A Tale of Two Christmases (Mature) -Complete

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KindredKandies
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A Tale of Two Christmases (Mature) - Part - 31- 5/9/11

Postby KindredKandies » Mon May 09, 2011 10:39 pm

Alien_Friend – Omgosh, thank you for such an insightful review! It was wonderful. You really understand the story, thank you.

I hope that empathy can bring them some peace and make willing to work together. They can't possibly do it alone. I don't even think Michael and Max should be the only ones thinking of ways to keep them all safe. They all should work together to do it.


We agree and think that it's a good thing that Max finally stepped up and spoke to Michael. Having him so strung out was overstressing everyone. It wasn't pretty but it needed to happen. This, we believe, will be a turning point for our gang to be able to make decisions together.

Yes, poor Isabel is so stressed and alone... Kyle is stressed as well; he just deals with it differently. Christmas is difficult for both of them. Thank goodness Isabel loves to organize Christmas and has found a kindred CN spirit and a seasoned "assistant", lol. Christmas is noted for miracles and it's a time that brings family and friends together.

That part was so interesting. Max almost left her to go Antar again when he tried to get Kal to work their old ship. If it wasn't for the ship not working he would have been gone.


This has always bothered us and Liz as well. ;) We loved your views on L&M's complex relationship and that you found going through the characters mindsets thought provoking. Thank you for the amazing compliment! ;)

mary mary – We're glad you could see the humor in how Kyle's dad was trying to stuff that poor turkey in spite of the serious scene, thank you. ;)

Yup, there is a lot of post-argument drama but we think it had to happen to get our gang back on track. And yes, Liz and Max have some issues to deal with.

Aww, girl, thanks for the awesome compliment. :)

Eva – No worries, things aren't as bad as they may seem. Michael has been in a tense survival mode and hasn't relaxed enough like the others who have begun to feel more like themselves again. This moment with he and Max had to happen to get him to a place where he is open enough to allow the others to help make decisions.

We're glad that you can see that Kyle is stressed out as well and that his cover of humor is his shield. It's true that he could get run over with Isabel and her CN mode but he told us when it comes to Isabel he's not going anywhere. Kyle has an important role to play in the story in upcoming uds. Remember, it’s Christmas, a time for miracles and for bringing family and friends together. :)

We also love the Max and Michael dynamic in their friendship. They truly act like brothers.

Michael & Maria are making strides in their own way but you're right they need to talk. We'll just have to see what happens to them during Christmas... ;)

keepsmiling7 – LOL! We love Kyle as well. He uses his humor like a shield. We liked seeing what is going through Kyle's head. He's stressed out as well; he just deals with it differently. Yup, that vision of his dad stuffing the Christmas turkey will never be forgotten, lol. Thank you. ;)

We're glad that you can see this in Max. The issues between L&M are complicated; they both don't like to confront things and Liz internalizes her feelings. Perhaps being off the road and being involved with Christmas on the Lake will help them to deal with their issues. Christmas is the time for miracles.....It's a time that brings family and friends together. ;)

Another good memory.....the Amy/Michael serious moments. She was family to him whether he realized it or not. All in all, this poor group has been on the road too long, running scared every step of the way, with no end in sight. I can only imagine how cranky, on-edge, etc. I would be in that situation.


Thank you we love Amy and do see her as a mom figure in Michael's life as you said, whether he realizes it or not. It's also wonderful to read how you so get what has happened to our gang while being on the road, thank you for that, it's a real compliment.;)

Natalie36 – Thank you! Here's more... ;)



cjsl8nes – Thank you we believe this will be a turning point for all of the gang. We think Christmas on the Lake will benefit them all. It’s Christmas, a time for miracles and for bringing family and friends together. :)




Author’s Note: A few lines in this part were borrowed from the Roswell Season One episode 285 South and Season Three episodes Who Died and Made You King and Crash.


Part 31

Michael stepped out of the bathroom wearing just a pair of jeans. He ran a towel over his hair and glanced over at the bed to check on Maria. She was still out cold, softly snuffling because her nose was mashed against the pillow. He tossed the damp towel on the foot of the bed as he pulled a soft grey tee shirt on over his head. He leaned over and pressed a gentle kiss to her temple before brushing a few stray strands of hair away from her cheek and leaving her to sleep. He stopped at the window over the nightstand, tugging the curtains over to block out the sunlight that would eventually begin pouring in.

He padded barefoot into the kitchen, pausing to stoke the fire. It had been cold when he woke up and he had gotten it going as soon as he had rolled out of bed. The cabin was nice and toasty now, making it comfortable enough to walk around without any socks on his feet. Maria would most likely pull a pair of socks on as soon as her feet touched the floor and he smirked at the thought.

He moved through the cabin and into the tiny kitchen, doing his best to make as little noise as possible as he pulled the refrigerator door open and stared inside. He pulled a few things out, setting them on the counter with exaggeratedly careful motions to avoid making any noise that might wake Maria up. The opportunities they’d had for a full night’s sleep were rare and even more rare were the nights when that sleep was peaceful and uninterrupted.

He turned on the front burner for the gas stove, watching the flames come alive and turning it back slightly before setting the pan over it. He pulled one of the packages closer and opened it, pulling the sausage patties out and setting them in the pan. Finished with that he put the rest of them away and grabbed a dishtowel to wipe his hands on. He leaned back against the counter, absentmindedly reaching up to scratch his chest below his left shoulder. He frowned as his thumbnail rubbed over the raised area where the seal had been before Max had so violently retaken possession of it.

So much of that time was a blur but he could remember throwing Maria out of the car with startling clarity. He had been heavily tripping on the power high and things that had seemed so clear under the influence of the seal seemed so skewed looking at them after Max took it back. Some of the things he had done were reprehensible, but what he had said to her that night… he shook his head and pinched the bridge of his nose as he closed his eyes. The things he had said that night were unforgivable and he knew how deeply his words had wounded her. He could still hear her words that day in the Crashdown as she responded to Kyle’s query about what he had done this time and against his will the memories flooded his mind.

“Yeah. He, uh, threatened my life and then shoved me out of a moving vehicle and just left me in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night.”

Her words had caught his attention and he had stormed out of the kitchen. “The car was stopped! And I NEVER threatened to kill you!”

After you suggested it’d be better off if I was dead, and Jesse, and everybody else who knows about your little ‘secret’!”

“It was a suggestion.” He had gotten defensive when they had all just looked at him. “Why am I always apologizing to you guys about who I am?”

Maria, of course, had been the one to speak up. “That wasn’t you, Michael!”

“Yes, it was me. Max was dead. I was king. I did what I had to do.”

“Fine.”

“I’m not sorry about it, either.”

“Fine!”

“No, I’m not sorry.” He had turned and walked to the door and her final “Fine” had pushed his last nerve and he had slammed the door as hard as he could on his way out. He had heard glass breaking in his wake and he could imagine the looks going around the group at that moment.

The term ‘royally screwed up’ seemed so fitting somehow,
he thought as he rubbed the scar one more time before moving to check on the sausage patties. They sizzled, the sound seeming so loud in the otherwise silent cabin. He grabbed a fork and speared them one by one, flipping them over and squishing them down flat. He set the fork down, the tines resting on the edge of the pan and he paused, arm outstretched as he reached for the pancake batter. Had he ever apologized to her for what he had said?

Yes, he had.
Right before he and Max had left to put their plan into action. He smiled faintly at another memory as he recalled his apology to her.

“By the way, I’m sorry for suggesting you’d be better off dead.”

She had nodded and given him an odd smile before shaking her head and slugging him in the shoulder.


The rage he had felt under the influence of the seal had blinded him to everything else and he could hear himself yelling at her, his words cutting and hurting her. The anger he had felt the night he had seen her at her house with that ass Billy Darden had been fueled by the underlying hurt and he had blown windshields out for a couple of blocks at least. But it was that day in the back of the Crashdown that stuck out so prominently in his memory. He had asked her to get rid of Billy and over the course of the next couple of minutes his powers had gotten out of control. He had been feeling jealous, but more than that there was the fear that he was losing her, and that had shoved his emotions into overdrive. He had scared her; he had seen it in her eyes and heard it in her voice. He had been determined after that fight that he would never put her in harms’ way again.

His reaction the night before had frightened him because it had put her in a position that could have gotten her hurt. And he could’ve easily been the one to hurt her. Getting between him and Max had been stupid and dangerous and she had been willing to risk her own safety to put a stop to what was happening. He had been quick to warn her off but it had been Kyle who had pulled her away from them. As for Max… his mouth tightened as he tried to sort out his emotions where that argument was concerned.

His hand wrapped around the package of pancake batter and he reached into one of the cabinets to pull down a mixing bowl. He dumped the dry mix into the bowl and added the necessary ingredients, stirring everything together into a thick batter. Moving around the kitchen, preparing breakfast with Maria sleeping close enough for him to hear her breathing calmed him and allowed him to focus a little more clearly on the night before and how it had affected everyone. Having the opportunity to look at it with fresh eyes allowed him to pinpoint the moment that had sent him over the edge.

“I was there, Michael! We were all there! You’ve let that day build up and you’ve blown that incident way outta proportion!”

Maybe he had allowed that moment to become something more than it was but all he had seen was what could happen to Maria. The fact that no one else had seemed to understand it or feel the impact of that moment had caused his protective instincts to shift into overdrive. Maybe he had allowed himself to become fixated on that moment and as a result it had become bigger than it really was.

How many times had they fought over the past two years? Oh, he and Max had always fought over things, but the last few years their fights had been more contentious. Their personalities clashed but oddly enough they also balanced each other out. The feeling that Max didn’t lend credence to his opinions, that he didn’t trust him and that fixing Michael’s messes was his cross to bear were all things that had always stung and put him on edge.

Before they had taken off running for their lives there had been moments when it had felt like Max hadn’t wanted to be involved. Or maybe it was just that he didn’t want that responsibility weighing him down. He leaned over to pick the pan up, taking the sausage out and placing it on the waiting plate covered with a paper towel. One that stuck out in his mind was when he had gotten involved in the situation with Colonel Griffin, the pilot of the crashed Air Force jet.

He had taken the man’s daughter back to his apartment after an attempt on her life, his intention to help her find her father and prove he wasn’t the traitor the military was portraying him as. As soon as Max had learned what Michael intended to do he had gotten up and walked over to him, asking to speak with him alone.

“What’s going on?” Max had asked as soon as they were outside.

“That’s what we gotta try an’ figure out.”

His exasperation with Michael and the situation he had gotten himself into had shown when he spoke again. “What I’m tryin’ to figure out, Michael, is you. I don’t even know what to say.”

“That’s why you gotta trust your second-in-command to know what’s right.” At that point Max had gotten sarcastic with him and made some stupid remark about his next theory having to do with JFK being killed by aliens. Then he had continued by asking what was wrong with him. Michael had been taken aback by the question. “Me? What’s happening to you? We’ve got a major situation here and you don’t seem to care.”


It all boiled down to trust as far as he was concerned. It was like Max expected him to screw up. He stood back and waited for it to happen and when it did he swept in and mended the fences, swept up the pieces, made apologies, and offered himself up to do whatever was necessary to pay for Michael’s mistakes. Kind of like the time he broke into the UFO museum and got caught. He cringed at the memory of Max coming down to the jail and talking to Milton. He could still remember the humiliation he felt at the owner of the UFO museum calling him a hoodlum and insisting that Max wouldn’t know someone like him. Max’s response of “Well, actually…” had only made him feel even smaller. Then of course Max had gone into his martyr speech.

“I’d appreciate it if you didn’t press charges. If there were any damages, I’d be happy to work them off.”

He hadn’t done any damage, hadn’t done any harm, so he knew Max wouldn’t have anything to work off. It was that apologetic tone with the underlying hint of condescension that he hated. Part of him knew that it was just the way Max dealt with things but sometimes it was hard to swallow being the screw-up in the group. Last night had just brought all of those old feelings to the surface and amplified them. He shook those thoughts off as he checked the pancake, deciding it was just about ready to be flipped over. He reached for the bag of chocolate chips and tore the bag open, picking up the few that spilled onto the counter and popping them in his mouth to chew them slowly. He heard the sound of the covers rustling behind him and he smiled to himself. It was good to know that no matter what else happened, some things just never changed.

Maria kicked the covers off as she rolled over and her stomach growled appreciatively at the smell of breakfast cooking. She wrinkled her nose as she reached up to rub her hands over her face and she cringed when her right foot landed on a squishy towel. She jerked her foot back and rubbed it against the covers in an attempt to rid herself of that cold clammy feeling one got from accidentally stepping on a wet towel. “Gross,” she muttered under her breath.

She rolled her head to the side, glancing at the clock and squinting to look again when it looked like it said 9:27am. She rubbed her eyes and blinked a couple of times just to make sure and then turned to glance at the window. She smiled when she saw the curtains tightly drawn against the sunlight beyond and knew that meant Michael had made sure nothing bothered her while she slept.

She propped herself up on her elbows and her gaze immediately sought Michael out, feeling a sense of peace wash over her when she saw him at the stove. He was munching on something while checking over whatever he was cooking. She sniffed the air and her stomach rumbled again when she identified the scent of sausage and pancakes. She crawled over to the edge of the bed and sat up, swinging her legs over the side and quickly jerking her feet back when her toes touched the floor. She snatched up a pair of socks lying haphazardly on the trunk at the foot of the bed and pulled them on. They were yesterday’s socks but she wouldn’t be wearing them for long, she reasoned.

She shifted the neckline of his tee shirt to keep it from hanging off of her shoulder, walking up behind Michael and feeling the urge to be playful with him. He was moving around the tiny kitchen comfortably, his movements easy and sure as he prepared breakfast. His relaxed demeanor brought a smile to her face as she watched him. She came up behind him where he stood at the stove and wrapped her arms around his waist, pressing her cheek against his back. “G’mornin’, Spaceboy.”

“Mornin’,” he rumbled.

“Oooh, are those…” she peeked around him to look into the pan. “Michael, are those chocolate chip pancakes?”

He reached into the bag of chocolate morsels and tossed a few more in his mouth. “Gonna be.” His arm lifted to let her slip under it and he lowered his head to give her a quick kiss as she settled against his side. “Why?”

She reached up to capture several long strands of her hair, twirling them between her fingers as she gave him a coy smile. “Um, no reason, it’s just… don’t forget to put extra chips in mine and no Tabasco sauce.” She watched him add the chips and when it was ready he flipped his experimental first pancake over. She missed him cooking breakfast. It had been so long since he had been able to do something like this without being so on edge. Her eyes started to fill and she blinked rapidly to push the tears away to keep them from falling.

“Yeah, well, chicks that want extra chocolate chips and no Tabasco sauce need to be sittin’ at the table.”

“This woman,” she corrected with a matching smirk, “needs to take a quick shower before breakfast.”

“Food’ll be ready in a few minutes.”

“All I need is 10 minutes tops, Michael.” She made a face. “I stink.”

He looked down at her and his eyes darkened as his gaze traveled over her. “You smell like me.”

She rolled her eyes at him. “Last night that was sexy… the next morning? Yeah, it just means I stink.” She pinched his side. “Besides, you’ve already had a shower.”

“Alright,” he grumbled, “but hurry it up. Cold pancakes suck.”

“Back in a flash,” she said and stretched up on her tiptoes to give him a quick kiss. She turned to hurry to the bathroom and yelped when he smacked her backside with the spatula as she passed him.

*****

Isabel rolled over and reached blindly for the blankets that had somehow worked their way down and she tugged them back up over her shoulders, burrowing under them and sighing happily. The sunlight streaming in through the window behind the bed caught her attention and she frowned when she realized that it must be late morning. She reached up to scrub one hand over her face as she listened for any movement in the cabin and her eyes opened when absolute silence greeted her.

That was odd, she thought. Kyle was usually up before her. He should be moving around making coffee and toast or whatever passed for breakfast, depending on his mood. Her mind slipped back to the night before, realizing that he had taken care of all of them during the fight between Michael and Max. It was what he did… picked up the pieces and held them together.

She tossed the covers back so she could get out of bed, deciding to take advantage of the peace and quiet while she could. She could get in a shower and be finished by the time he started moving around. Her hand froze on the edge of the top blanket and she glanced at the doorway when she realized that his blanket was still on her bed. He can’t be in bed with just a sheet. He’d have to be freezing! Armed with the Mickey Mouse blanket she crept into the living room and paused when she saw him sleeping hard on the mattress wedged into the doorframe.

He was lying on his side, rolled up as tight as he could be to keep the small throw covering him. She stepped up next to him and shook his blanket out before placing it over him and crouching down to tuck it in around him. His face was relaxed in sleep, revealing the boyish features that weren’t as prominent when he was awake. Her fingers brushed against the tips of his hair for a moment before she pulled her hand back and stood up once more. “Where would I be without you, Kyle? Where would any of us be?” Her chest tightened as she looked down at him, smiling slightly when his compact body began to uncurl as the heat from the blanket began to register. “You’re a good guy.”

“Yes, he is.”

She turned around at the softly murmured words and she exchanged a look with Alex just before he shimmered out of sight once more. She shook her head as she went to get her things so she could go take a shower.

The sound of running water slowly filtered into Kyle’s stirring brain and he rolled onto his back, stretching and yawning widely. His eyes cracked open and he glanced down at himself when he became conscious of the fact that he wasn’t freezing where his limbs were now sticking out from under the throw. He raised one eyebrow when he his bleary gaze began to focus and he got an eyeful of a grinning Mickey Mouse. He reached up to finger the edge of the blanket, feeling cared for as he realized where it had come from. He tipped his head back, glancing towards the bathroom and he smirked at the thought of Isabel in that tiny shower. He heard the shower curtain rings’ metallic rattle as they rolled along the rod and a heartbeat later came the grumbling as her toiletries fell off of the edge of the sink.

His mind kicked off thoughts of toiletries and shower curtains and focused on the woman behind that curtain. Sharing space and being cramped up in the van was one thing, but sharing space in a cabin was a whole other story. It was a little more difficult to rein his thoughts in, keep them within the boundaries of friendship. She was his best friend but his imagination easily provided a mental image of her in the shower, wet, little soapy bubbles trailing over… No, stop! He was going into dangerous territory, imagining something that wasn’t going to happen. Just like he had last New Years’ when he had imagined kissing her, he thought. “Don’t be an idiot again,” he muttered under his breath. He groaned as he pushed that thought back into the little hidden place at the back of his mind.

He grabbed the blanket as he got up and he paused to look at it, smiling. She cared. Maybe not the way he wanted her to, but she did care. He’d already had his shower so he replaced the mattress, folded his blanket up, and shuffled into the living room. He turned the furnace up a bit before going into the kitchen to start breakfast.

As he took things out of the refrigerator and placed them on the counter he started going over what needed to be done that day. Oh, there would be the festivities of hanging on the side of a barn to string lights just because she asked… well, not asked in the traditional sense. Regardless, there were lights to hang and he was the one who had been given the dubious honor. But there were other things to do and it was time to get the ball rolling.

After breakfast he was going to go up to the house and give Dean a call without bothering Michael or Max with it. There was no decision to be made. It needed to be done and he was going to do it. He paused over the frying pan, a piece of bacon stretched between his hands as he closed his eyes for a moment. “Buddha, we need a vehicle.” He nodded to himself and placed the bacon in the pan, watching it begin to shrivel as it sizzled and popped. The plan began to formulate as he prepared breakfast and as he was dishing the eggs and bacon on the plates he spoke up without even realizing it.

“That’s right. Kyle’s taking action.” He slid toast on a couple of saucers and nodded to himself. “Kyle has a plan.” He glanced up at that familiar tingling sensation as the hairs on the back of his neck stood up and he turned to look at Isabel who was standing in the doorway watching him intently.

“Kyle, are you okay?”

“What? Yeah, fine.” He cleared his throat and put their breakfast plates on the table. “Why?”

“No reason.” Isabel watched him, her eyes tracing over him as he moved between the kitchen and the little breakfast nook. He was barefooted, wearing jeans and an old faded blue tee shirt. The yellow lettering across the front was just barely visible and if she hadn’t known that it was the name of their high school she wouldn’t have been able to make it out. “So, about last night…”

“Last night happened. It’s over and done with.” He shook his head as he glanced up at her. “Hey, we knew it was gonna happen eventually and truthfully, it needed to happen.” He waved the spatula between them. “Me an’ you, we’re okay. We got back here and like anyone else we just needed our space. We understand that about each other. We’re good.”

She nodded but she was gauging his mood as she observed him, taking in every nuance of his expressions and movements as he went back to breakfast. He was more relaxed than she had seen him in a while and she knew what had happened the night before hadn’t just been between Michael and Max. Kyle just handled things differently than other people. He was right, she decided finally, they were fine. Which was good because she relied heavily on him for his solid presence in her life. He was her best friend, her confidant, and her steady shoulder when she needed him. “We have a lot to accomplish today,” she said, accepting the saucers with toast on them.

“Uh-huh, startin’ with me goin’ up to the house and makin’ a call to Dean,” he said, watching her for any sign of the Christmas Nazi emerging. He knew part of it was a coping mechanism and that part was under control for the moment. He grabbed a couple glasses of juice before joining her at the table and he sat down across from her. “What’s wrong?” She was staring at her plate, studying the eggs there like they held some elusive answer.

“You made the eggs just the way I like them.” She picked up her napkin and unfolded it. “That was – “

“If you say the word sweet we’re gonna have a fight,” he growled.

“Me call you sweet?”

He rolled his eyes at her innocent tone. “Uh-huh, call me sweet and cramp my style.” He reached for the jelly and started slathering it on his toast.

That brought a memory of last New Year’s Eve to mind and it was accompanied by a fond and teasing smile. “You have style?”

He couldn’t stop the smile that graced his features in response to her lighter tone. “Alright, after I get that call to Dean in, what’s our day look like?” He listened as Isabel laid out the plans for the day, adding in suggestions every once in a while and making mental notes here and there.

*****

Maria looked up when Michael’s fork scratched against his plate and she watched him as he pushed a piece of his pancake through the small lake of syrup it was swimming in. She could tell he had something on his mind but he hadn’t yet spit the words out. He was getting close though, she was sure of it.

Michael pushed back from the table, his upper body leaning forward and braced on his forearms. “You can’t get between me and someone else in a fight, Maria.” He was quiet but his voice was firm as he spoke. “Don’t ever do that again.”

She nodded slowly, mulling over her thoughts as she carefully chose her words. “Michael, you wouldn’t have hurt me. I know that.”

He bristled at her statements. “Maria, I was a hair’s breadth away from punching Max’s lights out. If Kyle hadn’t gotten you outta the way…” His lips clamped together tightly as he shook his head. “I was barely holding onto my control and we’ve all seen what I can do when I get outta control.”

“I know what you’re afraid of,” she said, remembering Kyle pulling her away. “You didn’t lose control though. Not so much as a twig cracked.” She could see his features tense up and once again it bothered her that he didn’t think she could handle herself. “Even if Kyle hadn’t stepped in I would’ve been fine.” She reached for her napkin only to be intercepted when Michael’s fingers wrapped around her wrist. She looked up at him, held captive by the intense look in his eyes.

“Maria, I want you to listen to me.” His grip tightened just enough to draw her gaze to his hand for a moment before her eyes lifted to his once more. She saw the frown on his face as he realized how tight his grip was and his fingers uncurled, his hand shifting down to take hers. His thumb stroked the inside of her wrist as he spoke, his voice low and insistent. “I want you to promise me you’ll do this for me.”

She suddenly realized just how important it was to him to have her trust, to do what he asked without question. She could see all of that and more in his dark eyes and she nodded, the motion all the affirmation he needed.

The silence in the cabin was broken by the sound of someone knocking on the door and their hands slowly separated as she stood to go and answer it. Michael savored the feeling of her fingernails dragging slowly across his palm as she reluctantly released his hand and he turned his head to follow her. He knew who was standing on the other side of the door without it ever being opened and that was confirmed when the door was pulled open and he heard Maria’s smiling voice greet their visitor.

“Hey, girlfriend.” She grabbed Max’s coat sleeve and pulled him inside, her voice lowering as she glanced up at him. “You two gonna make up?”

He shrugged. “That’s what I’m here for.”

She grabbed her coat. “Then I’m on my way to see Liz.”

“She’s over at Kyle and Isabel’s.” He shot a furtive glance at Michael. “Our local Buddhist went up to the house to call Dean.”

Maria pulled her outer gear on before going over to the table to give Michael a kiss. “You two play nice.” She leaned over his shoulder to press a noisy kiss to his cheek when he just grunted and she grinned when he tried to squirm out of her reach. “I’m serious, Spaceboy.”

“Go,” he growled. “We’ll catch up to you.”

She shot a look between the two of them before huffing under her breath and heading for the door. Guys! Either they were going to get into another fight or they were going to do whatever it was that guys did when they made up after a disagreement. She rolled her eyes and reached for the doorknob when they just stared at each other from opposite sides of the room. Guys!
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KindredKandies
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A Tale of Two Christmases (Mature) - Part-32- 5/22/11

Postby KindredKandies » Sat May 21, 2011 11:45 pm

Alien-Friend- We're so glad you loved the breakfast scene. It was a joy to write and we were starving for chocolate chip pancakes afterward, lol.

I think he's so mindful that when it truly comes down to it he would protect her with his life. Walking away and giving himself some space and time like he did the night before says a lot.


We so agree! Michael has come a long way indeed. And Maria, it's so true she really knows how to read him. We love these moments as well. It is what makes their connection so awesome.

We love Kyle and Isabel's friendship as well. We think that they are closer to each other than they're aware of. But for now their relationship is complicated by so much. They each have issues of their own that require closure.

Max and Michael's talk should be interesting. As for Michael feeling like the screw up, we feel for him. Being abandoned and the years with Hank did damage. It made it more difficult for him to deal with Max's personality. We look forward to Max and Michael working things out between them.

Thank you for the compliment. ;)


cjsl8ne- Thank you! We sure hope Max and Michael can work things out without fighting as well. Thank goodness for their girls, they did take the edge off.

We also enjoy writing Michael and Kyle's POV, but it can be a challenge trying to voyage through the male mind, lol.

We're sure hoping that Kyle can pull a car out of a hat as well, lol. One never knows, it's Christmas, we'll see. ;)


keepsmiling7- Michael’s mind was definitely at work, sorting, organizing, discarding… he had a lot to think about. He may come across as inconsiderate in some of his actions, but when it comes to Maria he’s grown a lot since the beginning and she’s his first priority. We’ll get a look at his and Max’s convo coming up in this update

Max and Michael's talk should be interesting. As for Michael feeling like the screw up, we feel for him. Being abandoned and the years with Hank did damage. It made it more difficult for him to deal with Max's personality. We look forward to Max and Michael working things out between them. That's what close friends who behave like brothers do.

Thank you, we hope you'll continue to enjoy reading. ;)


mary mary- Thank you. We're glad you liked the ud. Oh yeah, thank goodness for the guys girls, eh? It'll be interesting to see how things work out between Max and Michael.

Oh yeah, we so hope Buddha can answer Kyle's prayer about the vehicle,lol. We can't wait for Christmas to come as well. ;)



Author’s Note: A few lines in this part were borrowed from the Season Two Roswell episode Skin and Bones.


Part 32

Maria hurried inside when Liz opened the door and she stomped the snow off of her boots before kicking them off and shrugging out of her coat. “Good grief, it’s cold out there!” She glanced around at the warm interior and smiled when she saw Isabel straightening up.

“I guess Max made it to your cabin,” Liz said with a glance outside.

“Yeah, I left the two of them staring at each other.” She rolled her eyes. “I would say I’d love to be a fly on that wall but considering the conversation, or lack thereof, it’d probably be a waste of time.” She sniffed the air and looked at Isabel again. “Did you have bacon for breakfast?”

“Kyle made bacon and eggs this morning,” she answered absently.

“It smells wonderful.”

“So how was your night?” Liz asked as she sat on the arm of the loveseat.

“Well, I woke up to a warm cabin and chocolate chip pancakes,” Maria said as she flopped on the loveseat next to Liz.

“I had oatmeal and made Max his favorite breakfast.”

Maria wrinkled her nose. “No, no, no oatmeal. Chocolate chip pancakes, extra chips in mine and a side order of sausage.”

“My dad’s secret recipe?” Liz asked.

“That’s the one.”

Isabel made a face. “How can you like oatmeal?”

Liz shrugged. “I don’t know, I just do.” She stuck her tongue out at her sister-in-law. “The same way I like vanilla ice cream I guess.”

“Let me guess, Max had his usual egg in a hole.” She rolled her eyes. How that could be her brother’s favorite breakfast meal was beyond her. Cut a circle out of the center of a slice of bread and fry an egg up in its place. Gross.

“Well, it’s what he likes,” Liz defended her husband’s choice. “It’s a comfort food.”

“Well, I guess after last night a little comfort was in order.” Isabel sat down on the olive green vinyl recliner, her expression thoughtful. “This just can’t be happening,” she mused aloud.

Maria looked at Isabel and smiled slightly. The tall blonde still worried about Michael and she probably always would. She had always been the buffer between the two guys. Even after it had become the six of them instead of just the three of them she had still been the go-between. “I think they’re gonna be okay, Isabel. It was past time for the two of them to get that out in the open. I think we all would’ve preferred it if they had handled that differently, but… Well, they both react to certain situations in ways that drive all of us nuts. Hopefully they’ll get this sorted out and when they come down here things’ll be right again.”

“Do you think guys actually talk things out?”

Maria and Liz exchanged a look and snorted at the same time.

“Maybe your guy does,” Liz teased.

“Yeah,” Maria smirked, “Kyle does have that whole Buddhist thing going on.”

Isabel studied her fingernails for a moment. “Would you like me to ask him to teach Michael and Max to meditate?”

“We all know how well that’d go over,” Maria laughed. “Can you picture Michael sitting on the floor meditating? He doesn’t have that kind of patience.”

“Max does,” Liz shook her head, “but you’re not gonna get him to agree to anything like that. And that suggestion probably wouldn’t be welcome right now anyway.”

Maria slouched deeper into the loveseat and looked up at Liz. “What kind of mood was he in last night?”

“Ungh, bad. I don’t know about Michael, but… when Max is that emotional and pissed off at the same time… it’s kinda like watching a three-year-old throw a temper tantrum.” She giggled and tried to stop herself but it just turned into a snort that set Maria off.

Isabel watched them, feeling out of place.

“If the situation hadn’t been so serious I might’ve started laughing at him.”

Maria laughed even harder as she pictured what Liz was describing. “I hope I never witness that because I know I’d laugh.” She glanced over at Isabel and realized that they had left her out as they poked fun at their guys. “How about Kyle?”

“He didn’t have much to say.” She got up and walked over to one of the windows to look outside. “Actually he didn’t have anything to say last night.”

“He had a lot on his mind.” Maria tipped her head to one side to follow Isabel’s progress around the room. “But you probably talked to him this morning, right? I mean, last night didn’t have anything to do with you. He’s not mad at you.”

“How’s Michael?” Isabel asked, turning the conversation around.

“He’s slowly getting better. I gave him his space last night but after two hours I decided he’d had about as much space as he needed. The lake behind us is frozen over and when he took off after the fight with Max, that’s where he went. He was back there staring up at the stars.”

Liz watched her friend and thought about the volatile hybrid’s reaction the night before. She couldn’t imagine trying to calm him down and she was thankful that Max didn’t get like that.

“It was so peaceful out there.” Maria sighed at the memory. “It reminded me of when I saw him on the dreamplane. Remember when he was so sick? The scenery reminded me of that, only it was the winter version.” She tried not to frown as she recalled his first words to her last night.

“Wow, really?” Liz’s gaze dropped to the floor at the memory of the fear that had taken hold of her that day. Before her mind could latch onto the regret she felt at being unable to participate in the healing circle she looked up and caught the expression on her friend’s face. “What happened?”

Maria’s features were taut as she fidgeted. “Nothing really.” She tugged on her right earlobe as her eyes stared at that scene from the night before. “It’s just… the first thing out of his mouth was whether or not I could get on a snowmobile and get outta here if something happened.” She stood up and started to pace. “I just hate being seen as the weak link because of my status as the human in the group.”

“It’s not just you he’s worried about, Maria,” Isabel said quietly. “This whole time we’ve been on the run Michael’s the one whose held things together. I think it’s time for us to all get involved in the decision making.”

Liz reached for Maria as she passed her again, pulling her down to sit next to her. “Maria, no… I may not exactly understand Michael, but there’s no way he sees you as weak.” She took her friend’s hand between both of hers, her insistent voice drawing Maria’s gaze. “You’re the one who saved the day when Nicholas came to Roswell for Max, Isabel, Michael, and…” she swallowed hard. “Anyway, he doesn’t think you’re weak, and you can’t be thinking like that.”

They looked up when they heard someone kicking the doorframe outside and a moment later the door opened and Kyle stepped inside, stomping his feet. His gaze bounced around the room, taking in the girls’ positions. Maria was sitting on the loveseat with Liz perched on the arm, the two of them leaning in towards each other; their closeness indicated they had been in the middle of a conversation. Even when they were sitting across a room they were leaning towards each other, their body language evidence that their trust in each other was absolute.

Isabel was standing across the room, her posture perfectly poised as she stared outside as if the scenery held the answer to some unspoken question. She was isolated from the others and that saddened him. It wasn’t unusual for her to be separate from the other girls even when they were in close quarters. Maria and Liz shared a bond that Isabel wasn’t a part of and even though he knew they tried to include her it was all too easy to fall into their normal routine and before long she would pull away.

“So… cabin in the middle of nowhere, food in the fridge, and three pretty girls… what more could a guy want?” he asked as he shrugged out of his winter gear.

Isabel smiled at his attempt to bring all three of them into a conversation even though his opening was bound to get him into hot water.

*****

Michael sat at the table, staring at the last piece of sausage on his plate. He could hear Max shifting around uncomfortably and he wondered if he was going to say anything. Maybe he was just gonna stand there and stare holes in the back of his head.

Max watched Michael as he picked his fork up and cut the sausage patty in half. It was something to occupy him, something to keep his hands busy while he waited for Max to speak up. He scratched his neck absentmindedly before shoving his hands in his pockets. His expression was determined as he took a step forward and cleared his throat.

“You were right.” He reached up to straighten a picture on the wall. “I would’ve lost it if that cop had approached Liz.” He shrugged and shoved his fists deep in his pockets again. “I don’t think I would’ve obsessed over it the way you have.” He saw Michael’s right hand tighten around his fork and he hunched his shoulders as he carefully selected his next words. “Maybe if I’d been more of a friend since we started runnin’ you wouldn’t be so on edge.” He walked around the room, picking things up and putting them back down. “The truth is that I’m the one who screwed things up, Michael, not you.”

Michael got up and carried the dishes to the sink, turning the water on and watching the congealed syrup thin out to be washed down the drain. His mind was on a conversation he’d had with Jim Valenti while sitting behind bars after Deputy Hansen had pegged him for being in the area where they had discovered Pierce’s bones.

“I have no clue who or what we’re up against. And I’ve been so pissed off at Max for not leading, but he doesn’t know any more than I do. None of us do. We’re all in the dark waiting to be attacked, and all I can think is what if I’m not strong enough?”

“This leadership thing,” he said finally, “it’s difficult.” He shrugged and started to wash the dishes. Why couldn’t Max have waited until after Maria had washed the dishes?

Max grabbed a dishtowel and took the plate when Michael reached over to place it in the drying rack. “It’s a pretty lonely place sometimes,” he admitted, thinking about what Liz had said the night before. She had pointed out one of their major differences. Michael went with his gut and tended to act first. And he went over the options, weighing and measuring everything before making a decision.

They cleaned the kitchen in companionable silence, each lost in their own thoughts for a while before Max spoke up again. “I know you’re scared of losing Maria.”

