posted on 4-Jan-2003 11:39:30 AM
Title: The Heart of This Christmas 1/2
Author: Kitcat26 AKA Cath
Summary: Post Grad Holiday fic
Disclaimer: I own the plot but am just borrowing the rest with thanks. Songs are by Amy Grant (or at least, it was her versions that inspired the story). There’s a line in here that was inspired by Friends since for some reason it popped into my head while writing. And who am I to dispute my muse?
Category: CC with a strong M/L slant PG-13
Author’s Note: This will be no more than two parts. I was in the mood for some festive, sappy fun thus the birth of this idea. Enjoy. *grin*

What’s that you say? Christmas is over already? Well slap the horse and call me silly, by God you’re right! What can I say folks? This one took longer than I thought it would to get all nice and typed up. So, urm, turn back the wheels of time and pretend with me? With luck there’s still a bit of residual Christmas cheer in you that will take the time and read while the holidays are still tangible. *happy*

Have yourself a Merry little Christmas
Let your heart be light
From now on our troubles will be out of sight

Have yourself a Merry little Christmas
Make the yuletide gay
From now on our troubles will be miles away

Once again as in olden days
Happy golden days of yore
Faithful friends who are dear to us will be near to us once more

Through the years we all will be together
If the fates allow
Hanging a shining star upon the highest bough
And have yourself a Merry little Christmas now

Part One

She was cold. So very cold. Her dreams had never been a source of warm comfort, not since she’d left.

“Isabel?” The familiar voice shook her to the core.

No, if she wanted to be truly honest with herself, she would allow that her dreams had never been warm since his death.

*NO!* Her mind screamed. She wasn’t dreaming about him again. She couldn’t. She was over him, over his death. She had moved on with Jesse, proved it. Over it. Wasn’t she?

*Liar* A voice in her dream mocked her. And it was right. For ever since she’d found out, she had been thinking about him. Conjuring up his memory as a way to get through the day, to face Kyle, and keep them both safe while running for their lives. It made sense that she would be dreaming about him. Had been for the past few nights, she recalled. Yet this dream was beginning to seem like the others, she now perceived. A pattern of sorts. Snowy and beautiful. Fitting for the current season. And although she couldn’t see him, she could feel him.


As if an answer to her silent plea, the snowy surroundings gave way to light, a light that shone through to spotlight on a particular rustic looking cabin. The location she could nearly grasp with her mind. Somehow, she got the feeling that everything: her life, her new revelation, and her pain could somehow find its peace if only she could find that place. Almost got it, almost there …


Right here! I’m right here Alex.

“Isabel! Wake up!”

No. To wake, she would have to leave this place, right after she had finally found it. After endless nights of drifting off into her sleep to scour for it, she would not leave after finding it. Not yet.

However, fate was too cruel for that. Sunlight streamed through her eyes as they shot open. Kyle’s concerned face loomed over her, and his hand was clutching her shoulder.

“Isabel! We’ve got to go NOW.” Kyle’s wide blue eyes were large and round with fear. Immediately, Isabel straightened in her bed, her fingers gripping the cheap motel sheets, twisting them with her sweaty palms.

“Why? Have they found us?” Her voice was scratchy with sleep, her mouth dry with the dawn.

Kyle sighed heavily and slumped into the bed, rubbing his temple vigorously. “I was out earlier picking up some food and stuff when I saw a Fed lurking about the parking lot.” He paused, letting this sink in. Isabel’s eyes fluttered shut. “I managed to duck around him without being seen, I think. But that doesn’t change the fact that now would probably be a good time to relocate.”

Isabel nodded numbly, far too used to this type of scenario to become too worked up. Seven months on the run with only one other person could do that to you. Slowly she rose up from the mattress, making her way towards the all ready packed suitcase standing against the door way. Seven months also made you more prepared.

“Where should we head to?” Kyle asked, almost resignedly.

Suddenly, Isabel’s head perked up, a faraway look crossed her features. Her dream. “Well, I’ll tell you Kyle. I’ve always wanted to stay up north for the holidays.” She smiled softly. “And I don’t think we’ve ever been to Michigan.” Michigan. The word seared her brain with shockingly sharp clarity. That was it. The place where her dreams were taking place.

Fool, a voice in her head nagged. What good will it do? It’s not like he’ll be there.

“Sounds good to me.” Kyle answered, seemingly unaware of her strange mood. Of the mood she had been in ever since she’d found out two months ago. Hell, he stayed oblivious to it even though she had told him about it two weeks ago. It was one of the things she loved about his character. She could be stuck with many a worse travel buddy, that was for sure.

Sighing, Isabel took one longing look at the makeshift home before squaring her shoulders and starting towards the door. Time to leave her dream behind, where it belonged.

And time for what was left of her life to begin.


“Are you sure this was a good idea, Liz?”

Liz tried and failed to tear her gaze from the wintry, white blanket of snow that seemed to swallow the earth whole. The crisp, frigid powder that frosted the myriad amount of trees. The crystalline softness that sparkled underneath the sun’s misleading glare. Fascinating. All of it, simply fascinating. She longed to run out into the field of it, yet at the same time was wary of her clumsy, bumbling footsteps upon the perfect layer that covered the frozen ground.

Max shook his raven hued head, his tawny eyes dancing with mirth. “You know, if I wasn’t so secure in our love, I just might be a tad offended by your ignoring me.”

Liz’s head snapped up as she leveled with Max’s amused ersatz glare, a pleasantly bewildered look etched upon her face like footsteps engraved in a snowy bank. “What?”

Max laughed outright, the hearty sound riveting through the tiny car, soothing her soul. Her reached over and kissed her delectably upon the lips, both leaning in to saver the sweet act. The kiss itself was short, borderline passionate with a hint of promise lingering in the air, and Max soon pulled away and gazed at the rustic cabin before them.

Liz’s eyes fluttered open on a delayed reaction, her body still fluttering from the aftershock inflicted by his lips. Following his gaze, her eyes sought out the remote cabin, her sight filling with the simple, yet cozy architecture, the inviting slope of the rooftop and the meticulously placed wood that integrated so effortlessly with the stone base. Her gaze was quickly diverted, however, by the sight of him. She soon sported a devilish grin, and reached over to dig her fingertips into the most sensitive spot among his ribcage. Jumping in his seat, Max shot her a befuddled look, a ghost of a smile tugging at his lips.

Answering the inquisitive arch of his brow, Liz wagged her own eyebrows up and down suggestively, to which Max responded with another warm chuckle. The sound filled her heart, and she smiled softly, her hand darting out to ensnare his own.

“It’s nice to hear you laugh again.”

Mildly confused, Max raised their entwined hands up to his lips, lightly caressing hers with as much love that could ever be portrayed verbally. Her soft-spoken statement hung heavily between them, the air thick with somber reveries of the past months.

Liz straightened perceptively, and squeezed his hand comfortingly. “So what were you saying just now?” At the return of his amused smirk, Liz quickly protested. “I wasn’t ignoring you!”

“Oh no? Liz Evans, I beg to differ,” Liz responded to the now familiar name with a delightful squirm, instigating the depth of Max’s smirk. “Now tell me. What had you so enthralled just now?”

Liz paused a moment, her gaze trailing back out the translucent window. “The snow,” she answered simply.

“But you’ve seen snow before.”

Liz shook her head decidedly, her eyes still glued to the wintry wonderland before her. “Not like this,” She said in a hushed awe. “Not like this.”

A lapsed silence ensued; the sole sound that of the sputtering heat blowing determinedly out of the vehicle. Suddenly remembering the instigation of this conversation, Liz swiveled her dark head towards her husband once more. “Really, Max. What did you say?”

Max sobered instantly, and Liz was almost sorry for breaking their playful mood. Almost. These days, they couldn’t afford not to acknowledge the seriousness of certain aspects of their lives and the inherent knowledge that ignoring them for any amount of time could be deadly.

“I asked if you were sure this was a good idea,” Max finally reiterated, a heavy sigh evident in his tone.

Liz regarded him reproachfully. “Max, you know I am. Have my premonitions ever been wrong before?” The silent shaking of his head was affirmation enough for her to go on. “We’re supposed to be here. I just feel it.” She paused, and then regained some of their earlier banter, smiling facetiously. “Besides, I can think of a number of things I’d like to do to you in this,” Again she allowed a pregnant pause to transpire, running her tongue enchantingly against her lips, enjoying the telltale sound of Max’s breath hitching. “Luscious snow capped area.”

Max inched closer despite the awkward positioning of the leather seats. Swallowing appealingly, his amber eyes flashed with a potent fire, a fire aching to be released. “Oh yeah? What’s that?”

Hiding her flagrant grin, Liz tilted her head so that her lips barely grazed his own. “Get out of the car and I’ll show you.”

The eagerness he sported in the simple act of unbuckling his seat belt was laughable. It was all Liz could do not to let loose a devilish giggle, which would effectively ruin her devious plan. Following suit outside the Jeep, Liz’s glove darted out quickly to snare some of the icy snow while Max was still shutting his door, and subsequently she folded her arms behind her, cupping the mound of snow out of sight and molding it into a small ball. Coyly she winked at him, her hands still behind her back as she slowly sauntered over to his grinning form. At the sight of his gleaming gold eyes and the brilliant smile that was curving his delectable lips, she wavered. Perhaps she shouldn’t -

Just as languidly, he made his way nearer. Liz watched; enthralled with the way his eyes naturally morphed from color to color. From black to tawny and then back again. It reminded Liz of freshly brewed coffee, the inky ebony swirling to meet creamy russet as soon as the milk hit it. Despite herself, she shivered, feeling her firm resolve fading fast as her knees went weak.

When he was a foot in front of her he stopped. Arching a perfectly sculpted black eyebrow at her, he titled his gorgeous head to one side. “Now Mrs. Evans. You informed me that you would be showing me a little something right about now.” He paused, taking upon his features a mildly befuddled look that contrasted with his mirth filled eyes. “But it seems as if I’m the only one here making any . . . moves

That’s it, Liz thought hazily as her breath hitched with the way he drew out the word ‘moves.’ She was a complete and total goner.

