DISCLAIMER: I don't own any of these characters. Thanks to Simon Moore, the Halmis, NBC, and/or Hallmark for letting me borrow them.

MEETING CHRISTMAS

"Oh, the weather outside is frightful, and the fire is so delightful," Virginia sang aloud. It was a couple of weeks before Christmas, and she danced around the tree, decorating it. "And since we've no place to go, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow." She tucked a gleaming red ornament into the scratchy depths of the pine tree, and winced at the crash and yelp in the kitchen. Wolf was baking cookies. Again.

The Carpenters continued their carol, and Virginia picked it up again merrily. "It doesn't show a single sign of stopping, and I've got some corn for popping - ooh," she grunted as the baby kicked. "The lights are turned way down low, let it snow, let it snow -"

"Let it snoooooooooooooooooooooooooooooow," Wolf howled from behind her.

She burst into laughter and placed the last candy cane shaped ornament on the nearest branch.

"Oh Virginia!" Wolf grabbed her hands and twirled her around once. "I love Christmas! The tree smells so good," he inhaled deeply, his eyes closing with pleasure. They flew open again, their blue depths sparkling with delight. "And everyone's so happy! And the cookies! And the presents!" He bent to pick one up but she slapped his hand lightly.

"Leave the presents alone until Christmas day."

"But Virginia," he whined. He had puppy-dog eyes down to a science.

"No!" she laughed. "You broke the last two."

He whimpered, but was swiftly grinning again. "I made cookies. With yummy frosting for my creamy love. Come on!" He captured her hand and led her through the door into their small kitchen.

They had been back in her world for six months, and she had persuaded her grandmother to loan them enough money to buy a house. For the past week, Christmas had been in full swing in the Lewis household. Wolf had agreed to take Virginia's name when they got married.

Bursting into the kitchen, Virginia was assaulted by the overpowering smell of cookies and the terrible mess Wolf had made. Scattered all over the counter were sheet after sheet of cookies. All looked remarkably like sheep.

Virginia picked one up, giggling. "Where's the rest of the nativity?" she asked, holding up a cookie cutter shaped like a crib. "Christmas isn't just about sheep!"

"But Virginia! Yummy, fluffy little sheep are my favorite! Look, I made some red and green - just like you told me. They're Christmas sheep!"

"Christmas sheep?"

"Oh yes! And look, look here," he lifted up a pan with one gigantic circular cookie. In slightly smudged lettering were the words 'olf loves Virginia.' A bite had been taken out of it already, the 'W' gone.

"That's very sweet," she said, wrapping her arms around him. She could feel the life that pulsed in Wolf, the exuberance and tenderness that, still, amazed her. He set the cookie down and gently squeezed her, patting her growing belly.

"Our little boy likes cookies."

"Is that so?"

"Oh yes. Especially sheep cookies!" He kissed her deeply, until her head spun.

"I'll remember that," she murmured, dizzy.

He nuzzled her neck, his breath hot against her skin. "Now what do we do, my succulent, Christmas chop?"

She smiled into his shirt. "Actually, I have the perfect idea." When he growled low, she laughed. "No, not that. We're going to the mall."

"The mall! I love the mall! Are we getting more presents? Can we stop at the candy store? And the pet store? All those fluffy bunnies-"

Virginia covered his mouth with her hand. "Just come with me. It's a surprise."

Somehow, he managed to get even more excited. It took her three trips to the bedroom for socks, shoes, and a jacket, before she finally let him bound out the door. He skidded slightly on the icy sidewalk, and then spun around in a low bow. "Oh!" he cried, leaping back up the steps as she locked the door behind him. Without warning he picked her up and carried her down the steps, setting her gently down on the sidewalk and not letting go. Virginia blushed, but didn't miss the wistful sigh of a woman walking by.

"You don't have to do that," she insisted.

"But, Virginia, you have to be careful!"

She just shook her head and they started walking down the street. Wolf hated cars, the noise and the smell, so they did a lot of walking. Fortunately they had picked a house relatively close to a large shopping center, and when they reached the parking lot, Virginia could only look at the snarling mass of traffic gratefully.

