You Killed Santa Claus!
A Christmas Story
Author: ChibiCori
rating: PG-13, come on, when do I ever write something without a tad bit of naughtiness in it?

Disclaimer: Now for the fun part, the Disclaimer! Ahem, mi mi mi mi! ::Sung to the tune of Little Bunny Fufu:: Little ChibiCori, hopping through the forest, scooping up the senshi and boppin' em on the head. And down came Naoko and she said, Little ChibiCori, who's ripping off my story, put down my senshi or I'll bop you on the head! Yes the end sucked, but I think ya'll get the point anyway, eh?

Welcome to my first Christmas fic! I was going to do a Sailormoon Universe version of "It's a Wonderful Life" but as I began to write it, I realized that it would be a very depressing fic, and my itty bitty brain can't handle any sadness right now. Besides, Christmas is too much fun to write sad stuff. So here are my usual wit and grace in . . .

You Killed Santa Claus!

Serena scowled as she held the itchy, polyester fabric in front of her. It was a ghastly shade of red, trimmed with clumped white fur at the sleeves, neckline and somewhat abbreviated skirt. What was once shiny black buttons now hung haphazardly on their strings in a row down the front. A low rumble of disgust fled her throat as she threw the limp fabric down on the bench, next to an equally ugly pointed hat and even fake rubber ears.

In case you haven't guessed yet, Serena was Santa's brand new elf helper at the mall. Translation: She was going to be squiring crying, snot-nosed kids to sit in the lap of an intoxicated old man in a fat costume, then take them back to their harried mothers who just wanted to get back to their shopping. Joy of joys, gotta love the season of presents and cheer. Or was it just presents?

Serena begrudgingly tugged her T-shirt over her head, then shimmied out of her shorts. With one last wistful look at her comfortable, non-red, non-polyester, non-trimmed-with-used-cotton-balls clothes, she sighed as she reached for a pair of red pantyhose.

She was forced into this nightmare-from-Christmas-hell job when her mother told her that it was time for Serena to take more responsibility and pay for her own Christmas gifts this year. Of course, Serena had loudly protested;


"Really Serena, you always spend so much at Christmas. We cannot afford to pay for gifts for the family, and your friends, and you're secret Santa's for school, and your charity gifts and-"

"Fine Mom, I get the picture. The old guilt card, I hate it when you pull that one." Serena's mother shot her a glance that told her she would not take anymore grumbling, so Serena stared at the ground as she asked, "And where do you think I'm going to find a job this late in the season? Everything will be filled."

"Paulette's niece went to visit her father in New York for the season." Her mother stated, as if that would answer all her questions.


"Well, it was decided very suddenly and Megan took off, leaving her job at the mall wide open. They're really in a lurch down there. Desperate you might say." Ilene smiled as she whisked past her daughter to check on her stew in the kitchen, leaving Serena to make the connection. Serena knew Megan, Ilene's best friend's niece, and would remember what Megan's job was soon enough.

And that soon enough came about five seconds after Ilene had left the room. Low, thoughtful mumbling was quickly followed by a gasp and a screeched, "UH UH! No way, Mom. No way, no how! Child labor is a felony you know!"

But there Serena was, standing in front of a streaked full length mirror in a dingy dressing room hidden deep within the recesses of the mall, decked out in red from head to toe. Serena sighed sadly as she wrapped her braided ponytails up into her buns so that two golden loops hung down to her shoulders. She felt very Heidi. She even had those curly toe shoes that elves are always wearing in pictures.

She looked and felt ridiculous, but was determined to make the best of her crappy situation. It was a good learning experience. Maybe someday she could write a paper on cruelty to elves in the work place.

Tilting her red, pointed hat at a saucy angle and trying to pull her skirt to a legal length, Serena opened the door of the dressing room and headed for Santa's North Pole. The bells on her curly toed shoes jingled all the way there.

O o o o o
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"It's the most wonderful time of the year! There'll be much mistletoen' and hearts will be glowin' when loved ones are near! It's the most wonderful time of the year!" Perry Como boasted from a speaker high above the courtyard, where a seemingly never-ending line of children and their mothers waited in line to see THE Santa Claus.

By now, Serena was pretty sure she had heard every Christmas song ever created by mankind. She'd even heard a couple different versions from the speaker and the mouths of today's youth. Really, what was wrong with kids these days?

The velvet voice of Elvis Presley singing "Blue Christmas" began to peel from up high as Serena led a small boy over to "Santa" by the hand. And this particular little boy had just had an ice cream cone from the looks of the creamy, chocolate ring around his mouth and the sticky evidence that was sure to stay on her hand from his. Gently picking the boy up, she placed him into "Santa's" lap and waited as the sticky boy told "Santa" what he wanted for Christmas, counting each item from his sticky fingers. When the boy was done, Serena quickly and efficiently picked him up off "Santa's" lap and sent him scurrying to his mother. One down, 500 to go. But that was a rough estimate, she wouldn't be surprised if it was more.

Serena began to make her trek towards the endless line of children, only to intercepted by yet another lewd comment from "Santa", who was actually a drunk retired mailman named Earl.

"Why don't you bring that sweet butt over here and sit on Santa's lap?" he slurred slightly.

"Drop dead, Earl." Serena shot back as she stalked towards the line, steam blowing from her ears. Why did they hire such a jerk? Anybody would be better then that guy, and she couldn't believe that he was drunk when he was supposed to be the hero of millions of small children daily for at least a month. Serena, though she was later ashamed of wishing it, had been hoping for the past few days that something heavy would just fall on the man. Not to kill him, but just to maybe, knock him unconscious for a couple days.

Grabbing the next kid as kindly as she could considering her black mood, Serena forced a pleasant smile as she greeted the new child, this time a little girl who had just had...was that three cheese sauce....yep, spaghetti from the Italian fast food place upstairs in the food court. It looked like she had been swimming in it.

'Oh goodie.' Serena thought dryly as she gripped the girls saucy hands and barely registered Bing in the background bum-bumming his way through "White Christmas".

o o o o o
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Darien shoved his hands in his pockets as he looked around him. Ahhh, the institute of greed and gluttony known as the mall. He rarely went there, especially not during Christmas, when things were worse then usual. But Andrew had insisted that Darien had to help him find a gift for Rita. Why, he had no idea. Darien hadn't gotten a Christmas gift for anyone in his life. He internally shrugged it off as Andrew wanting to try to hook Darien up for the holiday's. Andrew was a regular busy body of good-doing, especially during Christmas.

It was enough to make Darien want to run and hide until Easter, at the least.

But now Andrew had disappeared deep into a Victoria Secret's, a place where only men with girlfriends and wives dare tread. Who knew how long it would take Andrew to find the perfect... whatever it was he was looking for in there, for Rita. Darien would admit to checking the catalog out once and a while, he did have a pulse after all, but he didn't want to be in the same store where women were trying on items from those catalogs in the next room.

So here he was, with time to kill. What kind of good-hearted, Christmas mischief could he cause? He neandered a little deeper into the mall and noted rather nervously the ridiculously long line of children which led to the center of the mall. Wondering what was up, Darien headed to the pot of gold at the end of these children's rainbow. A huge archway with a sign that read "Santa's North Pole" signified the culmination of the masses, who waited patiently for the gates to open. A sign hung in front of them, "Santa will be back in 10 minutes! Toys to check!"

'How rude of Santa.' Darien thought sarcastically as he began to peer into the windows of a pipe shop, simply to look at something, 'But The Big Guy does have a job to do. Poor kids, so easily suckered.'

But his dry thoughts were quickly diverted when Darien caught the glimpse of a devastating female figure draped in red. Spinning quickly to get a clearer look, Darien scanned the audience of young women with their children, looking for that lovely figure he had just seen.

He caught a flash of red again next to a little coffee shop. Ahhhh, there she was. From the looks of her get-up, she worked at the mall, probably at Santa's North Pole. But a body like that in a dress like that should not be around small children, it wasn't decent.

Darien gladly drank in the slim legs that stood acres below her short, white....stuff trimmed skirt. He almost went into a coma when she stood on tiptoe and thrust her bottom out a little to pay the clerk for her coffee. The movement made the already short skirt ride up to a hair-breath short of legal. Nope, not decent to be around small children at all.

'But I sure appreciate it.' Darien thought as a wicked little smile crossed his lips.

Darien was about ready to go back to lurking in front of Victoria Secrets when he suddenly noticed the girls hair. It was a shiny, golden blond, and was twisted into looped braids on each side of her head. He halted as she finished off her drink, then walked over to the line of kids, rather slowly too Darien noticed with a grin. But he couldn't blame her, those kids looked ornery. Besides, the slow stepping caused her skirt to sway, folds unfolding momentarily to reveal a bit more of her form. 'Yeouch, this girl wasn't hired just for her Yuletide cheer.'

The girl stopped to throw away her cup, giving Darien a peek at her front. And what he saw made him wish he'd gone into Victoria Secret's with Andrew.

The girl he'd been ogling for the past few minutes was none other then Meatball Head. Darien gulped as he gave her a quick once-over again, deciding that Juuban needed to redesign their uniforms to include pointy hats and curly shoes because he couldn't believe he had never noticed how very sexy she was before.

'Wait a minute? Pointy hat, curly shoes? And judging by Meatball Head's expression.....oh yeah. She isn't happy to be here at all. Take advantage! It would be so easy to get her back up right now. She might even pout, then you can see that adorable lower lip some more.' Darien took a step forward when that proverbial angel appeared on his shoulder, 'Now, Darien, tis the season to be kind to thy neighbor.'

Then his little devil popped up on the other shoulder, 'So, she isn't your neighbor. Remember, lower lip! Lower lip."

'Give the kid a break, just for today. She's been tortured enough.' the angel pleaded, shooting a dirty look at the devil.

Darien sighed and turned to head back to Andrew and all his underwear. That was, until the little devil pulled out the dirtiest card in his deck, 'Okay, picture this. Pouting lower lip, and, that outfit.'

Darien spun on his heels and made a beeline for Serena.

The angel shook his fist at the devil and shouted, "Damn you!" before disappearing in a puff of smoke, following the stereotype of such things.

The devil merely shrugged and said, "Too late." before following suit.

