Seven - Home for Christmas

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Description: Officer Benedetti's biggest pain in the backside surprises her by showing up in Metro City after touring the world in violation of the terms of his parole. Will she be sending him to a holiday in the big house?

It's early evening on the Friday before Christmas and Angelina Isabella Benedetti has finished work for the festive season. She's just left her office in downtown Metro City and is dressed in a black skirt suit with thick black tights, black ankle boots and a red woolen coat with a shawl collar. She's anticipating the holidays ahead and the prospect of a glorious ten days at home in her apartment. She plans to do nothing beyond eating, drinking strong coffee or wine and watching Hallmark movies. She'll probably stay in her pyjamas the whole time.

The thought of this freedom puts a spring in her step and she picks up her pace as she moves through the downtown area. Christmas music spills out from stores as the doors swing open to allow last minute shoppers entry and customers come out of coffee shops clutching oversized paper cups and travel mugs, causing the scents of cinnamon and ginger to fill the air. It all adds to the improved atmosphere in Metro City of late. Ever since the New Fighting Generation circus rolled into town in the early fall, she's found a new buzz to the place. It suddenly seems like the place to be instead of a forgotten fiasco that people turn their heads away from to avert their gaze. Visitor numbers have doubled in the last three months. Okay, so they were attracted by violence, something that Metro has never been short of but Angelina is no stranger to fighting herself, so she can hardly judge.

As she walks past the Metro City arena, she's reminded that it's not all been sunshine and roses. The horrific events of the semi-final the Sunday before last have only been forgiven because of the fantastic final and the charity match that proceeded it. She'd actually considered offering her services as a sponsor for a brief time. After all, she does have twelve years experience in her chosen martial art of Aikido. She'd soon brushed the idea off though, when she'd remembered her crazy case load and all the people on parole she had to take care of. Did she really need more to take responsability for? With the former prisoners and the work she carried out at the local Catholic church, she already did more than her share.

The thought of church makes her feel guilty temporarily. She'd told the priest and other parishioners that she was going to stay with friends upstate for the holidays. She normally attends mass every Sunday unless she is away but she is really craving the cosy time at home and she figures God will get that. It's not like she'll forget he exists. With religion on her mind, she hears the sound of carol singers performing a stirring version of 'Oh Holy Night' and there seems to be someone dressed as Santa just beyond them. She strays off the sidewalk to edge a little closer, happy to stop for a few minutes and let herself get caught up in the Christmas cheer.

It just might be one of the biggest Santas that Angelina has ever seen. Even seated, as he is, on a bench, the enormous Saint Nick is taller than most of the carol singers he's parked himself next to. They're a pretty decent caroling crew, so the corpulent Kris Krinkle has decided to capitalize on the natural synergy by positioning a donation box for the Salvation Army several feet away from them.

The most impressive thing about the costume is that the giant has managed to find one that could fit. He's dressed in the typical white-trimmed red velvet robe, britches and hat and a pair of black gloves, the ensemble hiding the tattoos that would normally be visible across his mass.

"So, you want the new Mike Haggar wrestling game," a gravelly bass booms from behind the snow-white beard. "Well, I'll see what I can do."

The kid he's talking to isn't sitting on his knee, but is instead sat on the bench beside his. The girl's mother discreetly slips a bill into the donation box while her daughter finishes meeting Santa. "Alright, Emily! We've still got a few more stores to stop at. Why don't we check out the games store?"

She gives a wink to the big man in red.

"Thanks, Santa."

"Anytime, ma'am," the Southern Santa drawls.

With the latest mark departing, Samson Rodgers turns lazily to see who might be coming along next. "Ho, ho, ho. Merry Christmas, neighbour."

There's something about this Santa that seems familiar. Perhaps it's the size of the man or maybe it's his Southern accent. Her senses start to tingle and she realises that it's -him-. Samson Rodgers, the man who has been making her life a misery these past nineteen months. The vile villain who left her in a public park in Venice to be discovered by Italian cops. The client she's been covering up for and commiting fraud on his behalf. Basically, he's Angelina's worst nightmare.

