A/N: Thank you all for reading not only this but our other works. We know that it seems that our stories are filled with hard times, and we admit they are, because they deal with real life situations. We have found this though, love is easy to give when everything is coming up roses, it is during the hard times, that we see who truly loves us and that is a lesson we try to bring out in our pieces. So please enjoy this, our last installment of this piece. Your reviews are appreciated.
Fifteen years later
Home of Mr. and Mrs. Mark Rabb
December 25, 2044
Mark sat in his robe, face lit only by the dim firelight and the lights on the tree. He and Jenna had used his Mom's candle lights this year making a beautiful old fashioned tree. In his hand he held the old snowman ornament that his father had given him fifteen years ago.
Mac was restless that morning, and slowly got out of bed. Leaning heavily on her cane she was now dependent on for walking she slowly walked to the long staircase. One by one she descended the steps pausing when...no it couldn't be. Sitting in Harm's old chair, in front of the fire was...no, no it couldn't be.
She thought back to a time long ago, a time when every morning would all but guarantee the same sight as she descended down the stairs. Harm would be wearing his robe and sitting in that chair, sometimes reading the paper, sometimes deeply lost in thought, but always sitting in that chair. Mark looked so much like his father had at that age, so much like him. For those fleeting moments, Mac would've sworn it was her beloved husband, once again in his chair.
Mark heard his mother's soft footfalls and turned to see her at the edge of the staircase. When the firelight hit his amazing blue eyes, she covered her mouth to stifle a heart breaking sob.
Mark rose and quickly went to his mother's side, "Mom, Mom, its okay, I'm here," he said softly, gently, taking his 76 year old mother into his strong arms.
"I miss him," she whispered very softly.
"I know, Mom. I know, I miss him too. Come sit down," he said gently and just as gently led her to his father's chair. Mac refused to sit in it.
"I can't," she cried, shaking her head. "Not yet, I just can't."
"Okay, okay," he said and eased her onto the sofa, automatically moving to get a pillow for her back. He eased her back and covered her thin legs with a blanket. "There you go. How's that?"
"Good," she said, her tears beginning to slow. "I'm sorry, sweetheart. You just, you looked so much like him sitting there like that, you know? You've always been the picture of your dad and granddad."
"Two strong men," Mark sighed. "I can't ask for more. I'm glad you brought his chair when you two moved in, even if none of us sat in it for the last year until I did just now. It still smells like him."
She nodded. "I loved that cologne he always wore. Something about it, I just loved it." Her chin began to quiver again.
Mark reached out and touched his mother's tears, "Dad wouldn't want us to be sad, Mom. He's hate it if he saw you crying on Christmas."
"What makes you think that?" asked Mac, raising her voice a bit. "He knew this year, this Christmas would be sad. He knew!"
Mark began to rub her back gently, "Mom, Mom, ssh...Ssh, this is not good for your health. Remember what the doctors said," he soothed. "Calm down...Its all all right."
She sobbed a few times, and then took a deep breath. "I don't know what I'd do without you, you and the others. I just miss your dad so much."
"Mom, Dad...he...that last year or so...He wasn't happy. He didn't want to live like that," Mark tried to soothe. "He didn't want you to live like that."
"I know," she said quietly, reaching out for her son's hand. "He did so well for so long, though."
Mark nodded, "He did. He did so well, but once his heart really started to fail, he couldn't fight both fights, he lost them both. But he was stubborn right up until the end. Remember?"
She smiled just a touch. "He was so many things; a quitter was never among them."
"He loved Christmas," Mark sighed.
"He didn't want it to be sad for the kids, or for me," Mac sighed. "I still can't believe it. He hadn't been up for days but Christmas morning, when I woke him…"
December 25, 2043
Mac rose from the bed she shared with her long time husband, showered, dressed, and then went to wake him so she might feed him his breakfast if he could even take any this morning and give him his medications before she went down to have Christmas with her children and grandchildren. She woke him as she did every morning, with a kiss, "Harm?" A soft kiss on this worn cheek. "Honey, wake up."
Harm lay in the bed he'd shared with Mac at Mark's home for the last fourteen years, covered with many blankets and quilts. His back was propped up with fluffy pillows, swollen legs elevated on more pillows. Mac would sleep by his side every night and days she sat in an easy chair by his bed, his right hand in hers. He held it lightly, unable to do more with it that that. He slept around the clock now, like an infant, he'd sleep, he'd wake, and he'd sleep, with no regard for the time of day. It had been days since he'd been strong enough to swallow more than a few sips of water, and at times he appeared sad, confused, and distracted. Still Mac sat by his side, holding his hand, chatting and talking, and rejoicing in the times, like now, when he'd know her and answer her. His speech was hampered by his shallow, fast, and sometimes painful breaths, but there moments with her were to precious to waste.
