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**********Page 2**********

D'Argo was waiting for John beside the ailing transport pod. "Grab the

other end, Crichton. We have to get this casing off."

John stared at him, dumbstruck. "What? No 'hello, John'? No 'hey, how

are you, where you been?'"

"Hey, how are you, where you been," D'Argo parroted drily. "Grab the

other end."

"What's with you? I've been gone four days and everyone acts like I

brought the plague back with me. Aeryn shines me on, Zhaan's too busy to

see me, even Chiana--"

"They have things to do. And so do we. Now, are you going to talk or

are you going to help?" D'Argo brushed aside a DRD perched atop the

casing and growled, "There's a malfunction in the, uh, froonium drive. Now,

grab that end and pull."

Crichton picked up the fallen DRD and righted it. He patted it gently and

sent it on its way. "D'Argo, old buddy, I may not be an expert on

biomechanoid technology, but even I know that froonium is a nonsense

word. What's going on?"

D'Argo glared at his shipmate. "You spotted the malfunction four days

ago, then disappeared. We need this pod back in service before the next

time we have to use it. You said there was a problem; use that superior

human intelligence you continually boast of and fix it!" He gave an angry tug

at the casing which pulled loose and fell, nearly pinning him beneath it. "I

said, grab the other end."

Crichton rushed to push the casing aside. He helped D'Argo up, then

peered into the exposed cavity. "Looks like a loose coupling. Hand me that

wrench, no, the big one. Please." He grabbed the proffered tool and half-

crawled inside the hull. "I didn't expect a brass band, but I thought someone

might be glad I was back."

"We are. Now you can do your share of the work. What is a brass

band?" he asked suspiciously.

"Never mind." Crichton adjusted his position inside the hull. "There isn't

enough room in here to work," he complained.

D'Argo peered in over his shoulder. "I think that turns the other way."

"Right." He gave a vigorous yank on the wrench. The coupling broke,

smashing his fingers. He yowled in pain, then yelled louder as he hit his

head against the hull.

"Maybe it does turn the other way," D'Argo observed.

* * * * *

"Hand me the other probe, D'Argo, the one with the light on it." Crichton's

voice was muffled as it came from the nether regions of the pod. "D'Argo?

D'Argo??"

There was a grunt, and John eased himself out of the pod and looked

around the bay. "D'Argo!" He was alone in the immense space. His

companion had vanished. Again. John had been working diligently on the

pod for several arns, most of the time alone. The Luxan had appeared at

intervals to comment on John's work habits, and then taken off for parts

unknown. Well, he was nearly finished. He wasn't sure which he needed

more, a shower or dinner, but once this last section was repaired, he was

going to have both. Then he was going to confront Moya's crew and find

out exactly what this crap was that was going down. He glared at a passing

DRD. "Maintenance is in your job description," he informed it. "Get in here."

The little yellow device waggled an eyetenna at him, then turned and left.

Even the DRDs were deserting him. He reached for the probe he wanted.

Pilot's voice erupted from his comm unit. "Commander! Report to my

chamber immediately."

Damn! What was it this time? Peacekeepers or other things that went

bump in the night? He was tempted to ignore the comm and let the others

handle this one, but his sense of duty overcame the inclination. He put

down his tools, wiped his hands, and stalked off toward Pilot's chamber.

* * * * *

He was running by the time he reached the door to the Den. He should

have expected this. It had been far too quiet lately. Someone on the

commerce planet must have recognized them and turned them in. At least

they were well supplied with food and weapons. They'd escaped before,

perhaps, with luck, they would survive this, too. But why, he wondered as

he shoved open the door, why Pilot's chamber and not Command?

Moya's crew was lined up in front of Pilot's console, smiling broadly. The

room certainly looked festive. Tables groaned under the weight of exotic

foods, and trays and cutlery gleamed in the firelight. A real fire, contained in

a grill of some sort, glowed cheerfully. A crate filled with straw rested in

front of a mound of cloth-wrapped boxes tied with scarves and lengths of

fabric under a small artificial tree glistening with gemstones. Atop the tree

was a winged figurine. The DRDs had suspended what looked like four-

legged flying fish from the ceiling. And, as he stared about in amazement,

something wet fell on his head and dripped down the back of his shirt. He

stepped back into the doorway. It was snow, or something that resembled it,

falling from the ceiling and piling up around his feet.

