A Gift of the Heart

By: A J, Original song lyrics by: Marion Raven

(Standard Disclaimer Applies)

A MYSTIC Prequel

Hay Lyndon was just putting the last three boxes of musical paraphernalia away in the attic after Eric's funeral. It had been a hellish two months, between Kyle's birth, Yan Lin's passing to Candracar, the Holidays, and then Eric's death. Hay set the boxes down, and looked around for where to stack them. 'Gotta be somewhere easy to get to, for when I miss him too much …' she deliberated. 'Like now …'

With a sigh that cleared every dust bunny from the area, she climbed the rest of the way up the ladder herself, and sat on the door-frame. The top box of the three was the one she almost never wanted to see again. It held her poor sweetheart's saxophone, along with all the cleaning tools and parts for it. She was the Guardian of Air, able to evoke the sounds of the past from any object, and she found herself wishing simultaneously to hold the tenor sax of her lover one more time, to hear the sweet music he had been able to conjure forth from cold brass and hot breath, and fervently wanting to smash the mute instrument to its component elements, so as to never hear it again. With a tearful sob, she pushed that box into a far corner.

'Maybe someday … if our kid turns out musical … I'll dig it out for him …' She had a few years to wait for that heartbreaking moment, at least.

The second box was full of compact disks and DVDs, mostly of jazz concerts and bands Eric had either played with or idolized. One quarter of it was Cobalt Blue, both from before and after Eric had joined Matt, Nigel, Joel and Dom. She ran her hands over the spines of the cases, reading off bands and hearing the melodies in her head. She and Eric had listened to music together every night. Sometimes, it was whole discographies, occasionally just one album over and over, if they were too busy with each other to change the disk.

Cursing herself again for getting dragged back into memory Hell, Hay pushed that box aside as well. She'd bring that one down again soon, she knew, simply because she couldn't live in the otherwise-silent house without him. She hadn't packed away all of her music; just anything he'd played on the saxophone. Hay turned to the last box.

'C'mon, open it,' she admonished, staring down at the calligraphied 'Knick-knacks' Elyon had scribed across the top. Her friends and his, bless them, had left her to the caring of her newborn son, and quietly packed away anything they were sure would overwhelm her. She was almost glad she hadn't seen all that had gone into each box. If the first two had been any indication, she would gladly never look in this one again either, until her heart was in a distant semblance of whole again. An errant line came to her mind from an old movie. "Looking at a box is like looking at the future. You never know what's there until you open it. And then of course, it's too late."

'Except that this box isn't the future, it's the past, sealed up and ready to be put away, hopefully to be remembered only when it isn't this painful,' she mused. "Heart help me," she murmured, and popped the lid open.

She was glad she was already sitting down. On top was her wedding album, barely a year old. She gulped back fresh hot tears at the picture of herself and Eric on the cover, in matching green dress and tuxedo. Green for the start of their new lives together, like fresh buds on a tree, as Cornelia had said about them that morning. She hurriedly flipped the album up and out of view, behind the box. Those memories were all still too fresh, too real, to look at like this. What lay under the album was almost a relief to see in comparison.

Her old white jewelry box, with its pleather covering, was next. She lifted the lid, and gasped out in shock. Every piece of jewelry Eric had ever gotten her, from the corny Cracker-Jack™ whistle rings he'd first jokingly proposed with back in high school, to his wedding band, sitting forlornly in a holder by itself in the corner. She pulled it out reverently, and tried it on every one of her own fingers. The only one it didn't try to slide right back off of was her right thumb. 'Figures,' she tutted. 'My painting hand.' She reluctantly pulled it back off, and snugged it back into place in the box, then shut the lid. She lifted the jewelry box, to find a stack of t-shirts.

"I thought I told the guys to donate his clothes," she accused, dropping the jewelry box back in. It made a 'clang!, as the metal foot on one corner met something under the shirts. "What in the world ..?" Pulling the white box back out, she started to feel through the pile of tees. She saw why the boys of Cobalt Blue hadn't sent these shirts 'up the river' with the rest of Eric's donations. Each one was from one of their tours, six in all, and they were her shirts, not Eric's. Fresh tears came to her eyes, at her friends' thorough thoughtfulness. She finally found what was under the shirts, and pulled it out.

'This should have been in with the other CDs,' Hay thought, looking at the metal gift disk-case. Then she saw the writing on the side. It had this last year's Christmas scrawled across it, in Eric's handwriting. She blinked, and opened the case, wondering what in the world could be in it.

The disk inside read simply 'Merry X-mas W.I.T.C.H.'

Setting the case aside, she put everything else back in the box without looking too closely, then pushed the third box over with the other two. Picking back up the mystery disk-case, she went down the ladder and shut the attic access. Hay was soon ensconsed in her favorite comfortable bean-bag chair in front of their ('Her!' she thought with a pang.) brand-new flatscreen television. Disk running, remote in hand, tissues nearby, Hay Lyndon waited for her final Christmas video from her dear departed husband to play.

