“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
That was what he had been looking at for the past thirty minutes. It wasn’t that he really minded reading a Shakespeare quote over and over again, truly contemplating what it really meant – that was all good and fine. What he did mind however, was the fact that the cold winter air around him was causing his breath to crystallize. Oh, and the fact that his dick was stuck in a park bench.
That kind of sucked too.
“Are you okay?”
He turned to look at the voice which he soon discovered was a huge mistake as his body twisting only caused further pain onto his trapped penis. Grimacing, he immediately shut his eyes as he turned back to face the other way. When he opened his eyes, he was met with a girl’s vibrant green ones. Though his instinct was to recoil and pull back, he couldn’t help but be reminded of the predicament he was in.
“Ouch, um, are you--.”
“Alright, yeah, thanks”
“--f*cking that bench?”
His head dropped. He was f*cking that bench. Of all things to f*ck he had decided, in his unbalanced mind brought on by emotional distress and one too many shots of that mysterious green drink that seemed to be a certain shade reminiscent of snot, that brushing off the snow and f*cking the bench would be a good idea. Why he thought this, well, in hindsight, he hadn’t a single clue.
But he guessed that was the point.
“Yeah... I am.”
“And you’re stuck aren’t you?”
“Yeah... I am.”
“Your dick swell or something?”
“Something like that.”
The girl stood up and looked down on him. Blinking one too many times necessary, she watched in silence. It was too much of a strain for him to look up at her, not that his embarrassment wasn’t enough to keep him looking elsewhere, so, instead, he just focused on the watch that was around her (he noted) exceptionally porcelain wrist.
It was 4:42 AM.
He closed his eyes again, not being able to believe that he was stuck like this, in front of another human being. It was like a post meant for FML or something. But, even though he was ashamed beyond belief, he couldn’t help but feel happy that someone had found him. He wasn’t even sure if it was the fact that he now had someone who could get him help and keep him from dying of hypothermia or just the fact that he had someone at all.
“Can you, uh, sit with me?”
Though he couldn’t see her reaction, he was betting that it was one of scepticism. Among other things. He fully expected to open his eyes, fight with the pain descending on his swollen self, and turn and look only to find her having left him without another word.
But then he felt the fabric of a blanket being wrapped around his half-exposed body, and a hand rubbing his back softly before the small rush of wind of a body falling down beside him on the bench.
“My name’s Larissa.”
The man, smiling, stammered. “My, uh, my name’s Will.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Will.”
There was a pause.
“You’re not going to ask?”
“Oh, sorry. So... what do you do for a living?”
“You know, what do you do?” A blank expression. “To earn a living?” Bewilderment. “...What’s your job?”
“...I, uh, I work as a cell phone kiosk clerk. Virgin Mobile. You’re not going to ask why I’m like this?”
“Well, I don’t know. Aren’t you curious?”
“I guess so.”
“Don’t you think I must be a pervert or something? That I must be some sort of miscreant for doing something this bad?”
She motioned to the quote inscribed on the bench. “Nothing’s either good or bad, right?”
“Are you usually this sheepish?” she said, a hint of a smile in her voice. “Here, let me help you out. I’m a Pisces. I grew up in a small town not too far from here. Moved to the city in hopes of finding everything that I thought I was missing back home. My dad’s dead and my mom is an uptight perfectionist. I have no sisters, but I have three brothers. All of them gay. Your turn.”
“Do you always talk to lonely guys with their dicks stuck in park benches?”
“Oh, absolutely. In fact, you’re the third this week.”
“My dad used to tell me that all the time. Told me, that with my sense of humour, I could charm any guy. Or well, any guy worth a damn. Told me that the way to a man’s heart is through his funny bone. Your dad every say stuff like that to you?”
“Not really. The only time my dad used to talk to me about anything was when he yelled at me about my ‘life choices’. He used to always tell me that if I didn’t smarten up and get a decent job that I’d be stuck someplace I didn’t want to be with no means of getting free.”
“Maybe you should have listened,” she said jokingly, motioning to the bench.
The man laughed, which, he noticed, hurt a lot more than simply turning. He felt the pain was worth it though, worth every second. He couldn’t remember the last time he laughed like he was laughing now. But then the laughter stopped.
“Whenever he talked to me about that kind of stuff though, I just got the feeling he was telling me more about how he felt about his life than he felt about mine. I guess I was the mistake that got him stuck someplace he didn’t want to be.”
“Well,” she said, pausing, “all the best cowboys have daddy issues.”
“I’m a rather pitiful cowboy.”
“That’s true. But, you know, at least it means you’re not going to be the one that everyone is after.”
“How is that a good thing?”
“Means I get you to myself.”
“You’re really forthcoming.”
“Does that scare you?”
“No. I just... don’t get it. I mean, look where I am.”
“No, I mean, like this. Anyone else would probably just think that I am a pervert who either gets turned on by doing this kind of shit in public or gets turned on by furniture or something. Why aren’t you afraid?”
“Because I already know why you did it.”
“You told me. I mean, you didn’t tell me directly, but, I can piece it together based on what you told me about you and your life. And I want you to know that it’s okay.”
“What do you mean?”
“We all get lonely sometimes, Will. Especially during the holidays. I mean, we could have the entire world around us and still feel utterly, hopelessly alone. All we want as humans is contact. Some sort of sign to tell us, to tell the world, that everything that is happening to us is real. That I’m really real. That you’re really real. And that we’re both happening at the same time, in the same lonely world. That’s all.
“You don’t need to tell me why you did what you did, because it doesn’t matter to me. I don’t care about what it was that made you do that, just like I don’t care about what made me come over here. It doesn’t matter why we did what we did. All that matters is that we’re both here – now – and we’re together and we’re not alone.”
“How do you know so much about me, without really knowing me?”
“You know me too. You just haven’t realized it yet.”
Will looked up at the sound of sirens in the distance and, soon, white ambulances broke the darkness. He looked at the vehicles and felt an overwhelming feeling of dread copulate inside him. It was the first time tonight that the last thing he wanted was to get unstuck.
“I called them,” she said looking over her shoulder as the paramedics, “before I came over to talk to you.”
“You could have just left, but you talked to me anyway.”
“Yeah, I did,” she said quietly with a soft smile.
“But... I... I don’t want to – I mean – I’m stuck... but... I’m stuck in a place I want to be now,” he said, feeling a lump form in his throat.
The paramedics were almost there, and then that would be the end of it all. He would never see her again, and she wouldn’t see him. This seemingly random moment of connection, of a perfect disaster, would be nothing but a fleeting memory to recall when both of them were older and forgotten and alone with the world surrounding them. And that thought, the thought of being nothing more than a memory of a strange encounter, hurt him more than the entire situation that led to the chance encounter happening. He knew how it sounded – amplified ridiculous – but he would go through all the pain again if it meant spending more time with her.
“I’d get my dick stuck in more benches if it meant being with you. That sounded a lot more romantic in my head.”
She placed her hand on his cheek. “That’s real... sweet, Will. But, how about you just give me a call instead?”
She pulled a marker from her coat pocket, and, along his exposed arm, wrote her number. After drawing a small little heart next to the last seven, she smiled before snapping the lid back on the marker.
The paramedics arrived and told her to back away. The paramedics and firemen surrounding him, he felt alone again as they sawed off the piece of bench he was stuck to. Knowing it would be too dangerous to try and fix it there, they decided to take him, and a chunk of the bench, back to the hospital.
Loaded on the gurney, he only had the stars to look at. But then her face came into view, her beautiful green eyes looked down on his. She gave his hand a squeeze, and, with a smile on her face, she whispered into his ear:
“We’re going to have the most f*cked up ‘how we met’ story ever.”
