So This Is Christmas

Posted By: celticangel <celticangelusa@yahoo.com>
Date:
Friday, 22 December 2000, at 11:03 p.m.

Well, one good Christmas was going to have to do him for now- maybe for always the way things were going. Last year had been wonderful, positively the most beautiful winter and Christmas he had ever spent. He had only been living with Mac and Tessa for a few months, but they had gone out of their way to make the holiday season a charmed one. It was picture perfect- too perfect maybe. Straight out of an issue of Better Homes and Gardens. Decorations were hung throughout the store and house. Tessa baked delicious treats that kept him stuffed from Thanksgiving straight through the New Year. Christmas morning had been magical, enchanting. They had given him lots of wonderful presents, some for fun, some needed. He was actually able to buy presents for them as well now that he was working. It felt good to buy things honestly for a change. He had actually earned the money. He hadn't stolen anything, hadn't hocked anything to have the money to buy the gifts. It was just too perfect. It couldn't have been real, it couldn't have lasted and it certainly could never be repeated again.

Fate had dealt a cruel blow a couple of months ago, snatching Tessa, his self appointed surrogate mother from both he and Mac. Their lives had been ripped apart, chopped up into tiny bits and flung about like garbage in the snow. He felt scattered. He didn't know what to do now that it was just two days until Christmas. He needed space to breathe, but he also needed to be with Mac. He could tell the holidays were really starting to have an effect on the old man. No matter what Richie did, it wasn't right. They had been arguing for a week now.

Richie couldn't remember how the arguing had started. He thought it might have been the night Duncan had noticed he was late coming in. But that couldn't have been all of it, because the Scot was so absorbed in his own misery that he hadn't even realized that Richie had been late the last few nights yet he'd been snarley and cranky for days. It had been an awful fight, with MacLeod throwing out the, "As long as you live in my home…" card. To which Richie had replied fine he'd move out. Then of course it had snowballed. Mac hadn't taken him seriously, which had only infuriated the recently turned nineteen-year-old into calling his dare. The next day he signed a lease on an apartment for six months and began moving his things out. Duncan MacLeod didn't even notice. Of course the layout of the building usually kept MacLeod from seeing Richie's room, as it was located on the floor directly below the loft.

So now the plan was to continue to move his things out without ever saying a word about moving until the Highlander noticed something. It was sort of a test actually. He could admit that to himself. He really wanted to know that Duncan would at least notice his absence. He just really hoped to avoid that major confrontation until after Christmas. Besides he couldn't actually live in the apartment until the new plumbing was finished. He found his own feelings contradictory. The more he moved his stuff into the new apartment, the more he really did want to move. Mac needed space to grieve without him constantly underfoot. And maybe he needed space away from Mac. Room to get away from the glare of disappointment when he had a lousy day at practice or goofed up the books or argued with a dojo member. Duncan was treating him more like a student and an employee than his all but adopted child, and Richie noticed the change was starting to wear on his own nerves. He'd given up the idea that they would ever be a family again. Tessa was the only reason they had shared such closeness. In some ways Richie had been their only chance at a child. He was their play pretend son and when the fragile illusion that they were a family was shattered by those fatal shots three months ago, he knew that game was over. He'd been relegated to student only status.

So he stood here in the long check out lines finally getting his turn to pay for his purchases. He sat the high stack of boxed Christmas ornaments on the counter and waited for the clerk to ring them up. If MacLeod wouldn't let him bring the old ornaments out of storage he'd buy some more. It wasn’t that he had actually told him he couldn't use the ornaments - he just conveniently didn't know where they had ended up when they moved. So Richie took the ornaments home, hid them in his room and immediately went back out in search of a tree. He could be just as stubborn as Mac.

