He could hear carolers outside. Probably going home from a late evening mass. They should know better than to wander around this neighborhood at night, even at Christmas time. There was a limit to how much "good will toward men" the local riff raff would extend to the well-fed middle class masses.
Joe felt the gloom descend on him as he turned off the neon "Open" sign and wiped down the bar. Another Christmas Eve alone. Bah humbug.
MacLeod had gone off to Paris again and was probably spending Christmas with Amanda, cuddled up next to a cozy fire on the barge. Methos…who knew where Methos had gotten off to. He always seemed to disappear at this time of year. Joe suspected Methos of being too cynical to comfortably celebrate any warm fuzzy family holidays like Christmas or Hanukkah. To hear Methos tell it, all those biblical events lost their air of mystery when you had actually been there.
Amy. Joe felt a catch in his throat at the very thought of Amy. All the Christmases he had never had, would never have, with her. If only he had known. He should have been there for her. If only he could make it up somehow. He shook himself against his growing despair. No use feeling sorry for himself. Wouldn't change anything.
He finished locking up and went out the back door to his car. No Christmas eve with his sister's family these days. She and his niece still held him responsible for Peter's death. They never saw the madness that had taken over and made him into a monster that had to be stopped. All the innocents he had killed--they refused to believe him capable of it, and resented Joe for ever saying it, now that Horton was dead. Joe sighed and felt a wave of unbearable melancholy wash over him. The Watchers had saved him, it was true, but they had also exacted a huge price in return. His loyalty to them had cost him any kind of normal life.
Damn the holidays anyway.
As he struggled out of the car in front of his house he felt irrationally annoyed at the cheerily blinking Christmas lights on the neighbors' houses. They seemed to mock him and his loneliness.
Inside he could see the light on his answering machine flashing. He pushed the button and after a few moments heard giggling.
"Hi Joe! We tried calling you at the bar, but you must have closed early. Will you stop that!" Mac's voice.
"Hi Joe! Merry Chriiiiiistmaaaas!" Amanda.
"Merry Christmas, Joe! I'll try calling you again tomorrow. Hee hee! I said stop it! Okay, hang it up now. No! Amaaaaandaaaa! Ow! Ow! Ooooooooh, now you're gonna get it!" Click. Apparently they were at least two sheets to the wind with "holiday cheer" even though it was early morning there.
Joe found he was smiling in spite of himself. He could just see the two of them. Even with a combined age of over 1500 years they still acted just like children sometimes. Joe felt glad that Mac was having a good holiday. He deserved some joy after the last couple of years. The next message playing on the tape brought his mind back into the room.
"Hi Joe, guess who. I thought I'd ring you up to wish you Happy Kwanzaa or whatever it is they're celebrating this century. Too bad you're not here. Even now, nubile young maidens are massaging me with exotic tropical oils. Kinda reminds me of the good old days. Anyway, I hope you're taking care of yourself and not letting all that holiday hogwash get you down. I'll be back in town in a few weeks. Later, Joe!" Good ole Methos. Always full of surprises. Just when you think you can count on him he pulls a fast one, and just when you're convinced he couldn't care less he does something thoughtful. Joe shook his head and grinned.
He jumped as the phone rang next to him. Probably Mac calling back.
"Amy?! Wow, it's good to hear from you. Uh…Merry Christmas!"
"Merry Christmas to you. Umm…the reason I called is…umm…"
"What is it, Amy?"
"Well, I got you a little gift and I was hoping I could bring it by in the morning. Maybe have some coffee and Christmas stolen. I made it myself from my grandma's recipe."
"Amy…I…that would be great, honey. I would love that."
"Okay, I'll see you around ten. Have the coffee ready, okay?" She laughed.
"Will do! Around ten o'clock. I'll see you then." Joe hung up the phone in stunned disbelief.
He made his way to the living room, sat in his recliner and poured himself a brandy from the bottle on the side table. A feeling of peace crept over him. He could see the family across the street returning from midnight mass, and watched through their open front window as they sat together on the floor in front of their brightly decorated tree. Father, mother, three kids, all laughing and opening presents, sipping cider. He watched them until the father got up, smiling at his family, and closed the curtains.
Merry Christmas, thought Joe, and lifted his glass to the heavens.