If only the dreams were like the ones in songs, filled with glistening white snow and dancing sugarplums. No - it was one dream; but different, over and over. Each time Jim woke up in tears. He tried to make the images go away, blinking and rubbing at his eyes, but they burned in his mind. The memories wouldn't leave.
Each one was Christmas morning over and over. The first was happy. The sun shone, his mother smiled. Daddy came home. After that, the scene began to change. It stormed. Momma frowned. Daddy didn't come home. Someone yelled, someone laughed, someone cried. Each time he woke with the fear that Christmas morning had been the real one, only to glance around the room - increasingly lighter, ever familiar - and realize Christmas had yet to come.
So when Christmas morning did finally come, he opened his eyes hesitantly, wondering if it were but another dream. Jim looked over his shoulder, blinking. Morning glowed from behind the clouds. He sat up, tugging at his pajamas. The cloth was soft to the touch. He could feel the cool air, smell gingerbread basking as the scent wafted beneath his door, hear the muffled sound of voices beyond. It felt real; he wanted to believe it. With reluctance, Jim rose.
A few minutes later he stepped inquisitively down the stairs, pulling on the ends of a thick white shirt. The Inn was already up and bustling, the guests standing or sitting about with breakfast and glasses of purp juice, talking and laughing. With a pang of excitement, Jim glanced at the Christmas tree, which was sheltering many wrapped packages and toys, and a small maroon kitten. Patches was chewing on the ribbon of one package, rolling about and clawing at the bright material. Jim came bounding the last few steps, a smile beginning to touch his face as he saw her.
Sarah was standing by the window in the back, the holo-blinds clear to the wintry scene outside. She grinned as she chatted with some guests, her hair pulled back and perfectly in place, a casual, muted red dress swaying with her every move. Her eyes wandered and caught Jim's, and the irises twinkled as she excused herself and swept over to him.
"Merry Christmas, Jim," she said, kneeling next to him and kissing him on the forehead. The boy playfully stuck his tongue out at the public display of affection (he could see some of the guests watching or murmuring in amusement); on seeing her face, however, his thought changed. She smiled with a much lighter countenance and spirit than before, as if some heavy weight had been lifted off her heart, if only for a time. He grinned.
"Who are all these presents for, Mom?" Jim inquired casually, looking over his shoulder. Patches shook her head, bell ringing sharply, glaring at the ribbon in a disgruntled sort of way.
Sarah decided to play along. "Well, I don't know! I suppose they must belong to someone…"
He sighed. "They sure do look nice. Whoever gets them will be very lucky." Jim stood tall, shifting his weight back and forth.
"They will indeed. In fact…" Sarah suddenly gave a mock gasp of surprise, which made the boy jump in his anxiety. "Why, I don't believe it…!"
He hopped on the toes of his shoes. "What? What is it?"
"I think there might be one for you here!" She could barely keep a straight face.
Jim's eyes widened, in that kind of excitement only children could build. "A present? For me?"
"Uh-huh!" She slowly edged away, standing beside a nearby table as he spun around and began looking wildly about the tree, inspecting the packages. The kitten cried indignantly as he tried to pry the ribbon from her claws.
"Which one is it, Momma? Which one? I don't see it."
"Keep looking." Sarah pulled the bulky holo-vid camera off the table. The screen flickered and shifted to a hazy picture of Jim looking back past the camera at her, tugging on the limbs of some big purple toy.
"Is this it, Mom? Is this it?" Jim hoisted the floppy reptilian plush up on his shoulder, grinning from ear to ear.
She laughed. "Yes, that's it! Delbert brought it over for you last night. Do you like it?"
"Yeah!" Jim sat by the tree, hugging the toy and looking it over. He ran his fingers over the smooth fabric. A new toy, just for him. His mother smiled as she watched him, setting the camera down.
The morning fluttered by in a wink of gift-wrap and toothy grins. Jim watched in delight as the rest of the presents were exchanged between the guests - almost as if he were receiving some of the joy himself just in watching them. Caroling was taken up again, though lightly, and whenever a guest should leave there would be a rounding chorus of Christmas greetings. The morning's guests trickled away, until only mother, son, and feline remained. With a sigh, Sarah began tidying up in preparation for the evening soon to be at hand. The giddiness of the holiday faded a bit as Jim looked around, beginning to pick up the scraps of shiny ribbon and paper scattered about the tree. His hand fell on a few pine needles clustered together. He drew back, staring for a moment - then rubbed his eyes, turning away. He ran to the kitchen, throwing the wad of shiny wrapping in the disposal, teeth gritting. The boy knew he was upset, so upset all of a sudden, but he could not understand why. Jim knew he should be happy; everything was perfect so far. It was the best dream he had had yet, if it were - but something was still wrong. There was one star missing from his perfect sky. Feeling lost and confused in the wake of such a happy, peaceful time, Jim stepped back into the dining room.
