To Making It Count

Summary: Secret Santa fic for Athena Alexandria. I was quite pleased with the person I got actually, because I've admired and loved her fics for ages so I'm pleased to be giving something back. Jack and Kate spend Christmas with the people they love. Set in the Sideways world. Bear in mind they remember but haven't 'moved on'.

A lazy eye flickered open, the pupil gazing around solemnly, before landing on the soft figure hidden, like a secret piece of treasure, in the ocean of duvet. The owner of said eye stretched and came to life, leaning his head on his elbow as he gazed with undisguised longing at the one Christmas present he'd had all year.

Jack reached out a hesitant hand - hesitant only because he had no desire to wake the sleeping figure - letting it fall on silk smooth skin. He let his fingers run up and down her skin, smiling as her perfumed scent, thick but not overbearing, reached him. He breathed it in, realizing he'd missed it.

"I can feel you there, you know," Kate's wry voice spoke.

Echoes of memories long gone reached out to Jack; days spent spying on, rather than embracing, his significant other returned to him and, with a smile, he relieved them for a brief moment.

"Happy Christmas," he whispered, reaching down and planting a very gentle kiss on her soft lips.

She returned the kiss, deepening it, somehow, despite not being the one who'd initiated the kiss. Her hands snaked around his neck, her fingers running through his dark hair. The kiss multiplied; she left a trail down his neck, hovering around his collarbone, whilst his lips kissed every visible part of her skin.

"Happy Christmas," Kate murmured back, her eyes filled with love.

She propped herself up, wondering if there was any better view to wake up to than Jack's smiling face. She cupped his face gently in her hands, leaning in for another, softer, kiss, determined to make every moment count. Time, it seemed, had treated him gentler as of late, his worry and frown lines noticeably absent. He looked reminiscent of those photographs she'd perused in his mother's house one late afternoon, a time she'd sadly not been a part of.

"Presents?" Jack offered, his whole face lighting up like he was a child.

"It's only seven, Jack," she teased. "Surely there are better ways to start the day than presents?"

As if to demonstrate that particular point, her hands dove under the covers, finding their way up Jack's shirt, and just hovering there. She enjoyed his momentary look of bliss, enjoyed having that little bit of power over him. His hands, as if they were in tune with hers, ran their way through her hair, down her face so that he was now the one cupping her face in his hands. A low growl escaped his throat and the thought of presents completely escaped his mind.

"Yeah," Kate breathed, as his lips locked fiercely on hers. "Thought you might agree with me…"

The duvet, which had been lying quite peacefully, undisturbed, on the bed, suddenly became the host of an early morning Christmas activity which had been completely unforeseeable. Kate had the power of being incredibly persuasive when she wanted to be. She wanted to be as close to Jack as possible, for as long as possible. Today, by popular agreement, was a busy day. Before the stresses of the day truly set in, she wanted to relish this Christmas with Jack.

What set this Christmas apart from any other, you see, wasn't just the fact they'd agreed to have guests this year, or the fact it was Kate's turn to host the Christmas dinner, or even the fact that it was probably the first proper Christmas Aaron would be aware of.

Rather, there was a certain question she knew Jack wanted to ask her at some point during the day, a moment he'd been building up to for quite a while, and she wanted to give him ample time to ask.

So, it was with a secret smile that she stole most of Jack's morning and, probably more importantly, present opening time…

Kate had selected a few weeks beforehand a lovely dress for the occasion. She was saving it for the evening, however, as cooking took priority. She didn't particularly want to slave over the oven in the dress she - fingers crossed - would get proposed to in.

She wandered into their living room, the decorations simply astounding her as she did so. They'd gone for a blue and silver theme, with everything matching, from the baubles on the tree, to the cushions and general décor of the room. There were two presents underneath the tree - hers and Jack's. Everyone else would be bringing whatever gifts they'd bought later.

She assessed Jack's gift to her carefully, noting with firm approval how he'd chosen blue and silver wrapping paper in keeping with the theme. It didn't look like jewellery, however, judging by the rectangular shape of the present. She shrugged, unaffected, assuming a ring would hardly be something you'd stow underneath the tree. He was obviously storing it away for later.

"You opened your present yet?" Jack asked, smiling from the doorway.

"I was waiting for you," she said, smiling back at him.

He crossed the room and knelt on the ground, bestowing his gift on her with the air of an excited and impatient child.

