A Candy Christmas Carol (Post-Grad, M/M, Teen) Part 7 - 5/19/18

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

Postby Eva » Fri Mar 02, 2018 4:17 am

Hey Elizabeth & Angel, I totallly didn't know you started a new story. Although I wasn't a big fan of Charles Dickens' masterpiece, I'm enjoying the story. The humor of all the ghosts is hilarious. But only Kyle will get through his stubborness, like he only can.
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Re: A Candy Christmas Carol (Post-Grad, M/M, Teen) Part 4 - 3/1/18

Postby xilaj » Sat Mar 03, 2018 11:08 pm

Loved Kyle’s intervention - he’s such a good friend and funny too. Could easily imagine Isabel's Christmas frenzy! Hope Michael puts his new insights into good use!

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

Postby keepsmiling7 » Tue Mar 06, 2018 6:57 pm

I love Kyle.......he makes the stories more interesting every time.
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Carolyn

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A Candy Christmas Carol (Post-Grad, M/M, Teen) Part 5 - 3/1/18

Postby KindredKandies » Sat Mar 17, 2018 8:07 pm

Eva- Howdy Eva! good to see you.:) Yup, we've been a bit busy again. lol. Glad you are enjoying the story.

xilaj- Thank you. We love Kyle. He's a good friend.


keepsmiling7- Thank you! We do as well.



Part Five

Maria’s POV

The wind was gusting heavily and the temperature inside the cabin seemed to drop a little more with every passing minute. She stared at the window across the room when it rattled, her body shuddering from a combination of cold and fear. In all the years they had been on the run, all the times they’d fought, this was the first time he’d ever just walked out.

Oh, she knew he’d be somewhere close by, keeping watch. And she knew in time he’d come back. It wasn’t in him to just leave her here, she knew that. She was just afraid he was ready for things between them to end. Why now? It wasn’t the dog issue, she was sure of that. She didn’t think it was just her wanting to settle down in one place either, although she had a feeling that was a big part of it.

Maybe he’d just become accustomed to running. Maybe he just didn’t want to settle down. Or maybe he was just tired of her. She sighed, the sound dejected even to her own ears. She wished he would just talk to her. She wasn’t a mind reader. Guessing when it came to what Michael Guerin was thinking was an exercise in futility. She needed to know what she was up against. She needed to know if it was time to let him go or if there was anything left to fight for.

Her fingers dragged over the coarse material of the threadbare sheets and she glanced around the cabin. Michael had a special talent for finding dumps like this. They had a perfectly nice home with a big bed covered in soft micro fleece sheets and thick warm blankets. And where were they? She wasn’t even sure where they were. Maybe they weren’t even in Canada any longer.

Whatever had spooked Michael this time had kept them moving well beyond what was strictly necessary. She wasn’t sure she even believed his reason for running this time. It felt like he’d latched onto the first convenient excuse, she just didn’t know why. She knew where her insecurities were taking her, but she really wanted some cold hard facts to measure his actions up against.

She shifted around and winced when the lumpy mattress dug into her back. The damn thing was so uncomfortable. Why weren’t they at home? They had a perfectly comfortable bed at home. A bed that they had actually picked out together months ago, before things had started to become so strained between them.

She squeezed her eyes shut when the arguments that had become so frequent over the past few months began to play in her mind, culminating in their last fight. The words, the volume of their voices – mostly hers since his contribution had mainly been him standing there with that look on his face – only got louder. She needed something to focus on, something to distract her and give her the reprieve of silence. At this point she knew peace was too much to ask for, but maybe she would be granted a few minutes of quiet.

Exhaustion seemed to fill her being, taking up residence in every inch of her body, and in spite of the uncomfortable mattress she could feel herself slipping away. She jerked once and her eyes fluttered open, searching the room and locating a dim point of light coming from beneath the door that led out into the main room.

She dragged herself up and over to the door, opening it and peering out into the other room. She didn’t hear a sound but she could see the shadows dancing on the walls, an indicator that the logs in the fireplace had come to life. She ventured further into the room, certain Michael hadn’t yet returned.

The familiar sound of logs crackling and the heat from the fire now blazing in the fireplace drew her like a moth to a flame. Hands extended in front of her she approached the roughhewn fireplace and the warmth immediately infused her being, comforting and soothing to nerves worn too thin.

Something off to her left glittered and she turned her head, squinting in an effort to make out the unfamiliar shapes. She crossed the room to look at the bookcase she had failed to notice before and she reached out to rest a hand on the snow globe sitting on the top shelf. It was large with a heavy wooden base that proudly boasted a brass plaque with a name engraved on it. She picked it up and shook it, bringing the glittering snow inside to life in a swirl of activity. Three white polar bears stood inside, their paws interlocked to form a circle around an igloo with a small penguin perched on top.

She set the snow globe down and let her fingertips trail over the children’s books lined up and filling the second shelf. Children’s books seemed rather out of place in a remote hunting cabin. She leaned in closer to scan the few titles she could make out in the dim light. “A Christmas for Cindy Bear,” she mused quietly before her eyes lifted back to the snow globe. Polar bears, polar bears… there was something very familiar about this scene.

“Maria?”

The quiet voice, so out of place in this setting, pulled her out of her musings and she raised her gaze back to the snow globe and the name plate. Her fingers traced over the letters that were suddenly illuminated as the flames leapt higher in the fireplace. Caleb. She turned slowly and she found herself staring in disbelief at her best friend.

“Liz,” she whispered, her voice wavering with emotion. She took in the sight of Liz sitting in a rocking chair next to the fireplace, the blinking lights from the Christmas tree next to her casting colored flashes of light against her skin. Caleb lay calmly in her arms, his eyes heavy-lidded as he fought to focus on the tree.

“Oh, Maria,” Liz said, her voice heavy with concern, “what’s going on?”

“I wish I knew. It’s been so hard for a while now, but it’s only gotten worse the past couple of months. I can feel Michael pulling away from me, shutting me out. And I know I’m not helping, I know that. I’ve been irritable and short-tempered, but the more he shuts down the more anxious I get. It’s Christmas Eve, Liz, and he walked out.” She looked away and swallowed with difficulty. “He’s never walked out before.”

Liz stood and took Maria in her arms. “It’s gonna be okay, Maria. I don’t know what’s going on with Michael, but the one thing I am sure of where he’s concerned is that he loves you.”

“I know he loves me. I just don’t think that’s enough anymore.”

“Sweetie, you have to give him a chance to explain.”

Maria gave a watery laugh. “Michael explaining anything, especially his feelings…” she shook her head. “That’s just not his thing.”

“Give him the chance, Maria. That man doesn’t want to lose you.”

She closed her eyes tiredly. She wanted to believe that. She wanted so badly to believe it. But she couldn’t stop the doubts that had started creeping in months ago, doubts that had seemed to be validated with every fight, every extra shift he volunteered for, every time he’d given her a reason why he couldn’t go out and do something with her, and finally the excuse he’d made to uproot them yet again. She wanted to believe but she was just so tired… so very tired.



Michael’s POV

Michael slowed as he neared the sharp turn at the base of the hill, carefully maneuvering the car over the slick spots. If anyone had told him ten years ago that he’d become accustomed to being up to his knees in snow he would’ve laughed them off of the planet. He pressed his right hand over the vent but the heat did little more than cause his burning flesh to sting even worse than it already did.

His mind was actively turning over everything his brain had dredged up the past few hours, trying to figure out how to handle the situation. It was past time to find new ways to cope with his issues because if he didn’t, if he didn’t open himself up to the possibilities, he was going to lose Maria for good. That wasn’t an option he was willing to entertain. He could kick himself for letting things get so far out of hand. He hadn’t meant to, but that didn’t change the fact that he had.

His foot dropped off of the gas pedal when he passed the office where he’d rented the cabin and noticed the light pouring out through the windows. He shot a glance at the clock on the dash, wondering why the office wasn’t locked up tight. Without giving it a second thought he pulled up by the gas pump and got out, his fingers feeling thick and clumsy as he grappled with the handle.

He’d put Maria through hell for the past two days. Running into the house and telling her they had to leave, arguing with her instead of trying to explain himself while he shoved things in a couple of bags and hauled them and her out of the house, driving like a madman for endless hours without stopping for much more than gas and then dumping her in the cabin. Hell, he hadn’t even made sure she had a decent meal in all those hours.

He shook his head at his stupidity. He’d pushed too hard, too far this time. His own fears and his sense of self-preservation had allowed him to risk the one thing that meant the most to him. He rested his hand on the pump handle, calculating how much gas he needed while going over the last thing she’d said to him.

“I don’t know if I can do this anymore.”

In all the years they’d been together, with all the arguments and fights they’d had, she’d never once thrown those words at him. He tipped his head back and looked up at the sky, taking in the stars that dotted the black canvas. He drew in a deep breath as his eyes settled on the North Star, recalling a story Maria had rattled off several years back when they had been driving through South Dakota. Something about the son of an Indian chief getting lost and finding his way back home using it as a guide. There were plenty of stories out there about people doing the same thing. He exhaled and his breath hung on the air for several seconds before dissipating. Maybe there was some truth in the stories.

