A/N - Merry Christmas Everyone.
This is a little late but it came to me on Christmas Day and it's taken a little bit to get it down.
Hope you enjoy.
Disclaimer - I don't own anything, just having fun.
"Ho, Ho, Ho. Merry Christmas, Everyone," Callen boomed in a jolly voice as he hauled the sack of presents out of the passenger's side of his LA-adapted "sleigh". He was driving an opened topped convertible that he'd had fitted with shapes on the side to make it look like a sleigh – admittedly minus the reindeer.
He did this every year.
At least every year that he wasn't on a mission.
He put down the sack and knelt down on the side walk where he was promptly swarmed by a mass of children eager to check out if Santa was real.
Some hugged him. Some poked his tummy, some pulled off his hat, some tugged on the jacket. Others just stared in awe at the site in front of them.
And then there was always the one who pulled on the beard.
"Ouch," he yelped.
"Sorry Santa," said a little girl with amazment in her voice and sincere apologises in her eyes. "I thought you weren't real."
Callen smiled gently and stopped rubbing the sore spot of his chin. "I'm very real, Abigail."
Her eyes widened. "You know my name?" It came out barely above a shocked whisper but he heard every word – and every bit of hope that was blossoming in it as well.
"I know everything," he said giving her a very gentle stroke down her nose.
And he did.
He knew everything about this orphanage. Every child, every worker. Even every budget figure.
He did this every year.
He'd find an orphange, check it out. Use channels that he probably shouldn't to find out all he needed to know. He did also talk to the director of the orphanage who helped him out with knowing the kids names and exactly what each of them would want.
"Did you bring something for me?" Abigail asked quietly.
Callen tilted her chin up and gave her a very big Santa smile. "Yes, I did. Shall we go find out what it is?"
Her eyes brightened again and she nodded eagerly.
Callen rose. The mass of children quickly parted and slipped in behind him as he followed the orphanage director through to the big lounge room that was decorated with a mass of Christmas decorations and the biggest Christmas tree that could possibly fit. It touched the ceiling and was all sparkly with lots of fairy lights and so many colourful decorations it would be impossible to count.
He stepped over to the tree, put down his sack and then turned to the children with a big smile.
"All right childen," the director said, "Please sit down and let's see what surprises Santa has in store for you all." She moved aside and pulled out the special camera Callen had loaned her as another worker pulled up a big red chair for him that had been hiding behind a partition.
He did this every year too.
Every child would have a photo of themselves with Santa.
Callen started pulling out presents one by one, calling the child's name and waiting for them to come to him. The child sat on his lap (if they were still small enough), opened their present, oohed and ahhed over it before having their photo taken with him; their beaming hopeful smile the best part of each photo.
That hope-filled smile was exactly why he did this.
These kids had a rough enough life but to have no hope that things might get better was the worst thing out there.
This he knew.
He also knew that even though it was only one day of the year, a visit from Santa could help them have hope for a bit longer – hope that someone cared, that maybe, just maybe, someone would take them home.
He knew this.
Because it had happened to him.
The Christmas before he found his way into the Rostoff's home a Santa had come to visit the orphanage he'd been placed in. He'd received a present, played along even though he was too old to believe in Santa. There were younger kids who still believed and he hadn't wanted to rob them of that. A month later, he found a home with Alina and her parents and even though it didn't last long, he remembered. Santa = family, at least for that year. And that gave him a small spark of hope in a continuingly darkening life.
He did this every year.
He tried to give the children a little hope to see them through. At the very least, he gave them a wonderful Christmas that, hopefully, they would always remember. Though he didn't return to the same orphanage each year – he wasn't that brave because he knew that, deep in his well protected heart, if he saw the same children the next year his heart would break for them.
"Abigail," he finally called out.
Abigail stepped over to him, eager but shy and crawled up onto his lap.
She looked up at him. "Does it still hurt?" she asked, gently touching the spot she had pulled earlier.
Callen smiled smiled and shook his head. "No Abigail," he assured her. "It doesn't hurt a bit anymore. Thank you for asking."
He handed her her present and she tentaively, almost reverently, touched it. Unlike the other children who had ripped into their presents quickly, she carefully opened it up – almost as if she'd never had one or not had many. Inside she found the soft huggable polar bear.
"Wow!" she breathed. "Polar bears are my favourite animal."
Abigail looked up at him. "Because you know everything?"
Callen nodded but his throat tightened. He had a feeling he knew what was coming from that hopeful, almost scared, look in her eyes.
"Do you know if I'll every have a mummy and daddy again?" she asked so softly that no one else could hear. Her eyes filled with hope. His stomach filled with dread. How did he answer that?
His arms tightened a little. "That I don't know Abigail," he said truthfully. "I'm sorry. Santa knows everything but not the future." It wasn't exactly a lie.
Abigail glanced away and shrugged. Then she reached up and kissed his cheek. "That's okay Santa. Don't worry."
