Beneath the Mistletoe

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Oh, the holidays--when families travel thousands of miles to see each other, spend more than they can afford on presents, when everyone is forced to listen to every Christmas song in existence each time they enter a store until well into the new year. It can be a time of hardship, but the flying and the spending and the singing is all in a pursuit of something worth every penny: that feeling of warmth and excitement the moment they wake up on December 25th.

It's not something that anyone would expect to find in a hospital; the cold floors and white-washed walls don't lend itself well to the spirit of the season. Even the decorated trees seem sterile under the radiant lights. But for some, that isn't a roadblock that can't be passed.

For some, it's not the location that matters--just the destination.

"DADDY!" Korva cried as soon as Alesha gently pushed the door to the hospital room open. The sudden squeal nullified any attempt her mother had made trying not to wake up the entire wing--but the world outside this room was quickly forgotten as soon as Alesha saw her husband's smiling face.

The room was suddenly luminous; even Bradley, sitting tiredly in his wheelchair, felt a tickle at the corner of his eye when he saw his daughter running towards him with arms outstretched to meet his.

"Korey--oh, you look beautiful, sweetie," Brad choked, weakly raising his own hands to grasp hers when she reached him. "You all do," he remarked when he turned his gaze to the other two girls hanging behind Korva with tender smiles on their lips.

As Korva carefully began to crawl into his lap, the rest of the crew shuffled into Bradley's room with the door left carelessly open behind them. "Merry Chriss-miss, Daddy!" Korva whispered into his ear as he wrapped his arms around her, hers encircling his neck and nearly crushing his windpipe. "The bike is so so so so perfect. Everybody at school's gonna be soooo jealous."

"Careful Korey, you don't want to hurt him," Alesha mothered, but still barely giving her husband a chance to breathe as she swept in and planted a kiss on his lips.

"You guys are going to be the death of me." Bradley wheezed when they finally gave him some space. His eyes met Margo's and glimmered when he saw the care etched in her smile. She tried not to cry herself, but a familiar sniffle was unmistakable when she moved in and placed her arms around her mother's.

After almost a full minute, they finally pulled back--but only after Brad had exchanged hugs and kisses with all of them, of course. The break finally gave Margo's voice a chance to chime in with the rest. "Thank you so much for the camera, Daddy--I promise, I'll take lots and lots of pictures for you."

"Perfect." His gaze flickered quickly between both girls. "I can't say I got out much to do some shopping, but your mom is... very helpful." Alesha rolled her eyes and chuckled when she caught his teasing wink.


"Oh, why hello! Looks like the whole gang's already here... Should we come back later?" A light rapping sound on the door drew their attention to the entrance, where two gray-haired heads peeked around the corner with quizzical expressions.

"Meredith!" Alesha said sweetly, waving her hand to invite them to enter. "Jebidiah! No, no, of course not--the more the merrier. Merry Christmas!" She reluctantly drew herself away from Brad to extend them both a warm, greeting hug.

Without warning, Margo found herself in their embrace as well. "Oh you little beanpole--you're taller every time I see you." Meredith tutted at her when she finally released her from a tight squeeze. "You're going to be as tall as your grandfather soon if you don't quit sprouting."

"She would only be so lucky," Jebidiah retorted, one eyebrow raised. As he withdrew and rested his weight against the hospital bed, he added, "There's nothing wrong with a girl with some height to her. She's perfect just the way she is." Margo blushed as her grandfather wiggled his nose at his snarking wife.

As everyone began to attempt to make themselves comfortable in a room severely lacking in comforts, another bright-eyed face popped through the door.

"Oh, hey! Why did no one tell me there was a party going on?" Lilobot joked, inviting herself in with a springy step.

The room chuckled--except Alesha, who spoke up with a scolding tone. "Well, you would've known we'd be here if you'd checked your answering machine--I wanted you to meet us back at the house, first."

