Hot Chocolate Christmas Part 2

"Exactly how many people have been invited to Christmas tomorrow?" Emma inquired of her roommate while they poured four cups of hot chocolate.

"A few," the other woman answered as she dolloped whipped cream onto each.

The sheriff rolled her eyes, glancing at her deputy who was helping Henry go through some of the Christmas books Mary owned. John just looked down grinning.

"Mary," Emma continued sprinkling cinnamon on the cocoas, "you invited Leroy and Walter from the hospital."

The teacher sighed. "So it's several people; most of them don't have anyone else." She stuck a cinnamon stick in each mug. "Leroy, Walter, Archie, Marco, Granny, Ruby, Sean, Ashley, Alexandra, possibly Sean's father, a couple of friends of mine from work and a few from the hospital, you, John and me."

Emma shot her friend a look. "Dr. Whale isn't one of those you invited is he?"

John looked up at his boss's tone.

Mary grimaced. "No," she stated with finality.

The blond let out a relieved breath.

"I'm not a masochist, Emma," Mary told her chidingly.

"No, but you can be very soft hearted," her roommate told her.

John really wanting to understand what on earth was going on finally asked, "What's all this about Dr. Whale?"

"Emma says he's a tool," Henry told him, nearly causing Emma's cocoa to come out of her nose and Mary to almost drop the two mugs she was carrying over to John and the boy, "whatever that means." He shrugged. "I figure it's bad."

John and Henry took their mugs from Mary and the man and teacher both turned to the sheriff who was coughing into a paper towel.

"Let's not repeat that around the mayor, ok, kid?" Emma instructed him.

The boy shrugged uncaringly. "Sure."

John looked at Emma who directed his attention wordlessly to Mary; the dark haired woman shook her head in a "don't ask" gesture as she sipped her hot chocolate.

Mary settled onto the couch next to John, much to his pleasure, Emma sat down in the other couch with Henry.

"So, kid, which story were you thinking we start with first?"

Henry pulled up one from the large pile on the floor. "The Cajun Night Before Christmas."

The three adults looked at each other.

"Umm…" Mary began unsurely, "do either of you know how to do a good Cajun accent? Because that's why I never read this story to my class."

John shook his head. "I don't know, but I doubt it." They both turned to Emma. "What about you," he asked, "did you say you spent some time down in Louisiana?"

"Eh… Yeah, like…a month before I bolted out of there…not big on the swamp. Though Bourbon Street was quite the party," she added, a grin pulling at her lips.

Henry frowned. "What's Bourbon Street?"

John covered a laugh with a cough.

"Nothing you need to know about yet, kid," his mother assured him.

"Not for a good long while yet," Mary added wryly.

"Here," John reached out for the book, which Henry eagerly handed over to him, "I'll give it a try."

Over the next half hour they laughed themselves near silly as they each attempted to read the book.

Emma probably managed the best with John coming in second, though both had the others in stitches. Mary was the worst and the other three nearly fell out of their seats with laughter; she actually began swatting John with the book and scolding them all to stop; all the while laughing just as hard as them.

They finally got to the last page and Mary declared that it was time to bake the cookies. After Henry knocked over the carton of eggs (breaking three), and Emma and John caused a small flour explosion all over the kitchen counters and floor, and the two of them (Mary and Henry had ducked behind the counter in time) the cookies were finally in the oven. Emma had gone into her room to change; John had retrieved a spare set of clothes from the patrol car just outside and was in the bathroom changing while Mary and Henry cleaned up the kitchen a bit, both quite pleased with themselves that they had avoided the other two's fate.

Decorating the cookies ended up being little better in the tidiness department, though no one had to change clothes (Mary and Emma were still finding smears of icing a month later.)

"We're going to be handing him off to the mayor fairly well sugared up," Mary quietly commented to Emma as the boy snagged a fourth cookie, explaining to an amused John the difference between a fairytale and a legend.

The blond snorted. "Good, the kid deserves to have fun and that witch deserves whatever trouble may come of it." The sheriff leaned back against the counter, watching her son interact with the man who, if his fairytale theory was right, was his grandfather. Emma swiped a bit of whipped cream from her cocoa onto her finger and then licked it off. "John's good with kids," she commented to her roommate offhandedly.

Mary knew exactly what her friend was getting at and became quite interested in stirring her own hot chocolate with the cinnamon stick. "Yes he is." A light blush had crept into her cheeks.

Emma took a sip of her drink. "You've always wanted kids, haven't you?" She wasn't even bothering with subtlety anymore, and her eyes were sparkling with humor.

Mary rolled her eyes as she took a sip of her cocoa. "You know I have. And I thought that you were trying to keep us from getting too close?"

Emma shrugged. "His divorce is in the process of being finalized, when he's not working he's trying to spend time with one of us – most of the time you – and he can't take is eyes off of you whenever you're around." She blew on the hot drink. "At this point I think it's fairly safe to say that he is more or less yours." She paused in taking a sip of the cocoa. "And it is Christmas, and this year I'm feeling rather more…in the spirit than I usually do."

The blush staining the teacher's cheeks darkened a bit, but a rather smug smile touched her lips. She liked the sound of that, him being hers. Her eyes went to the man at the kitchen table with the boy.

John looked up at the same moment, his eyes meeting hers; he gave her that half-smile that made her insides quiver, her knees turn to mush and a not-unwelcome heat to stir in her veins.

Emma made a disgusted sound. "You two are unbelievable."