She knew it was coming, but her heart still skipped a beat when she saw Eric's face on the screen. He was way too close, and out of focus.

"Is this running?" his lovely voice asked, and she sobbed happily, nodding like a toddler back at the screen. He stepped back, and the auto-zoom tightened on him.

"All right, Nige, from the top," Matt Olsen's voice said from offscreen. Eric moved back and to the left, picking up his saxophone as he went, and the rest of Cobalt Blue came into view behind him. A Bass riff from Taranee's husband Nigel Ashcroft strummed out, and the band set into a lively instrumental version of 'Jingle Bell Rock'.

Hay sat through it, quietly crying, and giggling along with the band when the keyboardist Dominic Michaels and Eric started on a wild departure for their solos, segueing into something that sounded like a jazzy 'Silent Night'.

The five men stopped at the same note in the way of the well-rehearsed, and clapping could be heard from off-camera. "Don't get cocky, Princess, you're up next," Joel Campbell said, and Hay gasped when Cornelia's little sister Lillian spoke in the movie next.

"You bet your new van, Blondie," the teen Heart of Earth told the drummer, as he moved a set of cymbals further to the right.

Matt waved a hand, as Lillian strode forward to take the mike. "And a one, a two, a one-two-three-four …" the usual lead singer of the band called, holding up one more finger each time. On 'Four,' the boys set off again, and Hay couldn't help laughing as Lillian started to sing 'Rockin' around the Christmas tree'.

Two-month-old Kyle stirred at the sound of his mother's laughter, and started burbling, edging into whining at the unfamiliar noise coming into his nursery from the living room. As soon as she heard him, Hay hit pause and flew in to scoop him up.

"Hey, little guy, you wanna hear your daddy play?" she cooed, forgetting in the light of her son's smile how much she had been avoiding Eric's music in their house until just then. "C'mon, let's get all the Aunties over, and let them hear it, too. It's for all of us, after all."

Ten minutes and three phone calls later, (Irma had already been at Will's,) Hay Lin was digging in her cupboards for movie snacks, finally settling on some hot-Air-popped kettle popcorn. She had just settled herself and Kyle back down on the bean-bag chair when the other four members of W.i.t.c.h. came in, with their three children in tow.

Hay surrendered the chair with a grin to Chloe, Iggy, and Mallory. The three four-year-olds all fit (barely) with just enough room for the two little girls to hold baby Kyle. Hay started the video over, and took advantage of the first song to tell Cornelia, Irma, Taranee, and Will about where she'd found the surprise disk.

"Elyon must not have noticed it between the shirts when she put them in that box," Cornelia said, knowing the Queen of Meridian was without any malice. "I'll bet Eric had it hidden there to surprise you Christmas day …" The Earth Guardian was interrupted by the sound of her sister's voice. "Holy Hopping Himerish … The little brat! She said she wasn't able to get out of work!"

"She must have been conniving with Matt for weeks," Irma crowed, as they watched the four kids' 'Aunt Lillian' rocking out with their favorite band. Will and Taranee, who'd known about the surprise recording session in advance, (though not about the content,) traded furtive guilty glances, before sitting back and enjoying the show as well.

Lillian ended the song with a long sustained note, and the five guys behind her went all-out on the finish. They all exchanged high-fives in the video, and the five women got a laugh as little Iggy tried to teach Kyle how to clap hands. Hay 'Ooooh!'ed as Eric came back to the camera.

"I hadn't watched past Lillian singing, yet …" she said quietly, as the other Guardians all joined hands with her to keep her grounded.

"Will," Eric said. "Irma, Taranee, Cornelia. Hay-hay, I know someday, you five are going to have to hand your powers on … and God forgive my selfishness for being the one to say I hope someday soon." The girls all laughed quietly along with the band and Lillian in the video. "But we all wanted you to know, no matter how many Guardians Candracar chooses … you five, are the best. So we wrote a little something for you. Merry Christmas, amante" He stepped back to the rest of the band. "Lils?" She nodded, and the boys started playing again. It was a hard-hitting song none of the girls had heard before, but they found out why as soon as Lillian started singing again.

"They are, they are, they are W.i.t.c.h. They are, they are,

There is a place where darkness reigns, they've got the power to fight back,

They save the day, united five as one,

They can become more than you know, the heart will lead the way to what they can control,

Water, Fire, Earth, and Air,

Guardians Unite!

They are, they are, they are W.i.t.c.h. They are, they are,

They are, they are, they are W.i.t.c.h. They are, they are,

They fight for life, they fight for truth, this is their revolution,

In day or night, they have the strength and courage,

With open eyes they find the light, together they will have the power to control

Water, Fire, Earth, and Air,

Guardians Unite!

