A Candy Christmas Carol (Post-Grad, M/M, Teen) Part 8 - 6/23/18

This is the place to post all your General Roswell fanfiction. Any Canon fics, which pick up directly from any episode of the show and that focus on Max/Liz, Michael/Maria, Isabel/Alex or Isabel/Jesse, Kyle/Tess, or all the couples together! Rule of Thumb: If Max healed Liz in the Crashdown in September 1999, then your fic belongs here. If it picks up from the show in any way, it belongs here.

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KindredKandies
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A Candy Christmas Carol (Post-Grad, M/M, Teen) Part 8 - 6/23/18

Postby KindredKandies » Sun Dec 24, 2017 10:02 am

A Candy Christmas Carol

Author(s): KindredKandies

Disclaimer: All characters and plot lines that appeared in the series or in the books are not ours. The concept of Roswell does not belong to us either. They all belong to Melinda Metz, UPN, yada, yada, yada…

Pairings: Predominantly M&M with bits of M&L and K&I

Rating: Rating: Teen

Category: Post-Graduation

Summary: Christmas is viewed in two very different ways by Michael and Maria.


Part One

Maria’s POV

She flinched when the door slammed behind him. Why did he have to be such a jerk?! All of this over a stupid question. She was exhausted, she was tired and achy from being cooped up in the car for nearly twenty hours practically nonstop, she was angry at being uprooted and moved across the country yet again, and she was hurt over having to leave behind a friend without so much as a goodbye. To put it plain and simple, she was weary of it all.

Yes, she wanted to settle down, to stay in one place long enough to see the seasons change. She wanted to have friends she didn’t expect to leave high and dry without a word. She wanted a house with a little yard and maybe a swing on the front porch. She wanted to get married and have kids. And yes, she wanted a damn dog! And she wanted all of that with Michael. For Pete’s sake, was that really asking so much?

Barely twenty-four hours ago he had come bursting through the back door and upended the life she’d carefully constructed over the past year. Things had gone well for the first few months and they had settled into some semblance of routine. Then November had rolled around and she hadn’t been able to miss the signs of restlessness in him. The company he had been working for offered plenty of overtime as the holidays closed in and he hadn’t once turned the extra shifts down.

It was the first year they were going to actually be stationary for Christmas and she’d welcomed the opportunity to make their home feel warm and festive for the holidays. Her job had allowed her plenty of time to run errands, cook, clean and spend time with her friend Stephanie. The two of them had spent hours shopping and gushing over trees and ornaments, potential gifts and decorating ideas.

His schedule kept him at work most of the time and there were days when it seemed like they only saw each other in passing. He’d be on his way in when she was on her way out to work and other than a quick kiss and instructions on heating the dinner she’d left for him, there wasn’t any time for them as a couple. She’d felt that distance beginning to take a toll on her and she’d dug her heels in, determined to make their home last this time.

She’d lost count of the number of fights they’d had recently, but she knew their frequency was increasing. They were fighting more than they ever had in the past. Her fear was that they were fighting for two very different reasons. She was fighting to hold on and that door she kept closed on her deepest fears where he was concerned had managed to come open and she was having a very hard time convincing herself that she was wrong about him. It didn’t matter how hard she held on or how much she wanted to hold onto him because her doubts had taken over and now she feared he wanted out, wanted to be free from being tied down.

Her footsteps slowed as she made another pass by the window. She could hear the car running, knew he was warming up the engine, and she wondered where he was going. The cabin was miles from the nearest town and every time the wind blew there was a high pitched whistling sound that accompanied the frigid air that forced its way through the fine cracks where the logs no longer quite fit together.

This wasn’t the way she’d imagined this Christmas would be. She’d worked so hard to make the house festive and perfect for the holiday. And it had almost been there. She sighed as she pictured the house she’d made into a home for them. The fireplace spreading comfortable warmth throughout the room, the Christmas tree decorated and lit, the twinkling lights cheerfully blinking softly, a CD of Christmas music playing on the second hand stereo in the corner, and a fresh wreath of fir, cedar and juniper with pine cones interspersed in the greenery gracing their front door.

She turned away from the window and her disgusted gaze rested on the moose head hanging over the fireplace. It wasn’t bad enough that someone had hung the carcass on the wall. No, they had festively strung a strand of white twinkling lights through the wide antlers and perched a moth-eaten Santa hat on its head. She shook her head and shifted to look out the window again when she heard the crunch of packed snow under the tires as the car pulled away.

Against her will her thoughts went back to their latest fight and she felt a new wave of despair crash over her, threatening to pull her under and never release her. Maybe this was it. Maybe he’d stuck it out as long as he could and he was ready to move on without her. Maybe he just didn’t know how to tell her he was through. She brushed the tears away angrily as the words thrown back and forth between them replayed in her head.

“Why are we running again? Why now?” She paced furiously, desperately turning over potential reasons and discarding them just as fast, until she came down to one irrefutable conclusion. He’d passed the point where his fear that his alien side might be turned loose, that losing his temper would destroy his control and he’d hurt her, was an issue. Over the years he’d become stronger, more in control of his abilities. He could even drink a beer or two without any issues these days.

It had to be something else and the only thing that she could come up with was her. Being with her was making him feel trapped. What else could it be? Thinking back over the past few months she could see the cracks in their relationship widening to become chasms. She’d seen the little house as a home. She’d lovingly put it together one dishtowel and a pair of curtains at a time. She’d been enjoying the freedom to live, to spread her wings and put down roots at the same time. He’d been working and occasionally stopping off at the pub for a beer while catching a game. He hadn’t really made any friends, had never brought any of the guys home to watch a game or help him work on the car or fix a leak.

She had been thriving and he’d continued to isolate himself. She’d been aware of it, had put it down to his lack of social skills. He wasn’t a wallflower but he wasn’t an extrovert either. She sighed internally as she remembered the one time she could recall him out with a group of guys, openly laughing and goofing off. What she wouldn’t give to see him have that again. She thought about all of the extra shifts he’d taken lately. They were doing okay financially, there was no pressing need for the money, but he’d jumped on every opportunity to work extra hours, hours that had kept him away from home… away from her.

The only thing that made sense was that while she had embraced stability and permanence, craved a semi-normal life with him, those same desires were pushing him away. That’s what it was, she realized, and felt her throat close up. He was running from settling down with her. It wasn’t what he wanted. It had been years since there had been any sign that they were still being pursued but he continued to keep them on the move.

“Why is it that Max and Liz and Kyle and Isabel were able to put down roots and carve out a life for themselves and we can’t? For the past four years Max and Liz have been stable, they’ve had a home in Moose Jaw, they’ve had an opportunity to pursue their education, and even had a child. It’s been more than five years for Kyle and Isabel. They have two kids now, Michael! Two! None of them have had to pick up and run in the middle of the night, leave everything behind. Why is that?”

The only response she got was silence accompanied by his patented stonewall expression. There was no reasoning with him when he was like this and she knew it but she couldn’t let it rest. Not this time.

“You know why,” he bit out finally. “We left because of a threat.”

Her hands clenched into fists and she could feel the heat flood her face as her frustration finally spilled over. Sometimes she wondered why she bothered trying to get anything through his thick skull. “You’re not listening to me, Michael.”

“Well, maybe if you quit ranting about the same subject over and over again you’d have somethin’ to say that I’d wanna listen to.”

She wished she could hate him sometimes because it would be easier than this. “Why couldn’t we have stayed in Winnipeg? Close enough to Kyle and Isabel, closer to Max and Liz if anything happened… close enough just to visit once in a while. It would make sense. It did make sense when it was first discussed and you discounted it out of hand. Why are you uprooting us again?”

She watched him, desperately hoping, needing him to say something that would make sense. She needed something to hold onto, something besides the same old story. And again she was met with silence and the impenetrable wall he surrounded himself with. “I want a dog, Michael. I need to have a dog.” She shifted and crossed her arms in front of her. “A big black dog named Angus.”

“We’re not getting a dog, Maria. What the hell are you thinkin’? We can’t be on the run with a damn dog! Yeah, let’s get somethin’ that makes us easier to identify! Let’s get somethin’ that requires money to maintain!” He started to pace, throwing his hands up in the air. “You know we can’t stay in one place long enough for somethin’ like that to ever be viable!”

She nodded sadly. “I can’t do this anymore.”

Michael turned slowly, narrowing his eyes as he stared at her.

“It hurts too much, Michael. My heart can’t take it.” And she honestly didn’t think it could take much more. “Why is it okay for everyone else to settle down, have a home and a family, and the two of us continue to run? Why can’t you even give in on this one little request and let us have a dog?”


She watched the taillights disappear into the darkness, the pain in her heart growing to encompass every inch of her being. Tears she couldn’t stop formed in her eyes and spilled over in spite of her wishes.

He’d never left before.

He’d never just walked out.


Michael’s POV

The door slammed behind him, the force aided by the high winds and not intent alone. He needed to get away because the walls were closing in and he felt like he was suffocating. She had pushed them into yet another argument. It felt like anymore that was all they did. Argue, fight, disagree, tentative truce, rinse and repeat.

