2000 Christmas Special: One Winter's Night

"I'm leaving for school!" Lina called over her shoulder as she slipped a heavy white winter coat over her green sweater and rushed out the door, her backpack hastily slung over her shoulder.

"Have fun, Lina," Lina's father waved from the kitchen, turning a page of the New York Times as he drank his coffee, the golden retriever on the floor at his side barking once in interest.

"Tell Mrs. Graywords I said hello, and don't forget to get home by six today so we can go pick up Luna from the airport!" Lina's mother added, not pausing in rinsing the stack of dirty dishes as the front oak door slammed shut after a hasty, "I will" from Lina, indicating that she had heard.

Outside in the frosty air, Lina ran to the end of the still street, her breathe condensing like fog in the early winter morning and her hair a stream of flame in an otherwise grey landscape. When she reached the stop sign at the corner, she crossed the street, only stopping briefly to glance both ways in a long ingrained habit. At the corner of the next block, there was a cozy two-story brick house to which Lina turned into, a smile slowly working its way to her lips. Slowing to a brisk pace as she neared the front oak door on which a cheery Christmas wreath hung, she grinned and knocked against the hard wood.

From inside the house, shouts could be heard as a small child's voice cried happily, "It's Lina!"

Hearing this, Lina grinned even more, stamping her feet slightly in the cold as the door was flung open and a ball of brown and green barreled outside, instantly wrapping itself around her legs.

"Lina!" the young girl exclaimed in pure bliss, looking up at the smiling redhead with sparkling eyes. "When are you going to play airplane with me again?"

"How about now, Lizzie?" Lina laughed, holding out her arms to the brown-haired eight-year old in invitation.


Grasping Lizzie's two small hands in her own, Lina hoisted her up into the air and swung her body around in a circular motion so that the eight-year old giggled wildly in thrilled glee, the house, sky, and surrounding objects melting away to a blurred world in which only she and Lina existed. After several rotations, Lina laughed, then slowed to a halt, setting Lizzie down on the ground gently.

"That's enough for today, I'm going to get dizzy soon," Lina said, smiling fondly at the obviously happy child as she crouched down so that they were face to face. Holding up her right index finger in a lecturing position, she added teasingly, "Besides, you're getting to be too heavy for me."

"Haven't you ever wondered if you're going to drop her one day?" an amused male voice commented wryly from the door.

A stress mark appeared on Lina's face as she straightened up and glared at the handsome grinning brown-haired teenager one year older than her wearing a black turtleneck over tan slacks reclining against the door frame.

"Calvin!" Lizzie laughed happily, running to hug her older brother.

"Planning to pick an argument with me again, Calvin?" Lina inquired smugly, tossing her long hair over her shoulders. Then, adopting an offensive position, she stated, "Even though you're Zel's brother, I won't go easy on you!"

" ... Come on, Liz, let's leave the psychopath outside," Calvin said protectively, the door already closing.

Lina face-faulted. "HEY!"

Calvin's head peeked out of the door, a mischievous look on his face as he brushed aside the bangs that fell over his clear blue eyes. "You know, I'm still waiting for an answer on that dating issue," he winked.

Lina blushed beet red. "Don't kid yourself," she retorted in embarrassment. "There's no way that I'm going out with you!"

Calvin sighed dejectedly. "I gotcha. Taken by my devastating lady killer of a brother Zelgadiss already, huh?"

"Quit bothering Lina," said brother lectured monotonously, opening the door and causing Calvin to fall onto the ground with a crash now that there was no longer anything supporting his body.

"Zel!" Lina cried in surprise as she gazed at the calm lavender-haired slim male dressed in blue jeans and a black sweater with two white stripes across the center.

Calvin stood up and dusted himself off, a faintly annoyed look on his face. "All right, who told?" he growled.

Lizzie's face peeked out from behind Zelgadiss' tall frame, a sheepish look on her face. "Sorry, but Mommy said not to let anyone get Lina except Zelgadiss, even if it was you."

"I get it, double protection for his girl, huh?" Calvin grinned, rubbing the back of his head. "Good thing too, since Zelly-boy here refuses to acknowledge his own girlfriend."

"WE ARE NOT DATING!!!" Lina and Zelgadiss both shouted, each blushing bright red.

"Of course you are," Mrs. Graywords soothed, drying her hands on her apron as she walked up, the swish of her long skirt adding a familiar feeling to the atmosphere.

"Yes, my boy, when will you ever get over your inhibitions?" Zelgadiss' dad joined in, approaching and putting an arm around his wife comfortably. "Strange, your shyness certainly wasn't passed down from me."