Mary just continued to watch the man at the table, whom she was beginning to think of as "hers", with a growing smile.

"Damn it, Leroy!" Emma growled, as she shoved the struggling, drunken janitor into one of the cells.

"He started it!" Leroy snarled in the direction of the man in the other cell.

"Oh, right, you hot head –" the other man growled back, as John locked the cell door.

"Shut up, Vince! Both of you need to cool it!" she snapped at them. She and her deputy headed over to their desks.

"It's Christmas Eve," John scowled at the imprisoned pair. "You'd think you both could cut each other some slack."

Shortly after Emma had returned from driving Henry home they had gotten a call about a fight at the bar that they needed to handle. They had managed to pull the two men apart and get them to the jail, but they were not unscathed.

Once they were out of hearing range John asked lowly, "How's the eye?" he gestured to where she'd taken an elbow.

Emma shook her head with annoyance. "It's fine, just a little irritated; it won't even bruise." She then frowned with concern. "How's the shoulder?" She'd noticed how little he was moving it and how stiffly he was holding himself. "Vince slammed you pretty hard."

John didn't want to show how much the still-rehabilitating joint was paining him in front of the two other men. He gritted his teeth. "I'm gonna need some ice, but I don't think any real damage was done."

Emma grimaced; she then reached into her pocket, dug out her keys and handed them to him. "My apartment is just around the corner; head over there. You can get some ice and, uh," she pointed to a few drops of blood on his shirt, "change before dinner."

"What about the paperwork on these two?" he didn't want to leave her with all the work.

Emma shook her head. "Don't worry about it; I'm only going to get the barebones started for these repeats before heading home."

He looked at her, a little unsurely. "Will this be ok with Mary?"

The sheriff shook her head. "She's not there; she'll still be at the hospital dropping off some gifts for the patients."

He nodded, trying to ignore the slight twinge of regret that Mary wasn't home, and accepted the offer. "Thanks."

"No problem."

He pulled a spare shirt from one of the drawers of his desk – even though he hadn't been on the job long he had begun keeping several changes of clothing in his desk, truck and the squad car in case of days like this one.

"See you later," he nodded to his boss, who gave him a wry smirk in return.

It was a short walk to Emma and Mary's apartment. He was surprisingly comfortable going in on his own; it seemed so natural to, gingerly, shrug out of his coat and toss it casually over one of the chairs in the sitting area. With the smell of the ham Mary had left to cook while she was out wafting through the air he could almost see her puttering around the kitchen or curled up on the couch with a book. This apartment was just so permeated with her, it made him feel like she was just around the corner; it was comforting.

He shook off his thoughts, turning his attention back to why he was here in the first place; he decided to take care of his shirt first and headed to the bathroom.

He flicked the light on as he entered and looked up in the mirror, feeling some relief at the fact that the man in the reflection at least was no longer a stranger to him. He rotated his jaw cautiously; he'd gotten swiped in it while wrestling Vince into the squad car. No pain. Now to move on to the hard part.

He tried moving his left arm and bit off several curses at the pain that radiated from his still healing shoulder; it was painful but doable. He fumbled through undoing the buttons on his plaid shirt, but eventually managed. He grunted in pain as he worked the shirt over his injured shoulder, gritting his teeth through it. Once that was accomplished he tossed the shirt to drape over the toilet seat; since this apartment was inhabited by two women the lid was down.

He reached over with his right hand to experimentally massage the offended joint. He let out a groan of pain as he turned and leaned back against the sink, closing his eyes. Damn that hurt!

A gasp in front of him had his eyes snapping open to come face to face with Mary standing in the door. He was frozen in place, unsure of what to do, but then he noticed that her eyes weren't looking directly at him but at his shoulder. The scars. John looked down at the long, deep marks that bisected his shoulder and the shorter deeper one in his side. He'd been told they'd all been quite deep and it had taken the doctors a while to stitch him up.

He looked back up at Mary, who was still staring at his shoulder with horrified worry. "I'd say they weren't as bad as they looked, but I'm pretty sure that's a lie," he tried to joke.

Mary had come home to the sound of someone rustling around in the bathroom; she'd gone to investigate, growing concerned when she heard the pained groan. She'd been quite distracted at first at the sight of John shirtless, but when he'd lowered his hand from his shoulder she'd seen the scars. The long lines that crisscrossed his shoulder – no wonder it was giving him trouble! – and another that was in his side that, while shorter than the others, looked much deeper. How that must have hurt –

Red, so much red… "No," she sobbed. His white shirt stained with his blood, so much blood. She staggered to him, kneeling beside him, taking his face in her hands, whispering "no" over and over; willing it not be so. Her heart, already in tatters from giving up their daughter, was being ripped out of her chest at seeing the man she loved lying so still. "Please, please come back to me…" she begged.

This wasn't how it was supposed to end…

"I'd say they weren't as bad as they looked, but I'm pretty sure that's a lie."

The image of John, dressed in a blood stained white tunic and black leather pants and boots, lying on the floor, still as death faded along with her long hair and flowing white dress. But the gut wrenching fear didn't. She could hardly breathe. She didn't know what that all was but it had felt so real and the emotions were so hard to shake. Her hand rose of its own accord, reaching out to touch his chest.

"Mary –" his voice was lost the moment her fingers made contact with his skin.

He was warm, so warm, and so alive. The bands around her chest loosened and she could breathe again. Her hand spread on his chest and she felt the beat of his heart strum through her hand, reassuring and real. Her hand skimmed up to his shoulder where the scars were and she traced each one, they hadn't taken him from her, he was here; he wasn't dead.