He slowly, painfully opened his eyes, blinking a few times as he woke up. "Morning," he whispered.
"Merry Christmas," Mac whispered. "How are you feeling this morning?"
"Mmm..." he replied. "Tired."
"I know," she soothed. "How about some breakfast and then you can nap?"
"What's today?" he asked wearily.
"It's Christmas," Mac replied. "December 25th."
His heavy eyes became brighter than they had in ages. "Thought so!" he exclaimed, as much as he could exclaim given how sick he was. "Kids?"
"Most are probably still in bed, I woke you early so I can go and watch them open gifts, that is if you don't mind," she queried softly.
"No...no," he said, shaking his head a little. "Don't mind. Sounds...great, sweetheart. Can I go?"
"Oh, Harm," Mac sighed. "I don't know...you're so weak...And I don't know how you'd get downstairs," she fretted.
"Mark can help," he said softly, pleading at her with his eyes.
"Honey, I...there's no way you can walk," she sighed. "James and John will have to help too."
Harm smiled at the mention of his grandsons, who were near mirror images of each other and looking very much like their father had at that age. "They will," he said quietly. "Please, Mac?"
She relented, "Okay. I'll get Mark."
His smile grew wider still. "Thanks."
Mark and his sons managed to get Harm down the stairs, but once settled in his wheelchair, he seemed uneasy. "What's wrong?" Mac asked.
"Blanket?" he asked, looking her in the eye.
"You want a blanket?" she asked.
"Mine," he said as a coughing fit came over him.
Mac moved in to handle the cough fit, rubbing his back and suctioning his mouth. "Johnny, please?" she asked. Her grandson knew just what his Grandpa meant. He wanted the old worn, throw they'd given him 14 years ago.
Within 2 minutes, the young man returned with the blanket. "Here, Grandpa" he said, laying it over Harm.
Harm had just calmed from his coughing fit and Mac was lovingly holding and oxygen mask over his lips. Johnny set the blanket on his grandfather's legs, "Let's get some presents opened huh?" he suggested to his younger sister, Mark's youngest five year old Michele who was sad at seeing Harm so sick.
Michele ran to the tree and grabbed a package. "Here Grandpa," she said, running back to him with a box wrapped in shiny green paper. She'd just learned to read, but she knew that box was for her beloved Grandpa. She held it up for him to take, but he was too weak.
He looked at Mac, eyes conveying the need for help.
"I'll help you," said Johnny, rising from his seat on the sofa and moving towards his grandfather. He took the box from Michelle, and standing as close to Harm's chair as he could, he began tearing off the paper just as he'd done when he was little enough to sit on Harm's lap. He started a corner, and held the box down for Harm to tear more of the paper off, a task he was able to partially accomplish.
Finally the task was completed and Johnny lifted the lid off the box to reveal to Harm's failing eyesight a beautifully framed family portrait of not just Mark's family, but of all the Rabb children and their spouses and children.
"Wow," gasped Harm, unable to think of any better word for the gift before him. He couldn't see it very well, but he knew so well what his loved ones looked like, what little he could see clearly made him smile.
"Do you like it?" Michele asked. "It was my idea!"
"Love it," he said. "Thank...you, baby." He motioned for Johnny to lift her up so he could give her a tiny kiss.
The rest of the gifts were opened and Harm sat and watched his loved ones having fun and smiling, though before too long he became too weak to maintain an upright posture so Mark and the boys hurried him up to bed.
Mac situated him, "What do you need to be comfortable?" she asked.
"Picture," he whispered, so softly she almost didn't hear him.
"I'll send Mark up with it," she replied. She needed time to herself just then.
December 25, 2044
"It was probably his favorite time of year," sighed Mac, her mind beginning to wander back.
"I know it was," Mark sighed. "Even in his pain last year, he managed to sit up in his chair long enough to watch the kids open their gifts..." Mark shook his head and fought a sob of his own. "I wish I could be more like him."
She touched his knee softly. "You're so much like him, Mark. The way you love, it's just like him. Don't forget that."
"Am I doing it right, Mom?" he asked, two tears escaping his eyes. "Am I making him proud?"
Mac could only nod at first, too overcome with emotion to speak. "Oh my yes" she finally whispered. "He's as proud of you now as ever, I promise."
"You know," Mark said. "He and I talked a good while that day. Did I tell you that?" he asked.
"No," Mac shook her head. "What about?"
December 25, 2043
As Mark turned to leave his father for his nap after bringing him his family portrait and setting it so he could see it without having to strain, Harm called to him with what little voice he could muster at that point. "Son?"