“Okay, we don’t have to talk this to death, Maxwell,” Michael muttered as he went to wipe the table off. “Leave all that chick talk to the girls and Kyle.”

Max rolled his eyes and looked down at his wedding ring. “I’m just sayin’ I know that fear.” He bit the inside of his cheek. “I lost Liz once…”

“You’ve had your share of breakups.” He balled the rag in his hand up and threw it in the direction of the sink, fisting the air when it landed against the back with a wet splat. “That Tess thing’s on you though.”

He shook his head, not wanting his thoughts to go there. “I’m talking about her dying, Michael.”

The somber tone caught Michael’s attention and he turned to look at his friend. “What’re you talkin’ about?”

“I don’t have to wonder what it would feel like to lose her because I already know. You hear people talk about losing the person they love… feeling like a part of themselves has been ripped away, like their own heart stops beating and they can’t breathe. They’re right… all of it. Only it’s actually much worse than that. I just don’t have the words to adequately describe it.”

“What the hell are you talkin’ about?” he repeated, his voice rising. Maybe Max had finally cracked. Stuck in the great white north, surrounded by miles of snow… White, he mused as Max avoided his gaze. Something clicked in his mind and he crossed his arms over his chest as he leaned one hip against the table. Max had never really told them what Pierce had done to him in the white room and he had never asked, knowing it was off-limits. “Pierce.”

Max tensed up, hating that the man’s name could still pull this reaction out of him. “He had a device… it was like one of those virtual reality visors… I don’t know if it was because the technology was that good or if it was because of whatever they were shooting in my veins…”

“You don’t have to tell me this stuff, Max.”

He shook his head and swallowed hard, forcing himself to continue. “I felt her die, Michael. Because of me.” He stared out through the window, his gaze focused on something he hoped Michael would never see.

Max’s revelation about the white room and what Pierce had done to him was all he needed to put him back in the UFO center the day he had killed the agent. He had stood there, watching Max as he healed Kyle… saving a life… giving someone he didn’t even like a second chance. He had looked down at his hands and then at the dead agent lying on the floor and somewhere deep inside, in a part of himself he hadn’t recognized, he had felt a sense of satisfaction. It had taken time for him to come to grips with that feeling. Initially he had felt sick; disturbed that he had felt something remarkably close to pleasure at taking an enemy’s life. Over time he had learned to accept that it was the soldier in him. Rath had been a cold, calculating, seasoned soldier and his actions that day had awakened that part of him. It wasn’t something he liked, but he knew it was something that was necessary. “I’m glad he’s dead,” he said finally.

“So am I,” Max admitted after a moment.

The silence in the cabin was broken only by the constant drip of the faucet that he hadn’t quite turned all the way off and the second hand ratcheting its way around the bedside clock. “I’ve never experienced what you described and I never want to. What I have experienced is the paralyzing fear that one of these days Maria’s gonna get hurt… and I’m gonna be the one who’s responsible for it.”

Max shook his head. “Michael, you’d never hurt her. She’s never been safer than when she’s with you.”

“Yeah, great life I’ve given her, Maxwell. Stay with me and run for your life… stay in Roswell and maybe be safe.”

“Do you really think she would’ve been safer staying in Roswell? If nothing else, they would’ve had her on association with the rest of us.”

He snorted derisively, ignoring the truth in Max’s statement. “Shit like what happened last night? Do you know how easily she could get hurt? All I’ve gotta do is think it and it happens… I blow shit up. And last night? Last night she tried to get between us and if one of us had swung she would’ve gotten hit.” He shook his head. “I can’t have her putting herself at risk like that.”

“You’d protect her with your life, Michael. Do you think she doubts that?”

His hands dropped to his sides, clenching and unclenching for a moment before moving to curl around the edge of the table. “No. She knows that without a doubt.”

“You’ve gotta trust her to know when to get involved.”

“I trust her, but knowing when to get involved,” he chuckled gruffly and shook his head. “She leads with her heart and if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that her heart and common sense are rarely on the same page.” He sighed and dropped his gaze to the floor. “I made her promise me she wouldn’t get between me an’ anyone else again.”

“Made her promise, huh?”

Michael snorted. “Yeah, and when she promised she meant it. Put us in another situation like last night though and her heart’s gonna override that promise.”

“She just has your best interest at heart, Michael.” He could see the argument building and he shook his head. “All she can do is try her best and maybe we can help her along by not letting ourselves end up in that situation again.”

He nodded. “Think we can do that?”

“I think we can if we follow your advice.” He smiled as he folded the dishtowel and draped it over the drying rack. “It was actually pretty sound.”

Michael glanced up at Max and smirked. “I gave you sound advice?”

“Yeah, you told me if we just stick together we’re gonna make it. Remember that?”

Their talk in Vegas, he realized. But all he said was, “Vaguely.”

Max leaned back against the sink and braced his hands on the edge. “I haven’t been very good about giving you a hand with makin’ the decisions, but uh… you haven’t asked me either.” He shrugged when Michael shot an, are you kidding me look at him. “I’m not tryin’ to put this on you. I just… any time you’ve asked for an opinion you’ve turned to Kyle.”

Michael’s right thumb tapped against the table as he went over what Max had just said. He had relied on Kyle and not just once or twice. It was becoming second nature to take Kyle’s opinions into consideration. When had that happened? When Max backed out on you, his conscience spoke up. “Because you were mentally MIA and Kyle was willing to step up to the plate.”

“Did you ever think about asking me?”

“No.”

Max bit his bottom lip as he nodded.

“Quit beatin’ a dead horse, Maxwell. It’s done and over. You don’t want the throne, the crown, whatever… fine. I don’t give a shit about the king. Maybe I did in another life, but I’m not livin’ that other life.” He met Max’s gaze directly. “And neither are you.”

*****

Kyle’s thumb was steadily punching the ‘up’ button on the remote, flipping through the generous selection of what obviously had to be the top 10 channels in these parts. Why else would anyone have only 10 channels? He made yet another pass without finding a single thing worth watching and he dropped the remote on the cushion beside him as he glanced towards the bathroom. What were they doing in there anyway? They’d been in there for like 15 minutes already!

He sighed loudly and it went unnoticed. Or ignored. “Hey, a guy could bust a gut out here, ya know?” That also went unnoticed. Or ignored. Thank God the bathroom was so small! There was no way the girls could last much longer in their meeting. That he hadn’t been invited to. His bored gaze moved around the room and landed on a couple of board games. “Board games for a very bored man,” he muttered.

He got to his feet to look at the two games. The one on top had a note stuck to it: missing marbles. “Well, you can’t play Hungry Hungry Hippo without marbles,” he muttered. How could anyone lose all of the marbles for the game? “Oh, well.” He made a face at the next one, but picked it up and carried it over to the loveseat. He sat down and balanced it on his lap, lifting the top off and setting the game up on the coffee table. He flipped the top over to read the instructions printed on the underside.

“Hmph.” He shuffled the deck of colored cards and placed them in the designated place on the board. “Okay, so we pick one of these little gingerbread people…” he grabbed two, inspecting them carefully before placing them on the space marked Start. He hummed to himself as he continued reading. “Youngest player goes first.” He picked up the two playing pieces and held up one and then the other. “So, which one of us is the youngest?” His gaze moved between the two pieces and after a moment he placed them on the board again, setting one ahead of the other.

He leaned forward and lifted up the first card. “Picture card means…” he glanced over the rules again. “Player one moves to the first picture spot either before or behind the start spot. Well, that’s stupid,” he mumbled. “Why would you go backwards from the starting point? Okay, Kyle, the goal is to get to the Candy Castle and win Candy Land.” He shook his head and placed the first player on the designated spot and then reached for the next card. “Another picture card? Really?” He threw it on top of the other card and moved gingerbread piece number two over to join the first one. “Well, we’re not gonna make it to the Candy Castle this way. Which one of you shuffled this deck?”

“Um, Kyle, what’re you doing?”

He turned his head when Michael and Max walked in. They were like human… hybrid lock-picks, he thought with an internal eye roll. “Just occupying myself while waiting for the girls to conclude their meeting.” He shrugged when that earned him an odd look from Michael. “Good to see the two of you didn’t kill each other.” He motioned to the board game and waved them over. “C’mon, it’s not too late for you to get in on this action.” He pulled a five dollar bill out of his pocket and dropped it in the center of the game board. “Max, looks like it’s your turn.”

“What? I’m not playing… what is that anyway?”

Michael dug a five out of his pocket and threw it into the pot before leaning over and snatching a fudge-striped cookie out of the open package next to Kyle’s left elbow. “Satellite out?” he asked, nodding at the television that had been left on the weather channel.

“No, I just like the weather. Fascinating stuff,” he deadpanned. “C’mon, Evans, what’re you waitin’ for?”

Max checked his pockets, finally pulling out four ones, three quarters, two dimes and a nickel that he deposited on top of the rest of the money.

Michael and Kyle both made a production of leaning in to look at the money Max had just laid down.

“Wife’s holdin’ the purse strings, huh?” Kyle asked.

Michael laughed out loud and the two high-fived each other when Max just grabbed one of the chairs from the kitchen table and brought it over to join them.

*****

Maria was wedged between the toilet and the sink, the edge of the countertop digging into her hip. She craned her head around to take a look at herself in the mirror. Her hair and makeup was picture perfect and she snorted softly at the thought that it was a perk she’d miss if she wasn’t on the run.

Isabel was busy trying to encourage Liz to let her change her look up a little but the brunette was digging her heels in. The taller girl finally just made a sound of impatience and waved her hand over Liz giving her an instant makeover. She gave her a touch of eyeliner along with a soft pink blush that just popped with the cinnamon color on her lips.

Liz smiled weakly at her image in the mirror. It wasn’t that it didn’t look good because it did. Something her sister-in-law would point out if she dared to mention it. But she usually made changes that were more subtle and not quite so obvious.

Maria tried to squeeze past Isabel and Liz in an effort to get to the door. “You look wonderful, Chica. C’mon, live a little spicy.” She grunted when she realized that squeezing wasn’t so much an option as a challenge. “God, I can’t breathe. I need to open a window.”

Isabel rolled her eyes and shook her head. “There’s no window, only…” She lunged as well as she could when Maria reached for the dreaded fan switch. “No! Whatever you do, don’t turn that thing on. It sounds like a jet taking off in here.”

“Oww,” Maria exclaimed when Isabel nearly relocated her windpipe with her elbow. She froze and the girls looked at each other when a sound none of them had heard in a long time suddenly came from the other side of the door. Her eyes narrowed and she forgot about her throat as she turned her head, straining to hear the sound again. “Was that… did I just hear Michael… was he laughing?”

Liz shrank back when her sister-in-law focused on her again. “What?” she asked hesitantly.

“Time’s up. What’s it gonna be?”

The smaller girl took one last glance at her reflection, thinking about it long enough to make Isabel roll her eyes again. “I guess it’s not too much.”

“Vanilla and oatmeal,” Isabel muttered under her breath. “Forget spicy, just stick with sweet.”

Liz stuck her tongue out at her and reached for the doorknob.

*****

“No, you can’t make that move,” Max insisted. “You’re cheating!”

Kyle shook his head, denying the accusation as he set his piece down with purpose.

“Cheater! The stupid instructions say you have to take the picture spot closest to you.” Michael wrestled with Kyle for the piece and in a single move that he hadn’t seen coming Kyle had him pinned to the floor.

“It is the closest,” Kyle argued. “It’s all about perception.”

Max leaned over, grinning at Michael’s reddened face. “I don’t think your point was clear enough.” He nodded at Kyle. “That’s 160 pounds of Greco-roman wrestler right there,” he pointed out helpfully.

The hybrid glare was in full force. “You wanna gimme a hand here, Maxwell?”

Kyle just rolled his eyes as he leaned back to release Michael, not expecting it when Max plowed into him. Michael scrambled over him, nearly squashing them both as he and Max fought to pry the little gingerbread playing piece out of his hand.

*****

Isabel, Maria and Liz squeezed into the doorway between the living area and her bedroom, their disbelieving gazes locked on the guys.

Were they wrestling? Why?

Maria rolled her eyes at that thought. Why did guys do most of the things they did? There was no telling how they ended up in these situations when two or more of them were together. She popped free of the pileup in Isabel’s doorway and crossed the room to crouch down next to the guys, careful to avoid the tangle of arms and legs that were jerking in every direction as the guys fought over… What was it? “What’re you boys doing down here?”

“Maria, get that piece,” Michael mumbled around the hand Kyle had shoved in his face.

Max grunted when one of the guys elbowed him in the ribs as he struggled to keep Kyle’s arm down while Michael did his best to pry his fingers open. “Just get that piece from him. He’s trying to cheat!”

“That’s what the three of you are fighting over?” She rested her elbow on one of her knees and cupped her chin in her hand as she looked at Kyle. “Are Buddhists allowed to cheat?”

“I wasn’t cheating.”

“Go ahead and give her that line of bull about perception,” Michael grumbled as his fingertips hooked around one of the tiny gingerbread arms. He popped it free of Kyle’s grasp and it flew across the room, hopping across the carpet and bouncing to a stop at Isabel and Liz’s feet.

She hid a smile as she looked at three guys who were more relaxed than she had seen them in longer than she could remember. But it was Michael’s expression as the guys got to their feet, pushing and shoving each other that held her captivated. “So, what took you boys so long to get up here?”

“Someone forgot to do the dishes.”

She just rolled her eyes at him. “You’re the one who got up and made a mess out of the kitchen.”

“You seemed to be enjoying the fruits of my labor.” He motioned around the room. “You guys do anything useful?”

“Well, while you boys were busy staring each other down, we were busy planning our next move. Kyle called Dean and he’s got things moving with the van. Oh, and Isabel, Liz and I have decided that without our input things have been a mess so we’ll now be actively involved with the decision making.”

Michael shot a what the hell look at Kyle.

“Oh, no, don’t look at me like that,” he protested. “I had nothin’ to do with their,” he lifted his hands, making bunny quotes, “plan.”

A wry smile lifted Max’s lips as he reached up to scratch his neck. “Um, didn’t you go up to the house to call Dean about the van?”

“Well, someone had to do it before the two of you turned that ice field out there back into a lake.” He leaned over in front of Isabel to pick up the playing piece. “Somethin’ like that would kinda blow our cover.” Kyle walked over to the guys, tossing the little gingerbread piece up in the air and catching it again. “I’ve got some good news. Shane was so interested in seeing the van that Dean drove out to get him last night. He took a look at it and apparently he liked it enough that we’ve got a meeting with him and Dean at the dealership at noon today.”

Michael rolled his shoulders and snatched the playing piece out of the air when Kyle walked past him, preening. “So, made a plan with the chicks, Valenti?”

That propelled Isabel out of the doorway across the room. “Chicks are baby birds, Michael. We,” she indicated herself, Liz and Maria, “are intelligent women of the 21st century who now have a say in the decisions affecting the group.”

He snorted at that, which earned him a look from Isabel. He could feel the lack of tension in the room, something that he knew was the result of him and Max being back on track.

Max glanced at his sister before turning his attention back to Kyle. “So, what’s the plan?”

“Are you deaf, Evans?” He held his hands up, palms facing the ceiling as he looked between Max and Michael. “Um, Kyle doesn’t have a plan. Kyle wasn’t involved in the discussion. They went in the bathroom and locked the door. You haven’t had the pleasure of seeing our postage-size bathroom, but trust me when I tell you there wasn’t room for me in there too.”

Isabel snorted. “Translation: No room for all that hot air.”

Michael smirked. “Sounds like the honeymoon’s over, Valenti. Quit avoiding the subject and just tell us what the plan is.”

Maria looked up at him when he came to rest beside her. “We’ve decided we should all go to the dealership to decide on the van’s fate.”

He shook his head. “That bathroom must’ve been severely low on oxygen. There aren’t enough seats in Edward’s truck for all of us unless some of you are riding in the bed.” He caught Maria’s all-knowing grin when Liz spoke up as she walked over to Max.

“Actually we thought we’d just ask Julia if we could borrow her car.”

That got the boys to start snickering. Yeah, like that plan was ever gonna work. The three of them exchanged similar looks of humor at the girls’ obviously bad plan.

“So, um… just to get this straight, you’re gonna ask Edward and Julia if we can just have the keys to their car to take a 12-mile drive over to the next town.” Kyle’s expression was incredulous. “And you think they’re just gonna hand ‘em over after knowin’ our little Miami group for all of four days?”

Michael snorted and elbowed him. “I feel a bet comin’ on, Valenti. One you can’t cheat on.”

Isabel glared at them. “That’s exactly what we’re gonna do.”

“I think I’ll stay outta that bet,” Max said, shaking his head. “I’d rather not bet against them.”

“Wuss.” Michael was already reaching for his wallet. “Twenty sound good?”

“Throw it down, Guerin. Easy money.”

The girls started talking about their plan more in-depth while the guys discussed the rules of the bet. The six of them finally had the opportunity to just enjoy each other’s company without the contention that had plagued them for so long and they took advantage of the moment.
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KindredKandies
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A Tale of Two Christmases (Mature) - Part-33- 6/5/11

Postby KindredKandies » Sun Jun 05, 2011 7:59 pm

Alien-Friend-
What a moment it's been. That talk between Max and Michael felt really realistic. They didn't say much but they managed to make some major break throws with small key poignant moments. You both have such a great talent for that. I'll never get tired of it.


Oh wow, thank you for the awesome compliment. ;) Your narrative of what took place between Michael and Max was on point and so insightful. Beautiful feedback, thank you. ;)

We love Kyle also and it was so him to provide the way for them to all let off steam. Boys making up, eh? lol.

Exactly, you so get the different dynamics of Michael's friendships with his firend and his best friend. We loved your narrative of how the girl's friendships work as well. We feel for Isabel as well. Christmas is her element perhaps it will help her feel closer to the girls being involved with Christmas on the Lake.

I thought what made the moment at end so special was Kyle helping to bring Max into the friendship Michael and him share.


Aww, thank you for the compliments. ;)



keepsmiling7- It was past time for the guys to get that straightened out.

Mediating was something that Isabel used when it comes to the guys.

Michael is many things but a happy dish washer is not one of them. :)

Kyle and Michael as friends make sense and the two of them are different enough to keep it interesting. Yup, we agree Kyle is good friend material.

Thank you for your feedback. ;)

cjsl8ne- Thank you for the wonderful review. :) We're glad you're enjoying the story.


Part 33

Edward was drinking his coffee and browsing through the newspaper as he watched their guests milling around the kitchen in different stages of winter gear undress. He reached for one of the cookies Julia had put on a plate for him after breakfast, chewing it slowly as his eyes drifted back to the article he had been reading. The kids were in a much easier frame of mind this morning and he wondered what had transpired after they had left the night before. Michael especially seemed much more… not so much relaxed, but at ease with their situation. It was obvious in his demeanor. The way he moved, the way he observed everything around him, that was still there but it wasn’t as edgy as it had been.

He was still watchful as he hung his gear up and turned to glance over the others as if making sure he knew where they were at all times. His gaze finally settled on the girls and Edward slowly lowered the top of his paper, feeling that something was about to happen. He shifted in his chair and glanced to the side when he jostled the table and the spoon in Maggie’s abandoned breakfast bounced against the bowl making a metallic rattling sound. After finishing their meals the boys had disappeared down to the basement to play video games and his little girl had gone up to her room for… well, he didn’t really know what for. To make her bed maybe.

His own gaze strayed to his wife, watching her as she washed the dishes and immediately started conversing with the girls. He knew she had plans to spend the day with Dayna and their family, working on Mr. Tony’s place for the big event, which meant at some point he was going to be put to work.

“Were you able to figure anything out about your van earlier?” she asked, shooting a glance at Kyle.

“Actually, we wanted to talk to you about that,” Maria spoke up.

Um-hmm, here it comes, Edward thought as his eyes slid over the group once more.

“Dean’s friend Shane is interested in the van,” Kyle started. “He wants to meet us at noon…” he trailed off when he was suddenly pinned by three pairs of eyes. He made a slight bowing gesture and then gave a wave of his right hand.

“What Kyle means is that we’d like to meet Shane and see what he has to say about our van,” Maria continued. “So we were wondering if maybe we could borrow your car for a short trip out to the dealership.”

Ten… Edward’s gaze shifted to the right side of the room. Nine…

Isabel straightened the hem of her sweater and flipped her hair back over her shoulder as she straightened her posture.

Eight… The top corner of the newspaper folded over obediently when he clenched the paper with his left hand. Seven…
Liz began to present their argument in a logical and concise manner as she reached up to tuck a few loose strands of hair behind her ear.

Six… His next stop was the vibrant little blonde who took up their case. Five…

Maria smoothed her hands over the fuzzy emerald green sweater she was wearing as she spoke, aware of Michael’s eyes on her. She picked at a tiny loose thread on the seam near the front pocket of her black skinny jeans, knowing he was following every move she made.

Four… The newspaper lowered as his eyes bounced over to Michael and he nearly laughed out loud. He smirked at the slightest hint of discomfort on the boy’s features. He hadn’t yet learned to control himself around his girl. Three…

Michael’s higher brain functions seemed to switch off as his sharp gaze zeroed in on Maria’s mouth; her full lips shiny and pink as they presented that killer smile that did him in every time.

“We probably wouldn’t be gone very long. I’m not sure what all there is to really talk about since there’s no chance of resurrecting the engine. But if Dean’s friend is interested in buying it…”

Two… One… Yes, folks, we have liftoff! Time to present a united front. Watch and learn, kids, this’s the way it’s done.

Edward got up and moved to stand behind his wife when she turned to face the group after drying her hands and putting the towel away. His arms slid around her waist as his gaze moved over each of them in turn. “So, let me see if I’ve got this straight… after four days you want us to turn over the keys to my wife’s car. To you. The merry little band of travelers from Miami. Alone. To – “

Julia turned her head to look at her husband. “Edward.”

He shook his head and continued when she faced the group once more. “The boys can ride in the truck with me so they can make their meetin’ with Dean and Shane. The girls can stay here and give you and Dayna a hand with Mr. Tony’s place. The boys don’t need to be playing video games while – “

“Of course you can borrow my car,” Julia interjected.

Edward’s head snapped around. Somehow, somewhere, she had completely missed out on the plan to present a united front. “Well, Julia, I don’t see why all six of them need to be there. And besides, there’s a lot of work to be done over at Mr. Tony’s place.

Michael almost smirked when the girls glanced at each other, suddenly at a loss for words. He almost kept his mouth shut, just to give Edward the win, but he had a twenty spot riding on this thing. So Maria had to get her way this time. He cleared his throat and took a step forward. “Actually, the reason we need the girls to tag along is this one here,” he indicated Maria with a nod of his head. “Her mom owns the van. Real hippie type if ya know what I mean. Anyway, she’s been goin’ on about how anything happening to that hunk of junk would be the end of her life as she knows it since she first learned to drive. And, well, I know her mom, so I can’t really dispute that fact.” He moved back when she elbowed him. “So, if it comes down to havin’ to sell it, she has her mom’s permission to do so, but she has to make sure it’s goin’ to a good home.” He held his hands up. “Total hippie, not really much more of an explanation there.”

Maria turned her head to look at him, eyes narrowed to slits at his ‘helpful’ commentary. “We’re lucky that she’s so generous then, aren’t we? Somehow I don’t think we would’ve made this trip packed into that two-seater you drove.”

His lips turned up at the corners when he saw that playful, fiery sparkle in her eyes.

Kyle snorted at the two of them, more to distract them than anything else. Michael could talk smack about Max and Liz all he wanted, but he and Maria had their own thing going on and if the moment was right they’d completely forget anyone else existed outside of them. “I thought when we get back I’d get started on Isabel’s first order of business.” He glanced at her and caught the smile she sent in his direction.

“What would that be?” Edward asked.

“He’s gonna hang from the rafters like a friggin’ bat and hang lights,” Michael muttered.

“Actually, he’ll be checking lights this afternoon,” Isabel corrected. “We have to be sure they’re all in working order before they’re hung.”

Michael shook his head. “Oh, no, don’t look at me. I’m not climbin’ up on the side of a house, a barn, or anything else to hang lights.”

“No,” she murmured with a smile that brought that Christmas Nazi gleam out in her eyes. “No, Michael, you won’t be hanging lights.”

“I know, that’s what I just said.”

Max shook his head and wrapped his arms around Liz, pulling her back against his chest as he watched Michael stick his foot in it right up to his knee.

“You have a costume fitting this afternoon.” Her finger pointed at each of them in turn… all of them except Kyle. “Santa, Snowflake, Santa’s Chief Reindeer Wrangler, and Candycane. I’ll expect all of you to be ready when we get back.”

Michael muttered under his breath as her temporary insanity came back with a vengeance. From that point on he lost interest in the conversation, his gaze wandering around the room until it landed on the little stuffed bear sitting in her chair at the table. An empty bowl and glass sat just to her right and in front of that a box of cereal stood, the plastic bag inside torn open and sticking up past the opening. His attention was drawn away when the sound of little feet thumping against the stairs at rapid intervals could be heard from the hallway. After a couple of seconds the thumping slowed and a moment later Maggie appeared in the doorway.

The little girl’s blue eyes shone brightly as she took in the people gathered around the kitchen and she moved to pick her bear up, holding it tightly to her chest as she lowered her head to listen to what was being said. She smiled and walked over to Michael, crooking her finger in a bid for him to come closer. She held the bear out to him when he crouched down in front of her and said, “Cindy wants to tell you somethin’.”

Maria rested her hand on his shoulder, giving it a light squeeze when his gaze darted between the little girl and the stuffed bear.

This was payback for something he’d done in his previous life, he was sure of it. He cleared his throat and did his best to keep from expressing just how uncomfortable he was as he nodded. He felt like a complete idiot when she held the bear up so it could ‘whisper’ in his ear. What was he supposed to do now? He had no idea what the stupid thing was supposed to have said. His gaze landed on Maggie and he watched her fidget for a moment as she cradled the beloved toy to her chest, squeezing it tighter.

“Cindy says she missed you at breakfast,” she said in a stage whisper. “We had cocoa puffs, toast with grape jelly, and orange juice.” She gave him a toothy smile. “Your favorites.”

“Maggie.”

She turned when her mother called her. “Yes, Mama?” She hurried ahead before her mother could get the words out. “I was real careful walkin’ down the steps…”

Julia smiled at her. “Yes, you were… good job. But did you make your bed?”

“I left it real neat. I didn’t hardly roll over in it last night.”

“Maggie.”

“Yes, ma’am, I’m going.” She turned to look at Michael. “Can Cindy sit on your lap while I make my bed?”

Michael could feel all eyes on him, the room so silent it was obvious everyone was holding their collective breath as they waited for him to answer.

“Sure she can, sweet pea,” Maria answered with a smile.

While he appreciated having the spotlight taken off of him that was not exactly the kind of help he had been hoping for. He looked down when Maggie suddenly moved closer, putting the bear in the crook of his right arm and pushing and prodding until she felt the toy was comfortable.

“I’ll be right back,” she said with a smile for him.

He watched her as she leaned in to whisper in Cindy’s ear and he felt a protective knot in his chest when he heard her words.

“Captain Michael will keep you safe.” She gave the bear a final pat and hurried out of the room to make her bed.

*****

They had settled in the living room a short while later when Dayna arrived and Edward escaped to go and collect the boys. “If I have to do this so do the two of you,” he muttered under his breath. He greeted the woman as Julia brought her inside and then excused himself to escape downstairs.

“Ah, you’re all here,” Dayna said as she and Julia came into the living room. “I just want to thank you again for your generous volunteer work.”

“Wait, we’re not getting paid – “

Isabel silenced Michael’s quiet muttering with a slap to the back of his head.

“It means so much to all of us here at Tawas Lake,” the woman finished. She smiled gently when she noticed the stuffed animal’s placement. “Oh, aren’t you just the sweetest thing, holding Miss Cindy.”

Michael slouched down further in his seat, the polar bear carefully cradled in his arm. Yes, the humiliation was coming full circle. He shot a glare at Kyle when he coughed loudly in an effort to keep from laughing out loud. Keep it up, Valenti, yours is coming.

“My bed’s all made, Daddy,” Maggie announced as she came back into the room. She looked behind her when Daddy and the boys came in from the basement. “My bed’s all made,” she repeated and made a beeline for Cindy. She stopped short just in front of Michael and Maria and her eyes dropped to the bear he held.

He picked the bear up and held it out to her, not expecting it when her hand settled over his, her fingers tracing over one of the wide silver rings he wore. “You’ve got hands almost as big as Cindy’s mom.” She looked around the room when the others started laughing, not sure what was so funny.

Maggie brought Cindy up to her ear and listened to her.

Now what? he wondered, having no clue what she would come up with next.

“Cindy wants to know if we can sit on your lap.”

That was easy enough to comply with, he decided. “Sure,” he leaned forward to pick her up and situate her comfortably as he resumed his position again. It was only a matter of seconds before she listened as the bear started whispering again and he mentally rolled his eyes at his thought.

“Um, Cindy wants to know… what kinda breakfast did you have this mornin’?”

Michael gave her a small smile and scratched his eyebrow with his thumb. “We had pancakes.”

Maria shook her head at him, smiling as she elaborated. “We had chocolate chip pancakes made from a secret recipe that belongs to my friend Liz’s family.”

Maggie’s eyes grew wide. “You can have pancakes with chocolate chips in them?” She turned to Mama and Daddy, her mouth hanging open.

Sitting on Michael’s other side Max couldn’t help but laugh quietly at the little girl’s reaction to Maria’s announcement. He hid his mouth behind his hand, speaking softly into his friend’s ear. “So, you know Santa and you make pancakes with candy in them?”

Maria felt Michael tense up at Max’s teasing words, knowing what it was taking for him to keep from visibly reacting. She rested her hand on his knee, exerting enough pressure to keep him from getting up and asking for the keys to the car. She smiled at the little girl and leaned into the crook of his arm, taking up the space previously occupied by one happy little polar bear. “Yes, chocolate chips are good in them. They’re my favorite.”

Kyle was ready to burst as he watched the scene before him. It was his notice of Liz that broke through his humor. She was watching her husband, her expression one he couldn’t quite decipher. He turned when he realized Isabel was making arrangements to meet Dayna and the others over at Mr. Tony’s place when they returned from their trip to the dealership. He didn’t bother hiding his grin when she turned and with an impatient gesture, shook the keys to get Michael and Maria’s attention.

“Are you two ready?”

Michael reached for the keys, but with Maggie and Cindy in his lap Maria was quicker to make a grab for them.

“Oh, no way, buddy, I’m driving.”

“You’re leaving?” Maggie asked, glancing around at them.

Michael cleared his throat. “Just for a little while. We’ve gotta take care of some business with our van. We’ll be back after we finish up with that.”

She sighed loudly, relieved to hear that they would be returning. “Okay.”

After getting ready to go out again the six of them made their way along the path that had been shoveled to the garage. Maria was walking next to Michael and she linked their arms together as she smiled up at him. “I’d say thanks for the help back there, but…”

Michael just shot a knowing smirk at her and snapped his fingers in Kyle’s direction. “No problem.” He rubbed his fingers together when his bid for attention went ignored. “Hey, Valenti, hand over the green.”

“I don’t think you really won fair and square,” Kyle said, shaking his head negatively.

“How do you figure that?”

“Uh, your girlfriend didn’t convince Julia and Edward on her own. You interfered and I’m pretty sure that violates the terms of the bet.”

“Whatever, fork it over.”

Kyle grumbled about it but he pulled his wallet out and pulled out a worn twenty, slowly easing it out as if it caused him great pain to do so.

Maria stopped midstride as the guys’ actions and words suddenly clicked. “What?! You two made a bet?” She reached out and intercepted the money just before Michael’s fingers could close around it.

His shocked expression was comical. “Wait, what? No! It was Kyle’s idea! Hey, me an’ Max, we knew better than to bet against you. And, hey, for a minute there it looked like Edward was gonna win, so I had to step in.”

“You had to step in,” Maria repeated slowly as she turned to look up at him, making him stop in his tracks. “Because you didn’t think I could close the deal?”

“Uh…” His eyes traced over her features, his gaze zeroing in on those lips that were just begging to be kissed as he shifted. He snapped out of his fog when she poked an insistent finger in the center of his chest.

“Half of this is mine, Spaceboy.”

He turned to glare at Kyle when he started laughing. “You heard her, Valenti.” He motioned to the twenty-dollar bill she was holding. “Pony up a couple of tens.”

Kyle just shook his head. “Why? We all know she’ll end up holdin’ it anyway.” He just smirked and hurried to catch up to Isabel when she snapped her fingers and called for them to hurry up. “Daylight’s burnin’, people, and the Christmas Nazi’s ready to get this thing started.”

*****
The ride to the dealership didn’t really take that long but for Kyle, squeezed in between Michael and Maria in the front seat, it seemed to be ridiculously long. The two of them were obviously getting back on track if their sparring match over her driving ability was anything to go by. There was no heat behind their exchange though. Well, he amended, not the kind that sparked off an argument between them anyway. He refused to speculate any further on that other kind. He did not need to store up those kinds of mentally damaging thoughts about them.

Michael had taken it upon himself to assign seating in the car, which was how he’d managed to end up sandwiched between the two of them. Liz had gotten the middle seat behind him, leaving Max and Isabel with the window seats. Just in case there was a sudden and unexpected attack in the middle of their winter wonderland. He tried to catch the laughter before it could escape and it came out as a snort instead.

“Somethin’ wrong with you, Valenti?” Michael asked, shooting a sideways look at him.

“Nope, not a thing.” He folded his arms over his chest and stared straight ahead until Michael finally gave up trying to figure out what he was thinking. His mind wandered back to the few minutes before he had walked into the cabin. He had overheard the girls talking and they had sounded so serious he had waited before barging in. He wondered how Maria could have come to the conclusion that anyone, much less Michael, viewed her as the weak link. It just wasn’t possible, but maybe he could see it because he was looking at things from a completely different viewpoint.

Shifting mental gears he went back to his thoughts about the FBI tracking them down in Michigan. It didn’t seem likely and even though he might have the occasional laugh at El Capitan’s expense he didn’t take their situation lightly. The FBI had surprised them before so he knew it was possible that it could happen and being prepared was the wisest thing to do to keep them all safe. He knew obtaining reliable transportation was a priority and he hoped they would be able to figure something out soon.

They hadn’t anticipated nearly getting caught in Oregon, thinking after a month without incident they had possibly shaken their pursuers. There had been no warning that anything was about to happen and to this day he didn’t know what had given them away. It was one of the rare nights that they had stayed in a hotel, the oppressive rain that had been pouring for days preventing them from stopping at a campground. Maybe it had been because they had spent a couple of nights in a row at different hotels. Maybe the shop where they had purchased a tire after having a flat had thought they were suspicious. Maybe changing the oil at a rest stop had raised a red flag for someone. He didn’t know and it really didn’t matter now. They had managed to escape in one piece but it had really put them all on edge for quite a while.

“I think we should have some music,” Isabel spoke up from the backseat.

Max looked at his sister and shook his head sharply at her suggestion. Music was one thing they never agreed on as a group and it had been the fodder for numerous arguments. They had finally agreed that whomever was driving got to choose the music and the rest of them just had to suffer. If Maria was driving it would be something annoying like whatever bubblegum pop station she could find, with Michael it was hard rock, Kyle had gone to the other side and he would tune in to classical… even country at times, but he had a feeling that was just to aggravate if he was in the right mood. He and Liz had similar taste in music, but the others gave them crap over it, insisting it was depressing. If anyone wanted to point out depressing music, they should point out Isabel’s preference since it leaned toward angst-ridden alternative selections. Not that there was any arguing with her when it was her turn to drive because Kyle always took the shotgun position, grabbed whatever book he was reading at the time, and settled in for the next couple hundred miles of agony. He was no support whatsoever. He supported Isabel though so there was only so much fault Max could put on his shoulders. He glanced at his wife. At least where his sister was concerned.