Ricordati di Me
(Angels of the Apocalypse – Revelations ch. ???)
Monteriggioni, Italy, 1564
“It is too cold, Noctis. How do your people suffer through these temperatures?”
Varen turned to study Mira, suppressing the desire to laugh as he studied the younger girl. She had both her cloak and the sash of her sari wrapped about her as tightly as she could, yet she hunkered down even further in her wraps until her could barely see her dark eyes or the tear drop shaped bindi on the girl’s forehead. After a moment, he was unable to contain his laughter any longer, and he chuckled as he said, “It’s only cold to you, amica mia; India is unseasonably warm this time of year. Why don’t you warm the water up that’s in your body, Mira? That should keep the chill away.”
Mira gave him a withering look as she said coolly, “It is a little difficult to concentrate on my magic at the moment in order to do so, mera dost; once again, because of this infernal weather that you Italians have. What is this white stuff that you have called?” She tentatively reached a hand out from beneath her cloak, catching a flake as it drifted down from the sky; for a moment, there was a vivid contrast of white ice against brown skin, and then the flake melted, leaving a small drop of water behind.
“Neve,” Varen said, turning his face to the sky to watch more of the flakes fall around them before turning to examine the soft blanket of whiteness that covered the ground and the buildings of the village. After a moment, he said again, “It’s called snow. And I apologize, Mira. It’s rare for Tuscany to be so cold this time of year, and rarer still that we have snow, let alone this thick a cover…”
It’s almost like he’s saying hello…
A soft touch caused Varen to jump, and he looked down to see that Mira was now at his side, her hand laid gently on his elbow. Smiling up at him, she said softly, “I would like to explore and see this beautiful place that you call your home, yes? I will meet with you, Willow, and Ivy in a few hours’ time, yes?”
“I like the sound of this idea, as well,” Ivy said, turning to look out at the village. Returning her attention to Varen and her sister standing beside him, she asked, “I can leave the two of you alone for a little while, correct? There won’t be any cleasanna while I am gone?”
Varen’s cheeks heated up at Ivy’s insinuation, but Willow only laughed, “Sister, we’d never do anything such as that, as you know quite well!”
Ivy joined in with Willow’s laughter after a moment, and Varen realized that the girls had pulled their own cleasanna, their own trick, on him. Finding his voice after a moment, he said brusquely, “Go on, you two. We’ll meet at my family’s villa by sundown; it’s the one just down the road from here. Be safe, Ivy, Mira.”
Ivy and Mira both nodded, before taking their separate paths through the village. Varen watched the two of them disappear into the crowds and the snow, the heat dissipating from his face by slow degrees, before turning his eyes toward the sky again. A thrill of excitement ran through his veins, and he shifted his weight from one foot to the other; had it really been three years since the last time he had seen his family? The twins were sure to have grown in that time, and he knew their exuberance, as well; Valerie and Vincent were sure to try to drop him to the floor when they saw him. And the fact that it was snowing! They’d want their older brother to play in it with them, and no doubt they’d try to drag the girls into the debacle as well; it’d be an all-out war between the six nephilim, Varen had no doubt of that.
And the thought of seeing his parents after so long was like slipping into the warmth of his fire magic and wrapping it around him to ward off the chill in the more inhospitable climes that he and the girls had visited. The Noctis family may have inherited the role of Angel of Darkness through the centuries, and Varen and his siblings may have received their angelic heritage through their father, but it was his mother that he wanted to see the most; even hearing her voice would be a balm after everything that had happened in recent months.
Varen hadn’t realized that they’d started walking again until he stopped in his tracks. The absence of crunching snow a moment later told him that Willow had realized he’d stopped, and had turned back to see what was wrong. He could hear the question and the dawning understanding in her voice as she said, “Varen?”
He didn’t answer; not right away. His thoughts had turned on him, as they had every quiet moment he had in the last eighteen months. He was okay as long as he was speaking with the girls or engaged in activity that required his full attention; but when he slowed down, late at night when he lay awake, unable to sleep, just listening as the girls slept around him, Willow’s hand against his chest, that’s when the demons came into his mind, forcing him to remember…
Pain throbbed through every part of his body, his movements sluggish as his mind tried to process what had just happened. Lucien; God, why? Why? Lucien was their mentor, the one that had taken the nephilim under his wing, metaphorically and literally, to teach them their roles and how to use their powers. The Indian girl, Mira, as the Angel of Light, with power over water and knowledge of the body to both harm and heal. The Irish twins; Willow, Angel of Dawn, with an electric touch and empathetic understanding of emotions and the heart; Ivy, Angel of Twilight, power over wind and the most spiritual of them all, with a special connection to the soul. Even Varen, Angel of Darkness, with the ability to read minds and his pyro abilities. Lucien helped them all to understand their place as keepers of the balance between light and darkness and their place as servants of the Throne; it was what the Angel of Death had been sent to earth to do, after all.
So why the hell had he betrayed them all?
Slowly, agonizingly so, Varen pushed himself up from the dirt. Willow still lay on the ground from where they’d been thrown; he remembered wrapping her up in his wings to give her protection from the spell, he remembered that much. But why she didn’t have her wings at the time of Lucien’s attack, Varen’s mind was less clear on.
Varen’s attention moved reluctantly from Willow to where Ivy and Mira lay just a short distance from the two of them. Ivy groaned softly, her right wing lying over her shoulder, while Mira was on her back, her wings limp at her sides and her eyes closed. Pushing his mind out, Varen felt the familiar edge of light in Mira’s, which meant that she was still with them.
The fog was forced to start clearing from his mind as Varen looked, but couldn’t find the last member of their group. Dread coiled around his heart, and his eyes turned to look in the direction from which they had been thrown. Through the ever decreasing haze, he saw Lucien, the angel’s golden hair a beacon in the night, and a lithe form with dark hair flying toward him on the wings of a hawk.
Willow’s soft voice broke through the mental hell Varen found himself in once again. Turning to look at her, he found himself blinking several times in a vain effort to bring the redhead into better focus. Looking away from her, he realized with shock that they had reached the villa. His voice barely more than a hoarse whisper, he said, “I can’t do this, Willow.”
Her touch was gentle, drawing his attention back to her. Her own eyes sparkled with unshed tears, and her voice was even gentler as she said, “They need to know, Varen. They deserve to know.”
He felt her trying to work her magic on him, to instill some small token of peace into him to help him get through this, but the grief and the guilt were building up too fast as he choked, “It’s Christmas, Willow. I can’t do this to them. Not today…”
Varen found himself freezing once again at the sound of her voice as all the feelings that he had hoped for washed over him at the sound of it. Even so, the sorrow remained as he turned to look at his mother. She was a petite woman, almost smaller than the tiny Mira; but her face broke into a radiant smile at seeing him. Rushing forward, she embraced Varen in a tight hug as she bubbled, “Oh, Buon Natale indeed! You’re home, mio caro, you’re home!”
“Madre,” Varen said softly, his arms instinctively wrapping around her as he soaked in the comfort that just her presence brought to him. A soft crunch of snow caught all three of their attentions, and they turned as a group to see none other than Varen’s father standing there, having come to see what the ruckus was about. He held himself apart, but Varen could see the glow in his eyes that meant his father was happy to see him.
“Welcome home, figlio,” he said, a smile spreading across his face. Turning to Willow, he tilted his head in acknowledgment as he continued, “I see you’ve brought Willow, your ever captivating innamorato as well. It has been too long, my dear.”
Willow curtsied, murmuring softly, “It is a pleasure, Athair Noctis, as always.”
Backing away from Varen, his mother gave the two young nephilim another smile as she said, “The twins are over at a friend’s at the moment, but their nurse should be back with them by the time that Christmas dinner is ready. Where is your dear friend Mira? And what of your sister, Willow? Is Jordan showing her around town before returning to the villa?”
