PLEASE SEE CHAPTER 1 FOR DISCLAIMER, NOTES, ETC.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Carter found himself humming as he walked down the hallway. He tried
to keep one eye on his patient's chart and the other on various
obstacles in his path. Deciding he could finalize this chart with
his signature, he stopped and held it against the wall, shaking the
pen a couple of times.

"You're wrong, you know," stated a wry voice to his left.

Without taking his eyes off the paper, he smiled and scribbled his name.
"Dare I ask what you're talking about?"

"That song you were humming. 'It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas'.
Wrong. Where's the snow?"

The past week had been unseasonably mild and all of the snow and ice
in the city had disappeared. It certainly made traveling conditions
easier but it didn't fit the holiday mood. With three more days to go
until the twenty-fifth, there was only a slight possibility of snow
on Christmas Eve. Everyone was predicting a green Christmas.

"So I should be singing 'Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow' instead?"
Carter inquired, clicking the pen and returning it to his lab coat pocket.

Lucy wrinkled her nose. "No. Don't sing. Please."

"I'll have you know, I'm an exceptionally fine singer," he deadpanned.

She snickered at that, her eyes bright with mischief. "Mr. Stein doesn't
think so. Remember the other day when he was fixing your door? We could
both hear you singing in the shower, all the way down the hall."

"Really?" he muttered, rather mortified at the thought. "All the
way down..." His voice faded out as he regarded her pursed lips, as if
she was trying to contain her laughter. "All right, you got me."

"The look on your face," she managed to say between giggles. "That was
priceless."

The sound of someone clearing their throat caught their attention.
Carter's eyes widened slightly as he looked towards the source.
"Gamma," he exclaimed.

"Sorry to interrupt," she stated dryly.

"No, not at all," he said quickly. "What are you doing here?"

"I came here to visit my grandson, whom I rarely see. Is that a crime?"

"Of course not," Carter murmured, suddenly reduced to feeling twelve
years old again instead of a fourth-year resident. His glance slid to
Lucy, who looked as though she didn't know whether to flee or come to
his aid. "Have you met Dr. Knight?"

Millicent Carter turned her piercing gaze towards the younger woman.
"No, I haven't had the pleasure."

"Gamma, this is Dr. Lucy Knight. Lucy, this is my grandmother, Millicent."

As the two of them exchanged hellos and shook hands, Lucy got the distinct
feeling that Gamma didn't think too highly of her. And she had no idea
what she had done to offend the woman.

"Could you excuse us, please. I need to talk to John," Millicent stated.

"Sure. It was nice meeting you, Mrs. Carter," Lucy said meekly,
quite aware that she had just been dismissed. With a last sympathetic
look in Carter's direction, she left the two of them alone.

"What's this about?" Carter asked, the wariness evident in his tone.
His grandmother certainly hadn't dropped by for a simple, friendly visit.
That wasn't her style.

Not one to mince words, she proceeded to the heart of the matter.
"Are you coming to the house for Christmas dinner?"

"I might not make it to dinner but I'll drop in after work."

Millicent's mouth flattened into a thin line. "That's just not acceptable."

Carter allowed himself a barely audible sigh, mentally counting to five
before he spoke. "I'm sorry but there's not much I can do if I'm working.
And unfortunately, I'm scheduled to work on Christmas."

"You've beeen working here for several years now. Surely there's someone
else who could fill in for you."

"Perhaps," he conceded. "But that's not the way I do things. I'm not
going to insist that someone take my place just so I can leave early to
eat some turkey." His voice was a little harsher than he had intended
and he softened his tone with his next words. "I promise to come by
right after my shift."

His promise didn't seem to be any consolation to his grandmother.
She still managed to look offended. "If you can't make the effort
for the sake of your parents and grandparents, perhaps you will for Chase.
When was the last time you saw him?"

That was a low blow and Carter gritted his teeth, feeling a sudden flash
of anger. "That is totally unfair and you know it. I see Chase as often
as I can."

Grandmother and grandson faced each other with matching frowns, locked into
a battle of wills. Neither seemed willing to back down and the silence
between them grew.

