Charlie Boone

by Geron Kees

There's A Strange Partridge in My Pear Tree, Charlie Boone! - Chapter 1

Charlie Boone stepped back and put his arm around his boyfriend, Kippy Lawson, as the two stood and gazed at their new home. The house had remained much as Mildred had requested Lugh make it, save that the boys had added three-story turrets to the front corners of the house, giving it a true Queen Anne-style look. One turret had a conical roof, while the other had an octagonal roof, with the long, covered front porch now running between them. A couple of tall period chimneys to complete the roof line, a change in the color of the trim, and their dream house had been born.

The house now resided at the end of a long, paved drive that ran through the dense woods of their new 30-acre lot at number 221 Mycroft Lane, which they had been able to afford due to Murcha's and Onglet's deft handling of Lollipop as a merchantman out among the stars. The boy's business manager, Oliver, the elf accountant that worked for Nicholaas, and who he had assigned to help the guys with their finances, had done the major work of acquiring the property and making certain that all the required legal details had been completed. The millions in credits that the boys had in the banks of Engris had scarcely been dented at all by the purchase, and Charlie still marveled at the ability of the business empire Nicholaas controlled to turn offworld credits into American dollars without so much as a grunt of effort.

Unlike Mildred, who had simply bought land and moved the house to it, expecting its presence to fall through the cracks of officialdom and not be noticed for some time, the boys wanted no problem with nosy bureaucrats down the line. Elf know-how in this area had proved invaluable. A small outfit in Vermont that made prefabricated houses had been given a contract to create a house identical to the one that now occupied the lot, and the contract back-dated six months to allow for construction time. The parts could all be trucked in, and assembled in three week's time, with another week for final interior finishing, and this was the paperwork that Oliver had filed when obtaining the permit to build on the land immediately after its purchase.

The fact that Nicholaas owned the company in Vermont, and that no prefab house was actually created, was a small detail that the people in the office at the county seat would never know. They dealt with piles of such building requests daily, and this had been just one more of them. Along with the permit to build the house had been a rider to construct a large four-car garage and workshop to one side of and behind the house, and a local construction company had put that together in ten day's time. Kip and Adrian had not purchased their own cars as yet, but that would come in time, and Charlie wanted everyone to have a garage space ready.

And, Charlie thought it important to cover all the bases, so that they wouldn't have to wind up answering any awkward questions later. Even though Lugh provided his own electricity, the power company had installed poles and run power to the house's location, something Charlie would have sort of resented had not they actually wanted power for the garage, which Lugh could not supply to them outside his perimeter. The power company would have to make the connection and install the meter, but they couldn't actually attach wiring to Lugh. But the county engineer that Oliver had provided had assured them that that was no problem. The electrical service was attached to the garage, and a conduit run underground from that outbuilding that was supposed to be later run to the breaker box in the house. Of course, they never actually did that, leaving just the garage to draw on the utility service.

The garage on its own would never draw enough electricity to account for a house the size of Lugh, and so Oliver cheerfully supplied a little magic to whammy the electrical meter, so that it would seem that the house and garage were providing a normal draw on the utility power each month. They would be paying for power they were not using, but it seemed a small cost to have the house of their dreams, and to keep anyone from becoming suspicious about any oddities. They had a well drilled, too, being too far away from city water lines, and septic tanks installed; but they no more needed them than they did utility power, and it was just one more prop to make the place look legitimate. After all, it could not become known that they were living in a house that was actually a manifestation of a 2,000 year-old Irish supernatural being, could they?

And, the reality that Murcha and Onglet would replace every penny they spent, and more, in only a week's time, sort of blunted the impact of the bills that they received. Empire credits were worth a lot more than any terrestrial currency, and with Third Planet Inquiries actually showing a profit now, too, money seemed to be something not to worry about at this time. So, why complain?

After the new garage had been completed and certified, Kip had teleported himself and Charlie back to move Lugh, and the house had shown up in exactly the spot prepared for it. The building site was not visible from the road, and Oliver had created an animated magic of big semis hauling large, tarp-covered loads arriving at the location numerous times each day for more than a week, so that the locals could honestly say they saw the pieces of the house coming together. It was a convincing illusion, too, the big rigs even leaving the smell of diesel fumes behind them as they passed. Oliver seemed to know his magic as well as his accounting!

