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A Gift For Santa

Priceless Gifts Of Love

Christmas morning came delightfully for the occupants of Santa's place.

Heidi and Misery were among the earliest to rise, and when they set about helping Jessica start breakfast, Jessica informed them that Santa would probably not be up for quite some time. Understandably, he would sleep in, and no one deserved that more.

Jessica suggest they wake their friends gently with carolling. She even had a list of names and what some of their favourite carols were, and lyrics printed out to go with the titles.

So, the morning began with Misery and Heidi going around singing carols in their lovely voices to wake or greet their friends.

NT was just getting dressed when she heard Misery and Heidi sing "What Child Is This" and they hadn't quite finished when she opened the door and gave them a broad grin.

She joined their carolling, and they stopped at Ariel's next, to sing. "Star Of The East" was listed, but no one except NT knew the words or the tune. So she sang it on her own, looking at the lyrics Jessica had printed out.

Ariel came out soon, all smiles, and joined them.

At Pippi's, they sang "Oh Holy Night," and she came out almost immediately to join them.

They stopped at Indy's, but only NT was sure of the words to "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree" so she did carried them through much of the song until everyone came to the part that went "Deck - the halls with boughs of holly!" Then all the singers chimed in confidently.

They could hear Indy in her room, laughing, and telling them to hang on because she'd be right out.

But Indy was rather self-conscious and didn't sing out as much as the others.

At Capri's, they did "Up On The House Top" and they could hear singing along with them from inside her room. She came out and joined them.

They did "Oh Holy Night" once again at Ameh's, and she came out, having just finished brushing her hair and tossing the brush on the dresser.

At Diane's, they did "Once In Royal David's City" and she came out to join them.

At Nutcracker's, they did "Oh Come Oh Come emanuel" and he joined them.

At Carma's, they did "Oh come All Ye Faithful, and she joined them.

They did "The Little Drummer Boy" for Gretel, and "Oh Little Town Of Bethlehem" for Clara Marie.

When they came to Matrix, his favorite drew a few chuckles. Those who knew the words started up a strain of "Little Saint Nick" and were almost instantly joined by Matrix, his voice perfectly calculated to emulate the Beach Boys. He opened the door with a grin and joined in the caroling patrol.

Everyone stood and stared blankly when they came to Madonna's and saw what her favourite was on the list.

There were several incredulous looks exchanged, and Capri muttered, "No way."

"what are you kidding me?" Diane chuckled.

The selection in question was:

The "Hallelujah Chorus" from Handel's "Messiah"

"Well, we don't have to do it in the original key, do we?" NT suggested.

"That's not the only problem," said Diane, "The notes are too high, there are different singing parts, All I know is 'Hallelujah! Hallelujah!'"

And NT picked up where Diane left off, singing a few phrases on her own, as much as she could recall.

Then, Matrix struck up the rest with full chorus, to everyone else's astonishment and relief.

"Merry Christmas out there!" Madonna called from in her room. and she continued, in effect, helping NT along.

Then she came out, all smiles.

"Well," Capri sniffed in an air of mock annoyance, "First Santa, now us, you sure know how to give people a difficult time, don't you?"

"Oh, sure, I'll never live that one down, I can just tell." Madonna retorted. "What did I do now?"

"Of all the Christmas songs in the universe, you would pick the most difficult one as a favourite." Pippi grinned at her.

"So?"

"Well," heidi explained, "It was Jessica's idea that we go carolling our friends awake with their own personal favourites, she even gave us a list."

"What? How did she - " Madonna marvelled.

"This is Santa and Mrs. Claus, remember," Nutcracker put in, "It's their business to know and find out these personal little details about us. It sort of goes along with the who's been bad or good thing I think."

They decided not to disturb Rebekah and the new baby, but NT said she had a little something planned to sing to them later on.

Oh, dear," NT said as they approached Elsa's room, "I can't do this one without choking up."

Elsa's favourite was "Mary Did You Know", and it was taken up by Madonna, Misery, and Clara Marie.

At Bez's, they sang "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" all the way through, with no response.

