keepsmiling7- Thank you for the wonderful compliment. They have been through so much. This time off the road gave them all, as couples and friends, a safe place to get back in touch with themselves and each other.
The binoculars......what a perfect idea. Only Max would come up with that. And of course with no help from Michael.
Thank you! We listened to Max. He knows better, lol.
Thank you, we've really enjoyed our ride with the gang as well. Here's more.
Natalie36- Thank you!
Roswelllostcause- Thank you! Lol, nothing like having "Hell" freeze over. We hear that their ice cream is to "scream" for.
xmag- We agree completely. Being on the road aimlessly running for their lives still wearing her rings with every passing day made it that much harder for her to remove them. Her time off the road and Kyle's gift of seeing her parents gave her the closure in order to finally remove the only thing that linked her to Jessie.
sarammlover- Thank you! Glad you're enjoying the story.
Christmas is a holiday that celebrates past family gatherings with the present. It can be a wonderful time for close knit families who share food, favorite family dishes and stories about their loved ones past and present. For others who don't have this in their lives or have difficult relationships with the people who they're suppose to be close to, it can be a tough or at best a mixed emotional time. Glad you're interested in Edward's back story...
Thank you for the awesome compliment! We love writing Kyle, his humor and his common sense approach to difficult situations brings the best out of his friends and us as well.
.I take that back, he's just romantic enough for Maria and you find just the right words for him to say to melt her heart (and mine)
Aww, thank you..lol. One can never underestimate Michael's recessive romantic gene when it comes to Maria.
They've already lost their families, they'd lose so much more if they have to split up and go their separate ways. Will Michael recognise that?
Michael does recognize that, but as the soldier in the group he's duty bound to ensure their safety above all else. It remains to be seen what the future holds on that front, but it's something that'll be decided based on the best interest of the entire group.
Thank you! The scene where Kyle takes Isabel home was in our minds from the beginning of the story and was one we couldn't wait to write. We're so glad you enjoyed the update.
I really appreciate the way that this story honours the difficult past but finds ways for the characters to develop and grow so that they can come to terms and move on. Scenes like the one between Max and Liz where they're back to being able to tease and understand each other make me love this story.
Thank you for the awesome compliment! As Candy writers it is a big challenge to write Dreamer scenes and it's been especially so with AToTC because of the damage the show's writers did to their relationship.
Thank you! We are glad you are curious about Edward's relationship with his mother, we are as well. Here's more.
Michael glanced up from slathering butter on what would be his last roll… well, maybe just one more, he thought. Julia had brought another pan of hot rolls out and there was no point letting them go to waste after she’d gone to all that effort. He piled turkey on and then doused it with hot sauce before squeezing the sides together and taking a big bite.
“You do like hot sauce, don’t you?” Candace asked.
He shrugged in response to the question posed by the kids’ grandmother, considering his answer while he chewed.
“It’s the only way he can taste anything,” Max answered for him. “His taste buds are practically non-existent.”
“I knew a man who suffered from that affliction once,” she said with a slight smile at the memory. “He couldn’t taste a thing.” She winked at the girls. “But he never complained about the food I put on the table.”
Michael watched Edward unobtrusively, noting the way his hands clenched around his utensils as his mother spoke fondly of some man in her past. He had a feeling the guy had probably been one in a long line and her son didn’t view those memories with the same affection. She played the role of the loving mother and doting grandmother to the hilt, but her features held a harshness that spoke of a life lived fast and hard. It was the kind of life that left its mark on others and it was apparent that Edward bore that mark.
Edward turned his head to the side when his little girl wrapped her hands around his wrist and tugged. “More turkey?” he asked with a smile. He had no idea where she put it, but Maggie could pack it away if it was something she really liked.
“No, Granma Candy has a gift for you.”
Michael didn’t miss the tension or the way it notched up at the name the kids all used for his mother. He was only listening with half an ear so he didn’t catch what the first part of the gift was but he glanced at the older woman when she explained that the second part of her gift was that she would babysit the kids so that Edward and Julia could spend their 15th anniversary alone on New Years’. She was obviously pleased with her gift and in his opinion, a little too pushy about it, but hey, that was just one more reason to avoid all the holiday bull.
In spite of her attempts to make up for whatever had happened in their past he could feel Edward’s lack of trust and respect for her. She was trying too hard and rather than achieving the desired results she was only pushing him further away. She couldn’t see it though. He wondered why people thought they could make up for years of neglect and abuse with presents or behavior changes. Well, he didn’t know the details, but he was sure he was in the right vicinity.
He missed Edward’s response but when the man of the house stood and started to collect the dishes he got up and grabbed a handful that he carried over to the sink. He listened as Julia graciously expressed their thanks for the gift, giving her husband the opportunity to make his escape and while Edward worked on filling the sink with soapy water he went back for the next load. He rested his hand on Maria’s shoulder when she started to get up, shaking his head slightly when she shot a questioning look at him.
Maria rubbed his arm when he reached past her to stack the dishes, the methodical placement of each dish speaking to his familiarity with bussing tables. She had noticed the tension that had been present in Edward throughout the evening and it had only increased each time his mother tried to pull him into a conversation. It was obvious he tried to be civil for the sake of his children but it was taking a toll on him.
Michael finished clearing the table and picked up a dishtowel, moving around to Edward’s right side to dry the dishes as they were rinsed and placed in the drying rack. They worked in silence for a while, Edward lost in his thoughts while Michael was busy trying to push the memories back. It didn’t matter how hard he tried to hold it at bay, being surrounded by the tension that arose from Grandma Candy’s seemingly well-intentioned gift, by her very presence, and the taut expression on Edward’s face he eventually lost the battle and the memory of a long-ago Christmas rose to the surface of his mind.
At eight years old he had still held out hope, had hung onto any little crumb Hank tossed his way in his more lucid moments. The occasional meal the man would make that he wanted so badly to believe meant Hank cared about him in some small way even if he didn’t say the words. He had to force his hand to relax when it clenched tightly around the plate he was drying. At that age the social workers had still made the rounds, checking up on his home situation, and allowing him to think that he mattered.
It had been Christmas Eve 1991. He had been alone in the trailer, standing at one of the dirty windows and peering out at one of the neighboring trailers that had been overly decorated, but to his childish, wondrous gaze, it had seemed like something right out of a storybook. He had stood at the window for a while almost every night while he was waiting for Hank to come home, his little boy’s heart aching for the love and acceptance he witnessed whenever Mr. Saunders from next door returned from work and Artie would run out the front door to welcome him home.