Once the supposed building time had passed, Lugh was able to briefly modify the house to make it look as they wanted, to satisfy the building inspector that soon arrived to certify the place for habitation. The rooms were made to look empty of furnishings, there were perfect replicas of all the necessary systems for wiring, plumbing, heating, and cooling, and every aspect of the place just screamed brand new. Charlie and Kip had researched things like furnaces, water heaters, and air-conditioning online, and selected the best equipment for Lugh to emulate. Even the area around the house had that just completed look to it, with the boys having strewn straw on the dirt surrounds, and the walkway to the front door still having the look of freshly-cured cement. Which it was!

"Amazes me, how quickly they can put up a place like this these days," Mr. Cornby had said, after his inspection had been completed. "Would have taken six months to build a place like this, once." He had smiled then. "You sure got the period look of the place down pat, though. And you used some quality products in its construction. Never seen better. Hope you fellas enjoy your new home!"

There had been a number of other details, including the construction-phase inspection certificates, that had all been satisfied by having the correct paperwork appear in filing cabinets and computer storage in certain offices, and any associated fees paid to the proper places. Oliver missed nothing, and kept them well-informed, and as knowledge of all these behind-the-scenes moves accumulated, Charlie had come to feel a certain angst at the sneakiness of it all, and mentioned that facet of the process to Oliver.

"You wanna house, or you wanna clear conscience, Charlie?" the elf had asked, around his normal mouthful of elven chewing gum, that made merry popping sounds with each chew. "All the paperwork is legal now, everyone has been paid, no one has been hurt. It's not totally honest, but what financial transaction in this world these days is? If you were worried about forthrightness, we'd have been bollixed at converting empire credits to local currency right at the start. It's a little late now to worry about propriety." Pop, pop!

"Yeah, Charlie," Kip had said, snuggling up against him. "Lighten up. We cut some corners, but no one was cheated or hurt." He had smiled then. "And we have a lovely house now!"

So, Charlie had sighed, and relented. Sometimes you have to give a little, to get a little. In this case, it was some measure of his sense of integrity and well-being he relinquished, in exchange for a beautiful home he could live in with his Kip, and their best friends. There were worse trades out there, he realized.

And, they did have a lovely house now!

And as they stood looking at it from the drive, Charlie had to smile. "And everything is ready, and it's still a week to Christmas."

Kippy waved a hand at the straw-covered forest floor around the house. Here, though, the trees had been culled to allow for a pleasant setting, and to avoid the creepy closeness the trees had shared with the house on Mildred's lot. There would be no nosy gonkers here!

"We need some grass," Kip observed. "And some shrubs, and some flowers. I don't want this place having the weird look it had in the woods when Mildred lived in it."

"We'll have to wait for spring for some of that," Charlie decided. "Though I can get a landscaper to plant some small evergreens out front, and mulch the perimeter."

"And we need Christmas lights," Kippy said, eyeing the house speculatively. "I can get Lugh to add them, though."

Charlie nodded. "You'll be reasonable with that, won't you? I don't want aircraft homing in on the place, thinking they can land here."

Kip laughed at that. "No. I just want enough to be pretty and welcoming. I can do light and airy, when I want to."

Charlie sighed, and tightened his arm around his boyfriend. "I love you, Kip. And I'm going to love living with you."

"Me, too, Charlie. This has always been my dream." He turned his gaze on Charlie, and Charlie sighed and kissed him.

A sound came to them then, of a car coming up the drive. They turned then to spy Rick's Yukon coming around the bend in the drive and heading up the slight incline towards them. Kip and Charlie had been busy earlier moving their things from their rooms at their parent's houses to the new one, and Rick and Adrian had been doing the same. Charlie led Kip to one side and off the drive as the Yukon neared them and slowed, and Adrian rolled down the passenger window as the truck arrived beside them.

"Hi, guys. I think we're done."

"You got everything?" Kip asked, looking surprised. "That was only two runs."

"Yeah. Well, we were leaving the furniture, like you did at your houses, and there really wasn't that much else to get. Mostly clothing and stuff. It's amazing how little we really own, when we just live in one room."

Kippy rolled his eyes. "It took us two runs in Charlie's 4Runner just to move his books!"

Rick, behind the wheel of the Yukon, grinned at that. "You can't be a Britannica Brain without books!"

Charlie sighed. "You guys leave my books alone. They'll be lost in a house this size, anyway."

Kippy leaned towards Adrian and offered a knowing smile. "Lugh made one of the extra bedrooms into a library, with shelves all the way around, a desk, a leather couch and some chairs, and one of those fireplaces that doesn't need a chimney. I thought Charlie was going to have an orgasm when he saw it!"

Everyone laughed, even Charlie. "I've always wanted a library for my books," he admitted. He squeezed Kippy again, "And you did a wonderful job instructing Lugh on what it should look like."

