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Chaos Fic: If the Fates Allow 2/2

December 15th, 2011 (12:06 pm)

Continued from Part One .



-o-

When Casey finally says he can stop, Rick’s limbs feel heavy, as lifeless as the logs he’s snapped off the lower boughs. He doesn’t know it until he looks down, but his exposed fingertips are cut and red and it takes the last of his coordination to finagle them back under the thin cover of torn shirt.

Michael has helped move Billy toward the tree line, digging a small ditch for all of them to sit in. Billy’s already positioned against the edge, face chapped in the cold as he lounges awkwardly, leg positioned in front of him.

Michael is still digging out the far end of the entrenchment, huffing clouds of air as he works. Even though he’s still moving and working, he’s slower and stiffer than usual. Part of that is the cold, Rick is sure, but he can’t be sure how much is because of his ribs.

Casey has hunkered down, kneeling in the snow while he gathers the newly stripped kindling. His face is strained with a mix of concentration and pain, but his fingers are surprisingly nimble as he arranges the wood for a fire even as he guards his broken arm close to his body.

For his part, Rick trudges down, making the uneasy step down into the ditch. It’s not a very big space, which is clearly the point, and he gingerly slides himself down next to Billy. When he’s down, he breathes long and steady, blinking his eyes to clear away the freeze that seems to be settling into his consciousness.

Seemingly content, Michael turns and slides up on the other side of Billy. They’re all pressed close but not quite touching; still, Rick can’t deny that the warmth of Billy’s body next to his is a refreshing break from the persistent cold.

“I always did fancy camping as a lad,” Billy muses.

“I tried to convince Fay to celebrate our first anniversary in a tent,” Michael recalls.

Billy nods in commiseration. “Perhaps one of the reasons you’re divorced, eh?”

Michael shrugs. “Not one of my smarter ideas.”

“I always thought it would be fun to go ice fishing in Alaska,” Rick says.

Billy looks at him. “And now?”

Rick laughs haltingly. “Not one of my smarter ideas, either.”

“You’re both idiots,” Casey says, settling back on his heels. In front of him, the woodpile is well constructed, carefully lined with layers and with extra branches just to the side. “Now should we see if this works?”

No one says anything; Rick figures they’re all afraid as he is to jinx it.

Pressing his lips together, Casey pulls the lighter out of his pocket with some effort. His hands are shaking just slightly with the cold as he holds it down to the kindling.

Rick doesn’t breathe – doesn’t dare breathe – as Casey flicks the lighter and the small flame comes to life. It looks out of place in the stark wilderness and it flickers as Casey lowers it until it licks against the branches.

For a long moment, the flame doesn’t catch, and Rick fears the worst. But then, the kindling sparks and the flame expands with a crackle in the eerie stillness.

Casey sits back again, and they all watch as the flames spread, soon consuming the entirety of the pile.

They all watch in silence before Billy says, “So, chestnuts, anyone?”

-o-

There are no chestnuts. There’s not much of anything, actually. It’s just the four of them, huddled together in their dugout while the flames cackled nearby.

They talk a little bit – mostly about the mission, about what went wrong. Billy concludes that there’s simply no accounting for luck anymore, good or bad, and Casey blames a quasi-socialist leadership letting criminals pick up on too much chatter.

Michael says it doesn’t matter; the shipment is going nowhere and they’re going to have to relocate. The disruption of the trade route was the ODS’ primary mission, and with the destruction back at the hangar, the local RCMP will have to do some investigation, likely unraveling a bit more of the ring as a result.

Rick doesn’t say much – there’s not much to say, really – and after a while, he tugs his sleeve up with his mitten-clad hand and looks at his watch.

“Hey,” he says out of nowhere. “It’s ten past midnight.”

His announcement breaks their conversation, settling in the stillness.

Rick drops his hand and breathes out, looking around. “So,” he says. “This is Christmas.”

