a/n: Ah.  It's the last chapter, and I'm feeling sad. . .but happy, too.  I originally meant to finish this, if not on Christmas, at least nearer to the holiday than just after Halloween, lol, but apparently the story just couldn't wait to be finished.  Hehe. . .funny, I was about to give up on this story approximately four chapters or so ago, but all you wonderful reviewers persuaded me to get my lazy arse off the floor and onto continuing.  And now, instead of feeling thrilled and delighted I've finished (although, that too), I also feel rather melancholy.  *sigh* ^^ And now to thank you wonderful people. . .I love you all!

. . .Grrr, fictionpress isn't letting me access my reviews. . .

Okay, fictionpress is being screwy and acting up again, so I won't be able to thank everybody individually.  Therefore. . .GROUP HUGGLE!!!

No, seriously.  I appreciate all your support, advice, and everything in between so much.  You guys have no idea, but I seriously couldn't have done this without you. . .And I sound like I'm accepting a bloody Academy Award. . .

So, thank you all.  I mean it.

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.

Does anyone truly have the right to define what life, what love, is?  I wouldn't know, for I don't believe that I have truly experienced either of those things before.  And, now that I have, I still don't think that the words will come.  Our pitiful language is too small to communicate what can only be communicated by. . .by being.

"BY THE WAY, ASSHOLE, YOU STILL OWE ME AN EXPLANATION FOR TAKING ADVANTAGE OF ME ON THE SHIP!"

Okay.  Deep-thoughts time is over.

"I have a name, girl, and it ISN'T ASSHOLE!"

"But it fits you so, so well, Asshole."

"Shut up, DooBrain."

"Ooooh, I'm sooooo scared.  Where'd you dredge that insult up from?  Kindergarten?"

We continued bickering like this some more—neither admitting that we had missed this warm, heart-fulfilling interaction during the whole kidnapping-murderer-rescue escapade.

Yeah.  When you're concentrating on saving your butt (and someone else's) you don't really have time to bicker.  In fact, I really didn't have it marked in my itinerary at all.

I'll let you in on a secret, though.

When Jared told me he liked me. . .(as a friend, of course. . .of course) well, I've never been good at big, emotional, redemption type things so. . .so I'm just going to quarrel with him until the awkwardness is gone.

I guess I still haven't really stopped running.

But for now. . .

For now I'll just enjoy my time with Jared while I can, before we return to the appearances and acts in the Towers.

"And here we are, kids, in the City of—neon—Lights.  The city where sixteen year olds run away to get married, gamble, engage in marital activities. . ." Vixen wiggled her nonexistent eyebrows, turning around to face us as we sulkily withdrew from our current fight.

"Vixen?" I said sweetly.

"Yes?"

"Get a life."

"But yours is so much more interesting!"

Rolling my eyes and suppressing a grin, I turned back to Jared. . .and resumed arguing about his sneakers.

They WERE old, you know.

Tattered.

Wet.

Scuffed and dirty and a muddy gray/black/blue color.

I've been telling him he should get new ones for fifteen minutes now, but nooooo.  Nope.  He says, 'Then I'll just ask someone to give them to me as a Christmas present.  No way am I spending money when I have a perfectly good pair of sneakers right here.'

You're an elf, Jared.

You MAKE your things.

YOUR DAD INVENTED NIKES, FOR GOD'S SAKE!

Not, of course, that the Humans know this.  Humans are very odd, very unobservant creatures, after all.

I've never personally met one before.  Read descriptions about them, of course—and they sound very interesting.  Like versions of elves; just not so advanced, and without the magic.

And pointy ears.

Back to original point.  Jared needs to get some new sneakers.

Sighing to myself, and not knowing why, I returned to arguing with Jared.  Again.

But somehow…somehow it didn't give me the same satisfaction as it usually did.  This time…there was something that made me feel like something was missing.

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.

JARED'S P.O.V.

Inwardly scowling in disappointment, I absent-mindedly argued with Spin, my heart not really into it. 

Had she not heard me—basically—declare my love for her?  Or, worse, did not exactly like the enlightenment and therefore decided to pretend it had never happened?

I closed my eyes in sudden pain before shakily resuming my argument about my shoes.

Actually, I think they're perfectly fine.  There's really no need to get new ones.  It's just wasting valuable energy.

So there are a few—a very few, mind you—tears in them.  So they're—only slightly, of course—scuffed.  And there is, of course the inevitable—tiny, obviously—dirt on the surface.

But other than that, they're practically brand new.

There is no need for her to nag me like a bloody hen.

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.

BACK TO SPIN'S P.O.V.

Our quarrel was interrupted (yet AGAIN) when Jared suddenly paused in the middle of what seemed to be a promising retaliation, gray-blue eyes widening, nostrils flaring. . .

He let out a shriek.

It wasn't even a yell.  No.  It was most definitely a very high-pitched, squeal-ish, panicked, girly shriek.

"MY MOTORCYCLE!!!" He roared, lunging towards the back of the sleigh and nearly tipping the whole thing over in the process.  "MY BABY!!  IT'S PROBABLY BEEN RUINED FROM THIS ADVENTURE THAT YOU—" He growled at me—"THAT YOU DRAGGED ME ON!!!"

I raised my eyebrows, an image of Jared's Christmas-Santa-Red motorbike rising in my head.  "You, my dear boy, are dangerously obsessed with that machine."

"It's not a machine." He sniffed haughtily before once again transforming into the distraught mother hen.  "IT'S YOUR FAULT THAT MY BABY'S GOING TO BE RUINED!" He shrieked, diving to the back and throwing off the tarpaulin that covered his "baby". . .

Gee, what do you know?  It was safe and sound.

Clearing his throat, Jared offered amicably, "I have decided to forgive you in light of the surprisingly quick recovery of my motorcycle."

I debated whether to push the condescending butthead off the sleigh or force his facial region into a reindeer's nether region.

I opted for the latter.  It wouldn't do to kill Jared after going through all that trouble to insure that he would live.

Growling, I grabbed Jared's head and let out my signature war cry:  "YOU AAAAAAAAAAAASSSSSSHHHHOOOOOLLLLLLEEEE!!!"

