This is a series of vignettes including some of my City of Heroes/Guardians characters tied together by an overarching story. Superhero/Magical powers theme. Please enjoy.
The world focuses for one brief moment, and it is as if two pairs of eyes stare into its depths, contained within a glistening globe of light.
“What do you mean, mom?”
“I tried my best, Frederick. I just… we can’t afford much this Christmas. With the layoffs at work…” She sighs and blows out a soft breath, moving to hug her son.
His lip quivers slowly. “I… I understand, mom. I still got you something, though.”
She smiles and hugs him tighter. “You’re a good boy, Frederick. I love you very much, you know that, right?”
He nods. “Can I go play now, mom? You’re kinda… squishing me.” He struggles a bit in the tight embrace.
She releases him and laughs. “Go on, then. I won’t embarrass you anymore.” She grins and winks at him.
Frederick’s eyes are thoughtful as he pads into his bedroom. He was nine years old now, and he strongly felt the burden of being the man of the house. His mom and baby sister were his responsibility and he wasn’t going to let them down. No way. He grabbed a pen and paper and began to write, somewhat laboriously.
Stephnie pouts. “Out in that? It’s a blizzard!”
Eve laughs. “It is -not-. A few flakes is all. I really wanna celebrate the holiday with you, love. Please?”
Stephnie grumbles and hugs her mate. “All right, my Eve. Anything for you.”
Eve grins and pulls on a bulky parka, mittens and a furry hat.
Stephnie presses her lips together, trying not to laugh at the picture Eve presents. She grins though, and her expression turns to one of surprise as Eve throws a coat, hat and mittens at her as well.
“You too. Get dressed up.”
Stephnie shakes her head. “I don’t need that, love.”
“Please, love? I don’t really need it either…” She tugs off one of the furry mittens and a tongue of flame sits on her palm. She immediately snuffs it out, and pulls the gloves on once again. “It’s part of the fun!”
Stephnie grumbles again, but it’s good-natured. Soon she too is all bundled up in the outerwear. Eve leans over and wraps a thick scarf around her neck. She winks and kisses her. “Perfect.”
Stephnie growls and leans forward to lick at Eve’s ear, but is stymied by the layers of clothing covering it.
Eve laughs once again. “Outside!” She runs out and immediately flops on her back into the snow, making an angel, crystal flakes of snow falling onto her face.
Stephnie raises an eyebrow and pulls down the scarf with a mittened hand. “What are you doing?”
“Making snow angels! C’mon! You gotta too! Just fall back and wiggle your arms and legs!” She waves her arms and legs vigorously in the snow.
Stephnie looks a little askance at this, but sees how much fun Eve seems to be having, her cheeks already red from the chilled air. She shrugs and copies her mate’s example.
“See? Isn’t that fun?” Eve rolls out of her angel, on top of Stephnie, kisses her boisterously and rolls off the other side.
Stephnie purrs and also tries to get up.
“Careful! The outline! You have to get up carefully, or it won’t really be an angel!”
Stephnie freezes, then bounds up to her tiptoes and agilely moves away from the imprint in the snow.
Eve laughs. “Look at it! So cool!” She leans forward and kisses Steph hard. “Yours is more muscular.”
Stephnie kisses back and she laughs too, looking at her coat in disbelief. “How can you -tell-?”
“Oh, I can tell.” She winks and her hands squeeze Stephnie’s arms through the voluminous coat.
The other girl leans forward and tries to kiss her mate, but Eve lets go and whirls away.
Stephnie pouts a little bit. “Eve, love…?”
But Eve has her back turned to the girl, bent over slightly. She slowly turns, her eyes sparkling, and her furry mittens are filled with a rounded ball of snow. She fires it at Stephnie with startling accuracy. “Snowball fight!”
She blinks and it thuds harmlessly into her well padded chest. Her lips curve in a wide grin, and she immediately moves to make her own snowball. “You are in sooo much trouble now!”
Eve laughs and her boots tromp through the snow as she tries to create distance between them. She squeals and dodges, the first snowball missing her by a fraction of an inch, but the second smacking right in the back of her head with a spectacular explosion of snow.
“Hey!” She bends once again and quickly makes a small army of snowballs, then fires them at the other girl, her face red, smiling wide, eyes twinkling.
Stephnie allows some of the snowballs to hit her as she bulls forward, intent on getting in her own shots. “I’m going to bury you in snow, love!” She grins as another snowball smacks into her shoulder. She bounds forward, covering an immense amount of ground with her leap, and pulls Eve down into the sea of white, both of them giggling madly.
Eve jerks her head back and forth, laughter spilling from her lips as she tries to avoid the faceful of snow she knows she’s going to get. “Nooooo!” She tries to put her hands in front of her face, to block it, but Stephnie works to wrestle down her arms and pins them with her knees. “Ah ha! Got you now!” She rubs her wet, snow covered mittens all over Eve’s face in triumph.
Eve laughs and splutters, shivering beneath the thick coat. “Okay, okay! You win! But you cheated! I didn’t use -my- powers!”
“If you had, you’d have melted all the snow, love.” Stephnie grins and kisses her hard.
Eve grins back and returns the kiss, her cold wet nose pressing into the other girl. “I -could- have flown away, but why would I want to leave you, love?”
Stephnie grins once again and slides off her mate, but wraps her cumbersome figure in her arms.
“So, you don’t regret coming outside with me after all?”
Stephnie shakes her head. “Not if it’s going to end like this…” She laughs softly and kisses her mate once again, passion seeming to melt some of the snow around them.
“Mmmm…” Eve relaxes into her mate’s arms, and they lay there, content, in the sparkling field of snow.
The clock chimes the hour. Eight o’clock. Gotham City is covered in a blanket of crisp, newly fallen snow, and it sparkles under the faintly glowing street lamps.
Across the street from the Gotham Museum of Antiquities, Caumbine and Vicky watch the people stream through the door for the annual Christmas benefit, dressed very finely, beautiful jewels on their fingers and handsome furs draped from their shoulders.
“Viiiiiiicky! What are we gonna doooooo?” Caumbine pouts, clinging to the other woman.
“Doesn’t Caumby remember? We were going to get the pretty statue at the party.”
“Oh!” Her eyes widen and she nods vigorously, then pouts. “I like slime monkeys better.”
Vicky smiles, hugging the girl close as they approach the museum. “If you see a slime monkey statue, tell Vicky and she’ll steal it for you, okay?”
Caumby smiles brightly. “‘kay!”
“So we’re going to go inside, and no one is going to notice us, okay, Caumby? So we’re not going to talk to anyone. Just going to get the statue and go.” She winks. “Then we can have some fun later.”
A couple walks up the stairs and are stopped by a single guard. They hand over their invitation and chat while he checks the list.
“It -is- too bad Bruce was not able to attend. Something about other pressing business, you said? That boy. What could be more important than this?” She tosses the stole around her neck and smiles graciously at the guard as he gestures her inside, a tall white-haired man with black-rimmed glasses entering slightly behind her.
Veronica moves to the door, Caumby by her side, and smiles at the guard.
“Invitation please?” He consults his clipboard.
