Alone. For the first time in her life, Brynn was alone on Christmas Day. It that had never happened in her whole life; somehow she always had someone to spend the day with, may it be her family, colleagues or that nefarious, good-for-nothing blue Ixi -Brynn quickly pushed him out of her mind- it made things a gazillion times more depressing at the thought of Hanso.
The snow crunched beneath Brynn's sturdy boots as she walked briskly down the cobbled paths of Faerieland, her capri blue eyes sweeping around for any sign of disturbances. All seemed well. Everywhere, Brynn could see faeries flying to-and-fro to make final preparations for the much anticipated Day of Giving. Gifts were magically wrapped by a wave of hand, final touches added to the Christmas decorations, meals prepared for the night. The faeries fluttered around to carry out their tasks, sometimes stopping briefly to chatter with each other. Delicious scents wafted through the windows of many Neohomes to Brynn's nose, making her mouth water.
Brynn sniffed hopefully at the tempting scent in the air. Christmas was in the air all right, and so was her favourite roast turkey. But here she was, patrolling the streets of Faerieland in her Captain of the Guard armour. Yes, she was a knight. A hardcore one, in fact. No one could deny her dedication to her job and her loyalty to the Guard. Brynn's temperance and willingness to slug it out were the main reasons that she came out through the ranks to become Captain in a few years time. She gave one hundred percent -no, more than that- when she carried out her duties, except perhaps when it came to one particular blue Ixi thief, but that wasn't the point now.
However, even she couldn't help grumbling as she continued her patrol duty. It was Christmas; even she deserved some rest. She should have been spending the day with her family and friends and doing things like cooking, reminiscing about the old times by a fireplace, exchanging presents, anything. She should be having fun. But no, she wasn't.
It was a bit of comfort that she wasn't on the list for night patrol this year. Last year, Brynn was most unfortunately the one on duty on Christmas night. Technically she had some hold on the lists due to her rank, but Brynn was not one to abuse her authority. Thankfully, that hadn't been all bad, for Hanso had appeared out of the blue with some chocolate chip cookies. They walked side by side, sang Christmas carols, munched cookies and cracked lame Christmas jokes. It was -Brynn shamefully admitted to herself- quite an enjoyable night. But this year, that little twerp just had to put on his disappearing act. He left without even so much of a goodbye, unless you do count the hastily scribbled note on her table that explained he took off to Qasala to check out a possible 'business opportunity'. And probably to annoy King Jazan on the way.
The thought that Hanso would rather spend Christmas with King Jazan (though not with the best intentions) than with her made Brynn scowled irritatedly. While running through the ways she could pay Hanso back with a similar treatment, Brynn was absentmindedly fiddling with the plume on her helmet while walking until she bumped into something- or someone.
"I'm dreadfully sorry, Leanne! Are you alright?" Brynn cursed at her own carelessness as she helped the young air faerie back on feet. Leanne was a rather cheeky faerie, and can sometimes be too much of a chatterbox.
Leanne grinned. "Mm-fine, Captain Brynneth." She brushed some snow off her skirt and straightened her festive headband.
"You looked quite distracted, Captain. Is something on your mind?"
"My apologies, I wasn't looking where I was walking," Brynn replied, embarrassed. She noticed a slight hint of a smile playing at the edge of Leanne's mouth. Hmm, something wasn't quite right.
"Oh, I'm sure things will turn out fine, Captain Brynn," Leanne said. "Enjoy your night!"
There was it again- the smug tone, the mischievous glint in her eyes as if Leanne knew a secret Brynn didn't. Leanne pranced away to join her friends, where several young faeries could be seen frolicking in the snow.
Brynn didn't understand the situation, but she had no time to dwell on what Leanne had said, for she had just spotted a Baby Lupe crying on the streets.
"There you go, little one," Brynn said after ten minutes as she handed the bouncy ball to the Lupe. His tear-stained face lit up with joy.
"Thwank yew, captain," he replied in his babyish voice, his face breaking into a wide smile.
Brynn smiled back. "My pleasure."
"Merrwi Christmwas." The Lupe handed Brynn a packet of candies. "Thwese are rweally sweet!"