A part of her wants to head home and pretend she never set eyes on him. Her evening could still go exactly as planned. She could be in her pyjamas within the hour. After all this time though, she can't just walk away. She wants answers. Storming over to him, as best she can in heeled ankle boots, she sits down by him on the bench and straightens her curly dark ponytail before asking" "Remember me, Santa?"

The Santa Giganta is in the midst of giving the donation bin a rattle when the black-clad beauty comes over to sit down on the bench beside him. He has to turn around - a bit of an effort for so much man to make, given that he'd been leaning in the opposite direction - before he can turn his eyes down to regard the ankle-booted interloper. A low rumble can be heard in the undertones of his announcement.

"Miss Benedetti. Ah, yes. You know, I heard I'm on the nice list thanks to you. I don't normally let the little ladies sit on Santa's lap, but for you, I'm prepared to make an exception in light of my gratitude. Why don't you make yourself comfortable and tell Santa what you'd like for Christmas? I have a sneaking suspicion that it starts with an S and ends with an N."

He stretches his knees out and pats one of his velvet-clad legs indicatively.

"Yes, Mister Rodgers. I've been saving your skin for the past year and a half, so you've me to thank for you not ending up back in a cell for Christmas. Of course, I could still make that happen if I wanted to."

There's a sharp tone in her silky voice as she speaks the warning, betraying the disbelief she feels at finding him here like nothing has happened. "Did you get homesick for good old Metro City or did you finally run out of funds?"

Her dark eyes focus on the fundraising tin and become wider. "Surely even you wouldn't sink that low. Please tell me that the money you make will find it's way to The Salvation Army."

Several children have stopped close by the pair, seeming unsure whether they can approach Santa whilst he's enagaged in conversation. Miss Benedetti gives them a blank stare before returing her focus to the other occupant of the bench.

"So where have you been hiding since I followed you across the world to Japan and then Italy? As for what I want for Christmas it's some peace and quiet, please. Nothing I can think of that starts with s and ends with n unless it's Sean, as in Faris and he's starring in a Hallmark movie."

Apparently Samson's offer to sit on his knee is being ignored by the Italian American woman.

"Please, Miss Benedetti," Samson says in his most ingratiatingly deep baritone, "It's Santa Claus." Then, in a lowered voice, he adds with an almost-purr, "You wouldn't want to ruin the magic of Christmas for all these girls and boys, would you?" He punctuates the rhetorical question with a wink.

"He's definitely the biggest Santa," a little boy whispers. "Maybe he's the real one!"

"Isn't Santa supposed to be an elf?" his sister says with confusion. "He's too big to be an elf."

"As for the question of the depths to which I might descend, I can assure you that these donations go directly to the feeding and housing of impoverished citizens of Metro City," Santa Rodgers declares, folding his meaty fingers through each other. "Come now, Miss Benedetti, where's your Christmas spirit? Surely you wouldn't forfend your fellow citizens the joy of giving to the needy while basking in the glow of Christmas lights and enjoying the dulcet tones of a heavenly choir?"

He spreads his arms wide.

"As for where I've been hiding, why, the North Pole. I thought someone who loves Hallmark movies would know about Santa, Miss Benedetti," he chastises smugly with a smirk.

"And if you'd prefer a different answer, I'm afraid you'll have to consult me after my work here is complete. After all, the children are waiting."

"Of course I don't wanna ruin it for the kids" Angelina claims, speaking more softly so they are less likely to overhear the complicated conversation. She gives the siblings a sympathetic look and says "He -is- the real Santa and I work for him. We're just discussing what he's going to get you for gifts, so you best go, so you don't spoil the surprise!"

As the children scurry away, squealing with delight, the dark haired woman shakes her head. "I can't believe I just lied to them. See, this is what you drive me to, Samson."

She sits back on the bench, crossing one leg over the other and pulling her coat closer together, to protect her from the cold that's setting in. "As it would happen I'm finished for the holidays, so I'm not really in the mood to be hauling you in for questioning. I'd be quite happy for you to start showing up for your appointments in the new year and in the meantime, you can give me an explaination as to what you've been up to all this time. Do you know I've actually been using my own pee for your samples, so they wouldn't notice you weren't giving them? As it turns out, you're drug free, enjoy the occasional glass of wine and are definitely not pregnant."

