A Star Blazers Christmas Tale by Peg DiGrazia
STAR BLAZERS, SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO, and all related names and elements are copyright by Voyager Entertainment and Leiji Matsumoto. Star Blazers is a registered trademark of Jupiter Films, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Huge shout-out to Annie and Eva, who gave me the courage to let strangers read my writing!
“You want to go where?” Mark asked absently, his eyes following the waiter who had interrupted their conversation as he balanced a large stack of plates from another table on his arm. He shook his head and refocused his attention on Carina. “I’m sorry, love. Where?”
“Home. For Christmas. Home home. To the States.” Carina drummed her fingers on the table. “I know it’s short notice, but the colonel just gave me the OK to take the week between Christmas and New Year’s off. I haven’t been there in a year, and I want to just go and relax for a couple of days, and get some things nailed down for the wedding. If you want to stay here with Jordy and your parents, that’s fine.”
“No – honey, take a breath.” Mark laughed and reached for her hand, and Carina relaxed. She’d been afraid he would be unhappy that she wanted to go halfway around the world their first Christmas together. “Why are you making excuses? I’d love to go with you if you don’t mind having me along. We can take a look at the house and maybe pick up a few things.”
She smiled, letting the warmth of his hand flow into her cold fingers. “Of course I want you to come along,” she said, “but I don’t want to offend your folks. I could have them over this Sunday for dinner if that would help, or maybe after we get back…”
As the waiter returned with their drinks, they both sat back. “You won’t offend them – they’re used to Christmas without me,” Mark said. “I’m sure they’d be happy to join us for an early celebration. I’ll tell Mom to call you.”
On Christmas Eve they flew over northern New England, planning to stop at the house in Maine, being built for them courtesy of Earth Defense, before heading to Carina’s father’s home. Mark had been working with the architects since last spring and had frequently asked Carina for her input on the design, telling her to pretend she was building her dream home. At the time it had seemed like a fun game, adding built-ins and secret cupboards, and she had assumed he asked her because he didn’t trust his own design instincts, but since he had asked her to marry him Carina couldn’t help but wonder what his motives had been. How long ago had he begun thinking about their future together? The thought made her smile. “How much longer? I’m dying to see the place!”
He smiled back at her. “Not much.” A moment later he frowned, however, and tapped his radar gage. “Looks like we might run into some weather, though. I wasn’t counting on that.”
Carina could see the dark clouds ahead of them to the east, and in fact within five minutes tiny snowflakes were hitting the windshield of the low-flying plane as they skimmed the tops of the trees. “Big snow, little snow. Little snow, big snow,” Carina murmured.
“Huh? What was that?”
“Something my father used to say. It means when the snowflakes are small like this, you’re likely to get a lot of snow. I knew we were supposed to get flurries today, but it already looks like it’s picking up. Did you hear anything about a storm?”
“No, but maybe I’d better call ahead to the base. We’ll need to make plans if we’re not going to be able to get to your family’s house this evening.”
The thought left Carina a little disconcerted. Dad and Katie would be so disappointed if they weren’t there for Christmas Eve, and especially for Christmas Day. The house was pretty far away from any air bases, though, and she could tell that driving any distance would be too dangerous. Even flying was getting treacherous as the storm picked up steam – the ice was sticking to the windshield and the wings despite the fact that they were made from supposedly weatherproof materials. Carina supposed so many years had passed since Earth had experienced a harsh winter that the engineers weren’t adequately prepared. No one remembered what a good old-fashioned nor’easter could do.
She had drifted off in thought while Mark talked to the base in Maine, but when he ended his communication she turned to him. “What did they say? Sorry, I wasn’t listening.”
Mark sighed. “Apparently the forecast changed about 12 hours ago. Today’s going to be a mess. They strongly suggest we spend the night in a hotel. But it’s supposed to end overnight, so we can head down to your Dad’s house first thing in the morning. I’m sorry, honey.” He reached over and squeezed her hand.
She shrugged, disappointed. “It’s not your fault. I hate the idea of sleeping in a hotel tonight, though.” She thought for a minute and an idea came to her. “Mark, what about the new house? It’s only about a mile from the base, and it’s insulated, right? And the roof is finished…”
He looked at her, surprised. “That’s true, but there’s no furniture and no power.”