Varen hid his flinch as quickly as possible, but his father, having noticed it and the glassy look in his eyes, said softly, “Varen? What’s wrong?”
Varen took a deep breath, trying to calm his nerves to where they needed to be for this task. He felt Willow’s touch on his heart again, all of the love and peace she could offer him, and he squeezed her fingers in gratitude. Turning back to his parents, Varen was amazed at how even his voice was as he said softly, “Padre? Madre? May we go inside to talk? It’s… it’s about Jordan.”
Ivy wasn’t entirely sure about the many layers of heavy clothing that the Italian women forced themselves to wear. Wrapping a fistful of fabric around her fingers, she lifted her skirts a little, pleased with the greater range of motion that even a couple inches gave her. Snow and winter wind swirled beneath her skirts, but it didn’t bother her much; Dublin grew much colder than Italy did, and though infrequent, she had experienced a few truly bitter Irish winters in her life. There was another reason the snow didn’t bother her too much, but she didn’t want to think on it too much just yet.
A flash of movement caught Ivy’s attention, drawing her eyes to a dark alley between two of the buildings. Her eyes widened, and she gave chase, instinct and a flare of hope spurring her into action. She followed her quarry through twists and turns, always just a little behind, but always within sight of that streak of white fur. Maybe, just maybe, all of what had transpired in the last eighteen months truly had been just one long, unending nightmare…
Her mind was full of sharp, jagged edges, and an ache spread through her wings that flared into white-hot agony when she shifted her weight. Ivy supposed that was the reward for their arrogance, however. They were only nephilim, after all; even if they had been chosen by the Throne above others of their kind, what did they hope to accomplish by trying to subdue a full blooded Angel of the Lord? Even when they all worked together, Lucien would always be stronger than the five of them; they couldn’t defeat him.
They couldn’t even contain him.
A pulse of divine power radiated through her, easing away some of her pain, allowing her to breathe again. Ivy’s eyes sprang open, confusion coursing through her. This energy; it felt like Jordan’s, but much, much stronger. It was almost on par with Lucien’s heavenly strength. How?
Ivy struggled to push herself to a sitting position, just noticing that Varen had done the same a short distance from her; he too had his wings extended, but something seemed off. Turning her attention more fully on him for a moment, she saw the slight difference in angle that he unconsciously held his right wing at, how it hung just a fraction below the left instead of the two being even in bearing as they normally were. Was he hurt? Looking next to him, she saw Willow’s unconscious form lying next to Varen’s right side, her wings not extended; had he protected her from the blast with his own wings?
Another pulse of power went through her, turning Ivy’s attention from Varen and her sister to the fight that she realized was still going on. Power glowed along Lucien’s wings, but he wasn’t the only one going all out. Deep gold etched itself around Jordan’s wings as Varen’s younger brother Shifted from his human form into the form of a large, white wolf. He leapt at Lucien, teeth bared and a low snarl rumbling in his chest that was loud enough that Ivy could hear it even though she was far away from the battle.
Lucien caught Jordan’s attack on his arm, taking the full force of the wolf’s teeth and weight with a deep growl of his own echoing across the distance. Electricity sparked across his body, going from his arm into Jordan’s body with what Ivy knew to be enough strength to kill a regular mortal. As it was, she could see Jordan’s body jerk as the magic coursed through him.
Lucien swung his arm out, throwing Jordan away from him. Jordan landed with a heavy thud, knocked back into his human form with a low groan. Even so, that golden glow remained around his wings; if anything, it had grown even brighter as he forced himself to scramble back to his knees. His right leg jerked beneath him, like it didn’t want to support his weight, and it almost sent him down again.
Jordan was almost to his feet when another arc of lightning cracked through the air, freezing him in place. Ivy, Jordan, and Varen all lifted their eyes to see that Lucien was in front of Jordan now, starlight glinting off the edge of the scythe he held tight in his grip, a foreign, alien contempt in his eyes as he looked down on Jordan. “Interloper on the sacred duties of those nephilim that would bring balance to this pathetic world,” the angel intoned, sending ice through Ivy’s veins, “You will be the first to forfeit your life.”
Varen leapt forward, using all of his speed to stop what they all knew couldn’t be stopped. Jordan’s eyes turned from Lucien, meeting Ivy’s full on. Regret shone in their blue-grey depths, and she felt the tears start in her own as she heard his voice in her mind for the last time.
Cara mia, ti voglio bene. Per favore ricordati di me, mio angelo.
The scythe swung down, and Ivy screamed.
Ivy came to a stop as she stepped out into a small courtyard. She looked around, trying to find the white animal that had led her here in the first place. All she found was a small grouping of statues, ones she recognized as the Virgin Mary and Joseph bowing over baby Jesus’ cradle from the stories that Varen and Jordan had told her. Her throat tightened as she walked forward, kneeling down once she had come to stand before the baby. Slowly, she reached a hand out, running her fingers across the stone swaddling clothes.
It was one of the many images that the Italians used to remind them of their Lord, and one of the forms that Ivy had heard that the Throne had taken in an effort to save the people of this world. She had been learning so many new things over the years, yet she still found herself speaking aloud, asking the question that had plagued them all, but perhaps her and Varen most, since that night.
“Why, my Lord? Why did you take Jordan away from us?”
She closed her eyes, taking a breath to calm herself. There would be no answer, except for what they had been taught from the day they had been chosen; sometimes, no matter how hard they tried to keep a balance between right and wrong in the world, bad things happened. It was the nature of life, of free will among people. You could try to guide outcomes as much as possible, but in the end, the choice was still the individual’s to be made. It had been Jordan’s choice to fight, to protect them from Lucien’s rampage when they couldn’t protect themselves.
It still hurt, though.
A warm hand whispered across her shoulder, and Ivy didn’t even need to look to know that Varen was standing behind her. If she imagined coolness in the touch instead, though, she could almost believe that it was Jordon behind her, about to move his hand from her shoulder to catch up her hand in his own and pull her to her feet. His touch had always been on the cooler side, the ice to his brother’s fire, but his eyes and his kisses were so warm that Ivy had always seen the play of hot and cold as distinctly Jordan.
“Grá mo chroí, cronaím thú.”
“I know he misses you as well, cara sorella,” Varen said softly, slipping his hand down her arm until his fingers caught around hers. Pulling her to her feet, Varen gently wrapped a hug around her as he continued, “Come, Ivy. It’s grown rather late, and Mira and the twins have returned. Everyone’s ready for dinner now.”
She looked at him for a moment, and Ivy could sense the tears that had been shed that afternoon as Varen had told his parents what had happened to Jordan. Even so, she could see a peace behind Varen’s sorrow that she hadn’t sensed in him in a while, not since his faith had been shaken by his brother’s death. She nodded her head, and Varen wrapped an arm around her shoulder as the two of them began walking toward the villa.
It was quiet between the two of them for a moment; but after a while, she said softly, “What’s it like, Varen?”
He knew what she was asking, she could tell by the soft tightening of his jaw. Even so, he didn’t answer for a moment, extending his right wing over her shoulders as he said instead, “You’re cold, Ivy. Let me warm you.” To any on the street, it looked as if he’d merely wrapped his cloak around her, but the feathers of his wing warmed her more than any wool or silk wrap ever could. She could sense the healed injury in the wing arm; when he’d been thrown by that attack from Lucien, Varen had wrapped Willow up in his wings, cushioning her from the blow, both when they’d been struck and when they landed. He’d landed on his right side, and Willow’s weight added to his own had been enough to crack the bone in his right wing arm, an injury that had cost him the speed he’d needed to stop Lucien’s scythe from descending on Jordan. And yet, if Varen hadn’t protected her, Ivy knew Willow would have died.
