(disclaimers et all in first chapter)
She sat on the hospital bed, on the side closest to the Police Captain. "The scene had long been closed, the evidence collected, but Gil had a hunch."
«It was a valid suspicion!»
She sighed, brushing her hand through his hair, her fingers trailing down his closed lids. She gently touched the tube that ran from one cheek to the other, nestled a top his upper lip and offering air passage through his nose. "You know what happens when Gil has a hunch," she smiled, glancing up at Jim.
«I can't believe you're calling me stubborn, especially when I don't have a chance to defend myself.»
Jim nodded, offering no verbal response but a smile twinkled in his eye.
"I was with him at the time - he just wanted to make a little stop, check something out." She took a deep breath, seeing the scene unfolding before her. "We cut the tape that sealed the door and entered the premises. Everything was in darkness - the power had long since been cut. Gil headed straight for the sitting room, standing right underneath this large wooden arch that separate the hallway from the room. It was almost like he knew what he was looking for," she trailed off, brow furrowed.
"What did you find?" Jim asked, leaning forward in his chair.
«Always one to cut to the chase, huh Jimmy?»
Catherine paused, twining her fingers in Gil's non-responsive grip. "Mistletoe." She replied softly. "It would have been romantic -"
«It still was -»
" - if it were not for the current environment." She laughed nervously, tucking her hair behind her ears.
Jim raised his eyebrow, a knowing smirk dying to escape but knowing better than to face the wrath of Catherine Willows. He choked back his grin and motioned for her to continue.
"It was weird, Jim...but something was there," she mumbled, forgetting the recorder and glancing down at her best-friend. She gently cupped his cheek, her palm tingling as it brushed up against his beard.
«Something was there, Catherine. You felt it too...»
She closed her eyes briefly, remembering the scene vividly.
He stands there and glances up, smirking pompously. He knows she's irked because he's proven her wrong yet again, and it delights him in a perverse manner. He calls her close and motions the top-most leaf, hoping she sees the dried up blood that lies hidden.
He feels funny and realizes that she's not looking at the mistletoe, but at him. His eyes fall to her, holds her gaze.
He sees her lean forward.
He sees her part her lips.
He feels her lips brush against his, so minutely that he's not sure whether it was a physical experienced or a ghostly wish that brought such tingles to course through his body. She's about to say something but something presses into his back. He doesn't dare to turn around but keeps his gaze on hers.
"We spotted the mistletoe above, and Gil pointed out a few blood drops on one of the leaves. But if the shots were too the abdomen, there's no way the spatter could reach that high, so the possibility of finding the killer's DNA had increased." She took a deep breath, her eyes skipping along the dotted-print of the hospital gown, as she recalled the event, "all of a sudden, Gil's eyes went wide and he took a step closer to me, his body dwarfing mine."
«I just wanted to protect you.»
"Jonah Samson had returned to the crime scene, had listened in on Gil's discovery. At first, he was just going to shoot us point blank, but he didn't...turned out he wanted something else."
«In those few minutes, he saw something we had been blind to see for the past twenty years.»
"He placed us, with meticulous precision, underneath the mistletoe. Gil already knew it, and only later did I finally understand what he was doing, when it was too late." Catherine sighed, stretching her legs slightly. "Jonah had watched his parents be executed in front of him, on Christmas Eve, when he was seven. Twenty years after their death, he started reproducing the murders, taking the lives of loves he deems pure."
«That's how he associated his parents' love.»
"We didn't pre-empt the third murder...we were the third pair of victims. He chose us because -"
« - because he knew, Catherine.»
"Jonah mentioned this deep love that he saw between us." She paused, a silly smile briefly appearing before confusion took over. "Gil didn't deny it."
«How can you deny love's truth?»
Catherine shrugged, unable to finish her sentence. "Gil started arguing with him, pushing him until he made a move. Jonah fired a warning shot, all according to Gil's plan. Within ten minutes, sirens could be heard in the distance." Catherine glanced over at Gil, regret and worry etched into her eyes. "He kept pushing me behind him, forcing me away from the loaded weapon."
«It was my fault, I shouldn't have insisted on following that stupid hunch.»
"Jonah drew his weapon, and told us to take our positions, face to face, arms wrapped around each other, lips touching."
"One bullet was to be fired, and I think for a split second, we both accepted our fate."
«My dying wish had always been to see your face last.»
"It was like, despite dying...we were still in each other's arms and almost as if," she paused, biting down on her trembling lip, "almost as if everything was still going to be alright, because we were there, together."
«Heaven before Hell.»
Her shoulders slumped, as her mind's eye drew the final pictures.
He hears the man barking orders and he takes his place, his arms resting tightly around her waist. There's a gun pressed to his back, but he still feels secure. Adrenaline and love create a noxious mixture in his belly, and holds his breath, trying to calm his racing heart.
