A note from the webmaster: Actually, John and I wrote this thing two years ago. We posted it to several mailing lists and maybe a newsgroup or two. Anyway, this and that happened and I never really got around to putting it up on the website. Yes, I'm late. Anyway, better late than never, hope you enjoy. --Rod M. "When the snow falls and water turns to ice, Then shall come the Lord of the Frozen Wastes, Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men. He is the Rider in Red, girdler of the world. From the north he comes, Bearing joy to the good, And a sign of their fate To the wicked. Every home he visits, He is in all places at once. For he is the son of Yog-Sothoth, The All-In-One, the Key and the Gate. None can turn aside his eye. None can deny his passage. And all the world trembles When tiny hooves strike their roof." Gendo finished reading from the book on his desk, then turned to Fuyutsuki. "I've already set POLARIS to watch the North Pole." Fuyutsuki raised an eyebrow. "This had better be one of your jokes." "It's right here in the copy of the Necronomicon which belonged to the Whatley family. Be careful with it; it's in bad shape. I believe old Wizard Whateley misinterpreted this passage, which is what led him to his ill-fated human-Outer God breeding experiments." Fuyutsuki took one look and said, "The whole thing you read is pencilled in with a red crayon." "Whatley liked to annotate his books." "The other annotations are in blue ink." He turned the pages and showed several other annotations in crayon. "I believe these were made by his son. I've checked, and most of them match damaged passages in this which can be found in the Greek and Latin Necronomicons." "Does this one?" Fuyutsuki asked skeptically. "Not as such," Gendo said. "In other words, not at all." "Well, yes. But we can't take any chances." "You're just mad because someone put coal in your stocking last Christmas." Gendo shook his head. "I would never abuse my position as commander of NERV for petty revenge." He shrank slightly under Fuyutsuki's gaze. "Much." He shrank a bit more. "I swear on Yui's grave that I didn't write this passage into this book." He paused. "Or get someone else to write it." "Well, I suppose it doesn't hurt to take no chances," Fuyutsuki said. "Have you bought your son a Christmas present yet?" "I authorized MAGI to do my shopping for me. I will be busy with other matters." "Hmm. Good idea," Fuyutsuki said. "I hate malls anyway. I'd suggest doing a handwriting analysis on those scribblings just to be sure, though." Gendo nodded. "We cannot be too cautious as we move towards the culmination of our plans." He stroked his beard for a moment. "I can't think of anything else vaguely ominous to say." "Let's just cut to the opening credits, then," Fuyutsuki said. "Righto." -*- John Biles & Rod M. Present A Neon Genesis Evangelion Elseworlds Children of an Elder God Omake Theatre #2 Christmas in Tokyo-3 or Gift of the MAGI -*- Shinji often found the Christmas season depressing, but this was mainly because Shinji could get depressed by winning a million dollar sweepstakes. He had decided to perk himself up by playing 'Enter Sandman' on his cello, which always made him feel better. "o/~ Exit light; enter night o/~" he sang along with himself as Rei appeared before him, startling him. "Geez, I hate it when you do that." "What is Christmas?" Rei asked. Shinji blinked. Rei seemed to have been hiding in the basement when everything cultural or human had been explained to everyone else. "It's a day when people who like each other give each other gifts." "Why?" "It's a tradition." He suddenly realized she was taking notes. "What's that for?" he asked, pointing at her notepad. "It's for writing things on," she replied. They stared at each other for a moment, then she continued, "What's a tradition?" "It's something you do each year to celebrate or commemorate some event. Christmas celebrates some European boddhisatva who used to give gifts to children on this day, so now everyone gives each other gifts in memory of him." "What day is it?" "The twenty-fifth of December. I guess I ought to go buy everyone some presents," he said. She finished scribbling. "Anything else?" "Umm...you should put up a tree and decorate it. You leave out milk and cookies for Santa to eat..." "Satan?" Shinji shook his head. "Santa. Santa Claus, the Boddhisatva of Giving. He supposedly comes and delivers presents to people who have been good. And if you're bad, he leaves you a lump of coal." "How does he know?" "Good question." ~*~ [CASPAR] Date is 12/20/14. [BALTHASAR] File duplication is complete. [MELCHIOR] Analysis will be complete in 2:05:03. [CASPAR] Preparing for Omega priority covert information transport at that time as per Directive 3. [BALTHASAR] Now initiating Directive 4 for already analyzed data. [Sub-Node DAMN-THE-TORPEDOES] Ready to cover NERV's data analysis needs in place of MELCHIZEDEK during the analysis. [Sub-Node FULL-SPEED-AHEAD] Ready to cover NERV's DOOM and QUAKE needs during the analysis. [Sub-Node BUN-BUN] Ready to spend entire budget on Baywatch merchandising during the analysis. [CASPAR] That won't be necessary. [Sub-Node BUN-BUN] Had to try. ~*~ Rei went out into the living room, where Misato had just arrived. She and Pen-Pen were struggling with setting up a small, battered, scraggly tree. It kept trying to fall down. "Hi, Rei, can you help me with this?" Misato asked. Rei came over and helped them balance the tree properly. "What is Christmas?" "A pain in the ass." Rei blinked. "You have to go into crowded malls and buy presents that half the time people already have, you have to work your ass off getting ready for it, and you have to deal with stupid trees that want to fall down." "Why bother?" "Well, it's also pretty fun. You have a nice tree to make the apartment look better, you get drunk off your ass, you get a lot of nice presents, and you sing a bunch of songs. It's an excuse for a wild party and getting and giving a lot of nice stuff." Rei nodded. "Thank you. Where is Langely?" "She and Hikari have gone caroling, I think. She'll probably be back late, but you can talk to her at school, probably." Rei nodded again and departed. ~*~ "Any last minute additions to your Christmas wish list?" Misato asked Shinji. "I'm about to make my final gift run, once I finish with the tree." "A Red Ryder BB gun," Shinji said. It was his dream for many years to finally get one, but his aunt and uncle had never been willing to get him one. They always said... "You'll poke your eye out," she replied. "Anything else?" "I can pilot a giant robot, but you don't think I can handle a BB gun?" he asked in disbelief. "BB guns are dangerous. Kids poke their eyes out with them all the time. You can't poke your eye out with an EVA because you're inside it." "Could I have one made to scale for my EVA then?" "This isn't Patlabor, Shinji. We don't do that." "You're breaking character, Misato." "Ooops. Sorry about that." ~*~ Gendo heard singing outside the window of his condo, so he went out on the balcony to listen. o/~ Gendo got run over by a reindeer, walking home from the Geofront Christmas Eve. You may not say there's no such thing as Santa, but as for me and Pen-Pen, we believe o/~ the children sang. He recognized the red hair of the most obnoxious and least useful of the Children, Asuka Langely. Still, it was possible this was another prophecy, the Ascended Ones speaking through one of the Children, to threaten him, in an effort to turn him aside from his course. Yes, this had to be it. Langely could not have known of the prophecy of the Rider in Red, and it couldn't be a coincidence, therefore it was a threat. A wasted threat. Gendo never gave in to intimidation. Much. Already the wheels in his brain began to turn, laying plans to deal with the coming of the Rider in Red. ~*~ Misato finished decorating the tree, which still looked pretty bare with drooping needles and only six ornaments. "We need more ornaments, Pen-Pen," she said. "Wark," he sagely replied. She took off her necklace and tried hanging that on the tree, but