BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR
Dirty white clouds filled the air; not fog this time but the billowing breath of a different beast as yet another Greyhound bus nosed its way into the crowded terminal, grumbling at the need to search for an empty berth among the chaos. Adam leaned against the cool glass of a rolling billboard and squinted through the crowds, reluctant to abandon his semi-comfortable post until he was certain that this was Michelle's bus, long overdue and the only panacea for his state of high anxiety. Snow - that festive treat - was causing havoc on the Interstate. As a result, Port Authority was packed so tightly with heaving bodies that even Santa Claus himself would have struggled to tell them apart, let alone grant their sole Christmas wish - to be with their loved ones before Christmas Eve bowed its head and stepped aside on the stroke of midnight.
Right now, it was half past nine. Adam knew because he had checked his watch every five minutes for the last three hours. Beside him, an old man studied his darting eyes and smiled in sympathy. "Wife?" he said. "Or girlfriend?"
Distracted as he was, Adam answered with less than his usual politeness. "What?"
"The lady you're searching for. Wife or girlfriend?" The old man ignored his abrupt tone and raised a ragged pair of eyebrows.
The new bus shuddered to a halt nearby - close enough to tell that it had come from DC, not Atlantic City, home of Michelle's parents. Wrong again. Adam shrank back in disappointment, pressing against the glass as the rush began - a stream of desperate passengers, eager to bargain, plead or bully their way onto anything that moved, no matter the destination. Anywhere else was one stage further than here. On a day like today, that was progress.
When the swollen wave had finally passed them by, Adam turned to the old man and offered him a rueful grin. "Girlfriend," he said. "But ask me again tomorrow, okay?"
"Ah! I see how it is." The old man nodded. He was short and solid, and sweating with the weight of his winter coat and woollen scarf. Outside in Times Square, the temperature was ominously low. Inside the terminal, too many bodies had turned the place into a melting pot. The old man wiped his forehead and absently held out the same hand to Adam. "Good luck, young man. Is she worth it?"
"Are you kidding? I mean... yes," he said fervently, shaking the damp hand. "Oh, yes."
"Glad to hear it. Young love can be such a casual thing these days," the old man sighed. "I was married to my dear Audra for thirty years - I only wish it could have been thirty more."
"That's a good wish," Adam said. "You were happy?"
"Yes we were."
He toyed with a box in his pocket. "You know, I've been thinking a lot about that. And I don't think I knew what happiness was till I met Michelle. That sounds sappy but I mean, you know, not really. Life was good, okay - I love my job and my friends are awesome - but..."
"She completes you," the old man said with a wistful shrug of his round shoulders.
Like a tumbler clicking into place, the words made Adam's mouth fall wide open. "Yes," he repeated. "I guess... I don't need anything else."
The old man gave a wink. "You'll be fine, son. Look - is that another bus?"
It was. And this time, with mounting excitement so strong that it threatened to blow a great hole in the top of his head, Adam saw that this really was the Lucky Streak from Atlantic City.
Taking a deep breath, he waved to the old man and launched himself at the crowd in a bull-headed, obstinate manner. The current was fierce and tried to batter him off course, but his sense of direction was good and, at long last, he made it.
The idling bus sent a tremor through the soles of his feet that shook his whole body - or was that nerves? Eyes wide, he scanned the disembarking passengers. They looked weary, rumpled - and relieved. But none of them looked like Michelle.
"Pleasebethere, pleasebethere, pleasebethere..." Adam muttered. The surge became a trickle and the pile of bags and cases in the belly of the beast diminished. "No," he groaned. "Don't tell me..."
All at once, there was a buzzing from the pocket of his jeans. He jumped - and grinned. Pulling out his cell, he read the simple message. Behind you.
Adam spun round - and there was the smiling face of the girl he had missed more than even he realised over the last few weeks. She opened her mouth to greet him but the words never passed her lips. Adam leapt forwards and wrapped his arms around her in a hug so intense, it made him ache all over. Behind him, he was vaguely aware of a ripple of comic applause. Blushing, he let go.
