Authors's Note: Here's a little fluff for Clay & Emma in the More Than Friends universe. I am working on a longer story, but fall was crazy with work and some health things, but I do hope to publish in the new year. Unit then, I hope you enjoy this for a little Christmas cheer. Merry Christmas to all who celebrate and a happy and healthy New Year to all of us!


Their mission successfully completed; Bravo team made their way cautiously through the Colombian night. The exfil point was five clicks away, and they had more than enough time to cover the distance. With their night vision goggles, they were able to traverse the rough terrain with little difficulty.

Dressed like civilians, their necessary tactical gear stowed in backpacks, they had arrived by train in the small town where their quarry was holed up. At a location near the target site, they stopped to don their vests over their t-shirts, put on the goggles, and pull out their guns. The element of surprise gave them a strategic advantage, and they eliminated the HVT and grabbed his laptops and any other promising materials, stuffing them into the now empty bags.

As they moved away from the town, they watched for any sign of pursuit, but so far, they saw none. In the lead, Brock slowed down as he approached a steep incline. He picked his way down the slope, followed by Clay a few feet behind and to the right.

Clay's slight distance to one side forced him to descend through an area of loose gravel, making his trip more challenging. Just as he thought he had crossed the worst of it, a larger stone rolled under his boot, upsetting his balance. He started falling back and threw himself forward to counter the motion but overcompensated and tumbled headlong down the slope. He slid rapidly downward on his chest with his left arm in front, protecting his face. Finally, he came to a stop in a pile of mud at the bottom.

Already more than halfway down the drop himself, Brock reached Clay first. "You hurt, buddy?"

Rolling over, Clay groaned. "Only my pride."

"Easy. Take it slow."

Trent dropped to his knees by them. "Don't get up so fast. You could have some more serious injuries."

"Trent, let me just get out of this mud, okay? It stinks." Clay sat up. "Then you can check me over all you want."

The rest of the team arrived in time to see Brock help Clay stand. Clay tried stepping away from his fragrant landing spot but wavered on his feet. Sonny moved forward, catching Clay's left arm to help support him. "Careful there, Blondie, don't want to land back in that mess."

Hissing in pain, Clay pulled his arm away from Sonny's grip. "Shit! That hurts." Clay bent his arm to examine it. His forearm was skinned most of the way down with gravel embedded in the wound.

"Whoa, that don't look too good there." Sonny turned to Trent. "You got anythin' to help with that?"

"Put a light on it for me, Sonny, so I can take a better look." Trent rummaged in his pack, pulling out a few antiseptic wipes. "These aren't going to do much, but they'll get the worst of the muck off. When we get back to the plane, we'll clean it out better." Efficiently, Trent wiped down what he could of the wound, while Clay gritted his teeth against the pain.

"You boys about ready to move?" Ray called back to them over his shoulder as he kept watch for any trouble in the vicinity.

"Yeah, we've done the best we can for now." Quickly, Trent put the used wipes in a plastic bag and shoved it in his backpack. The team formed up and headed out again to the exfil point.


An hour later the team exited the helicopter provided by the Colombian Army at a small airfield where their C-17 was parked. Lisa met them on the tarmac with a few members of the support staff, ready to take possession of all the items seized on the op. "Hey guys. Great work. The Colombian government wants us out of here ASAP, so let's put this away."

As the guys approached her with the packs, Lisa's nose wrinkled. "Ugh, what stinks?"

Sonny laughed. "That'd be Blondie. He took a dive down a hill and landed in a mud pile."

Grinning, Clay held out a muddy backpack to Lisa. She took it by the top loop and held it as far away as possible from her body as she walked it on the plane.

Soon the team and support had everything loaded and strapped down for travel. Everyone settled in for takeoff, happy to be headed home. Once they were in the air, Trent grabbed his med kit and sat down next to Clay. "Let's get this cleaned up."

Clay held his arm up for Trent to work. "It's starting to throb."

"I'm not surprised. You tore a good layer of skin off." Squinting at the wound, Trent frowned. "Sonny, come over here with a light so I can see better."

"Do I look like your nurse?" Sonny put down the beer he pulled out of the cooler and went to find a flashlight.

While he waited for Sonny, Trent began using tweezers to pull out the obvious pieces of gravel from the scrape. Clay winced as Trent worked. Trent glanced at Clay's face and back at his teammate's arm. "I can give you some ibuprofen, or we can go with the big guns and do a shot of morphine."

"Uh, uh, no morphine."

