A Merry Little Christmas
Spoilers: Nothing in particular
Disclaimer: Still not mine.
Reese knew it was Christmastime. Even preoccupied with his work as he tended to be, Christmas in New York City was impossible to miss. But still, knowing that it was the season of merriment and expecting that fact to have any bearing on his life whatsoever were two very different things.
The first thing that struck him was the music. He rationalized it by telling himself he rarely dropped by Carter's place when anyone was home. Hell, he rarely dropped by anyone's place when they were home.
The second weird thing was the evergreen wreath on her door, decorated with red and gold ornaments, that obscured the bell.
Ignoring both flags, he rapped his knuckles against the door below the wreath. He wouldn't be there if it wasn't important and Carter not being out of contact for an entire day was important. Scary and upsetting too, if he were the type to admit such things.
When the door opened, the multiple voices in the background should have corrected any misconceptions he had.
But it was Carter, rather Carter's appearance, that finally gave him pause. Her makeup was heavier than normal, her lips painted a deep red shade that made them look almost too delicious to resist, her eyes sparkling with the help of something pale and shimmering.
And then there was the dress - a red, form fitting number with a plunging back he could see reflected in the mirror by the door. The shiny black stilettos she wore completed her entirely un-Carter look and made him think things he absolutely knew she wouldn't appreciate.
A date. She was on a date. Shit. No wonder she hadn't answered the phone all day. She hadn't wanted to have to cancel her plans and now he'd gone and ruined it anyway.
He took a step back. "I'm sorry - I didn't mean to interrupt - I - uh," he stuttered through his apology, wondering why Finch hadn't warned him off. Finch always eavesdropped on Carter. Finch would have known she had plans. Finch should have said something when Reese mentioned Carter's lack of response to his calls.
Carter shook her head with a smile, but before she could answer, a female voice sounded. "Who's she hiding behind that door, Taylor?"
Carter turned away. "I'm not hiding anyone, Ma. It's just a friend who dropped by."
Her description confused him. She could have claimed he was a coworker or a neighbor. He decided it was for Taylor's benefit rather than that she actually considered him a friend.
"Then bring her in. We're ready to eat!"
Reese backed up another step. "I didn't know you had company. I've been trying to call you all day so when you didn't answer-"
Carter nodded. "You were worried."
He shrugged, rethinking the visit for the hundredth time and wishing she hadn't managed to hit the nail on the head with her first attempt. But a whole day of radio silence while her phone's GPS said she was at home made him unspeakably nervous. "Maybe a little."
"House rules - no phones on holidays."
His eyes widened. Holidays? He'd known it was coming, but today… And again, Finch hadn't said a damn word. He felt like an idiot. His cheeks were burning with embarrassment. "It's Christmas."
"All day." She looked thoroughly amused, as though she intended to remind him of his mistake whenever she got the chance in the future.
Carter ignored her mother's shout. "So everything's ok?" She waited for his quick nod before she rolled her eyes toward the door. "I should-"
The door swung open suddenly, a tall woman with gray hair and Carter's stern glare appearing. She looked Reese up and down. "Are you selling something?"
He shook his head. "No, ma'am."
She snorted back. "Then piss or get off the pot."
Fighting an amused smile, Reese looked back at Carter. He eyes were squeezed closed when she muttered. "Excuse me, I have to go crawl in a hole and die now."
Realizing that the family was gathered in the dining room doorway and staring at the exchange, Reese squirmed. "Right behind you, Carter."
"My daughter's name is Jocelyn."
Reese understood exactly where Carter got her nerve and nodded. "Yes, ma'am."
She sized him up again, glancing between Reese and Carter a few times. "And don't you forget it."
Finally she addressed Carter. "At least he has better manners than Joe, and you, apparently." She thrust her hand toward Reese. "I'm Barbara, Jocelyn's mother."
"John Reese. It's a pleasure to meet you." He shook her hand politely, making certain not to wince at the vice grip she had on his hand.
"Well get in here, boy, dinner's getting cold."
His feet remained glued to the floor as he answered despite Barbara walking away. "I don't want to intrude."
Barbara called back over her shoulder. "You must have come here for a reason, which I assume is because Jocelyn invited you, even though she was too rude to tell anyone."
Carter grabbed his sleeve as he started to turn away. "You're here. Stay."
Barbara's voice sounded again from the other room. "Sit up straight, Taylor! And when are you going to get that hair cut?"
"She might stop picking on us if you're here. She likes you." Carter's eyes were pleading.
"I'm not so sure about that."
