A Gentle Gift

Freya McAllister pulled her coat tighter about her throat as she hastened to cross the street. The wind had picked up just a little bit in the past half hour or so, and a slow, but steady snowfall had begun, blanketing everything in white and making the world look more innocent and inviting.

A gust of wind caught at dark hair, blowing it free and forcing her to release her coat to push it out of her face as her other hand was occupied. She reached the other side of the street and the building before her blocked a bit of the wind. Clutching her coat once again, she headed into the building and started up the steps, remembering that the elevator was out of order.

Reaching her destination, she paused before the door to shake snowflakes free from her hair before reaching up to knock on the door. "Brendan?" she called out as she rapped the door with her knuckles. "It's Freya; can I come in?" There was a bit of a pause, and Freya bit her lip, debating the wisdom of coming clear across town like this when—


The thought touched her mind, sleep-sodden and doubt instantly melted into guilt, but before she could say anything more, the door was unlocked and opening, behind which stood her partner at the NSA.

"I guess I should've called first," Freya started, but Brendan Dean waved her off and then motioned her in as he shuffled aside.

"Nah, it's okay. I was just watchin' a movie," he said hoarsely, and moved back toward the couch in the small apartment he inhabited. Freya followed after him, closing the door behind her as she did so.

"You were sleeping," she corrected lightly, and when hazel eyes looked at her curiously, she tapped her temple. "I know what your head sounds like when you're trying to wake up, remember?" Freya offered Brendan a smile, a smile that faded a bit as she really looked at the pale face and somewhat glassy eyes. "Stomach feeling any better?" she asked him as she shrugged out of her coat.

"A little," Dean answered as he settled back on the couch; he was clad in sweats and a long-sleeved tee, and there was a quilt messily piled up on the other end of the sofa that he pulled to himself. At least the cramps aren't as bad and I haven't thrown up in the past hour, his thoughts amended for her as he curled up with the quilt.

Freya surveyed her partner and the immediate surrounding area; a small metal trashcan was not far from the couch, likely the emergency measure if unable to reach the bathroom in time. The coffee table was littered with a thermometer, a half a glass of water, a bottle of ibuprofen and a blister-pack of Pepto Bismol tablets.

"I'm sorry I woke you up," she apologized, suddenly feeling almost awkward and girlish. "But I figure getting the stomach flu is lousy enough on a regular day, but on Christmas Eve? Completely unfair." She motioned to the large bag that she'd dragged over with her. "I know you're sick and can't come with June and I tomorrow, but I thought that since you can't come for Christmas, I'd bring Christmas to you."

You didn't have to get me anything, Brendan protested mentally, and he sighed softly; there were times when this made it so much easier. He didn't feel like he had the energy to hold a conversation, but there wasn't much effort to thoughts. They just happened.

"It's okay; I can do enough talking for both of us," Freya kidded gently, but her voice was soft. "Seriously, just rest and take it easy." She rummaged in the bag and produced a tiny table-top tree, perhaps fifteen inches tall, and she made room for it on the coffee table. It was pre-decorated, and even had a little switch in the base to turn on tiny lights run by battery. Brendan actually chuckled out loud as the little lights started to blink.

"Nice," he mumbled as a shiver coursed through him; Freya reached over and pressed a hand to his pale forehead.

"So's that fever you have," she chided. "When was the last time you took anything...and...uh, kept it down?"

Dean shrugged beneath the quilt. Even without the thought, it translated into I dunno; awhile ago. Freya nudged the glass of water and the ibuprofen closer. A hand poked out from beneath the quilt, and he washed down two of the little tablets with a mouthful of water. Don't get sick, he told himself firmly. Don't get sick; don't get sick, don'tgetsick...!

Freya bit her lip sympathetically as Brendan seemed to turn a shade of green a few minutes later, but somehow he managed not to throw up, despite the fact that he felt miserable. She reached over and turned the little tree off; if she was the one not feeling well, the thing would be driving her nuts, she was sure.

"No," Brendan interrupted; swallowing thickly to keep from losing the pills he'd just taken. "Leave it on? I like it." Besides, this bug is gonna make me miss Christmas with you and June.

Freya smiled a little and turned the lights back on; they blinked in happy holiday succession, and then dove into the bag, pulling up a pair of small boxes, wrapped in pretty Christmas paper and topped with tiny bows, and set them both beneath the tabletop tree. "See, told you I was bringing Christmas to you. One's from June and one's from me, but you can't open them until tomorrow." She dove into the bag again, and came up holding CD's. "I even brought some Christmas music."

To her surprise, Brendan poked his hand out from beneath the quilt again and stabbed a forefinger at a CD case before withdrawing it to the warmth of the blanket once again. Freya glanced at the CD chosen. Yup, that one, he confirmed mentally, offering a genuine—if rather pale and sickly—smile.

"Just wouldn't have picked you for a Manheim Steamroller kinda guy," Freya replied lightly as she got up to place the chosen CD into Brendan's stereo system.

"And I would've have picked you for a St. Nicholas either," Dean mumbled aloud as he closed his eyes and let the music wash over him, lulling him toward sleep. One hazel eye cracked open, looking at his partner and he offered another wan smile. "Thanks, Freya."

"You're welcome. Now go to sleep; it would really suck to feel this bad on Christmas. I'll go if you want me to...?"

Stay? It's nice...like the tree...not 'lone for Christmas.

It was nearly enough to make Freya's throat close off as she considered the idea of Brendan alone on Christmas Day...every year for...how many years?

"Of course I'll stay. Somebody's gotta take care of you," she teased as she reached over and tucked the quilt around him a bit better. "Just go to sleep, Brendan, I'll be here when you wake up."

Merry Christmas, Freya.

"Merry Christmas."