Her hand moved down to touch the final scar, but was halted by the firm grasp of John's. His touch snapped her out of whatever had possessed her in that moment; her heart was pounding in her chest. She couldn't believe what she had done, touching so intimately a man whom, while she knew she had strong feelings for him and that they were returned, she had no right to do so. Where had she gotten such daring? And why had it felt so natural to do so, as if she had every right to touch him?

"Mary." Heat flooded her veins at the desire in his voice. Oh, Lord.

She knew it was a bad idea, but she lifted her eyes to his. Her breath caught in her chest at the intensity of his stare. "John." Was that her voice? It was so breathy and there was such an ache, a yearning, in it.

He seemed to be trying to fight with himself. He's trying to do the damned honorable thing, that voice in her mind was such a mixture of amusement and frustration, and honestly she couldn't help but agree with the sentiment behind the emotions. Emma – over protective Emma – had pointed out that afternoon that he was as good as divorced; he no longer was married in any of the ways that really mattered. For once Mary wanted to follow her heart and emotions rather than doing the "right" thing.

She let go of all the reasons to walk away from this, reached her free hand up to his neck, pulling his head down, as she rose up on her toes. Their lips met; she moaned at the contact. They parted their lips and deepened the kiss, seeming to pick right up where they'd left off in the hallway.

John groaned, pulling her flush against him, his hands on her hips; his thumbs slipped under the hem of her shirt to brush against the skin there. She moaned into his mouth, wrapping both her arms around his neck, trying to pull herself even closer to him.

He wrapped his good arm around her waist tighter and lifted her off her feet, turned them both and settled her down on the edge of the sink. He moved between her legs, bringing them into very intimate contact and causing her to gasp.

His lips followed the line of her jaw. "Mary," he whispered into her ear.

"John," she breathed in return, which became another gasp as he pressed his lips to the sensitive skin behind her ear, swirling his tongue over it. Her hands slid into his hair, gently tugging on the strands. She angled her head to bring her own lips into contact with the underside of his jaw, gently nibbling on the skin there; he moaned in appreciation. His hand slipped under her shirt, sliding up her side to tease along the bottom edge of her bra.

The front door slammed shut.

"Hey! Anybody home?"

In that moment, for the first time since Emma moved in, Mary was actually regretting having a roommate.

Mary cleared her throat. "Yeah, hold on!"

John had removed his hand from under her shirt; he now used it to brace against the wall above her head, staring at it over her shoulder.

"Is it wrong that I'm wishing her on the other side of town at the moment?" he asked quietly, frustration thick in his voice.

Mary managed to choke down the laughter that wanted to bubble up. "You're not the only one," she assured him.

Her right hand rose to cup his jaw; she leaned in and pressed a kiss to the scar on the other side of his chin.

His eyes turned to her. "You seem very interested in that scar," he commented, trying to distract them both.

She canted her head to the side, running a finger over it. "Mm." She frowned contemplatively. "I don't know why, but it feels right." She raised an eyebrow at him. "Do you have a problem with that?"

He smirked. "Anything that involves more contact with you, particularly you kissing me, I have no problem with," he assured her.

A light blush stole over her cheeks but she continued to smile at him. "I'd better go out there before she gets suspicious."

He reluctantly stepped away, allowing her to slide off the sink and pass him. "I'll be out there…in a while."

Mary bit her lip, trying to stifle the rather smug smile that wanted to cross her face; she felt bad that he was in such a state, but felt proud that she was the one who had put him in that "state". "All right. Dinner should be ready shortly, and I'll get you an ice pack for that shoulder," she added as she made her way around the corner.

Emma was already sipping a cup of hot chocolate, staring rather fixedly at the counter top.

Mary's eyes narrowed, taking in her friend's stiff form. "I take it you saw us?"

Emma lifted her eyes. "As far as I'm concerned I came through that door about three minutes ago and I did not find my roommate necking with my deputy in the bathroom."

The dark haired woman squeezed her eyes shut in mortification.

"Can't the two of you take it somewhere that I'm not at risk of walking in on you? I'm really not big on voyeurism," the blond told her snarkily. "Though, one thing I will give you."

Mary opened her eyes again warily.

Emma was smirking. "He is quite a fine example of the male species."

Mary dropped her face into her hands with a groan.

The blond continued to grin like the Cheshire cat. "If I wasn't totally not attracted to him I might actually have enjoyed that."

Mary threw a cinnamon stick at her friend, who batted it away, smirking.

John chose that moment to walk in; both women looked at each other and ended up leaning heavily on the island, laughing heartily.

He raised an eyebrow at the pair. "Do I want to know?"

"No," was the resounding, simultaneous answer from the two women.

He eyed them warily. "Right…"

Their dishes were in the sink, dinner had, naturally, been fantastic. Now they were just sitting around drinking cups of coffee and playing rounds of Hangman; at the moment it was between John and Mary, with the teacher trying to guess.

Her face was screwed up in a confused frown as she studied the letters. "J?"

"Nope," he crossed the letter off the paper and added another part to the hangman before sitting back again, trying to contain his amusement.

Emma was returning to the table from getting another cup; she looked over Mary's shoulder at the puzzle, taking in the few letters that were filled in. She frowned thoughtfully for a moment before she snorted and looked at John with raised eyebrows. "Seriously?"

His eyes were brimming with humor and he tapped his right index finger to his lips, signaling for her to keep silent.

