A/N: I know that Christmas stories aren't nearly as fun to read when it isn't actually Christmas, but I like to keep my FF .net profile mostly up to date with my AO3, and I never posted this here so...
I wrote this for the Narumayo gift exchange that the Narumayo Tumblr blog set up in December 2016. It takes place about a year after Phoenix is disbarred, so Trucy and Pearl are still younger. The prompts were Phoenix and Maya hanging out with Trucy and Pearl, and/or Mia's ghost watching over the two of them.
When Maya first invites Phoenix and Trucy to Kurain Village for Christmas, Phoenix is reluctant to accept. To him, it almost feels like she's trying to be charitable without just sending him an "anonymous" envelope full of money like usual. She never seems to remember that calling him "Nick" in the letter accompanying the money – written in what he easily recognizes as her handwriting – gives her away completely. He always did appreciate Maya's help, but he doesn't need it anymore. Things have been okay lately. His job at the Borscht Bowl Club isn't exactly glamorous, but at least he doesn't have to rely on his nine-year-old daughter's magic shows and his friend's anonymous envelopes to pay the rent anymore.
Maya has officially been the Master of the Kurain Channeling Technique for close to a year now, and she assures him that she won't allow the Elders to keep him from visiting her at her own home when she knows he's innocent of the forgery he's been accused of, but he knows that in their eyes he's nothing more than another fraudulent lawyer that their Master should not be associating with, and he doesn't want to cause Maya any problems.
It isn't until Pearl gets on the phone and begs him to visit that he reconsiders his decision to decline Maya's offer. Then Trucy overhears part of his half of the phone conversation and begins hanging off his arm, begging him to bring her to visit so she can see Pearl and Miss Maya again. It's been almost six months since the last time they all got together, and he misses them too. He never did do well when Maya would leave for training during his lawyering days, and it's even harder now that he works nights and sits around the office doing nothing but thinking about the good old days during the daytime.
So that morning he and Trucy had woken up early to open the small amount of gifts they'd given each other, along with the ones from "Santa", then packed their bags and headed to the train station. Now here he is, sitting on the bus from the train station with Trucy beside him as they make their way towards the one and only bus stop Kurain has. It's starting to snow, and Trucy has her face pressed against the bus window to watch the large flakes drift to the ground. Kurain Village is located close enough to the mountains that it gets cold and snowy during the winter months, and Trucy isn't used to the sight or feel of it.
"Wow," she breathes, her breath fogging up the window. She wipes it away before turning to smile at him. "Now I know why you made me wear all this winter stuff, Daddy."
"Mhm. It can get pretty cold out here near the mountains."
Trucy smiles slyly at him. "Your clothes aren't really warm but they are much nicer than usual." She's right, of course. He'd changed from his regular sweatpants and hoodie into something more akin to what he used to wear. Dress shirt under his coat, dress pants, no tie though, and he's still wearing the beanie that Trucy knitted. It's cold out, so it's the perfect excuse to keep it on. Plus he's found that if he covers his trademark hairstyle, people scarcely seem to recognize him anymore.
Trucy continues. "You even shaved. Why is that?"
For a nine year old she really knows too much, but he isn't about to give her any further ideas. He knows all too well that Pearl has filled Trucy's head with her "special someones" talk. He's just lucky Trucy hasn't taken to calling Maya "mommy" already.
"It's Christmas, Trucy, and I'm visiting someone else's home. It's only polite to look decent," he says.
"Whatever you say, Daddy," she turns back to the window. "But just so you know, when you lie, the corner of your mouth twitches slightly, like you're trying not to smile."
He looks away from her embarrassedly. How does he always mange to forget about that strange ability Trucy has? His answer was partially the truth though. The last thing he wants is to show up looking like he'd just walked in off the streets and give those Elders more to talk about if they see him, but he knows deep down that he wants to leave a good impression on Maya after not seeing her for half a year too.
The rest of the bus ride is quiet. There's only one other person on the bus, and she's dressed in robes similar to the acolyte training robes Maya wore before becoming Master, so he can only assume that she's a villager returning from an outing. When they finally reach the bus stop conveniently located right outside of Fey Manor, Trucy starts waving through the window. Phoenix peers around her and sees little Pearl waving back from outside, a huge grin on her face.
