A/N: I do not own SOSF, the canon or characters. In response to a writer's challenge around Christmas.
The First Christmas
Days before Christmas 1970
Lieutenant Mike Stone had been quiet that day. Aside from a half-hearted grunt of "Morning", which for all the world sounded like 'moaning', his protégé, Inspector Keller, swore something was amiss. The senior detective declined an offer of coffee and didn't take the bait when Steve tried to strike up a conversation.
"Don't you have something better to do?" Mike scowled at the young man. "Where are those reports from yesterday?" Stunned, Steve quickly retreated to the safety of his desk some ten feet away.
Out of the corner of his eye, Keller periodically looked over to his boss's office. Whatever activity he was engaged in, it was accompanied by a frown.
Steve sat back in his chair. With pencil in hand and eraser tip resting on his lip, he thought hard but failed to come up with a reason for Mike's misery. Nothing was out of the ordinary. There were no pressing cases. Mike had passed a physical exam with flying colors. Christmas was days away and Jeannie would soon arrive home from Arizona State after a quick detour to meet her new boyfriend's family in Kingman. Coming home from her first major break from college, Steve understood Mike's anxiety. But it should not be in a grumpy way; not anything like Steve was seeing now.
The morning past and Steve became absorbed in his reports. He didn't notice that Mike had quietly left his office.
Sylvia Marsden, the long time afternoon cleaning lady, came through the squad room for her daily turn at emptying trash cans and ashtrays. She was a fixture at the station for many years. A sweet older woman in her sixties, she had come to know many of the officers by their first names. It was always a pleasant break when she came by.
"Hey, Sylvia, what's shaking?" Norm Hassejian asked. Sylvia was especially fond of Norm. He flirted with her unapologetically. Usually in high spirits around the friendly detective, today she seemed down.
"I just heard Miss Margaret from the night shift had her purse snatched," Sylvia responded as she dumped the butts and ashes out of Norm's ashtray. "She was taken to the hospital all banged up. It's so sad. She was going to fly to Detroit in a couple of days to see her new grandbaby for Christmas and had the money for the travel agent in her wallet. Now it's all gone."
Steve's ears perked up. After many late nights at the station, he and Miss Margaret were quite friendly. "Was she hurt badly?"
"No, honey," Sylvia was very fond of Steve and treated him as if he was her own. "She's got some bruises and they checked her over good at the hospital. But can you imagine? She saved all year to see that new grandbaby and now the money's gone. Poor thing had to cancel her vacation."
"That's horrible, Sylvia. Is there anything we can do?" Steve asked.
"Pray, sweetie. Just pray. Miss Margaret is so sad she can't see that new baby. It's her first grandchild."
"How much did she lose?" Steve asked.
"About four hundred dollars. It will take her all year to save that kind of money again."
Steve and Norm nodded. "Well, if you see her, tell her we're thinking of her," Norm added.
SOSF SOSF SOSF SOSF SOSF
Mike returned to his office after lunch. Steve had finished a sandwich he'd grabbed from a nearby deli. Not wanting to be chewed out again, he kept to himself but was still worried about Mike.
With a personal errand or two to run and the day nearly over, Steve decided to head out. He walked over to Mike's office to let him know he was leaving for the day. While no new cases made for a slow day, the time dragged even more considering Mike's mood.
Given what happened that morning, he was dreading the conversation. But he also wanted to get past whatever the problem was. If it was something Steve did, he wanted to know about it and make it right. If it wasn't anything he did, at least he wanted to show his proper concern.
"Ummm…Mike, unless you need anything, I'm going to take off." Steve said quietly.
Mike nodded his head.
"Mike, I'm sorry. Have I done something wrong?"
The realization struck the older man that Steve thought his poor mood was a reflection of his work.
"No. Not at all." Mike looked up from the file he was studying. "You're fine, Buddy boy." Steve thought he heard a crack in his friend's voice.
