The Greatest Christmas Gift

Flurries of snow decorated the trees and forests surrounding Dirk's house. Time and again, Lloyd Irving would rush out in the mornings to play in the white blanket, crafting snowmen left and right to stand guard around the wooden home where he lived with his dwarven father'. The holiday mood was striking everyone in Iselia, the nearby town, as he made his way there for grocery shopping.

Candles placed in every window and trees decorated with wooden ornaments and wreaths of holly and evergreen boughs greeted him as he walked the paths. The people cheerfully waved to him as they passed, chattering on about Christmas plans to be made. Lloyd waved back joyfully and looked at his list. He had plans of his own to carry out. After a year and a half of separation from his friends, he had decided to throw a party to bring them all together again, if only for a night. Dirk had thought it a grand idea and spent the last few weeks with Lloyd, building a guest house beside their own with a hallway that connected the two homes.

Okay. I gotta get food and presents and send out invitations. I hope Dad likes the present I made for him. he murmured to himself and stopped in at Halo, the growing grocery shop.

Hello, Lloyd! What can I do for ya? the owner remarked cheerfully, Oh, and happy holidays too!Happy holidays! I'm here for Christmas shopping for a party. Lloyd answered brightly, So, what's the biggest turkey you have? The owner laughed and went to the back, returning with a basket that held one of the largest birds the brunet had ever seen.

This turkey was spotted near the old Martel temple and weighed near as much as a half grown boy! he remarked, This thing can feed a small army for five thousand gald!I'm planning on feeding an army! I'll take it! Lloyd exclaimed. Paying for that and the assortment of trimmings and stuffing, the boy found himself in need of help carrying it all and rented a cart to transport it. Noishe! Come here! he called out to the town gate as men loaded his supplies onto the small wagon. The arshis whimpered slightly, then finally trotted in and allowed himself to be hitched to the wagon. Good boy! You'll get a treat when we go home. The dog' seemed to smile at that.

Next on the list was getting gifts. Lloyd thought of each of his friends as he lingered over the trinkets and items in a newly opened souvenir shop. Colette Brunel was traveling to each of the places of worship in Sylvarant and Tethe'alla, accompanied by various priests of course, to spread teachings of a new Goddess, a goddess of conscience and caring. Her work to cultivate a new, open-minded people helped the Yggdrasill Tree flourish and grow. Lloyd smiled at the thought of her bright smile and shining eyes. He couldn't buy a gift worthy of the golden-haired little Chosen, and decided to make a ring for her instead.

A leather-bound journal full of blank paper and a handsome quill pen with ink bottle caught Lloyd's eye and he smiled. This would be perfect for the Professor. Raine Sage wandered the land of Sylvarant, exploring ruins and helping towns come to understand that half-elves weren't what they once believed. Intelligent, brilliant, she was of great help to the group during their journey to unite the worlds by offering her knowledge and her healing arts in battle. Lloyd added the items to a small basket for purchasing.

Genis Sage was now in the New Palmacosta Academy, studying all they had to offer. He would use his summer and winter breaks to travel Tethe'alla and do as his sister did, slowly allowing half-elves to become more accepted by the populace. Lloyd picked up a picture frame and smiled. It was a simple item, but he could already imagine it decorated with small engravings of their travels together, holding a picture of the group of friends from their vacation in Altamira. He added it to the basket.

Sheena Fujibayashi, the assassin with gentle eyes. The new Chief of Mizuho had helped moved the village of ninjas to the land of Sylvarant and spent her time teaching those with potential the art of summoning. After many days of thought and consideration, she had called the Summon Spirits together and offered to release them from her pacts, as she had fulfilled them and didn't see a future need for her use for them in battle. The Spirits had conversed with each other and agreed to be released, all save for Origin, who calmly told Sheena that releasing him would take the Eternal Sword from Lloyd and so he would remain under her pact to prevent that loss. The others thanked Sheena's kindness and returned to wherever they came from, some returning to their temples, some choosing to seek new homes. Lloyd selected a small music box and listened to its gentle song before adding it to the basket.

Zelos Wilder still remained somewhat a mystery to Lloyd. Carefree and perverted one moment, seriously thoughtful and down-to-earth the next, the fiery-haired former Chosen of Tethe'alla had been key to the group's successful rescue of Colette in the Tower of Salvation even though he was the one to allow her capture. Playing the role of traitor as only he could, Zelos pulled strings as masterfully as any musician and helped turn the tide of battle in Lloyd's favor. Lloyd hesitated for a moment, then decided it would be better if he crafted something for the redhead personally.

