Title: Here Is Christmas
Fandom: Earth 2
Author: Lilly Rose
Genre: Gen with hints of Het; Future fic
Characters/Pairings: True Danziger, Ulysses Adair, Original Male Character; Adult!True/OMC, Adult!Uly/Adult!True UST and implied Devon/Danziger
Notes: Originally written for QueenRiley as part of Yuletide 2010. Thanks to my awesome beta, Morgi.
Disclaimer: Not my characters, but I still love them enough to write about them sixteen years later. I think that's worth a pass, right lawyers?
Summary: True Danziger wouldn't be home for Christmas.
She wouldn't be home for Christmas.
True Danziger slid the sample slide to the side. She hadn't really looked at it, but she found it hard to focus on anything other than her gloomy thoughts. She set her elbows on the lab table and stared up at the top of the tent, frowning in annoyance.
She was being ridiculous. She'd known what she was getting into when she signed up for the expedition to the east coast. She'd known that the return dates would keep her away from home over the holidays. At the time, she'd convinced herself that the potential discoveries outweighed the personal loss.
As the holidays approached, she started to reconsider her decision. Day by day, regret grew heavier on her heart. Now, on Christmas Eve, she realized that there was nowhere else she wanted to be more than at home with her family. The realization had come too late. Even if she could use the spider tunnels, the safety measures would prevent her from reaching the west coast by morning.
Someone knocked on the tent-frame. "Come in," she called out.
A young man stuck his head through the flap. He looked around and smiled when he saw her sitting at the bench. True cautiously returned the smile. Liam Carroll had a quick mind and a quick mouth to back it up. He'd asked her out and didn't hold it against her when she said no. Still, there was something about him that unsettled her. Like he knew something about her that she didn't know-and he wasn't telling her.
"Hello True," he said. "Luisa said that you were cataloging yesterday's samples. Could you use some help?"
True nodded. "I don't know how much work we'll actually get done," she cautioned him. "I can't seem to concentrate."
Liam sat down on the bench opposite from her. "You're not the only one," he said. He accepted a tray of slides from her, setting up his workspace as they talked. "I keep thinking about my family, wondering what they're doing right now."
"Me too," True admitted.
"It's strange," he continued. "I told myself that everyone has to survive their first Christmas away from home. I thought being so far away from home would make it hurt less," he laughed. "Does that make any sense at all?"
True stared at him, a bit taken aback. It was odd to hear her own thoughts coming from someone else. It wasn't like it hadn't happened before. Uly could practically read her mind at times. But for some reason, when he did it it never made her feel uncomfortable. She reached for another tray of slides to distract herself from her uneasiness. "I thought menial labor might take my mind off it."
"It didn't work, did it," he said.
She shook her head no.
He set aside his tray of slides. "So let's wallow in our misery together," he said, leaning forward to rest his elbows on the table, mirroring her pose. "If you were home right now, what would you be doing?"
She gave him a look. "And we want to talk about this because?" she asked him in exasperation. It was his turn to give her a look. She sighed and gave in. "Fine. You first."
"Fine," he said. "When we lived on the Stations, my mothers and my aunts set aside small amounts of cash throughout the year. Come Christmastime, they used their savings to buy as much seafood as they could afford."
"That stuff was really rare," True recalled aloud. Mentally, she wondered if his moms got their seafood off the black market. The question must have shown on her face. From the look in his eyes, True guessed they had. She didn't push him for more information. Her father hated the Quad underground economy. But even as a little girl, True knew that certain (necessary) items couldn't be had any other way. She also knew that you didn't ask questions and you didn't talk about it with anyone but family.
"I never had seafood until I came here," she told him instead. "I imagine it tastes a little different now."
He made a playful grimace. "Living on the Sea of Antius has had an interesting effect on the menu," he agreed. His face took on a wistful cast. "Only my mothers and one aunt followed Devon Adair here, but they keep the tradition alive. Right now they and as many neighbors as they can fit in the house are sitting down to dinner."
