December 24 - 2039
Rick slept in. It wasn't like he meant to do it, not really. He just opened his eyes and found himself unmoving and stiff in their bed. The light was tentative through the slats in the blinds, and his wife's side of the mattress was cold.
He finds her out on the back porch. She's tucked up in two blankets with a hot water bottle and a mug of cocoa, but even so. Crazy woman.
"What are you doing out here?"
"Enjoying having a yard," she says back. The dog is racing around the grass, getting frost stuck to her paws and the tip of her long nose.
It's not going to be a white Christmas, and he's bummed that their first year in this house isn't going to be truly magical. Still, they've got lights all along the gutter and a beautiful, tasteful wicker reindeer with lights woven through it on their front lawn. They've got a front lawn.
"Any sign of the troops yet?"
"Sleeping in." Kate gets up from her chair and he takes the blankets from her, draping them over his arm. She whistles for Pip and the dog comes trotting happily back up the porch steps and into the house.
The whole world is coming slowly awake around them. They stand together in the window and Rick wraps a blanket around each of them. The house is kept plenty warm enough, but it's cosy to be all bundled up like this. Kate's nose practically touches the glass of the windowpane.
"I really love this house, Rick."
"I'm so glad," he says into her hair.
They've only been in a few months. They decided to move not too far from Alexis. They're still close enough to the city, but they've got all of the things they were looking for in a home. He's been captivated watching Kate transform the place, make it theirs. There's so much more space, inside and out.
"Do you think we should wake them? There's a lot to do today."
He peers over her shoulder to check the time in the microwave display. Not yet nine. "Leave them for a bit longer. Let me have you all to myself."
"I'm gonna put you to use." Kate turns in the circle of his arms and pokes him in the chest. Almost immediately though, she softens and lays her hand flat against him. "Remember our first Christmas Eve?"
"I was coming to see you, but you were already coming to see me." He remembers so clearly the great tide of love that had engulfed him when he opened the door all those years ago and found her standing there. "Sad not to be in the loft?"
She shakes her head at him, small and girlish in her socked feet. "Not at all. That memory is you and me. Doesn't matter where we are, it's still precious."
He kisses her, long and slow. When they eventually break apart her mouth is smudged and her robe is falling off one shoulder. Kate catches sight of him and she laughs, reaching up to neaten his funky, spiking hair. He lets her do it, enjoying the tenderness of her fingers across his scalp.
"Want some help with breakfast?"
"Yes. Can you chop fruit?" She brings him with her over to the kitchen by the clasp of their hands and he goes easily, willingly. Grateful just to be here in the early morning with her.
The kids emerge one by one, rumpled with sleep. Lily goes straight for the coffee machine and pours herself a cup, doesn't say a single word until she's drunk half of it down. The boys are roughhousing, fighting each other for the best armchair. They miss each other so fiercely when they're away at college.
"What's the plan for today, Dad?"
Lily comes to stand beside him at the island and she steals a piece of the melon he's just chopped. Now that she's graduated, Lily is living at home until she finds a job. She's working in a bar wile she hunts for career opportunities. Neither Rick nor Kate mind one bit having her home with them.
"Well, lazy morning I think. Maybe take Pip for a walk." He drops his voice, whispers the last word, but the dog's ears still prick up and she turns her head to see him. "And then tonight we've got Alexis and her family and Grandpa coming for dinner and presents."
"Awesome." Lily grins and hops up onto the counter. She drums her feet against the side of the cabinet and steals bacon from the pan while Kate is cooking. She swats at their daughter but it's halfhearted and she's smiling.
They all eat breakfast together, crammed around the little table in the breakfast nook. Usually it's just Rick and his wife that eat together here, and everybody else grazes. The formal dining table in the other room is all set up for dinner tonight already, so they have to make do.
"This is really good, Mom," Reece says. His mouth is full of waffle and Kate gives him a look. He chews hurriedly and swallows it down. "I always miss your cooking so much at school. And you, Dad."
"Thanks peanut." Kate is so soft this morning. She's wearing jeans and a thick sweater, her hair elegantly pinned back. As she ages she only grows more timeless. Rick leans over the top of Jake to kiss his wife's cheek and gets a grunt of irritation from his son.
After everybody is done with breakfast and dressed for the day, they head outside to take Pip for a walk. It's so nice to be close to the park, to let Pip off the leash. Kate walks hand in hand with him, the heat of her body against his side.
"Do you miss the city?" he asks, can't quite help himself.
Kate huffs a breath of laughter and peers at him from beneath her woollen hat. "Not really. It hasn't gone anywhere, babe. I'm still there all the time for work. And it's nice to come home to the peacefulness and the yard. It's nice to see our grandkids playing out back. I don't regret one single thing."
He knows he was the driving force behind the move. It was his idea, and him that researched houses and scheduled viewings. She came to look at all of the houses he found, wasn't exactly apathetic about it. It's on him, though, and if it had gone badly then that would have been on him too.
"Hey, Dad?" Lily comes bounding back towards them. The dog is a wild creature leaping around and trying to drag an enormous branch along with her. She follows Lily, her helicopter tail smacking against all of their thighs. "Can we make hot cocoa when we get back? And light the fire?"
