"Where are the sleigh bells?" Amy asked, rummaging through the boxes and bags scattered all over the Tardis floor.
Rory turned around, covered in Christmas tree lights, he had a neat loop of them around his neck and around both shoulders, like a bright bandolier. He was methodically unwinding them as he draped them around the artificial purple Christmas tree the Doctor had dug out of the hold.
"Not me," he said, sucking around the haft of a green candy cane. Amy looked up and shook her head in fond exasperation at him, only he would so practically hang lights on a tree that way.
"Not me!" the Doctor said from the base of the main stairs up on the console floor. He brandished a spatula. He was covered in frosting, a Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer apron, and was building a rather lopsided gingerbread house, with liberal use of multi-colored frosting and sprinkles.
"I've got them!" River caroled as she trot-jingled her way down the stairs, the sleigh bells wrapped around her hips. She grinned and dropped a sprig of mistletoe on the Doctor's head as she passed. She gave him a kiss on the cheek then licked her lips. "Hmm, lemon frosting," the words sounded like sin on her lips. The Doctor grinned.
River held up two coils of sleigh bells to Amy, "Where do you want them?"
Amy stood up and dusted her hands off. She grinned. "Let's wind them around the railings, that way when we get thrown around by his driving they'll jingle."
"Oi!" the Doctor protested, "My driving is not that bad!"
"Yes it is, Sweetie. That's why I installed the tree with a magnetic clamp," River said, kissing another colorful frosting smear off his lips. His lips automatically smooched back at her.
"Just for that, I'm driving with the blue stabilizers on!" he declared, frowning.
"Blue stabilizers, what's those?" River asked as she helped Amy wind the bells around the rails. Amy flashed a surprised glance at the Doctor behind her back. The Doctor grinned with manic glee, suddenly waving with his spatula like he was conducting a triumphal orchestra.
"I'll show you," he said, biting down to a serious expression when she turned around.
The Doctor plopped down his spatula on the table. His gingerbread house leaned precariously to one side, then collapsed. He frowned down at it. Then ignored it.
He clapped his hands, "Right! Has everyone got their presents?" he said, twirling toward them, virtually dancing with excitement.
Rory finished hanging the last of the lights on the tree and pointed to his and Amy's gifts, sitting by the door. "What's that all about anyway?" he asked as he climbed up to the dais. He stopped by the Doctor's table and filched a piece of gingerbread. "We're all to buy a Christmas gift, but not for each other?"
The Doctor danced around the console and input coordinates. He very gleefully showed River where the blue stabilizer's were.
He looked up, "That's right. We're going to Tradoran, where they've developed the art of the Secret Santa to a whole new level!"
He threw the lever and they whirled away. Smoothly.
They strode down the streets of a bustling port city. It was another of those over-populated future worlds. Buildings towered, crowds jostled.
There were Christmas decorations everywhere. Christmas Trees, Santas, snowflakes, angels, and giant candy canes. The people even decorated their clothes. Rory saw a man walk by wearing a vest trimmed around the edges with twinkling Christmas lights.
Quite a lot of people were wearing sleigh bells; on shoes, on hats, on coat tassels and belts. Which explained why River was still wearing the belt of sleigh bells around her hips. The air shimmered and twinkled and chimed. Christmas songs filtered out of hidden loudspeakers, and everyone was happy and smiling.
Amy bounced and turned in circles, trying to look everywhere at once. "This is amazing!"
"Oh, you haven't seen anything yet," River said.
Amy turned to her, eyes gleaming. "I bet the shopping here is fantastic!"
River grinned. "Oh it is."
"No," Rory said from behind the mound of presents he was carrying. He leaned sideways to see around them. "We are not going Christmas shopping here!"
Amy and River just exchanged a glance and ignored him.
He sighed and rolled his eyes. "Where exactly are we going, Doctor?" he asked, as he dodged a tall skinny lizard man in a red Santa hat, equally weighed down with presents, even carrying one looped over his high arched tail.
"To the Secret Santa Station!" the Doctor said, pointing forward like he was leading a charge.
