Part 1

Snow fell gently, the soft white flakes tangling themselves in strands of golden red hair as the young noble walked down one of Keterburg's many streets. Perhaps 'walked' wasn't the proper term though; it would be more accurate to say Luke was bouncing down the road, the cloudy skies and cold wind doing nothing to abate the spring in his step or the sudden burst of energy he had. It left his counterpart to wonder just what had Luke in such a wonderful mood. Then, exactly what day it was, or rather, what time of year it was, dawned upon him, and Asch really couldn't resist a smile. Some things in life he could count upon to never change: Luke and Christmas was one of them.

"Easy there, Luke," Guy finally intervened when Luke's energy had placed him well in front of his companions. "Wait for the rest of us."

"Sorry," Luke spun around, flashing an apologetic smile, but really not doing anything to slow his pace.

"What has you in such a good mood?" Anise asked sceptically.

"Well, it's going to be Christmas in a week," the younger redhead explained. "And since we're going to be in Keterburg anyway, I was thinking we could do something to celebrate."

"You mean like a tree and presents and such?" Anise asked.

"Well... yeah, I mean, it's Christmas."

"Come on, Luke, no way is that going to happen!" Anise protested.

"I don't see the problem," Jade shrugged. "As Luke pointed out, we're here for the duration regardless. Christmas is a popular time of year for tourists in Keterburg, I'm sure there won't be a lack of festivities."

If possible, Luke's smile broadened, and his eyes were alight with excitement. Then again, what did they expect? He was a seven year old. Anise just didn't get what the big deal was.

"Still," Tear pondered. "I think it's a bit excessive for everyone to get a present for everyone else, especially given the travelling we're doing."

"She's got a point; that would make for 72 presents," Ginji added doing some quick mental math. "There's really only so much room in the Albiore, and most of it is used for supplies and everyone's stuff."

"Well then, why not draw names?" Guy suggested. "If we do a gift exchange, everyone gets and buys one present."

"Why not make it more fun than that?" Asch added with a smirk.

"Do explain." Jade adjusted his glasses, a mischievous gleam in his eyes.

"Well, everyone draws a name, and buys that person a present for Christmas," Asch provided. "But, you can't let that person know you have their name. Then, once they open it, they have to guess who it came from."

"Oh I know that game," Anise cut in. "The acolytes and the Oracle Knights play it all the time in Daath."

"I think that would be fun!" Ginji agreed. "It'll be more challenging that way since you can't ask the person what they want. You have to go based on what you already know."

"Great," Anise rolled her eyes.

"I'm all for it," Guy spoke up.

"Me too!" Luke eagerly added. Everyone nodded in agreement with varying degrees of excitement, save the former Fon Master Guardian. She didn't seem like she planned on telling them why, but she agreed to participate too, so no one prodded any further.

In almost no time at all, they'd managed to get everyone's names on nine pieces of paper and procured an empty sac. Luke bounced eagerly in anticipation as the bag was passed around and everyone drew a piece of paper from it. When his turn came, Luke stuck his hand in the sack, a huge grin plastered on his face. Oh please let it be who he was hoping for...

"All right!" Luke cheered, before realizing his gloating victory was probably giving his secret away, but even as he shrugged apologetically, he could feel the glee well up inside of him. He had really hoped to get Tear! Though Luke would have been just as happy with Asch or Guy, he wanted the chance to get his friend something special. That was why he had been hoping they would do presents in the first place.

"No fair!" Anise protested, holding out the paper she'd drawn. "I picked my own name!"

"Now what?" Guy asked.

"We'll just have to draw again," Asch said simply. "Even if someone traded with her, we'd know who has Anise's name and that's not fair."

No... Luke sighed in defeat and watched disappointedly as all the names disappeared back into the bag and it was passed around yet again. What were the odds his luck would hold strong the second time around? Luke drew the second name and carefully opened the paper. Not good, his luck wasn't nearly as consistent as he would have hoped. Not only was it not Tear... this one... might be a bit more difficult.