Maria was only too happy to switch the radio on, scanning the dials and landing on a station playing Christmas music. As the current song ended the DJ started a new one, choosing the traditional carol, Oh Come All Ye Faithful. She hummed along for the first few seconds before she started to sing along, her voice ringing out clearly.

“Maybe we should find somethin’ we can all…” Kyle turned his head to look at Michael when he received a sharp jab to the ribs with an elbow.

“Shut up an’ let her sing.”

He nearly elbowed Michael in the jaw when he brought his hand up to snap off a sharp salute. “Si, El Capitan!” He didn’t comment when his hybrid buddy stretched his arm out along the seat behind him, one hand resting on Maria’s shoulder. Kyle kept his gaze averted when she reached up to cover the big paw and glanced at Michael with a smile that belonged to him and him alone.

The backseat of the car emptied out in record time as Maria put the gearshift into park. She leaned forward and smiled at Michael. “Think it was my singing?”

“Doubtful,” he answered with a smirk.

Kyle rolled his eyes. He was happy the two of them seemed to be settling back into their relationship in a very Michael and Maria way, but being trapped between all of their intensity could be overwhelming. “So I vote we get outta the car. I’m enjoying the group hug an’ all, but oxygen would be nice too.”

Maria released her hold on Michael’s hand to smack it against Kyle’s chest. “Let’s go find out what Dean and his friend have to say,” she said as she released her seatbelt and pushed the door open.

They joined the others and the girls exchanged a look at the offensive noise as Godsmack’s Awake reverberated off the walls inside the garage.

Maria made a face and covered her ears as Kyle grabbed the door and held it open so the girls could preceded them inside. The music, a generous description as far as she was concerned, was cranked up so high she could feel it vibrating through the floor. She frowned at the windows that were shaking from the sheer force of the obnoxious music. “What is that God-awful noise?” she yelled to be heard.

“Who’s this?” Michael muttered to himself, his gaze zeroing in on the man wandering around their van. He was medium height, lanky, olive-toned skin, dark eyes, collar length hair and a goatee. He watched Dean as he appeared next to the other man, pointing something out at the front of the van.

Max caught the suspiciousness etched in Michael’s features and he kicked him as subtly as possible, shaking his head once he had his attention. He had been watching the stranger too, but where Michael looked for a potential threat, Max looked for other nuances in the man’s behavior and mannerisms. He appeared reserved, maybe shy, but he had an easygoing smile that lit his whole face up as he gestured wildly at the van.

In the span of the few seconds it took for Michael to determine what Max wanted Maria slipped away from him and he rolled his eyes when he saw where she was headed. Nostalgia alert, he thought as he quickly caught up to her and reached out to stop her progress. Her voice carried clearly and loudly as the music was suddenly cut.

“Michael, look, it’s a – “

“Jetta, yeah, I know.” He rolled his eyes when she suddenly turned and wrapped her arms around him. He shifted their position so he could check the others, catching Max’s eye and nodding at Dean and the man he could only assume was Shane. He wrapped his arms around Maria as she looked up at the green Jetta once more before tipping her head back to look up at him and smile. He caught the sheen of unshed tears in her eyes, making them a deeper shade of green, and he lifted his hand to cup her cheek, stroking his thumb against her skin gently. She smiled at him and closed her eyes when he pressed his lips to her forehead, a gesture that came as naturally to him as breathing.
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KindredKandies
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A Tale of Two Christmases (Mature) - Part-34- 6/11/11

Postby KindredKandies » Sat Jun 11, 2011 8:46 pm

keepsmiling7 – Thank you we're glad that you enjoyed the memories of our gang in the ud. :)

mary mary – We agree with you that Michael would make a good dad in the future. We're glad you enjoyed the scenes with him with Maggie and the polar bear, lol. We enjoyed writing them. Thank you. ;)

Alien_Friend – Oh thank you! We've missed writing it. RL has had us a few times but we're still here. ;)

Thank you. Glad to see that you enjoyed the moment when they were trying to borrow the car, we enjoyed writing it, lol

We hope that the FBI doesn't find them as well. It's been a while since they have been bothered and they're in the middle of nowhere. We have our fingers crossed.

Aww thank you! We're glad you love the moments between Michael, Maggie and the polar bear....We do too. ;)

Thank you for the compliment. :)

cjsl8ne – Yay! Thank you, we're glad you enjoyed our ud. Lol, who knew that a little girl with a stuffed polar bear could make a big bad hybrid speechless?

RL had messed us up for a bit but no worries we're here and there will be more uds. ;)

Eva –

The car really was the initiator between Michael & Maria. Therefor it's very normal that they both get emotional when seeing another vehicle like that. And not only does the car remind Maria at those special moments with Michael, the Jetta reminds her at her mother and the care-free grown-up in Roswell.


Yes, that's it exactly and it was what we were trying to express in that scene. Thank you!

As for trading April's car for the van Dean would have some 'splaining to do to his girlfriend, lol. And let's not forget just how small the Jetta is and that it only seats 5. Can you imagine the six of them squeezed into it and having to keep pulling on the "chokey thing" while driving down the road running from the FBI, lol? Well, okay, in the winter the radiator wouldn't overheat, but it could freeze, lol! ;)

Cindy is blowing a kiss to your little Aron. ;)

Part 34

Dean was pointing to a small crack in one corner of the windshield but Shane completely disregarded it as he went on about the paint job. It wasn’t like anything he’d ever seen and he hadn’t shut up about it since he’d switched from the topic of what a great find the old bus was no matter its condition. For half an hour he had been ogling the vehicle, practically drooling over it and trying to come up with a way to make it his. All their lives his buddy had harbored champagne tastes and caviar dreams, but realistically lived in the realm of beer and pretzels. He had a collection of these old buses, all of them in various states of disrepair that he lovingly restored at a pace that worked for him and his wallet.

His attention was drawn away from the bus when he caught movement from the corner of his eye and his mouth dropped open when he saw three girls in the shop. Shane turned to follow his friend’s gaping stare and his own gaze bounced from one girl to the next in surprise. Dean moved to turn the music off before leading the way over to the people cluttering up his shop. He had been expecting Kyle and his friends, but the guy hadn’t said anything about bringing along three pretty girls. His hands were clean but he wiped them on a shop towel out of habit as he greeted them, shaking Kyle’s hand as they exchanged introductions.

“So, you folks own this beauty?” Shane asked, his eyes once more turning back to the bus.

“Haven’t yet met a girl that’s kept his attention when one of these things was in the same vicinity,” Dean said with a chuckle.

“You managed to get your computer back online?” Max asked, his tone low-key and expressing nothing more than curiosity.

“Nope, ‘fraid not. It’s Christmastime so everyone’s either gone or up to their eyeballs in work.” He shrugged one shoulder. “Heck, not much of a point in entering a work order until we know if we’re gonna do any work on it.” He reached up to scratch the back of his head. “I made some calls, but the cheapest engine I could find’s gonna run you about three and a half grand plus shipping and labor.

“You got any idea what you’re gonna do with the bus since the engine’s shot?” Shane asked, trying not to sound too eager and failing miserably.

Kyle sensed a potential deal in the works but before he had the opportunity to speak up, Maria took front and center. He was left standing with Max and Michael when Liz and Isabel moved to flank her and he rolled his eyes when they flashed their dazzling smiles at the other two men. Oh, Buddha help us, he thought.

“Well, we’ve been talking about that,” Maria said, leveling that smile at Shane. “Right now our only option looks like investing in a new engine.” Her gaze darted to the van and back to Shane. “That is unless we can find another vehicle. We’ve discussed that too.” She looked at the other two girls.

“We have talked about it,” Liz agreed.

Isabel nodded and glanced around the shop. “Yeah, but it doesn’t look like you have anything here – “

“Oh, wait!” Shane hurried to speak up. “Wait, did you happen to notice that Ford Windstar parked out front?”

“Uh, I thought you said you didn’t have the title for that thing?” Dean spoke up.

No title? Kyle, Michael, and Max exchanged a look.

“Right,” Shane said, one corner of his mouth pulling down in a frown. “That’s right.” He grinned sheepishly. “Guess I kinda forgot about that.”

“What, uh, what kinda condition’s that puppy in?” Kyle asked, earning a look from all three girls.

Maria waved at the guys, an insistent motion that demanded silence. “Is it reliable?”

“It belonged to my aunt,” he started.

“Bet she only drove it to church on Sundays and never over 30 mph,” Max muttered under his breath.

Maria shot a warning glare at him when his voice carried enough for her to hear him. “Anyway, about your van,” she said, turning her sweetest smile on Shane again. “You were saying…?”

Shane smiled back at her. “Well, she’s got a little over a hundred thousand miles on her, got some cosmetic issues, and could probably do with a bit of work, but I use ‘er pretty regularly.” His eyes drifted back to the bus and he gnawed on one side of his bottom lip as the wheels in his mind started turning.

“You know, my mom would be so happy to know her van had been retired to a good home.” She walked over to the van, running her fingertips over the edge of the open window. She pinched her lips between her teeth for a moment. “She’s had this thing so long and there’s just no way of knowing where the title is. Probably gone for good by now…”

Max could feel Michael tensing up next to him and he glanced at him, seeing a familiar look on his face. It was toned down, but it was the expression he’d worn last New Year’s Eve as he’d watched Maria flirting with Dave Lambert in an attempt to glean information about the next clue to Enigma. He had been ready to inflict some damage when Lambert had copped a feel but he had respected the boundaries she had set limiting their relationship to that of friends, and he had taken off to deal with his feelings in another manner. “Hey, it’s not the same thing.”

“Doesn’t mean I have to like it.” His eyes followed every move she made, his agitation spiking when the man moved towards her. “He tries to cop a feel, he loses a hand.”

Max placed a calming hand on Michael’s shoulder when Shane’s movements took him closer to the bus so he could run his right hand over the front of it lovingly.

“Sure would be a shame to have to retire this little beauty someplace that wasn’t fit,” Shane said, following her lead. “These old classics should definitely be with folks who appreciate them.”

“You’re so right.” She paused a moment, her expression one of deep thought, and suddenly she looked up at him with wide eyes. “Do you think we could just make a trade? I mean, we don’t have a title, you don’t have a title…”

Kyle’s left forearm was resting against his chest, his right elbow braced on the wrist as he watched the girls work the room. He covered the lower half of his face as he waited for the man to answer.

“I’d be okay with that,” Shane agreed before anyone could speak up and interrupt the conversation. “I mean, your bus is worth more than my van, even with the engine outta commission.”

“Hmm…”

“Maybe if there’re any smaller repairs to get it roadworthy, they could be included in the trade,” Isabel suggested. “Kyle’s a mechanic and I’m sure he could do any work it needed if he could use the shop.”

“Thanks, honey,” he muttered as he dropped his hand. “Maybe I could take a look at the van before we make a deal. Throw it up on the rack and check the steering, tranny, and the exhaust system, give the belts and hoses a check? If everything looks okay, we can shake on it… How’s that?”

Shane looked at his friend. “C’mon, Dean, whaddaya say?”

“You still don’t have a title,” Dean reminded him.

“And technically it wouldn’t be a sale.”

“Interesting way of lookin’ at it,” Dean said and shrugged with a smile. “Sure, I’m not busy this mornin’.” He waved at the door. “Go get that hunk of junk started and I’ll open up the bay door for you.”

Shane paused long enough to shoot a quick look at Dean before he glanced at the others. “He’s got a really, really bad sense of humor. It’s a perfectly good vehicle.”

“You girls wanna wait in the office?” Dean asked as he walked over to the bay doors a couple of minutes later. “It gets cold in here quick once these doors go up and you probably don’t wanna wait around out here while your men take a look under the hood.”

“That would be wonderful,” Liz agreed enthusiastically when Max nudged her and gave the slightest nod of his head. As soon as the mechanic gave them directions to the office and told them to help themselves to the coffee he turned his attention to the padlock on the door. “Why do you want us in the office?”

“Get rid of the paperwork on the van. He had everything on the desk last time we were here, and based on the filing system he seems to favor, it’s probably still there.”

“This won’t take long will it?” Isabel asked, glancing between the three guys.

“It’ll take as long as it takes, sugar muffin,” Kyle said with a devilish grin.

She was gritting her teeth as she turned to go to the office, just barely beating the blast of icy air that whipped through the opening as Dean raised the bay door. Sugar muffin. He would pay for that one.

“Sugar muffin?” Max echoed, trying hard not to laugh because there was always the chance that his sister would hear him and there would be hell to pay for that.

“I’d hate to be you tonight,” Michael muttered under his breath.

*****

Maria was turning away from the door when Isabel grabbed her arm and turned her back to face it. “Um… what’re we doing?”

“Keep an eye out.”

She rolled her eyes at the tall blonde. “I think you and Michael have been spending too much time together.”

Isabel stuck her tongue out at her. “At least in here you can’t put the car in reverse.”

Maria snorted at the memory of the day they had tailed the suit that had led them to exposing Topolsky. “What’re we doing?” she asked when the other two girls started sifting through the messy stacks of paperwork on the desk.

“We’re getting rid of the paperwork for the van,” Liz said, glancing at Isabel when she sat down at the computer and started messing with it. “I don’t know what Max did to it but it looks pretty fried,” she said when the screen remained blue. She reached for another stack of loose papers and picked through them, jumping up and down a couple of times and waving a paper in the air. “Oh, I’ve got it!” She turned the work order around and looked over it. “Now what?”

Isabel held one hand out expectantly. “Let me see it.” She turned it over and frowned at it. “Is this all of it?”

Liz flipped through more papers before nodding. “Looks that way.”

Isabel sat down in the worn leather chair behind the desk, leaning back and wincing at the high-pitched squeal it gave in protest at the movement. “That’s nice,” she muttered, shaking her head.

“What should we do with it? Alter it? Sneak it out of here?” Maria’s mind was going over their options while she thought out loud. “Oooh, I know!”

“I don’t even want to know what you’re thinking,” Isabel said when she caught the look in Maria’s eyes. “Whatever it is, no.” She held the work order by one corner and concentrated on it for a moment before it began to disintegrate into a fine dust.

“Oh,” Liz said softly, “perfect.”

“Awesome trick, you’re gonna have to teach me how to do that one day,” Maria decided with a smile. “You do know we could be stuck here for hours now that the guys get to take their toys out and play.”

“Yeah, sugar muffin,” Liz said and started to laugh, which only flipped the switch on Maria’s humor and before long they were both laughing while Isabel sat there staring at them, fingernails drumming on the single clear spot on the worn surface of the desk.

“I’m guessing Kyle’s in trouble for that little endearment,” Maria speculated as she glanced at the man in question. He was going on about something, his arms stretched wide as he watched the van being raised up on the hydraulic lift.

“He’ll be suitably punished,” Isabel decided as she studied her nails. A devious smile lifted the corners of her lips as she began to hatch her plan to exact retribution.

“I’d hate to be on the receiving end of whatever you’re coming up with,” Liz mused as she watched her sister-in-law.

The tall blonde made a quiet huffing sound of agreement as her eyes moved to the window in the door. “Yes, you would.” She shifted, ignoring the chair’s protest, and craned her neck to look out into the shop where Kyle was busy doing whatever it was he did underneath cars. One perfect eyebrow arched when she saw him stretch to reach something and she shook her head. Surely that lift thingy could be adjusted for shorter mechanics. She rolled her eyes as she glanced at the man next to him, head tipped back as he stared at whatever Kyle was pointing at. There wasn’t much difference in their height, so unless Dean kept a stepstool around the thing had to be adjustable.

“In a minute he’s gonna start jumping to get at whatever he’s trying to reach,” Liz said with a laugh. She turned her head to look at her husband when he and Shane migrated back to the bus, wandering around it and happily avoiding anything that had to do with mechanics.

Maria was watching Michael as he moved around the van on the lift, his eyes constantly scanning over the shop, making sure he knew where everyone was at all times. She smiled when he paused momentarily to look at the Jetta, feeling her heart somersault in her chest when he turned his head to look at her and she saw the slight smile cross his face.

Before long though he was on the move again, reaching into the upright toolbox and picking up a ratchet with a socket attached to it. He started to turn the socket and she was glad she wasn’t close enough to hear the sound it was making because it would drive her crazy. She knew waiting for Kyle’s diagnosis was sure to be driving him insane. If this worked out it solved a big problem, but in the meantime, patience was not one of his better qualities.

*****

Michael’s mind was active as he waited impatiently for their Buddhist to hopefully pull a rabbit out of his hat. The trade would solve multiple problems: it would provide them with hopefully reliable transportation, it would prevent him from having to steal from people who had been good to them, and it would give them a way out if it came to that. His mind shifted tracks, thinking about what he had told the others recently about splitting up. He looked over at the Jetta, remembering the way her eyes had filled with tears as she looked at it.

He sighed and wished he had something to occupy his hands. He knew she missed her mom, she missed home, and those were two things he may never be able to give her. Maybe he could give her a home, but it would never be the one she had given up to be with him. How could he insist on splitting up when he knew how much it would hurt her to give up another piece of what little stability existed in her life? She was smart, she would understand the necessity for such a decision, but would she eventually resent him for everything she had given up to be with him? He turned, knowing before he moved that she was watching him, and he gave her a small smile. It was too soon to obsess over that problem. They might have to split up, but it wasn’t like they could just split up into three groups when they only had one vehicle. There were other things that had to happen first. And while they had talked, they hadn’t exactly had the talk, so things were better, but he still didn’t know where they stood.

He started prowling again, passing the upright toolbox several times before he reached into the open top to retrieve a ratchet with a deep well socket attached to it. He turned the socket over and over, the ratcheting sound somehow soothing his nerves while Kyle did his best to stretch them to the point of breaking. He appreciated the guy’s calm manner most of the time – not that he’d ever tell him that, but at times like this appreciation was not on his list. He glanced at the office door again, one eyebrow lifting when he noticed Isabel sitting in the chair behind the desk, about to fall out of it as she leaned to one side to look out into the shop.

Crap, Isabel was expecting all of them to participate in her fun-fest of Christmas costume fittings when they were finished here. He made another round of the shop. How was he going to get out of that? His gaze landed on Kyle and he smirked. Sugar muffin, he thought victoriously. All I’ve gotta do is remind her of what dumbass called her and she’ll forget all about me and that fat elf suit. His satisfaction lasted for all of two seconds before reality crashed down on him. Yeah, because she’ll ever let anything make her forget about her Christmas insanity.

He muttered a curse under his breath and moved over to the van, resting one hand on the wheel well as he ducked down to look at Kyle. “So? What’s the verdict?”

Kyle lowered the flashlight he held and glanced at Michael. He recognized the signs of agitation rising in his friend and he shrugged one shoulder. “Well, she cranked right up before we put ‘er on the lift.” He cleared his throat and hurried to continue when he saw the impatience in the other man’s features. He turned the light to the undercarriage again. “So far I haven’t found any major problems. A thing or two that’ll need fixin’ but nothin’… Ah, wait a sec. Hey, Dean, would you hand me a shop rag?”

“Sure.” Dean moved to snatch up one of the blue cloths and handed it over, peering up to see what Kyle had noticed.

Michael was watching them and his anxiety was spiking with every passing second that Kyle spent trying to reach up under the oil pan. He finally just reached out and took the rag from him. “Where d’you want me to put it?” he barked.

Kyle’s eyes danced with laughter as he dropped his weight on his heels and looked at Michael. “Is that really the way you wanna phrase that question?”

“Valenti,” he growled, “tell me or I’ll just use my imagination.”

He grinned and directed Michael, taking the rag back from him after he wiped just under the oil pan. The blue cloth was smeared with black oily smudges. “That could be a problem.”

Dean laughed. “Shane gave ‘er an oil change last month. He got to talkin’ about this girl he met next town over.” He rolled his eyes. “She told him she had a thing for these classics too. Anyway, he got to goin’ on about her and forgot to tighten the screw under the pan. Next thing you know oil’s all over the floor and all over Shane,” he laughed.

“Hope things worked out with the girl.”

“Nah, he found out she was just pretending to like VW buses so she’d have an opening…” he glanced over his shoulder at Shane, shaking his head fondly at the way his friend was pawing the van. “Just one of many short-lived relationships in my buddy’s life.”

The guys turned to follow his gaze, watching Max as he and Shane moved around the bus. Max did a good job of looking interested even though he had no interest whatsoever in whatever the other man was going on about. Michael shifted to meet Kyle’s gaze and he lifted an eyebrow. “Verdict,” he insisted.

Kyle rolled his shoulders and gave the undercarriage one more look. “Well, the good news is she started right up, like I said. I’ll need to take a better look at the steering brackets since I’m seeing what might be a crack. The rear axle’s a miracle,” he said as he moved forward a few feet and shined the flashlight up at the axle in question. “Rusted halfway through. Tires are in good shape, so that’s a good thing. Put a little work in it to keep ‘er operational for the short term and she’s a steal.”

*****

“How’s it going out there?” Liz asked. She was sitting in a chair in front of the desk, the leather old, cracked, and pinching her right thigh no matter how she rearranged her position.

Maria pulled her attention from the guys to look at Liz. She was leaning forward, one elbow braced on the desk, chin in hand as she scratched something out on a piece of paper. “I have no idea what they’re doing now.” She shifted to the side, trying to see what Liz was doing. “Are you writing something?”

“No,” she mused absent-mindedly, “just trying to figure out if it’s possible to go first at tic tac toe and lose.”

Isabel rolled her eyes. “It’s not.” She froze and looked up from the list she was writing in an effort to ease her boredom. “Common sense says if you go first you pick a corner… if you pick the center it’s impossible to lose.” Kyle had proven that over and over one night at one of the campgrounds they had stayed at when neither of them wanted to sleep. Not that she was going to admit that to anyone. She cleared her throat when they exchanged a look before leveling their disbelieving expressions on her. “Anyway, we should get out there and move things along. It can’t possibly take this long to check out the…” her eyes moved to the window, “whatever it is he’s checking out. We have things to do this afternoon.”

“Um, Isabel,” Liz said as she started drawing lines to connect the tic tac toe frame, “about what we’re doing this afternoon…”

“Are you trying to back out?” she asked with narrowed eyes.

“No, no, of course not. I was just wondering what exactly you have in mind for Max. He’s a little concerned that you really had tights in mind.”

Maria actually snorted at that, trying very hard not to picture it so she wouldn’t laugh at him next time they came face to face.

“What do elves wear, Liz?” Isabel drummed her fingers on the desktop as she studied her sister-in-law.

“His opinion is that a reindeer wrangler isn’t actually an elf.”

“His opinion would be grossly incorrect,” she interrupted. “Santa only employs elves; everyone knows this, and that includes my brother. He’s not getting out of this.”

“He doesn’t know anything about reindeer and he was telling me he thinks you’re planning on finding a way to bring a whole herd in for him to babysit.” Liz shook her head slowly as she watched Isabel. “You’re not, right?”

“Well, that would be ridiculous, wouldn’t it? Santa only had the eight plus Rudolph. Well,” she corrected herself, “okay, he obviously had more, but during Christmas we only saw the main cast, so that’s all Max will have to worry about. If you’re concerned about it I’m sure I can find a way to work it so you’re helping him. Oh, I know!” she said, eyes widening along with her smile. “You could have matching costumes! How great would that be?”

“Um… no, I think I’ll be fine without that.” Sorry, Max. I love you, but you’re on your own with the reindeer. She pointed at the door when she realized Isabel was actually considering this new potential development. “Didn’t you say we needed to get out there? We should probably do that… now.”

Maria tried very hard not to laugh but when Liz nearly tore the door off of its hinges to get out of the office she lost it, doubling over as she laughed hard enough to make her eyes water.

*****

Max looked up when Liz hurried across the shop and he knew as soon as he caught a glimpse of his sister and Maria that Isabel was up to something. He looked down at his wife and quirked an eyebrow in question.

“Nothing,” she assured him. “Matter of fact, don’t even ask her about it. If we leave it alone she might forget about it.”

“So, what’s the deal?” Isabel asked, sending an ultra sweet smile at Liz and Max before turning her attention to the van that was being lowered to the ground. She winced when the tires touched the floor and the vehicle shifted as it settled into place, the frame giving a creaking groan. She looked at Kyle. “That’s something you can fix, right?”

“Your faith in my abilities humbles me.” He gave her a smile and held one finger up. “Check this out.” He leaned inside the open window of the drivers’ side door, reaching in to poke the little hula dancer stuck to the dashboard. “Huh?” He poked it again, making it dance in place. “Whatcha think about that? Convinced Shane to throw it in as part of the deal.”

She tried to control her features to prevent her disgust from expressing itself so openly. That would have to go at the first available opportunity. “Oh. How… special.” Her tone said it was anything but.

“So,” Shane said as he joined them, “do we have a deal?” He patted the van and grinned. “We can make the switch right now…” he added to sweeten the pot. He glanced at Dean. “Um, you can gimme a ride back to the house, right?”

Dean laughed and slapped him on the back. “Hey, if you can unload this thing I’ll make sure you get home.”

“Well?” Maria asked, her gaze bouncing between Michael and Kyle.

Kyle nodded. “I say we go for it. It solves our transportation problem for the moment and Dean said I could use the shop to work on some of the repairs to get it ready for distance traveling.”

“Sounds like we have a deal,” Maria said with a smile.

Shane stepped forward and was reaching for Maria’s hand when Michael moved and intercepted the handshake. He grinned as he met the man’s gaze, recognizing the territorial gleam in his eyes and nodding in acknowledgement.

*****

An hour later, after sorting things out and making sure they had everything out of the bus, Max made one more walk around it before joining the others where they had gathered around the van that had been moved outside. Michael was barking out the seating assignments and he knew it was because Shane had been talking Maria’s ear off since she was the one who had made it possible for him to obtain the VW bus.

As they left the dealership in the rearview mirror Michael’s thumb was smacking the steering wheel in a rhythm that indicated he was annoyed. He had insisted he and Maria would take their procured vehicle and give it a test run on the open road, instructing Kyle to drive Julia’s car so that Max and Isabel would be free to protect them if anything happened. No one had bothered to argue with him, letting him have his say and climbing into their respective vehicles.

“What do you think Max will look like in green tights?” Maria mused aloud in an effort to calm him down.

He shook his head. “He’ll escape elf hell because now that we’ve got a working vehicle we can get outta here.”

“No, Michael, we can’t just up and leave.”

He didn’t look at her. “Why not?”

“Um… Maggie?” She was met with silence and after a couple of minutes she had to resist the urge to ball up her fists. “Oooh, you’re so stubborn! Fine, I don’t know, how about ‘cause you told that little girl that you knew Santa. Or maybe because she gave you that little picture of the dog she wants for Christmas. Or maybe because Kyle’s got a place to work on the van and he’ll have the necessary equipment to do it. That’s not something we have access to on a regular basis.” She rolled her eyes and shook her head before looking over at him, taking in the steady gaze that was locked on the road ahead of them. It took a moment, but she suddenly realized that he was doing his best to start an argument just to irritate her. But why? Last Christmas, she realized. It had been especially painful for him. The ghost of Christmas Past rears its ugly head once again. She squeezed her eyes shut at the memory and took a deep breath. “Michael, it’d crush Maggie if Santa didn’t show up. Besides, if you think Edward’s protective of his family now, I wouldn’t wanna be around when he finds out we just up and left.”

His hand tightened on the steering wheel, torn between running and putting as much distance between them and the people hunting them, and staying and making Christmas special not only for Maggie, but for Maria as well. But in the end that’s what it all came down to, wasn’t it? He shot a sideways glance at her and saw her features sober as she accepted that she may not be able to change his mind. While his concern for their safety was always at the forefront of his mind, a large part of it was he just didn’t want to deal with Christmas and the memories it would bring up. He sighed quietly and reached over to take her hand, feeling her relax as she linked her fingers through his.
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A Tale of Two Christmases (Mature) - Part-35- 6/19/11

Postby KindredKandies » Sun Jun 19, 2011 1:37 pm

keepsmiling7 – Yup, Chrsitmas is here!, lol.

We like mustard with our pretzels and beer, lol. We're glad you enjoyed how the gang worked together in securing a vehicle and their identity. We had fun writing it.

Yup, calling Isabel "sugar muffin" is bound to have a payback, lol!

Alien_Friend – Thank you. We're glad you enjoyed the ud. :)

Yup, there isn't anything quite like watching the CN at work, eh? lol!

Thanks for sticking with this despite the ebbs and flows of RL.


Oh wow, you're welcome. It's our pleasure to continue the story. It's what helps smooth out RL ebb and flows. :D Thanks for waiting for the uds. ;)

Eva – Lol, we love the little "hi" from Aron. ;) We're glad you enjoyed watching our gang acting more like themselves and in full "team" mode. It was what we were going for. :) Things do look better, don't they? ;)

Natilie36 – Thank you for the compliment. We have a feeling that Max would agree with you, he doesn't think green tights are flattering on him either, lol!

mary mary – LOL, we think Maria has her hands full. But let's see how Michael responds to Maria and being outnumbered by the CN and one little girl, lol!

Max is going to be one handsome reindeer handler if Isabelle gets her way!


Poor Max is pacing and rubbing his hand over his jaw waiting to see his "costume." He's hoping that you're right about him appearing handsome in it. LOL

Ah the "new van" or like what Michael likes to call it...Nevermind, lol.!

Although I think they're pretty safe where they are, or are you going to give us some ulcers before this iv over?


:) Well, it is Stevens' Sanctuary and it is Christmas....But if a bottle of antacid helps to have around, go for it. lol!

Thank you, here's the next installment. :)

Timelord31 – Welcome new reader. :) Thank you. We're glad you're enjoying the story.

just wondering though if the whole story is going to take up the time frame of being 2 christmas's.. considering its already 1/2 away.


LOL! Ah the time frame of the story. We didn't intend for it to coincide with our two Christmases. If it ends there it's accidental. In the beginning we thought that we'd write a little 60 pager story.

But then we decided to try to address and fix some of the unresolved issues of the show that were left hanging. In our humble opinion the Network and writers in S3 did damage to the characters and their stories.

This fic will cover their first Christmas being on the run and hopefully resolve some of the issues of our beloved characters. We're a little fuzzy on the math when it comes to guessing the real time frame when the story will end, lol.

Thank you for asking the question. We hope you'll continue reading and enjoy the ride. :)



Author’s Note: Believe it or not, a few lines were borrowed from the movie Robin Hood: Men in Tights.


Part 35

Kyle stared at the strands of Christmas lights stretched out in front of him. He had been sitting on a bale of hay over at Mr. Tony’s barn untangling light strands for the past hour and a half. He and the others had gotten back and after helping Edward and the boys haul a bunch of stuff over to Mr. Tony’s place Julia had insisted they sit down to lunch before getting started on the days’ activities.

Maggie was running through the barn with Dayna’s granddaughter Michelle, having a good time and not really being much help. Well, he thought with a quiet grin, they helped with El Capitan. Isabel was holding court across the barn, going over the day planner with Julia and Dayna. Liz and Maria were sorting through the boxes of Christmas decorations that Max was quietly hauling down in the hope that his sister would forget about his existence when the costumes came out. Edward and the boys were outside, stringing lights on the house and he looked up when Eddie came in and leaned over his shoulder.

“Got that next strand ready, Kyle?” he asked breathlessly.

“Yeah,” he turned from the waist up, “take those two strands on the right and then you guys might need to take a hot chocolate break while I get to the next set.”

“Cool, thanks!” Eddie carefully looped the strands around his elbow and shoulder before carrying them outside.

He plugged the next strand into the extension cord that ran across the floor and he frowned when it lit up only to flicker after a moment. He sighed and started the tedious work of locating the loose bulb. He jiggled each one, watching the lights from the corner of his eye as he lifted his head to find Michael.

The tall hybrid was carrying another box over to set it up on the makeshift tables, plywood sheets laying across sawhorses, for the girls to sort through. He didn’t look too happy about being there and he had a feeling the guy was dreading hearing his name when Isabel started the costume roll call. It didn’t take a genius to know Michael did not want to reprise his role as Santa Claus. He watched as Maggie and Michelle chased each other until they were breathless and they collapsed on a bale of straw against the wall to converse and giggle quietly.

His attention was pulled away when the lights flickered and held for a moment before blinking out once more. Aaargh! What was up with these lights? Every single strand was acting up! He sighed and went back to wiggling each individual light, searching for the loose bulb. He looked up when the dynamo duo got up to race across the barn, heading right for Michael.

Maria caught Michael’s hand when he dropped a box on the table and started to back away. He had been determined on the ride back that they were going to leave soon, but he hadn’t said a word about it when they had arrived back at the house. All through hauling stuff over to the house and then lunch she had left the subject alone, hoping he had changed his mind. “You’re gonna be a good Santa, you know.”

He shook his head and looked down at their joined hands. “Let Kyle play the part of the fat elf,” he muttered. “I turned in my Santa badge last year, not interested in renewing it.”

“C’mon, Michael,” she whispered, “a good Santa’s a sexy Santa.” She shot a glance over her shoulder at Kyle. “I love Kyle, but… he can’t be Santa. I can’t play Snowflake to his Santa. It’s just… so wrong.”

“No, you can’t,” he agreed. “That’s just one more reason why this whole thing is wrong and doesn’t need to happen.”

Maggie ran up to Michael and grabbed his other hand. “Hey, Michael. Michael, I want you to meet my best friend.” She looked back at Michelle. “This’s Michael and Maria.” She lowered her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “He knows Santa.”

Michelle’s mouth dropped open as she looked between Michael and Maria. Her brown eyes shone brightly, her pretty face framed by the soft light blue fur of her hood. “Really?” she whispered.

“Uh-huh, he knows lots about Santa.”

Maria smiled at the look of awe on the little girls’ faces as they watched Michael. She gave his hand a light squeeze when she saw the discomfort in his expression. She crouched down so that she was on their level and she brought her second hand up to cover the one she held, rubbing over his knuckles. “He really does,” she whispered with a smile.

Julia looked around, locating the girls after just a moment. “Maggie, Michelle, will you two help me with the cookies in Mrs. Tony’s kitchen?”

“Bye, Michael,” Maggie said with a big grin. “We’ll make you some special cookies and you can have them while they’re still hot.” She turned and grabbed Michelle’s hand and the two of them ran out of the barn, heading up to the house.

Michael’s gaze followed them until they were out of sight and he sighed as he lowered his head in defeat when Maria stood and looked up at him. “You know you owe me for this.”

“Um-hmm,” she murmured as she wrapped her arms around him. “Peach Snapple and a foot rub?”

“For starters,” he growled as his arms came around her.

Max dropped a box on the table, nearly upsetting the plywood before Michael lunged to press down on the opposite end. He shoved the box closer to the center and leaned back to stretch. “I think my back’s broken,” he groaned.

“Here they are,” Dayna exclaimed as she tugged the box lid back and reached inside to lift out a handful of brightly colored material.

“Your back seems to be much better,” Kyle observed as El Presidente tensed up, his back ramrod straight.

Max shot a look at him, but didn’t dare say a word. His eyes followed his sister as she hurried to join Dayna to gush over the horrible costumes being pulled out one by one. And they were still on the girls’ costumes, he thought as he eyed the first one skeptically. She handed it to Maria with a smile.

“Don’t worry, dear, we can take in any material that doesn’t fit,” she assured her.

Michael made a face and he shook his head as the woman shook the outfit and held it up. It was obviously for a tall woman with big… um, yeah… what was the word? The politically correct word that would save him from a verbal flaying. Well-endowed, that was it. He rolled his eyes when the next one was taken out and held up. Okay, that one was for someone shorter than Liz. She handed that one over to the brunette and insisted that they would make it work.

