A/N: I apologize for the long delay. Suffice to say some stuff came up between the last chapter and this one, but it's mostly resolved. We can now resume the Christmas revelry. Thank you, also, for the reviews. I love hearing from you guys.
In Which a Christmas Miracle Finally Occurs
Several inches of snow accumulated during the following hours. By the time the party in the Cul-de-Sac began, there was nearly four inches of white blanketing the ground. The temperature dropped several degrees, settling somewhere well below freezing. This cold caused Dexter to sigh and groan repeatedly, all of which was near certainly an act. He skipped the celebration to hunker down in his lab, working on a way to keep the guests at tomorrow's party warm and relatively dry.
Kina, Kes, and Tal approached the Great Doors of Plank together, feet crunching in the new snow. Kina rubbed her hands together, chilled despite the wool mittens encasing them. She shivered and drew her scarf tighter around her neck, sparing a thought for the warm down coat she'd passed up for a heavy fleece. At the very least, her feet were warm, shoved deep into the furry insides of a pair of Uggs. The things were an expensive- and annoying- fashion trend, but she had to admit that they got the job done.
Tal looked slightly miserable, despite the woolen cap pulled down over his ears. He had opted for a ski parka, a plaid number that still managed to look trendy, but had neglected to pick up any gloves. He shoved his hands deep into his coat pockets, wondering briefly what the symptoms of frostbite were. His boots, while somewhat warm, were by no means waterproof and had turned a soggy looking brown on the walk over.
Kestrel, on the other hand, wore a flannel shirt over a long-sleeved tee. She sported her usual beanie and had pulled a pair of tawny gloves from somewhere, although they looked fairly thin. Her sneakers, though soaked, seemed to be sufficient enough for her. At the very least, she had decided against the shorts she'd doggedly worn through early winter, opting for a basic pair of jeans instead.
When her companions had questioned her choice of light clothing, she'd merely shrugged. "I'm from Vermont," she'd responded. "It's really cold up there in winter."
Needless to say, she looked the least bothered of the three, with a smile on her face despite the slight red tint to her cheeks and the tip of her nose.
They entered the Cul-de-Sac and stopped, awed by the transformation in front of them. Strings of white lights lined the eaves of every house and twined around the bare branches of the trees, their light muted by the snow covering the bulbs. Eddy's throne had disappeared, replaced by a small raised stage. Where the vendors usually stood to sell their wares was a line of tables, each set with containers of hot apple cider, hot cocoa, and hot water for tea. Small fires had been set in several driveways and kids stood before them, roasting marshmallows, tossing chestnuts into the flames, and simply gathering around the heat. Between the soft hue of the Christmas lights and the flickering flames, the Cul-de-Sac took on a nearly ethereal quality, enhanced by the gentle voices and laughter of everyone in the area.
"How do you like it?"
The trio glanced to the left, where a very pleased looking Double D stood, bundled up in his parka.
"It's wonderful," Kina said, staring back at the main area. "Absolutely perfect."
The boy blushed. "Well, not quite perfect, I would think, but I did try my hardest."
"It really does look great, D." Kes grinned and patted his shoulder. "Maybe you should become a party planner or something."
He spared his guidee a look and rolled his eyes. "While I appreciate the compliment, Kestrel, I do not believe that is the correct career path for me."
"Whatever, Sockhead. Take my advice or don't." She smiled and snapped her fingers. "Oh, yeah, got you a present, oh Guide of mine." She dug into her pocket, pulled out a tiny ball of wrapping paper, and dropped it in his hand.
One eyebrow raised, Edd unwrapped the package, revealing a perfectly smooth ball of granite. When he looked to her for an explanation, she tilted her head to the side.
"I know you like sciency things, and collecting stuff, so I combined the two. That's some granite from Vermont, y'know, the quarries in Barre? It's pretty sick granite."
"Yes, thank you, Kestrel, I do like it." Double D pocketed the ball and frowned. "I have something for you, as well." He reached inside his jacket pocket and pulled out a neatly wrapped package, wincing as Kestrel tore the careful wrappings to bits.
"A new beanie! Sweet!" she cried, holding it up. The hat was similar to her old one in style, but was solid black, save for the silver symbol of a flying falcon-like bird on the right side. Kes tore off her old hat and put on her new one, barely sparing a moment to store it in her Nanocom before giving Edd a massive hug. "Thanks!"
