11

All Plum characters belong to JE. This is completely Babe. One shot for a 2009 Perfectly Plum holiday challenge. Rated M, because I never can be sure with Ranger. I am not a medical professional, so all mistakes in the depictions of medical procedures and recovery are completely my own. All grammatical/ spelling/colloquialism mistakes are mine as well. Inspired by Amy Grant's "Breath of Heaven".

Breath of Heaven

I am waiting in a silent prayer

I am frightened by the load I bear

Beep . . . beep . . . beep . . . beep . . .

The tiny electronic sound measured her thoughts, her breath and her heartbeat.

Beep . . . beep . . . beep . . . beep . . .

Stephanie Plum sighed deeply and resisted the urge to rub the grit out of her aching eyes. The private room at Johns Hopkins was shrouded in dusk except for the ambient glow from the light above the bed. It glinted off the metal IV stands and shimmered along the clear plastic faces of the cardiac monitors. The red, amber and green status lights were like tiny Christmas lights festooning a drug-induced nightmare of a modern plastic tree. Or maybe the post-modern version of a tree. After two weeks keeping vigil by his bedside, Steph couldn't process anything except the rise and fall of Ranger's chest and the reassuring rhythm of his heartbeat.

Another sigh escaped her, and Steph eased her hand underneath his where it rested on the white sheets. The rough cotton weave rasped across her skin in contrast to the smoothness of his skin. Warmth enveloped her hand as the weight of his muscled hand settled onto hers.

She remembered that same weight resting on her upper arms as he kissed her good-bye before he left for his last mission. His hands slid across her shoulders to cup her face with aching gentleness and Ranger plundered her mouth and soul with the passion and desperation of a man denied too long. Even though they'd been in a relationship for three short months, the fire between them flared hot and intense whenever they touched. The heat of this kiss seared into her mind, narrowing her thoughts to only the man in her arms. He broke away with a sudden violence, then kissed her again with a whisper soft touch before walking out the door.

That kiss stayed with her throughout the following weeks without word or sign from him. The fear and uncertainty nearly broke her, and she finally collapsed when one of Ram's defense contacts confirmed Ranger was back in the country and alive. Then Tank scared her witless when he woke her during the night and hauled her out of bed. He gave her just enough time to throw clothes into an overnight bag before bundling her into the BMW. Within minutes, they were flying south on the highway through the winter darkness, and Tank told her the bad news as they wove in and out of traffic.

Laceration. Infection. Sepsis. The words didn't pierce the fog around her brain, and did nothing to dispel the blind panic rising in her throat. Tank didn't say anything, just silently handed her the plastic bags every RangeMan vehicle now carried and kept driving while she retched miserably. When she had her rebellious body under control, he told her that Ranger had checked himself out of Walter Reed and started driving for Trenton, only to lose consciousness near Baltimore. The EMTs brought him to Johns Hopkins, where the trauma team diagnosed the problem and started him on the protocol to rid his body of the toxins.

Steph gazed at his sleeping face, noting the dry skin at the corner of his mouth where the ventilator had been taped, and the shadows beneath his eyes. Even though he'd been sedated and chemically paralyzed while on the vent and undergoing dialysis, his body had fought hard to rid itself of the poisons leaching through the tissue from the infection. The doctors were all cautiously optimistic throughout the treatment, reassuring her with every shift change and status check that Ranger was both stable and getting better. Slowly.

A soft knock drew her gaze towards the door, and she tried to smile as the charge nurse peeked around the corner.

"Knock knock," she said softly, her voice barely above a whisper as she slid into the room. "And Merry Christmas."

"Hey, Andrea," said Steph, keeping her voice low as well to avoid disturbing Ranger. He was still lightly sedated to keep him quiet and allow his body to transition from the deeper chemical coma. "I didn't know you were working tonight."

Andrea shrugged, her short dark hair bobbing with the motion. The ever-present stethoscope was folded around her neck, and she carried a clipboard under one arm. "We open presents Christmas morning. I'm working the evening shift for Tina since she has young kids. I'll get home just about the time my teenagers are dragging their lazy butts out of their warm beds. How are you doing?"

"I wish he'd wake up," Steph answered, her gaze drifting back to Ranger. "I wish he'd tell me that everything is going to be okay."