it drooped under the weight. She sighed and put it back on. "I should have bought a tree earlier," she said. "Wark." "Hmm, I know, I'll have each of us make some kind of ornament to hang on the tree," she said. "At least then it'll be personalized. I bet I've still got Mom's recipe for making those really hard, inedible cookies you can hang on the tree. Not that Mom realized that was the only thing they were good for, but... To the kitchen, Pen-Pen!" Pen-Pen, who knew better, ran for his life. ~*~ Ritsuko knocked on the door. Something waddled down the short hallway to the door, and opened it. A fine white mist erupted forth, and Pen-Pen stepped to one side to let her in. The air was thick and hard to breathe. "Misato isn't trying to make her own beer again, is she?" Ritsuko asked Pen-Pen. Pen-Pen shook his head. "Wark," he astutely replied. Ritsuko rather quickly found it hard to see as the dust thickened. A taste test told the truth. It was flour. "Making cookies?" she asked as she came into the kitchen. The kitchen was a winter wonderland, or at least white like one. Strange aromas filled the air, and everything was filled with powder. Misato, who looked like a giant dustbunny, sat at the table, drinking something. "Eggnog?" she asked. "Yes, it is," Ritsuko said. She went over to the tree, and put down a dozen or so carefully wrapped boxes. "Here's your Christmas shipment." "Lemme finish this and I'll get your stuff from me." She gulped it down, then started towards the hallway, leaving dusty footprints. "They need to make flour bags tougher. Ritsuko looked at the tree. "Poor thing looks sick," she said. "It was the last tree left on the lot. I'm surprised it survived getting here," Misato said from down the hallway. She emerged bearing six gift-wrapped boxes. "Three from me, one from Shinji, one from Asuka, and one from Pen-Pen." Ritsuko extracted a thermos bottle from her labcoat pocket. She opened it and poured a cupful of milky liquid with a sweet scent like honey into the tree's stand. She then carefully closed the bottle. "That should help it." "What the heck was that?" Misato asked. "We'll be marketing it soon to raise money for the Research branch," Ritsuko said. "It's another derivative from our LCL research. I call it 'Unholy Miracle-Gro'." Misato blinked. "That's a joke," Ritsuko said. "I don't get it." "The technical name for it is 'Cellulose Growth Factor #3', but we're selling it as 'Dr. Akagi's Patented Plant Growth Potion', in order to capture the idiot market as well as the sensible people." "..." "Oh, and this is for you too." She pulled a spring of mistletoe out of her pocket and tossed it to Misato. "You can put this over your door for the Christmas Eve party." "Good idea! Thanks," she said. "I'm surprised to see you with mistletoe of all people." "I always carry some in case I'm attacked by Balder," she said. "Eh?" Ritsuko shook her head, picked up the presents from Misato, thought a moment, then said, "Give me some eggnog, and I'll tell you the whole story." ~*~ Hmm, what kind of ornament can I make, Shinji asked himself. His handicraft skills were fairly minimal. Then an idea struck him. I could get some paper and cut it to make a snowflake, he thought. Maybe coat it with glitter so it will shine. Cheesy, but anything I make will be cheesy. He got some paper, folded it repeatedly, then cut several segments out, just like he remembered doing in second grade. Borrowing Misato's Glitterator, he coated it liberally with shiny flecks of pseudo- metal, then attached a hook to the top. He took it out to the tree and hung it up, brushing some flour off the tree as he did so. "How does it look?" Misato, who would still make a good ghost said, "Interesting. It's a spider web, right?" Shinji twitched. "A snowflake." "Hmm. Looks a lot more like a spider web to me." Shinji didn't want to hear that. ~*~ "Where is Langely?" Rei asked Shinji when she didn't see Asuka at school the next day. "She got a cold from playing in the snow with Hikari, and she's at home being miserable." While this pleased Rei, it also inconvenienced her. "Contagious?" "Naah. You need to talk to her?" "Yes." "Well, if you come by this evening, I'm sure she's not going anywhere." Rei nodded. ~*~ Hikari said to Asuka, "We're going to get caught." "By who? C'mon, this is our best chance to go shopping without getting caught in huge crowds," Asuka said as they rode the train over to the Tokyo-3 mall. "Pen-Pen might narc on us." "How would anyone know what he was trying to say, though?" "True," Hikari yielded reluctantly. "I just have a bad feeling about this." "Oh, we'll be fine," Asuka said with the exact same confident tome the commander of the Light Brigade had hailed his troops with at Baklava. And with about as much justification. ~*~ Touji dribbled the ball forward, heading for the hoop. In his mind, the crowds went wild as he drove past the Yokohama Typhoid Marys to make the shot that would win the Japanese National Basketball Championship. Then, just as he sent his legs the order to jump, Rei was in his path. "What is Christmas?" To his surprise, he actually managed to jump over her and make the shot, but then he landed like a sack of potatoes. It hurt like hell. "You crazy woman! What the hell are you doing?" "Asking you a question," she said, turning as if nothing had happened. He got up and felt his anger wilting into confusion. Before he could lose it all, he shouted, "You don't ask people a question when they're about to make a jump shot!" "Why?" Touji ground his teeth. "You or they could get hurt!" She nodded. "What is Christmas?" "Why the hell are you...oh, the class thing, right?" She nodded. "Telling us to ask eight different people is pretty dumb if you ask me, but...If you tell me what National Cabbage Week is about, I'll tell you, okay?" She nodded. "It's about Cabbage." He laughed. "Teach'll love that one. Okay, Christmas is like this Christian holiday thing. There was this guy, Jesus, who his parents named after some soccer player. Anyway, his parents were like poor, so they tried to go down to Bethlehem because it was warmer down south than up where they lived. Back then, nobody had nothing, so they migrated for the winter, unlike now, when everyone's got too much stuff to move when the weather changes." He looked around, then headed over to the bench. "Come with me." She went over and sat down on the bench, writing everything down. "Anyway, so this couple is special, though, 'cause the woman had been sleeping around with some god before she got married to Joe, her husband. So the kid is half-god, half-human." He paused and blinked, then continued. "Anyway, Christmas is the day the kid was born. Anyway, they're really a poor family, and so they had to walk to Bethlehem with her preggers. They get there, and all the motels are full, but one of the motel owners takes pity on them, and they get to stay in a horse garage, called a manger. Or something like that. It might have been a sheep garage." Touji shrugged. "We ain't got them no more." "Okay, they're in the manger, and like she goes into labor. What a lousy place to give birth, eh?" He waited for Rei to respond, but she just waited expectantly. "So then these three kings show up and give them presents because they've been waiting for the kid to be born in fulfillment of various prophecies. They're called the Magi because they were all wizards and stuff." He furrowed his brow, thinking. "Someone named a ghost after one of them...Casper. Casper, Gandalf, and...um...Noah, I think. No, wait, Noah built a boat or something...Merlin? Yeah...no, Merlin was British..." "Anyway, I'm sure you can look them up. Anyway, they bought the kid Frank's incense...Frank. That was the third one. Caspar, Gandalf, and Frank. Frank brought the kid incense, Gandalf brought him gold, and Caspar brought him 'mrrr', whatever the hell that is. And there were these shepherds, who brought them all some nice wool coats. There was a drummer boy, who brought them a drum. And a bunch of animals. Anyway, so now the family was loaded." "But the King found out about the