Nine years. They had been on the run for nine years and all of the sudden she wanted a dog? How did she expect them to drag a dog around while moving from place to place? Having an animal would mean an additional responsibility; it would mean having something that would make them more easily identifiable.

A hard shiver raced through his body as the wind whipped around the corner of the cabin, cutting through him like a thousand tiny knives. He jerked his coat tighter around his body, grateful he’d at least remembered to grab it before storming out. Times like these he wondered why they stayed together.

How could she not understand?

He swore out loud when the heel of his boot landed on an icy patch on the walkway – the same walkway Maria had been hounding him about salting from the minute he walked in the door. His feet went out from under him so quickly that he didn’t even have time to control or cushion his fall. He flipped himself over, his temper shifting into overdrive when he felt the pain pulsing from every point of contact. That number increased significantly when he miscalculated as he tried to get to his feet without checking for solid footing and his foot slipped and he slammed his knee against the pavement.

That smarted. Snarling under his breath he shuffled over enough so he could dig his feet into the snow. Finally on his feet again he stomped down to the car, careful to keep off of the icy walkway. His dark mood only worsened as he dug through the trunk, pulling out the necessary items and shoving them into the backseat.

He started to climb inside but his attempt was immediately thwarted because there was no room for his large frame. He swore once again and reached down to jerk on the lever and shoved the seat as far back as he could get it. He threw himself into the seat and slammed the door, shutting off the wind tunnel. He forced the key in the ignition and gave it a vicious turn, holding it in place until the engine finally turned over and rumbled to life. It was a decent vehicle but in moments like these it was nothing more than a piece of crap. He shifted and shoved his hands under his thighs, hoping to keep them from freezing until the engine was warm enough to turn the heater on.

His teeth were on the verge of literally chattering by the time he slapped the control for the heater and adjusted the temperature. He threw the gearshift into drive and pulled out, smart enough not to gun the engine in spite of the desire to throw caution to the wind and do just that. He ignored the movement he caught from the corner of his eye, knowing without looking he wouldn’t see Maria standing at the window. The only evidence she had been there would be the slight sway of the curtain she had just dropped.

“A dog,” he muttered with an aggravated snort. “What the hell does she think we’d do with a dog?”

Technology was changing rapidly, too fast to keep up with, and maybe some people saw those changes as a good thing. Maybe people were blind to the reality that they were giving up any semblance of privacy as technology became so advanced. He’d watched it change over the years, warily observing its evolution, concerned as the advancements made it easier for the government to keep tabs on people.

The threat was real. If everyday people had the capability of getting their hands on such things then the Special Unit was already way ahead of them. He knew being on the run was no life for her but it wasn’t safe for them to stay anywhere for long. He’d pushed it this last time, letting their stay drag out for nearly a year.

He’d found a dependable job that brought in a decent paycheck, she’d had a good gig singing at a local pub, they’d had a house that while small, was nice, and for the first time in a long time she’d had a friend she could spend time with. She’d had the house decorated for Christmas and all the festive crap that had made her so happy had made him feel like he was choking. He’d been happy to accept extra shifts when they came available. And he’d felt a sick sense of relief when he’d spotted a couple of suspicious black SUVs in town because that meant it was time to move again.

He wasn’t indifferent to her needs, but her safety was more important than anything else. He’d had a fight on his hands when he said they had to drop everything and leave. They’d left behind jobs, a home and her friend without so much as a word. He’d pushed hard to get them far enough away that he felt it was safe to stop. Nearly 800 miles between them and the place they’d called home and it felt like every one of those miles stood between him and Maria.

He knew she’d been happier in the past year than she had been in a very long time. The constant running had taken its toll on her, stolen years he could never give back to her, and he couldn’t see an end in sight. He pulled into a lookout that looked down on the cabin, killed the lights and cut the engine. He sighed raggedly and shifted around to grab the sleeping back he’d tossed in before leaving.

It was fitting that he should spend the night cold and uncomfortable. Hell, he’d just uprooted her from the only real home she’d had in years, driven her across the country and multiple states without stopping for more than fuel, and then dropped her in a cold, drafty dump of a hunting cabin. There wasn’t an ounce of Christmas cheer in the cabin, which was fine with him, but he knew it only made things more depressing for her.

It didn’t help that Max and Liz had been settled for almost four years and even longer for Kyle and Isabel. They had carved out lives for themselves, real lives with homes, education, good jobs and kids. He knew Maria wanted a home, stability, a sense of permanence, kids… and a dog. He didn’t seem to be able to give her any of that. Hell, he couldn’t even find it in himself to give in and let her have a stupid dog. Maybe he was incapable of settling down. Maybe he should find a way to get her to Max and Liz, give her the opportunity to make a life for herself there.

Canada had proven to be a safe and comfortable place for the others to settle. Moose Jaw wouldn’t be Maria’s first choice, but because Liz was there he knew she could be happy there. Kyle and Isabel had landed in Calgary, a much larger city that they could easily lose themselves in. Seven hours apart, give or take, depending on weather and traffic. They were close enough to see each other on occasion but far enough apart for safety’s sake.

There had been talks about them settling in Winnipeg, which would put Max and Liz central to the rest of them, but he’d balked at the idea. He hadn’t agreed with the others’ decisions to stop running, to settle and put down roots, but his arguments had fallen on deaf ears. Maria had tried to talk him into changing his mind and they had gotten into many fights over it, but he’d refused to be swayed in his belief that their safety depended on their ability to flee at a moments’ notice.

The longer they stayed in one place the harder it would be to leave. He had lost count of the number of times they’d had to pick up and move, but he had a vivid memory of the entire repertoire of disappointed, hurt and angry responses Maria had given at the news that they were leaving whatever place they’d been calling home at the time.

He knew this last one had been the hardest since the six of them had split up. A year had given her time to begin planting roots. A job she loved for once, something better than just waiting tables and putting up with crap from customers, a little house that she’d turned into a home, complete with a small flower garden and new paint in every room, and a friend that she had become very close to.

He stared at the cabin as he pulled the sleeping bag tighter around himself in an effort to stop the cold from seeping into his bones. The light was on in the main room but there was no movement to suggest she was pacing the floor, working out her anger and hurt through constant motion. He wondered if she’d simply gone to bed, too weary of the constant fight to bother waiting for him to come back.

He stared at the roof of the car, not even seeing the torn lining or the spots where soda had splashed all over it when he’d pissed her off and she’d handed him the can after shaking the hell out of it while he wasn’t looking. The damn thing had exploded all over the car and stained the interior. They had laughed about it later and cleaned the mess up but left the stains as a reminder. He shook his head and closed his eyes, hoping to rest them and make sense of what the hell had gotten into Maria to make her think getting a dog would be a good idea.

“I guess that’s better than puttin’ your hand through a window.”

Michael jerked upright so fast he smacked his forehead on the visor he’d dropped to block the moon that was doing its best to blind him. His back hit the door as he turned to look at the guy sitting in the passengers’ seat and he reached up to rub his eyes, certain he was seeing things. Okay, maybe eating that package of cookies on top of a beer was a mistake. He blinked and frowned when the apparition remained sitting there, doing his best to balance a pen on his chin in the upright position.

“I thought we’d agreed that no chick was worth this.”

His eyes traveled over the other guy in disbelief. “What the hell…?” It wasn’t possible. He’d been dead for ten years.

“Yeah, and you’d think I’d have this trick mastered by now,” he muttered when the pen toppled over and he fumbled to catch it.

Michael stared at one of the few people he’d actually considered a friend over the course of his lifetime. This wasn’t real, he reminded himself. He’d held the guy’s lifeless body in his arms after he’d been fatally shot.

Monk straightened the bill of his standard issue security job baseball hat and adjusted his glasses before he turned his head to look at Michael. “Then again, you’d think you’d have gotten better at Madden by now and well, that hasn’t worked out so great for you. Anyway, I’m not here to dis your game, Mike.”

“Uh-huh…” He pinched himself and frowned at the stinging sensation. He couldn’t be asleep so what the hell was going on?

“I can answer that.” He ran his hands over his tie in a gesture that was painfully familiar. “I’m here to tell you that you’ll be getting three visitors beginning – “

Michael snorted and shook his head. “Right. Okay, I saw this movie and it sucked. I can assure you I’m not gonna be hangin’ out with three ghosts at the strike of one, two and three.”

“No, you’re right about that.”

“At least we’re agreed on that point.” He crossed his arms over his chest and shifted around to get comfortable again. This was ridiculous. Obviously the combination of beer and too many cookies had him hallucinating.

“Your first visitor will arrive at one forty-seven and the others will arrive an hour apart after that, an hour to the minute. You’re on the edge of something you don’t even understand right now and they’ll be able to help you find clarity.”

“Okay, sure they will. I’ll be on the lookout for a ghostly apparition haulin’ around a bunch of chains. In the meantime I’m gonna get some sleep.” He pulled the sleeping bag up over his shoulders and closed his eyes.

“It wasn’t your fault, you know?”

“Plenty of things are my fault. Which one are you referring to?”

