Author's Note: This isn't the sequel but this could be considered the bridge to the sequel! I wanted to give a christmas gift so to speak to my faithful reviewers and this was the what I came up with...more Jackson and Lisa! What better gift could there be (aside from Jackson himself underneath your Christmas tree with a big red bow)? Anyway...I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday season! Enjoy yourself and be safe!

Traveling Mercies:

A Rippner Christmas

Jackson couldn't remember ever having trouble sleeping Christmas Eve night. He had heard stories of kids pulling all nighters, watching for Santa and shaking gifts to kill the time before dawn came and Christmas morning had officially arrived. His parent's avoided the holiday at all costs and he grew up thinking December twenty-fifth was just another day. Though most years, Remy's mother would slip him a couple gifts but that was the extent of the celebration. Even when he was moved out to Stilwell, Christmas just meant a more extravagant meal.

Then he met Sara. She had a very large extended family that used Christmas as an excuse to catch up and truly celebrate. He was twenty four when, for the first time ever, he woke up on Christmas morning to a tree, gifts and a meal that would have fed a small African country. That was all the incentive he needed. When he and Sara were married, he bought the cabin in Maine with Christmas' in mind. Then Joel came along and a whole meaning to the winter holiday presented itself to him. After they died, he turned his back on Christmas again.

Until last year. It wasn't a typical Christmas and certainly the New Year wasn't anything to write home about but things had turned around by February. Declan had set up his own surveillance around the cabin so Jackson didn't have to worry about walking the perimeter every day. It allowed Lisa and him to stay there until June, free of worry. Well, mostly. When it came to his job, he never worried due to his obsessive planning but when it came to Lisa and her pregnancy, he found he was chronic worrier.

Sara's pregnancy had gone without a hitch. She was cracking safes the morning of Joel's birth.

Lisa was different. She had morning sickness well into the second trimester and spent the majority of the first five months in bed. It went smoother after that though every time she winced or sighed he was right next to her and getting on her nerves. She suggested they take a leisurely trip down the eastern seaboard and see her father in Miami and Remy in New Orleans. He still wasn't sure if it was because she wanted to go or if it was to stop him from self destructing. Either way, it worked to calm them both until they reached Miami.

Joe was more than pleased to see his daughter and was already referring to himself as "Grandpa." He was less than pleased to see Jackson though the hostility was beginning to dissipate between them. It helped matters somewhat that Jackson was always on his best behavior around Joe. He hoped having a grandchild would take care of the rest of the lingering hard feelings. Maybe by then he wouldn't feel like he had to sleep with one eye open and a hockey stick under the bed.

September fourteenth found them in New Orleans and in the hospital. Remy manned the airport waiting for Joe to fly in from Miami while Jackson had braced himself for the horror of childbirth. He had missed Joel's birth due to, ironically, a delayed flight. He stayed by Lisa's side the entire twenty-eight hours. Everything he had heard about what goes on in a birthing room was completely wrong. Of course, Lisa never followed the crowd so it shouldn't have surprised him when she spent the majority of the labor in silent suffering. She held onto him with more strength than he thought possible and only once, thirty minutes before their daughter was born, did she say anything: I want my hockey stick. He was smart enough not to ask her what she wanted to do with it.

But then Claire Noelle Rippner came screaming into their lives and Jackson found himself going through another personal change. As he spent time with Claire he was starting to understand the father/daughter bond. With Joel it had been different, he was a boy that needed to be taught how to play sports, ride a bike and shoot a gun. But with Claire a fierce sense of protectiveness came over him. He didn't trust anyone with her except for Lisa and himself. Even Joe and Remy were outside the circle of trust the first few weeks of her life.

The distrust of all human kind slowly left him and the protective streak lessened in intensity but he was still touchy with strangers who wanted to "ooo" and "ahh" over her bright blue eyes and dark, reddish hair. Lisa seemed to enjoy being a mother and handled it with an almost unnatural calm. Until two weeks ago when he found her locked in the bathroom crying uncontrollably. He had soothed her and then sent her off for a shopping spree in the Big Easy. It seemed to have helped and he hadn't caught her crying since that day.

Which brought him back to his current predicament: lying awake Christmas Eve night in Lisa's father's home. Lisa was sleeping soundly next to him, Claire in her crib was also peaceful. If he strained, he could hear Joe's snores coming from down the hall. He tried counting backwards from one hundred...twice and it didn't work. He must have been moving too much because Lisa rolled over to face him.