Lilobot cringed, her gears whirring distinctly louder while she shuffled towards the group. "Oh. I... must have forgotten. I am sorry, I--er--I had to go--there was this--"

"Don't worry about it sweetheart," Alesha smiled, shaking her head dismissively. "You're here now, that's all that matters. Get in here and make yourself at home... If you can." Unfortunately, as Alesha surveyed the room, she began to realize that there really wasn't much here to be at home with.

Except one thing: each other.

As time ticked on, more and more people began to make an appearance, and space to 'make yourself at home' quickly disappeared. The room was already cramped to begin with, but in order to fit the decorations in, a lot of seating had to be sacrificed. It left most of the "party guests" milling around the small floor space, almost like caged animals.

But that was not how anyone felt. As each tiny patch of real estate was taken by a  new smiling face, the entire room only grew brighter and brighter. Despite the cramped quarters, not a single appeared any less worse for wear--in fact, just the opposite.

You would never know such happiness could be found in such a stark, white world, but every person made the room less a hospital and more a home for every person there.

Well... with a few exceptions.

Within a couple of hours, most of the open air was traded in for a chance to be surrounded by family and friends. Even Brad's former co-workers made their appearance; not one person who cared for him wanted him to be alone, today.

Needless to say, as the last of Brad's worldly companions filled this little sardine can to the brim, Bradley was absolutely overwhelmed with emotion. It was exactly what he would have wished for.

Unfortunately, he wasn't the only one who was overwhelmed.

Despite how much she cared for every person there, Margo could feel the walls slowly opening their jaws to swallow her. Everywhere she moved, she bumped into someone; she couldn't even hear the sound of her breathing, losing all sense but the mingling voices that, combined, made a very odd and unintelligable conversation.

"There's not a lot of leeway, but if we're careful--"
"--so bright, did you decorate it your--"
"--great opportunity, but we have to decide if it's--"
"--found a way to integrate the module into--"
"--so fast and I really don't know how I'm--"
"--if that's okay with you!"

She had to get out of there.

She wondered: would they notice if she disappeared? Everyone was so enraptured that they had completely forgotten she existed; even Korva, her last choice of company, was captivated by every word out of Dad's  mouth, despite not understanding any of it. She wished she could be that fascinated too, but it was no use. Everyone had arrived to make sure her father didn't go thirsty, but now she was drowning.

"I'm going t-to go find a vending machine," she said as loudly as she could, but her light-headedness made everything, including her words, a blur to her senses. "Does anyone w-want anything?"

No response. She hadn't wanted one, but the emptiness it filled her with was so palpable she thought she might vomit.

Her retreat to the hall was too easy; no one saw her tiptoe away from the group, or how the door closed easily behind her. Each voice still continued to wash over her, but they were muffled enough that she could melt against the glass and be lulled out of her anxiety.

She was so relaxed that when a slight shuffle resonated a ways down the hall, her entire body snapped back to life, heart pounding. "H-hello?" she whimpered; hospitals spooked her on a good day, even when they were flooded with activity. Today, though--at least in this ward of the hospital--things were very quiet... almost haunting.

 However, the noise certainly wasn't a ghost. Margo felt silly once she realized source of the noise was just a boy--but fright quickly became confusion as she studied his features. "... Ian?"

His head whipped in her direction. She was still halfway down the hall, but she could already tell that his face had soured the moment he made eye contact. "Who else," he groaned, shifting his weight off the wall to take a few steps towards her.

"Why are you here?" she asked timidly,

"I have a better question--the hell is that on your head?" Ian scrunched his nose in disgust, raising his finger to point towards the top of her head.

Margo's eyelids began to flutter, befuddled. Was he serious? "They're... antlers? You know, reindeer antlers?" She gave her head a little shake and wiggle, causing the bells inside the ears to jingle.

He shook his head, turning to begin walking away. "... Right, okay."

"Now, your turn--" she prodded, not allowing him more than a couple feet of distance. "--why are you here?"

"What, is the hospital somehow out of bounds for me? Do you have to question everything I do?" His eyes seemed to growl at her; but when her face saddened, Ian grumbled and reluctantly obliged her request.

