Melody was curled up next to the window, staring out at the snow that was falling lazily toward the ground. It had been four long years since the final battle, and even then, she still woke up screaming because of the nightmares. She knew that while she and her brothers were taking it hard, the ones taking it the hardest were Matt and Devon.
Well, speaking of a certain four-year-old. Melody turned her head to see that her nephew had entered the room, a look of concern pulling his mouth down into a frown. A weak smile coming to her face, she stood up and walked over to him, ignoring the Christmas tree (that Zack had been kind enough to cut down) that was decorated with ornaments in various colors, even the customary red and green, there was even strands of popcorn on it.
Picking Devon up for a brief hug, the woman met her nephew’s gray eyes with her own eyes of light blue. Putting him back down, she ruffled his hair, trying to comfort the boy even as she forced a weak smile to let him know everything was okay. “Come on, let’s go outside and play in the snow, ‘kay?” She commented absentmindedly, earning an eager smile from Devon. Leading the boy who was already decked out in proper winter attire outside, she watched as Devon ran off ahead of her before he started playing in the snow.
Melody leaned against the house for a moment; she didn't mean to, but she found that watching Devon play in the snow had dragged up some long buried memories…
She stood near the house, watching as Rhys played with his brothers. She personally didn’t feel like playing with them, and apparently her uncle-er father? She didn't know what to call Uncle Sam right now- had noticed her lack of interest in the snowball fight.
Feeling him place a hand on her head, Melody snuck a look in her uncle’s direction as he asked lightheartedly, “Penny for your thoughts, Mely?”
Pouting at the childish nickname, the eight-year-old girl huddled down in her winter coat even more, slightly grateful that the movement had caused strands of her blond hair to fall into her face. Noting her reluctance to talk, Sam tried again, “Come on Melody, what’s wrong? Why don’t you want to join your cousins in their snowball fight or making snow angels?”
“Because I don’t want to! What’s the point in believing in Santa or the magic of this stupid season if it just brings misery and stress?” Melody snapped. She knew that it wasn’t her uncle’s fault, but she couldn’t stop herself from shouting.
Blinking back tears, she focused back on her cousins to see that her outburst hadn’t gone unnoticed. Melody hated the unwanted attention, but probably what she hated more was when she felt the tears start to fall.
Turning sharply on her heel, Melody ran from the yard, her boots slapping against the snow and causing it to crunch under foot. She could hear the soft holiday music that drifted through the kitchen window, and she just wanted to scream as the lyrics wound their way out into the night air…
“You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen,
Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen,
But do you recall
The most famous reindeer of all…”
Jumping over the fence, she took off down the road; not caring where her feet took her as long as it was away from the pain. She didn’t hear her name being called, and even then, she wouldn’t have stopped to see who out of the guys was calling her. Melody wasn’t sure for how long she was running, but she stopped after the sun had gone down; she'd forgotten just how late in the day it was.
Putting her hands on her knees, the child tried to catch her breath. Looking up into the shop window she'd stopped by, she scowled at the image that had greeted her, even though a tiny part of her whispered it was wrong to be mad.
Mildly distorted because of the shop window, was the image of a family looking at the candy that the shop had to offer. Blinking again, Melody dropped her gaze before she could get caught staring. It only took a heartbeat for her register that there was someone standing behind her, looking up Melody let her confusion show as Zack stood behind her, a worried look in his blue-violet eyes that stared at her from the reflection of glass. Even so, the sixteen year old did his best to give his little cousin a reassuring smile.
“Sorry about Dad; you know he didn’t mean to offend you, right Mel?” Zack said softly. Crouching down so he was more on her level, he reached out and wrapped her up in a hug. Twisting in his grip, Melody couldn’t stop herself from burying her face in her cousin’s winter coat. Choking back a sob, she just curled her gloved fingers into the fabric of the coat.
“I want my parents back; I want to be at home with them.” She whispered, her voice strangled as more tears came to her eyes.
Melody felt Zack wrap her up in a tighter hug, and she didn’t have to look up to know he was hurting too; she could hear it as he said hoarsely, “I know Mely, I know; but we need to keep going. Mom wouldn't have wanted this, and neither would Uncle Dean and Aunt June. I know it’s hard, but I need you to be able to at least act as if you’re happy right now. Matt, Rhys and Tony could all use it; even Dad and I could use it. Who knows? Maybe if we act happy enough, we'll all be able to start believing it, and actually be happy for a little.”
Zack paused, and they both knew that he was asking way too much of an eight-year-old that had lost her parents just a couple months ago. Trying to follow his own advice, Zack put a smile on his face as he said cheerfully, “Come on, enough of this sad talk, let’s get some candy and head home. Maybe we could even see about building a snowman later.”
Nodding, Melody grabbed his hand as Zack stood up to his full height and started to follow him into the little shop…
Melody was dragged out of the memory compliments of a wayward snowball. Rubbing the extra snow out of her hair, she looked over to see that horrified look on Devon’s face. Looked like some of Matt and his brothers antics from a couple hours ago had slipped into Devon's head; no wonder the boy had wanted to go back outside. Smiling gently, she shrugged it off and bent down to create her own snowball. “You know Devon; it’s not very nice to attack your opponent when it’s clear they’re not mentally there,” the woman whispered, a twinkle in her eye as she judged the distance between her and the boy.
Throwing the snowball, she laughed as Devon got a face full of the lightly packed snow. Melody ran away from the safety of the house, even rolling out of the way as Devon threw another snowball in her direction. Grinning as a childish freedom slipped into place, Melody laughed as one of Devon’s projectiles collided with her. She threw her own snowball at him, again getting a hit as the boy accidentally stepped right into the path of it.
After about the fourth direct hit, Devon learned of Melody’s tricks, so their snowball fight got more interesting as they both tried to dodge their opponent’s attacks while trying to land a hit with their own. Flopping backwards into the snow, Melody watched as Devon flopped onto his own back and then worked on creating a snow angel.
Watching him for a few minutes in silence, Melody couldn’t help the sudden surge of emotion; she enjoyed the boy’s company, but at the same time it hurt since Devon made her want to reclaim her childhood, but she knew that was no way to do that.
“When’s mom going to come home?”
Melody glanced at Devon out of the corner of her eye, the knife twisting her heart at the all too familiar question. Devon had just been a baby, not even one, when Leyla had effectively “died” because of the price she had to pay for what she’d done in the final confrontation against Lucien. Looking away, Melody frowned a little bit since she was never sure how to answer that question.
“I-I don’t know, but your father’s trying to bring her back,” she admitted quietly. She could tell that Devon felt disappointed with the answer, and that wound up hurting even more. “I’m sorry, Dev, but I’m…”
Melody wasn’t expecting it, but it felt nice when Devon climbed into her lap and placed a finger to her mouth. “It’s okay; you’re just not feeling the magic right now.” Devon said matter-of-factly, a small smile spreading across the young boy’s face as he spoke with such conviction. “But I know for a fact that you’ll get there.”
Melody looked at Devon, her skepticism showing clear on her face even as that conviction dragged her mind a million miles away; but unlike the first time it was to two memories from four years ago.
She sat on the rock, looking down at the stream flowing beneath the ice. It had always amazed her, even when she was younger, that the water could still run so freely even when it was frozen. Her eyes traced the fish even as she kept her senses on high alert; she was waiting for her companion to fall asleep so she could slip away and talk to Tony about what she was supposed to do now. Her eyes darted to Razor; his hair was a light blond almost white color, contrasting nicely with his dark skin.
Melody couldn’t deny that he was handsome, but at the same time she couldn’t bring herself to love him. Her hand drifted up to the oval onyx necklace that she wore, the design of a wolf howling up at the moon stills her favorite piece of the necklace.
The necklace had been given to her by her boyfriend, who, while protective, understood why she didn’t want- no, couldn’t- leave Razor alone. The man had been broken when Luna, a woman he felt strongly for, had passed away and Razor had shortly afterwards been diagnosed with an illness that was slowly but surely killing him.
It still amazed Melody that Tony had been able to stick it out all those years ago when Laurel had been sick. How had he been able to stand watching her struggle against the cancer, unable to do anything but offer support? Seeing Razor like this, fighting a losing battle against his own body, being unable to do more than try to comfort him, was tearing Melody apart.
She noticed the slight change in Razor’s breathing, signaling to her that the man had finally fallen asleep. Rising to her feet, she walked over and bent down, lightly kissing him on the cheek before she whispered, “Don’t worry, we’ll get through this, I promise.” Standing up to her full height, she turned to the trees and started to walk away so she could talk to Tony to get some much needed advice on what she should do…
Melody walked up behind Matt; reaching him, she reached out a hand and placed it lightly on his shoulder. “You okay?” She asked, her voice like that of a mother concerned for her child. Which, considering the fact they were practically twins, felt weird whenever Melody slipped into “mother mode” as Tony liked to put it.
She didn’t like the look in Matt’s eyes as he turned to face her; he looked broken, completely unsure of what to do. Reaching out her arms, Melody took the little bundle that was in Matt’s arms. She took a moment to make sure the baby was comfortable, and then turned her attention to the man that she considered, not her cousin, but her brother. Again, she asked, “Are you okay?”
“Mel, I just lost my girl. How do you think I’m feeling?” Matt retorted, and she didn’t hold his attitude against him. Twenty-two seemed to be a hard age for those in their family; Tony had been that age when the Heartless took Laurel. Now, it was Matt that was hurting. The last battle should have been a triumph for all of them, except...
Leyla was gone.
Melody's eyes once more unwillingly darted to the stone state that was their friend Leyla. Leyla looked beautiful as a statue, and she even looked a little peaceful considering of what they had all just gone through just a couple weeks ago. Melody forced herself to look back to Matt; a weak smile on her face, she said, “I know, and I’m sorry about that; but while you should get a chance to grieve, you have to remember something Matt. You’ve got Devon counting on you now. So, I’ll take him for a bit and then, when you’re ready, you can come and be a father for him.”
She knew she should have been kinder; but apparently that was just enough to get Matt to smile and come back to himself just a little. Melody felt the brotherly peck on the forehead that he gave her, before Matt laughed, “Thanks Mel, I swear I don’t know what would have happened to all of us if you weren’t there to help us out.”
Grinning as they fall into their usual exchange, Melody answered sarcastically, “You probably would have all jumped off a train by now because you boys thought it was a good idea.”
A laugh escaped the two; then, growing serious, Melody added, “Don’t worry Matt, you’ll get all of this fixed up. I know you will, even if it takes you a bit of time.”
Melody forced herself back, hoping that she hadn’t been gone for too long. A quick look at Devon told her that she didn't have to worry much about that. Thank goodness. Climbing back to her feet, she looked at him and asked, “How about we make some cookies?”
Melody watched as Devon bolted into the house, oddly suspicious that some of his cheerfulness was just an act. But that was Devon, she supposed. Even though he was still so young, he always wanted his family to be happy, so he'd do what he needed to to try to make sure of that, even if some of his happiness was just a front. Devon really was Matt's son in temperament, even if not in blood; both of them were incredibly sweet and family oriented. Shaking her head, Melody moved to follow him, only to hesitate as the front gate swung open and a voice called out, “Did I hear something about cookies?”
A smile spreading across her face, Melody turned to see that Aaron was there. Smiling at the surprise visit, she waited until he was close and then gave him a hug. “I’m so glad you’re here.” She said, pulling back she grabbed his hand and led him toward the house. Stepping inside, she ditched her shoes and headed for the kitchen. Melody heard Aaron taking off his shoes as he asked, “You do know Rhys’ got a party going on tonight at six, right?”
“How could I not? It’s my cousin we’re talking about,” she answered, already turning on the oven and getting to work on the cookies. She didn’t have to look to know Devon had turned on the radio; she gave a sad laugh as the song on the radio reached her ears. It was just so perfect with everything going on with her and the others.
“There’s a little manger scene
Down on Third and Main
I must’ve walked right by
it a thousand times.
But I see it now in
A different light
Cause I know you are there.”
Melody rubbed at her eyes, brushing away the tears as the song continued to play. The song always had her crying, and the recent events sure didn’t help. She felt more than saw Aaron slip up behind her and wrap his arms around her. “Hey, it’s going to be okay. You go get ready for the party; I’ll take over on baking.” Aaron said soothingly, already setting work on gently guiding her out of the kitchen.
“No buts, you go relax. I’ve got this under control.” Aaron insisted, seeing that there was no winning against him; Melody slipped away to do as she was told.
Five Hours Later, and at the party
Melody was wearing a soft silver gown, her eyes easily picked out Devon playing with Matt. Letting her eyes drift around the room, she glanced over at the eggnog that was on the table in a bowl. She’d already had a bit, and she could understand why Tony had said the children couldn’t touch it. He’d spiked the stupid thing. Instead, he tried to direct the under aged to the punch bowel that he'd left untouched.
In the fireplace was a yule log that Laurel had put on to help warm up the house. Scanning the room, she had felt a twinge of disappoint since Aaron had slipped away as soon as they had arrived, apparently needing to talk to Tony, Zack and Rhys about something. Mel suspected that Lily, Cheza, and Laurel were in on it, since they kept throwing looks her way and grinning. Frowning ever so slightly, Melody turned to get another glass of soda when Adrian slipped up next to her.
“Hey, how are you holding up?”
Slipping the angel-hybrid a look, she returned to getting a drink as she answered the Nephilim, “Probably about as well as everyone else here,” she grumbled, not meaning to come across as snappy to him. Mumbling a quick apology, she saw Edge making his way over to the table, a look of worry on his face.
Nodding to him, she whispered to Adrian, “Any idea what’s up?”
Adrian glanced at the man and whispered, “Apparently he’s been worried about Kit enough that he hasn’t been sleeping. Haha, although looks like he’s going to have something else to worry about soon.” Puzzled by the laughter, Melody followed Adrian’s gaze and saw what it was that had made him laugh.