He had saved her sister, but he’d lost his brother.
“Not much is known, but Paradiso, it is said to be beautiful,” he said softly. And as he began talking, the warmth of his wings and body playing against the cold of the air, Ivy let herself believe. Varen’s voice was slightly lower, slightly rougher than Jordan’s, but the play of hot and the cold reminded her of him, and Varen’s words about the golden streets and the heavenly mansions being covered in snow as they celebrated the birth of Jesus filled her with peace. As they walked, she saw the white wolf following them out of the corner of her eye, but even he looked at peace, so for the moment, she let herself believe, just as she knew Varen let himself believe. They believed that Jordan was in this beautiful, peaceful place, because it was what he deserved if he couldn’t be with his family.
He didn’t deserve to be trapped.
Reaching the villa at last, Varen went in, holding the door open for her. Ivy followed him in, turning to look out one last time at the darkened courtyard. For a moment, she thought she saw the wolf again. Softly, she said, “Ná déan dearmad orm.”
As she stepped through the door, she felt a soft whisper cross over her mind, a breath of cool winter wind around a blazing fire.
Mi accompagni ovunque io vada. Ricordati di me, amore mio.
Ricordati di Me: Remember me
Amica mia: My friend (for a female friend)
Villa: Country house
Buon Natale: Merry Christmas
Mio caro: My dear
Cara sorella: Dear sister
Cara mia, ti voglio bene. Per favore ricordati di me, mio angelo.: My darling, I love you. Please remember me, my angel.
Mi accompagni ovunque io vada. Ricordati di me, amore mio.: You are with me wherever I go. Remember me, my love.
Sari: A garment worn by Indian women that consists of a drape of clothe that is worn around the waist and then wrapped around the shoulder, frequently exposing the stomach.
Bindi: Point/drop/small particle; a mark worn on the forehead that has different significance based on the shape and color of the mark. In Mira's case, a teardrop shaped bindi means a drop or blessing from the deities, a subtle reference to her divine calling as nephilim.
Grá mo chroí, cronaím thú.: Love of my heart, I miss you.
Ná déan dearmad orm.: Remember me.
Nephilim: The offspring of the "sons of God" and the "daughters of men;" beings that are half-angel and half-human.
"But Dad, I..."
"For the last time: I said no and won't change my mind about it. After that "Halloween-desaster", I don't want to celebrate anything here." Kiara was eroded and started being sulk. She tried to start one last attempt to persuade her father, but Simba turned himself away from her, when he saw Kiara opening her mouth again.
"Okay, Dad! Then I'll celebrate something different! Maybe...maybe I'll marry Kovu! Yes, you hear right! I love him and we'll be the greatest couple ever!", she yelled at Simba, who kept walking away.
Kovu walked slowly up to her and saw how mad she was.
"Didn't sound like he was giving in, huh?"
"Father is so stubborn. He thinks that something terrible would happen if we celebrated Christmas. I mean yes, Halloween went wrong, but Halloween actually is about ghosts and terryfing things. What could happen on Christmas?"
"I don't know, Monster-snowmen?"
"This is a serious conversation, Kovu. If you have nothing to contribute, just don't."
"Sorry...but you have to see it positive. Your father didn't say anything against your plan marrying me, right?"
"Hm? Oh, no. He just knows that I would never do that."
"Don't change the topic, Kovu! Only 4 days left until Christmas and father doesn't wanna listen at all. It looks like...only a Christmas wonder can save our problem.", Kiara said and walked disappointed to sleep, while the sun went down slowly above the Pride Rock.
In the early morning of the next day, Kiara's body started shaking and woke her up as the first one on the Pride Rock this day. Kiara felt that something was different, she never woke up that early before. Slowly she lumbered out of the cave sleepy and tried to find out what was going on. When her head came out of it first, she instantly felt something cold landing on her nose. Confused she licked her nose and had a taste.
"Water? Is it rai..." Before Kiara could finish her sentence, she looked up and saw a huge amount of snowflakes coming down. Excited she looked around and saw how the Pride Rock was already covered in a beautiful snowfall.
"This...is....amazing...", Kiara said to herself and stood stunned in front of her cave, looking at her home in a totally different way.
" 'hats 'oin' on? 'hy 'oes my toun'e stick to my nose?" Kovu walked up next to Kiara with his tounge freezed on his nose. Kiara grabbed his tounge and ripped it off his nose.
"Look, Kovu. As I said, we needed a Christmas wonder and here it is. It's snowing, here in Africa."
"Wow, I never saw snow before. It's wonderful."
"Yeah...I'll tell father about it!" When Kiara wanted to tell Simba about the snow, he just woke up and was about going out to wake up the Pride Lands like every morning. When he put one paw out his cave and felt something cold, he looked down and realized what happened in the night.
"Oh diddly, no."
"Daddy, Daddy! Look what happened!"
"Kiara, what have you done?!"
"I wished for it!"
"Oh, okay. Now I believe you."
"The snow is a Christmas wonder and a sign for you to let us celebrate!"
"Bullshit. How do you even know what snow is?"
"How do you?"
"Plot-reasons!" While Simba was arguing with Kiara, Nala walked out of the cave and looked at the snow.
"Oh Simba, look. It's snowing, just 3 days before Christmas."
"Don't you dare, Nala...", Simba said annoyed and looked at her.
"We never celebrated Christmas and I think this is the perfect time."
"Really? After Halloween, is this the perfect time to celebrate another festival?"
"Please, Simba. Look at your daughter.", Nala said and pointed at Kiara who looked at Simba like a cub. Simba sighed and said: "Fine. But I swear, if you diddly anything up...this time, I won't save your ass!"
Kiara and Nala agreed and walked off to the others to set everything up. Simba walked back into his cave and said to himself: "The worst thing about Scar is actually that he didn't manage to kill me."
Together with the other lions, Kiara and Kovu sat in front of Nala, who was planning everything and about to give everyone their jobs.
"Now to you both. Kiara, Kovu, you two have the most important job! We need a Christmastree. Bigger than the ones in the outland, but smaller than Rafikis. Do you think you can get one?" Kiara and Kovu nodded and were sent into the savannah to find one.
Kiara was jumping all the way through the snow, instead of just running like Kovu.
"No, I mean..hey like the start of a longer sentence."
"Oh okay, go on."
"How do we cut the tree?"
"By finding out how strong my boyfriend is, got it?"
"Oh, no....", Kovu sighed and ran a bit slower to save his energy.
After a while, they found a place with a lot of trees that were pretty and weak enough for Kovu at the same time. Kiara and Kovu split up for a few meters to see more trees, when Kiara saw that something was lying in the snow. She walked up to it and tried to find out what it was, until she saw fur looking out of the snow.
"Kovu! I've found a body!"
"Oh Kiara, but we're looking for a tree. Not a body."
"Now come! It looks like another lion!", Kiara yelled and brushed the snow from the body. Kovu came over to help Kiara and cleaned the area around the body, so it was less cold.
"Look Kovu, it seems to be a girl."
"What? I just agreed."
"Aah...", the female started making some noises and woke slowly up. Kiara and Kovu went a few steps backward, so the animal wouldn't feel threated.
"Am I...still alive?", she said and looked in Kiaras direction.
"Who...are you? Did you save me?"
"Yes, we found you laying in the snow. My name is Kiara and this is my boyfriend Kovu."
"Thank you, my name is KitKat.", she said and stood up slowly. Kiara helped her moving forward to another tree for her to lean on and recover.
"So, what happened? Where are you from?", Kiara asked and sat down in front of her.
