amen drake

Three Christmas Eves

(This will be the last Omelia fic that I will tag as #summer dreaming. I write these to survive emotions unlike anything I had ever experienced before. Each one holds a piece of me, so when I fall apart I collect myself here. I didn’t expect that hundreds of people would come to care about my stories. I’m grateful to this fandom for finding a gift in them and for helping me find it in myself. Cheers to Season 12.)

People speak of magic as if it is a thing that doesn’t happen every day – something reserved for unique circumstances and special occasions. Sometimes magic is just getting out of bed in the morning. It’s that thing that happens when you say, “I can’t do this,” yet somehow you already are – doing it. Reaching into nothing and pulling out something. Filling emptiness. Finding love in the dark. Magic is that thing that lives inside you - in that place that some people call your heart and others call your soul. Science calls it your mind and explains it away in biochemical reactions but acknowledges there is mystery there that defies explanation.

The first year

“I never felt magic crazy as this…”

The house spoke often in December. Its creaks were louder, and its taps were more insistent. It liked telling secrets in the cold, and Owen enjoyed hearing them, especially when he was there alone. The roses in the yard were sleeping, and so the air had changed. The house held the fragrance of loneliness – except when Amelia was there with him. Then it smelled of strawberries and vanilla - and her. Owen wanted it like that all the time, but he knew Meredith and the kids needed her too.

He’d never spent much time at home in December. Seattle was darker and colder, with even more rain than the other months. People were often stressed or sad or both. All of this made December the busiest month of the year in the ER, leaving Owen little time to think about other things - like Christmas. He’d never changed his other homes much at Christmastime. He liked the lights, the way they soften the darkness, so he’d usually put up a strand or two. But this year he wanted to take a little more time - to change the air.

***

“…Come with me,” he caught Amelia as her shift was ending and slipped his fingers between hers, “Help me choose.”

She smiled. “You want us to go find a Christmas tree on Christmas Eve? You’re crazy.”

He moved his thumb gently across her wrist and leaned in close enough to smell her skin – strawberries and vanilla. “So let’s be crazy,” he whispered.

His caress was warm and insistent, and his mouth was so close. If she moved a few inches they would be kissing, but she waited. If she didn’t go with him now, she’d have to stop touching him. And she wasn’t ready for that yet.

“Okay.” She squeezed his hand. “Let’s be crazy.”

***

The sun had set early, as it does in winter, so they drove through the twilight. Owen kept one hand on the steering wheel and held Amelia’s with the other. She watched his face in the lights of the highway and in the shadows. He watched the road, but he could feel her eyes on him. He liked the feeling, and he’d never get over the way he liked it. He watched the road, but he could see her anyway. He had all the sensations of her memorized now. Her hand was soft in his and her fingers so fine. Perfect instruments for her work, and he loved the way they played over his skin. The feeling of her hand was part of him now.

“Why are we doing this?” she wondered.

He knew she was asking about the tree, but he thought about her hand in his.

He told the truth, “Because I want everything with you.”

Amelia leaned into his arm. She rested her other hand there in the bend. She wanted everything too – everything she was ready for and everything she wasn’t. She wanted to know more about what everything would be like.

“Did you grow up with the tradition of a Christmas tree?” she asked.

“We had them when my dad was alive. I was very young, but I have memories. Sometimes we would go into the National Forest to cut one down. I don’t think we even needed a permit back then. If the search got really long my dad would carry me on his shoulders for a while. I don’t remember being too tired to walk. I just liked seeing the world that way.”

Amelia held his arm tighter. She remembered her dad’s shoulders too. It was just a faint memory, but it became brighter when Owen spoke of his own. He had this way of making her recall the things that she no longer wanted to forget. He was bringing back pieces of her life that she had shoved down deep inside and run from because they had been too much to face alone. But she wasn’t alone anymore.

“How about you?” he asked her, “Did you ever have a Christmas tree when you were a kid?”