He lets the woman on the bus off first then grabs his and Trucy's luggage from the overhead compartment and follows her off. Pearl is there to greet him right away with a hug around the waist, and when she looks up at him he can swear he sees unshed tears shining in her eyes.
"I missed you so much, Mr. Nick! I'm so glad you decided to come."
He kneels on the cold ground to return her hug. "I missed you too, Pearls."
Pearl swipes at her eyes and turns to Trucy next to grab the younger girl in a hug too. "It's so great to see you again, Trucy!"
Trucy is beaming. "This is going to be so fun!"
Pearl nods happily and turns back toward the manor. "Come on, bring your stuff inside. I'll show you to your rooms. Mystic Maya is just finishing up her last channeling!"
Phoenix drags their small suitcase behind them and follows Pearl up the stairs to the manor. He's glad there aren't many people around to see him since he's still not used to the stares he gets from almost everyone in the village, just because he's a man in a village made up almost entirely of women. He's never even seen another man in the village, but Maya has assured him in the past that there are some, somewhere, apparently.
"Maya is channeling on Christmas?" he asks, shutting the door behind him. "Doesn't she ever take any breaks?"
"She doesn't like to decline clients since Kurain Village is still regaining its reputation," Pearl explains. "But she should be done soon, and she told the Elders that she feels spiritually drained and wants to take the rest of the day off. I think she really just wants to spend the day with you, since you haven't visited us in so long." He can almost hear a hint of irritation in her voice as she says this.
"You know why I don't visit you more often, Pearls."
"Yeah, I know," she says, then turns to him to show off her smile. "I'm just glad you're here now. Come on, the rooms are this way."
The manor is just as big as he remembers, and Maya has decorated it for Christmas, including a large Christmas tree (with gifts underneath of it, he notes) in the main living area that they pass as they make their way down the hall towards the guest bedrooms. This side of the manor is Maya and Pearl's personal living quarters, so it's more cozy and homey than the channeling chamber and Winding Way are. There's no shortage of rooms to choose from, and Pearl shows them each into one where they leave their luggage and remove their coats. Phoenix removes the beanie too, knowing full well that Maya isn't a fan of it, and fluffs out the back of his hair.
"Do you want anything to drink while you wait for Mystic Maya?" Pearl asks as she leads them back to the living area where they sit on the couch. "We have hot chocolate or tea or coffee," Pearl says, listing off the drinks on her fingers.
"I'll have a hot chocolate!" Trucy says quickly.
Phoenix waves a hand. "I'm okay, Pearls, thanks. How much longer will she be?"
"She should be done any minute now," Pearl says, biting her thumb. "There's no way she'd give the client any extra time today of all days."
"You're right about that Pearly!" That unmistakeable voice makes them all turn. Maya is shutting the side door she'd come in behind her, then beams up at them. "NICK!"
He stands up to receive her, not expecting her to start running, but he manages to brace himself just before she flings herself into his arms, forcing him to turn with the force of her impact, lifting her right off the ground. He sets her back down, but her arms stay around his neck and he makes no move to remove his from around her waist. She presses her cheek to his chest and he can faintly smell whatever shampoo she uses, and it's almost nostalgic; it reminds him of all those nights spent cuddled together on the couch in the office watching her Steel Samurai DVDs. It isn't until this moment that he realizes just how much he'd missed her. He doesn't want to let her go. She seems to share this feeling, as she stands there for a solid minute before she finally pulls away just enough to look up at him.
"You shaved." They're the first words out of her mouth but it's such a Maya thing to say that he can't help flashing her a grin.
"Well, last time you saw me you made a point of asking if I'd sold all my razors for money, because I was starting to look like that homeless guy you used to give change to at the intersection outside the office."
Maya snickers and removes her arms from his neck, using the action to stealthily run her thumb against his now smooth jawline. The action doesn't go unnoticed by him, but he says nothing. He lets his arms drop from her waist and she takes a step away from him, looking him up and down. "You even dressed up. Have I ever told you that you clean up well?"
