A/N: fic 2 of 3, this one is the special holiday themed one and is dedicated to the lovely Meen Jan who requested a Jack West Junior Christmas fic. This story is set in 2003, that's important because some of the events mentioned in this fic don't have a fixed date in the Gregorian calender so if I've done my research right, they should all be the correct dates for the year 2003. I did do a significant amount of research however, if I've got any details wrong particularly regarding religious and cultural traditions, I would be more than happy to be corrected. No offence was intended if I have made any significant mistakes. And as always, I don't own any of the characters, I'm only borrowing them
Something interesting I discovered whilst writing this fic – in Seven Ancient Wonders, Pooh Bear's first name is Aziz, but in Six Sacred Stones and Five Greatest Warriors, his name is Zahir…
And to All, A Good Night
24th off November
To store the cake for a few weeks, keep moist by pouring Red Label wine on the top, and wrapping tightly in aluminium foil – traditional Jamaican Rum Cake Recipe
The holidays always came early to a certain farmhouse in Kenya. Whilst most of the team sweltered even in the shade and dreamt of a white Christmas, a flurry of activity was taking place in one of the many out-buildings dotted amongst the farm. Armed with pots and pans and the largest bottle of rum known to mankind, V.J. "Fuzzy" Weatherly had set up his headquarters. If the dash across the sun-baked ground didn't kill you, then the fumes emanating from within certainly would. But once inside, it was dark and blissfully cool. It was Lily's favourite place to hide – perched against the giant vat, book in hand – when she wanted some peace and quiet.
Once a day, every day, Fuzzy would make his way over to stir the pot. Lily thought she knew his routine off by heart and was always long gone before he could find her. It just so happened that one day her book was particularly good and she was so close to finishing it, just one more chapter and then maybe one more again, that she didn't hear his footsteps padding across the dusty ground until the door was creaking open and the harsh sunlight peeping in.
Dropping her book in surprise, Lily scrambled to her feet.
"Little Princess?" Fuzzy stared at her, bemused, "Whatcha doing here?"
Lily scuffed her feet guiltily.
"Just reading, that's all."
With a snort, Fuzzy picked the book up from where it lay at her feet. Brushing dirt off the cover, he said, "Must'a been some book that you got caught in here for it."
Lily nodded enthusiastically. "It's fantastic," she began, "There's a dragon and a princess but the dragon doesn't catch the princess because they're best friends and instead they have to save the prince together because he…" Exactly what the prince had done, Fuzzy never heard. Lily trailed off, her eyes growing suspicious. "Wait, you knew I was in here all along?" She demanded.
Fuzzy chuckled – even at her sneakiest, Lily couldn't escape the watchful eyes of all her guardians. One of them always knew where she was but that didn't mean they couldn't give her space when she wanted it.
"Course I did," Fuzzy crouched down to her level and handed her the book, "Ain't nobody messing with my rum cake without me knowing it."
Lily spun around, leaning her elbows against the cool metal of the pot.
"Cake?" She asked. "It doesn't look like a cake."
The pot was full to the brim of fruits – raisins and currants and prunes – all stewing with the sweet cloying smell of rum raising off them.
"It will be," Fuzzy replied, brandishing a wooden spoon. "I make my cake the proper way, my grandma's way and my grandma always soaked her fruit a full month. No shortcuts allowed."
Lily dipped her hand in the mixture, grabbing a handful of the sticky fruits to try.
"I don't think you'll like that very much just yet, Little Princess," Fuzzy said.
But Lily had never been one to back down from a challenge. She stuffed the whole handful into her mouth in one go and nearly choked. The sweetness of the fruit was tainted with a nasty burning sensation but she swallowed them anyway.
"Told'ya," he said. "Better to wait for Christmas day. Now you better run along inside and get a big glass of water."