-o-

After an hour, things are getting sluggish. They all scoot and burrow in alternating turns, inching ever closer together as Casey continues to feed the spare wood to the fire. Rick can’t feel his feet or his hands anymore, and his legs and arms feel like pins and needles. His heart seems to ache in his chest and his lungs feel like blocks of ice. Michael keeps the conversation going doggedly, even though Rick is certain their voices are all starting to slur and the edges of his vision are blurry.

“Going on a mission during Christmas was supposed to be better than being stuck Stateside,” Casey grouses.

“Eh, come now,” Billy cajoles. “It could be worse.”

“What,” Rick asks, not sure if he’s serious or joking, “we could be surrounded by wild dogs?”

Casey snorts at that; Michael looks vaguely confused.

“This is true,” Billy says. “But I was going to say, we may be stranded and we may be hurt and we may be damned cold, but at least it isn’t snowing, as it is so prone to in this area.”

It’s probably sheer coincidence, but it doesn’t seem like it to Rick when the first flakes start to fall no more than a moment later. At first, a few wayward ones; then, bigger and bigger until one lands on Rick’s nose and refuses to melt.

Casey lifted his eyebrows. “You were saying?”

For once, Billy has no reply.

-o-

Despite the continuous ticking of his watch, Rick measures time now by snow accumulation. It’s falling in earnest now, and it’s all Casey can do to keep their fire from going out. He digs back into the pit, trying to create a ledge to block it from the elements. So far, it’s working, but it’s just a matter of time until the wetness squelches what little hope they have.

They’re pressed into each other now, all thoughts of personal boundaries and inhibition gone. It’s primal instinct as they lean closer together, drawing what little heat they have and pooling it together.

“You know,” Rick says. “I still look forward to Christmas.”

“Well, you could have fooled us,” Casey says blandly.

Rick turns to look at him.

Billy shrugs. “You have been rather obvious about it,” he says.

“The snow globe on your desk is a giveaway,” Michael reminds him.

“Oh,” Rick says, remembering the snow globe. It’s a little vague to him, but he seems to remember the four figures, all enjoying the winter in their perfect little bubble. “Right.”

“Not that it’s a bad thing,” Billy offers. “I myself find the holidays to be quite enjoyable.”

“What, you decorate your crappy motel room and drink egg nog?” Casey asks pointedly.

The obvious recrimination doesn’t faze Billy. “I’ll admit, the celebrations are somewhat less than spectacular for me these days, but back home, in Scotland, they were always a grand affair.”

Rick listens to this with new interest, not just because he needs the conversation to stay coherent but because though Billy is prone to telling stories, he hardly ever mentions Scotland. Letting his head loll back on the snow, he looks at Billy in genuine curiosity. “Yeah?”

Billy nods, quite serious. “My mum started decorating right after Halloween, always with fresh eves about the house,” he says, and his look is far off, like he can see it. “When we finally got the tree up in December, we put a whole host of baubles on it, doing up the outside of the house with holly wreaths just for effect. My mum, she was a perfectionist in this.”

Rick listens, and looks, and he thinks maybe he can see it too.

Billy’s voice continues, lilting with the crackling fire. “Then,” he says, “on Christmas Eve we get everything done up. Stockings outside for easy access and a fire burning to keep any elves or other ill-intruders at bay. And we are sure to cater to the big man himself, and I’m quite certain he favors Scots because we don’t settle for something so provincial as milk and cookies. Just whiskey, straight up. Best we have.”

This makes Rick laugh, puffs of white in the air.

Billy turns and nods. “And we don’t neglect the reindeer, either,” he says. “Mince pie and carrots. So you Yanks can thank us that they’ve still got some flight in them when they make their transatlantic flight.”

Rick snorts.

Billy settles a bit, head tilted just slightly to the side, looking far off again. “And Christmas morning, it’s a beautiful thing. We sing carols at church and the entire family comes over for dinner. Aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents. They’re all there, and there’s enough food to feed an entire village,” he says. He smiles a little. “And there’s singing and dancing and we give gifts and spend the hours in the best company you could ever possibly imagine.”

Billy’s voice tapers off, and he sighs a little. “It’s been many years,” he says.