“That can be tricky in a New York City apartment,” she said, “We never had much money to spare, and we never followed any particular religion, even before my father was killed. But the Sloans were big on the trappings of Christmas, and Derek and Mark brought a tree home once. They were about 12 years old and scrawny kids. That tree probably weighed 50 pounds. I remember laughing at the sight of them carrying that thing up all those flights of stairs. I asked where they got it, and they told me to mind my own business. Once they brought it into the apartment, they realized they had no way to stand it up. So I laughed some more, which pissed them off again. Derek remembered some big bucket in the alley, and they went to fill it up with dirt from Central Park. They finally got the tree set up in the bucket of dirt and decorated it with a strand of lights that Mark had brought in his backpack. Then they waited in the front room until Mom got off her shift. They turned off all the lights except for the ones on the tree. And I’ll never forget the look on Carolyn’s face when she stepped in that room. …Have you ever noticed how Christmas lights make everything softer?”

Owen squeezed her hand, thinking of all the things she just understood.

Amelia continued, “Thank goodness for those lights softening her expression because otherwise it would have scared the shit out of Derek and Mark. She stood there in dead silence, squinting her eyes at the tree in the bucket and the dirt and needles and sap all over the floor. The boys had tried to clean up, but they hadn’t expected the sap and weren’t sure how to clean it. Mom was probably thinking of the extra work and wondering where they had found that tree. Then all of a sudden she took this deep breath, big enough that we could all hear it, and the Christmas lights reflected off of a tear that fell down her cheek. She wiped it away quickly, but I saw it. I think we all did.

‘Well,’ Carolyn said, ‘Isn’t this a surprise? Look at what my boys have done.’

‘It’s your present,’ Derek told her.

I don’t remember how the conversation went after that, but I remember Mom hugged us, which she rarely did then. And I remember Derek and Mark washing the floor with scrub brushes and soapy water. Derek had to use part of his allowance to buy a new bucket for our neighbor who had put hers out in the alley to dry. And Mark paid for half. Where the tree had come from remained a mystery. My guess is that Central Park had one less fir tree that year, but I could never find the stump. And now we’ll never know for sure…” Amelia’s voice trailed off thinking of the stories that Derek and Mark would never be able to tell.

“Sometimes the mystery is sweeter than the explanation would be,” Owen said, “Sometimes it’s nice to keep it that way, even when you have the choice to know.”

Amelia rested her head on his shoulder, thinking of all the things he just understood.

***

Owen knew there were still trees on the hardware store lot when he’d driven past it this morning. They were practically giving them away now under the flood lamps. As it turned out, the choice was easy. They picked one of the few that still held its needles.

Getting the tree home and set up was a much smoother experience than the one Derek and Mark had all those years ago. Owen and Amelia remembered to buy a tree stand, for one thing, so the neighbors’ buckets were safe. They also bought a few strands of lights and a box of silver ball ornaments.

They ordered Chinese food, and had a picnic on the floor beside the Christmas tree. They saved the cookies until the end.

“What’s your fortune?” Owen asked.

Amelia broke open her cookie and took out the tiny slip of paper. She read it quietly to herself and then set it on the floor between them. She raised her eyes to his, “You will get what your heart desires,” she said, and for a moment he wasn’t sure if she meant her or him.

“It’s a good one.” He decided it was for her. “So what does your heart desire?”

Amelia kept her eyes on his for as long as she could stand it. Then she looked up at the tree as she answered, “A thousand things.”

Owen couldn’t take his eyes off of her, “Tell me one.”

Her smile widened, and it was his heart’s desire to kiss the dimple on her cheek, but he waited for her answer.

She looked at him again, “My heart wants to know your fortune.”

“Okay,” he chuckled as he opened his cookie and read the paper, “Anything is possible when you own many rubber stamps.”

Amelia started to laugh.

“What the hell kind of fortune is that?” he said.

“Maybe Santa will bring you rubber stamps tonight.” Her laughter eased. “Until then, you can share my fortune.”

“So will I get what my heart desires?” he asked her.

She looked into his eyes again until it hurt. And this time she let it hurt. “Yes, you will.”

