Summary: While TKR can't spend Christmas at home, they *do* spend the holidays with the people they love.
Category: Christmas fluff, Major Bonding, no action
Disclaimer: TKR and its characters – Not mine, never will be.
Feedback: Please? That would be a wonderful holiday gift. Praise and constructive criticism are welcome as always, flames will be first ignored, then used to light the candles.
Archive: If you want to, but please let me know.
Spoilers: Tiny one for "Sky One"
Timeline: Season 2 if there had been one :-(
Notes: First of all, I want to thank the people who sent me feedback on my first TKR story: SarahMarie, m'omo, Trigan and spengler_girl. Thanks, guys. You rock!
I also feel like thanking New Age musician Kitaro, whose version of the song "Jesu Joy Of Man's Desiring" inspired me greatly when I was stuck.
Update: A new rating – PG was a bit too harsh.
* * *
It was December 24, but the mood aboard Sky One was everything but festive.
All the team members and the other people aboard had counted on being home for Christmas, to spend the holidays with their families, to just have some time to themselves until the beginning of the new year. Instead Sky One was stuck on a relatively small airfield – Not in the middle of nowhere, but close to it.
One of the few parts they had no spare for, and it had to break down. Gil had sent the requisition for the part immediately, but it would be at least another 48 hours until it arrived.
Erica and Jenny had taken Domino and gone to the small town nearby. A while earlier, Trek and Plato had left as well. Duke had retreated to the gym instead, to work off some steam.
So here Kyle was, sitting at his laptop, busily typing.
"Why are you still sitting here, Kyle?" Dante's rotating picture appeared in the top right corner of the screen, where the team leader was stuck on one sentence.
"Because it's quiet, Dante," Kyle explained patiently. "Best time there is to write reports."
He should have known that this was not what his AI partner meant. "A workaholic even on Christmas Eve," Dante sighed.
"So what? It's a day like every other." Kyle's answer sounded somewhat harsher than he had intended, which told Dante a lot about his driver's true feelings.
"At least Jenny, Erica and Trek have decided to go out and have some fun," the AI argued. "And Duke is working out, although that doesn't really count. Only you are holed up in your quarters, working."
"Like I said – There is absolutely nothing special about this day." Once again the harshness in his voice belied his true feelings.
"Scrooge." Dante's rotating picture disappeared.
Kyle sighed deeply and went back to his report. Everything was better than brooding about the unfairness of it all.
Because, contrary to what he had just said, it *should* have been a special day, for all of them.
* * *
Domino pulled into her accustomed parking space and Erica and Jenny got out. Quite obviously both had decided to pamper themselves a bit, since they were carrying shopping bags – Erica a few more than Jenny.
"Hey, you two," Beast's voice held the same gentleness it always did when the AI addressed Jenny. "Did you have a good time?"
"We had a great time, thanks Beast," the tall, slender brunette answered for both of them.
"So did I, but does he ever ask me?" said Domino in a low voice.
Erica looked at Jenny. "We should get those two under some mistletoe," she told her friend.
Jenny chuckled at the picture it evoked in her head. "Make sure someone takes a photo if that should ever happen."
The sound of a motorcycle was audible outside, and Trek made his usual wheely entrance. When Erica had called to tell him there was a comic shop in town, he had lost no time. He always tried to check out every comic shop he came across. This one had been just great – It had a section for Japanese animation, and Trek had almost purchased more by himself in that shop alone than the two young women had on their entire shopping trip. How Plato had been able to carry it all was everybody's guess.
"I wonder how the other guys have spent their time," Erica said to Jenny, not really expecting an answer to her question.
"You don't want to know," Dante piped up.
Something in the AI's voice made Jenny turn to the silver SUV in the parking spot next to Domino. "What do you mean, Dante?"
"Duke has been working out for the past hour…"
"And enjoyed himself immensely," Beast cut in.