While they had all been made custodians of the house, and Lugh would follow instructions from any of them, Kip had already seemed to have formed a special bond with the house's spirit, and even Charlie could feel the fondness for his boyfriend that Lugh displayed whenever they were communicating with the spirit. That had seemed no real surprise to any of them. Kip had a way with some things that none of them could equal, and they were used to the ease with which he found new friends.

Castor had also seemed intrigued and excited about living with Lugh, and Charlie had hoped that the two spirits would get along. So far, they seemed to be doing just that. Castor had also managed, at times, to act as a sort of translator for Lugh, showing Charlie pictures in his mind that seemed to be interpretations of the house's moods and feelings. That there might be an adventure ahead with just this aspect of moving into their new home seemed clear.

Adrian leaned out the window and pointed to the two chimneys now rising from the roof of the house. "Why have a fireplace and not connect it to the chimneys? And...isn't that smoke I see coming out of the one?"

Charlie laughed. "It's all show. I have no idea where that smoke is coming from, but it doesn't seem to be from the fireplaces. We'll just have to get used to it."

Kippy grinned happily. "I'm going to ask Lugh to put up some Christmas lights. Any suggestions?"

"It would be nice to have a small fir tree out front with lights," Adrian said. "In fact, one at each end of the porch would look great."

Charlie frowned at that. "We can't do anything that's actually outside Lugh's perimeter, remember? So we can have Lugh put lights on the outside of the house, but not on trees away from the house."

Kippy raised a hand. "But we have time to get a few trees planted, Charlie said, so I want to get right on that."

Charlie sighed. "There's still no electricity outside the house, Kip. I suppose we can run an extension cord from the garage, though."

Rick shut off the Yukon's engine and leaned closer across his boyfriend. "Kip? Have you tried having Lugh add electrical outlets to the outside of the house?"

Kippy's eyes widened, and he turned to look at the front porch. "Would that work?"

Rick shrugged. "The outlets inside the house provide power. You can plug things in, and they work. If you get Lugh to put a few outlets on the outside wall, they'd still be part of the perimeter. I'll bet they'd work."

"I'll try it," Kip decided firmly. "And Charlie will call that Bill what's-his-name in town, that does the landscaping, and get some Christmas trees planted out here."

"Bill Spires," Charlie said, laughing. "He's a friend of my dad, and he does great work." He leaned closer to Kip and whispered into his ear. "And I already called him, and selected a few trees and shrubs, and he'll be out on Monday to plant them, and mulch."

Kippy pulled back, and smiled. "Have you been reading my mind again, Charlie Boone?"

"What little there is of it," Charlie answered, laughing.

Kippy sighed, and hugged Charlie's arm even more tightly. "This place is going to be great for the Christmas party!"

Adrian nodded. "Are all the invitations out?"

"Yes. A few people have already said they'll come. I'm waiting to hear from a few others. Pacha, Mike, Bobby, and Kontus are always the hard ones." Kip's smiled turned into a decided pout. "They're always out traipsing around the back of beyond, and paying no attention at all to the time or the holidays back here on earth!"

Charlie sighed. "If you will remember, Pacha and Kontus are not humans, and have no reason to be paying attention to holidays here on earth."

"But Mike is!"

"He's an Aussie," Rick pointed out.

"They have Christmas in Australia! And Bobby's from right here in America!"

Charlie squeezed his boyfriend comfortingly. "Relax, Kip. They'll come if they can. We have to remember that other people have their own lives to deal with. Not everyone will be able to come, I'm sure."

Kippy sighed, but then brightened. "I know. We had Robin here to see the property before we even got Lugh in place, and he said he would come. And because he helps Nicholaas with his delivery equation now and they get it done early, Max and Frit and Pip said they'd come. Nicholaas said he thought he and Ronja could make it, and that they'd bring Auggie with them. Horace and Amy are coming. Ragal and Casper are coming. I'm going to teleport to Engris and get them."

"My Uncle Bob said he'd come," Rick added. "I was over at his house showing him my new truck on Wednesday, and he said he'd come."

"I could always go and get him the night of the party," Kip said. He frowned then. "Or, he could teleport himself here, even."

"He's never been here," Rick reminded.

Kippy turned to Charlie. "I have an idea about that." He turned back to smile at Rick. "Did your uncle get in your truck when you saw him?"

"Sure. He sat in the passenger seat."

Kippy thought about that a moment, and then nodded. "I'll bet it will work."

"What?" Charlie asked.

Kippy turned back to him. "You remember how Max can teleport to Pacha's ship, because he has been there before?"


