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Tales of a Sitcom

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“No, Lorraine. How about you listen!” said Lailah Aurion angrily, standing up and glaring down what everyone had come to know as her mortal enemy. At least at PTA meetings. And fundraisers. And school events. And basically any time Lailah Aurion and Lorraine Fischer met face to face.

Richter Abend sighed, putting his face in his hands again. The meeting objectives had been simple enough, and kind (but stern) teacher Karla Maxwell had made them clear enough at the beginning of the PTA meeting. Now she was attempting to yet again form peace between the feuding mothers. Richter had to admit, his own husband wasn’t doing anything to help. Both Aster Abend and Zaveid Yggdrasill were the most vocal of Lailah’s supporters. Zaveid because he had a crush on Lailah, and Aster just because he found the whole matter rather fun.

“Lailah, Lorraine, please both of you sit down,” said Karla, attempting to be louder than both mothers.

“Karla is right, we do have some very important matters to discuss aside from Lailah or Lorraine’s sons,” chipped in Milla Maxwell.

“This doesn’t affect you!” snapped Lorraine. “And of course you’re siding with your cousin!”

Milla silently stared the woman down, and Richter was internally grateful it was Milla that had attended the meeting rather than one of her other cousins. It was true that there were at least three of the Maxwell family at every PTA meeting, due to Karla being a teacher at the school, and two of her cousins having children in third and eighth grade.
Ludger Kresnik-Maxwell’s daughter, Elle, was in third grade, and though he attended every meeting, he didn’t say much. From what sparse conversations Richter had had with him, he seemed to be a rather friendly person who cared a lot about his daughter. His and Karla’s other cousin’s daughter was Elize, who was in eighth grade. However, Elize’s father, Jiao, was often out of the country and so because of a lack of another parent and a rather close knit family, many of her cousins would simply fill in at the meetings in her father’s stead.

Milla was the cousin currently standing in for Jiao, and she was one of the calmer Maxwell cousins that didn’t attempt to antagonize Lailah or Lorraine, unlike her cousin Alvin. Alvin was also the older brother of Leia, who happened to be dating Richter’s son Jude, so he’d rather often drag Aster and the (reluctant) Richter into the inevitable argument. While it was true Milla tended to be a bit brusque, she at least let Richter stay out of the crossfire.

“Now that we’ve all calmed down,” said Karla sharply, glaring at Lorraine as she opened her mouth to speak yet again. “We can continue with our discussion about the bake sale. Ludger and Milla have of course offered to help with pastries from the Maxwell House café, and Lailah—”

Karla paused in her reading of the notes in front of her to glare at Lorraine who was looking ready to talk again about Lailah and her sons.

“—and Zaveid have already offered to help run the tables from noon to three on Saturday. Yes, Richard?” continued Karla, nodding to Richard Windor, who had raised his hand to speak.

“I did mention before about Asbel being able to bake and I would be happy make the banners,” said Richard. “I would also be available to help run the tables with Guy at some point.”

Richter liked Richard and his two husbands well enough. Richard and Guy liked to joke with everyone, including their poor husband Asbel, and while they didn’t seem to have a clue about raising their infant son Luke, they loved both him and their thirteen year old daughter Sophie very much. Even though they lived in the same apartment building, Richter’s children were completely different ages from Richard, Asbel, and Guy’s, so he didn’t talk to them very often.

“Thank you Richard,” said Karla, writing down some notes in her PTA meeting notebook. Richter was mildly surprised that she managed to get that many notes per meeting due to at least fifty percent of the meeting being an argument between Lailah and Lorraine.

The rest of the meeting managed to pass without much incident. Aster ended up volunteering both himself and Richter to helping run the bake sale table on Friday afternoon, managing to talk Richter out of his argument that someone needed to watch the triplets. (“Jude can handle it you know he can so come on Richter, pleaaaaase?”). Two hours later, Richter was glad to finally stand up and stretch, and could see Lorraine glaring daggers at Lailah, who seemed a bit preoccupied talking to Zaveid about something. He knew that another fight was going to break out either as soon as Karla left the room or if Lailah just didn’t leave fast enough. Though Lailah would probably end up enjoying it.

“Hey Lailah,” he said, quickly approaching both her and Zaveid. “The triplets are going to be having a movie night next Saturday, would Sorey and Mikleo like to come?”

He then turned to Zaveid and added, “Of course I expected Dezel to want to come, and if she wants to Edna is welcome as well.”

“Oh I’m sure they would love that!” said Lailah excitedly. Her two sons, Sorey and Mikleo, were a year older than the triplets. Zaveid’s son Dezel was in kindergarten with them, though his daughter Edna was eight.

“Thank you for the invitation, Dezel will definitely be excited, but we’ll see how Edna takes it,” said Zaveid with a smile.

“Now I think you two should probably get going before Lorraine gets over here,” said Richter in a lower voice.

Lailah glanced over at the other mother who was making a huge show of getting her keys out of her purse.

“Yeah, you’re probably right. Karla wouldn’t like it if we cause any more fights tonight, so let’s go Zaveid,” said Lailah with a sigh, slinging her purse over her shoulder and gesturing to what Richter could only describe as her posse to follow her.

“Another crisis averted, huh?” said Aster with a smile.

“I can only hope,” said Richter with a sigh. “Lorraine is sure to throw a fit at the bake sale at some point or another and I certainly hope I’m not there when it happens.”

“But you’re such a good peacemaker!” said Aster with a grin. “Oh hi Milla! How’s Elize doing?”
“The only reason for that is we have three five year old daughters,” Richter said under his breath, but Aster, who was talking to Milla about Elize, likely didn’t hear him.

* * *

Richter woke up to the sensation of something walking on top of him. A gentle paw on his face, and then slightly more pressure made him groan.

“Kevin please, Aster or Bubbles will feed you,” he mumbled in the hopes that their cat would get off his face.

“He’s not bothering you because he’s hungry. I put him on you,” said Aster, and Richter could hear the smirk in his voice.

Carefully reaching up and pulling the cat off of him, Richter sat up to glare at his husband while petting the cat.

“Honestly Aster sleeping in would have been preferable,” he said.

“It was either Kevin wake you up or all three of the triplets jumping on you at the same time,” said Aster with a snicker.

“Oh for the love of—” Richter sighed. “Fine. What am I doing up? What do you want? What do they want?”

“They want to go to the bake sale,” said Aster simply.

“No,” Richter groaned, laying down again and throwing an arm dramatically over his face.

“Mrow,” said Kevin, walking on Richter again.

“Kevin please that’s my kidney,” Richter said, refusing to get up.

“Kevin will get off your organs if you get up,” said Aster, and Richter could once again hear the smile in his voice.

“Fiiiiine,” said Richter grumpily, sitting up to get Kevin off of him once again.

“There’s breakfast on the table if you want any. Get ready in ten minutes or I will send all three triplets in after you,” Aster threatened.

Richter knew that Aster would hold true to that threat, and not being in the mood to be attacked by three kindergarteners, he moved Kevin to the bed and threw the blankets off himself, getting up and dressed for yet another day at the bake sale.

Approximately eight minutes later, Richter shuffled into the kitchen, poured himself a cup of coffee, and sat down at the table with a grumpy expression on his face.

“Good morning sleeping beauty,” said Aster with a smile, giving Richter a quick kiss.

“You can take your morning and shove it up your—” Richter grumbled, but Aster interrupted him quickly with a sing-songy “Language!”

Richter sighed, but accepted the plate of pancakes that Aster handed him. He attempted to take as long as possible on his breakfast, resigning himself to the fact that he would have to see likely both Lailah and Lorraine at the bake sale with all of his children in tow.

“Papa are you almost done with breakfast?” asked Bubbles excitedly, running over to the table and looking up at him hopefully.

“Ah…er…yes. I’ll be done soon,” said Richter hesitantly. Bubbles beamed at him and he felt slightly guiltier about how long this was taking him. “Go ahead and play with your sisters until I’m done.”

Richter finished as quickly as he could, before standing up to wash his plate in the sink. Noticing that he was done, Bubbles was quick to tell her sisters that they needed to get ready. As he washed the plate, Richter could hear Bubbles lecturing Jude on how his hair looked. (“What’s wrong with it?” “It looks messy! You should borrow Blossom’s hairbrush!” “It looks fine! I’m not using Blossom’s hairbrush!”)

"Are you ready to go?” asked Aster, popping his head into the doorway.

“Yeah,” sighed Richter.

“Aww don’t look so grumpy! It won’t be that bad!” said Aster with a smile.

“That’s what you think,” muttered Richter, but once again his husband likely didn’t hear him as he was busy getting the triplets ready.

* * *

The words “I told you so” weren’t something Richter used lightly. He only really used it on the triplets when one of them did something he had told them in advance was not a good idea. He rarely got the chance to use it on Aster because whenever Aster did something stupid he didn’t even consult Richter to begin with. Jude tended not to do stupid things. But this. This was a moment that he was going to look Aster dead in the eyes and say simply, “I told you so.” Because it was so. Exactly as he had said. What he did find to be a miracle was the fact that all the tables were (currently) intact.

Lailah and Lorraine, however, stood glaring at each other on opposite sides of the bake sale table. Zaveid was standing threateningly behind Lailah while glaring silently at Lorraine and her clique (which mostly comprised of other snobby suburbia moms in Richter’s opinion). Lorraine and Lailah getting into a fight wasn’t an uncommon thing. This was to be expected. If you put Lailah Aurion and Lorraine Fischer in a room together whether alone or with 100 others, a fight was going to break out. Lorraine would say something, and Lailah would be unable to let the snobbishness of the statement go. It was simply how they worked.

If anything, Richter would compare them to a mongoose and a cobra in the way they were glaring daggers at each other. Lailah generally tried to be polite though, until Lorraine said something she couldn’t forgive. He wondered briefly if they’d reached that point yet. His unasked question was answered in a matter of seconds.

“Lorraine, that really was uncalled for,” said Guy Windor, stepping forward from his place behind the table with Lailah and Zaveid.

Richter was grateful that Guy was intervening because it meant that he didn’t have to. No matter what Aster said about his peace keeping skills, growing up with three sisters and having triplet daughters made it a forced way of life, not a choice to make when he didn’t have to get involved.

“Hey, what’s going on?” Jude said quietly to his girlfriend, Leia Maxwell, who was standing behind her brother Alvin with her hands on her hips and a frown on her face.

“Lorraine is being awful, if that comes as any surprise,” Leia replied, equally quietly. “Lailah was doing her best to be polite since y’know, it’s just her, Zaveid, and Guy right now and this is one of the peak times. But then Lorraine had to open her mouth and make some stupid comment about Sorey again.”

“Oh dear,” Aster murmured, hearing Leia’s explanation.

“Guy’s trying to calm everything down right now…here’s hoping Alvin keeps his mouth shut,” said Leia, giving a glare to her brother who responded with a sheepish smile and a shrug.

“Listen, Sorey is a good kid, and so is Eric I’m sure,” said Guy, moving between Lailah and Lorraine. “So Lorraine, please just…let it go for today, okay? Lailah’s trying her hardest right now.”

“Well she’s clearly not trying very hard,” sneered Lorraine. “If anything Mikleo is even worse than Sorey and he’s not even her son.”

That was the snapping point, Richter would remember for when he explained to everyone who wasn’t there later. It was as soon as Mikleo was mentioned and insulted that Lailah’s fists that had been quivering already in rage made their move. It had been at that moment that Zaveid lost his cool at the exact same time. It had been that moment where Guy essentially dove out of the way of Lailah’s unbridled maternal rage. It had been that moment that all those wonderful cupcakes that Ludger had made, and that Richter was actually looking forward to trying, had been lost. It happened in just a moment. And a moment was all it took.

The table was intact with the pastries displayed enticingly upon it, and then the desserts were flying everywhere as Zaveid flipped it upside down and Lailah lunged across it to punch Lorraine in the face.

“WHOA HEY!” said Yuri Scifo, suddenly jumping in between Lorraine and Lailah’s fist. “Lailah…Lailah calm down. It’s okay.”

“It’s not okay! She insulted Mikleo!” snarled Lailah.

Richter had to admit that even after growing up with his sisters, Lailah’s fury was much more terrifying than any of them had ever been. He wondered idly why Yuri was here until he saw Yuri’s twin sister Judith and their younger brother Karol standing a bit off to the side. Yuri’s husband, Flynn, was attempting to calm down Lorraine at the same time as Yuri attempted to prevent Lailah from punching her.

“Lorraine, please apologize to Lailah so we can just move on with this,” said Flynn calmly.

“She tried to punch me in the face!” shrieked Lorraine.

“You kind of deserved it,” Guy said nonchalantly, standing up and brushing himself off.

Flynn shot his twin brother a glare before returning his attention to Lorraine.

"But she didn’t. And as much as I hate to…er…admit that Guy is right about this, you did antagonize her by insulting her sons,” said Flynn carefully. “So if you’ll just apologize—”

“It’s going to take a hell of whole lot more than an apology!” said Lailah angrily, attempting to shove Yuri out of the way to reach Lorraine, but Yuri managed to hold his ground.

“Lailah—Lailah please, all of us here know what great kids Sorey and Mikleo are it’s alright just calm down. Lailah will apologize for attempting to punch you in the face, and Lorraine you can apologize for insulting Lailah’s children,” Yuri said, glaring at Lorraine with his last words.

Lorraine sniffed and turned her head up haughtily, crossing her arms. Lailah seemed to have finally calmed down just a tiny bit and was no longer fighting with Yuri to punch Lorraine in the face. If Richter were honest with himself, Lailah probably wouldn’t be the only one who wanted to punch Lorraine in the face. If she had actually managed to do it before Flynn and Yuri intervened, there would likely be more cheers than gasps of shock.

“I…apologize for attempting to punch you in the face,” said Lailah stiffly, turning away.

“Hmph. Well I’m very sorry that your sons are—”

“Lorraine,” said Flynn warningly. Lorraine let out a frustrated huff before dramatically flipping her hair.

“Fine. I apologize for my…unkind words…towards your son…s,” Lorraine said, hesitating slightly on the last word.

“She’s like mega-ultra asshole,” Leia muttered to Jude. “She needs to get over it that Lailah treats Mikleo as her actual son I swear to Origin.”

“Language,” said Jude on impulse, before nodding his agreement.

“And by the way Lorraine,” said Lailah, and Richter sighed. “Your blueberry cobbler is truly terrible and should not have won the state competition.”

“YOU GET BACK HERE!” Lorraine screamed, but Flynn was holding her back while Lailah walked out with Zaveid following behind her, her ever loyal posse.

“I knew that was going to happen,” groaned Richter.

“At least it’s resolved until next PTA meeting,” said Aster absently. “Cupcake?”

Chapter Text

Ricter did his best to supress a groan as he buried himself underneath the blankets. Aster had left for work hours ago. At least, he thought it was hours ago, but he couldn't be sure. All the same his headache was getting just annoying to the point where he couldn't just sleep it away.

He was thankful for the fact that the triplets were at school and that Jude would be able to pick them up from kindergarten after he was done. Not having three five year olds in the apartment when you have a headache and feel like you got hit by a truck is a blessing, and one he doesn't take lightly.

At the lab there's Pascal and Rita, who along with Aster can become just as loud, if not louder than the triplets when they're together. Fourier could be loud too, but that generally only happened if Pascal did something to piss her off. Richter ususally doesn't mind the bubbly personality of his husband and their three daughters' antics, but with whatever sick--no. He wasn't going to admit it to himself. He was not sick. Regardless of what Aster said and why his husband forced him to stay home.

He sniffled, and reached out a hand from under the comforter to find a tissue and blow his nose for what felt like the millionth time that day before throwing the tissue at the overflowing trash can with the others.

Just allergies, Richter thought to himself, shoving his face deeper into the pillows. Nothing to worry about I don't know why Aster insists on making a big deal about it.
Some tiny, reasonable part of Richter's brain that for whatever reason spoke in Aster's voice said, you have to realize this isn't allergies.

Richter ignored it.

He drifted in and out of sleep for the next several hours, finally waking up fully when he heard the door to the apartment open and the voices of Jude and the triplets.

"Oh no," Richter mumbled to himself.

The door of the bedroom flew open and he saw a blur of a blue clothes and blonde hair before he found his middle daughter, Bubbles, on top of him.

"Papa!" she said happily, hugging him.

"H-Hey Bubbles, how was school?" asked Richter, sitting up slowly. His headache, if anything, had gotten worse.

"It was great! I got to color and Buttercup got in a fight again but she won so it's okay and Blossom got picked today for show and tell and she was talking about her favorite book and Ms. Keane complimented my drawing and it was a really pretty flower and--"

Richter felt himself zoning out as Bubbles continued excitedly talking about her day. Usually he'd be able to keep up with her, but right now all he wanted was to sleep for a month.

"Hey Bubbles, Dad needs rest, okay?" said Jude from the doorway. He smiled at her. "I'm sure he's really excited to see your drawing but he needs to get some sleep."

"Okay!" said Bubbles with a smile, jumping off the bed. "Papa have you eaten yet today?"

"Oh...uh...no, but I'm okay Bubbles. Go play with your sisters," said Richter, rubbing his forehead in an attempt to get rid of the headache.

"You'll need to eat otherwise Aster will seriously murder you," said Jude, coming into the room as Bubbles left.

"I'll burn that bridge when I get to it," Richter mumbled, pulling the blanket back over his head. He heard Jude give one of his sighs. The kind that Richter knew meant Jude wasn't approving of the way he was taking care of himself. At the moment though, he couldn't care less what Jude felt. He was going back to sleep before Aster got home.

Richter woke up with a groan, and felt someone brushing his hair off his forehead.

"Hey," said Aster as he opened his eyes.

"Ughhhhh," was all Richter could reply with.

"Not feeling any better, huh?" asked Aster with a sympathetic look. "Have you eaten anything?"

"Uh huh yeah totally," Richter said, rolling over so he wasn't facing Aster.

"Well according to Bubbles and Jude you haven't," said Aster.

"Then why did you bother asking."

"Just to see if you'd be honest," said Aster in one of his sing-song voices.

Richter rolled over to glare at him.

"Aster I'm feeling fine you're being stupid and--"

"Well I made you soup so now you get to eat it."

There was a tense silence as Richter glared at Aster and Aster smiled back. He dipped the spoon into the soup and then held it towards Richter.

"Here comes the airplane!"

"Aster I am not a child--"

"Air. Plane~" said Aster with a slightly more forceful voice. When Richter opened his mouth to protest again, Aster put the spoon in.

"I hate you," said Richter after the spoon was removed.

"Here comes airplane number two!" said Aster, moving the spoon towards him.

Richter sighed and gave in to Aster and his airplanes. Giving in happened more often than he'd like to admit, but as usual Aster's cooking was remarkably good and he couldn't help it when Aster looked at him with those puppy dog eyes.

"Daddy I want to give Papa an airplane too!" said an excited voice.

Richter and Aster turned to see Bubbles, followed by Blossom and Buttercup.

"No, I am not--"

"Here comes the airplane Richter!" said Aster cheerfully, helping Bubbles guide the spoon towards Richter's mouth.

Richter tried to resist. For a solid five seconds. But if he didn't give in, then Bubbles would feel hurt and she'd start to cry and then Aster would give him those sad puppy dog eyes and Blossom would reprimand him for making Bubbles cry and the whole ordeal really wasn't worth it. So Bubbles's airplane was allowed to land.

"Me next! Me next!" said Buttercup, jumping up on the bed excitedly and pushing Bubbles off.

"Hey!" said Bubbles, pouting at Buttercup. "Daddy she pushed me!"

"Alright Buttercup, just don't push your sisters," said Aster.

"No, come on I let Bubbles do it and Aster you're--" Richter started to say.

"Pleaaaaase?" said Buttercup, her eyes wide. This wasn't helped by the fact that they were the exact shade of green as Aster's.

"Fine," said Richter with a huff.

"Flight Buttercup taking off!" said Aster as he helped Buttercup move the spoon towards Richter.

Richter gave him a mutinous glare but let Buttercup put the spoon in his mouth.

"My turn!" said Blossom excitedly as Buttercup reluctantly got off Aster's lap.

"Last airplane, I promise," said Aster, smiling at Richter.

"Fine," Richter huffed, folding his arms.

"Nyooooom," said Aster as he and Blossom guided the spoon from the bowl to Richter's mouth.

"Now are we done?" asked Richter grumpily.

"Yes, we're done. But I need to give you your medicine and take your temperature," said Aster, standing up and kissing Richter on the forehead before ushering the triplets out of the room.

"I'm not sick it's just allergies!" Richter called after him. Rolling his eyes he buried his face in the pillows again.

A few minutes later, he heard Aster coming back.

"Hey I also brought you some tea and water because you're going to need plenty of fluids and--why are you sulking?" asked Aster, pulling the blanket off of his head.

"I'm not sulking! But you let our three five year old daughters feed me like a baby," Richter hissed.

"Oh it wasn't that bad. I could let them give you a bath too," Aster laughed, pouring out some medicine.

"Don't you dare," said Richter with a glare.

"Here comes the medicine airplane!" said Aster, moving the spoon towards Richter's mouth with his attempt at airplane noises.

"You told me no more airplanes!" said Richter angrily.

"That was soup airplanes, this is medicine airplanes," said Aster, patiently holding the spoon next to Richter's mouth.

Richter gave in with a sigh and a glare, and Aster smiled back at him.

"Thank you for being such a dear," said Aster, putting the cap back on the medicine. "Now put this thermometer under your tongue and I'll get it when I come back."

Richter treated Aster to one more glare as he disappeared into the kitchen. Sure, he had a headache, a stuffy nose, and everything else seemed to hurt simultaneously but Aster was making way too big of a deal out of it.

Aster then came back into the room and lovingly stroked Richter's hair as he sat next to him, waiting for the thermometer reading to finish.

"101...That's really not good Richter," said Aster worriedly. "If it gets any higher..."

"I'll be fine," said Richter with a sigh. "Now stop worrying about me and go wear out the triplets."

"Nope," said Aster, snuggling next to him. "Not when I've got a cute sick little Richter to take care of! My little Sickter!"

"If you ever call me that again," Richter growled, but Aster just laughed.

"Honestly don't worry about the triplets, Jude is watching them and if he needs help Kratos is right upstairs," said Aster. "You've been alone all day and I know that when you're sick you're a bigger handful than three five-year-olds."

"I take offense to that," said Richter sleepily. He had begun feeling drowsy and Aster's familiar warmth wasn't helping his fight to get up and do the work Aster had kept him from doing all day.

"Of course you do," said Aster with a laugh. He kissed Richter on the forehead. "Now just go to sleep before I give you another airplane."

"Fuck your airplanes," Richter muttered before drifting off to sleep again.

Chapter Text

There were two things Flynn immediately noticed upon walking into the apartment. The first was that five year old Dezel Yggdrasill was playing with their dog Repede on the floor of the living room. The second was the scent of something cooking in the kitchen.

“Hey Yuri?” called Flynn hesitantly, hanging up his coat on the hook near the door.

“In the kitchen!” Yuri called back.

Flynn stepped carefully around Dezel and Repede on the floor and went into the kitchen where Yuri was in the middle of cooking.

“I take it we’re babysitting Dezel and Edna tonight?” asked Flynn, leaning against the counter.

“What an amazing guess no wonder you’re the top at the police,” said Yuri with a smirk, turning away from cooking for a minute to give his husband a quick kiss. “Zaveid and Lailah are going on a date tonight, I thought you knew.”

“Oh ha ha you’re very amusing,” said Flynn, but he couldn’t help but smile back at Yuri. “And no, I didn’t. This is my first hearing about it. I thought maybe you’d murdered Zaveid or something.”

“Why is your first response always to assume that I murdered someone?” asked Yuri with a frown.

“Because you give me reason to believe as such,” said Flynn, shrugging.

Yuri simply rolled his eyes in response.

“Well Dezel is playing with Repede, but where’s Edna?” asked Flynn.

“In the bathroom,” said Yuri simply, resuming cooking. “She was doing her homework at the table. If she needs help with anything I told her you’d help so that’s all on you now.”

“Wonderful,” said Flynn with a sigh.

A couple moments later, Edna exited the bathroom, and upon seeing Flynn said, “Oh I see the nerd is home. Good. You can help me with my homework.”

“I’m not a nerd,” said Flynn.

“Whatever nerd come over here,” said Edna, heading back to the table where her homework was spread out.

Flynn shot Yuri a look, knowing that his husband was at least partially responsible for Edna’s tendency to call him a nerd. With a sigh, he shook his head and followed Edna over to the table, pointing out mistakes she had made and helping her through the math problems. After about twenty minutes of helping, they finished Edna’s homework and Yuri announced that dinner was ready.

“Flynn can you set the table please?” asked Yuri, bringing the plate of croquettes out to the table while Edna gathered her homework and shoved it into her backpack.

“Dezel dinner’s ready stop playing with Repede,” Edna said, rolling her eyes at her brother.

“Okay,” said Dezel quietly.

“Oh while you’re in the kitchen can you fill Repede’s food bowl?” Yuri asked Flynn.

“Alright,” said Flynn. He filled Repede’s bowl and Repede wagged his tail in appreciation. Then, taking four plates to the table, he set them in front of Edna, Dezel, Yuri, and his own spot.

“This is really good,” said Dezel after taking a bite of his croquette.

“Well I wouldn’t expect any less from Yuri,” said Edna. “He can at least cook.”

“Hey I can cook!” said Flynn defensively.

“Yeah alright I’ll pretend I believe that,” said Edna.

Flynn glared at her silently, but when Yuri started laughing, he transferred his glare to his husband instead.

“Anyway,” said Flynn in an attempt to stop them from laughing. “Since Edna’s done with her homework, what movie would you two like to watch tonight?”

“I don’t know just make it something good. What do you want to watch Dezel?” said Edna.

Dezel said something quietly about animals and Yuri nodded.

“I’m sure we’ve got plenty of movies with animals,” Yuri said, looking at Flynn.

“We are not watching a horror movie,” said Flynn without looking at him. “I know what you’re thinking and I am not letting Dezel have nightmares just because of you.”

“That’s no fun,” said Yuri with a sigh.

“The answer is no,” Flynn said firmly.

“Nerd won’t let us have fun,” muttered Edna under her breath, and Dezel giggled.

“We’ll just have to watch a nerd movie, isn’t that right Flynn?” said Yuri with a smirk.

“I’m not a….” Flynn sighed. There was really no fighting Yuri when he got like this.

They finished dinner with only a few more taunts at Flynn calling him a nerd, including one from Dezel who whispered it and made Edna laugh. After everyone was finished, Flynn offered to wash the dishes, so he and Dezel (who had wanted to help) cleared the table while Yuri and Edna went to the living room to look at movies.

“Thank you for helping Dezel,” said Flynn as he took the plates from Dezel. “You can go ahead and pick a movie with Yuri and Edna.”

“Okay,” said Dezel quietly, smiling at Flynn.

Flynn filled the sink with soapy water to wash the dishes, and listened to the conversation in the living room between mostly Edna and Yuri.

“So what kinda nerd movies does he have?”

“I’m not all that sure I usually manage to convince him to watch something cooler and or scarier,” admitted Yuri.

Repede barked in agreement.

“Well are there any nerd movies that have animals in them? Dezel would like that.”

“Hmmmm I think he mentioned something about whales in one of those Star Trek movies, how does that sound?”

There was a moment of silence where Flynn assumed that Dezel said something too quiet for him to hear, and then Edna spoke again.

“Nerd movie it is. Now which one is it… The descriptions are on the back of the case or something right?”

Flynn had finished washing the dishes and joined the others in the living room. Edna and Yuri were kneeling by the DVD player, looking at the back of movie cases scattered everywhere. Dezel was sitting on the couch with Repede’s head in his lap.

“Have you found a movie you want to watch yet?” asked Flynn, scratching Repede behind the ears before sitting down next to Dezel.

“We’re going through your nerd movies,” said Yuri, carelessly tossing a movie over his shoulder.

“Be careful with that,” Flynn admonished him, but Edna did the same thing a moment later so he simply sighed and shook his head.

“We do have some children’s movies,” Flynn pointed out after a moment of the other two shifting through cases.

“How does this one sound?” asked Yuri, handing Edna a movie that Flynn couldn’t see the title of, but it had a purple cover.

“Are there animals in it?” Edna asked, looking at Yuri.

“I think so,” he said.

“Then it’ll do,” sighed Edna. She let Yuri put in the movie and moved back to the couch, giving Flynn a look before he sighed and shuffled over to the other side, letting her sit next to her brother.

After the movie started, Yuri took his seat on the couch, in between Flynn and Edna, the upper half of his body essentially resting on Flynn’s lap. The movie was enjoyable enough, though not one Flynn had seen before. He wondered if it had been left here by Patty or Karol at some point, but Yuri and Edna kept interrupting his thought process and the movie with their snarky comments.

