Yo, dudes. I'm back, yo. No, just kidding. I don't ever talk like that. :] Here's your Christmas edition, though!
AssasinZAssasin- God, it's been so long, I'm not even sure if you're back yet... I'm going to assume you are? But, if you ARE back, please tell your friend that I really appreciate his review. I thank him for filling in for you. ^^ How have you been? I hope you've been having an easier time, and I'm sorry to hear you're so busy. Don't worry about missing the last review. Anyways, sudden question time! Would you consider being my second beta?
Fefisgbf13- Well, half of this chapter is centered like that. xD I hope you like it!
xXAnime4LifeXx- Thanks so much! I'm flattered. ^/^ But yes, I loooove how he looks. Though, in all honesty, I think he would look better without the yellow. Maybe black. With sunglasses. YEAHH. Okay. Enjoy. :]
The shrill sounds of children excited for the break rang through the halls, accompanied by the pounding beat of their feet. Class had just been let out, and everyone was happy to go home for Christmas break. Spilling out of the doors of the elementary school and piling into the buses, the bustle of the crowd was almost chaotic as every color seemed to clash in a palette of shirts and backpacks. Figuratively speaking.
"Bye, Aidan! See you after break!"
Aidan turned from the sink he was standing at, and gave a little wave to his friends who were heading out the door. The water that still dripped from his hands shimmered, the sunlight from the window behind the boy causing it to shine golden. A kind, gentle voice cautioned him from the cubbyhole area, "Aidan. Careful, don't drip water on the projects."
"Huh? Oh... Sorry, Ms. Anoli," He quickly moved his hands back to the basin, away from the drawings on the table beside him. For their project, the class was working in groups to write a story. They also had to draw pictures to go along with it, and the multitudes of Crayon drawings covered the tables in the classroom. "Ms. Anoli, what's the math homework again?"
The young, blond-haired woman turned and smiled, her arms full of papers. "Forgot again?"
"Sorry, I just didn't write it down."
"You and Brian should stop talking during class. Though, I agree that the Legend of Zelda series is very good. Stuff like Majora's Mask seems a little too scary for you two, though. Math homework is the whole packet that I gave you today?"
"Okay, thank you. Well, I haven't played Majora's Mask before... Vanille cries if she gets too scared." He would never say so, but he might have gotten scared, too. "And I have to go get her now. Thank you. Have a nice break."
"You, too, Aidan! Be sure to do your homework."
Aidan grabbed his backpack and lunch box from his cubbyhole and ran out the door. The keychains on his pack jangled as he trotted down the color coded hallways of his school. This elementary school was like a big square, with different hallways and rooms branching out of it. In the center of it all was the library, and each corner of the school led to a different grade's designated wing. Except kindergarten. There were only two classrooms for kindergarten, since those children were so young that they were allowed to come in the afternoon, if they wanted to; There were two sessions for each of the two classrooms, an A.M. and a P.M. Everything else had a color. First grade was yellow, second grade was purple, third grade was blue, fourth grade was orange, and fifth grade was green.
As Aidan ran out of the yellow wing, which was marked, like the others, by a colored stripe along the white walls, he passed by the library, which didn't have doors, and was just an open section with shelves as its borders. Coming to a halt, the rusty-haired boy slowly peered around the corner of the bookshelf, looking at the tables and chairs that took up half of the library. Tables with computers were on the other half, with a big space in the middle for classes to sit in when they came to the library for a project.
But the section Aidan was staring at was the place where people sat when they just wanted to read books. A young girl his age sat at one of the tables. Her deep blue eyes perused the pages of the book she held in her lap, her raven black hair falling down past her shoulders, curling slightly at the ends.
She was the only one in the library, aside from the librarians, and who would question why? It was Christmas break. But... this girl was always there, reading a book.
Aidan stepped back behind the bookshelf, rubbing the back of his head awkwardly. He kicked at the navy blue carpet, and then set off at a run, faster than before.
"Hi, Mrs. Spineski," he called as he entered the large kindergarten classroom. Mrs. Spineski had been his kindergarten teacher last year, and now she taught Vanille. "Where's my sister?"
