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Fajitas Part 2 - Presents

Posted on Thu Nov 22nd, 2012 @ 10:23pm by Fae of Sky Maus & Fae of Fire Cat Random & Celestial Angel & Guardian Brann Connolly & Mystic Zachary Craft & Unknown Draco Sandrino

Mission: Sinister Whispers...
Location: The Forge
Timeline: December 9th, 2011

The text had read "Surprise in the forge, come see. P.S. it involves food."

While Cat talked and stole the occasional pepper slice and Drake cooked, Bennie had set up the picnic perfectly with plates in a neat stack and all the food in the middle. She'd set out the condiments, sour cream, salsa, even beans in case people wanted them, along with the large container of fresh tortillas. The three pans containing the finished fajitas, peppers and onions with a choice of shrimp, steak or a lightly spiced vegetarian option made with eggplant, were still filling the air with a spicy blend of smells.

Cat sat on the top of her work table with her legs crossed tailor fashion beside the camp stove that Drake was cooking on, crunching on peppers and debating snagging one of the shrimp that he was cooking.

Angel had been finishing the present wrapping for Cat, knowing that she would rather the task simply get done then do it herself, then set about wrapping her own presents for each person. She'd just finished putting the last knot on the small box for Cat when she got the text. She was dressed warmly in her usual winter wear of a sweater dress and tights, all she had to do was pull on her boots and a cloak and she was ready to head out to the forge. She packed all the gifts into a basket, both hers and Cat's and looked in the mirror. She looked a little like Red Riding Hood with her heavy red cloak and basket of goodies. With a shrug she headed out.

Maus arrived at the forge with his arms laden with wrapped packages and an 'x' strap backpack. He wore his goggles and a black short-sleeve tee under a white long-sleeve open button down, long baggy jeans and workboots. He set down two presents from those that he was carrying, laying them out for Drake and Bennie but holding the other’s back. Drake's was silver with tiny white and black anime skulls on it, most with cracks, red eyes and fangs but they were comical and cheerful.

Bennie's had pink bows on white skull heads with blue eyes and wide happy grins. It was Strawberry Shortcake died and came back as a zombie.

Drake smiled at Maus as he set all but the slab of beef down on the ground. "Bennie honey, I didn't know we were going to do presents, why don't you go grab ours from my room? We won't start until you get back."

"Sure!" Bennie said, grabbing her coat, "Back in a flash."

"This isn't really Christmas," Maus explained. "This is what we do for each other and then there's Christmas when people get stuff from the school."

"Now you see why I was so hyper about getting them done early." Cat chuckled as she wrinkled her nose at Drake. "Hey Angel you mind grabbing ours? I didn't think about it or I would have grabbed them."

Angel pushed back her hood and smiled, brandishing the basket, "I already did." She set the basket out of the way and shrugged out of her cloak, "I finished wrapping the last of them just as I got your text." She sniffed the air, "smells wonderful but what's the purplish gray stuff?" she wrinkled her nose as she looked at the eggplant.

Drake looked a little sheepish, as he put the sliced steak on a plate and set it with the rest, "I didn't want anyone to feel left out so I made a veggie version. I've never done it before so I don't know how it's going to be."

Brann trudged in looking like he plowed through a snow drift to reach the forge. He shook off his black snow cap, slipped out of his jacket, and revealed a t-shirt emblazoned with Charlie Brown's Christmas tree growing lush and green with roots sunk into the shallow graves of the Peanuts gang. He glared at Maus, "You failed to tell me that the snow wasn't packed. Chilled balls don't come out and play."

"But they are considered a delicacy in some countries," Drake said as he wiped the pans out with an oil soaked rag to keep until he could properly wash them later.

Brann arched a single eyebrow at Drake, "Too bad I don't have any."

"So you're bitching about not getting to play with Maus'?" Cat asked matching Brann's arched eyebrow.

For his part Drake's face had taken on a shocked, 'oh god did I just say that?' look as he ducked his head and put the last of his utensils away, then he cocked his head as he thought about what he'd heard. He frowned and looked at Brann questioningly.

"And now you have something to explain to Drake," Maus observed to Brann, gesturing to the look Drake was giving Brann.

"Oh, but he's so cute when he looks confused as all hell," Brann beamed. "Drake, if you seriously want to know, ask later."

"Why do you all seem to talk about sex all the time?" said Zach. It was unclear how long he was in the room but clearly he had been there long enough to hear the exchange. He was wearing water proof pants with a warm lining. His coat appeared light for the cold winter weather but it was zipped up tight and only the barest hint of fur shown around the collar as his inner lining. He stripped off his coat revealing a skin tight under armor shirt that was designed to keep him warm.

"Because they're hormone obsessed teenagers?" Cat asked by way of explanation.

"Word," Maus aimed a finger like a gun and winked as he mimicked shooting Cat with in once.

Bennie chose that moment to skid back into the room with a stack of neatly wrapped boxes and one large open box full of large origami pieces. "What'd I miss?" She asked, a little breathless.

Drake walked over and helped her unload the stack of boxes on to the now cleared table. He thought about changing the subject but decided to let it stand and see how the others would react now that there was a younger girl in the room. "Thanks for running up there," he said, dropping a kiss on her head which brought a beaming smile to her face.

"Deflated balls" Zach replied dead panned as he went over to his work station, taking off his jacket.

Bennie looked at him and cocked her head to one side as Drake helped her out of her jacket, "What do you mean?"

