[Christmasfic] Christmas in the Snow

Games, RP, general Mayhem (within reason, of course)

Moderators: TingYi, anti-paragon, DarkShive

[Christmasfic] Christmas in the Snow

Postby Mythos on Fri Dec 15, 2006 2:56 pm

I knew going in to this that there were some unanswered questions from the fic itself.

...I don't think I answered any. Instead, I just made a nice and peaceful Christmasfic, which, in my authorial opinion, works better. I vaguely answered what happened with Archie and Ellen inside the crystal...but only kinda...

Anyway, I have written, for the past four years, Christmasfics. I enjoy it and it's usually been some of my best work. Hope you enjoy it and Happy Saturnalia!

***

Christmas in the Snow
An El Goonish Shive Christmasfic
By
Joshua Trujillo

***

Verres felt the snow crunch under his boots. He liked tromping around in the backwoods, where there would always be a marked lack of people. People got things wrong, mucked things up, made mistakes. He'd made his share, of course. Some of which had been the reason he liked the backwoods so much.

This day, the snow held no pleasure. The woods away from the dig site held no peace. He could only think of his son. He could only think of the look on Tedd's face when the Parents had taken Grace away. Damn them. And damn him for bringing them together. He could have left well enough alone, but no...

He blew out a heavy breath and watched the laden air curl out and lazily upward. The bite of the air nipped at his uncovered nose and fogged his new spectacles. A gift from the Parents, he still couldn't find a way to keep them from fogging in the cold. His riches had allowed him to move from his townhome in Philedelphia to a small manor home a short ways north of Boston. The Parents had given him several hints where another Nest might be hidden, though this one without the maniacal core. Purely an archaeological pursuit. Damn them. Of course he couldn't resist. This was the second Christmas since they'd returned.

The Parents had claimed that one of the abandoned Nests were laden with forgotten knowledge, even more than had been in the Siberian Nest. And they'd given it to him. What would he do with it? He had no idea, really. He was just happy that his son seemed to be better adjusted, though depressed at being alone. Scuridae had returned after the first few months. Ellen's pregnancy had gone very smoothly and, a little over five months later, Archibold had been born. After several moments, the conversation about Archie's conception ensued that he would almost rather forget. Apparently, in his madness, Archie found that the only way out of the crystal without killing himself would be through completely rebuilding himself within Ellen. Scuridae had a good laugh since it also meant that Ellen accepting him meant accepting him as her son as well. Archie had never thought that the mother-son bond could be so...strong.

Verres heard something behind him and half turned. The diggers and lumbermen had finally gotten into the alcohol and songs for the season had broken out. Sure, they would hate themselves in the morning, but for tonight, the spirit of the season held sway. In the far north. Verres sighed and turned back to the expanse of water before him. Hudson Bay. He took a breath as the moon came out from behind the clouds. The snow for the past couple days had covered everything in pristine white, laden and clean. The branches hung low and not a single animal or bird moved in the night. The strains of Silent Night moved slowly through his head, though he always got stuck on the second verse. Verres sighed heavily again and turned back to the camp. He would treat himself to a hot toddy and then the warmth of his fur-lined bed.

Something glittered in the moonlight and caught his eye. He stopped and looked up at the branch. He reached up and wiped the lenses of his spectacles. No, it wasn't an illusion. He reached out to the very familiar locket that hung from the branch. As he pulled it off, something papery fell to the ground. He reached down and picked up what turned out to be a letter and opened it, the letters stark in the silvery moonlight.

Dear Father Verres,

"Father?"

Verres looked around guiltily at the sound of his own voice, loud in the wilderness. He went back to the letter.

Dear Father Verres,

I write you now at this special time of the year, when our thoughts turn to those that we love and invariably cannot be with. For you and I, that person is the same. I love your son, Tedd. I have loved him since I heard all those stories from you about him, since I met him and realized those stories were true. I have given my heart to only him. I must now tell you things that I could not tell you before, even though I am fearful how you might think of me because of these things.

The Parents had a second motivation in coming to you and Papa. You two were truly the only scientists in the world that had hard knowledge of them and us, the Children. They surmised that you would fail, but that would be fine with them since that would mean that Damien would kill you off and an awakened Archibold would have destroyed himself and Damien in the process. They hadn't wanted to sacrifice me, which was the reason Kaoli was sent. To bring me home. But no one else.

