Disclaimer: The characters from the Highlander Universe belong to R/P/D, even if they have kicked them to curb. I'm only borrowing them for some fun and exercise. They need it, can't have them growing rusty in the can. No monetary gain is being made from this piece.
Huge thanks go to Daire, Jam-wired and Amand-r for the beta work! Kudo's guys. Any and all remaining errors are mine alone. Special hugs for Gillian Leeds, Andi Charleville & KatlinMac - my Sisters in Arms. FWA! Thank You for always being there when I need you. I truly believe that being a good author comes from the support of those around you.
Any and all comments can be sent to: email@example.com
Author's note: A special thank you to Major Bruce W. Lovely for the use of his beautifully haunting poem, "The Soldier's Night Before Christmas."
'Twas the night before Christmas....
Dear friends, let us travel to an unassuming house located in an understated neighborhood. Five friends have gathered to celebrate Christmas Eve; this in itself is not unusual. This same scene is played out in many homes throughout the world on this holiest of nights. But wait; let's take a closer look. Outside of this self-same house, three men lurk, shivering in the snowy cold. Lurking men anywhere would spell trouble, but these are not your normal type of lurkers. These men have a purpose that is about to be interrupted.
"Gentlemen," a man called from the opened back door. "I've got tonight handled. Why don't you all go home to your families and enjoy Christmas Eve."
The heavy, wet falling snow had begun to cover the jackets of the men that came forward silently, leaving them shivering in its wake. "Ah, I don't know Joe," one of the men ventured. He turned to look at his companions.
"I can sweeten the deal for you," Joe said with a wink. "Why don't you take tonight and tomorrow off? I can promise you they aren't going anywhere. Come back the day after Christmas, and I'll fill you in. This way you can spend some quality time with your families. Plus, you don't really want me to pull rank, do you?" Joe made to swat at the closest man with his cane and they all laughed.
The lurkers brightened at this idea and whispered among themselves. One by one they nodded to each other and then turned back to their benefactor. "Thanks, Joe. Are you sure this won't be a problem?"
Joe offered a conciliatory grin. "No problem at all. You deserve a break. I know those three in there have led you on a merry chase. They won't be going anywhere for a few days, and if for some reason they do, I'll contact you immediately."
Nods from the men accompanied Joe's words. "See you in a couple of days then. Thanks again, Joe." The men quietly faded back into the darkness.
Joe Dawson stood on the back porch, watching the men silently leave, and he pulled his massive flannel coat tighter to ward off the cold. When he was sure they were gone, he stepped back into the warmth of his house.
Entering the living room, Joe stopped to take in the warm holiday scene before him. Reflected light from the crackling fireplace in the corner of the room danced across the polished hardwood floor, adding harmony to the riot of twinkling lights that covered the joyfully decorated Douglas Fir standing in the opposite corner of the midsize living room. It was amazing to realize that this same room had basically been void of any signs of Christmas just a scant few hours earlier.
Two brown, leather reclining chairs flanked each end of the older, tapestry- covered couch. MacLeod and Amanda had surprised Joe with the new chairs earlier in the afternoon. Methos and Richie had arrived with the Christmas tree on the heels of the chairs. Dropping the tree in the corner at Amanda's command, the men had quickly grabbed Joe's old recliner and tattered armchair, putting them both on the back porch. Joe had tried to argue with her, but had finally given in, realizing that the old chairs had seen better days. Soon after that Methos and Richie had disappeared in Methos's black Explorer, quickly returning with five cases of imported beer, six bottles of Amanda's outrageously expensive favorite wine, and numerous bags of foodstuffs.
Amanda had then spent the remainder of the afternoon giving directions to Richie and MacLeod on decorating the tree. Finally satisfied with the tree, she had turned her attention to correct placement of Joe's few pieces of remaining furniture with the new additions. By late afternoon, it had become clear to Methos that Amanda was going to have them moving the furniture indefinitely and he had taken matters into his own hands by throwing himself on the couch, refusing to budge. The couch hadn't moved since.
Joe had laughed at their antics from the safety of one of his new chairs. Earlier he had tried to help, and after being repeatedly shown back to his seat, he had finally given up. From then on, he had been content to watch, throwing in a few comments here and there just for the fun of it. The same thing had happened again when he had tried to get dinner started for his company. MacLeod and Methos had escorted him out of the kitchen and back to his chair.
To distract Joe from the sounds coming out of the kitchen, Richie had gotten the chess board set up and had challenged him to game, eager to show Joe his improved tactical skills. Joe had been suitably impressed with the younger man's first moves and had quickly come to the realization that Richie would be a worthy opponent.
Richie had won the game easily, and with his blue eyes shining brightly, he had crowed about his victory to the men in the kitchen. Joe hadn't had the heart to tell Richie that Amanda had been the true distraction. He hadn't been able to concentrate on the game after she had continued to decorate the living room with fresh cut evergreen boughs adorned with red felt ribbons. More than once, Joe had gotten an eyeful of Amanda's lovely assets as her cranberry-colored leather, miniskirt had climbed up and down her thighs when she had stretched to attach the greenery on the arched opening between the dining room and living room. It may have played hell with his concentration, but Joe had truly enjoyed the scenery so much that he had barely paid attention to the mumbled arguments coming from the kitchen.
Not sure what to expect for dinner, Joe had been pleasantly surprised at the culinary delights and flavors that had been spread out on his dining room table. The table itself had been tastefully decorated. Joe's own mismatched china and crystal rested gracefully on top of an old, linen tablecloth that Joe hadn't recognized. The glow from the candlelight had transformed the meager odds and ends, and they had amazingly lost their usual shabbiness. He had asked Amanda how she had pulled it off and had been flabbergasted to hear that Methos had been the one to decorate it. The man in question had shrugged off the compliments, but Joe had suspected that Methos had been secretly pleased. Quickly but solemnly, Joe had said grace, and the group had dug into the food with gusto.
Dark had descended before Joe had given any thought about his fellow Watchers stuck outside in the cold, observing their assignments. Watching the snow come down heavier, Joe had been determined to spread some genuine holiday goodwill, and had made his way out back to dismiss the men. He felt good as he made his way back into the house and entered the living room.
