Thank you everyone, who sent all the kind messages and reviews. I wish you all Merry Christmas! Hope you will spend it surrounded by love, calmness and warmth. Be full of hope and love dearies. And to all of us, I wish that the New Year will bring Catherine back to us (and to Steve) :)
I always like to explore Steve and Cath's past, how they built their relationship, how it developed. And Christmas is one of those moments that brings so many emotions and gestures, showing how much they mean to each other.
For anyone, who is interested, I am also posting fics (this included) on AO3, which is better for me, because I often 'touch' explicit contents. This story is M-rated, because of a short smut scene in second chapter.
The bright screen fades slowly into blankness, flecks of light shimmering on the surface, blurring his own reflection as he stares at the device in his hand. The pain of hearing the disappointment in his sister's voice deepens as the mirthful sounds of some kids outside singing Jingle Bells creep through the ajar window. He doesn't even want to take a peek - seeing the colourful cavalry of families, carefree siblings, mothers holding their kids' hands, definitely won't brighten his mood, which had already begun to shatter when everyone at the Academy started their joyful talk of Christmas reunions.
Not that Steve blames them, he still can remember how much he loved the Christmas season as a kid. The preparations, scavenger hunts with Mary in search of hidden presents, trying to be sneaky and sip on some eggnog. And even if his mother wasn't the best cook, the turkey often being too dry, or the cake too sweet, nonetheless those Christmases were the best ones.
It's hard to think now of the last time he had spent the holidays with a sparkle of joy in his heart.
Aunt Deb's attempt to get him to visit her on Christmas was touching and a part of him wanted to go, but his and Mary's paths had grown so much apart that it seemed like a scenario for a big tragedy with tears, emptiness and pain, with a wave of bitterness swallowing all the good mood as their father would call with Christmas wishes, reminding them that they once had a home, of which he threw them out.
Spending Christmas break in Annapolis is in Steve's opinion the best alternative, providing an opportunity to be in peace and avoid the pain, to not see the blame in his little sister's eyes.
But also bringing the realization of helpless loneliness.
He grits his teeth, forcing himself to keep on believing that solitude strengths the character, preparing for the future, when it really will be impossible to spend holidays with family all the time, depending on his deployment orders.
Yet, needles of sadness prickle his skin, piercing through the layer of a tough sailor and bringing out that core of a scared, lost boy, who will be all alone on Christmas, with no one to care for him.
The chaos of thoughts evoked by self-blame takes over, whispering in a menacing scoff that he's guilty of this situation, pushing away his sister and aunt, but the tiny voice points out that if they really wanted to spend Christmas with him, they'd try harder. They'd find a way. They'd come here.
Why should he always be the one trying so hard and reaching out in a desperate plead for someone to come for him?
The phone lands on the bed as Steve drops it abruptly to roughly press the heels of his palms to his eyes, in an attempt to rub away the annoying stinging of tears threatening to spill. He scolds himself mentally, forcing himself to get a grip, taking deep, shaky breaths.
Readjusting his focus on the small duffel bag and unpacking it in slow, concentrated moves helps to change the course of his thoughts, pushing them to the back of his mind, just like he's stuffing folded shirts to the bottom shelf of the wardrobe - he won't need them anyway. Before the emotions get a chance to resurface as he finishes unpacking everything in the Navy's required order, Steve quickly changes the object of his attention, reaching for the remote.
A colourful, merry wave of Christmas movies is no surprise as he changes the channels, skipping the laughing faces and tingling carols at the speed of light. He settles on a cooking program, which of course also has a festive theme, but it's actually something he can stand.
A sudden knocking on his door makes Steve tense, hand clenching on the remote as his head snaps up, eyes staring at the door in surprise.
Renting an adjusted room with a small kitchenette and en suite bathroom on the second floor of a private tenement precluded any chance of room service knocking on his door and he was sure the owners were too busy with their own Christmas preparations to bother him.
As the knocking repeats, Steve abruptly stands up, lowering the volume of the TV and cautiously stepping toward the door.
His hearts stops, when he opens the door and his gaze falls upon a familiar silhouette slightly trembling from the cold. The duffel bag is clutched closely to her body as if to provide additional warmth, and her frost-blushed cheeks and equally pinked nose peek from above the navy blue scarf, dark hair pulled back in a tight knot.
Eyes scan her up and down with disbelief, his mind trying to process how it's possible that she's here, wondering even if he is mistaking some random person for her.