To her credit, when Nioi found out, she...well, anger is a very small word for her reaction. Her goal was to bring back as many as was left. Though she had her own prejudices against humans, she came to respect those she met. She's told me that the person she most respected was Tedd. His inner strength shown through to her and to me as well. It is easy to love him and I cannot give that up. I may be the Princess of my people, but he is the King of my heart. To this end, I have taken Archie's education upon myself and he is almost ready to take over, even as young as he is.

I will be returning, with Ellen. I would like to meet you when we get in to Boston. Tedd, in his letters, said that you had moved there. I would also like you to come south the following month, as that is when I intend to marry Tedd. I suppose this is a bit pretentious and forward on my part, but, as Ellen is fond of saying, our family is diverse and unconventional. Ellen and I will be returning with Vladia, on the Amanda, next summer. Late in the summer. The wedding will be later in the fall.

Please, Father...having you there will mean everything to me.

With love...

Your daughter,
Grace


Verres sniffed. He reached up and roughly wiped his eyes with his mittened hand.

"I will..." he muttered to himself as he looked over the letter again.

Branches in the trees to the north rustled and Verres turned. Bright, silver laughter, quick as moonlight but full of passion, broke over the woods and washed over him.

"I will, Grace!" he shouted out to the trees as the laughter died away. "I'll be there! I promise!"

Verres cried happily as he clutched the locket to him, moonlight glinting off the silver.

***

The boy looked back to the woman on the seat of the sled. She wore a red velvet dress, white fur outlining the edges. Green jewels accented the outfit, making her look less like a king's mother and more like the tree they'd decorated two weeks ago back home. She occupied herself with knitting something. Slippers. Or, perhaps a scarf, he couldn't really tell. He sighed, not for the first time and turned back to the window, watching the huge flakes as they fell outside.

"I still don't get why I had to come with you," the boy said a little sullenly.

The woman looked up from her knitting and failed to fight back a small smile.

"I don't trust the Parents," she said gently but firmly. "They might teach you things you shouldn't know."

Her smirk faded as she went back to her knitting. He wondered again what it was he shouldn't know. And why the Parents might try to teach him about them. He huffed and turned to the window again. His antennae reached up and brushed lazy circles in the dew on the glass, the hair darker than the snow outside, but still very pale, Archibold sighed and clambered back up on the seat next to his mother. He wasn't a small boy anymore, but even his mother's legs hung from above the floor of the sled. He folded his arms across his chest and mused. Ellen reached down and pulled at his stockings as they had been sliding toward his ankles for the last half hour. She patted his leg and went back to her knitting.

"You're wondering why we can't meet your godfather," Ellen mused. "Well, one of them, at any rate."

Archie didn't turn his head. It was the knitting. Whatever happened when his mother started knitting caused her to become something of a psychic. Nicholas had once told him that she might indeed have psychic ability that sharpened into focus when she picked up those damned needles. He nodded in response.

"You'll get to meet him next summer, when-"

She stopped knitting. His head dropped as he finished her sentence.

"When you leave me."

Knives of ice dropped down into her gut. She didn't want to get into it with him over this again. She knew she was a bad mother for doing it, but he'd be old enough by then and she needed her life too. Still, guilt ached in her belly.

"Aunt Grace was only going to be gone long enough to give him the invitation to her and Uncle Tedd's wedding," she decided to change the subject. "She'll be back soon."

She tried to give him a bright smile. Archie looked up at her, his face still serious.

"Mother, it's been on my mind for a long time now," he said slowly. "Why are you leaving me?"

Ellen desperately looked up, but Grace failed to appear. More dread filled her, but she realized that she couldn't get out of it this time. She had always given him the truth and, though it hurt her more than anything she'd done in the last couple years...she could give him no less.

"You know why," she tried instead. "And I'm not leaving for good."

He did indeed know why, but he still didn't want to accept it. He tucked his chin near his chest.

"What if I don't wanna lead my people?" he muttered.

"You can't get out of it," Ellen said softly.

"Auntie Shade got out of it," he thought he would try a new tack.

Ellen smiled and nodded.

"Grace is going to be marrying her love," she said. "Just as I will."

His new attempt shattered, Archie let his head drop again. Ellen set her knitting aside and pulled her son to her, an arm around his shoulders. His antennae wrapped around her arm lovingly.

