Our First Christmas

Chapter 5: Moments

Disclaimer: I do not own GI Joe.

They arrived only a few moments before the service began. They walked in, crossing the old wooden floors to the sanctuary. Shauna's family was already seated in one of the wooden pews. He helped Shauna out of her coat and guided her into the pew next to her Gran. Conrad smiled warmly in greeting, feeling more than a bit smug as Gran admired Shauna's pearls. Kate's eyes widened in delighted shock; she caught his gaze and winked.

He discovered that Mass in Ireland was pretty much the same as Mass in Shauna's church in Atlanta. It had been a while since he'd actually been in church on Christmas Eve. That was just something that had come along with a position of command; he'd generally be working or overseas around the holidays. It was a rare gift to be with family on Christmas. The service was conducted in Gaelic and he found the words soothing. He followed Shauna's lead, standing when she stood, kneeling and bowing his head when she did. Everything about the church had a comfortable, lived in feeling and he wondered how many generations of Shauna's family had attended service here in this quaint chapel. When the church began to sing he felt moved and more in touch with the season than he could recall being in a long while. Was it this place? Did Ireland work some sort of magic over the visitor? Was it Shauna? Some combination of the two? He didn't know but he found himself uttering a silent "Thank you" under his breath. Shauna slipped her arm in his and leaned close, resting her head on his shoulder. He moved his arm to wrap around her, holding her close.

She leaned up a whispered, "Merry Christmas" in his ear. He realized the service was over kissed her briefly on the cheek, not quite sure how much affection he was allowed to show at that the moment. He moved to help Gran up.

"Well, lad, what did you think?"

"The service was very nice; I enjoyed it and even understood a good bit."

"Mmph. I see you gave Shauna an early gift."

"Yes, I did. I wanted her to have something nice to wear."

"You mean you wanted to show off, stake your claim."

"I already staked my claim, I married her-in a catholic church in front of God, family, and witnesses."

Gran nodded, "Good to know you can be feisty when you need to be. She deserves those pearls. She's precious and you be sure to remember that, lad."

"Yes ma'am, every day for the rest of my life."

"That's fine then, you can walk me out to the car. Mary! Quick now, no need to stand around running your mouth, you'll see them all this afternoon!"

Shauna kissed her grandmother's cheek and rolled her eyes when Conrad guided her out of the pew and down the aisle.

Kate stopped beside her, "Well, he's a fine lad, putting up with Gran; knows just how to deal with her. Alright now, let me see them!"

Shauna grinned wildly and turned her head so Kate could see the earrings as well as the necklace.

"Well, he's got good taste! They're gorgeous! Does he have a brother?"

"Yes, but he's taken, and even less likely to give a girl pearls than his older brother."

"Likely or not, you've got them around your neck. How do they feel?"

Shauna closed her eyes, "Like silk, like I'm the luckiest woman in the world, like my husband loves me more than he could possibly express…."

Kate nodded, "In that case, you should go home and thank him properly. I'll see you this afternoon for Christmas dinner."

They walked outside, hugged, and parted.

"Ready?" Conrad asked, holding out his arm

"Absolutely!"

She snuggled close as they drove home and reluctantly separated long enough to dash through the cold from the car to the house.

"Well, it's Christmas. Do you want to open any more gifts tonight or wait until morning?" He asked as they walked upstairs to change

"Technically it's after midnight and is already morning. But no, I don't want to unwrap any more gifts right now.

"No?" He paused at the top of the stairs and grinned slyly, "What do you want to do then?"

She put her palms flat against his chest and slowly drew them up and around his neck, "I want to thank you properly for my gift."

He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close, "Yeah? I think that's a great idea."

They woke up snuggled in each other's arms, just as they had every other morning of their vacation. They rummaged through their stockings and then went downstairs to open gifts in front of the fire. They spent some quiet time together before making breakfast and getting ready to go to Aunt Mary's house for Christmas supper.

Aunt Mary's was filled to the brim with family. They'd enjoyed a marvelous feat of ham, stuffing, roast potatoes, and gravy. They had Christmas pudding with brandy butter and cream and triffle for desert. He ate so much he could barely move. They'd already called their families but they'd left calling base for later. He'd have to tell Roadblock everything he could remember about the glorious feast.

Later they all gathered in the parlor to visit. Gran held the newest addition to the family, Aunt Mary's youngest daughter's new baby. He thought she made a fairly ridiculous picture, cooing and making faces at the baby who just gurgled in response. She kept casting stern looks in his direction and he escaped before she could force the baby on him. Geez, he had just barely managed to get married to Shauna, now the old woman wanted another great-grandchild? Didn't she have enough?

Mica slapped him on the back, "Come on, boy-o, let's grab another Guinness."

"I'm with you." He followed Mica back into the kitchen.

"How long before ye have t' go back?"

"About a week. Shauna's thinking about heading up or down to coast, hoping for a little more privacy."

"It is your honeymoon. We've enjoyed having the both of you here, though. And you'll both be missed when ye head back."

Conrad raised his bottle in salute, "Thanks."

"I may have a good excuse for the two of ye to leave Clare a bit early."

"Oh?"

"Heard of the love stone?"

Conrad shook his head, "No. What is it?"

"Exactly that-a love stone. It's in Kildare. It's also called the Marriage Rock. Celtic tradition says it offers good fortune and a blessing of your love for any couple who use it."

"A rock brings good fortune to our marriage?"

"It's Ireland, lad, don't be so skeptical. This is how it works. The couple sits down on either side of rock, they put their hands through the center hole, if they were getting' married they'd exchange rings but it's for married couples as well. The circular stone represents the continuity of love and the hope that your love will last forever. I've friends who went to the Marriage Rock and had their marriage blessed, it's been five years now and they couldn't be happier. If you don't believe in the lore it's at least an valid excuse to leave. An excuse even Gran will understand and accept."

"Hmm…Thanks Mica, I'll talk it over with Shauna."

"Talk what over with me?" Shauna asked as she walking in the kitchen, smiling

"I'll tell you when we're home." He opened his arms and she walked into them, wrapping her arms around his waist and leaning up to kiss him.

Mica grinned, "I'll just let the two of you be alone for a minute."

Shauna rolled her eyes, "Just you wait, Mica, it'll be your turn soon enough."

"We'll see…" Mica shook his head as he left the room

Conrad and Shauna were quiet for a moment, enjoying the peace of the kitchen. Something caught Conrad's eye and he looked up and grinned. "Hey, look outside, it's starting to snow."

"It is?" She ran to the window and looked out, "It is! It is! I wonder if it'll stick? Hey, everybody, look out the window!"

Shauna and Conrad went back into the parlor with the family. They all looked out the window and made bets on what would happen. Would the snow stick to the ground? How deep would it get? The kids didn't care; they ran out and immediately started to enjoy the light snowfall. Conrad and Shauna exchanged a glance and nodded, deciding they'd been with family long enough.

They said their goodbyes and left, the snow still falling but only sticking to the grass alongside the road. They made coffee when they home and sipped it quietly by the fire, watching the snow fall softly outside the window, turning the world still and peaceful.

Shauna leaned over and kissed her husband on the cheek, "Conrad, this is the best Christmas I've ever had. Thank you."

He set their mugs down and took her face gently in his hands, "I love you, Shauna Hauser, Merry Christmas."

"Merry Christmas, Conrad." They snuggled together in front of the fire and turned their attention to each other, enjoying the peace and quiet, and the time they had together.