A/N: I promise that I haven't abandoned Persistence of Memory. I swear I will finish it -- someday. I'm just busy and discouraged. Look for a new bit soon, though, and, in the interim, have a mostly angst-free and gorgeously cliché-filled Christmas story. It contains far too much Amarant grousing, cheesiness, and indecisive yeah-ing for its own good.

Just So Long
by Katharine Frost

*

Christmas Day will always be, just so long as we have we.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas

*


Stupid me.

I'd thought that the Black Mage Village, of all places, would be a safe haven. I tried those dwarves last year and that certainly didn't work, although even I have to admit that it was pretty impressive that those short bastards managed to throw up a twelve-foot tree.

Lani's a nightmare round this time, as though her brain gets supercharged with bouncy cheer, and you know how I hate that. And I just bet everyone else is as bad. I once witnessed Zidane Tribal, Prince or King or whatever of Alexandria, hanging ornaments with his tail. Add that to the list of things I do not need to see again.

They've given up trying on me, I think. For the last five years I've dodged invites and well-meaning ambassadors. Last year they sent Quina, which I assume means they're in the dregs.

So here I am in the Black Mage Village, holing up for the time being, except the bloody Black Mages seem to have gotten into the Christmas spirit. I'm looking outside the window – the curtain's pulled back a bit and no that's not creepy or hermit-ish or antisocial at all – and there are lights everywhere. Not just regular ones, either, but genuine homemade Black Mage lights, magically lit and blinking, but still certifiably a headache. Oh, and Bobby Corwen's running around dressed like a reindeer.

A chocobo with goddamn antlers tied to its head. Please kill me now.

Too late to go anywhere else, really. It's snowing up here – it rarely does, but Mother Nature seems determined to kick my ass this year – and I'd probably freeze to death going to Conde Petie. And, as I said, Conde Petie ain't a whole lot better. In two days the whole sorry mess will be over with and I'll safe for another year.

Are they singing carols out there? Black Mages and Genomes singing carols out in the middle of town in the middle of the afternoon. Hello, and welcome to the Christmas of the Fucking Surreal. I didn't know Black Mages could sing. They don't even have mouths, for God's sake.

Now I bet you've got some theories worked out by now, this far in. Did I have a traumatic Christmas as a child? New toys wrecked by a murderous Santa Claus? Absent father, drunken mother? Nope. Did I lose someone very important to me on Christmas Day? Long nights spent wondering and grieving while the rest of the world played in the snow? Strike two, buddy. Or do I have a religious objection? Am I member of the Cult of the Great and Exalted Gysahl Pickle? I can't take this whole Christmas thing? Not that, either.

The truth is, I hate Christmas because I'm a goddamn miserable person.

It's a hard thing, really, coming to terms with the fact that you're a miserable person, but, after you do, it's great. People don't expect anything out of you but glares and snide comments. You don't have to buy gifts for anyone. The economic sensibilities of it alone are well worth it; really, the whole useless crap exchange that goes around this time of year should just be banned altogether.

Is that a skating pond they have going? Holy hell.

Another thing that's rubbish about Christmas is that you're practically expected to suck up to everyone you know. Forget your squabbles and engage in comfort and joy and all that ridiculous stuff. Which is absolutely stupid because—

Shit. Someone knocking on my door. If there are carolers on the doorstep – and I mean this – I will have an apoplexy. But it's not carolers, it's just Mikoto, wearing a purple parka that looks ridiculous on her. "Someone's here to see you," she says in her monotone Genome voice, and then I look past her to see who it is.

Holy hell. Again.

And in comes Freya Crescent, Dragon Knight of Burmecia (though I think she's Knight Captain by now, hurrah for default) wearing her red coat and a ridiculous girly little pink scarf.

If this wasn't the Christmas of the Surreal before, it sure is now. I haven't seen her for a year and a half, and now she's standing in my rented messy living room, damp from the snow and giving me a sly smile that tells me she's up to something. Hell. I thought they'd given up last year with the whole Quina thing.

This is like putting your best soldier behind the gimpy-legged drummer boy.

So what do I say? This certainly classifies as awkward. Maybe even in the Top Ten Awkward Moments of the Life of Amarant Coral, narrowly edged out by being proven wrong by Zidane in that bloody castle. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a runner-up. "How'd you get here?" Lame, lame, lame.