Many years since he left home, Rick thinks. Many years since he got to celebrate this way at all.

Rick is suddenly sad, and he’s thinking of something to say when Billy turns back to him with a smile. He pats Rick on the leg, nodding with purpose. “So, it’s never wrong to have some holiday spirit,” he says. “Especially when you have those you care about to share it with.”

This touches Rick, warms him deep within, and he’s fumbling for words when Casey shakes his head. “It’s like a damn Hallmark movie,” he grumbles. “And not even a very good one.”

There’s a silence. Then Michael asks, “You mean you’ve seen a good one?”

To that, Casey has no reply.

-o-

It’s not much later – but it seems much later – when Michael sighs. “Fay was big into Christmas.”

Billy groans a little; Casey rolls his eyes.

Michael persists, a little dogged and willfully ignorant of his teammate’s reactions. “It was one thing we always got right.”

“You mean, in the midst of everything else you got wrong,” Casey clarifies.

“Oh, let the man have his memories,” Billy chides. “We are freezing to death, after all.”

“I thought we were going to be fine,” Rick says.

Billy pats his leg. “Of course, of course.”
`
Rick’s going to protest, but Michael doesn’t let him. Instead, he casts an annoyed look down the line and continues, “She was good at decorating, too. My idea of trimming a tree was throwing up a few paper ornaments but she always had it with perfect white lights and ribbons and bows.”

Rick thinks about this, thinks about Fay’s precision and Michael’s hopeless failure to understand it.

“She always sent me away for it,” he says. “Had me go out for the day so she could get it done. And when I’d get back, the entire house would be transformed unlike anything I’d ever seen. It was like a magazine only not so cold and impersonal. She wasn’t doing it to be trendy, she did it because she wanted it to be perfect. Sometimes I think it was the only thing perfect when we were together.”

Rick wonders about this, and always has. Wonders what they were like together, wonders about the times when they were happy. Wonders why it didn’t work even though the reasons seem obvious.

Then Michael smiles. “She never let me do anything except the last part,” he says. “She always had this angel, something we picked up on our honeymoon in Paris. It was the last thing she put on the tree and she waited until I got home and had me do. Then, every year, we’d sit down on the couch, turn off the lights in the house and just watch the tree. Just the two of us and for that moment, nothing else mattered. Just the two of us.”

Rick pulls closer. The snow is still falling and his lower half is entirely numb but his heart is still pounding as his teammates talk.

“I loved Christmas back then,” Michael says. His expression falls somewhat. “It’s never been quite the same since she left.”

He doesn’t say, since she divorced me; he doesn’t have to.

A moment passes and Casey adds a branch to the fire. It struggles to catch but manages to crackle to life, though its meager heat seeming less than before.

Billy nods. “Most things never are,” he says.

“That’s for the best,” Casey adds. But he has to amend it, with a slight tone of sympathy. “Most of the time.”

-o-

The minutes are longer, each drawn out by the paralyzing cold. Rick’s chattering now, shivering so hard that the sound reverberates in his head. His teammates are all suffering the same, but they don’t seem to show it as much. And Billy shakes his head, sending wet snow flying as the time slips by.

Rick finds himself drifting from time to time, eyes shutting until he’s rattled awake by his own violent trembling.

“We need a story,” Billy announces. His voice sounds more strained than normal, even though Rick knows he’s trying to hide that.

“I’ve done my sharing for the night,” Michael says.

“As have I,” Billy says. He turns, bowing forward to look across Rick toward Casey. “I do believe it’s your turn.”

Casey scowls. “What about Rick? He’s the one who loves this stupid holiday.”

“Yes, and he’s done plenty of sharing over the last few weeks,” Billy says. “We owe him this much for dragging him out of the country when he should be with his family.”

Casey looks unconvinced.

“Besides,” Michael says. “We need to keep talking because if we fall asleep, then that’s it.”

Casey still looks unconvinced.

Rick looks at him, blinking once and twice.