Fondly reflecting upon his friends, the sight of the intimate gathering once again warmed Joe. Amanda, resplendent in a gold cashmere sweater that accented the red of her skirt, had taken off her black boots and was sitting on Mac's lap in the other leather chair. MacLeod, as usual, was impeccably dressed in gray chino slacks. The deep hunter green, Harris Tweed wool sweater he had on had been a birthday gift from Joe. It went well with his swarthy complexion, and Joe was touched that Mac had chosen to wear it at this day.
"So, Methos, how about you? Any outstanding Christmas memories lurking in there?" Amanda asked from MacLeod's lap; her flashing eyes reminded Joe of a stalking cat. A raised eyebrow was the only answer she received from her prey.
"You expect the old timer to remember? He doesn't even have words of wisdom to pass on, much less happy Christmas memories," Richie said, jumping into the fray with a saucy grin, only to be rewarded with shrugging shoulders and a dirty look.
Joe's warm thoughts centered on Richie. Gone were the days of wild, impetuous behavior, and Joe liked to think that he had lent a helping hand to the mature, young man he now found before him. There had been a huge rift between Richie and his teacher MacLeod, but somehow they had managed to come through it with a greater understanding of each other. Some of Richie's outer changes were obviously a direct influence from MacLeod. The T-shirts and ripped blue jeans had slowly given way to styles like today's blue, jersey-knit shirt and black, twill pants. Joe was proud of where Richie was heading.
Methos slowly pulled himself from the comfortable slouch he had worked into on the couch and gained Joe's full attention. Joe had to admit there were still many things that he didn't think he would ever be able to figure out about the man. He still had trouble associating Methos, the oldest immortal, with Adam Pierson, mild mannered grad-student and ex Watcher. In a bulky gray sweater and black jeans, Methos was still dressing the part of Adam the student. Joe found himself wondering if even Methos knew who the real man was under it all, or had too many years and identities passed for the truth to ever be known?
Unaware of the questions forming in Joe's mind, Methos, finally in an upright position, tossed his empty beer bottle at Richie.
"Tell you what, brat. You get me another beer, and I'll give you a story."
"Brat, huh? I'll show you a brat." Richie made to toss the bottle back when a cough from MacLeod stopped him.
"I, for one, would like to hear a story from Methos."
Richie looked over at Mac and laughed. MacLeod was having a difficult time holding Amanda's hands away from his body while watching Methos with a curious expression on his face. Richie noticed that Methos was returning the same intense gaze at MacLeod. Something silent passed between the two men and then Methos shut down.
Methos turned his attention back to Richie and shrugged his shoulders again in his typical style. "Going once, twice..." he drawled out, mouth curved in a secretive smile.
"Yeah, man, okay. Anyone else want anything?" Rich got their orders and went into the kitchen, humming the tune from "Night Gallery". He grabbed a few beers out of the well-stocked refrigerator, refilled Amanda's wine glass, and headed back into the living room, stopping in the entry way when he caught the look on Joe's face. Joe looked... Eager was the only word Richie could come up with. Movement from Amanda broke his train of thought and he continued into the living room. Passing out the drinks, Richie saved Methos's for last as he made his way back to the couch.
Amanda was still struggling playfully on Duncan's lap but stopped when she saw Duncan's face. Following his line of sight, she caught some kind of silent communication pass between he and Joe. Amanda quickly swivelled to check out Methos. He was shut down as usual, but she saw a ghost of a smile lingering on his face. This could get interesting, Amanda thought and uncharacteristically settled down to see what would happen.
Joe's voice cut through the room as he settled back into his own chair. "I got you guys an early Christmas present. Your shadows have been given the next couple of days off. I have selflessly taken you all on for the holidays. Be kind to this old man." Joe smiled as three of the four gave him a look of gratitude.
"Can you do that?" Richie asked. He handed Methos a beer and sat on the couch with him.
"Hey, when you're the head of your region, you can pull some strings," Joe said smugly. He blew on his fingers and buffed them on his sweater.
"Don't let all that power go to your head," Methos laughed.
"What about my shadow? Does he get a vacation, too?" Duncan asked with a bit of seriousness.
"Yeah, man, he does. It's Christmas, and I'm spending it with my family," Joe replied gruffly. His ears started to take on a pink tinge, which set the group laughing again.
When the laughter subsided, Richie spoke up, "Okay, I got your beer, Methos. Pay up. Give us a Christmas memory."
Methos started to give a sarcastic answer but stopped. He was thinking about what Joe had said - Family - and he realized Joe was right. He believed he was close with MacLeod and Joe. But he often wondered if it was for the right reasons. He made no secret about the fact that he believed MacLeod should win the Prize in the end. And Joe had been useful with Watcher business.
It was only lately that Methos realized he no longer cared about these things. In fact, he was beginning to admit to himself how much these men meant to him. Then there was Amanda and Richie, too. Somehow, without his knowing when, he had begun to feel something for them. For a man who had spent the better part of 5,000 years only worrying about self-preservation, it was a heady feeling. For better or worse, these people were his family. They deserved the real thing from him or as close as he could come to the real thing. It was Christmas after all; perhaps he could give them a glimpse at who he could be.
Methos took in the scene around him before speaking. His family was sitting in the living room of Joe's house with the peace of knowing it was where they all belonged. He felt warmth surround him, and it wasn't just from the fireplace crackling in the corner. Something inside him changed for that moment. He wasn't kidding himself though. With the coming of morning he would probably be his same cynical self, but for tonight he would try.
Richie was picking on Amanda, who had thrown a pillow from the chair at his head, when Methos started speaking. His voice was so low that only Joe and Duncan realized he was talking, and then only because they had been watching him closely during his bit of self-analyzing. Duncan put a hand on Amanda to quietly shush her. When she turned a questioning glance on him, he brought a finger to his lips and pointed at Methos. She nodded and quietly pointed the same thing out to Richie. They all quieted down, sat back, and listened.
"On Christmas Eve of nineteen-fourteen, during World War One," Methos began. "I was a medic stationed at the Western front in France. I can still remember how bitterly cold it had been that winter. We were lying in the partial frozen, rocky trenches, trying to think of ways to get warm without fighting. The shelling had finally stopped around noon of that day, and the quiet was a blessed relief, but it was only a matter of time before it would start again. I was seeing to the wounded, doing what I could and wondering why these mortals were so intent on killing one another. And wondering why the hell I had felt so compelled to help."
