A/N: This is another 3:00-in-the-morning creation. About Izzie's background story: I have it formulated, it just didn't fit. If you want to know about it, send me a PM or stick a request in your review, and I'll get back to you. Oh, and uh...I suppose this is a little cliche, the whole stick an OC in the story. But I like those. If you don't like those, don't read them, or don't bother leaving a review. However, if you do like this story, I would gladly give out "kisses with the Thief Lord character of your choice" to reviewers:) Happy Reading!

Disclaimer: I don't own the Stella. That belongs to Signor Massimo. I don't own Casa Spavento. That belongs to Ida. I don't own any of the characters you recognise...I only own Izzie, and I would like to own Scipio...but I don't. So I'm stuck with nothing but my imagination. Now I'll shut up and let you read...

Chocolate and Peppermint

It was cold in Venice on Christmas Eve. There was a gentle snow falling, defying the usual dry winters the city had experienced most years before. The canals all had ice gathering at their edges, and the steps down to the gondola landings were slippery. The dimly lit alleys and squares were almost empty, as most people were inside, waiting out the biting cold by a warm fire, or eagerly watching for Father Christmas from their warm beds. The lights in most of the houses had been turned off hours ago, and the front windows were illuminated only by the colored lights that adorned the Christmas trees. Everywhere, families were together, safe, warm, comfortable, and happy. Only one person walked the empty alleys and bridges.

Isabella was supposed to be at Ida's. Prosper and Bo and Hornet had gone out weeks ago and found all their friends to ask them all to come to Casa Spavento early Christmas Eve afternoon, and tell them they were welcome to spend the night. Riccio and Mosca had come over from Castello around lunchtime and everyone had gone out to admire the new paint that coated Mosca's old boat. Victor had decided that Christmas Eve wasn't a good day for any cases and had unplugged his phone from the wall and walked over to Ida's at one-thirty to find a tall mug of eggnog waiting for him. Even Scipio had made it around two-forty-five, bursting in through the kitchen door and startling Lucia so badly that she spilled a tray of chocolates all over the floor. Only Izzie wasn't there and even though Bo sat by the front door all afternoon until dinner waiting, and Victor tried to call her six times, she didn't come.

"What a way to spend Christmas Eve," Riccio grumbled. "Worrying about Izzie the whole day." But his heart wasn't in the complaint. He was just as worried as the rest of them.

Izzie hadn't gone to Ida's because she felt guilty. She wasn't happy, and everyone was supposed to be happy at Christmas. She didn't want to spoil everyone else's happiness by being depressed all afternoon. And so, she didn't go to Ida's.

She had planned on coming home from work at the restaurant and not leaving her apartment that evening. She had planned on eating a small dinner, and reading the book she had been trying to finish for the last month. She had planned on going to bed early so that she didn't have to think about all the disappointment she was suffering right now. But her plans came crashing down the first time the phone rang.

She knew it was someone from Ida's calling to ask why she wasn't there. She would have bet her bed that it was Victor, because Victor always got relegated the task of calling people. And she knew that Hornet would ask Victor to call again and again, perhaps five or six more times until he got an answer. Izzie didn't want to answer the phone, and she didn't want to hear it ringing.

The last time the phone had rung it had only brought the bad news that her favorite grandfather had died. And the time before that, it had told her that she had lost her part time job at the book store that she had wanted to work at for so long. And the time before that it had told her that her sister had moved to America, without telling anyone, probably with that boy she was always talking about. No, Izzie didn't want to hear the phone ring. And so she left the apartment.

She first went to one of the café's that was miraculously still open, even though it was nearing seven o'clock on Christmas Eve. She ordered hot chocolate from the surly waitress, and stayed until they closed near eight. She stood outside the small building for a few moments, pulling on her mittens and staring up at the sky. She wondered how disappointed Bo was that she wasn't there. She wondered how worried Ida and Victor were. She wondered if Riccio was being quiet for once, because he was scared for her. She wondered if Mosca and Prosper were wondering where she was right now. And she wondered if Scipio missed her.

Sighing, Izzie stepped away from the covered doorway of the café and into the swirling snow. The bitter wind raced down the narrow street and bit through her thick winter coat. She shivered and turned up her collar before shoving her hands as deep into her pockets as they would go. She wandered aimlessly through the streets and alleys of Venice, letting her mind meander different paths. She was tired of thinking about depressing things, and she thought of just going to Ida's after all, and apoligising. But then she stopped in front of a building that was rather larger than the other ones on the street.

