A Krislemas to Remember…

Author: Nu-klear <nu_klear[at]yahoo.com>

Summary: Dragan and company celebrating the holidays and spreading the cheer

A/N: Okay I know this is a little late… (hangs head in shame) alright a LOT late but at least I got it done.

feedback: Oh Hell yes, please I'm begin here folks…

Chapter 1

December 20, 1997

< Another day, another chance to break even…" The sun had long been set and the streets were nearly deserted by the time that Mr. Simons began to close up his shop. When he had opened this shop over fifteen years ago the area had been a decent location, so the store had turned a good profit allowing him to eventually purchase the building outright and build a modest amount of savings. Ten years later, however, the shop sat just barely on the wrong side of town, business was slowly going down hill and he was just barely making enough sales to break even.

Only his bull-headed belief that the shop actually made a difference to the people in the area, combined with the fact that if he was careful, he should be able to live off his investments and savings for some years to come, kept him from closing up shop or moving to a better location. He had to admit that if his children weren't grown and moved away with families of their own, he would have given more weight to his friends' attempts to get him to leave the area.

Mr. Simons had just finished doing what little restocking was needed and was about to go lock the door so he could do his till then head for his upstairs apartment for the night when the bells above the door jingled, signaling that he had a customer. Smiling the shop keeper moved to the front of the store, preparing to give a friendly greeting to whoever had entered and blinked at what he found. The front of his store was swarming with what he assumed were little kids dressed in grey robes and red hats over some kind of lizard costumes and a few older ones that were wearing armor that would look at home in most of those low budget post-apocalyptic sci-fi movies over some seriously dangerous looking dinosaur costumes.

< As long as they are paying customers, who am I to judge the way they dress… besides, this is LA. They probably just got lost on their way back to the lot from shooting for a movie. > The man stared for a moment longer, then shrugged and shook his head. "Good evening; how may I help you?"

One of the little kids looked up at him and smiled as it held out a sheet of paper. "Kwisle need get pezents."

"Okay, Crystal, I'll see what I can do… " The middle aged man smiled, took the list from the little kid and frowned slightly as he puzzled over the writing.

"Not Kwis-tal, Kwisle!" The Krisle said in a disgruntled tone.

"Oh, okay; sorry about that…" The man said absently as he looked over the list, trying to decipher the hand writing so he could see if he even had what was written on it. After finally getting the hang of reading the chicken scratches trying to pass themselves off as writing Mr. Simons looked down at the Krisle with a worried look, "This is a pretty expensive list, you sure you've got enough money for this?"

"Tink so, Kwisle have Gar bing wots money Kwisle finds for pezents…" The Krisle pointed to a couple of good sized old fashioned money bags, each bulging slightly at the bottom as if full of coins, being carried by two of the people in the dino suits.

< Ah, what the hell… It's Christmas! > Mr. Simons sighed at how much this was going to cost him but smiled and started back into the shelves. "Okay then, let's start getting this stuff together…"

The Krisle followed him, fanning out around him, grabbing any of the sought after items that were on a shelf they could reach. A few actually began to climb the shelves until Mr. Simons quite firmly told them not to, as they were going to fall off and get hurt. They were about halfway through the list when the bell above the door signaled the entrance of two thuggish looking men with dark skin and hair in dreadlocks. The men froze, staring at the Krisle and turned to leave. They paled as they found the Gar standing on either side of the door glaring at them, eyes narrowed.

"Hey, stop that…" Mr. Simons scolded the Gar then turned his attention to the new customers with a smile. "Now, may I help you gentlemen?"

"Yah mon, we just lookin' to buy some rollin' paper…" The pair answered the man in a heavy Jamaican accent as they looked from the older man to the Gar and Krisle, then smiled tightly keeping their hands in plain sight of the Gar. "Need it to make a smoke, ya' know."

"Sorry, son," The shop keeper sighed and shook his head. "I don't have any cigarette paper at the moment… you might try the gas station down on 32nd."

"T'anks mon…" The pair slowly eased past the Gar and out of the shop; when they reached the street they quickly got in there car and pulled away. Several blocks later the man in the passenger seat looked at the driver, nervously. "T'ink we should tell King Willy…"

"Tell him what? Dat we run into de Dragon's little servants while tryin' to get some smokin' paper?" The driver looked at his friend like he was crazy. "You crazy, mon? King Willy would probably kill us both fa bodering dem, or worse if he t'ink we done sometin dat would get de Dragon angry at him!"

"Good point, mon… Hey, wasn't dat the gas station the old mon told us about?"

"Yeah mon, but I ain't stoppin' 'til d'ere a bit more dis'tance 'tween us and doze things…"

Less than an hour later the 'kids' had gathered their purchases and after thanking him, one of them even going so far as to flick out its tongue tapping the surprised shop keeper on the cheek like a goodbye kiss without the old man having to bend over, they scurried out of the shop, vanishing into the night like ghosts.

Shaking his head in surprise, Mr. Simons locked up the shop, reached down to pick up the money bags that the Krisle had left behind and grunted at the unexpected weight of the bag. Straining slightly under the weight, the shop keeper lifted the bags onto the counter, untied the flap and tipped the bag so that part of its contents spilled out onto the counter. The man blinked down at the small pile of gold and silver coins that had spilled out of the bag for a moment before sitting heavily in the nearest chair, looking up at the ceiling and saying a silent thank you.

December 21, 1997


Sam looked around at the people passing on the street, then at the nearly empty donation kettle and sighed. < Why did I have to get assigned to *this* place? Half my shift and I doubt I got thirty dollars… >

"Hewwo… why you wing bell?"

Sam smiled at the childish voice, glanced down and had to look away quickly to keep from laughing at the outfits in which the kids parents had dressed them. Just because their parents thought they looked cute dressed like some kind of lawn gnomes was no reason to add insult to injury. "To let people know that they can make donations here…"

"What dun… dunay – dunaysun?" The Krisle tilted its head with a perplexed expression.

"No, no, do-na-tion… its means money people give to our organization."

"Huh? Why peeples give you money?"

"So we can keep doing our job of helping people."

"You use money peeples give you help peeples?" The Krisle looked up at the man with wide eyes and a startled expression.

"You good peeples…" A new deeper voice said firmly.

"Thank you…" the man thanked the Krisle as he turned around, looked down to smile at what he thought was a child and found himself looking into a set of razor sharp teeth set in the mouth of the Gar that was smiling up at him. Sam blinked as he could clearly see that this was a flesh and blood creature not a synthetic mask of some kind, showing him a mouthful of teeth that would make most sharks jealous; given the man's near pathological fear of reptiles he handled the situation quite well.

The Gar looked down at the unconscious man then turned to the Krisle with a confused expression. "Why hooman go sweep?"

"Ohh nooo, Kwisle in twouble!" The Krisle held its bottom jaw in its hands, claw tipped fingers actually inside its mouth as it looked at the man that was now lying in a heap on the ground beside the kettle, with a terrified expression. "Kwisle no know, but Gar gets Kwisle in twouble… How peeples know make dunaysun he-uh if man no wing bell?"

The Gar looked at the Krisle with a perplexed expression before shaking its head. "Krisle no get twouble, Gar fix!"

Reaching down the Gar grabbed the collar of Sam's shirt, dragged the man over to a nearby bench and, after grabbing the Santa hat off his head, lifted him onto it doing its best to position him so that he looked like he was sleeping. Walking over to the kettle the Gar slipped on the red hat, picked up the bell in its mouth and began rocking its head back and forth so that the bell rang.

Snowleo cursed the holiday traffic, just barely keeping himself from doing it literally with thoughts of what the three fold law would bring down on his head if he did, as his fingers beat a rhythm the steering wheel of the minivan packed with last minute presents while he waited for the parking lot trying to pass as a street to start moving again.

After a few minutes the Dragon/Were-snow leopard's mind and eyes began to wander the area finally coming to rest on a group of people gathered looking at something between a pet shop and a novelty store a little way down the block. Slowly getting closer as traffic allowed, Snowleo began wondering what was going on that had the crowd so captivated. As if the universe wished to answer his question, a family left the group, opening a gap in the semicircle and gave a shocked Snowleo a perfect view of the Gar ringing a bell and the large group of Krisle singing around it.

Snowleo never saw the car he ran into stop in front of him.

Looking at the rear of the car he had just hit in horror Snowleo shook his head and whined as he watched the two uniformed officers start to get out of their car. "Oh gods, they're going to kill me! I hit a police cruiser… I can't believe I hit a police cruiser!"

Snowleo suddenly froze, his eyes slowly looking from the officers to the Krisle and back as the hardened mercenary paled at the sudden thought that struck him. < Nobody's going to get out of this alive…! >

Chyra smiled as she watched the preparations being made for the annual company (Winter Holiday) Christmas/Solstice party coming together without too much of a problem for a change.


Chyra jumped at in surprise at Dragan's yell; the fact that she knew he was currently in his nearly soundproof office and she could hear his shout clearly making her more than a little nervous. A moment later Dragan burst out of the stairway to his office, his face set in a furious mask as he stormed past, not even acknowledging any of the inquires made as he all but ran out the Mixer.

"What…?" Chyra tried to ask Makael what was going on but the immortal just gave her a quick shake of his head, as he ran past in pursuit of his adoptive father.

"Snowleo was in a little car accident…" Cles said as she came up beside the miniature dragon.

Chyra hissed slightly, a worried look on her face. "Is he okay?"

"Huh? Oh yes, he's fine just; he just rear-ended a cop car." Cles said giving the door a wistful look.

Chyra frowned and looked at the Fa'lur inquisitively. "Then why did Dragan just tear out of here like the hounds of hell were after him… again?"

"That would be *why* Snowleo hit the cop car…" Cles whistled softly in amusement even though her body language said she was far from in a humorous mood. "Apparently he was distracted by the large group of Krisle singing around a Gar ringing a bell on 24th Avenue."

"Oh gods, that isn't going to be pretty…" Chyra groaned and shook her head at the thought of the mess that was going to cause, before fixing the morose Fa'lur with a pointed look. "So, what are you so down about?"

"It's no big deal, I guess…" Cles rested her beak in her hand and looked at the miniature dragon with a sigh. "It's just that… well; we were just about to try out the… *cough*, an early present Dragan got me when Snowleo called in."

Chyra looked at the 'blushing' Fa'lur blankly for a moment before a look of disbelieving understanding crossed her face. "And he just left?! And you let him?!"

"Yeah, that just about covers it," Cles shrugged with a pensive expression. "And I didn't let him; he was out the door before I even had a chance to say anything."

Chyra closed her eyes and counted to ten, twice; then opened her eyes, smiled up at the Fa'lur and exploded. "That's *it*! The moment that fool gets back you're both getting a competency evaluation and no matter how it comes out you're going to the retreat for the next few weeks off so that I know you're actually getting some time to relax!!"

"Both of us…?!" Cles bristled and clicked her beak in annoyance.

"What did I do to deserve a competency review?!"

"I suspect the possibility of mental fatigue leading to potential errors in judgment." Chyra smiled at the larger female sweetly. "After all, why else would you let him go in the middle of trying out a 'present' so easily…? What did he get you anyway?"

Cles huffed in annoyance, but set a gift box like a shirt would come in on the table. After shooting everyone else in the immediate area a withering glare which sent most of them scurrying to complete tasks they suddenly remembered, she lifted the lid showing Chyra the contents.