Samson seems entirely pleased with the explanation given to the children, his belly jiggling with scarcely-suppressed laughter.

"Why, I didn't realise that you were Santa's Little Helper, Miss Benedetti. Perhaps you could avail yourself of one of those little fluffy costumes that are so popular for the part. I'm sure we'd make a killing with you bringing in the extra demographic. I hardly get anything from the businessmen going by, but I'm sure you'd get them in the holiday mood."

He raises one eyebrow as she accuses him of driving her to perjury, then lets out a guffaw when she tells him what else she's been doing on his behalf.

"Now, Miss Benedetti, I never drove you to do any of those things. If I had known I had the power to make you pee in a cup on command, I might not have sought entertainment outside your jurisdiction. Not when I could be having plenty of fun right here in Metro."

He stretches his arms across the back of the bench and inhales deeply.

"Let's face it, Miss Benedetti: you're just more worried about my ending up on the naughty list than I am. The only question is whether that's the kindness of your heart, or fear of ending up on the naughty list yourself..."

He gives her a meaningful look. "Or, maybe, you just have a real soft spot for me."

He tilts his head a little. "Is it just me, or is that a new makeup you're wearin'? Maybe somethin' different with your hair...?"

"There'll be no fluff" Angelina pouts. Truth be told, the slippers she has at home are the fluffy kind but she's not sharing that with Samson. "I'm a professional woman, Mister Rodgers. There is no question of me dressing up in a silly costume for the entertainment of others."

Flashback to Halloween 2022 where Angelina is roaming an English castle in pursuit of Amandine, whilst wearing an angel costume.

"I suppose there is some truth to me wanting to stay out of trouble myself though" she reluctantly admits. "I was told if I lost one more client then I'd be out of a job, hence me chasing you all over and covering your tracks. Since you're back now though, I can stop doing that, can't I? Your next appointment is due in January and by May your parole will be over, so it makes sense for you to just play by the rules moving forwards."

It would be such a relief for her if she could stop the cloak and dagger exploits she's been enduring at work. She'd even skipped the Christmas party in case she had too much to drink and divulged some sensitive information to her boss or one of her colleagues. Not that it was much of a hardship to miss that sorry affair. It usually consisted of a crumpled cloth on the desk and some pitiful plates of food, that wouldn't be enough to feed the mice that inhabited their hallways after hours.

"There's no soft spot for you, Seven" she states, letting his nickname slip from her lips. "If anything, I'm more hardened to you than anyone."

She nods her head to affirm her words but then seems thrown off balance by his question. "My hair is exactly the same. But yes, I have changed my make-up base. The one I used to use was discontinued, so I switched to the liquid form."

"Mmm. Cryin' shame," Santa Seven declares of the lack of fluffy outfits in Angelina's future. "And I believe that plenty of professional women have worn costumes for the purposes of entertainment. And you've already mentioned that you're on your holiday leave anyway. Besides, didn't you wear a costume for a certain appearance on a fighting show last Halloween...?"

It seems that the performance didn't go unnoticed by the ex-convict Father Christmas.

"So, you confess that your livelihood is beholden to my good behaviour. Along with all the rest of your 'clientele.'"

He strokes his false beard thoughtfully.

"In that case, it sounds as if it behooves you to keep me sweet, Miss Benedetti. That my good behaviour should be rewarded. How apropos that that modus operandi pertains to the personage that I am portraying."

He lets his eyes drift downward slightly before returning to her face as she says that there's no soft spot for him, and that she's more hardened to him than anyone.

"So, you're saying that you have a hard spot for me rather than a soft one? And here I thought you were just a little cold."

He keeps a poker expression on his face as he looks intently at hers. "I thought something had changed. Like you're looking more refined and dangerous than the last time I saw you. Then again, you were lyin' face-down in a park with a pair of handcuffs at the time..." He looks wistful at the memory.

"You saw that?" Angelina seems surprised that Seven was watching her Midnight Channel appearance.

"I actually did get a bit of a bug for fighting after Ristar. Outside of the Aikido world that is. When I saw that there was an event being held in a creepy castle in Northumberland, I couldn't resist. It gave me a wonderful excuse to have a holiday at the same time. I visited London, Bath, York, Durham and Edinburgh, as well as the gorgeous area around the Blackthorne land."