When she shook out the next item Max lost some color and he could hear Kyle nearly choking behind him. Green thermal tights with a little pointed hat. Um-hmm, those were great. Okay, if that was the alternative, he’d take Santa’s stupid red and white suit without too much complaint. He wouldn’t be caught dead in something like that.

Dayna held the tights up in front of Max and shook her head. “Well, they are a bit long, but don’t you worry, we’ll fix them up in no time.”

Kyle was feeling really good about being the assistant to the Christmas Nazi and her associate as he watched the others fidget. “Evans, I like that hat.” He reached up to point to his own ears. “It’s gonna really take the focus off of the other points on your head.”

“Sugar muffin, how’re those lights coming along?” Isabel asked as she moved over to lift up the end of the strand he was working on.

He grinned triumphantly as he held up the cheerfully blinking strand.

“Honey… are you sure?” She jiggled it and frowned in confusion when the lights flickered out again.

“Michael, I’m afraid your suit will be here a little later,” Dayna said. “Isabel told me you were looking forward to being Santa and I’m sure it’ll fit you just fine.”

He forced a smile that came out looking more like a grimace. “Well, I think I’ll go see what’s happening outside.” He was sure Edward and the boys must need some help and at this point he didn’t care if it meant hanging from the rafters to hang lights.

*****

Brian fed the strands of lights up to his dad and Michael, keeping the wires from getting tangled up while they hung them. They had been working for a while now, the silence thick and only occasionally broken whey Eddie would run out with more lights for them to hang. He was bored with his assigned job, but he knew he wasn’t getting out of it until the lights were all hung. He shifted, his boots landing on a patch of untouched snow and it made a loud crunching sound. He picked his foot up and put it down a couple of times, listening to the noise as the snow crunched underfoot.

“Brian,” Edward growled when the annoying sound continued.

The teenager sighed and looked up at Michael. “So, Michael… you play hockey where you’re from?”

Michael glanced down at him, one hand wrapped around the top rung of the ladder and the other holding onto the ledge he was attaching the lights to. “I wish. Not much opportunity to get on the ice in Miami.”

“We have a shootout competition for charity here every year.” He loosened his grip on one of the coils of lights when Dad tugged on it. “I bet Dad or Big Dave could come up with a pair of skates and a stick for you to practice.”

“Dinner’s ready!” Maggie and Michelle shouted at the same time as they made their way to join the guys. “Michael, Mama said to come and eat and to not hang anymore lights before dinner.”

Edward paused to look down at his little girl. “Mama didn’t have a message for me?”

She twisted back and forth, her boots cutting a half-moon trench in the snow. She smiled up at him. “Nope, Mama said soon as the lid came off the chili you wouldn’t need to be told twice.”

He snorted at that and finished putting the end of his strand up before he climbed back down the ladder. Eddie ran outside just as his feet hit the ground and he motioned back to the doors. “Go round everyone up, tell ‘em supper’s on the table.”

“Did Mom make chili like she said she was gonna?” the boy asked eagerly.

“I can get ‘em, Edward,” Michael offered as he stretched one arm out to secure the end of the strand to the ledge. He slapped Eddie on the back as his feet landed on the ground. “Just leave some for the rest of us.”

“No problem, Michael,” Eddie said with a grin.

Edward didn’t comment outside of a nod. “Let’s head up to the house, kids.” They had come back to the house earlier with a vehicle he recognized but they had provided very little in the way of an explanation. He looked at Michael. “We’ll see you in a few minutes.”

Michael nodded and watched as Maggie took Edward’s hand, looking up at him and chattering up a storm as they walked up to the house. Michelle was keeping pace beside her friend, adding her input when it was needed. The boys darted around their dad and the girls, heading straight for the house and the hot food waiting inside. He stepped into the barn and glanced around at the activity going on around him.

Maria and Liz were at the makeshift tables, organizing the ornaments by size, shape and color and Kyle was still relegated to light duty. He was surrounded by several piles of knotted light strands and he was fairly certain Isabel was responsible for that. Isabel was sorting through the decorations at another of the tables, barely paying any attention to her brother’s impassioned speech.

“Isabel, you can’t possibly expect me to parade around in a pair of puke green tights.”

Maria rolled her eyes as she glanced at Liz. “You know he’s not gonna win.”

“He knows it too,” Liz admitted, “but he has to put up a token resistance.”

Isabel sighed loudly as she carefully put down an ornament and turned to look at her brother. “I’m sure we can do something about the color,” she said with a smile. She reached behind him and grabbed something, settling the little pointed hat on his head. She stood back for a moment, tilting her head to one side as she studied it. “Hmm…” She reached up to adjust it, moving it to one side so that it sat at a jaunty angle. “There, that’s better.” She smiled and patted his arm. “I think you’ll be a perfect reindeer wrangler.”

Michael smirked at the dumbfounded look on Max’s face. A lifetime together and he still hadn’t learned that there was no winning in an argument with Isabel. If she wanted to dress him up in green tights and a pointy hat, she’d get her way. Just like she had when they had been kids and she’d imposed her sense of fashion on him.

“Hey, it’s time for dinner.” He looked over at his good buddy and motioned to his little elf hat. “Maybe you could leave that here. This’s already gonna give me nightmares.”

“That’s true,” Kyle added without looking up from the knotted strand he was trying to untangle. “Kinda makes me think of that movie… ya know, Robin Hood: Men in Tights. Only, it’s Max who’s gonna be runnin’ around in the green tights.” He and Michael exchanged a look and he grinned at the nearly imperceptible nod.

“We’re men, MANLY men, we’re men in tights,” Michael sang out unexpectedly.

Kyle chimed in with a high-pitched feminine voice, “Yes!”

And then they sang out the next line together. “We roam around the forest looking for fights.”

“You guys are hilarious,” Max muttered as he jerked the hat off and threw it on the table.

Michael laughed and high-fived Kyle when he held his hand up. “Good one.” He nodded at the lights. “C’mon, you can finish those later.”

“Dinner, huh?” He grabbed Michael’s hand, wincing when his knees protested the sudden movement as he was helped to his feet. “Damn, I don’t think I’ve moved my legs once in the past couple of hours. We don’t have to walk over to the house do we?”

“Huh-uh, we’re havin’ dinner here at Mr. Tony’s place. Maggie said we’re havin’ chili.”

“Chilly’s a good word… don’tcha think, Evans?”

“Okay, that’s enough jokes at Max’s expense,” Liz spoke up with a sympathetic look at her husband. He really had no defense and she knew he wasn’t going to get out of wearing the outfit for his position.

“Your costume is perfectly acceptable,” Isabel said as she picked up the hat Max had thrown back down on the table. She folded it flat and smoothed her hand over it so that it wouldn’t end up with wrinkles creased into the fabric.

“Uh-huh, like the girls’ costumes or the Santa suit are all acceptable?” He crossed his arms over his chest as he stared at her. “If it’s so great why don’t we ever see you running around in one of these things?”

Kyle nearly choked on his tongue. Whether it was the image that leapt to mind or the shock over Evans actually daring to voice such a question, he wasn’t sure. “So, you said dinner’s ready, right? I think we should – “

Isabel’s right hand shot up, an insistent motion that demanded they all remain where they stood. “Do you have the slightest idea what it takes to put something like this together?” she asked as she stared her brother down. “At what point did you learn to balance all the details that go into planning an event of this magnitude?”

“It’s not exactly the Macy’s Day Parade, Isabel,” he countered. “Hang some lights, throw some trimmings up, stick a tree in a corner somewhere…”

She drew herself up to her full height and looked down her nose at him. “It also isn’t Whoville, little brother. So take the tree out of your Grinchy ass and put a smile on your face because like it or not you’re wearing the tights, the little hat, and you’ll also wear a big Christmas-y smile while answering questions about reindeer.”

“This’s the part where you just smile and say, ‘Yes, Mein Fuhrer’,” Michael offered helpfully.

Isabel’s head whipped around and she turned her laser eyes on him, daring him to say another word.

Kyle tried not to laugh and after nearly biting through his bottom lip to achieve a solemn expression he lost it when Michael let loose with a rare donkey laugh.

Maria turned to look at him, unable to stop her own laughter from escaping in response to Michael’s laughter. It wasn’t something he did very often and she couldn’t remember the last time she had seen him laugh so openly. As they brought themselves under control he held his hand out to her and she linked her fingers through his, smiling when he tugged her close and tucked their joined hands in his coat pocket.

“Maybe you could stop encouraging the Christmas Nazi,” Max growled to Kyle as they stepped outside. “You have any idea what you’re doing by playing along with this madness?”

“Evans, Evans, Evans, I know exactly what I’m doin’,” Kyle assured him. “You have Liz, Michael has Maria… and Isabel?” He turned in a circle, arms held wide. “She has me and the insanity of Christmas.” He sobered as he met the other man’s gaze. “Let her win this one, Evans. Just wear the stupid costume.”

Max stared after him when he walked back to the barn to push the door closed as Isabel emerged behind the other couple. He had no idea what his sister and Kyle were talking about as they walked together. Actually, most of the time he had no clue what they talked about. He knew she and Kyle had grown close and he didn’t know if they were heading toward a relationship or if they would simply maintain their friendship, but he did know whether it happened or not the two of them would always be there for each other.

*****

The front door opened as they stomped the snow off of their boots and Maggie dodged between them to get to Michael. She latched onto his hand and tugged on him, pulling him inside. “It’s cold out here,” she chastised, fussing over him as he shrugged out of his gear. “Mama said to make sure you come in and get somethin’ warm to eat. And the chili’s real good.” She lowered her voice to a stage whisper. “Mama made the homemade bread too.” She smiled widely. “I saved you the biggest piece and Michelle’s watching it to make sure the boys don’t eat it ‘cause it’s for you.”

Maria smiled as she watched her Spaceboy being given the special treatment. He deserved every bit of the unconditional love Maggie lavished on him and she loved watching him with the little girl. She was good for Michael and in spite of his reservations about playing Santa for the community she knew he would do it because he wouldn’t be the one to disappoint Maggie. He would make himself do it if for no other reason than to put a smile on the face of a certain five-year-old.

In the kitchen Maggie made sure Michael was given the largest piece of bread once he had served himself a bowl of the homemade chili. He was reaching for one of the drinks that had been lined up at the back of one of the counters when Maggie looked up at him. “Daddy bought S…” she frowned when a hand covered her mouth and she tipped her head back to look up at Eddie.

“You made a pinky swear, remember?” he reminded her as he leaned down to whisper in her ear. He smiled when her eyes grew large and she shook her head, silently telling him to let her go.

Michael watched her as she bit her bottom lip and looked over at her best friend. It was obvious that she wanted to tell Michelle all about it but she knew it was a secret and she was fighting to keep it to herself.

Kyle leaned back against the counter next to him, taking in his bloodshot eyes and his cheeks, reddened by the wind. “Man, you look about like I feel. All I’ve got to say is thank Buddha we’re done for the night.”

He smirked and shook his head as he turned to point at the sofas visible through the wide doorway that opened up into the large living room. There were large bags of air-popped popcorn along with bags of cranberries resting on the plaid cushions. “I wouldn’t bet on that, sugar muffin.”

Next to him Maggie and Michelle exchanged a look and started giggling.

Kyle groaned when he saw pinpricked fingertips in his near future. He watched Isabel as she wandered around the sofas, checking the popcorn and cranberries for who knew what. He pointed to the counter on Michael’s left side. “Hand me a couple of bowls, would you?” After dishing up the chili and grabbing a couple pieces of bread he carried everything over to the table. “Hey, babe, dinner’s on the table, come an’ get it,” he called. He chuckled at the look she shot him over her shoulder as he went back to the counter to grab a couple of drinks.

Isabel joined the others, taking the chair between Kyle and Dayna and before long she was immersed in the details for the next stage of preparations.

*****

After dinner the Stevens’ boys were cleaning up the kitchen while Isabel was instructing everyone on the proper stringing order and ratio of popcorn to cranberries. Maggie and Michelle were standing in the doorway, watching and listening. They giggled when the tall blonde called Kyle over to begin the first strand of the homemade garland.

Michael was standing behind the two little girls, rolling his eyes as Isabel went over the importance of making sure the proper sequence of five popcorn and two cranberries was followed. Again. Yeah, I’ll take that stupid fat elf suit for a day, he decided.

Watching him, Maria knew exactly what was on his mind as they exchanged a look. She held a hand out to him and he answered her silent request by walking over to her and dropping his exhausted body down on the couch beside her.

Maggie and Michelle settled into one of the recliners with a large bowl of popcorn and a smaller bowl of cranberries. They watched Mama with interest as she leaned over them, placing thimbles on their forefingers.

“But, Mama, that’s gonna make it hard to hold the stuff,” Maggie complained.

“You don’t want to use your fingers as pincushions do you?” Julia said in that tone that made it clear it wasn’t really a question. She went back to her seat next to Dayna and she watched the girls as they giggled about something. She was enjoying the sparkle that had replaced the sadness in her little girl since being told there wouldn’t be a Christmas on the Lake this year. Her heart swelled as she scanned the room full of Santa’s ‘elves’ and she marveled at the form miracles could take in their lives. Who would’ve guessed that six teenagers from Miami stranded on their doorstep would be that miracle?

Maggie held up the needle, the fingers of her free hand sliding along the string until she reached the little knot at the end. She frowned when she tried to pick up one of the cranberries and it kept slipping past her thimbled fingertip.

“Those look all slippery. Want some help?” Michelle asked quietly. She reached into her own bowl and popped a piece of the fluffy popcorn in her mouth before plucking a cranberry out of the other bowl for her friend.

She wrinkled her nose as she looked up. “Mama, the thimble keeps getting in the way,” she complained.

As the evening passed the atmosphere was light and pleasant, and filled with warmth and laughter. Edward was dozing in the matching recliner next to Maggie and Michelle, his bowl of popcorn tipped over to rest against the arm of the chair. He was slumped to one side, his elbow braced on the arm of the chair and his mouth slightly open as the side of his head rested against his fisted hand. Julia and Dayna were talking and keeping an eye on the girls, just enjoying the chance to relax and enjoy themselves.

Brian had challenged Max to a game of chess and since he had been looking for a way to escape his sister’s clutches he had readily agreed. Liz was watching the game and contributing to the conversation on occasion. Her attention was pulled away when Isabel spoke up and suggested they sing Christmas carols while they worked.

“Oh, that’s a good idea,” Maria enthused. “We should put on some music.”

Eddie offered to get up and put the music on, giving Maria a big smile as he gave up his seat next to her to go and search through the CDs on the shelf by the stereo.

“Wanna go show Michael our garland?” Maggie asked.

Michelle nodded and the two girls wiggled down out of the recliner, nodding when Julia saw them and reminded them to be careful with the needles.

Michael slouched down further into the cushions, letting his head rest against the back. “Not gonna happen,” he muttered quietly. “I might wear that stupid suit, but I’m not singin’ any songs.”

“You were singing in the barn,” Maria reminded him gently.

“That wasn’t singing,” he denied. “That was mocking Max, there’s a difference.”

Maggie and Michelle started to sing Jingle Bells as they hurried across the room. Julia was issuing another warning about the needles when Maggie ran into Michael’s outstretched legs and as the thimble flew across the floor the needle went into her fingertip. She froze and looked down at her finger, her expression momentarily stunned.

Michael shot up to a sitting position and reached for the little girl, noting her expression. “You okay, Princess Maggie?”

She frowned down at her finger. “It’s just a little ouch,” she said, holding it out to him.

He accepted her hand, holding it in his palm and looking down at the little pinprick.

Maria smiled and patted Michael’s shoulder. “I think I saw some band aids in the bathroom.” She shifted to stand up be was stopped by his free arm.

“Fetch us a couple of Snapple’s on your way back, Snowflake.”

Maria looked into her Spaceboy’s eyes. His stare was insistent, the set of his jaw line indicating that his words were a challenge. She inclined her head, narrowing her eyes slightly as she gave him a smile. “Snowflake, huh? My name is Maria,” she said, dragging her name out. “And did you just say to fetch you some Snapple?”

Maggie sniffled at the stinging pinpoint at the tip of her finger and a moment later she glanced at Michelle and the two of them started giggling as they watched Maria teasing Michael.

Maria leaned in close to him to whisper, “I’ll get Snowflake right on it.” She kissed his cheek and got up to go and search for a band aid.

He mentally groaned when his gaze followed her and as she moved out of sight he saw Isabel smiling at him. He was gonna be stuck for the next week doing the Christmas Nazi’s bidding. He turned his attention to Maggie, smiling at her as he patted the cushion next to him. She scrambled up to sit beside him and he reached out to tug on the edge of Michelle’s coat. “You wanna take this off?”

Michelle shook her head shyly and Maggie filled Michael in on how her best friend never took her hood off unless she had a hat to wear when she was around new people. The little girl bit her bottom lip as she waited to see if he was going to make fun of her.

“That makes perfectly good sense,” he said finally. “Tell ya what… you have a seat up here,” he patted the cushion on his other side, “and I’m gonna grab your supplies so we can get to work on these things.”

Michelle climbed up on the couch and turned her head to smile at Maggie when he went to collect the popcorn and cranberry bowls. “He is nice,” she whispered. “He’s not scary at all.”

“I told you,” Maggie whispered back.

Maria leaned in the doorway, smiling as she watched Michael patiently stringing popcorn and cranberries with the two little girls. He was eating more popcorn than he was stringing but his admirers didn’t seem to care, giggling each time he shoved another handful in his mouth. She could see that he was tired though that had nothing to do with him declining to join in when everyone started singing Christmas carols.

“We should call it a night here pretty soon,” Kyle murmured to Isabel.

She looked around the room, taking in the activity and the tired features of their friends, old and new, and she nodded. “We’re almost finished with the garland.” She bumped his shoulder with hers. “Thanks for everything today.”

He grinned at her. “Always. Just promise you won’t have me up at the crack of dawn to get started on this again.”

“Well…”

He laughed quietly. “Okay, but I’m gonna need a big breakfast first.”

She rolled her eyes and snorted at that. “Is there any other kind? You know you eat like a horse.”

He just shot another grin at her. “Don’t feed me and I’ll show you how I can sleep like a log.”

She laughed and shoved his shoulder again. “We’ll head back to the cabins in the next hour, how’s that?”

“Sounds good.”

*****

Michael yawned widely as he stood to stretch. After coming back to the cabin he had sat down to watch the news, waiting for the sports news and scanning for anything that might be relevant to their current situation. Other than the weatherman forecasting more snow there wasn’t much newsworthy and as they wrapped up with a local story he turned the television off.

He took a drink from his Snapple as he walked over to the bed, sitting the half-empty bottle on the nightstand and emptying his pockets out. The sound of water sloshing against the sides of the bathtub caught his attention and he wandered over to the bathroom to lean against the doorframe. He hooked his thumbs in his pockets as his gaze traced over Maria’s back, her skin wet and flushed from the heat.

He saw her cheek curve upward and knew she was smiling. She was enjoying a long soak in the tub, once again reading The Fugitive. “Hope you’re takin’ notes,” he growled as he pushed away from the doorframe and moved further into the room. He turned and dropped down to sit on the floor next to the tub, his right arm resting on the edge as he met her gaze over the top of the book. He dropped his chin on his forearm as his fingertips dragged through the water.

She tipped the book back toward herself, tapping it against her chin as she watched him. “You know you were great with the girls, helping them with the garland.”

He shrugged. “What else was I gonna do? I was surrounded by girls and let’s not forget the Christmas Nazi. Isabel had her own plans and until she was satisfied that her precious little planner had all the proper checkmarks by tonight’s schedule I wasn’t gonna get any rest… or my foot rub.” His lips smacked as he feigned a thoughtful expression. “Then there was the added bonus of eating all that popcorn.” He smirked. “Would’ve been better with butter and some Tabasco sauce, but it was tolerable.”

“Um-hmm, it’s all about how much you could stuff in your mouth.” Maria smiled and let her fingers trail over his arm. She was relaxed and squeaky clean and she could feel the rush of being so close to him, wanting him. Her eyebrows rose in surprise when he gave her a grin and stood up. “Wait, Michael, where’re you going?”

“Well, the guy who knows Santa and all the most important elves has had a long day and he’ll be waitin’ in bed for that overdue foot rub.” He leaned over and kissed her. “Snowflake has duties to perform.” He was smirking as he left the bathroom.

Maria shifted when she heard him undressing followed by the sound of the bed sheets and blankets rustling as he got settled. She leaned over to toss the book on the small countertop and strained her ears, glancing around for Mickey before getting out of the tub and drying off. It felt good to be with Michael and have him acting so normal. He was beginning to relax and sure, it was good for all of them, but it was really good for him. He needed it so much and just seeing him like that meant everything to her.

She wrapped the towel around herself and walked out into the bedroom, smiling at the sight of him in bed. His arms were folded behind him, his hands interlocked and supporting his head as he watched her. He was stretched out, taking up his half of the bed and then some. He waved one foot at her with that know-it-all smirk on his face and she hid a smile when his heated gaze slid over her. Um-hmm, two can play at that game, Spaceboy, she thought with a smirk of her own.

Her gaze swept over the nightstand when the firelight flickering behind her glinted off of his wallet chain. She tipped her head to one side as she leaned forward to pick up the tiny plastic piece lying amidst a pile of change, a few crumpled bills, and Maggie’s picture. “Michael, isn’t this one of the gingerbread playing pieces from the game you were playing this morning over at Kyle and Isabel’s?” She turned to look at him. “Why do you still have it?”

He lifted his eyes to meet her curious gaze. “You’re not getting outta the foot rub, Snowflake.”

She put the playing piece down and crawled up on the bed, still wrapped in the damp towel. She gave him that smile that was reserved just for him as she leaned over to grab a bottle of lotion off of her nightstand.

“Maria, is that the one that smells like flowers or fruit or somethin’?” he said as he pulled his foot back out of reach.

“Does it matter? Unless anyone’s planning to get down and smell your feet it won’t matter. I’m pretty sure no one’s gonna even think of trying to do that.” She rolled her eyes and reached for his foot, wrapping her fingers around it and pulling it into her lap. She warmed the lotion between her hands and her thumb barely stroked over his instep.

His eyelids closed in anticipation of her touch.

Maria’s eyes strayed back to the little gingerbread man, her expression thoughtful. Why had he held on to it?

His left eye lifted to check on her when her touch remained the same.

“Michael… tell me…”

“Hop to, Snowflake. Santa needs his foot rub.”

She cradled his foot in one hand and started to rub the sole with long strokes with the other as she continued to contemplate the little piece of plastic. “Michael…”

His lips quirked in a quiet smile and he admitted something he would never admit to another living soul. “So I can win the Candy Castle of course.”
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A Tale of Two Christmases (Mature) - Part-36- 7/3/11

Postby KindredKandies » Sun Jul 03, 2011 11:59 am

mary mary – Thank you! We're glad you got why Michael held onto the game piece, lol!

keepsmiling7 – Thank you! We're so glad you enjoyed the ud with Snowflake and Michael addressing the Christmas Nazi in his special way, lol. Although our couple didn't end up together liked they should have at the end of Samuel Rising in the series the eppy is one of our favs and we are enjoying bringing our beloved Christmas characters back for our fic.

cjsl8ne – Thank you, we're glad you're enjoying the uds. Whoville, we just love that image as well, lol.

Yes, Michael and hockey seem to go together don't they? Stevens' Sanctuary truly seems to be that for our gang. Thank you, we're happy that you want a longer story, lol. We have a ways to go. ;)

Alien_Friend – Yay! We're so glad you enjoyed the ud, we so had fun writing it. Aww, yes the little girls and Michael go well together. Who knew what a little fierce blonde girl with a stuffed polar bear and her best friend Michelle could do to this big bad Spaceboy, eh? lol. Thank you for the wonderful compliment. :)

Timelord31 – Thank you, we're glad you're enjoying the fic. It's been a long time for us Candies since we played the game as children. Since we are Candies (We love our M&M) we so couldn't resist having the guys play Candyland to let down after a stressful situation. We thought it would be cool if Michael held onto the piece to ensure that he won his Candy Castle which is to win the game. ;)


Author’s Note: A few lines in this part were borrowed from the Season One episode Toy House.


Part 36

Max was awake before dawn broke, his eyes staring unseeingly at the ceiling above. His mind was turning over the events of the night before, too active to allow him to sleep. He felt like he was trapped in his sister’s insane Christmas village, dancing to whatever tune she chose to play. He wasn’t interested in wrangling reindeer, he didn’t want to answer questions from a bunch of curious children, and he really didn’t want to wear that stupid costume she had come up with. He loved her but at the moment he could’ve happily choked her with her stupid cranberry and popcorn garland.

He wasn’t a Grinch, despite popular belief. He just wasn’t interested in having anything to do with Christmas or children. He didn’t want to run the risk of repeating last Christmas. He had nearly ruined the holiday for Liz. He had been so wrapped up in trying to get through to Samuel in an effort to establish contact with his son. He was doing okay with Maggie and that probably had a lot to do with her adopting Michael and following him around faithfully. Being Santa’s reindeer wrangler was going to put him in constant contact with children and he didn’t want to do it.

He smiled faintly at the memory of holding his son, already several months old, for the first time. Zan was a good looking boy and he had a smile Max had recognized from pictures of himself when he was younger. Letting his son go had hurt more than anything he had ever experienced. He still wondered if things had been different and he’d been able to keep Zan with him if it would’ve cost him Liz. The thing with Tess had been rough enough to get past, but having to stare a living reminder in the face every day… could she have done that? Would she have wanted to?

Part of him was relieved that the decision had been taken out of his hands. It wasn’t taken out of your hands, his inner voice spoke up. Liz’s voice followed soon after. “Everything’s a choice, Max. The options may not be that great but it’s still a choice.” She was right. He didn’t like to think about it too much, but she was right. He had given Zan up to keep him safe because the other option was to be selfish and keep him and he couldn’t rationalize that in his head. Not while his own existence was being threatened. He just didn’t know what his choice would’ve been if keeping him wouldn’t have put Zan’s life in danger.

How could he have chosen between his son and the woman he loved? His mind locked on the memory of his son’s smiling face and he swallowed hard, trying to force down the lump in his throat. He had felt like his heart was being ripped from his chest when he had let his son go and he reached up to unconsciously rub his chest as his vision blurred. He had barely had the chance to meet Zan before he’d had to give him up and that gaping hole in his chest still hurt. He shifted and brought his right arm up to rest his head on it, dropping his gaze to his left hand where it lay on his stomach.

He raised his hand slightly, his thumb turning his wedding band on his finger. His thoughts shifted as his thumb brushed over the nick in the band, a reminder of a hot day in August. More proof that six adults packed into an old van and living in such close quarters wasn’t a good idea. His thumbnail caught on the nick and he picked at it as his memory took him back to that day. It had all started because of an argument over where they had stopped for the night. He winced and flexed his hand as he mentally pictured the scene. It was a phantom pain, induced by the memory; he had healed it himself so he knew there was no internal damage.

They had found an out of the way campground and paid for a site where the fewest campers were likely to be. When they had stopped originally they had planned to head back out after Kyle had finished working on the van. He had finally convinced Michael that he had to replace the pads and shoes before they did anymore damage to the rotors because the brakes had been squealing for more than a month and it was getting worse. He had been working on replacing the rear brake pads when Michael had crouched down beside him and demanded to know how much longer it would be before they could leave.

“Look, we’re already here,” Kyle said as he shifted around so he could look up at Michael. “We’ve already paid for the site, let’s just hang here for the night. We’re in the middle of nowhere and I don’t know about everyone else, but I could use a break from smelling everyone for a few hours.”

“He’s right, Michael,” Maria had chimed in, getting up and brushing the dirt from the seat of her shorts. “We’ve been locked in heat wave hell for the past three days and I for one would like to not spend the night sweating and pressed up against anyone else.”

“We need to keep movin’,” he snapped.

“No, we need to stay here for the night and take advantage of a shower. At this point I don’t care if that means taking a bath in the river or lake or whatever we’re next to, but I’m not getting back in that van tonight.”

“This isn’t up for discussion. We agreed to stop long enough for Kyle to fix the damn brakes.” He ran a hand through his hair as he started pacing in agitation.

“I’m not gonna stand here and argue with you about this,” she said, leaning forward and snatching the keys that were dangling from his front pocket. “We’re staying here tonight. I know you wanna get back on the road, and we will, but we’ll do it after we’ve had a chance to air out. I’m sick of sweating all day long and then sleeping in clothes that’re all slimy and gritty from sweating in them.”

He had only gotten angrier at her outburst. “You’d rather stay here and run the risk of getting caught?”

“Yes, Michael,” she snapped sarcastically, “that’s exactly what I meant.”

“Maybe Michael’s right,” Isabel said as she tapped her thumbnail against her bottom lip. “It’s only been four days since we got pulled over for that taillight. The cop let us go with a warning, but it couldn’t hurt to put more distance between us and – “

“We’ve put two states between us!” Maria yelled.

Liz had been sitting on the ground, reading through the manual and handing Kyle tools as he needed them. He didn’t really need any help, but she didn’t have anything else to do and it gave her something to do. “We should just stay for the – “

“Maybe we should just stay out of it,” Max interrupted. He had been watching her with Kyle for the past hour and his irritation had notched up when she pushed her hair behind her ear and laughed at something Kyle said. It wasn’t even funny and it sure as hell wasn’t that funny.

She had taken offense to his tone and she had got up to face him, her hand resting on the open side door to the van. “If you wanna stay out of it, stay out of it. We’ve all got a say in what goes on and I’m with Maria on this one. We need a night out of the van. We’ve put almost two thousand miles between us and that damn stop, we’ve changed the plates, and we’ve changed the paint job.”

“If anyone cares, I’d be okay with stayin’ here tonight,” Kyle spoke up.

“No one cares,” Max bit out.

“Get off of his case, Max,” Maria muttered.

“Don’t tell him what to do,” Liz argued.

And from there it had all gone to hell. The argument had blown up all out of proportion for no reason other than they were hot, exhausted, and in desperate need of a break from each other. Maria and Michael had gone off on each other and everyone else until Maria had thrown the keys. It hadn’t been intentional; she was just very energetic when she was… well, when she was doing pretty much anything, and when she had thrown her hand out in an erratic gesture the keys had gone flying.

“I told you we should’ve just stayed out of it,” Max mumbled, shaking his head at Michael’s expression.

The guy looked like he was about to burst multiple blood vessels at the same time. He had gone bright red and that forehead vein had started throbbing in tandem with the muscle in his jaw ticking rhythmically. Maria had looked contrite, but it was too late to take that pitch back and it was way too late to put a lid on Michael’s temper.

“Just pick a side, Max,” Liz snapped. “Let’s put it to a vote and decide whether to stay for the night or go.”

“This’s ridiculous.”

“It is ridiculous,” she said as she reached inside and grabbed one of the sleeping bags and threw it at him. “We’re staying here. Like Maria, I’d like to shower, bathe, whatever, before climbing back in this thing and roasting for the next two thousand miles.”

“I don’t even know why we’re arguing about this.”

Kyle had stood up, wiping his hands on a rag. “I think it’s safe to say – “

“Shut up!”

“No one was askin’ you!”

Max and Liz stared at each other when they both yelled at Kyle at the same time and before he could draw a breath Liz went off on him.

“There’s no reason for you to talk to him like that!” She leaned inside and grabbed one of the tents, turning to drop it on the ground as she reached for her bag. “He didn’t do anything to you.”

“He didn’t do anything… Really?” His tone had intentionally been baiting. They had avoided that topic the same way they generally avoided the topics of Tess and Zan. She hadn’t had sex with Kyle. That much had been clear the night they had made love for the first time. He wasn’t an idiot; she had been a virgin on their wedding night. It didn’t erase the image of her in bed with Kyle though. It did nothing to answer the question about why the other guy had been in her bed and they had been naked. But he hadn’t wanted to bring it up and ruin their time together and living with four other people twenty-four hours a day didn’t really give them much of a chance to deal with their tumultuous past. Not that either of them was rushing to deal with it anyway.

“Don’t start with me, Max. We’re all tired and we’re staying here tonight.” She took a step back and grabbed the door handle, putting all of her weight behind it as she gave it a shove.

Max automatically turned and stuck his hand out to stop the door, realizing too late to jerk his hand back just how stupid that move was. He’d gotten his hand slammed in car doors before but the van was not one of these light fiberglass cars made today. He had felt the bones break as the sliding door pinned his hand and he had stared at it in shock.

“Oh my God, Max!” Liz had run to the door and fumbled with it, crying heavily and unable to get a grip on the handle.

Kyle had pushed her out of the way and pulled the handle and hauled the door back, and his coloring had turned grey when he saw Max’s hand. “I’m not sure Buddha has a quote for this one,” he mumbled under his breath.

Michael had come back with the keys he had finally located and his fight with Maria had stalled out when they saw what had happened. “Max, can you heal that?” he asked, wincing at the mangled mess of the obviously broken hand.

“He can heal it,” Isabel said as she grabbed her brother’s arm and turned him around to sit on the floor of the van. “Max, you’re gonna need to focus on that hand.”

He had healed his hand and he had felt every moment of it as the bones came back together and muscle and sinew was repaired. It had been a draining experience but it had solved the argument about whether they were staying at the campground that night and the argument between him and Liz had been forgotten. She had spent the rest of the evening fussing over him and making sure he was comfortable.


Max smiled as he ran his thumb over the nick again. She had felt so guilty over that for a long time and it hadn’t even been her fault. He was the one who had stupidly tried to stop that heavy door by sticking his hand in its path. What the hell was I thinking? His expression sobered as he pictured his little boy’s sweet face again and he shifted restlessly. A year ago he had been obsessed with finding Zan and when the boy had come into his life it had been so brief. His son would have no memory of him and how would his adoptive parents explain his biological parents’ absence? Would he think he was the product of an unwanted pregnancy? Would he wonder why he hadn’t been good enough for them to keep? He squeezed his eyes shut for a moment, wishing, hoping, maybe praying, he didn’t know, that his son would grow up loved, secure, and confident in who he was and his place in the world.

He couldn’t be there for his son but he hoped Zan had ended up with parents like Mom and Dad, people who would love him unconditionally. He swallowed and reached up to rub the bridge of his nose. His parents had loved him like that and he had somehow missed it. Isabel had known from the beginning, she had trusted them. Had it been instinctual? Intuition? For all of his thoughts about Michael being so closed off and unable to connect with others he was the same way. He had grown up in an environment that was warm and loving, provided with everything he could ever need and then some, and he had never wanted for anything, but he had still shut his parents out.

He shook his head at the path his thoughts were taking, unable to stop them from taking him to a park bench in the center of Roswell. He could clearly see the pain in his mom’s eyes as she had practically begged him to talk to her. Earlier he had accused her of investigating him when all she had been doing was trying to understand, and then he had walked out on her. He had pushed her away and made her think she and Dad weren’t enough, that he didn’t see them as his real parents.

He had tried to assure her that nothing could be further from the truth, that she and Dad were enough. I should’ve tried harder, he realized.

“Max… nothing you are could ever turn me away from you. I mean… I love you. And you’re my son. Do you understand that?”

“Yeah.”


But he hadn’t, not really. I understand now, Mom. He had begged her to trust him but he had given her nothing in return. He had given her just enough to make her back off and stop pushing him for answers. His offer to leave had come from a sense of self-preservation from a threat that didn’t exist. Dad had inadvertently become a threat only because he had started an investigation into his only son who had become ultra secretive and suddenly started acting so out of character. All I had to do was trust them and I couldn’t. Please don’t let him make the same mistakes I made, he thought, not even knowing who or what he expected to be listening.

His son, six months, and thousands of miles had given him perspective but it was too little too late. His parents had been his home, they had been his very foundation, and he had been blind to it. How had he not seen it? Isabel had seen it from the first moment, she had taken one look at Philip and Diane Evans and she had known she was home.