Presea Combatir was regaining more of her humanity each day, revealing her true age with her words and mannerisms. Helping to rebuild the world that had been torn asunder by Mithos Yggdrasill, she conducted business with a ruthless and calculated precision that caught many a wily marketer off guard. Her gentle smile helped ease tensions, mostly because of their rarity. Lloyd remembered her sadness at losing her younger sister and her struggle to overcome her need for vengeance. Crafting something for her seemed best and he made note of that on his list.

Regal Bryant was a duke and president of the Lezareno Company. Lloyd cocked his head as he wondered what he could possibly get for the man. A former self-proclaimed convict, Regal threw himself into renovation projects as a way of easing the pain of losing his love, Presea's younger sister Alicia. Lloyd shook his head and added another crafting project to his list.

There! That should be all of them.... he began to say, then paused with a sudden sinking of his spirits. No, that wasn't everyone. That was nowhere near all of the people that he had journeyed with. There was one name left, sitting alone at the bottom of his list.

Kratos Aurion.

His true father.

Kratos was a hero from the time of the Kharlan War, four thousand years in the past. Converted into an angel of Cruxis by Mithos during his madness, the rusty-haired swordsman followed orders to take Chosens to him for use as vessels for Mithos's dead sister. Upon meeting his mother, Anna, Kratos decided that what his former pupil was doing was very wrong and tried to leave the plot, searching for a way to steal away the Eternal Sword and repair the damage. But the death of Anna had broken his spirit, until he met his lost son and relearned that life held meaning. He had left on Derris-Kharlan, the comet of mana, soon after the worlds were reunited and linked by the Yggdrasill Tree. Lloyd was sure that he would never see him again and the sorrow hit him hard each time he turned to the stars at night.

Dad, wherever you are, I hope you are safe and alive. Happy holidays. he murmured and knew he would make yet another miniature Flamberge to hang on the chain draped over his mother's gravestone.

Ringing the purchases up and leaving Iselia, Lloyd's mood lifted again at the sights and smells of Christmas around him. All that remained were the invitations and those he had sent by post already. In another few days he was sure to see all his friends come up to the house, ready for the party and to share stories together.

All through the days leading up to Christmas, Dirk and Lloyd toiled through finishing the guest house, cooking the bountiful amount of food, and crafting gifts in secret for one another. Noishe barked loudly and the brunet looked up from engraving dwarven characters into the blade of an ornate dagger.

Who's that? Dad? he asked, turning to the dwarf that had raised him all his life. Dirk Irving strode to the door and opened it up, looking up at a mail carrier that tipped his hat, delivered several letters, then wished him a happy holiday and left. Lloyd asked again, looking confused as Dirk brought the small mass of letters to him.

They're all for you, son. the dwarf merely answered and scratched his head, Though, I'm wondering why so much mail is sent your way this season. Lloyd looked at the first envelope and blinked opening it quickly.

This is from Colette! he exclaimed and read it quickly. His face fell and he sighed sadly. She says she won't make it here in time. She's on her way to Flanoir from Sybak. He opened another, read it and looked even more gloomy. This one's from Zelos. He can't attend cause the king's got him involved in making treaties with everybody around the world. Every letter in the stack was from each friend, all expressing apologies and regrets that they couldn't show up for the party. By the time the last one was opened Lloyd's eyes were so filled with disappointed tears, he couldn't even read who the letter was from.

It's a part of life now, Lloyd. Even in times of peace, not everything goes as we hope and wish. Dirk tried to comfort the boy, We did what we could. At least we can enjoy a hearty Christmas dinner together, the two of us.I guess so. It's just that, I really wanted us to celebrate it all together. the swordsman sighed and picked up the incomplete dagger. I'm going to finish this in my room. Maybe I can send their presents by mail. With that, he left the room, head bowed with a sadness that refused to lift from him.

The plans continued on, changing here and there to account for the lack of additional people that were to be at the Irving residence on Christmas Eve. Dirk noticed the little sighs of depression from Lloyd as he hung decorations from the tree and ceiling. Christmas was coming closer with each day and though the gifts were wrapped and placed beneath the tree, candles lighting the place up with a soft glow, Lloyd couldn't help but think that it wasn't really Christmas.

It doesn't feel right. he said and flopped back in a chair.