She smiles softly. “I’m afraid I forgot it… am I on the list?” She leans over as if to peer at the clipboard and taps him gently, leaving him standing, but his brain on temporary pause.
Caumbine giggles and makes a face at him.
“In we go. But quietly, okay?” Vicky smiles.
Caumbine nodnods. “‘Kay…” She whispers it, and she has to restrain herself from bouncing.
“We’ll avoid the large banquet hall, and head to the room with the treasures, okay, Caumby?”
She nods, eager, but tries to be cool and collected.
They slip through the crowds of people, and approach the room in question.
Caumbine nibbles her lower lip, brow furrowed. “So…how do we get in? Can I do it? Can I? Can I? Can I, huh?”
Vicky laughs softly and hugs her once again. “Yes, of course, but Caumby can be quiet, right? We don’t want to invite everyone to our own personal party.”
Caumby instantly freezes in her tracks a moment, then she tiptoes forward exaggeratedly, her finger pressed to her lips as she nods. “I can do it…” She whispers, and she bites her lip, looking over her shoulder anxiously as she slowly carves a small hole in the glass. She catches it carefully, making small shushing noises at it, and she slips her hand in to turn the knob. The door swings open quietly. She looks at Vicky, bouncing, eyes wide, looking for approval.
Vicky kisses her firmly. “Caumby is totally awesome.” She pauses. “Now, we want to avoid what guards we can, but if they get in our way…”
Caumby brightens and her dagger falls into her hand. Her voice is still somewhat quiet, though. “Then the plan says I can stab ’em!” She makes little stabbing motions with the sharp weapon, and giggles. She suddenly freezes. “There’s someone in here.”
Vicky frowns, and she glances around. A flicker of a shadow catches her eye, in the adjacent room. She nods to Caumbine, who crouches slightly, and they advance from opposite sides, silently.
A large fat man in a red suit, with bushy white hair and a long flowing beard is bent over slightly, and there is a pedestal with a small statue, encrusted with precious gems, sitting on a bed of diamonds.
He takes it in his hands and turns slightly, seeming to admire it. Covet it, even.
Caumby leaps forward and the dagger disappears. “Vicky! It’s Santa!” She cuddles up to the man, with shining eyes.
He yelps in surprise, and his eyes widen as he puts down the statue hastily. “Uh, how did you…?”
Caumby bounces against him, and she kisses his rosy red cheek. “Where’s my present? Present!” She smiles wide, excited.
He looks around, a bit wildly, and scoops up some of the diamonds in his hand. “For you?” He holds them out to her.
She pouts. “Just like that?” Her lip pokes out.
His eyes dart around the room. “There. That pouch.” He points at a large velvet textured bag. “Hold it open for me. It’s a special pouch, just for you.” He smiles.
Caumby bounces once again, and she eagerly opens the bag, watching him pour in the glittering jewels.
“Wow, Vicky, did you see?” She smiles widely at the other girl, who is leaning back, watching with suspicious eyes.
“Oh, I see, yes.” She pauses. “I thought Santa was supposed to wait until all the children were in bed. It’s only eight-thirty.”
He smiles at her, his rosy red cheeks gleaming and laughs softly, holding his belly. “Ho ho ho! Well, my work is never done, you see. I do toil all year long, you know.”
Vicky glances at Caumby, who’s still watching the man with shining eyes. “And it looked like you were -taking-, not giving, Santa. That statue, for instance.” She nods at it.
He chuckles once again, but small beads of sweat form on his forehead. “Ah, well, I was just… admiring it! Yes, admiring it! Such good workmanship!”
Caumby begins to look puzzled and her head moves from side to side, trying to understand.
“-We- were gonna steal the statue! And Santa’s not supposed to take, Vicky…” She pouts.
Vicky smiles at her and blows her a kiss. “No, Caumby, of course not.” Her eyes harden. “But what if this isn’t Santa?”
He looks startled a moment, then laughs, and his belly shakes like a bowl full of jelly. “Of course I’m Santa! Big red suit! White beard. Ho ho ho! See?”
Caumby nibbles her lower lip, and looks at Vicky, for her reaction.
“Oh, anyone can dress up in a suit and say ho ho ho.” She smiles, somewhat dangerously.
Caumby looks back at Santa, her head swivelling back and forth between them, like she’s at a tennis match.
“My dear, please.” He laughs once again. “Of -course- I’m the real Santa…”
Vicky immediately cuts him off. “Prove it then. Let Caumby pull on your beard.” She smiles at Caumby and winks. “Caumby would do that little thing for her Vick-Vick?”
Caumby nods quickly and smiles, then claps her hands delightedly.
He puts hands to his beard, rather protectively. “Ah, well, my beard is very sensitive…”
Vicky raises an eyebrow and her eyes narrow. “Oh? Then maybe he -isn’t- Santa Claus, Caumby…”
Caumbine growls very slightly and her forearm twitches, the dagger spilling into her hand once again.
His eyes widen at the appearance of the knife, and his hands almost reflexively go up in a surrender position, before he masters himself, and smiles once again. “Ho ho ho! Surely you wouldn’t threaten -Santa Claus-!” He laughs once again, but it sounds nervous as he holds his belly, jiggling it.
Vicky’s voice is flat. “Let her pull on your beard. Now.”
He inconspicuously bites his lip underneath the bushy beard. “Ah, well… of course! Of course she can!” He smiles once again. “But she’ll be gentle, right? Don’t wanna hurt Santa!” He chuckles, but his eyes are wide, slightly nervous.
“Vicky?” Caumbine says her name, in a somewhat dreamy voice.
“Yes, Caumby?” She winks and blows her another kiss.
“If he’s not Santa, what’s the plan?”
Vicky smiles, very cruelly. “Then you can stab him, Caumby, of course.”
Caumby squeals softly and bounces into Vicky’s arms, smothering her with kisses.
The colour drains from the man’s face, and he swallows hard. His hands move to his beard, and he presses into it, as though hoping it will attach itself more firmly.
Caumbine moves forward, and her hand reaches out to jerk gently on the white beard. It does not move.
There is a sigh of relief from the man, and he straightens, leaning back. “See? I am not…” His eyes widen as Caumbine continues to hold on, and as he pulls back, the beard peels off his face, and hangs from her hand.
Vicky laughs, very softly, and it is as though flames appear in her eyes. “Gotcha.”
He snatches at the beard and quickly presses it back into the place, smiling nervously at them.
Caumby’s eyes narrow and she brandishes her weapon threateningly. “You -aren’t- Santa! Vicky! He tricked me!”
Vicky smiles once again, and her eyes cut to the frightened man, who backs away a little more. “Yes. He did, didn’t he? Go ahead, Caumby. Give him a new mouth….” She points, about where his belly would be. “…right there.”
He sighs dramatically. “Clearly I must reveal my true identity to you.” He whirls and throws out his arms. “Wait, evildoers!” The voice now booms from the man, who throws off his Santa suit, wig and beard then spins, posing dramatically in black tights, emblazoned with the insignia “POWAM” across his chest. His arm is outstretched, pointing at the ceiling, chest thrust out proudly. “My superpowers will vanquish you!”