"I don't want to be alone, momma," he said, his voice almost a whisper.

Ellen couldn't contain her sob and pulled the boy onto her lap.

"You won't be alone," she said. "The others are returning from all over the globe to be under your rule."

He shook his head as they held each other.

"It's not the same, momma."

"...I know," and she did. "But every king must face challenges he doesn't want to face."

"What if I don't care about being king?"

"You must care."

"Why?"

Ellen blew out a breath and continued. It hurt her so much to leave him. Archie was indeed her son, part of her was in him and he would always be her son. Their pairing had stabilized them both and his birth had made them stronger, but damn. Why did the necessary always have to be so hard? But Ellen knew the answer.

"Because, if you don't, then the rule of your people will be left to Nicholas and Eve."

Archie didn't look up at her, but stopped his sniffling. He understood. Things would go back to the way they had been. Nicholas and Eve, the Parents. Their rule had been called the Dark Times by those Children that had come from all over the world. The very few Children that had been returning hailed him as their king as soon as they'd met him. It hadn't seemed to matter whether he were a good person or a bad one, he was the one to lead. It was so tempting to simply let it go and bask in the power that the Children let him have...

...but he knew that he would lose his mother's respect and love, if he did. And he never wanted to lose her love. Unfortunately, he also realized that they would come to live in two different worlds. He would live with the dwindling Parents and become king over the Children. And his mother would return to the world of humans with Auntie Nanase. Though, perhaps 'auntie' wouldn't be the correct appelation. He would ask later. But, another question came to his mind. Another question that had been hanging heavily.

"...will I find someone to love?"

Ellen opened her mouth to wonder at her own status in his heart, but she closed it again. She knew that, while they had shared an ultimate intimacy just a couple years ago, she didn't count. She cleared her throat and patted his knee.

"I believe you will, Archie, but I can't say yes for sure," she slowly explained. "Like ruling your people, finding a love is something you must work at. But unlike ruling them, finding someone to love is a much more pleasant task."

Archie untangled himself from her arm as he sat back in the seat. He sat quietly and seemed to be thinking. Ellen sighed to herself. She knew that she would have to come up with better explanations for things in the next six months, but she'd also hoped that, as more of his kin arrived, he would find someone. She wondered if this was how Verres felt about Tedd. She hoped not. Having a child that aged thirteen years in maturity in two years was bad enough. Another six months would make him functionally sixteen. Two days after his coronation, she and Grace would leave. Ellen sighed to herself again. She hated feeling like a bad mother. She reached next to her and picked up her knitting again. She liked working the threads into different things, even if she wasn't very good at it. The side of the sled shimmered and Grace vaulted inside, giggling madly as the side shimmered closed again, whisps of snow trailing in after her.

"Well?" Ellen smirked as she set her knitting aside again.

"He was there," Grace brushed snow off her head. "I think he was happy to get the locket. He said he would be ready next year."

"Oh good."

"Will I get to meet him then?" Archie asked of Grace.

"You'll be king, then Archie," Grace said. "You can do what you want to do."

"Momma, Auntie Grace, I've decided something," Archie said. "I will rule..."

Ellen nodded, somewhat sadly and Grace clapped happily.

"...but..." he turned to Ellen. "Can I still write you?"

"Awwwwwwwwww!"

Ellen pulled him into her lap before Grace could huggle him. Again.

"Yes, my dear," she kissed the top of his head. "You can write me any time you want."

Grace sniffled and wiped an eye as she pulled the control panel to her. She tapped in the coordinates for the return journey and settled back for the ride home. Archie continued to hold Ellen as they lifted off and Ellen watched the snow fall outside, his fingers and antennae twining in her hair.

***

Ellen wrapped the gauzy shawl around her shoulders as she looked out over Hyperboria. A new source had been brought by a clan from China, but the source seemed stunted. She could and, being the mother of the king, did hold the small crystal in her hands. It beat like a heart, warm without the sticky wetness. She held it up to her ear and giggled as it purred next to her cheek. The Parents had set the new source in place and power had flowed out. After some days of observation, the crystal life started to grow once more, though even the Parents thought that perhaps this one would grow much slower than even Archie's. With the new power, the shield walls had been strengthened around the lip of the crater. The weather warmed under the lens of the shield and everything became green and lush again. A paradise at the top of the world.