When he came back home with the tree, he decided to put it in the loft rather than his own room. Mac was still teaching a class downstairs and wouldn't be finished for another hour. He quickly sat up the tree and hung up all the decorations he could find. There was just something missing. He needed more bulbs and of course, Tessa's Christmas angel. Damn it, Mac, I'm going to do this for her and just maybe it'll help you, too.. Richie grabbed a flashlight and took the elevator to the second floor, which was used only for storage. He began rummaging amongst the many cartons until he finally found a number of holiday boxes with Tessa's writing on them. Easter, Easter, Halloween- ah hah! Christmas. He's spent a number of hours up here last week before the fighting started, looking through the many crates and boxes- just longing to be close to Tessa again. He'd found so many of her sketch pads and unfinished work. Photographs that were to be used in her new portfolio. Everything she had left undone. He'd spent so much time here then that he had forgot to look for the Christmas decorations until now.

Then an idea struck him. He began unpacking several crates and setting the sculptures on them. He opened a few sketchbooks to some of his favorite pictures she'd drawn. He may have made the scrapbook for Mac, but he would make this room for himself.

"What are you doing?" Duncan demanded getting off the elevator. Richie had been so absorbed with this boxed up memorial to all that Tessa had been that he had completely forgotten the time. He sat there in the middle of the open boxes, playing with a toy train, listening to the gentle rhythms of tiny bells, and reminding himself he was actually looking for an angel.

"I'm- I'm- " Richie faltered suddenly feeling guilty of a horrible crime. Yes, torture. He was obviously torturing his teacher if the look of pain on the centurion's face was any indication.

"I told you not to get into this stuff. These are Tessa's things. You aren't to touch them again. Is that clear?"

"I thought you just meant you didn't know where they were. I'm really sorry. I thought they would go good on the tree."

"What tree?"

"The one I just sat up in the loft."

"You sat up a tree in my loft? Without my permission?" Mac was cold, demanding and harsh. He wasn't actually even looking at the unpacked items. He was intentionally avoiding direct contact with any of them. The memories were too much.

Yeah, so much for home sweet home. "I'm sorry. I just thought you'd like to keep with tradition. For Tessa, you know?"

"If you want the tree, take it to your own room. I want it out by the time I shower."

Richie's mouth dropped open. "Mac, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you."

"Richie, I'm not doing Christmas anymore. If you want to that's fine, but keep it away from me."

"Sure. Okay, Mac." Richie watched as MacLeod stormed back to the elevator and pulled the gate down. He blinked back tears and bit his lip. No, he wasn't going to fall apart. This wasn't the first time Christmas went to hell for him. It wasn't the first time and it wouldn't be the last. Sentimental holidays had always been for other people. After all he'd only had one good one anyway. It was nice to see what others lives were like, but it wasn't for him. Every orphanage, every foster home. How many times had he been sent back before the holidays just to avoid the extra mouth and presents at Christmas time? How many times had he been given clothes and toys donated by well meaning people who had never seen him? Never knew what he wanted. Never cared to ask. When had he ever been asked what he wanted for Christmas by someone who wasn't just another fake mall Santa, being dutifully patient with the long line of orphans from the home? Only last year. Mac was right. Forget it. He wasn't four hundred years old, but he was wise enough to realize getting wrapped up in this kind of thing was no way for a lonely immortal to live. Why set yourself up like this?

He waited till the elevator was free then called it back down. Stopping on his own floor, he grabbed a box of presents he had for Mac and took them up to the loft. No sense in letting them go to waste. He could hear the shower running. When he sat the box on the bar, he noticed a note in the spot where Mac always left him notes.

"Richie, I'm sorry. I'm afraid I won't be good company this Christmas. Set the tree up in your room. It's really lovely, but I'm just not ready for this. I'm afraid I'm not much in the shopping spirit either. Take this check and get whatever you would like. Sorry. Mac."

