Author's Note: Written for kel for Yuletide 2012.
"Hey, we're here." Matt whispers as the plane dips its wings low to the ground, descending from the sky, "so, wake up, okay?" He runs his thumb over her fingers; her knuckles are white from grasping the end of the armrest during the flight. "Your mother and Coach Taylor and your sister are going to be waiting to see you with open arms -"
Her eyes blink open. "I thought we were still on the tarmac in Chicago. When did we -"
"That was a few hours ago, hon," he says, as the in-flight intercom crackles and buzzes overhead - "welcome to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where the local temperature is 54 degrees and clear skies" - "and, we're not in Chicago anymore, if you'd look outside."
She pecks him on the side of the cheek and reaches to the floor, to grab her purse and a colorful bag from an airport gift shop. "Do you think Gracie will like the Chicago teddy bear we got her?"
"Well, your parents will like it better than that plush, talking Bears football we saw on the shelf next to this. Gracie - she'd like anything if it came from you."
"If it was for the Cowboys instead, you may have had a chance with that gift going over well with my father, but - not the Bears."
"We're not in Dillon anymore. Not in Texas."
"This doesn't look very much like Texas." She looks out the window of the plane, tracing the shape of the winglet with the tip of her finger. "It's going to be weird to see them again, y'know? I'm so used to them being in that house in Dillon, and for me to see my memories - Gracie's memories - in a new place -"
"You worry too much. Has anyone ever told you that? You worry too much." And he smiles at her, resting his arm behind her neck, and her heart does a somersault. "Everything's going to be okay. We're going to have a great time."
The reunion is as he expected it to be - her mother chokes back tears, her father holds Gracie's hand and hugs her tightly - "you're taking good care of her, son?" he asks, as the five of them walk in an awkward sort of tandem out to the car. Julie's suitcase and Matt's duffel bag bounce dutifully behind them.
"Yes, Coach, sir, I am," Matt says, holding Julie's hand, and her face turns bright red in the Pennsylvania chill.
"You can call me Dad, now that you've married my daughter," he said, "you're a part of the Taylor family now."
"Dad, I'm Julie Saracen now." She slinks her shoulders down in a slope, almost as if she was trying to sink into the concrete sidewalk by sheer will and force alone. Her diamond ring twinkles merrily on her finger; she had had her engagement and wedding rings melded together to form one ring with additional sentimental value.
"You're a Taylor by birth, a Taylor by blood, and you'll die a Taylor, Julie Taylor. Even if you're a Saracen by marriage, you'll always be one of us."
She exchanges a smile with Matt. Some things never change, and her father's love for her is one of those things.
It's one of the things she's most grateful for.
They pull up in front of the new house - sets of twinkling Christmas lights line the eaves of the roof, and Julie smiles at the sight. She always loved the multi-colored lights the best, because each of them was different but could shine brightly with all the others. She likes the pretty things that can work together like that, instead of single-color strands of boring nothingness.
As her parents lead her on a tour of the house - "this is the kitchen, this is our bedroom, this is the family room" - to which Julie eyes the tree in the corner and her smile becomes a grin. All the ornaments that she grew up knowing are on that tree: the felt candy cane she made in kindergarten, and the red and gold ball she decorated in fifth grade Girl Scouts, along with the series of angels that her mother likes to line the tree with. And it feels more like home to see the chipped pig that hangs low on the tree than it has in a long, long time.
"Come see my room! Come see my room!" Gracie yells, taking her sister by one hand and her brother-in-law by the other and dragging them off to see her room. It is replete with dolls of various shapes and sizes - and Julie notices a Philadelphia Eagles football in the corner.
She gestures to Matt. "Guess we might have gotten away with the Bears."
"You'd never get away with the Bears in this house," her father says, clapping his hand on her shoulder with pride. "Gracie likes to play ball. And around here, she's an Eagles girl."
"You think she'll play one day? Like that girl in the video who plays better than a lot of the boys?" Julie asks, leaning against Matt's shoulder and looking at her father.
"If she wants, I'm never going to stop either of my girls from doing what they want to do. But if she wants to become a dean like her mother, or an artist like Matt, or study history like you - I will support that too."
"Thanks, Dad," she says, detaching from Matt long enough to bury her head into his side. "It means a lot."
"You're always a Taylor girl, after all."
"Not like you'd ever let me forget." She laughs, and they laugh, and Gracie sticks her hands on her hips and pouts, which only makes everyone laugh more raucously into the night.
Julie wiggles under the covers as she situates herself in bed, with Matt laying next to her - she's never slept with anyone being in this bed with her, before, but there's a first time for everything, and this is the first time for that. It would be even more awkward if they were in Dillon tonight, but instead, they're in a strange room in Philadelphia with her bed being the only thing that her old room and this room have in common. Besides her.
"I think that went well with your parents," Matt says, nuzzling his face into her hair and breathing in her scent, "they didn't want to kill me anymore, which is a positive."
"Yeah," Julie says, "but do you think they're expecting grandchildren now that we've been married for over a year? I don't want to have a family until I'm done with my degree. I don't want to have to choose between my dreams and my family."
"You don't have to choose," Matt replies, "because I'm not forcing you to make that decision, and this is a decision that we make together, okay? You and me, we make these kinds of decisions. Even if you are a Taylor girl at heart. You're my Taylor girl, Julie Saracen, and I love you, and don't you forget any of that."
Julie smiles. "I love you too, and when we have a kid, they are going to be so lucky to have you as a father. You'd spoil them rotten."
"You know I will. And they'll have the best mother in the world, who will love them no matter what happens."
In the next room over, Eric and Tami lay in bed together, Tami burying her face into Eric's neck. "Our baby girl is growing up," she says. "Soon, she's going to be bringing us home grandchildren, and I'm going to be the grandma who makes all the cookies."
"You'll be a great one. And I'll teach them how to play ball, if Matt doesn't do that for me - he's a good kid, good for Julie."
"You wonder if they're working on making a grandchild while they're here?"
"And now you're giving me ideas, Mrs. Taylor, and I don't like where those ideas are headed. He's a good kid - as long as I don't have to think about what he does to my baby girl. He knows I have a shotgun."
"It was a thought."
"And a very scary one, at that."
"No need to apologize, the damage is already done. If I hear one squeak out of that bed, I'm going over -"
"- Eric, calm down. She's an adult now. She can live her life how she wants. And I'm sure both her and Matt are tired from their long flight."
"You have a point. Okay. I won't get out my shotgun. Tonight."
As the two couples drifted off to sleep, warm in each other's embrace, a fifth voice chimed in from the darkness, in a sad whisper - "does Santa still come if I'm the only kid?"