Summary: When a blue Christmas turns black.
Author: Elliott (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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Falling was like vomiting.
You knew it was inevitable in a split second.
And you also knew there was nothing you could do to stop it.
No miracle cure, no secret potion or sudden grasp of gravity was going to right the world.
Miss Parker collided with the unforgiving asphalt, gritty with rock salt that had done nothing to prevent the black ice of her downfall.
For a second, she simply laid there, too stunned and robbed of her own power to contemplate doing otherwise.
After that she stayed there because she couldn't summon the desire for motion.
Tears, simple pain, dwelled at the creases of her eyes.
She was too tired to fight them away this time.
After four days of fighting the flu and the Centre and ultimately losing to both, she was too tired to do anything but surrender.
Warm brine seeped down her cheeks, tobogganed across the bridge of her nose and frosted on her skin.
Bone-jarring cold, too severe for Delaware December, too mild for its wrath against her.
Scraping herself off the slick pavement, blood from her skinned knees lubricating the ice in oily red slipstreams. The sky as deceptive as blown glass, turbulent with hidden storm.
Waiting to be unleashed.
Inhaling icy air, laced with cold like arsenic, her lungs coughing it back out in flu-rasped, ragged pants as she struggled to her door barefooted, in torn stockings, high heels clutched in her frayed knuckles.
Careening into her chill-infested house, discarding everything - the Haliburton, the shoes, the clothes, the cell phone purposely on the bottom - in a single tangled wet heap as she fought her way to the lower bathroom and turned the shower on full heat.
Even that couldn't burn the cold from her.
Raw and searing.
Falling to the couch in the growing dusk of the eve of Christmas Eve and damning it for being white when all she felt and saw was black.
Alone, and black.
He wasn't sure which hurt more: the hardwood of the unbudging door or the biting cold.
Or being here alone.
Stomping his feet for circulation than to knock off ice-flecked slush, he moved into the main part of the house, cold and dark with winter. Assured at his solitary soliloquy only because there was no answer on her cell phone, which meant she was probably out tracking him in either barren South Dakota or perhaps even Aspen if she'd looked hard enough.
Given the holiday craze, it wasn't likely anyone had.
It didn't say much for Centre rationality, but he couldn't actually say much for his own genius mentality, persuaded by some rash motive to personally deliver Miss Parker's Christmas present.
The rooms undecorated, unalive.
A twinge more devastating than it should have been at their shared aloneness.
Wanting touch, only the simple warm touch of another.
And knowing it wasn't too much to ask, couldn't be.
Not to cure this sickness between them, this vacancy inside them as empty as these dark, cold rooms.
Until he heard the gun click behind him.
Drowning back down into the recesses of the couch, trailing one arm across her eyes as if shielding herself - from Medusa. Tension seeping from her body until it was limp, sprawled. So unlike Miss Parker.
Shock, deep and biting.
More stinging than frostbite.
Shock, at her unexpected and unprecedented presence.
The first year she had ever spent the holidays away from the Centre.
The first year she wasn't alone.
Shock, at her words.
How extraordinary that the one night he planned her to be gone she was sending him away.
Her breath was short and irregular.
Labored and punctuated with a deep cough. And then several more.
He went to her without reason, borne solely on intuition and the prayer she wouldn’t kill him.
Kneeling down beside her, he could feel the heat radiating from her like a kiln.
Watched her shiver like it was an igloo.
She twisted away from him as he shucked a glove and touched her forehead, damp with sweat and marred with uncertain pain.
Pain too real to inventory.
Pain too dark, too black.
And knowing all too well what that was like.
Her voice a tremor against the pressure of his fingers on her temple.
Skimming her shoulder and spooking away from her violent flinch.
More breath than word.
More meaning than sound.
Darker than blood curdling into bruises just beneath her skin.
His voice darker than bruises.
Taking the gun from her hand without resistance, then taking the empty hand, cold and delicate like Limoges instead of battle-primed, within his own.
A shiver wracking her body as she twisted away from him.
Too exhausted to launch a protest, too smart to start what she couldn't finish, couldn't win.
Too proud to allow a witness to her vulnerable state.
A series of coughs, a trickle seeping through the bramble of her lashes with the effort.
The convulsive heaving of her chest, and somewhere far beneath that, her heart.
Waiting for her answer.
And knowing he was here now, unable to simply leave.
Unable to abandon her when her only option was to admit she needed him.
To admit this time, she needed to trust him to catch her from this fall even if he hadn't been there before.
Even if she'd rather face macadam.
Because trusting him, falling to him if not for him, was the one thing she could not do.
Not now, but perhaps not never.