"And, he can do that no matter where Pacha's ship happens to be at the time, because Pacha's ship is a place all on its own."

Charlie blinked at that, understanding coming. "So, you think because Rick's uncle sat in the Yukon, he could just teleport there, no matter where it happens to be?"

"Yes." Kip turned back to Rick's truck. "Adrian, can you get out of there for a minute? Rick, call your Uncle Bob and ask him if he has a few minutes for an experiment."

Adrian laughed delightedly, and opened the Yukon's door and slid out. "This is going to be fun!"

Rick grinned, and fished out his cell phone and put in the call, which was answered almost immediately. "Hi, Uncle Bob. It's Rick. What are you up to?"

He listened a moment, and then looked over at Charlie and the others. "He's in his garage, working on a new illusion for his magic act."

Kip leaned closer. "Ask him to try to teleport to the front seat of your Yukon."

Rick went back to his phone, and relayed the message. A brief explanation followed, and then Rick pulled the phone away from his ear. "He's going to try."

Everyone watched, waiting, while about a minute passed by uneventfully. Kippy frowned at the delay then, and was just about to say something more to Rick, when there was a distinct pop of displaced air, and Bob Travers appeared in the passenger seat. He had his phone still in his hand, and a screwdriver in the other, and looked around at them with amazement. He shook his head, turned to Rick, grinned, and then said into his phone, "Goodbye, Rick."

Rick laughed and turned off his own phone.

Uncle Bob looked around at them again, and shook his head in wonder. "I don't believe it!" And then he spied the house through the windshield, and his eyes widened. "Wow! Is that the new place?"

Rick opened his door and jumped out. "Hop out, Unk!"

Uncle Bob slid out of the truck, stashing his phone in his pocket then, and grinning at the screwdriver in his other hand. "I was in the middle of putting in a screw when you called. I thought I'd better finish doing that before I tried coming here, because I might have forgotten to go back and do it. Nothing worse than an act failing onstage because a screw isn't tight!"

He turned to look at the house again. "Man! That sure is a handsome place!"

Kippy beamed. "And, now that you've been here, you don't need to drive to the party!"

"And, you can visit anytime," Rick added, dropping a hand on his Uncle's shoulder and giving him a fond squeeze.

Bob Travers smiled at that. "Gonna show me the inside?"

Rick nodded. "I need to move my truck up so we can unload it. But Adrian and the guys will take you inside. I'll be in in a minute!"

The rest of them headed for the house, while Rick got back into his Yukon and started the engine. Charlie turned one last time, and spied Rick grinning through the front window. So far, their new place was making everyone happy!

"The house is just gorgeous guys," Uncle Bob said later, as they sat in the parlor sipping green tea. They had decided that the drink went with the house somehow, adding warmth to the cold winter days, and a cheer that seemed in tune with the holiday spirit. And when Kippy adopted something, it generally stayed adopted!

"Our parents loved it," Charlie said happily. "They were all out last week, right after the inspector was here. My dad said he knew we were doing well with the business when he saw we had a house twice the size of his!"

"More or less," Kippy said, dryly. "Lugh seems able to make it larger or smaller on demand. But we decided that the general house Mildred had come up with was just too nice to change. So, we just added the turrets to the front corners to sort of make it our own. Oh, and chimneys, for sanity's sake. We can't have visitors seeing fires in fireplaces, and then noticing there are no chimneys!"

"It's a grand house!" Browbeat exclaimed happily, from the big wing-back chair where Kip sat. The little flyer was perched upon one of the wings, happily eyeing his company. "And it sure beats staying at the office with just Big Irv for company. I even have my own room here!"

Bob's eyebrows raised at that, and he looked over at Charlie.

"That's right," Charlie agreed. "One thing this house has is plenty of rooms. Kip and I share one, and Rick and Adrian share one, and that leaves some empties. Um...we're not sure we've even found them all yet."

"What?" The older man looked surprised.

Kippy made an amused sound. "Lugh seems to have a sense of humor. He doesn't bother our rooms, but some of the ones we don't use have a habit of, well, changing a little."

Uncle Bob turned to his nephew for confirmation.

"Yeah," Rick agreed, sighing. "A couple of the rooms have redecorated themselves a little, or the doors into them have moved to the other side of the room...weird stuff, mostly."

"What's up with that?"

Charlie smiled. "We think that Lugh gets bored with a room that has no regular occupant. He tends to play with the empties a little bit."

Kip rolled his eyes. "I guess when you're 2000 years old, one day starts to seem like the next."