"Blue Narciss," she says coolly. She removes her hat and looks around for a place to wring it out; she strides over to the sink. "Then I walked – well, mostly I Jumped, there's a lot of snow and I don't like getting my feet wet. You're supposed to come with me to Alexandria. Christmas party. You're invited."

I sink into a chair and give her a death glare. "You people never give up."

"Happy Christmas to you, too, Amarant," she says tartly, sticking her wrung-out hat back on her head. It slumps down, making her look messy. "We'll continue bargaining in a moment; for now, I've got to get the water out of the rest of my clothes." And she walks into the bathroom like she owns it and shuts the door.

I bet you're wondering what that was all about.

So the last time I saw Freya. Yeah. We were in Lindblum. Everyone was there, some sort of conference bullshit about honouring the eight of us with some statue thing. I slept through most of it. And afterwards I may have gotten a bit tipsy. Actually, scratch that. I was hammered out of my mind. And I came back up to the castle and she was still awake in the drawing-room and I sat next to her on one of the big sofas, and I may have been half out of it already because I somehow ended up with my head on her lap, her little clawed fingers working through my hair and her lecturing me on temperance, and I looked up and there was this half-amused, half-annoyed look on her face, in her lovely green eyes, and it was dim in the room, and late and red and lit by candles, and I told her I loved her.

And then I think I instantly passed out. Smooth.

I mean, I didn't mean that. I don't mean things like that. That's not the way I am. Amarant Coral does not say things like that. Sure, Freya was the most tolerable of the people on our little quest, but when your competition is Quina and Eiko, that's not saying much. Sometimes at night we would sit by the fire while everyone else slept in tents. She was often sleepless. She told me about Sir Fratley but that doesn't mean much because she'll run her mouth off about that guy to anyone with half an ear. Stupid git. So maybe the sum total of our nighttime conversations are the most I've ever talked to anyone, but that doesn't really mean anything. Except that Freya Crescent doesn't know how to shut up.

So, yeah. The next morning she was gone, back to Burmecia to see the aforementioned stupid git. Didn't even give me the chance to tell her I didn't mean it, which stuck in my craw because it sort of left it all out there.

She comes out of the bathroom, looking more rumpled but less soaked. "I'm not going," I say instantly.

"I knew you would say that." She sits down on one of my kitchen chairs, plunks her large carrying bag on my floor. Women and their goddamn purses. "So I'm leaving you with a choice of sorts. Either you come to Alexandria right now and celebrate the holidays with people who consider you their friend, or I stay here and annoy you until you agree to do it." Her voice softens, just a little. "They are worried about you."

The softness doesn't work. No one – absolutely no one – gives an ultimatum to Amarant Coral and gets away with it. "I don't think so," I say in a half-snarl. "Here's a new option: you get out now or I pick you up and throw you out."

"That's what I thought," she answers. She picks up her massive bag and starts riffling through it, removing items of clothing and folding them on a neat stack on my kitchen table.

"What the hell are you doing?"

"Waiting for you to pick me up and throw me out."

Damn her, she knows I won't do that. One, I don't want to touch her. Bottom line. Not at all. Two, she is strong. She can put up a fight even though she doesn't look it. "Well, you're going to have to stay anyway," I grumble. "No way I'm trekking all the way out to the coast in this snow."

"It should clear up by tomorrow. We can leave then," she says blithely. I open my mouth to protest, but before I could she picks something out of her bag and tosses it at me. It hits my chest and bounces into my lap.

I pick it up; it's a wrapped box. "What's this?"

"Don't tell me you've never gotten a Christmas present." She rolls her eyes. "Strictly I know it's early, but I thought it might sweeten the deal a bit. You know, Zidane and Dagger and the rest have gifts waiting for you, too."

Bloody sentimental simps. I sure as hell didn't get anything for anyone. "I can't be bribed," I mumble, but already I'm curious. She's wrong about me never getting presents – Lani presents me with some garish and tasteless bauble every year; this year it was a ceramic chocobo mug that's sure to end up forgotten somewhere – but I'm curious to see what Freya Crescent thinks I would like. I bet it's something snarky. Dryly snarky, that'd be her. I open it, leaving the paper messy on the floor. It's a–

A dragoon boot?

And not just any dragoon boot. This has to be the oddest looking dragoon boot ever, all red and green and striped, and I reckon if I ever saw a lancer wearing this thing I'd laugh my head off and then kick his ass.

"It's a Burmecian thing," she says primly, seeing my look of confusion. "You're to leave it at the foot of your bed Christmas Eve, and if it's filled with gifts when you wake, you've been good." She pulled a similar thing out of her bag, except this one was even worse, covered in very loud, very pink puffballs. "I brought mine, too."