It might have worked and inspired fear into the cretin's heart but for one little obstruction—Jared was stronger than I was.

Not by much, for I was remarkably tough for my size. . .but still.

Grabbing my arm, he wrestled me to the bottom of the sleigh while I scratched and clawed at him, howling in rage.

"Stop yowling, you bloody cat!"

"Then stop being so goddamn condescending, you bloody SNAKE!"

At last, he won; his arms trapped my hands above my head as he knelt over my struggling body.

Our breaths came out in puffs in the cold air.

"Well. . .this is interesting." Jared whispered huskily; a white puff of breath tickled my bangs.

I stared up at him.  Our faces were so close that I could see each of his individual eyelashes; could see the different rings of blue and gray in his eyes.

Could see an emotion I had never bothered to understand before.

I pushed him off me, flushing and breathing rather heavily, to my chagrin.  "Um. . ." I said.

"Huh. . ." Jared responded in kind.

"Er. . ."

"Uh. . ."

"Mn."

"Hmn."

"Er. . .presents. . .deliver."

"Yeah."

Awkward moments suck.  Have I told you that yet?

The first stop in Las Vegas was a dingy little casino with unconscious, drunken louts splayed across the stained floors. 

"This is no environment for a kid. . ." I muttered.

"Damn right." Jared agreed out of the corner of his mouth as we both surveyed the area; eyes cold and steely.

"Oh, well, this is a brilliant start to the deliveries!" Comet said sarcastically as she entered the room, 'accidentally' kicking one of the drunken louts on the head as she made her way through the mess.

I looked at Jared, glaring.  "Remind me not to get drunk ever, ever again?"

He gulped audibly, scratching the back of his neck.  "Of course."

"We wouldn't want me to end up like these drunken louts now, would we?" I continued sweetly, motioning to the prone bodies on the floor.

"Of course not."

"And," I added, "we wouldn't want me to become an underage alcoholic, incapable of kicking butt and retrieving presents and saving Christmas, would we?"

"No sirree." Jared continued gulping, looking longingly at the door.

"AND," I finally snapped, whirling around to glare at my enemy with eyes of fire and raging inferno, "AND we wouldn't want me to be taken advantage of by unscrupulous blonde elves, now, WOULD WE???"

Jared made a break for it.

Considering his circumstances and predicament, it was a wise decision.

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.

Elves were not allowed to interfere with humans and their lives.

I knew this, yet I couldn't help but feel a pang of gnawing guilt at abandoning the frail, obviously abused child to whatever his fate was.

So I did the only thing that was allowed under these circumstances; the only thing that I, an elf, could do.

I gave him a present.

'Dear Santa,' the note read in a child's scrawling script.  'Momma says that I shouldn't be begging for stuff. . .does this count?  Sarah says that it don't, 'cause it's Christmas and all. . .Santa, I'm wondering if you exist.  Well. . .guess what I'm trying to say is that I would really like a red fire truck, please.  Or to make Momma nice again, and not drink anymore.  Teacher says I shouldn't be selfish, so I guess the second one would be better.

Love, Robin.'

Gritting my teeth, I looked down at the fitfully sleeping boy.

I could not give him his second wish.

But I could give him his first.

Gently, oh so gently, I lay down the bright red fire truck by the boy and smoothed back his dirty curls from his forehead; unheeding of the tears rolling down my cheeks and knowing much more would fall, I walked out of the dingy room.

To my surprise, I saw Jared waiting just outside the doorway, looking at me with a glance akin to sympathy.

"Something. . .in my eye. . ." I muttered the age-old excuse.

Hm.

NEVER MIND THAT TEARS ARE STREAMING DOWN MY FACE AND COULD BEAT THE NIAGRA FALLS IN QUANTITY!!!

He closed the distance between us in one step, slighting bending over to lift a long finger to my upper cheek and catching one tear as it fell.

I sniffled.

And silently cursed myself.

Sniffling is not dignified.  Just look at the spelling!

It sounds like. . .like a mushroom!!!

"Hey," he murmured. 

I sniffled some more.  Goddamn my over-active sinuses.  "Hey," I replied tearfully, the short word catching in my throat.

"It's okay, you know."

"That what?"

"You couldn't have done anything anyway."

"Yes, I could. . .but the stupid rules."  I sighed, looking over Jared's shoulder.

He stooped down some more so that I was forced to look in his eyes as he smiled at me.  "Spin, one day we'll be able to get rid of those stupid rules.  One day, we'll be able to cross that boundary. . .and no more children will be hurt, and we can do something about it.  But right now. . .right now, that's impossible.  We're elves.  The humans can't know about us. . .not yet."

I nodded.

Hesitating, Jared continued, "And you'll be the first to know," still in that soothing voice.

I choked on another sob and nodded again, managing a weak, quavering smile.

"That's what I like to see.  Now shall we deliver the presents or what?  Mustn't let all that Snowman-defeating work go to waste, you know!"

We walked back to the sleigh; I was slightly behind Jared and watched him.

Somehow. . .somehow, I wasn't as angry about the kiss anymore.

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.

"GERROFF ME!!!"

"Shush it, you malevolent little monster!  Do you want to wake everyone in this house up???"

"They're under a magical sleep, Jared.  THEY CAN'T WAKE UP!!  And get your foot out of my mouth!  It tastes positively nasty!!"

"It was your idea to go down the chimney."

"Can you blame me for it??  Come on, I know you were making plans with yourself when Professor Macky back at the Towers told us about the Chimney Slides back before the current Santa was instituted in."

Jared decided to ignore me.

It was very cramped, and smelly (though that might be the struggling puppy we were trying to deliver to this particular kid), and dirty in the chimney.  Back when the old Santa existed, I guess people must have kept their chimneys cleaner.

 "Okay, if I move like this. . ." Grunt.  "And you move like that. . ." Grunt.  "And whatever this is twists like that. . ." "OW!  YOU BASTARD, THAT'S MY LEG!" "Sorry.  And this is moved here. . ."

POOMF!

We landed, twisted in a position that would have contortionists confused, at the bottom of the chimney.

"OW!"

"ACK!"

"YOOOOWWWWWLLLL!!!"

"YOU @%^#*$*!!!"

"!^#^&#*!@!!!"