Richie felt his anger rise as he picked the check up. One thousand dollars! Hell of an apology. I could furnish my apartment with this if I was careful. Son of a bitch, doesn't even realize I'm moving out. Richie ripped the check up into little pieces. He grabbed the tree, decorations and all, and shoved it into the elevator. Outside he managed to heave it up into the alley trash dumpster. He hurried back up to his room, packed his bag with warm clothing and extra boots and put on his warmest riding clothes. He quickly scratched out a note- not so much out of obligation to let Mac know he was leaving, but mostly to spill his guts and inflict a wound or two of his own.

"Mac, sorry you're having a hard time missing her, too. I'm taking your advice and forgetting Christmas. You're right the whole thing is ridiculous. I of all people have to agree with you and should have known better. I'm taking a few days off to get away from all the Christmas nonsense- sorry for the short notice. Yes, I've got my sword, but where I'm going I won't need it. If you're reading this note, you've probably realized I'm moving out. I'll get the rest of my stuff when I get back. The apartment should be ready for living in by then. It's just a few blocks away, but at least I won't be right under your skin all the time. Later."

Despite his bravado earlier, Richie Ryan found he still had to wipe away a few tears as he turned and left.

Duncan MacLeod immerged from the shower still feeling bristly and angry. Richie had no right to make him feel this guilty. He tromped barefoot in his bathrobe, long, wet hair stringing to his shoulders, over to the box of clutter on his bar. Richie must have forgotten these ornaments. But when he looked in the box he realized it was full of presents with his name on it. "Oh, just great. Just fantastic." Duncan lifted several of the presents out with disgust. Wasn't Richie old enough to realize this just wasn't appropriate without Tessa anymore? Then his eye spotted the large antique scrapbook with its hand-crafted cover. When he opened it he was amazed to see that the inside was all redone in acid free materials and filled with carefully mounted photographs of Tessa's work. These were photographs she had been planning to use in her updated portfolio. Richie had been helping her select them just before she died. They had spent hours going through her work, choosing the right pieces, the right photographs. Richie had also included invitations to her shows and exhibits and other keepsakes. The announcement of the exhibit in Paris she had been curator for. The title page simply read, "The Work of Tessa Noel, 1956-1993."

Duncan almost collapsed. He sat down right there in the kitchen floor, leaning against the refrigerator, and carefully leafed through the book. Slowly he turned each and every page as the tears streamed down his face. Her work had been so full of life, so positive. It was so unfair that she had been taken from them so young. His heart literally ached from her loss. Every page wrenched a sob. How could Richie do this to him? How cruel could he really be?

Then he remembered Richie sitting there in the middle of the storage room, going through the boxes, and playing with the ornaments. The sad lost look on his face trying to reclaim some of the memories- some of the happiness from a year ago. How difficult this must be for him as well. Still he could not go talk to him just yet. He soul was still screaming in agony. All he wanted to do was crawl in his bed, cry himself into a coma and never wake up again until the pain was gone.

Instead he pulled himself to his feet and went to the elevator. He descended to the storage area. When he entered the room he noticed Richie must have been planning something when he interrupted him earlier. He had sat at least ten emergency candles around the room. A box of matches lay next to the first one. That's right. Mac had never replaced the fuse on this floor. Flash lights and candles were the only source of lights. He lit the first candle, the second the third and so on. The shadows cast themselves in the images of the various pieces of art and sculptures sitting around the room. Duncan sat down and started mindlessly going through the various boxes of ornaments. Some had been in Tessa's family for years. Others were antiques he had collected. The most painful though were the ones he and Tessa had found together over the years. Each one held a sacred memory. For hours he sat there reminiscing. He would have to tell Richie about several of these- others held memories he would never share with anyone. They were for him alone.

One by one the candles began to burn out. Duncan's eyes grew heavy and at last he fell asleep, the satin tree skirt his only pillow.

When he awoke the next morning he was cold, stiff and disoriented. And he was in the mood for Christmas. He'd spent a night in a world of strange dreams, some pleasant, others not. Tessa's face appeared often trying to tell him something. Mostly she smiled reassuringly. She spoke of Richie. Be good to Richie. He's only a boy.

