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Ah yes, "Old Saint Nick." We have dismissed that claim.

Chapter Text

 The space doorbell buzzed.

 There was silence for a bit and Kolyat hoped that that meant that no one was home. Looking over his shoulder, he saw that his patrol partner was having a lot more luck with the tenants across the street. He chalked it up to the fact that the salarian was at least wearing some clothes. Lucky bastard.

 This entire farce was an awful idea; something evil concocted last minute by both C-Sect's PR and HR teams. It was supposed to be some kind of new funding effort. What it really was, was bullshit.

 His mind wandered around this morning's memories, and it wasn't until he heard a shout from inside the apartment that he realised he'd left his finger on the buzzer.

 “I'm coming, I'm coming! Hold your horses, for goodness sake...”

 The voice trailed off and there was the sound of the holo-lock being deactivated. Kolyat had just enough time to wonder what a 'horse' was before he was face to face with a middle aged woman. She had greying hair and lines around her mouth that meant she'd smiled a lot in her youth. Or maybe she'd just been born like that – Kolyat didn't know; he wasn't big on humans. To be fair though, he wasn't big on much while dressed like this.

 The woman didn't speak immediately and blinked once, obviously surprised. Kolyat was acutely aware of how she flicked her eyes down his body before quickly focusing on his face again. He was just opening his mouth to start his practised pitch when she spoke first.

 “... You must be one of Oriana's school friends,” she said, sounding uncertain. “Hold on a sec, I'll go get her.”

 The human disappeared and Kolyat heard her footsteps retreating into the house. He fidgeted uncomfortably as he was forced to wait. Gods this was so stupid.

 Inside the house, there was a knock on Oriana's door before it was opened by her mother.

 “Mom!” the girl cried, hastily changing tabs away from the chat session she'd been running. “I told you to knock first! And I'm doing homework.”

 “Honey,” the woman said, giving her daughter an unimpressed look, “I did knock. And you've got a friend at the door.”

 Oriana got up and followed her mother asking, “What? Who is it? I didn't think anyone was coming over today.”

 Her mother shrugged, “Don't know Muffin, some blue lizard boy.”

 The teenager blushed and cast a quick glance to their front door. “Mom!” she hissed, “What if he hears you?!”

 The woman laughed and waved a hand, “Don't worry about it, I closed the door. And besides, I checked. Didn't see any ears.” There was a twinkle in her eye when she added, “And just wait till you see what he's wearing.”

 Oriana rolled her eyes but nonetheless went to see what the big deal was, allowing her mother to return to the living room and finish reading whatever articles it was uncool parents looked at on the extranet.

 Opening the door she was greeted with a whole lot of teal skin, a pair of small green pants, a ridiculously cute belled collar, and a green and red elf hat sitting jauntily on top of an alien face - wearing an expression of what might have been impatience.

 Suddenly Oriana was overcome with a very acute pang of regret at having left her omnitool in her room. The compelling need to take a photo and send it to all of her friends was almost crippling. She'd never seen an alien like this before and had no idea why he dressed like he belonged in a really low budget Christmas porno.

 “Uh, can I help you?” she asked tentatively, having trouble keeping her eyes on his face.

 And while Kolyat's instinctual response was, 'I don't know, can you?' he ended up practising the disciplined art of self-censorship instead. Clearing his throat, he said, “Hi, I'm with C-Sec and we're hosting another charity function. This season's theme is 'Yuletide Cheer' and I was wondering if you'd be interested in buying tickets to the event? Your donation would be greatly appreciated and will go towards funding our acquisitions of -”

 Oriana cut his monotonous pitch short with a wave of her perfectly manicured hand. She had more important things to talk about.

 “You're not too great at this whole marketing thing are you?”

 The young man tried not to frown at her. Sure he might not have been as enthusiastic about the canvasing as some of his co-workers, but most of them weren't forced to wear these tiny costumes. Well okay, aside from the asari, but still, that hardly counted.

 “Listen,” he said. “If you buy today you get entered in for a prize and everything.”

 “Are you even a real C-Sec officer?”

 “Yes,” he lied, before adding a much more honest, “Almost. I've got a couple months of training left. Now do you want a ticket or not?”

 While she found the guy's attitude a little stiff, it was still kind of endearing all the same. Maybe it was the jingle-bell choker, maybe not, but Oriana felt compelled to humour him. Leaning against her door frame she asked, “So what is this, some kind of newbie hazing ritual?”

 “No,” the drell replied with a sigh before pointing his thumb over his shoulder to where the salarian – now three houses ahead – was cheerfully greeting a new set of humans. “Everyone has to 'get in character' or 'in spirit' or whatever. There's a lot of apartments in this neighbourhood and we're expected to hit them all.”

 “Is he holding a menorah?” She asked, squinting at the salarian who was waving the candlestick around exuberantly. “And... is that a hockey puck \ tied to his forehead?”

 Kolyat rubbed the back of his neck and was surprised he still had the capacity to feel even more embarrassed. “Yeah,” he said awkwardly, “I don't even know what he's carrying around, but he said he'd done his own research.”

 Oriana snorted. “So how come he's not modelling a pair of green shorts too? ” she pressed.

 “First, why would you even want to see a salarian in less clothing? And second, we ... didn't have any costumes in their size. Everything was too big. Trust me, they lucked out. But, about those tickets,” he prompted hopefully, “I'll give you a deal if you buy two.”

 “What's going to happen at the event, is it some kind of social, or like the annual charity ball?”

 “Do you know what an 'elf auction' is? Because it's going to be one of those.” He hoped that the phenomenon was human thing, because he really didn't want to have to explain it. Back at the station, Bailey had had a hard enough time as it was; it had sounded too much like slavery to a couple of men.

 Wherever the tradition came from, it seemed like the young woman was familiar enough not to ask him to elaborate. Or maybe she just didn't want to look stupid; he didn't care. Either way he was grateful. Up until her next question, of course.

 “Are you going to participate?”

 He laughed dryly, saying, “Gods I hope not.” Kolyat failed to mention that Bailey had said he'd call them even on the remaining community service if he did.

 Out of the blue, Oriana asked, “Hey, this might sound rude or something but, um, what exactly are you?”

 “I'm fantastic,” the older boy deadpanned. He was used to the question by now, but he really should have seen it coming. Drell were a pretty rare sight on the Citadel, and this neighbourhood was almost exclusively human.

 “No, seriously,” she said, looking at him harder than he felt comfortable with. “I've never seen anyone like you. What's your species?” He blinked both eyelids.

 Inwardly Oriana winced. That came out a lot like she'd just asked him for his sign.