When we at last managed to get ourselves untangled, our clothes were rumpled, our hair was sticking out in all sorts of odd angles, and the puppy was howling like a bloody coyote.

Jared was in charge of sticking the puppy under the fresh-smelling pine tree and ensuring it would stay there.

SPLAT.

An unpleasant squishing sound was heard before Jared said in a deathly calm voice, "The little runt. . ." Calmness vanished at this point.  "SHITTED ON ME!!!"

Trying (and not succeeding) to stifle my giggles, I reassured him, "It'll wash off."

"THE RUNT DEFILED MY FLAWLESS SKIN!!!"

"You can use extra-strong soap."

"DIE RUNT DIE!!!"

It took all of my strength to keep him from murdering the evilly chuckling (I swear it was) puppy.

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.

We had gone full circle around the world and, I admit, I was feeling a little misty eyed at the prospect of the end of the adventure.

There were definitely memories that I would never forget—well, besides the whole being-kidnapped-by-an-evil-snowman; suffering-through-murder-threats-and-blackmail; realizing-that-my-worst-enemy-wasn't-all-that-bad. . .yeah.  All that not-so-good stuff.

And, actually, I wouldn't want to forget them—however awful they were.  Both the Really Bad Stuff (evil snowman type catastrophes) and the Kinda But Not Really Bad Stuff.

In Texas we were nearly impaled on the very sharp, malevolent horns of a Watch Cow.

"WHAT KIND OF MANIAC KEEPS A COW AS HIS WATCHDOG???" I screamed, barely escaping the rampant cow.

I curse the person who forgot to include animals in the whole Sleeping Beauty syndrome.

"APPARENTLY A SMART MANIAC!!!  NO DOG HAS EVER CHASED ME LIKE THIS BEFORE!!!!" Jared screamed back in reply.

In continuing my curse, I also curse the person who made it a rule for us to deliver presents the old fashioned way. . .e.g. NO MAGIC EXCEPT IN EMERGENCIES.

I think this might be counted as one.

In Brazil we almost drowned in the Amazon River.

"I. . .glug glug. . .can't swim!" Jared gasped, struggling to keep his head above water as I struggled to bring him back on our flimsy raft.

The reindeer had abandoned us to greet some of their reindeer relatives somewhere in Canada.  Lovely folk, aren't they?  Leaving us in this mosquito-infested wilderness and all?

When I finally pulled Jared back onto our flimsy means of transport, I chanced a look at myself in the river.

Our raft was, if possible, even worse than the cruise ship.  Because this time there was nothing separating me from the heinous motion of the waves but a few sticks clumsily tied together floating in a giant river in the middle of nowhere.

I looked like split pea soup had somehow been absorbed into my skin.

I turned around and vomited. . .On Jared.

"Not again. . ."

In England we just barely escaped murdering the Royal Family.

"One would wonder why the Queen keeps suits of armor in her grandkids' bedrooms," I remarked, curiously picking up an axe from one of the said suits of armor and languidly hefting it to and fro.

"I don't. . .WATCH OUT, YOU BLOODY IDIOT!!!"

The axe dropped from my hand, its blade winking dangerously as it fell.  I could practically hear the whoosh it made.

Aw, crap.

It landed half an inch away from the head of the sleeping crown prince.

A cloud of feathers and down flew up from the sudden tears in the mattress and pillows, covering me and Jared with their soft white fluff.

"Guuuhhhnnnngggghhhh. . ."

In Malaysia my clothes were stolen by a gang of perverted little monkeys.  I shall never go to the toilet or take a shower in that country again.

Somehow I managed to get stuck on top of the Eiffel Tower and was unable to get down—so I yelled for Jared to come rescue me until I sounded like a dying frog.  This—my yelling, that is—was no unremarkable feat, for he was wandering the streets of Paris and delivering presents while I was, er, sightseeing.

I got trapped in a pyramid in Egypt.  Of course, when he realized I was missing, Jared could have just used a tracking spell to find me but he was so panicked he didn't think of that solution.  He claims that he was by no means panicked. . .But then, what was up with his wild eyes and disheveled hair and audible sigh of relief when he finally did find me?  Ha ha. . .Jared's going soft.

An inordinate amount of alarms were set off by Jared in many museums in China when he tried to rewire some strange system.  Guys and mechanics?  Frankly, they don't mix.  The guards are going to have an unpleasant wake-up call when they're released from the Christmas Sleep.

In Russia I accidentally destroyed one of those cool dome-roofs on top of the old czar's palace.

Jared nearly spilled toxic waste into the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

In Antarctica we were attacked by a flock of rabid penguins.

But. . .despite all these. . .er, unconventional memories of delivering the hard-earned/retrieved presents. . .

I wouldn't give them up for anything.

The reindeer, back from their long vacation to Canada, gathered around Jared and I as we gently placed the last present—a small, frail looking porcelain doll—next to the sleeping girl.

As it touched her slightly curled fingers, we could all fell something relax inside of us; the stress demanded of us by our occupation vanished (until next year), our job was done. . .and our adventure was over.

Greece.  It was the end of our journey—a journey that had taken far longer than it should have, and had roped far more people into it than it should have—and. . .

My thoughts were interrupted as Jared said, "C'mere.  I wanna show you something."

Obediently, and still in a wanton daze, I followed him out of the villa and back towards the sleigh.

. . .Why was he lifting up the tarpaulin in the back?

And why was he taking out his motorcycle??

Rubbing an invisible speck off its shiny red surface and patting its gleaming silver wheels affectionately, Jared cooed what seemed to be an affectionate term of endearment to his "baby".

An unreasonable flash of jealousy passed through me.

This is ridiculous.  What reason do I have to be jealous of a bright red chunk of metal, I ask you???

No reason at all.

Unaware of all the snidely, knowingly leering reindeer (Ralphoedo included) behind us, I caught the helmet Jared threw at me.

"We're going for a ride." He said bluntly.

"WHAT?!  NO WAY AM I GETTING ON. . .ON. . ." Jared bodily lifted me and seated me behind him on the black leather seat and put his motorcycle into gear.  The roar was deafening.  "ON THIS MACHINE OF DEATH!!!!" I shrieked, holding onto Jared for dear life as we sped away in a squealing zoom of ignition and a cloud of dust.

