The Elevator

C.C. Babcock hated the Christmas season with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns. City sidewalks, busy sidewalks, dressed in holiday style. She hated the decorations. In the air, there's a feeling of Christmas. She hated the choking scent of pine and bayberry and cinnamon that assaulted her nostrils everywhere she went. Silver bells, silver bells, it's Christmas time in the city. She hated the music that seemed to be piped in from unknown directions no matter where she went. Ring a ling, hear them sing, soon it will be Christmas day. She hated the "cheer" being shoved down her throat at every turn. Hear the snow crunch, see the kids bunch. She hated the wet slushy snow and cold that seemed to ooze into every part of her. She hated all the nasty little urchins, constantly nattering about what they wanted for Christmas. This is Santa's big scene. She hated the flea-bitten, moth-eaten fake Santas on every corner. She wanted to crack their skulls with their own bells. Strings of street lights, even stop lights, blink a bright red and green. Good god, would this damn light ever change so she could get across the street? As the shoppers rush home with their treasures. But most of all, she hated the PEOPLE. Children laughing, people passing. Crowds, crowds everywhere! C.C. didn't like people individually and throngs of them, pushing, shoving, smiling, shopping just acted on her nerves like fingernails on a chalkboard.

The light finally changed and C.C. charged over the crosswalk, a woman on a mission. "If I can just get into Lord & Taylor and make it upstairs to the coffee shop." She figured if she could get a hot latte to shake off the chill and a second away from all these people she could gather herself enough to find what she was looking for. Last week she had somehow gotten her favorite skirt caught in the latch of her briefcase while sitting on the sofa in Maxwell's office and when she got up, it pulled a terrible snag up the side. C.C. had forgotten all about it until she was preparing her wardrobe for tomorrow's meeting. "At least I was able to persuade Max not to close up shop for the entire week before Christmas." She cursed her bad luck for having to go out in all this Christmas crap but her personal shopper had the audacity to be out of town and she really wanted to wear that skirt tomorrow. She knew it made her look damn good and that gave her the confidence to stay strong during actor negotiations. "Lord knows, one of us has to be and it sure isn't him!"

C.C. pushed through the crowds at the front of L&T and headed for the elevators. The people were six deep in front of all of them except for one on the end. She wondered why no one was qued up for that one but didn't give it a thought other than "I guess I finally caught a break." She didn't see the sign that had been knocked out of the way by shoppers recently passed by. Elevator undergoing maintenance - do not use. As she pressed the button and stepped into the blessed silence of an empty elevator, she heard a voice cry out, "Hold the door, please." "Like hell, I will" she thought to herself. "Hold the door, please!" rang out more insistently as she silently chuckled at the sight of a man laden with packages coming toward the shutting doors. "I SAID hold the damn door!" and with that a polished wing tip stuck itself between the doors and prevented their closing. "What do you think you're doing?" she started, as the man shouldered his way into the elevator. "Oh, shit! You've gotta be kidding me!"

"Well, hello there, Babs! Funny meeting you here!" said Niles, lowering his packages to the floor. "Being helpful to passing strangers, as always, I see."

"Niles, why are you here? Shouldn't you be at the mansion cleaning something?" C.C. crossed her arms and leaned against the back wall as the doors slowly slid together.

"I'm finishing up my Christmas shopping, if you must know, although I know that's a foreign concept to you, since witches don't celebrate the holy days. I wanted to run up to the coffee shop for a hot mug before I started home. It's cold out there, you know", he said as he put his final parcel down. "But not as cold as it is in here, ice queen", he muttered.

"Oh, just shut up and push six." C.C. demanded. Nile complied with her request, pushing the button for the sixth floor. At first nothing happened, then the elevator jerked to a start, almost making them lose their footing. Their ascent smoothed out but after the fourth floor, there was a frightening, scraping squeal of metal on metal as the elevator ground to a halt. The lights went out, throwing them into pitch darkness, but thankfully came back on just a moment later, although at only half the previous brightness.

"Oh, no! Oh, no! This cannot be happening!" C.C. started. "I CANNOT be stuck on an elevator with the toilet brush!"

"Don't get your knickers in a knot, Babcock. I'll just press the emergency button and we'll be on our way in no time," Niles calmly stated as he proceeded to do just that. Nothing. He pressed it again. Still nothing. Three more times. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. "Damn, damn, damn!" he exclaimed, leaning back against the elevator wall with the heels of his hands pressed against his eyes.

"Oh, get out of my way!" C.C. pushed past him and leaned on the emergency button with her clenched fist. "Work! Work! WORK!" she shouted, punctuating each word with a slam against the door.

"That's going to be really effective." Niles deadpanned. "Your evil aura must have short-circuited the alarm system."

"Just shut up, Merry Maid-a-milking! This is all your fault!" she threw at him.

"MY fault? How in heaven's name can this be my fault?"

"I don't know but most of the bad things that happen to me always seem to be your fault."

"As much as I usually enjoy inflicting pain and misery on you, sea witch, you absolutely cannot blame this one on me!""