Amy peeled her eyes away from all the glittering shopfronts and turned to him. "I thought Secret Santa was just something you did at the office or at parties," she said.
"It originally was," River said in her calm, reasonable voice, following the Doctor. "But the tradition expanded over time."
"That's part of the fun of Christmas here," the Doctor interrupted, turning around and jittering like an excited child. "The children have Santa Claus, and the adults have Secret Santa."
"How do they explain that to the kids?" Rory asked. "That Santa doesn't deliver to grownups."
The Doctor shrugged. "Can't expect one guy to deliver to all the kids in the universe and all the adults too."
Rory shrugged and nodded, seeing the sense in that.
The Doctor dashed forward through the crowd and jumped to a stop, brandishing his hands up. "And here we are!"
It was beyond tacky, but sort of beautiful too. "Secret Santa Station" was written in huge flowy letters over a brick entrance that had been painted snow white and pillared with candy canes. A red velvet carpet was rolled out under a portico dripping with Christmas lights.
There were large display windows on each side, sectioned out into display boxes of various sizes, showcasing everything from toys to electronics to mink coats to holos of personal vehicles.
"People give away cars?" Rory asked, goggling.
River nodded. "A Secret Santa gift can be anything you want, from a box of candy to personal vehicles and anything in between."
Rory suddenly clutched his stack of presents self-consciously to him, "But we aren't even residents," he protested.
"Doesn't matter," the Doctor said, turning to them. "Everyone's welcome. All you have to do is bring a gift."
"Come on, Rory." Amy grabbed him by the sleeve and hauled him inside.
"But..." he protested all the way.
River and the Doctor grinned at each other and followed.
Inside was a slightly more mature and elegant lobby than the outside indicated. The floor was a plush, deep green carpet. White spindly chairs sat around the walls, with little white tables spaced every couple of chairs, and a gleaming mahogany counter took up one side wall.
The attendant was wearing a green elf hat, and looked as if her ears had been surgically altered. "Merry Christmas!" she said, smiling in sincere cheer.
River took the packages from a subdued Rory and grinned back at her, efficiently transferring them to the counter. "Merry Christmas."
The attendant counted the packages and the patrons. "One for each of you?" she asked.
River nodded, and accepted the forms and pencils she was handed.
River led the others over to the tables and chairs and handed out the forms. "What's this, there's a test?" Amy asked.
River laughed. "No. They're questionnaires, to help match up the people with the presents."
Amy looked down at hers.
There were spaces left for answers. She flipped it over on the back to find another similar form.
"That one's to describe who you think would like your gift," the Doctor pointed over her shoulder. He grabbed one of the pencils from River and folded himself down into a chair, he started filling out his form with flair, as if he was writing a concerto.
River slipped the paper out from under his flying pencil. "I'll fill yours out, Sweetie." He pouted at her. She shrugged. "Your interests alone would take all day.
"Not to mention what they'd make of some of the answers," she whispered to Rory. He grinned.
"Fine." The Doctor bopped up and started perusing the line of Santa Claus portraits that lined the room, each one different, each year showing the changes in culture and taste.
Amy quickly finished her form and handed it to Rory to hand in. She joined the Doctor. "Ooh! I like this one!" the Doctor said. He leaned in to study the painting. All the others were some variation of red and white, but this Santa was dressed all in green. He had a tiny little white goatee beard, and a trulycurly mustache, and the sly mischievous look of a sea captain or rock star.
Amy grinned. "You would."
"Come along, children," River caroled as she handed in the filled forms.
The attendant grinned and ushered them all into the next room. It was completely bare, white, about 10 feet in diameter, and had the feeling of some kind of submarine pressure chamber.
"What's this?" Rory asked. There was nothing in the room but a blue fluorescent circle on the floor. There was another door on the far side.
"Me first!" The Doctor jumped into the circle and held his arms out to each side, forming a T. Lights flashed and he grinned and bounced over to the other door.
Amy scowled. "Security scan?" she guessed.