Meanwhile, Darien had walked up behind Serena, who was completely unaware of her in eminent doom.

o o o o o o
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As far as Serena was concerned, that break was way too short. And though she didn't really like coffee, she desperately needed an extra tall latte with extra foam more then anything she had ever needed in her life. And the guy behind the counter was kinda cute, but that was just a plus to the heady drink. Even if she was a bit jittery now, it was better then what Earl had probably curled up with in the dressing room during his break. Serena sighed as she headed towards the gate to open up shop again, knowing that Earl's sexist comments would only get worse. She was definitely going to have to talk to her boss after work.

Serena was bent over a prop box, trying to find her candy cane staff when two fingers suddenly dug into her sides and proceeded to tickle her. Which wasn't a good thing since the dumb costume she was wearing felt like it would bust in two at any moment.

Squealing, Serena spun around, her skirt twirling to a halt moments after her body and Serena stood face to face with the one person who would make this day officially the worst of her life. Darien Chiba crossed his arms over his chest smugly and then tilted his chin towards the throne in the center of the fake snow and reindeer.

"So where's the fat man?" he asked smartly.

Serena knew her fuse was going to be short, but she still prayed to anyone that would listen to give her patience with the big dope, "He'll be out soon. Why, you want to read him your wish list? You're a bit big, but Santa's a big guy, I think you might be able to fit on his lap."

Darien raised an eyebrow at her as he silently ticked off a victory for Serena. But he would see her pout in that outfit, he would.

"Gosh Meatball Head," Darien said in mock boyish innocence which Serena begrudgingly allowed, was really adorable, "I was just asking for your benefit, you looked awfully lonely and somewhat out of place in that get-up of yours. Nice shoes by the way."

That's it, he was no longer adorable. And nobody, but nobody disses her shoes, but her, "Listen Darien, I don't have time for this. We're opening up again in a few minutes and I have to make sure we're not mobbed by small children dragging the bodies of their mother's behind them. It can get messy and I'd hate to traumatize your fragile little brain."

Darien jammed his hands into his pockets and tried to contain his anger. She was becoming less enticing with each irritating breath she took, "I think I can handle it. Besides, it would be worth it to watch you flee in terror at the first kid who empties their lunch on your shoes. I did mention they were nice right?"

The argument was interrupted when two young boys walked by singing they're version of Jingle Bells as loudly as their small lungs would allow, which was still pretty loud;

"Jingle Bells, Sailor Moon smells!" sang the first and Serena growled low in her throat, it was the fifth time she'd heard that dumb song.

"Tuxedo Mask laid an egg!" the second chimed in loudly, and Darien narrowed his eyes on the little punk ominously.

The boys' mother shouted at them to stop and hurry up or no cookies when she was done. At the threat of no cookies, both boys quickly shut their mouths and scurried to catch up with their mother, leaving two hacked off super heroes behind.

"Dumb kids, I betcha that's the last time Sailor Moon saves their behinds." Serena mumbled as she picked up her sought for and found candy cane.

Darien ran a hand through his dark hair absent-mindedly as he stated, "Tuxedo Mask can't lay an egg, it isn't physically possible."

Serena chuckled dryly, "Yeah, keep tellin' yourself that buddy. That won't stop the song from spreading like wild fire." 'If Mars isn't in that song doing ballet or something, I'm gonna find the dork who made that song up and hit him with a bat. A wood bat. With weights on it.'

"What do you care?" Darien shot back, still licking his wounded ego at the song.

Serena stared at him in a single, heart-stopping moment. Her eyes were lit with fire and her chin had hardened to the point that it looked like her delicate jaw wouldn't be able to handle the weight a moment longer. Darien was pretty sure that had she the power, he would have turned into stone where he stood.

"I don't, and even more, I care less about you, you jerk! You could just go and-"

But the rest of what Darien was certain this time was a very lewd suggestion was cut off by a round man in red stumbling up onto his platform and calling out to Serena, "Hey, baby-buns! Let's get this show on the road!"

"Dammit!" Serena cursed under her breath, hoping no one heard. It appeared that during his break, Earl had decided to jump from kinda drunk to on-his-face-passed-out drunk.

Darien had heard Serena's muttered oath, but he stood motionless and in awe of what the Santa had said to her. Had Santa called her, baby-buns? 'Hey, no one can call my Meatball Head baby-buns! Unless it's me!' Darien chose to ignore the meaning of that internal declaration of ownership until later as he grabbed Serena's forearm and jerked her towards him.

His sudden movement caught her off guard and she nearly slipped. Dumb shoes, they had curly toes, but not traction what-so-ever.

"Has that guy been hassling you?" Darien asked through clenched teeth, his tone demanding her attention.

And it got it. Serena was suddenly very aware of how close she was to him at that moment. She was a good head shorter then him, so she had to tilt her head all the way back to look at him, "Huh?" was all she managed. He was far too close, he seemed to be all around her and she couldn't think in the intoxicating blanket he seemed to make.

"That guy." Darien said, jerking his chin towards the inebriated Earl, "Has he been giving you a hard time?"

His jerky movements shook her some and Serena began to think a bit more clearly. She looked over her shoulder at Earl who was trying to make his throne more comfortable before slumping into it and grumbling incoherently, "What? He's just drunk." which reminded her, "Excuse me, I've got to try to get him sober enough to not scare the kids and I only have a minute to do it in."

Serena pulled away from his hold and gratefully let reality sink back into her senses. Feeling light-headed and foggy in a cute guys arms was normal, she was sure of that, but it wasn't normal in Darien's. No siree, it definitely wasn't. Not when he was Darien and she was Meatball Head. He must have had some bad fruit cake or something.

"Serena-" she heard Darien start behind her, and just the fact that he had called her by her name made her want to turn to see what he wanted to say, but Earl's drunken call cut Darien off from finishing his sentence.

"Yo! Baby-kins, move your sweet little heiny and get some kids in here!"

The last thing she had expected was Darien to flash by her in what seemed to be unbridled fury. It took only a moment for the fact that Darien's intent was the beat the crap out of Earl to sink in. Though the knowledge that Darien was off to defend her honor like a knight out of story books left her alarmingly warm, the thought of Darien beating the crap out of a man a whole audience of small children thought was Santa Claus, would not be good.

"Darien, wait!" Serena called and quickly grabbed the crook of his elbow and gave a mighty yank.

A surprisingly effective yank. The unprepared Darien suddenly jerked back into Serena, who then lost her footing thanks to her dumb shoes. Darien spun to catch her, but the momentum from his spinning and her falling form, plus those stupid, slippery shoes sent them a few inches across the floor and into one of the Christmas trees set up in Santa's North Pole, Darien toppling to the ground after the tree, Serena landing on top of him. The Christmas tree promptly fell over and knocked over the one next to that, which of course, started a domino effect of falling Christmas trees in the semi-circle around Santa's throne. Serena and Darien managed to look up at the mess just in time to see it wasn't quite over. The last tree fell over onto a little teeter-totter that had been set up with fake elves playing on it.

Every pair of eyes in the store watched as the elf on the other side of the teeter totter was thrown into the sky as the tree fell on his plastic playmate. The elf then slammed into a poorly hung star, which came loose of it's fastenings and began to plummet to the ground. But not to the ground exactly, oh no, that would have been too easy. Serena, Darien and hundreds of horrified mothers and children watched as the star landed on an unsuspecting "Santa", who had been watching in glazed amusement. With a loud thud, the star bounced off of Earl's head and then clattered to the floor. Serena stared at the gold star for a moment before looking up at Earl, who was slumped in his throne, obviously passed out. She gulped as a voice inside her taunted, 'There's your heavy object you've been wishing for. Happy?'

Darien made a disbelieving noise then wondered why his body felt so heavy all a sudden. Looking up, he was surprised to see Serena resting on top of him, her face pointed towards Earl's disaster. He could very easily just lift his head up and he would be able to nuzzle her throat, but somehow he felt that now would not be the time to try to begin an intimate relationship with her.

In the background, Serena could faintly make out Bette Midler singing, "Precious moments, special people, happy faces, I can see."

A loud sniffle caught both Serena and Darien's attention and they slowly looked behind them, Serena still perched on top of Darien's sprawled out form. They're eyes locked with a little girl's, whose eyes were huge with tears and a few fat ones escaped and rolled down her cheeks. Both took notice that most of the children looked like that. But they're attention turned back to the little girl's as she began to cry in earnest now, managing a hiccuped accusation;

"You killed Santa Claus!"

o o o o o
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"I'm not doing this. You cannot be serious." Darien pleaded as his eyes left the giant, red jacket then flew to Serena's determined face.

"I am dead serious." Serena spoke as she threw the jacket at Darien, who, completely unprepared, scrambled to catch it. Serena then added as she pulled out a pair of red pants and big, black boots, "And you are doing this. You're the one who killed our old Santa Claus."

"I did not kill him." Darien grumbled as he crossed his arms over his chest in defense, "I only put him in a coma, and he woke up the very next morning anyway."

"Yeah, well, he can't come back to work and we need a new Santa."

"I don't see why I have to do it. It's not like I meant to hurt the guy." Darien mumbled as he sat on a wooden bench next to his red suit.

Serena snorted, then reached back into the box marked 'Santa's Suit' "Don't give me that, you were on your way to knock him off his butt just for calling me some names."

Long fingers manacled her wrist, making Serena's gaze look down at her trapped arm, then follow the hand holding her wrist up the strong forearms and toned biceps of her captor. When her eyes finally reached Darien's, her breath caught as she saw the sincerity and concern in them;

"You really didn't mind him saying those things to you?" Darien asked, the rich tone of his voice bringing her eyes to look fleetingly at his lips, then quickly back to his eyes.

Serena shivered as she attempted to free her wrist from Darien's hold, then shook her head, "No. I never really took them seriously. Earl was just a sad, lonely man who drank to forget that he was. He'd never actually try anything."

Darien broke their intense gaze by letting his eyes fall to her trapped hand. His grip loosened on her wrist, but immediately fell to rest his palm over hers. He pulled both her hand and his between them, and without closing his fingers over hers, drew her closer to him. He sat, looking up at her, then tilted his head in thought before asking, "You really believe that?"

The moment was getting way too heavy for Serena. She was in a lonely, secluded room with a guy who was supposed to be her enemy. He should not be asking her if she was alright with such tenderness and touching her the way he was. So what if only their palms touched, it felt like the touch had seeped through her skin and was slowly, languorously uncurling in every point of her. That did not happen with Darien. Darien, who called her Meatball Head, and who constantly needled her about her poor grades and always complained when she cried. The big, mean, grumpy Darien whose rare smiles made her day worth while and even rarer laugh made her light up from head to-WOAH! Rewind that, snip it and send it to the cutting room floor.