Brynn laughed and sent the Lupe on his way. This was one of the moments she felt happy to be a knight, even if she had to crawl under several prickly bushes to retrieve the ball. To be fair, she almost always felt happy being a knight. Almost.
Brynn continued patrolling for a few hours, but at the end of her shift, the most interesting event that happened was the Lupe with his ball. She was also greeted with cries of "Happy Day of Giving, Captain!" from many faerie friends, which she returned despite not being in a festive mood.
She sighed in relief as she slapped hands with the guard on night shift- a junior Guard called Tori. Tori was a new intake and therefore quite inexperience, but there was generally less crime on Christmas, so it wouldn't be too much of a problem, hopefully.
Brynn wondered vaguely if she should offer to accompany Tori on his patrols- at least she'd be promised some company on this lonely night; but eventually, she decided to head back home and snuggle up in her warm bed.
"Work hard, young lad." Brynn clapped him on the shoulder before heading home. "The safety of the citizens of Faerieland lies on your shoulders!"
"Aye, Captain," young Tori replied, his voice brimming full with confidence. Brynn smiled, reminded of her days as a Junior Brightvale Guard.
Brynn then strolled leisurely back home. She took her time; no one was waiting for her anyway. She had the whole night to herself. It wasn't, Brynn realized, patrols on Christmas Day that stung, it was spending Christmas alone. With her families far away in Brightvale, her colleagues spending the night with their families or friends and her blue Ixi doing Fyora-knows-what, Brynn was quite alone on of all nights of the year- Christmas night. Ouch.
Then came the realization that she hadn't got many friends. Real, best friends that would've invited her over if they knew she was going to spend Christmas alone. Right, she was part of the trio consisting of Nabile and Hannah, but Nabile was with Jazan -those two lovebirds can never spend Christmas away from each other- and the last she heard, Hannah was spending Christmas with Kanrik, the daredevils probably happily hunting for treasures or maybe just sharing a cup of hot chocolate in a cosy coffee shop.
Hanging her head dejectedly, Brynn trudged through the snow and fumbled for her house keys. The lock clicked and the door swung open. Brynn stepped through the threshold and shut the door behind her. She took off her boots and shook the snow off it. Might as well take a bubbly bath and get some Zs. She stretched her bones and made her way to the bathroom.
Without warning, the lights flickered on and Brynn jumped at the sudden brightness.
Brynn's heart skipped a beat. She knew that voice anywhere, but no, it couldn't be...
She looked up, only to find...
1. A rich feast laid out on her dining table adorned with two flower-shaped candles.
2. Christmas carols playing from an intricate music box.
3. A blue Ixi sprawled out on the couch with a look of extreme superiority on his face.
"Welcome home, sweetheart. Missed me?"
Noticing Brynn's confused expression, Hanso raised from the couch and pull Brynn towards the dining table. He then plopped Brynn onto a chair, then settled on the chair opposite her.
Brynn recovered quickly from her shock. "Shouldn't you be in Qasala?"
"Oh please Brynn, do give me some credit," Hanso laughed. "you think I'll leave you here to celebrate Christmas alone?"
Brynn coughed and stopped herself just in time from saying that he was perfectly capable of doing so. Instead, she inspected the dishes laid out in front of her.
"Where did you buy the food?" Brynn asked. "Looks... enticing," Brynn trailed off as she noticed the undignified blob of food that was supposed to be mashed potatoes. It left her wondering if the rest of the food was edible.
There was a moment of silence, then Hanso shot her a look of incredulous. "Brynn dear," he said, "I cooked the food and it took me a loooooongggg time."
Brynn regarded Hanso skeptically. Hanso, cook? 'Hanso' and 'cook' just didn't belong in one sentence. It was like saying Xandra sent Christmas cookies to Queen Fyora (providing they weren't poisonous) or Jhudora sent Illusen a harmless cuddly teddy bear or King Jazan invited Hanso over for a cosy chat. Or Pant Devil donating neopoints to the needy. All right, you get the idea.
Brynn hoped that Hanso really was confident about his cooking skills. After all, she didn't want to come down with a bad case of food poisoning...
Her eyes took in her surroundings. A merry fire burned in the fireplace, garlands hung on the walls and ceilings along with strings of star-shaped Christmas lights. The Christmas lights were Brynn's, but she had long forgotten about them and left them to collect dust in the attic. It was a miracle that Hanso managed to find them.