His breath caught in his throat, and then he breathed out slowly, “Well then, if Confucius insists…”

Owen moved their empty cartons to the side and lay back on their picnic blanket with his head right next to the tree stand. The lowest branches of the tree were almost touching his forehead.

“…Come here,” he said, “I want to show you.”

She lay down beside him and looked up. She watched the lights reflecting off the branches and the silver balls. The fragrance of the fir tree filled her head. She pinched off one of the needles and put it between her teeth. It tasted like lemons and oranges and the fragrance of the woods where they used to live.

“It tastes like you,” she told him.

Owen rolled on his side so he was facing her now, watching the colors reflect off of her skin. “I taste like Christmas?”

She faced him now too. “Yes. I can show you,” she said.

He felt her hand touch his chest, and he tasted the faint flavor of citrus as she kissed him. Strawberries and vanilla mixed with evergreen, and Owen was intoxicated without having touched a drop of alcohol. He pulled her as close as he could and rested his hand on the small of her back.

Amelia heard his breathing and the sound of her own heart beating in her ears. Everything else was silent.

“The house is quiet tonight,” she murmured as her fingers worked their way down the buttons of his shirt.

“It’s happy,” Owen whispered against her cheek.

“Tell me why,” she said, unfastening - opening.

“Because you’re here. Because the air is changed.” He kissed along her jaw.

She pressed against his bare chest. “I don’t want to leave tonight.”

“Then stay.” He moved his hand up the length of her spine and nestled it at the nape of her neck beneath her hair.

She stroked the skin over his heart with her thumb. “Then I won’t want to leave in the morning,” she said.

She was so warm. He knew what he wanted. And he knew what to say next. Their fortune had told him. He took a deep breath before he said it and looked in her eyes so she’d know he meant it.

“…Then stay forever.” He watched his words light her up like starlight on the ocean. If she was afraid, he couldn’t tell.

She answered simply, “Okay.”

“Amelia, I’m serious,” he said, holding her with his eyes.

“Owen… so am I.”

“…I never saw moons knew the meaning of the sea…”


The second year

“…I never held emotion in the palm of my hand…”

The house looked over a small cottonwood tree in the yard. It could be seen through the picture window in the family room. 20 days ago it still had most of its leaves. They were yellow and bright. Amelia had sat in the rocking chair and watched each one turn brown and let go. The tree was bare now, lifeless.

Her heart felt like that – or her soul – whatever it was that used to feel golden and now felt nothing.

She looked down at the tiny baby at her breast. Amelia had all the sensations of her memorized now – the downy softness of her hair, the gentle tug as she suckled, the press of her eyelashes to her cheeks, the blue when her lids would open, revealing Amelia’s own eyes beneath.  The feeling of her baby at her breast was part of her now – as much as Sara had been part of her when she fluttered in her womb. Amelia felt nothing inside now.

The sun would be setting soon, and then twilight would follow. The calendar said it was Christmas Eve. But day and night didn’t really matter anymore. Amelia was always awake in the same darkness. Sometimes she could see the cottonwood tree and sometimes the window was black. That was the only thing that marked day and night. That was the only difference.

Amelia rocked back and forth. She liked the way the chair and the house spoke to one another in soft creaks. She didn’t know whether or not Sara found it soothing to rock and listen, but Amelia liked it. Feeling things on the outside helped her move through the numbness within. Consciously she knew this was temporary. She knew she would move through it. She just didn’t know how yet, beyond time.

Time was a stranger these days. He moved slowly, and she waited for him. Each minute felt like an hour. Each hour felt like a day. Each day felt like a year. Sara was born 20 days ago, and Amelia felt in her 50’s now. She hoped time would pick up his pace soon – before she was dead. Well-meaning people would say things like, “Enjoy this time with your baby. It goes by so fast.” And Amelia wondered who the hell they were talking about. Surely not HER time. For a while there, her time had been a friend who held her hand as she moved through feeling. Only now she felt nothing. Who would hold her hand through this?

Owen.

Owen would. He always did. He already was. He knew her so well. He knew she was struggling. He just didn’t know how bad it was. Because Amelia was good at faking. And when he was here, she didn’t have to fake so much. Because she felt alive then. A little bit. Enough to get by.