Mary looked up at her roommate, who was shaking her head as she took a drink. "You figured it out?"

"Mm hmm," the sheriff nodded as she sat down, looking like she wanted to burst out laughing.

The dark haired woman frowned deeper, turning back to the puzzle. "I don't know…M?"

He grinned broadly taking the pad from her. "Mm hmm," he confirmed. "Two of 'em." The moment that he filled them in her face broke into an embarrassed grin and she laughed as she buried her face in her hands.

He chuckled, "Get it yet?"

"Yes," she groaned. "And I'm completely mortified…"

Emma was now laughing with them.

"I almost hanged on my own name," Mary looked up at the other two.

"Don't worry I would never have let you hang. I would have added toes, a hat, maybe a horse," he teased her.

Emma scoffed into her mug. "You two aren't going to start, are you?"

"What? 'Verbally copulating'?" John quoted back at her.

She rolled her eyes, glancing at her watch. "Hmm," she quickly downed the rest of her coffee, "I have to go." She stood up and headed toward the door.

The couple glanced at each other before looking back at her.

"Emma, where are you going?" Mary asked, confused.

Emma swiped a book that was lying on the counter and held it up for them to see. "It's Christmas Eve and I've got a kid to read a bedtime story to."

Both of her friends' eyebrows rose exceedingly high on their foreheads.

"I get the feeling the mayor doesn't know you're coming over?" John inquired.

"Nope," the blond woman confirmed.

"Do we want to know how you're going to accomplish this?" Mary asked warily.

"Mm mm," her roommate pressed her lips together and shook her head negatively.

"Are you at least going to leave your badge in the car before committing B&E?" John asked dryly.

"Actually," she told him rather cheerfully as she removed her badge, holding it up for them to see, "I'm going to leave it right here with you guys." She set the item down on the island counter and headed for the door. "Don't wait up for me," she told them as she headed out the door.

Mary closed her eyes and John rubbed the back of his neck, ruefully.

"Are you running through all the ways this could go wrong, like I am?" he looked at the woman beside him.

Her eyelids lifted and her eyes turned to him. "Yes, along with wondering how we're going to bail her out of it if it comes to that."

Henry lay in bed staring at the wall, he'd been sent to bed a while ago and the Evil Queen would have turned in for the night by this point. But it was Christmas Eve and even though that meant little to the Mayor, it was still a special night for a kid and it was rather difficult for him to sleep.

There was a light tap on his window; he frowned, there weren't any trees close enough to hit his window.

He climbed out of bed and went to the window; his jaw dropped at what he saw and he flew to the window, opening it.

"Emma, what'er you doing here?"

His mom was crouched just outside the window, giving him a half-smile; she climbed into his room once he stepped back. "Well, it's Christmas Eve, and I figured that a kid should get a bedtime story on Christmas Eve."

His eyes went wide. "Really?"

"Really, kid."

His face was alight. "What are you gonna read to me?"

She reached into the back of her waistband and pulled out the book she had borrowed from Mary's pile and showed it to him.

"The Night Before Christmas." He grinned up at her.

She shrugged. "I figured, why mess with the classics?"

Henry grabbed her hand and dragged her over to his bed; he climbed under the covers leaving room for her to sit beside him, which she obliged him. He then pushed the book back into her hands and leaned into her side, his head coming to rest on her shoulder; her own arm came up to curve naturally around his shoulders.

Once they were settled she opened the book to the first page. "T'was the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse."

The words of the old poem flowed through the room, wrapping them in a comfort that had been missing from the holiday for the both of them, until now.

"The children were nestled all snug in their beds, while visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads."


"Yeah, Henry?"

"What are sugar plums?"

"I've no idea."

"Oh, ok."

"And Mamma in her 'kerchief…"

After Emma left, Mary and John finished their coffee; they then decided to have a cup of cocoa.

Mary moved around the kitchen, heating the milk and pulling out the cocoa and cinnamon. John leaned against the counter of the island, watching her putter around.

Snow looked at him over her shoulder from the stove, her eyes sparkling with humor and a sassy grin on her face. "Don't worry you're going to like hot chocolate the way I make it."

John blinked and Mary stood in front of him once again, hair short and skirt knee-length. He rubbed a hand across his eyes. These flashes that he was getting had been happening a lot more frequently lately; it was really disorienting and had him questioning even more the possible validity of Henry's theory.


He looked up at Mary's concerned voice; she was frowning worriedly.

"Are you ok?"

He smiled at her reassuringly. "I'm fine."

It took a beat, but she nodded and went back to preparing the hot chocolate. She dropped a cinnamon stick into each; she slid his mug across the counter to him.

He reached out and wrapped his hand around the cup, catching her hand in his grasp as well. "Mary…"

Her eyes slowly lifted to meet his, biting her lip. "John."

He took a deep breath, bracing himself. "What happened in the bathroom…"

Mary swallowed thickly. "Do you…" She looked down, worrying her lip nearly raw. "Do you regret…"

"Never," he told her fiercely.

Her eyes snapped back up to him, seeing that his words were earnest in the intensity of his gaze; that soothed her insecurities substantially. She took a deep breath. "What?"

He removed her hand from his cup and took it in both of his, studying her long, delicate fingers. "I want you, Mary."

Her heart skipped a beat at his stark words; her breath catching in her chest.

