedules were varied so there would always be crew, but for most people it was late ship’s night.

It wasn’t like she was doing anything forbidden either. Her Oblivion Knight had said not to get in anyone’s way and not to go near the navigators or astropathic choir. The Astartes had told the Sisters which areas were off-limits without personal invitation, but these were public training-cages. The Wolves of Fenris disapproved on principle of such sterile things, but they needed spaces for fighting among themselves when real war did not present itself and she did not know what else to call them.

It wouldn’t be in use or anything, Mahina reassured herself. Brother Freistin had been complaining last month about how Asny would of course choose somewhere so inconvenient for her den, but who could argue with a she-wolf in such a mood? The jaunt of Riki’s tail had told her Asny was finally letting him close to her pups only now, even though he was her mate, and Mahina had waited three more days just in case.

Mahina opened the door slowly to let Asny get a good look and sniff at her. The wolf didn’t bark or growl to tell her to go away as she hung in the doorway, so she eventually closed it behind her. It smelled very strongly of unhousebroken wolf and dander was everywhere.

From there, glad no one else was watching, she approached the massive wolf on her hands and knees. She kept her head low and shoulders slumped to look as submissive and nonthreatening as possible. She wished she could chuff in the back of her throat and whine to emphasise this further, but of course she did not.

Asny flicked an ear when she got nearby, inviting her to approach her, carefully, and Mahina had to fight very hard to give no indication she noticed the grey balls of fur in the corner of her eye when she wanted to stare at them.

Mahina approached with her belly low to the ground and nosed at the underside of Asny’s jaw. The smell was almost overwhelming, but it figured she hadn’t left her den for long enough to take a real bath in one of the tubs that were practically indoor lakes even though they were usually fastidious animals.

Asny sniffed her, her breath hot against her face, and considered her, then started licking her dirty-blonde hair and tattooed brow with a huge wet tongue. Pack, her body language said. Yearling pup from a previous litter not dispersed yet. Nursemaid.

Mahina could hardly contain her glee as she turned her attention to the puppies, signing a flood of words to Asny as best she could with her hands mostly occupied with furious petting. The wolf wouldn’t actually understand her words, but it was obvious that when their Space Marine brothers spoke to them it was by hand signal and body language with a word here or there only for emphasis. Who needed to speak aloud to speak and who needed words to have meaning?

:They’re so big, Asny! They look tiny next to you, but they must be fifty kilos each already. And three of them! I thought they’d be darker like you, but they only have their undercoats, and I guess it’s your outercoat that’s black. They don’t even have that hump on their necks and shoulders to show they’re Blackmanes, I guess because they’re growing too fast to be putting away fat stores. Oh, they’re so cute and fluffy! Are you teaching them to hunt rats? They don’t even have teeth yet, do they? Their eyes are all blue. How long does it take to grow out of that?:

The three puppies romped with her gladly, pouncing and tugging and tripping over their oversized feet. She would get assigned much atonement by the Vigilator for the state of her tunic if nothing else, but she’d known that all along.

Worn out, Mahina flopped on the ground, only to be nosed against Asny’s side by the mother wolf and nosed this way and that by puppies trying to nurse.

She didn’t think she would fall asleep, but she must have. The puppies were asleep, Asny was watching something, and Mahina blinked back her half-asleep half-awake haze full of dreams where someone had been weeping, sobbing, muttering words she couldn’t quite make out.

She saw the blood on the deck first. For a moment she wondered if someone had come by to leave meat by the door and Asny had dragged it back to her favourite corner, but that was wrong.

This was not a random blood spatter like one might leave in training or might drip from a haunch. It was a purposeful pattern, though not one that meant anything to her.

She bent to study it. It was still wet but clotted and congealed. She wiped her fingers on her shirt, reminding herself that touching strange substances was unhygienic and stupid.

The second thing Mahina realised was that she and Asny were not alone. Freistin, Asny’s companion? Surely this must be an Astartes from his bulk.

As he unfolded himself from the shadow, it took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the scale of what she was seeing and realise her mistake.

Mahina was on one knee on the bulkhead before it occurred to her that she didn’t remember a word of the lecture the Vigilator had given about the political complications of who bowed to whom and who was an independent contractor and whatnot. Better to be polite. She got no respect from anyone; the younger novices were supposed to defer to her as a full sister, but she was too recently one of them and they were jealous she’d have the chance to go witch-hunting on Prospero while they were left behind with the fleet.

Still, she couldn’t help but study Leman Russ through her lashes. He was a giant of a man and she quite liked the idea of fighting beside him, but she didn’t feel any of the supernatural awe others acted like one was supposed to. Not surprising, considering that hadn’t been a hyperbole and it was hardly a secret, though it was considered rude to bring up.

It would also be rude to mention his eyes were redder than his hair and his hand was still smeared with drying blood.

