Merry Christmas!A huge thank you to Liza for letting me have her Christmas Day blog spot! I thought I’d offer an original story from the world of Snowburn.
Kez sidles into the lounge where I’m playing Vizzion with Gig. She steps carefully over the giant rabbits sprawled on the sisal flooring, who are watching the kid kick my butt in a war game I should be winning blind-folded. He’s never even seen a real fire-fight, while I fought in them for a decade. But in this game, the rules are all different, and survival, which is always what I was best at, doesn’t count for much.
“Hope you’re here to rescue me,” I say to Kez.
She glances up at the flexypane wall Gig and I are facing, which shows the game in real time. She giggles.
“Not helping,” I growl at her.
“Take a break, then,” Kez suggests. “I’ve got something to show you.”
Any excuse to escape the thrashing the kid’s giving me. “Right,” I say, stripping the VR gloves off my hands and unclipping the visor. “Duty calls.” I toss the rig into a cubby on the wall that keeps the delicate gear out from underfoot. And away from the rabbits, who tend to investigate everything with their teeth.
Gig pauses the virtual bloodshed. He turns to look at me, his boyish features blurred by the visor’s shield. “You giving up?”
“In your dreams,” I tell him.
“For tonight,” Kez amends. I lift an eyebrow at her, since it isn’t even twenty-one hundred and we don’t usually go to bed for another hour or two. Guess whatever she’s got to show me is time-consuming. Or we’re going to bed early. I’ve got no objection to that, actually.
Gig turns back to the game with a snort.
Confident I’ll return. I’m a sucker for competition.
Kez takes my hand and leads me through the herd of rabbits, some of whom bound up from where they’re sprawled and follow us as we walk through the kitchen and down a long corridor toward her bedroom. The rabbits have free run of the house, and they follow Kez around like dogs. They also follow me sometimes, too, but usually only if they think food is forthcoming.
When we reach her bedroom, Kez leaves me to retrieve a package off the top of her dresser, one of the few places in the room that’s safe from the rabbits. She offers me the plaz-wrapped bundle.
“Merry Christmas,” she says.
“Is it?” I’m not a Krister and I’ve got no idea when the Krister holidays are. “Thank you, kitten.”
Kez smiles and retreats to her bed. She pushes Tigger, the male alpha rabbit, out of her way and sits down cross-legged. I kneel next to the bed, set the package beside her and begin peeling back the red and gold plaz. Tigger noses around Kez’s knee to take an experimental nibble at the wrapping. Kez tickles his long, floppy ears to divert him.
Unwrapped, the present contains two folded pieces of cloth. One’s striped beige and black, like the pelt of Kuseros’s native desert predator, the kemwar. The other’s solid black. I hold up the kemwar-patterned cloth first. It unfolds into a sleeveless vest, exactly the kind of thing I like to wear during the steamy days of Kuseros’s coming summer. Kez catches the hem with two fingers and flicks open the vest. There are a dozen narrow plackets built into the vest’s lining. Sheaths for my knives.
My kitten knows me so well.
I lean over and give her a kiss. “You make this?” I ask. Kez has a fabricator that she uses to make her own clothes. She’s shown me how to use it, but I have absolutely no aptitude.
I give her a longer, deeper kiss. Sweep the rabbits off the bed with my forearm and press Kez down onto the rumpled blankets.
“Don’t forget the other thing,” she whispers against my mouth.
I pause and pick up the other piece of cloth. Let it unreel between my fingers. A soft rectangle roughly the width of my hand, attached to a strip of magnetape. Kez stretches out on the bed, and looks up at me with a huge, mischievous grin that helps me figure out what it is. A blindfold.
That earns her another kiss while I join her on the bed.
“Didn’t get you anything,” I say when I come up for air. If I’d known Kez celebrated the Krister holidays, I would have gotten her something. I haven’t had many excuses to give my kitten presents. Of course, I don’t really need an excuse.
“Well.” Her grin turns wicked. “The blindfold’s really for me.”
I mirror her grin as I unseal the soft little unisuit she’s wearing.
Later, after putting her present to good use, we lie cuddled under the thermoblankets. She’s still wearing the blindfold, although it’s loose around her neck now. I play my fingers along it idly, stroking Kez’s sweaty throat with thumb and forefinger whenever I reach skin. She rubs her thigh over mine.
“First time anyone’s given me a present that was really for them,” I observe.
“The vest’s all yours,” she says sleepily. I can hear the grin in her voice even if I can’t see it.
“Only ‘cause it won’t fit you.” I shift the arm she’s lying on until I can give her a squeeze. “Did you like bein’ blindfolded?” She certainly seemed to.
She turns her head to kiss my shoulder. “Just a little. Did you like blindfolding me?”
More than a little. “Somethin’ to be said for this Christmas thing.”
She leans up onto her elbow and looks down at me, big blues glinting in the darkness. “It’s not just about presents.”
“No?” I’ve met enough Kristers to know what the holiday’s really about. And I know that for the first time in my life, I’m spending it with the right person. Celebrating the right things. “Tell me what it’s about, kitten.”
She settles back against my side, props her head on one hand and strokes my chest with the other.
“I can tell you the story of the nativity, if you want to hear it.”
“I’ll listen to anything you want to tell me. Always.”
“Okay.” Kez traces a shape on my chest as she begins telling me the story of Mary and Joseph, making their way to a city that disappeared more than a century ago, in the Great Sandstorm of 2036. When she makes the fourth point with her fingertip, and I extrapolate the final line, I realize it’s a star.
I put my hand over hers, cup her fingers against my heart, and look up at the skylight over the bed. Through it, I can see a few early evening stars. The three wise men wouldn’t have recognized these stars. But maybe their guiding light is the same, over two millennia later. Maybe the stars are still leading men on. Towards the promise of redemption, and unconditional love.
I squeeze Kez’s fingers. I gave up on redemption long ago. There are things I’ve done in the name of survival that can’t be forgiven. But I haven’t given up on that second promise, and as I lie and listen to Kez’s soft voice tell the story of the birth of Jesus, I give silent thanks for all the gifts I’ve been given this night.
Unwrapping Snow © 2014 E. J. Frost. All rights reserved.
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