"Didn't think so." Seeing Sonny returning, Trent waved the Texan over to Clay's other side for the best angle with the light. His eyes widened as he saw the wound once it was well lit. "Clay, you're going to need to go to the medical center on the base when we're back to have this cleaned. There's no way I'm going to be able to get everything out of it."

Clay shook his head. "No medical center."

Brock, who had brought more antiseptic wipes for Trent, went back to the cooler and pulled out a bottle of water for Clay. He handed it off to his teammate and reached in Trent's bag for the pain pills. He shook a couple out and gave those to Clay as well. "Trent's right. That doesn't look good at all."

Clay gulped down some water with the pills. "No medical center."

Trent put down the tweezers and started cleaning Clay's arm with antiseptic wipes. "It's not just the gravel that's an issue. The reason you stink is because that mud you landed in was formed by runoff from the town's septic system. God only knows what was in there and what's now in your cut. Your arm needs a much more thorough cleaning than I can give you here, and you're going to need antibiotics."

Turning his other wrist to see his watch, Clay shook his head again. "No, this flight is getting us back to VA Beach in time for me to make it to Lanie's school for her Christmas Pageant. I am going to see my daughter be an angel and say her line and sing."

Pulling out more antiseptic wipes for Trent, Brock snorted. "An angel. Talk about your miscasting."

"Hey now, don't be insulting my god baby. She's a perfect angel." Sonny gave Brock a smack on the back of the head with his free hand.

"Hey!" Brock pressed the toe of his boot into the back of Sonny's knee, causing him to stagger and almost drop the light.

"Enough you two!" Trent dropped the used wipes and stood. He pushed Brock towards the front of the plane and grabbed the light from Sonny. "Both of you go find me as much gauze as you can in the big med kit." Propping the light on a storage case, he went back to cleaning Clay's arm.

Brock and Sonny headed up to the front of the cargo area while Clay watched them go. He grimaced as Trent dabbed at more grit that wouldn't come off, then let out a small grunt that was almost a laugh. "Brock might not be completely wrong about the angel thing. Emma told me the second-grade teacher who's in charge of the play heard Lanie singing on her own when the kindergarten was rehearsing and fell for her blue eyes and blond curls and made her the lead angel."

Trent smiled. "Like you've never used the blue eyes and blond curls."

Clay pressed his free hand over his heart. "I would never." He grinned, but then gripped the seat with his hand as Trent used the tweezers to pull away some stubborn pieces of gravel.

"Right." Frowning, Trent pulled away another piece of muck he couldn't identify. "Lanie does have a beautiful voice though." He looked briefly up at Clay and back at what he was doing. "Definitely didn't inherit that from you."

"That's from Emma for sure." Resting his head back against the webbing behind him, Clay closed his eyes. "She sings with Lanie a lot." A smile whispered across his face as he thought of them at home together singing different songs. "Although, Ash actually has a nice singing voice too."

Trent grunted as he continued to clean out the wound as best he could. "Look Clay, I understand that you want to see Lanie in her pageant, but this needs a better cleaning than I can do here. You need to go to the medical center to have it done."

"No, you don't understand. Lanie is five, and I've missed so much of her life already. I knew that would happen with me being a SEAL, but I didn't understand how hard it would be. Every time I go home there's something else I wasn't there for. I hate it." Clay opened his eyes and gave Trent a hard stare. "I'm going to this pageant."

Eyes dropping from Clay's, Trent continued his efforts to clean the wound. He huffed out a loud breath. "Okay, here's the deal. When we get back to base, you shower, and not a quick rinse. No matter how much it stings, you get that arm under the spray. I'll wrap it, and you can go to the pageant. As soon as it's over, you get to the medical center for them to check it and give you antibiotics."

Silent, Clay studied Trent. Finally, he spoke. "I was planning on showering anyway. I can't show up at Lanie's school smelling like this."

Figuring that statement was the closest thing to agreement he was getting, Trent nodded and focused back on Clay's arm.


"Lanie, come finish your breakfast." Emma found her daughter poking at the Christmas gifts under the tree while Cerberus lay nearby. "You don't want to be late for school."

Bouncing over to her mother's side, Lanie tried using the big eyes. "Mommy, can I open one present today? Pleeeease?"

"No presents until Christmas." Smiling at her daughter's excitement, Emma took Lanie's hand, hoping to encourage her to move faster. The two walked into the kitchen with Cerberus following behind in the hopes of catching any accidentally, or not so accidentally, dropped food.