 Kolyat sighed, and it sounded a little too dramatic. “I'll tell you if you buy a ticket,” he said finally.

 The young woman laughed. “You drive a hard bargain,” she said using a term she'd picked up from her father, “but I was going to anyway. It sounds like fun.”

 “For you maybe,” he mumbled. If she heard him she didn't say anything, only smiled a little wider.

 They did the transaction, and when he was sure the credits had transferred properly, he said, “I'm a drell.”

 “Oh, I think I've heard of you guys!” she said cheerfully, “You're the ones living with the hanar right?

 “Yeah. Listen, I need to meet my quota for today, so I should run. Here's your ticket. But hey, before I go, can I ask you a question?”

 “Only if you buy a pack of girl guide cookies first.”

 “What?”

 “Never mind, it's a human joke,”she smiled again and Kolyat watched her alien, soft looking skin stretch. “So, what can I do for you Officer?”

 The young man paused for the briefest of seconds. He kind of liked how that sentence had ended.

 “Uh. Do you happen to know what a “horse” is?” he asked.

 The girl made a face he couldn't interpret, saying, “That's kind of from left field, but yeah; it's this big earth animal, why?”

 “Is that some kind of human euphemism or something?

 Oriana couldn't help as her eyes drifted down towards garishly bright green shorts. It was struggle to look anywhere else. Kolyat seemed to notice, because he hunched his shoulders, and then shoved her ticket toward her chest. He didn't seem at all perturbed when he touched one of her breasts with the side of his hand.

 “Um,” she said, blinking owlishly.

 “You have to take this now,” he said, pushing the ticket forward.

 Oriana blushed but didn't say anything besides a slightly surprised, “Oh, right. Thanks.” There was no need to make things any more awkward than they already were.

 Both their hands met for an instant when she took the card before the drell's returned to his sides. Oriana wasn't sure if he noticed that he was balling them into fists. Then again, maybe the body language meant something entirely different to his culture. Maybe that was his way of saying he liked her hair.

 “You never answered my question,” the boy said, sounding a little peevish now.

 In response Oriana offered him her best coy smile, saying, “I'll tell you at the auction.”

 “If I even bother showing up”

 “Your call,”she said as she closed the door. “I'll see you later.”

Chapter Text

 Meanwhile, on board the Normandy Commander Shepard was finishing a shower. He was just stepping out of the washroom and doing up his slacks when he noticed Garrus. Just standing there, in his room. Holding a bottle of what was probably booze.

 “Can... I help you?” the commander asked carefully.

 His turian buddy fidgeted, trying to phrase what he wanted to say. Shepard didn't think this was a good sign at all.

 “Hey, relax,” he said, crossing his arms. “Talk to me Garrus. You know you – ” he cast another slightly worried glance to what he was starting to suspect was wine, “– can tell me anything. So, what's bothering you?”

 “I got a message from an old contact at C-Sec a few weeks ago,” Garrus started, “It's no emergency or anything like that; I'm on their mailing list. The guys are holding a charity event and I usually throw some credits their way when I can.” He shrugged. “And since I was on the Normady,I thought it might be a good idea to ask around. You know, gather some funds for the people fighting the good fight on the home front. There's a lot of decent men working down there. The crew was pretty good about it too, especially those with families on the Citadel.”

 Shepard felt his posture relax. “I don't see what the problem is here,” he said.

 “C-Sec's party is in a couple of days, and I thought it would be nice to, you know, make the donation then, in person. It would be good to see some familiar faces.” Garrus spread his hands, “I know we're passing through Citadel space soon, and I was wondering if we could stop by for a little shore leave. Doesn't have to be long.”

 His mandibles flared widely. “For the record, Shepard; this is me grinning winningly at you.”

 The commander rolled his eyes before asking, “Isn't this a little early? I thought the gala usually wasn't for another couple cycles.”

 Garrus shrugged. “They changed things after I left obviously. Maybe meant to patch up some of the resource holes left by the Reapers last time. All my contact said was that this was a new marketing effort.”

 “And the wine?” Shepard prompted, inclining his head.

 “What? This?” Garrus asked, looking at the bottle as if for the first time. “You didn't honestly think- ?” The turian laughed. “Oh that's good, Shepard. But no, don't get your hopes up. This is the best you can buy with my salary and probably a little too good for you.”

 Shepard recrossed his arms, and gave the turian a look.

 “It's for Tali,” Garrus offered quickly, “Dextro stuff, so she can drink it.” He cleared his throat. “But that's not important. I'm here because I also wanted to invite you to come to the ball with me.”

 “Wouldn't you rather ask our resident quarian mechanic?”

 “Tali? No. Well, I already did actually. Not that I wasn't going to ask you to join us too!” he added hastily. “But she said something about an annual pilgrimage dedication on the Citadel. You know how it is with woman; always other commitments.” He laughed. “Either that or a technophile support group. Don't quite remember.”

 “You aren't going to try to dance with me are you, Garrus?” Shepard asked, laughing himself.

 “Me? Heh, no. You only wish. That gardener on the presidium was right; turians really don't dance.”

 “Not even with quarians? Because I saw an ad for this one vid-”

 “Shepard...”

 The human held up his hands in a pacifying gesture. “I'm just kidding,” he said. “And sure, I'd love to come along. Besides, I probably owe Bailey some seasonal greetings or something.”

 “Maybe an apology card,” Garrus said, chuckling. “For all the paperwork you make him do.” He turned around and had just taken a few steps toward the door when he seemed to remember something.

 Looking over his should he added, “Oh and Commander, the invitation said this was a formal occasion. Try to dress the part if you can; we can't have all the ladies chasing me after all.” He ducked his head, “One last thing too,” and here he sounded a bit sheepish, saying, “It's concealed weapons only. The crowds get nervous when the guests are packing more firepower than the officers.”

 Shepard grinned, “you know me, Garrus; I'd hate to start a scene.”

 The turian laughed at that and satisfied, nodded once and left the room, his laughter following behind him like a puppy.

 Chuckling to himself, the commander locked the door behind him. He could not wait until Mordin got wind of whatever it was going on between his two old crew mates. He hoped the good doctor would be sending them both educational material. It promised to be hilarious.

Chapter Text

 The opportunity for shore leave had been a hit among the crew. Nearly everyone had opted to stretch their legs, and it left the ship practically quiet. Even Joker had decided a vacation was in order, but didn't leave until he'd given the commander a very very weak elbow jab and a wink, saying, “You know what they say, Captain: ''Tis the season.'”

 Shepard adjusted the cuffs of his dress shirt, asking jokingly, “The season for what?”

