To all of you out there, I hope you have had a restful Merry Christmas and Happy Holiday!
Don’t dread going back to the norm too much, and I’ll try not to as well 🙂
Sophia Flannery, better known as Sophie, peered at the adults before her. She barely knew them; this event marked the first time the thirteen-year-old had seen all of them since she entered the world in a hospital in Asteria, blessed by the Crown Princess. Judging from what her world had taught her, the people that formed this group were diverse and precious.
The aforementioned Princess now stood at her twin’s elbow, fighting to calm the nerves that Miyori Arashi made awry. Aurora Sanford, Sophie knew, possessed a strength of mind that rivaled a monk; from the whispers, the furtive looks in certain directions, Sophie figured something had sent her off-stride that went deeper than a parlor trick from the resident magician.
The rest of the adults continued the dinner preparations; Moira-Selene Thomas, her lifesaving talents momentarily unnecessary, laid out the silverware with unerring precision. Megami Takumi Hill, radiant in green sheath dress aimed to make Jamie Cook, her date, drool (and certain others burn with jealousy), arranged the table decorations with panache. Sophie’s eyes swept over them and did not stop until she spied Daniella Thomas holding two wineglasses by their stems in one hand and gesticulating with the other. Kaneshi Tsukimori appeared to be the other person in this exchange but held up his end rather poorly. He seemed distracted. He and Aurora both?
“A pretty girl like you does not need to be thinking this heavily at such a moment.”
The melodic voice of her aunt Bridget resembled the presence of the Gifted Nine in its rarity; ever since Bridget suffered the loss of her husband–Sophie’s uncle–she flirted with the outskirts of familial attention; she visited sporadically and never lingered. That made her touch on Sophie’s shoulder ever the more precious.
“I’m just wondering is all,” Sophie responded idly.
“Wondering what, my sweet?”
“Why they’re so sad. It’s Christmas. They should all at least be stumbling around on spiked eggnog.”
Sometimes Bridget forgot her niece’s level of perception; so long had she endeavored to protect Sophie that she had neglected to prepare her for the dissolution of her innocence. She hadn’t had time to prepare herself.
Bridget followed Sophie’s olive green gaze. Ah, she mused. She knew the shadow hanging in the background of this scene–she could almost see the flash of black hair so dark it was blue.
“As much as I wish I could explain to you,” Bridget murmured, “you’ll understand more than I would like by the time the night is over.”
Before Sophie could implore her aunt to elaborate, Isabelle entered the room, blanketing everyone in her gentle peace. Samantha, Gretchen, and Melanie tiptoed in behind her all carrying side dishes, while Miyori stumbled into the room with more than a few battle lumps and the inanimate ham. Jessica escaped virtually unscathed–status quo for the Warrior.
“I believe it’s time to eat,” Isabelle announced.
In the back of the room, the aforementioned Detective Michael O’Lara held up a bottle of wine. “And drink,” he added, earning a few chuckles.
As hostess, Isabelle only sat when her guests were seated; she initiated the passing of the food and only received when everyone else had a helping. She smiled at the exultation expressed over plates; her smile only dimmed when she noticed subtle signs of suffering.
Her gazed locked with Bridget’s. Not yet.
“So Mo’s gonna be the DD tonight, right?” Eric teased Mick.
“Believe it or not, I can hold my liquor better than some,” Mick rejoined. His light eyes flicked in Moira-Selene’s direction.
“I cannot help that my post graduate education did not include Keg Standing 101,” Moira-Selene quipped. “I believe drinking is a pasttime better partaken in the privacy of one’s own home. Men are gentler devils under their own roofs.”
“Sometimes I don’t know if it’s coming out of her ass or if she’s quoting Shakespeare,” Danie remarked, already on a second glass of wine. Jessica rolled her eyes.
“All right, gemelas,” Isabelle chided. “It’s Christmas. Save the quarrelling for Boxing Day.”
Danie leveled a jesting violet stare upon her twin. “At midnight I’m coming after you with a Nerf bat.”
“That’s if you can find me.”
Danie sat back abruptly with revelation, eyes dancing. “Oh hermana–are you staying at Mick’s tonight?” She whistled bawdily, making her sister blush.
Gretchen sipped on wine. “Good thing someone’s getting some.”
Samantha frowned. “Gretch, I don’t know why you’re complaining. I know you’ve been having fun with your–” Samantha bit off the rest of her sentence; she could feel the phantom kick from Isabelle. Sophie watched her intently.
“Your floatation device,” Samantha finished lamely.
Megami giggled. “I love when they’re waterproof!” Evident it was then what Jamie gave her for Christmas.
Despite themselves, the adults engaged in mildly mischievous conversation; Sophie, so observant of the looks that passed between her mother and aunt, hardly noticed the subject matter.
Finally, after the meat had nearly been reduced to bones, Bridget gave a nod and rose from her seat.
When she returned, she hefted a canvas framed in gilt that nearly dwarfed her. Conversations dropped off as the attention fell upon this new occupant.
“I know we agreed not to exchange gifts,” Bridget said to the quiet room, “but I believe we can make an exception for this one.” Her hazel eyes hovered on the solemn man before her. “Kane?”
Kane looked up, dark eyes wide and slightly startled. He could barely speak as Bridget presented him with the painting done by his late sister’s hand. The colors sizzled with their warmth. The touch of the artist was deft, showing skill along with care. The movement of the two figures conveyed a pause in combat, the climax of a man and woman sparring: the searing of the man’s left ring finger and the golden eyes betraying the show of power.
“It’s called The Marking,” Bridget explained.
Danie placed a hand over her heart. “The day in Victoria Field when we fought…”
“Where–?” Kane choked out.
“She asked me to keep it for her,” Bridget responded. “It’s been in a storage unit this whole time. I found it two weeks ago.” Kane raised his eyes to hers. “It’s yours, Kane. I know you’ve been missing her lately.”
Kane nodded silently, awed by his gift from the sister thought he had long lost. After a moment, he murmured, “Arigatou gozaimasu.”
After a beat: “Could someone explain what the hell is going on?” From Mick O’Lara.
Moira-Selene all but smacked her own forehead.
Laughter entered again as Angelia, who had been supervising at the time, attempted to explain the context of the picture. Blushing glances passed in-between Kane and Danie; some of the heaviness in his heart had disappeared and it showed in his eyes. Even Aurora seemed a little lighter.
Sophie understood, wrapped up in that moment, the spirits of Christmas and Sakura Tsukimori were vital in this room, and they were as welcome as life.