Vicky and Caumby exchange glances, somewhat nonplussed.
“…you’re…a superhero?” They look dubious, but tense, on guard.
He nods once regally, still posing.
“…you -do- know superheroes don’t steal, right?” Vicky looks slightly askance at him, brows furrowed.
His face rearranges itself into sadness. “Ah, but you do not understand my plight!” He clears his throat, and begins to speak. “As a boy, I wished only to become the world’s best actor! I would wow the crowds, and they would heap accolades on me. My name would be known throughout the world! People would clamour for my talents, my work! Everything I would do would be acclaimed, and I would want for nothing!” He pauses dramatically and puts his hands on his hips, posing.
“Imagine my desolation when my teachers, my friends, my colleagues did not recognize my talent.” He sniffs, clearly overcome by this. “I vowed then that I would try forever to show them the error of their ways!” He smiles winningly at them. “Surely my rendition of Santa Claus was perfection itself!”
Vicky frowns and looks at Caumby with disbelief, who blinks, nibbling on a fingernail. “Um, I knew right away you weren’t Santa.”
He waves a hand dismissively. “Unusually perceptive.” He smiles. “I fooled your friend, there.”
Caumby’s eyes blaze and she brandishes the dagger once again. “Hey! That’s right! You did trick me!”
He shrinks back a little, and Vicky smirks. “I wouldn’t mention that, if I were you…”
Caumby pouts. “Can I kill him now, Vicky? Pleeeeeeeease?”
He looks taken aback. “But I have not even finished my introduction! You do not even know my name!”
Vicky shrugs. “What’s another few minutes?” She looks at Caumby. “When he stops talking, kill him.”
Caumby beams at her, wrinkling her nose in pleasure, and her hand tightens on the dagger in anticipation.
The words tumble out of his mouth end over end. “I am Poor-Out-Of-Work-Actor-Man!”
Vicky blinks. Then blinks again. “You are -not- serious.”
Caumbine’s mouth moves, and she stares at his chest, mouthing the phrase slowly. “…it’s missing an O…”
He nods apologetically. “Yes, my tailor cannot seem to spell…but upon second thought, POWAM is much more impressive than POOWAM…” He ponders this a moment, then shakes his head, as if to clear it, and points dramatically once again, hurrying back into his speech. “I can weave illusions that make the masses weep! I can fool the most perceptive people…” He pauses a moment. “Present company excepted, perhaps.” He glances at Vicky a moment, then rushes on. “My own mother did not recognize me as I played out the role of dogwalker, bus boy, grocery clerk and valet all in one day!” He grins proudly.
“I must steal to earn my living while I wait for the big break that is my due, but truly, no one would blame me for it, and I will make reparations as soon as I am famous!” He gestures grandiosely.
“…he’s a crook who thinks he’s a hero.” Vicky shakes her head in disbelief.
“Now? Can I do it now?” Caumbine’s eyes shine, and she leans forward, eager.
Vicky nods. “By all means, Caumby. The world can only be improved by his death.”
Caumby’s eyes flash and she leaps forward. The man stumbles back, and knocks over the pedestal with the statue, and it goes crashing to the ground with a loud bang, diamonds spilling all over the floor.
“What was that?” Footsteps pound in the hallway.
Vicky growls and looks over her shoulder. “Okay, time to go. That was way too much noise. Caumby?”
She pouts, holding the dagger a fraction of an inch above the man’s belly. “But Vicky…”
“No, no. We don’t want to be caught in here.” She moves quickly to the door on the other side of the room where they came in. “We can kill someone else later, Caumby.” She smiles.
The girl beams and the dagger vanishes. “‘Kay!” She vaults the debris easily, and they disappear just as a dozen security guards storm the room.
“Hold it right there!”
The man raises his hands slowly, and swallows hard, sprawled on the floor amid a pile of precious gems, and a broken statue. “Ah…um…I didn’t do it?”
Outside, Vicky flies high, Caumby held in her arms. “…that did not go well.”
Caumby snuggles into the girl. “I got to be with you, though! And I got these!” She holds up the bag of diamonds, and spills them into her hand.
“Ah, yes, from your fake Santa.”
Caumby pouts. “Yeah! He was fake! I bet these are fake too!” She flings the glittering gems high in the air, and they rain down on the street below, falling deeply in the wet snow, buried treasure waiting to be found.
The pleasing aroma of freshly baked cookies wafts throughout the apartment, but it is a harried Coquina who stands in the kitchen shaking her head.
“No -way- am I going to be able to bake like that, Ange. -You- have the gift. -I- have the lump of coal.”
“Quina, please. You must at least -try-.” She smiles softly and holds up a perfectly baked cookie, shaped like a Christmas tree, and frosted delicately. “Wouldn’t you like to be able to do this?”
She rolls her eyes. “Of course I’d love to be able to, but that doesn’t seem to be what I am able to produce.” She gestures at the smoking pan on the stove, and the blackened crumbled bits of cookie stuck to it. “And you’ve made enough cookies already to feed the neighbourhood.” She pouts a little.
Angela smiles gently once again. “I thought we could bring the extras over to your old house… the orphanage is up and running. The Wayne was very quick about it.”
Coquina’s eyes immediately fill with tears. “Ange… really?” Her breath catches in her throat.
She nods and enfolds Coquina in a tight hug. “Yes, Quina. I noticed it on our patrol the other evening.” She pauses. “I did not mean to upset you…”
Coquina brushes at the tears threatening to stream down her face. “N-no…I just… it just surprised me.” She smiles tremulously. “You… you’re so kind. I-It was… a really nice thought.” She nods, more firmly. “Okay. I’ll try again.”
Angela squeezes her harder in the hug, then releases her. “Good. You still have some dough left?”
She nods. “Are you sure you didn’t give me a defective batch?” She grins a little, trying to make her friend smile.
She cocks her head, but shakes it. “No. I would not do that. Then you would just be upset once again, and I would have to comfort you.”
Coquina sighs deeply. “A joke, Ange. It was a joke.” She shakes her head and plops out a rounded ball of dough on the table.
Angela immediately picks up the dough and puts a light dusting of flour on the table beneath it. She sets it down once again. “Flour, Quina, so it doesn’t stick and tear. You want cookies like this, right?” She bites into one delicately, her white teeth gleaming.
Coquina grumbles softly. “This is far too much work. I told you I wasn’t going to be good at it…” But she remembers to dust the rolling pin with flour before flattening the mixture against the table, her strong arms easily pressing down on the dough.
“You are very beautiful, Quina. Your body moves well.” She smiles and takes another bite out of the cookie.
Coquina blushes very slightly and she presses too hard, and the dough flattens too much, paper-thin against the table. “You are… flattering me. Thank you. But you shouldn’t.”
“And why not?” She sounds curious, and her head cocks.
“Because I don’t deserve it.” Her tongue pokes out between her teeth in concentration as she peels the dough from the table, ripping off that piece and tossing it back into the bowl. She takes the cookie cutters in hand and slowly presses into the dough, moving them gently from side to side to make the impressions.