Methos paused for a second, oblivious to the others in the room as he relived the scene. MacLeod and Joe glanced at one another during the silence and nodded. No words were needed. What they had hoped for was happening. Methos was beginning to trust them. He had told them things before, but had never let down his guard. Always before, he seemed to be orating, as if reading his history aloud. This time he was reliving it for them.
"The British soldiers that were pulling sentry duty that evening had noticed that there were small lights waving above the German troops, illuminating them, making them easy targets, and they quickly got the attention of their commanding officers. In the meantime though, others had noticed the lights, and one of the French soldiers stood up to draw a bead on the Germans since they had made themselves such accommodating targets. Instead of shooting, he slowly put his rifle down in shock, and in a hoarse whisper he told the guys next to him what he had seen through the rifle scope.
"Soon the amazing story made its way through the trenches and everyone was cautiously standing up to see for themselves if what they had heard was true. Sure enough, the German troops had put lights on poles, bayonets, staffs, anything they could, and they were waving them above the trenches. We were awestruck at the magnificent display, and no one raised a weapon at them. We were too busy watching them through scopes or binoculars and it was then that we could see the trees.
"It was astounding, but the German soldiers were holding Christmas trees over their heads, and they were lit with candles, hanging from the branches. It was beautiful and awe inspiring that they were extending holiday greetings to us, their enemy. Suddenly we heard a German voice come from across no man's land rising in song. The voice was so pure and clear it seemed unearthly, and it was mesmerizing. Little by little, that voice was joined by other German soldiers, all singing 'Stille Nacht' in harmony."
"Still what?" Richie asked.
"Stille Nacht," Joe answered Richie for Methos. " It means Silent Night."
Methos nodded and grew silent. Surreptitiously glancing at MacLeod, he saw warm approval reflected in the large brown eyes, and he suddenly found a lump in his throat.
Amanda had leaned back into Duncan's arms and had allowed Methos's beautiful voice to wash over her. She loved listening to him speak, but it was a secret she kept close to her heart. As silence had descended over the room, Amanda had watched Methos closely. His eyes were shining and if she hadn't known better, she would have sworn tears were gathering.
"Go on Adam, tell the rest," Joe urged him gently.
Methos smiled, slightly entertained that Joe still insisted on calling him Adam, and nodded. "Soon the British troops and the Britons joined in the song," he continued. "It was awesome to hear, all those different nations singing the same song in their own languages. Then amazingly, one by one, soldiers on both sides started lying down their weapons and ventured out of the trenches. At first some of the superior officers started to object, but soon there were too many men, and it wasn't long after that the officers on both sides began joining their men.
"I sat back and watched them begin to trade chocolates, cigarettes, pictures of their families. Some of the men were having a hard time with the language barrier, and pretty soon I got involved, helping them to translate. Others had no problem at all. Some of them began a game of soccer right in no man's land. That's the kill zone between the trenches," Methos explained for Richie's benefit. "The field was lit only with flares, but it didn't seem to matter.
"It wasn't long after that that music filled the night. Some German soldier had brought out a violin and an English soldier an accordion, I think. The music and camaraderie lasted most of the night and then slowly, one by one, we began to go back to our trenches. The predawn air was filled with good-byes spoken in several different languages. The lights were slowly extinguished, and silence once again filled what was left of the night sky, and most of us sat reflecting what had happened. Dawn was quickly coming, and we knew that the war would begin again, and yet, those few hours touched us, even me. It renewed something in us. Some kind of hope for mankind."
Methos sat back, once again slouching into the couch, with the end of his story. His head was down and he seemed far away for a moment. He wiped his eyes, and when he glanced up to take a swig from his beer, he found MacLeod watching him intently. Mac mouthed a silent 'Thank you' and Methos answered with a true smile, which grew when Amanda wiped the tears from her own eyes and dazzled him with one of her own special brand of Amanda smiles.
Suddenly uncomfortable, Methos began to wonder if he had exposed too much of himself. It had been decades since he had let his guard down this much, and he was uneasy of the group's reaction. What if they expected this of him more often? Gods above, why hadn't he thought of that before he opened his mouth? Wanting to discourage further reminiscing, Methos opened his mouth to lambaste them a sarcastic comment about sappy endings when Richie's voice cut in.
"Wow, I remember learning about that in High School History, and you were there." Richie whistled in awe. Duncan, Amanda, and Joe laughed lightly at the stunned appearance on both Methos's and Richie's face's.
While the younger man gazed at Methos with a newfound respect, Methos decided that even if Richie's expression bordered a bit on annoying hero worship, maybe there hadn't been any harm at opening up some. The look of acceptance in all their eyes had made it worth it.
"And how about you Mac? Do you have a special story about Christmas?" Richie asked eagerly, wanting to hear more, but he regretted the words as soon as they were out of his mouth. He knew how hard MacLeod found Christmas since Tessa died. "Mac, I'm sorry, man," Rich said and got up uneasily from the couch. He walked over and stood in front of the gaily illuminated tree, cursing himself for bringing up Mac's pain.
Duncan moved Amanda from his lap and joined Richie over at the tree. He knew exactly what Richie was thinking; he was thinking it himself. He realized that as much as he had loved Tessa, the holidays were beginning to be okay again. While some of it was time, most of it was the people that he was spending this holiday with. Joe was so right when he had called them family.
"It's okay, Rich." Mac smiled at Rich and put an arm across the shorter man's shoulders. "I miss her, always will."
"I miss her, too, Mac," Richie said, his voice breaking with emotion. Tessa was the closest thing he had ever had to a mother.
"I know Rich, but Joe is right. You're all my family and life does go on. You know Tess would want that." Duncan gave Richie a hug that the younger man returned in relief.
Duncan had a mischievous grin on his face when he pulled back from the hug. "I do have a story for you though, if you want and I promise to make it a short one."
"What, no half-hour long flashback?" Richie smirked at MacLeod and everyone laughed in relief as the tension disappeared from the room.
"Brat, your comeuppance will happen one day," Duncan threatened with a punch in the arm. Richie just smiled back at the half-hearted threat as they sat back down.