Kitridge had just suddenly appeared.
Smiling, she gave her drink to Adrian and wandered over to Kit. “What’s been keeping you away?” Melody laughed, happy to see that Kit was doing well after not seeing her for the past couple of years. Scanning the girl up and down, she took note of the blue dress that Kit was wearing; and that even the younger woman’s eyes seemed brighter because of the blue dress.
“Are you—are you okay Kit?” Melody asked, suddenly concerned because her friend just seemed exhausted.
Forcing a weak smile, Kit answered, “Yeah, I’m fine. I’m just really tired, I want to talk to father and see if he’s willing to look after them for me.”
It was then that Melody looked down to see two children, neither one could be more than eighteen months old. The little girl had light skin and medium colored hair; her blue-grey eyes seemed to be plotting something despite her young age. Melody turned her gaze to the boy, to see that while his sister was fair, he was dark. His skin was along the lines of a mocha color and his eyes were a brown-amber color, the only area light about him was his hair. There he had Kit’s silver hair.
“Kit, where’s their father?” Melody asked, concerned because of the fact that the children’s father was nowhere in sight. Although, that concern was replaced when Kit looked her in the eye and said coldly, “He couldn’t make it.”
It was right then that Devon ran up, looked at the two children, looked at Kit and started asking a bunch of questions. Smiling in amusement, Melody watched as Kit humored Devon by answering all of his questions before the three children took off to play. “I get the feeling your son and Devon will be getting along pretty well.”
“With any luck, yes, and hopefully it’ll keep Xeo out of trouble.” Kitridge mumbled, before looking at her again and asking coolly, “Is my father here?”
More than a little taken aback, Melody nodded and answered, “He’s at the refreshment table.” She watched as Kit excused herself and then walked away, heading straight for the table where Melody had seen Edge. Turning to watch her go, Melody couldn’t shake that there was something wrong.
Suddenly feeling crowded, Melody turned to leave the room and duck outside for some fresh air. Keeping her head bowed so she wouldn’t make eye contact, Melody quickly left the room and made her way to outside. Leaning on the railing, she took in a deep breath and exhaled, trying to expel the anxiety she was suddenly feeling. Resting her head on her arms, she stared up at the stars, searching for any sign that someone may or may not be willing to listen to her. The icicles that hung from the roof or the railing didn’t bother her. Closing her eyes for a few minutes, Melody found herself humming a Christmas song; one that she had gotten stuck into her head more than once. Hearing it come on the radio, she smiled just the tiniest bit as the artist kept in time with the music.
“Where are you Christmas?
Why can’t I find you?
Why have you gone away?
Where is the laughter you used to bring me?
Why can’t I hear music play?”
A sad laugh escaping her, Melody turned to face the house and leaned backwards over the railing, her face slipping into a sad pensive look as she stared up at the clear night sky. “Can I try to restore that Christmas magic to you?” Aaron asked, sliding the door shut behind him as he stepped onto the back deck. Shrugging in answer, Melody turned around and focused on the backyard, tracing the leafless trees with her eyes. “In order to do so, I need you to close your eyes and only open them when I say so.” Aaron said.
Closing her eyes, Melody nearly opened them when Aaron removed the necklace that he had given her. “No, don’t. Trust me.” Aaron whispered in her ear, and even though it was a fight, she listened. She felt it when the locket was replaced, and she could have sworn that there was some extra weight on it. “You can open your eyes now.” Aaron whispered against her ear, and if she was right, he was smiling.
Opening her eyes, she looked down at her necklace to see that a simple gold band had been added to it. “Y-You…Is this why you slipped away to talk to my brothers?” She stammered, transfixed on it.
“Yes, and you don’t like it?”
She heard the fear in Aaron’s voice, leaning forward she answered gently; “I love it, and yes.” Melody didn’t give Aaron a chance to cheer at her acceptance, instead she kissed him. Although she could tell that he was thrilled that she had accepted his marriage proposal. Crying tears of happiness, Melody pulled back and added, “It’s perfect, thank you Aaron.”
“Yeah, I was hoping it would make you happy, I’m just a little bummed that we don’t have enough time to make it a Christmas wedding.”
And it was perfect in more ways than one; it helped to restore the feeling of Christmas that had been lost for so long. In all honesty, beyond a couple of things (and if she couldn’t get that back, she was fine), Melody couldn’t think of a better Christmas.
It was perfect.
Bundled up in two separate coats, a pair of mittens, a scarf, tobogin and a hood, Aaron Riggs carefully made his way through Christmas Town. The snow was falling rather heavily and despite the fact that he was a fire magic specialist, the man was frozen stiff. Cold had never been one of his favorite temperatures and warming up later on, snuggled up with his girlfriend (hopefully future fiancé) was something he was looking forward to. For now though, Aaron had a friend to talk some sense into and another friend to remember fondly.
She had always loved this town, and that’s why they were here.
It took a while, it also took a lot of slipping, falling and swearing, but Aaron finally made it to a little out of the way spot in the frozen forest near the town. Another figure was already there, wearing a simple black long coat, hood up.
“Let me guess. Been here all day?” Aaron asked tartly.
“Kit’s dropping the kids off with Edge.” The figure’s voice was flat “Apparently he’s having some sort of party.”
“You have no intention of going do you?” Aaron sighed “Your just going to stand here and stare at her grave until the sun rises or you freeze to death.”
The figure said nothing and Aaron stepped up beside him, looking over at the gravestone that they had carved out four years ago today.
“I’m going to ask Melody to marry me.” Aaron said after a few moments “I want you to be there.”
“I already told Kit I couldn’t make it.” His companion said “I wouldn’t be any fun to be around..”
“You don’t want to say goodbye to your kids?” Aaron demanded “You don’t want to be with Kit? You don’t want to see your sister? Damn it all Timmy, Shiki would be furious with you right now!”
Timmy Chance didn’t say anything, letting Aaron’s anger wash over him as he looked forlornly at the gravestone.
“Christmas is when it hits the hardest.” He said quietly “It was her favorite time of the year, you remember? She’d always go overboard decorating Master’s house, would drag us off to sing carols and build snowmen. This day comes and suddenly it’s like I’ve lost her all over again. The memories just…slam into me and I don’t want to do anything, I can’t care about anything.”
Aaron knew about this feeling. It would be counterproductive to admit it right now but he too felt that way when Chirstmas rolled around. When he saw Santa and Christmas lights and remembered the way her face would brighten up when they visited her favorite old man. But…
“…you can’t be miserable on Christmas.” Aaron said “She always said that you have three hundred and sixty four other days to be miserable but no matter what happens you have no choice but to be happy on Christmas. The two of us have to do what she always did. We have to spread as much joy and good cheer as we can on Christmas. Just like she would have wanted.”
They stood there in silence for a little longer, the both of them lost in their memories of their best friend before Aaron turned around.
“I’ve gotta leave now otherwise I’ll be late.” He said “I wanna see you there, got it?”
Timmy ignored him.
Aaron sighed and started to walk, it was even colder now than it was when he had gotten here and it wasn’t going to be a fun trip back to his gummi ship. Timmy was as still as a statue and Aaron could only hope that he’d be able to put aside his grief for the love he had lost, and look ahead towards the love he had gained.
“How about we make some cookies?”
Aaron grinned as he slipped his hood off and at the thought of his girlfriend’s special cookies.
“Did I hear something about Cookies?” he called out, heart lightening up as he walked towards Melody and she gave him a warm hug. His heart fluttered, it always did when she hugged him. Or smiled at him. Or looked at him.
Hand in hand, the young couple walked over to the house and into the wonderful warmth it provided. They discussed the party as Aaron shed his winter clothes and stretched, comfortable for the first time all day. Scratch that, he was happy for the first time all day. A song about a manger started to softly play and Aaron quick walked into the kitchen, coming across Melody silently crying. He decided to give her a hug. Hugs, in his experience, tended to solve many of life’s problems after all.
“Hey, it’s going to be okay. You go get ready for the party; I’ll take over on baking.” Aaron said soothingly, slowly guiding her out of the kitchen
“No buts, you go relax. I’ve got this under control.” Aaron insisted. It would be a breeze to make Christmas cookies and Melody clearly needed a break. His girlfriend left and Aaron started getting out the supplies he would need for his dish.
“Lets see here.. marshmellows.. chocolate…”
Melody always kept her kitchen well stocked and in no time at all Aaron had everything lined up neatly on the table. He stared at the cookie baking materials for a moment, pain beginning to blossom in his chest.
“They’re my special Santa cookies!”
“Santa? They look nothing like Santa!”
“Yeah but they are chocolate and marshmellow! Santa says he loves chocolate and marshmellow! Now put on aprons you two, I’m going to teach you how to make them!”
“Shiki the last time I tried to make cookies I set the kitchen on fire”
“Well THIS is going to be the one thing that you’ll be able to cook Timmy. This one thing!”
“I think your going to need a Christmas miracle for that to happen”
“Aaron! No negative comments!”
“hahaha, yes mom.”
Aaron slowly got to work on the one dish his best friend could make without hurting himself, cookies so tasty that Santa would visit Twilight Town twice just so he could get a second helping.
He was extremely careful to make sure none of his tears got into the batter.
Aaron had never been one for these sorts of parties.
He was dressed up in his nicest orange and black suit and had just had a very uncomfortable talk with Melody’s brothers. Said brothers saw fit to give him a stern talking to when he went to get their permission to marry Melody. But luckily it was mostly in good fun and they granted him permission. Mind you he would have done it anyway but it was nice to not have to cause a scene.
Aaron jumped, looking around to see Timmy smirking at him, dressed up in his own suit, but his was red and black.
“That’s what I did with Kit.” He said after the two exchanged a quick, manly, hug “She never even saw it coming. Plus she looks a bit down.”
“Everyone’s a bit down these days.” Aaron sighed “Kit and the kids are over with Edge.”
“Yay.” Timmy rolled his eyes “My favorite in-law. Cosmos forbid she talk to Rydia, she actually likes me!”
“Yes well, you go over and speak to Pop Pop and I’m going to go propose.” Nervousness was pooling in his belly, what if she refused?
“Good luck” Timmy and Aaron knuckle bumped and went their separate ways. Hopefully Kitridge would be a bit more cheerful now that Timmy was here.
Pushing thoughts about everything else aside, Aaron walked over to where he saw Melody slip out. She really did look sad…
“Can I try to restore that Christmas magic to you?” he asked, sliding the door shut behind him as he stepped onto the back deck. Shrugging, Melody turned around and faced the backyard. Aaron swallowed a lump in his throat and gathered up his courage
“In order to do so, I need you to close your eyes and only open them when I say so.” He forced his voice to not crack.
She did so and he silently placed the necklace on her. She nearly opened her eyes too, “No, don’t. Trust me.” Aaron whispered in her ear, and held in a sigh of relief as she complied. He fiddled with the locket, replacing it with a ring and nearly dropped it because his hands picked right now to start to shake.
She opened her eyes and gasped“Y-You…Is this why you slipped away to talk to my brothers?” She stammered, looking at the ring with wide eyes.
“Yes, and you don’t like it?” fear flooded his senses. She didn’t like it. She was going to say no. He had thought that they were ready to get married but it turned out that he had thought too fast and…
“I love it, and yes.”
She said yes.
Aaron’s thoughts stopped when Melody suddenly kissed him. Aaron responded with gusto, happy as can be that she had accepted.
They were gonna get married!!
They broke apart and Melody looked at him, crying again. But this time he was positive they were happy tears “It’s perfect, thank you Aaron.”
“Yeah, I was hoping it would make you happy, I’m just a little bummed that we don’t have enough time to make it a Christmas wedding.”
Melody smiled brightly and they stood there in each other’s arms, staring at the stars.
Eventually they heard music beginning to play, louder music that wasn’t at all like the soft, Christmassy music that had been on before.
There's a party here on Blue Planet
There's excitement in the air
People pouring in from near and far
'Cause Aaron and Melody are gonna have a wedding!”
“Is that?” Melody looked at the doors in wonder as Aaron facepalmed
There's a party here on Blue Planet
So I'm going to paint the town
If you want to see what colours are
Follow me around
Aaron’s gettin' married and it's
gonna be the wedding of the century!
“YOU WILL DO NO SUCH THING!”
“Edge.” Aaron chuckled “and Timmy wonders why the man hates him.”
Melody was laughing “Come on, lets go drag him off so he doesn’t get killed. Can’t have our wedding if you don’t have a best man after all.”
In high spirits the two returned to the party.
It was a Merry Christmas after all.
Matt ducked low, just able to avoid the snowball that Melody had thrown at his head. Spinning on his heel, the blonde had his arm already cocked back, a retaliatory shot in his grip, when he felt something smack against the back of his head and run down his neck in cold rivulets. Doing a sharp turn to his right, Matt saw Devon standing a few yards away, a mischievous grin flitting around the little boy’s face. A wicked grin of his own cracking wide open, Matt shouted, “Hey, don’t think you’re getting away with that one!”
“Run, Dev!” Mel shouted, her voice fading into peals of laughter as the little boy was already fleeing, his bright blue jacket almost obscured by the snow he was kicking up. Matt didn’t stick around to deal any retribution to Melody; she’d get what was coming to her later. Right now, he had an errant little boy to teach a lesson to.
For being all of four years old, Devon was fast. He managed to slip into the tree line before Matt caught up with him, and by then, it was too late. Matt went down on his knees, a surprised yelp escaping his throat as the young man was hit by a barrage of snowballs. Male laughter echoed through the trees, and Matt knew then that he’d been had. That little stinker had led him right into a trap!