Liz rubbed the side of her face against her pillow, reluctant to give in to the dim light beginning to filter in through the window but being pulled to consciousness anyway. She blinked a few times to clear her vision and the movement of Max’s left hand caught her attention and she watched his thumb as it turned his wedding ring around his finger. Her gaze lifted to his face and she studied his expression, seeing the pain in it even before the weak light illuminated the track a single tear had created high on his cheekbone as it had traveled to its final destination. She swallowed with difficulty, knowing that it had to be thoughts of his son that had allowed the tear to not only form, but to escape.

She knew thoughts of Zan had to haunt him and she was torn about how to deal with it. He had buried his feelings and thoughts about his son, doing everything he could to spare her feelings. It wasn’t fair to him to have to bottle up his emotions about his son and there was a part of her that wanted to tell him it was okay to talk about Zan, to just let his pain and grief over that loss out so that he could deal with it openly. She had overheard him one night when they had been camping out in Wyoming… maybe it was Idaho… at some point the states had started to run together.

She had woken up and realized that he wasn’t beside her. After the momentary sense of panic she had heard the quiet murmur of voices and realized the campfire was still burning. She could still smell the scent of the fire and hear the sound of crickets chirping intermingled with the snapping and popping of the twigs and limbs they were burning. She had crept closer to the opening of the tent and pushed the flap aside with her forefinger as she peered outside. Max had been sitting on a log next to Maria, their voices hushed as they talked quietly. After a few moments their words had started to filter in and she had been able to decipher what they were saying.

“Max, you’ve gotta talk to her,” Maria said with a concerned glance at him. “Keeping it all inside – “

“I can’t, Maria.” He dropped his head forward and scrubbed his hands through his hair, leaving it standing up in places. “You know what I put her through last year. Talking about it now…” he shook his head. “I can’t put her through that again.”

She bumped his shoulder. “You’re gonna have to. You guys are gonna have to deal with that whole Tess and Zan thing, girlfriend.”

“Maybe you can get back to me after you and Michael discuss that whole Billy and Courtney thing,” he said, his tone gently mocking.

“Touche’.” Maria sighed and poked the fire with the long branch she was holding, watching as tiny fiery sparks flew up to dance on the air before burning out and disappearing. “I don’t even know how to talk about that with him.” She bit her lip and turned her head to look at him.

“Don’t look at me, girlfriend,” he said with a small smile. “I don’t know either. Liz doesn’t wanna talk about it anymore than I do.”

“She has to know how much you’re hurting over giving him up, Max. She can see it… she can feel it, I know she can. Hell, even if Michael and I aren’t talking about something that’s bothering him I know it’s there and it hurts when he keeps it to himself.” She nodded at the man prowling around on the opposite side of their campsite. “Even now he’s on edge because we’re on the run, we’ve had run-ins with cops and the FBI, and he can’t relax. It’s like he’s on an adrenaline high and he can’t come down… and he won’t talk to me about it.”

He lifted his gaze to look at Michael. “It’s not the same thing, Maria. I slept with Tess and I got her pregnant.”

“And when she brought your son to you,” she reached out to touch his arm, “you had to turn around and give him away. I know it’s not easy for her either, but, Max, you held Zan in your arms…”

Max smiled softly. It was nice to hear someone say his name without hesitation. “You know, you hear people talk about babies smelling so sweet.” He shook his head and held his hands out to stare at them. “I never thought much about it until I held him, but they do. There’s so much innocence and purity…” he swallowed hard, choking on the lump in his throat, “so much trust.” He looked away. “And I just… I gave him to complete strangers.”

“Max, girlfriend, you had to do what was best for him,” she assured him as she hugged him tightly.


She had crawled back into her sleeping bag and pretended to be asleep when he had finally come to bed. He had never mentioned it and she had left it alone, feeling a mixture of guilt and relief that he had confided in Maria.

The first streaks of light were beginning to creep across the sky and filter into the bedroom, highlighting his features. Her eyes traced over his upper body, bare from the waist up. She reached out and let her fingers follow the path her eyes had taken and she looked up in time to see his lips lift in a slight smile.

“Hey,” she whispered, “you wanna talk about what’s on your mind?”

He shook his head and covered her hand with his. “Just thinkin’ about the day I nicked my wedding ring.”

She winced at the memory and she turned her hand over under his, linking their fingers together. “Nothing else on your mind?”

He studied her eyes for a minute before shaking his head reluctantly. “If you can think of a way for me to get outta dressing up like a big green elf I’d appreciate it.”

“I know the costume sucks,” she said, coming up on an elbow and resting her chin in her hand. “It is hideous, and to be honest, I’m not that thrilled with mine either, but I think Kyle’s right, Max.”

“I think Kyle’s right…” He forced his mind to drop that thought and to focus on what she was saying because it concerned his sister. “Just give in on this one?” he asked with a raised eyebrow.

“It’s all she has and as long as she’s focused on Christmas it’ll give her a mental break and God knows she needs it too.”

He grumbled under his breath and nodded. “Alright, but just for the record I don’t like it. That stupid costume’s a nightmare and I can’t even begin to tell you how not excited I am about the whole reindeer thing.”

Her thumb traced over his skin and she smiled at him, waggling her eyebrows playfully. “Got any reindeer wrangler moves you wanna show me?”

Max chuckled and rolled onto his side, nudging her over onto her back. “Might have one or two.” He smiled as his fingers trailed over her face. “And as long as we don’t have to worry about Santa comin’ down the chimney to surprise us I might just show ‘em to you.”

“I think Snowflake’s got him adequately distracted,” she said with a wink. “Ya know,” she moved to straddle him, slowly bending down to brush her lips against his, “this elf’s gonna have to rely on Santa’s handsome and strong reindeer wrangler…”

“Have you seen the tights, Liz?”

Her voice lowered to a husky murmur. “Um-hmm, I’ve seen them. Bet they’re gonna be rather form-fitting.” Her eyes traced over his bare chest before she leaned down for a chaste kiss. She lifted her head, releasing his lips, and her hair fell forward to brush against his skin. Her eyes locked with his as one of her hands began to search beneath the covers. “Hmm… what do you think will be on my mind all day while I’m watching you run around in those tights that outline every – “ She squeaked when he hissed and suddenly rolled her over onto her back. His eyes were dark and filled with a hunger that stirred every womanly desire she possessed. Her arms went up around his shoulders as his hips settled into familiar territory and she looked up at him, licking her lips as he positioned himself over her.

She reached up to touch his face and he caught her wrist, his eyes never breaking contact with hers as he sank into her with a soft groan.

*****

Isabel lay on her back in bed and stared at the picture in her hand. It was a picture that had been taken during their trip to Vegas. It was the only picture she had from home because when she had been grabbing a few things in anticipation of running she had taken it by mistake. Tess had been removed from the photograph, her countenance wiped away with a simple brush of her fingertip. She wished she could go back and change things, remove the threat that Tess had been, and hold onto her life and the people she cared about who had slipped through her fingers.

She brushed the pad of her thumb over the smiling faces and she swallowed past the lump in her throat as her gaze stayed on Alex’s face long enough for her vision to blur. She blinked the tears away and focused on Kyle instead. He could be such a clown when it suited him, but there was a depth to him that so many overlooked. She shifted around to get comfortable as she tapped the picture thoughtfully. Who should she visit tonight? Her finger brushed over Alex’s smiling face but that tug of connection no longer existed. She smiled sadly, remembering her visit into his dreams and how special he had made her feel when she had witnessed the way he saw her.

She dismissed Liz immediately because the last time had been enough for her. Max? At one time his dreams would’ve centered around Liz exclusively, but these days his mind was a massive mix of confusing thoughts and images wrapped around his son, their parents, Liz of course, and at times, even dreams of his beloved wife were somehow confused with images of her and Kyle in a compromising position. Yeah, she snorted, like that would’ve ever happened. Hmm, no, she didn’t need the drama. There was enough of that going on.

Michael? Maria? No and no, she decided. The last time she had ventured into either of their dreams she had been quick to make an escape. They both had their fears; their relationship, things in their past, being caught by the FBI, and she had stumbled into those nightmares before. But the last time the only nightmares resulting from the dreamwalk had been hers. Those dreams had been hot enough to make her blush and that wasn’t something she did easily or often. At least she had been spared the embarrassment of either of them knowing she had been surfing the dreamplane because they had been too busy to notice her.

Kyle. Yeah, Kyle could be counted on to lighten the mood. He could be contemplative and serious in his dreams or he could be a clown, but either way he didn’t mind that she stopped in to visit on occasion. He encouraged it, claiming to have no memory of it the next morning, although she suspected that wasn’t entirely true. He knew she didn’t always sleep well and there was no need to keep up the pretense with him that things were fine, that she was fine. He saw right through it anyway… something she both appreciated and hated at the same time. She shifted around to get more comfortable. The last time she had looked in on him he had been asleep, his mattress pulled out into his doorway to be closer to the heat.

Her fingertip moved over his face, her eyes drifting closed as the picture seemed to ripple under her touch. She looked around as the scenery began to materialize and after a moment the sound of a screaming crowd began to filter in and she realized she was standing on the high school football field in Roswell. To her it was no different from any other football game, but she could see by the look on his face as he looked around that it was different. She stood back, observing him as he relived a moment of glory.

His uniform was stained with sweat, dirt and grass, and his right arm was bleeding from an earlier hit he had taken, but the grin on his face said that he wasn’t feeling any pain. One of the other guys gave him a shove and said something that made Kyle laugh as they took up their positions once more. He shouted out the calls, gibberish to her ears, and she absently wondered how anyone understood what he was saying.

The ball was snapped and he caught it, moving back and staying in constant motion as the field erupted in a flurry of activity. Sweat dripped down from his forehead to drip in his eyes and he blinked it away as his sharp gaze searched for the open man downfield as his teammates blocked their opponents and bought him that crucial few seconds. He spotted his open man, right where he was supposed to be, and as his arm came back the crowd packing the stadium held its collective breath. He threw the perfect pass and Tommy caught it in the air, his body hitting the ground and landing in the end zone with a bone-jarring impact that he didn’t even seem to feel as he jumped back up, football held high in victory. The crowd went insane and out of all of them it was Jim Valenti’s voice that stood out above all the others.

She could see the pride in the man’s face as he watched his son and she smiled at the face-splitting grin on Kyle’s face as he unsnapped his chinstrap and jerked his helmet off, holding it up as the scoreboard showed off the score. His teammates rushed him, carrying him off of the field on their shoulders. The air was electric with victory and she could feel just how happy Kyle was. She watched as he was finally lowered to the ground once more and his dad gave him a congratulatory hug, spreading the praise around to the other guys as well. The senior Valenti sent the boys off to the locker room, telling them to have a good time, and warning them to stay out of trouble.

“That was a good night.”

She turned to look at him. At some point over the past six months he had developed the ability to separate himself from the dream, appearing as an observer, and it was during these moments that he would talk to her.

“You looked happy.”

He grinned. “That was the game that took us to State. Dad was proud of me.”

“Your dad was always proud of you, Kyle.”

“I didn’t always know it. After Mom left us he threw himself into his work even more than he had before.” He kicked at a clump of dirt and grass that had been disturbed during a play and he stared out at the stadium that was nearly empty now. “I don’t think my dad and I really connected until the alien invasion,” he said, poking her and giving her a teasing smile. “After I was shot and Max healed me it’s like it woke something up in him. I was never so glad to get away to go to football camp.”

“Yeah, and you came back spouting off Buddhist quotes.”

“Hey, don’t knock Buddha.” He laughed quietly. “Boy that really threw Dad for a loop. He had this perpetual look of confusion on his face every time I said something when I came back. You know I actually started making sense to him.”

“With the Buddhist stuff?” she asked skeptically.

“Yeah, we were watchin’ a game and he started yelling at one of the players to visualize. It was right before Christmas…” he sobered. “Two years ago.”

Isabel swallowed hard. “When Tess…”

“Yeah.” He cleared his throat and motioned to the end zone. “Did you see that pass? Had to be one of the sweetest passes in the history of the game. The pass, that’s when I threw the ball…”

“I know what a pass is,” she said, smacking his arm and following his lead when he changed the subject. “It was pretty impressive.” She smiled and squeezed his arm when she saw the look in his eyes. “You wanna go to the party, don’t you?”

“Just reliving my glory days. Not exactly baseball, but it’s as close as I’ll ever get to playin’ left field for the Astros.” He frowned. “Seems a shame to be sayin’ that at 19 years old.”

“I’m sorry, Kyle.”

“For what?” he asked, turning his head to look at her.

“That you got caught up in this thing. That all of your dreams have been shelved because of us.”

He shook his head and reached out to catch her hand. “Don’t be ‘cause I’m not. It’s not perfect or ideal, but we belong together and it’s allowed us to survive.”

She looked down at their joined hands for a moment before smiling at him. “Go to your party, Kyle.”

He cocked an eyebrow at her. “Wanna go? We had a lot of fun that night.”

She shook her head at the boyish grin on his face. “Tempting, but I’m gonna pass. You go and enjoy yourself.”

“I’ll catch up with you later,” he said and started to walk across the field.


She watched as he disappeared from sight and knew he’d reappear wherever the party had been that night. She had never known anyone else on the dreamscape to have that ability, but everyone’s subconscious was different. Her eyes opened and she shifted, rearranging the pillows behind her and sitting up to lean back against them.

“Can’t sleep, huh?”

Her head snapped up and she reached over to place the photograph on the nightstand when she saw Alex sitting on the foot of the bed. “I miss my parents. I don’t even know how they’re doing… if they’re okay.” Without a picture of them she couldn’t connect to slip into their dreams and she had been in such a hurry that day that she had grabbed the wrong picture.

“You’ll see them again, Isabel,” he assured her with a smile.

She studied his sincere expression. “How do you know?”

“Being on this side has its advantages.” He shrugged one shoulder and got up to move around the room. “Trust me, Isabel.”

“You stopped coming to me…”

“After you accepted Jesse’s proposal.” He nodded. “You didn’t need the confusion. You needed to move on.”

“You didn’t think he was right for me.”

“No, but how could I deny you what you wanted more than anything? You wanted normal and he was a normal guy. Considerably older,” he grumbled under his breath, “but normal. If I’d hung around you would’ve ended up feeling guilty and as much as I wanted to hang around I didn’t wanna do that to you.”

“You came when I needed you. That’s all that matters,” she said quietly.

He paused in his aimless pacing to look at her when she wiggled down under the covers. “Think you’ll sleep now?” He chuckled. “You’ve got a big day tomorrow. If you hear laughing from the rafters it’ll just be me. I can’t miss out on seeing your brother dressed up as an oversized elf or Michael stuck in a Santa suit.” He nodded. “Gotta say, that whole reindeer wrangler thing, now that was a stroke of genius.”

“He’ll be fine.” She sighed and snuggled deeper into the pillows. “The kids will love him and his goofy costume.”

“Um-hmm,” he smiled knowingly, “so you admit it’s a goofy costume.”

She chuckled sleepily. “Not to him.” She sighed as her eyes drifted shut. “Thanks for being here, Alex.”

“Always,” he promised, his hand ghosting over her cheek as she finally succumbed to sleep. He walked through the cabin once more, his gaze taking everything in. He laughed quietly at Kyle, his mattress wedged into the doorway and sleeping like a baby. He shook his head before his eyes moved back to Isabel and then he disappeared from sight.

*****

Maria awoke slowly, stretching before rolling over to face Michael’s side of the bed. She was blinking to clear her eyes and they widened when she found him still in bed. It was the first time he had stayed in bed with her since before they broke up. Normally he was up and moving around before she awoke, in the shower or pacing around watching the time. She came up on her elbow and watched him, enjoying the rare moment to take in his sleep-softened features. After a while she shifted slightly, shivering as she pushed herself into a half-sitting position and she froze when his arm came around her, automatically seeking her out when she moved away from him.

“Hey,” he rasped, his voice gravelly with sleep.

She smiled. “Hey,” she said back, shivering slightly.

His right arm poked free of the covers and the fingers of his hand splayed wide as he turned it toward the fireplace and a moment later the fire came to life. He grinned with satisfaction when she giggled quietly and snuggled into his chest.

She tipped her head just enough to take a look at the clock on the nightstand, noting that it was almost 8:30am. Her thoughts wandered to breakfast, wondering if they had time to squeeze it in before they were expected to put in an appearance over at Mr. Tony’s for their costume fittings. Her thoughts switched to Michael and she wondered if maybe he had forgiven her. She shifted, raising herself up to give him a kiss, relieved and hopeful when he returned it, his mobile lips soft and his kiss thorough.

Their eyes were locked on each other and though it was a moment free of the doubts about their relationship neither of them knew what exactly it meant to the other. Before either of them could consider voicing their thoughts the moment was interrupted by what sounded like several fists knocking on the front door and they jumped apart.

Michael frowned and his hand settled in the side of her neck, his thumb tracing over her jaw as he met her nervous gaze. “Stay here,” he ordered gruffly. It wasn’t the kind of knock associated with an invading force of FBI agents. “It’s nothin’ to worry about,” he assured her as he rolled out of bed and pulled a pair of jeans on. He shrugged into his shirt as he walked to the front door, muttering under his breath. “Valenti, if this’s a prank I swear you’re in deep shit.” He kicked the back leg of the chair he had wedged up under the doorknob and set it back out of sight before unlocking the door and pulling it open just enough to rest his frame in the opening and blocking Maria from view.

Edward, Brian and Eddie stood on the other side and his right eyebrow quirked when he saw them decked out in hockey gear. His eyes settled on the extra stick in Eddie’s hand. “What’s up, guys?”

“Thought we’d knock the puck around on the lake before we’re put to work like a bunch of slaves,” Edward spoke up.

“Yeah, Big Dave thought these skates would fit you,” Brian said, holding up an extra pair of skates.

“Hockey, huh?”

Listening to the conversation from her warm cocoon of pillows and blankets Maria thought back to a time when Michael had friends and it warmed her heart. She smiled when he turned his head to look at her and she could see how much he wanted to go out and play. The night before she had been trying to remember the last time she had really seen him laugh and it suddenly hit her. It was that day at the Crashdown when he had come in for breakfast with Steve, Fly and Monk after their shift. Her eyes shone brightly as she freed one of her hands from beneath the covers to wave at him. “Go… I’ll start breakfast in an hour.”

His lips quirked in a slight smile as he thought, not if I can help it. He glanced back at the guys and nodded. “I’ll be right out.”
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: A Tale of Two Christmases (Mature) - Part-37- 7/11/11

Postby KindredKandies » Mon Jul 11, 2011 10:51 pm

keepsmiling7- Oh, thank you for the wonderful compliment. :) You're so right; Liz and Max need to face their issues and talk. We think they both know this in their hearts of hearts. Getting them to do this is going will take the right moment between them.

mary mary- Thank you, we're glad you liked seeing the gang deal with their own issues. Aww, thanks for the wonderful compliment concerning Kyle’s visit with Isabel on the dreamplane. We enjoyed that moment between them as well. ;)

Yup, there is a lot going on with Liz and Max. It's hard to believe they're just teenagers with all of the stuff that's taken place between them. You're right, they so need to talk soon. Getting them to talk things out is difficult but necessary and we believe they know this in their hearts. It's just finding the right moment for it to come out.

Yup, Christmas is coming; Isabel is making sure that everything will be ready when it finally arrives, lol!

Timelord31- Thank you, we're glad that you're enjoying the fic and hope you'll continue to do so. ;)

Natilie36- Thank you. It's so true and we agree, Liz and Max so need to talk. Getting them to talk things out is difficult but necessary and we believe they know this in their hearts. It's just finding the right moment for it to come out. ;)

cjsl8ne- Thank you. :) Yes, Max and Liz so need to talk about their unresolved issues.

If things ever got back to normal would Max be able to stay away? I doubt that he could.


That's an excellent question. We believe Max wouldn't be able to really know the answer to it right now under his current circumstances with being on the run and with his unresolved issues with Liz. Only time will tell. It's clear though, he will always be searching for him in his heart. We believe Liz loves Max and that Max loves Liz and in that there is the hope and promise of healing. ;)

Michael probably didn't have an opportunity to skate on ice in Roswell but we have a feeling perhaps with his love for it he may have had a chance to play field hockey in gym class. We'll have to see how he does on ice skates. lol. ;)

Alien_Friend-

Terrific stuff!! I love all the hard work you put into these characters. It really makes you learn something new or think about something about them all you haven't had in while.


*thud* Thank you for the awesome compliment! We're glad you're enjoying the characters in this fic. It's a labor of love for us. ;)

We agree, we support Liz and Max as well. We do see them holding on to each other in spite of their unresolved issues. Liz and Max have already been through so much as teenagers, we're confident that their love for each other will bring them to a place to talk things out in the usual L&M way. ;)

Isabel has Kyle sending you a hug back. lol!

Yup, we thought the kids and Edward asking Michael to play hockey was something they would do and something that Michael wouldn't turn down. lol.

Here comes more... Thank you. ;)

Eva- We're glad you liked the insight into our characters. We agree our characters taking a look inside of themselves is indeed the right step into starting the healing process. The gang has been through a lot and has grown in the last six months as well.

Yup, Isabel and Kyle are each other confidants. There is probably too much on their emotional plates right now for either of them, except maybe Kyle, to really notice just how close they are. We love Kyle and Isabel; both of them have been hurt and are alone.

We love your theory about a happy ending... hmmm, we'll see just how it may or may not come about. No worries though, we are Candies. :)

It's good to see you project what may happen in the future, it's a real compliment, thank you. ;)



Part 37

Maria looked up more than an hour later when she heard the noise at the front door and a few seconds later it swung open and Michael stuck his head in, glancing around to make sure she was out of bed before he opened the door wide and allowed Brian and Eddie to come in behind him.

“So, that wasn’t bad for a rookie, man,” Brian said as he kicked the snow off of his boots.

Michael was wearing a grin the size of Texas as he glanced at Maria. “Stop right there,” he said as she raised her right hand to crack an egg into a bowl. “I’ve got breakfast. Me an’ the boys are hungry for – “

“French toast!” Eddie yelled.

“Okay, well, I’ll make up the batter,” Maria said agreeably. She rolled her eyes when Michael got out of his gear in record time and hurried over to rush her out of the kitchen.

“I’ve got it,” he insisted, giving her a smile.

Maria’s eyes widened when he looked at her and she caught the abrasions on the right side of his forehead and down over his cheekbone. “Good grief, Michael, what’d you do?”

“He missed the puck and slid across the ice on his face,” Brian said, laughing.

Michael shook his head. “I didn’t miss the puck,” he said, his voice low.

“Coulda fooled us,” Eddie added, high-fiving his older brother. “Most people try to put the puck in the net and Michael tried to slide through it on his face.”

“Keep it up,” Michael growled, “and I won’t make French toast.”

“Hey,” she protested, her bottom lip quivering, “I was gonna cook.”

“Babe…” he ducked his head down, his lips brushing her ear as he whispered, “Maria, you sure can cook but not in the kitchen.”

She poked him hard. “Hey, I can cook! There was that time…”

His smirk grew as he shook his head.

Maria looked back at the boys shoving each other as they fought to get to the remote first. Brian had his brother in a headlock as they played tug-o-war with the remote. The two of them were already tousled, their clothes in disarray, but they were perfectly content. As the battled ended with what looked like a rather painful elbow jab to Eddie’s ribs the boys came over to the kitchen area and leaned against the counter on either side of Michael. She smiled as she remembered Michael with his buddies from Meta-Chem. “I’ll take cinnamon and butter on mine with maple syrup.”

He looked up when someone started banging on the door. “One of you guys wanna get that for me?” He snapped his fingers in front of Eddie’s face when he realized the boy’s eyes were glued to Maria as she dug around in the refrigerator for something to drink.

“Huh?” Eddie turned to look at Michael and quickly nodded. “Right, front door. I got it.” He glared at his brother when he heard him snickering and ran across the room to pull the door open. “Hey, Kyle, what’re you doin’ here?”

“Uh…” Kyle looked around the room, taking in the couple and their guests. He frowned at the scrapes on Michael’s face but left his comments until later. “I’m here because it’s after 9am and the Christmas N… I mean, Isabel, said that she’s got a million things that need to be done today and she’s short a few people.”

“Wow, so is your wife always like this?” Eddie asked as he resumed his position next to Michael.

“Only at Christmastime,” Kyle answered.

“We’re havin’ breakfast first, Valenti,” Michael spoke up. “So, if you need to run back and give the wife a sit rep then run along.”

Eddie reached over and patted Maria on the back when she choked on her milk. “Are you okay, Maria?”

“I’m fine, Eddie, thanks,” she rasped, shooting a glare at Michael when he just shrugged and continued with his breakfast preparations.

Kyle grinned at the couple and shouldered his way into the room. “What’s for breakfast?”

“No one invited you to stay an’ eat.”

“That’s alright, no one invited you to shower over at the Evans’ place the other day but you did.” He shrugged and visually cataloged the ingredients scattered around. “French toast, huh? My dad likes bourbon vanilla French toast.” He made a face. “Scrambled eggs would be better.”

“Haven’t you had breakfast, Kyle?” Maria asked as she filled the Tigger mug with coffee and handed it to Michael.

“Breakfast was a bit rushed this morning. I’ve already been up to the house to collect Julia’s sewing machine so Isabel can work on costumes tonight, I’ve been over to Mr. Tony’s place to check the lights and make sure they’re in working order after being up overnight…” he paused when Brian snickered. “What?”

“Man, you had the worst time with those lights yesterday. I know Dad has trouble with ours every year, but wow… I’ve never seen anyone have to check every single strand!”

“Yeah,” Eddie agreed, “that was really unlucky.”

“The greatest quality is seeking to serve others.”

“Say what?” Brian asked, looking at him as if he’d just sprouted wings and said he could fly.

“He’s a Buddhist,” Michael said as he flipped the toast over.

Eddie looked at Kyle, his gaze curious. “I thought you guys like shave your head and wear dresses and go around chanting and stuff.”

“They’re robes, not dresses.” Kyle glared at Michael when he snickered at that. “No, your basic everyday Buddhist doesn’t necessarily dress that way. Monks will wear the traditional robes, but most practicing Buddhists don’t wear the robes.”

“Huh.” Eddie looked at his brother and they shrugged at the same time. “So, do monks wear like underwear and stuff?”

“What?”

“Is your wife a Buddhist?” Brian asked, saving Kyle from having to answer the other question.

Michael and Maria exchanged a look as they waited to see if Kyle was about to really stick his foot in his mouth with his pretend wife.

“Um, no, Isabel’s not a Buddhist.”

Eddie leaned forward and rested his elbows on the counter. “Do you meditate?”

“Yes, I do.”

He turned his head to look at Michael when he flipped the two slices of French toast over and then caught them on a plate. “Dad tried that once with a grilled cheese.” He made a face. “The bread came apart and landed on the floor, cheese side down.”

“Mine never land on the floor,” Michael bragged. He handed the plate to Eddie and motioned to the small breakfast table. “Here, chow down. If we don’t get a move on Isabel will show up wantin’ to know where we’re at.” He grinned at Kyle. “And we don’t want to see Kyle getting in trouble with his wife, do we?”

Brian and Eddie laughed. “Yeah, we do,” they said at the same time.

“You guys are a riot. That’s okay though. You go ahead and laugh it up,” he said with a shrug. “All I have to do is let the wife know that there’re job duties that haven’t been assigned.” He thought for a second and then nodded to himself. “Yeah, like the reindeer… I hear they’re a real mess to clean up after.” He reached over and tapped the carton of eggs. “That’d be scrambled, El Capitan,” he said with a smirk.

“I’m not cleanin’ up after a bunch of reindeer, Valenti,” Michael growled.

“Then I wouldn’t forget the cheese in those eggs. Couple slices of bacon would be great too, crispy but not crunchy.” He leaned over to slap Michael on the shoulder. “Thanks, man.”

Maria shook her head at them, smiling at the relaxed atmosphere between the guys. “Whatever you’re fixing you’d better get a move on, Spaceboy. We’re already late and you know Isabel won’t let that go. She’ll get her pound of flesh out of us one way or the other and I’d like to still be able to move by the time we’re released from our mandatory servitude this evening.”

Michael just snorted at that and tossed the next batch of French toast in the pan while he started cracking eggs in a bowl, ignoring Kyle’s look of triumph. “You’re only getting eggs ‘cause I’m makin’ the same thing for Maria, so you can choke on that stupid grin.”

Kyle just nodded, not believing a word of it. “So what happened to your face?” he asked after Michael had handed Brian a plate and sent him over to the table to join his brother. “Maria smack you upside the head with a cheese grater?”

“You’re funny this mornin’, Valenti. How’s that kindergarten bed workin’ for you?”

Maria rolled her eyes at them and grabbed a couple more plates, setting them on the counter on Michael’s right side. They were already late so there was no reason to try to rush him now.

*****

Maggie looked up at Daddy as she walked along beside him from Mr. Tony’s house to the barn. “Where’re the boys?” she asked. “Aren’t they gonna help out today?”

Edward looked down at his little girl and smiled. “They’ll be along.” Although he had no idea what was taking so long. It’d been a little more than an hour since they’d gone back to the cabin to warm up and collect Maria. And half an hour ago Isabel had sent Kyle to collect all of them. He had escaped the house amid elf costume fittings, telephone conversations with the company who would be supplying the reindeer, and an impatient woman who was ready to throttle her husband/assistant for wasting precious time.

“Oh, look!” she shouted happily, tugging on his hand and pointing at the group walking up the driveway. She paused after a moment. “How come the boys are with Michael?”

“Well,” he coughed to clear his throat, “they went back over to the cabin with him after we finished knockin’ the puck around on the ice.”

Her bottom lip quivered as she looked between Daddy and Michael. “No one ‘vited me to go.”

Edward smiled and shook his head. “Maggie, honey, you were helping Mama over here. You can’t be everywhere he is.”

“Can I go say hi?”

He nodded and waved her on. “Go ahead.” He chuckled under his breath when she took off like a shot. “Be careful, Maggie!” he yelled after her. The last thing he wanted was to see her take a header on the hard-packed snow.

Maggie ran down the driveway, stopping a foot or so in front of Michael and glancing at the boys before looking up to meet his gaze. “You missed breakfast this mornin’.”

“He just had breakfast, goofy,” Brian said with a roll of his eyes. “With us.”

She frowned at her brothers when they continued on their way up to the house to get their assignments. “You had breakfast with the boys?”

Michael crouched down to meet her on her level. “I did, yes.”

“You played hockey with them too?” she asked, her bottom lip jutting out in a pout.

“Um-hmm.” He pointed to his face. “I think I’m gonna need some more practice though.”

Her gloved hand came up to ever so gently brush against the abrasions. “Do they hurt?”

“Nah.” He reached out to tug on Miss Cindy’s paw. “I know she’s a polar bear, but she looks a little chilly.”

Maggie looked down at Cindy. “Think so?”

“Tell you what… I’m all full now, so I’m yours for the rest of the day.” He gave the little bear another tug and Maggie released her beloved toy into his hands, watching him as he unzipped his coat enough to tuck the bear inside his jacket with her nose poking over the zipper.

Maggie watched him as he snugged the zipper up under Cindy’s chin and after a moment she leaned in and pressed her ear close to the bear. “Cindy says she’s much warmer now.” She smiled at him. “Thank you.”

“You’re very welcome, Princess Maggie. Would you care to get your feet outta the snow and let your Captain of the Guard carry you back up to the house?”

She giggled and nodded, laughing outright when he swung her up and settled her on his shoulders. “Did you have fun playing hockey, Michael?” she asked.

Maria smiled when she and Kyle were excluded from the conversation as Maggie and Michael discussed hockey, breakfast, and anything else that struck the little girl’s fancy. “He’s so good with kids.”

Kyle glanced at her. “That’s not an indicator that your biological clock’s tickin’ is it?” He grinned and tried to pinch her side, something that wasn’t possible with the bulky winter gear she was wearing.

She ducked out of his reach and ran back at him, pushing him off balance and into the snow lining the sides of the driveway. She laughed gleefully and dodged him when he hauled himself up and ran after her.

“They’re funny,” Maggie said as she watched them chasing each other through the snow.

Michael smiled at Maria’s carefree laugh and he tipped his head back to look up at Maggie. “Yeah, they are.”

*****

Isabel stepped out on the porch, arms crossed over her chest as she watched Kyle and Maria horsing around. The fingers of her right hand drummed against her upper left arm and she just barely kept her foot from tapping out an annoyed rhythm against the porch as she waited for them to take notice of her appearance. She brought the impulse to smile at their antics under control and cleared her throat, immensely pleased when she saw Kyle hunch his shoulders at the realization that she had caught him.

He slowly straightened up and his expression sobered as he turned to face Isabel. “Hey, what’s up?”

“Where have you been?”

Ooookay, he muttered silently, you were expecting the question so play it cool, Valenti. He exchanged a look with Michael when he and Maggie joined them. “Uh, well…” he cleared his throat and glanced at Maria and then back at Michael. Sorry, buddy.

Michael had a feeling he was about to be thrown under the bus so Kyle could escape the Christmas Nazi’s wrath. He could feel himself fidgeting even though he was fighting to stand still under her narrowed gaze.

“See, Michael wanted – “

“Michael and the boys played hockey with Daddy.” She leaned slightly to one side, reaching down to pat his face when she couldn’t adequately see him. “See? He has an ouch on his face.” She paused for a moment to take in a breath. “An’ then Kyle came over an’ Michael was makin’ French toast for breakfast but Kyle didn’t want that…” she bit her lip when she caught the look of irritation on Isabel’s face. “I didn’t get to have breakfast with them neither, but Michael says he’s all mine today now.”

Michael’s face split into a big grin. No way Isabel would disappoint the little girl and on top of that she’d have to watch herself as long as Maggie was around. Next to him he could feel how much effort Kyle was expending trying to keep from letting loose with a big ol’ donkey laugh.

Isabel glanced to the side when Brian and Eddie joined them but her gaze pinned Michael as she spoke to Maggie. “Oh, that’s so sweet of Michael to help you out today.” She smiled. “You know, I have just the perfect job for you two. Do you like to decorate Christmas trees?”

Maggie nodded enthusiastically and she patted Michael’s head. “It’s a lot of fun isn’t it, Michael?”

He had no idea but he nodded because he knew it’s what she was expecting.

“Wonderful. I have the boxes of ornaments that need to be hung on the trees out here,” she said and gestured to the property around them. “You and Michael are just the right height for the job.”

Michael cleared his throat as he looked around at the trees as Maggie clapped her hands excitedly. “Uh, so what, like a couple of the ones close to the house?” He swallowed hard when she just smiled at him and he turned slowly to do a count of the trees dotted along the driveway.

“The boxes are on the table closest to the door… they’re marked for the outdoor trees.”

“Of course they are,” he muttered. He glared at Kyle when he tried to sneak off. “I think maybe Kyle should give us a hand. It is his fault we’re late… I mean, he’s the one who wanted bacon an’ scrambled eggs. If he’d just had toast like everyone else we could’ve been here at least 45 minutes ago.”

Kyle sighed when Michael helpfully pointed the finger of guilt in his direction and he knew his goose was cooked as soon as she pinned him with that pointed gaze. “I’ll just go grab those ornaments.”

“No, I have something even more special in mind for you, honey.”

Crap.

Brian glanced up at Michael. “Man, I’m never getting married.”

Michael snickered because he knew Kyle wouldn’t dare agree at that moment.

Isabel turned to look at the boys. “Brian, Eddie, do you boys think you could give Kyle a hand erecting the reindeer pen in the barn?”

“The reindeer…?” Kyle shook his head. “Honey, I’m a mechanic, not a carpenter, and I’m pretty sure that falls under the Reindeer Wrangler’s duties.”

She knew getting him to do what she wanted would be easier if there was some incentive to motivate him. “Kyle, do me a favor and check on Max for me, would you? He’s being fitted for his costume in the barn – “

“Oh, I’m so there.” He was on his way to the barn before she could even finish what she was saying.

