Nico slunked to the far wall, his eyes darting over the large crowd. He could just make out Hazel's curly head, Jason was busy helping the shedus* fly the ornaments to the higher half of the tree, and Reyna was close enough for him to see that she was flirting openly with Peter Pevensie. A soft smile appeared on Nico's face, Peter was flirting back. He glanced over the rest of the crowd, he didn't know everyone's names by heart, nor even all of their faces, but it seemed that everyone was with someone they loved, whether a crush, a friend, or a family member, they were with someone as the stadium filled with laughter and merry chatter. He wasn't exactly trying to be alone, he knew there were several people who wanted him to join in the festivities, but he wasn't exactly thrilled about being surrounded by so many people. A small group, sure, but a large crowd? He would much rather not get trampled or squished, or whatever could happen in a large crowd. A gust of hot air breathed down his back as a nose nuzzled his hair.
"Verneo, what are you doing?" grumbled Nico. The black hippogriff* laid his head over Nico's shoulder.
"Why do you not join them, master?"
"I'm not a big fan of large crowds," Nico mumbled.
"Ah, I see. Is that nature, or nurture?" Nico eyed Verneo, but gave no answer. "Why not join them? I'm sure your sister and your friends are wondering where you are."
Nico scoffed, "They'd know where to find me. You did."
Verneo chuckled, "Because I can sniff you out. But, yes, you are easy to find, really, you're no good at hide-and-seek."
"Hey Nic . . ."
"Don't even think about it."
"But I didn't even say . . ."
"You don't have to, Jack, you're all about making sure I have fun. It's getting kind of old."
Jack laughed, "Yeah, I guess so, but I was actually looking for you for a different reason." Nico raised an eyebrow. "Youichi's looking for you."
"No, really, seriously! Your little brother's looking for you! And he told me I had better help him look or he'll send those mean ghosts of his after me until Groundhog Day!"
Nico snorted, "Oh, did he, huh?"
"Uh-huh." The two teens glanced over, there stood the younger brother in question, Youichi Hijiri, with an ornament of the Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come in his hand. "I wanted you to help me with my ornament, nii-chan."
Nico glanced at the six-year-old, "Did you really threaten Jack with your ghost powers?"
Youichi nodded, "That way, you'd believe him."
Nico did his best to suppress a smile, "Well, don't do that again, alright? It's not nice."
"But you do it all the time!" Youichi and Jack said in unison.
Nico pointed at Jack, "That's because you're stupid." He turned to Youichi, "And only I can do that. I'm the Ghost King, you're just the Ghost Prince."
"Oh, OK." Youichi held up his ornament, "Can you help me now, nii-chan?"
Nico sighed, "Where do you want it?"
Youichi pointed to the right side of the tree, "Shadow-travel me to just under there, there's a couple of empty spots."
Nico eyed him, "Excuse me?"
"Oh, sorry, nii-chan, may you please shadow-travel me under the tree?" asked Youichi with his dead-pan face.
"Alright, take my hand and hold on tight."
'Pick me up . . . please," stated Youichi with his arms out.
"You want me to do what?"
"Oh, come on, Nic, pick up the kid." Jack picked up Youichi and practically tossed him into Nico's arms. Nico let out a little yelp as he caught Youichi. Youichi wrapped his arms around Nico's neck while Jack adjusted Nico's arms to hold Youichi better. "There, that's better."
"Jack-senpai! We're almost ready for the snow!"
"Coming Sugar! You two have fun!" Jack winked at Nico and Youichi before he flew off. Nico merely growled in reply. Verneo walked over and lifted his wing over Nico.
"Alright, alright, I'm going, I'm going," sighed Nico before he shadow-travelled to the tree. He found that he had to lift Youichi to his shoulders so the boy could place his ornament in the spot he wanted. As soon as Youichi was happy with the end result, Nico shadow-travelled back to Verneo's side, just in time for the snow to begin falling. The two watched with fascination for a few minutes before Youichi laid his head on Nico's shoulder.
"Merry Christmas, nii-chan," sighed Youichi as his eyes drooped.