Grace and Archie had been busy teaching each other how to manipulate the power to create the crystalline structures that became the new Palace. The whole of the place felt more like a manor house than a castle. The rooms were spacious and light, large windows looked out over the greening lands. A soft trumpet caught Ellen's attention and she looked down to the river that ran through the valley. A family of woolly mammoths had gathered at one of the small pools to spend the night. It seemed odd that they might simply sleep out in the open, but the larger mammals had no predators. Grace told her that, when she'd been a girl, several big cats had still been around, but since they were all one gender, they'd died off in a few years.

Another thing that had been created in Grace's childhood had been the manor house. She meant, a real one, built out of the strange green stones. On the inside, once cut and polished, they lay blue. Ellen looked down and the balconey glittered slightly in the rising moonlight. Kind of like granite, but blue, while the natural sheen on the outside was a light green. The manor house had many rooms. Scuridae had lived here and Ellen and Grace lived there now.

Some of the Children lived out in the wilds of the valley, amongst the creatures that they'd been forced to call kin for decades. Many of them felt locked into their animal forms and had only realized their human forms when Archie and Grace taught them. Ellen excused herself for those lessons as none of the new kin understood anything about clothing...or modesty. Most of the hybrid Children lived in the Nest and the Palace. Close to the Parents. Ellen had given Nicholas, in no uncertain terms, the consequences of bending the new kin to their will. He'd simply huffed at her, twiddled his antennae and suddenly, Ellen had left speaking a form of Russian. It had almost become a kind of game between them. Giving her a new ability or putting something in her head through his antennae was something of a face-saving sign for him. He needed the others to respect his position and doing that let him. To Ellen, it meant he understood.

Those Children that preferred or maintained a human form most of the time stayed in the manor house, taking the rooms and doing their share of the cooking and cleaning and repair, as they each could manage. No one, not Ellen or Archie or Grace or the Parents, had told them that this was the arrangement. That was simply how it fell.

Hyperboria lay north of Newfoundland. Way north. In fact, so far north that an occassional polar bear had been seen wandering through the valley, panting and huffing. It would be shown an illusion and led out to the cold wastes beyond. Grace came back up next to Ellen and glanced over the edge. She sighed and shook her head.

"They don't-"

"Grace," Ellen had been through this conversation before. "It's just something that came naturally. You know that."

Grace slumped slightly and nodded.

"The caste system isn't right," she said. "It may be our natural order, but it still isn't right. Given freedom, not even humans...split themselves this way!"

"Grace, you don't know humans very well," Ellen smirked. "Oh, don't look at me that way, it's true. Given everything equal, every person will try to put themselves into groups. It's only luck that many of the groups people put themselves into are similar. Humans are the worst kind of people."

Grace tried to hold it back, but giggled and looked up to the clear night sky.

"Perhaps your son will be able to break the barriers?"

"Perhaps," Ellen mused.

"After all, he's already learning so much from his godfathers-"

Grace stopped as she realized what she'd said. Ellen jerked up and shot Grace another look.

"And just what," Ellen said slowly. "Have Hedge and Guineas been teaching my son?"

Grace held up her hands defensively and chuckled.

"They are his honor guard..."

Ellen chewed this over and sniffed, but said nothing as she turned back to the valley.

"Sorry, Ellen," Grace said quietly. "They do try their best..."

Ellen huffed and nodded shortly. After a minute or two, Grace cleared her throat. Ellen glanced sidelong at the Queen, who stepped to Ellen, turned her around and set a gentle and tender kiss at her lips. Ellen set a hand at her lips as she pulled back.

"Grace..." she tried to keep her voice low. "What the Hell-?!"

Grace's brow wrinkled, as if she thought-...then a thought struck Ellen.

"It was something Tedd said," Ellen raised an eyebrow. "Wasn't it?"

Grace nodded.

"He said that, if we had an argument," Grace explained. "We should kiss and make up."

Ellen chuckled and shook her head.

"Grace, my sister, I think that you misunderstood something," Ellen set a hand at the other's shoulder. "But that's okay. I'll explain it to you later."

