Disclaimer: I'm halting another fic temporarily to write this for Christmas. So you people had better be grateful. Don't make me get the Riding Crop of Phibrizzo out after you! But for those interested, this is a songfic to "Doing the Best I Can (Escape From Berlin)" by Stevie Nicks. It's off "The Other Side of the Mirror" album, 1989, and the stupid tape player ate my copy. So I'm typing this song by memory. ;_; I miss my tape!

Feedback: Please God, make the Stevie Nicks songs in my head stop! ~ SailorN1@aol.com

Doing the Best I Can

by Crystal Dawn Phoenix

It was one for you...

It was three for me...

Four of the five men at the table lay down their cards in disgust and disappointment. The fifth man simply smiled, spreading out his winning hand. "I believe this means I win, doesn't it?", he asked innocently, feigning naivete. The others scooted their piles of gold coins toward him in defeat.

"That's the third time you've won in a row," one of the men said, eyeing the violet-haired stranger. He shrugged, still smiling as he scooped the winnings into a large pile in front of himself.

"It's just a lucky coincidence, I'm sure," came the response, "I only learned to play this game just now, you know. If I'm doing this well, it must mean you are very good teachers. So, shall we play again?" He smiled benignly, wondering how many more stacks of coins he could bilk these mortals out of.

"Naw, I think I've had enough for tonight, guys," one of the players said, draining his mug of ale and pushing his chair away from the table, "The missus'll have a fit for sure if I stay out much later." Another of the players drained his mug and offered his assent.

"I'm done, too," the second man said, "Though it'll be hell trying to explain to the old lady where all the money for Yule presents went..." He nervously rubbed the back of his head as the first man laughed, patting him on the back.

"You should learn not to lay everything out on the table at once, kid," the first one retorted before walking to the door of the tavern and grabbing his coat. He opened the door to head out, the second man following close behind as snow blew in through the door.

"Well, they were certainly no fun," the winner said, shuffling the deck of cards expertly, "What about you two? Shall we go another round?" The two remaining losers looked at each other for a moment, then back at the purple-haired man in the black cloak.

"Uhhh, I think it'd be best if we cut our losses now," the one on the right said. The one on the left nodded his agreement.

"I've got to get back home," he said uncertainly, "My... uhhhh.... mother-in-law is coming into town, and she'll make my life a living hell if I'm not there to greet her when she arrives." The two losers nodded and got up to leave as well.

"It was pleasant meeting you, sir," the last one to stand remarked, "Be sure you have a happy Yuletide. I'm sure your children will be wanting for nothing, what with all the gold you just won." The stranger shook his head, continuing to play with the cards.

"Oh, I have no children," he replied, "But, ahhh, I'll keep that in mind anyway."

It was very nice...

It was everything...

He watched his last victim depart the tavern. Xellos Metallium continued playing with the deck of poker cards, eyeing the pile of coins before him. It wasn't about the money, he reasoned. He had no use for such trivial things, or whatever they could buy. It was more about being able to trick humans into parting with it, especially since they seemed to be so fond of it. So what if their children went hungry or their wives got mad? That was none of his concern, especially since they'd been so gullible as to play with him in the first place. He was more interested in their reactions to losing. Anger at having lost, frustration at having a seeming amateur separate them from what they worked so hard for, fear after they'd lost at how they would replace the money they had planned on using for food and Yuletide presents. These emotions gave him energy, but that wasn't why he was here, either. Not entirely.

Xellos studied the rich color of the gold pieces. They were the same color as her hair, he realized, picking a piece up and turning it over with his fingers. That was the reason he'd come here, to let out some of his frustration over their latest argument by tricking some humans. For a little slip of a dragon, Filia could infuriate him like no one else.

He'd been coming to visit her of the evenings for several months straight, almost everyday. He had watched her play with Val, make pottery, and count change from her cash register. Even after this long, she still couldn't entirely trust him, though. He scowled, scooping the coins into the satchel he had slung around his shoulder. 'How hard is it for her to believe that I just came around because I felt like being near her?', he thought, irritated, scooping the last of the money into his bag. For once in his existence, he actually felt something honest and couldn't convince her of it.