Unable to escape the barrage, Matt’s eyes blazed silver before he Shifted into his wolf form, the snowballs breaking against his steel blue coat before falling to the ground, harmless. Matt leaped behind an old oak before returning to a human again, while a laughed shout of, “Hey! No Shifting!” followed him as he ducked for cover.
“Right, and let you guys keep the advantage by having me outnumbered? I’ll use all the tricks in my bag that I have!”
Peeking around the trunk of the tree, Matt saw Rhys, Tony, and Zack ducking around the cover of their own trees as they made their way toward Matt’s position. Matt didn’t see Devon, but that didn’t matter; Devon was probably already heading back towards his aunt, his part in the older brothers’ scheme already completed.
However, just because Matt was the youngest of the Hunter boys, it didn’t mean he was without his own resources; baby brother he might be, but the twenty-six year old wasn’t all that little anymore. And, Matt had access to more latent magic than Rhys or the twins ever would. The silver of the wolf was still in Matt’s eyes, and the magic was high in his blood.
A stiff wind blew up behind Matt, setting the branches to rustling and the pine needles to scraping against each other. Matt pushed the wind to a higher speed, until the pines at last dropped their load of snow onto his three brothers. A chorus of shocked oaths jumped into the air, and Matt found another grin on his lips and his eyes sparked mischief as they faded back to their natural blue-violet.
Operation: Revenge was accomplished.
Matt turned quickly on his heel and jogged out of the copse of trees, not willing to stick around long enough for Rhys and the twins to recover and get their own vengeance on Matt. When the Hunters got going on exchanging pranks and revenge tactics, the wars could last up to two weeks, sometimes longer. Rhys and Lily were throwing a Christmas Party later that night, and Matt had some things he had to do in preparation for it. Now wasn’t the time to get drawn into yet another battle with his brothers.
He’d save that for the start of the New Year.
Matt softened his tread as he approached Melody, having noticed a familiar, little red headed boy standing with his back to Matt. Then, once he was three yards away, Matt exploded into action, capturing Devon and swinging him up into his arms before Devon had time to do more than squeak in surprise.
“Okay, time for some payback!”
Catching his breath, Devon almost lost it again as Matt started tickling him. The boy tried not to laugh, but he still failed as he cried out, “Stop it, Dad; that tickles!”
Okay, Matt guessed he could let Dev off the hook. Dropping the boy to the ground, Matt crouched down low so he was on Devon’s level before saying, “So, we’re even?”
Devon nodded quickly, his clear gray eyes made even brighter by the flush of color across his cheeks. “Yeah, we’re even! See you at the party?”
Matt reached up, ruffling Devon’s hair. “You bet, Buddy. Be good for Aunt Melody while I help Grandma and Grandpa with some things, ‘kay?”
Devon jumped at Matt, giving him a really tight hug. Matt returned the hug as Devon said, “Okay! I love you, Dad!”
Matt hugged the boy tighter for a moment as he said, “Love you too, Devon. See you tonight.”
Matt gave Mel a quick grin and a nod, then headed off to meet up with Anise and Arlene.
About Eight Hours Later
The party looked like it was a hit. Matt was standing apart from the rest of his friends and family for the moment, having found a brief lull in the festivities for a little time to step back and observe as he took a quick breather.
Matt and his brothers’ chat with Aaron had been pretty interesting, to say the least. Matt wasn’t going to lie; Aaron had some major problems in his past, but at the same time, the Hybrid had also hauled some serious ass to make up for those past wrongs. Aaron had gotten some ribbings and mild threats tonight from the brothers, mostly from Zack and Tony, but none of it had been too serious. Matt actually thought that Aaron was a good choice for Melody; both of them had fiery spirits, but they also balanced one another at the same time. Matt couldn’t wait to see Mel’s reaction to Aaron’s proposal, especially since he was making such an effort to follow the Hunter traditions. And despite the Hunters always trying their hardest to keep Christmas a happy time, a little bit of outside help to find that cheer never hurt.
A woman’s low laugh drew Matt’s attention, and the blonde found his eyes traveling to where Tony and Laurel stood near the decked out Christmas tree. Matt felt a slow smile spread across his face, one of happiness tinged with a note of melancholy. Laurel glowed, but she also looked like she was ready to burst. Everyone had taken to making bets on when she’d have the baby. Edge and Zack both thought it was going to be in the next couple of days, Lily was thinking that it’d be about New Year’s, and Matt personally thought Laurel would have the baby the first or second week of January.
But all jokes of the birth aside, Matt just couldn’t get over how happy Tony looked. Even after losing an eye in one of the many battles they’d fought against the Heartless, Tony had gotten the greatest gift he could hope for. Laurel, healthy and happy, had come back into his life four years ago, and the two of them had finalized the formalities of their relationship with the long awaited wedding.
And with the Hunters, the wedding vows really were just a formality. What mattered were the lockets that the Hunter men gave to their girls. If she accepted the locket, it meant that she held him heart, body, and soul, for as long as either one of them lived. Tony had given Laurel his locket almost ten years ago during a rather turbulent time for Laurel, and Matt was happy to see that the ride seemed to have finally smoothed out for those two. And not just them, either; it seemed like life had actually smoothed out enough that they were all settling down. Laurel had Tony’s locket, Cheza had Zack’s, and Rhys had given his to Lily. Hell, even Aaron had given a locket to Melody, and he was marrying in to the family. Matt was the only one who still had his locket.
Actually, his had been returned to him.
“Penny for your thoughts?”
Matt turned to his right to see Anise standing next to him, and he found himself trying to put a smile back on his face and lift his suddenly deflated mood. Anise was a bit of a conundrum to him, and a woman that Matt always had a difficult time looking straight at. Turning his eyes back to studying the rest of the party goers, Matt said quietly, “Hey, Lady Anise. Is Arlene around?”
The trouble with Anise, though, was that she knew Matt well enough to know when he was dodging a question. A soft sternness entered her voice, making Matt think of his own mother as Anise said softly, “Look at me, Matthew.”
Yep, Matt was definitely getting treated to Anise’s “mom” side tonight. With a sigh, Matt returned his attention to the older woman, noting that she had the slightest signs of gray starting to streak through her deep brown hair. He didn’t know why that surprised him still; Anise was Nephilim, but all that meant was that she had some extra tricks because she was half angel. She was still half human, and that meant that she aged pretty much like the rest of them. On the one hand, that thought reassured Matt, but on the other hand, it wasn’t that much comfort; he hadn’t gotten up the courage to ask Anise just how long Nephilim lived in the first place, so her hair starting to gray didn’t necessarily mean anything.
“Matthew,” Anise repeated, a little more sternly this time. She just wasn’t going to let him off the hook, was she? With a sigh, Matt finally met her gaze straight on, not even bothering to hide the pain that flashed through his blue-violet eyes and his heart from her. What did it matter? Anise knew the reason that Matt hardly ever looked her straight in the eye, and trying to hide the evidence from someone that could read his aura just wasn’t worth the energy that had suddenly abandoned him in a gust of wintry cold. Anise had passed her eyes on to her daughter, and seeing them every day in the older woman’s face, being reminded of Leyla when she couldn’t be there, was more than Matt could bear at times, especially tonight.
God, he missed his angel.
The skin around Anise’s deep green eyes crinkled as compassion lit across her features. Without saying a further word, she stepped forward, wrapping the young Watcher in a hug. For a moment, Matt stood there, rigid, but Anise was patient. She was good at reading people, and she’d had four years to learn a good deal of Matt’s moods and nuances. Quietly, so she didn’t upset him, Anise said, “I miss her too. Even with the joy that’s inherent in the season, sometimes, all you can think about are the people that aren’t there that should be celebrating with you.”
Matt returned Anise’s embrace then, accepting the comfort that she was offering. For a moment, he closed his eyes, indulging in a deluge of memories that flew by so fast that he couldn’t keep track of any specific one for long.
Ten years old, he was at the beach, Rhys keeping a watchful eye on Matt and Melody and Mel’s friends, Leyla and Ari. Matt grabbed Leyla from behind, causing the eight year old girl to squeal in surprise, before he threw her into deeper water…
Matt’s fingers were playing around the guitar strings, plucking out a Spanish melody while his brothers provided the rest of the instruments. The rain pounded against the glass, but the teen found that neither the rain nor the music could hold his interest that well. He found his eyes constantly drawn to Leyla as she danced with the other girls. The shirt she’d borrowed from his dresser to wear while her own clothes dried flared around her thighs, and Matt suddenly found himself wondering what she’d look like just a couple years down the road…
He was being tackled to the ground, a delighted scream ringing in his ears as Leyla wrapped him up in a bear-hug. Matt returned the hug with just as much exuberance, hardly able to believe it. Three years since their home world had been destroyed, and no sign of his family or friends, leading him to think he was the only one that escaped. But Leyla was alive, and he just knew that his brothers and Mel were alive too. Matt buried his face in Leyla’s hair, taking in a deep breath of her scent. She was alive…
“So she bit me. So what? It’s not like she…” he was trying to brush off his sudden skittishness, but Leyla wasn’t buying it. Her next words said as much, and they cut him straight to the core because of her compassion and their hard truth.
“She took by force something that she had no right to take, and that violation’s changed you. How can you call it anything but…?”
Pain flared through Matt’s neck as Leyla bit him, breaking skin and scar tissue. For a moment, panic grabbed him, and he wanted to throw her as far away from him as he could. But Matt fought the panic down; this was the only way. Masquerade had shattered his soul, breaking it apart and turning him into a soul sucking monster after she used a portion of his spirit for sustenance. Leyla was his only shot at fixing things, of returning to normal. She was the Angel of Twilight, given power over the soul; healing a damaged soul should be within her power, right? Pushing the fear away, he pulled her tighter against his body, vowing to never let her go…
“Leyla, come back. You’re still needed here. Come back, Little Rose.”
Leyla’s eyes fluttered open, grief shining in their emerald depths as she looked to the body that had so recently been a young mother, the same whose spirit Leyla just guided beyond the veil; the same veil that Matt had had to convince Leyla to cross past again to return to the realm of the living. Looking down at the same time, Leyla and Matt both looked at the six month old boy that was asleep in Leyla’s arms. The young woman’s last wish had been for someone to look after her son, and Matt realized that he and Leyla had just gotten parental promotions in regards to the orphan. The thought terrified Matt, and he was sure Leyla felt the same, but at the same time, he knew what their course was when she whispered softly, “Nephilim. He’s like me…”
“Leyla, please; don’t go!”
Matt felt as if his heart was breaking. They’d won. Lucien was gone, and he wouldn’t be able to hurt the worlds anymore; so why was this happening? Matt knew how this was supposed to go; he’d already given Leyla the locket, so all they needed to do was return to the Blue Planet, finalize things with their wedding vows, and get down to the business of raising Devon, the little boy they’d promised to look after. It wasn’t supposed to go like this!
An overabundance of wings crowded the area, with at least eight Nephilim standing within a ten foot radius, but all Matt cared about was the angel kneeling before him. Leyla met his gaze, resignation, longing, and absolute love in her eyes as her stiff fingers rose to unclasp the locket he’d given her. Once she’d managed to pull it from around her neck, she dropped it into his numb hands before she whispered softly, “I love you.”
And then she was gone.
“Why?” The question was hoarse, scrapping across all the rough edges and wounds that were only half healed, even four years later. Passing his tongue across dry lips, Matt tried again, only to find that his voice was still little more than a rough whisper. “Why did she go so far? Why would Leyla sacrifice everything like that?”
Anise didn’t answer him, and he knew it was because they were thinking the same thing. It’s because she was Leyla. She was stubborn and had her moments of pride; she could be harsh on her friends and held them to an extremely high standard, but that was because she was even harder on herself and the standard she held herself to was even higher, ridiculously so. Leyla didn’t forgive easily, and her friendship could turn to enmity and bitter hatred if the betrayal was bad enough, but that extreme was because she hated herself even more because she felt like the betrayal was because of some failing of her own. She’d always loved strongly; sometimes too strongly, but her heart had frequently been in the right place.
“She was a child of Michael,” Anise said at last, pulling away from Matt slowly. Meeting his gaze again, the older woman elaborated, even though Matt already knew the longer explanation. “Michael is the angelic personification of Charity, and as such, Leyla inherited his multi-faceted love, both the good and the bad. She’d always do what she felt she needed to protect the ones she loved, even if it meant going contrary to what was best for her well-being.”
And that was the truth of it. They’d needed the Angels of the past to defeat Lucien, so Leyla had broken past the barriers that kept her from the full power of her own angelic blood so she could summon them. She sacrificed herself to give her friends what they’d needed to defeat Lucien, because that was just the kind of person she had been.
Turning away from Anise, Matt started walking towards where he could see a familiar mop of red hair standing by the ninja princess Kit. Matt paused for a moment, though, when he heard Anise call out to him, “You’re going to visit her, aren’t you?”
Matt didn’t turn around, but he knew that Anise understood when he said, “Christmas is a time to spend with family, isn’t it? She deserves to be with family, too.”
Anise didn’t keep him longer, and Matt finally wound his way over to Kit just in time to hear Devon say, “Aunt Laurel’s going to have a baby, and that’s why her tummy’s so big. Did you have your babies in your tummy too?”
Kit laughed at that as Devon, Xeo, and Shiki ran off, and Matt even noticed that Holly and her little brother Andrew broke away from their parents, following after the other three. Matt had a feeling that Rhys had asked Holly to keep an eye on the younger kids; though she was only eight, Holly already had a major responsible streak in her, and Matt just knew that maturity of hers would follow her as she got older.
Matt gave Kit a quick nod, one that the ninja returned, a warm smile on her face. It was nice to see the Eblan princess again, and Matt hoped that he’d have a chance to speak with her later. Turning away from Kit as she began talking to Melody, it didn’t take long for Matt to catch up with the kids.
