The Cradle

It was the day after Christmas and the Muir children were out playing in the snow, Martha was busy cleaning up after the festivities of the day before, and in the middle of the afternoon the lady of the house found that she had some time to herself.

Though the resident ghost, Captain Gregg had spent a good part of Christmas day with the family, he had been absent since he helped her tuck the children in bed the night before. She had hoped he would stop in the Master Cabin to say goodnight as was his habit, but he had remained out of sight. She hadn't had time to talk to him privately about the Christmas dream that he had given the family, and specifically about the dream he had given her, and was disappointed by his absence. The dream he shared was personal and so very touching that she wanted to thank him for it, tell him how much it meant to her, and it was well past time that she did so.

Not finding him in Master Suite or anywhere else in the house, she headed toward the Wheelhouse, his private sanctuary, hoping to catch him there. The door was closed, so she knocked and after a moment the door swung open to allow her entrance.

When she entered it took her a moment to realize that the Captain was across the room from her, standing by a dusty window and staring at something she couldn't see. He appeared lost in thought despite her entrance into his private sanctuary. Sensing that he was in a thoughtful mood, she remained quiet as she made her way over to his side. She was surprised to see him staring at the beautiful cradle that he had brought into the Master Cabin while they had cared for the lost baby. She had never seen it before it had appeared in the cabin, and it was gone immediately after the baby had been picked up. It was a beautiful cradle, the workmanship exquisite, and she knew it was a Gregg family heirloom, Captain's Gregg's family heirloom.

"Captain?" she queried, not certain of his mood. "Are you all right?"

"Fine, Madame, fine," he answered, still studying the cradle, not looking at her.

A silence fell between them until she broke it again.

"I didn't see you last night," she said.

He glanced at her briefly and she thought she saw pain in his expression before the mask fell in place on his face again. "My apologies, Mrs. Muir, I was otherwise…detained." He turned from her and walked away from the cradle and looked out the window at the bright day.

"Captain, I wanted to thank you for my dream. It was lovely."

He turned to her at that, and studied her with such a loving expression that she almost melted on the spot. "So you liked it? I didn't offend you with what I most wish for my existence?" he whispered.

"No, it was wonderful." She looked at the floor a moment before looking back at him, and admitting something she hadn't had the courage to until now. "It is what I most wish was possible too."

Their gazes met and held for an indeterminate amount of time.

"Well, then," he cleared his throat and turned to look outside once again. "What can I do for you, Mrs. Muir?"

"You can call me, Carolyn," she said, trying not to sound needy. "I would like to call you Daniel if you would let me."

"I cannot stop you," he began in an argumentative voice and then stopped himself. "My apologies, I am a bit out of sorts today."

"I can tell, what's the problem? Can I help?" Her concern was genuine and when he turned to face her, once again she caught a brief glimpse of pain in his face. What in the world was going on?
"No, no one can help. I just have to work my way through some…thoughts that I am having trouble putting away. I don't look at them often, but spending this Christmas with the family, and sharing my dream with all of you, but especially you, dear Carolyn, brought some personal regrets to the surface for me." He walked away from the window to stand by her and glanced at the cradle.

"You said it was yours, wasn't it?"

"Yes, and my father before me, and his father before him. It's been in the Gregg family for hundreds of years, cared for with love and respect as it was meant to care for the Gregg children, babies with love and respect." He paused for a long moment. "It didn't matter to me so much while I was alive; I assumed if I felt so inclined I would do my duty and fulfill its promise." He stopped for a moment and then began to speak again as he looked at her. "I was quite full of myself when I was alive. I lived the life I loved, but never settled down, never had any desire to settle down or burden myself with a wife or children. I had no desire to be a pet…"

"..poodle by the fireplace," she finished for him.

"Yes, quite." He offered her the faintest of smiles. "That's what it seemed to me then. I was quite content to leave my home to be for retired seaman; I had the audacity to not be bothered wanting the very thing in life that matter most."

"And what is that?" Carolyn asked softly, studying his pensive face.