"Whatever!" C.C. walked to the far side of the elevator and slid down the wall, coming to rest in the corner, thoroughly disgusted with the whole situation.

"I do not have time for this." Niles said, beginning to pace like a caged animal. "I have gifts to wrap, decorating to finish, my holiday baking, meal preparations…"

"Meal preparations?" C.C. interrupted, sitting up straight with a new gleam in her eye. "Does that mean you have something to eat in one of those bags?"

Niles looked at her through narrowed eyes. "Why?"

"Because I haven't eaten anything since lunch and I'm hungry." Niles turned away, avoiding her gaze. "Well… do you have any food in there, or not?", she asked again.

Niles timidly looked at her over his shoulder. "Maybe, sorta, kinda, a little."

"Spill it, Mrs. Claus!"

"Yes, I do, but they're Christmas gifts and I, well, I don't want... I can't…", Niles stammered, looking at the floor and self-consciously tugging on his fingertips.

"Spit it out, already!" C.C. screamed.

"I can't afford to replace them, OK?" Nile confessed, exasperated to be put on the spot like that.

"Oh, is that all?" C.C. said dismissively.

"Yes, that's all. Just my low station and poverty. So sorry to inconvenience you, Miss Babcock." Niles' voice dripped with sarcasm.

"Look, Niles, I'm hungry and we are stuck here for who knows how long. Tell you what, I'll reimburse you for anything we use. Deal?"

"What if I say no?"

"Then you'll take my next offer."

"And what might that be."

"I bludgeon you into unconsciousness and take whatever I want", C.C. said, crossing her arms defiantly.

"I'll take the first offer", Niles said quickly, extending his hand.

"Done!" And the deal was sealed with a firm handshake.

"OK, what have you got?" C.C. asked, taking off her coat and settling cross-legged onto the floor.

"We have some lovely prizes for playing our game today." Niles, doing his best game show host impersonation, spread his overcoat in front of her as an impromptu dinner table. He reached into one of his bags and pulled out a large box. "Our appetizer and main course this evening is brought to you direct from Hickory Farms." He placed the oversized gift box on the coat in front of her. "And for dessert we have double dark chocolate truffles from…. Godiva." he said, pulling the gold box dramatically from one of his bundles.

C.C.'s eyes lit up at the tasty treats before her. "This is great, Niles! You wouldn't have anything to drink in there, would you?"

"You have but to ask, my queen, " he replied as he presented a bottle of wine to her across his arm like a waiter in a five star restaurant.

"Ooo, my favorite! But what are we going to drink it out of? My shoe?"

"Despite your fondness for the taste of shoe leather and soiled hosiery in your beverages, I think this occasion calls for something more… elegant." He removed the lid from a cream colored box to reveal two crystal champagne flutes.

"Bride and groom?" C.C. exclaimed upon seeing the words etched in the glass. "Why the hell do you have bride and groom champagne flutes?"

"They're a gift for Miss Margaret and Michael, " he explained as he removed them from their gift box and set them carefully in front of C.C.

"The big one's getting married? When did that happen?"

"It hasn't happened… yet. I've known Miss Margaret all her life. She has grown into a beautiful and intelligent young woman. She's had many suitors but I have never seen her look upon any of them with the love and devotion that she has for Michael." Starting to choke up a little, he cleared his throat and shrugged. "Besides, they were on sale."

"Maxwell's kid getting married. My god, Niles, how old does that make us?" C.C. chuckled as she fingered the "Bride" flute.

"Old enough to know better, Babs. Old enough to know better." Niles uncorked the wine with the corkscrew of his trusty Swiss army knife (never leave home without it!) and filled both their glasses. "What shall we drink to, Miss Babcock?"

"December 26th - when all this Christmas crap will be over and done with."

"I have never understood your aversion to the holidays, which to me have always been quite enjoyable but… as you wish. To December 26th!" He extended his glass to clink with C.C.'s and they both drank the toast, starting on the first of what would be many glasses of wine consumed that evening.

Niles and C.C. settled into a companionable silence as they began to sample all the delicacies that Hickory Farm and Godiva had to offer. When they were well into their feast, Niles leaned his back against the elevator wall to get comfortable.

"Why do you hate Christmas so much anyway?" he asked, popping another tidbit into his mouth and taking another sip of wine.

"It's just a big waste of time and money and effort. It's all so commercialized and marketed - an excuse to be lazy and wasteful and not work for the last two weeks of December."

"My, how Scrooge-like of you. Surely you have some fond memories of Christmas?" She shook her head. "Not even as a child?" he asked.

"All Christmas meant in my family was that the servants filled the house with decorations we weren't allowed to touch, cooked food we weren't allowed to eat for the parties my parents hosted that we weren't allowed to attend." C.C. couldn't admit the real reason she hated Christmas, even to herself. Christmas was a time of love and togetherness, a time to be with family and friends, people who love you, basking in their warmth. When you have no family, no friends, no one who loves you, it just intensifies how lonely you are. But she couldn't let him know that. Couldn't let anyone know that. It just hurt too much. She threw back the wine remaining in her glass. "Hit me again, Hazelnut."