Both of them fell into a companionable silence. She really hadn't had a bad argument with the Queen since she'd come here. Most of them had been misunderstandings and the like and there had even been points where one or the other had indeed been right. They stood looking out over the valley, the birds calling in the distance. Ellen glanced at Grace. She knew Grace still had something on her mind-

"Am I doing the right thing," she said, softly. "In leaving them?"

Ah, so that's it, Ellen thought.

"Leaving the Children, you mean?"

Grace nodded.

"I'm leaving Archie," Ellen smiled, but the pain returned. "He...he's my son, dammit."

She hadn't said it with much conviction, but it still sounded loud.

"Oh, I don't mean to belittle your pain-"

"Grace, we're both in need of the people we love," Ellen grasped Grace's hands. "We knew this going in. Well, I knew what it might be."

Ellen blew out a sigh and let her head drop. She chuckled as Grace pulled her into a hug and she held onto the young woman. Both of them had become so close in the last year and a half. Grace pulled away and reached behind her. She brought forward a small box and handed it to Ellen.

"A little Christmas present," she said. "Something that Tedd told me might be a good idea."

Ellen opened the box and gasped. A little silver ball had been set below the pale blue stone in each that glittered in the moonlight on small silver wires.

"Oh Grace," Ellen breathed. "They're gorgeous."

"They're made from Archie's crystal," Grace's smile broadened. "Just about enough to make something out of. Archie had thought of a necklace, but I thought that the earrings would be better."

"Especially since you pierced my ears last summer," Ellen smirked.

Grace giggled brightly.

"Thank you, Grace," she pulled the other into a tight hug. "I will treasure them."

***

Ellen grunted and rolled over. More noises came to her and she slowly brought herself out of her topor. A small crash from the direction of the great room made her sit up in bed. Hushed tones and someone not quite able to control his yelling came to her as well. A low growl began in her throat, but she sniffed and rubbed her eyes. The clock on the mantle across from her bed said it was early enough to start the day. Well, good for that. It was Christmas. She should be able to damn well sleep in.

She yawned as another muffled argument exploded in the great room. If they could only be quiet, she would have probably curled up again and went back to sleep. She huffed and swung her legs out of the bed, taking care to slip her feet into slippers she'd set there the night before. The floors weren't really cold, indeed, she had the doors to her balconey open for the warm breezes that swept in. Still something in walking across a flagstone floor in bare feet bit at the edges of her mind for some reason. She stopped as she looked at the bedstand. The earrings Grace had given her the night before glittered. A smile spread across her face. She picked them up and, with some care, slipped them into the little holes in her ears. She stepped to the mirror set on her dresser across the way and turned her head this way and that. She stopped. A thought ran through her head and she smirked. One of the few times she had a flash of male thought since she'd split from her brother so long ago.

Tedd would accuse me of being girly, she thought. But I am girly, aren't I?

She smiled and took her dressing gown off the hook in the corner. She padded out of the room and turned down toward the ruckus, taking her time on the stairway down. Something smelled too. Normally, a nice fire would be lit by this time, but the coolness of the house pervaded down the hall. Ellen stepped into the room and stopped.

The massive tree took up much of the north side of the room, near the window. The trees she remembered from Elliot's youth looked nothing like this one. Sensibilities said that the tree couldn't be decorated just any way, but with an eye toward decorum and taste, not to mention a sense of style. How else would Baby Jesus find his way to leaving you presents?

...yeah, that had always been a weird thought, she mused.

This tree, however, had been decorated by each of the clans that had been filtering in. The clan leaders, those that had agreed that Archie would be their king, had presented gifts from all over the world. Fine linens and glassworks from Egypt, emeralds and gold from South America. Frankincense from Arabia and many, many more. Instead of simply piling them all up somewhere, Archie said that the best thing would be to somehow use them to decorate the tree. Ellen and Grace agreed. Ellen had liked how the light twinkled off the Egyptian glass. Quite pretty. Seating had been spread around the room, the furniture coming from French and Italian makers a hundred and fifty years earlier. She supposed that many of the pieces would be priceless in today's market. She rubbed at her nose at the tableau across the room, at the fireplace. A small gray being stood there, hands on his hips, tail twitching angrily. He wore no clothes, though Grace had been constant in trying to get him into at least a pair of pants.

"What if we simply butter your sides?" the being grumbled.

"We will not butter anything about my person!"

Ellen looked past the being to the fireplace itself. There, head and shoulders stuck upside down, was Hedge.