'So what is it I feel for her?', he silently asked himself, 'If I didn't care for her, I certainly wouldn't be sulking with these humans right now. I suppose if I thought I was capable of love... that might be it.' And in his opinion, he did do things for her to show affection. He enjoyed teasing her, which she always took the wrong way for some reason. He cooked for her from time to time, although her reaction to his meals was often the same one he got from Lina the time he'd made soup for her and her gang. He played with Valteria when she was too busy to do so, although for some reason she seemed to object to him teaching a toddler strip poker. Was it really his fault that she just couldn't seem to realize that he was trying to be nice to her?

So here it is,

In little pieces...

Looking back on it, he'd only been bored and wanted to get a better look at one of the pieces of pottery she had on her shelf. She had gone to put Valteria to sleep for the night, and had been out of the room for several minutes before he reached for the intricately painted teacup. He had barely gotten a firm grip on it and had it barely off the shelf when Filia returned.

"What do you think you're doing, Xellos?", she asked irritably. The sound of her voice caused him to turn, loosening his grip on the cup. He dropped it to the hardwood floor, watching it splinter into thousands of small pieces of white pottery. He looked down at it, then at her angry face.

"Oh, dear," he said, "How clumsy of me. I must have lost my grip on the cup." Filia put her hands on her hips and glared at him.

"I'm sure you did," she huffed, "I'd bet you did that on purpose just to vex me!" Xellos raised an eyebrow at her.

"Now why would I go and do something as silly and pointless as that?", he asked crossly, "Not everything I do is to make you angry, you know. It wouldn't kill you to believe that." She glared at him, turning to find a broom that was tucked into a corner of the room.

"I don't care," she said in a commanding tone, "Don't ever touch my pottery again, understand?" Now it was Xellos' turn to huff up at her, watching her sweep the broken shards of pottery into a little pile.

"Now look here," he said, "I'm not a child, and I won't allow you to treat me like one. That was an accident. Nothing more." Filia got into his face, trying to stare him down.

"Then say you're sorry," she said through gritted teeth, "I want an apology." Xellos' face remained calm.

"I have nothing to apologize for," he said firmly. His face may have been calm, but his voice conveyed a secretly dangerous tone. Filia's glare didn't waver.

"Fine then," she said, "Get out." He looked briefly taken aback.

"What?", Xellos asked, not believing his ears.

"You heard me," she said, pointing toward the front door, "Leave. Right now." Xellos' look went from one of disbelief to one of irritation.

"Maybe I will," he said crossly, "And I won't be back anytime soon." With that, he teleported out of the house, leaving a scowling Filia behind to sweep up the broken teacup.

I just played the part...

I didn't win or lose...

He looked back at the cards laying unused on the table. This had done nothing to improve his mood. He didn't really care whether he cheated any humans or not now. It wasn't even about the winning. It was about her. 'How could I get this unraveled over a woman?', he thought, 'Not just any woman, but a dragon!'

To say the least, he was unused to feeling things like this. His entire existence had been devoted to serving his mistress, doing a job. He never cared about the outcome of his actions either way, so long as he accomplished what he was tasked to do. And now, looking back on the fight, he actually wished he hadn't left in the first place. Regret was as foreign a feeling to him as was love, and one that he didn't enjoy feeling.

Maybe next time I'll think about how I'm feeling...

But I'm doing the best that I can.