He shoved his hands in his coat pockets and lowered his gaze to the candle flickering in the window. He wondered why it was lit when it was apparent that there was nothing wrong with the electricity. It suddenly hit him that it was Christmas morning and all he’d given the woman he loved was more heartache.

Maria had given him everything including a comfortable home and in a fit of discomfort he’d pulled the rug out from under her and taken it all away. He didn’t want that to be his legacy. He wanted, for once, to give her a gift that held meaning. Yet here he was, once again, without a gift and with only an unacceptable shopping option to locate one.

He sighed and shook his head as he eyed the cheerfully blinking ‘open’ sign above the candle. It was quite possible this was an even worse place to buy a Christmas gift than the hardware store. But, beggars couldn’t be choosers, could they? With a determined stride he walked up to the door and pulled it open, barely noticing the warm air that rushed to greet him.

He nodded at the old man who looked up from behind the counter, taking in the faded blue eyes beneath bushy white eyebrows. The chair creaked when he sat forward to place his book on the counter before slowly getting to his feet and stretching.

“Well, Merry Christmas, Mr. Delaney.”

Michael mumbled a response and headed for the small aisles to browse what the store had to offer. He had lost count of the phony names they’d used over the years. Maria had turned it into a game or sorts, scrambling the letters of the real names of the people she cared most about and seeing how many names she could come up with. It was her way of holding onto them and it had taken years for him to recognize the coping mechanism for what it was.

He could feel the old man’s eyes on him as he shuffled through the aisles. He’d long ago learned to trust his instincts and nothing about the small store’s proprietor had set his alarms off. His gaze scanned over the items on the shelves, taking inventory of the possible options. Nothing suitable for a gift, but more than enough choices to at least make her a decent meal… and it was the least he could do for her.

He sighed and snagged a box of pancake mix, a small bottle of oil and a package of chocolate chips. Yeah, he thought with a shake of his head, because making her favorite pancakes would fix everything. He’d screwed up big time. He couldn’t possibly go back to the cabin with nothing solid to offer her.

He reached around and rested his hand over his back pocket for a moment before pulling his wallet out. He popped the snaps on it and ran a thumb over the thick stack of bills inside. He’d always kept a good amount of cash on hand because he never knew when they might have to hit the road, but thanks to all the overtime he’d been putting in for the past couple of months he’d socked away considerably more than normal. He slid his wallet back in his pocket and grabbed a bottle of syrup, tucking it under his arm before making his way over to the cold case.

It only took a few seconds to locate the breakfast sausage and add a package to his collection but it didn’t do anything for his dilemma. He still didn’t have anything to offer her. He made a face when he turned and saw a small display of Christmas flowers. No way. He wasn’t a flowers kinda guy and not just because that one time had blown up in his face. It just wasn’t his thing. He continued on his way, pausing when he reached the aisle of personal hygiene products. He gave the items there a brief glance before dismissing them as unacceptable.

Dejected, he was turning to head to the register with his meager groceries when a sign on the wall over a darkened doorway caught his attention. Gouden’s Gifts. It was hand carved and it gleamed in the weak light that filtered up to illuminate it. His head snapped to the side when the room suddenly lit up.

“Go ahead, Mr. Delaney, have a look around.” He motioned to the younger man to come closer. “Why don’t you set those things down, free your hands up while you browse.”

“Well…”

The old man chuckled and repeated the motion when his customer shot a glance at the clock. “It’s perfectly fine, son. I’m not in any rush.”

Michael hesitated, but after a moment he nodded and moved to place the items on the counter. He didn’t want to go to Maria empty-handed. He shrugged a shoulder at the candle burning in the window. “You expecting the power to go out tonight?”

“Oh, no. That happens regular enough, but that’s not why the candle’s lit. It was a tradition of my wife’s and so it became mine as well.” He smiled and there was sadness in the depths of his eyes. “It’s to welcome the Christ Child.”

“Why?” He cleared his throat when he realized how abrupt and rude his question probably came across. “I just mean He wasn’t actually born on Christmas Day.”

“No, you’re right about that,” he said as he moved around the counter to join the younger man to lead the way over to the other side of the store. “But, truth is we don’t know the actual date of His birth and this is as good a day as any to celebrate. He stepped through the doorway and glanced at him. “Have you done much studying on the date of His birth?”

“Me? No, I have a friend who’s a Buddhist and he’s taken an interest in a lot of different things.” And Kyle had gone on and on about the inaccuracies surrounding Christmas a few years back when he’d gotten his hands on a book of comparative religion and proceeded to share the wealth of his knowledge. He was sure he’d nearly laughed himself stupid when Isabel had finally had enough and that book had sailed across the room when Kyle rattled off one theory too many. He was just glad he’d been there to witness it.

“Buddhist, eh?” He scratched his head and reached up to adjust his hat, only realizing it wasn’t there when he came into contact with empty space. “Very peaceful people, Buddhists,” he said as he leaned over the counter to retrieve his hat. He nodded to himself as he settled it in place and turned back around.

“Known many of them, have you?” Michael questioned as the old guy joined him. He shot a quick glance at the hat – black faded material with words embroidered in what was once yellow-gold colored thread. He’d seen similar hats before, worn by veterans, and he wasn’t positive but he was pretty sure the words were the names of military campaigns or battles. He’d found one in the footlocker in Hank’s room when he was eight years old along with a purple and gold heart-shaped medal. He hadn’t had any idea of the significance of the items at the time. Hank had caught him and he’d made sure Michael never forgot it was off limits. It was the first time the cold-hearted bastard had drawn blood when he hit him. He shook the memory off. He hadn’t thought about that in years and there was no need to go there now.

“Just one,” he said with a smile as he led the way into the gift shop. “What about you?”

“Just the one. He’s more than enough.” He shrugged at the man’s appraising look. “Good friend,” he admitted finally.

“I didn’t know Trang long but I think we’d have been very good friends given the chance.” He nodded when the younger man glanced at his hat. “I only knew him for seven hours but we had a conversation I’ll never forget.”

“Battlefield conversation?”

“No, R&R in Saigon, summer of ‘63. I was headed for a dive bar with some buddies when we ran across a group of GI’s harassing a man.”

“Trang,” Michael guessed.

“Um-hmm. Most of the guys went on to the bar. Most of them weren’t interested in getting involved in something they saw as none of their business and a couple of them wouldn’t be bothered to help anyone who was Vietnamese.” What a sad commentary on humanity, he thought.

“But you stepped in.”

He nodded. “Yeah, got a black eye and a tooth knocked out, but it was well worth it.”

“Got a conversation you’ll never forget for your trouble.”

The old man chuckled. “That I did. Sometimes we’re gifted with a brief moment with someone that changes our lives in some way. You don’t strike me as much of a conversationalist but I’ll bet you’d appreciate a moment in time like that too.” He tipped his head to one side and reached up to rub his left ear. “I’d even wager you’ve had one or two of those in your life already.”

He reached out to run his hand over the high back of a wooden rocking chair, fingertips trailing over the thin strings that secured the floral-patterned cushion to its back. Yeah, he’d had a couple of those. Hal Carver and Jim Valenti immediately came to mind. “So you and Trang never talked again after that night?”

“No.” He smiled sadly. “You know much about the Buddhist crisis?”

More than he wanted to thanks to Kyle. Rather than say that though, he just nodded. “I’ve read about it.” His eyebrows lifted in interest. “He was part of the resistance?”

“Yeah. He was killed a few days after we met.” He shook his head. “A lot of Buddhists were killed or disappeared when the pagodas in South Vietnam were raided.”

“That what happened to Trang?”

“He died fighting for what he believed in.” His eyes took on a faraway look as he remembered a conversation in a back alley dive. “I was disillusioned when we met. I couldn’t honestly tell you why I was there or what I was fighting for. Twenty-four years old, thousands of miles from my new wife and my home,” he sighed, “and I was bone tired. Trang gave me a renewed sense of purpose that night. He was passionate about his beliefs. I realized I had something to fight for, someone to fight for, and it made a big difference.”

“If you have someone to fight for you’ve got everything.”

“I couldn’t agree more.” He chuckled when the younger man’s head snapped up and it was apparent by the expression on his face that he hadn’t realized he’d spoken aloud. “Many Buddhists believe the Good Lord’s teachings compliment their own beliefs.” He turned his head to glance at the candle burning in the window. “You said you have a friend who’s a Buddhist. Does he celebrate Christmas?”

Michael snorted. Did Christmas reindeer fly? Did Santa Claus wear a mistletoe jockstrap? Hell yes, Kyle celebrated Christmas. “Yeah, you might say he’s married to Mrs. Claus, so like it or not it’s a holiday staple in their house.” He shrugged one shoulder. “She doesn’t have to twist his arm much. They’ve got kids so he gets into it more than he ever did before.”

“Kids will do that for you.”

“Yeah, I guess,” he said thinking of his friends and how engaged they were when holidays – especially Christmas, came around now that kids were a part of the picture.

“No little ones at home, Mr. Delaney?”

“No.” He ran a hand through his hair. “And it’s just Michael.”

That earned him a grin and an extended hand. “Pleased to meet you, Michael. You can call me Larry.” He glanced around the room. “Are you looking for anything in particular? Something for your wife maybe?”

