Disclaimer: I don't own them nor am I making any money through their use. It's been ten years for geez' sake, I doubt anyone's paying attention. Except for finnishvixen, this one's for you!

A/N: There's rarely much substance to my stories. This one is no exception. Consider yourself warned. On a side note, did you know "unwrappable" isn't a word? Seriously?


Not Easily Wrapped

Samantha Waters-Malone was not expecting this Christmas to be especially jolly. Tom's parents had once again coerced Chloe to spend her holiday break at their estate with the promise of snowy horseback rides and cutting down her own Christmas tree. Bailey was sad to see his youngest daughter go, but smartly stayed silent through the entire packing process and teary airport goodbyes. He'd already arranged for a few holiday packages to arrive at Chloe's grandparents' home for her to open on Christmas Day.

Compounding the fact that Chloe would be in New England for the next week, Bailey's oldest daughters had turned down his invitation to spend Christmas with him in Georgia. They both had families of their own now and decided to celebrate the holidays with their mom in California. He couldn't blame them; Frances and Ari had flown down last year and they all had a memorable season celebrating his only grandson's first Christmas. Now the house would feel decidedly empty without the laughter of children and family.

Malone didn't even have work to keep his mind occupied. After vesting and taking an early retirement from the Bureau, he had done what all good high-ranking federal authorities do: take a perfunctory board position at one of the leading private security consulting firms. They paid him good money to come in a few times a month and smoke Cohibas with the boys. The firm's board had adjourned for December and Bailey had already finished all the little fixer-upper projects he'd planned to complete on their farmhouse. He even hung the Christmas lights along the many eaves of their home even after explaining to Sam its pointlessness since no one drove the twenty minutes out of Atlanta on a light-seeing tour. It did, however, turn out to be well worth it to see the smile on his wife's face once dusk had settled in.

Sam's work situation was even more fluid than her husband's. Of course she'd reignited her photography career since leaving the Bureau and her work was currently exhibited nationally… under an assumed name (better safe than sorry). The other side of Dr. Waters-Malone—the forensic psychologist side—still frequently made appearances at training seminars for various federal academies and select criminal justice-inclined conventions. She even agreed to consult on a few major crime cases over the years, never getting involved enough to take her away from the people she loved. Needless to say, the public speaking had slowed down after Thanksgiving and she'd taken enough photographs of winter's barrenness to last a lifetime.

After a silent car ride back from the airport, Sam immediately exited the vehicle and quickly made her way inside. Bailey didn't know how to handle this situation; even after five years of marriage and almost two decades of intimate interactions he still questioned what to do when Sam was upset. Especially when he wasn't the cause.

He took off his gloves and placed them on the entry way table. His hasty-made plan was to find Sam and talk through her melancholy mood. He'd even resort to Christmas Eve reservations at Vincenzo's if it'd take her mind off of Chloe's absence. And that was no small task since they'd been booked for their Feast of the Seven Fishes since last Christmas. He was already mulling over what favors he'd be calling in to arrange a table for two when he came to a sudden stop outside the downstairs guest bathroom. By the sounds of her gagging, Sam's emotional distress was physically manifesting itself.

"Sam honey," Bailey knocked lightly on the restroom door. "Can I come in?" He didn't wait for permission, instead entering the space and kneeling next to his wife on the cold tile. It seemed the worst of the nausea was over and the blonde was reduced to dry heaving. Nevertheless, Bailey held her hair back and soothingly stroked her spine. "What happened, sweetheart?"

"Bad lunch," was all Sam managed to croak out. They'd stopped for a quick bite at Chloe's favorite soul food joint near the airport before dropping her off. Both he and Sam had ordered the house special—catfish—and it had been spectacular as usual. It heightened Bailey's cause for concern to see such a violent reaction to the meal.

"I'm sorry." He kept stroking her back until he was sure she was done. When she stood up to wash out her mouth, he let her know he'd be waiting in the kitchen with a glass of ginger ale.


Bailey had put Sam to bed for a late afternoon nap once her stomach was settled. This new-found nausea put a slight damper on his plans to cheer his wife out of her sorrowful stupor. As he prepared a bland pasta dish and salad for dinner, he contemplated how he'd broach the subject.

He didn't have to worry about it too long. After Sam woke and set the table, they settled into their small dinner fare. "Feeling better?" Bailey questioned hopefully.

"Much. And I want to apologize for being such a downer the past couple of days. It's just that Chloe's going to be applying to colleges next year and now I'm only going to get one more Christmas to spend with her before she moves out." Sam absently twirled some pasta onto her fork waiting for Bailey to comment on her yet unrealized worries.

"I can make a few calls and have any university applications she puts in turned down. That way we can keep her here forever." Bailey speared a cucumber and slowly chewed as he looked over at Sam. He knew she could tell he was partly serious in his suggestion.

"Tempting." She paused to take a bite and continued, "I just don't want her to be sucked into spending next Christmas with Tom's parents. I want it to be special, you know?"

"It will be, I promise." Bailey chuckled softly, "if we have to fake a blizzard to do it, we'll make next Christmas spectacular. I've already guilted Frannie and Ari to bring everyone here next year."

"Good. Having Baby Tony here will exponentially increase Chloe's interest in staying home for the holidays. She's in love with her little nephew." By the faraway look and slight smirk emerging, Sam gathered that Chloe wasn't the only one smitten with the newest bundle of joy.

Bailey reached across the table and linked their hands together. "Tell you what, let's take advantage of this empty house." Even after years of hearing it, the deep timbre of Bailey Malone's voice still sent shivers down her spine.

"What about the dishes?" The blonde beauty took her free hand and pushed some stray strands of hair behind her ear, cracking a pleased smile.

"They'll still be here in the morning."


Bailey awoke from a sound sleep to find the other side of the bed empty. He reached over and grabbed the alarm clock, holding it inches from his face until he discerned it was a little after three a.m. After shaking the grogginess from his head he heard the muffled sounds of Sam's heaving from the bathroom. Leaping out of bed, he went to her.

"How long has this been going on?" Bailey sank down to her level. Rubbing her back while she was retching over the toilet was becoming all too familiar.

"Just a few minutes. I didn't want to wake you," Sam managed between bouts. "I'm sorry."

"Samantha, don't you apologize." He began to doubt that it was the catfish that was causing Sam's discomfort.

The contents of her stomach emptied, the good doctor eased up slowly and made her way to the sink as her husband dutifully flushed away any evidence of her illness. "I think it's just all the stress made me susceptible to a twenty-four hour bug or something."

"Either way I'd feel a lot better if you made an appointment to get checked out." Bailey's tiredness made it impossible for him to keep the concern out of his voice. But hoped it would help convince his wife to take his advice.

"I'll call in the morning." She spit the Listerine she'd been swishing and rinsed the sink clean before turning to her husband and kissing him gently. She plastered a half-hearted smile on her face for his sake and mumbled, "Let's go to bed."


The next morning…

Sam stepped out the front doors of her nurse practitioner's office and immediately took out her cell phone. It rang twice before it was picked up.

"Hey, can you meet me for lunch at Maggie's on 26th? I have something important to tell you." After agreeing to meet in fifteen, Sam got in her car and wiped an errant tear from the corner of her eye.


A/N: The second and final part of this story should be up within the next day or so. I just needed to break them up and post... for my own sanity.