Artie was seven years old with red hair and freckles, skinny as a rail, and wore glasses that were always slipping down his nose. His dad worked in the oilfields and he always looked tired, but that had never stopped him from greeting his son with a look on his face that said he was happy to see him. Artie was one of the kids everyone at school made fun of. He was an easy target and he didn’t know how to stand up for himself. When the other kids started picking on him he just went off to a secluded corner on the playground and sat down with his arms wrapped around his thin frame.
Michael had caught a couple of the boys beating him up one time because he wouldn’t give them more money after they’d taken everything he had for lunch and he’d taken them on. Artie had been crying and as soon as the boys had been occupied with the fight he’d run off. He’d ended up getting sent home for a couple of days for fighting and Hank had been so mad at him he had thrown him in his room and hadn’t given him anything to eat until the next day. He hadn’t understood why Hank was mad at him. He had been helping someone else; someone smaller and weaker who had been getting kicked around by a couple of bullies. He didn’t care what Artie looked like or that he was a dork, but if someone could love him why couldn’t Hank care about him just a little?
He had been pulled out of his musings when the headlights swept across the window and he turned his head to look at the station wagon pulling up in front of the trailer. It was Hank and he wasn’t alone. He turned and ran from the room, hiding in the hallway and peering around the doorway just as the front door opened. He never knew what kind of mood the man was in and it was best to wait and see before making a nuisance of himself.
His eyebrows had lifted when a woman came inside and a moment later Hank had appeared with a small Christmas tree in one hand and a box with a few presents inside tucked under the other. He had crept out of his hiding place when his foster dad called him, for once calling him by his name rather than the despised nickname he had pinned on him not long after he’d been placed with Hank.
His little heart had nearly burst with happiness when Hank had not only introduced him using his given name, but called him his son. He could tell that Hank had been drinking but he hadn’t been completely trashed, probably because he was trying to impress the woman he had brought home. He hadn’t cared what the reason was though. While Hank had made dinner he’d gently pawed through the cardboard box that had come inside with the woman. She’d only been introduced as Wendy and she’d spent most of her time over in the kitchen with Hank, but every once in a while she would give him a little wave and smile in his direction.
They’d sat around the rickety little breakfast table and feasted on dinner and Michael had enjoyed every bite of it. He didn’t care that the ham and the vegetables all came out of cans, the mashed potatoes came out of a box, or that the rolls had come out of a frozen package. He’d been happy to clear the table afterwards, carrying the dishes over to the counter by the sink and swallowing with difficulty when he’d tipped them too far to one side as he lifted them and a few of the utensils fell to the floor with a clatter. He had expected anger when Hank had come up behind him, but he’d just leaned over to collect the forks and reached over Michael’s shoulder to drop them in the sink.
“Don’t worry ‘bout it.” He stretched up to open the cabinet over the sink and pulled out a bottle before moving to the side and rooting around in another cabinet to find a couple of glasses. “You wash those up while me an’ the lady have a few drinks to celebrate the holiday.”
Michael’s chest tightened and he couldn’t do anything to stop the rush of adrenaline that flooded through his body as the memory took the dark, albeit expected turn. The night had turned out like others had before and many more would in the years to come. The glasses had been filled over and over again, each celebratory drink increasing the alcohol-induced haze and fueling Hank’s temper when Wendy had said something to set him off.
What had started out so promising had ended with the two of them in a screaming match that had been accompanied by crushed ornaments and broken gifts. It was only later after Wendy had fled the trailer, her mascara running and her cheek already beginning to bruise, after Hank had passed out in his recliner, that he had dared to creep out of his hiding place and back into the living room.
He had gathered up the shattered pieces of a couple of the ornaments along with one of the broken toys and placed them all carefully into a shoebox. He picked it up and turned to go back to his room, freezing when Hank shifted and muttered, his glazed-over eyes opening for a moment and locking on him. As soon as the man slouched down further and slipped back into his alcoholic stupor he hurried back to his room and closed the door. He settled down at one end of the small closet, feeling a little safer once he was ensconced in the tiny space. He had taken to hiding there with his pillow and blanket a few months back and it had become his refuge at times like this.
He had spent hours painstakingly piecing the two ornaments back together and his child’s eyes hadn’t seen the small pieces that were still missing, the blobs of glue that had seeped out as he pressed the pieces together, or the way some of them had overlapped to lend a Frankenstein look to them. He had carefully laid them back in the box and started trying to put the toy back together. It was a fire engine, the kind that had the ladder with the bucket, but the bucket had been separated from the ladder and the ladder was broken in half. One of the tires was bent and the little plastic covers over the lights on top of the engine had been shattered.
He had glued the ladder and then ran scotch tape around it just to make sure it was secure. He had been tired by the time he was finished with his repairs and he had curled up with his back pressed against the wall so he could see Hank if he came after him. The fire engine had been held securely against his body, his little fingers stroking over the broken dreams that the damaged toy symbolized.
The muscles in his hands began to cramp, the motion unconsciously mirroring Edward’s own tightly fisted hand that held the silverware as he placed it in the hot soapy dishwater. He glanced over his shoulder as the sounds of chair legs scraping against the floor caught his attention and he watched Grandma Candace as she spoke to her grandchildren in warm hushed tones as the family left the table for the living room.
He made another attempt to force his mind to shut down, despising these little trips down the broken pothole-filled yellow brick road that led to his past. Regardless of his best efforts one more memory slipped past his defenses; the final nail in the coffin that was his relationship with Hank Whitmore. It had been bad enough to live through that hell, to face the humiliation day after day, but when Max and Isabel had walked right into the middle of it they had served as an unexpected catalyst.
They hadn’t grown up in a situation like his. They had parents that wanted them, that loved them… they had parents that would’ve done anything to protect them. He’d had Hank. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but it was all that he’d known growing up. They had come in thinking they could tell Hank off, take him home to their parents, and everything would be okay. But all it had done was blow up in their faces. It was the equivalent of finding a wild animal and bringing it home, expecting it to know how to behave and interact with domesticated animals. He knew they had meant well, but they’d had no way of understanding his situation because it was something so completely foreign to them.
