The Perfect Gift
By Ghost Cat
I originally intended this one as a response to the shopping dilemma challenge, but I think that it fits both of this year's Christmas challenges. What do you think?
It wasn't just the mid-December weather that made Duncan MacLeod seek shelter at the Bonded Blade that night. Even a seasoned warrior knew when to make a strategic retreat in the battle that is Christmas shopping. By the time he had shed his winter coat and reluctantly handed over his blade, Methos already had a drink waiting for him at a small shadowy booth. The last horseman, who had nothing against midwinter festivals but who hated the rank commercialism, had gone to ground in early November. Seeing the look of harried exhaustion on Duncan's face did little to encourage him to change his mind.
"So," he drawled as he handed over the glass of Scotch, "have you found anything for Deb yet?" Methos had an uncanny ability to make something sound completely casual, yet vaguely ominous at the same time.
"Don't remind me," the dark Scot sighed. "I'm still recovering from last year."
"Well, it's not like we didn't warn you…."
Immortals are not known for their lavish holiday parties, gathering being something of a dirty word. So it wasn't surprising that Debra and Duncan exchanged their gifts in private, under the artificial tree in Deb's tiny apartment. She contemplated the exquisitely wrapped gift placed before her for only a moment, then ripped through the paper with all the wild enthusiasm of a small child. She had been fighting off depression this Christmas season, thinking of what her original family might be doing, and needed something to cheer her up.
Her hands dipped into a sea of packing foam, fingers searching for the treasure hidden beneath. With a wordless cry, she pulled the object free. Her triumphant pose dissolved into stunned disbelief. The silence was broken by her bubbling laughter. She shook her head from side to side as she tried to regain control of her voice. "They say that the more outrageous the gag-gift, the better the real present will be." She held up the wooden plaque, displaying a toy moose head attached trophy-style to its polished face. "If this is any indication, I can't wait to see what you really got me."
Deb's wide grin fractured and slid crookedly off her face as Duncan's expression finally registered in her mind. "This IS what you really got me?" Duncan merely nodded, as surprised by her reaction as she had been by the gift. Deb's voice rose to a roar, "What were you thinking!?!"
MacLeod shrugged helplessly; "It's cute…."
"No, it is not cute! A plush animal is cute; half of a stuffed animal is just morbid."
"It's funny…" he continued, not knowing when to surrender.
"Funny? Not even Fitzcairn would find humour in something like this--Yes I would--you stay out of this!" She waved the offending object under the Highlander's nose; "You got me a head for Christmas!"
Desperation forced the words past his lips before he could stop them: "It's Canadian." A big mistake; the self-proclaimed Northlander turned a vivid maple-leaf shade of crimson. "THIS is not Canadian. This is the kind of thing that American tourists snap up by the dozen because they think it's Canadian. If I had a nickel for every time someone thought that I knew something, or could do something, or would enjoy something just because it's Canadian… I'd--well, I wouldn't have to worry about paying the bills for a couple of centuries."
Deb's rage faded into a deceptive calm as a thoughtful expression creased her brow. "You remember that Scottish Import shop down on Whyte, the one I showed you before?" Knowing how deep he was already mired, Duncan could only nod. "If you ever, ever pull something like this again, I will march right down to that store, buy a canned haggis, and watch you eat it."
MacLeod paled under a truly heinous threat. "But--why?" he finally stammered.
"Because it's Scottish!"
"Methos, have you ever eaten Haggis in a can? It's a travesty; nay, a sin against nature."
The Elder showed no sympathy whatsoever. "Well then, you're going to have to find the perfect gift this year, aren't you?" Duncan picked up his glass and it looked for a moment as if he was ready to toss it in the insufferable old man's face. He knew though that it was a sin to waste a good Scotch, so he swallowed the drink in one gulp and stalked away.
Knowing the true nature of a quest doesn't make the fulfillment of it any easier. The perfect gift was the result of months, sometimes years of careful thought. It wasn't something you could find in a couple of weeks, in an unfamiliar city, while the entire population of that city was clogging the malls and shops in search of their own gifts. In desperation, Duncan turned to someone who knew Debra well. Sheila listened carefully as he outlined his dilemma. She tsked softly at the end of the tale; "The whole of the Butterdome Craft Sale to chose from, and you gave her *that*? Oh well, we can't change the past.
"The perfect gift is a reflection of how well you understand that person. I says that you have seen her deepest heart's desire and done your very best to achieve it."
"The only secret desire I know about involves me, Adrian Paul and things I'd prefer not to talk about."
Sheila couldn't help but laugh at his discomfort. "That's nothing more than a harmless fantasy. You need to look at what makes her who she is."
"Can't you just give me a hint?"
"That would be cheating. Besides, my perfect gift would be completely different from *your* perfect gift. Look beyond the obvious."
Duncan had a lot to think about, and not much time to work with. A heart's desire: Deb had already achieved her greatest wish, to be a published writer. Oh, she was by no means famous, but she was being paid money to do something she loved, and not many people could say that anymore. The silver screen? He simply didn't have the contacts or the resources to bring any of her stories to film or television. He needed to do a little reconnaissance, and *that* would require a degree of subtly that would make Amanda proud.