"Seems a lot of fuss for a bunch of Christmas presents," Rory said, scuffing his foot uncomfortably on the floor.
River walked calmly into the circle and held her arms out, the bells at her hips jingling faintly. She smiled. The lights flashed.
"It's only a full body scan. To get our sizes, in case the presents are clothes or need shoe sizes, like the hover skates the Doctor brought."
"Oi! Presents are supposed to be a secret!" the Doctor protested.
River joined him. Amy went next. And Rory, dubiously, followed.
The attendant met them in the hallway beyond. It looked like a doctor's office corridor, with several blank doors leading off it.
"What now?" Rory asked.
"This is the best part," the Doctor rubbed his hands together. "This is where we get the presents!" He bounced on his toes, looking as excited as a boy.
River smiled at his excitement. But Amy could tell River was excited too.
The attendant passed along the corridor and handed out badges. "Amy, you're in room three. Rory, room four. River, room one. Doctor, room two. Observation rooms are open if you wish to observe. Only the recipient is allowed in the gift rooms."
Rory looked down at the large colorful badge in his hand, it had a large 4 on it. He squared his shoulders. "So, I guess I'll go first."
"Wait a minute," Amy said, laying a restraining hand on his arm. "What is this? We can't all go in? Observation rooms? What's going on? I thought we were getting Christmas presents, not being interrogated."
"It's okay, Amy," River said. "It's nothing bad. It's part of the service. Each person is recorded opening their gift, and the recording is sent to the giver as an e-card, so they can see how their gift was received."
The Doctor nodded eagerly. "It's part of the fun!"
"Come on," River grabbed Amy's wrist and tugged her through a narrow closet-like door beside number 4. "We can watch from in here."
It was a narrow room with a wide, two way glass on one wall. A plain white room beyond was decorated with a Christmas tree in one corner, garland on the walls, and a plain white table in the middle which held a small gold-wrapped present.
She saw Rory stumble into the room, apparently pushed by the Doctor's long arm.
The Doctor nipped into the observation room. "Did I miss anything?!"
Amy rolled her eyes at him. Rory had barely had time to catch his balance. He looked around the room, saw the mirror, the decorations, he moved to the table. "What do I do?" he asked, his voice tinny over the intercom. "Just open it?"
River pushed a button under the window. "Just open it. And enjoy it, Dad. It's a Christmas present, not a tooth extraction." Amy giggled. Rory rolled his eyes.
He picked the box up, looked at it, jigged it beside his ear, them pulled loose the shiny red ribbon. He opened the box and pulled out a thumb-sized cylinder. He frowned, he turned it over. He looked down at the inside of the box lid. Amy could just see the edge of what looked like instructions.
Rory read, and then twisted something on the cylinder. He jumped. Amy could hear a loud, "thump thump, thump thump" coming from the room. She frowned.
Rory's frown dropped away in an amazed look. He read the instructions again, adjusted the device a different way. A soft blue wavery light emitted from the end, he ran it over his hand. His face transformed. He grabbed up the lid of the box and began reading quickly, trying out all the different settings, his face becoming brighter and brighter.
"Woo-hoo!" he finally did a little dance and fisted his new toy in the air. He looked down at it as if it was the biggest diamond in the world. "Thank you!" He looked around at all four walls, looking for the camera. "This is great! Thank you again!"
He gathered up his box and wrapping and bundled them out of the room. Still fiddling with his present.
Amy dashed out and met him in the hallway. He was practically glowing with excitement. It was a good look on him. "What is it?' she asked, wondering what could bring such a look to his face.
"Amy! Look!" He held out what looked like a small LED flashlight. "It's a PMA, according to the box."
"A Personal Medical Assistant," the Doctor translated. "Basically a medical swiss army knife." He smiled at Rory's obvious delight. He was still playing with it, trying out features.
"It has a dermal regenerator, a surgical laser, nerve dampeners, a sedative setting, a sonar scan, and you can even use it as a light, see!" He flashed the lit end at her, she jerked away her eyes.
"That's great, Rory," she said.