Settling down at her plate of scrambled eggs and toast, Lanie swung her legs back and forth under the chair. "Can I put on my angel costume now?"

"You have to wait until we're at school. If you're wearing your wings, you won't be able to sit in your seat in the car." Emma began collecting the dirty dishes from cooking breakfast.

Lanie pursed her lips and didn't reply. She watched her mother, waiting for her to load the dishwasher. As soon as Emma's back was turned, Lanie dropped about half her serving of eggs to the floor for Cerberus.

Emma heard what she thought was food splattering on the floor. "Lanie, are you giving all your breakfast to Cerberus?"

"No, Mommy." Lanie lifted a forkful of eggs into her mouth.

"You better not. You don't want your tummy growling while you're on stage." Calling Cerberus away from the table, Emma sent the dog to lie in his bed in the other room. And she added another spoonful of eggs to Lanie's plate. "You know it's not healthy for Cerberus to eat people food." She paused and looked down at her daughter. "Are you ready to say your line for everyone today?"

"Yes, we practiced yesterday at school." Lanie grinned at her mother. "All the angels go on stage, and when the shepherds are surprised, I say my line. Then we sing."

"That's right." Emma swept Lanie's loose hair away from her plate. "You're going to do a great job."

Munching on her toast, Lanie wrinkled her nose. "Will Daddy come today?"

A sigh escaped Emma's lips. "No baby, I don't think he'll be home in time."

"But I want him to see me." Lanie's lip trembled.

"I know." Emma stroked her daughter's curls. "But Grandpa and Auntie Hannah will be there, and we'll take lots of pictures and a video so Daddy can see when he gets home."

Lanie's previous excitement faded, and she drooped in her chair. "It's not the same."

Kneeling beside Lanie, Emma took a napkin and wiped her daughter's face. "Daddy really wishes he could be there to see you."

Lanie buried her face in her mother's neck. "All the other Daddies will be there."

Emma knew there would be some fathers, and mothers, who couldn't take the morning off from their jobs to see the pageant, but enough of them would be there to make her little girl feel like she was the only one without her Daddy. Emma rubbed Lanie's back, doing her best to comfort her unhappy daughter. "I'm sorry, baby, but your Daddy has an important job, and I know when he comes home, he's going to be so happy to see the video of you. He'll be so proud of you."

Sitting back in her chair, Lanie heaved a big sigh. "I miss Daddy."

"I miss him too." Emma used the napkin to dab Lanie's tearstained face. "It's getting late. Why don't we go upstairs and brush your teeth and get ready for school?" Although Lanie was getting too big for Emma to carry, she swung her daughter up into her arms. "The lead angel can't be late."

"Okay, but can I wear my halo?" Lanie laid her head on her mother's shoulder.

Emma laughed as she started up the stairs.


Clay stepped out of the shower to find Trent waiting for him. "Could I at least dry off first?"

The medic reached for Clay's arm. "Nope. I'm sending you back in if I don't think you did a good enough job."

Rolling his eyes, Clay let Trent check the wound. The warm water hitting the scrape had hurt like hell. Washing it a second time did not appeal to him. "So? Good enough?"

"Not as good as going to the medical center, but it will do." Trent released Clay's arm. "Dry off and get dressed, then meet me at our cages and I'll wrap it."

Clay grabbed his towel and quickly dried off. Wrapping the towel around his waist, he headed out to the lockers for his clothes. Getting dressed was more difficult than he expected as it involved bending his arm and stretching the damaged skin. Finally, he finished putting on his clothes and shoes and headed down the hall to Bravo's cage room.

Upon entering the room, he found most of the team already gone, but Sonny and Trent were there waiting for him. Trent pulled a chair over to the table in the center of the room. "Sit."

Following orders, Clay sat and held out his arm. Trent picked up a can of antiseptic spray. "I'm spraying this on before I bandage it. There's some numbing in it as well as antiseptic, so that will help you a little. But I don't have non-stick gauze bandages, so it's probably going to hurt when they pull this off later."

Clay shrugged. "Whatever, I don't care. Just get it done. I don't want to be late."

"Okay, dumbass." Trent sprayed the wound and made quick work of wrapping Clay's arm. "That should hold you for now. It would be better to let the air at it, but where you're going to be in a crowd this is safer. Let's go."

"Wait, you're both coming with me?" Clay stood and picked up his jacket.

Trent huffed out a breath. "You think I trust you to go right to the medical center as soon as the pageant's over? I'm taking you to the school and then for treatment after."