"Hmm, I see I'm not the only one who finds you a brat, child," Methos said and rose to go get another beer. "Anyone want anything?" He received nods all around and ducked the pillow that Richie lobbed at his head. "Don't start without me," he said to MacLeod.
"I wouldn't dream of it," was the reply.
Amanda watched both men and definitely caught an under current of something that promised to turn out more substantial than her own fantasies could ever be. Oh, this could get very interesting, she thought, grinning to herself. She quickly excused herself and headed down the hall to the Little Girl's room, happily lost in visions of Christmas wishes.
Joe smiled watching Amanda leave the room. He realized that she too, was picking up on something between the two men. Don't be too sure about yourself, Amanda, he thought. Mac may not want company with this.
Methos returned from the kitchen in uncharacteristic swiftness. His hand lingered on the bottle he handed to MacLeod and his fingers brushed against MacLeod's hand. When Mac took the proffered bottle, he finally looked directly into Methos's green eyes. The invitation he found there startled him, and he withdrew from its intensity. Methos was amused at MacLeod's reticence, and returned to the couch, handing Richie a beer.
Amanda had come back in time to witness the exchange between Duncan and Methos. Her curiosity piqued, she decided that a change of seats was in order. Never one to go without creature comforts for long, she chose Joe's lap for her new perch. Joe glanced at Mac in surprise and was awarded with a shrug of shoulders. He knew Mac was saying, It's Amanda, go with it.
"Mac, let's hear your story," Joe requested, trying to get his mind off the curves Amanda was pressing into his lap.
Richie watched the seat changing and wondered what was going on. He already had a good buzz going and made a mental note to slow down on the drinking. The one bad thing about being stuck in a perpetually nineteen-year-old body was the all too annoying fact that he couldn't seem to handle the same amount of alcohol that his elders could. He wanted to remain semi-sober to see what would happen next. Things were getting definitely interesting. Mac's story interrupted his musings.
"I was with Sherman when he marched on Savannah, Georgia, the winter of 1864. The man was larger than life, and he presented the city to President Lincoln as a Christmas present. I was a Captain with a Michigan troop at the time. There were about ninety of us encamped on the outskirts of the city." Duncan had settled back into the chair with his chin resting on his fingers as he told his story.
"Some the of men had stuck a small tree in the front of one of the tents. They had decorated it with hard tack and salt pork in lieu of oranges and cakes, which were used in those days to decorate. The Southern children were fascinated with that tree. You have to remember the Christmas tree was a new thing to the people of America at that time.
"After a few days the men started noticing that the hard tack and pork were becoming scarce on the tree. After speaking with some of the women who were doing the wash for us, the sad answer came. It seemed that Santa Claus wasn't going to be able to visit the ravaged countryside that Christmas, and the children were worried. They had been snagging the gifts off our tree. The men and I put our heads together and came up with a plan." Mac paused, smiling with the memory.
"On Christmas Day the soldiers and I strapped antlers to the heads of the mules using tree branches. Then we loaded several wagons with everything we could find. Some of the men even put their own Christmas parcels in. We distributed the items to the families in the countryside. There were a few men among them who hadn't joined the fighting and they were extremely leery of us. Mostly they were old or young boys, but they were full of Southern pride. When we made it clear it wasn't charity, but for the children, they relented. These people were destitute, and yet carried themselves with a grace that belied the death and destruction going on around them.
"The children clamored in joy, seeing the mule reindeer pulling the wagons. It made us realize that the world continues to go on even when the men in power think they are pulling the strings. I'll never forget those children. Their joy was so great at receiving a few odds and ends, knowing that Santa had not forgot them even during the war." Duncan finished his story and wiped a suspicious tear from the corner of his eye. He cleared his throat and stood up.
"My turn for the kitchen. Refills all around?" Duncan laughed out loud when Richie struggled to make a decision. Joe's laughter joined with Duncan's when Richie relented and nodded along with the rest of them.
While MacLeod was getting refills, Richie decided it was his turn to excuse himself. Returning to the living room, he saw that Mac had taken his seat at the couch, leaving the leather recliner unoccupied. A full beer was sitting on the end table next to it; clearly indicating where Rich was to sit. He sat in the chair and raised an eyebrow at Mac, who only raised an eyebrow back. He thought he saw a satisfied smile on Methos's face, but decided it was the beer talking.
Methos and Mac? Never in a million years. Richie actually blushed at the thoughts running through his mind.
Amanda and Joe were holding back laughter watching Richie handle the new seating arrangement. They both had their own ideas of what was going on, but neither was willing to say anything out loud. Joe had his own reasons for wanting to see where it was all leading while Amanda was trying to figure out how to make it happen with herself in the same vicinity. Joe had a good idea what Amanda was thinking and was enjoying the slight movement of her bottom across his lap. Oh, were things getting interesting!
Richie, feeling satisfied with the explanation he came up with regarding MacLeod and Methos, got up and put more wood on the fire. When he sat back down, he asked Amanda the same question about Christmas memories.
"What, hon?" Amanda asked, finally paying attention to Richie.
"I was wondering about you? Any touching Christmas memories?"
"Yeah, Amanda. How about it?" Joe's gruff voice came up from his chest, rumbling through Amanda as he spoke. She returned the favor by wiggling just a bit more on his lap and turned to bestow a smile on him.
"Why, yes, Joe. I do."
Amanda turned her body, putting her legs across the arm of chair, causing her bottom to sink deeper on Joe's lap and come into closer contact with certain inspired parts of his anatomy. Feeling Joe move a little uneasily, her smile grew wider. Duncan, who had been watching them, laughed out loud at Amanda's antics, almost spewing beer onto Methos. Both Amanda and Joe aware of MacLeod's attention on them silently asked him similar questions. He acquiesced to both of them with a mere shrug of his shoulders and moved closer to Methos, causing smiles to grow all around.
"What so funny?" Richie asked, slightly slurring his words. He had been arguing with himself again on whether or not he should have another beer and had missed Amanda's antics.
"Amanda was just about to give us her story, weren't you Amanda," Methos said, smiling widely.
"Ah, yes, a story. Hmmm, lets see." She wiggled more on Joe's lap while she was speaking. He grabbed a hold of her waist and held her.
"Yes, Amanda, a story please," he ground out between clenched teeth.