"Or me either," Mrs. Graywords added, lifting her face up to kiss her husband.

" ... We're leaving," Zelgadiss muttered, hurriedly walking down the walkway, Lina at his side.

Calvin blinked once, then yelled, "Hey, wait! We go to the same school!"

"Then stop hitting on me on the way TO school!" Lina yelled back, fuming at the memory of the last walk the three had in which Calvin had "casually" placed an arm around her shoulder and was rewarded by a punch in the face, causing both parties to be late to school.

"Tch, the work I do to try and get those two together," Calvin sighed, running a hand through his soft hair as he watched the disappearing figures of the conversing teenagers.

"Well, there's always the family Christmas gathering," Mrs. Graywords grinned, a sparkle in her eyes.

There was a moment of silence between all members of the family before the sound of the creaking front door reminded Calvin of a very important memory. "Oh no, at this rate, I'm going to be late for school!" Calvin cried, coming out of his stupor and immediately running into the house past his parents. Picking up his backpack, he skidded to a halt, then reversed directions and ran back out again. "See ya, Mom, Dad, Lizzie!"

"Bye!" Lizzie called, waving happily.

Meanwhile, Lina and Zelgadiss were walking down the road conversing about the upcoming winter break which was set to begin the next day.

"So Luna's coming back today?" Zelgadiss asked, absently brushing his bangs out of his right eye.

"Yeah," Lina answered happily. "We're going to pick her up after school today!"

Zelgadiss' response was to raise an eyebrow and wryly comment, "I thought you were afraid of her."

Lina sweat-dropped a little at the memories of her older sister jumping out of a closet to scare her, the pounding she got when she accidentally entered her room without knocking ... the list went on. "Um, well, she's not that scary anymore," Lina laughed, rubbing the back of her head as the two crossed another street and switched directions. "Ever since she got into college, she's been a lot nicer. Kinda like you got nicer once I beat you up for being so silent the first time our parents introduced us to each other."

Zelgadiss smiled as he listened to Lina's voice, then gazed up at the overcast regions of the sky. "We've really known each other for a long time, huh, Lina?"

Lina paused in her speech, momentarily flustered. "W-What's up with the nostalgia all of a sudden, Zel? You trying to butter me up so you'll get a nicer Christmas present?"

"No, not at all," Zelgadiss replied, turning his face toward Lina. Smiling, he said, "It's just great having you as a friend."

Blinking, Lina hastily looked down at the ground, a slight flush in her cheeks as the two turned right and walked into the school grounds.

"ZELGADISS!" a purple-haired girl screamed in joy, leaping from a tree near the entrance to clamp onto the surprised teenager who stood stunned, it being too early in the morning to react. Holding out a gift wrapped in green paper and tied with a gold string, she smiled brightly and shoved the present into his hands with the words, "It's something special, just for you!"

"Th-Thank you, Amelia," Zelgadiss stuttered, blushing at the proximity of the girl. "But, do you think that you could let go?"

"Yes, get off of Zel, Amelia!" Lina growled at the side in barely concealed annoyance.

"No! True love will never succumb to evil such as you!" Amelia declared, hugging Zelgadiss even more as Lina watched in a blaze of anger. "Justice and love will triumph over your jealous attempts to pry me away from my love!"

"ZELGADISS!" other cries sounded from the general direction of the school as a mob of girls rushed toward the stricken teenager, a dust cloud forming in their path.

Somehow worming his way out of Amelia grasp, Zelgadiss was about to run for it when he registered the faint crackling sound of a burning aura behind him. Turning around reluctantly, he found himself face to face with a fairly controlled Lina Inverse who stood with her right index finger against her forehead, a smirk on her face.

"Zel, just where do you think you're going?" she asked sweetly, her nice tone an obvious cover for her actual anger.

Zelgadiss backed away a few steps and stammered, "I-I was just leaving."

"Oh?" Lina murmured, her eyes flashing dangerously red. "THAT'S WHAT YOU THINK!"

The next instant, Zelgadiss was kicked straight into the crowd of fan girls with Lina's angry shout of, "AND STAY THERE, YOU JERK!" echoing through the air as she stalked off, leaving Zelgadiss to his fate.

When homeroom started, Zelgadiss walked in looking a little worse for the wear, giving Lina an angry look before he sat down in his front row seat directly in front of her. Lina pretended not to notice. Instead she stared out the window at the dark school grounds below, at the bare branches of the trees, at the last dried leaves remaining from autumn, and at the swaying of the grass in the frigid breeze outside. Sighing, she closed her eyes briefly and was about to prop her chin up with her right arm when suddenly, a hand slammed down onto her desk.