"Merry Christmas, Crichton!"

Christmas. Not the one he'd been imagining for the last four days in the

solitude of the higher tiers, not the Christmas card memory of his childhood

with family, toys, and glowing church windows nor the over-commercialized

holiday with its crowded shopping malls, bus stop Santas, and blaring

jingles; but a Leviathan Christmas.

"Merry Christmas," he stammered. "How--?"

But his questions were cut off as Zhaan and Chiana rushed to embrace

him. D'Argo slapped him on the back and Rygel hovered overhead, grinning

widely. Aeryn hung back, smiling tentatively. "Do you like it, Crichton?" she

asked.

"I'm stunned. I thought you were all pissed off at me for deserting you. I

never expected this."

"We wanted to surprise you, John Crichton," Pilot said. "Everyone

worked very hard to get everything right."

"Right," he echoed, "but how did you know? Where did you find out

about Christmas?"

Rygel cleared his throat. "My fault, actually. After you disappeared, I

searched your room."

"Hoping I wasn't coming back and you could claim my possessions?"

Zhaan laughed. "Most likely. But he found your voice recorder. We

were worried about you. We know we should not have done it, but we

listened to the tape you made for your father. Do not blame Rygel, we are all

guilty of invading your privacy, John."

"It's okay." He waved the transgression away. "I didn't mean to worry

you. I just needed some time alone to think."

"Well, you've had enough time, Crichton," Aeryn said. "Now, tell us if all

this dren is right--the snow, the angel, the reindeer." She pointed to each

object in turn.

"Reindeer, yes, that's what they are," he mumbled. Rudolph as flying fish.

Well, Burl Ives and Bing Crosby were lightyears away. "It's perfect, Aeryn.

Everything is better than I could have imagined it. But whatever you're

grilling is starting to burn."

Smoke was rising from the fire. Chiana rushed over and pulled something

from the coals. "They're supposed to be chestnuts," she explained, "but

they're really some kind of seed pods that Zhaan had. They taste pretty

good, though."

"And we couldn't roast them on an open fire," D'Argo said apologetically.

"Pilot insisted we contain it and keep it away from the snow. That's why it's

only snowing in the doorway."

Chiana placed the tray of pseudo-chestnuts on the table. "And I cooked

all your favorite dishes--turkey, pumpkin pie, fruitcake, socks with fruit and

nuts. Aeryn brought the fellip nectar. And Rygel insisted it wouldn't be a

proper feast without Hynerian marjohls." She pointed out each item proudly,

then frowned, "I couldn't figure out how to do candy canes. Aeryn," she

glanced over at the ex-Peacekeeper with an odd expression, "Aeryn said

they were probably chocolate, but we can't get that out here in the

Uncharted Territories."

John slid his arm around her waist and hugged her. "They're peppermint,

and you probably can't get that, either. But I'll tell you a secret, Pip. No one

eats candy canes. I think they're just for decoration."

She stared up at him curiously. "Why do you have food you don't eat?

Candy canes, fruitcake?"

"I don't know, Chiana. I'm not sure I can explain most of this stuff to you."

He gestured at the room. "They're traditions, things people have done for

hundreds of years. They don't have to make sense. You just do it because

it's always been done that way. But I promise I'll eat everything." He

considered the dishes arrayed on the table. "Except the marjohls."

"You have no taste," Rygel observed. "But that will mean there is more

for me."

Chiana happily returned the hug, and they all found their places at the

table.

John picked up his fork, then put it down again. He cleared his throat.

"Before we eat, I'd like Zhaan to say a prayer to the goddess, thanking her

for all the blessings of the past cycle--good friends, good food, our survival."

"Why, John," Zhaan smiled, "I would be honored. But I am a bit surprised."

"It's a tradition. Today, well, Christmas is our God's birthday. And

without help from some higher power, I don't think we'd all still be here. We

believe, some people on Earth believe, he was born over 2000 years ago in a

manger--"

"It's a religious symbol!" D'Argo shouted. "The manger," he explained,

more softly. "The feed box, horse trough, whatever. Aeryn thought you

invited your horse to Christmas dinner."

