Title: A Season to Remember
Disclaimer: Any chance I'll find the cast under the tree for Christmas this year?
Author's Note: Merry Christmas to all my Criminal Minds friends, and a special Christmas wish for the Dave to my JJ, my girl Kris.
"He was asleep before I got to the second page of his book." JJ turned off the light as she walked into the living room; the Christmas tree glowed enough to illuminate the whole room, not surprising considering how many strands of lights they'd needed to use on the tree that was twice as tall as the one she'd decorated in her apartment last year.
"I'm not surprised. I think he led us around the entire Christmas tree twice on his mission to find just the right tree." Dave stood at the fireplace, tweaking the garland that covered the mantel so there was room for the hooks he'd bought to hang their stockings. Though he decorated every year, this was the first time he'd had a reason to hang stockings. He'd bought one for Henry, but the boy had insisted that they all needed one so there were three resting on the back of an armchair, waiting to be hung.
"He also had about ten cookies today. With that much sugar I'm surprised he went to sleep at all." She muffled a yawn. A full day of decorating and baking had tired her out enough that sleep wasn't going to be a problem.
"You exaggerate, Jen. I only let him try one of each kind." Apparently content with the garland, Dave hung the stockings and stepped back from the fireplace. There was a bottle of merlot on the coffee table that he'd opened when JJ had led a reluctant Henry upstairs. He poured them each a glass and carried them over to where she stood by the tree.
"You made five kinds of cookies, fudge, marshmallows, peppermint bark and struffoli," she pointed out. Of course, she'd had to sample everything too, but that wasn't the point.
"Is it my fault that the kid inherited your sweet tooth?" He grinned, smugly, as he caught her around the waist and held her from behind. His smile widened when she rested her head against his shoulder. It had been a little over three months since she and Henry had moved in, but being able to spend quiet evenings with her and not worry about her driving home late and tired was still a new feeling. Everything felt new right now, and amazing. "When I was growing up, it wasn't Christmas until Ma had made everyone's favorite treat. Sometimes she'd make more than a dozen different things in a day, so this was pretty tame."
"I'm going to guess that you sampled every one of them back then, too." She'd seen pictures of him as a kid, thanks to his mother, and photo albums she'd brought out when she'd visited at Thanksgiving. His smile was just as mischievous then as it was now. He must have been a handful; she couldn't imagine how Ma Rossi had handled him and three siblings.
"I couldn't let inferior cookies get handed out to the neighbors or taken to church. My ma's reputation was at stake," he said with mock seriousness. "Speaking of which, there's some broken ricciarelli cookies on the counter. They'd go well with the wine, and have to be eaten so they don't go on the plates tomorrow."
"You're incorrigible." She didn't need anything more to eat, but he knew her weakness for the amaretto cookies she'd had for the first time during his second Christmas with the team, and every year since then. "I'll have one, but first I'm going to take the last box out to the garage. I can relax better if I know it's all cleaned up."
"There's still stuff in that one, that's why I didn't take it out with the rest." The box in question was beaten up cardboard from a microwave she'd bought for her first apartment in college. The appliance had broken years ago, but the box had moved with her twice now, from the one bedroom apartment near Georgetown to the two bedroom place she and Will had moved into when she was pregnant, and now to Rossi's house. She hadn't meant for it to come into the house, but it was clearly labeled 'Christmas' in her neat writing and Dave had brought it in with the other boxes.
"It's nothing important, just some old stuff." It was all important, to her, but it was old stuff, more ragged than the box it was stored in.
"I thought I saw some ornaments in there." He kissed the back of her neck and before she knew what he was going to do, he was on the floor and opening the flaps of the box. She knew she could stop him with a word if she needed to, but that would only pique his curiosity. The sooner she could convince him the things in the box were just old memorabilia, the sooner she could pack it away.
"Nothing I want to hang on the tree."
"Not even this?" He was laughing when he held up a very lopsided heart made of fabric, stuffing coming out of one side where the spaces between stitches were too far apart. It was the first thing she had ever sewn, back in Girl Scouts.
"I think Henry's felt handprint shows off enough of the Jareau family art talent." Henry had brought home the 'Santa' ornament made from the outline of his hand from school two days ago, and had been excited when it was the first thing hung on the tree. It really stood out among the glass balls, Hallmark ornaments and collection of foreign ornaments Dave had collected on his travels.