"Happy Christmas," he announced grandly.

Kate smiled and, caught up in the spirit of the festival, began tearing away the paper. She took out a photo frame and sighed at the simplicity, and yet blinding beauty, of the gift.

"Oh, Jack…" she breathed. "I don't know what to say."

The photo was of her, Aaron and Jack, who'd all crammed into the shot last minute, and, as a result, had banged heads. At the point of the photo being taken, someone had started laughing, which had set them all off. Simply put, the photo was of her, Jack and Aaron laughing and looking carefree. She paused to appreciate the sudden wave of nostalgia, although back then she'd had a different claim to Aaron than she did now.

Overall, she loved the gift, but there was a tinge of sadness to it, reminding of days gone by she'd not grabbed hard enough with both hands.

"Thank you," was her eventual response. "Thank you so much."

She leaned into kiss Jack, her lips, of their own accord, searching for more.

"Now open yours," she commanded, when they'd pulled apart.

Jack smiled at her authoritative tone but didn't argue.

With excited fingers, he carefully opened up his gift, which came in three parts. First, he was delighted to discover a box of cufflinks, which would be perfect to go with his suit he was wearing to some award do next month. The second gift was also a photo frame, one which showed a picture of when Kate had decided to jump on his back without warning, resulting in his expression twisting into a combination of shock and pain. The actual result looked quite hilarious, however.

The third gift, however, took his breath away completely. It was a first edition, extremely rare copy, of Alice in Wonderland, a book which had completely fascinated him both as a kid, and then as an adult, because the illogical in it made a weird kind of sense. He'd read the story to Aaron subsequently because of that desire to remind him that the weird and wonderful always contained that little bit of normality in it, that little bit of reality, and it kept him grounded, usually. It was his favourite book.

"Thank you," he choked out. "It's…It's amazing."

His kiss of gratitude went a stage further than Kate's had, with the result that they spent a few minutes of gently rolling around before remembering their guests would come soon.

"Have you got the gifts ready?" Kate asked, preparing to start her prison sentence in the kitchen.

"They're ready to go," he informed her. "Need any help?"

She smirked.

"Any man who asks that, Jack, only says it with the fervent hope that they will be let off helping in the kitchen," she replied. "So…no. I've got it covered. What you can do is make sure every other room is tidy."

Jack nodded, although she could've sworn she heard him mutter an obscenity underneath his breath. She laughed to herself and watched him retreat to the living room before preparing herself to do easily the hardest, and most stressful, job of the day. She loosely tied her hair back and waited until she could hear Jack was doing his job before retreating to the kitchen, looking forward to what had to be the best Christmas yet.

The doorbell rang and Jack immediately was at the door. It wasn't necessarily down to chivalry but because every time he entered the kitchen, a sweaty Kate poured a foul mouthed tirade at him, clearly under the strain of cooking Christmas dinner. In the end, he'd concluded he was better off avoiding the kitchen for a while.

He opened the door and beamed as Claire and Charlie and an eager Aaron stood there.

"Happy Christmas," they chorused as one.

"Happy Christmas," Jack replied, beaming. "Come in, come in…"

He kissed Claire's cheek and shook Charlie's hand vigorously, stepping to one side so that could enter his and Kate's abode.

"Uncle Jack!" Aaron belted in, wrapping his tiny little frame around Jack's leg. "Do you have my present?"

"Aaron…" Claire reprimanded him, only half-heartedly.

"It's fine," Jack reassured her. "Yes, I do, bud," he said to Aaron, grinning widely. "You been getting good presents so far then?"

"Yes!" Aaron jumped and down, clearly excited. "Mommy bought me a bike, Uncle Jack!"

"A bike?" Jack repeated, sounding as enthusiastic as the boy himself. "Wow. What did Charlie get you?"

"It's Daddy, Uncle Jack," Aaron corrected him, sounding important.

Jack grinned at Charlie, thrilled that Charlie and Claire had let him run with that assumption. It was true, however, that no one else had been quite as besotted with Aaron as Charlie had, so the prestigious title of 'daddy' was more than well deserved on his part.

Charlie, himself, looked simply proud. He wrapped an arm around Claire, as if claiming her for his own, and beamed at Jack. It was common knowledge they'd married earlier in the year, refusing to let anything else come between them after a series of rows, break ups and make ups. The vows, Jack recalled, had been made of raw emotion, with Charlie actually breaking down halfway through his as he tried to get out his words out. He felt for the ring in his jacket pocket, hoping for a similar experience with Kate.