There was a sudden flurry of activity around them as several people
rushed by. One of them was Chuny. "Two GSWs pulling up, Carter,"
she called out over her shoulder.

He pushed himself away from the wall he'd been leaning against,
almost grateful for the excuse to slip away. "I've gotta go.
We'll talk about this later."

Millicent reached out to grab hold of his arm before he escaped.
"John." She waited until he reluctantly met her eyes. "I want the
family to be together for Christmas. That's all."

He was able to read the plea for understanding in her face but was in
no mood to be magnanimous right now. With a curt nod of his head,
he pulled out of her grasp and hurried down the hall. Meeting one of
the gurnies while it was in transit, he immediately took the lead.
"Give me the bullet," he snapped.

***************

Carter stepped back from the gurney as the patient was prepared to go
up to the OR.

Matt Foley, the surgical resident, threw an appreciative glance at him
as he started wheeling the stabilized man away. "Nice save, Carter.
You didn't even need me."

Carter acknowledged his words with what almost passed as a half-smile
but more resembled a grimace. Yanking off his gloves and yellow gown,
he pushed open the swinging trauma room doors with both hands,
leaving behind a startled group of nurses.

"What's up with him?" Chuny asked, voicing the question that they were
all asking themselves.

Carter had been like a small tornado during the trauma, barking orders
and performing every procedure with breathless speed and intensity.
It had been quite the sight to witness.

Four pairs of eyes turned towards Lucy and she raised her eyebrows,
her head swivelling back and forth between the expectant looks.
"What? You think I know something?"

"Well, the two of you do seem to be inseperable these days," Lydia stated
rather slyly.

"We're friends. Friends!" Lucy repeated for emphasis. From the grins
on the faces of all the nurses, it was obvious no one believed her.
"Oh, you are all impossible!"

She left the room in exasperation, wondering where Carter had gone.
Something was definitely bothering him and she didn't have to be a
genius to figure out that it had to do with his grandmother.

Wandering down the hall, she came upon the admit desk and approached
Randi. Before Lucy could even open her mouth, Randi pointed towards
the ambulance bay, snapping her gum. "He went outside."

"Who?"

"Carter. Isn't that who you're looking for?"

Add psychic powers to the list of Randi's many talents. "Yeah, thanks,"
Lucy said grudgingly, a little annoyed that everyone seemed to think
they knew her so well.

She peered through the glass, able to see Carter sitting on the bench.
Even from a distance, the set of his shoulders and his grim expression
told her that he was upset. Noticing that he shivered once involantarily,
she went back to the lounge to retrieve both of their coats before
heading outside to join him. Although it was fairly mild for December,
it was still the middle of winter.

As she slipped the warm wool of his coat over his shoulders, he gave
her a startled glance. "I didn't even see you," he said quietly.

"I know. Want some company?"

"I'm not very good company right now."

"That's okay. Unless you'd rather be alone," she added quickly,
suddenly feeling a little awkward. She didn't want to intrude.

But he wordlessly shook his head. Taking that as a sign to join him,
she settled on the edge of the bench. They sat in silence for a while.
"Want to talk about it?" she asked finally.

Leaning forward, he rested his elbows on his knees. He spoke slowly,
sounding weary. "It's the same old story. My family is still trying
to run my life, like they always have."

"What did your grandmother want?"

"She was trying to insist that I make it to the family dinner for
Christmas. The fact that I'll actually be working is no excuse.
I don't even want to go because the last time I saw my grandfather
we got into a huge argument."

"That was at Thanksgiving," Lucy said, recalling the incident. While the
two of them had eaten their own Thanksgiving feast at Doc Magoo's,
Carter had told her about the disagreement.

"Yeah. He just can't let go of the idea of me taking over the business.
He's always been after me about that but it's gotten worse since Chase..."
His voice trailed off for a moment but then he picked up the thread again,
an angry edge to his voice. "And that's another thing. Gamma brought
Chase into the picture, trying to convince me to come for dinner.
I love her. I really do. But I hate that she's so manipulative."