Casey’s frown deepens. “Fine,” he says with a sigh. “But let it be known that I am not sharing out of some attempt of emotional manipulation. This is entirely practical for our long term survival.”

Billy nods quite seriously, but Michael chuckles. “Whatever you say,” Michael says.

This leaves Casey marginally mollified and he shifts slightly, looking out into the night. “As a child, my mother used to tell me Santa would come,” he begins. “We’d set out cookies and milk, just as instructed.”

Rick eases in closer, waiting for the memory.

“She was liar,” he says bluntly, his frank tone undercutting what Rick had thought was a happy memory. “And a compulsive eater. I still suspect that her weight problem was only intensified by frivolous Christmas traditions.”

“I thought this was a time for happy memories,” Rick says. He would fling his arm out to gesture to the snow-laden scene around the, but just the thought takes too much work. “Our best Christmases, since this one is looking to be the worst!”

He’s being a bit melodramatic about this, and he knows it, but at this point, he doesn’t care. He’s cold – so very, very cold – and he’s waiting on a miracle that would be impressive even in the movies.

Casey collects a breath and looks at Rick with annoyance. “I was getting there,” he says. “I just thought you might want some background to know how meaningful the next story I’m going to share is.”

This seems reasonable and Rick’s posture eases as he slumps back against the snow embankment behind him.

“Anyway,” Casey says with one more careful glare at Rick. “Fifteen years ago, I was on a mission in the Middle East. I had gotten waylaid, completely thrown off course and ended up in the desert in Jordan.”

Rick tries to furrow his brow. He’s not sure how effective it is since his forehead feels stiff, like trying to fold frozen leather.

“I had been mostly without food for two weeks and had been surviving on insects and small lizards,” Casey continues.

“That sounds horrible,” Rick says.

Casey shrugs, nonplussed. “I found it rather refreshing.”

On the other side of Rick, Michael smirks. “You would.”

“You do have a distinctive palate for such things,” Billy adds.

“My taste buds are geared exclusively for survival,” Casey says. “But that’s not the point. The point is that I was a week overdue, which left me there for Christmas.”

None of them say anything to that. The fire burns softer now and Casey pokes at it to turn the embers away from the snow.

“Normally it wouldn’t have mattered to me,” Casey says. “But out there, in the desert, I looked up and the night was perfectly clear. And the sky in the desert is vast; you can see everything, all of it.”

Rick’s been to the desert at night, so he can imagine. He wants to imagine the warmth of the desert in the sun, too.

“As I was camping out, trying to conserve my strength for a final trek back to civilization, I couldn’t help it. I was awed. The stars seemed to shine so brightly and in the direction of Israel, I swear, one of the stars was brightest of all. And I thought about what it must have been like, all those years ago. Those shepherds in the fields, tending their flocks. They looked at those same stars, saw these same expanses. And somewhere, in some pathetic little stable, the most persistent figure in our culture was born.”

It’s surprising, and Rick doesn’t know what to say.

“That’s beautiful,” Billy says for him. “And I dare say, we’d all do better to remember what this season is really about.”

“Doubtful,” Casey grunts, pursing his lips. “I figured out later that my sentimentality was caused by parasite I’d picked up in Lebanon a few days earlier. Doctors commented that they thought it was remarkable that I was walking under my own power and talking coherently.”

Again, Rick can’t help himself: he laughs.

Casey frowns at him. “Something funny?”

Rick nods his head. “Just you,” he says. “Having the most spectacular Christmas miracle of all.”

And no one can actually disagree.

-o-

They’ve run out of stories.

If not, they’ve run out of the energy to tell them.

The fire is weak now and it’s all Casey can do to keep the damp wood burning. Rick’s arms are wrapped so tight around his torso that he can’t feel them anymore, and all the members of the team are pressed together even closer than before. Still, even with the proximity, it’s dangerously cold. The pain receptors in his face have stopped burning and his jaw is too stiff to chatter anymore. Next to him, his teammates are still shivering but Rick can barely feel it through his frozen skin.