"No," John laughed, "although my explanation of the relationship between

man and horse might have given her that impression." He glanced over at the

crate of straw. "The city was crowded and there was no room at the inn, so

he was born in a stable. There should be a baby in the manger and his

Mother next to it. And shepherds and angels."

"'While shepherds watched their flocks by night,'" Zhaan quoted. "That

refers to the birth of your God, doesn't it?"

"Is this him?" Chiana asked, indicating the red clothed figure in the

centerpiece.

"No, that's Santa Claus," John answered. "He's a different Christmas

tradition. I'll tell you about him after dinner. Just don't tell me who that

statue really is. I don't want to know he's some Peacekeeper hero who

wiped out a planet of orphans."

Aeryn looked confused. "He could be Sebacean, but I don't recognize

him."

"Good."

"I made the angel," Rygel boasted.

Crichton hadn't seen anything that looked even vaguely angelic among

the decorations, but he decided to let it pass. "Good for you, Sparky."

Rygel looked pleased. "Now, Zhaan, you may say your blessing. But

keep it short, I'm starved. All this work has given me an appetite."

* * * * *

"You want to hear about Santa Claus? Okay, kids, gather 'round. Papa

John's going to tell you a story."

Crichton sat on the floor and leaned his back against Pilot's console.

Chiana happily snuggled under his right arm, and Rygel, not to be outdone,

burrowed under his left. With a growl, D'Argo settled close to Chiana.

Zhaan primly seated herself opposite the group, completing the circle. Aeryn

sat off to one side, attentive, but not a part of the family scene.

" 'A Visit from St. Nicholas' by Clement Moore," he began and was

immediately interrupted by a puzzled Chiana.

"I thought you were going to tell us about Santa Claus."

"St. Nicholas was his real name. The pronunciation got a bit mangled

over the cycles," John explained, hoping this simplified version of the truth

would satisfy her.

"Oh." She slipped an arm around his waist so she could rest her head on

his shoulder. "Right."

"T'was the night before Christmas--"

Rygel frowned and lifted an earbrow at Crichton. "What's 't'was'?"

"It's poetic. Short for 'it was'."

"Well, why didn't you just say so?" Rygel grumped. "Start again."

"A Visit from Santa Claus, edited for television."

Zhaan's brow furrowed as she tried to comprehend. "Television?"

"Sorry, Zhaan. I just meant that I see I'm going to have to make a few

changes." He tried again.

"It was the night before Christmas,

And all through the, um, dwelling."

He improvised, deciding not to take any chances. Moya's crew had

grown up in everything from a Hynerian royal palace to a Peacekeeper

carrier. Houses might not translate.

"Not a creature was stirring--"

Now, he had a problem. Not one of them would know what a mouse was,

and the only word they all understood that rhymed with "dwelling" clearly

didn't belong in a children's poem. Oh, well, after passing through six sets of

translator microbes, it wouldn't rhyme anyway, and he could vary the

wording as he went along to avoid further interruptions.

"Not a creature was stirring,

Not even a DRD.

The socks were all hung--"

He was about to substitute "heat source," but realized the chimney

played a vital role later. He sighed. "You see the fire over there with the

chestnuts in it? Well, people on Earth used to build fires where they lived so

they could cook and keep warm. And since they didn't want to burn the

place down and didn't have Moya's atmosphere scrubbers to handle the

smoke, they had to build a fireplace with a chimney so the smoke could

escape up through the roof. We still have fireplaces, but now we have them

because they look and smell nice." And they have other uses, as well, he

wanted to add, looking over at Aeryn. Too bad Sebaceans were allergic to

heat, but Aeryn would love snow as much as she enjoyed the rain. There

were trade-offs, after all.

"The socks were all hung

By the chimney with care,

In hopes that Santa Claus

Soon would be there.

The children were sleeping

All snug in their beds,

While visions of chocolate--"

He smiled down at Chiana. Aeryn bristled with annoyance. But Aeryn

had actually tasted chocolate on the Ancients' equivalent of Earth, while

Chiana could only imagine it. Although Chiana had a very vivid imagination.

"Danced in their heads."

So far, so good. He was going to have problems with the next part,

however; he just knew it.

"While Mom and Dad were in bed, too.

Asleep."

He said emphatically before Chiana remembered the word that rhymed

with dwelling.

"Chiana," D'Argo warned.