Devon saw Matt, and a huge grin jumped across the little boy’s face as he ran up to Matt. Crouching down, Matt caught Devon as the boy launched into a flying hug. Putting him down after a moment, Matt ruffled Devon’s hair as he said, “I gotta head out for a while, okay, Dev? You’re gonna be sleeping over at Uncle Rhys’ for tonight, and I’ll see you in the morning, okay Bud?”
Devon nodded quickly before he ran off to rejoin the other kids. Returning to his full height, Matt turned just in time to catch sight of someone else across the room. For a moment, Matt froze, and he saw Timmy stiffen as well. Brown eyes locked with blue-violet, and all Matt could think about was all the grief that Chance had caused for his friends; most of all, in Matt’s opinion, Leyla.
She never hated you, Matt thought, turning away after a moment. Did you know that? Despite everything you did, she never hated you, not really. All she felt was hurt that you’d betray your friends and family the way you did, and self-loathing that she couldn’t stop you from doing it, either.
It took Matt a few moments, but soon, he was at the front door. Reaching out for his coat, it took him only a moment to slip it on, and it took even less time for him to pick up the bouquet of flowers from the foyer table. He was about to exit the house when he felt a small weight come flying into him from behind.
“Take me with you.”
Turning around, Matt saw Devon standing there, already wearing his blue coat. After a moment of silence, Devon said, “You’re going to see mom, aren’t you? You always go, every year. Can I come this time?”
Matt looked up to see Rhys standing there, watching the two of them. Again, Matt wondered if he was good enough to be Devon’s father; Matt wasn’t so sure, especially if he started comparing himself to Rhys, who Matt still idolized, even with both of them full grown. Rhys shrugged, saying in response, “Dev’s got a right to, Matt. I just thought it’d be best if he asked first.”
“Yeah,” Matt said softly, and a reserved smile broke across Devon’s face at the permission. “Yeah, you can come, Buddy.” Looking back at Rhys, Matt nodded his head and said, “We’ll see you tomorrow, Rhys. Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas, little brother.”
The Grave of Angels
Matt was always on guard a little bit when he came here. But he supposed that, when your first introduction to a place was a full blown battle, that wariness when you returned was just a natural reaction, now wasn’t it? The fight or flight response always settled down after a moment, and this time didn’t disappoint either.
Matt turned to see Devon looking around in awe, just the slightest hint of fear in his eyes as he looked at the snow covered landscape. Devon had never been to this world before, so he shouldn’t have the same memories of battle that Matt did. And yet, Matt was pretty sure he knew where Devon’s fear was coming from, and this thought was confirmed as the little boy whispered, “Daddy, do you feel that? Something…”
Matt slipped his hand into Devon’s, giving it a soft squeeze as the older man said, “It’s your mom. She always finds a way to be close around Christmas. You won’t see her, and you won’t hear her, but she’s here.”
Devon still looked a little spooked, but Matt knew the feeling would soon pass. He’d been hoping that he could keep Devon away for just a little longer, just until the boy was a couple years older, for this exact reason. Feeling the touch of an angel’s spirit for the first time, even if that angel was half human, was surreal, and a little bit unsettling at first, especially since most spirits could only reach out to those with some celestial heritage of their own. Matt was a Watcher, so his angel blood was diluted by centuries and generations, but Devon’s angelic heritage was strong; the boy’s father was Uriel, the angelic personification of Chastity, and Devon’s lineage was strong enough to mark him as Nephilim like Anise.
Even so, Devon surprised Matt, like the boy did so often. Throwing off his initial unease after a moment, Devon ran ahead of Matt, wonder clear on the boy’s face whenever Matt caught a glimpse of it. And why shouldn’t he be amazed? This was the first time he’d been to another world since he was a baby, after all.
Matt followed behind at a more sedate pace, his mind on memories of the past, musings of what could have been, and thoughts of what might still be. The two of them continued in this fashion for about ten minutes, only stopping once they’d come upon their destination. And even Devon knew they were stopping here.
Leyla looked the same as she had that night four years ago. She was kneeling, her head bowed just the slightest bit, her eyes half closed. Her wings were out, half flared behind her with the tips just barely brushing the ground. Her left hand was cupped against her chest, as if in prayer, while her right arm was extended from her last act of giving Matt his locket back. For the most part, she was made of white marble with black veining, but her wings were made of solid white crystal, while her eyes were green crystal. Devon was right, she was beautiful.
But seeing her like this was also heartbreaking.
“Are we staying the night?” Devon asked, looking up to peer into Matt’s face. For a moment, Matt couldn’t speak, so he just nodded yes. Looking back at Leyla again, Devon said, “Can you do the Dragon Fire, then? Please?”
Matt turned away from the statue for a moment, his eyes starting to fill with the gold of the dragon. Carefully, he took aim at the ground, picking his spot, and then blew a streamer of flame hot enough that it melted the snow and took root in the winter grass beneath the snow. Matt set up a barrier so that the fire could still be fed air and they could enjoy its heat, but it also wouldn’t be able to grow out of control.
Once the fire was set, Matt turned back to Devon and Leyla. Kneeling, Matt placed the bouquet in front of Leyla, a collection of red tulips and roses that had red and white spread across their petals in equal measure. Scentimentals, Leyla’s favorite. For a moment, Matt knelt there, his head bowed and eyes closed.
A soft touch fell on Matt’s shoulder, and then he heard Devon say softly, “It’ll be okay, Dad. You said she’s sleeping, right? All we gotta do is wake her up. I know you can do it, Dad. You just need to have faith.”
Matt turned to face Devon, a small, reticent smile on his lips. “It’s more complicated than that, Dev. A cure requires a lot of searching, and a lot of time. I’d be gone a lot, and you’d be staying with either Uncle Rhys and Aunt Lily, or Grandma and Grandpa.”
If I look for her, I lose you.
Devon gave Matt a tight hug, a brief show of how strong he’d be just down the road slipping into his grip. Devon was young, but sometimes his heritage showed through in brief moments of speed, strength, or a resistance to the cold because of his already strong abilities with ice magic. But what always surprised Matt the most was when Devon had a moment of insight filled with a child’s wisdom, like he did tonight.
“You know I’m happy with just the two of us, right? You do good, Dad; don’t doubt yourself. But you’re sad a lot, and I know it’s because you miss Mom. You said once that there’s a way to get her back, so let’s do it. I’ll be okay if you’re gone for a while. Just don’t forget me. Please?”
Matt was the one hugging Devon now, holding the little boy tight as he started to cry. Holding him close, Matt whispered softly, “I won’t forget you, Dev, I promise. I could never forget you.”
Matt knew things were going to change soon. He was going to be gone a lot, a lot more than he wanted, but he knew he wouldn’t be able to sit by any longer. Carefully, Matt pulled Devon into his lap as the older man leaned against Leyla’s statue. Singing a soft lullaby, Matt watched the flames of the fire with Devon until the little boy finally fell asleep.
Christmas, Matt promised himself as he watched Devon sleep. Feeling Leyla’s presence settle near him, Matt whispered softly, “He needs someone to look after him, but he also wants you back. It’ll be okay, right? I’ll try to make it back as often as I can, but I swear, I’ll be there for Christmas and his birthday, no matter what.”
Warmth wrapped around Matt, and he had a sense that Leyla was okay with it. Softly, so he didn’t wake Devon, Matt said, “I love you, too, Leyla.”
Devon stirred a little bit, but he only woke up far enough to mutter sleepily, “Merry Christmas, Dad. Merry Christmas, Mom.”
Matt hugged the boy close before leaning back against Leyla’s statue. Despite being made of marble, she was always warm. The dragon fire still glowed in Matt’s chest, and he knew that between him, her, and Devon’s natural resilience to the cold because of his ice magic, that the two of them could spend the night there, and that they would both be okay. Pressing a soft kiss to Devon’s forehead, Matt said softly, “Merry Christmas, Devon.” Then, even more softly, Matt whispered,
“Merry Christmas, my Angel.”
“Almost got it.” Casper groaned as he got on the tips of his toes from the step ladder he was standing on. Though his added height made reaching the roof of his house a trivial task, there was still a small corner of the roof that he just couldn't reach. He stretched his arm out in a vain attempt to attach the last segments of blinking colored lights that had nearly encircled his roof.
“Why not just move the ladder closer?” Max asked as he handed Ashley another small red ornament, who took it and placed it on the large pine tree located behind Casper's house. Though he wouldn't admit it, he had been taking care of the tree all year for the sole purpose of having it ready for Christmas. Toy Day. Whatever.
“He's way too stubborn for that.” Ashley whispered.
“I'm not stubborn! I know I can do this! I just...”another reach, “gotta believe....” In a sudden moment of luck and momentum, the stubborn boy swung the ladder forward, causing it to fall forward. In the brief moments of air time, Casper managed to snap the lights into position without breaking anything. “Yeah!” He cried and he landed on his knees before throwing both arms at the moon in victory. “What's up?!”
“Wow,” Max breathed in fake awe. “Christmas really is the time of miracles.” Betraying herself, Ashley let out a small chuckle.
“Yeah yeah, laugh it up.” The homeowner told them as he placed the ladder back up against the wall.
“How's the tree looking?”
“Pretty good. Just missing the star on top.” Ashley answered as she pulled the golden start piece from a box. Though it was possibly a trick of the light, it seemed to almost gleam in the night.
“Nice. I'll do the honors.” Casper said, reaching for the tree's crown.
“What?” Max said, blocking Casper's arm with a karate chop.“No way are we letting you near this tree.
There's a reason why it's been me and her fixing this up.”
“Whattya mean?” Casper asked, rubbing his hand.
“Whattya mean whattya mean?! How could you forget?”
“What are you guys talking about?” The sole girl asked.
“Shush.” Casper told her.
“Excuse me?” She replied in the tone of voice that made all males flinch.
“Uh, I-I mean, it's kinda a long story. Though Max is making it seem as if I was the culprit.”
“He was. Don't believe his lies; you can do better than him.”
“BUT,” Casper said, pushing Max's face, “it was actually him that caused it.”
“Caused what?” Ashley asked.
“Casper set the tree on fire last year.” Max answered.
“I'd hardly call it a 'fire', really. I mean, the fire department said they've seen worse...Besides, that was
your fault! Mister 'watch this cool party trick I found on the internet.'”
“I have no idea what you're talking about.”
“W-wait what? Fire?” Ashley gripped the star decoration to her chest. “Maybe I should just be the one to put the star up? It's my first Christmas here, after all...”
“No!” The two boys said in unison.
“Okay, look. Here's what really happened...”
I looked up at the wondrous tree I had bought at the start of the season.
“Yeah,” I said aloud, “that's a sweet looking tree. With sweet looking sweets on it.” I grabbed at a candy cane hanging from a branch before unwrapping it. Before I did so, I noticed a brown semi-circle on one of the higher areas of the tree. ...Was that a beehive? ...Nah, it had to be a decoration of some kind. Whatever it was, the tree still needed some finishing touches before I could really rest and enjoy the sight.
“Got some more ornaments.” I heard Max say behind me as he walked in with a small cardboard box. He opened it up and I reached in pulling out a random object from it. What I had grabbed was a bunch of lights outlining Max's name in a transparent plastic.
“I think this is a fire hazard.”
“What? Nah, it'll be fine. Just trust me on this. Look, I got you one too.” The boy reached into the box and pulled out another plastic outline.
“Max, that says 'Cow' on it.”
“Yeah well, 'Casper' was too long. The shop only did three letter ones, so I figured 'Cow' would be close enough.”
“Why didn't you just get two separate ones instead?”
“My coupon was only a buy one get one free.” I ignored his train of thought and grabbed the Cow lights.
“We'll just hang yours for now.” I told him, placing the Cow outline back into the box.
“Hey guys, am I late?” Asked a female voice. Almost as if bursting into the scene from no where, our good friend Jeri appeared with a pair of presents. “Sorry, there was a line at the gas station where I was getting your presents just now. Uh—I mean—I had car trouble.”
“You don't own a car.” I told her, taking hold of my wrapped up present.
“S...suurree I do. You just haven't seen it...”
“Really?” Max asked, grabbing his own gift. “Can we see it now?”
“It's...in the shop...Yeah, that's it.”
“Then how'd you get here?”
“We can talk about that later!” She told us, walking towards the tree before smacking it once. “We need to finish up this tree, don't we? Can't keep Santa waiting, no sir!” She banged the tree again, this time with much more force. I was worried her strikes might cause the ornaments to fall, and sure enough the semi-circle decoration I had seen earlier fell to the ground with an audible plop. We all stared at it in silence as a small buzzing sound filled the air. “Uh-oh.” The girl whispered as small black and yellow insects flew out of the beehive, encircling her.
“Oh.” I whispered. “I knew I shouldn't have bought this from Crazy Redd.”
“Not the bees!” Jeri cried before running off into the distance. “I hate bees!” We watched in stunned silence as our good friend was chased off by a cloud of honey producers.
“Rip.” I whispered.
“She will be missed.” Max added. I shook the boxed gift she had just handed me.
“I think there's a bag of chips in here.”
“Really?” Max asked before shaking his own. “Mine sounds like liquid.” In an instant, his box made an audible fizzing noise along with a small pop. “I think mine was soda.”
“Rip.” I whispered.
“It will be missed.” Max added. “At least she left us this, too.” He bent down towards the tree and picked up the now empty beehive. “Mind if I keep it since my gift exploded?” I nodded as he placed it on a nearby table.
“Anyway, I think the only thing the tree is missing is the star, right?” I asked, pulling out the bronze centerpiece.
“Yeah. Though at this point we should probably be worrying more about Jeri. Finding her might make a good story.”
“We can do that tomorrow; I want to put the star up.”
“Well first off, you're not putting the star up. That'll be my job.” Max told me as he grabbed the other end of the important decoration.