"Oh, Ellen!" Hedge said. "Don't let him butter me up!"

Ellen stared and pointed to her own face.

"How do you get them to stay up?"

"Oh, Ellen," Nicholas, the gray Parent said. "I hope we didn't wake you..."

"It's a gift," Hedge grumbled and grunted as he shifted his weight.

"You may as well stop struggling," Nicholas said. "You're just getting wedged in there more. Honestly, I don't know what put it in your head to do this."

Ellen pulled her hair back absently over her ear as she knelt to the fireplace. There, sitting on the logs, she pulled the red floppy hat with the white trim. She glanced up at Hedge.

"What?" he asked quietly. "I thought it'd be something neat for Archie and the other kids."

Ellen smiled gently.

"It was very thoughtful, Hedge," she said. "Not too bright, but sweet."

She gave him a winning smile and he squirmed and blushed and just got too flustered. Ellen giggled and stood up. Flirting and teasing came way too easily to her, but as she had considered her and her brother's past, perhaps it wasn't such an unusual thing? A clink from the table behind her made Ellen turn. Another gray being, her lips stained red and wearing a hint of gray makeup, began to pour tea into several china cups.

"It wasn't just Hedge's idea," Eve said. "Marschon and Keppler helped as well. Oh, and Guineas was supposed to be in on it as well."

"Marschon and Keppler?" Ellen looked sharply back to Hedge, who blushed again and squirmed.

Marschon and Keppler. Two Children who were themselves descendents from the Gypsy bands of Children in Europe. They had found each other, Ellen could only speculate how, and decided to take their special brand of humor on the road. A comedy duo whose pranks Ellen found rather stupid. The French had been especially kind in their praise of the pair. But then, what did the French know?

"I just like watching the silly boys," Eve smirked as she sipped her tea.

"What silly boys?" Grace said as she came in stretching.

Archie tagged along at her heels, rubbing his eyes. He stopped when he saw Hedge and burst out laughing. Ellen smiled, but something tugged at her mind.

Marschon...Keppler... she thought. Guineas-

"Guineas!" she turned back to Hedge. "Where's Guineas?"

A loud squeal echoed around the great room, followed by a large splash.

"Ah, sounds like he landed in the ornamental duck pond," Eve said spritely as she sipped her tea.

Ellen shook her head, her face in her palm.

"Well, don't let him in until he dries off!" Archie barked. "He always smells like a wet dog otherwise."

Grace, who until then had been keeping her giggles to herself, burst into laughter and set a hand at her nephew's shoulder.

"I'll fetch him a towel and get him to change," she laughed as she bustled off.

Ellen turned and looked at Archie, who had been giving her an odd look. She thought, then smiled as she set next to him.

"Oh, the earrings?" she pushed back her hair. "Grace gave them to me last night. They were made from your crystal. At least, that's what Grace said."

Archie nodded, but said nothing as he bit into a sandwich. He looked...thoughtful. Guineas came in, fully human, his pants wrung as dry as he could. He threw a thumb back toward his room and grunted. Ellen nodded as he turned to go. Grace bounded back in and knelt at the tree.

"Presents!" she chirped brightly.

"Hey!" Hedge said from the chimney. "What about me?!"

"Change into your hybrid form," Ellen said as she picked up a sandwich from the tray.

Archie moved off his chair and went to sit next to his aunt.

"Mom doesn't know what those earrings actually do, does she?" he asked quietly.

"No," Grace said without looking up. "And you shan't tell her."

Archie looked at her, but Grace kept her face carefully blank. A harsh growl and a cloud of soot arose from the fireplace as Hedge fell on his head.

"Mom was right," Archie said at Nicholas's incredulous look. "His hybrid form is just a bit smaller around his shoulders."

Ellen let Nicholas and Hedge clean up the fireplace and get a fire going, after they had pulled the large bag of toys down out of it. She got up and made her way into the kitchen, where one of the younger Children stood over one of the stoves, brewing something. She wore an apron over a light blue dress. Her hair, mottled white and black, hung loose and long, almost to the floor. Her large ears, mottled like her hair, drooped slightly as she yawned.

"Didn't get enough sleep, Kirai?"

The girl looked up and Ellen saw she had to fight off a curtsey. She blushed in deference to Ellen and smiled.

