Christmas Eve Patrol
Of all the holidays in Neopia, Christmas was by far Brynn's favorite. Most neopets enjoyed the holiday season because of the goodwill and giving it seemed to inspire in people, but she was more practical... she enjoyed Christmastime because it meant less crime and therefore less work for her and the rest of the guards. It wasn't as if she didn't enjoy her work; protecting innocent civilians—whether back home in Brightvale or in slowly-recovering Faerieland—was what she lived for, what she'd dreamed of doing since she was small. However, working over the holidays was always difficult. Neopia needed law enforcement, even on a holiday, and it seemed to Brynn that she was forever the one unlucky enough to have night patrol on Christmas Eve. At least that particular night tended to be relatively quiet; she wasn't certain if it was the winter weather that kept Neopia's less savory characters from coming out to play or if all the world's criminals had other places to be on Christmas Eve, but whatever the reason, there was always less for her to do. It was bad enough that she had to be away from her home and family... the least life could do for her was give her one evening of peace. Arresting somebody, while exciting, tended to ruin the holiday mood.
After so many years of being a knight, she ought to have been used to it. But this year, for some reason, having been saddled with work on Christmas Eve seemed especially unfair. She was Captain, wasn't she? Plus, there wasn't anybody on Faerieland's guard force who'd ever argue that she hadn't put in more effort than all the rest of them combined. Brynn was forever staying on-duty after hours and filling in for sick colleagues... wasn't it her turn to catch a break? Years and years of training had taught her not to express such thoughts aloud, however, so when she and the other guards had drawn straws to determine who'd work the holiday and she'd pulled out the shortest one, she didn't bother complaining. After all, most of her colleagues had families... some even had very young children, and she could never deny them the chance to spend the holiday building precious memories with those children. Her entire family was still living in Brightvale. These days, the only person she had was herself... well, no, that wasn't quite true.
"Happy Christmas, sweetheart," Hanso said with a smirk. "It's a little cold out for a walk, don't you think?"
Brynn rolled her eyes. "I'm not taking a walk. I'm on patrol, and I will be for the remainder of the night, so you might as well just go home."
"Patrol? On Christmas Eve?" The Ixi raised an eyebrow. "Boy, does that bring back memories. I think I spent most of my holidays locked up in the Brightvale dungeons. Luckily you were almost always there too!"
Looking back, there hadn't been a Christmas Eve that Brynn hadn't spent minding the dungeons and entertaining Hanso... at least not since he'd weaseled his way into things. At this point in their lives it was more than obvious that many of their "professional" encounters had really been him going out of his way to get her attention, and while she was flattered that he wanted to spend so much time with her, there was typically only so much Hanso she could take at any one point in time. On Christmas Eve, though, it had always been different. All the consequences their unusual friendship could've had for her career aside, he did have a way of lifting her spirits that she couldn't quite explain. There weren't many other prisoners on an average Christmas Eve in Brightvale, and even fewer guards on duty... most of those nights she'd have been alone if it hadn't been for him. He might've been irritating at times, but having to entertain his presence was very preferable to spending the holiday by herself.
She cracked a small smile. "It does bring back memories. So much has changed over the years. I never imagined I'd be patrolling the streets of Faerieland as Captain of the Guard, that's for sure."
"I didn't think that'd happen either. But then again, I didn't think it would be on the ground, so... "
"Hanso!" She growled. "Not funny!"
He put on a mock frown. "Too soon?"
"Much too soon," she replied.
Hanso shrugged. "Ah, lighten up, won't you? It's Christmas Ever after all. Speaking of which, why don't you leave work early and spend the holiday relaxing and having fun with your best friend?"
A sigh. "I can't, Hanso. What if someone needed help? It's my duty to stay on guard even if it is a holiday."
"I see," he nodded, "then I'll just have to patrol with you. Two sets of eyes are better than one, right?"
"You don't have to do that. Just go home."
"I could go home, but I'd rather go patrolling. I mean, we've spent the last few Christmases together, so why should this one be any different?" He put a hand on her shoulder. "I know how much you love your work, but there's no reason you should be alone on tonight of all nights."
He had a point. At least if he walked with her she'd have someone to talk to. "All right then," she agreed at last, "you can come along. But remember, I'm working. I can't take time out for snowball fights or candy canes or anything of the sort. No distractions."
Hanso did his best to look profoundly wounded. "Of course! When have I ever caused a distraction?"
"You really don't want me to answer that."
Several hours—and several guerilla snowball assaults later—Brynn stopped to rest. She wouldn't have normally, but keeping an eye on Hanso and watching out for the citizens of Faerieland at the same time was draining, especially when it was so cold out.
"Brr," Hanso muttered as he sat down beside her.
"No kidding," she replied, "it's not as cold as it was back in Brightvale, but still... brr."
She glanced up at the night sky. It was a lovely night; the snow had stopped falling for a little while and the sky was clear, allowing the light of the moon to cast an almost clichéd light on the world. "How does that old poem go?" She thought aloud. "The moon on the new-fallen snow giving a luster of mid-day to objects below?"
Her friend shrugged. "I haven't a clue. I've never heard that poem before."
"You've never heard the Night Before Christmas?"
Brynn shook her head. "Didn't your family read it this time of year? My parents used to recite it for me and my brother every Christmas Eve."
Suddenly Hanso looked embarrassed. "I... well, I didn't really have a family. At least, well, not like yours... unless you count the Thieves' Guild, and they weren't much into pretty poetry."
"Oh... I'm sorry, I didn't mean to-"
"You didn't know," he cracked a smile, "and anyway, it doesn't matter because you can teach it to me now! Frankly I'm shocked you haven't offered to do so before, after all the holidays we spent together... "
A thought occurred to Brynn then, one that she hadn't considered before. She'd known for some time that he'd allowed her to capture him because he liked her, but she hadn't really thought about where he'd have been otherwise. Where would he have gone on all those past Christmas Eves? He had no family to go home to, and the Thieves' Guild wasn't exactly a friendly atmosphere in which to enjoy the holiday. Would he have been alone on Christmas Eve too?
If it hadn't been for him, she'd have spent the holiday in a cold dungeon with nobody to talk to or out on the snowy streets by herself... and if it hadn't been for her, he'd have likely spent the night out in the cold with no place to go. Instead, he'd been there with her in that dungeon, cracking jokes and making her smile and helping her forget how much she missed her family. On those Christmas Eves they'd spent together, she'd felt like she had a different kind of family. It was a highly dysfunctional family, but it was family all the same.
Without giving him any warning, she pulled him into a hug and kissed his cheek.
"Thanks... ?" He gulped.
"I'm glad you came with me tonight," she explained, "even if you did hit me in the face with a snowball."
He frowned. "That was an accident."
"I've seen you throw daggers with incredible accuracy. That was no accident. You aimed right at my face." Brynn chuckled. "It's fine. I'll just have to snowball you when you least expect it."
"That's one idea," he suggested, "or, you could just teach me that poem you were talking about before."
On most evenings, she'd have gone right for the snowball. Tonight, though, was Christmas Eve... and she was feeling generous.
"Fine, it starts out like this: 'twas the night before Christmas..."