"I guess so," the SUV conceded. "And Kyle has been working on reports ever since we heard that we will have to spend Christmas here. *He* says it doesn't bother him, but…"
Jenny nodded slowly, not needing Dante to go on. Kyle had a tendency to keep it all bottled up when something troubled him. And trouble him it did, she had seen it in his eyes when she had met him earlier. Those incredible blue eyes of his could hide so little from her.
She wondered what this evening would bring for everyone. In the worst case each one would sit in their room alone. The thought alone was unbelievably depressing. None of them had really made any other plans for Christmas.
With a low sigh Jenny took her bags and moved to follow Erica, who had already gone up the stairs.
"Don't worry, Jenny," Domino tried to comfort her driver. "I'm certain that everything will turn out just fine."
"Are you expecting a miracle, Dom?" the former Marine only half teased.
"Isn't Christmas the time for miracles, honey?" the gentle AI asked back.
"I hope you're right." Jenny whispered and made her way upstairs where Erica was waiting for her.
* * *
Jenny stepped out of the shower and carefully towelled herself off. She had spent a little more time under the hot water than she normally allowed herself, simply because she had no idea what to do next. Aside from dinner, of course, which would probably be everything *but* festive. None of them was in a holiday mood to begin with, meaning: It could only get worse.
When dinnertime approached, Jenny left her quarters and went to the room they all usually took their meals in. On her way she noticed a few Christmas decorations here and there on the otherwise bare walls. Well, at least *someone* was trying to get into the holiday mood around here.
And that someone had decorated the dining room as well, Jenny found out when she came in. Not that it seemed to help, though. Kyle and Duke were already inside and both looked very glum. The brunette tried not to look at them as she sat down. No need to be dragged down any more than she already was.
Trek and Erica came in together. Both of them didn't look quite as down as their teammates felt, at least not yet.
And then Clayton entered the room with his ever-present cart. The little chef wore an apron with a holly pattern, and he had decorated his cart as well. Jenny felt relieved seeing him – At least *he* tried to get into the spirit. And in more ways than one, it seemed, because Clayton had really outdone himself this time. A few moments later he had a complete Christmas dinner laid out in front of them.
"Now I know why we barely ever saw you out of the kitchen today," Trek chuckled in spite of himself.
"You're awfully cheerful right now, Trek." Kyle's voice held just a bit of spitefulness.
"He talked to his parents over the computer," Erica said. "Seems he's the only one of us who can do that. My folks know as much about computers as I do. Then again – I don't think they'd even want to talk to me." The former con artist looked absolutely unperturbed by this, and Jenny couldn't help but wonder how much of that was for show.
When the gazes of the two women met, Jenny knew the answer. Erica's eyes could hide as little as Kyle's could. The situation was as difficult for her as it was for everyone else.
Duke finally decided to help himself to some food. Feeling down definitely was not going to spoil his appetite. The others followed suit and Clayton was happy to see them all dig in.
Jenny looked at their resident chef, who wore a big smile on his face as he watched them eat. 'As if he doesn't need anything else to make him happy,' she thought to herself. "What are you thinking about, Clayton?" she asked him aloud.
He looked a bit surprised at being asked. "I just remembered my first Christmas after graduating from the Sacramento Culinary Institute. I was in charge of the most important Christmas dinner of my entire career. I was awfully nervous back then. And I ruined the turkey, of all things! A year later we were all able to share a good laugh about it, but back then…it was such a catastrophe! I mean, what is a Christmas dinner without turkey? All I could do back then was to prepare something else – beef though, not turkey. All the guests had been looking forward to a turkey dinner, of course. And all I could do was to tell them what had happened and apologize. I felt like the world's biggest failure at that point."
Jenny could barely imagine what Clayton had gone through back then. His ego was very fragile even now, after all.