"A wife, a family, a home. God gave me confidence and enough of an ego to be excellent at my chosen profession, but apparently not enough intelligence or sense to understand what mattered most in life!" he finished, anger at himself apparent. He rubbed his head as though he had a headache. "But I was never one to settle for anything and unless I met the perfect woman I wasn't about to give up my freedom which I valued so highly, my freedom which meant everything to me."

"You never found this woman?"

"No, not during my lifetime." He stepped so close to Carolyn that were it possible she would be brushing up against his jacket. His gaze locked with hers and he allowed her to see the pain there. "I didn't know that the woman I wanted to fulfill this destiny with, the woman I wanted to have my children and to have a life with hadn't even been born yet. Fate can be a cruel mistress." He said as he looked away from her and back at the cradle. She watched as he appeared to take a deep breath and saw his shoulders sag in defeat. "It is apparent that the service the cradle can provide to the Gregg line has ended."

Carolyn studied him and saw the melancholy he was wearing like a mantle about him, but didn't know how to answer him. Much as she would like to, she couldn't wave a magic wand and make him human again, or restore him to his past life where he could have gotten married and had children. She couldn't even hold him to comfort him, only talk to him, and offer him what solace that could provide.

"Daniel, look at me, please."

He turned his sad blue eyes to her and she felt her heart break a little bit.

"I wish that I could make this better for you. You are a wonderful man who deserved to have a loving wife and children to make Gull Cottage a home. You deserved to have this cradle used by your child, your baby, as it was used by you." She paused and gathered up her courage to say the rest of what she wanted to say. "It took courage for you to share your dream, your wishes with us, with me, now I have to have courage to share some of mine with you."

He watched her but remained silent.

"I wish that your dream was true and I lived in your time. Or I wish that my dream was true and you lived in my time. I don't care which one, only that we would be in the same place at the same time because I so want to have that life with you." Her green eyes stared into the blue pools of his, now filled with love and she felt as though she could drown within them. "I want to marry you, and have your children. I want to, and wish that I could put that lovely cradle to good use, to its proper use, by having a Gregg child resting within."

Overcome with emotion, the Captain closed his eyes, not willing to let her see how her words had affected him. He bowed his head and tried to collect his emotions, so distraught that he forgot that he could leave by simply vanishing.

Unable to help herself, Carolyn stepped toward him, and thinking only about comforting him, reached out her hand to touch his cheek. She was more than surprised when she felt the soft hair of his beard beneath her hand.

"Daniel?" she asked.

As he raised his head she could tell that he was as shocked as she was. Afraid to hope, he put his hand up to where her hand still rested on his cheek, his eyes never leaving hers. His hand touched hers and pulled it from his face. Afraid this might not be real, he pulled her to him, and wrapped his strong arms around her, and she felt him bury his head against her shoulder.

"It will be all right, we will get through this." She stroked the hair on the back of his head, and held him tight, offering what comfort she could. She suspected whatever was happening was very temporary and maybe only because he needed comfort?

"Oh, my Carolyn," he held her tighter still and she wondered if her words had made his sadness worse?

"I'm sorry. Did I make it worse? I didn't mean to, I was trying to make you feel better," she said, and pulled away just enough so that he had to lift his head from her shoulder and look at her. "I love you, Daniel. Surely you know that by now?"

He smiled at her and nodded. "And though I have trouble admitting…saying such a thing, I feel the same way about you." He studied her for a long moment. "You are my life…my entire existence revolves around you." He pulled her close again. "And I don't know why we have this moment, but if you do not mind I would like to hold you in my arms until it is no longer possible to do so."

"Of course," she murmured, but took a moment to pull his head down for a long, sweet kiss. Then content to be held in the circle of his arms, she buried his head against his chest, and felt him again drop his head to bury it against her neck.

She wished, oh so much, that she could give him what he desired, what they both so desired, but it simply wasn't possible. So instead, she would take this moment for as long as it lasted for them and comfort him. She only hoped that would be enough.