I didn't even get to flip the birdie at the reindeer for abandoning me at his mercy.

Still burying my face in Jared's back, arms clasped tightly around his waist—oooh, from this position I could feel his truly remarkable abs. . .GAH!!  SHUT UP, BRAIN!!!—I was only aware of the wind rushing past my face and the vibration against my cheek as Jared laughed at the speed.

I will murder this reckless boy one day!!!

I cracked my eyes open.  Their gold depths faded from angry to exhilarated to unhappy.

"We have been a good team, haven't we?" I muttered into Jared's shirt.

He wasn't meant to hear it, but he did.  " 'Course we did, honey.  I make any team good just by being on it.

I ignored his teasing reminder of our earlier disagreement back in the Towers—'honey' being one of the words included in the dispute—for I could hear the sincerity beneath the fake arrogance.

"We did make a good team. . .a great one."

Smiling sadly into Jared's back, I didn't reply. . .only unconsciously tightened my arms around him.

Finally, we stopped in front of a small, ancient marble temple—half of it was rubble, and all of it was overgrown with climbing vines and pure white morning glories.  The sky was still a pure dark blue tinted with purple, and one star yet lingered in the east.

Apparently the Time-Stopping thing hadn't quite started moving again.

The faint, sweet scent of the flowers lingered in the cool morning air, dusted with dew, as Jared led me to the temple by my unresisting hand, sitting me down on the step facing the eastern star.

Absent-mindedly, strangely at peace with myself, I wondered how many lovers had sat in this quixotic setting before us.

. . .

HUH?  WHERE THE HELL DID THAT COME FROM????

Lovers.  Huh.  Jared and I were anything but. . .But I was merely thinking of the assumed situation, of course. . .All things set aside, the fact that Jared and I were now sitting here did not mean a thing.

"Um. . .Why are we here?" I asked tentatively, looking at Jared.

"Watch."  Was his only reply.

Oh, yes, Great and Wise master.

But I turned my gaze back to the  horizon, for once taking Jared's advice.

Cough order Cough.

As I watched, night withdrew her dark cloak from the sky, uncovering a silken, translucent gown of rosy, pearly tints of pink and gold and purple and blue.  I fancied that sometimes a glint of jewels or silver thread was caught in the sky's gown, rendering it all the more glorious.

I couldn't help but gasp at the beauty of it all.

The last star winked out of sight as the sun stretched his bold arms; creeping rays of light struck the brilliant sky and illuminated castles in the clouds.

A light breeze blew past us—a fairy breeze the mischievously tangled our hair and drew Jared and I closer. . .and closer. . .

His gaze flickered down from my eyes to my mouth.  I knew what was coming—girls have a sixth sense about this—and. . .and I wanted him too.  It scared me.

Now my eyes were fluttering shut as if of their own mind, and I could feel his warm breath on my face.  Now I could feel the heat from his lips on my own, and they were almost begging, throbbing for his touch. . .

I jerked my head away, before anything happened; before anything could be resolved.

The mood was ruined.

Abruptly, formally, I said, "We had better get back to the Towers before they wake up and notice we're missing."

Jared got up as languidly as a panther, yet as stiffly as a wooden puppet; his eyes never breaking their connection with mine.

I was the first to break away from the heated gaze.

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.

As soon as we had entered the Towers again after delivering the presents elves began waking up from their drunken stupor, heading towards the bathrooms and, thankfully, too hung over to ask any awkward questions.

Dallie and Alan, upon waking up curled in each other's arms, finally got it through their thick heads that—gasp!—maybe the object of their affection did reciprocate the feeling, and that perhaps—gasp!—a relationship could be had.

Santa had called me to his office to congratulate me on delivering the presents—having no idea how much I deserved the praise; I mean, seriously—and, having finished that, had promptly returned to his soap operas and rich food leftovers that probably gave his cholesterol a super spree.

I avoided Jared as much as possible—and as I was very good at running away, 'as much as possible' was a lot.  In fact, I barely even saw him.  No head of golden hair marred my vision; no tall and lanky figure dared approach me without me bolting away as fast as my legs could take me.

But eyes of stormy gray-blue sea haunted my thoughts.

Occasionally, I would find myself writing angsty teen poetry about him.

Sometimes, like when I accidentally pulled out the photo I had taken of Rudolph's and Jared's identically grumpy expressions, I could still feel the heat of his lips almost, almost touching mine as we leaned in for that almost-kiss.

'Almost' is a funny word.

But other than those unwelcome repercussions, my life remained virtually Jared-free.

Oh, I heard the gossip, of course—"He is so cute," "I think he looked at me today", etc.  And so I knew he was back to his smarmy old self.  But, sometimes, more often than not, I heard, "Jared's being weird lately."  Or, "There's something different about him."  Or, "Have you noticed?  He doesn't even talk to people much. . .just stays in his room."  And then I wondered what was going on with him, and couldn't stop worrying.

About whether he was eating, and stuff like that.

I'M TURNING INTO A FREAKING MOTHER HEN.

"Hey, Spin!" Alan called to me across the dining hall, motioning me over to sit at our table.

And me?  One may ask how all. . .how all this had affected me.

I stayed the same. . .but different.

I wasn't so concerned about being perfect Spin anymore.  Yes, I was still the Favorite. . .but there was a different tone to the words now.  Since I had gotten back.  Since I had resolved. . .resolved to live more.

Instead of shrinking back and murmuring something about rather staying in my room, reading—I went out and had a snowball fight with everybody else. . .both Towers included.  My carefully put together outfit was ruined; smeared with ice and snow as it was.  A snowball was thrown directly at my face, knocking me over.

I had been thrilled.

But there was something missing.

Banishing the befuddling thoughts from my mind, I smiled and headed over to the dinner table, chirping, "Hey, guys!  How's paradise?" Teasingly.

Alan looked at Dallie with a dopey smile stretched across his face.  "Besides the fact that she tried to stuff me in one of her fruity guy outfits today?  Beautiful."  Still with the drippingly sappy, adoring tone and dopey smile.

Maybe it was stuck that way.  Now that's a thought.

"They're not fruity." Dalle said, lightly pecking Alan on the lips.