"Me? Look at you," he says, gesturing to her outfit. "You wear that to channel in?"
She smirks and runs her hands down her sides to smooth out the fabric of the dress she's wearing instead of the Master's robes he'd been expecting. The new Master's robes made Maya look more mature and almost regal in a way, from what he remembers of her induction ceremony, which is the only time he's seen her in them. The dress she's wearing now isn't revealing; it's red with a round neck that doesn't show off much cleavage, and long sleeves and a flared skirt that reaches her knees, but it still makes her look more mature, more like the 21 year old she is, not the childish teenager he'd known for so long. She looks so pretty he has to consciously stop himself from staring at her.
"Of course I don't wear this to channel in, silly," she says. "I changed into it when I was done. Since it's Christmas, I felt like wearing something nicer than usual. You like?"
"Y-Yeah, you look great."
Maya's lips stick out in a slight pout for a brief second as if she's not totally satisfied with that answer, but she turns toward Pearl and Trucy without saying anything further. Phoenix follows her gaze to see them both gazing starry eyed at their guardians' reunion. Maya puts her hands on her hips. "I heard you talking about hot chocolate, Pearly. I'd like some. With whipped cream and marshmallows, please."
Pearl straightens up. "Oh yeah! I'll be right back!" She hurries off down the hall to retrieve the drinks, and Maya uses this time to envelope Trucy in a hug too.
"It's been too long, Trucy! I hope you like Kurain Village. I know we're out in the middle of nowhere and don't have a great internet connection. I'm trying to bring the village into the 21st century, but it's slow going."
"It's no problem, Miss Maya! I'm just glad Daddy agreed to come. He missed you, you know."
"Did he now?" Maya turns to Phoenix and raises an eyebrow. He blushes and shrugs, trying to convey a 'kids say the darnedest things' look. Maya turns back to address Trucy. "Well, I missed him too. And you of course."
Trucy smiles and glances down the hall where Pearl had disappeared to. "Miss Maya, if you don't mind, may I go help Pearl out in the kitchen?"
"Sure, go ahead. I'll be here with your dad, playing catch up."
Trucy scurries away, leaving Maya and Phoenix alone for the first time in six months. She sits down on the couch and crosses her legs, patting the cushion beside her in invitation.
"You know, I really did miss you," he says as he takes a seat next to her. "Even with Trucy around, the office is so quiet without you."
"Maybe you should visit more often if you miss me so much."
"You already know why I don't, Maya. I'm taking a risk just coming here for Christmas, but I know that he's out of the country and back in Germany for his own holiday, so it should be safe."
She drums her fingers against her leg. "I still think you're just being paranoid about that."
"It's better to be safe than sorry. I don't know what I'd do if something happened to you or Pearls."
"Alright, if you say so. Sorry for bringing it up." She slaps her hand against her thigh. "I just want to just enjoy this, like old times, so forget I said anything."
He smiles, grateful that she seems to understand his concern. It doesn't take them much time to fall into a comfortable conversation. With Maya, no matter how much time has passed, things are never awkward between them. He mostly talks about Trucy and work, and Maya has a lot to say about the intense training she's still doing despite already being Master, and the Elders' insistence that she get married and produce an heir already. Phoenix tries to ignore the feeling of dread that settles into his stomach when she mentions that, and tells himself he's just being protective of her like he always has been. He just doesn't want her to get hurt. She quickly veers the conversation away from that anyway, as if sensing his discomfort, and goes on to talk about the last time she snuck out of the village to take an hour long train ride to the closest fast food restaurant instead.
Halfway through her story, she stops and looks around. "Wait. Haven't Pearly and Trucy been taking an awful long time just to get hot chocolate?"
He'd been so absorbed in their conversation that he hadn't even noticed. "You're right. They're probably just catching up like we are."
"Or plotting some way to get us together," Maya says. "I'm really sorry about Pearly getting Trucy all on board with her special someones talk."