"What?" Anise's voice almost went up an octave when she saw the name she'd drawn and Luke cringed as if Mieu had just yelled in his ear. "No way! Not happening. We have to draw again."

"Did you draw your own name?" Jade inquired. Man... Asch really pitied the person who had to try and keep a secret from him. The redhead didn't doubt the oh-so-clever Colonel would know exactly who was buying for whom by the next day. A dangerous gleam shone in Jade's eye. Scratch that... he'd know by tonight.

"No, but still!" Anise protested.

"Then everyone's good," Asch concluded. The others all nodded, declaring that no one had picked themselves this time around.

"This is so not fair," Anise grumbled. Asch watched the dark haired girl with something akin to intrigue. Though he had a pretty good idea of whose name she must have drawn, her reaction seemed to belie some other issue that was bothering her.

"You have to admit, shopping will be quite the challenge. Keterburg doesn't have the best options, and the chances of us crossing paths in the process are quite good," Natalia pointed out, breaking the awkward silence that had fallen over everyone. It seemed as if they were all wearily eying each other, trying to gauge who had whom, and what they could possibly get their person for Christmas.

"That's no problem at all," Ginji answered cheerfully. "It's only a few hours to Grand Chokmah in the Albiore; if you guys want, tomorrow we can all go shopping for the day there."

"That would work," Natalia agreed.

"We should probably set off early to make the most of it," Guy pondered. He looked down at the name he'd drawn again and sighed. Grand Chokmah or not, he had a feeling he was going to lose at this little game of Asch's. He didn't have the first clue what to get, and he could only wonder how long he could go before he broke down and asked them what they wanted. There was nothing worse than having to buy for someone fussy.

"Well then, let's meet up first thing in the morning," the silver haired pilot suggested. "That should hopefully give everyone enough time, and it's not a big deal if we run a little late. This is going to be fun!"

"I can't believe we're seriously doing this," Anise groaned under her breath.

"You've seemed rather bitter ever since the subject of Christmas came up," Natalia pointed out with a pointed look at the former Fon Master Guardian. "Is there some reason you're so opposed to celebrating the holidays with the rest of us?" Everyone's attention fell on Anise who almost squirmed uncomfortably under the mixture of looks they were giving her.

"She does have a point," Ion spoke up. "Do you not like Christmas, Anise?" The dark haired girl in question tensed; they all knew she could never just ignore a question from Ion.

"Yeah! I hate Christmas, okay?" Anise burst out. "So stop looking at me like that! I don't like Christmas; I never have, and I never will. I'll play your stupid game, but don't expect anything more than that!"

"You... hate Christmas?" Luke asked, almost in disbelief. The sheer concept of it just didn't register. Christmas was such a special time of year... how could anyone hate it?

"Is there an echo out here?" Anise glared at Luke.

"Come on, Anise," Tear intervened. "There's no reason for you to be rude about it."

"It's such a wonderful holiday. May I ask why you dislike celebrating Christmas?" Ion inquired.

"I've always hated Christmas," Anise replied bitterly. "My parents have always been so poor that we've never had any kind of celebration. Then, they started working for the Order, and we had absolutely nothing. I never got a single present, not once! Everyone else in Daath knew damn well I never got anything and spent all day rubbing their stupid presents in my face. As if I hadn't noticed they got everything they asked for while I had nothing."

"But what about your parents?" Natalia asked. "Surely you spent the holidays with them."

"Yeah, so what? All they ever did was put up this pathetic looking twig they called a tree. They said 'we should be grateful for another year of blessings,' and crap like that. We weren't blessed; we didn't have anything! Every year they'd give me a candy cane or something ridiculous before hauling me off to help set up someone else's Christmas celebration in the chapel, as if it made our lives any better. I hated it! It was so pathetic!"