She had been about to say something, but decided against it. She

glanced at D'Argo and nuzzled back against John's shoulder.

"When out on the place in front of the building

There arose such a noise,

That Dad sprang from his bed

To see what was causing it.

He ran to the viewscreen

And looked out.

The moon on the--"

Trouble again. He'd never noticed all the sexual images in the poem

before. Breast wasn't a word he dared use in this company.

"The moon shining on the snow

Made it as bright as day."

Not very poetic, but descriptive, he noted with satisfaction. Clement

Moore should have been more selective in his word usage.

"When what should he see,

flying through the air,

But a miniature thronesled

and eight tiny reindeer."

Rygel turned to look up at him. "If the sled could fly by itself, why did he

need eight reindeer to pull it?"

"It was too heavy to fly by itself. It was full of toys and Santa Claus is a

big man."

"You just said it was a miniature sled," Aeryn pointed out.

He mentally reviewed the poem. Yep, miniature sleigh and tiny reindeer.

He'd heard this poem for thirty-odd years and never noticed the

discrepancy. Damn, Aeryn, anyway. "Perspective. They looked tiny

because they were far away."

Aeryn still looked skeptical, so he added, "Santa Claus flies all over the

Earth, delivering toys. Trust me, it's a big sled.

"With a little, um, big old driver,

So lively and quick

Dad knew in a moment

It must be--"

"Santa Claus!" Chiana shrieked with delight. Despite the interruptions,

she'd been hanging onto every word.

"Right! Faster than--"

The only bird he'd described to them had been the Christmas turkey, and

turkeys weren't much for flying. He had a sudden inspiration and smiled at

Aeryn.

"Faster than the Farscape I,

The reindeer they came--"

"Huh!" Aerun scoffed, but he was pleased to see she returned the smile,

"I can walk faster than that bucket of dren."

"Faster than the Prowler, then.

And he whistled and shouted

And called them by name:

On Dasher, on Dancer, on Donder and Blitzen!"

Damn! What were the names of the other reindeer? There was Cupid, of

course. And he knew what rhymed with Blitzen, but he was afraid of what

Chiana's microbes would do with Vixen. He could use Rudolph, the others

wouldn't know the difference. And wasn't one of them named Comet?

"On Comet, on Larry, Moe, and Curley!"

Zhaan frowned, as if knowing instinctively that reindeer shouldn't be

named for the Three Stooges, but she shrugged and gestured for him to

continue.

He decided to skip the next part. He wasn't up to describing hurricanes,

and it was past time to get those damned animals on the roof and St. Nick

down the chimney.

"Then up to the roof,

The reindeer they flew

With the sled full of toys

And Santa Claus, too."

"Why are they on the roof?" D'Argo asked. "It is a bad place for them.

They could fall."

"No, they can't," Chiana answered peevishly. "They can fly. The sled,

too."

Pilot stirred. "Obviously, they landed on the pad the transport pods use."

John laughed. "There aren't any transport pods on Earth, yet, Pilot. They

landed on the roof so Santa could come down the chimney."

D'Argo glared incredulously. "There was a fire. And smoke. That is a

very dangerous and stupid way to get in. He should have made the family

come outside to collect their gifts. He could have met them in a central

location and given a whole city of people their gifts all at one time."

Rygel stirred restlessly. "I don't know why he gives them gifts at all. He's

not their dominar, he doesn't need to curry favor, he just flies around giving

away gifts for no real reason that I can see."

"He is the spirit of generosity," Zhaan theorized. "He is displaying an

unselfish concern for others, setting an example. An attitude a dominar such

as yourself would do well to emulate."

"What?" Rygel huffed. "I was a good ruler! And every one of my wives

will tell you how generous I was."

"Shut it, Froggy!" Chiana snapped. "This is about Santa Claus, not you!

And, D'Argo, Santa Claus can come in any way he wants to. Although, if

they knew he was coming, they could have just left the door unlocked."

"He comes down the chimney!" Crichton shouted over the din.

Embarrassed as they all turned to stare at him, he continued at a lower

volume, "It's a children's story. It's fun, when you're a kid, to think about

Santa Claus and elves who make toys and reindeer who fly. By the time

you're smart enough to figure out that all of this is impossible, you've

discovered that it's really your mother and father who fill the socks and buy

the presents."

