Home for Christmas: A Perfect Gift

By CrystalMoon
Copyright 2001

Feedback: Yes, please, as much and as often as you'd like.
Spoilers: None, really. But it takes place late in season 2.
Rating: G

Doole looked at the crowd. They surged past his booth, most not even bothering to glance inside. Dour, eyes downcast, dressed in grays and browns, not the sort to shop for the kinds of oddities he stocked. Doole spun a crystal top on the counter until drops of light danced across the crowd and the inside of his shop. No one even paused.

After a few microts, Doole let the top come to a rest. Then he sank down on the stool behind his counter and began to sketch, doodle actually, a habit he'd picked up from long years of shopkeeping on a mining planet. Doole shook his head. Soon, he vowed, he'd move to a commerce planet near the heavy shipping routes. He could be rich by now. Tourists, businessmen, they liked to spend money on the antiques and unique items in his shop. Miners worked long and hard and had little to show for it. When they spent money, they went for practical things like food, clothing, and holos. But his wife, Miri, had grown up here and so far he hadn't been able to convince her that profits meant more than home. And he wasn't sure he wanted to.

A Peacekeeper stepped into his shop. Doole carefully set down his stick of charcoal and stood. "May I help you?" He reached under the counter to touch the handle of his pistol. He'd heard too many stories of Peacekeepers expecting to be given what should be paid for.

"I'm just browsing." The Peacekeeper studied the inside of the shop without moving from the doorway. She fingered a button on her coat.

Doole studied her. On closer inspection, he wasn't sure if she was a Peacekeeper at all. She dressed like one, wearing the standard black leather coat and slacks. But any sort of rank insignia was missing. And she let her dark hair hang long and loose about her shoulders the way his wife had before their three little ones had been born and decided that hair pulling was a great game.

No, she looked like someone who had once been a Peacekeeper. She had that air of entitlement that could only be learned among the ranks. But it was softened slightly, as if she'd gotten used to being kind and it had agreed with her.

"Are you looking for a gift?" said Doole, releasing the handle of his pistol. "Perhaps I can help you pick out something."

The woman moved to the nearest display case. "No, thank you."

Doole nodded. He always respected a customer's wishes, especially Peacekeepers, or ex-Peacekeepers, as the case may be. As Doole sank back on his stool, the woman wandered from case to case. She paused at the antiques, bending intently over a globe from a green planet and brushing her fingers along a set of chimes that tinkled prettily. Then she sighed and crossed her arms.

Doole wandered over. He pulled out a rag and proceeded to dust an already-dusted carving of a Hynerian concubine. "I just received some silver drinking cups from the Moon of Certo," he suggested. "They say Prince Yeogori was poisoned in one..."

She shook her head impatiently. "No, that is wrong. It's all wrong. This was a bad idea." The last she mumbled to herself. With a toss of her hair, she spun and took two steps to the exit. Then she stopped, her hand on a countertop. "Frell."

Doole followed her eyes. Between gaps in the crowd, he saw another Peacekeeper. This one was a male. He lounged on a bench across the street, blowing on a steaming cup of reok. Like the woman, he wore black Peacekeeper-issue clothing. But unlike her, he didn't have that air of entitlement. He watched the street scene, sometimes smiling and sometimes shaking his head in amusement. He looked like someone you could have a drink with. No, he wasn't a Peacekeeper either.

The woman ducked out of sight as the man glanced their way. She turned to Doole. "You are right. I am looking for a gift."

Doole shoved the rag in his pocket and hurried over. He rubbed his hands together. "I have many fine things. What kind of gift are you looking for?"

She rolled her eyes slightly. "It's called a Criss-muss gift. You haven't heard of it by any chance, have you?"

Doole shook his head.

"Well, Criss-muss is a holiday where people exchange gifts. But first the gifts sit under a tree for some length of time, I'm not sure why. And there is also singing and quite a bit of eating. The children believe that a red fat man leaves the gifts under the tree, but it is just a story told by the adults, who don't want the children to know that THEY leave the gifts. Though why anyone would want to fool children like that is beyond me..." She took a breath and smiled and it transformed her whole being. Definitely not a Peacekeeper. "It doesn't make sense to you either, does it?"

Doole returned her smile. "I'm sure it makes sense to your friend."

The woman glanced back across the street. "Yes." A frown creased her brow and the smile faded. Her friend seemed to be mumbling to himself.

"You're worried about him."

She looked at Doole in surprise. "Yes."

Doole ducked his head. "I make my living helping people find treasures to make their lives a little less dull, a little less sad. How can I help your friend?"

The woman thought for a moment, brushing her hair behind an ear. "I was hoping to find something that might remind him of his homeworld. It's a very primitive place, though. They don't even travel beyond their solar system. And they seem to have many strange customs, not just Criss-muss."

