It's a little late, but here's a Christmas one shot.
Disclaimer: Sadly these wonderful characters are not, they belong to the Marshall-LeSourd family.
"Doctor, you're half frozen!" Neil MacNeil smiled at the young schoolteacher's declaration.
"Aye." he nodded in agreement, "It's one of the coldest Christmas Eve's this cove has seen in a long time." Closing the door behind him, he followed her into the parlor. He attempted to remove his gloves, but found that his fingers were too stiff to be of much use.
"Here, let me help." Leading him to the fireplace, she pried off first one glove, and then the other. He discarded his scarf and coat, laying them over the back of the wingback chair in the corner. Squatting in front of the fire, he rubbed his hands together briskly in attempt to spread some warmth into his numb fingers.
"She and Ruby Mae are in the kitchen, baking for tomorrow's Christmas dinner. Why don't you stay here and warm up? I'll get us something warm to drink. Coffee?"
He nodded, and then opened his mouth as he was going to say something, but was cut off by the young woman.
"Black, I know. I'll be back in just a moment." He chuckled lowly, and shook his head in disbelief as he watched her leave. She never failed to amaze him. Sometimes he thought that she knew him better than he knew himself.
Leaving him to warm by the fire, Christy made her way back to the kitchen. The moment she opened the door, her nose was flooded with the scents of Christmas. Gingerbread cookies cooled on the counter, decorated with raisins that her mother had shipped from Asheville. Apple cider bubbled merrily on the stove, the air heavy with notes of cinnamon and cloves. "Dr. MacNeil is here."
Alice Henderson looked up from the bread she was kneading. "Good, it looks like there'll be snow on Christmas morning yet. I wouldn't want him to get caught out in it." Christy nodded at her mentor's words. She hadn't even thought of the approaching storm. Ruby Mae for once was silent, all of her attention focused on rolling out pie crust.
Taking two mugs from the shelf, she set about filling them; one with cider, the other with coffee. As she was pushing the door open to head back into the parlor, she snatched two cookies off the shelf. She had eaten hers by the time she reached the parlor door.
When she reentered the parlor, the doctor's back was to her. "Neil?" Rising from his seat by the hearth, he cross the room to meet her. She handed him his mug and his cookie, taking a seat beside him as he sat down in front of the fireplace, his back resting against the couch. Silently, she watched him as he took hearty sip of the coffee, then took a bite of his cookie.
"Did you make these?" He gestured to his headless gingerbread man. She nodded. "Well then lass, I must commend you. Your culinary skills have improved drastically since the last time I sampled your food." He laughed as she wrinkled her nose at him. "Don't get mad at me. I know how not to burn a chicken!" She scowled at him, but soon found his laughter to be too infectious. Her giggles joined his robust chuckles. When the laughter died, she smiled softly at him. His breath caught in his throat. He would never be able to get over how beautiful she was. Reaching out he brushed one of her curls away from her face. Her hair, typically pinned back, hung in loose waves down her shoulders. He wondered if she knew that he preferred it that way.
She blushed at his tender caress, the blood staining her cheeks a delicate shade of pink. The two of them had grown closer than she'd ever imagined possible over the past two months. When the weather had been warmer, they'd taken long walks by the river, and now that winter had arrived, they spent many evenings like this in front of the fireplace, talking about nothing and anything. It was almost as if they were courting, as if they were a couple, but the fact remained that they were not, and this troubled her.
When Margaret had passed away nearly three months prior, she'd understood his reserved manner. Then, when David heading back to Boston to care for his ailing mother the following month, she'd hoped that Neil would say something then, anything then, to let her know that her hopes of a relationship with him were not in vain. Yet as the weeks drug on, she was beginning to question both herself and her feelings. Was she not pretty enough? Not worldly enough? Too headstrong? Had she misinterpreted his glances? His rare, affectionate caresses? Her mind was swimming with questions, none of which she knew the answer too. Sighing, she shifted closer to the couch, letting her head rest on the cushioned arm.
"Tired?" he murmured softly.
"I love the children, and their seemingly endless energy, but sometimes seventy students are too much for one person to handle. I'll be glad when the Carter's arrive after the new year. "
"The Carter's?" This was the first he'd heard of any new comers to the mission.
"Didn't I tell you?" He shook his head. "Oh. The Carter's, Hannah and James, are siblings. Hannah's coming to help me teach. James is going to be the new reverend."
"Do you know them well?"
"Know them? Since birth. Hannah is the same age as me. We were nearly inseparable during growing up, like sisters. James is, well was, my childhood sweetheart. He's only two years older than me, and when I came out into society, he was my partner for nearly every ball. Everyone seemed to expect that we would marry someday. " Christy smiled softly as if remembering some sweet moment between the two of them.
"That's nice. They'll be a big help." Neil shifted uncomfortably, setting his mug on the floor beside him. Sweethearts? Expected to marry? Now, this James was coming here? The stab of jealousy that had shot through him as he watched her eyes light up when she spoke of him was almost physically painful. Did him coming here mean that…. No he thought to himself, she wouldn't. He and Christy were happy together, they loved… His eyes widening in shock, Neil realized that he'd never told Christy of his feelings. Surely she knew how much he loved her? Glancing over at her, he realized that she was staring at him intently.
