~ In the Beginning ~
The cold seeps in once again. My hand reaches out, searching for the chiseled letters, for some bitter, final closeness to the woman I love. The smooth coldness is there, but the letters are gone. A light grows before my eyelids, and dear Lord, I can almost smell her jasmine shampoo.
Wait, I can smell it. My eyes fly open.
My fingers grip the smooth oak headboard of the master bed. I'm home. In my bed! Our bed… the blankets are tangled at my feet, her pillow by my head; I'm still dressed in my pants and shirt from yesterday. A frigid breeze makes me shiver.
The window… I cracked it yesterday evening, I recall, and it must have blown open during the night. Moving to secure it, I see down on the lawn that a fresh blanket of snow has fallen overnight, one of the largest snowfalls I've seen in a long time, even since I was a child. Snow, fresh and clean, sparkling, like new life.
The events of my dreams come flooding back.
"Ana!" I shout. I need her. I'm compelled beyond sanity to go to her.
My phone buzzes in my pocket. Fuck, it's Ros. I accept the call.
"I'm glad I caught you, sorry to interrupt your holiday… there are some loose ends we need to go over immediately."
My eyes fly upward and I heave a sigh. "I can't right now, Ros. You deal with it."
"Sir, I've tried, but they want you, else it's no deal."
I don't take the slightest pause to consider. "Then it's no deal. I don't care anymore Ros, they've strung us along thus far and I frankly don't give a damn what their demands are this time, or anytime in the future. You tell them I said that, and then go home. I don't want you back at the office until Thursday. Now I have to go."
"Merry Christmas, Ros. Go enjoy the holiday. There's far more to life." I end the call without waiting for a response and shove it in my back pocket. It buzzes again a few seconds later, and I ignore it.
The double bedroom doors bang against the wall, the handles likely leaving matching dings in the wallpaper, as I throw them open and race down the hall and stairs, sliding over the hardwood in my socks. At the bottom, I crash directly into none other than Jason Taylor.
"My apologies, Sir. Are you all right?" he helps to right me, and then adjusts his sweater.
"You're here?" I half-query, half-accuse.
"Yes, Sir. A storm hit the highways to the south pretty badly and they closed the roads, we had to turn back. I hope you don't mind, Sir, I thought I'd take a shift in the control room this morning."
"No, no… of course not," I stammer. "Jason, don't think too much into this… what's the date?"
"Sir… it's Christmas Day," he tells me, more than a little warily.
"Are you sure? December twenty-fifth, two thousand thirteen?"
"Yes, Sir." Now he looks downright concerned.
"Thank you, Jason. I need to go find my wife." I clap him on the shoulder.
"I'll drive you, Sir."
"Oh no, that's all right. I'll manage."
"Sir," he comes to stand between me and the door. "Please, I insist. I guarantee utmost efficiency."
I'm torn, but I'd rather not argue, and he's probably right to stop me, so I nod.
Taylor returns it. "I'll bring the car out front. Might I get you a coat and shoes as well, Sir?"
I look down at my relative state of unpreparedness. "I'll get them and meet you out front."
"Very good, Sir."
"Christian, this is a bit of an early surprise," Dad greets me at the door; the one I burst through without knocking. He's himself, still robust and buoyant, though his brow is furrowed with concern. "We weren't sure whether to expect you. Merry Christmas."
"Yes, and to you. Where's Ana?"
My father is a very intuitive man, one of the reasons his law career has been so successful, and so senses the reason for my haste and unintentional rudeness. "Your room, likely. We've all just gotten up."
"Thank you," I call behind me as I dash for the stairs. I take them three at a time, as I have since I had legs long enough to do so. At the second landing, I nearly crash into my mother. In her arms, clad in blue striped flannel pajamas, is my sleepy little boy.
"Christian?" her tired face brightens, "Oh, it's so good to see you, darling."
My hands reach out toward them, one to my mother's face as I kiss her cheek, the other to my son's back. At my touch, he un-buries his face from his grandmother's neck.
"Da-da-da," he babbles.
