I finally got into enough of a holiday mood to post a Christmas fic (it's hard to be jolly when you're stuck writing lots of term papers and cramming for finals). This is just a short, one-shot deal, so no cliffhangers or anything to worry about. The title comes from the basic premise of the story as well as the title of a beautiful Christmas song I sang in chorale my freshman year. Hope you enjoy it!
Disclaimer: I hope Camelot does us all a Christmas favor and works really hard on producing more Golden Sun games!
Snow was rare in Vale, even in the dead of winter. This year, however, the white stuff covered the ground in a thick blanket, burying everything except the buildings, trees and the giant Psynergy Stone in the center of the plaza. December seemed to get colder and bleaker with every passing year and that only made the absence felt by the whole town all the harder to bear.
"Hard to believe it's almost Christmas again," said Jenna. "The years do fly by, don't they?"
Her husband Garet nodded in agreement. "I love this time of year. It makes me feel young all over again."
"Like we're so old!" Jenna laughed. "It's only been six years since we put an end to that Elemental Star business. You make it sound like it was eons ago."
Garet shrugged. "Some days it seems that way. It's been a very long six years."
Jenna's eyes dropped down to the bread dough she was kneading. "I know what you mean. I miss him too, and it gets even harder around the holidays." She forced a smile and changed the subject. "Weren't you going to get our tree today?"
"Naturally," he said, brightening. "Any requests on how it should look?"
"Tall and sturdy, kind of like you."
"All right then." He kissed his young wife and ventured into the weather, carrying an ax over his shoulder with which to cut the perfect tree. Cold wasn't his favorite thing to endure, but he trudged through the snow with the same determination and enthusiasm one would expect from a semi-retired adventurer.
He traversed the snow-covered path, coming upon a familiar house. An equally familiar figure was sweeping the snow away from the door. She seemed to get more ghost-like everyday and the cold weather and white snow washed out her complexion even more. Though still possibly the most beautiful young woman living in the village, her eyes had long since lost their sparkle and her face seemed permanently set in sadness. She never laughed anymore, and how could she when her heart was so empty?
"Good morning, Mia," Garet greeted her cheerfully. "Do you need any help moving that snow?"
"Hello, Garet," Mia said. "No, it's fine, thank you. I don't mind sweeping it away."
He looked up at the house. It was as sturdy and tidy as ever, practically unchanged by the wear of time. Even the snow piled around it didn't look out of place. Mia lived here by herself now since Dora had passed away, and she kept it in pristine condition. But there weren't any holiday decorations anywhere near it, and the following day was Christmas Eve.
"Did you get a tree for yourself, Mia?" he asked.
"No," she replied. "I can't do much decorating by myself, and everyone's always so busy that I hated to ask for help. It's all right, though. There's not much for me to celebrate."
Garet hated hearing her say things like that, as it was nothing the old Mia would've said. Was she really the same woman he'd traveled the world with? But he couldn't blame her for being so changed. A broken heart is a difficult, if not impossible thing, to overcome.
"Well Jenna and I are having a gathering tomorrow night," he offered. "Everyone will be there—Ivan, Sheba, Felix, Picard—the whole gang. Won't you join us, Mia?"
She gave a very small, seemingly forced smile. "That's so kind of you to offer, Garet. Are you sure you wouldn't mind? I know I haven't been the most cheerful person lately."
"No, of course not. You shouldn't have to spend Christmas all by yourself, Mia." He started back down the path. "Tomorrow night at six o'clock sharp. Don't forget!"
"I won't!" Mia waved to him as he departed and then went back inside the house.
The interior was as immaculate as the exterior, looking almost untouched from the way it had appeared six years ago when the Adepts returned from their journey. Mia prided herself on keeping it the same, so everything would be perfect. In a way, this house was the only thing she had left, and it was both a pleasant and immensely painful reminder of happier times. It was a warm and welcoming abode, but it seemed so empty and cold without anyone to share it with.
She added some wood to the fire and cleaned up the morning dishes. Nothing could stay out of place. In a corner of the main room was an unfinished white gown on a dress form, surrounded by extra material and sewing tools. For six years it had sat there untouched and the cloth was starting to yellow with the passing of time. She longed to see it finished and wear it someday, but one couldn't wear a wedding gown unless one is getting married, so what was the point in sewing it?
