Finding Comfort in a Strange Place

"Okay, well Lotus and I will search this room. You lovebirds can take that one," Santa sneered over his shoulder, slinking into the now-open room. Lotus shot the pair a glance and had to suppress a groan and eye-roll when she caught Junpei and June blushing at each other. Tossing her long, thick, black locks over her shoulder, she glided in after Santa and shut the door. At first glance, the room was nothing extraordinary; it held some chests, a display case, a coffee table, and a couch that the young, white-haired man was now stretching out on, lazily throwing his hands behind his head.

"What are you doing?" Lotus snapped furiously, giving Santa a death glare.

Santa yawned lackadaisically and shrugged. "Chill you old hag. You're gonna get even more frown lines!" With a short, sarcastic laugh, he swung his legs up onto the coffee table and started kicking off his black boots.

"You cocky, annoying jerk," Lotus growled, pushing Santa's legs down with her red heels. Despite her angry tone, she found herself plopping down next to him and relaxing against the soft cushions. It was the first time they had gotten to sit down and think about what was really happening to them, and it was certainly a lot to process. After a couple moments of silence, Lotus sighed. "We really should start looking around."

She made a move to stand up, but a ghostly pale, yet strong hand on her leg kept her seated. "Don't," Santa murmured, his eyes closed. "Do nothing for as long as you can. The next couple of hours are gonna be stressful, so take every moment to rest as possible."

Lotus was taken aback by Santa's gentle, calm tone despite the situation they had found themselves in. The spiteful, bad-mannered, cold brat was mysteriously replaced by someone…mature? Could she even call Santa "mature"? Regardless though, he was right. Nodding to herself, Lotus sank back down against the couch cushions.

"What's this?" Santa smirked, opening one eye. "No biting comment or overwhelmingly rude rejection of my logical proposal? I'm impressed." He half-smiled in approval, his voice holding its typical, scathingly sarcastic tone.

Something snapped inside Lotus as she drew back and smacked Santa across his alabaster face, making sure to keep her palm open and aimed at the center of his cheek. And to think she almost graced him with her approval in his change of character into a more mature man! "Stupid, immature, distasteful, annoying, pathetic boy!" she shouted in accompaniment to her slap, adding an extra amount of venom to the last word.

"Geez! Ow!" Santa recoiled, moving farther away from her, his eyes wild and bewildered. "What was that for?" he hissed, rubbing the bright red handprint flaring on his skin. "Overreact much? It was just a joke! Lighten up a little!"

Lotus huffed and crossed her arms. "Clearly you weren't raised well enough to know how to speak properly to a dignified woman." She looked to the side, away from him, and distracted herself by staring at the early 20th century décor.

"Dignified?" Santa echoed with a snort. "Yeah right. What dignified woman dresses like that?" He gestured toward Lotus's overly revealing clothes which seemed stereotypically unfit for a woman her age. "And don't even think about taking it out on how I was raised." Santa's voice grew dark. "You couldn't even imagine what I went through growing up."

Lotus turned back around to face him, sharp remark ready on the tip of her tongue regarding how Santa was probably teased at school as a child because he was so scrawny. But once she saw him, any mean comment flew from her mind. The overconfident jerk was hunched over, his elbows resting on his knees, his head in his hands, fingers gently grasping his tousled white hair. His face was shadowed, but Lotus was fairly certain that there were tears in his eyes. Feeling somewhat unsure and hesitant about his sudden change in position, she scooted closer to Santa and awkwardly stretched an arm around his shoulders. "Do you want to talk about it?" she murmured softly, but her words sounded fake and hollow even to her own ears.

Santa didn't move, didn't shy away from her touch or react to her words. He just…sat there. "I shouldn't tell you," he whispered at last, his voice so small it was almost inaudible, but for some strange reason, she thought he sounded…guilty somehow.

Lotus didn't reply, but she couldn't hide the confused look that graced her features. They were complete strangers, so what bad could come out of talking? It wasn't like she would know anything Santa was talking about; she didn't know anything about him, including his real name! Besides, any distraction from the fact that by the next morning, they could all be dead would be incredibly welcome.

