First Christmas--Eve

From the Story Arc: Cold Front

Previous Story in the Arc: Sitting Shiv'a by Dr. Bella Dawn Parker (Sunday, December 17, 2006)

Next Story in the Arc: First Christmas--Day by Dr. Bella Dawn Parker (Monday, December 18, 2006)

(posted Monday, December 18, 2006)

((Co-written with Moriyaku))

Bella shut down her computer, made a too-tidy stack of the finished paperwork, looked with vague longing at the now-empty Inbox, hoping for something to mysteriously appear in it. Nothing did. Nothing would. It was Christmas Eve, and not a creature was stirring, not even a correctly-thinking proletariat mouse.

She couldn't put it off any longer. Time to go home. It was either that, or go to a bar, and she didn't want to be one more sad face among the sprinkling of other sad faces that had nowhere to be on Christmas Eve.

This time last year--

She wrenched her thoughts around to putting everything back precisely in place, to getting her coat, to saying goodnight to the folks who lived here. Then to checking on the ovens, full of slow-roasting turkeys for the soup-kitchen dinner tomorrow, making sure everything that could be readied in advance, had been.

She put the collar of her coat up against a damp, cold wind, and went out the front door. It could have been worse. This could have been some other group. She could have had to endure Christmas in her face, rather than tucked discretely out of the way. Heck, most of the Russian comrades that were serious about the holiday were Orthodox and wouldn't even have Christmas for another couple of weeks. And it wouldn't be quite the same, either. As for the Americans, well, they were very good about taking their celebrations elsewhere.

She walked to the tram. Sure, she could have used one of the base 'porters to go straight to Atlas Park...but walking in the cold gave her something else to concentrate on other than her own bleak, interior landscape.

And it gave her time to plan her email.

But as she reached the plaza for the Yellow Line, she had another one of those moments; she stopped, she had to stop. She just grabbed blindly for the light post, and hung on, waiting for the ache in her throat to ease, the tears to stop falling, the breath to come back to a body that wasn't entirely sure it wanted to breathe anymore.

The bells from the church rang through Kings Row, the evening service over as people trickled through the well-worn doors to the cold streets. A few well-wishers caught Miranda as she left, smiles and handshakes exchanged before she wound her way towards the alley to take one last look at the cemetery. She smiled faintly at the sight of the twin bouquets still firmly nestled next to the headstones, her gloved hand resting on the fence. She blew a kiss towards them before turning, her hands in her pockets as she started the walk home.

It had gotten easier, over the years. Easier to say 'I love you and I miss you,' instead of 'I miss you' and just dwelling on the hurt. Still, Miranda wiped a few tears away and ducked her head as another gust of icy wind tore through the Row.

She came around the corner, the blue and red flicker of a patrol car prompting a wave and a nod, followed by a heartfelt 'Merry Christmas' that was returned with as much enthusiasm as was given. Miranda's smile remained, her pace slowing as she walked past the plaza for the Yellow Line.

The figure that clung to the light post caught her attention, and she doubled her pace as she saw the familiar blue skin and hair. Without thinking, she reached out with a thought that traveled faster than her feet could. Bella? Hold on, stay right there... Miranda's gloved hand moved over Bella's, and she tilted her head to see the woman's face.

"Bella?" The voice, only a whisper, still cut through the wind that blasted through the concrete canyon. "Bella, open your eyes. Don't go through this alone."

Mori-- Bella knew the texture of those thoughts; recognized them from the times they'd worked together. And she didn't stiffen, didn't withdraw... she tested first, making sure that Mori wasn't going to mind a little... emotional siphoning. Mori'd had a bad year herself...

It was a routine she had down solid now, with all her fellow empaths.

And Mori... was all right. Was even happy, right now. She locked down that terrible, irrational jealousy that Sofia had warned her about-- ...why should she be happy?--and opened her eyes. And opened her shields, on the "input" side only. "...thanks. I'm... having a moment. And they're..." a stifled sob "...getting harder to get through."

She didn't let go of Bella's hand, didn't turn away. And Miranda knew better than to offer a trite 'it's okay' or 'it'll get better,' or even the terribly empty 'I know exactly what you're going through' because none of those made the hurt any less. Instead, she nodded once and nudged carefully with reassurance and acceptance. To cry, even to the point of illness at this point, would be more therapeutic than trying to keep it all in and pretend that everything would be all right.

There're gonna be a lot of moments, Bella. They come in waves, some big and some little. Some of 'em, you can ride out on your own, but others- She let the corner of her mouth lift in the faintest semblance of a smile. For as much as you like to help people, there are plenty who'd want to help you if they could, y'know?

"I'm just... trying to be careful... about not taking too much from any one person," Bella replied in a low, hoarse voice. "And the comrades... don't have a lot to give right now." She wiped her eyes with a tissue she fished out of a coat pocket. "People who'd like to help me out the most, they're the ones that mostly need it themselves."

"Maybe letting them help you is giving them the help they need." Miranda dug into the long coat she wore, pulling a still-unopened pack of Kleenex from an inside pocket and handed it to Bella. "I'd bet that no one who's offering is worried about you taking too much. You give and give and give, and there's no crime in taking a bit for yourself."

"A bit here, a bit there, it adds up..." Bella nodded, then her face spasmed. "But it just... doesn't fill the hole..."

Oh, Bella... Instinctively, Miranda dropped most of her own defenses that remained, allowing herself to relax and cry a bit. Sympathy, understanding, and the continuing reassurance that yes, at this point, nothing ever felt like it could make a difference and that it wasn't such a terrible thing to admit that now.

"Sometimes... you know, nothing seems worth doing anymore. Sofia said it was going... going to get worse... and it just keeps getting worse..." Bella turned blindly towards Miranda. "...goddammit, Mori, it's not frikkin' fair!" The last word came out as a wail. "Why did I have... have... have to be left behind?"

Because you're that strong. The answer was slow in coming but resolute, and she repeated it aloud. "Because some of us are built to withstand it all, regardless of what happens. And you're right, it's not fair. We don't get the easy way out, we don't get to walk away. We can't just run..." The words stuck in her throat, but she fought past them. "Run away. We know better, no matter how much it hurts."

She held Bella at arm's length, her lips pressed together tightly as the wind whipped about them. It will get worse. And if you need to rage to let it get better, then do it. Otherwise, you'll never heal.

Bella nodded, both her hands clutching Miranda's wrists so tightly... she might have been clinging to a lifeline in a storm. Maybe she was. Tears rolled silently down her cheeks, from closed eyes. Miranda felt... something... being accepted. Emotional energy. They stood that way in the cold wind for long, long minutes before the tears finally, gradually stopped, and Bella opened her eyes again. She took a long, shuddering breath. "I... thanks."

"You're welcome."

Another unexpected hand over a bad patch. One more reason to keep going. One more piece of good advice from someone with the scars to prove that it worked.

Bella unlocked the door to her apartment, and turned on a low light. The sleeping pills she had known she would need were laid out and ready, with a bottle of yuppie water. Tomorrow was going to be a long day, and she would need the dreamless sleep.

But first... she went to her computer.

Hey sweetie. Made it through another day. With a little help from my friends.