“I don’t…” he trailed off when his gaze landed on the far wall and the blanket hanging there. It was practical, which met his criteria, and it was something Maria would appreciate. He nodded at the blanket. “Is that blanket for sale?”

Larry turned to follow the young man’s pointing finger and he hid a smile. “You have a good eye, Michael. C’mon, let’s take a look at it.”

“It’s not very thick,” Michael mumbled once he held it in his hands.

“They don’t have to be thick to be warm. Trust me, my wife made them for years. It’ll last for years and you’ll be surprised just how warm it is.”

“Well, it’s a nice color.”

Larry couldn’t hold in the chuckle. It was easy to see Michael was out of his depth here. “Does your wife have a preferred color scheme or anything for your bedroom?”

“Huh?”

“Some women are pretty set when it comes to color schemes and the like.”

“Uh, no, Maria’s kinda… eclectic.” He pressed his hand over the circular patterns that decorated the blanket, er, quilt. “She’ll like it. Yeah, this’ll work.”

“Well, let’s get it wrapped up for her.”

“It’ll be okay as long as you’ve got a bag to put it in.”

Larry reached over and patted him on the shoulder. “Son, a gift like this doesn’t just get shoved in a grocery sack.” He readjusted his hat and reached for the quilt. “My wife made these quilts for years and I made the boxes for them.”

Michael followed him back to the counter and watched him as he folded the quilt, his wrinkled hands smoothing the material down. He tipped his head to the side when one of the corners caught his eye and he reached out to flip it back. His thumb traced over the small rectangular piece of silky material sewn to the back corner. Thanks to Kyle he recognized the colors and pattern that depicted the Buddhist flag. He wondered if she’d chosen to use it because of what it symbolized to her husband. Bright blue thread was stitched to spell out a name over the multi-colored material. Betty G. His eyes lifted to Larry and he looked away from the raw pain visible in the man’s eyes as they rested on the name.

His gaze settled on the hand that moved to rest near his and he stared at the scarred gold band on the man’s third finger. It matched the hands that bore the scars of a lifetime of hard work; building, carving, fighting, and living.

“She was quite a woman, my Betty.”

“She must’ve been,” Michael agreed softly.

“Excuse me a moment.”

He nodded and waited, his eyes wandering to the candle burning in the window once more. A light to guide the way, he thought.

“Here we go.” Larry placed a large box on the counter and lifted the hand-carved lid off, setting it aside. “It’s not a Christmas theme,” he said apologetically as he gestured to the scene carved into the lid.

Michael’s eyes traced over the scene – a log home surrounded by trees, a wisp of smoke curling up from the chimney, and a dog watching over his family from his position on the covered porch. He shook his head. “No, this’s perfect.”

“If you’d like I can carve your names on the box with the date of your wedding.”

Michael glanced up at him, confusion etched clearly on his face. “What?”

Larry smiled and reached out to run a fingertip along the circular pattern. “See the way the rings are interlocked? This is a wedding quilt, Michael. The rings symbolize love, marriage, and permanence. When is your anniversary?”

A wedding quilt, he mused. A symbol of permanence, of stability and most importantly, a promise… a promise he should’ve given her a long time ago. “No need to carve anything else on the box. It’s perfect as is.” He shook his head and reached up to scratch his eyebrow with his thumb. “If and when she says yes maybe I’ll find my way back here to get the finishing touch put on it.”
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Re: A Candy Christmas Carol (Post-Grad, M/M, Teen) Part 5 - 3/17/18

Postby Eva » Fri Mar 23, 2018 8:38 am

There's still hope for them both but it's a dark way to spend Christmas eve.

Michael and shopping, it always stays a funny combination.
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Re: A Candy Christmas Carol (Post-Grad, M/M, Teen) Part 5 - 3/17/18

Postby keepsmiling7 » Fri Mar 23, 2018 5:51 pm

Love it.......does a Buddhist celebrate Christmas......well Kyle is married to Mrs. Santa Clause!

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A Candy Christmas Carol (Post-Grad, M/M, Teen) Part 6 - 4/22/18

Postby KindredKandies » Sun Apr 22, 2018 6:28 pm

Eva- Yes it's been a difficult Christmas Eve, but it is Christmas Eve. ;) Lol, we had fun shopping with Michael.


keepsmiling7- Aww thank you. We love Kyle, lol.



Part Six

Maria’s POV

Maria stretched slowly, feeling the pull of abused muscles and wishing futilely that she was at home in her own bed. Somehow everything seemed easier to deal with when you had the comfort of your own bed waiting for you. Unfortunately she didn’t have that luxury. Instead, she was stuck in the middle of an arctic wasteland. She wrinkled her nose and then wiggled her toes, suddenly realizing that they were no longer freezing.

Warmth. It surrounded her, comforting without being overbearing in its intensity. She sighed quietly and shifted, her brows pulling down in a small frown when a nearly unnoticeable sizzling sound carried on the silence in the cabin. It took a few moments before her dulled senses began to awaken and her nose twitched when the scent of cooking sausage wafted on the air.

Her eyes opened a crack and she peered around blearily. The sky was visible through the uncovered window across the room, revealing that it was still pitch dark. Her stomach rumbled in spite of the early hour. Light flickered, casting shadows across the wall and drawing her sleepy gaze to the fire roaring in the fireplace. She forced her eyes to open fully and slowly looked around the room.

She frowned when she locked on the outerwear neatly hanging on the hooks by the door. She looked down and stared at the boots neatly placed on the mat by the door. She reached up to rub her eyes, certain they were playing tricks on her. But after several attempts to clear her vision things remained the same. It didn’t make sense. Twelve years with Michael hadn’t changed certain things – things like picking up after himself and putting articles of clothing in their proper places. So, in light of that little fact, what she was seeing made no sense.

Unless maybe she was really still asleep. That was completely possible. And it made more sense than what she was seeing and smelling. Her stomach rumbled again, reminding her that she hadn’t eaten in… when had she last eaten? She certainly hadn’t bothered with the hamburger Michael had picked up on one of their quick stops for gas. Well, she’d taken a couple of bites, but it hadn’t set well and she’d wrapped the rest of it up and set it aside. She hadn’t been hungry, too upset with the situation – and her boyfriend – to bother eating. Not that it had gone to waste. No, Michael had practically inhaled it after polishing off his own meal.

Her last meal had been the day before yesterday. She’d had the night off so she’d made his favorite dinner, which had turned out to be a wasted effort. It had turned cold while she waited for him to come home and she’d finally covered the dishes and put it in the refrigerator. Where it was still sitting. She hadn’t eaten anything for dinner, which meant her last meal had been lunch that day.

Finally deciding that she must be awake, she carefully pushed herself into a sitting position. A wave of nausea washed over her and she reached out to place a steadying hand on the arm of the couch as she closed her eyes and inhaled several slow, measured breaths. Between not eating, the stress and anxiety over her current situation, she was feeling like crap.

She tugged the throw around her shoulders and wondered once again if she was just dreaming. The visit with Liz had been wonderful, too brief, and all in her head. If her mind could take her there then it was more than capable of creating a scene like this. Her eyes lifted to the moose head mounted to the wall over the fireplace and that idea went out the window. No way would she have that monstrosity in a dream. A nightmare, yes, but not a dream. There was something very wrong with decorating some poor dead animal’s head in Christmas lights and a Santa hat.

There was a loud sizzling sound that was so familiar it drew her gaze to the tiny kitchen. She couldn’t remember the last time Michael had made breakfast for her. But he had a habit of adding a bit of water to the sausage when it was nearly done and then turning the heat down low and putting a lid on the pan. It kept the sausage hot and moist and prevented it from drying out and becoming tough.

His quiet presence was soothing. After the way he’d stormed out hours ago she hadn’t known what to expect when he returned. Watching him walk out like that had been difficult. She’d never doubted that he’d return, but there had been no way of knowing what his mood or his next move would be. She had half expected him to come back and insist they leave again. But he’d returned quietly, put his things away neatly, and then retreated to the kitchen to cook breakfast.

She got to her feet, giving herself a moment to be sure she was steady, and then made her way to the kitchen. The nausea rose briefly as she was bombarded by the combined scents of pancakes, sausage, syrup, and mixed in there somewhere, a hint of chocolate. She wondered if this was just his way of apologizing; if his plan was to soften the blow of the news that they were leaving again by making her favorite breakfast.

She glanced at the table that was just big enough for two, set for a meal. He’d gone to the effort to not only make breakfast, but to set the table with real plates, utensils and glasses. Why? She knew the way he operated and this wasn’t one of his settings. When they had to run he tended to use the old bull in the china shop routine. He never thought to soften the blow. She understood that about him, or at least she always had in the past. Not that she liked it, but she did understand it. It was his way of keeping her safe. This last time though, it had been different. She was out of her depth and she didn’t know what to expect from him right now.

Her mind began to piece the evidence together and she swallowed hard as she took in the setting. The last time anything similar to this had happened it had been the method he’d chosen to say goodbye. Her breath hitched in her throat as she realized that she had been right earlier. He was ready for them to go their separate ways and this was his way of working up to the conversation.