'No more of that missy, you just might end up falling in love with the big jerk.'

Serena pulled her hand away as if she had just realized that she had been holding a hot pan by the bottom. She gulped loudly and then forced a smile onto her face, "Yep." she chirped lightly, then quickly changed the subject, "We had better get back to making you The Big Guy or we'll be late."

Darien opened his mouth to protest, but only receive a mouth full of pillow as Serena chucked what was to become his jolly extra poundage. He looked down at the rumpled pile of red felt, yellowing cotton and moldering feather pillow and gasped in disgust, "Kids actually buy this?"

"Yes they do, now put on the suit and get your rear in gear." Serena said, while smothering a giggle as Darien picked up the pillow between his index finger and his thumb and held it at arm's length away from him.

"Everything? The pillow? The beard?" Darien asked, panic beginning to swell his throat and he noticed with a wince that his voice had just cracked.

"Everything. Hate to break it to you, but washboard abs and a clean-shaven face isn't how the kiddies see Santa Claus." Serena pointed out, then opened the door to the dressing room they were standing in, "I'll give you some time alone to get dressed, but if you're not on that throne in 10 minutes, I'm coming in here and dragging you out. Naked if I have to."

Serena closed the door behind her and Darien stood still for a moment, wondering if being dragged by Serena naked would be a bad thing. Very enticing, but the whole crowd of young, impressionable children watching thing doused the excitement a bit.

Darien sighed in what he could only call disappointment as he pulled off his clothes, and with one last, longing look at his non-red, non white......stuff trimmed clothing, stepped into the red pants.
o o o o o
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Serena blew out a sigh of relief as Darien came stomping up in his full Santa Claus get-up. She had promised herself that she wouldn't laugh, but he was just too funny. Never once had she pictured Darien in such a silly predicament. The boots that Earl had been wearing were too big for him, so they kind of scooted down his calves every time he took a step, and the pillow was lopsided and hanging out of un-buttoned buttons. His beard was pulled completely beneath his chin and random hanks of dark hair hung out from beneath his hat.

"Gee, if you still need your Mommy to dress you, you should have let me know, I could've called her." Serena managed through a few chuckles.

Darien looked at her darkly for a moment before glancing away and mumbling to himself, "There's no one to call."

Though the sentence had been meant for only his ears, Serena had caught it. Her laughter slowly died and her eyes explored his profile. No one to call?

Serena decided that the subject was definitely not up for questioning at the moment. Darien wasn't going to clarify anytime soon, and there were kids out there waiting for his big entrance.

"Well, you can't go out there looking like that." Serena remarked softly as she began to stuff the pillow into proper place and button up his jacket. Darien's gaze drifted to the top of her head as she busily straightened his clothes out. When she took off his hat and swept the wayward locks of black hair back, Darien couldn't help but notice that her fingers left scorch marks where her skin had made contact with his. All too soon, she was putting the hat back on and then pulling the beard up over his mouth.

"There, you actually look pretty good." Serena gave his apparel an approving appraisal and then looked back up at his face. She hadn't been expecting him to be as pale as a ghost and shooting nervous glances towards the crowd of children, "Darien, what's wrong?"

"I-" Darien began, but stopped to clear his fear-clogged throat, "I don't think I can do this. I don't think they'll buy it."

Serena smiled slightly at how insecure he was. This, she was most definitely not used too, "You're going to be great. All you have to do is remember what I told you. Laugh like a jolly, old elf and ask if the kid's been naughty or nice. Then ask what he wants for Christmas, tell him you'll try you're hardest to get it to him and then hand him over to me."

"Yeah, but...isn't Santa more then that?" Darien asked, looking at her in confusion. He had at least assumed that there was more to the whole Santa thing. He remembered all the times when the other children at the orphanage fell asleep waiting for Santa at the window. When the kids talked about him, the desperation seemed to leave their eyes and all that was left was pure, unbridled joy. Darien had always known that Santa wasn't real, but he could never bring himself to share that with his friends. Who was he to dash their hopes and dreams? And he had to admit, they were much better off then he was now for having believed in a magic man and his eight reindeer.

Serena shook her head and laughed a little, "Probably, but we don't have time for that now. Let's see, we have to do something about how pale you are. Can't have a sick Santa Claus now, can we?"

Serena rubbed her chin in thought, then snapped her fingers as an idea struck her. She reached down and scooped up her purse. What she pulled out had Darien back up in horror.

"Oh no, you're not touching me with that!"

Serena rolled her eyes as she swivelled up the stick of red lipstick, "Don't be a baby, Santa has cheery cheeks and a bright red nose. The kids expect what they read. Now get over here and let me play make-up with you!"

Darien felt as if the only thing he could do was comply, and his eyes rounded in fear as the tube of Hot Mama Red got closer and closer, "I hate this time of year, I hate this time of year, I hate this time of year."

o o o o o
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Things actually ran pretty smoothly the first couple of hours. Serena would escort the children up, which was a good thing since Darien got to watch her walk up. Then the kids would sit on Darien's lap, tell them the five thousand things they wanted for Christmas while their mother's looked like they were going to pass out at the extravagance. Then Serena would escort the children back to their mother's, which was a good thing since he got to watch her walk away. Yep, things were looking pretty bright.

He was even starting to get into the act. The kids couldn't get enough of him! He'd ask if they'd been good all year and they would, of course, declare they had been. Darien had found an effective way to make them squirm was to look at them through the top of his fake wire glasses and ask if they were absolutely sure. They would hesitate, but then realizing who they were talking to, would break down and confess. Cops don't need to play good cop-bad cop to get criminals to talk, all they need is a good Santa impersonator.

Serena too, was enjoying her job much more then usual. Each time she would walk back to get another kid, Darien would instigate a playful argument. It was different then their old fights, these were warm-hearted and simply for fun. She supposed it took nearly killing a man to make them call a truce. It figured.

Yes, all seemed to actually be looking up for the two.

But then, Junior came.

Serena walked to meet the next child, a small smile dared it's way onto her face when Darien told her she should wear those shoes more often, then he'd know when she was coming. It would give him a chance to find cover before any test papers fell on his head.

Serena chuckled softly as she unclipped the thin, candy cane- striped rope that held the hoards of children at bay as Santa visited with his devoted fans.

"Hey lady. You gonna take me to Santa or not?" a demanding voice called from below her.

Serena pulled her self from lalaland and looked down to see a chubby little boy looking up at her with an arched brow. 'Oh boy. It's gonna be one of these.' Serena thought with an inward grimace.

But on the outside, Serena put on her best, fake albeit, smile as she held out her hand to the little boy, "I sure am. He's been waiting for you."

"Well maybe he wouldn't have to if he had some decent help."

Serena's eyes narrowed dangerously, but the smile remained, "Would you like to see Santa now?" 'You little, rotten puke.'

The little boy rolled his eyes and then looked at her like she was probably the dumbest person on the planet, "No lady, I'm standing in this long line for my own health."

'Okay...*smart*, little, rotten puke.'

"Follow me." Serena said out loud, as cheerfully as she could considering that she had homicide on the brain.

She offered her hand to the boy, but he just walked past her, ignoring the offered limb, " Nice ears. So what exactly are you supposed to be? A Vulcan?"

"A what?" Serena asked, a hand automatically rising to delicately finger a rubber, pointed ear.

The boy only rolled his eyes again and then mumbled, "Teenagers."

'Oh boy, wonder how Darien will handle this one?'

As they neared "Santa's" throne, Serena pointed at the boy from her position behind him and mouthed to Darien, "watch out". Darien looked confused for a moment, then his eyes lighted with realization and he gave her a short nod of his head to confirm he had understood.

Amazingly, the boy let Serena pick him up and put him in Darien's lap. Serena shrugged it off as the brat didn't want to over-exert himself. Above them, the Beach Boys began to harmonize, "I'm gonna see Santa Claus, the real, real Santa."

"Hello, have you been a good boy this year?" Darien boomed in a deep voice that he had perfected over the course of the morning. He was pretty damn proud of it actually. But this kid didn't seem to be as impressed as the others had been.

"My name in Junior. And aren't you supposed to know if I've been naughty or nice. You ARE the all-knowing, all-seeing Santa Claus, right?" But Junior made it obvious he didn't believe the words he had just spoke.

Darien shot a gaze over Junior's head, his eyes silently begging Serena for help. She simply shrugged and wordlessly told him to go on;

"Well, Junior, I wanted to see what you would say."

Junior scoffed, "Right. I'm sure."

Darien worked his hardest to remain a jolly, old elf, but Junior wasn't making it easy, "Have you been a good little boy, Junior?"

"You tell me."

'If you've been good, then I've got eight, flying reindeer.' Darien thought grimly as he outwardly Ho Ho Ho-ed, "I'm afraid my list is confidential, you'll have to wait until Christmas to see what I think."

The boy looked slightly swayed by the analytical explanation, "Santa" had just given him. Serena smiled at the thought that Darien had actually left the kid wondering, "what if?"

The smile immediately dropped from her face, when after a short examination of the man he was sitting on, Junior reached up and gave a mighty yank on Darien's beard. The elastic holding it in place snapped and the shiny, white face-piece tumbled onto Darien's lap.

Everything went still for a few moments as Serena gasped in shock and Darien stared at Junior in amazement. That only happened in cartoons, doesn't it?

Junior was the first to break the deafening silence when he smirked and crossed his arms over his chest, "I knew it. There is no Santa Claus." He then hopped down off of the de-bearded Darien's lap and began to walk away, throwing a good-bye Serena's way, "See you later, live long and prosper."

He stuck his hand up and split his fingers in the middle and stuck his thumb out to the side. The next thing they knew, he had disappeared into the crowd of Christmas shoppers.

Serena and Darien had remained motionless until they heard the shriek of a small child from the line.

"You go and hide out while I calm the crowd down." Serena instructed Darien, who picked up his abused beard and sent her a pitiful look.

"This ever happen to Earl?" he asked as he headed for the cardboard, gingerbread house that he and Serena were supposed to take their breaks in.

Serena sighed as she shook her head, "Nope, Earl's beard was real."

Darien let a bitter laugh escape his throat as he opened the door to his haven, "It figures." he mumbled and stepped into the house.