As she lay there, unconscious to the world, under the veil of comforters and Nyquil, he remembered her for who she had been, whom she reverted back to in sleep, always.
That bright little witch, half-saint, half-sinner.
He missed the innocence of that child, the innocence their worlds and conflicts had scoured away.
But he also knew that innocence never truly left either. It was still there, tarnished deeply, but not, never, completely gone.
Like fairy dust.
It was never about seeing to believe, but believing to see.
She spun from one dream into the next, seamlessly.
Christmas carols, haunting reminders of old youth, spiraling from her CD player. A fire, toasting her chill-wracked body, and spitting embers and greenwood sap. The heady, woody balm of smoke and tinder and heat.
And the tree, decorated with silver tinsel applied by single strands to each scraggly branch of the spruce. Frosted with garland and the ornaments she had done no more than drag down from attic after Thanksgiving.
It was beautiful.
It was perfect.
In this life, it had to be a dream.
"How are you feeling?"
The voice, warm and dark like rum.
Spiked and dangerous, soft and husky with winter breath.
"How long have I been asleep?"
Groggy, and for a second, disoriented in her own house.
Whirling with cold medicine.
Stretching toward the fire, toward his silhouette.
The touch she couldn't admit she wanted.
"Not long enough." A breath and a slight movement, a warmth like breath as he moved toward her, kneeled down before her.
A security, so deep and real, she couldn't question it.
Captured, not by force.
And right where she had always wanted him and never dared to believe he would ever be.
In her house. In her bed, or close enough.
Captured, and not by force.
Letting sleep take her again, like a child, at his touch.
In his presence.
In her dream.
She woke, sleep expelling her from its nebulous folds.
Medicine loosing her from its tethers.
Her breath deep and though not easy, at least possible.
The room spinning back in focus, the dream blending into reality.
The music, the tree, the navy paisley box with gold bow.
The dark head, resting nearly in her arms.
Not a dream.
A male body rumpled over the carpet, slung against her shoulder as if fallen asleep at the watch.
Stretching and waking him with motion.
Uncertain whether to run away from the dream, or toward the nightmare.
Or the other way around.
"How long have I been asleep?"
His voice rumbling against the caroling and the fire.
A corner of a grin sweeping across her face before she even thought to mask it.
"Not long enough."
A corner of a grin, reciprocal, on his face.
Uncertainty still sketched, and warranted, in his eyes.
Spontaneity, dangerous and truthful.
Blending the dream and the light, life as it should be.
"Get up here."
Touching his bicep and pulling him toward her.
A resistance, a fear, so ingrained and dwelling so deep in them both.
And then swept away.
If there were ramifications, she'd deal with them later.
Or not at all.
Because if she knew anything, she knew this was right. And as he rolled up next to her, coiled beneath the thick comforter on the thin couch, she knew he felt it too.
Pure, emotion like adrenaline.
Crisp, cutting, like frostbite and the warmth that was its cure.
"It's snowing," he whispered.
The window black, like ice and night, except for the beam of an outside light and the spun crystals falling through it.
Like white magic, like fairy dust.
A deep breath against his back, lungs still rattling and railing with flu.
Warmth, the generous expanse of his back like a heating pad, an elixir drawing the sickness from her.
Stiff and sore from the fall, and still flu-riddled. But content.
Her arm around him, their fingers lacing together of their own accord.
And her voice.
"Then let it snow."
They laid there on the couch, letting Christmas carols reel out in the stillness only snow could usher in.
Like a secret.
Words, so old and so new.
Meaning, so different.
Hearts were as resilient as children - but only if you let them be.
If you trusted that when you fell, one time, just once, someone would catch you.
If you admitted that you could never appreciate real love until you'd been burned.
The clock in the hall sounding midnight, counting off the numerals in sonorous chants.
"Thank-you," she whispered after four.
"For what?" he asked.
In her voice, his tree, his spirit, his fire.
In his voice, her warmth, her touch, her spark.
The dream, the gift, that was them both.
The clock chiming twelve and echoing.
He rolled to face her, turning like a key in her hold.
And finding himself closer than he ever thought.
The kiss as natural as the snow falling from the sky.
As lush as fire in the dark.
As beautiful as all gifts hope to be.
"Merry Christmas, Parker."
"Merry Christmas, Jarod."
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"And when those blue snowflakes start falling
That's when those blue memories start calling..."
~ Blue Christmas
Disclaimer: The characters of "The Pretender" are not mine; they rightfully belong to NBC, MTM, and Pretender Productions, as well as the actors and actresses who give paper and ink a life and a voice. I am making no profit from these writings; imitation is the highest form of flattery.