"So you lie to children," Zhaan stated with obvious disapproval.

"Not really. As you just said, he sets an example of caring and sharing.

Santa Claus comes to everyone, rich or poor. He levels the playing field.

Sorry," he apologized when Zhaan started to object, "he treats everyone

equally. So when one kid realizes that he has everything and the kid down

the block doesn't have much because his father's been out of work, he

understands that he should share because it's Christmas and it's what

Santa Claus would do. It doesn't always work that way, unfortunately, but

Santa Claus teaches a value system, and that's not a bad thing for a kid to

learn. So, in a way, yes, Virginia, there really is a Santa Claus, even though

it's just a story."

"I don't get it," Rygel frowned.

"You wouldn't," Chiana said. She turned to Crichton. "So he comes

down the chimney. Then what?"

"You'll like the next part, Pip." He hugged her, gaining another glare from

Aeryn. "He looks something like you, dressed all in fur, except his is red with

white trim, and it doesn't fit nearly as well.

He was dressed all in fur

From his head to his foot

And his clothes were all covered

With ashes and soot."

"You see!" D'Argo exclaimed in triumph. "He shouldn't have used the

chimney. He got all dirty. He should have gotten burned, too."

"Blez out, D'Argo," Chiana advised. "He didn't get burned, did he, John?"

"No. A bundle of toys

He had thrown on his back

And he looked like a

Hynerian thief opening his pack."

Rygel stirred, then settled himself more securely under Crichton's arm.

"It's a good story if it has Hynerians and thronesleds in it," he observed

approvingly. "Continue."

"His eyes, how they twinkled!

His dimples, how merry!

His cheeks were like red flowers

And his nose was red, too."

"There are people on Earth who are red, John?" Zhaan asked, surprised.

"They don't all look like you?"

"No." John tried to think of a way to explain. "Everyone on Earth doesn't

look like me, they come in lots of colors. Well, not as colorful as you," he

amended, looking around at them. "Some are a lot darker then I am, some

lighter, and some are a bit red or yellow. Santa had a red face because he'd

just come in from the cold air outside.

He had a red face

And a beard as white as the snow

And he smoked a small pipe

Like Rygel does sometimes

Which is bad for his health

And doesn't do much for the air in here, either."

"Huh!" Rygel said. "It's good to know Santa Claus isn't perfect.

Everyone needs a few bad habits."

"You," Aeryn interjected, "have more than your share. Now, shut up."

"He was chubby and plump,

A right jolly old elf.

And Dad laughed when he saw him,

In spite of himself.

You know, Rygel. Santa Claus does sound a lot like you, except that he's

red and not green." John waggled his fingers to tickle the Hynerian.

"Stop that!" Rygel protested and slapped at Crichton's hand. Then he

smiled, "I rather like the old devil. Maybe Hyneria could use someone like

him. But not if he gives things away."

"He spoke not a word,

But went straight to his work."

Aeryn grinned at that. "Well, he's obviously not related to you, Crichton.

You don't know how to keep quiet, and you'll do anything to avoid work."

"Watch it, Aeryn, or next cycle Santa won't leave anything in your socks,"

John warned her jokingly.

"He filled all the stockings, I mean, socks,

Then turned with a, um, abrupt movement.

And laying his finger

On the side of his nose,

And giving a nod

Up the chimney he rose."

D'Argo shook his head. "Now I know he burned himself. He would have

fallen down the chimney quickly, but climbing out would have taken much

longer."

"He flew," Chiana told him archly.

"Does everything in this story fly? Sleds, reindeer, and people?"

"No," Crichton admitted. "Santa doesn't fly. But he has a way of getting

up the chimney as quickly as he came down. I can't explain it, D'Argo, and

I'm sorry I ever started this story, but I'm almost finished."

He took a deep breath. There were only a few more lines and, with any

luck, he could get through the rest of it without further questions and

objections.

"He sprang to his sled,

To his team gave a whistle,

And away they all flew

Like the down of a, one of Zhaan's spores.

But I heard him exclaim

As he flew out of sight--"

"Getting smaller as he went," Chiana informed Aeryn tartly.

"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!"

He expelled a long sigh of relief and unwound himself from Chiana and

Rygel.

"Is that all?" she asked unhappily as he stood up.

"It was a stupid story," D'Argo decided. "None of it made any sense."