“You’d think they’d have made better choices at this point,” said Yuri.

“No let’s trust our blind instinct it’s not like that’s ever gotten us anywhere badly before,” commented Edna.

“Are you two watching the movie or complaining because I honestly can’t tell the difference,” said Flynn.

“Both,” answered Yuri and Edna at the same time.

The movie continued for a while, with snarky interruptions from Edna and Yuri, and a delighted gasp from Dezel any time there was an animal. The delighted noises turned into sobs, however, as the vaguely animal (honestly Flynn could kind of tell it was supposed to be some animal sort of creature and he would admit it was cute but it looked less animalistic and more….something weird) character died.

“Oh Dezel it’s okay,” said Edna, sounding uncharacteristically kind. “He’ll be fine, I promise.”

Flynn looked over at Dezel and winced when he saw the tears on the kindergartener’s face.

“No it’s not the kitty is…” Dezel said sadly.

“Well he’s not really a kitty,” Yuri muttered, but Flynn elbowed him in the side before Dezel could hear that comment.

Edna continued to comfort Dezel over the cutesy animal character’s death and Repede licked his face, eliciting a giggle from the boy, and they continued watching the movie. After a bit, Edna and Yuri’s snarky comments resumed, and not long after that the movie was over.

“Well it was good,” said Edna, stretching. “But the animal thing died so not that good.”

“What kind of asshole kills a character in a children’s movie?” said Yuri, sitting up.

“Yuri!” said Flynn in a scandalized tone.

“I liked the kitty,” said Dezel quietly.

“Well your dad isn’t back yet,” said Yuri, standing up. “And it’s getting kind of late. We could just let you two stay the night tonight.”

“I’m sure he’ll be back,” said Edna with a shrug. “Lailah doesn’t like to leave Sorey and Mikleo alone for too long, even if they are with Kratos.”

“It’s getting close to your bedtime though so maybe we should set up the couch just in case,” said Flynn with a frown.

Edna was about to respond, but she was interrupted by a knock on the door.

“That’d be your dad,” said Yuri. “Finally.”

Flynn opened the door and was greeted by Zaveid and Lailah, the latter of whom was already carrying a sleeping Sorey while Mikleo held onto her free hand.

“Hey are you two ready?” asked Zaveid with a smile, crouching down to hug Dezel who came running to greet his father.

“Yeah ready as I’ll ever be,” said Edna, grabbing her backpack.

“Thank you so much for watching them tonight,” said Lailah with a smile.

“It was our pleasure,” said Flynn, returning the smile.

“Bye nerd,” said Edna, waving to Flynn. “Bye actually cool guy!”

“Bye Edna!” said Yuri with a laugh.

After Edna and her brother had left, Flynn collapsed on the couch and closed his eyes. He felt Yuri sit down next to him after a moment and then Yuri laid his head on Flynn’s chest.

“Long day at work?” asked Yuri sympathetically.

“Mm,” said Flynn.

“I hope the kids weren’t too bad for you,” said Yuri.

“Nah of course not they’re good kids,” said Flynn with a smile. “It was just unexpected was all. Chastel and Hisca say hi by the way.”

“That’s nice of them,” said Yuri. He leaned his head back and looked at Flynn.

“You want a kiss don’t you?” asked Flynn with a smirk.

“No wonder you’re the top at the police,” said Yuri.

“Oh shut up,” said Flynn, kissing Yuri. “If you don’t mind it’s time for me to get to bed.”

“Bed is for losers,” said Yuri.

“Then you can be a loser and stay on the cold hard couch by yourself for the night,” said Flynn, pushing Yuri off him so he could stand up.

“Okay, okay I get the point,” said Yuri, rolling his eyes. “I’ll go with my loser to cuddle in bed.”

“What a wonderful choice,” said Flynn. “Now come on you loser, let’s go.”

Chapter Text

Milla Maxwell was a patient person. She was sure of this. When you grow up in the Maxwell family and are expected to be the next head of the household (regardless of the fact that she was actually the middle child, being a bit younger than Muzét), patience isn’t so much of a virtue as it’s expected of you. Living in the Maxwell mansion only serves to make things worse, as she has to deal constantly with not only her sister, but a majority of her cousins.

Today’s argument, featuring Elize (and Teepo), Alvin, Elle, Leia, and Ludger, was about the subject of Girl Scout cookies. Whether Ludger was actually part of the argument was debatable as Milla hadn’t heard him say a full sentence the entire time. However, it was clear that Elize and Elle were angry over the fact that Alvin had apparently ditched his duty to Elize, Elle, and Edna Yggdrasill (who was in Elle’s class). He was supposed to be responsible for supervising them while they went selling their cookies through the neighborhood today, but he’d made some excuse and disappeared until his sister Leia had cornered him with two angry grade-schoolers in tow. Ludger seemed to only be there because Elle dragged her father along.

“Alvin you are such a big fat liar!” said Elize angrily. “You completely ditched us!”

“Yeah little buddy! Where were you when we needed you?” added Teepo, getting uncomfortably close to Alvin’s face.

“It was something important I swear!” said Alvin defensively.

“More important than us?” pouted Elle. “Daddy has never let us down!”

Ludger didn’t say anything, but Milla was pretty sure the noise he made was in agreement to Elle.

“Alvin it was like a couple hours max, come on,” said Leia, rolling her eyes.

“That’s enough arguing,” said Milla with a sigh, deciding the argument had gone on for long enough.

“Oh good, Milla’s here to punch Alvin in the face!” said Teepo. Milla decided it was best to ignore that comment.

“Alvin, you’re on garbage duty for the next two weeks,” said Milla.

“What—” Alvin began in a scandalized tone.

“And Ludger,” Milla said, turning to him and ignoring Alvin. “If I’m remembering correctly, your brother is the next one responsible for Girl Scout Cookie duty.”

“Wait, what?” asked Julius, who happened to be passing by.

“Oh good, you’re here,” said Milla. “Then I don’t have to repeat myself. You’ll take Elize, Edna, and Elle out to sell their Girl Scout cookies.”

Milla walked past him and patting him on the shoulder.

“Good luck,” she said. “Now Alvin, come with me because I need your help cleaning up the kitchen. I’m pretty sure someone left Muzét alone there again.”

Julius stood in the hallway, frozen in a state of shock as Elle pouted to Leia about how unfair it was that Alvin got away with just doing cleaning and garbage duty in the café for a week.

“Um…Julius?” said Ludger quietly, attempting to get his brother’s attention.

“Y-Yes?” said Julius, still looking extremely dazed.

“Thanks,” said Ludger, patting his brother on the shoulder like Milla before walking away as well.

“Oh…Origin,” Julius sighed.

* * *

“And just who is he supposed to be?” asked Edna, twirling her umbrella and giving Julius a scrutinizing look.

“This is my Uncle Mr. Glasses Man!” said Elle proudly.

“Elle,” said Julius with a sigh, “My name is Julius.”

“Oh, right. This is my Uncle Julius, Mr. Glasses Man,” said Elle with a nod.

“You don’t even have to call me uncle,” said Julius putting a hand to his forehead in frustration.

“This is Mr. Glasses Man,” said Elle.

“Huh. He looks like a nerd,” said Edna. “Mr. Glasses Man, right? Well I’m sure you can help us do our job.”

“I’m not—forget it,” said Julius, sighing again and pushing up his glasses.

“So where’s Elize?” asked Edna, twirling her umbrella again.

“Oh, she decided to go and hang out with Anise today instead, so it’s just us and Uncle Mr. Glasses Man,” explained Elle.

“That’s fine. Teepo can be helpful when it comes to convincing people, but Mr. Nerd Man here looks intimidating enough,” said Edna, turning away. “My dad said I have to be home in time for dinner though so that only leaves us a couple hours.”

“Let’s go then!” said Elle happily, pulling Julius along behind her.

* * *

“Knock knock. How would you like some Girl Scout Cookies Lorraine?” said Edna as Lorraine Fischer, Lailah Aurion’s mortal enemy, opened the door.

“Well if it isn’t Edna Yggdrasill,” said Lorraine, sounding disgruntled at seeing Edna and Elle on her doorstep.

“And Elle Kresnik-Maxwell!” said Elle helpfully. “We’re here with my uncle selling Girl Scout Cookies!”

“If you think I’m going to buy cookies from the two of you—” Lorraine began.

“Oh, no, Lorraine. I can’t believe you. Refusing to buy Girl Scout Cookies? Someone like you refusing to support such a good cause,” said Edna dramatically, looking away and putting her chin in her hand. “Such a shame. Can’t wait until the neighborhood association hears about this.”

Lorraine was silent for a long time, her face betraying the frustration she was feeling over Edna’s threat. Julius could see her mulling over her options. She could either give in to Edna and buy cookies from the person she hated the most’s boyfriend’s daughter…or she could risk the scorn of the neighborhood association, which Julius knew she felt was a fate worse than death.

“Fine,” spat Lorraine. “I’ll buy your cookies.”

“Wonderful. I’m so happy you supported our cause,” said Edna with a smile as she took Lorraine’s payment. Elle handed Edna the cookies from the wagon they had been pulling them in, and Lorraine took them with an angry look and closed the door perhaps a bit harder than necessary.

“Job well done,” said Elle with a smile, fist bumping Edna.

“Exactly. I know how to work people,” said Edna as they continued on their way.

Julius sighed. Edna may have claimed she “knew how to work people” but when it came to her, she really just intimidated or—in Lorraine’s case—blackmailed them into buying their cookies. He really couldn’t complain because Elle was happy and they were splitting the profit they made off the cookie sales, but also because he too was perhaps a bit intimidated by the less than four foot tall eight year old wielding an umbrella.

“Next stop is the Spirius Corporation,” said Edna, opening her umbrella and resting it on her shoulder once again.

“Wait—what?” asked Julius, stopping on the sidewalk even though Elle was still holding his hand in an attempt to drag him along with her while pulling their wagon with the other.

“The Spirius Corporation! We’re going to sell our cookies there! Come on Mr. Glasses Man!” said Elle as though Julius were missing the most obvious thing in the world.

“We do it every year,” said Edna in a condescending tone. “Get with the program Mr. Glasses Nerd.”

“Alright well I happen to work at the Spirius Corporation,” Julius attempted to explain. “And there is definitely someone there I don’t want to see.”

“I thought you worked at Maxwell House,” said Edna. “My dad is always talking about it. Well not really my dad but my dad’s girlfriend. Did you know my dad’s girlfriend’s brother owns Derris Kharbucks? You guys are like rivals isn’t that fun?”

“Ooh but Edna did you know that your dad’s girlfriend’s cousins work with Uncle Glasses Man and Grandpa Eyebrows?” said Elle excitedly.

“And that’s exactly who I didn’t want to see,” Julius muttered under his breath, while at the same time Edna said, “Who the heck is Grandpa Eyebrows?”

* * *

The trip to Spirius actually went relatively better than Julius could have anticipated. They had run into Vera and Nova, and while Nova was delighted to buy their cookies (Julius wasn’t entirely convinced it wasn’t just because he was there), Vera purchased some as well, albeit less enthusiastically. Some other Spirius workers, after hearing that Julius’s niece was selling Girl Scout cookies, had been quick to come to the lobby where Elle and Edna were standing for the moment, their wagon of cookies getting gradually less full.

“Well that’s all the regular people taken care of,” said Elle. “Now we sell the rest to Grandpa Eyebrows!”

“You’ve sold plenty of cookies do you really have to sell any to him?” Julius asked reluctantly.

“Absolutely! Daddy never said I couldn’t sell them to him,” Elle pouted.

“That’s because Ludger doesn’t have to deal with him on a daily basis,” Julius muttered.

“Come on Uncle Glasses Man you have to clear us to go up to the president’s office!” said Elle, pulling him over to the elevator. Using his Spirius keycard, they were able to go directly to the president’s office and see the last person Julius had wanted to meet up with on one of his days off.

* * *

“Hi Grandpa Eyebrows!” said Elle as she happily trotted into Bisley’s office without even knocking.

Julius didn’t really expect Bisley to be doing anything important, they had already run into his secretary in the lobby. Bisley had been sitting at his desk, and he looked rather surprised at two eight year olds coming into his office without prior notice or invitation.

“Uhhh…hello,” said Bisley, standing up. “Who are you again?”

“I’m your granddaughter!” said Elle, pouting slightly. “And I’m here with my friend Edna to sell Girl Scout cookies!”

Bisley looked immediately at Julius once Elle mentioned she was his granddaughter.

“Wait—Julius you—?” Bisley said, looking from Julius to Elle.

“Of course not!” Julius said exasperatedly. “She’s Ludger’s daughter.”

“Oh,” said Bisley.

“The eye color should be enough of a tip-off,” Julius muttered under his breath. But he had to remind himself that this was Bisley Bakur.

“Anyway, we’re here selling cookies,” Elle reminded Bisley. “And we have all these cookies left.”

She gestured at their wagon of cookie boxes, which, though they had restocked it before heading to Spirius, had only around 20 boxes left. Julius wasn’t entirely sure if Edna planned on selling all 20 to Bisley, but he was relatively sure she was going to try for at least half.

“Sir, please,” began Edna, sounding uncharacteristically serious. “We are but humble grade-schoolers, and it’s our wish to support our Girl Scout troop as best we can. We’ve been working so hard, but not a single soul will buy our cookies and fund our troop’s activities.”

What? was about the only thought going through Julius’s mind at this point. Edna was straight up lying to him, but she was selling it relatively well.

“Well Elle and I have been through our neighborhood countless times, but not a single soul wanted to buy cookies from two poor, sad, eight year old girls,” said Edna dramatically, turning away and hiding her face with her opened umbrella for effect.

Julius literally could not believe this was happening. If he hadn’t been so used to ridiculous situations, he was sure his disbelief would have shown on his face. Then again, even if it was, he doubted Bisley would notice.

“That is just terrible,” said Bisley with a frown, and Julius could almost swear he saw a tear in the man’s eye. “Of course I’ll buy your cookies Edna! I’m glad to support you and Elle.”

Julius didn’t know exactly what to say. He watched as Edna and Elle managed to sell all 20 of the boxes of cookies they had left to Bisley with a fake sob story. Then, with a cheerful wave and a dramatic “thank you” Elle and Edna left Bisley’s office with a wagon empty of cookies once again.

“Well, I’m going to go and sell some cookies to Eizen and his friends at college,” said Edna once they were in the elevator. “I called him last night and he said he’d buy some so I’m going to go home really quickly before heading over there.”

“Alright,” said Elle. “Well I think Mr. Glasses Man and I are going to go home as well.”

“My name isn’t…” Julius attempted to say.

“Cool. I’ll see you at school then,” said Edna as they exited the elevator and then the Spirius Corporation building. “Later Mr. Nerd Man!”

Elle waved enthusiastically to Edna as she walked away, umbrella over one shoulder, empty wagon being pulled along behind her.

“Er…Elle,” said Julius. “Just as a thought…would you happen to want to go somewhere first before heading home?”

* * *

“Have you decided yet?” asked Julius, looking over Elle’s shoulder. Her face was pressed up against the glass of the case as her eyes flickered over the options before her excitedly.

“Umm I think so,” she said. “I’ll go ahead and take strawberry.”

Julius looked up and gave both his and Elle’s orders to the person standing behind the counter, who happened to be Asch Windor, looking extremely grumpy, as per usual. Both Sync Lorelei and Asch were working today at the Keterburg Ice Cream Shoppe where Julius had suggested to Elle they stop and get ice cream before returning home.

“Their ice cream is really good!” said Elle as she took a bite of her own.

“I used to go here a lot with Ludger,” Julius admitted as he sat down across from her at the small table.

“Really? I come here sometimes with Daddy,” said Elle. “I think he must like it because he associates it with you.”

Julius smiled, feeling a bit touched that his brother still enjoyed this ice cream shop and that he would take his daughter here.

“You know, it was one of the easiest ways to make him stop crying. Ludger really was a crybaby as a kid, and if he had a bad day I’d suggest we go here and it would cheer him up immediately,” said Julius.

“Daddy was a crybaby?” said Elle, a smile appearing on her face. “For some reason I’m not really that surprised.”

“It seems like something he would be, doesn’t it?” said Julius. “Do you want to hear more stories about Ludger?”

“Absolutely Uncle Glasses Man!” said Elle excitedly, and Julius laughed.

“Well…there was one time when he was younger,” he began.

The two of them spent the next several hours sitting in the Keterburg Ice Cream Shoppe laughing over Julius’s stories of Ludger as a child, and enduring the occasional glare from Asch as he cleaned the tables around them. Eventually they headed back to the Maxwell mansion, and Julius decided that dealing with the terrifying Edna was an okay exchange for some quality time with his niece. Even if she still called him Mr. Glasses Man.

Chapter Text

Colette and Lloyd had been working on their history homework together at the table in the Aurion family's kitchen.

"No, no Lloyd, the 'hero' died before the rise of the renegades, not the other way around," explained Colette. "It was direct cause and effect."

"Oh...that makes significantly more sense," said Lloyd, furiously erasing his notes and re-writing what Colette said. "You're so good at this Colette."

"Don't you pay attention in Miss Raine's class?" asked Colette with a giggle.

"Eheheh... I may have fallen asleep during that particular lesson," Lloyd admitted.

Colette shook her head affectionately as the two of them continued to work on their homework. About ten minutes later, they were interrupted by the door of the apartment slamming open, causing Colette to drop what she was holding (thankfully only a textbook) and Lloyd to fall off his chair.

"Oh, Dad," said Lloyd as Kratos stormed into the kitchen. "It's just you."

"Mr. Kratos welcome home!" said Colette with a smile. She glanced at the clock, noticing it was only 5:30 and the café didn’t close until 8. "Um...is there a reason you're home so early?"

"Unfortunately," Kratos grumbled. "Lailah is going on a date with Zaveid tonight and asked me to watch Sorey and Mikleo for her."

"Oh that will be so much fun!" said Colette excitedly. "We can play board games and watch a movie! I love playing with them!"

“Heck yeah!” said Lloyd, getting up and sitting on his chair again. “We can play Clue again! What do you think Dad? ….Dad?”

Kratos had been glaring furiously at the clock as if it had done him some serious wrong. It was a bit hard to tell that he was angry due to his usual expression, but Lloyd always knew what his father was thinking.

“Sorry, did you say something Lloyd?” said Kratos, turning to him after a moment.

“Er…is everything okay?” asked Lloyd.

“Yes. Absolutely. Totally fine,” said Kratos in a flat tone.

Colette and Lloyd exchanged a look, raising their eyebrows at each other. Before either of them could ask Kratos anything else, there was a knock on the door.

“That’ll be them,” said Kratos, glaring at the clock once again.

Colette and Lloyd followed behind him as he returned to the front door, opening it to Lailah and Zaveid with Sorey and Mikleo.

“Hello Kratos!” said Lailah with a smile.

“Lloyd! Colette!” said Sorey excitedly, running past his uncle and hugging them.

“Hi Sorey!” said Colette with a giggle. “Hi Mikleo!”

Mikleo followed a bit slower than Sorey, but he threw himself upon Colette all the same with a smile on his face.

“Lailah. Zaveid,” said Kratos, his voice strained.

“Krat-man!” said Zaveid with a smile, clearly oblivious to the animosity radiating off Kratos in waves. “How’s it going?”

“Just fine,” said Kratos through clenched teeth.

“Well, Dezel and Edna are downstairs with Yuri and Flynn,” said Lailah, digging through her purse. “Um…here’s the number for the restaurant we’re going to be at. You have my number, of course. And Zaveid’s I believe? Make sure that Sorey and Mikleo eat dinner, and if they get tired it’s alright for them to take a nap. Actually it might be better for them to take a nap anyway, I don’t think Mikleo got his yet…”

Mikleo gave Lailah a dirty look from behind Kratos’s back, but his mother didn’t notice.

“We might be back late, and if that’s the case make sure they’re in bed by 8,” said Lailah, continuing without noticing Mikleo’s glare. “Oh but make sure that Sorey’s feeling alright he just got over a stomach bug so for dinner make sure it’s nothing too heavy. If he does end up throwing up again, please call me. If either of them gets sick, call me. Actually, it might be better for you to call me every hour or so anyway…”

Kratos remained stoically silent the whole time Lailah was talking, glaring daggers at Zaveid. He took the papers she handed him, not mentioning the fact that he’d received lists of how to take care of Sorey and Mikleo about every single time he’d babysat them. Still, as Lailah rambled on about every tiny detail, Kratos said nothing.

“I think that’s about it…” said Lailah, looking at Zaveid. “Did I forget anything?”

“I don’t think so,” said Zaveid, smiling at her and ignoring Kratos’s glare.

“Well…alright. Be good for Uncle Kratos!” she told Sorey and Mikleo. She then gave her brother a quick hug. “We’ll be okay tonight, Kratos. Thank you so much!”

Kratos remained glaring at the door for several minutes after it had closed and Lailah and Zaveid had gone on their oblivious way. Mikleo and Sorey in the meantime were trying to decide with Lloyd and Colette what they should do first.

“I think we should play tag!” said Sorey excitedly.

“The last time we played tag inside, we broke one of Uncle Yuan’s potted plants and he wasn’t very happy about that,” said Mikleo, crossing his arms.

“I don’t think Uncle Yuan is ever happy,” said Sorey, sticking out his tongue in response.

“Also he’s very touchy about his plants,” said Colette absently. “But we could play a board game or watch a movie?”

“Board game!” Sorey and Mikleo cheered in unison.

“Alright, Lloyd let’s go see what we’ve got,” said Colette with a laugh, standing up to go look at their board game collection.

“Uncle Kratos!” said Sorey, tugging on Kratos’s pants (it was about as high as he could get). “Uncle Kratos! You should join us!”

“Ooh! And ask Uncle Yuan to join!” said Mikleo, latching onto Kratos on his other side.

“I’ll uh…see what I can do,” said Kratos, gently removing himself from his nephews.

Mikleo and Sorey watched him leave, and Colette and Lloyd returned with some board games just in time to hear Mikleo tell Sorey, “Uncle Kratos and Uncle Yuan are doing it.”

“Who told you that?” said Colette, promptly dropping Candy Land and Scrabble.

“I heard Mommy telling Zaveid,” said Mikleo with a shrug. “I don’t know what she meant though.”

“Good,” said Lloyd in a shaky voice, picking up the games again. “That’s…that’s good.”

“But what does it mean?” asked Sorey.

“Uh…” began Colette.

“They’re um…playing with each other!” said Lloyd quickly. Colette smacked her forehead with her hand.

“Lloyd,” she sighed. “I think that makes it worse.”

Mikleo and Sorey stared at them with puzzled expressions, and Colette attempted to think of the best way to say this to a couple of six year olds.

“Um…Mr. Kratos and Mr. Yuan are…dating. Like your mom and Mr. Zaveid!” said Colette brightly. She was going to skirt the bedroom issue if possible.

“Oh!” said Sorey, smiling. “That makes sense!”

Colette and Lloyd breathed a sigh of relief, and Colette decided that a change in subject was certainly in order.

“So! What board game do you guys want to play?” asked Colette. “We’ve got Life and Clue and Scrabble and Candy Land and Monopoly…”

“We’re not playing Monopoly,” said Lloyd firmly. “The last time I played Monopoly, Dad wiped the floor with me and he didn’t even show any emotion. He just took my money with that cold stony face of his!”

“You’ve never played with Anise, have you,” sighed Colette. “Trust me. It’s worse.”

“The last time we played Monopoly was with Nova and Vera,” said Sorey, shuffling through the boxes of games.

“How did that go?” asked Colette.

“Nova wanted to be banker,” said Mikleo, rolling his eyes. “And Vera did really well for most of it.”

“And then Nova ended up winning,” said Sorey simply. “I want to play Clue.”

“Alright,” said Lloyd, picking up the box. “We’ll wait for Dad to come back. Uh…where did he go?”

“To get Uncle Yuan. I want to be blue!” said Mikleo, climbing onto one of the dining room chairs.

“I wanna be green,” said Sorey, opening the box and putting the board on the table.

“Lloyd I’m guessing you’ll be red and Mr. Kratos will be purple,” said Colette, sitting down at the table as well. “And I’m going to be Mr. Revolver.”

“Colette,” said Lloyd. “The dog isn’t an actual—”

“Mr. Revolver is on the box,” said Colette, pointing to the dog on the cover. “So I am going to be the dog.”

“That leaves yellow for Yuan I guess,” said Lloyd, sitting down next to Colette. “Because dad is going to be purple, and you’re taking white.”

“Professor Plum and Colonel Mustard are good friends,” said Colette, nodding and setting her token, the dog from Monopoly, on the board.

“Or so you claim,” said Lloyd, shuffling the cards.

“Trust me. I know how Clue works,” said Colette seriously.

“Oh, are we playing Clue tonight?” said Yuan, opening the door in time to hear what Colette said.

“Apparently,” said Kratos, sitting down with a thump and glaring at the board.

“Wonderful,” said Yuan. “Then I’m going to be—”

“Colonel Mustard. Mikleo is being Miss Peacock, Sorey is being Mr. Green, Lloyd’s being Miss Scarlet, and I’m being Mr. Revolver,” said Colette apologetically. “And we just assumed Mr. Kratos would want to be Professor Plum.”

“Yes,” said Kratos.

“Fine,” muttered Yuan. “I suppose I’ll be yellow. Again.”

* * *

“It was so Mr. Revolver!” said Sorey.

“It was not! I’m telling you!” said Colette. “Look, it’s clearly Mr. Yuan.”

Their third round of Clue later, Sorey and Colette were getting in an argument over who the real culprit was, despite the fact that Colette had won by correctly guessing that it was, in fact, Colonel Mustard with the rope in the study and not Mr. Revolver with the revolver. Yuan’s head was on the table, and Kratos had left for the kitchen to make dinner. Lloyd and Mikleo were helping by clearing the table of the game.

“Colette I’m going to need those cards,” said Lloyd.

“Here you go,” she said, giving them to him. “But I’m sorry, Sorey. It was Mr. Yuan.”

“Is dinner ready yet?” Yuan moaned, not lifting his head from the table.

“Maybe if you weren’t sitting there doing nothing it would be,” came Kratos’s reply from the kitchen.

“Fine,” Yuan grumbled, pushing back his chair and heading into the kitchen in order to assist Kratos.

“So what movie do you want to watch tonight?” asked Colette.

“National Treasure!” Mikleo and Sorey said at the same time, and then high fived each other.

“Didn’t you watch that last time?” asked Kratos, setting down a frying pan on the table and raising an eyebrow.

“Yeah but can you imagine finding a treasure?” asked Sorey excitedly.

“Hidden treasure in hidden places of history!” Mikleo added.

“I think the word you’re thinking of is archaeology,” said Yuan, rolling his eyes.

“That’s a fun word!” said Sorey. “Mommy has a lot of books on that I think. I’ve looked through some of them but I don’t understand a lot of it. The pictures are cool!”

Mikleo nodded in agreement.

“Well you two can talk about archaeology, I need to talk to your mother or she’s going to think something is wrong. Go ahead and eat,” said Kratos, heading back into the kitchen.

As Kratos talked on the phone with Lailah, the others enjoyed their meal while Mikleo and Sorey talked animatedly about archaeology, which was apparently a favored topic for them. After dinner, they settled in the living room to watch National Treasure, as Mikleo and Sorey requested. Lloyd and Colette were sitting on the floor in front of the sofa with Sorey and Mikleo in between them, while Yuan (being the prick he was) had taken up a majority of the sofa, leaving just enough room for Kratos. If he let Yuan use his lap as a footstool.

Kratos checked the time and noticed that it was already 8:30. Lailah hadn’t come back yet, and she’d probably be pretty upset if Sorey and Mikleo weren’t asleep yet. Leaning forward, he realized that he at least didn’t have to worry about Sorey as his head was on Mikleo’s shoulder, dead asleep. A sudden knock on the door told him that his sister had finally returned from her date.

He pushed Yuan’s feet aside and stood up to answer the door. As he expected, it was Lailah and Zaveid, though it looked like they hadn’t picked up Edna and Dezel yet.

“Hi! Sorry I’m back kind of late,” said Lailah apologetically. “But I was really worried. Are the boys doing okay? They didn’t give you any trouble, did they?”

“No, it was fine,” said Kratos, glaring at Zaveid again. Zaveid seemed not to notice. “Sorey is already asleep, but Mikleo isn’t.”

“That’s alright,” said Lailah, kneeling down next to Sorey and Mikleo. “Mikleo, I’m going to carry Sorey, so just hold my hand, okay?”

“Okay,” said Mikleo with a yawn as Lailah picked up Sorey.