 “Making good on all that the Citadel has to offer!”

 “And taking advantage of all those big, expensive political gifts changing hands.” Shepard felt more than heard Kasumi's disembodied whisper as it floated past him and out the door.

 “I'm looking forward to doing some shopping,” Kelly said, looking pretty in her civvies and on her way as well, “ A lot of sales around this time of year. Don't leave without me.”

 Shepard put on a long coat, meant to be both formal and to hide the pistol he had strapped under his arm. He laughed, saying, “But who would feed my fish?”

 “Exactly,” Kelly replied. With one last smile and a cute toss of her short hair, she was gone.

 “You too, Joker. Get out of here,” Shepard said, motioning to the door, “before EDI decides she'll miss you and locks you in.”

 The blue globe materialized at shoulder height. “The commander is correct, Jeff. This galactic cycle represents a time of year where comradeship is important to your culture.” EDI paused, “I may not let you go.”

 “Naw, don't worry about her,” Joker said, waving the comment away. “She's just joking. And besides, she's got Legion to keep her company.”

 “Legion has already disembarked. The geth expressed a wish to study the gift giving culture surrounding certain human traditions. More precisely, the geth wish to study unspoken social rules on what is deemed as inappropriate when exchanging gifts.”

 “You're so getting a lump of coal, Commander,” Joker said laughing.

 “Time to go, Mr. Moreau,” Shepard said, though he was laughing himself. So long as his doors stayed locked at night, he figured he'd be fine.

 “And miss this?” Joker asked as he half turned to wolf-whistle at Miranda's approach. She had her hair done up loosely, was wearing a long, dark green dress that showed off her shoulders and had a cream coloured shawl wrapped around her arms.

 “Never seen you look better, Mrs. Lawson,” Jeff said with a rakish grin.

 Miranda gave him a little half smile in return. “That's because you've never seen me off duty, Mr. Moreau.” Turning to Shepard she said, “Now, I believe we were leaving?”

 Shepard smiled at her and extended a bent arm. “Shall we?” he asked.

 Miranda returned the look with some fondness, touched his offered arm briefly and then walked off the ship alone. She turned around, gave him a coquettish little smirk and then she too disappeared like all the women before her.

 Joker looked at the captain and shook his head ruefully, “I'm not even going to say it.”

 “Don't worry, Commander,” Garrus chimed in, appearing next. He was dressed in a green and blue outfit Shepard had never seen before. “I'll be your date.” The turian hooked his arm around the commander's elbow and showed his teeth – a grin.

 Shepard looked sidelong at him, “Remember what we talked about; the minute you see any plants hanging from the ceiling...”

 “I know, I know,” Garrus said, finishing for him, “opposite walls. Got it.”

 “Alrighty then, see you later, Mom!” Joker called out, giving the ship's outer hull one last affectionate pat as he slowly stepped out onto the docking bay.

 “Do not catch a cold, Jeff,” EDI said to his retreating figure. “And bring back something nice.”

 The three men left laughing together.

Chapter Text

“An elf auction?” Shepard asked, looking at the stage. “Really?

 “First time I've heard of it,” Garrus said distractedly, not looking at the commander but instead watching for famiiar faces in the crowds milling around them. “Not what I expected, but...” he trailed off, staring at something.

 “I'll talk to you later Shepard,” the turian said hurriedly. “Excuse me.” With that, he started off towards the buffet table and presumable one of the costumed aliens loitering around it.

 A turian with dusty orange clan markings looked up as the other man approached. “Garrus?” he asked surprised, “Is that you, you old sonofabitch?”

 “It's been too long, Celsus,” Garrus replied enthusiastically.

 The men bumped foreheads together, two pairs of mandibles flaring as they smiled at each other.

 “You look like shit,” the other turian said, clapping Garrus on the back, “It's good to see you.”

 “You're just glad you don't have to compete with my good looks anymore,” Garrus replied.

 “Not a word of that's a lie.”

 Garrus laughed, “I like your headdress, Celsus; very ostentatious. It suits you.”

 The other turian turned his head to the side, modelling the row of three belled, felt reindeer antlers he was wearing. “Headdresses,” he corrected as another turian joined them.

 The newest addition had white markings and a costume that involved a garland wrapped around his neck like a boa. “Officer Vakarian,” he said, politely, “I didn't think you'd make it this year.”

 “You don't have to call him that anymore,” the first turian said, snorting at the title.

 “Haron!” Garrus exclaimed, squeezing the sergeant's shoulder fondly, “Glad to see you off duty for once.”

 “Every time you're on the Citdel, I have a shift,” Haron said, “Maybe you've just got terrible timing, Sir.”

 “You don't need to call me that either, Haron,” Garrus said, “And you do know you have a red ball strapped to your face, don't you?”

 The sergeant tapped it to show that it blinked, saying, “I'm dressed as a 'Blitzen,' I think. It's a human thing but we can't talk about it because it sounds too much like the Skyllian Blitz. Don't want to upset any of tonight's potential donors.”

 “What's a 'Blitzen?'” Garrus asked as he accepted an offered drink from the first turian.

 “I don't know,” Haron admitted, “but this clown over here took the rest of my costume. One of those headdresses was supposed to be mine,” he said, pointing at a pair of antlers.

 “He just couldn't pull them off like I can,” the first turian said, handing the sergeant a drink too. “But enough about how handsome I am. Tell us, Garrus, what's life as a vigilante been like? And where's this quarian I've been hearing so much about?”

 Garrus stuttered something Shepard couldn't quite catch as the three aliens were swallowed up by the crowd. Still, he was glad to see his buddy happy; the guy had had a tough time a while back and he deserved a break.

 “Eavesdropping, Commander?” Miranda's silky voice cut through his thoughts as she walked over, holding two flutes of what might have been champagne. “How very like you.”

 Like a true gentleman, Shepard relieved her of one of her glasses. They toasted each other silently, all smiles and private thoughts as Miranda allowed the captain to draw in close.

 “What say you and me go find us some mistletoe?” Shepard asked quietly, snaking a free hand around her waist.

 Looking up through her thick lashes, Miranda leaned in and whispered, “You may be too late. I think the aliens already have.”

 Shepard raised an eyebrow, and following Miranda's gaze across the room, saw a light brown salarian pointing at a bundle of leaves and berries hanging from the ceiling. There was a red eyed krogan standing besides the alien, and it reached up, pulled the little sprig down and then threw the decorations into its mouth. Shepard saw the krogan say something to the salarian, but couldn't make out the words from where he was standing.

 “Isn't that stuff poisonous?” the commander asked, turning back to Miranda.