"Yes, baby boy, I'm here," I tell him, a grin touching my lips, and to my great astonishment, he reaches for me. My heart skips twice; he hasn't come to me so willingly in months. My mother passes him into my arms, and as I clutch him to my chest, his little hands snake around my neck. I press kisses to his soft copper hair. "Daddy's here. I'm finally here."
Mom just watches us, an expression of contentment in her eyes.
"Teddy, will you go with your grandmother? I promise I'll see you in a little while, all right?"
Sometimes he understands every word, other times just a few, as he's still so little. But he nods into my chest. It hurts me to give him up, but he goes reluctantly, clinging to my mother again. She caresses his back soothingly. "Make things right with Ana, will you?" she tells me.
I nod. "That's why I'm here." I half-turn to continue to the third floor, and then I remember. "Mom?"
"Are you… is everything all right, with you? And Dad?"
She smiles. "Everything is fine. My children are home."
It isn't the answer I was looking for, but it'll have to do. There's still time. I've been given precious more time.
I continue down the hall, slowing to a walk as not to disturb those still sleeping, but as she has since we were children, Mia hears me coming and peers out of her door. I owe her so much more than this, but on impulse, I push her door open, wrap my arms around her and pull her to me.
"Christian?" she asks, tentatively wrapping her arms around my waist. "Surprise."
"I love you, Mia." The words are filled with reverence.
She giggles. "Love you too, big brother. I missed you."
Oh Mia, you have no idea. I break reluctantly from her and hold her at arm's length. "We need to talk later today, all right? I have things I should have told you long ago."
Her eyes widen, but she nods. I kiss her cheek and bound down the hall and up the rear stairs, leaving her adequately confused, but hopefully, feeling far more cherished.
My old room, altered only to accommodate a larger bed, lightens with the morning sun. I pull the door shut behind me with a tiny click, and pad over to the bed, toeing my shoes and peeling off my coat as I go. Carefully, I slide into the bed, under the covers, and oh, I feel her warmth.
Ana is the most beautiful girl in the world, but there's something to be said about her beauty in sleep. Dark lashes fan over her cheeks and flutter like butterfly wings. She's still dreaming. Of what, I wonder? Her pink lips are parted slightly, her pale cheeks so touchably smooth, but I resist. Her breaths are slow and even, but as she begins to sense me as she always does, they quicken a bit, and soon her eyes blink open.
"Merry Christmas, my love."
"Hmm… Christian?" she stretches, and I capture her hand, bringing it to my lips. Oh, how her warmth and soft skin soothe me. "I wasn't sure you were coming."
"I know, baby. I'm so sorry."
She nods sleepily, but her expression becomes wary. "For what?" she asks.
Yesterday, I might have been offended that she'd want to drag an explanation from me, but I'm uncharacteristically eager to do so, knowing full-well that I owe her so much more than words can say, that I want to explain myself and more importantly to apologize, and to tell her exactly how I will make things right. "I don't know where to begin," I say, locking my gaze with hers. "I've been everything from absent and apathetic to contrary and downright terrible. I stopped listening to you. I'm appalled at how I've behaved of late. I thought I was doing the right thing, making sure your needs were met, that you and Teddy and the family were taken care of, but I'd stopped listening to what those needs actually were."
She looks amazed. "You're not going to beat yourself up next, are you?"
"No, no… baby, I won't, though I feel compelled to. I came to tell you that I love you, more than anything in this world. You and Teddy, our family. You mean everything to me, and I took you for granted. I've made so many mistakes in the last many months, and you've suffered for them. I see that now. And I intend to make things right."
Her expression has phased to one of skepticism. Yes, she's heard this before, a few times this year, after particularly bad fights, where the goal was only to placate her for the time being, and I'm now appalled at the tactic. "This isn't like those other times." I swallow. "If I tell you something, will you promise to hear me out, and to try very hard to believe me?"
She nods, after only the smallest hesitation. Telling her my secrets, baring my soul to her, intrigues her to a point of absolute open-mindedness, and my fear of her reaction evaporates.
I haul in a breath before I begin. "Last night, after you left, I had what I can only describe as… an experience. In some ways, it was almost spiritual in nature. I believe I was shown exactly what could happen to you, to Teddy, to our family, if I were to continue as I have been. It was a rude awakening, to put it mildly."