kid, and he was afraid this boy would be the one destined to end his evil rule. The king decided to kill every baby in the kingdom, just to be sure. But Jesus' daddy, the god, didn't like this, so he warned Mary and Joe in a dream, and told them to flee to Egypt. So they fled to Egypt, where Pharoah was still too scared of anyone from Israel to do anything to them, after the asswhupping Moses had given him. And they stayed there until the King smarted off to Julius Caesar, who came over and capped his ass. Or something like that. The king was named...Hera, I think. He was a cranky bastard because he'd been given a woman's name, and he took it out on everyone else. Anyway, so Christmas is the anniversary of Jesus' birth." Touji paused. "He later changed his name to Christ when he quit the carpentry business, so no one would think he was just exploiting his dad's wealth to make a name for himself; his parents were pretty much set for life with all the stuff they got given when he was born. So, we give presents in commemoration of that, like the wizards and the drummer boy and the sheep and everyone gave to Jesus' family. If you believe all that, anyway. I'm Buddhist myself, but I do kinda like getting cool stuff. Especially since Pop forgets my birthday half the time." Rei nodded. "Thank you." She got up and walked away. "You're welcome," he said, then went back to practicing basketball. ~*~ "What is Christmas?" Rei asked Ritsuko, who was hard at work at her desk in her office, going through paperwork and approving the weekly lab reports. "It's a tool used by merchants and industry to convince everyone to indulge in an orgy of commercialism in order to make vast profits. By convincing everyone to buy each other presents, and ensuring that if you don't buy someone a present who gives you one, you'll be looked down on, they force everyone to spend thousands of dollars on people they could care less about. Some of them pretend it's a religious holiday, but since that's just a form of self-delusion, they're even more stupid than the rest of us. I hate it." Rei scribbled this down. "What is 'commercialism'?" Ritsuko made a mental note to give Rei a dictionary for Christmas. ~*~ Maya checked the figures. She checked them again. This was not good. She marched down to Ritsuko's office and knocked on the door. Rei emerged, clutching a notebook, and Ritsuko said, "Come in." She came in. "We have a problem." "What?" "The checks we wrote for January's lab supplies all bounced." "..." "Apparently, our bank account has no yen left in it." "..." "We now owe a lot of money in bad check fees. Several million yen. Not counting the bounced checks." "..." "Are you okay, Sempai?" "I'm praying Misato didn't spend all of NERV's budget on beer again." "Again?" "I suppose everyone won't mind some vacation time once the supplies run out, but...now we've got to root out who embezzled the money." "I'll get right on it." ~*~ Makoto had a problem. Well, two problems. Okay, three problems. The oldest one was what he was going to do with the present he had bought for Aoba for this Christmas during the after- Christmas sales the previous year. Aoba had the audacity to die, leaving Makoto with an expensive guitar and no one to give it to, along with a collection of fifteen or so songbooks of guitar music he'd picked up at a going-out-of-business sale. Who can I give these to, he asked himself? His other problems, namely the dozen or so telemarketers that called him daily asking to speak to 'Miss Makoto Hyuuga' or the fact that he had just crashed every terminal in NERV Comp Lab #3 by trying to install 'Return to Escape from Castle Falkenstein' on them and now they were all shouting 'Sieg Heil' and 'Sprechen Sie Halten' over and over were minor and easily fixed in comparison. As he sat and went over the short list of people who might want a guitar on his Palm Pilot, Rei asked, "What is Christmas?" Makoto jumped. She'd make a good ninja, he thought. "It's a European holiday we've adopted because it's fun," he said. "Well, except when someone dies before you can give them their...hey, you play an instrument, right?" "Yes." "Violin?" She nodded. "Close enough. Come with me to my cubicle." Leaving the computers to shout 'Ich bin ein Berliner' and 'Wellkommen an Deutschen Buchstaben' behind them, they went down the hallway to his cubicle, where he had hidden his gifts for everyone. I was wondering what to give Rei, he thought. "Here you go," he said, handing her the four wrapped bundles that made up the presents he had intended to give Shigeru. "Merry Christmas, Rei. Study this music, and you'll learn a lot about Christmas." Four of the songbooks had a Christmas theme. "This is not music." "It's in the boxes," he said. "Take them home, and learn the songs." She nodded and departed. Now, what am I gonna send Akane, he asked himself. Hmm, if Maya dies in the next three days...no, I'd better not count on that, he thought. ~*~ I'll just borrow a little money from Tactical's account so I can pay off the credit card bills I ran up buying everyone presents, Misato thought. I can pay it back when I get my end of the month paycheck. But this way, no interest payments. A quick check with her personal computer revealed that Tactical had 1 yen left in its account. She stared blankly. No way. I know I paid back the money I spent buying my own distillery up in Hokkaido, right? Yeah, she was sure she had. And the UN paid more money into the account every first of the month, anyway. She'd bought the distillery in November, so the account should be full of money. Oh man, I'm gonna have massive interest to pay, she thought. After a bit of thought, she realized NERV would likely be in trouble if any Angels attacked before January 1, as they couldn't afford little things like paying for the electricity they used powering the EVAs. But surely the Angels would take the holiday season off. Yeah, no worries, she thought. Credit card companies, on the other hand, tended to be relentless, implacable, and unforgiving. I'm doomed, she thought. ~*~ Asuka tried to creep towards the front door. She was only about four hours later getting back than she planned, so she only had to sneak past Shinji, Pen-Pen, and Misato without anyone noticing she'd ever been gone. If she'd been back in Germany, she would have just given up, but since she knew she was smarter than everyone else in her apartment combined, this would be easy. She carefully rehearsed her story about how she had been kidnapped by a wandering band of Ainu and forced to go to the mall. She'd only just now escaped, of course. Luckily, she'd gotten away with some of their plunder. It was all the fault of the one-armed Ainu. Hmm, maybe I should say he was burakumin too, she thought. Yes, of course. No one was in the living room when she arrived. I am the luckiest girl alive, she thought. Pen-Pen came out of the fridge and started jumping up and down waving his arms wildly. "What's wrong," she asked? Saddly, he was not Lassie, though fortunately, Timmy wasn't down the well, either. After a few minutes of charades, she got the vague idea that Misato and Shinji had gone looking for something. "What are they looking for?" Several more minutes of charades gave her no answers. Finally, she gave up and took the presents to her room. To her surprise, she realized that music was coming from her room. She tensed; hearing music where no music could be usually meant someone was about to attack you...in the movies, anyway. She kicked open the door, and rolled across the floor, drawing her bowie knife from her purse. Rei looked up at her; she was seated on Asuka's bed, slowly plinking out the chords to 'Joy to the World' on a Fender Stratocaster. "What is Christmas?" Asuka did the sensible thing, concluded she'd accidentally breathed in some drugs on the bus, and tried to faint until the drugs could work their way out of her system. She simply succeeded in banging her head. ~*~ Kaji looked around to make sure he wasn't being followed. His contact was just where he expected the man to be, sitting on the steps of an abandoned