"He's going to wake up, and he's going to be okay." Andrea checked a monitor and noted the number on her clipboard. "He fought to get back to you. 'Steph' was the only word he said in the ER, and if determination counted for anything, he was crawling out of this place to look for you."

The tears Steph couldn't control dripped from her eyes. "I love him so much. I didn't get to tell him half the things I want him to hear."

Andrea paused and turned around. Her eyebrow arched slightly as she looked at Steph and her lips pursed.

In a world as cold as stone

Must I walk this path alone?

Steph realized her left hand was resting on her stomach and moved it away as casually as she could. It was bad enough when Ella found out and told the Merry Men. She didn't think she could survive if the nurses here started in on her.

"How far along?"

Her shoulders slumped. "Twenty weeks. I found out the day after he left."

"You didn't have a chance to tell him," Andrea said.

"No. I didn't even know if I should." Steph sniffed back the tears, wiping her nose on the back of her hand. "We didn't talk about the future. He told me once that he wouldn't do anything stupid like marriage or pregnancy."

Andrea slid the pen into the clipboard and knelt beside Steph's chair. "I've watched you keep vigil for two long weeks by his bedside, and those big scary guys sitting outside this door to guard both of you. A man who inspires that kind of love and devotion won't turn his back on the woman carrying his child. If love counts for anything, and it does, your love will grow stronger together."

"You think so?" Steph hated the thin, raspy tone in her voice. It was weak and pathetic, but she didn't have a whole lot of fight left in her tonight. She'd used it all praying and watching by his bedside, counting the breaths of the ventilator and beeps of the monitors.

Andrea patted her hand. "I know so. That is one hell of a Christmas present for any guy."

Steph smiled, her eyes filling with tears again as she took Ranger's hand again and pressed her lips to the rough knuckles. A drop of moisture fell on his skin and slipped across the strong sinews like the silver trail of a falling star.

"Have you had your evening break?" asked Andrea in a brisk tone as she finished up the equipment checks.

"Uh . . ." Steph trailed off, not really sure if she should try the usual dodge or not. "I took a morning break."

"Doesn't count. The team's coming through in a couple minutes to get things ready for the night. Why don't you take your walk? The cafeteria is open late and the chapel will be empty." Andrea took her stethoscope out and gave Steph a significant look. "Don't make me pull medical rank. I can have a doctor pot your sweet little ass in an adjoining bed if you give me any lip."

Reluctantly, Steph got up. She kept her hand under Ranger's for as long as possible, loath to lose even that small contact. When her fingers finally slipped free, his head moved slightly on the pillow and his heart rate sped up a bit. She waited silently until he calmed down again.

"You'll call me if anything happens?" she asked.

Andrea nodded. "Absolutely. Now shoo."

With a weary sigh, Steph went into the hallway. Tank sat in the folding chair by the door, his arms crossed and a formidable look on his face as he kept watch. Down the hall, Cal and Junior were visible in the waiting room, paging through old magazines and ostensibly not watching the TV set. Christmas music played through the speakers, softly enough to be nearly lost under ambient noise.

She gave Tank a small smile. "Andrea kicked me out. I'm taking my break."

"Good," Tank said. "At least you'll listen to someone."

"Hard to argue with her," Steph said. "Who ratted me out?"

He grinned unrepentantly. "Didn't have to. She asked me the first day and put the information in Ranger's file. We figured Andrea would make sure you didn't exhaust yourself."

The sigh that escaped Steph was deep and resigned. "You're ganging up on me."

"We're watching out for you, since Ranger isn't able to do it himself." Tank uncrossed his arms. "Big difference. You going to eat?"

"Thought I'd take a walk first." She glanced down the hall. "Can you spare a guy?"

He spoke into his shirt pocket and she saw Cal get up and toss his magazine onto the table. "I should have both following you. Ranger won't be the only one to kick my ass if something happens."

"It's Christmas," she said without heat. "They deserve to be home with their families."

"That must be why I had to trim the roster of volunteers for tonight." His grin became a little wider at her obvious confusion. "Twenty-five guys wanted to spend Christmas Eve here, because you are like a sister to them. When I chose the two guys who don't have family in the area, the other twenty-three were going to show up anyways. I threatened them with gym time and made them promise to stay home, otherwise every chair in that waiting room would be full."