Startled, Lina's eyes flew open and instantly focused on the handsome features of her classmate, Gourry. "Yo, Lina!" the blue-eyed blond greeted cheerfully, a grin on his face.

"Oh, hi, Gourry!" Lina smiled, waving slightly. "What's up?"

"Did you want to go ice-skating with Sylphiel and me today?" Gourry asked eagerly. "We were planning on going after school so if you wanted to come ..."

Lina shook her head regretfully. "No, sorry, I can't. Today's the day my sister comes back from college."

Gourry frowned a little in disappointment, then strolled off to his normal seat calling, "Well, hope you can make it next time!" over his shoulder.

Lina nodded cheerfully in response, then turned back to her desk.

" ... Hey," Zelgadiss murmured from his seat without turning around.

"What?" Lina snapped hostilely, immediately recalling the incident in the school yard that morning.

" ... Are you actually dating him?"

Lina paused before replying, surprised at Zelgadiss' serious tone of voice. Was he actually jealous? No, it couldn't be; he didn't really love her or anything, so he wouldn't be jealous, end of story.

"N-No," she stammered, shaking her head to break out of her thoughts.

Zelgadiss nodded, then turned his attention toward the front of the room again. "Too bad. I wanted to get some tips from him on how to keep up with your appetite when eating out."

Lina cracked her knuckles once, a stress mark appearing on her forehead, then proceeded to pound Zelgadiss' head with all her strength. The bell for the end of homeroom rang.

"Don't bring up the times we went out to eat, Zel!" Lina huffed, stalking out of the room angrily as the other classmates stared fearfully at her fast-disappearing figure, then at the dazed teenager on the floor. "You're walking home by yourself today!"

The final bell of the day rang and the zipping of backpacks, rustling of paper, final reminders of winter vacation homework, and chatter of students as they cleared their last classroom resounded throughout the school. Among the first to leave class was Lina. Rushing outside the science room, she wove her way with intense purpose through the motley of languidly walking students until, finally bursting outside the main doorway, she wasted no time and began racing single-mindedly toward the gates of the school.

"Hey, Lina, where are you going?" Calvin called futilely after her retreating figure as he walked out of the boys locker room.

"Home! See you later, Calvin!" Lina waved, already disappearing out of sight as she turned in the direction of her house after going through the gates.

Calvin blinked in confusion, then scratched his head as his younger brother walked up behind him. "Hey, Zel, did you two get in a fight?" he asked skeptically.

"And why would you think that?" Zelgadiss replied cooly, adjusting his grip on his backpack.

"Oh, I don't know," Calvin remarked sarcastically. "Could be the fact that the last time she ditched you was because you'd accidentally burned her term paper in -- "

"Don't remind me ..." Zelgadiss interrupted. "And don't remind her. I think that she still holds a grudge over that incident."

"So what lovers spat is it this time?" Calvin inquired, tilting his head in interest.

"I think I said something wrong in the morning," Zelgadiss sighed, ignoring the term lovers. "I don't get it, Lina doesn't usually get that angry when I tease her about her eating habits."

Calvin shook his head as the two brothers started walking toward the school gates, then wryly asked, "And did you happen to get a flood of Christmas presents from your many admirers while Lina was there this morning as well?"

Zelgadiss looked at his brother in surprise. "How did you know?"

"You're really dense aren't you?" Calvin sweat-dropped as a chilly wind blew through the school grounds, sweeping up the last dried leaves of autumn in an artful array of color. Shrugging, he kicked at a small rock and smirked. "Well, then again, so is she."

"And what's that supposed to mean?" Zelgadiss muttered sullenly.

Calvin grinned as he clapped his brother on the shoulder. "You figure it out, little bro. You figure it out."

Zelgadiss paced down a crowded avenue in the city, his hands tucked in the pockets of his dark blue jacket as he stared unblinkingly at the barely visible top of the large Christmas tree that had been set up in the main square, a rustling growth which was silhouetted against the rolling grey winter sky. Ignoring the admiring glances and giggles of passing females, his mind once again wandered to what Calvin had said earlier that day, something that would have disturbed him if he didn't believe that he only thought of Lina as a friend. What does he mean by 'you figure it out?' Zelgadiss wondered, hunching up a little as an especially biting wind blew down the avenue, sweeping up a page from a newspaper and flinging it against a street lamp. Lina and I are just friends, what more is there to figure out?

Pausing in front of a department store, Zelgadiss gazed through the elegant glass doors, observing the excited happiness of the people going into and out of the store. Then, glancing once more at the swaying verdant top of the giant Christmas tree, he sighed, then walked toward the doors, following a couple through.