He shrugs. "It's fine. I can kind of understand it. I mean, Trucy doesn't have a mom and she's constantly asking me when I'm going to get her a new mommy, and she really likes you, so I guess it makes sense she'd be on board with Pearls."
Maya smiles. "Well, she's welcome to come to me with any girl issues she can't talk to her dad about, but I don't expect that for a few years yet."
"Thanks, Maya. I'm sure she'll appreciate it when the time comes, too. Maybe we should go check on them though… Just in case."
He stands up first and gives her a hand up, then follows her to the kitchen, all the while attempting not to look at the swishing of her dress and her shapely legs under it. Why was she wearing that anyway when he was the only one visiting her? Sure it was Christmas but was his visit really hot red dress worthy? The thought that she could be wanting to impress him after six months the way he wants to make a good impression on her never even crosses his mind.
Before they get to the door, Phoenix can hear Pearl and Trucy talking in hushed whispers and giggling, and when he and Maya step through the doorway, it ceases immediately. "Miss Maya! Daddy!" Trucy's hands go behind her back, and Phoenix gets a quick glimpse at something she's trying to hide, but when she brings her hands in front of her again, it's gone. Her sleight of hand is getting better every day.
"You two are taking an awful long time in here," Maya says.
Pearl smiles innocently. "Sorry, Mystic Maya. We got distracted talking. Here's your hot chocolate," she says, gesturing to the steaming cup on the counter. "We were thinking about baking cookies. Do you and Mr. Nick want to help us?"
"We'd better," Phoenix says. "I'm not sure I trust the two of you in the kitchen."
"Oh, Daddy," Trucy says, waving her hand. "You can't cook very well either, you know."
He puts a hand over his heart in mock hurt. "Truce… You've never said anything about my cooking skills before."
Maya nudges him with her elbow. "Come on, Nick. There's a reason I used to make you buy me so many burgers besides the fact that I love them. You were never a good cook."
"I'm hurt, Maya."
She giggles. "Well, technically if we're making cookies we'll be baking, so I guess it's possible you might be a good baker?"
He rolls his sleeves up, and Pearl passes them both an apron, which they pull over their heads and assist each other in tying. "I guess we'll find out."
"Come on, Nick. Put what little muscle you have into it."
"For your information, Maya, I work out a lot more nowadays. If anything I've bulked up since last time you saw me."
"Pfft. Whatever you say. It's clearly not doing much for you, that dough is nowhere near mixed enough."
Phoenix hefts the bowl up on his hip a bit more. "It's your fault for not owning an electric mixer."
Trucy peeks around him to look into the bowl. "There's still chunks in it, Daddy."
"I'm trying here, Truce, give me a break."
Pearl looks around from his other side and tsks. "Mr. Nick, give me that bowl." She rolls up her sleeves, takes the bowl and wooden spoon from him, and begins furiously mixing the ingredients together. Within a few minutes the dough is sticky and ready for placing on the cookie sheet.
As soon as Pearl has set the bowl back on the counter, Maya dips her hand into it and comes out with a chunk of dough, which she takes a bite of.
"Maya, you shouldn't eat raw cookie dough. It has raw eggs in it, you could get sick."
Maya squints at him and makes a show of enjoying it even more. "You really are starting to sound like an old man, Nick."
"I wanna try some!" Trucy says, reaching into the bowl and grabbing her own glob. Pearl follows suit, and soon enough all three girls are munching on their dough and chewing up the chocolate chips in it. As delicious as it looks, Phoenix is determined to stick to his belief that it's not good for him, and refuses to give in. Instead he starts rolling the dough and placing it on the cookie sheet for baking. When Maya is finished her chunk, she moves to stand beside him, practically pressing her side against his, in order to assist. They're quiet as they roll the dough, taking turns dipping their hands into the bowl, not saying anything when their hands continuously brush together.
Trucy and Pearl are just finishing their globs of dough when they finish placing the last of it. Maya turns from the counter and leans back on it. "Cookies are going in the oven now," she says as Phoenix bends to slide them into the preheated oven. "What should we do while we wait for them?"
"Presents!" Pearl all but yells.
Trucy's face lights up. "There are presents?!"