"Oh, Aidan, nice timing!" A rather broad but kind-faced woman stepped out of an office at the far end of the room, a bag on her arm. "I was just about to go to Mr. Basil to give him these papers. Your sister should be in the courtyard outside. Happy holidays!"
"Thank you, happy holidays," Aidan replied as he trotted to the end of the classroom, where a door led to a closed, brick wall courtyard. He could just see his sister's snow white hair from where he stood in the doorway. She was squatting on the ground, giggling as little creatures jumped about her. "Vanille, c'mon, let's go."
"Oh, Aidan!" Vanille turned her head and smiled. Sunlight shone through the leaves of the tree she was under, and her blue eyes seemed to light up as she stood and stepped into it. "Look, aren't they cute?"
A variety of bunnies jumped around her feet, and Aidan entered the courtyard, shutting the door to the classroom behind him. "Yeah. You like bunnies, huh? But don't you like other animals?"
"Of course I do! I just like the bunnies here, because they like me, too. Chrissy's bunny is boring, though. It just sits around all day and eats, and when we let it out in her yard, it wouldn't let us pet it." The little girl bent and picked up the oddest looking bunny Aidan had ever seen. "Look, they let me hug them. Isn't this one funny?"
"...Are you sure that's a bunny?" The thing stood only on its hind legs, which were skinny, but sure to be powerful. Its tail was long and thick, and helped its balance. All in all, it looked more like a mix of a kangaroo and a rabbit than just a rabbit. It flicked its long ears as it stared at Aidan.
"Of course it is! Mrs. Spineski said it was a foreign rabbit, but it likes playing with these."
"Oh. Oh, Vanille! Wait, we gotta go! We'll keep Auntie and the others waiting!" Aidan pulled open the door and ran inside, picking up Vanille's stuff. Her backpack was much lighter than his own. Behind him, Vanille bid the rabbits farewell, before shutting the door, apologizing all the while.
"Wait for me, Aidan!" Vanille wailed as she tried to keep up with her brother, who sprinted out of the door and stood waiting for her. Once she caught up, though, he would set off again.
"Slow! What, are you mad at me?" Vanille scowled at him in reply, and for once he didn't leave her behind, instead letting her pass and walking behind her. Aidan raised an eyebrow, and then put his hands behind his head. "We'd be late if I didn't rush you." Vanille ignored him pointedly. "Ah, hi. Sorry we're late."
Serah stood at the door to the main office, chatting with the women seated at the computers and desks. Nora, Ethan, and Fang stood close by. Nora looked up and waved, her light blond hair shining in the afternoon light. Ethan grinned and ran over to drag the two over to where the kids were playing some game, and Fang smiled, not quite as shy with family around.
Serah turned her head upon hearing Aidan's voice and spotted them. "Hi, you two. It's alright, I was just talking to the ladies here." Her light pink hair swirled as she turned to face the office personnel. It was down today, and fell down her back in curls. "I'll be going now. Got to do some Christmas shopping."
"Ahhh, I just finished yesterday. Have fun, Mrs. Villiers!"
"You finished? I'm impressed! Have a good break, kids."
The children bobbed their heads politely, and then followed Serah. When they caught up, the woman turned to them. "So, where are we going today?"
"Hmmm..." The children tilted their heads to the side at the same time, thinking...
"Grocery store!" Vanille and Ethan exclaimed.
"Craft store," Aidan, Nora, and Fang said in decided unison.
Aidan and Vanille turned around and glared at each from either sides of Serah, who blinked in surprise. "...Did you two get into a fight?" She placed a hand on each of their heads.
"Vanille was just being too slow. Auntie, let's go to the craft store first."
"Aidan's so mean to me! We should go to the cooking store! I wanna bake cookies."
"No, the craft store's closer, right?"
By this time, Vanille was close to angry tears, and Aidan was resolutely looking away. Serah sighed, unlocking the car doors. "Try to make up, okay? Though, I'm not too worried, since you two usually get along fine. Unlike Ethan with everyone else."