You LOSER! A stubborn voice in her head mocked. Where’s the fun in that?

Her feet, however, had different intentions in mind as they errantly inched forward until she was a mere breath away from her husband. Or more specifically, a kiss away.

Still, she pressed further. “Well, I’d better remedy that, shouldn’t I?” She asked breathily, her cold, red nose rubbing shockingly against his.

“I’d say so,” Max answered back just as breathless, her cold nose by far escaping his notice as their lips came together with a fiery heat with enough warmth to banish even the most bitter colds. Mouths crashed hungrily against one another, and zealous tongues tickled each other tenderly.

And still, Liz’s hands were behind her back.

Once air became an unfortunate necessity, they broke apart slightly, their noses, not quite so cold now, touched lightly. And it was all Liz could do to keep from bursting out with infectious laughter. Slowly so not to arouse Max’s suspicion, Liz’s shifted the snow so it rested securely in her right glove. With even more care, she snaked her arms around Max’s waist and cautiously inched her glove upward alongside his back, all the while gazing up at him with a gentle smile upon her face.

At last the moment came. Her hand poised gracefully above Max’s head, and just as he caught something in his wife’s expression that was something to be cause for alarm, icy chalky snow crashed atop his scalp to fuse with his hair. Growling, he reached determinedly for his wicked lover, only to find at his dismay, that she was safely yards away, laughing hysterically at his plight. He tried to fix her with a disapproving glare, but regardless of that he felt the corners of his lips being tugged into a smile.

“You’re in for it now, Liz.” He growled again, starting for her. He stopped when she smiled seductively at him, feeling his breath being kicked out from him once more.

“Promise,” she inquired breathlessly, locking eyes with him, marveling once more in their brilliant colors and the emotions that resided in them.

He swallowed. “Oh, yeah.” He agreed. “Definitely.”

She smiled triumphantly once again at his desire ridden face. How could she not love him?

“Then catch me if you can!” She declared before sprinting inside the cabin, hardly able to wait for the glorious event that was bound to take place inside, again, again and again.

She was surprised, for sure, when she found herself being spun around to collide with Max’s warm, hard body. She gazed up at him, the laughter dying in her throat.

“Oh, I intend to,” Was all he said before crashing his lips down on hers.

As he backed her into the bucolic dwelling, Liz thought hazily through the power of his kisses. Somehow she just knew, that this Christmas was going to be one to remember, and it wasn’t part of her premonition. No this? This was pure intuition; what her heart was telling her.


Maria Deluca grumbled as she hugged her arms close around her shivering form. “God Michael! It’s so freaking cold!” She released one of her hands from its tight enclosure around her stomach long enough to smack him sharply over the shoulder. “How could you drag me to a place that’s so cold?”

Michael rolled his eyes and rubbed his sore shoulder. “Me?! You’re the one that insisted on having a ‘white’ Christmas!”

Maria scowled darkly. “Yeah, well that was only because those weird postcards kept showing up with that cozy looking winter cabin on it.” She scowled up at the actual dwelling before her. “It was advertising the damn place to me! Brainwashing me or something. And it was bad enough that it had the name of the state printed on it, so we’d be forced to have an actual location in mind.” She rounded on her boyfriend once more. “Besides! You should know now well enough that when I get these ideas in my head, they’re crazy!”

Michael lifted up his hand as to signal his interruption, his frustration entirely palpable. “As I recall, I DID tell you that you were crazy to want to travel this close to the holidays.”

Maria continued on as if he had not spoken. “And Michigan! Honestly, who goes to Michigan for Christmas? No, who goes here at ALL? If anything, people go to Florida, or LA. Not Michigan. What is there in this forsaken mitten shaped stupid state besides snow, snow and more SNOW?”

“Uh, ice?” He helpfully supplied.

“Argh!” She let out a scream of frustration, and for emphasis, jutted her boot out and kicked vehemently at the snow-capped ground. However, she miscalculated how forceful her blow would be, and as a result, kicked white chilly powder right smack in Michael’s face.


Maria looked in horror at what she had done and honestly felt guilty. Seriously. She truly did.

For about a minute.

Then, the laughter took over. Loud guffaws that echoed into the vastly and rapidly approaching nightfall. “Oh My God!” Chuckle. “Michael!” Snort. “You look,” Snigger. “SO funny!” Ragged breathing.

Michael struggled to hold his temper in check. Had his features not been covered in white, one might have seen the burning red heat that infused his face.

“Okay, that’s it.”

Before Maria could react, she found herself suddenly sprawled face first in the snow, the bitter cold biting her cheeks as Michael triumphantly sat upon her ass. Shrieking hysterically, Maria twisted and turned but to no avail. She was trapped.


Hastily, Michael scrambled off of his girlfriend, quickly wiping the smirk off of his face and offering out his hand. Maria took it with more force than was required, if the wince of pain on Michael’s part was any indication, and glared at him, brushing her jacket free of the white powder. Drawing herself up to full height she pierced him with an evil stare, staying silent for a few blissful seconds.

At the sight of her enraged expression, Michael seemed to think it best for him to attempt some damage control. Holding out his hands as a peace offering, he stepped cautiously forward. “Hey, you started it.”

Maria sputtered indignantly. “What! Why you…” Apparently, words were not enough in expressing her outrage. So she resorted to letting her hands do all the talking. She was always a gesture loving type of person.

Michael warded off her blows as best he could, ducking his head and reaching blindly for her hands. “Ow! Jeez, Ouch! Maria!” Finally, he grabbed hold of her hands securely as to prevent any more violence on her part, and the two stared hard at each other, breathing perceptively harder than normal. The moment was broken when Maria launched herself forward with a different intention in mind this time.

Michael only had so much time to react before Maria’s lips came crashing down upon his with a frenzied force enough to equal the power of her blows. Hardly fazed, he began to kiss her back hungrily, suddenly feeling quite warm though it was below freezing out and the wind was even colder. Maria’s sole response was to slowly inch her way up along side his lower anatomy, speaking to him in a way that one else could. The way no one else would. He lifted her up higher and she wrapped her legs firmly around his waist, but it wasn’t close enough. It was never close enough, not until –

Suddenly, both Michael and Maria found themselves teetering backwards as Michael’s boots lost their footing upon the slick, icy snow covered pavement. Their eyes snapped open and Maria let out a high pitched shriek through lips that were still covering his own and Michael felt the scream rumble through him as he squeezed his eyes shut against the inevitable. With a sickening thud, the pair found themselves tangled in a mess of limbs and loins as they struggled to right themselves once more. All of a sudden, Michael had the strong urge to laugh hysterically, and he searched for Maria’s eyes to share with her his mirth.

What he found made his blood run cold.

Maria’s eyes were round with fright, her stricken gaze glued to some object over his shoulder. Forcing the two of them upright, he turned his head, bracing himself for whatever had Maria so spooked.

A strange car was parked inconspicuously behind the rustic cabin, the front hood peeking out to mock them.

With wide eyes, he hoisted both he and Maria off of the ground. “I thought you said you were sure no one was living here,” he hissed at her.

“I was! I mean, I am!” She whispered back just as anxiously. “I asked the clerk at that gas station and he told me that no one has lived here for years! Not since the owner passed away.”

The sound of a door creaking open halted further conversation. Immediately, Michael pushed Maria behind him, outstretching his hand and preparing for the absolute worse. A Fed. A skin. The boogieman. Any one of those would have been expected. However, the person standing in the doorway was none of those, and was also completely UN-expected.

“Max?” Michael blurted out, shocked. Maria took this as a cue to peek cautiously out from behind his shoulder. Squeaking in surprise, she stepped forward.

“What the heck are you guys doing here?”


“So, you’re saying that Liz had a premonition and you guys just bolted on up to Michigan?” Maria hugged the blanket that Liz had offered her and snuggled deeper into the couch, soaking up the warmth that Michael’s body was providing next to her. It still didn’t help.

Max sighed and raked his fingers through his shaggy black hair. “Pretty much.”

Maria bit back a sigh. It was so damn cold!

Liz swallowed water from the glass in her hand and then set it down on the wooden table in front of them. “Basically. It was weird though. I didn’t really expect to find the exact cabin that was in my premonition. It was almost like something was…propelling me here.” She drifted off, her gaze indicating that her thoughts were climbing elsewhere.

At this, Maria sat up straighter. “Do you think your powers are getting stronger?” She ignored the pang of jealousy that coursed through her, cursing the fact that she was the only one different, as absurd as that sounded.

“Maybe.” By the tone of her friend’s voice, Maria could tell that Liz wasn’t convinced.

“Hmm.” Something was strange about all of this. But really, in comparison to some of the things that had had to deal with, this was your run of the mill, ordinary coincidence. Don’t I wish, Maria thought resignedly.

Michael glanced sharply at Max. “How do you know that it’s not the Feds?” His brown eyes began to dance with panic. “What if this is all a set up? And that they’re going to come pounding at the door?”

Max looked at him. “Michael, don’t you think you’re overreacting just a bit?”

Liz, ever the voice of reason, piped up, reaching out to touch Michael’s arm sympathetically. “Michael, think about it. You came up here because of a postcard, and this seemed as good a place as any to settle for a while. It was probably just a coincidence.” She paused, reaching out to take another sip of water with one hand, her other resting comfortable in Max’s loving grip. Swallowing, then smiling up at him, she continued. “I got a premonition about this place. There’s no way the FBI could have made me have one to prompt us to come here so they could round us up.” She sighed softly, pausing briefly. “God, what are we coming to? The slightest happenstance is cause for instant paranoia.” She didn’t notice Max flinch at this, how her words inadvertently sliced through his heart.

Michael’s nostrils flared in an attempt to control his frustration. “How do you know that the premonitions weren’t some form of warning? Huh? What about that?” His words were sharp, biting, and Liz visibly shivered with a minute fraction of doubt.

Maria held up her hands vehemently. “All right, cut it out guys. First of all, I don’t think the freaking FBI is going to follow us into this, this frozen wasteland in the middle of nowhere. I mean seriously guys. They have to have better things to do, especially this time of year.”

Liz shot her friend an amused look. “The middle of nowhere? Maria, you are aware that Michigan is still in the states, right?” She laughed outright. “Jeez, it’s not like we’re at the North Pole or anything!”