Duncan and Methos both snorted at Amanda's action and Richie wondered what he missed. Glancing around the room, he finally took in Joe's situation. He didn't know whether to pity the guy or be jealous of him. But he was glad that for once he wasn't the one in the hot seat. Richie dying to gage Mac's his attitude with Amanda's games finally looked in Mac's direction. What he encountered shocked the hell out of him. Mac was sitting so close to Methos that any closer and he would be in the man's lap. Richie decided that denial would work in this instance. He would just stick to his beer and not ask any questions. But when he lifted the bottle to his lips he could have sworn that Methos had flashed him innocent smile that didn't quite conceal the glow in his eyes. Richie quickly drained the beer and looked directly at Amanda.
"Story?" He choked out.
"Hmmm, okay." She settled on Joe's lap and started her tale.
"During World War Two, I was involved with the Free French Intelligence and was with a group of women who volunteered to be spies. We were working with the Office of Strategic Services, the O.S.S., as part of the unit attached to the thirty-sixth Infantry Division, serving in the Gerardmer Region."
"Well, Amanda. I didn't know that you had a patriotic bone in your body," Methos said.
Amanda shot him a dirty look. "Do you want to hear this or not?"
"I do," Joe said, smiling at her.
"Thank you, Joseph," Amanda said and stuck her tongue out at Methos.
"Be careful who you proposition with that," Methos countered.
"Enough, you two," MacLeod cut in. "I want to hear Amanda's story."
Methos raised his bottle in a silent toast to Amanda, and she continued.
"Anyway," she began with a quick flick of her tongue in Methos's direction. "Gerardmer was located at the western end of the Col de la Schult, one of the most important passes in the Vosages Mountains, and it was a key supply line for the Gestapo. I was working with woman named Jeanette. She and I were supposed to secure intelligence about enemy activities in Gerardmer, which was forty miles ahead of American lines and to make contact with the Gerardmer Resistance. It was the winter of 1944 and the Germans were antsy. They had begun losing some important battles and were very leery of the local people in the area. A few days before Christmas the Gestapo decided to detain Jeannette and I."
Amanda's voice broke slightly, and she closed her eyes, leaning farther back into Joe. He wrapped his arms around her and held her tight for a moment. She composed herself and gave Joe a grateful smile.
"Luckily our identity papers were in order, and the Gestapo could not detect that they were false. But the fact that we had tried to get in touch with known Resistance members aroused suspicion. We were cajoled, threatened, slapped, kicked, and horribly beaten. Then we were separated, and I was told that Jeanette had given me up as Resistance member. I knew they were lying and had probably told Jeanette the same thing. I was getting scared and knew that it was only a matter of time before we would be put to death.
"This went on for two days, and then on Christmas Eve day the city was shelled from allied troops. The hotel that they had kept us in had a basement and we were taken down there during the shelling. It was the first time I had seen Jeanette since our detainment. She looked horrible, and I knew it was only a matter of time before they realized that I was healing faster then she. We had to find a way to escape.
"Poor Jeanette thought that they weren't interrogating me as brutally as her to try and divide us. I can't tell you how bad it felt to let her think that, but the alternative was unthinkable, to coin a phrase." Amanda paused to flash a sad grin at Methos. He nodded and gave her another silent toast of his beer bottle.
"The shelling stopped around dawn and we were taken back to our rooms for another round of interrogation. Jeanette proved to be as stubborn as I was, and the Germans got nowhere with either of us. Then for some unknown reason, they put us both in the same room that night. I was relieved to see her still alive, but the guard that brought her began to look at me suspiciously. He had helped interrogate me and had noticed how much worse Jeanette looked. I knew time was getting short; we had to figure out how to escape."
Amanda stopped again to compose herself. She didn't think that the memories would still be so painful, and she was unprepared for the strong reactions they evoked. She was grateful when Joe wrapped his arms around her again. She looked at Duncan and Methos and then over at Richie. They were all silently encouraging her. Taking a deep breath, she continued.
"They had us on the third floor of their hotel headquarters. I was seriously thinking about breaking the window and jumping out. It was a dark, starless night, and maybe if the fall didn't kill me I could get away. And if it did kill me, maybe I would get lucky, and they would bury me quickly and shallowly. My only concern was that they would hear the breaking of the glass and kill Jeanette for my suicide. When I moved closer to the window, I heard Jeanette begin to sing 'Silent Night' quietly. She stopped and looked at me and said, 'You know, it's Christmas Eve. I thought maybe a small celebration.' I was amazed that after all she had been through, she was still able to feel that way. She continued singing, and the most miraculous thing happened. Out of that starless night, a single beam of light lit up the night. It seemed to be shining directly into our little room."
Amanda gave a real smile for the first time since she had started telling her story. "The light reflected off the window and what we saw astounded us. All the panes were cracked and beginning to fall out of the sill. We quietly began to remove them one at a time. Soon the window was bare of glass, and we could easily fit through, except that we were still too high up. I wasn't concerned so much about myself. I figured I might be able to jump safely, but Jeanette was in no condition to try. And that beam of light made it impossible, anyway. The guard would easily spot us. Suddenly the light went away as quickly as it had come, and it was pitch black again. There was a commotion outside and we heard the guard move away.
"Jeanette grabbed my hand and said that we must hurry. I told her she was in no condition to jump, but she said that it was now or never. She would rather die from the fall than at the hands of the Germans. So, we jumped.
"I don't know how to explain the feeling that came over me as soon as we were out of the window. But I knew that we would be okay. I felt my ankle break when I landed and worried about Jeanette, but she was up and running ahead of me already. I followed her as best as I could while my ankle healed. Soon I was able to run full out with her. We must have run for miles that evening. We went up into the mountains to a known safe house. Once there and safely inside, I found that Jeanette had broken her leg. Our fellow Resistance fighters were amazed that she was able to move, much less run all that way. Jeanette wasn't, though. She said that she had prayed for the strength to do what was right and that she knew her prayers had been answered when we saw that starlight."
Amanda turned to face Joe as he hugged her tight again. She laid her head down on his shoulder for a moment and whispered a thank you in his ear for lending his support while she had told her story. She straightened up and stated, "It looks like it's my turn for the beer run. Everyone again?" All around the room nodded at her, and she quickly made her way into the kitchen.