"Ah, Kina, Tal, I have presents for you, as well," Double D said as soon as she'd let him go, wheezing slightly. For Tal was an authentic whetstone, for sharpening Luz. For Kina, he had taken a length of rope and knotted it, a nod to their days as camper and counselor.
Tal handed over a small, rectangular package, which, when unwrapped, revealed a comprehensive pocket thesaurus. Double D thanked him profusely, even opening the book to use every synonym for gratitude he could find. Kina finally cut him off by waving the other two away.
"Go get some hot drinks. You guys look cold. At least," she continued, looking them up and down, "Tal does."
After the two had left, she turned back to Edd and gave him a hug before handing over her present. He unwrapped it carefully, preserving the paper and even managing to keep the tape from ripping it. What he saw inside gave him pause. His lifted the object from its wrapping.
"A wooden puzzle," he murmured, eyes meeting Kina's.
She looked away. "It's not as good as the one you gave me, since it only goes together one way, but..."
"It's the thought behind it that counts. Kina, thank you."
"No," she whispered, tears prickling in the corners of her eyes, catching the light. "Thank you."
They hugged again and, after Kina had gotten a hold of herself again, smiled at one another. After a moment, Edd cocked his head to the side, eyebrows knit.
"Would you be willing to do something for me?" he asked.
Kina raised one eyebrow, instantly suspicious. "Like what?"
"Come they told me, pa rum pa pum pum.
"A newborn king to see, pa rum pa pum pum..."
Kina stood on the stage, singing softly to the gathered crowd. Edd had asked her to stick to classic, quiet Christmas carols and she was happy to oblige. Surrounded by the light and the crowd, she felt warmer, somehow. She let the feeling fill her and poured some of it into her music, hoping that it would help warm the Cul-de-Sac, as well.
Kes and Tal watched from the back of the audience, each sipping a cup of cider.
"She's really something, isn't she?" Tal murmured, a wistful tone in his voice.
Kes glanced at the snow covered ground and took a gulp of her drink, wincing as it burned her mouth. "Yeah," she responded, risking a glance at him. His eyes seemed misty, focusing on the stage, but not quite on Kina. His hands cradled his mug, but he made no move to continue drinking. He blinked, and his shoulders rounded slightly, his gaze dropping to his mug. He traced the rim with one finger and sighed.
Kes echoed his sigh and took another gulp of cider, swallowing an oath with the burning liquid. Idiot, she thought. After a moment, she tilted her head back and looked up at the sky. No stars were visible, hidden as they were by the gathered clouds. Sad, but the clouds also blocked out the sight of Planet Fusion. On a night like this, she could almost pretend that everything was normal again.
"Where's Socks?" Tal asked suddenly. Kes blinked and tilted her gaze towards him, making sure that none of her previous thoughts showed.
"With Devon. Kina visited him earlier and he just kinda stayed."
The two lapsed into silence once more, listening as Kina moved on to Silent Night. Halfway through, Tal turned to Kes once more.
"That hat looks good on you."
"Really?" She was suddenly thankful that the cold had already turned her cheeks red. "Thanks."
"I, uh, got you something. For Christmas." Tal held out another package, this one topped with a small bow.
Kes grinned a little when she saw the bow and carefully took it off, sticking it on her hat. She opened the present with a little more care than she had used with the previous one, revealing a pair of jet black fingerless gloves of a light, thin material. On the back of the hand, at the base of each finger, sat a small silver stud. The stitching matched the studs in hue, and matched perfectly with Kes's new beanie.
"Wow," she said, stripping off her old gloves and pulling the new ones on. She flexed and clenched her hands a few times, a grin creeping across her features. "Wow."
"Double D and I kind of worked together on these," Tal revealed, a faint smile finding its way to his lips. "I hope you like them."
She paused and stared at him, still grinning. "I get it. You guys are trying to change my wardrobe, right?"
"Whatever, it worked. I love these." She flexed her hands again before reaching into her pocket. "I got you something, too. Well, I mean, I didn't get it, I had it, but it's for you." She held out her hand and set a small box in his outstretched one, fingers briefly brushing against his palm. She blinked and pulled away, once again thankful for the cold air.
He removed the lid and stared down at the trinket, a small silver-hued rectangle of metal engraved with an abstract shape that almost looked like a dragon. He lifted it out, noting the braided black thread that followed. "A necklace?" he asked, barely hiding the confusion in his voice.