Vanille stuck out her tongue at her brother, who jabbed her in the forehead, making her squeal in rage.
Serah placed her hand on her forehead, shaking her head. Nora and Fang squeezed themselves in between Vanille and Aidan, separating the squabbling siblings. Ethan called shotgun in a loud voice and bounced into the car, grinning cheekily.
The entire ride was... "fun." Which, by family standards, was a car full of chatting, arguing people.
"Why does Ethan get to ride in the front?"
"I still don't see why we can't go to the grocery store, first."
"Mommy, can't I have Kirby's Epic Yarn for Christmas?"
"Kids, settle down! Ethan! Don't stand up in the car! Put your seat belt on, Vanille."
In any case, a traditional car ride with the cousins was just the thing to settle Aidan and Vanille's anger. By the time the family piled out of the car, the atmosphere had settled down and was back to normal. It was time to start their little mission.
"Stick together, okay guys? I'm going to go pick a Christmas card." Serah flicked a finger towards a corner of the store with a large sign hanging over it that spelled out "PHOTOS."
"Okay~" Once their guardian had walked out of earshot, the five children huddled together, whispering urgently.
"Did you guys figure out a present for your parents?" Aidan muttered.
"Well, Mom's easy," Nora whispered. "She likes things we make her, and she likes jewelry. So we're going to make her bracelets, since she already got a necklace from Dad."
"We haven't figured anything out for Daddy, though," Fang murmured, tugging at a strand of red hair.
"He isn't making it easy for us," Ethan complained. "He just says that having the biiig family together is fine, and that our love is all he wants." He snorted. "It's Christmas. You can't just give love."
"That's the point of Christmas, Ethan," his twin reminded him gently.
"Yeah, but c'mon. You know what I mean. Anyways, how do you celebrate the spirit of giving without giving anything?"
Vanille groaned. "We don't have any idea what to give either of our parents..." Aidan nodded, before adding, "I guess we'll just have to look around 'til we find something."
The kids murmured their consent before setting off in a little group. They ran through the aisles, occasionally calling out to one another when they saw something of possible interest. Baubles, cookie cutters, clay, string... The children perused the shelves overflowed with arts and crafts, meeting back up where they had started. Only the Villiers had found something to aid them in their quest for christmas presents, but only for Serah. They still hadn't found something for Snow.
The Estheims hadn't found anything at all. They really couldn't imagine their mother wearing jewelry, with the exception of formal occasions, and they weren't sure what to get their father, either.
"Guhhhh..." Vanille groaned, sitting down on the floor of the store. "We couldn't find anything..."
"Don't sit on the ground," was Aidan's only response as he waved at his aunt, who was clearly looking for them. When he brought his hand down, though, he hit a stack of merchandise in the arms of a middle-aged woman. "Ah, excuse me!" He apologized as he kneeled down to collect the various items strewn on the floor. Vanille made a reproachful noise before scooting over to help. Their cousins joined in, as well.
"Oh, what polite children! Thank you, thank you..." The lady beamed at the five of them as they handed her her collection. "And are you their mother?"
Serah had come up behind the group, pink hair swaying. "Oh, no, only three of them. The other two are my nephew and niece. I'm sorry, did they cause trouble for you?"
"No, no, just a little accident... Could've happened to anyone. They're so polite, all of them..."
Aidan, who had been listening to their conversation, picked up the last item, holding it in both hands with an absentminded look on his face. He smoothed the surface of the book-like thing, staring into space until Vanille tapped his shoulder. "Huh?" He blinked and looked at his white-haired sister.
"She's waiting for it." The woman was smiling at Aidan, patiently waiting for him to return the merchandise. Aidan flushed and held it out. Just as she took it, though, he seemed to come to a sudden realization, and stared, wide-eyed, even after the lady stood and bid them goodbye.
"What is it, Aidan...?" Fang questioned him.
"...I know what to get Dad," Aidan said, before clutching at Serah's arm excitedly. "Auntie, can you please take us to our grandpa's house? Please?"