"Well, it's a long story, but I'll keep it as short as possible. I'm the queen of a herd beyond the huge canyon. My people and me were always living in peace and had a great lives, but since three years, every Christmas 3 snow leopards show up and claim my kingdom to be their property. When we met them first, we fought, but lost. We were fiften and lost to these three. Since this day, they came back every Christmas and treated us like their slaves. It was humiliating, but we didn't know where to go."
"And these snow leopards only come on Christmas day?"
"No, I was talking about the Christmas time. When the weather is cold and our land covered in snow."
"That sounds terrible."
"It was, I mean....it is. This year, I couldn't stand it anymore. When I saw them coming, I told everyone to run away with me. But I was the only one who ran, the rest was too afraid of the consequences. And now it seems like I ended up here...somehow.", KitKat said and looked up into the sky. Kiara walked up to her and tried to find something to say.
"I'm really sorry, but you can live here on the Pride Rock and..."
"No! I can't leave my herd! If I had known that no one would following me, I never would've ran away in the first place!"
"But...what can we do?"
"Please help me to save my herd. I know that's really much, but it means everything to me."
Kiara looked at Kovu and made a thoughtful face. She tried her best to communicate with Kovu this way, but he didn't get anything.
"Okay, KitKat. We'll see what we can do, but first we must go back to my father. I'm sure he can help us.", Kiara said and helped her walk back together with Kovu.
While walking back, Kovu looked from time to time at KitKats face and when she looked at him, he moved his head away.
"Is something wrong?", KitKat asked Kovu.
"I...I don't know..."
"Just say it, come on."
"You're...not a lion, right?" When Kovu said that, Kiara looked at him madly and said: "Kovu, how can you say something like that?"
"No no, it's okay. He's right, I'm not a lion.", she said and pulled their eyes on her face.
"I'm a Liger, that means my mother was a tiger and my father a lion. You probably saw the tiger stains on my face, right?"
Kovu nodded and started walking proudly for finally knowing something. Kiara was still thinking about KitKat.
"Does your whole herd consist of liger, or are you the only one?"
"My whole herd is. That's really special, these snow leopards were probably targeting us because of that.", she said and started walking by herself.
After a short time, they arrvied at the Pride Rock and drew every attention at themselves. Nala saw them coming from a distance and looked sceptically at their new friend. Slowly she walked towards them and started asking what happened.
"Is that a tree?"
"So why is it here?" KitKat walked some steps forward and looked at Nala.
"My name is KitKat, I'm a Liger from far away. My herd was attacked by some snow leopards and I need your help. And sorry for not being a tree."
"A Liger? Well, that's special. She's also really polite, I like her.", Nala said and smiled at them. KitKat smiled back and looked back to Kiara.
"Now that your mother likes me, I passed my biggest challenge, right?", KitKat said happily at the same time when Simba came out of his cave and walked in her direction.
"Ehm, Nala? Who is this lion on my land and..oh what the hell is wrong with your face?!"
"I'm a Liger"
"A Liger? I don't know what that is, but it should be illiger....got it? I did a wordplay with...you know what? Nevermind, so who and what are you?"
After Simba asked, KitKat and the others explained everything to Simba. They told him about the snow leopards and what their plan is to help her.
"Kiara? Do you remember what I said earlier this morning?"
"Yes, but we didn't cause the problem. We're just trying to solve it."
".........diddly you, Kovu.", Simba said while Kovu was just stand there, trying to understand what he did wrong this time.
"Okay okay, we're helping her. But we need someone to take my place as long as I'm away. Hmm...could it..." While Simba was talking, Kovu tried to raise his paw.
"Mother?! Could you please take my place as long as I'm traveling through Africa?!", Simba yelled through the whole Pride Lands.
"Simba....you know that Sarabi's nearly deaf, right?", Nala said sceptically.
"Oh Nala, she's fine."
"She didn't even hear you."
"Yeah yeah, see you soon honey. I'll take Kiara & Kovu with me, because...you know. They found her.", he said and started walking off the Pride Rock. Kiara walked together with KitKat, who told Simba where to go, right behind him, while Kovu was still standing on the Pride Rock.
"Can I stay here, Nala?"
"Do you know why Sarabi is queen now?"
"Because Simba doesn't like me?"
"Right and me neither, so get the diddly outta here.", Nala said and made Kovu run to the others.
After a whole day, Simba got annoyed with each step he took. Angrily he looked at KitKat and asked: "Do you have any idea when we're there?"
"We should arrive in about 10 minutes in my territory, I remember this place here."
"Stop with your 10-minutes-bullshit, you told me that an hour ago..."
"No, I told you this 30 secounds ago when you asked me the last time."
"Whatever. I hope that these snow leopards are at least a challenge.", Simba said and looked forward again. Everything was covered in snow, even more than in the Pride Lands. After some minutes, Simba saw some footprints in the snow and walked next to them.
"Hey KitKat, looks like someone from your herd was here. Oh wait, looks like they were two and wow...is it me or did they walk synchronic?”
“What?!”, KitKat said frightened and looked around.
“What's wrong?”, Kiara asked her and tried to calm her.
“These footprints....they don't belong to my ligers..”
“And you know that because...?”, Simba asked sceptically and looked at her.
“Because no one is synchronic like us!”
“Because no one is synchronic like us!”
Everyone turned their heads forward where their voices came from and saw 2 leopards next to each other laughing. KitKat walked back some steps and swallowed.
“Be careful....these are...”
“Hey! Don't introduce us! That's our job!”
“Hey! Don't introduce us! That's our job!”
“I am Snowme......”
“.....and I am his sister Snowmy!”
Simba stood in front of them, with one of his eyes twitching. After a moment he looked back at KitKat.
“Okay, if this is some kind of joke, please tell me now. Otherwise I'm really pis..nevermind, I already am.”
“Simba listen! They are stronger than they look!”
“They might be a threat if they are stronger than adorable. Look at them, it's unbelievable.”
“Thanks....”, Snowmy said and looked away shyly.
“Hey! Stop flirting with my sister you punk!”
“Don't worry about your sister. You're the first one who gets diddlyed here.”
“Enough!”, Snowme yelled and woke up his sister, out of her dreams with Simba.
“Time to show you, why your Liger ran away!”
“Time to show you, why your Liger ran away!”
“Oh, I would love to see thi...” While Simba was talking, Snowme & Snowmy came from the left and right and kicked at the same time against his head. Simba fell down an coughed.
“Ah....you son of a....”
“Insults won't help you here, you cursing fool! No one's here to help you!”
“Insults won't help you here, you cursing fool! No one's here to help you”
“And heeeere comes Kovuuuuu!”, Kovu screamed and jumped with a frontkick at the snowtwins. Both of them were turning their bodys around 45° and made Kovu land in the snow between them.
“Bye bye.”, they said and kicked him equally some meters through the snow.
“They don't even stand a chance....”
“KitKat, what can we do?”, Kiara asked worriedly.
“I don't know....you probably need to split them up, but that won't be easy. We need another tag-team.”
“That's it.....Dad! Team up with Kovu to defeat these guys!”, Kiara yelled from behind. Simba just kept laying on the ground and pretended to be unconscious.
“For diddly sake, why don't you team up with Kovu?! You have the bound of love!”
“I'm not a fighter! Also you and Kovu have a bound of hate that is way stronger than our love bound!” Slowly Simba stood up and started smiling.
“If my bound with Kovu is as strong as I hate him....you two incestcats should start running.”
“Don't you dare!”
“Don't you dare, you sexy big....”
“Snowmy stop that!”
“Kovu! Stand up and attack the left one. I'll take care of the crying one on the right.”
“That's my sister, I'm on your left.”
