Title: Boxing Day
Author: Alanna
Written: December 1998
Please send feedback to emmalanna@aol.com
Disclaimer: The characters herein are the property of Fox Broadcasting and 1013 Productions. The situations into which I have placed them are of my own creation.
Categories: SA
Rating: PG-13
Archiving: Gossamer, please. Anyone else, please let me know.
Spoilers: The Ghosts who Stole Christmas, Christmas Carol/Emily.

Summary: The forgotten ones.

This is a prequel to "Anno Orbitus". I began writing this before that story took over my muse, so the timelines are not the same. Ultimately, it doesn't matter all that much, but just wanted to let everyone know <g>.

She buried her face in a warm shoulder and tried to avoid the faint daylight streaming through the windows.

They hadn't had a white Christmas this year; all the weather could promise was a faint drizzle followed by cloudy gray skies. Not what she had expected, but at least the weather was cool. Finally, the shoulder beneath her cheek stirred and extracted itself from the bed. She rolled over and looked at the compact travel alarm clock. 9:34. She hadn't slept this late in ages. Certainly not since this time last year.

Pushing a swath of blonde hair out of her eyes, Tara sat up in bed and ran her tongue around her mouth, then made a beeline to the guest bathroom to get rid of her morning cottonmouth. When she finished brushing her teeth, Bill was already downstairs. Thank heavens. She loved the man dearly but wasn't fully prepared to deal with him until she had consumed several cups of coffee. After taking a quick shower, she dressed in a loose set of overalls and a light sweater with buttons up the front. She'd never been too concerned with fashion, and God knew that nursing mothers didn't have many appealing options with regards to easy-access clothing.

She made her way downstairs and found the clan gathered around the breakfast table. Dana was still there, having spent the night at Mom Scully's house, probably feeling guilty for having missed all of Christmas Eve and a good bit of Christmas Day. Mom Scully - Tara still couldn't quite bring herself to call her mother-in-law "Maggie" - was feeding Matthew a bowl of Cheerio's without milk, and of course he was proceeding to get most of it all over Grandma. Mom took it all in stride, but Tara could see her thinking longingly of the antibacterial soap at the kitchen sink. Funny, Tara had always imagined Mom Scully to be one of the grandmothers who dote on babies, but Maggie had more than once said that she couldn't wait until Matthew was old enough to talk back to her. Did anyone in this family actually like babies?

Once again, Tara was struck with longing for her own parents, who had chosen to retire in Germany and open a bed-and-breakfast not far from Ramstein Air Base, where Tara had grown up. They loved babies; Tara routinely e-mailed them pictures of Matthew, using the digital camera they'd given her and Bill when Matthew was born. With the Scully family, Tara sometimes wondered if maybe they were just tolerating Matthew until he could form complete sentences.

Don't be silly, she told herself, and settled down at the table. She made herself a bowl of cereal and scanned everyone's faces. Bill was busy reading the morning paper, Mom Scully was busy with Matthew, and Dana seemed to be busy inside her own mind.

"How's everyone this morning?" she asked in the most cheerful voice she could muster so early.

Dana gave her a half-smile while Mom murmured that she was just fine. Bill proceeded to go off on a tangent about something he read in the paper, and Tara smiled and nodded at all the appropriate times, having learned just how to respond to him in these situations. After finishing breakfast in a silence punctuated by Matthew's fussing and her soothing entreaties, she pushed away from the table.

"Bill, I'm going to run out and do some errands, okay? Maybe hit some after-Christmas sales."

That got his attention. "You can't."

The man was starting to irritate her. "Why?"

He finally put down the paper, and his face softened. "Because I'm going to need to use Mom's car today. And we can't afford to be spending more money after Christmas."

He had a point. Smiling at him, she said, "I just want to get out for a bit. Maybe do some window shopping."

She walked over to him and he raised his face for a kiss. He murmured against her lips, "That's fine with me. Oh, and don't forget to grab some diapers while you're out. We've almost run through the stock we brought with us."