Once in the kitchen Amanda stopped and rested her hands on the small table. Her head fell forward and she began crying softly. She heard someone come in after her, but didn't look up. Arms came around her and she fell into them sobbing. Fully expecting it to be Duncan, she was surprised when she heard Richie's voice soothing her.
"You never cease to amaze me, Amanda," Richie said, holding her close. "You were more concerned with them torturing Jeanette when they realized that you were healing faster than them finding out about you, weren't you?"
Amanda pulled away from Richie slightly to look directly at him. "How did you know that?"
"It was written all over your face out there," he said softly, and wiped the tears from her face. "You're not as unaffected as you want the world to think." Richie laughed when she softly punched him in the arm.
"And you're not as naive as you have led them to believe, are you? Richard the Lionhearted, kind and wise." Amanda quickly gave him a kiss and hugged him hard, laughing in turn as he blushed.
"Come on, let's get these drinks out there before Duncan comes in, wondering what we're up to." Amanda went to the refrigerator, grabbed the beers, and refilled her wineglass.
"Ah, no offense Amanda, but I don't think Mac's going to come in here. He seems to be a bit, umm, preoccupied."
Amanda laughed at the look of confusion on Richie's face, choking slightly on a swallow of wine. She coughed a second time and laughed harder at the thought of having to explain to Richie about the nature of man.
"Hmm, yes, he does seem quite busy at that," she said, laughing still.
"I just don't get it. Methos? I would have sworn Mac was as straight as they come." Richie blushed hard. Amanda took pity on him and handed him an open beer. He gratefully took a long drink.
"Well, Rich, you don't live four hundred odd years without learning a thing or two," Amanda replied.
"Yeah, but Methos?"
"Oh, definitely Methos. The voice, those eyes, the body, the attitude. Everything he does and says screams sex. I would love to..."
"Okay, okay, Amanda, I get the picture." Rich did too; he just didn't want too. "I don't know, I just never pictured Mac and Methos that way."
"I have, many times," Amanda said with a salacious grin on her face.
"Amanda!" Richie had turned a deep shade of purple and Amanda began to feel sorry for teasing him. After all, he had come in here after her. She was about to apologize when a wicked thought passed through her mind.
"You're not jealous are you?" she teased.
"Of Methos? No. Of Joe, definitely." Richie was still a bright shade of red, but he looked Amanda in the eye when he said this. He stepped closer to her and grabbed her around the waist.
"Definitely," he said once more and lowered his lips to her mouth. Amanda eagerly met his lips with her own, drinking from his mouth greedily. Their kiss was short lived when a chorus of "More beer!" sounded from the living room. They reluctantly pulled away from each other, but there was a promise written in their desire-darkened eyes.
"My, I never knew," Amanda whispered.
"Now you do," Richie replied and gathered a few of the open beers. He opened the kitchen door, allowing her to pass by him. He followed her into the living room and helped her to hand out the drinks, barely noticing that Mac was almost sitting in Methos's lap. Richie returned to his seat in the chair, watching Amanda with lowered lids while she stood in the center of them trying to figure out where she should sit.
Methos was enjoying the scene before him. Amanda was obviously torn. For a second, he thought about helping her out by pulling her down on his lap, but decided against it. It was just too much fun watching her decide.
The whole evening was turning out to be a revelation for Methos. He had actually shared himself and hadn't been rejected. As a matter of fact, the opposite had happened, and now one of his fantasies seemed to be fleshing itself out; MacLeod seemed to be intent on being close to him. It had him tingling in places he had forgotten about or long thought dead. He was anxious and eager to see where things might lead but cynical enough to know that it might be the alcohol. God only knew they had consumed enough of it this evening. He decided it would be best to let MacLeod take the lead on this one.
While Methos had thoughts of MacLeod running through his head, Joe was painfully aware of Amanda's dilemma. He had a feeling that things would be going a different course when Richie had followed her into the kitchen. Why wouldn't she choose a young, strong, whole man over him? He decided to let her off the hook, although it was sweet of her to be concerned with his feelings, and he excused himself, leaving the room.
When Joe went down the hall, Amanda had a sudden burst of inspiration. She quickly grabbed the chair that Joe had been sitting in and dragged it over next to where Richie was sitting. She bounced onto Richie's lap and positioned herself so that her feet were resting in the chair next to them. Richie and Methos were bemused at her sudden movements and each gave her an odd stare. Methos caught on quickly and began laughing.
"Very inventive, Amanda," he said approvingly.
"I rather thought so," Amanda practically purred, very happy with herself.
"Wha's tha'?" Duncan asked, coming out of his reverie.
"Nothing, Darling," Amanda said. "Go back to your visions of Methos."
Richie noted that while Duncan blushed, he didn't deny anything and just smiled. As a matter of fact, since Mac had told them his story he had been strangely silent, seemingly content to be next to the man beside him. It was all Richie could do to keep from shaking his head. Methos? He didn't have anything against the guy; in fact he was still somewhat in awe of Methos with him being the oldest immortal and all. And he had no problem finding affection where you could. Living on the streets had taught him that. While Amanda might think differently about it, Richie was having a hard time picturing Mac with a man, any man and he decided not to think about it.
Loud laughter from the entrance to the living room startled them all. Joe had come back while they were all lost in their own thoughts, and he was laughing at the sight of Amanda sitting on Richie's lap, leaning over and patting the seat of the other chair.
"Right here, Joe. Best seat in the house," Amanda said while grinning like the cat that ate the canary.
"Lady, I don't know about you sometimes," Joe said affectionately, sitting down.
"Wouldn't you like too?" she asked with a twinkle in her eye. Before he had a chance to answer, Duncan spoke up.
"Wha' 'bout yew Joe? Any special Christmas tales yew'd like ta share wi' us?" Joe laughed, realizing how much MacLeod must have drank. It was only in times of great stress, strong emotions, or too much drink that Mac's natural brogue showed itself strongly.
"Yes, Joe," Amanda said and placed her feet in Joe's lap after he sat down. "Please tell us a story. It would be nice to know about you, seeing how you know all about us." She wiggled her feet in one particular spot to get her point across.
"Come on, Joe. Give us a story." Methos said; his precise Queen's English was beginning to slur slightly.