Chyra looked into the box and felt her jaw drop; the box was split into two sections, sitting on the left side lying on black velvet was the choker Dragan had bought shortly after their return from Avalon and had resulted in him spend several nights in one of the guestrooms. On the other side lying on white velvet was a black leather collar that looked as soft as cloth, a soft cotton leash that felt as soft as silk, several large feathers and two sets of manacles, one delicate looking made of gold with inset jewels, the other pair was larger and made of some kind of black metal, beautiful etchings covered the band with crystals inset here and there to add to the design. Lying between the two sides was a simple card that read 'just for me'.

"Um, Chyra… you okay?" Cles giggled lightly at the shell shocked expression on the miniature dragon's face.

"Remind me to ask about this some other time…" Chyra took a shaky breath and let it out in a cleansing sigh "because I don't think I could handle hearing about what I think you two have planned for this stuff right now."

Cles watched the stressed looking tiny dragon fly away with thoughtful expression.

"Dad, please try and remember to keep your cool, okay?" Makael pleaded as Dragan pushed his motorcycle to the curb.

"Fine… I'll do my best not to overreact; I promise." Dragan growled as he kick-started the bike, slipped it into gear and took off down the street.

"If anyone's listening up there, we could use any and all the help you can spare to get him through this without hurting anyone!" Makael muttered as he looked towards the sky with a serious expression and got in the Hummer to follow.

Dragan twisted the throttle, and the large bike jumped forward, weaving through traffic like a seal through water. Finally reaching his destination Dragan slowed the bike to a stop, lowered the kickstand and left the bike running behind a police car that was blocking off the accident scene as he walked over to check out the people gathered on the other side of the street.

Ignoring an officer yelling about him not being allowed to leave his bike there Dragan pushed his way through the small crowd until he could see the performance for himself. His lips became a hard thin line at the sight of the Krisle and Gar's antics.

Stepping into the open area in the center of the semi-circle Dragan walked over and picked up the nearest Krisle. It looked up at him with a surprised and guilty expression as the mercenary hissed at them in a sharp whisper. "You guys had better have a good explanation for this or I will make your punishment for taking those pictures look pleasant… now when I touch each of your bellies I want you to pretend that I just turned you off."

"Ladies and gentleman, I'm afraid it's time for me to take my little friends here and head back to the shop…" Turning to the crowd Dragan, touched the belly of the Krisle he was holding and smiled as it closed its eyes and went limp, before nodding to the crowd while doing his best to be civil. "So, I hope you've enjoyed the show, and have a nice day."

"What are those things, some kind of robot?"

Dragan turned to look at the person that had asked the question and found a man in a fairly expensive suit and frowned slightly at the looks he was giving the Krisle. Holding the Krisle he had just 'shut off' slightly behind him Dragan narrowed his eyes and asked in a warning tone. "Are you another guy from that damn toy company? I thought I made it clear to the last guy that I wasn't…"

"Whoa, hold on… I don't know what you're talking about, buddy." The man held up his hands with a confused expression then reached into his jacket and pulled out a business card. "I was just curious… I work for Xanatos Industries recruitment department. I hadn't heard there was anything that life-like on the market or even beyond the theoretical and drawing board stages."

"They're not on the market and I'm still not interested in a job or selling…" Dragan took the card without looking at it, shook his head slightly at the hostile look the Gar was giving the suit, and began gathering the Krisle and placing them in a duffle bag he had been carrying in his jacket. "Now if you'll excuse me, I have a ride on the way and need to get these guys ready."

"No problem, my number is on the card if you change your mind Mister…" the man trailed off, waiting for Dragan to supply the name.

Dragan left the man hanging for a moment before pulling a beat up business card from his pocket and held it out to the man. "Mr. Dragon, now if you'll excuse me… my truck is here."

Dragan frowned as Makael pulled the Hummer in behind Dragan's motorcycle; he picked up the bag full of Krisle walked over and gently placed it on the back seat of the truck. Returning for the Gar Dragan cursed silently when he found it still ringing the bell with a stubborn expression.

"What do you think you're doing?!" Dragan hissed as he knelt beside the Gar, looking it over as if checking for damage.

"Got wing bell, no wing bell, how peeples know make dunaysun here?" The Gar muttered around the bell.

"Where is the guy that's supposed to be ringing the bell?"

"Him go sleep when see Gar."

Dragan looked around; saw a man asleep on a nearby bench and sighed. "Okay, I'll take care of it; I promise… now just pretend you're being shut off or I swear you're going to the vet every day for the next week!"

The Gar froze and went wide-eyed with a look of horror on its face.

Dragan reached down and pressed the Gar on the stomach and it closed its eyes as it went limp in his arms. After depositing it in the other back seat, Dragan walked over and shook the bell ringer. "Hey buddy, thanks for the help but the show's over. Time to get up…"

"Huh?" Sam looked at green haired man blankly as his mind struggled to catch up.

"Here, seeing how this went a lot longer than it should have, let me make it up to you…" Dragan pulled a wad of cash out of his jacket pocket and pulled off some bills before shoving the rest of the wad into the kettle. Then he shoved the bills he had taken from the wad into the bell ringer's pocket, while looking into the man's eyes with a pointed expression. "I hope you enjoyed the show… I would hate to find out that anything bad happened as a result of my little friends' appearance."

The man swallowed at what he saw in the other man's eyes and nodded. "It was a pleasure."

"Good, if I hear differently I will make sure to look you up for an explanation… Have a nice holiday!" Dragan smiled, walked over to the Hummer, pulled Makael out of the vehicle and got into the driver's seat.

"Hey, what about me?" Makael said looking Dragan in surprise. "How am I supposed to get back?"

"Drive my bike… the Krisle and I need some 'quality' time." Dragan said throwing the Hummer into reverse and grinned evilly at his adopted son. "But just remember if you get a scratch on it I'm gonna take it out of your hide!"

"But…" Makael watched the Hummer drive away, turned and looked at the 1950 Indian Police Chief in fear, clearly remembering the last six motorcycles he had ridden-- or more to the point the piles of scrap they had resembled when he was done with them. "I'm a dead man!"

December 22, 1997

The security-guards stared in shock at the monitor as a Whiffle bat could be seen moving on the other side of the glass counter from the camera with no one holding it. Suddenly the bat swung down twice, then jerked around for a moment before taking off the way it had come, and swinging down again.

The guards looked at each other as their boss reached out and popped the tape out of the machine just as the store manager walked in, looking more than a little rumpled. "So, did the cameras catch whoever broke in here last night?"

"No sir, the cameras didn't catch a thing!" The head of security said shaking his head. "Guess it's a good thing they left more than enough money to cover what they took."

The manager almost growled, looking less than pleased with the whole situation as he scowled at the man in charge of store security. "I want to know how they got into the store without damaging anything and especially how they did it without setting off the security system. Is that clear?"

"Yes sir."

After the manager stormed away the guards looked at their boss in surprise. "Why didn't you tell him what was on the tapes?"

The head of security scowled at the guard and shook his head. "There is no way I'm telling that pompous ass that a bunch of lizards, dressed like some kind of Buddhist monks no less, broke in here to do some after hours shopping… He'd say I was on drugs or helped in the break-in and fire me on the spot, tape or no!"

The guards looked at each other and frowned. "You know, he's got a point…"

"Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, ow…"

"I haven't started yet." Cles looked down at the Krisle as she dabbed alcohol on the cotton ball and snorted.

"Ow… oh sowwy Cwes." the Krisle blinked and ducked its head.

"How did this happen, anyway?" Cles rolled her eyes and sighed as the Krisle began making pained noises again once she started wiping at its small injury.

"Kwisle hit Kwisle with wipple bat…" the disgruntled looking Krisle, with similar injuries, sitting a little farther down the counter piped up, "so Kwisle take bat and hit Kwisle!"

"Kwisle no huwt Kwisle with wipple bat, when Kwisle hit Kwisle!"

"Di' too!"

"Di' not!"

"Di' too!"

"Di' not!"

Within seconds the arguing pair of Krisle were wrestling around the table, sounding something like cats in heat being accompanied by a tone deaf orchestra of only string and wind instruments.

Cles had just covered her ears, the sound becoming too much for her, when the door flew open and a Gar stormed in, snarling as it snatched up one Krisle in its jaws and shook it slightly as it jumped onto the counter to place a foot firmly on the other Krisle.

Dropping the Krisle onto the counter the Gar looked from one cowed Krisle to the other before shaking its head and growling. "Bad Krisle! Gar tell Groud! Krisle be bad again, Gar take Krisle tell Gwen!"

The Gar then jumped off the counter and curled up in the corner where it could watch the offenders.

Cles looked from the Krisle to the Gar, thrumming slightly in confusion before shaking her head and going back to cleaning the Krisle's injuries.

Chapter 2

< This would be so much easier if I could just throw this stuff in a bag and shift into my cat form but there is no way that I could carry anything like that doll house then…> Snowleo thought as he sat in the van waiting for traffic to let him out. After a few moments another thought crossed his mind caused him to sigh and mutter to himself. "I hope I didn't go too far in there, but she's been asking for one all year and it was the last one…"


Snowleo walked down the isle of his thirteenth toy store in as many hours, muttering about broken necks and lying distributors, when a large smile crossed his face as he spotted what he was looking for. Reaching up for the bright package, Snowleo frowned as someone grabbed the other side. Looking over Snowleo frowned at the other man. "Excuse me, but this one's mine!"

"No way, you go find your own, little man…" The man growled and pulled on the item. Having over a foot of height on the white haired man and looking like he must have outweighed Snowleo by at least 50 pounds he felt he should have little problem intimidating him into releasing the package.

Snowleo stiffened at the crack about his height, then hissed like cat and swatted at the hand with which the man was holding onto the package. Smiling as the man cursed and pulled his now bleeding hand away, Snowleo turned and headed for the cashiers. "Thank you."

The man looked up from examining his hand and snapped. "Get some catnip…!"

"No way!" Snowleo laughed as he called back over his shoulder. "How do you think I wound up needing a doll house in the first place?!"

"Huh?" The man stared after him for a moment, trying to figure out his parting shot then shook his head and cursed at both the blood dripping from his hand and the thought of searching yet another store for that damn doll house.

Snowleo shrugged, looked at his watch and smiled nastily. "Oh good, I still have time to pay a visit to the guy that decided to send my order to a store in San Francisco…"

December 23, 1997

"Gwen! Gwen!"

"Why me?" Dragan groaned, threw a dirty look at Cles when she stared giggling and an even dirtier look at the others in the room before looking down at the frantic Krisle with a pained expression. "What's wrong now guys?"

"Kwisle go give Andy pezent, but no find Andy…" the Krisle held up a crudely wrapped present as if to emphasize the point. "Gwen tell Krisle where Andy go…?"

"How should I know? Maybe he went reindeer hunting…" Dragan said without thinking, distracted by the fact he had a crease in his new dress shirt. He nearly jumped out of his skin when the Krisle gathered around him burst into tears and frantically ran out of the room. "What the…"


"Ouch, Cles what did you…?" Dragan grabbed the back of his head and spun around expecting to find his mate glaring at him, instead he found someone he never would have though had enough of a death wish to hit him like that scowling at him. "Snowleo?! Have you lost your mind or something?"