He had bought them a Christmas tree again this year. He had picked it out alone. Sara nursed too frequently for her to go anywhere in these first weeks, and Amelia was bleeding still and could hardly ever sleep. Everything felt so raw and sharp. Amelia thought about how Christmas lights softened the darkness. She wondered if they would work to soften the darkness that was inside her too.

She stood up from the chair with Sara still at her breast and went over to plug in the lights on the tree. Then she came back to the chair to rock some more and hope for the lights to work their magic.

***

Owen arrived home at sunset. Since Sara was born, he had been trying to work mostly half-day shifts in the ER. But trauma surgery was always so unpredictable. Some days were very long, and sometimes the days ran into night. He knew Amelia needed him, and he wanted to be home. It’s all he wanted, and that’s how he knew he was away too often. Balance with a newborn was elusive.

He stepped into the fragrance of evergreen and saw his girls asleep in the rocking chair. He approached them quietly and knelt on the floor. Sara’s tiny mouth had fallen away from Amelia’s breast, and his little girl was still making sucking motions in her sleep. Owen lightly touched the back of her onesie and kissed her cheek in the place he knew there was a dimple like her mom’s. She smelled of sweetness - vanilla and milk - and felt so warm in Amelia’s arms, and he wanted to be in there too.

“Merry Christmas, princess,” he whispered, not wanting to wake her.

Owen lay back on the floor and watched Amelia sleep. Her skin glowed golden in the light of the tree and the setting sun. Shadows below her eyes showed the strain of sleepless nights and something more that he didn’t yet understand. Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail that was falling out on one side. It fell softly against her neck and over her shoulder to the top of her breast, which was bare because she had fallen asleep nursing. She was so beautiful.

“I love you,” he whispered, not wanting to wake her either.

She and Sara were everything his heart desired, and he just wanted to keep watching them. But his eyes closed without awareness, and he fell asleep there in the sunset.

***

Amelia woke a short time later to the sound of a bird singing. She saw Owen lying near her feet, still dressed in his clothes from the day. He was so strong, even in sleep. At the sight of him, she felt life creep into her. Just a bit of life. Enough to keep going.

“I love you,” she whispered, not wanting to wake him.

She glanced out the window into the start of twilight and found the voice there in shadows at the top of the cottonwood tree. Sara’s eyes opened. She was listening too.

“Do you hear that bird, sweetheart?” Amelia whispered to the baby, “Her song is beautiful - like you. I imagine that’s what hope sounds like.”

Emily Dickenson wrote, ‘Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul - and sings the tunes without the words - and never stops at all.’

Amelia watched the bird fly away. It swooped down over the yard, and then returned to the tree. The bird did this a dozen times, and it always returned. The tree wasn’t lifeless after all. It was a perch for hope.

“…Or felt sweet breezes in the top of a tree…”

 

The third year

“…But now you’re here…”

The house held the fragrance of cookies. Owen had baked them as a drizzle of rain danced on the roof. The house had a different sound for each kind of rain, in the same way that the beat of a drum depends on the drummer. Tonight the drummer was calm, and the air was unusually cold. Weather like this could lead to icy roads. Owen knew that would fill the ER. He and Amelia weren’t on call, but they could be needed regardless if an accident was big enough. He hoped people would drive safely now and stay off the roads later. Though that would be a tall order on Christmas Eve. For now he was warm inside, and he would hold onto this feeling for as long as he could.

Amelia took a cookie from the counter and broke it open while it was still warm.

“Hey!” he hollered, “Those are for Santa.”

Amelia smiled, “Are you sure you want to start that tradition?”

“Who besides Santa would bring those rubber stamps that make anything possible?” He winked at her. “Besides, how many years do any of us get to believe in magic? I think we should make the most of them.”

Amelia couldn’t say no to that logic. “I’m in - as long as I get to eat this cookie.”

“Santa says yes.”

Owen kissed the top of Sara’s head as she sat in his lap. Her auburn hair curled softly around her ears. It was slightly damp still from her bath. She smelled like baby shampoo and the sweetness that was uniquely her. She wore footed pajamas and played quietly on the floor.