"Of course, Trucy!" Maya says. "I wouldn't invite you here for Christmas without getting you a little something."
Phoenix stands up and looks at Maya disapprovingly. "I thought we agreed to no presents?"
Before Maya can respond, Trucy puts her hands on her hips and huffs at him. "Daddy, don't pretend to be mad! You and me both know that we brought Pearl and Miss Maya presents too!"
"Aaw, you got me something, Nick?"
He crosses his arms. "Maybe."
"Well then what are we waiting for?"
Trucy and Phoenix head to the guest bedrooms to their luggage where they'd stored their gifts away. There were two for Pearl and two for Maya, that Trucy knew about. He discreetly tucked the third gift for Maya further into the bag where Trucy wouldn't find it. He was saving that one.
When they arrive back in the living room, Maya and Pearl are seated on the couch, a blanket pulled up over their legs and their gifts on the coffee table in front of them. He and Trucy find their own spots and set their presents on the table with the gifts from Maya and Pearl.
"Who goes first?" Maya asks.
"We can all go at the same time," Phoenix says, noting Maya's expectant look.
None of the girls need much prompting, and tear into their gifts eagerly, as does he. They exchange hugs with each other and their guardians after each gift. By the time they're all finished their thank you's and checking out their respective gifts, the timer in the kitchen is going off.
Pearl looks up from her gifts. "Mr. Nick, can you and Mystic Maya get the cookies? It's hot so it'd be better for adults to do it, right Trucy?"
Phoenix can almost swear he sees Pearl wink subtly at Trucy, and suspects there's a reason she wants them gone from the room, but she is right. He and Maya head into the kitchen together to remove the cookies from the oven.
"Aah they smell so good," Maya says, inhaling deeply and grabbing a pair of oven mitts hanging over the counter. She hands them over to Phoenix and gestures at the oven. "You go ahead."
"What do you think they're planning anyway?" he asks as he bends to open the oven.
Maya puts her finger to her chin in thought. "Who knows. Let's just roll with it, whatever it is, okay? I don't want them feeling bad on Christmas."
"Yeah, alright." He sets the cookie tray on the counter on top of some cooling racks. "It's probably something embarrassing though."
"Well, it's not like you aren't used to public humiliation. You do play piano at a bar… if what you do could even be called 'playing'."
"Gee, thanks, Maya."
She grins and takes a still hot cookie from the tray. "It's true though, and you know it. You know even if you only took a few lessons, you might at least get good enough to not get booed every night."
"I don't get booed every night."
"Oh right, on the nights you're doing your real job, huh?"
"Yeah. On those nights, I actually feel pretty good."
"Still undefeated, huh?"
"So far, but there've been a few close calls."
She bites into the cookie and chews for a minute, then swallows. "So it's just like when you were a lawyer. A few close calls, but you always won."
"Pretty much." He doesn't tell her about his recent thoughts about bringing Trucy with him to help, Maya surely wouldn't approve, but Trucy's ability could come in handy. "Put some of those cookies on a plate and let's head back in there."
"You're in a hurry. You're really scared they're up to something aren't you?"
She shrugs. "Not particularly, but fine." She grabs a plate and puts a few cookies each on it. "Let's go."
He follows her back to the living room, and Pearl and Trucy are giggling again. Pearl looks up when she sees them enter and holds out her hand. "Stop!"
"What's wrong?" he says as Maya walks up with her plate of cookies and stands beside him.
"Mr. Nick, take one more step forward. Mystic Maya, you too." They both comply without argument. "Okay, now look up."
They both raise their eyes to look above the doorway, where a sprig of mistletoe is hanging above them. Phoenix squints at it. The ceiling is so high here, he has no idea how on earth they managed to get it up there in such a short amount of time. That must have been what Trucy was hiding earlier.
"Is that what I think it is?" Maya says. She sounds almost amused.
Trucy nods happily. "You know what you have to do now, right? It's tradition, and it's bad luck if you don't."
Phoenix looks back at his daughter. "Who says it's bad luck? I've never heard that."
