chapter seven: noel

"Merry Christmas." Kilmer gave a gift-wrapped box to Frankie then sat down, waiting for her to open it.

She held it in her lap and looked at Kilmer. "John, I don't have anything for you. The hospital's gift shop is limited for choice and--"

"Frankie, you're here. You're alive. I couldn't ask for anything more."

Frankie smiled, lost for words. She lifted the lid, then smiled. Nestled on a bed of tissue paper was a black satin nightgown. "Oh, it's beautiful. Thank you."

"If you really want to give me a present, you can wear it for me when you get out of here."

His comment caused Frankie to laugh. "I should have known you had an ulterior motive."

He shrugged, but he didn't deny it.

"Come here." She moved so there was space for him to sit next to her. When he sat down, she leaned in to kiss him, hesitant at first, then growing braver when he returned the kiss. His hands stole to her waist. Feeling oddly light-headed, Frankie broke the kiss. "Wow."

"I'll second that."

Frankie covered his left hand with hers, then realized for the first time that he was wearing his wedding ring. She ran her finger over the metal band, reluctant to look up and meet Kilmer's gaze.

"There's no pressure, Frankie."

"Okay." She slid off the bed. "We'd better go."


"Where's your mother?" Frankie was strangely nervous. She still couldn't look at Kilmer.

"She went to church."

"Okay." Frankie opened the drawer and took out her gift to Bella. She'd asked Faye to buy a Barbie coloring book for her, though now she wondered if Bella would ever be strong enough to use it.

When Kilmer put his hand at the small of her back, leaving it there as they walked to Bella's room, Frankie tried to ignore how good his touch felt. There's no pressure. Right, she thought, except he was wearing his wedding ring!

Bella's parents were there when Frankie and Kilmer arrived. Frankie introduced them to Kilmer, noticing how tired they both looked. Then she bent to kiss Bella's cheek.

"Hey, Bella."

"Frankie." Her voice was no more than a whisper.

"Bella, this is John."

Bella smiled weakly. "He came back."

"Yeah, you were right."

"Mommy, where's Frankie's present?"

"Here, sweetheart." Cathy Ryan placed the gift in her daughter's hand, then smiled at Frankie. "It means a lot to her, you being here."

"Well, she's a special girl."

"Open it, Frankie."

Frankie carefully unwrapped the gift, struggling not to cry when she saw what it was. A tiny gold cross hung from a thin chain. Bella reached up to touch the cross around her own neck.

"Now we match."

"Thank you, Bella. I love it. John?"

He took it from her trembling fingers and fastened it around her neck. Then he left his hand on her shoulder, his thumb gently stroking her skin, letting her know that he was there. Frankie held up the coloring book.

"I got you something too."

Bella yawned, fighting sleep. "Thanks."

"Why don't you open it later, pumpkin?" Cathy stroked her daughter's head. "Maybe you won't be so tired then."

Angel showed her ID at the security check before being waved through. Navigating the corridors of the White House with a familiar ease, it didn't take her long to arrive at the Chief of Staff's office. This wasn't the first time she'd been here; as always, the meeting was set for a time when the building was at its emptiest and there was no chance of Angel bumping into anyone she knew.

His secretary was absent so she knocked and went straight in.

Of course, she thought, it was Christmas. Then she wondered what was so important that it had her godfather at work on the biggest holiday of the year.

Angel hated these meetings-- she was so afraid of letting him down-- but they were a necessary part of her job. "Good afternoon, sir."

Chief of Staff Leo McGarry came around the desk and greeted her with a hug. "Angel! I heard about the accident. I'm sorry."

She shrugged. "I've been in worse situations."

"True, true." He gestured for her to sit, then perched on the edge of the desk. "How is the investigation going?"

"I think you suspect the wrong person."

He raised his eyebrows. "What makes you say that?"

"He doesn't have it in him. He's not a traitor."

"How can you be so sure?"

"I think he's being set up to take the fall for someone else."

"Do you have any evidence?"

"Some, not enough." Not nearly enough, she thought, but couldn't admit that here. "I don't think Sadiq Fasil was working for Black Sun this time. Or, if he was, I think someone else told him to take Frankie."

McGarry nodded. "Her death would destroy Kilmer." He sighed. "I take it you've arranged for protection at GW?"

"Yes, sir. Special Agent Margo Hatcher. She's Secret Service."

"Okay." McGarry stood. "Good work, Angel."

"Thank you, sir." She picked up her crutches and hobbled to the door.

"One more thing, do you have an idea who might want Kilmer framed?"

Angel shook her head. "I'm sorry, sir. I don't. I'm working on it, though."

"Good girl. Merry Christmas. Give my regards to your parents."

"I'll do that. Merry Christmas, sir." Switching from professional to familiar, she gave him a stern look. "I hope you're not planning on spending the whole day here."

He gave her a guilty smile, then picked up his coat. "I was just finishing up here. Let me walk you out."

Frankie waited until they were back in her room before telling Kilmer what was on her mind. She bit her lip, knowing it wouldn't sit well with him.

"Bella needs a bone marrow transplant. I've been thinking about having my blood tested to see if I'm a match."

Kilmer shook his head. "Frankie, you're still sick."

"I have to do something to help her. You saw her, John." Tears burned Frankie's eyes. "She's six years old. She's probably not going to live long enough to have her birthday party next month. She shares a birthday with you, you know."

"Frankie," Kilmer said gently, "she's not Amy."

"I know."

She moved to the window, needing the distance. Kilmer came up behind her, putting his arms around her to keep her from walking away. "It wasn't your fault."

She hadn't believed that then and she didn't believe it now. They'd had this conversation countless times in the days following the miscarriage. When Frankie had decided it was all too much, Kilmer had let her walk away.

Somehow, she knew that he wouldn't be so quick to let her go this time.

"Didn't you ever wonder if I'd done something to cause it? If I'd pushed myself too hard or if I didn't look after myself well enough? If--"

"Stop it, Frankie. It's in the past. You have to move on." He turned her around, then tipped her chin so she was looking at him. "Let her go."

She didn't know if he meant Amy or Bella, or both.

"I'd like us to move forward, Frankie. A fresh start."

"We can't just wipe away the past."

He nodded. "I know. But we can stop letting it eat us up. Can we try again?"

"It's not going to be easy."

"I know."

Take that leap. Frankie smiled. "Okay."

Kilmer bent to kiss her. Frankie felt for his hand and twined her fingers through his. This time, the feel of his ring was comforting rather than frightening.

She thought she might just be okay.


Next: "Perfidy", in which we find out what Angel's really up to, and can Frankie and Kilmer really make it work?