They are, they are, they are W.i.t.c.h. They are, they are,

They are, they are, they are W.i.t.c.h. They are, they are,

Our world is more than we see,

There's danger that lies beneath,

They fight to protect the free

Water, Fire, Earth, and Air,

To protect the free

Water, Fire, Earth, and Air,

Guardians Unite!

They are, they are, they are W.i.t.c.h. They are, they are,

They are, they are, they are W.i.t.c.h. They are, they are,

They are, they are, they are W.i.t.c.h. They are, they are,

They are, they are, they are W.i.t.c.h. They are, they are,"

The band played on, hard and heavy, for another few stanzas, while Lillian seemed to glow for a second. Then, the whole video took on a frosted look, and they realized that the teen girl had made it start to snow … inside the studio!

"Merry Christmas, W.I.T.C.H.!" she and all of Cobalt Blue cried together, and the video ended.

Hay and the others looked at each other, dumbfounded. The three preschoolers were all yelling "Again, again, again!" Hay Lyndon mutely pushed play on the remote in her lax hand, and the three-song video started over.

"Now we know why she was avoiding us …" Taranee, ever the logical one, uttered. "She must have been practicing that for weeks."

"The song? Or the Snow?" Will wondered.

"Yes," Cornelia replied to both. "Her room looking like it had flooded a few weeks ago suddenly makes sense." She had stopped by to see her mother and sister one afternoon, to find Lillian operating a pair of hair dryers like an old-west sheriff on her comforter in the middle of the hallway. Then Lillian had told her older sister that if she wanted to change Chloe, who was resisting potty training like a marine under torture to the bitter end, she'd have to use a different bed. "Then mom said that Lil's room would suddenly go uber-quiet, right after she'd get a phonecall." Cornelia turned to Hay. "Something tells me she learned your Air-wall trick."

"She … might have seen me use it while I was sitting all three of the older kids," Hay said sheepishly. "I put them all down for a nap, and noise-proofed the room so they'd actually sleep."

"No helping it, you guys," Will said fatalistically. "Our little Heart's growing up, just like Elly did, and figuring out her powers. I guess we better buckle down and teach her for real, huh?"

"You're not just saying this 'cause you're married to her Regent, right?" Irma asked. "Well, one of them anyway."

"Two, if you count Huggles," Cornelia smirked. "Honestly, Will, how long are you guys gonna keep the dormouse, anyway? Turn him loose, like my dad did Napoleon, when he started to eat us out of house and ham." The other Guardians laughed, remembering when Lillian's cat familiar had developed an alarming affinity for pork, to the point of eating over a hundred dollars-worth a week just for his ham-fix. That was when Harold Hale put his foot down, and put his daughter's Regent out the door for good.

"What, and break old Jim Olsen's heart?" Will countered. "He still checks over Kor first whenever he comes over, even when he's really there just to spoil Mallory." Will looked fondly over at her daughter, hair as red as her mother's, as the little tomboy was thumb-wrestling with Iggy Cook. (Taranee had decided to keep her maiden name, and Nigel had agreed. He said it was too perfect a name for the Guardian of Fire, anyway.) "We're all still surprised that Huggles has lived this long, actually, since Regent-hood aside, he was just a regular dormouse."

"Don't …" Hay uttered, grabbing Will's arm. "I hope he's the last one Lillian takes her power from, a long time from now. We … we've lost enough loved ones, don't you think?"

All her friends engulfed the teary Air girl at once, muttering assurances, and Will emphatically told her that they would keep Huggles, safe and comfy, as long as he was willingly with them.

"One more time?" Taranee asked the others, as the video reached its end again. The others all nodded, and she nabbed the remote from Hay long enough to hit play again. "Looks like two was the kids' limit, though. I'll take 'em to the playroom, gang. B R B." She handed a fussy Kyle up to Hay from where the two little girls had abandoned him on the bean-bag chair, and led the trio of four-year-olds off to the roomful of toys Hay had accumulated as a stay-at-home painter/babysitter. The free-spirited girl had even managed a set of prints (of the three older kids, no less!) that had ended up on the walls at the local pediatrician's office, to the other Guardians' delight.

"He's just hungry," Hay said, snuggling back into her chair with her son. She tugged up her shirt and guided him in for lunch at her 'local dairy section', as Eric had started calling her improved bustline. Then she settled in, surrounded by her friends, to watch the departed love of her life perform holiday favorites, and a special song, just for them.

From all of us friends, to all you readers dear, we W.i.t.c.h.e. you a happy Christmas, and a merry new year!

(Author's Note: I know, it's rather more in the spirit of Angst than Mystic, but this whole story was inspired by the little intro from Eric to Hay-hay, just before Lils starts singing their theme song. It hit me while I was walking to the store at 3:00 this afternoon, and the whole story fell into place from there. It literally wouldn't let me go until I'd finished it. Here's hoping you all enjoy this peek into the past for Mystic, and a look FAR ahead for Happily Ever After All. Catch ya on the flipside, A J.)