That First Christmas
Part Three
by sarAdora
~~~~~~~

The next day
They planned to decorate the tree together that evening after dinner and JC promised he'd be home early.

"Unless there's a national emergency," she reminded him.

"Unless there's a national emergency," he murmured, kissing her at the door.

As soon as he left, Spencer made fresh eggnog for them to enjoy when they decorated the tree. When she finished that task, she wrapped a few gifts and planned to organize a few things in the sewing studio.

And I have to look for that quilt. Can't remember where I packed it. Have to find it.

By late afternoon, she had the sewing room fairly well organized. It still needed more organization but she knew where things were and most important, the clutter was out of the way. Making herself comfortable on a couple of large throw pillows she placed in front of her thread wall, she began sorting them. Dozens and dozens of spools of thread had to be sorted and stored in their appropriate slots by fiber and color. Mo sat with her - watching - his tail swishing in case one of the spools wandered away and needed a swat from his paw.

"This would have gone a lot faster if you hadn't turned this box over," she told the cat. "I packed them by color so I wouldn't have to do this." Mo was duly chastised - he yawned mightily and proceeded to wash his belly, making Spencer laugh. She was making headway with her task when she suddenly remembered where the special quilt was stored. Opening the large closet that held stacks and stacks of quilts that also needed sorting, Spencer went straight to the large wicker trunk JC had brought up from the basement a few days earlier. She kneeled in front of it and pulled several large wall hangings from its depth. Finally, she found the tissue wrapped package. Sitting on the floor, she held it on her lap, momentarily lost in yesteryear.

It had been a terrible time in her young life - a time when she was certain she would die. I killed the angel... she remembered and had been genuinely surprised that she had lived past her eighth birthday.

Carefully, Spencer pushed the tissue aside and unfolded the old quilt. The fabric was worn, the edges frayed and the colors long since faded. It had saved her life. She buried her face in it, the memories washing over her and she wept for the child she had been...

1830 Hours
After calling her name and looking everywhere, JC saw her sleeping on a pile of quilts in the open doorway of the closet in her new sewing studio. He knelt beside her, wondering why she was clutching a quilt to her chest and concerned when he saw the evidence of her tears.

She stirred when he picked her up and held her on his lap. "JC," she smiled. "I must have dozed off."

"Did you have a sad dream?" he asked softly, kissing the silky skin under each eye.

"Don't think so," she murmured, eager to rub her face against his.

"You were crying, bambina," he told her. "Tell me what happened," he urged as she ducked her head under his chin.

"I'm not crying now," she whispered, burying her face in his neck.

"Were you dreaming?" he asked as he rubbed her back with a gentle hand.

Spencer shook her head and JC noticed the thick quilt tightly clutched in her hands. Gently, he took it from her and looked at it. "You didn't make this, did you?"

"No," she murmured. "I didn't."

"Who made it, Spencer?" he asked, certain it had something to do with her tears.

"Don't know."

He cupped her chin. "Tell me the story behind this quilt, bambina. Why haven't I seen it before?"

"Forgot about it... only remember to look at it this time of year. It's just a quilt..." Her eyes filled, then spilled over. "It's just a quilt," she sobbed quietly, remembering the awful details, and wiping her tears away.

"A quilt with a lot of history," he murmured, tasting the salt of her tears as he kissed her eyes and then each cheek. "A special quilt that means a lot to you." He rocked her in his arms, telling her how much he loved her, how important she was to him. He was determined to find out the significance of the tattered quilt but was willing to wait. The Christmas star... this quilt...  he mused.

When she calmed, she insisted he change while she prepared dinner. "After we eat we can decorate the tree," she told him, trying to smile. "And I made eggnog."

"And I brought some Christmas cookies home. But we're going to shower first," he said, standing with her in his arms.

"But JC!" she protested.

"Only *your* butt, imp. I need you in my arms for a little while. My arms have been empty all day," he murmured as he held her close. "We'll eat later."

She was relieved he insisted on a shower together. It perked her up and restored her spirits. JC's arms around her made her world right again.

He ached when she cried and he needed to hold her close to fix whatever it was that hurt her. He needed to feel her in his arms - kiss the pain away. He needed to hold her for her sake - and he needed to hold her for his own.

They touched and kissed and caressed each other under the warm spray, both happy to shut out the world and enjoy their love. JC washed her hair, massaging her scalp and neck, tickling her as his hands roamed over her ribs. Spencer lathered his chest and put her arms around him to wash his back and fondle his butt, making him rumble with pleasure.

"I love you, imp," he murmured as he wrapped a towel around her.

"I love you much more, little sailor," she quipped, pinching his butt.

"Is that so?" he grinned, giving her several firm swats that made her squeal and then hoisted her up into his arms. "After we eat, I'm going to let you prove that."

"Gladly, my love," she said softly, suddenly feeling blessed. Spencer piled the ornaments on the couch, the tinsel in a basket and set aside some wide, red velvet ribbon to make bows. She'd place them here and there on the tree if it needed more color. JC pulled out colored lights and asked if she wanted to use all of them. She chose the gold and silver ones, setting the others aside. They sipped eggnog and teased each other as they took their time deciding where the ornaments would hang.

When Spencer hung the wooden ornaments they had just purchased, JC stood behind her and pulled her back into his arms. When she opened her mouth to protest, he shoved a Christmas cookie between her lips. She retaliated by squeezing his balls when he bent down to add sugar water to the tree stand. He almost toppled the tree when he jumped back, startled by her action, and growled at her.