 She looked slightly surprised, but nonetheless gave him an almost condescending smile. “I wouldn't worry about it,” she said. “It's a krogan; they make ryncol for god's sake. And they've got enough redundant organs that I doubt he'll even notice a little gastrointestinal failure.”

 “He looks fine,” Shepard agreed, shrugging.

 “That's the holiday spirit,” Miranda said, untangling herself. “I'll go get you another drink. Try not to kill anyone while I'm gone.”

 Shepard watched her fine ass sashay away, and knew that she'd be a while. With all these well dressed people here, there were bound to be a few contacts or persons-of-interest floating around. In fact, at that very moment the crowd parted just enough for Shepard to recognize Udina's receding hairline. The ambassador was saying something to Bailey and Shepard decided to greet the captain later. Ducking his head, the commander made his way over to his real love interest – the open bar.

Chapter Text

Shepard had been right about Miranda being in no hurry to rejoin him. She was just finishing a polite introduction with the wife of some two-bit politician when she turned around and saw her sister.

 Oriana on the other hand, was just finishing up a call to her mother, promising to be home before it got too late, when she turned around and saw her sister.

 Two pairs of eyes widened in surprise, their expressions eerily similar.

 “'Randa! Hey!” The younger woman called, rushing over. “What are you doing here?” she asked excitedly, stuffing too many sentences into her greeting. “I thought you'd be too busy with work. If I had known you were coming I would have invited you or something. You should have called. I never know when you're going to be on the Citadel.” The girl's voice dropped to a whisper when a thought occurred to her, “... Or is this a work thing?”

 Miranda laughed, delighted to see the girl. “No, this isn't a 'work thing',” she said pleasantly, “If it were, I'd have a gun.”

 Oriana's eyes widened a bit in awe and she asked in a hushed tone, “I bet you're carrying one right now anyway, aren't you?”

 Miranda just smiled, only giving a cryptic, “Maybe.”

 The younger woman knew that expression because she'd often worn a similar one. “Where are you even keeping it?” she asked, unable to hide all of her curiosity.

 “You can fit quite a bit more than you'd expect into a clutch,” the older woman said, charmed with Oriana's enthusiasm. Miranda showed her sister a pretty little sequined bag, saying, “Never let a man hold your purse.”

 The girl looked over her older sister's outfit, saying, “And I bet the shawl is to hide your hands if you needed to, right?”

 “Exactly!” Miranda replied, beaming. It would have been impossible for the woman to have looked any more proud.

 “You look great, you know,” Oriana said with admiration, gesturing to her sister's dress. “Like really, really great. Really professional and elegant.”

“Oh Ori,” Miranda cooed, delighted, “you look beautiful too. That's a very pretty blouse, and the poinsettia looks just lovely!”

 “You really think so?”

 “Absolutely,” Miranda said emphatically as she moved closer to adjust the flower pinned to the girl's shirt. “Just needs a slight adjustment... and there! Perfect. It really brings out your eyes.”

 Oriana blushed, pushing a strand of hair behind her ear, something Miranda found adorable.

 “If you're going to hang around after the party you should come over,” Oriana offered suddenly. “Mom and Dad aren't expecting you, but they'll have no problem playing host. Mom's always going on about how she loves having my friends over.”

 “I don't think so,” Miranda said, smiling softly. “Your parents aren't expecting me, and it's already rather late. I wouldn't want to impose.”

 “No really, it wouldn't be a problem at all,” Oriana replied enthusiastically, “It's not even past ten yet so they'll still be up. I can totally call them right now.”

 “I...” Miranda hesitated, “I would need to speak with my superiors first. I'll get back to you about that.” Then smiling openly and becoming more animated as she changed the topic, she said, “But first, and much more importantly, did you come with anyone else? You aren't alone are you? Is that boy Danner here?”

 Oriana laughed at the suggestion; by now the kid was old news. “No, no, I'm over him,” she assured her sister. “You were right. Sort of. I don't think we'd work out anyway. Too different.”

 The very tiniest and most minute of frown lines blossomed on Miranda's perfect forehead. “You aren't going to buy anyone at the auction are you?” she asked carefully.

 Sensing an impending lecture, but spurred on by sibling feistiness, Oriana grinned widely, saying, “You bet!”

 Miranda's eyes narrowed just a touch further. “Who exactly were you thinking of?”

 “I'm not going to tell you,” Oriana replied, with a smirk that should have been very familiar to the other woman. “You're just going to look him up, and I don't want you too. But I've met him already and he seemed perfect.”

 Miranda sighed, recognizing a (temporarily) lost battle. “And what did you have planned for this... gentleman?” she asked, not without a bit of ice on the last word of her question.

 Oriana gave her older sister a mischievous little grin. Then standing on her tiptoes, eyes sparkling, she leaned up to whisper her intentions into Miranda's ear.

Chapter Text

 Across the hall, Bailey was fighting the urge to roll his eyes while he spoke with Donnel Udina. Or rather to be more accurate, was spoken at.

 “Listen,” the officer said, plastering a thin smile on his face and pushing himself to his feet, “I appreciate your appearance to our event tonight, but I've got a pageant I need to run.”

 “Of course, of course,” Udina said, standing back to allow the other man to pull on his large, red, fur trimmed coat. “An excellent showing you have tonight.”

 “But will they pay for the show's the question,” Bailey said, throwing on a matching hat.

 Udina made a face at the costume, but if he had any opinions he kept them to himself. “Good luck, Captain,” he said diplomatically.

 Bailey grunted in response as he looked for the remainng pieces of his getup. When he didn't find them, he shrugged inwardly, gave the ambassador a last nod, and went to gather his men.

 They had a show to host, and he was supposed to hold opening remarks apparently.

.

.

.

 Meanwhile, backstage, Kolyat was helping out in any way that he could. What this really meant was that he and about five other confused officers were running around trying to coordinate things they didn't quite understand.

 “It says 'Holly' goes next. What's a 'Holly'?” someone asked him, reading from an illuminated list on their omnitool.

 “I don't know,” Kolyat replied with slight frown, his arms full of ornaments he was supposed to do something with. “Go ask a human, this is their holiday.”

 “I did,” the other officer said, “and they told me it was either a plant or someone's name. So it might be a costume ... or someone back here...”

 Kolyat dropped the ornaments he was carrying into an empty box and pushed them out of the way with his foot. “Can we bring up a list with all the participants and their names?” he asked, only half paying attention as he looked for the rest of his squad.

 “I'm trying to do that now,” the officer said, scrolling through another list, “But since we've got people from precincts all across the wards, I can't find a complete one. I don't have the permissions I need to access our payroll either.”