Michael’s POV

He watched the bubbles on top of the pancakes as they popped one by one, quietly counting down to the moment they would be ready to turn. He listened to the sausage cooking with half an ear, aware enough of the sizzling sound to know it was cooking on schedule. He poured the syrup in a small pot and added a little bit of butter to it, absently watching it melt into the thick dark liquid.

His mind was turning over the past few hours. Beer and cookies definitely weren’t a good combination but he’d given up on that as a plausible explanation for the things he’d seen. He didn’t believe in ghosts or the supernatural so the only thing he’d been able to come up with was that his mind had conjured the whole thing up, using people he knew and trusted as a way to make sense of the situation he’d found himself in.

Without giving it any thought he lifted the lid on the other pan, flipped the sausage patties over, added enough water to quiet the sizzling and replaced the cover before placing the pan back on the burner. The edges of the pancakes showed signs of crisping and when the final bubble popped he slid the spatula under the first one and flipped it over. The other three followed suit and he turned the heat down while reaching for the bag of chocolate chips.

Maybe this gesture was stupid and a waste of time. It wasn’t like making her favorite pancakes could erase his mistakes. Hell, it couldn’t hurt he reasoned and carefully placed the chocolate chips in a specific pattern. He hesitated before completing them, tossing the bag on the counter and snatching up a small individual bag of M&Ms he’d added to his purchases at the last minute. He tore it open and shook the contents into his hand, pulling four red ones out and placing them in the center of each pancake. Yeah, it was stupid.

The sound of sock-covered feet shuffling across the floor alerted him to the fact that Maria was on the move. He’d heard her waking up and he’d forced himself to stay focused on the task at hand. The first thing he needed to do was feed her and hope like hell he could figure out what exactly to say to her. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up, letting him know she was watching him.

He turned slowly, hiding a grimace when he saw her haggard appearance. It was made worse by the knowledge that he was responsible for it. “I made breakfast.” His inner voice mocked him for his lack of verbal abilities. Way to state the obvious, you idiot! He slid the pancakes on a plate and turned to look at her.

It was moments like this that he wished he possessed the skill of verbal eloquence. He had no idea what to say and even if he did, he didn’t know how to say it. He opened his mouth and closed it several times in aborted attempts to speak. He frowned when he caught the way her skittish gaze was bouncing back and forth between him and the table he’d painstakingly set. Had it really been that long since he’d made such a simple gesture as making a meal for her? It had, he realized. He had made such a mess of things.

He knew she was angry with him, knew she was hurt, but her prolonged silence worried him. As a rule they fought stuff like this out. She didn’t just sit around quietly when he screwed up or pissed her off. Of course, in all their years together he’d never pushed her this far. He forced his eyes back up to meet hers and in the space of a heartbeat he realized that she’d closed herself off to him. Her eyes were normally vibrant and alive; snapping with anger or fiery with passion, but never devoid of emotion.

The realization startled him and before he could speak the heat from the stove seared his overly-sensitized hand and he jerked it back, dropping the spatula from suddenly nerveless fingers. He reached out, knocking it away from the burners before hurriedly turning them off, and turning back to say something, anything, but she had turned away and was already leaving the room.

He gave himself a mental kick for not realizing how the scene would affect her. It had never even entered his mind that she would equate him cooking breakfast for her with the dinner he’d cooked to say his goodbyes before departing planet Earth. “Maria,” he called as he hurried after her. “Maria… it’s not what you’re thinkin’.”

He watched her warily as she moved around the room, picking up random items before putting them right back down again. He knew her, knew the way her mind worked, the leaps she was capable of making when adding two and two and coming up with seven. Female logic was anything but logical, but now wasn’t the time to point that out.

He found himself wishing for the first time that he had Max’s ability with words. Hell, even Kyle was better at stuff like this than he was. Of course, in his case it was probably all owed to that little fat man he was so infatuated with. Max just seemed to come by it naturally. He figured that could be attributed to genetics. To be the leader he had been in his previous life he had to have been diplomatic. When it came to himself there was no such thing as an easy conversation when it had anything at all to do with emotions. He just wasn’t wired that way. Give him a physical threat and he could deal with it with no problem, but something like this situation just flummoxed him.

The sudden lack of movement caught his attention and he paused to look at Maria. She had taken a seat on the couch and all movement had ceased. She was a woman who was rarely still and even when she was quiet the silence crackled with energy. In this moment though she was still and the air was filled with a tense silence.

He debated his next move for all of ten seconds before he crossed the room and sat down next to her. She was sitting on the edge of the cushion, her elbows braced on her knees and her hands tightly clasped. He shot a furtive glance at her, taking in her emotionless expression as she stared into the fireplace. He wasn’t sure how to approach her. She was doing her best to keep her feelings hidden from him but there was no way to miss the tension drawing her body taut or the fact that she was holding her breath.

He was unnerved by her continued silence and in a moment of clarity he knew he was the one who had to break it. He owed her that much and more. Back in high school he’d managed to reveal himself to her, allowing her access to things he’d never allowed any other person to see, and he’d been able to do it without a word. He couldn’t take that route this time. No, this time he was going to have to fumble through an explanation using actual words. It was one skill where he was not only lacking but also well out of his comfort zone.

His thoughts momentarily detoured, taking him on a quick trip to that Christmas after high school. Yeah, he’d failed miserably that time. He shook the memory off. He didn’t have time to drag his feet. He had to… he rubbed the back of his neck and glanced at her again, seeing her inhale a shaky breath as a log in the fire broke in half and sent sparks up into the chimney. She was about to say something but just as quickly her mouth formed a determined line and she gave a nearly imperceptible shake of her head.

He had a feeling that if she started to talk first he wouldn’t be able to fix what he had broken. He struggled to find the words and came up blank.

“If you can’t take the risk you don’t deserve to even try holdin’ on to her.”

He scrubbed his face and took a breath as his glimpse of the future reared up before him. He couldn’t let that become a reality. “It’s not what you think, Maria. I’m the one who messed up here.” He squeezed his eyes shut and just opened his mouth. “The last few months I got so caught up… so stuck in my own…” he sighed, the sound laced with irritation as the words refused to come easily. “I never meant to hurt you, Maria.” He turned his head and their eyes locked. “I didn’t really understand what was going on until tonight. The uneasiness, the restlessness, the fights… I just…” He ran a hand through his hair and shook his head, frustrated by his inability to just say what was inside of him.

“The whole Christmas thing, it just doesn’t mean the same thing to me that it does to you. I wish it did, Maria. I wish I got what it is that makes it such a big deal to you.” He dropped his head forward and linked his fingers behind his neck as he drew in a deep breath. “It was easier to deal with Christmas while we were on the run because it was just a passing thing, but this year it was all different.”

“It’s not just Christmas, Michael,” she whispered.

He winced at her tired tone, easily identifying her disappointment and fear. “No, you’re right. It’s more than that. It’s about commitment. No, Maria,” he reached out and grabbed her wrist when she shifted and he assumed she was about to get up and walk away without giving him a chance to explain. “It is about commitment, or at least it was. But I didn’t really understand that until tonight.”

“I don’t…” She looked down when his thumb stroked over her hand, his touch gentle and so at odds with the intensity in his eyes.

“All these years we’ve been together and from my perspective that was commitment. I didn’t realize until last night that what we have has been…” his free hand waved around as he searched for the word, “convenient. That’s not to say I wasn’t committed to you, that I’m not committed to you, because I am. But what we have it’s not enough, for either of us.”

Maria’s eyes filled as uncertainty and fear coalesced to form a thick lump in her throat. He was breaking up with her and he was being kind about it. It would be so much easier if he just got angry and yelled. She was having trouble tracking him through vision blurry with tears and she was just barely able to make his form out as he leaned over to pick up a box she hadn’t noticed before.

“So here,” he said as placed it on her lap.

She cleared her throat, realizing that she had missed something. “What?”

He frowned at her and it took a moment for him to realize she wasn’t on the same track. “Maybe I don’t get Christmas, maybe I never will get it, I don’t know. What I do know is what it is to you, what it means, the way it makes you feel… that’s what you are to me. It’s only ever been you for me, Maria. And I’m ready to stop runnin’ from the past. So…” he nodded to the box, “open it.”

Her hand trembled as it moved over the smooth edges of the wood box. Where had he gotten it?

Michael watched as her fingertips traced the images carved into the surface and he looked away to scan over the room around them. She deserved so much more than this. She would have more, he decided as his gaze passed over the moose head hanging from the wall. He could just imagine her thoughts when she’d seen that monstrosity.

Maria’s eyes were locked on the idyllic scene that had been painstakingly etched into the lid by someone who took pride in their work. It was easy to see it wasn’t one of many in a line of replicas made by a machine. When had he found the time to find something like this? She finally lifted her head to look at him, not surprised to see that the intensity in his eyes hadn’t lessened. Her heart tripped over itself when he gave her a small smile. He grinned on occasion, smirked more often, but genuine smiles were rare and she had always treasured them the most.

It took her a moment to realize that he was holding his breath and her curiosity increased tenfold. She lifted the lid off and carefully set it aside before pausing to take in the soft tissue paper that surrounded his gift. The paper made a soft rustling sound as she gently separated the edges to reveal what had been hidden inside. Her palm rested on the quilt for a moment before she wrapped her fingers around it and lifted it up, her eyes widening as it unfolded to reveal the pattern.