"It sounds like fun," she said.
"It's a madhouse," he corrected her with a smile. "Maybe you can see it for yourself next year." His words sounded friendly, but True had the feeling he was flirting with her again. She stayed silent, not sure how to respond to his invitation. "What about you?" he asked her after a long moment.
It hurt to think about home. It must hurt him too, but he had shared his story with her. She felt she should do the same.
"You want to talk about a madhouse," she said with a rueful smile. "Right now my stepmother is doing her best to get my family out of the house and down to the annual Eden Advance Christmas Eve party."
"Uh oh," he said knowingly. "Sounds messy."
She snorted. "That's a good way to put it. Devon's probably pushing herself too hard, and I'll bet you she's forgotten to take her medications. Dad's probably retreated to the garage to get the 'rail ready for the trip because he doesn't want to lose his temper in front of the twins. Gillian's probably sitting on the front step, waiting to see if Uly will deign to make an appearance this year. Which he probably will, if he can manage to get his head out of his ass. Or get his head out of the Terrians' collective ass. And Archadia and Zacharia are probably using the chaos as a clever distraction from them stealing cookies off the table."
True heard her voice crack. She took a deep breath, trying to get herself back under control. "Eventually, they'll all end up at Cameron's tavern. The kids will go off to one room and the adults to another one. No one leaves before four a.m."
Liam shook his head. "And you miss all that?" he asked incredulously. "It sounds really stressful."
True didn't blame him for thinking that. She'd only told him the bad points. She hadn't told him the good points. How her father and Devon worked hard to make the holidays happy for their children and for each other. The look on Devon's face when Uly came home. Gillian sneaking cookies to the twins when she thought no one was looking. And the Advance party, the yearly gathering of people who'd started off strangers and ended up family. (In some cases, literally.) A big mess of people having a good time, their children running in and out and adding to the joyful noise.
"It is stressful," she admitted. To her horror, she felt tears pressing at her eyes. She sniffed hard to push them back. "It's also pretty great too." She took a breath. "What am I doing here, missing all that?"
"Growing up," Liam said, not unkindly. "Terrible, isn't it."
"Yeah," she said in a low voice. The tears would not be held back. She refused to let him see her cry. She pushed away from the bench and rose to her feet. "It's late and I'm too tired to look at any more slides," she said, making certain to turn her face away from him. "Time to call it a night."
She walked out on him.
She went far enough to be certain she hadn't been followed. Once she was out of sight of camp, she crumpled against the closest tree. She slid to the ground and wrapped her arms around herself. Resting her head against her knees, she finally let go and allowed herself a good cry.
Dry grass crunched. She felt someone kneel down beside her. Liam must have followed her after all. Her cheeks burned with shame. She took a deep, cleansing breath and pulled herself together by sheer force of will.
She turned her head and exclaimed in surprise. "What are you doing here?"
"Hello to you too," said Ulysses Adair. "Could you be nice to me, please?" He cracked a smile as he quoted her own words back at her. "It was a major effort to extract my head from the Terrians' collective ass, for starters."
True snorted. "You would 'hear' that, you sneak," she told him. He didn't deny he'd been listening in on her earlier conversation. Normally that would have bugged her, but tonight she let it pass.
Uly stood and offered her a hand up. She took it and allowed him to pull her off the ground. As soon as she stood on both feet, she threw her ams around him and hugged him hello. "I am so glad to see you," she told him, drawing back from him but leaving her hands resting on his arms. "But what are you doing here?"
"I'm asking my best friend to come home for Christmas," he said.
Her hands dropped away from him. "I can't," she said sadly. "The local spider tunnels are unstable. The safety precautions make it impossible to travel tonight. There's really no way home."
"Then how did I get here, True?" he asked her. He gave her a look as if he expected her to know the answer. And suddenly she did- he hadn't come across the continent. He'd come straight through it.