 “Good luck with that,” Kolyat said, before edging away. He didn't have time to solve other people's problems. Right now he needed to find his salarian partner from earlier because he'd be damned if he was going out looking like this alone.

 Navigating between a pair of squabbling asari fighting over a tambourine, Kolyat eventually found who he was looking for.

 “Are you wearing a box?” he asked, dumbfounded.

 “Yeah!” the salarian replied quite happily, as he tried to unhook his costume from where it was caught on an empty gun rack.

 “...Why?” was all Kolyat could think to ask.

 “Some humans helped me,” the salarian said, “From our patrol earlier. This is supposed to be more festive. Look! They even gave me a bow.”

 “And you believed them?” the drell asked incredulously. “You're in a wrapped box. You look kind of stupid.”

 The salarian didn't seem phased, and finally freeing himself, poked a finger into the boy's chest. “I've got my uniform on underneath this,” he pointed out. “And I'm still wearing more than you are.”

 The boy's grumbled reply was interrupted when sergeant Haron and his nose so bright drew up besides them. “You two are up after the third asari pair and Eddie Lang's group,” he told them, “Any questions?”

 “That's after Bailey's speech, right?”

 “Yes, I think so.” The turian gave Kolyat's costume a last look-over, and then with some pity, said, “Good luck, kid.”

Chapter Text

 Outside, the patrons were beginning to get seated. The excited buzz of the crowd hushed to a murmur when a spotlight lit up Bailey's figure as he stepped onstage.

 “I'd like to thank you all for coming out tonight...” the man said, starting a speech that was about as interesting as every other speech Shepard had ever heard.

 The commander was nursing a drink; he'd lost track of what number he was on at this point, but smiled nevertheless when Miranda took a seat besides him.

 “The costume suits him,” she said, smoothing out her dress, “He looks good. Approachable for once.”

 “You look good,” Shepard said with a slight slur as he gave her a friendly jab in the ribs with his elbow.

 “How much have you had to drink?” she asked, batting his arm away.

 He shrugged, “I lost count and then the bartender refused to serve me.”

 “Let's just be thankful this isn't the Dark Star then,” Miranda said, maybe sounding a bit cross.

 Shepard ignored her in favour of flagging down Garrus who was approaching their row of chairs. “I saved you a seat,” he said as the turian sat down beside him.

 “Good try, Shepard,” Garrus said, handing him a labelled glass of human-safe alcohol, “but seating is assigned by ticket number.”

 Shepard accepted the glass with both relish and a pointed look to Miranda. She rolled her eyes in response but otherwise said nothing.

 Settling further down into his seat, Shepard lolled his head in Garrus' direction. “I may need to send you out to get more of these.”

 “But I only just got here and the bar is so far away,” the turian said with mock hurt. Then chuckling, he amended, “You're the boss. And if you need to be dragged back to the Normandy then you've got two pairs of hands right here.”

 Miranda coughed politely.

 “At least one pair of hands.”

 “Is Bailey missing something?” Shepard asked abruptly, sitting up and focusing on the stage.

 “Is he?” Garrus asked, turning to look.

 “He doesn't have a beard, if that's what you mean,” Miranda offered.

 “That's it!” Shepard said, snapping his fingers,“Wonder why he didn't go whole hog?”

 “Perhaps it was for cultural reasons,” Miranda mused, only half serious, “and aliens find facial hair offensive.”

 “Except practically everyone here's human,” Shepard said, running a hand over his permanent stubble.“Actually, I'm a surprised at how many there are. I would've thought they'd be getting funding from more races – more turians at least.”

 “I was told this was an experimental event, mainly geared to appeal to humans,” Garrus said, looking into his visor. Even dressed formally, he was never caught without it. “The guys at C-Sec are actually pretty surprised at the number of other species that showed up. If this party goes well, they're thinking about hosting one for salarians next. Something about their version of the new year.”

 “That would be Sur'Kesh,” Miranda told him, “Traditionally salarians repay debts to each other at that time and try to petition new favours.”

 “Yeah,” Garrus said, still scoping out the stage, “we're banking on them feeling generous. And Commander, I think I found your beard.”

 “Oh yeah?” Shepard said looking up, “Where?”

 “Asari on Bailey's left,” Garrus pointed out. “The one standing by the wooden hut with the glowing winged babies painted inside. And I gotta say, Shepard, that's a little gaudy even for me.”

 “I don't see her,” the human replied, sitting up straighter and craning his neck.

 “The asari in the red lingerie with that weird hairy trim,” Garrus said, gesturing again.

 “The one with the curly white beard, Shepard,” Miranda added.“Honestly, she isn't that hard to miss.”

 The commander laughed, finally spotting the alien. “I see her now. She's the one trying to pull her little dress in two different directions and giving the crowd the stink eye, right?”

 “That would be the one, yes,” Miranda said with a slight smirk.

 “Is that an asari thing?” Garrus asked, chuckling, “Because if I remember correctly, Liara used to do that a lot. The eye thing, I mean.”

 Miranda burst out laughing, and had to cover her mouth, turning it into a demure giggle.

 “I'd be careful with what you say, Garrus,” Shepard cautioned, turning to his friend. “She has a funny way of finding out who-said-what these days.”

 Miranda snorted and tried to disguise it as a cough.

 “Hi Liara,” Garrus whispered, looking up at the dark ceiling. Shepard added a salute in the same direction.

 “Why is Bailey just standing there?” Miranda asked looking at the stage, apparently the only one in the group paying attention.

 The two men fell silent, both turning their attention to where they were supposed to be looking.

 Not much had changed since the captain had started his address, but now he was holding what almost looked like a real paper scroll. Standing by the microphone his mouth moved but made no sound.

 “I think he's reading something,” Garrus said, looking through his visor again.

 “... And the great Santa Reaper who knew love, having been touched by the magic of the season, decided to employ the prothean elves of the forest under unionized labour agreements and the ruling of one all-powerful ring....” Bailey trailed off. “Who wrote this?” he muttered shocked, voice magnified across the hall due to his proximity to the microphone.

 Both Miranda and Garrus' heads snapped around to look at their commander as he choked on his drink.

 “What a load of political bullshit!”

 “I don't get it, but I think I feel bad,” the turian said, unsure of how to take Shepard's reaction compared with the laughter that had erupted around the room.

 “Have another drink, Commander,” Miranda said, putting a glass in his hand. No one asked her where she'd gotten it from. There were more important things to be concerned about.