Duncan stretched and made his way to the elevator. The metal cranked and ground its way to the floor where Richie's room was. He quietly opened the door, not wanting to frighten him, but it was Duncan who was in for a shock. Richie was not there, nor had his bed even been slept in. Of course. Now that he thought about it, he hadn't even felt his presence. Then he saw the note. Duncan quickly read it. "Oh, damn you, MacLeod! You are ten kinds of an insufferable lunatic!" He hurried up to his own apartment. He had a pretty good idea where Richie had gone. When he went to put on coffee he finally noticed the check torn into tiny pieces on the floor. Cursing himself all the way to the shower he began to make plans for some way to salvage this Christmas, not just for his sake, not even just for Richie, but for the sake of everything that Tessa had held dear.

Duncan found himself rushing around in the Christmas Eve traffic trying to find gifts for Richie. He had a pretty good idea where his young student had gone so he wanted to be prepared when he found him. Somehow an apology just wouldn't be enough. He needed to give back what he had so thoughtlessly and rudely ripped from the boy. Several video games and a few CDs should go well with the gift he had selected earlier today. A gift he hoped would help Richie understand just how important he was to him, and how wrong he had been.

As he sat at the same stop light through five light changes he did a mental check list of what he had in the trunk. Several boxes of ornaments- the antiques and some of the new ones Richie had discarded with the tree. Most of which had fallen in the snow when several street kids had pulled the tree from the dumpster and taken off with it, decorations and all. Duncan knew they would come back for more so he conveniently dropped a couple of $50.00 bills in the snow for their return. One last stop at the grocery and he would be on his way to check out his hunch. He said a silent prayer he would find the boy at the cabin on the island. Where else would Richie go that he wouldn't need his sword? Where else would he feel at home? Home? The antique store.

Duncan made a quick detour once the light had changed again. Traffic did not seem to be headed in this particular direction so it didn't take long to get there. He found his heart aching again as he sat outside the store staring into the windows. Richie wasn't there. He would feel his presence. That was one handy thing about the kid being an immortal. The last thing he ever wanted to do was step through those doors again. The place looked so desolate and tragic. There should be Christmas lights in the windows. The closed for Christmas sign should be hanging on the door. Inside he and Tessa should be cooking. Richie should be trying to figure out what was in the packages beneath the tree. There should be a fire in the fireplace.

Damn it, Duncan get out of here. Quit crying over should be and take care of what is.

He looked down at the digital clock on the dash board. It was already four in the afternoon. By the time he got through the grocery and out on the highway it would be dark. Well, this is what happens when you wait till Christmas Eve to shop.

Five hours later Duncan was relieved to find Richie's bike parked near the dock and one of the canoe's missing. Duncan had finally purchased the second canoe last summer when Tessa and Richie would sometimes join him at the cabin or vice a versa. After Darius' death Duncan often found himself taking weekend trips to the island on Holy ground.

He quickly loaded the canoe and began the journey in the dark to the island. An hour later he was a bit surprised when Richie didn't pop out of the cabin sword in hand. He must be frightened. Poor kid. Duncan needed to get up there as quickly as possible to alleviate his fears.

Fear turned out to be the exact opposite of the case. Duncan was beginning to suspect Richie might be injured. He could sense no other immortals, yet the kid still hadn't appeared. He had entered the cabin carefully, sword drawn ready to block Richie's just in case the kid was lying in wait. "Rich? It's me, Mac." Duncan stepped further into the cabin. The gathering room fireplace was just about to go out. The lights were out in the kitchen and dining room. Duncan made his way upstairs. The door to the spare bedroom, Richie usually used was ajar. Duncan pushed it back further. His look of surprise turned into a sigh of disgust. Of course. He was asleep. Richie always slept through his buzz. Somehow unconsciously he never disturbed the boy. Duncan had quit worrying that Richie wouldn't be awakened by other immortals when Amanda had stayed with them last month. He seemed to know every move she had made.