Mia went up the stairs, even though she knew nothing was out of place up there either. The guest bedroom where she slept had only scant traces of occupancy, such as the hairbrush with blue hairs in it sitting on the dresser and the extra clothes folded neatly in the drawers and on the bed. Some fancy looking sheets of paper covered the writing desk, along with a stack of envelopes. A few of these were addressed in elegant script, and the nib pen and inkwell still sat nearby in wait to finish the job. But no one would be doing so in the near future. There was no point in addressing wedding invitations when there was no wedding to invite people to.
She entered the small room across the hall. It still had very faint traces of a sweet, earthy scent that she loved to breathe in. Sometimes she could close her eyes, inhale this scent, and it was almost like he was here beside her. But today, so close to the holidays, right around the time when he left, not even that aroma brought her comfort. She sat on the bed, hugged his pillow, and cried.
"Oh, that's good that you invited Mia," Jenna said. "I worry about her being alone too much."
"I figured being with us might help cheer her up a little," Garet agreed. "I still wish there was something more we could do."
"Like?" she asked.
He shrugged. "I don't know. It's been so long since I saw her smile. You know, really smile. She's not the same Mia."
Felix nodded in agreement. "It's a shame to see such beauty wasting away like that. I wish there were a way to make her happy again."
Jenna frowned at both of them. "We all know the one thing that can mend Mia's broken heart, but none of us have the power to give it to her. Unless you know something I don't."
"If only," Garet sighed. "I'd give just about anything to have him back with us."
"After all we went through…" Felix trailed. "I never imagined it would end like this."
"None of us did," said Jenna longingly. She looked out the window where snow could be seen falling in big, puffy flakes. "Isaac…"
***Six Years Ago***
Less than two weeks before Christmas, all of the Adepts made it back to Vale, their quest completed. Following a glorious celebration in town, Isaac was happy to be back home with his mother. Traveling had been exciting and fun, but he was weary of the adventurous life after doing it for so long and relished the down time. The holidays would be even better this year, since he was home with all of his friends and his beautiful fiancee. Dora was already making wedding plans and she seemed to like Mia's company. Nothing could be more perfect.
"I dreamed of the day you'd bring a nice, polite girl home to me," Dora said.
"Mom!" Isaac groaned in embarrassment. "I think you're enjoying this far too much. The wedding's not till spring!"
"But it's not everyday that my little boy falls in love! Your father would be so happy for you, Isaac. It's a shame he's not here to meet her."
Isaac sighed helplessly, since he thought that way as well. "Do you think he'd approve?"
"Of course he would," Dora replied. "Your father and I were young and in love once too, you know. And Mia's a lovely girl. I couldn't ask for a better daughter-in-law!"
He smiled. "I'm glad you think so highly of her. That means a lot to me."
Mia came in from outside just then. "It's starting to snow. Garet's out shoveling his walkway."
"And hating every moment of it, I'm sure," Isaac added. He watched as she set her parcel on the kitchen table.
"The market was mobbed," she said. "But I managed to get everything on the list."
"Oh good," said Dora, sifting through the items. "Then both of you run along and stay out of my way. I have a lot of baking to do."
As the two lovers made their way back out into the snow, Isaac heard a voice speak to his mind. Isaac, it is the Wise One, it said to him. I need your courage again. Come to Mt. Aleph. Naturally, Isaac couldn't ignore the guardian's request and went to the peak immediately. He was there for almost two whole days, at which point he returned to Vale with grim news.
The Wise One had given him another quest. Isaac didn't divulge any details of the mission other than that he was ordered to go alone this time. While his friends all protested, they knew that no one could go against the orders of the Wise One.
"I don't know how long I'll be gone, Mia," he said.
"When will you go?" she asked.
"Tomorrow. The Wise One insisted that it couldn't wait."
"You mean you can't even stay for Christmas?" She felt tears welling up behind her eyes. He shook his head and squeezed her hands.
"Forgive me, Mia. This isn't how I wanted things to be."