“The night I got shot. We were both doin’ our job.” He shrugged even though his companion wasn’t looking at him. “There was nothin’ you could’ve done. I just wanted you to know that.”

“Yeah, well…” he peered over the edge of the sleeping bag and froze when the passengers’ seat was empty with no sign that it had been recently occupied. He cursed under his breath and pulled the sleeping bag closer. It was cold up here in the frozen wasteland he’d brought them to and now his eyes and ears were playing tricks on him. That was all he needed. He sat up to take one more look at the cabin below before settling down again.

Maybe if he could get to sleep the night would pass without his head screwing with him again. He closed his eyes and pulled in tighter on himself, his thoughts focusing on Maria and hoping to figure out why she wanted a damn dog of all things this year.
Last edited by KindredKandies on Sat Jun 23, 2018 1:53 pm, edited 7 times in total.
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xilaj
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Re: A Candy Christmas Carol (Post-Grad, M/M, Teen) Part 1 - 12/24/17

Postby xilaj » Mon Dec 25, 2017 1:30 am

Just stopped by after a long time away and found this - what a great Christmas present! Thank you! Looking forward to reading more and wondering who was today’s ghost - and who will be the ghost of Christmas Past?? All the best for the holidays to you both!

keepsmiling7
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Re: A Candy Christmas Carol (Post-Grad, M/M, Teen) Part 1 - 12/24/17

Postby keepsmiling7 » Sat Dec 30, 2017 11:42 am

Love this story, can't wait for the next part.
Thanks,
Carolyn

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xmag
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Re: A Candy Christmas Carol (Post-Grad, M/M, Teen) Part 1 - 12/24/17

Postby xmag » Sun Dec 31, 2017 12:24 pm

Is it based on an american, or English book or movie, I don't know? Three Christmases visits, past, present and future? It's not much known in my country, more in English speaking countries.

Anyway, it looks like Michael is going to get a visit that will make him change his attitude, right?
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Michael : From day one, I knew you were the girl for me, I never wanted anyone else.

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KindredKandies
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A Candy Christmas Carol (Post-Grad, M/M, Teen) Part 2 - 1/10/18

Postby KindredKandies » Wed Jan 10, 2018 11:12 pm

xilaj- Thank you and welcome back! Michael's first visitor was none other than Monk, his buddy from his security job back in Roswell. As for the ghost of Christmas Past, well... we'll be meeting that particular ghost today. Here's hoping your holidays were all you wished for!


keepsmiling7- Thank you! Here's the next part. :)


xmag- Yes, the framework is based on the classic English story by Charles Dickens. The story will feature three ghosts paying our cranky hybrid a nocturnal visit. The idea has been knocking around for a while because Michael's kind of a grinch, lol, and that kinda makes him the perfect scrooge. After nearly a decade of running Christmas is nothing more than another day to survive for him. He's not interested in celebrating anything so we thought he needed a dose of... well... perhaps Christmas spirit would be too much to ask, but at least a bit of understanding.


Part Two

Michael’s POV

The horn blared to the tune of some obnoxious Christmas song and Michael bolted upright for the second time that night. His forehead impacted with the visor and he swore effusively as he reached out blindly for the power button on the stereo. It took a few seconds for his senses to kick in and alert him to the fact that the stereo wasn’t on. The car was off and colder than a meat locker and suddenly he was surrounded by silence.

“What the hell is goin’ on?” he muttered, glancing towards the cabin in the distance and freezing when his eyes locked on the vast emptiness of a snow covered landscape. He fought with the door and nearly fell out of the car when it gave in to brute force. He scrambled to his feet and ran to the edge of the overlook, scanning every inch of the countryside. He turned in a tight circle and panic gripped him when he saw nothing but unbroken white in every direction.

He whirled around, intending to get in the car and drive back to the cabin, and he took an involuntary step back when the car and any tracks indicating it was ever there were all gone. He had to get to Maria. That was the only thing that mattered. But when he turned around the overlook was gone and there was nothing to tell him if he was even facing the right direction.

“Scary prospect, isn’t it?”

Another voice from the past. Another voice that he couldn’t possibly be hearing. He was dreaming, that’s all it was.

“More like a nightmare if you ask me.”

He slowly turned his head to look at the other guy, taking in the loose-limbed stance, hands casually tucked in the front pockets of his jeans, the oversized gray sweatshirt and the mildly amused expression. No, he wasn’t gonna stand here and have a conversation with another dead person. It wasn’t like he and Alex had been that close.

“Way to make a guy feel good.”

“You’re not here anyway.”

“Maybe I need to take another swing at you to get your attention.”

Michael ignored him. Focus on Maria and the damn dog situation. Just stay on target and things will go back to normal. After a few minutes he opened his eyes and nodded to himself when he was once more sitting in the car. He sat up and looked over the steering wheel, relieved when the cabin with its lighted window came into view. Okay, that was better.

“People associate dogs with permanence.”

His head jerked to the side and he stared at Alex. This night was not getting any better.

“What the hell are you goin’ on about?” he growled.

“You’re tryin’ to understand Maria’s sudden desire for a dog, right?” He shrugged and abruptly changed topics. “You do know people freeze to death in cars up here, don’t you?”

“People drown in their bathtubs too, what’s your point?”

“It’s freezing out here.”

“Yeah, well, I’m sure it’s not gonna bother you.”

“No, but then again I wasn’t thinkin’ about myself.”

“What do you know about cold anyway? You were raised in the damn desert.”

“Sweden’s cold.”

“Yeah, well, you were never in Sweden, were you?” This was stupid. He was really sitting here talking to a ghost. No. No, he wasn’t. It was a dream.

“No, but it’s funny what you can believe and think you know when your brain’s been infiltrated by an evil alien force. I wasn’t there, but I can still feel the cold.” He shook himself. “Anyway, we’re not here to discuss me. Maria and permanence, that’s what we’re here to discuss.” He reached over and put a hand on Michael’s shoulder. “Remember this?”

Michael stared at the hand on his shoulder. He could feel it. Alex was a ghost. And he could feel his hand. “What?” he asked, his tone distracted. He turned when Alex gestured to something behind him.

Maria sat on the porch steps of the house she had grown up in. Seven years old, face streaming with tears and revealing the kind of heartache and abandonment only a child could ever truly understand. The Dalmatian pressed as tight as it could to her side, mindless of the small arms threatening to cut off its air supply, its only concern to ease her suffering.

“Already seen this,” he muttered and looked away. Her pain was open and so raw it cut him to the quick.

“The dog is a symbol of stability, safety, comfort and permanence. Dogs represent what home is.”

“It’s somethin’ that’d only bog us down, make us easily identifiable.”

Alex smiled mysteriously. “One thing at a time, Michael.” He nodded at the child clutching the dog like a lifeline. “You never had a dog, you don’t understand the connection, but it’s an important part of life. Maria’s at a place where the need for that connection is more than the simple desire for companionship.”

Michael looked at him sharply. “What’re you sayin’?”

He just smiled enigmatically. “C’mon, it’s time for us to move on.”

Before he could question Alex further the snow swirled in a sudden blinding whiteout and just as quickly calmed, leaving them on a quiet city street that he didn’t recognize. It was a picturesque scene, serene in a way only felt when standing outside surrounded by the unbroken silence of snowfall. Years ago he wouldn’t have understood that silence but they’d spent more than one winter in cities and towns with weather of this nature and over time he’d grown to appreciate it if not exactly love it.

The first time Maria had stood with him in this kind of silence she’d told him to listen to the snow fall. He’d thought she was crazy. How could you hear something so inconsequential? As soon as he’d opened his big mouth she’d been off and running, going on about how enough of those inconsequential snowflakes could collapse a roof or bury a house. He’d been sorry he’d ever opened his mouth… but it had also given him something to think about. Not that he’d ever admit that out loud.

“Listen… can you hear it?”

Michael narrowed his eyes as he looked at Alex. “If you start talkin’ about listening to snowflakes fall you’re gonna be askin’ for more than just your two front teeth for Christmas.”

Alex chuckled at the empty threat and shook his head. “Just listen.”

Silence followed them as they walked and several minutes passed before he heard the sound of a dog whining. He turned to look at the dog. Small, white, dark eyes peering up at them from behind a fringe of hair that flopped over its face, it was a mix of some kind. It was alone, probably lost because it looked well cared for, curiosity and fear warring with its innate need to be with its human. It shivered as the wind gusted, blinking against the snow that blew into its face.

“Poor guy,” Alex said sympathetically. “It’s cold out.”

“So?” He wasn’t cold and heartless but he also wasn’t interested in getting involved. What was he even talking about? It was a dream!

“He looks lost, don’t you think? Alone, scared, out in a world that doesn’t seem the least bit welcoming.”

“Why’re we out in the cold again?” He turned to start walking again, ignoring the dog when it began to follow them.

“Gabriel! Gabriel, where are you?” An elderly woman’s frantic voice cut through the silence and a moment later she appeared before them, her hasty gait impeded by the cane that was obviously needed to aid in her ability to walk. “Oh, there you are!”