“Oh, sorry. Didn't want to...why am I apologizing?”, Simba said to himself before he jumped at Snowme and threw him to the ground. Snowmy just stood there and was waiting for Kovu.
“.....Do you....attack? If not I would help my brother to figh..”
“Nonono, I'm just preparing myself. I'm a bit nervous to fail, you know?”
“Well, Simba always...” While Kovu was talking, Simba was battling Snowme with everything he got. Snowme jumped in the air and vanished, before he appeared right next to Simba and kicked against his chest. Simba screamed, but didn't move to get the advantage for the next counterattack and punched him with his paw right into the snow.
“....and last week I just wanted to help him hunt and he got so mad at me..for no reason! I mean I ruined the entire dinner for the lions, but...” Kovu was still telling Snowmy, who already sat down and wanted to help Kovu by his problems. While he was talking, Simba jumped at Snowmy from behind and slapped her to the ground.
“Aaah....again!”, Snowmy yelled smiling, but bleeding in the snow.
“Hey, we were in the middle of something.”
“Kovu,I was in the middle of something!”, Simba yelled at Kovu while walking above Snowmy to finish her off.
“Simba, no!”, KitKat shouted and ran in front of Snowmy.
“Oh, what's wrong now?”
“Don't kill her. She's defeated, there's no reason to do such horrible thing.”
“You know that her brother's already dead, right?”
“What? I thought he was just...”
“Nope, dead. I punched really hard since I really hate him. And Kovu. My “bound-partner” hehe.”
“.....At least spare her! I'm sure she won't come back!”, she said and looked at Simba with big eyes.
“...Okay, fine!”, Simba sighed and turned away from her.
“But could we please end this journey and walk straight to the leader? It's cold.” KitKat agreed and walked together with the rest to her herd. Only Kovu walked back to Snowmy and looked at her.
“Thanks for listening.”
“Don't you...wanna get up?”
“Naw. I like lying in the snow and imagine being a leopard. Covered in snow.” Kovu just walked to the others while looking at her and getting faster with every step.
After some minutes, KitKat started seeing her herd from the distance. When they arrived, everyone was looking at them scared and sceptically at the same time.
“Listen! I, Queen KitKat, am back! I got help from far away to free us from this white tyrant!”
“Tyrant? How adorable.”, a snowleopard said, walking from behind the herd, towards KitKat and the others. His fur was only half white, the rest was dirt from several fights, what his face also proved. KitKat went back some steps, when she saw him coming forward, but Simba already walked in front of her.
“Looks like you're the main badguy here. Come at me and we'll settle this quickly.”
“Oh my, I don't know who you are, but I already like your attitude. Looks like you always fought on your way to me, let me guess....the twins are dead?”
“Only one. Sadly.”
“Oh my....what's your name?”
“My name's Simba. What about you? Not that I care, I'm just polite to strangers.”
“Oh my...will be hard to fight you since you're so likeable. My name is Snowpaw the..”
“Oh my....god that is adorable! Why are you guys so adorable? I mean you look like shit compared to the rest, but your name is awesome.”
“Will be hard for me to erase you and your cute name from Africa. Well, I'm freezing so....father! Give me your power!”, Simba screamed and went into fightpostion. Everyone looked at Simba and was waiting for something to happen. Simba himself started looking around in the air after a while.
“Shit. Dead zone.”, he said and got knocked away from Snowpaw who jumped at him. Snowpaw attacked really fast, which was difficult for Simba to dodge while he was still exhausted. He got hit several time, before Snowpaw attacked his face with his claws. Simba tried to dodge it, but got hit on his left eye. He screamed and saw with his other eye how the blood was dripping into the snow.
“Dad! Let me see how bad it....oh no...”, Kiara said when she walked in front of Simba to see how huge the damage on his eye was.
“What...what is it Kiara? I'm...I'm not blind. I can slowly open my eye again.”, he said and opened his eye painfully.
“You....you got a scar...”
“You mean this is a desaster, because of the guy who killed my father? Oh Kiara, scars are proofs that you're a strong figh...........” When Simba was talking to Kiara, he slowly realized what she were talking about.
“Scar.....left eye......scar..on my...left...eye...”, Simba said panic-stricken to himself.
“I LOOK LIKE diddlyING KOVU?!”, Simba screamed through the whole area and unleashed a roar that blew everyone and everything around him away. Snowpaw could nearly stand anymore and looked fearful at Simba.
“Oh my.....what is this guy?!”
“I SWEAR IF RAFIKI CAN'T FIX THIS SCAR, I WILL COME BACK AND TEAR YOUR PARTS APART!”
“AND YOUR CATCHPHRASE IS NOT NEARLY FUNNY OR COOL AS YOUR NAME IS CUTE!”, Simba screamed and punched Snowpaw's face so hard that his whole body exploded when Simbas paw touched his nose.
Slowly Simba's power vanished and he got back to normal. He turned himself to KitKat and said: ”Okay, job's done.”
“You....destroyed our home.”
“I said jooooob's done!”, he said and repressed everything that happend in the last 5 minutes to forget his scar, until he could ask Rafiki to fix it.
KitKat and her liger were looking at all the damage Simba's roar caused and couldn't close their mouth for a moment. Kiara walked up to her and tried to comfort KitKat.
“I can stay to help you cleaning up, if you want me to.”
“No no. We can't fix this. Looks like we have to move on, I mean at least we can do that now.”
“I'm glad we could help...in at least one way.”
“Yes, that's better than nothing. Thanks.”
“Do you think we will meet again?”
“I hope....that we meet again. We two. Only you and me. I'll try to give you our new location when we found one, but don't tell everyone. Please.”
“I will.”, Kiara laughed and tried to catch up on Simba and Kovu. KitKat went back to her ligers and started looking for a new location to live.
Back on the Pride Rock, Simba walked instantly to Rafiki to ask him to remove the scar from his face. Luckily Rafiki was able to make it disappear and Simba didn't destroy the whole Pride Rock out of pure rage.
In the evening, everyone sat in the snow and looked up into the starry sky. Nala smiled and said: “I hope you three had a wonderful day.”
“Yes, mom. It was a great adventure and.....shit the tree.”
“Right, the tree! You forgot the diddlying tree! Is it that hard to make your mother a wonderful Christmas?!”
“But...it was my idea to celebrate christma...”
“I didn't raise you that selfish! Go into your cave and stay there!
“STAY THERE!”, Nala screamed in a demonic sounding voice and made Kiara run.
“Thanks for reminding me why I love you so much, Nala.”
“Oh, Simba....did we do anything wrong?”
“No, we did everything right.”
“Why are you so sure about that?”
“Because we have Kovu as comparison.”
“Merry Christmas, Simba. I love you.”
Release the Dove
Homura hated crowded places. Looking around the mall, she flinched inwardly as someone drew too close to her. Looking over at Mami, the dark-haired girl tried to remember how it was that the blonde gunner had been able to convince her to come to this place for some last minute Christmas shopping.
And it was last minute, Christmas was tomorrow and Homura was freezing. Shivering despite the heating system and winter coat, Homura glared at the blonde again and was about to demand an answer from Mami when the blonde picked up a crystal rose and inspected it. Watching as Mami turned to look at her, she could tell that the blonde was about to ask her opinion of the blue rose.
“What do you think Homura? Do you think Sayaka would like it?” Mami asked, watching the other girl with such curiosity that it was vaguely uncomfortable.
Shrugging nonchalantly she looked away and at the rest of the glass figurines. Tracing her fingers along the case, Homura was trying to find the right words when her eyes located a small, tiny dove. There was nothing special about, just a simple white porcelain figurine; but it was beautiful.