Matrix started. "Oh, dang it! I almost forgot- we missed some of the ver-"

"You missed some of the best verses!" Bez exclaimed as she flung her door open. "Come on guys," She prodded playfully. "I know they're usually left out of the official printing, but you have Matrix with you- he shoulda been able to look 'em up."

Matrix flung his hands up in mock surrender. "Hey, I forgot! I'm allowed a memory lapse every now and again, am I not?"

Bez snorted disparagingly. "Oh, fine, I suppose you are. C'mon, let's go carol the heck outta Sigma. What's 'er favorite Christmas tune?"

She took the list as they shuffled to Sigma's room. "How the heck are we supposed to sing that?" Bez exclaimed.

"Oh, looks like Madonna's in good company." Gretel kidded.

Madonna made a face at her and laughed.

"Lemme see." Matrix took the list from her. "Christmas Cannon?" He smiled mischievously. "Not to worry! You guys sing what you can and I'll cover the rest."

They began to sing, and Matrix joined in, filling in all the other parts. Sigma opened the door, smiling and added her own reedy voice to the mix.

"Well, that turned out alright." Diane grinned.

They moved on to Criter and Dingy's room.

"Well who do we sing for?" Bez asked. "Criter's new to Christmas, so, don't know if he'll have a favorite, and Dingy- well," She smiled dryly. "I imagine that little guy is full of favorites."

"Actually," Sigma began. "Criter has a favorite...and it just so happens to be Dingy's, too."

"Oh, cool!" Indy giggled.

"Well then, lay it on me!" Bez chirped.

They started in on "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen", and soon, Dingy's delighted squeal was heard over the music.

"Ah! That's right at the top for me as well." said diane with a broad smile.

"Wake up Mr. Criter! It's Christmas!" They heard Dingy shout. "Wake up! Come on, it's Christmas!" A dull thud sounded, followed by a surprised grunt from Criter.

"What'd he do, jump on him?" carma laughed.

"Sure sounds that way." Nutcracker replied with a grin.

"What the-? You- HIT me?" He mumbled sleepily.

"Only with a pillow! Now come on- everyone's waiting!"

"Merry Christmas Criter and Dingy!" Indy called out.

By now, everyone was laughing too hard to keep singing, and when the comic duo joined the group, it only worsened.

"Okay, deep breath everyone!" Bez ordered playfully. "Thande's next. If he's not already awake from all this racket. Let's see..."In the Bleak Midwinter"."

"Oh!" NT exclaimed, beaming. "That's my other favourite, too!

"Then lead on." Pippi encouraged, smiling.

So NT started them off.

They sang the gentle song, pausing slightly after the first verse. To everyone's surprise, a deep, almost chant-like voice joined in with them as they resumed. Thande joined the group, a faint smile lingering on his face after the song concluded.

"See?" Bez exclaimed proudly. "Told ya he had an awesome voice."

"Yes, especially for a song like that." NT said happily.

"You may consider it a part of your gift." Thande replied.

Bez laughed. "Well, well, Thande, I thank you for this part of your present, then!"

"We all thank you, and a merry Christmas!" said Clara Marie, smiling gently.

Once everyone except Santa was up, they had a glorious Christmas breakfast, there was just about everything anyone could want from comet cakes to toasty warm fruit bread to sausage and bacon, eggs, hashbrowns, pancakes, cereal and various beverages, both hot and cold.

It was a wonderfully calm day, everyone took things easy, lounging about and chatting, new friends were becoming better acquainted, exchanging internet information and phone numbers, and no one even mentioned Miranda.

Santa slept until lunch time, and after lunch, he also took things easy and socialized with all of his new friends.

At some time in the afternoon, Santa took Bez aside. "I hear you have a relative newcomer on your ship who has been trying to keep to himself, especially now. May I go see if I can get him to make an exception for Christmas Day?"

Bez thought a moment, and suddenly remembered. "Oh, yeah! Go ahead, I wish you luck with him, maybe you can manage what we couldn't."

"Ho, ho, ho, Thank You, Bez Marshall." Santa smiled.

"Hey, no problem." Bez said with a grin. "He deserves a little Christmas cheer."

"And I intend on delivering it." Santa said. "Be back soon, hopefully with a new guest!"