For once, Lily did exactly as told with no questions asked. She wanted to rid her mouth of the lingering taste. Fuzzy was mentally calculating exactly how much straight rum the seven year old had just swallowed and how much water she would need to dilute it.
On second thoughts, he should probably go with her, make sure she had a few glasses. Jack would have his head if he got Lily drunk off of his grandma's stewed fruits. Even by accident.
26th of November
Fasting serves many purposes. While they are hungry and thirsty, Muslims are reminded of the suffering of the poor. Fasting is also an opportunity to practice self-control and to cleanse the body and mind. And in this most sacred month, fasting helps Muslims feel the peace that comes from spiritual devotion as well as kinship with fellow believers – On Fasting during Ramadan
Whilst all the rest of the household was starting the countdown and trying to hide Christmas presents from one another, one member was instead becoming increasingly austere. Pooh Bear's ample girth diminished with every passing day of Ramadan and every day, he fasted a little longer, tucked into his food with a little less gusto when the sun had set. And this morning, Lily had caught him trying to sneak away. He had one of their jeeps already idling, ready to go. Whilst Lily watched, Pooh Bear hoisted a few large sacks into the back of the car with ease.
Darting out from her cover, Lily asked without preamble "Why are you sad?
Pooh Bear clutched at his chest in mock surprise.
"You are as quiet as a mouse," he proclaimed. "You nearly scared me out of my skin."
Never one to be deterred, Lily asked again "But why are you sad?"
"But I'm not sad. Why would I be sad?" Pooh Bear was a little too vigorous in his reply to be believable.
"Your eyes are sad," Lily said matter-of-factly.
Pooh Bear crouched down until he was at her eye level.
"You are much too smart, my little Lily. Today is Eid al-Fitr, the last day of Ramadan." He waved a hand over the bags piled on the back seat. "Today is a day of prayer, of reflection but it is also a day of celebration. Today, we feast. These bags are for the poorest in our community, that they might share in the feast as well. But I have no one to celebrate with. Today, my family is a long way away."
As he drove away, the gears in Lily's brain were already turning. If he first had to go to the mosque and then to deliver the gifts of food, then there was plenty of time.
She dashed inside to make all ready.
When Pooh Bear returned to the farmhouse, it was to find the table piled high with food of every description and all the others, dressed in their best, waiting to celebrate with him. For the first time in a long time, Seargent Zahir 'Saladin' al Anzar al Abbas, Second Son of the Sheik of the United Arab Emirates was left speechless.
"Sometimes you can find your family in unexpected places," Lily said, smiling, "And I hope you're hungry."
And Pooh Bear, well, he ate third helpings of everything.
1st of December
"Saltwater Taffy is both a candy and an Upper-Body workout all in one" – Introduction to Saltwater Taffy recipe
In the hallways of the Kenyan farmhouse, a very important conversation was taking place.
"You go in and distract her, Little One," Max Epper said, "and I'll do the stealing."
"But I'm much smaller," Lily protested, "She won't see me. You distract her and I'll do the stealing."
Wizard tapped the side of his nose.
"Yes, that does make sense, doesn't it," he pondered. "Only, as soon as I go in there, she'll know what we're up to. It's better if she doesn't see me at all. You'll just have to distract her very well."
Lily's eyes widened.
From the kitchen, Doris Epper never looked up.
"Having secret conversations in hallways is a good way to distract people," she said. Both Wizard and Lily blanched at being caught but if they could have seen her face, they would have known she was smiling. "Get in here both of you. If you help me pull this taffy, I'll let both of you have an early piece."
17th of December
Pohutukawa tree, Pohutukawa tree,
New Zealand's Christmas tree
You fill my heart with aroha
The native tree of Aotearoa – New Zealand Christmas Carol
"What is she doing?" Sky Monster asked. He and Jack West were mid-way through some repairs on the Halicarnassus when the heat had finally forced them inside for a couple of buckets of iced water. From the kitchen they had spied a familiar seven year-old's figure, dancing around the living room and humming Christmas carols. In the corner, a giant Christmas tree sat. (Plastic, because the real ones didn't last long in the Kenyan heat, even with aircon.)