But why go back? 'She'll only yell at me again,' he thought bitterly, 'Why even bother?' Perhaps there was some subtle way he could convince her of his intentions without having to risk another argument? He turned it over in his mind. Well, it was close to Yule, and humans often exchanged gifts with each other at this time of the year. Perhaps the right gift would open her eyes. He felt the weight of the gold coins in his satchel. With all those, he could get her a fine new dress, or expensive perfume, or valuable jewelry. But no, she was a simple girl and those extravagant presents probably wouldn't mean much to her. Far better, he thought, to buy her something small that she would appreciate than to buy her something lavish and expensive that she didn't want. Something that was suited especially to her, that would be the best gift to get. Pottery? No, she had enough of that already. Antiques? No, she had plenty of those as well. A new mace? Ditto. He turned the options over and over in his mind, finding that she already had enough of every material object she loved. Then he remembered something he'd seen a few days before.

And the whispered secrets

Go on and on...

No one says anything to anyone...

He had been rather bored that day and had decided to follow Filia out into the market place. She didn't know about it, of course, but that made it all the more fun. That way, he could watch to see what she did when he wasn't around. It was almost as if she was a different person at times. She laughed and conversed with strangers, played with Val, and haggled with street vendors. There was none of the suspicion or caution she displayed whenever she was in Xellos' company. It would've made him unhappy if it weren't for the fact that she was so charming when she didn't know she was being watched.

Xellos watched her from atop the snow-covered roof of a house across the street from where Filia was walking. This afforded him a good view of what she was doing without being close enough to be conspicuous. He watched with fascination as she walked into a small boutique, noticing how expensive the things in the window looked. He could see through the glass walls of the shop as Filia talked with the sales clerk, an old gray-haired, bespectacled human man. They walked to one of the display windows in the front of the shop, the salesman removing an ornate looking box from its display. The dark colored box held two combs, each inlaid with polished amber, diamond, and intricate carvings. The teeth of the combs were solid gold and there were a few ribbons here and there adorning them. Filia's face took on an air of delight as she held one of the combs, turning it this way and that to get a better look at it. She asked the shop keeper a question, but her face fell when he told her the answer. She sadly placed the comb back in its dark wooden box and gave it back to him.

'She can't afford to buy those?' Xellos thought, watching her bounce Val on her hip as she looked around at the other trinkets in the store.

And you watch after her...

And your word is law...

Xellos pushed his chair away from the table and the cards. That was exactly what needed to be done. He stood, looking toward the door of the tavern. Yes, it wasn't too late at night yet. That shop should still be open. 'And if not,' he thought, 'I can simply teleport myself in and take what I want. Although I don't think Filia would be too happy about that... Since when do I care what she thinks about my methods?' Without another thought, he walked through the door and out into the snowy night.

Snow was piled high on the sides of the streets, the drifts almost taller than Xellos' head in some places. A few carriages were brave enough to be out in the weather, mostly belonging to travelers and the like. He shook his head, thinking the mortals had to be daft to be out in this kind of adversity. He had always taken average humans for mere cowards, but some of them seemed to like to gamble with their very lives. The cold, of course, had no effect on him. Being a Mazoku, he naturally resided in the astral plane, projecting his physical body from there. Since it was a realm of thought, needless to say, it rarely got cold there. Now, to find what he was looking for.

If memory served, and it usually did, the trinket shop was another street over. He noticed, one by one, the lights going out in the windows of some of the shops around him. It was still early, though. 'Oh, that's right!', he thought, 'It's the night before Yule. They want to get to sleep early so they can wake up early tomorrow.' Then he realized that he'd better hurry before the shopkeeper closed his doors as well. The thought had occurred to him to teleport himself there, of course, but without knowing exactly where he was going, it would be a waste of time. He rounded a corner to find the shop he was looking for, still cheerily lit and clearly open for business. He watched keenly as the little old man walked to the front door, a ring of keys in hand, obviously ready to close up for the night along with the rest of the town. This required drastic measures.

Xellos vanished from his spot in the street and reappeared directly in front of the door of the shop. The man looked down at his front door, which swung wide open, blowing in a gust of snow. That fellow hadn't been there a second ago! Startled, the elderly man settled the spectacles on his nose and regarded the younger-looking man.

"Well, now, son," he said, his voice kindly, "What can I help you with tonight?"

She thought she was out there,

that nobody saw...