"And suddenly," the little chef continued, "everyone came up to me and told me how much they liked what I had prepared for them, that they didn't care if there was turkey or not, and how much they all looked forward to next year's Christmas dinner, as long as I would be the one to make it. I felt so much better then." A happy smile shone on his face again. "I had no idea back then how many of them really meant what they said and how many were just trying to comfort me. It didn't matter at that point. And they all came back the next year, too. But I don't think they had any idea how happy they'd made me back then. It was better than any present could have ever been." Clayton closed his eyes and sighed. "When someone asks me about my favorite Christmas memory, it's always this one."
When he looked up again, Clayton saw five pairs of eyes gaze at him. Even Kyle and Duke, who had barely looked at anyone or anything ever since they had sat down, were looking at him now. The little chef felt his old shyness return all of a sudden, as his face grew warm.
And then Trek spoke up. "I was…seven, I think, or maybe eight. We usually spent the holidays with my paternal grandparents. It was tradition, and we couldn't imagine not doing so. But then, my grandfather took ill just before Christmas. Nothing life threatening, but he had to have absolute peace and quiet for a few weeks. Granddad was going to be okay again – We spent a lot of Christmases together after that – But back then there was a little boy who was very, very disappointed. Nothing seemed to be able to snap me out of it. Back then, I didn't register how childish my reaction was." The young genius laughed a bit ruefully, then became serious again. "But then the kid two blocks over lost his father in a car accident day before Christmas Eve. Here I was, moping over the fact that we only wouldn't go to my grand folks this year, while close to me another kid had to deal with the fact that his dad would never come back at all. Somehow that put it all back in perspective for me. Made me realize what Christmas is really about – Y'know what I mean?"
They all nodded. "Now I know why you seem to have the least difficulty to adapt to our situation," Erica mused.
That gave them all quite a start and not just because Erica had hit the nail straight on the head. None of them should have been surprised at her perceptiveness, though, since they all knew that there was more to Erica than met the eye. No, they all saw the similarities between their situation right now and what Trek had just disclosed to them.
Clayton chose that moment to take away all the empty dishes and he came back with coffee, whipped cream and a delicious-looking pumpkin pie. Erica also left for a moment and returned with a tall red scented candle, which she placed right in the middle of the table. They lit the candle and dimmed the light in the room.
By now all of them had forgotten how bummed out they had been just this past afternoon. They weren't at home with their families, as they had planned, but suddenly that did not seem to matter anymore. They had grown together steadily over the last 1 ½ years and now it seemed like they were an all new family.
It took all of them a while to let that realization sink in and absorb it completely. The scrumptious pie Clayton had served helped them with that.
Duke gave a happy hum. "That pie's great, Clayton. It reminds me of the one my mother used to make – When we had enough money, that is." The big man took another bite. "When I was 13 years old, I had just begun to take an interest in boxing. I never had any gloves, though; I always had to borrow them from someone else. There was a used pair of boxing gloves for sale in a shop window. Every day, on the way to and from school I stopped there to just look at them. I dreamed of owning them, but of course I knew my parents would never be able to afford them, so I never said anything of it to them. The gloves were used, like I said, but they were still pretty expensive for people like us."
Duke took a sip of his coffee and continued, "And then, on Christmas morning, there those gloves were, right under our small tree. I thought I was dreaming." None of the others had ever seen their teammate with this awed look on his open, honest face. "I found out later that my dad had taken on another job on the side, just so he could buy them for me. That he did that for me, it almost meant more to me than those gloves themselves. I vowed there and then to train hard and make my mom and dad proud of me. Well, you all know the rest. I used those gloves until one day one of the seams burst. I still have them in storage. That pair of old boxing gloves will be the one thing in my life I'll always hold on to."
Jenny thought back to happy times as well. "As kids my brothers always used to have big snowball fights. They never really let me participate, though, not even when I grew older. Turned out they thought they had to protect me, which bugged me all the more. Then they enlisted in the military one by one, so that just didn't happen any more. But one Christmas Day, they all got into one big snowball fight, probably just for old time's sake. And this time I got them to let me play along, too." She gave an unexpected giggle. "I had them all crying 'Uncle' in the space of half an hour."