“Ah, but you do. And that is a very cute expression, as well.”
“Ange…” She glances at your innocently perfect face, and her eyes twinkle. “It is -you- who is so gorgeous and wonderful and sweet and kind.” She nods at the brightly blinking tree, covered in beautiful decorations and shining tinsel. “It should be you atop the Christmas tree, Angel.”
Her mouth opens and she blinks, touched. She speaks softly. “I do enjoy it when you call me that, though I should not…”
“Ah, but I should. You are.” She winks at her friend, and peels the remaining pieces of dough off the table, leaving only the cookies behind.
Angela blinks once again, and her manner is brisk as she takes out another pan. “Now you grease it, so the cookies do not stick.” She glances only once at the still smoking cookie sheet. “As I am certain you will now remember.”
Coquina laughs a little and she mimes staggering back, holding her hand over her heart. “A mortal wound. You got me good. Yes, yes, now I’ll remember.” She rubs the shortening into the pan and sets it down. “So, now the cookies go on?”
Angela nods. “Space them apart. They will expand as they cook in the oven.”
Coquina does so, and Angela sets the temperature on the oven as they are slid inside.
“So now what?”
Angela smiles. “Now we wait.”
Coquina grumbles again. “This is the part I really don’t like.”
Angela arches a delicate eyebrow. “But all the work is done. You have only to pull them out after a certain amount of time.”
“…but I always forget about them…until I smell the smoke.” She looks a little embarrassed.
Angela smiles. “Then we will stand here, and wait together.” She proffers a cookie at you. “Would you like one?”
Coquina smiles, and accepts it. “Only if you share it with me? Half and half?”
Angela considers this a moment, then nods.
Coquina snaps the cookie in equal portions and hands the top half of the Christmas tree over. They munch as they wait for time to pass.
“Ange…Do you think…” She pauses, and her eyes glisten.
“Yes, Quina?” She smiles at you, licking crumbs from her lips.
“Do you really think it’s okay that I enjoy the holiday with you? I…Penny…” She swallows hard.
She immediately wraps her arms around Quina, very tightly. “Your daughter would want you to be happy. I know this deep inside.”
She sighs and looks at the Christmas tree, her face reflected in a crimson bulb hanging from a branch. She thinks of her daughter and what they have missed, together.
“And the cookies should now be ready, Quina.” Angela speaks gently. “If you do not take them out now, they will burn.”
She nods slowly, and smiles. “Thanks, Ange. You’re a great friend.” She bends to open the oven door.
Angela holds out the oven mitts. “Perhaps using these would prevent further accidents?”
Quina blushes and nods, taking them, and when she pulls out the pan, her eyes are caught by the cookie in the center of the pan. A perfect angel. She glances at Angela, and a slight blush suffuses her cheeks.
“Hiiiiiiiiiiiiii!” Fawne appears immediately in front of Saria, her fingers waving cutely.
Saria clutches at her chest and stumbles back. ” Ahhh! We agreed you weren’t going to do that anymore!”
She pouts. “I know, but it’s fun!”
Saria shakes her head, and breathes slowly. “I can’t believe we’re out here, in the snow, on hospital duty. My superiors totally hate me.”
“But I don’t! And it’ll be fun! We’ll get to visit the sick people! Make them happy!” Fawne bounces.
Saria grumbles. “How are we going to do that?”
“Wellllllllllllll…..you could make cool stuff for them, with your alchemy!”
She pauses. “Not supposed to use it frivolously, Fawne…”
Fawne pouts. “But… it’s not… friv…friv…friv-whatever!”
Saria shakes her head. “We’re here now, Fawne, so we have to kinda be quiet, okay? And don’t scare anyone.”
Fawne nods quickly and fades from view.
“Oh! You’ve arrived already! How wonderful! We need all the help we can get!” A nurse bustles by, shoves an armful of towels at the startled girl, and pushes her forward down the hall. “Make sure you don’t forget to check the sheets in all the rooms, dear!”
Saria moves helplessly forward, eyes wide in astonishment, then her expression sours, and she grumbles. “Figures. One day an alchemist, the next an orderly.” She is urged along by the nurse, leaving Fawne behind.
The girl looks around curiously, and flits into one of the rooms, giggling slightly.
“Who’s there? Is that you, Colleen?” A voice speaks querulously from one of the beds.
Fawne looks over, her gaze drawn to the elderly woman lying still in a bed, bandages around her head and arm.
“Um…no. I’m Fawne!”
The woman pats the side of her bed with a weak hand. “Colleen, come and sit beside your mother. You know my eyes aren’t as good as they once were…”
Fawne cocks her head, but floats towards her obediently.
The woman roots around in the sheets, groping at the bedstand. “I might have a sweet for you…”
Fawne shakes her head and smiles brilliantly. “No, that’s okay! I don’t need any sweets!”
The woman’s face softens into a smile and she looks vaguely at Fawne. “Such a good girl, my Colleen. Always such a good girl.”
Saria, having escaped the head nurse, heads back towards the entrance.
“Oh dear. She’s having one of her spells again.” Two nurses hover outside the door to a hospital room.
Saria pauses and leans forward, listening.
“Listen to her, talking to herself, poor thing.” One shakes her head sadly.
“Ever since she heard about her daughter’s passing, she’s been… completely out of it. I don’t think she’s ever going to improve at this rate. No one has even come to visit her.”
“You may be right. But tis the season, right? A miracle could happen.”
“Oh yeah. And a State Alchemist could walk through those doors and turn all these towels into gold. C’mon, before the head nurse comes back. I want to be able to go -home- tonight…”
The one nurse lingers though, and she shakes her head once again. “Thinking she’s talking to her Colleen. Poor thing.” She slowly walks away.
Saria frowns, and her eyes widen. “Talking to herself…? Or….Fawne!” She walks forward quickly, and she strides into the room.
“Fawne!” She hisses, seeing the girl hovering by the bed. “What are you doing in here?”
Fawne looks back over her shoulder and smiles. “I’m talking to the lady!” Her brow furrows. “She keeps calling me Colleen, though, and I’m Fawne!”
The woman mutters to herself, one hand outstretched towards Fawne, as if she wants to touch her very badly.
Saria moves closer, but stays out of line of sight of the bed. She whispers to Fawne. “She thinks you’re her daughter. She died recently according to some of the nurses.”
Fawne’s face falls and she looks very sad. “Can I help her?”
Saria looks startled. “Help her?”
Fawne nods vigorously. “I just have to ask permission! I’ll be right back!” She fades out, and disappears.
“Fawne! Fawne!” She hisses the name, a little panicked. “What -is- she up to?”
A single tear trickles down the woman’s face, and she turns her face into the pillow. She mumbles quietly to herself.
Saria backs away, embarrassed at seeing this, but whirls as the woman’s door is opened and one of the nurses from before bustles in.
“Oh! Hello!” She smiles, and sets down the small vase of flowers she holds in her hand. She checks the woman’s bed expertly as she speaks. “Are you family? That’s so wonderful that you’ve come to see her, after so long!”
“Ah, no… no I’m not… family…” Saria mumbles the words.