"Then, what is it?" Steve pressed carefully.
"It's personal. I'll be okay." Mike provided Steve with a small smile. "You enjoy what's left of your afternoon."
Steve wanted to say more, but decided against it.
The few days left before Christmas past quickly. Mike was not quite his old self, but seemed to be doing better just the same. The men did a short shift for Christmas Eve morning, leaving a small skeleton crew. That was convenient since Jeannie was due to come in on the bus at around noon. As the time neared, Steve wondered why Mike hadn't left yet for the bus depot.
"Mike, aren't you forgetting something?"
"Like what?" Mike replied tersely.
"Jeannie. Isn't she supposed to be at the bus station soon?"
"No, actually she's not," Mike said in a loud, convincing voice. "She's staying on with her boyfriend and his family. She won't be coming home for Christmas."
Steve stood in silence. That explained everything. Mike wanted nothing more than to have his daughter home for the holidays and now that wasn't going to happen. The disappointment must have been devastating, he thought. So much so that he simply didn't talk about it. Steve couldn't help but be annoyed at Jeannie's selfishness.
"I'm sorry, Mike," came his quiet reply. "What are you going to do?"
"I've got plans. Don't you worry about me, Buddy boy. Jeannie is a big girl and I understand that. I need to let go and 'do my own thing'. Isn't that what you young people say?"
"I guess so. Are you sure you are going to be okay?" Steve asked.
"I don't need you mollycoddling me, Buddy boy. Go on." Mike forced a grin. "It's Christmas Eve. I'll see you in a couple of days. Unless something comes up here, of course."
Steve nodded at his partner, "Merry Christmas," to which he received no reply.
Miss Margaret began her shift at eleven pm sharp. It was her first day back since her attack. It didn't matter if it was a holiday, the police station didn't close and it needed to be clean. Ever since the attack, she'd become withdrawn. Working hard with quiet resolve was what she felt like she needed to do.
Steve pulled into the parking lot and hopped out of his Porsche. With a packet in hand, he entered the police station and looked for Miss Margaret. He found her in the vacant Robbery unit emptying trash cans and dusting off desks.
"Miss Margaret?" Steve called out to her. Steve winced when he saw the bruise on her face from the attack. Miss Margaret was a slight, elderly woman who had no enemies. He had to swallow his anger.
"Why, Steve. You're here awfully late and on Christmas Eve. Is everything okay?" the elderly woman asked as she dumped a desk sized trash can in her large bag.
"Yes, ma'am," Steve hesitated. "Miss Margaret, Norm Haseejian and I heard what happened to you and how you had to cancel your vacation and all. That's not right."
"Tell me about it, honey, but that's the way the world is. It's bad and ugly sometimes."
"Yes, ma'am," Steve paused again. "We'd like for you to have this. More than anything, Norm and I want you to see your grandbaby." He placed the envelope in her hand.
"I-" Miss Margaret didn't know what to say. "I can't accept this, Steve. It's charity."
"No, ma'am. Consider it someone doing you a good turn. If you do a good turn for someone else, it's not charity. It's just a transfer."
Margaret opened up the envelope and found a small stack of bills totaling $400. "Oh, Steve. This is so wonderful. I can't thank you and Norm enough. Where is he?"
"He's with a girlfriend. Chicks dig Norm," he said with a chuckle.
"I can understand that. He's quite a catch," she said as she beamed.
Steve was always puzzled by the ladies' attraction to Norm. He thought for a second and then quickly became serious. "I don't want you to run the risk of having this stolen. Can we put it in your locker or something for safekeeping?"
"I have an even better idea. A friend of mine got me a money belt. I'll put it in there." She quickly flipped up her blouse to display only the belt and slipped the cash inside. "There are so many bills, I barely have enough space in the belt," she beamed. "Steve, this is the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me."
"I hope you can get out there soon. Maybe for the New Year, perhaps?"