“What? Nuh-uh, I'm doin' it.” I yanked the star towards myself.
“Like hell, I'm doing it!” He yanked the star away from me.
“It's my house!” I told him, pulling it back.
“I'm the guest!” He told me, pulling it away.
“I'm the main character! I'm doing it!”
“My gift exploded! I'm doing it!”
“My best friend just got attacked by bees! Bees, man, bees!”
“So did mine!”
“Mine!” We pulled with equal strength until the star flew from our grip, clanking against the ground.
“Okay look, this is getting us no where.” I said.
“Yeah, there's only one way to settle this.”
“Pants Off Dance Off?”
“...Anyway, we need to impress the other into submission with the coolest trick we know.”
“I can juggle. Does that count?”
“Pfft. That's low tier. Check this out.” Max reach into his pockets and produced three torches and a lighter.
I didn't know how he managed to fit that all in there, and I didn't want to know. Without warning, he set all three torches on fire and began juggling them. “This is waay cooler than juggling, isn't it?”
“That is literally juggling!” I yelled at him.
“WRONG! This is juggling...with fire! I saw this on the internet. Pretty swanky, huh?” In a sudden moment of 'luck and momentum', Max tipped one of the torches too far from his reach and it flew forward, setting the base of the tree on fire.
“The tree!” I yelled.
“It'll be fine. Not like it's made of wood or anything.” I watched on as the Christmas tree instantly burst into flames and puffed itself out, leaving only an ashy skeleton in it's place. A second later, the ashy remains fell to the ground in a small pile. I heard loud footsteps behind us, and as I turned around I saw an unfamiliar man draped in yellow run up to us with a fire extinguisher.
“I'M THE FIRE DEPARTMENT.” He yelled at us.
“The whole fire department?” I asked.
“THAT'S RIGHT, I'M THE WHOLE FIRE DEPARTMENT. THIS FIRE ISN'T ALL TOO BAD. I'VE SEEN WORSE.” Without another warning, the Fire Department sprayed his extinguisher at us, covering literally every inch of the world in white foam, cutting off my vision.
“And that's the story of how Max ruined Christmas.” Casper said, nodding in a sagely manner.
“Is Jeri okay?” Ashley asked, concerned.
“Who? Oh! Yeah, probably. I mean, I haven't seen her in like a year, but yeah. Have you seen her, Max?”
“I'unno.” Max said, shrugging. “But I do know that you're a very bad liar! Here's what really happened...”
Date: One Year Ago!
I was carrying my box of “ornaments” into the backyard of my “friend” Casper’s home. I’d been undercover in this town for a long time now, and it was beginning to get hard not to see the lines between my cover life and my real life blur together. These were real people, with feelings. I know how easily people with feelings get attached to one another, and sometimes I begin to think that I have feelings myself…
“You okay, Pal? You’re kind of zoning out…” Casper said to me as he approached from beside the tree.
“Yeah, I’m fine… Sometimes I just contemplate if I made the right turns in my life my friend… You know, the agency never lets you go.”
“… Okay then. Um, ornaments?” Casper asked as he pointed to the box I was carrying.
“Yes, yes of course!” I hurriedly pulled out a string of lights designed in the shape of my name and held them up for him to see. I was actually a little excited myself.
Casper’s eyes lit up, and then he jerked the box out of my hand and shoved me to the ground in one swift motion. “Where’s mine where’s mine?!” Sometimes he was like such a child, but I couldn’t hold it against his tiny little mind if he receded into childhood after the “Bora Bora Taco Stand” incident in June of last year. That boy would never be the same…
He held the next string of lights up, looking them over carefully. “C… O… W… Does that spell… Casper?! C-O-W, Casper!” He exclaimed as if in a spelling bee.
“That’s right, that’s your name!” I answered as I forced a smile. It was sad really. He seemed so happy, but it made me very sad to see him this way. “Those damn tacos…”
“What did you just say?” Casper asked as he dropped the lights to his feet, tears streaming down his cheeks.
“I’m so sorry Casper, I didn’t mean, it’s just-“
Before I could answer our friend Jeri entered the back yard carrying gifts. “Look Casper, look those are presents! You like presents!” His sniffling came to a halt as we approached our friend.
“Hey guys, am I late?” Jeri asked as we all stood in a small circle together. “Sorry, there was a line at the gas station where I was getting your presents just now. Uh—I mean—I had car trouble.”
“You don't own a car.” Casper told her, taking hold of his wrapped up present.
“S...suurree I do. You just haven't seen it...”
“Really?” I asked, grabbing my own gift. “Can we see it now?”
“It's...in the shop...Yeah, that's it.”
“Then how'd you get here?”
“We can talk about that later!”
“Wait a second…” I replied as I began circling Jeri. “Where do you drive your car exactly?”
“What kind of a silly question is that?” Jeri asked as she looked over at Casper and let out a little huff of a laugh.
“It’s the kind of question I ask when someone says they own a car, but there are no roads in Ellin!”
“I, um, uh…”
“What does the car mean, Jeri, if that is your real name?! Who are you working for?!” I grabbed her by the collar and pulled her in close, her quick breaths now warm on my face. I looked into her eyes with mine, and they flicked over to Casper in panic. “Don’t look at him, look at me!!!”
“Don’t look at me, look at him, Jeri!” Casper screamed as he ran up and proceeded to also get in her face.
“Okay, there’s no car, there’s no car, I was just being silly, please let me go Max!” Jeri was on the brink of tears now also. My two best friends, both crying in the same back yard today. “I work at Shampoodle’s, I promise!”
I let go of her collar, and brushed it off. “I swear to God, if I find out you’re lying…”
“I’m not Max, I swear, you’re so dapper, brave, and handsome! Such a burly man!” Before I knew it, Jeri had thrown herself into my arms and began to run a finger along my twelve-pack abdominal muscles.
“I’m sorry sweet-cheeks, but in my line of work, there’s no room for romance. Anyone could be the enemy…”
I placed my hands on her shoulders and pushed her away to give myself some space, and before I knew it she and Casper were both bawling their eyes out.
“If only it was meant to be!” Casper fought out through his raging emotions. Jeri stood and turned to begin a sprint out of the yard, but ran smack into the Christmas tree. This dropped her to the ground like a flattened balloon, and then a brown ornament fell to the ground beside her.
We all sat in silence, and slowly, the silence was broken… Bees started buzzing out of the ornament, which was revealed to actually be a hive, and started stinging Jeri! “Guys! Bees!” Jeri screamed as she stood up and started running around the tree in circles.
I ran over to her and grabbed her by the face. As we stood still, staring into each other eyes, she began getting stung all over. “Max, it hurts…”
I know it does Jeri, but you need to be strong… Lead the bees away from here, head towards the sea! I will meet you there shortly, and take care of this bee problem…”
“Max, they’re stinging me, please let go-“
I gave her a good smack in the face. “Now’s not a time to be selfish! You must be brave!” Her one eye was beginning to swell up… It was not pretty. “Ugh, I mean, listen Jeri, the sea, go to the ocean, everything will be okay! I have a plan, I’ll save you, I promise!” Squeezing her cheeks between my hands until she looked like a swollen puffer fish, I pulled her in and laid a big sloppy kiss on her. “Now, say no more, love. Run, run to the ocean, where we shall meet again.”
She stepped back, and for a moment I thought I saw a smile on her swollen face. She began to run out of the yard and ran face first into the corner of Casper’s house, and then corrected herself and ran out of our vision without a sound.
“Max…” Casper said as he approached me.
“Worry not dear Casper. I line my lips and tongue with a bee-sting salve every morning just in case of an incidence like this.”
“No. God speed Jeri.”
“Are you going to meet her by the ocean?”
“The mission today is the tree, I’m afraid I can’t compromise that with my feelings and friends.”
“Yeah, okay. Mission?”
“… Let us open our gifts!”
Casper shook his gift. “I think there is a bag of chips in here.”
“Really?” I shook mine and you could hear the distinct sound of fizzing coming from inside. “There’s a card on the box.”
Casper grabbed the card and read it aloud. “A twelve pack for your twelve pack…”
“Ah, that woman.”
Casper threw the card to the ground in a rage. He turned and began shuffling through a box of ornaments and pulled out a star. “It’s time to end this.”
“Casper, didn’t we agree that I would be putting up the star?”
“I don’t care Max, I’m doing it! You’re the super cool, sly, awesome and good looking secret agent, which I definitely am not saying I’m aware of, and you always get the glory! Not today, today is my day…”
“Casper calm down, it is Christmas, and our friend was just attacked by bees!”
“What does she have to do with this?!”
“Everything! Let me put up the star like we agreed, it’s for the best!”
Casper spun around, and in the blink of an eye he was dressed like a ninja. “The tree-topping is mine.”
“Well if you want it that way, you shall have it…”
We both jumped through the air and delivered kicks that collided with each other in perfect synchronization. With each punch I threw, he matched it with his own. It’s like he knew my moves before I made them… But if that was the case, then wouldn’t he be able to stop them? We both dropped to one knee, catching our breath, and I noticed the bee hive near me.
“Mimic this, Christmas ruining ninja fiend!” I launched the bee hive in his direction, and it smashed right across his face. He was down. I limped towards his body and grabbed the star. As I climbed the ladder to top the tree, the stars cord dragged behind me. I placed the star on the top of the tree with relief. “Mission: Successful.”
“Not quite!” I turned to see Casper holding the cord to the star, ready to plug it in.
“Casper...” He plugged it into an extension cord and the star lit a beautiful gold. I smiled and turned to my friend to see him holding a button attached to the star’s cord. “What is that?”
“This star was custom-made Max… In case I didn’t get to be the hero!”
“Casper no!” But before I could descend the ladder, it was too late. Fire spiraled out from the star and engulfed the tree in flames. When I reached the bottom, I turned and watched as the magical beauty burned. I looked at my friend who was crying, again, and I began to cry as well. The heat from the tree was warm in this cold winter night, and I loosened my scarf a bit. I couldn't even begin to fathom why this happened, why this had to happen...
"Why did it have to be this way?..." I muttered under my breath, which I could see only for a moment as it drifted like a fog through the air. I turned to Casper again, and he pulled off his ninja hood and dropped it to the ground. I could see a bit of snot running down his nose. just before he wiped it away with some of his tears, and he slowly began walking towards the tree. As he did, I could hear a faint sound that echoed throughout the hills.
I began running towards him and reached out my hand towards my friend. The tree exploded, and then-
[CUT THE MUSIC]
“Enough, enough of this outrageous story!” Casper screamed as he dragged Max to the ground.
“They deserve-“ Casper jammed his fingers into Max’s mouth mid sentence,” to knowhoa, the troof!”
“Truth my butt, you’re not a secret agent, I didn’t cry, and you did not kiss Jeri!”
“Yesh! I! DID!!!” Max socked Casper in the mouth and the two began rolling around the ground exchanging punches. “He’s violent, he’s a danger to us all! And he's a big freaking baby!”
“I'm not a baby! And trees don’t just explode!”
“Well I don’t even know how to juggle!”
“Will the two of you just shut up and stop it?!” Ashley yelled as she ran after the two boys getting covered in snow. “STOP RUINING CHRISTMAS!!!”
“What am I walking in on?” A confused Jeri asked carrying two tiki torches and a jug of tiki oil. “I didn’t have time to wrap the gifts this year, but I thought a nice little Hawaiian themed gift could get our minds off of the cold, and… Really, what’s going on with them?”
“Jeri, would you please tell me what happened between these two last year?!” Ashley asked as she began kicking the two in an attempt to get them to stop ignoring her.
“Well-“ And then Jeri was cut off. The two boys rolled into the tree, shaking it up and jerking on the cord that the lights were plugged into. The cord tightened and pulled off of the ground for a moment, for the one moment that Jeri was about to step over it to approach Ashley. Jeri tripped over the cord and fell, snapping the tiki torches in half and her body smashing the bottle of tiki oil, which began to spread all over the ground. A cracking noise could be heard by everybody, as the tree began to fall in Jeri’s direction.
“Oh my God, Jeri!” Ashley shouted out as she threw her hands over her mouth. The tree landed on its side, just short of Jeri, and many of the lights on the tree shattered, causing sparks to fly everywhere. Several sparks ignited the pool of tiki oil, lighting Jeri’s dress on fire, as well as the tree. Jeri screamed as she began roll on the ground in an attempt to put the fire out, and rolled right over a bee hive that had fallen out of the tree only moments ago. The bees relentlessly began stinging the burning Jeri, and she stood and ran from the house screaming crying, her torment somehow topping the previous year’s.
“What do you two have to say for yourselves?!” Ashley screamed as she began trying to throw snow on the fire covered tree that somehow just wouldn’t go out. Max and Casper were sitting up, their hands around each other’s’ throats, looking in the direction Jeri ran, and then back to Ashley and the burning tree.
“Well…” Max said as he cleared his throat. “I think we can all agree that this was clearly Casper’s fault.
Ashley looked at the boy in disbelief, and a scowl ran across Casper burning red face as he planted his fist right into Max’s nose.
The chunk of ice flew at Terra’s head.
Aqua watched as Terra rolled out of the way of her attack, barely avoiding getting struck by it. Smiling at it, she danced quickly out of the way as Terra absently threw a fire spell at her in retaliation. She heard Ven’s encouraging commentary, including him telling Terra to try again.
It was December twenty-fourth, they had finished helping Master Eraqus with wrapping the presents. The extra pieces of wrapping paper was scattered across the floor, along with random ornaments that had fallen off of the tree and none of them had felt like picking up after the mess that had been made when Aqua had been baking Christmas cookies that were in the form of stars and angels.
Okay, really quick, the reason why they are practicing their blizzard spells inside and not outside? It's snowing so hard outside that they can't open the door, and even if they could open the door; it was so cold out that they would be turned into icicles the moment they stepped outside. So, that led to the three apprentices practicing their blizzard spells inside.