“Oh no? I thought you were here to visit Rhianna. Poor thing.” She strokes the woman’s hair softly. “Then why are you in here?”
“Ah… uh… got lost. Yeah.”
The nurse sounds regretful. “Oh, well. Can I help you find something?”
Saria shakes her head, looking thoughtfully at the frail woman on the bed. “No… wait. Yes. Do you have a telephone? I need to make a call.”
“I’ll be back later, Rhianna. Try to be happy, okay?” She leads Saria out and nods. “I can show you where it is…” She heads over to a narrow corridor, and a large fat man speaks importantly into the phone.
“Oh dear. Mr. Ferriman. He spends all of his time on the telephone. You may have to wait some time.” The nurse nibbles her lower lip, and her voice is apologetic.
Saria shakes her head. “No. No, I won’t.” She taps the man on the shoulder. “I need this phone. Official business.”
He grunts at her. “Wait your turn.”
She raises an eyebrow and elbows him aside, surprisingly quickly, and ends his call.
He squawks at her. “What are you -doing-?”
“Making a miracle.” She dials the phone, and waits impatiently.
Back in the hospital room, Fawne reappears, and she pouts. “Where’d she go? I wanna show her my surprise!”
The woman’s face softens. “My Colleen… you’re back.” Her hand stretches out once again, and Saria re-enters the room.
“I’m still Fawne, but I brought Colleen to see you!” She says brightly, and smiles at Saria, waving sunnily.
Another indistinct form slowly materializes beside the bed, and the figure floats very close. “Mother.”
The woman’s breath catches in her throat, and her eyes open wide. “Colleen!”
“I miss you, mother. I did not mean to die.” The ghost’s hand reaches out, featherlight, to lay over the other woman’s.
Tears fill her eyes and stream down her face. “I know, Colleen…it just… it hurts so much, and I miss you!”
A faint smile appears on the ghost’s incorporeal face. “I miss you too, mother. But you can’t live like this. You must move on.” Her hand looks as if it squeezes the other. “My daughter needs you too.”
She clutches at her daughter’s hand. “Maera. Yes.” She licks her lips anxiously, face still turned to face the ghost.
“I will be watching over you all, mother. Please.” The ghost bends and brushes cool lips over the woman’s cheek. “Be happy.”
Fawne smiles as the ghost retreats. “I must go, mother. But please remember. I will always be with you.” She fades and Fawne waves cheerily at her. “Thank you for coming!”
Saria’s eyes mist and she blinks as Fawne floats over, the woman still crying softly.
“Did I do good?” She smiles and bounces.
Saria embraces her in a hug, and Fawne grins, happy at the attention. “That was beautiful, Fawne.”
The girl giggles and bounces once again. “Hee!”
Just then the door bursts open and a small girl runs in. “Gramma! Look, daddy, it’s Gramma!” She throws herself at the bed, hugging the woman tightly.
“Maera! How… how did you find me?” The woman clutches at the girl, bandaged arm and all.
A tall man rushes in behind her. “Rhianna! My god, are you all right? When you wandered off, we were terribly worried! We searched everywhere!” He bends down to hug the older woman.
She smiles a little at him, and her eyes are full of tears, but they are happy tears.
The nurse enters the room once again, and her eyes widen and she claps a hand to her mouth. “You must be her family! Oh, how wonderful!”
Saria backs off slightly, tugging at Fawne’s arm. The girl beams at her, but follows.
Once they’re outside, Saria smirks. “That worked out well, if I do say so myself.”
Fawne giggles. “You did that? Awwwww!” She throws her thin arms around the other girl, who blushes slightly.
Saria clears her throat. “All right, we should do… what we came here to do.”
Fawne grins at her. “Did you want me to get another ghost? I can if you want! Anyone you wanna meet?”
Saria groans. “One of you is quite enough, thank you very much.” But she grins.
They walk along the snow covered sidewalks, people bustling past them, colourful packages piled high in their arms.
A hoarse voice speaks, and Elizabeth turns, startled, as fingers tug at her coat. She whirls anxiously, and her body tenses. An old man looks up at her, a brightly coloured scarf clutched in his hand. “Miss? Miss, did you drop this?”
Elizabeth looks puzzled, but shakes her head. “No, I didn’t…”
He clutches it to him more tightly. “Really? Then…I can keep it?”
Elizabeth shrugs. “I guess so. It’s just a scarf.”
He makes a soft exclamation of pleasure, rubbing the very soft material around his neck and smiles at her, what few teeth in his mouth gleaming yellow in the blinking lights all around them. “Thank you, Miss.” His breath is extremely bad, and Elizabeth draws back a very little bit, but the man has forgotten her already, murmuring softly to his new scarf.
She watches him a minute, and he heads back to a group of people, huddled around a small fire in a dead-end alley. They are dressed in ragged clothing, some with boots, some without, and they tramp in the slush to keep warm. He shows off his new scarf with pleasure, but there is still fear and furtiveness in his movements, as if he is afraid someone will take it from him.
Elizabeth growls a little bit, as she is bumped from behind. “Careful!”
The person looks startled and hurries away, mumbling an apology, the encounter forgotten by the time they reach the crossroads.
Valya, having been quiet up to now, chuckles softly. “Ah, this holiday. Yes, humans get very agitated this time of year. They put much stock in Christmas.”
Elizabeth looks at her curiously. “You seem to know a lot about it.”
Valya shrugs. “I am a very old vampyre.” She pauses to collect her thoughts. “The holiday is the celebration of a particular birth, but I will not go into that. It is steeped in custom and tradition, including gift-giving and the display of decorations.” She gestures to large store windows, where lights are blinking colourfully and sprigs of holly hang from the corners. “You can see the giant Christmas tree in the center of the town, there. They spend much time and effort on the ornaments for it.”
Elizabeth nods. “So… how come they look so sad, if this is supposed to be joyful and fun?”
Valya turns, glancing at the motley assortment of homeless people, trying to keep warm. A well-dressed man skirts by them, almost contemptuously, ignoring the small hat laid out for donations of coins or bills.
Valya shrugs. “Perhaps they have no one to celebrate the holiday with… no family. It is not uncommon in this place for people to be very alone.” She pauses. “It can be very depressing for some.”
Elizabeth catches her lower lip between her teeth. “Oh… well… if it’s supposed to be a happy time… it’s not right for people to be sad.”
Valya shrugs her elegant shoulders once again. “What would you have us do, Liz?” She pauses and draws the credit card from her leather clad bodice. “I suppose we could buy them gifts if you would like…?”
Elizabeth shakes her head. “No. I don’t think that would really make them happy.” She looks at Val and her eyes are soft, almost wistful. “I never really had a day like this… where everyone was supposed to be happy. Where… it was okay… and people were encouraged… to do nice things. Can… can we help them, Val? Please?”
Her eyebrow arches, and she looks a little puzzled. “Help them how, Liz? What would you have us do besides what I suggested?”