“Thank you so much once again, Kratos,” said Lailah with a smile. “I really appreciate it. Bye Lloyd! Bye Colette! Bye Yuan!”

“Good bye Lailah,” said Yuan, getting comfortable on the couch again.

“Bye Aunt Lailah!” said Lloyd, waving to her.

“Have a good night,” said Colette with a smile.

As soon as Lailah had left with her sons and Zaveid, Kratos sat back down on the sofa, forcing Yuan to move his feet again.

“So were you planning on staying the night?” asked Kratos sarcastically.

“What, it’s not like I’ve never done that before!” said Yuan. “I know your bed has room.”

“You’d be sleeping on the couch,” said Kratos, keeping his attention on the movie.

“Jerk,” said Yuan under his breath.

“It’s the couch in my apartment, or go back to your own bed in your own apartment and deal with Mithos,” said Kratos. “It’s your choice.”

“What a lovely choice,” said Yuan rolling his eyes.

“I honestly don’t care what decision you make so long as you don’t come into my room like the drama queen you are again. I have to be up early tomorrow. I don’t feel like putting up with your shit,” said Kratos.

“You know you love me?” said Yuan hopefully.

“Debatable.”

“Are you two going to continue your lovers spat or can we watch the movie?” asked Lloyd suddenly.

“The movie,” said Kratos. “Definitely the movie.”

Chapter Text

"Do you think we should stop at the next rest stop?"

"That depends if you think Repede needs it."

"Ask him."

"Hey Repede do you need to stop for a bit?" asked Judith, turning in her seat to look at the dog sitting behind them.

Repede barked in response.

"He says yes," Judith said, turning back around and addressing her twin brother Yuri in the driver's seat.

"Alright that's not a problem. We're ahead of schedule anyway," said Yuri, preparing to take the next exit to the rest stop.

"Don't be too long though!" Judith teased as they pulled to a stop in the parking lot.

"Will do Judy," said Yuri, opening the back door and letting Repede out.

Repede wagged his tail excitedly before heading off with Yuri to take a short stroll before getting in the car again. Judith turned in her seat again, debating if she should leave the car at all.

"Eh it'll be fine for a quick bathroom break," she decided, before getting out as well.

About fifteen minutes later, Yuri and Repede had returned from their walk.

"Oh good you're back. Ready to go?" Judith asked.

"I'd say so," said Yuri, letting Repede back in the car.

"Good because I'm not sure how much longer we have," said Judith, glancing at the backseat.

"Message received Judy," said Yuri, turning on the car. "I would like to reach the first location by tonight."

The three of them continued for a while longer, Judith occasionally pointing something out or giving Yuri the directions. Repede sat relatively silently in the backseat, content to listen to the two of them.

"No you're going to want to get over one more," said Judith, looking from the map to the GPS.

"Alright," said Yuri. "Does it say about how much longer?"

"Looks like three hours," said Judith, checking the GPS again.

They were interrupted by a groan from the backseat.

"Uh oh looks like sleeping beauty is awake," said Judith with a smirk.

"Repede make sure he behaves himself back there," said Yuri.

"What...where...Yuri?" asked a muffled voice.

"Morning dear," Yuri said without turning around. "You sleep well?"

"Where...the HELL AM I YURI SCIFO?" Flynn shouted, abruptly sitting up in the backseat and causing Repede to make a disgruntled noise.

"I'd say you're in his car," said Judith, turning around to look at him with a smile.

"What—Judith is here too??" Flynn asked.

"Hey it was her plan not mine," said Yuri with a shrug. "So if anything you should be surprised I'm here not her."

"Yes but you're my husband so if it's anyone's fault I'm here it's probably yours," said Flynn angrily.

"Actually you're wrong on that," said Judith nonchalantly. "It was my idea both to go on this road trip and to bring you along. Yuri said you needed a break anyway."

"Judith—you—" said Flynn with a scandalized tone.

"Like I said, none of this is actually my fault," said Yuri.

"I'm still holding you responsible," said Flynn grumpily. "Now come on we're going home."

"Uh..." began Yuri.

"We're really not," said Judith with a sweet smile. "I planned this vacation very carefully and so you're going to enjoy it."

Flynn glared at Judith, but the effect was ruined by his ruffled hair and that Judith wasn’t even looking at him. The two in the front seemed content to let Flynn fume in silence, returning to their small conversation of directions and checking the time.

“We have to go home,” Flynn piped up suddenly after about ten minutes of silence from his end.

“What for, darling?” Yuri asked, adding heavy sarcasm to the last word.

“I can’t just take off work! What’s Sodia going to do without me?”

“Sodia is actually a very capable woman,” said Judith.

“Yeah I’m pretty sure she can manage without you,” said Yuri.

“But—” Flynn tried to protest.

“Also I already told them you weren’t coming in for a while,” said Judith. “Chastel and Hisca have it covered.”

“I hate you,” Flynn muttered.

“That’s wonderful dear,” said Yuri lightly. “Judy can you give me a cookie?”

“Sure,” said Judith, pulling a cookie out of the ziplock bag in the glove box and handing it to her brother.

“Who will feed Repede while we’re gone?” asked Flynn.

Judith actually turned to look at him and raised an eyebrow, while Yuri nearly choked on his cookie.

“In case you hadn’t noticed, he’s sitting right next to you,” said Judith.

Repede barked and wagged his tail again, and Flynn glared at him. He crossed his arms angrily with a huff. It seemed he didn’t have another objection. For at least another few minutes.

“What about Ba’ul?” he asked.

“What about Ba’ul?” asked Judith. Ba’ul was Judith’s pet bearded dragon, and as far as Flynn could tell she hadn’t brought him along.

“Well who’s going to take care of him? Unless you decided to take him on this stupid road trip as well,” he said.

“Hey, it’s not stupid. Don’t call it that or Judy will kill you,” said Yuri.

Judith laughed before adding, “Well actually Guy, Richard, and Asbel are. I asked Karol but he’s apparently going on a Boy Scout trip.”

“Dammit,” muttered Flynn, kicking the back of Yuri’s seat angrily.

“Yuri, you’re going to want to take the next right,” said Judith, going back to ignoring Flynn.

“Alright,” said Yuri. The two of them lapsed back into direction and time conversation, Flynn being ignored and in his silent sulking he would occasionally kick the back of Yuri’s seat until Yuri ordered Repede to sit on him.

* * *

“We need to stop,” said Flynn suddenly.

“You literally just went to the bathroom at the last rest stop,” said Judith, not looking up from the map. Repede, who was sitting on top of Flynn, barked in agreement.

“Okay, but…there’s a rest stop in like…five miles. We should stop. I’m sure they’ve got a dog park. Or something. So Repede can go out!” said Flynn.

“You’re a terrible liar,” Yuri commented. “But we can stop just for Repede since he didn’t get to go out last time.”

“Yuri with the number of stops we’ve had to make for your drama queen of a husband, we’re not going to reach the city until midnight,” sighed Judith.

“Well…Judy does have a point,” said Yuri slowly.

Repede barked and shifted uncomfortably on top of Flynn’s stomach, where he had been sitting.

“I think now I might actually have to go to the bathroom,” said Flynn with a grimace.

“Well if you didn’t try to run away at every rest stop you wouldn’t have that problem,” said Judith unsympathetically.

“I did not try to run away at that last one! I just…wanted to talk to her!” said Flynn, his cheeks turning red.

“You ran over screaming ‘help me’ to that poor girl,” said Judith. “Yuri had to apologize to her for about fifteen minutes for that.”

“I don’t think that it helped that you tackled me,” Flynn muttered under his breath.

“Yeah well it did help that her sister was apparently an old friend of Kratos’s,” said Yuri, taking the exit to the rest stop.

“What—really?” said Flynn.

“Small world,” Judith commented at the same time.

“Yeah. Though she has no idea who you are except some dude who ran screaming at her to save him,” Yuri replied. “I told her you were doing a social experiment.”

“Did she believe that?” asked Judith.

“Not really sure. But I was distracted by her name since it sounded familiar,” said Yuri. “Alright everyone out.”

Judith got out and opened the door for Repede, and he eagerly jumped off Flynn.

“Oof,” said Flynn, clutching his midriff. “Repede please don’t do that.”

Repede barked at Flynn before trotting off to sniff some spot in the grass.

“Uh…by the way Yuri can you give me some change?” asked Flynn, sitting up.

“Don’t you have your own change?” asked Yuri with a frown.

“Judith confiscated everything from my pockets including my phone and wallet, remember?” said Flynn.

“Ah, right. Well, here you go,” said Yuri, digging in his pocket and handing Flynn a handful of change. “Get me a Kit Kat if they have any.”

“Y-Yeah,” said Flynn with a smile, watching Yuri join Repede and run off through the grass before he headed inside the building. His goal was not, in fact, the vending machine, as Yuri had assumed, but the pay phone. Since Judith had taken his phone after he tried to call Guy the first time, this was the only way he could get in contact with someone. After all, asking Yuri for his phone would probably be shot down by Judith immediately.

Flynn felt immensely relieved that there even was a pay phone in the rest stop. He’d been worried there wouldn’t be one, which would ruin his entire plan before he could even put it into action. Putting in the change Yuri gave him, Flynn then dialed the number of his potential savior.

“Hello?” said a voice that was not of the person he wanted to reach.

“Uh…Sophie,” said Flynn hesitantly. His niece could be difficult to explain things to sometimes, so he figured it’d be better if he just talked to Guy. “Is anyone else there?”

“Yes. Do you want to talk to them?” said Sophie.

“That’d be great,” said Flynn, sighing heavily. He waited a moment and heard Sophie hand the phone off to someone else.

“Hello?” asked a grumpy voice.

Flynn nearly slammed his forehead into the wall. Of all the people that Sophie had to hand the phone off to, it just had to be…

“Asch,” Flynn said, suppressing a groan. “I didn’t realize you were home from college. Er…is Guy there by any chance?”

Hey, Guy, Flynn is on the phone!” Asch shouted, but still close enough to the receiver for Flynn to wince from the volume. Asch then added in a normal tone, “He’s coming.”

“Thank you,” said Flynn. He was getting a bit anxious. Turning around, he could see Yuri through the window, playing with Repede on the grass. Judith joined them after a moment, and since he knew where she was that gave him a bit more time. Still, it wasn’t very much. He had to make this conversation fast.

“Hey, Bro what’s up?” said Guy, finally answering the phone.

“Guy, you need to help me,” said Flynn urgently. “Judith took my phone I’m currently at a rest stop somewhere I don’t know where please save me.”

“Whoa, whoa, Flynn slow down. Okay, so Judy took your phone during our last conversation? That makes sense. But you’re going to have to be more specific. There’s like pamphlets or something around, right? That should help you figure out where the hell you are,” said Guy.

“Uh…right. Well there’s some pamphlets on the table and one says Lh—” Flynn began, before there was a sudden clicking noise followed by the dial tone. “Guy??”
Turning to the left, he met the sweet but evil smile of Judith, her hand on the phone. It didn’t take much to put together that she was the one who interrupted his conversation with Guy once more.

“Trying to run away again, are you?” she said, her voice as equally sweet and dangerous as her smile.

Slowly putting down the receiver, Flynn gulped.

“Uh…Judith. It-it’s not what you think!” he said nervously. “It was just a friendly conversation oh Origin no please!”

The last part came out in a relatively pathetic scream as Judith moved forward and slung him over her shoulder.

“Hey Yuri! We’re leaving! Your husband decided that just now,” Judith called as she walked outside.

Yuri failed to stifle a laugh when he saw Judith carrying Flynn over her shoulder.

“Wow, Flynn. I thought you were supposed to be able to take people down not the other way around,” he snickered.

“Shut up,” Flynn muttered. Judith was one of the only people he was scared of, and also probably one of the only people who could beat him in a fight. Yuri couldn’t even do that much.

“Time to go!” said Judith cheerfully, walking back to the car, Yuri and Repede following behind.

“You’re like a damsel in distress like this,” said Yuri with a smirk. Repede barked in agreement.

Flynn desperately wanted to punch Yuri in the face, but all he could manage for now was blushing and muttering, “Shut up.”

* * *

Flynn was confined to the car. With Repede sitting on top of him. Again. Even if he complained he needed the bathroom, Yuri accompanied him. Judith was also quick to remind him she wouldn’t care in the slightest if she had to tackle him again. She said it quite cheerfully in all honesty, which was a bit disconcerting.

However, they did finally manage to reach the city they were headed for which Yuri and Judith just referred to as “the city” whenever Flynn asked. He still had frankly no idea where they were, but the one thing he could see standing out more than anything was what appeared to be a monument of some sort made out of green stone.

“Are you guys finally going to tell me where we are?” asked Flynn grumpily as Yuri parked the car.

“We’re at the hotel!” said Yuri with a smile. Flynn glared at him, and Yuri relented. “Alright. Welcome to Barona Inn!”

“Is that supposed to mean something to me?” asked Flynn, raising an eyebrow.

“Yes, it means we’re in Barona. Finally,” said Judith, folding up the map and shoving it into the glove box. “No thanks to you I might add. Can you two handle checking in without me?”

“Yeah, I think we can,” said Yuri, glancing back at Flynn and Repede. “Come on Repede we have to go ask them a question.”

“Hey! I thought you meant me, not Repede!” said Flynn.

“Well I didn’t. Now I need to go check out that sanctuary Richard told us about. Behave yourself, Flynn,” said Judith, smirking as she closed the door behind her.

“Wait—Richard?” asked Flynn, sitting up abruptly as Repede hopped off him with a disgruntled noise.

“Yeah. We’re in Barona. Richard’s from here,” said Yuri, rolling his eyes.

My own brother-in-law betrayed me, Flynn thought, also screaming a bit inside. That’s why Guy found this whole thing so amusing.

“C’mon Flynn stop looking like someone stabbed you,” said Yuri, tugging him out of the car. “We’ve got to go check in. And I have to ask them something. Anyway, over there is the academy. Apparently Kratos had something to do with it…? He’s so mysterious it’s hard to say. Asbel went to school there though.”

“Did you say Asbel?” asked Flynn, coming back to reality momentarily to get stabbed in the back again.

“Yeah, this is Richard’s hometown but Asbel went to school here for a while. You should know that,” said Yuri, rolling his eyes.

“Is there anyone else connected to this town I should know about?” asked Flynn weakly.

“Malik used to work at the academy for a while,” said Yuri, shrugging. “He taught Asbel.”

“I can’t believe both of my brother’s husbands are from this stupid city,” Flynn groaned.

“Nah, Asbel isn’t actually from here. His and Hubert’s hometown is a little ways away,” said Yuri. He gestured for Flynn to follow him into the inn, ignoring Flynn’s broken expression.

“…heard anything from the prince lately?” one of the desk clerks was saying as they approached.

“No, not yet as far as I know,” said the other. She then turned her attention to the two of them. “Hello! Welcome to Barona!”

“Thanks. I have a question. Can my husband stay here or does he have to sleep in the car?” asked Yuri, leaning on the counter as he gestured to Flynn.

“Yuri!” said Flynn, his cheeks turning red as the receptionist giggled.

“No, he can stay. We’re also pet friendly if that’s an issue,” she said with a smile.

“Well I do have Repede. He’s a dog so I guess that counts,” said Yuri, looking down at Repede, who wagged his tail and added an enthusiastic “boof.”

“So just the three of you then?” she asked.

“My sister will also be joining us, so two beds,” said Yuri.

“And for how many nights, sir?”

Yuri turned to look at Repede, frowning. Repede huffed and wagged his tail, and Yuri shrugged in response.

“Uh…we’ll go with just tonight for now. If we plan on staying another night we’ll let you know,” he said, turning back to the receptionist.

“Alright,” she said with a smile.

Flynn tuned out the rest of their conversation as Yuri paid her for the night and instead looked around the hotel. It was a rather nice inn, and he couldn’t tell if it was either because there was literally no one else there or because they had arrived rather late, there seemed to be no one else staying there. That could be beneficial if he were to…get help somewhere… Would anyone in Barona even know Richard?

He was interrupted from his train of thought when Yuri turned back to him, saying something about getting their stuff from the car.

“Uh, but Yuri I don’t have anything. I didn’t pack, remember?” said Flynn, as he followed Yuri back outside.

“Nah, you’ve got a bag packed. See? It’s right here.” Yuri then threw a blue backpack at Flynn who caught it, surprised.

“You packed my clothing??”

“No, Judy did. This was her plan after all. She wanted to make sure you were prepared, so she packed some clothes for you. You don’t need everything so don’t bother unpacking entirely. We’re either going to go to the catacombs tonight or tomorrow anyway,” said Yuri, pulling out another backpack and a duffle bag before closing the trunk.

“Wonderful,” said Flynn under his breath as they headed back into the hotel.

* * *

Flynn was attempting to read. Key word being attempting. Judith had at least been kind enough to pack books for him, though it was still rather hard for them to keep his attention between whatever Yuri was doing on his computer and the news that Yuri had insisted they leave on for Repede to watch. (“He likes to watch the news!”) Flynn didn’t feel like arguing that point.

“Origin dammit,” Yuri whispered angrily as the screen showed a “Game Over” for what, judging by the number of times Yuri had sworn and leaned back from his computer, Flynn thought was the fifth time in the past several hours.

Flynn considered asking what he was doing, but Yuri was aggressively tapping the enter key on his keyboard to get through the text that had appeared as well on the bottom, so he decided not to risk it. Repede was lying on the other bed, looking at the television attentively. Flynn wasn’t entirely sure what was going on, but the news caster looked a bit upset.

“Yet we still have no news about the Prince, which leaves all of the people of Barona heartbroken and still awaiting his safe return. Now over to Kitty with the weather.”

Flynn stopped paying attention. But that was the second time someone had mentioned the “prince” person.

“Hey Yuri? Who’s the prince everyone keeps talking about?” asked Flynn.

“Hmm? DAMMIT,” said Yuri, his screen showing a “Game Over” once again. “I will kick your ass don’t think I won’t you piece of shit!”

Flynn decided that Yuri probably hadn’t heard him and didn’t want to be bothered, so he decided not to worry about it. He planned on returning to reading, but a knock on the door made him change plans once again. Getting off the bed, he spared one more glance at Yuri who appeared to be moving a small yellow arrow around the screen, and answered the door himself.

“Ah, Judith,” he said, letting her into the room. “You’re back.”

“Hey Judy,” said Yuri, not looking up from his computer where he was aggressively tapping the enter button.

“Still getting your ass kicked I see,” said Judith in way of greeting. She smirked, and Yuri spent just long enough to look up and glare at her before returning his attention to his computer.

“Well if you’re here that means you checked out that sanctuary, right?” said Yuri.

“Yes, I did. It’s not that far away. I had to sneak in though so we’ll have to be careful. I found the entrance to the catacombs so get ready and we’ll go,” she said, sitting down on the bed next to Repede.

“We can go as soon as I—SHIT,” swore Yuri loudly.

“Did you seriously lose again?” asked Judith with an amused smile.

Yuri returned to glaring at her. He broke away just long enough to close his laptop while heaving a large and dramatic sigh.

“Well considering I just…didn’t win again. I suppose we can go,” he said, standing up and stretching. Repede barked in agreement.

“Wait, where exactly are we going?” asked Flynn as the other two prepared to leave. “Judith—you said something about sneaking in??”

“Don’t worry, we have permission,” said Yuri, waving his hand dismissively.

“Permission from who?” asked Flynn, following the others as they left the hotel room.

“Richard, of course,” said Judith. “He’s the one who told us about the place.”

“Yes, but if we’re sneaking in, that seems an awful lot like breaking and entering! Which is illegal I might add!

“Yuri can you tell your husband to shut up?” asked Judith as they walked downstairs.

“Flynn? Shut up,” said Yuri.

Flynn glared at them, but reluctantly followed along. If Yuri was going to get into trouble, he should probably be there. It was his duty as Yuri’s husband and a police officer. That seemed to be his mantra a lot. But with Judith here, he didn’t feel he had the authority to tell them not to do it. Especially since she had his phone.

The four of them walked through the nearly barren streets of Barona. There were still some lights on, and a few scattered citizens passing through, but most people had returned home for the night, and closing their businesses as well. Judging by the lights and noise coming from one building, however, Flynn could safely assume it was a bar that was open well into the night.

“Alright, it’s down this way,” said Judith, gesturing for them to follow her. Yuri and Repede followed with no hesitation, but Flynn was a bit more reluctant.

“What is that?” asked Flynn in a whisper as they headed towards an unassuming looking building at the end of the street.

“It’s the sanctuary,” Yuri replied. “It’s got the entrance to the catacombs.”

“The what now,” asked Flynn, but Judith silenced him with a glare.

She crept over to the side of the building and slowly pushed up one of the windows. After making sure the coast was clear, she beckoned for them to follow her. Repede somehow managed to get through with more grace than Flynn. Who managed to fall on the floor with a loud thump.

“Shh!” hissed Yuri. “Flynn we don’t exactly want anyone to know we’re here!”

“Then why are we here?” Flynn retorted in an angry whisper. “What if we get caught?”

“We’re here because it has the entrance to the catacombs that Richard told us about,” said Judith, heading over to a statue. “And if we get caught, we’ll just claim sanctuary. We’re in a sanctuary, they can’t arrest us!”

“I’m about one hundred percent certain that’s not how sanctuary works,” Flynn muttered.

“It’s over here,” said Judith as she pushed the statue aside slightly.

“Cool,” said Yuri. “Repede, c’mere I need to give you something.”

“Okay, so. The catacombs run under the city, and they also lead to the castle,” explained Judith.

“Castle?” asked Flynn.

“Yes, there’s a castle here. Didn’t Richard and Asbel tell you anything?” said Judith.

“No,” said Flynn hesitantly.

“You’re a terrible brother-in-law,” she commented. “Anyway, it’s also super haunted, so let’s go.”

“I’ve got the GoPro on Repede,” said Yuri, standing up. Judith frowned.

“Yuri, I have a camera.”

“Judy. We put a GoPro on a dog. How can you say no.”

Judith pursed her lips and looked at Repede with a critical eye. Repede wagged his tail excitedly.

“Fine, we can use both my camera and the one on Repede,” she sighed. “Now let’s go ghost hunting!”

“Yeah!” said Yuri excitedly, pushing Flynn in front of him.

Reluctantly, Flynn followed Judith and Repede as they went down the set of stone stairs that led into the catacombs. The air got gradually cooler, and Flynn was thankful he was wearing a hoodie. Judith was still wearing shorts and a crop top, but she didn’t seem bothered by it. Then again, Flynn had seen her eat ice cream in the dead of winter while wearing a crop top, so he wasn’t entirely sure if she was bothered by anything.

“Alright, according to Richard, and local legend, this place is haunted by a ton of ghosts,” said Judith, holding her video camera in front of her. “Let’s see if we can’t find some.”

“Judith,” said Flynn. “Ghosts aren’t real.”

“You’re saying that now. Just wait until you shit your pants,” said Yuri with a grin, pushing Flynn forward again.

Flynn rolled his eyes, but continued walking. Judith was keeping up something of a running commentary as she recorded, while Repede ran ahead, sniffing at something every once in a while. Flynn had no idea what they were looking for, but since Judith and Yuri had dragged him along he didn’t really have any choice.

They had been walking through the stone passageways for what Flynn could only guess was around 45 minutes. Judith still had his phone, so he had no way of keeping track of how long they’d spent in the catacombs. So far he hadn’t seen anything of interest, just dripping water and silence broken only by their footsteps and Judith’s narration.

“Wait...what is that?” said Yuri. Judith fell silent and looked in the same direction as Yuri.

“I have no idea. Let’s go check it out,” said Judith with a grin.

“This will end badly,” Flynn muttered to himself.

Cautiously, the four of them approached it. The path curved away from them, so it was a bit difficult to tell at first. However, as they got closer, they were able to see what it was.

“A giant skeleton?” said Yuri.

“It’s probably fake,” said Flynn skeptically.

“I wouldn’t be so sure,” said Judith, panning her camera over the length of the skeleton. “I wonder what kind of creature could even leave something so huge?”

Repede barked, signally for them to follow them further down the path.

“Is that a head?” Yuri nearly shouted, looking at what appeared to be a reptilian skull of equal proportions to the rest of the skeleton.

“Maybe it’s a dragon,” said Judith with a smirk.

“Don’t be stu—” Flynn began, but he stopped as he felt something. He rolled his eyes. “Okay, Yuri, very funny.”

“What?” asked Yuri, sounding confused.

“You just ran your hand down my back. That’s really mature, trying to scare me,” said Flynn with a frown.

“Dude. I’m all the way over here,” said Yuri, staring at him from about ten feet away.

“Well then—it wasn’t Repede! Judith?” Flynn said, turning to her. Judith had still been standing somewhat behind him, but she was crouching near the skeleton, camera in hand.

“Do what now?” asked Judith, looking up at him.

“Well someone ran their hand down my…back…” said Flynn, his voice trailing off as he felt something or someone brush across the back of his neck.

“Flynn?” asked Judith, standing up.

“I think there’s someone behind me,” said Flynn quietly.

“Holy shit, where?” asked Judith, holding up her camera.

“Holy shit, run!” shouted Yuri, heading further down the path, past the skeleton with Repede following behind him, tail wagging.

“Oh dear,” said Flynn quietly as he felt something now on his shoulder.

Judith was aiming her camera at him, but he wasn’t going to stick around to find out what she’d caught on screen. He just had to make sure Yuri was okay. He wasn’t running away like a coward. After all, ghosts don’t exist. He hoped Judith would buy that explanation later, he thought as he took off running after Yuri and Repede.

* * *

Flynn and Yuri were currently trying to catch their breath while lying on the grass outside of Barona. Apparently the path they took led to one of the highroads just outside the city, which was convenient for them to know if they ever returned and needed to sneak in for whatever reason. Repede didn’t seem bothered by what had happened, and was sitting on the grass, once again wagging his tail. Flynn rolled over with a groan, lightly hitting Yuri on the arm.

“That was so idiotic,” he managed to say. “Why the hell did you two decide to come here on some ghost hunt?”

“That’s the whole idea,” Yuri panted. “Visit super haunted places. Get it on video. If you scream it’s a bonus. It was Judy’s idea.”

“Speaking of Judith, where is she?” said Flynn, sitting up.

“Ughhhh probably still in the catacombs. I’m not going back for her. She can take care of herself,” groaned Yuri.

That much was probably true, Flynn agreed silently. He’d hate to see a ghost try to take on Judith. It wouldn’t be a good day for the ghost.

“We can just head back to the hotel,” said Yuri, standing up and brushing himself off. “She’ll meet us back there when she’s done. Repede, you coming or going?”

Repede stood up and let out a huff, nudging Yuri’s leg. Yuri nodded before offering a hand to Flynn and pulling him to his feet. The walk back to the hotel was mostly in silence, as Flynn wasn’t even sure what to say at this point. Ghosts weren’t real, and yet Judith and Yuri had insisted on dragging him along on this ridiculous chase. Hopefully, since they’d gotten whatever they wanted from the catacombs, they could go home. With that thought in mind, once they reached the hotel, Flynn was very happy to go to bed.

Chapter Text

Flynn was usually the first one up. It was rare for Yuri to ever be up before him, and even on “vacation” he didn’t expect it to be any different. That thought was immediately dashed as he woke up to the alarm clock going off. With a groan, he rolled over and fumbled with it for a minute before managing to turn it off. He was fully prepared to go back to sleep, but the murmur of voices drew him back to consciousness.

“…check it out, though.”

“We can make a few stops, I don’t mind.”

“Yuri?” mumbled Flynn, reaching over to Yuri’s side of the bed and finding it empty. “Go back to sleep ‘s too early.”

“It’s not that early,” said Yuri with a laugh. “But if you want to go back to sleep I’m not going to stop you.”

Flynn let out an unhappy grumble, and rolled over, burying his face in his pillow. He heard Yuri laugh again, and Judith laughed as well.

“Is he always this moody? I’d think he’d be a morning person,” Judith said.

“I mean, he usually is. Apparently today is an exception,” said Yuri.

“Yuriiiii,” Flynn groaned. “If you’re going to keep talking I can’t go back to sleep.”

“Then get up,” said Yuri. “We’re going to have to check out anyway. You can sleep in the car.”

Flynn sat up to attempt to glare at him. Thankfully, the hotel room was still relatively dark considering it was about 7:30 in the morning. Yuri was sitting in the desk chair next to Judith who was sitting on the edge of her bed. The two of them were looking at Judith’s laptop, while Repede was lying on the rest of Judith’s bed.

“What are you two even doing?” he asked grumpily, throwing the blankets off himself and looking around for his bag.

“We’re reviewing the footage Judy got yesterday of those ghosts,” said Yuri, looking at Judith’s screen again.

“Ghosts don’t exist,” said Flynn firmly, pulling out a new shirt.