"Claire! Charlie!" Kate ran out of the kitchen, looking visibly presentable.

She hugged Claire tightly, kissing the top of her head in sisterly affection, before turning to Charlie and throwing her arms around him. It wasn't often her and Jack saw any of their friends because of the fact everyone had their own lives to lead. Christmas had always been the perfect time to reunite, to catch up.

"You weren't this nice to me earlier when I came to ask you for help," Jack teased, noticing her forehead still contained miniscule sweat beads.

"I live with you," she teased back. "This lot don't. I figured you could take my obscene rants like a man."

"Claire was like that the year before, mate, so don't worry," Charlie recalled, as he took his coat off. "Went absolutely nuts if I so much as even offered to help. So I turned on the TV and just figured staying out of her way would be my way of helping."

Jack laughed. "I like that method."

"You would," Claire and Kate said simultaneously, shaking their heads.

"Presents are through here," Jack said, motioning his guests to come through.

Aaron was already in there, rooting his out from the bag. He stuck his head in at one point, causing a frantic Claire to pull him out, returning triumphantly with quite a large present.

"Aaron is insatiable this time of year," Charlie muttered to Jack. "Just be warned. He knows how to say 'more' in a variety of ways and will completely usurp everyone else's gifts."

"He's a kid," Jack said reasonably. "What do you expect?"

He left Charlie, Claire and Aaron to find and open their gifts, deciding to visit Kate who, thankfully, seemed to be close to finishing Christmas dinner.

"It'll be ready in forty-five minutes," she declared, turning to beam at him.

He smiled and snaked his arms around her waist, pulling her close towards him.

"The other guests will be here soon," he explained, scrutinising her face carefully. "Are you sure you're ok with having my ex-wife here?"

"It's Juliet," Kate said, a small sad smile on her face. "Back on the island, after we crashed the second time, we became pretty close. Well, closer," she rectified, after seeing Jack's perplexed look. "I guess we were united in the unrequited love department."

"What? James loved her…"

"I wouldn't bother trying to keep up with the story," Kate teased. "Because right about the time we returned, James and Juliet started having problems. Namely because of us."

"Oh." Jack frowned.

"It's Christmas, Jack. Don't worry about it," Kate reassured him. "Now, excuse me while I try and locate my potatoes."

"For the record," Jack said, before leaving, "it was never unrequited."

"Sorry?" Kate turned round amidst a gust of steam.

"I always loved you," Jack elaborated. "It was never one sided."

She smiled softly at him, although there was a sad tinge to it, as all those memories of how close they'd been, how they'd always teetered on the edge of becoming something greater, something so much more, came back to her.

Jack smiled back, equally as nostalgic, and then left the kitchen, jumping at the sound of the doorbell. He'd invited them on a whim, not really sure if they would come. His son had been asked ages ago, naturally, but he'd invited Juliet and James not really sure whether they would actually come or not. It made up the numbers quite easily, since his mother and grandfather were doing their own things this Christmas.

He inhaled deeply before he opened the door, beaming as David walked into view, carrying a carefully wrapped present.

"Merry Christmas, Dad," he said, smiling.

Jack took the gift off his son and pulled him in for a hug, missing the contact even though he'd only seen his son last weekend. He was thankful that David had immediately clicked with Kate, and that he didn't think her sudden involvement in his life was too strange.

Juliet was next into view, promptly followed by James, the pair of them holding hands. Jack had almost forgotten how good they looked together. He felt a strange surge of guilt, knowing he'd been the one to separate them but, following Kate's advice, he pushed that to the back of his mind.

"Hi, Jack," Juliet replied, looking at him with eyes that shone of merriment.

"Hey," he replied softly, pulling her in for a hug. "How you been?"

"Good, thanks," Juliet replied, pulling away to study his face. "Had to go back numerous times because Mr Forgetful here kept forgetting the presents."

"What did I say, Blondie?" James growled, smiling playfully. "Always leave the nicknames ta me."

She rolled her eyes, then grinned, used to his behaviour.

"Of all the men…" Jack began, grinning widely.

"I had to pick this loser," Juliet sighed, shoving James playfully to the side. "I know. Don't remind me. Do you know what he made me wake up to this morning?"

