Title: The Twelve Days of Christmas
Series: Wild Ride
Rating: PG (some, um, interrupted cursing)
Disclaimer: I'm not confused. I don't own these guys. I know they belong to Sorkin - I just let them have more fun.
Archive: Certainly, just tell me where
Feedback: please do - email@example.com
Summary: First Christmas with Carrie
Notes: Kathi asked for holiday stories, and though late-ish, here is my offering. Gail keeps asking for more, so I suppose this is for her too. Of course, Julian put in the commas and questioned my judgment when necessary, and ultimately these are always for her.
The Twelve Days of Christmas by Beth
It had started innocently enough. Josh had been determined to do something special for Sam after all the time and effort Sam had put into the Chanukkah celebration - it had been almost identical to the ones Josh remembered from his childhood. Sam had nailed it down to the smallest detail - the menorah had even been achingly familiar. The truth hadn't come out until the last night when Sam finally confessed that the Lyman traditions had been gleaned from many late night phone calls to Florida. Josh's mother had been more than happy to assist Sam with this project, and once he explained what he wanted, Sam's mom had offered to assist Josh.
As Sam came through the door, later than he had planned, Carrie came running down the hall to meet him.
"Daddy home. Daddy home." Carrie sang as she threw herself at his knees.
Sam swooped her up into his arms where he got a good look at her. She was covered - head to toe - in what appeared to be flour. Her hands were covered with something brown and sticky - the stuff was also in her hair, on her face, and now all over Sam.
"What happened to you?"
"Osh happened to you, did he?" Sam asked with a chuckle. "I'm not going to like the kitchen, am I Carrie?"
"Osh did it."
"And you didn't help at all?"
Carrie looked at Sam steadily, her blues eyes shining. "Osh did it."
And as Sam rounded the corner into the kitchen, he saw that Josh had, indeed, done it. The kitchen, much like their daughter, was covered in flour and brown goo. Josh looked like an older, taller version of Carrie, equally covered in flour and brown stuff. Sam cleared his throat to get Josh's attention. Josh jumped at the sound, and banged his head on the cabinet he had been peering into.
"Shi - shoot, I mean shoot, Sam - give a guy a heart attack why don't you?"
"Not funny." Sam hadn't found jokes about Josh's heart remotely amusing before Kelly's accident, now they were just too morbid for words.
"Sorry - you startled me. I, uh, didn't hear you come in." Josh seemed oddly disconcerted as he tried to ease his way out of the kitchen, as if by leaving the room he could disavow knowledge of the disaster he had created.
Sam shook his head briefly to indicate that all was forgiven and then glanced around the kitchen again. "So what happened here?"
"We made cookies."
"You sure about that? It looks more like you tried your hand at destroying my kitchen."
"No, we, uh, were making cookies to, uh, surprise you," Josh said haltingly.
"So where are they?"
"Where are what?"
"The cookies," Sam asked with obvious interest.
"The cookies you said you made."
"Oh, those cookies." Josh's eyes were darting around the room as he desperately tried not to make eye contact with Sam.
Sam looked from Josh to Carrie, trying to figure out what they were up to. "Carrie, what happened to the cookies?"
Carrie wrinkled up her nose and said, "Yucky."
Sam stared at his daughter for a second, looked over at Josh who was still attempting to disappear, and then back to Carrie. "The cookies were yucky?"
Carrie nodded as Josh flushed. Sam rolled his eyes heavenward for a second, wondering how it was possible that Josh could have messed up cookies. Then he remember who he was asking about and retracted the question. "So I'm going to go get Carrie cleaned up. Do you suppose you'll find my kitchen again tonight or should I hire a wrecking crew in the morning?" Sam asked with a laugh.
Josh grumbled as Sam left the room, but began the process of cleaning up. No one mentioned the cookies again.
Sam was, again, late arriving home. This time when Carrie ran out to meet him he saw she had tape stuck on her arms, her face, and her clothes. "So, little bit, what have you and Josh been up to tonight?"
Carrie looked at him solemnly and said, "Nuffin' Daddy."
"Nothing, huh?" Sam said with a feeling of dread as he walked down the hallway.
This time Sam found Josh sitting on the living room floor with tape in his hair and one of Sam's kitchen towels pressed against his hand.