Javert sat alone in an empty room onboard the ship, peacefully reading a book. He did not feel lonesome or excluded since he never had the time or a reason to celebrate Christmas in the past, and was enjoying the solitude. There was nothing weighing on his mind and no one bothering him over the latest law-breakers, no one to keep an eye on.

He felt himself getting engrossed in the book so much that he startled at a tap on his shoulder, and looked up and around.

"Inspector Javert, a very merry Christmas to you! Ho, ho, ho!"

The stranger looked familiar, and at first, Javert thought it was one of the crew who came back, dressed as Pere Noell, or Santa as we know him.

Javert looked incredulously back at Santa and chuckled. "That's quite the costume, Matrix, and great voice to go with it."

"Ho, ho, ho, I am not Matrix, Javert, I am the real Santa Claus."

Javert scoffed, "Oh, come on, now."

"You remember Bez and crew had to leave on a mission. Did you hear anything about what that mission was?"

"Yes, but I thought they were talking in some sort of code, and making it into a joke all at once." Javert answered.

"It is all true." Santa replied. "Here, I have a gift for you."

He handed a small package to Javert, who stared in disbelief at first.

"Go on, open it."

When Javert opened it, his eyes went wide. "How did you manage to get one of these?"

It was a little wooden action figure or doll, the same one Javert had once cherished as a lonely little boy in the jail. The same one the convicts had snatched from him and destroyed so they could have fun at his expense.

Javert might not have remembered it were it not for the vision quest Capri had taken him on the day he had been saved from himself back at the Seine

Now, his memory came completely awake, and this was also due to the way Santa's magic worked. You could find yourself recalling things you barely remembered, as vividly as if they were there yesterday.

Santa chuckled. "Your first Christmas present."

"Thank you." Javert finally said, looking at Santa with wonder.

"You're welcome. Now, take my hand."

When Santa returned, he was not alone.

Javert was, much to the surprise of several present, persuaded to give Christmas a chance.

Santa introduced him to Diane, Carma, Nutcracker and Clara Marie.

"Well I'll be - " diane smiled brightly, and approached Javert to shake his hand heartily. "Welcome here, and merry Christmas to you."

Javert, still feeling awkward about the whole thing, politely returned the salutation.

Nutcracker's welcome was just as hearty, and as the afternoon wore on, he and Javert struck up quite a conversation.

NT took Rebekah with her new baby down to the music room where she played and sang "Still, Still, Still" and dedicated the song to the new mother and daughter.

Everyone was making conversation, no one was left out.

Santa took ameh aside next and brought her to a room, where there was a snowy white, silver star-covered gift-wrapped package that was so gigantic that Ameh would've been able to stand inside it and still have plenty of room to spare.

Ameh's eyes bugged out when she saw the large lettering across the side of the box that was facing her.

On the wrapping paper was a taped a sign that said "Merry Christmas, to Ameh from Santa and Jessica Claus."

She just stood there, and her mouth fell open.

"Do you need a start to help you open it?" Santa said with a grin.

"What? What did I do to deserve - "

"I think if you start here on this side," Santa lead her over to one side, where the tape could be undone.

She stared a moment longer. "It's too beautiful to unwrap."

santa took out his Iphone. "I'll snap a picture and send it to you over the internet, then you can enjoy looking at it long after it's unwrapped."

She nodded, and he snapped a picture.

If I could get up on top of it, that would make a pretty good picture and really put it into perspective when looking at it." Ameh suggested.

"I think that can be arranged." said Santa with a grin. Before Ameh could react, he lifted and hoisted her up until he could set her gently on top of the box.

"Ameh whooped. "Nothing quite like moving up in the world."

Santa chuckled, then prompted her to strike various poses at different angles and while she was up there. He took a few more pictures and helped her down again.

Then, with some encouragement from Santa, Ameh finally began to gently unwrap the huge present.

Santa had to help her tip the box on its side so she could get at the contents.

Inside that enormous box were many more smaller gifts, all in the prettiest wrappings. They all had different dates on them. This puzzled Ameh greatly, and Santa told her to find the ones that were dated earliest, and open them all chronologically.