Varying shades of blue decorated the material. It was a color he would pick out, although he’d never really shown much interest in the colors of just about anything she’d chosen to decorate their home in the past. She couldn’t stop the internal eye roll as she thought back over the years. No, color didn’t mean anything to him regardless of whether it was linens, rugs or clothes. For Michael it was about practicality, it always had been.

She forced her thoughts back to the present as she studied the gift. The quilt was handmade with a pattern of interlocking rings… the symbolism wasn’t lost on her. She could remember seeing one on her grandparents’ bed on a long-ago visit to them, one of only a handful of visits she’d ever had with them, and her grandmother’s patient explanation of the design. She couldn’t imagine Michael picking the quilt out for its warmth. Knowing him as she did, he would’ve quickly discounted the lightweight material as lacking and gone for something thicker, heavier, and guaranteed to make her break out in a sweat overnight. But he had purchased it, had taken the time to select it, which meant he must have… her fingertips traced over the interlocked ring design as she lifted her head to look at him again.

“Michael?” She held the edge of the quilt out towards him. “This… it’s…” she shook her head. Now she was channeling him and his inability to form complete sentences at times. “It’s a wedding quilt,” she said slowly.

“Yeah, I was kinda hopin’ it could be ours.” He shrugged and rubbed the back of his neck as he once again searched for the words he needed. “I’m not real good with fancy words and flowery declarations, Maria, but you deserve better than this,” he said as his hand waved to indicate the room around them. “You always have and I know I don’t… I don’t always…” he cast about for the correct word, “provide – “

She pressed her fingers against his lips to stop the stilted explanation. “Michael, you’ve always been a good provider. Maybe sometimes it’s been in a rather unorthodox manner, but you have always come through.”

“That’s not enough though.” He got up and paced around the room. “For the past year you were makin’ our house into a home, puttin’ down roots and seein’ a future and I…” his back teeth ground together in frustration, “I fought it because I don’t know how to be… that.” He stopped moving and shoved his hands into his back pockets. “You know what my life was like as a kid.” He took a deep breath. In for a penny, in for a pound. Kyle’s words floated through his head and he wondered why the guy had to run around rattling off random quotes… and more importantly, why they stuck in his head.

Maria started to interrupt, to tell him he didn’t need to revisit his past, but she realized that this was somehow important to him so she remained silent.

“What I’m tryin’ to say is if you’re willin’ to forgive me for the past year,” he cleared his throat, “and more importantly, the past forty-eight hours, then I’d like to take you back home.” He ordered his feet to take him back to her side and he settled on the couch next to her, hesitating only a moment before he reached over and rested his hand over hers. “I didn’t pick the blanket because it’s warm.” He snorted and shook his head. “Thing’s too thin to be very warm.” He cleared his throat and met her gaze, relief coursing through him when he saw the slightest hint of humor in their depths. “The thing is, I don’t have a ring, but I thought the blanket could serve as a promise until I can get one.”

She stared at him, sorting through everything that had happened and the complete one-eighty he had done on her. Relief and confusion intermingled with joy as she carefully placed the quilt back in the box, her fingertips lovingly tracing over the fine stitches that held the squares together with such delicate strength.

His words played over and over in her head. “What I do know is what it is to you, what it means, the way it makes you feel… that’s what you are to me. It’s only ever been you for me, Maria.” He didn’t use words to express his emotions very often, but when he did the one thing she could be certain of was the sincerity behind them. It was apparent he’d had some kind of epiphany during the night and she couldn’t help but wonder what it had been. She knew she wouldn’t ask him about it no matter how curious she was though. She reached up to brush a tear away when it lost the battle with gravity to roll down her cheek. Whatever he had experienced it was bound to have been deeply personal and if one day he decided to share it she would be happy to listen, but it had to be his call.

Her continued silence was playing havoc with Michael’s nerves. It took a conscious effort for him to remain unmoving. He had committed himself to being the man he wanted to be, the man she deserved, and he could only hope that he wasn’t too late. The longer her silence dragged out though, the more room was created for his doubts to gain a foothold, and the thought that he had blown it became harder to ignore. He opened his mouth to apologize as a litany of “I’m too late” began to run through his head. Before he could get the words out he realized she was speaking and his head snapped to the side to look at her.

“Michael, no,” Maria said when she lifted her head and caught his expression. His features were open and so easy to read in that moment. “Your words, your gift, they’re perfect, and I love you for it.” Her eyes shone from the tears she had shed and a smile graced her lips when she paused. Her words were quiet when she spoke again, “I know I haven’t helped much. I’ve been overly anxious and irritable for a while now. That’s not exactly a mood that’s conducive to encouraging conversation. I know it got worse as time went on, but when you walked out last night…” she drew in a deep breath and forced herself to verbalize her fears. “I thought…”

He didn’t give her the time to finish the painful sentence. He knew what her fears were; they even had some in common. He moved closer to her, silencing her as he settled an arm around her shoulders. “No.” He reached up with his free hand, brushing a few stray wisps of hair away from her face and meeting her gaze when her startled gaze flew to him. “Never, Maria. I would, I will never – “

It was her turn to stop the flow of words with the press of her finger against his lips. She simply nodded and rested her forehead against his as she closed her eyes. “I know,” she whispered. They understood each other. They had just gotten off track for a while. The fault didn’t belong to either of them exclusively; they shared the blame for the mess they’d gotten themselves into. “I have a gift for you too.” It took a minute for her to force herself to her feet, to leave the warmth of his embrace, but finally she got up and disappeared into the small bedroom.

Michael felt the weight of the past few months ease from his shoulders when she stepped back into the living area, a tentative smile on her face and a small box in her hands. The box had come from a local store where she had made their home. He recognized the name of the store emblazoned across the box that was tied with a simple red ribbon. He snorted even as he wondered what she could’ve found for him at that particular store that would fit in a box so small.

“Hockey World,” she snorted back. “It’s across the street from the pub you stop at after work sometimes.” She shrugged. “I figured you had to have gone in there once or twice.”

More than that if he were being honest, he thought as he awkwardly accepted the gift from her. He waited until she had settled down next to him again before he carefully grabbed one end of the ribbon and pulled it. The length of ribbon slithered to the floor unheeded and he lifted the lid off of the box, pushing the solid sky blue tissue paper out of the way to get to the gift inside. His hand wrapped around the familiar jersey material and he pulled it out, grasping it by the shoulders and holding it up to study it. His thumb traced over the lettering on the back, trying to figure out what the joke was. If she was going to go to the trouble of having his last name put on the hockey jersey it seemed like she would’ve gotten a much larger size.

He looked at her, his expression clearly confused, before shifting back to the jersey. Maybe she’d done the laundry and used the wrong temperature or setting or whatever by accident. He’d done it more than once and still hadn’t figured out where the mistake had happened. She hadn’t been amused when he’d managed to shrink several articles of her clothing but he couldn’t recall it ever shrinking anything quite so much. He wasn’t sure if he should make a joke or not. “It’s um… kinda puny isn’t it?”

The most beautiful smile he’d ever seen broke across her face and he had the brief thought that if his confusion got that kind of reaction out of her he’d be confused more often.

“Michael, read the front of the jersey.”

He turned it around and held it up, eyebrows pulling together in a frown that eased up as the words passed his lips on a near-silent whisper. “Daddy’s little hockey buddy.” His mouth opened and closed several times as he tried to find his voice. “Maria?”

He looked at her when she released the breath she’d obviously been holding. She blushed and nodded with a hopeful smile.

“Wow…” He felt so inadequately able to verbalize his thoughts and his gaze dropped back to the tiny jersey, trying to visualize it on a baby… on their baby. “So… we’re uh…” He looked to her for confirmation.

“I’ve never done this before either but I think we can do it together,” she said, feeling more confident with every passing moment.

Michael settled back on the couch next to her, feeling that familiar sense of belonging, of home, as her arms wrapped around him securely. He spread the jersey out over her thigh, staring at it as his hand came up to brush the material of her shirt aside to rest against her belly. A quiet fluttering sound reached his ears and after a moment it solidified into a rapid thumping and he smiled. “Yeah, we can do this.” With Maria’s hand gently combing through his hair and his baby’s heartbeat coursing through him a feeling of peace settled over him and he closed his eyes.
Last edited by KindredKandies on Sun Apr 22, 2018 6:59 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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keepsmiling7
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Re: A Candy Christmas Carol (Post-Grad, M/M, Teen) Part 6 - 4/22/18

Postby keepsmiling7 » Sun Apr 22, 2018 6:41 pm

My mouth was watering after I read your description of Michael cooking pancakes and breakfast.
Your words seem to pour forth with such feeling.
Michael and Maria will always be opposites in many ways, but the tender moments are much sweeter when they do occur.
Great job!
Carolyn

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KindredKandies
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Re: A Candy Christmas Carol (Post-Grad, M/M, Teen) Part 7 - 5/19/18

Postby KindredKandies » Sat May 19, 2018 9:37 pm

keepsmiling7: What's better than waking to the smell of home cooking? Especially after the night they've had!

Thank you for the heartfelt compliment.

Michael and Maria are evenly matched, alike and yet different, both hardheaded and stubborn with a vulnerability hidden inside that isn't easy to expose, even with each other. Those moments are even more special for their rare nature.