Her skin, enhanced by makeup as it is, visibly pales at the mention of her career being at risk. "Are you threatening me, Mister Rodgers? Remember that I may lose my livelihood but you would lose your freedom. Does a man like you really want to be contained in a cramped cell again?"

Her voice is colder than the December early evening they are experiencing, not wavering one bit as she throws his threats back at him. "If you're looking for a sweet reward, I can stretch to a winter spice mocha but not much beyond. I figure you should be thanking me, not using my good nature to beat me with."

Her use of words brings her Jo stick to mind. She has missed the more exotic world of freestyle fighting. Somewhere she can show off some of the gifts she has been given by God. Perhaps one day she can try her luck again. She's still only thirty and wasn't one of those New Fighting Generation competitors older than that?

The colour comes back to her cheeks at the reference to her nipples and she looks down, in spite of the fact there's no way he could see such a thing through her thick coat. Trying to gather herself, she says "I could be very dangerous. I think it would serve you well to be on your best beahviour. As for what happened in Venice, it was a bold move you made and I haven't forgotten or forgiven it."

"Well, you're welcome, Miss Benedetti," Samson says as Angelina finishes reporting her exploits in England. "It seems that I inspired you to treat yourself to a wonderful vacation. After all, you wouldn't have been involved in all of that if not for the Rising Star tournament."

He tilts his head a little at her further response. "And while I do not recommend the accommodations provided by the judiciary services, I do find them preferable to sleeping out in the cold during a Metro City winter. I truly have very little to lose in that regard, Miss Benedetti. After all, it does take a certain measure of desperation for one such as myself to turn to gainful employment in the guise of Kristoffer Krinkle. But I see no reason why we should envision ourselves as standing at odds, one to another."

He lets out a snort as she says that she could be dangerous. "I recall precisely how dangerous your tactics could be. In fact, I recollect retaliatory behaviours incited in me that were less than gentlemanly. Though, I'm unsure to which of my efforts you're referring that was so memorable. Was it the part where I put you in cuffs, or the part where I whooped your behind?" After a beat, he adds smugly, "Figuratively speaking, of course."

"You have a way of twisting things you know" Angelina states to Seven, a small smile playing at the corner of her mouth.

This soon disapears however when she realises he's admitting to being homeless. "So you're raising money to pay for a bed for the night?" she clarifies, looking towards the collection tin. "You need it for a place in a shelter or a hotel room?"

The idea of one of her clients being in such a vulnerable position chills the parole officer more than the ever decreasing temperature. After all, crime becomes a lot more enticing when someone is in a desperate situation. "Let me make some calls for you" she offers, taking out her cell phone from her neat black handbag. "I know people in the local shelters and they might be able to squeeze you in over Christmas."

As she enters the number, she takes a moment to respond to his question. "Lets go with both. You pack quite the punch."

"I don't twist things, Miss Benedetti. I am simply possessed of a unique perspective," Seven claims with a vague, sweeping gesture. "And there's no need to call any shelters. After all, squeezing me in tends to mean squeezing a few others out, and there are inherent dangers to one such as myself abiding in such conditions. I'm sure these donations will suffice for a hotel room for the night." He pats the collection box. "Of course, if you happen to know of any more substantial accommodations than a shelter, perhaps the funds in question could find their way to other unfortunates in need."

He puts on his most innocent expression, eyebrows raising. "If you haven't forgiven me, I'm not sure what I should be apologizing for. After all, I don't recall doing anything that was not previously agreed upon - or that you hadn't done to me. In fact, I remember being invited to try."

Angelina cancels the call and looks up at Seven. "How much have you made, do you reckon? There's a couple of cheap hotels in this area and plenty more as we get closer to my apartment. That's obviously only going to fix the problem for one night though, unless you've been pulling in the big bucks."

She sighs and shifts on the bench, wishing she was already back home and running a hot bath for herself. "I see your point about the shelter and the chances are they'll already be full anyway at this time of year. I'd offer to give you the money myself but...well things have been a bit tight of late. It feels like the cost of everything is just spiralling. I work full time and I'm just about making rent and feeding myself" she admits.

