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A Different Kind of Christmas Carol

by Zustara Orur

A story (C) 2002/2003 by ZUSTARA ORUR. Contact address: 1.2 May not be redistributed, commercial use prohibited!

Please see chapter 1 for standard disclaimer blurb and the dedication and acknowledgements section.


"Hey!", he shouted back at me, and then I heard his footsteps as he started off in pursuit. My pace increased, driven on by adrenaline released from him chasing me! It felt exhilarating, I could pretend he was a wild animal, that he mustn't catch me, and I probably ran much faster right then than I'd ever done before in my life I think, despite the thick clothes and heavy winter coat I wore, and the boots on my feet. Within seconds I was panting like a dog, and I felt hot as a volcano but I didn't care! I ran, spurred on by hearing Jeff right behind me, within reaching distance even (he could have grabbed hold of me or overtaken me easily!), and I actually started LAUGHING! It was quite insane, really.

Suddenly I stepped on a spot of snow that had been compacted down to a hard, ice-slick layer by many car tires and then covered up by freshly fallen snow again. My foot went out ahead in front of me and I slipped backwards with a loud yelping scream! My arms flailed out in an attempt to make me regain balance but it was too late. Jeff tried to catch me, but all he got was the bottom part of the coat as it came flapping out behind me, it must have looked quite comical I suppose... I sat down on my butt so hard it made my teeth click together sharply, I even bit my tongue a little, but even the sharp stinging pain from my mouth AND the dull ache from my butt wasn't enough to make me stop laughing! I actually started laughing even harder as I remembered my girlish scream, it made tears start to roll down my cheeks and Jeff crouched down in front and a little to the side of me as I sat on the snow-covered street, him too busy laughing so much he could hardly breathe!

"Are you okay, sweetie?", he managed to say after a lot more laughing! "Sorry-" More laughs! "I didn't mean to laugh at you like that." He then laughed even more, as did I, and I noticed I was holding one of his hands.

I laughed more as well, and then our mirth reduced itself to giggles. We tried to stop, but as soon as we looked at each other's faces it came bubbling back up again, and that stupid, silly scream played itself out in my head over and over again so it was quite impossible to calm down completely. Soon my body started to protest, my stomach ached from all the laughing, and my throat was getting sore. The tide of giggles subsided at last - mostly anyway - quite on their own actually.

"Naah", I responded. "I'm okay..." I stuck out my tongue at him. "Cag yuh chee ich ny togge ich veedig?", I said, and that was enough to launch us into another fit of laughter! It was a lot shorter than the first one though since both of us were in pain, our muscles rather sore already.

Jeff giggled in a high voice like my little brother and shook his head. "No... It looks fine", he finally said. "No, wait. Stick it out again, let me see it properly." I poked it out as far as I could as his face came real close, pretending to study it. I knew what he wanted though... His lips closed around my tongue and he sucked the tip into his mouth right then and there! I felt his tongue touch mine, massaging it gently. It still hurt just a little, but I could feel it wasn't damaged for real, and again I was melting to his (most unusual) touches... Nothing mattered. Not the cold, not the pain. Only Jeff... Suddenly a car came turning around a corner up ahead, catching us in its headlights. We both scrambled up on our feet and hopped onto the sidewalk, which was quite fortunate because my poor hiney had started turning into ice! I'd been sitting with just my jeans covering my posterior, and the street had been really really cold... I was all wet too on my bum and down my thighs, my body heat had melted the soft snow on top.

"You think that guy saw us playing doctor?", I asked when the vehicle had passed us.

"I don't know, was that what we were doing?", he asked back.

I gave him a smile. "I don't know, I never tried it as a kid..."

Jeff took me in his arms briefly. "Neither did I", he said. "Not with anyone except you..." We kissed again of course, but only ONCE. We had to get going again.

We were both chilly as we returned to the great mansion about forty minutes later. It was our fault, we'd stopped several more times along the way to make out a bit and the snow coming down had settled in our hair and melted, sending icy water down our scalps and necks. The hard run had made us sweaty too, and that chilled us even more, and me sitting in the snow like that and being small and thin and skinny, I was almost shaking like a dog despite the temperature not being that cold. I was stupid, I should have worn a knitted cap on my head or something!