"You asked the Terrians," she accused him.
"Yes, I did," he admitted without shame.
That hit her where she lived. She'd thought about asking the Terrians herself. She carried their markers on her genes, just as Uly and the other Changed children did. She would've been within her rights to ask. Yet she hadn't seriously considered the possibility, and for a good reason too.
"You idiot," True snapped, irrationally irritated at the risk he'd taken on her behalf. "The expedition is on good terms with the local tribes. A vanity trip isn't worth the risk of losing that."
Uly shrugged, dismissing her concerns. "There's no risk," he assured her. "As best as they understand the concept, one of your 'local tribes' owes me a favor. I'm calling it in."
"Yes, because that's worked out so well in the past," she muttered stubbornly.
He laughed at her. "What's the matter True, lost your nerve in your old age?"
"You're only two years younger than I am," she pointed out. She took a deep breath and reined in her temper. "We're not kids any more, Uly. I have to stay here. I have to face the consequences of my actions." She glared at him, with her arms folded across her chest in unconscious defense. "You of all people should understand that concept."
"I know it all too well, thanks," he said shortly. For a moment, he looked older than his twenty-odd years. The moment quickly passed, and he was at her again. "Which is why I also know that sometime we have to set aside our responsibilities and let ourselves have some fun. If we didn't, we'd all go crazy. Come on, True. You know you want to come with me."
"I can't," she insisted.
He just looked at her. She recognized that particular expression on his face. As a child, that look meant trouble. It hadn't changed with age.
"Will you stop that?" she snapped at him. He didn't answer her.
She rolled her eyes and huffed in aggravation. He probably thought that, if he waited long enough, she'd out think herself and he'd win the argument without saying another word. The problem was, he was right. She couldn't argue with herself and she didn't really want to put up a fight against him. And he knew it. She didn't know at the moment if she hated him or loved him for knowing her so well.
Her expression softened and her arms dropped to her sides. For better or worse, her decision was made.
"You're a bad influence, Ulysses Adair," she said. "Has anyone ever told you that?"
Gently she laid her hands palms down over his. The gesture, once so familiar, caused her stomach to skitter with nerves. She wondered where those came from. Being tactile with him was usually easy for her. He felt comfortable to her, in ways others (like Liam) didn't. He still did, but now there was something else alongside the comfort. She attributed it to worry over what they were about to do. They hadn't attempted this "trick" since they were teenagers.
He squeezed her hands reassuringly. "Ready?" he asked her.
She nodded, not trusting her voice to speak. He locked eyes with her. She stared back, feeling her mind go blank. Her body went taut, like a rubber band stretched to its longest point. With a sudden snap, she went down and down forever...
...and out of forever, onto the other side of the continent.
True landed on her side. For a moment, she lay in the sand and watched the sun set over the sea. Then she rolled over onto her back and let out a loud victory whoop.
She heard laughter. She turned her head and found Uly laughing at her. Again. He'd kept his footing. He had more experience than she did at this sort of thing, so she didn't let it bother her too much.
"Good jump, but I've gotta take points off for the landing," he teased her.
She gave into a childish urge to stick her tongue out at him. It felt good to act a little silly after the stress of the past three weeks. The wind blew in off the sea, carrying an elemental tang that smelled like home. It was then that it hit her: she lay on the shores of the Sea of Antius, on the strip of beach where her family spent long, lazy summer hours.
She had to see it for herself.
True launched herself off the sand, up onto her feet. She spun around in a circle, trying to take in the entire coastline at once. Then, on instinct, she turned towards home. She found it down the shore, lit up like a beacon fire burning on the beach. If she looked hard enough she could almost see Gillian sitting on the front step, waiting for her brother and sister to come home.
"Merry Christmas True," said Uly at her side.
She smiled so hard her face hurt. "Merry Christmas Uly," she said. "Let's go home."