His eyes wandered over to the door, where his mother was greeting someone. Jim didn't particularly care whom. He slunk back over to the tree and sat down next to his toy, face darkening. Patches looked up at him, ribbon clenched in her mouth, at a loss. The conversation at the door was beyond his interest, but gradually it caught his attention.
"… Well I'm rather surprised to see you here so early, Kent," his mother was saying. "The party's not for another few hours…"
"I hope I'm not disturbing you, Mrs. H," Kent replied. Jim glanced over, curious. The young man was looking more strapping than usual, hair combed back and face clear of coal dust, a cap turning about in his hands. "I just thought I'd come visit and wish you a merry Christmas! How are you doing?" Kent peered over at Jim from the door and smiled. The boy reluctantly returned it.
"We're all-right, thank you." If she wanted to speak further, she couldn't get it in.
"Just 'all-right'?" He chimed. "But it's Christmas! Family, presents, mistletoe, and all that! You know, love and fellowship and…"
"For God's sake, Kent, are you trying to sell her a wreath?" An annoyed voice cried behind him.
Kent scowled as he was shoved aside by the shoulder. "Yes, yes, I was getting to that…!"
Leland stepped into view beside Kent, his eyes locked on Sarah's. He looked just as haggard as before, pale with cold and weariness, but to Jim all the angels of the heavens would not have looked more pleasant. On seeing his wife, a blush returned to Leland's cheeks, and there was a stunned silence as they all stood frozen. All thought left Jim, unable to react. Faintly, he began to wonder if he might wake up.
His father looked very awkward, and for a moment Jim feared Leland might turn and run again. But he stood in place, the pack in his hands, still locked with Sarah in the most sincere gaze Jim had ever seen. It was a wonder Leland found courage to speak.
"I don't expect that you might forgive me, Sarah," he began, voice low. "And I don't expect anything of the sort from Jim, either. I've done nothing that I might ever be considered a father in his heart or your eyes, and I don't expect that I ever will. For all the best, you could just close the door on my face and walk away." He paused, as if expecting her to do just so. Her fingers tightened on the door, but otherwise she just stared at him, eyes beginning to shimmer as he went on. "I know I've messed things up completely for you both, that I've ruined this family, and I know how much it hurts you," he said, a note of pain in his voice. "I tried but I guess now I'm too late. I'm sorry it took all these years, an illness, a job, and all that ever mattered in my life to realize. I don't think I will ever change, and I hold with how I feel and what I said… most of what I said… but… it's Christmas. And what I want… what I want is to spend it with you."
For an agonizing moment, she didn't move. Then Sarah's hand slipped from the door and rested on his shoulder, sliding down to his hand. Her eyes scanned his face, searching, and finally she broke into a smile. "You're late."
Leland breathed in relief, clasping her hand. "I'm sorry."
Kent suddenly laughed, slapping his hat against his knee. "Mrs. Hawkins, you need to stop losing your boys! I can't be returning them all the time, you know."
Heart weightless, Jim scrambled off the floor and ran to his father. "Daddy! Dad!"
Leland grinned down at his son, releasing Sarah's hand, and this time lifted Jim up high. The boy giggled. "Hey, solar flare!" he said as he tucked Jim against him. "So what did you see in the stars last night?"
He shook his head. "Doesn't matter." And with that, Jim burst into tears - for once, out of happiness.
He stayed for six months. That first week was the happiest Jim would know for years to come. For a moment, everything felt real and whole to his young heart. Then his father began to drift again, worse than before. Try as he might Jim failed, one chance after another. One morning a few days after his birthday he awoke to hear a door slam. He glanced out his window and flew out of bed, scrambling down the stairs. Terrified, streaming tears, he ran after his father, always just beyond his reach. The ship cast off just as he reached the end of the dock - a moment too late. Jim hung off the bollard, reaching and crying for his father. As he watched the ship fade into the sunlight, he was sure of one thing:
His father didn't look back.
Author Note: And it is FINISHED. Huzzah! ... oh dear, I promised myself I wouldn't cry... does anybody have a tissue?
Wow, I really don't know what to say... I've dreamed and day-dreamed this fic straight for about five months, and it's finally finished. I can't believe it. I've set a goal and met it, and I'm proud of myself. It's a rather extraordinary achievement, as I can never seem to finish anything I start, especially when it comes to writing... in the case of long-term projects like this, I haven't finished one in eight years, when I was nine and writing about talking stuffed animals.
I have, of course, looked over my whole fic and made sure it all fits together and made little changes here and there... but otherwise, here you have it. Thank you so much to all my reviewers, especially the ones who have stuck with me the whole way... you've helped fuel my unreliable motivation, thank you for reading and actually letting me know what you thought... it means so much to me. To all my fellow Treasure Planet fanfiction writers and artists... you've been such an inspiration, thanks for sharing your work with us. To all my friends who bothered to listen to me as I rambled and encouraged me... you have my heart.
Look forward to another Treasure Planet fic... it's already underway. ;) I'm sure I will enjoy it just as much as I've enjoyed writing this, and I hope others will, too. Till then, ~ Tigrin, 4/21/03