"If you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you'll be swept off to," Izzie whispered. It was a line from The Lord of Rings. (She had adored J.R.R. Tolkein ever since she had read The Hobbit when she was five.) And it seemed very appropriate in this instance, as her feet had indeed swept her off to a place she almost didn't recognize anymore.

The emergency exit door she was standing in front of was set in a windowless wall on a dark alley. No one came this way, and so there were no lights. But the snow was bright enough for her to make out the words, vietato ingresso. No entry. The clumsy letters were painted over a different word. In fading white it said, The Stella, so people would know where the door led, even if the door was only used in emergencies. But no one had used the door in a long time, just like no one had used the building beyond for a long time.

But Izzie knew that it had been used more recently than people thought. Last winter, six young orphans had once called the Stella, the Star-Palace, home. First it had been a movie theater, but that had to close down. And then it had belonged to Riccio, Mosca, and Hornet, because Scipio had brought them here. Then it had been hers too. And a month after she had moved in, Prosper and Bo had come, because Hornet found them in trouble. And they vowed that they would never leave, because it was theirs now. But that was all gone now. The real owner had found out about them using it, and had taken control. Scipio's father had kicked them out, locked the doors on them, and made the Stella dangerous. They had snuck back for most of their belongings and moved in with Ida.

So now it was empty. She wondered if there was anyone guarding it, like there had been since they had been kicked out. She also wondered if the rat poison the police had spread had worn away. As she stood outside, remembering the old days, she laughed softly to herself. When had she ever been afraid of patrols and rat poison? After all, she had broken into places that no one else had ever broken into. She was the Shadow Thief, and no one ever caught her.

She pushed experimentally on the door. She heard the bolt squeal as it scraped across the lock. But the door wasn't bolted all the way. Someone didn't know that you had to push really hard to slide the bolt in all the way. They'd only done a half decent job. She opened the door and entered the long dark passage that led to the main auditorium. It was cold. It was good to be out of the wind, but it was just as cold as outside. Izzie shivered and walked further in.

A dark curtain was hung across the entrance to the passage. She pushed it aside carefully, and stepped lightly into the auditorium, making no sound. She watched for a few minutes, inspecting every inch of the dark theater with her sharp eyes. There was no flicker of movement, no hint of sound. She concluded that the place was empty, because everyone was at home, enjoying Christmas by their fire-side. She sighed quietly. She fumbled toward the wall, and found the lever she was looking for. She shoved it up, and it squealed through almost a year of rust. The electricity hummed and the lights turned on slowly.

It was almost as she remembered it. The seats that remained were still covered in soft red velvet, though it was a little more decayed. The carpet was worn through a bit in the places where the rat poison had been spread too thickly. Some of the gold stars on the curtain were unraveling, and the fabric itself was full of little holes. It had been pulled down long ago, and a ragged edge showed where Victor had cut a large piece away because Bo said he missed the curtain. Bo still had the blanket Ida had made with some extra white fabric for the backing.

Izzie made her way to the very back of the theater, where five mattresses had once lain against the wall. They were gone now, but the drawings and notes scratched into the wall above where they had been were still there. She knelt down and ran her hand over that wall, and smiled, remembering a time when life had been harder, but it had been more fun, too. They had lived in a cinema, for Christ's sake! And they had all been together…Yes, life had been better. But then again, life was pretty good now, with Ida and Victor and Scipio…

Izzie's thoughts trailed off and returned stealthily to the fact that she was supposed to be at Ida's. She shook her head, and told herself to stop thinking about that. It would only make things worse.

She sat down and leaned back against the wall, imagining the theater as it had been when they had lived there. She imagined that everything was like it used to be, with the curtain strung up, glittering in the candlelight, because they had already turned off the house lights for the night. Riccio had stolen new candles from the church, and they were glowing softly all around the mattresses. Mosca was lying down, clutching his sea-horse; Prosper was sitting against the wall, with a pillow behind his back; Riccio was snuggled down among his stuffed animals; Hornet was reading to them from one of her books; Bo was lying across her lap, drinking in all her words; and Izzie was sitting on her mattress, with her drawing board across her knees, listening to Hornet while sketching. They were waiting for Scipio, because when he came, they were going to have a real Christmas party.

Izzie sobbed quietly, her face pressed into her knees which her arms circled. It wasn't like that anymore. And the memories of how it had been wouldn't make it come back. Not that she regretted the year that had past and the decisions they had made. No, she was glad she and Scipio had done what they had done, glad that Prosper and Bo and Hornet were happy with Ida, glad that Mosca was fishing, which is what he'd always wanted to do, glad that Riccio was back in Castello, which he said was the best part of Venice. But she sometimes wished they could have gone on like that, contented that the Shadow Thief and the Thief Lord, Izzie and Scipio, would always look out for them.