He presses his body to hers, feels her chest against his. His pelvis presses against hers, and he knows she can feel his reaction; he sees it in her eyes that his inappropriate arousal is shared alone. Their bodies bring forth a spark that can't be ignored, and they both acknowledge the attraction, albeit too late.
And it's the regret that he sees in her eyes. His own is reflected, magnified by the amount shining in her tears.
He hears the gun cock, and his fingers tighten around her waist. He counts, two...three and pushes her aside and turns swiftly, throwing himself on top of the assailant.
The gun still goes off.
The bullet only reaches one of its target.
"He pushed me out of the way...he saved my life, Jim." Her hand caressed his forearm, as her eyes trailed over to his waist, looking at his wounded area, hidden by the blanket and hospital gown. She took a breath, tears gently rolling down her reddened cheeks. "The cops came and..." She shrugged lethargically, motioning to him that he knew the rest.
Jim stopped the recorder and slipped it back into his pocket. "Thanks...I'll just need to confirm the statement with Gil," he began, giving her a sheepish smile.
"Not now...he's sleeping," she whispered out, stretching out beside him. She curled up, her body pressed up alongside his.
Jim nodded and brought his chair to the other side, and stretched out, folding his arms across his chest. He stared at his friend, thanking the higher ups for granting him such luck. "A clean in and out."
«I had unfinished business, Jim. After seeing that look in her eyes, I couldn't...»
Soon, Jim's eyes began to close and he gently dozed, following Catherine to the slumber's land.
He opened his eyes, a sharp inhalation gently coaxing sleep away. "Hey."
Gil smiled weakly, swallowing hard. "This hurts like a bitch," he croaked softly, sighing a small laugh at the toothy grin his friend offered him.
"I could imagine."
He motioned the Police Captain with a slight nod. "Watching over me while I sleep? Even for you, that's a little creepy."
"Shut up, I need a statement," Jim rolled his eyes, taking out his recorder.
Gil closed his eyes, letting out a slow exhalation. "Tomorrow Jim...besides, everything she said, essentially happened."
"You were awake?"
"In and out," he grinned, giving his long-time friend a wink.
"You sure...nothing more?" Jim asked, putting away his recorder.
"Christmas time always made me feel invincible," Gil began, a ghost of a smile resting on his lips as nostalgia tried to creep in. Eyes open, images filtered through his mind's eye, recollections of him forcing Catherine behind him in the means of protection.
He glanced back up at the Jim, offering him an embarrassed smile. "When I was younger, I had this belief that the Snow Angels were watching down on me, protecting me." He looked away, seeing the young man standing there, gun pointed and rage in his eyes. He could almost hear the sirens, see the lights dance across the room, courtesy of a slightly uncovered window. In his mind, his hands were up in a defensive peace offering, his eyes attempting to be soft and kind.
He blinked, his eyes trailing back to his friend. "But of course, as I matured, so did my beliefs," he explained, shrugging lethargically. "I forgot about those mystical Snow Angels - with icicle wings and fireplace hearts. I forgot about that divine protection from above and started relying on genuine human kindness, especially that so often mythicized during the holidays," he paused, taking a breath, as he pictured him bartering...begging for Catherine's safety, "during Man's time of need."
He let out a small chuckle, his mind ping-ponging between now and then. "It was then I realized that Man's time of need isn't localized in a season, it's every second of breath exhaled -" He stopped abruptly, his side twitching as he recalled the agony he felt, sinking to his knees. The look of sheer horror in her eyes had frightened him more, and he forced himself to comfort her, despite his own situation.
Gil let out a shuddering laugh, dropping his head to the side and looking at his long-time friend. "This Christmas, Santa came down the chimney with a reality check, wrapped in a red bow, hand crafted especially for me." He couldn't hide the bitterness in his voice, and closed his eyes against the wave of pain that rippled in his side.
Jim heard him grunt and gave him a sad smile. "Sometimes," he began, standing up, "sometimes reality ain't all that bad," he stated wisely, nodding towards the other side of the bed, where Catherine lay curled up against his battered body. He turned to leave, heading towards the door.
"Yeah," Gil whispered, watching her sleeping form with admiration. He glanced towards his friend, holding out his hand, "Jimmy."
Jim smiled warmly, moving towards the hospital bed. He extended his hand, clasping Gil's in a firm shake. He covered his hand with his other, trying to convey thoughts of strength. "Merry Christmas."
Gil watched Jim leave, smiling at his retreating form. He glanced back down at Catherine, his arm tightening around her. He leaned his cheek against the top of her head, reminding himself to write a thank-you letter to dear old Saint Nick.