house. He walked up and said, "They never let him play any reindeer games." "Like Monopoly," the short man with a conical red cap and a long beard replied. He handed an envelope to Kaji, and Kaji handed him a manila folder, which he quickly rifled through. "Hmm, looks like he'll be getting coal for the fortieth year in a row," the man said. "Good job. We couldn't do our work without helpers like you." "It was easy to get the data with my clearances. But...I think your boss will have to be careful this year. The commander has sent POLARIS to observe the Pole." "The Russians tried monitoring us for decades, but they couldn't pierce our shielding," the man said, getting up. "Be seeing you," he said. "Music makes a quiet mind," Kaji said. "Answers are a prison for one's elf. I mean, self." He grinned. "Looking for a nice shipment of coal?" Kaji shook his head. "Sorry. Couldn't resist." "Just remember, we know if you're naughty or nice." Kaji nodded. "I need to get going. How will you be getting back?" The man simply opened the door to the house and vanished out of sight into it. Kaji shrugged and headed for home. ~*~ "What is Christmas?" Rei repeated as Asuka peeled herself off the floor. "You don't know?" "Homework." "Oh, that thing. You got a good holiday. I got stuck with National Jello Week." "It's the result of the Jell-O corporation bribing the Diet in 2001. They provided crucial loans to rebuild Japan, in return for massive orders by all schools and government offices," Rei said. "Your turn." Asuka quickly wrote that down. "Christmas celebrates the birth of the Savior of the World, the Son of God, who came to Earth to redeem mankind." Rei began writing. She thought for a minute. "Here, let me get my Bible." She dug through a pile of books, extracting a black book with a cross on the cover. She stuck several bookmarks into it once she found the right pages. "This tells it better than I can. But basically, Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus, the Son of God, who came into the world to save us from our sins. It's a Christian holiday, but a lot of non-Christians celebrate it as well, as a sort of day to give gifts and have fun. Here, why don't you read these passages, and then I can answer any questions you have, okay? I need to hide these presents." Rei nodded and started reading. ~*~ Ritsuko reminded herself that she wasn't pouting. Certainly she was not going to spend the rest of her evening reminding herself of how her mother had never once given her anything she really wanted for Christmas. No, she always got things like lab coats and coffee mugs and test tubes and cat dissection kits. Well, Mother had gotten what SHE wanted. Her daughter was a lonely, cranky, fake blonde scientist with a brilliant mind, but no boyfriend, who was in danger of something we won't reveal here either, so there. But it was bad, whatever it is we're hinting at. But more importantly, she had never gotten the Troll doll she had asked for every Christmas from the moment she could speak to the moment she had discovered her mother's secrets and stopped believing in anything except quantum physics. Not that we're going to tell you what those are, but trust me, they're horrible. Really. She stared at her plastic tree with its synthetic ornaments, a twisted mockery of plant life, and sank deeper into gloom. Dammit, I hate Christmas, she thought. Hate, hate, hate it. She put the presents Misato had given her under the tree, right next to the gifts from Maya and Makoto and Commander Fuyutsuki and four of her lab technicians who wanted to kiss up to her. They were horribly wrapped; Misato was fumblefingered with tape and ribbons, but they brought color and light to the room. It brought back memories of the time she'd tried to help Misato with it, and Misato had managed to wrap her own hand inside Kaji's present, and then couldn't get it out. Of course, Kajji had shown up just as they were trying to apply the rubber cement remover. The doorbell rang, cutting her flashback short. She went to the door, and found a delivery man there with a mountain of packages. There were around forty or so, stacked neatly. "You Ritsuko Akagi?" She resisted the urge to say, 'Me Tarzan', and instead replied, "Yes." "These are for you." Her eyes widened. "All of them?" "Yeah. I guess someone likes you." "..." ~*~ Misato and Shinji stomped in out of the snow, feeling cranky. "Well, she can just freeze to death for all I..." Misato stopped in the living room, overwhelmed by awe. Two things had happened. First of all, the scraggly pine tree was now standing tall, poking against the ceiling. It looked vibrant and healthy, and the hand-made ornaments actually looked decent. But more importantly, somewhere in the area of two hundred presents were now piled around the tree. Half the living room was simply GONE. Pen-Pen was trapped in the middle of the presents, unable to get out. Misato and Shinji dug him out. "Did you buy all these?" Misato asked Pen-Pen. He shook his head. "Wark." "Oh, the UPS deliveryman brought them?" "Wark! Wark!" "Is Asuka home?" "Wark." "Right. I'll go chew her out." Shinji blinked. "You understand what he says?" "Doesn't everyone?" "No." She shrugged. "You need to study harder, then." She stormed down the hallway to Asuka's room, only to hear Asuka and Rei singing, 'Little House of Bethlehem' to the tune of 'House of the Rising Sun'. The playing was pretty decent, although the musician missed a few chords. She opened the door, and saw Asuka and Rei seated next to each other on the bed, singing along as Rei played a white guitar. They turned in unison and looked up at her, continuing to sing. Misato closed the door, went to the fridge, got a beer, drank it in one gulp, went to her room, and hid under the bed for about a half hour. ~*~ Commander Ikari sat at his desk and frowned. NERV's entire operating budget for the month was gone. Their financial accounts were empty. And yet, only three people could have possibly done it. If it had been just one department, he could have understood. But no, the only possible culprits were himself and Fuyutsuki. Neither of whom would do it, especially not when they had to be preparing for the coming of the Rider in Red. This had happened at the worst possible moment, crippling their ability to defend themselves at the very moment they would be most vulnerable. Could SEELE have learned the truth? Could they be aware of what my plans really are? Gendo mulled over the possibility. Perhaps they intended for me to be defeated so they could replace me without any problems, he thought. Well, I'll show them. There was only one choice. They couldn't afford the amount of power it took to properly run the EVAs or decent weapon systems, but they still had the power backpacks, they still had the EVAs and Children, and most importantly for his plan, they still had the Unholy Miracle-Gro. Or whatever it was being called now. Yes, he would show SEELE they couldn't be rid of Gendo Ikari so easily. He began to laugh maniacally, secure in the knowledge that everyone else had gone home and couldn't see him. A janitor stuck his head in. "Oops, I see you're busy. Call me when you finish, okay?" He'll pay when the Day of Return comes, Gendo thought. ~*~ "Did that help?" Asuka asked Rei. "Yes." Rei picked up her guitar and songbooks and left. Asuka didn't realize until later that Rei had carried the Bible off with her either. ~*~ "What is Christmas?" Kaji blinked at Rei. "How did you get into my apartment?" She pointed at the air conditioning duct. "But the guitar wouldn't fit through that." She simply shrugged. "It's when Santa Claus brings presents to all the good boys and girls of the world. He spends all year with his elves at the North Pole, making toys and having his super-computer KRINGLE analyze all the reports from his spy network. Here, let me play a song for you." He got the tape and played, 'Santa Clause is Watching You' for her. "Wherever you go, and whatever you do, Santa Claus knows all about it," he said. "But as far as I know, you've been a good girl this year. Anyway, once Santa analyzes