Uncle Bob looked to mull that over a moment before responding. "Didn't you say that this Mildred left a phone number where she could be reached? What did she say about the rooms?"

"We didn't call her," Rick answered. "She told us before she left to expect the empty rooms to sort of move around a little. It's no big deal."

Uncle Bob nodded. "I'm used to just about anything now. If it's the norm, we just go with it!" He raised an arm then and looked at his wristwatch. "Ouch! I need to get the act finished and loaded on the trailer. I have that last gig this Thursday night to get through before I can relax and enjoy the holiday." He stood and set down his cup. "Thanks for the tour, guys." He smiled around at them. "So, Christmas Eve, seven PM, be here, right?"

"Right," Rick said, standing as well. "You need help back at the house?"

"I can manage it, unless you're desperate to get away from here for a while."

Rick looked over at Adrian, and smiled. "No, I'm not. I just thought I'd go if you needed to move some heavy stuff."

"Nope." Uncle Bob grinned. "Stay here, enjoy your new place. I'll see you guys on Christmas Eve."

Browbeat lifted into the air and went to hover in front of Bob. "Be there, or be square!"

The man blinked, and looked over at Rick, who coughed slightly. "Um, he likes old movies."

Browbeat tittered, and sailed around the room. "The stuff that dreams are made of!"

Rick laughed. "Better go, before it gets any crazier!"

Uncle Bob laughed, raised a hand to wave at them, and then disappeared, accompanied by a small pop as air rushed into the vacuum created by his leaving.

Adrian frowned. "Now, see? Lugh let Bob teleport out, no problem. But will he let him back in?"

"I hope so," Kippy said. "But, the worst that can happen is that Bob will appear out in the driveway. He's been there, and it's outside the house."

"That reminds me," Charlie said. "We need to get Max or one of the others to come here and put at least the walkway to the front door in the elf location manual, so that everyone can get here. Kip, you need to get with me to ask Lugh if our friends that can teleport will be allowed entry to the house by that means. I want Castor to help us to see if we can get a clear answer."

Kippy patted a thigh. "Come sit on my lap, and we'll try it."

Charlie laughed. "That's a big chair. How about if I squeeze in next to you, and we try it?"

Kippy pouted, but nodded. "You're such a party-pooper, Charlie."

Charlie went to the wing-back and slid in next to Kip, dropping an arm around his boyfriend's shoulders and depositing a kiss on his cheek. "Better?"

Kippy sighed. "I guess it will do until tonight."

Adrian and Rick both smiled, and Browbeat tittered happily. "Love is in the air!"

Charlie nodded. "Okay, try to get in touch with Lugh. Hold my hand, while I get in touch with Castor. Kip, I want you to sort of picture Max, and Frit and Pip, and Keerby, and Robin, and Pacha, and Bob Travers, teleporting into the house, and then you smiling and greeting them. Can you imagine that?"

"Sure. That won't be hard at all."

"You really want people just to be able to teleport into the house?" Rick asked. "I mean, we could be walking around nekkid, or something."

Adrian laughed. "When was the last time you walked around the house naked?"

Ricky sighed. "Well...never. But I never had my own place, where I could do that, either!"

Kip held up a hand. "Okay. For now, let's just do the porch outside the front door. The porch is still part of Lugh, and we want to make sure people can get there."

"You don't need to imagine my uncle, then," Rick pointed out. "He came in through the front door, so can get back there on his own."

Charlie nodded. "Great. And I am going to envision Castor sort of sending pictures to Lugh...the house...if I can."

"Can we get in on this?" Adrian asked.

"Sure," Charlie answered. "Put your hand on my shoulder. Rick, you touch Kip."

"Just be careful where you put your hand!" Kippy warned, with a twinkle in his eye.

Rick grinned at that. "No problem. My heart belongs to Adrian!"

Their two friends came and leaned on the arms of the big chair, and each laid on a hand.

"What about me?" Browbeat asked, landing on the back of the chair.

"Touch somewhere, is all I can suggest," Charlie answered.

He laughed then as the flyer flopped forward onto his head. "Whatever. Go ahead, Kip."

Charlie closed his eyes, and took his free hand and laid it over the dragon medallion beneath his shirt. He could feel Kip up against him, concentrating, and the sense of Rick and Adrian nearby, supporting them. Even Browbeat was there, a little bundle of energy barely able to contain its excitement. Kippy sighed, and a picture came to Charlie's mind of them opening the front door to find Max standing there, and Kippy and the others rushing to hug him and welcome him. There followed more appearances by the others on the list Charlie had given, each met with a fond hug and made welcome. The idea was to establish this in Lugh's mind as something they would like to see happen.