‘You don’t have to look so embarrassed, lass. I was the one ignoring you. Your name?’

:Nalani Mahina, Null Maiden of the Frost Wolf cadre, Prosecutor squad, my lord,: she spelled out in clumsy Astartes hand-sign rather than one of the more nuanced, elegant, and quick hand-cants of her order.

‘Sister Nalani, Asny likes you quite a bit.’ He inclined his head to Asny slightly and she could read the conversation between them, wolf to wolf. The leader of the pack gives respect to a new mother. She’d heard his own wolf-brothers were almost always with him, but not now. Naturally. A human might seek out solitude where he could find it, but a wolf would see no excuse to intrude so close to a denning mother. If she got snappish and decided someone wanted to eat her pups, she would go instantly for the kill, not one of the bloodless dominance squabbles much more common between wolves and their own kind.

:I like her.: What was there to say?

People would talk about animals being ‘closer to nature’, but by and large they were less psychic than humans and largely indifferent to Mahina’s untouchable status.

‘She could take your head off in a single--’

:Yes, I’ve heard,: she signed sharply. Before she could think better of it, she changed the subject to, :What were you writing? I thought your folk didn’t.:

That she remembered being told by her superiors. If they don’t know hand-signs, get a novice. You can’t write the barbarians notes. This was obviously writing in an unfamiliar alphabet though. Maybe they only read their native language, not Terran Gothic, or maybe this was all a cover for the whole ongoing ideological divide in the Sisterhood between those who thought writing counted and only would use Orskade and those who didn’t.

‘We don’t. That’s different from can’t.’

:Why not? It’s so useful.:

‘It is for divination, not daily use. We know to be careful, unlike some people. To put a man’s name in runes is to trap his soul.’

That stank of witchcraft, to a Silent Sister, but mostly of silly superstition. She’d seen her own name in print after all, and in any case such decisions were well above her level of authority. :I, of all people, wouldn’t know, my lord.:

Russ laughed. She thought he sounded genuinely amused at the joke, but like he had not suddenly forgotten his own dark thoughts.

:What does it say? I can’t read it?:

‘No harm in repeating myself in Gothic runes so overused they’ve hardly any power in them.’

Mahina discovered after he casually cut his hand again and wrote that she now wished she could unknow it. She swallowed thickly, unsure what to say, and avoided any response whatsoever rather obviously. :So you do read standard Gothic too.:

‘I like people to think quite a number of things about me. Most of them are even true. It is often convenient to be thought stupid. That does not mean I didn’t learn the shapes of the foreign runes at a glance, even when I didn’t care to.’

Gene-enhanced superhuman and all, Mahina reminded herself. Stupid of her to have fallen for such things too. She thought about saying she knew it was nice to get underestimated. That way you could keep your own counsel with yourself. On the other hand, she’d never really, really wanted to say something to anyone and been inconvenienced by, in her case, her vows. She didn’t know what you said to that.

He changed the topic this time, before she could think of anything. ‘If you teach Asny’s puppies to be careful with you now, you’ll be able to get them to pull their punches when tussling with you when they’re bigger.’

:Am I allowed to?:

‘They’re not tame. If they will, it’s because they choose to. If they choose you, then they do.’

He shot her a pointed look that she couldn’t interpret. Appraising, maybe. If the eyes were the window to the soul, then she was working with a natural deficiency in that department. They were slightly more dilated then before, but she looked away to avoid making a dominance challenge, in the wolf way. The rest of his body language indicated he wasn’t quite making a threat, but this was by no means a promise of safety. Life was dangerous.

:Okay.:

‘Are they the pack you want at your side?’

:Yes.: Her hand moved without hesitation or forethought. :I like animals. I understand them. They hear me.: If she hadn’t been a null... but that was a pointless thing to think.

‘Then run with them. Don’t let anyone stop you, Sister Nalani.’ He turned to leave, sharing a few more silent words with Asny.

:Thank you, Wolf King! I won’t let you down.: To his retreating back, she added, :I’m sorry,: and thought he’d probably heard.

Mahina pet Asny for a bit, until the bells of the hours told her she had better get back to the mission or she was really going to get it. The Wolves always kept some Sisters around. If she was very diligent and respectful to her superiors and could show off how good she was at working with the wolves, the kind of thing these Space Marines respected, surely she could get permanently assigned to one of their expedition fleets.

Cheered, Mahina jogged the whole way back, thinking happy thoughts about a plan for the future and puppies and as little as possible about the words Magnus listen please written in blood.


(a/n: I’ve been writing her in an AU from someone else’s POV, and I really wanted to try Mahina’s own POV. Because she doesn’t talk everyone puts words in her mouth, and they are so obviously wrong as she gets increasingly sarcastic in her body language in response. Looks like outside the AU she still eventually ends up serving with the Wolves, but here she probably dies on Prospero.)
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purplekitte

March 2015

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