Disappointment led to loneliness, then to anger and resentment. Dirk found himself yelling more than once each day as Lloyd stormed the area in a fury, kicking over the snowy decorations he himself had put together. Snow went flying as the brunet dashed about, slashing at the snowmen and snow forts and tearing them down.

I don't care! If they don't wanna come, they can just stay where they are and rot! I hope Derris-Kharlan comes in and flattens them all where they stand! And that goes for stupid Kratos and his stupid Exspheres too! the boy raged.

Lloyd! Don't say such things! Especially at this time of year and about your friends and family! Dirk scolded, Get in the house and cool off! We'll be having dinner soon. Lloyd scowled and kicked again at the fallen snowman before stomping back into the house.

Christmas Eve soon arrived and Lloyd returned to just being depressed as he came downstairs for dinner, refusing to look to the stars for comfort, knowing everyone he cared for wouldn't be there with him and Dirk. The dwarf lit the candles around the house and greeted his son with a Merry Christmas'.

Merry Christmas, Dad. I'm sorry for the way I acted. Lloyd answered softly and forced a smile. I should be happy for the fact that I even have friends at all, even if they aren't here with me in person. I know that they're thinking of me wherever they are, so it's enough.That's a very wise thing to say, Lloyd. Tis good to have you recognize the meaning of Christmas. Family and friends are the greatest gifts and are ones that are held in the heart. Dirk told him with a smile and made his way to the table laden with food, So let's have our blessings of this feast and dig in! The two of them sat at the table and began a small prayer when Noishe barked suddenly. Lloyd looked up in concern, then heard the faint sounds of singing, the song growing louder as its source came closer.

What the-? he muttered and ran from his place at the table to the window, looking out in awe at the group of bundled people walking up the path to the house from Iselia Forest, singing Christmas carols. Dad! Carolers!This far from town? Dirk murmured in confusion, stepping out the door with a coat and scarf to watch them. Lloyd joined him soon after and blinked in shock.

Seasons greetings, one and all! Christmas, Christmas, hear our call! Loving friends, our greatest treasure! Seasons greetings for your pleasure! Zelos's voice sang out strongly as Colette led the group of heroes up to the house, laughing happily as Genis jumped along among the snowdrifts. The others continued singing until they were standing before the dumbfounded Lloyd. Hey, bud! You just gonna stand there, or are you gonna wish us a Merry Christmas, too?! the redhead remarked with a grin.

How?! I thought you all couldn't make it here! Lloyd cried at last.

Flanoir is near the Renegade Base of Tethe'alla, so I flew over to them before the ship docked and asked for a Rheaird to get here from Yuan. Colette explained, I decided that I couldn't just miss out being with you! I'm sorry if I made you worry with my letter.It's no problem! You don't have to apologize for it!Oh. I'm sorry.What good is a stressed Chief? Orochi and Vice-Chief Tiga convinced me to relax and spend time with friends, so I remembered your invitation and made my way here by hook and crook! Sheena remarked with a laugh.

Raine came by and picked me up so we could come together. Genis answered, It's a good idea to come home to rest now and then, and what greater way to rest than to spend time with you?The renovation projects are proceeding smoothly, so Presea and I decided to give everyone time off to spend with family, then set sail to come visit you. Upon reaching Izoold, we were met with Yuan who gave us Rheairds to fly here. He's been searching us down to make sure we got together again for the holidays. Regal said, After all, he will be spending this holiday alone and did not wish the same fate for you.The royal family noticed that I wasn't up to pep for all their campaigning, so they cut me loose and told me to come back when I was set for work. Zelos finally added, I admit I was being a real jerk, especially when they made me write that letter to say I couldn't show up for your party. They probably were looking for an excuse to kick me out of Meltokio and I gave them one when I set the red carpet on fire. He rubbed his head and laughed sheepishly. Yuan took a bit of work to find me, I got lost in the desert after my ride to Izoold stopped and I raced for the mountain pass.I'm glad you guys came! Come on in! We're having Christmas dinner and there's tons of catching up to do! Lloyd exclaimed and the group cheered, piling into the house.

The party and dinner did wonders for the mood of everyone there, including Lloyd. He couldn't help but laugh at everything everyone did. Genis stammered and blushed as Presea looked up at the sprig of mistletoe hanging from the ceiling in confusion.

What is the meaning of that plant? she asked him. He blushed even deeper as he fidgeted.