“Uh… we’ve gotta grab those boxes of ornaments,” Michael said, hurrying after him.

“You’re real excited about decorating the trees, huh, Michael?” Maggie asked.

“Huh?” There was not enough money in the world to stop him from making fun of Max right now. “Oh, yeah, right. You pretty good at this tree decorating thing?”

Maggie smiled. “Yes! Mrs. Tony always made Mr. Tony put the birds in the trees, the white ones and the red ones.”

“Okay.” He grumbled under his breath when Kyle ducked through the opening between the doors first.

Kyle stopped just inside the doors and bit the inside of his cheek to control his laughter. God, Buddha, Santa Claus… they all existed, there was no doubt about it. Max Evans was standing on a box in the center of the open space wearing a green outfit that was at least two sizes too big while Dayna took some measurements. “Wow, Evans… that’s… that really had to be one big elf last year.” His gaze followed the hideous outfit until it landed on the hat, once again perched on Max’s head. “But I’ve gotta say I love the hat. Really, it balances out those ears.”

Maggie motioned for Michael to put her down and she walked over to Max, tipping her head back and looking up at him. “Are you gonna be helpin’ Santa with his reindeer?”

Max glanced down at her, feeling like ten kinds of fool. “Yeah, someone has to look after his reindeer while he’s here.”

Her eyes widened. “He’s really gonna bring his reindeer?”

“Well, it probably won’t be all of them. Maybe just a couple… I hope,” he added under his breath.

“Can I meet them?”

Max looked at Kyle and Michael, knowing they were going to start laughing at any second. “You know, if you can keep those two occupied I’ll see what I can do about you getting a ride with Santa and his visiting reindeer while they’re here.”

Her mouth formed an O of surprise and she ran over to hug him, unaware of just how uncomfortable he was. “Thanks, Max!” She ran back over to Michael and grabbed his hand. “C’mon, we gotta go decorate those trees an’ Kyle’s gotta make that pen for the reindeer ‘cause his wife said so.”

“Sounds like the wife’s got you by the short ones, Valenti,” he smirked.

Kyle just grinned at him. “Better get to decorating… rumor has it Santa’s close by.”

Michael glared at him and followed Maggie when she tugged on his hand insistently. “Good luck with that pen. Hope it cooperates better than those lights did.” He grabbed two of the boxes that Maggie pointed to and followed her outside.

*****

Julia poked her head around the corner of the living room doorway to glance at the costume the girls were discussing. Dayna had come in a while ago with Max’s costume and she and Isabel had gone over the necessary alterations before it had been carefully folded and put away for later. Now they were busy decorating the artificial trees set up in two corners of the room, flanking the wide picture window that looked out over the front yard. She glanced over the red Santa suit being held up by Dayna as Isabel looked it over with a critical eye.

“You really think you’ll get Michael into that suit?” she asked.

Isabel looked up and nodded. “Oh, he’ll wear it.” She smiled as she turned her head to look at the blonde fussing with a strand of garland. “Maria will see to that.”

Maria rolled her eyes. “Please,” she said and glanced outside. A smile graced her lips as she watched Michael kneeling next to Maggie, sorting through the red and white birds that were dwarfed in his big hands before handing her one. “He won’t need any convincing,” she said with a nod at the little girl he had picked up so she could reach a high branch to hang the red bird. “He’ll do it for her.”

Julia smiled and went back to wrapping the cookies in cellophane, tying each little bundle with a red ribbon. The cookies were shaped like trees and stars and decorated with yellow and green sprinkles and little red ribbons. She glanced over her shoulder when Edward came inside and she hid a smile when he paused in the living room for a few minutes of small talk before coming into the kitchen. She had known Edward more than long enough to decipher his different looks and expressions and the one he was currently wearing told her his curiosity about the gang’s procurement of Shane’s old van was driving him up the wall.

“These kids are young to be married,” he said quietly. “Max and Liz, okay, they’re pretty obvious. Kyle and Isabel, not so much, and have you noticed that he doesn’t wear a wedding ring?”

“You’re turning into a nosy old woman, Edward,” Julia chuckled. “If I recall correctly Isabel said he’s a mechanic and a lot of men who work with machinery don’t wear their wedding rings.” She pulled another tray of cookies out of the oven. “Besides, I seem to recall a certain young man explaining in great detail how he didn’t care for jewelry and how he didn’t feel it was necessary for him to wear a ring.”

Edward looked down at the simple gold band he wore. Yeah, he remembered that. He had expected resistance from her over that declaration but his Julia had been fine with it, insisting that she didn’t have a problem with that and she understood. Of course, then she had turned around and stated that she didn’t need to wear a ring to show that she was married either. What mattered was what they had in their hearts. He could still recall his disgruntled snort at that. There had been no way he was going to let his beautiful young bride go anywhere without his ring on her finger. He smiled faintly and shot one more glance at his concession. The ring was scarred and it showed its years of wear but it had become a part of him. “Yeah, that argument didn’t work with you, so how do you suppose it worked for Kyle?”

Julia elbowed his hand away when he reached around her to snag one of the cooling cookies. “Shush, Edward, it doesn’t matter. Have you seen the way they act around each other?”

Edward wrapped his arms around his wife and nuzzled her neck. “Think so?”

“Speaking of Kyle, why don’t you go down to the barn and see how he’s coming along with that pen? Maybe give him a hand if he needs some help,” she suggested.

He grinned. “Depends on how many of those cookies you’re willin’ to part with.”

She sidestepped, taking the sheet of cookies with her. “Uh-huh, and if you go and help him now maybe you’ll have a couple waiting for you later.”

“Ungh, Mom… Dad, you guys have to know how embarrassing this is,” Brian complained from behind them.

“Thank you for expressing your opinion,” Julia said with a smile. “Where’s your brother?”

“He’s helping Kyle with that pen.” He rolled his eyes. “I think Max was trying to collect his dignity.” He snorted. “Pretty sure that’s out the window.”

“You be nice.”

He rolled his eyes at Mom’s admonishment and wandered into the living room, throwing himself on the sofa and slouching down comfortably.

“I think it’s time for you to take that young man in there and head down to the barn, Edward. I can only imagine that Kyle’s going to be needing some help out there. Those panels for the pen looked to be pretty heavy and since Brian’s deserted him and left Eddie to help…”

“Well, he has Max to give him a hand.”

“Yeah, and Mom, I’m done for the day,” Brian said when he overheard her remarks. “No more building pens or whatever.”

“Um-hmm, well, if you’re finished with that type of work then I can use a hand in here cleaning up the kitchen once these cookies are finished.”

Brian heaved a long-suffering sigh and hauled himself to his feet once more. “Fine, but I’m not happy about it.”

“I know, and I’m alright with that.” She smiled and ushered him and Edward out of the house once more, sending them to give Kyle a hand with the pen before going back to her cookies.

*****

Maggie leaned back against Michael and tipped her head back to look up at him. “Hey, Michael, if you stay with us for Christmas who’s gonna help your mommy and daddy decorate your tree?”

He studied her for a moment, debating on what to tell her. “Well, I’ve never really done the whole Christmas thing with the decorating and stuff.”

“What about your mommy and daddy?”

He cleared his throat and hunkered down in front of her. “Maria and the others… they’re my family. See, some people don’t have a family like you have with a mom and a dad and brothers and sisters. And when they don’t, they kinda make their own family.” Well, maybe it was the other way around, he thought with an inner smile.

“But everyone has a mommy and daddy. Did yours go to heaven like Mr. Tony did?”

His thumb stroked over the wing of the little white bird he was holding as he considered his answer. He wasn’t a liar and he didn’t want to start now, especially not with her. “I don’t know much about my parents, Maggie. They weren’t there when I was growing up and eventually I found my way into the family I’m in now.”

“Oh.” She stared at him as she mulled over what he had said and after a few moments she leaned forward and hugged him. “I’m glad you have them for a family then ‘cause they love you a lot.” When she released him she touched the bird in his hand and looked up at him. “I like the way you decorate trees,” she said with a smile.

He cleared his throat. “Guess we’d better get back to work, huh? We’ve got a few more to do before we’re finished out here.” Somehow talking to Maggie about things that were otherwise painful didn’t seem to dig at the old scars. She was curious about things and she asked her questions in a direct manner but once they were answered she moved on to the next subject.

“Look,” she said, pointing over his left shoulder, “your friend Max is coming over.”

He turned his head and followed her pointing finger, grinning when the image of Max in that ridiculous elf costume immediately came to mind. He actually felt kinda bad for the guy because no one should have to look that stupid. “Finished with the fitting?”

“I hope so,” Max grumbled. He watched Maggie as she walked around the tree to find a suitable place to hang the bird in her hand. “I’ve done a lot of things for my sister over the years, but this’s by far the most humiliating.”

“It’ll be okay, Max,” Maggie said as she peered around the tree to smile up at him. “I don’t think you looked silly at all and you get to take care of Santa’s reindeer. Aren’t you excited about that?”

No, not really. “I’m trying to be.”

“Wanna help us decorate the trees? It’s fun.”

Michael smirked and grabbed a box of ornaments, shoving it into his friend’s hands. “It’s fun, Evans. And it’s gotta be better than the alternative.”

Max made a face at that. Back home Isabel had always ended up rearranging every decoration he hung on the tree anyway. Chances were good she’d do the same thing here. Not that he really cared. His options were decorating trees with Michael and Maggie or putting that stupid reindeer pen together with Kyle and the boys. Not much to think about there. “Lemme have ‘em and tell me where to put ‘em.” He paused and shook his head at the look of amusement on Michael’s face. “On second thought, just give ‘em to me, I can figure out the rest.”

*****

At the picture window Liz was watching as Max ducked a tackle from one of the boys. She had been keeping an eye on them off and on throughout the later part of the afternoon when he had joined the little girl and Michael. He had been stiff and his discomfort had been palpable but after a while he had started to relax and his demeanor had slowly changed as they decorated the trees and Maggie talked the guys’ ears off.

“It’s not the same as last time,” Maria said quietly as she joined Liz at the window.

“No, I know that. Rationally, I know that. There’s no reason for me to worry about him trying to find a way to contact his son. His parents made sure he was placed someplace safe but… that decision haunts him, you know? I see the way he watches kids and I can almost see what he’s thinking, wondering where his son is, if he’s safe, if he’s happy.”

“I know how much that whole thing bothers you, Liz, but it’d be good for him if you’d talk to him about it.” She wrapped her arm around her friend’s shoulders. “You never know, it might be good for you too.”

Liz sighed. “I think about it sometimes but I just can’t get the words past my throat. It’s like, if we talk about it…” she swallowed hard. “I’m scared to bring it up.”

Maria nodded. “I can understand that.” She and Michael had things still between them that she was reluctant to bring up too.

“Have you guys seen Kyle?” Isabel asked as she joined them at the window. She squinted against the quickly fading light, trying to determine if he was out there with the others.

Liz pointed to a figure on the right who was doing his best to stay upright while dodging another shadowy figure. “They found a football somewhere and they’ve been playing for the past 15 or 20 minutes. Looks like it’s Michael, Eddie, and Maggie against Max, Kyle, and Brian. Edward was watching from the sidelines but he just walked up this way…”

“Oooooh,” the girls said as one when the lights on the Christmas trees suddenly came to life, lighting the yard up and giving it a magical glow.

“Isn’t that pretty?” Julia asked as she came up behind them. “It’s getting dark and cold out there and I think it’s time for them to come inside. Besides, it’s just about dinnertime and I know you girls are ready for a break and you’d like some time alone with your guys.” They had talked about it earlier and the girls had admitted to needing a little downtime. She reached out and handed each of them a small package of cookies. “To take home to share with your guys.”

The girls gathered up the costumes and said their goodnights before bundling up in their winter gear and heading outside to collect the guys. Julia came out behind them to stand next to Edward on the porch, calling the kids to say their goodnights and come up to the house. The boys complied after several moments of complaining and Maggie ran over to Michael, looking up at him as she smiled brightly.

“Are you going back to your cabin now?” she asked.

He dropped to his haunches again and nodded. “Yeah, sometimes Maria likes to spend some time alone with me too.”

“Of course she does, silly. It’s ‘cause she loves you.” She giggled and threw herself into his arms, hugging him tightly. “Thanks for helping and bringing Santa to the lake this year, Michael,” she murmured and kissed his cheek.

“Yeah,” he mumbled. “Thanks, ya know, for helpin’ me out here today.”

She smiled up at him as she stood back and her eyes followed his hands when he patted the front of his coat, trying to find Miss Cindy. She laughed when he unzipped his coat and pulled the little polar bear out and she hugged the stuffed animal close. “She’s all warm.” She held the bear up to her ear. “She says thank you for keepin’ her warm all day.”

He reached out and tweaked the bear’s nose. “She’s welcome.”

“G’night, Captain Michael.” She smiled. “I’ll see ya tomorrow.”

He nodded. “G’night, Princess Maggie.”

Maria smiled and said her goodnights and goodbyes as she passed the little girl and she looked up at Michael when he straightened up to stand before her. “You’ve had a busy day, Spaceboy.”

He shrugged and motioned to the trees around them. “Not bad, huh?”

“No, not bad at all,” she mused with a smile. “You and Maggie make a pretty good team. I noticed you even had Max out here helping you earlier.” She stretched up on her tiptoes to kiss him. “They’re beautiful.”

He shrugged. “Yeah, they’re not bad.” He looked at the other couples, already starting to walk down the driveway. “What about dinner?”

Maria smiled and shook her head at him. “We thought it’d be nice to take a night off and have dinner at the cabins. Just spend some time together one on one.”

“One on one, huh?” he smirked. “I like the sound of that.”

She chuckled and snuggled into his side when he wrapped his arm around her and they started to follow the others at a more sedate pace. “You looked like you were having fun out here today.” She patted his stomach. “I love watching you when you’re with Maggie.” She bit her bottom lip for a moment. “Could you see this for us one day?”

His footsteps slowed and he considered her unexpected question for a few moments before he nodded. “One day maybe.” He thought back to their recent conversation about their pregnancy scare a few months back. “Yeah, I’d like that.”

“We’d have beautiful children.”

“We’d have troublemakers,” he corrected. “But,” he looked down at her and smiled, “our kids will be good looking.” He kissed her temple and smiled. “No doubt about that.”

Maria smiled and leaned her head against his shoulder. She wondered if he’d noticed his slip when he’d spoken of their future children as if it was a matter of when and not if. No matter, she wasn’t about to draw his attention to it. Even with things to be settled between them, it was moments like this that gave her hope.
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KindredKandies
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A Tale of Two Christmases (Mature) - Part-38- 7/26/11

Postby KindredKandies » Tue Jul 26, 2011 9:11 pm

mary mary- Oh thank you, we're so glad you enjoyed the ud. :) LOl, yup it's just like Kyle to wrap God, Buddha and Santa Claus all into one to believe in. We love Kyle. :D

Eva- Thank you, we so enjoyed writing the gang's day decorating and getting into the Christmas spirit at Mr. Tony's place. Get a warm red mitten snuggly hug from Cindy from us. :D

Natalie36- Thank you. Ah, the Liz and Max talk, yes, that so needs to happen.;)

keepsmiling7- Yay! Thank you, we're glad we could bring the sights and signs of Christmas into this long hot summer for you. :)

We love writing Kyle and are glad he's been entertaining you. We had him read what you wrote. He's sitting here with a sparkling smile on his face.

Oh yeah, Michael is good with Maggie, isn't he? She seems to have a positive effect on him. We think that her sharp mind along with her innocent openness just makes him go the extra mile with her. He didn't sweep her question about his "Mommy and Daddy" under the rug but he was honest and gentle with her. We love Maggie &Michael. Thanks girl, for the wonderful compliment. ;)

cjsl8ne- Thank you! We're glad you enjoyed the humor in the ud and the relaxed feel to it. We had fun writing about our gang decorating and getting into the Christmas spirit at Mr. Tony's place. ;)

Alien_Friend- We're glad that you enjoyed this ud so much. We enjoyed writing it. And we agree, it is moments like these that give us hope for a better future for our gang.;)

Aww, thank you girl!



Part 38

Michael sighed as he settled into one of the chairs and grabbed the remote, slouching down and flipping the television on. He made the rounds, stopping on all 10 channels and continuing on his way when he reached the ones airing commercials. He wasn’t interested in the hunting shows so he jumped right over them. He paused on the weather channel, listening long enough to determine that the possibility of snow was once again in the forecast. Big shock, he thought with a roll of his eyes. His eyebrows lifted in interest when he landed on a hockey game, but it was just highlights of a recent game so he kept going. Around and around he went, momentarily sitting up straighter when he landed on an old episode of Bewitched.

Maria glanced over her shoulder when she heard him let loose with a laugh. She smiled when she saw what he was watching, shaking her head as she went back to washing dishes. He had made dinner so she had volunteered to wash the dishes, something she knew he hated to do. He had a goofy laugh but it was music to her ears and it was the most beautiful things she had ever heard. She finished the dishes and dried her hands, hanging the towel over the dishes in the draining rack to dry it out before walking over to the living area. Michael reached up to take her hand when she came to stand beside him and she smiled when he pulled her down into his lap.

“Today was a good day,” she said, holding up a decorated sugar cookie.

He smiled and broke it in half, shoving a bite of the cookie in his mouth. “Not bad if you enjoy freezing your ass off. Which, just for the record, I don’t.”

“You had fun though.” She traced over his features with her forefinger. “You and Maggie and Miss Cindy,” she teased lightly.

Michael started to respond to that but someone knocked on the door before he could speak.

“Open it up, Guerin. It’s like the friggin’ North Pole out here.”

He grunted at the sound of Kyle’s voice. “I thought we were spendin’ the evenin’ alone?”

“Maybe he just needs to… I don’t know, borrow something.”

“You have 10 seconds to get this door open, Michael!”

He nodded when Isabel’s voice carried through the door. “Uh-huh, and he needed Isabel to hold his hand to come over an’ borrow somethin’?”

“Well, maybe…” she trailed off when she heard the murmured conversation on the other side of the door and realized that they now had four people at their front door. “Okay, I don’t recall anything being said about everyone coming over here.”

He growled when she shifted, wiggling off of his lap and squeezing into the small space he wasn’t occupying. “Guess that means you want me to get the door?”

“It’s cold, I’m not gonna stand in front of the open door and get a case of freezer burn.”

He kissed her as he stood up, snagging the throw lying over the back of the second chair and shaking it open. He draped it over her before going over to the door and moving the kitchen chair, turning the lock, and opening the door. “Someone call a meeting we’re not aware of?”

“Impromptu meetings are your thing, El Capitan,” Kyle said as he kicked the snow off of his boots and followed Isabel and Liz inside.

“Well, you’re all here and neither of us remembers anything about you bein’ here.”

Kyle leaned over to take his boots off and carried them over to sit them by the fireplace. “Maria, you decent over there?”

She snorted and peered at him over the edge of the blanket. “Did Michael open the door for you?”

“Hmm, good point. So, Isabel figured we should knock out a few things since we have an evening alone.”

“Correction, we had an evening alone,” she said with a glare at him. “Now we have a cabin full of people.”

“We still have a costume to be fitted,” Isabel said, motioning for Max to set the bag he was carrying down on the small dining table.

“Hey, don’t look at me,” Max grumbled when Michael shot a look at him that came dangerously close to incinerating. “I’m the one she’s dressing up as a friggin’ elf. Do you see anything close to excitement on my face?” He dropped the bag on the table, careless of the red velvet material springing free from the opening. “No, you don’t. And why? Because I don’t want to dress up like a stupid friggin’ elf. I’m a grown man for God’s sake!”

“Okay, Liz, looks like I’m gonna have to give you the same advice I gave Maria just a couple days ago,” Kyle said with a grin.

“If you dare impart your advice on me I’m liable to hurt you,” Liz hissed at him.

“It was very good advice,” he defended himself. “El Capitan’s a helluva lot more relaxed than he was prior to my expert advice.”

“Sex is not the answer to everything. What kinda Buddhist are you anyway?”

“The kinda Buddhist that doesn’t get laid,” Michael said, catching just the last of their hushed conversation. “Although in Kyle’s defense, sex may not be the answer to everything but it’s a good place to start.”

“See? Someone who appreciates what I have to say.”

The girls all rolled their eyes and Liz grinned as she rid herself of her gear and sat on the arm of Maria’s chair, wedging her sock feet under the other girl’s thighs. “It’s insanely cold out there!” She sniffed the air as she got comfortable and she made a face. “Maria, not to be rude or anything, but what is that smell?”

Maria just grinned and shrugged. “I was kinda in a tuna melt mood.”

Isabel watched them as Maria shifted, offering Liz half of her blanket, and feeling a little bit jealous at their closeness. She made a face and wrinkled her nose. Liz was right about one thing. That smell had to go. She turned her head to the side when Kyle started rummaging around in the kitchen and she wandered around until she located the cinnamon scented candles. They would do, she decided as she lit them and then used her powers to enhance the scent, making it stronger and erasing the foul scent of tuna lingering in the air.

“Love the coffee mugs,” he remarked, turning the mugs on the counter around. “You guys got hot chocolate?”

“Make yourself at home, Valenti,” Michael muttered. “Just leave Tigger and the Bear on the counter. Hot chocolate’s in the cabinet over the coffee pot.”

“Thanks, I will.” He put a pot of water on the stove and pulled down what he needed for hot chocolate. “Iz, you want one?”

“Yeah, thanks.” She started pulling the Santa suit out of the sack, shaking it out and laying it across the table.

He dug around, looking for marshmallows while he waited for the water to boil. “So, El Capitan, looks like you’re up for your fitting.” He turned to grin at Michael as he pulled mugs down from the cabinet and set them out.

“Yeah, let’s stand around and discuss how that’s not gonna happen,” Michael muttered acerbically.

“Look, I’m too short to pull off the Claus,” he pointed out reasonably. “Max, well, the guy’s gonna be an oversized elf prancing around in green tights, so he can’t do it. Besides, if that’s your other option, do you really wanna do that?”

Michael glanced back and forth between Max and Kyle before turning to stare at the red velvet coat Isabel was holding out to him. “Gimme that damn thing,” he said, snatching it out of her hands and ignoring her triumphant grin. “Fascist,” he muttered, not caring that she heard him. He shrugged into the jacket, frowning down at the way that it hung on him. “Oh, yeah, this looks great.”

Isabel sighed and looked around the room, smiling when her eyes landed on the bed. “Maria, I need a pillow… or two.”

Maria got up to go and grab them while Liz got up to walk over to the others. She bit back a smile when Isabel started buttoning up the coat and Michael smacked her hands away. This wasn’t going to put him in a good mood, she thought. And the night had looked so promising. She snatched the pillows up and carried them over to Isabel, wincing at the thunderous look on Michael’s face. Oh, he was not a happy camper.

“Alright, we’ll try it with one pillow first,” Isabel decided. “Michael can hold the… No, Maria, you hold the pillows against him and Liz, you take this rope and run it around him. It’s only temporary; we’ll get a belt for later. Right now we just need to see how you’re gonna look all jiggly and jolly.”

Maria bit her bottom lip at Isabel’s words. At this rate he was going to blow within a matter of minutes. She held the pillow against his stomach, pressing the ends against his sides so Liz could reach around with the rope and tie it in place. “I’m sure this won’t take that long,” she whispered as she looked up at him. Once the pillow was snugged up against him she pulled the jacket around him but before she could button it Isabel started speaking.

“No, no, no, we’re gonna need that second pillow. This…” she waved her hand over him, “this isn’t jiggly.” She lifted her gaze to scan his features. “We’ll work on the jolly part later.”

Kyle made several trips from the tiny kitchen, bringing the mugs of hot chocolate over and setting them on the table. “Okay, that’s Tigger for El Capitan, although there’s nothing bouncy about you, my friend. Winnie the Pooh for Maria, which is acceptable since you are a true friend. Piglet for Liz since she’s Pooh Bear’s best friend and a generally timid creature. Max, there’s only one possible mug for you.” He grinned and slid the one with the bluish-gray imprint of a donkey on the side. “Eeyore since he’s the voice of doom and gloom as well as a good friend to Pooh Bear.” He grinned at the two remaining mugs as he picked up one and held it out to Isabel. “Rabbit of course because Rabbit is one of the smartest animals… and because Rabbit gets pissed when Tigger tromps all over his garden.” He shot a grin at Michael. “That’s you and this Christmas thing, that’s the garden, in case it wasn’t clear. That just leaves me.” He picked up the last mug and smiled to himself. “Owl… easily the wisest of the woodland critters.”

Max snorted and leaned back against the sink with his arms crossed over his chest. “Owl, huh? If memory serves he couldn’t even spell the word owl.”

Kyle just rolled his eyes and took a sip from his mug. “Think you’ve got your tights in a twist, El Presidente.” He leaned one hip against the table and watched Liz secure the pillows to Michael’s front and then Maria buttoning up the coat over his jiggly ‘belly’.

Isabel ignored them and stared down at the mug Kyle had placed in her hands. She could smell the extra chocolate, see the extra marshmallows piled into the mug and drizzled with chocolate. Her eyes filled at the realization that he had remembered her telling him the way her dad had always made her hot chocolate.

“Say, do you guys have any games? Cards maybe?”

“Don’t you have somethin’ to do?” Michael growled. “Update the stupid planner maybe?”

Kyle pretended to consider that for a moment. “Hmm, no, that’s already done, but thanks for checkin’.”

Michael watched him when he pushed away from the table and wandered around in the kitchen, looking things over.

“Okay, I think we need to see the pants too,” Isabel said as she tapped her thumbnail against her bottom lip.

“Then you’d better look in that bag over there,” Michael said as he shook his head. “I’m not some little doll you can play dress up with.”

Max rubbed his hand over the lower half of his face in an effort to keep from laughing at his friend’s disgruntled expression. He’d already been through the humiliation of his fitting and Michael had been only too happy to mock him. “Sucks, doesn’t it?”

“This whole thing sucks,” he snapped, grabbing the oversized pants and pulling them on over his jeans. He frowned down at himself when the pants came halfway up his calves. “I’m not doin’ this,” he muttered, shoving them down again.

“Stop!” Isabel insisted, motioning for him to pull them back up. She crouched down in front of him and tugged on the hem of the right leg. “Kyle, we’re gonna need more material. I can fix them without it, but we have to make it look like we’re doing this normally.”

“Okay, I think we can swing that,” he said agreeably. “Hey, can I have a cookie?”

Maria looked over her shoulder. “Sure.”

“No.”

She rolled her eyes at Michael’s grumpy response and nodded at Kyle, mouthing a ‘go ahead’ before turning back to the fitting. “Michael, I really don’t think it’s all that bad.”

“I don’t see you dressed up like a fool.”

“Are you calling Snowflake a fool?” she asked with a pout.

He sighed and shook his head. “No. Look, we’ve established that this stupid thing’s too short, so can we get on with this insanity? I had plans for tonight and havin’ all of you crammed in here wasn’t part of it.”

Max shrugged one shoulder when Michael leveled a glare at him. “Don’t look at me. I’m not the one who’s making people dress up.”

“Max, chill out, girlfriend,” Maria said, elbowing him gently. “Dayna said they’re not really tights.”

“Really? Because that’s kinda what they looked and felt like today,” he grumbled.

“She said what you’ll be wearing is more like the coveralls we’ve been wearing outside.”

Max turned his head to glare at Kyle. “What I was tryin’ on today didn’t look anything like any kinda coveralls.”

“Okay, well, maybe they got the wrong costume earlier today.”

“Great, so I was dressed up like a leprechaun for nothing?” His eyes narrowed as he studied Kyle. If that stupid outfit hadn’t been what he was wearing for this Christmas nightmare he just knew Kyle had been behind it.

Isabel was watching the others and she could see that Kyle was minutes away from being on the receiving end of trouble from two irritated hybrids. She sipped her drink, tasting the hot sauce laced into the sweet chocolaty goodness. “Kyle, I think this would be the perfect time for you to take a break. You could use some downtime.”

Kyle froze, his mug halfway to his mouth, lips pursed to take a drink. He lifted his head, mouth slowly closing as he straightened up from his slouch against the table. “Really?” A night off? The cabin all to himself for a while? He chugged the last of his hot chocolate, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and hurried to wash his mug out and place it in the drying rack.

Michael and Max exchanged a look when Kyle buzzed around the cabin, pulling his gear on in record time. Dressed for the cold temperatures he made his way to the door and turned to look at Isabel.

“What time should I come back to walk you over to our place?” he asked.

Isabel shook her head. “I can get Max or Michael to walk me over.” Not that she needed anyone to walk her home, but it would make him feel better.

Kyle watched her for a moment, trying to decide if she would actually have one of the guys walk her over to their place. “Okay, I guess I don’t need to leave the door unlocked or wait up for you?”

She snorted to hide the smile. “No, I’ve got my own key,” she said, holding her hand up. “And it could be a while, so… enjoy your downtime.”

“Why’s he get a night off?” Michael demanded as soon as the door closed behind Kyle. “He updates your planner and screws around with light bulbs… how can he need a night off?” He glared down at Liz when she pulled the thin rope tight to tie it. “Cut it out!”

“Michael, quit being such a bear,” Isabel snapped. “Kyle puts up with your surly personality all day long. The least you could do is give him a break.” She shot a glare at her brother. “That goes for both of you. Would it have killed you to help him with that pen today?”

“Did you know that outfit I was wearin’ today wasn’t that stupid moronic reindeer costume?”

“Reindeer wrangler,” she corrected.

“Whatever!”

Isabel walked around Michael, looking his outfit over as she tapped her bottom lip thoughtfully. “You know, Max, he played a prank on you. So what?”

“A prank that the rest of you were in on him with?”

“Why don’t you just chill out? Yes, Dayna played along with him, but so what? He’s letting off a little bit of steam.”

“At my expense.”

She rolled her eyes. “Alright, fine, he won’t do it again, okay?” She squeezed in between Liz and Maria and poked the pillows filling out the front of Michael’s Santa coat. “Hmm, I don’t know,” she said as she pushed them around, “what do you guys think? Do we need to take the coat in a little bit or maybe just make him… fluffier?”

Michael endured the poking and prodding for all of thirty seconds before he shoved their hands away. “That’s it! I’m not doin’ this. I want everyone out. Now!” One of the large black buttons flew off of the coat when it didn’t give in response to his tugging. He paid no heed to it as it bounced across the floor, jerking the coat off and throwing it on the table.

Maria motioned for the others to give them some space as she reached out and grabbed his hands, stopping his erratic movements as he tried to free himself from the pillows tied to his middle.

“This’s bullshit, Maria! We could come under fire here and how am I supposed to do anything with a bunch of pillows strapped to my body?”

She was watching him, trying to pinpoint what had set off his agitation. He had started to relax and he had spent the day with Maggie, decorating and goofing off. He had played football in the snow with the others. They had come back to the cabin and he had made dinner. She reached out to stop the red velvet jacket when it inched toward the edge of the table, pushing it back to the center to keep it from landing on the floor. Of course, she realized. “Michael.”

His agitation dropped just a notch when she called his name in that voice that commanded his attention. He just didn’t have the words to tell her how much wearing this stupid costume brought back memories that he’d rather not deal with.

“Look, maybe we don’t need to do this tonight, okay?” She stroked her thumbs over the insides of his wrists. “Hey,” she reached up to cup his stubborn jaw, lifting his chin and meeting his gaze, “we’ve had no indication they’re coming. Liz hasn’t had any premonitions…”

“Yeah, and the one she had last time nearly came too late,” he bit out.

“Maybe you and Max should hang out for a while, take a break from things.” She motioned to the television behind him. “You guys could watch a game or something. Go over to their cabin, relax for a while.” She leaned in and brushed her lips against his. “We’ll have our night, okay? Just spend some time with Max and unwind a little bit first.” She winked at him. “You’ll enjoy it more when we’re together.”

He snorted at that, but after a moment he nodded. “Get me outta this thing.” As soon as she smiled and reached around to unknot the rope he looked over at Max. “Hey, Evans, whatcha say we head over to your place and come up with somethin’ to give Valenti a little payback?”

“Crisis averted,” Maria mumbled ten minutes later when the two of them headed outside.

*****

Kyle stood in the center of the living room and turned in a small circle as he looked around, letting the silence seep into his soul. It had been a long day and his muscles ached. The panels for the reindeer pen had been heavy and Eddie had lost his grip on one of them at one point and it had dropped forward and landed against Kyle’s right shoulder. He rolled his shoulder at the memory, wincing at the stiffness he could feel setting in. He hadn’t really thought much about it as the afternoon wore on, but after coming inside and thawing out it had made its presence known.

His gaze landed on the sewing machine taking up most of the breakfast table. He should’ve known when Isabel sent him up to collect the sewing machine that it was gonna be a long day. As soon as Julia had showed the case to him she asked if he needed help with it and he just shook his head and gave her a smile. And he hadn’t needed help with it, but 25 pounds could sure get heavy when carrying an awkwardly shaped piece of machinery down the driveway. It couldn’t be more than an eighth of a mile, something he could run full out without breaking a sweat. But that didn’t account for nearly two feet of snow on the ground or slick, icy patches that seemed to creep up at the most inopportune of times.

He made a face at the sewing machine as he recalled slipping and sliding and nearly dropping it on several occasions. “Hernia in a box,” he muttered, slapping his palm against the case as he bypassed it to walk into the kitchen. Like it was even gonna be used. He browsed through the cabinets, looking around for the bag of potato chips he had bought the other day. He fisted the air when he found them. “Sour cream and onion.” He walked over to the loveseat and flopped down, opening the bag and reaching for the remote at the same time. He muted the television and flipped through the available stations for a few minutes, the quiet crunching of the chips the only sound in the cabin.

His eyes glazed over and he finally dropped the remote and just munched on his chips and stared at the coffee table in front of him. He tipped his head to one side, studying the hinge that he was pretty sure had been crooked just a couple of days ago. Isabel, he decided with a smile. It had probably driven her nuts until she just couldn’t look at it for another minute. He turned the television off and dropped the remote on the cushion beside him as he dropped his head back against the couch.

What a day, he thought. It had been a long one. A good one, but a long one. He smiled at the memory of chasing Maria around and goofing off with her. All the years they had gone to school together and he never would’ve suspected that she would turn out to be one of his best friends. His mind wandered over the day and the impromptu football game that had started when Brian had found the ball in the barn. It made him remember Saturday afternoon games in the backyard when he was a kid. He had been ready to call it a night when the girls had come out of the house though. And Michael and Max thought they were the ones who had it rough? He snorted at that. Let one of them try to keep Isabel happy.

“How do you get yourself into these things?” he asked, his voice loud in the cabin. “Running around hauling sewing machines that’ll never get used, putting pens together for friggin’ reindeer, and playin’ the role of the Christmas Nazi’s secretary.” He shoved another handful of chips in his mouth and wondered what the others were doing. “Doesn’t matter,” he mumbled, spraying chip crumbs over the front of his shirt. He sat up and brushed them away. “You’ve got the place all to yourself and you’re sittin’ here talkin’ to yourself. Get up and take advantage of it, Valenti.”

He nodded to himself and got up to put the chips away, pulling out the little portable radio he had found in one of the cabinets. He plugged it in and turned it on, finding a suitable station and cranking the volume up before going into the bathroom and turning the shower on. An actual hot shower, he mused. He loved Isabel to death, but the girl tended to use up the majority of the hot water and he didn’t terribly enjoy cold showers. He was taking advantage of having a little bit of time to himself.