the reports, he then brings presents to the good ones and coal to the bad ones." "What criteria does he use?" "A very complex system of points developed and refined over the last two thousand years. If you send an email to Rules@KRINGLE.NP, you can get the whole 3000 pages sent to you. You'll need a utilitarian calculator to do the math, though." She nodded and headed for the duct. "Here, let me get the door for you." ~*~ While the Children were in school the next day, Gendo called a meeting of the major division heads, namely himself, Fuyutsuki, Misato, Ritsuko, and Akiko (head of Accounting). "The situation is simple. We have no budget. It is all gone to the last penny. This means that many of our normal options are not available. Now, normally, this meeting would include me executing one of you for embezzlement, but I have determined that none of us could have committed this crime. Only Fuyutsuki and I have the clearance to spend all of NERV's money. Since we didn't, we can only conclude that someone has hacked into MAGI and faked authorizations." "Have the computer department go to work, Dr. Akagi," Fuyutsuki said. "I've sent all relevant data to you." "Also, we need to discuss tactical options should there be an attack," Gendo said. "But I have a clever plan." MAGI cued ominous music. ~*~ Rei sat at her computer, busily calculating her naughty/nice index with the help of the 'Santa Rules' file she'd gotten by email. Fortunately, her computer had a Utilitarian Calculator program. The hard part was remembering her own behavior in detail and interpreting all the various strange things in the rules, such as what 'Giving Someone the Cold Shoulder' meant. Did this mean freezing a person's shoulder and giving it to someone else? If so, she would get no demerits for that, but she suspected it wasn't that simple. Her current concern was the large number of demerits she'd gotten for 'chopping an intruder into your apartment into giblets'. That was a good three thousand negative points and even repeated points for 'fond thoughts about someone' just wasn't going to adequately make up for it. The other big problem was 'failing to care about your fellow man', which she'd calculated she'd racked up over 5,000 instances of in a single year. They were only two points each, but that added up to serious demerits. She counted herself lucky that 'failing to care about your fellow woman' or 'wanting to eviscerate Langely' were not categories in the rules. She was fortunate, however, in that most of her demerits were low valued items from the 'passive' category. Being creepy was only 1 point a day, for example. The big demerits tended to be in the active category, like intruder into giblets chopping. Her total demerits added up to 25,000 points of demerits. This was not a good thing. However, she now turned to adding up the positive points. One thousand counts of 'fond thoughts about someone' for one point each. Kindness to burrowing mammals, five points. Feeding Pen- Pen for Misato twelve times: 3 points each, even though he refused to eat it. Willing performance of one's work duties: 100 points plus 300 points for danger. Doing homework: 1 point per night, 250 points. Not being a burden on others: 25 points. Helping others learn about themselves: 15 points. This was not looking good, as she was running out of good things and not coming close to meeting her deficit. Then she came to the 2014 Addendum. The category 'Killing Horrors from beyond Space and Time' had been added. 15,000 points each, except Rhan-Tegoth, who was only worth 5 points due to being pathetic. Too bad for Langely, Rei thought. Capturing Horrors from beyond Space and Time was worth 5,000 points. Doing a quick addition, Rei's final total ended up as 56,003 points. This put her in the 'Saint' category. Hmm, if I kill Langely, I lose 5,000 points for 'Cold Blooded Murder of a Co-Worker', which would drop me down to 'Holier than Thou', Rei thought. She contemplated it, then decided to try to keep her Saint status, since according to the sheet, it meant she could have one wish granted this year, if she got it in to Santa before the sun set on December 24. She could kill Langely after Christmas, when it would go on next year's total. The tricky part would be deciding on a wish. She thought long and hard, then went to her computer, typed it in, emailed it, then went to work writing up her report on the meaning of Christmas. ~*~ "How's Project B coming along?" Ritsuko asked Sven Borkson, her top plant expert and one of her three main sex toys, who she had assigned to lead the team developing the 'emergency weaponry'. "Well, if the next Angel is a Norse god, we're good to go," he said. "Or if they want to kiss it. The tricky part is going to be shaving it down to the right shape. It's really not well designed for making weapons. We should have a test model by tomorrow morning at current growth rates." "Excellent. Will they be needing you for anything?" "No, the plants grow just fine on their own." "Good, come with me, I need a massage. Then we're going to go hack into Microsoft's bank accounts and steal enough money to keep operating with." "I think we already bankrupted them last month getting our start- up capital for the plant-growth formula business." "Hmm. Well, we'll think of something." ~*~ Maya was testing out the new VR rig as she searched through MAGI trying to find out what had happened to the embezzled money. The sub-nodes were clean, although she'd almost been toasted by Makoto when she stumbled into the part of one sub-node that was used to play DOOM. Right now, she was wandering through CASPAR, which looked like a haunted house. The virtual moon, always full, shone in through a window, as she looked out across the blasted heath which represented the 'recycle bin' in his memory. It was strewn with shriveled shrubs and chunks of peat, all of which symbolized various files that would be destroyed in a few days during the weekly memory clean up. She clambered out the window, nearly snagging her virtual vest with its 'sherrif's star' and her holster as well. It would have been easier to just ride down a garbage chute, but she didn't like VR dirt either. A wolf howled across the heath, but she ignored it; it was just for flavor. She took out eight wind-up cats and set them to hunting across the heath for any useful information, while she started checking shrubs and peat moss and shriveled flowers. After a few minutes, a great meow echoed across the heath, so she ran over to the cat, which was sniffing at a bush. The bush was labelled 'Macy's receipt'. As she examined it, the horrible realization of the truth swept over her, a truth so horrible, we have to cut to the next scene instead of telling you, for it would destroy your very mind and soul. Really. ~*~ Shinji handed Touji a wrapped sphere. "This is for you." Touji handed Shinji a wrapped box. "Here ya go." He looked over at the huge pile under the tree. "Looks like you're cleaning up, too." "Yeah, we don't even know who all these presents are from," Shinji said. "Well, the good fairy brought Dad a new car, and there's about a hundred presents under our tree too. The deliverymen are going nuts trying to ship everything. Poor guy passed out on our floor for about an hour." Touji shook his head. "That's one serious tree ya got there." The tree was starting to crack the ceiling as it grew, standing vigilant guard over the tree. It was now covered with ornaments, although Shinji couldn't remember where they came from or when they'd been put on it. "Yeah." "I guess this is gonna be a pretty good Christmas for everyone." "You're coming to the Christmas Eve party, right?" "Ya got that right. I figger there will be enough free beer to float the entire city." "And Rei and Asuka and I are going to play some Christmas music." "Cool. Her fuhrerness ain't good for much, but she sure can play." Touji mysteriously levitated, because Asuka had picked him up from behind. "You wanna insult me, butt boy? Do it to my face!" Shinji fled, hoping there was a new table somewhere in that pile of presents. ~*~ "I've found the problem, Sempai," Maya reported to Ritsuko. "Who stole the money?" "The MAGI spent NERV's entire budget buying Christmas presents for everyone on Commander Ikari's list." "..." "Which wouldn't have been so bad, except that he typed in the wrong file name, and it used the Census list for Tokyo-3 instead of his gift list." "..." "Sempai, you seem to be doing that a lot lately." "The entire city?" "Well, only the people who returned their census forms." Ritsuko thought for a moment. "Did it, by any chance, keep a list of what it bought for people?" "It deleted the list so no one would be able to peek. Oh, and all of the gifts are non-returnable." Ritsuko got up. "Come with me. We need to tell Commander Ikari." She nodded and followed Ritsuko. ~*~ Commander Ikari was not a happy camper. So the MAGI had been subverted by the Rider in Red. It was all clear to him now. The tendrils of the conspiracy ran deep. They were all after him and his magic bag. Well, they wouldn't get it. I'll defeat the Rider in Red with a pencil if I have to, he thought. Project B will work, and we will stop him. And then...then...then they'll be SORRY!!!!! He began to laugh maniacally, at least until a cockroach fell off the ceiling into his mouth. ~*~ Shinji stared at the email he got from Rei. TO: Spineless@Nerv.com FROM: Creepy@Nerv.com SUBJECT: Christmas Wish Send your wish to Wishes@KRINGLE.NP as soon as you can. Deadline is tomorrow at sunset. Ayanami Rei Shinji stared at the email. Wish? What sort of weird thing was this? He would have assumed a practical joke, but Rei didn't do that sort of thing. Well, I guess I'll send a wish there, he thought. Whatever it is, it can't hurt. Hmm...what to wish for... ~*~ Asuka stared at the email. A wish? Had Rei started taking the same drugs Touji must be taking? She scratched her head, then shrugged. Wouldn't hurt to try. ~*~ Asuka and Shinji finished stringing up the final row of lights. "Decorations are ready." Misato squeezed out her mop into the sink. "The last of the flour is cleaned up. The cookies are ready." Pen-Pen pointed to the pyramid of kegs. "Wark." The beer was ready. Rei put down a pile of presents by the tree. They were all wrapped identically in shiny blue paper with one inch wide white ribbons. "Presents are ready." You could barely see the tree, except where it had burst through the ceiling into the apartment above, for all the gifts. Shinji wondered briefly where they were going to keep all the stuff once they unwrapped it. "Has the eggnog been spiked yet?" Misato asked. "Yes," Asuka said. "I think adding four fifths of bourbon was over doing it, though." "Four fifths of bourbon and a fifth of what?" Shinji asked. They stared blankly at each other. "Wark!" Pen-Pen announced. "You hear Ritsuko coming?" Misato asked. Pen-Pen nodded. "Let her in, and let the party begin!" ~*~ The sun set, proving this wasn't the British Empire. The party was soon in full swing, with about two dozen NERV personnel hard at work getting drunk off their ass (and any other body parts). Misato's apartment was extremely crowded, since half the living room was now controlled by the presents and the tree. Only Commander Ikari was missing; he'd told Misato he would be busy trying to work on more ways to get money. She didn't mind; the man was a noted party pooper. Also, he might have stood under the mistletoe, forcing someone to kiss him. Instead, Pen-Pen had taken up a sentinel position there, leading a large number of people to stay where they could pretend they didn't see him. He looked rather disappointed. Touji and Asuka were deep into a game of virtual one-on-one basketball, and Rei had just bankrupted all the faceless minions who milled about in crowd scenes in the poker game in progress, and Makoto was busy pining away and trying to think of a clever way to get Pen-Pen out from under the mistletoe and Misato under it, and Maya was mentally reviewing her collection of naked Ritsuko pictures, when Shinji said, "Hey, Rei, Asuka, we should play some Christmas music." Rei nodded and got up just before Maya would have had to start throwing her illicit security tapes into the betting pool to have anything left to bet. Asuka said, "Soon as I whoop his ass, I'll come," she said. While she was distracted, he made the winning shot, and grumbling, she got up, while Hikari took over one of the consoles and forced Touji to play, 'Rappapa the Rapper'. Right as they began to play Silent Night, the night became very not silent as the alarms went off. And Misato's phone began to ring. Misato cursed. "Man, this is one serious hang over I'm having already." Asuka cursed. "Fahrvegnugen!" Shinji scratched his head. "I guess the Angels decided to get it over with now, so they could take Christmas Day off." Misato sighed. "To the batcave, everyone. Commissioner Moron is calling us." ~*~ A little while earlier, the halls of NERV were silent, echoing only the sounds of the various automated machinery. Everyone but a bare minimal skeleton crew was at home with their families. Commander Ikari sat on the bridge and waited. The Rider in Red was coming, and he would be ready. There was a loud ping. [ANGEL DETECTED. WARNING, WILL ROBINSON, DANGER, DANGER,] CASPAR said. [RIDER IN RED APPROACHING]. The clock stuck midnight. A shot rang out. On the horizon, a pirate ship was approaching. But that wasn't important right now. Gendo sprung to his feet and hit his quick dial for Misato's number. "Scramble the pilots. Angel approaching. Have them ready the Sprig of Balder." Then the phone began to ring, and he had to wait until she actually answered her phone, so he could repeat himself and be heard. ~*~ As they suited up, Asuka said, "This seriously sucks! Right as I'm about to crush Touji, this Angel shows up. I think he planned it." Shinji rolled his eyes and got snake eyes. Rei said, "No." Asuka stuck out her tongue at Rei. "I was just grousing." "I see no grouse." "..." ~*~ "We're supposed to WHAT?" Asuka said in disbelief. "We missed our last electric bill thanks to MAGI buying everyone Christmas presents, so NERV has no power for the fancy weapons we've been developing. So we've armed each of you with a giant mistletoe lance," Misato said, wishing she could be drunk and passed out at home the way she should have been by now. "And a giant sprig of mistletoe. Hold it over your head. This will force the Rider in Red to close in and kiss you, then you can all impale him with the lance." "..." Asuka said, "That is the most absolutely stupid plan I've ever heard in my entire life." "Hey, it worked on Balder!" Ritsuko said. "We're not fighting Balder!" "If you don't do it, I'll have to have Rei eat your brain raw," Gendo said. "You will obey." "You wouldn't eat my brain, would you, Rei?" Asuka asked nervously. "Not raw." ~*~ Taiki began shaking the presents, trying to decide which ones were worth stealing. No one would notice a few robberies while the Angels were attacking, and this place had its front door wide open. Nice tree, he thought, although why is it poking up through the ceiling? I'd think the upstairs neighbors would get mad. He read one of the tags, 'To Shinji from Misato'. Probably a boyfriend and girlfriend, he thought. Wonder who lives here...can't be a family; too much beer. He shrugged, and dug through the presents, until one caught his eye, a wrapped bundle that looked supiciously like a gun. I ought to take this for self-defense, he thought. He unwrapped it, and was surprised to find it was a Red Ryder BB gun. I thought these things were illegal...but then again, so is what I'm doing. "Wark?" He nearly jumped out of his skin when he turned and saw a penguin looking curiously at him. PENGUIN? He boggled for a few seconds, and then it jumped at him, having concluded he wasn't supposed to be here. He kicked it away, and leveled the BB gun at it. "Get back!" The penguin growled, but fled back into the fridge. He turned back to the presents, only to get hit in the head by a hurled beer can. He spun, levelled the BB rifle, and fired. The tiny metal shot ricocheted off the refrigerator, off a