Come Home For Christmas
Come Home for Christmas (or at least New Year’s Night)
“Good King Wenceslas looked out,
On the feast of Steven...” sang the choir
“When the snow lay round about,
Deep and crisp and even...”
There was no snow, not deep, not crisp and definitely not even. Instead a sleety rain swirled around in the growing gloom, the sidewalks were wet and black. Crowds of seasonal shoppers dodged in and out of the stores, heads down and collars up against the chill.
What was he doing here, Nick Wolfe wondered? Why here, why now? Why this cold northern European city, far from his home - and far from the romantic “City of Lights” which was her home.
The answer was simple. He had no home. He didn’t belong anywhere anymore.
Twenty-four frenzied hours – or a single moment - in Paris had seen to that. Or to be more precise, that moment in Paris had defined it for him. She had defined it for him. Defined it with a single shot from his own gun.
She had come into his life slightly less than a year ago – and everything had changed. His partner’s death, - and the discovery that a man he’d called ‘friend’ was tainted, dirty, a cop gone wrong. The Department would have liked him to forget that, to pin the death of a good woman and a bad man on the same criminal. A criminal who – whatever crimes she had committed – was innocent of that particular one.
Amanda. Beautiful, dangerous, wonderful, thieving, conniving, larcenous, mercenary Amanda. He’d been drawn – attracted – to her from the start. Even before she had flirted with him from a bathtub full of stolen jewels. From the moment he had read her file- even before he’d seen her photograph - he’d found her compelling, fascinating. From the moment they’d met he’d been lost.
He loved her/hated her. Desired her/feared her. She was everything he hated, everything he loved. Beautiful – and amoral. He was a cop, she was a thief – but from her he had learned that just because someone was a criminal did not mean they were necessarily a bad person.
Amanda was thoughtless. She was selfish and greedy. She was self-centred. She saw very little of the pain her actions sometimes caused. She was also joyous, generous, fun-loving, full of life and kind-hearted. When the wrongs her actions sometimes caused were brought to her attention she was as deeply contrite as it was possible for a person to be. Her very name meant “beloved” or “loveable”- and she was.
When he’d first learned what she was – about Immortals – he’d known she was not for him. A thousand years old, he was just a child to her – and she’d treated him as one from time to time. He’d rebelled against that treatment, like a child demanding to be treated as a grown-up.
When she explained about “The Game”, he’d known that one day she would have to die – but by that time he was hooked on her, like a drug, and he was determined that it would not happen while he lived. There was no place for him in her life, he knew, no chance that she could be attracted to him as he was to her – but he could do this for her.
Then there came Khorda, and in one beautiful, wonderful moment he knew that she was attracted to him as he was to her – and the next moment he had to let her walk out of his life to fight for her life. A fight she let him believe she had lost.
And his life changed again.
Paris, where he had come to avenge her, where he had almost died doing so - and where he had learned that she still lived. Khorda died, she lived - and he’d known then that no matter that he loved her, that she might love him, it could not be. He could not fight for her, nor prevent her from fighting if she had to, and he could not bear to lose her; yet he could not bear to be apart from her. So it would be as ‘friends’, not lovers, that they’d face any future together.
And slowly, haltingly, their friendship had grown. Grown past attraction to comfort. He’d wept on her shoulder, she’d wept on his. He would still try to protect her from her own failings, while she tried to encourage him to find his.
And then everything changed again. He was dying – he knew it and was not afraid. No, not true – he was afraid, but he was resigned to it.
And then she killed him. And he returned, Immortal. As she had always known he could be. Known from the first moment she’d met him. Known but had never told him.
And now he knew that they could never be together. How could he live, knowing that to do so he must kill? How could love exist between two people who knew that one day they might have to kill each other? It wasn’t love she felt for him. She hadn’t loved him as a man, a mortal, she’d cared for him like an unborn child.
He’d fled from her company. Fled from Paris, from her tears, her entreaties. Fled from any chance that they might meet accidentally.
