"Charlie, no, don't eat that. You'll get salmonella..." Quicker than the Grinch stealing presents, Alex snatched the roll of raw cookie dough from a pouting three year old and held it out of reach.
"Mama... giv'it," he mumbled, reaching out pudgy hands, opening his brown eyes wide and giving the lawyer an absolutely pitiful look of longing.
"No. You'll get sick. Besides, that's not how polite little boys ask for things."
Warm lips pressed against the back of Alex's neck, momentarily causing her to forget about the cookie dough. "Aw, let him have a piece," said Olivia, wrapping her arms around Alex's waist from behind. "He's not gonna fall over and die."
"That's what you say to me when I take the cookie dough away from you, Mrs. Sweet Tooth. Then I let you have some, you eat the whole roll, and you spend the night holding your stomach and groaning about how miserable you are."
"First, the name is Mrs. Cabot, thank you." Alex chuckled at that. "And secondly, if you give him a tiny bit, you'll both be happy. He won't have too much so you won't cry when he cries."
Charlie, who generally didn't have the stamina for the Cabot/Benson arguments, turned his attention to trying to open the fridge where he knew the juice was. Having been born of Alex, he had beautiful blonde hair, and enough height, even at three, to reach the handle. He didn't, however, have the strength to get past the child lock.
"C'n I have some juice please?" His brown eyes were turned again on his mothers, and Olivia suspected that he already knew how devastating they were.
"Juice is a much better choice," Alex conceded. "You have to drink it at the table, though."
"Okay," Charlie agreed, willing to compromise.
Letting go of her wife, Olivia headed over to the fridge. "All right, little man, what kind of juice do you want?" Without being asked, Alex opened a cupboard to take out a sippy cup. Strangely, motherhood suited her, although she did not necessarily like the changes it had brought to their expensive apartment. A little of her frosty demeanor had melted, but she was just as stubborn and passionate as ever. That was good, since Alex had to deal with a three year old every day... and Olivia, who could act like a three year old when she didn't get her way.
"Orange," Charlie pronounced with great certainty.
"Orange it is." She poured herself a glass and then half filled Charlie's sippy cup, aware that even with the fairly well sealed lid, Charlie could get juice anywhere if there was enough of it in the cup. "You want some honey?"
"Nope, I'm good," Alex said, frowning over the dial on the oven as she put the neatly sliced Christmas cookie dough into the oven.
"When is Santa comin'?"
Since Alex was busy with the cookies, Olivia answered. "Not until late tonight, Charlie. First Grandpa Alex, Nana, and Pop have to come for dinner." Since Charlie was a little young to understand the Cabot family tree, Edna and Emerson had chosen to be Nana and Pop respectively. "Then we'll read The Night Before Christmas, put out cookies and milk for Santa-"
"And carrots?" Charlie interrupted. Olivia did not chastise him for it. In fact, she found it endearing that he remembered the carrots they had left for the reindeer the year before. For a three year old, he had a pretty big brain, and it was still growing. He reminded her a lot of Alex.
"And carrots. Then we all go to bed and when we wake up tomorrow morning, there will be presents under the tree."
"And stockings," she confirmed.
"Will you help me put out da cookies?"
"Of course I will."
"What if I eat them?"
Olivia heard Alex laugh from across the kitchen, clearly eavesdropping on the fascinating conversation. "Well, I think that you might get to have some cookies for after dinner, so your little tummy will be full and Santa can have his."
"I don't fink my tummy is ever too full of cookies," Charlie said with a sip of his juice.
This time, Olivia couldn't hold back her snort of laughter.
"Well, he's definitely your son, Olivia," Alex said. "I hope you're proud."
Before Olivia could respond that she was incredibly proud, the door buzzed. "They're here," Olivia said, looking almost glum. Granted, she and Alexander Cabot got along much better now than they had in the past, but the relationship was still a little stiff. He wasn't all bad. He had walked Alex down the aisle at their wedding (after some prodding from Edna) and he had been there at the birth of their son. He visited Charlie regularly, so Olivia had grown accustomed to tolerating him even though they didn't exactly gel. Taking Charlie's hand, she led him from the kitchen. "Come on, let's go say hi to Grandpa Alex, Pop, and Nana." Remembering that Edna was also visiting cheered her up considerably.
"Uh uh uh," Alex called out. "Cups to the kitchen."
Simultaneously grumbling, both Olivia and Charlie did as they were told and then went to let their guests in. Edna was still Edna, the same as ever, though Emerson was looking a little frailer these days. Both were well into their eighties, but that hadn't stopped Edna from being, well, Edna.
"Olivia," Alexander said in polite greeting. His tone towards his grandson was significantly warmer though. "Charlie m'boy!"
"Hi Grandpa! Olivia says Santa's comin'."