Maria glowered darkly. “Might as well be. I can honestly say I have never been so cold in my life. Hello! Grew up in a desert here!” She crossed her arms defiantly, rubbing her hands up and down her goose-covered flesh.

Michael rolled his eyes, yet shifted closer to his pixie, and draped his arm around her. He used his powers mildly and shifted the molecules in the air surrounding her, sending warmth to caress her tenderly. Her head jerked up, and her face softened considerably. “Where’d you learn to do that?”

He merely shrugged as she bestowed him with a smile of her thanks and reached over to peck him on the cheek lovingly. Now it was his turn to start in surprise, though his face gave off the impression that he didn’t mind her gentle affection in the least.

The group lapsed into a tense silence, each biting their lip and huffing with speculation and wariness. The stillness buzzed in their ears, creeping up to hang heavily in the air with no intention of dissipating. Finally, Maria could do nothing but break the quiet; the hush grating on her already frazzled nerves.

“Okay, so now what? Isabel and Kyle end up on the doorstep too?” She cracked, trying to lighten the mood.

Almost as if on cue, the crunching sound of tires upon a snow covered driveway echoed outside the window as bright headlights cut through the tiny living room. Maria buried her face in her hands as Max sprang to the window. “You have GOT to be kidding me.”

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 4-Jan-2003 11:41:13 AM ]
posted on 4-Jan-2003 11:41:29 AM

“Dreams,” Michael asked skeptically. “That’s why you decided to come all the way out here to stay in this cabin of all places?”

“Because mysterious postcards showing up everywhere is such a better reason,” Isabel bit out sarcastically before turning away from the group. Kyle held back a sigh at Isabel’s extreme irritation and at the glances of surprise from the rest of his friends. This was great, just perfect. They finally all get back together after months of being apart – split into pairs, on the road, not knowing exactly whether or not the rest were safe or alive – and already they were squabbling. Well, at least no one’s shooting laser beams out of their eyes – yet.

He shrugged, and then decided to add his two cents. “Yeah, Isabel had been dreaming about a white Christmas, and Michigan was as good a place as any. But when I drove past this place she practically tore my sweater when she dug her claws into my arm, screeching for me to pull over.” Liz and Maria chuckled lightly as Kyle smirked as Isabel, who smiled weakly back, her eyes flashing with acute irritation.

By now, the group of four merged into one of six and the beaten, sunken in couch – the sole furniture in the room sans the not much better looking arm chair Kyle was seated on – was beginning to look worse for wear.

“So,” Kyle started, breaking the silence they had suddenly lapsed into. “Here we all are. Alive. Yaay.”

“Yeah, but for how long?” Michael snorted.

“Are we done hashing this out?” Liz asked, rubbing her temple and yawning. “I wanted to get in a quick nap and then take a shower.”

Max leaned over and kissed her on the forehead. “Sure, go ahead.”

Liz stretched after pulling herself up, then smiled at everyone. She leaned over and abruptly pulled Isabel into a hug, the latter looking incredibly stunned, then like she was about to cry. Kyle swallowed the lump in his throat. Isabel needed some help before she cracked. However, she wouldn’t talk to him about it, not since she first told him. It was driving him insane. But he knew when she needed space. So for now, space is what she would get.

After untangling herself from Isabel, Liz went over to Maria and kissed her on the cheek, smiling warmly. Then she pulled Kyle and Michael into a group hug, releasing them quickly for Michael’s comfort. She turned to depart to her room, but not before looking each of them in the eye. “It’s great to see you guys again,” she said simply, disappearing behind her door.

Max watched her departure, waiting for her door to close before turning back to the rest of the group. His face broke out into brilliant smile, startling the majority of them.

“So, who’s ready to go get a tree?”

Stunned silence greeted this statement. Finally, Maria voiced aloud their similar sentiments. “What?”

“A tree,” Max repeated slowly, as if they were all in remedial classes (but come to think of it, they were. Or had been at least.) “You know, one of those weird, outdoorsy things that grow in nature? With leaves and trunk?”

Maria scowled at his tone. We *know* what a tree is thank you very much, but what we don’t know is what we would need one for.”

Now it was Max’s turn to look at them all in shock. “You mean to tell me you all don’t want a Christmas tree? Come on!”

Maria suddenly brightened. “That’s actually a good idea! I’ll go get Liz.”

Max stepped in front of her. “No, don’t.”

“Don’t? Why not?”

Max sighed. “Because Liz told me once that the tree was her favorite part about Christmas – seeing it twinkle when she woke up on Christmas morning.”

Maria looked at him strangely. “I know. That’s why I was going to go get her.”

Max shuffled his feet. “I wanted it to be a surprise, for when she gets up.”

She softened. “Oh.”

Kyle jumped in, suddenly feeling more energy flow through him than he had felt in a long time. “All righty, let’s go before it gets dark out, shall we?”


The weather was absolutely freezing. They had been walking for twenty minutes, but so far none of the trees met Max’s standings. Kyle wondered if he’d been taking notes when Isabel had been frantic like this two years ago. This was getting ridiculous. He wasn’t sure he’d be able to feel his toes in a minute. But the atmosphere…it was like nothing he had ever experienced before. The snow coated the ground like frosting on a cake, only more shiny and beautiful. He smiled a little, listening to the snow crunch beneath his boat, and started to whistle an old Christmas tune, one that had been his father’s favorite. It seemed fitting. Walking in a winter wonderland. For he was, he truly was.

“Seriously Kyle, keep that up and you will get smacked.” Maria suddenly snapped, throwing him an irritated look while stomping her feet, trying to keep warm while Max perused yet another prospect. Kyle’s sole response was to shove his hands in his pocket and whistle louder.

Maria sighed, shuffled forward once Max dismissed the tree in front of him and forged ahead with Michael and Isabel in tow behind him, and then she attacked his song choice. “Besides, I thought you were Buddhist. Why are you whistling Christmas songs and picking out a tree?”

Kyle titled his head to one side as he contemplated his answer before replying. “Well, Buddha teaches us to respect other religions, as long as they are celebrated with love, happiness, and selflessness. I’m pretty sure Christmas more than fits in that category.” He grinned broadly. “Besides. There’s no way in hell I’m missing presents.”

Maria snorted. “I can agree with you there.”

Max stopped dead in front of them. “There! This one is perfect.” He gestured to a tall blue-green spruce in front of them. It had to be at least six or seven feet tall. Kyle looked at it skeptically. It was a gorgeous tree for sure, better than the fake tinsel one he and his dad used to have, but –

“Max, are you sure that’s going to even fit through the door?” Kyle asked dubiously.

Max waved his concern away. “Of course it will! Even if I have to,” He wriggled his fingers for effect. “You know.”

“Oh.” Yep, he knew. Alien powers. They were nifty like that.

Fifteen minutes later, the tree was safely cut down (with Kyle yelling out excitedly to everyone’s dismay: “Timber!”) and set up nicely against the fireplace in the great, open room where the couch the gang had been previously sitting upon stood.

Maria stared at it despondently. “It looks so boring. Too green.” She turned to Max. “How are we going to decorate it? I know we don’t have anything with us.”

Max’s shoulders dropped slightly as he rubbed his chin thoughtfully. He shot a concerned look at his sister, who had been uncharacteristically quiet on the subject. Kyle shook his head, realizing that Isabel’s feelings were being put out more palpably than she wished, or even knew.

“Hey Iz?” Max asked softly. “What do you think?” His question was hopeful in the idea that maybe, just maybe, Isabel would be herself again.

Max’s face fell along with Kyle’s spirits when Isabel shrugged and answered indifferently. “Whatever you want.” It seemed as if the Christmas Nazi had been put to rest, and the thought upset them more than they would fully comprehend.

A heavy silence fell; pressing down upon their heads before Max finally snapped his fingers. “I got it!” And with that, he dashed outside. The group watched in amazement as he rushed back inside, his hands full of fresh, freezing cold snow. Kyle could only glance up at him uncertainly once more.

“Uh, Max? What the heck are you doing?”

“Get that foul stuff outta here!” Maria screeched. “Are you INSANE? It’s cold enough in here!”

Max rolled his eyes, yet was not yielded. “This is how we’re going to decorate the tree!” His voice was excited, hopeful, and suddenly Kyle wondered why Max was so determined to make this Christmas utterly perfect for Liz.

“You are insane,” Kyle breathed, agreeing with Maria as they stared helplessly at the mound of snow.

Max laughed. “Come on,” he merely said, before rolling a bit of it into a ball. Then he cupped it in his hands, a glowing light emulating from it for an instant before dissipating. Kyle could only watch in awe as Max unclenched his hand and produced a beautiful, white, sparkling ornament. It could not have looked better had it been crafted in a store.

“Wow, cool!” Maria shouted with glee, forgetting at once her abhorrence of the chilly crystal powder upon seeing it manipulated so exquisitely. “Liz is going to love it,” She added for Max’s benefit before rounding on her boyfriend. She poked him in the shoulder. “Michael, you try.”

Pretty soon the room was covered with mounds of snow everywhere as the group split up – Isabel half-heartedly at work by the rickety round table in the kitchen with Maria at her side, and Max, Michael and Kyle crouching by the tree, Max and Michael making the trinkets while Kyle hung them about the tree. After a while the three were talking like everyday acquaintances again, and the months apart faded away as their tentative friendship germinated once more. Max stopped the conversation, however, when he disappeared for a few minutes, returning with a gorgeous looking box, complete with a big shiny bow. Michael raised an eyebrow.

“What’s that?”

Max grinned sheepishly. “Something for Liz.”

“Uhm, Max? Newsflash, but I think Christmas isn’t until tomorrow,” Kyle joked while struggling with a wayward ornament. The stupid thing wouldn’t stay put.

Max shrugged humbly. “I know, I just wanted her to have this before that.”

Maria looked up from across the room, overhearing their open conversation. “Hey Max, what is it?”

Turning towards her side of the room, Max called out. “Chocolate covered strawberries.”

Maria’s brow shot up to her hairline in delighted surprise. “The good kind?”