Aqua glanced at Ven out of the corner of her eye to see him, the youngest of them at twelve, standing close to the fireplace to get some heat from the yule log that the Master had in there to warm up the castle.
“You left yourself open!” Terra crowed, alerting Aqua just in time so she was able to avoid getting hit in the face directly.
Pushing herself up from the floor, Aqua’s eyes darted to the red and green lights that they had hanging around the foyer. “Ow,” she groaned, pushing herself up to her feet, she rubbed at her stomach. Glaring at Terra, she snarled, “I hope Santa leaves a lump of coal in your stocking!” Okay, normally she didn’t mind getting hurt; getting a little banged up during practice was normal. But her chest and stomach had been bugging her the last couple of days, so landing on them kind of made her a bit grumpy today.
Terra had the decency to look at least a little ashamed as he complained, “Ah come on Aqua, don’t be a Scrooge!”
Shaking her head, the fourteen-year-old glared at Terra, the effect ruined just a bit by the chimes that followed Aqua's every move. Her hair was done up in a ribbon reflecting the holiday season, including two bells woven into her ponytail.
Adjusting the braid again, Aqua glanced over at Ven to see that he was little upset by the fight; this was his first Christmas with them, so he didn’t really want it trashed. A wave of guilt rushed through Aqua, especially since she’d been such a good girl this year, and she was hoping that maybe if she asked nicely, maybe, just maybe, Santa would let them, or at least Ven, take a ride in his sleigh. They'd all have to stay up pretty late, but she was okay with that. She’d also been hoping that maybe she could pet the reindeer, but she was mainly interested meeting Vixen and Rudolph.
Okay, and maybe the elves.
Shaking her head again, Aqua started circling to the left of Terra, hoping to find an opening even as he circled her trying to do the same thing. She felt as if they weren’t getting anywhere, so maybe it was time to spice things up a bit. Raising a hand up, she shouted, “Blizzard!” She didn’t particularly care if Terra dodged or not, she was just getting fed up with the standoff.
Unfortunately, she probably should have cared just a little bit more.
Terra dodged out of the way, and the blizzard spell went whizzing past his head and straight for the chandelier. Aqua stared in horror as it collided with the chandelier, freezing it completely solid. She couldn’t tear her eyes away from it, dread seeping through her. She’d been so stupid and reckless; how was she supposed to explain this one to the Master? Better yet, how was she supposed to explain it to Ven tomorrow when the stockings weren’t stuffed with candy? Ven wasn’t aware of fact that the Master helped Santa out by getting stocking stuffers; she also knew that it meant that her gifts would be taken away.
The Master was going to be furious!
Aqua looked to Ven, knowing that he wanted to meet the reindeer as much as she did. After a few more moments of stunned silence, Ven asked shakily, “I... I guess there’s going to be no cyber men-snowman combo thingy? And before you ask, it’s a Doctor Who thing.” Unfortunately, Ven's attempt to lighten their mutual horror seemed to fail in an epic fashion.
Aqua glanced at Terra, totally confused, and wondered just what she’d been missing out on.
Shrugging, Terra looked up at the chandelier; Aqua could tell that Terra was clearly trying to work the problem out. “We could break the ice off of the chandelier,” Terra said. That suggestion was as bizarre as the snowman one; looking at him in an “are you crazy fashion”, Aqua almost opened her mouth to say something when Terra said quickly, “Look, if the Master finds out about this he’s going to throw those traditions out the window. Which means no vacations, no parades, no parties, and no getting a gift early, which means you won’t be able to find out if you get to add another interesting doll to your collection of dolls.”
“Terra, and if you think about it, the only reason he lets us participate in those things is because we're all pretty good during the year, so it’s our version of ‘stickers’. That’s the only reason why we get to do what we do instead of being forced to clean up shredded tinsel and other pain in the butt things.”
“Hey, I’ve got a question. Why don’t we have a chimney? Where does the smoke go?”
The out of the blue question from Ven startled Terra into silence, even for a few moments, giving Aqua the chance to say, “We do have a chimney Ven; we just don’t use it often so no one thinks about it.” She glanced over her shoulder and mouthed to Terra, “Fell behind donkey.”
Watching as Terra’s eyes narrowed, she watched as he mouthed back, “At least I’m not the one afraid of crowds.”
Whipping around to fully glare at Terra, she heard Ven as he shouted, “Come on you two, cut it out! This is supposed to be a happy festival, not one where we’re at each other’s throats!” Aqua closed her eyes and took several deep breaths, knowing that Ven was right in regards to that fact.
Opening her eyes, she looked to Terra and asked, “Okay, assuming we go with your plan. How do you plan on executing it?” Apparently Terra hadn’t been expecting that, because he took a step back and looked at her, a little shocked. Raising an eyebrow at the look, she asked, “Well? What do you plan on doing?”
“I-I was think about throwing something at it and hope that it’d break the ice off without damaging the chandelier.”
Aqua pursed her lips; the plan was too far-fetched, and if she was honest she didn’t think it’d work. Sighing, she admitted, “I don’t think it’ll work, but my brain’s too fried to think, and I don't think any of us can concentrate enough for a fire spell to melt the ice, so you may as well give it a shot. Remember, usual bet for this time of year and if the Master assignments punishments…”
“I get to do it because it’s my plan, especially if it involves holiday greetings in the form of cards.”
Aqua smiled both at the look on Terra’s face, and the “wait, what?” expression on Ven’s. Standing back, she watched as Terra pulled a small rock out of his pocket and threw it at the chandelier, missing it completely. Stepping to the left, Terra took aim and threw another one, this time successfully hitting the frozen chandelier and knocking a piece of ice loose. Aqua had to admit, so far she was impressed by it. She closed her eyes and started drawing on some earth magic; she was always the best out of her and Terra when it came to crafting things, especially gifts, so it wouldn’t be an issue making a couple of stones for Terra, right? And besides, earth magic was easier than fire.
Walking over to him, she dropped the stones in his hand and then walked over to Ven, warming her hands up as she looked up at the stereo. Shrugging, she turned it on and listened as the music playing involved someone singing, “Sleigh bells ring, are you listening? In the lane, snow is glistening. A beautiful sight, we're happy tonight, walking in a winter wonderland.”
Her eyes slid over to the tree; the star was already up and she knew there were a couple of “toys” under there too.
“Aqua, do you think this is a wise idea?” Ven asked, watching as Terra threw another rock at the chandelier. Staying quiet as she thought, she then shook her head and whispered, “No, but I can’t think of anything else to thaw the ice off the chandelier before the Master finds out.”
“Oookay, next question,” Ven dragged out, showing his own skepticism on the plan. “Has there ever been a wedding or someone given birth to a baby on Christmas?” Ven asked innocently, clearly curious about the answers to his questions; but in certain ways possibly just trying to make light chitchat, Aqua wasn’t quite sure which one was the biggest reason as she thought her answers out.
“Yes and yes, some people thinks it’s special if it happens; but there’s others that don’t like the idea of it. Why are you asking?” Aqua answered, eyeing Ven with suspicion as to why he suddenly wanted to know everything.
Shrugging nonchalantly, the blond focused back on Terra just in time for the brunette to throw a rock a little too hard and for it to shatter the chandelier; this lead to a shower of glass, ice and gold to come raining down on their heads as they all stood in horrified silence. Covering her head, Aqua shouted, “Nice going you idiot!”
“What is going on here?”
The icy venom that dripped from each syllable had each of the apprentices tensing as they turned to look at the door. Bowing her head in shame, Aqua answered shamefully, “I lost control of my magic and froze the chandelier, but instead of waiting for it to thaw or to bring it up to you; I started throwing pebbles at it to see if I could chip the ice off of it. Instead, I broke the chandelier and we were all just yelling about it.”
Aqua felt Eraqus’s eyes on her, and she knew if she looked up her lie would be unraveled. “Terra, I want you to take Ven to his room and then you are to go to yours as I have a word with Aqua for being so irresponsible.”
As soon as the boys left, Aqua felt the tears start to fall. Rubbing at her eyes with the heels of her palms, she felt Eraqus wrap his arms around her and whisper, “That was very brave of you to lie like that. Now, I need to know about who really did this. Was it Terra?”
Aqua was happy for the praise, but she knew that Eraqus would be thoroughly disappointed in Terra. Swallowing her tears, Aqua lifted her head and looked her father-figure in the eye. “No sir, I was irresponsible enough to do it, Terra tried to talk me out of it but I wouldn’t listen. I-I am ashamed to say that my pride got the better of me.”
She saw that he didn’t believe her, and Aqua knew she didn’t have much time. Bowing as well as she could, she stepped out of Eraqus’s embrace and started to walk away. Even though it was a fight, Aqua paused by the door and added, “I know I don’t have a say in it, but if you could please give some of my presents to some kids that need it as an act of charity I’d be really happy about it. Goodnight father.” Aqua bowed, turned on her heel and walked out of the room.
It wasn’t even two minutes before Aqua heard Eraqus’s response to her. “You’ll always be my little girl, because it’s not just Terra that I have come to see as a child.” Eraqus spoke, keeping his voice level just to make sure that it was a hundred percent clear that she knew Eraqus wasn’t mad at her. It was also only a couple of minutes before she heard the sounds of him cleaning up the mess in the foyer; tears coming to her eyes Aqua ran down the hallways, totally ashamed that she had lied to him.
Sitting on her bed, Aqua lightly traced the blue silk of her blankets. She was trying so hard not to get upset over it, but she couldn’t help thinking that she would have preferred it if Eraqus had yelled at her instead of seeing his quiet disappointment in her. Hearing a knock at the door, she heard it open a second later as the fresh smell of ginger bread cookies reached her nose. Staring at the pillow in her hands, she listened as the person sat down next to her, not saying a single word.
“I guess I don’t get to the North Pole this year, huh?” She mumbled, not daring to trust her voice at a higher volume.
Hearing the person sigh, Aqua stole a quick glance to confirm her suspicions of who it was. And she was right; it was Master Eraqus. Frowning slightly, she glanced at the clock on her bedside table and saw that it read 11:55 pm. Groaning, she hung her head, since she knew that she had broken the rules a third time that evening. Every Christmas Eve they were supposed to be in bed and asleep by midnight.
“Maybe not, and don’t worry about the curfew. You get a special present that Terra and Ven don’t get because you stuck your neck out for them.”
A quizzical expression crossing her face, Aqua turned to look at Eraqus fully. Opening her mouth to say something, Eraqus raised his hand and said quickly, “And no, your gift isn’t a sled or an elf. Although, if you would like the boys to come along, they can, even though it’s only meant for you. ”
Aqua turned it over and over in her mind, spending several minutes on it until it finally sunk in. Jumping to her feet, she gave Eraqus a tight hug for several minutes and chatted, “Thank you Master, you won’t regret this I swear!”
Running to the door, she dashed out into the hall and shouted, “Terra! Ven! Wake up you two, we get to meet the reindeer!” Sliding to a stop, she saw the happy looks on Ven’s and Terra’s faces as they came out of their rooms to meet her.
“Wait, so we’re not getting the ‘freeze out’ treatment? And we get to meet Prancer, Donner, Blitzer, Comet---” Terra started.
“Cupid, Dancer, Dasher--?” Ven continued, a hopeful look on his face.
“Yes, we get to meet them along with Vixen and Rudolph. And no, we’re not getting the frosty treatment! Or, erm, he’s not going to freeze us out.” Aqua chattered, bouncing up and down on the balls of her feet as Eraqus walked up to the three of them and pulled them into a hug.
“Merry Christmas everyone.” Eraqus said, keeping them in the hug and resting his head, a smile on his face as they all chimed in with, “Thank you, and Merry Christmas Master Eraqus!”
"Don't try to parry me when I throw my full weight into a swing! Dodge! You are not as strong as I, so you must use your smaller size!" my Master scolds me as I'm thrown to the ground. The force of his Keyblade numbed my hands when he struck. I fumble with my own Keyblade, desperately trying to scramble back up into a standing position as he advances towards me, stomping angrily.
My thoughts today aren't very clear. Back on my homeworld my friends and family all celebrate the holidays while I'm stuck on this world training with my Master. I know they've forgotten me. In order to become a Keyblade Master, one must not have any distractions, and it's better if those you leave behind have forgotten you. But still: being stuck in this place with my Master berating me and criticizing my every deign and motion was making my breath shudder with fury.
"You're cruel!" I shouted at him, pushing off. "You took me from my home and brought me to this lonely place with only your taunts and these empty halls to call my own. And still, you expect me to fight with you!?" I snorted and stomped to a halt in front of him, looking him straight in the eye.
His face remained unchanged by my outburst. "If you want to protect the Light, Kaillus, you must learn to walk first." He took some steps back and readied his stance once more. "Try again."
Later that night I left the castle. Master was right that I needed to learn, but he showed no sympathy for the things he had done in the name of my supposed 'training.' Now: I didn't have any aim to leave this world, but I needed a breath of fresh air. So I walked out to the hill that overlooked a great cliff and lie down in the grass.
I breathed a sigh into the cold night air, my breath billowing out in a misty cloud. The stars in this place were innumerable and blanketed the sky. It was as if some childish god had taken a sharp object and poked holes into the sky. I could imagine I heard its laughter as shooting stars rained their cold fire.
On my very first night my Master had brought me here. I was scared of the path I had chosen, but I wanted to learn from the man who had saved my family from the shadows. As he held his Keyblade aloft he had pointed to the vast expanse of stars.
"Kaillus," he had said to me, "each one of these stars is a world. The Darkness seeks to claim the hearts of every world, and it is up to us to stop it. If we do not fight, each of these lights shall fade one by one." He had turned to me then.