“That’s not what it looked like to me yesterday,” said Judith, raising an eyebrow. “You ran faster than Yuri out of there.”

“Did not,” Flynn grumbled before heading to the bathroom to change.

It didn't take him very long, and he returned to the main part of the room in time to hear Yuri and Judith debating something.

"It's not like I mind the stops, it's just if you think it'll work?" said Yuri with a frown.

"Some of them are only going to be accessible during the day, like the high school," said Judith. "The museum hasn't been used in forever, so that can wait until night. We can still get in then."

"What are you two talking about?" asked Flynn with a sigh. "Please tell me we're not breaking into any other places."

"Well if you want to break into the high school we could put that off until night," said Judith with a grin.

"We are not breaking into a high school or any other place," said Flynn with a glare.

"Well, fine," sighed Judith. "But we do have some other locations we want to go to today."

"Yeah we have the high school, uh there's a playground but it says they only come out at night so I doubt it'll be much good... Also creepy house where three people murdered each other that sort of thing. And then when we reach Marlind! We can go to the museum," said Yuri happily.

"I don't even want to know how you heard about half these places," Flynn muttered under his breath.

“We’ve got a long day ahead of us, especially if we want to get to the museum tonight,” said Yuri, standing up and stretching. “Flynn, I hope you’re ready to go because we’ve already packed your stuff back in the car.”

“What—” Flynn tried to ask, but Judith was standing up as well and ushering him out the door.

“Yuri and Repede can make one last check of the room while I check out. You go down to the car and take your stuff from last night with you,” she said.

Flynn spared one more glare at her before resigning himself to heading out to the car. Thankfully, Judith had at least entrusted him with the keys to the car, so he shoved his clothing from the night before in the trunk and got into the backseat again. He was more than ready to go back to sleep, but at the same time, he was a bit wary of the “plans” Judith and Yuri had. They mentioned something about a high school and a museum…and supposedly not breaking in anymore, but he wasn’t sure how much he trusted that.

He didn’t have very much time to worry, as Yuri, Judith, and Repede came back out to the car together. Judith was apparently deciding to drive today, as she got in the driver’s seat and Yuri sat on the passenger’s side. He highly doubted they were going to let him drive any time soon, as he’d likely just try to go home. Still, he was a bit thankful for that, because it meant he could continue sleeping while they headed for whatever location was next on Judith’s list. Repede was lying on top of his legs, but Flynn didn’t mind. Repede did that often enough at home for it to not be a bother.

* * *

“Flynn. Flynn. Flynn wake up, we’re here,” said a voice, and he felt someone gently shake his shoulder.

“Wha…” asked Flynn, sitting up and blinking. The car was parked in front of a rather imposing building, and Yuri was staring at him.

“We made it to the high school. You slept like a log, by the way. Judy stopped at a haunted playground on the way here, but you didn’t wake up for that. Probably better that way. You might’ve gotten upset with how Judy was acting on public property, uh talking about dead children and such,” said Yuri. Flynn was now very glad he hadn’t woken up for that.

“Alright…but…a high school? Whose high school is this?”

“It’s Karla Maxwell’s wife’s. They went to high school here. Apparently both the theater and the third floor are the most haunted. Judy’s inside, talking them into letting us take Repede,” said Yuri. “Now come on and get up. You’re not skipping out on this escapade.”

“I’m not really sure what you’re expecting to find here, but alright,” sighed Flynn, getting out of the car and stretching.

“We have to go up the stairs. Office is on the first floor,” said Yuri, gesturing for Flynn to follow him and Repede.

“But…isn’t the first floor…the one on the ground?” asked Flynn as they climbed the stone steps.

“Nah, that’s the ground floor. There’s a basement, ground floor, first floor—which is also where the theatre is—and a second and third floor. While there’s some cool shit in the basement, it’s not accessible to us, so we only get the first and third floors,” explained Yuri.

When they reached the top of the stairs, Judith was holding the door open for them. She gestured for them to come inside, and escorted them into a rather impressive lobby. There were marble stairs that led up to a stained glass window and then split into two different staircases and went on either side to the second floor. To his left, Flynn also noticed what appeared to be class photos of years past, including through the past year’s.

“Wow,” he said quietly. The building itself seemed rather unsettlingly quiet, despite the fact that it was a school day.

“They were convinced to see my way of thinking in letting Repede in here,” said Judith with a smile. “Anyway, I asked about the theatre and they said it’s down to the right, at the very end of the hallway. There’s also a side hallway where the rehearsal studio is, which according to Karla’s wife is haunted as well. They told me that the drama classes are in the rehearsal studio today, so we have free reign of the stage and backstage… So to speak.”

“Sweet,” said Yuri. “Let’s get going then. Judy! Got your camera ready?”

“When isn’t it ready?” asked Judith with a grin.

“Repede! GoPro is ready!” said Yuri, turning to Repede. Repede let out a small “boof” and wagged his tail. “Alright! Let’s go!”

Yuri headed off down the hallway to the right, and Flynn rolled his eyes, but followed. The doors were wooden, and looked probably around 100 years old. (According to Judith according to Karla’s wife, the building was actually around that age.) Golden numbers spelled out “111,” which Flynn assumed was technically the room number. The doors themselves proved a bit difficult to open, but Judith managed it without breaking anything, and once they were inside the theatre, Flynn felt even more sure the thing was around 100 years old.

“These seats look ancient,” said Yuri, moving along one of the rows of chairs. “I mean, look at them. They’re tiny too. And creaky.”

“Yes, well, they’re haunted,” said Judith, heading directly for the set of stairs in the middle row that led up to the stage. “Karla’s wife said they always leave one seat open during show nights, on the end over there in the front row, for the ghost of the nun who founded the drama program here.”

“Huh,” said Yuri, heading for that seat. “That’s rather interesting. Repede, you see anything cool?”

Repede had joined Judith on stage, and he was sniffing near the back wall. He looked back up at Yuri and barked.

“What is it?” asked Flynn, following Repede. Repede huffed and looked at the back wall again. It was covered with a white curtain, but Flynn was able to pull it up from the bottom, revealing a mostly blank wall behind it. That was, until he saw it. “Oh, holy shit!”

“What?” asked Yuri and Judith simultaneously, immediately hurrying over to him.

“What’s wrong? Are you hurt?” asked Yuri, attempting to check Flynn for injuries.

“No, no it’s not me it’s…the wall,” said Flynn, gesturing to it.

“What about the wall?” asked Yuri, moving forward and lifting the curtain up. “I don’t see—oh! Judy!”

Yuri moved aside so Judith could see the same thing that Flynn saw, which was a rather small painting on the wall, at a little under eye level for them. There were two silhouettes in the window of a building that looked rather like the high school they were currently in. One of the figures was of a woman, leaning away in obvious fear, as the other figure had a knife.

“Oh, Karla’s wife mentioned this,” said Judith, putting her hand on top of the painting, and then moving it to the side. “They said that the area of the wall where the painting is, is colder than the rest of the wall. They're right. Put your hand on it Yuri.”

Yuri put his hand on it as well and then moved it to a part of the wall that the painting wasn’t on. He frowned.

“Huh, that’s definitely weird. What else did they say about it?”

“They said that no one knows who painted it. It appeared overnight during the crew working on set and design. The drama teacher was the last one to leave that night and the first one to get there that morning. Between that time, the painting appeared. None of the paint brushes had been used, and there was no paint on the floor, which usually happens when you’re painting on a wall,” said Judith. “Karla’s wife also said that the drama teacher is actually a bit too scared to paint over it, and no one has come forward and taken responsibility for it, though she keeps hoping someone will.”

“Cool,” said Yuri, putting the curtain back over the painting again.

As soon as he let go, the stage door to the left swung open. All four of them stared at it, not moving. Judith eventually moved forward, and looked out into the hallway. She stepped out for a moment to the right, and then returned.

“There’s no one out there. From what I can tell, there are some classes in the hallway down that way, but there’s no students or faculty down either hall,” said Judith. “Also, the hallway with the classes is the one that’s also haunted. We can check that out after we finish in the theatre.”

“Sounds like a plan,” said Yuri, jumping off the stage to wander up and down the rows of seats again.

“What other stories did Karla’s wife tell you about this place?” asked Flynn, sitting on the edge of the stage.

“Well, there was the time the lights up there went off,” said Judith, gesturing to the spotlights that pointed at the stage. “They’re controlled from the booth up there, but the student who was in control at the time didn’t touch it. It scared her rather badly, and she came running downstairs to tell the drama teacher.”

“There was also the time the drama teacher almost fell off the stage,” commented Yuri, crouching down next to a seat as though he were looking for something in particular. “She was walking backwards, and it was before they had the raised edge. She almost walked off the stage, but someone pushed her back on. She turned around to say thank you, but no one was there. It seems the nun who founded the theatre program is a rather benevolent ghost. She’s also been seen in that haunted hallway with the rehearsal studio.”

“Karla’s wife’s been here before when the door opened like it did for us,” said Judith. “Also stuff with the seats being put up or down while no one was in here except her.”

“That’s what I was checking,” said Yuri. “I don’t know if it’s ghosts doing it, or if it’s the students…but some of the seats are up and some of them are down. Considering none of the drama classes were supposed to be in here while we’re here…I think it might be the work of the ghost.”

“I have a pretty good video of the theatre,” said Judith, panning her camera over the room once more. “We might pick more stuff up on the film when we look at it later, so would you like to move on to backstage or the haunted hallway?”

“According to Karla’s wife, nothing all that peculiar has happened backstage. I think we should just go ahead and check out the haunted hallway, and then head up to the third floor,” said Yuri, standing up.

“Roger,” said Judith, heading for the stage door that had mysteriously opened earlier. Repede followed her eagerly, wagging his tail. Flynn got up, and waited for Yuri before the two of them followed Judith and Repede down the hallway.

“Karla’s wife was right,” whispered Flynn as they stepped into the hallway. “it just got significantly colder…”

“I think we should check out the rehearsal studio too,” said Judith with a smirk, turning in every direction with her camera.

“Oh, alright,” said Yuri, looking out one of the windows distractedly.

Judith knocked on the second last door on the left before pushing it open. Repede followed her, and Flynn and Yuri did as well, not realizing what Judith had in mind. All of the drama classes had been moved to the rehearsal studio for the day while they were there. And Judith knew, and she knew where the rehearsal studio was. And apparently, she knew that a class was going on. Yuri, Flynn, and Repede were immediately swarmed by about half a dozen teenage girls.

“Oh my gosh, are you the visitors?” asked one girl with dusky red hair, getting uncomfortably close to Flynn’s face.

“Emma, leave them alone,” said another girl, pulling her back by the collar of her school uniform.

“Aw, Lokorra, you’re no fun,” pouted the girl named Emma.

“They have a dog though!” said another girl with dark skin and curly black hair, who was excitedly petting Repede. “What’s your name you gorgeous boy?”

“That’s Repede,” said Yuri with a smile.

“Estelle, let other people pet him,” chastised a girl with straight light blue hair, attempting to move Estelle to the side to let the other girls pet Repede.

“And who are you, cutie?” asked a short-haired brunette with glasses that looked awfully familiar to Flynn, but he couldn’t place where he thought he’d seen her.

“Er, do you mean me?” he asked, as it seemed she had been addressing him.

“Silva,” reprimanded the same blue haired girl that was trying to get Estelle away from Repede.

“I’m—uh—married, sorry to disappoint,” Flynn stuttered, his face turning red. He noticed that Yuri and Judith weren’t trying very hard to cover their laughter over his misfortune. “Um…where’s your teacher?”

Silva had been frowning, looking rather crestfallen that Flynn was married, but perked up as soon as he asked his question.

“Oh! Ms. B. isn’t here right now! She took Kitty, Pearl, and Saturday with her to get some stuff from her car and the costume room. If you go to the third floor you might run into them,” said Silva helpfully.

“We’re going to the third floor anyway,” said Yuri with a shrug. “We might.”

“Are you going because of the Ouija board thing?” asked Estelle, finally moving away from Repede for a moment.

“Ouija board?” repeated Flynn, looking at Judith and Yuri with slight alarm.

“Oh yeah,” added Emma. “Years back, some girls who were part of the fall play decided to mess around with a Ouija board upstairs on the third floor. They summoned something, but they’re not really sure what. They came screaming downstairs to Ms. B. who was in the theatre at the time.”

“I just kinda figured you’d be interested in it since they said you guys were here studying occult stuff,” said Estelle.

“You might not be able to find it,” said Lokorra. “It usually only comes out after 9 pm, and unless you plan on staying that long, it might just not appear. I was up there at like 7 pm once, and I heard footsteps behind me, so who knows.”

“Ah, Lokorra, that’s scary!” said Emma, lightly swatting Lokorra on the shoulder. “Don’t stay here that late in the future!”

“Thank you for the help,” said Judith with a smile, “but we should get going to the third floor. We have one more stop to make today. Even if we don’t find it, it will at least be worth the experience!”

The girls reluctantly said goodbye to Repede, especially Estelle, who seemed to be fighting with the blue haired girl over it. (“Come on, Veronica. Just let me pet him one more time!” “No, because if I let you pet him again you won’t stop.” “But Veronicaaaaa he’s such a good boy!! He needs affection!”) Then, Flynn, Judith, Yuri, and Repede, who seemed a bit disappointed he had to give up his petting session, headed to the third floor. It was only two flights of stairs up, but there seemed to be more stairs than on a usual staircase, and the stairwell itself seemed rather tiny.

“I wonder how hard it is to get from class to class,” Flynn muttered as they reached the third floor.

“There are quite a few stairwells, so it might not be too bad,” Judith pointed out. “Now we’re in the science wing. The biology classrooms are over here…there’s a chem room down the hall, and the physics room.”

“Where does this Ouija board thing supposedly appear at?” asked Flynn as they started down the hall.

“They say it appears along the entire third floor, as far over from here to the other end. The drama teacher said she’s seen it late at night…a kind of white figure in flowing clothes. When she and the people she was with saw it, they freaked out and ran down to where we’re parked. She said she then saw all the lights from the science wing down to the other end flicker on and then off,” said Yuri, peering into a couple of the science classrooms as they passed.

The hallway turned, and Judith gestured to one of the rooms they were passing.

“That’s the science resource center. The social studies resource center is further down, with the social studies classrooms,” she explained.

“Place feels kind of weird, though,” said Flynn as they stopped briefly by the resource center.

“Apparently this used to be where the nuns slept. Bit ironic that something was then summoned by a Ouija board up here, right?” said Yuri with a grin.

Flynn rolled his eyes at him, but the four of them kept walking. There didn’t seem to be anything interesting for the rest of the hallway, but the snippets of lectures and conversations that were going on in the classrooms were mildly amusing. Judith seemed satisfied once they reached the end of the hallway, though they hadn’t seen the drama teacher or her other missing students.

“Well, Karla’s wife’s high school seems interesting enough,” said Judith, looking at her camera. “But I think we’ve got all we can for now. We should continue on to Marlind.”

“Alright Judy,” said Yuri, gesturing for Flynn and Repede to follow him as they headed back to the first floor.

“I’ll thank the office staff for letting us look around,” said Judith. “You three go on ahead to the car.”

“Okay. I’ll go ahead and drive to Marlind,” said Yuri. “And Flynn? You’re stuck in the backseat with Repede again, I’m sorry. Sucks to suck.”

Flynn ignored him.

* * *

“Well, we’re finally in Marlind,” said Yuri, getting out of the car. Judith followed suit and gave the place a scrutinous look.

“It doesn’t seem like much,” she said. “But the energy here is…weird.”

“Who did you two hear about this place from?” asked Flynn, coming up behind them and stretching. He was at least glad it was their last stop, and the major one before it hadn’t been terrifying at all. They had made another couple pit stops on the way over, mostly at places Judith spent less than half an hour at before they moved on.

“Alisha Lualdi,” said Judith. “She’s apparently been here before. Her sister Cheria was also here a while back. There was a plague in the city.”

“A plague?” asked Flynn in alarm.

“Oh, it’s gone now,” said Judith. “We don’t have to worry about that. I can tell from the positive energy that seems to be coming from the large tree in town.”

Flynn gave her a skeptical look, but Yuri had started walking forward, and Flynn had no choice but to follow. He was staying close behind Yuri, though. Even with what Judith said, something about the city still felt uncomfortable in a way he couldn’t put his finger on. Even Repede wasn’t wandering too far away from the three of them.

Despite a plague apparently having affected their city in the past, the townspeople seemed rather lively. Yuri stopped by a small grocer’s next to the inn to get supplies and ask for directions. The townsfolk were more than happy to point them in the right direction, with what Flynn felt were almost overly cheerful warnings of the ghosts that supposedly haunted the abandoned museum. The museum really wasn’t all that hard to find, being one of the largest buildings in the town, the other being a church. As they walked through the village, they passed by a large tree. Judith paused and gave it an odd look.

“That’s the source of most of the positive energy,” she said. “The negative energy seems to be coming primarily from the museum.”

Flynn didn’t want to question Judith’s interpretations of the “energies,” but he couldn’t deny that he felt increasingly uncomfortable the closer they got to the museum. It was a rather imposing building, but it also looked rather empty and unused.

“This is it,” said Yuri, stopping in front of the building. He turned and looked back at the other three. “Repede’s GoPro is set. Judy, you got your camera ready? Flynn, if you need a bathroom break, I’d advise you do it now.”

“Camera’s ready!” said Judith.

“I do not need a bathroom break!” said Flynn angrily.

Yuri shrugged and headed up the staircase in front of the building.

“Suit yourself, but when you shit your pants, don’t come crying to me.”

Flynn glared at him, but silently followed Judith and Repede into the building. Flynn wasn’t exactly sure what he expected upon walking into an old abandoned and possibly haunted museum. But it wasn’t anything very surprising. There was dust everywhere, coating everything, including what looked like it used to be the reception desk. Cobwebs were everywhere as well, covering both windows and old furniture.

Yuri headed straight towards the set of doors directly across from them, but after tugging on the handles for a moment, he gave up. He shook his head and looked at Judith.

“This way’s locked. We’ll have to go the other way,” he said, gesturing to the other set of doors.

“Or I could try to break the doors down,” said Judith, handing Yuri her camera before throwing herself against the door. Flynn winced. “Hmm…they didn’t budge. That’s odd. It feels like there’s something blocking them from the other side.”

“Like I said, we’ll have to go the other way. I’m sure it’ll lead around eventually,” said Yuri, heading past the desk. The other set of doors swung open easily when Yuri pushed on them. “See? Let’s go.”

Judith shrugged, but took back her camera and followed him. Flynn followed a bit more hesitantly. There was something he didn’t really like about the place. They were in a hallway, with a worn out carpet and dusty paintings. Some were still hung, albeit crookedly, on the walls. Others were lying on the floor. The wallpaper was dark from age, and some parts were peeling off the walls.

“Wow,” said Judith, as she stepped forward. “This place must’ve been nice a long time ago. Pity what happened to it.”

“Still, doesn’t seem to be anything interesting yet,” said Yuri, heading towards the doors at the end of the hall without so much as a second glance at any of the art pieces around them.

“What are you looking for, blood?” asked Flynn sarcastically.

“Sure, that’d liven it up,” said Yuri, opening the door with a grin.

“Yuri, there’s another door down this way,” said Judith, turning to the left. The hall continued down a bit further, and ended with another set of doors.

“Repede, which way do you want to go?” asked Yuri, crouching down next to his dog. Repede looked at the door further away, and then back at the doors Yuri had just opened. He started heading through the already opened doors, and Yuri stood back up. “Well, case closed, Judy. Repede says this way.”

“Wow, more dusty furniture and old painting,” said Flynn in mock amazement as they entered the room. “What a surprise. Can we go now?”

“What, you scared?” asked Yuri with a grin. Flynn glared at him.

“I’m a police officer, I’m not scared!”

“He’s scared,” commented Judith. She wandered around the room a bit, occasionally getting closer to a painting or nudging a piece of furniture with her foot.

Repede was also searching the room, sniffing at things closer to the ground. Yuri was looking at what appeared to be several empty bookshelves around the room. Flynn was at the window, staring longingly out at Marlind. The entire town gave him the creeps, but being out there was infinitely preferable to being in here.

“I wonder why these shelves are all empty,” said Yuri. “It kind of looks like someone stole stuff from here.”

“But apparently not all the art was worth that much,” commented Judith absently. “Well, there’s another door through here. Should we go this way?”

Repede let out a small “boof,” and Judith took it as a sign to go ahead. She slowly pushed open the doors to reveal…another room.

“Ooh, a table!” said Yuri. “That’s something new.”

“There’s also only one painting,” Flynn commented. It didn’t seem to be anything out of the ordinary, but there was something about it that bothered him.

While Yuri, Judith, and Repede explored the rest of the room, he took a closer look at the painting hanging on the wall. It was a landscape of what looked like a countryside. Nothing too unusual about that. Green grass, a blue sky, some white clouds. Boring and normal. The exact opposite of what Yuri and Judith had been looking for.

“Judy, these doors are locked,” said Yuri, pushing against the next set of doors.

“What? Let me see,” said Judith, heading over to them and giving them a push as well. She frowned.

“Well we’ll just have to go back the way we came,” said Flynn with a sigh, turning around. The other set of doors was closed. Upon trying the handle, he found it to be locked.

“What? Not strong enough to open the door?” teased Yuri, coming over and pulling on the door. “Wait, shit. This is actually locked.”

“You two are such weaklings,” said Judith, heading to the door. “Viewers take note. My twin brother and his useless husband.”

As soon as Judith was halfway across the room, the painting Flynn had been looking at earlier fell off the wall.

“Holy shit,” whispered Yuri, as Flynn clutched tightly to his husband’s arm.

“Is that…writing?” asked Flynn quietly.

The three of them approached it slowly, Repede standing a bit further away, looking like getting any closer was a bad idea. Flynn couldn’t blame him. Still, he clung tightly to Yuri’s arm, staying safely behind him and Judith. As they got closer, Flynn was finally able to make out the words.

“Step on wheat and wheat gains strength… Step on them, and what takes place? Squash on their bellies and their guts pop out! Squishy and red flying out of their mouths…!” read Judith.

“Judith, I swear to Origin, don’t you know not to read aloud shit you find in haunted places?” hissed Flynn. “Especially not something that looks to be written in blood!”

“I thought you didn’t believe in ghosts,” Yuri shot back, but as he was speaking, there was a click, and the previously locked set of doors they hadn’t gone through yet swung open.

“Well it must have done some good,” said Judith, heading without hesitation towards the door. “After all, it opened the door. Now come on, there’s ghosts around.”

As soon as they stepped through the doorway into another room, Flynn swore he could hear giggling.

“Judith, knock it off,” he muttered, hugging Yuri’s arm, if possible, even tighter.

“I didn’t do anything,” said Judith, turning to look back at him.

“No, I swear I heard giggling,” said Flynn. “And unless you’re saying Repede—”

“Ghosts,” said Judith, heading towards one end of the room. “And my ghost senses are tingling and telling me this is the way to go.”

“It’s a bit covered in cobwebs, though,” said Yuri, attempting to detach himself from Flynn in order to help Judith clear away the door.

“Well maybe that means we should go in the other direction,” said Flynn hopefully, his voice about an octave higher than normal.

“That way’s even more covered in cobwebs, and there appears to be a chest in front of it,” said Judith, glancing at the other door. “I really don’t think we’d be able to get through that one.”

“Like you can’t move it,” Flynn muttered to himself.

“It looks like this heads into another hallway,” said Judith, pushing open the door. “We can go left or right. What do you think, Repede?”

Repede trotted forward, wagging his tail slightly. He glanced left before beginning to head right.

“To the right it is,” said Judith, following him.

“C’mon, Flynn,” said Yuri, gesturing for Flynn to follow him. Flynn sighed, but he didn’t want to be separated from Yuri and Judith.

The hallway wasn’t anything new, just more dusty walls and paintings. And at the end, Repede was waiting, wagging his tail, for Judith to open the door. Flynn was following closely behind Yuri, looking for anything out of the ordinary. He didn’t hear any more giggling and the doors they had exited through hadn’t even closed behind them. That was slightly reassuring.

“Looks like it’s a stairwell,” said Judith, pushing the door open and peering through it. “Only one way to go, and that’s up!”

“Oh great, another floor,” muttered Flynn. “Just what we need.”

“I don’t think they’re going to collapse under us. So unless you want me to carry you, let’s go Princess Flynn,” said Judith, starting up the stairs.

Flynn glared at her, but he followed behind her, Yuri, and Repede upstairs. Judith was right, though. The floors were a bit squeaky, but Flynn wasn’t too surprised. They didn’t feel unstable, and even the steps in Natalia’s house were squeaky in places. That much was a relief. As he finally reached the top of the stairs, Judith was already opening the door.

“Another hallway,” called Judith over her shoulder back at Flynn and Yuri. “But there’s statues in this one!”

“So there are,” said Yuri, following her through. “And another table!”

“What is with you and tables?” muttered Flynn.

“This statue looks a bit…beat up,” said Judith, approaching the nearest statue. It was missing both its hands and its head, and it seemed to have some blood on it.

“D’you think it was done on purpose?” asked Yuri, observing it as well.

“There’s something written here…Swing the blade once: cut off the right hand! Swing it again: there goes the left hand! The wicked thief cries out in pain! ‘It hurts! It hurts!’ he screams in vain! Swing the blade once more and cut off their head! The thief goes silent, the thief is dead!” read Judith.

“What did I tell you about reading creepy shit like that out loud?” hissed Flynn.

“According to the plaque down here…I think Lailah said that this was actually a statue of some ancestor of Mikleo’s or something,” Judith commented, ignoring him. “His ancestors were big around this area, I guess.”

“Kinda senseless vandalism though,” said Yuri. “Really a shame.”

“Boo! Boo!” called a childish voice.

“Okay, Flynn, I get it. You’re a nerd. No need to throw a fit,” said Yuri, turning back towards him.

“Yuri,” said Flynn quietly. “That wasn’t me.”

“Ghosts,” said Judith conversationally, continuing down the hallway. “This statue hasn’t been vandalized at all. Don’t know who it’s supposed to be of…but maybe it’s another one of Mikleo’s ancestors.”

“Can we just go?” pleaded Flynn, clinging to Yuri’s arm again.

“Great idea, Flynn,” said Judith with a smile, pushing open the next set of doors.

“That’s not what I meant…” Flynn muttered, but he followed Judith, Yuri, and Repede anyway.

They went a bit quickly through the next room, as there didn’t seem to be anything that interested Judith or Yuri, which Flynn was extremely thankful for. Repede seemed more interested in the door directly across from them in the next hallway. He sniffed around the edge and barked quietly.

“Repede says this door,” said Yuri, moving in front of Judith (and pulling Flynn along with him), and pushing the door open. “Oh, there’s a bust in here! Cool. Good job, Repede.”

Repede barked in thanks, wagging his tail and sitting down next to the statue. Judith moved closer with her camera and frowned.

“It’s called the ‘Statue of the Conqueror,’” she read. “But…there’s something about it…”

“Hang on, is that Gaius?” asked Flynn, squinting at the statue over Yuri’s shoulder.

“What? Gaius Maxwell?? There’s no way that it’s…” Yuri began. He and Judith stared at the statue a bit longer.

“Oh my god,” said Judith after an uncomfortably long pause. “I think your husband is right.”

“Holy Adephagos,” whispered Yuri.

The four of them stared at the statue a bit longer, before Yuri finally broke away to look around the rest of the room. Flynn reluctantly let go of his arm and headed in a different direction. There didn’t seem to be anything strange here, aside from the statue none of them wanted to admit looked uncomfortably like Gaius Maxwell.

There really didn’t seem to be anything else interesting in the room, so they headed back towards the door. The floorboards up here were creaking a bit ominously under Flynn’s feet, but he still didn’t feel as though that was anything to worry about. If anything, he was worried about the blood and strange noises. And speaking of strange noises….

“What was that?” asked Yuri in a whisper as they exited back into the hallway.

“It sounded like someone knocking over a pot or something,” said Judith, stepping forward. She turned to the right and pointed. “That bust. It wasn’t knocked over before.”

They moved towards the knocked over bust slowly, Judith once again taking the lead. She crouched down, moving her camera over the shards.

“Wait, hold on, there’s something written here as well,” she said.

“Oh no,” muttered Flynn.

“It says… Chew and swallow, rend meat with teeth! The evil ones taste juicy and sweet! Eat their flesh and suck their bones dry…not one scrap we’ll leave behind!” read Judith.

“That sounds an awful lot like cannibalism,” said Yuri, raising an eyebrow.

“Can ghosts be cannibals though?” asked Judith, looking up at him from her spot on the floor. “Plus it sounds like they only want to eat ‘evil ones’ so that means Flynn is safe at least. Too bad you’re not, Yuri.”