Snowleo just pointed, Dragan looked where he indicated and almost rolled his eyes in frustration when he saw Snowleo's daughter dressed in a Krisle's grey robe and red hat crying right along with the few of the little creatures that hadn't run off.

Slumping in defeat Dragan walked over and picked the little girl up making soothing noises. "Shhhh, shhhhh, its okay, I wasn't serious, I was just joking with the Krisle... I'm sorry if I upset you."

*Sniff, sniff * "But what if the man tries to shoot Wudoph…?" Mercedes looked up at him wide eyed and lip trembling. "You'd protect him wouldn't you, Gwampa?"

Dragan looked down at her, a sickly smile plastered on his face. < Okay… now this is a dilemma, should I tell her the truth about the facts behind the story of Santa Claus or just say something that sounds like what she wants to hear? >

Catching the look Chyra was giving him and, correctly recognizing it as the 'I know what you're thinking and you had better get that thought out of your head this instant if you want to live' look, Dragan smiled down at his granddaughter. "I promise I wouldn't let anyone shoot Rudolph."

Mercedes smiled brightly and wrapped her arms around a decidedly uncomfortable looking Dragan. "Tank you gwampa…"

"You're welcome…" Dragan looked around, noted the lack of any Krisle in the room and sighed as he set the little girl down. "Now how about you go tell the Krisle that Tommy knows where Andy is… and that he's not hunting reindeer, okay?"

"'kay…" Mercedes ran out of the room.

"Pop, did you just tell a lie?"

Dragan smiled at Snowleo evilly. "No, if I ever find a talking reindeer that can fly, that has a glowing red nose and responds to the name of Rudolph I'll do my best to keep him from getting shot."

Glancing out the door to his room Dragan lowered his voice, taking on an amused tone. "But seeing that he was the fabrication of some writer, I doubt I will ever have to keep that promise!"

"The boss show yet?" Noel asked as he watched his 'date' get a drink form the bar, chuckling slightly at the glare Leona gave her partners as they picked up drinks for themselves and their 'dates'.

Noel took note that the 'stag raffle', an annoying tradition Dragan had started to pair up people without dates, had paired the Detectives with familiar faces from their first visit to the Mixer. Detective Harrigan was currently trying his best to keep some space between himself and the smirking Kailif demon, while Detective Archuletta looked perfectly comfortable chatting with Tease, one arm around each of the Fa'lur twins.

Noel considered the odds that this was all a coincidence for all of 3 seconds, then made a mental note to find out who had rigged the raffle and how they had done it *before* giving them latrine duty for the rest of the year.

Noel looked at the DJ and shook his head in mild disbelief that someone had actually managed to talk Dragan into signing off on a DJ instead of a live band. The music was a combination of festive and just about every other type, allowing for dancing for those that wanted it, while still keeping the holiday spirit somewhat intact.

"Are you kidding? You know the boss never comes to these things…" Sergeant Robert Todd looked at Noel funny. "Well, unless there's an emergency and we're deploying so the party's being cut short, that is."

"Really, is that so…?"

Todd clenched his eyes shut and groaned silently at the familiar voice from behind him before turning, coming to attention and giving Dragan a salute. "Sir, I apologized if I have offended…"

"We're off duty so lose the salute and relax a little; this is a party not a field drill or a briefing…" Dragan said as he rolled his eyes, shook his head and sighed looking decidedly uncomfortable. "And seeing as I'm footing the bill, I'm hoping you're all enjoying yourselves."

"Yes, sir…" Todd said with military precision as he dropped into a parade rest. "I'll do my best, sir. Where are we deploying to and what is the situation, Sir?"

"Oh, for the love of… You're the sixth person to ask that in the last ten feet!! Why the hell does everyone think I'm here because there's an emergency?!" Dragan threw up his hands, turned, and moved off into the crowd of party goers with a determined air.

"Great going, numb-nuts …" Noel glared at Sergeant Todd as he climbed to his feet and started after Dragan.

"What'd I do?" Todd asked as he looked at his girlfriend, who just shook her head and walked away leaving him feeling even more confused.

Dragan stood on the roof of Dragan security HQ looking down at the party, lost in thought as he contemplated the depths of the bottle of Fireweed wine he had snatch from the bar when he left. He had tried to go to the party, he really had, but the longer he had stayed the more he found himself feeling out of place. But, then again, judging from the looks they had been giving him apparently he was once again considered a spectre of doom. Long ago his appearance signaled tragedy, death and doom to the people unlucky enough to encounter him. Now he seemed to be filling somewhat the same role for his people.

"Flee before the unspeakable evil of the Great Party-Pooper, Lord of all Killjoys!" Dragan muttered and took a sip from his goblet, grimacing as the alcoholic Dragon drink, strong enough to intoxicate a great wyrm, burnt its way down his throat and shook his head. "First, I lose their trust; now I find out that I've become their messenger of doom... since when have I been a damn crow?"

"Geez, over-reacting a bit don't you think?" Noel said as he settled against the railing beside Dragan, crossing his arms as he inspected the sky as if studying the stars. "They still trust you and are as loyal to you and the company as ever. While they are a tad upset over the fact that you never briefed them on your hibernations before it happened most of the men understand why you didn't, given the time you should have had until the next one." Noel popped open a beer and took a swig before continuing. "Just because there've been a few hurt feelings doesn't mean that they're going to be taking off or giving up all the company secrets… they wouldn't be working here if there was a possibility of them doing that!"

Dragan looked at the former second in command of his team in annoyance and then sighed at the cheeky grin he got in return. "What are you doing up here, Noel?"

Noel favored Dragan with smirk as he chuckled. "I'm trying to save you from the indignity of having Cles drag you back down to the party by your ear. When she finds out you're hiding up here again…"

"I am not hiding…"

The deadly expression on Dragan's face and icy tone of his voice would have sent most sane people running, but Noel just deepened his smirk. "Okay; what would you call it?"

Dragan looked down at the party for a moment and then shrugged. "Letting them enjoy themselves, maintaining a necessary personal distance from the men, trying to keep from strangling the DJ for playing 'Santa Claus is coming to town'… take your pick."

"Ooooookaaaaaaay," Noel shook his head, drank the last of his beer in one long swig and pushed away from the rail. "Now, I feel it's my duty to remind you, Drag, that you promised Cles, and Tommy, and Snowleo, and half a dozen other people that you would attend this party. So if you don't get off your reclusive ass and get back down there, I'm gonna have to kick it and take you down there!"

Dragan paused mid-sip, lowering the goblet of wine as he slowly turned to look at the ManagerCoolerhead of security for the Mixer in disbelief. Noel just rolled his shoulders, cracked his knuckles, and shrugged with a slightly resigned smile.


"First off, I did attend the party; I never said how long I would be there for." Dragan set the goblet of wine down on the low wall the ring the edge of the roof of his LA HQ with an amused expression. "And secondly, I would like to see you try and 'kick my ass'."

"Fine," Noel smiled and rolled his eyes, "have it your way…".

Cles' ears twitched nervously as she made her way through the party looking for Dragan. She was well aware of and slightly embarrassed by the heads she was turning as she past, whether it was from the shock of seeing her wearing something other than a pair of overalls or the way that the dress she was wearing made her look didn't really matter to her. All those eyes on her left her feeling more than a little exposed and vulnerable, a fact which most people would find confusing seeing that like all Fa'lurs she only wears clothing of any type in public when she absolutely has to, her fur giving her adequate protection from the elements. Most people, but especially most humans in general, had a hard time understanding that to her race wearing clothing at all was as exotic as going around naked was to humans, and doing so in public, outside of protective reasons, was thought of in nearly the same way.

The dress had been tailor-made for her over the few months; the seamstress, a famous designer (or so she had been told) that seemed more interested in the challenge of making clothing for someone as different as a Fa'lur was than in the pile of money being offered to her, making changes as they went to accommodate the differences in Cles' physiology compared to her usual clients.

˜ How did I get talked into this again? ˜ Cles thought as she looked for Dragan, annoyance building as she began to wonder if he had taken off and left her running around dressed like this alone. She had decided to look into getting a dress after seeing how important human females seemed to take them. After she borrowed one from Tease to find out what they felt like, got caught trying it on and explained why she was trying it on, Cles had found herself at the seamstress, an older Oriental woman who would have barely come up to Dragan's waist and made some rather disparaging remarks about her overalls with what felt like every female she knew giving input on what she needed.

"Tommy, have you seen your father?" Cles asked as she stopped and tapped Tommy on the shoulder.

"Yeah, he's…" Tommy trailed off as he turned from the group of Krisle he was speaking to and saw her, looking her over from head to toe and taking in the dress she was wearing before grinning at her approvingly. "Whoa, looking good Cles… Dad must love that look."

Cles bristled slightly as the young male looked her over intensely, then her ears went back in a combination of embarrassment and pleasure at his praise of what she was wearing. "Ah, he really hasn't seen it, that's why I was asking if you had seen him…"

"Oh, yeah…" Tommy looked slightly chagrined for forgetting her earlier question, turned and pointed toward the far side of the party. "I just saw him with Noel over by the DJ… Huh, that's weird; where'd Noel go?"

"Oh, Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit!"


Cles jumped at the crash, turned to find Noel lying on top of the remains of the catering truck with Dragan sprawled on the manicured ground in front of it.

As she watched, Dragan slowly rolled over and began levering himself to his feet. Once he was more or less standing Dragan looked around; seeing Noel he reached out and grabbed the front of Noel's vest pulling him towards him as he his free hand curled into a fist, then stopped and slowly turned to look at Cles again as what he had seen finally registered in his slightly rattled brain. After a moment the ancient mercenary turned back to Noel, who blinked up at him dully, grabbed one of his horns and turned his head so he could see Cles. "Do you see what I see?"

"Depends; do you see Cles in a dress, looking good enough to give a corpse a hard-on?"

"Okay…" Dragan turned to look at Cles again, before sitting down on the bumper and looking at Noel strangely. "I know why they would let you in, but who in their right mind would let me into heaven?!"

"Huh?" Noel frowned levering himself into a sitting position. "What are you talking about?"

"Well, where else would you find an angel that good looking?" Dragan waved a hand in Cles' direction with a cheeky grin.

Cles had just enough time to give Dragan a brain duster before the medics among the other party goers descended on them to see if they were alright.

"…of all the immature stunts you've pulled…"

"And that would be a lot." Chyra cut in.

"…this would have to be the top of the list!" Cles finished, and then glared down at Dragan, who was sitting in the same folding chair in the medical tent the medics had made him sit in while they checked him over nearly half an hour ago.

"Have you two been practicing this?" Dragan asked as he looked between the two females that had just chewed him out in a fine display of tag team action, and were now glaring daggers at him. "Love the dress Cles… very nice."

Cles rolled her eyes and whistled in annoyance as Chyra sputtered indignantly, after a moment the Fa'lur relented and sat down stiffly beside her mate. "So, want to talk about it?"

Dragan asked in his best innocent tone, "Talk about what?"

Cles just gave him a look that said she wasn't buying it. "Talk about why you don't want to go to the party?"

"Not really…" Dragan said distractedly, eyes definitely not on her face.

Cles reached out, placed a finger under his chin and lifted until his gaze was a few feet higher than it had been. "Okay, then how about we go back to the party… its almost time for them to hand out the presents."