*****

Max slouched down on one end of the couch, staring at the television without seeing it. The volume was turned up well beyond what was necessary for them to hear the game but he barely heard it. He didn’t care for his assigned job for this Christmas thing. He didn’t want to spend his time around kids, being reminded of what he had lost. It was difficult enough to keep that under control without the constant reminder, but this would put him in constant contact with kids. What kid was gonna just ignore the opportunity to check out a live reindeer? Every day he walked a fine line, trying to balance his emotions over the loss of his son with his feelings for Liz. A lot of that had to do with pushing so much of it to the back of his mind. That was going to be hard to do when those memories were being brought to the surface every time he turned around. His attention was pulled away when Michael suddenly sat forward, energetically gesturing as he yelled at the television.

Michael slapped his thigh when all of his yelling and cursing at the referee did nothing to change his mind about his call. “What a moron,” he muttered, slumping back on the couch. “Can you believe that call?” He rolled his eyes when he glanced at Max and realized he wasn’t paying any attention to the game. “You’re not even watchin’ the game.” His tone was lightly accusing, tempered only because he could see that his friend had something on his mind.

Max shrugged and focused his gaze on the television. “Hockey’s not really my game.” He snorted and motioned to Michael’s face. “Doesn’t really look like it’s your game either.”

“I didn’t do that bad,” he defended himself and turned his eyes back to the game. “Would’ve felt better if I hadn’t slid across the ice on my face at one point, but you live and learn.”

“And that lesson would be…?”

“Always wear a face mask.” He motioned to the screen. “Now see? That right there was a sweet shot.”

Max went back to staring when Michael started arguing with the television as if the players could hear him. His stare was broken when the camera panned past a little girl holding a stuffed animal and he glanced at Michael, thinking over the past few days and how easily he seemed to have adapted to being around the little girl.

“What do you think when you look at Maggie?”

The future, he thought, but didn’t say. “I don’t know,” he grunted, his eyes scanning across the screen as he followed the puck. “No!” he roared when a player on the opposing team took possession of the puck.

The action on the ice was frenzied but it was all lost on Max as his mind wandered back over every time he’d seen Michael with the little girl. He had never imagined seeing his best friend walk around with a stuffed animal tucked in his jacket, making a pinky swear, or sharing Santa secrets with a little girl. He had eased into the role with seemingly little effort and somehow it suited him.

It barely registered when Michael suddenly shot to his feet, fisted hands high in the air as he shouted triumphantly when his team scored. “Hey, Michael, do you ever, ya know, think about having kids with Maria?”

Every sound in the room narrowed down to the last four words to come out of Max’s mouth and Michael slowly turned his head to look at him. “You’re the second person to ask me that tonight,” he said, shaking his head as his arms slowly dropped back to his sides. “What is up with everybody?”

“I’ve been watching you with Maggie. You’ve just got a way with her. You’re so open with her.”

He narrowed his eyes. “Is this about to turn into one of those chick conversations that we both know I don’t like to have?”

Max sighed and dropped his head back against the couch to stare up at the ceiling. “You must’ve thought about it before. Having kids with Maria, what it would be like…”

Michael growled under his breath. He wasn’t interested in having this conversation right now. Time to turn it around. “What’s goin’ on with you, Maxwell?”

“You ever wonder how things would’ve turned out if you’d made a different decision? Taken a different path?”

He turned back to the television. “No.”

Max shrugged, not bothering to call him on what was obviously a lie. “Sometimes… all the time really, I wonder how things would’ve been different if I’d been able to keep Zan. I wonder if making the decision to keep him would’ve meant Liz and I wouldn’t be together now. That whole thing with Tess, I don’t know if we could’ve gotten past that if she’d had to look at him every day.”

And here we go, Michael thought, watching the two teams battle for possession of the puck. He was only listening to Max with half an ear, focusing on the game rather than most of what was being said.

“I don’t know what to do, Michael. I feel like I’m stuck in the middle. I miss my son but I don’t want to hurt Liz.”

Michael sat back and looked over at him. “You know the answer, Maxwell.”

Max’s eyes shot to his friend, confused. “You’ve been spending too much time around Kyle,” he muttered, glaring at him when his gaze went right back to the television. “You wanna share just what you think that answer is?”

“No!” Michael yelled as he jumped up and went off on the players again.

“Michael?”

He turned to look at Max again. “What?”

Max finally reached over and snatched up the remote, viciously stabbing the mute button. Silence fell over the cabin and he ignored the look of irritation on his companion’s face. “This’s serious, Michael.”

He dropped back down onto the couch again, sighing deeply as he rubbed his face with both hands. “Look, all you’ve gotta do is talk to her about it. She’ll understand. She’s Liz and you two have that whole interstellar soulmate connection goin’ for you.” He shook his head. “And while I might not be the expert on relationships, you two aren’t past that whole Tess thing. If you were you could talk to her openly about Zan.”

“Yeah? Well… What do you know anyway?”

Michael shrugged. “My point exactly. Let’s just watch the game and leave the talkin’ to the girls.”

*****

“Well, that went over well, don’tcha think?” Liz asked as she looked at the abandoned Santa suit lying on the table.

Maria just rolled her eyes and snorted. “The night wasn’t supposed to end like this. Michael was doing so well when he was with Maggie.”

Liz chewed on the inside of her cheek. “He’s so good with her.”

A face-splitting grin appeared on Maria’s face. “He is, isn’t he? We actually talked about what our kids would be like one day. Well, he didn’t bring it up or anything. I asked him if he could see us with kids someday. He surprised me when he said he thought he could see that for us one day.”

Liz smiled at her friend. “Oh, Maria, that’s wonderful! I’m so happy for you.”

“Why does that surprise you?” Isabel asked absentmindedly as she straightened the pants to the Santa suit and ran her palm over the material to extend the hemline. “Michael spent his whole life searching for home only to find it right here with you. That man’s home is wherever you are. When we had the chance to leave earth, he’s the one who walked away from it…” she trailed off when she glanced up and saw the look on Maria’s face, realizing that she was unintentionally picking at old wounds.

“And then I turned around and walked away from him,” Maria said quietly. “That’s what you’re thinking, right?”

“What? No!”

Liz chewed on her bottom lip as she glanced up at Isabel. “Did Max… did he hesitate when you guys were getting ready to leave?”

Isabel swallowed hard. This was not a conversation she was prepared to have. “Why would he hesitate at that point? You were pushing him away, pushing him at Tess. He never had any interest in destiny but he was so confused and he had no idea which direction he was going in. And Tess used that to her advantage. Do you really think she didn’t know that his heart wasn’t hers? She knew you were a threat, you would always be a threat, and it escalated her efforts to translate that stupid destiny book.”

Maria got up and held her hands up between Isabel and Liz. “Okay, let’s cool it before one of us says something that can’t be taken back.”

Too late, Isabel thought. “No need to bother.” She quickly folded the Santa suit up and pulled her coat on. “I’m leaving now.” She hadn’t meant to say that, hadn’t known she was even thinking it, but now it was out there and she couldn’t take it back. Why had Liz had to ask that question?

“Isabel, you don’t have to – “

She waved off Maria’s attempt to get her to stay. “No, I need to work on these costumes. I’ll just see you tomorrow.” She made her escape before either of them could say another word.

“You know she didn’t mean it, Liz.”

“Yes, she did. She might not have intended to say it, but she meant it. She blames me for Alex’s death. And if I hadn’t pushed Max at Tess maybe she wouldn’t – “

“No, don’t even say it!”

Liz forced a smile. “Let’s go back to talking about Michael and your future children,” she said, her eyes silently begging Maria to drop it.

Maria sighed and sat down on the bed, patting the mattress next to her. It wasn’t the right time to pursue that subject so she respected Liz’s request. She thought back to his answer and smiled at his response to her comment about their children being beautiful. “It gave me hope, Liz,” she said when her friend sat down beside her.

“For the future?” Liz asked.

“Well, kinda. Hope that one day he’ll be able to trust me like he used to. I know we’re gonna have to really talk to each other about what happened in the past if we’re gonna make this work.” She paused and picked at a loose thread on the quilt before looking up at Liz. “Speaking of talking, I’ve never seen Max get so worked up like he was early about his elf costume. And what is with his attitude towards Kyle?”

Liz just stared at her hands, unwilling and unable to talk about it.

Maria reached over and took her hands. “Listen to me, Chica. I love you and I know you, and Max, well, Max is my girlfriend too,” she said, giving a little laugh as she tried to lighten what she was trying to say. “Liz, you’ve gotta talk to Max about your feelings where Zan’s concerned.”

Liz gave her a knowing look as she nodded reassuringly, although she wasn’t certain which of them she was trying to reassure. “I know, you’re right, and it’s just…” she reached up to brush away an escaping tear, “God, it’s just so hard to put it into words and I don’t want to hurt him. Once I let it out I won’t be able to take it back.” She fought to hold her emotions in. “I can see his loss and I can see how it affects him.” She shook her head. “I just don’t want to make it worse for him.”

Maria pulled her into a tight hug and sighed. “Liz, sweetie, if you two don’t talk soon, it’s only gonna get worse.” Her conscience chose that moment to put its two cents in. And you’d do well to take your own advice.
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KindredKandies
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A Tale of Two Christmases (Mature) - Part-39- 8/14/11

Postby KindredKandies » Sun Aug 14, 2011 10:49 pm

mary mary- Thank you, we're glad that you liked the chapter. It's true our gang has been through way more than their peers. We feel for them and agree with you that they should be sweating out the normal things like college and what parties to attend. Breaking down at the Stevens' just maybe a miracle in disguise for our weary gang..;)


Eva-
The time to talk has arrived for everybody! The care-free settings loosened their stressed mind, making them able to say things they wouldn't have said otherwise.


Yay! Thank you, you so understand where our wounded and weary gang is in this fic. :) It's true talking about their past decisions and losses will be painful but necessary for them to heal and is important in this fic. Breaking down at the Steven's just might be a good thing after all. We'll have to see what happens next when Christmas arrives. ;)



keepsmiling7- I know! Right? We feel for M&M as well. In fact we asked Michael about it and he just leveled a glare at us, lol.

Yup, it's apparent that Max is using the costume to vent his inner turmoil. You're right; M&L have to start talking. The story is beginning to pick up steam and is coming together. We hope you'll stay tuned for more. ;)

We so enjoy writing Michael and Kyle, thank you for the compliment. Yup, finally Kyle actually had some time for himself. We wonder if his alone time was scheduled in Isabel's planner, lol!



Alien_Friend- Yup, the things that they kept under wraps while they were crammed into the van are starting to come to the surface now that some of the stress has been relieved in their more carefree setting. It's going to take some heart to heart talking about their past issues to help them all heal.

Max loves Liz, when she's part of his issue he's cut off from the closest person to him. Max feeling isolated from her in this way adds to his anxiety about his past that has hurt her. He's determined to make Liz happy for the rest of their lives this includes getting his best friend who would rather not deal with the drama to give him advice.

Poor Isabel we weren't really surprised with her feeling responsible for Alex's death. Every guy that she's ever gotten involved with has died. :(

Yes, a lot of the story is beginning to come together and picking up steam. :) We're so glad that we have you intrigued and hope to keep you reading as our gang begins to deal with their past during their first Christmas away from home.

Aww girl, thank you for the awesome compliment!!


Timelord31- Yup, we agree with you. Maybe now since they've had a little time to decompress and be in a more stress free place it will bring on the heart to hearts that they all need to have to heal.;) The story is coming together and picking up steam we hope you'll stay tuned as our gang begins to deal with their pasts at Christmastime away from home.


cjsl8ne- Thank you for the awesome compliment You so get our story! LOL we're so glad you enjoyed Kyle's handling of the mugs you were the only one to mention it. We so enjoy writing Kyle. :D
Here's more.........

Alien_Friend- We missed you too! Thank you for the friendly bump. :)

Our summer has been busy and there is no doubt that it's summer where Angel is. In fact one could say it's more like Dante's Inferno.


Part 39

Isabel walked through the snow, blinking rapidly to clear her blurry vision and wishing she could take the words back. She knew it was too late for that though. She had practically accused Liz of being at fault for Alex’s death.

“She wasn’t you know.”

She paused, taking in a deep breath and turning to look at Alex when he appeared beside her. “I don’t know that. Maybe she wasn’t directly responsible – “

He shook his head, silencing her. “She’s not any more responsible for my death than you are. It happened, and yeah, it sucks, but the responsibility rests solely on one person’s shoulders. That person isn’t you and it isn’t Liz.” He smiled when he recognized the stubborn look on her face. He turned to nod at the cabin ahead of them, his expression thoughtful. “Go talk to Kyle about it; see what he has to say.”

“There’s no reason to bother Kyle with this,” she denied. “Besides, I sent him to the cabin to give him a break from everyone and everything for a little while.”

“Concerned about him?” he asked with a teasing smile.

“He’s my friend; of course I’m concerned about him.” She started walking again and she knew without looking that he was right beside her. “I’m not talking to him about this. It’s not worth bringing up.”

He nodded and smiled. “Okay. I suppose I should leave you alone to handle the noise level in your cabin. Sounds like your roommate’s enjoying his time off.”

“Um-hmm.”

Her response was noncommittal and it made him chuckle. She wasn’t in the mood for the loud music but he had a feeling that would be the least of her concerns once she entered the cabin. “I’m gonna take off. Let you decide whether to talk to Kyle or not.” And she would, he already knew it.

She paused at the door. “You won’t go far.” It was a statement.

“I’ll be around if you need me, Isabel.”

She smiled slightly and ran her hand over the door, reaching for the knob and turning it when she heard the tumbler in the locking mechanism turn. She pushed the door in and winced at the decibel of the music coming out of the small radio. It wasn’t the volume so much as his choice of music. She shut the door and dumped her things on the loveseat before going over to silence the wretched noise assaulting her auditory senses. Blessed silence fell over the cabin as she flipped the power switch and she couldn’t stop the grin when Kyle’s voice carried through the room as he continued to sing. It stopped a moment later and she heard his feet slapping against the floor as he went in search of whatever had stopped the music. She yanked the cord out of the wall and leaned back against the kitchen counter, twirling the cord in a circle as she waited for him, trying not to laugh as he muttered and grumbled about faulty radios and wiring. The smile slipped when he entered her field of vision wearing nothing but a pair of plaid boxers.

Kyle stopped mid-stride when he realized that the radio had stopped working due to hybrid interruption and not a short in the wiring. She arched one perfect eyebrow as her gaze moved over him and he shot a glance down at himself, clearing his throat as he backtracked to grab a pair of jeans and pull them on. Great, what was with his habit of running into blonde hybrids wearing nothing but his underwear? At least Isabel wasn’t the type to snap his waistband, it just wasn’t her style. He closed his eyes and drew in a deep breath as he zipped up, slamming the door on those thoughts. The last thing he wanted to do was open up that train of thought because it had a tendency to run him over.

In the kitchen Isabel was busying herself with getting out of her winter gear and focusing on anything to keep her mind off of that brief encounter with Kyle. It wasn’t the first time they had run into each other that way; six months on the run in close quarters had taken away boundaries that would otherwise be in place. But it was the first time it had happened since they had been alone. The first time she had ever really felt something she had never expected to feel around Kyle. It was just the loneliness, she decided, not looking up when he came back into the room.

“So, you’re back earlier than I expected,” he said, clearing his throat.

She shrugged and pulled the Santa suit jacket out of the bag. “Really wasn’t much reason to stay.”

He watched her for a moment. “What happened?”

“I didn’t say anything happened.” She stared at the threads sticking out at odd angles where Michael had ripped the button off. She sighed and shook her head. “I just don’t have anything in common with them.”

Kyle tipped his head to the side as he watched her. “Isabel…”

“I’m serious, Kyle. We have nothing but being on the run in common.”

“What happened over there?”

“I didn’t say…” she trailed off at his knowing look. “Things got said that just… shouldn’t have been said.”

He nudged her out of the way to get to the coffee pot, busying himself with making coffee. “Uh-huh, what’d you say?” he asked.

“Why do you assume I’m the one who said it?”

“Why’re you avoiding the question?” he countered.

“Talk to him,” Alex insisted.

“No,” she hissed, the sound nearly inaudible.

“I could get him to bring up that little moment earlier,” he warned with a teasing glint in his gray eyes.

Isabel glared at Alex as she gave a sharp shake of her head.

Kyle hid his smile when he heard her mutter under her breath, the words unintelligible. “I know the girls are close and that’s gotta be kinda intimidating, but you can’t just say you don’t have anything in common with them. You have more than just bein’ on the run in common.”

“I managed to remind Maria that she left Michael after he stayed on earth for her and then I accused Liz of being responsible for Alex’s death.”

“Sounds like you had a busy night considering how short it was.” He pulled the package of cookies down and opened it up, shoving one in his mouth before turning to look at her. “Okay, well, it’s unlikely that Maria’s forgotten what she did, but considering how many times he dumped her prior to his decision to stay I think there’s fault on both sides there. And second, the Liz thing… Isabel, you can’t hold her responsible for that.” He shook his head at her. “You can’t hold yourself at fault either.”

“I’m the one who let Tess into our lives in the first place.”

“Yeah, and if memory serves she was using that mindwarp crap on you. For all we know she was usin’ that damn thing from the very beginning.” He set the cookies on the table and poured a couple cups of coffee before carrying them over to the table and sitting down. He motioned for her to join him and he went on without waiting to see if she would. “Isabel, we’ve all made mistakes here. Tess was gonna go after Max no matter what. It didn’t matter whether you were the one who let her in or not. How long did she hang out with you before she went after him? He was her target probably before she and Nacedo ever set foot in Roswell. Remember that box of pictures Liz found in their house? They hadn’t been in town that long and from what Liz said it wasn’t just a few pictures. Remember the camera that was found in Michael’s apartment? They were probably watching him for weeks before we knew about it.”

“I’m not really getting your point,” she said as she sat down across from him.

“Look, she was using that mindwarp on Max not long after meeting him and we know she used it on you and Michael.”

“Me and Michael?”

“That dream you guys had? The pregnancy scare? Think about it, Isabel. You and Michael have always had a brother/sister relationship so why out of nowhere would you suddenly start having dreams like that about each other? Don’t you think it was pretty coincidental that they started not long after she arrived? If they were so important to your so-called destinies then why haven’t you guys had them since then?”

She wondered absently if it was Liz or Maria that had shared that little gem of information because he hadn’t been part of the group when that had happened. “That would mean she was able to dreamwalk and as far as we know that ability was limited to me. How else could she have done that to the both of us at the same time?”

“Okay, so maybe what she did wasn’t dreamwalking, but she had to be manipulating you guys in some way. But she obviously had the ability to manipulate more than one person at once and they didn’t have to be in close proximity for her to do it. Liz told me about Tess making the agents at my house and in town see Pierce at the same time so we know she was damn good at what she could do. Her intention was to drive a wedge between the hybrids and the humans and when that didn’t work she upped the stakes.” He munched on a cookie thoughtfully. “How could Liz have been responsible for Alex’s death?”

“She kept pushing Max at Tess.”

Kyle leaned back, arms crossed over his chest as he considered what she had said. “Yeah,” he said finally, “she did, and I don’t know why she did that. I guess she was doing what she thought was right at the time, but it wasn’t easy for her to do. And she has to live with her actions, but the fact of the matter is Max was more than capable of making his own decisions.” He took a drink of his coffee. “Your brother had a lot on him, I’ll give him that much and I know Liz pushin’ him at Tess just added to that, but it all comes down to his choice to pursue things with Tess. No one made him do that.”

Isabel bit her bottom lip and toyed with the coffee mug in front of her. “You’re right.” Her fingernail traced over a crack in the ceramic. “Tess knew Max would never really be hers though.” She rolled her eyes. “She could’ve never had what they had and she knew that.”

“Okay… so?”

“So maybe that’s why she went after Alex and made him translate that book.”

“Or maybe she would’ve gone after him anyway, Isabel. Alex was by far the smartest in our group when it came to computers. Tess could’ve used that mindwarp on Liz to get her to break up with Max… we’ll never know. But whatever happened, the only person at fault for what happened to Alex is Tess. It took a long time before I could get past the fact that I’m the one who carried his body out to the car. I have no way of knowin’ if he’d still be alive today if I’d been able to resist that damned mindwarp.”

She shook her head. “What Tess did to him – “

“That’s right,” he interrupted, “what Tess did to him. Liz pushed Max at Tess but that doesn’t put her at fault for his death. You’re the one who was nice to her at the beginning when you thought she was just the new girl but that doesn’t put you at fault. I carried his body and put it in the car but that doesn’t put me at fault. She had her chance to be part of our group, she and I were getting closer, and the next thing I know its Prom night and for some reason I’m suddenly feeling resistant about getting close to her. And to top it off, when we’re at Prom I go off on that ass Malamoot for sayin’ somethin’ he had no business sayin’… about my sister! You wanna talk about a mind-fuck.” He shook his head. “She was playin’ all of us and she had the ability to screw with our heads, so what happened to Alex isn’t on us.”

“Told you,” Alex muttered as he leaned over her shoulder.

Kyle looked at her when she waved her right hand through the air. “What? I’m making some very valid points here.”

Isabel frowned at her hand, realizing that she had tried to wave off Alex’s ‘told you so’. “Oh, um, nothing. And yeah, your points are valid.” She made a face at Alex when he walked around the room to stand behind Kyle.

“Why’re you makin’ faces at me now?”

“I’m not.”

He snorted. “I beg to differ.”

“Just thinking that maybe I owe Liz an apology.”

“Maybe?”

She cringed when Kyle and Alex said the same thing at the same time. That’s all she needed was for the two of them to gang up on her. “I’ll think about it. I’m gonna go take a shower and then I think I’ll go to bed.”

Kyle slouched down in his chair and looked at the space around him when he heard the water come on in the shower. “I sure hope you’re doin’ your best to convince her she’s not at fault, Whitman,” he grumbled. “Yeah, I know you’re around here somewhere. I think the least you could do is make yourself visible to me since I’m aware that she talks to you… and I don’t think she’s gone crazy so that means she sees you.” He rolled his eyes and got up to get another cup of coffee when Alex didn’t appear. “That’s cold, Whitman.”

He stared at his reflection in the toaster and he sighed heavily as his conversation with Isabel pried open the door on his memories and one of them slipped out. He rested his elbows on the counter and against his will he was sitting in his kitchen back home with Dad and Amy… and Tess.

“Is that three-cheese potato gratin?” he asked.

Tess smiled and nodded. “With bacon on the bottom. Your favorite.”

He had encouraged Amy to continue with her story as he excused himself to go after Tess, standing next to her and watching Dad smile and laugh. He glanced at her and then nodded at the main dish. “So, you need me to carve that?”

“I got it, thanks,” she said as she held her hand over it and sliced the turkey without ever actually touching it.

“Well, so this… this’s really, uh… this’s really…”


It had been the first time since Mom left when he was little that they’d had a Christmas like that. Kyle squeezed his eyes shut at the memory, angrily swiping away the single tear that had the audacity to escape.

“Stop this, Valenti,” Alex insisted. He hated to see them suffering like this. He hated that Tess had been able to inflict so much damage on all of them. “Put that memory away and focus on something else.”

No, Kyle thought. No, you don’t get that from me, Tess.

Alex watched him, knowing that his conversation with Isabel had dredged up old memories that he’d rather leave buried. He glanced around the cabin, looking for something to distract the man he had become friends with before his death. An unlikely friendship for sure, but it had been a friendship all the same. “Haven’t you ever wondered just what all the hype is about bein’ the guy in the Santa suit?”

Kyle wandered over to the loveseat where Isabel had draped the jacket for the Santa suit and he held it up, staring at it for a moment before slipping it on. He looked down at himself and snorted. “Yeah, there’s no way you could pay me enough to walk around in public in this getup.”

*****

Max took Liz’s hand as they stepped out into the cold night, leaving the warmth of Michael and Maria’s cabin. He had walked back with Michael after the game ended because he didn’t want Liz walking to their cabin alone. She and Maria had been talking when they got there, their expressions serious, and he had felt the hint of tension in the air.

“Michael seemed to be in a better mood,” she spoke up finally.

He shrugged. “He just wasn’t that thrilled about being packed in that Santa suit and then stuffed like a Christmas turkey.”

She laughed quietly at that image. “He did look pretty ridiculous with pillows tied to him so Isabel could make him fat enough to look like Santa.”

Max started laughing at the memory. “I was sure he was gonna burst as soon as she started poking him and wondering if he needed to be fluffier. Somehow Michael and fluffy just don’t go together. Although I think it actually made my fitting seem a little less ridiculous.” He squeezed her hand and cleared his throat. “Um, about my attitude over my costume earlier…” he released her to run his hand over the locking mechanism on their front door, pushing it open so she could enter ahead of him.

“Yeah, Grumpy seems to fit,” she said, finishing his sentence. “Pardon the pun,” she teased.

“I’m pretty sure elves and dwarves are two separate entities,” he said, shooting a glare at her.

“Could’ve fooled me, Grumpy.”

Max stared at her as he leaned back against the closed door, struck once again at just how effortlessly Liz managed to put him at ease when he felt so tongue-tied. As he watched her Michael’s advice started running through his head. “Just talk to her, Max.”

Liz looked at the mantel above the fireplace, thinking how much she wished she could just curl up on the loveseat and lose herself in her journal. At one time that was how she had dealt with her emotions, but now she just couldn’t bring herself to put pen to paper in that manner. She sighed and walked through the cabin to the bathroom, her gaze wandering over the two-person tub and thinking about the way Maria would attempt to soak her problems away. It was worth a shot, she thought, trying to keep her thoughts from drifting back to Isabel’s words.

Max followed her and opened his mouth to say something that was immediately lost at the sight of her undressing in front of him. He watched her pull the soft beige sweater over her head, leaving her in a satin chemise over her black bra. He came up behind her, his hands covering hers when they reached for the hem and stilling her movements. His eyes met hers when she turned at his slight urging and his right hand moved to settle against her neck, his thumb stroking over her cheek.

He pulled her close, his lips brushing against her ear as he spoke. “I loved you from the first time I saw you in that little cupcake dress. I’ve always loved you, Liz. It’s why I couldn’t let you go that day in the Crashdown. I didn’t care what happened to me, Isabel, or Michael that day; all I knew was I couldn’t be without you.”

Liz sighed, exhausted from everything that had happened that day. “Max…”

He hushed her by pressing his thumb against her lips and shaking his head. “Let me get this out, okay? I made a mistake when I followed Tess. I should’ve never let you go on the dance floor on Prom night. I didn’t want to do it… but I did.”

Liz pulled away from him and shook her head. “We weren’t together, Max.”

Max caught her arm before she could move away, pulling her back toward him. “It doesn’t matter whether we were together officially or not, Liz. We’ve always been together and we always will be. What I’m trying so poorly to say here is that I made the wrong choice. Like you said recently, everything’s a choice, and that wasn’t the right one. Matter of fact, so many of them were just…”

Her vision began to blur as his words overwhelmed her. That moment on the dance floor came back to her so clearly that it nearly felt like they were standing there again. “Max, don’t,” she whispered, silencing him. Her own thoughts were riddled with guilt and she wasn’t sure she could deal with his guilt at the same time. She took his hand, pulling him with her as she moved to the tub to start the water.

Max could see the exhaustion in her features, could feel it in her body. He sat on the edge of the tub and pulled her to stand between his knees as his hands went to the hem of the chemise and eased it up and off of her body. “Did somethin’ happen while me and Michael were gone?” he asked, his hands skimming over her sides and raising gooseflesh on her skin.

“Nothing I feel like talking about right now,” she said, running her fingertips over his face.

He nodded, accepting her words at face value and not pushing her to talk. He knew they needed to talk and he knew they needed to do it soon. The past with all of its guilt, mistakes, and regrets was only building up with every passing day and if they didn’t talk about it soon things were only going to get worse between them. “Soon,” he said quietly, leaning forward to kiss her gently. “We’ll talk about it soon.”

She met his gaze and nodded. “Soon,” she agreed, her body settling against his when his arms came around her to hold her tightly. She sighed when his hands moved over her back, smiling against his shoulder when his nimble fingers released the catch on her bra.

He leaned back and turned the faucet off before reaching up to slip the straps from her shoulders, his touch soothing. “Whatcha say we get you into a hot bath and work some of the tension outta those muscles, Mrs. Evans?” he murmured as his eyes traced over the goosebumps on her arms.

She sighed and straightened up, her fingers going to the buttons on his shirt. “Join me?”

He caught her hands when she released the last button, bringing them up to press a kiss to her knuckles. He stood and rid her of the last of her clothes, helping her into the bathtub before stripping out of his own clothes and slipping in behind her. His arms came around her and he pulled her back against his chest, holding her close and pressing soft kisses to her neck. He smiled when her head dropped back to rest on his shoulder and he kissed her temple before sighing contentedly. No, this wasn’t solving anything, but maybe, just maybe acknowledging aloud that they had some problems that needed to be worked out was a place to start.

*****

Michael grabbed the remote and settled into ‘his’ chair, sighing as he slouched down and turned the television on. His thumb punched the + on the channel button repeatedly, his eyes staring at the screen without paying much attention to it. Right back where I started this evening, he thought with a frown. He dropped the remote on the end table, wincing when it made a sharp sound as it connected with the base of the lamp. He toed his socks off and wiggled his toes once they were free from the oppressive confines of the heavy winter socks. He stretched his long legs out and crossed his feet at the ankles, immediately feeling the heat from the flames dancing in the fireplace.

He propped his elbow on the arm of the chair and rested his chin in his hand, absentmindedly running his finger over the marks left behind from his hockey game with the boys. He slouched down further, the overstuffed chair comfortably cradling his body. He dropped his head back to rest against the chair as he picked the remote up again, idly turning it over and over. He let his head roll to one side to catch a glimpse of Maggie’s picture for Santa, proudly displayed on the door of the little refrigerator.

He released a small snort at the memory of decorating the yard earlier with Maggie and Miss Cindy Bear. He rolled his eyes at that. The stupid thing had gone from being nothing more than a stuffed toy to having a name that he actually remembered. He thought back to that moment when they had been walking back to the cabin and Maria had been teasing him about his day with Maggie. Their connection had felt strong, as if it had never been severed by her in the past, and he had wanted her.

They had gone back to the cabin, he had made dinner, and she had handled the kitchen afterwards while he had kicked back in front of the television for a bit. When she had finished she had joined him, squeezing into the chair beside him instead of taking the other chair. The tone for the night had been set; they had both been relaxed and taking their cues from each other. For a moment he had experienced the feeling of the two of them together in their own home. It was a dangerous place to let his thoughts go but in spite of knowing that he had done nothing to quell them. He tapped the remote against the arm of the chair as he frowned at the memory of the knock that had disrupted everything.

Leave it to Valenti the Merry Assistant to the Christmas Nazi to mess it up, he grumbled internally. He could feel that familiar tightening in his chest at the memory of that last Christmas without her. That stupid fat elf suit had just ruined everything. Putting it on had flipped some invisible switch inside of him, throwing last Christmas into focus and ruining his good mood. All he had been able to see was him wearing one just like it in an attempt to get closer to Maria. The old pain began to take a grip on his chest as he tried to avoid that last Christmas without her. He had been at the end of his rope. He had even stooped so low as to beg Isabel to let him be Santa just so he could be next to Maria. And what had happened? Oh, yeah, that’s right, she turned you down and offered you hot chocolate and company on the cold front porch. And while it wasn’t nearly enough, he had grabbed onto whatever she had been willing to give him. She was that essential to his existence.

Against his will his thoughts went to Billy and he had to force his grip to relax when he heard the creak of protest emitted by the remote. He sighed as he remembered all of the times he had broken up with her. He could call it whatever he wanted: walking away to keep her safe, walking away because he loved her too much, walking away because he had to discover where he was from, or walking away because he was a soldier and he had a job to do. No matter the reason, it all boiled down to walking away and leaving her behind. Unbidden, the memory of Maria’s expression the night she had caught him with Courtney came to mind, making him wince. Uh-uh, not going there. He shoved those thoughts as far down as he could, not willing to open up that particular can of worms.

His thumb stroked over the remote for a moment and he started pressing the + button, forcing his mind to focus on what he was seeing on the screen. He stopped on a local channel where the weatherperson was rattling off the forecast of more snow. “Yeah, there’s a shock,” he muttered. He frowned when the news went to a commercial break and for just a moment the screen went black… and he could see a reflection of that damned Santa suit lying on the breakfast table. He just didn’t have the words to tell her how much wearing that stupid costume brought back memories he’d rather not deal with.

He turned his head when the sound of water lapping against the edges of the tub caught his attention. His fingers moved to the scrapes on his face as he recalled Maria’s earlier words to him.

“Look, maybe we don’t need to do this tonight, okay?” She stroked her thumbs over the insides of his wrists. “Hey,” she reached up to cup his stubborn jaw, lifting his chin and meeting his gaze, “we’ve had no indication they’re coming. Liz hasn’t had any premonitions…”

She had calmed him without calling him out on his outburst. She knew what was really bothering him. He could see it. She had given him an out and let it go with a few words and a kiss. His body had reacted to the feel of her lips against his. He closed his eyes as he remembered her words.

“We’ll have our night, okay?

He smirked at the thought of her sending him to hang out with Max. He made a face when the pad of his thumb caught on one of the scratches on his face. Instead of watching the game Max had decided to talk. And not just any talk, no, they had to have one of those talks. The kind that was a hell of a lot more suited to chicks.

“What do you think when you look at Maggie?”

And his silent answer.

The future. And it was true. Maria would always be his future and while he wasn’t the kind of guy who just put his thoughts and feelings out on display, he wanted a family with her. He muted the television and closed his eyes, focusing his senses on her. The heat emanating from the fireplace was hot, making his skin itch and making him uncomfortable. As the minutes slowly ticked by he could feel the familiar pull of awareness, the need to be near her. The need to be with her. He switched the television off and stood up, shooting a quick glance at the front door and making sure the chair he had wedged up under the knob as soon as he had gotten back was still in place.

*****

Maria could feel him standing there before she turned her head and looked up to see him. He was in the doorway, his body taking up the frame and his presence seeming to fill up the room. His big hands were hanging at his sides, half-clenched as his hungry gaze locked on her. He was bare from the waist up and she felt a rush of desire as her eyes moved over him. She saw the flash of recognition when their eyes met and he was on the move as soon as his name escaped her lips.

She rose to meet him and his eyes never left her as he snatched up a towel, his long strides quickly eating up the distance between them. She reached for him as he wrapped the towel around her and he lifted her over the rim of the tub. She took pleasure in the feel of his warm naked chest against her wet skin and there was something primitive about the smoky scent of the fireplace clinging to his long hair.

Her legs locked around him and their mouths fused together as he backed out of the bathroom, one hand out in front of him to guide him. He made his way over to fireplace, stripping the towel from her and spreading it out on the floor before laying her down. She fumbled for the button at the top of his jeans, popping it open and slipping her hand inside to explore the heated skin along the inside of his hip.

He groaned into her mouth and grabbed her wrist to stop her from doing him in. He laced his fingers through hers and raised their joined hands over her head as he continued to kiss her. His mouth left hers, moving down so his tongue could play in the hollow of her throat while he inhaled her scent. He was panting as he pulled back and his dark eyes pierced hers as he stared at her for several long moments.

He rolled to the side to remove his jeans and boxers, his hand searching the front pocket of his hastily discarded jeans for the little foil packet. He looked up when Maria came up on her elbow and reached out to take it from him. Her body brushed against his teasingly as she kissed him slowly.

“Mmm, dinner, and now this.”

He cocked his head to one side, his expression quizzical as he took in the sparkling smile that lit up her eyes. “What?” he asked clueless as to what she was talking about.

Maria started to squirm under his heated gaze. “Michael…”

He took possession of the packet again, taking her hand in his and gently rolling her onto her back. “Maria.” He settled over her, her body lovingly cradling his as he started to kiss her again, starting with her mouth and moving to her collarbone before reaching his destination. His lips brushed the flushed skin of her breast above his stroking thumb and he smiled at her hiss of indrawn breath. He retraced his path, his mouth meeting hers in a long, slow kiss that had her writhing beneath him.