"Aidan, Mommy would say that that's rude." Vanille chided. She "humph"-ed when Aidan shot her a look, and then added, "We can make it up to you, Auntie."
"Well, I don't mind, but what for?"
"I'll tell you on the car," Aidan impatiently pulled at his aunt's arm, before remembering both a step in his task and his manners. "Oh, and I'd like to please buy some things, if I could."
"Oh, good, you found something. But, going to Palumpolum will take awhile. Hurry and get what you need, and then we can call your mother for permission, alright?" Serah smiled, not noticing that Ethan was digging through her bag of photos, pulling out the Christmas cards, and showing it to the others. Aidan nodded and took Vanille by the hand, pulling her along behind him as he ran back down the aisles.
A few days later, Christmas Day dawned as it always had in the Estheim household. Lively.
Ex-Guardian Corp and soldier "Lightning" Farron, or Estheim, woke up with a very small child bouncing up and down on top of her, white hair flying about. Beside her, her equally white-haired husband groaned as another not-so-small-but-still-quite-little boy prodded him methodically.
"Vanille...!" Lightning sat up, causing the little girl to tumble off, spilling onto her father's side of the big bed.
"Good mo~rning!" The little girl sang, sitting up on top of Hope, who grunted each time Aidan's finger poked him. The boy seemed enthralled with this new sport, and was taking great interest in pestering his father.
Vanille took no notice of this going on beneath her, and continued to chatter in excitement. "Merry Christmas! It's 5 o'clock, so we'll have plenty of time to open presents! Me and Aidan made your presents together, so there are less presents, but twice the lo~ve!"
Aidan had discovered that poking Hope's face made him make higher noises, and that poking his leg made him hit lower notes. He interrupted his process of making his father grunt "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" long enough to add, "I thought of the presents, though."
His little sister stuck her tongue out at him before pushing off of the bothered Hope to stand in front of her mother. "Hurry, hurry! Get up and open the presents!"
Lightning leaned over and gave her son a gentle pat on the forehead. "Stop bugging Dad and go eat breakfast. Remember to help Vanille with the toaster."
Reluctantly, the rusty-haired boy motioned his sister over, and the two of them exited the room with Vanille chatting away. When they were gone, Lightning rested her arms on Hope's side, tucking her chin in between them. "And you still can't get up, after being poked so much."
Hope murmured something unintelligible before burrowing his face into the covers, his white hair sticking out above the edge of the comforter like the tops of a turnip. Lightning shrugged and slid out of bed, hurrying in the chill morning air to get a jacket to wear over her pajamas.
Out in the kitchen, Aidan and Vanille were already at the breakfast table. Aidan had a bowl of cereal sitting on the table in front of him while Vanille had some buttered toast. Each had a glass of milk, making it a typical breakfast for them.
"Oooh, Mommy's already up! It would be a new record if Daddy gets up soon. Then we can open presents quickly!"
"I'm up..." Hope leaned against the doorframe of the bedroom, yawning. "I wanted to sleep in on my day off..."
"Nu-uh! You don't sleep in on Christmas!" Vanille looked almost aghast at the very thought, and held her plate away when her father peered at the toast. "Daddy, it's time to open presents!"
"Huh? Can't I eat first?"
"I'll give you my toast, but you have to eat next to the Christmas tree." Vanille set the plate in her father's hands before pulling him away to the living room. As if paired by similar hair colors, Lightning and Aidan followed behind them, Aidan silently handing a cup of hot chocolate to his mother.
The Christmas tree sat in a corner of the living room, mainly because it was a bother if it blocked the television. The colorful lights turned on at night, but were off during the daytime. Nevertheless, the tree was festive with its baubles and ornaments. Christmas cards from Serah, the members of NORA, and other friends lined the mantle of the fireplace, and two stockings hung from hooks, their bottoms filled with little gifts from Santa. The presents beneath the tree were arranged into little piles according to the receiver. Two for Lightning, two for Hope, three for Vanille, and three for Aidan.
"So, are you guys going to check your stockings first?" Hope munched on a piece of toast, watching Vanille sift through the presents.