Anise watched the group before her, waiting for their judgements. They would come, they always did whenever she voiced her thoughts on the so-called holiday. No one could ever accept that she didn't enjoy it. Why? Why did she have to like it just because everyone else did? Asch was the first, his eyes fixed on her, and behind them there was a flare of anger. Before she could demand what his issue was, the redhead spun around and stormed off. Well, if he was going to be like that, then screw him. She didn't give a damn if he didn't like the fact she hated Christmas; some spoiled rich kid had no idea the crap she had deal with on a yearly basis, and he was in no position to judge her!

"Jeez, what's his problem?" Anise asked, looking to his younger brother for a response, but Luke wasn't paying attention; he seemed much more interested in the snow sitting by his feet. Unlike his sibling, he seemed upset by something. Luke looked up at Anise. Scratch that, he was definitely upset about something. What? Both of them now? Why couldn't they just accept that she didn't like the holidays the way they did? Anise rolled her eyes. This was working itself up to be another great Christmas.

Luke turned around and followed his brother, his pace quickening to a jog after a few steps. He hadn't even thought about it until Anise started talking... and now that it had hit him, it was tying his stomach into knots.

"Perhaps I should go see what the matter is," Tear suggested before taking off after her companion.

"What's with Luke?" Anise wondered, slightly less sceptically than before. "Wasn't he the one who was all for this in the first place?"

"He probably just realized that he isn't going to be home for Christmas," Guy replied with a worried look of his own following his best friend. "It'll be a first for him."

"Is that all? It's no different than any other day he's not home. We'll be going to Baticul again eventually, he should just suck it up and-"

Natalia's hand struck Anise across the face, cutting off the girl's snide remark.

"I don't know what Christmas may have been like for you in Daath, and I honestly no longer care," Natalia declared, all the while staring disapprovingly at the fuming former Fon Master Guardian. "But Christmas, for them, has always been a time that they both treasure. Maybe you don't value Christmas, but have some respect for the people who do! If you'd stop wallowing in your own self-pity, you'd realize you have far more than you seem to believe. Asch would have given anything to spend Christmas with both his parents!"

Natalia cut herself off; she'd clearly said more than she felt she should have. With one final glare, she turned around and followed her fiancé down the road towards the Inn. Jade, Ginji, and Ion all followed her, unsure what to say to the furious dark haired girl before them.

"What the hell is everyone's problem?" Anise demanded to no one in particular.

"You know..." Guy spoke up, surprising Anise who thought he'd left with the others. "You're probably the only one who got the chance to spend Christmas with your whole family."

"What?" Anise asked sceptically, if only to hide the fact that Guy's comment put a small pit in her stomach. Wait a second! What did she have to feel guilty for?

"Well... think about it. Ion doesn't have any parents; Tear's and Jade's and my parents are all dead; and Natalia's mother died when she was baby. I'm not going to say anything since how you feel about things is entirely your choice, but you should be careful what you take for granted. Because..." Guy looked up at the cloud covered sky, a solemn smile gracing his face as snow continued to fall.

"What means nothing to you... might mean the world and more to someone else."

Luke walked aimlessly down the white marble streets of Malkuth's capital. Christmas shopping for a certain someone was one thing, but doing it in the middle of Grand Chokmah's summer was another. It was just so hard to get into the swing of things when it was warm enough to go around in short sleeves, even if the streets and shops were all decorated. Luke stopped and smiled, unable to suppress a small amount of laughter at the birds that were taking up residence in the park's large Christmas tree. It was really amazing, the assortment of silver and blue decorations complementing the already beautiful city in a splash of colours that couldn't help but put him in a good mood.

Still, it left Luke without a present and without any particularly good ideas. This was proving to be a lot harder than he thought it would be. All the possible ideas that he'd come up with as he'd fallen asleep the night before fled him as he wandered among the shops and he was right back at square one. Well, he wasn't going to get anywhere just walking in circles, he might as well browse and see if anything planned on jumping out at him.