The stories were good, the memories seemed to matter. But Rick realizes now that they’re not stories of hope; they’re stories of goodbye.

“We’ve had good Christmases,” he says after a while. It’s hard enough to keep a coherent string of thoughts, but this seems important. “And this is the last one we’ll have.”

“Rubbish,” Billy says.

“Your pessimism will get you nowhere,” Casey agrees.

“We’ve only got two hours until help comes,” Michael says.

Rick shakes his head. He’s too cold for such weak hopes. “No,” he says. “And it’s okay. I mean, dying. I knew it could be like this when I took the job.”

He feels his teammates start to protest.

Determined, Rick shakes his head numbly again. “I just…,” he says, trying to find the words in his muddled brain. “I just wanted to end it with a better Christmas than this.”

His voice cracks precariously and he would probably be crying were his tear ducts not frozen. He’s too cold to care about this display of emotion; too cold to keep himself from it anyhow.

The moment hangs uncertainly, a truth between the lies that no one knows quite how to deny.

So they don’t.

Instead, Billy sucks in a breath with obvious effort. “We may or may not perish out here,” he concedes. “But this is hardly your worst Christmas.”

Rick grunts, his best impression of a laugh right now. “We’re stranded and freezing to death,” he reminds the Scot.

Billy nods. “This is true,” he agrees. “But, look around you, lad. Have you ever seen such a brilliant example of a white Christmas?”

Rick looks, sees the snow falling, big fat flakes padding softly to the ground.

“And we don’t have some cheap, flimsy plastic excuse for a tree,” Billy continues. “We’ve got honest to God pine trees in their pure coniferous glory. And not just one – but countless, as far as the eye can see.”

This is true, and they look picturesque, the boughs heavy with fresh snow.

“And come on,” Billy says, letting his head fall back. “We’ve got the best damn light show you could ever ask for.”

Rick turns his eyes up, and his teammates do the same. They sit there, huddled together, looking up, breathing in the stillness.

“And we’re not alone,” Billy continues. “I can’t think of three finer men to spend the holiday with.”

Rick sighs, and the solidarity suddenly matters. The place isn’t important, but the day is. The people are.

And that’s not enough to save them, but maybe it’s enough to make this Christmas worthwhile.

-o-

The snow picks up. It’s covering them now and none of them have much strength to brush it off. Casey’s the only one that moves, methodically stoking the meager flame.

As the snow picks up, the conversation dwindles.

As the talking fades, so do their shivers.

Rick knows this is bad, knows this means hypothermia is advanced now. Knows it’s just a matter of time before they succumb one by one.

“Help’s coming,” Michael murmurs out of nowhere.

“Soon,” Casey agrees.

Rick swallows with difficulty. “Soon enough?”

They all pause, seeming to wait for Billy to chime in. When he doesn’t, Rick turns his head slightly to look at the Scot. The other operative is in the same position as before, head slumped back, face turned toward the sky. But his eyes are closed, cheeks almost blue in the moonlight.

“Billy?” Rick asks, and his heart skips a beat, a fresh surge of adrenaline warming through him enough to nudge the man. “Billy?”

Billy doesn’t stir, small puffs of air still escaping his parted lips in the night.

“It’s okay,” Michael says. “Help’s coming.”

“Soon,” Casey agrees again.

This time, Rick turns his head toward the sky and feels like choking. “Soon enough?”

And no one answers.

-o-

It’s hard to breathe now. Each inhale is a struggle and his lungs protest when he blows his breath back out.

Rick’s eyes blink sometimes, and each time, it’s harder to open them back up.

“To think,” Rick manages to say. “When I was younger, I could never fall asleep on Christmas.”

“Sentimentality at its worst,” Casey returns. He’s not poking the fire anymore; they’re out of wood anyway. The final embers are bright but fading.

“I bet Michael understands,” Rick says.

There’s no voice of disagreement; there’s no voice at all.

Rick’s head won’t move now, can’t even turn to look. He doesn’t need to. He knows Michael’s fallen asleep.

“I bet he does,” Rick says again, because somehow it matters.

