Well it's the first of December and I'm back, after a very long sojourn. It's been a busy few months trying to finish off my degree but I'm looking forward to getting back into writing.

Like last year, I'll probably do my Christmas fics the same way as last year, lighthearted one at the start of December, more serious one just before Christmas. And giftfics will go up whenever they're finished (Sev, yours is underway, anyone else who would like one, let me know.)

Anyway, this fic was based off a post on tumblr I think Sev originally reblogged; 'twas a video of tipsy couples building gingerbread houses, so Joey and Martina are now having a go at that for the Christmas season.

Credit where credit is due: Carla Lane owns Bread and the characters (except Belle who is made up by me) and there is a reference in this fic to London's epic badlydrawnbread cartoons which are on tumblr if you haven't seen them.

And yes this is set in ATEOTD universe, in case it causes confusion (a list of the chronology is on the forums somewhere). At this point in headcanon timeline Joey and Martina are married and their daughter is 4.


It's daft. Martina isn't going to pretend it's not.

Joey has daft ideas quite frequently, and a lot of the time they end up working out all right, finishing up with a laugh or an affectionate eye-roll, or occasionally bring an evening of passion with the bedroom door tightly bolted to prevent Belle from waking up or wandering in.

And, rogue though he may be, when it comes to embezzling undeserved money from her workplace (with her help now, she's ashamed to admit, though a part of her isn't sorry) Joey's daft little ideas outside the newly-Christened DWP don't do any harm. And so Martina normally goes along with them, lets herself enjoy any resultant amusement that crops up along the way.

This, though.

This is not one of Joey's best ideas.

Yes, it's Christmas, and yes, that means festivities, and no, Martina isn't overly Christmassy but she's not averse to a bit of merriment either, but trying to hold two slabs of gingerbread together—standing up—while simultaneously trying to draw a line of icing along the join to keep them in place, is not particularly enjoyable.

'I thought,' Martina says, as she fails yet again, her two pieces go crashing into the two Joey is doing and the whole thing falls down, 'that your Boswell Code of Conduct stipulated it was better to pay extra for decent items.'

'Good quality, this,' Joey holds up the piping bag in his hand, which flops over and oozes icing all over his arm.

Martina raises an eyebrow. 'Evidently.'

Joey snorts, wiping it off himself.

'Why couldn't we get an 'ouse that was already made up? Like we've done every year,' she adds pointedly.

'We could have, but,' Joey puts his slab of gingerbread and his icing down, comes round the table, puts his arm round her waist, 'this year, I thought a change might be nice.'

'Yeh've got icing on me jumper now,' Martina chides. 'So, along with the usual exertion of dragging the tree in, heaving the decorations down and then putting them up, and me cooking an enormous dinner, including a turkey you don't ever eat, the usual Christmas season hard labour now includes putting together an impossible structure?'

'It's not impossible! We've got instructions.' He waves the piece of paper around. There's icing all over it, obscuring most of the writing and making the diagram undecipherable. 'And eh, where's your Christmas spirit?'

'The same place as your understanding of the law, I should imagine.'

Joey ignores the jibe in favour of planting a kiss on her cheek.

'Come on, sweetheart, it'll be a nice surprise for Belle. Imagine the look on her little face when she gets up tomorrow morning and sees it.'

'She'd have been just as excited by a pre-made gingerbread house,' Martina grumbles insistently.

'But think about it, Martina. This way, it's not just a Christmas decoration, it's a special, memorable item designed and created with love by her parents.'

'Designed and created with blood, sweat, tears and anger, more like,' she says, looking at the hash they've made of it so far. She understands Joey wants to make Christmas special for Annabelle while she's still young, that a part of him still feels guilty for accidentally ruining Father Christmas for his Jack when his brother was only four, that he wants the best for his daughter, wants her to have magical experiences while she's still young. And she does agree, does join in, puts on a show of exaggerated excitement for their daughter at the appropriate moments, reads all the Christmassy books with her, teaches her the words to the carols, helps her reach the tree to put decorations on. No-one can say she doesn't make an effort. She can't bring herself to be enthusiastic about this, though. Martina isn't particularly good with crafty things—she can sew adequately, her Mam having taught her when she was young, but in terms of assembling things and making them look pretty, she's out of her element. She'd tried to make a string of paper angels for Belle last week, made a few wrong turns cutting them out and ended up something more closely resembling a string of paper dead frogs.