Hank had come out right behind him while he’d been trying to get Max and Isabel to leave and he’d immediately locked his sights on her. He’d tried to intervene and he’d felt everything in him recoil when Hank raised his hand, prepared to backhand him. His foster dad’s behavior had been disgusting and Isabel had reacted by throwing Hank’s drink all over him and then threatening him if he ever touched him again. It had infuriated his foster dad and he’d gone for his gun, pointing it at them. He didn’t know if Hank would’ve pulled the trigger; he was a coward at heart, but alcohol tended to infuse even the greatest cowards with false courage.
Max had thought he could diffuse the situation by telling him to take it easy, that they were leaving. He didn’t know Hank the way Michael did, and he had seen the way it only further incensed the man. He could handle the abuse, the constant putdowns, and even the neglect, but in that moment his fear for their safety had pushed aside his own sense of self-preservation and he had reacted without thinking. In all of his years with Hank, all of the many times the man had come at him, he’d always been careful to hide his powers, to choke them down for fear he would not only reveal himself, but that he might actually hurt Hank. Or worse.
People assumed that just because someone was abused they automatically hated their abuser, that given the opportunity they would gladly see them dead by their hand or anyone else’s. People who assumed that generally weren’t the ones who had ever suffered abuse of that nature. It wasn’t that black and white. There was such a confusing mixture of emotions involved. He’d read somewhere once that there was a thin line between love and hate, and whoever had said that had hit the nail on the head. He didn’t love Hank, didn’t even like him, but there was a time when he’d so desperately craved love and acceptance from the man who had been responsible for him.
But that night… the night someone had finally dared to cross the threshold into that filthy trailer and enter his private hell, every ounce of hope that had ever resided in him that Hank cared for him even in the smallest increment had been shattered. He’d shown his hand, revealed himself for who he was, disarming Hank before he could hurt Max and Isabel, and he’d seen the look of fear and disgust in his eyes as he’d called him a freak. Spit the word out as if it could contain the full weight of his revulsion for the boy, the thing he’d been stuck with for years.
Yeah, he’d felt for a long time that he was nothing more to Hank than a monthly check, and part of that was a way to protect himself so that if and when the truth came out it wouldn’t hurt so badly. But it had. It had hurt worse than he’d ever imagined it could. With that one word Hank had driven home the truth of his feelings for him and it had shattered something inside of him with a finality he had never expected.
Michael turned his head when Aunt Connie came into the kitchen and began putting away the dishes he’d been drying and setting aside. He relinquished the roasting pan when she reached for it and she moved to Edward’s other side to put it in the cabinet where it belonged. She lingered for a moment as she straightened her spine and focused her attention on her nephew.
“Edward,” she said, her voice low.
He cut her off with a sharp shake of his head. “Don’t.”
“She’s put so much into this gift for the two of you. She’s been working two jobs to save for it.”
Michael shot a sideways glance at Edward, noting the tic that was worsening in his jaw. Yeah, that was his cue to exit stage left, he thought as he began to fold the dishtowel so he could place it on the counter.
“No, you stay. We’ll have the dishes done in half the time.”
He cleared his throat and nodded as he reached for a pie plate and started to dry it. He started to set it aside with the rest of the dishes he’d dried when Aunt Connie suddenly appeared next to him. He held the plate out to her when she stood there expectantly but she shook her head.
“They go in the cabinet over by Miss Cindy’s chair.” She waited until the young man had gathered up the matching plates and taken his leave before she turned to her nephew again. “Edward.”
Edward stared at the utensils that were in danger of having the silver stripped right off of them as he scrubbed at food particles that weren’t there. He wanted to tell his mother to take her gift and shove it but out deference for his children’s relationship with her he hadn’t. His mother was in total denial and the way she referred to their damaging past as her dark time was hard to deal with in the face of her new life as devoted mother and grandmother. “How do you want me to react?” he bit out, his back teeth grinding together. “She announces her gift to the entire family because she knows I can’t exactly say no in front of my kids without looking like an asshole and hurting Julia. It’s nothing more than a setup.” He shook his head. “Stop pushing,” he muttered under his breath.
Michael took his time putting the plates away and making his way back over to his side of the sink that was thankfully unoccupied now. He focused his attention on the wet dishes that had piled up in his brief absence, but it was hard to miss the woman’s demeanor that had quickly shifted from calm to tense.
“She’s been clean and sober for ten years, Edward. Do you have any idea what kind of strength it takes to get through a single day let alone ten long years?” She inhaled slowly. “Look, I know what she did and it was wrong, but she’s here now.”
It was impossible to miss Edward’s flinch in response to his aunt’s words.
“Wrong?” Edward growled, a hard edge to his voice. “No, it wasn’t wrong, it was criminal.”
Michael was doing some quick mental math, taking in Edward’s age along with how many years his mother had been sober. She obviously hadn’t gotten sober until well after he and Julia had gotten married. He shook his head slightly. Yeah, there was no making up for that. None at all. But, it was that fine line again.
Aunt Connie’s face flushed with the heat of frustration as she turned to face her nephew. “The war left your father seriously damaged and it just about killed your mother when he left. You didn’t have a choice back then, but you do now. It’s time to grow up here, Edward. We can’t keep blaming our parents for our misery as we get older. It’s Christmas; it’s time to let go of this mess. If you can’t forgive her then don’t. Decide to let it go for you, Julia, and the kids.”
Yeah, so much easier said than done, lady, Michael thought. It was easy to throw that advice in someone’s face when you hadn’t been in their shoes. And really, what did it matter what the reason was? There was no excuse for turning to alcohol or drugs because your life sucked. Very few people could honestly say their life was their own; there were family and friends, husbands and wives, damn it, there were kids who didn’t deserve it when that person chose to lose themselves in a bottle. No, there was no excuse for it. If there was one thing he’d learned over the past couple of years it was that you didn’t run from those obligations. It didn’t matter if it was alcohol, drugs, or running away. Running was running and the people who loved you and cared about you deserved a hell of a lot better than that.
He watched her leave the room, her stride filled with purpose, leaving her nephew standing there, his fisted hand just about bending the fork he held in half. He must have noticed what he was doing because he expelled a loud breath and dropped the fork as he leaned forward to let the water out of the sink. He watched the soap bubbles swirl around as the water emptied down the drain and after a moment he straightened up and rested his big hands on the edge of the sink.
“Could you forgive it?”
Michael paused, hiding his surprise at the question.
Beside him Edward could feel the younger man tense up and he knew at least some of his suspicions about him had been on target. He didn’t look at him as Michael set the last dish down, folding the dishtowel in half, and placing it over the oven handle to dry.