As he entered the well-lit building, a warm rush of heated air flooded over his body and he absently brushed his bangs out of his eyes. Walking along the green-wreathed aisles with no particular purpose in mind, Zelgadiss fell once more to his thoughts. Lately, Lina's been acting a little weird, though, the perplexed male mused. Whenever other girls come up, she starts getting defensive. But she wouldn't actually love me in that way ... would she?

"Excuse me, are you looking for something?" a female store attendant asked pleasantly from her seat behind a make-up counter, interrupting the teenager's thoughts.

"Uh, well -- " Zelgadiss began hesitantly. Then his eyes caught sight of something. For a moment, he stared at it, wide-eyed at the thought that just came into mind. Then, blushing slightly, he pointed at the object and eagerly stated, "I'd like to buy that, please."

"No problem," the attendant said agreeably. "Would you like a bag with that purchase?"

A few minutes later, Zelgadiss was walking out of the department store with a plastic bag containing his precious purchase clutched in his arms. Glancing once more at the barely visible rustling top of the Christmas tree, he felt himself smile softly, Lina's beautiful face in his mind. I hope she likes it ...

Lina shivered and wrapped her arms around herself tightly as she shuffled down the bustling streets of the main city with her older sister Luna, her eyes wandering randomly, bathing in the atmosphere of the Christmas season that the stores and passing people reflected. The large road had cars honking and whizzing past her, causing an artificial breeze to form, then die away to be replaced by a new one. On the sidewalks of the city, laughing people strolled along, smiling gaily and projecting a comfortable aura around them, an aura which was added to by the loping green wreaths stringing from street lamp to street lamp. Little children ran ahead of their parents, pointing excitedly at the new toys that were on display in the toy stores while the parents held hands and leaned comfortably against each other while watching over their offspring. Smiling at one particular toy in a store window which featured a drummer boy marching in place while tapping on the drum, Lina hurried on, keeping pace with her purple-haired sister.

"Hey, Luna, which store did you say would have the supplies we needed for the family Christmas party tomorrow?" Lina asked curiously, glancing at her older sister.

"There's a grocery store somewhere on 14th avenue," Luna replied, scanning the street for the familiar sign. "Remember? We went here last year, too. Oh, and don't run off," she continued, apparently having a second sense to Lina's reaction of slinking off. "The owner probably won't remember what you and Zelgadiss did last year."

"Oh, so you remember that, huh?" Lina laughed weakly, straightening up in embarrassment, her right hand rubbing the back of her head. Then Luna's words registered. "Wait a second, what do you mean probably?!"

"Hmm ... well, I do have to say that knocking down four aisles was pretty impressive, even for you," Luna muttered thoughtfully, her index finger at her cheek thoughtfully. "And getting poor Zelgadiss involved, too!"

"Well, I needed someone to throw against the aisle and test my hypothesis that it wasn't very stable," Lina said sheepishly. "And since I didn't want to do it myself ..."

"Of course, you didn't take into account the effect of one aisle crashing and hitting another," Luna sweat-dropped. "I can't believe that you think these kinds of crazy thoughts up on the spot. Are you really my sister?"

"Hey ..." Lina growled, narrowing her eyes resentfully.

"Anyway, now that I think of it, I guess that it'll be a good thing if you don't go," Luna continued, stopping for a moment. "Tell you what, how about we meet here in three hours?"

Lina nodded agreeably, relieved at the prospect of avoiding the supermarket. "Sure!"

"Just don't get anymore weird ideas, ok?" Luna waved, cheerfully walking off.

"Hmph," Lina snorted, crossing her arms defiantly. "I'm just the more unique member of the family, that's all." Then, sighing, she dropped her arms to her side and glanced around at the passing people, smiling slightly at the excitement that almost shone from everyone. "Oh, that's right!" Lina suddenly remembered, snapping her fingers. "I still need to get something for Zel!"

In her mind, the silent figure of her childhood friend appeared, unmoving and still like he usually was. Looking at the ground sadly for a moment, Lina mentally berated herself. What's wrong with me? We've been friends for so long. We're friends, friends! ... So why have I been getting possessive lately? Closing her eyes briefly as she leaned against an ice cold black street lamp, Lina sighed again and gazed up at the grey clouds lined with the gold of the sun in a foam of dark brilliance. Zel must think I'm getting weird, Lina thought, a little depressed. Well, weirder than usual anyway.