"A few days ago, you had a pretty young lady with long blonde hair come in here, correct?", Xellos asked the elderly human, "She had a small baby boy with her?" The shop keeper smiled.

"You mean Miss Filia?", he asked, "Yes, I've seen her. Are you going to try and court her with a Yuletide present, sir?" The old man gave him a wink, which caused Xellos to almost grin back at him.

"Actually," Xellos replied, "I was curious to see if you might still have the hair combs she was looking at a few days ago." The shopkeeper shook his head.

"No, sir," he replied, "I sold them yesterday." Xellos' face remained calm, but he felt his mood sink.

"Oh, I see," he replied. Perhaps there was something else there he could get her? His thoughts were interrupted by the shopkeeper's voice.

"Although I do happen to have another pair behind the counter," he said, "They were made by the same craftsman. They're a bit more expensive, but I think the price is worth it. Care to take a look?" Xellos couldn't help but smile politely.

"I'd like to, yes," he replied as the old man stepped behind the counter. He produced a dark wooden box, very similar to the one Xellos had seen a few days ago. The shopkeeper opened the top, laying it on the counter, and picked up one of the combs for Xellos to look at. It had the same gold teeth as the other pair, and this pair was also inlaid with amber and diamonds. The only real difference seemed to be that this pair also had pearls fixed into them.

"Well," the old man finally said, placing the comb back in its box, "What do you think? You want them? They are kind of expensive..." Xellos reached into his bag, taking out a handful of gold coins and laying them on the counter. The old man's eyes widened.

"I believe that should cover it," Xellos said, looking around the shop, "And... What about that teddy bear on the wall over there?" He pointed to a teddy bear that was as large as a small child and was wearing a large bow, sitting on a shelf with some other children's toys. Admittedly, he didn't know a lot about children, but he'd seen smaller versions of bears like that in Val's room. He watched the shopkeeper walk over and take the bear down. 'And besides,' he thought, justifying it to himself, 'If I didn't get the child something Filia wouldn't want her gift.' The bear was placed beside the rich wooden box on the counter as the clerk rang up the purchases.

I didn't win or lose,

I just threw the cards...

Filia looked out her frost covered window into the snowy night. She felt a twinge of guilt as she saw the snow drifts growing outside. 'What if he gets cold out there?', Filia thought, 'If a man got lost out there on a night like this, he could die from the cold!' She unconsciously began wringing her hands. 'Why am I worrying?', she thought to herself, 'He's probably a million miles away from here...'

"Filia?", a familiar voice asked from behind, "Sis? What's wrong?" Filia looked away from the window to see Jillas standing behind her, a worried puppy-dog look on his face. "You've not said five words all night," he said, "Is everything okay?" Filia blinked, snapping out of her daze. She noticed the presents in Jillas' arms and then remembered what they were all doing. It was time to bring the presents out and put them under the Yule tree!

"Yes, Jillas," she replied mechanically, "Everything is fine." She got up and opened a nearby closet. It was full of gifts she'd hidden from Val's prying two-year old hands, as well as from Jillas and Gravos' curiosity. She gathered up all the gaily wrapped boxes and trinkets and closed the door to the closet again. By this time, Jillas was placing his presents underneath the already stuffed tree. Gravos was sitting nearby, drinking a small glass of cider. It was an especially funny sight, considering he was such a tall creature and the cup was so small. Val was playing happily in the floor a few feet away from the tree and the presents, gnawing on a few decorations that he'd stolen from the heavily laden tree. She laid her presents underneath the tree, then picked Val up, wresting the garland of beads away from him. "Don't chew on those," she scolded playfully, watching him try to recover them from her hands, "We'll open presents in a little while, then you'll have something better to play with." She gave him a kiss on the forehead, then set him down. Val got on his feet and teetered over to Gravos, wanting to play.

And I paid the price for it,

But it's alright, baby,

I'm doing the best that I can...