"I don't blame you," Lucy sympathized. "I guess I've taken it for
granted that my mom's always been really supportive of me. I wish
you had that kind of support from your family." It angered her to think
that the Carters couldn't appreciate this man for what he was; the most
gentle and generous soul that she'd ever known. She suspected that under
his outer veneer of anger lay a deeper well of hurt. She wished with all
her heart that she could simply gather him in her arms and take away
the pain. Since that wasn't possible, she settled with giving him a hug,
twisting around on the bench. As he returned the embrace, she murmured,
"You'll always have me."

At her words, Carter unconsciously tightened his arms around her,
dipping his head towards her shoulder. "You mean that, Luce?"

"Yes, I do. I..." Lucy suddenly swallowed, surprised by the three words
that popped into her head. Had she said them out loud?

"You what?"

"N-nothing," she stammered. "I just want you to know that I'm always
here for you."

Her heart seemed to skip a beat as she pulled back to look at him.
This was Carter. Her friend. Hadn't she just insisted to Lydia and
the other nurses that he was just a friend? So why was she getting a
fluttery feeling in the pit of her stomach now as she looked at him?

Over the past couple of months, her feelings for him had changed and
she hadn't even realized it.

"You okay?" he asked.

"Uh, yeah." No, she wasn't okay. She was wonderful. *He* was wonderful.

"You're giving me a weird look."

"I'm fine. Let's go back inside." She was starting to get chilled,
even though she felt an almost inner glow from her new discovery.

"You go ahead. I'll be in soon."

He still looked rather weary and she sensed that he needed some solitude.
With a gentle hand, she brushed a stray lock of dark hair from his
forehead. "Don't be long," she said softly.

Preoccupied with her thoughts, she almost walked right by the older,
distinguished looking woman as she stepped back into the ER.

"He's quite upset with me, isn't he."

A little startled to find herself facing Mrs. Carter again, Lucy quickly
composed herself. "You could say that," she responded coolly, wondering
how long Mrs. Carter had been watching them through the doors.

"I was going to try to talk to him again but you beat me to it. The two
of you seem to be very close."

"We're good friends."

"More than friends?"

Lucy felt a flush creeping up on her cheeks. "That's none of your business."

"Actually, my dear, it is my business. Especially since John has told
me all about you."

"He has?" She wasn't able to hide her surprise.

"Well, he hasn't exactly mentioned your name, but I do believe I've
managed to figure it out. He's quite taken with you."

The conversation seemed to have taken a surreal turn and Lucy simply
stood there, wondering what else Mrs. Carter could have to say to her.
She didn't have to wait long.

"You probably know that I've been trying to convince John to be
present at our Christmas dinner. It's a traditional get-together for
the Carters and he really should be there. Since you've become so
close to him, I was hoping you would be able to convince him to come."

Lucy didn't know whether to be annoyed or flattered that Mrs. Carter
would come to her for this request. "I know that Carter...John,
has already told you that he'll stop by after work. He might miss
out on dinner but you will see him. Isn't that enough?"

Millicent seemed to hesitate, as if she wasn't sure how much information
she wanted to reveal. It took her a few moments to respond. "It isn't
often that everyone in our family is able to get together like this.
Usually everyone is scattered to the winds. Even different parts of
the world. Take Thanksgiving last month, for instance. Only myself,
my husband and two of our grandchildren were present. John did stop
by for a short while but then he had to run off again. Usually it's the
same occurence at Christmas. But this year by some miracle,
everyone will be able to come except John, it seems."

One had to search hard enough but Lucy could see the underlying caring
in Mrs. Carter's formidable armour. She truly did love her grandson.

"What time are you planning to have dinner?" Lucy asked.

"Eight o'clock."

"Could you postpone it for a couple of hours?"

Millicent blinked, nodding her head slowly. "Yes, I suppose I could."

"I know it would make for a pretty late dinner but John could probably
leave around ten o'clock." Lucy paused, debating whether or not
she should speak her mind. Since witnessing Mrs. Carter's obviously
human side, she suddenly didn't seem so intimidating. "I only wish
you had spoken directly to John about this, instead of coming to me.
I don't like to be manipulated. And neither does he."