The experience was almost but not quite like an Easter egg hunt. It took a lot of time sorting the gifts in order to open them all in order.

The first gift was from the first Christmas Ameh spent in Drusilla's custody, and it turned out to be a little play nursing set, a baby doll with eyes that opened and shut, a toy thermometer and other nursing accessories.

"Do you remember wanting this, and wondering why it never came?"

Ameh shrugged. "I - suppose - but why - "

"How about this one?" Santa handed her another present. This one turned out to be a puppy that jumped and flipped, and did other funny, cute motions when wound up. Ameh shrilled in excitement. "You - "

"It's yours, it was always yours, Ameh Chase." Santa said, and encouraged her to open all the rest.

He explained when she had come to the last one, that he had in fact given her everything she had requested, but her evil guardian Drusilla had sent them back, and used magic to prevent Santa from coming to deliver them again after Christmas every year.

"I held these in safe keeping all these years for you. They are yours by right, and there is no better time and opportunity than now for you to have them."

Ameh couldn't say anything for choking up. Santa held her while she cried quite hard for a while.

Finally, she managed to get out. "Even when I thought no one in the world gave a hoot about me - you cared - you always cared."

Santa held and rocked Ameh, nodding at her and sometimes speaking softly in response to her. "It sometimes isn't clear to us if we are cared about, even I have my down days, Ameh, we all do. But now you can just remember this when you are in a downer. Things are often not as dark as they seem, or at least, all darkness eventually ends."

Ameh sniffled. "You always cared, and that Miranda wrote you such nasty things. She was another Drusilla in the making and I hated her nearly as much as NT or Capri did, probably for another reason besides."

"And what was that?" Santa asked gently.

"Miranda never made any effort to - be a good daughter to rebekah after those two found each other. Rebekah is one of the sweetest, gentlest, but saddest people I know. And she's sad because of all the years she missed Miranda growing up, and even worse, Miranda just never gave a flying hot darn! She only used her relationship to Rebekah as a ploy for sympathy from anyone. She never appreciated Rebekah at all. And I would've given both arms to have a mother like that. Why couldn't I have been born later and been Rebekah's daughter instead of Miranda? I would've loved her, even if we were separated for a long time."

"It is definitely unfair when evil people cause so much strife," Santa agreed. "But the best we can do is continue on despite everything that happened. Drusilla and Miranda for all their evil and scheming, are not the ones who won, it is you who came out stronger for it all, and Rebekah will too. There are so many people who life has thrown together for what seems a no good reason and a terrible waste of precious time. But we can learn even from those experiences and go on living every new day afresh. You missed out on a good childhood, and Rebekah missed out with Miranda, but look what has happened. You have become good friends with so many people, including Rebekah. And Mrs. Claus and me. If Miranda hadn't mounted her terrible mission, Dingy never would've had to contact Bez, and we might never have met in person, or at least not this Christmas."

Ameh nodded and smiled through her tears.

After some time, she and Santa returned to the others.

Santa took Capri aside for a while, and then he returned for Elsa.

Whatever they were discussing, all three were smiling broadly by the time they rejoined the others.

Santa handed out various gifts to everyone throughout the afternoon, and just after dinner, he assembled everyone, including the elves in the meeting hall.

"I would like to thank each and every one of you, for giving me the greatest gift of all. You saved my life and so many others including yourselves. You spared everyone around the world a lot of grief. Many adults would've been sad if worse had come to worse, but not getting presents would not have disappointed them the same way it would have done to children. I was able to bring a little happiness to these children once again because you helped me and stopped the worst danger I've ever known in its tracks. You have given me and so many others something that was almost taken away, the gift of life, the best gift of all.

"Well, gee, Santa," Bez began, fidgeting nervously. "Don't, uh...don't mention it."

Sigma giggled. "I am NEVER going to get used to seeing you so nervous."

Bez stuck her tongue out at Sigma. "You shut your mouth." She turned back to Santa, this time smiling. "You ever need our help again, don't hesitate to call."

"And even if there's no trouble," Matrix added with a smile. "you can still call us."

Santa laughed heartily. "You are all welcome back. It's the least I could do!"