They all wondered whenever that had happened. None of them could imagine Jenny, always so serious and down-to-earth, as someone who knew how to play.
"The following summer, I finished college and joined the Marines," she answered their unasked question. "It had been the last Christmas where we all were together. The years after that, at least one of us was always missing. It would have been the same this year too. Sometimes I wonder if we will ever be able to celebrate another Christmas where we will all be there."
"Never give up hope, Jenny." It was Erica who said this out loud, while the others said the same thing with their eyes only. Jenny's thoughts had been with her family almost constantly today when she had been alone, and it had always saddened her somewhat. Now she drew from the comfort of the others' presence and the sadness disappeared, to be replaced with what she could only describe as love for her *new* family.
Kyle was the next one to relay a story from Christmas past. "My grandmother had been blind for the last 20 years of her life," he begun. "She had lived alone for as long as I'd known her, and she retained her independence until the end. I spent a great deal of time in her presence and learned how to deal with blind people. She constantly impressed me with the way she approached life head on and never complained. She was a great lady." The leader of TKR looked into the distance a bit and then went on, "I had someone teach me how to use a Braille typewriter back then, so I could type a letter for her. I almost gave up a few times – I always did something wrong." He chuckled at the memory. "It took me hours, but in the end, it was worth it. In that letter I told her everything I had always wanted to tell her. How much she taught me, how I admired her. How much I loved her. She read the letter, gave me a long, warm hug and told me that this was the nicest Christmas present she had ever received. The feeling I had back then…it's nothing I could put into words. Not now, not back then."
Kyle then surprised them all by wiping a tear from his eye. He had never let any of them see him like this. "Two nights later, she died in her sleep. My mom found her. She later told me that Grandmother had been holding the letter that I had given her, and that she had died with a smile on her face. And that it was the best thing to go like this. Happy and smiling. She was right, you know." He took another sip of his by now lukewarm coffee.
"How…how old were you?" Erica asked him a little choked up. They all had to fight tears more or less by now.
"Around 12," Kyle answered, "but I still remember it as if it was yesterday."
Trek excused himself for a moment. He was back a short while later. "Get your jackets and join me outside, my friends," he told them in an awed voice.
Growing curious as to his meaning, they did as told, then went through the garage and down the ramp. They knew what Trek had meant almost immediately.
They had seen the stars in the sky more than once before – But never like this. They were away from big cities, the only town around was miles away and there was not a single cloud up there. All this made for a wide sky with stars upon stars shining brightly in the inky blackness. It also was so quiet around them, that they were almost afraid breathing would ruin the effect.
What they would have missed if everything had gone smoothly…
The five of them drew closer together and enjoyed the effect it had on them. Only when they felt themselves steadily grow colder, they reluctantly went back inside.
They were surprised to see that the garage had been decorated as well. Somehow they hadn't noticed before, but now they took some time to really look around before going on.
Kyle and Jenny were approaching the stairs, when suddenly there were cheers from the others, humans and AIs alike. "Gotcha!"
They turned around curiously and saw the others look up with big smiles on their faces. "Don't you just *love* those old Christmas traditions?" Erica grinned.
Jenny took a few steps back and saw what was so funny. "Oh no," she sighed.
Kyle followed and saw the sprig of mistletoe someone had hung over the way to the stairs. He knew what Jenny meant – His thoughts went along the same lines.
He *wanted* to kiss her, he really wanted to. But at the same time the thought alone scared him more than anything ever had. They had kissed once before. In the face of death, but it still had affected him greatly. And not just him, he had seen it in her eyes back then.
Jenny's heart had begun to beat faster as well. 'Calm down,' she told herself, 'you can do this.'
They aimed for a relatively chaste, quick kiss, but that was forgotten the moment their lips touched. Everything around them just seemed to melt away. The first time they had kissed, their precarious situation had distracted them somewhat. That wasn't the case now. Without them even realising it, their kiss deepened. They almost forgot where they were – almost, but not quite. When they parted again, they looked deeply into each other's eyes for a moment.