His movements were methodical as he completed his task, but his mind had gone back to the little boy who had never felt anyone on Earth wanted him. He inhaled deeply, holding it for a moment before slowly releasing it. “No one ever asked.” He shoved his hands in his pockets and disappeared through the doorway to go and find Maria.
He stood there for several minutes as he contemplated those four little words. “No one ever asked.” Michael had said so much with so little. He had harbored a lot of resentment towards his mother over the years. Resentment, anger, disappointment, they had all continued to fester over time and all of her attempts to make things right only made it worse.
He was glad she’d finally gotten her act together and sobered up, but it did little to make up for all the times she’d missed games or other events, all the times he’d had to clean her up and put her to bed, or all the times he’d run into some guy he’d never met before coming out of her bedroom in the mornings when he was on his way to grab a bowl of cereal or a piece of toast on his way to school. Could anything ever make up for that?
He had children of his own and God forbid anything should ever happen to Julia, but if it did he swore he’d do anything it took to hold it together for them. They deserved that from him. His father had been a different man when he’d come home from the war and he knew it had torn his mother up when his father left, but what right had that given her to basically abandon him? To put responsibilities on his young shoulders that never should’ve been his to carry?
There wasn’t anything that could be done to change the past. There wasn’t any amount of gifts or behavior changes that could ever make up for what had been done. So much of his childhood was wrapped up in the chaotic aftermath of his father’s leaving. His mother’s response to that abandonment had been to do whatever she could to help her forget and half the time it had allowed her to forget about him too.
He looked down when his littlest one latched onto his fingers and he automatically tightened his grip on her hand when she leaned back with all of her weight, trusting him to not let her fall. His heart swelled at the simple gesture and he vowed yet again to try his damnedest to never do anything to break that trust.
“Can Puppy come outta his crate now?”
They had crated the puppy when dinnertime had rolled around and he could imagine the little bundle of energy was ready to rejoin his new playmate. “Why don’t you go get him and let’s take him out for a few minutes?”
“Can Michael come with me, Daddy? You an’ Granma Candy can be together for a little while.”
She had no idea what her words did to him. “You can ask him and if he says yes then he can go with you.”
Maggie straightened up and tugged on his hand, launching herself into his arms when he crouched down beside her. “Thank you, Daddy.” She kissed his stubbled cheek and hugged his neck tightly. “I love you.”
“I love you too, Princess,” he murmured, savoring her openness and hoping against hope that she never lost it. He released her after a few moments, knowing how eager she was to get to Puppy, and he remained there for a minute, just thinking about things.
By the time he made it into the living room Michael had been coerced into taking a walk outside and Maria was watching him with a look that Edward didn’t have a name for, but he recognized it all the same. He’d seen it on Julia’s face often enough when he did something that just touched something inside of her. He watched the two of them leave the room, his little girl’s hand swallowed up by Michael’s big paw and the young man listening attentively as Maggie went on and on about Puppy.
He shook his head and crossed the room to offer a mug of hot coffee to his mother. He shrugged at the look of surprise on her face when she looked at him. “You take it black, right?” He didn’t wait for an answer. Too many years of making her coffee and trying to sober her up had imprinted her coffee preference on his brain. He settled on the couch at his wife’s side and she accepted the mug he’d brought for her with a soft smile that said what she wouldn’t verbalize. “It’s just coffee,” he mumbled.
Julia set her mug on a coaster on the end table and took his hand, lifting it to press a kiss to his knuckles as she met his uncomfortable gaze. “I know,” she whispered and lowered their hands to rest on her thigh. “I know.”
The space next to the kitchen door was piled up with the vintage luggage and the gifts they had received from the Stevens family and the only thing left now was to bid them goodnight. They had vaguely discussed their plans to leave out early the next morning and as much as Michael would’ve preferred to leave before the sun rose so he could avoid the goodbye scene that was sure to present itself if they didn’t, the girls had managed to sideswipe his plans.
“Well, I suppose we’d best be on our way,” Aunt Connie said as she made the rounds, gathering up anything she and her sister needed to take with them. Candace didn’t move and she couldn’t say she had expected her to.
Across the room Grandma Candace was watching her grandchildren as they interacted with her son’s visitors. Her little granddaughter was completely enamored with the young man who seemed to be itching to make his escape from the house. The boys had been more accepting of the fact that their guests would be taking their leave the next day, but Maggie had been quieter than normal and it was obvious that she was saddened by the realization that they would soon be gone.
Michael turned his head when a small hand landed on his arm, gently but insistently tugging on his sleeve. Maggie stood there, watching him, and in spite of all her protests that she wasn’t sleepy he could see the truth in the blue eyes that were struggling to appear awake and alert.
“Do you really gotta go tomorrow?” she asked quietly.
“Yeah, I’m afraid we do.” He covered her hand. “Our friend’s waitin’ for us and we’ve kept him waitin’ long enough, don’t you think?”
She gnawed on her bottom lip for a moment before nodding slowly. Her eyes suddenly widened and she clambered up to sit in his lap. “Can’t your friend just come here?”
He’d heard the girls talking one day recently, discussing how much they wished their story about going to visit a friend was true, how much they wished that friend was Alex. Somewhere along the way he’d named the nonexistent friend in their cover story after their fallen friend and it was easy to think he was waiting for them. He wished he was. “I wish he could, Maggie, but that’s just not possible.”
“Are you gonna come back an’ see me?”
Maria reached over to rub his arm when he swallowed with difficulty. They had no way of knowing if they’d ever have the opportunity to visit the Stevens’ family again and he didn’t want to make a promise he didn’t know he could keep. A promise was something sacred to him, it was a matter of giving his word, and he put a lot of stock in that.
“I’ll tell you what,” he said finally, “if we ever get the chance to come by here again I can promise you we will.”
She nodded and rested her head on his shoulder. “Would you an’ Maria read me a story before you go?”
“Yeah, I think we can do that,” he said after glancing up to check with her parents.
She got up and went to say her goodbyes to her grandmother and aunt before picking Puppy up from where he was sleeping in Daddy’s lap and making her way upstairs to get ready for bed. As soon as she was ready she hollered down the stairs and Julia smiled at them, nodding for the couple to go ahead.
“We’ll be up to tuck her in once you’ve finished the story.”
Kyle stood up and stretched. “Well, while you guys are sending the little one over the rainbow into dreamland I’m gonna go grab the van because I know how you are and I’ll be the one who ends up hauling this stuff down to the cabins like a pack mule.”