Max gave her a crooked smile. “They’d better be by what they cost.”

Maria smiled. “You sly dog,” She said in admiration, a wistful look dawning on her features before she turned back to the ornaments before her, tying string on some of them. Isabel had since left the small table in favor of a nearby window.

Michael shook his head, then turned to Max, keeping his voice low. “Max, man, that’s real nice and all, but you should really consider how your actions are going to affect other people. Namely, me.” At Max’s confused look, Michael sighed exasperatingly and elaborated. “You’re making ME look bad!”

Max could help but dissolve into laughter at his friend’s reproachful expression. Michael rolled his eyes despairingly. “Yeah, yeah, laugh all you want buddy. I didn’t have Isabel to help me with a present this year, so it’s all me this time.” He sighed again.

Max wiped the tears from his eyes and smiled as Kyle leaned forward, smirking broadly. “Ten bucks says you’ll be begging to come with Isabel and me by New Year’s.”

“Thanks Kyle. That’s *really* comforting.”

Max and Kyle however, heard none of that for they had convulsed into another fit of mirth, slapping each other on the back for support. “Or how this one!” Kyle managed to choke out through the ruckus of sniggering. “Ten bucks says you’ll be sleeping on the couch by the 26th!”

Max high-fived the other young man next to him, snorting lightly. “Good one.”

Michael’s expression was cross indeed. “All right! All right! I think we’ve done enough at my expense.”

Kyle, however, was not through. “No wait! I got another one!”

Michael growled menacingly at the other boy, stepping aggressively forward. “Shut it Kyle, or I WILL blast you into the happy New Year.”

While the valid thread was enough to make Kyle stop laughing, it was not enough to quiet him. “Now, Mikey. Is that anyway to treat your friend on Christmas? Huh, Scrooge?” Michael’s nostrils flared frighteningly as he drew himself up to full height and outstretched his palm perilously. Kyle could not help but pale. Holy shit, Chewy means business. Starting to back up, he began to dart looks about the room. Someone, help! While he couldn’t believe that Michael would really kill him (would he?), he had a feeling that he was in for some pain. And a lot of it.

At the thought, Kyle could feel his body beginning to tingle strangely, almost like it was…humming. What the hell? Had Michael blasted him already?

His cerulean eyes widened with shock as he suddenly faded into nothingness, stars exploding before his eyes.


Michael stared in horror at the spot where Kyle had just stood a moment ago. It was empty, nothing there but air. Did he just - ?

Oh God. He was going to be sick.

His hand was still stretched out condescendingly, suspended in time. Daring a look up, he locked eyes with Max, who looked just as dumbstruck and terrified as he felt. Max opened and closed his mouth a few times, before asking Michael exactly what he was dreading.

“Did you do that?”

“I-I,” Michael unstuck his throat, swallowing anxiously. “I don’t know! I mean, I didn’t feel myself use my powers, and I was just kidding around! You know that, right?”

Max nodded slowly, but the action gave Michael little comfort.

Isabel had taken her ornaments over by the frosted windowpane and sat for most of the hour gazing forlornly out of it. Michael had resolved to talk to her before the night was over, but that was of course, before he appeared to have blasted Kyle into oblivion.

Oh, God.

Isabel turned then, no doubt wondering what all the fuss was about. Her eyes narrowed dangerously, pointedly looking straight at him. “Where’d Kyle go? He was just there a minute ago.”

Michael worked his jaw frantically, jumping up at the question. “I don’t know! I didn’t do it! Max, tell her I didn’t! I mean, I was just standing here, and he was standing there, and I was messing around, but then he just, just disappeared!” All of this was blurted out with fascinating speed, and afterwards, Michael took in deep, loud gulps of air, his eyes dancing with alarm and guilt.

Isabel arched one eyebrow at him. “Michael, you’ve been spending way too much time with Maria,” she quipped before placing a hand on her hip and moving closer to her brother. “What happened?”

Tears flew suddenly into Michael’s eye as his shoulders heaved with suppressed emotion. Maria looked up from her place over in the small kitchen area, and was at his side in a moment.

“Michael? Michael! What happened? What’s wrong?”

“I think, I think I killed him…” His voice broke and he was forced to look away. Later, he scoff at his behavior and deny any part of it, but the truth of the matter was that he was very upset indeed at the thought that he might have been the cause of Kyle’s death.

Suddenly, a high pitched scream alerted them all as the man in question himself shot like a bat out of hell from one of the bedrooms down the hall. He looked as white as the snow outside and his expression was one that was very, very guilty. Before anyone could even think to ask questions, Liz stepped out of the same bedroom, clad in nothing but a towel that was strung haphazardly across her body. Her face seethed with anger and embarrassment, as Kyle instantly began to apologize heartily.

“Oh God, I mean, Buddha!” He rubbed his face anxiously. “Liz, I am so, so sorry! I didn’t mean to - “ Kyle broke off nervously, shooting a glance at Max, who had jumped out of his seat immediately upon hearing Liz’s scream and had a murderous expression etched upon his features. Kyle gulped nervously, and Michael was hit unexpectedly with the strong urge to laugh. The emotion contrasted nicely to his prior bout of fear and anxiety.

“Go on,” Max commanded Kyle in a soft, deadly voice. “What were you about to say?”

“Really, Kyle! What were you doing barging in on me in the shower like that?!” Liz cried, wrapping her towel closely around herself and placing a hand on Max’s arm.

If anything, Max’s glare became deeper, black with outrage as he took another menacing step towards Kyle, who paled visibly.

“I didn’t mean to! Jeez, I barely saw anything!” That was his sole protest and attempt at self-preservation.

Max was taken aback, his lip curling with animosity. “Barely?!” He repeated with venom. It was apparent that the fact that Kyle might have seen Liz naked was driving Max insane. Michael had no doubt that painful memories of their junior year was coming back to haunt him.

Kyle seemed to be aware of this also, although the realization was cause for much more panic for him than it was for Michael. “No! That’s not what I meant!”

Liz seemed to be slowly seeing the amusement in this situation, as her mouth betrayed her with a small smile and her eyes twinkled devilishly. “Well, then what did you mean?”

Was that sweat beading Kyle’s brow? This time Michael let out an almost inaudible chuckle. Oh, man. He definitely was glad he wasn’t in Valenti’s shoes right now. Kyle shot Michael a sour look as he quickly back peddled. “I meant I didn’t see anything” He protested, stressing the last word. “I haven’t and never will WANT to see,” Kyle became increasingly uncomfortable as he dug himself deeper in his attempt to get out of the hole. “To see, uhm, you know! Anything!”

Liz was now grinning broadly, still clutching her green towel tightly around her. “What, Kyle, you don’t think I’d be nice enough for you?” Maria stood beside Michael and was silently convulsing with laughter, grabbing his arm for support. Michael about lost it himself when Liz shimmied her shoulders to accentuate her question.

All too quickly, Kyle protested. “NO! I mean, they were very nice, really, REALLY nice, I just, uhm, well - ”

Max’s nostrils flared as he purposely stepped in between his wife and his friend. “WHAT?!”

Instantly realizing what he had just said, Kyle clapped his hand over his mouth in horror. “NO! That’s not what I meant!”

Max crossed his arms, biting out his next words. “I thought you didn’t see anything!” Michael thought he could pick up on Max’s unspoken threat: Kyle, do I have to finish what Michael started and kill you?

Kyle was sweating profusely now, scouring frantically for a way to pull his foot out of his mouth. Finally, in all exasperation, he suddenly clawed at his back madly, almost as if reaching for an imaginary object, and twisted his head alongside his hands. “Dear Sweet Buddha, this parachute is a knapsack!” He cried out.

Michael couldn’t help it any longer. He burst out laughing, and Maria, Liz and Isabel soon joined suit. He couldn’t help but notice what a difference in Isabel’s face laughing made. For the first time since he had first saw her today, she looked actually – alive. Michael quickly put away a mental note for him to talk to her later.

Max however, was still seething, and Liz took it upon herself to cheer him up. “Oh, come on Max! He didn’t mean anything, I mean look at the poor guy.” She grinned amiably. “He’s practically shaking with fear.”

Kyle crossed his eyes. “Yeah, yeah, laugh it up, Chuckles. You’d be freaked out of your mind too if all of a sudden you teleport out of a room and straight into the bedroom of the girlfriend of the guy who could kill you with a flick of his palm.”

“That’s right,” Max grumbled, tugging Liz closer to his side. Liz, however, perked up at Kyle’s words, her brow knitting together with confusion.

“Wait a minute…did you say teleport?”

Kyle’s eyes glazed over as he took in the meaning of what had just happened. “Wha-What?” He blew out a large breath, whistling shrilly. “Oh, man.” He turned to toss a glance at Michael. “Beam me up Chewbacca. Looks like I’ve joined your ranks.”

Michael made a face. “You know, we’re really going to have a problem if you keep calling me that.”

Kyle shrugged. “Well, then cut your hair and stop grunting like Chewy. Then maybe I wont call you that.” He turned his head towards Liz, puzzlement clouding his mirth at his last crack at Michael. “Wait, why aren’t I sparkling like a firecracker on the Fourth if I’ve got powers?”

Liz shook her head slowly. “You’re asking me?”

“Well, you’re the science whiz. Is this even part of the wonderful alien life? I mean, none of you flit from room to room.” Kyle scratched his chin musingly.

Max shrugged. “Boy I tell you, that would make traveling a hell of a lot easier.” He seemed to have forgotten about the earlier incident, almost.

Maria rolled her eyes at his comment. “Yeah, and a heck of a lot cheaper too.”

Liz tilted her head, her face scrunching up in contemplation. “Well, it seems that each of us specializes in one specific power, while still retaining basic molecular manipulation and that stuff.” Her face suddenly lit up with triumph. “That’s it!”

Kyle frowned. “What’s it?”

“Molecules!” Liz smiled. “Each of the specialized powers has to do with molecular structure and how you change it differently.” She gestured to Max. “Max heals by squeezing molecules together, right?” She nodded towards Michael. “And Michael blasts by speeding molecules up! So Kyle, Kyle,” She bit her lip. “You must dissolve your molecules, and then rearrange them in a different place!”