Elizabeth smiles and she squeezes her friend’s arm lightly. “You could give them a good Christmas. In their minds. You could do it, Val, I know you could! Please? I don’t want them to be unhappy…”
Valya looks startled, and she taps a long fingernail against her pale skinned cheek. “I suppose I could do that, yes. Will you join minds with me, so that you can see what I do? To advise if it… is not to your liking?”
Elizabeth smiles and nods, taking Val’s other hand in hers, squeezing it lightly. “I know you’ll do perfectly… but… thank you. Thank you for letting me see.” She turns her head to look at the group of people and waits.
Valya’s body shimmers slightly as she concentrates, and soon both women are enveloped in a fine grey mist… though no one seems to notice them, and their position is avoided, as if there is a barrier there, preventing anyone from getting too close.
The snow and ice, the dilapidated old barrel filled with flame, and the puddles of slush and discarded wrappers slowly fade, to be replaced by warm carpets, solid walls and festive decorations. There is no alarm or surprise on the part of the people, now warmly dressed, as they melt into their new environment. Val flicks a finger and a large table, filled with food, appears in the centre of the richly furnished room. Many opulent chairs surround it, and the people exchange looks of hunger and desperation before they fall on the feast, eating as if this was their first meal in months.
Val arches an eyebrow softly, and a large Christmas tree appears in the corner, brightly wrapped gifts piled high under the branches. The lights wink on and off softly, adding to the warmth in the room. A fire crackles in the corner, the reddish orange light flickering softly behind the grate. She smiles at Elizabeth and keeps one eye on the table, replenishing the food as needed.
Elizabeth squeezes her hand once again, but still looks sad. “I thought this would help, Val. But they’re just going to go back to what they were…” She swallows hard, and her eyes fill.
Valya shakes her head a little. “The alley exists in this reality no longer, Liz. It is their home. A real home, now. The clothes and food will remain with them, though… ” She points at the old man, still with one hand clutched on his scarf, as he shovels food into his mouth with his other hand. “I would not take away the things they know as theirs. It will be a slight merging of their reality and this one. They will believe they are warm and well fed as long as they are not able to break through the power of my mind.” She smiles very softly. She brushes Elizabeth’s cheek with a gloved hand. “Is that… pleasing to you?”
She looks shocked for a moment, in disbelief. Then she throws her arms around Valya and kisses her cheeks. “Just perfect.”
Melinda kisses her beloved, very softly. “My Xan.”
“Yes, my Kiosai?”
“I would very much like to thank you for the excellent training you have provided me. You are truly a wonderful teacher. I would not have such control over what is now mine without you.”
He smiles and wraps an arm around her shoulders, which still lingers even as Paul walks over to hand them a small slip of paper.
Xan looks very startled. “Class 10…?”
Paul nods, his perennially sour expression ever-present. “King has… insisted, and -I’m- not going to argue with him.”
Melinda leans over and kisses his cheek. “For you, and for King, once I see him. You both have my thanks.”
He scowls deeply, and waves his hand irritably. “Out! Out of my office. There’s work to be done.” His voice is somewhat gruff.
Melinda grins and nods, placing her hand gently in Xan’s, who still looks surprised. His eyes flash red for one moment, then are as they are normally… with only a slight sheen of excitement.
Melinda looks closely at him, puzzled. “Where do we go, my Xan?”
He blinks and shakes his head a little, and when he speaks boyish excitement wars with anticipation. “To see Santa.”
They materialize outside a small warmly decorated house, the trees outside winking cheerfully with bright lights and candy canes hung from the snow laden branches.
Melinda thinks a moment, her mind clearly flipping through the repository in her brain. “Does this have special significance for you, my Xan?”
He smiles at her, and kisses her lips gently. “It…” He shakes his head softly. “I believe, Melinda. I simply believe. And now… I will know.”
“Know what?” She looks quizzically at him.
He smiles and shakes his head once again, wrapping his arm around her waist. He steps forward, and taps gently on the door.
The door opens, almost as of its own accord. “Come in! Come in! You are both welcome here.” A jolly old man, with red cheeks and bushy white hair waves at them from his position behind a workbench, glasses perched on his nose and several small people in funny looking hats and shoes bustling about around him.
Xan takes a deep breath and smiles, bowing deeply. “It is my honour to meet you.”
The man shakes his head and a loud laugh comes from him as he holds his belly, jiggling slightly. “No, no. There will be none of that. We are going to be good friends, I can tell.” His eyes twinkle as he glances at both of them. “I am, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, good old Saint Nick. Santa Claus.” He bows floridly.
Xan’s smile widens. “You are not surprised by our presence here?”
Santa straightens and lays a gentle finger alongside his nose then winks. “I have a little bit of magic myself.”
Melinda looks around, surprised. “Your dwelling is very large. Deceptive, from its appearance outside.”
He laughs once again, still holding his belly. “Ah, yes. Well, I do important work here. And I have many things to keep track of.” He gestures around, and the little people pick up speed, piles of toys appearing almost instantly in the corners, filling up the room.
She blinks, once again surprised. She pauses a moment. “Ah. You are responsible for bringing presents to all children. Correct?”
He grins and winks at her, and a plate of cookies materializes out of nowhere, and he takes one as it floats past. It hovers in front of Melinda, who shakes her head, but Xan reaches out, crunching into one with a grin. “I do that, yes, and so much more.”
“Then why are we here? If you can do all, surely you do not need our power.” Melinda smiles at him brilliantly.
His grin does not falter. “One must use the perfect tool for the perfect problem. And there is a problem that perhaps you two may be better suited to handle. In my name, of course.” A small frown mars his face. “But you need to hurry. There is not much time left.” He hands them a letter. “Read this, and you will know what to do.” He pauses and moves to wrap both of them in a hug. As he does, Xan whispers something quietly in his ear, and the man grins wide and winks.
Frederick anxiously clutches the little bit of money he’d gotten from his piggybank this morning. The dollar bills were sticky in his palm, but he just -had- to get his little sister something else to put under the tree, so she wouldn’t be sad. He hadn’t heard from Santa at all, and he worried that his letter might not have arrived. He chews his lower lip and grips his lunch box even more tightly.
“Hey, runt. Gimme your lunch money.” A group of three much larger boys fan out and surround Frederick, almost pinning him to the bank of lockers.
“I… I don’t have any lunch money!” Frederick holds up the lunch box defensively in front of him, stumbling back.
“What’s that you got in your hand, then?” The tallest and broadest of them nods at the tightly clenched fist, sneering slightly.
Frederick looks outraged, tempered by fear. “That’s for my little sister’s present!”
“Now it’s going to be for our present, runt. Give it here.”
“No!” Frederick draws back, squeezing his fist more tightly closed.
The leader’s eyes flash and his expression turns ugly. “You’ll give it to us, or I’ll knock you through those lockers, runt. Stuff you inside and you’ll die there.”
One of the others laughs. “He’ll just be a bad smell, and no one will ever find him. He’ll just have…disappeared.”
They all laugh, finding this incredibly funny, and Frederick’s eyes dart from side to side, looking for any avenue of escape.
They appear in a darkened classroom, flasks and petrie dishes stacked high on counters, glossy microscopes glinting in the light peeking through drawn shades.