"Carrie says you were doing 'nuffin'," Sam said as matter of factly as possible. "Do you need something for whatever nothing you did that appears to have drawn blood?"
"A band-aid would be nice."
"I think we have Sesame Street and Blue's Clues - which would you prefer?"
Josh rolled his eyes. "Why don't you surprise me?"
Sam took Carrie with him while he searched for the band-aids, but no amount of prodding could shake her from her story. So far as she was concerned, she and Josh had been doing nothing.
Sam cleaned up the cut on Josh's finger and put a Big Bird band-aid on it, then kissed it "all better" at Carrie's insistence. Then Carrie decided to kiss Josh's "boo" too in case Sam's kiss wasn't good enough.
Josh was still staring at the phone in disbelief. "I'm supposed to what?"
"You heard me, Joshua."
"I heard, you, but I'm not believing you. You want me to take Carrie, find a tree - not in a lot, mind you -- cut it down, and *hide* it from Sam. It' s a tree, Mary; how am I supposed to hide it?"
"We were always able to do it when he was young."
"I think he's gotten a bit more aware of his surroundings since then. Besides, it will be in his apartment -" Josh stopped as the light dawned - he could take the tree to the house. "Are you sure I can't just buy one in a lot?"
"I'm certain - it isn't the tradition to buy it in a lot. We always cut them down." Mary Seaborn crossed her fingers and wondered how many Hail Marys she would be saying for this particular fib.
"Okay, but I cut myself making the paper chains last night - I can't imagine that I'm going to be safer with a - how exactly am I supposed to cut down a tree anyway?"
"You're a smart man - I'm sure you'll figure it out," Mary said as she hung up the phone quickly.
When Sam arrived home that evening the apartment was quiet. He knew before he found the note that Josh had taken Carrie someplace. Of course, the note told him nothing: "Carrie and I went out - be back later." Definitely time to have a serious conversation with Josh about little girls, bedtimes, and informative notes.
Just as Sam was building up a head of steam, Josh and Carrie tumbled in the front door. Well, Josh tumbled - Carrie was sound asleep in his arms.
"So where were you?"
Josh motioned for Sam to be quiet as he moved quietly down the hall to put Carrie in her bed. When he came back out of the bedroom, Sam got a better look at Josh. "Maybe that question should be what were you doing?"
"Because you have scratches all over your face."
"I do?" Josh went into the bathroom and looked in the mirror. "Damn. I mean, darn." Josh's gaze met with Sam's in the mirror. "Um, Carrie was having trouble sleeping, so I took her out for a while."
"And what? Got attacked by the interior of your car?"
"No, we were out in nature and apparently it doesn't like me."
Sam put a sympathetic hand on Josh's shoulder. "I could have told you that."
"You have to be kidding me," Josh said.
"I'm not, Joshua. This is the next part of the festivities, and it is so very important that it be done properly."
"I've been in stores - I've seen the shiny stuff they call garland. Why can 't I put that on the tree? Alternatively, why can't Sam help me with this?" Josh knew he sounded whiny, but he didn't care. He couldn't believe what Mary was asking him to do now.
"Because that sort of garland is not the sort that Seaborns put on their trees. And Sam can't help you because *you* wanted this to be a surprise. He was also never 'in' on this part of the decorating - he was always presented with it after it was done."
Josh sighed as he hung up the phone. There were just so many ways that this evening's activity could go wrong that he couldn't begin to count them all. According to Mary, he would first have to pop the popcorn and he couldn't use the microwave - he had no clear idea of how to pop it without a microwave, but he was about to find out. Then he was going to use a large needle and string it on thread. He just thanked god - Jewish or Christian, whichever one might be on his side at the moment - that Sam had Carrie for the evening. At least he would only be responsible for poking his own eye out with this activity - assuming he ever got that far.
Sam called Josh after he'd convinced Carrie to go to sleep. He was busting with curiosity about Josh's top secret project, but he hadn't expected Josh to sound harried when he answered the phone.
"Hey, it's me."
"I'm kind of busy here, can I call you back?" Josh said as he watched the popcorn escape the pan - again. He was now utterly convinced that no one else made popcorn this way.
"What's going on over there? It sounds like World War III." Sam could hear some strange noises in the background - kind of a crackling sound that was familiar but he wasn't sure why.