"Fine, let's go." Clay realized he should have known Trent wouldn't let him out of his sight. He headed out the door with Trent trailing him.

Sonny followed behind. "And you didn't think I was gonna miss my god daughter's stage debut, did ya?"


Parents and family members filled the school hall as the pageant start time approached. Emma made her way through the crowd to where her father and Hannah saved her a place to sit.

Hannah moved her bag from Emma's chair. "Everything all set backstage?"

Emma settled onto the seat. "I think so. Hopefully all the angels keep their wings now. I think I re-attached about five sets." Lanie's teacher had asked Emma and a couple other parents to help wrangle the kindergarten class with their costumes. "Lanie's teacher is a saint. I wouldn't have the patience to do her job. We should have given her a huge bottle of alcohol along with the gift card from Lanie."

Laughing, Jason put his arm around Emma and gave her a squeeze. "I always thought your teachers had the patience of saints too."

"Thanks, Dad." Emma pulled her phone out of her pocket to check an incoming text. "Quick! Hannah, grab the rest of the seats in this row!"

Immediately Hannah moved down three seats, stopping a couple who were about to sit down. She gave them an apologetic smile. "Sorry, these seats are taken."

The woman's eyes narrowed as she glanced between Hannah and Emma. Emma thought the woman was about to complain, but her companion tugged on her arm. "Over here. These are better anyway."

Hannah grimaced at Emma. "Okay, why did I just risk getting attacked by the Queen of the PTA?"

"You don't know she's in the PTA."

"You better hope she isn't, because you'll be blackballed by her for sure."

"I'll deal with it because Clay just texted he's back in Virginia Beach. He took a shower at the base and is on his way here." A grin lit up Emma's face, but then her voice took on a bewildered tone. "And Uncle Trent and Uncle Sonny are coming with him."

"Did you say Trent and Sonny?" Jason leaned in to look at the screen of Emma's phone. "Sonny probably wants to see his god daughter perform."

"Yeah, but Uncle Trent? I didn't think he was a big fan of off-key grade school singing."

Hannah glanced up from laying her coat across the empty seats. "Hey! My god child does not sing off-key."

"You're right, she doesn't." Emma smiled. "Lanie is going to be thrilled to see Clay here."

The last few minutes before the show passed, and Emma began to worry Clay wouldn't arrive in time. The audience quieted down, and she scanned the room one more time. Just as a teacher shut the doors, Clay, Sonny, and Trent slipped in. Emma waved to catch their attention. They came down the aisle and stepped into the row. Clay took the seat next to Emma with Trent on his other side followed by Sonny and then Hannah on the end.

A group of third graders began singing as Clay pulled off his jacket. Emma's eyes widened as she saw the gauze wrapping his entire lower arm. "What happened?" She hissed.

"I slid down a hill covered in gravel and scraped the skin off my arm. It's fine. No big deal." Clay patted Emma's hand.

On Clay's other side, Trent snorted.

Emma narrowed her eyes as she considered her husband and the team medic. "After the show, I want details."

Trent snickered. "You're in trouble now."

Raising her eyebrows, Emma focused on Trent. "He's not the only one." Once she felt she had instilled enough fear into her husband and honorary uncle, she focused her attention back on the third graders on stage.

After a few other performances, a group of children dressed as shepherds and sheep came out. Emma tapped Clay's leg. "This is Lanie's part!"

They both leaned forward in their seats.

The children onstage exchanged some lines about watching their sheep at night, and then a group of kindergarteners dressed as angels, and led by Lanie, came out. Lanie stopped by one of the shepherds and looked out at the audience. Emma hoped the crowd wouldn't overwhelm her daughter.

Lanie's eyes continued to scan the attendees until her gaze came to rest on Clay. A huge smile broke out on her face. "It's my Daddy!" The excitement in her voice carried it all the way to the back of the room. She poked the shepherd standing by her. "Look! That's my Daddy!" The young shepherd, confused by Lanie's departure from the script, looked to his teacher offstage for direction.

"Hi Daddy!' Lanie waved to her father.

Laughter rippled across the audience. Jason unsuccessfully tried to disguise his amusement with a cough, while both Trent and Sonny's shoulders shook with their suppressed amusement. Hannah slapped her hand over her mouth to contain her giggles.

Clay waved back to his little girl, thinking his response would put an end to her gesticulating, while Emma pressed her face into Clay's shoulder as she tried to hide her mirth.

"Lanie, Lanie." The teacher directing the play tried to gain her lead angel's attention. "Your line! Say your line."