Luke opened the door to a shop that had particularly impressive Christmas decorations in the window. Not that he was looking for Christmas decorations, but the festivity of the place drew his attention. It seemed like a nice enough shop; there was a variety of products on many well-kept shelves and the decorations outside continued throughout the interior. It had a nice, quaint feel, but Luke wondered if he could find anything of interest.

The young noble turned the corner into one of the aisles and froze, finding himself face to face with his older brother. Neither of them said a word, their green eyes both full of suspicion as they stared each other down. The tension broke as they both gave in to the grins that pulled at their lips; they didn't have each other's names.

"How are you making out?" Luke asked, the grin still on his face.

"Not very well," Asch admitted with a chuckle. "At least I'm not like Anise and stuck with Jade. She must be having a blast." The older sibling rolled his eyes but was clearly amused at the idea of having to shop for the Colonel. "I mean, what do you get Jade for Christmas?"

"That's a good question," Luke snickered. "What do you get Jade for Christmas?"

"One of his own books," Asch declared matter-of-factly and both siblings started laughing. "No," Asch managed after getting his laughter under control. "I have Tear, and I have no idea what to get her."

"Awww, you're lucky. If you want I'll trade names with you," the younger redhead offered.

"Don't worry about it, I'll figure something out," Asch replied and Luke did his utmost to hide his dismay. He really wanted to buy for Tear... Part of him wondered if Asch knew that hadn't been his intent from the start, but was just trying to make this game harder for him. But whether Asch was playing with him or not, the two of them browsed together for awhile, checking out various items and chatting about little things, previous Christmas adventures, all sorts of stuff. Luke couldn't help but laugh at some of Asch's stories. He had no idea some of the things his sibling had gone through to get him Christmas gifts.

Yet, Luke found that the more they talked, the more an invisible weight began to press down on him. The funny stories suddenly weren't any more, and Luke was finding it harder and harder to smile in return. Asch stopped in the middle of the aisle and Luke instinctively stopped beside him; it was obvious what was going on.

"Feeling homesick?" Asch finally asked when it was clear Luke didn't plan on divulging anything.

"I think so..." Luke said hesitantly. "It's just, every time I start to think about Christmas, I remember that we won't be decorating the tree in the drawing room, and that Mother won't be here, and..." Luke trailed off, unable to continue.

"If it's bothering you that much, why not try writing a letter to Mother?" Asch suggested. "You can wish her a Merry Christmas, and it might help you settle your feelings a bit."

Luke thought on it a moment. "That's a good idea," he said with a smile. "I'll try that."

"Good plan," Asch grinned mischievously. "But in the meantime, we have presents to find."

"Asch!" Both redheads turned at the familiar voice and saw Anise running down the aisle. "There you are! I've been looking everywhere for you!"

"Hey Anise," Asch greeted the young girl who was catching her breath. "What has you looking for me?"

"It's not me," Anise finally replied. "Ion asked me to find you. He says he wants to talk to you about something. I think he's looking for present ideas for Natalia."

"Hmmm," Asch pondered the matter for minute.

"If you're busy I can pass the message on to him," Anise offered.

"No, it's okay," Asch answered. "I don't think I'm going to find anything here anyway."

"You at a loss for ideas too?" the former Fon Master Guardian inquired.

"Yeah, kind of," Asch replied. "I'll see you later, Luke," he called back as Anise began to lead him away.

"Hey Luke, are you leaving soon?" Anise asked.

"I think I'll look a bit longer," the redhead replied with a smile.

"Okay, I want to talk to you, so I'll be right back."

"Looks like you're not the only one in need of ideas," Luke commented with a smirk.

"Shut up." Asch waved back.

"Something cute!" Luke yelled after his brother.

'Something cute... really?'

'Definitely,' the younger redhead provided with an amazing amount of conviction.


'If you have to ask me that, you are denser than Anise and Ion.'