Joe glanced at MacLeod, who nodded his head again, and Joe knew there wasn't much he could deny these people.
"Ok, a story from Joe. I can do that," Joe said. "I'm afraid my story isn't as life changing as the previous ones. But there is one Christmas time that I remember just being glad to be alive."
Joe's baritone voice took on a husky quality as he began to relate his tale. "It was late Christmas Eve, in sixty-five and I was stationed at Danang Air Base in South Vietnam. The fields and runways were shrouded in fog that was hampering take-off's and landings. I was patrolling between the two runways. Guns could be heard in the distance, marking that the VC and their Northern buddies were ignoring the latest cease-fire message.
"It was near midnight when a lone chopper took off from somewhere across the field. The choppers were used to set off million-candle-power parachute flares that would drift from the sky around the base perimeter. Normally they would bathe the terrain in brilliant, ghostly candlelight. But very few lights, if any, would be able to penetrate the fog that blackened that night.
"On the radio, Bing Crosby's voice gently crooned the familiar words of "Silent Night" as a single brilliant parachute managed to flare directly over the runway. The song finished as the radiant flare twinkled and gutted. It seemed to bring a peaceful feeling with it. All around the guns went silent. For the next few hours all was silent and calm at Danang. Just long enough to remember and be thankful for the gift of the holidays."
Joe finished his story and looked around him. Everyone was silent for a moment. Even Amanda's foot had ceased its torment of his lap. He too sat quietly and reflected all that they had shared that night. It was then that he remembered the poem that he had read a few years back. He had kept a tattered copy of it in his wallet since then. It was unnecessary of course; Joe had memorized it soon after his first reading.
"Hey guys, I have a poem I'd like to share, if you don't mind," he said to the group. When no one objected, he began reciting it. His gruff voice filled the room as his family gathered around to hear what was so important to him. "It's called 'The Soldier's Night Before Christmas',
'Twas the night before Christmas, he lived all alone,
Joe bowed his head when he finished reciting. He heard coughs and sniffles throughout the room, and he blew his own nose before he looked up to see how his friends were doing. He wasn't the least surprised to see that all had red-rimmed eyes, and Amanda's cheeks were wet with tears, but she was smiling. They were all smiling at him. He was glad that he had shared this with them.
Amanda spoke first after clearing her throat. "What about you, Rich?" she asked and caressed his face. "Any stories of Christmas?"
Duncan watched Richie's face closely when Amanda asked the question. He saw Richie flinch for a second and then resolve whatever conflict was inside. Duncan felt pride for his former student. Richie was growing wise, and Duncan knew he was finally going to be able to let him go. Then Duncan wondered if maybe it was time to do something for himself? He realized, not for the first time, that maybe that something was sitting next to him, silently stroking his thigh.
Richie took his time before answering. He knew he didn't have the kind of stories that would match what he had heard tonight, but somehow he knew it didn't matter. These were his friends, no, his family, and they were interested in what he had to say.
"Well, I don't have a story like the ones I've heard tonight."
"Oh, Rich, that's okay, we don't expect that," Amanda jumped in to reassure him.
Richie took one of Amanda's hands in his own and raised to his lips. "I know Amanda," he said, and he kissed her hand. "I was going to say, I do have a Christmas memory that is special to me."
Amanda blushed slightly at Richie's words and realized that she had once again underestimated him.
"Before I begin, does anyone need a refill? I know I do." Richie held up his empty bottle, twirling it as he spoke. He wasn't at all surprised to find that Methos was the first to agree.
Richie deposited Amanda on Joe's lap and made his way into the kitchen. When the door swung open behind him, he expected to find Amanda; when he turned and saw Mac, he was surprised.
"Richie, ye dunna have ta tell us if ye dunna wan' too. I ken the memories are still painful for ye," Duncan said while helping Richie open the bottles.
"No, Mac, it's really okay. It's like what Joe said. We're family. He's right. And while this may be the strangest family that ever walked the earth, you're the only one I've ever had. Anything that we do or want should be accepted, right?" Richie was beginning to blush again and silently cursed his fair coloring. He was trying to ask Mac if it was okay for him and Amanda to be going where they were headed. But once the words were out of his mouth, he realized the double meaning of them.
"Ah, Mac, I didn't mean, I mean, well, you and Methos. That is, umm, it's okay with me, if it's what you want." Richie realized he was stammering and couldn't seem to do a thing to stop it.
"Rich." Duncan sighed, ran a hand through his hair, he purposely tried to talk slower, knowing that it was damn difficult to understand him when he'd had to much to drink. "I'm no' sure what I want, or where this is going, but thank ye. It means a lot ta me that ye'll approve."
"Now, about Amanda. I'm not sure what's going on in her mind about Joe and yew, but I'm thinking she's aiming ta have yew and Joe both. Just be careful. I care about all of yew and do'na want anyone get hurt. Just remember she is'na one for staying around." Duncan put his arm around Richie's shoulder and gave it a squeeze.
"I know, but for tonight Mac, it feels right," Richie said.
They moved to take the drinks back to the living room, but Richie stopped him before he opened the door. "One more thing, Mac, the same can be said of Methos. He doesn't exactly have a real good track record for staying around."
"Aye, I know, Rich, I know," was all Duncan said and pushed his way into the living room. They were greeted with laughter when they entered.
"Ah, there's the man of the hour," Methos said, taking a beer from MacLeod and drinking half of it in one gulp.
MacLeod laughed and stepped over Methos's long legs resting on the coffee table. "Do ye realize how much we ha'e put 'way tonight?" he asked the group.
"No, how much?" Joe asked, pulling his eyes away from Amanda's cleavage to look at MacLeod.
"Ahh, I don' know. I was hoping yoo would." Duncan staggered as he sat down, almost spilling his beer on Methos. He put out a hand to steady himself and it landed directly in Methos's lap. "Oops," he said, laughing.
Methos helped MacLeod sit down and removed the man's hand from his lap. Instead of letting go of it he threaded his long, pale fingers through MacLeod's strong, brown ones, all the while watching Mac's face to see his reaction. When he received a smile, Methos let out the breath that he hadn't realized he was holding.