“Michael, please.”

He rose up on his forearms, their hands locked together as he surged into her. The last shreds of his patience snapped in response to her urgent plea. They fell into their rhythm and for just a moment he closed his eyes and he could see them on the floor of the Crashdown. The heat from the fireplace reminded him of another hot night when he had first gone to her. He had been drawn to her in such an elemental way; want and need had collided within him that night and now it paralleled with this moment, the feelings and desires driving every stroke.

One of his hands broke free from hers to slip down between them as he thrust hard and fast. He felt her hand slide around his neck to tangle in his hair as he threw his head back, muscles corded in response to her calling for him. With one last deep thrust he was cresting on the wave with her and then he was safely caught in her arms after his release. He rolled over, taking her with him so she was draped over him as they drew in deep gasping breaths. He watched her in the firelight as his breathing started to even out.

Maria turned her sated green eyes on him and smiled. “That’s the best time I’ve ever had getting out of the tub.”

He snorted at that. “Anytime.” His left hand patted the floor next to them, finding the damp towel and dragging it closer so he could use it to help her clean up. He nuzzled her with his nose and gave her a long slow kiss before leaning back to look at her. “C’mon, let’s get you into bed.” He helped her up and they took the few steps over to the bed.

Maria smiled at the thought that it felt like their bed as he pulled the covers back for her to slide in before following her. He settled in beside her and it wasn’t long before he was asleep, barely making a sound. Her eyes wandered over the fireplace in the center of the cabin, her gaze tracing over the painting that hung above the mantle. As a child she had stared at a similar painting and desperately wished for her dad to come back so they could be a family again but it had never happened. As an adult she was looking at a different painting and feeling hopeful that maybe she hadn’t blown her chance to be Michael’s home. She smiled as she snuggled in against his side and closed her eyes, letting sleep claim her.
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KindredKandies
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A Tale of Two Christmases (Mature) - Part-40- 8/25/11

Postby KindredKandies » Thu Aug 25, 2011 8:46 pm

cjsl8ne- Thank you! And we so love Kyle he's a good and caring friend to Isabel and to the gang.

It's a shame that what helped Isabel put a stop to Max starting the long overdue talk with Liz. I sure don't blame Liz for not being up to it at that point in time.


So true just like in real life timing is everything...No worries, Max and Liz will have their moment together when the time comes. ;)

Aww, thank you we're glad you liked M&M's alone time together.

Hurry back soon with some more cooling winter time goodness! Shoo! It's been a hot summer where I live. Snow sounds so good right now.


Oh yeah what a hot summer! Here's more of our fic in the snow. Enjoy. ;)


mary mary- Yup our couples are starting to deal with their relationships.:)
We're glad that you're looking forward to more. We're doing our best to send the ud's as soon as we get them from the gang, lol. Here's more...:D



keepsmiling7- Lol, We love Kyle! He doesn't have the emotional baggage that some of the other's have with each other and is able to look at things in a more objective way. He has another thing going for him with Isabel, he's been her confidant after Alex's death not Jessie.

Thank you, we couldn't resist making a reference to Kyle's past run in with a hybrid in his underwear, lol.

We know that waiting for Max and Liz to talk about their problems can be frustrating but it looks like Max has got the ball rolling in the right direction. No worries it's coming, but timing is everything for those two.

Aww, thank you for the compliment. :)


Natalie36- We're so glad that you're enjoying the fic. Thank you for the compliment. :)


sarammlover-

OMG...that was SOOOOOO hot! LOVED IT!


Thank you for the awesome review!

I love that Kyle knows Isabel talks to Alex. He knows Isabel better than anyone else. I love that bout him.


We do too! We enjoy writing them together with Alex.:)

Yup Liz and Max really need to talk. We think that now that Max has the ball rolling that they're definitely on their way. But y'know for Liz and Max timing is everything.;)
.
Michael and Maria...HOT HOT HOT!!! Great updat.e


Ah thank you!!! M&M''s last scene took us sometime to put together. We're so happy that you enjoyed it. Your reaction put a big o'll grin on our faces. :D



Alien_Friend-
Awww I hope they have that future. It's so good to have you two update.


Aww , thank you for the sweet compliment. ;)

Lol, no worries Angel is busy writing about winter to keep sane, lol.

We're so glad that Max was the one to start talking about him and Liz's problems as well. It can only help get them there to a place to really talk.

I like that Alex is really around. That was pretty cool. He cares about all of them.


Yup, Alex is a great guy and cares for all of them. We love Alex and Kyle they both understand Isabel so well.

Oh thank you so much for the wonderful compliment. We hope you can snuggle up next to this ud as well. :D





Part 40

Maria studied Michael’s sleeping features in the early morning light. He was relaxed and for once he had slept through the night. It was rare for him to stay down after going to bed. He usually got up multiple times throughout the night to check the windows and door, and on a couple of occasions she knew he had left the cabin to prowl around the perimeter. She shifted closer, draping herself over him and stacking her hands on his chest. She rested her chin on them and let her eyes lazily map his expression as he started to wake.

Her breathing had fallen in sync with his and she held her breath when she recognized the telltale signs of him mentally waking his slumbering senses. She smiled at the frown that pulled his eyebrows down as he focused all of his senses on his surroundings. His features became mobile as one by one he ticked off his mental checklist and determined that nothing was amiss. He stretched his arms high above his head, his expression nearly a grimace as his muscles protested the movement.

His arms came down, pushing the blanket out of the way to slide around her warm body. “Hey,” he rasped as his eyes opened to meet her amused gaze.

“Hey,” she said softly.

His sleepy gaze traveled over her face, enjoying the feeling of pride that rolled through him at her satisfied expression. “That was some bath, huh?”

She laughed into his chest in response. “And now I need a shower.”

“There’s room for two in – “

A knock at the door interrupted him and he expelled a harsh breath as he fought the urge to curse. He shot an annoyed glance at the alarm clock on the nightstand. 8:45am. His gaze went back to the door when the knock sounded again, patient and unhurried.

Maria lifted herself up to kiss him, making sure her naked body brushed against his chest. She pulled away when he groaned quietly, her hands cradling his face as she smiled at him. “Shush. It’s probably just Liz.”

“Then she can wait,” he said as he rolled them over to pin her beneath him.

“We’re not leaving her standing on our front step, Michael. It’s cold out there!”

“Yeah, but it’s warmin’ up in here,” he said with a teasing nudge.

“Down, boy,” she said with a laugh and pushed against his chest. “Lemme have your shirt.”

Michael growled but let her wiggle out from under him. “It’s in my chair,” he grumbled and flopped over on his back. His eyes followed her as she crossed the room and leaned over the back of the chair to snatch up his shirt and pull it on. “Why are there always people at the door?” He groaned when she turned to face him, slowly buttoning the oversized shirt.

“Is red plaid flannel a good look for me or what?” she asked as she started to move to the door.

The shirt was long on her but it still showed off a nice length of leg. “Works for me.” He got up and pulled on a pair of jeans and a tee shirt, intercepting her before she could get to the door. He used the side of his foot to kick the chair out from under the doorknob and caught the back of it before it could tip over.

“Michael, I’ll get it,” Maria said as she reached around him for the door.

He slapped her hand away as it made contact with the knob. “That’s not the way it works,” he said with a glare at her. “To make sure you stay safe, I answer the door.”

She shook her head in exasperation. “It’s just Liz.”

Michael held his hand up as he shot a look at her, refusing to budge until she moved back away from the door. He yanked the door open and his eyebrows lifted when he saw Isabel standing there, exercising an unusual amount of patience and calm considering how long they had left her out in the cold. He made a show of leaning to the side to look around her. “I don’t see your shadow.”

Maria snorted. “Worried that means six more weeks of winter?”

He glared at her. “Not funny.”

She just laughed and shook her head at him. “Kyle may be short, but he’s not furry.”

“How would you know?”

She rolled her eyes at him. “Maybe we should just ask Isabel why she’s here,” she suggested.

“Maybe she came to get the rest of that stupid suit. I don’t know why she took the coat and left the pants anyway.”

Maria poked him and gave him a warning look that told him to drop it.

Isabel was biting her tongue in an effort to avoid saying something scathing. For nearly 10 minutes she had been standing outside in the cold, and the last couple she had been listening as they debated over who should answer the door and now they were discussing… nonsense. Her sharp gaze moved from Michael to Maria, one perfect eyebrow arching at their appearance. “Looks like you two had a good night,” she said and instantly regretted it when the two of them exchanged a smirk. “I just knew this wasn’t gonna be easy,” she mumbled. “May I come in please? I’d like to talk to Maria.”

Michael looked between the two of them, picking up on the underlying tension and wondering what was going on. He knew the night before when he had gotten back the girls had been talking quietly and Isabel had been mysteriously absent but Maria hadn’t offered up an explanation. He was pulled out of his musings when a burst of cold air pushed through the open door and Maria danced backwards to use him as a windbreak. He pushed the door closed and glanced between the girls again. One of them was going to start talking at any minute, he was sure of it. And once that happened he was at risk of being dragged into whatever female topic was on the menu.

Maria grinned when she saw the look of discomfort on his face. He was trying to find an escape before he could be faced with whatever female crisis was looming on the horizon. Sometimes he was easier to read than the proverbial book. “Michael,” she said, giving him a smile, “would you be a dear and make some coffee for us?”

He grunted and gave her a short nod. “Just coffee, she’s not stayin’ long.”

“I love you too, Michael,” Isabel said as she watched him retreat to the little kitchen. Even though he would rather do just about anything other than be involved in a ‘girl talk’ she knew he would be listening in, trying to figure out what was going on. “Um, Maria, last night I said some things,” she started, her voice low.

“C’mon, let’s go to the bathroom, it has a door.”

Isabel looked around the small room, trying to determine if it was larger than the one she was sharing with Kyle. Her eyes fell on the bathtub and she nodded to herself. It was larger. She shook herself out of her thoughts and turned to sit on the rim of the tub. “Okay, last night…” she trailed off when Maria stopped her by holding her index finger to her lips in a bid for silence. She frowned when the other girl moved to the door and leaned into it, pressing her ear to it for a moment before moving around her to get to the faucet in the bathtub. She turned to watch as Maria turned the water on before shifting back to lean against the sink.

“So, go ahead.”

“Right.” She nodded. “Maria, I said some things last night…”

Maria stopped her again, this time with a shake of her head. “I kick myself every single day for leaving Michael, so I understand where you were coming from with that. But what you said to Liz… that was just…”

“Just get it out.”

Isabel glanced to the side, looking at Alex when he spoke up. He was perched on the tank at the back of the toilet, elbows resting on his knees as he watched them. “It was inexcusable.”

“Before all of this happened, me, Liz, and Alex, we were like the three musketeers. We were like that from early on in grade school, Isabel. We loved Alex and losing him…” Her throat closed up and she had to swallow hard. “We still love him and we’re always gonna miss him.”

The tall blonde sniffed as tears began to well up in her eyes and she nodded. “I miss him too.” She leaned forward to grab a tissue from the small decorative box on the edge of the sink. “I’m sorry.”

Maria could see the pain in Isabel’s eyes and she straightened up. “It wasn’t your fault either, Isabel.” No, it was that bitch Tess’s fault, she thought. She navigated around those thoughts and changed the subject, as much for Isabel as for her. “So, Kyle said something last night about coffee and donuts this morning.”

Isabel smiled when Maria moved the conversation to a subject free of landmines. “Yeah, they’re gonna have it set up over in Mr. Tony’s barn.” She watched as the other girl moved to the door, once again pressing her ear to it and nodding to herself. She reached behind herself when Maria motioned for her to turn the faucet off. As the water stopped rushing through the faucet Maria turned the knob and jerked the door open.

Michael stood on the other side, obviously caught in the act of eavesdropping though he tried to cover by pointing at the counter where two steaming mugs of coffee sat waiting. “Coffee’s ready.”

She rolled her eyes and followed Maria out of the bathroom. Did he really think anyone was falling for that?

*****

Kyle rolled over after the door closed behind Isabel, punching his pillow in frustration and rubbing his gritty eyes. He hadn’t slept well, waking repeatedly throughout the night. He should have slept like a rock after the work he had done the day before but his night hadn’t been restful at all. The only thing he could think of that could be responsible for his lack of sleep was the unexpected underwear encounter the night before.

He snorted out a laugh. “Unexpected underwear encounter,” he muttered under his breath. Okay, it wasn’t exactly news that he was attracted to Isabel. Well, he amended silently, it might be news to her. Had he imagined her giving him the once over last night? “Pull it together, Valenti,” he snapped and rolled to his feet. “Don’t start goin’ down that road again.”

He hefted the mattress back onto the bunk and grabbed a change of clothes before heading into the bathroom for a shower. He stepped under the spray, gritting his teeth against the frigid water. “Well, that’s one of the negatives of living with Isabel.” He took a shower in record time and jumped out, drying off and getting dressed before heading back out into the main room. He felt a little better as he wandered over to the counter to snag a cup of coffee since Isabel had been kind enough to make it before taking off.

He reached for the piece of paper propped up next to the mugs sitting on the counter, smiling at the note scrawled there. She had gone to see Maria and then she’d be making her way to see Liz to apologize for what was said the night before. “Where else would you go?” he asked with a fond smile.

*****

Liz was reaching for her rings where they lay on the back of the sink when someone knocked on the door. She turned her head to glance over her shoulder when Max stepped out of the bathroom, toothbrush clamped between his teeth.

“Got it,” he mumbled as he made his way over to the door.

His gait was unhurried and she leaned back against the counter just to watch him. She was surprised to see the person on the other side of the door, expecting anyone but her sister-in-law to be standing there. She hid a smirk when he crowded his sister in the doorway as he looked around for Kyle. Isabel’s expression was clearly annoyed at the holdup and after a moment she shoved him backwards.

“Do you mind? It’s a little bit breezy out here this morning.”

“You’re tellin’ me,” he said agreeably, holding his right arm up to show off the gooseflesh that prickled his skin below the sleeve of his tee shirt. “Where’s your shadow?” His hands shot up at her glare. “Just askin’. Don’t really see one of you without the other anymore.”

She drew herself up to her full height. “Make yourself scarce, little brother.”

He held his toothbrush up. “Well, I’m kinda in the middle of…” He turned to follow her stare and for a moment his gaze bounced between his wife and his sister. He relented when Liz nodded. “Okay, I guess I can go over and talk to Michael for a – “

“I wouldn’t recommend it,” she interrupted. “Not unless you intend to stand outside and freeze to death.”

“I don’t…” His expression was comical as the meaning behind her words sank in. “Oh.”

“You can go over to my cabin if you’d like. Just don’t wake Kyle if he’s still sleeping.”

“No one cares if I’m sleeping.” He slunk away at her scathing look, gathering his clothes and slipping them on. He continued to grumble but he kept his ramblings quiet. “Don’t do anything to offend the Christmas Nazi’s secretary,” he muttered under his breath.

“Are you finished talking to yourself?” Isabel asked after several minutes of watching him.

“Does it matter?” he shot back.

“Not really, no.” She waved an imperious hand at him, smiling in satisfaction when he shoved his feet into his boots and grabbed his coat.

Max crossed the room to stand before Liz, his expression questioning as he searched her features. He knew something had happened between the girls the night before and his sister’s early morning appearance solidified in his mind that it was serious. His hands came up to cradle her cheeks, lifting her gaze to meet his. “I don’t know what’s going on but whatever it is, you don’t have to deal with her alone if you don’t want to.”

She smiled at him and shook her head. “I’m fine, Max. It’s between me and Isabel. There’s no need for you to be involved in this.”

He bit the inside of his cheek to keep from saying that he’d rather be in the middle of whatever was going on between them than spending time with Kyle. “Alright, I’ll go find something to occupy myself with until you two are finished.”

“Sometime today would be nice, people,” Isabel growled. “We have a project that’s waiting for us, so the sooner we get this over with the sooner we can get to work.”

“Oh, well, there’s all the incentive I needed to get moving,” Max mumbled, smiling when it brought a smile to his wife’s lips. “Feel free to take your time since she’s gonna do her best to kill me with this whole Christmas thing,” he whispered as he leaned in for a kiss.

Isabel rolled her eyes when the two of them finally broke apart and Max took his time sauntering to the front door. “Keep it up, Max. You’re only digging that hole deeper.”

He just snorted. “Yeah, like it can get any worse than it already is.” He hurried to pull the door open and make his disappearance when she just smiled in that way that told him yes, it could get worse.

Silence fell over the cabin once Max was gone. Isabel was suddenly at a loss for words as she and Liz stared at each other. After a couple of minutes of the deafening silence Liz glanced down at her hands, her fingers fiddling with her wedding rings. Somehow Maria was a lot more approachable than her sister-in-law, she thought.

“There’s really not much you could say to make me feel any more responsible for Alex’s death than I already do, Isabel.”

She shook her head. “Liz, I didn’t mean to say that last night.”

“You may not have meant to say it, but you meant it all the same.”

Isabel bit her lip as she paced around the main room, her gaze seeking out Alex and finding him sitting in the rocking chair.

“Just be honest with her.”

She nodded and took a deep breath. “Okay, yes, at that moment I honestly meant it. But I didn’t know I had been thinking it. I must’ve had it buried down so deeply in my subconscious because rationally I know you’re not responsible for his death. We could throw blame around for the rest of our lives and the fact of the matter is we’d only be hurting each other because the fault doesn’t rest on your shoulders.”

Liz watched Isabel, carefully studying her gestures and breaking down what she was saying. “It doesn’t rest on yours either,” she said after a few moments. “For all we know, you could be right about what you said last night. Logically, it makes sense. Tess knew Max would never really be hers. She might’ve had him physically,” she swallowed hard, feeling ill all of the sudden, “but she knew that his heart, the part of him that mattered most, she would never have that part of him. Not while he and I were still on the same planet.”

Isabel shook her head and gave her a small smile. “It wouldn’t matter if you guys were separated by miles or light years, Liz. Tess never would’ve had that part of him. Max was a goner from the first time he ever saw you and she didn’t have to connect with him to know that.” She caught the look on Liz’s face and she found herself backpedaling. “If she even connected with him in the first place. For all we know that was just a product of her ability to get into people’s heads. Whatever it was, it wasn’t strong enough to break his connection to you.”

She smiled faintly at Isabel’s attempt to smooth things over.

“I’m sorry about what I said, Liz.” She shrugged. “I suck at apologies and to be honest, in the past most of the time, it’s been a matter of formality rather than genuine regret for anything I said or did. But I am sorry because I know Alex didn’t die because of what you did.”

“I’ve gone over everything, trying to pinpoint what I could’ve done differently and the only thing that fits is what you suggested.” She sighed and shook her head. “Maybe it was the thing that pushed her into doing what she did to Alex. I don’t guess we’ll ever know for sure. What I do know is that Alex wouldn’t want us to waste time blaming ourselves or each other for something that we can’t change.”

“If it weren’t for you Max and I would probably be dead right now, Zan would be in Khivar’s hands, and we never would’ve known the truth about Alex’s death.” She sighed. “I talked to Kyle when I got home last night and he says there’s only one person to blame for Alex’s death… and it’s not either one of us.”

“Tess,” Liz said and nodded. “He’s right.” She chuckled and shook her head. “I’m not sure we need to let him know that.”

Alex snorted at that, drawing Isabel’s gaze. “He already knows.”

Isabel smiled to herself. “Yeah, well, he already knows.”

*****

Kyle shoved his hands deeper into the pockets of his coat as he walked up the driveway to the barn where everyone else was already gathered. Isabel had been champing at the bit to get the day started when she had come back to the cabin earlier but she hadn’t pushed for him to get ready, telling him that she would see him when he got there. He had agreed when Max and Liz had stopped by to walk over to Mr. Tony’s with her. Max had looked suspiciously frozen but he had refrained from making a comment. Instead, he had watched them go and then he had taken his time, downing another cup of coffee and watching some old sitcom on TV before shutting it off and getting into his winter gear.

He pushed the door and slipped inside the warmer interior of the barn, turning to shove it closed on the cold wind blowing against his back. He glanced over at the makeshift tables that held the large coffee pot and several trays of fresh donuts. The Stevens’ kids were gathered around one of them, munching on donuts and talking. They fell silent for a few seconds, glancing up at his arrival, and greeting him before going back to their breakfast.

“Mornin’,” he called out with a nod at them. He pulled his hands out of his pockets and rubbed them together in anticipation as he headed for the table. “Oh, yeah, Kyle needs the sugar rush this mornin’.” Maybe it would do something about the headache he hadn’t been able to shake.

Maggie started up a running commentary about how Mr. Tony’s good friend Dayna and Mama had gotten up early and helped bake donuts at the bakery in East Tawas. He was only listening with half an ear as he wandered around the table, his eyes feasting on the bounty laid out before him.

“Oooh, Bavarian cream with chocolate frosting. You are sooo mine,” he said as he leaned over the table to reach for the tray in the center.

“Kyle!”

His hand froze just above the desired donut and he turned his head slightly to glance at Isabel.

“What are you doing?”

“Oh, boy,” he muttered under his breath. Isabel had been replaced by her alter ego, the Christmas Nazi. That crazed gleam had entered her eyes once more and he knew it was going to be a long day. He smiled past the headache that wouldn’t let up, doing his best to ignore the spike being drilled between his eyes. “Breakfast,” he said as he snatched up the donut before someone else could swipe it. “Kyle never skips breakfast.”

She let that go, running full steam ahead with her news as she shot the telltale manic smile at him. “The reindeer will be here any minute.” She pointed over to the hay bales stacked up against the far wall. “They have to have food in their pen.”

His eyes scanned the barn for Max or Michael, both of whom were mysteriously absent. He started to ask where the latter was but knew from experience that he would just be asking for a rant so he let it go. “Where’s the wrangler?”

“Dayna needed to make a few alterations to his costume.” She arched an eyebrow as her gaze dropped to the donut in his hand. “Kyle, the reindeer…”

He took a bite of the donut and chewed on it for a moment before nodding. “Relax, I’ve got it.” He leaned over and snagged another donut that he held out to her.

Isabel made a face at the cake donut, covered liberally with purple and pink sprinkles.

“C’mon,” he cajoled, “it’s a Princess donut…” He waved it back and forth in front of her. “Just for you…”

“Really?” Maggie’s ears perked up at that. “There’s Princess donuts?”

“Um-hmm, there really are,” Kyle said with a grin. He knew that Isabel wouldn’t be able to turn it down now.

Isabel picked at the donut, pulling a small piece off and studying it. “Kyle, I’ve been rethinking your costume for Christmas on the Lake.”

“I don’t have a costume,” he said with a shake of his head as he reached over to fill a cup with coffee.

“I know.” She popped the bite in her mouth and chewed it. “That’s the part I’ve been rethinking.”

He snorted and took a drink of his coffee. “Keep thinkin’.”

Maggie looked down at what was left of her own donut and frowned. It was decorated with plain old red and green sprinkles. Somehow it wasn’t as appealing as it had been a few minutes earlier. She grabbed Cindy and slid down off of her chair to go over to stand next to Isabel. “Cindy thinks you’re a pretty princess,” she said as she tucked the beloved toy up under her chin and looked up at Isabel. “I’m a princess too. Michael calls me Princess Maggie.”

Michael, the absent hybrid. “Yes, he does.” Isabel glanced around the barn, looking for him and still not seeing him.

Kyle shot a quick look at Maggie, feeling an oh, crap moment settle over him when he caught her gaze locked on the Princess donut. He nodded when he located one more of the special donuts tucked into the center of a bunch of other sprinkle-covered donuts. “Hey, look at that, there’s a Princess donut for each of you.”

Isabel smirked as she retrieved the special donut and offered it to Maggie with a wink.

“What do we say?” Edward asked as he approached the table.

Maggie looked up and smiled at him before turning to Isabel. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

Edward grabbed a donut and wolfed down half of it while fixing himself a cup of coffee. “I think I’ve worked harder than I normally do this time of year.” He nodded at Isabel. “You really do know how to pull things together. You and Dayna make quite the team.” He shook his head. “I didn’t think it was possible for anyone else to be so…”

Julia rolled her eyes when Edward stuck his foot in his mouth. “I know how that sounded, but he meant it as a compliment.”

He just shoved a donut in his mouth and shrugged, hiding the fact that he was grateful for his wife’s interruption.

“Seems to me putting the hay out for the reindeer falls under the duties of the reindeer wrangler,” Kyle said as he reached for another donut.

“Nice try,” Isabel said with a shake of her head, “but Max is busy right now and those reindeer have to be fed.”

Kyle’s gaze was locked on the hay stacked against the wall, wondering just how high it was when the door was pushed open and Brian ran inside. The teenager slowed his steps when he realized he had an audience.

“So, the Millers just pulled in the driveway with the reindeer.” He moved to stand next to Kyle, following his gaze. “You want some help?”

“Yeah, sure,” he answered with a shrug. He was downing the last of his coffee when he saw Michael and Maria come through the door. He just shook his head and grinned when he felt Isabel stand up straighter next to him as her sharp gaze zeroed in on the couple.

Her eyes narrowed slightly as she took in their appearance. Michael’s swagger was relaxed and the tips of his shaggy hair were damp. Beside him Maria’s gait was unhurried and her hair looked like… She made a face as she stopped her thoughts in their tracks. “What took the two of you so long?”

Michael ignored her as his eyes scanned over the selection of donuts spread out on the table. His stomach rumbled in a not so subtle reminder that he had foregone breakfast to pursue other needs.

Maria was doing her best not to laugh at the look on his face as he eyes the variety of donuts laid out before him. The proverbial starving man at a buffet, she thought with a satisfied smirk.

“Good morning, Maria,” Maggie greeted as she ran up to them.

“Hi, Maggie.” The little girl was already focused on Michael before the words had even finished leaving her mouth so she left the two of them to grab a cup of coffee and something to eat. She altered her course and grabbed Isabel’s hand, pulling her away from the others. “Hey, we were kinda rushed for time.” She motioned to her hair. “Think you could help me out?”

Isabel huffed indignantly. “I am not your personal hairdresser,” she muttered. Her eyes traced over Maria’s hair and after a moment she just sighed. “Fine, but only because you can’t walk around all day looking like this,” she said and dragged Maria off where they wouldn’t be disturbed for a couple of minutes.

“Look, Michael,” Maggie said as she held up her royal donut, “me an’ Cindy have a Princess donut.” She studied the donut for a moment before continuing. “Did you know Isabel’s really a princess too?”

He snorted at that, smiling at her as he dropped to his haunches to meet her on her level so he could examine the donut. He watched her as she tipped her head back to look up at Kyle.

“Do they make special donuts for the Captain who protects the princess?”

Kyle shot another glance at the wall of baled hay. “They do,” he said after a moment of thought. “Bran muffins.”

“Yuck.” She made a face at that. “Mama makes Daddy eat them.”

“Those reindeer aren’t gonna feed themselves,” Isabel reminded Kyle as she joined them again. She waved a finger at Michael. “And you? You have a full day ahead of you.”

He shrugged carelessly. “Better get movin’, hay boy.” He reached around Kyle and grabbed a couple of the little round glazed donut holes, shoving them in his friend’s hand. “Here, you can substitute for the pair you’re missin’.”

“Was that a joke, Guerin?” He shoved Michael’s shoulder. “I think that was actually a joke. What’d you do to him, Maria?” He just grinned and popped one of the donut holes in his mouth, dodging the look Isabel was shooting at him as he hurried over to get started with his task.

Maria looked up when Eddie ran inside with Max following behind at a more sedate pace. Max was watching something over his shoulder and by the expression on apprehension on his face it was probably the trailer with reindeer coming up the driveway.

“Hi, Maria,” the boy said as he came to a stop beside her. “You guys must’ve slept through your alarm, huh?”

“Um-hmm,” she agreed, biting her lips to keep from letting her smile escape. “I hope we didn’t miss too much.”

“Nah, just Max havin’ to try on his costume, Dad getting tangled up in a bunch of garland, and Brian stuffing his face like a pig.”

Michael rolled his eyes at the boy’s obvious attempt to make every other guy in the vicinity sound like idiots.

“Good, we didn’t miss much at all then.”

“You want me to get you some coffee?” he offered with a big smile.

“That would be nice, thank you.”

“I don’t mind.”

Michael glared at the boy when he ran to grab a cup and fill it for Maria. “Really?” he growled. “You’re encouraging him?”

“He’s 12, Michael.” She smacked his arm with the back of her hand. “You need to leave him alone. He’s being sweet.”

“I was 12 once too, ya know,” he leaned in to whisper in her ear. “And I can assure you he’s not fetching your coffee and making sure you’re warm because he’s all innocent and sweet.”

“Whatever. That might not be why you would’ve done things like that.” She smiled when she saw Liz entering the barn. “Oh, look, Liz is here. I’m gonna go talk to her and you… eat.” At least if he was stuffing his face he wouldn’t be running his mouth. Well, that wasn’t exactly true, but it would distract him for a while.

“Michael, you don’t really like bran muffins, do you?” Maggie asked. “’Cause I looked and Mama an’ Dayna didn’t bring none of them.”

“No, I don’t like them. Eatin’ one of those things is like chewing on a cardboard box.”

She laughed at his description. “You’re funny, Michael.”

He smiled and grabbed a donut. “Looks like Miss Cindy’s gonna scarf that donut if you don’t eat it pretty soon.”

Maggie looked down and giggled when she saw the sprinkles dotting Cindy’s white muzzle. She brushed them off and leaned against his side as Max came over to join them. “Are you all excited ‘bout the reindeer coming?” she asked him as she picked the donut apart to eat it.

“So excited,” he said, trying to muster up a little bit of enthusiasm for the little girl.

“I would be too if I got to be with them like you do. Do you know if Rudolph’s gonna be coming too?”

“Um…” He didn’t even know how many reindeer his sister had managed to saddle him with although he wouldn’t put it past her to bring in all nine of them. Which would be fine if they really were tiny reindeer. But they weren’t. He knew what a reindeer looked like and they were anything but tiny. The stupid things were as big as a horse… maybe bigger. And they had horns, antlers, whatever.

“Rudolph, Cupid, Vixen and Prancer,” Michael said, taking his cues from Isabel. He licked a smear of chocolate off of his thumb and shrugged. “Santa said the others needed to rest for the big night so they’re gonna be at another thing like this closer to home.”

Maggie’s eyes widened. “But don’t they gotta rest too?”

“They’ll have time to rest after Christmas on the Lake’s over,” Max said.

“But they’re gonna have to go back to the North Pole and that’s far,” the little girl countered. “If they’re tired they might get lost.”

“Really?” Michael growled at Max. He crouched down next to Maggie as he rolled his eyes at his friend. “You know Santa’s gonna be here, right?” He smiled when she nodded. “Santa won’t let his reindeer get too tired. Y’know, they like stuff like this. And Rudolph, you know how much he enjoys bein’ the center of attention. He loves to get out and visit all the kids because he doesn’t get a chance to see them on Christmas. Besides, Santa’s gonna use his magic to get the reindeer back to the North Pole so they’ll be rested up for their trip on Christmas Eve.”

The little girl heaved a huge sigh of relief. “Will we get to see Rudolph’s red nose?”

“Well,” he scratched his jaw as he thought about that one. “He’s probably gonna rest it while he’s here. That trip around the world’s gonna mean he’s gotta use it a lot on Christmas Eve.”

“Oh.” She kicked at several pieces of straw lying on the floor. “I was kinda hoping we’d get to see Rudolph’s shiny red nose.”

They all looked up when the barn door slid open and several people stepped inside. Two tall men flanked a petite woman who walked with an air of confidence as she walked over to the pen set up in the center of the barn. It was the reindeer walking placidly beside her that immediately had Maggie’s attention.

“You know Christmas is all about miracles, right?” Michael asked Maggie quietly.

She looked at him for a moment before she smiled and nodded.

“You just never know when ol’ Rudolph might just make his nose blink for you,” he said with a wink.

Max looked at Michael when he stood up beside him once more. “You know, for someone who doesn’t believe in the whole Christmas thing you sure seem to know an awful lot about Santa’s reindeer,” he muttered quietly so the words wouldn’t carry to Maggie.

“I’m not completely lost when it comes to Christmas. You remember what I told you a couple Christmases ago?” Michael asked just as quietly.

He shrugged one shoulder. “Not really.”

“Ya gotta hedge your bets, Maxwell. Can’t hurt.” He looked down when she slipped her tiny hand into his and together they walked over to see what was going on. He shot a glance over his shoulder when Max hung back. “You comin’, Evans?”

“I’m just gonna…” he glanced around, looking for something, anything that would allow him to put off meeting his charges for the duration of this insanity. “Have a donut, maybe get a cup of coffee.”

“Wuss,” Michael muttered under his breath.

Kyle was hefting another bale off of the stack when the baling twine snapped on one side and hay scattered on the floor around him. “That’s just freakin’…” he trailed off when he noticed the small pair of feet covered with hay and he lifted his head to suggest their owner move but the words died on his tongue. He made an inarticulate sound as he found himself facing a petite blonde in her early 20s. She was a few inches shorter than him with twinkling blue eyes and a ready smile. Her left hand was raised and wrapped around the cheek strap of the halter worn by the reindeer standing beside her.

“Hi,” the woman said with a grin and stuck her right hand out in his direction.

Kyle started to shake her hand before remembering that he had gloves on and he hurriedly jerked it off of his hand before taking hers.

“I’m Stefanie Miller.” She pointed to the men on either side of her. “My little brothers, Frankie and Travis.”

“Little, huh?” he said as he shook their hands.

She just grinned when the reindeer nudged her. “Oh, where are my manners?” She reached up to pat the animal fondly. “And this big guy here is Rudolph.” He shook his head. “Well, I just call him Rudy.” She scratched under his chin and looked at the man in front of her. “So, you must be Max, right? You’re my wrangler for the next few days?”

Oh, I wish, Kyle thought with a mental groan. “No, I’m Kyle, but I’ll be around to give you a hand if you need it.” He pointed across the room and motioned for Max to join them. “This guy here,” he said when Max reluctantly joined them, “this’s your elf, I mean, wrangler, for the next couple days.”

Isabel joined them, lifting her eyes from her planner and frowning when she noticed Kyle standing there with his tongue practically hanging out of his mouth. She rolled her eyes. He obviously had too much time on his hands, she thought as her gaze dropped back to the schedule. She introduced herself to Stefanie and the others, slowly insinuating herself between Kyle and the other woman as they discussed the reindeer.

Max jumped back when Rudolph started to paw the ground. “What’s it doing?” he asked, eyeing it warily.

Stefanie laughed. “Get used to it, Max. Reindeer paw their feed. He’s just interested in the hay on the floor.”

“Great.”

“Michael, look… it’s Rudolph,” Maggie whispered reverently.

“Can she pet him?” Michael asked as they approached the others.

“Sure,” Stefanie said with a smile.

Michael picked Maggie up and settled her against his side so she could reach out and touch the reindeer.

Isabel watched the two of them for a moment. She wondered if Michael had any idea just how solid the wall he was building around them was. There was no way they were leaving before Christmas. If there were any doubts before now, they had just evaporated into thin air.

“It’s scratchy,” Maggie said as she rubbed her hand over the animal’s coarse coat. “Does he wear jingle bells?”

Stefanie nodded. “He has jingle bells on his harness. He’ll be wearing them when he and the others pull Santa in on his sleigh.”

Michael frowned at that. As if this wasn’t enough of a nightmare! How had Isabel managed to slip that little bit of good news under his radar? He shot a glare at her that she completely ignored and he smirked when she directed the other woman’s attention to the pen in an attempt to keep her focus off of Kyle. He snorted when Kyle tried to get in on the conversation and Isabel asked him if he’d mind getting her a cup of coffee. Oh, yeah, Christmas just got a lot more interesting.
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