"She does, trust me. She's a sucker for good manners." She leaned over, her heels allowing him to hear her whisper. "You can stop me from killing her if she criticizes my son one more time."
"In that case," he grinned and followed Carter into the dining room.
The group that had been staring at him turned out to only be half the family. They were crowded around the table so tightly Reese realized he could legitimately leave with the excuse that he simply didn't fit.
"John! I didn't know you were coming for dinner!" Taylor's eyes lit up as the boy inched over to make room for him.
Reese smiled and made his decision. "Neither did I."
Carter quickly rattled off the names of her aunt, two cousins, their dates, and their adult children. At sixteen, poor Taylor was the youngest by about twenty years.
"Taylor, go get Mr. Reese a plate. Make yourself useful! Don't just sit there like a bump on a log like your father." Barbara's voice dropped as she muttered about how it seemed everyone had been raised in a barn while Carter's grip on his arm tightened and her nails dug through his sleeve.
"Breathe, Carter," he whispered, wondering how much more he'd be able to take before he told Barbara what he thought of her behavior towards his friends.
As he followed Carter to the far side of the table, one of her cousins, Sharice if he recalled correctly, grabbed his ass. Unhappily seated next to her, he forced a smile and pretended he wasn't miserably uncomfortable. Sharice was staring at him, her husband entirely unconcerned with the way she kept voicing her approval, and then dropped her hand on Reese's thigh.
Suddenly, Carter jumped up from her seat on the other side of her son and nearly shoved Reese out of his chair. "You should take my seat. There's more leg room."
He grinned gratefully. "Fewer hands too."
When Taylor returned and dutifully put a place setting in front of his mom, Barbara's critical eye turned to her sister. "My daughter's guest came dressed for Christmas dinner, which is more than I can say for yours."
All eyes were drawn to Carter's other cousin Ellen and her jeans-and-t-shirt clad boyfriend.
Reese leaned over to Taylor. "Is she always like this?"
Taylor tugged uncomfortably at his tie. "At least you guys are allowed to have wine." He lowered his voice to a whisper. "Mom's been chugging it since noon."
"Can't blame her. I've only been here two minutes and I'm tired of it," he whispered back. Reese's wine glass was empty and he would have had to get up to fill it, so he reached for the eggnog that Carter had abandoned when she'd changed seats. He felt out of place enough at a family gathering the likes of which he hadn't attended since he was four or five and he was already imposing enough; he didn't want to draw any more attention to himself.
He'd just taken a sip when he heard Carter's warning, that "mom" had made it, realizing a moment too late that meant there was more rum than nog in it. His eyes were watering and the group was laughing, even cheering when he didn't spit it out. It was Carter's proud smile that allowed him to take another sip.
Someone took mercy on him at that point, passing a bottle of wine to him around the table. He waited patiently to pour himself some while the family said grace and mentioned their blessings during the year. His mind wandered to the day Elias had kidnapped Taylor and he imagined the way the day would have looked had he failed to find the boy. Not only would the festive mood be gone, but Reese doubted Carter would have even attempted to host a gathering had she lost her son. Carter would never have recovered from that blow and Reese realized that he truly had something for which to be thankful.
His eyes darted over to her while he silently thanked whatever had brought Taylor home safe and Carter into his life. Her eyes were waiting for his and his heart leapt at the idea that they were sharing similar thoughts at that moment.
When the prayers were finished, the family dug into the food that filled the table. Reese took a moment to look around, recognizing the unfamiliar feeling he had as wistfulness. The love and laughter was as plentiful as the ribbing and criticizing. He'd never realized he longed for a family like Carter's, but sitting there among, but not a part of, them it struck him hard. He did want that. He wanted a table full of people who cared what was going on with his career and his health and asked what he thought of the Christmas episode of some television show they all watched.
He decided to settle for what he did have, which wasn't perfect, but did include the opportunity to not be reheating a can of soup and not even realizing it was Christmas night.
Carter leaned over behind Taylor and grinned. "You can eat something, you know."
He grinned stupidly, realizing that he was just sitting there with an empty plate in front of him while all the fragrant dishes were passed around. "Did you make all this?" If there was one thing in the world he couldn't get his head around, it was the idea of Carter in an apron slaving away in the kitchen.
She laughed. "If I'd made it, I wouldn't suggest you eat it." Motioning at the kitchen behind them, she continued. "The pie's mine, but I bought it from the bakery down the street, so it's safe too."