"Oh," she said softly, her eyes stinging with tears. Truthfully, she hadn't paid attention to who was on watch and who went with her on these nightly walks, at least not until Ranger was steadily improving. Vaguely, she remembered Tank, Lester, Bobby and Hal shadowing her through those first days, but the rest of it was a blur of exhaustion and fear. "I don't know how I could ever—"

Tank leaned forward, his eyes narrowed and grim. "Take care of yourself, and take care of little RangeMan Junior. That's all we ask."

"I will. I promise." Steph tried to lighten the tone a bit. "But why are you here, Tank? I thought Lula would have plans for you in Trenton."

"She came down this afternoon. We'll celebrate Christmas at the hotel when I get off shift." He settled back into the chair. "You taking the usual route tonight?"

"Um, probably. Chapel, courtyard and cafeteria." Steph glanced at Cal, who was zipping up his polar fleece.

"It was snowing out earlier," Cal said as he handed her a fleece coat and scarf. She shrugged into it and took a deep breath as the warmth enveloped her. The faintest aroma of Bulgari teased her senses, and she silently blessed Ella for her thoughtfulness. Ever since Ranger left, the housekeeper had slipped sachets with the Bulgari scent into the clothes Steph wore so she could feel closer to him.

"I think we'll make the outside portion of the jaunt short tonight," she answered, fluffing the scarf a bit so it covered her neck.

Tank nodded in approval. "Keep warm. Holler if you need anything."

"Will do, big guy." Steph set off down the hallway with Cal a few steps behind her. The route she took was a familiar one; she'd used it to clear her head and get some fresh air at least twice every day. The distance from Ranger's hospital room made it easier to see the progress in his condition, and easier to believe that he was really going to be all right.

Steph skirted the bank of elevators, her pace brisk and designed to use as much nervous energy as possible. The only times she slowed down were for utility carts or people. Precisely ten minutes from the start of her walk, she reached the quiet corner of the floor housing the chapel.

Steph carefully opened the side door. This was the first place she came on the walks, to pray for Ranger and the child growing within her. She didn't follow any set ritual or prayer; the ones she knew from her childhood didn't bring her comfort and, without anyone to guide her, she'd settled for just sitting quietly on one of the cushioned benches, talking to God about what lay heaviest on her heart.

Flameless candles set among green fir garlands flickered in alcoves around the empty room. They shed enough light to see by, and after checking to make sure she wasn't disturbing anyone's meditation, Steph slipped inside. The door stayed open long enough for Cal to follow her, then slowly closed.

Be with me now.

Be with me now.

Steph took her usual seat in the second row. She gazed at the tiers of candles on the table near the lectern and struggled to find that elusive inner peace. As another sigh escaped her, she glanced down and saw a folded program on the seat beside her.

The Message Within Christmas was printed in bold capital letters across the top of the paper. Curious, Steph picked it up and looked at the picture of the Nativity underneath the title, drawn to the adoration in Mary's face as she gazed at her infant son.

Steph shivered inside of her RangeMan fleece, closing her eyes against the colddespair that loomed over her. She grabbed her scattered thoughts and marshaled them into the place where she needed them to be, and fought against the niggling doubts and whirling fears.

Another breath to fill the emptiness inside of her, and Steph started down her list of prayers. First was for Ranger, that he would be strong and whole. She prayed that he would know how many people loved him and were there for him, and that he would always know how much she loved him. The end of that prayer was always a long list of thank yous for the people who blessed her with their support and strength when her own will faltered.

Steph glanced down as she opened her eyes, and saw that she was folding the program between her fingers, a pleat for every point of her prayer. She shook her head at her nervous fidgeting and started to lay it aside when she saw the Scripture reading for the service.

"But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son . . . .

And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God . . .

And the angel said unto the shepherds, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy . . ."*

"Fear not," Steph whispered, and swallowed against the knot in her throat. She crumpled the program and shoved it into the pocket of her fleece, climbing to her feet and heading out the door. There was certainly a lot for her to fear lately. She feared for Ranger in his dangerous mission, then feared what he would say when he found out that she had screwed up again, only this time in such a way as to make them both responsible for a tiny life growing within her. The days and weeks passed without word, and she had feared that she would be raising this child alone and grieving what he would never know. And in the past two weeks, she feared the dread of watching his love die when she confessed to the child she carried.