Closing her eyes and cringing as she says the words, she blurts out. "Okay, you can come home with me. Just for the holidays though and only if you promise to find yourself a job, a place to live and show up to your appointments in the new year."

As soon as the words are out she wants to take them back. Her idyllic, isolated Christmas is slipping from her grasp and she's already grieving it. "Goodness knows what you're going to eat though. I've only shopped for one."

The talk of Venice draws no further comment from her. Dealing with one difficult situation at a time is all she can face handling at present.

Santa Seven's face lights up just a little when Angelina finally makes the offer to let him stay at her apartment. "How serendipitous that we happened to meet tonight, Miss Benedetti. You truly are a saint. I will consider myself in your debt."

He lifts himself from the bench, causing the seat to rise a couple of inches as he does so, and picks up the collection box.

"I could always use these funds to procure adequate sustenance for the duration. The donations can then be passed on once I've made headway in my search for a suitable occupation. Or after a few more shifts before Christmas Day."

He smirks. "See, Miss Benedetti, I knew it couldn't be your heart that was hardened against me. Perhaps there's no soft spot because you're simply soft, through and through, like a downy duckling."

"I'm no saint" Angelina protests, shaking her head. "Nor an angel, despite what my name may suggest. I'm just a decent person who's fortunate to have a place to live and doesn't want you to fall flat on your face. Plenty of people would offer to help."

She rises to her five and a half feet, straightening the soft wool of her coat and moves away from the bench. "I suppose given the circumstances, the money could be used for emergency supplies this evening. I do have a pizza takeout menu for a place run by Italians, so it's the real deal. As for beyond that, it would be a shame for the Santa costume to go to waste and if you get a taste for charity work, I could find you some volunteering in the new year. It would look very good on your record. Alongside a regular job that is."

She starts to head off in the direction of her apartment. "Of course, I'm not sure how comfortable you will be in my apartment. Neither my couch or bed is going to fit you on it."

There's a sharp turn of her head as he calls her a "downy duckling". She's tempted to say just which animal she'd compare him to but that wouldn't really be in the Christmas spirit. Besides, she has a feeling that it won't be the last time she has to bite her tongue in the next ten days.

"I would say that you think too highly of your fellows, Miss Benedetti," Seven says as Angelina declines his offer of sainthood and declares that plenty would do the same. "As for pizza, well, I do know of a place as well, but I'll defer to your judgment."

His boots trudge heavily along the sidewalk as snow starts to fall around the two on the way toward Angelina's apartment.

"And as regards sleeping considerations, I can assure you, I'm quite accustomed to insinuating my girth into spaces that appear impossibly tight for it. I'm sure that we'll find somewhere I can fit. It just might take a bit of stretching. Squeezing. Coaxing, if you will."

Snow settles on Angelina's hair as the strange duo move through the dark towards her apartment. She finds herself rolling her eyes at Seven's suggestive commentary, accustomed to such course language from her clients but not willing to stand for it.

"I hope you're going to be on your best behaviour since I'm welcoming you into my home. As well as keeping the smut to a minimum, I expect you to take your boots off, always use coasters for drinks and lock the bathroom door when you're using it. This may not be exactly how either of us were planning to spend our Christmas but hopefully we can make it as pain free as possible."

Seven doesn't appear to acknowledge that anything suggestive has been said as his box jingles at his side with the coins most people are happy to get rid of.

"Of course, Miss Benedetti," he readily agrees, before adding, "I'll be on my personal best behaviour, and will keep any smut to the minimum that one can expect. Taking my boots off is no problem, and the use of coasters is only sensible. As for locking the door, I'm surprised by your reticence, given that your job surely involves observing inmates urinating on a regular basis, and especially considering that you've already implied that the act is no different when you do it than when I do it, but I suppose I can respect your request." He lets out a light 'harrumph.' "As far as pain-free, that may rule out some of the plans I was formulating cerebrally. Such as joining you in watching Hallmark movies, for instance."

"I get paid to see people pee at work. I don't need to bring that home with me" the parole officer protests.

"As for the Hallmark movies, are you made of stone? Who wouldn't have their heart melted by a tough businesswoman from the big city discovering the true meaning of Christmas when she returns to her hometown for the holidays. Throw in a hunk in a checked shirt and everyone's happy. Especially if he's a simple sort of man who works with his hands, earning a good honest living."