Serena's chuckle was just as bitter as she made her way towards the growing cries of children, "Yesterday we killed Santa Claus, today we dash his existence into pieces. What a pair."

Above, the Beach Boys song came to an end, "He's not the real Santa Claus, not the real Santa."

Serena shook her head at the irony as she remembered the song's title, "Santa's Beard." Fortunately, the ending gave her a way to talk them out of the dilemma Junior so lovingly left them with.

"He's just helping Santa Claus. The real, real Santa."

o o o o o
/\ /\ /\ /\ /\
^_~ ^_~ ^_~ ^_~ ^_~

Darien sat on the bench in the dressing room, his elbows propped on his spread thighs and his face cradled by his hands. What a horrible experience, he certainly hoped that another Junior didn't pop up that day. That is if Serena can find away to fix his beard so no more kids could yank it off.

Darien laughed softly as he realized that he wasn't really worried about it. Serena would fix it. She may hate the job, but she wasn't going to let down a bunch of kids whose highlight of the season was to bring their busy mom's down to the mall and sit in a stranger's lap to tell him their Christmas wishes.

They had so much trust in the man. Though they will never see Santa coming down the chimney, or take off on his sleigh, flying to the next roof, they believed he had come and would keep coming every Christmas. What a pleasant thing to look forward to. Darien found himself sorry he had missed out on the opportunity to have so much love and respect for a twinkling, blue-eyed man with a belly that shook like a bowl full of jelly when he laughed.

Darien looked up then, and twisted his neck to the side to look at the streaky mirror next to him. There he was, dark hair rumpled and a bit flat from his hat and his cheeks and nose were still stained a red from Serena's lipstick. His blue eyes looking a bit wistful for his lost childhood. He had taken off his jacket and taken the pillow out, so he sat in his white t-shirt and a pair of baggy red pants. Two black suspenders hanging from his shoulders was the only thing helping him win the fight with gravity to keep those pants up. He then cast his discarded jacket, hat, and beard a glance. A small smile crept onto Darien's face, a genuinely delighted smile as he realized that for the next few days, he would be the man that children adored so much.

'Well,' Darien thought with great amusement, 'I guess I'd better work hard to live up to the name.'

A soft knock at the door pulled Darien from his revery and he watched as it cracked open and Serena poked her head through.

"You decent?"

"Yeah, come on in." Darien smiled.

Serena complied and closed the door behind her with a soft click. With a tentative smile, she tossed a tube of glue at him, which he caught, then leaned against the door as she explained, "I asked the boss what to do to avoid our little Junior episode again and she said to just use that. She said it worked with all their other hairless Santas."

Darien tossed a non-appreciative glare her way, but Serena just laughed, "What? You don't have a beard, therefore you are a hairless Santa."

Darien shook his head, then shrugged as he began to pour the glue onto the beard, "How did you explain this to those kids?"

"Fortunately, only the first few saw the actual event, a couple more saw you without the beard. I told them you were a special elf sent from the North Pole to help Santa gather Christmas Wishes. The rest of the kids still think you're Santa though."

"That's fine." Darien answered as he carefully placed the beard on his face, pressing the glue firmly onto his skin.

Serena watched with interest as he gave the beard a tug, and when it stayed in place, he smiled and turned back to her, arms thrown to the side as he said, "Look Ma, no strings!"

Serena giggled as he pinned his pillow back into place, then looked at him as seriously as she could, but it was so hard to be serious with a guy who had fake hair glued to his face, "You are doing a great job by the way. I didn't know you had it in you."

Darien, who had been in deep concentration trying to get his jacket buttoned up, correctly this time, looked up at her with a sheepish smile, "Me either. But it's kind of fun."

"Really?" Serena was honestly surprised, "I don't see you as much of the Christmas-kind-of-guy."

"Funny, I would have guessed you'd be all jazzed for the season." Darien commented, avoiding her accusation.

Serena shrugged as she sat down on the bench and began to fiddle with the cotton ball on the end of Darien's hat, "I usually am. But I just can't get excited this year."

Darien cocked his head in thought, studying her for a few moments before sitting down next to her, "And why is that?"

He received another shrug of her delicate shoulders, then a weary sigh as she began, "It seems like I had to suddenly grow up this year. I woke up one morning and I suddenly had the weight of the world on my shoulders. Everyone expects so much of me and I'm terrified that I'm going to let them down at every turn. And now even my family has joined in the act by making me get this job. I have all this responsibility when all I want to worry about is what flavor of ice cream to get or which boy to have a crush on."

"You've always seemed to be the same cheerful, girl I met outside the arcade."

Serena paused for a moment, then looked at Darien with awe. She had met him the day that she had become Sailor Moon. How weird is that? Maybe, just maybe, the meeting had been as fated as her destiny as the champion of love and justice. Now the question was, was it a good-fated or a bad-fated?

"Yeah, well, I try to not let it get me down." Serena finally answered, then smiled shyly. "And I have to admit, I'm feeling much better about Christmas now that you're my Santa."

Darien's grin was radiant as he sat next to her on the bench, "Really? You don't think this means we're friends now, do you?"

His tone was light, but the implications of his words left her blushing deeper. She gave him a nudge with her shoulder, which sent them swaying in unison for a moment as she said, "I suppose I do. I know, the inhumanity of it all."

"Yep, it's the end of the world for sure." Darien joked back, then looked down at her softly, "I think I am going to like this Christmas better then any of the rest."

Serena looked up at him, then immediately wished she hadn't. His eyes were so kind and beautiful as they looked down at her, and her heart begin to beat wildly as her stomach started to do the bunny hop. 'Oh boy, somehow, I don't think this whole friend thing is going to work.'

She needed air, and she needed it now. Quickly rising, she half-walked-half-ran-like-a-bat-out-if-hell to the door.

"Well, lets get back to work eh? Things aren't pretty when we leave those people waiting too long." she rushed, 'Subtle Tsukino, real subtle.'

Darien noticed it too, because one of those damnably, sexy dark brows quirked up and he eyed her warily. Serena could feel a sweat forming on her brow, 'What do they have the heat on in here? 150 degrees?' Trying not to admit that it was her own body reacting to the way Darien was looking at her, she forced a smile onto her face and waved for him to hurry. He waited only a moment longer before sighing and scooping his hat onto his head. Pushing the fake glasses up the bridge of his nose, Darien gave himself one last check in the mirror, before stepping through the open door and letting Serena take her first deep breath since they had declared their truce.

"I do have to give Junior credit for one thing though." Darien smiled wickedly.

Serena blinked, then asked warily, "What's that?"

"You do kinda look like a Vulcan."

Serena screamed, then gave each ponytail a yank as she screeched, "What is that?! Some kind of bird?!"

o o o o o
/\ /\ /\ /\ /\
^_~ ^_~ ^_~ ^_~ ^_~

After the first few kids, the ones who had seen Darien without his beard, the job began to run smoothly again. And as the day began to wane away into the later hours, Darien was pretty sure that every single child under the age of eleven living in Tokyo, had sat on his lap. He'd seen them all, skinny kids, fat kids, messy kids, clean kids. He'd had the kids who burst into tears the moment they saw him to the ones who practically leaped into his lap from 10 feet away. He'd had the kid's who wanted world peace, or a happier Christmas for a loved one and the ones who sat and counted off their Christmas Toy List's. He'd even had a kid whose list was so long it literally dragged after him.

But through them all, Serena was always there to joke with between kids. She'd stop to primp his beard and straighten his pillow. She'd giggle at his masquerade as Santa, and she fought back tears when he would get through to a little one on the verge of losing his faith in Santa Claus. She masterfully calmed the children who had became upset. It was too bad that this was only a seasonal job, because Serena could probably do this professionally. She was really good at it, despite the job's obvious shortcomings.

It was nearing closing time when Serena walked back for the next child, "All right, whose next?"

Serena locked eyes with a little girl who was peeking around her mother's legs. Serena offered a warm smile, but the little girl quickly darted behind her mother's larger body.

The woman patted her daughter's head, then quietly answered to Serena's confused expression, "She doesn't want to see Santa. But I think that it would be good for her. Hopefully your Santa is a good one."

Serena's chin lifted a bit in pride and she told the woman, "Our Santa is the best." then said louder so the little girl would hear, "In fact, he's the real thing."

And just as she had hoped, the little girl's face dared a glance around her mother's legs. Serena smiled wide as she slowly put her hand out, palm up, in offering;

"Would you like to meet him?"

The little girl eyed Serena's hand warily, then slowly reached out her own. Serena didn't move her's, it had to be the girl's choice to take it. The girl's hand hesitated slightly just above Serena's, not sure of whether she should take the chance.

It was what Serena said next, in her gentle tone, full of sincerity that was the deciding factor, "He'd love to meet you."

The little girl's hand fell into Serena's then, and though she still didn't make eye contact with Serena, her fingers gripped Serena's tightly, allowing herself to be led.

The girl's mother was beaming, "Oh, I knew this would be good for her. You don't mind if I go with you do you? Marissa can be shy sometimes, and it might be easier for her if I was there."

"No problem." Serena allowed, then giving Marissa's hand a squeeze, she said, "Let's go."

Marissa went slowly, staring at the ground the entire time. Serena walked at Marissa's pace, catching Darien's eye as she walked up. She wished she could mentally tell him that Marissa was different then the rest of the children, that being Santa might scare her. But she couldn't, Darien wasn't a mind reader, especially not her's.

"Look who is here, Santa. It's Marissa." Serena called out.

And to her immense surprise, instead of answering with a boisterous HO HO HO, as he had all the other times, Darien looked at Marissa with infinite gentleness in his eyes and said softly, "Why, hello Marissa. I've been waiting for you to come see me."

'Okay, maybe he does read minds.'

Marissa glanced up briefly, then quickly down again. Her mother sighed softly then suggested to Serena, "Maybe I should put her in Santa's lap. She knows me better."

Serena tried to mask her confusion, but couldn't help but asking, "Aren't you her mother?"

"No." the woman said as she lifted Marissa into Darien's lap, "I'm Marissa's social worker, Mrs. Tagashi."

The announcement made Serena stare in awe as Darien blanched;
"Her social worker?" Serena wondered, "But wouldn't that make Marissa an..."

When Serena trailed off, not able to finish her sentence, Darien finished for her, "An orphan."