In her arms were what looked like every red flower from the garden.
Doris was not going to be impressed.
"She's been at it for a while," Zoe said from her seat at their battered kitchen table, her watchful eyes having deemed the scene pretty safe but she was ready to intervene if any thorns dared attack Lily. "I didn't ask why."
"We should probably check on her," West said, peering over Sky Monster's shoulder with a wry smile. There really never was a dull moment raising Lily.
"Oi, Lily Bear, what are you doin'?" Sky Monster's gruff voice easily carried from the kitchen through to the living room.
Lily spun, startled. At first she looked guilty and then, disastrously, her eyes began to fill with tears.
Both West and Sky Monster rushed over to diffuse the situation. There were few who could long endure a crying Lily. Sky Monster reached her first, so Jack hung back, letting him work his magic.
"Hey, hey, hey," Sky Monster hushed her. Behind his big bushy beard and wild appearance, he had a heart of gold. "What's the matter?"
"It was meant to be a surprise," Lily sniffed.
Sky Monster took her hand.
"They can still be a surprise," he said, "Me an' Jack won't tell anyone."
"No they can't," Lily protested, tears starting to spill over. "You've seen them now and it's all ruined."
"Me?" It was Sky Monster's turn to be surprised. "The flowers are for me?"
Lily rubbed at her eyes.
"I was reading," she explained, "and it said in New Zealand that you have Pohutukawa trees for Christmas trees and that they're covered in red flowers. I couldn't find a tree but we've got lots of red flowers in the garden. I just wanted to give you something to remind you of home."
Indeed, their plastic Christmas tree was garlanded with hundreds of real red flowers, some with leaves and dirt still attached.
Sky Monster laughed kindly and ruffled her hair.
"That's a great surprise Lily Bear," He swung her up onto his shoulders until her head nearly brushed the ceiling, "but this here is my home, right here with you."
He looked at some of the plants scattered across the floor. In her enthusiasm, Lily had pulled some of them up entirely, roots and all.
"Now, the tree looks great. What say we put a few of these back in the garden before Doris catches us?"
19th of December
"A Great Miracle Happened There" – From the Hanukkah Liturgy for Jews outside of Israel
Lily found the New Guy, as some of the others had taken to calling him, sitting in the smallest and least used room of the farmhouse. There was no furniture in the room save an ornate candelabra on the window sill. Lily was sure that hadn't been there before. The man sat cross legged on the floor.
He was all alone.
"Are you alright?" Lily asked innocently.
Without a word, the thin man turned his sharp eyes on her. In the darkened room, his cheekbones were almost eerily angular, shadowing his face. Lily pressed on anyway, "Doris sent me to find you. She said it's dinner time. She made spaghetti."
When he made no attempt to move at all, Lily plonked herself down on the floor beside him.
"Don't tell Doris," she whispered conspiratorially, pulling a face, "But I don't like tomatoes very much. Why are you sitting by yourself in the dark? Do you not like spaghetti either?"
The man still said nothing.
Lily decided to try an easier question.
"What's your name," she asked brightly.
"Benjamin," The man finally answered.
"That's a nice name," Lily said, which managed to provoke a small, tight-lipped smile from Benjamin.
"Lily is also a nice name."
His words were clipped, his voice measured. He had only arrived a few months ago and some of the others – Pooh Bear, mostly, she had noticed – didn't like him very much but Lily decided to like him anyway. She sat still for a long moment, not wanting to be a nuisance but fiddling until the curiosity welled out of her and she couldn't take it any longer. "What are you doing?"
Benjamin turned his keen gaze upon her again.
"Today is the first day of Hanukkah," he told her, "Do you know what that means?"