For a moment, she continued to stare up at the golden grey sky, her hair glinting slightly as a stray ray of sunlight shone through from the array of clouds. Then, blinking once, she pushed herself off the street lamp and walked further down the street. Glancing across the busy intersection, her eyes focused briefly on the names of the various stores in a lazy sweep. Then suddenly, her eyes widened and her attention flew back to one particular store. That's it!

Rushing to the nearest crossroads, Lina waited impatiently for the sign to go, then walked across and toward the store. A few hours later, she walked out, a paper-wrapped package in her hands. Smiling happily, Lina looked down at the gift with excitement hammering in her heart. I hope that Zel likes it ...


"Lina, get the door, it's probably the Graywords family!" Mrs. Inverse called stressfully from the kitchen as the family dog barked from its lying position in front of the fireplace in the living room.

"Ok!" Lina shouted, finishing the last touches of table setting in the dining room by setting the silverware down. "I'll be right there!" Walking briskly toward the door, she absently checked her appearance in the hall mirror. She'd taken the extra time to look nice that day, so she was now wearing nice tan pants, a soft red sweater, and had her hair half up with a pearl barrette. Her sister had teased her earlier on when she'd asked if the outfit looked ok by saying that wearing a skirt would impress Zelgadiss even more, so Lina had promptly left the room after that remark.

The doorbell rang again. "In a moment!" Lina called, her right hand closing on the doorknob as her left one unlocked it. Swinging the door open, she began, "Sorry -- "

"LUCKY!" Lizzie cried, bounding in past Lina with a rustle of her elaborate red dress and pausing to look for the golden retriever. There was an answering bark, and Lizzie ran into the living room as the excited dog trotted up from the fireplace to Lizzie, his tail wagging.

Lina was left at the door, a defeated expression on her face as she ushered the semi-formally dressed Graywords family in. "Sorry, I was setting up the table," Lina explained as Zelgadiss, Calvin, and their parents filed past her, slipped out of their shoes, and placed them by the door.

"Oh, that's quite all right," Mrs. Graywords laughed, smoothing over her slim black dress. "We weren't waiting for very long."

"Well, except for Zelgadiss over there," Mr Graywords grinned, pointing over his shoulder at his rather silent son. "He really wanted to see how beautiful you would look semi-dressed up."

"Look, look, he's blushing!" Calvin teased, pointing at Zelgadiss' face.

Strongly resisting the urge to find something to cover his head with, Zelgadiss hastily turned around and unzipped his dark blue jacket, hissing, "Shut up," to his older brother.

Lina also quickly turned around. Walking into the living room at the left, she sweat-dropped as she came across the scene of a dog licking Lizzie's giggling face while the eight-year old happily repeated Lucky. "Lizzie, what did I tell you about calling the dog Lucky?" Lina chided, her hands at her hips.

"Aw, but Lucky's a nicer name than what you picked," Lizzie pouted, hugging the golden retriever with her slender arms.

"She's right, you know," Luna commented, coming up behind Lina and leaning against the wall, her slim figure clothed in a green sweater with a white-collared shirt underneath over dark blue jeans. "It's just like you to pick a weird name like Fireball."

"Fireball's a cool name!" Lina protested, crossing her arms sulkily.

"Here Butch!" Calvin whistled, causing the golden retriever to wag its tail even more and approach Calvin for a pat.

" ... Of course, I wouldn't mind it as much if Fireball didn't respond to every name he's called," Lina growled menacingly, giving a sideways glare at her dog. "Hey, other dogs know their names, why don't you?!"

Fireball only barked happily, then licked Calvin's hand.

"Anyway, let's go have dinner," Luna stated with a cheerful grin, leading the group to the dining room. "Dad and Mom are still finishing up in the kitchen, so let's all get settled first, ok?"

A few minutes later, the two families were seated, a huge array of food spread across the top of the table. Tantalizing smells drifted upwards to waft through the air and steam rose steadily from each dish as the flickering glow from the chandelier above the table cast an unwavering light over the room.

"Let's eat!" Mr. Inverse declared while raising his fork, receiving an enthusiastic nod of assent from the other members of the table.

Soon, everyone was immersed in passing food around, general conversation flitting by as the sounds of clinking utensils against dishes sounded throughout the room. Lina, who was sitting across from Zelgadiss, was having a hard time focusing on her food for once. Every few minutes, she would sneak a glance at her friend, her heart speeding slightly as she looked at his handsome face and body, admiring how good he looked in a white dress shirt and slim blue jeans while berating herself for not taking a better look when he was standing earlier. Oh well, I'll get other chances to watch him later on, Lina thought optimistically. Then she blinked. Aaaaah! Wait, friends, friends! That's all, friends! As if sensing her thoughts, Zelgadiss raised his head at that moment, causing Lina to blush and look back down at her food again, fervently hoping that he hadn't noticed her preoccupation.