"That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard."

"A thank you would have sufficed," she says.

"Thank you," I say grudgingly, though I still don't see the point of one boot.

She goes over to the window, pulls aside the curtain. For some reason the image sticks in my head, her looking out the window, night falling, starlight on her face and all that. "The Black Mages seem to have gotten into the spirit."

"Yeah."

"I just bet you hate it."

"Yeah."

"As ever, you are a conversational savant." She gives a little mock bow with her head and sighs. "For God's sake, Amarant – it's Christmas Eve. You could have at least thrown some lights up."

"Don't like lights."

She nods, as though seriously considering this. "Yes, I can see how it'd be in direct contrast to your love of hiding in shadows," she says loftily, but then she shoots a look at me that probably would kill a lesser man (and I won't give examples of lesser men, but a certain memory-impaired nitwit comes to mind first). "I'm going to sleep."

"You're on the sofa."

"That's not very gentlemanly," she says, but now she's joking, and it's a relief.

"Look who you're talking to."

*

I'll tell you a secret. I haven't slept well for some time. I guess that's appropriate. You can't be moody and brooding without having insomnia, can you? Long angsty walks over treacherous terrain just aren't as effective by sunlight. I've tried a lot of things, from sleeping upside down to hot tea at night to counting chocobos jumping over fences. Nothing works.

So a lot of my sleep time gets eaten up by weird thoughts. Christmas tomorrow. I'm long past the stage where I stay up to listen for reindeer on the roof but I do still have the time to construct elaborate fantasies while I lay in bed. I wonder how the Black Mages would react to me tearing down all their decorations in the middle of the night. Let's see them sing after that.

Heh. Insomnia ain't so bad.

It's night now, the middle of the night, the part I like the best. The thing about the Black Mage Village is that it gets so misted up in the wintertime that you can't even see the starlight, and everything's pitch black. I like not being able to see while I sleep – or, to put it better, while I try to sleep. The result is a foggy sort of darkness, like you're caught in someone breathing and it's cool and mysterious – and what did I tell you about my sleep time getting eaten up by weird thoughts?

I hear my bedroom door creak open and I secretly look up and there's Freya standing in the doorway, barely visible in the dark. What's she doing in here? And for some reason I can't breathe right now and I should be on the defensive but here's Freya Crescent coming into my bedroom in the middle of the night and what the hell is she—

Oh, for God's sake. She's filling up the stupid boot.

"I'm not asleep," I grumble.

"Oh!" She jumps backward in surprise, then reaches over and turns on the lantern. "You could have at least humoured me," she says crossly.

"I don't humour people."

"You should learn."

I feel bleary. Why does her hair shimmer in the dim light? And – by hell – is she wearing pyjamas? She is. Freya Crescent in thick Moogle-patterned pyjamas with feet on the ends. Doesn't look like she could kick my ass now. Maybe I'm dreaming. "What are you putting in that damn thing, anyway?"

She holds up a large paper bag. "Candy."

"Candy?"

"Candy," she confirms.

"I hate candy."

She rolls her eyes. "Only you would hate candy." Still, she pours more into the boot, until it's overflowing, and stalks off back into the living room, back on the couch. Shit, I should have offered her the bed. Like she said, it's not very gentlemanly—

Since when have I given half a damn about being gentlemanly?

The candy thing is sort of a neat idea, though. I bet kids would love it. I can picture Freya as a little girl – er, a little rat-girl – getting all excited and pawing through her candy and crowing over the best bits. She can get excited, Freya, and even happy, when she forgets she's supposed to be miserable and tragic with Sir Forgetful (speaking of whom – where the hell is that entertaining bastard? One can't have true holiday spirit without some dumbass amnesiac knight wandering around, forgetting that he's a dumbass). And I reckon Freya would have been happier as a kid.

She told me about it once, growing up in Burmecia. She had a good set of rat-parents who were indulgent but strict and didn't make her pretty herself up and get married like the other girls, because that wasn't what Freya wanted – though they did make her learn Burmecian dancing and boy did she ever hate that. I remember her telling me about, the distaste in her eyes, the funny wrinkling of her nose. Heh. I'd told her she looked like a shrunken head.

That probably wasn't too gentlemanly, either.