"At the moment it feels like it too. Shit, I've got to go." Josh said hurriedly as he hung up the phone. He had burned or exploded at least four batches of popcorn, but he could solve the whole where do we live dilemma by getting evicted which he was sure to do if the smell escaped his apartment. This batch fared no better. He knew Sam was worth all the trouble, and pain, he was going through, but damn it why couldn't his family have simple traditions.
After pouring out his latest attempt, he made one more stab at popping the corn and made a good, unburned batch. He sat down to begin stringing the popcorn and discovered that this was nowhere near as easy as Mary had suggested it would be. He either broke the popped corn or jabbed the needle into his finger and bled on the pristine white kernel which led to unstringing that piece and trying again. It was four in the morning before he finally had a workable string of popcorn, and damn it he had a meeting at six.
Josh almost didn't call Mary for his next assignment. He had barely made it through his morning meetings, and he was so tired by the time he went to pick up Carrie that he had accidentally grabbed the wrong child. In his defense, bundled up in their little parkas all the kids looked the same, but he had to admit that he probably should have had a clue when the child he was carrying was screaming and kicking for all she was worth, and Carrie was bellowing his name from what seemed to be an unreasonable distance given the volume she was putting into it.
However, once he got home with the *right* kid, he decided that whatever the next Seaborn tradition was, it couldn't be any worse than stringing popcorn. He was wrong. He bundled Carrie back up in her parka and headed out to the craft store, muttering about family traditions and other people's mothers. This time he completely forgot to leave Sam a note.
After more time than he would have thought possible in the craft store, and several phone calls to Sam's mother to make sure he was getting the right stuff, Josh took Carrie to the house.
"What doin, Osh?" Carrie asked as she poked her head into the bags.
"We're making a wreath," Josh said.
"Yeah, little bit - a weef." Josh sighed as he pulled out his supplies. And this was no ordinary wreath - it was one that would make Martha Stewart proud. Unfortunately for all concerned, Josh was the one making it, so the more likely outcome would be that Sam wouldn't want it hanging in the garage, let alone on the front door where Mary said it was to go.
Josh held up the pine branches and said, "These need to be a circle, Carrie. Any ideas how to make them into a circle?"
Carrie's eyes were wide as she shook her head no, so Josh bent them into a - well, more of an ellipse than a circle - nonetheless, it looked something like it was supposed to, and he wasn't one to complain. As he was trying to decide which of the things he should put on next when he felt a none too gentle tug on his sleeve.
"Hundry, Osh," Carrie said plaintively.
"Let's do a little more, first. Okay?" Josh asked.
"No Osh. Cawie hundry NOW." The little redhead bellowed at the top of her lungs.
Josh held up his hands. "Okay, okay little bit - let's go find something to eat. I'm sure we left something here." Josh found a box of macaroni and cheese and made it for Carrie - though truth be told he ate some of it too.
After dinner, he threw the dishes in the dishwasher and headed back to his wreath making. Carrie got into the sticking things into the pine branches part, so the wreath ended up looking, well . . . like it had been created by a two year old, but Josh felt that added to the charm. Once Carrie was satisfied with the wreath, he took the hanger and placed it on the front door.
As he was heading back to Sam's with Carrie, he was thinking that, for once, the project of the day hadn't caused him any pain or injury. When he pulled into a parking space, he realized that his cell phone was blinking furiously but he didn't think anything of it. In fact, until he was in the hall and could here Sam's voice it didn't occur to him who might have been calling him.
"Where the hell are you, Josh? Answer the damned phone."
Josh tentatively opened the door to the apartment and stuck his head in. "Uh, Sam. You okay?"
"Where the hell have you been? Where's Carrie?" Sam rarely lost his temper, but tonight Josh realized he was in for a show.
"She's right here, Sam," Josh said quietly tilting his head to indicate the little girl asleep in his arms.
Sam took Carrie from Josh and looked her over carefully. "Fine. I'm putting her to bed." He threw over his shoulder as he stalked away from Josh.
Josh leaned against the door - preparing to be thrown out for the night - and waited for Sam to return. He didn't have to wait long.
"You're still here?" Sam was startled to see Josh still in his apartment.
"Yeah, I thought we should talk about this, or that I should at least say I' m sorry."
"Do you know why you're apologizing?"