"Fine," Dragan said with a pained expression, "but I reserve the right to run screaming the first time someone starts singing Christmas carols…"

A few minutes later Dragan found himself sitting at the head table, doing his best not to fidget as a group of volunteers passed out the huge piles of presents from around the trees… and wondered again how the hell a group made up of demons, pagans, demon fighters, witches and warlocks-with the odd special forces operative thrown into the mix-had wound up celebrating a Christian holiday.

He finally threw out the thought as he watched the looks one his people's faces as they opened their presents. While it might not have the religious reasons behind it, it still appeared to be a good way to promote group cohesion, or at least it seemed to be getting the groups to interact.

And that was definitely a step in the right direction in his book…

Tease smiled as she set the romance novel she had received from Noel on the stack with the others beside the pile of clothing she had received as presents. Glancing at the head table Tease giggled as she saw Dragan sorting the Yu-Gi-Oh cards that the Krisle had gotten him with a look of supreme concentration as Chyra attempted to argue with him over whether or not going over the spell book she had given him was more important than a bunch of silly cards.

After a quick glance to check on the rest of her family showed most of them had finished opening their presents, she finally reached for the last two of her own presents. The first was from her adopted father, and left her chuckling as she pulled the brightly colored paper off the copy of 'A Complete Idiots Guide To Enjoyable Sex'; flipping through the book she found many gift certificates to her favorite stores and blushed slightly when she found one to a store she had thought Dragan didn't even know she frequented.

Closing the book and slipping it into her pile of clothes, Tease picked up her last gift. It was from Tommy and she had saved it 'til last because he just got her a dress every year, so while they were always nice dresses his gift was usually kind of a let down. Tease tore off the wrapping paper, cut the tape holding the box closed, lifted the lid and looked at its contents in confusion for a moment, until she found an invoice form a mail order company she was a regular costumer of and read what was listed on it; then stared in wide eyed shock at its contents as a bright flush caused her normally pink skin to turn as red as any full blooded succubae.

She gave Tommy a surprised but apprizing look, which he didn't notice as he was busy opening one of his presents. For once he wasn't wearing his usual baggy shirt or any of the other cosmetic touches designed to hide as much of his body as possible and make his physical age as young as possible but hard to determine.

His build was that of a gymnast and the tight, wiry, compact muscles of his upper body, that were usually hidden by the loose shirts he wore to hide his preferred weapons, now showed clearly through the black tee shirt he was wearing. His wild brown hair for once was allowed to go whichever way it naturally wanted instead of the styled rustled look it normally had, giving a bit of maturity to his appearance. It all combined to add a couple of years to his apparent physical age, judging from the amount of flirting being directed at him from some of the new members of the Dragon Arms staff earlier.

˜ What do you think you're doing? Teasing him is one thing, but he's *supposed* to be your brother! So no thinking with things other than your head! ˜ Tease scolded herself half-heartedly with a mental slap to the head.

˜ Adopted brother… you didn't even meet him until you were both about the same age physically; you're not really related to him and you got to admit that he does look absolutely yummy! It's not like you ever really thought of him as a brother anyway and after that gift I think you can take it for granted that he's got more than brotherly thoughts of you going through his head… ˜

Tease bit her lip and swallowed hard; she recognized that silky voice from the back of her head; that was the voice that, whenever she listened to it she wound up locking herself in her room and spending two weeks curled up in a ball on her bed with a box of chocolate and listening to a tape of every one of her favorite saddest songs on repeat… but she never seemed to be able to keep herself from listening to the damn thing anyway.

˜ He probably just put down the wrong item number or something… ˜ Tease countered as she unconsciously ran a hand over the material of the fishnet body stocking, mentally picturing how its tiny leather patches would accentuate more than conceal her charms. ˜ I mean he's so shy around girls he blushes just from seeing girls in string bikinis at the beach, so somehow I can't see him looking through *that* section of the catalog. ˜

˜ Yeah, he's nearly as shy as Sesseia… ˜

˜ Oh, Shut up! ˜ Tease frowned at the reminder of her older half sister. While Sesseia was the shyest Succubus Tease had ever heard of around people she had never met before; once she got to know someone Sesseia made most other Succubae look like repressed prudes.

˜ As you wish… my job here is done. ˜

˜ Why me? ˜ Tease groaned silently at the smug tone of the chuckle the silky voice gave as it retreated into the back of her mind again.

"Hey, Tease, you okay?" Reno asked. While they were just friends, although as Tease liked to put it 'friends with occasional benefits', he was still surprised at her invitation, almost as surprised as he was at the sight of the other guests.

"Yeah I just need to get something a little stiffer…" Tease flinched for some reason when she said that and started to get to her feet.

"Make that something a lot stronger to drink."

Noel opened his present from Dragan and chuckled.

"What is it?" Leona asked leaning over to take a look in the box, and then burst out laughing.

"Gee, thanks a lot…" Noel sighed as he lifted the 'No bull' cane out of the box, then blinked and lifted a set of keys out of the tissue paper it had been laying on. Turning the tag on the key ring Noel felt a smile spread across his face as he read it out loud. "Custom Harley Davidson Shovel-head, parking space 113… Enjoy, Dragan."

Noel looked at Leona and smirked slightly. "Don't suppose you'd like to risk being seen with me to go for a rid on my new bike…?

"Oh, I think I can survive it…" Leona said sarcastically as she gave him 'the look' then smirked. "You got an extra helmet?"

Tommy took the box the person handing out the presents handed him, set it on the stack with the others and went back to opening the package he had been working on getting open. ˜ Why do I even bother? Ten to one he just got me another gun cleaning kit… it's all Dad ever gets me. ˜

Cutting through the last piece of tape, Tommy opened the box and felt his breath catch in his throat at the sight of the weapons inside it. A pair of beautifully crafted short swords, wire wrapped hilts, dragons etched onto the cross guards with gems inset for their eyes, ending in rune-etched blades only slightly longer than a man's forearm.

Tommy grinned as he picked up one of the blades, trying out its balance; finding it exactly as he would expect from a weapon from his father, or in other words perfect, Tommy finally stopped and read the runes on the blades.

˜ Right ˜

˜ Left ˜

Tommy threw his father a dirty look at the reminder of the problems he had had in the past keeping those directions straight, which to Tommy's surprise just caused Dragan raise an eyebrow then smirk and stick his tongue out at him. Tommy stared in shock before beginning to chuckle at exactly how ridiculous that had seemed to him.

Setting the blades and the idea of *Dragan* doing something as childish as sticking his tongue out at somebody aside, Tommy picked up the next package from the pile, noted that it was from Snowleo and began unwrapping it.

"You're still doing it wrong, I see." A familiar voice said as someone sat down beside the young man.

Tommy smiled and looked up from carefully cutting the tape holding the wrapping paper in place. "You do it your way and I'll do it mine, Tease…"

"Whatever, hope you enjoy my present as much as I enjoy yours…" The half-succubus shrugged, favoring Tommy with a playful, if a bit wicked, grin as she stood up and headed back to her date. "But it's really too bad you're not open to trying new things, Tommy… I think you would find doing it my way *very* enjoyable."

"Tease!" Tommy hissed at her retreating back, his face flaming as he looked around quickly trying to make sure no one else had heard. His face actually got redder at the grins some of the other members of the Hunt were giving him before he quickly dove back into opening his presents. Before long he had all of them opened but two… a second present from Dragan and the one from Tease, which he had been avoiding.

Noel had given him a case of the Mixers best 100 yr old Scotch and a complete set of Godzilla movies.

Cles had found a 1969 Mustang Mach-One and restored it for him, which he wasn't sure how to react to seeing that he never really liked Mustangs, and a week's pass to the Dragon's Den which he had no plans to use in the near future. Still, he thanked her for the gifts seeing as it was the first vehicle to be solely in his name, and it was the thought that counted.

Other members of the team and less familiar relatives had gotten him everything from DVDs and books to succubae summoning scrolls (from one of Tease's cousins on her mother's side) and other magical items he wasn't going to even touch until either Snowleo, or Chyra had a chance to check if they were dangerous--or in a few cases—until hell froze over.

Snowleo had gotten him a next generation weapons system to 'play around with'. It was from an arms company that had only been around for two years before it had gone under and Dragan Inc. had swooped in, using a well hidden clause in its contracts to snatch up anything of possible value from its fallen child company. The manual said something about it combining sound and force… he would have to read it in detail before he attempted more than preliminary testing and examination of the system.

Tommy fingered the carrying case as he considered whether or not he should tell Andy about all the courses he had already audited at the Glade's higher education center. By his count if he had the credits from all of the courses he had taken, and bothered with some of the generals like Math and English, he would probably have two or three degrees already.

Thirty-seven years had given him plenty of time to study. He had graduated from high school when he was twenty-five, even though he looked closer to five, and when you have access to free college courses and limited forms of entertainment--as satellite dishes were non-existent in the 1970's--you eventually find that given the choice of boredom or school, you'll take school.

Shaking his head to rid himself of the thoughts, Tommy caught the look Tease was giving him and picked up her present with a sigh. After carefully cutting the tape from the box, he slowly opened the box, as if expecting something to jump out and attack him only to find a set of CD-ROMs. Flipping through them he found they contained the programs and manuals he would need to bring himself up to date on the fields of study in which he had already taken classes and the textbooks he would need for the degrees he was currently working towards.

That is until he got to the last CD, which caused his eyes to widen and his jaw to drop as his face quickly became redder than it had been at Tease's comment. A moment later he all but slammed the gift box shut and noticed the card under the bow for the first time; wincing slightly he pulled it off with all the enthusiasm of a man being lead to the electric chair. Opening the card he read his face, and impossible as many would have thought it to be, he became even redder as he came to the end of the inscription.

"You okay, Tommy?"

Tommy looked up at Dragan's worried expression and began doing his best imitation of a fish out of water. After a moment of that Dragan gently but firmly took the card from Tommy and ignoring the young man's flustered protests, began reading it. After a moment he lowered the card and, after clearing his throat, gave Tommy a questioning look. "Okay, so what's the problem?"

Tommy looked up at him in shock before hissing. "She's supposed to be my sister… isn't she?"

"Correction, I'm adopted…," Tease said, stepping from behind Dragan and giving him an amused smirk as his attention shifted from his father to her, "which makes me a mature succubus, and you a genetically unrelated, virile and strong young man."

Tommy just sat there staring up at them with an unreadable expression, his mouth opening and closing like a fish out of water; after a few moments of this Tease becomes worried and waved her hand in front of his face without any visible reaction. Turning to Dragan she frowned worriedly. "Um, I think I broke him…"

Dragan just chuckled, shook his head and walked away.

Chapter 3

Snowleo put his arm around Melody and watched their daughter giggle hysterically as she rode a grinning Gar around the party like it was some kind of pony. His wife, on the other hand, was staring at the stacks of presents for Mercedes and the slightly smaller one for her in mild shock. It seemed as if everyone at the party had gotten a present for her and for Mercy, which didn't make much sense since she was sure that she hadn't met more than five members of Leo… no, Snowleo's, family.

"What's wrong, Melody?" Snowleo said picking up on his wife's uneasiness.

"Where did all these gifts come from?" Melody waved at the untouched gifts. "I don't even know most of the people here."

"You're one of us now…" Snowleo smiled and shrugged as he picked up one of his presents. "Think of it like this, most of Dragan Security Inc. is one big family and you're the newest little sister… As for Mercy, I think if you check the tags of her presents you'll find most are from my father and siblings."

Melody looked at her husband skeptically. "Now, why doesn't that make me feel any better?"