"Are too."  Lovingly.

"Are not."  Affectionately.

I could see that this 'Lover's Spat' (if all their fights were this uneventful, I thought I might puke) would go on forever, so I moved my crucial attention to my dinner.

"Spin?"

Ah, so the Lover's Spat was over.

I jerked my head up to find the Catastrophic Couple looking at me expectantly with identical expressions on their curly red-topped heads.

I heard somewhere that dogs and their owners begin looking exactly alike after a while.  The same theory obviously applies to couples as well.

"Hm?  Sorry, I wasn't listening."

"We've been thinking—" Oh, God, they're using the Royal We already—"that something's happened-slash-is-going-on with you and Jared.  We're not sure what, exactly, but we have an idea."

Thinking quickly, I bit back a furious denial and instead replied sarcastically, "Oh, yes, did I forgot to tell you?  Jared and I are having a torrid love affair—the sordid details of which I don't want to infect your innocent little ears with; because, after all, we have soooooo much in common."

Dallie and Alan simply looked blankly at me as their eyes locked into a spot somewhere above me over my right shoulder.

"He's right behind me, isn't he." I finally broke the uncomfortable silence.

Of all the things to happen to me, it would be today—Christmas Day—that all my running away, all my hard work, would go to waste.

There was no running away this time, though.

Slowly, and dreading it, I turned around on the table bench and stared up at the person I had gone to extreme measures to avoid for seven whole hours.

He looked exactly the same as I remembered him.

Duh, you idiot.  A little voice in my head screamed at me.  A person doesn't change that much in seven hours, you know!!!

Except for a faint shadowing of purple under his eyes.

"All those adventures, Ellespin dear, and that's all you can say about our blooming relationship?" Jared wiped a fake tear from the corner of his eye, pressing a palm to his heart and looking theatrically up into the distance.  "In that case, we're through!"

I glared at him, all thoughts of retreating abandoned in the dust.  "Kiss my ass, bastard."

. . .

Why, oh why do I keep forgetting NOT to use that expression in front of Jared???

Unconcerned, Jared smiled innocently and purred, "If you insist, love, but are you sure you want to get kinky right here instead of in the privacy of our bedchambers?"

That was quite enough of that.

I stood up and punched him.

This time, though, there wasn't any protective shield to salvage his face and break my knuckles.

Jared didn't even stumble when my fist connected with his eye; only looked calmly at me as if waiting for more.

Gasping, I stared at my hand, cradling it in the other as if it had been hurt, instead of its target.  A solitary tear slid down my cheek as I lifted up a trembling hand to the bruised side of Jared's face, as if to embrace it. . .

I fled.

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.

The miniature glass dragon lay in my lap.  Had I really only pieced the vase into the dragon a few weeks ago (if you count the Sleeping Time)?  It seemed like years.  I found myself grasping for the lost grains of sand that had somehow slipped through the chinks in the hourglass of time and wondered where the wind had blown them.

There wasn't any use in delaying it now.

I, Ellespin Ranhart, was in love with Jared-my-worst-enemy.

And it isn't even puppy love, which is infinitely better than what I'm feeling now.  No.  It is the prideful, humble, selfish, generous, giddy, serious, jump-off-the-ceiling-into-the-clouds love that leaves you feeling sick to your stomach. . .yet exhilaratingly ecstatic.

"It's not fair."  I sobbed into my pillow.  "You bastard."  This directed at Jared.

Hm.  Something about that seems wrong.  I'm not supposed to be crying and calling the love of my life a bastard when I realize that, in fact, he is the love of my life.  Somehow, I think there's supposed to be a lot more smiling. . .or laughing. . .even anger. . .but hysterical sobbing?  I mean, come on.

Why can't anything normal happen to me, huh???

"BBBBAAAASSSSTTTTTAAAAAARRRRRDDDDD!!!!!" I wailed, lifting my head up from the pillow and absent-mindedly noting that when I really got into crying, the tears flew out of my eyes and landed about a foot away from me.

Oops.  One particularly strong tear knocked down a tiny little smelling salts bottle from China.

Still miserably sniffling, I crawled over to my dresser and picked up the bottle.

Pause.

Holding the bottle above me head and half-heartedly shaking it at the ceiling, I continued bawling, "You horrible je-e-e-eeerrrrkkk!!!  N-noooow see wha-a-a-a-at you doooooonneee!!!"

At this point, Dallie came in to see me in my utterly humiliating position.  And she had the nerve to tut at my misfortune.

Turing to face her with a waterfall of tears cascading down my face—and the Niagra Falls coming out of my nose—I continued howling hysterically, "Jaaared's an I-I-ID-D-DIOT!!!  I H-H-HAAAAAAATE HIIIIIIMMM!!!"

Frowning sympathetically, Dalle walked over to me, knelt down so we were at eye level, and did what any true friend would do:

SMACK!

She slapped me.

Swallowing my sobs in shock, I stared speechlessly at her.

"You," she pointed at me, though there was really no need for this action as I was completely aware of who 'you' (I) was, "are the one being an idiot.  I don't know the details, but I think I can probably paraphrase the interesting situation you find yourself in."

I blinked at her.

Oh, I get it.  Just because she has a boyfriend now, she thinks she's an expert in all things related to the heart.  Some airs, huh. 

Immediately, I regretted my sneering thoughts.  They were cruel, and untrue.  Next thing I knew, if this kept up, I would turn into Abe.

Ew.

"And as I was saying before I was interrupted by that spectacle in the dining hall, there is something going on between the two of you. . .or that happened while we were all drunk and unconscious.  No," she held up a hand to interrupt me as I opened my mouth, "I don't need the specifics.

"But I do know something.  I admit, I'm a little surprised—it seems as if it's happened overnight—but I've always had a nagging suspicion.  You," she pointed at me again, unnecessary though this action was, "are in love with Jared."  And having dropped the bomb and made the situation all the more real, she sat back, satisfied that her job was done.

I gaped soundlessly at her as my vision went blurry again.  Blinking, more tears slid down my face as Dallie's expression changed from that of steely satisfaction to compassionate pity.

