Christmas was not an occasion forgotten in the Acceledrome. Whether tempted by Lani's delicious mouth warming cookies or just enjoying the Christmas mood, every racer, monkey and doctor was in the festive mood; minus the robot of course, who had repeatedly stated that Christmas was a pagan influence bought on by the winter solstice to please the pope of that century. Never mind that he'd been knocked out, once again by a certain PorkChop who so very kindly told him that who gives a damn as long as there were cookies eggnog and presents... yep, don't forget the presents.
Nolo and Tork seemed to actually get along a bit lately, no fights for the last week if you can believe it. Kurt and Markie... err Wylde... well, no fights but ignorance IS bliss right? Right. On the other hand, two people seemed to be especially happy, like they were hiding something. When Shirako found a single white rose on Karma's car the day before Christmas eve and a note telling her to meet at the Hilton Hotel at midnight... it was something all right. Not to mention that the writing looked quite a bit like a certain Asian Metal Maniacs writing, at least according to Vert.
If things didn't seem odd enough, there was still the fact that Shirako was playing "Rocking Around The Christmas Tree", remixed DJ Sammy style... cool huh? Has it been mentioned that Lani got golden highlights in her hair? And that she's actually letting Monkey be around her? Scary thought.
The exception to the holiday mysteries was Vert. It was as though he had shut off somehow. No talk, no action... no nothing. Damn the kid seemed dead and it was Christmas... what the hell was going on?
Even though he had helped with putting up the Christmas lights and the holly and mistletoe and decorating the Christmas tree, there was a certain aura around him which practically screamed I have to go. Or leave me alone. It was red light alright. It shouted silently, No.
That morning with Karma and Taro missing, Nolo, Lani and Monkey making cookies (with Nolo it was more like burning them), and everyone else working on their cars, Josef "Vert" Wheeler would've been found shut up in his room, eyes glazed over thinking of a lost memory.
"Dad, it's Christmas Eve, you have to be back" an 11-year-old Vert told his father, disappointedly over the phone that December 24th afternoon.
"I know son, but Duty calls" He replied, there was a weariness in his voice. "Tell your mother I love her, merry Christmas son" And with that, he was gone.
"Bye dad" Said the disappointed surfer/skater.
He put down the phone and went to his room, that was when the fateful phone call came. "Hello, Wheeler residence"
"Vert? It's Chase" There was a pain in Michelle Wheeler's co-worker/friend's voice. There was no reason for him to call, his mother would've been there with him right? She would've called right? "I have some bad news"
Vert felt a pang in his chest which told him SOMETHING had happened. "Doctor?"
"There's been an accident, I think you should come quickly, and bring your father"
"Dad's not here, I'm coming"
Twenty minutes later, he was in the Emergency Room frantically asking where his mother was. Michelle Wheeler was the sunshine of Princeton-Plainsborough Teaching Hospital. Everyone knew her, and her sweet boy who had actually been born here. "Vert honey" Nurse Joyce had a pained look on her face.
Images crossed his mind that moment, of his beautiful, perfect mother, bleeding, bruising to death. He could imagine her blue BMW, mashed up in a little cube inside a junk yard with her inside. He could imagine her being in a fire while in the lab. Or being shot like Dr. House due to misdiago-
"Vert?" It was Dr. Chase. "Follow me" He had been the one to nickname Josef Wheeler as Vert. When he had been born, his eyes were the brightest emerald colour imagined. While the colour had gradually changed to a bright sapphire blue, he had been deemed Vert, French for green by the Australian doctor. How he knew French? As House had said, "You put the queen on your money, you're British" Well, that was closer to France than Australia at least...
"Vert?" He was once again interrupted from his thoughts which were scrambling anywhere and everywhere, afraid of what could've happened to his mother. She was his life.. she was his everything.
He gasped as he entered Room 2034, Michelle Wheeler was in a coma. Vert rushed to her side, numbed by what was happening to his universe. It was shattering, breaking, fragile as it had always been, waiting to crack. Now it did. He grabbed her hand and sat beside her on the bed, head burying into the crook of her neck. He could hear Chase telling him what happened with his carefully chosen words.
"She was, coming home... walking to the parking lot... there was this dad... his little girl was dying so he rushed his car to the road... she didn't feel anything..."