Angelina starts to laugh lightly. "I'm actually more of a crime drama or thriller fan for the rest of the year but there's something about Christmas that makes me wanna watch soppy sentimental stuff. It's the same way I wouldn't normally eat a whole box of cookies to myself but throw on some festive frosting and I'm game to give it a go."

"You mean films produced by wealthy filmmakers to expand their wealth that deride the pursuit of wealth, where solutions to the consequences of abandoning that pursuit arise with predictably perfect convenience?" Seven lets out a little derisive huff. "The modern-day Deus Ex Machina at its finest. I might be able to rustle up a checked shirt, mind." He looks thoughtful at that. "And a box of cookies."

"Such a cynic and you the son of a preacher man" Angelina remarks, though with her own history, she knows not to read too much into people's roots.

As they reach the entrance to her small and humble apartment block, she types in the code to gain access. "I've got a spare key, so you can come and go as you please. Just don't tell anyone else I'm around. I'm in hiding for the holidays. Nobody but you knows I'm home."

That thought suddenly doesn't seem as comforting, given the fact she's about to welcome a criminal into her home but she figures if Seven was going to kill her, he'd had opportunity before now. "If you're lucky I might spar with you. The prize can be the cookies. No need for the checked shirt though when you've got a Santa suit."

"I believe you'll find that many children of preachers are cynics," Seven comments to Angelina with a slightly cool tone. "They get a front-row ticket to clerical hypocrisy."

He lifts his brows a little as she reveals that she's pretending to be absent from her abode. "Well, I'm hardly hard to notice in my comings and goings, Miss Benedetti, but I will exercise what discretion I am capable of."

He looks all the more sly when she suggests a spar. "Already looking for another excuse to get your hands on me, Miss Benedetti, or is it vice versa? Perhaps it's the Santa suit? But very well, challenge accepted. Though, I cannot be blamed if the neighbours notice when one of us throws the other into the Christmas tree."

"On second thoughts, the spar may not be sensible in such a small space" Angelina muses, making her way inside the building and heading for the stairs.

"We'll have to climb, I'm afraid. The elevator is always broken in this building. Thankfully I'm only one flight up."

She makes swift work of the steps, her regular martial arts sessions and runs around the city keeping her in good shape. "Another time though, maybe in the park, once I'm no longer pretending to be out of the city."

Samson follows the parole officer up the stairs toward their destination, ducking to avoid hitting his head as he does. "Not a problem, Miss Benedetti. I am none too fond of elevators in any case. As for the cancelled contest of combat, I suppose that we'll simply have to find less destructive ways of working off any excess energy. Especially if we're meant to be staying indoors to avoid suspicion."

When the door is unlocked a blast of welcoming warm air hits Angelina and she quickly moves to step out of her boots and remove her coat, hanging it on the row of hooks by the door.

"Come in and make yourself at home" she suggests to Samson. "I'll grab the pizza menu and you can order it while I take a bath. Before you suggest it, no, I don't need anyone to scrub my back."

She fetches the paper leaflet from the top drawer of her kitchen cabinet and then hands it over before heading towards the corridor off the main room.

Seven pulls off his boots one at a time as Angelina moves on ahead of him, taking the menu when it's passed off to him. Bit by bit, he takes off the hat, then the fake beard, before starting to read the options.

"And what kind of pizza do you prefer, Miss Benedetti?" he calls up after her before making his way into the living room. He takes a look around before settling his weight on the lone sofa, spreading out across it and loosening the belt holding his robe - and gut - in check. The word 'GLUTTONY' can be seen tattooed across his front through the garment and the white shirt underneath that can't quite contain him.

Grabbing the remote, he turns on the television, finding it on the Christmas channel, playing one of those predictable flicks that his hostess has already admitted to enjoying. And as he considers what toppings he might want on his pizza, and the time ahead, the malcontent mall santa quietly observes, "Yes, I do hate Hallmark movies... but the suckers who don't ain't too bad."

Log created on 08:57:24 12/12/2023 by Seven, and last modified on 13:02:49 12/14/2023.