"Great? It's fantastic! Do you have any idea how much I can do with this?" He was in love. It was obvious. Suddenly his face fell, and he clasped the tube tightly in one fist. "But it's from the future," he said quietly. He looked up hesitantly at the Doctor. "I can't keep it, I suppose."
The Doctor looked at him very sternly. Then broke out into a grin. "It's your Christmas present, Rory. Who am I to take it away from you? Besides, you'll probably have plenty of reason to use it. River's always getting herself banged up."
"Thank you Sweetie!" River said sarcastically. "I'm next!" she flashed her room number badge and trotted off, jingling, Amy right behind her.
"I can really keep it?" Rory asked the Doctor softly. His fist still tight around the tube.
The Doctor laid a hand on his shoulder. "There's no one I could trust more with it, Rory. I know you'll use it well."
Rory blew out a breath and grinned.
"Come on!" Amy yelled from down the hall.
River's room was similar to Rory's, tree in the corner, garlands, but a different color scheme and with different personal touches.
Her present sat on the plain white table. It was wrapped in Christmas tree patterned paper, and was the size of a cinder block. From the way it scooched across the table when River tried to pick it up, it must have weighed as much as a cinder block too.
"What kind of a gift do you think they gave her?" Amy whispered to Rory, the voice of a parent who had no idea what to get for her magnificent child. The Doctor looked back and forth between them fondly, behind them. "I don't know," Rory whispered back. "I didn't see what she wrote down."
They all settled to watch River unwrap her present. She pulled a knife casually out of her boot, and slit the paper neatly up the center, returning her knife to her boot without apparent thought. Amy grinned and shook her head.
River parted the paper and peered inside. Her eyebrows shot up and she tore the rest of the paper off with no regard to finesse. She ran her hands over the lizard skin cover of the book inside. Her touch was reverent. She leaned side to side and peered avidly at the tome. For tome it was, leather buckles held it closed on one side, and it was thicker than her hand was long. The pebbled, reptile-skin cover was stamped and embossed with strange alien letters.
River reverently unbuckled the straps and carefully folded it open, unconsciously looking left and right as if she was searching for gloves or tweezers to handle it with.
Inside, it was a magnificently illuminated manuscript, the pages yellowing, but well preserved, the colors rich and jewel toned. The alien script flowed across in tiny symbols, crammed end to end between the illuminations.
She breathed out a sigh, almost a hyperventilation, and leaned on the table, supporting herself with a hand on each side of the book. Her hair hiding her face.
"I don't know who gave me this, or why they would part with it," she said, without looking up. "But I want you to know I will treasure it." She looked up. Looked unerringly at the far right corner of the ceiling, "Thank you."
She closed the book and buckled it carefully. She hefted it up, wrapping its heavy weight against her chest, and turned and exited the room with dignity.
The Doctor raced out of the room. Amy and Rory followed him. River was standing in the hallway, staring down at the heavy tome in her hands as if she couldn't believe it.
"What is it?" the Doctor twisted his neck to see. "What did you get?"
"River?" Amy asked.
River tilted the book so they could see it. It was obviously old. Looking like something an alien wizard might write. "It's the 'Annotated History of the Emperor Dsai, Draconian First Empire'." She looked at the Doctor. "It's a first edition." She hugged the book back to her chest like it was a child.
The Doctor grinned. He kissed her on the forehead. She smiled and relaxed. But didn't let loose of the book.
Amy grunted. "Well, if I knew all it took to impress you was a book written by lizard men, I'd have gotten the Doctor to get me a Siluran novel."
River grinned. "I think Silurian romances would probably be a bit much even for you, mother dearest."
Amy snorted. Rory wisely said nothing.
"All right, me next," Amy held up her badge and trotted down the hall. She slotted it into the door and whisked inside. The others jumped and ran to catch up with her, piling into the observation room just as she started investigating the truly huge box on the table.
This room was all done in icicle blue, looking a bit like a festive ice cave. The box on the table was four feet long and two feet high and wrapped in elegant frosted peach paper.