The gates stood open still (even though the party banner had been taken down), much in stark contrast to when the old lady had still lived there, and we walked right up the well-lit road to the front entrance (I noticed more clearly this time there was a large snow-covered stone fountain in the center of the circular driveway, its exact shape hidden from me but part of it seemed to be a horse rearing up on its hind legs; it was quite tall), and we went inside without bothering to knock or anything like that. Why should we? Jeff lived there after all. As we were stamping our feet inside the door, William was there as if by magic (honestly I don't know how the heck he does that trick).

"Welcome back Master Jeffrey, and welcome to you too, Master Timothy." The tall man took my coat and Jeff's jacket, then cast a look at my face and saw my wet hair and blueish lips. "A bit worse for the wear, are we?" I gave him a brief smile even as I was shivering slightly. William acted quickly. "He needs new clothes, clothes that are warm, and dry. Jeffrey, go and bring the boy something suitable to wear from your wardrobe."

"Yes William." Jeff wasn't bothered by being ordered around by his manservant, actually he seemed quite concerned himself over me. "I'll be back in a second, Timmy!" I nodded back, thankful.

"Meanwhile, I'll get you warmed up with a nice cup of tea", William said. "Come, follow me please."

I let William lead me through the house. We entered the annex, a much smaller two-storey structure off from where the east wing connected to the main building, and from there he took me to the huge kitchen. It was as much a workplace as just a place you could say. It was designed to allow a large quantity of food to be prepared quickly and efficiently, yet it wasn't new and modern, and that automatically made it cozy and comfortable. It was warmer in that room than the rest of the house, and that automatically made me feel a little better. William sat me down at a tall wall-mounted counter or workbench or table or something along the back wall and started about his task in an efficient manner whilst chatting pleasantly with me. It was just him and me in the large room.

The kitchen was mostly wooden, except the floors which were earth-brown tiles, and some of the work surfaces that were stainless steel. The sinks were older, and made out of enameled metal. Stoves and ovens were made of cast iron and heated by gas, not electricity.

"Cook burned several things in this oven until she'd let herself be convinced it really was hotter than what she was used to at a particular temperature setting", William mused. "...Even when considering your odd Fahrenheit temperature scale. She is excellent at her work, but a very stubborn person. She now says we should have someone calibrate these old things so her old temperature scale works again, though how she expects to accomplish that I don't know. She seems to do just fine anyway."

"I guess Cook fixed us that lovely dinner yesterday?"

"Not alone, of course. There are seven more people on the kitchen staff." I shook my head and wondered what it must cost in salaries and such to run a house like this... A small fortune every month I suspected! William had water at a boil on one of the gas stoves in hardly any time at all and were busy scooping tea leaves into a glass teapot that he'd pre-heated with hot tap water. I watched him pour in the boiling fluid and put a glass lid on top. Then the man stuck a large insulated hood over the pot so it would keep the heat inside.

"So Alfred", I said slowly. "Where's the batcave then?"

"Batcave?", the man started, then he recognized the jest. "I'm afraid we're somewhat short on batcaves in these parts, and besides, young Master Jeffrey's parents aren't lying dead in an alley right now. ...To the best of my knowledge at least."

I almost gasped, quietly. "I should certainly hope not!", I said quickly! William looked at me with a twinkle in his eyes. "So, you know about Batman and stuff then?"

"Oh yes. I've been Alfred on quite a few occasions to young Master Jeffrey. He was quite fond of comic books when he was little. He needed some help to understand them fully of course..."

"So you read them to him then?" William nodded solemnly.