Tearing her eyes away from it, she saw the way that Mami was watching her intently. Quirking an eyebrow, she held Mami’s gaze until the blond looked away and started talking to the shop keeper. Glancing back at the figurine longingly, Homura walked away from the shop as Mami headed deeper into the mall.
Retreating into her head as Mami chatted, Homura thought about how it had been a couple of years since they’d patched things up since their last major fight; and she wasn’t even sure what the fight was over anymore. Listening to the song that played over the speakers, she found herself humming the lyrics ever so slightly. Looking at Mami. Homura couldn’t help but thinking about how soft those curls were probably to the touch.
Shaking her head to dismiss the thought, Homura dropped her gaze to the floor and continued walking along behind the other girl. Bumping into someone after a few minutes, Homura stumbled backwards and looked ahead of her to see just who had bumped into her only to see that it was Mami; a concerned look on the other girl’s face.
“What’s wrong Homura? You’ve been so quiet, and while that’s not unusual, you’ve also been rather sulky. Do you want to talk about it?” Mami asked, her eyes filled with concern even as she searched for some kind of indication of what was going on.
Okay, yes, there was something wrong. Yes, she’d been “sulky” and quiet, but no, she didn’t want to talk to Mami about. How were you supposed to say that on one hand you wanted to kiss someone senseless, while on the other you wanted nothing more than to kill them? Huffing a little in annoyance, Homura absentmindedly flipped her hair so it was by her back again. “There is nothing wrong, Mami. I suggest you leave it at that, and with all due respect, I’m going home.” Homura snapped, turning on her heel to leave, she felt it when Mami lunged for her wrist and grabbed a hold of it.
“Don’t go, please. I wanted you to come along with me tonight because I don’t know what I did to make you mad. Can’t you tell me so I can make amends for it?” Mami begged, her voice cracking from the pain.
Yanking her wrist free, Homura rounded on her and snapped, “You can’t make amends, you shunned me long ago. How do you expect to ask forgiveness for something that you don’t even understand?”
She saw the hurt on Mami’s face at the words, and Homura was surprised when it sent a stab of guilt through her. Looking away again, Homura muttered an excuse under her breath before she walked away, deciding that it was best to leave while she was still ahead.
Homura sat in her living room, just thinking about everything and nothing all at once. Hearing a knock on the door, she glanced in the direction of it before she glanced at the clock. It had been a couple of hours since she’d left Mami at the shopping center, and it had since snowed and they had a nice white, fluffy covering on the ground. Closing her eyes, she silently prayed that if she ignored them that the person would go away.
She was just beginning to relax when the knock sounded again, and a tugging at the back of her mind told her that they wouldn’t go away. This feeling was confirmed when a muffled voice drifted through the door, “Homura, can you please let me in? I’ve got a present for you.”
It was faint, but it was definitely Mami. Feeling the bitterness creep in, Homura almost ignored Mami but instead got up and headed toward the door. Opening it just a crack, she peeked out and glared at Mami. “What do you want?” She demanded, her voice thick with the bitterness that had unfurled through her stomach.
“I told you, Homura, I have a gift. Can I come in?”
Even though she wanted to say no, Homura’s curiosity won out and she stepped aside, letting the blonde gunner into the room. Watching as Mami made her way over to the couch and set a bag on it, she watched as the other girl pulled out a white box and held it out to her. Recognizing the label as the same one from the glass shop, she felt her heart jump with the possibility that maybe Mami had been kind.
Walking forward, she hesitantly took the box and sat down. Opening it with shaking feelings, she saw that it was the dove she’d been eying. Looking up at Mami in disbelief, she stammered, “Th-thank you. I wasn’t expecting this.”
The soft smile on Mami’s face made Homura’s heart flutter, and she could see why Madoka had cared so much for Mami. “I’m glad you like it, you’ve got that spark back in your eye.” Mami said, clapping her hands together before she leaned forward and placed a hesitant kiss on Homura’s lips.
Homura’s mind went blank, she couldn’t think. She felt her heart race with panic as Mami pulled away, but she didn’t let it show on her face. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have done that.” Mami said quickly, clearly shocked by her own boldness.
Homura watched as Mami headed for the door, and before she knew it she was up on her feet and grabbing a hold of Mami’s hand; stopping the other girl. “Um, you know I live here by myself and it’s never fun to spend the holidays alone. Do you want to stay for dinner tonight?” She asked, surprising herself that she had even extended the offer to the one ally that doesn’t seem to like her.
Only to be rewarded with a shy smile that sent her heart soaring. Listening as Mami agreed, she smiled and led her back to the couch and sat down. For once Homura wasn’t afraid or angry, she felt a sense of happiness. Maybe it was time for her to move on from Madoka, and maybe it was time to let herself be happy.
(Wayward Son ch. ???)
“Hey, no face shots!”
Rhys ducked behind a tree just in time to avoid the snowball that was coming at him. Peeking around the trunk, he saw Andy scrambling to his feet, his face red and snow in his hair, while Zack scooped up another round of ammo. Zack seemed to be willfully deaf at the moment, however, ignoring Rhys’ reprimand; he’d already tagged his twin, so there wasn’t much chance he’d be satisfied until he’d gotten his older brother, too. Rhys hastily gathered a shot of his own, the ten-year old unwilling to go down to his eight-year old brother without a fight.
Rhys rolled out from behind the tree, and Zack took his shot. His aim was good, and Rhys felt the snowball glance off his coat sleeve, but his was even better; coming out of the roll in a kneeling position, Rhys took just a moment to aim before he sent the snowball sailing, pegging Zack square in the chest.
“Way to go, Rhys!” Andy whooped, pumping a gloved fist in the air at the victory shot. Before Zack could sputter out a snappy retort or Rhys could answer, a voice broke the air, calling out, “Boys, come inside. It’s time for dinner!”
“Coming, Aunt Hazel!” they called back, all three of them picking themselves up out of the snow and running for the door. Rhys swept a quick look around their battleground, just to make sure none of them had left anything behind that they’d need tonight or get in trouble for leaving outside, and only followed the twins once he was sure that they had everything.
Aunt Hazel stepped to the side when Rhys came through the door, absently putting a hand on her belly as she watched the boys take their coats and boots off. She was getting big, Rhys thought. But then again, Mom’s belly was just as big too. Dad had said Mom and Aunt Hazel were going to have babies, and Rhys was actually kind of excited by that idea. Uncle Dean said the babies were due around the same time, late January or early February; Rhys thought it’d be cool if they were born on the same day.
“Are we gonna eat before Dad and Uncle Dean call?” Andy asked, turning to look at Aunt Hazel after he’d hung up his hat and scarf. Zack looked up at Andy’s question, his blue-violet eyes mirroring the hope and wishing that were in Andy’s eyes. It was hard enough when they had a run and they were gone for a week or more; but it was Christmas Eve, and all three of the boys had been hoping that Dad and Uncle Dean would have been home to have dinner with them and open gifts on Christmas tomorrow.
Being a trucker’s son sucked sometimes.
Aunt Hazel’s mouth puckered, and her brown eyes crinkled at the corners as she looked at the disappointment on their faces. “I’m sorry boys. I know you wanted them to be here tonight. But I have a feeling that they’ll be back tomorrow, so go wash up for dinner now, okay? Rhys, can you get the glasses and help me to set the table?”
Rhys looked up the stairs as Andy and Zack ran up them, then looked back to Aunt Hazel and said, “Sure.” Reaching up, he grabbed the visor of his cap, snugging it down a little bit over his dark hair, and then went in the kitchen to scrounge up the glasses.
The call that night was late. Rhys could see that Zack and Andy were getting tired around ten; they boys were playing Sorry, but Andy kept blinking a lot, and Zack was going cross-eyed as he tried to keep his eyes open. Rhys looked to the kitchen, a soft frown tugging at his face as his fingers tapped out an Alabama song against the floor; Dad always called around eight every night when he was gone. What was taking so long?