"Oh!" Lanie blinked as she realized she still had a job to do. She faced the group of shepherds. "I bring you tidings of great joy." Line successfully delivered; she flashed another grin at her parents in the audience.

Jason let out a loud snort.

The other angels closed around Lanie on the stage and the entire group of children began to sing "Joy to the World."

After Lanie's performance, there were a few other scenes, and then the whole cast came on stage for a final holiday sing along.

As soon as the curtain came down, audience members began to stand, happy to be free of the uncomfortable folding chairs. Emma led the way to Lanie's classroom where they would meet up with their budding thespian after her stage debut.

Sonny grinned at Clay and Emma. "I think I got most of that on my phone but check if the school recorded it. That there will be some prime embarrassment material when Lanie's grown up."

"And I was worried all the people watching would scare her." Emma shook her head.

As their group entered the classroom, Hannah laughed. "Are you kidding? She's the biggest ham I know."

Before any of them could reply to that comment, Lanie's voice sounded from across the room. "Daddy! Mommy!" Their daughter dashed toward them still in her full angel regalia. "Did you see me?"

Clay knelt to catch Lanie. "We saw you, baby."

"I remembered my line!" She threw her arms around her father's neck.

"You did. Great job!" Clay stood holding his daughter with his good arm.

Continuing to cling to her father's neck, Lanie smiled at her mother. "I knew all the words when we sang the song."

"I heard. Good job." Emma leaned over and gave her daughter a kiss.

"Family picture you three." Bustling over, Hannah pulled out her phone.

The three of them posed for multiple photos, and then Jason held his arms out to his granddaughter. "Can I have some time with the lead angel?"

Lanie reached out and her father swung her into Jason's hold. "Did you see me, Grandpa?"

They all laughed at her repeated question. Jason bounced her in his arms. "I did. I think everyone saw you."

As Lanie received congratulations from the rest of her family, her teacher, Olivia Stanton, approached Clay and Emma. "Mrs. Spenser, I want to thank you again for your help earlier with the costumes. I never would have had everyone ready in time without you and the other parents."

"No problem. I was glad to help." Emma gestured to Clay. "This is my husband, Clay."

Ms. Stanton nodded. "Of course, we met briefly on the first day of school."

"I'm sorry I haven't been here for parent's night or anything else. My job takes me out of town a lot."

"I understand, but I'm glad you made it to the pageant." She glanced over to Lanie, posing for photos with her grandfather and godfather. "It made Lanie very happy."

Clay and Emma burst into laughter, Emma pressing her hands to her face for a moment. "I am so sorry about that. She interrupted the whole show."

"It's fine, really." Olivia waved a hand casually. "We always expect things like that with kids this age. At least she was entertaining. Usually, we have at least one child that walks on stage and freezes in terror when they see everyone in the audience."

"I was worried she'd do that."

"No, that's not something you'll need to be concerned about with Lanie. She has great self-confidence."

"Hmm…" Emma poked Clay. "I wonder where she gets that from?"

"Hey! That's not just from me."

Smiling, Olivia watched the interplay between the couple in front of her. "Wherever it's from, it's a good thing. You want her to keep that as she grows up."

Emma nodded seriously. She wanted her daughter to stay confident as life became more challenging as she grew.

"Daddy!" Lanie's cry interrupted their conversation. "This is my bestest friend, Julia."

The three adults turned to see Lanie holding the hand of another angel with two brown pigtails under her halo. Self-conscious from the adults' attention, the little girl shrank behind her friend. Clay knelt in front of the girls. "Hi, Julia. It's nice to meet you."

"Hi." Julia peeked up at him from under her wispy bangs.

Bouncing in place by her father's side, Lanie grinned at her companion. "This is my Daddy!"

Emma, Ms. Stanton, and Julia's mother all smiled at Lanie's excitement at introducing her father. Then Lanie's teacher stepped to the side, taking the attention from Clay and the girls. "Mrs. Spenser, Mrs. Ward, thank you both for coming. I have some other parents to speak to, so I'll leave you to the introductions."

Emma nodded. "Of course, don't let us keep you. It was a lovely pageant."

"Thank you. Both of you have a wonderful holiday, and I'll see the girls in the new year." With a smile for their entire group, Ms. Stanton headed off to talk to other families.

Meanwhile Clay tried to put his daughter's shy friend at ease. "Lanie tells me all about the fun times you have together at school."

Julia's gaze flitted up to meet Clay's briefly. "We color and play."

"That does sound fun."