"Because I ignored my phone tonight?" Josh asked hopefully.
"Not exactly. Do you remember what we talked about the other night?" Sam asked, and then sighed when Josh knitted his brows together in confusion. "About the note, remember?"
"Yeah - I remember that."
"I didn't mean that instead of leaving an uninformative note, you shouldn't leave a note at all. I meant tell me where the hell you're taking my daughter and when you think you might be back."
Josh thought it was prudent not to point out that Sam was not including him as a parent again, and just nodded in agreement. "I promise - from now on - I'll leave you a note - a very specific note."
Sam sagged against the opposite wall, the adrenaline leaving his body as quickly as it had come. "Don't do that to me again. Please, Josh. I trust you with her - I really do -- but you guys are all I have left, and when you both disappear like that, I panic. Especially after I heard about some nut grabbing the wrong kid at Carrie's pre-school today. I mean how crazy do you have to be to grab the wrong kid?"
Josh attempted to look innocent as he soothed Sam.
"Candy-making?" Josh asked, the terror shining through in his voice.
"Yes, Joshua. Candy-making. Every year, we made Sam's favorite Christmas candies to put out for Christmas morning."
"You remember that I ruined the cookies, right? Don't you see the potential for disaster here? I mean, we're talking really hot stuff here, aren't we?"
"I still don't understand how you ruined the cookies," Mary said with a snicker. "But really, candy is quite easy to make. You'll find it relaxing when you get into it."
Josh sounded dubious as he said, "If you say so, I'll believe you." He took down all the ingredients that Mary said he would need and all of the instructions as well. As soon as he was finished, he called Sam to say he would, again, be busy this evening.
Josh went shopping for all the ingredients for the four different candies that Mary said he needed to make. "Sam definitely got off easy - latkes are simple compared to this." Josh muttered as he headed up the stairs to his apartment.
Josh spent the next several hours chopping, mixing, melting, and stirring. He had some difficulty reading his own handwriting, so he wasn't completely sure that he was making things the way they were supposed to be made, but so far nothing smelled terrible so he thought he might have made it successfully through this task when the phone rang.
"Hey Josh. It's Sam."
"I'm really busy. Can I call you back?" Josh couldn't keep the hint of impatience out of his voice.
"Are we okay?" Sam asked tentatively.
"Are we? What the hell - why are you asking me that?"
"You've been really busy this week. And I know it isn't work because I'm there and you aren't. I just - after what we've been through this year - I guess I'm a little worried that it's been too much."
Josh sighed. "It's not that - I promise. I'm just working on a project - that's all."
"Okay. I called be-" Sam started to say.
Josh sniffed the air and realized that something was burning. "Sam - I'm sorry. I've got to go. Now." He looked around the corner into the kitchen as he hung up the phone and slammed his fist into the wall. The chocolate stuff wasn't salvageable, and now neither was his hand.
Josh knew there would be trouble when he came in with his hand bandaged up. Even though it had been several years since his Christmas meltdown, it was never far from anyone's mind during the season. He prepared himself for an onslaught of questions from just about everybody, but he hadn't been prepared for Sam to not be in the office.
"Donna, where's Sam?"
"Josh, tell me honestly, what happened to your hand?"
"I told you - I was working on something for Sam; I messed it up and I punched a wall. That's the whole story. Now, where's Sam?"
"I don't know where Sam is - I'm just worried that you aren't telling me the whole truth."
"Could you find out where Sam is, please? And, for the last time, I am telling you the whole truth," Josh said, thoroughly exasperated.
"I'll find out where Sam is, but Leo wants to see you," Donna said as she breezed out of his office.
Josh spent a good part of the morning convincing Leo, Toby, CJ and the President that this was, in fact, simply a display of temper and not another Christmas breakdown. So much time, in fact, that he was starting to think that he would have a meltdown simply because it would be easier than trying to convince everybody that he wasn't having one. When he finally made it back to his office, he looked everywhere for Donna, who seemed to have vanished.
"DONNA." He stood in the doorway of his office and bellowed down the hall. To his satisfaction, he saw the blonde come bustling down the hall toward him.
"There's no need to shout, Josh," Donna said calmly.
"Do you know where Sam is?"
"He called in this morning. Apparently Carrie isn't feeling well. I hear Toby took her chicken soup already."