The new house has an actual, real fireplace. He's been so enjoying splitting logs to use as kindling, setting the fire every morning to light in the evening. Last week, the grandkids came over and they made s'mores on the open fire.
"Of course we can. It's Christmas Eve, Lilypad. We can do whatever we like."
They walk until the dog is worn out and then they trek back to the house. When they finally make it home, Kate takes Pip through the garage and into the mud room to wash off her paws. She blows baby hairs out of her face while she crouches with the dog.
"Can I just say?" she turns over her shoulder to smile at him. "It's so much easier to clean her off now that we don't have to bring her through the lobby and the elevator and all that."
"Need a hand?" he chuckles.
Pip is patient, well used to the routine. She offers each of her paws one at a time for Kate to clean and dry off. Her tail wags, and every time Kate gets close enough the dog licks a long stripe up the side of her face. Kate finishes drying off the last paw and lets Pip go with a kiss to her nose.
"We're good. Thanks, babe."
Kate gets to her feet and he catches her, stealing a kiss while they're in the privacy of the mudroom. They only have a couple of seconds before the kids call for them that the cocoa is ready, and Rick tangles his fingers in Kate's and leads her out into the living room.
Each of them receive a mug from Lily and everybody piles onto the couches to enjoy their cocoa. Nobody really moves for the next few hours. Kate dozes off, her cheek pillowed against his thigh and her body stretched out along the length of the couch. The boys are playing some app on their phones, and Lily sits on the floor to groom Pip properly.
At three o'clock, Kate and Lily relocate to the kitchen to start preparing dinner. Rick hovers, making himself available to help if they need it but mostly trying to stay out of the way. The twins settle themselves at the table in the breakfast nook, part of the family but out of the way of the action.
"What are you hoping Santa Claus is gonna bring you, Jakey?" Lily asks. She's got flour on her cheek and mischief in the curve of her lips. "Have you been good this year?"
Jake rolls his eyes at his sister. His hair is a little bit longer than he usually wears it, and this morning he asked Kate if she'd cut it for him tonight. His bangs flop down over his forehead and he pushes them back with one hand.
"I'm good every year. And I asked for one of those shaving subscription box things."
Reece reaches out to stroke his brother's chin, checking for stubble. "Why, dude? Not like you grow anything anyways."
"Shut up," Jake shoves on Reece's arm, his face in a fearsome scowl. "I like to be well-groomed. You wouldn't know anything about that, since your preferred look is 'yeti.'"
"Oh, he likes to be well-groomed, everyone. Just in case some royalty drops in to visit." Reece puffs up his chest and sticks his nose into the air, mocking his brother.
"Boys," Kate sighs. She wipes her hands off on the apron around her waist and heads for where the boys are sitting. "Be kind to each other, please. Or Santa just might decide to skip you two this year."
Both of them look to Rick and he shrugs. They sigh and scowl and groan, but the moment everyone's attention is elsewhere their heads are bent over their phones again as they do battle on their favourite app.
"Hey, Mama?" Lily says. She's peeling carrots and Kate is beside her, chopping them into chunks. "My gift for you isn't really something that you open. Is that okay?"
"Of course, sweet girl." Kate sets the carrots down to wrap Lily up in a hug instead. "You know the best gift you could give me is just being here and being you."
Lily shares a small smile with Rick over her mother's shoulder. Her gift to Kate is a vacation, just the two of them. Lily is taking Kate to Iceland. It's somewhere she's always wanted to go. Lily is hoping to see the Northern Lights while they're there. More than anything though, the gift is quality time with mother and daughter. Rick helped her out financially, because he wanted his girls to be able to stay in a really nice hotel, and to be able to do whatever activities they want while they're there. He can't wait to see Kate's face tonight when they open gifts and she's surprised with the trip.
By the time Alexis and her family arrive, Jim hot on their heels, the whole house smells delicious. They like to cook their big meal on Christmas Eve, and have Christmas Day for leftovers. Kate and Lily have made a ham, with all the trimmings.
"This looks fantastic," Jim says. He's leaning heavily on his cane, but he seems otherwise healthy, and in good spirits. He kisses Kate's cheek, and then Lily's too. "You've outdone yourselves, ladies."
Harry has made a beeline for the twins, and Charlotte haunts Kate's side like a cheerful ghost. Once everybody is settled in, a drink in their hand, Rick takes a minute just to look around. His family are all here, festive and wonderful. In a few years, Lily and the twins might have families of their own. More grandkids to spoil, another few years where they get to create the magic of Santa Claus.
"Hey." Kate hooks her arm through his and rests her cheek to his shoulder. "You good?"
"More than." He kisses the crown of her head, and he lets her lead him back into the action.
A/N: So, that's a wrap. Thank you so much for coming on this journey with me, and for all your sweet reviews. It is also, I think, going to be a wrap on my writing for this show. I'm about to graduate university in the summer, and it just feels like a natural stopping place. This story was my way of saying goodbye to these characters. I am hoping to finish the few unfinished stories I have going, but I don't want to make any promises. Thank you all for being so sweet to me these last five and a half years. It has been an enormous joy in my life to share my words with you. Please do come and find me on Twitter: reallybeanie. I'd love to keep in touch!