"Oh, come on he's not that…" Snowleo stopped mid-sentence, looking at the box in his hand for a moment before getting to his feet. "I'll be right back."

Walking over to Dragan, Snowleo set the box on the table beside his father and leaned down to whisper in his ear. Dragan laughed as he shook his head, then his hand snapped out grabbing the front of Snowleo's shirt, pulled him close and pushed the box back into Snowleo's arms. When he let go Snowleo took a couple of quick steps back and straightened his shirt before going back to where Melody was sitting.

Melody snagged the box as her husband sat down, his body language screaming his indignity at the situation; Melody stared at the large Trojan printed on the exposed side of the large box for a moment then burst out laughing.

"What's so funny?" Snowleo asked grouchily.

"Well you have to admit, it is funny…" Melody shook her head, still giggling slightly as she finished unwrapping the present before stuffing it in her bag. "At least it shows that he's finally getting over it."

Snowleo blushed as he remembered Dragan's reaction to hearing the entire story behind their courtship and marriage, and found himself agreeing with her as he opened his next present then groaned silently at the package of catnip inside.

Cles cooed as she held up the necklace the Krisle had gotten her before setting it with the rest of the gifts she had gotten, a small part of her mind wondering which store they 'found' it in and how much trouble Dragan was going to have to go through over it.

Snowleo had given her a new pair of overalls, a brush and comb set, with high quality shampoos and conditioners. To his credit he had only flinched a little when she had jokingly asked if he was trying to tell her she smelled bad and need to groom better.

Noel had gotten her a case of her favorite pear jelly and another of fine wine.

Tommy had given her a set of matching derringers, a set of fantasy novels and a complete set of tools made from titanium.

Much to her surprise Dragan had given her another gift-- a boarding pass for one of the company planes, with the destination being a private island located in the tropics and a note asking her if she would like to join him for a few weeks off.

Picking up the first of her last two presents, both from Tease, Cles found it held a single white rose. Picking up the card, Cles' ears laid back against her head and she made a purring sound deep in her throat as she read the short message. ˜ Just a little something to remind you that you're more than Dragan's mate to us… I hope you like it as you will be getting one a week for the rest of the year. Teresa ˜

After taking a deep breath of the flower's scent, Cles set the flower delicately back into it box, and after giving a worried-looking Dragan a reassuring look, reached for the other present from Tease. Once she had opened the box Cles stared at its contents in wide-eyed surprise, ears standing straight up. Inside the box was a book and a beautifully decorated bottle. The book she had seen more than once in Tease's room. When she asked about the thick tome the half-Succubus had told her it was the succubae equivalent of the Karma Sutra; the bottle--if the handwritten label was to be believed-- was a fertility potion.

Closing the box, Cles looked at Tease who just smiled slightly and winked at her, before she turn to look at Dragan who looked between her and Tease with a nervous expression.

Chyra sipped her Fireweed wine and sighed dejectedly; although she had gotten several gifts, many of the items good enough that they were already stashed in her horde, she was still plagued with a need that was as insistent as it was impossible to satisfy. While it was usually just a constant thrum in the back of her mind, easy to ignore if she had something to do, after more than 1500 years of repression her libido was starting to push its way into her mind without warning at odd times and was seriously beginning to affect her work.

"Is something wrong, Lady Chyra?" A warm friendly voice piped up from behind her.

Chyra groaned silently and clenched her teeth in frustration at the familiar voice. Doing her best to keep emotions out of her expression, Chyra turned towards the seven-tailed humanoid fox sprawled on the desk behind her. Kitsune where not usually sadistic but the miniature dragon was beginning to wonder about this one. Almost from the moment he had become one of Dragan's Kith over 500 years ago he had attempted to seduce her and flirted with her almost constantly. She had even gone so far as explaining her situation to him in no uncertain terms telling him that if she had the ability she would have probably already taken him up on his offers but the limitations of her 'body' left her unable to perform in that way hadn't stopped him for more than a few months it seemed. "Not really, at least nothing more than usual, kit."

"Well at least it hasn't gotten any worse…" Kylithi, 'Kyle' to his friends and teammates muttered, frowning at her calling him an infant fox; he might not be as old as she was but at 798 he was only a few years away from growing his eighth tail and a little more than century away from being a nine-tailed fox, the most revered type of Kitsune, even an outcast like him would be treated with some respect as a nine-tail as it symbolized the peak of Kitsune wisdom and power.

However, the momentary depression didn't last long as the Kitsune rebounded quickly, a grin crossing his face as he leaned forward to stroke his finger down Chyra's spine with a feather soft touch, sending a shiver through her body. "So are you ready for my present for you?"

Chyra groaned at the sensations that caress sent flashing through her system, before growling at the seven-tail in barely restrained rage over the urges it dug up that she could do nothing about. "I thought we had this discussion already! I was sure I had made it clear that there was no point in doing things like this to me unless you're trying to torture or drive me insane!!"

"Of course not… you know I would never hurt you purposely." Kyle said reproachfully giving the miniature dragon a hurt puppy look. "Don't you want my present?"

Chyra bit her tongue on a scathing remark at the look he gave her, sighed and shook her head before giving him a look that warned of extreme pain if this was the innuendo it sounded like. "Okay, where is this present you got for me?"

Kyle smiled, took the bottle of wine as he rolled to his feet and placed it back in Dragan's liquor cabinet. As he walked around the desk Kyle took her glass of wine and placed it on the far side of the desk so that it was well out of her reach in her current position and then knelt down beside the desk so that he could look Chyra in the eye. "Now I want this to be a surprise. I'm not going to hurt you nor will I let anything else hurt you, so will you please trust me?"

Chyra looked him in the eye for a moment, trying to judge whether or not he was serious. Finally deciding that he wasn't playing some trick on her, she cautiously nodded her ascent.

"Thank you…" Kyle said as he gently placed his hand on her head and Chyra's eyes slowly slid closed as she drifted to sleep. The Kitsune lowered the miniature dragon's head to the desk. Kyle watched her sleeping form for a moment then smiled, placed his hand on top of Chyra's head and disappeared.

A moment later Chyra's breathing began to quicken and she began to whimper as her body began to writhe on the desktop. Suddenly the Dragoness stiffened, then her back and neck arched as she roared, a column of white flame scorching a line across Dragan's desk before she collapsed into a limp panting lump as her eyes fluttered open.

At the same moment her eyes opened, Kyle reappeared sitting on the desk, fur disheveled, clothing missing and panting as if he had just run a marathon.

Chyra stared at him for a long moment before attempting to speak. "What… *pant* How…"

"Kitsune *huff* have the *pant* ability to *huff, huff* manifest in dreams…" Kyle gasped out as he slowly got his breathing under control. "It's one of our higher abilities *huff*; took a while to find a Kitsune that would teach an outcast, and only a seven-tail at that, how to use it. *yawn* The nature of the dream realm combined with our illusion and shape-shifting abilities is more than enough to make it as real as the real world is while being awake."

"Damn, but it still takes a lot out of me…" Kyle shook his head and then the Kitsune changed into a seven-tailed fox roughly the same size as Chyra, gave a huge yawn, nuzzled her cheek and then curled up next to the dragoness before falling into a deep sleep.

Chyra stared at the sleeping seven-tailed fox in wide-eyed disbelief for sometime before voicing the thought that was running rampant through her mind. "WHY DIDN'T ANYONE TELL ME YOU COULD DO THAT BEFORE NOW?"

December 24, 1997

Andy opened the door and stared at the delivery man in surprise.

"You Andrezj Konzaki?" The delivery man whose tag identified him as John asked, while checking something on the clipboard he was carrying.

˜ Since when do delivery companies work on Christmas Eve…? ˜ Andy asked eyes narrowing dangerously as he scanned the area while his hand dropped to his concealed Smith & Wesson. "Depends on whose asking."

"Look buddy, its 4 pm on Christmas Eve; I've got-" 'John' checked his watch, then looked up at Andy with irritation clear on his face, "just over one hour to deliver this stuff or we default and the company has to give the guy that sent it a full refund… which my boss has assured me will be coming out of my paycheck until I've paid it all back, which will mean that I'll get paid again in about 5 years: now are you Konzaki or what?"

Andy looked at John and for a moment was tempted to lie after the guy's rudeness, but deciding he would probably be worse in the same situation he replied, "Yeah, I'm Konzaki…"

"Great… this will just take a second." The man turned and waved at someone Andy couldn't see, and a large U-haul truck began to back into the yard.

The gunsmith's hand tightened on the pistol and he was relieved to see Terry had picked up on his nervousness and was moving to cover him at the window with the Atchison he had given him for Christmas 2 years before.

A moment later the truck rumbled to a stop and the driver climbed from the cab, moving to the back of the truck. He opened the doors and began getting it ready to remove the packages that could now be seen crowding the back of the truck. Andy relaxed slightly as John turned back to him asking for him to sign and date the invoice.

Andy took the clipboard, began reading the paper work as a matter of habit, and rolled his eyes at the name of the sender before signing and dating them.

A half-hour later the two men climbed into the truck, one of them muttering about getting back to LA before he froze his ass off, and drove away leaving Terry staring at the good sized stack of presents in his living room as Andy rubbed his temples at the beginnings of a stress headache.

"I thought that little punk told me he was only gonna send her that one gift he asked me about." Terry turned to Andy with an eerily calm look on his face.

"He did, you should take a closer look at the tags… from what I can tell most of the gifts are for you and me, and most of them are not from him either." Andy chuckled at the look that crossed his friend's face at that. "I'd say that his family felt you deserved something for having to put up with him."

Terry shook his head and snorted at that; while there weren't that many presents most of them were good- sized so they were taking up a good portion of his living room floor. "Fine, but now what do we do with them? I don't want to be tripping over them all night."

"We could open them…" Andy trailed off at the look Terry gave him, and then shrugged. "It was just a thought."

Terry looked at his friend for a moment, sighed and rubbed his face over his face before shrugging. "Why not, at least it will be over with… Lynn!"

"Yeah?" The sixteen year old girl called back from the direction of her room.

Terry took a deep breath and let it out slowly as he reigned in his temper. "Lynn Elizabeth Powell, how many times do I have to tell you that when I call you I don't want to yell back and forth across the entire house? Now get in here!"

"Alright, alright I'm coming…" Lynn appeared from the hallway leading to her room with a slightly put out look on her face. "What?"

"Well, we were going to open some of the presents," Terry said ignoring the way his daughter's eyes lit up at the mention of opening presents early, "but if this is the way you're gonna behave… I guess we can wait 'til morning after all."

"But…" Lynn's face fell for half a second then came back strong, giving Terry her best 'sad puppy eyes' look. "I'm sorry, Daddy, can we please open the presents?"

Andy bit his lip in an attempt to keep from laughing at the look on his best friend's face as his teenage daughter sent him into full retreat seemingly without even trying.

Sending an annoyed look in the now choking Andy's direction Terry relented. "Alright… but you had better remember your manners for the rest of the night, young lady."

"Thank you, Daddy…" Lynn squealed smiling brightly, triumph danced in her eyes and reached for one of the presents under the tree.

"Ah, ah, ah, we're only opening these over here right now…" Terry pointed at the stack of presents that had just been delivered. "We'll talk about the ones under the tree when once we're done with these."

Lynn looked disappointed for a split second at that announcement, but then saw the expression forming on her father's face and perked up. "Okay, which are mine?"