"Mommy says Julia can come to our house to play during vacation." Barely able to contain her joy at this future treat, Lanie clutched her father's injured arm.

A pained groan slipped from Clay's lips before he could stop it. Lanie's eyes widened. "You have boo boo!"

At Lanie's cry, Julia stepped back and wrapped an arm around her mother's legs.

Clay inhaled deeply, held the breath a moment, and then released it. "It's okay, baby. I scraped my arm like you did to your knee when you fell off your tricycle."

"That hurt." Lanie let out a sniffle. "Did I hurt your boo boo? I didn't mean to."

Standing, Clay lifted his upset daughter with his unbandaged arm. "I know you didn't. And it's fine. Just a little sore."

Lanie laid her head on Clay's shoulder and twined her arms around his neck. "I'm sorry."

"Shh, it's alright." Swaying a little, Clay rubbed Lanie's back around her angel wings.

"I think all the excitement is getting to her." Emma adjusted Lanie's halo to stop it poking Clay's ear.

Trent stepped forward to gain Clay's attention. "This is probably a good time for us to head back to the base and have that seen to anyway."

Clay sighed. "Yeah, let's get it over with."

"Here, I'll take Lanie." Jason reached out to lift his granddaughter away from her father.

"Nooo, want Daddy." Lanie tightened her grip on Clay's neck.

"Hey, hey, little angel." Sonny pushed Lanie's curls back so he could see her face. "How 'bout we let Daddy go get his medicine for his arm and you and Uncle Sonny go get some hot chocolate to celebrate you sayin' your part in the play?"

Peeking out at her godfather, Lanie pursed her lips. "With marshmallow?"

"Of course, with marshmallow. How can it be hot chocolate if we don't have marshmallow?"

"Okay." Lanie lifted her head from Clay's shoulder and leaned forward, letting Sonny lift her from her father's arms. "Can Mommy come?"

"Has she been good?"

Lanie giggled. "Yes."

"Then she can come, and we'll let Grandpa and Auntie Hannah join us too. And your friend Julia and her Mommy."

"Oh, thank you for the invitation, but unfortunately we already have plans this afternoon." Julia's mother took her daughter's hand. "Emma, I'll text you about getting the girls together during vacation."

"Sounds good. Have a Merry Christmas."

"You too. Nice meeting you all."

Julia and her mother headed off and they all began gathering their coats and getting ready to leave. While Emma helped Lanie thread her arms into her jacket sleeves, Sonny sidled over. "Um, Emma, about the hot chocolate?"

Emma arched an eyebrow at him. "Yes?"

"Do you know a place we can go to get it?"

Snorting under her breath, Emma nodded. "Yes, I do."

"With marshmallow?"

She laughed. "Of course, with marshmallow. It wouldn't be hot chocolate without marshmallow, would it?"


Trent and Clay entered the medical center and approached the front desk. Hoping to get his teammate into treatment as soon as possible, Trent gave the nurse on duty the details about Clay's arm.

The nurse entered Clay's info into the system. "Take a seat. A doctor will be out soon. We're not too busy right now."

They settled into chairs in the waiting area. Trent picked up an ancient edition of National Geographic from a table and began flipping through it while Clay leaned back in his chair and rested his now throbbing arm on his lap.

"Clay Spenser?" A doctor stood by the entrance to the treatment area.

"Here." Clay got up, followed by Trent, and they trailed the doctor down the hall.

"I'm Dr. Meadows. I looked at your notes, and we're going set you up with an IV. I'd like to get some morphine in you before we take that gauze off and start cleaning the wound. Also, considering the amount of time since the damage happened, I think IV antibiotics are best."

They entered a room where an older, gray-haired nurse was getting things set up.

"Doc, I'd rather not have any morphine." Clay frowned as he placed his coat on a chair.

"Not negotiable. I need you to stay relaxed while I clean your arm. Nurse Barnes will set you up, and I'll be back in a little while." The doctor headed back out into the hall.

The nurse handed Clay a hospital gown. "Put this on and get into bed while I go draw your meds." She left closing the door behind herself.

Sighing, Clay began pulling off his shirt. His injured arm became tangled in the sleeve as he tried to tug it over his head.

"Hold still." Trent grasped the loose material and slid it off.

"Thanks." Pulling his phone out of his pants pocket and placing it on the bedside table, Clay took off his jeans and tossed them on the chair with his other clothes. He put on the gown. "I hate these things." He kicked off his shoes and laid down on the bed. As he began adjusting the bed position for his comfort, the nurse returned with another younger woman.