A ring broke the air, jolting the twins fully awake as Rhys sat up straighter. He watched Aunt Hazel pick up the kitchen line, a smile on her face as she said, “Hello?”
Mom set her book down on the side table by the chair, brushing aside strands of blonde hair that had fallen into her face while she read. Looking over to Rhys, she offered him a smile and a quick wink before saying, “Looks like we weren’t the only ones with a busy day, were we? I think we can let them calling late slide this one time, right?”
Rhys returned Mom’s wink and smile just as Aunt Hazel called out, “Holly, the call’s for you.”
“I’ll be just a minute, sweetie, then you and your brothers can talk to Dad, okay?” Mom waited just long enough for Rhys to give her a nod in return before getting up and walking to the kitchen. Rhys watched her for a moment, impatience running through him. Mom and Aunt Hazel always got to talk to Dad and Uncle Dean first, and then the boys got their turn. Even so…
He could still listen in, right?
“I’ll be right back, kay guys?” Rhys didn’t wait for the twins to respond; he just climbed up off the floor and followed after Mom into the kitchen. He hung back, his face falling more and more as he listened to her talking to Uncle Dean.
“When did this happen...? The truck…? Where’s Sam?”
Where’s Sam. Rhys’ hands tugged at his hat as his heart pounded in his chest.
Dad had his bag slung over his shoulder, ready to go out to meet Uncle Dean and head out on their run. Dad had said goodbye to the twins last night, but Rhys had woken up extra early so he could see Dad just one more time before he left. “Dad!”
Dad gave Rhys a smile, a smile that was even bigger because they looked even more alike at the moment with their dark hair disheveled and their blue-violet eyes still clouded with sleep. Dad dropped a hand on Rhys’ head, mussing his hair even further as he said, “Ain’t it too early for you to be up, Sharpshooter?”
“I wanted to tell you good morning and good luck, though! Is that okay?” Rhys gave him a smile of his own, a slight darkness contrasting the white of his grin where he was missing two teeth.
Leaning down, Dad gave Rhys a quick hug as he said, “Yeah, that’s just fine. Good morning, and love you, Bud.” Straightening out, he swept his hat from his head and put it on Rhys’ instead as he said, “You’re in charge ‘till I get back, Sharpshooter; look after your mom and brothers for me, alright?”
Rhys nodded, before saying, “Roll on, Daddy.”
“Roll on, kiddo.”[/I]
“Find him, Dean,” Mom whispered, pulling Rhys out of the memory with just how hoarse her voice was. Looking up to her again, his fingers still playing with the hat, he watched as she said, “Find him, before those demons do. Please. Find Sam and get yourselves home safe.”
Uncle Dean must have hung up, because Mom put the phone back on the cradle after a moment, her free hand held close to her mouth as she fought for control.
You’re in charge, Sharpshooter.
Swallowing past the lump in his throat, Rhys walked over to her and gave her as tight of a hug as he could. Softly, he said, “Roll on, Mama, right? Dad’s gonna be okay; Uncle Dean won’t let anything happen.”
Mom’s arms dropped around Rhys’ shoulders, returning his hug as she said, “Yeah, he’ll be okay; he has to be. It’s just, there’s a storm…”
“Mom? Rhys? What’s going on?”
The silence had drawn Andy and Zack into the kitchen. Aunt Hazel was just behind them, a frown on her face as she saw how close Mom was to tears. Rhys wanted to break, but he tried to keep a tight hold on it as Mom turned to look at Aunt Hazel and the twins and said softly, “There’s a slight problem…”
He was dreaming, something that surprised him even as he dreamed. He thought for sure that there’d be no way he could sleep, not after the news they’d gotten that night. But he’d been trying to help Mom out, so he’d taken the twins up to their room to try to get them to go to sleep. They didn’t want Rhys to go, though, so they’d pushed Zack and Andy’s beds together and the three of them had curled up together, Daddy’s song drifting through the room at intervals as well as Mom’s lullaby from Rhys as the twins eventually drifted off.
Before they’d climbed into bed, though, the boys had put their heads together for a prayer. The twins had been at a loss for what to say, so it fell on Rhys as he said softly, “Dear God, this is Rhys Hunter, with Andy and Zack, too. I know you’ve got a lot going on right now because of the time of year and looking out for everyone on earth, but if you could just give us one moment of your time to listen, that’d be great. We don’t want any toys or anything for Christmas this year; all we want is for Uncle Dean to find Dad and for the two of them to come home. Please, just let Daddy be safe; let him be safe so Mom can smile and be happy again. That’s all we want for Christmas. Can you do us one more favor, though? Tell Jesus thank-you, and Happy Birthday. Amen.”
So, he knew the how, but not the when. But something of the prayer seemed to have slipped into the dream. Rhys felt like he was flying, and he was seeing snow and trees and hills flowing past him as the night sky and its frosty stars rippled by overhead. Just where was he?
The dream seemed to have reached where it was going then, and he stopped underneath a rocky overhang at the base of a cliff. Rhys squinted, trying to see into the shadows cast by both the night and the overhang; there was something under there, but what?
“I know you’re there, little one.”
Rhys jumped as something rustled beneath the overhang. Who’d spoken?
“You don’t need to be afraid. He’s safe.”
The rustling continued for a moment, and then a wing swept to the right, revealing a brown haired girl with deep green eyes. Rhys’ mouth dropped open when he saw that the wing was attached to her, and all he could say was, “You… are you an angel?”
The girl laughed, and Rhys saw the way that her fingers splayed across something in front of her as she said, “Not exactly. I guess you could say I’m like you, but a lot stronger. Don’t worry if you don’t understand right now; you will someday when you’re a little older.”
The form under her fingers shifted slightly, and Rhys recognized it just as he heard a distant shout from Uncle Dean, “Sam!”
Rhys jolted up in bed, his breath coming in short bursts. He looked around, trying to understand where he was. It’d been a dream, he knew that.
But why did it feel like it’d been real, too?
Rhys was wide awake now, and with that wakefulness came the realization that he wasn’t going back to sleep again, not with Dad still missing; he was just surprised that his outburst hadn’t woken the twins up.
Carefully, Rhys crawled over Andy and Zack, being careful not to wake them from where they’d curled up against each other. Once his feet had hit the floor, Rhys slipped out of the room and slowly made his way down the stairs, picking his hat up from where he’d put it on the bedpost on his way out of the twins’ room.
Mom was in the kitchen, sitting next the phone as her fingers tapped out the rhythm of Eighteen Wheeler on the table. She was looking out the window, a very soft difference in her skin marking the tear tracks down her cheeks.
“You don’t need to be afraid. He’s safe.”
The girl’s words echoed in Rhys’ head; he wanted to believe them, but he just wasn’t sure if he could, not until he knew Dad was safe…
The phone rang, pulling Rhys’ attention to it just as Mom’s hand shot out to take it off the cradle. Her voice soft, she said, “Hello?”
Rhys heard a man answer, and he saw the relief flood through her as she sank back into the chair. Her eyes started tearing up again, and her hand splayed across her belly as she breathed, “Sam…”
Rhys didn’t wait for anymore. A huge grin spreading across his face, he tore up the stairs, bursting into the twins room and jumping onto their beds as he cried out, “Andy, Zack, wake up, wake up! He’s okay! Dad’s coming home; Merry Christmas!”
Aunt Hazel came into the room soon after to quiet the boys, but she didn’t try very hard to do so. They were excited, and they had every right to be. Dad was coming home.
Roll on, eighteen wheeler. Roll on.