The dragon medallion warmed upon Charlie's chest, as Castor sought to relay this idea to Lugh, and a brief fluttery feeling came to Charlie's thoughts as some kind of exchange passed between the two spirits too quickly for him to follow. But then the very same pictures replayed in Charlie's mind, of the teleporters they knew appearing outside the front door and being welcomed. This came from Castor, and Charlie felt it was an indicator that Lugh had accepted the idea that their friends would be welcome.

"Did that just work?" Rick asked, sounding surprised. "It sure seemed like it."

"To me, too," Kip replied. "Charlie, I think Lugh says it's okay for our friends to teleport onto the front porch."

"That was very much the impression I got," Charlie agreed. He patted the dragon medallion fondly. "Thanks, Castor."

A brief flash of warmth was the only response.

"Castor is a big help with this," Kippy decided. "I get Lugh's feeling about things, but not always anything more than that. Pictures help a lot!"

Adrian sighed. "Now I just need to have my teleporting bug wake up, and things will be cool all around."

"It will come," Kippy promised, patting his friend's arm.

"That was awesome!" Browbeat said, sliding back now off Charlie's head. "You guys are so much fun!"

Charlie laughed, and reached up to smooth his hair. "You make a very warm and fuzzy hat, my little friend!"

The flyer tittered and launched himself into the air. "Ho, ho, ho, and a merry Christmas!"

"Someone's got the spirit," Kippy said, winking at Charlie. "And it's not just Castor and Lugh!"

Charlie groaned at the joke, and Kip squeezed him tightly. "Lighten up, Charlie. It's Christmas!"

"Well, almost," Rick added. "But they say the holiday is best enjoyed in the week before it actually gets here!"

Browbeat landed on the back of the chair again. "What great customs your people have, Charlie! Halloween, Christmas, Trash Day!"

Kippy squeezed his eyes shut and laughed. "Trash day!" he turned his head to smile up at the flyer. "Trash day?" he repeated.

Browbeat tittered happily. "Sure! That great big machine comes, and guys hop off, and grab those barrels of trash, and flip them into the back of the machine, and then they have to throw them down and run, because the big machine starts to move without them, and they have to hop back on. I'm always thinking they'll miss their grab and fall. It's exciting!"

Rick sighed, as if the whole thing was obvious. "Yeah, Kip! It's exciting!"

Charlie shook his head. "We're too far from town here for trash pick up. We'll either have to contract for a private weekly pick up, or cart the stuff to the transfer station ourselves."

"More fun!" Browbeat hooted, as if the idea was a new adventure.

Kippy shook his head, and reached upwards towards Browbeat. "Come here, young man."

The flyer tittered again, but allowed Kip to pick him up and set him in his lap. Kippy ran a finger slowly down the furry flyer's back. "We love having you stay with us," he said. "You make even the smallest things a real delight."

"I'll second that," Charlie agreed. "We're happy to have you with us, Browbeat."

The little flyer's face lit up. "Friends! I love being here! This world is nothing like my own. You guys are fun!"

Everyone smiled at that. Charlie took a moment to wonder what sort of world Browbeat had known in life, and decided it was perhaps better left unsaid. The small flyer deserved better than to have had to die and go elsewhere to find happiness.

Kippy may have been thinking the same thing. He nodded a moment, gave a little sniff, and rubbed his finger down the flyer's back again. "Merry Christmas, little friend."

"It's just starting," Browbeat said excitedly. "I can't wait for all our friends to get here!"

"About that," Adrian reminded. "We need to get at least one elf here so that we can get the front porch put in the elf location book."

"Oh, I already figured that out," Kippy said. He handed Browbeat to Charlie. "Wait here a moment, guys."

Kippy ran from the room, and they heard him going up the steps to the second floor. In a moment he was back, holding a dark object in his hand. Charlie stared, and then laughed in surprise as Kippy retook his seat and placed the object in his lap.

"Your statue!" Charlie whispered.

Kippy nodded, looking down at the piece. It was made of dark red wood, with a base carved to look like snow, with two figures in the center, beautifully polished, beautifully detailed. The first figure was of a man in a flowing cloak with a hood, cinched at the waist by a thick belt, and when Charlie peered closer, he was able to see a familiar face inside the hood. The man was seated on a log before a small fire, the figure of a horse nearby, There were packs strapped to each side of the horse's back, and various items protruded from beneath the flaps. A small pot hung over the fire on a makeshift stand, and the two were clearly taking a break from their travels on the road.

Nicholaas, and his horse, Kirka.

"It's beautiful," Adrian said softly.