"What are you two talking about?", Jeffrey's voice came from across the room, sounding amused. "My exploits as a kid? Shame on both of you, don't you know it's impolite to gossip?" I giggled, and 'Alfred' actually allowed himself an ever so brief smile. Jeff came over and gave me a bundle of new clothes, they were too big, but nice and soft and warm. Nothing fancy, just nice cozy indoors-type clothes really. I proceeded to strip off my wet kit right then and there, and Jeff actually blushed a little! "Uh, there's a lavatory down the hall just outside...", he started, but I ignored him on purpose! He had to position himself in front of me to hide me since I still wasn't wearing any underwear and my pants had already dropped to the floor. William had turned his back to us, most likely out of consideration to me, but he took the opportunity to get some tea biscuits out of a cupboard, and milk out of one of several huge fridges, cups, saucers and spoons for us and a small silver bowl holding sugar cubes from another cupboard. I was feeling a little naughty so I stuck out my bum at Jeff and let it brush up against him rather noticeably, and of course there was a hand there that clamped itself firmly over one of my buttocks! I jerked and almost made a sound, but I stopped myself just in time. It was only fair I suppose! I'd started it! The hand stayed there until I hoisted my new set of pants and secured them as best I could on my narrow, bony hips.

I tapped Jeff on his shoulder. "All done now", I told him, holding my clothes in a bundle in my arms.

"Oh, I'll take care of that", William said and was going to snatch all of it away from me after putting down the tray. Jeff was faster though.

"No reason for you to bother with it. I'll go upstairs and hang it up to dry in my place."

"Very well, Sir. Don't be tardy though, or there won't be any tea left for you." Jeff nodded and went off with the bundle, going back towards the main building. William and me shared a few short moments of silence, me huddling inside Jeff's big, warm clothes. My hair was still wet, and I felt a little cold sitting all on my own like that. I wanted to be in my boyfriend's strong embrace... "Feeling a wee bit chilly still are we, Master Timothy?", William asked and removed the hood off the teapot. He lifted the lid and the glass filter cup that held the tea leaves and let it drain. He then stirred the finished brew with a long spoon, then tapped it a few times against the rim of the pot to shake loose any drops clinging on to it before replacing the lid and putting the spoon back on the tray. "This will warm you up." He lifted the pot and filled a fragile-looking, bone-white thin porcelain cup. It was so thin the rich amber color of the tea shone through the sides of the cup, and it was all absolutely steaming hot. The hood went back over the pot to keep the heat inside.

"Two lumps, no milk please", I mumbled, and the butler used a set of silver pincers to pick up one cube at a time and carefully depositing them in my cup so they wouldn't spatter any tea around before putting cup and saucer down in front of me. I looked at the tea with some fascination, stirring it with my spoon to make the sugar at the bottom dissolve. The spoon was made of silver as well, yet rather simple in design despite the choice of metal, and the heat spread quickly through it. "What is this, William?", I asked quietly.

His measured, rich voice replied with all the wisdom and authority of a great teacher, it felt like. "It's called Darjeeling. It's from India, where it grows high up on the southern slopes of the Himalayan mountains."

"It smells wonderful..."

William nodded. "Yes... It does." The butler paused for a few moments again, reflecting on things, it seemed to me. "Master Jeffrey is a very strong young man", William then said, speaking in a low voice just like me. "Not just physically, but mentally as well. You have to understand that his strength never failed him even during that dreadful time that ended about a year and a half ago. If it had, I think it is safe to say he would not be with us right now. No, he was simply childish and immature back then. He didn't understand the effect his actions would have, not on himself, nor on the ones he loves. Perhaps he didn't even care." The man paused and looked at me sharply, his hair was slicked back just like Jeffrey's had been during his birthday dinner, black, and slowly graying at his temples. "Jeffrey depends a lot on you, Master Timothy... Not to provide strength, because he's got that already, whether he wants it or not. He'll survive without you, even if you were to betray him in the worst way possible, he hasn't got a choice there. You see, he understands now. He has grown up and matured, no matter what happens, he will survive. He does depend on you for his emotional well-being though... Without you, I fear he will walk through life to the end of his days without smiling a single true smile ever again."

I was almost in shock, shaking with fear. I tried to pick up my teacup and my hands were quivering so bad it rattled against the saucer and I sloshed a little of the hot, amber liquid over the side and almost dropped the fragile thing entirely. William's hands came to my aid and made me put it back down again. Tears started pouring from my eyes as I spoke. "You have to believe me!", I told the tall man desperately. "I'd never NEVER betray Jeffrey! Never!" My voice quivered almost as bad as my hands. "I... I love him! He's g-going to be my... My husband, and I LOVE him!"