Ana swallows. "That sounds awfully Dickensian, Christian."
"Oh, Ana…" I chide her gently, "What shall I do with you? I'm baring my soul here. Am I to understand that you don't believe me?"
She shakes her head, closing her eyes, as though to shake off the preconception. "I'm sorry. Please tell me."
Pressing a kiss to her knuckles, I continue. "It's all right." I sigh. "It scared me. Terrified, even. Part of me is still more frightened than I can handle, but here you are, warm and safe, and I have another chance to make sure things are right between us."
"Does this mean…" she trails off.
"For starters, it means I'm not going to Boston anymore. I don't care if the deal falls apart as a result, I only care about you. You and Teddy need me home, and so that's where I'll be."
Her fingers twitch against mine, held fast to my chest. "I can't ask you to give that up…"
"You aren't," I raise my eyebrows in assurance. "But it's not just that. By wanting more material security for us, I forgot to be glad in what we have together, what we have now. And that's each other. I've been locking myself away, reverting to old habits, and it's no good for us. I want to be open and honest with you, always, about everything that touches our lives. I need to start talking to John more regularly again, and if you're willing, I'd like you to be there, to have a voice."
She stares at me incredulously, and then her face crumples. In less than a second I've pulled her to me, her face buried in my chest before the first sob escapes.
"Oh Ana, please don't cry," I beg. "I didn't mean to make you upset. Talk to me, baby. Tell me what I need to do, I'll do anything."
She cries quietly against me, and for a moment, I remember the scene in the kitchen downstairs from my dream; it happened right about now actually, that she cried in my mother's arms. Oh, how different things could have been.
"Shh… darling. I'm here. I'm here." I stroke her hair, my other palm traveling up and down her back, over her thin cotton pajamas. They can't possibly be warm enough.
She sniffles, pulling away slightly and her hand slides from my chest, up along my shoulder and neck, to rest against my bristled cheek. "I missed my husband," she says.
My breath hitches. "He's returned to you, love." And she pulls my face toward hers; I make up the distance, meeting her halfway. Our lips touch, sending a current of warmth between us, and the fire in my belly ignites. She must feel it too, because she melds herself to me, hitching her leg over mine. I roll her onto her back, pressing her into the mattress, our lips never parting. She grasps at the fabric of my shirt, and I wrestle out of it, her hands going to my chest, running over my sides and down my stomach as my mouth descends on hers once again. I know what she wants, and she can have it, all of it, all of me.
"I need you," she breathes.
"I'm yours," I tell her.
Not too much later, we lie wrapped around each other, completely sated. My hands run lazily over her arms, her shoulders, across her collarbone, my lips pressing soft kisses to her temple. She leans into me, and though I feel her faith in me is restored, I am resolute in the will to ensure it never wavers again. I smile against her cheek.
She giggles. "What?"
"I just remembered, all our Christmas gifts are at home. In my hurry to get here this morning, I forgot to bring them."
"Oh, is that all?" She props herself up on an elbow and looks down at me, her knowing eyes holding something back. "Well, Mr. Grey, you'll be happy to know that your gift from me is here."
Something about her tone has me positively giddy, and I grin. "Is it? May I open it now?"
She wrinkles her nose. "I don't think you'd want it right this minute. Delayed gratification and all that."
My brow furrows. "Please? Pretty please? Oh come on, Ana, don't I even get a hint?"
She rolls her eyes. God, I love that. "Only if you promise not to freak out," she says.
"And why exactly would I do that?" I tease, though my anxiety grows at her request. Then, it dawns on me. My eyes widen. "Ana, are you…?"
The corners of her mouth turn up into a blissful, dazzling smile, and it melts my heart. "Yes, we are. Merry Christmas, Daddy."
My lips find hers, and my hand, trembling with joy, comes to rest on her still-flat belly. Her fingers cover mine, holding me to her.
My family is safe, warm and happy. But most of all, we are loved. And I shall make sure that their lives are such, forever. God bless us all, every one.