Lily brightened instantly. When he had first arrived, Wizard had told her that Benjamin was Jewish, like Pooh Bear was Muslim and Big Ears was Catholic.
"That's when Jewish people celebrate the Maccabean revolt," she answered, "when a small group of Jews beat the Selucid king Antiochus IV."
Benjamin smiled that tight smile again.
"Very good, but it is much more than that. Hannukah is about the triumph of light in the darkness."
As he spoke, Benjamin lit the first candle.
"Only one?" Lily pouted.
"It's only the first day," Benjamin said. "Tomorrow, I will light two and the day after that, three and so it goes."
Lily pondered for a moment, before asking "Can I join you, tomorrow and the day after and the day after that too?"
The angular planes of Benjamin Cohen's face softened.
"Of course you may, Lily."
And from that moment on, Benjamin became her friend.
24th of December
"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders, and he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace" – Isaiah 9:6
Her little hand clutched tight in Big Ears', Lily beamed. Christmas was extra special to Big Ears, she had known that for a long time. It was Big Ears who counted down the days as eagerly as she did and with whom she would share her advent calendar chocolates. It was Big Ears who read her the Christmas story from his own special confirmation Bible and it was Big Ears who would sneak around the farmhouse in the dead of night to fill the stockings that Santa was supposed to (Not that Lily would ever tell him she knew it was him).
In just a few short hours' time, it would be Big Ears who would wake up with her before the sun rose, as excited for Christmas Day as any small child.
Lily couldn't have picked a favourite amongst all her guardians – it wasn't right to have favourites in families – but Big Ears was her best friend and nothing could change that.
Every year on Christmas Eve, Big Ears would go all the way into town to the big cathedral there for Midnight Mass.
And this year, for the first time, Lily got to go with him.
She was seven now, and seven year olds were able to stay up until Midnight if they wanted to (and had appropriate supervision and an afternoon nap).
Tugging on Big Ear' hand, Lily dragged the big soldier forward. She already knew she loved Midnight Mass – she loved the soaring heights of the church, the throng of happy people all wishing blessings on one another, the robust ring of the organ filling the space with carols. She loved the bells ringing in Christmas time and all the voices singing together.
But most of all, she loved sharing it with Big Ears.
Sun cult or not, Lily found there was comfort and hope to be had in the story of the birth of a little Jewish baby in the backwaters of Judea two thousand years ago; born to save the world.
Even if she didn't know the words, there was a certain music to the liturgy. It was easy to get lost in. Her head was growing heavy even as she bowed it for prayers.
It was so easy to let her eyes close.
She was woken by the gentle jostling of Big Ear' lifting her into his arms.
"Is it finished?" She asked, rubbing at her eyes. "Did I miss it?"
Big Ears smiled down at her.
"You did great," he said, taking small steps so she didn't bounce in his arms too much.
"Merry Christmas Lily."
26th of December
"And it's Aakash Chopra, Chopra fends off a short delivery in the opening Innings of the Boxing Day Test here at the MCG."
Lily knew the rules – She was allowed to wake everyone up on Christmas. Christmas day was made for getting up at the crack of dawn. But Boxing Day was sacred sleep in-time, when everyone could catch up after the excesses of the day before.
And yet whilst all the others were properly observing the rules, Jack West Junior was in the living room fiddling with the TV antenna. All the lights were off and even the sun had yet to rise, so the only light was the tinny glow of the television. Dressed only in her pyjamas, Lily shuffled into the room.
Part of her didn't want to disturb him. In many ways, Jack, The Huntsman, was still a stranger to her.
But she couldn't sleep and she could see the flickering light coming from the living room.
"Hey there, Lily-pilly," Jack didn't look angry or particularly surprised to see her there. "Couldn't sleep?"
Lily shook her head.
"I never could sleep after Christmas either," Jack said, "Too much food and excitement, it always gave me nightmares." He gestured at the TV. "Well, we've missed the beginning but the Australians are up to bat now. Wanna watch with me?"