He twisted the ring on her finger, watching the light play off of the gem. "I want this." They both knew what he meant. He brought her arm toward him, and kissed the inside of her wrist; he then pressed the back of her hand to his cheek, closing his eyes. "But…" he opened his eyes again, looking into hers, "I made a promise to myself and to Emma that I wouldn't start anything with you until I had finished things, entirely, with Kathryn."

Her breath was a little unsteady; she attempted to calm it as she came around the island to stand next to him. "According to Emma today…" She swallowed. "She said that you're mine."

His thumb caressed the inside of her wrist. "I am," he confirmed simply; his eyes bore into her. "Are you mine?"

She couldn't look away, caught by his gaze as she nodded. "Yes," she breathed.

He brushed his lips across her knuckles, the look in his eyes causing her heart to squeeze in her chest. "I want us to start right. Nothing that anyone can twist. Nothing to stand between us."

Her breath caught; she bit her lip, looking at him. "Have you ever seen White Christmas?"

A corner of his lips curled up. "I don't know."

She grinned at him.

"He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work…"

Henry's eyes had steadily been lowering throughout the story. The combination of his mom's voice softly rolling over the familiar words and her heartbeat steady and comforting under his ear, lulling him to sleep. He felt so safe, so loved; this was how home was supposed to feel, he somehow knew.

Her fingers were gently running through his hair, the feeling further drawing him toward sleep.

"But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight, 'Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good-night.'"

"The end," he mumbled sleepily.

Emma looked down at her son, his eyes were closed. "The end," she agreed quietly. She pressed a kiss to the top of his head. "Merry Christmas, Henry."

"Mm… Merry Christmas, Mom," he mumbled back as he drifted into the land of dreams, not feeling his mother go still beside him, or the hitch in her breathing.

Emma was blinking furiously; she swallowed hard, trying to keep the tears at bay. She set the book aside and, rather than immediately leaving, stayed where she was, watching her son sleep. The emotions rushing through her terrified her in their strength; emotions that she didn't recognize but in a strange way made her feel like missing pieces of herself were being put back into place. Part of her wanted to run from this frightening feeling of being bound even more tightly to this child, but a strong protectiveness reared up and roared against hurting her son in such a way and killed the idea before it could even really form.

Emma wasn't sure how long she sat there watching her son sleep but fatigue began to drag at her eyes, so she knew she had to leave; it wouldn't do for their witch of a mayor to catch her. She pressed another kiss to Henry's head as she carefully slipped away; she climbed back out of the window, closing it behind her and carefully climbing back down the house.

The drive back home – it was interesting thinking of somewhere as "home", she'd never thought of any place she'd lived before as "home" – was quiet, the streets empty due to the late hour. As she unlocked her door she wondered what she would be walking into, having left Mary and John alone.

On the TV screen two men dressed in Santa costumes and two women in red dresses lined with white fur sang beside a tall Christmas tree about dreaming of a "white Christmas". Emma, not seeing anyone, moved over to switch the movie off; when she came around the couch she looked down for a moment and raised her eyebrows.

John was lying stretched out on his back on the couch with Mary lying on top of him, wrapped in his arms; both fully clothed – much to her surprise and relief – and fast asleep.

Emma's lips quirked up in one corner and the rather sweet picture they made; she shut off the TV and DVD player. She then picked up a blanket from the back of the other couch and – in a rather uncharacteristically tender gesture – spread it over her two friends. She looked at the couple a moment longer, and then shook her head with a small smile on her lips turning to her room. They had a long day tomorrow and she needed to get some sleep.

John's became aware of a weight on his chest, a head resting on his right shoulder and an arm draped over his chest; his own arms were wrapped around the small form. His eyes slowly slid open, blinking back the bleariness from sleep. He frowned for a moment at the unfamiliar ceiling and the narrow surface he was lying on, confused as to where he was. Then he remembered that he had come over to Mary and Emma's for dinner; he and Mary had settled down to watch a movie, which became rather fuzzy after a point. His gaze drifted down to see the crown of dark hair nestled under his chin; Mary's eyelashes were two sooty crescents on her cheeks, her face was relaxed, serene in sleep. A sense of absolute rightness settled in him at waking with her in his arms, as if this had happened hundreds of times; as if he was meant to always wake up with her.

Mary took a deep breath, her nose scrunching up as she began to stir; it was an absolutely adorable gesture and he couldn't help pressing a kiss to her nose. Her eyes fluttered open; they widened momentarily at seeing him.

"Morning," he greeted quietly.

She blinked a few more times, seeming to try and sort everything; she looked around, a little disoriented.

"I think we fell asleep watching the movie," he told her.

"Oh." Understanding came over her face. She looked at him for a few moments longer, and then snuggled back into his embrace. "Merry Christmas, John."

He grinned. "Merry Christmas, Mary."

She let out a contented sigh. "Can we just stay here for the rest of the day?"

John laughed softly. "I'd like that, but don't you have guests coming?"

Mary groaned, burying her face in his shoulder. "Yes." She gave a reluctant sigh this time. "I have to get up and start the turkey."

"I think that would probably be a good thing since we don't want everyone to starve," he gently teased.

"All right," she acquiesced; she began to push herself up, but his arms didn't give. She looked down at him frowning. "I can't get up if you don't let me go."

"True, and that's a problem since I have no real desire to do that," humor glinted in his eyes.

Mary raised an eyebrow. "We just covered that I have to get up to get things ready for the guests."

"Hmm," he nodded in mock thought. "Well, I guess I could manage it if…"

She narrowed her eyes. "'If'?"

