AN: My little Christmas gift to all of you! Merry Christmas everybody! 3

The tinkling of a bell rang clear and unceasingly on a chilly evening. It rang high above the chatter of passersby and cars trying to find a parking spot in the Christmas rush.

Sam ignored the dull pain that ran up his arm from ringing the bell and continued to stand by the red contraption that held money for the Salvation Army. A smile never left his face. He greeted all the mall goers with almost unnatural enthusiasm, especially for one who was standing in the cold for hours. After having done this for almost a week, he learned that smiling a certain way increased his chances of people donating money. They were mostly women. Yeah, he still had it... and he didn't even have to take his shirt off.

In all honesty, Sam really did believe that most of the donations were from the goodness of their hearts. Christmas brought about the spirit of giving. He was constantly reminded that not everyone was going to have a Christmas filled with gifts under the Christmas tree. The small amount of money that he was collecting would be indirectly their only gift. When the thought crossed his mind, he rang the bell with added vigor and his smile was especially bright.

He had to do this. Despite his family's struggles, he was given hope from the help of others. On occasion, his family received help from the Soup Kitchen. His family was closer than ever before because they banded together to support one another. Although he didn't want their help at first, Sam was so happy that his Glee friends were there to support him.

Then there was Mercedes...

The help that she gave him was of a different kind. Before he really got to know her, Sam felt bitter. Everything about his life seemed like it went to hell. He lost his home and most of his personal possessions. His parents were stressed and arguing a lot. It was so hard to find money to feed his siblings. He was struggling ever more in school because he had to work which meant less time studying. He had the worst luck with love. Two girls left him for other guys.

Life just screwed him over.

It wasn't until a girl by the name of Mercedes Jones came around that he began to feel a real shift in the right direction.

He was most definitely not used to a girl like her. While she was often kind and compassionate, she was also a no-nonsense kind of girl who told it like it was. But it was not to put him down, it was to help him. Those nights when he would return to the motel room after a long day at work, he would often vent his frustrations to Mercedes who would stay to babysit. She would comfort him in her own way... but that often included some scolding.

"Sam, you gotta quit complaining all the time! Sure, life sucks. Life is always going to suck. But you gotta get over it, move on, and focus on the good that you have in your life... like those two for example." She nodded to the two small blondes sleeping on the bed.

From that summer on, Sam now focused on the good in his life. He also remembered the good that he once had, the good that now was practically in front of him once he returned to Ohio... and he was determined to get that part of his life back.

He wanted Mercedes back.

As if on cue, Sam heard another beautiful ringing sound. He turned his head to look down the sidewalk and caught sight of the girl herself, walking his way with a cell phone against her ear. Her eyes were turned down looking at her high leather boot clad feet stepping on the snow. Her free hand tucked in the pocket of her purple pea coat that was accented by a red wool scarf. Her long curls flowed out from under her red beret.

Sam released a long breath that was visible in the cold night. Summer... winter... whatever season it was, she looked gorgeous.

Just as she was about to pass, she took out a few dollars from her pocket and without looking up deposited it in the iron bucket.

"Thank ya kindly." Sam drawled with a smirk on his face.

Mercedes froze and her head whipped up, her curls bouncing with her. Her mouth hung open for a moment before she interrupted the person on the other end of the phone. "I'll call you back, Auntie... yeah, bye."

Sam smiled amusingly at her reaction to him. "Hey Cede..." He spoke gently.

"Sam." Mercedes visibly struggled for words. "Wh... Why... Why are you still here? Aren't you... supposed to be going to back to Kentucky?"

He nodded. "I will be heading back tomorrow. I'm waiting on Rory. He's having a bit of an early Christmas thing with Brittany's family tonight so I figured I'd get in on one more night of bell ringing before I go back."

"Oh..." Mercedes stood silently for a moment. "How are Stacie and Stevie? They excited about Christmas?"

Sam felt a little perturbed by how she was talking to him so impersonally. "Yeah, they are. I got them a few things. It's not much but it's better than nothing."

More silence.

"I miss them..." Mercedes said quietly.

Sam felt pain rise in his chest. "They miss you too... We all did... so much." His voice nearly cracked with the sincerity that laced his words. She had no idea how many nights he spent just laying in bed staring at the ceiling remembering those times when he felt like he didn't have a care in the world because she was in his arms.

He could see the pain in her eyes. He was positive that she was feeling the same way. Although their time together was short, he was sure that they made the best of it. Their connection couldn't be severed by distance or a guy "built like a bulldozer." What they had wasn't something they could let go easily and there was no way he wanted to do that. He knew that Mercedes didn't want to either no matter how much she was going to deny it.

Her eyes rang of the truth, clearer than the bell that he stopped ringing.

It was then that he realized that the two of them were just standing there silently staring at each other. Mercedes must have sensed it too because she shifted and her eyes fell to snow covered sidewalk. When she raised her eyes, they met Sam's once again. Sam quietly stared back simply enjoying being in her presence.

"You must be freezing." Mercedes said bluntly.

Sam laughed at her concern. "I've gotten used to it."

"Well, you shouldn't. The kids won't have you sick on Christmas Day." She started unwrapping her scarf from her neck.

"Cedes..." Sam began. "You don't have to."

"No, I don't have to. I want to." Mercedes reached up and draped the red scarf around his neck just as she did with the tinsel boa that one afternoon in the choir room.

Sam held his breath at their sudden closeness. Her eyes never left his as she wrapped the long scarf twice around his neck. He shivered slightly as her fingers brushed against his beck when she tucked the piece of cloth in the collar of his jacket.

He felt his heart skip when she suddenly broke out into a smile, a laugh threatening to come out of her mouth.

"What?" He gave a confused grin.

Mercedes tapped his nose. "You look like a blonde Rudolph."

Sam reached up to cover his nose that he realized must have been red from winter's bite. His face warmed from embarrassment.

Mercedes finally let out that laugh that vaguely resembled the high ring of a small bell. "Now you have Santa's rosy cheeks."

Sam couldn't help but laugh with her. Everything suddenly felt as carefree as it did those summer days spent with this girl. This is what he wanted back.

Once they finally calmed down, they realized that they were still standing close, but they didn't make a move.

Sam sighed, "I'm sorry I don't have a present for you. I owe you..."

Mercedes snorted. "Since when have I ever wanted you to pay me back?"

"But I-"

"I'll tell you what," She interrupted with a finger. "I will accept a gift in return this time... just this once."

"What do you wa-" Sam was interrupted by arms wrapping around his torso. Automatically he pulled her in a tight embrace, his face buried in her hair pressed against the crook of her neck. He closed his eyes as he tried to imprint the moment in his mind, something that he could hold on for the time being... until he truly got her back, when she could be in his arms... always.

Mercedes was the first to pull away, her eyes were glassed over with what might have been tears that she did not shed. They only made the Christmas lights behind him shine especially bright in her warm brown orbs.

"Merry Christmas, Sammy..." The whisper hung in the air and wrapped him in what felt like another warm hug.

Sam grabbed her hand and gave it a squeeze. "Merry Christmas to you too, Cedes."

With a gentle smile, she stepped back, turned around and made her way down the sidewalk.

When Mercedes was out of the line of sight, Sam looked down at the scarf she left him... her gift. He lifted the fabric to his face and inhaled deeply.

At the moment, Sam was not standing outside on a winter's night ringing a bell, he was sitting on the grass in the park one warm summer night with his cheek pressed her temple, her back pressed against his chest. Her laugh ringing as beautifully as a Christmas bell.