Drake laughed, "Nothing dearest, they're just complaining about the cold."

"You're fajitas should warm them up!" Bennie said with a confident smile.

"It's really not all that cold." Cat said with a shrug before giving Bennie a grin. "But I think you're right and the food will warm the complainers up."

Brann looked over the fajita offerings and took one packed with meat and peppers. "These smell great, Drake, thanks!"

"Thank you Brann," Drake said as he started to make his own plate.

"They're his specialty," Bennie said proudly, popping a piece of steak in her mouth.

At that second, the outer door opened and Jericho came in, carrying a basket over her left forearm like she was going to a picnic, the cloth covering it was a brilliant semi-metallic crimson fabric that looked gold when light bounced off of its folds. She placed her right index finger to her lips and looked at all of them, bidding them be silent, and set the basket down next to the other presents and then smiling again, finger to lips, she slipped back out the door.

Cat raised a brow at the sudden appearance and just as sudden departure of their Headmistress, silently she looked around at the rest of the group.

"Is anyone else freaked out by that?" Maus asked softly.

"Just a little," Brann peeked at the basket, half expecting something inside to writhe unnaturally.

Still without saying a word Cat raised her hand, though her curiosity was starting to eat away at her. Putting a wrapped anything infront of Cat was just begging for her to unwrap it or go insane with wanting to unwrap it.

"Well one thing is for certain," Pike pointed out, "Jericho doesn't give out cheap presents and she always thinks about it, so its got some kind of impact important to the person."

"Probably." Cat nodded. "Maybe we should unwrap them and see." Jericho had known Drake and Bennie were there and so she didn't see any need for secrecy from them.

"Go on, Cat," Brann smirked. "It's always fun watching you shred wrapping paper like a chain saw."

"I think we might want to do the ones from us first. Then move onto the ones from Jericho. I have a feeling they're going to be a bit more intense." Cat said softly.

Maus was handling the one that he had filched from the basket in the Maus-ware print wrap with intent curiosity. He paused and deliberately set it aside and responded with a small frown, "Indubitably."

Cat reached into the basket that Angel had brought and handed Maus a box wrapped with skeleton mice paper. "Here, go a head and unwrap it. I made some modifications since the last time you saw it." She gave him a small grin.

Maus, familiar with Cat's favored medium of work, took the paper wrapping apart carefully and set it aside, revealing a nice dark wooden box. In was four inches on a side along its width and depth and two inches high. He opened it and cushioned inside was what looked like a fresh, wet eyeball whose color matched his perfectly, the optic nerve still attached and the whole thing looking wet. He picked it up carefully and inspected it critically, flipping down his goggles and, as he turned it to look at it dead-on, he grinned wickedly. "We REALLY need to talk marketing sometime Cat," he said as he turned to her, eyes gigantic in the goggles.

Cat let out a laugh. "It was fun to make something unusual. I've got a couple of other pieces that have hidden surprises." She gave a sheepish shrug. "If you want to commission pieces to sell we can work something out."

“I was thinking mass production for other sick and twisted people to buy off the Maus-ware webstore,” Maus chuckled.

"Other sick and twisted people, that sounds like a party!" Brann said as he chomped off a third of his fajita in one bite.

"My turn," Angel said with a bright smile, handing Cat a perfectly wrapped flat square box.

Cat shredded the paper like her namesake and opened the box. It took her a moment to flip through the pages. The top one was obviously a tattoo design, a large gear surrounding smaller gears and links of chain with a pierced belly button worked into the center. The ones on the bottom were simple line drawings of people in different sexual positions with a little blurb about them. She felt her face starting to flame as she realized that Angel was giving her a tattoo design and some ideas for paying for it. "Um...... Angel....." She stuttered for a moment before her face turned even brighter red.

Angel chortled, "Cat, really, you know me better then that, I talked to Kyort, he agreed to let me 'pay,'" she made air quotes, "for your tattoo."

Rolling her eyes Cat stuck her tongue out at her sister. "And the reason for the other pages?" She asked with a raised brow. "Not like I'm gonna be practicing that anytime soon." Her eyes tried to flicker to Drake but she managed to keep them locked on Angel.

Angel shrugged, "I wanted to see if I could get your face to match my hair," she grinned brightly, "Turns out... I could!"

"Like that was in doubt?" Cat chuckled.

Zach looked up from his new work book observing the fun that was being had. Some of the connections he perceived were a little beyond his ability to grasp. He frowned a little as his gifts he was working on for everyone were not ready. Nonetheless he walked over and picked up a vegetarian fajita and started blowing on it to cool it down.

Cat hopped up and went to the wall where a sturdy round, piece of metal hung like some sort of ornament. "Here Zach. You'll have to give it to Kyort, but I thought it was fitting."

Zach nodded his thanks as he took the gift. He noted that the shield was light but balanced and he knew it could be thrown almost like Captain America's shield. Zach inwardly raised an eyebrow at the thought of him using a shield. He never considered himself much of a defender but he did appreciate the craftsmanship. For Cat to spend 3-4 years on one item was special. He looked at it with a measuring eye and new there were no flaws in the construction or even, the design. He looked up at Cat from his gift, "This is truly exceptional, thank you."

"No worries." Cat said with a shrug and a grin.

"Me next!" Bennie crowed and pulled the box over, she didn't pick one person to give them to she handed something to each person, and intricate origami figure done in bright colors.