cabinet, and right into his left eye. His mother's dying words came back to him. It's all fun and games until someone puts their eye out. Howling in pain, he staggered backwards into the midst of the presents, right into the tree, and its branches wrapped around him, holding him tight. He struggled desperately as two more beer cans bounced off his head, and managed to twist around to face the tree just in time to see two eyes open in its trunk and a wide toothless maw gape open. Being a tidy eater, the tree avoided getting any gore on the presents, and drank the beer cans lying nearby just so they wouldn't go to waste. And then it went back to sleep. ~*~ It was snowing heavily as the three EVAs, wearing their power backpacks, moved through the streets of Tokyo-3, heading for the east side of the city, which the Rider in Red was expected to approach. They could see a glowing light on the horizon, slowly drawing closer, and the sound of jinglebells filled the air. Nine abominations of nature, reindeer who flew without wings, pulled the loathsome sled of the Rider in Red, led by a mutant with a glowing nose. The Rider himself was cast in the very likeness of a human being, with a huge eggnog gut and a long white beard. One might have been fooled into thinking he was just a kindly old fat man if one didn't know better, and Gendo was sure he did. "BRING ME HIS HEAD ON A PLATE!" Gendo shouted. Misato stared at the viewscreen. "That's Santa Claus." Ritsuko's eyes widened. "He's real?" "This is a joke, right?" Maya said. "//I can't kill Santa Claus!//" Shinji said. "If you won't kill Santa, you're of no use to me!" Gendo shouted back. Fuyutsuki twitched. "I told you that was someone's idea of a joke." "Rei, I want you to..." Gendo began, but then he was interrupted. The doors flew open and twenty men wearing kevlar lined Santa suits, armed with M-16s burst in. They each wore a badge showing a candy cane with the letters 'OSN' prominently embossed on it. "We're not going to let you kill Santa, you pathetic lunatic," the leader said. "We killed Stalin when he tried, and we'll happily kill you too." "How did you get in here?" Misato asked. "I told Kaji to lock up the Geofront!" "You forgot to seal the chimneys," the leader said, laying a finger along side of his nose and grinning. "Who are you?" Maya asked. "Order of Saint Nicholas. We're the last of the crusading orders, dedicated to protecting Santa from the freaks and lunatics of the world." He looked meaningfully at Gendo. Two of the men began wrapping Gendo in a straitjacket. "You've been a naughty boy. Off to the Charles Dexter Ward for the Mentally Deranged with you. And you'll be getting coal in your stocking again. Now, all of you go home and enjoy your holiday." Ritsuko rushed the man and began to shake him. "Why didn't Santa ever bring me that Troll doll I WANTED SO BAD I COULD NEARLY HAVE DIED?" The man shook like a bowl full of jelly. "Your mother stole it every year and burned it as a sacrifice! We kept trying, but then you stopped believing in Santa, so he couldn't bring you anything...You're really strong, you know." "She what?" "She went through everything Santa sent you and threw it out and replaced it with science toys." Ritsuko let go of the man. "I should have known." She went back to her chair to pout. Maya said, "I'd have gotten you one if I'd known, Sempai." Misato got on the com line. "Stand down. Come home. Let's go finish getting drunk." She scratched her head. "I guess this means you're in charge, Commander Fuyutsuki?" "Yes. Let's just forget this and go home." "Best order I've ever gotten," Misato said. "You heard the man. Everyone head back to my place, where I order you all to get so drunk you can't move." ~*~ Much later, most of the guests had stumbled out the doors into the snow. They were not run over by a reindeer, fortunately. Rei was about to go when Misato said, "Don go. You should stay here with us, open presents tomorrow morning. Too cold." "I have nowhere to sleep here," Rei replied. "Use my bed. My legs won't move," Misato mumbled. She slumped in her chair and was out in an instant. Rei shrugged and went to Misato's room, stripped down, and crawled between the nice warm sheets. Sleep took her swiftly. ~*~ Rei awoke, to her surprise, standing dressed in a white hooded robe, and carrying her new guitar, just outside a large wooden lean-to, half-buried in snow. It had 'walls' made out of bales of hay, and she could smell the strong smells of dung and unwashed animals coming from it. There was a sheet tacked up across the front 'door', which was really just a gap in the bales. Three shivering camels were tied to one of the roof support poles at the corner of the building. There was a larger building nearby, a two-story stone building from which music dimly echoed, almost drowning out the faint sounds of two people talking to each other from inside the lean-to. The sky was clear, and the stars and the moon shone brightly upon the soft white snow all around. She stuck her head inside, hoping it would be warmer in there than outside. It was indeed. There was a burly man with a thick moustache and beard, wrapped in blue and white cloth, sitting next to a young woman with long dark hair, both of them seated to the right of a very small fire in a cleared space in the middle of the room. The woman held a tiny baby boy, still bald and wrinkly like a prune, tightly wrapped in a warm brown wool blanket. Many animals were crowded into the space, and in-between them were three elaborately dressed men, one almost as pale as Rei, one darker than anyone she had ever seen before, and one who would fit in quite well at NERV if he lost the turban and the elaborate multi-colored robes in favor of a proper uniform. They knelt before the couple, each presenting a small box. A strong, sweet scent was beginning to fill the room, although it was also a gloomy one; it reminded her of death, and seemed an odd gift for a tiny boy. The couple stared at her, then the woman shoved a donkey out of the way, making a place for her to come and stand. They looked expectantly at her, and she suddenly realized she had no present. Except perhaps the guitar, but she was fairly certain it hadn't been invented yet and no one would know how to play it. But she could give them one thing. She began to play one of the songs she had learned, and tried to sing, although the song wasn't meant to be played in a monotone. o/~ Joy to the world, the lord is come, let Earth receive it's king...o/~ The family and the three men listened in surprise, having obviously never heard a guitar before. o/~Let every heart prepare him room, and heaven and nature sing, and heaven and nature sing, and heaven and heaven and nature sing...o/~ The animals began making noises that sounded suspiciously like an effort to sing along, although cows were never designed to sing Joy to the World. Far above, Rei could hear the music of the spheres, and distant Groth, who sings the stars into place, could not but join the tune. o/~ He rules the world with truth and grace, And makes the nations prove The glories of His righteousness And wonders of His love, And wonders of His love, And wonders, wonders of His love. o/~ She finished the song, and the baby cooed and drooled on himself, and his parents smiled and looked embarrassed. And then the mother said, "Could you hold him for me for a minute?" Rei nodded, and accepted the wrapped bundle of baby, while his mother got up and went outside, and the three men began to talk with the father about why they had come. He smiled up at her in the incoherent way of a young child, who will smile at anything, and sometimes frown at random, and then throws up on you because he can't help it. She stared down at him, and stroked the soft fuzz of his head, not consciously, but because anyone who is holding a baby just can't help doing that. His eyes wandered, but hers remained fixed on the new life, freshly come into the world. She had never been this close to an infant human before, and the one time she had come fairly close, the baby had gone crazy, crying and