Mrs. Tagashi nodded sadly as she explained as quietly as she could to Serena, "Yes, her parent's died in a plane crash. She had been staying with her aunt and uncle until we found out they were abusive to her. She still has nightmares, and she is extremely withdrawn, making it difficult to find foster care for her. I just found out yesterday that she didn't believe in Santa when we were making ornaments. I thought that maybe, if she met Santa, felt the magic of the season, that it could start to bring her out of her shell. That is why I was amazed at what you did, young lady. I have never once seen her take another person's hand."

Darien had heard the entire story. The little girl in his lap, was an orphan. Like him. He stared at the top of her head, glossy brown curls hung loose around her shoulders. Her body was drooping, and she hadn't once looked directly at him. Right then, she seemed to be preoccupied by the unfolding and folding of her small hands.

He knew her loneliness, her despair. He knew how that darkness shrouded her heart and refused to let in the tiniest sliver of light. Mrs. Tagashi was hoping for a miracle, and he was supposed to give it. But how could he bring light into this little girl's life when he couldn't even make the light shine in his own?

What Serena told Mrs. Tagashi next, made Darien want to make the light shine more then he had ever wanted anything before;

"Don't worry, Mrs. Tagashi, if anyone can get through to her, it would be Santa."

Darien felt his heart swell as pain he'd tamped down for years and years found it's way into his eyes and he realized that it wouldn't be Santa who would reach Marissa, it would be Darien.

"You don't believe in me, Marissa?" he asked, finally breaking a long silence between fat man and small child.

Marissa didn't answer and simply began to pull at the hem of her skirt. Darien sighed as he allowed the memories to flood back and his mouth began to put voice to the pictures in his head.

"You remind me of a little boy I once knew, Marissa. He never knew me, but I was always watching over him, feeling very sorry that I couldn't be part of his life. He had lost his parents in an accident too. He had been with them the day their car crashed, and he had been the only one to survive. When he woke up, he couldn't remember anything. He cried for days, wished that he would have died too, or that his parents had lived instead. Soon, he stopped being sad and became angry. He rejected kindness, friendship and worst of all, he rejected love. That was why he never liked Christmas, because this is the time when all of those things become so important. He didn't believe in Santa Claus, and would separate himself from all the other children. During his whole time there, he had made only one friend, and that friend wasn't with him very long. He was a very lonely little boy, one that I wished would have been one of my friends."

There was a short pause as Darien felt himself overcome by emotion. He looked up and caught the sad expression on Mrs. Tagashi's face as she listened to his story. When his eyes trailed to Serena's face, his breath snagged. Her eyes were wide, and blurry with unshed tears. She was gnawing on her lower lip as a measure of self control and he could see clearly what she was thinking. She knew, she understood that this wasn't just a story that he had heard, or was making up. She knew he had lived it and he knew that it wasn't pity that was making those tears, it was that she felt his pain. Her sincerity and generosity had reached out and she bore the wait of his painful childhood with him, and she did it without a complaint.

Darien smiled at her then, a small one, only meant for her. She was going to be the best friend he would ever have, he could feel that deep in his bones. Serena smiled back, the movement finally letting a few tears stream from her eyes.

"What happened to the boy?"

The inquiry had not come from Serena, or Mrs. Tagashi. Darien looked down to see Marissa staring up at him, her eyes curious and exploring as he peered down into her little face.

He heard Mrs. Tagashi gasp in surprise and sensed Serena smiling with glowing joy and pride. He himself had nearly passed out with the little girl's sudden decision to speak. But deciding that two Santa's passing out in one week would not be good for the mall's reputation, he finished his story;

"Well, he's all grown up now."

"Did he ever believe in you?"

Darien sighed and looked down at the floor before he met her eyes again and said with genuine regret, "No, I'm afraid not. But that doesn't mean that I will stop caring for him, or looking out for him. I love all the children of this world. And that means you too, Marissa. So even if you never do believe in me, I will always love you, no matter what."

Only a split second of silence passed before Marissa bolted upwards and wrapped tiny arms around Darien's neck, squeezing hard. Her face buried itself into his neck and she stayed still for a moment, tears dripping onto his collarbone before he heard her muffled voice declare, "I'll always love you too! I promise!"

Darien's heart hammered in his chest as he wrapped his arms around Marissa's waist and returned her hug with as much enthusiasm. Mrs. Tagashi was now reduced to weeping at the beautiful sight and Serena, whose tears had long since dried up, stared with pride and immense joy. Her heart beat a rapid tatoo against her own chest and she felt as if it would drum it's way out of her body.

Darien looked up from his embrace with the tiny girl to lock eyes with Serena, his eyes full of thanks and gratitude. And passion. Eeps, loads of it. Serena put a hand over her thundering chest and closed her eyes briefly as a tidal wave of emotion crashed down on her.

'Oh God, I think I'm in love.'

o o o o o
/\ /\ /\ /\ /\
^_~ ^_~ ^_~ ^_~ ^_~

The first day was over. 'And what a day it had been', Serena thought as she closed the door of her dressing room behind her. The accursed red costume had been tossed without much ceremony into her locker and Serena was beginning to feel like herself again now that she was back in her normal clothes. She took her first deep breath all day with a great deal of joy and began to feel a bit giddy at the freedom.

But despite the costume, and the drippy kids and their sometimes demanding mother's, she had never had such a wonderful day. It was full of laughter and tears and....Darien.

Speaking of whom, he still wasn't out of his dressing room. Serena stared at the door and wondered if she should intrude. They hadn't gotten a chance to talk after Marissa had finally left. Serena desperately wanted to question him about his story, to make sure her belief the boy had been Darien himself was true. She couldn't shake the feeling that Darien was not only telling the story to Marissa, but to her too. That he had wanted her to know the painful secret. And if what she thought was true, then she would never be able to thank him enough for allowing her to see that part of him. He had been so vulnerable, so sincere and sad. It made her want to wrap him up in her arms and assure him that he would never be alone again, as long as they were friends, she would always be with him.

Friendship, now there was something that seemed to be in jeopardy with every moment she spent in Darien's presence. He was starting to get to her. Serena couldn't even conjure up a single bad thing about him anymore, when just the day before, she could have made a list a mile long. The more she got to know him, the more the past melted away and nothing but the present remained.

Her heart threw in "and a future" just to make her furrow her brow in uncharacteristic thought for a moment. A future? As what, friend? Enemy? Maybe even....eep....lover? Could Darien ever look at her and think that?

Serena quickly shook her head, immediately dismissing the thought. No, he wouldn't. He was handsome, sexy-as-all-get-out, smart man that average, clumsy-as-all-get-out, dumb girls like her did not get to see beyond friendship with. Hell, she was lucky she had even that, so she shouldn't bite the hand that fed her.

If her heart had human characteristics, it would have sighed in frustration and begrudgingly propped it's chin in it's hand.

But even with this decided, Serena still found herself ambling over to Darien's dressing room door and rapping at the surface gently.

Darien's call from within that all was safe had Serena automatically reaching for the knob and cracking it open. Peeking her head inside, she raised her brows at what she saw.

"You haven't changed yet?"

Darien smiled slightly from his seat on the old bench, "That's not entirely true, I took off my hat."

Serena rolled her eyes, then stepped inside, closing the door behind her. Darien motioned next to him, silently offering her a seat, which Serena took. They were quiet a long moment before Serena's curiosity got the best of her and she asked;

"The boy in your story, was that-"

"It was me." Darien interrupted, then turned his head to look at her face, "But then again, you knew that didn't you."

Serena felt the tips of her ears begin to burn as she looked down at her lap, her fingers nervously entwining with each other, "Well, I wouldn't say I KNEW, I just had a feeling that....I'm sorry."

"For what? Knowing me too well?" Darien joked, but there was no real mirth in his tone.

"No, I really don't know you terribly well. We've only been on speaking terms for a day you know." Serena pointed out, momentarily forgetting why she had originally apologized.

"Sure you do, you know me better then anyone else, even Andrew." Darien admitted, taking short note of Serena jerking in surprise, "You know about my past, you know I like to tease cute girls, you know that I have a jealous streak. Today you found out I have a sense a humor, albeit it was usually at your expense. You found out that babies make me nervous, I hate girls ogling me and that I can act the pants off any mediocre Santa. Serena, you know my heart."

Again, Serena started at that. She blinked slowly, absorbing his words bit by bit. Her heart was beginning to beat rapidly again, which she sure was for the umpteenth time that day. All due to this strange, growing attraction to Darien.

'Don't bite the hand that feeds you, don't bite the hand that feeds you.' Her mind repeated over and over again as her heart tied a napkin around it's neck and licked it's chops.

"Well, um, anyway. I meant that I was sorry that you were so lonely growing up. That must have been horrible." Serena hastily changed the subject.

Darien realized what she was doing, but decided to let the topic slide as he began to shift out of his coat, "It wasn't much fun, I'll admit that. But after awhile, I got used to the idea."

"Got used to it?" Serena gaped, then pulled her brows together in disbelief, "Darien, don't say that. I may not be the smartest person on the planet, but I do know that absolutely no one, not even the Great Darien, can get used to losing family. I know that I would remember my family everyday if the same had happened to me."

"That's just it, you can remember your family." Darien said, his tone firm, but no anger seemed to come across in his voice, "I can't. When I wanted to die in place of my parents, it frustrated me so much because I couldn't remember who I wanted to die for in the first place. It hurt me too much to try to remember, so I just stopped trying."

Serena's anger immediately slipped deep inside her as she recognized the raw pain in his eyes. Though his handsome features remained stoic, she saw plainly the ocean of feelings and memories thundering in smokey blue depths. She had never seen him show any emotion before, but it was absolutely beautiful now that he allowed it to dance in his eyes. Her heart skipped millions of beats as she slowly moved to kneel between his wide-spread knees, her hands caressing his face gently, forcing the beautiful storm to meet hers, to allow her peace to be part of him.

"But you still think about it, don't you?" she whispered, marveling at how he had just trembled in her hands, so vulnerable and broken, "When you wake up, you remember what you've lost. And you've lost so much haven't you? Family, memory, childhood. Oh, Darien. I wish I could have been there, I would have never let you become so alone."

Darien drank in her blue eyes, beginning to water. Her promise echoed in his ears, ricocheted through his brain and settled in his soul. He felt the ice over his heart begin to melt. For the first time ever in his life, his heart and mind agreed as one thought stuck in his brain; 'I'm going to love her forever.'

Instead of speaking the thought aloud, Darien simply covered her hands with his and smiled at her, "See, you do know me."