"This is nurse trainee Garcia. She's going to be working with me." Nurse Barnes pulled the covers up over Clay's legs. "Please start an IV in his right arm for his morphine and antibiotics."

The trainee gave Clay a brief smile and began swabbing a spot on for the needle. While he wasn't thrilled to have a trainee working on him, Clay sympathized with the woman having to work under the hard gaze of Nurse Barnes. He also hoped she knew how to insert an IV. He didn't relish the thought of being a pincushion for her to practice on.

Nurse trainee Garcia had the IV in and running on her first try. "All set. Should I start the morphine, Nurse Barnes?"

Clay glanced down at his arm in surprise. "I didn't even feel that."

Nurse Barnes nodded at her protégé. "Please, the sooner the morphine kicks in the sooner we can clean this wound. It's already waited too long." She shot Trent an accusing look.

"It's my fault. I didn't want to miss my little girl in her Christmas pageant." Clay grabbed his phone and pulled up a photo of Lanie in her angel costume to show them.

"Oh, she's adorable." The nurse trainee cooed as Clay swiped through a series of photos.

Nurse Barnes sniffed. "Better to miss the pageant than to miss your arm after it's been amputated for gangrene."

Trent's startled laughter quickly changed to coughing under Nurse Barnes' hard stare.

"We'll be back in a little while to see if the morphine has started working." The two nurses departed, leaving Clay and Trent to find a way to pass the time until then.


The morphine took effect quickly, and Clay was soon dozing on the bed. Trent sent Emma a text updating her on the situation.

Another five minutes ticked by, and the doctor entered the room. "Looks like Mr. Spenser is more than relaxed enough for me to begin."

Nurse Barnes and her trainee set up the work area for the doctor by Clay's left side. Settling on a rolling stool, the doctor began cutting away the gauze wrapped around Clay's arm. Then he worked efficiently to get the wound clean. He shook his head as he turned Clay's arm to examine the scrape fully. "This is quite a large area of skin removal. It may be painful for a time as it heals."

Clay smiled hazily at the doctor. "S'not so bad right now."

"I'm sure that's the morphine talking right now, Mr. Spenser." The doctor started applying antibiotic ointment to the wound before wrapping it up. "Mr. Sawyer, I'm assuming you'll be able to help our friend here with his bandage changes."

"Yes, and I'll make sure his wife can do so as well."

"Good. Nurse Barnes will make sure you have supplies and his discharge notes with directions on how to do that and how often." Laying Clay's now re-bandaged arm on the bed, the doctor turned to Trent. "Once this course of IV antibiotics is finished Mr. Spenser will be free to go. I'll also have a prescription for oral antibiotics called into the pharmacy for him."

Trent nodded. "Sounds good, doc. Thanks for your help."

The doctor stood and pulled off his rubber gloves, tossing them into garbage. "That's why we're here, but I hope I won't be seeing either of you again soon."

Trent sank back into his chair as he watched the doctor leave. "I hope you won't be seeing us too, doc."


The words to "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" rang out in the Spenser home as Lanie sang along to music playing in the living room. Normally she had a sweet voice, but with all the over stimulation from the morning's festivities at school and the sugar from the trip for hot chocolate and cookies, her singing had deteriorated into shouting out the words as she marched around the room.

Emma had hoped her daughter would take a nap this afternoon, giving herself some child free time to take care of Christmas chores. That plan became more unlikely by the minute.

"Lanie, come color a get-well picture for Daddy." Emma found a Christmas themed coloring sheet left from school and placed it on the coffee table along with Lanie's crayons.

"Okay." Lanie ended her tramp around the room at the table and grabbed a red crayon.

"Jingle Bells" started up on the playlist and Lanie joined in. Emma wondered how she would make it through to Christmas without running out of Tylenol. Glancing over at Cerberus curled up in his bed, she realized the faithful dog's hearing really must be going if he could sleep through this.

The back door off the kitchen opened and Clay stumbled in supported by Trent. Emma headed their way.

"We're home!" Clay gave Emma a big grin as he dumped the plastic bag of medical supplies on the counter.

Emma's eyes grew wide as she took in her husband's condition.

"He's still a little out of it from the morphine." Trent placed the discharge notes by the bag. "He should probably lie down."

"No, no, I'm fine." Clay swayed in place. "Really. I don't need to. How about I get us something to eat? We haven't eaten."

"How about I worry about getting you some food and you go sit?" Emma went to the freezer and pulled out a container of frozen soup. She put it in the microwave on defrost.