“Well that’s sounds about right, but what about you?” Michael asked suddenly, feeling that something was missing. “You get premonitions, and Izzy dream walks. What does that have to do with molecules?”

Liz visibly deflated. “I don’t know.” She perked up once more. “Maybe it’s has something to do with gender?”

Kyle rubbed his temple wearily. “As much as I love hearing about alien mumbo jumbo and science components, and I do, could we talk about this later? I’m getting a major headache just thinking about the fact that I’m a quasi-alien now.” He sighed. “Merry Christmas to me. Is this Santa’s idea of a joke?”

“Good idea,” Max agreed, looking meaningfully at Liz. “It is Christmas Eve, and I think we all would like a break from all this tonight.”

“Amen to that,” Maria added, snuggling closer to Michael.

Liz finally noticed the tree behind them all, next to the hearth. She clutched her heart, a soft gasp escaping her throat. “Oh! Who did that?” She asked anxiously, moving closer to the dimly lit tree. Michael glanced over and had to admit that the tree looked better than he thought it would. Their snow ornaments shimmered in the moonlight, and frosted the evergreen with a sheen of sparkling white.

Maria grinned next to him, calling out to her friend. “It was Max’s idea.”

Liz whirled around to look at her husband, a glow emanating from her face. Max simply smiled that small grin of his and moved to wrap his arms around her, kissing her gently on the lips. “I think Santa left you a little something early,” He prompted, nodding pointedly to the tree. Liz twisted in his embrace, breathing in with sharp surprise when she saw a box beneath the tree. “Max!” She breathed with awe. “You shouldn’t of - ”

“Shh,” he shushed her mouth with tender fingers. “A little pre-present, if you will.”

Liz kissed his fingers delectably before scampering over to the tree, scooping up the box with glee. Upon reading the label, she sighed happily before tugging him down for a heart-stopping kiss. Hungrily, Max accepted her gratitude and returned it ten-fold, reaching out to cup her face gingerly.

“Oh PLEASE! Guys, you do realize that there are others in the room who are about to lose their lunch, right?” Michael broke in loudly, trying to avert his eyes. Immediately, Maria slugged him on the arm, shooting death rays at him with her wide green eyes.

“God, Michael! Is there a reason you have to be so blunt and rude? Hmm? Or so oblivious? Maybe someone else would enjoy some kind of pre-present to, you think?” She stalked away to the other side of the room, and Michael glared when he heard Kyle’s telltale sniggering.

“Oh shut up!”

Kyle stepped forward, looping his arm around Michael’s shoulder. “Oh come on now Michael. I promise I wont say I ‘told you so.’ I’m above that kind of childishness.”

Michael raised his eyebrow skeptically. “You’re whacked, you know that?”

Isabel smirked, piping up. “Michael, you didn’t seem to feel that way when you thought you had blasted Kyle to bits a minute ago.” At Kyle’s surprised start, Isabel’s smirked deepened and she continued despite Michael’s warning frown. “He was almost crying.”

“I was NOT!” Michael shouted loudly, struggling to untangle himself from Kyle’s semi-embrace.

Kyle’s eyes were twinkling. He fake sniffed and pulled Michael closer. “You know, I love you too man.”

“Get OFF me!”

Max and Liz were thankfully unaware of this ruckus, and they only broke apart when the need for air became dominant. Still cupping her face, Max rubbed his thumb lightly over her cheek. “God, I love you,” He said with heartfelt conviction, grazing his hands lower to fold around her waist. He froze suddenly, his eyes widening, then darkening gradually.

Across the room, Michael frowned with mystification. “Hey, what’s up with Max?” He jerked his head towards Max’s frozen figure and Liz’s amused expression.

Isabel smiled softly. “Looks like Max just remembered that Liz is clad in nothing but thin, thin cotton.”

Michael simply looked at her, utterly stupefied. “So?”

Isabel threw up her hands in exasperation. “You really are the densest guy alive, aren’t you?”

Michael shrugged in reply as Max and Liz disappeared into the bedroom, Liz murmuring something or another about ‘giving him his early present.’ Something like that. Michael shook his head before turning back towards Isabel, finally seeing a chance for him to talk to her about why she was being so distant and well, sad. More so than was usual for Izzy. He may have not seen her for six or so months, but he still knew her. He started towards her, but Kyle grabbed his arm.

“Watch it Valenti,” Michael growled. “I seriously not in the mood for any more of your jokes.”

“What, you gonna poof me into nothingness again Chewy?” Kyle taunted. Michael merely glowered at him, and finally the other boy sighed. “Sorry, that was a bit low.”

Michael looked down at his arm pointedly, which was being held firmly in Kyle’s grasp.

“Look,” Kyle finally said. “Leave Iz alone for a while yet. Okay? When she’s ready to tell you guys, she will.”

“Tell us what?” Michael demanded. “Is something wrong?”

“When she’s ready to talk she will. Just give her some space, will ya?” Kyle gritted his teeth.

Michael dropped down onto the couch, scowling, but nonetheless heeding Kyle’s admonition. Minutes ticked by as he fidgeted in his seat, wriggling his feet up and down, to and fro, side to side. At last, he couldn’t take it anymore, and once Kyle was across the room talking to Maria, Michael scooted closer to Isabel. Screw Kyle and his stupid advice. He knew Isabel, and he also knew when she needed him.

“Hey Iz?” He asked softly. She turned towards him, her expression serene. Or it would have seemed serene to anyone who didn’t know better. Michael picked up on the telltale signs of tension in her form and distress hidden in her eyes. Yep. Something was definitely wrong. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” She bit out more forcefully then expected. Michael threw her a doubtful look. “Really! I’m okay, Michael. Just leave me alone.”

“Uh huh. Right. Come on Iz. Tell me.”

“Tell you what?” She maintained obstinately. “There’s nothing to tell.”

Michael sighed deeply. “You know, you’re a really bad liar.”

Her eyes watered suddenly, catching him completely off guard. Bitchy Iz he could handle just fine. Crying Iz was another matter. “Not according to Jesse,” she laughed, though the sound was anything but humorous. “To him, I’m an excellent liar.”

Awkwardly, he reached out to touch her arm. “So this is about Jesse?”

She jerked away from his touch. “No! It’s…I don’t know what! God, Michael, I don’t want to talk about this.”

Hastily, he retreated, hating that Kyle was right. “Okay. Okay.” Sighing again, he leaned back indolently, closing his eyes briefly. It was getting late. Maybe they should –

He felt Isabel stiffen next to him, and his eyes shot open. One look at her stricken expression had him suddenly wide-awake. “Isabel? Isabel!” He prodded her non-too-gently. “Isabel, what is it?” He followed her gaze, and what he saw before him gave him cause to seriously question his sanity. His jaw dropped to hit the floor, and he had to resist the urge to pinch himself. Impossible. No, it couldn’t be. It was some sort of joke, a shapeshifter, a dream. Anything but real.

Isabel voiced aloud the exact question that was flitting through Michael’s mind, her voice trembling alongside her shoulders with suppressed tears and shock.


~~Setting our hopes on a big snow tonight
We'll wake up to a world of white
It's gonna be a Christmas to remember
Light up the fire, play some Nat King Cole
Always sentimental and don't you know that
It's gonna be a Christmas to remember

I know it's true
Time doesn't stand still
Many things can change
But we know some things never will
The memories we share
The songs we always sing
The mystery of life
The hopefulness this season brings
And I have a dream or two
Maybe they will come true

posted on 4-Jan-2003 11:43:00 AM
Title: The Heart of This Christmas 2/2
Author: Kitcat26 AKA Cath
Summary: Post Grad Holiday fic
Disclaimer: I own the plot but am just borrowing the rest with thanks. Songs are by Amy Grant (or at least, it was her versions that inspired the story).
Category: CC with a strong M/L slant PG-13
Author’s Note: This will be no more than two parts. I was in the mood for some festive, sappy fun thus the birth of this idea. Enjoy. *grin*

What’s that you say? Christmas is over already? Well slap the horse and call me silly, by God you’re right! What can I say folks? This one took longer than I thought it would to get all nice and typed up. So, urm, turn back the wheels of time and pretend with me? With luck there’s still a bit of residual Christmas cheer in you that will take the time and read while the holidays are still tangible. Yaay, I finished this before December ended. Woo. ;)

If your heart's been longing,
You've been afraid to try,
Sorrow's kept you company,
And the dance has passed by,
I'll lift you up and blaze with you
Across the moonlit sky
On the night before Christmas.

'Cause you don't have to be an angel
To sing harmony.
You don't have to be a child
To love the mystery. (mystery)
And you don't have to be a wise man
On bended knee.

The heart of this Christmas is in you and me.

Part Two

Isabel Evans stared at the mirage in front of her. No. It couldn’t be. She was simply dreaming again. That had to be it. For what was standing in front of her could not be what she thought it was. Or more precisely, who she thought it was. She squelched the part of her soul that was leaping up in anticipated joy, the part that had taken momentary control of her vocal chords and tried to identify the person in front of her by name.


The short question resonated in her mind, echoing thoroughly through her brain. The unanswered query hung heavily between all of them. The moment stretched out in the conundrum known as time, and all movement was suspended, although the air was still yet moving with bated breath as wide eyes blinked in disbelief.

It was Maria who finally broke the speechless silence.

“Wh-Who are you?” Came the choked whisper. If Isabel had possessed the strength to look over at her friend, she might have been able to see first hand how shaken, white, and injured Maria looked. However, she did not and had to contend with the clues that Maria’s trembling voice provided.

The figure standing before them looked taken aback at first, and Isabel made the shocking realization that he seemed to be as surprised as any of them at his sudden appearance. Just as quickly as she discovered this, his face morphed into an all too proverbial grin. “Oh come now, it hasn’t been that long, has it?”

Michael snapped out of his dazed stupor at this and started forward with his hands clenched. “Who the hell are you, and why are you masquerading as …” He seemed utterly unable to say the name, and the thought tore a little more at Isabel’s heart. Michael straightened, visibly shying away from the moniker, and he spat out his next words. “I swear, if you are a shape shifter you’d better own up to it now,” He paused, darting a quick look towards Maria, whose features were still stricken. “And go back to your original form, or so help me, I’ll blow you to bits.”