She laughed and ran behind the couch daring him to catch her. His long arms reached over the back of the couch to grab her but she slipped out of his grasp and ran into the bedroom, JC hot on her tail. A strong arm snaked around her waist and the combination of his forward movement and gravity pushed them both onto the bed. She turned in his arms and laughed as her arms slipped around his neck.

"Caught you, imp," he smiled.

"I'm glad you did, squidlet," she smiled back. "Would have been devastated if you hadn't."

"I'll always catch you, sweetheart," he assured her. "Siete miniera. You're mine. Appartenete a me. You belong to me."

"Happy about that, too," she murmured, kissing him. When his hand covered her breast, she covered it with hers. "Let's finish the tree before we get distracted, sailor man."

"Too late," he said huskily, pulling her sweater up and sucking a rosy nipple into his mouth.

"JC," she moaned. "Please."

"You would have made a perfect drill instructor," he groaned, standing and pulling her up with him.

"I bought a Christmas tape," she said, inserting it in the player.

"Which one?"

"Andy Williams, some others... Christmas songs."

"Good for the season, imp. Now come here. I need some lovin' before we finish the tree."

He sat on the arm of the couch and held her in his arms, kissing her tenderly while they listened to O Holy Night and Adeste Fideles. He was about to let her up when he heard the first notes of Ave Maria, Dolce Maria so he continued to hold her, his lips roaming over her face and neck while his hands rubbed her back. "I love you, baby," he murmured softly.

They were content to listen to the tape while they finished the tree - sipping eggnog and eating cookies. JC tossed a little tinsel on a branch here and there and Spencer hung a few large red bows.

"I almost forgot, he said, pulling something out from behind a photo on the fireplace mantle and hiding it in his hand. "This is an ornament that has to go on our tree."

"Let me see," she pried his hand open. "Oh! It's so beautiful. JC, where did you find this? It's so lovely, so delicate."

"I'm glad you like it, bella. We have a ship and sailor ornaments. We had to have a sewing machine." The tiny crystal replica of a sewing machine caught the light in its prisms, turning blue and gold and green and red as it rotated on its hook on the branch.

She reached up to thank him with a soft kiss, touched by his thoughtfulness.

"Whatever we put on the tree stays, doesn't it, JC?"

"Of course, sweetheart. Why would you think...?" He paused, pursing his lips and clasping his hands behind his back. "What are you planning to hang on the tree, imp? Am I going to be unhappy about it?"

"No-o-o-o."

"What is it? Show it to me?"

"Turn your back, squidlet."

"Spencer..."

"That's an order, my little sailor man," she said firmly.

"I swear, if you..."

"You can look now," she said and suddenly thought the back of the couch was a wiser place to be.

He spotted the ornament immediately and was quiet as he looked at it. "When did you do this, imp?"

"Do you like it?"

"I swear we could use you in covert ops," he sighed, not sure if he should be exasperated or...

"You aren't angry, are you?" she asked quietly.

"No, I'm not," he chuckled, and grabbed her before she could run away, swinging her up into his arms. "When did you take that picture, imp, and why does it have to hang on our tree for the whole world to see?"

"You look very handsome in your white shirt with the shoulder boards, JC."

"Somehow, I don't think my official Navy photo was meant to include a large fat cat on my chest," he laughed, nuzzling her earlobe.

"It does show how compassionate you are, squidlet and I have a photo of Michael hugging Mo, too."

"You do?" he grinned. "Show me."

She showed it to him. The Corps biggest, strongest, meanest marine was wearing a silly smile and hugging Spencer's large cat to his chest. "He's gonna yell at you when he sees this," he warned.

"Michael does not yell at me, JC. He glares and he growls but it doesn't mean anything. He's just a teddy bear."

He hugged her to him, laughing softly. "Michael Marks is not a teddy bear, baby. He's a serious marine. Be happy he's on our side. I'd hate to go against him in a war zone."

"You love him a lot, don't you?" she asked quietly.

"Like a brother," he said softly. "Like a brother." He pulled her toward the tree. "One more thing to hang," he smiled, handing her the wooden star. "I'll hold you up and you put the star on top."

"No... no!" she pulled away violently, hugging her arms to her sides. "You do it. I can't do it. You do it," she said nervously, her body shaking just a little.

"Bambina," he said softly and pulled her back into his arms. "It's okay. You don't have to hang it. I'll do it." He lifted her and sat on the couch, held her snugly and murmured soothing sounds. Spencer leaned against his chest, biting her lower lip, taking deep, even breaths.

"Tell me about the Christmas star and the quilt you were holding earlier. Why were your crying, sweetheart?"

Spencer remained silent.

"If you tell me... when... you tell me, you'll be sharing the memory with me. It'll be easier to remember knowing that I understand," he coaxed.

"Don't like to share the bad times," she murmured into his chest.

"Tell me. Then we can put it behind us," he cupped her chin gently, making her look at him. "If you do, all our Christmases will be sweeter... no sad memories interrupting us."

"JC, let's just forget it. I don't want to..."

"Tell me, Spencer. I want to know," he insisted, cupping her cheek. "Whatever it is, I'm here for you. Per piacere... please," he said softly.

She turned in his arms so her back was against his chest and sipped some eggnog. She was quiet for a few moments and then taking a deep breath, told him what he wanted to know.

~ End Part Three ~

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