He brought his head up to hers, their noses touching. "If I have a kiss to hold me over."

A grin pulled at her lips as she rolled her eyes. "I thought that we were going to hold off on that until your divorce was finalized?"

John brought his hand up to cup the back of her head. "It's Christmas," he stated simply, as if that was all the explanation needed.

"Well," Mary began laughingly, "I suppose that we could manage a small one." She allowed the gentle pressure from his hand to pull her lips down to his.

The kiss wasn't the frenzied passion of the day before; this was a slow comfortable one that bespoke more love and affection than lust. When Mary went to reluctantly pull away she found John holding her to him. She was smiling against his lips while she kept trying to pull away, but he wasn't allowing it, playfully not releasing the kiss; she felt his lips curve against her own.

"John," her chastisement was muffled by their lips being still engaged.

John couldn't help teasing her in this way; it felt comfortable, familiar. "What's the matter, Mary?" he asked, their lips still together.

She gave a helpless giggle.

He wanted to hear her laugh; she didn't laugh nearly enough with all the worries and burdens on her shoulders. He didn't know how he knew, but his hands moved to tickle her sides sending her into a fit of full laughter.

"John!" she cried out between laughs.

His own laughter joined hers, loving the sound of her mirth.

A groan and a, "Really?" had them halting and both of their heads popping up to look over the back of the couch.

Emma was blinking at them blearily. "I guess at least this time I'm not walking in on you two making out again." She shuffled over to make coffee, leaving her roommate blushing and her deputy clearing his throat.

John had finally released Mary and she got up, moving around the couch to the kitchen; John followed her.

The teacher began pulling things out of the fridge for the meal later in the day. "So how did things go with Henry last night?"

Emma was staring at the coffee maker. "Good, Madam Mayor never even knew I was there."

"Good to know I'm not going to be arresting my boss," John joked.

The caffeinated beverage had finished dripping and Emma pulled the pot out and poured them each a cup.

The sheriff then lifted her mug and took a sip. "Not today anyway," she muttered. She narrowed her eyes at her two friends. "You're both morning people?"

They looked up at Emma, glanced at each other and then looked back at her, shrugging.

She made a disgusted sound and shuffled back toward her room. "I'm gonna get ready; I get dibs on the shower."

John watched his boss leave, eyebrows raised; he then turned to Mary. "Is she like that every morning?"

The dark haired woman nodded. "Oh, yes." Her lips twitched as she began the food preparations. "I believe the first words from her lips to me, her first morning living here were, 'You're awake. I hate you.'"

John nearly choked on his coffee; he accepted the dishcloth Mary handed him. "How do you two manage?"


He chuckled at her concise answer.

"Since I'm the first one up normally, I have a pot waiting for her; this usually keeps her fairly satisfied and soothes any ruffled feathers at my being much more alert than her."

He nodded, toasting her with his mug. "Well played."

She reached into the freezer. "Indeed." She pulled out an icepack, wrapped it in a dishtowel and handed it to him. "Sleeping on a couch didn't do your shoulder any favors."

He'd hoped that she hadn't noticed how stiffly he had been moving it, but he should have known that she'd see. "Thank you."

Mary helped him settle the icepack into place. "We'll see about doing some of those exercises that your physical therapist wants you to do a little later; that should help loosen it up a bit."

He grimaced at the thought. "Do I get any say in this?"

"No," she informed him, heading back to cooking.

He shook his head ruefully, taking another drink.

A little while later Emma reemerged, dressed and alert.

"Feel better?" Mary inquired.

Emma rolled her eyes at her roommate's teasing. "I'll feel even better after another cup of coffee." She saucily held up her now empty mug, making a beeline for the pot. "Merry Christmas, by the way."

"Merry Christmas," they both returned.

Mary put the turkey into the oven, setting the timer; she then turned back to Emma, hands on her hips. "Are you going to be releasing Leroy in time to attend the party?"

The sheriff shrugged, blowing on her drink. "I'm more inclined to let him out than Vince; that's for sure. He didn't put up half the fight that Vince did and didn't cause a tenth of the damage."

The teacher canted her head to the side. "Is that a yes?"

Emma pursed her lips thoughtfully for a moment, and then shrugged. "Sure. Why not?"

"Good," the other woman nodded firmly, turning back to the food.

Sheriff and deputy looked at each other in shared amusement.

The blond woman leaned against the island. "How's the shoulder?"

John gave a one-shouldered shrug. "Sore and stiff." He took a sip of his coffee, his lips twitching in amusement. "Mary has informed me that we're going to be doing the exercises that my therapist set on me."

Emma smirked. "Sucks to be you."

He picked up one of the crumpled pieces of paper from their hangman games last night and tossed it at her; she swatted it before it hit her, grinning.

She stood and grabbed her keys. "I'm going to let Leroy out, and possibly Vince."

"Need a hand?" John shifted to stand from his stool.

"Nah," she shook her head, and then smirked. "You need to get ready for those exercises."

He groaned to her laughter echoing as she closed the door behind her.

A couple of hours later John was groaning in pain from working his shoulder, which was screaming abuse at him. "I think you broke me." His eyes cut in a put-upon pitiful manner to Mary.

She rolled her eyes, humor twinkling in her eyes. "It isn't that bad. And your shoulder is moving a lot better."

He rotated his arm, grimacing at the aching pull of the still-sore muscles, but she was right that much of the stiffness was gone and he had more range of motion. He massaged the joint, trying to ease some of the discomfort.