The figure chuckled wryly before glancing at Michael’s tense, disbelieving form. “Shape shifter? Now, believe me Michael, I am far beyond any of that. Boy, you really have had had it pretty rough since I’ve gone. I thought I had imagined the fear and panic you were all living with.” He sighed deeply, and in pensive thought looked so much like her lost beloved that Isabel could not help but allow a strange cry to rip from her throat.

He heard her. A look of warm concern and undying support crossed his face and she had to swallow back any more mewls of pain. His gaze met her own, and he spoke to the group while still holding her eyes with his own. “Guys, it’s me.” He spoke with pure emotion rippling through his voice.

In that moment, she could do nothing but believe him. Her eyes watered instantly as hope caused her breath to catch. “Alex.”

He smiled at her, the same friendly, helpful, beautiful smile that existed solely in her dreams. He opened his mouth to say something, but the sound of a strangled cry alerted everyone to Max and Liz’s presence. Heads turned to meet more astonished gazes as the couple stood in the midst of their bedroom doorway and surveyed the scene before them with heart stopping shock. Liz had her hands clapped over her mouth as if to prevent any more outbursts while Max was gripping her shoulder with immeasurable strength.

Max worked his throat a few times before stepping forward, careful to be strategically placed in front of his wife. He cast a glance towards Michael. “What’s going on here? Who is he? And why …”

Alex rolled his eyes. “Oh good grief! I thought the hard part would be getting here, not in trying to convince you of what you already know.”

“Alex?” Liz breathed softly, almost like she was afraid that if she said it any louder, he would disappear. Isabel knew precisely how she felt.

He winked jovially at her. “You always were quick Lizzie.”

“You can’t be Alex,” Kyle suddenly spoke for the first time, his face whiter than it had been an hour or so ago when he had unsuccessfully defended his innocence to Max. “Alex is well,” Kyle coughed uncomfortably. “Dead.”

“Halleluiah, at least someone’s been taking notes,” Alex quipped before tilting his head at Kyle. “You always were blunt.”

Liz took a tentative step towards him. “But … but how? Why?”

Michael shook his head violently. “How the hell do we know that you’re not some deranged alien sent here to kill us? Huh? We have no reason to believe you.”

Alex gave him a look. “Michael. You do realize how ridiculous you sound right now, don’t you?”

Across the room, Maria snorted (Isabel had to resist the urge to do the same) and a smile almost broke out across her face. Almost. The pure hope that was etched upon her features was a heart wrenching sight to behold.

Michael flushed slightly at the pointed question yet pressed on. “Hey, stranger things have happened, all right? Khivar could have sent you, you could be anyone.”

Alex merely shook his head. “Well that would be a rather stupid plan, don’t you think?” At Michael’s blank expression, Alex prodded on. “Clearly, he would at least be aware of how your mistrust of such a person would be instantaneous.” He stopped, a frown drawing light away from his face as he tilted his head at Michael. “Like it is now. Come on Michael. Aren’t you tired of being afraid?” He shook off his gloom alongside his rhetorical question and held out his hands in an innocuous manner. “Don’t you believe in miracles, eh Chewy?” Alex winked over at Kyle and mouthed ‘Good one,’ while the other boy looked taken aback. When Alex turned back to look at Michael, he was met with a sour and still disbelieving look. “Okay fine, if you don’t believe me, then ask me something. Something only I would know.”

Another hush fell, as contemplations and suggestions rolled through everyone’s mind. Isabel’s eyes fluttered shut. What could she possibly ask that only he would know? Her eyes squeezed shut even harder as a voice scoffed in her head. Really, this was absurd! He wasn’t actually in front of her. It was just another horribly wonderful dream. Right? Suddenly, she was scared to know the answer to that question. For if it truly was him, where did it leave them? This entire situation was incredibly surreal.

And yet, deep down a tug at her stomach informed her that her hopes and fears were correct. It was him and she knew it instinctively. She didn’t need some silly question and answer to determine it.

Liz suddenly perked up eagerly. “I know! What was the name of the teacher whose desk you electrified?”

Alex snorted as the group collectively held their breath for his response. “Oh man. I still remember the look on his face.” He grinned. “Why dear ole Mr. Hoffman of course.”

The delight and awe lit up Liz’s face in a spectacular spectacle to rival that of the brilliant tree behind her. “Oh my God. Alex.”

Kyle inched closer until he was standing right next to his late friend. Scratching his head, he looked up. “That was you, man? I practically pissed my pants laughing when I heard about that.”

Alex laughed and reached out to clap him on the back. “It’s good to see you too Valenti.”

Isabel couldn’t take anymore of the levity. It was almost as if the idea of their dead friend, of her first love to be standing in the living room area was being brushed aside lightly. The importance of the matter, however, had not escaped her. “Wait,” She croaked out. “How … why did you come?” Her unspoken query trailed after her vocal one. If you’re really gone, then how can this be?

He didn’t even hesitate. “I came because you needed guidance. Your dreams especially beckoned my soul, and it was right for me to come. You needed me. All of you did somehow, and the Lord was not blind to that.” He paused, inhaling a deep breath, causing Isabel the painful wondering of whether or not he could still participate in such a habitual notion, that of breathing. Subsequently, the way he looked her straight in the eye, seeing past her facades and masks as easily as he did when he was alive forced all thoughts out of her mind. “And also because, more than heaven, more than anything, I just wanted to be with the ones I loved again, even for a mere moment.” He swiveled his gaze to pierce with his warm gaze everyone in the room. Liz was clutching Max’s hand fiercely, while Maria gave a strangled cry in the back of her throat, to which Alex responded with an extra benevolent smile.

Once more, his eyes fell upon Isabel. “I wanted to be with you.”

His eyes averted away from everyone else’s and he seemed to be at a loss for words. Finally, he spoke, pacing slightly across the wooden floor. “I was still angry about what had happened to me, angry that I was leaving everyone I loved behind, without even getting to say goodbye.” Tears stung Isabel’s eyes and burned her nose, as she perceived identical droplets of pain in his eyes. “So I hung in a balance between yearning for what had been rather than looking ahead to what was to come. I wasn’t ready to give on this life, ready to move on.”

Isabel swallowed the knot of terribly heartrending emotions that was swelling in the back of her throat. “But now you are?”

Alex smiled softly. “I guess you aren’t the only who needs guidance this Christmas.”

Tears were flowing freely now, cascading like some tragic waterfall to streak her face. “Oh, Alex.” Her beautiful features scrunched up in an effort to withhold the pain.

He was at her side an instant later. “Isabel.” Her name rolled off of his tongue, so strange yet infinitely familiar. “Don’t do that.” Gently, his fingers fluttered over her face, his butterfly light touch catching her tears as they fell. She immediately reveled in the fact she could actually feel it. Feel him. In one terrifying, paralyzing moment, she again feared this was all but a dream.

Alex shook his head. “I left you last time while you were in tears. Please. This time I want to depart with my last memory of this life your smile.”

Isabel’s shoulders started shaking with suppressed emotion, emotion that was quickly breaking through the surface. “I just don’t want to be alone,” she sniffed, not saying every thing she was truly afraid of. Of what she ached for every night, knowing inherently that it was not meant for her.

Alex knew. Alex always knew. “Isabel, you’ll always have love in your life.” At the sight of her chin jutting out in protest, he shook his head more firmly. “And contrary to what you believe, love will not be something to be viewed as some senseless tragedy.” He inched closer to her, removing his hands from her face, gliding them downwards to smooth across her womb. “Trust me. For this little one growing in here will be the greatest love you’ve ever known.”

Isabel gasped, wide brown eyes clamoring to seek out his own. “How did you know?” She whispered anxiously. The only person she had told was Kyle, and he hadn’t said much on the subject out of respect for her. She bit her lip and tried to ignore the mutual intakes of surprise from the rest in the room.

“Aw, Iz.” He tweaked her nose affectionately with his free hand and ran his other outstretched fingers back and forth across her womb, sparking a warm glow that spread through her. And in that moment, a miracle occurred. Her baby kicked for the first time.

Smiling through her amazed intake of breath, Alex continued. “Don’t you know? Your son’s soul is safe in the hands of the Big Guy. And I fully intend to spend every moment with him when I finally haul my butt up there, until the day he’s born.” His hands slid away from her stomach, moving up to tuck an errant strand of silky brown hair safely behind her ear. “And when that day comes, know that I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

Isabel gazed up at his warmly familiar blue hued eyes, her awe overriding any of her tears. “You can do that?”

Alex snorted. “You can bet your last dollar that I’ll find a way.” His tone was so determined that she could not help but believe him.

He stepped back now, his body opening up to the entire group assembled around him in the dimly light room. “So don’t you see? You are not alone. Not when I’ll be forever in here,” he gestured to Liz’s heart, then to Maria’s throat, where her vocal chords were. “And in here,” His fingers lightly grazed over Isabel’s abdomen once more.

A hushed awe filled the room, expanding to all corners and crevices.

It was Maria’s shout that sliced through the solitude. “God, I love you Alex!” As soon as the words were out her mouth, she was barreling herself across the room and into his arms. Quietly, the two rocked each other, until Liz stepped timidly forward. Alex looked up at her over the top of Maria’s blonde head, beckoning her with one open arm to draw her into a large, heartfelt group hug. Isabel watched them, feeling her heart tug with poignant sadness as she watched the three of them together. Their easy friendship had always been a source of jealous yearning for her in the past, but now she looked on with gratitude and happiness for such a bond between them, her hand sliding down to embrace her child and a smile playing on her lips.

When they finally broke apart, Maria was wiping tears from her green eyes. She smiled gently, reaching out for Michael’s hand. “I’m just so glad that we’re all here together to share this with you.”

Alex nodded. “Yep! My plan worked!”

Kyle’s brow wrinkled. “Plan?”

Michael sighed. “I KNEW something was fishy about this whole situation! Six estranged people don’t randomly meet up in the same place on the same day for crying out loud.”

Max cleared his throat, gesturing towards Alex. “You set this up?”

