Christmas Cheer

By

Crawlspace

 

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Author’s Note:  This story is my contribution to the Christmas challenge at the DocSpace forum.  It uses elements from the Fate universe, but for what will be obvious reasons, is not part of that universe’s canon.

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Part 1 – O’ Christmas Tree

 

            A choked, hacking cough echoed through the hallway, followed shortly by the crashing thud of a box hitting the hardwood floor.  Haruka stuck her head down through the opening to the attic.  She shook the dust from her hair and tried to wipe her eyes with the one remaining clean patch of sleeve she had left.  Then she surveyed all she had wrought.

 

            Boxes littered the hallway, spilling haphazardly into any open doorway they could find.  The best part was, she was reasonably certain she’d found everything and hadn’t broken any of it while chucking it from the attic.  She smiled widely, with just a touch of evil glee.

 

            “Oh, yeah, the neighbors are gonna love me this year.”

 

---- ---- ---- ----

 

            Michiru’s frown was instantaneous, and an amusing contrast to Hotaru’s Christmas induced excitement.  Amusing to Setsuna, anyway, and she grinned as the car pulled up to the house.

 

            They had barely stopped before Hotaru was out and jogging over to the latter Haruka had perched against one of the larger trees.  The girl smiled widely as her papa finished tying off a thick wire to a branch and attached a plug to a heavy green extension cord.

 

            “You found the elves!” called up Hotaru happily.

 

            Haruka grinned down at her and nodded, the fuzzy ball on the tip of her Santa hat bobbing merrily as she did.  “But it took some work.  We really packed them away good.”

 

            Mmm,” murmured Michiru to herself.  “But apparently not good enough.”

 

            Setsuna chuckled, then took herself inside out of the cold and snow.  The show would be better once the decorations were completed, and she really had no wish to be conscripted to climb and string blinking lights

 

---- ---- ---- ----

 

            The crowd had gathered, herded to ‘the perfect spot’ in the middle of the front yard.  Bundled up and huddled together in the cold night air, they waited with anticipation.

 

            Haruka, wearing her Santa hat and grinning like a fool, held the master plug and the primary extension cord in her hands.  “Okay, everybody!” she called, then looked down at Hotaru.  “Ready?”

 

            Hotaru lifted her video camera.  “Ready.”

 

            Michiru sighed and covered her eyes.

 

            Minako poked Rei in the arm.  “I bet it’s brighter than last year.”

 

            Rei smirked.  “I don’t take bets I’m sure I’ll lose.”

 

            Makoto hefted a snowsuited Miki up higher on her hip and adjusted his hood, ready to shield his eyes.  “I wonder if she put out the elves again?

 

            Ami grinned.  “Only if she was able to find them.”

 

            Usagi overheard that and giggled.

 

            Chibi-usa gave her an odd look, not understanding why that was funny.  Then they both chose an arm and held onto Mamoru.  He smiled and pulled them both a little closer.

 

            Setsuna had just enough time to quietly mention how glad she was she didn’t have to pay the electric bill before Haruka brought plug to power, the entire yard lighting up like the summer carnival times ten.

 

            In the background, Christmas music began to play.  Every tree in the yard blinked in sync with the music, colored lights bursting out the tunes.  Elves giggled electronically as they flitted from tree to tree on invisible wires, while large white snowflakes rose and fell with abandon at random spots in the display.  Near the end of the driveway, fully furred, backlit reindeer began an unending cycle of raising and lowering their heads ‘in lifelike motion.”  Plastic carolers were illuminated by a black plastic lamppost, and a family of inflatable snowmen prepared for a snowball fight.  A giant, inflatable snowglobe was propped near the hedges, plastic snow creating a blizzard around a Christmas train as it circled a gaily decorated tree.  White lights traced every window and door on the house, accentuating a forest of red-bowed wreaths.  A Santa Claus taller than Makoto now came to life by the front door to greet anyone crazy enough to visit this house with a jolly “Ho, Ho, Ho!”  And to cap it all off, a giant, five-point star sat atop the house, dwarfing everyone and everything in it’s brilliance.

 

            Haruka dropped the plug on the ground and stepped closer to her friends.  She observed her creation with satisfaction and pride, and knew it was good… and tacky as hell.  She laughed to herself and smiled even wider.

 

            “Okay, guys!” she said finally, clapping her hands together.  “Hot chocolate and cookies inside to celebrate!”

 

---- ---- ----

 

Part 2 – Silent Night

 

            With the last of their friends departed, Setsuna sat in the library quietly enjoying what was left of the evening.

 

            “Setsuna-mama?”

 

            The voice led her to put her book aside as a pajama-clad Hotaru came into the room.  With a  yawn and a grin, the girl hugged her goodnight, her sleepy eyes partially hidden under the rim of Haruka’s Santa hat.