"Here," Mary set down the spoon she had been using to mix the stuffing, and walked over to him, "let me do that."

John let his hand fall away to be replaced by her smaller ones. For all their delicacy her hands proved to be quite capable in working the knots out of the muscles and rubbing away some of the soreness in the tendons. He let his head fall back, closing his eyes, with an appreciative groan.

A surprisingly familiar impish smile spread across her face. "Well, this is interesting. It's not every day that I have a man turn to putty under my hands."

He let out a chuckle. "That's good to hear; any time that you want to have the experience again I'm quite happy to volunteer."

She gave a breathy laugh.

His eyes opened to look up at her and he reached up to entwine his fingers with those of one of her hands.

Mary felt her breath catch at the look in his eyes; the intensity and emotions there.

"Thank you," he told her intently, stroking his thumb over the back of her hand.

She bit her lip, smiling, and reached her free hand to run through his hair. He closed his eyes and leaned into her touch. Both of them basked in the moment of tenderness and peace between them.

Keys scraping against the lock had them pulling apart a bit, though Mary left her hand resting on his shoulder with his still tangled with it; they both looked to the door.

Emma stepped through followed closely by a, as usual, gruff, but also rather sheepish looking, Leroy.

Mary smiled at them both. "Leroy I didn't expect you until later."

"Community service," Emma told her sardonically. "He's going to help us prepare for the party."

"How very kind!" Mary smiled at the man brightly. "Thank you Leroy."

The gruff man blushed and looked down. "It's nothing," he mumbled, abashed. "What can I do?"

Mary stepped away from John and led the janitor to a few things that needed to be done before the party.

John and Emma bit back grins at how Mary so easily charmed the usually surly man and had him bending to her every whim.

About an hour later there was a knock on the door, which was revealed to be Granny and Ruby.

"We decided to come and see if there was any way we could help with the preparations," the older woman stated, though from Ruby's expression it was more Granny's idea than hers. "And I brought my sweet potatoes." She held up the dish she was carrying.

Mary smiled at them warmly, accepting the proffered dish and letting the women inside. "Thank you. I could certainly use some help cooking, it you want."

Granny joined Mary in the kitchen while Ruby wandered over to the sitting area where John, Emma and Leroy were sitting around the coffee table with a deck of cards.

"Whatcha playing?" she settled down on the floor next to Emma.

"Well, we just finished a round of poker," John told her. "What are you up for?"

The young woman smirked. "Anything."

Half an hour later another knock echoed through the room; this time it was Emma's turn to answer the door, she kept her cards with her claiming that the others weren't to be trusted. She opened to door to Marco, Archie and Pongo.

"Hey, guys," she opened to door wider to let them in. "Merry Christmas."

They responded in kind.

"I hope it's all right that we came so early," the therapist said.

"Of course," Mary assured him from her position in the kitchen. She moved over to accept the two bottles of wine from the two men.

"Thank you very much, Mary Margaret and Emma for the invitation," Marco said gratefully. "Since my wife passed the holidays haven't been the same."

Mary reached out to clasp the hand of the older man. "We're glad to have you all."

"No we're not," Emma countered.

Mary swatted her roommate who smirked in return.

The blond woman turned to the two men. "Do you guys want something to drink?" She headed into the kitchen to gather their requests; Mary shooed the pair toward the sitting area to join the others. The dark haired woman leveled a threatening spoon in Emma's direction, warning her to get the drinks and skedaddle out of the kitchen, to which her roommate responded, "Why would I want to stay?" She dodged a dish towel snapped in her direction.

People trickled in throughout the day; soon the apartment was filled with people laughing, chatting, and milling about, occasionally broken by a call of "B.S." from the card game still going on.

Just a little before lunch Sean, Ashley and Sean's dad showed up at the door, Alexandra in tow.

"Mary!" Ashley exclaimed, an impossibly wide smiled on her face. "Look!" She held out her hand for the teacher to see. "Sean got me an engagement ring!"

Mary gasped, "Oh, Ashley! It's beautiful!" She reached out to take the younger woman's hand to look closer at the shimmering ring.

"Isn't it wonderful!" Ella was glowing.

She smiled widely at her friend. "It's perfect," she agreed. The emerald on her own engagement ring flashed in the firelight.


The dark haired woman blinked several times to see the younger woman looking at her with concern.

"Are you all right?"

"Yes, I'm – I'm fine." She quickly smiled at her brightly, looking back down at the jewel. "It's perfect."

Ashley was once again buoyant; she looked at her fiancée over her shoulder. "Yes."

Mary grinned at Sean. "I believe that can be translated as you did well in choosing the ring," she teased him.

The young man grinned broadly, cradling his daughter against his chest in one arm, with his other around Ashley.

Emma strode over to them.

"Emma, look!" Ashley held her hand out for the sheriff to see.

The older woman eyed the ring with raised eyebrows. "Nice rock."

There were sounds of choked laughter.

Mary rolled her eyes skyward. "You're such a romantic, Emma."

Her roommate smirked back at her; she then turned back to the young couple. "Congrats you two. Now, can I get you some eggnog?"

Emma was standing off to the side, watching everyone; she'd never experienced something like this party before. And somehow she got the feeling that none of them had either. Laughter and joy resounded in the room. Hope, something that seemed so lacking in the town, flowed in the room.

"What're you thinking?"

She turned at the resonant tones next to her; she gave John a half-shrug. "Just thinking that I don't think I have seen these people this happy in the whole time I've been here."