At the sound of his voice, the man turned his head to gaze at them, lifted a hand, and waved. The horse also looked their way, and let out a tiny, but crystal clear chuff in greeting.

Charlie had a similar statue, with a slightly different scene, and Adrian and Rick each had one, too, with other scenes of Nicholaas and Kirka depicted, all from his travels on the road one snowy Christmas Eve, centuries past. Charlie and his friends had met Nicholaas there, that snowy night, in his dreams. The statues had been Christmas gifts from Nicholaas six years before, and were among the most treasured possessions that each boy owned

"Nicholaas," Kippy said softly. "It's me. I know you're busy, and I'm sorry to bother you. But we want to get our new house in the elf guide book, so that everyone can come to see us."

The tiny wooden Nicholaas gazed up at them. Chuff, the tiny figure of Kirka said.

There was a humming in the room, and a pop, and Nicholaas appeared nearby. He looked over at the boys, all clustered around the one chair, with Browbeat seated on Charlie's lap, and the cheerful fire going in the fireplace to one side, and smiled. He held up a hand, and an old-fashioned camera appeared before him, set atop a tall tripod. Quickly, he leaned forward, looked into the viewfinder, and raised a hand above his head.

"Say cheese, everyone!"

Charlie laughed along with the others, but complied with the request.

Nicholaas snapped his fingers on the hand held high, there was a brief flash of intense light from between his thumb and fingers, and the camera went click!

The man then stepped back, waved a hand, and the camera disappeared. "Now, there's a great photo for my Christmas card this year!"

And then the boys were on their feet, and Browbeat was circling them excitedly as they crowded around Nicholaas to greet him.

"It's quite a lovely house," Nicholaas said, sipping his green tea and looking around the parlor. "I love the fireplace, especially. A nice bit of magic, that. Your Lugh is quite an accomplished fellow."

Charlie's eyebrows raised at that. That was a real compliment, coming from someone with the abilities that Nicholaas possessed!

Kippy smiled. "We just love the place." He offered Nicholaas an apologetic look. "I was only hoping you'd be able to come, and that I wasn't disturbing you while you were working on the dimensional delivery equations for all those gifts."

The bulk of the output of the shops owned by Nicholaas, and in which the elves produced an amazing variety of gifts, would be delivered to their destinations via a mass teleportation equation, incredibly complex, which took in every gift and every intended destination, and sent all the packages to places beneath the recipient's Christmas trees or equivalent holiday spots at one time. Nicholaas had long had to compile the equation by himself, until the boys had discovered Robin Hood, the Christmas Bandit, and enlisted him as a friend and companion on adventures thereafter. Robin was almost as old as Nicholaas, and almost as accomplished, and the two men, working together, could now knock out the delivery equation in half the time it used to take Nicholaas on his own. That wonderful respite had turned the Christmas season into a much more relaxing affair for Nicholaas, and a much more joyful one for Robin.

Nicholaas chuckled at that. "As a matter of fact, I left Robin holding our place in the equation at something like the billionth line of code. He would be quite irked with me by now, I suspect, had I not staunched the flow of time for our visit here."

Kippy looked around the room in surprise. "Time has stopped passing?"

"Well --" The man who was Santa offered a decidedly amused expression. "It's complicated. Let's just say that I can get back to my work with Robin before his blood pressure has a chance to rise even a single number."

They all laughed at that. Robin was not the sort to anger easily, but he could get rather intense if the situation called for it. You don't become the legendary bane of kings and princes and highly-placed people everywhere without possessing some talent for getting things done. Robin was someone that could be trusted to pursue any goal he considered of noble cause to the absolute end of the line, and be quite adamant about it, too!

Nicholaas sighed then. "He's become a dear friend. Ronja and I have come to see him as a part of our Christmas now." The man smiled. "As we have all of you. So I was delighted to come when called, so to speak."

Browbeat, perched atop the back of the chair Nicholaas was sitting in, tittered. "This sure is cool!"

Kippy beamed at Nicholaas. "Well, we don't want to keep you from your work." He laughed. "And keep Robin holding that place in the math. We just wanted the front porch of our new house put in the elf location book, so that everyone could get here for the party."

Nicholaas shook his head. "Oh, let's not do that. Or, let me say, let's not do that without some reservations. You don't want just anyone to be able to show up here." He took another sip of his tea, and nodded. "We'll put a provisional entry in the book, stating that this is a private location, only to be accessed by people you know, except in an instance of extreme emergency. That will keep the Narm and Florf sellers out of your hair."

Charlie laughed at that. "There are elves that sell Narms and Florfs?"