"I never seem to get enough sleep, Mum. Care for some mulled cider?"

Ellen nodded and didn't say anything about the appellation, just one of the several hundred that she'd been called. Of course, all of them had been in utmost reverence and respect, but being called 'dowager' just rubbed her wrong. Grace had been more the dowager. She took the proffered mug and sipped at the awesome mixture. Apple cider, mixed with two other fruit juices, mulled slightly with cinnamon and cloves and other spices. Kirai had come from the Orient and had brought many of the plants with her. The warm sweetness filled Ellen and she smiled. She opened her eyes and rolled them at the look in the girl's eyes.

"Kirai," Ellen huffed. "What have I told you about waiting until I'm served. Or Grace, or even my son?"

"Not to wait, Mum?"

"Yes," Ellen smirked. "Now, get a mug for yourself. Once you have your own, take a mug of this along to Grace. I'm sure she would appreciate it. Oh! I just remembered. Take another mug to Guineas. He fell in the duck pond a little while ago."

Kirai thought of something and blushed heavily as her eyes grew large. Oh ho! So the rumors were correct!

"I'm sure you could...warm him up."

Ellen barked in laughter as she helped the poor girl fill a tray of mugs, even after her protestations against the work. She carried one tray and Kirai followed close behind. And while she would have made the girl go first, Ellen hadn't thought that Christmas morning was the time for it. Still, beyond a certain age, all the new Children acted the same way, even the wild ones. Den mother, as it were. Ellen sat back and watched as the other Children filed in and the whole great room became filled with hugs and nose rubs and nakedness. It didn't fluster her anymore, but she had demanded that they at least wash. So, the nakedness was at least clean.

Nothing like clean bottoms wiggling around the room. she thought as she took another sip.

Archie revelled, not only in the attention, boyish as it was, but also in his second Christmas. He took genuine interest in what the others got each other and the joys and laughter all around him. Ellen sipped at her cup. Should she ever tell him what the original mission had been? Nicholas kept watch over the whole scene while Eve sat aloof and drank her lukewarm tea. Lukewarm Earl Grey. Ellen shivered and snuggled her mug. For now, at least, nothing would be gained from the revelation.

Archie had pulled his sweater on over his head and his antennae squiggled uneasily under the large hood. It would do well to keep his head warm, but she would have to tell him not to wear the hood indoors. It just looked strange. She giggled to herself as Grace tried on her sweater. Got the arms just a tad too long. Grace bounced over and gave her a big hug as Guineas and Kirai arrived with more finger food and drinks. Ellen tried not to stare, but the two of them looked so damned cute.

She felt alone. In a room full of people, Ellen couldn't help but think of the Christmas she was missing away from Nanase. She also knew that, as she would celebrate the holidays with Nanase, she would miss her son and the other Children. A paradox. Perhaps, after the next king was born, she could persuade Archie and some of the other Children to move to America? Not necessarily to live with her, but certainly a closer visit. She sighed, but smiled as Kirai refreshed her mug. Archie stopped and looked toward his mother, but said nothing and made up his mind.

***

"Mom?"

Ellen looked away from the mirror to the doorway. Archie stood there, his tie angrily done up, but certainly not done right. She chuckled and beckoned him to sit on the bench at the end of her bed. She knelt in front of him, her evening dress crunching smartly.

"Why didn't you get Grace or one of your godfathers to tie this for you?" Ellen mused. "Though, Grace really doesn't do it right either."

"Hedge is helping in the kitchen."

Ellen stopped and looked up at her son.

"Where's Kirai?"

"She and Guineas are kanoodling," he huffed. "Again."

Ellen burst into laughter and caught herself before she fell over.

"Who..." she quieted herself. "Who taught you that word?"

"M-" he began, but stopped. "Um..."

"Merschon?"

He nodded slowly. Ellen smirked as she went back to his collar and tie.

"I will have to speak with those two scamps about the status of your vocabulary," she said. "And why I will smack them around if they add to it."

"Mom?" he began, after a second or two.

"Yes?"

"What's 'kanoodling' mean?"

She looked at him and wondered, not for the first time, how much he remembered. And didn't. She raised her eyebrows.

"Well, Guineas and Kirai are very much in love," she started slowly. "And I supposed that 'kanoodling' would be a natural next stage."

"So...procreation?"

Ellen's hand slipped as she shook her head.