"You know, Babs," he replied as he refilled her glass. "What you need is to find something, even a small thing, about Christmas that you enjoy. Experience it as an adult, leave your childhood preconceptions behind, and make it your own. The trick is…" He leaned forward to retrieve something from one of his bags and then began again. "This trick is to start small." At that, he held aloft a bit of Christmas greenery with smooth leaves and waxy white berries adorned at the top with a shiny red bow.

"Mistletoe, Niles? Seriously?" she scoffed, rolling her eyes.

"Here," he said, offering her the small sprig. "Try it. Claim one tiny thing about Christmas that has nothing to do with being a child. Just hold it over your head and see what happens." He dared her with a crooked smile and a suggestive waggle of his eyebrows. "You just might like it."

C.C. took the mistletoe from his open palm and twirled it slowly between her thumb and forefinger as her thoughts raced. She came to a decision as she tentatively lifted the greenery over her head. She lifted her eyes to see Niles' reaction and was stunned by what she saw. A smile like she had never seen was overtaking his face. It was so full of delight and happiness that she was mesmerized. Her reverie came to a halt as Niles took her face in his hands and slowly brought his mouth to hers. The moment their lips touched, C.C.'s arm went around his neck, pulling him closer as she melted into him. This kiss was nothing like the passionate, alcohol fueled lip lock they shared a few years ago. This kiss was gentle and tender and full of promise. C.C. lost herself in it until Niles pulled away, breathing heavily. His hands still held her face and he touched his forehead softly to hers. His deep voice growled, "Now that's a tradition I could get used to."

C.C. pulled away slightly, blinking a few times as her mind began to clear. "Mmm… yep," she said shortly, removing her arm from around his neck and bringing her glass to her lips, quickly draining the contents.

Trying to cover the sudden awkwardness of the moment, they both started talking at once.

"Could I have a refill?" "More wine, Miss Babcock?"

"So, Jingle Bell Boy," C.C. remarked, trying to restore some normalcy to the situation. "What other holiday horrors do you suggest I try?"

"A Christmas tree!" Niles said brightly.

C.C. made a dismissive gesture. "I used to hire a designer to put one up in my penthouse but I figured what was the point and stopped doing it." There was nothing more depressing than watching the twinkling lights of a Christmas tree in the dark of an empty apartment with no one but Jack Daniels or Johnny Walker for company.

"No, no, no! Not some artificial, designer, monochrome monstrosity. A real Christmas tree."

"What's the dif?" Only mildly interested, C.C. started searching for one more chocolate truffle in the pile of boxes and wrappers before them.

"A world of difference! Again, you have to start small and build your own tradition, year after year."

"How do you do that?" All of a sudden, C.C. moaned, her eyes closed, savoring the creamy chocolate prize she had found. "Mmmm, that's so good!"

"You, umm, well, you… uh," Niles cleared his throat as he shook his mind free of the sensual look C.C. had on her face at the moment. "Well, you start with a small, live Christmas tree and then you decorate it with all sorts of different ornaments. Things that you choose, that remind you of something special each time you decorate your tree."

"That sounds like a good idea in theory, Niles, but the reality is that it would be an absolute pain in the ass. Not to mention, it wouldn't be any fun to do it alone."

"Who says you have to do it alone?"

"Who's going to help me? Chester?" She gave a short bitter laugh.

"I'll help you," he offered. "Tell you what, Babcock. If we ever get out of this elevator, I will take you shopping for a tree and ornaments and I'll even help you decorate it."

"That's a nice offer, Niles ." She looked into her wine glass and sighed. "But who would help me next year?" She drained her glass again and set it down.

"I would." He put his glass down as well and turned to face her. "I would love to help you celebrate Christmas… for as long as you'll let me."

"I don't know, Niles. I don't know if I'm capable of putting the past behind me and embracing something new."

"You'll never know unless you try."

C.C. was very still and very quiet for several long moments, trying to find the courage to move forward into uncharted territory. As she came to a decision, she slowly brought the mistletoe to hang above her head once again. "I have to be sure I like these traditions," she said shyly, slowing raising her eyes to his.

She was greeted again by his smile, bright and full of happiness. He lifted her hand to his lips and placed a warm kiss in her palm. Then he stroked her cheek and claimed her lips again.

"Merry Christmas, C.C."

"Merry Christmas, Niles"

Their arms went around each other and they shared another amazing kiss, leisurely tasting and touching each other, with no thought of anything else. They finally broke apart but remained in each others arms, unmoving, until C.C. shivered slightly.

"Are you cold, love?"

"A little."

Niles removed the remnants of their feast from his coat and draped it over both of them, as they snuggled back into each other. There they stayed, talking and planning and kissing and laughing until they finally drifted off to sleep, at home in each others arms.

The maintenance crew got quite a surprise the next morning as they opened the elevator doors. They were greeted by the sight of two people asleep on the floor, snuggled together under a thick overcoat. The man with a lipstick-smudged smile on his face and the woman with her head resting peacefully on his shoulder and a small piece of mistletoe clutched in her hand.