Serena smiled back, her warmth and spirit spilling over into his, "Yeah, I guess I do. Why don't you change and I'll treat you to a burger or something. All this retrospect has to build up an appetite."

Both were answered by a loud growl, which surprisingly enough, had come from Darien. Both glanced at his protesting stomach, which despite the pillow padding, was loudly demanding nourishment.

"Told ya." Serena grinned as she crossed her arms over her chest cockily, "You change while I wait outside. And you better be fast, or we'll have matching sets of growling tummies."

But Darien stopped her before she could step through the door, pulling the padding out of his pants, then reaching up to his beard, "You can at least stay until I get down to the nitty-grit-hey!"

Serena turned back to see Darien tugging with all his might at the beard, "What's wrong?"

"The beard, it isn't coming off when I pull on it." Darien explained, giving it another hard yank.

Serena flinched and walked back towards him, her hands in front of her in a movement of halting, "Don't do that, you'll hurt yourself."

"But it isn't coming off!" Darien exclaimed, his patience
beginning to run thin.

"Well, the glue had to be strong enough so the kids couldn't pull it off, right? Try putting some water on it." Serena offered as she walked past him to the single sink on the other side of his small dressing room.

She twisted it on and stepped aside so Darien could get to it. Darien sighed, and with one last tug, stepped up to the sink and begin to dab water on the hairline, trying to keep the beard itself as dry as possible. When he thought it suitably damp, he gave the beard another tug, but was only rewarded by the feeling of his skin tugging with the fake hair.

"Aaaaaargh!" Darien cried in frustration, "God da-"

"Hold that thought!" Serena cried, cutting off his oath, "Let me try."

"It won't do any good." Darien grumbled as he sat with an humph on the bench.

"Oh, poor baby." Serena cooed as she filled an old butter tub with water and with soggy fingers, began to dab at where Darien's skin met the white hair.

"This isn't going to work Meatball Head." Darien sneered, reverting back to his old ways momentarily.

To which he received a mouth and noseful of slightly damp white beard as Serena angrily threw the beard up in his face and began to violently jab at the skin underneath his chin.

"Watch it buster, I've got a bowlful of water here." Serena spoke menacingly, adding a final stab of her fingernail into his throat.

"Ow! Geesh, I'm sorry." Darien winced at the stinging mark and then braced himself for her try at pulling the dumb beard off.

Serena planted her feet, then clapped her hands together and rubbed them against each other several times.

"Gonna heal me Mister Miyagi?" Darien mocked, but after receiving Serena's brow arching in confusion as a response, he waved it away, "Never mind."

It was easily dismissed as Serena took a hank of hair into each hand. Her face was set in determination, which meant that Serena's tongue was poking from the corner of her mouth, which Darien, of course, found adorable. So caught up in that adorable little look on her face that he forgot she was about to rip his face off.

"OWWWWWWWWWWWWWW! NO MORE, NO MORE!" Darien shouted as he pulled the beard from her grasp, the momentum sending her onto her butt. He stared at her breathlessly for a moment, swinging his abused jaw from side to side before finally saying, "Well that, obviously, didn't work."

"I don't get it. Why isn't it coming off?" Serena wondered aloud as she got up and dusted off her rump.

Darien diverted his eyes from the action before she noticed, but she was too caught up in thought to have taken note anyway, "That's the one million dollar question now isn't it."

Serena didn't seem to her him as she stroked her chin in thought, "You keep putting water on it to see if it will loosen up the glue and I'll investigate."

"Investigate what?" Darien asked incredulously, but none the less, got up and moved over to the sink.

"Where did you put the leftover glue?"

Darien blinked, then pointed at his locker, "In there."

"Hmmm, I do believe, my dear Watson, that the answer will be found there." Serena said, adopting an English accent as she swung the locker door open. She giggled then, dropping the charade.


Serena peeked around the door and gave him a naughty look, which just about drove him insane with want, but was quickly doused when she waggled her brows and giggled, "Darien, briefs? I thought for sure you were a boxers-kinda-guy."

Darien scowled, it appeared to be that he had left his gym bag open, airing his choice in underwear for all to see, "The glue is on the top shelf. Stop poking around through my stuff."

She had disappeared behind the door of his locker again, but couldn't help but adding an extra barb as she shut the door. Shaking her hips and singing along with a little tune, she began to read the glue's packaging, "Darien wear's whi-tie ti-ghties! Darien wear's whi-tie ti-ghties!"

Darien's scowl progressed into a growl of disgust as he turned back to the sink and attempted to get that damned beard off. When Serena stopped singing and gasped, he froze. Slowly turning, he saw that she was bright red, her face pinched in an attempt to repress laughter.

"What? What is it?" Darien asked, slowly advancing on her.

Serena backed up for each step he took forward as she hiccuped, then managed, "Now, Darien, try to keep a sense of humor about this."

"Well, you seem to be highly amused by whatever it is, so I'm sure it's very funny." Darien said slowly, making it HUGELY obvious he didn't believe a word he had just said.

"It, umm, kind of is when you think about it. I mean, this is the kind of stuff that only happens on TV, right?"

Darien's eyes narrowed, "WHAT kind of stuff only happens on TV?"

Serena's retreat was finally halted when her butt hit the wall behind her. She was cornered, she couldn't escape. It was now or never. She had to tell him before hysteria completely took over.

"Darien." Serena began, a snort escaping her as she fought to keep the laughter back long enough to break the news, "I hate to tell ya, super-glued your beard to your face."

o o o o o
/\ /\ /\ /\ /\
^_~ ^_~ ^_~ ^_~ ^_~

Andrew had to sit down. He had never once, in his entire lifetime, dreamt he would ever see such a thing. The Armageddon was coming, it had to be. There was no way that THAT would ever happen, not if there wasn't any serious religious implications connected. He definitely had to sit down. Better yet, he should call Rita, he may never see her again, not after the BIG ONE hits.

Across the parlor, a man in a booth was staring at the booth next to him, his mouth hanging open, the sandwich in his hands frozen halfway between the plate and it's final destination.

"What?" Darien snapped at the man angrily from his seat,
"You've never seen a full grown man with a fake beard glued to his face before?"

The man slowly shook his head, and continued to stare.

Darien grumbled and sank in his seat, arms folded over his chest. Stupid guy, stupid Fruit Parlor, stupid beard and, last but not least, stupid Serena for making him go out.

After much tugging, scraping and screaming (at each other more often then not) Darien had finally come to accept that he was stuck with the beard until he could see a doctor who would be able to give him something to get the glue off. Then, Serena had still made him come out with her.

No matter what anyone may tell you, public humiliation is not worth a burger and fries. Remember that.

A tray of food plunked down in front of him and Serena was soon sitting in his line of sight. 'Good. Maybe, if I concentrate reeeeeaaaaly hard, I can burn off her buns. I have to have some sort of useful power in here somewhere.'

"Chow down!" Serena exclaimed as she took a big bite out of her burger, then added a few french fries to the mound of food in her mouth.

Darien eyed his food, then slumped down further into his seat, "I'm not hungry."

Serena, who had been stuffing food into her cheeks, making her look like a chipmunk compacting her food for winter, tossed him an unbelieving look. But somehow, past all the chewed up food, she managed to whine, "Come on Darien! You cannot still be mad at me for having a beard super-glued to your face!"

"Yes I can." Darien simply stated, glaring at her from across the table.

"You're acting like such a little kid. Maybe now would be a good time to start believing in Santa for you, huh?" Serena teased, finally swallowing her food.

Darien shrugged and was about to ask her something when he noticed she was looking at the man in the booth next to them who was, Darien paused to check....yep, still staring at him.

"Excuse me sir." Serena called to him, and the man turned his head towards her, but his eyes never left Darien. Darien simply growled and slumped so far down into his seat that his bottom wasn't even on the red wood anymore.

"Sir, you do know that it is very rude to stare?" Serena asked, and when the man nodded while continuing to stare, Serena felt something snap. She had wanted to show Darien that even after such an ummm - tragedy, he could still live his life to the fullest. And all the people staring was making it impossible for him to have a good time. Dammit! Why can't people just accept people for who they were? Be they a different race, nationality, or if they had a fake beard glued to their face.

"I'll be right back." Serena told Darien, then got up and went to the counter, where Andrew was clutching a phone to his ear and sending prayers towards the sky. After a brief interaction, Serena headed back, holding some sort of box. Darien straightened a bit and leaned to the side, trying to get a better look at what she had with her.

When she was still a few feet from the table, Serena lifted the box to her eye, "Say cheese!"


A flash went off and a second later, a Polaroid popped from the bottom of the camera. Darien blinked, then shook his head, his minds eye still seeing the rectangular flash wherever he looked.

Serena meanwhile, smacked the still developing photo on the man's table, "It'll last longer, considering this MISTAKE will be fixed pretty soon. And..." Serena paused to raise the camera to her face again and snapped a picture of the stupefied man. After it popped out of the camera, Serena smacked that one down with the first, "..this is to remind you what staring at my friends will get you."

The man stared at her for a moment. Serena arched a brow and propped a hand on her hip. Raising the camera, she again threatened to snap off his picture. The man quickly glanced away, then gathered his things and scooted out of the booth. Serena watched in fuming glory as the man threw his check on the counter, where Andrew was still fervently talking to Rita, and then hustled out the door.

Serena grabbed the two Polaroids off the table top and chucked them at Darien, who had watched the whole scene in total awe.

"Here, a memento for your first day as Santa." Serena said, then sat back in her seat, putting the borrowed camera on the table.

"" It was all Darien could manage, he was completely astounded.

"That's right Darien, you know you're constantans and vowels, I'm very proud." Serena smiled, then reached over to lightly smack his chin, "Snap out of it will you?"

Darien finally settled back into the bench seat of the booth, then allowed a lopsided smile onto his face as he said,


"You're welcome." Serena replied, then added, "Annnnnd...?"

Darien rolled his eyes, then finally sighed with exasperation, "And it's not your fault I have a fake beard glued to my face."

"There, don't you feel much better?" Serena laughed, then pushed his food in front of him, "Now eat, before I get to it."

Darien sat up straight, no longer self conscious about the extra hair glued to his chin, and picked up a burger.

"This is gonna be interesting." Serena commented.

Darien looked up from his burger to Serena, who was watching him with amusement, "What is?"

"Watching you try to eat with that thing on your face."

Darien lifted his brow and asked, "Is that a challenge?"