Michael shrugged, not bothering to deny it. “Good idea.”
“Maggie’s very attached to him,” Candace mused as the young couple disappeared up the stairs.
“He’s deserving of it,” Edward said as he reached for his cup and got to his feet. “Think I’m gonna get a refill.” He glanced at his wife in question, nodding when she shook her head. He shuffled into the kitchen and took his time refreshing his coffee. He was grateful when it was finally time for his mother and aunt to leave and he said his goodnights and dutifully stood at the door while they carefully made their way up the driveway and out onto the old highway.
Julia leaned against his side and looked up at him, rubbing his arm when she could still feel the tension in him even though it was lessening now that the taillights were out of sight. “C’mon, that story should be finished by now. Let’s go tuck Maggie in.”
They paused in the doorway to their daughter’s room a few minutes later, watching as Maggie stretched up to wrap her arms around Michael’s neck. There was a little pout on her face as she quietly spoke up. “I’m gonna miss you, Michael.” She pressed her nose into his neck as he brought his arms around her. “An’ Snowflake too.”
Julia could see the discomfort on Michael’s face as he tried to find the words to express what he was feeling and drew a blank. She nudged her husband and they stepped into Maggie’s room. “Did you have a good Christmas, Maggie?” she asked, giving Michael time to compose himself.
“It was the best ever, Mama!” she answered excitedly. She looked at Michael and Maria, smiling widely. “Maybe for next Christmas Michael, Snowflake, Candycane, an’ the Reindeer Wrangler can all come back with Kyle an’ Isabel.”
“That’d be great,” Michael said with a small smile as he pulled Maria close with an arm around her shoulders. “But just remember that we can’t make any promises about that.”
Julia redirected her daughter’s attention to the puppy sleeping on the bed. “Have you decided on a name for your puppy yet?” The boys had been very helpful in making suggestions but each one had been worse than the one before and Maggie had been quick to tell them so.
She shook her head. “I want a real special name for him.”
Edward moved around the bed to tuck his little girl in. “Time for you to go to sleep. You can think on it more in the mornin’.” He tucked her in and kissed her forehead. “Sleep tight and don’t let the dragons bite.”
That drew a quiet snort from Michael. “Princess Maggie, looks like you’ve gotta dragon guard dog there,” he said and nodded at the puppy. “Did you know that one of the greatest dragon slayers ever was named George?”
Maria looked up at him, unable to hold back the smile. “Um, Michael, did you read that somewhere?”
He shrugged and smiled at her. “Read about St. George and the dragon in my European History class.”
“C’mon, you didn’t take European History.”
She snuggled into his side. “Then quote me a page.”
He chuckled and looked at Maggie with a wink. “Yeah, well, I did, but it doesn’t matter ‘cause Santa told me the story again.”
“Yeah, I’ll just bet he did,” she laughed under her breath.
Maggie giggled. “Really?” She looked at her puppy when he opened his eyes in response to the noise she had made and he yawned widely before snuggling down again. “Do you like the name George?”
He lifted his head and his tail started to thump against the mattress when his young mistress spoke to him. She laughed happily and leaned over to pick him up, holding him out to look at him and ducking her head when he stretched to lick her cheek. “Hi, George.”
Julia smiled as Edward put his arm around her. “Alright, time for sleep. Say goodnight, Maggie.”
“G’night, Maggie.” Michael leaned over to give her a hug and then gave the newly named George a pat on his way out with Maria. “Okay, George, you’re on Princess Guard duty now.”
Kyle rubbed his hands together as he sat in the cold drivers’ seat, his legs bouncing up and down as he waited for the engine to warm up. He cupped his hands and covered his mouth, blowing on them and immediately shoved them up under his thighs when his heated breath only ended up chilling them. He had been happy to escape the house and all of the holiday festivities when Michael had started to make it known that he was ready to head out. He hadn’t said or done anything overt, but it was apparent that he’d endured just about as much as he was going to.
He leaned his head back against the headrest and closed his eyes as pinched the bridge of his nose, holding the pressure there for a moment. Michael had his own reasons for being ready to leave Christmas behind and he could respect that. Personally he would be glad to see the day end and take all the old holiday ghosts with it. It helped to know that he hadn’t had a hand in Alex’s death, but the truth of it was that Tess had managed to suck the joy out of quite a few of his memories.
Maybe they were tainted beyond repair, but as Alex had suggested earlier, perhaps as time passed he would be able to replace them with other memories. He smiled slightly as he thought about some of their finer moments as they turned Isabel’s vision for Christmas on the Lake into a reality. There was no denying he’d gotten plenty of enjoyment out of El Presidente and El Capitan’s roles and costume predicaments and he knew those memories were already filed away, just waiting for the appropriate moment to be useful blackmail material.
He reached out to hold his hands over the vents, rolling his eyes at the lukewarm air it was finally starting to kick out. He sighed and rested his hand on the gearshift, deciding he didn’t need the air to be hot before driving the van up to the main house to load their gifts up. It would be nice but there was no point putting off the inevitable. The air would continue to get hotter the longer the engine ran and there probably wasn’t much point cutting the engine once he got up to the house anyway.
Before he could drop the gearshift down into drive the passengers’ side door was pulled open and he jumped, startled. He nearly pressed on the horn to warn the others but in a split second he recognized Max and he forced himself to relax.
“Why don’t you warn people instead of sneaking up on them?” he growled.
Max quirked an eyebrow and shook his head. “What were you gonna do? Honk me to death?” he asked dryly.
Kyle ignored the question and faced the windshield again. “There some reason you decided to come out here and interrupt my meditation?”
He leaned forward and flicked the hula girl on the dashboard, sending her into a frenzied dance. “That’s classy. Bet sugar muffin finds a way to get rid of it.”
“I’ll bet it stays right where it’s at.” He tipped his head to one side. “I kinda like it.”
Max snorted. “You would.”
“So…?” He made a rolling motion with his hand after several minutes had passed in silence. “You wanna tell me what you’re doin’ out here?”
“Before he could answer the back door slid open and Michael clambered inside and dropped down into one of the seats. He leaned over to shove the door closed and then stretched his arms out along the back of the seat as he lifted his hands up slightly. “There a reason it takes two of you to come get the van?”
“El Presidente apparently had somethin’ he needed to get off his chest.”
Max shrugged when they both looked at him. “I know what you did last night.”
That wasn’t the answer he’d been expecting. “Say what?”