She nodded reluctantly. "I know. It's not your fault. Fate just had other plans."
"Mia…" He hugged her tightly. "I promise I'll come back to you. No matter what happens, I will find a way to make it back here to you."
"Isaac…" She cried softly, returning his embrace. "I don't want you to leave me! I'm going to miss you so much!"
"I know, I know." He had to stay strong for her, but it seemed impossible. "Mia, please promise me something."
"Promise me that you'll wait here for me. Please!"
"Of course I will," said Mia. "I don't care how long it takes. I'll be waiting here for you to return."
***(Back to the Present)***
Come Christmas Eve, Garet and Jenna's little house was alive with noise as the entire group of adventurers came together for the holiday. A gentle snow fell outside, while inside a fire roared in the hearth and the tree glittered with the lights of dozens of tiny candles. Mia silently removed her cape, revealing her dark blue velvet dress. The others greeted her warmly.
"Glad you could make it, Mia," Jenna said.
"You're as lovely as ever, Lady Mia," said Picard. He kissed her hand but her expression barely changed.
"It's good to see all of you again," she said. A sparkle on Sheba's hand caught her eye. "Oh Sheba, is that…?"
"Yes," Sheba nodded. "As of yesterday, Ivan and I are engaged."
"Congratulations!" Mia exclaimed, hugging both of them. "I'm so happy for you!" She twisted her own diamond around her finger.
"So when's the big day, Ivan?" Felix asked.
"We actually haven't set a date yet," Ivan replied.
"We're thinking of delaying it awhile, actually," said Sheba. "You know, to see if Isaac comes back. He brought the two of us together. We want him to be there."
"That's sweet," Jenna said. "But Isaac wouldn't want you postponing it for his sake. That's why we went ahead with our wedding, right Garet?"
Garet nodded. "Even though it wasn't much of a party without him."
Mia seated herself among the others. "You should get married as soon as you want to. Isaac would want it that way."
The night wore on, going as smoothly as one would expect for a gathering of good friends. They ate, they drank, and they reminisced as the candles on the tree gradually shrank smaller and smaller.
"I'll never forget the look on Isaac's face when he was swept up by that backward waterfall in the Mercury Lighthouse!" Garet laughed, partially intoxicated. "It was the funniest thing he's ever done!"
"And you insisted on picking on him for it for the rest of our trip," Ivan groaned. "You never gave the poor guy a rest!"
"He took it in stride, though," said Jenna. "Not even this lunkhead's teasing got him down."
"Yeah," Felix agreed. "Good old Isaac."
There was a short pause then everyone realized that Mia was crying very softly. They looked at her pityingly. "Oh, Mia," Sheba said. "We're sorry. We shouldn't have mentioned him."
"No, no, it's not that," she sniffed. "I like listening to those old stories. It's just that I…I miss him so much!" She wiped away her tears. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have come—I've ruined the party. Please, carry on without me. Merry Christmas." She hurried out the door, the others staring after her.
"Poor Mia," Ivan sighed. "Fate can be so cruel…"
Picard bit his lower lip and headed out into the snowstorm. "Lady Mia!" he called. "Please, wait!"
She halted for her Lemurian friend. He stood before her, studying the same beautiful face that had captivated him years ago. For six holiday seasons he had returned to Vale to see her falling deeper and deeper into sorrow and he couldn't stand it. She was so lovely and so full of life. It wasn't right for someone like her to be so consumed by heartache and loneliness.
"Go back to the party, Picard," she said. "Please, don't let me ruin your holiday."
Picard snatched her hands. "Lady Mia, I can't stand watching this happen to you. Please, let me take you away from all of this pain. Come away with me to Lemuria—or anywhere! Just don't stay here and let this sadness eat away at you a moment longer!"
Mia gazed at him a moment, stunned by his outburst. "No, Picard. I can't leave Vale. I promised Isaac I would wait for him."
"But it's been six years! If he were going to return he should've been here by now!" He squeezed her hands. "How long are you going to let this continue? How long are you going to allow your beautiful heart to be tortured in this manner?"
"As long as it takes," Mia replied very plainly. "He promised me that he'd come back, and I promised him I'd wait here in Vale until then. I'm not going to give up on him—not now, not ever."