'Oh, come on,' says Joey again, nudging her and then stepping away, 'I know what'll get you a bit more in the mood.'

'Not Christmas music,' Martina groans. 'Anything but that.'

Joey's idea of 'Christmas music' is a few carols for show and then Do They Know It's Christmas? over and over and over and over again. She'd liked the song before she got involved with him and realised it would be on repeat all December every December for the rest of her life.

'Nah, Belle's only just got to sleep, hasn't she? And anyway,' he's crossed over to the kitchen cupboards, is retrieving something from the topmost one, the one she can't, and can't be bothered to, reach, ' I think a bit more of a mature Christmas tradition might work better in this instance. I was gonna save this for Christmas Eve, but...'

His hand disappears into the depth of the cupboard, a few clinks sound as he knocks things aside, and then it emerges, wrapped round the neck of a bottle of Baileys.

The DHSS lady can't help but let out a little laugh. 'And here I was wonderin' what you kept in there, and whether or not any of it might serve as evidence when I finally take you to court for Benefit Fraud.'

'Oh, if I go to court, you're goin' down with me, sweetheart,' Joey says, unscrewing the lid and placing two small glasses on the table in front of her. 'Wouldn't any investigation launched be sure to unearth the fact that seemingly well-behaved Miss Prim-and-Proper DHSS lady Martina has been tampering with her clients' files to cover up illegal activity?'

'That's your fault, that is. I wouldn't 'ave to if you'd stop this play-actin' at being a gangster and get a proper job.' Martina snatches up the glass he offers her, taking an appreciative sniff of the contents. The heady scent of alcohol and sweetness lifts her mood, and she has a slow sip, feeling it warm her tongue. This task might be bearable with a bit of alcohol inside her, she decides.

'Ah, I know you too well, Martina, to believe that. You like cheatin' the DHSS...'

'Jobcentre,' she corrects.

'Free Money Place,' he counters, making her snort, 'and givin' me everything my little heart desires, and fakin' interviews so I can qualify for me Jobseekers, in order to get back at them for all those years of abuse behind the counter they put you through...'

'I don't think so,' she swallows down the rest of the Baileys shot, 'I just don't fancy 'aving to tell my daughter that her Dad is spendin' the foreseeable future in prison for fraud, that's all.'

Joey grins obnoxiously and then turns his gaze back to the gingerbread house kit. 'Shall we get back to it, then?'

Martina licks the last drop of Baileys from the bottom of her glass and holds it out to him.

'I'll need a bit more incentive first.'

He takes it from her. 'Straight, or d'you want milk with it this time?'

'Straight,' Martina says firmly. 'If we're gonna spend our evenin' tackling this monstrosity,' she makes a face at a nearby slab of gingerbread, 'I don't need me coping mechanism to be watered down.'

Joey passes her glass to her. She scrutinises it, then passes it back.

'More than that.'

Joey chuckles as he obliges. 'And I thought you didn't approve of drinkin' to forget your troubles.'

As a rule, she doesn't. She's only done so a couple of times in her life, and has regretted it every time, but she won't go that far, she tells herself. There's nothing wrong with just a little bit of something to take the edge off. And fixing this bloody annoying, challenging nightmare of a gingerbread house, putting unnecessary effort into making it pretty only for Annabelle to eat it anyway, warrants a little pre-emptive reward.

'Oh, it's more a question of my troubles bein' far too big for a poxy glass of liqueur to ever erase them,' she says, instead of going into this.

Her husband shakes his head as he proffers the slightly-more-filled glass of Baileys. 'Right, then. Shall we proceed?'

Martina takes a sip of her drink, sighing, and turns back to the mess on the table.

It's hideous, it's going to be time-consuming and annoying, but…well, it might be doable.

They smile at each other and get to work.

The first two walls go up easily enough, with them both collaborating, holding the edges against each other until the icing sets.

Except for the fact that they let go before it has fully set, the pieces slowly slide against each other and it ends up in a heap.

Martina finishes off her Baileys in one go, shuddering as it goes down too fast and sends a wave of warmth through her stomach.

Joey, never one to be outdone, copies her.

'Well, so far, this hasn't been an unparalleled success, has it?' Joey is pushing one of the walls as firmly as he can into a strip of icing, at risk of either pushing it over or snapping the piece of gingerbread in two.