-o-

The fire goes out.

“Body heat is the best defense anyway,” Casey says.

And then Casey goes out, too.

-o-

One minute, Rick is looking up at the Canadian sky. He’s staring at the stars, feeling himself freeze down to his core.

He thinks he’s in the open, thinks that the sky is vast. But when he looks closer, he sees that he’s wrong.

The sky is limited, the horizons defined. The snow that falls is the same that always falls and it’s just because someone has picked up his world and shaken it.

These moments are chaotic but when the snow settles, it’ll go back to normal.

Normal.

Rick will wake up back in Virginia. He’ll open gifts on Christmas morning and the sun will rise as someone builds a fire that warms the entire universe.

In this, the world is not so empty. It’s not so cold. This isn’t the Christmas Rick thought he wanted, but it’s the one he has, and maybe that’s okay in the end.

-o-

Rick doesn’t wake up in Virginia. He wakes up in a hospital in Yellowknife and there is a blur of doctors and nurses coming and going. His body still feels numb. Somewhere, a monitor wails and someone shakes his snow globe again.

Rick’s not sure which way is up and which way is down. The white is moving quickly – too quickly – and Rick closes his eyes again.

-o-

The next time Rick opens his eyes, he doesn’t know for sure where he is. He’s not cold anymore, though. He’s hot. He’s on fire and his throat hurts.

Someone reaches out, touches his arm.

Startled, Rick turns and sees Adele. She looks different, her eyes red and her face un-made up. “You’re okay, Rick,” she says, and she says it like a promise. “You’re going to be okay.”

Rick blinks and tries to talk. He can’t, chokes instead as he tries to look around, tries to find his team.

He’s not sure why, but they should be here. They need to be here.

Adele tightens her grip. “They’re alive,” she says, because she seems to know what he’s thinking. “You’re all worse for wear, but you’re all going to be fine.”

And Rick’s had his doubts, but not about this. Because he didn’t get much for Christmas, but if he got this much, then that’s all he wants.

-o-

It only took five hours for Rick to nearly succumb to hypothermia. It takes nearly a week before he’s awake to know the details.

The chopper arrived five and a half hours after the emergency beacon was deployed. When it finally found them, they were all unconscious with severely low body temperatures. They’d been airlifted back to the nearest hospital where each of them had been treated for severe hypothermia.

Billy’s heart had stopped upon arrival but with the cold, no damage had been incurred. Still, he’s been the slowest to wake up, having been weaned off a ventilator after a few days. Even awake, he’s been struggling with subsequent pneumonia, but he’s already making jokes.

Michael fared better, though he’s still weak with pneumonia, too. He hacks and can’t sit upright, but that doesn’t stop him from trying, insisting on going over mission reports from his hospital bed.

Casey, as perhaps expected, has the least recovery to make, despite his broken arm. He says that he has trained his body to bounce back quicker; the doctors say that his position near the fire probably help spare him from the worst of it.

And Rick’s somewhere in between them, which is how it always seems to go. His fever raged but he’s beating it now. Adele came up a few days after the incident under the guise of official business – protecting the intel, she’d said – but it was clear she’d just wanted to be by Rick’s side.

For that, Rick’s not going to complain. She’s orchestrated his cover story with his family, something about a grounded flight and an extended business meeting.

It doesn’t matter. Christmas is over, and Rick knows he missed the best of his family’s festivities. And he regrets that, but as he recovers with his team, he can’t regret it too much. Because they’ll be going home together. It’s not quite over the river and through the woods and it’s certainly not to Grandma’s house, but the sentiment is still right as far as Rick’s concerned.

-o-

It’s well past the New Year when they finally get back to work. They’re not quite cleared for field duty, but getting back to desk work is a step in the right direction.

As they return to normal, Rick pauses one night to pack up his Christmas things. He handles his snow globe with care, looking at the small figures inside.