The fire crackling in the fireplace gave the room a warm glow. Filia hadn't lit the Yule log yet, but that would happen about midnight. The whole house smelled of the goose she was cooking and of apples that she and Val had poked full of whole cloves. The apples were hanging in various places around the house, giving the rooms a spicy smell. Filia sat down beside the window again, looking out into the building snowstorm. 'He's not coming back,' she thought sadly, 'It's my fault. I shouldn't have been so harsh over something so silly. But why did he have to be so defensive about it? This is so frustrating...' She looked at the small box she'd placed underneath the tree, wrapped in dark purple foil. Something had compelled her to put it there, even though she knew Xellos wouldn't be back to claim it. It was funny, but after being annoyed by him for the past several months, she'd actually gotten used to him. Even to the point of worrying for him when he was gone. 'Now I'll never hear that obnoxious voice again,' she thought, sighing. She knew she should be relieved at that thought, but couldn't bring herself to be happy about it.

"Filia!", Jillas called happily, "Is the goose done yet? Let's eat!" Filia snapped her head back up at the sound of his voice. She looked up noticing that Jillas and Gravos had gone into the kitchen with Val. The sounds of clattering dishes being put on the table reached her ears.

'Was I really so out of it that I didn't notice them leave the room?', she thought, 'I have to stop thinking about this. It's getting me nowhere. After dinner I'll go out and look for him. Maybe he's still hanging around..." She got up, taking one last look at the lonely purple-foiled box underneath the tree and headed for the kitchen.

And I'm trying hard to change,

And I'm doing it the best that I can...

"And this one's for you," Jillas said, handing a present to Gravos, "And this one's for you, sis." He handed a sloppily wrapped box to Filia, smiling lopsidedly. Filia smiled faintly, unwrapping the present while Jillas grinned giddily. She pulled a pair of gold earrings out of the box and smiled.

"Thank you, Jillas," she said quietly. The earrings weren't very expensive at all, and Filia guessed that he'd bought them with some of his allowance he'd saved up. But it wasn't the price that mattered, it was more important that the gift had been given with sincerity. She took the large green and gold ones off her ears and put the gold hoops on in their place. "They're lovely," she said, smiling.

Val had unwrapped most of his presents and was sitting in the midst of the wrapping paper, ribbons, and bows. He seemed to enjoy the wrappings more than the actual gifts, Filia noticed, smiling softly. He had managed to get ribbons tangled around his little black wings and bows nestled in his unruly mass of green hair. He clutched at a large ball of shiny wrapping paper, happily gurgling at the crinkling noises it made.

Filia looked back out the icy window into the snowy streets. 'I'll have Jillas and Gravos put Val to bed,' she thought, 'If he's out there somewhere, I can't let him freeze to death. I'm going to go find him.'

"Sis!", Jillas happily exclaimed, "Lookit this! This wasn't under the tree a little while ago! Wonder where it came from?"

Well, because Fate causes Fortune and,

Fortune takes it away...

But it's alright, baby...

I'm doing it the best that I can...

Filia took the little box as Jillas handed it to her. It was wrapped in gold foil and had bright purple ribbons strung across it. She noticed a card dangling from it. She took the slip of paper between her fingers and held it up to read.

"From a secret admirer?", she read aloud, "But... how could anyone get it into the house without us seeing them?" Filia had a sneaking suspicion she knew exactly who had left it there and secretly she was happy about it. She smiled, for once that night, genuinely happy, and wedged her fingers underneath the ribbons adorning the box. She slipped them off gently and nudged the corners of the paper loose. Carefully, not wanting to rip it, she unfastened the paper, revealing an intricately carved and polished dark wooden box. She cleared the rest of the paper off of it before opening the tiny gold latch on the front of the box. She opened it, revealing two shining golden combs resting against a dark black velvet lining. Her eyes lit up as she happily studied the polished hairpieces.

"They're so pretty, Sis!", Jillas said, awestruck. Gravos came in for a closer look, too.