“Ball!” she said, pointing at one of the ornaments high on the Christmas tree.

Sara had new words every day. For a while Amelia had taken to writing each one on a calendar, but there were so many now that it was impossible to keep track.

“That’s right, princess,” Owen said, “Do you want to see the ball up close?”

Sara gave him an inquisitive look that he took to mean yes. He lifted her up and placed her on his shoulders. He held her there with one hand around her back and his other around her feet. Then he stood up beside the tree.

“Ar!” Sara said next, pointing at the top.

“Yep. That’s a star,” he told her. Then he turned to Amelia, “If she says that tomorrow, Karev will tell her that she sounds like a pirate.”

“Then we’ll have to gag Uncle Alex …and make him walk the plank.” It was Amelia’s turn to wink. She moved over to the rocking chair to sit beside them. “Sara, are you ready for story time?”

Sara pointed at the book that laid on the floor next to her blanket.

Owen lifted her down and sat next to the tree. The book was almost as big as her. He set her on his lap, holding the book in front of them. The title on the cover read, ‘Dream Snow’.

Sara turned the first page, and Owen began.

On a small farm there lived a farmer. He had only a few animals. He could count them on the fingers of one hand. So the farmer named his animals One, Two, Three, Four and Five. By the end of the barn stood a small tree. The farmer named it Tree. “Hello Tree,” he would say when he passed it…”

As Owen read on, Sara babbled about each of the animals as she covered and uncovered the pictures of them with their snowy blankets. Owen and Amelia smiled when she called the rooster, “Duck!”

“…The farmer woke up from his dreams, looked out of his window and saw snow. It was not dream snow. It was real snow. It had snowed while he had napped. Now the snow clouds had moved away. The moon and stars sparkled in the wintery night sky. One, Two, Three, Four, and Five were safe and fast asleep…”

Sara turned the page again. There the illustrations showed the farmer putting on his coat, boots, hat, gloves, and sack. “Santa!” Sara said.

“Well, I guess that settles it then,” Amelia noted.

“…One, Two, Three, Four, and Five watched as he decorated Tree. Then he shouted, Merry Christmas to all! And pushed the button.”

Sara pushed the button and giggled when she heard the chime. Each time the book chimed, she laughed again. Her laughter was the sweetest sound to ever ring through the house.

Eventually Sara grew tired of the chime, picked up her blanket, and rubbed her eyes. She looked at Amelia while making her old baby sign for milk. Owen lifted her to her mom’s arms. Amelia nursed her, and Sara’s eyelids started to close.

“Merry Christmas, sweetheart,” Amelia kissed her forehead, and Sara gave her one last glimpse of blue before her eyes fell shut. Amelia glanced out the picture window. The porch light shined faintly on the yard, and she could see snowflakes collecting on the branches of the cottonwood tree.

“It’s snowing,” she whispered. A tear fell down her cheek, and Owen watched her wipe it away.

He knelt on the floor beside her. He ran his fingertips gently across her forehead and tucked a lock of her hair behind her ear. She closed her eyes as he did it. The feeling of this was part of her now. She knew it like she knew the sound of his voice. Like she knew how he would kiss her.  

“Snow is rare in Seattle,” he said softly, “It’s almost like magic.”

He kissed her then.

He kissed her as the Christmas lights softened the darkness.

He kissed her as their baby slept in her arms.

He kissed her as snow fell from the sky.

He kissed her as the house grew still, holding its secrets until morning.

“…Brighten my northern sky.”

Playing with Fire || Phoe x Drake

phoeona

Camping outside Stonehenge (the term camping used lightly considering the numerous modern amenities Drake had insisted on bringing) turned out to be the best thing ever.  As night fell, Drake moved closer to the fire and laid his head on Phoe’s lap, taking a small amount of flame from the fire and rolled it around in his hands. 

“This was the best idea we have had in a while,” he grinned, looking up at her, tossing the ball of flame to her.  “It’s much better to get away from the cities.”