On a whim, he winds it, gives it a shake and sets it on his desk, watching as the snow falls. The melody plays, and Rick hears the words.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Let your heart be light
Next year all our troubles will be out of sight

It makes Rick smile, a little bittersweet. Next year, he tells himself as he picks the globe up to take home. Next year.

-o-

He’s juggling his keys in one hand and the snow globe in the other as he opens the door to his apartment. He’s so focused on not dropping anything that he doesn’t see the decorations until he’s already inside.

And then, he stops. He stares.

The entire place is done up. Rick had put up a small tree and a string of lights, but it’d been a marginal effort.

Now, his small tree has been replaced by a four foot one. It’s fully trimmed with blinking lights and a fresh arrangement of old fashioned ornaments. The angel on the top looks suspiciously like the one Michael talked about.

And it doesn’t stop there. The table is covered with snow globes. They’re the cheap kind, probably bought at post-Christmas sales, but they still make quite a statement, especially with the animatronic Santa standing next to the table.

There are lights on his windows and a Christmas CD is playing.

Then, he sees his team.

Billy is actually cutting paper snowflakes and Michael is throwing a strand of garland across his coffee table. Casey is nursing what looks like a glass of eggnog while chewing on a cookie.

“What are you doing?” Rick asks, because he can’t think of anything better to say.

“What does it look like?” Casey asks in accusation.

“Bugger,” Billy says, putting down his scissors. “Did someone remember to take the ginger snaps out of the oven?”

“I smelled them burning three minutes ago,” Casey reports.

“And you didn’t say anything?” Billy asks, getting to his feet and limping to the stove.

Casey smirks. “I was seeing how long it would take you to notice.”

Billy opens the oven and curses, rummaging for a potholder as he takes them out.

Rick shakes his head. “What are you doing?” he asks again.

“Burning our snacks mostly,” Billy laments.

Michael comes around, smiling. “We know you didn’t get the Christmas you wanted,” he says. “And we can’t go back and let you have the perfect Christmas with your family.”

Billy comes out. “But we can try to give you one worth remembering.”

“And one that doesn’t involve a near death experience,” Casey agrees.

Standing there, Rick looks around again. Then, he laughs. “You did this for me?”

“Well we certainly didn’t do it for ourselves,” Casey grouses. He sidles closer, holding out a fresh cup of eggnog for him.

Rick puts his keys down and takes it.

“Or Billy’s cooking skills,” Michael adds, snagging a drink of his own from the table.

“Oh and like your snickerdoodles turned out so much better,” Billy snaps. He breathes and straightens. “Not that it matters. I find it’s not the food that counts; it’s the people you’re with.”

Casey lifts his glass. “I think I can drink to that.”

Billy swipes the last cup and clinks it with Casey’s. “Here, here,” he says. “To Christmas!”

“To surviving,” Casey rejoins.

“To team work,” Michael says.

“To friends,” Rick concludes.

They hold like that, glasses together, united, and then drink.

Rick swallows, promptly coughing. “How much alcohol did you put in these?”

Casey shrugs. “Enough to make the premise of celebrating an overly commercialized holiday acceptable.”

Billy makes a face, putting his glass aside. “That’s a new interpretation of holiday cheer.”

“A few more glasses and we’ll all be extra cheerful,” Michael suggests.

Rick laughs and takes another drink. It’s not the Christmas he wanted, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not the best one yet.

-o-

The guys stay late. When they leave, Billy is more than a little tipsy and Casey is loose enough to actually start singing carols of his own accord. Michael rolls his eyes and escorts them out, leaving Rick to himself.

When they’re gone, he sits on the couch and looks around. Looks at the decorations, looks at the remnants of the food. There’s still a pile of wrapping paper from the gifts they’d shared. Rick’s got a new book on martial arts to read and twenty dollars to Amazon to spend. He’s not so sure what to do with the kilt Billy gave him, but he hopes that it’s the thought that counts. And Adele might like it, or so Billy had implied with a leer and a slightly-too-hard elbow to Rick’s ribs.

The gifts are impressive – and they’d been thorough enthralled with his selections, too – but that’s not what impresses Rick most. It’s not the decorations or the food.