"It's a tradition, D'Argo," he said. "It doesn't have to make sense. What

did you think, Aeryn?"

"I've never heard such a load of dren in my life, not even from you." Then

she smiled. "But I liked it."

"We got any of that fellip nectar left?" John asked, working out muscles

that had become stiff from being seated so long. "I'm thirsty. Let's all get

something to drink, then we can open the presents."

* * * * *

They gathered around the small fire, next to where the tiny tree perched

gaily on top of a shimmering mound of brightly wrapped gifts.

"Are these all for me?" John wondered.

"And you call me greedy," Rygel growled. "No, there's something there for

everyone."

"You see, John," Zhaan explained, "we started working on your gifts, and

I thought of something I wanted to give D'Argo, and he made something for

Chiana, and Aeryn found something Pilot needed and before we knew it--"

"You found the true spirit of Christmas," John finished in awe. "It's

unbelievable: Hynerian, Sebacean, Delvian, and Luxan, out here in the back

of forever, without a clue what you were doing, and you found the real

meaning of Christmas. That's what all this is about, giving because you

want to, not because you're forced to. There's a saying on Earth, 'It's better

to give than to receive'."

"I'll never understand humans," Rygel protested. "Although I must say, it

was interesting thinking of things each of you might like. And wondering

what you'd get me."

"But I don't have anything for any of you!" Crichton realized.

Zhaan shook her head. "You have given us gifts, John. Your presence

here on Moya is a gift. You gave me back my sanity by sharing unity. And

you led me back to the Seek."

"You saved my life," Chiana added. "All our lives. More than once."

"You gave me your friendship," D'Argo growled. "I didn't want anything to

do with you when you first came aboard. I thought you were stupid and

weak. You are still no warrior. But you are a good companion."

"Well, he hasn't given me anything," Rygel grumped, "except silly

nicknames. He dares to call a dominar 'Fluffy' and 'Buckwheat', whatever

that means!"

Aeryn seized the back of his neck and drew him up to eye level. "Rygel,

if it weren't for Crichton, your carcass would have been floating in space a

cycle ago. It could still be arranged. So be polite or leave the party."

John laughed. "Let him go, Aeryn. Sparky will behave, won't you,

Sparky? It's Christmas, 'Peace on Moya, goodwill to aliens.'"

Rygel settled back into his throne sled and scuttled a safe distance from

Aeryn's glare. "Hmmph! A Peacekeeper teaching a Hynerian manners! That

will be an occasion," he muttered.

They ignored him, as usual.

"So, Aeryn," Chiana asked wickedly. "What has John given you? Or

should we ask?"

"All this goodwill dren is making me ill," Aeryn scowled. "But if you must

know, he's given me myself. I was a Peacekeeper. I was born to follow

orders and not ask questions. But he's shown me I can be more than just a

Prowler pilot. I can think for myself and make my own decisions. Because

of him I lost everything I've ever known or cared about. But he showed me,

you all have," she said grudgingly, "that none of it was worth having. Now,

get on with the party and leave me alone."

"Aeryn's right," Crichton said, his voice husky with emotion. "Let's cut

the crap and open the presents. Who's first?"

 

* * * * *

The gifts were a tremendous success. Some were humorous, most were

practical, and a few produced puzzled looks from everyone except the giver

and givee. Each one received exactly what he or she wanted and learned a

little about fellow shipmates in the process. A lot of thought and more than a

little love had gone into every gift exchanged. And, to the delight of the

crew, Pilot and Moya had even worked out a display of colored lights

resembling fireworks.

They feasted, toasted with fellip nectar, and exchanged stories of their

homeworlds until Crichton finally declared, without his normal sarcasm,

"This is one of the good days."

Then he taught them all the words to "Jingle Bells."

* * * * *

Zhaan had just finished teaching them a Delvian chant and Chiana was

beginning a very bawdy Nebari limerick, when Crichton noticed an absence

from the group around the fire. He found Aeryn near the door, watching the

still-falling snow. Snow, he marveled again, on a living ship lightyears away

from the North Pole. He sat on the floor beside her. "Aeryn," he said softly,

"you're missing the party."

"I haven't given you my present yet," she said. "I don't know if I should. I

tried so hard, but it didn't make any sense. And after you laughed yourself

sick over the underwear, well, I just don't want to appear foolish."