Part Seven

He watched the movements of the people perusing the shop, his bushy brows twitching with every blink of his disinterested eyes. His eyes shifted to the side when small fingers curled around the wire of his cage door but a moment later the small body that went with the intrusive digits moved away, on to something more interesting. He sighed and wiggled his body around, settling more comfortably into the red plaid blanket that lined the corner he had chosen.

Gentle fingers stroked his head and he lifted his eyes to the man sitting beside him. He studied the kind gray eyes watching him and he whined sadly.

“You know she didn’t want to leave you, Gabriel. She loved you enough to let you go because she was no longer able to take care of you.”

Gabriel sighed and pushed his nose into the folds of the blanket, inhaling the familiar scent of his beloved mistress.

“No one will ever replace Edith in your heart.” He chuckled when the small ears perked up at the mention of the name of the woman he had loved since the moment she first picked him up at the farm where he had been born. “But I promise you this: you will find a home with a family who will love you with all their hearts and in return you’ll love them with the same fierceness.” He stroked his agile fingers over the dog’s white coat. “Our hearts weren’t created with boundaries regardless of species.”

The bell over the shop’s door jangled melodically as yet another visitor entered to browse the available selection of animals. The little dog stood and turned in a circle before curling up in a tight ball as he stared at the back of the enclosure. He snuffled and blinked a couple of times before licking his right paw repeatedly.

“You’ll see Edith again, Gabriel. Your new family will see to it.”

Gabriel looked up at his companion for a moment and his tail thumped a couple of times before his attention returned to his paw.

“She wouldn’t want you to be sad. It took everything she had to let you go.” He ran his hand over the dog’s head, slowly working his way down to his muzzle, and trailing his fingers over the paw receiving so much attention. “It would make her sad to see you so anxious.” He smiled when the licking stopped. “It won’t be much longer,” he promised.

“…name’s Gabriel.”

He huffed a breath and curled up tighter. Every time they said his name some new person came to take him out of the enclosure and pick him up. He didn’t want to be picked up, didn’t want to be around new people. He wanted to go home to his mistress. He didn’t understand why he was here, confined to this small space, all alone. He whined quietly and the gentle fingers returned to soothe him.

“You’re not alone anymore, Gabriel.”

“What’s wrong with him?”

His head didn’t move but his ears twitched at the gruff voice.

“He’s suffering from separation anxiety. He was with his previous owner for seven years. She had to surrender him because she was at a point where she was no longer able to care for him. It broke her heart, poor thing,” the shopkeeper said.

“Seven years,” Michael muttered.

“Oh, don’t let that put you off,” she hurried to say before he could change his mind. “These little dogs are hearty and they often live to sixteen years of age.”

“No, I’m not concerned about that,” he denied. And he wasn’t. Seven years was just a long time for anyone to be in a home and then to suddenly find themselves separated from their loved ones. For a dog it had to be terrifying. Especially in Gabriel’s case – he’d been at the side of someone who loved him and showered him with affection.

“Oh.” She smiled and rested a hand on the door of the enclosure. “Would you like to meet him?” Relief washed over her when he nodded without another word. “Gabriel hasn’t shown much interest in anyone or anything since he came to us. It’s only been a few days, but some of the dogs have a more difficult time adjusting. They just can’t understand why they’ve been given up.”

“Yeah, well…” Who could ever understand abandonment? No, Gabriel hadn’t been abandoned in the true sense of the word, but it was what the dog was probably feeling. He watched the shopkeeper as she entered the enclosure, crooning to the little dog as she slowly approached him.

The dog tensed when the woman came closer. He just wanted to be left alone. He didn’t want to be taken out so more people could touch him.

“It’s time, Gabriel.”

He lifted his head to look at his companion and he tipped his head to one side as he studied the man with the gentle gray eyes.

“Your new family’s waiting to take you home. He’s not used to dogs so be patient with him. He’s not used to a lot of things that he’ll be facing in the next year but trust me when I say he’s a good person. He and Maria and the baby they’ll have in a few months, they’re all gonna love you so much.” He winked as he gave the small dog one last rub between the ears. “And just remember, my friend, you’ll see Edith again.” He smiled as he stood. “C’mon now, it’s time for you to go home with Michael.”

Gabriel sat up and turned around, sniffing the air and catching the new scent. It was a familiar scent and yet different at the same time. It was the smell of home. He took a few tentative steps towards the open door, his head cocked to one side as he studied the man. His tail slowly moved back and forth a couple of times as he waited for… something.

Michael watched the dog curiously. He’d never had a pet, had never spent much time around dogs, but he could see the appeal. This one wasn’t too big, wasn’t too small, definitely wasn’t a large black Labrador, but he knew he was perfect. He could see the intelligence in the dog’s eyes as he waited and watched. He slowly crouched down, elbows resting on his knees as he snapped his fingers. “C’mere, Gabriel.”

Gabriel barked and dodged past the shopkeeper, running straight to the man standing out in the corridor. He jumped up against the man’s leg, his excited barks low and raspy.

“Down.” He grinned when the little dog dropped down on all fours, watching him as he waited for his next command. “Sit.” Gabriel immediately dropped to his haunches, tail sweeping the floor at an incredibly fast rate. “You’re right about his training.”

He talked to the shopkeeper for a while before they walked to the front so he could fill out the necessary paperwork to adopt the dog. Two hours later, armed with a ton of supplies and Gabriel proudly sporting his newly acquired collar and leash, they made their way to the door of the shop. He paused when the woman who had helped him through the entire process moved to one of the enclosures to check on a pair of cats that were up for adoption, hopefully together.

“It cost a lot to run a place like this?” he asked, watching her as she cradled the cat she had identified earlier as being the older one. Deaf, blind in one eye, she had expressed her worries that the duo wouldn’t be adopted.

Apryl Jenkins smiled sadly as she turned to look at him. “More than it should, but we’ll survive this year and give it our best the next.”

He nodded. “What keeps it afloat?”

“Donations mostly.” She smiled. “Some years are better than others.”

He wondered if a certain organizational fanatic he knew could do anything to help out. If there was anyone who knew how to do stuff like that it was Isabel. Of course, Maria was no slouch in that area either. “You ever need, I dunno, volunteers or anything like that?”

“I welcome anyone who understands these animals and their plight to volunteer.”

He nodded again. “I’ll talk to my fiancé and get back with you.” He nudged the door open and stepped out into the brisk morning breeze. He glanced up from loading everything into the car and froze when he caught a glimpse of a familiar face across the street. Gabriel followed his gaze and barked happily and Michael slowly smiled and waved at Alex as he disappeared.

“Okay, Gabriel, I hope you ride well in a car,” he said as he opened the back door and set the dog down. “Move over.” He smirked when Gabriel hopped over to sit on the drivers’ side, head cocked and tongue hanging out as he watched him. He unfolded the plaid blanket and shook it out before laying it across the seat and snapping his fingers to let the dog know he could return to his seat.

It took him a good ten minutes to figure out how to correctly attach the tether to keep Gabriel safely harnessed. It said a lot that the dog sat there and patiently waited while he attached the straps multiple times before getting it right.

“Damn, if it takes this much work to get you strapped in, what’s it gonna take to strap my kid in?” He leaned back and stared at the dog for a moment. His kid. He still wasn’t sure that bit of life-altering information had completely sunk in. “It’s okay, I got this.” He watched the dog for a moment before stepping back and shutting the door.

Gabriel twisted and turned his head in an effort to keep the man in his sights, tongue hanging out as he panted. His breath caught and held for a moment when the door opened and Michael slid in behind the wheel. His head tipped to one side, studying every move the man made as he shifted around before starting the car.

“You don’t get carsick do you?”

His ears perked up when he was spoken to and his bushy brows lifted as he gave a short bark under his breath.

“I’m gonna take that as a no.” He turned and checked the mirrors before pulling out into the light traffic of late morning. He braked for a traffic light a couple of minutes later and glanced over his shoulder to check on the dog. A glimpse of something green caught his attention and his head jerked to the side to get a better look at it. A man was passing in front of the car holding the hand of a child animatedly talking his ear off, but it was the green sweater proudly displaying a grinning snowman that held his gaze. “Great sweater,” he muttered under his breath.

The guy turned to look at him, a lopsided grin on his face as he nodded and waved. For a moment he wondered if the guy had somehow heard him and completely missed the sarcasm, but then he realized it was just appreciation for his patience. He could be Kyle’s twin if not for that goofy smile and the pointed nose… and the blond military haircut. He shook his head. “Word of caution, Gabriel, never mix beer and cookies. It’ll mess with your head.” He chuckled and shook his head when the light changed and he eased off the brake.

Gabriel gave his raspy bark, happy to be acknowledged.

“Maria’s gonna love you. I figure she won’t care that you’re vertically challenged. I dunno what was up with her choice of dogs but I don’t think the breed was set in stone. See, it’s all about stability and permanence. You get that. She gets it and me, well, I finally figured it out. With a little help, but I’ve got it now.” He glanced in the rearview mirror, surprised to find the dog watching him. “Still not completely sure how all that works because you were there…” he paused, thinking, as he pulled into his driveway. “Huh… you were there.” He studied the dog for a couple of minutes as they sat there in silence. Alex was the only one who could’ve possibly known about Gabriel. He shook his head. “Nevermind, I’m gonna get a headache if I try to figure that night out.” He shut the car off and shouldered the door open.