“Yeah, but there’s a fireplace. We can get blankets and candles and something to burn at the base. We’ll camp out. It’ll be fun!”
Mark grinned. “I like the way you think, soldier,” he said, kissing her hand. “Actually, there’s already some gear in the back of the plane: sleeping bags and pads for the floor, and maybe a lantern and a radio. They already have a car waiting for us, so if we bring our clothes…”
“And we can pick up a hot meal for lunch and also something to eat later from the cafeteria on the base,” Carina continued, growing excited. “Snowbound on Christmas Eve. So dramatic!” She clapped enthusiastically and Mark laughed.
The supply officers raised their eyebrows at Mark and Carina but gave them everything they asked for. Fortunately, the car they rented was roomy enough to hold their gear plus the gifts they had brought from Great Island, and by early afternoon they were approaching the lake where the house was being built. The road was still unpaved and Mark stopped halfway up the hill. “I think we’d better walk the rest of the way to the house. We can leave the presents in the car – do you think you can carry your suitcase? I’ll come back for whatever we don’t get on the first trip.”
She rolled her eyes at him – she hated being treated as though she couldn’t do everything “the boys” could do. “I infiltrated the enemy strongholds while you were away, you know. I think I can handle bringing a few loads in from the car.”
“Uh-uh,” he scolded. “Your wound is still healing. We’re already sleeping on the floor tonight – the last thing I want is for you to have any additional discomfort.”
“OK, fine” she sighed grudgingly. Her irritation was forgotten when they turned the corner and she saw the house, however. She had seen the floor plans but not the exterior design, and it made her stop in her tracks. “Mark, this house is… Wow.” She couldn’t think of anything else to say.
It wasn’t terribly large, but the house was overflowing with what people called “character,” even without the siding that would be added later. Sharp gables, a wraparound porch, bay windows and even what looked like a tower left Carina feeling enchanted. It was the sort of place she dreamed of as a little girl – a house from a fairy tale. Mark was watching her, his eyes full of emotion. She turned to him, a little misty-eyed herself.
“Where did you come up with this? Did the architects choose the designs for you?” She felt foolish for never having asked him.
“They presented us with guidelines. They wanted to keep the design more traditional to bring back the feel of the old days, before the Gamilon war. I think as they build out into the country you’ll see more of these old-fashioned houses; the more modern designs will be in the cities. I always loved the old Victorian houses in New York, and I remembered that you did, too. I wanted it to be a place we would both love.” At her confused look, he went on. “Remember one night when I was in the hospital last year, you brought me your old family photos? We talked about the houses that night.”
He remembered that? And he chose this house for her, or at least with her in mind? Carina opened her mouth to say something, anything, but her voice didn’t seem to be working. Mark smiled gently and put his arm around her, and she melted into him. “Come on,” he said, kissing the top of her head, “let’s get this stuff inside. I don’t want you to catch a cold.”
She swallowed the lump in her throat and allowed him to lead her through the front door into the entryway, where they dropped their bags. The walls were unfinished, but she could see where some of the detail work was being done, and it was lovely. “Why don’t you call your Dad while I get the rest of our stuff?” he said. “But wait here – I have something to show you in the other room.”
She was distracted dialing her father’s number, and what he said didn’t register right away. “Sure. Hurry back.” She kissed his mouth as he went outside. “Hi Dad,” she said when the older man answered.
“Hi. Are you guys all right?”
“We’re fine. We’re up in Maine – it doesn’t look like we’re going to make it down there tonight.”
“No, we didn’t think you would. Don’t do anything dangerous.”
“We won’t. But we’ll come down first thing in the morning.”
“That’s fine, honey.” They chatted for a few more minutes until Mark had brought all the necessities from the car. Mark took the phone from her to assure her father that everything was fine, and after he hung up Carina turned to him.
“So… Something to show me in the other room? Is that what I heard?”
“Yes ma’am,” he smiled and reached for her hand. “Close your eyes.” She hesitated – nothing good had ever happened to her when her brothers told her to close her eyes, but she supposed Mark probably wasn’t about to drop a bug in her hair. She gave him her hand and closed her eyes, and stepped carefully as he pulled her into the next room. He released her hand and put his hands on her shoulders instead. “OK, open them.”