"Neil? What is it?" Her blue eyes were compassionate, and her brow furrowed as if she was attempting to puzzle out his sudden change in demeanor. Lord, how he loved her. He loved her defiant, spirited nature, her compassion and her gentleness, her optimism, and her unwavering strength. He loved the way light glinted off her chestnut curls, the way her musical laughter could wash away all of his troubles, the way her tiny nose would wrinkle when she was displeased, and the way her luminous blue eyes were quite literally the windows to her soul. But most of all, he loved how she could see a light in him, even when he could not see it in himself. His throat tightened as every memory he had of her accosted him at once: that first time in the Spencer cabin, when she had nearly fainted from the scent of ether, the first time he'd taught a lesson, the way her eyes had lit up when he'd agreed that he needed a helpmate, even though at the time they had vastly different ideas of what she'd been implying, and the incident in the schoolyard, where she had looked at him with pain in her eyes as she attempted to decide her future.
"Christy, I…Christy, I love you." The words had slipped out before he'd even realized what'd he'd said. He felt her tense beside him. His gaze left her face, and instead focused on the firelight as it's shadows danced upon the far wall. Upset at the rashness of his action, he ran a hand through his unruly curls. Inwardly, he was cursing himself, with three little words, he may have just ruined their entire friendship. She remained silent beside him, and with each passing second, his frustration grew. Without looking at her, he spoke.
"Say something, anything, please." His words were soft, but she heard them.
"Neil, look at me." When he did not, she inched closer to him, and kneeled by his side. "Neil?" Tentatively, she raised a dainty hand to brush an errant curl from his brow. The unexpected, tender, action brought a small smile to his lips. Hesitantly, he raised his eyes to meet hers. He couldn't remember the last time she'd looked so serious. "I love you." Her words came out as a mere whisper, but he understood.
"Oh, Christy…" His voice choked as he wiped a single tear from her cheek with the pad of his thumb. "I thought…" he laughed "well, I'm not really sure what I thought, but I wasn't sure if…" He trailed off once more, caught up in the beauty of her eyes, now shimmering blue pools filled with unshed tears. Leaning forward slowly, he drew her towards him, one hand on each side of his face. The foreheads met, and for a moment both were still as they reveled in the sweet moment. Then, Neil dipped down and captured her lips in the lightest of kisses. Without warning, she shifted so that she was sitting on his lap, her hands tangled in the curls at the back of his neck.
As much as he would've liked to stay there forever with her in his lap, and her lips on his, he knew that they were both in a very compromising position. Carefully, he reached behind his head and unclasped her hands. She pulled back, surprised by his sudden change in demeanor.
"Christy, we must stop."
"Did I do something wrong?" He smiled at her innocent question.
"No, not at all. In fact, you may have been doing things too right." His meaning dawned on her. She quickly scrambled off his lap, a deep blush staining her cheeks.
"I'm sorry. I don't know what came over me. I just…"
"There's nothing to be sorry for." He grinned at her. Apparently, she didn't understand that she'd just given him one of the best moments of his life. Reaching out, he clasped her hand in his, and tugged her back into a sitting position beside him.
Sighing, she let her head fall onto his shoulder, her gaze focused on their intertwined hands resting between them. "I was beginning to wonder if I had imagined it all."
"This. That you had feelings for me. After Margaret died, and David left, I'd hoped that maybe you'd say something, but you didn't. And then, as time wore on, and we began to spend time together, I began to hope again. Still, you never said anything, did anything, to make me believe that you saw me as anything other than a naïve young girl. I can't even begin to count the nights I've lain awake trying to figure out what was wrong with me. If I wasn't beautiful enough? If I was too headstrong? If I wasn't experienced enough?" She trailed off, her gaze flickering to his face, and then coming to rest on the knots in the floorboards.
He couldn't believe that she'd thought that she had something wrong with her. To him she was perfect, an angel here on earth. Softly placing a finger under her chin, he raised her eyes to meet his. "Christy? How could you even think that? One of the first things that drew me to you was your fiery nature. You were the first person to challenge me, and win. That first day in my cabin, after you fell into the river, was when I really knew that I was falling for you. And as for being beautiful, I can tell you a million reasons why you are. Did you know that your hair has golden streaks when light catches it? That when you bite your bottom lip when your frustrated, it's the cutest thing I've ever seen? That when you smile because of something I've said, it gives me the warmest feeling in the world?" He could've continued on all night, but was silenced by her lips. Again, he felt himself succumbing to her charms, and this time he wasn't sure if he would be able to stop. Luckily for him, the chiming of the grandfather clock, startled them both. Ten chimes of the clock; how had it gotten so late so quickly?
Christy, too seemed to notice how late it had grown. "I don't want to go to bed just yet."
"You should. Santa Claus won't come if you're still awake." She laughed. "Alright. The guest bedroom down here has been made up for you." Rising, she brushed her skirt off. She bent down to pick up her mug, but he stopped her.
"Don't, I'll get them." He stood up, being careful not to knock over his mug with his boots. "Goodnight, Christy." Leaning down, he dropped a light kiss on her forehead, and gave her a little push towards the stairs.
"Goodnight, Neil." She smiled softly, and then crossed the room towards the stairs. He watched her retreating form until he could see it no longer, before bending down and gathering the mugs.
Humming Silent Night quietly to himself, he made his way to the kitchen, being careful to make as little noise as possible. Swinging open the door to the kitchen, he was surprised to find Alice sitting at the kitchen table, her head bent over her bible.
"Neil? I did not know that thee were still awake. "
"Christy, and I were talking."
"I trust thy conversation was pleasant?" Her statement was simple, and the smile that went along with it all knowing.
"It was. Actually Alice, I wanted to talk to you about some things." He pulled out a chair next to her and sat down. "How do you know that God exists?"
Alice was surprised at his words. For the first time, they were not sarcastic or patronizing in anyway. As she answered him, she couldn't help but wonder if there would be a miracle come Christmas morning.