"A talisman. My dad gave it to me when I was a kid. It's supposed to keep the wearer safe from the powers of darkness. And I figured, hey, you're supposed to be fighting the dark, so..." She glanced over at him, brows knit. "Do you like it? You don't, do you?"
He gave her a half smile and slid the talisman over his head, tucking it under his jacket. "No, I like it. I could use all the help I can get. Thanks, Kes," he said.
"Welcome," she murmured, unable to shake the feeling that he didn't quite want it. But it felt right to give it to him, and that was all that mattered.
Tal glanced down at her, a rush of guilt hitting him as he saw her downcast look. He looked away and took a sip of his cider, letting it warm him before turning his gaze back to her. He sighed and put an arm around her shoulder, giving her a brief squeeze. "Merry Christmas Eve, Kes," he whispered.
Kes, who had stiffened when he first grabbed her, relaxed into his grip. "Yeah," she whispered back. "Merry Christmas."
Numbuh 1 sat in the main room of the Treehouse, staring out the window. Hero Square was set up for Christmas day, minus the special force field Dexter was whipping up. Nigel had sent the rest of his team to bed and ordered all other operatives to enjoy the holiday, but couldn't find sleep himself, even though it was nearing midnight.
The clouds were beginning to break, although Nigel doubted it would be for long. He could see the faint glow of stars in the northwestern sky, away from the light pollution of the city. He found himself seeking two other celestial bodies, out of habit. The first was Planet Fusion, which was thankfully still hidden by the clouds. The other he found without much difficulty, simply by searching for the brightest patch of cloud cover. The moon.
Numbuh 1 stood and approached the window, eyes locked on his quarry. Yes, the moon had become an object of fascination for him. He'd had Numbuh 2 train a telescope on it, although little could be seen of the Moonbase. Every once in a while, though, they'd catch a glimpse of flashes of weapon fire, and of green meteors giving the moon near misses. Enough to keep the ember of hope alive, but not enough to confirm that everyone in the Moonbase was safe.
The clouds in front of the moon dissipated, revealing its pockmarked surface. And something else. Nigel squinted. The smooth round edge of the moon seemed different somehow, as if a branch was sticking out of it. And the craters seemed off, as though they had moved.
All at once, it clicked together. Perhaps the Moonbase was under siege. Perhaps they had been able to fire the engines hidden in the moon's surface, ever so slightly, an inch at a time, to somehow expose the Moonbase. Maybe...
"...in, Kids Next... Come in, this is...base. I repeat, this...Moonbase. Is any...there?"
Nigel spun and dashed to the control panel, startled into action by the static-laden broadcast coming in. He picked up the radio and jammed his hand down on the button. "Yes, this is Numbuh 1 of the Kids Next Door. Is this Moonbase? I repeat, is this Moonbase?"
"Nigel? Nigel! It's...362. This is Moonbase. Can you hear me?"
"Loud and clear, sir. What's been going on up there?"
"Fuse took out most of our satellites and damaged our communications unit. We had to slowly turn the moon until we could get a better position to broadcast from, but we were attacked every time we tried. Same with trying to send ships home. We're under siege, Numbuh 1. What's the situation on the ground?"
"We're holding off Fuse's forces, to say the least. We can't get any birds into the atmosphere for the same reason you can't come down, though. Maybe with a two pronged attack..." Nigel thought for a minute. "How are the supplies up there?"
"Holding out," Rachel replied.
"Are there any...casualties?" he asked, dreading the response.
"No. We're all okay, minus a few bumps and scrapes. We even managed to rescue Cree. She's actually been helpful. I guess the enemy of my enemy really is my friend."
"Hoagie and Abby will be overjoyed to hear about this."
"I'm sure they will." There was a pause. "Anything...Numbuh 1?"
"What? I'm sorry, sir, you're breaking up."
"Alright, sir. Happy Christmas."
With that, the transmission was cut. Nigel stayed where he was, leaning over the control panel. After a moment, he lifted his glasses and wiped a hand across his eyes. As he replaced his signature shades, he glanced out the window, where the clouds were covering the sky once more. Even so, he fancied he saw a slight red glow dash across the sky. He blinked, chocking it up to lack of sleep, and made his way to his quarters.
For the first night in a long time, he had a restful slumber.