"I like it." He pulled a few more ornaments from the box, mostly things that she had made over the years. A few were ornaments that she'd been given; a tiny soccer ball, a little girl holding a sign that said 'daughter,' a rattle that said '1978' that had been her first ornament. "Why don't you want these on the tree?"
"They're silly old things. I haven't hung them in more than five years." Exactly five years, actually. The last time she'd hung them had been when she was still living alone. When Will had moved in, he'd brought a few ornaments of his own and they'd bought some together, including two 'baby's first Christmas.' She'd gone through all of her ornaments one day when Will was out, picking the more 'presentable' one to hang and packing away the ones that held a sentimental value but weren't what most people would call pretty.
"Then why do you keep them?" It might have sounded like an innocent question, but David Rossi didn't do innocent. It was when it sounded like the answer didn't matter that you had to be the most aware.
"They remind me of being a kid." JJ didn't answer until she'd sipped her wine and joined him on the floor. She picked up a frame made of popsicle sticks painted a once vivid red. Inside was a picture of her family as they'd once been, Todd with his too-long hair in his eyes, Alice laughing, her parents holding hands. She was looking up at her sister rather than at the camera. It was a picture that always made her smile. It made her eyes mist up as well.
"Hey." His arm slid around her, hand resting on her shoulder as he pulled her closer to him. "If you don't want these on the tree that's your decision, bella, but if you think I give a damn about what they look like to anyone else, then you're forgetting who you're talking to. This is the first time the tree hasn't looked like it's cut out of a damn magazine. I want your memories on there, just like I want Henry's school projects and the glittering bird thing Penelope made. Every time I see a crayon drawing taped to the fridge, or a stocking hanging over the shower rod, or dinosaurs on the kitchen tables, it's this amazing reminder that I'm not the only one living in this house. My life is so much fuller with you in it, Jen. That goes for our tree as well."
"Dave." She smiled at him even as she fought to keep a tear from falling. The knot of worry in her stomach that had tightened when he opened the box loosened again. Her childhood memories were all she had of her sister, of her happy family. They were something she guarded closely and shared with very few people. She'd told Dave about Alice, just as he had confided in her about James, but the habit was so ingrained it was hard to open up about things that had been closed off for so long.
"You look like you're conspiring about something there." Dave touched his finger to the picture she still held.
"It had just snowed that morning. I think Alice and I were figuring out how soon we could get out of the house. There was a hill at the end of the street just perfect for sledding. Almost at the bottom there was a ditch; just for a moment it was like flying." They'd gone out together that afternoon, both of them sharing a sled, and hadn't come in until their fingers began to turn purple. She'd almost forgotten about that day until a few weeks ago when she and Dave took Henry sledding.
"She was a good big sister." He took the ornament from her and reached up as far as he could to hang it from a branch of the tree. A sterling silver star was in the way but he moved it, leaving it on the floor.
"She would have been a good aunt." Her sister had loved children, earning most of her money babysitting. JJ liked to think that she would have loved Jack, and her brother's kids. Would she have done what she did, if she could have seen everything that was going to happen in their lives? It was still hard, sometimes, to imagine how the bright beautiful sister she worshiped could have decided that there was nothing to live for.
They hung the rest of the ornaments in silence, JJ finding empty branches to hang them from, Dave moving things when they were in his way, taking down a few of the glass balls.
"Ora è perfetto," Dave murmured as he stepped back to look at the tree. No one would confuse it with a magazine picture, which was just how he wanted it. This was their tree, his and JJ's and Henry's. Their Christmas, the first they were celebrating together as a family. Dave hoped it was only the first of many.
"Thank you." JJ rested her back against him as she looked at the tree. Dave was right, it was perfect. More perfect than any tree had been since she was a kid and there were five stockings hung from the mantel.
"If you really want to thank me you can help me finish up those broken ricciarellis. I can't let the team think any of my desserts come out less than perfect." He kissed the side of her face and slid his hand down to find hers. "Come on, Jen."
He looked like the little boy she'd seen in pictures, and JJ laughed. "Alright, but no complaining when I get up tomorrow morning to go running."
"I'll help you work off the calories, babe, and you won't have to go out in the cold to do it." On their way to the kitchen, they paused under the mistletoe where Dave demonstrated just how he planned on burning off calories. JJ had no complaints.