'You can say that again, love,' Martina replies. She's stepped back from it for a moment, is nursing her third shot of Irish Cream and trying to work out if there's a better strategy for succeeding in this. The walls won't stay put until the icing holding them together has dried; that's obvious enough. But standing there holding two together until it hardens would be far too time-consuming. There has to be another way. She'd consult the instructions, only Joey has destroyed them by getting overenthusiastic with the icing.

'P'raps we should decorate the pieces first and then stick 'em together.'

Joey tuts. 'Must you be such a defeatist, sweetheart?'

'What's defeatist about it? Just think about it practically, luv—how easy is it gonna be to stick things on vertical walls? We'll just end up with more collapses.'

'You may have a point. Let's make it look lovely first,' Joey tosses his head and winks on the word lovely and sidles up to her, pulling her into a kiss. 'Lovely like you,' he murmurs against her mouth.

His breath isn't pleasant, is a bit too sweet, and more than just laced with alcohol. It's more that his alcohol is laced with breath. Her own is probably no better.

'Instead of messin' around, shall we get this finished, then?' She glances at her watch, surprised when she sees the hour hand creeping towards ten. It had been seven when they'd put Belle to bed, half past eight before their refrains of no more talking, please had actually worked and Belle had stopped chattering to herself and gone to sleep. It would've been nine at the latest when they started on this, and to have spent at least an hour working on it and not have achieved anything at all is getting a bit on the ridiculous side.

Leading by example, she lays a roof piece flat and draws an icing border around it. It's a bit wonky, but it'll do. At least something is on there. She'll stick a few coloured things on top and it'll look a bit better.

They work quietly for a few minutes.

And then she hears a rustle, and suddenly Joey is chewing something.

'Er—what are you eating?'

Joey smiles guiltily. 'Sweet.'

'Aren't those supposed to be for decoratin' the house?'

'Oh, me having had one or two won't make much of a difference.'

Martina raises her eyebrows, and she seizes the packet of jelly sweets from him.

She gazes at the contents and sighs.

'Mister Boswell,' she says. Joey's eyes leave hers, wandering around the room, a sure sign he knows he's in trouble. 'Half the packet is not 'one or two.''

'Well they were good…'

'Keep up with that philosophy and you're headin' the right way for a gallstone.'

'I'm perfectly healthy. Look at me.' He gestures to his body—not perhaps as taut as it was in his thirties, but all right for a man of forty-four. 'I am a prime specimen of Adonis-like masculinity. I think me waistline can afford a few sweets.'

'I do realise that your insistence on still wearing leather trousers and an array of gold bits and bobs at your age does point to some degree of vanity,' Martina says, sighing, 'but you do need to look beyond your delusions of external perfection and consider yer internal organs.'

She hasn't realised that the bag is out of her hand until she hears the rustling of plastic again.


'Yes, sweetheart?' Joey looks up innocently, but it's hard to be innocent when one has green stains on their lips.

'Leave them.'

Joey puts the sweets down and immediately reaches for his Baileys again.

'Can I drink this, then? Is it all right if I have a bit of cream, Miss DH-Nutritionist?'

'DH—what's that supposed to mean?' Martina shakes her head, realising Joey might be a little less than sober at this point. He's always had a lower alcohol tolerance than her. 'How many of those have you 'ad?'

'Oh, just…' Joey's shrug is exaggerated, 'four…'

Martina looks at her third glass in annoyance.

'Did you have one without me?'

Joey is sheepish. 'No.'

'You did, didn't yer?'

This isn't on. If there's Baileys going, which there is, and there is a grim task to be done which is not getting done, and if Martina is in a bad mood about said grim task, then they're bloody well sharing that Baileys. Not that she wants that much more—she's starting to feel queasy from the cream, and maybe Joey is used to consuming large quantities of rich substances from growing up with Nellie Boswell's cream trifles, but Martina isn't—but it's the principle of the thing. Joey can't take the lion's share of the only Christmassy alcoholic substance they've got. That's not bloody fair.

She finishes her glass more quickly than she'd like to and pushes it at him.


'Where have your manners gone, little DHSS lady?'

'What's manners got to do with anythin'? You didn't show manners when you helped yerself to another glass and didn't offer me any.'

'I was simply trying to preserve the delicate balance of your health, dearest love of me life.'

'No thought for me mental health, obviously, submittin' me to this torture,' she makes a sour face at the slabs of gingerbread. Decorating them was fun for about the first two seconds, but now it seems like another pointless venture, with the thicker icing sliding around rather than staying in place, and the thinner, coloured icing from the small tubes squirting in anywhere but the spot she'd planned.