"I shouldn't have done that," John admitted. "But it was just too perfect."

"Too perfect? What does that mean?"

He sighed. "Moms always get you what you need for Christmas. Or

what they think you need--socks, underwear, warm clothes. When you're a

kid, you want toys to play with, not something practical. But, while it may

not be your favorite present, you never doubt that your Mom loves you. Can

you understand that?"

"No."

"I know you tried, Aeryn. You all tried. That's what counts. Hell, if I had

a friend who was Chinese, or African, or Australian, I wouldn't begin to know

what to serve him for dinner. And I certainly wouldn't try to duplicate a

Delvian ceremony, or a Hynerian festival, or whatever Peacekeepers do for

fun." He glanced at her to see if she was following this. "But that's exactly

what you did. Just because it was important to me. So it doesn't matter that

the pie was made of food cubes or what type of wings Rygel put on the

angel. The point is, you all wanted to do something special for me. And I

can't tell you how much I appreciate everything you and the others have

done. Even Moya," he said in disbelief, brushing the snow from his

shoulders.

"Why can't you tell us? You never seem to run out of words."

He shook his head. "This is different. I know you think all I do is talk, but

we all play to our strengths, Aeryn. When we face the unknown, I talk, you

and D'Argo fight, Zhaan prays, Rygel and Chiana--"

"I know what Chiana does," she interrupted.

"Ah."

"Don't flatter yourself; it isn't always about you."

"She's alone and she's scared, Aeryn. Like all of us. I wish you'd make

more of an effort to like her."

"I don't really dislike her. She's just too--" She fumbled for the right

word, looking across the room to where Chiana was squealing in wounded

delight as D'Argo and Rygel played keep-away with one of her gifts.

"Young? She's a kid, something you never were. But it's never too late to

have a happy childhood, Aeryn." He slid closer to her. "I could show you."

"I will never understand you, Crichton." She thrust a package at him.

"Here. This is what you said you wanted."

He knew what he wanted from Aeryn. It involved her and a large red

bow and very little else. It would be great fun unwrapping it. But this was

heavy and bulky and somewhat awkward to handle. And, as the wrapping

fell away, he stared at it helplessly. "It's a bomb with feet." Confused, but

not daring to admit his ignorance, he turned to her with a blazing smile. "Yes,

it's exactly what I wanted."

She scrambled to her feet and glared down at him. "No, it's not. It

couldn't be. You don't even know what it is."

He struggled to remember what he'd said on the tape. It had been nearly

a week ago, and he'd been ranting--throwing out all the symbols of

Christmas, childhood memories, fragments of carols and Biblical verses.

What on Earth could he have wished for that Aeryn--?

He got to his feet slowly so he could look her in the eyes, to show her he

was totally serious and touched to the core of his being. "Of course I know

what it is. It's mistletoe. Just wait until I show you what we do with this at

Christmas."

He raised it high over their heads and reached for her with his other hand.

* * * * *

"Dad," he started. The magnetic tape D'Argo and Aeryn had thought of a

way to loop around a small casing made of material from Moya hissed

through the recorder's heads. He cleared his throat and tried again. "Merry

Christmas, Dad, from somewhere in the universe. I don't know if the Wise

Men ever traveled this far, but Santa's got a new stop on his route. As the

song says, 'there was snow and mistletoe and presents 'neath the tree.' We

had snow, Dad, several feet of it, I think. The DRDs will need a month to

clear it all away. And mistletoe. I wish you could meet Aeryn, she's

incredible. And presents like this tape so I can continue making these

messages in a bottle. The tree was two feet high and topped with an angel

that resembled a cross between a Pepto Bismal demon and an X-wing

fighter. But it was perfect, the best Christmas ever."

John laughed self-consciously. "I didn't catch any of the bowl games;

guess I'll have to watch the replays tomorrow on ESPN. I still miss all of you,

and I don't know if I'll ever make it back to Earth, but, for now anyway, I am

home for Christmas."

He reached for the Stop button, then hesitated and grinned evilly. "And,

Rygel," he said nastily, "if you are listening to this: 'God bless you, Tiny

Tim'."

***********************************************

Note from Dallascaper: Hope you enjoyed the story. Click Here to e-mail 3Dbud.

 

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