As for Zelgadiss, he couldn't seem to stop staring at Lina, noting the glint in her flowing ruddy hair as the light reflected on it, clutching his hands unconsciously as his heart skipped a beat, and looking anywhere but at her whenever she looked up. He really hoped that she wasn't paying attention to him because it would be too embarrassing if she caught him staring at her. That and the fact that she'd probably beat him to a pulp. Take Calvin for an example ...

Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your outlook, the rest of the people at the table easily noticed the interchange going on between Lina and Zelgadiss. And, of course, they were nudging each other slyly with giggling whispers of "today might be the day" while they mischievously planned what they would do later on.

All too soon, dinner was over. Dishes were cleared and placed in the dishwasher quickly until only Lina and Zelgadiss were left to take care of the final wipe-down of the dining room table while their families set up the plan to get the two together in the living room.

"Do you think it will work?" Mrs. Graywords giggled, straightening up from what she had been doing by the entrance of the living room.

"Of course it will," her husband replied reassuringly from his position on the couch closest to the front window. "Now hurry back here before they figure out what's going on."

In the kitchen, the sounds of the sink faucet being turned off could be heard as the last stage of clean-up ended. Soon, Lina and Zelgadiss walked down the hall, neither saying a word because of embarrassment while the rest of their families scurried to their positions. Tucking her hair behind her ear self-consciously, Lina turned right into the living room. Immediately, she tripped and fell forward.

"Lina!" Zelgadiss cried, rushing through the frame leading into the room only to trip himself.

Smiling jubilantly, Calvin quickly cut the invisible string strung across the open space while Luna hid it from view. Then, grinning evilly, Calvin stood up and whistled while observing the rather stunned teenagers on the floor. "Gee, Zel, you wild animal! I never knew you had it in you. So this is what you're like when no one sees you, huh?"

"Lina, take advantage of the situation!" Luna cheered from the side, pumping her fist up into the air. "It's about time you got yourself a boyfriend!"

On the couch, Mr. Graywords placed his right hand over Lizzie's eyes and announced solemnly, "Little children should not see this."

"I-We're ...!" Zelgadiss sputtered, pushing himself off Lina as he blushed furiously.

"There was something in the doorway!" Lina protested, her face also slightly pink as she stood up.

Luna and Calvin looked away innocently as Lina proceeded to run her hand through the space where the string had originally been, very confused as to where it had went.

"And where is this object?" Lina's mother called from her standing position on the opposite wall next to the blazing fireplace.

"I -- " Lina began.

"Oh look, you and my son are standing under mistletoe!" Mrs. Graywords exclaimed, her eyes twinkling in amusement as she pointed above the two teenagers at the dangling green and red combination. "You know what that means!"

"What does that mean?" Lizzie asked, tugging on Calvin's shirt, apparently having squirmed out of her father's grasp earlier.

"It means that Zel and Lina are going to kiss!" Calvin replied cheerfully, crouching down so that he was face to face with his little sister.

The brown-haired girl blinked cutely, then leaned toward Calvin and whispered conspiratorially, "Does that mean that they're going to get married?"

"Of course," Luna joined in, walking toward the two crouched figures and also bending down. "They really love each other, so if they kiss right now, they're going to get married someday."

"Oh boy!" Lizzie shouted in glee, jumping up and down happily.

"Hey, don't talk about us like we're not here!" Lina yelled angrily at the small huddle.

"Calvin, don't tell Lizzie stuff like that!" Zelgadiss also protested, his voice a little frantic.

"Oh? And why haven't you moved yet?" Calvin responded seriously, tilting his head slightly. "Come on, be aggressive for once, little bro!"

There was a happy murmur of assent from the other members of the group while Lina and Zelgadiss sweat-dropped.

"Come on, Zel! You have to let a girl know what you want!" Mr. Graywords called out from the leather couch by the window. "Be a man!"

"It's so sad, my little girl's growing up!" Lina's father sniffed from his position on the couch to the right of the living room, wiping a tear from his eye.

"It's all right, dear," Mrs. Inverse said comfortingly, walking over to her husband and wrapping an arm around him. "Think of all the experiences she'll have."


"Oh dear, have I said too much?" Mrs. Inverse inquired, her left hand at her cheek.

Blushing furiously, Lina and Zelgadiss both stepped to the right side of the opening, now no longer under the mistletoe. Or so they thought.

" ... Since when do mistletoe move?" Zelgadiss sweat-dropped as he watched said mistletoe zip across the ceiling so that he and Lina were now standing beneath it again.