He made a visit to Deb's apartment, mere weeks before Christmas. She too was feeling the holiday stress and Duncan obliged by drawing her the longest, most elaborate, most luxurious bath that he could devise. Knowing her habits, this would give him ample time for a thorough exploration of her home. He felt a little guilty, but desperate times call for desperate measures.
What defined Debra more than anything else were books: the stories she wrote, and the books she loved. It seemed as if every book she had ever read stood in a place of honour on her shelves. It was a daunting task. On a whim, he started his search in the M's; one name dominated her shelf space. Inspiration struck. It would take a lot of work, but it'd be worth it. Still basking in the glory of her bath, Deb barely noticed when MacLeod slipped away.
"Hey Joe," Duncan asked over the phone, "do you still have Deb's things from before the accident?"
Mac could almost hear Dawson's frown in the pause that followed, but the Watcher understood him more than anyone. "Sure we do," he answered, putting a subtle emphasis on the we. Normally we don't get a lot of artifacts from an Immortal's original life, but I've never seen anyone more eager to get rid of the evidence of his dead daughter's life."
"Don't be so hard on the man. Remember, her father was in the police force most of his life. His type doesn't have much of a desire to relive painful memories. He loved her in his own way. What's important is, do you have what I'm looking for?"
"I'd have to check, but there's no real reason we'd have gotten rid of it. I have to admire what you're trying to do, and I doubt that the Archives would miss it. Good luck with the rest of your plan."
It had taken a lot of effort, and a whirlwind trip overseas, but in the end he finished his quest just in time. Once again the gift exchange was a small, intimate affair, under the twinkling lights of a Christmas tree and the soft glow of a video fireplace. The tree held a few other presents, but this night was for them alone. Deb offered her gift first, dragging a huge box from beneath the tree and placing it before him. With child-like anticipation and an infectious grin on her face, she waited for him to open it. As he sought after the edges with surgical precision, Deb all but shouted, "Oh, just rip the damned thing!"
Finally the last scrap of paper fell away and Duncan carefully lifted off the lid. What he saw within left him silent, and slightly confused, for several seconds. In the background, Deb was still talking. "You would never be so rude as to mention it outright, but I know it always bothered you. So here it is… all of it. Do with it what you will: burn it, bury it, send it to the bottom of the North Saskatchewan River…." The box, for all its size, was nearly full; he saw stacks of videos: episodes, movies; books, 8x10 glossies, even a couple of pieces of clothing and jewelry. Years of quiet obsession were wrapped up in one neat package and laid before him. "…rent a wood chipper if you'd like; I hear they're highly amusing."
MacLeod could not believe it: this wasn't a gift; it was sacrifice. "I--" he wanted to say, "I can't", but that would dishonour what she was trying to do. Instead, he set an expression of hard determination and schooled his voice to calmness. "I know exactly what I'm going to do with this!" He gripped the sides of the box firmly in both hands and with a single thrust…pushed the whole thing back toward its true owner; "This is yours; there's nothing here that would make me jealous, nor anything for which you should be ashamed." He plucked a copy of The Quickening out of the depths of the box, "Except this. This is just--Bad. Real Bad. For this, we can acquire a wood chipper."
The two laughed together, snuggling against one another under the artificial tree and the virtual fireplace: it didn't matter; their love was real enough. For a while they forgot about everything except each other, but not for long. Eventually, Deb decided that she wanted her gift. Duncan handed over the small, simple package, inwardly more nervous than ever over how it would be received.
Deb held the present for a moment, tested its weight, shook it gently, even held it up and sniffed it. Then curiosity overwhelmed her patience and she ripped through the paper like a wild animal. It was a book, but something told her that this was no ordinary book. With trembling hands, she turned it over to look at the cover: it was Dragonsong, the first Anne McCaffrey book she had ever read. It was an older copy, well used and well loved. She opened it carefully, seeing the rainbow dragon stamped onto the inside front cover. Impossible! This was her copy, the original, the one she had read in elementary school; before the accident, before everything had changed. Under the dragon were words she didn't recognize, written in a clear, flowing script: "To Debra, who dreamed of dragons, and then took flight. Anne McCaffrey."
It was signed! Deb could not find her voice. She hugged the book to her chest; then held it up again, to make certain it hadn't changed. "This is amazing. You do know that she doesn't make convention appearances anymore?"
Duncan smiled in satisfaction, "I know."
"You realize that she hardly ever even leaves the UK nowadays?"
"So I discovered," he drawled.
"Next to a live dragon, this is the best present a Pern lover could possibly receive!"
There's more… page 84." Deb quickly opened the book to the directed page; something fell out and fluttered to the floor. She glanced at the page. Each chapter, she knew, had a short verse of poetry; this page was a new chapter. The verse read, "Who wills, Can. Who tries, Does. Who loves, Lives." She smiled up at Duncan, knowing that he had chosen that page with utmost care. Then, finally, she bent to look at the letter that had fallen. It was hand written, in the same script as the dedication.
"Dearest Debra. I am happy to invite you to join my family and I for a visit in our home at Dragonhold, Underhill. I'm sure we will find many things to talk about and much to share. Looking forward to seeing you. Anne."
Overcome with emotion beyond words, Deb fairly leapt into Duncan's arms, embracing him. He whispered softly in her ear, "You know, that invitation is for two." Her answer could barely be heard. "I'd love to. How soon can we leave?"