"What's the matter?"


He waited for her to say something but found she had fallen back asleep again. Resigned to not sleeping the rest of the night, he quietly got up and headed downstairs. The renovations had been long completed and he was thankful for the unfamiliarity of the new layout. It made it easier to forget that wild chase through the house that happened a lifetime ago. He poured a mug of apple cider and warmed it the microwave before settling down at the island in the center of the kitchen. He wasn't sure how long he was staring at the high polished marble before he heard Joe come down the stairs.

"Can't sleep?"

Jackson was surprised that Joe said anything to him. "Yeah."

Joe opened up one of the cabinets and pulled a glass out. "Me either." He grabbed a bottle of scotch from some dark recess of the kitchen. "I could never sleep on Christmas Eve."

Jackson briefly wondered if Joe was sleep walking, unaware of who he was speaking to in a conversational, almost friendly, manner. "Why is that?"

"Kids make Christmas fun. I always enjoyed seeing Lisa's face whenever she got something I told her I couldn't find or afford."

It was true. Jackson had seen that look a couple times.

"Why are you up?"

That was the question of the night. Jackson sat in silence for a few minutes, grasping at any and every excuse. Then he looked at Joe, the gray hair and lined faced. He had seen that face pinched with worry, barely contained contempt and...a strong anger at seeing his daughter being pulled up from the floor by her hair. "Something was bothering me and I couldn't figure it out just till now."

Joe gave him a slightly skeptical look. "I'm going to regret this. What is it?"

"I understand your reaction to me now." Jackson suddenly wished for a glass of scotch himself. A big one. Swallowing pride was always easier when it was washed down with alcohol. "I can't imagine what I would do if I saw someone trying to hurt Claire."

Joe poured himself some more scotch. "Lisa said you had a son."

"Yes, I did but," he paused, "Daughters are different."

"That they are."

Silence hung between them, new and without spite. It gave Jackson a glimmer of hope that he and Joe could actually be civil towards each other.

"I still don't like you."

So much for being civil. "I know."

"But Lisa does and I'm sure you've seen her stubborn streak by now."

"At least twice a day." Jackson couldn't believe it but a fleeting smile passed over Joe's face.

"So I suppose you're sticking around."

"I am."

Joe finished his second glass of scotch, put the glass in the sink and headed for the back set of stairs. "Well, remember I put up a good fight."

Jackson laughed slightly as he heard Joe close the door to his bedroom upstairs. He sat in the silence for a few more minutes, feeling like he may have just won the war when it came to Joe, when he heard the lock in the front door click. He left his gun upstairs in the nightstand next to the bed. There wasn't any time to get it so he settled for a butcher knife and crept into the hallway. The intruder stepped through the door silently and turned to lock it again. He couldn't see who it was and before he got close enough, he heard Lisa's faint footfalls coming down the stairs.

"Remy!" she whispered, "You made it."

Jackson almost dropped the knife.

"Sure did, Petite. I figured out why they call it stand by. Ya stand by and watch everyone else get on the plane. And hitting on a flight attendant doesn't move things along like it used to."

Lisa quickly stifled her laugh. "I'm glad you made it. Jackson has no idea you're coming."

Jackson backed up quietly and went back into the kitchen, replaced the knife and headed up the back stairs that Joe had just used. He didn't want to ruin Lisa's surprise so he headed back to their room. He could hear Lisa getting Remy set up on the couch downstairs and he started for the bed. Lisa's side was still warm and he crawled into the place she had just vacated. It was closer to the crib anyway and he could see Claire still sleeping peacefully. It wasn't long before the opposite side of the bed dipped down and he felt Lisa cuddle up next to him.

"Where were you?" she asked.

"In the kitchen. Your Dad came down. Where were you?"

"I must have just missed you."

Smooth, Leese. "I suppose so."

It didn't take long for him to feel Lisa's steady breath on the back of his neck, letting him know she had fallen back to asleep. Jackson reached out and slipped a couple fingers through the slats of the crib. Claire, in her sleep, wrapped her small hand around one of his fingers. Suddenly, it didn't matter that there was a tree downstairs with gifts underneath it, a fully stocked refrigerator in the kitchen for the large meal tomorrow night. What mattered was his best friend was on the couch, his wife with her arms around him and his baby girl. Just like home wasn't a place but a state of mind, Christmas was the same thing.

And he had it.