As she cried, she cursed the Conte. If he hadn't asked them to do that stupid job, they would have still been together, in the theater. Then she retracted her curse. If it hadn't been for the Conte, she and Scipio wouldn't be where they were now, which, she supposed, was a far better place, in the long run. After all, they were grown up now. They could do whatever they wanted, so long as they got to work on time.

But as her thoughts managed to wander back into the past, she couldn't help crying. And because she was crying, she didn't hear the hinges squeak quietly and the soft footsteps approaching her.

"Come here," a soft, deep voice murmured. Someone knelt beside her, and gathered her into his arms. "It's okay," he whispered. "I'm here now. It'll be okay." Izzie clutched him tightly and sobbed into his shoulder, knowing instinctively that it was Scipio who held her, even if it took her a while to recognize the voice. The way he held her, the tone of his voice, even the coat she was sobbing into, it was all Scipio, everything. Besides, only Scipio would have come out to find her.

He murmured softly to her, but she didn't really listen to the words. She was comforted merely by the sound of his voice, and the words didn't matter. When she finally cried herself out, and there were no more tears, he continued to hold her until she was ready to pull away. She leaned against the wall, and he sat back on his heels, a soft smile touched his perfect lips. He reached up and swept his long hair out of his beautiful face. His dark eyes were full of something that she couldn't quite place. The humming lights threw him in partial shadow, and she thought he had never looked more handsome.

"Are you okay?" he asked.

"Yeah," she said, and her voice came out in a choked whisper. "I'm sorry."

"What for?" One eyebrow rose slightly in question, and she had the urge to smile. She wondered how he could always do that to her.

"For causing all this trouble, for not coming to Ida's, for being depressed, and for remembering…stuff."

"You if any of those were sins, you'd have to go to confession for high crime," he said, and that really did make her laugh. "But," he said, raising his voice over her laughs, "since we all love you so much, if you just come to Ida's we can find it in our hearts to forgive you for all the rest." He bounced to his feet, and held out his hands to her.

"Are you sure you want me at Ida's?" she asked.

"Izzie," he said, and her name sounded gorgeous on his lips. "It's Christmas. Of course we want you at Ida's."

"Even if I'm depressed?"

"Especially if you're depressed." His eyes were twinkling with mischief. "Because you know, I know some people who are in desperate need of amusement. And I'm sure cheering you up would occupy them for most of the night and well into tomorrow morning. They wouldn't ever tire of it."

She laughed and grasped his hands.

"If you're talking about Riccio and Mosca—"

"Actually, Bo was the most disappointed at your failed appearance. And as you've probably guessed, it was Hornet who ordered Victor to call your house at least eight times."

"And did Ida send you out into the cold to find me?" she asked. He pulled her upright, and when she looked up, she found him very close. He refused to release her hands.

"No," he said, and his breath was sweet and warm on her frozen cheek. "I sent myself." She looked into his eyes and saw that emotion that had been there before. She didn't know what it was, but it was beautiful. But then she blinked, and the moment was gone, and she stepped away from him, as far as their clasped hands would allow.

"Come on," she said. "Let's get going."

"Oh," he said, and dropped her hands. "Right." Scipio shoved his own hands deep into his pockets and moved toward the door. She followed, pulling on her mittens as she went.

They stepped back into the biting wind and Scipio pulled the door closed behind them the bolt scraped against the lock again, and they knew that if they really wanted, they could always get back in. Scipio patted the brick wall fondly, then shoved his hands back into his pockets and led the way out of the alleyway.

They walked slowly, shivering in the cold, but unwilling to waste the beauty of the night in haste. Izzie paused on a bridge only a few alleys from Ida's kitchen door, and looked over the railing at the swirling black water. Scipio leaned on the rail next to her, but she noticed out of the corner of her eye that he wasn't watching the snow melt on the water…he was watching her.

"Stop for a reason?" He asked at length. She didn't answer, and he sighed. "I understand that you don't want to be social, but we do need to get back to Ida's."

"Why?" she asked with a smile.

"Because it's bloody cold out here," he muttered. Izzie laughed, and turned to look at him. She saw that soft, beautiful look in his eyes again, and shivered. He pulled off his scarf and wrapped it around her tightly, wrapping his arms around her at the same time. He held her from behind and she could feel his breath ruffling her hair. She smiled and looked up at the sky where the stars glittered like diamonds on black velvet.