He had led her into a small sitting room with hardwood floors, a fireplace and large east-facing windows that looked out over the lawn. It would be the perfect spot to sit and enjoy a cup of tea in the morning, she thought, but at the moment the windows were blocked by a fir tree, a box of decorations waiting at its base. Carina turned to Mark, delighted. “How did you –“
Mark looked very pleased with himself. “The decorations are from my parents. The tree… I have my contacts. I thought we should decorate our house for our first Christmas together.” He had reached out to tuck a lock hair behind her ear, and his hand lingered, trailing lightly over her neck to cup her cheek. As always when he touched her, she felt a current of electricity pass from his fingers to her skin, and she stepped in closer to him, running her own fingers up his chest.
“You are the most remarkable man I’ve ever known, Commander Venture,” she whispered. His arms slipped around her waist and she nuzzled at his neck for a few seconds, breathing in the warm scent she loved so much. He bent his head and nibbled at her ear for a moment before whispering back to her, his warm breath sending a thrill down her spine.
“If I am, it’s only because a remarkable woman has made me that way.” He pulled her closer briefly, but after a few seconds he let her go and cleared his throat. “Come on, I’ll build a fire, then we can eat lunch and decorate the tree.”
They found a frequency on the radio playing Christmas songs, and several hours later they stood back and admired their handiwork. “It’s beautiful,” Carina said. And it smells like Christmas, too. Do you know how many years it’s been since I had a fresh tree to decorate?”
“It’s the same for me. Makes you feel like a kid again, doesn’t it?” Mark moved to put his arm around her waist, and she leaned her head against his shoulder. “It’s too bad we don’t have power, though. Christmas lights would have made it complete.”
“We have plenty of years ahead of us to have lights on our tree,” Carina said contentedly, and Mark’s arm tightened around her. She looked beyond the tree and out the window, and noticed the path at the edge of the yard that led down to the lake. She’d like to see it in the snow before the light faded. “Do you think we could walk down to the water before it gets dark?”
“Sure, if you want to.” He found warm jackets and boots in the emergency supplies he had brought from the plane. They walked hand-in-hand down the path, shielded from the brunt of the storm by the trees. The snow was actually very pleasant, Carina thought.
Mark was silent until they reached the opening in the trees that led to their small section of beach sand. He slipped his arm around her waist and when he spoke, his voice was soft and tender. “The last time we were here, I was ready to jump out of my skin, I was so nervous. I was going to tell you how I felt about you and force you to really hear me, and I wasn’t going to take no for an answer. It was terrifying.”
“I remember,” she said quietly. “It was terrifying for me, too. I had a feeling it was coming, and even though I wanted it more than anything, I was scared to death.” They stood looking out over the water, the last light of the day making the lake appear the same grey color as the clouds, the trees on the opposite shore dimmed by the heavily falling snow. “As soon as you kissed me, though, all that was gone. It was like your kiss confirmed everything I already knew, and nothing else mattered from that moment on.” He kissed the side of her head and she smiled. “I think this is my favorite spot in the world.”
“Mine too,” he murmured, and pushed her hair over her shoulder with gloved hands, then looked at the sky. “But it’s getting dark, and your hair is caked with ice, love. We’d better get back to the fire before we turn into a pair of icicles.”
She looked up at him and grinned. “Oh, yeah. That’s quite a snowcap you’ve got there, although I don’t think I could ever turn into an icicle when you’re around. I’m more likely to set the water boiling.”
“Good point, but still…” he said with a smile, and took her hand to help her navigate the path back to the house.
As they tracked through the woods she said playfully, “It would have been an awkward trip home if I had turned you down that day.”
Mark chortled. “Don’t think I didn’t think of that. I was a little worried that you had only pretended to want to be with me to avoid the drama.”
“Can you imagine? I don’t think Nova or Stephen would ever have spoken to me again. Tell me that after I acted like such a – what was your word? – a floozy that night, you had a little more faith in me.”
“It boosted my confidence, yes.” They arrived back at the house and changed out of their wet clothes and into their sleepwear, washing with bottled water. When Carina returned from the bathroom, she found Mark laying the mats on the floor in front of the fireplace. He smiled when he saw her long flannel nightgown and the sweatpants she wore underneath it. “I was thinking,” he said, “I know we said we wouldn’t spend the night in the same bed again until we’re married, but it’s pretty cold. I think we should zip the sleeping bags together.”