As she was mulling over this, Santa shot up and walked to the wall opposite of the couch. He punched it lightly, calling to her over his shoulder, "It's not like there's anything too exciting to share." He took a deep breath and turned back around to find Lotus staring at him intently. "I had a little sister okay? She was cute…you know, like all little kids are. Our parents bit the dust when we were pretty young, and it was up to me to take care of her. And I tried. I really did. She was so pure, so…innocent. I just wanted to protect her. But…I failed. Nine years ago…she was killed." His voice shook at the last word, and he looked down to the side to avoid meeting Lotus's eyes. He didn't speak any more, just tried to nonchalantly wipe the back of his hand across his eyes.

Lotus was shocked by Santa's words. The thought of him being responsible and taking it upon him to care for a little girl just seemed so out of character for the distant, cold, white-haired man. But maybe…maybe the little girl, Santa's sister…maybe it was her death that altered him into the person he was now. Lotus tilted her head to the side. "I know this means nothing, but I'm sorry. I don't know what I would do if I lost one of my girls. I can't imagine how you must feel."

Santa smirked, though his eyes looked empty and broken. "Heh. If I had a dollar every time I've heard something like that, I'd be rich enough to buy this whole ship." He shoved his hands in his pockets and slowly started pacing around. "So…what about you?" he said finally, stopping and glancing up at Lotus.

"What about me?" she repeated defensively, turning around to face him.

"You got some sob story or something?" Santa asked with a shrug. It was an innocent question and anything that would turn the conversation from the "ship" and what occurred nine years ago would be helpful, even though it was his own fault that he started talking about it in the first place.

"Maybe I do," she shot back. Then she took a moment to think. "You don't think…that's why we're here, do you?" Lotus asked in a distant voice.

"What're you talking about?" Santa wrinkled his nose as if in disgust and continued his pacing around the small stateroom.

What did she mean? Lotus wasn't certain quite yet, but since Santa asked about her own life tragedy, she had begun formulating a theory. "Well…what if Zero knows that we all have 'sob stories' and that's why he kidnapped all of us? Do you think that's the connection tying us all together?"

Santa froze and hurriedly replied, "That's stupid. And impossible. What idiot would kidnap people and make them play this insane game for that reason? It makes no sense. And besides that, look at Junpei. Do you honestly think he's had some horrible tragedy in his life? I know he's an idiot, but he doesn't seem the 'sob story' type. Except maybe his love life. Which I'm assuming is pretty poor considering he thinks he's gonna hook up with someone through this psycho game."

"Well it was just a theory!" Lotus snapped. "Think about it a little. Seven has his amnesia. Snake's blind. I get the feeling that Ace used to have some kind of power in his life, but maybe through his growing age he lost his position perhaps? He seems like the kind of person who would be barking out orders, like an executive. June…she's tough, but I think that she had some love related hardship. Same goes to Junpei, but not for the reason you suggested. And whatever happened to Snake, maybe it had some effect on Clover? For example, if it was a genetic defect, she has something 'wrong' with her too, or if it was like an accident, maybe she was also injured. And, of course, there's us. But, like I said, it's all just a theory. Most of my proposals were somewhat baseless pieces of conjecture." Lotus shrugged and crossed her legs, propping her left elbow on her right leg and holding her chin.

Unbeknownst to Lotus, Santa was looking around somewhat frantically, his eyes always trailing over to the door. Hadn't he stalled long enough? Shouldn't Junpei come barging in soon? This conversation needed to change its direction and fast; Lotus's "baseless pieces of conjecture" were hovering too close to the truth for comfort.