“Maria’s not home yet so we’ve got time to get everything set up.” She’d gone to visit with Stephanie, some brunch thing, which he didn’t get, but it worked out all the same. If he didn’t know better he’d think the two of them hadn’t seen each other in weeks instead of a matter of days. He rolled his eyes as he got out and went through the process of freeing Gabriel from the confines of the tether.

He snapped the leash to the collar and scooped the dog up. He turned around and set him on the ground, shrugging when Gabriel paused to look up at him as if to ask ‘where to now?’ His lack of response was apparently good enough because the snow-covered hedge that ran alongside the driveway suddenly became appealing.

Michael kept one eye on the dog while unloading all of the supplies he’d purchased, taking his time to give Gabriel time to sniff up and down the driveway several times. He quirked an eyebrow when the dog marked his territory for the third time. “Damn, how much water did you drink before we left?”

Gabriel just shook his head and barked as if he was answering the question.

Arms full, hand wrapped tightly around the leash, Michael took a moment to really stop and look at the house. The outline of the Christmas tree could be seen through the picture window but it wasn’t lit. Maria insisted it was more magical at night when it was dark and the tree lights came to life. He still didn’t get it, but it made her happy, so instead of his usual uninterested shrug he just smiled and nodded. He also didn’t get why it was still up now that Christmas was over and done with, but apparently there was some rule about it staying up until the New Year. He wasn’t sure if she was making that one up or not but he wasn’t about to ask Isabel, the self-proclaimed know-it-all when it came to all things Christmas.

He studied the house as if he’d never seen it before, eyeing it critically and taking in the things he’d never paid any attention to. He couldn’t see the flower beds that bordered the steps to run the length of the porch but he knew they were there just waiting for spring. He remembered blowing Maria off when she’d asked if he wanted to help, not realizing at the time that it was about more than digging up the ground. He let his gaze trail over the front porch and the furniture he’d declined to accompany her to pick it out. He looked at the windows and the curtains hanging in them, curtains she’d sewn herself, a task that would’ve surprised him if he’d taken a moment to give it some thought.

He turned his head when someone called out to him and he nodded to acknowledge one of their neighbors. Ray Peltier was an insurance salesman and he absolutely loved his job. Thankfully the guy was leaving otherwise he would’ve had to come up with a quick excuse because he enjoyed talking about anything and everything related to insurance. He had zero interest in sports unless the conversation happened to turn to figure skating – an event that Michael was certain would never qualify as a sport and he would certainly never be caught dead discussing.

His eyes scanned over the fence that bordered Ray’s front yard for a moment. Maria had hinted around last summer that she thought a picket fence would be a nice addition, even asked his opinion, and he cringed as he recalled his response. He supposed it couldn’t hurt. The older couple who owned the house had been pleased with every renovation Maria had made and they were always open to suggestions. They loved her – not that he found that very surprising – and had mentioned more than once that they’d be willing to sell the house to them on a rent-to-own basis.

Huh. It was something to think about. And the picket fence idea… he could talk Kyle into giving up a weekend. He wasn’t so sure about Max. He’d be willing but the guy tended to be all thumbs when it came to projects that involved wood. He looked down when a slight weight settled on his left boot. Gabriel was shifting from one paw to the other, alternating by standing on his boot with every other shift.

It took him a moment to figure out the dog’s feet were cold. “C’mon, let’s get inside. You’ll like the backyard. It’s fenced so you’ll be able to run around off the leash.” On the porch he juggled the bags so he could unlock the door. “I guess your first priority will be to warm your feet up.” He set everything down inside the small foyer and crouched down to unsnap the leash, giving the dog a good rub before standing up again.

“Okay, take a look around but behave yourself. I’m gonna go get the pen… cage… thing for you so we can get you all set up.” He backed away and held a hand up. “I’ll be right back.”

Gabriel tipped his head to one side when the door closed behind Michael and after a moment he moved so that he could sniff the floor. He whined and took a couple of steps backwards, sitting down and staring at the door. A sound somewhere in the house startled him and his ears flicked back and forth in an attempt to locate it but it stopped and he was left alone in silence once again.

His ears snapped straight up when he heard footsteps on the porch and his body quivered with anticipation when the doorknob moved.

“You didn’t go very far,” Michael observed as he stomped the snow from his boots before coming inside. He sat down on the distressed hall tree to untie his boots and kick them off. He still didn’t get the name of the piece of furniture but he had liked it as soon as he’d set eyes on it. They’d found it at an estate sale not long after they’d moved in and they’d made the decision to purchase it. He’d spent several months restoring it and he was proud of how well it had turned out.

Gabriel sat in front of him, eyes attentively watching every move he made while his tail swished back and forth on the hardwood floor.

*****

Maria was singing along with the song playing on her iPod as she walked along the sidewalk on her block. She and Stephanie had lingered over brunch, indulging in Italian crepes with side salads while discussing the men in their lives, their jobs, a wide variety of other topics, and of course, her recent engagement. She hadn’t shared the news about her pregnancy since she wanted Liz to be the first of her friends to know. Michael had agreed to getting together with everyone in a couple of weeks so she was content to hold onto that news for now.

She had called Michael a couple of hours ago, checking in to see if he needed her to come home, and he’d sounded a little harried but insisted she take her time and enjoy herself. She had no idea what he was doing, but she’d taken him at his word and done just that. She wondered if he’d be willing to have Stephanie and her boyfriend over for dinner one night. They had come over before but on the rare occasion he hadn’t found an excuse to not be there he had managed to interact with the couple as little as possible. He had never been overtly rude about it but he hadn’t made any secret of the fact that he’d rather be anywhere but spending time with the other couple.

Things were so much better between them now that they had laid all their cards on the table but she wasn’t about to just assume that meant he’d be happy to host couples’ night at their house. Michael wasn’t an introvert, but she had no grand illusions that he was ever going to be a social butterfly. He interacted with people fine as long as it was in small increments of time – and as long as they didn’t grate on his nerves. He had a low tolerance for anything he perceived as stupidity.

She smiled, pausing between songs as she drew in a deep breath and looked around her familiar neighborhood. It wasn’t as close to the others as she’d like but it had become home and she wasn’t in any rush to leave it. Maybe one day Michael would be comfortable enough to give buying their home serious consideration, but for now he was as content as she’d ever seen him. He still hadn’t said much of anything about what had happened that night at the cabin, and maybe he never would, but whatever it was he was at peace with himself and that was enough for her.

She held her hands out at her sides, watching the snowflakes decorate her gloves for a moment. She brought her right hand in closer, examining the crystalline shapes and wondering briefly if it was true that no two snowflakes were ever alike. How could they really know that? She stuck her tongue out to catch a few snowflakes, thinking back to one of the rare times snow had fallen in Roswell. She and Liz and Alex had stayed outside doing that very thing until they were nearly frozen and even then they hadn’t wanted to go inside.

She laughed for the pure joy of it. For so long she’d had a difficult time enjoying memories of him and then one day inexplicably, that dark cloud had lifted and she’d been able to remember him with a fond smile. She was grateful for that and sometimes she wondered if he’d had a hand in it. She wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if he had; it would be such an Alex thing to do.

Her house came into view and she took a moment to savor the view. Michael would always be her home in a way no four walls could ever be, but this simple little house had come to represent so much more than just a residence. It was their home and she exhaled slowly, loving the way it felt to be returning to it once more. She began walking again, suddenly needing to be inside with Michael… her fiancé. Yeah, that wasn’t gonna get old anytime soon, she thought with a face-splitting grin. The sidewalk had been recently shoveled and salted, making her walk up to the porch free of slick spots. He’d been extra careful since learning of their impending parenthood and she had to admit she did enjoy the attention. Yes, there would be days when she knew that was going to drive her nuts, but for now she had every intention of soaking it up.

Eventually things would return to their normal and he’d be back to leaving his wet towels on the bed, dirty dishes in the sink without even rinsing them, and leaving the toilet seat up, so she would just take advantage of this brief vacation from the norm. She shut the door behind her and stomped her feet in an effort to get the blood circulating again while getting out of her outer gear.

She heard her fiancé speak from the next room but she couldn’t make out what he was saying.

“Michael?” She reached out to brace her hand against the wall for balance while she worked off her stubborn left boot.

“In the living room,” he hollered back. “How was lunch?”

“Brunch,” she corrected automatically and could just imagine him rolling his eyes. She knew he didn’t get the point and she had long ago stopped trying to explain it. “And it was great.” Finally freed from the trappings of the necessary extra layers of clothing she headed for the living room. “Hey, what would you think about having Stephanie and Paul over for dinner next Saturday?”

“Next Saturday?” he muttered from his crouched position across the room. “There’s a big game on Saturday, Maria.”

“Well, Paul likes hockey too.”

He growled under his breath. “He likes to talk, Maria.”

She rolled her eyes when he stood and turned around, his movements awkwardly stilted. “So? Kyle runs his mouth from the start of a game to the end of it and you don’t complain.”