"We don't have a lot of credits yet so we had to get a little creative with our presents, Bennie loves origami and wanted to make something for each of you."

"And you Duck," Bennie said handing him an intricate dragon with a long spiked tail.

Drake pinched the bridge of his nose, "Did you have to call me Duck in front of everyone?"

"Yup," Bennie said as she continued handing out presents, "Before I made each one I wrote a wish for each of you on the paper, so they would hold good luck for you for as long as you have them."

"We've known about that 'Duck-thing' for years now," Maus stage-whispered to Drake.

Angel smiled and took hers, they were a set of angel wings made from sparkly white paper, each feather folded so that they tucked into the next, they were sleek and streamlined like those of a hawk, rather than fluffy like people usually picture angels. They looked a lot like her own wings from her vision. She smiled at Bennie, "They're perfect, thank you."

"Zachary," Bennie said a little shyly as she handed him a stack of 4 pointed stars tied with a blue bow, she looked worried as she held them out, "Yours are throwing stars, if you look there is a little pocket where you and slip in a razor blade so they are also kinda functional. Duck would only let me test the design on one with blades in it but they should all work..." She trailed off looking unsure.

Zach took the the stars and gently took the ribbon off. He lifted one up and noticed that for paper, it was well balanced for throwing. He looked at it closely and noticed the slits that would hold the razors. He was impressed that the level of craftmanship and thought from one so young and new. "Thank you Bennie, these are very well made," he piled them back up and then put them in his inside pocket with a pat. "I do not want them to get singed or stained, I am not sure if you have ever seen Pike and Brann eat but it usually involves umbrellas and bleach," he winked down.

Cat laughed. "Don't forget Maus in that assessment." She shot her brothers an impish grin as she accepted present from Bennie.

Taking the origami cat and she ran her finger along the stripes that were created from strips of torn paper. It was obvious that the girl had taken time and effort to get the paper figurines just right. "This is beautiful. Thank you Bennie."

Maus held up his little fanged Maus origami cutely and squeaked threateningly. It was terribly cute.

Pike got his panda and smile indulgently, fingering the delicate folded paper with extreme care.

Brann held up an intricate paper horse with a mane and tail apparently clipped from Bennie's hair. He grinned at the girl. "What is a knight without his noble steed, right? Thank you, Bennie!"

"Welcome," Bennie said quietly, she had turned very red but was smiling happily. She'd spent many hours with many failed attempts making them and was glad they were well accepted.

Maus pulled his packages around and handed them out to everyone, even Drake and Bennie. Angel’s had little Chibi angels chasing devils around and bonking them with gigantic hammers. The paper with red and gold and pink with white snowflakes. For Cat it was decorated with crimson foil swirls contrasted with black and tied with a white lace ribbon. For Brann it was simple gold foil with a silver chain wrapped around it and fastened with tiny charms to hold it on. For Zach the paper was black with contrasting black textural symbols of artsy stars and circles and arcane astrological symbols hidden in the paper. For Pike, his paper was decorated with pandas with misty mountains and bamboo all over it.

Each of the packages was different shapes and different weights, Cat and Zach both getting bigger boxes that were fairly heavy; several pounds each at least. Angel received what felt like a book wrapped in crimson sateen fabric with a gold shimmer seen when the fabric shifted and bent. Bennie and Drake’s presents were the same size, boxes eight inches long by three deep and six wide.

Cat looked at the paper and smiled, carefully she untied the ribbon and then wrapped it around the base of her ponytail and tied a giant bow. She really did try her hardest not to just shred the paper open on this one but once it tore a little bit she couldn't help it and soon was surrounded in a pile of paper that looked like it had covered a much larger package. Giving Maus a wary look she eased the lid open slowly.

And found ore.

Inside the partitioned and cushioned box was a large lump of some sort of crystallized iron and then a plastic container full of some sort of sand and then shards of some sort of smoky obsidian-clouded glass in sharktooth-like shapes.

Maus watched her critically, watching for her reaction.

She gave a soft purr as she lifted the crystallized iron out and began to run her fingers over it. "Aren't you a lovely bit of fun." She murmured to it as she held it up and looked at it intently. Cat seemed completely abosorbed into the ore for a moment before she gently returned it to the box, then setting the box carefully on the ground launched herself at Maus and gave him a giant hug. "Thank you Maus. It's perfect."

He nodded, satisfied. “Hulga suggested that you might want this for Christmas,” he explained, “and now it sort of makes sense. The lump is crystallized iron from a meteor, the flakes are volcanic glass and super hard and sharp and the sand-stuff is from some sort of super-rare silicate from the bottom of a marine trench that keeps turning up on sea drilling platforms.”

Zach nodded his appreciation of the thoughtfulness of the gift. He systematically removed the paper from his gift. He then opened the box and peered in.

In Zach’s was a similar box of the same size but inside the wooden box was a black pitted chunk or raw iron ore with a strange reddish gleam to it as the light reflected off of it, one side had the same cut-mark on it that was on Cat’s chunk of crystallize iron. There were three smaller containers; one of a particular iron-sand from Japan and two tracking numbers on printer paper in each of the other two. Of those, one described a filigree kit and the other described a pending industrial copy of his specifications for one or more titanium objects of up to 3 kilograms of weight.

"Thank you Maus these are exceptional in every way," replied Zach.