I placed my hand on my chest. "Your heart is your gift to the Light. Use your power - power only you have - to save what you can," I mimicked his words. He said it to me often.
Summoning my Keyblade in a flash of light I held it up to the stars. It was just a dark silhouette that blotted out the lights. It seemed to me that I was doing more harm than good, here.
"Darkness," I scoffed.
I stood up quickly. Movement at my side had caught my attention, and I was alert for danger.
Some sort of dark, wraith-like creature stood there. Glowing yellow eyes issued from its form, and its steps made no sounds as it came across the grass towards me. A humanoid arm lifted what looked like a shadowy Keyblade high as it advanced. The closer it got, the more I realized something...
That thing was me.
The Keyblade the shadow held swung down in an obsidian arc, and I brought my own up to meet it. I was a bit rattled, but my Master's lessons were still fresh in my mind from earlier. Since its size matched my own, parrying it was a good way to assess how it would react.
The blow fell heavily and surprised me by pushing me back. Even mimicking my appearance this thing outmatched me in strength. This easily meant that I couldn't rely on what I saw to define my opponent. The lessons my Master taught me rang in my ears.
"When you can't rely on what's before you, do more than simply 'see.'"
I closed my eyes and used my own special ability. Master could distort memories, but I could see the true shape of a creature. Usually it was a hazy silhouette that varied in shades, much like an aura. The brighter the hue, the more Light in a person. The reverse was also true. Darker shades meant more Darkness. But as soon as I opened my inner eye to see its true guise, I was blinded by a flash of white light.
Using my momentary immobilization, the thing swung at me and knocked my Keyblade from my grasp. I reared up and shot a bolt of ice at it, swiping its legs from beneath it. The shadow crashed to the ground with a grunt. I summoned my Keyblade once more and ran at my downed foe.
It rolled out of the way as I swung downward, burying my weapon in the ground. A shot of electricity sizzled from its palm and blasted me towards the cliffside.
"When you're outclassed, tire your opponent."
I scrambled up and sprinted just out of reach. My opponent shot blasts of arcing electricity that fell just shy of their mark. I somersaulted and sidestepped my way across the grass, dancing just out of reach but still teasing it enough that it thought it could hit me.
The bolts steadily became weaker, and I saw my chance.
"Surprise is your opening."
Rushing towards the next blast, I threw up a Reflect shield. Capturing the electricity, it shattered and struck the dark figure with shards of light. I yelled and pinned my foe to the ground with my arm, Keyblade poised over its head.
"Did I pass your test...Master?"
"Very good, Kaillus." The dark visage melted away to reveal the form of Master Eyem. "How did you discover that it was I?"
"I suspected it from when you first attacked. Your blows landed too heavily to be a mere doppelganger of myself." I stood up and offered him my hand. He shook his head and brushed off before rising on his own. He hardly even seemed like he'd just been in a fight.
"The light." I smiled a bit. "I've only seen such strong Light in one person."
"Kaillus," he sighed and placed his arm on my shoulder. "Come and sit with me."
We lay beneath the stars for some time like that first night, and my frustration with his short temper and rough lessons slowly faded. I had agreed to this, and no one had said it would be an easy path.
"I have something for you," he surprised me by saying. Sitting up, he held out a read box tied closed with a bow.
I took it warily and pulled the golden strings. They let go easily as I lifted the lid. It was too dark to simply peek inside, so I reached in and grasped a smooth surface. I pulled it out slowly.
It was a picture of me and my family. My older brother was leaning heavily on my shoulder and ruffling my younger sister's hair. Mom and Dad were on both sides smiling happily at the three of us. I looked at Master Eyem in an odd way.
"When I took everyone's memory of you, I had to erase any evidence of your place there." He looked up at the sky again. "I'm sorry I had to do that Kaillus, but I had hoped it would be easier for them. And maybe for you, too." He pointed at the photo. "I kept this one thing, just in case I was wrong."
"I can't take you home, but I can give you a piece of it. I know what it's like, and just how hard it is to make this choice." He leaned back again. "But I would like to go back with you someday. Perhaps we can celebrate this...Christmas you speak so fondly of. And that's a promise."
"You couldn't have given me a better gift." I stood up, holding both the box and picture tightly. "I will do my best tomorrow and every day! Good night." I bowed low and dashed off through the grass, my eyes cloudy.
Years later I sat on that hill holding the picture tightly. It was Christmas once more, but my Master had long since given his life in the battle against the shadows. I still remembered his promise. How he'd never gotten the chance to see it through in the way he'd intended. But he didn't understand. We were both only still learning, but...
That night on the hill? That had been enough for me.
Merry Christmas, Master.
I jiggled the doorknob to Bryer's apartment only to find it locked. Of course it was. I quickly looked down both hallways and, noting the cost was clear, crouched down while taking the small pin that I had disguised as a hair accessory. Though a bang went over my forehead as a result, I ignored it and focused on the lock in front of me. ...Damn, this is tough. Chive is waaay better at this than I am. After a few annoying seconds, I was rewarded with a satisfying clicking noise. I stood and fixed my hair before entering Bryer's living quarters. I tiptoed over the carpet quickly and quietly, like a ninja over tall bamboo reeds. This was it! I was going to catch him off guard! I made my way towards his room, when I suddenly tripped over a open cardboard box. What the hell?! Why was this just sitting out here? Uh-oh. I heard something slam close and knew my cover had been blown. I tried to stand and head for cover, but this stupid dress got itself caught on some of the tape the box had, making me waste time trying to take it off in fear of ripping something. Damn human clothing, did women seriously wear this all the time? How would they run in this? I looked up and saw the boy looking down at me. Oops.
“Hi, Bryer.” I said with a wishful smile.
“How'd you get in, Sam?” He asked me, his voice cracking. Were his eyes red, or was that just my imagination?
“Are you okay?” Now that I looked closer, they looked a little bloodshot. His whole body looked down, actually.
“I'm fine.” He wiped at his eyes once before continuing. “Fine, fine. Just...I dunno. How'd you get in?”
“Front door.” I kept trying to take the tape off my dress, but it kept coming back at me. Static electricity or something.
“Front door's locked.”
“Uh. I might have learned how to pick a lock or two.” This caused Bryer to sigh loudly. More loudly than I thought it should.
“Please don't take after Chive. He's a bad influence.”
“Sorry. I just wanted to surprise you for a change by being early.”
“Okay.” There was more he wanted to say, I could feel it.
“Just okay?” He paused in consideration. Let me in let me in let me in let me in.
“Just okay.” He said with a small smile. Damn it. What's going on? I took a quick glance behind his shoulder and into his room. Nothing out of the ordinary there, or at least there wasn't until I noticed a small orange box sitting on his nightstand that I had never seen before. As if guessing what I was doing, Bryer grabbed me by the shoulders and turned me around, leading us to the door. “How about we get going?” He said quickly, “I'm more hungry than I thought I would be, and you know how quickly that restaurant fills up. I'm on to you, Bry-Bry. I'm not sure what I'm on to, but it's something.
The restaurant was, of course, nearly empty. His little excuse didn't hold much water, but I didn't say anything as the waiter handed us the menu. ...Jeez, I always forget how good these humans have it. They could have any of these meals in an instant while back home getting something like a steak would be a bit harder. Then again, our village was pretty small, so I guess it's to be expected. Would steak be okay to have this early? I kinda want one now.
“Well, lookit who it is!” I heard a familiar voice shout, breaking me away from my menu. I looked up to see Chive and Alice looking down at us. A few things stuck out at me with this scene: 1. Chive and Reyes were both willingly near each other and weren't making a fuss. 2. Chive had a band around his forehead with a small metal rod near the top that ended with a mistletoe just above his head. 3. Chive had a very visible red hand-shaped mark on his face. 4. Alice was wearing a Santa Claus hat. The last one was the most confusing since, for the short time that I have known her, Alice was always serious and business-like. “Hope two don't mind us joinin' you none.” Chive went on as he sat next to me. “Oh, oohh look! Loook!” He turned to me so his little mistletoe was now between us. “Mistletoooe!”
“No.” I told him simply, causing him to frown.
“Party pooper. At least she didn't slap me though.” Both Bryer and I looked up at Alice as Chive said this, who only shrugged as a response.
“He deserved it.”
“What's with the hat?” Bryer asked her as he pushed a chair back, offering Alice the seat.
“It's cursed,” she responded miserably, “Chive snuck up behind me while I was reading and placed it on my head.”
“And it ain't comin' off 'till Christmas!” Chive shouted happily, causing some of the other costumers to look at our table. “You ain't the only one with magic now, ya harpy!”
“I will remove this ridiculous hat in a day's time.” Alice said angrily. “And when I do, I'll have more than just a cursed object for you as retribution.”
“Scary scary!” Chive mocked, “what will I ever do as Mrs Claus chases me? I'm so frightened!” Taking the bait, Alice flicked her fingers at the thief, causing a small purple orb to appear and fling itself at Chive's forehead. It connected easily, causing him to reel backwards in pain. “This is why I do this stuff to you!” He told her angrily, “You need to learn how to take a joke!”
“And you need to grow up. Honestly, aren't you a member of the Band of Thieves? Are all of you like this?”
“Grow up?! Oh that's rich coming from the girl who just attacked me over a jest!”
“Attacked you? Please, that was less than a hundredth of my power.”
“Hey, you alright?” I asked Bryer as the two bickered between themselves. “You look distant, like you're not even here.”
“Huh?” The boy said as he snapped away from whatever thoughts he was having. “Yeah. Yeah sorry. I was just thinking of something. Uh, I actually need to hit up the restroom, be back in a bit.” I nodded as Bryer stood from the table and walked away.
“...Oh and lemme guess, that was my fault too?!”
“Of course it was. I had given you exact directions, but you failed to follow them.”
“Guys?” I interrupted, “can I ask you something?” The pair glared at each other before turning their attention to me. Yikes. “Uh... 'K. Anyway, Bryer's acting kinda funny.”
“Funny how?” Chive asked.
“I don't know...distant? When I found him in his apartment he looked pretty beaten up. Like, his eyes were bloodshot and his--demeanor, I guess?-- was all depressed.
“Was there an open cardboard box on the floor?” The thief asked.
“Yeah! There was!”
“And didja see a small orange box anywhere?”
“Yeah! I did!”
“Yeah. Drop it.”
“Just...” Chive rubbed the back of his neck, “...just drop it. Ignore it, alright?”
“But, but why?”
“Its rare to see you this serious, Chive.” Alice said.
“Yeah well, this is a serious subject. He gets in a funk every so often. Usually around this time o' year too. I was kinda hoping he wouldn't this time around, but I guess I was wrong. Just let him get through it in peace, you hear me?”
“No buttin'. Keep your head low on this.” I sighed.
“Can you at least tell me why? Or help me figure this out?”
“Nope. I ain't helping you in any way, shape, or form.” Well, you already did, since you taught me how to sneak into his house. I instead turned my attention to Alice, who was now sipping from a teacup.
“I don't suppose you can help?”
“It isn't my place.” She said. “Not only do I not know what is going through his mind, but we have too much mutual respect to pry into his personal life. For once, I agree with Chive.” I felt a pang of jealousy as she she mentioned their 'mutual respect', but said nothing.
“It's a Christmas miracle!” Chive said, clasping his hands together. “She agrees with me! Wait, uh-oh.” A sudden popping noise was heard from the festive hat resting on Alice's head as it fell to the table, the curse broken.
“I told you I would have it removed by day's end.” She said with a smug smile.
I fumbled with the lock to his apartment for a while until it finally clicked open. I really needed to practice this more. I knew I had plenty of time to work with since he had some kind of meeting in the Sword Guild, but I still didn't know for sure what I was really in for. Against both Chive and Alice's warnings, I found myself sneaking into Bryer's residence again, this time with a different objective. I quietly closed the door behind me as I entered and neared his room, peering into the cardboard box I had tripped over last time. There was just a pillow, a short sword, and a mirror in there. Nothing that seemed worth mentioning. I left the box behind and instead entered his room. The orange box was still sitting on his nightstand and I greedily made my way towards it and held it in both hands, opening it with quick precision. In the box was a clear crystal shard that fit perfectly into the grooved out box. Confused, I carefully pried the crystal out and held it in my cupped hands. I don't get it, was this all he was hiding? What's the point? I shifted the crystal around in one hand and eventually held it so the point was facing upwards, at which point a small transparent projection appeared from it.
“Oh! Okay, uh, hi!” A woman's voice said, causing me to jump.
“Magic!” I whispered as I looked at the vision in awe. Though see-through, I could easily make out the woman's features. Pale skin, brown hair, and black eyes. She wasn't someone I recognized at all.
“I guess this is on now?” The woman went on, looking embarrassed. “Sorry, you know how little I know about magic. Haha...” She paused for a moment, as if thinking of where to go from here. “Hi, Bryer.” She finally said, causing me jump again. Just who was this?! “This is...uh, this is something I hope you never have to see, but whatever. I decided to make this in case something where to happen to me. As fun as it is to go on missions together, we both know how dangerous it is to be out there representing the Sword Guild.” Where have I heard this before? ...Oh. Oh no. “So I decided to make a small recording of myself for you to keep in case I ever...well, you know.” She paused again as I sat on Bryer's bed. How many times has he watched this? How many times has he sat on this bed with this projection playing? “Haha, this is so weird. Okay, I should probably say something important, right? Um. Well, You know how much I care about you, Bryer. If you're watching this, then I'm probably gone. But it's not the end of the world! I pinky promise I'll be watching over you, okay? So keep going. Keep living. Do it for me.” I could hear her voice begin to crack slightly as she went on. “Live for me. Remember me and live your life. ...You know, it's almost Christmas time right now. Heh, remember last year when we went to that dance? And how you were so nervous you nearly tripped while dancing? I couldn't stop laughing... I only bring it up because this is the only part of this that I planned. I know its your mom's favorite Christmas song, so maybe it'll cheer you up?” I closed my eyes as Emily sang a song I wasn't familiar with. Damn it. Why didn't I listen to Chive and Alice? Of course they were right, but I still thought I knew better than them. Bryer's past love neared the end of her song as I opened my eyes and I noted she was sobbing slightly.
