The View From Here: Chapter 17 : Forever and Ever Amen

Christy awoke before dawn, when the lightning of the sky is still barely noticeable, and several stars linger in the murky darkness. Yet, as early as it was, she felt more refreshed and well rested than she had...well in all honesty she couldn't quite remember the last time she felt this energetic.

Her next thoughts were of Neil, and with a giddy laugh, she fell back onto the pillows. Quite honestly, she felt like a child on Christmas morning who'd just unwrapped a long desired toy. Unfortunately, her joyous musings were cut short by loud, and nearly painful grumble from her stomach. Thinking back, she realized that she hadn't really eaten all that much at dinner the night before. With a sigh, she gathered here robe from it's resting spot at the foot of her bed, ran a hand through her unruly tresses, and slipped out into the hallway.

A quick glance confirmed that both her parents and Neil were still in their rooms. Feeling like a young girl again, she fairly flew down the hallway, her bare feet slapping against the chilled hardwood floors.

Upon her arrival in the kitchen, she was relieved to see a fire crackling merrily in the hearth, and Ms. Gardiner, the family cook, preparing cinnamon rolls and bacon for the mornings breakfast.

"Good morning. Those smell wonderful."

"Good morning, Christy. If you're up this early, you must be hungry."

Christy smiled at the elderly woman. Elizabeth Gardiner had been a part of the Huddleston household since before Christy was born, making her much like a second mother to the young woman.

"You know me too well."

"There's hot chocolate on the stove, and leftover apple strudel warming in the oven. Hopefully that will tide you until breakfast."

Ten minutes later, Christy had eaten her fill of the pastry, and was carrying her steaming mug of cocoa to the conservatory. By now, streaks of deep maroon and brilliant gold lit the sky, pushing back the dark of night, and heralding the arrival of a new day.

Gently, she set her mug on top of an overturned, unused flowerpot. She let her forehead rest on the cool glass pane, and reached for the gold chain about her neck that still bore Neil's ring. In the pale glow of the rising sun, the pearl seemed incandescent. Twirling it about in her fingers, she thought of all the things she'd been through in the past year, and how much the small token of his love had come to mean to her.

"You wore it all this time?" The deep timbre of his voice startled her, and with a gasp she whirled to face him.

"Well...I, yes. Good morning, Neil." He hesitated in the doorway for a brief moment, before entering and halting a few paces from her.

"Morning, lass." They stood in silence for a few moments, seeming to drink in the sight of the other, before she spoke again.

"Did you sleep well?"

"Quite. You?" She hated this, the awkwardness, the formality of it all. She'd supposed it was to be expected after nearly a year apart, but...

She nodded in response to his question, allowing silence to descend once again. Suddenly, Christy took a few steps forward and wrapped her arms about his middle.

"I was so afraid that I'd wake and find this all a dream."

He laughed softly, then grew serious. "Me too."

"But it's not."

"No, I assure you, this is quite real."

His hand began to trace a feather light trail down her jaw line, over curve of her collarbone where it was exposed by her nightgown, until it finally came to rest on the ring.

"Why?"

"The night Ryan and I became engaged, I took it off for the first time since you'd placed it there. It felt like I was betraying you. The ring was a part of you, a part of us. So, I slipped it onto my necklace. In some small way, it made me feel like you'd always be with me. I..." Her voice quavered and a lone tear slid down her cheek.

"Hey now. Don't cry. " He brushed the tear away.

"Yesterday, I wasn't sure if you'd want to...that is if you'd still want me. So I thought it better if it stayed where it was. I'll understand if you want me to take it off."

"Take it off? No, Christy I would never. I just think that you should put it back where it belongs. I'm going to ask your father today if he'll give his blessing again. That is if you'll have me?"

A smile more brilliant than the early January dawn lit her face. "He gave his blessing last night, as did my mother."

"They did?" She nodded.

"Actually, Neil. If you don't think it's too soon, I was wondering if you'd want to be married two weeks from now. That's when I was supposed to marry..." She trailed off.

"Are you sure, lass?"

"I'd marry you today if I could." He grinned that roguish grin of his, just moments before his lips captured hers. Slowly, gently, he deepened the kiss. This was different. Somehow, he felt as if the final barrier between them had been broken. A small whimper escaped her lips, and her hands twisted themselves in his hair. He pulled her closer, his hands wandering daringly over her nightgown clad form.

Breath ragged, he broke off abruptly and took a step back. Her eyes flew open in shock, the warmth he'd provided gone, leaving her chilled and trembling.

"I'm sorry Christy. I don't know what came over me. " She giggled, washing away his fear that he'd gone to far.

He watched, fascinated as her hands reached up and unclasped the necklace. Tenderly, she removed the ring, and slipped it back on her left hand. She held her hand up, and he grinned.

"There. Now everything's perfect."

"Not quite." And he swept her into his arms once more.

A/N: So I've thought about it, and this might be the last chapter in this story. I've already got the sequel pretty much figured out, and this seems as good a place as any to stop. I'm torn about writing a chapter for the wedding. It seems like every fic I've read has them getting married in much the same way as they do in the PAX movies. So unless you feel that another chapter needs to be included, this story is done. I hate to say it, but I need some sort of angsty situation for the sequel. If you have suggestions, please email them privately to me. I want to keep whatever it is a surprise for other readers. Reviews as usual, are always welcome.