Her eyes narrowing, Millicent visibly bristled. She stared at the
young woman for several long seconds before breaking the gaze.
"Well, I appreciate your honesty," she said crisply, adjusting her
hat and tucking in a few stray strands. "You can tell John that I
will call him later to discuss this." She turned to walk away but
threw a final glance over her shoulder. "Oh, and I will be expecting
you to join us, Dr. Knight. Consider this an official invitation."

Lucy stared after her retreating back, not quite sure of what had
just happened. Considering she had just insulted the Carter family
matriarch, how had she managed to get herself invited to dinner?

***************

"Oh, damnit!" Lucy cursed, feeling the zipper catch on the edge of
the material. Her arm aching from the awkward position of bending it
around her back, she tugged on the zipper, trying to free it.
It was hopelessly stuck.

She was going to make them late and she got the feeling that the
Carters didn't appreciate tardiness. Why did this have to happen now?

The sharp rap on the door made her groan. Great, he was ready to go.
In her rush to get to the door, she stubbed her toe on the leg of
the coffee table. "Ow! Damnit!" She threw open the door,
momentarily distracted by how handsome he looked in his dinner jacket.
The sight of him almost made her forget she was in pain. Almost.
"I'm not going," she announced, standing on one foot and rubbing her toe.

"Hello to you too." Carter smiled, his eyes widening in appreciation
as he regarded her lithe form in the sleveless dress. "Having some trouble?"

"You could say that. The zipper is caught."

Closing the door behind him as he entered the apartment, he gestured
for her to turn around. "Let me help."

With a small sigh, Lucy turned her back towards him. It only took a
moment for him to have the zipper gliding smoothly upwards.
He lightly rested his hands on her shoulders, bending his head down
to her ear. "You look beautiful," he murmured.

"Thank you." She felt a tingle shoot up her spine as his warm breath
tickled her ear. "But I'm still not going."

"You don't want to disappoint my grandmother, do you?" he asked teasingly.
His hands fell back to his sides as she moved away. He could see that
she was a bundle of nerves, unable to remain still for very long.

"I keep telling you it wasn't a serious invitation. She kept stressing
that this is a family dinner. Why would she invite me?"

"And I keep telling you it's because she likes you. Believe me,
Gamma isn't one to joke around. She invited you because she wants you
to come. She told me about how you stood up to her. She liked that."

"Really?"

He chuckled softly at her unsure but hopeful tone. "Really. Don't worry,
I'll protect you. I won't let anyone bite you."

"Very funny." Lucy willed herself to calm down. With her stomach tied
up in knots, she was afraid she wouldn't be able to eat a bite.
Either that or she'd throw up right at the table. She had been trying
to memorize the names of the relatives she'd be meeting tonight
but it was impossible. She got as far as his immediate family,
namely his sister Barbara and his parents Roland and Julia. Then there
were his grandparents, John and Millicent. She was also able to remember
two cousins, Chase and Steven. But that was as far as she could get.
The other names Carter had rattled off earlier were a blur.

Carter stepped closer to her, ducking his head down almost to her level.
"Relax, Luce. Everyone will love you." He dropped a light kiss on her
forehead, thinking back to the last time their lips had met. They had
never talked about the impulsive kiss she had given him on Thanksgiving.
But he found himself thinking about it now. "Close your eyes."

She gave him a suspicious sidelong glance. "Why?"

"Just do it. Please."

Giving him one last questioning look, she dutifully closed her eyes.
He pulled out a long, slim, velvet case from his inside jacket pocket
and placed it into one of her hands.

"Okay, you can open them." He waited until she opened her eyes and
looked down at what she held. "Merry Christmas."

"But we already exchanged gifts this morning," she protested,
looking rather dismayed. Before heading to work, she'd gone across
the hall to his apartment for an early breakfast and an informal exchange
of presents. He'd gotten her a replacement pair of slippers for her
tattered pink ones; bunny slippers, to be more exact. Millie had
pounced on them ferociously the minute she'd unwrapped them.
Along with the slippers, he'd given her a CD that she'd been wanting.