"Is she going to be okay?" His universe was spiralling out of control... and he lost his grasp to reality. "I made chocolate cake... and chicken... we have to go back and eat it... dad said he can't make it, he's out on duty... won't be back till next month... I don't know how I can reach him. I got so mad, he said he'd be here for Christmas... said he won't disappoint mom again."
"Vert, your mom..."
"We have to go back, get her in a wheelchair, let's go!" He looked up, the panic evident in his face. "She invited you as well cause your family is in Melbourne... and your girlfriend said she couldn't make it...she said nobody should be alone on Christmas... come on Chase!" He was shaking with disbelief... uncontrollable tears fell down his face. "Let's go!"
"Vert.. stay here... she's..."
"I don't want to hear it I don't!" He shouted at the intensivist. "Vert..." A soft voice... from the bed...
He looked back, shocked... "I love you honey" She was gone again, deep slumber... with skin so pale she looked like a ghost.
Chase sat beside the boy who was slowly guided to the chair beside her. " I think it's better you stay here, Vert"
Michelle Wheeler met Jesus as the clock struck midnight to December 25th.
Damn it all... no one was supposed to be alone on Christmas
"Hey Vert, I'm home!", called out Jack Wheeler, just returning that January. "Where's your mother Vert?"
He went up to his room and found his son, curled up in his bed, pale as death in itself. "Vert?" He laid a hand on his son's shivering shoulder; but was slapped away.
"Get away from me. Don't you dare touch me.. I hate you. I hate you, you selfish..." His words ended with sobs.
"Where's your mother Vert?"
"You weren't here, you should've been you should've been! I hate you."
"Go away, go away dad" He pulled away and looked at him. There was the sound of a door shut behind Major Wheeler. " If you're looking for your wife, she was buried Christmas Day at the PPTH Funeral Centre" Dr. Robert Chase stood at the door.
"Hell load of a dad you turned out to be" But he had been taken too... left just like mom, hit just like mom. He met his kind and beautiful friend only 4 months later.
-Change of Scene-
Karma lay on the silken bedcovers and pushed herself closer to the sleeping racer who, in his sleepy state could say nothing but "Merry Christmas" and fall onto the crook of her neck, sleeping soundly.
She smiled sadly at the dark room and thought of the exact day, 365 days before, tear filled her cold and usually hard eyes.
"Taro, I'm going to head back okay?" She kissed his forehead. "K" When a TEKU was hurting she knew... She was his, she was like him.. .she was him.
-Change of Scene-
"Vert can I come in?" It was Karma, "No, leave me alone... go enjoy your friggin Christmas with your friggin friends and your lover boy... just let me be"
"Let me in"
"Karma I don't want to see you right now, or anyone else" His voice cracked from not using it for the last week.
"Let me in before I call the others"
The door opened to a Vert who was not the Vert she'd known and grown on her... It was the Vert from 7 years ago; Josef Wheeler, whose world had shattered in moments.
She came in. And no comment. She dragged him to bed and turned the lights on. She sat on the dresser. No words. Just cerulean eyes boring into him.
"What?" He snapped. "I told you to leave me didn't I?"
She got up slowly and ruffled his already messy hair. "Okay"
Before she closed the door, she froze. "My husband passed away last Christmas. You're not alone Vert." And she was gone.
Hours later, Christmas dinner was all ready, and the TEKU and Metal Maniacs all sat down to eat with Lani and Tezla. Only one person was missing.
And there he was, still ghostly pale, with a bit of colour returning to his soft cheeks though. And gently smiling. "Merry Christmas you guys"
Smiles broke through faces who knew he was hurting, though the reason was unknown. "Merry Christmas Vert"
As he sat down, and for one day of the year, the day of love and unity; all differences aside, all 12 of them ate together; laughter and smiles all around. "Hey Karma, Taro" Kurt called out as everyone began to stand up after dinner.
"Yea?" The two simultaneously asked.
"You're under the mistletoe" He was grinning.
"Loser" Wylde retorts half smiling and half frowning. "Kiss!"
And they did, melting into each other's arms, like two puzzle pieces fitting together; finally pieced together after an endless time of hopelessness and pain. Perfect did go up Karma's alley after all.
When Vert asked her later on how she knew. She would smile and say, "I never figured out how an Australian could know French either"