Chapter One:
A Not-So-Merry Christmas

"Rick, will pass me another piece of tape?" Evelyn O'Connell asked her husband sweetly.
"Wha? Oh, yeah, sure Evie, here ya go." He handed her a small piece and went back to daydreaming.
"What's wrong with you these days, Rick? Usually Christmas time makes you really happy. . .you've been rather melancholy these past few days. . .anything you want to talk about?"
"Evie, we've gone over this too many times! I've told you repeatedly that nothing is wrong! So just lay off, OK?" he snapped.
More than slightly taken aback, Evelyn just turned her head away and went back to her wrapping. They sat in silence for a few moments when Rick noticed Evelyn making little quiet sniffling noises. A quick look of sympathy passed over Rick's blue eyes but it quickly turned into a look of exasperation.
"Evie, will you stop that? I swear nothing is wrong, I'm fine, OK?"
"Rick, please stop yelling like this, you'll wake up Alex," she begged.
Rick stood up so fast the chair he was sitting in nearly fell backwards.
"No! I will not stop yelling! You keep begging me to tell you what's wrong, and I keep telling you nothing! When are you gonna get it through your head?"
"Rick, it's Christmas Eve, please keep your voice down so Alex doesn't come down and have all of his dreams of Santa Claus ruined! And the reason I keep asking is because I know you and I know you're not telling me the truth! Why are you acting like this? You're constantly in a bad mood, you snap at me as well as Alex, and. . . . .and. . . ." she turned her back to him, sadly, ". . .and when was the last time you said you loved either of us? You used to tell me at least five times a day. . .what happened to you? To us? To our family? Why won't you talk to me, Rick?"
Her eyes were beginning to tear, which they rarely ever did. Rick took a deep breath.
"That's it," he said bitterly. "I need to get some air. . .or something. I'll be back later."
With that, he grabbed his coat and keys and left.
Evelyn just sat down on the couch, stunned at what had just happened. One tear slipped down her cheek, and before long she was overwhelmed with sobs.

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

Rick stomped out of the house and into the dark, snowy night. He got into his car, not sure of where he was going. He started down the long driveway and just decided to let go of everything and just drive. He needed to cool off.

His thoughts were raging inside his head.

What right does she have to tell me that I don't love her anymore? I think I've shown that I do thousands of times. I saved her from becoming a ritual sacrifice, for Christ's sake! If that's not love, then what is?

He turned into downtown London. The streets were completely empty, every store closed down for Christmas. Rick decided to pull over into the park. He did, and put the car into park and stepped out into the lightly falling snow.

He walked around for a few minutes before finally deciding to sit down on a bench. But it wasn't just any bench. It was here that, over 12 years ago, he proposed to Evie. It was here that he shared his anniversary gifts, here that they shared countless wonderful moments. But those memories seemed so distant now. His marriage was falling apart, but he could not understand why.

He leaned his head back and closed his eyes, trying to sort out his thoughts. He had not been in that position for more that a minute when he heard someone walking towards him. He jerked his head up and looked around. Out of instinct, he reached to his sides to pull out his guns, but he, of course, did not have his holster on him. He stood up quickly when he saw a dark figured coming toward him.

The figure was tall and broad-looking, but could not be more than 25. Rick squinted at the man that was heading towards him. He looked familiar. . . .

As the figure got closer, Rick recognized him as his good friend Ardeth Bay. But it was not Ardeth Bay as Rick knew him now. It was Ardeth as Rick knew him the first time he met him, over 12 years ago. He looked younger and more alert than the desert warrior of the present.

"Ardeth?" Rick asked.

"Hello, my friend." Ardeth said in his thick accent.

"How have you been?" Rick asked, patting him on the back.

"I have been fine, O'Connell. But there is something you must know. I am not the Ardeth you have come to know. I am Ardeth of years past. And I have come to show you a few things. I understand that you and Evelyn have not been getting along lately?"

Rick's look of confusion was replaced with a look of slight embarrassment.
"Yeah, that's true," Rick said, looking away. "But what does that have to do with you being here?"

"Well," Ardeth replied, "You have not been able to grasp why you do not have the same feelings you used to have. You have forgotten how you felt when you first saw her. I am here to remind you."

And with that, Ardeth said a chant in Arabic and he and Rick were suddenly somewhere else. . . . .