I hear her breathing in the other room. I shouldn't say this, really, because it's stupid, but sometimes I do think about her at night, or dream about her. Not in that way but in a quiet, unobtrusive way, like my mind just wants to include her as part of my everyday life. I bet it's because I'm used to her sleeping near me, not just her but all of them, and maybe I do miss the sound of somebody else breathing, and Freya's a more appropriate outlet for that longing than say, Zidane (ugh, weird thoughts, weird thoughts). It's perfectly scientific. Like the way some people have to have music on while they sleep.

Perfectly scientific.

*

"Happy Christmas," she says automatically in the morning. Actually, it's more like the afternoon, as with my insomnia I'm not really in the habit of getting up until after lunchtime.

As for Freya, it looks as though she's gotten up bright and early and has been twittering around for hours, even though she's quite calmly sitting at the table. Blearily, I look around the kitchen-slash-living-room. "Did you – sweep the floor?"

"It was repulsive," she says, unapologetic. "When was the last time you cleaned?"

"Never." I'm holding my big dragoon boot filled with candy. It felt sort of wrong to just leave it abandoned at the foot of my bed, so I brought it with me.

"I should have known. I think that grime dated back to reign of Brahne."

"That wasn't a very kind comment, considering it's Christmas."

"Typical of you to bring it up only when it's to your advantage. I see you have your boot."

"Hey, I've been good this year. It's proof. Cut me some slack." My stomach rumbles loudly. "You hungry? I need something to eat before you start your damn nagging."

"I'm fine. I ate breakfast at a reasonable hour."

So she sits there watching me with her sharp little eyes while I make myself an intentionally greasy breakfast, just so I can hear her small sighs of disgust. I wonder what the closest edible breakfast meat is to rat. I've heard the people in Daguerro sometimes eat guinea pigs and that's sort of close. I go to light the stove and I'm rummaging around in my cupboard for some more coals when I remember something about Christmas – yeah, that's right, I know something about Christmas. Doesn't mean anything.

"You know that boot thing, Freya?"

"What about it?" She doesn't look up. She's sitting in my chair reading a silly little book. A book, for God's sake. On Christmas Day.

"I seem to recall – another part of the tradition."

Her frilly dragoon boot's sitting on the floor. I grab it away and tip a big bag of stove coals over it, threatening.

"What's that?" she asks, still reading.

"Turn around."

She does so and takes it all in; her eyes widen. "You wouldn't."

"Just you watch." I smirk and turn the bag over; the pieces of coal go tumbling into her big stupid boot. The look on her face is priceless; it's like she doesn't know whether to laugh or yell at me or rescue her poor boot and it's killing her.

She decides. "You will be sorry for that."

"Oh, really? What's in store for me today?" I turn around and leave the coal lumps strewn everywhere, as it also wrecks her meticulous cleaning. Two birds with one stone. Heh.

"Painful, horrible, heart-wrenching torture," she says, deadpan.

"Same old, same old."

*

Painful, horrible, heart-wrenching torture turns out to be having to go out in public, which she knows full well is an Amarant Coral no-no. It takes bloody hours before we even get out the door because she's so damn particular; she has to have her coat and scarf and hat and gloves and boots and everything else in the goddamn universe before she can set foot outside.

I know her game; she's trying to torment me into agreeing to go to Alexandria by making the alternative seem even worse. And she does it admirably – first dragging me into the circle of Black Mage carolers just when they get their rowdiest.

"I'm not singing," I protest.

"I bet Zidane wouldn't make you sing," she counters.

She gives up, though, and for a while we just sort of mill around the little town, not saying much, looking at lights, watching the Mages skate on their pond. "You're not going to make me do that," I say firmly before she says anything.

"I would never. I can't skate. Look at my feet."

"Yes, they are grotesquely huge," I joke.

"Such a gentleman."

"The issue of my gentlemanliness seems to be coming up quite frequently lately. You should know all about it by now."

She shrugs. "My faith in you is the triumph of hope over experience."

Damn. I hate when she gets one off on me like that. That's my role. All of a sudden, she flops down onto the snow and spreads her arms and legs wide and moves around like a goddamned fish in a boat. "What the hell are you doing?"

Undaunted, she gets up and looks down at her work. "Making a snow angel. We would make them when we were children, in Burmecia."

I appraise the angel. "Looks like a bat. They're really just rats with wings."

"I take offense to that, Amarant Coral."

"I know." Before I can think better of it, I grin wickedly at her, and I know it's a mistake as soon as her eyes light up and her mouth curves into a wide smile.

"You're having fun," she accuses me. "I knew it! You're having fun!"