"I'll see what I can arrange." Margaret put her arms around the young man and gave him a loving embrace.
Just then, a familiar silhouette passed along the opaque glass door. Mike peeked into the Robbery room to find two people in embrace. He recognized the one as his partner. For reasons he couldn't explain, Mike was annoyed and opened the door.
"Running your own night shift, I see?" Mike asked sharply.
Miss Margaret and Steve pulled apart from their hug. The older woman turned to face Stone.
"I was just wishing her a Merry Christmas," Steve responded casually. "You're here late."
"You went home hours ago." Mike was a little taken aback to see the woman in question was Margaret, the sixty-something housekeeper. He was equally puzzled to see the large bruise on her face.
"I came back to see Miss Margaret." He gave her a gentle squeeze. Ignoring Mike, he continued. "Now, are you going to be all right? When you are able to go, let me know and I'll give you a ride to the airport. It would be my privilege."
Miss Margaret's eyes glistened and she simply nodded her head. "Thank you so much, Steve. You and Norm saved my Christmas."
Steve reached over and kissed her on the cheek. "Good-bye."
Miss Margaret reached for his hand. "Steve, do you have plans for Christmas dinner tomorrow?"
"Nah. Not really my thing," Steve replied nonchalantly. Mike was surprised at the admission. They had only met this year and by his own observations, Mike had assumed his social calendar was always full, especially around the holidays.
"I know you don't have family here, sugar." Miss Margaret replied. "If you don't have anything better to do, I'd love to make you dinner."
"I don't want you to go to any trouble."
"It would be my pleasure."
Mike felt suddenly ashamed at barging in on their moment. "Steve, Margaret. I'm so sorry. I've been in a foul mood, as Steve could attest. It's Jeannie's first time away from home over Christmas," he went on to explain.
Miss Margaret joined in. "And you didn't want to be alone."
Mike nodded. "It's just that it seems like yesterday when Jeannie was a little girl and my Helen was alive. Our Christmases were wonderful."
"Well, Lieutenant. I'd be honored if you'd join us. Steve, how about it?"
"Absolutely." Steve's smile was genuine. Part of it was simply relief that perhaps the stress he felt around Mike would subside.
SOSF SOSF SOSF SOSF SOSF
After a wonderful home cooked dinner, Mike and Steve wished Miss Margaret a Merry Christmas. Her family in Detroit was thrilled that, while she missed Christmas with them, she'd be with them the following week. Mike heard about her attack and was humbled by the generosity of his new partner and colleague, Norm. How he had been so lost in his own misery to miss all of this was beyond him.
Mike invited Steve over to his place to watch the Christmas football game. As he opened the door to let the pair in, he was greeted by a loving voice.
"Mike!" Jeannie exclaimed as she ran over to her father. "Merry Christmas."
"Sweetheart, I thought you were staying with Brad and his family." Everything felt complete for Mike. Steve could tell that despite Mike feeling better about Jeannie's absence, nothing compared with her being here.
"No, it just didn't feel right," Jeannie began as she explained why she decided to come home. "Where were you? I've been here most of the afternoon. I was afraid maybe you'd gone out of town."
"I was with Steve and one of our friends from work." Mike replied and gave his young partner a grin.
Steve was thrilled for his partner, but suddenly felt out of place. "Mike, I'm going to head home. You enjoy your time with Jeannie."
"No!" they both responded in unison.
"You stay, Steve," Jeannie ordered. "You're family, too."
"Besides, I want to see that football game. Come on, Buddy boy."
"You're sure?" Steve asked almost shyly.
"Of course. Jeannie, go pop some popcorn and let's enjoy the game. What is it? Bears vs. the Giants?"
And so it went. Mike's first Christmas with his new partner. He knew that Jeannie was a grown woman and at some point, she would be elsewhere for the holidays. But he took comfort knowing that no matter what, there was a world of others who could help fill the void.