Cal fell in behind her again and nearly ran into her when she stopped suddenly by the crèche set on a table near the door. A single spotlight shone over the handmade figurines, sparkling on the crystals dusting the robes of the magi and glittering on the shiny wool of the sheep clutched in shepherds' arms as they knelt beside the manger.

Her hand reached out, drawn by something she could not name. Trembling, her fingers rested on the smooth softness of the Baby's head and a single tear fell down her cheek. She wiped it off and turned away, not knowing that more fell to take its place.

Do you wonder as you watch my face,
If a wiser one should have had my place?

The route from the chapel to the ground floor passed by in a blur. Steph vaguely remembered taking the stairs because she didn't want to wait for the elevator; if she stood still for too long the image of the crèche would flash into her mind, and she would shake with aching loneliness. Even Mary, disgraced in the sight of the world, still had Joseph to stand by her side and help her raise the child she conceived.

She paused at the double doors that led to the courtyard where she usually took a turn around the sidewalks for the fresh air. She stared at her reflection in the darkened glass, a wild-haired woman bundled into black sweatpants and polar fleece, with Cal a protective shadow behind her. Steph gritted her teeth and pushed through the door into the winter night beyond.

A gust of snow, born on a coldwind, swirled around her before she reached the edge of the first security light. Steph tucked her head deeper into her scarf and kept walking, her mind racing and swirling in circles that would shame a whirlwind.

Maybe I should go back to Trenton, she thought, cursing inwardly as she skidded across a patch of ice. Maybe it's better if he doesn't see me until he's feeling better . . . maybe he's been pretending to be asleep so he doesn't have to look at me.

She sniffed as the cold wind froze the tears on her cheeks and made her eyes burn. The crunch of her soles on the new snow sounded loud in her ears, and a car engine strained to plow through the rapidly deepening snow on the nearby street.

Glancing up, Steph saw that she had reached the outer section of the courtyard. A wrought iron fence separated the courtyard from the cobblestone street here. Someone told her in those first few days that this was an original street, unchanged from the era of the first hospital to be built in this place. As the tail lights of the car disappeared into the curtain of falling snow, Steph realized that the great city was silent as it huddled under the onslaught of the Christmas storm.

Abruptly, Steph halted in the in middle of the sidewalk, her back to the street. She stood for a long moment, letting the stillness seep into her soul, then looked up to the sky. Give me a sign, she whispered silently. Just . . . show me that it's going to be okay.

The wind blew thick flakes of snow across the courtyard, swirling them around her before sending them dancing through the fence and into the empty street. Steph didn't move, her eyes straining to see the clouds towering high above the glow of the streetlights. The lighter-colored lower clouds raced swiftly by, sped by the wind that strengthened with the deepening night. Steph stared at the roiling tendrils and her heart started to break.

The lower clouds thinned, and a dark crack widened like an eternal abyss. Directly overhead, it grew larger with each glimpse she caught through the ragged underlying clouds. As she watched, enthralled in the snow and the night, the lower clouds faded to little wisps and revealed the nature of the darkness above them.

Through the towering clouds of the storm above the city, a hole pierced the roiling mass from the ground to the very top. Steph looked up as if from the bottom of a well, past the unbridled power of Nature's fury to the winter sky and a lone star shining in gentle benediction.

The moment stretched into eternity as she stared upwards, transfixed. She didn't hear anything but the wind and, perhaps, a small voice that whispered words she was finally ready to understand. When the gap in the clouds finally closed, veiling the star, Steph lowered her gaze to the earth again and trudged onwards.

Help me be strong.
Help me be.
Help me.

Steph cut off the last part of her walk, electing to return upstairs instead of stopping at the cafeteria. Her stomach wouldn't welcome food at this point. Between the turbulent emotional rollercoaster of the past few hours and the hormones still blasting through her system, food would be a drop-in guest that wouldn't be staying long enough in the stomach to even pick out curtains.

As they entered the Critical Care Unit from the opposite end, Steph saw Andrea standing outside the room talking to Tank as the last of the nurses filed out of Ranger's room. Steph slipped out of her fleece and handed it and the scarf to Cal. He took it and turned into the lounge, leaving Steph to continue on.

She stopped next to Tank, and Andrea drew her into a one-armed hug. "You look exhausted, Steph. Gary pulled the recliner next to the bed so you can get some sleep. I'll wake you if there are any changes."

"How's he doing?" she asked quietly.