"Perhaps this is something you can get Aunt Grace to explain a little better," Ellen chuckled. "Something tells me that the two of you will find that discussion orders of magnitude easier."

She finished and stood. He began to say something, but stopped. Her heart leapt. Could it be that one of the younger girls had caught his attention?

"I know about the earrings," he said softly.

Huh? her thoughts skipped.

"What?"

He looked up at her and she sat on the bench next to him.

"Your earrings were made from the remnants of my crystal. I know Aunt Shade told you that," he said. "But there's something extra she didn't tell you."

Oh? she wondered. He only calls her Shade when something is bothering him...

"And what is that?"

"I know you're not happy, being here. Not really," he said as he swung his legs. "I know you want to go to Nanase and I know that you'll want me to be near, because when you're there, you'll miss me. I just want you to be happy where you are."

Ellen said nothing, but let him speak.

"I...I told Aunt Shade about the properties of my old crystal," he gulped guiltily. "Because of what happened in there and how we bonded, the whole thing acts as kind of a link between us, allowing us to share our feelings. Now, I was able to cut the shards to dampen down bad feelings, but they'll still get through, just as yours will get through to me, too."

"Your happiness is my happiness?"

He sniffled and nodded.

"Aunt Grace didn't want me to tell you about them because she thought you might think it was sneaky and controlling."

"It is sneaky," she smirked and set an arm across his shoulder. "But it's not controlling. After all, you're getting my crazy feelings too. That's just sharing."

A thought came to her.

"Will they work over distance?"

He wiped his eyes and nodded.

"I'm glad you thought of my happiness," she hugged him. "I will always think of yours."

She bent and kissed the top of his head.

"Now, go on," she stood and took the earrings out. "Don't keep them waiting. Hedge especially. You know how he gets when he's hungry."

Archie nodded brightly and ran out, past Grace, who stood at the doorway. She looked like she'd been crying for a little bit.

"I-I'm sorry," she sniffled. "I didn't mean to mislead you."

"Yes, you did," Ellen smirked evilly. "But that's okay. It was a way for Archie and I to keep in touch and I understand how hard it must've been to get them."

She pulled Grace into a hug and set her forehead on the other's.

"Kiss and make up?" Grace asked quietly.

Ellen chuckled.

"Do you think that's what Tedd really meant?"

Both of them took a second and realized something. Which made them both break into laughter.

"Yeah, okay," Ellen shook her head. "It is Tedd we're talking about."

Ellen followed Grace out. On the mantle, next to the earrings that glittered hints of starlight in the rising moon, sat a silver locket which lay open. Silver gasps of light spread quietly along as the time passed, showing an intricate, almost lifelike painting on one side and his mother on the other.

***

~fin~

Merry Christmas, my friends
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Postby Free Radical on Fri Dec 15, 2006 4:11 pm

Cool stuff mythos, nicely fills in a bit of what happened in the intermission at the end of the story.
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Postby Berk on Fri Dec 15, 2006 5:55 pm

Ah, brilliance. Nice work Mythos, a nice way to start the day and it's good to read more about this group.

Happy holidays.
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Cool Ellen quotes:
Is that all you noticed while in my shirt?
Yo Piggy! Get away from my brother 'fore I make you squeal!
Ah Yes, The Wonder Twins... They do complicate matters don't they?
That crazed look could have meant any number of things!
I feel significantly less menacing.
Blasphemy!
Given that I'd be in the closet with another girl, I don't think I'd be doing a very good job.
I'm supposed to know how magic works?
I thought I was ready for man-on-Ellen loving.
Mom told me to wake you. She was unspecific as to how.
Excuse me, I need to find something heavy and blunt to kill you with.
You can make marbles even more shiny?
Well, that, or "Mind your own business, jackass!"
Magnet!
Dammit, she can thumb-type every word, but she can't bust out the emoticons?
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Postby Atashi-Cloud on Fri Dec 15, 2006 7:39 pm

^^ very well done, Mythos. And a very Merry Christmas to ya too.^^
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Postby DasteRoad on Sun Dec 17, 2006 4:32 am

I like it an awesome lot, a good and lifelike portrait of what passed between those two years... I love the bits of everyday life at the Nest and growing-up Archie. This is an excellent way to say goodbye to the group that we've come to love in your skilled writing :D
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