"Hold your horses, Munchkin…" Andy said as he began sorting out the packages. "Give us old guys a chance to go through them."

"Hey," Terry scowled at the back of the gunsmith's head, "who are you calling old?"

"I don't know," Andy smirked up at his best friend. "But if the Smithsonian can spare you from your display case for a moment, how about you giving me a hand with these?"

Terry growled slightly at Lynn's giggle but knelt down and started going through the presents; five minutes later the pair had the packages sorted by recipient.

"Only one…?" Lynn pouted slightly looking at the large box.

"Three, actually…" Andy said, ignoring Terry's dirty look as he held out a pair of envelopes to the teenage girl. "Here you go, Munchkin."

"Thanks, Uncle Andy…" Lynn gave him a pained smile and took the envelopes.

"Alright, I guess I'll start things off…" Terry grumbled as he began tearing the paper off the first present he came to, then flipped the latches on the large black polymer case and opened it. Terry whistled appreciatively at the weapon it contained and pulled the Dragonov sniper rifle from its precut slot to give it a cursory inspection before returning it to the case with a promise to give it a more thorough inspection at the earliest opportunity. Picking up the card he had to fight to keep from laughing out loud. ˜ In case of Neanderthal boyfriend getting fresh with daughter, use liberally… any girl that can become friends with Tommy that quickly deserves only the best, Dragan ˜

Andy shook his head at the way Terry was fawning over his new toy and then chuckled as he pulled a large box towards himself and began to unwrap it. Andy looked at the contents of the box (in confusion) for a moment before picking up the card and snorted. "Funny bastard…"

"I hope you weren't talking about me?" Terry said, giving his friend a perplexed look.

Andy frowned but silently handed Terry the card.

˜ Just making sure you have a good supply, after all you wouldn't want any important equipment rusting up on you, Dragan. ˜ Terry looked from the card to the case of 3 in 1 oil Andy had just opened and couldn't help chuckling. "You're right. Looks like you're all set..."

"Hah, hah, go ahead yuck it up…" Andy growled at his friend playfully as he reached for his next present. "Just you wait I'll get even with that SOB, if it's the last thing I do."

Lynn ignored the antics of the adults in the room, as she opened the first of the envelopes, pulling the card out she giggled at the picture of a wide eyed knight looking up at a dragon wearing a Santa hat and holding a piece of mistletoe over its head as it batted its eyes at him that was on the front of the card. When she opened the card she blinked as she saw a smaller envelope inside the card, written on it in bold letters was ˜do not open until after you open my present, and *please* do not let your father see it! ˜.

< Okay Tommy, I'll play along; you haven't done anything to intentionally get me in trouble. > Smiling, Lynn closed the card and stuck it back into the envelope. Opening the next card her breath caught in her throat as she found it was full of gift certificates to just about every clothing store within a day's drive, and several that were good at any story in the nearby malls.

˜ Tommy has few friends and those that he does consider true friends are very precious to him, therefore they are precious to me. Call if you ever have need of my assistance, Dragan. ˜ After reading the inscription on the card Lynn frowned, trying to fit the generous gift and message in the card with the impression Tommy had given her of his father and finally just shook her head giving up.

Opening the box Andy's eyes bulged at what he found inside. "What in the hell?!"

"O-o-k-a-a-a, An-de-e; Kw-is-le C-c-col-d!" The Krisle were huddled together, wrapped in their 'blankets' and trembling as they looked up at the gunsmith with pitiful expressions and dopey grins.

Andy pointedly ignored the look on Terry's face as he grabbed up the Krisle, box and all, and carried them over to the fireplace. "What the hell are you guys doing here?"

The rapidly warming Krisle looked up at the gunsmith, their solemn large liquid black eyes adding to the effect of the puppy dog look they gave him. "Kwisle go give Andy prezent but no find Andy when ask Gwen where Andy Gwen say Andy go hunt weindeer Kwisle wanna know why Andy wan' kill weindeer Mersadies tell Kwisle 'bout Wodoph he good deer Andy no shoot Wodoph?"

"You've got to be shitting me…" Andy closed his eyes, shook his head and groaned before glaring down at the lizards in disbelief. His months of association with the tiny creatures allowed him to translate what they said without having to ask them to repeat it. "I have no idea who this Gwen is, or why you would she would think that she knew where I was going, but she was lying her ass off. I'm not hunting anything; I'm just here to celebrate the holidays."

"Oh my god, they're so cute!" Andy blinked as Lynn reached past him to pick up one of the Krisle, holding it at arms length the teen examined the Krisle. The Krisle blinked at her out from under its slightly askew hat, then reached up and straightened its hat before cocking its head at her curiously, which caused Lynn to giggle. The Krisle gave her a large smile and then hugged her wrist. "Kwisle wike you!"

"This isn't happening…" Andy moaned as he watched Lynn and the Krisle, and then something popped into his head that made him look at the other Krisle sharply. "Did you guys come alone?"

"No, no, no, no," the Krisle shook their heads with a look of finality. "Kwisles neber goes anywheres awone, GAR!"

Andy sighed at the rustling sound behind him, turned and watched as the top of the largest box for him bowed out then parted with a tearing sound. Andy burst out laughing at the sight of the Gar covered so completely with packing peanuts as to look like it was made of them. The Gar stood there for a moment then shook itself like a dog, sending the bits of Styrofoam flying everywhere; once most of the peanuts were off it the large reptilian took two wobbly steps towards the Krisle and then fell face first into the carpet with a dazed expression.

"Gar!" The Krisle yelled as they and Andy rushed to the warrior's side.

"Hey, Gar, you alright?" Andy asked anxiously. He looked down at the lizard and was surprised to find that he was worried for the large lizard.

The Gar raised her head to look at Andy; she blinked her dazed eyes a few times to get them to focus and then a large but sickly grin spread across its face. "Gar dizzy, feel sick… bad hoomans put Gar u'side down, stand on head whole way!"

"I think you'll be okay…" Andy said with a chuckle then shook his head, his expression becoming stern as he pointed a finger at the Gar. "But if you start feeling any worse tell me right away, you hear me?"

"'Kay," The Gar nodded, its eyes crossing slightly at the sudden movement. "Now Gar head spin…"

"Just lay there for a while and try not to move." Andy rolled his eyes and sighed, and then he noticed the look on Lynn's face as she stared at the Gar. "Munchkin, what's the matter? The Gar may look scary but it would rather die than hurt someone that it doesn't have to…"

"I told you they were real!" Lynn said with a stunned but justified look on her face. She looked at. her father, who looked like he had been hit upside the head with an axe,

"Huh?" Andy said with a confused look on his face.

"It happened when I was 9…" Lynn started looking down at the Gar with an unreadable expression.

Lynn ran as fast as her legs would move, tears streaming down her face as she screamed for her father. The thing chasing her snarled, drool running down its jaw as it pursued her. It was huge, far bigger than any dog she had ever seen, had four glowing eyes and was trotting after her with the air of a cat playing with a mouse.

Suddenly Lynn's foot caught on something and the little girl hit the ground with a shriek of pure terror as she was sure she felt the thing about to bite her. Then a high pitched roar, a meaty thump and the sound of something crashing into the bushes beside the trail she was on caused her to look back. Standing in the trail between her and the monster was what her young mind could only classify as a small dinosaur.

As the monster fought it's way out of the bushes it climbed to it's feet. The dinosaur took a quick glance at her then faced the monster, crouched low to the ground and bared its teeth at the beast more than twice its size and let out a cross between a growl and a hiss. The monster growled low in it throat and struck out at the dinosaur, which instead of dodging to the side or ducking under the strike charged the monster and launched itself at the beast's throat and underbelly. As Lynn watched, the combatants rolled around the game trail, crawling and biting at each other sending blood splattering the nearby foliage, only to have the pair separate.

They circled each other warily for a moment gauging the other's injuries and looking for weak spots, then threw themselves at each other again. Suddenly the dinosaur squealed as the monster's jaw closed on the back of its neck, slowly beginning to work its way through the reptilian's natural armor. Looking at the girl the dinosaur's face took on a determined look; curling its body nearly into a ball, the dinosaur raised its back leg as high as it could and dug the huge, heavy sickle-like claws on the end of each of its toes into the side of the monster's neck at the same instant it straightened its body explosively. The claws tore through flesh, cartilage and tendons with ease; the beast dropped the dinosaur and jerked away from the pain as a gurgling sound came from its ruined throat. A moment later it fell to the ground and lay unmoving.

The dinosaur slowly got to its feet, the blood dripping from its neck and the awkward angle of the arm hanging limp at its side a clear sign of how injured it really was as it watched the monster carefully for a moment then snorted and turned towards the girl; limping its way over to her the dinosaur looked her over and then smiled at her. "Gar glad girl okay."


"DADDY!" The little girl yelled frantically and turned, looking for her father. She could hear his calls getting louder as well as the crashing coming towards her through the bushes. Lynn turned to look at the dinosaur again only to find it and the monster had disappeared. The only evidence they were ever there was the blood splatter on the bushes and a large muddy spot where the monster had fallen.

"It had to be a dog, honey…" Terry muttered but his eyes flashed to Andy as all that he had learned in the last few years made him doubt that conclusion for the first time in years.

"I've never seen a dog that looked like that, Dad!" Lynn looked at her dad with a serious expression, then knelt down beside the Gar and stroked the bony plate on top of its head. "Hi, someone that looked a lot like you helped me a long time ago… and I just wanted to say thanks."

The Gar slowly raised its head, took a big whiff of her hand and after a moment of looking at her intently shook its head. "Gar no help girl, but Gar finds Gar that help girl and tank if girl want…"

"Thank you," Lynn smiled brightly, and giggled, "but you can call me Lynn, okay."

Lynn felt a tug on her sleeve and looked down, to find the Krisle looking up at her hopefully. "Can Kwisle call Lyan, Lyan too?"

"My name's Lynn," Lynn looked at the Krisle and smiled slightly, "but yes you can call me Lynn, too!"

< Good thing that Gar was around, I can't even imagine life without the munchkin around! > Andy thought as he looked down at the Gar, unconsciously raising his opinion of them considerably, as it and the Krisle began trying to learn to say Lynn's name right. < But what the hell was a Gar doing in Montana? >

Finally pushing all thoughts of Gars and the 'what could or might have happened' variety out of his mind; Andy turned to Terry who was staring at the Krisle and Gar incredulously, picked up the nearest of his friend's gifts and tossed it into his lap. Terry jumped and threw a glare at Andy; after taking another glance at where his daughter was giggling at some of the ways the small lizards were mangling her name as she continually corrected them, he began tearing the paper from the package.

"Cheeky bastard…!" Terry growled when he finally saw the cover of the book it contained.

Andy looked over his shoulder and couldn't help but chuckle at the title, 'How to Make Friends and Influence People', then reached over and flipped to the inside cover. "A signed first edition… you have a pretty good collectors item right there."

"I'm still going to give the little bastard a piece of my mind…" Terry said as he closed the book and set it on the coffee table.

Andy just continued to chuckle as he finished tearing the paper from the package. Opening the box Andy whistled at the rifle it contained, a Winchester model 1873, the factory engraved images on its sides were beautifully preserved even thought it was obvious that the weapon had seen plenty of use, flipping the rifle over the gunsmith groaned as he saw the stamp of 'one of one thousand' on its barrel.