Then something strange occurred to Jenny. Why had nothing interrupted them? She looked at Erica, Duke and Trek and, to everyone's surprise, burst out laughing.
Duke simply stood there, with a satisfied smirk on his face. That wasn't the laughing matter. Erica stood close to Trek and had her hand clamped over his mouth. The former con artist gave Kyle and Jenny a smug little grin and released him.
"What did you go and do that for?" the young man complained.
"I didn't want you to cheer or something and interrupt them," Erica explained.
They were all smiling again by now. When Kyle and Jenny's eyes met again, though, both of them felt their faces grow warm again.
This time, they would not be able to pretend it never happened.
//And you thought they'd need practice, Dante.//The smile was clearly audible in Domino's voice, as she silently communicated with the other AI.
//Not practice, just a little push in the right direction.// His normally haughty voice sounded strangely mellow. The Christmas spirit seemed to have gotten to the AIs as well – They had barely argued amongst each other today.
The Team put away their jackets and returned to the dining room, not ready to call it a night yet. They sat close to each other, talking some more and generally enjoying each other's company.
Suddenly something occurred to Trek. "Erica, what's *your* favorite Christmas memory?"
She thought about it for a moment. "Would you believe that it's this one?" she then answered her teammate's question. "I'd have to go too far back to find a Christmas that wasn't full of problems – of any kind. This is the first Christmas in a very long time that I really enjoy."
They all saw it in her eyes – The same emotion each of them was experiencing ever since they had gotten together a few hours ago. Gratitude, wonder and happiness. To escape the intensity only for a moment, Erica looked at her watch. "Merry Christmas, my friends," she said in an awed little voice.
Surprised, they all checked their watches. Two minutes past midnight. Christmas Day.
They drew even closer together and wished each other a Merry Christmas. Afterwards, they sat together for a while longer, before separating and going to bed.
Each of them had dreaded Christmas Eve, but they'd had a wonderful evening, during which the Team had grown even closer than before. With those wonderful feelings still infusing each and every one of them, they went to sleep.
* * *
In the morning, Sky One was blanketed in a deep layer of snow. Without hesitation, TKR donned their jackets again and went outside for some fresh air. This was too good an opportunity to pass up.
The men got into a snowball fight before five minutes were up. Jenny stood a short ways away and simply watched her team mates at play with a smile on her face. Erica joined her a bit later. Kyle couldn't help but think about what Jenny had told them yesterday. Had the marines eroded her ability to play completely? How much of the girl that had her brothers cry 'Uncle' was still left?
He found out a moment later, when a snowball Duke had thrown missed Trek and hit Jenny instead. She said something to Erica, and before Kyle knew it, both young women had dived headlong into the fray. Just this once, they all acted like big kids, playing in the snow, laughing, not caring what anybody else might think.
It was with a feeling of deep regret that Kyle accepted the fact that they had to go back in to get warm and dry again. He had never seen Jenny like this before – without care or worry, just enjoying herself. Once they went back in, everything would be like it had been before. He wondered if anything or anyone could get her to let her guard down more often. Maybe he should make that his New Year's resolution. That thought made him feel better, for some reason.
When they had dried themselves, they got together in the dining room again. Clayton awaited them with a heap of delicious-smelling cookies and hot chocolate. And coffee, which Kyle and Duke preferred. They sat together for a few more hours, just talking about nothing and everything.
In the evening the spare part they needed arrived, a few hours earlier than predicted, and Gil told them they would be able to leave the next morning. The Team would get to spend some quality time with their respective loved ones a few more days into the New Year. FLAG had already approved that.
But they would never forget that they *had* spent the holiday with people they loved after all. Contrary to all their fears, it had been a very happy Christmas.
* * *
Have a happy and loving holiday season!