Title: Warm Up
Author: Banana Tooth
Disclaimer: I am in no way connected with CBS, the CSI Franchise, or its writers, producers, or directors.
I usually don't wait this late to get out my decorations. I spend so little time at home that I like to have them out early, to give me more chances to enjoy them. But so much has been happening, I just haven't gotten around to decorating yet.
I don't put out many—just some I've collected and treasured over the years, ones with sentimental value. I set up my little artificial tree first, and hang the ornaments, pausing with each one to remember the story behind it, like I always do.
I save one for last, leaving a place for it right in front, also as I always do. It's a little pewter crèche, and I hold it for a moment, brushing my thumbs across the grooves in the metal, remembering. Mac and Claire gave it to me, the last year she was here. Their real gift was a sweater, baby-soft and just the right shade of green, which Claire had chosen with her usual flawless taste. I still have that. But for some reason it's the ornament that they'd attached to the outside of the package that I always remember.
My throat hurts, a little. I rouse myself and hang the ornament on the tree, adjusting it so it hangs just right, nestled in the branches. Then I stand back to admire my work. It's a pretty little tree, full of memories, a diverse collection of ornaments that somehow—to me, anyway—are beautiful together. And, as usual, I feel like crying.
Instead, I get my other box and bring it over to the table I've cleared off. Even more than I love my tree, I love my village.
It's a set of little ceramic pieces: a church, three houses, a general store, and a post office. They have snow on the roofs, wreaths on the doors, Christmas trees in the windows—a quaint little holiday scene, exquisitely detailed.
Mac had given me the church first, that first Christmas after the towers fell. His voice tight, he'd told me how that summer he and Claire had discovered the little shop that made them. Claire had fallen in love with them, and picked that one out for me.
I was crying by then. I'd been very, very careful about crying around him, but that time I couldn't help it. I pulled him into my arms and held him for a long time, and something happened that night. I knew that somehow, sometime, we were both going to be okay.
Every year since then, Mac has given me another piece. They're hand-painted, each one-of-a-kind, and I know they must cost a fortune, but he wants to do it. I think maybe he needs to do it. And I love them, so much.
He offered, one time, to take me so I could choose my own, but I'd told him no, it meant more to me for him to pick them out. He'd smiled shyly at that, and smiled even more when I leaned over and kissed his cheek.
I carefully unwrap each little building and arrange them, kneeling on the floor in front of the table. Leaning on my elbows, I trace my fingertips along the roof of the post office and think of Mac choosing it for me, picking it up in his strong, graceful hands and considering whether I'd like it, when actually I'd love anything he picked for me, even if it was hideous…
A huge grin spreads over my face when I hear the little tap at my front door. Only one person knocks like that. He never uses the doorbell if I don't know he's coming; he just knocks quietly—in case I'm asleep, I guess.
I jump up and practically run to the door. Then I check myself, and take a second to regain my composure before I open the door, still grinning like a fool. He grins back at me, standing on my doorstep. "Hey," he says.
"Hey." I can't stop smiling, because just like that, out of the blue, he's here.
"Brought you something," he murmurs, and hands me the square white box. I beam at him, and take his hand and draw him to the table, where I open the box and pull out a little coffee shop. "Oh, Mac," I start…and look closer. "Is it…" It is. It's the coffee shop—the one where we eat all the time, with every detail right, except that the miniature version is prettier. "Did you…have them make it? Specially?"
"Yes." He's still shy, and his eyes are shining. "We don't really have a…place. This is the best I could come up with."
I laugh, and set my face against his shoulder for a moment, my eyelids stinging. "It's perfect, Mac." Breathing carefully, I squeeze his arm and set the shop in the midst of the others. "They're so beautiful."
"Yeah." He's looking at the church. He picks it up, and I lean against him, my forehead against his cheek. "Claire loved these," he says slowly. "She was going to start collecting them."
I'm a little surprised, because since the first year, he's never mentioned Claire in connection with the figures. I rub my hand across his back and wait until he sets the church back down and draws a deep breath. "I should get going," he says.
I can't let him leave like this. "Hey…what are you doing on Christmas day?"
It seems to be the first he's thought about it. "Oh—I don't know…"
"You are not going to work."
"Crime doesn't stop for Christmas, Stella."
"No, but the lab director could." He looks pretty noncommittal, but an idea is rapidly forming in my mind. "Why don't you come over? We could spend the whole day together."
"What do you want to do?"
"We wouldn't have to do anything." The plan continues to form: I would make him breakfast; he could make dinner. In between, we could sit together on the couch and read, or go for a walk until we were both freezing, and find someplace that was open and get coffee to warm up…
Is that—a hint of interest in his eyes? "Well…"
"Come on, Mac. We never do that. We hardly even see each other anymore."
He smiles his quiet little smile. "Okay."
"It's a deal?"
"It's a deal."
"Here's the rest of it…"
"Yes. If we do end up working, you still owe me another day."
He laughs. "Okay."
I squeeze his shoulder happily. He starts to move toward the door and I walk with him, but he stops when he's almost there. "I almost forgot…I brought you something else." He pulls something from his coat pocket, folded up in a piece of paper, and gives it to me. Wonderingly, I steal a little glance at him as I unfold the paper…and then I just stare at it for a second.
It's a little sprig of real mistletoe, tied with a red ribbon, its leaves dark green against the paper and its little berries gleaming. I lift my eyes to his slowly, radiantly happy and understandably surprised.
"I saw someplace that had it, and I thought you'd like some," he says, his eyes bright.
"It's beautiful, Mac," I breathe.
That's not very original, but I can't think of anything else to say. I want to suggest that we try it out, and I'm trying to figure out how to do that when his hands close over mine, holding the mistletoe between us, and he leans in gently. I hold my breath as his lips brush across my cheekbone, all the way across to my ear, and he murmurs, "Merry Christmas, Stella."
And he's right.