As Santa struggled to think of something, Lotus continued speaking. "So…do you want to know what happened to me? You shared, so I suppose it's only fair." She took a deep breath and, when Santa did not protest, launched into her tale. "As I said before, I have two daughters. They're identical twins, and their father…isn't in the picture." Her last statement was practically a growl, tinged with past malice rooted form who-knows-what misdeed. "Some years ago, nine I believe, they were kidnapped. Eventually, they were found; I'd rather not go into detail, but they did come back. They were different though. The two energetic, fun, exuberant young girls were replaced with sad, empty shells of their former selves. They refused to speak to me about what they went through and after a while, I stopped asking. But I've always wondered what really occurred during that period of time they were missing. Overtime they started to act more like they used to, but there was always something just a little off. Some nights I would pass by their room to the sounds of crying from one as the other offered words of comfort, warning to keep quiet so 'Mom wouldn't hear and come in demanding to know what was wrong'. Nine years ago…I feel like I lost my precious daughters. I also lost a part of myself. Once their father heard of the kidnapping, somehow one of his lawyer buddies pulled some strings and made it so he no longer had to pay child support once they came back. On top of the fact that he won everything but the girls from our divorce, I was out the extra money that I had been using for college savings. I had to take a second and third job to make up for that, and neither were very desirable. I learned some very strange things from my job at a small, and rather bizarre, laboratory, from computer hacking to various experiments to test what I considered to be pseudoscience. It was a shady organization, but the pay was good enough that I stuck with it for as long as I could. And my other job…well you can pretty much guess it from my clothing." Lotus sighed and looked at her hands. "At least my girls are in college. I wonder if they noticed that I was missing. I wonder…if they even care." She stopped speaking and a heavy, awkward silence filled the room.

With one last, longing glance at the door, Santa walked around to the other side of the couch and looked down at Lotus. Self-consciously, he scratched the back of his head. "Umm…thanks for telling me that. It sounds like it's been rough."

Lotus's head shot up as she stared at Santa with confused, scared, and angry eyes. "What are we doing here?" she whispered in a broken voice. "What's this about?"
Santa ducked his head and glanced to the side. "Maybe it's about God," he replied softly. "Or maybe it's about the Devil. But that's not what we have to worry about right now. Now, our main goal is to escape." He took a moment and then turned back to her, stretching out a hand to help her off the couch. Lotus flashed him a small smile. It was strange. Santa almost felt…closer to the older woman now. Not in some creepy, romantic way, but he respected Lotus's strength and sincerely wished she survived the game. From what he had heard, she was supposed to live, but there were too many unpredictable variables to be certain of anything in the Nonary Game. What transpired behind door five before they had split up was unexpected, but at least Santa was absolutely certain that that was not how Lotus would die, if she did.

Lotus accepted Santa's outstretched hand and rose to her feet, slightly staggering in her cherry red heels. The young man's arms were quickly around her waist the keep her from falling over and potentially injuring herself. With a small smirk, Lotus remarked, "Okay, maybe you are just a little bit of a gentleman."

Santa's dark eyes were wide as he hurriedly jumped away from Lotus, a faint blush tinting his pallid cheeks. He murmured his thanks and crossed his arms indifferently.

"We should get to work," Lotus noted. But she didn't make a move to begin. Instead she stared at Santa with respect and understanding. They were actually pretty similar underneath their prickly, sharp-tongued exteriors she noted. Despite her resolver earlier to not trust anyone or become attached, some part of her, probably her motherly instincts, propelled her to feel protective of Santa. "You know, if we start acting all friendly towards each other, people are going to think that something's up, like we're in an alliance or something."

Santa gave a short laugh. "You're probably right, considering how paranoid everyone is. But it shouldn't be too hard for you to act like you hate me. You're rude and inconsiderate enough to make it pretty realistic." Though his words were harsh, a glimmer of amusement was hidden in the depths of his murky eyes.

Lotus crossed her arms indignantly. "And you're so bratty, sarcastic, and immature that it's easy enough to be mean to you." She narrowed her eyes at the white-haired man.

He shrugged and shoed his hands into the pockets of his black cargo pants. There were a thousand and one things he could say to the scantily clad woman regarding the Nonary Game and his involvement, just to share his knowledge in hopes of keeping her safe and to get the overwhelming feeling of guilt off his chest, but all those fluffy thoughts were pushed from his mind as he tried to focus on the reality of the situation. He was acting incredibly stupid; if he did anything that strayed from the laid-out path, it could be completely detrimental to the hoped outcome of the game. Santa didn't know what had gotten into him. Why would he start trusting this strange woman he had a hand in kidnapping? This Nonary Game's purpose wasn't to make friends. No, the real purpose was so much more important. He shook his head to clear his muddled thoughts, growing even angrier when an image of his deceased mother appeared in his mind. Santa needed something to distract himself. And again, he wondered when that idiot would finally get into the room. "So, umm…" Santa coughed lightly to try to ease the awkward silence. "You never told me your daughters' names," he pointed out. Hopefully, letting Lotus talk about her kids would give Santa enough time to mentally shout at himself to refocus on his mission.