Uh... it... it means that if y-you catch someone standing under it, y-you have to k-k-k-.... he babbled lamely. Zelos strode by with a glass of eggnog, paused when he spotted the plant, and grinned at Presea.

Aw, how cute! My little rosebud's under the mistletoe! You know what that means! he remarked brightly, You get a kiss from the Great Zelos Wilder! With that he bent over and planted a small one on her cheek. Come on, squirt! You caught her, too! Be a man! he added with a laugh as he walked away. Presea blinked in confusion, rubbing her cheek as Genis fumed in embarrassment.

Oh! Stupid Zelos! he yelled.

Colette and Sheena played checkers by the fireplace, chatting happily about life in general. Regal discussed the recipe of Dwarven Pot-Luck Surprise with Dirk as Raine sampled each tasty treat and dinner entrée on the table. The group sang songs and shared tales of adventures and travels long into the night as the gifts they brought were added to the pile under the tree.

Finally, as it neared time for them to be getting to bed, those that still lingered sat by the fireplace with mugs of hot chocolate. They were silent, enjoying the company of friends and loved ones as they read through books of Christmas stories. Lloyd relaxed against the sofa as he drank in the feeling of being loved and accepted. The warmth of the fire and emotion seemed to make his heart glow as bright as the stars he admired. He blinked as he noticed Sheena's head nod sleepily and rest on Zelos's shoulder, the redhead whispering out the tales of Christmases past. He stopped and smiled gently at the ninja before closing the book and moving carefully to pick her up.

Well, sleeping beauty has made the choice for me. Night, bud. See ya in the mornin'. Zelos murmured softly, Merry Christmas.You too, Zelos. No tricks? Lloyd answered with a raised eyebrow and smile. Zelos returned it with a wry grin.

Nah. I'm not so bad as to do that to a hunny on Christmas Eve. Besides.... the redhead looked at her with a strange expression, She means more to me than just some cute chick. Same as you and Colette. Lloyd turned pink as the former Chosen left for the guest house.

Mmm. So warm and nice. Colette murmured in her sleep and Lloyd blushed again as he followed Zelos's example of taking her to her room.

Soon after, he lay in bed, gazing out at the stars through his window as sleep began to overtake him. He was surrounded by friends and it really did feel like Christmas now. So why did he still have a pang of heartache as he closed his eyes? Lloyd sighed and pulled the warm blankets up around himself. In the morning, there would be presents to open and words of gratitude to be shared. He should just sleep so he would be prepared to hang the tiny carved Flamberge on the chain.

The sounds of gifts being opened, squeals of delight and laughter, mixed with the smells of Genis's cooking dragged Lloyd from bed to the downstairs living room. He nearly fell at Colette's sudden flying leap into his arms.

It's beautiful, Lloyd! I love it! Thank you so much! she cried and showed him the ring on her finger, the delicate characters engraved on it that secretly proclaimed his feelings for her. It's the best present ever!

Other thanks, though not as obvious as the one Colette gave him, were sent out as the pile was attacked and sifted through. Dirk beamed proudly at the new tools that Lloyd had crafted for him with his initials engraved in the wooden handles. Sheena exclaimed delightedly at the music box, holding it close to her as the melody played. Lloyd was amazed at her gift to him, a jar filled with tiny golden stars made of paper.

Those are folded lucky stars. she told him, The art of origami allows us to create many shapes with paper without needing scissors or glue, or tearing the paper either. Those stars will bring you luck in all your future endeavors! Colette had given him a box of candy, the centerpiece of which was a ring she asked Altessa to craft with her own feelings for him engraved on it in angelic language.

Zelos murmured as he gazed in silent awe at the dagger in his hands. The hilt was decorated with burned images of their travels, the blade shining with a declaration of friendship written on it in dwarven letters. This is too good for someone like me.No it's not! It's perfect! You use magic daggers all the time, the same as magic swords! This dagger has the magic of friendship, to remind you that no matter where you are, you aren't alone. the brunet exclaimed. He blinked as the redhead jumped up and hugged him, laughing happily.

Bud! Thanks a lot! I really needed something like this in Meltokio! I'm gonna carry it with me everywhere! he declared. Zelos's gift to Lloyd was a book of stories about the constellations. He had learned of Lloyd's love for the stars and selected a present that would encourage that love.

Amid the laughter and thanks and cries of surprise, Lloyd could feel the dull ache that had stuck to him since last night fade a little more. He fingered the Flamberge miniature in his pocket and sighed. In a short time, he would excuse himself to attach it and that would be his gift to both his parents.