"Nope, not this year!" Vanille stood up and held out two gifts, one to her father, and one to her mother. "You guys start first!"
"Us?" Hope set down the plate of toast, surprised, while Lightning took the presents, handing him his present.
"What's the special occasion?"
"Nothing," Aidan replied. "We just want you two to see the presents we gave you."
There was a tearing of wrapping paper, and Lightning held in her hand a medium-sized box. Inside, there were four more little boxes. All of them had similar objects within. They were four small, clear, glass orbs. Christmas ornaments. Aidan and Vanille had bought them at the craft store, and then managed to obtain pictures, which they then downsized with Serah's help. Two pictures glued back-to-back hung inside each globe.
One had two pictures of Lightning's childhood. One showed a family photo in front of a nice vacation scenery, and the second, on the back of the first one, had a picture of a young Lightning, regularly called Claire at the time, and an even younger Serah.
The second one was of Lightning in the army. One with Amodar, and the second with a few fellow soldiers.
The third had pictures of Lightning, Hope, Sazh, Dajh, Snow, and Serah. Unfortunately, there were no pictures of Oerba Dia Vanille and Oerba Yun Fang.
The fourth globe had a wedding picture. Lightning stood, radiant even in a photograph, her flowing white dress blowing in an unseen wind. Hope stood nearby in his black suit, white hair fluffed up. His grin and her rare smile plainly showed their matching happiness. The back of it was a very recent picture; one of Lightning, Hope, Vanille, and Aidan last Thanksgiving.
A smile crossed Lightning's face and she laughed softly, kneeling to embrace her children. Hope admired the ornaments before opening his own present.
It was a scrapbook. Aidan had gotten the idea when he picked up a scrapbook for the woman he crashed into at the store. The very front pages had pictures of a very young Hope, with a girl and a boy, his childhood friends. The further on the pages went, the further down Hope's life the pictures went. Hope's mother, father, his high school friends, Sazh, Dajh, Lightning...
He had sat down upon the couch to look at all the pictures, and now looked up to see that his family was around him, also looking at the pictures. Aidan's green eyes locked with his father's. "Dad. Do you like it?"
Hope smiled and put his arm around his son's neck, bringing him close. Vanille put the album on the table, sitting herself on Hope's lap, her special sitting spot. "Of course I like it. This is great, you two... I couldn't ask for more."
"Yay~! Mission accomplished!" Vanille giggled, then nearly fell off her father's lap when the phone rang.
Lightning quickly picked it up, bringing the receiver to her ear. "Hello? Oh, Serah. Mm. Merry Christmas to you, too. Yes, 7 o'clock... What? No, we're not busy." She covered the phone and looked at the others. "Serah wants everyone to get together earlier, before dinner at her house."
"So, will we go to their house earlier?"
"That seems to be the plan. We'll also have more time to take Christmas pictures."
There were instant complaints from the children, but Lightning waved them away as she agreed with her sister. "Sure, we'll be there. Four o'clock, huh? Yeah, see you. Don't complain," She said to her children as she set the phone back in its cradle. "You'll have more time to play with the others."
"Besides," Hope added, "it wouldn't be Christmas without Christmas pictures." He laughed as the children maintained their grumpy expressions. "C'mon. How about you open your own presents now?"
The children were immediately cheered, and set to opening their presents. Lightning sat herself down on the cushion beside Hope. "What'd you get Aidan?" She murmured, so the children wouldn't overhear.
"Golden Sun. He'll like it, since he's pretty into video games."
"As long as he isn't into those football games, like Ethan."
"Well, those aren't too bad. We'll see them playing it later tonight, though."
"I guess. It isn't a holiday without meeting up with the family." Lightning sighed, leaning back in the couch.
Hope grinned and leaned over to rest his head on Lightning's shoulder, as if he was still shorter than her. "Merry Christmas."
AND AFTER DISAPPEARING FOR GOODNESS KNOWS HOW LONG, I AM OFF TO WORK ON THE NEXT CHAPTER OF INNER CONFLICTS. -clicks heels- Bye bye.