"Hulga," he nodded with a small smile. "She pointed out the meteorite but Summer said you’d want the other components for a project coming up. I’m pretty sure what she’s talking about is something you haven’t put together yet," he looked from Zach to Cat, "Either of you, actually. These are high end." He looked to Pike and quirked an eyebrow, the other young man nodded sagely.

“Special ingredients for special gear,” Pike said softly.

"Yeah. Definitely going to have to have a talk with these beauties to see what they want to become." Cat said before settling back down on the floor with the box and opening it up to get a feel for all of the different components.

Angel waited until Cat and Zach had finished opening theirs before pulling a small knife from her boot and using it to cut the tape. She saved wrapping paper for projects later down the road and this one was just too fun not to. The ribbon she tied into a headband to keep her curls back. She smiled at Maus as she slid the paper of and folded it carefully off to one side.

Inside was a glove-box made from the same quality materials and craftsmanship of the 19th century, cedar lined on the inside to keep out moths and cobalt satin in the base for the contents to rest on. Inside was an large piece of supple golden leather and a folded pattern with silver fittings for an archer’s glove.

Angel practically glowed with happiness as she slipped the glove on. As she expected it fit perfectly and felt exactly right. With a happy squeal she leaned over and wrapped her arm around Maus kissing him on the cheek, "Thank you!"

Where Cat tended to shred wrapping paper into a cloud of confetti, Brann approached his like puzzles to solve. In this case he worked the lovely little charms to release the chain and then proceeded to snip the wrapping paper here and there with meticulous care to preserve the foil. At last he drew the paper back and found a black velvet jewelry case with gold tracery. He drew the lid open and gasped at what he saw. A pendant, more of a medallion actually of a shield made of highly polished gold and emblazoned with the crest of a silver dragon. The dragon wound around its body forming a spiral. He drew the chain over his neck and opened his shirt so that everyone could see as he wore the shield proudly.

"You're the best, babe," he leaned across and gave Maus a kiss.

"I know but it takes effort," Maus replied contradictorily.

"My turn," Brann smiled and handed out packages that looked wrapped in comic book pages. Maus' package was covered with Pinky and the Brain heads in various states of grinning and scowling. Angel's package showed the hero Archangel with his metal razor wings in action. Cat's wrapping paper showed scenes from the web comic "Simon's Cat." Zach's showed various comic book fighting machines like Wolverine, Deathstroke, Batman, Warblade, and Lobo. Bennie's paper showed the Valkyries from "Thor" comics astride their pegasi, riding into battle against giants. Drake's paper was covered with a little known but much loved character from the comics, Lockheed the Dragon. A tiny winged creature with purple hide, bat wings, a long snout with an adorable, if sassy expression puffing smoke from his nostrils. Each Package looked the same size, 11x14, like picture frames.

"Well that's the last time I do that after sex," Maus muttered and then winked at Brann.

Zach took his gift from Brann. He could not deny the craftsmanship of the image though, it did confuse him. He looked up at Brann "Vanguard?" was the only thing he said. Zach saw that he was made of metamorphic mechanical parts. Every piece was meticulously thought through and fitted with others. Brann clearly modeled this in his head to function if it existed. Various lethal weapons bristled from arms and legs. Brann's imagination was truly unique and Zach smiled his small half smile.

Maus' present from Brann was in a beveled picture frame that looked like smoked glass. In it was a hand-drawn comic book portrait of Maus as Brann apparently saw him in his truform, wild crackling hair, fiery eyes, in a form fitting utility suit and striking hero pose with "Maus" emblazoned as his hero name. Maus gave Brann a look that promised 'interesting thank yous' later.

Angel used the small knife to cut the paper neatly, she was as adept at taking the packages apart as putting them together, and folded the paper into her neat stack. The image inside was of her, comic book hero style. She was drawing her bow and leveling an arrow with deadly accuracy, her flaming tresses crowning her head like an avenging halo. The name "Harbringer" made her give Brann a look but she just smiled brightly, "Thank you!"

"I want to see!" Bennie said, bouncing from person to person as she watched them open their gifts so excited to see what the others were getting that she forgot about her own until Drake snagged her around the waist with a low laugh.

"You have one too," he said, handing her the one Brann had tried to hand her.

Bennie did a double take, "Me?" And proceeded to shred the paper to get to her gift. She fell silent though as she ran her hand down the image, not actually touching it as she took in the image of herself dressed as a heroic Valkryie astride her white, blue-eyed pegasus, the name 'Eir' in bold yet feminine lines in the corner. She looked up at Brann with wide eyes, "Thank you, but what does Eir mean?" she pronounced it 'ear.'

"Say it like 'I-year,' it's Norwegian, like the vikings," he explained. "Eir was a legendary Valkyrie, a viking warrior. She kicked ass when she had to but she was the peacemaker, the diplomat of her sisters. She also helped heal the wounded and granted mercy when she saw opportunity. She saw the truth in people's hearts, just like you."

Bennie tested the word a few times until she got it right. Then she looked at Angel, "I thought you were the peacemaker? You always seem to diffuse the fights and smooth things along?"

Angel's brows went up, "Observant little thing," she commented before she nodded, "I do that sometimes, but most of the time I am the diplomat or a spokesperson, a Peacekeeper more than a peacemaker. I keep others from killing the rest of you if I can."

"A job that sometimes is way more difficult than it should be." Cat laughed. "It doesn't help that some of us seem to have no sense of self preservation when it comes to marshaling our tongues."