A knock at the door startled the group and they fell silent, gazing at the doorway in confusion. Who could possibly be there? Everyone raced through possible intruders and visitors in their minds, but how could anyone know that they would be at the dwarf's house? The knock came again, a bit more insistent this time. Colette looked at Lloyd fearfully, her ring gleaming in the light of the day.

Hold on. I'll handle it. Lloyd told the group in a hushed tone and strode to the door. He glared at the handle as the knock came again, then looked back as he placed his hand on it. Colette watched him with wide blue eyes full of trust as she sat by Dirk. Genis edged closer to Presea, hand tightening on his trusty kendama. Raine sat behind the two, but looked just as menacing as ever if anything came to harm them. Regal crouched beside her, ready to lend aid. Sheena curled her legs close and seemed to hide in Zelos's protective embrace, the other man holding his new dagger in anticipation of a battle. Lloyd nodded and held his breath, throwing open the door.

Kratos stood at the door, blinking with his hand poised to knock again as snow settled on his hair and shoulders. The others behind Lloyd looked startled by the seraphim's appearance as the brunet stepped back in surprise. Kratos looked around inside, then gave his son an exasperated look as he brushed snow off of himself.

Are you going to invite me in or just stand there gawking at me? he asked gruffly. Lloyd swallowed and waved him in silently, still in disbelief. Thank you. Ah, and Merry Christmas... to all of you. Kratos murmured as he entered the home. He only made it a few steps when he was jumped from behind in a hug, startled as Lloyd wrapped his arms around him in a joyful sob.

Dad! You're here! Merry Christmas! he exclaimed as the group of friends relaxed and greeted him warmly. Kratos smiled slightly and worked his way free, awkwardly hugging the boy back.

Yuan contacted me some time ago and I thought, if you still wanted me in your life, that perhaps.... he began to say.

Of course! Welcome home! Lloyd interrupted and yelped, Ah, your present! He rushed upstairs, leaving Kratos standing in a state of rare confusion as Genis jumped up to serve another portion of Christmas breakfast, hot roast turkey and trimmings, the leftovers of the night before. Before long, Kratos was seated at a couch and blending in with the others after momentary hesitation, chatting about Christmases of days gone by and wishes of the future ones. Lloyd soon bounded downstairs with a small box in one hand. He held it out to his father almost reverently.

Dad, I made this last year, when I thought, hoped, you would come back. When you didn't, I put it away and started up a different tradition for you and Mom. he said softly. Kratos looked at the box, then accepted it, studying the blank casing with an unreadable expression. Now that you're here, you can finally open it.

The room fell silent as everyone watched the seraphim lift the lid of the box and set it aside. They heard his sudden gasp and saw his trembling hands as he reached into the box and lifted out a perfect little statuette of Anna, himself and an infant Lloyd carved from wood and set on a base to stand on any flat surface.

I used the picture in your pendant to help me make it. Lloyd went on softly, Dad? Are you okay? Kratos had remained motionless, gazing at the gift in his hands before setting it carefully, lovingly, back in the box and reaching for his son. The two embraced in a hug.

I'm perfectly fine. Thank you, Lloyd. It means so much to me, more than you may know. his father murmured through heartfelt tears. I'm sorry I wasn't here for you all those years, and for last Christmas.Then stay, Dad. Stay with me, here, and share more Christmases with me and our friends and... Dad? Lloyd answered with a slight laugh, I'll have to figure out how to distinguish you two, you're both my dads, y'know.That's true. Dirk agreed, And I can easily build an additional room to the house for you, or you can live in the guest house if you prefer. Kratos nodded, still hugging his son.

All right. I'll stay. he answered quietly. Lloyd pulled back and cheered, his friends joining in happily.

Yeah! What a great Christmas! This is the best ever! he exclaimed, I have my friends and family, and my Dad's gonna stay with me! All of you here with me is the greatest Christmas gift I could ever have!Merry Christmas, Kratos. Dirk said with a grin, holding a hand out for him. Kratos looked slightly befuddled, then accepted the handshake.

Merry Christmas, Dirk.Merry Christmas, everyone! Lloyd cried and the voices of the others joined him joyfully, mugs of hot chocolate lifting up in a toast, And a Happy New Year, too!


Heh, this was fun to write, even though it didn't follow my normal ToS series. For Yuan fans, wait until Christmas Day and you'll see what happens to him!