“Uh, yeah. My coming back wouldn’t have been quite as effect if you weren’t all together.” He frowned earnestly. “And really! What is this splitting up crap? Made everything a heck of a lot harder on my part, that was for sure.” He winked, letting them know that he joking, per usual. He smiled at Maria. “Did you like those postcards? Nifty huh.”

Maria could only stare agape. “That was you!? But, but how?”

Alex shrugged before flicking his wrist through the air. Instantly, a breeze floated in, almost as if from nowhere, and reached out to caress each face. Just as quickly as it began, though, with a wave from Alex, it dissipated. Isabel snapped her head up to level with his, drinking in his easy going smirk. “Cosmic powers,” he stated. “Way cooler than alien hocus pocus.” He rubbed his chin. “The only drawback is that you kind of have to die first in order to get them.”

At this, Max winced, then swallowed nervously, as if he were getting ready to say something. The guilt written all over her brother’s face made Isabel’s heart ache, and she longed to tell him what she was sure Alex would. “Alex,” he said hoarsely. “I just wanted to say that I’m - ”

Alex held up his hands. “Max. I love you man, but if you apologize for something that wasn’t your fault, I may just have to strangle you.” He grinned good-naturedly. “Quasi-angelic status or no angelic status.” He ambled over and clasped Max on the shoulder. “You hear me? That habit of yours, however endearing it may be at times, really sucks. Cut it out.”

Max’s eyebrow shot up in confusion before his face broke out into a small smile. “Gotcha,” he answered softly. “You know, you’re a lot more straightforward than I remember.” He added as an amused after-thought.

Alex nodded in agreement. “Yep. That’s what’s so freeing about it. Suddenly, the fear of what people will think or their possible rejection and all that just doesn’t seem as important anymore. I can just be me.”

Liz’s hand darted out to snare Alex’s arm. Just as swiftly, she rested her head comfortingly on his shoulder. “Oh, Alex. I just wish that we’d figured out what was going on sooner, before - ”

Alex jerked up like fingers away from a flame. “Hey. You too. Don’t DO that. What happened in the past is done. You can’t change it.” His eyes brightened to contrast with his serious tone, and he tweaked Liz’s nose affectionately. “But you can look to make the most of the future.” He jerked his thumb towards Max, who smiled slightly in return as Liz beamed back at him.

Alex sighed as the two entered into another fabled staring contest. “Wow. You both are definitely two peas in a pod.” His eyebrows lifted in thought. “Though come to think of it, aren’t there usually three or so peas in a pod? But then, that would ruin the purpose of the saying, wouldn’t it?” He shrugged, glancing over at the large grandfather clock sitting in the kitchen area. What he saw was cause for him to gasp softly in surprise.

“Jeez, it’s almost midnight already?” Alex chuckled wryly at the perplexed looks that marred some of their countenances. “Forgive me. You see, I’m some deranged form of Cinderella tonight. And it seems as if my work here is done.” He paused, his brow furrowing together in meditation. “Though come to think of it, I’m getting gypped here.” He looked up, smiling. “Cinderelly at least got some cool shoes and a kick-ass party dress.” Everyone in the room couldn’t help themselves and laughed through their tears at the thought of him leaving, and so soon. Were there any qualms that Alex was who he said he was, there were none now.

“But at least I get my Princess Charming for one last kiss.” He started towards Isabel again, leaning in to brush his lips against her own, the simple act causing a bolt of love to strike her soul. “I’m not going to see you again next time, am I?” Her query was quiet, resigned.

Alex lips curved. “I think you know that we can always meet in our dreams.” Isabel’s mouth trembled with a weak smile, as he tilted his head towards the frosted paned window over at his right. “And trust me when I say, you can always find me among the stars in the sky.”

Isabel sighed softly, a brilliant smile overtaking her face that brightened the room, as Kyle moved swiftly forward at the announcement, placing a comforting hand upon her quivering shoulders. Alex beamed at the motion. “Take care of her,” he said meaningfully, to which Kyle nodded solemnly. Alex turned his gaze once more to pierce every individual, each of his glances holding a special unique meaning, solely sentimental to the recipient.

His form began to flicker; each second forcing him to became more and more transparent. “Take care of each other. In doing so, you’ll never really be alone.” He smiled, one last time.

“Oh, and Merry Christmas.”

And with that, the antique grandfather clock thundered through the room with a deafening chime, and Alexander C. Whitman drifted off into the dusky night, a smile set irrevocably on his kind face.


The rickety old cabin sat enveloped in darkness, a black inky blanket that coated them all as the stars came out to visit. The sparkling orbs winked more brightly than ever with the knowledge of the phenomenon that had just occurred below. Inside, the gang sat, some stood with intense reflection. The bittersweet memories flickered through the room like the dying flames in the hearth. Maria Deluca still clung to her boyfriends arm, yet a broad smile tugged at her cheekbones, making them feel alive again. She could not help but grin at the remembrance.

He was here! Alex really, truly had been there, right before her eyes. And finally, after a year or so of aching, anger and sorrow, she finally had what she had always wanted after she’d accepted his death as a reality.

Closure. The chance to say goodbye, knowing that it would truly be the last.

Sure, the thought that she would never see him ever again was still cause for a pain in her breast, a pain so great that one never wanted to imagine, but his visit – his miraculous, marvelous, unbelievable visit – helped with all that. For the first time she didn’t have to hide behind work, Michael, or her adamant refusal to sing. No, now she felt that she could really live. Now she was finally … healed.

“So Iz,” Michael cleared his throat roughly, ending the complacent quiet. “Uh … congratulations.”

Liz untangled herself from Max’s embrace and impulsively hugged the other woman next to her. “Yes, congratulations!” She said whole-heartedly before pulling away. “When’s the baby due?”

Isabel’s face fell as she bit her lips nervously. “I don’t know.”

Max frowned and moved closer to his sister. “What do you mean you ‘don’t know?’”

She exhaled a fiery breath. “I mean, I don’t know! I don’t know anything, whether or not the baby’s normal, whether or not the gestation cycle is normal, when I’m due, none of it. I know nothing. I haven’t gone to a doctor, because, well, you know.”

Michael rounded on Kyle. “So this is what you were talking about earlier.” When Kyle nodded grimly, Michael frowned. “How long have you known?”

Kyle shrugged. “About two weeks I guess.”

Maria stared in shock, an idea coming upon her so unexpectedly and so quickly that she had to blink. “It’s not…it’s not yours is it Kyle?” She asked delicately.

Kyle’s eyes bulged tremendously as he cast another nervous glance towards Max, who jerked up at Maria’s question and was looking particularly murderous again. “No!” He all but shouted at Maria. “How could you even THINK such a thing?”

Isabel hid a grin while Maria was not successful in doing so. “Well I don’t know Kyle, honey. It’s possible if you remember that one night we had not too long ago…” Isabel drifted off in a teasing manner, while Kyle glared helplessly at her.

“NOT FUNNY ISABEL!” Kyle shot another anxious glance at Max. The alien’s tawny eyes had narrowed into dangerous slits. Maria chuckled openly. Oh man, this was becoming classic.

Isabel finally took pity upon her travel mate and stepped up. “I was just kidding, Kyle.” She sobered. “It’s Jesse’s. There’s no other person whose it could be.”

Max had calmed down enough to ask his sister, “Does he know?”

Isabel shook her head violently. “No, and he’s not going to. Ever.”

Max’s face softened as he tried to reason with her. “Iz - ”

Her expression became fierce with determination as she rounded on him. “Max, no!” She swallowed, seemingly swallowing back her tears. “If I tell him, he’s going to want to come find me. I know him. And knowing him, he wouldn’t stop until he succeeded.” She smiled wistfully at the thought before hardening once more. “And do you really want to risk letting that kind of information out? What if someone intercepted it? Like the FBI, or worse? It’s my decision, Max, and I won’t risk it. No matter how much I want to.” Her voice broke somewhat on the last word, yet she held her composure.

“Are you scared? I mean, with not knowing much about the pregnancy. Isabel?” Liz gently prodded her friend, begging for her to open up. Maria couldn’t help but agree. Talking would do Isabel a world of good, whether she wanted to admit it or not.

Isabel grazed her stomach with her hand, staring off into the star ridden night sky. “No, not really,” she finally said. At Kyle’s incredulous look, she reiterated. “I’m not, because … because, well - ”

Maria called out, suddenly understanding perfectly. “Because Alex told you so. He said that your son was safe, and you believe him,” she stated this matter-of-factly.

Isabel smiled softly at her, her eyes conveying her gratitude. “Yes.” She spoke lowly, her voice thick. “I do.”

Quiet ensued once more as everyone contemplated the ever-growing significance and meaning in Alex’s visit.

“Well, what do you know,” Kyle said slicing through the silence. Five pairs of questioning eyes came to rest upon him. He smiled, nodding towards the clock. “It’s Christmas Day. And you know what that means, don’t you.” He sighed in exasperation as the pairs of eyes stared at him blankly. “Presents you numbskulls! Presents!”

Max, Michael and Isabel merely looked at Kyle with amusement as Maria and Liz dissolved into giggles. When they saw that he was indeed entirely serious, the group dispersed and dived into their trunks, respectively, to gather up the meager amount of gifts they’d acquired earlier, placing them carefully beneath the sparkling, white frosted tree.

Stepping back to look at the sight, Maria shook her head slowly. “I don’t know guys. I just feel like I’ve gotten everything I’ve wished for already.” Isabel nodded in agreement, exchanging a meaningful glance with her.

“I know what you mean.”

Michael heaved a sigh, and then started for the tree. Scooping up a fairly large, peculiar shaped wrapped present he turned back towards Maria. “So I guess I should be taking this back then. Damn, it really was a bitch to go get though.” He sighed again glumly. “Oh well.”

Maria was at his side in an instant, snatching away her gift. “Oh no you don’t!” She plopped down on the couch, pulling him down to sit next to her and the gift squarely upon her lap. Staring at it for a minute, she then tossed a look Michael’s way. “It’s not another bumper, is it?” Michael laughed outright, and quickly assured her it wasn’t.