'We could turn this into a game,' Joey suggests, his eyebrows waggling suggestively.

'I shudder to ask.'

Joey pours more Baileys into each of their glasses.

'How 'bout this… we put the pieces together again, and if it gets knocked down, whoever's fault it is has to drink.'

'That sounds like a recipe for disaster.'

Joey's grin is wicked. 'Worried it might be you?'

That's a challenge being issued if ever there was one. And Martina never backs down from a challenge where Joey Boswell is concerned. Not if there's a possibility his ego might be deflated at some point down the line.

'Course not,' she says, boldly, staring him down, and, because he's seated and she's standing, actually getting to tower over him for once. 'Not a chance.'

'Am I on, then?' Joey holds his glass in the air.

'Oh, you're on, Mister Boswell. You're on.'

They clink.

And get to work again.

(In the course of half an hour, they've downed two shots each.)

The project is going…well. If your definition of 'well' is 'a rapidly worsening state of disarray,' which Martina's most certainly isn't.

It's getting harder and harder to put it together properly, though, when she's feeling increasingly fuzzy, her balance is getting worse, her thoughts are getting harder to drag out of the clutter in her head, and she's hit, for no apparent reason, with an uncontrollable urge to laugh.

She takes another sip of Baileys—her fifth now, though this doesn't have to count as a shot, she tells herself, because she's graduated to a bigger, fuller glass, and because the structure is standing at present.

Sort of.

They've given up on actually putting the pieces together in a way which resembles the picture on the box; instead, the walls have been turned on their sides, jammed against each other in whichever way will make them hold, so that it resembles some sort of cardboard box slum-dwelling rather than a cottage. It's not pretty—the opposite would be far more accurate—but at least it's staying up. Ish.

'It looks more like a DHSS than an 'ouse,' Joey says, shaking his head at it. He raises one hand, flopping his wrist in the house's direction in order to point at it. 'Stop it. You're a house.'

Martina snorts. 'It doesn't look like anythin'. It is a mess of…nothing.'

'Much like Billy's love-life,' Joey says, and starts to giggle to himself.

'That's cruel.'

'So says you, Miss Frosty…' Joey screws up his face, trying to remember the correct phrase, '…the Snowman. You, Martina, are a snowman.'

'Oh, am I?'

'Yeah. A frosty one.'

'Oh good. 'Ere,' Martina grabs the tube of yellow icing from the table. 'I'll fix the house.'

She squints as she leans forward, carefully guiding her hand around the wall, leaving a wonky trail of icing in a vague approximation of an oval. She moves the icing above it, drawing a squiggle which, she supposes, looks close enough to a crown.

'What's that s'posed to be?' Joey comes close to inspect. Martina ices a shape that's meant to be a D, a passable H and two mutilated S-es inside the oval and steps back, admiring her handiwork.

'It's the old logo,' she says, smiling in triumph. 'Now it really is a DHSS.'

'Not yet, it isn't,' Joey has the red icing in his hand. 'It ain't the DHSS without you, sweetheart.'

'Aw,' says Martina, leaning heavily on him. She reaches up to kiss his ear (she was aiming for his cheek, but he moved as she was attempting the manoeuvre, or at least, that's what she tells herself, not one for admitting she's more than tipsy) only to find that Joey is more interested in squirting red icing on the roof than receiving gestures of affection.

'I'm drawing you,' he announces.

'Why am I on the roof?'

'Because you are a very lovely lady.' This makes no sense, but clearly, to Joey, it does, and so Martina kisses him again for it, this time more or less getting his mouth.

'Now, I need to draw your hair…' he switches the red icing for a tube of green, drawing two curvy lines on the head of the stick figure that is meant to represent her. 'Now you're beautiful.'

'I've got green hair.'

'Well, there wasn't a brown.'

Martina snickers, picking up the tube of brown and waving it in front of his face. 'Wasn't there?'


'You just wanted to give me green hair, Joey Boswell,' Martina wags her finger at him accusatively, 'because you want ter trick me.' What she wanted to say, what she came up with in her head, sounded infinitely different to that. But Martina has lost the ability to make sense. Her head is swimming.

'And why would I do that?'

'To get more money.'

'How does that get more money?'