This was such an amazing little girl – she was only 5. Here she was more worried about having hurt Santa or made him sad, yet she was living such a sad life herself. He gave her a bigger hug and then they had their photo taken. She slipped off his lap, gave him another smile and squeezed her polar bear tight.
"Thanks Santa," she said before she made her way back to her place on the floor.
He continued with the list, subtly keeping his eye on Abigail to make sure she was okay. She seemed to be and certainly seemed to be enjoying her polar bear.
After the last present and photo had been given and taken he turned to look at the children. There was hope in all their eyes, even the older ones. It may not have been as much but it was there.
Job well done Santa, he said to himself with a smile.
He nodded to the director who moved over to him and looked toward the children.
"It's time for lunch," she said. All the children stood up and moved to line up.
Santa took Abigail's hand and led her to the front of the line.
He turned and looked at the children. "Are we ready for Christmas lunch?" he asked in his jolly elf voice.
"Yes," came an excited chorus.
He smiled again. Turning, he and Abigail led the children to the dining room next door.
Abigail paused for a moment in the doorway. He looked down and saw that her eyes were so wide. He chuckled a little as they walked forward.
"Wow," she said again. She looked up at Santa. "Did you do this?" she asked in awe.
Santa nodded. "Yes Abigail. I wanted you and the other children to have a very special Christmas this year."
She threw her arms around him as far as she could give the "belly" on him.
"Thank you. Thank you. Thank you Santa. It's so beautiful and I've never seen this much food. Thank you."
"You're very welcome. Now let's get you settled so you can eat."
Callen helped her up to the table as all the other children did the same.
Abigail turned around to look at him. "Are you staying for lunch, Santa?"
Callen shook his head. "No Abigail. I'm not."
She looked a little sad and her head dropped.
He tilted it up gently and smiled at her. "I'm having lunch with my family today. But it has been absolutely wonderful meeting you today."
Callen stood up and listened to the small speech from the director wishing them all a Merry Christmas and thanking Santa for the presents, decorations and lunch. It was a small orphanage with a very limited budget. It was the reason he'd chosen this one this year. He knew from looking at the budgets that the director did her best with little funds to provide for the children. He'd also liked the director when he'd "interviewed" her. He liked her reaction to what he was offering for the children. Her children as she referred to them. There had been legitimate tears in her eyes when he told her what he was going to do. So, Christmas decorations galore, Christmas food a plenty and a very special visit from Santa was his Christmas gift to them.
Calle stepped away from the table as all the children turned and said, "Thank you Santa."
"You're very welcome, Children. Have a wonderful day."
"We will," came back the chorus of little voices.
He glanced at Abigail, gave her a special smile and a wink. She smiled back at him and made her polar bear wave.
"Ho Ho Ho, Merry Christmas," he said one last time as he walked out the door.
The director followed
"Thank you so much for this," she said once again, emotion filling her voice. "I haven't seen them all this happy – ever."
"You're welcome," he said and smiled. Another worker hurried up at that moment and handed the director something. She smiled her thanks and turned to him.
"Here's your camera," she said, handing it to him, "As well as a little something else."
It was a printed picture of him and Abigail.
Callen looked up at her. She smiled. "You two seemed to take a shine to each other. I thought you might like to have a copy."
He nodded. He didn't tell her that the camera (one brought specially for this particular role of his) had sent a copy of every photo she'd taken to a special web account so that he'd always have a copy. It was a very thoughtful gesture.
She showed him to the door and just as he was about to walk out he heard the running of little feet and the voice calling out to Santa.
Callen turned and there was Abigail racing toward him. The director reached out for the items in his hand, leaving his arms free as Abigail threw herself into them.
She kissed him on the cheek. "Merry Christmas Santa. I'll never forget you." she said.
Callen kissed her cheek. "I'll never forget you either."
Abigail smiled and then ran back to the dinning room.
Callen gave one last smile to the director and left her to return to the celebration with her children.
He returned to his apartment, looked at himself in the mirror and smiled.
"Well done Santa."
He removed the Santa costume and then made his way to the bathroom. Very carefully, and with the appropriate sticky stuff remover he worked the long white beard and the white hair off his head.
One year, early on when he was doing this, a child had pulled off his beard and the dissapointed look on his face had almost broken Callen's heart. So after that he became Santa. The beard and the hair were glued on. The belly was actually a full body costume. He wasn't going to be the cause of another disappointed look again, especially considering how forceful some of the children tended to poke the belly to see if it was real.
Finally he was back to being G Callen and ready for his family Christmas. He'd told Abigail the truth. He was spending time with his family today. He was heading for Sam's.
Sam didn't know about his Christmas Santa role.
No one did.
On Christmas morning Callen got to do what he does best – be someone else.
And for that one morning seeing the hope shine in all those eyes – being someone else was the best thing - ever.