She knelt closer to me again as her blue eyes, now also swimming with tears, gazed into mine.  Enfolding me in her arms and rocking me back and forth as a mother would to her gulping, hiccoughing, sobbing child, she stroked my hair and murmured, "It's hard, isn't it, baby?  It's hard. . .yes, it's hard.  Shh. . .shh. . .it's okay, baby, I know it's hard."

Sobbing into my best friend's shoulder, I managed to choke out, "Hard."

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.

JARED'S P.O.V.

Once in the privacy of my own room, I stared disconsolately at the wall, not bothering to heal the bruise formed around my eye.

I should learn to control myself around Spin.  But it's just so difficult, and she doesn't exactly cooperate.  I mean, seriously.  I'm a red-blooded, hormonal teenage boy.  She should just. . .just stop using that expression around me!  It leads to unpleasant consequences, both for me and for her.

Humph.  She didn't even apologize.

Sighing, I put my hands to my head and bent over.

Funny.  I could've just sworn I heard an anguished scream calling my name somewhere in the distance.  Smirking mirthlessly, I assumed it was another of my admirers.

I really don't see why they like me so much—by 'they', meaning all my rabid fangirls.  I wasn't that attractive, and, to be honest, I was downright rude to most of them.  Maybe they just liked the whole 'bad boy' image.

Since we had gotten back, I had cut back on all the Playboy status-provoking stuff, thinking that perhaps Spin. . .I don't know, just something.  My logic's too warped to be direct, but I just thought. . .maybe. . .

But she hadn't.

I was no idiot.  I could clearly see that she was avoiding me.  And when the person you love is evading you, it tends to piss you off.

So this evening, out of desperation, I headed over to her table to do the only thing guaranteed to get her attention—or at least make her temporarily stop running away from me.

I annoyed her.

Bad decision on my part.

It hadn't worked.  No.  On the contrary, she up and punched me, started crying, and then did the one thing I wanted to stop her from doing.

She bloody ran away from me.

It is seriously beginning to piss me off.

And it is now Christmas Day, and we're having another Sphinx-Dragon party.  You know, I planned the first one on Christmas Eve to promote fucking Tower harmony/peace/cooperation, in the hopes that maybe Spin might not be quite so antagonistic when it came to me afterwards.

And you can see how well that turned out.

So here I am, on Christmas Day, forced to attend another fucking Tower harmony party hosted by some copycat and feeling utterly miserable.  There are no women to serve as a distraction because I kicked them all out, and the only woman I really want has made it crystal clear how she feels about me.

So Merry fucking Christmas to you too.

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.

SPIN'S P.O.V.

This is not a good idea.

I realized it as soon as it began, yet went along with my abnormally malfunctioning braincells to pacify the ravenous hope inside of me.

I'm always practical except when it comes to Jared.

I was dressed in a knee length khaki skirt, a fitted white turtleneck shirt and knee-length black lace-up boots.  Not to be vain or anything, but I looked awesome.

It comes with having a fashion guru for a best friend.

This is not a good idea.

Like any other female, I've always harbored a fantasy that the love of your life, seeing you all dolled up and gorgeous, would be rendered speechless by your beauty and fall in love with you.  Shallow, I know. . .but honestly, who hasn't thought that?

And, according to rumors about Jared's fiercely antisocial tendencies at the moment, he probably wouldn't even be there.

But, I reassured myself, that was quite all right.  I didn't want to see him.  I needed to give myself more time to adapt to this turnabout in feelings for Jared and figure out whether it was real or merely after-affects of the exceptionally large amount of fevers I had had.

But if by any small chance he was there. . .Taking a deep breath for courage, I stepped out of my room and headed for the party.

Then it would be time to face the music.

JARED'S P.O.V.

I had gone through the whole journey with her.  I had withstood her moodswings.  And rare is the man who survives through that.

I had let her vomit all over me (on numerous occasions) and had in spite of that gently picked her up, cleaned her up, put her to bed and still loved her.

I had used my precious healing magic on her, also on numerous occasions, despite a certain attempt to strangle me as I tried to dispel her fever.

When said healing magic was stolen by the insufferably Abominable Snowman; who had sat and slept and lived by Spin's bedside when she was delirious and practically dying with fever???  Certainly not Abe.  It was moi.

I had rescued her from the Eiffel Tower, saved her butt from starving to death in the pyramids, heard her snoring and seen her inebriated, crying, terrified, laughing, screaming, and in what she thought was love.

Now, tell me.  After all that, do I not deserve something?!?!  God, apparently, doesn't think I do.  Except for an impressive right hook to my eye.

Thank you, Lord.  Boy, do I feel loved.

*

Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas

Let your heart be light

From now on our troubles will be out of sight

*

A step away from entering the doorway of the golden, noisy warmth of the party, I stopped in mid-stride.  I didn't feel like going in there.  The raucous noise reminded me too much of the ship. . .

I stopped that thought and walked on past the doorway and friendly comfort.  Think.  I needed to think, and the party certainly didn't provide an adequate thinking environment.

Outside the building, all was muted silence and white and black and silver.  Somewhere in the distance I was aware of the low murmurings from the party—but only as a faint reverberation in my ear.

Shivering, I wrapped my arms around myself and squinted up at the star-studded sky.  It seemed that the only things around me were glittering snow and midnight-dark sky; like I was contained in the orb that was my home—no, not contained.  Comforted.

It was peaceful.

I sighed.  Undeniably, it had been a very long day.  Unusually long.

My boots crunched quietly in the snow as I walked forward a little bit and glanced at the ground, mildly surprised to see my reflection staring back at me.  Oh, right.  There was a pond here during the summer—what, you thought we lived in perpetual winter?  Hell no.  We had magic.  Not ours—an ancient one, though, that enabled us to actually have seasons.

More importantly to Dallie, that let us tan.

I knelt down in the ice and put a hand up to my face, tracing the contours curiously as I gawked at my reflection.

When had my eyes. . .changed?  Something else now lingered in their coin-glinting gaze. . .something new.

(No, it was not evilness.)

They had matured.  I giggled, almost hysterically, to myself.  One night, if you want to be technical, and I had suddenly grown up and left Neverland.

"I admit, I'm a little surprised—it seems as if it's happened overnight. . ." Dallie's voice echoed in my head.

Oh, she has no idea.