"Lady Mia…" Picard couldn't comprehend her devotion to a ghost. He knew Isaac loved her very much, but it seemed unlikely that one quest would take six years. In Picard's mind, Isaac had to be dead. "But you're in so much pain clinging to this belief. I know Isaac loves you, but I don't think he's coming back. I don't think he can come back."
She looked completely crushed. This thought haunted her constantly, but she still didn't want to hear it. Giving it voice made the possibility of it being true much too real. "How can you say that to me?" she demanded, tears running down her face. "He's not dead—he can't be dead! Isaac's going to come back to me! He promised! He promised!" Her words were soon drowned out by her sobs. Picard attempted to console her, but she pushed him away and ran back to Isaac's house.
Alone in the house, Mia sat in the living room and watched the snow gently fall on the other side of the windowpane. This was the same way she'd spent Christmas Eve for a long time, and it got harder each year. It wasn't right. This was a time to be with loved ones and the one she loved most wasn't here with her. Some of the Valeans were still out and about caroling and she could hear their song:
Silent night, holy night. All is calm, all is bright.
No, it's not, she thought. When Picard had asked her to leave with him, for a moment she had considered how wonderful it would be to get away from this lonely place. But she realized that even if she left Vale the heartache wouldn't go away. It never would. No one could fill the void created by his absence. He was her truest love; no amount of time, no simple distraction could numb the pain of being apart from him.
"Isaac…" she whispered, her eyes watering again. "Merry Christmas, wherever you are out there."
It was late at night. All of Vale was quiet and serene, snow continuing to drift from the sky. Mia had fallen asleep in the armchair in the living room. The fire had died and the room was dark. She never heard the front door creak open, never felt the quick gust of outdoor air that rushed in, never heard the quiet footsteps cross over to her. But she did become aware of fingertips brushing her cheek and then running through her hair. Familiar hands, warm and gentle. Was she dreaming?
She stirred then, remembering the sound of this voice. She opened her eyes and knew then that she had to be dreaming. A dream she'd had countless times during these lonely six years that she hated waking up from. Still, she met the blue-eyed gaze and slowly reached out to him. Surprisingly, her hand touched real human flesh and she gasped in surprise. For the first time in six years, she cried tears of joy and not sorrow.
"Isaac…!" she exclaimed in complete disbelief.
"Merry Christmas, Mia," he said with a helpless smile. She leaped from the chair and into his arms. Their embrace was fierce—not even the force of the apocalypse could've wrenched them apart. Their kiss was long and wrought with a passion that had been neglected for far too long.
"You're really here!" Mia cried, unable to control her tears. "You really came back to me!"
"Of course I came back," said Isaac. "I promised I would, didn't I? I'm so sorry for making you wait this long, Mia. I hope you can forgive me."
She laughed a little. "Isaac, you don't need to apologize! Being with you is all I've wanted!"
He nodded in agreement. "I won't ever leave you alone again, Mia. I promise."
The following morning, shortly after sunrise, Jenna got a knock on her door. "Hey, it's a holiday!" she glowered as she opened the door. "This had better be important!"
"Forgive me for bothering you on Christmas," the man at the door said. "Are you the one called Jenna?"
"Yes," she answered cautiously. "Who are you?"
"I am a messenger from Vault. I was sent here on behalf of a warrior by the name of Isaac. Do you know him?"
Jenna's whole face lit up. She grabbed the man's shirt. "What do you know about Isaac?! Tell me right now!"
"Please release me, my good woman," he said. She did, albeit reluctantly. He held up a scabbard. "Master Isaac ordered me to give this to you, along with this message."
By now, Garet and Felix had grown curious about the visitor and went to the door to investigate. Jenna started reading the note, which oddly wasn't in Isaac's handwriting. Her eyes watered after she finished and she looked at the messenger.
"I'm sorry to give you such grim news on a holiday."
"What's going on?" Garet asked. "Jenna?"
She handed over the note, which Garet and Felix read together. They too looked at the messenger in surprise. "Sir," Felix began. "Please explain this."