Alexander bent down so that Charlie could give him a hug and kiss. "Olivia is right."
Biting back a sarcastic reply, Olivia smiled instead. "Hello, Edna."
"Hello, Olivia dear," said the older woman, smiling fondly at her favorite daughter in law. "Say hello, Emerson."
"What?" said her husband, scratching one ear. "Oh, hello." It had taken time, but gradually, Emerson had stopped asking after Alex's 'young man'. After their wedding, he did not mention the idea of Alex finding a male partner at all.
"Hello Emerson," Olivia chuckled. Despite his strange insistence at ignoring their relationship, Olivia was fond of Emerson, and knew why Alex loved the man so much. He was smart, funny, profoundly deaf and quite hilarious. He also treated Olivia with respect, which was a little more than his son gave the brunette.
Charlie, being careful as he'd been told to, gently hugged Edna and Emerson. Looking up at his great grandfather, he frowned. "You're very old."
"Charlie!" Both of his mothers simultaneously exclaimed. Edna, however, just laughed.
"That he is, boy, that he is."
"My name's Charlie, not boy," he said, not with correction but with self-assurance that only Alex could have given him.
"Hello, Charlie," said Emerson, reaching down to pat the boy's cheek. Unlike Alexander, he could not bend low to greet Charlie on his level. "You know, I first met your Mama Olivia on Christmas."
Alex smiled, remembering that Christmas long ago while Olivia took Emerson, Edna, and Alexander's coats. The memory, particularly their intimate encounter in the first floor bathroom, was still fresh and clear years later. Edna caught her eye, smiling at her as Alex closed the front door and ushered the group into the kitchen. "Come on everyone, the food is ready and cookies are still in the oven."
"Oh good," said Edna. "Olivia has a sweet tooth, if I remember correctly..."
Olivia smiled gently. If Alex counted as sweet, she definitely had a sweet tooth.
"Grandpa, mama says tomorrow we get presents, and Santa is coming and there are cookies and grandpa, why is Santa so fat? Grandpa, come and look at my trains. How does he fit down the chimney?"
Olivia couldn't help chuckle as Alexander was dragged off under what she liked to call the "Charlie onslaught". She and Alex were used to it by now, but the look on Alexander's face told her that he was going to be very, very exhausted by the end of his visit.
"He's just like Alex was at that age," Edna said with a lovely smile.
"I can just imagine," Olivia said dryly. "I think this might be payback."
"Thanks," Alex said, taking the time to stick her tongue out at her wife.
"Is that an offer?" Olivia teased back, almost forgetting that they were not alone. When she remembered Emerson's presence, a bright blush colored her normally smooth brown complexion. Alex studied her, chewing on the corner of her mouth as she decided whether or not to respond. Emerson took the decision away from her.
"According to my wife, that is what got you in to trouble at that Christmas dinner I was mentioning."
Both women were shocked. Emerson, while lucid in his interactions with them, occasionally had a faulty memory and rarely acknowledged their relationship openly. The comment was so unexpected that Alex and Olivia could only stare at each other in surprise, completely mortified.
Edna clicked her tongue at them. "My husband isn't a fool, girls. Of course he knew what happened that day."
"Good for him," Olivia said, with a huge grin. She decided that if they were going to be open, she wouldn't dissemble too much.
Walking to her wife, she placed a relatively chaste kiss on her Alex's cheek and a warm hand on her stomach. They were going to wait for a few more weeks to tell anyone that Charlie's younger sibling was on the way, but she still couldn't help touching. She swore that she could already feel the life growing inside Alex.
"And then we're going to the park, and then Mama said I might get a milkshake if I'm good, and then... Mama, when's dinner?" Clearly Charlie and Alexander had done a complete circuit of the apartment and were back now. Olivia couldn't help feeling secret joy that Alexander looked positively shell-shocked.
"Right now, honey," Alex said, leaning in to Olivia briefly as she felt warm hands caress her belly. She was not starting to show yet, but in a few weeks it would be apparent to everyone that she was carrying another child. Olivia was hoping for a girl, but Alex did not really have a preference. It took a few moments for Olivia to release her, but eventually Alex unwound herself from the detective's light embrace. "Come on. The food's ready."
Charlie smiled. Taking Edna's hand this time, he led her into the kitchen. "Let's go eat, Nana! Sometimes at dinner Mama lets me drink out of a grown up cup."
"Which is why the furniture has plastic covers," Alex muttered under her breath.
"He's a bundle of energy, isn't he," remarked her father.
Olivia chuckled again. "He's pretty perfect though."
"Well, of course, he's a Cabot."
The detective couldn't help but agree. "Yeah, Cabots are pretty perfect, but that doesn't mean they're easy to handle."