"They look really expensive," he said quietly. Breathlessly, Filia picked up one of the combs to get a closer look at it. It was engraved with several long, beautiful vines full of grapes and other such bounty.

"These look almost like the berets I saw the other day," she remarked, turning it in the light, "Only... These have more jewels in them..." She took a closer look at the jewels. The amber was real enough, and apparently, so were the diamonds and pearls. This was not a clever fake, these combs were actually made from precious materials! Filia's hands trembled as she put the comb back in its box. "They're so beautiful," she said breathlessly.

"I wonder who sent them?", Jillas asked, scratching behind his ear. Filia could feel her face growing hot as she looked at the precious gift.

"And I was so mean to him," she said softly, "I hope... I hope this isn't a parting gift..." Jillas and Gravos gave her a curious look before she smiled up at them. "Never mind," she said, smiling for them, "Why don't you go into the kitchen and fix us all some eggnog?" Gravos got up to go and do as he was told, but Jillas stayed put.

I was silent,

I was locked away,

But I covered my tears...

"Maybe...", Filia said quietly, picking at the wrapping paper and ribbons, "If I'd have said something nicer to him, he wouldn't have left like that..." Jillas blinked at her for a second before looking over at Val. The green-haired boy had acquired a brown teddy bear as large as he was from somewhere and was playing happily with it. Jillas tugged on Filia's sleeve and pointed at the boy and his bear.

"Sis?" the fox-man asked, "Where did he get that from? I don't remember that being under the tree a while ago...." Filia looked over at the large brown bear with the red ribbon around its neck. There was a card dangling from the ribbon. She left her spot on the couch to kneel down beside Val, who happily grinned up at her. She reached for the ribbon holding the note, but Val yanked the bear out of her reach.

"Nu-uh!", he said, smiling, "My toy!" Filia smiled, watching him act protective of the gift.

"I'm not going to take him from you, Val," she said, watching the boy grin, "I just want to see what's hanging from his ribbon." Val watched carefully as she took the note between her fingers and began to read it.

"To Val," she read aloud, "From the Holly King?" Filia grinned wryly and patted Val's head. She knew about the legends humans told their children about the Holly King. He was a jolly man that stole down chimneys all over the world, leaving good little children nice presents, but giving bad little children lumps of coal. She also knew that he wasn't supposed to come into a house until all the residents were asleep on the night before Yule. "Alright, Xellos," she said loudly, "You can come out anytime now."

Silent all day...

Out of my hands here...

"Ne, Filia-san," Xellos' voice called from across the room, "You really DO suspect me of everything!" She looked up to see him sitting on the couch next to Jillas. Jillas jumped off the couch, obviously startled by the sudden appearance of the purple-haired priest. Filia picked up Val and his new-found best friend and walked over toward the couch. On her way, Jillas passed her, smiling nervously.

"I think I'll go help the Boss in the kitchen," he said. Filia smiled at him. Jillas had always been a little frightened of Xellos, and with good reason. Filia watched him go, then turned to sit down on the couch beside Xellos. She sat Val on her knees with his teddy and began bouncing him. She turned him toward Xellos, watching him smile up at the taller person.

"Val, Mr. Xellos got that bear for you," she explained to the boisterous child, "Don't you have something you should say to him?" Val flashed him a wide, toothy grin.

"ThankyouverymuchMr.Xellos!", he said happily, causing Filia to smile widely. Xellos smiled back awkwardly, obviously unsure of what to do with the gratitude.

"Ahh, you're welcome," he replied, smiling sheepishly. He looked at Filia, who was smiling at him with a keen look in her eyes. "So, Filia," Xellos said, now wearing his usual mischievous grin, "Did you like your present?" Filia looked down at the box that held the combs sitting on the couch between them. She looked back up at him, meeting his gaze.

"Yes, I did," she said, "Very much so. By the way... how did you know I wanted those? You were following me the other day, weren't you?" His smug look didn't waver.

"Well, now, Filia," he said, wagging a finger at her, "That, of course, is a secret!" Filia smirked.