"I'm sorry for putting you through this, dear Timmy", William told me quietly as he lent me a white silk handkerchief. "However, you are not the only one who cares for him, I had to make certain you are aware of everything." He watched me dab my eyes and make myself presentable again for when Jeffrey returned. "Now blow your nose, Master Timothy!", he admonished gently. I hesitated, looking at the pretty silken kerchief. It was embroidered with birds and stuff, and what I supposed was the butler's initials, "W.F.". It seemed too precious to treat in such a manner, but he motioned at me to get on with it so I did. He wasn't satisfied with my first attempt, so I did it properly and he gave me a quick smile and held out his hand for the soggy thing.

"Uh, but it's... It's ICKY now!", I told him and grinned, slightly embarrassed.

William afforded himself another of his scarce smiles. "I have changed many a diaper on Master Jeffrey when he was a baby. Do you think an icky handkerchief would scare me?" He paused and looked at me, making me drop the thing into his hand. "A little snot never killed anyone."

"What if I carry some kind of lung disease then, plague maybe?", I said with a grin. My eyes felt a little gritty and I suppose Jeff might see I'd been crying again, but so be it. I couldn't do anything about it.

"In that case I suppose I'll just have to risk it", he said in a somewhat amused voice and made the thing disappear inside a pocket in a manner that actually seemed quite elegant to me.

I tried my hand at having a drink from my steaming cup of tea, and it tasted wonderful! "This is fantastic... Thank you!" He merely nodded in reply and let me enjoy the hot drink in peace for a few more moments. I was thinking if I should ask about it or not, I wasn't sure. Felt like perhaps I could risk it... "William...?", I asked hesitantly. "May I ask you a question?"

The tall man heard my hesitation and calmed me. "Of course you may, my dear boy."

"Uh... What... Do you know what happened..." I coughed, feeling uncomfortable. William encouraged me to go on. "...To, uh, happened to Felix?"

William looked at me with deep sympathy. "My boy, you must promise me never to tell this to Master Jeffrey." I nodded firmly. "I did my own inquiries, kept myself informed as the months passed... Knowing this may make you very uncomfortable."

"I'm-I'm ready."

The man sighed briefly. "Very well. About three and a half months after Felix and Master Jeffrey parted ways, there was a party at a person's home. A knife fight broke out on the upstairs floor, and the boy tripped and fell down the stairs. On the way down, he suffered a stab to the heart from his own weapon and died within minutes." He saw my face crumble. "It was accidental, Master Timothy. It wasn't anybody's fault..."

"I... I just wanted to redeem him, you know? Help him, somehow! Nobody deserves to end like that...", I whispered, barely keeping my emotions in check.

"Dear Timmy, I understand you. However, some just cannot be saved no matter how much we try. I spoke to Felix's parents, and they had already tried everything. They are good people, not abusers of anything, nor were they abusive to him either. The boy plain didn't want to be saved, so of course he'd end up that way, it was inevitable. Please don't let it cloud your mind, don't think of it any more." But I did. I was thinking, maybe in death Felix would find the peace he could not in life... It's one of those things they say at funerals to console the survivors and make them feel better, yet it wasn't working for me. It just felt horrible and awful and...horrible. Nobody deserved to die like that, even if they were basically rotten and nasty! Not when they were just a kid! William saw it, and he tried to stop what was happening. It was too late, I was off once more. "Oh no, I've made you cry again and my kerchief's no good anymore. Here, have a paper tissue instead."

His calm, apologetic words were enough to make me start to giggle instead, and as I was giggling and wiping my cheeks, William actually chuckling quietly, in walked Jeffrey!

"What's going on here?", he asked, bemused.

"William's telling me dirty jokes", I said quickly. "He's quite the stand-up comedian actually!"

Jeff looked at me and smiled briefly. "Funny. I never noticed."

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