"Well, I read in one of the old books in Kurain's library that it brings good luck and wards off evil spirits! With all the channeling we do here, that's a good precaution. So you have to kiss, it's just the right thing to do," Pearl says, nodding sagely.
Maya snorts from beside him. "Alright, whatever. Come here, Nick."
"What? You don't want to kiss me? Is there something wrong with me?"
"No, that's not it, but-" Before he can say anymore, she puts the hand not still holding the plate of cookies on his shoulder and stands on her tip toes to place a quick kiss on his cheek, lingering for just a second. The corner of her lips just barely graze his, and he can already feel his face reddening. "Maya…"
"There. That wasn't so bad, was it?" she says when she pulls back.
She's smirking slightly, like she knows exactly how flustered this is making him. He looks away. "I suppose not..."
"Nick, you're blushing," she says, reaching up to poke his cheek.
Pearl and Trucy are practically squealing over by the couch. "You sort of cheated, Mystic Maya," Pearl says. "That wasn't a real kiss, but we'll take what we can get."
"Nngh. Do you guys want cookies, or not?" Phoenix says, taking the plate from Maya and walking over to the younger girls.
"Yes please, Daddy!"
"Thanks, Mr. Nick."
Maya makes her way over and helps herself to another cookie too. "Dinner will be later so we can have these now. I pulled some strings as the Master and managed to convince our chef to make dinner for us, so long as she got a plate to take home, so we can do something else while we wait for that."
"Let's go play in the snow! I'm not really used to the snow, so I'd like to go outside in it," Trucy suggests. "As long as it's okay with you guys."
Phoenix shifts in his spot. "I don't see why not. Aren't there paths and stuff here, Maya?"
"Yeah, tons of them. They're really pretty during the winter too."
Trucy grins at Pearl. "We're gonna have a snowball fight, so you better be ready."
"Aren't you cold, Maya?"
She looks down at her jacket, which is just as long as her dress, and her boots only reach the middle of her shin. Her legs are bare otherwise, but she shakes her head. "I'm used to the cold. Freezing waterfalls, remember, Nick?"
"Ah, yes. I guess a few flurries aren't going to phase you."
"Exactly. Plus, I do have you here to keep me warm," she says, grabbing his arm and nuzzling into his side as they sit together on one of the benches in Kurain's only park. It's a nature park, so there aren't any swing sets or jungle gyms one would expect at a park, but Trucy and Pearl don't seem to mind. They're busy building a snowman a few feet away from their guardians. "You know I hate that hat though, right?"
He smirks. He'd put it back on for their trek outdoors and was just waiting for Maya to mention it. "So? What makes you think I'm trying to impress you here? Trucy made it for me so I like wearing it."
Maya lowers her voice. "Nick, just because your kid makes you something, doesn't mean you have to wear it. You just say thank you and then put it in the back of your winter closet, underneath all of the other mittens and hats."
He laughs. "Wow, Maya. Really?"
He turns to look down at her, and she's grinning up at him. "That's not nice, you know."
"I'm sorry. I love Trucy, but that hat! It covers your hair…"
"And? You always made fun of my hair anyway!"
She purses her lips. "Well, now I can't make fun of it as easily because it's all covered up and flattened out! But also, you look more like Nick with that spiky hair." He never has been able to say no to Maya, so he reaches up and pulls it off. She grins and reaches up herself to run her fingers through the back of his hair. It rises into his signature spikes again almost on its own. "Yeah, that's my Nick."
"What would you think if I said I prefer you in your spirit medium outfit with that topknot of yours?"
"I'd say you're a liar. Why would you prefer that over this?" she says, gesturing to herself. "Well, under the coat. You know what I mean. An ugly hat isn't the same thing as a really nice red dress, so don't even pretend."
"Okay, but what if it makes you seem more like my Maya? I'm really not used to seeing you dressed any differently. Why did you wear that tonight anyway?"
"Why did you shave and wear something other than sweatpants?" she says, throwing his question right back at him.