She ripped the huge bow off and lifted off the lid. "You guys seeing this?" she asked, unwrapping swathes of fragile white tissue paper.
Rory thumbed on the intercom, "Yeah, we're here. What's in that thing?"
"Dunno," she shoved aside the last of the paper and revealed a long swath of fur.
"Oh, wow!" Amy said. She rubbed her hands down the fluffy fur, reveling in its softness, the hairs tickling her palms. It was thick, snowy white, heavy. A Clouded Leopard fur, frosty white patterned with smoky blues and grays.
She pulled out a small card.
"Evans and Sons Genetic Furriers. This coat is made of genetically grown construct fur from our finest finishing vats. Designation and Extraction – Winter Cloud Leopard."
She pulled the fur out of the box. It was a huge fluffy coat patterned with smoky gray and silver blue on elegant white.
She pulled it on, and pulled her hair up out of the collar. She wrapped it around herself. It was warm and fluffy and sleek as mink.
It covered her from neck to calves. With only her legs showing, it looked like she wasn't wearing anything under it.
Rory's eyes dilated. "I love Secret Santa," he whispered, unable to take his eyes off his wife.
River and the Doctor's eyes met over his head, grinning.
"Oh, wow! This is great! Thank you!" Amy's voice came over the intercom, breaking the spell.
Amy twirled in the room, showing off the coat to her gifter, then blew a kiss at the walls and breezed out of the room, leaving the box behind.
They all piled out of the observation room. River stalked around Amy, still clutching her book, and nodded her head sagely. "Very nice. You do realize I may have to borrow that from you, mummy dear?"
"Not on your life!" Amy laughed back, wrapping the coat possessively around her. "Finders keepers."
Rory stroked his hand down the sleeve. "It's as soft as kitten fur," he said wonderingly. Amy twisted and gave him a sloe-eyed look over her shoulder.
She rubbed her chin in the collar. "Yes, it is."
Rory cleared his throat.
"Right! My turn!" the Doctor said. He whirled and bounced off down the corridor waving his room badge.
"Oh, god," Amy said. "I don't even want to think what they got him!"
The others followed, tumbling into the observation room with a sort of morbid fascination. The Doctor was inside, gleefully inspecting the Christmas tree. Apparently his twirled and sang Christmas carols. He twiddled happily with a little elf ornament on it. Then abruptly pulled out the sonic screwdriver and scanned the tree, eying it warily. When it continued to spin slowly, non-threateningly, he nodded happily, pocketed his screwdriver, snitched a candy cane off the tree, then approached the table with the peppermint stick poking out of his mouth.
His present was small, wrapped in plain white paper and a blue bow. He held it up and weighed it. He put it to his ear and shook, listening to the sound while he screwed up his mouth in concentration. He held it up close to his eyes and studied the wrapping, turning it all around, inspecting the seams. He sniffed it.
"Open it already!" Amy's voice yelled over the intercom. He jumped.
"Just savoring the moment," he said. He placed the box back on the table, pulled out the sonic and gave it a blast.
All the wrapping paper crumpled and fell away. He lifted the lid and peered inside, sucking on his candy cane. He almost inhaled it when he saw what was inside.
He gave a little high pitched squeal and spat out the candy. He pulled out whatever was inside the box and turned his back.
"What's he doing?" Rory asked.
"I don't know," River said slowly, with awful anticipation.
"Doctor?" Amy said demandingly. He held up one finger but didn't turn around. He looked over his shoulder at them, then sidled to the side of the window where they couldn't see him.
Rory started biting his fingernails.
The Doctor stepped back into sight, his tweed back still to the window. He bounced on his heels. He twirled around.
Amy threw her hand up. It was rainbow colored, blinding bright, and it twinkled. He reached up and pressed the center, it started spinning, and singing Christmas carols.
Rory dropped his face in his hand.
Amy groaned. "Oh god."
River growled. "I may have to kill someone."
The Doctor stood there wearing a white velvet bowtie covered in Christmas lights. It was spinning and blaring out Jingle Bells.
He was grinning like a loon.
"Bow ties are so cool!"
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