W/N - Wow, I finally completed this holiday piece. I'm usully not a fluff writer, but I'm going to try my hand at some gooeyness. You need that sort of thing to balance the action and darkness of the story. Merry Christmas to all and thank you for your support. I've been addicted to Dragon Age so I wrote up a little bit of that in the meantime. There's a little nod to Padawan Mage and his home too. :D This should lead into some ME2 madness.

Other malarkey - I just got back from a really sucky trip, kamsamhamnida very much. I worked 45 hours in three days with 11 hours of sleep. The weather sucked, the food sucked, the hours sucked, only the quarters were good. I did log tons of flight time. I am the front runner in the winter Kendo tournament, yudansha (1-3 degree black belt) division. I currently have seven wins and one draw with all of my wins being 2-0 scores. I faced six guys and two gals so far. Finals are tonight.

Warning - some sensuality.

Merry Christmas and please enjoy. Otanoshimi nasaemase!

Christmas Morning – Nine Days Before the Alchera Patrol

Claire Shepard's eyes flickered open as a familiar smell wafted past her nostrils. The aroma evoked deep memories from long ago and she envisioned her father in a red wool suit with a thick, white beard. In the vision, her mother was baking in the kitchen of their ship's stateroom, a cabin reserved for higher-ranking officers. There was laughter and the tearing of brightly colored paper and ribbons along with a grand breakfast fit for royalty.

Stretching her arms in bed, Claire inhaled, letting the warm, inviting smell filter up her nose. She savored it for a moment, picking out the scent of peppermint, pine, and freshly baked bread. A sliver of light cut through the bedroom drapes, letting her know that it was well into morning. So what? Let it be late in the morning. For once, Claire was on leave and there was no one to save, no one to fight, and no one to badger her about something. A day without fires to put out, imagine that? She pulled the sheets up tight against her chest and yawned. There was something to be said about warm sheets and a real bed.

Then, to her horror, the sheets were ripped from her grasp and she yelped like a puppy. A gale of laughter greeted her groans.

"The great Commander Shepard, caught with her pants down, sleeping in late. Get your scrawny butt up, breakfast is ready."

She sat up with a pouty face, lower lip pushed out while covering herself with her hands. "Awww, I never get to sleep in. What kind of Santa are you? The sucky kind, I tell you."

Wearing a red, terry cloth robe, Kaidan deftly picked up a tray and slid down on the bed besides her. "I'm the kind of Santa that comes bearing gifts." He plucked a red rose from a vase on the tray and held it out to her. The pouty expression vanished in an instant and she bit the stem of the flower, holding it between her teeth.

Claire gazed over the tray, filled with plates of scrambled eggs, toast, and bacon along with glasses of orange and cranberry juice. She immediately felt hungry as her stomach rumbled in anticipation. "Thass the bess kind of Shanta," she said with the rose still tucked between her lips.

Kaidan ran a finger down her bare chest. "And this is the best kind of Christmas," he said. "You know, it's snowing outside…pretty heavily. I don't think we're going anywhere for a bit."

"Heh, winters in Connecticut…typical." Claire set the rose down and took a sip of cranberry juice. "As my parents got to higher rank, we could spend more holidays planetside. Still, some of my favorite memories were aboard the Saratoga. We could even get real trees from Eden Prime."

"Well, I'm glad we saved Eden Prime then. Here, try some of the eggs," he said, holding a forkful of the yellow mush in front of her face. She slurped up the mouthful of Kaidan's concoction and savored the taste on her tongue, slightly runny, slightly salty, with a hint of cheese and green onion.

"Oh God, those are the best eggs I've had in a long time. I'd gotten use to the powdered crap that we get in the field."

Kaidan's face scrunched up. "Egg Solutions…pffftt. Remember Therum? Everything tasted like it had dust in it."

"Everthing did have dust in it."

They both had a hardy laugh and Claire decided that she like laughing. It had been too long of a time in her life that had been so full of pressure. It wasn't easy having the weight of the galaxy rest upon your shoulders. She'd nearly lost it after Virmire…after Ashley went up in a cloud of radioactive particles, but Kaidan and Liara held her together. As the laughter died away, she picked up a candy cane and twirled the red and white stick in her fingers.

"Sweets for the sweet?" Kaidan asked.

She brushed the tip of the cane on his lips and then puckered hers, sliding the stick into her mouth suggestively. She saw his eyes open wide and how he took a deep breath. She ran her tongue along the sugary treat and then tilted her head down, looking up at him with doe eyes. "Maybe breakfast can wait?"

"Uhhh, duh, yeah. I think so."

Deep down, she loved how she could get him all flabbergasted. The poor guy was still stuttering as he put the tray up on the nightstand and took one final gulp of juice. "C'mere, you mope," she said and grasped the lapel of his robe tightly, tugging him with genetically enhanced strength. He couldn't hope to resist. As she lay back, she could see the snow falling thickly through the frosted windows. She felt the warmth of his body cover hers and her enhanced senses tingled with electricity. She gently pulled on the back of his head and sighed into his ear. "This is going to be a great year, I have a sense for these things, you know."

"You've got great instincts," he said, a bit distracted.

"And one last thing," she murmured, "I love you."