"Don't worry about it, Carter, I can cook for us." He didn't know where the words came from. He didn't know where the idea came from. He couldn't even be sure if he meant what he knew damn well it sounded like he meant.
Rather than the dumbstruck response he would have gotten any other time, Carter inclined her head across the table toward her mother, who was staring at him with a frown.
"Jos, sorry. I meant Jos." When the frown didn't budge, his voice raised in a question. "Jocelyn?" Carter snickered into her forkful of spaghetti. So did the rest of the table.
Welcomed into her family or not, Reese was going to have to get her back for this. He spent the rest of the meal eating the delicious food and plotting his revenge.
What he'd thought had been enough food to feed an army was decimated in a little over an hour. Barbara split her attention between warning Sharice to cut back on her portions and encouraging Carter to put some meat on her bones. Sharice rolled her eyes and piled more helpings onto her plate while Carter kept her wine glass steadily refilled. Between the food and the wine and the happy atmosphere, Reese was enjoying a pleasant buzz when the group started to move from the table.
He hung back as long as he could, ruing the idea of having to leave, but knowing he couldn't stay. He'd already stayed longer than he should have and he knew full well that the longer he stuck around, the more likely Carter's family was to misinterpret their relationship. And if Carter had to put up with teasing and disproval all night because of him, she'd kill him the next chance she got.
Carter started stacking the plates when they were alone, but Reese put his hand on her arm to stop her. "Go have a good time. The dishes will be here tomorrow."
She glanced toward the other room where the stereo with the carols playing had been turned up. A slow smile spread across her face. "Yeah, you're right." She waved her hand and when he didn't move, curled her arm through his, pulling him into the doorway. "Come on, John."
He shook his head and stood his ground, relishing the idea that she wasn't upset at all about his presence. "No, really, thank you for letting me stay this long. It's your time with your family."
"You're not going to abandon me now!" She upended the open bottle of wine in front of him. "This was the last bottle. Please?"
Grinning at her whiny tone, he shook his head and took the bottle from her. "Fine, I'll stay a bit, but I think you've had enough."
"Party pooper." She tried to pout, but wound up grinning instead.
As they turned to head into the living room, Reese noticed that everyone was smiling. And staring.
"Mom, you're under the mistletoe!" Taylor's grin could only be described as shit-eating.
"Oh, I don't think so." Despite her vehement denial, Carter's eyes moved up to the sprig of mistletoe taped above them. "Fuck."
Barbara chimed in. "We might have let you go, except you two stood there and had a whole conversation."
Reese was telling himself not to dare blush, but he knew there was nothing he could do about the hot flush that ran through his body at the thought of kissing her. His eyes darted shyly at Carter, sizing up her reaction. She'd pulled her bottom lip between her teeth nervously.
She was nervous. Not laughing.
He grinned and turned his body fully toward her. "I'm not about to challenge your mom, Jocelyn."
It felt almost familiar for some reason when her hands fell on his forearms, though he didn't remember putting his hands on her hips. He was smirking as he leaned in, holding her eyes as they moved closer.
He tasted a little piece of heaven in that second when her lips touched his, when he dared to slip his tongue against hers for the briefest of moments. She tasted as good as he'd known she would, even better than that alluring lipstick had promised. His instincts told him to pull her closer, to hold her tight, to work out all the tension that had been building between them for the entire time they'd known each other.
Instead he reminded himself that both Carter's mother and son were watching, along with a family he could only imagine wouldn't appreciate him acting on feelings he was finally admitting.
Short and chaste as the kiss was compared to what he would have thoroughly enjoyed doing just then, there were still hoots and hollers when they pulled back. His cheeks were burning, announcing his embarrassment to the room. Carter's eyes were on her shoes. Then she grabbed an abandoned cup of eggnog and swallowed the whole thing straight down.
Taylor was still grinning, boldly offering him a thumbs-up, even after his mother smacked his shoulder.
Barbara had nothing to say about it, though Reese was sure the older woman would have been happy to critique his style given the opportunity. She turned back to the rest of the family. "Time for carols, someone turn off the radio."
Reese stayed halfway across the room while everyone except Taylor gathered around the tree. The boy looked up at him. "Not a singer?"
Reese shook his head. "Not a chance."
Taylor nodded. "Me either. Grandma says I couldn't carry a tune in a bucket. She issued a lifetime ban when I was nine." He withdrew his phone from his pocket and nodded at the mistletoe. "Cover for me? I have to call my girlfriend or she'll kill me and if mom catches me with a phone, she'll kill me."