But as she pulls the scarf down, uncovering her whole face and smiles brightly at him - a smile which he could never forget or mistake - he loses any doubts.
"Catherine?" his voice comes out hoarse and cracking far too much than he'd like to reveal, the timbre of emotions still bubbling beneath his skin betraying him.
How is he supposed to shut it down and act as if he's not affected, when she stands mere metres from him, appearing in the moment when he is feeling the most lost and forsaken?
"Hello, Sailor," the sound of her voice does something to his heart, tugging on it and spreading a tingle of warmth through his body.
"What are you doing here?" Steve asks surprised, thinking that by now she'd already be on her way to the airport.
"Well, I was looking for you on the square, but you clearly fled," Cath chuckles, her gloved hand points at him in mock accusation, "Figured you're already unpacking in the warmth of your room, so chased you down here. And bruised my ass on the way," she adds, scrunching up her nose and rubbing the sore spot with her red glove, "Former ice skater apparently does not do well on a slippery pavement."
He stares at her in mild confusion and a new surge of guilt creeps in as he realizes he acted like a potential asshole, not saying goodbye properly or wishing her Merry Christmas.
With the mass of people laughing and hugging, families waiting to pick some plebes up, he wanted nothing more than to disappear. Selfishly, but the thought about meeting with Catherine never crossed his mind, too occupied with trying to run before the tears started to fall. And he feels bad about it now.
"Umm, sorry," Steve sighs, his eyes drifting down, ashamed to look at her directly, "I'm sorry for not saying goodbye and wishing you Merry Christmas."
"Steve," the way she says his name makes him look up immediately, staring wide-eyed as she softly speaks, "I'm not here to say goodbye."
The intention behind her words would be clear to him in any other situation, especially combined with the affection shimmering in her eyes, but the wall of sadness and abandonment issues slow down the processing, erasing that tiny spark of hope. Until he hears it falling out of her mouth.
"I want to spend Christmas with you."
And it finally dawns on him. Something that should be obvious, but a part of him doesn't want to believe it, scared it's a wish that's going to be taken away like all the other ones. And it hits him with her slowly spoken words, "I'm not going back to Colorado. I'm spending Christmas with you."
Steve is only able to nod shortly, before his head hangs low, chin almost touching his chest as his hand grips the doorknob tighter. All the muscles tense in an attempt to keep the control over his body, which threatens to crumble. He wants to beam up at her, reach out and embrace her, but the helplessness, which he had suppressed earlier, makes him freeze.
He fails miserably at trying to hold it back, as the gratitude and emotion bubble out in a tear he can no longer hide.
In an instant there's a soft thud of duffel bag hitting the floor and a slightly cold body pulls him in close, arms embracing tightly.
He clings to Cath desperately, burying his face in the crook of her neck, not minding the wetness of snowflakes melted on her coat. She came to him on her own will, resigning from the joyous, warm family gathering, to spend a cold, imperfect Christmas in a rented room. With him.
Catherine's heart clenches as she feels Steve trembling within her arms and she hugs him closer, holding her own tears back, which threaten to spill as she thinks of how lost and abandoned he must have felt mere minutes ago. She knows it's not a simple equation, nothing about his family's situation is easy to comprehend, and Cath is not one to be throwing stones, but a pang of anger arises as she thinks of how said family gave up fighting for him.
And maybe it's a wrong accusation, because she knows how stubborn Steve can be, but at that moment he is her only concern and she wouldn't step down from defending him.
Her name comes out in a mumble as Steve lifts his head, only to rest his forehead against hers. His breath is shaky and his lips so warm against her cold mouth.
"Thank you," Steve mutters, barely pulling away from her frosty lips.
Cath hums at the sweet contact of another kiss, warming up her whole body, making her toes curl as she inhales Steve's musky scent. She entwines her fingers behind his neck, pulling back slightly to look at him.
"Don't thank me yet," she smiles wickedly, "You have to feed me now, I'm starving." Steve reciprocates her grin in a flash, the shards of tears still glistening in his eyes bringing out the clear blue of his irises.
"I will gladly do that," he chuckles, leaning down to pick up her bag, "But I think some shopping is in order to do that," sheepish admission reddens the tips of his ears. He has a pack of rice and goji bars, but it's definitely not something he wants to serve Cath. Damn, he's ready to buy lamb chops and cook for her.
Catherine's laughter is contagious, he can't help beaming up as she ruffles his hair while he closes the door behind them.