She grinned at him, and he rolled his eyes.

“Don’t act like you’re so perfect, Judy,” Yuri retorted. “But I’m glad to know that Flynn at least will survive if we don’t.”

“Please don’t say things like that,” Flynn pleaded.

“Don’t worry, Repede’ll take care of you,” said Yuri with a laugh. He wasn’t the only one laughing.

“It’s that giggling again,” said Flynn, jumping and moving behind Yuri.

“Hmm…seems to be connected to me reading things,” said Judith. “That’s a good thing. It’ll help our ghost hunt.”

“I told you not to read things you find in haunted places out loud,” muttered Flynn.

“Flynn, why are you so scared of ghosts anyway?” asked Yuri, lacing their fingers together, which Flynn was thankful for, as they continued through the next set of doors. “I mean, I don’t really remember you being all that scared of them as a kid. Or am I misremembering?”

“You don’t remember me being scared because I very actively avoided going haunted places,” Flynn muttered. “I don’t like ghosts because they’re not like people. I’m a police officer, I can take down people. Ghosts aren’t tangible. And they’re not real. Or…so I wanted to think before you two dragged me along.”

“Doesn’t Guy live with a ghost though?” asked Yuri with a frown. Flynn shrugged.

“I’m not sure if Lambda counts. Plus, he seems to just occasionally possess Asbel, and knock things over. He apparently used to possess Richard but that was before we met,” explained Flynn.

There was what sounded like children giggling, and Flynn turned to Yuri with a frown.

“Yuri, do you hear—?”

“Yeah I hear it,” said Yuri, pulling Flynn forward, and following Judith as she headed towards the other door in the room.

The sound of giggling grew louder the closer they got to the door, and Flynn was squeezing Yuri’s hand even tighter, to the point that he was pretty sure he was cutting off the circulation. Judith pushed open the door, and they found themselves on a balcony, the laughter seeming to surround them before it suddenly stopped.

“That was weird,” whispered Flynn.

“Yeah,” agreed Yuri.

“Well it seems to be getting louder, which means we’re going in the right direction,” said Judith, moving to the edge of the balcony. “Oh, look! It’s the lobby we came in!”

“Great! So we can just leave!” said Flynn, staring at the front door longingly.

“Unless you care to jump down there, we can’t,” said Yuri. “The balcony leads in the opposite direction. We can check out what’s behind that first door we couldn’t open, though!”

Slowly, with Judith taking the lead and Repede at the rear, the four of the crept along the balcony, and found two flights of stairs. One led down from where they were, and the other led up to another balcony that they’d seen across from the one they were currently on.

“It looks like there is something blocking the door,” said Judith. “We can move that couch out of the way, and then we’ll be able to leave.”

“Good,” said Flynn with a relieved sigh.

“But,” said Judith. “After we move the couch we’re going up that other balcony. There’s probably something else up there, and I want to check it out.”

“Dammit,” muttered Flynn. Still, it seemed Judith would be appeased if they’d check out one last place before leaving, and Flynn supposed his heart could take that at least.

“C’mon Flynn,” said Yuri, pulling him down the stairs. “Let’s help Judy move the couch. The sooner we do that, the sooner we can leave. And the sooner we leave, the sooner we can go home.”

Repede barked in agreement, wagging his tail and looking pleased at the idea of leaving all these haunted places and heading home.

“I miss our apartment,” said Flynn as he helped Yuri shove the couch away from the door. “It’s not haunted and creepy.”

“Yeah, unlike Guy’s,” said Yuri, giving the couch a strong push. “Alright Judy, is that good?”

“As good as it’ll get, unless you plan on taking it to another room,” said Judith with a smirk. “Now come on, boys. The upstairs calls to me. My occult senses are tingling.”

“Have I ever mentioned how weird your sister is?” Flynn muttered to Yuri as they headed up the stairs after Judith. Yuri shrugged.

“I guess that’s just the way she is,” he offered vaguely.

“Another door!” called Judith as they reached the top of the balcony. “And this one leads into a hall. I have a good feeling about this!”

“I have a really, really bad feeling about it,” muttered Flynn, but he followed Judith and Yuri anyway.

Repede seemed rather wary the closer they got to the door at the end of the hallway. Flynn’s gut instinct telling him something was terribly wrong and bad and that they should leave that door shut was getting stronger too. He didn’t know why, but he felt like they shouldn’t open the door. They should just go out the main door and leave Marlind. They could go back home and be satisfied that whatever lurked behind that closed door was not something he’d ever have to deal with. But Judith wouldn’t be satisfied by that. That was just the kind of person she was.

“This is it, viewers,” said Judith into her camera. “This is the end of Dumnonia Museum, and possibly our lives. I think Repede will survive, so if anything happens, I entrust this camera to him. I don’t think anyone has ever gotten this far before and survived. After we open this door, our fates are at stake.”

Does she have to be dramatic like that, thought Flynn. Sure, I don’t have a very good feeling about this but I don’t think we’ll…I mean I hope we won’t…I…I’d prefer not to die.

The door clicked open as Judith pushed on it, revealing a room like many of the others they’d been in before. A worn out carpeting, chandeliers covered in cobwebs, bare floorboards visible in places, some furniture still left, and mostly crooked paintings on the walls. But there was one… One directly across from them at the end of the room. It wasn’t crooked at all.

“It’s just like that one in the other room,” whispered Flynn, finally realized what had bugged him about the painting. “It’s not crooked, unlike the rest of them.”

“It looks like a portrait,” said Judith, slowly approaching it. “It…kind of looks like those childhood pictures I’ve seen of Richard.”

“I think it looks a bit more like Laphicet, honestly,” said Yuri, staring at the portrait over her shoulder. “Y’know, that kid that hangs around Velvet?”

“It looks like my cousin,” said Flynn, sounding almost disgusted.

“What?” asked the other two, turning to him.

“I mean, look at it. It looks like Oscar when he was a—”

Flynn was cut off when they heard the giggling return, this time behind them. Flynn very desperately didn’t want to turn around, but judging by Yuri and Judith’s faces, he’d probably have to. He turned around very, very slowly. And saw what appeared to be a golden suit of armor, which is what the giggling seemed to be coming from.

“I’m out of here,” said Flynn, his voice an octave higher than usual.

“Is that the Golden Mage Knight?” asked Yuri, but Flynn wasn’t going to wait around to find out.

“RUN!” he yelled, grabbing Yuri’s hand and masterfully dodging the suit of armor’s blade. The two of them hurried down the stairs, frantically shoving at the door they’d moved the couch from in front of, and Flynn was eternally glad they did, despite the fact that his hands were shaking so much, he was having a hard time opening it anyway.

“C’mon, c’mon,” said Yuri, helping him to push it open. The two of them bolted through the lobby they’d entered in, throwing the front doors open in a hurry, and not stopping running until they were a decent distance away from the museum.

“Oh dear Origin,” sighed Flynn, dropping to the grass. He realized they’d run as far as the giant tree in town, and it was making him feel better. He sat up again. “Wait…where are Repede and Judith?”

“Judy’s probably fighting that thing while she makes Repede record it,” groaned Yuri, sitting down heavily next to Flynn. “I have absolutely zero doubts she can handle it.”

“Alright, but that thing was a suit of armor,” said Flynn in a concerned tone. “Are you sure she can take that on?”

“It’s Judy,” sighed Yuri, laying back on the grass. “We can just…wait here for her. I’ll give her ten minutes.”

* * *

Yuri was actually wrong. It took Judith 7 minutes and 43 seconds to beat the ghost/suit of armor/Golden Mage Knight (or whatever Yuri had called it). She also had video proof of it, but Flynn was a bit too scared to watch it. According to Yuri, who had watched it, it was “very impressive.” Judith was still teasing him about running away from almost every haunted place they’d visited, but she had apologized and then basically taken it back by saying that if he ever needed to be protected from “a big bad ghost” she’d do it for him.

Flynn was just happy to be home. He hadn’t wanted to take the vacation in the first place, and Yuri and Judith had just dragged him along without his permission or his knowledge. (That was the last time Flynn drank any tea Yuri made him, he swore to himself, but he still knew that likely wasn’t true. His tea never came out as well as Yuri’s.) Sodia seemed rather glad he was back at work. Apparently Teresa had taken it upon herself to dumping the responsibility of keeping Oscar from doing something ridiculous on Sodia since Flynn was gone. That was one nice thing about taking a vacation, Flynn supposed. Police Chief Sergei seemed extremely relieved he was back as well, saying that things just “weren’t the same” without him. Flynn wondered idly how many times Oscar had tried to arrest Velvet, Gaius, or Karla while he was gone, but he decided that was an answer he was probably happy not knowing.

Besides of which, he’d take Oscar’s crazy stunts over ghosts just about any day of the week.

Chapter Text

[13:17] Arche: Babe come over after school my parents aren’t home

[13:19] Arche: Babe

[13:20] Arche: Babe

[13:20] Chester: Arche I’m in class rn

[13:21] Arche: Aren’t we all tho

[13:23] Arche: Babe

[13:25] Chester: what did I just say

[13:25] Arche: ok but u never answered my question come over my place after school my parents aren’t home

[13:26] Arche: Babe

[13:27] Chester: I’m going to get into trouble bc of you

[13:28] Arche: good

[13:45] Arche: :(

[13:45] Chester: ?? what happened?

[13:46] Arche: Raine caught me with my phone

[13:46] Chester: serves you right

[13:47] Arche: b a b e

[13:50] Chester: I’ll see you after school

[13:50] Arche: ❤❤❤

*

[14:45] Sheena: i think suzu has a crush

[14:55] Zelos: why are you telling me this

[14:56] Sheena: bc ur mr flirty mcflirt pants

[15:00] Zelos: okay first of all….

[15:01] Zelos: y’know what never mind. Who does she have a crush on?

[15:01] Sheena: her classmate poisson

[15:11] Zelos: that name sounds familiar but maybe it just looks like poison

[15:12] Zelos: btw don’t let your sister date someone named “poison” she might die

[15:12] Sheena: no it’s poisson she’s pascal’s cousin what do i do

[15:23] Zelos: do you not want them to date?

[15:25] Sheena: they’re a couple of 11 yr olds tho but i want suzu to be happy it’d be cute

[15:34] Zelos: so tell suzu to look poison in the eyes and admit her undying love and then present her with a bouquet of roses and the two of them can run off into the sunset and elope

[15:35] Sheena: dude

[15:35] Sheena: they’re 11 did u forget

[15:43] Zelos: is there a problem with my plan?

[15:44] Sheena: nvm im never asking u for advice again

*

[17:53] Leia:

[17:54] Jude: I'll have to see; it depends if I have to babysit the triplets.

[17:56] Leia:

[17:56] Jude: Well I never said they didn't. It'll just be a matter of if I have to babysit them or not

[17:57] Leia:

[17:57] Jude: Leia no

[17:57] Leia:

[17:58] Jude: You are, however, welcome to come over.

[18:01] Leia:

[18:01] Jude: I think you might be over exaggerating a bit there... First thing is you'd have to get the ice cream. Also, my dads and sisters love you already anyway.

[18:02] Leia:

[18:02] Jude: LEIA, NO. THEY LOVE YOU I SWEAR JUST COME OVER WE'LL FIGURE OUT THINGS FROM THERE

[18:02] Leia:

[18:03] Jude: Yes. Now come over and we can find out if I'm babysitting the triplets tonight.

[18:03] Leia:

*

[18:02] Leia:

[18:03] Alvin: What?

[18:03] Leia:

[18:04] Alvin: LEIA WHAT DOES THIS MEAN??

*

[17:45] Natalia: What do you want for dinner?

[17:46] Asch: idk and idc but I’m in class until 9 tonight

[17:46] Natalia: Was Sync planning to do anything?

[17:47] Asch: no not that I know of

[17:48] Natalia: Okay, so dinner tonight has to be somewhere open late.

[17:48] Asch: oh no, Natalia I know what you’re going to say

[17:48] Natalia: It’s open all night :3c

[17:49] Asch: we’ve been there like 12 times in the last week

[17:50] Natalia: Sync can join us if he wants :3c Would you tell him for me? You two have class together right?

[17:51] Asch: Natalia I love you so much but we are not going to mcdonalds again

[17:51] Natalia: It’s just too bad that I have the car so I get to pick dinner! ^.^

[17:51] Asch: GOD FUCKING DAMMIT

*

[0:00] Yuan: Hey ;)

[0:01] Kratos: why are you sending me text messages at midnight

[0:02] Yuan: This is my midnight booty call ;)

[0:05] Kratos: ……………………….you waited until exactly midnight to send this to me

[0:06] Yuan: Wouldn’t be a midnight booty call otherwise, would it? ;)

[0:07] Kratos: please stop ending every message in a winky face it’s disturbing

[0:08] Yuan: Boo, Kratos! You’re no fun!

[0:09] Kratos: my kids are asleep rn I’m not exactly looking for fun

[0:09] Yuan: But what about my place? We can have fun here ;)

[0:13] Kratos: …. #1 what did I just say about ending the messages with winky faces #2 I said my kids were sleeping and I’d rather deal with them then Mithos who lives w you

[0:15] Yuan: So we can do it at your place? ;)

[0:16] Kratos: come to my place in the next 20 minutes if you want it. And by it I mean your ass kicked

[0:17] Yuan: Good night Kratos.

[0:18] Kratos: good night Yuan.

*

[8:32] Gaius: Karla I need you to come home as soon as possible

[8:33] Karla: well I’m at school right now, but I’ll be home afterward?

[8:34] Gaius: that’ll work. I need you to check something out.

[8:34] Karla: Erston

[8:34] Karla: please tell me

[8:34] Karla: it has nothing to do with bears or cubes.

[8:35] Gaius: it has absolutely everything to do with bears and cubes.

[8:36] Karla: No.

[8:36] Gaius: Karla please I even have a name and the bears ready

[8:37] Karla: NO.

[8:38] Gaius: dream killer…

*

[8:40] Gaius: we have to put the bears back

[8:41] Wingul: I’m guessing she said no?

[8:41] Gaius: she said no.

*

[9:00] Ludger: I know it’s your day off, but are you sure you want to take care of Elle today?

[9:05] Julius: Ludger you’ve asked me that at least five times in the past hour. We’re going to be fine. How hard is an 8-year-old to take care of?

[9:09] Ludger: I just want to make sure you’re prepared. Elle hates tomatoes, and I made the two of you lunch it’s in the fridge. I labelled it too, since knowing Leia she’d probably eat it. Make sure she eats breakfast as well, she likes cereal and that should be good enough. I didn’t have enough time to prepare pancakes. I’ll be at Maxwell House probably all day if you need me. If anything comes up, don’t be afraid to call, okay?

[9:10] Julius: Ludger, calm down, it’s going to be fine.

[9:10] Ludger: Also make sure you feed Rollo

[9:11] Julius: I’m not going to forget to feed Rollo

[9:20] Julius: How exactly do you braid hair?

[9:23] Julius: Nvm she changed her mind

[12:13] Julius: Uh so speaking hypothetically if something were to, I don’t know, say happen to Elle’s prepared lunch what would she like instead that doesn’t require cooking?

[12:15] Ludger: I’m not sure I want to ask what happened. Don’t offer her your lunch since she hates tomatoes. Make her a peanut butter and peach preserves sandwich. Use the bread in the cabinet next to the sink, and smooth peanut butter she doesn’t like the crunchy.

[12:18] Julius: Thank you

[13:35] Julius: So. Speaking hypothetically. Again. If I were to have stains on my shirt, how exactly would you go about getting those out?

[13:40] Ludger: It depends on what kind of stains they are and what color your shirt is

[13:43] Julius: Uh well, it’s a white shirt. With uh…tomato stains?

[13:45] Ludger: ………I’ll take care of it when I get home. Are you sure you don’t want me to come home now? Milla would understand

[13:48] Julius: No, no, it’s fine. I’ve got this under control.

[14:04] Julius: Daddy, it’s Elle using Uncle Glasses Man’s phone. He’s being a lame butt, when are you coming home?

[14:08] Ludger: Is everything alright?? I’ll be home immediately if you need me!

[14:10] Julius: EVERYTHING IS FINE ELLE IS OVEREXAGGERATING

[15:32] Julius: …Ludger everything is not fine.

[15:34] Ludger: I’ll be home soon, is that okay?

[15:35] Julius: Thank you.

Chapter Text

Halloween was, in Natalia Luzu Kimlasca-Lanvaldear Heurassein’s opinion, the best holiday of the year. She loved it more than Christmas. She loved it more than her own birthday. She might not love it more than McDonald’s, but it was close. Asch Windor hated it. Natalia would get super excited over the prospect of having a Halloween party, and taking Ion and Sophie trick or treating (as Luke was still too young), and she would always drag Asch into it. This was why Asch hated most holidays, in all honesty.

Still, Natalia’s Halloween parties, like her Christmas parties, were the best around, if not the biggest. Natalia would invite her sister and her sister’s wife, and then her extended family, who in turn would invite their extended family, and then the party became almost the entire neighborhood celebrating at the Kimlasca-Lanvaldear Heurassein house. Asch did find it rather amusing at times, as both Oscar Dragonia and Velvet Maxwell would sometimes be in the same room. And if not them, then Milla Maxwell and Kratos Aurion were having some competition to assert their dominance as the better coffee shop. These competitions ranged from anything as mild as arm wrestling to as major as bear wrestling. Asch also heard that Gaius and Velvet had been involved in the latter, though he hadn’t been there himself.

Now, he was sitting on a stool at the breakfast bar in his girlfriend’s kitchen while she flitted about, occasionally writing things on the increasingly long list on the kitchen table and bouncing ideas off him verbally without waiting for a response.

“I’ve added a majority of the Maxwell family to the guest list. I am going to have people RSVP,” said Natalia as she hurried down another hallway and increasing her volume so Asch could still hear her from his stationary spot. “It seems rather unfortunate, but Mila Maxwell, the younger one, may not be able to attend this year. She has been away on a trip recently, according to her sister.”

Asch heard her pulling something from a closet and shut the door again. Her voice’s volume dropped again the closer she got to the kitchen.

“Since Halloween is actually on a Monday this year, we’ll be able to invite all of the children! We can have it on Saturday, and they can have candy a couple days earlier. Ion, I know at least, needs to go to school on Monday so if he’s going to stay up I’d rather it be on Saturday.”

She set down the plastic Halloween bowls she had gotten from the closet on the table, looked at the list, and then looked up at Asch.

“Will you be taking Sophie and Luke trick-or-treating? Sync and I were going to take Ion,” she said. “We can go together. Although, Sophie may want to join her friends Anise and Elize, and with Elize’s family she usually has someone to chaperone them.”

“Er…well,” said Asch. “Luke’s still a bit young to be trick-or-treating. He’s probably just going to stay home with my dads on Halloween if they don’t take Sophie. She said something about Magilou offering to take them, though.”

“Hm…well you can still join Sync and me in taking Ion,” said Natalia, leaving no room for Asch to argue.

“Uh, by the way, is Estelle going to help with the party?” asked Asch. Natalia’s older sister generally helped with planning and organization, but Asch hadn’t seen her at all.

“Oh, yes. Estellise should be coming over later today, she said something about helping Rita with something,” said Natalia, checking over the list again. “We’ll have to check in the basement for the decorations, and she offered to help decorate as well. I’m not sure how much Rita would like that idea, but she may help. The manor is rather large after all…”

“….Natalia?” asked Asch, looking at the clock.

“Hmm?”

“It’s nearly 2:45…doesn’t Ion’s school get out at 2:30?”

“Oh goodness!” said Natalia, dropping the pen she’d been holding and staring at Asch in horror. “We’ll have to go pick him up! Oh he’s probably all alone! Oh dear, let’s go!”

She hurriedly grabbed her purse off the chair it had been sitting on and yanked Asch off his stool, pulling him along behind her. Asch had several objections about this treatment, but Natalia wasn’t exactly giving him the chance to complain as she continued talking about party plans, and what Asch was going to do on Halloween day. She continued her one-sided conversation the entire drive to Ion’s grade school, and Asch was rather grateful when they arrived.

Natalia was extremely apologetic to Ion, who kept insisting that it was fine.

“Marta and Emil waited with me,” said Ion with a smile. “They were waiting for Alisha and Rose anyway.”

Natalia relented for a moment, but then continued her apologizes as soon as they were in the car again. Asch was content to ignore the conversation, which went back into Natalia’s Halloween plans, and instead text Sync.

A: She hasn’t stopped.

S: I assume she stopped long enough to pick up Ion, right?

A: After I reminded her.

S: You were just doing that to get out of it, weren’t you?

A: You try putting up with her shit.

S: …you literally choose to put up with her because you’re and I quote “madly in love”

A: Or you could shut the fuck up how does that sound.

S: lol touchy, are we? Too bad I know the truth.

Asch looked away from his phone, ignoring Sync’s latest text. He was just glad that Natalia and Ion were too busy talking about Halloween plans to notice how red his face was. He determinedly stared out the window so Natalia wouldn’t notice even if she looked over at him. Thankfully, neither of them said anything to him for the rest of the ride home.

By the time they reached Natalia’s, Asch noticed that Estelle’s car was in the driveway. He did hope a bit internally that Estelle’s wife Rita wasn’t here as well. Asch and Rita had rather…conflicting personalities, as Asch liked to put it. As Sync put it, both of them liked arguing for the sake of arguing. Asch tended to ignore Sync whenever he said something like that.

Upon entering the manor again, Ion said something about changing and headed to his room with his backpack. Asch and Natalia entered the kitchen again to find both Estelle and Rita looking at the list Natalia had left on the table.

“Oh! You’re back!” said Estelle, looking up at them with a smile. “Rita just got off work early for the day. There was, er, an incident at the lab. Were you picking up Ion from school?”

“Pascal blowing up the lab again is your idea of ‘incident’…” Rita muttered, but Estelle and Natalia opted to ignore it.

“Yes,” said Natalia. “We still need to decorate, and the decorations are still in the basement. I’ve asked everyone to RSVP, so they should send me a text or call me with an estimate of how many people are going to be here by Friday. I do expect most of the Maxwell family, so we’ll definitely have to account for that. We can do some grocery shopping earlier, such as today, but we’ll need to make sure we have enough by Friday.”

“If you’d like to go shopping today, Rita and I would be glad to decorate the manor!” said Estelle with a smile. “And I’m sure Mother and Father will help when they get home.”

“Thank you,” said Natalia with a smile. “Would you mind watching Ion while we’re gone? Sync and his boyfriend might be over later, but I think it would be easier for Asch and I to go shopping alone…”

“Of course!” said Estelle.

“Fine,” sighed Rita, who Asch was surprised had remained silent for so long.

Still, despite how many parties he’d helped plan with Natalia, and the fact that they were childhood friends, it was still mildly terrifying how organized Natalia and Estelle were. By themselves, they were bad enough, but when together…Asch was relatively sure they could take over the world with lists and color coded planners and sticky notes.

He was a bit relieved, however, that they were going grocery shopping for the party’s food. At least Natalia hadn’t insisted on…

“By the way, Estellise,” said Natalia. “How would McDonald’s sound for dinner?”

There it was.

“Well I—” Estelle began to say, but Asch decided not to give her the chance to give in to Natalia’s wishes. He grabbed Natalia by the arm and started pulling her out the door again.

“I’m making dinner tonight, and we need ingredients, so let’s go. Come on, Nat,” he said hurriedly, offering a quick wave in goodbye to Estelle and Rita, the latter of whom looked rather amused by this.

Natalia pouted at him as they reached the car, but Asch knew a way to get around her demands.

“Hey, I actually have an idea for dinner. You like my cooking, right?” he said, opening the car door. Natalia pursed her lips for a moment before sliding into the driver’s seat.

“I get to help,” she said firmly. “Otherwise it’s McDonald’s.”

Natalia’s cooking wasn’t terrible. If she had help. A lot of help. Basically, she could do it if Asch didn’t leave her alone for a single moment. But if it would keep them from having McDonald’s, it was worth it.

“Deal,” he said.

Natalia beamed at him.

*             *             *

“Oh, Lailah just texted me. It seems like all the Aurions will be there. We should have enough chips, but I think we should get more drinks,” said Natalia, checking her phone as Asch pushed the shopping cart. They nearly had everything for the party, but Asch was getting a bit tired of all the preparation.

“Natalia, is this everything we need?” he asked with a sigh. “I’m ready for this party to be over.”

“We still have a week until Halloween!” said Natalia, sounding scandalized. She gasped, and stared at Asch in horror. “Candy!”

Of course. The one thing they forgot was just the most important thing for Halloween. Candy.

*             *             *

Asch felt as though the party had taken forever to arrive. Natalia had made him help her constantly over the next four days, despite Estelle and Rita handling the decorating of the manor, he had to help organize food, music, games, and other entertainment. For some reason, Natalia assumed that because he had a baby brother, he knew what kids were “into” these days.

Sync had also helped, after mild persuasion from Ion, and his boyfriend pitched in as well. With the six of them, the preparations weren’t as much of a pain as Asch was used to, although he had gotten in his fair share of arguments with Rita. Natalia had also managed to keep Ion away from the party preparations somehow to make it a “surprise” by foisting him off on Marta and Emil. By the time they were finished, there wasn’t an inch of the manor that wasn’t covered in black, orange, or some form of Halloween decoration. Asch was ready for the whole thing to be over.

However, judging by their faces on the day of the party, Marta, Emil, Ion, and the rest of the children in attendance were enjoying it. The three of them plus Sorey and Mikleo were currently playing some sort of game that Asch didn’t know involving cards in a circle on the floor in the living room. Marta’s older sister, Alisha, and their cousin Rose were sitting on the couch, supervising the kids.

“Mikleo, you can’t play that card,” said Marta, picking it up off the top of the pile and shoving it back at him.

“What do you know?” asked Mikleo, sticking out his tongue. Marta pouted back, but Alisha quickly intervened.

“Hey, hey, no, she’s right Mikleo,” said Alisha.

“Try again,” said Sorey with a sympathetic smile. Mikleo glared at him, but played a different card.

Asch rolled his eyes and decided to leave them to it, only to nearly run into Leia Maxwell as he rounded a corner and saw her kissing her boyfriend Jude.

“Leia, take it somewhere else,” said Asch angrily, trying to cover up his embarrassment. Leia put up her middle finger in response.

“Leia!” said Jude, seeing the gesture.

“Juuuude,” said Leia sarcastically back at him.

Asch pushed his way through several more people throughout the manor in different rooms. He saw Julius, Ludger, and Elle Kresnik-Maxwell, accompanied by someone he didn’t know wearing a bee costume. Milla Maxwell and Kratos Aurion were having what appeared to be a glaring match, and Asch was satisfied not joining. Teresa Linares and Karla Maxwell were having a pleasant chat until Teresa’s brother, Oscar, once again attempted to arrest Karla’s mother, Velvet Maxwell. Who jumped out the window. Asch didn’t stick around to find out what happened next.

He managed to find a moment of peace in the family room, where there were considerably less people. In fact, the only other people in the room were Driselle Sharil and her girlfriend, Seles Wilder. The two of them were sharing headphones and listening to something on Seles’s iPod and weren’t paying attention to him. He sat down on the other couch, taking a drink of the cup of punch he had picked up from the kitchen as he had passed through.

“I hope for your sake that’s not alcoholic,” said a voice.

“Oh no,” muttered Asch. He turned around to see his uncle, and one of Rose’s fathers, Jade, leaning against the doorway and smirking at him. “Fuck off, Jade.”

“My, is that any way to talk to your uncle?” said Jade, pretending to sound offended. “And I do have to ask, what is your costume supposed to be? Is your face part of it, or do you always look like that?”

“Shut up,” groaned Asch, running a hand through his hair and feeling the stupid wolf ears that Natalia had forced on him. She was currently somewhere else dressed as Little Red Riding, and Asch had been forced to be her “Big Bad Wolf”.

“Asch! There you are!” said Natalia, slipping past Jade to grab Asch’s wrist and pull him up. “We’re having the costume contest! You have to help me judge!”

Asch heard Jade make a noise that he heavily suspected was a laugh, but even though he attempted to glare at his uncle, Natalia was already dragging him through the manor back to the living room. She pushed him to sit at a table with four seats, two of which were already occupied by Rita and Estelle, who were in matching witch outfits. Asch resisted the urge to comment on it. Instead, he sat down next to Estelle, expecting Natalia to join him, but she remained standing and cleared her throat.

“Excuse me, everyone! May I have your attention!” she called.

Mikleo threw down his cards and looked at Natalia with a pout. The rest of the living room grew quiet as well as everyone turned their attention to her. Asch was a bit surprised as there was probably a majority of the neighborhood in attendance, but Natalia was rather good at getting large groups to listen.