"Hey," Brann shot back with mock indignation. "We're doing great behaving ourselves around Bennie."

"Barely." Cat said with a snort and a broad grin to make sure they knew she was joking.

"And talking about shriveled testicles," Maus reminded Brann with an elbow poke and a soft aside.

"Your turn Duck!" Bennie said, not getting out of his lap but holding up his present form Brann.

"Why don't you open the paper for me then I can open the box," Drake said, smiling as Bennie shredded the wrapping easily.

Drake opened the box and examined the image. He'd been expecting another image like the ones the others had held up, but this was very different. The image had him sitting on the steps at the base of the dungeon, dressed in the odd finery he'd been given the night he'd returned to the school, his first night as an orphan. He had his arms wrapped around Bennie, his chin resting on her shoulder, a look of solemn sadness on his face. Behind them, many of the orphans as well as Jericho stood in silent support. The image was titled "Never Alone."

Drake was not the crying type, but as he looked at the image he felt a definite thickness in his throat. As he looked at Brann his voice was deeper, heavier, "Thank you very much Brann." He looked as though he wanted to say more but stopped, not sure of the right words.

Bennie turned in his lap and wrapped her arms around his neck tightly.

Pike examined his picture: A comic book style landscape with a storm raging high in the sky against the face of a snow-capped mountain. Water streamed in majestic falls, leading the eye to a still pond with a Panda sitting in a patch of bamboo. The Panda hugged a tiger cub as if its own. He smiled fondly at it and lay it carefully to the side.

Cat looked at the picture of herself and the name that Brann had gifted her with. "Firecat, I like that." She said giving Brann a grin before handing him the box that contained his present from her. The paper covering the box was a deep sapphire blue with lighter blue swirls mingling together.

The box held some weight and Brann knew to be careful given How Cat preferred to work in glass and metal. He began to snip and cut as before but various growls warned him he was holding things up. "Okay, okay," he sighed with a smile and shredded the paper to confetti. "Happy now?"

"Deliriously." Cat gave Brann an impish grin. She really wanted to see his reaction to the gift.

Brann took the lid off his box and found lying on its side in a bed of fine packing paper a griffon made of clear, deep blue glass with wings fire colored to look like a sunset. It sat on its haunches, it gazed sternly with stern amber eyes and the gold chain around its neck was very real. Brann made out the finest detail in every feather. He held it up for everyone to see and he gleamed with childlike joy at Cat, "This SO pays forward. You have no idea. Thank you, Cat!"

"I figured you'd like him." Cat said with a smile. She loved when people loved her work and the pride and joy of seeing their joy shone in her eyes. "Bennie, here's yours." She said handing the young girl a smaller package, covered in a black paper with shimmering white Pegasus on it.

Bennie shredded the paper on her box from Cat in no time flat wrenching open the box with such enthusiasm that she sent part of the contents flying. Drake caught the chainmail barette and examined it before handing it back to her. Bennie looked at the matching sets of 3 different colors of chain mail flowers with awe and a growing glee. "They're beautiful!" she said in a soft whisper to Cat.

"What do you say?" Drake prompted.

"Will you put them on me?" Bennie asked looking up at him.

Drake shook his head with a soft laugh and took the pair that matched her outfit to pin back the sides of her hair, "There, now say thank you."

"Duh," Bennie said, "I just wanted her to see how much I liked them." She stuck her tongue out at her brother then looked at Cat, "Thank you, I love them."

"I'm glad you like them Bennie. They'll start your collection of jewels and frippery." Cat gave the young girl a conspiratorial wink.

"I've never had big sisters before," Bennie commented with a big smile.

"Now you have more big sisters than you can shake a stick at." Cat chuckled before wrapping an arm around the younger girl's shoulders. "It'll take some getting used to I'm sure."

"I like it," Bennie said without the slightest hint of joking.

"And big brothers and little brothers too," Maus pointed out. "And you're going to learn all kinds of things, though you're actually pretty good and being quiet," he said slowly, considering the fact she was pretty good at the sneak.

"Isn't that what little sisters are supposed to be good at?" Drake asked rhetorically.

"And for Angel." Cat handed her a smaller box still. This one was wrapped in paper covered in spirals, all in shades of grey and white.

Angel slit the tape on the paper, one that she hadn't wrapped so there was quite a lot of it, but set the paper aside carefully before shaking open the box. Inside was an ear cuff, something that Angel was very picky about but that Cat had found expertly. The tiny quiver was perfectly picked out in minute detail and was just her style. She put it on immediately and used a piece of ribbon from the box to tie her curls back so it was clearly visible. "I love it!"

"Good. I thought you might like it." Cat gave her sister a definitive nod.

Angel smiled then motioned to Drake with her head and a little wink.

"This one's is yours." Cat handed Drake a box that was a bit larger than Maus and Brann's. Wrapped in a metalic paper that seemed to be made of oriental dragons all flying around and twisting up into each other so that it was hard to follow any one dragon's entire body.

Drake blushed a little, still recovering from the emotional gift Brann had given him, but picked up Bennie and set her next to him in front of her plate then took the box. He opened presents with about half the enthusiasm of his sister, ripping the paper but not shredding it.