She doesn't answer, takes the brown icing in her hand and, cackling to herself as she goes, adds her own stick figure to the roof, which she tops off with a head of unruly yellow hair and two green scribbles at the end of each arm.

'That,' she says, giving Joey a stern glare until he pays attention to it, 'is you. Clutchin' all yer money.'

'Oh, is that what those are supposed to be?' Joey presses his finger into one of the green blobs, accidentally taking some of it away with him. He looks remorseless as he licks it off. 'I thought they were mittens.'

'They're pound notes. Or they were, until you bankrupted yerself by eatin' 'em.'

'It can't be me. It needs a Jag if it's me.'

Martina moves in to make the necessary adjustments, but Joey grabs her round the waist, swinging her round the kitchen.

She squeals, feeling giddy, although she was feeling that way before he picked her up and spun her. The Baileys might have something to do with that, part of her suggests. For a moment it feels like the contents of her stomach might find their way back up her throat, and she steadies herself on the table, her hand over her mouth, until the reflux goes back down.

'What was that for?'

'I'm drawin' the Jag. Not you. It is my car—and you can't even drive it.' He's used her moment of disorientation to take up prime position in front of the gingerbread house, and in a few seconds he's created what Martina can only describe as a multi-coloured monstrosity.

'What happened to those jelly sweets? They'd make good wheels.'

'You et them all.'

Joey looks down at his stomach and then back up at her.

'Well, now what am I gonna do?'

'Still some Smarties left,' she rattles the box they've bought, accidentally picking it up upside-down and sending all the sweets tumbling out of the open end. She watches them fall, her head going up and down in an attempt to keep up, and then gazes at the pile on the table in a strange, blurred amazement.

'Colourful,' she breathes, and runs her hand through them. The feel of the little discs between her fingers is oddly nice, and she repeats the action, humming at the clicky noise they make as they slide against each other.

'I need four yellow ones,' Joey says, grabbing five. 'I'd like gold wheels. On me real Jag as well.'

'I'm surprised you haven't got 'em already.'

'For Christmas…'

'—No,' Martina says immediately, picking up on the hint. 'That's too expensive.'

'But we're richful,' Joey says.

'We're not supposed to be richful,' Martina tries to sound strict, but it doesn't really come out right, 'we're supposed to be on assistance. And anyway, there's no such word.'

'As assistance?'

'As ri—never mind. I've already got your present anyway.'

Joey's eyes light up. 'What is it?'

'I'm not tellin' yer that. It's a surprise.'

'Is it a…?' Joey leans against her as he thinks, but he never gets further than that. 'That'd be great. Fantastic.'

'Joey,' Martina says, patting his head where it's come to rest on her shoulder, 'you didn't say anything.'


'And you, such an…artichoke.'

'A what?'

'Articule. Et.'


'Someone what talks fancy,' she growls through gritted teeth. 'Fancy Boswell speeches.'

'What about fancy Boswell speeches?'

Martina frowns. She can't understand why he doesn't get what she's saying.

'You're not makin' 'em now, are yer?'

'I'm making,' says Joey, pulling himself off her and returning to their creation, 'a Jaguar.'

He puts the fifth Smartie on the front, presumably to approximate a leaper, and stands back, hands on hips, letting out a triumphant sigh.

'So it's finished, I take it?'

'It's more beautiful,' Joey says, almost tearful at the sight, though it looks like a slightly curvy square to Martina, 'than Cinderella's Coach.'

'It's ugly,' says Martina, and eats the Smarties off it.

At some point, it dawns on both of them that this is supposed to look like a magical, Christmassy house for their four-year-old daughter, not a deranged rendering of Heaven-knows-what.

They're enjoying themselves too much to care.

When Joey writes 'Dick Head Samaritan Sanatorium' on the back wall, Martina comes to her senses enough to scrape all the icing off with a knife and insist they begin again.

At midnight, an attempt to cut a skylight in the roof ends with the whole thing falling apart again.

At half past twelve, Joey gets bored with drawing lines of icing on one of the roof pieces and covering them with Smarties, and decides to draw a line on Martina's face instead.

'Heh,' he says, swaying as he steps back to admire her. 'You look fancy, Martina.'

In turn, she smushes as much of it as possible in his hair.

The next half hour is dedicated to abandoning the house in favour of 'decorating' each other.

They both end up with moustaches and cat's whiskers.