 Shepard knocked the alcohol back in an impressive but spectacularly bad example of how to treat champagne. Wiping his mouth on the back of his hand, he raised his empty glass, stood up and called out, “You're a good man Captain Bailey!”

 “Y-yeah!” Garrus agreed loudly, raising the remains of his own drink. The crowd started to clap, Bailey frowned in their direction and Garrus had no idea what was going on. Ushering Shepard back to his seat he gave Miranda a confused look.

 “And here we go,” the woman said under her breath as she recrossed her legs and leaned away from her co-workers. Miranda began to wonder if perhaps it was time for her to find a replacement to her own drink.

 “Don't let anyone tell you otherwise,” Shepard mumbled, staring forlornly into the bottom of his empty glass. “You're a good man.”

Chapter Text

After Bailey had exited stage left, Sergeant Haron was allowed to take the podium and introduce the first 'elf;' a pretty, dark skinned asari wearing a red and white knit outfit that featured a lot more pompoms than were strictly necessary.

 Sitting in the crowd, Oriana was a bit envious of how these aliens seemed to be made up entirely of legs. It would have been a lie to say they didn't look attractive with their makeup done to a sparkling perfect finish and their flirty little smiles, but when the first salarian came out, it was still a bit of a relief.

 Actually, it was more than that. It was kind of adorable. Someone had cut enough holes in a box so that all the alien's limbs could stick out and he was forced to waddle a little while he walked. It was a gift that could deliver itself, she thought, and unable to help herself, took a quick snapshot to show her friends later. She was tempted to put in a bid, but knew she couldn't afford to waste her money. She had a plan after all.

 A few minutes of awkward silence from the auctioneer and it looked like no one wanted to buy the poor thing. Backstage, Kolyat was having a hard time suppressing his 'I told you so' instinct, and would have said something had he a) not been waiting in line to go next and b) not been so damn nervous all of a sudden.

 Meanwhile Oriana was starting to feel badly for the salarian. Admittedly they weren't the sexiest investment, but it didn't seem right to have him stand there and be faced with a price that was quickly dipping into the negatives. She was just starting to key in a pity bid, when the officer waddled up to Haron and borrowed his microphone. To his credit, the salarian didn't seem at all upset.

 Flicking off a piece of imaginary dirt from his square shoulder and adjusting his bow, he cough into the mic. When the officer had everyone's attention, he said with absolute confidence, “Buy me.”

 He paused, and Oriana could have sworn it was for dramatic effect.

 “I'll do your organization's taxes for you.”

 After that, the salarians sold like hotcakes.

 .

.

.

 When the drell's turn came to walk out onto the stage, the turian announcer introduced his as 'Kolyat Krios,' and Oriana committed the name to memory. Standing there in the spotlight, he wasn't smiling and seemed tense. She couldn't help but noticed that his hands were balled into fists at his sides again, and that he was standing rigidly, staring straight ahead. Oriana wondered if he'd ever heard that it sometimes helped to imagine people in their underwear. Almost immediately she scrapped that thought, blushing to herself and looking at her knees.

 Presented with the opportunity to admire the drell from afar though, the young woman realised that his skin was actually kind of fascinating. It was darker than any asari's she'd ever seen before and had more green to it. The stage lights seemed to catch and refract on certain facets of his scales, which all in all it, were actually quite nice to look at. The dark marks that ran down his neck and over his chest were really interesting too; a pinto-like pattern seemingly haphazardly painted on though she was sure they were natural. Settling back into her chair, Oriana smiled smugly to herself. She could only imagine how the asari – always so careful with their makeup and body marks – would be at least a little jealous of the drell's very dark and very prominent ones.

 Standing on stage, Kolyat tried not to glare at the audience. While he didn't care how much he went for or who bought him in the end, he at least knew he had to sell for more than his salarian partner. Any other option would have been too embarrassing. He tried to smile, and when that didn't work, settled for a blank expression that was still better than the scowl he was fighting.

 The sea of faces staring up at him were irritating. He wasn't ashamed, and he certainly didn't feel modest or nervous anymore. And at this point, being the only drell on the Citadel did have its advantages sometimes. All things considered, he was pretty average as far as his species went, and it was kind of weird to admit – which is why he usually didn't – but his dad was in much better shape than he was. Still, there was no reason to get all hung up about it since most, if not all of these humans didn't have anything to compare him too.

 Eventually his attention drifted back into the audience. Scanning the mostly alien faces, he thought he recognized one of them. Squinting, Kolyat realised he was looking at what was most definitely a very drunk Commander Shepard. With a boisterous gesture of his arm, the human caused a turian sitting next to him to spill his drink. Kolyat didn't recognize the aliens flanking the man, and he didn't see his father either. The boy swallowed and wasn't sure how this made him feel.

 Averting his stare quickly, he frantically tried to focus on something else before he fell into an unfortunate bout of solipsism. That would be even harder to live down, and he did not need to deal with that right now. His gaze passed right over another familiar face before he did a double take. The girl from earlier was sitting in the audience and he really shouldn't have been that surprised to see her.

 For her part, when Oriana saw him notice her, she caught his eye and gave him a wave and a smile. The boy looked genuinely surprised and didn't return the gesture, frowning at her instead. Oriana didn't let it get her down. She'd seen how his posture went just a little more relaxed, and notice that his hands weren't clenched anymore.

Chapter Text

“Did they just say 'Krios'?” Garrus asked, as he watched a young oficer step out from behind the curtain, “I didn't know he had a kid.”

 Having recovered both his offended sensibilities and another drink, Shepard was feeling much more himself – if a little tipsy around the edges. “Good to see he's settling in with C-Sec.”

 “If tiny pants are what you mean by 'settling in,' the sure, it's great,” Garrus chuckled. “Good thing his old man isn't here either. I doubt he'd approve.”

 “Oh I'm sure Thane's around here somewhere,” Shepard said with a vague wave of his hand. “Probably in some dark corner or something.” He blinked at all the drell onstage, waiting for the double-images to converge back onto the original one. “He likes that sort of thing,” Shepard added as an afterthought.

 Miranda didn't seem to be listening; she knew all these facts already. At Shepard's request she'd accompanied him on Thane's personal mission, so the fact that he was a father was no surprise. Even if she hadn't come along though, it wouldn't have been easy to keep the information secret from the self-appointed XO. Miranda always had her ways of finding things out.

 Shepard watched as the woman pulled a small but advanced looking datapad from her clutch and turned it on, discreetly hiding its light with her shawl.

 “Are those the bids?” he asked muzzily, looking at the little illuminated screen as she typed.

 Miranda made a thoughtful, “Mm,” noise, but didn't otherwise answer his question. Shepard on the other hand, didn't care enough to pursue the topic.