He’d gone first to London, where he’d first felt the ‘presence’ of another Immortal – other than her, or Liam that is. A wiry man, dressed casually in blue-jeans and a loose sweater, huddled in a long loose coat. He’d panicked for a moment – he had a sword, one he’d stolen from her before he left, but he had no idea how to carry it un-noticed as they did. Fortunately the other Immortal had seemed to be as unwilling to fight as he was, and they’d acknowledged each other and parted company.
He’d left London the next day, taking a train north.
Now he was in a strange northern city, alone, two days before Christmas. It was cold, wet and lonely here. Lights glittered silver among the trees that lined one side of the street, the storefronts glowed with seasonal decorations.
A strangled ‘yelp’ attracted his cop-instincts. He turned to see an older woman locked in a tug-of-war with a tough looking younger man over a purse and some packages. Suddenly the woman fell back, the struggle lost, and the man made off with his prizes.
“Hey!” He was no longer a cop, but the instincts still ruled. Nick glanced quickly at the woman to assure himself she was not badly hurt, then took off after the mugger. “Stop thief!” he cried, in the time honoured manner, as he gave chase. If this had been back home he’d have given chase with his gun drawn, perhaps fired off a warning shot, but the British police were not impressed by gunplay on their streets, so he kept it in his pocket.
The thief was young but perhaps not as fit as he might be. Within a few blocks Nick found himself closing on the other man, who seemed to be getting winded. As Nick drew level with him the thief threw his booty away, tossing the heavy leather purse directly into the face of the Immortal, who immediately caught it in reflex. Unencumbered, the thug made a sudden sprint and escaped into the crowds.
Nick held onto the purse and gathered up the scattered packages. He’d lost his prey but had at least recovered the stolen goods. He retraced his steps back to where the elderly woman still stood, tears streaming down her face. The tears quickly changed to tears of joy as Nick handed her the lost packages.
“Oh thank you, thank you!” she enthused.
One of the parcels had come loose, a spill of colourful silk falling from its bag, getting damp from the rain. “It’s for my daughter,” explained the woman as she bundled it back into the plastic wrapping.
“It’s beautiful,” he assured her. “I’m sure your daughter will love it.” Living around Amanda had taught him much about feminine fripperies, and he could see that this was one of the more expensive items of such.
“I’d like to think so,” she replied, sadly, tears springing from her eyes again. “But I don’t know if she will ever see it. She left home ten years ago and we haven’t heard from her since. Every year I wrap her presents hoping that this will be the year she’ll come home, or call or get in touch in some way. I don’t know if she’s dead or alive but I hope.”
“That… that must be hard for you,” he answered, slightly embarrassed at the confidence.
She nodded. “You’re American?” she noted his accent. “Are you here for the festivities? Not going home to your family?”
“No, yes – I mean, yes I’m here for the holidays.”
“On your own?”
Something in his expression caught her attention. She shook her head. “This is no time of year to be alone – you should be with your family, or your friends,” she scolded. “There must be someone who’s thinking of you. At least call them. Even if you’ve fought. Even if you think you hate them just now. Don’t let them wonder and worry.”
Her earnest plea tore at his heart. “I will,” he promised.
“Sanctuary Club – I’m afraid there’s no one here to take your call just now but please leave a message after the tone.” The woman’s voice on the answering machine sounded strained, as if she had been worried when she had recorded it. It was a new message – the old one had been much more upbeat and cheerful and had included details of the club’s opening and closing hours.
“Amanda? If you’re screening calls, don’t bother to pick up. I don’t know if I want to talk to you yet – but I thought you ought to know that I still have my head. You shouldn’t worry about me at this time of year. Merry Christmas and, as they say here – a Happy Hogmanay when it comes.”
As he replaced the handset, Nick glanced out of the hotel window at the street below. Soft fluffy snowflakes had begun to fall, thick and fast, and were beginning to lie. The grey streets below were fast becoming white with drifts. Somewhere outside the Salvation Army band and choir still played for the shoppers and their music drifted up to his window.
“Joy to the world!”