Inside the box Drake found 2 pieces. One was the front half of a dragon, as though it were coming through the orange side of the portals in the game Portal. The other was the back half of the same dragon as though it was going through the blue side. The detail was perfect even down to the guts inside the dragon and the thin monofilament that would let him hang it so that it was suspended in the air. Drake laughed, holding up the pieces for everyone to see.

While Drake opened his present Bennie got to her feet and went to the box she'd brought her presents in. From the bottom she pulled out a plastic garbage bag and fitted it to the box then started cleaning up the discarded paper from the many presents.

"Last but not least. Here you go Pike." Cat handed him a gift that looked to have been made from recycled paper with bamboo shoots stamped onto it. It was a bit larger than even Drake's present.

"Hmm," Pike looked at the Bell and the Doje she had given him, the landscape with the bamboo, mountain peaks and pandas were the right size for his big hands. He smiled at her, "This will work well Cat, thank you."

"You're one of the more difficult people to make things for you know." Cat wrinkled her nose at him playfully.

"I know," he frowned slightly as he said it. "But I think I can make these into... well... I'll show you later."

Cat cocked her head curiously. She had no idea where Pike was going with the idea but then Pike was the kind of person that she could beg and pester to finish the line and he would do it. In his own time of course.

Zach felt a little self-conscious about the fact that gifts were flying everywhere but he lacked anything made. He did have them designed but he did not have the ability to make them, yet.

Pike smiled at him and showed him the picture of Pike-Panda snuggling the tiger-cub.

"Oh look something to accessorize your Panda suit" replied Zach.

Drake got to his feet and went over to Zach on the pretense of dishing up more food. "Wish I had done mine first, they are all cast offs, things I already had that I thought others might like better. No credits and no talents means no cool gifts."

Cat let out a little snerk. "You're a good cook. That will get you places with this group of bottomless pits."

Zach nodded "Your cooking is above average" he said between bites of a vegetarian fajita. "Do you keep capsicum crystals on you" Zach asked. He bent over to his workbench and pulled out a glass tube, a turkey baster and some coffee filters.

"No, I work with real peppers, fresh grown then dried," Drake said, still blushing slightly under his dark complexion from Cat's comment, "never gotten into Molecular Gastronomy or anything like that, my teacher taught me to cook with pinches of this and dashes of that, I wouldn't know how to measure if I tried. But I am always open to trying new things."

"I have no interest in cooking styles" Zach said. He reached out and pulled out a vial of what appeared to be bright pink powder. He proceeded to start piecing together the various components and then pulled from his pocket what appeared to be an old derringer. He pulled it apart and it was hard to see what he was doing he was moving so fast. He held up what appeared to be a type of gun. In place of a barrel was a clear class vial full of the pink powder. "Merry whatever" he walked over and showed the weapon to Drake. "This is made from what use to be called a pepper box or derringer. It is now literally, a pepper gun. Make sure you are not standing against the wind when you use it. And it only has one shot. I replaced the gunpowder with a small air cartridge and the barrel is full of capsicum powder. Most of my mechanical weapons use a two safety features, this one is no different. Squeeze the pistol grip and then you will be able to flip the safety to off. Use this only in self defense and to get away. Your education is behind for your age this is the best I can offer you." Zach offered the weapon to Drake.

"Thank you," Drake said, taking the gun carefully and looking at the double safety. He handled it like he knew what he was doing with weapons of this kind and didn't even touch the secondary switch. "I'll be very careful with it."

"He won't need our protection for too much longer," Maus observed.

Zach tilted his head at Maus and then focused on Drake trying to peel back the covering placed by Jericho and her resources.

He felt the veil shiver as he exerted his will against it and then with a strength that had been slowly growing over the last several weeks, he managed to pull down a strip of Drake's Guise. Underneath, dark gray skin and black dreads worn long framed a skeletal face that still had flesh, though darker and with sharper features. He couldn't see all of it but he saw the fangs quite clearly and the glowing red eyes and realized the gift-wrap Maus had he had made based on what he had been seeing from Drake.

Angel looked at Drake too, cocking her head as she focused to see past the veil as well, curious what he was.

The Veil distorted badly but didn't give for her, though it started to give her a slight headache.

Cat shot Maus a questioning look. Unlike the others she had never tried to see past the veil that Jericho had put up, but she knew Maus saw more than the rest. ::What's up with that?:: Her fingers flicked.

::Drake's one of us:: Maus curled fingers surreptitiously. ::And his aura is strong, physical, like Pike but different::

Drake frowned as the attention of the group turned to him rather suddenly and pointedly, but shook it off. He did note the flicky of hands that seemed more deliberate then simple emotive gestures.

"Alright, enough of all this seriousness," Angel said with a snort and handed out her small packages. Most were flat though some were as large as a garment box, none were overly hefty.

To Maus she handed a flat box with black paper that had little white mouse skulls on it and was tied with silver ribbon and a holly leaf.

For Maus it was all the custom tools he'd jury-rigged for his computer work, Angel had made with ergonomic static resistant handles that have Cat's new logo in resin on the butt of each, along with a leather strap with a static eliminator built in, all of them are in a leather carrying case that rolled up for easy carrying. "This," he chortled, "SO goes with my steam-gear. Thanks Angel," he got up and came over and kissed her on the lips sweetly.

Brann's was about the same size as Maus' but was wrapped in pale gray with a watermark of two crossed riding crops tied with a matte black ribbon and a cinnamon stick.