I laughed slightly at that, too weary to cry.  I doubted there was a single drop of moisture left in my eyes anymore.  And why stop at my eyes?  My entire body felt like a freakin' desert.

Reflectively, I looked back up at the sky.  What would my life be like in the future?  I wasn't vain enough to expect an easy, perfect one. . .nor was I quite so naïve to entirely believe that Jared and I would end up as a fairytale.  Like I said in the beginning. . .it would take a miracle for Jared to. . .what was it, be nice?  Kind?

No.  Probably, in my deepest thoughts, in the center of the maze, I had thought. . .for us to have a happy ending.  For us to complete each other as a. . .as lovers; as soul-mates.

Smiling dryly and ignoring the frigid air, I counted the stars.

*

Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas

Make the Yuletide gay

From now on our troubles will be miles away

*

I circulated the room, socializing and being charming and staring out the window at a lone figure when I thought no one was watching.

Funny.  Never thought of Spin as the anti-social sort.  After all, she was a Favorite; both with teachers and peers.  It got freaky after a while.  But. . .I frowned.  No one had noticed her absence—not even her so-called best friends, who were too, er, caught up in each other to pay attention to the predicament at hand.

And if anybody knew how susceptible that foolish girl was to sickness, it was me.  Need I remind anybody how often I had gnawed my nails, pulled my hair, and driven myself insane with worry over her frequent life-threatening fevers???

I should get paid.

And Spin was going to catch pneumonia if no one went out and fetched her back in.  And who would end up taking care of her???  Not her two face-sucking friends, that's for sure.  MeAgain.

Grumbling anxiously to myself, I stalked towards the doorway. . .

Only to find my vision blocked by two sets of curly red hair (one set less curly than the other and of a more orangey shade, but still).  I feel like I'm in the Twilight Zone.

I turned to glare at the two carrotheads who had blocked my progress on the way to retrieve Spin. . .oh.  It was the two lip-locked cronies who always hung around her.

"What?" I snapped.

The boy—Alan, wasn't it?—turned to me with a solemn expression.  "Leave her alone for a while.  She needs to think some things over."

I sniffed disdainfully.  "Look, I have no idea what you're talking about."

The girl raised her eyebrow at me.

God.  I'm being ganged up on by a red-headed couple.  And redheads have notoriously quick tempers. . .

"Oooooh," I pretended to scoff, already making plans to sneak through a bathroom window in order to escape and salvage Spin.  "You mean Ranhart?  You think I'm concerned about her??  Pssh.  Please.  Now, if you'll excuse me."

And the orangutan-boy stopped me again, smiling condescendingly and shaking his head.  "You've got it bad, haven't you."

Cover blown.

I stared at him, praying my expression was sufficiently flabbergasted/offended.

Not enough to faze the guy.  "Go on," he said encouragingly.  "Go get her."  He was hit by his girlfriend for making a sexist, derogatory comment.

Ah.  Young love.  And I have the right to say that, as I have been in love with Spin for years.

I stared at the strange, red-headed phenomenon in front of me some more.  It was really no use to pretend any longer.  Finally, I replied to his allegorical permission slip.  "N-no."  Reluctantly.  "She's not ready yet." Sighing, I finished, "Thank you, though.  Now, if you'll excuse me, I must mingle."  And with that, I left them and wound my away around all the other saliva-exchanging couples to my friends from Dragon Tower.

Me?  I was dying to tell Spin my feelings, in my "own special way". . .but I was scared.

Yes, I, Jared, was scared.  Not for me. . .I felt like I might burst it I didn't tell her soon; but for Spin.  The shock could very well give her a heart-attack—maybe even a mild stroke.

Not really paying attention, I grunted from time to time to show I was (semi) participating in the conversation my (semi) friends were in. . .something about eggplants. . .and how they could be used to kink up your sex life. . .

7 seconds later, at exactly 11:56 pm, the lights went out.

*

Here we are as in olden days

Happy golden days of yore

Faithful friends who were dear to us

Gather near to us once more

*

Okay.  When I had at last noticed that my fingers were turning blue and my hair was growing icicles and decided to pay a visit to the party to see how it was turning out, this was not the entrance I expected.

 I mean, entering into a doorway, taking two steps in, and having the lights crash off does not boost one's self confidence.

Am I really that horrifying?

The warmth swept over me like I was being doused in hot air as I entered the party room and took in the none-too-sophisticated sight of busy couples and empty beer bottles littering the floor and couches.  It hadn't quite gotten as wild as our parties usually did, but it was veering on it.

Underage drinkers.  Huh.  I know, from experience, that that's a bad thing.

Scanning the room for Dallie and Alan and not finding them, I wandered in and began looking for people I actually knew.  Which wouldn't be difficult, seeing as how the entire elf population had turned up for this most prestigious event.

Unfortunately, my eyes were drawn to another pair of gray-blue ones as if magnetized.

As our gazes connected, and something in each of them changed; softened and scared and tender. . .Then the lights went out.

"AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!" Shrieks rang through the room before subsiding into laughing shrieks.  I live in a Tower of idiots. . .most of them, anyway.

HOW DO YOU KNOW THE LIGHTS DIDN'T GO OFF BECAUSE THERE'S A SERIAL KILLER IN THE ROOM????

Or. . .Maybe Abe has returned.

Cries of "Who's this?" and, "Where are you, (fill in the name)?!"  and "What the hell?!" and "GET YOUR HANDS OFF MY ASS, PERV!" Rang through the room.

Hm.  If Abe had returned, I guaranteed there would be a lot more of "WAAAAAAHHH!!!  YOU JUST KILLED MY (Insert: Boyfriend/Girlfriend/Any friend)!!!"

At least, until I felt hands grab my. . .breasts.

"Hiya, hotcakes.  Wanna spend some time with a real man?"

Oh.  My.  God.

Him again???  DID HE NOT LEARN HIS LESSON WHEN I POUNDED HIS HEAD INTO THE WALL???  In fact, there're still CRACKS from where he landed???

POW!!

CRASH!!

"Serves you right, PERVERT!" I shrieked.

"Spin?" Somehow, that one small voice was heard over all the other screaming and laughing and moans of people who definitely liked this turn of events for their. . .er, extracurricular activities.