"Merry Christmas, Youichi." Natsume came by to take the sleeping child off of Nico's hands.
"The invitation still stands," remarked Natsume as Youichi's head went on his shoulder.
"I know, I'm still thinking about it." Natsume just nodded before walking away to join Hiroto Kazama and his family. Nico leaned back on the wall as Verneo laid down nearby and watched the crowd dissipate.
"Have you made up your mind on what you're going to do for Christmas?" asked Jack as he landed next to Nico.
"No, not really, it's just . . ."
"So many to choose from, huh?" Nico glanced to the side. "Kind of new, isn't it? So many people able to see you, and who'll accept you."
Nico glanced at the tree, "Yeah . . . nice work on the tree."
"Well, thanks, it is my speciality."
"It looks so perfect . . ."
"Really? Wow, I thought it . . ."
"Everything would be perfect if . . ."
Jack laid his hand on Nico's shoulder, "I know you don't like it when people touch you, but, listen, you have Hazel now, and Jason, and me, Youichi, Erik, Scipio, and so many others. And I know it's hard to move on, but you have to. I'm not saying that you should forget her, that's the one thing you should never do, you have to keep her in your memory, but that's the only place she can be for now. Living in the past won't do you any good as you'll miss the present."
"How do you do it, Jack, how are you able to get over any kind of sadness? How do you get over loss?"
"Well, getting over sadness is the easy part, the loss part . . . I . . . I don't know, I haven't exactly had to deal with loss . . . yet. It'll be hard, but I'll do my best to continue on, it's all I can do." Jack sighed, "I almost envy you, you get to die, I became immortal."
Nico grunted, "Mmm." He let out a yelp as a snowball pelted his face, "Hey!"
"Well I did say getting over the sadness was the easy part," grinned Jack as he made another snowball. "What, you're not afraid of snow, are you?"
Nico growled, "Oh fine, you asked for it, and now you're going to get it!" He reached down and quickly made a snowball, throwing it at Jack. Laughing, Jack ducked and the snowball flew over him, but his snowball landed square on Nico's face. "Hey, no fair, you big cheat!" Nico created another snowball and threw it, grazing Jack's shoulder.
"Hey, would you look at that, you're getting better already!" grinned Jack as he threw another snowball.
"Well, I should be, I'm mad, and I'm going to hit you!" Jack just laughed as the two threw snowball after snowball. "Verneo, get over here and help me!" shouted Nico.
"You look like you're doing just fine," stated Verneo as he rolled over.
"Oh, what are you good for, you dumb hippogriff!"
"Your ride home, perhaps?" came the hippogriff's reply.
"Ugh. Ooph! Hey, I wasn't ready!"
"Well, you need to be!" chuckled Jack as he threw another snowball. The two kept throwing, Jack not taking a break until Nico burst out laughing. Verneo's head popped up at the sound of it and Jack's mouth dropped open, but he recovered quickly and whooped.
"Yes, I got you to laugh! Boo-yeah!"
Nico's eyes widened, "So, that's what it was all about, huh? Getting me to laugh?"
"Yeah man, didn't you know? You use more muscles to frown than to smile," winked Jack.
Verneo approached them, "It's a nice laugh."
"Uh, um, thank you?" A giant bing bong echoed throughout the stadium, startling the two teens.
"Wow, it's already past midnight? You should get to bed, Nic, or Santa won't come," winked Jack.
"Uh-huh, right, it's not like I don't get to see Santa any other day," mumbled Nico before letting out a yawn. "But, I think I'll go to bed anyway, simply so that I can rest up and beat you next time."
"Looking forward to it," grinned Jack before flying off. Nico climbed on Verneo and the two took off for the house on the outskirts of town, where Nico tumbled into bed and fell asleep instantly.
*Shedu: A bipedal lion with six angelic wings, four eyes, and front paws that can operate like hands. They can easily stand about nine feet tall. Guardians of the island of Antillia.
*Hippogriff: A pegasus with the mane, tail, paws, and teeth of a lion.