"I know," she said. "I was the first off the bus, that's all. Thought it might be fun to surprise you."
"Haha," he whispered, cradling her head with his hands and rubbing her cheeks with his thumbs - an intimate gesture. A personal moment, right there in the middle of the most impersonal space in New York City. Their lips met and the world disappeared until, moments later - or was it hours? - she pulled away.
"We shouldn't be kissing like this," she murmured; words that were also just for him. "My boyfriend might see us."
"Tough guy, is he?" Adam whispered in her ear, enjoying the way that her head twitched.
"Tougher than he knows."
"Not right now," he giggled. "Right now, I think my legs have turned to jelly. You're the only thing holding me up."
"Good," she told him, full of glee. "Then you missed me?"
"Yes." The reply was simple. His eyes said the rest. Michelle stared at him and pulled back.
"Adam, what's the matter? Did something happen? Tell me."
"Oh - oh, no. It's just... I've been doing some thinking, okay? A lot of thinking."
"Is that bad?" she asked him, full of mock solemnity. Adam stroked her cheek again. He could stare at her face for hours.
"No. It's good. It's very good."
She caught her breath.
Standing behind Adam as he fumbled with the lock, Michelle tried to stay calm but his bright mood was infectious; fizzy like soda, and warm as a crackling fire. When the apartment door finally opened, he held out a gentle hand to hold her back. "Just... wait there, okay?"
"Okay," she agreed with unusual submission. This evening was important - she had no doubts about that by now - and she was more than willing to follow his lead. Adam was a considerate man but when he chose to assert himself, she always found it very... appealing. Her heart sang in her ears and she wondered whether he could hear it too, as he passed through the doorway and set her bags aside.
The apartment was dark and Adam soon disappeared into the shadows. Michelle clasped her hands together, trying to be patient. Seconds later, that patience was rewarded with a sight that made her gasp out loud. "Oh, Adam!"
Magic had touched the whole room. Strings of fairy lights were everywhere, lighting the apartment with a soft, multi-faceted glow, like a cave full of diamonds or a starlit night. In the corner, near the couch, Adam had placed a miniature Christmas tree that he had clearly dressed on his own, and none too clumsily, either. Its fragrant scent filled the air, mingled with a subtle hint of spice, and she breathed it in with pleasure.
Blinking, she stepped forward - and suddenly he was standing right in front of her, holding out his hand once more, in a welcoming gesture this time. "Merry Christmas," he whispered. "I'm so glad you're back." Do you like it? his blue eyes added urgently.
How much she loved it - and him - was impossible to state right now. It was almost as though they were having two separate conversations at the same time. The spoken one was delicate, restrained and full of affection - but the silent one! That spoke the truth, in shades of love and passion that went far beyond words. Michelle's heart beat even faster as she sensed the turning point was coming - the moment that would change their lives forever, one way or another.
"I was going to cook..." Adam mumbled, clasping her fingers in his own and pulling her into the centre of the room. "But the bus..."
"That's okay - I'm not hungry." Hungry for food, anyway. She devoured his gaze instead, waiting... waiting... Come on, Adam. You can do it. Don't be scared, she told him wordlessly.
Adam's hand slipped into his pocket. Letting go of her hand, he dropped down on one knee, like the gentleman she knew him to be.
Michelle stopped breathing altogether. Around her, the glow seemed to shimmer and dance as tears of anticipation stung her eyes.
"You're crying," he said in astonishment.
"No," she giggled, "no, I'm not."
"That's good. Me neither," he lied with adorable charm. "Michelle..."
"Yes," she breathed.
He opened the little velvet box. "Could you... would you marry me?"
"Oh, God." Now that the moment was here, she knew exactly what to do. Sinking to his level, she let him take out the ring and place it on her finger. "Yes. Of course I will. Yes, Adam. Who else could I possibly love more than you?"
He flushed and bowed his head. "You know, you're the best thing that ever happened to me..."