Doole nodded and headed to the far side of the store, beckoning her to follow. "I just received a shipment of these curiosities. I haven't cataloged them yet, but you are welcome to look. All are from a low tech planet." Doole showed her the array of items on top of the back counter. A few things he could identify, such as the toy vehicle or emerald picture frame. But many perplexed him. The elaborate glass pipe, for instance, with its myriad of valves and tubes might be a smoking device or it might be a musical instrument.

"What's this?" the woman pointed to flat rectangular pieces of glass.

Doole held one up to the light, spying a sliver of gray ribbon wound within the glass. "I'm not sure. It looks like an ancient data spool."

A soft gong sounded as someone else entered the shop. Doole glanced up to see the man from across the street. He'd wandered in with a Luxan and a Nebari. "Yo, Aeryn," he called. "Are you about done here?"

Aeryn stiffened. "I want these," she hissed at Doole before turning around.

Doole casually covered the data spools with his rag.

"Crichton," said Aeryn. She walked over to him and his companions. "I thought you said we'd meet at the transport pod."

"Yeah, I know, but I saw you in here." Crichton wandered toward one of the abstract holo paintings, watching its colors shift from gold to green. "Cool shop."

"This town is depressing," said the Luxan. "The sooner we leave the better."

"It wouldn't be so depressing if you weren't so boring," said the Nebari, her arms crossed, a petulant look on her face.

The Luxan grabbed the Nebari by the arm and pulled her back to the street. "My idea of fun does not match yours, Chiana." The Luxan glanced at Crichton and Aeryn. "We will meet you at the pod. If you aren't there in 100 microts, we will leave without you."

As they headed down the street, still arguing, Aeryn glanced from Crichton to Doole and back again. Crichton had moved from the holo painting to a display of miniature horthor traps. "Crichton, let's go," she said.

Crichton waved a hand in her direction. "You go on. I just want to look around. I'll catch up."

Aeryn glared at Crichton's back, stared at Doole as if to make sure he would hold the data spools for her and headed for the street. "Fine. You have 90 microts."

When she'd left, Crichton approached Doole. "I wasn't sure she'd leave." He glanced around to make sure they were alone. "I'm looking for a Christmas gift - don't ask. It's a just tradition on my homeworld. Do you think you can help me? I'm kind of in a hurry."

"Certainly." said Doole, keeping his face neutral. Two customers in less than an arn. Wait until he told Miri. For a miner's colony this was a record. "What would you like?"

"Good question. Let's see. She doesn't wear jewelry. She thinks wall decorations are frivolous. The same goes for chimes, statues, just about everything in here." Crichton rubbed the back of his neck. "She likes weapons - a lot. Knives, pulse pistols, military junk, got anything like that?"

"I do not have weapons at the moment, but I do have..." Doole led him to a decorative holster and several knife sheaths.

Crichton picked up the smallest one. It was made of rich agustal leather with tiny cyan gemstones sprinkled across the front like stars on a clear night. "This is perfect," he said, touching the gemstones. "She hasn't been able to wear her small dagger for ages, which is good actually. And I really don't WANT her to be able to wear another weapon, but ...."

"SHE would like to," finished Doole.

"Yep." Crichton shook his head, chuckling. "I wish some of my aunts would've remembered that. Every Christmas I got the most godawful sweaters. One even had a picture of a rainbow on it. My Aunt Martha knew how to shop, though. She got me a telescope when I was fourteen. My dad was on a mission that year, orbiting somewhere in space, I don't remember where. And Aunt Martha showed me how to spot his ship with my own telescope, from my bedroom window. Now that was a gift..."

Crichton briefly chewed on his thumb. He looked across the shop, not really seeing it. "It's Christmas tomorrow on my homeworld. At least I think it is. I'm not sure if I'm converting a year into a cycle exactly right. But it's close enough. And it gets you thinking, you know. About turkey, rum balls, egg nog, presents, carols. And what's Christmas like without me? Are my sisters coming to my dad's house or is he going to theirs? Do I have any new nieces or nephews? Is Aunt Martha still alive? Do they think about me?

"And after all this time, does my dad go out in the backyard every night, trying to spot me in Farscape 1 with his telescope? And if he doesn't, will he look one more time on Christmas night? 'Cause that's what I'd do if I were him. I'd keep looking until I saw something. Especially on Christmas."

"John." The Luxan's voice boomed from Crichton's communications pin. "You have 10 microts."

Crichton glanced around as if shaking off a spell. Then he handed the sheath to Doole and jogged to the exit, promising to be back the next day with payment. "And thanks for listening, man. I don't usually get so depressing but ... it's Christmas." He grinned, and ran out the door.

Doole watched him wiggle his way through the crowd until he'd disappeared. Then he carried his and Aeryn's gifts to the back room. Doole should've gone right back out to the shop, even though he knew the odds of another customer coming in were pretty slim. Instead, he sat in front of his comm, punching in the code for his own homeworld. Not surprisingly, he felt compelled to send a message to his father whom he hadn't spoken to in a quarter arn. Miri would approve, he thought, as the call went through. It's more like home when family are close, she always said, even if it is by comm.