Hanso meanwhile, was waiting for Brynn's reaction. Brynn wore a look that suggested that Hanso had done something wrong, or something smelled bad- probably both, since he kind of burnt the roast turkey.
For the first time, a flicker of doubt flitted across the blue Ixi's face. "You... don't like it?" Hanso sighed. "I'm sorry, sweetheart. I thought you would." He gave an offhand shrug and crossed over the room to grab napkins from the drawer.
As well as Hanso had tried to conceal it, Brynn could sense that he was profoundly hurt. That surprised her- hardly anything could hurt Hanso. Brynn felt a sudden surge of elation. Wasn't it proof that she was an important someone to Hanso?
Without warning, Brynn rushed over to hug the Ixi. When she released Hanso from her embrace, he had a slightly dazed look on his face.
"Uh, so I take that you like it?"
"Of course, I love it!" Brynn giggled and covered her face with her paws out of embarrassment. A knight, giggle?
"Of course you like it. It was prepared by Hanso the great, Hanso the handsome, Hanso the awesom- ow, alright."
They then settled down to enjoy their meal. The food wasn't that great; the pies overbaked and the baked tomatoes slightly squashed, but it was the best Christmas meal Brynn ever had apart from the ones her mother prepared. Her mother was still the best cook she had ever known and would ever know. No competitions there.
After the meal, Hanso offered to wash the dishes, which is in itself a miracle. They settled down on the couch with a cup of hot chocolate with marshmallows on top. The luxuriously thick liquid flowed down Brynn's throat, warming her to the core. Humming along to the Christmas carols, Brynn voiced the question that had been on her mind for quite a while.
"Hanso, was it your idea to prepare a surprise dinner?"
Hanso fidgeted uncomfortably, as if some unpleasant memories were associated with it. "It was Nabile's idea," Hanso tucked a stray strand of hair behind Brynn's ear and continued, "remember when we went to Qasala to retrieve an artifact? Nabile told me off for taking you for granted, then suggested that I do something to show you my appreciation."
"Oh." Brynn mentally patted her best friend on the back.
"So that part was easy for a genius like me; some brainstorming, gathering various ingredients, feeding you some cock-and-bull story and get down to cooking," Hanso flashed Brynn a roguish smile, looking extremely pleased with himself. "And it's quite a hit, if I do say so myself." Brynn rolled her eyes in response.
"So yeah... I do appreciate you, Brynn. I'm sorry for everything, like for ditching you in the middle of a desert or something, rest assure that it'll never happen again," Hanso tried his best to look convincingly contrite, reaching out for Brynn's paw; she slapped him away.
Brynn snorted; she knew Hanso a little too well to believe him. But still, that was probably one of the things she liked about Hanso, though she wouldn't admit it for a hundred years!
"Did Leanne know about this?" Brynn asked, suddenly remembering the wry grin on the air faerie's face.
"I asked her for advice regarding an erm... recipe."
Brynn smirked at Hanso's poor attempt to fool her and gave him a sharp jab in the ribs.
"Ah, fine. She saw me while I sneaked out to the market for some eggs. I ran out of them," Hanso explained, looking somewhat sheepish.
Brynn tried to ignore the fact that Hanso probably hadn't paid for the eggs.
"You're not mad, are you?" Hanso added, his brows scrunching together as he scrutinized Brynn's face.
"I am," Brynn snapped. "Some thief you are, caught by a young air faerie," she teased the Ixi thief with a smile tugged at the corner of her lips.
"Really, I think I deserve an award," Hanso made a show of patting himself on the back. "You should feel lucky, sweetheart. We're talking about the most charming individual on Neopia cooking for you."
"Not the most charming."
"YES with a capital Y."
"I think I have to come clean at the moment, Hanso. Even a slorg has more charm than you."
"I hope your pride isn't wounded," Brynn smirked.
Brynn had a sudden realization of the true meaning of Christmas. It wasn't about the roast turkeys, snow, presents under a Christmas tree or a day off from work; it was about spending time with your loved ones, showing them your appreciation and love. Christmas is a season of spreading more love and kindness in the world. It was one of Brynn's best Christmas ever.