When Lily didn't move from the doorway, Jack settled himself onto the couch, one arm thrown lazily over the back. "Should be a good game," He continued. "The Indians are in the lead at the moment. They've never won the boxing day series before."
The words went straight over Lily's tired head but West's open side looked warm and inviting. Without further encouragement, she ran across the room in slippered feet and tucked herself into a ball against Jack's side. The arm, his flesh and blood one, that had been lounging on the top of the couch came down the wrap around her thin shoulders. With the volume turned down low so as not to wake the others, the slap of ball against bat, the constant murmur of the commentary was soothing and Jack's quiet explanations were all soothing.
They sat there tucked up together in companionable silence for a long time, enjoying the traditional test as Boxing Day crept up on them.
Until Ricky Ponting scored his double century and they both cheered so loud they woke all the rest up.
28th of December
"December 28th is 'Día de los santos inocentes' or 'Day of the Innocent Saints' and is very like April Fools Day in the UK and USA. People try to trick each other into believing silly stories and jokes. Newspapers and TV stations also run silly stories. If you trick someone, you can call them 'Inocente, inocente' which means 'innocent, innocent'."
"We could die his beard pink?" Enrique 'Noddy' Velacruz suggested.
He was lying spread eagled on the kitchen floor with Lily beside him. The days were only getting longer and hotter, and the cool tiles on the floor were one of the few places they could get any break from the relentless heat.
"We've done that before," Lily countered. "Twice. What about…"
"Explosives are strictly off limits," Noddy cut her off firmly.
"We could fill his bed with whoopee cushions?" Lily said.
Noddy just looked at her, eyebrow raised.
"Surely we can get more creative than that."
Lily rolled over onto her stomach, looking excited.
"Ooh, what if we programmed a robot to follow him around all the time and make lots of noise every time he tried to speak?"
"Do you have a robot?" Noddy asked.
"Oh," Lily slumped.
"We could glue his boots to the floor? Bonus points if you can do it whilst he's wearing them."
Then it was Lily's turn to look unimpressed.
"In this heat the glue would just melt."
Just then, Noddy sat up straight, a wicked gleam passing through his eyes.
"If you stand on my shoulders, do you think you could reach up to his window?"
When Pooh Bear returned to the farmhouse later that afternoon, he headed straight for his bedroom. It had been a long, tiring and sweaty day. He was weighing up the benefits of going straight to bed or showering first as he opened his door and was swamped by what must have been thousands of polystyrene balls. His room was filled with them up to chest height, his furniture covered and as soon as he'd opened the door, it was like opening the floodgates.
Pooh Bear roared as he was knocked over flat by the wave.
From outside, sitting underneath his window, Lily and Noddy dissolved into peals of laughter.
6th of January
"On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh." – Matthew 2:11
For once, the flurry of activity filling up the farmhouse was not caused by or directly related to Lily. Instead, if there had been anyone around to watch, they would have seen eight elite soldiers armed with dusters and vacuum cleaners and detergent. The Feast of Epiphany – as the twelfth day after Christmas was known – commemorated the visit of the Magi from the East to the infant Jesus in Bethlehem and drew the official Christmas season to a close.
It was also, as Zoe had announced over breakfast that morning, traditionally a day when the women of the house were exempt from any chores.
So whilst Jack West changed all the sheets (with Horus' help, of course), Wizard prepared sandwiches for lunch, Sky Monster was in charge of the garden, Fuzzy scrubbed out the kitchen cupboards, Big Ears chased the cobwebs away, Noddy cleared out the chicken coop, Stretch dusted and Pooh Bear washed the floors; Zoe, Lily and Doris had only one task to attend to.
Lily was sitting on the floor, her bare toes wiggling in the sunlight and a new home pedicure kit open beside her.
Zoe held up two brightly coloured bottles for her inspection.
"So," she said, "Pink or glitter?"