Michael didn’t have time to move out of her way but it didn’t seem to matter as she walked right through him. Well, that was a bit disconcerting.

“I thought I’d lost you!” Relief colored her voice as she carefully bent over to pick the animal up. She continued to speak to the dog that was happy to see her judging by the tail-wagging, body-wriggling, tongue-licking that accompanied its raspy bark. After a few minutes she pulled her shawl around the dog, protecting him from the wind and snow and continued on her way.

“There, happy now? It’s got a place to go.”

“Yeah,” he nodded at the building the woman was now paused in front of. She reached up to wipe her eyes and bestowed a shaky kiss to the dog’s head before she stepped into the entryway.

Michael followed his gaze, surprised to see the name of the business over the door. “Okay, so it’s an animal shelter. So what?”

“Just sayin’ it’s not a real home.”

“Stop right there, Whitman.” He wasn’t comfortable with the path Alex was taking. “She’s givin’ the dog up for whatever reason. At least she’s not kickin’ it out in the street. It’s got a shot this way. It’ll be fed and its needs will be seen to and eventually someone will adopt it.”

“Yeah, probably. That doesn’t make it a real home though, does it?” He gathered up his wallet chain and shoved his hands in his pockets as he looked around. “Our time is almost up and we’ve got one stop left.”

Once again the snow swirled around them in a blinding whiteout and in the blink of an eye he found himself someplace he never wanted to be again. The dingy trailer he’d grown up in materialized around him and a shudder racked his tall frame as he was assaulted by memories. Something was off though. He realized it immediately and he frowned as he tried to pinpoint the difference.

It only took a few moments. This wasn’t the way the trailer had looked the last year he’d lived there. There was a raggedy Christmas tree in one corner, something that had only graced the dump once in all of his years with Hank. “Why’re we here?”

“You want to know why she wants a dog, Michael? She wants permanence, craves it the way you once did.”

Why couldn’t he wake up? He didn’t want to remember his introduction to Christmas. He hadn’t understood how he was different. He’d only known that he wasn’t the same as other kids. But when he’d been turned over to Hank he’d thought maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. The man was rough and he didn’t say things so much as yell at him, but he gave him food and clothes.

He swallowed hard when a light came on in the hall and a moment later Hank shuffled out into the living room. He was younger, his hair wasn’t quite as thin, but his face was still drawn and lined by more bad years than good, and his eyes were still sunken and lifeless. He watched the man move into the kitchen, open up the cabinet above the sink and pull out several packages wrapped in holiday paper. He stuck them under the pathetic excuse for a Christmas tree and then got a beer from the refrigerator. He took a long drink, set it on the counter and grabbed a long metal spoon. His lips thinned into a grin as he picked up a pot and beat the spoon against it.

“Up an’ at ‘em, boy!” He dropped the pot and spoon on the counter, mindless of the racket it made. He moved to the tree to plug in the single strand of lights, backtracked to retrieve his beer and relocated to the living room where he dropped down in his recliner.

Seven-year-old Michael came stumbling out of his room, rubbing his eyes, and trying to adjust to the abrupt wakeup call. His sleepy eyes widened in amazement when the twinkling lights drew his gaze and he ran over to the tree. He gnawed on his bottom lip as he stared at the packages wrapped in brightly colored paper and he reached out a tentative hand to touch the one closest to him.

He’d seen some of the kids in his class exchange gifts, tearing into them with joy and abandon, and he’d been jealous. He’d found Max and Isabel fairly soon after being placed with Hank because they were in the same class at school and the three of them had known immediately that they were supposed to be together. It had been instinctual and none of them had ever thought to question it. Max had shrugged when he asked about the gifts but Isabel had given him a very thorough explanation. Gifts like toys meant your parents loved you. Gifts like socks and underwear meant your parents cared. He still wasn’t too sure about that last one, because who wanted gifts like that? But Isabel was the one who knew stuff like that so he’d figured she was probably right.

He hadn’t expected to get anything though. Isabel had given him a puzzle book and Max had given him a little toy car. He’d felt bad when he hadn’t had anything to give them and he’d tried to give their gifts back to them but they wouldn’t take them. He was okay with not getting anything from Hank. The man let him live in his trailer and gave him food and clothes. He didn’t feel right asking for anything. That didn’t mean he didn’t want anything.

“Go on, boy, open ‘em up.”

The weight of the boxes never registered as he grabbed the first one and tore into it the way he’d seen the kids at school open them. Confusion had wrinkled his young features when the wrapping paper was torn away and the lid of the box flung aside to reveal nothing but emptiness within the confines of the box.

“Better try again.”

Four times he went through the process only to be disappointed when each box was empty. The fifth time there was no enthusiasm as he peeled the paper back and lifted the lid to reveal yet another empty box. He didn’t understand but he didn’t know how to voice his confusion.

Michael watched the scene unfolding and no matter how hard he tried he couldn’t get rid of the lump in his throat. He knew what was coming, could feel the maelstrom of emotions crashing against the fragile walls of his younger self as he sat surrounded by torn Christmas paper and empty boxes, but no matter how much he wanted to he couldn’t look away.

“Guess next year you’ll know better than to hope for anything more than what you got, won’t you?”

The sneer in Hank’s voice made the little boy look up. Even at seven years old he knew Hank wasn’t a nice man, but he hadn’t known just how mean he could be until that morning next to the Christmas tree. He forced the tears down and started collecting the shredded paper and boxes to haul to the trash.

“You know why you’re here, Mickey?” He took a drink of his beer and frowned when he realized it was empty. “See, the state gives me a check every month to keep you around. That’s right,” he nodded when the boy looked at him, “I get paid to keep you because no one else wants you.”

He didn’t know why Hank refused to call him by his name but the pain and anger burning inside of him gave him the courage to let his defiance loose. He stood up and faced Hank, opening his mouth to speak, but he never got a word out. It was the first time Hank had ever hit him but it wasn’t the last.

He had learned a painful lesson that day – several lessons in fact. If you didn’t have expectations you couldn’t be disappointed. If you didn’t open yourself up you couldn’t be hurt. If you didn’t rely on others, didn’t trust them, you wouldn’t leave yourself open to betrayal. He had learned to live with that reality. He’d made the rare exception to his rules, especially where Maria was concerned, but even with her he knew he was holding back.

“It’s not just Maria you have to trust, Michael.” Alex looked at him as the scene faded away, leaving them once again sitting in the car. “You have to trust yourself. You’re stronger than you think you are.” The stereo came to life and music started blaring through the speakers. “Well, that’s my cue. Hug my girls for me and remember what I said.” He looked up and nodded. “Time for me to go. Your next visitor will be arriving soon.”

And he was gone.

Michael looked around and scratched his head. What the hell was going on? He rubbed his arms as the chill from the cold car reminded him that he was basically sitting in the middle of a giant ice block. He was tempted to turn the car on just to have some heat for a few minutes but then decided the threat of falling asleep and dying of carbon monoxide poisoning wasn’t worth it. Not that freezing was a better option as far as options went.

He pulled the sleeping bag tighter around himself and closed his eyes. He didn’t know what had caused these weird dreams, maybe it was the beer and cookie combination. Whatever it was he hoped it had settled down because he was over it.
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xmag
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Re: A Candy Christmas Carol (Post-Grad, M/M, Teen) Part 2 - 1/10/18

Postby xmag » Sat Jan 13, 2018 1:50 pm

Well, that was a sad part, between little Maria and her dog, after her father left and little Michael with Hank and the gift from hell, or rather no gift. Talk about being cruel. Some people just are mean by pleasure, it's awful.
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Michael : From day one, I knew you were the girl for me, I never wanted anyone else.

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A Candy Christmas Carol (Post-Grad, M/M, Teen) Part 3 - 2/6/18

Postby KindredKandies » Tue Feb 06, 2018 9:52 pm

xmag- There are definitely some very painful moments in their respective pasts. It's something they share. They have a few things to work out, but we guarantee a happy ending.



Part Three

Michael’s POV

Subconsciously he knew he was freezing and his body instinctively burrowed deeper into the sleeping bag in an effort to get away from the zipper that was ice cold even through the layers of clothes he wore. True warmth continued to elude him and he squeezed his shut eyes tighter when the sound of jingling bells reached his ears.

Maybe it was sleep deprivation, he rationalized. He ignored the little voice that tauntingly reminded him he’d gone well past thirty-six hours with no sleep before. It wasn’t just the lack of sleep or the odd combination of food he’d consumed. So it had to be the stress of being on the run once again in addition to dealing with Maria’s mood since he’d informed her they had to leave.

Sure, he understood she’d allowed herself to become attached to the little house over the time they’d lived there. She was a woman and they tended to do things like that. But this was the first time she’d given him so much grief over having to pick up and run. And then hitting him with the dog thing? He snorted softly in his sleep. Only a woman would be in a situation like they were in and suddenly decide she wanted a damn dog.

“Maria’s at a place where the need for that connection is more than the simple desire for companionship.”

He still had no idea what Alex had been going on about. He didn’t just uproot them and hit the road because he enjoyed it. There was generally a reason behind everything he did, and in this case, her safety trumped her desire to stay in one place. And a dog? There was no way he was giving in on that one. The last thing they needed was something that would make them more obvious to anyone looking for them.