She straightened and returned to her chair. Thank God her husband did diapers. The problem with being a military wife is that the men often seemed to think they are in charge of absolutely everything. Hell, she'd seen friends who were barely more than concubines. Tara had learned from her mother, though, just how to get what she wanted from her husband, all the while showing the expected deference. But Bill was actually quite wonderful: he respected her and though he basically maintained control in their household, theirs was much more of a partnership than what most of her friends had.

Before she had the chance to figure out just how on earth she was going to get out of the house without having Mom Scully's car to borrow, Dana stood. "I need to run a few errands too, Tara. I can give you a ride."

Tara almost had to sit down. She loved her sister in law, but damned if the woman wasn't distant as all get-out. Tara had always just assumed that Dana loathed her. Couldn't really blame Dana for feeling that way, she admitted to herself. They hadn't gotten off to the best start.

Dana walked over and put her plate in the sink. "Are you ready, Tara?"

"Um, sure. Give me a few minutes, okay?"

"Fine." Dana disappeared into the bedroom she was using.

Matthew held out his arms and made his little 'hungry' face, so Tara picked him up and carried him over to the sofa, unbuttoning the straps of her overalls with one hand. She fed him without much enthusiasm: after a year the thrill was gone. Now, she just wanted her body back.

After about fifteen minutes, Matthew was fed and she was ready to go. Fortunately, Dana emerged from the bedroom at the same time, and the two of them went out to the driveway and got into the car, leaving Bill far behind. Thank God.

Dana asked her if she wanted to drive, and when Tara nodded, Dana handed her the keys. Once they were on the road, Tara turned to look at Dana, who was in turn staring blankly out the window. "Do you mind going in toward D.C.? I thought maybe we could hit the White Flint Mall in Bethesda."

Dana kept looking out the window. "That's fine with me, Tara, if you want to go there."

Before Tara could feel snubbed by her succinct reply, Dana turned to look at her and gave a soft smile. "Don't worry, I know why you want to go there, and I can't blame you. I love my brother, but putting some space between us and him isn't a bad thing."

Tara laughed. "You too, huh?"

"I lived with him for eighteen years, remember? He can be a handful at times."

Tara finally began to feel like she could actually talk to this mysterious woman who was her sister-in-law. She had always shied away from Dana in the past, never quite knowing what to say to her, especially after last year's awful Christmas. Since then, they'd spoken occasionally on the phone, but Tara was terrified that she'd say the wrong thing. Losing a child at the same time one was born -- it wasn't the best of conversation starters.

They talked about neutral topics on the rest of the drive to the mall: the weather, Bill's career, her own childhood in Germany. Even though they had no problem with conversation, Tara still felt like she and Dana were worlds apart.

The mall was its usual bustling mess of activity, with weary shoppers finding enough energy to stalk the stores for post-Christmas bargains. Tara's first stop was Bath and Body Works -- didn't offer much in the way of sales, but she dug out the stash of money she kept a secret from Bill and bought herself a bottle of "Relaxing" aromatherapy lotion. Heaven knew she needed it, what with having to deal with her husband and child. She tried to persuade Dana to get something, but her sister-in-law averred, choosing instead to head Body Shop. She claimed that those scents were much more "her". Tara could see that -- she'd never pick Dana for being into flowers and fruit.

But along the way, they passed a toy store.

Tara tried to keep walking, not wanting to stop there. She knew what it must mean to Dana, and though she wanted to buy a few trinkets for her baby, she just didn't have the emotional fortitude to help Dana with the memories a toy store might conjure.

Of course, Dana wandered inside.

Tara followed, and they meandered through the displays of all the latest, most popular toys. She watched Dana examine the selection of "educational" toys, none of which seemed to promise enlightenment to any child who played with them. As Dana wandered onward past the Barbies and stuffed animals, Tara spoke up.

"Are you getting hungry? Maybe we could grab some lunch." Her voice was as perky as it had ever been.

Dana just shook her head and kept walking. Tara grew more and more uncomfortable.