Nicholaas shrugged. "Everyone's got to eat."

Charlie decided not to pursue that one. "I think a provisional entry will do, so long as all our friends can use it to get here."

Nicholaas finished his cup of tea, and his eyes twinkled at them. "You have far more friends than you know, Charlie. I have made the entry in the book, but it's for your inner circle of friends, unless it's an emergency. However, anyone can send you a missive -- a note -- which will appear outside your door, requesting a visit. So even your other friends will be able to come, if invited." He laughed. "It's for your own protection. A home should have some privacy, after all."

Charlie frowned. "I noticed you had no trouble teleporting right inside Lugh."

"Well--" Nicholaas pointed at the statue of himself and Kirka that Kip still held. "That is quite a potent key for entry to any location. Still, I paused at the barrier, knocked politely, and asked to be let in."

"And Lugh was good with that?" Kippy asked, wide-eyed.

"Certainly. Lugh comes from a part of the world I grew up in and knew well. We understand each other, I think." Nicholaas stood up then, a clear sign that the visit was over. "Ronja and I will be here for your party on Christmas Eve. We're looking forward to it, I must say." Nicholaas looked around the room then, and sighed. "I hope you have a Christmas tree by then. The room needs one, I think."

Charlie and the others stood, too. "We will," Kippy promised. "We've just been busy with moving."

Nicholaas set his cup down on the table, and turned back to smile at Browbeat. "So good to see you again, little one." He winked. "I do believe you have chosen a very good place to be, if you know what I mean."

Browbeat tittered happily, and fluttered his wings. "Boy, do I!"

Nicholaas laughed, and turned back to Charlie. "Ronja sends her love to all. We'll see you the evening of the party."

"Bye!" Kippy said. "Thanks for coming!"

Everyone called a farewell, and Nicholaas was smiling when he vanished.

"Wow!" Browbeat said into the following moment of silence. "He sure is a great guy!"

Yes, he is, Charlie thought, smiling to himself. We sure have some great friends!

"He's right about the Christmas tree," Kippy said then. "We want one in every room, I think."

Ricky laughed. "Those things are not cheap, Kip."

Kippy tsked. "Oh, you dummy. I can get Lugh to make a tree for each room. We'll tell him how we want them decorated." He paused, a finger on his chin, looking around the room. "And some holly on the fireplace mantel, and some red candles on each end--"

"Fat red ones, that never burn down," Adrian added, grinning. "I mean, why waste them if we don't have to?"

"Some mistletoe over the doorway," Kippy went on, smiling at Charlie.

Charlie grinned. "The tree first, though?"

Kippy nodded, his eyes bright with promise. "Right. The tree first. Anyone want to suggest what kind of tree?"

They decided on a Fraser Fir for the parlor. Because the first floor rooms had 10-foot ceilings, they had Lugh supply an eight-foot fir, placed into a corner of the parlor near the fireplace. They took turns offering suggestions to decorate it, and soon had a tree splendid with colorful baubles, white flocking at the tips of the branches, and which was wrapped in tiny colored lights that did not assault the eyes. The mantel was draped in holly, and the red candles placed at each end, and the room filled with the pleasant scent of Christmas greenery.

"I love that smell!" Kippy purred happily, cozying up to Charlie. "It smells like Christmas in here now."

Charlie nodded. "Well, while we're at it, let's put lights on the outside of the house. I rather like those tiny lights you selected for the tree. They're colorful and cheerful, but don't look like the runway lights at JFK."

"Across the edge of the upper roof, and around all the windows? Along the front porch? Maybe outline the turrets, too?"

Charlie grinned. "Been giving it some thought, have you?"

Kippy hugged him, and sighed. "It's Christmas, Charlie. It''s special. I always plan ahead, where I can."

Charlie closed his eyes and pulled his boyfriend against him. "I know you do, Kip. I know you love the holidays." He opened his eyes. "I think that sounds great. Have Lugh do that, and we'll give 'em a look after dark and tweak anything that needs tweaking."

Kippy nodded, and turned to pull Charlie after him. He led him to the archway into the foyer, above which now hung a sprig of misteltoe. There, he pulled Charlie close, and sighed happily. "Kiss me?"

Charlie complied, allowing the warmth of Kip's face to seep into his, strengthening him, replenishing him. They met in a kiss, a long one, full of the feelings that were their own and no other's, born of half a lifetime spent together.

Finally, Kip sighed deeply, and nuzzled his face into the side of Charlie's neck. "Now," he said softly, holding Charlie tightly. "Now, it feels like Christmas!"

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