At quarter to one, they have a pile of randomly covered slabs of gingerbread on their table, the icing hardening the pieces into an inseparable mass, and a bit too much Baileys inside themselves.

'I think,' Joey pronounces, waving a hand over their creation, 'that's lovely.'

' 'S rubbish,' Martina says.

'No, no, sunshine, this is pure elegance.'

Martina gazes at the mangled pile of gingerbread slabs, icing and randomly dotted sweets and raises an eyebrow.

'It just needs something.'

'Oh, yeah? Such as?'

'A drink,' says Joey, picking up the bottle of Baileys and dousing their creation with what remains of the contents.

'Eh! Wasteful!' Martina snatches the bottle back from him, groaning as she tries to tip it over her glass. 'There's none left now.'

'The house looks dodgy, somehow,' says Joey, looking forlornly at it.

'Well, what d'you expect? You made those bits soggy by pourin' Baileys on 'em.'

'Doesn't look much like a gingerbread house anymore, does it?'

'Joey, love,' Martina says, placing a hand on his shoulder, her face grim as she delivers the bad news, 'it didn't to begin with.'

Joey sighs sadly. 'Suppose you're right, sweetheart. Suppose you're right.' He sighs again, looks down at it for a few moments, as solemn as if he were observing a gravestone.

And then his head snaps up, a daft grin on it once more.

'Shall we eat it, then?'

'I thought it was supposed to be fer Belle.'

'Well, what's she gonna want with it? We can get a pre-made one for her. This is our masterpiece, Martina. And I'm not sharin' it.'

Martina gasps. 'You lit'le bastard!' she cries, thwacking him with the piping bag of white icing. 'We went through all that, and Annabelle gets a pre-made one anyway?!'

'Well, she won't want it now, will she? It's covered in grown-up alcohol, which she cannot eat.'

'You don't eat alcohol, Mister Boswell,' Martina corrects him.

Joey turns back to their masterpiece, and there is a grinding, snapping sound. When he turns around again, he's holding what had once been one of the pieces of roof. It's sagging in the middle, where most of the Baileys went, while the edges are dry but thick with hard glops of icing.

'That's where you're wrong, sweetheart. Open.'

He doesn't wait for her to respond before he's pushing it against her mouth. Martina inhales crumbs as she laughs, and spends a few seconds alternating between coughing and giggling before she gets her bearings enough to take the slab from Joey and take a bite out of it.

'Tastes like a soggy biscuit.'

Joey leans forward, rests his hands on his knees and roars with laughter. And then, suddenly, the laughter stops, Joey's face looks awkwardly pained, and he flies across the kitchen, throwing up noisily in the sink.

The evening isn't so much fun after that.

They end up both being sick, though whether it's from being drunk or the enormous amount of cream they've consumed from the Baileys, neither of them can tell. It doesn't matter either way. It's ghastly.

When they've finished taking turns at the sink, and have made a half-hearted effort to rinse it out, they slump over the table, too drained and dizzy to make it upstairs and to their own bed.

'Well,' mumbles Joey, 'we tried.'

'Shut up,' Martina says as stars explode in front of her eyes, 'Mister…'

She finds she's suddenly too tired to finish her retort, and allows her consciousness to slide away with the word Boswell still hanging unsaid in the air.

Martina wakes to the most horrible hangover she's ever had and a small hand grasping at her shoulder, shaking her lightly.

'Mam. Mammy.'

'What?' Martina groans, raising her head from the table. The sunlight streaming through the kitchen window assaults her eyes and she moans again, pressing her hands to her forehead. Through the gaps in her fingers she can see the wreckage of the gingerbread house, the fruits of last night's exploits scattered all over the table that all might witness their spectacular failure. Joey's watery eyes meet hers, her husband barely conscious and bedraggled. He's still got icing cat whiskers, she notices, though they're smudged. She wonders what her own face looks like.

'Mam,' Annabelle insists, shaking her again. 'Wake up.'

Martina swats weakly in her general direction. 'Belle, don't.'

'You didn't come in this morning,' Annabelle accuses. 'I 'ad to get dressed all by myself.'

Martina turns her head slowly to look at her daughter. She's managed to put a dress on both inside out and backwards, and has pulled one of Martina's cardigans on over it for some reason. Her ginger hair is wild; she's a little scarecrow with an uncannily Martina-ish cross expression on her face. Martina would laugh, but that would likely aggravate the pounding headache she's got. She could really do with a cup of ginger tea right now- her usual go-to to nurse a hangover, but that would involve getting up and putting the kettle on, and she's not sure moving won't make her throw up again. She's also vaguely aware that being in this state in front of a young child is beyond terrible. Too late now, though. She can't exactly un-drink what she's consumed.