"At any rate," she continued, "Thank you." Xellos looked at her hair for a second, then looked at the box, the lid fastened in place.

"But why aren't you wearing them?", he asked, picking up the box. He opened the lid to find the gorgeous set of golden combs still in their proper place. Filia watched him.

"Oh, I... I didn't want to scratch them, or risk damaging them," she said quietly, "They're far too precious to wear. They're so expensive..." Xellos grinned and pulled one of the combs out of its home.

"Now, don't think of it like that," he reasoned, "If I didn't want you to wear them, I wouldn't have bought them. They shouldn't go to waste like that." He reached over and drew the side of her hair up with the comb, tucking it backwards to fasten it into her hair. He was actually quite surprised that she allowed him to get that close, let alone to touch her. He got the other one out and watched as she gently turned her head to allow him to fasten it on the other side. Val looked up in awe at the sparkly new hair pieces his mother had acquired, but a few seconds later he went back to playing with his bear. Filia turned back to Xellos, who was replacing the lid on the box the combs belonged in.

"You actually... bought these?", Filia asked in disbelief, "You didn't steal them, or create them?" There was something akin to admiration in her eyes now.

"Well, actually," he said, rubbing the back of his head and grinning sheepishly, "I got the money to buy them from playing cards with some humans. But if it's all the same, I did buy them, yes." Filia raised an eyebrow.

"Gambling?", she asked, a playful lilt in her voice, "Now what kind of example is that setting for Val?" Xellos grinned, wagging a finger at her again.

"A fine one," he replied, "Provided he always wins!"

In my distress...

Well, I wanted someone to blame me...

In my devastation...

Well, I wanted so to change...

"Xellos...", Filia said quietly, looking back down at Val, "I... I have a present for you, too." A look of curiosity came across Xellos' face as Filia pointed underneath the heavily decorated tree. "It's the one in the purple foil," she said, bouncing Val on her knee, "I hope you like it." He looked under the tree at the gift. A moment later, it disappeared and reappeared in his hand. He really hadn't been expecting a gift at all. In fact, he was more expecting that she'd yell at him and throw him out of the house again. As a matter of fact, he had been fully prepared to meet a snow drift head on. Curiously, he undid the careful purple wrapping paper and laid it aside. Underneath was a plain brown cardboard box. He opened that and found it stuffed full of tissue paper. Digging into that, he found the edge of something cold and pulled it out.

He was now holding a white teacup with metallic gold trimming on the rim. There were designs around the sides, intricate paintings of Golden Dragons curled up and sleeping beside large wolves. He blinked, then put the cup in his lap, careful not to lose his grip on it, lest it meet the same fate as the last one he held. Wait...

"Filia," he said, looking back at her, "This is the same design..." She nodded shyly.

"As the one you broke?", she asked sadly, "Yes it is. They were going to be a pair." He looked back at the cup and blinked.

"I see," he said quietly. He looked back at her and noticed that she was wiping her eyes.

"When you broke the other one," she said softly, "I was so angry because they took me so long to paint. And I wanted to keep both of them. One for you, and one for me." Xellos blinked and looked down at the little cup in his lap. "I'm sorry I yelled at you before," she said finally, "You will come back again, won't you? I don't really want you to stop coming around."

In my way...

Disaster was the only thing I could depend on...

Xellos gave her a charming smile. "You couldn't get rid of me before," he said playfully, "Why do you think you'll suddenly get lucky enough for me to leave now?" She smiled softly at him, the light from the fireplace glinting off her new combs. He continued smiling, reaching up to touch the jeweled combs. "Those really do suit you," he commented, "I'm glad I got them." She smiled faintly, saying nothing as Val scooted off her lap to sit between them. Xellos moved his hand down from her comb to the side of her face. He drew closer until his breath was gently moving the hair framing her face.