"I do believe it is, I bet you won't be able to eat that whole burger without getting it all over the beard." Serena answered, arching her own brow, her blue eyes dancing in the humor of it all.

"You're on." Darien replied, then took a bite out of his burger.

o o o o o
/\ /\ /\ /\ /\
^_~ ^_~ ^_~ ^_~ ^_~

"I told you wouldn't be able to do it." Serena giggled as Darien blotted his ketchup and mustard stained beard.

"Hey, it's only little spots. I think I did a pretty good job considering I've never had to deal with consuming food with facial hair at the same time before." Darien pointed out.

Serena giggled again as she waved her hand in a slow circle, "I guess I'll have to give you that."

They were out on the streets now. Darien had insisted on walking Serena home and out of the sheer want to be near him for as long as possible, Serena decided to take the scenic route. They walked at a slow pace through streets decorated in green, gold, red and silver. Strings of lights hung between streetlights and twirled around the trunks of trees along the sidewalk. Windows of shops were painted with cheerful scenes, The Nativity, Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph and even Santa's Workhshoppe.

Serena, somewhere along the way, had looped her arm through Darien's, and he tucked her close. It was almost involuntary, and surprised them both when they realized that they looked like an actual couple walking through charming Tokyo streets. They could stop in the middle of the street and kiss and no one would think any different of it. Except Serena and Darien.

Of course, neither shared the revelations with the other. Serena was sure that Darien thought she was just a kid and Darien was sure that Serena would think he was too self-involved and depressed to bother with. Silly, silly Serena and Darien.

"So, do you and you're family have any Christmas traditions?" Darien asked out of the blue when the silence between them had grown too long. It hadn't been awkward, he took note with a sense of benevolence, but it had been long and Darien wanted to hear her voice again.

"Oh yeah. Heaps of them." Serena said, throwing her arm over her head to emphasize just how many traditions her family actually had.

Darien grinned and asked, "Which is your favorite?"

Serena's face screwed together in thought briefly, then lit up as she remembered, "That would have to be my Wish Stocking."

"Your wish stocking?" Darien repeated.

"Yep." Serena nodded, then elaborated with bubbling-over enthusiasm, "Each year, when my family and I put up our stockings, we write a letter to Santa-"

"Everyone, even your parents?" Darien interrupted, in awe that adults would still do such things.

"Especially my parents. Now hush." Serena said, batting at the arm that was still holding her next to him, "In the letter's, we write our Christmas wishes. They're not supposed to be for things, but for loved ones who are down on their luck, or friends who need cheering up. Something that would make a person's life better. Then, when Santa comes, he reads our letters and sees that they come true."

"Hence the name Wish Stocking."

Serena smiled wide and said, "Exactly."

"That's a nice tradition." Darien mulled over the idea thoughtfully, but Serena's question immediately put it away into storage for later.

"What's your favorite tradition?"

Darien stared at her blankly for a few moments, then lifted a shoulder and dropped it, "I don't have any traditions to pick from."

Serena shook her head, "I don't believe it. Everyone, whether they celebrate Christmas or not, has a tradition at this time of year."

Darien thought hard, then quirked up the side of his mouth, "Back at the orphanage, every December we would get Santa shaped cookies with our dinners. The kid who always sat next to me, Jordy, he absolutely adored the idea of Santa Claus. He lived and breathed for Christmas. And his favorite part of the day was to get one of those Santa Claus cookies.

We had a bully, named Bobbie. He decided one year that from that day on, he was going to take Jordy's cookies. Poor kid was heartbroken. So one day, after Bobbie took Jordy's cookie, I gave him mine. I didn't think it was that big of a deal, it was just a cookie, and I wasn't that big on Christmas. But the way Jordy's eyes lit up as he bit into my cookie, something touched me. After that, I always gave Jordy my Christmas cookie. Even after Bobbie was gone, I gave it to him."

Darien looked at the ground for a moment then back to Serena, who was listening intently, "I know that must sound pretty silly. But it is probably the only charitable thing I ever did during this time of the year."

"I'm sure you did a lot of great things for those kids during this time of year. And all year round, that's just the kind of person you are." Serena spoke softly, "Now I know how you were so great with those kids today."

Darien scoffed at that, "I was terrified of all those kids today. I'm pretty sure I disappointed a lot of them too."

Serena shook her head at that, her pigtails whipping around, stray hairs wrapping themselves around her long neck. Darien managed to take his eyes away from the smooth skin of her neck when she stated vehemently, "No, you were great! I heard them when they left with their mother's. They thought you were Santa. And you were. You definitely were Santa to Marissa. You helped her to believe."

Darien suddenly wanted to kiss her. Anything else she might have said was lost in a fog as he looked longingly at her pretty mouth. What would she do if he kissed her? Would she kiss him back? He certainly hoped so, because if she rejected him, he would probably crumple and die right there in the street. And that death was beginning to become worth it, if only to taste her lips for a moment.

Serena was lost in her speech of how much Darien had made the season for a couple hundred kids that day. When she finally noticed that Darien was staring at her strangely, she didn't stop to feel the passion they emanated. Anger took over and Serena saw red.

"You're not even listening to me!" Serena cried, giving his chest as mighty a shove as she could manage.

And in a weird deja vu, her shove was much more forceful then she had intended. And Darien, caught unprepared (again), grabbed her to steady himself. This time, instead of shoes with no traction, Serena had decided to step up on her soap box in the middle of an ice patch on the sidewalk. Serena slid when Darien grabbed her, then reared back, trying to keep from falling over. This made Darien slide around and into a table of Christmas decorations a woman had set up on the street. He fell on top of it, still holding Serena.

And so, when they came to their senses, they found themselves in a very familiar situation. Serena was on top of Darien, who was sprawled out over a crashed table of Christmas wares with an audience of strangers gathered around them.

"We really have to stop doing that." Serena mumbled, rubbing her forehead where a headache was beginning to tick.

"We haven't killed anyone this time, have we?" Darien asked, wiggling uncomfortably, something digging into his back making he and Serena's stay on the concrete a bit difficult.

Serena gave the crowd a quick look, then the miscellaneous decorations around them. Noticing something sticking out from under Darien, Serena scooted up on his body to get a better look. Laughter bubbled up her throat and came out a bit bitter, then she picked up a smashed dolls head and held in front of Darien, the doll's face all to familiar. Darien groaned comedically as Serena waggled the doll head around.

"We've killed Santa Claus, again."

o o o o o
/\ /\ /\ /\ /\
^_~ ^_~ ^_~ ^_~ ^_~

Serena's street was quiet and lit with the pretty, twinkling glow of decorations. Snow fell in small mounds on the sidewalk and lightly dusted bushes and plants in the yard. Small faces peered through the windows of houses all down the street and stared in awe at the light sprinkle of snow. It was a sure promise of snow-angels and snowball fights the next day. And if they were lucky, Mom might even take them to the mall to see Santa.

It was almost picturesque, fit for a Rockwell Christmas painting. The only thing out of place was the Meatball Headed blond and her white bearded companion singing "The Twelve Days of Christmas" at the top of their lungs.


"Four sumthin' sumthin's." Darien improvised.

"Three French Poodles!" Serena followed, giggling through her words.

"Two turtle ninjas..."

Then the two sang in unison again as they finished, "And a partridge in a pear tree!"

The end was followed by chummy laughter as they stopped to catch their breaths under the yellow glow of a street light, right in front of Serena's front gate. Serena bent over, still laughing between gasps of breath, "That was great!"

"Yeah, I bet it would have been even better if we knew the words." Darien joked, causing Serena to fall in another fit of hysteria. He chuckled along with her, until he noticed something green stuck in her hair. Leaning over Serena's bent form, Darien wordlessly investigated, and what he found left him short of breath. Well, wasn't this...fortunate.

Serena, whose laughter was finally subsiding, wiped a joyous tear from the corner of her eye as she straightened, "And I thought you didn't have a sense of-" when Serena's eyes clashed with Darien's, her breath caught and she finished the sentence in a long release of air, "humor."

Darien just stared at her, his eyes seeming to consume her without ever once leaving hers. Again, she began to feel hot and flustered. 'Geesh, why do they have to have it so hot in here...Oh yeah, I'm outside.' Serena's eyes widened as she began to realize it wasn't the atmosphere making her warm, it was Darien. Darien and his intense, smoky gaze. Had she been a snow-senshi, she would have melted into a puddle of water at his feet.

But she wasn't, she was flesh, and nerves and feelings. All of which flamed into eager response in the next few moments.

His eyes still glued to hers, Darien stepped closer and reached out a hand to fold over the sleeve of her coat. His head dipped lower and Serena's, to her complete surprise, tilted up in automatic response. His head didn't stop moving until his lips were a millimeter away from hers, their clouding breaths mixed and plastered to the other's chin. They stood like that, motionless as Darien just stared deeply into her eyes, as if searching for some clue as to what to do next. Should he move that extra little smidgen closer, or should he pull away?

Something in the back of Serena's head began to scream, 'Move the smidgeon! Move the smidgeon!'

And as if Darien had heard that insane little voice, he moved the aforementioned smidgeon.

Had Serena been able to think for the few seconds Darien's lips had touched hers, she probably would have heard that little something inside her cheering Darien on. But she wasn't.

Before she had time to even think, or to respond, or to even close her eyes, Darien had parted. Her lips felt cold and naked to the elements, and she found herself missing the warm, soft touch of his lips on hers.

And still, his eyes never left her's. He straightened, looking down at her, with barely masked eyes. She sensed that. There was something trying to bubble over the edges, trying to show her something in the dark depths, but Darien was being stubborn and too damned efficient of keeping them locked away.

She finally had to look away. What was that? Why had he kissed her? Why was he looking at her like that, as if it was up to her to make the next move?

"Why did you do that?" Serena asked, her voice suddenly working and putting into the air what she had been asking inside.

There was a pause, then Darien's soothing voice answering simply, "Because you have mistletoe in your hair."

Out of pure shock alone, Serena looked back up at him. Amusement had added to the fortifying wall holding back those pent up emotions and Darien smiled lopsidedly. Her hands shot up to her hair, and sure enough, searching fingers found a sprig of mistletoe tangled into one of her buns.