"Ah, man, Santa-" Bez began, nervous once more. "You really don't need to-"

"Now, now, Bez." Santa interjected, smiling merrily. "I insist."

Bez smiled and shrugged. "If you say so."

"Oh, good!" said Madonna.

"And stay and celebrate the New year with us." Santa offered.

"Thanks!" Indy squealed.

"Oh, wow, I never dreamed…" said Capri, "This is one of the best times I've ever had."

"Yes, but what when it's all over. It'll be such a downer." said NT.

"Oh, you'll be coming back often for your weekly skating lessons, and - "

What!? NT squealed, "Skating lessons!? Here!?"

Santa laughed, smiling broadly at her. "Yes indeed! I've arranged it with your mother and guardians. You'll start on January 7."

Nt hooted and jumped up and down for joy.

Ariel laughed at NT's uninhibited excitement, something the girl rarely expressed.

And since you are due for a dentist appointment, we've booked you one with Hermey the following week."

Great, thanks!" NT beamed.

That's not all." Capri piped up. "We are getting another resident. Elsa is coming to stay with us."

That's what we were discussing in private a while ago." elsa added, grinning.

Oh!" NT beamed.

So you won't feel disconnected from us, even when this celebration comes to an end, NT. And Elsa, you'll finally get to see what life is like for people beyond our community."

I can't describe how this makes me feel." elsa said, looking too excited to say much.

"Also, I believe there are birthdays coming up. Why not come back here so we can all celebrate them together?" Santa suggested.

"Yes!" exclaimed Indy, jumping up and down.

"What a great idea! I like it!" Clara Marie added.

There were very favourable and enthusiastic responses all around.

Santa smiled. He had received the gift of a new leece on life, and the gift of true friendship, he just couldn't ask for more. These people were not going to just forget about him once Christmas was over, only to suddenly remember him and ask for things when next Christmas came around. They would maintain close contact throughout the whole year.

As the group dispersed, Santa brought Bez and crew aside. "Don't think I forgot you." He said merrily. "I have something special for each of you." He handed out packages to the lot of them.

"Oooh, what is it?" Bez questioned eagerly, shaking hers in an attempt to discern its contents. "Matrix, you go first. I'm still trying to figure mine out."

"Haha!" Between Bez and Indy…" Pippi laughed.

Matrix smiled and shook his head. "Aye, aye, cap'n." He carefully unwrapped the gift, setting the glossy black and white paper aside before opening the box.

He let out a joyous gasp as he grabbed the tiny computer chip. "I don't believe it- I don't believe it!" He exclaimed.

Bez frowned. "Now just what is that? I'm pretty dang tech-savvy and I don't recognize it."

"This, my organic friend, is an Elite Class Hubble Upgrade!"

"Elite Class?" Bez repeated, awe-struck. "Those haven't even been released yet!"

"I know!" Matrix turned his beaming face to Santa. "Thank you so much! Now- now there are no limits...I can stargaze to my heart's content, to the edge of galaxy even!" He pressed the chip against his forehead, shivering slightly as it sank into his skull. "One second, and done!" His grin widened. "Ready to stargaze! You want to go now, Bez?" He asked.

"Nah. Still figuring mine out. Sigma, you go next." Bez ordered.

Sigma was too excited to form any retort. She tore off the rusty red wrapping paper, opening the box. A white flash shot out, landing squarely on Sigma's shoulder. "Specter!" She exclaimed joyfully. The fifet chattered in excitement, nuzzling Sigma's cheek.

"Specter!" Nt smiled at him.

"Oh wow, what's that, it's so cute!" Clara Marie exclaimed, taking a keen interest.

"Hey, what've you got there-?" Sigma asked Specter. A beautifully crafted collar sat on the fifet's neck, a small silver item dangling from it.

"What is it?" Sigma questioned.

"Why don't you ask Specter?" Santa replied with a smile.

Sigma took the fifet off her shoulder and look at him, perplexed.

"Cuddle!"

She nearly dropped the creature when she heard the squeaky exclamation. He fluttered back up to her shoulder and nuzzled her cheek, chittering happily. "Cuddle..." He warbled.