Brann arched his eyebrows at Angel as he slid the cinnamon stick free and ran it under his nose, his eyes closed in pleasure. He looked at the riding crops and laughed, "Somehow I don't think this has anything to do with horseback riding."

This package he opened with care because the paper and the black ribbon gave him ideas for his next drawing project. At last he opened the box and cleared away the shiny pearlescent cloth. His eyes shot round and his lips formed an "o" of surprise before he drew out a shiny black leather man's corset fitted with chains that hugged the pectorals and attached to a studded leather collar.

"Wow!" Brann beamed brightly. "I was wrong, this is for riding." He flashed Maus a suggestive smirk. He hopped up, hugged Angel gently and spun her around a few turns before giving her a kiss on the cheek. "You are awesome, thank you!"

"And kinky!" Maus observed.

"Was there ever any doubt of that?" Angel asked.

"Well it's not like we can ask to compare notes with Kyort," Maus quipped with a smirk.

Getting to her feet Angel handed a smaller package to Zach. His was in simple brown paper and dark string with the symbol for Peace in Chinese stamped on the corner.

Zach opened to gift to see a chocolate brown leather bound journal in front of him. It was a little larger than his previous one and the pages were made of engineering graph paper as opposed to blank sheets. On the front were the words "Create Fearlessly" in embossed in delicate silver script. Zach looked at Angel and nodded approvingly. He had just filled his last sheet this morning with the pepper box gun he just made for Drake and this was perfect. "Thank you Angel, this gift is perfect, i just used up my last page this morning on my old journal." Zach replied.

Pike's package was tiny, little more than an envelope one might find on a bouquet of flowers, black paper with his name in perfect calligraphy on the front.

In it Pike found a card with "Good for one free meal and conversation just the two of us" printed on it with the same calligraphy. "Cool," Pike grinned widely and came over to Angel and gave her a hug that lifted her, easily and gently, from her seat and deposited her back onto it.

"I realized that I had no idea what to get you because I don't know you as well as the others and I really would like to," Angel explained as she handed Drake an envelope similar to Pike's but in gold paper.

Drake opened the envelope and looked at her with one brow raised as he read the card aloud, "All good things come to those that wait? What's that mean?"

"It means your present is a work in progress and I haven't finished yet. Be patient, I promise it's worth it," Angel said, handing a larger envelope to Bennie.

"Whatever that means," Drake muttered with a laugh, but he set the card with his other gifts and turned to watch Bennie.

Bennie attacked her envelope with a squeal, but her hands stilled and she looked up at Angel with wide eyes, "Peggy?"

Angel nodded, "I made a call, she's being transferred to the stables here for you, it's going to take a few weeks and I still have to work a few things out with Kyort. But once she's here I am going to be taking over your riding lessons. The stable is mailing me the notes from your old teacher so we should be able to pick up where he left off."

Maus gave Angel an appraising look and smiled slightly; the girl was developing good links. He knew what the network knew and Bubbles had put some interesting bits into some encrypted notes Maus had busted before he showed her how to use it. He knew all about what had happened to Drake and Bennie and he knew what was going down. So he also knew that Angel had spoken to Jericho who had 'made it happen'. He was pretty sure Mz. J was on the warpath with Drake's parent's enemies and if she could find them before they found her, they'd be daisy-food pretty quick.

It was kinda cool working for the supernatural mob boss of the northeast US.

Bennie had wrapped her arms around Angel's neck, with Angel's height it hadn't taken much, and was holding on for dear life.

Angel laughed, hugging her back, "Don't sound too excited I am a task master when it comes to riding, and there are no stable boys to do all the dirty work. You are going to have to learn how to take care of Peggy from top to bottom." This had been a two fold gift. Volunteering in the stables was a great way to earn credits, something that Bennie was going to need as she grew older and Angel was a good person to help her learn that.

"I'll work hard I promise!" Bennie said as she detached herself from Angel.

Drake got to his feet and brought over a stack of presents that had all been wrapped with the funny pages from the Sunday paper. They were neatly wrapped if not expertly. "Alright guys, like I said, Bennie and I had to get a little creative. So the only thing I could come up with are items from my old life that I think you all would be able to make better use out of." He looked a little sheepish as he started handing out the gifts.

"I like your taste in comics," Brann smiled at Drake before he looked at Cat, "Ready, set, SHRED!"

Strips of paper flew everywhere, like a confetti bomb to much laughter. Brann found a white clothes box similar to what Angel gave him and inside he found a three piece suit in matte black including tie, shirt, tie pin, watch chain, and cufflinks. The suit bore an 'Armani' label and looked as if it cost a ridiculous amount of money. Brann mouthed silently, "holy shit" before he tipped the box gently for others to "ooh" and whistle at. Brann set the box in his pile and offered Drake his hand. When Drake took it, expecting a friendly shake Brann tugged him into a hug. "A gift means more when it's part of you, thanks." Brann whispered in Drake's ear before sitting once more. "Now I can really play 'Matrix Agent.' MU-HAHAHAHA!!!"

"You start trying to bend over backwards like you're dodging bullets and I get a free punch," Maus growled at him, despising those movies.

"We are about the same height, though you have a leaner build, I thought you would be able to adapt the pieces to work for you," Drake explained as he handed Maus his gift a rather heavy square box.

Maus paused when he got the box and held it, tilted it slightly several different ways and then smiled as he set it in his lap. "Two laptops, probably Macbooks, the ones I saw you had last term," he proclaimed and then opened the boxes and smiled back up at Drake when he had confirmed that was exactly what they were.