Michael kicked the back of the drivers’ seat. “You don’t really think anyone missed your near perfect exit from Isabel’s bed this morning, do you?”
There was no point defending his actions. That would just make him look even guiltier than he already looked. “I don’t really see how it’s anyone else’s business.”
“You sleep with her last night?”
Kyle shifted around and hooked his arm around the headrest as he met Michael’s challenging gaze head-on. “You got somethin’ to say, just say it.”
“She’s not wearin’ her wedding rings anymore.” He shrugged one shoulder. “Just not somethin’ I see her doin’ lightly.”
“I know what you did last night,” Max repeated softly.
“Yeah, well, why don’t you enlighten me,” he growled. “Obviously you think she can do better so why don’t you just – “
“Little sensitive tonight,” Michael muttered under his breath and waved Max on when he shot a look at him over his shoulder.
“You took her home to see Mom and Dad.” He shook his head when Kyle’s gaze shot to him. “She hasn’t said a word, but as much joy as this Christmas on the Lake nightmare’s given her, she was more at peace today than she has been in I don’t even know how long. All I’m sayin’ is that you make her happy and I don’t really care how you do it, all that matters is that you do.”
“Wait,” Michael leaned forward, his elbows braced on the front seats as his gaze bounced back and forth, “so you didn’t sleep with her?”
“Not that it’s any of your business, like I already said,” Kyle reiterated, “but we slept together in the fact that we were both sleeping in the same bed.”
“Huh.” He sat back and shrugged.
“So anyway, that’s all I wanted to say,” Max said and settled back into his own seat.
“Yeah, well, she deserved somethin’ for Christmas too.”
A soft smile settled over his face as he thought about his sister and how happy the visit with their parents had made her. “Yeah, she did.” His expression became somber as he thought about what he’d give for Liz to see her parents, something he didn’t even know if it would be possible since they didn’t know where they were now. He glanced down when a hand settled on his shoulder for just a moment before Kyle drew it back.
“We’ll find a way.” Kyle shrugged. “We always figure somethin’ out, right?”
Michael was still trying to make sense of Kyle’s statement of fact. “She get you somethin’?”
Yeah, Kyle thought, I got to see her happy. And finally free. Rather than answer though he shifted into drive and started to maneuver up the driveway to the house.
The cabin was quiet with the exception of the muted sounds of the shower. Liz was sitting on the couch in the living room, dressed in her pajamas, and waiting for her husband to finish what had become his evening routine so they could go to bed. Life on the run hadn’t allowed for things like daily showers that they had all taken for granted just a few months ago. She stared at the suitcases lying open beside her, checking, double checking, and then triple checking to make sure everything that could be packed had been packed.
Her orderly brain had already organized the layout of the packing job, starting with the things they wouldn’t need right away and working her way up. Last to be packed was the small bag containing essential items they would need to get them through the first few days if they couldn’t get to the suitcases.
Her mom did things like that, organized and orderly. House chores had been scheduled, wash day was always on Wednesdays; everything had its time and place. She smiled slightly at that thought. That must be where her obsessive compulsive organization skills came from. Although she could just imagine what Mr. and Mrs. Sugar Muffin’s suitcases would look like, she thought with a chuckle. Sugar Muffin… how in the world was Kyle still walking around after coming up with that little endearment?
She did one last visual sweep of their suitcases before turning to the side to reach over on the coffee table for the final item. She lifted the new journal and opened it up, hearing the quiet crackles that indicated its lack of use. She brought it up to her nose and inhaled the scent of the leather cover and the crisp white pages, closing her eyes as she mentally wrote a letter to her parents, sharing her Christmas with them and introducing her to the family that had taken them in and opened their home and hearts to them.
She opened her eyes to look around the room, feeling her heart swell as she thought about what a blessing their unexpected breakdown had been. This place, the Stevens family, and the time it had given them to put the pieces of their relationships back together so that they could begin to mend. It had all helped to ease some of the pain she felt at not being able to be with her own parents over the holidays.
She was ready, she realized. She was finally at a place where opening her heart and putting her thoughts down on paper again felt right. She stretched her hand out to pick up the pen she had brushed aside when she retrieved the journal and she froze for the space of a moment as an impressionistic flash passed through her field of vision.
“Liz?” Max stood in the doorway, his hand paused in the act of towel-drying his hair when he saw the way she was sitting. “Hey, the packing can wait until morning. We’ve got that nice warm bed just waiting for us in the next room.”
She straightened up and placed the journal and pen in the smaller bag. “Yeah, you’re right,” she said with a small smile. “I’m just about done.”
His gaze was scrutinizing as he watched her, familiar with the look on her face. He dropped the towel on the back of the couch as he leaned over to cup her cheek. “Liz, what happened?”
She wasn’t even sure herself what had happened. “I’m not really sure.” She brushed her hair back behind her ear. “It came and went so quickly.”
“Did you happen to touch the surface of the table?” He motioned to one corner. “Right about there?”
“Yeah, I was…” Her eyes widened for a moment. “That’s where you hid the envelope the Sheriff gave you.”
“C’mon, let’s go to bed.” He placed a kiss on her forehead and pulled her up and around the couch, wrapping his arm around her shoulder with the intention of taking her into the bedroom.
“Max…” She shot a pointed glance at the wet towel he had left lying on the back of the couch.
He grinned and grabbed it before continuing with his original route. As soon as he had her in bed and she was busy searching for that perfect spot to settle in for the night he dropped the towel around his waist and changed into a pair of boxers. He was about to climb into bed when Liz cleared her throat and he rolled his eyes as he backed away and grabbed both towels off of the floor. He backtracked to the bathroom and flung them up to hang over the shower rod and then hurried back to bed.
She settled into his arms and nuzzled her face into the crook of his neck. She could feel him patiently waiting, intentionally not pressing her for answers. “It wasn’t like the other times, Max,” she said finally. “It wasn’t just what I saw. It was what I felt too.”
His arm around her tightened for a moment before it relaxed again. “What’d you see?”
She pulled away and sat up, her eyes scanning the darkened room as she attempted to gather her thoughts into some semblance of order. She brought her knees up and looped her arms around them, resting her chin on them for a moment before turning to brace her cheek on them as she looked at her husband. “I saw a house.” She shook her head. “Brick, I think, two stories at least with a big front porch. But there were feelings that came with it.” She sighed after a moment and shook her head again. “I don’t really know how to describe it.”