“We’ve been very glad to have you all here,” said Natalia, gesturing at the three people sitting next to her. “It’s been a wonderful night and I’m very happy to announce it’s time for our annual costume competition! This year’s judges are, of course, my sister Estellise, her wife Rita, my boyfriend Asch, and myself!”

There was a round of cheering and applause that Asch didn’t entirely understand. Natalia always had been rather popular. She waited for everyone to quiet down for a moment before continuing.

“As always, we’ll have a grand prize and two runner-ups. If you’re going to be participating in the costume contest, please sign the paper in front of Asch here, and we’ll get started in about fifteen minutes. If you’re not participating, please wait in another room until preparations are complete,” she said with a smile. She then curtsied. “Thank you once again, everyone, for attending!”

There was some more applause, and the crowd thinned out a bit as the people who wanted to enter the contest stuck around to sign the paper in front of Asch. He honestly couldn’t care less about it. Natalia was always the most excited over the costume contest, and Asch didn’t have the heart to bring her down, so he put up with it. After the fifteen minutes were over, and Natalia had briefed everyone participating in the process (which was the same every year, but she did it anyway), they were ready to begin. She and Estelle called the rest of the guests back into the living room, and they began the contest.

Most people participated in pairs, or in groups that Natalia allowed of up to three people. Asch wasn’t surprised that the first contestants were Leia and Jude, who were wearing (in Asch’s opinion, sickeningly adorable) matching outfits, dressed as Princess Anna and Prince Hans from the children's movie Frozen. (Asch only knew the movie because Sophie liked it and no, he never watched it by himself and he certainly didn't have all the songs memorized.) Leia even did a cutesy pose, and Jude looked rather embarrassed. Natalia seemed to like it, though.

Second were Eizen and Edna, the latter of whom had apparently demanded that Eizen match her with a pirate outfit. Eizen looked…surprisingly hot. Asch wasn’t going to admit that out loud, especially not with Natalia nearby. In fact, Eizen and Edna looked rather adorable together when Eizen was holding her. A pirate princess and her first mate. And then he dropped her.

“Fucking hell, Eizen!” said Edna.

“Edna! Language!” said Eizen.

“Fucking heck!” Edna amended herself.

Asch noticed Flynn glaring at Yuri off to the side and Yuri hurriedly said, “I didn’t teach her that!”

Edna’s father, Zaveid, didn’t seem too bothered by it, and he didn’t comment on it at all. Edna was still glaring at Eizen for dropping her, and Zaveid’s girlfriend, Lailah, had hurried forward to make sure Edna was okay. Edna brushed her off, and the two of them moved aside to let the next participants forward.

Much to Asch’s detest, it was Jade, Malik, and Rose. He could deal with his cousin well enough, but his uncles were…weirder. Jade was in particular Asch’s nightmare. He found it oddly fitting that the three of them were wearing matching Dracula outfits. Jade was terrifying and pale enough to pass off as a vampire. Asch was relatively sure Rose had murdered someone in the past. And poor Malik somehow put up with them. Asch wasn’t sure how.

“Dude I even got blood for my costume! Isn’t it great!” said Rose excitedly, proudly showing off the red smeared on her face.

“It’s fake blood, right?” asked Alisha. Rose didn’t respond. Alisha looked considerably more concerned.

“Er, the next participants please!” said Natalia, sharing Alisha’s expression.

There were a few more entrants, including Arche and Chester as Tinkerbell and Peter Pan, Jude’s triplet younger sisters as some superhero trio Asch wasn’t familiar with (they were called the Powderpuffs or something), Velvet (who had apparently come back after being chased by Oscar only to leave abruptly again when he saw her), and Zelos and Eleanor as angels. Asch found it a bit ironic.

By the end, Natalia had held a small conference among the four of them, deciding the rankings for the contest. After a couple minutes, Natalia scribbled down some notes and stood up again to announce the winners.

“Thank you everyone who participated this year! It was very fun having all of you!” she said with a smile. “After talking with Asch, Estellise, and Rita we’ve decided the rankings for this year’s contest.”

“The third place runner-up this year are Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup!” said Estelle. There was some cheering (particularly from the triplets’ fathers, Aster and Richter), and the triplets happily accepted the candy they won as their prize from Estelle.

“This year’s second place runner-up is…Leia and Jude,” said Rita, reading off the paper in front of her with considerably less enthusiasm than Estelle.

Hell yeah!” said Leia.

“Language,” Jude said automatically. Still, he smiled and thanked Rita as he and Leia received their prizes.

“And last but certainly not least…this year’s grand prize winners,” said Natalia dramatically, looking at Asch. He sighed and looked at the paper.

“Edna and Eizen,” he said. He wasn’t entirely sure what had happened next, but he supposed that Edna was super excited over winning and punched something. He hoped what she had been aiming for was the air. What she got instead was her father’s nose.

Zaveid’s nosebleed only put a mild damper on the festivities, and as soon as Lailah fetched him a tissue, he assured everyone he was fine. Eizen and Edna received their grand prize, as well as Natalia insisting on taking a picture of them with their family. Zaveid was holding a tissue to his nose in it, sure, but Asch kind of preferred it that way.

There wasn’t much left to the party after the costume contest, which Asch was both happy and a little salty about. One the one hand, he didn’t have to deal with anyone anymore. On the other, Natalia had been forcing him to help her plan and decorate for weeks. Of course, Halloween wasn’t over yet. It hadn’t even happened. It was a Saturday, and Halloween was on that Monday.

“Well this has been a good night, if you ask me,” said Natalia, sitting down next to him on the couch. “I’d rate it a huge success! Thanks in no small part to you.”

“I’ll take a thank you kiss,” Asch groaned, trying not to think about dealing with his sister or brother for Halloween.

“Very well, if that’s all you want in thanks,” said Natalia, leaning over and giving him a kiss. “Though I would also be willing to treat you to dinner.”

“…So long as you don’t cook for me, and it’s not McDonald’s,” said Asch, raising an eyebrow. Natalia frowned, but after a moment, she nodded.

“You drive a very hard bargain, but I accept.”

“Good,” muttered Asch. “Also if I could maybe stay the night here, that’d be fantastic.”

“I don’t think Sync will be going back to your apartment, either,” said Natalia, looking over at the other couch where Sync was sprawled on top of his boyfriend, both of them asleep. (Sync’s boyfriend had some ridiculously long and weird name, but Asch didn’t question it. Sync usually called him by a nickname anyway.)

“So I can stay for the night?”

“I don’t see why not,” said Natalia with a smile. “Now let’s go see if we can find some blankets for Sync, Natural, and yourself…”

Chapter Text

Jude and Leia had been walking to their last class of the day when she suddenly asked him. It had been completely out of the blue, and Jude wasn’t entirely sure he heard her correctly. And if he had heard her correctly, it might excuse the fact that he tripped and dropped all of the books he’d been carrying all over the floor of the hallway.

“Ah, shoot,” said Jude, quickly crouching down to pick them back up.

“What, was it that big of a surprise, Jude?” asked Leia teasingly as she helped him. “It’s not like we’ve never done it before.”

“It was just so sudden!” said Jude defensively, feeling his face turn red. Leia simply rolled her eyes at him and handed him back the textbooks she had picked up before helping him to his feet as the two continued on their way to class.

“So is that a no?” asked Leia, giving him a frown.

“Well, assuming I heard you correctly,” said Jude, his face still a very admirable shade of pink, “then the answer would be yes.”

“You’re so shy today!” Leia laughed. “I just asked you on a date. It’s not like I asked you to go beat up my brother with me or anything!”

“You still need to learn how to not just drop it in the middle of a conversation like that,” Jude muttered.

Leia just shrugged and entered the classroom. She took her seat next to him as he set down his books on the desk, leaning forward, signaling to Jude that she wanted to continue their conversation.

“What time are you going to be available tonight?” she asked.

“Did you think this through at all before dropping it on me?” asked Jude, his tone mixed between exasperation and affection.

“Not usually how I work,” Leia teased. “I’d offer to go right after school but you have to walk home the triplets and I might have to walk home Elize. If she’s still there. And wants me to walk her home.”

“That sounds rather uncertain,” Jude commented, finally sitting down at his desk.

“You know how Elize is. Some days she wants to walk home with me, other days she’s like ‘Oh nooo Leia I’m grown up enough that I can walk home by myself!’ Or she’ll want to hang out with Anise and Sophie,” said Leia.

“Why don’t you just text her?” asked Jude with a frown.

“Teepo ate her phone,” said Leia simply.

Jude knew that was possible, and he wasn’t entirely surprised by it. He decided not to comment on it further. Even if he’d wanted to, their historical literature teacher, Mr. Mayvin, had finally arrived, signaling the beginning of class. The rest of the conversation and plans would have to wait until after school.

*             *             *

The PA system announced the afternoon announcements, which Jude only paid a bit of attention to. Reminders of the upcoming soccer and volleyball games, any club meetings that were happening after school today, and that they should all have a safe weekend. As soon as the announcements ended, the last bell of the day rang, and Jude shoved his books into his bag before slinging it over his shoulder.

“I’ll text you after I get home, okay?” said Leia with a smile.

“Sure,” said Jude, smiling back at her. He left the classroom quickly, as he still needed to pick up his triplet little sisters from kindergarten. Behind him, he could hear Leia being accosted by Agria, and he stifled a laugh, glad that it wasn’t him this time.

*             *             *

“But you never wear it in braids.”

“Braids take too much time.”

“You can’t say that! You never do anything with your hair!”

Jude had mostly tuned out whatever argument was happening with his sisters. Something about hair. He didn’t really care. He only helped with Bubbles or Blossom’s hair sometimes, Aster and Richter had plenty of experience and generally handled it themselves. And as for Buttercup, as Bubble had just pointed out, her hair was really too short to do anything with anyway.

His mind was perhaps a bit too preoccupied on what he’d do with Leia tonight as a date. Sure, they were dating, but had she meant a date of just the two of them or maybe a larger date? A friend date? They had some friends in school they liked to hang out with on the weekend. He silently hoped that it’d be a solo date. They hadn’t had one in some time, which might explain why he was so nervous about them having one now. Unfortunately, it seemed his sisters had caught on to the fact that he was distracted by something.

“Jude? What’s wrong? You look sick,” said Bubbles, looking up at him.

“What? No, I’m fine, Bubbles,” said Jude.

“Really? But your face is red,” said Bubbles with a frown.

“I know what the problem is,” said Blossom. “He’s in loooooove!”

“What—Blossom!” said Jude. He was blushing even more now. How his five-year-old sisters managed to do this to him was still a mystery.

“Are you going on a date tonight with Leia?” asked Buttercup with a smirk. “It’s been a while, hasn’t it?”

Jude mumbled something before walking faster. He could hear his sisters giggling behind him, but he just wanted to get home as fast as possible. Then he could just lock himself in his room and work on homework until Leia was ready for their date. Hopefully the triplets wouldn’t say anything to his dads about this. The less they knew about a potential date, the better.

*             *             *

Jude never had that kind of luck. He’d managed to finish his homework, and the triplets had been content distracting themselves with their favorite toys. He’d received several texts from Leia, telling him that apparently, she’d gotten home alright, but Muzét had been in the kitchen and half destroyed it. Ludger and Mila (the younger one) were trying to clean everything up, but Leia asked if it was alright if they went to an early dinner before a movie tonight. Considering Richter might try to experiment again tonight, he decided that he would be okay with dinner before the movie.

Leia texted him, telling him she was almost there, and Jude decided it was time to leave the silent comfort of his bedroom to meet her, if possible, outside of the apartment building. The less his dads knew about this, the better.

He silently slipped out of his room, nearly tripping over Kevin at least three times. Kevin apparently wanted attention from Jude specifically, and the cat was intent on getting it. Jude glared at him and attempted to shoo him away, but Kevin just flopped down in the middle of the dining room and stared up at him. Jude elected to ignore him. Now the next obstacle was getting through the apartment without Aster noticing. Hopefully Aster would be in either the kitchen or his and Richter’s bedroom. He wasn’t. He was sitting in the living room with Blossom and Bubbles, and Jude would have to pass him in order to get to the door. Jude contemplated just parkouring out the window. They only lived on the second floor, and he was relatively sure he could make it.

“Oh, Jude!” said Aster, noticing him standing frozen. The chance to escape was gone. “Where are you headed?”

“Ah, I’m going out…with Leia,” he said hesitantly.

“Oh, well, have fun!” said Aster, smiling at him. Jude hesitantly returned the smile before hurrying out the door.

He took that rather well, thought Jude, feeling relieved. Maybe now he could spend a night alone with Leia in peace.

He was never quite that lucky.

*             *             *

As neither Leia nor Jude could drive yet, dates could be rather awkward. Leia could rely on one of her cousins (or even her brother) to drive them, but they found it easier to either have one of the staff that worked for the Maxwell family drive them in one of the family cars, or just take a taxi. Tonight they opted for the cheaper option of letting one of the Maxwell family staff drive them.

The two of them were currently seated at a booth in a semi popular local pizza place, Leia chatting happily while Jude listened, occasionally saying something. Aster and Richter were at a close-by table. Far enough away that they couldn’t hear what Jude and Leia were saying, but close enough that Aster keep an eye on them.

“Aster, for the last time,” Richter sighed as the waitress left. “They’re not going to get into any trouble if we leave them alone for one night. The triplets on the other hand, I’m a bit more concerned for.”

“They’re with your parents, I’m not worried about them,” said Aster, still intensely staring at Jude and Leia. Richter rolled his eyes.

“Then why are you worried about our fifteen-year-old son who’s clearly not going to get into any danger at a pizza place?” Richter asked.

“You say that, but just you wait!” said Aster, turning his attention to Richter. His eyes were wide with concern. “The minute we let Jude go on a date by himself in the middle of the night, you know what will happen?”

“Nothing? And it’s not even the middle of the night! It’s like…five o’clock!” said Richter.

“No, he’ll get hurt! He or Leia, I just know it,” said Aster, his voice still extremely worried. He turned his attention back to the teenagers at the other table. Leia must’ve said something, because Jude narrowly avoided spitting his drink out on her face.

Richter did find it mildly admirable that Aster was as concerned for their son’s safety and well-being as he was. Still, Richter had three protective older sisters, and he knew full well that Aster’s fears were unfounded. Maybe he’d realize that someday. For now, though, Richter was stuck tagging along with Aster on Jude’s dates.

After dinner, Jude and Leia were headed to the movies. Richter wasn’t entirely sure which movie they were going to see, but hopefully it would be entertaining enough to distract him from Aster’s antics. He enjoyed spending nights out with Aster. He just wished they didn’t have to do it while tagging along with his teenage son’s date.

*             *             *

“They’re still following us, aren’t they?” asked Leia as she and Jude stood in the concessions line.

“Yep,” sighed Jude. “I kind of hoped they wouldn’t tonight, but that’s how my dad is.”

“Do they not trust me or something?” asked Leia, looking concerned.

“No, Aster is just always concerned something is going to happen,” said Jude. “Dad tries to convince him that it’s fine, but…well…he worries.”

“Well, I guess we’ll just continue pretending we don’t notice how obvious they are,” said Leia with a laugh. “Oh, can I get a large popcorn and some Sour Patch Kids? Jude what do you want?”

*             *             *

Richter had actually enjoyed the movie. It was a new children’s movie, and it was surprisingly good. Aster had spent most of the movie watching Jude and Leia anxiously, but Richter managed to steer his husband’s attention back to the movie. It had a lot of animals in it. Aster liked animals.

After the movie was over, they had waited for Jude and Leia to leave the theater, which the two of them did, chatting happily about it. Then, Aster had left his seat and lurked around the corner of the entrance to the theater, forcing Richter to follow him. Jude and Leia were stopped right outside the theater, the two of them continuing to talk next to the trash can.

“I liked the fox though! He kind of reminded me of Alvin!” said Leia with a laugh.

“Yeah, I’ll give you that much,” said Jude, shaking his head affectionately. “Still, I think the rabbit was so much like Flynn.”

“I could see that too,” said Leia thoughtfully. “Anyway, do you want me to give you a ride home?”

“Nah, it’ll be cool. I’ll just get my dads to take me,” said Jude, leaning forward and giving her a good night kiss. “I’ll talk to you later, Leia!”

“Bye Jude!” she said, waving as she left.

Jude turned back to the theater with a sigh.

“I know you’re there,” said Jude.

“What—but how?” asked Aster, finally coming out of his not-very-inconspicuous hiding spot.

“Leia and I knew you were there the whole night,” said Jude with a shrug. “Now, I’m assuming we have to go pick up the triplets from somewhere?”

“Yeah, your grandparents’ house,” said Richter. “Let’s go.”

Aster was pouting, which Richter wasn’t entirely surprised by.

“What’s wrong now?” Richter asked with a sigh.

“He must get it from you. Being so good at telling I’m there,” said Aster.

“Jude’s adopted,” Richter reminded him.

“I know, but still,” sighed Aster, heading after their son. Richter waited a bit longer, watching his husband and son talk about something.

“And if anything, he gets that perceptiveness from you,” said Richter quietly.

“C’mon, Richter! Aren’t you coming?” said Aster, looking at Richter.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m coming.”

 

Chapter Text

It had been a day like any other. Asch’s mother had seen him off to school, waving his infant brother’s hand at him and telling his brother to say goodbye. His brother was only a few months old, and was usually still too tired to even pay attention to Asch leaving. Asch would roll his eyes, say he was too old for things like that, and head out the door, where Natalia would usually be waiting to drive them both. His father left even earlier in the morning than Asch did, and came home late at night. He never said good bye to Asch in the mornings. In this respect, it was a day like any other.

Asch had attended his classes, Natalia talking happily about one thing or another. Today’s major topic was her sister’s marriage. Estelle was finally getting married to Rita, and while the wedding was still months away, it was the only thing occupying Natalia’s current thoughts. She was absolutely thrilled over her sister’s marriage. She said that it was finally happening, after waiting so long. It started raining during the morning. Still, it wasn’t unusual for it to rain this time of day or time of year. It was just a day like any other.

But it wasn’t exactly a day like any other. Because around noon, when the rain was still beating down hard, Asch’s parents had gone out. His younger brother, Luke, had been left with his cousin’s husband, Yuri. Suzanne and Crymson had gone out together, for some official luncheon thing that Asch’s father had insisted on bringing Suzanne along with. Asch hadn’t known they were going out. It was a bit unexpected. But if Asch had known, then he wouldn’t have been surprised. Crymson acting like this was usual for a day like any other.

Asch moodily stared out the window of the cafeteria at the rain while Natalia and Sync chatted about something. He hated when it rained. While it usually helped Luke sleep, if it rained all day it could make him cranky, as Asch wouldn’t be able to take him outside on a walk. Asch hoped the rain would stop so he and Luke could spend some time outside. He always put up such a tough front in front of everyone, but he really loved his younger brother. They had such a large age gap, but Asch wasn’t really bothered by it. His brother was precious to him. The most precious person in the world, equal only with maybe Natalia.

But what Asch had known to be a day like any other changed in the afternoon. He and Natalia were in math, working together on the problem worksheet, when the PA came on in their classroom.

“Could you please send Asch fon Fabre to the office? He’ll need his things,” the person asked.

Natalia and Asch exchanged a worried look, but Asch gathered his things, nodded to their teacher, and left the classroom.

He made his way to the office, trying not to worry. His father was probably pulling him out of school for some stupid thing or another. He couldn’t be bothered to really care. Still, the last time he’d been pulled out of school with no prior warning was when his grandfather had died. He just hoped this would turn out to be a day like any other.

But it wasn’t. He couldn’t have been that lucky.

*             *             *

“I’m Asch fon Fabre,” said Asch to the woman behind the front desk. “I was told to come to the office?”

“Oh, yes, Mr. fon Fabre,” said the woman. She gave him a sympathetic look, and the alarm bells Asch had been trying to ignore the entire trip to the office in his head starting ringing even louder.

“Is there something wrong?” he asked, hesitant to hear the answer.

“I’m afraid so,” said the office worker. “There’s been an accident. Your parents are in the hospital. Your cousin’s husband…ah…Yuri Scifo, I believe, is here to take you and your brother to the hospital.”

“I see,” said Asch, keeping his voice level. Internally he was screaming at himself. No, he didn’t see. What happened? Apparently Luke was alright, but how had his parents gotten into an accident? Why had his mother and father gone out? Or had something happened at home?

He found himself unable to speak, even as he met Yuri in front of the building. Luke was sleeping in his car seat, and Asch couldn’t help but be a bit envious of his infant brother. Maybe everything would be alright. Their parents would be fine. They’d recover, and it’d just be a story to reminisce about later. They’d go back to their normal, happy little lives. Continuing with just another day like all the others before it. Asch was relatively sure that Yuri was trying to talk to him, but his mind was numb. Why couldn’t this just have been a day like any other?

*             *             *

A week passed. And a lot happened in that week. Asch’s parents had apparently gone to some official luncheon, and Suzanne had dropped Luke off with Yuri, who had been working at his floral shop. On their way back from the luncheon, there had been a car accident, most likely caused from the rain that had only gotten worse as the day went by. An ambulance had been called rather quickly after the accident, but they hadn’t survived long after reaching the hospital.

Asch guessed he could consider himself lucky. He had a rather large family, all things considered. There was Flynn, and his husband Yuri, and Guy and his husbands, their younger sister Patty and their mother Nephry, his uncle Jade, Jade’s husband Malik, their daughter Rose… Plenty of adults to take care of the funeral arrangements Asch was sure he wouldn’t be able to handle himself. And of course, Natalia was there to support him, along with her sister and her sister’s fiancée. There were so many people around to help him and Luke, but it couldn’t fully get rid of the empty feeling in his chest.

“Er, Asch? There’s something we need to talk to you about,” said his cousin Flynn hesitantly.

Asch looked up at him from the couch he’d been sitting on, absently letting Luke play with his hair. He hesitantly looked down back at Luke, who stared up at him with wide eyes. He didn’t really want to go through whatever conversation this was with Luke on his lap.

“I can take him,” Judith Lowell, Yuri’s twin sister, offered. Asch faltered for a moment before handing her Luke and following Flynn into the other room.

Yuri and Guy were waiting for them. Asch tried to ignore their sympathetic looks, but it was still rather hard to do. Instead he decided to address the matter at hand immediately. The faster he got this over with, the faster he could go back to Luke.

“You wanted to see me?” he asked. His voice was a bit hoarse. That wasn’t doing him any favors.

“Er, yes, we do,” said Flynn. “It’s about your legal guardian. You see, um, Aunt Suzanne and Uncle Crymson didn’t mention it in their will at all.”

“I don’t need a legal guardian,” said Asch bluntly.

“I’m afraid you do,” said Yuri with a frown. “You’re only 16. After two years, sure, feel free to be your own legal guardian. But until then, you need to stay with an adult. And your brother as well. Unlike you, he’s got a lot longer until he’s legally an adult. And even if you wanted to be your brother’s guardian, you’re still in school. You won’t have the time to take care of him.”

Asch silently glared at him, knowing Yuri was right. He wished he could have just dropped out of high school and not continued college if it meant he could take care of his little brother, but he knew the rest of his family wouldn’t stand for that. Natalia likely wouldn’t either.

“So what do you want me to do?” Asch asked. “Pick a relative to live with? I’ll tell you right now it’s not being Jade.”

Flynn looked like he was ready to say something, but Yuri cut him off.

“Unfortunately, it can’t be us either. I don’t mind babysitting your brother every once in a while, but I can’t take care of him all day. My job has me running across the city sometimes. I can’t bring an infant with me all the time,” said Yuri.

“Ah, well there’s always mom?” said Flynn.

“No,” said Asch. “Aunt Nephry’s busy too. Patty’s old enough to take care of herself but not Luke.”

“Well then I’m glad you agree that it’ll have to be me,” said Guy with a small smile.

“What.”

“Richard, Asbel, and myself are the only people left,” said Guy sympathetically. “And Richard’s home often enough that he can help take care of Luke. Besides, we’ve already had practice with Sophie!”

Asch neglected to bring up the fact that they adopted their daughter Sophie when she was 9. So they had no experience with infants. Still, Richard was Natalia’s cousin, and Asch did trust him enough with Luke.

“Fine,” he sighed. “You can be Luke’s legal guardians.”

*             *             *

The move was a bit hard, and uncomfortable for Asch. He was saying goodbye to his childhood home and instead moving in with his cousin and his cousin’s husbands. He never really expected this to happen. He expected to just live a normal life, with his brother growing up in the same house that he did. Now Luke was getting used to being in an apartment with four people aside from Asch. Surprisingly, Luke seemed to be taking it rather well. Or, better than Asch was.

Asch was almost constantly on edge now that he was in a new place. It wasn’t like he’d never been over Guy’s before, but he’d never lived here. How Guy and his husbands managed to be content living here, Asch was sure he’d never know. The place was tiny, in stark contrast to what had been Asch’s house. And there were six people living here instead of four. Not to mention Sophie as his new sister. Sometimes he’d catch her looking at him with an odd expression. It wasn’t sympathy, which Asch was thankful for. It seemed closer to the curiosity that Luke looked at everything with. And surprisingly, Asch found that he didn’t really mind.

A few weeks had passed, with Asch still trying to get adjusted. He lived a lot closer to school now, so there wasn’t really any need for him to get a ride from Natalia. Still, she insisted on it and even offered to give Sophie a ride as well. Every morning Natalia would be waiting for them, and every afternoon Asch would walk his new sister home from school. It became his new routine. Still, he missed his mother’s goodbyes in the morning, and even Richard, Asbel, and/or Guy waving him off wasn’t the same.

One morning though, Richard had been the only one still home by the time Sophie and Asch were leaving for school. He’d made them breakfast, kissed Sophie on the forehead (Asch actively avoided his forehead kiss), handed them lunches, and was going to say goodbye before he stopped.

“Wait right there for just a second,” said Richard, disappearing into the other room.

Asch and Sophie stared curiously after him, and Richard returned a moment later, holding a very tired looking Luke, who was clutching to his favorite blanket. Richard smiled at the look on Asch’s face.

“He’s been awfully cranky in the mornings, and I think it’s because he wanted to say goodbye to his big brother and sister,” said Richard, waving Luke’s tiny hand just like Asch’s mother did every morning.

“Yeah, I guess. Bye Luke,” said Asch, looking at his brother with a small smile on his face. “Come on Sophie, Natalia’s waiting for us.”

Maybe with time he’d get used to this pattern, this routine. While he only had two years left before he’d head off to college, he still had time with this family. And maybe, just maybe, it would begin to feel again like a day like any other.

Chapter Text

Christmas was a bit of a messy holiday when it came to their neighborhood. Everyone usually found it easier to just get together with their own individual families for the holiday at some point, comprising of only their household. After all, just about everyone in the neighborhood ended up at Natalia Luzu Kimlasca-Lanvaldear Heurassein’s for her annual Christmas party. There had been some discussion of holding it at the larger Maxwell mansion, but after arguments between Kratos Aurion and Milla Maxwell along with Velvet Maxwell and Oscar Dragonia broke out, they decided the Kimlasca-Lanvaldear Heurassein house was a good enough neutral place.

It was almost strange in a way that just about everyone ended up being related in one way or another. Most of the relations happened due to the Maxwell family (much to Kratos and Oscar’s detest), but everyone there considered each other to be family in some way. With the minor exceptions of Kratos (whose sister’s boyfriend’s stepson’s boyfriend was Cline Sharil) and Oscar (whose sister was dating Karla Maxwell and her mysterious wife), everyone was happy to be together for the holiday. Most people would at least try to intermingle with others outside their usual social circles, but by the end of the night, they had usually grouped back together with their close family and friends, rather than continuing to talk with their brother’s fiancée’s nephew’s sister-in-law or something. That being said, some people were bad by themselves. When grouped together, they became even worse.

Edna Yggdrasill, Jade Curtiss-Caesar, and Yuri Scifo were a prime example of this. While Yuri sometimes babysat Edna, and his husband’s uncle was Jade, the three of them together became a force no one ever wanted to contend with. Every year they’d insist on watching a Christmas movie, and no matter what anyone would say, they’d go ahead and do it. It would usually result in Edna and Yuri sitting upside down on the couch next to Jade, while all three of them made comments on how awful they thought the movie was.

“Where’s this plot even going?” asked Edna.

“What’s with the cinematography?” added Jade.

“The title of this movie should be ‘Everything is Awful,’” said Yuri.

Asch, who had been sitting on the floor in front of the couch with his brother, Luke, on his lap, was slowly losing his patience with the three of them. Luke didn’t seem to mind. He liked the movie because it had bright colors and cute characters.

“If you wanted me to take this movie seriously, maybe you should’ve thought about where you were going with it first,” said Edna.

“This reminds me of an Easter movie. Edna, did you choose an Easter movie?” said Yuri.