< Goddamn it, he did it again. This gun must have cost him more than 75,000 dollars… It's too damn much! > Andy thought angrily as he snatched the card from the box. ˜ This gun has served me well in many battles over the years, but now it's become too obsolete for regular use. I thought it deserved to be retired to someone that could appreciate it for what it is, instead of hanging on a wall beside the thousands of other weapons I don't have a regular use for and that you might like a piece of history, Dragan. ˜

< Now I wish he had just bought it at an auction somewhere… that way I could have probably found a way to turn it down without insulting him. > Andy sighed and closed the box, setting it out of the way and reached for the next package.

The gunsmith had just pulled the brightly wrapped package to him when the Krisle's voices began to rise; instinctively Andy looked around to see what trouble the little guys were getting into this time and found them gathered around a giggling Lynn, who was absently petting the contented looking Gar, telling her a story judging from the way they where gesturing and posturing.

Shaking his head at the way the Krisle were behaving Andy began tearing away the wrapping paper; a moment later he was frowning at the collection of items the box contained. Lifting what vaguely looked like the feed belt to a 9mm Mini-gun out of the way, he found a three ring binder. Carefully removing it from under the other items in the box he found that the binder had been made up to look like a military technical manual with 'Mongoose Personal Weapons System Mark II Technical & Service Manual' printed on its cover. Inside, the gunsmith found about 150 laminated pages covered with detailed descriptions and illustrations of the assembly of the system and proper use of the items held in the box.

As he flipped through the binder, a folded piece of paper fell into his lap.

˜ Andy, had a hard time coming up with something to give you, especially after your gift, finally I decided on something special! This is one of only two Mongoose systems in the entire world and the only one that is tooled to use. 40 cal. I should know, I designed and built both of the systems. The tech specs are in the manual, check the appendix for any changes or upgrades I've made since I made the manual. Tommy. P.S. I haven't patented any of the designs for inner workings of the mongoose system so don't go showing it off indiscriminately, PLEASE. ˜

Shaking his head Andy set the manual back in the box, set the whole thing aside for later inspection and nearly jumped out of his skin at high pitched yell from the other side of the room.

"OH MY GOD!" Lynn squealed as she dropped the side of the box her present from Tommy had come in and began shoveling the shipping popcorn out of the box as she caught sight of the handlebars. Once enough of the popcorn had been cleared to reveal the contents of the box the teenage girl deflated slightly. "Aw, it's only a scooter… I thought it was a motorcycle."

"Why? The box is kind of small for motorcycle, isn't it Hon?" Terry raised an eyebrow and frowned.

"Well if you don't want it I could always take it back with me…" Andy said in a playful tone. "A fully restored classic Vespa scooter would be worth quite a bit to a collector and I doubt Tommy would want it back. I mean, after all the work he put into restoring that thing and then having you return it."

"NO! No! That's okay, Uncle Andy, a scooter's just fine…" Lynn yelped quickly giving her uncle a wide-eyed look and then sighed in disappointment, "even if I can't drive it, since I don't have a license yet."

"I've had some friends working on it Pumpkin, you should have a provisional license soon, provided you can pass a driver's safety test." Terry muttered, glaring daggers at what he was sure was going be the source of many of his future headaches for a moment, then sighed. "But after you get the license if your grades slip, if I catch you using it to skip school or driving outside of town without telling me beforehand and the next time you see the outside of your room your grandkids will be graduating from college!"

"Uh, Dad, if I'm stuck in my room how would I…" Lynn saw the look her father was giving her and swallowed. "Okay, mess up and I'm grounded for the rest of my life; got it!"

"Very good…" Terry shook his head and frowned "Hey, where'd the big lizard go?"

"What?" Andy looked up surprised and a little worried when a quick glance showed him the Gar wasn't lying where he had left it.

The gunsmith was trying to decide if he should go looking for it, when the section of carpet it had been lying on suddenly rose up off the floor and glared at Terry as it quickly changed back to the natural grayish-green color of a Gar. "Gar not wizard! Gar is GAR!"

Andy stared for moment then frowned slightly as the Gar winced slightly and lowered its head back to the floor. "So that's why I can never find those guys unless I call them…"

Feeling a tug on his pants leg Andy looked down and found one of the Krisle looking up at him with an expression full of hope and excitement. "Andy want Kwisle pezents now?"

"Sure, why not." Andy grinned down at the Krisle even as he winced internally.

"'Kay." Two of the Krisle ran over and began pushing the box the Gar had been in towards Andy. "Gar presents on top."

< If I hear one chuckle I'm throwing whatever they got me at Terry… > Andy silently groused as he dug through the shipping peanuts pulling out anything he came across. After a few passes he was satisfied he had everything out of the box, only to have one of the Krisle climb into the box with the help of one of the others and disappeared under the popcorn. "What do you think you're doing?"

The Krisle poked its head out of the peanuts smiled and held out what obviously a small screwdriver covered in wrapping paper and tape.

"Looking for west of pezents..."

"Thanks…" Andy shook his head as the Krisle disappeared under the peanuts again. Three more times, over the next few moments, the Krisle reappeared with small packages. The third time it looked around the box and frowned. "How Kwisle get out?"

"Here…" Lynn lifted the Krisle out of the box and then giggled as it shook the popcorn off.

"Tank you, Lyan."

Andy rolled his eyes and tore the paper off the largest present and then froze, wishing to anything listening that he had waited to open it at home as he saw what it held.

"What is it, Uncle Andy?" Lynn asked curiously.

"What did the lizards give you, a bomb or something?" Terry asked, his tone making it clear that he was only half-kidding. "If not, it's no fair keeping it to yourself, buddy."

Sighing in defeat, and throwing a warning glare at Terry, Andy slowly held a robe and hat that other than being big enough to fit the gunsmith were exact duplicates of the ones that each of the Krisle wore.

"Andy wike?" The Krisle asked excitedly, smiling up at him happily as they milled about his legs. "Twy on, Kwisle use Andy wobe to make sure it fit. Now Andy wook good wike Kwisle…"

For the life of him Andy would never be able to decide if he had wanted to kill the Krisle, for the ground to open up and swallow him whole or to strangle his brother in all but blood, when both Lynn and Terry burst out laughing at that declaration.

"Kwisle no bwing wobe for pwetty Lyan…" Looking up at Lynn the Krisle looked sad for a moment then grinned. "Kwisle make wobe for Lyan; won't weave until wobe done!"

Neither one of the old soldiers were laughing after that as the beaming teenager picked up the Krisle, thanking it as she gave it a hug.

Chapter 4

December 25, 1997 6:27 am

"God damn, son of a…" Jacks snarled, silently wishing whoever was ringing the door bell hadn't caused her wards to throw a hissy fit so she could have ignored them and continued 'celebrating', while throwing on a robe as she stalked towards the front door with murder on her mind. "Whoever set off those wards is going to wish I was able to kill them!"

"Now, Snowbird, don't you think you're overreacting…?" Vin asked as he finally got his sweatpants all the way on one-handed while carrying his rifle with the other. "After all, you're not the only one here, and I might just want to have a word or two with these yahoos too!"

"Fine, you can talk with whatever's left when I'm done, Tanner!"

Jacks said flashing a grin at the bounty hunter as she yanked open the door, gathering magic in preparation to strike out at the offender. Only to pull up short at the sight of one of the last people she would have ever expected to find on her doorstep this early on Christmas day.

"Merry Krislemas…" Dragan said slurring slightly, grinning dopily as he raised his hand and wiggled his fingers at them in greeting. "I was wondering if I could ask you guys a favor…"

"Uh…," Vin and Jacks glanced at each other incredulously as the very inebriated mercenary grinned at them happily. Finally Jacks answered cautiously answered him. "Sure… you can ask for a favor."

"Thanks, I'm leaving… going on vacation with Cles, Chyra's orders even!" Dragan babbled as he dug through his jacket finally pulling a small bag from one of the inner pockets and handing it to Vin. "Could you deliver my presents to the rest o' you guys that were on Avalon. If I set off the wards at Harris's place I just know that he'll have someone shoot me." Dragan frowned, an almost pouting look spreading across his face. "He doesn't like me very much… I don't know why not… I kind of like him… not *like* like him cause I don't swing that way not that I think there is anything wrong with swinging that way I happen to have a few kids that do it's just not for me but I do kind of like him not sure why though 'cause so far I don't trust him but I do kind of like him!"

"Un-huh…" Jacks said as she eyed him like he was an escaped mental patient. She slowly opened the bag to find it had been en-spelled similarly to how she packed in order to hold a lot more than it normally would.

"Oops, gotta go, plane to catch… when you give Harris his gift make sure to tell him I'm going on vacation oh yeah and your gifts are in the driveway Pixie see ya kiddies!" Dragan said as he turned, hopped off the porch and skipped off down the pathway, disappearing when he reached the sidewalk.

Jacks stared at the place Dragan had disappeared for a second before her expression darkened as something registered. "I am not a Pixie!"

One block away

"Where'd the car go?" Dragan looked up and down the street in confusion for a moment before a familiar voice behind him caused him to spin around.

"Dragan, get in the car!" Cles said out the half open window of the limo, whistling in amusement at her mate's antics. "Through the door, not the window, you nut!"

"Okay…" Dragan said with a distinct pout as he pulled his upper body back through the window, so he could open the door. After closing the door, Dragan noticed that the lights had been turned down and partition had been raised between them and the driver; shaking his head he settled back into his seat and frowned as he felt something bunched up behind him, removing the offending item Dragan blinked as he looked at Cles' dress.


Looking up Dragan's mental processes froze, black fur making her all but invisible in the dimmed lighting. Cles was half-reclining on side couch, the 'chin' of her beak resting on the raised knee of the leg her arms were loosely, the toes of her other foot idly reaching out to rub against his shin. After a moment Dragan looked up from the rather spectacular view she was giving him, what he saw when he looked in her eyes caused his breathing and heart rate to jump several notches.

"You know it's going to take at least an hour and a half to get to the strip," Cles let go of her leg, laying back against the couch as her voice grew thick and rose slightly in pitch "longer if we don't beat rush hour."

Dragan pulled his jacket off as he slid out of his seat, moving on hands and knees he slowly approached her, his eyes never leaving hers. Kneeling beside her, his nose nearly touching her beak, the ancient mercenary smiled at the squeaking noise she made when he loving stroked her cheek with a gentleness most would think him incapable of sober, let alone while inebriated. "Don't worry; I won't let the boredom get too be bad…"

Travis reached over and turned the limo's intercom off with a happy smile, which didn't even go away at the sour look on the driver's face. "So, what crawled up your butt, kiddo?"

"I'm responsible for cleaning this thing before it's returned to the garage…" The Dragan Security driver that had been recruited to make sure Dragan made it to his flight in one piece flinched slightly as a muffled high pitched 'noise' managed to filter through the soundproofing, turned on the radio and then threw the snickering old solider a dirty look. "Hey, It's *NOT* funny!"

Xander stared at the package that a very pissed off Jacks had just thrust into his hands blankly for a moment before turning to Vin with nervous expression. "What did I do? Do I really want to open this package, and should I be worrying about getting turned into turtle?"

"It not you, she's just upset over a gift an… acquaintance sent her. As to whether or not you should be more worried about being turned into a turtle or opening that gift, I don't know for sure…" Vin shrugged and jerked a thumb behind him as he stepped into the mansion.

