TITLE: Where Are You, Christmas?
CHALLENGE: August 2004
MAJOR CHARACTERS: all seven
RATING: PG, for really mild language
ARCHIVE: help yourself, just let me know
NOTES: This is sappy, I admit it. And I am aware that Christmas is four months away, but it's really hot and depressing where I am and I thought I'd spread some Christmas spirit around. I can afford to share, I have it year-round. ;) Also, I know it's really short, but I actually am working on something longer. However, since the end to that is nowhere in sight...
This song was performed by Faith Hill and I have no legal claim to it whatsoever. The same goes for our guys.
//blah blah// indicates thoughts
"Hey, man, wanna get me another?"
The burly man on the other side of the high counter shook his head at his obviously soused customer. "You've reached your limit, buddy. I think ya oughta call a friend or something to come get ya."
"Ain't got no *hiccup* damn friends. Jus' pour me another, okay?"
When the bartender still refused, the tall, lanky blond man rose to his feet somewhat unsteadily. "You cuttin' me off?"
"Yeah, I am." The big man rose also, and crossed his muscular arms across his broad chest. "Ya wanna do somethin' `bout it?"
Suddenly a mustached man almost as big as the bartender appeared. "No, mister, he isn't gonna do a thing, are you, Chris? We were just leaving. We don't want any trouble."
The big man growled. "Who are you?"
"I'm a friend of his."
"Oh, yeah? He said he didn't have no friends."
Buck flinched. "He's got friends, mister." He glanced at the rapidly fading drunk in his hands. "He just…forgot."
The bartender shifted and relaxed his defensive posture. "You takin' him home?"
Buck Wilmington nodded. "Yep." His answer was simple, but his thoughts went much deeper. //Home? Hell, Chris doesn't really have a home anymore. Come to think of it, neither do I. Our home was the ranch, and Sarah, and Adam. The ranch is still there, but Sarah and Adam…// Buck shook his head slightly, dispelling the bittersweet memories.
As he half-carried, half-dragged the now unconscious Chris out the door, he caught sight of the calendar on the wall. He shook his head again. //Hell of a way to spend Christmas Eve, pard.//
"MOM!" Sixteen-year-old John Dunne thundered down the stairs of the ramshackle, rented two-story house in a way only teenaged boys can. His mother, Nora, smiled fondly. He was a handful, to be sure, but she couldn't have loved him any more if she'd tried. Even when he was… "HEY MOM! WHERE ARE YOU?!"
She winced. For an undersized kid, he sure could yell. "I'm in the kitchen, sweetie!"
He bounded into the small kitchen, grinning from ear to ear. "Hi, Mom. How was your day?"
"Just fine. How did your last tests go?"
"Great." He beamed. "English was a little tough, but I think I did okay."
Nora returned his smile and coughed a little. Instantly, John's exuberance turned into concern. "Are you okay, Mom? You're coughing again."
"Don't you worry about me, son, it's just a little cold. I get one around this time every year, remember?"
"Yeah." But John remained doubtful. Though she hadn't come out and told him so yet, he knew deep in his heart that the cancer was back. He just wasn't sure she'd be strong enough to fight it this time. Still, for his mother's sake, he could put a happy face on. After all, Christmas was less than a week away, and if, as he suspected, this was to be her last one, he wanted it to be as wonderful as possible.
He was cold again. He absolutely hated being cold. The tattered blanket clutched around his shoulders didn't even begin to cut the wind that howled through the narrow, filthy alleyway. He shivered violently and curled up tighter, wishing with all his heart he was somewhere else. But his quarry had gone into the bar across the street three hours earlier, and since the bounty hunter hadn't seen him leave yet, this was where he had to stay. He was not willing to let that bastard of a rapist escape again.
From within the store he was huddled next to, he could hear the happy laughter of children. Down the street a representative from the Salvation Army was ringing a bell, asking for donations for the less fortunate. The freezing Texan half-smiled. Maybe, just maybe, after Hubble was back behind bars where he belonged, he'd come back a drop a little into the red kettle. After all, he'd been where some of those people were. If he'd had a little more help, he thought, he might be warm and safe right now, instead of spending yet another Christmas hunting down what could only be called human garbage.
He smiled again, forcing himself to stay awake. "Merry Christmas, Vin Tanner."
"Why, Miss Richardson, you flatter me! I declare, my dear, you get lovelier with each passing moment."
The pretty blonde on Ezra Standish's elbow fluttered her mascara-coated eyelashes at him and laughed coquettishly. "Mr. Standish, it is I who is flattered. Your mother told me that you were handsome, but I had no idea. Shall we dance?"
"But of course." As he led the young heiress out onto the floor to join her in a spirited waltz, Ezra couldn't help but wince inwardly at the mention of his mother. Maude was…not as maternal as he would have hoped, and she was once again MIA as far as her son was concerned. Though she'd sworn they could spend the holidays together this year, she was nowhere to be seen. Instead, the college senior was forced to spend Christmas day dancing with a spoiled, self-absorbed brat who wanted nothing more than the money she was convinced he had. Little did she know that he and his mother were completely and totally broke. Nevertheless, as Maude always told him, appearances were everything, and so dance he did. He smirked, picturing the reaction of the younger girl when she found out he was as poor as a church mouse.
"Mr. Standish, what is so amusing?" The obvious whine in her falsetto voice made Ezra hide a grimace.
"Nothing at all, dear Elizabeth. Nothing at all."
"How many rounds of eppy is this?"
"Two in the last hour, doctor. Should we push another?"
"No!" Dr. Nathan Jackson thought frantically. "Charge the paddles to 200." He was handed the defibrillator and he rubbed the paddles together rapidly. "Clear!" All hands went up in the air and he pushed the buttons, sending currents of electricity through the heart attack victim lying on the sterile steel table before him.