'Oh look who's talking,' Asch shot back.

'What's that supposed to mean?'

'Nothing...' Asch's reply carried the echoes of laughter and Luke could hear Asch pondering the 'something cute' option aloud.

"So you have Tear, huh?" It was Luke's turn to laugh when he heard Anise's reply through his sibling and Asch promptly shut Luke out in protest.

The younger redhead chuckled and returned to browsing the shop's wares. There really wasn't anything here that suited his purpose but Anise said she'd return and he decided not to make her track him down again since she'd gone through the effort of finding them in the first place. He wondered what Anise could possibly want to talk to him about; after all, he wasn't exactly the person to come to for help with ideas.

At least she seemed to be in a much better mood than the previous day. It left Luke curious as to whether she'd meant the things she'd said, or whether she'd just been having a bad day, perpetuated by the frustration of drawing the name she had. It was something Luke didn't think he'd ask her, a can of worms best left unopened. He didn't want to ruin her improved mood and to be honest, he wasn't the person to help her sort out her feelings on the subject. He just couldn't wrap his head around the concept... how could anyone hate Christmas?

"Thanks for waiting," Anise's voice caught the young noble's attention and he smiled.

"That obvious?"

"Well, unless you were planning on finding something on the floor, then yes." Luke laughed, and Anise couldn't resist a smile. "You want to chat outside?"


The weather, if possible, had gotten even warmer while Luke had been inside and he couldn't believe he was seriously considering abandoning his jacket. It was messing with his head to have such warm weather, especially when the nearby Keterburg was still covered in snow. Apparently, according to Nephry, the snow melted for a month or so at the peak of summer, which tended to fall about a month after the holidays, but Luke wouldn't believe her until he saw it. It was just impossible to imagine the small northern town without a blanket of snow.

"So!" Anise broke the silence between them. "Do you want to trade names for the gift exchange?"

Luke grinned, "No thanks, I'll make do with who I have."

"Damn!" Anise pouted. "I don't get it! I can't get anyone to trade with me! Ugh, this is so stupid," she grumbled.

Luke sighed sadly; he had decided not to ask but...

"What's that look all about?" Anise asked noticing the serious air that fell over Luke.

"Do you really hate Christmas that much?" the redhead hesitantly asked.

"Look, I'm sorry if I pissed you off the other day," Anise replied, "but Christmas wasn't the same for me as it was for you. I mean, what was Christmas like at your place?"

"For us?"

"Yeah," Anise replied, though she wondered if she even wanted to hear it. She knew pretty damn well what was coming, after all, Luke and Asch were both about as rich as you got without being... well Natalia. They probably had all kinds of expensive gifts and lavish parties, stuff she could only ever dream about. But it was because of that she could point out just how much better their Christmas always was, and maybe she could get them to understand that not everyone was as lucky as they were.

"Well, Christmas was usually pretty quiet at the manor," Luke began. "As long as I can remember Father has never been around. He always has some kind of work or other business to attend to; most of the time he isn't even in Baticul for the holidays. I didn't mind much, maybe because I didn't know what it was like for him to actually be there, but it always upset Asch. Some years Mother was stuck in bed and was too sick to celebrate with us. I still remember one Christmas we tried to get the tree into her bedroom so we could celebrate together." Luke smiled fondly hinting that those endeavours didn't go nearly as smoothly as they should have. "My favourite part was always Christmas supper, the chef would work extra hard to make this huge feast. I always felt really bad; they put in so much work and made so much food, but it was really only Asch and I who got to enjoy it. Since Mother and Father weren't there Guy and some of the other servants would sit with us and we had a really good time."

"And?" Anise prodded when Luke stopped talking.

"And...what? That's really about all. We weren't allowed outside Baticul so we never visited any relatives during the holidays other than Natalia and Uncle, but they had their own celebrations so they usually didn't spend Christmas day with us. Besides... back then things between Natalia and I got pretty awkward."