"Rock and a hard place, huh?" Reese grinned. "Go ahead. You've got a couple minutes before they notice."
Reese had resolved himself to leave after the carols were sung, but even after suffering through some distinctly off-key tunes and Carter pointedly ignoring him, he was still there. Sharice and Carter were pouring over the tablet one of them had received as a gift while Sharice's husband Charles trapped Reese in a mostly one-sided conversation.
If Carter hadn't been so obviously uncomfortable, he might have made an excuse and slipped out. But with Carter keeping at least six feet between them at all times, Reese couldn't rationalize leaving. It had to have been the kiss, which he only realized afterwards probably should have been limited to a peck on the cheek, and he couldn't leave until he cleared the air between them. The work they did together was far too important - not to mention dangerous - to have some weird source of discomfort getting in the way.
Sharice and Charles were the first to announce it was time to leave, taking with them Carter's aunt. In the next fifteen minutes, the rest of the group broke up, one pair following another out the door. Carter was saying goodbye to her mother when Reese ducked into the kitchen, starting to load the dishwasher. He heard the door closing behind the last of the guests besides himself and watched as Carter stepped into the dining, took the glass that had been his, and finished off the rest of the wine in the house.
"Happy to have the place to yourself or sad they're gone?"
She gave a start, a smile lighting her face after a moment. "I thought you'd already left."
"I just wanted to give you a chance to see your family." He should have known better, but he tried anyway.
She didn't let him down. "Bullshit."
He shrugged and took a long moment to arrange the plate he was holding in the dishwasher. "I wanted to apologize."
Her eyes squinted as she looked at her glass for an answer that wasn't forthcoming. "For what?"
"For crashing your party." He paused, deciding to bite the bullet and get it over with. "For crossing the line when I-" For some reason, the word "kiss" wouldn't leave his mouth, as though it were declaring mutiny for him saying he was sorry when he absolutely wasn't. He was only sorry that it had upset her.
Her lips pressed into a thin line while she crossed the room to put the glass on the rack. "You mean when you kissed me?"
"Uh," his whole body was threatening rebellion when she moved closer.
She was staring at his shirt, at her hands where they rested against his stomach. Slowly she raised her head and met his eyes, lifting her chin. "Look up."
His eyes widened as he did so, fully expecting and dreading more mistletoe, but his eyes found none. Curious, he looked back at her. "What?"
"What do you see," she asked, he eyes locked on the ceiling above them.
Finally, her eyes dropped back to his as a smile spread across her face. "Exactly."
She moved quickly, her hands sliding up, her arms snaking around his neck, her body leaning fully against his, pinning him against the counter as her lips found his.
This one was nothing like the first. It was full of desire, their hands moving over each other, their mouths open, their tongues tangling, pushing the boundaries they hadn't dared touch with her family as witnesses.
The thought of her family sobered him and he pulled back, pushing her away with his hands on her hips. "Is Taylor here?" He worried after he spoke that he might have been reading a little too much into a kiss. It had been a passionate kiss, but hardly an invitation to stay the night.
Rather than dropping her hands from his neck, rather than moving away and asking him to leave, she leaned closer, her lips against his ear. "Santa brought him a new phone. He'll be in his room with it for days. Won't even come up for food." The way she was purring told him he hadn't misread anything.
He grinned and let his hands wander over the exposed skin of her back. "And what did Santa bring you?"
She stepped back suddenly, the nervous look back on her face. "Well, I asked him for an ex-CIA assassin turned robinhood."
"In that case, it would appear you were a very good girl."
Her eyes moved down his body and back up so slowly he could damn near feel her thoughts caressing him. "Lucky me."
He chuckled and took a step forward, attempting to close the distance between them. "Depends on your perspective, because from where I'm standing, it seems I'm the one being rewarded."
"You saved me from having a shouting match with my mother over when I'm going to find myself a new husband and enroll my son in military school. You're definitely going to get rewarded." She grabbed his hand and pulled him toward the hallway, pausing after a step. "By the way, I really," she leaned against him, sliding her leg along his, pressing her thigh into his rapidly growing erection, "Really like it when you call me Jocelyn."
"Yeah?" It was a good piece of information to have, an easy way for him to distract her the next time she was pissed off at him.
She dragged the nails of her free hand down his shirt and grabbed a hold of his belt. "Oh yeah."
There was no hope of wiping the grin off his face as he allowed her to lead him to her bedroom. "In that case, Merry Christmas, Jocelyn."
He knew he'd never forget the way she looked at him right then.
And he was right. It was a very, very merry Christmas for both of them.