“Hello, I can tell him to shut up and he doesn’t take offense. Besides, most of the time his talkin’ is nothin’ more than him spittin’ out Buddhist chants or prayers or whatever. Not to mention I can just tune him out.”

“So basically if it helps your team it’s an acceptable aggravation.”

“Paul likes to talk. Not yell at the refs, not y’know, do whatever the hell it is Valenti does, not…”

“Look, I get it, okay? He’s not Kyle. But if you give him a chance I think you’ll realize that he really is pretty likeable.”

Michael made a face. “Maria, we’re not gonna be BFFs and sit around braiding each other’s hair and painting our toenails.” He shifted when he felt a slight movement behind him.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“Fine, we’ll have dinner with them but if he doesn’t shut his trap while I’m watchin’ the game - “

She smiled when he gave in, even if it wasn’t exactly gracious. “Michael, what’re you hiding?”

“Nothin’.” He shrugged one shoulder. “Kinda got you a present.” He motioned to the chair that sat directly across from him. “Sit down over there.”

“Okay,” she said slowly and took a seat. “I’m not sure…” her eyes widened when a small white whiskered face peered around his left leg. “Oh, Michael!”

He frowned and looked down at Gabriel. “You weren’t supposed to do that.”

“Oh, Michael, he’s precious.”

The resulting eye roll was lost on Gabriel as he wagged his tail and took a tentative step forward. He had been immediately intrigued by the softer voice, drawn to its owner by the lyrical speech pattern. He canted his head and his nose twitched as he sought out the new scent, catching it and feeling the familiar sense of… home.

He stepped out from behind Michael, taking a couple of steps before looking up at him, waiting for him to speak.

“What’re you waitin’ for?” Michael shook his head and nodded at Maria. “You’re her dog, not mine.” He sighed when he was answered by a short, raspy bark and an enthusiastic tail wag. “Well? You’ve got ten seconds before I change my mind and take you back.”

Gabriel jumped up to rest his front paws on the leg closest to him, blinking rapidly when the fringe over his eyes blocked his sight. He shook his head and snorted, dropping back to all fours when movement across the room caught his attention.

“What’s his name?”

“Gabriel.”

“Gabriel,” Maria murmured softly.

“Yeah, well, that’s the name he came with.”

“No, it’s perfect, Michael.” She smiled when her fiancé did his best to send the dog to her. “Don’t rush him. He’ll come to me when he’s ready.”

“It’s a dog, Maria.”

“He’s more than just a dog.” She held her hand out towards the small dog, waiting patiently for him to make up his mind. She couldn’t believe Michael had actually gone out and got a dog. “What made you pick him?”

He just shrugged. The only way to tell her that would be if he told her everything that had happened to him that night. And he wasn’t ready to go there. Wasn’t sure he ever would be, truth be told. Maria was curious, but she wouldn’t push. They understood each other that way.

Gabriel approached her slowly, his wagging tail picking up momentum as he came closer to her. He sniffed her fingertips before giving them an experimental lick and after a moment he rested his muzzle in her hand. His whole body quivered with joy when she started to talk to him while running her free hand over his coat.

“Where’d you find him?”

“The shelter on Main. Lady who owns the place needs volunteers to help out.” He watched Gabriel while Maria was lavishing attention on him. The dog was eating it up. “Told her you’d give ‘er a call.”

“Did you now?” Maria smiled to herself. “Well, I might just do that. I’ll bet Gabriel would love to help out, wouldn’t you?”

Michael winced when her voice changed pitch – the one most women seemed to use when talking to babies and animals. “You’re not gonna talk to our kid like that are you?”

She lifted her head to pin him with a look. “Like what?”

“I dunno, like a mouse from one of those cartoon movies.”

She decided to not be offended by his description. It was just Michael being… well, Michael. “Is Gabriel housetrained?”

“What?” It took him a moment to catch up with the sudden change of subject. “Yeah, of course he is. He knows a bunch of commands too. I set his cage up, put his bowls out, and put his blanket in the cage. It’s old, but the lady at the shelter said he came in with it and it helps him feel safe or somethin’.”

“Of course it does. It probably belonged to his previous owner. Did she say why he was surrendered?”

“He belonged to an old woman and she hit a point where she couldn’t take care of him any longer. She was goin’ into one of those homes for old people.”

She decided not to comment on his phrasing. “Oh, that’s so sad.” She searched the dog’s deep brown eyes. “She must miss you terribly.” She scratched behind his left ear when he whined as if he understood her. “You must miss her so much. Do you know her name?”

He frowned at the question. “Why?”

“Because I want to know, Michael.”

“I dunno, Edith something or other.”

She smiled when Gabriel’s head snapped to the side at the mention of the beloved name. “Edith, so that’s her name.”

Michael shook his head when he caught the gleam in his fiancé’s eyes. “No. Maria, we’re not gonna go lookin’ her up. Just leave her alone and let ‘er rest in peace.”

“The woman’s in a retirement home, not the cemetery, Michael.”

He shuddered at the thought of walking into one of those places – the home, not the cemetery. Back in high school he’d told his History teacher that old people creeped him out. Well, that still held true. He didn’t really know why, they just did. Maybe it was the wrinkles that made them look like clothes left in the dryer too long. Maybe it was the way they could be so still. Or, then again, maybe it was the way they seemed to know what you were thinking before you even said a word. Whatever it was, they gave him the creeps.

“I’ll bet she’d give just about anything to see this little guy again. And think about what it would mean to her to be able to see for herself that he’s found a good home.” Gabriel rose up to place his front paws on her knees and then bounced around excitedly. “Where’re his treats?”

“Treats?” It was a dog. They were supposed to feed it, water it and walk it. Nobody said anything about treats for it.

Maria rolled her eyes at him and got up to go into the kitchen. If by some miracle he made it past the living room with purchases of any kind they invariably ended up in a pile on the kitchen floor. “Well, I’m not sure that’s progress,” she said when she saw the pet-related products strewn across every available surface. Some of the packages were opened and the logo on several of the bags indicated that he’d stopped by the larger pet store across town – which made sense because she knew supplies would be limited at the shelter. She shook her head at some of the purchases – things some overeager employee had convinced the confused new dog owner he needed for his new pet.

She listened absently while Michael carried on a one-sided conversation with Gabriel while she sorted through the items, collecting a good number of them and placing them back in the bags to be returned to the store the next day for a full refund. She knew how Michael was when it came to shopping – get in, grab what was necessary, and get back out in as little time as possible. He had probably just filled the cart with whatever the knowledgeable store employee insisted he needed and rushed to get back out. She knew he’d never had a pet of any kind before so a trip to the biggest pet store in the city would have been overwhelming for him. She shook her head at the odd assortment of products and snatched up a crumpled wad of paper, knowing it would be the receipt. She straightened it out and nearly choked when she saw the total printed at the bottom – further proof that the love of her life had probably told the store employee off and then hit the door as fast as he could.

“Overkill?”

She turned to look over her shoulder at Michael. “Yeah, but most of it we can take back with no problem.” She looked away before she could laugh at his horrified expression. He’d probably never set foot in a pet store again. “I’ll take care of it.”

“What’s for dinner?”

“Gabriel’s snack first.”

“I fed him a while ago, doesn’t that count?”

“Not even close, buddy.” She reached for a box of snack bones and shook them, not surprised when Gabriel appeared next to Michael, sitting at attention with his tongue hanging out of his mouth. She opened the box and selected one of the treats, bending over and holding it up. “Sit up, Gabriel.” She smiled when he immediately responded to the command. “You’re a good boy, aren’t you?”

Michael rolled his eyes. “You’re givin’ him food; of course he’s gonna be good.” He snorted. “Give me food and I’ll be good too.”

Maria gave Gabriel his treat and then straightened up, fishing another dog biscuit out and handing it to her fiancé. “Let’s see how good you can be.”

He stared at the bone shaped treat, wondering what flavor orange was. He shrugged and took a bite of it, chewing thoughtfully for a minute just to enjoy the shocked look on her face. “Kinda dry,” he said after a while.

“You do know that was disgusting.” She held a hand out, pressing it against his chest when he started to move closer. “No, if you think you’re getting a kiss after that you’d better think again. Brush those teeth first.”

He shrugged. “The green ones are probably better anyway.”

She shook her head and looked at Gabriel when Michael left to go brush his teeth. “He only does things like that to get a rise out of me.”

Gabriel barked and his tail started to wag. She slid down to sit on the floor, patting her leg and letting the small dog climb up and sit on her lap. “You’re not exactly what I had in mind, but you’re perfect. And I promise you, we’ll take you to see Edith.”

Michael paused in the doorway, leaning one shoulder against the jamb to watch the pair. They were a good match and Maria was already in love with the dog. From the looks of it that went both ways and he couldn’t be happier. When she looked up and curled her finger in a ‘come here’ gesture he pushed away from the frame and moved to join her on the floor.

“Thank you,” she whispered and leaned in to kiss him.

Gabriel watched the couple, comforted by the love that surrounded him. He barked once, quietly, and got up to wander off and explore his new home. When he grew tired of looking around he made his way to his crate and curled up in his familiar blanket. His new family would find him when they were ready and he sighed contentedly before closing his eyes and going to sleep.
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