"Yes, Dad," Mark said moving near his father's bedside.
"Take care of her," said Harm. "Promise?"
"Of who? Of Mom?" Mark asked to clarify.
Harm replied with a barely detectible nod. "Yours now. All of it."
"No, Daddy," Mark shook his head. "No. I can't."
"Mark," he said gently. "I'm...done. All yours now."
"Dad, I can't do it like you can," Mark said fighting tears.
He knew this was his father's last Christmas, perhaps his last day with them.
Harm reached out from beneath his special blanket to touch Mark's hand. "Do it...like you can. You set the tone, you show them how. I'll always be here, just think of me and you'll know," he wheezed.
Mark nodded, he knew this is what his father needed, "I'll take good care of her. Of all of them. I promise," Mark whispered through tears.
Harm smiled. "I know. I...love you, son."
"I love you too, Dad," Mark replied as he leaned over to kiss Harm's cheek. He wasn't sure if he heard him, he was all ready asleep.
December 25, 2044
"I'm sorry about last year," Mark apologized for what had to be the millionth time. "I tried you know?"
"I know, sweetheart," she said. "I know how hard it was on you, on all of you kids."
"I should have been there for you," Mark sighed. "Dad wouldn't have left."
"Don't beat yourself up," she said. "It's okay. It's what Dad wanted."
"I wish though I'd been there, with him, with you...I feel like I missed something really special," Mark sighed and eased Mac against him noticing her shiver.
"It was special, yes" she said, her minds eye reliving that day...
December 26, 2043
"Harm?" she said softly as he slowly opened his eyes, in spite of the fact it was nearing midnight on Christmas Day. "Harm, Sweetie?"
"Hmm...?" he answered his speech not fully awake yet.
"Hi," she smiled. "You want some water?"
"No," he gasped out.
"Are you sure?" Mac asked. "You haven't had anything to drink most all day. Isn't your mouth dry?"
"No," he said again. "Don't want it."
Mac sighed, the doctor told her this would happen at the end, and she could feel that it was near. Instead she reached for a moist towel and ran the edges over his lips, "There now." She smiled. "How do you feel?"
"Like I'm dying," he answered honestly, a little grin on his pale face.
She squeezed the cold hand she held, "You are dying," she said softly. "Any pain? Can I do anything?"
"You can kiss me," he said, his deep blue eyes sparkling a bit less than they once did, but the devotion and love was still very much present.
Mac let go of his hand, and moved to sit on the edge of the bed. She ran a hand down his tired face caressing his cheek and leaned over him, placing her lips to his cool bluish tinged one. "How's that?" she asked, moving her hand to his chest as it fought to keep him breathing and rubbing in soft circles.
"Like always," he sighed.
Mac smiled, and started to cry,
"I'm going to miss you so much. I don't know if I can go on without you."
He looked intently into her eyes. "Promise me you will, Mac. Promise me."
"I can promise I'll try," she replied. "Why couldn't...Why couldn't it be me?"
"No!" he said, with more power than anything he'd mustered in weeks. "Don't say that, no! Me, it has to be me."
"Why?" she sobbed, not caring about being strong when her husband of 40 years was dying before her eyes.
"It just does," he replied, his strength again fading fast. "Some things just...are."
Mac nodded and wiped her tears, "You rest now. It's okay."
He shook his head a little, as much as he could. "No, not okay. You're sad."
"That's okay," Mac smiled. "It's okay for me to be sad. But you're in pain, aren't you?"
"Seeing you hurt," he said, pausing for a breath. "Gives me pain."
Mac tried to bite back the tears and instead focused on softly rubbing his chest trying to ease the ache she knew was there. He fell silent and watched her work.
"What day is it?" he asked. "I don't feel good."
"It's Christmas Day night," Mac replied. "Why don't you rest?"
"No good," he muttered. "Don't feel good."
"I know you don't," Mac soothed. "And it's okay to rest. I'll be okay, the kids will be fine, it's okay, Harm. It's okay. Just rest. Just let go and rest."
"What time is it?" he asked breathily.
"Its 11:21," Mac replied. "You said you don't feel well?"
"What day is it?" he asked again, seeming to lose a bit of his fight to stay awake.
"It's Christmas Day," Mac replied softly. "Its 23:21 on Christmas Day. You look tired."
"Am tired," he gasped. "Can't rest. Head hurts."
"Can I help?" Mac asked him all ready moving her hand to his head and soothing the forehead and temples with her fingers.
"Hurts," he said, closing his eyes and the forcing them open again.