"Oh, I didn't?" Lotus knew she hadn't, and she was hoping that he wouldn't have asked, Seven's warning to not share anything too personal to protect their families ringing in her ears. Well, if Zero was listening in, without their last names they'd be difficult to track down. "One of them is Nona. And the other is–"

"Hey guys!" A new, young, and rather loud voice shot through the room, along with the slamming of a door. The twenty-one year old college student strode into the room, his mop of brunette hair flopping over his eyes. He was smiling like an idiotic little puppy, no doubt from his time in the other room, as he walked up to Santa and Lotus. "Find anything useful?" Junpei asked, looking from side to side.

Santa rolled his eyes. Despite the fact that he was anticipating Junpei's arrival, he was never too thrilled to see him. He always found himself thinking, Why did she pick him? whenever the brunette did something stupider than normal.

Lotus took the liberty of answering Junpei's question. "No. That child was too last to want to do any work." Angrily, she tossed her hair over her shoulder.

"More like that hag was too 'tuckered out' from our run in the hallway to do anything progressive," Santa countered, snorting in indifference.

At least they had been right before. It was easy to be mean to each other when they didn't really think about it. But regardless, neither of them would be able to forget the conversation they had together in the stateroom for a long while. Even if they didn't accomplish anything from just talking, doing so made the entire Nonary Game seem a little more human. It wasn't all about solving the puzzles and getting through it as fast as possible (even though that was a big part of it), it was about understanding why they had been placed in the game, about figuring out the connection that each of them had to the Nonary Game. Lotus would understand later what Santa's story about his little sister truly meant. And Santa understood now why Lotus was a part of the games, so that she could get her questions about her daughters' disappearance answered. The thought was somewhat comforting, to know that a distraught mother would finally be able to reconnect with her kids, and a protective older brother would finally get the chance to help save his sister and be the hero she needed.

AN: Hello there! And thanks for reading! I haven't uploaded a story in the longest time... But I wrote this in honor of the 100 year anniversary of the Titanic sinking. (I mean, it kinda relates to 999. They're on a replica of a replica of the Titanic).
I apologize if this seems OOC! Both Santa and Lotus are difficult characters to nail, because they have the cold exteriors we see more frequently, but there are also glimpses of the sad, lost people they truly are littered throughout the game. So again, I'm sorry if you're a huge Santa or Lotus fan and I completely corrupted how you view the character.
Additionally, I also apologize if there are any factual errors, which would mainly be during Lotus's backstory. You really only hear about her past behind door 2, which I hardly ever go through because the Submarine ending scares me!
And if you thought I was too mean to Junpei, I'm sorry, but I really think he is an idiot. I have to side with Santa for that one.
Also, (man this is a really long note) in order to quench any potential flames at Santa's thoughts later in the story, I have a theory that you may or may not agree with. Obviously, June has strong morphic resonance, and Santa must have some or else they wouldn't have been in the first Nonary Game. While their conversations are taking place, Junpei and June are talking in the other stateroom and acting all flirty. Now, if you think about the Axe Ending, Junpei mentions that he suddenly sees Clover as very beautiful and as a goddess, which, the theory is that she transmitted those feelings into his psyche. So, I'm applying the same theory to Santa's situation with June transmitting some of the "love" she feels for Junpei to Santa, which is reflected in his thoughts of wanting to protect Lotus and tell her what was happening. I couldn't really explain that all in the story, so I'm glad that I at least got to throw that out there in case anyone was a little curious about the weird character shift.
Well, that's everything! Again, thank you so so so so much for reading! And please review! I love getting feedback on how I can improve! Thanks again! ~Kellie