She couldn’t help teasing him. “OK, if you think you can behave yourself.”
“It’s one of the holiest nights of the year, love. I’m not going to ravage you.” Mark ran his eyes over her. “Although… That outfit is pretty sexy.”
“Hey – it’s going to be cold. Just promise me you’ll do your best.” She hugged him and noticed how light the fabric of his pajamas felt. “Is that all you have to wear?”
“I’ll be all right with the fire, and once we’re under the covers it will be fine.”
“No – come here. Let me give you one of your presents a little early.” Carina dug in her bag and pulled out a package. After the war with Dezarium, she had been shopping for supplies to donate to the reconstruction projects and had come across the most wonderfully soft and warm fabric. She had bought it on an impulse and dusted off her sewing skills to make Mark a bathrobe. When he opened it, he grinned broadly.
“This is great, honey. Did you make it?” He slid his arms into the sleeves and kissed her warmly. “It’s perfect. Thank you.” He seemed to think for a minute, then went on. “I have something for you, too. It’s not exactly a Christmas present, but I want you to think about it.” Mark opened his rucksack and pulled out a drawing of a small cottage.
“What’s this?” Carina asked. “Not a second house?”
“Not exactly. But I’ve been thinking. I know you worry about your father and Katie living alone, and even though we’ll be pretty close to them here, it’s still a couple of hours’ drive. I thought – if you think it’s a good idea – we could build a place for them to live on our property. Like an in-law apartment, but a separate building so we all have our privacy. We have plenty of land, so…” He seemed to be waiting for her to say something, but Carina couldn’t come up with any words. “If you think it’s a good idea,” Mark said again. “It’s up to you. It’s just a thought.”
When Carina started to cry, Mark looked a little panicky. “Hey – your Dad is fine. I’m sure he’ll be healthy for a long time. We don’t have to –“
“No,” Carina interrupted. “Mark. It’s not that. It’s just that…” She sniffled and looked up into his eyes. “You… You offer me peace of mind, and I offer you a stupid bathrobe. Mark, I wish I could give you the sort of things you give me.”
He smiled and took her in his arms, speaking softly. “Carina, love, you’ve given me more than I ever dared to hope for.” He brushed her lips with his, and Carina felt the familiar, delicious warmth blossoming insider her. When her arms slid up his back and her fingers tangled in his hair, he tightened his grip and kissed her more deeply. She pressed herself against him and was becoming breathless and weak in the knees when he pulled back. “Should we eat?” His voice was husky.
“We should probably eat,” she whispered, but neither one of them moved. After a few moments, Carina took a deep breath and said, “Come on.” She walked him back to their supplies, holding his hands around her waist. They had bought fresh bread, a tray of meats and cheeses, and a second tray of fruit, and as Carina unwrapped the food Mark rubbed her shoulders. She leaned back into his hands. “Mmmm…” she purred and turned to kiss him. “But sweetie, supper. You’re not making this easy.”
“OK. I guess I could eat something.” He whispered into her ear, which he knew made her turn to jelly, and a shiver ran down her spine. “But I can think of things I’d rather be doing.” He gave her ear a moist kiss and blew gently.
So not fair. Carina called upon her reserves of self-control. “Me too,” she said shakily, “but think of it this way: we’re probably more alone and isolated than we’ve ever been together. It’s dark out, but it’s early. We have plenty of time.”
Mark sighed. “All right. Let me find some cushions we can lean on.”
They sat in front of the fire, propped against pillows and their overnight bags and feeding each other fruit as they sipped from a bottle of wine. Carina’s hair had dried and she leaned against Mark warmly, accepting a grape from him with a sigh of pleasure. “It wasn’t the party and feast we had planned, but I think this has been a pretty nice Christmas Eve.”
“Perfect, I would say.” He tightened his arm around her and kissed the top of her head. “Do you remember last Christmas? I was just beginning to allow myself to dream that I could be this happy. But as I recall, you squelched that dream,” he continued teasingly, running his finger down her nose. She closed her eyes, relishing the gentle touch of his fingers on her skin.
“You mean Christmas night? When I wouldn’t kiss you?” She turned and nuzzled gently against his neck. “I couldn’t believe it myself. But I still contend it would have been wrong. You needed to say goodbye to Trelaina from your heart.”