"Ssh," Mac soothed. "Ssh, I'm right here. I love you and I'm right here. It's okay now. You rest. Go to sleep, let go, and rest. Go on, it's okay," she repeated as she soothed his tortured body with soft touches.
"Time is it?" he mumbled.
"23:43," Mac replied. "Why does that matter?" she asked. "Are you waiting for something or someone? I can get them for you."
"Dad," he mumbled, barely audible.
"You're waiting for you Dad?" Mac asked. "Would you like me to get you his picture?" She moved her hands to his arms and continued her massage.
He was quiet now, all his strength tapped for the time being, his breathing shallow. He felt her hands, and he wanted to remember that feeling.
Mac kept it up, alternating with soft murmurs that she and their children were all just fine and this it was fine for him to rest now, that they'd all be all right. Still he fought on.
"So tired..." he whispered several moments later.
"Ssh," Mac soothed. "Go to sleep. I won't leave you. You're okay, it's all okay. Let go now...Go see your Dad."
He drew in a few labored breaths. "Time is...it?"
"Its 0002," Mac replied. "Christmas is over."
"Missed...it," he said, his voice almost inaudible.
"Missed what?" she asked still soothing his chest with her hands.
"Ch...Christmas" he answered.
"No, no," she soothed. "You were there. Remember? You sat in your wheelchair and opened gifts with us. Remember?"
He shook his head. "Promise..." he gasped out. "Broke...it. So...Sorry..."
"I was the one who made you promise," she told him. "That means I can free you from it. Now all I want is for you to sleep. It's okay. We'll be okay."
He opened his eyes and looked into hers as a single teardrop rolled down his cheek. "Love...you...forever."
"I'll love you forever," she replied and leaned down to kiss his parted lips.
"Till...forever," he whispered, letting his eyes close.
With those last words, Harm's breathing slowed, and quieted, then finally, and mercifully stopped. Mac sat with him alone until morning, when Mark found her, holding his father's body close, all she had to say to him was "He's gone."
December 25, 2044
"I'll never forget the look on your face," she said to her son.
"I'll never forget how peaceful he looked," Mark sighed. "After nearly a year of being sick and bedridden and in pain, he was so free." Mark put his arm around Mac's shoulders as she shivered and eased her against him. Wearily she laid her head on his chest.
"I'm tired," she said softly.
"You want to go back up to bed?" Mark asked. "Do you need help? Legs hurting?"
"No," she said. "I'm fine here...right here."
Mark tightened his embrace around his mother's shoulders, "I love you, Mom."
"I love you, sweetheart," she said as she closed her eyes.
Mark closed his eyes as he held his mother close to him, healing her pain, as his father would have done had he been alive.
December 25, 2044
Mark didn't wake again until he felt Mac's body shutter in his grasp. She lay nestled against her eldest son, a smile on her face. She'd passed peacefully in her sleep, the way she'd always hoped everyone close to her could go.
Mark sat in the dark in silence, occasionally feeling a tear drip down his cheek. Soft footsteps and a gentle hand brought him around, "Mark, Sweetheart?" Jenna asked. "Come up to bed."
He looked up at his wife with a heartbroken smile. "She's with dad."
Jenna sat down beside him, "She's gone?" she asked, not really believing it. She seemed to be sleeping.
Mark broke down and began to sob, his arms still around his mother. He'd missed his father's last moments, but he was with his mother for hers, and he'd never forget that.
"Harm," Mac said as they watched their eldest son be comforted by his wife's soothing touch. "He's so sad."
Harm held her close. "He misses you already. He'll be okay though, they all will."
"He's our baby and he needs us," Mac sighed. "I...can't. I have to hold him. We always held them when they cried."
Harm smiled the same smile he'd worn for all his life on earth. "We still can."
Mac nodded and smiled, taking his hand. Mark lay against his wife's chest feeling her arms around him. As he cried for his mother and his father, though he felt a burst of love, of the love only parents can give. He felt his father's tenacity and his mother's grace, his father's determination and his mother's quiet strength, his father's wisdom and his mother's passion, all flowing through him, living again in him. In that minute he knew he could do it, that he wasn't going to have to carry the family Rabb alone, the patriarch and matriarch still lived, inside him. He pulled away from Jenna, and met her eyes, wet also with tears, "We'll be all right now. It's all going to be all right." And for Rabbs everywhere, on earth or in heaven above, that's just what life was, all right.
A/N: We held off on posting this given the sensative content, but for us Christmas is not only a time for love and sharing, but a time to remember and reflect on the loved ones that have passed on. This is dedicated in loving memory of all those we have loved that have gone to the angels. We thank you for reading and we will be back to our regular stories in a few days. Happy New Year!