“No! I definitely picked a Christmas movie out of Natalia’s entire selection labeled ‘Christmas!’” said Edna defensively.

“Would you all shut the fuck up?” said Asch angrily, finally losing what little patience he had left.

Jude Abend, who just so happened to be walking by when Asch swore, didn’t even pause on his way as he reprimanded Asch.

“Language!”

Asch groaned and wondered if hitting his head against the wall would be better than this.

*             *             *

Arche Klein and her boyfriend, Chester Burklight, were currently getting in a rock paper scissors competition over a cupcake. Their friends, Cress and Mint, watched on, unwilling to interrupt. Things could get a bit messy if they intervened. Arche likely wasn’t above throwing what appeared to be something baked by Natalia (or perhaps Arche herself) at their faces. Arche was sitting on the counter, which Mint was pretty sure was bad etiquette, but she knew better than to get in the middle of them fighting over a cupcake.

“Okay, but what’s your favorite color?” asked Arche suddenly.

“What? You already know that,” said Chester, looking confused.

“Right well, rock, paper, scissors, GO! HA! Rock beats scissors!” said Arche triumphantly, taking her cupcake prize.

“What the—” said Chester. “How do you always manage to win at rock paper scissors? This is ridiculous.”

“You wanna play polar bear walrus penguin instead?” asked Arche with a mouth full of cupcake.

“No,” said Chester firmly at the same time Mint asked, “What’s polar bear walrus penguin?”

“It’s her broken Christmas version of rock paper scissors,” sighed Chester. “Polar bear beats walrus, walrus beats penguin.”

“Wait, how does penguin beat polar bear?” asked Cress.

“It doesn’t,” said Arche. “Polar bear also beats penguin.”

“So…polar bear beats everything?” said Mint.

“Yup,” said Arche, handing her cupcake wrapper to Chester.

Chester gave her a dirty look, but he gave in to the pleading look on her face and threw it away for her.

“Thanks babe,” said Arche, blowing him a kiss. Chester rolled his eyes at her before rejoining her next to the counter.

“Arche, are your parents here?” asked Mint. “I haven’t seen them at all.”

“I’m not really sure where Dad went, but I know Mom was talking to Raine,” said Arche with a shrug.

“If your mom can keep your cousin off my uncle for even an hour tonight, I’ll be impressed,” muttered Chester. Arche laughed before punching him in the shoulder.

“Wait, so Claus is here?” said Cress. “Did he bring Milard as a defense against Raine?”

“Yeah,” Chester sighed. “Let’s see how well it works.”

*             *             *

“Oh! Asch! There you are!” said Guy, seeing Asch leaving the living room where Yuri and Jade had started a drinking game. Edna wasn’t allowed participating with alcohol, but they were letting her have cranberry juice to join in.

“Yeah,” said Asch. “What do you want?”

“We want a picture of you with your brother and sister of course!” said Richard, holding up a camera.

“No! Why?” groaned Asch. “I was hoping you’d take Luke off my hands, I’ve had to hold him all night!”

“Aww, but he looks so happy being held by you!” Guy teased. Luke did seem rather happy in his older brother’s arms, but he was reaching out to Guy, who conceded after a moment and took Luke from Asch.

“You better enjoy that break while you can,” said Richard with a smile. “As soon as Asbel’s back with Sophie you’re going to have to hold him again.”

Asch rolled his eyes and attempted to glare at Richard, but Asbel had returned with Sophie in tow. She was holding something, and Asch had a sinking feeling he knew what it was.

“Asch?” she said, holding the item out to him. “Would you wear this? Then we can be matching.”

“You…want me to wear a Christmas sweater,” Asch managed to say. Sophie nodded at him and smiled.

Dammit, he hated his sister, and he hated his brother. He hated Richard, Guy, and Asbel, all of whom he supposed he could consider his fathers. (He wasn’t saying that out loud to them.) He hated every single one of them because the minute Sophie asked him to do something with that innocent look on her face, he ended up giving in. Not because his dads would yell at him, but rather because Sophie was just too damn sweet.

“Smile!” said Guy as he took a picture of Asch, Luke, and Sophie who were wearing matching ugly Christmas sweaters.

“Go shove it up your—”

*             *             *

Hubert was watching, albeit a bit nervously, while his wife messed around with the fire that was burning cheerfully in the fireplace. Her sister, Fourier, and Agria Travis had been roasting marshmallows for s’mores just moments ago, but Pascal had been talking about something chemical that she wanted to do with it.

“No, just trust me! I’m sure I’ve got the right chemicals with me,” said Pascal, rummaging around in one of the packs she tended to carry around with her. “Now, Hu, what color do you want?”

“Make it red,” said Agria, aggressively spearing another marshmallow with the stick she’d been roasting them on. She then proceeded to stick it directly into the fire, watching as the marshmallow immediately caught on fire.

“Oh, but red’s boring,” said Pascal. “What about blue? I think I have some Copper Chloride in here…”

“I still think red,” said Agria, not bothering to put out her gently flaming marshmallow before putting it between graham crackers and chocolate. Fourier looked mildly terrified.

“What about green? For festivity,” said Fourier, looking away as Agria ate the likely impossibly hot s’more with no hesitation.

“Red’s festive,” said Agria around the s’more. The others ignored her.

“Do you want a bright green or a dark green?” asked Pascal, still looking through her pouch. “I don’t know if I have any Borax with me…”

“You could ask Aunt Emeraude or Uncle Cornell,” said Fourier, watching in slight fear as Agria speared another marshmallow.

“They’re probably off arguing somewhere, I’m sure I can find some…ah! Copper Sulfate!” said Pascal, triumphantly pulling some from the pouch. She winked at Hubert. “Watch this.”

She carefully applied the chemical to the fire, and Hubert watched with concern as the fire turned green.

“Cool, huh?” she said, putting the chemical back in her bag.

“I suppose,” sighed Hubert. “But you can’t fault me for being careful.”

“You say that to Pascal,” said Fourier, an eyebrow raised as she watched Agria stick the marshmallow into the green flame with no hesitation.

“It’s on green fire now,” said Agria. “Still would’ve been cooler if it was red.”

Hubert sighed before saying, “Yes, but I have to live with Pascal.”

Fourier couldn’t exactly argue that point.

*             *             *

“I’ll bet…you can’t drink more than Uncle Raven,” said Anise. She was sitting on a barstool in Natalia’s basement, swinging her legs back and forth as she gave her uncle Rokurou a smug look.

“You’re betting that I can’t drink as much as Raven?” said Rokurou with a snort. “Oh, it’s on. Raven, get over here! We’re having a drinking contest!”

“We’re havin’ a what now?” asked Raven, looking at his brother in slight confusion.

“Anise bet that I couldn’t drink more than you,” said Rokurou. “So I’m going to prove her wrong.”

Raven frowned at Anise, who gave him a look of complete innocence behind Rokurou’s back. Anise was just lucky her parents were out of town still, because otherwise Raven might not have indulged her.

“Fine,” he sighed. “Anise how much are you bettin’?”

“Ohhh let’s start at $10,” said Anise, before cheerfully adding, “I’ll go get the eggnog!”

“Wait, are you two having a drinking contest?” asked Judith Lowell with an amused smile. “I want to bet on this.”

“And just who are you gonna bet on?” asked Raven, raising an eyebrow.

“Well, you’d never catch me betting against Anise, boss,” said Judith.

“Probably a good idea,” Anise muttered as she passed by Judith. She handed the eggnog to her uncles and hopped back up on a barstool. “Soooo let’s just see how many shots you can get, shall we?”

“This is going to be more fun than the last bear wrestling contest I got in,” said Rokurou with a grin. He held up his shot glass to Raven, who did the same. “Cheers!”

At least ten minutes had passed, and a few more people had gathered around the bar to take bets on the drinking contest taking place between Rokurou and Raven. Anise was the one taking the bets, which might not have been the best idea. Still, almost everyone aside from Anise and Judith had bet on Rokurou instead of Raven.

“Wow, and we’re through our second bottle of eggnog,” said Anise, sounding impressed. Both of her uncles were still going, and neither seemed close to stopping.

“Can I join in on the drinking contest?” asked Magilou Maxwell excitedly.

“No,” said her friend, Eizen Yggdrasill firmly.

“Eizen you’re no fun,” Magilou pouted.

“Magilou you’re not old enough to drink. Also I’m not dealing with you getting drunk,” said Eizen firmly. Magilou rolled her eyes at him.

Another ten minutes passed, and it seemed that one of them was going to be giving up soon.

“Who’s it going to be?” said Anise, who was commentating on the contest. “Is Uncle Rokurou going to give in? Or is he going to keep going? Has Uncle Raven had enough yet?”

“Ain’t enough yet,” said Raven, taking another shot. Rokurou didn’t seem to be faring as well.

“’m a damn…samurai,” he muttered. Then his head hit the bar.

“Oooh, looks like Uncle Rokurou is out!” said Anise, perhaps a tad too cheerfully. “Looks like Uncle Raven wins! Better luck next time to everyone who bet on Uncle Rokurou!”

“This is why I never bet against Anise,” said Judith with a smirk as she took her winnings from Anise. “Perhaps they’ll learn that next time.”

*             *             *

Richter Abend was desperately wishing for the sweet embrace of death to come to him. His three older sisters had apparently taken it upon themselves to tell both his and their co-workers every embarrassing story about him as a child. His husband Aster was trying to stifle his laughter into the cup of punch he was drinking, but Richter could still hear it. Rita Heurassein and her wife Estelle Kimlasca-Lanvaldear Heurassein weren’t even bothering to cover their giggles. Richter was relatively sure he could never face Rita ever again.

“So then…” said Hisca between giggles. “He decides that Mom and Dad…”

“Are just never coming back!” finished Chastel as Hisca dissolved into another fit of giggles. Both twins started laughing, joined by Balan Svent and his cousin Alvin Svent Maxwell.

“You should’ve seen him cry,” said Richter’s oldest sister, Mary, with a smirk. “The way he was bawling I thought he was going to start a flood.”

“My, who knew your sisters had as many embarrassing stories about you as I do about Alfred?” said Balan with a laugh.

Yep. Richter was really hoping for death at any moment now. At least things couldn’t get any worse. His sisters had told just about every single story of theirs.

“Oh, oh, and let’s not even mention that time Hisca got in a fight with Richter over the pronunciation of the word ‘orange,’” said Chastel with a snicker. Dammit. They still had another story. Why was he cursed like this.

“How do you argue over the pronunciation of the word ‘orange’?” asked Flynn Scifo, who had been mostly silent during the stories, only occasionally cracking a smile, but Richter could tell he was close to breaking into laughter.

“Oh my god,” said Hisca. “What, we were at…the grocery store? And Richter was how old?”

“He was three, you two were four,” said Mary. “Richter was sitting in the cart and he wanted Mom to give him the orange…”

Aster was nearly spitting out his drink again as he tried to stifle his laughter with punch, and Richter sighed. Yep. Death really couldn’t come fast enough.

*             *             *

Jude hid behind the snowbank, trying to catch his breath. He, along with his girlfriend Leia and their friends, Farah, Reid, Keele, and Meredy, had decided to get in a three-way snowball fight. His triplet sisters had just joined the fight as well. They decided to split up and join each of the previously established teams, rather than sticking together as their own. Buttercup had joined Farah and Reid, Blossom decided to go with Keele and Meredy, and Bubbles teamed up with Jude and Leia.

“Jude! You can’t hide there forever!” Buttercup called.

“Maybe not,” yelled Leia from nearby. “But neither can you!”

She put an extra emphasis on the last word and Jude risked peeking above his current shield to see Buttercup wiping snow off her face. Leia had extremely good aim. He laughed, still slightly out of breath, before sitting behind the snowbank again to make more snowballs.

“Keele! Think fast!” said Farah.

“What—” said Keele before promptly getting smacked in the face with a snowball. That probably hurt.

“Farah! Watch out!” shouted Reid as Blossom threw a snowball in her direction. Farah managed to duck in time, but glared at Blossom.

“It’s on, Blossom!” said Farah, scooping up snow for more ammunition.

“You say that like it wasn’t already on,” Blossom taunted before diving behind her own snow fort to avoid Farah’s snowball.

“Farah!” called Meredy.

“Yeah, Meredy?” said Farah, turning to look at her. “What’s—”

Meredy’s aim was a bit off, but she still managed to hit Farah’s hair with a snowball before she giggled and ducked behind Keele for cover. Farah brushed the snow out of her hair with a sigh as Reid laughed.

“Yeah, probably deserved that one,” she said.

“Jude! How are you doing?” asked Leia, dropping down next to him with a smile.

“Alright enough,” sighed Jude, gesturing to the small pile of snowballs he’d managed to form. “Still, I’m getting a bit tired.”

“Maybe we should stop for now?” said Bubbles, sitting down next to him, a worried look on her face, but Jude shook his head.

“Not after I made all this ammunition!” he said with a smile. “Now go get Buttercup for me. I know you can do it.”

Their snowball fight lasted for a few more hours before Keele managed to get them to call a truce. It was probably for the best as everyone’s coats were covered with snow and their faces and hands especially were freezing.

“We totally won that,” said Buttercup as she handed Jude her coat.

“Nuh-uh! It was definitely us! As far as the standard snowball fight points go, we clearly scored the most with our face shots!” said Blossom, putting her hands on her hips.

“Okay, there’s no such thing as a standard snowball fight point system,” argued Buttercup. “You’re just making that up!”

“Am not!”

“Are too!”

“Am not!”

Are too!”

“Uh, Jude? Do you think you should stop them?” asked Reid, looking a bit concerned.

“It’ll be fine,” said Jude with a sigh, hanging up his and his sisters’ coats. Bubbles pulled on his sleeve to get his attention. “Yes, Bubbles?”

“Jude, we totally won, right?” she asked him.

“Definitely,” he assured her. “No matter what Blossom or Buttercup say.”

Bubbles beamed at him. She skipped off, taking Blossom and Buttercup with her, halting their arguing momentarily.

“I’m going to go see if Natalia has any hot chocolate ready in the kitchen,” said Jude. “Do you guys want to come with me?”

“Absolutely,” said Farah, putting her cold hands on Reid’s face.

“FARAH! NO! BAD!” shouted Reid, quickly shoving her off. Farah smirked at him.

“Meredy and Keele will go too!” said Meredy happily. When Jude turned to look at Leia, she simply shrugged with a smile, so the six of them headed off to the kitchen together.

“Thank god for hot chocolate,” said Leia, gratefully taking her mug from Jude before leaning back against a nearby counter.

“This is really good hot chocolate,” admitted Reid. “It’s as good as Derris Kharbucks.”

“I like Maxwell House’s better,” said Keele. He looked at Leia, who shrugged.

“I mean, Mila can make nice hot chocolate. So can Lilith and Ludger, but there’s some people in the family that just can’t cook. It depends on who makes it,” said Leia, taking a sip of hers.

“What about Tear and Van?” asked Farah. “Van’s name sounds like a coffee order anyway.”

“Ugh, do you mean Vandesdelca?” sighed Leia, rolling her eyes. “No, he really can’t. And I can’t stand him. At least Tear punched him yesterday. He’s so annoying.”

“Wait, what?” asked Reid, nearly dropping his mug. “Tear punched Van?? And I haven’t heard about this yet?”

“Yeah, it was the best Christmas present ever,” said Leia with a grin.

“That’s terrible, Leia,” Jude chastised, but Leia could tell he didn’t mean it.

“Alright, alright, in my defense,” said Leia, setting down her mug. “I can see Lilith beat the crap out of Alvin any day of the week. But seeing Tear literally deck him and Van in one day—within five minutes of each other—is a gift you only get like once a year, if that.”

“She hit Alvin too?” asked Farah excitedly. “Did you get pictures? You’ve got to send them to me.”

“I have more than just pictures,” said Leia with a wink. “I got video too.”

*             *             *

While her cousin had been having a snowball fight, Tear Grants had been busy trying to help Colette Brunel and Dezel Yggdrasill catch one of the two dogs they had been chasing. The dogs weren’t outside the house, but they were proving extremely difficult to find. It likely didn’t help there were nearly 100 people in and around the house, giving the dogs plenty of cover to run away from them.

“Have you seen them?” Colette asked, meeting up with Tear in the living room, Dezel in tow.

“No, they got away again,” sighed Tear.

“Who would’ve thought finding two dogs would be this hard?” said Colette. “I swear they were here just a minute ago…”

“There!” said Dezel, pointing towards one doorway. Both girls looked in the direction he was pointing to see Yuri’s dog, Repede, slipping around the corner.

“Good job, Dezel!” said Colette, running after the dog. “Tear!”

“Got it!” said Tear. She and Colette virtually threw themselves at Repede, and between the two of them, they managed to grab him.

Repede huffed in obvious frustration, but with two girls clinging to him and preventing his escape, he gave up. Colette beamed and Repede started wagging his tail as Tear scratched behind his ears.

“Alright, Dezel, give us the sweater!” said Colette happily, turning back to Dezel.

He handed her one of the two doggie sweaters he’d been carrying around, and Colette and Tear quickly put it on Repede. Repede looked a bit offended at being forced to wear a sweater, but he gave in after a moment. It also probably helped that Dezel gave him a few dog treats. After Repede was warmly dressed in a Santa-design sweater, Colette and Tear let him up. Repede huffed again before trotting off to another room.

“Now…we just need to find Noishe,” said Colette, a determined look on her face. She winked at Tear before calling, “Noishe! Here boy! I have treats for you!”

In Noishe’s defense, they did have dog treats. However, it was a bit of an obvious trap. He looked rather displeased at first by the elf-inspired dog sweater he was wearing, but Dezel’s dog treats seemed to help change his mind.

“Good boy, Noishe,” said Tear, petting his head after they finished putting the sweater on. “But…he’s an awfully weird dog, Colette. Are you really sure he’s…?”

“He’s a dog,” said Colette firmly. Tear decided not to press the issue.

*             *             *

Elize Maxwell was standing a bit off to the side as she supervised the children who were going about decorating a Christmas tree. Natalia always liked to leave a tree bare for the younger children to decorate each year with their own choice of ornaments. The Kimlasca-Lanvaldear Heurassein manor had at least ten Christmas trees in it, if Elize had counted properly this year, and it was rather kind of Natalia to keep what was once a tradition when she was a child still going. Elize had her fair share of years participating as well, but this year her cousin, Elle Mel Marta Kresnik-Maxwell, had asked for her help in supervising Elle and the other children’s decorating.

“Emil, which one do you want?” asked Marta Lualdi, holding up two different squirrel ornaments to her friend Emil to pick from. Emil hesitated for a moment before picking one and taking it over to the tree. Marta then followed with the other one.

Elize smiled, but she couldn’t help but notice that most of the ornaments were lurking towards the bottom of the tree. She was probably the tallest one there, aside from Teepo who could go however high he wanted. Usually there was a stool nearby, and Elize supposed she’d have to get it or offer to help them reach higher up.

“Mikleo! Just hold still!” said Sorey Aurion’s voice from the other side of the tree.

“Sorey, I still don’t think this is such a good idea,” said Mikleo Ka-Fai hesitantly.

Feeling a bit concerned, Elize headed over in their direction to see Mikleo attempting to hold Sorey on his shoulders while Sorey tried to put an ornament higher on the tree.

“Oh, Origin!” said Elize. “Sorey that’s dangerous, let me help you!”

“We were doing fine ourselves,” pouted Sorey, but he got down from Mikleo’s shoulders.

“Ion, does Natalia have a stepstool around here somewhere?” asked Elize, relieved that neither Sorey nor Mikleo had gotten hurt.

“Um, I think so,” said Ion, looking up from the container of ornaments he’d been searching through with Elle.

“It’s under the table,” said Elle, not bothering to look up as she dug through the ornaments.

Elize turned to look under the end table to find the stepstool. She smiled at Ion and Elle (the latter of whom still wasn’t paying attention as she pulled out every cat ornament she could find), and gave the stool to Sorey and Mikleo to use. Hopefully this would prevent any of them from climbing on each other.

“Ion, if you need a hand, I can help,” said Elize, noticing Ion looking towards the top of the tree.

“Oh, no, I’m fine,” said Ion with a smile. “But I think Elle could use some help.”

Elize turned her attention to her cousin, who was still looking at cat ornaments.

“Do you need any help?” she asked, kneeling down next to Elle.

“Yeah,” said Elle, shoving a couple ornaments into Elize’s face. “Which of the ornaments do you think looks the most like Rollo?”

“Hm…I think this one,” said Elize, picking the one she thought looked more like Elle’s cat Rollo.

“Thanks!” said Elle, taking the ornament and skipping over to the tree to hang it up.

“Hey Elize?” asked Marta, coming over to her.

“Yes, Marta?” asked Elize with a smile.

“Teepo has something that smells really funny and I’m not really sure what—”

“DAMMIT TEEPO!” shouted Elize, not letting Marta finish her sentence. “WHAT DID I TELL YOU ABOUT THE SMOKING?”

*             *             *

“Where are you all going?” asked Ioder Heurassein as Suzu Fujibayashi, Ami Burklight, Karol Lowell, Patty Scifo, and Poisson Amarcia passed him on their way outside. All five were wearing their coats, hats, scarves, and gloves. They also seemed to be carrying some extra clothing and other items.

“We’re going to make a snowman!” said Ami excitedly.

“Maybe more than one,” added Patty.

“I see,” said Ioder with a smile, noting that most of things they were carrying then made sense. “Well, the snow does seem rather nice for both snowball fights and snowman building today, if the snowball fight from earlier is any indication. Have fun!”

The children waved to Ioder as they continued outside. Once they were in the front yard, which still had an ample amount of snow as the snowball fight had been in the backyard, they dumped everything they had been carrying onto the ground.

“I want to build a death snowman,” said Suzu firmly.

“Suzu, really?” asked Ami with a sigh.

“She’s determined to do it,” said Poisson. She crouched down to look through their supplies. “I have some snow colorant from my cousins, but I don’t think I have any black.”

“Do you have any yellow?” asked Patty, crouching down next to her.

“Why do you want—No, you know what? Never mind. The answer is no, Patty,” said Karol.

“You’re no fun!” said Patty, sticking out her tongue at Karol. “I’m making a pirate snowman.”

“Come on, Karol! Let’s make a snowman together!” said Ami, grabbing a hat and scarf from the pile. She grabbed his hand and pulled him a bit away so the two of them could work on their snowman with plenty of room.

Suzu and Poisson mostly worked on Suzu’s death snowman together, but after a bit Poisson started flitting about to everyone else’s snowmen to help them as well. Patty’s pirate snowman was coming along nicely, and she’d found a pirate hat somewhere that she had proudly stuck on its head. She’d also put a scarf on it, which seemed to clash a bit, but after Karol had tried to mention something, she’d given him a death glare and no one had tried to argue. Karol and Ami were making a primarily traditional snowman, complete with a carrot nose. It was beginning to look vaguely like Cress, but Poisson decided not to comment on it. Suzu’s death snowman was mostly purple, until she’d run out of colorant, and then the rest of it was splotches of green and orange.

“Nice snowmen,” commented a voice after they had finally finished.

The five of them turned to see Velvet Maxwell (wearing about as much clothing Karol’s sister, Judith, always wore, which was to say not much, yet she still didn’t look cold) standing on the front porch with her hands on her hips. Laphicet, the young boy who was usually with her, was standing behind her.

“Hi Velvet!” said Patty, waving excitedly. “Check out my pirate snowman!”

“It’s very nice,” said Velvet appreciatively. “We’ll try not to destroy it in the fight.”

“Wait, destroy it?” asked Suzu, sounding alarmed.

Fight?” asked Poisson at the same time.

“Bear fight of course,” said Velvet cracking her knuckles.

“What? Oh my Origin, no!” said Ami worriedly.

“Too late. Here comes Gaius with the bears,” said Laphicet, stepping forward.

“I…I’m going to go get Miss Karla,” said Karol, walking backwards away from the oncoming bears before running into the house.

“That’s…probably a good idea,” said Ami quietly.

*             *             *

Teresa Linares was sitting on a couch in the study, drinking some peppermint tea with her girlfriend, Karla Maxwell, as the two chatted over Christmas cookies. It had been a rather calm night for them, as Teresa’s brother hadn’t yet tried to arrest Karla’s mother. Ivar, who usually worked with Oscar, had seen Velvet and glared at her, but the Maxwell twins Milla and Mila had caught his attention, so he didn’t make any moves. Once again, their conversation had turned to Karla’s students, which was a topic Teresa enjoyed hearing about.

“I think that Uno and Mayvin are used to kids like that after a point,” Karla was saying. “But I will feel bad for any kids who have to deal with Remiel. He’s always been difficult.”

Teresa laughed in appreciation.

“Sounds exactly like my brother,” she said with a smile. “Always difficult.”

“Oh, I’m more than used to that from my cousins, especially Stahn,” said Karla.

“And how is Stahn doing?” asked Teresa. “He hasn’t been home recently, has he?”

“No, he and a friend have been on a trip recently,” said Karla. “He calls Lilith at least once a week—I think she’d kill him otherwise.”

Teresa laughed again.  

“Yes, his sisters are quite the force aren’t they? I really wouldn’t—”

“Miss Karla?” interrupted Karol, slightly out of breath. “There’s uh…a bit of a situation.”

“Oh no,” sighed Karla. “Is it my brother or my mother this time?”

“Um…both.”

*             *             *

Karla exited the front door to find Presa Abend, Agria Travis, Jiao Maxwell, and her brother’s boyfriend, Wingul Long Dau, standing on the front porch and watching as Gaius, Velvet, and Laphicet wrestled what appeared to be several grizzly bears.

“Oh dear Origin,” sighed Karla.

“Gaius is winning,” said Wingul, glancing at Karla.

“Why are all of you just standing here doing nothing to stop him?” asked Karla, gesturing wildly at the bears, her voice a bit frantic.

“Gaius can handle himself,” said Presa. Jiao nodded in agreement.

“I just think it’s amusing,” said Agria with a laugh. “And Wingul can never say no to Gaius, you should know that by now!”

Karla sighed in exasperation, and she heard Teresa chuckle behind her. At least Gaius, Velvet, and Laphicet a ways away, and they weren’t posing any threat to anyone so long as they didn’t get too close. There also seemed to be a crowd forming to watch her family fight the bears. She was surprised it was only the three of them. Usually, her cousin and Jiao’s older daughter, Magilou and her friend Eizen would participate. Today, though, they seemed content to simply cheer the others on.

“Are you going to participate?” she heard Zelos Wilder ask jokingly.

“I might. Depends if Suzu’s snowman gets destroyed,” said his twin sister, Eleanor.

“Fight for my honor!” called Suzu. A bear roared in response to Suzu’s shout, and Karla winced as it threw Gaius several feet away.

“Why don’t you just let your sister do it?” said Zelos with a smirk. Gaius had gotten back up and charged at the bear again, and it looked like he stood a chance this time.

“She’s still at work. Also Eleanor can fight bears,” said Suzu simply.

“Maybe Cline should try,” said the youngest Wilder, Seles, to her girlfriend Driselle Sharil. Driselle laughed.

“I think Eizen’s tried to get him to do it before,” she said. “But…”

“Not happening,” said Cline simply, watching as Laphicet jumped agilely away from one bear’s attack. “My boyfriend can fight a bear. I cannot.”

“Oh, they’re getting closer,” said Magilou, sounding a bit concerned. “Eizen, maybe we should help out…Rokurou’s still passed out after that drinking game with Raven…”

Karla said nothing. She simply took off her outer coat and her scarf, handed them to Teresa, rolled up her sleeves, and stepped off the porch. She heard Zelos ask “Where’s she going?” behind her, but she didn’t bother to stop or explain herself. The snow came up to about her ankles, but she still marched through it determinedly.

“Oh! Karla, you’re here to help!” said Gaius, noticing Karla approaching them.

“Stand aside, Erston,” said Karla firmly. “I’ve got this.”

“Karla, there’s really no need,” Gaius started to say. “We really have this under con—”

Karla glared at him before grabbing an oncoming bear and aggressively flipping it over her shoulder. The bear didn’t bother to get up again, and Karla turned to Gaius with an eyebrow raised.

“You were saying?” she asked.

“Careful, Laphicet, Karla might become the new bear fighting champion!” called Velvet cheerfully as she held off her own bear.

“I think I’m already there,” said Karla aggressively, straight up punching a bear. She could hear the cheers of everyone from the house. She didn’t understand why they were so surprised. She wasn’t just a schoolteacher, she was Velvet Maxwell’s daughter after all. And if she couldn’t take down a singular bear, then what kind of daughter of the famous Velvet would she be?

“Oscar, no!” she heard Teresa shout from the house.