She'd had a tough time deciding what to get him and of course, had left
it until the last minute. Finally, she'd settled on suspenders and an
elegant black scarf. She'd been pleased to see him wearing his new scarf
when she'd opened the door earlier.

Now she found herself shaking her head as she regarded the velvet box.
"What have you done, John?" she asked softly. Funny how she thought of
him as John now. She wasn't exactly sure when that had happened, but it
might have been during the conversation with Mrs. Carter at County.
His grandmother had kept referring to him as John and somehow,
it had stuck.

She held out the gift towards him. "I can't accept this."

His face fell with disappointment. "Why not?"

"It's far too expensive. I don't even have to open it to know that."
Although a part of her was longing to take the gift, it didn't seem right.
But she could see from his face that she was hurting his feelings.

"I bought it for you. Please take it."

"But it's...it's too much." She could feel her resolve weakening.

"It's not too much for the woman I love."

Lucy swallowed, her mouth suddenly seeming too dry. Her lips parted
but no sound emerged. She simply gaped at him as he rushed on.

"I know you don't feel the same way about me but that's okay. Maybe I
shouldn't have said anything. I don't want to ruin the friendship
between us. But I've felt this way for a long time now and I just
had to say it. I hope I haven't spoiled things for us. If you want
to just stay..." His words tumbled out in a nervous flow until he
felt two of her fingers on his lips. He trailed off into silence,
looking down at her uncertainly.

"You can stop," she said, her words hushed as she felt her eyes welling
with tears. "I love you too."

Her declaration made his heartbeat quicken with surprise and joy.
"You do?" He could hardly believe it.

She nodded, trying to gather her scattered thoughts. "I think I've
always loved you. Maybe I just didn't know it. But I know it now."
Standing on tip toe, she wrapped her arms around him and laid her
head against his chest. "I love you, John."

As he held her tightly in his arms, he felt a calm sense of peace
surround him, as if he'd come home. He'd finally found what he'd
been searching for all these years. And now that he'd found her,
he vowed never to let her go.

One of his hands reached upwards to cradle her head. As she pulled back
slightly to look up at him, he lowered his head, his eyes traveling
from her tearful gaze to her mouth. Their lips met tentatively
at first; soft, feathery light kisses. But that wasn't nearly enough
and soon the kisses deepened, their mouths seeking each other's
hotly and hungrily.

Finally becoming out of breath, they reluctantly parted for air.
They stared at each other, both rather taken aback by the quick passion
that had ignited between them. "Wow," Lucy murmured. She could see a
reflection of the same desire in his eyes and suddenly wished they didn't
have to go out for dinner.

The forgotten gift slipped from her fingers and fell to the floor.
Wordlessly, Carter stooped to retrieve it. He opened the lid and
presented it to her with both hands.

She gasped with delight when she saw it. "It's beautiful."

"Shall I put it on?"

She nodded, turning around. He placed the necklace around her throat,
his fingers a little clumsy with the clasp. She stepped in front of
the small mirror by the door, admiring the sparkle of the necklace.
It was a simple piece of jewellery; a single diamond suspended on a
delicate platinum chain. The simplicity of it complemented her classic
black dress.

Although it was obvious by her expression, he had to ask the question
anyway. "So you like it then?"

"I love it! Thank you." Whirling around, she flung her arms around
him again.

He started to laugh softly, enjoying her reaction. He soon stopped
in mid-breath, however, as she pressed her lips against his again. Before he
could get any more involved in the kiss, he forced himself to break away.
"If we don't stop here, we're never going to leave," he said, his voice low.
"Not that I would mind..."

She sighed. "But I suppose your family might have something to say
about that. Okay, I just need a couple more minutes to get ready."

Two minutes stretched into fifteen before they headed outside towards
his car. Both were surprised to find a light dusting of snow on the ground.

"Well, looks like it's technically a white Christmas after all," he remarked.

They stopped for a moment to look up at the star filled sky. Without a
breath of wind in the air, the snowflakes drifted down lazily around them.
It was a picture-perfect night.

Lucy sought the warmth of Carter's hand. As his fingers closed around hers,
they continued to walk, their footprints side by side in the newly fallen snow.

THE END