He held his hand out and waited for her to take it so he could pull her down next to him. He didn’t know what she’d felt but if there had been danger or some sort of threat he was certain it would’ve been more pronounced. It always had been before. “It’ll sort itself out, Liz.”
Liz lifted her hand to rest against his cheek, her thumb brushing over his clean-shaven skin. “You’re right,” she whispered and leaned into him at his urging.
Their lips met in a gentle kiss, the sort of soft exploring kiss that could go on forever and she sighed when his arms came around her and he rolled her onto her back. He came to rest against her without breaking the kiss and he made a silent wish for the night to last.
Maria was lounging back in the tub, surrounded by the fragrant bubbles, her eyes closed as she listened to the racket Michael made as he made repeated trips out to the van. She smiled to herself when she heard a piece of luggage knock against something, deciding it was probably the front door when a muttered curse followed right on the heels of the first sound. He was busy getting everything ready so when morning came there would be nothing to delay their departure. As much as she would like to put it off she knew the time had come to say their goodbyes and begin their journey into the unknown again.
She felt better prepared to face the future now that things between her and Michael were no longer in limbo. That stability gave her the courage to face the uncertainty of what was to come, secure in the knowledge that while her place in the world at large may be unknown, her place with Michael was more certain than it had ever been. She was at peace with her situation. It wasn’t perfect but as far as she was concerned perfection was overrated anyway.
A quiet knock brought her out of her thoughts and she opened her eyes just in time to see the door being nudged open. Michael was leaning in the doorframe and she drank in his appearance; the thermal shirt she had grown very fond of during their stay, worn blue jeans, and bare feet. Her heart turned over when he smiled at her and motioned to the cabinet beneath the sink.
“Any signs of Mickey?”
“Thankfully no, and don’t think I don’t know you’ve been leaving cheese for him,” she said as she gripped the sides of the tub to glance at the cabinet for a moment before looking up at him. Heat rushed through her as her eyes moved over him and her legs shifted through the scented water, increasing that warmth.
“Figured that was better than him starvin’ to death. Ever smelled a dead mouse?”
She made a face. “Ungh, Michael, that’s disgusting!”
He laughed and pushed away from the doorframe, hunkering down next to the tub. “Looks like you’re enjoying the tub.”
Her eyes locked on his and her lips lifted in a teasing smile. “Yes, I am.”
Michael snorted with a grin and reached out to touch the hand closest to him, his fingertips gliding across her flesh and coming to rest over her knuckles. “Guess they weren’t lyin’ when they said it was supposed to make your skin soft,” he said, jerking his chin towards the bottle she had carefully balanced on the rim of the tub by the wall. “Feels pretty soft to me.”
She released a quiet breath, pursing her lips at the sensation of his light touch that seemed to travel through her body with all the subtlety of a lightning strike. “Mmm-hmm,” she murmured.
His gaze darkened even more at the sound of her sensually lazy response. He reached behind him to snag the fluffy turquoise towel from the hook on the wall and his eyes never left hers as he stood and shook it open, waiting for her to stand and step into his arms.
It was easy for Maria to give him the answer to his silent invitation, rising from the water and taking the single step into his embrace. She leaned into him and her lips paused, just a hairs breadth from his, as she whispered his name.
His kiss was slow and gentle yet driven by need. He shifted and picked her up, cradling her against him as he carried her to the bed he’d had the foresight to turn down already. He continued to kiss her, his lips traversing every inch of skin he could reach as he lay her down on the bed. He released her long enough to divest himself of his clothes and then settled over her, his weight braced on his elbows. He groaned softly, the sound almost nonexistent, enjoying the feeling of being cradled by her body. He stared into her eyes, easily losing himself in the emerald pools as he blindly reached up to touch her hair. “You smell good,” he murmured as he inhaled her scent.
She gave him a slow grin and took his hand that was playing with her hair. “I smell like food, Michael,” she whispered hoarsely.
He dropped his head, his eyes savoring the sight of her full lips. “Not just food, M’ria,” he brushed her lips with his, tasting them and humming contentedly. “Dessert.”
She would’ve rolled her eyes but before the thought could connect to the motion, his lips were on hers and she forgot all about it. Their kisses were a mixture of soft and needy, their touches a combination of exploration and possession, and when their need was greatest and his every stroke demanded an answer, her hips granted that reply. Her nails dug into his shoulders, his name a whisper on her lips as she came apart beneath him, and afterwards they came to rest in each other’s arms.
As she lay there listening to the sound of his pounding heart slowing to its normal rhythm, she closed her eyes and ran her thumb over his. Their hands were held together, their fingers loosely intertwined, and she was listening to his breathing evening out when she realized something was missing. She unlaced their fingers and drew his hand closer, her eyes searching for the ring he wore on his right ring finger. Her fingertips brushed over the white band of skin there for a moment before she called his name, rousing him from sleep’s embrace. She glanced up at him when he grunted out a half-asleep response.
“Where’s your ring?”
“Dunno, must’ve left it by the sink after dinner…”
The words were mumbled at best, slurred at worst, and to be honest, didn’t make much sense. He hadn’t been washing dishes so why would he have taken it off? She would’ve questioned him further but his breath caught in that way that indicated he was well off into the land of the sleeping and getting an answer now would be next to impossible. She’d have to ask him again tomorrow, she thought as the pull of sleep became impossible to resist and she gave in, following Michael into a peaceful sleep.
Kyle stretched out, taking up every available inch of space and soaking up the freedom to sprawl as he settled in for his last night of sleep in an actual bed for God only knew how long. He had no idea what was coming their way when they left the next morning, but whatever it was, he knew they could handle it. He yawned and rolled over, shuffling around and finding that perfect spot as his eyes began to drift closed.
He could picture the desert back home, the night air cold but far from the arctic and often negative temperatures that seemed so at home in the north. He missed home. Growing up he’d had dreams that would’ve taken him away from Roswell and he’d never thought twice about it. Hindsight’s 20/20, boy, his grandfather had always said. Grandpa had been right. Of course, now that Dad and the others were all leaving, almost everything that had made Roswell home would be gone before long.
Home now meant wherever his family was; the friends, the family that drove him nuts and kept him sane on a daily basis. He snorted softly at that thought. Two sides of the same coin.
Michael, who had a tendency to react without thinking, although he was getting better on that front, the guy who treated him as an equal and who had taken to looking to him when making decisions. Trust.