"Quite the opposite," Alex added, leading the family in to dinner after Charlie and Edna. The young boy was chattering away to his great grandmother, excitedly demonstrating how he could cut his own food (mostly) and drink out of the big boy cup. "Charlie," Alex said, shaking her head slightly. "You were supposed to wait for us to come in so we could all eat together."
Charlie pouted. "I was just showing Nana..."
"Don't fuss at him, Alex. He's not the only one that likes to eat when he's not supposed to."
Olivia, who was the last into the kitchen, choked on air and started coughing with surprise and embarrassment.
"Oh for God's sake, Nan, leave her be. I like my wife in one piece and you're likely to make her explode if you keep prodding her like that." The blonde sat down next to Charlie. "Besides, little ears do hear things, and are smarter than we think."
"She means me," Charlie said conspiratorially to his great grandmother. "She usually does."
"That's because you're important." Olivia ruffled her son's hair and then moved around to sit next to Alex, since Edna was occupying her usual chair on the other side of the small boy. "Want me to cut up your food, baby?" she offered even though Charlie was a seat away.
"I can do it!" Charlie protested, wanting to be independent even though he was only three.
Alex smiled at him and offered a compromise. "How about you do the first few cuts and then Olivia can do the other ones?"
Charlie frowned, clearly thinking about it. "Okay," he agreed, surrendering his plastic knife to Olivia after a few stabs.
Alexander smiled fondly at his grandson. Even though visits usually left him shell-shocked by the youngster's excessive energy, he enjoyed spending time with Charlie. Watching his daughter's wife cut the food on Charlie's plate, he also had to admit that Olivia was a very attentive parent.
The dinner was pleasant. Ever since Olivia had made it clear she was not going back to the Cabot's mansion during formal occasions, Alex had made an effort to have things at their apartment. Both of them appreciated having family around at family times, and yet, when it was on Olivia's territory, she felt much safer. Charlie, of course, made things significantly easier, as a conduit to conversation. Since he could have a conversation all by himself, it took the pressure off.
Nevertheless, Olivia was a little happier when they'd politely ushered everyone out the door, and a very sleepy Charlie was protesting in Alex's arms that he wanted to stay up and see Santa. Since the brunette had no intention of dressing up in a white beard and red suit, Charlie was required to go to sleep, and soon.
"Where should I wait for Santa?" he asked Olivia from Alex's safe hold. "The fire 'scape? We don't have a chimney."
"Santa is magical. He doesn't need to climb the fire escape," Alex told him.
"And he doesn't come until all good little boys are in bed," Olivia added, keeping her tone gentle but firm. "It's just like the song, little buddy. He sees you when you're sleeping and he knows when you're awake. If you don't go to sleep, he might pass by our apartment."
The threat worked. Deeply concerned that Santa would skip their home, Charlie allowed Alex and Olivia to carry him into his bedroom.
"C'n mama Livia read me Rudolf again?"
Tucking him into his racing car bed, one that Olivia had insisted that they get, the brunette sat down with her back against the head of the bed and opened Rudolph the red nose Reindeer to the first page.
"It was the night before Christmas, and Santa was getting his sleigh ready to take presents to all the good children of the world."
"Baby," Alex interrupted softly. "He's already asleep."
Having read the story about fifty times that week, Olivia was secretly glad. She closed the book and leaned down, pressing a kiss to her son's forehead. Charlie was sound asleep and did not stir, but he was smiling gently. Olivia left the book on the chair and stood up, preparing to go and fill Charlie's stocking, but the sight of Alex framed by the moonlight stopped her. Instead, she joined her wife at the bedroom window, opening her arms for Alex to settle in to. Snow was falling, and since it was fresh, it blanketed the city in crisp, clean white instead of turning in to gray New York slush.
"It's beautiful," Olivia said, her hands once again wandering to Alex's stomach and caressing absentmindedly.
Alex purred at the attention. "You're beautiful." She leaned in for a soft, gentle kiss that spoke of love and affection. Their bond had only strengthened over the years. "Merry Christmas, Olivia."
"Merry Christmas, Alex." Olivia gave Alex's form a slight squeeze, loving the way their bodies lined up. "I don't suppose we can make love under the Christmas tree this year with little ears listening for Santa, but perhaps our bedroom with a lock is an acceptable substitute?"
Alex nuzzled the juncture of Olivia's throat, placing a warm kiss on her shoulder. "Mmm. I suppose..."
The brunette held back a throaty moan, not wanting to wake Charlie. Her hands fell to her wife's hips, pulling the blonde in closer as she buried her nose in sweet smelling locks.
"Love you too," came back the whispered reply.
"Love our family."
Alex chuckled. "That's pretty obvious. We're kinda lucky, aren't we?"
Looking down into blue, blue eyes, Olivia smiled. "The luckiest."