"I don't believe it..." Matrix whispered. "I thought those were still in development..." He paused a moment as he checked his data banks. "They ARE still in development..." He smiled and shook his head.

"How- how did you do that?" Sigma asked Santa, eyes wide in wonder.

Santa laughed, eyes sparkling in merriment. "I know how fond you are of little Specter. I did a bit of research. When I found out about these devices, I knew just what to give you."

Sigma grinned. "You're the best!" She exclaimed, hugging Santa.

"Best!" Specter chimed in, giving Santa a nuzzle.

"Oh, man!" Carma beamed. "Now I want one."

That makes two of us! Awww, so cute!" Clara Marie squealed.

Santa chuckled. "Why don't you open your gift next, Criter?"

Criter started, looking at the others nervously. "I'm, uh...not sure about this," He began.

"If Javert can do it, so can you." Santa encouraged.

Javert gave Santa a wry smile.

"Don't worry." Bez said, smiling dryly. "It kind of weirded Thande out at first, too."

Criter nodded slowly and took a deep breath. He cautiously opened his gift, making special effort not to tear the paper. He took off the lid carefully, as though he were afraid he would break it. A small metal brick-like thing sat in the box. Criter looked up, perplexed.

"Set it on the ground." Santa prompted.

Criter complied.

"Now, press the symbol in the center, and stand back."

Criter did as instructed. The brick shivered and expanded, panels flipping and folding until a complete Drunis pipe-organ sat in front of them.

"Oh, my!" Nutcracker breathed.

"Wow!" someone else added.

"Nanite instruments." Matrix mused. "Very useful when you play something large..."

"I haven't played on of these in years..." Criter said quietly, touching the keys gently. "I don't even know if I still can..."

"Why don't you look over the sheet music to refresh your memory?" Santa suggested. "Maybe you can play us a tune after Thande and Bez open their gifts."

Criter nodded, smiling gratefully as he leafed through the sheet music. Santa had found all his childhood favorites, and just the sight of them made him feel like he was home.

NT stared longingly in amazement. "I wish I could do that with my piano!"

NT received a small package wrapped in shimmering blue paper that she was hesitant to tear, so tried saving it as much as possible. She got some trinket or other, plus a real sleigh bell that was actually used on Santa's past sleigh rides.

She beamed at him and said "Thank you!"

Santa handed Capri a small gift that made her squeal with disbelief and delight when she tore off the glisteny red and white wrapping.

It turned out to be an atmosphere generator, the sort Bez lent her and companions for space travel.

How about you, Diane?" Santa handed her a large box. It was wrapped in red and black and was fairly heavy.

Thanks, mate." She said with a broad smile, and carefully unwrapped it.

It turned out to be the whole musical score to "Les Mis."

Diane opened her mouth and let out a gasp of astonishment and delight. Her eyes lit up. "I've been trying to find this for ages! The real thing, not that simplified sheet music the average 12-year-old bangs out. This is the real thing!"

If and when we put on a production of 'Les Mis' Diane, will you do us the honour of being our keyboardist?" Santa asked.

You bet!" Diane exulted.

Oh, you lucky duck!" NT congratulated.

I'll be the loudest one cheering you on." Carma added.

Carma, how would you feel about a role in the musical?" Santa asked.

Carma looked at him, puzzled, "You're kidding, right?"

No, you sing very well, and you are good at comedy And - "

But I thought this was 'Les Mis' we were talkin' about?"

Yes." Santa nodded, smiling.

There isn't much to choose from for actual roles, though, is there?" Carma asked. "I could be part of the chorus, or a very minor part."

I was thinking more along the lines of - " Santa grinned, "Madamme thenardier."

Carma chortled. "What - seriously!?"

Look at it this way," Diane quipped, "You don't have to sing well for that."

Carma grinned. "if you think I'd be up for the part, santa, I'd be honoured."

"I do." said Santa.

And we'd have another project to work on together." said Diane.

"Sounds good, actually," Carma said, still grinning. "It'll just take me a while to process myself playing this role."

Thande opened his gift next, making a single neat slice in the wrapping paper. He opened the box and stared silently at the gift within. After a few long moments of silence, he looked up at Santa.