 

            Setsuna lifted the hat from Hotaru’s head and straightened down her hair.  “Pleasant dreams,” she said, leaning forward to kiss the child’s cheek.

 

            When she was once again alone, she held the hat in her hands and studied it with more intent than one would usually give such an object.  A soft smile touched her lips, and she decided she would take this with her also.

 

            Closing off the lights in the library, she began the night’s plans in an unhurried fashion.  The house was dark and quiet when she finally made it back to her room, and she set the hat on her dresser before moving over to the closet.  Using a small stepstool, she reached up to the top shelf and pulled down a neatly wrapped package and a smaller unwrapped one.  The two, along with the hat and an oversized candy cane, were placed into a backpack, and then Setsuna called forth her staff.

 

---- ---- ---- ----

 

            It had turned out to be a quiet, uneventful night on the moon… for everyone but Pluto.  She stood at the Gate, following the instructions in the note she had received from herself several days ago.  Just as the note had told her, she hadn’t said anything to anyone in the palace about where she was going or what she was doing, and she was terribly curious as to what was going to happen.

 

            She had only to wait a few minutes more to find out.  The doors began to open in onerous fashion, thick white mist spilling forth and billowing down the marble steps that led to them.  A second later, Pluto watched her future self emerge through the mist.  The smile the woman wore clearly indicated this was not a crisis situation, and Pluto’s curiosity was piqued even more… along with her concern that either Chronos or the Goddess would strike her down for this breach in conduct.

 

            “Don’t worry, they won’t,” said Setsuna as she stepped down to the level where her younger self waited.  She reached into her bag to pull out the unwrapped present and candy cane.  “I’ll be back in one hour.  If Serenity asks you about it later, feign ignorance.  It will amuse her.”

 

            “Feigning ignorance won’t be difficult,” answered the younger Pluto with a crooked grin.  “Since in this case I really am.”

 

            “If necessary, you know how to find out,” replied Setsuna good-naturedly.  Then she held out the box and candy cane.  “Merry Christmas.”

 

            Her younger self looked at her in confusion.  “Merry what-what?”

 

            “Christmas,” answered Setsuna.  “Consider this your future warning,” she added lightly, almost laughing at the tentativeness with which her younger self accepted the unexpected gift.

 

            She left the younger Pluto to debate over opening the box and made her way to the palace.  How odd it felt to be back here.  The simple joy of familiarity she’d felt at the Gate trickled away as the ghosts of her past surrounded her.  Her chest was suddenly heavy, and she wondered if she would be able to do this after all.  But then she was standing at the door to the queen’s apartment, the guards on either side ignoring her, but no doubt wondering what was taking her so long to enter.

 

            Steadying herself, she took a deep breath and put her hand to the keypad.

 

            The door swooshed open, and a blonde head popped up from behind a large, cushioned chair.

 

            “Pluto!” squealed the princess.  She ran over to her guardian and held out her arms.  “I didn’t think you were coming to see us tonight.”

 

            Pluto lifted the little princess, immediately finding tiny arms wrapped as tightly around her neck as they could get.

 

            “I try never to miss an evening with my favorite princess,” answered Pluto as she pried the child loose.  “Though I expected you to be in bed by now.”

 

            The princess grinned.  “I wasn’t sleepy, so Mama said I could play a game to help me get sleepy.  I’m practicing my hide-and-seek, so Minako can’t find me.  She always finds me first.”  Then the princess noticed the backpack slung over Pluto’s shoulder.  She leaned over as far as she could to see, trying to reach the zipper.  “What’s that?”

 

            “This,” replied Pluto, righting the child and setting her back on her feet, “is something private for your mother.”  She took the princess by the hand and led her back to her room.  “I bet you’re starting to feel sleepy now after playing your game.”

 

            The princess thought for a moment, then shook her head.  “No, not yet.”

 

            “Yes, you are,” countered Pluto.  In the princess’ room, she lifted the child and set her on the edge of the bed.  “You just don’t realize it yet.  Lay down and close your eyes, and you’ll be sound asleep before you know it.”

 

            “Oh.  Okay,” answered the princess, fully believing that if her Pluto said it, it must be true.  So she climbed under the covers, smiled up at her guardian, and puckered her lips.  “Kiss goodnight.”

 

            Pluto chuckled and leaned down so the little princess could kiss her cheek.  Then she tucked the child in fully before going to visit her queen.

 

            “I thought I heard you come in,” said Serenity with a smile when Pluto appeared in her doorway.  She set aside the computer pad she had been studying and leaned forward in her chair.  “Is Usagi still playing her game?”

 

            “She’s in bed,” answered Pluto, not budging from where she stood.  “Though I don’t know for how long.”

