Title: And So It Is, Chapter 5
Rating: G
Warnings: none that I can really think of; maybe a slight bit of angst.
Characters/Pairings: Sheridan, Gwen, original character(s)
Summary: prompt: winter. I guess I technically fulfilled my prompt, lol. You decide. Somewhere a door opened, and laughter, heady and spirited, mingled with the scuffing of snow-covered boots and the joyous crescendo of Christmas carols as the midnight revelers were chased inside by a gust of winter wind.

Somewhere a door opened, and laughter, heady and spirited, mingled with the scuffing of snow-covered boots and the joyous crescendo of Christmas carols as the midnight revelers were chased inside by a gust of winter wind.

Sheridan Crane discretely knuckled away a tear as she lifted her forehead from the chilled window pane it'd been pressed against. Rubbing at the little cloud of condensation left behind with her fisted sleeve, she managed a small smile for the person that had recently become one of her most trusted confidantes. "It's pretty, isn't it?"

Gwen Hotchkiss bit her lower lip and nodded, seeming to mull her words carefully while reading Sheridan's mood. Self-consciously fingering the frayed edges of the borrowed green scarf around her neck, she finally settled for a safe expression of regret. "We missed you at Mass."

Sheridan ducked her head guiltily, and her smile melted away. All week, the prospect of attending the services in the charming little village church had simultaneously filled her with anticipation and dread; in the end, the memory of a similar celebration in a small coastal church thousands of miles and only a year removed, had been too painful a burden to bear. Decorating the Christmas tree had even taken an unexpected toll. Sheridan'd made her excuses and stayed behind with their host's permission, her memories and heart heavy (much too heavy for a mere girl of seventeen). "I'm sorry. I'm sure it wasn't that bad," she murmured, scooting over to make room for Gwen on the sofa and lifting the edge of her blanket cocoon.

Gwen's cheeks were still flushed pink from the cold, her brown eyes bright. But she was warm against Sheridan's side, non-judgmental in her open, steadfast gaze. Quietly, she steered their conversation into (relatively) safer waters. "Milena wasn't happy."

Their fellow suite-mate held the additional distinction of being a longtime friend to Sheridan. Milena and Sheridan had met and bonded Sheridan's very first winter in boarding school, two hurt and lonely little girls cast aside and separated from their uncaring families by entire oceans. They'd spent many Christmases together since, Sheridan's trip home to Harmony last year being a rare exception. Before Ms. Bisch, there had been a long line of other accommodating hosts, some more gracious than others, and while Sheridan had soaked up every piece of positive attention and kindness sent her way, Milena had instead allowed the few truly bad experiences they'd had to further harden her perceptions of others. Still, Sheridan didn't believe her to be a lost cause. "That's only what she wants you to believe."

Gwen didn't look so sure.

Ducking her shoulder beneath the heavy blanket once more, Sheridan allowed her glistening eyes to stray back to the frosted window and the picturesque scene outside, the twinkling lights and merrily decorated windows of the little houses tucked beneath the majestic Alps. The subject of their conversation spilled into the cozy living room then, a whirlwind of intoxication with a chirruping feline hot on her heels, and it was such a typical Milena entrance that Sheridan felt her lips curl with helpless amusement. "Someone's ears must have been burning."

Milena's dark cynical eyes lit up briefly upon discovering them there, curled up beneath a nest of colorful blankets. She unwound her own scarf from her neck, flinging it aside distastefully like a crimson boa constrictor that had been cutting off the very oxygen she breathed as she straightened and approached the sofa. Breathless and manic, she reproached both girls for abandoning her, first Sheridan at the church, then Gwen in the kitchen. "Why on earth did you make me suffer through that alone? How dare you leave me in there with those Von Trapp wannabes with their dreadful singing and cauldron full of hot chocolate? I cannot possibly force another bite down my throat after that dinner."

Sheridan shared a look with Gwen before Milena unceremoniously wedged herself between the two of them, wiggling her skinny behind until she was marginally comfortable and pulling and tugging at the blankets until they covered her too. "Why don't you take a seat?" she laughed softly, her earlier morose state fading by the second. "How was Midnight Mass?"

"Holy," Milena, not particularly religious, quipped, wiggling some more before toeing off her boots and drawing her short legs to her chest beneath the blankets like an accordion's bellows.

The cat let out a distressed yowl as it narrowly escaped being speared by a pointy, impractical heel and skulked across the living room. It eyed them with supreme distrust from its defensive position beneath the lowest branches of the Christmas tree, ignoring Gwen's efforts to coax it back out of hiding with a snub of its haughty nose and a disgusted swipe of its pink tongue across its still prickling fur. The feline hissed when the logs crackled and settled in the fireplace in a shower of orange sparks not even a minute later and scurried from its hiding place only to end up at their feet again, staring up at them and seeming to weigh its options.

Gwen's fingers gingerly stroked the cat's short, sleek coat when it leapt and curled into her lap, and soon the beleaguered pet was purring happily. "I thought the service was nice," Gwen told Sheridan. "They sang Silent Night. It was beautiful."

Sheridan sighed wistfully and watched the candlelight flicker and dance upon each proud limb of the tree they'd help choose earlier that day. She loved Silent Night perhaps best of all the carols, but the thought of the song itself brought tears back to her eyes. Her hand found its way again to the antique bronze pendant Gwen had surprised her with before she'd left with the rest for Midnight Mass ("It's nothing much. I saw it at the market in Zurich, and I felt, I thought…I wanted you to have it) and she drifted in her thoughts, tracing the curves and lines of it, until Milena nudged her sharply with her bony elbow, her dark hair shimmering like spilled ink over her shoulders as she tossed a look in Gwen's direction.

With her careful smile, her practiced elegance, her blond hair coiled neatly atop her head, Gwen lavished love on the greedy little beast of a cat even as her eyes watered and her nose wrinkled. She shrugged helplessly at them when she noticed them staring and continued to tickle underneath the furry chin, stare into the hypnotizing topaz eyes.

"Stupid girl doesn't know how to say no to what's bad for her."

The comment was delivered without malice (without the thinly veiled jealousy that Milena had first regarded Sheridan and Gwen's newly close friendship upon her return to school), tinged with reluctant affection, bordered on teasing, and Milena's smile yanked Sheridan back to the present just in time for the arrival of the cavalry with their mugs of rich chocolate and their trays stacked high with sweets. "Then we'll just have to teach her better, won't we?" she whispered into her friend's ear before painting on a smile and accepting the mug presented to her, politely focused her attention on the elderly woman with her heavily accented English.

("Dear girl, the children are convinced you're the Christkindli.")

So...I'm not dead (lol).

Sorry. Terrible ice breaker, I know. ;)

I know I've been MIA for the last several months, and I apologize for that. RL has demanded all of my attention lately. I've had sick family members of the human and furbaby persuasion (one beloved furry friend terminal), and I've had limited time to indulge my love of writing these stories for you guys. Not to mention I've had a truly terrible case of writer's block that has me totally dissatisfied with anything I write these days (seriously...this chapter was rehashed and rewritten 5 times in the last week, and I'm still not happy with it...I hope it doesn't read as forced as it seems to me).

That said, I hope you're still out there, reading my stories, because I'm searching for inspiration. :) And your feedback is most definitely the best inspiration out there.

So...let me know what you thought about this chapter. Thoughts, feelings, ideas on how you think this chapter fits into the puzzle of the story so far.

Feedback truly is love!

Hopefully, I can get past the worst of this slump and get some new chapters out to you soon.

Thanks so much for reading!