He shifted around and buried his nose in the top of the sleeping bag, unconsciously searching for warmth. It wasn’t just his extremities that were being threatened by the extremely cold temperature, but as he slipped deeper into sleep he became less aware of the danger. The cold continued to creep past the fabric barrier, infiltrating his body like a well trained army advancing on its enemy… stealthy, insidious, intent on one purpose.

In his mind’s eye he could see a familiar street and as he slowly turned he found himself facing the front of the Crashdown Café. It looked just like it had the last time he was there. His eye roved over the windows, peering inside to glance over the booths and tables that were filled with people he recognized from his years growing up in the small town. He took an involuntary step back when he saw Maria bustling around, taking orders, refilling coffee cups and making small talk with the customers.

What was going on?

“Mi-Ki!”

The frown on his forehead deepened at the childish screech and he whirled around as the wind blew heavily and stirred up the desert sand. His eyes stung and he raised a hand against the fine grains only to be surprised when he was faced with a blinding whiteout and a blast of icy wind. Warmth suddenly surrounded him, a direct contrast to his current situation, and he shivered uncontrollably.

“Mi-Ki!”

He’d only heard Caleb Evans’ speak a couple of times. Max had been trying to get him to say his name only it had proven to be a bit cumbersome for the little boy and what he’d finally spit out had sounded more like Me-Key. The girls thought it was adorable and Max had just about busted the buttons on his shirt from sheer pride in his son’s accomplishment. He could still remember that day clearly because as usual his reaction had been a disappointment.

Everyone had been so busy fawning over the kid and telling him what a great job he had done and he didn’t get what the big deal was. Caleb had gotten his name wrong and they had made a big fuss about how amazing it was. Apparently he was supposed to sit there and lie to the kid and when he didn’t he became the bad guy. Max had just shrugged it off and gone back to congratulating Caleb on his big accomplishment. Was it his fault if the way the kid said his name reminded him of the despised nickname Hank had saddled him with early on?

“Mi-Ki!” This time the screech was accompanied by the chimes of a grandfather clock and little fingers curling around his shirt. The material was pulled to the side by the little boy’s weight and before he could open his eyes the kid landed on his midsection. He instinctively curled in on himself, determined to protect his body from the collateral damage of a misplaced foot, knee or elbow. It was hard to guess which limb was most likely to offend because little kids were painfully unpredictable.

Jingle bells rang agonizingly close to his face and his eyes flew open. He was on the couch in a living room he was familiar with because he’d been in it before. The room was decorated for Christmas and it looked like the holiday had upchucked all over the damn place. Christmas music was playing, stockings were actually hung by the chimney, probably with care, and a tree that was probably half the size of the room took up an entire corner, its branches loaded with ornaments and lights.

“Caleb, why don’t you leave Uncle Michael alone and go find Daddy,” Liz suggested as she leaned over to pick him up.

He gave Michael a big grin and leaned over to try and share his candy cane.

Michael jerked back before the offensive gift could stab him in the face and thankfully he was saved from forcing an appreciative response when Liz grabbed it. “Let’s let Uncle Michael wake up first, okay?”

“Bye-bye, Mi-Ki!” He waved and tottered off to find his daddy.

“Thanks,” he muttered gruffly.

“Well, an eyeball skewered on a candy cane would just be so messy for the Christmas card photo, don’t you think?”

He scratched his head and tried to remember a time she had ever said anything so remotely tacky. No, in all the years he’d known her he couldn’t recall a single moment like this. “Okay, I think this’s gonna be worse than a walk with a ghost.”

“Nonsense, it’s just a little walk before breakfast.”

He pushed himself upright and swung his legs over the side of the couch, ready to blast her with his thoughts on the absurdity of this nightmare he was trapped in. He froze and his mouth refused to cooperate when the scene shifted and he found himself sitting in a classroom. Instead of the eyesore of a Christmas tree he was now facing a chalkboard… complete with Liz in full teaching regalia holding a long thin stick that she was using to tap the board.

Tweed skirt suit, clunky low-heeled shoes, thick-rimmed glasses and her hair up in some kind of bun thing, it was the stuff of nightmares. It was the kind of nightmare that would likely haunt him the rest of his life. He squeezed his eyes shut and rubbed his forehead, willing the image to go away. Of all the things he had to see, was this really necessary?

A small hand tugged on his sleeve but he refused to look up. If he waited long enough this would pass and he could go back to what passed for normal in his world.

“Bye-bye, Mi-Ki!”

Bye-bye? The wind blew and a shiver raced down his spine, indicating he had returned to his frozen car in the middle of nowhere. Yes, it was over!

“Yeah, not just yet.”

He scowled and opened his eyes, growling under his breath when he realized he was once again standing outside. He glared at Max, annoyed at the happy, relaxed look on his face as he stood there in a bright red parka. He was holding Caleb and the poor kid was wearing a stupid hat with ear flaps along with an identical coat to the one his daddy wore.

The little boy scrunched his face up and raised one hand to push the hat up off of his ears – ears that were just like his dad’s. He watched as Max fixed his son’s hat and distracted him with practiced ease, successfully sidestepping a temper tantrum over the hat he obviously didn’t want to wear.

“This is all your fault, y’know.”

“What?”

“The damn dog. She wants a damn dog.”

“And that’s my fault.”

Max seemed amused more than anything else and that annoyed him to no end. “Yeah, it’s your fault. You just had to drop out of the plan, dig in here and plant…” he huffed an irritated breath, “roots.” He spit the word out like it had a bad taste to it.

“Well, I don’t see how the dog thing’s my fault.”

“Because she wants what you and Liz have,” he exploded.

Max rubbed his son’s back when he jumped at the volume of Michael’s voice, his little body tensing and his lower lip trembling in response. “It’s alright, Caleb.”

“Sorry,” Michael muttered. The last thing he wanted to do was make the kid cry. He forced a small smile before focusing on his so-called friend.

“So, she wants a home in Moose Jaw?” He decided not to comment on the sad impersonation of a smile that Michael was showing off. It was an attempt and that was something.

Michael narrowed his eyes at the obtuse question but made an effort to keep his voice at a lower decibel. “Even in a damn dream you have to be difficult, don’t you? She wants this whole stupid thing. After nearly ten years on the run how can she possibly think it’s safe to just stay in one place for the rest of our lives?” He pointed at Max. “I’ll tell you why she thinks that – because of you and Kyle. The two of you just up and decide it’s time to settle down, run the risk of boxing yourselves in, and next thing I know she wants to do the same thing!”

“Have you ever stopped to think that maybe being on the run constantly makes you more of a target? Think about it, Michael. You both work, you have an apartment or a house, and then somethin’ spooks you and you grab Maria and uproot your lives yet again.”

“Hey, I know what I saw! You weren’t there.” No, he wasn’t getting defensive. That was just the fact of the matter.

“You know what I think?”

“Does it matter?”

Max turned to point at a window that was decorated for Christmas and he smiled when Caleb leaned in close to press his gloved fingers to the cold pane of glass. Kittens chased each other around in the enclosed area, attracting the attention of passersby.

“I think the idea of settling down scares the heck out of you. I think you’ve spent a lifetime carrying scars from a childhood no one should ever have to deal with and you don’t know how to embrace a so-called ‘normal’ life. Don’t you think that maybe having a stable life is better for both of you?”

“I think it’s dangerous,” he grated out.

“And I think you saw what you needed to see to give you an escape.”

“You seem to have an awful lot of time on your hands to think up these preposterous ideas.”

“Just one of the advantages of bein’ stationary,” Max responded dryly. He looked at his little boy when Caleb grunted in frustration because he couldn’t reach the kittens. “C’mon, let’s go inside.”

“For what?”

“Ask Caleb.”

The little boy didn’t wait for the question to be voiced, he was happy to share the news all on his own. “Mama kitty!”

“Cute,” Michael muttered as he followed them inside. “You’re not enough of a target bein’ stationary so long, go for somethin’ else that’ll make you easy to identify.” He shook his head and made a face when they walked past a glass enclosure with several ferrets inside. Why would anyone want a pet around that smelled like that?

“Michael, you’re gonna have to stop runnin’ eventually.” He nodded when the shopkeeper joined them and leaned over to collect the kitten Caleb pointed out. He set his son down on the floor and crouched down beside him, accepting the small ball of calico fur the shopkeeper handed to him before leaving them alone again.

Michael leaned one shoulder against the wall, arms crossed over his chest while he observed his friend coaching his little boy, showing him how to hold the kitten. Max was a very patient man most of the time but that patience had grown well beyond anything he’d ever seen since Caleb had come into his life. But then again, Max had a great role model growing up. Philip Evans was a good man and he had known how to be a father. He was solid, upstanding, dependable, and he’d always been present.

“Why d’you think I’m runnin’?”

“Because I know you. You said Maria wants what Liz and I have, right?”

“So?”