He sighs and looks back out at Trucy and Pearl. Their snowman is half built, but it seems they've lost interest, and are lobbing snowballs at each other now. He looks back down at Maya, ready to answer her, when a snowball hits him square in the face. Luckily it's not very hard and breaks apart easily so it doesn't hurt, but a few chunks of it slip into his collar and down his shirt, causing him to tense up at the coldness as it melts against his skin.
Maya's mouth is open in shock and she looks to Trucy and Pearl. Pearl's hands are up over her mouth, but Trucy is grinning. "Sorry, Daddy! I was aiming for your chest!"
Phoenix swipes a hand over his face to get rid of the excess snow and reaches down to the ground to scoop up some of his own, his arm slipping from Maya's grip. He stands up as he packs the snow into a ball. "You girls are in for it now. You better find some cover. Maya, you're on my team."
She jumps up from her spot. "Oh, you guys are going down."
Pearl and Trucy run for the nearest bushes, giggling like mad.
Half an hour later, Phoenix and Maya are finally starting to tire out. They're crouched behind some bushes of their own, breathing heavily and covered in snow. "Why did we challenge little kids to a snowball fight?" Maya says. "They're never going to get tired of this!"
"Hm. Let's call a temporary truce, and I'll head over into enemy territory to see if we can work out a deal."
He nods seriously. "Fine."
Maya stands up, waving her hands to show she's not holding any ammunition. Trucy pops up from behind her own bush. "What's going on?"
"We want to call a temporary truce!" Maya calls. "Can I approach so we can talk this out?"
Trucy nods, but she looks suspicious. Maya approaches slowly and heads behind the bushes with the two girls. Phoenix kneels and waits, listening intently, but they must be whispering because he can't hear a thing. Minutes pass, and still no sign of Maya returning.
"Maya? Are you okay? Do you need assistance?" he calls, lifting his head to peer over the hedge. No reply, and no movement from the other side. He hesitantly steps out from behind his cover to approach, when three snowballs fly over the bushes and hit him in multiple spots. Still reeling from that, the girls, Maya included, run out from behind them to jump him.
They fall into a pile in the snow, Phoenix on the bottom. "Ow. W-Why, Maya? You traitor!"
"Sorry, Nick. It was the only way to end this, and we girls have to stick together."
Trucy throws her arms around his neck. "Sorry, Daddy."
He manages to sit up with Trucy around his neck and Pearl in his lap. Maya's beside him, kneeling in the snow. "Okay, Maya. You can't tell me you're not cold now."
"Yeah, I won't lie. My legs are freezing. What time is it now anyway?"
He pulls up the sleeve of his jacket to look at his watch. "Almost 6. No wonder it's starting to get dark out."
"Dinner should be just about finished so we should probably head back now," Maya says. Trucy and Pearl climb off of him and help their guardians up. All four of them brush off the snow as best they can, but they're all covered in it and wet too. Maya shivers. "Let's hurry."
After dinner and a change of clothes into pajamas, they all retire to the living room again where Maya's found some old Christmas specials playing on the TV, but Pearl and Trucy are so tired that they fall asleep before the first one is even over, and Phoenix and Maya spend most of their time talking instead of paying attention to the show. Eventually, Maya looks down and finally seems to notice Pearl asleep on her lap. Trucy is on Phoenix's other side, leaning against him and snoring away.
"You think maybe we should get these two to bed now?" she says.
Maya, despite being small herself, manages to lift Pearl into her arms, and Phoenix grabs Trucy. Neither of them stir much. Maya heads to Pearl's bedroom and he goes to Trucy's guest room. When he lays her down on the bed, her eyes finally flutter open.
"Hey, Truce. You fell asleep."
She slides herself under the covers and turns over to face him. "Are you and Miss Maya going to bed too?"
"No, not yet."
She smiles. "Daddy?"
"Are you going to give Miss Maya that other present I saw? It was so nicely wrapped…"
He had no idea Trucy had seen it, and he's glad she never said anything about it earlier. "Yeah, I am."
"Good. You love Miss Maya, don't you?"
"She's my friend, Trucy…"
She just smiles knowingly. "Your mouth is doing that twitchy thing again."