Merging with the slow-moving crowd, Wolf and Virginia received the blast of air that always came with entering an enclosed mall, and she noted how Wolf sucked it down. It wasn't fresh air, but when she'd asked him about it before he said it was better than all of the "car air." Because it was Wolf, she didn't question it.
"So what are we doing here my precious pumpkin?"

Virginia tuned out the drone of Nat King Cole and hundreds of people to focus on Wolf. "We're taking you to meet someone."

He gasped delightedly. "Is it a friend of yours? Family? Will they have food?"

"No. None of those. But I think you'll enjoy it."

"Where is she?" He was craning his head around, his nose twitching, looking for a scent, she presumed.

"He is right over there." Virginia pointed to a small building with a line of at least fifty kids trailing out of the opening. It was a small red cottage, surrounded by fake snow. A fake reindeer played in the fake snow, and a real woman watched the scene, looking bored.

Wolf cocked his head to the side, curiosity lighting his features. "That animal is plastic, Virginia. Did you not know that?"

She laughed, tugging on his hand until they were at the end of the line of kids. "Not the reindeer, Wolf, the man inside the house."

They waited in line for almost an hour, until Wolf was bouncing up and down, worse than any of the other children waiting with them. He had befriended all of the kids within a five foot radius, and they were giggling and squealing like puppies. By the time they reached the door to the 'cottage,' Wolf had drawn a crowd of appreciative parents and kids, and Virginia wasn't sure whether to be embarrassed or touched. He was going to make a great father, she decided.

"Which one's your kid?" the woman asked when they reached the small plastic pole with the cardboard sign 'North Pole. Mr. & Mrs. Claus' taped to it.

Virginia pushed Wolf forward. "This one," she said, beaming.

The woman shrugged, and waved them forward. "No harassing Santa, sir. And it's up to him whether you get to sit on his lap or not." She popped her chewing gum and turned to the next parents. "Which one's your kid?" she repeated as Virginia and Wolf ducked and entered the room.

Inside was a fake Christmas tree with, Virginia supposed, empty boxes surrounding it. A man stood behind a camera on a tripod, watching them doubtfully. Next to the tree and a cardboard cut out of a fireplace, sat Santa Claus, in all his red and white glory. Virginia thought they picked a pretty good one this year.

Wolf took everything in, sniffing frantically, and gasped aloud when he saw Santa. "Santa Claus?" he asked, his tone surprised. "Is it really you?"

"That's right, little...uh, man," Santa boomed unsteadily. He seemed nonplussed by the fact that they were both adults. "And...what do...you want for Christmas?" Santa tugged on his beard and it shifted a little on his face.

"Santa," Wolf glanced suspiciously around the room, and then knelt at Santa's
feet, "I thought you were in prison?"

"What?" The man coughed, his cheeks turning redder than normal. "No, I was never in prison. That's all a lie."

"But, Santa. We had work duty together that one day. Don't you remember? You showed me how to lead the oxen. I mean, without chasing them. When did they let you out?"

Virginia smacked her forehead with her hand. She should have known that Santa Claus would exist in the Nine Kingdoms.

"Son, I don't know what the hell you're talking about, but you better leave."

"But, Santa," Wolf whined, clamping his hands down on Santa's knees, so it looked like he was begging. "You were always our favorite. We all knew you weren't a thief!"

Santa looked up at Virginia, and she saw the pleading look in his glassy eyes. Grabbing Wolf's shirt, she tugged him to a standing position. "We better go," she whispered in his ear. She dragged him whimpering and whining all the way out of the mall, until he was huffing along next to her in the brisk December air.

"Huff puff," he growled. "I can't believe Santa didn't remember me."

"Wolf - that's not the real Santa Claus. I didn't even know you knew about Santa in the Nine Kingdoms! Here, he's just a myth."

"A myth!" Wolf spun, taking her wrists firmly. "Don't say that! Why do you think he came to the Nine Kingdoms in the first place, Virginia? Ohhhhhh," he howled softly. "Then that's not him?"

"No, Wolf, it's not. Here, he's not real." She hesitated, and then had to know. "But ... he does exist in your world?"

"Oh yes," Wolf answered solemnly. "Yes, Virginia. There is a Santa Claus."