"If you must know, my Dad's decided his Christmas present to himself is to keep me out of trouble. He doesn't trust my Mom to keep an eye on me, so --" He waved his arms out in front of him, walking a few steps backwards to "present" the hospital. "--here I am, giving him a present: pretending for 24 hours that he can keep  me on a leash."

"That's... nice." It was an attempt to sound genuine, but Ian's chuckle mocked Margo's horrible lying prowess. "Well... where would you rather be?" she asked.

Ian scowled. "Anywhere but here."

"... Oh." Margo bit her lower lip. At this point, the conversation didn't appear as if it was going to go anywhere; Ian was clearly not in a good mood, and she was out of ideas. She was almost tempted to strike off and explore the hospital on her own, when: "... Oh!"

"Oh?" Although he didn't seem too interested, Ian had apparently surrendered to the fact he was stuck indulging Margo's whimsy. "... What?"

"Look up!"

"Uuh... okay?" Ian blinked a couple of times as he stared directly above them. "It's... a weed."

"Not just any weed--" Margo seemed to sing into her words, bouncing on her tiptoes to try and get a better look at the small sprig hanging from the cieling. "It's mistletoe!"

Ian's face could not have fallen faster. "You've gotta be kidding me," he groaned, taking a small step in retreat. "You better not be expecting anything."

Margo tilted her head back down to pout at him, but still maintaing a small smile. "But it's tradition!"

His entire body seemed to reel in rejection. "Yeah, a stupid one."

The way Ian seemed to treat her proposal like some sort of allergy destroyed all enthusiasm she had managed to muster. "I dunno," she said in a quiet, mousey voice. "It's kinda sweet, encouraging people to, I guess, be a little silly for a second or two."

For several moments, they were both silent, their gazes refusing to meet. She didn't want to feel insulted, but Margo couldn't help it; most of what she liked Ian thought was stupid; it was normally fine, but this one actually hurt. "I wish you didnt think it was stupid," she added weakly.

"Why?" Ian's brows furrowed, and his hands began speaking of disappointment as they moved wildly in front of him, enunciating his actual words. "Why does it matter what I think? If it makes you happy fantasizing about wiggling a branch over someone's head to have an excuse to exchange saliva, that's fine by me. Just dont expect me to care. My opinion shouldn't be important."

Margo finally looked back at him. "It's not that, it's..." Well, for a second at least. Her eyes quickly turn back towards the wall. "Nevermind."

Ian tapped his foot, now looking beyond annoyed. He hated when she did this. "No, you started--you gotta finish. Spit it out."

"Its.... this place." Margo shrugged, trying not to become emotional--and failing. "I hate coming here, Ian. I hate seeing my dad like this and I hate that my entire family has to box themselves up in a little room because we can't go anywhere else and still be together and I hate how they throw a few bows on the wall and pretend like this place isn't still full of sick people and dying people and crazy people and--"

Margo felt a brief tap on the side of her arm, snapping her out of her tirade. "Hey hey, calm down," Ian  murmured his voice an attempt at comforting. He let out a heavy sigh. "I dont get it though, how is mistletoe any different than the rest of that crap?"

She shrugged again, this time finally able to meet his gaze. "Everything else, its just stuff. More pretend holiday fluff. But mistletoe..." Her voice tapered off, pausing as she imagined all the invisible walls a hospital is built of. The illness, the death, the separation. "Its the one thing I can see in this place that doesn't drive people apart. It brings them together."

 Ian said nothing for a while; the longer he didn't, the more she wanted to run away. He though she was being silly, just like he thought mistletoe was silly. She knew it. "I know. I know, its stupid," she said, unable to hold back a small sob. "Its stupid and I shouldn't have told you. Just forget I said anything."

There was another pause, before his voice finally returned--this time, so devoid of annoyance it didn't even sound like him anymore. "No, it's fine," he said quietly, turning his head in shame. "I get it."

"Ian, i just..." Margo couldn't bottle it in anymore; she'd already let too much go. "I just wish it wasn't this way. Everyone keeps leaving, Ian. They're going to keep leaving. There's nothing I can do to stop it. I'm surrounded by everyone that loves me, but I've never felt more alone.'