 

            Several moments past with nothing more said as Pluto stood in her spot and simply watched her queen watching her.  A thin robe covered the queen’s silky white gown, and her hair was down in a braid, ready for bed.  Glittery toenails peeked out of fuzzy white slippers, and that beautiful smile waited for her to announce why she had come.  A warm smile that found itself wrapped around a giggle.

 

            “Well?” laughed Serenity.  “Are you going to tell me why you’re here after you said I wouldn’t see you tonight, or did you just come to stand in my doorway and stare at my divine beauty?”

 

            Pluto grinned.  “Yes.”

 

            The queen shook her head and motioned to her most beloved guardian.  “Come in.  And show me what it is you have behind your back.”

 

            “This,” began Pluto, “is something I discovered on a new world I’ve been observing.”  She set the backpack on the bed, enjoying Serenity’s sudden curiosity.

 

            The queen stood from her chair and moved over to the bed to see what Pluto had brought for her.

 

            “They have a yearly tradition that I rather like,” went on Pluto.  “It involves a myth about a portly, elderly gentleman with a kind and generous spirit named Santa Claus.  Once a year while everyone sleeps, he dresses in a red, fur-trimmed suit and flies through the land delivering gifts to those who have shown kindness to others.  The people of this world copy the example by giving gifts to those they care for.”  She pulled the Santa hat from her bag.

 

            “What is that?” giggled the queen, flicking at the fuzzy white ball on the hat’s point.

 

            “This is the hat Santa Claus wears with his suit,” answered Pluto, placing it on Serenity’s head and adjusting it properly.  “I borrowed it, so that we might celebrate properly.”

 

            “Well, well,” said Serenity as she observed herself in a mirror.  “I like it.  What do you think?” she asked, posing.

 

            “Very lovely,” answered Pluto, earning another giggle.  Then she pulled out the wrapped package.

 

            Serenity’s eyes lit up.  “The gift giving part of the tradition?”

 

            Pluto nodded.

 

            Gleefully, Serenity accepted the gift and laughed when she saw the nametag.  “Look at this.  Whoever this Santa Claus is, he knows to call me Ren.”

 

            Pluto huffed.  “Obviously, he has no sense of decorum… Your Majesty.”

 

            Serenity stuck out her tongue, then set about carefully undoing the shiny bow and pretty paper.  What she found beneath them was a purple velvet box with a gold pressed label.  She ran her fingers lightly over the velvet as she read the unfamiliar name.  Godiva?”

 

            Then she lifted the lid.

 

            The heavenly fragrance touched her senses even before her eyes registered the wonderful assortment of chocolates before her.  Her eyes shone brighter than a Christmas tree, and she turned that adoring gaze to Pluto.  “If I didn’t already love you more than anyone else, this would have catapulted you to that position.”  Eager fingers hovered, trying to decide before finally settling over a dark piece.  Her eyes closed in ecstasy as the chocolate mixed with a sweet cream she had never before tasted.

 

            Pure heaven.  The Goddess herself could not have created something more perfect.

 

            “Do you like it?” asked Pluto with amusement.

 

            “Must you even ask?” returned Serenity.  She inhaled the sweet sent of the chocolates, then questioned, “Who is the chocolatier, this Godiva?”

 

            “Not from our world, I’m sorry to say,” answered Pluto.  “Neither are they part of the alliance, so guard that box well.”

 

            A bit crestfallen, Serenity reluctantly replaced the lid on the box.  “Well, that is unfortunate.  Still, this was a wonderful surprise.  Thank you.  Perhaps, in the future, you and I will celebrate this foreign holiday privately and secretly as you continue to observe this world.  Perhaps we might even find another top secret box from Godiva?” she ventured with a conspiratorial smile.

 

            Pluto chuckled, but made no promises.

 

            Serenity set down the box and moved back over to Pluto.  She put her arms around her guardian’s waist and smiled up at her, the cap making her look a bit more mischievous than she was really trying to be.  “And what shall be your gift, Pluto?  You may have whatever you wish for…  What did you call it?”

 

            “Christmas, Your Majesty,” replied Pluto.  She brought up a hand and gently stroked Serenity’s cheek.  “For my gift, I would like one hour this evening with you.”

 

            “You may have my company any time you wish it,” answered Serenity.  “That’s hardly a gift.”

 

            “For me it is,” said Pluto softly, fighting to keep her smile.  “For me it is.”

 

---- ---- ---- ----

 

Part 3 – Run Over by a Reindeer

 

            Several days had passed, and they had all mostly recovered from Haruka’s light show.  Minako, though, was now preoccupied with another pending disaster, because she had apparently lost something very important.

 

            “It’s not here,” she lamented, giving up rummaging through her school bag.

 

            Usagi sucked green soda through her straw, then licked her lips before asking, “Are you sure you brought it with you?”