The next day, Aeryn arrived out of breath. She rushed over to Doole and shoved a dagger into his hands, hilt first. Doole put down his piece of charcoal -- he'd been doodling again - and examined the dagger. Peacekeeper issue, nicely balanced, a small grip. She'd taken good care of it.

"A fine weapon," he told her.

"Yes, yes, I know. But will you trade it for those data spools?" She leaned toward him impatiently, glancing at the entryway more than once.

Doole held the dagger toward her. "Oh no, I am sorry but this is not a fair trade. Those data spools are worthless without a recorder and I do not have one."

" I don't care. This is all I have, and I'm in a hurry." Again she glanced at the entryway. "Crichton insisted on coming down with me. I don't know how long I have before he wanders in here."

Doole frowned at the small size of the dagger. He set it on the counter. "Perhaps you have another dagger that you could bring in? A LARGER one, perhaps?"

"No, this is the one I want to trade. Do you want my frelling business or not?"

Doole accepted the dagger with a nod and hid it behind the counter. He'd just have to tell Crichton to choose another gift, he told himself, that's all. As Doole retrieved the data spools from the back room, he cursed under his breath. That sheath would have brought in a lot of profit, too. At least the dagger was worth something.

With a slight bow, Doole presented the data spools to Aeryn. He'd wrapped them in a blue cloth and secured them with string. "It's much better wrapped, don't you think?"

Aeryn took the small bundle from him, doubt flickering in her eyes.

"Gifts given from the heart are always received joyfully," he recited. It was one of Miri's favorite quotes.

"Thank you," said Aeryn. She tucked the bundle inside her coat. After glancing up and down the street, she slipped out the door and into the crowd.

Not less than 10 microts later, Crichton entered the shop. Doole hadn't even had time to pick up his charcoal again.

Crichton took out a strange rectangular item from the pocket of his coat and set it on the counter. "You sell unusual things, right? Well, this is unusual. It's from my homeworld."

Doole picked up the item and turned it around in his hands. "You have me at a disadvantage, I'm afraid."

"It's a tape recorder. You place a tape in here and press this button to record and this one to listen." Crichton slipped a clear data spool into the recorder and turned it on. His voice played back, grainy and distant. Poor quality.

"You can have the recorder but I'm keeping the tape. It's personal." Crichton slipped the data spool into a pocket. "So, do we have a deal?"

"You want to trade me this ancient, battered 'tape recorder' for a fine augustal leather sheath with cyan gemstones? And you don't want to give me the tapes that might make it worthwhile?"

Crichton winced. "Yeah, I thought it would be too easy. Here, take the tape. It's just some ramblings to my dad. Who am I kidding? He'll never listen to it."

Doole sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. Crichton wanted to give him a tape that he'd recorded for the father he'd never see again. And he wanted to do this so his friend, the beautiful Aeryn, could have a sheath for a dagger she no longer possessed because she'd bought tapes for the recorder that Crichton ...

No, this deal was wrong on so many levels he didn't even want to think about it. If Miri were here, she'd have seen this coming. Or she'd have shrugged and told him to sell his shop and become a miner if he wanted predictability. "Keep the tape," said Doole. "It just so happens I received a shipment of similar data spools from a low tech planet a couple of solar days ago."

"Great." Crichton leaned forward, a smile lighting his eyes. "Do we have a deal?"

Doole nodded. If he were the kind of business man he wanted to be, he'd turn down Crichton. Or he'd live on a planet in the shipping lanes or he'd sell the kinds of things miners wanted to buy not what he wanted to sell. What should've been a day of high profit was turning into one where he'd be right back where he started from.

He retrieved the sheath, wrapped in a red cloth, from the back room and handed it to Crichton "Enjoy your Christmas," he said with a wan smile.

Crichton tucked the sheath into a pocket. "Thanks, and Merry Christmas to you too." And with that, he left the shop, heading in the same direction as Aeryn.

Doole closed early. Miri had said something a special dinner and he wanted to surprise her with a gift of his own. It wasn't much. The drawing he'd been doodling had turned into a rather nice picture of Miri as she'd looked the night they'd met -- hair loose, eyes crinkling, a wry grin on her face.

As Doole pushed his way through a crowd, he spotted his two customers. They sat at a small café next to the street, a couple of empty glasses on their table along with the opened Christmas gifts. Huddled close to each other, knees touching, fingers intertwined, they smiled and laughed the way he and Miri had when their relationship had been new, as if no one else existed. Every so often, Crichton would kiss the knuckles on Aeryn's hand and she'd look down, embarassed. But she didn't pull her hand away.

Doole smiled and continued toward home. Sometimes being a merchant on a mining colony didn't seem like such a foolish way to make a living, he thought. Miri would enjoy this story.