Karla turned to see Teresa’s brother, Oscar, running not at a bear, but at Velvet. Karla was relatively sure he was shouting something about arresting her, but whatever it was, Velvet stepped aside just in time for a bear to headbutt him.

“Oscar’s not going to be winning any medals from Lady Maltran for his arrest or for bear wrestling any time soon,” said Laphicet with a sigh.

“No, but I might!” said Karla, ducking out of the way of the same bear that had taken down Oscar. To be honest, she could kind of see why Erston liked doing this so much. Despite it being freezing with snow all over the ground that was hindering her movements slightly, she was warm from exertion. She hadn’t done this in quite some time, but it was still rather enjoyable. Perhaps she’d have to fight bears more often in the future.

*             *             *

“Sheena!” said Suzu excitedly, running over to her sister. “I’ve missed you!”

“Sorry,” said Sheena with a laugh, pulling her scarf from around her neck before hugging her sister. “Dhaos finally closed shop for the day and let us go home. Have a shift with just Decus and my boss can be terrible, but at least it wasn’t too long.”

“And you didn’t invite either of them?” asked Zelos mockingly, leaning against the wall with his arms crossed.

“Watch it, Wilder,” said Sheena, glaring at him. “I don’t know what Decus was going home to do with Alice, and I don’t want to know. Dhaos is mysterious too, and I don’t want to intrude. Anyway, what did I miss?”

“You know, the usual,” said Zelos with a shrug as Sheena took off her coat and hung it up. “Arietta and Anise getting in a fight, Emeraude and Lambda fighting…I think…I mean, Asbel and Emeraude don’t usually talk so I’m assuming it was Lambda. Also Jade and Peony might’ve punched Dist. There was a lot of screaming, I can’t be sure. Nephry didn’t seem too thrilled with them.”

“I also built a death snowman with Poisson!” said Suzu. “But…then it got destroyed during the bear fight.”

“I missed a lot of fights, huh?” said Sheena. She paused. “Wait…bear fight?”

“Yes! And you missed it! …and my death snowman,” said Suzu, adding the last part with a bit of disappointment.

“Karla won,” added Zelos.

“Amazing,” said Sheena, shaking her head. “I’m really sorry I missed that.”

“You did, but you’re still in time for the secret Santa,” said Zelos with a smirk. “I hope you remembered the present.”

“Of course I remembered the present,” said Sheena as she rolled her eyes. She waved a wrapped package in Zelos’s face. “Suzu, do you want to come with us?”

“No, I’m going to go play with Poisson,” said Suzu, skipping off.

“Did you remember your gift?” asked Sheena, nudging Zelos.

“I’m offended you would even suggest that,” said Zelos dramatically.

Sheena laughed before pushing him playfully. Before the two could continue their mock argument, however, Natalia Luzu Kimlasca-Lanvaldear Heurassein met them in the hall.

“Oh! Sheena you’re here! Just in time!” said Natalia happily. “Please, come with me! The rest of us are meeting in the family room!”

Zelos and Sheena followed her, their bickering paused for the moment. As Natalia had said, the rest of the participants in their secret Santa were already assembled in the family room. Some were sitting on the couches, others on the floor, and Ginji Sheridan was sitting on the hearth.

“Hey guys!” said Sheena as she entered.

“Sheena! You’re finally off work! Just in time, too!” said Magilou. “Come on! Take a seat! We were just about to start the exchange! Natalia! Who’s first?”

“Well, let’s see. I did a random lottery earlier, and so Zelos gets to give his gift first!” said Natalia, sitting down next to her boyfriend, Asch.

“Alright, catch,” said Zelos, tossing his present at Asch.

Asch caught it, ignoring Natalia’s reprimanding of Zelos for throwing things. The package was quite small, and he opened it, having a strong feeling he already knew what it was.

“A Derris Kharbucks gift card,” said Asch. “What a surprise.”

“Hey, you always come in for your morning coffee. And your afternoon coffee. And your mid-afternoon coffee. And your evening coffee,” said Zelos, shrugging.

Sync snickered, and Asch glared at him. Natalia was giggling too, so Asch decided not to say anything. Instead, he got up and handed Eizen his present.

“Oh, me?” said Eizen. The present was also small, so Eizen assumed it was likely a gift card as well. He opened to find a Hot Topic gift card. “Oh Maotelus…thank you so much, Asch!”

“Are you…crying?” asked Magilou, leaning forward to look at Eizen’s face.

“I think he is,” said Cline with a laugh.

“This is fine,” said Eizen, and everyone could tell from his voice he was fighting back tears. Eizen wiped his eyes quickly before handing Eleanor a present.

“Oh! Thank you, Eizen,” said Eleanor, taking it. She carefully unwrapped it before smiling. “A law book! I needed this for my studies, thank you so much Eizen!”

“No problem,” said Eizen, possibly still crying. Eleanor smiled appreciatively at him before turning to Sync’s boyfriend and giving him her present.

“Here you go, Natural,” she said.

“Feels like clothing,” said Sync, putting his hand on the package.

“Well let’s find out, shall we?” said his boyfriend. “Or would you rather open it?”

“No, no, go ahead,” said Sync with a smirk. His boyfriend shook his head, but opened Eleanor’s present. It was, as Sync had guessed, clothing.

“A Reshiram t-shirt. Thank you, Eleanor,” said Sync’s boyfriend, giving her a smile. Eleanor smiled back.

“Sorry if it’s not your size. I just went off Zelos’s size since I wasn’t sure,” she said apologetically.

“No, it’ll be fine,” Sync’s boyfriend reassured her. He picked up a small wrapped box sitting next to him and moved to give it to Natalia.

“Thank you,” said Natalia, gratefully accepting it. She opened it before gasping in delight. “A new pair of archery gloves! Thank you so much! I kept forgetting to get them, and with an archery tournament coming up soon…”

She set the gloves aside for a moment before hugging Sync’s boyfriend. He blushed, looking a bit flustered at Natalia’s attention.

“Er, it was no problem,” he said, clearing his throat. “So, um, your present, Natalia?”

“Oh! Right! Here you go, Sheena,” Natalia said, giving Sheena her present.

The Artes Theorum by Professor Howe, oh wow Natalia!” said Sheena, unwrapping the book Natalia had given her. “I didn’t expect such a rare book!”

“Well, you needed it for your research, correct?” said Natalia with a smile. “I know it was rare, but I felt it would likely help you.”

“Yeah, it really will!” said Sheena, returning the smile.

“Nerd,” Zelos muttered. Sheena kicked him. Zelos let out a yelp of pain, and he glared at her, but she just got up to give Ginji his present. Zelos continued to glare at her as she sat back down, but she ignored him as she watched Ginji pulled the wrapping paper off.

“Wow, the new Star Trek movie!” said Ginji excitedly. “Thanks, Sheena!”

“No problem,” said Sheena as Ginji gave Magilou a bag.

“Oooh a bag!” said Magilou, nudging Eizen excitedly. “I wonder what’s inside?”

“You could open it and find out?” said Eizen, rolling his eyes.

“Holy Maotelus!” said Magilou, pulling out a pair of Harley Quinn shoes from the bag. “Dude, I saw these at Hot Topic! Thanks, Ginji!”

She nudged Eizen again with a smirk before saying, “Look Eizen! Now we can match!”

“Just give Sync his present,” said Eizen, determinedly not looking Magilou in the eye.

“Spoilsport,” Magilou muttered. She handed Sync his gift, who looked a bit surprised.

“Hold up,” said Ginji, who was sitting closest to Sync and his boyfriend as Sync unwrapped the item. “Is that…a CD…of a boyband? From the 90s??”

“No!” said Sync defensively, quickly putting said CD behind his back.

“I know what you like,” said Magilou with a wink. Sync made several more flustered noises before he shoved a present back in Magilou’s direction.

“Oh wow, for me?” said Magilou, in feigned innocence. “Thank you ever so much!”

“It’s not for you, it’s for Cline!” said Sync, sitting back down and folding his arms. Cline chuckled before taking the gift from Magilou and opening it.

“Tea? All the way from Barona? That’s quite a trip, Sync, I appreciate it,” said Cline with a smile. “It’s also Driselle’s favorite tea, so I’m sure she’ll enjoy it too. And I’m sure it’s rather obvious but, here’s the gift for Zelos.”

“The best for last,” said Zelos, smirking at Sheena. She looked at him with an unamused expression.

“Just open the damn box, Wilder,” she said. Zelos looked like he was going to say something back, but he changed his mind and just opened it instead like Sheena had told him to.

“A…hairbrush,” said Zelos. Sheena let out an audible laugh before stifling it under Zelos’s glare.

“Well, I heard from Driselle who told me that Seles heard from Eleanor that you seem to keep using Sheena’s,” said Cline innocently. “I figured that it might help in the future.”

“You’re absolutely right,” said Sheena, fighting back giggles.

“Well, that wraps up the secret Santa for this year!” said Natalia with a smile. “Thank you everyone for participating, I’m already looking forward to next year.”

“Eizen!” called a voice. Everyone turned to see Eizen’s younger sister, Edna, running towards him, a present in her hands.

“Edna, what’s up?” asked Eizen, picking up his little sister and sitting her on his lap.

“I got you a present, but Lailah and Zaveid said I had to wait until after the secret Santa to give it to you,” said Edna, looking displeased at having to wait.

“Oh? Well thank you, Edna,” said Eizen with a smile.

“And I couldn’t give it to you at home because you decided to spend the night with Magilou and Cline,” said Edna, glaring at him.

“Sorry, Edna,” said Eizen. “But, um, I’ll open it now, okay?”

Edna shrugged, seeming content with the arrangement. For the second time that night, Eizen’s eyes began to water after he unwrapped his sister’s gift.

“Do you like it?” asked Edna, turning to look at him.

“Edna…you got me eyeliner,” said Eizen. Magilou was attempting to stifle her giggles.

“It’s because you’re a giant scene nerd,” said Edna simply. “Glad you like it.”

“I really do, Edna. I really…really do.”

*             *             *

The Kimlasca-Lanvaldear Heurassein manor was set on a rather impressive hill. While during the summer, Natalia and Estelle had enjoyed rolling down it in their youth, during the winter it made for an excellent sled riding site. At the top of the hill had assembled a group comprising mainly of high schoolers, but Alicia Combatir had decided to tag along as well. When asked where her sister and fiancé were, Alicia had said something about them looking for firewood. (“Yeah and Regal can rip apart logs with his bare hands. That’s how we met. In the woods.”) No one wanted to question it, but then again none of them had seen Presea or Regal for a while, so while they might doubt the truth of her words, they also weren’t going to argue.

“Didn’t Nova want to come?” Colette asked Lloyd as they watched Genis and Alicia ride on the same sled down the hill together.

“Yeah, but she and Vera were talking with Vera’s boss, Dirk, Dad, and Uncle Miguel and Aunt Maria,” said Lloyd with a sigh. “Adult things or whatever excuse they came up with. Aunt Lailah left to do something with Dezel I think and Uncle Yuan and Mithos were getting in some argument.”

“That’s too bad,” said Colette disappointedly. “I think Nova would’ve enjoyed sled riding with us.”

“I’m certainly having fun!” said Noelle as she sat down. “Driselle! Give me a push!”

Driselle gladly gave Noelle the push, and she went flying down the hill past Genis and Alicia as they walked back up. Driselle and Seles were getting ready to go down after Noelle on their own sled. Rose Caesar-Curtiss and her cousin Alisha Lualdi were playing rock paper scissors to see who got to sit in the front, and it seemed that Arche and Chester were fighting over something again.

“Arche, we can’t both ride on the sled it’s not big enough,” Chester argued. Arche raised an eyebrow skeptically at him.

“Well there’d be room if you moved that big angsty butt of yours,” she said. “Come on, Mint.”

“Okay,” said Mint, sitting down behind Arche on the sled.

Chester looked like he was about to argue, but Cress’s laughter cut him off. Chester gave him a questioning look, and Cress managed to say, “She’s right, you know.” Chester sighed irritably and crossed his arms.

“Push us, Lloyd!” Arche demanded.

“On it!” said Lloyd. He moved forward and gave them a push, sending the two of them flying down the hill.

“Sucks to suck, Chester!” called Arche, her voice growing more distant the further she and Mint went down the hill.

“Lloyd, do you want to go next?” said Colette.

“Sure!” said Lloyd excitedly. “We can go down together next time. Right now I’m going to use the saucer sled!”

“Good luck!” called Colette as Lloyd sat on the sled. Cress gave him a push and Lloyd’s sled was off.

“Uh oh,” said Noelle, watching Lloyd. “His sled got turned around.”

“That’s a problem with saucer sleds,” Seles agreed. “But I’m sure he’ll be fine.”

No sooner had the words left Seles’s mouth when Lloyd crashed into a tree at the bottom of the hill, hitting the back of his head on it.

“Lloyd!” Colette called worriedly.

“I’ll check on him,” said Rose, taking the sled from Alisha and heading down by herself.

“Do you think he’s alright?” Colette fretted.

“I’m sure he’s fine. He is Lloyd after all,” said Genis. 

“Yeah, his head is pretty tough,” said Cress with a comforting smile. Arche and Mint had paused on their way back up to offer their help as well. Mint was checking Lloyd’s head and said something to him. Rose nodded and turned to look at everyone standing at the top of the hill.

“We’re okay!” she shouted.

“Oh thank goodness,” said Colette with a relieved sigh. She watched anxiously as the others made their way back up. Lloyd gave her a sheepish smile, but as Rose had said, he seemed fine.

“Hey, Alisha!” said Rose.

“Yes?” said Alisha. Rose wordlessly handed her the sled. Alisha looked at it in slight confusion before looking back at Rose. “Rose, what—?”

Before Alisha could say another word, Rose had pushed Alisha with the sled down the hill. Luckily it was a sled Alisha was supposed to lie on. Unluckily for Rose, Alisha didn’t seem to take it too well.

“ROSE CAESAR-CURTISS!”

Everyone winced as Alisha screamed on her way down.

“Sorry you didn’t get to go with me earlier!” Rose called.

“You know you’re dead, Rose,” said Noelle as she watched Alisha, still screaming.

“Oh, yeah, totally,” said Rose with a smile.

Alisha’s screaming had finally stopped as she had reached the bottom of the hill. She stood up, brushed herself off, picked up the sled, and sent a pointed look back up the hill at Rose. The message was clear. “You are so fucking dead.” Rose still didn’t seem concerned as she watched her cousin with a smile on her face.

“Yup. Totally.”

*             *             *

Kratos Aurion was having a pleasant enough evening. Most fights with Milla Maxwell had been averted, and he suspected Natalia’s doing. Still, he had had several interesting conversations with other adults present that he usually didn’t talk to. Cheria Lualdi and her father had been a rather memorable one. Cheria used to live in the Lezareno apartments, but after college she had moved out, so Kratos didn’t see her that often. She had been working as a nurse for a relief organization, and it seemed she was using a conversation with Kratos as relief from Asbel and Hubert’s cousin, Raymond, who still has a crush on her and was failing miserably at flirting with her all night.

Cheria had excused herself when she received a message that she was needed at the hospital, and Kratos and Brute Lualdi exchanged an awkward nod before parting ways as well. Kratos wondered idly where Milla was, as he wanted more punch, and he couldn’t be exactly sure which room she was in. He decided to brave the dining room regardless, and thankfully it seemed neither she nor her twin sister were there. In fact, the only Maxwells present in the room were Rowen Maxwell who was teaching someone Kratos thought might’ve been connected to Julius or Karla in some way how to dance. The mystery person was insisting they didn’t know how to dance, but Rowen was doing a rather good job of assuaging their fears.

“Rowen, I really appreciate it but I can’t dance!”

“Now, I know that’s not true as you’ve been to several dances before.”

“Okay, but I’m sure I’m going to step on your foot!”

“I promise, even if you step on my foot it’s nothing this old man hasn’t been through a hundred times before.”

Kratos chuckled as he watched the pair begin dancing, or at least attempting to, before leaving the dining room again. Kratos had to admit that, despite his intense rivalry with Milla Maxwell and Maxwell House in general, he liked Rowen. Rowen was always patient and kind, and it was nice to see someone who—

“Kratos!”

“Yuan,” sighed Kratos. He turned to see his longtime friend (though recently their relationship had evolved beyond just friendship) Yuan Ka-Fai giving him a seductive look. “What is it this time?”

“Hey, what kind of greeting is that?” asked Yuan, losing the seductive look and instead gaining a pout.

Kratos didn’t answer. Instead, he raised an eyebrow, silently repeating his question to Yuan. Yuan dropped the pout again, his face changing into a serious expression. Kratos grew only more confused. Yuan was being serious about something? That was relatively new.

“Did someone try to decorate Martel?” asked Kratos. It seemed like something Lloyd or Colette would try to do.

“No,” said Yuan, taking a step towards him. Kratos stepped back.

“Is Mithos being a problem?”

“No.” Another step forward for Yuan, another step backwards for Kratos.

“Mikleo and Sorey broke another one of your potted plants?”

“No.”

Kratos now realized that his back was against a wall. And Yuan was still walking towards him. Dear lord, what on earth did Yuan want? Yuan stopped when he was inches away from Kratos.

“Kratos,” Yuan said quietly. “Look up.”

Kratos looked up to see that Yuan had backed him underneath a holiday plant, likely hung by Natalia or her sister. While he wanted to curse them, he wouldn’t actually have to.

“Yuan?” said Kratos conversationally.

“Yes, Kratos?”

“That’s not mistletoe. That’s holly.”

Martel dammit!” yelled Yuan as Kratos brushed past him.

Kratos paused for a moment before saying over his shoulder, “If you want a kiss…just ask next time.” before continuing on his way.

*             *             *

The Maxwell twins, Milla and Mila, were staring each other down on opposite sides of the kitchen table. It was a friendly competition, but that didn’t mean they were going to go easy on each other. Elle was partly responsible for this contest. She’d made a comment about how disgusting she thought fruitcake was. Mila and Milla disagreed. And then they’d decided the best way to prove how good fruitcake tasted was to have a fruitcake eating contest. To be fair, Muzét had been the one to suggest a contest, but the twins had thought it would be a great idea.

“Are you totally ready for this?” asked Elle, watching Mila excitedly.

“Bring it on, sis,” said Mila with a smirk.

“Make sure you give it your all,” replied Milla, returning the smirk.

“Are you sure you two have to do this?” asked Julius with a sigh. “I mean, a contest? Again?”

“Hey, if you can get in a tomato eating contest with your brother then I can get in a fruitcake eating contest with my sister!” said Milla and Mila at the same time, glaring at him.

Ludger chuckled as Julius blushed. Julius gave his brother what was supposed to be a firm look, but it didn’t seem to faze Ludger at all as he just shrugged. Ludger had even made a fruitcake for the party, which it seemed that Mila and Milla decided to use as their first fruitcake. Ludger had also made a variety of other desserts, including the cake pop Muzét was eating.

“Are you two ready?” asked Muzét as she sat on the counter.

Mila and Milla stared at each other for a brief moment before nodding in unison.

“Begin!”

Julius had no idea why they wanted to do a contest like this. His tomato eating contest with Ludger was completely different. Plus, that was when he was a kid. And Ludger was a kid. Milla and Mila were both adults, and therefore had no excuse.

“Wanna see how much fruitcake I can shove in my mouth at once?” asked Teepo, hovering over the table.

“Teepo—no!” shouted Elize. She was too late, as Teepo proceeded to stuff the rest of the fruitcake on the table into his mouth. It was both impressive and horrifying.

“Teepo!” Milla reprimanded.

“Oh, it’s too late,” sighed Mila. “Sorry, Elle. I was really looking forward to kicking Milla’s ass.”

Milla rolled her eyes before saying, “Oh come on, you would not have beaten me in this.”

“You want to bet?” asked Mila, raising an eyebrow.

“Come on Elle,” said Ludger, steering his daughter out of the kitchen as the twins started fighting. “There’s still some cookies in the dining room.”

“Are they your cookies?”

“I don’t know, we’ll see.”

As the argument grew more heated, Julius decided that following Ludger and Elle would be a good idea. After all, his partner had been with Rowen in the dining room, right? And he could trust Muzét to referee. Probably. Judging by her lack of involvement so far, he had his doubts. But he could hope.

*             *             *

“Rose what are you doing?” Alisha asked, watching her cousin in slight concern. Rose was crouching near a (now bare) Christmas tree, fiddling with what looked like a lighter.

“Setting the tree on fire. What does it look like?” asked Rose, not looking up at her.

“Setting the—what?” asked Alisha in alarm. “Rose—Rose no!”

“Alisha’s right, Rose. Let me do it,” said Rose’s father Jade, putting a hand on Rose’s shoulder.

Uncle Jade?” Alisha asked.

“Alright,” said Rose at the same time. She handed the lighter to Jade, who examined it before pocketing it. It seemed he’d set the tree on fire a different way. Alisha felt like she might faint.

“Hey, it’s okay, Alisha!” said Rose, putting an arm comfortingly around Alisha’s shoulders. “We do this every year. It’s the only way to appease Satan.”

Alisha gave Rose a horrified look, but her attention quickly turned back to Jade as he managed to set the tree ablaze. She knew that Rose still believed that Satan (not Santa) brought her presents for Christmas, but she still felt this was a bit over the top.

Rose Curtiss-Caesar why are you like this?!” Alisha shrieked.

“My middle name is Satan,” said Rose simply. “And it’ll keep our souls safe from Satan every year after he brings us presents.”

“I don’t care what you told Sergei, no it’s not!” Alisha said in desperation.

She always knew Rose and Jade were a bit odd (including that time Rose had told the chief of local police that her middle name was Satan), but this was the first time she’d ever heard of this specific tradition. She watched in silent horror as Rose and Jade watched the tree burning merrily, talking about their Christmases. She felt a comforting pat on her shoulder and looked up to see Rose’s other father, her uncle Malik Caesar-Curtiss, looking down at her with a sympathetic smile.  He was holding out a bottle of vodka, offering Alisha to take it.

“Vodka?” asked Alisha, looking at him in confusion.

“I’ve found it’s the best way to deal with them,” said Malik with a sigh. “It might not fix everything but it certainly helps.”

“Thank you, but I’ll be alright,” said Alisha weakly.

“What else can we set on fire? Do we have any marshmallows left?” asked Rose.

“Never mind,” said Alisha as Rose and Jade left to search for things to set on fire. “I think I’m going to need that vodka.

*             *             *

In Natalia Luzu Kimlasca-Lanvaldear Heurassein’s opinion, it had been a rather successful Christmas party. The turnout had been larger than any year before, which was only good in her opinion. Plus, Jade and Rose had only set one tree on fire this year. And Rose had complied with Natalia’s request that if she was going to set a tree on fire, at least take the ornaments off.

Rokurou hadn’t been the only one to get drunk, though he’d been the only one to completely pass out. Flynn had been forced to nearly carry his husband home as Yuri had gotten in a drinking contest with his twin sister. She had won. Yuri had been extremely clingy, and Natalia found it rather endearing.

The bear fight had been mildly terrifying, but once Karla had stepped in everything had ended alright. The secret Santa was a success, and she’d even gotten to spend a lot of time with Asch. While it didn’t seem like many of the foods she’d (attempted to) bake had been eaten, Teepo had certainly taken care of them. Along with all the fruitcake. Yes, she found it was a rather successful night, and she was rather pleased with the result. Most of all, she was glad to see everyone get together and get along. That was the best Christmas present she could ever ask for.

 

 

Chapter Text

Asch was only half paying attention to whatever Natalia was talking about in the Student Council meeting. He was a bit more preoccupied sorting through the paperwork Natalia had asked him to organize. While it would theoretically be easy, (Natalia was the most organized person Asch knew, but that wasn’t exactly hard considering all three of his dads seemed to be in a permanent state of disarray) her organization pattern was still beyond Asch’s grasp of understanding.

He was currently trying to decide if she meant for next year’s election plans to go under “elections” or “ongoing projects” when he heard what sounded suspiciously like a sneeze. He turned to look at Natalia, who had stopped talking suddenly, looking like she was a bit surprised at herself too. She continued on as if there had been no interruption.

“Um, as I was saying, the proceeds from the bake sale at the basketball game will go towards—” Natalia stopped talking again, looking a bit concerned, before she let out what Asch was certain this time to be another sneeze.

“Natalia,” said Magilou Maxwell, an uncharacteristic frown on her face. “Did you just sneeze?”

“No,” said Natalia stiffly. She shuffled the papers in front of her and cleared her throat. “The proceeds from the bake sale will—”

“Asch, didn’t you hear her sneeze?” interrupted Magilou, giving Asch a sly smirk.

“I didn’t sneeze, so there was nothing to hear!” said Natalia. She glared at Magilou.

“Hmmm interesting,” said Magilou, dramatically looking at her phone. “Oh no, it seems Eizen’s sister needs to be picked up from school!”

“What—but Edna—” Eizen attempted to say.

“Well, looks like we’ll have to be going,” said Magilou, grabbing him by the arm and pulling him to the door with her. “I guess that means the meeting is finished early because we don’t have enough council members anymore. Bye!!”

Natalia glared as the door closed behind Magilou and Eizen, her hands on her hips.

“She has a point,” said Asch, putting the rest of the papers back into the “to be sorted” folder.

It hadn’t even been a full student council day, as only a few of them had been able to attend. It was an emergency meeting Natalia had insisted on holding in order to cover the upcoming bake sale plans. Some members, like Colette Brunel, had other club duties and life duties to attend to and had to leave early. Magilou and Eizen had been the last two, and since Magilou had made up some excuse about Eizen’s sister, it was now just Natalia and Asch.

“Well…I guess we can’t accomplish anything without at least one other council member here,” said Natalia, attempting to sound professional.

“Right. So why don’t we head home for the—”

Achoo!

Natalia sneezed again. Asch definitely saw it this time. Natalia had very distinct sneezes, which were itty bitty kitten noises. Asch had been hearing them since the two were children.

“I’m not sick,” Natalia said quickly. A bit too quickly for Asch’s liking.

“…Natalia…”

“I’m not!” she insisted. “It’s just…allergies.”

“Allergies to what?” asked Asch, crossing his arms and raising an eyebrow.

“It’s dusty in here!” she said defensively, packing up the papers and other belongings on the table.

“…We clean the council room like…every day,” said Asch.

“I’m ready to go,” said Natalia loudly, as if it would drown out the truth of everything Asch was saying.

“Right,” said Asch. “I’ll lock the door. You can head to the car.”

“Fine,” sighed Natalia, neatly placing all of her student council materials into her messenger bag before leaving the room, letting out yet another (slightly muffled) sneeze as she headed down the hall.

*             *             *

Asch had insisted they go to Natalia’s for a “study session.” They didn’t have anything to study, but it’d be easier to convince Natalia to take a break if she was at home, rather than over Asch’s (where undoubtably Richard would try to help, as Natalia was his cousin and Asch his “son”). Asch also spent enough time at Natalia’s house to know exactly where everything he’d need was.

Natalia had gone past just sneezing on the way home, she had started coughing as well, which made Asch plan to raid her medicine cabinet in the bathroom for cold medicine, as well as making her soup. (He definitely couldn’t trust her to make the soup herself, as she’d somehow spectacularly screw it up. Natalia wasn’t the only person he knew who could ruin a meal that involved microwaving something, but she was the one he cared the most about.)

“Next week, we should start working on ideas for this year’s fundraiser theme,” said Natalia. She paused to cough a few times. “The hall decorating contest will…”

“Nat,” said Asch, as she began coughing again. “Shouldn’t you take a break?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” said Natalia, looking offended. “I’m feeling perfectly fine.”

“You were just coughing, and you’ve been sneezing since the meeting. I heard it,” Asch pointed out.

“I still don’t know what you’re talking about,” Natalia insisted. “You heard nothing.”

Asch rolled his eyes, heading to the kitchen to find a can of soup he could easily prepare for Natalia.

“I’m not sick!” Natalia called after him.

“Of course not,” said Asch, opening the pantry.

“I’m serious!” Natalia said, followed by a couple more sneezes.

“Uh huh.” Asch dumped the contents of the can into a microwave safe dish.

“I can still work on this!”

“I believe you babe,” said Asch, rolling his eyes and putting the soup into the microwave.

“I’m fine!”

Asch turned to see that Natalia had come to meet him in the kitchen, looking torn between upset and indignant as she stood in the doorway, her arms crossed.

“I said I believe you,” said Asch lightly. “But how about…just for me, you eat the soup and get some rest, okay? Even if you’re not sick you’ve been working very hard lately and you need a break.”

Natalia gave him a look for a very long time, frowning slightly. The stalemate between them was broken by the beeping of the microwave, telling Asch the soup was done.

“Please?” he asked, giving her a small smile.

“Fine,” sighed Natalia, followed by a cough. “But I’m not sick, okay?”

“Of course,” said Asch. “I didn’t hear anything.”