It’s his teammates. His friends.

He falls asleep like that, drifting in the early day. And as he sleeps, he dreams.

In this, he sees his snow globe once again. His world is isolated in a perfect ball of glass. This is more fragile than he ever imagined, but it’s also more full than he ever expected.

And he’s not alone.

No, because there are Billy and Casey, skating on the ice and arguing. Michael is meticulously constructing a snowman and Rick is decorating the tree. The snow is falling and settling about them and Rick has to smile

Somehow, they all fit together here, joined and united in this perfect world. It’s not the one Rick might have chosen for himself, but it’s one they’ve built together, and Rick can think of no greater gift.

Comments

Posted by: blackdog_lz (blackdog_lz)
Posted at: December 21st, 2011 10:57 pm (UTC)
Team2

I absolutely adore this story, from the first letter to the last. It's an awesome way to start the Christmas counting.
Rick's POV is lovable, I laughed at his thoughts about his teammates and that, no matter how crazy they are, Rick still trusts them.
The different Christmas stories of the guys were heartwarming and fitting perfectly. And the guys giving Rick a perfect Christmas after they returned home is a great ending to a wonderful story.
Not to mention team whump, nothing better in the 'verse.
You made my day :)
And I so need to know what happened in Madagascar

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: December 21st, 2011 11:09 pm (UTC)
chaos team 2

I'm so glad you liked it! It's been so great getting to know you a bit through fic and I'm so happy to find other people whose interests run the same way mine do :) I hope you don't stop writing fic any time soon! You keep my Chaos love going!

And LOL, I have no idea what happened in Madagascar! I will have to contemplate....

Thanks!

Posted by: blackdog_lz (blackdog_lz)
Posted at: December 22nd, 2011 09:19 am (UTC)
Locked Door

It's been real great getting to know you too. And I'm always happy to fuel any obsessions :)
Your fics keep my muse going too, so it's definitely mutual. The car accident fic is coming along nicely, so yay for vacation :)
I'll keep poking your muse then to see what happened in Madagascar.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: December 22nd, 2011 01:38 pm (UTC)
billy earnest

Heh, well, you've done an excellent job helping fuel this obsession, I can assure you of that :)

And I'm so happy to think about car accident fic in the near future! There aren't many people writing for these guys anymore, so I'm happy that you still are!!

Now I need to do some research on Madagascar....

Posted by: Moogs (moogsthewriter)
Posted at: December 21st, 2011 11:55 pm (UTC)
Oceans - Reuben

Okay, I lied. (Well, I forgot.) It might be a bit sacrilegious, but this:

“Doubtful,” Casey grunts, pursing his lips. “I figured out later that my sentimentality was caused by parasite I’d picked up in Lebanon a few days earlier. Doctors commented that they thought it was remarkable that I was walking under my own power and talking coherently.”

is the best line ever.

Love this all so much. The bonding, the whump, the angst, the banter! It's all so very, very wonderful, and oddly enough puts me in the mood for Christmas. :D (Indoors though. I don't fancy a round with hypothermia.)

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: December 22nd, 2011 01:39 pm (UTC)
billy approves

I have to admit, Casey's kind of a fun character to write :)

And you may also just be ready for Christmas considering that you're on vacation now! I am actually rather envious at the notion :) But mostly happy for you!

(But yes, please avoid the hypothermia, okay?)

Posted by: nietie (nietie)
Posted at: January 8th, 2012 01:50 pm (UTC)
Chaosketeers

Oh my! That was a true Chaos Christmas.
But yay for wonderful teammates and friends.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: January 8th, 2012 07:59 pm (UTC)
billy likes

Writing their friendship is still one of my favorite things to do. Thanks! And I hope your holiday was lovely, even if it's over now :)

Posted by: Evil Insane Monkey (eviinsanemonkey)
Posted at: February 9th, 2012 05:14 pm (UTC)

aw, this is lovely! ♥

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: February 10th, 2012 02:27 am (UTC)
chaos group

Much thanks :)

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