 Across the room, Oriana sighed in relief. For a minute there she'd been worried she'd have to bail when the price had spiked. Thankfully, it looked like the bids had finally come to a plateau so she wouldn't be forced to pinch her student budget too tightly. Offering up a few last minute credits to secure her last bid, she couldn't help but smile when Sargent Haron announced her ticket number as the winner.

 When she looked back to the stage she saw Kolyat staring, his expression unreadable. The girl grinned widely and gave him a thumbs up. When he only blinked both sets eyelids, she worried he might not have understood the gesture – or worse, misinterpreted it – but then, as he turned around to make room for the next officer, she could have sworn she saw him offer back what might have been a small smile of his own.

.

.

.

 The auction wore on as C-Sec members of all races were paraded down the catwalk. Shepard yawned into his fist; all these officers were starting to look the same to him. On his right, Garrus was humming under him breath to a song from his visor's audio feed. On his left, Miranda too, seemed to have lost interest in the proceedings and was now reading something or another on her datapad.

 “Hey,” Garrus said, eventually nudging the commander out of his stupor and pointing at the stage, “it's your bearded asari.”

 Shepard looked, thought for about two seconds, and then firing up his omnitool, placed a bid.

 Miranda looked at him. “You've got to be kidding,” she said.

 Shepard shrugged. “Think of all the fun we could have,” and turning to Garrus, he asked, “Do you know her? She any good?”

 The turian looked between the two humans and snorted. “Oh she's a real winner, Shepard, real nice too – so long as she doesn't have a gun in her hands. Actually, she sounds like she might just be your type.”

 “It says here that she's a biotic,” Miranda informed him, looking at her tiny screen again.

 “She looks ready to blow this place to pieces,” Shepard said with what might have been approval. Keying in a couple more commands, he raised his bid.

 Other offers challenged his or course, but for an asari, the price climb wasn't nearly as steep as it had been for her peers. A lot of that might have had to do with the woman's scowl, which was so intense it rivalled that of Kolyat's.

 “You aren't actually going to go through with this are you?” Miranda asked, watching Shepard place yet another bid.

 “Don't see why not,” he replied, and then grinning sidelong at Garrus added, “It's for a good cause after all.”

 Miranda tsked, typed something into her space ipad and cause Shepard's Omnitool to send up a small error window.

 “Did you just lock me out of my account?” he asked, more surprised than angry.

 “For two years I worked on you, Shepard. That was two years of pouring over your files. I know all about your off-world accounts,” she smiled smugly, “and I know all of your passwords and PINs too.”

 “K'tsh,” Garrus said, smirking into his lap.

 Both Miranda and Shepard turned to look at him. “Bless you,” the woman said.

 Shepard blinked, and then much more slowly offered, “Gesundheit.”

 “No,” Garrus said, trying again. “Ker-twhap?” he offered hopefully, even adding in a little wrist flick.

 Neither Shepard nor Miranda said anything, both for very different reasons.

 The turian took in their silence. Finally, and a little sheepishly he asked, “Wrong context?”

 Miranda looked at the commander before giving Garrus one of her prized half-smiles. “No,” she said, “I believe under these circumstances that's more than appropriate.” Turning back to the commander she said, “Sorry Shepard, but this one's mine.”

 Sending off her own proposal, Miranda secured herself the winning bid.

Chapter Text

Eventually the festivities ended. Everyone for sale was sold and the happy new owners of C-Sec's best (or at least most philanthropic) went to collect their new elves.

 “Excuse me,” Oriana said to various elbows and shoulders as she navigated her way through the crowd.

 “Sorry,” Kolyat said instinctively when she navigated right into his chest with a soft, “Oof.”

 Looking at each other as they both stepped back, the two of them said an awkward, “Oh. Hi,” at the same time.

 Oriana laughed, when the older boy dusted off invisible dust from arms. “Are you ticket 23-14?” he asked, fighting the urge to smile and doing a good job of it.

 “You should know,” the girl said, “You made the sale.”

 Kolyat nictated his inner eyelids. “I forgot,” he lied.

 Oriana decided not to call him on it though she knew he was lying. After he'd left that first day they'd met, she'd looked up his species on the extranet. She knew all about his memory.

 “Do you remember my name?” she asked, sure she'd never introduced herself.

 “It's 'Oriana,' right,” he said, phrasing it as a question.

 “Yeah,” she replied, pleased. “And you're Kolyat Krios. I got your name in the auction.”

 “You, uh. You look nice,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck, “I like your flower.”

 Oriana adjusted a petal that wasn't out of place and asked, “What do you like about it?”

 You're pushing your luck, is what Kolyat wanted to say. Instead, grasping at straws he replied, “You don't see a lot of black ones around this time of year. It matches your hair, I guess.”

 Again Oriana didn't correct him. She'd read about the colourblindness too.

 “You know,” she said, “your costume isn't half bad either. I mean, yeah, green is so not your colour, but the hat is kind of cute.”

 Kolyat huffed. “If you like it so much, you can have it,” he said, taking it off and twisting it in his hands.

 “Really?”

 “No. It's C-Sec property. They probably need it to torture people next year or something.”

 “And here I was getting all excited,” the girl said with an exaggerated pout.

 “Really?” Kolyat asked, grimacing. “I'm pretty sure I saw some at a gift shop on the Presidium. I don't think they're too expensive or anything...” He trailed off before saying accusingly, “You're only joking, aren't you?”

 “Maybe a little,” Oriana admitted.

 The young man scoffed and rubbed his arms. “Can you wait right here?” he asked, “I need to go grab the waiver forms and I kind of want to put on a shirt. It's fucking cold in this place.”

 “I love a man in uniform,” Oriana said, sitting down in an abandoned chair.

 “Yeah. Right,” Kolyat said, “You're joking again.”

 “Maybe.”

 The drell shook his head and walked away, but not before Oriana caught him cracking a smile. The guy could actually be kind of cute, she though, you know, if you tilted your head and kinda squinted.

 While she waited, Oriana looked around the room hoping to catch sight of her sister. Instead, she saw two officers who were coming straight at her. She recognized them both from the auction – a turian wearing a bunch of antlers and an asari that somehow managed to be less sexy than the universal average.

 “You 23-14?” the turian asked, standing over her.

 “Yes, I am,” Oriana said, suppressing the urge to add, And whatever it was, I didn't do it.

 “Well congratulations little lady, you've just won yourself an extra pair of elves courtesy of one 'Mrs. Lawson'. Sign here please,” he said, pulling out a pen and a tablet.