"I'm beginning to see a pattern here," Lina muttered, also sweat-dropping as she looked up at the mistletoe. "That's it, I'm leaving."

"Me too," Zelgadiss stated, following Lina to the front door, only stopping to grab his jacket.

"Hey, we're not done yet!" Calvin called, sticking his head out of the living room.

A rush of cool air flew down the hall as the door shut with a bang.

"Oh well, they'll be back sooner or later," Luna shrugged, coming up behind Calvin. "Think of it as a short break from the teasing only to be replaced by even more later."

"Ooooh, you're good," Calvin grinned, looking over his shoulder at Luna.

Outside, Lina put on her winter coat, then leaned against the door and sighed once in relief, her breath condensing into a wispy fog that dissipated in a few moments. Tilting her head backwards so that she was now looking up at the still covered sky above, she closed her eyes and commented, "Thank goodness that's over."

"Yeah," Zelgadiss agreed softly, leaning against the door as well, his fingers laced together behind his head, no other sound except the slight rustling of the grass as a chilly wind rushed by.

Finally at peace, the two settled into a comfortable stillness, staring up at the nebulous expanse of the lighted grey rolling sea above. Through the few gaps in the congregation of clouds, stars were sprawled across the canvas of air, shining like the eyes of heaven as though to invoke a longing in mere humans for the unattainable, only to disappear again as clouds covered them. Unconsciously, Lina's hand went to her coat pocket, her fingers encircling the medium-sized box that lay inside. Should I give it to him now? she wondered, glancing at Zelgadiss out of the corner of her eye. Unconsciously, her heart sped up.


"Y-Yes?" Lina responded nervously, her hand slipping out of her pocket startled.

Zelgadiss turned his head toward Lina, his breath catching in his throat as another biting wind blew by, causing her hair and clothes to ripple in the air. Mentally shaking himself, he said softly, "There's this place I want to show you. Is it ok if I drive us there?"

Lina nodded, then pushed herself off the door and walked toward the driveway. Looking back over her shoulder at Zelgadiss, she smiled and called out, "Let's go."

Nodding, Zelgadiss followed, a slight smile on his face.

Nearly half an hour later, the two stood on the sidewalk near the main square having parked the car by the curb in front of them.

"You're really lucky that today's Christmas eve and we came late," Lina commented, glancing at the comparatively still street, flipping her hair over her shoulder as the two waited for the crossing sign to turn green. "Otherwise we probably wouldn't have gotten a parking space at all."

A car rushed by creating a slight breeze as the light turned green. "So, what was it you wanted to show me?" Lina asked curiously as she walked across the street, wrapping her arms around herself in an effort to keep out the cold of winter.

"It's not too far away," Zelgadiss answered, brushing his bangs out of his eyes as he stared ahead. "Don't be impatient."

Lina pouted. "You're being mysterious, Zel. No fair!"

Zelgadiss chuckled at that remark, but didn't offer any more information. The two walked on in a comfortable silence for one more block, brushing past the few pedestrians that were still in the street while overhead the clouds rolled on. To the right, nearly all of the Christmas tree in the main square could be seen clearly, the glowing star at its peak surrounded by dancing golden lights below. Turning into the open entrance of the square, Zelgadiss walked forward with Lina hurrying behind him, the Christmas tree now completely visible. They stopped when they reached the slightly raised fenced cement platform on which the tree stood.

"It's really pretty here," Lina breathed, her voice awed as she gazed up at the towering tree. "Is this where you were going to take me?"

" ... Yeah."

The tree's lights twinkled like dancing fireflies, a beautiful array of golden warmth dotting throughout the branches, defying the looming moonlit tinged clouds above. It stood magnificently with elegant ornaments of angels, drummer boys, and other Christmas symbols, dominating the surrounding area with its beauty.

"Want to sit down?" Zelgadiss asked, gesturing toward the wooden bench in front of the platform.

Lina nodded. When the two had settled into a comfortable seated position, a silence fell between them again. Her heart pounding slightly in her chest, Lina found herself reaching into her coat pocket once more. Closing her eyes briefly, she took a deep breath and swiftly turned her head to face Zelgadiss.

"Zel -- "

"Lina -- "

The two paused, each gazing into the other's eyes. For a moment, neither could breathe, their faces only a few inches away from each other. If they just leaned forward a bit ... In the street, the sound of a passing car whooshed through the night air. When it had passed, both teenagers were looking away from each other blushing.

"I ... that is ..." Lina stuttered, suddenly finding the ground very interesting. "I mean -- " Stopping her flow of words herself, she took out the box from her coat pocket and thrust it in front of Zelgadiss' face, her eyes closed and averted in embarrassment. "Here!"