Michelle stared down at the delicate gold ring with its simple, well-cut diamond. "This is beautiful. Practically antique. Wherever did you find it?"
There was a strange look on Adam's face that she couldn't quite read. "It was my grandmother's. She left it to me in her will. I always thought... Well, I kept it, you see, for the right moment... She was good to me."
Reaching out with the ring on her finger, Michelle grasped the back of his neck and pulled him towards her. Kneeling, they kissed. When they paused for breath, she smiled at him.
"I accept," she said. As if she hadn't known she would from the moment that she saw him at the terminal and guessed his intention. No, even longer than that - from the moment they met.
Happy endings. Turned out, they were real after all and not just a fairy tale cliché.
Night fell, but the brightness in their hearts burned on and when dawn came, bringing Christmas morning, it was beautiful.
The crime lab was quiet and dark. Only a handful of people remained, enjoying the peace that sometimes came with the night shift. The limbo that fell between Christmas and New Year's Day was a curious time when crime levels dropped to a minimum and generosity of spirit seemed to pervade the whole city for a while.
Adam sat in the break room, bathed in the half-light that came from the city outside, and the silent corridor. In front of him was a mug of black coffee, several sheets of paper and the silver box, mended and resealed with a new lump of wax. He wrote on the notepaper busily, pausing every now and then to glance up and check that no one else was watching him.
In a week full of difficult decisions, this one had been surprisingly easy.
The ring that he had given to Michelle meant far more to him than Abe's magic ring, even with all of its power and possibilities. He had kept this one safe for years, tucked away in a drawer. And it looked pretty fine on her finger, he had to admit. Nana Beth - his mother's mother - had been the kind soul who made his troubled childhood far more bearable. Visits to her house had been like a trip to Heaven. Now her ring was on the finger of another angel, just as it should be.
Which, of course, left Adam with a new dilemma. What to do with the magic ring now that he could no longer use it himself? Should he bury it in unmarked ground? Toss it out into the Hudson? Somehow, that seemed like the wrong thing to do - and Adam was learning to trust his instincts implicitly, these days.
No, there had to be a better solution. Someone who could take it and use it for good, just as he had tried to do. One face hovered before him, even now and he smiled as he thought of her. In a sprawling, messy hand, he poured out the whole story for her eyes only. When the sheets were full, he folded them over, stuck them in an envelope and wrote a simple message on the front. Then he rose from his seat, picked up the box and left the break room, padding down the corridor on sure and silent feet.
Would Abe agree with his decision? Adam hoped so. The old man had trusted him with a precious gift and now it was his turn to pass it on with equal discretion. He had tried to track down the strange figure through the years, but every attempt had been met with failure. Abraham Nazar really was a man out of time, it seemed, and a mystery, now and for ever. But still he had managed to have a profound effect on Adam's life and the lives of those around him. The scraps of paper, Adam stuck back in the lining of the box. That was where they belonged, after all. This was no longer his story. He was handing it on to his friend and he couldn't wait to see what she would do with it.
The office was empty and dark; the two desks a startling contrast - one tidy and clean, the other one piled high with papers and post-its and goodness only knew what else. Moving round, Adam used his free hand to clear a space and set the box down in the middle with the letter on the top.
"Good luck, Jo," he whispered, setting his hand on the silver box one last time. Then he turned and left the room, and went home to Michelle.
As the dawn rose and the first rays of sunlight filtered through the windows of the crime lab, they lingered on Jo Danville's desk and Adam's scribbled message on the front of the envelope:
Be careful what you wish for...
A/N: The end! I'm really, really going to miss this story. That being said, I have left it open for a sequel later this year, if anyone is interested? My next fic will be up in a few weeks - a longer serial story involving the whole team, with Adam at the centre, of course.
Thank you so much to everyone who reviewed, favourited, followed or read this story. You made it such a wonderful experience, with your support and your kind comments. I hope that you enjoyed the ending. Smuffly in a romantic mood - doesn't often happen, but I had a lot of fun with this chapter!
See you soon!