Phoenix heads back to the living room after a stop in his own room to grab the gift Trucy had talked about, which he'd put in his pocket. Maya comes back and plops herself down beside him, able to move in closer now that the kids are gone. She flips the TV channel, finally landing on a very old black and white version of A Christmas Carol, where she leaves it.
She leans back and pulls the blanket over them. "You know, Nick, I always sort of found this movie scary."
She shrugs. "It's all about ghosts."
"But the ghosts are kind of like the good guys. They teach Scrooge not to be such a greedy person anymore."
"Yeah, but they still scare me. They're creepy, especially the last one."
"I guess I can't argue with that."
She nods. "Right. I'll still watch it though, since you're here." She scoots closer, lifting his arm to tuck herself under it. "It's been so long since we've just watched TV together. I miss it so much sometimes. I miss being your assistant and coming into the office every day and staying with you in your apartment." She sighs wistfully. "Now I have so many responsibilities here I hardly ever get the time to leave, and you have to work extra hard now for Trucy."
He squeezes her shoulders gently. "I miss it too. I would never give Trucy up for anything, she's the one good thing that came out of that whole forgery mess, but I do miss being a lawyer, and I miss you and Pearls constantly being around, too. I know Trucy would love it if you guys came around more."
There isn't really a better time than now, so he leans back a bit to dig around in his pocket, trying to find the small box, and finally pulls it out. He holds it out to her, and she looks down at it, confused. "What is that?"
He laughs. "Maya, it's for you."
"B-But I already opened my presents."
"It's something extra."
"Why? You didn't have to."
He nudges it into her hands. "I know I didn't. I wanted to."
She takes it from him with shaky hand. It's small, wrapped in solid red paper and topped with some curly golden ribbons. She carefully and slowly tears the paper from the bottom and pulls it off, then opens the box. "Nick… It's so pretty." Inside is a locket, rounded oval shape made of rose gold. She pulls it out of the box carefully.
"Open it." She clicks it open, one side of the locket has a picture of her, Phoenix and Pearl at the Berry Big Circus, almost three years ago now. The other side is still empty. "I thought you could put a picture of Mia in the other side," he says. "I didn't have any good pictures of her though, so I left it empty."
She nods. "So I can keep you all with me, no matter how far away we are or how much I miss you."
"We'll have to take a new picture soon to include Trucy."
"I'm sure she'd be happy to be included."
She smiles up at him. "Thank you, I love it. Will you put it on for me?" She hands it over to him and turns slightly, pulling her hair back and lifting it off of her shoulders so he can fasten it around her neck. Once it's hanging freely around her neck, she picks it up to look at it again. "Nick… I kind of want to kiss you again. For real this time." She turns to him, a slight blush creeping across her cheeks, but she manages to keep eye contact. "Can I?"
He reaches forward to brush a strand of hair away from her face and rests his hand on her neck beneath her ear. "I wish you would, Maya."
She pulls him to her by the back of the neck to press her lips against his. It starts off slow and gentle, chaste even. He can taste the lipgloss she's wearing and has to wonder if she had reapplied it before coming back to the living room. It quickly turns into frantic deep kisses caused by the years of want between them.
"Nick…" Maya leans back to catch her breath, her hands still resting against his chest.
He rests his forehead against hers. "What is it?"
"I - I think we should go to bed."
He pulls back a little, raising an eyebrow. He doesn't want to rush her into anything, but it seems a weird thing to say all of a sudden, in the middle of what has essentially turned into a make out session. "Oh, okay. That's fine."
She throws the blanket off of herself and gets up. He follows her, stretching and yawning. He is pretty tired himself actually. They head down the hallway together towards the bedrooms. When he gets to his, he stops, and Maya turns around.
"Well, goodnight, Maya."
"Oh, Nick. You are such a gentleman. Either that or you're just dense." She comes forward and takes his hand. "I didn't mean we should go to sleep." She pulls on his hand, yanking him further down the hall towards the Master's chambers.
"Are you sure, Maya?" he says when he finally realizes what she means. She's right, he really is dense. He doesn't feel so tired anymore though.
"I've never been more sure of anything," she says.
He doesn't protest when she opens the door and drags him inside.