Standard issue disclaimer: Akamatsu Ken created and owns Negima. I am not him. This is a parody, protected speech. Thanks to my cowriters and the reviewers.

A Decadent Habits Christmas
Chapter Twenty-Four: Negi

It had been a long day, Negi mused as he walked up the stairs of the teachers' dormitory to his room. But then again, they were all long days, recently. And yet this one had been longer than most. Nor was it really over yet.

He opened the door to the room, expecting to see Kitty sprawled in front of the TV as she usually was when he came home. To his surprise, she wasn't there. Nor, he saw in an instant, was she curled up in bed or by the kotatsu. And there was a faint acrid smell in the air.

"Kitty?" he asked, keeping a reign on his suddenly welling panic.

And then she walked out of the suite's kitchenette, holding a plate in front of her that had a few slices of golden brown toast on it. "Ohkyeree nahsigh," she said, face and voice a little stiff.

He blinked. "You made toast," he announced, as though she weren't aware of this.

"Hi," she said with a sharp bob of her head.

He decided to correct the pronounciation of 'hai' some other time. "That's very nice of you," he told her as he came over to take one of the slices off the plate. It was done just as he liked it, though there was probably a bit too much margarine for his own good.

It was better to get the hard question out of the way. So, after chewing on it and making appreciative noises, he asked, "Did you burn much bread practicing?"

Kitty flushed, and, avoiding his gaze, replied, "We need more o' the bread." In a low, embarassed tone.

They'd had two loaves when he'd started out this morning. "Well, the end result is worth it. Thank you, Kitty, this is very good toast, and it was a very thoughtful gesture."

Now her face swiveled up to let her look at him again, and he had the distinct impression that his Master was somehow present once again, evaluating him with a skeptical, judicious expression. But it was Kitty's voice that spoke up, eventually. "Aye? Well. 'Tis good, then."

"Have some yourself," he offered as he went past her to check on the kitchenette. As he suspected, she'd left a huge mess there for him to clean up. Quite beyond the piles of burnt toast, she'd apparently started out with more expansive culinary ambitions before settling on preparing it. The wreckage of those ambitions was lying in plain sight.

His day was definitely not over.

Before he could even get started on cleaning this anteroom of the Augean stables, he heard Kitty clearing her throat, and turned to look back at her. He was a bit surprised that she was standing right where he'd left her, rather than sitting down to eat the toast. Judging by the way that the toes of her bare feet were twitching —

"You should really wear socks or slippers in this weather," Negi said before she could say anything.

Kitty blinked, confused. Then coughed, and said, "Dinnae like socks. But that be neither here nor there." She drew in a deep breath. "That Chachamaru person came here this morn, after ye had gone yer way, and bade me tell ye that ye could come visit her friends. And that I might come too —"

"Yes, Chisame said the same to me," Negi interjected.

"I havenae finished," Kitty growled.

"Sorry, please continue."

"— and," she said, somewhat loudly, "that, did I come, she would nae be be there, that I would nae be vexed by her."

Now Negi was genuinely startled. He knew how much Chachamaru liked being separated from Chisame. (Not at all.) So he was at once surprised by the fact that she'd made the offer, and more than a bit upset that someone he cared about was putting herself through such hardships. "I see," he said, not letting any of that show. "And what would you like to do, Kitty?"

She drew in what looked like an even deeper breath before answering. "I'd have ye tell them that, that we will both be visiting, and, and, and, that the daft heathen girl need not make herself scarce on my account." The last was delivered in a rush.

"Kitty!" Negi said, astonished.

"'Tis Christmas!" she shouted, frowning heavily. "Folk should make peace, aye, though they will nae keep it."

"That's very noble of you, but, but why are you so angry about it?"

She closed her eyes, then blurted out, "Because I'm scairt, o' course! So many people, all of them easier to be with than me! Sure 'n they'll steal ye away from me, ye'll go off and leave me, and I'll be alone again!" And then she started crying.

Negi promptly went over to her and hugged her tightly. "Ssh," he said. "Ssh, don't cry. That will never happen. As long as I'm alive, I'll never leave you without coming back. No matter what happens, no matter how hard it can be."

After a while, her sobs settled down. But he didn't stop hugging her until it was time for bed, and even then it was just for long enough for them to get ready. (The kitchen never got cleaned.) Rather than waiting for her to crawl into his bed, they settled down in the same one together. The last words that Negi heard before sleep claimed him were a gently voiced, "Merry Christmas," whispered into his ear.

Asuna wasn't here. His mother wasn't here. His father was still missing. One of his own children had died before even being born.

Nekane-neechan was gone forever.

But there was a little person who needed him more than anything.

He might not have all that he wanted, but he had all he needed.

Of A Decadent Habits Christmas