“Through the years
we all will be to...together
If the f-fates allow
hang a shining...shining star above the highest bough
and...and have yourself...a merr--merry little Christmas...
...somehow...” Without warning, the projection ended with the final image of Emily's teary eyed face.
I sat on the couch in Bryer's living room, hugging my knees. I heard the front door open and flinched.
“Samantha?” Bryer asked as he entered.
“Bryer.” I croaked out, looking up at him. “I'm...I'm sorry. I shouldn't have, I know but I'm sorry.” I opened my palm and showed him the clear crystal, causing him to take a step backwards. “I'm sorry.” I repeated honestly. “I didn't realize, I should have just asked or kept away, but I wanted to know.” I kept my eyes low, avoiding his face.
“You're making it really hard for me to trust you, you know?” I flinched again as his low voice rang out. I wish he would yell at me. I want him to let it all out. Instead he was whispering, which was somehow worse. “First with you eavesdropping on me at her grave a while ago, and now this.” I darted my eyes to his. Where those tears? Good going, Samantha.
“I'm so sorry. I don't mean for these things to happen.”
“I know.” He said softly, sitting next to me. “I know.” We stayed quiet for a while, me hugging my knees while he stared at the crystal.
“Please don't hate me.” I told him. “I know I keep messing up, but please--” I was cut off as Bryer wrapped his arms around me.
“I could never hate you.” He whispered. “Never ever.”
KHI Holiday Writing Contest Entry – “The Prince”
Long faded, now, is Autumn’s pageantry;
And grim November sheds its dusky cloak
To lay before December’s hasty course,
That royal feet should not be brushed with snow.
So brightly lit the way! So gaily clad
The trees with candles in their living boughs!
With feast and song, we light December’s path—
Prepare our errant hearts to well receive
The newborn Prince. O! come, Emmanuel!
December flies to meet Your holy birth.
As do we all, we sinners of the Earth.
Or nearly all—I must amend my claim:
For ev’ry hundredth child who seeks the Prince,
There is, in darkest corners of our land,
A frightened waif who names Him “the New Prince.”
For in the days before He thwarted sin
And Satan’s pow’r, here reigned another lord:
A Prince whose name appeareth not in book,
Lest speaking it invite his dread approach.
The Winter Prince is he; and we, his prey.
No stronghold did the Winter Prince maintain,
No pennants flew the colors of his coat;
The wooded hills and glades were his demesne,
And naked branches were his heraldry.
Uncountable, the soldiers in his horde—
Ten thousand icy teeth! ten thousand eyes!
Remorseless was that wild company:
His archer, Borealis, punctured holes
Through stone and wood and human flesh so cold;
His knights, the slav’ring wolves, beset his foes
With forty sharpened knives in every maw;
His spies, the black-eyed spirits of the snow,
Deployed their wicked charms upon the weak—
Those heathen souls to take below, below,
Beneath the frigid shell of Cocytus;
His emissary, hunch-backed Frau Berchte,
Beguiled the innocent with hollow joys;
His torturer, foul Krampus the perverse,
Left welts and blackened bruises ‘pon their hides.
O! Pity those who knew his brutal touch!
Need I expend another word on these,
The monsters of Prince Winter’s horde? No more!
“For servants are obedient to them
That are their masters in the flesh and soul,
With terror, trembling, singleness of heart.”
The vassal learns his manner from his liege:
No master was so terrible in joy,
So pitiless in mirth, as Winter’s lord—
Unfeeling, his cheek! Unblinking, his eye!
More deadly than a foil’s edge, his kiss.
In ancient hist’ries, lost to written word,
Still told by rote around the pagan hearth,
The Winter Prince did deign to roam beyond
His fallow hinterland, bequeathing gifts
Unto the lowly. Death by blackened flesh
Was least among his royal blessings—least!
To join the Prince in lawless revelry,
To dance the awful Dance of Suckling Pig
Until the warmth has fled thy blood and bones;
Such celebrations were his favored gift
To men who earned the curse of his largess.
More pity, still, to woeful womankind,
From whom the Winter Prince collected brides—
One maid for ev’ry Winter Solstice night.
In blindness, dark beyond the reach of stars,
On bedding rough and colorless, they gave
Themselves to him; and not a sound escaped.
A father’s highest praise, a mother’s joy—
The black miasma hanging o’er their heads—
That daughter fair be visited and wed
Without a dowry, song, or future child.
Afflicted with such fears, the vulgar man
Observed the passing of the Prince with dread;
And who would not? When Winter’s lord appeared,
His brow adorned with thorny hoarfrost crown,
His hair ablaze with sprigs of holly bright,
The Sun retracted from its lofty perch
And cowered, conquered, under fog and snow.
The birdsong cackled harsh and terrible;
The sleeping beasts awoke with groans and pains;
And sightless souls could feel Gehenna’s touch.
“Io Princeps!” cried the poor downtrodden fools,
Then laid an offering of suet, bone,
And blackened flesh before his naked feet.
A grimace of displeasure, dreaded sure,
Could not instill a terror so severe
As happy countenance and teeth agleam.
For as the verses previous should prove,
The Winter Prince’s pleasure dwarfed his ire
In all the human suff’ring it provoked;
His love was crueler than a mortal’s hate.
Yet empty elfin-love cannot compare
With Love Eternal, sent from up on high.
Its emissaries bear the death of sin
Upon their shoulders broad, in crosses hewn
From heaven’s garden, Virtue of the soul.
So it is writ in latter testament
That Winter’s Prince was foil’d by Christian works:
A saint of great renown defeated him
As, traveling from East to West, he spread
The Gospel and the manifests of Paul.
Saint Boniface, who thwarted Wodin’s oaks,
Receives this honor in the Prussian tales;
Saint Martin of the Roman cloak, in Tours
Is hailed as Winter’s foe and conqueror;
The Milanese—absurdity abound!—
Name Ambrose as our country’s champion!
Saint Nicholas? Impossible, one sees,
For he was bound to bishop’s seat in Myre.
“Saint Christopher” it was who rescued us,
So far as it was he who carried Christ.
To what reward does sinners’ praise amount,
Compared to bliss beside the Lord? Nil.
Accordingly, let it suffice to say
That Jesus Christ’s ambassador arrived
Within the octave of the holy birth,
Before the Lord’s Nativity had struck.
His manner and his raiment gleaming white,
Announcing heaven’s joy, he scaled the mount
On which our simple fathers worked in stone.
“All hail the Prince!” he cried. “Prepare His way!”
Robust and strident was his voice; his laugh
Cascaded into valleys deep, and rose
To scale the mountaintops. What cheer had he!
Yet when the ignorant heard his salute,
How piteous their faces! Terror-struck,
They pitched their bodies at his feet, and begged
That Winter’s Prince extend his clemency—
For sacrifices had not been prepared.
At once the saintly countenance fell low,
And tears of pity, burning, ran their course.
He bade them halt their sorrows, bade them peace,
And offered them a proof of his goodwill:
There kneeling on the frozen earth, God’s man
Unclasped his snowy cloak, retrieved at once
From garments red as Savior’s blood, a gift—
The chestnuts, blackened brown, that he had cook’d
Above the open camping-fire that night.
To these he added bread and wine and coin,
One golden Solidus to ev’ry child.
Such tender joy upon those faces mild!
With gentle hand he raised the fallen fools,
And taught them of a Prince much kindlier
Than He of Barren Branch, more powerful
Than any stormy lord of ice and hail.
Of Creeds and crosses did he speak; of deeds
And miracles on Galilean shores.
He baptized them in snow, so quickly thawed
By human heart and hearth. Communion meal
Proceeded then, to new and glad refrain:
“God rest ye merry goodmen!” they exclaimed.
Their song—devour’d by wildling ears so keen,
Perceived by flinty eyes in twilight’s glint—
Aroused Frau Berchte from her dreamless sleep.
With sorcery she drew a lightless night
Upon our land, before the Sun had set;
And hastened then to heed her master’s wish.
The Winter Prince was terrible in wrath,
Offended that the vassals he so loved
Would celebrate without their faerie lord,
And sing the praise of gods invisible.
“What claim has any king,” he groaned aloud,
“To persons lacking knowledge of his face?”
A lord who sits insensate of his slaves
Is not a lord by honest reckoning—
So thought the Winter Prince, who visited
Upon his subjects ev’ry happiness
And woe that stirred within his royal breast.
By strength and splendor had he won their hearts,
Inspiring love and terror through his deeds,
Not unclean scrawlings from a foreign book.
So works a sordid elfin mind, beyond
Salvation’s promise—selfishness and greed!
Its convoluted turnings misconstrue
The meanest vices as the highest grace,
For ignorance and vanity comprise
Its natural state. O! fie upon all fae!
The Winter Prince amassed his awful horde,
Believing staunchly in his righteousness;
And hidden ‘twixt the snow and shadows flew
Across the wilderness to meet his foe.
The Krampus, it is written, was the first
To spy the saint, so keen was he for blood.
Atop the brittle thatches, long and loud
He howled for Christian prey—and leapt upon
The holy man. God’s advocate did not despair.
“Do you forswear your former lord,” he sued,
“And lay thy head upon the lap of Christ?”
Acknowledging the Son, the demon ceased
Its charge; and so the saint subdued the beast
Without a violent word or gesture thrown.
Betwixt the broken streets, the burgher-folk, astir,
Bespied with wond’ring eyes the freakish sight
Of Krampus bound in chains of adamant,
Now held and led by blessed human hands.
So strangely does the soul confess itself:
For ev’ry two who praised the Lord on high,
Another groaned with terror and despair
That Winter’s man-at-arms had fallen low.
Their hearts were still imprisoned by the cold,
And blinded by Frau Berchte’s witching-night.
These heathens fled the warming light and life
Of God, and cowered at the blizzard’s edge,
Beseeching clemency of shadows dark.
For them, the excommunicate, the saint
Could offer only curses; they had spurned
Salvation’s gift, and rightly then deserved
The wilderness—the tears, the gnashing teeth.
Forgetting them, the saint affixed his gaze
Upon the blinding hurricane of snow.
To ev’ry spirit lending strength in wind,
In snowfalls, or in rain, the holy man
Extended heaven’s offer of reprieve:
“Deny the Lord of Winter, and receive
“The hope of Paradise and heav’nly Spring.”
And though the Winter Prince reminded them
Of savage oaths and blessings by his hand,
They recognized a Power greater still—
The Prince of Peace, whose voice on Earth
Commanded miracles beyond reproach.
The Winter Prince, deprived at once of all
His cherished banner-men, was stricken there
By sorrow bleak as snow—grew fearsome wroth!
Revealing all his faerie splendor bright,
He glittered brighter than the absent stars,
And clenched the Moon inside his bloodless fist.
“Account thyself to me, thou foolish man,”
Said he, “And offer proof that any lord
“Of foreign name deserves my bended knee!”
He spoke with no intention to relent.
The holy man, defiant crimson spot
Amidst a flurry of unnatural white,
Perceived his foe’s iniquities; and knew
That though the Winter Prince could be convinced
Of Jesus Christ’s superiority,
No pagan elf deserved His charity.
Commanding then the horde reclaimed from sin,
The saint decreed that kingdom now defunct,
Belonging evermore to Christ, the King;
And that the Wintry Monster be removed
To lands beyond the touch of humankind.
Upon their ancient master, spirits fell
With blows and cries and sharpened icy teeth,
Extracting from his milky hide in sheets
The frozen blood of faerie-folk. What blood!
Awash in tears that clung upon his face,
The Winter Prince, betrayed by those with whom
He oft partook in selfishness and sin,
Retreated then to barren northern wastes,
Away from those who owned his cruel desires.
What revelry ensued! A holy feast!
A strong resounding bell, the welcome chime
Of new and better times, was heard and felt
In ev’ry human heart throughout the land.
The mass was grand, the penance grander still:
All those who’d turned their backs upon the Lord
Were given lashes, prayer, and honest work.
The wolves, from hunting-chief to pup, were slain;
Their souls in final flickers whispered thanks.
The Northern Wind ensured safe voyages
For ships which bore the Cross upon their sails.
Frau Berchte, called Bufana now, embarked
Upon a pilgrimage o’er all the Earth—
Bestowing gifts unto the poor, although
She foolishly pursued the Newborn Christ.
Old Krampus, ever coarse and foul, applied
His art of punishment to miscreants—
Investing there his single Talent owned.
And ev’ry soul contributed a day
Of labor to the building of the church.
Among the convert spirits, many won
Distinctions under saintly patronage—
And these became companions on his quest
To raise the banner of the Prince in ev’ry place.
Success they had; and in this wond’rous age
The joys of Christmastide are felt throughout the world.
The Prince, proclaimed in house and hall!
Emmanuel is come forevermore!
And though the winter surges forth each year,
Its former master—nay, usurper—dares not return.
Although his name is stricken from our minds,
And countries civilized deny the lives of fae,
The Winter Prince is not forgot. He lives
Below the frigid shell of Cocytus,
Inside the shadow of the untamed wood.
The ignorant still worship him, in deed
If not in ritual. His strongest hour
Arrives when bright December last expires,
And two-faced January opens wide
The doors of ice upon the godless lands.
The Winter Prince survives; and we, his prey,
Should ward against him in our nightly prayers.
For what is he, if not the hated thing
From which the Lord delivered us at death?
The dark of ignorance, of world untamed…