Duncan smiled as he watched him sleeping peacefully. At least he was resting, though he seriously doubted there were visions of sugar plums dancing in his head. Time to get busy.

Richie awoke to the smell of eggs, bacon, and pancakes and the sensation of another immortal he was almost 100% sure was Duncan MacLeod. Nonetheless he still made his way carefully downstairs sword in hand. He stopped on the staircase as his eyes lit up. He grinned in amazement.

There was a beautifully decorated tree with presents underneath it. A roaring fire in the fireplace and the smell of food coming from the kitchen. A small gasp of a surprise escaped from his throat. "Mac?" He spoke softly. Was he dreaming? How could this happen? He sat down on the steps, his mouth dropped open. He had to be dreaming. He put a hand over his mouth and shook his head. Tears welled up in his eyes. The back door burst open and a blast of cold air assured him that he was truly awake. Mac walked in smiling.

"About time you got up."

"Oh, God, I am dreaming. Wake up, Richie. Wake up."

Duncan laughed. "You are awake." He took several sticks of firewood to the fireplace. "So you want to eat first or open presents?"

"Mac, what are you doing here?"

"Well, it is my cabin."
"Oh, yeah. Hey, I'm sorry. I didn't realize you planned to use it. Looks like you're expecting company. I'll just get my stuff…"

"Hey, hey, hey," Duncan hurried over to him. "I'm not expecting company. Just you. I came here because I figured you were here."

"You did?" Richie regarded him skeptically. "Why? What did I do?"

"A lot." Duncan nodded. "You woke me up."

"But I was sleeping. Was I snoring?" Richie asked worriedly.

"Richie, relax, that's not what I meant." Duncan moved closer and took hold of his arms. "I'm sorry, Richie. I'm sorry for the way I've been acting lately. I didn't mean to hurt you, or shut you out. And I certainly didn't mean to totally screw up Christmas for you. I'm sorry."

"Mac, you don't have to do this. I know it's too difficult. I should have thought about that. I shouldn't have tried to push you into something you weren't ready for. I know how badly I miss Tessa." Richie swallowed hard as some of the tears in his eyes finally spilled over. "I can only imagine how it must be for you after all those years." He wiped the tears away with the sleeves of his Henley shirt.

Duncan nodded and looked off to the side for a moment. He found it too difficult to talk just yet. Finally he managed to look at Richie, his eyes also full of tears. "But you were right. This is something we do not just for us, but for her. This was her absolute most favorite holiday, Richie. If she saw us moping around and forgetting Christmas there would be hell to pay. She would personally hand us our heads."

"She was pretty good at that," Richie laughed through his tears. "I kind of miss it."

"Yeah, me too. So the other night she pretty much let me have it in my dreams. I spent yesterday trying to figure out how to fix this- and here I am. Tessa's orders." Duncan grinned over the tears. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small velvet bag. He tugged on the silk strings and opened it. "This was Tessa's. It was given to her by her mother. It was passed down in her family for at least 150 years. I know that she wants you to have it." Duncan took a deep breath and pulled out an intricately carved gold cross. Richie gasped as Duncan handed it to him.

"Mac, it's beautiful. I can't accept this." Richie studied the cross and forgot about the escaping tears on his face. He looked up at Duncan who was now also crying openly but giving him a stern look.

"You can't disappoint Tessa, Richie."

Richie smiled and nodded. "Yeah, you're right. I'd be honored, Mac. Thank you."

Duncan took the cross back and shakily unfastened the chain and draped it around the boy's neck. Richie took it in his hand again. "It's so beautiful."

"It's what she believed in very strongly, Richie. It's why she loved Christmas so much."

"Mac, I'll always keep it- forever." Richie tried to block the sob.

"That would make her very proud." Duncan's words were muffled as he pulled Richie into a long comforting embrace.

"Thank you, Mac." Duncan felt his shirt growing damp with Richie's tears.

"No, thank you, for giving Tessa back to me."

__________________
Thanks for reading!

CelticAngel

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