'I'll help yer in a minute, love,' she says, the words coming out as if her throat has been razored. She reaches out, lethargically wrapping her arm around the girl and pulling her closer.

'Why are you talkin' in that voice? What's all this mess?!'

'Belle, will you find Mam some aspirin?' she's aware she sounds whiny, but, though groaning and whining don't actually ameliorate her condition or reduce her headache…it feels good to whinge, it really does. She can understand why Billy Boswell is so partial to it. Not that she'd ever admit that to him, and she certainly won't admit that this incident ever even happened, if questioned.


'What d'you mean, no? If I ask yer to do something…'

'But,' Belle says, 'I don't know what that is.'

'The little white pills in the bottle in the bathroom.'

'But,' Annabelle says again, 'I'm not allowed to touch those.'

'You are this once, if you bring 'em to me quickly.'

'Fifty p.,' Joey says, slowly inclining his head from the table.

'Don't bribe her!' Martina wishes she hadn't spoken quite so loudly. Her headache throbs harder.

Belle counts on her fingers, but as she can't yet add, the actual number means little to her.

'How many p. is that?'

Joey makes a strange face. 'Fifty.'

'No,' Annabelle insists, 'but is that lots? How many pounds is fifty p.? '

'It's not any pounds,' Martina moans. 'It's half a pound.'

'So not lots.'

'Annabelle, don't be cheeky. Mam and Dad are unwell, and if you don't go and get us something to make us better now, we're liable to start takin' money off yer.'

The only threat that ever actually works on Belle is the loss of her hard-saved cash. She doesn't even know how much she's got, not being able to add, but she hoards every coin they give her like a little dragon. When asked what she wanted Father Christmas to bring her this year, she had answered money, and so Joey and Martina have had to pick out a couple of toys themselves (because stacking coins in a pile cannot keep a child occupied all Christmas day), and then stick a few pennies in a coin-collectors' album just so she can have something proper to open which still complies with her request.

'Okay,' Belle says, turning for the stairs. 'But I will get the fifty p.?'

'Of course you will,' Joey mutters.

'And then, Mammy,' Annabelle grips her Mam's arm, her voice suddenly changing to a whimper, a sure sign she wants something, 'will you help me put me dress on?'

'Yeah, all right.'

'And you might wanna clear this mess up,' Belle says, pointing a finger at each of her parents in turn. 'Dis-place-ful.'

She means disgraceful, a concept Martina has been trying to teach her with regard to her own untidy bedroom, and while it's good she's learning, and cute she's trying to imitate her parents, neither of them appreciate the remark.

'Belle, please!' Martina cries, exasperated and too overcome by her headache for any more discussion.

Belle finally goes, her footsteps on the stairs too loud for Martina to take. She leans forward, resting her head against her arm.


'Last night's merriment gettin' to you as well, sunshine?'

She lifts her head again, the pain that comes with the effort worth it if she can glare at Joey.

'Never again, Mister Boswell. Never again.'

Joey chuckles weakly. 'With you on that one, sweetheart. I don't think I'll ever look at another glass of Baileys without feelin' sick to me stomach…well. At least not til next year.'

'Not even,' Martina nods in agreement. 'Promise me, Joey, that from now on, we won't attempt any more do-it-yerself anything, no matter how sentimental or enjoyable it might seem to you.'

'We've done all right with do-it-yourself before, haven't we? Without needin' to get plastered?'

'You mean like the time we put our own wallpaper up?'

'That wasn't so bad.'

'Joey, didn't we end up burning it?'

'After an enjoyable skirmish, yes.'

'Last night's skirmish, as you put it, has given me the worst hangover I've ever 'ad, and has ruined me for ever eatin' gingerbread as long as I live. No more. Never—again.'

Joey, despite looking like hell, manages to pull off an adorably impish grin.

'Until next time, you mean.'

Martina plucks a piece of gingerbread from the table and shoves it into his gob.

Merry December!

Side note: I know not everyone gets drunk from Baileys; I know some people aren't affected by it much at all and some people get really, really bad Baileys hangovers. For entertainment's sake, I'm working under the mentality that Joey and Martina fall into the latter category.