“That’s probably true.” His voice was beginning to sound hoarse, and as his hands ran gently up and down her sides, she felt her temperature rise. He kissed her neck. “But that day was a turning point for me, love. I stopped pretending I could just be your friend and admitted that my feelings for you were so much more. While you insisted on keeping your head. It was torture for me.”
“Oh, my love,” she whispered. “Please believe it was just as hard for me. I wanted to be with you so badly, and I knew you cared for me as well, but I was so afraid your feelings would change as soon as you left the hospital.” She took his hand and kissed the palm, then pressed it against her cheek. “I couldn’t understand what you could see in me. Especially after Trelaina. She was so perfect, and I’m such a mess. I couldn’t stand the idea of being your consolation prize.”
Mark sat up suddenly. “What? Carina, you were never… You were never, ever the consolation prize.” He took her face in both of his hands and looked at her intently. “You were never my second choice. I thought you knew that.”
She smiled and leaned in to kiss his lips. “I know, sweetie. I know that now. I didn’t know it then. I was terrified when I gave you those pictures of her last Christmas. You have to admit, she was a tough act to follow.”
He chuckled wryly. “You’re not going to get me to admit that. Look, I loved her, yes. You know that. But really, I barely knew her. What we have is so much more. And yes, she was beautiful, but Carina, I wish you could see yourself the way I see you. That hair…” He brushed a bushy lock out of her face with a soft smile, his eyes darkening, and she laughed shakily. “Those eyes…” he murmured, kissing one and then the other and then brushing his lips down her cheek, “Those delicious lips…”
When his mouth closed on hers, Carina gave a small whimper and ran her hand up and into his hair, trying to pull him closer to her. Mark responded with a grunt and gently laid her on her back, adjusting the pillows and sleeping bag for comfort before lowering himself to the floor beside her. She turned to face him and he rested his hand on her hip, his eyes burning as they searched her face. In the firelight his face took on unfamiliar highlights and shadows and she traced her fingers over it lightly, examining every ridge and crevice. She could feel the tightness in his jaw as her fingers skimmed it and looked at him questioningly. He ran his hand up her side and stroked her breast through the thick fabric of her nightgown. “You make me crazy, Cricket,” he growled, his breath hot against her face.
“Oh, sweetie, I know exactly how you feel.” She rolled onto her back and pulled him with her, wanting nothing more than to feel his weight on top of her. He avoided the area of her scar, which was nearly healed but still occasionally tender, and they kissed deeply, tongues and hands taking full advantage of their isolation in the storm.
After some time Mark took a shuddering breath and propped himself up. “I think we’d better slow down for a few minutes,” he said, gently stroking her cheek and neck. Carina’s body cried out for the renewal of his touch, but she knew he was right.
“Whatever you say, sweetie,” she sighed, smoothing his hair. As they caught their breath she smiled up at him and added, “Just think, by this time next year we’ll be married and we won’t have to worry about restraining ourselves.”
“Believe me, I’m aware of that,” Mark grinned. Then, becoming suddenly serious, he said, “Carina, I love you so much. I can’t wait for the day when I make you my wife.”
“Mark…” Carina wasn’t sure how to express what she wanted to say. “Mark, I love you too. And I’m glad we’re waiting for the physical part – I don’t care about the wedding, the big party, but the ceremony, the blessing and the vows, those mean something to me. I’m happy to hold my body back from you so there will be a part of me to give you to complete those vows. But…” The intensity of his gaze was disconcerting, and on top of that she felt tears rising in her eyes. “But Mark, my heart, my soul? I think they belonged to you before we even met. You made me your wife the second you kissed me down by the lake that day.”
“Carina…” Mark sounded choked up; he lowered himself back into her arms and buried his face in her neck. She could feel the dampness of his tears as she rolled onto her side, curling her back against his chest cozily. He swept her hair back and peppered her neck and shoulder with achingly tender kisses as she cradled his hand to her heart. The fire continued to glow warmly, occasionally making a popping or crackling sound, and she could see the Christmas tree – their Christmas tree – and beyond it, the snow falling outside the window. It was about as close to perfect a Christmas Eve as she could have imagined, she thought, when suddenly he whispered in her ear the thing that took it even beyond her imagination.
“Merry Christmas, Mrs. Venture.”