It was a cold, crisp and clear December morning. Anna Duncan cast her gaze about and sighed. Before the ceremony the snow had been pristine, beautiful. Too many trampling feet had made their mark. She knew that more snow would solve the problem eventually, but still she had always considered trampled snow one of the more depressing sights of winter. Sighing softly, Anna turned her attention back to the group she was escorting, with a motion of her head she called the rest of the squad into formation.
It had been two months since she had been promoted and she still couldn't get over it. A full recovered Sandoval had called her to the Mother Ship.
Nervously she had arrived as ordered. Was she going to be reprimanded for something? Sandoval was not exactly known for being the messenger of glad tidings.
That was probably why she was still amazed to find herself assigned as permanent assistant to Liam Kincaid. Sandoval's instructions had been as one would have expected given her new role.
His final words to her as she had left his office, dazed and bewildered, had stuck clearly in her mind, though. 'Look after him.' It was an odd thing for him to have said, more a plea than an order, but then again she had already noted the strange relationship between Sandoval and Kincaid. She hadn't pushed for an explanation; she wasn't sure if she was ready to find the answer.
That was why, however, she was currently in charge of the squad of Volunteers providing security for the ceremony - under the supervision of Sandoval and Kincaid of course. Protectors were Protectors, after all - they took the safety of their charges seriously.
Anna signalled ahead to have the shuttles ready to depart. She turned her attention back to the small group she was escorting and her jaw practically dropped in shock. Liam hadn't really just thrown a snowball at Sandoval, had he? The huge grin Liam was currently sporting would seem to indicate that he had. What did he think he was doing?
The next sight had more than just Anna gaping, Sandoval retaliated. Okay... Kincaid throwing snowballs like a kid, it was a stretch but from what the Volunteers knew of his nature at least possible; but Sandoval - come on! The Volunteers witnessed something they had never dreamed possible; Sandoval and Kincaid were playing.
Da'an and Zo'or looked on, bemused, but did nothing to stop it; nothing, that is till Sandoval ducked to avoid a snowball and it hit Zo'or on the side of the head.
The Volunteers drew in a collective breath. What would the fiery leader of the Synod do? Join in. Naturally. This day was going to go down in the history of the Volunteers as the most bizarre ever. They stood there and watched as the group they were supposed to be protecting; both Taelon and human, played in the snow. Eventually a draw was declared and the four signalled to Anna that they were ready to proceed as though nothing had happened. Except for the fact that Kincaid and Sandoval dripped snow as they walked, they could have gotten away with the pretence. The Volunteers never said a word, though Anna did give Liam a questioning glance; he just shrugged and smiled innocently. Anna sighed; thank God she had witnesses - the other Volunteer commanders would never believe this otherwise.
Back at the Embassy, Liam changed clothes and instructed Anna to change into civilian clothes. He had a talk with Da'an and was released from duty for the day.
Anna was confused; why had he been released from duty so early? It was barely one o'clock. She accompanied Liam out of the Embassy and saw that Sandoval was waiting for them. Obviously he and Liam had plans, so Anna prepared herself to be dismissed, but nothing was said. Confused and curious, she accompanied them to a local library. They seemed to know where they were going so she followed along - saying nothing, but burning with curiosity. They entered the children's department, and were immediately surrounded by a group of chattering children.
One little girl in particular caught Anna's attention. She looked to be about seven and she was dressed in blue jeans and had a sweater with Santa and his Reindeer printed on it. She came running up, yelling happily, "Major Liam, Agent Sann'oval! You're here!"
She threw herself at Liam, blithely assuming that he would catch her - which he did. He swung her up for a hug before she demanded a hug from Sandoval too, her arms stretched imperiously towards him. She got her second hug and jumped down to the floor. Sandoval laughed and said, "Hello, Marie, we're happy to see you too."
She just bounced up and down excitedly. Liam and Sandoval exchanged greetings with the adults present - the parents and librarians, Anna presumed. She saw them smile indulgently as Marie grabbed Sandoval and Liam's hands and dragged them towards a group of small chairs and cushions set aside in a corner. There was a huge armchair there too. Anna watched as the children trooped excitedly towards the seats. Sandoval took the armchair and Liam pulled over some cushions and sat on them, his back leaning against the chair, close to Sandoval. Marie came running up, reverently carrying a book that she handed to Sandoval, before skipping off to find her seat.
Sandoval opened the book and silence descended. Anna blinked; silence had fallen so quickly that it was as if he had thrown a switch. Anna leaned against a wall as he began to read, his distinctive voice gentle and calming.
"Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that."
Anna smiled as she recognised the famous opening lines of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Like the children, she listened enthralled as the classic Christmas tale was spun out for them. Their innocent wonder at its timeless message was a joy to behold.
She heard the final words of the story spoken and wondered where the time had gone.
"...it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!"
The children let out a delighted sigh and as Sandoval laid the book down, so did Liam. Anna wondered if Sandoval even realised that his hand was resting on Liam's head in a gesture of wordless affection; she doubted it. The children thronged around their two friends, talking excitedly. Anna smiled softly; working with these two was going to make for a life full of surprises. Sandoval, Kincaid and kids; it was strange how natural a sight it seemed - it didn't gel with their public personas, yet as Anna watched them it seemed right.