She stopped to look at the Barbies, regretting for a moment that she hadn't had a daughter, much as she loved Matthew. Some women were made to have daughters, some sons. She'd always imagined that she'd have a daughter, and -- well, before last Christmas -- she'd seen Dana as a mother of a rambunctious but intelligent little boy.

The thought passed through her mind that if she could give Dana Matthew, she would. Well, another Matthew -- not her beloved one.

Tara looked up to find Dana already having disappeared. She shook herself out of her reverie and took off in search of her sister-in-law. Dana wasn't hard to find: Tara found her in front of a glassed-in selection of porcelain dolls, her posture straight and tense.

She had absolutely no idea what to say, so she stood next to Dana and looked over the dolls, not daring to open her mouth. They were beautiful -- all curls and frills and glassy eyes. Dolls for adults, not an energetic child. Glancing over the selection, she saw the manufacturers had given them names: elaborate ones like "Anastasia" and "Catarina".

Then, in the middle of the second shelf, she saw it.

Strawberry blonde curls, blue eyes, a long emerald-green dress.


This was too much. This was far too much for her to handle, not without a great deal of preparation. She placed one slightly trembling hand on Dana's shoulder, and the woman turned to face her. Tara expected her to have tears in her eyes, but the other woman remained stoic.

"Could you please find a clerk, Tara?"

Tara fled the scene, in search of someone who worked in the store.

A perky young woman with a nametag which read "Becky" was nearby, and Tara's voice was faint as she asked, "Could you please open the dolls cabinet for us?"

The two of them walked over to the display case, where Dana remained standing, quietly looking at the dolls. She glanced up and looked at the clerk, then said, "I'd like to buy that doll, please." She pointed at "Emily".

Becky nodded and said, "I'll get one for you from the back, okay? You can meet me up at the checkout."

Dana stared at the dolls for another long moment as Becky disappeared, then turned to face Tara. She said nothing and Tara didn't dare try to figure out what her sister-in-law was feeling. After a minute, the two of them moved by unspoken agreement to the checkout counter. A few minutes later, Becky was back with a long, rectangular box.

"Sorry, we're not doing gift-wrapping any more, since Christmas is over."

Dana's voice was stronger now. She said, "That's fine," and then rummaged in her purse for her wallet, extracting her credit card with mechanical precision. She handed it over to the clerk then waited quietly for the cashier to ring up the purchase. If Tara hadn't been watching intently, she wouldn't have seen Dana's hand tremble slightly as she signed the charge receipt.

Becky put the box into a large shopping bag, then handed it over with a smile. Dana took it from her and murmured her thanks.

Then, in a move that surprised Tara, she reached for Tara's hand and gave it a tight squeeze. A faint smile played over her lips and she said, "Let's go get lunch."

The two women left the store. They walked to the food court and got a couple of salads and smoothies. As they settled down into their chairs and picked up forks, Dana surprised Tara by saying, "What's it like to be a mother?"

Tara's fork stilled over her salad. She remembered one of her all-time most insensitive comments, back when she was expecting Matthew and before she knew of Dana's infertility: something like, "I feel completely fulfilled, like I'm a whole person now." God. And then Matthew was born and Emily died, in the space of a couple of days. She could be forgiven her lapses of judgment back then, couldn't' she?

She looked up at Dana. The woman's face was composed -- just as it had been at that funeral -- but Tara saw a soft, almost wistful look in her eyes. She decided to be honest.

"Matthew's wonderful. He can be a handful, but it's just such a joy watching him grow up. Seeing every new experience, you know?"

Dana nodded. "I can imagine."

That's right, Tara thought. All she could do was imagine. She really didn't know what else to say, so instead she reached over and took Dana's hand, squeezing it tightly. And then she decided to take a risk she hadn't ever expected to take.

"If you ever want to talk, Dana, just pick up the phone and call, okay?"

Her sister-and-law smiled then, and Tara knew that just maybe, things would be okay. But had she looked closer, she would have seen the pain in Dana's eyes.

They finished their lunch, talking about everything and nothing, sharing a soft smile every so often.

Then the two women left the mall, weighted by their burdens.



"safe in the wide open arms of hell" --crowded house.


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