Jack grinned. David had told him about James and Juliet's frequent arguments in the mornings about James' habit of switching on the radio the moment he woke up. He'd always had it on full blast, trying to pin it down on the fact that he like his morning music, when they all knew he just wanted Juliet awake so they could have morning sex.

"Something weird, I'll bet," he guessed.

"The Bird is the Word," Juliet grumbled. "He's been singing it all day."

"It's a catchy song," James protested.

"I'll give you a catchy song in a minute," Juliet growled. "Get in the house." She winked at Jack as they walked in. It was almost hard to believe that they'd been married, although he personally chose to disregard the whole affair. They both knew the truth, both knew who they were supposed to be with, so what did it matter what they'd done before?

"Tha' was great," James sighed, leaning back in his chair. "Gotta say, Freckles, ya really outdid yourself."

"Thanks, James," beamed Kate. "Anyone for seconds?"

"No, thank you, Aunty Kate," Aaron spoke up, as if the question had been directed to him and him only.

The entire group let out a titter of laughter, whilst Kate began to collect the plates and leftovers to take to the kitchen. This left the rest of the group to talk and catch up on all that they'd missed.

"You still a cop, James?" Charlie asked, unused to saying the man's actual names. It showed on his face.

"Ya can still call me Sawyer if ya like, Oliver Twist," James chortled. "And yeah, I am. Funny enough, I 'membered your brother coming in the station to pick ya up. I hadn't a clue who you were. Think I got rid o' him by sayin' you weren't in ma department."

Charlie laughed. "Bet he loved that."

"Daddy," Aaron said, looking up at him with those big blue innocent eyes. "Can I watch television?"

"You're only asking me because you know I let you do anything, unlike your mother," Charlie replied, smirking down at the infant. "So…yes. But you have to ask Uncle Jack and Aunty Kate."

"I think Elf's on," Kate mused. "Does he like that film?"

"It's one of his favourites," Claire said, nodding. "Isn't it sweetie?"

Aaron giggled as his response and tugged on Charlie's hand to beckon him to come watch with him. Charlie gave a dramatic sigh, as if it were a burden, before yelling, "Race you to the TV!" and laughing manically as he ran off.

"I don't know who the bigger kid is," Claire asked, pursing her lips. "Aaron or Charlie."

"Tha' was the very question we all were askin' from day one," James drawled, causing another round of laughter.

Kate went round and poured everyone a glass of wine, in preparation for the grand tradition of the Christmas toast. Claire had given it last year, when they'd been round her house, and now it was Jack's turn. She paused when she got to David, making sure no one was watching, before tipping him a little in.

"Thanks, Kate," he whispered, winking conspiratorially.

She smiled, ruffling his hair with affection. She liked the kid, she really did. She saw so much of his father in him that it was like there were two Jacks about.

"Love the watch," she said, gesturing to his wrist. "Did your father get you that?"

"Yeah," David replied, grinning. "It came in this really cool velvet box."

Kate's heart suddenly sank. Did that mean what she'd thought she'd saw tumble out his jacket pocket one morning wasn't a ring? It didn't matter either way, she tried to convince herself, because she had him. He wasn't going anywhere.

All the same, there was a lovely ring to Mrs Katherine Anne Shephard.

Suddenly, there was a loud clink, signalling the start of the toast. Kate went to take her place next to Jack. Charlie had slipped back to the table at this point, his eyes on the alert for vengeful five year old boys intent on dragging him back to watch the film. Everyone stood up, raising their glasses as Jack prepared to give the speech.

"Thank you, everyone," he announced, "for coming to the fifth annual Christmas dinner. I think you can agree Kate outshone herself on the dinner front."

Everyone agreed, causing Kate to blush with a mixture of pride and embarrassment.

"This year has brought a lot of changes," he continued. "For one thing, this Christmas, my baby sister has completely forsaken the Shephard family and become a Pace." There was another outbreak of laughter. "So, with that in mind, I am honoured to welcome Charlie into the family. To Mr and Mrs Pace!"

"To Mr and Mrs Pace," the group chorused, with James mime vomiting in the background causing Juliet to break into nervous laughter.

"Along those lines…" Jack suddenly grew nervous. "I want to make another announcement. We've had to make adjustments in our lives to welcome back the people we'd thought we'd lost, and our family has grown bigger and bigger over the years." He smiled, growing in confidence. "It seems like a hundred years ago that one Katherine Anne Austen stepped out of the bushes of an island, thousands of miles away, and stole my heart."