“She wants stability, Michael, not a carbon copy of my marriage. The dog, it’s another way of her asking for something more permanent. A dog, a house, those things aren’t a way of boxing you in or setting you up to be captured. There’s no guarantee regardless of the situation. But sometimes it takes more strength to find a spot and make a home than it does to keep running.”

“You act like I enjoy bein’ on the run.”

Max looked up at him, his expression deadly serious. “Don’t you?” He paused to glance at Caleb when he insisted on having his attention. “It’s not bein’ on the run you enjoy, Michael, it’s the out it gives you. You can’t really commit to anything, you can’t settle down, and you can’t make much of a life on the run.”

“It keeps her safe,” he argued.

“No, it’s an illusion of safety. You think setting down would be dangerous, but think about it. You just uprooted the life you’ve had for the past year.”

“Because of a threat,” Michael interrupted.

“Denial,” Max disagreed. “My point is you packed up the bare minimum and took off. No notice to your jobs because it’s the holidays and you’re both off. No call to Maria’s friend because that’s too risky. No notice to the landlord because you’re buying time. So there’re already four potential problems with the plan because one or more of those people could call in and report you guys as missing and at least one of them will call. Your pictures are on file with your jobs and I’m sure Maria’s friend has pictures of the two of them, maybe even a few with you in them. So now there’s visual identification that can be circulated in addition to the missing persons reports.”

“It was a credible threat.”

“Why? Because black SUVs are that out of character?” Max shook his head and stood with Caleb in his arms, wandering over to an aisle crammed end to end with collars, leashes and other pet accessories. “How credible was it really, Michael? Or was it even credible at all?”

Michael glared at him. Of course it was a credible threat! Two black SUVs rolling through the streets out of… His eyes narrowed. He was sure he hadn’t mentioned anything about what he’d seen to Max. “How’d you know what the threat was?” he asked suspiciously.

“Your subconscious we’re navigating here.” He leaned forward so Caleb could pick up one of the collars – a red one with green holly forming a decorative chain and three tiny silver bells hanging from it. “That’s the one Mama’s gonna like?” he asked with a smile as he traced a fingertip over the festive design.

Caleb gave him a wide grin and nodded before focusing his attention back on the kitten he held. The ball of fur had curled up in his arms and was currently purring loud enough to make the little boy giggle every time the reverberations tickled him.

“Did Maria think you had reason to be suspicious?”

Michael’s head snapped up at the unexpected question. “It was my call.”

“It always is though, isn’t it? She’s not the one who decides to pull up stakes and run.”

“What kind of stupid ass thing is that to say? Of course she’s not the one who makes that decision. She knows if I say there’s a threat then we have to move and she knows it’s not something I decide without due consideration.”

“She trusts you to make that call.”

“That’s right.”

“Because she believes that her safety is of the utmost importance to you, that you love her enough to put her needs ahead of everything else, and that you only want what’s best for the both of you.”

“Yeah,” he ground out from between clenched teeth.

“And she’s fine with this new move?”

“I can’t do this anymore. It hurts too much, Michael. My heart can’t take it.”

Her parting words had cut deep and he knew this time was different. He shoved that thought aside because he couldn’t think about it. “No, you know what, she’s not fine with it. She’s pissed off about it, but she’ll eventually realize that her safety outweighs a house with a garden and a damn tree in it.”

“It’s not about a house, Michael, but you know that. It’s a house that she made into a home. It’s a garden she planted and tended with her own two hands. It’s a Christmas tree that she picked out and decorated herself because you were too busy to help out.”

“I was workin’ double shifts.”

“Double shifts that you volunteered to work.”

“Yeah, well, some people have families to spend the holidays with.”

He watched Michael as he turned away and stared out the window. “You, my friend, are not that altruistic. You signed on for extra shifts so you wouldn’t have to deal with the holiday. You’ve managed to be on the run around this time every year but it was different this year, wasn’t it? You weren’t on the run. You were starting to feel penned in, trapped by the holiday insanity, cornered by the reality that you guys were settling down, that you weren’t living a transient existence, but that your temporary residence was becoming a home. And that is why the sight of two black SUVs sent you running again.”

“I don’t have to explain myself to you.” Michael rubbed his forehead and made a wish for this to all be over. He pressed his fingertips against gritty eyes and for just a moment the dry burning sensation ceased. Opening them once more he gazed out into the snowy scene, so picturesque and nauseatingly perfect that it made his teeth ache. It figured Max would land on his feet in the middle of Perfectville. He was like a damn cat. Figured he’d pick out a feline as a gift for Liz.

“You’re sure this is the one, sir?”

He glanced over his shoulder and watched Max place Caleb on the floor so he could settle the bill with the shopkeeper. The little boy leaned against his daddy’s leg, staring longingly after the kitten that had been handed over to the shopkeeper. Movement caught his attention and his curious gaze sought out its source. Without even looking Max reached down and hooked a finger in the hood of Caleb’s parka, holding him in place. He wondered how parents did that. It was like they had some sort of sixth sense or something where their kids were concerned.

Hank had been lacking that sixth sense. He could remember being out with Hank sometime before his eighth birthday, being told to stand outside the liquor store and wait while he went in to make a purchase. Something had caught his eye, something he couldn’t recall to this day, and he’d moved from his designated waiting spot and gone after it. If he focused hard enough he could still hear the squeal of tires as a car braked to a sudden stop, could still feel the burning pain as he lost his balance and fell, his momentum causing his body to slide on the hot asphalt.

His foster father had come out of the store a couple of minutes later, brown bottle-shaped bag clutched in his left hand. He’d made a show of rushing over to him, hauling him up off of the ground, and assuring everyone there was no harm done. The impact of the car had done little more than startle him but the scrapes, burns, and bruises from his up close and personal meeting with the asphalt had been a different story. Hank had dragged him home and doused the wounds with alcohol, worsening the pain without benefit of warning or a single comforting word, and then given him a beating to remind him to stay put the next time they went out.

A familiar whine reached his ears, drawing him back from the nightmarish memory, and he turned his head to locate its owner. Gabriel, the small dog Alex had sort of introduced to him to, was sitting just outside the shop’s door. It was in the process of closing behind a patron making his exit and at the last possible second the dog shot through the narrowing opening and paused to shake his coat of the snowflakes that had collected there.

He wondered why the dog was outside. He’d seen the old lady take it into a shelter. He scratched his head and tried to make sense of the disjointed pieces. The shelter Alex had shown him hadn’t been in the location they had been in. But of course, it also didn’t belong in Moose Jaw. And the chances a dog of Gabriel’s stature surviving a trek between those locations was impossible given the extreme temperatures of the harsh winter and the predators he would encounter.

He watched the small dog as it crossed the shop slowly, seeming exhausted in spite of the lively look in its eyes when it spotted the child eagerly reaching out to it. Its tail began to wag slowly, the motion gaining momentum the closer he came to the tiny hand waiting. Caleb shrieked in delight when the dog licked his hand.

“Puppy, Daddy!”

“No, no, no,” Max chuckled as he crouched down next to his little boy to give the dog a good rubdown. “We’ve got a kitty. Mama will have more than Daddy’s head if we come home with a kitty and a puppy. No, this little guy will find his furever home soon.”

Did Max really just say the dog would find his furever home? Michael made a face.

“No puppy?”

“No puppy, buddy.” Max straightened up with Caleb once again in his arms. He accepted the small carrier with the kitten inside along with a bag of supplies before turning to his friend once more. “No, you’re right, Michael, you don’t have to explain yourself to me.”

“Glad we’re agreed on one thing.”

“I’m gonna be your friend, your brother, no matter what. I’m not the problem you need to work out.”

“I don’t have a problem.”

“So losin’ Maria isn’t a problem for you. Okay, my mistake, I thought that might be a major issue for you.” He pushed through the door and seconds later Michael caught up with him.

“What makes you think I’m gonna lose her?”

“How much do you expect her to take? She’s a woman and she craves stability and permanence in her life. Do you really think her askin’ about the dog is some random request? Do you think her emotional outburst over this latest knee-jerk reaction of yours is nothing more than a phase that’ll blow over? She’s at the end of her rope and she’s started to question your commitment to your relationship.”

“That’s ridiculous,” he scoffed. “If I was gonna go anywhere I would’ve done it long before now.”

“You’re that confident she knows that?”

“Yeah, I am.” If there was any question of one of them wanting out it would have to be on her side because she was sick and tired of the moving around.

“Then you’re a bigger fool than I ever suspected you of being.” He shook his head. “That doesn’t look like a woman who knows the man she’s with is one hundred percent committed to her.”

Michael frowned and shifted when the wintry scene around them wavered and suddenly he found himself in the ratty hunting cabin. He moved to intercept Maria when she paced past him, her features ravaged by emotion and her eyes filled with a pain he couldn’t describe. His intentions were a wasted effort though, because when he reached for her his hands came away empty and she walked right through him.

Her thoughts suddenly swirled around him, a cacophony of questions without answers. Why were they running again? Why did he continue to volunteer for extra shifts? Why did he isolate himself? Why didn’t he ever bring any of the guys home to watch a game or work on the car? Why had he refused to go with her to pick out the Christmas tree? Why hadn’t he ever once commented on the way the house looked all decorated for the holiday? Why was it okay for the others to settle down but not them?