Maria, who had a way of finding something positive in most situations, even though sometimes it took an effort to follow her train of thought, the slightly odd but always entertaining girl who found comfort in his comedic moments as much as the silent ones, the one who ran interference when things just got to be too much. Solace.
Max, who was about as uptight as anyone he’d ever come across, but who was also beginning to ease up a little now that he knew the truth about what had happened the night he’d caught him in bed with his future wife, the guy who was slowly coming to trust him. Solidarity.
Liz, ever the rational mind unless Max was involved, who managed to put things in perspective and keep things focused when things got rough, the girl who could laugh with him and commiserate over being different. Companionship.
And Isabel, the girl who in could turn him inside out with a look, infuriate him with a single word, and nearly drop him like a sack of rocks with her tears, she was the one who unknowingly held his heart, the girl who kept him going when it seemed like throwing in the towel might be an acceptable option. The one most easily understood and yet the most complicated and complex of all. Love.
He sighed quietly as he slipped into sleep, a smile on his lips as his thoughts lingered on Isabel.
Just a room away Isabel ran her fingertips over the framed photograph she had brought back with her from her childhood home. It had been a family picture, one Mom had insisted they have taken in an actual studio, and in spite of Max’s grumbling and Dad insisting they could just take a picture at home, Mom had managed to get them all to the studio.
It was professional quality and the photographer had succeeded in making everyone appear very casual and relaxed. She placed it on the nightstand and ran her fingertips around the frame, feeling the slight notch on one side where it had been knocked over and landed on the hearth. She could so easily picture the momentary look of shock on Michael’s face when he’d upended the photograph while he and Max had been horsing around one afternoon after school before their lives had gotten so complicated.
At the time she’d brushed off the fleeting look of fear she’d seen, certain she’d somehow had her wires crossed. Later, after learning the cruelty he’d endured at his foster father’s hands, she’d recalled the picture incident and she’d had a better understanding of what she’d seen in his eyes. She’d never hated anyone before Hank, had never had any reason to. But what he’d done to Michael, no, she could never forgive that.
Her hand fell away from the photograph and she lay back on the bed, her eyes staring at the ceiling as she let her memories take her back to the day that monster had disappeared. She had asked Michael if he had done anything, had thought the worst, and it wasn’t his immediate denial that she remembered most. No, it was the look in his eyes when faced with a question he’d never expected from someone he trusted; the reality that she had believed him capable of hurting someone, hurting them badly enough to make them disappear… capable of murder.
That look had stayed with her. A combination of shock, hurt, and disbelief, but it was the hurt that stood out most of all. She’d immediately denied it when he’d asked if she thought he’d done something to Hank, but they’d both known it was a lie. It had been written all over his face. She hadn’t understood it at the time, still didn’t fully understand it. The relationship between an abuser and the abused was something she wasn’t sure she’d ever comprehend. She hated Hank, had ever since she’d learned what he was doing to Michael, but on the flipside, she’d never had the feeling that Michael hated him. His feelings for the man who was supposed to take care of him and had done everything but that were more complex. It was a conundrum and one she had a feeling could only be understood if a person had been through it.
Her gaze shifted back to the photograph of her family and warm feelings of home and family rushed through her. Maybe Michael didn’t have that in his past but she had a feeling it was in his future. And with someone that at one time she had been so certain she had nothing in common with, could never speak to socially, much less befriend. That thought made her smile. Maria was the one she’d been so sure would crack under the pressure of the secret, but she had a quiet strength that she hadn’t anticipated.
She looked at her mom’s features and smiled as she recalled the conversation she’d had with Maria just before she’d freaked the other girl out by giving the air conditioner a burst of life to help break the sweltering heat in the car. Moms, she thought. It was the one thing they’d had in common at the time. They’d come so far since that day.
She snuggled down under the covers and sighed contentedly as her sleepy mind wandered back to the visit with her parents that Kyle had made possible. She had known him most of her life. Not that they’d been friends most of that time, but they had run in the same social circles and they’d both been in the upper echelon of their cliques. She’d never thought much about him beyond the fact that he was the captain of every sport he was involved in and despite being a jock, was worthy of being acknowledged. Then of course when Max had healed Liz and things between them had started to grow Kyle had been determined to beat his rival.
He was so much more than that though. He was genuinely kind and caring, and he had become the best friend and confidant she’d ever had. She shook her head as she thought about all he’d been through with them. For them. He’d been shot, he’d been buried alive by alien crystals, he’d been betrayed by a girl he’d cared about, his dad had been stripped of his badge and lost his position as the Sheriff of Roswell, he’d lost his grandfather and never had the chance to say goodbye, and he’d been put on a list along with the rest of them to be hunted by a government-sanctioned organization.
Yet he kept his spirits up and he was a tower of strength for the rest of them. She wondered if there really was something to the Buddhist thing he was into. Happiness welled up in her as she thought about their visit with her parents the night before. It had been so unexpected and so unselfish and it meant so much to her that he’d done that for her.
The wind blew and she lifted her face to feel it, welcoming the warm breeze and even the fine grains of sand that brushed against her skin. Her eyes opened and she scanned the night sky, taking in the star strewn canvas. It was breathtaking and so familiar it nearly broke her heart. The wind stilled and she inhaled the warm air deeply, drawing in the familiar scents of the New Mexico desert.
She felt a familiar presence and she dropped her gaze, turning her head to look at the man standing beside her. His eyes were searching the arid landscape, his spirit so peaceful, and his expression contemplative. As he turned to look at her they both froze, staring at each other for the space of a heartbeat.
Isabel sat up, suddenly wide awake. She looked around the room in confusion and strained to hear Kyle’s breathing as he slept just a room away. She lay back against the pillows when she heard him shift in bed and she released a quiet breath she didn’t even know she’d been holding.
Kyle jerked upright, running his hand through his hair as he tried to figure out what was going on. He sat motionless for a moment, listening for Isabel, and lying back down when he identified the sound of her quiet breathing.
Unknown to them their thoughts were running in the same direction as they tried to figure out what the dream meant. There had to be an explanation, something to make sense of why the other person had appeared so vividly in their dream.
And nearby, Alex stood between their rooms, his keen unearthly hearing easily detecting their near-silent breathing as they each slipped back into a dreamless sleep. He smiled to himself as he watched over them. They didn’t yet understand the significance of the dream, but he did. He’d patiently waited for this moment, knowing it was coming and anticipating its arrival. It was yet one more way Isabel and Kyle would complement and complete each other.