"My dad loved Apple and they have all the bells and whistles you could want, I thought you might be able to use them for parts," the taller boy explained.

"You know, I've never done a Franken-Mac before," Maus considered aloud, thoughtfully. "The school's gonna give you a laptop anyway and it's gonna have Maus-ware ALL over it. We'll have to see what's in these and see what I can do with them. Thanks Drake," he got up and hugged the larger new brother.

Drake grinned, "Glad you like them, can't wait to see what you do with them." he said as he handed Zach a longish, flat box, made out of wood, he hadn't wrapped it but had tied it with a cloth bow.

"These are nice, Drake. Thank you" He lifted a set of perfectly matched Sais and even though he had never used them before he twirled them around expertly and then quickly replaced them back in the Box. "They are well made and perfectly balanced. These will be fun to use."

"One of the many gifts my dad brought home from one of his business trips," he put the last in quotation marks, "I'm more into fencing than two-weapon."

From the bottom of the stack he pulled out another largish flat box and held it out to Pike. Pike seemed a bit surprised he had gotten a gift from Drake and took it reverently and noticed it shifted a bit. Like Maus he paused and tilted it minutely this way and that before smiling even wider, pleased. Gently he opened it to reveal a bunch of rocks, some agates and several geodes but most seemed to be river rocks or pretty colored rocks. All of them were the kind of stones that would catch your eye and make you want to pick them up.

"This one takes a little explaining. My dad always brought me something expensive that I never really used, but when he got married he started taking her with him. She knew I didn't really give a rats about the gifts he brought me, that I would rather have gone with him so she brought me 2 or 3 rocks from wherever they went. I have another box of the ones that are really dear to me and the little notes she wrote, but these are the extras so to speak. When I was trying to figure out what to give you these just kind came to mind..." Drake trailed off suddenly feeling really stupid.

Pike came over to Drake and hugged him, picking him up easily and gently, like he was a favorite stuffed animal. "In a bit, you'll understand more why this is the best gift you could have given me Drake.," he whispered in the other boy's ear and then set him down gently.

Drake returned the hug briefly in that guy two pats kind of way then detached himself and held out a medium sized box to Cat with a little smirk on his face as he handed it to her.

Cat raised a brow at the smirk as she unwrapped and then opened the box from him. She pulled out four pairs of pants, two pairs of heavy jeans and two heavy weight cargo pants. Looking at them she realized that they would fit though they would be a bit baggy on her, she also realized that they were very obviously designed for a man. Which meant that they were obviously some of Drake's clothes. Her look turning curious as she turned her attention back to him, the still raised brow on her face indicated the question she had.

"I found these in an old backpack from a few years ago, I think I put them there for a camping trip and then completely forgot about them," Drake said with a grin, "I thought you might be able to replace some of your burnt ones from the forge."

"So does this mean I'm getting into your pants or that you've been in mine?" She asked with a little smirk. She had absolutely no intentions of dragooning new pants for forge work. She would probably switch out some of her older everyday pants and wear these for day to day stuff.

Drake laughed but his skin darkened in a blush, "Both?"

"Intriguing." Was all Cat said in response to that.

"Does this mean you two are now dating like Maus and Brann?" asked Zach innocently

"No, Zach." Cat said with a soft laugh. "It was a joke because Drake gave me some of his old pants."

"Dammit I wanted to make a 'Kyort-joke'," Maus dratted.

"You two are so cute in your blushing denial." Brann clasped his hands in coquettish delight and then dropped his face like stone, "bored now - ooh, PRESENTS!"

"Attention-span of a hummingbird," Maus quipped about Brann.

"Angel," Drake said clearing his throat to change the subject as he passed her a mid sized box.

Angel tore the paper, knowing that newsprint would be nearly impossible to save and opened the black plastic case inside. She frowned for a moment as she looked at the frames and sets of different colored lenses and then smiled.

"My dad thought hunting might be something fun for us to do together, bought me the whole set but his aim was lousy so we never really got into it. I thought you would use them with your bow and enjoy them a lot more than I would," Drake explained.

"I love them!" Angel said, beaming, "I've got a few pair but nothing with interchangeable lenses like this."

"Alright, I saved the best for last," Drake said pulling a small package from his pocket and handing it to Bennie.

Bennie had been milling around picking up discarded paper and ribbons and picking up plates while she watched the others open their presents from her brother. She knew how hard it had been for him to find gifts for everyone and was proud of him for sticking it out even with the weird ones.

She perked up when her brother handed her the long thin box, it was very 'jewelry' shaped and she, like most girls, loved pretty things. She tore the paper away and then opened the velvet box. In it was a platinum and sapphire necklace, the stones so dark they were almost black, in the shape of a delicate heart.

Bennie fingered the necklace and looked up at him with a sad smile, "This was supposed to be for Mommala wasn't it?"

Drake nodded but didn't say anything.

Bennie thought about it for a long moment before she pulled it out of the box and opened the clasp, turning her back to Draco she held the ends behind her head to him, "Latch it for me?"

Drake knelt so he could link the two ends and pull Bennie's hair out of the chain, careful that it didn't snag.

Bennie turned around, the ruse of putting it on obviously to get him down to her level so she could wrap her arms around his neck tightly.

They didn't need to talk just held each other for long seconds while they both recovered from the moment.


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