See the AN in the first chapter for the whole explanation.


For: Brookscott134

Prompt: popsicle sticks and glue

Rating: K+

Music: 'Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24' by The Trans-Siberian Orchestra, off the album 'Christmas Eve and Other Stories'

Notes: I know it's not that close to Christmas yet, I held off as long as I could. I lasted five days. So early Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and anything else applicable. (oh, and my sappy AN is at the end)


"Cold"

She woke up alone.

Reaching her arm out, she concluded that yes, the other side of the bed was, in fact, empty. The clock on the bedside table was a shiny red 1:23.

In the morning.

She pushed up and rolled out of bed. Well, she didn't so much roll as she did fall, but there wasn't anyone around to make that distinction.

Which was kind of why she got up to begin with.

The hardwood floor under her feet was cold and she padded out of the room, into the hall. Two quick stops along the way – both sleeping, peaceful – before she made her way downstairs. It was eerily silent and she rubbed her hands over her bare arms to warm them up. The multicolored lights from the tree cast a comforting glow through the room, but it didn't help the chill or the feeling of solitude.

There was no one downstairs.

The kitchen was just as empty as the living room, only darker, and she stared at the blank note pad that hung on the refrigerator next to the advent calendar. If he'd had to run out suddenly, he should have written her a note. Waking her up would've been the better choice, but still, he always left a note. But there was nothing there now and she couldn't help the shiver that ran down her spine.

They'd been fighting recently. Not anything huge, just general frustrations with life and work and the kids getting to them. Plus, with the holidays and the added stress of having to see her mother again, she'd been extra off-balance. Last night, they'd fought again and they'd both gone to bed angry.

But he wouldn't just leave.

He wouldn't. She knew him better than that. He wouldn't; he couldn't. It was Christmas Eve, he couldn't just leave. Although now that she thought about it, it was actually Christmas; the clock on the microwave read 1:31.

He couldn't just leave her; he couldn't leave his kids. It wasn't like him to just run away when he was angry – well, not anymore. He'd proven that time and time again; it wasn't like this was the first time they'd ever fought. And it definitely hadn't even come close to their worst fight ever. Not even in the top twenty. And he'd stayed all those other times, why pick this one to just… up and leave in the middle of the night?

There was a slight thud from somewhere outside and her heart leapt in her chest. Burglar? Or was it just some animal?

She crept to the door in the kitchen that lead into the back yard and peered out, but she couldn't see anything. After a brief pause, she heard the noise again and resolutely grabbed a flashlight and a steak knife from the drawer and opened the back door as silently as she could.

The ground outside was colder than the floors of the house had been and the grass crackled slightly under her feet; stiff with frost. She ignored that, though, and peered around the back yard, shining her light into corners, over the garden, past the shed. There was still nothing, so she readjusted her grip on the knife and walked slowly around the side of the house.

To her surprise, the garage light was on; she could see it through the side window. Was someone in her garage? The door wasn't open, so she didn't know how they'd gotten in there, unless they'd been inside the house to begin with…

The thought made her race back to the kitchen door, which she shut and locked behind her. The flashlight went on the kitchen counter, but the knife stayed in her hand, her arm tensed as she made her way to the back hall and the inside door to the garage. Sure enough, it was unlocked and she gripped the doorknob, steeling herself before pulling it open.

"Ryan," she breathed, tension draining out of her so fast that she almost collapsed. He turned his head to look at her and raised his eyebrows.

"I know we're fighting and you're pissed, but do you really think stabbing me is the answer?"

"What?" she scrunched her forehead in confusion until he gestured at the knife in her hand. "Oh, no. I just thought… I heard a noise; I thought someone was in the house."

"So you were gonna attack them with a steak knife?" he asked as he leaned up against his work table.

"What was I supposed to do? Hide under my covers?"

"No, you let me go investigate and you stay with the kids."

"I didn't know where you were," she threw back, adding a bit of accusation to her tone. His face fell and he shrugged. "What are you doing, anyway?" she asked, looking past him finally, to the rest of the garage.

He'd converted it a few years ago into a workshop when he claimed that, if he couldn't go running anymore – she found it infinitely annoying to be woken up at four in the morning, every morning – he needed some way to release energy. So he'd made the garage a workshop and set about building almost every piece of furniture in their house.

Now the garage was filled with large pieces of wood and she noticed for the first time that he was wearing his tool belt and had a screwdriver in his hand.

"Oh," he shrugged, bringing his empty hand up to rub the back of his neck. "I just figured the boys would wanna play with their new swing set right away. Plus, it'll be cooler to show them this than the stupid box it came in…"

She walked further into the garage, shutting the door behind her in case David or Logan came downstairs. "And you decided this when?"

"A couple hours ago," he shrugged again. "You know I can't sleep after we fight."

She smiled slightly and picked up a piece of paper, filled with complicated drawings and instructions. She stared at it for a few seconds, frowning, until he came over, took it from her hands, flipped it around, and handed it back to her.

"Oh."

"This is why you're not allowed to help me in here," he reminded her, turning away and picking up a wooden beam.

"No, I'm not allowed to help you because you're a control freak," she hoisted herself up onto an unused work bench to watch him work. "Remember that time you yelled at me for painting the bench the wrong color?"

"I didn't 'yell', and you put the sealer on before the stain. It kinda doesn't work like that."

"Fine. Are you almost done with this?"

"Almost," he shrugged, looking appraisingly at the half-built set. "Why?"

"Because I'm cold and I can't sleep when I'm cold."

He smiled but didn't look at her as he attached the beam of wood to the structure. She honestly had no idea how these things worked; she didn't see swing set in there at all. It just looked like a bunch of wood screwed together; like popsicle sticks slapped together haphazardly with glue.

"I'm almost done with the main framework," he said, gesturing at the thing. "Then I'm gonna take it back out and assemble the rest there."

"Come to bed," she whined, frowning.

"I thought we were fighting."

"We are," she frowned deeper when he didn't even bother to turn around and talk to her. "But I want you to come up to bed so I can pretend you're not there. The silent treatment and angry glares don't work when you're not there to be on the receiving end."

He laughed, finally, and turned to her. "Go back up," he told her, coming over to where she sat. "Put on something sensible," his eyes went to her thin pajamas – useless against the cold – "and go to sleep. I'll be up when I'm done and I'll be appropriately needy and depressed that you're not talking to me."

"You promise?" she pouted and he laughed again.

"Yes."

"Fine. Try not to take too long, the last thing I need is you falling asleep while the boys are opening presents."

"I'll try." She nodded and hopped off the work bench and went back into the house.

An hour and a half later, she woke up again as the bed dipped and he slid under the covers with her. She let out a sigh as she rolled over and buried her head into his chest and she felt it rumble as he laughed, silently. "I thought you were gonna ignore me?" he murmured into her hair and his arms slipped around her waist. She shrugged.

"Merry Christmas, Ryan."

"Merry Christmas," he whispered back, planting a kiss on the top of her head. "Go to sleep. I have a feeling David'll run in here the minute the sun rises to wake us up."

"He always does."


So this is it, the end. I thank you all for the prompts and the inspiration. This has been one of the most enjoyable things I've written, and it spawned my favorite chaptered fic, so I will always be grateful. I hope you've enjoyed this series, too. –x