'I know its wrong, I know I'm just being silly, I'm so lucky to have what I do but I'm so afraid to lose it all, I can't handle this all on my own, I'm not brave enough and I just can't--"

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas - Judy Garland (Click to Listen! ♫)

Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Let your heart be light,

Next year all our troubles will be
out of sight, 

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Make the yule-tide gay 

Next year all our troubles will be
miles away, 

Once again as in olden days
Happy golden days of yore

Faithful friends who are dear to us 
Will be near to us once more 

Someday soon, we all will be together
If the Fates allow 

Until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow 

So have yourself  

a merry little Christmas 
... now. 

A torrent of goosebumps flooded up Margo's arms and legs; his lips against her cheek made her shiver in a way that was foreign to her. So foreign it felt a little scary, but not enough to make her want it to stop. When it did, it felt like a weight had lifted off her chest--like the only thing left holding her down to earth was a string tied to her her feet.

As he pulled away, his nose brushed a few stray locks away from her ear. "You never have to be alone, Margo," he said gruffly--not without care, but with such an intense earnestness it could not be said in kindness. "Not if you don't want to be."

Her heart was beating so fast that when he had moved away, she couldn't register that any time had passed; everything was melting together. It wasn't real. It couldn't be. "I don't--I don't know what to--" She desperately tried to express, her fingers pressing against her cheek where his kiss had fallen.

He paused in his flight to turn and give her a surly smile. "Consider it a christmas present. Just don't tell anyone else, I don't want a reputation of helping damsels in distress, ya hear?"

 Margo laughed, almost squealing. "Uh, I..." Her lips stammered, almost incapable of words. "Don't worry--I d-don't think anyone would believe me if I tried."

Ian considered this for a moment, then nodded in agreement. "Huh. Yeah, probably not, but don't chance it." He gave her a sour look, but continued, jesting, "No good deed goes unpunished."

For a moment Margo thought he was turning to leave, but again, he halted in his tracks. This time, he twisted his head around far enough to look straight at her, making her knees reconsider their purpose in life.

"Ya know, there's something I just really don't get, about you. The things you make me do, Margo..." He seemed confused, speaking of her like a witch with a man under her spell. "The things you make me say... Nobody else can do that, ya know?"

She swallowed, unsure how she was supposed to feel about that. "I... no. No, I didn't know. Is that bad?"

Ian shrugged. "As long as you keep me in one piece... I guess not." He smirked and turned away. "See you later."

'Well... That doesn't sound too hard,' Margo thought to herself as she watched him close the door behind him.

Where he was going--she had no idea. Clearly he'd decided his promise to  his dad wasn't worth sticking around for, or maybe he just wanted to leave her feeling like he'd just ripped her heart from her chest and taken it for a ride on a ferris wheel. All things considered, she was okay with that. Of all the ways he'd left her before, this was definitely her favorite.

She turned to return back to the room where her family had undoubtedly still not noticed she had disappeared from. As she did, Margo considered something Ian had said. "You never have to be alone."

Margo wasn't sure if she believed him or not--she certainly couldn't always choose whether she was alone or not--but for now, it was a thought worth holding onto. The faces might change, friends and loves will always come and go, but not everyone. And, perhaps, not him.

Maybe she'd feel alone, but really, she never truly would be.


HEY GUIZ! So, this took forever and a day, and I'm sorry about that. I originally intended it to go up on Christmas Eve, but I guess 2 months late will just have to suffice. My writing is horribly rusty, but as you might know if you follow me on tumblr, I really enjoyed sneaking in some hints as to how this Season ends. If you remember to come back to this after the finale, I'll be interested to see if you guys can pick up on them. ;)

I want to apologize again--especially for how negligent I've been keeping up with what everyone else has been up to--but all is said and done, and the best I can do is keep coming back if I can. You guys are all truly amazing, and I love every single one of you guys. If you could cash in my debt of gratitude, you'd all be millionaires.

I hope all of you guys did have a wonderful holiday season, and continue to have an amazing year. I have a feeling 2013 is going to be a great one--so let's make it happen!
Cheers! ♥


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