"Two days ago, Master Isaac arrived in Vault in very ill health," said the man. "He was immediately brought to the Healer, but I'm afraid he was already too sick to aid. He kept insisting that he had to get back home here to Vale, saying something about a promise he had to keep. But there was no way he could travel in his condition. So he dictated two letters to a scribe and I was ordered to bring them here to a Garet and Jenna, along with his sword."
"And Isaac's…?" Jenna couldn't bring herself to say the words.
The man nodded sadly. "He passed away very quietly last evening in our sanctum. I'm sorry."
The three shook their heads in disbelief, but thanked the messenger and sent him away. "So according to the note, Isaac wanted us to give his sword to Mia and tell her what happened," said Felix. "I suppose such news would be at least a little easier to handle coming from friends and not strangers."
"I don't believe it," Garet said. "He was in Vault! That's less than half a day from here! If we'd known, we could've gone there and…" He trailed off, tightening his hands into trembling fists.
"Come on," Jenna whispered, brushing away her tears. "We have to go tell Mia."
Mia awoke to the sound of someone knocking at the door. She was upstairs in Isaac's old bed, but strangely alone. He must be downstairs, she thought happily. The room was full of his scent and she inhaled it blissfully. She rose and pulled on her robe, picking up Isaac's scarf from the floor. Quietly, she went downstairs and answered the door.
"Jenna? Garet? Felix? What are you doing here?"
"Merry Christmas, Mia," Jenna greeted as pleasantly as she could. "May we come in?"
"Of course." Mia smiled to herself and beckoned them inside. "You'll never guess what happened last night."
"Mia," Felix began, clearing his throat. "We have something important to tell you."
"So do I," she said merrily. "Isaac's home!"
The others looked at her like she was crazy. "That's impossible," said Felix.
"No, he's really here!" She breezed through every room, but he wasn't in the house. "Well…he must've stepped out for a moment. I'm sure he'll be back soon."
Her friends looked at each other helplessly. "Mia," Jenna said slowly. "Isaac's not coming back. Not ever."
"Jenna? Don't say things like that. You sound so depressed!"
"Mia, we got a messenger from Vault this morning," said Garet. "Apparently, Isaac was on his way home, but…"
"…He was sick," Felix continued. "And the Healers couldn't do anything for him…"
"What are you saying?" Mia asked, visibly confused.
"He died last night, Mia," Jenna said quietly. She held up the scabbard. "He wanted you to have this."
Mia stared at them in disbelief. She knew what had happened last night—it hadn't been a dream! "No…" she trailed. "No, that can't be! He was here! He was really here!"
Jenna took her shoulders. "You must've dreamed it, Mia. I'm so sorry, but he's gone."
"No!" Mia cried. "I wasn't dreaming! He was here! I know he was here!" Tears were welling up in her eyes. She held up his scarf. "See? His room smells like earth again, and here's his scarf! He was here!"
Felix took the scarf. "This is Isaac's. How'd it get here?"
"He was wearing it of course!" Mia looked hysterical as she gripped Isaac's scabbard. There was a note tied to the hilt of the Gaia Blade, addressed only to her. The handwriting wasn't Isaac's, but she could almost hear him saying the words in her mind as she read it. She cried harder as she read it a second and then a third time. "No…" she whispered. "Isaac, don't leave me! You can't really be gone—you were here with me last night!" She sank into the couch.
"We're still here for you, Mia," Jenna said. "Always."
Mia looked at the note once again. The same words he'd said last night were written there at the end; I won't ever leave you alone again, Mia. I promise. How could he write that to her? He was gone and she was all alone now! Why would he make a promise he knew he couldn't keep?
And then, she felt something stirring within her. It was a spark of new life, she was sure of it. But that was completely impossible. Even if she really had been with Isaac last night, it was the wrong point in her cycle for such a thing to happen. She felt her abdomen in disbelief. No, it was there beyond any doubt. A new life growing inside of her.
The promise…she thought, smiling slightly. She hadn't dreamed that encounter last night at all. And Isaac, eternally a man of his word, had left her with a gift that would ensure a part of him would always be with her. He'd kept both of his promises.
Hope you enjoyed that, everyone! I know it's a little weird, but Christmas is the season of miracles, after all. Happy Holidays! ^_^