Xander looked past him, quickly spotting the unfamiliar motorcycle sitting in the driveway and barely kept himself from laughing at the very familiar face belonging to the fairy painted on the side of the tank. He turned back to the bounty hunter as Vin pulled out a package slightly larger than the saddlebag it came from and handed it to a slightly surprised looking Faith. "It's still painted like that and she let them live?"

"He left before she saw it…" Vin said a grin tugging at the corners of his mouth as he thought of her reaction to seeing the artwork for the first time. "And she *was* going to change it until she found that it's iron based paint. Her magic can't touch it!"

"You're sure you don't know what this is?" Xander smirked, fighting down chuckles at Jacks frustration, and eyed the package she had given him speculatively. "What, wouldn't she tell you what she was giving anyone?"

"No, but that's not the reason I don't know," Vin said handing a package to Miki. "They're not from either of us; they were… delivered this morning."

"Okay…" Xander's studied the package a moment longer, before looking up at Vin with a cautious expression. "So, I take it that you know who sent them…"

"They're safe. Do you really think I would even let Vin go near them before I had made sure they weren't some kind of trap?" Jacks asked him coolly in reply, anger burning in her eyes as she shook a bandaged hand at her commander. "And they're from a certain green-haired pain in the ass that is going to be wishing that he was only going to be finding out how a turtle lives when I get my hands of him."

"Dragan? How did he…?" Xander frowned in thought. He rolled his eyes as he noticed that Faith had already opened her present and was twirling a pair of odd looking daggers. He turned back to fix the half-fey Kine with a pointed look. "What happened to your hand?"

"It's nothing!" Jacks snapped irritably as she quickly stuck her hand behind her back.

"Jacks…" Xander's tone brooked no argument.

"I was stupid, okay." Jacks shook her head with an annoyed expression. "I was checking the gifts for any surprises and got sloppy. Tara's gift is all but oozing with Draconic magic. It's harmless, but Dragon magic does *NOT* mix with fey magic…"

"I know, you told me before that mixing magic was a bad idea period." Xander raised an eyebrow at Jacks' vexed expression. "So why'd you risk it?"

"I didn't say it was a bad idea to mix Dragon and Fey magic, I said they *DON'T* mix!" Jacks growled in frustration. "Don't ask me why but neither Fey nor Dragons have ever been able to use their magic directly against each other… According to Coyote it's one of the main reasons that there's never been a war between the two races."

< Xander, magic like all forms of power has 'frequencies'. For the most part individual magic users only tap into one frequency, and most magic users of a given species tap into same frequency range. Dragons and Fey happen to naturally use frequencies that for the most part neutralize each other. >

"I'm not sure I like the sound of that…" Xander muttered, frowning at the explanation Elan had just given him and shook his head as he looked up at the annoyed half-fey.

"Me neither…" Jacks shrugged and sighed. "Now getting back to the topic at hand, I had to use only the witch side of my powers, plus it has a pretty impressive protection spell on it. So when I tried to learn more than what the basic spell gave me to see if it was dangerous or not, it gave me the magical equivalent of a good whap across the knuckles."

Taking a quick glance at Tara, he saw that the young witch eyed the package with a happy expression tinged with confusion and surprise. The Kine commander looked at the lieutenant with a deadly serious expression. It wasn't that he didn't trust the ancient mercenary but… well he didn't trust him. When someone's loyalty was for sale, even someone as finicky over who they would work for as Dragan's record showed he was, it was extremely hard to trust them, especially when the person in question seemed to have issues with both your organization and your entire species. "Are you absolutely certain that whatever's in that package isn't going to hurt her?"

"Commander, I'd bet my life on it…" Jacks said. She watched as the young witch begin to tear into wrapping paper. "Dragan dropped them off in person and, from what I could make out from the slurred ramblings, was quite *ahem* open about the fact that he would have dropped them off himself but he was leaving on vacation and thought you would have him shot if he tried."

"Okay, I think that falls under the category of either, 'Huh?' or 'Definitely'…" Xander looked at her incredulously "'Slurred ramblings?'"

"Judging by the way he was *skipping* down the walkway," Vin broke in with a huge grin on his face, "I'd have to say he was three sheets to wind at least…"


Xander's head snapped towards the exclamation, half-expecting to find that one of Dragan's presents had blown up in someone's face. The expression on Giles' pasty face seemed to confirm his expectation.

That is, until he followed his gaze to where Tara was sitting, holding up her hand as if she had been inspecting the ring she was wearing. It was made to look like a silver dragon coiling around her finger four times so that it stopped with the 'dragon's' head resting on the first knuckle of her finger. Tara looked at the sputtering Librarian with wide startled eyes as Giles gestured wildly at both of the items.

Seeing the jewelry box the ring had came from sitting with a book beside the open package, Xander spent the next few seconds wondering where in Antarctica he was going to drop a certain pervert of a mercenary, as he automatically jumped to the knee jerk conclusion his culture had taught him that a guy giving a girl a ring meant.

Then Elan got past her own bout of stuttering. ˜ Xander that is one of the Rings of Dragon Friendship and a copy of the Draco Mystere! ˜

< Elan, I could hear capital letters in that statement, > Xander thought studying the ring more closely. He was dimly aware that several of his friends had jumped to conclusions similar to what he had originally thought. < So I'm guessing there is a little more to those than just a 'who-done-it' novel and ring to remember somebody special by… >

˜ Xander, anyone who wears that ring will not be attacked by *anyone*with draconic blood unless they are attacked first! Period! ˜ Elan snapped in exasperation. ˜ A 'Dragon' giving one of the rings to anyone is the second highest honor and show of trust any Dragon can give! It puts their entire species permanently on the defensive against the wearer. Because of the magic of the ring they can't attack the wearer *except* in self defense. ˜

˜ The Draco Mystere was legendary long before the rise of Atlantis. It is a mystical artifact that is said to contain the entirety of Dragon lore; if read correctly, the original gives the reader an almost complete understanding of dragons, makes them immune to sleep and paralyzing spells, and gives them the ability to see in the dark… if the reader's a spell-caster it increases their abilities to use magic, and gives them a rudimentary understanding of draconic magic. While no copy of 'The Mysteries of Dragons' has ever reached the power of the original, the knowledge contained within the copy is the same and still invaluable. The best copies also bestow an insight into Draconic magic that with hard work and lots of study will increase the power of a magic wielder and allow them to access some of the magics that traditionally are only usable by those with Draconic blood. ˜

< Okay, > Xander eyed the gifts cautiously as what Elan said sank in, making a mental note to have a word with Jacks about her definition of 'safe'. < So why would Dragan risk giving something that puts him at a complete disadvantage like that ring to someone as close to the Kine as Tara. Given his feelings about us I'd expect him to send something more along the lines of a bomb… >

"NO!" Giles yelped loudly, bringing Xander's attention back to the situation at hand.

Xander's eyes widened slightly and Giles backed away, quickly waving Tara off as she had slid the ring off her finger and offered it to the ex-watcher with a worried look.

"Tara…" When he was sure he had the blond witch's full attention he smiled comfortingly and shook his head. "Keep it. The ring and book were gifts for you, and they're very special. I really don't think that it would be a good idea to give that to *anybody*. Not even for just a quick look. Okay?" Xander waited until Tara nodded in accent before gesturing for the book. "But I think I would feel more comfortable if you would let me hold onto the book for a while… just so I can make sure it's safe to use."

"O-okay…"Tara hesitantly picked up the book and handed it to him.

"Thank you... SHIT!" Xander curse painfully and yanked his hand away from the book; the second he had touched the book it had felt like he had grabbed hold of either a live wire or red hot coal.

Startled and scared by his painful reaction to touching the book Tara dropped it, falling back onto the couch as she instinctively tried to back away from the perceived danger.

When the book hit the floor it fell open to reveal two envelopes. Xander eyed them as he quickly recovered from his contact with the book. When all the feeling was back in his hand he reached down, and after hesitantly tapping the envelopes to see if he was going to get 'zapped' again produced no reaction he snatched them up. As he looked them over Xander found that one had his name on it the other Tara's; he tore open the one with his name on it.

"X-Xander…?" Tara asked after he had just stood there for a few moments staring at the letter with a strange look on his face.

"I'm fine Tara…" Xander told her in a comforting tone, as he gave her with a weak smile.

"What's up, Boy-toy?" Faith asked snatching the note while he was distracted. "Did he send you a bill or something?"

"Faith, do I read your mail?"

"Like I get any…" The slayer said as she began reading the note.

"Dear Harris, from what I know of you I imagine you've been hit by the protection spells that are part of the book at least once by this point. You should really check magical items for things like that *before* handling them, you know. Anyway, it's for Tara, not you… You've got your own gift so don't mess with the book and it won't mess with you. Okay? Happy Holidays (as long as that doesn't entail trying to kill any of my friends or family) Dragan. PS, I'm pretty sure the slayer will let you play with the daggers I gave her as much as you like if you let her play with yours…"

Faith looked up from the letter and gave Xander a meaningful wink. "He's right you know, I'll definitely let you play with mine if you let me play with yours!"

"At least I've got an idea of what he gave me…" Xander let out a pained sigh at Faith's comment, and made a mental note to pay a certain mercenary back for this at the earliest opportunity. He began unwrapping his present; tearing the box open Xander blinked. After a moment he pulled the odd looking 6" X 3" cylindrical case from the padding with a confused expression. "What in the hell…?"

"There appears to be something written on the other side…" Giles said gesturing at the cylinder.

"Oh, real funny…" Xander muttered, seeing were someone had drawn a line through the original Atlantian label inscribed in the side of the case with a black marker and scribed 'Operational Security for Dummies' beside it.

˜ A transport case for Atlantian data storage crystals… ˜ Elan muttered sounding slightly stunned. ˜ Where on earth did he get that from? ˜

< I imagine he found it sometime after the Fall… > Xander thought as he popped the lid, only to have a mottled green serpentine form ripped straight from some of his nightmares spring out at him, fanged mouth opened wide. Xander dropped the case with a horrified curse, his hands snapped up and caught the Gou'ald mere inches from his face as he spun and slammed the hand holding the parasite against the nearest wall, hard. < A Gou'ald, he tried to have me turned by a freaking Goa'uld. I'm gonna kill him! >

˜ Xander, you do realize that Goa'uld are not composed of rubber and do not have neon pink and green Polka-dots… ˜ Elan's voice was full of annoyance mixed with barely concealed amusement. ˜ And I'm afraid that having a bad sense of humor isn't a capital crime or you would have been dead long ago. ˜

He blinked in surprise as the toy suddenly began to sing. Xander stared at the snake-like rubber toy incredulously for the moment it took for the song to register.

"SON OF A…!" Xander growled as he picked up the case it had come in and roughly shoved the toy back inside it. He started towards the armory for a Zat while doing his best to ignore the muffled singing coming from the case.

"Earth angel; Earth angel, will you be mine…"

Colorado Springs, Colorado
Home of Colonel Jack O'Neil

Jack set down the bag he was using to clean up the remains of his Christmas party and stared in surprise at the small cylindrical stone box he had just found sitting on his kitchen table. Seeing the funny markings on the front of the box he shook his head and smiled as he picked up the box. "Geez, Daniel you'd forget you head if…" Curiosity getting the better of him, Colonel O'Neil flipped open the lid to see what was inside. "SHIT!!!"

The End


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