"No, I want to help. I know you have a lot of things to do. I can help."

Trent shook his head. "Clay, you're on morphine and your arm is almost useless. You can't help."

Clay's face fell at Trent's words. Emma held back a laugh, torn between sympathy for and exasperation with her husband. An idea occurred to her. "Actually, there is something you can do to help me."

Clay shot a triumphant look at Trent. Bravo's medic shook his head and sat down on one of the kitchen stools.

"Lanie is so overexcited by everything that's happened today that I can't get her to lie down for a nap. If I put a Christmas movie on, can you sit with her? I'm sure she'll fall asleep." Emma worked to keep her expression serious. "That would be a big help to me."

"Sure, I can do that."

"Great, why don't you change out of those clothes, and I'll set up the movie."

"Okay." Clay carefully headed across the kitchen and up the stairs to put on something more comfortable."

Emma watched him go. "You think he's okay on his own?"

"I'll check on him if he takes too long." Trent snickered. "You are a clever woman, Emma Spenser."

"Oh, I'm not done yet." Emma smiled as she pulled the container of soup out of the microwave and stirred it before putting it back in for a few more minutes. "Lanie, can you be a big girl and help Mommy?"

Lanie bounded into the kitchen carrying her picture. "I'm a big girl. I can help."

"That's what I thought. The doctor gave Daddy some medicine that's making him tired. He needs to lie down on the couch, but he'll be lonely by himself. If I put the Grinch on, will you lie down with him to keep him company until he feels better?"

"Okay, Mommy."

Trent started laughing.

"Thank you, sweetie. That's a big help." Smiling at Trent, Emma took out some rolls and popped them into the toaster oven to warm up.

A noise came from the top of the stairs. Trent and Emma glanced up to see Clay negotiating the stairs while hanging on to the bannister.

"Daddy! We're going to watch the Grinch." Lanie met her father at the bottom of the stairs.

"That sounds good." Clay held his hand out to her.

"You two get comfy on the couch and I'll start the movie." Heading into the living room, Emma turned on the TV and found the app to stream the original Grinch cartoon.

Clay stretched out on the couch and had Lanie settle down along his good side. Emma spread a blanket over them both, and then leaned down and gave them each a kiss.

"Call me if you need anything. I'll have some of that soup for you, Clay, in a little while."

The coziness of the couch and blanket with his daughter cuddled up to his side already had Clay relaxing. The thought of eating wasn't particularly appealing anymore.

Joining Trent in the kitchen again, Emma took the rolls out of the toaster oven and put them on a plate. "They'll be asleep before the Grinch hits Whoville." She filled a bowl with some of the Beef Vegetable Soup from the microwave and placed it in front of Trent along with a spoon. "Here you go."

"You didn't need to do that, Emma." He dipped the spoon into the liquid and took a taste.

"Of course, I did. You just spent your whole day taking care of my husband when I'm sure you have a lot of other things you could be doing three days before Christmas." Opening the fridge, she pulled out the butter and placed it by the plate of rolls.

"Nothing pressing." Trent tore a roll in half and dunked it into the broth. "Jackie's at a training thing in Richmond, so she won't be back until tonight."

"You could have gone out and bought her a Christmas present. Unless you've done that already."

He continued to eat the soup. "Plenty of time for that. Still three days 'til Christmas."

Emma laughed and opened a large container of sugar cookies. Taking out a half dozen, she found a smaller box to put them in. "I'm sure that's exactly what Clay's thinking."

Trent let his spoon rest at the bottom of his now empty bowl. "Most likely." Picking up his dirty dishes, he placed them in the sink. "Delicious soup, but I should head out now. With those two asleep, you can get some things done."

"Okay but take these sugar cookies Lanie decorated. She only wanted angels this year, but you've been an angel today for us." Emma handed him the package of cookies.

Blushing, Trent took the packet. "Just doing my job."

"I still appreciate it. I feel better knowing you're there to watch out for Clay." Emma kissed him on the cheek. "We'll see you at Uncle Ray and Aunt Naima's tomorrow night, right?"

"You will." He grabbed his coat and headed for the door. "Call me if you need help changing Clay's bandage."

"I will. Drive safe."

The door closed behind him, and Emma stood still for a moment, listening to his truck start up in the driveway. She then walked into the living room to check on the movie watchers. Both were sound asleep, completely unaware of the citizens of Whoville welcoming Christmas Day. The pair of them made her crazy sometimes, but they did look angelic now, and she couldn't imagine her life without them.