"I am not—"

But she's not listening, she's already off, running down the path with her arms spread wide in the air. "Snow in summer and water in the desert!" she shouts, laughing at my expense. "By the bells, he's having fun!"

I didn't want to resort to this. I really didn't. But she deserves it. I lean down and gather up two handfuls of snow and roll them up into a ball. She's not looking; she's still blithely rambling about me having fun. Good. I rear my arm back, let my weapon loose. Hits her square in the back.

"Oh!" she cries, and wheels around. "That's war!" She scoops up a handful herself and whips it at me.

I dodge it easily. A couple Genomes are watching, looking bewildered at this bizarre game, but I don't pay any mind to them as I launch another snowball at Freya. She avoids this one and manages to land one of her own into my hair.

"You'll pay for that one!"

She whips another at me. "There's your payment!"

I throw one back. "There's your change!"

Another, square into my jaw. "Gave me too much!"

The whole thing quickly devolves into an all-out snowball fight, and there are even some Black Mages and Genomes trying to imitate us, all of them awkwardly packing together clumps of snow and missing their targets. Freya and I keep to one another – something about them makes me feel kinda bad about hitting them with stuff. Plus you never know when one might fry me in response.

I turn to watch one Mage try to hit another when Freya comes up from behind me and pulls back the hood of my coat and stuffs a big handful of snow. I start and rear back and suddenly we're both skidding on the ice, both flailing about wildly to catch our separate balances, and in the confusion her arm wraps around mine and we both fall to the ground, not on each other but across from each other, pillowed in snow and facing one another.

And, oh God, how she's smiling. I can't get over that. It takes a certain kind of person – er, rat-person – to be able to smile at me, and I don't mean that in a hi-my-name-is-Lani-and-I'll-be-your-bounty-hunter-this-evening sort of way.

And in another breath she's not smiling, it's a different look altogether, and one I get equally as rarely.

"Freya—"

"It's almost night," she says in a choked-up voice. She pulls her arms away from around mine. "We should get back to the house – pack up for Alexandria, you know."

"Yeah."


*

I cook for her – clumsily. I'm no good at it. My big hands can't hold stuff too well, I drop pots and pans a lot and break glasses on a regular basis, which is why I got these huge metal tankards instead of normal fragile things. It'd take a fleet of dragons to destroy one of these tankards, I tell you. Just another little difference in my everyday life, I guess. Freya disappears into the bathroom again, to de-soak, then gets the fire going because it's cold in the village and all I can see of her is the silvery white back of her head. She's quiet; I almost think she's asleep but then she stirs a little, wrapped up in a big blanket. We eat mostly in silence, picking at our plates halfheartedly, neither of us really all that hungry.

Afterwards I mumble an excuse to get up and fill both of our tankards with cheap Treno liquor, the only thing close to a festive drink I have around here.

"You look tired," she says when I sit back down.

"I'm not."

"I'm sorry if you really did hate my being here. I just thought I should come. And I wanted to come. Do you know how long it's been since I've—"

Since I've seen you, since I've talked to you. Either way it brings back wretched memories of Lindblum and my ever-traitorous mouth. "It wasn't as terrible as I thought it would be," I say generously.

"Why, Amarant, I never knew you cared."

She grins; we're back on solid ground, folks. This is how it is with us, we ignore and we move on. "All I'm saying is that you are better than Quina. Do you want a medal?"

"I do."

And it hits me all of a sudden – this is why me and Freya get on so well. She gets me. She gets what I say. She knows when I mean something and when I don't and when I'm just joking and when I have to joke because I can't really mean something important – and that was a mouthful.

"Why do you hate Christmas, anyway?"

"I'm just a jerk."


She smiles, genuinely. "You know, you put that quite eloquently."

"So—"

"So?"

"So where's Sir Forgetful? Why aren't you spending Christmas with him?"

"Ah," she says. "The one million gil question." She pauses, then leans forward and grabs the tankard and takes a big swig, so rapidly that she coughs when she's done. "He left," she says in a garbled voice. "He left and said that nothing was working out, that he tried his best but he just couldn't remember loving me."

Well, we've derailed from stilted camaraderie into crying-dame mode. Wonderful. But she's not crying, I'll give her that. I hate when women cry, and Freya isn't a crier. "When?"

"A week ago."

"Oh." Lame again. I never know what to say to these kind of things.