He turned to gaze at Kate who, it seemed, was frozen with a mixture of delight and trepidation. Where was this leading?

"We've welcomed Charlie into the family. I'd like to welcome Kate in as well. Officially." He retrieved the ring and got down on one knee, causing someone (presumably Claire) to gasp. "I've done this already, I know, but this time I wanted it to be real, to do it properly. Life is made up of a bunch of moments and we have to make each one count. So, to that effect…Katherine Anne Austen, the one person I can always trust to fix me, the love of my very existence, will you do me the honour of being my wife?"

She gasped, completely taken by surprise having talked herself out of expecting a proposal any time soon. Her eyes filled with tears, loving the fact that the last proposal had been out of sheer spontaneity and now this one had been pre-planned to happen on Christmas day.

"Yes," she whispered.

Jack chuckled and stood up so he could embrace her tightly. He smiled wryly as the rest of the group started wolf-whistling and, in James's case, mime vomiting. He rested his chin on top of Kate's head, taking in her scent.

"To making it count," Jack cried, hastily concluding his speech.

"Making it count," the group chorused, cheering and smiling as he went over to Kate.

Kate felt really quite emotional. This had been just the perfect Christmas Day, in every single way. She lifted up her head and stood on her tiptoes to give Jack a soft kiss, releasing herself only because she knew they had guests.

"Mommy!" Aaron belted into the room. "Daddy! It's snowing!"

"Nah, can't be," Charlie said dismissively. "Snow? In L.A? Whatever next!"

"There is! There is!" Aaron insisted, grabbing Kate's hand to pull her along.

Kate relished having the tiny hand in hers, remembering once upon a time that little boy had been hers, even if that time no longer seemed to exist. She loved him with a sense of motherhood she had no right to feel, but she felt it all the same. She glanced at Jack, whose soft gaze made her realize she wasn't the only one who remembered that happy time.

The whole group gathered around the window of the living room. Sure enough, flakes of snow could be seen drifting down. They were quite large flakes, too, certainly the biggest ones some of the group could remember ever seeing.

"Merry Christmas everyone," Juliet said, when everyone else seemed to be rendered speechless by the falling snow.

James locked one arm around Juliet, then another round Kate, relishing having both of the women he'd loved next to him. In fact…

"James, behave!" Juliet barked.

"What?" he protested.

"I know you," was her only reply. "Whatever you're thinking, clean it up."

David sniggered in the background.

"Is Aunty Juliet a mind reader?" Aaron whispered to Claire, tugging on her sleeve.

Claire pressed a hand to her lip, trying to contain the giggles which had suddenly bloomed inside her body.

"Maybe," she replied, kissing her son on the top of her head.

"Everyone smile," David commanded.

Everyone turned around, noticing he had a camera in hand. He smiled his thanks at Kate, who'd been the one to purchase the camera, and, for the next few minutes, started giving everyone instructions to huddle in, like he was some kind of professional photographer.

With a flash, the photo was taken, with everyone huddling around the camera to see how it had turned out.

"James!" Juliet complained.

"What?" he demanded. "Personally, I think it's an improvement."

Charlie peered in at the photo, then immediately scowled. James had given him bunny ears with his fingers, it had seemed, and it took him a few moments to find the humour in the situation.

Jack grabbed Kate's hand in the midst of the commotion, pulling her out of the room. He smiled and leaned his head, locking lips with her. She seized the moment and kissed him back, with a sense of passion and love only years apart could give. Her hands met around the back of his neck and she pulled herself up to even the height difference a little. Their lips swayed a little together, like they were performing a romantic dance, but never parted, not for a moment.

Eventually, they had to break apart for air, exchanging loving looks into the bargain.

"Merry Christmas, Mrs Shephard," he murmured, with a mischievous grin.

She giggled, loving the sound of it already.

"Merry Christmas, Mr Shephard," she replied, laughing at his expression.

They embraced fiercely, as though it were a reunion of sorts, each hoping and desiring that they could stay in the other's arms forever. Kate every so often glanced at her ring, smiling into Jack's shirt as though enjoying a private secret.

I knew he would propose, she thought ecstatically. He never was any good at keeping things a secret.

The End.

Merry Christmas Everyone :)