Zelgadiss blinked once at the proffered object. "What is it?"

"Your Christmas present, idiot!" Lina huffed in annoyance, glaring at her friend.

Surprised, Zelgadiss held out his right hand. Lina dropped the box into the open palm, then turned away so that she was again facing the street. As a stray beam of moonlight slanted downwards through a small gap in the clouds, Zelgadiss cautiously pulled the golden string holding the box closed, then lifted the brown lid off.

Inside, nestled in soft white tissue paper, a faint red and blue color could be seen. Curious, Zelgadiss reached in and lifted the item out. There, in his hands, lay a snow-filled platform on which figurines of a red-haired girl and lavender-haired boy wearing thick winter clothes stood across from each other laughing as they looked upwards, their hands outstretched as though to await a snowflake.

"I made it myself," Lina explained hurriedly, a little uncertain about Zelgadiss' reaction. "There was a school which taught arts and crafts, so I had a lot of help working it out, especially from Sylphiel because she goes there, and -- "

Zelgadiss turned to smile at her. "It's beautiful," he whispered, gazing into Lina's ruby eyes, his compliment not just intended for the clay figurines.

Blushing, Lina quickly averted her eyes, mentally berating herself for thinking about Zel in that way again. Friends, friends, friends, she chanted in her mind, reciting the all-too-familiar mantra. Just friends!

Meanwhile, Zelgadiss had also reached into the pocket of his jacket.

"Lina?" he began, his fingers encircling the rectangular box in which her present lay.

Lina looked up, a faint tinge of pink still in her cheeks. "Yes?"

Bringing the box out into the frigid night air, Zelgadiss held it out to Lina shyly. "Merry Christmas."

Grinning in anticipation, Lina grasped the box with her right hand and teased, "You'd better have gotten me something good, Zel. Otherwise, I'll annoy you until you make up for it!"

Zelgadiss sweat-dropped at that comment, recalling the first annual Christmas presents exchange which he'd declined to participate in since he and Lina had just met three months ago. Although they were still kids at the time, Lina had persistently woken him up at 5:00 AM every morning by climbing up the tree next to his window and going in. Even when he'd locked the window, Lina had made it through with some criminal technique she'd learned from a library book. It was almost scary how determined she was since she'd continued her abnormal routine for almost a week before he'd given up. Now, as he watched Lina tearing at the red wrapping paper eagerly, Zelgadiss couldn't help but feel his heart clang against his chest as he gazed intently at her face to see her reaction.

Lifting the golden lid of the box, Lina's eyes sparkled in excitement when she saw the silver heart-shaped locket inside. "It's so pretty," she breathed, taking out the necklace and holding it in her palm.

"Look inside," Zelgadiss advised softly.

Lina nodded, then opened the locket. The first thing she saw was a portrait picture of her and Zelgadiss, both smiling happily at the camera. It was one of the more recent pictures the two had taken together during summer. Laughing, Lina looked up at Zelgadiss and teased, "I thought you hated having any pictures of yourself in existence."

Zelgadiss nodded, then replied in embarrassment, "I made an exception in this case." Rushing on, he continued, "Anyway, there's something else inside."

Curious, Lina looked down at the locket again. There, opposite the picture on the left side, were three words scrawled in Zelgadiss' curvy script. Lifting the locket up closer to her face so she could see more clearly, Lina felt her heart almost stop as the light from the Christmas tree wavered like light on rippling water revealing the words to her: I love you.

Upon seeing the single sentence, Lina's heart sped up rapidly, her emotions rising like an incoming tide. Quickly suppressing the urge to overflow with happiness, she blinked and stared at the words again, unsure that she had really seen them. Nothing changed, they were still there. A shuffling sound from Zelgadiss was what finally broke through Lina's stunned paralysis, bringing her back to the present. Her eyes flitted to meet Zelgadiss' questioning blue ones, and she opened her mouth to speak only to realize that there were no words she could say. Instead, she gazed at him, her eyes softening and glowing with the warmth of her love. With the practice of many years of friendship, Zelgadiss understood immediately and he felt himself break into a smile as joy rushed over his entire being. An understanding passed between them and slowly, he leaned forward while Lina closed her eyes.

Above, the chaotic heaving clouds in the sky finally burst and a small flurry of pure white snowflakes drifted down gently through the wide expanse of air as the lights from the Christmas tree sparkled and illuminated the surrounding area in a cozy glow. In the midst of the still night, only the silhouettes of two figures could be seen darkly against the golden light of the tree as the first snowflakes touched the ground and melted.