Disclaimer: I own none of the characters from Full Metal Panic, they all belong to Shoiuji Gatou and the creators of the anime & manga series.

Christmas Past

Melissa Mao smiled wryly as she prepared the Christmas packages for her parents, wrapping them carefully then stacking them up neatly. The black haired woman didn't even know if they'd open the gifts, but she felt she had to try. She soon picked them up and left her quarters, the half Asian walking down the halls of the Tuatha de Danaan at a brisk pace.

"Mao," the corporal running the vessel's post office nodded a greeting as he said, "Merry Christmas."

"Merry Christmas," Melissa nodded, passing the two packages over. "Route these through the standard mail drop," she instructed, "addressed and ready."

Because of Mithril's covert nature, mail to and from members of the organization had to be routed through various cover companies and letter drops. Mao's packages would be sent out on the next supply helicopter, be deposited in the country where Mao was fictionally working, and only then begin to travel to their recipients.

"Got it," he took them and paused as he remembered, "hold on a minute, something came in for you."

"Wasn't expecting anything..." Melissa blinked.

"Here you go," he handed the envelope over.

Melissa took it, feeling a moment of shock as she instantly recognized the hand writing on the front. 'Why would she contact me now?' she thought, quickly tucking the envelope away. "Thank you," she said, then turned to leave.

Back in her quarters Melissa sat at her desk, looking at the letter with the same sort of wariness one would look at a ticking bomb. 'Why break the silence,' she wondered as she got a small penknife out, 'after everything that happened?' Carefully she slit the envelope open, puling the paper within free before setting the envelope aside. She unfolded it and after a long moment of hesitation began to read.

"You need to take leave?" Mao's commanding officer Andrei Sergeivich Kalinin asked, the older man looking faintly surprised.

"I apologize for the suddenness of the request," Mao said grimly, standing at attention in front of his desk.

Kalinin nodded thoughtfully, "We're between missions, and after checking your file I noted you haven't taken vacation time recently." Pulling the correct paper work from his desk he asked, "How long do you need?"

Mao smiled grimly, "I suspect I'll only need a few days, a week on the outside."

"A week then," Kalinin nodded, "I'll expect you to rendervos with Sagara and Weber in Tokyo after that, to relieve Weber in our continued observing of Kaname Chidori."

"Understood sir," Mao nodded, "and thank you."

"Merry Christmas," Kalinin nodded as she left.

"You're actually taking some time off?" Teletha "Tessa" Testarossa asked later on, the white haired captain of the Tuatha de Danaan having stopped in to see her friend. The small, petite woman seemed almost a complete opposite to the hard drinking, tough Mao, but they got along fairly well.

"Not intentionally," Mao answered wryly as she sorted through items to go into her duffle bag, "but I haven't got a lot of choice." Unusually she wasn't in uniform, instead dressed in a man's shirt and blue jeans that hugged her slim, athletic form.

"It's not your parents...?" Tessa asked Mao worriedly from where she sat nearby, her grey eyes widening slightly in alarm.

"No, they're still not speaking with me," Mao answered her dryly. "You'd think that they'd be able to forgive a little thing like fleeing a arranged marriage and joining the army, but noooo..." she smirked.

"Then why are you taking leave?" Tessa frowned, her mind racing through various possibilities. She also felt a stab of disappointment, knowing she'd miss having Mao around to talk to over this difficult season.

Mao hesitated a moment, then mentally shrugged. Picking up the envelope from her desk she asked, "You remember I was dishonorably discharged from the US Marines?" When Tessa nodded Mao passed her the envelope, "Here's why."

"Alexandria Kinnaid," Tessa read then slid the letter out as she gave Mao a questioning looks. When Mao nodded Tessa unfolded the envelope and began to read. "You and she were lovers?" she asked, surprised.

"Yeah, when both of us were in the Marines," Mao nodded, putting two sets of civilian clothes into her bag.

"And you were dismissed for that?" Tessa looked honestly surprised at that. Mithril had a non discrimination policy, and to be frank she considered the idea of losing a fine soldier like Mao due to her sexuality to be foolish.

Mao shrugged, "Actually, I got canned because I stopped my superior officer when he tried to forcibly put the moves on Alex. I decked him, but when it came to trial Alex refused to speak up for me."

"I'm sorry," Tessa said quietly.

"I'm not," Mao said, "at that point I was glad to be gone."

"Any clue why she wants to see you?" Tessa asked thoughtfully. The letter had only said that she needed to see Mao badly, but nothing about why. Tessa was faintly surprised Mao would go to this woman on such short notice, that and, oddly, a bit jealous of the hold this Alex seemed to have on Mao.

"I'd like to think she wants to apologize, but I doubt it," Mao said, "Guess I'll just have to go and see."

Tessa paused a moment, silently considering the situation as well as the clearly mixed emotions her friend was having. "Would you like some company?" she offered shyly.

Mao looked at Tessa in surprise, "This probably isn't going to be fun."

"I don't have much to do," Tessa pointed out, "and besides, I could use a trip off the TDD." A smile, "Please?"

"Thanks," Mao smiled back, "you aren't going to get in trouble for this?"

"It'll be fine," Tessa waved that off.

"I absolutely forbid it," Commander Mardukas said as the older man hurried to keep up with Tessa, the ytounger woman on her way to the helicopter to the mainland.

"Forbid?" Tessa raised a eyebrow, now dressed in a stylish woman's business suit.

"Strongly urge against it," Richard Mardukas quickly rephrased.

"Better," Tessa nodded. She flashed him a gentle smile, "Things are slow right now, we're between crisises at the moment."

"But you're going with no escort," Richard switched tracks, "if our enemies find out your could be captured, or worse."

"I will have Mao with me," Tessa reminded him, "she's both a excellent armed and unarmed combattant."

"She'll also likely be a bit..." Richard paused, "distracted."

They entered a elevator, Tessa pressing the up button. "Have you been reading people's mail again?" she asked him with a frown.

Richard cleared his throat, "Our intelligence division must monitor communication to and from the Tuatha de Danaan..."

Tessa pinned him with a look and repeated, "Have you, not the intelligence division, been reading the mails?"

"I was concerned," Richard sighed as they reached the upper deck. The door opened with a hiss and they moved through the launch bay to the waiting helicopter as he said, "At least promise me you'll be careful."

"I will," Tessa promised as they reached the copter.

"Good luck," Richard saluted her.

"Ready to go?" Mao asked as she offered Tessa her hand.

"Thanks." Tessa smiled as she took it and was gently tugged in beside her. Turning in her seat as the roof hatch opened and the rotors started she called out to Richard, "Remember, no reading the mail!"

Feeling everyone in the hanger bay's eyes on him Richard pulled down his ever present submarine cap and sighed.

"Do I want to know what that was about?" Mao asked as they rose into the winter skies.

"Not really," Tessa answered, shaking her head.

"Didn't think so," Mao grinned.

To be continued...