 “Are you sure?” Oriana asked, still a little startled.

 “Check your messages, Sweetheart,” the asari said, curling a slim blue finger into her beard, “I think she might have left you one.”

 “Oh. Uh. Sure, right.” Hastily, the young woman booted up her omnitool and checked her inbox. Sure enough, there was a new message waiting for her.

 

I thought you might appreciate a little variety.

Love, 'Randa.

 

Oriana smiled down at the text. She was unsure of what to write in response, but felt happy all the same.

 The turian interrupted her thoughts. “If it's all good,” he said, waving the tablet at her, “you should sign this before we're both stolen away.”

 “Okay,” Oriana said as she signed her name.

 “Hey, what are you doing?” a reedy voice demanded as Kolyat approached the group, now fully dressed in his uniform. Looking at the girl, he said, “You're signing the wrong thing.”

 “Cool your jets, Tiger,” the turian said, throwing an arm around the boy's shoulder, “We're a special delivery for the human. It's all very legit.”

 Kolyat made a face and shrugged off the man's arm. In a voice that was equal parts dismay and annoyance, he asked, “Why would she buy you.?”

 “That's what I asked,” the asari said, “Why would anyone buy him?”

 Kolyat looked like he had something to add, but then thinking better of it, closed his mouth. This gave the turian time to wink at Oriana, and bobbing his head like a duck, offer, “What can I say? Ladies love 'em jingle-balls.”

 “They're bells,” the asari said, as she pulled the bottom of her very short, very shiny latex dress down a few inches. “We've been over this.” She then pulled the top of her dress back up a few inches.

 “Are you going to be okay?” Oriana asked her, eyeing the tight red tube she was wearing.

 The asari gave a strange, but almost ladylike grunt before saying, “I'll be fine, Sweetheart, thanks for asking. It's just a shame we apparently didn't have the budget for a couple more inches of fabric but were completely down with paying for all this extra catering bullshit. I mean honestly, is a chandelier really necessary?” She gave her dress another tug. “Goddess,” she said huffily, adjusting the top of her dress again, “I swear one of the girls is going to escape.”

 “What?” Kolyat asked, sounding startled. He'd since stepped to Oriana's side, as if he didn't want to be associated with the other pair. “I didn't know you had daughters.”

 The two women both exchanged a look before bursting out into laughter. The turian joined in only seconds later, snorting, and filling the air with a cheery jingling as his head shook.

 “Hey!” Kolyat said sharply, unsure of what was going on but acutely aware that he was the butt of some sort of joke. “Shut up.”

 This only made the three of them laugh harder. Eventually, when the giggle fit had run its course, the turian turned his attention to Oriana.

 “You know,” he said, propping his elbow on Kolyat's shoulder and leaning up against the boy, “by human standards, you're a pretty decent looking young lady.”

 Kolyat's arms went up and he shoved the other man off of him again. “Don't do that,” he said frowning.

 “God, Celsus, you're even creeping me out. Lay off the poor kid,” the asari said, giving her dress another stern tug. “And your lines are awful, by the way.”

 “Some people just don't appreciate class anymore,” the turian said with a sniff. Then looking back at the human, added, “the drell's a good kid. A crap shot, but still a good kid. Don't worry about his bad attitude, he's decent enough once you get to know him.”

 “I don't think he's so bad,” Oriana said with a little smile, looking up at the drell. Kolyat didn't return the look; he was too busy staring at the fascinating patterns that weren't in the wallpaper.

 The turian grinned. “Well then! If everything's settled, me and the cranky lady here are going to go hand in your forms. You need anything?”

 “No, I'll be fine,” Oriana replied, “Thanks.”

 “Great. We'll leave you two aliens alone then.” The turian winked. “Try to keep your hands to yourself while Mommy and Daddy are gone.” The wink soon turned into a wince when the asari hit him.

 Oriana looked at Kolyat who had his jaw set and was staring very intently into the chandelier now. He didn't say anything until the the two bickering officers had left and were out of earshot.

 “They're crazy,” he finally said scornfully.

 “Aw, I think they're fine. Kind of funny actually,” Oriana said while fixing her hair and accidentally bumping her arm against his side, “Oops,”

 Kolyat looked at her and blinked his double eyelids again, “Don't worry about it,” he said, not bothering to move away.

 “You know,” the girl offered, looking sideways at him, “I think they could be kind of cute together actually”

 “Now you sound crazy,” he said, probably only kidding.

 There was a pause when having run out of things to say, both teens went quiet and looked everywhere but at each other. Eventually Kolyat broke the silence, asking, “Are you rich or anything? Or is it that you really just like supporting security on the Citadel?”

 “What?” Oriana asked, not following at all.

 “Even though you got the weird ones, buying all of us couldn't have been cheap. How did you afford it?”

 “Oh that,” Oriana said, waving her hand dismissively, “No, my sister bought them. But you? That was totally all me.”

 “Really?” Kolyat felt his ego beginning to swell.

 “Don't let it get to your head,” she said, poking his arm playfully, “Of the three, you were cheapest.”

 “Would you've paid more?”

 “Maybe.”

 “You say that a lot.”

 This earned him another playful poke and another simple, “Maybe.”

 Kolyat snorted. “So what's the plan? How are you going to have us help out the 'community slash charity organization of your choice?'”

 “We're going to be spreading good cheer,” Oriana informed him, beaming.

 “What? How?” Kolyat demanded, suddenly sounding so incredibly suspicious that she wanted to pinch the cheeks he didn't have.

 “Well, my Mom is part of this church group. They go carolling through the wards around this time of year, and Ireally don't want to have to go with her. So that's where you all come in.”

 “Hold it,” Kolyat said frowning and holding up his hands. “I do not sing.”

 “Don't worry about it,” Oriana said, “neither can anyone else in the group.”

 “Oh gods. And I have to do this all day? ”

 “You get hot chocolate after,” the girl offered enticingly.

 “Why would I want melted chocolate? That sounds disgusting.”

 “Oh my god. You've never had it? You're going to love it. Seriously. It's like, literally the best thing ever!”

 “'Literally?' I kind of doubt that.”

 “No, really. I will personally serve you, and be there when you realise you can't live without it.”

 “What do I get when you're wrong, and I hate it?”

 “I'm never wrong,” Oriana said, unknowingly sounding a lot like her sister.

 “We'll see.” the boy said, looking down at her.

 “Good,” she said, “It's a date.”

 “Yeah it is.” Kolyat gave her a confident grin, “You're gonna to be sorry.”

 “Oh I don't think so,” Oriana said, returning the smile.

.

.

The End