"Asystole. He's flatlined."
//Don't do this. Not on Christmas.//
"Charge to 250. Clear!"
The patient's body arched, then returned to the table. "Still no pulse."
//Don't you dare give up on me.//
The shrill noise from the heart monitor continued.
//I am not going to let you die.//
"350! CLEAR!" Now Nathan was yelling at the top of his lungs, perspiration gathering on his forehead.
A slender hand rested on Nathan's arm. "Nathan? Nathan, it's over. He's gone." The pretty young nurse sighed. "I'm sorry."
Tears made Nathan's words ragged and hoarse. "Time of death, 1534." He reached down a shaking hand and closed the blank, staring eyes. "Dammit, how could you?" The rest of the medical staff slipped out while the young doctor, fresh out of med school, cried bitterly over his father, the first patient he'd ever lost. "Merry Christmas Daddy. I love you."
"…And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."
PFC Josiah Rafael Sanchez remembered with a smile the words he'd heard that morning. The Christmas story from the book of Luke was one of his favorite Bible passages. It was two days before Christmas, but since this unit was going on maneuvers the next day, it had been decided that the Christmas service for the men would be held early. Closing his eyes, the young soldier remembered last Christmas, hearing his father read these same words in the small New Mexico church he led. Reynaldo Sanchez did not have the soothing voice of this chaplain, however. He managed to turn even this miraculous tale into an angry accusation of the wickedness in the heart of every person listening.
"Hey, Joe, wanna scoot on over there? I don't like ya that much." Scott, Josiah's best friend and tent mate, nudged him none too gently on the ribs and the other youth realized he'd been leaning on his friend.
"Sorry, man." He shifted. "That better?"
"Yeah, thanks." Scott poked him again. "Don't really think you need any of that turkey they sent. You're fat enough as it is."
Josiah chuckled and an impromptu wrestling match erupted. Just as Scott gained the upper hand and pinned Josiah to the ground, a ground-shaking BOOM made them break apart and hurry outside to see what had happened.
The nearby village was in flames, and many people could be seen lying on the ground. Some were moaning, but many were clearly dead. Without a second thought, Josiah rushed towards the carnage, but Scott held him back. "Are you crazy, Joe? They might hit again. Don't go running out there without knowing what you're running into. Unless," he grinned humorlessly, "you're *trying* to get yourself killed."
Josiah smacked his arm, grateful for the attempt at humor. "Nah, not just yet." As they watched, medics equipped with loaded bags and hard helmets ran over to the decimated village and began doing what they could for the injured families.
Without realizing it, Josiah clutched the cross he always wore and began mouthing a silent prayer. Another bomb hit the jungle nearby, setting the foliage on fire and making the captain of the unit start barking orders, "We're moving out, men. Get your gear and LET'S GO!"
Seconds later the captain was felled by a sniper's bullet.
In the next moment, bullets were flying everywhere and most of the soldiers let their fear and confusion take over. Chaos reigned.
"Scott!" The redhead had run back to his tent for his fiancée's picture, and Josiah had lost sight of him. "SCOTT!"
"Joe!" The reply was faint, and through the dust and frantic bodies, Josiah could see Scott lying half in, half out of their tent.
"Scott!" He went over as quickly as he could, but as soon as he got there he knew it was too late. The bullet had gone right through Scott's gut and blood was gushing everywhere. Scott's eyes had closed and his face was impossibly white. "Scott, man, wake up and talk to me."
"Joe?" The glassy eyes fluttered open.
"I'm here, buddy. Just hang on, the medics are coming."
"Don't think…I can." Scott clutched Josiah's hand with a surprisingly strong grip. "Joe. Give…these to…Maria." He pressed his dog tags into Josiah's hand. "Tell her…loved…her." His eyes drifted shut again and he gasped a couple of times before the breath rattled in his chest and he went still.
"I'll tell her, my friend. I promise."
Josiah rose, slipping Scott's dog tags over his own neck. "Merry Christmas, Scott. Rest well, and may God have mercy on your soul."
back to the present
Seven men sat idly around the living room of Chris Larabee's ranch house on Christmas Eve, sipping beers and sharing stories. While they did so, each reflected on how much Christmas had changed for them since they'd joined together as a team. It was as if they'd lost Christmas, at least temporarily, but had found it once again. Chris smiled to himself. He never thought he'd enjoy Christmas ever again after Sarah and Adam had died, but here he was, with six stubborn, frustrating, headstrong, loyal, fun, and unforgettable men. His family.
He raised his beer bottle. "I want to make a toast. To folks who will never give up on each other."
Buck raised his also. "And to folks who are well worth the effort."
"To spending Christmas with folks you care about." JD added his two cents.
"To a warm house and plenty of good company." Vin's toast made all of the men smile fondly.
Ezra raised his bottle and spoke almost too softly to be heard. "And to people who truly care about you."
Nathan laid a hand on Ezra's shoulder. "To family."
Josiah grinned. "And to peace on earth and good will toward men."
"Hear, hear!" Seven bottles clinked together, and seven hearts healed themselves just a little bit more.
Where are you Christmas
Why can't I find you
Why have you gone away
Where is the laughter
You used to bring me
Why can't I hear music play
My world is changing
Does that mean Christmas changes too
Where are you Christmas
Do you remember
The one you used to know
I'm not the same one
See what the time's done
Is that why you have let me go
Christmas is here
Christmas is here
If you care, oh
If there is love in your heart and your mind
You will feel like Christmas all the time
I feel you Christmas
I know I've found you
You never fade away
The joy of Christmas
Stays here in silence
Fills each and every heart with love
Where are you Christmas
Fills your heart with love