He looked around the room, seeing the smiles; maybe some of them weren't as bright as others, but Emma had a point. "I think you're right." He glanced at her.

She shook her head, a little wonderingly. "With all of the lonely people in this town; it's almost like…" she trailed off, scrunching her face up and closing her eyes.

He smirked. "A curse?" John offered.

She rubbed her forehead, still wincing. "I think I've been spending too much time with Henry."

John shrugged. "I don't know. You're right about the fact that there really are a lot of people in this town who don't have anyone and who are lacking real hope."

They looked back at the gathering.

"Well, for today at least," he continued, "they have some hope and others to celebrate with."

"Ok, everybody!" Mary called, drawing everyone's attention. "Dinner is ready!"

They began to line up, waiting their turn for dinner. Emma and John remained off to the side, waiting for everyone else to go.

Everyone scattered about the apartment, sitting on the couches, kitchen table chairs, stairs and floor.

Emma and John finally wove through the kitchen along with Mary, dishing food onto their plates. Emma hopped up to sit on the counter; she patted the spot next to her for Mary, who looked at her dubiously. The sheriff rolled her eyes. "Come on, Mary, cut loose a little."

The dark haired woman pressed her lips together for a moment and then seemed to make a decision and pushed herself up to sit next to her roommate. John leaned against the counter beside them.

"Excuse me," they could just hear Archie over the din. "Excuse me!" he called a little louder.

The conversations tapered off and heads turned to the therapist who stood, glass in hand. "I'd like to propose a toast."

There were a few mock groans, but everyone took their glasses in hand.

"To Mary and Emma," he turned to the two women who both looked quite uncomfortable at being put on the spot, "for hosting us for this day and making this a better Christmas than many of us thought we would have."

There were several "here, here"s.

"Thank you both. And merry Christmas," Archie finished.

The group toasted the pair and echoed the holiday sentiment.

Both women were most definitely uncomfortable, but Mary smiled and managed a small wave, which Emma did as well, after her roommate elbowed her.

The rest of the night passed with little incidence – there was one moment when one of the hospital orderlies, who'd had one too many, got up on the coffee table and threatened a strip tease, but the disaster was averted (no one wanted to see him naked). People began to trickle out at about eight o'clock with Ashley, Sean and his father being among the first since they needed to get Alexandra in bed; by ten the only people remaining apart from Emma, Mary and John were Granny, Ruby, Archie, Marco and Leroy. Granny and Archie were helping Mary clean up the kitchen while the rest gave Emma and John a hand straightening up the rest of the apartment a bit.

Finally Marco and Archie made their way out, bidding them a cheerful farewell. Granny and Ruby followed soon after wishing them a merry Christmas. Emma then offered Leroy a ride home since the man's car was still parked at the bar and he probably shouldn't be driving anyway.

John helped Mary covering the leftovers and putting them into the fridge. Music was still playing over the stereo. He watched as she stored away the last dish; he then reached over and turned the music up a bit and extended his hand to her.

Mary looked at him. "John…"

"Please, Mary," he countered softly. "Let me hold you for a while."

She bit her lip but went to him quite willingly. She raised her arms into position for the waltz but found herself brought flush to him, his arm wrapped around her waist, holding her there. She stiffened in surprise but immediately relaxed and allowed her own arm to wrap around his shoulders; pressing her face into the curve where his neck met his shoulder. He brought their joined hands to rest against his chest, directly over his heart, and leaned his cheek against her temple. They danced no fancy steps or moves, he didn't spin her; they just slowly rotated around the floor to the quiet, romantic song.

It hadn't taken Emma long to drop Leroy off; as she approached the door to her apartment she could hear the strains of music from inside and something made her cautious. She opened the door slowly and quietly. She stilled at the sight inside. She watched her two friends dancing in the dim lighting of the apartment. Something caught in her chest as she looked at them; no one could accuse Emma of being a romantic but in this moment she could all too easily see the pair decades from now, their hair grey and them shuffling along to music.

John noticed Emma over Mary's head. She gave him a small smile and an approving nod before turning and, quietly as possible, making her way to her room.

Mary leaned into John, everything in her sighing contentedly at the utter rightness of this moment. In John's arms she felt so treasured, adored; she felt like the center of his world.

After Emma headed off to bed, John let his eyes fall shut, reveling in the peace and contentment he found in Mary's arms. The trust and love that Mary placed in him humbled him; nearly brought him to his knees at times.

The song drew to a close; John reluctantly pulled away, but retained hold of her hand. His eyes connected with hers; not looking away he lifted her hand to his lips and pressed a kiss in the center of her palm. Mary's heart stuttered. He closed her fingers over the spot and turned her hand over to kiss each knuckle before finally lowering her hand again.

"Merry Christmas, Mary," he said quietly.

"Merry Christmas, John," she returned, a little breathless.

He slowly pulled away, only releasing her hand once the reach of their arms had been exceeded. He went to the door, taking his coat from the hook and walking out with one last longing glance at her.

This had been without a doubt the best Christmas all of them had ever had.

The song I imagine playing for Mary and John dancing is After Afterall by William Fitzsimmons. Thank you so much everyone for reading! I will be posting a chapter with the "Charmings" celebrating their Christmas together, but with how long this chapter was getting I wanted to break it up a bit and I thought it would be better anyway because after that chapter I won't post on this story again until after the next episode, because I need to know the outcome of that before continuing. I hope that you all liked it! Please let me know what you think! And Happy Holidays to all!

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