"No, I mean, didn't you guys get any presents or anything?"

"Well, yeah, and the presents were nice, but they're hardly the point. Presents are just something special we give each other to say thank you for all the special times we spent together in the past year. It's a reminder that we're lucky to have each other and we're lucky to be together-"

"You're so naive!" Anise shouted, her voice laced with frustration, cutting off her companion's statement. Luke looked at her in shock at her sudden change of temperament. She turned to face him, and her brown eyes burned in the anger that flushed her cheeks. "You're so stupid, and such an idiot!" She yelled before turning in the other direction and stomping off.

Anise could feel Luke's confused and hurt gaze follow her. It didn't take half a block before she started to feel bad about the way she'd snapped at him. What did he know? Luke was just some spoiled rich kid whose head was full of a bunch of idealistic crap. She just had to get out of there; she had to escape, but no matter how far Anise fled, she couldn't outrun her thoughts... or her tugging conscience. Tears of frustration began to well up in her eyes.

Because if Luke and Asch were the spoiled ones, then how come talking to them always made her feel so damn selfish?

The sun was slowly lowering towards the horizon, its light dancing off the water that was ever present in the floating city. The golden sky was only interrupted by the outline of a Christmas tree, tall and full of colourful decorations whose colours were lost in the shadows of the setting sun. Soon the lights would be lit and rescue the tree's beauty, but even immersed in shadows, it was undoubtedly beautiful. Peony did an amazing job decorating his city and Asch vaguely wondered how much Nephry liked Christmas and how much that played into the ruler's endeavours.

Now, if only Baticul was this beautiful come Christmas time. While the southern city was lucky enough to get snow, Kimlasca's capital was only ever sparsely decorated at best, and the spirit of the holidays was never abound as it seemed to be here. Asch wished it was. He loved the feel in the air, the excitement and joy that seemed to have consumed everyone he passed by. Everyone seemed so happy and full of cheer. Maybe if Baticul was like this... then his father wouldn't have been so eager to escape it every year. But it wasn't really Baticul that the absent Duke was fleeing from, Asch knew that. His father had spent all those years escaping his obligations, using responsibilities as an excuse, just so he wouldn't have to spend time with his family... so he wouldn't have to spend time with Asch.

"Luke, what's the matter?" Lady Susanne knelt down and held her crying four year old. He sobbed in her arms as she picked him up. Score he was growing up; she barely had the strength to carry him. Her little Luke was getting so big so fast! Susanne smiled fondly, sitting in a chair and gently rocking him in her arms.

"Come now, it's Christmas morning," she said softly when his sobs wouldn't abate. "You shouldn't be sad, it's time to open presents."

"But daddy isn't here!" the little redhead managed between sobs, tears still leaking down his cheeks and staining his mother's shoulder. "Daddy said he'd be here! He promised he'd be here for Christmas!" Luke's sobbing began with renewed intensity, and he clutched his mother even tighter than before. "He pinky promised!"

"Oh, sweetie," Susanne began softly, continuing to rock him and comfortingly rub his back. "Your daddy is a very important man. He has important things that only he can do, so he can't be here even though he wants to be," she said as she stroked Luke's hair.

"That's not true! He said he would come!"

"Come now, Luke... dry those tears. You have lots of presents to open."

"I don't want presents! I want daddy to be here! He promised!" The little boy continued to cry in his mother's arms. "He... he promised..."

"Hey there," the voice broke Asch from his train of thought, and he looked up to see Anise staring at him curiously.

"Hey Anise," Asch replied, offering her the spot on the bench next to him. The former Fon Master Guardian sat down, and both of them watched people strolling through the park in silence.

"So!" Anise piped up with all the cheer she could muster. Something about the mood Asch was in was seriously dragging her down. "Do you want to trade names for the gift exchange?"

Asch smiled, "Sorry, you're too late."