"I thank you." He said quietly, his stony face bearing an unusually moved expression. He took the small item in his hand, looking away from the others.

Matrix looked over at Bez worriedly, who shrugged in reply. "Guess I'll go next." She said, shredding the wrapping paper.

She popped the box open, revealing a seemingly unrelated assortment of items: a dagger with an icy-blue, claw-like blade; a packet of star-charts, tied together with a piece of worn twine; a small set of what looked like metallic tinker-toys. She stared down at the items, tears welling up in her eyes.

"How did you find these?" She whispered.

"Never mind how." Santa replied gently. "I know what they mean to you." He looked at her as though asking a question. She nodded. "These were the gifts her oldest friends intended on giving her, before-"

"Before they died." Bez finished, holding the box close. "I remember telling Xio about that dagger..." She smiled sadly. "And the next year- Ious must've drawn those charts by hand...certainly no way of buying them, with the blockade...and Rion-" She stopped abruptly, the tears flowing freely down her cheeks. "I never had to tell him what I wanted. He always knew." Her voice was no more than a hoarse whisper.

Javert shot her a fleeting look of something like understanding, perhaps even empathy. He had only to remember his experience with Santa to know what was going on and believe. This just couldn't get any more real. Javert felt he just hadn't realy lived until now.

Gretel looked touched, and she nodded. she had remembered the day she went to the Glass Playground, in that wonderful transparent world, the friends Bez mentioned, and how wistful she had been, if only for a moment or too. Gretel had often wondered, but hadn't the courage to come out and ask what had happened to them.

Matrix put a comforting arm around Bez shoulders, giving her a one-armed hug.

All around there were faces bearing tender expressions.

Bez wiped her eyes, clearing her throat. "Well, then, ah...Criter, how about you play us something festive?"

Criter nodded, selecting a song that never failed to cheer him up. While it wasn't exactly festive, there was something about it that made everyone happy- a sort of warmth that made them think of friends and family.

Other gifts were received, Gretel got the newest Ipad model, Madonna, a new down comforter, Heidi, a week-long stay at a ski resort, Indy, a bunch of Itunes cards for downloading more music and programs, Ariel, a collection of favourite songs on cd, and Misery got a beautiful light-up Christmas scene and fountain combo. It could be set up in different ways so that it displayed a fountain flowing over shimmering stones and decoration in the summer, and a land of snow and ice in winter with snow falling.

Nutcracker got the deed to an outbuilding on Santa's property that still had to be repaired. But when it was, it would be his.

Clara Marie received a booklet of information on fifets, much to her delight. From then on, there was no mistaking the excited glint in her eye. She would be getting a fifet like Specter, and possibly in the near future.

"Well, it's getting pretty late." Bez commented after the song finished. "We better head back."

The gifts were packed up, and they made their way back to the main house. Before he could head off to his room, Bez pulled Thande aside.

"You wanna tell me what you got?" She asked.

Thande glanced down at her, shaking his head minutely. There had been a flash of pain in his harsh yellow eyes, something so fundamentally agonized that Bez instantly realized its source.

"It's- something to do with him, isn't it?" She asked quietly. 

Thande nodded fractionally. 

Bez knew better than anyone perhaps not to press the matter. There was a rawness to the pain they shared, an ever-pulsating ache that never quite faded, despite time's efforts to soothe it. 

"Looks like we're both missing people this Christmas." She murmured.

"It is true." Thande said. "Though there is- pain- in this celebration, there is much joy. We have many friends to celebrate with."

Bez smiled sadly. "You always know just what to say, don't you?"

Thande cocked his head in slight confusion.

"Don't worry about it," She replied. "Come on. Let's see if we can dig up some hot coco."

That Christmas had been like no other, and night fell once more. This time, there was no mad rush to deliver gifts, and no preparations for battle.

Everyone was turning in for the night, but Jessica suddenly motioned Capri to come back into the front room. "I almost forgot. This is a little something extra for you." Jessica handed Capri a small package.

Capri looked surprised, and opened it.

Soon, she burst out laughing. Her laughter caused some of her friends to come back and see what was so funny.

The package had "Merry Christmas, Spooky." written on it, and turned out to be a little sample bag of cat chow!

--

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