“We appear to be… in school?” Melinda sounds puzzled, as she matches the image in her mind to the room surrounding them.
Xan takes the letter in hand and scans it.
My name is Frederick and Im nine
years old. I know yu probly know
this, but my mom is all sad
because she dont have a job ne more.
Janey is too litle to unerstand,
but I do. I dont want ne thing for
Christmas for me this year, Santa.
But if yu could PLESE make sure
my mom and sister have a good
Christmas… that’s whut I want.
So, iggnor the last leter I wrote,
with all the stuff I ast for. I
just want my mom and sister to be
P.S. Mom always says I haveta be
polite. I forgot. Sorry!
Plese dont forget! Thank yu!
His face softens, and he passes it to Melinda.
She pauses. “…what a sweet boy.”
Xan grins at her, brushing her lips with his own. “He is our mission, my Kiosai. We are going to give him his ultimate Christmas wish.”
“A question before we go, my Xan?”
“Of course, my Kiosai.” The world blinks, and he leans forward and kisses her lips.
She smiles. “You whispered something to Santa before we left. I would know what you said, if it is not an intrusion.”
He grins broadly. “I thanked him for my gift. You.” He squeezes her tightly, arm around her waist and kisses her deeply. She blushes, kisses back, and time resumes.
A bell rings, and they step out into the hallway, rapidly filling with children, some who race from class to class, knapsacks swinging on their backs, others who quickly head to lockers, to change books for next period.
Two boys walk quickly past, looking over their shoulder anxiously. “Man, Frederick’s gonna get pounded if he doesn’t give up that cash. Taylor is mean when he gets mad.”
“Yeah.” The other boy pulls his lower lip out. “He knoffed out my ‘ottom toof last year. Hit me reary hard.”
Xan and Melinda exchange glances and quickly move to the end of the hall, looking for the boy named Frederick.
“You can do whatever you want to me, but I’m not giving this money to you!” Frederick’s face twists mutinously, and he glares at them.
The three boys exchange glances and shrug. “Then we beat you up, stuff you into the locker and take the money anyway, runt. That’s how this works.” Taylor glances around. “There’s no one here to stop us.” The halls are now deserted, and they reach out. Frederick cringes back as they tug at him.
“Let. Him. Go.” The male voice is strong, commanding.
The three boys whirl, and they look startled, frightened even. Their expressions turn to sneers as they see the man and woman standing calmly in front of them.
“You ain’t teachers here. We don’t have to do what you say.” The biggest of them, Taylor, shrugs and turns back to Frederick, fist drawn back, ready to punch.
Light reflects suddenly in the space between Frederick and the other boys, as if a shield has been placed there. A strong hand covers the fist, and pulls the husky boy around. “One warning. Leave him, or you will face the consequences.”
Taylor tries to tug his fist out of the other man’s grasp. “Hey! Lemme go! You can’t touch me! I’m gonna call a cop and charge you with assault!”
Melinda speaks. “You cannot reason with him, my Xan.”
He nods. “Agreed.” He abruptly releases the boy, and his body suddenly changes, morphing and growing into a fifteen foot monster, and his elongated head turns to hiss and growl at the boys, clawed hands extended.
Melinda’s voice is very dry. “I highly recommend flight.”
Taylor snorts, and he steps forward. “Oh please! I’m too old for tricks.” He swings at Xan, who growls once again, and his tail slams heavily into the bank of lockers, smashing clean through part of the wall as well.
The boys scream and shout, scrambling back, away from the monster. Xan takes a few steps forward, still hissing, and his fury is evident. They bolt, shouting frantically for a teacher, for anyone.
Frederick cowers against the lockers, his lunch box knocking against his shaking knees. Melinda steps forward and gestures, and the wall is instantly repaired. The boy cringes back, even as Xan resumes his normal form. The shield vanishes, and she crouches down in front of him, glowing very slightly.
“Frederick. We have come in response to your letter. Santa has sent us here to assist you.” She smiles softly.
He rubs at his tearstained eyes, and darts another glance at Xan, still scared.
“You asked for your mother and sister to have a happy Christmas, yes?” She strokes a finger along his cheek, still crouched down in front of him, and she allows her radiance to increase, glowing more obviously.
His expression changes, and he looks suddenly full of hope. “Santa… Santa sent an angel to help me?” He swallows hard, and he blinks back tears.
She smiles and pulls him close, stroking his hair. “Shhhh. I am not quite an angel, but I will assist you, as will my Xan. We are a team, and we think you are very special, and very brave.”
His little chest puffs out a tiny bit at her praise. “How… how are you going to help me?”
She smiles and holds out her hand, rising gracefully to her feet. “Will you come with us, and see?”
He doesn’t hesitate a moment and slips his tiny hand into hers. He looks at Xan quickly and smiles, just a little. “That was really cool…what you did. The monster, I mean.”
Xan’s face widens into a big smile and he ruffles the boy’s hair.
“Wow….” Frederick’s eyes are wide, taking in all of the ambiance of the department store, and he looks longingly at some of the toys piled on the shelves.
Xan chuckles. “What we need to see is outside, Frederick…can I call you that?”
He grins. “My friends call me Freddie. My mom calls me Frederick..” He makes a little face, then hurries to explain. “It’s okay that she does, cause she’s my mom and all, but I’d like it if you called me Freddie…”
Melinda smiles softly. “Then, Freddie, we should go outside, or we will miss what will happen.”
He blinks at her. “What -will- happen?”
She laughs quietly, and hugs his small body. “You will see, in due time.” She pushes him gently ahead of her, and presses close to Xan for a short moment, closing her eyes in pleasure.
He smiles and licks her ear, then they both stand behind Freddie, watching.
“Oh! That’s my mom!” He blinks and his eyes fill as he sees how she struggles with the awkward packages she’s carrying. “And she got me the fire truck I wanted… oh, mom…” He blinks rapidly, trying not to cry in front of Melinda and Xan.
Melinda puts her hand on his shoulder and squeezes reassuringly. “Watch, young Freddie.”
As she walks out onto the sidewalk, she is jostled hard by some passersbys, and the packages fall out of her hands, and the hands of the man beside her.
“Oh!” She blows some hair out of her eyes. “I’m so sorry! Did I hit you?” She bends to pick up the packages, just as he does, and their foreheads smack together with a muted thump. She stumbles back and he reaches out for her, to steady her, while shaking his head.
“Are you all right, miss? I’m sorry; I was in a terrible hurry.” He’s well dressed; very handsome, broad shouldered with thick blond hair. He starts to pick up her packages.
“Oh, yes….yes, I’m fine. I’m so sorry. Here, let me help…” She immediately tries to gather as many packages as she can, and he chuckles.
“You are very helpful, miss. But I think I can manage.” He grins at her, and stacks her packages up, steadying them for her.
“I’m still very sorry. I wanted to get these wrapped before my son is home from school.” She smiles brilliantly. “He’s such a good boy, and he deserves this and so much more…”
The man smiles, and puts out a hand to help her up. “No, no. It was all my fault. Is there anything I can do to make it up to you?”
She takes his hand and smooths down her skirt as she rises. She jokes. “Well, if you have an extra job lying around, I could use one.”