"Damn," Anise grumbled in defeat noticing the package sitting near Asch's feet. "I've got no luck at all."

"Don't worry, I'm sure you'll come up with something," Asch taunted.

"You're just getting back at me for yesterday, aren't you?" Anise shot back, but when Asch grew solemn, she regretted her jab. The two of them sat in awkward silence, watching the sun set. It was just... she didn't get it! Why did just being around them make her feel so guilty? It wasn't like she meant to be a total jerk about it. How could she have known Christmas was so special to them? They who loved to spend it with their family and...

"I'm sorry," Anise finally said, destroying the stillness that had captivated the both of them.

"What for?" Asch asked, his own voice unusually quiet and serious.

"I'm sorry for all that stuff I said yesterday. I didn't think I would actually hurt your feelings."

"It's okay," the redhead replied with a sad smile. His emerald eyes were piercing and Anise didn't doubt he saw right through her. "You miss them don't you?"

Anise could only nod in reply, not trusting that she could gather her feelings that quickly. How? How could Asch possibly know that? He'd hit the nail clear on the head and it shattered the front she had spent the last few days building up.

"It was all so stupid!" Anise protested. Her eyes were stinging, but there was no way she was going to cry, least of all in front of Asch. "It started when I was little. All I ever wanted was this set of silly hair barrettes. You know, the kind that have the little glass beads on the end."

"No, I can't say I do know," Asch answered with a chuckle, and Anise secretly thanked him for making this easier.

"Well, being a boy, you probably wouldn't know, but they were really popular back in the day. All the girls wanted some. It had something to do with the heroine of some stupid kid's book or something. I didn't care about any of that, I wanted them because they were pretty. The beads had pink flowers in them, and they were really hard to make, so you can imagine, they were even harder to come by. It's all I ever asked for, year after year, but our family had no money, and they never got me any presents. Every year I asked, and every year I'd get the same dumb old candy cane on Christmas morning. As the years went by, people stopped making them; they got really rare and now you can't even get them anymore, so I stopped thinking about it."

Anise paused, and Asch waited in silence for her to continue. He knew the look on Anise's face and he was more than familiar with the emotions she must be going through. After all, to tell a story, was to sort through all the feelings that came with it, and he knew full well that it took more than two barrettes to put Anise on the verge of tears.

"Then last year, Maestro Tritheim somehow got a set. He knew I'd always wanted some, and he felt bad for me 'cause I never got anything for Christmas, so he gave them to my dad to give me. I found out because one of the acolytes overheard them talking and was making fun of me, but I didn't care! I was so excited and so happy that I was going to get a real present for the very first time! But then I walked into the chapel and saw him! I saw my dad giving them away to some random girl he didn't even know!"


"So on Christmas morning, when they gave me my candy cane, you know what I did?" Anise asked, tears now visibly threatening to spill over down her cheeks. "I told them to shove it, and that I hated them! I threw the candy cane at my dad, stormed out, and didn't talk to them for days. How was I supposed to know? How should I have known that was the last Christmas we'd ever spend together?" The dark haired girl couldn't hold back her feelings any longer, and Asch placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. "That's why I hate Christmas! It's not fair! I don't care about the stupid barrettes! I want our Christmases back! I want to see them and their stupid smiles wishing me a Merry Christmas and dragging me out help with the celebrations. I want us to spend it together again!"

Anise collapsed into Asch's gesture, hiding her tears as she buried her face in his jacket. The redhead put an arm comfortingly around her, his silence doing more to comfort her than any words he could possibly offer. He knew where she was coming from, and that's why he knew any thing he said would be meaningless. Words can't give back the people you've lost.

"You think I'm selfish... don't you?" Anise managed.

"No," Asch replied solemnly. "I think it's perfectly normal."

The last of the sun's light faded from the horizon and Asch's whisper was carried off on the cool night breeze.

"You never realize the value of what you have... until you've lost it."