Her face crumpled and the tears began to flow once again. Why wasn’t she enough to make him happy?

His chest convulsed and it felt like a large hand had just wrapped around his heart and crushed it. He had never wanted to make her feel like this. He had never meant to make her question herself. She didn’t understand that it wasn’t her, it was him. It was all him. It always had been and he didn’t know how to change that.

“I think you’d better figure it out, Michael, because she’s on the edge of a decision that’ll affect both of you for a very long time.”

Michael looked at Maria as she threw herself down on the bed and pulled the bedraggled quilt up over her trembling body. Her thoughts began to broadcast again and that squeezing pain in his chest worsened. When he comes back I’ll just tell him I want to go to Moose Jaw, spend some time with Liz and her family. There’s no reason for this to be any harder than it has to be. I’ll tell him it’s over and let him go.

“No.” He rushed across the room and fell to his knees next to the bed. “No, Maria, don’t let me go. I don’t want you to go.” He reached for her but before he could even try to touch her she disappeared and pain exploded in his hand.

He jerked upright and glanced around. The cabin was barely visible through the heavily falling snow and the silence was deafening. He looked down at his bare hand and frowned. The middle knuckle was cut and bleeding and he realized he must have struck the dashboard. He shook his hand out, wondering if it had cut so easily because his hands were so cold. He felt around for his missing glove and shoved his hand back inside but it did little to warm it up.

He dropped his head back against the seat and rubbed his chest absentmindedly. She couldn’t be ready to walk. His eyes drifted closed even as his mind scrambled over ways to fix this fiasco. He knew there was a way. He just wasn’t sure what it was yet.
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xmag
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Re: A Candy Christmas Carol (Post-Grad, M/M, Teen) Part 3- 2/6/18

Postby xmag » Fri Feb 09, 2018 11:28 am

Oh, damn, that's horrible. Michael doesn't even realize how he has treated Maria during all those years, doesn't see how unhappy she is, isolated, lost. Max helped understanding Michael in this story and boy, is he messed up! Good thing that Ghost Max has the talent of a shrink because Michael sure needed to open his eyes. And the puppy needs a home, Michael, so you know what you've got to do. That and TALK with Maria, instead of running and dictating her life.
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Michael : From day one, I knew you were the girl for me, I never wanted anyone else.

keepsmiling7
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Re: A Candy Christmas Carol (Post-Grad, M/M, Teen) Part 3- 2/6/18

Postby keepsmiling7 » Fri Feb 09, 2018 6:34 pm

I love this story......just read it again over here.
The kitten and puppy are a real soft touch.

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KindredKandies
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A Candy Christmas Carol (Post-Grad, M/M, Teen) Part 4 - 3/1/18

Postby KindredKandies » Thu Mar 01, 2018 10:33 pm

xmag- Yes exactly! He doesn't realize what is truly driving him to pick up and run. As he sits in the cold car bundled up in a sleeping bag his subconscious is going over the problem in his head.

keepsmileing- Thank you for the compliment. :)


Part Four

Michael’s POV

There was a dull thudding sound, muted and distant. He fought against its call but it was incessant and demanding. It became louder, pulling him to consciousness against his will. Awareness brought the sound into focus, constant and sharp. He shook his head slightly, shifting in his seat and wincing at the stiffness and cold that had settled into his muscles.

“Los huevos son buenos!”

He knew that phrase. A frown marred his features as he tried to recall the translation. The eggs are good? It was too cold. Eggs wouldn’t be good at these temperatures. They’d be frozen. He forced his eyes open and looked around, jerking back when a fist knocked on the window right in front of his face.

“What the…?”

“Open up, El Capitan. The family jewels are in danger of freezing out here!”

He shook his head at the picture Kyle presented as he stood there, snow blowing around him, wearing a sombrero on his head while the edges of his poncho flitted in the wind. It was official, he was going crazy. He glanced at the door on the other side when it opened, relieved when Kyle slid inside and slammed the door behind him, dressed in normal clothes and no longer wearing a hat.

“Jeez, it’s almost as cold in here as it is outside,” he muttered as he blew on his hands and then rubbed them together.

“Valenti…” Michael clenched his teeth together, doing his best to control their chattering. “No one invited you to the party.”

Kyle snorted. “Hell, this’s one party I wouldn’t have come to if I was invited and I sure wouldn’t crash it of my own accord.”

“And yet here you are.” Yeah, he was officially losing it.

“Now I want you to pay attention, Guerin. Picture this if you will. The house is decked out for Christmas. Even though you’re kind of a Grinch, you do know how my wife is about this time of year. There’s enough garland and tinsel to choke all of Santa’s reindeer, Rudolph included. Enough wreaths to decorate every door in the neighborhood. Enough lights to threaten the ability of the power company to support our house. She’s made enough cookies to blow the intestines out of an elephant.”

Michael rubbed his eyes and shook his head once again as he tried to push that image out of his head.

“So anyway, Mrs. Valenti and I had just tucked our two little people into their beds and they’re finally asleep.” He leveled a look at Michael. “And you have no idea what it takes to get the two of them to bed on Christmas Eve. It’s a fight most nights, but tonight?” He grinned. Okay, maybe there was a little Santa blackmail involved, but hey, don’t knock it if it works.

“Do you have a point?”

He held up his left hand. “Don’t interrupt the story.”

Michael blinked in confusion when his unwanted and uninvited companion turned his hand around and made a talking motion with his thumb and fingers. He tipped his head to one side and tried desperately to make out what he was seeing. “Why are you wearin’ reindeer gloves?”

“What?” Kyle glanced at his hand. “Oh, these. Well, y’know, we get to open one gift on Christmas Eve before bed and the kids got these for me. Dad’s gotta make a show of wearin’ or usin’ whatever gift his kids give him.”

He shrugged. He wouldn’t know.

“So anyway, as I was sayin’, I spent the next hour holdin’ my breath, my ears tuned to catch every little sigh or tired cry and waitin’ for some of that magical alone time.”

Michael contemplated sticking his fingers in his ears and chanting a litany of la-la-la’s in an effort to derail this current train of conversation. They were heading into territory he really didn’t want to explore.

“Here I am nestled in my favorite chair, my team on the tube and up by seven, my beer to my lips when there arose a loud clatter.”

“If this story involves a fat man and a bunch of animals I’m gonna throw your ass out in the nearest snowdrift.”

“Forget the reindeer and jolly old St. Nick. We’re talkin’ Isabel in all of her meddling glory.” He held his arms out at his sides and looked down when his jacket parted to reveal the sweater below. “Yeah, mother-in-law gift. Had to put it on long enough for the wife to snap a picture to show her mom how much I love it.” He made a face. “You’d think she’d know I’m not a snowman kinda guy, but,” he shrugged, “it could’ve been much worse. Anyway, her demand was my command so here I am.”

“Do you just hand your balls over for Christmas or does she actually take them by force?”

“Some people just have no gratitude.”

His eyes narrowed. “Look, no one’s keepin’ you here. Take your ugly ass sweater, your stupid gloves and the wisdom you’ve memorized from Buddha for Dummies and go home. Tell her you found me. Matter of fact, don’t even tell her that. I was never lost to begin with.”

Kyle exhaled loudly and his breath formed a cloud that he was pretty sure immediately crystallized thanks to the arctic temperature inside the car. He could feel the cold seeping into his bones and he reached for the keys hanging from the ignition. It had to be Maria’s key ring based on the handful of keys and the assortment of crap hanging on the ring. “Y’know, you really shouldn’t have that much weight on a keychain, right? You could damage the ignition switch.”

Michael shoved his hand away. “What’re you doin’?”

“Cut the car on before we turn into ice sculptures.”

He rubbed his gloved hands together and huddled tighter inside the sleeping bag. “I’m fine. Not interested in dyin’ of carbon monoxide poisoning.”

“You’re right, freezing to death is so much better.”

“Go home, Valenti.”

“Huh-uh, no way. If you think Isabel’s gonna let me back into our nice warm bed while you’re out here intentionally icing your chestnuts then your frozen brain’s already losing valuable oxygen.” He sighed. “Well, if you wanna play it that way I guess we’ll just get on the road.”

“I’m all traveled out for the night.”

The words were whisked away as snow suddenly swirled around inside the car, wrapping around them and creating a wall of white. It dissipated as quickly as it had blown up and he found himself standing outside in a city that was familiar. The entrance to Santa’s Village was flanked by two life-size nutcrackers facing each other, their arms extended with candy canes instead of swords that were crossed over the entry.

He looked around at the old brick buildings, still amazed by the care that was taken to preserve them. They had only visited Max and Liz a couple of times but they had been there long enough for him to recognize the city they lived in. His feet moved against his will and he walked next to Kyle as they made their way into the holiday event.

“Some things never change,” Kyle said with a sense of satisfaction as he watched his wife move around the event, overseeing things and making sure everything went off without a hitch. He cleared his throat and nudged Michael’s attention towards the bustle of activity at the center of the village. “And then again, other things do.”