"It's a beautiful night," she murmured.

"Mm-hm." His mouth was a gentle pressure against her neck. She turned in the circle of his arms to face him. She felt something rising in her, something she had never felt before. It was a beautiful feeling, sweet and warm, like sunshine. It made her want to laugh and scream and cry all at the same time. She could feel a heart beating and wondered if it was his or hers or both of theirs together. She realized she was holding her breath. The look in Scipio's eyes was like the sun rising inside of her. She closed her eyes as he kissed her.

He tasted like peppermint and man. Like Scipio. His lips were soft and warm against hers, gently parting them to allow entry. She melted in his arms and didn't resist. The tip of his tongue moistened her lips, asking for permission to penetrate beyond the rosy doors. She answered with her own tongue and all locks were broken, all doors open, and her emotions raged inside of her, warm and beautiful.

When he pulled away she didn't open her eyes, wanting it to go on, not believing it had happened. She swayed slightly, and knew that if it weren't for his arms around her, she wouldn't be standing.

"I love you," he whispered.

"I gathered that much…" she replied with a smile. He laughed softy and kissed her again.

Izzie broke apart first this time, catching her breath and drinking in the look in his eyes. "We should get to Ida's," she murmured.

"Yeah…" he said, but neither of them moved. The night deepened around them as midnight drew nearer. The wind swirled the snowflakes around them and caught them up in a whirlwind, and they finally noticed the cold. Izzie shivered and snuggled closer to Scipio as he turned away from the wind.

"Let's go," he said, his arm around her shoulders guiding her across the icy bridge toward Casa Spavento.

The bells of St. Mark's Basilica reverberated through the city, announcing that it was midnight. It was Christmas now, officially. Scipio and Izzie were standing outside Ida's kitchen door. He stopped with his key halfway turned in the lock and looked at her in the moonlight. There were snowflakes in her hair, and she was shivering, her cheeks red with cold. She had never looked more beautiful to him. He leaned over and kissed her again.

"You're beautiful, you know that?" he murmured. She laughed.

"Merry Christmas," she whispered, and kissed him back. He lifted her up and whirled her around in Ida's kitchen garden, and didn't care if anyone saw them. He heard the key scrape in the lock and the door open. He heard Victor gasp and Ida laughing. He could imagine Riccio's shocked face and Prosper's jaw drop. He could almost hear Mosca muttering indecipherably, and Hornet clapping her hands in delight. But he didn't care, because Izzie loved him, and that was all that mattered.

Then Bo came running out of the house in fits of laughter, and threw his little arms around Izzie's waist. She released Scipio to pick Bo up and squeeze him.

"I'm sorry I'm so late, Ida," she said. Scipio ruffled Bo's hair and put his arms around Izzie's shoulders.

"Let's go inside, before we all end up like frozen chickens," he said. Riccio was still staring. They all crowded out of the doorway and into the living room. Hornet and Bo unwrapped Izzie from her many layers of winter protection and Prosper poured her and Scipio huge mugs of hot chocolate. There was lots of laughing, and talk, and happiness going around, and Scipio stayed close to Izzie throughout the night.

When Bo fell asleep across Hornet and Prosper's legs, Ida decided it was time for the children to go to bed, and herded them upstairs to where she had the attic prepared for them. Victor took the dirty mugs and trays to the kitchen and that left Izzie and Scipio in the living room in front of the fire.

"That was the best Christmas I've had in a while," Izzie murmured, leaning against him. He smiled, breathing in the scent of her hair, and happy to just hold her. They stared at the fire for a few moments before Izzie turned her head to look up at him.

"Scip?" she said.

"Yeah?" he asked in reply.

"I love you."

"I love you, too." He kissed her again. She tasted like chocolate and sweetness, and he smiled against her lips, pulling her down to lie with him by the fire, refusing to let her out of the circle of his arms, even when they fell asleep.

They weren't bothered by the two people in the kitchen door. Ida watched the two new, young adults with a smile from where she stood in Victor's arms. They were laughing softly, wondering at the beauty of love. They didn't notice the little blond angel creep downstairs to watch them with a soft, gentle smile, contented that his family had just had the most perfect Christmas ever.

A/N the second: I suppose this is a little out of place...Christmas in September. Almost as out of place as snow in August. Oh, well...when inspiration strikes, I don't fight with it. :) I've got some lovely boys waiting here for kisses...and girls too I suppose. :D Thanks! Shadow