Fortunately, she speaks up again and saves me. "Would you like to know something funny, Amarant? I was hoping you wouldn't want to go to Alexandria. I mean – not because – you know – but because I didn't want to deal with all of them, not with all their sympathies and well-meaning pats on the back and such." Her hands curl around the tankard. "I knew I wouldn't get any of that from you. You're consistent. I like that sometimes."

I shrug. "I get sick of people bugging me, too," I say, with a slight edge to my voice.

She chuckles. "Was that directed at me? I'd say I deserve it. Though you did have fun today, and I'll even admit that you soundly walloped me in that snowball fight, but, then again, my claws are far smaller than yours."

"Excuses, excuses."

"Wait until the rematch," she says evenly.

"Why, so I can shellack you again?" I take a swig myself. "So that's it, then? No more Sir Forgetful?"

"Right."

She doesn't sound too sad. She leans away from me, arms propping her up, knees bent and turned towards the fire, which of course gives me a great – ahem – view. Which naturally leads to some thought progression for me. Sir Forgetful leaving equals no more romantic obligation for Freya equals her coming practically straight to me in the Black Mage Village. Surely she couldn't—

"Since you got your one million gil question, do I get mine?" she asks.

Oh, no. Sinking feeling of dread. "Shoot."

She curls her legs up more. Suddenly she looks unfathomably young and – hell, I'll say it – beautiful, all green eyes and white hair. "That time – you know what I'm talking about, in Lindblum – well – I know I left and everything, but I was afraid and there was Sir Fratley to think about – but did you mean it?"

It comes instantly to my mind to say no, but the word won't form. I sit there, tongue-tied, speechless, like a stupid kid or like Rusty when he's in a frenzy. So she takes this the wrong way. "I'm sorry," she says quickly, not looking at me. "I should go – I shouldn't have come."

And she steps to the door, three steps, three seconds.

So in that three seconds everything I ever remember about Freya Crescent flashes through my head, meeting her in Alexandria and almost brawling (heh), warm nights by the fire, seeing her beat the hell out of horrible-looking things and saving my skin more than a few times, and even that morning with the stupid snow rat-with-wings and then the snowball fight and after. And hell and I'll be damned if what I said in Lindblum wasn't true.

The next part is confusing, tangled, lovely. She's at the door and I reach past her and close it and I have her pressed up against the wood, my hands pinning her there like they think she'll change her mind, and we're kissing, suddenly, clumsily, her nose poking me and my hair falling in our way so many times that I seriously consider shaving my head bald if it's going to create such an accessibility issue.

Her hands are on my shoulders, behind them, pressing softly – so small and hesitant. I wonder if she's ever kissed anyone besides Sir Forgetful. I don't think she has and somehow this stops me. I push her back a little, keeping my hands on her shoulders. There's a pink tinge on her face. I put it there. Damn good for me. "Why did you ask that?"

"Why else? I wanted to know if you were sincere."

"Do you—"

"You must know I do. And do you—"

"I meant it – though I'll admit I can't remember half of it."

"Good enough." This is said with a little, pretty sigh.

"At least I remember who you are."

"Watch it," she says, but her eyes are sparkling. I think she stopped caring about Sir Forgetful a long time ago. I know what that's like, going through the motions. I'm like that with everyone.

Well, except for Freya.

"What now?" I ask.

"I don't know."

"It's late." They should really throw a picture of us in the dictionary. Under awkward saps.

"So it is."

"I suppose I'm going to be gentlemanly -- and offer you my bed."

"Oh, really."

"Really."

"You're awfully presumptuous, Amarant Coral."

"You're awfully twisted, Freya Crescent. I was simply offering you a comfortable place to sleep." God, I love teasing her. It might just become my new pastime. "You're the one who had to go and read into—"

She doesn't give me a chance to finish because this time it's her pressing me up against the door, her little claws insistent on my shoulder, her face sort of tilted so she can kiss me, awkwardly, and how can she not be gorgeous and perfect when she kisses half-like she wants to fight me.

*

Me and the bed, we're a package deal. Heh.

*

In the morning I watch her wake up. She is drowsy, tousle-headed, inexplicably lovely. "So – should we go to Alexandria? We could be there by morning. We'd be late, which is nothing more than should be expected of me."

She pretends to think it over. "Bah, humbug," she mutters, and then she stretches up and kisses me, her arm tangling round my neck, her foot pressing insistently into mine with a sudden frenetic urgency, her eyes merry and bright. "Let them wonder."

So. Yeah. Good thing for the Christmas of the Surreal.

*

END