Richie watched the interplay between the two men closely. When Mac seemed okay with the turn of events, he turned his attention to Amanda, who was still sitting on Joe's lap. They had their heads together whispering. He leaned over, grabbed Amanda's legs and pulled them on to his lap.
"Can I join the fun?" Richie asked and started to massage the soles of her feet.
"Hmm," Amanda responded and arched her body, driving her bottom further into Joe's lap. She instantly felt his response and smiled. The night was getting more and more interesting. She couldn't wait to find out what was going to happen next. First though, she wanted to hear Richie's story.
"Rich, we want to hear your story," she said, and all in the room agreed with her. Richie smiled and continued rubbing her feet while he started his own tale of Christmas remembering.
"You all know that my early childhood wasn't exactly a fairy tale. Well, one Christmas when I was fifteen, things had gone from bad to worse at the foster home I had been at, and I hit the road. I had done pretty well until winter set in. Then I got lucky and stumbled into Father Mariani's shelter for runaway teens. He was running it out of the basement at St. Luke's over on Auburn Lane. You know the one Mac?"
MacLeod nodded, as did Joe, Methos, and Amanda. They all knew Father Mariani and St. Luke's. Each one had done their share of volunteering for the immortal priest they had known for so long.
"Well, Christmas was coming up and there were ten of us living at the shelter at the time. I did my share of work to pay for room and board, but that was about it. I stayed away from the other kids and didn't attend much of the church functions. I was still on the streets hustling and had to keep quiet about it if I didn't want to loose my bed for the winter.
"Anyway, Father Mariani was trying to get us all together to teach us a hymn that he wanted us to perform at the Christmas Cantata, and I was having no part of it. I had never been one to celebrate Christmas. Which meant of course that I had never had a real Christmas before. Somehow the good Father and Sister Charleville managed to talk me into it. It probably had more to do with Jennifer Kelly than anything else. She was this hot blonde with a Christ infatuation."
The room erupted into laughter. MacLeod laughed so hard he shot beer out of his nose, which caused them all to laugh harder. Richie let the waves of laughter roll over him. It felt good; he knew they were laughing with him, instead of at him. He saw Methos lean over and whisper something to Mac, who laughed again and wiped his face. Richie watched Methos get up and move over to the fireplace and he continued his story while Methos piled more wood on the dying fire.
"Well, we practiced and practiced. Somehow those two managed to teach ten street kids a regular Latin canon. We sounded pretty good, too. It wasn't long until the big night arrived. I got talked into handing out bulletins for the show. Father Mariani had even managed to find me a suit. I stood at the front doors looking like a dork, handing out these papers and feeling pretty good about myself.
"By two's and three's, people were coming into the church, fathers and mothers with their kids, old couples and young couples. It seemed that the whole neighborhood was coming to our show. I could hear the people as they passed by. Some were saying how beautiful the church was, others were looking forward to the music. Nice things, ya know, until these two snooty women showed up. They were laughing at Father Mariani, saying that he should know better than to bring street trash into the church."
Richie paused; lost in thought, and had stopped rubbing Amanda's feet. MacLeod started to say something, but Methos, who was just sitting back down, put a hand on his arm and pointed to Amanda.
"Richie," she said and softly stroked Richie's cheek with the back of her hand. Joe put a hand on his young friend's arm at the same time.
"Huh?" Richie asked, coming back to them.
"You okay, buddy?" Joe asked.
"Yeah, sorry. It's weird how things can seem to be right in front of you again." Richie shook off the specters of the past, and started rubbing Amanda's feet again, and gave Joe a grateful smile.
"The lady's big mouth really pissed me off. I mean, I wasn't going to go up on stage and make an ass out of myself. I almost split that night for good, but somehow Father Mariani knew. He knew what those women were saying and what I was planning. He took me aside and told me it was my decision. I could leave and prove those women right, or I could stay and make them see that we weren't street trash. He told me we can't help our birth, but we can make ourselves into people that we can be proud of. I chose to stay. I got up on that stage with the other street kids and sang my heart out. The applause was great, but the feeling of accomplishment was better. I'll always be thankful to Father Mariani for seeing in me what I couldn't at the time."
The room was silent as the others all looked at Richie with understanding. They had all been there before.
"Well, enough of that," Richie said, feeling slightly embarrassed without really knowing why. He stopped rubbing Amanda's feet again and stood up, stretching. He needed to do something, he couldn't stand to have them looking at him. He knew it was ridiculous and macho, but there it was.
Richie walked over to the fireplace and stirred the wood, bringing it back to roaring life. He held his hands out to the heat and began humming that long ago, but not forgotten, tune of a Christmas past. He was startled to hear a clear bass tenor voice join him in harmony. Richie looked over to the couch and saw Methos was singing. His eyes were closed, and his head was back, but his voice was clear and in perfect tune.
Richie quit humming to listen to Methos sing.
"Dona nobis pacem, pacem
Amanda's soprano joined in as Methos began the second stanza.
"Dona nobis pacem
Joe's bass started on the first as Methos began the third
"Dona nobis pacem
~Give us peace~
On it went. The voices in the room joined in perfect harmony with that simple song of peace. Richie's was the last voice to join, and it was his clear tenor that was left to finish.
Glancing at the clock at the end of the song, Richie saw that it was 12:01. He turned to his family and said, "Merry Christmas." When everyone looked at him strangely, he pointed at the clock and laughed.
"Can we open presents yet?" he asked. It earned him an well-aimed pillow in the face, courtesy of Methos.
Richie laughed harder, walked back over to where Amanda was sitting, and held his hands out to her. Her laugh tinkled through the room as she let him pull her up. They saw the look that passed over Joe's face, and looking at one another, both held a hand out to him.
"Come on, Joe," Amanda said softly.
Joe clasped their hands in his and pulled himself up. He looked at both of them questioningly and received reassuring nods. The trio paused to say goodnight to the two men sitting on the couch.
Standing, Methos and Duncan both gave Amanda a gentle kiss on each cheek, and there were hugs shared between the five of them. Duncan sat back on the couch and pulled Methos down beside him, clasping his hand tightly within his own. They watched their friends leave the room and then turned back to each other.
And that, dear friends, is a tale of Christmas Remembered. Let us leave this unassuming house in its understated neighborhood as these five friends celebrate the season of giving.
© 1998, revised 1999
12/24/1998, revised 8/1999
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