"The sedation is done. Carlos may drift in and out for a while until the drugs clear his system. He's still hooked up to the oxygen, IV and monitors, so be careful of the leads or the alarms will go off. The good news is he should be fully awake very soon."

A shiver ran through Steph, and Andrea hugged her again before letting her go. "It will be okay. If he seems to be uncomfortable or agitated, hit the call button. We have some mild pain relievers that will help without putting him out again. Okay?"

"Yeah, okay. Thanks." Steph took a deep breath for courage and squared her shoulders before walking into the room. Her gaze automatically swung towards the bed to check on Ranger, and she froze in mid-stride when she saw him turned towards her, his eyes half-opened.

"Ranger?" Steph whispered, barely able to breathe. She couldn't see any recognition in his face, just the slack expression of someone still too far under the effects of the drugs. She forced herself to keep walking towards the other side of the bed where the recliner had been moved so she could stay close through the night. It wasn't a comfortable option at all, but it beat trying to curl up in the regular chair or even on the cold tile floor. As she moved the pillows and folded blankets to one side, his head turned towards her. She forced herself to talk, keeping her voice low and soothing.

"It's okay, Ranger," she said as she settled into the chair and slipped off her shoes. His hand lifted from the bed and Steph took it in both of hers. Gently, she kissed his fingers and felt them move in response. "I'm staying right here. You've been very sick, but you are getting better. Tank is outside and there's a back up team just down the hall."

"Where?"

The word was the barest of whispers, but Steph could see the awareness growing stronger in his dark eyes. "Johns Hopkins. You made it to Baltimore before you passed out while driving."

"Babe."

Steph brushed a lock of hair from his forehead. "Go ahead and sleep if you want. I'll be here when you wake up."

His eyes drifted closed and Steph waited until his breathing deepened to sleep before releasing his hand. She tucked her feet under her and arranged the pillows so they supported her back. Just as she shook out the thick blanket, Tank walked into the room holding a small gift-wrapped box.

"Ranger was awake," Steph said, seeing the glance Tank threw towards the bed.

"That's good. He'll be happier seeing your face than mine after being under for so long." Tank paused, then held out the box. "This was delivered to RangeMan yesterday. Lula brought it with her. Ranger . . . didn't know how long this mission was going to last. He left instructions if things went bad, but since he came back we never canceled the order and . . ."

Steph didn't move as Tank trailed off. "It's his Christmas present for me?"

"Yeah. I think you should open it. You need to see it and he needs to see it where it belongs." Tank cleared his throat. "Bombshell—Steph. The two of you have weathered more storms apart and together than most people see in a lifetime. But life isn't about how to survive the storm, but how to dance in the snow. Without you, Carlos will never learn about the better things, he won't see the joy you bring into his life. Please, Steph. Let him see how wonderful his future can be."

"He said he didn't want to do anything stupid," Steph said, proud that her voice stayed steady. "That doesn't sound like a man who will appreciate the only future I have to offer him."

Tank sighed and dropped his hand to his side. "He ordered the present the day before he left, Steph. I guess the question you have to ask yourself is if you trust Carlos to know his own mind about you."

She climbed out of the chair and crossed the room, her sock-clad feet noiseless on the tile floor. Tipping her head back to meet Tank's gaze, she held out her hand. "I do trust him. He's saved my life and my sanity more times than I can count."

"You won't regret it," said Tank, giving her the box. "I know Carlos never regretted having you in his life."

"Thanks, Big Guy. I've been scared this whole time, wondering what Ranger would say about—" She made a hopeless gesture and Tank captured her fingers in a surprisingly gentle hold.

"Open the present," he said simply. "Open it and make him the happiest man in the world."

"Tell me it's going to be okay," she whispered.

"It's going to be okay." Tank dropped a kiss on the top of her head, then patted her stomach. "Merry Christmas, Bombshell. Merry Christmas, Junior."

"Merry Christmas, Tank." Steph stood in the middle of the room, clutching the present like a lifeline, until he closed the door behind him. Alone in the dim light of the hospital room, she used her fingertips to swipe the moisture from her eyes and went back to the chair. Once she was tucked into the recliner again, she checked to make sure Ranger still slept before sliding a finger underneath a fold of the wrapping paper.

