§ § § -- December 25, 2004

Though Christian and Leslie had had their Christmas tree up for almost three weeks, the triplets never failed to be fascinated by the lights, the ornaments and the sparkling silver tinsel garland that spiraled around the tree. Naturally, they had to be fed first; but once that was accomplished and Christian and Leslie brought their little ones downstairs, the babies were mesmerized all over again and sat on the floor near the mound of presents, staring with wide eyes at all the lights and the glittering decorations. Christian had turned on the tree lights on his way into the room, and on this quiet, sunny Christmas morning it looked particularly pretty.

Christian found his digital camera and took a photograph of the babies in front of the tree; then he set the camera out of the triplets' reach and found a gift for Leslie in the pile. "God Jula, my precious Leslie Rose," he said softly, handing it to her and kissing her.

She followed suit with something she'd gotten for him, and they were still admiring their little treasures when one of the triplets let out a delighted squeal. Both parents looked up and saw that Susanna had grabbed the corner of a large rectangular package and was trying with all her strength to drag it toward her. They burst out laughing, kissed each other, and then settled onto the floor with their children, sharing the babies' first Christmas.

At the main house they exchanged presents with Roarke, gave Mariki a gift as they had done every year since their marriage, and a little later welcomed the Latignon family into the study. More presents were traded and exclaimed over; Solange fell in love with the triplets, and the adults had a chance to chat for a while, watching Patrick, Antoinette and Mireille playing with Susanna, Karina and Tobias.

Just before lunch, the ten of them as a group made their way to the cemetery where Tattoo was buried, gathering in a semicircle around his grave, telling a few quiet Christmas stories involving him. Quietly Roarke and Solange each placed a potted poinsettia atop the grave, and everyone stood in silence to remember Tattoo or honor him, each in his own way. Christian silently wrapped an arm around Leslie and she nestled against him, wondering with a tiny smile if perhaps Tattoo could see them from wherever he might be. Each one then wished the departed Tattoo a merry Christmas, one by one, and slowly left the cemetery, their mood reflective.

Back at the main house, Mariki and her staff presented them all with a massive holiday dinner, with foods not just from the island but also from France and Lilla Jordsö. The collective mood lightened, and the conversation was happy and filled with laughter. The triplets, seated in high chairs near their parents, were as much a part of the celebration as the others, and their giggles could be frequently heard along with everyone else's.

Mariki had come back out with the cart and was clearing away dishes when Roarke tapped his wine glass and got everyone's attention. Even Mariki paused to listen. "I don't think," Roarke observed, "that I have had such a well-attended Christmas in a great many years, and I find it invigorating and truly enjoyable. Believe me, the presence of all of you makes for a holiday I won't soon forget.

"I know we all wish that Tattoo could have been here with us. He would have delighted in this gathering, would have found great joy in his family and undoubtedly in the triplets. And there's no question but that he would have been very generous in his gift-giving, no matter the protests that he was being too kind.

"He has been gone from us for almost ten years, but he touched many, many lives, most of all the lives of nearly all of us at this table. I am certain that wherever he is now, he is looking down on us and smiling. Perhaps he wishes he could be with us, as much as we wish it. But I am assured that he knows we're all here, together." Roarke raised his glass, and everyone else followed suit; Mariki looked on with a broad smile.

"To Tattoo," Roarke said softly. "May we always remember him."

"To Tattoo," ten voices chorused, and a toast was drunk. And only Roarke was aware of the whisper of air that sifted by them, bearing the merest trace of a cheerful chuckle in a familiar, gravelly voice.


A/N: Reference was made to the following episodes:

In chapter 2: "Marathon: Battle of the Sexes / Baby", original airdate October 5, 1979 (second story arc)

In chapter 3: "Tattoo: the Love God / Magnolia Blossoms", original airdate September 21, 1979 (first story arc)

The full story has its base in the February 28, 1981, episode "Portrait of Solange / Also-Rans" (first story arc), with Elissa Leeds as Solange Latignon. Thanks again to everyone for all the terrific reviews!