"Sis!", Jillas called happily from across the room, "Look! We got the eggnog!" Filia blushed and turned to look at Jillas and Gravos, who were coming into the room. Gravos was carrying two cups of eggnog and Jillas had one of his own. Jillas stopped and blinked, then, realizing what was going on, jumped behind Gravos. "Uhh, if you want we can have it later," Jillas said meekly from behind Gravos. Filia chuckled.

"Don't be silly," she said, waving a hand at them, "Bring it over! There's nothing to worry about!" Jillas and Gravos slowly walked over, keeping a careful eye on Xellos. Gravos bent down and extended one of the cups he was holding to Filia. She smiled and took the cup, holding it up to her two assistants. "Cheers!", she said happily. Jillas and Gravos looked at each other curiously, then responded in kind.

"Cheers!", they said in unison, clanking their cups against hers. Suddenly a thought struck Filia and she turned to look at Xellos.

"Oh!", she exclaimed, "Xellos, you don't have a glass! Do you want some eggnog, too?" He grinned devilishly at her.

"Well, I would pass on the eggnog," he said, holding his new teacup up, "But I wouldn't refuse a nice cup of tea right now."

But it's alright, baby...

I'm doing the best I can.

Filia picked up the manageably sized log of holly and sat down before the fireplace. "So, why are we doing this again?", Xellos asked, sitting down beside her. Filia picked up a bucket that had been prepared and placed beside the fireplace and tossed the soil inside onto the fire. The fire fizzled out, leaving a small wisp of smoke meandering up the chimney.

"We're lighting the Yule log," she said, gently placing the holly log into the fireplace, "It's tradition. People have been doing this since ancient times. It's supposed to draw the sun back out when springtime comes so that the world isn't buried in eternal winter." Xellos seemed to think about this for a moment. Then he smiled.

"I don't see what's so wrong with eternal winter," he responded, "The world resting forever underneath a blanket of snow. It would be rather lovely, actually." Filia smiled and shook her head.

"Somehow, I figured you'd see it that way," she said, "But if winter never left, the plants and crops couldn't grow, and everyone would die of starvation. Then there would be no one to draw negative emotions from, and you would die, too." Xellos seemed to consider this prospect as well.

"I concede that to you," he said finally, smiling. Filia took the box of matches that she'd set beside the fireplace and removed a match. She struck it against the side of the matchbox, lighting it. She bent forward, lighting the edge of the log and watching it begin to kindle.

"We have to let it burn for a whole day and night," she said, dropping the match into the fireplace, "So that the sun will be around for the whole next year." Xellos sipped the tea he had been carrying with him and watched Filia's back arch while she leaned forward.

"So that's all?", he asked, "Isn't there anything else?" Filia sat back in her previous position, shaking her head.

"That's it," she said, "When the log is all burned up, we can gather up the ashes. They're supposed to have magical properties." Filia turned to look at Xellos. He seemed to be pouting. "What's the matter with you?", she asked, poking his shoulder, "Aren't you having fun?" He looked up at her, a little surprised.

"Well, of course I am," he said, "But the night is over so soon... There's nothing else to do now, is there?" Filia grinned at him.

"Don't tell me you've never had Yule before," she said teasingly, "What, doesn't your mighty master celebrate it on that island of hers?" Xellos smiled crookedly.

"Actually, she does," he responded, "But it usually only consists of 180 proof fruitcake and eggnog that has a whole lot more rum in it than yours." Filia blinked and then laughed, the light from the Yule log gleaming off her combs. Xellos smiled, an odd warm feeling stretching across his chest. On a whim, he reached over to Filia, pulling her face around to meet his, and giving her a kiss full on the lips. 'I've always wanted to try this,' he happily thought to himself, 'Now I can see why humans are so fond of it.' Filia began to kiss him back, much to his astonishment. He pulled back, smiling and enjoying the delightful red color her cheeks were turning to match her dress.

"Happy holidays, Filia," he said, grinning from ear to ear.

"Happy holidays, Xellos," she answered, returning the broad smile.

Feedback: It warms the heart and soothes the soul... or something. ~ sailorN1@aol.com