Oh, God, he's found me, he's found me. . .Was all that rang through my head—like a bad horror movie playing the same lines over and over and over again.

"Spin??" More panicked, more hopeful now.

I gulped, before squaring my shoulders.  In the dark, with the whole of the Christmas Elf population around us. . .I felt like we were the only two people in the room.

"J-Jared?" Shakily. 

Sensing, rather than seeing or hearing the crowd rustle and part as Jared shoved his way through, I managed to hold my ground.  Like some invisible force held my feet still in one place, just waiting.

Waiting.

Running?

What was the difference?

Except. . .

This time I ran, again.

But in a different direction.

"Jared?  Where are you?" I yelled over the still faintly playing music; over the blended sounds of the crowd.  Now I felt like I was in some bad romance book.

"Spin?"

"Jared???"

Oh, God.  Now I really do.

And then we connected, crashing into each other with the force we had used to push through the teeming hoard that was the mass of party guests all crammed together in the dark.

And, even without being able to see, I knew it was him.  I had, after all, been held in those arms more times than I can count—and not always by my will.

We were silent as the world drifted away; scanning each other's shadowed faces.  For what, we didn't know.  But apparently, he found what he was looking for, for he was the first to move.

"Hey, Doobrain," he murmured softly, pushing a lock of hair behind my ears.

"Hey, Asshole," I whispered back.

And then the lights switched back on.

*

Through the years, we all will be together

If the Fates allow

Hang a shining star upon the highest bough

*

JARED'S P.O.V.

She had run to me as well.  There was no way we could have found each other in that time if she hadn't. . .

She was running, yes. . .But to me.

I grinned happily to myself.

Until the room was flooded with light once more, and everybody went still as they took in Spin's and my position.

Silence, until one certain red-headed ape started chanting, "Kiss!  Kiss!  Kiss!"

And his girlfriend followed him.  "Kiss!  Kiss!  Kiss!"

And both Sphinxes and Dragons followed afterwards.  "KISS!  KISS!  KISS!" They roared.

Have I mentioned that I don't do well under pressure?

Spin's face was bright red—turning purple and murderous when she realized her two friends had started the chant.

I doubted my face color was any different.

The only thing preventing the girl from flying at her misfortunate friends was my arms around her waist and shoulders.

Haha.  I have power.

And, while in brief possession of it, I'd better take her out of the room before she caused bodily damage to any persons inhabiting it.  It would be hard to have a relationship when one party was in prison, you know.

"KISS!  KISS!  KISS!"

I'd better take her out of here really soon before I become the next victim on her 'To Kill' list.

And then Spin looked up, above our heads.

I followed her red-headed friend's finger. . .and from there, followed Spin's horrified gaze. . .

Oh, God no. 

Mistletoe.

The shouts redoubled in volume as everybody else took in the deceivingly little white-and-green plant mercilessly dangling above our heads.

"KISS!!  KISS!!  KISS!!"

At this rate, I'd be deaf before I was forty.

"It. . .it doesn't count after Christmas Eve. . ." Spin was saying weakly.

You'd be surprised.  Mistletoe probably works for clueless adolescents wanting to get some in the goddamn summer.

SPIN'S P.O.V.

Traps.  My so-called-friends had booby-trapped the entire room.

IT WAS ALL A SET-UP!!

Now they were embarrassing me.  And believe me, they were going to pay.  They were going to pay real, real bad.

And. . .and mistletoe's properties don't work after Christmas Eve!  So HA!

"KISS!  KISS!  KISS!"

KILL!  KILL!  KILL!

I would have charged them right then and there, but Jared's arms were placed firmly on my waist, and I squirmed and wriggled with a murderous glint in my eye to no avail.

Finally, I stopped struggling and hung limply from Jared's arm.

His grip loosened.

I sprinted towards the chanting group.

And was caught again.

Stupid athletes.

"Fine." I muttered.  "Be that way."

I could feel Jared grin against the nape of my neck.  What the heck was his face doing near that area, anyway??

"KISS!  KISS!  KISS!"

GAH!  SOMEBODY TURN THEM OFF!

"Jared. . ." I began to growl, turning my head around. . .

I was interrupted by Jared's mouth.

"Mmph!" Was my only response before my eyes fluttered shut at the mercy of his very talented lips.

They were soft and warm and sent tingles down my spine. . .Urp, more descriptions stolen from trashy romance novels. . .

But. . .I had been wanting this.  And before I knew it, I was kissing back to the best of my limited abilities as my hands moved up to his shoulders and began stroking the back of his neck, curling my fingers around his hair.

At least I wouldn't be having my first kiss in front of them all.  Jared had already taken care of that.

And at that thought, I smiled possessively into Jared's lips.

And at least he was my asshole.

The entire party erupted into cheers.

And then the clock struck midnight, and there were more cheers.  Tomorrow morning would be back to making toys for next Christmas, and back to the rivalry between the Towers.  But tonight. . .

Tonight I'd just revel in Jared's kisses.

My smirk grew wider.  And he was my asshole, now.

Perhaps sensing some of my thoughts—or at least feeling the grin against his lips—Jared smiled in kind as we parted barely one inch away from each other.

I blinked, feeling a sense of loss at the contact.  "Wow."

"I told you I was good."

Blushing furiously, and unable to deny it, I just shot a sidelong glare at him. . .And grabbed his head and kissed him again.

And he kissed back.

*

So have yourself a merry little Christmas night.

*

The End

a/n: And it's done.  *sniffle* So sad. . .

Thank you all so much for being til the end with me.  *gives you a cyber cookie*

But!  Look out for the sequel, which will probably be started in a month or so.  I haven't got it completely planned out, but it will involve Spin and Jared's son (or grandson, or great-great grandson and they'll be dead or something. . .how perfectly morbid) and a *gasp!* human girl from our world.  *shrugs* Strange creatures, these humans are, after all.  So, Spin and Jared's descendant will be taking over Santa's duties, and will be forced to *cough* kidnap this human creature and bring her to the Towers. . .but other than that, nothing's fully planned out.  In other words, the sequel will probably have different characters, because there really isn't much to write about characters once their stories are finished. . .so, yeah.  ^^ Thanks again, everybody!!!!!

Please review!