 

            “Yeah,” answered Minako as she grabbed a spoonful of Rei’s ice cream.  “I wore it all through Hideo-sensei’s class.  She thought it was cute, and you know how she likes cute.”  She sighed.  “And it’s the most important part of the costume, too.”

 

            “It’s a hat,” countered Rei, pulling her ice cream out of Minako’s reach.  “We’ll get you another one.  They’ll never know.”

 

            “But it had those cute little red and green bows all around the rim,” lamented Minako further.  “I bet we won’t be able to find another one like it.”

 

            “I can put bows on it for you,” offered Makoto.

 

            Minako smiled at her, grateful.

 

            “So what’s this costume for, anyway?” asked Makoto, figuring she should know if she was going to help reconstruct it.

 

            “Charity event for the studio,” answered Minako.  “We’re passing out presents to the kids at the hospital.  I’m going to be Mrs. Claus.”

 

            Rei snickered.  “Only if Santa is an old pervert.  You guys should see this get-up.”  She stopped and thought about that for a second.  “On second thought, maybe it’s better if you don’t.”

 

            Minako grinned.  “But I look great in it.  Besides, you haven’t seen yours, yet.”

 

            Rei’s spoon came to a halt halfway between her mouth and bowl.  “What do you mean I haven’t seen mine yet?  Why do I have a costume?”

 

            “Aside from the obvious fun we can have,” winked Minako, enjoying the way it made Rei blush, “you didn’t think I was going to go do this alone did you?”

 

            “It’s a company sponsored event,” returned Rei.  “You aren’t going to be doing it alone.”

 

            Minako made a dismissive sound.  “They don’t count.”

 

            Rei frowned at her.

 

            Usagi scooted over closer to Ami.  “Today’s Rei is grumpier than usual,” she muttered softly.

 

            “I am not,” snapped Rei, poking at her ice cream.

 

            “Aw, Rei, come on,” cooed Minako.  She smiled prettily and tapped Rei’s nose.  “You know you enjoy doing stuff for the kids, especially over the holidays.  The costume will make it even more fun.”

 

            “And everyone at the hospital really appreciates the effort,” added Ami.  “My mother said the entire staff looks forward to Santa and his friends visiting.”

 

            Rei sighed.  “All right.”  Then she pointed her spoon at Minako.  “But it’s only for the kids.”

 

            Minako grinned widely.  She was certain Rei would look adorable in her new elf costume, complete with latex Spock ears and red jingle-belled shoes.

 

---- ---- ---- ----

 

Part 4 – Let it Snow

 

            The flash of red caught Keiko’s eye just as she was locking up the last cabinet in the classroom.  She smiled when she picked up the Santa hat, and giggled at how happy Aino-san had been when she told her she could keep it on.  Perhaps it hadn’t been the most proper thing, to allow her to wear it through their literature lesson, but it had seemed to bring a smile to all of her students.

 

            She checked her watch.  The girls would be gone by now and wouldn’t be back until Monday.  She would be sure to return it then.  In the meantime, she would keep it safe with her.

 

            A thought tickled at the back of her mind, then.  Again, perhaps not the most proper thought to be having, and she hoped Aino-san wouldn’t mind if she borrowed it.  She knew someone who deserved a Christmas smile, and this cap had given her an idea.

 

---- ---- ---- ----

 

            “Keiko, it’s me.  Pick up if you’re there,” said Yukiko into the answering machine.  The science teacher sighed.  “Okay, I guess you’re not home.  I was going to buy dinner tonight, but since your cell phone is turned off, too, you’re SOL.  But since I’m a nice person and don’t want you to starve, if you can catch me before I get to the apartment, I’ll share my pizza with you.  You have ten minutes.”

 

            Yukiko snapped her cell phone closed and tucked it into her coat pocket.  It was too bloody cold to be outside, but she hated staying home on Sundays.  With Keiko MIA, though, there hadn’t been that much to amuse her.

 

            Her boots trod heavily on the snow covered metal stairs that led up to her small apartment.  She fished around in her pockets for her keys, her thick gloves making it hard to get a good grip on them.  With some minor effort, she got the door opened, stepped into the miniscule foyer and flipped on the lights.

 

            “What the…”

 

            Instead of the usual floor lamp, her lightswitch triggered a row of colored lights that ran along the perimeter of the ceiling, circled the one large window against the far wall, and stopped at a miniature tree with a tiny angel on top and a brightly wrapped package beside it.  But the real present was waiting for her on her futon, wrapped up in a thick blanket wearing a Santa cap and a deceptively innocent smile.

 

            “Welcome home, Yuki.  Merry Christmas.”

 

            Yukiko smiled back, and her coat hit the floor.  “Merry Christmas.”