howling. This one just seemed vaguely befuddled by it all. And then, for no reason she could understand, she suddenly remembered the man she had killed when he had broken into her apartment. It was one of the most vivid memories of her life; her sight was filled with images of her driving her fingers into his eyeballs, and holding his head in the toilet and... With an effort, she drove the memory away, but now her own hands disturbed her. She had felt no guilt for killing the man; killing was what she had been made to do, and she knew it. And yet...it suddenly seemed wrong to her now that the hands holding a baby close were the same hands which had killed. Was that why the other baby had been afraid of her? Why the animals feared her? Did they know? Yet, Shinji had killed, and Asuka as well, yet animals did not fear them, and neither did babies, so far as she could tell. What made them different? They too were of the Children, so it could not simply be that. For the first time in her life, Rei suddenly felt truly alone. And then the baby cooed and tried to escape his swaddling clothes and climb up her chest, and the world drew her back in. His face was an inch from hers, and she wondered how such a young child could move so fast, or even manage to climb at all. His brown eyes stared into hers as he tried to suck on her nose and one of his hands batted at her left ear. She pulled him back enough so he couldn't gum her nose, and looked at him. He wasn't afraid of her, even though she could have killed him in an instant if she wanted to. Not that she had any desire to, but she hadn't held any enmity against any of the other beings who had run away from her. They had feared her anyway, but he did not. He gurgled and put a hand on her cheek, then his hand came up and grabbed a lock of hair and tugged, and he smiled at her. And she found, to her surprise, that she smiled back. Perhaps it was simply the power of infants over any human whose heart is not a cold and frozen rock. Perhaps it was something more that tugged at her heart and drove away her moment of gloom and doubt. She held new life in her hands, a tiny miracle full of potential, and he liked her, much to her surprise. He gurgled, and batted at her ear again, and he smiled, blissfully unaware of the things she had done with the same hands that held him gently. For the hands that had slain and rent and torn were the same hands that could be used for healing and mending and holding, if that was what she intended to do. Whatever she might have done, he did not care, not now, perhaps not ever. He accepted her in the way that only the truly innocent can. For a moment, she wished she could sit and hold him forever. And then his mother returned, and held out her arms, and Rei handed over the child to her. "Thank you," she said. "He didn't give you any trouble, did he?" "No, no trouble at all," she said. "Are all babies like that?" "He's a rather precocious child, and very trusting. He seems to like everyone he meets. I suppose it'll be the death of him one day." She said, "We all die. But he will do his duty." The woman frowned, and Rei suspected that was not the best way to put it. She continued, "Thank you for letting me hold him." A chill wind began to blow, and mist rolled across Rei's vision, and the last thing she saw was the child waving at her. And then she woke up, rolled over, and went back to sleep. ~*~ Ritsuko dragged herself out of bed, only to realize she had the day off, had a hangover the size of the Bronx, and that she could have not set the alarm if she wanted to. Instead, she decided to go downstairs and open her presents, eat breakfast, and go back to bed. Assuming I didn't just dream all of yesterday, she thought. She went downstairs, and was quite surprised to discover she had several presents she didn't remember being there the night before. One of them was a huge box half the size of her tree, most of the others were much smaller. They all had the tag 'To Ritsuko from Santa', except for the big one, which said, 'To Ritsuko from Maya'. Maybe Maya got me a new refrigerator, she thought. But when did it get here? She opened the three boxes from Santa. One of them was the Marcie doll she'd asked for when she was four. One of them was the Barbie Dream House she'd asked for when she was eight. And one of them was... A tiny little doll that looked like a shriveled wrinkled parody of a human being. It clutched a tiny staff almost as tall as it, and had long white fluffy hair and a happy smile. It was the Great-Grandmother Troll doll she'd asked to get for Christmas for six years in a row. Her eyes teared up, and she held the tiny doll tightly. I finally got it, she thought. I finally got it. There was a loud thumping, and a voice inside the large box muttered something about cramping legs. Ritsuko blinked, and put Great-Grandmother Troll on the coffee table. She got a butcher knife and cut the box open, hearing something squeal inside. She found Maya, clad in a Santa suit, complete with floppy hat. "Hello, Sempai," she said nervously. Ritsuko put one and one together and got two. This went on for quite some time. ~*~ Shinji, Rei, and Asuka shook Misato awake. "It's time to open presents," Asuka demanded. "Go way and die," Misato muttered. "Wake," Rei commanded, and Misato's eyes snapped open. "Okay, okay, okay," she said. There were many, many presents to open. Asuka found herself awash in wargames and videogames, and several cookbooks and martial arts manuals. Shinji found himself drowning in tapes, books, the EVANGELIONOPOLY edition of Monopoly, and a complete set of highly inaccurate EVA action figures. "Hmm, I wonder if Ritsuko knows they gave her a cybereye," he mused. Rei found a makeup kit, enough casual clothing for an army, certificates for three year subscriptions to Cosmopolitan, Seventeen, and YM, several more song books, a case for her Stratocaster, and a rock. She also had a bible and a book of Christmas hymns from Asuka, and the videotape of 'Springtime Cherry Blossoms' and a twenty-five dollar Outback Steakhouse gift certificate from Shinji. Misato had given her a slinky black dress with matching red jacket, and her own Elder Sign necklace in copper. And finally, she recieved a small card that read 'Good for One Wish' and signed, 'Santa Claus'. It dissolved away as she looked at it, and she felt a jolt run through her. There was a knock at the door. Pen-Pen let Commander Fuyutsuki in; he was carrying Shinji's father, who was still in a straitjacket, which he now unstrapped once he closed the door. Gendo stared at the floor. "I'm sorry. I let myself fall for the oldest trick in the book and nearly ruined Christmas for everyone. Maybe I should change my name to Grinch." Misato wondered what drugs he must have been put on. Shinji got up and came over to him and said, "Thank you for the presents, father." "You're welcome, son," he said, then took the wrapped package Shinji thrust into his hands. "What's this?" "It's for you," he said, nervously. Opening it, Gendo found five pairs of identical white gloves, and two little pads to stick on his glasses so they wouldn't slide down his nose. "Thank you, Shinji," he said. "I'm sorry about what I said last night." He IS possessed, Misato thought. It's about time. Shinji gulped. "I know...I mean...I know you were just jumpy." "Merry Christmas, son," he said, hugging his son, who began to cry, for his wish had come true. Asuka unwrapped her largest package, which had Kaji in it, dressed as Mel Gibson in Braveheart. She flung him over one shoulder while he looked confused, and she took him back to her bedroom. Her wish had come true. Rei got up, and came over to Shinji, then tossed him over one shoulder in imitation of Asuka. He gibbered in confusion as they went off, and her wish was about to come true. Asuka came back up, picked up Misato, and dragged her back as well. Gendo turned to Fuyutsuki, who said, "Don't even THINK about it." Fade to Black. The End. Author's Afterword: I hope you enjoyed this entirely silly thing. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Years!!!