Not quite as apprehensive now, Maria tore anxiously at the wrapping paper, letting the satisfying ripping sound resound through the room. When the first bit of the item peeked through from beyond it’s confinement in the red and green paper, she felt her heart stop and her breath rush out of her lungs in one swoop. No. It couldn’t be. It was! She gasped as the tears welled up in her eyes for the second time that day. Her head lifted up so her eyes could look into Michael’s, and her lips trembled as she struggled with the right words to effectively convey how much this meant to her.

It was Alex’s old guitar. Once, her most prized possession.

“Hey, hey, don’t cry,” He said gruffly, wiping away all signs of moisture with a gentleness to contrast greatly with his tone. “It was *supposed* to have the opposite effect.” He paused, still caressing her face. “I knew how much you hated it when you had to leave it behind last year, and well, I - ”

She gurgled through her tears with a strange sounding laugh as she pulled him towards her. “I love it, Michael. It’s perfect,” she breathed before crushing his lips to hers in her ultimate act of appreciation. Her heart soared with delight as she eagerly devoured Michael’s mouth, reveling in the touch, feel and presence of him. This truly was one of the best Christmas’s she’d ever had, and this unexpected, wonderful gift just went to prove it.

Miracles do happen. And one or two of them occurred that night.


Max Evans smiled as he watched Michael unwrap his paint supplies and a sketchpad – both gifts from Maria. The gang had only bought gifts for the person they had been traveling with, since they had all been under the impression that none of them would be seeing each other for a very long time. Max frowned at the thought. Splitting up had been wrong. He saw that now. Alex had been right. They were all stronger together, more light-hearted. And the stress of wondering whether or not the rest were even alive was doing nothing for their morale. Soon after gifts, he was going to suggest that they stick together from here on out. And if the FBI found them because of it, so be it. He was beginning to see that while one was able to choose their own destiny, fate often took that choice to do as it may. And there was nothing to do to stop it.

Finally seeing a lull in the evening, Max grabbed his own gift and presented it proudly to Liz. He wet his lips with agitation as he waited for her to open it. She glanced at him skeptically, almost as if she hadn’t expected more after everything else. When she had peeled away the shiny paper and discarded the silver bow, she gasped audibly as a thin black box appeared. “Max,” she breathed in awe. “You didn’t …”

He shushed her quietly, smiling proudly. “Just open it.”

She did, and the sight of a delicate and shiny gold, expensive looking chain greeted her wide eyes. She breathed in deeply, reaching out to grab his hand. “Max, it’s beautiful.”

He looked at it with appreciation. “Yeah. I tried to find the one in the store that possessed even half of your beauty. I guess this one will have to do.” He leaned over to kiss her warmly. He pulled back and was about to wish her Merry Christmas when she pierced him with a sharp look.

“Max, why are you doing all of this?” Liz asked him suspiciously, staring at him pointedly.

He shifted uncomfortably. “All what?” Damn. She was way too intelligent for her own good. But then, that was one of the things he loved about her.

Her eyebrow shot up dubiously. “Going all out. The tree. The chocolates. The jewelry.” She smiled softly at him, causing his breath to hitch. Would he ever tire of seeing her brilliant smile dazzle her countenance? “Not to say that I didn’t love them.” Liz sobered. “But Max, how did you afford them? Things are tight right now, with being on the run and everything. You didn’t need to go to such expense.”

He hushed her with a tender finger against her silky lips. “I wanted to. You deserve all this. All this and more then I could ever give you.” He dropped his hand and turned his gaze towards the tree. “You should have a beautiful tree and gifts of your dreams. You shouldn’t be always looking over your shoulder, wondering whether or not you’ll even be in the same bed come tomorrow.” He stopped, feeling himself starting to enter rant mode. It wasn’t fair, he thought. None of it was. Here she was, standing exquisitely before him, and he with nothing to offer her but broken dreams. His fault. All of it. Because of him, because he couldn’t find the will to be without her, she was stuck following him cross-country, running from everything. Running from life.

Liz’s gentle yet firm voice sliced through his pity party. She knew him far too well. “Max. Stop it.” At his startled expression, she stepped forward and looping her arms around his neck, pulled him close. His eyes fluttered shut as he inhaled her delectable scent. She was perfect. And he was … him. “I love you, Max Evans. And being your wife is all I need to be happy.” His eyes shot open as she tenderly brushed an errant strand of black hair out of his eyes. “I don’t need fancy clothes, or jewelry that rivals the stars. I have my faith, my health, and love.” She grinned and wagged her brow in such a comical manner that Max could not help but grin back, feeling his spirits lift. “Lots and lots of love. If you catch my drift.”

He twined his hands around her waist. “Oh, I think I do.” He responded with amusement.

She stared at him, serious now. “Those are all the gifts I need Max. That’s all I want.” She smiled once more, leaning in to rub her nose against his in a ticklish manner. “So stop feeling guilty Max. It’s not your fault. It never was. Things are just the way they are. Okay?”

“I guess that’s what Alex was trying to ram into my thick head, huh.” She kissed him quickly in accord with his statement. “Well, I promise to try, as long as you promise me one thing.” His eyes were twinkling devilishly now, the fleck of sunny yellow dancing with a cheerfully muddy brown.

Mm Hm,” Liz sighed against his mouth. “And what’s that?”

He tilted his head slightly so he had better access to her tender neck. Nuzzling his face into the perfect crevice that seemed to be made just for him, he smiled. “That you’ll always love me as much as I love you. And that you’ll always be there to smack some sense into me. And most importantly, that you’ll take your own advice and not blame yourself for things that are not your fault.” He said the last more forcefully, remembering her lingering guilt over Alex’s death and not figuring it out quick enough.

She pulled away from his tight embrace so she could look him straight into the eye. It was then that he reiterated inside his mind that nothing, absolutely nothing could top this feeling, this moment. Her. “Hey, that’s three things,” She teased him mercilessly, her eyes brightening beautifully with mirth. “But I promise anyways, Max.” She drew him close again, teasing again, this time with her lips, which remained achingly so close yet so far. “Forever.”

“Forever,” he agreed, kissing her soundly and wrapping her tightly against him. “I love you.”

He was rewarded once more with that special smile. “I love you too.” Forever

The moment was broken when the strains of a guitar drifted through the room. They broke apart to witness Maria, a blissful expression on her face as she plucked happily away at her gift. Max suddenly smiled broadly, knowing inherently what would make this night (or early morning as it may be) utterly perfect. His hand darted out to capture Liz’s, and as she stared up at him with an expectant expression, he squeezed her hand delicately.

“Dance with me?” His request was met with another dazzling smile, and he grinned with victory. Nothing could ever feel as wonderful as electing that gorgeous smile. Liz reached out to lay her hand lovingly on his shoulder and his spare hand snaked down to encircle her waist. Languidly, gently, they swayed to the music Maria was providing, and also the music resonating through their very souls.

Soon after, Kyle jumped up as Maria picked out a Christmas-y tune. He made his way towards Isabel, who was still staring out at the night sky. Smiling quietly, he reached out his hand. Isabel regarded him with a surprised expression, to which Kyle elaborated his intent in response. “Oh, come on Iz. You know you want to teach this hunk of an ex-jock how to dance properly.” His quip was rewarded with a smile as Isabel took his hand, and the two awkwardly twirled about the makeshift dance floor, their socks slipping on the smooth wood floor. Max smiled at them approvingly while Isabel laughed through her disproving frown as Kyle stepped inadvertently on her toes. This was exactly was Iz needed. Some lightening levity. Yes, she was going to make it, Max thought, still smiling at his sister as she caught his eye.

They all would.

Max’s gaze then floated over towards the couch, where Michael was sighing in relief with the knowledge that Maria was safely engaged in playing and therefore would not force him to dance. His friend’s relief, however, was short lived as Maria stopped playing the melody of Silent Night in favor of one of Max’s favorite holiday songs: I’ll Be Home For Christmas. Max brushed his lips across the top of Liz’s satiny hair and hummed softly in her ear as Maria began to sing the words, the lovely sound echoing delightfully, the sound bouncing across the room to ring in everyone’s ears. She paused her words long enough to kick her boyfriend determinedly on the shin. Ignoring his cry of pain, she commanded him firmly. “Sing with me.”

Max suppressed a chuckle as he looked down to exchange an amused glance with Liz. Both turned back to the scene in order to view Michael’s reaction. Coughing uneasily, Michael finally grunted out a reply. “Don’t know the words.”

Maria rolled her eyes exasperatingly. “You lie. Now sing!” To prove her point, she started over at the beginning.

I’ll be home for Christmas, you can count on me,” Maria prompted. Michael shot Max a helpless look, and his features softened as he looked at Maria’s expectant expression. Shifting his face down towards the floor, he mumbled out the rest in a monotonic voice that clashed so horribly with Maria’s sweet tones that it almost worked. “Please have snow, and mistletoe,.

Kyle took it upon himself to join in here, as he attempted, and failed, to dip Isabel graceful over his arm. Instead the two fell in a jumbled mess onto the battered couch next to the singers, with Kyle belting out loudly: “AND PRESENTS UNDER THE TREE!

Liz struggled not to burst out laughing as she picked up where Kyle oh so graciously left off. “Christmas Eve will find me,” Her low tones jerked at Max’s heart, and he reached out to brush her cheek before joining in with her. “Where the love light gleams.

Isabel paused, hesitating slightly, before gazing out the window once more. Smiling wistfully, she nodded to some unknown force, and then finished up the fitting phrase. “I’ll be home for Christmas. If only in my dreams.

Grinning as he sat up and settled himself more comfortingly on the creaky couch, Kyle shouted out. “Again!”

The gang laughed outright at Kyle’s silly tone. Nonetheless, Maria continued strumming on the guitar, continuing the nostalgic refrain. Max bit back a laugh as they all joined in simultaneously, his ears straining against the noise. It seemed that Maria was the only one in the room who could properly carry a tune. Max reflected ruefully on this as Michael’s gruff voice cracked on a high note. No, he definitely wouldn’t forget this moment. Not even if he wanted to. Still, the sound of them all coming together was an experience Max knew he wanted to stay with him forever.

And somewhere, somehow, Max just knew that Alex Whitman was singing along.