Michael swallowed with difficulty when he recognized Isabel’s handiwork. The village was a bigger, better version of her Christmas mania in Roswell a decade earlier. He froze in place when he spotted a familiar pair of elves flanking Santa where he sat on his throne while the brats lined up to suck up to him. They were singing their rendition of Jingle Bells and drawing laughter from the children.

He frowned when he realized it wasn’t just the scene that was familiar. Maria and Liz dressed up as Snowflake and Candy Cane, helping with the kids and keeping the whole thing running smoothly. He watched Maria closely as she ushered one kid back to her parents while Liz went to collect the next one.

He was a little guy with a dark blonde fringe sticking out from under the hat pulled down over his head and covering his ears. His cheeks were flushed from the cold and the excitement and while there was no hesitation as he reached for the hand Liz held out, he paused to look up at the man holding his other hand. Taller than Kyle, not as tall as Michael, the guy smiled and nodded at the quietly asked, “Daddy?”

“Go ahead, Ethan.”

He released his daddy’s hand and ran next to Liz as she led the way up to Santa and Snowflake. He broke free and ignored Santa in favor of running up to the other elf.

“Mommy!”

Maria’s face was radiant as she caught the little boy and swung him up in her arms. “Is it lunchtime already?” she asked and smiled when he nodded and gave her a big kiss on the cheek. He shifted in her arms and pointed at the man coming towards them.

Michael felt his chest tighten to the point breathing became nearly impossible. The blood was roaring through his ears and he couldn’t seem to hear a word she said as she reached out and took the man’s hand. He leaned in to kiss her, the gesture obviously welcome and returned.

“Okay, you three, let’s get a picture of you with Santa.”

He watched as Maria and her… husband? He didn’t know. But he watched them as they moved with ease and settled in around Santa with their little boy to have their picture taken.

“Not her husband,” Kyle said after watching the emotions chase across his eyes for a few moments. “She never married, never could quite get to that point. He’s a good guy though. Decent, hardworking, good significant other, great dad, and he loves her. They have a good life together.”

The backs of his eyes burned as he watched her, unable to look away from the joy on her face. He’d never had a doubt that she’d be a wonderful mother. He’d just never had that same certainty about himself as a parent. This was what she wanted, what she needed. She deserved this. He felt something inside of him curl in on itself, coiling so tight and small until it lost all semblance of hope and died. The truth of the scene settled over him, crushing in its intensity. He had pushed her away and he had no one but himself to blame.

“Let’s move on, Valenti.” He couldn’t stand here another minute watching a scene with the understudy in his place. “I’m not stayin’ here another minute.”

Kyle simply pointed in the direction of a bonfire that was set up a little ways away. “C’mon.”

His eyes roamed over the buildings around them, some of them seeming out of place while others belonged. He glanced at the sign over one of the doorways, trying to figure out why the animal shelter didn’t seem to fit with the other buildings on the street.

“It closed a few years ago.” Kyle shrugged when Michael glanced at him warily. “Lady couldn’t afford to keep it goin’ and had to let it go.”

He didn’t know why it mattered. The shelter wasn’t even in Moose Jaw. It didn’t belong here. Come to think of it, neither did he. He held his hands out to the fire to warm them, not realizing how close they were when movement from the shadowed recesses of a doorway caught his attention.

He stared at the man, willing him to come out of the shadows so that he could get a better look at him. Something about him was so familiar and he knew he needed to see him. He dropped his hands, still so cold and aching in spite of the heat that didn’t seem to be able to penetrate the icy feeling in his very bones.

Without even realizing it he began to move, crossing the street that only seemed to get colder as the wind began to blow. The shadows created by the flickering flames behind him danced against the walls of the buildings and he started to run. He drew up short when he reached the storefront where the man stood in the shadowed doorway.

He studied the man who didn’t seem to realize he was there. Or maybe he just didn’t care. He was slouched down against the building, one shoulder absorbing the cold from the brick, a hat pulled down over his head. His face was unshaven, his coat dusted with what looked like wood shavings, his jeans and boots frayed and worn. He had an air about him that warned people to stay away.

The man turned his head slowly until they were staring each other down and Michael inhaled sharply. The cold air stabbed through his chest and deep into his lungs making it hard to breathe. He recognized the sunken eyes, the hollow empty look that revealed a soul that had nothing left to give, the slumped shoulders that spoke of a lack of care about anything, himself most of all. He’d know that look anywhere.

He was looking in a mirror. How many times had he done that over the years? How many times had he stood in front of a mirror and wondered how much of Hank he had in him? His gaze dropped to the bottle in the hand of the man that wore his face and he shook his head. Sure, he had a drink now and then, but the bottle, the demeanor, the signs were all there – this man didn’t have an occasional drink. He didn’t live, he simply existed. Hiding in the shadows to catch a glimpse of a woman he knew he didn’t deserve and hadn’t been able to hold onto.

“You can’t hold onto someone you’re constantly pushin’ away.”

It was his voice but he hadn’t spoken. He looked up into the face of his mirror image.

“If you can’t take the risk you don’t deserve to even try holdin’ on to her.” He raised the bottle to his lips, turned to send a longing look in her direction, and pushed away from the doorway, stumbling a little as he made his way down the steps and out into the street. He kept to the shadows before finally disappearing from sight.

“Valenti,” he barked sharply, “take me back. Now!”

The wind rose and the snow swirled around them, wiping everything from sight, and in less than a heartbeat he was back in the confines of the car. And Kyle was still there. Why wouldn’t he just leave him in peace?

“Start the car, Guerin. I’m not leavin’ till you do.”

The image of himself, in some ways a reflection of his worst nightmare, had shaken him. “Just go.”

“Yeah, see, the way this works is I get you home safely or Isabel and the kids are gonna have a very bad Christmas. And one thing I will not do is mess with that woman’s Christmas.”

“Fine!” Hell, whatever it took to get rid of the damn gnome!

“No need to call names,” Kyle grumbled.

Michael reached for the key hanging from the ignition and turned it. He shook his hand at the feeling of hot needles piercing his fingers and he raised it, frowning when he realized he’d lost his glove again.

“Tell me you can warm the engine without setting it on fire.”

He glared at his ghostly companion and gave it another attempt. He had to start the car. If he succeeded he could get rid of Kyle. If he succeeded he could get back to Maria. He understood what she needed now and he was ready to take the risk. If only he could get the car to start. But it wasn’t cooperating.

“I think maybe it needs a little alien love.”

He wanted to yell at Kyle but suddenly he felt so exhausted. He just wanted to close his eyes for a little while. It couldn’t hurt to rest for a few minutes. He’d had a long night through no fault of his own. He was pretty sure he couldn’t have known that cookies and a beer would cause this much grief.

“Let’s go, Guerin. Outta the car, heat that engine and let’s get it started. Otherwise I’m gonna have to pull out the big guns and have Isabel come out here.”

Michael stared at the cabin through bleary eyes. He fumbled to push his hand back into his glove and started to tug on the sleeping bag.

“No, you don’t. Hey, you don’t get out there and get this thing goin’ Maria’s gonna go lookin’ for you. You want her wandering around out in this weather? You know she’s not equipped for it but that won’t stop her.”

The thought of Maria stumbling around in this cold motivated him. He reached for the door handle and missed it. He tried again and managed to wrap his hand around the handle but couldn’t seem to make it work. He pulled the handle and shoved with his shoulder. After a couple of attempts it gave in and flew open with a metallic groan. He managed to stumble out of the car, almost falling on his face as he got tangled up in the sleeping bag.

“C’mon, you’re almost there.”

“Shut up, Valenti. Go haunt someone else,” he muttered as he fought to open the hood. He shook his hand and pulled the glove off, flexing his freezing fingers before holding it over the engine. He focused as hard as he could, digging deep for the strength he needed to do this and get home. “Almost home, Maria,” he whispered, closing his eyes and pushing himself.

After a few minutes he shoved his hand back in his glove, slammed the hood, grabbed the sleeping bag that had blown several feet away to wrap around the trunk of a tree, and climbed back inside the car. He fumbled with the keys and finally managed to turn them and the car started without further protest.

He was shaking as he waited for the car to warm up but it wasn’t all from the cold. The image of a future version of himself, alone, remaining on the outskirts of family and friends because he had pushed everyone away, scared him. But it was the image of Maria, mother of a little boy, lover to a man who wasn’t him, that terrified him.

He’d always wanted a family, craved it in a way that scared him, but he didn’t know how to be that person. He didn’t know how to be a husband a woman could lean on, could depend on to be there. He didn’t know how to be a father. His role model was the thing his nightmares were made of.

He’d spent a lifetime surviving with learned coping behaviors and without his realizing it they were pushing him right into filling Hank’s shoes. It wasn’t about abuse, although there were so many ways to hurt people without ever raising a hand. It was about finding new ways to cope because if he didn’t, if he didn’t open himself up to the possibilities, he was going to lose Maria for good.

Determination hummed through his body and gave him a renewed sense of purpose, of hope, as he put the car in drive and headed for the light shining in the darkness and guiding his path.
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