She hid a sigh of disappointment with one of frustration as she began to pick around the twig and what was surely a rat's nest of blonde hair, "It must gotten stuck there when we crashed into that lady's decoration table. Oh, the look on her face-"

But before another word could leave her mouth, Darien caught her chin in the V between his thumb and forefinger. His other arm wrapped around her waist, bringing her as close to him as was humanly possible. Heat seemed to envelop her as Darien pulled her face to his and he kissed her again. And this time, both had the chance to enjoy it.

Serena's hands rose to rest gently on his chest, and the hand Darien had wrapped over her chin moved to her back, joining the other. He joyously noted that Serena didn't move back when he had let go, in fact she was kissing him back! The revelation had Darien bending her backward as he deepened their kiss.

Serena moaned softly as his lips explored her's, he was soft and with amazing expertise, he plied her mouth with kisses that made her explode inside. Something inside her awakened and it danced about with joy, celebrating the union of something ancient. His hands rubbed over her back, leaving warm tracks that escaped with slight steam into the cold night air.

After what seemed like hours, Darien lifted his head away. Serena made a noise of protest, but gladly realized he was still holding her. Reveling in the warmth they had created, Serena blinked and tried to make sense of what was happening. Now THAT, was definitely NOT for tradition's sake.

"Why did you do that?" Serena asked, her eyes glued to his.

Darien's gaze never faltered either, and for an instant, Serena saw deep into his soul and heart. What she found there, she would later learn, was her destiny.

But with Darien's usual cocky egotism, he shrugged and then stated, "Because you still have mistletoe in your hair."

Serena, seeing the truth in his fathomless eyes, sported the same quirky smile Darien had on his face as she shook her head slightly, "I'm beginning to think that's just an excuse."

Darien's arms tightened around her waist as he looked down at her with deep, unchained eyes, "It is."

Serena nodded then, and moved her hands so they cupped his nape. Stepping up on tiptoe, she planted a soft, gentle kiss on his lips. It was a brief kiss, but it was still overflowing in the passion she shared with him. She then reached behind her and took hold of his hands, then gently extracted herself from his warm embrace. Looking up at him bashfully, she said;

"That was just because."

Darien's smile was beautific, and for the first time ever, his entire being was in sync. The emotion in his eyes spilled into his face, then into his posture. He practically glowed with an emotion that Serena decided it was too soon to name.

"I should go in, Dad will be driving Mom and Sammy up the walls because I'm so late." She said, regretfully releasing his hands and walking backwards up her driveway. Darien leaned against her gate as he watched her go, "I'll see you tomorrow."

Darien waved his hand softly, and when she turned to walk up her stoop, Darien, with much effort, turned to leave.


At Serena's beckoning call, Darien spun around and took a few steps up her walkway. His eyes rejoiced at the pretty picture she made. She stood in front of her door, the lights dangling around it illuminating her in a soft glow. Snowflakes clung to her clothes and dappled her hair, which was becoming a bit damp from the snow melting. Where her hair was still dry, lights reflected off of it, making it shine. Her cheeks still showed pink from his kisses.

Speaking of which...

Darien quickly recovered from the sight of her and called back, "Yes?"

Neither stepped forward, Darien remained at the gate and Serena on her front stoop. But both felt deep inside of them that had one called for the other to stay, the other would immediately comply.

Yet, instead of testing the theory, Serena merely grinned bashfully, then cocked her head to the side and asked teasingly, "When do you think I'll be able to kiss you without the beard?"

Darien's eyes widened, and his hand flew automatically to his chin. He'd completely forgotten about the damned thing! There he had been, kissing a beautiful girl on her driveway and he had a fake beard glued to his face.

But Serena's sincere look of hope stopped any foolishness from swamping him. In reality, the question was, 'Will we kiss again?'

Well, he'd have to set the silly girl straight now, wouldn't he?

"As soon as I can get it off."

Serena's smile made Darien want to run up the driveway and sweep into her into him. The feeling that he would never let this girl go was growing stronger with every breath he took.

"Then I look forward to it." Serena spoke softly, so soft Darien barely caught it, then she looked up at him, her eyes shining softly, "Goodnight, Darien."

"Goodnight Serena." Darien returned and watched as she reluctantly opened the door, and with one last look over her shoulder, closed the red door, the wreath on it gently swaying.

Darien stood in silence a few moments, staring at where Serena had last been, wondering what to do next. The answer flashed into his brain as quickly as the question came and with a jubilant grin, he spun on his heel and ran into the snow-covered street. Jumping up to click his heels together, feeling very George Bailey, Darien punched his hand into the air and began to dash towards home.

Later that night, across town in Darien's apartment, something was different. It wasn't the apartment, it was still impeccable and undecorated. It may have been the man sleeping in his bed, a smile barely visible beneath a tuft of white hair stuck to his face. But all this change could be found in the gym sock nailed to the wall above his television. Inside, was a letter, addressed to Santa Claus.

Dear Santa,

What I wish for most this Christmas, is Serena Tsukino's heart.

Darien Chiba

P.S. I'll remember the cookies and milk next year.

And one could almost swear, that the make-shift Wish Stocking began to glow as the young man's wish was granted.

o o o o o
/\ /\ /\ /\ /\
^_~ ^_~ ^_~ ^_~ ^_~

Rini opened one, cinnamon colored eye as she listened carefully. The other popped open and she sat up in bed, staring at the ceiling in wonder. She had heard it! She knew she did. The clicking of tiny reindeer hooves on the roof! Santa was here!

Rini slowly creeped out of bed and tiptoed to her bedroom door. She remembered Mommy telling her about how Santa would know if she was awake and wouldn't leave anything if she was, but it was a risk Rini was willing to take, she had to see Santa. Reaching up, Rini just barely reached the knob and turned it with the pads of her fingers.

She continued to sneak down the impressive halls of the palace, the marble floor cold under her bear feet. Now, which room would Santa go to? Would he leave the presents under the big tree in the main hall? Or how about one of the senshi's private rooms? Rini silently cursed the palace for being way too big for one little girl to search.

A noise from her parent's private living room caught Rini's attention. Aha! There was a tree there too! That had to be where Santa had come down!

Nerves began to get to Rini as she made her way towards the door, so she began to softly sing a song her mom had giggled through during dinner earlier.

"Jingle Bells, Beryl smells. Emerald laid an egg..."

But the song died in her throat as she nudged the door open a crack so she could see inside. A quiet gasp fled from her throat as her eyes drank in what she saw.

It was Santa! THE Santa Claus! There he was, beard, red suit, fat tummy, everything! He leaned over his sack and pulled out a gift and put it under the tree decorated with home-made ornaments she and Mommy had made. Rini had to use all the self-control she could muster to not run into the room and tackle the big guy.

After Santa had emptied his sack, he moved to the her Wish Stocking hung over the fireplace. Rini held her breath as Santa withdrew her letter, which she had written herself this year, and opened it. Santa read the letter and Rini silently prayed that he would grant it, it was what she wanted most in the whole world.

"Uhh, Rini is wishing for a baby brother or sister." Santa said, to whom Rini had no idea. But she did note that his voice was awfully familiar.

"She does?" A voice answered, one Rini immediately recognized as her mother's.

Sure enough, her mother appeared and went to read the letter Santa held out to her. She stifled a gasp, then a giggle as she read Rini's newly learned handwriting.

"That's why she didn't want my help writing her wish letter this year." Neo-Queen Serenity realized, gently taking the letter from Santa's hand.

"Well, maybe we should oblige her." Santa quirked, a naughty lilt tainting his voice. Rini rejoiced inwardly, Santa was going to grant her wish!

Neo-Queen Serenity laughed humoressly and said, "Then you carry it for nine months and give birth to it."

Rini felt her lower lip droop as she glowered at her mother, spoil-sport.

"Aw come on. It's Rini's wish. After all, we always got what we wanted from our Wish Stockings." Santa remarked, pulling Neo-Queen Serenity close to him.

Rini blinked in confusion, 'What the-?"

Neo-Queen Serenity chuckled softly as she draped her arms around Santa's neck, "I can't believe you kept this suit. You hate it."

"I'm actually very fond of it. It's too bad you didn't keep yours." Santa insinuated and the Neo-Queen turned bright red.

"Oh please, I'd be wearing the skirt as a belt now. It was too short when I was fourteen, you think it would fit now?"

Santa laughed, but not a HO HO HO as Rini had expected. And again, the laugh was familiar. Rini was confused, and she didn't like the way her mother was behaving with Santa Claus. Where was Daddy?

From the stereo system, Micheal Jackson and the Jackson 5 begin to harmonize, "I saw Mommy kissing, Santa Claus. Underneath the mistletoe last night!"

Rini's eyes widened as she tried to comprehend what she was seeing. Neo-Queen Serenity leaned forward and laid a soft kiss on Santa's mouth. The only other person Rini had ever seen her mother kiss like that was her father....Daddy!

"Oh what a laugh it would have been, if Daddy had only seen, Mommy kissing Santa Claus last night!" Micheal and his brothers exclaimed from the stereo and Rini burst into the room, a ball of fury. Planting her hands on her hips and raising her chin in hard anger, Rini demanded;

"Mommy! What are you doing?"

So shocked was Neo-Queen Serenity that she automatically shoved Santa away from her. Santa, unfortunetely, fell back into the tree, knocking it over.

"Oh God, not again." Neo-Queen Serenity mumbled, then watched in shock as the gold star on top of the tree flew off and twirled, suspended momentarily in the air before falling to the ground. But it had to make a quick stop before it could actually land. Santa had been struggling to get up off the tree, but his bulk in front was making it very difficult. He didn't have to worry for long, because as the star fell, it landed on his head, knocking him out cold.

Neo-Queen Serenity immediately flew to Santa's side, lifting him up out of the tree as well as she could. 'Geesh Endymion, what did you put in that fat suit? Lead?' Finally, "Santa's" head was resting on her lap and Neo-Queen Serenity hesitated to take off the hat and beard in front of her daughter.

But a sniffle stopped her from considering it any longer. Serenity looked up and watched as tears filled Rini's eyes and began to spill over her cheeks. Rini ran a frilled sleeve under her dripping nose, then looked at her mother with disbelief;

"Mommy, you ki-"

But Neo-Queen Serenity cut her daughter off when she sighed and looked down at her knocked-out Santa, "I know, I know... I killed Santa Claus."

All done, go enjoy your freedom. Remember, tis the season to be sharing, so share with me! Write me at Merry Christmas all! Mwah!
/\ (In case you were wondering, that is a Santa Hat)

Written: December (Der!) of 2000