He looks penetratingly at her a moment, then smiles. “Done. Can you start tomorrow?”
She laughs. “Oh, you’re joking.”
He shakes his head. “No, no, I’m not. If you really need a job, I’m offering you one. My name is Warren Worthington. Of Worthington Industries.” He smiles at her.
She gasps. “You’re…serious? But you don’t even know me!”
He shrugs and smiles once again. “You seem nice, and you were very apologetic. And you have a son you care deeply for. I could perhaps do worse.” His eyes twinkle.
“R-really?” She clutches her purse to her body, the presents still stacked at her feet. “You really mean it, Mr. Worthington, sir? I mean, you don’t even know what skills I have!”
He laughs. “Call me Warren. And the place is big enough that I suspect we’ll have no trouble fitting you in.” He scribbles something on the back of a business card and hands it to her. “See you after you bring your son to school, then, tomorrow?” He brushes back his hair, and smiles once again.
Her eyes fill with tears, then determination. “I’ll do the very best I can for you, Mr… Warren. I promise! Thank you so much!”
He grins and picks up his packages in one strong arm, and waves at her with the other, threading through the crowds. She looks at the card one more moment, then tucks it deep inside her handbag, wanting to keep it safe. She holds her packages more closely, and heads towards her car, still stunned, in disbelief.
Xan smiles. “So, Freddie. One part of your wish handled, I think.”
The boy brushes tears from his eyes and hurls himself into Xan’s arms, sobbing quietly. “Thank you! Thank you so much for helping my mom!”
Xan strokes his head and hugs him gently. “But we are not done, Freddie. Your wish is not yet fulfilled.” He holds the boy closely as he cries, though, and he smiles softly at Melinda.
Melinda smiles back and blows him a soft kiss. “When you are ready, Frederick, we will attend to Janey’s gift…is that not her name?”
He sniffles and nods. “I want to get her a really nice gift. These little slippers, glittery pink with bows on them. She wants them so badly…”
Melinda lays a gentle hand on his head and projects an image in front of him, as she searches for the item in question in his mind. “These?”
His eyes widen and he nods, speechless.
She smiles. “Then all you have to do is reach in, and take them. They are yours.”
His hand reaches out tentatively, as if he doesn’t believe it’s real, but his fingers skim the soft pink fabric and he gasps…. then pulls his hand away and shakes his head. “No… If it’s okay with you, I’d like to buy it for her myself. I have the money. I broke my piggybank this morning to get it.” He looks up at her, lips quivering. “Is it okay if we do it that way?”
Melinda smiles broadly, and the image vanishes. “Freddie, you impress me more and more the longer I know you. Yes, of -course-, it is acceptable to do it that way. Please, tell us where to go to find the gift.” She takes one of his hands, and he slips the other one into Xan’s and walks between them, holding tight.
It is a short walk to the store, and inside, Freddie looks around, searching for the slippers. He finds them and quickly walks over, checking out each pair, to ensure there are no rips or tears, or flaws.
He waves a hand at them as he inspects the slippers, smiling happily. A woman walks by and pauses in front of them. “Your son… he’s wonderful. You love him very much, I can tell.” She smiles and continues on her way.
A small speculative grin crosses Melinda’s lips, and she watches Freddie pay for the slippers, then skip over to them.
“Ready!” He holds up the small pink bag with the slippers inside.
Xan nods, smiling, and they are suddenly in the boy’s home, in the living room area.
“Wow…that is -so- cool! And there’s my mom!” He waves.
Xan speaks quietly. “She cannot hear you, not yet, Freddie. We are here, but she cannot see or hear us. The wish is not yet complete.”
Freddie looks at them, puzzled. “But…I asked for you to help my mom and Janey! And you did! So now they’re going to have a happy Christmas!” He hugs the slippers to his chest, smiling.
Xan kneels in front of him and Melinda steps back a little, to give them this moment. “But you have not received -your- Christmas wish, Freddie.”
The boy shakes his head. “No, I told Santa that I didn’t need anything this year, because I wanted him to help my mom and sister, and he did! He sent the both of you!”
Xan smiles. “And that was a very selfless act, Freddie.” He caresses the boy’s hair, just a moment, then continues. “But our mission is not complete until we give you your Christmas wish as well.”
Just then, the front door opens, and a tall, slightly stooped man enters, wearing an expedition hat, and a khaki jacket and pants. He carries a few small boxes that he sets on the nearby bench, and pulls off the hat, revealing a thick mane of red hair.
The boy stills, speechless and watches his mother come out of the kitchen, wiping her hands with a towel. She also freezes, and then rushes forward. “Brian! It’s you! Oh! Frederick! Frederick! Your father is home!”
He takes his wife in his arms and hugs her to his body, kissing her deeply. “Ah, Beth, I’ve missed you so much.”
Tears run down her cheeks and she clings to him, sobbing. “I t-thought you were d-dead when you didn’t come b-back!”
He smiles and hugs her tightly once again. “It is a long story. I’ll tell you later.” He looks around. “Where’s my little angel, and my favourite firefighter?”
“Janey’s in the kitchen, in the high chair, and Frederick…” She looks puzzled. “I thought he was home from school, but perhaps not…”
They walk into the kitchen, arms wrapped around each other’s waist, and there’s a squeal of delight from inside, as Brian swings Janey up in his arms, hugging her tightly.
Freddie is openly crying, and his lower lip quivers. He shakes, unable to move, and swallows hard.
Melinda moves to Xan’s side, and he rises, smiling at Freddie once more, and puts a gentle hand on his shoulder. As soon as he does, the stasis is broken, and Freddie flings himself into the both of them, hugging their thighs tightly. “Thank you! Thank you so much!” He sobs some more, rubbing his tearstained face into their legs.
“Freddie. It’s time to go in and join your family now.” Melinda speaks quietly, stroking his damp hair.
The boy’s body shakes some more as he cries, and clings to them.
“I hope the gift pleases you.” Xan says, very softly, and smiles.
Freddie lets go and jerks his arm over his wet face, nodding quickly. “Thank you… thank you. Santa. Myzan.” He looks at Melinda. “I don’t know your name.” He confesses.
She chuckles. “He is Xan, I am Melinda.”
He repeats the names, fixing them firmly in his mind. “I won’t ever forget you.” He looks at them one last time, and runs, legs pumping as he skids around the corner and races into the kitchen.
“To Xan” “To Melinda”
You have my deepest thanks. Merry Christmas! Ho ho ho!
Two brightly wrapped boxes sit there, of about equal size, and equal weight, as they are picked up and shaken.
Xan exchanges a grin with his Kiosai and they fall upon the gifts, laughing as they race to be the first to open them.
Space. Dark and featureless, with only two men standing there, gazing into the small snowglobe. Looking closely, you can see many worlds, many possibilities, many different people, though seemingly all the same.
“Who gets to choose the next?”
Goldeneyes grins and holds out his fist.
Blackeyes raises an eyebrow and does the same.
The voices merge and meld, one ethereal and warm, the other deep and cold. “Rock, Paper, Scissors…”