Steph tried to open it quietly. The paper rustled a bit as she set it to one side, and she paused for a moment before continuing. Balancing the box on the arm of the recliner, Steph pried open the lid. She sifted through the crumpled brown paper until she found the small box at the bottom. A note card taped on the top had one word written in Ranger's distinctive hand.

Please.

Her fingers shook badly enough that it took two tries to lift the smaller box free. Steph willed herself to focus and opened the lid.

White fire bloomed in the dimness, scattering light like sparkles on new-fallen snow. Every facet of the solitaire diamond reflected light until it dazzled her eyes. Steph drew out the slip of paper folded into the platinum band of the ring and smoothed it flat.

A gasp escaped her, and her eyes flew to the bed to make sure she hadn't disturbed him. When his breathing remained unchanged, Steph looked back at the note, her tears blurring the words.

Marry me. C.

Steph leaned forward until her forehead rested on the edge of the bed as her control finally broke and the tears flowed unchecked. The edges of the diamond setting pressed into her skin as she clenched her hand around it. The sharp sting went unnoticed as she cried, and the knot of uncertainty and fear inside of her loosened and faded away.

Breath of heaven, hold me together,
Be forever near me, breath of heaven.

The storm of emotion couldn't last, and as the tears started to dry up, Steph felt a hand smooth over her hair. She turned her head so her cheek rested against the sheet and met Ranger's dark gaze. He traced a line across her cheek with the back of his hand.

"Please," he whispered, his voice still rough from disuse and the ventilator. "I want . . . a future . . . with you."

"I'm a package deal now," she blurted out, sitting up and using her sleeve to wipe her face. His hand fell away from her, landing in the damp spot left by her tears. She tightened her grip on the ring as she prayed silently for strength to get the words out. "I'm pregnant."

He stared at her, his face blank and his entire body so perfectly still that she knew she had succeeded in shocking him. "What?" he whispered.

"I know you didn't want any children, but I didn't plan this," Steph said quickly, hoping to forestall the moment when the light died out of his eyes and he realized what she was saying. "I swear I don't know how this happened, and if I could go back and—"

"Babe."

She shut up, gulping for air as she tried to regain her equilibrium. "I'm sorry," she whispered, ducking her head.

The sheets rustled as Ranger moved, but Steph kept her head down, closing her eyes to stave off reality for just a little while longer. He gasped, then the bed railing creaked.

"Babe . . . can I? Please?"

Steph's head shot up, and she froze as Ranger pulled himself upright using the railing, his other hand reaching towards her. His gaze was focused on her stomach, his fingers stretching . . .

"Oh!" Steph mentally smacked herself in the head and scooted forward until his hand could settle on the firm bump that had filled out her waistline until even her fat jeans went on strike. Ranger closed his eyes as his fingers moved across her stomach, his eyebrows drawn together as he focused on the tiny life within her.

"Ranger?" she asked.

He opened his eyes and smiled at her, the 200 watt brilliance stealing her breath. "Thank you."

"For what?"

Carefully, Ranger eased himself back to the pillows, his hand lingering until he could no longer keep the contact. "For carrying . . . our child. For loving me."

"But I thought—" She stopped, then crawled over the arm of the recliner until she leaned over him, her lips inches from his. "I love you, Carlos."

"I will always love you," he said, and raised up a little to capture her mouth in a soft kiss.

It didn't last long enough to satisfy her, but Steph contented herself with following him down and planting another whisper-soft kiss on his lips before moving back to the chair. Resting her head against the back of the recliner, she kept her eyes on his, reading in the depths of his gaze every reassurance she would ever need.

"You haven't said yes," Ranger finally said, a hint of the smile still gracing his lips.

Steph cocked her head. "You proposed to me, but it's an us now. This isn't a marriage. It's a family."

"Will you both marry me?" he asked.

The first real smile she'd had for weeks bloomed onto her face. "Yes. Yes, we both will marry you, Ricardo Carlos Manoso."

Steph pried the ring out of her skin where the setting had embedded itself and slipped it onto her finger.

"Good." Ranger held out his hand to her. "Stay tonight?"

She twined the fingers of her left hand with his and pulled the blanket over her shoulders. "Yes."

As she closed her eyes and drifted towards sleep, Steph heard the faint strains of a Christmas carol echoing through the halls.

"Steph?"

"Hmm."

"Merry Christmas, Babe."

*Luke Chapters 1 and 2 King James Version