"Carrie's sick and no one told me? Why didn't anyone tell me?" Josh roared.
"Josh, I told Sam about your hand, and he was worried about you. He didn't want you to be more upset, so he said not to say anything." Donna watched as Josh attempted to calm himself. "Really, Josh. He meant well, plus he's worried about Carrie - he's got a lot on his plate. Go easy on him, okay?"
Josh glowered at her as he pulled on his coat. "If anyone wants to know where I am, tell them I'm checking on *my* daughter."
Josh broke land speed records getting from the White House to Sam's apartment. He let himself in and found Sam sitting on the couch. He stalked right past his lover to the bedroom where Carrie was sleeping - fitfully but sleeping. He let out the breath he didn't realize he'd been holding, and then stalked back into the living room. He hissed at Sam, "This has to stop."
Sam looked up at him, exhaustion etched into his face. "What has to stop?"
"You. This. Either I'm part of this family or I'm not, but this half-way stuff is bullshit." Josh was speaking quietly but the anger in his voice was palpable.
"I don't know -"
"Carrie. Why did I have to find out she was sick from a third party? Why didn't you call me?"
"I tried to talk to you. Last night. You were too busy, remember?"
"You asked me if we were okay - you said nothing about Carrie being sick. I remember the conversation."
"You hung up on me, Josh. I was trying to tell you, but you hung up before I could." Sam leaned back against the couch cushions and closed his eyes for a minute. "So what are you saying, Josh? You want to what?"
"I want to be a real member of this family. Instead, I'm on the outside most of the time. And I think it sucks."
"We've talked about this, and unless we're living together you can't be more involved than you are. But you didn't want to move. I'd be willing to, but you don't want to do it. Carrie and I can't move into your place - there isn't enough room. I don't see another option - unless I'm missing something."
Josh scrubbed his hand through his hair and sighed. They had been over this before, and Sam was right. Josh was the stumbling block. "You're not missing anything. What's wrong with little bit?"
"She's running a fever and she has a bit of a cough. I just wanted to stay home with her today, and Toby said I could."
"I hear he even brought chicken soup." Josh offered.
"He did. Who knew he could be so, um, domestic?" Sam chuckled.
"I'm sure he just bought it at a deli, Sam," Josh said with a laugh. He ran a hand gently over Sam's chest. "So you have this under control here?"
"Yeah. Go on back to work. You can take the night shift, though," Sam said with a weak grin.
Josh gave Sam a kiss before leaving, but he was clearly distracted. He didn 't need to call Sam's Mom today because he had his own ideas about what he needed to do.
"Joshua - I didn't hear from you yesterday," Mary said with a note of censure.
"No ma'am. I had my hands full, and I just had to put the project to the side for the day."
"Then you'll just have to double up for the day. At least these are two that go well together. You need to get Sam's present and then wrap it."
"What's the catch?" Josh asked suspiciously.
"I don't know what you mean, Josh," Mary said with total innocence.
"That sounds easy - and so far, no Seaborn tradition has been easy."
"We always use personalized or custom paper - no store-bought wrapping paper."
Josh sighed as he hung up the phone. He had a plan which he had implemented the day before. His present wouldn't be ready to wrap, but he could easily make the paper with Carrie while he stayed home with her today. On his way to Sam's he stopped off at the craft store again and picked up a roll of paper, paints, inks, brushes and stamps. He left his supplies in the car as he headed up to the apartment.
Sam met him at the door, briefcase in hand. "Thanks for asking Leo for the time, Josh. Toby said I need to come in today, or I'd stay."
Josh threw a meaningful glare in Sam's direction. "I told you I'm in on this, and I meant it. You can thank Leo for giving me the time if you want, but don't thank me for asking for it."
Sam grinned. "Okay. Call me if you need me."
"I won't need you. We'll be fine."
After Sam had left, Josh ran down to the car and grabbed his supplies. The only sufficiently large, hard, flat surface in Sam's apartment was the coffee table, so Josh cleared it and set up the supplies. When Carrie woke up, Josh was ready for her.
"Daddy?" Carrie croaked from in the bedroom.
"No, little bit, it's Josh," Josh said as he headed for the bedroom.
"Osh. Cawie icky."
Josh picked up the little girl and said, "Oh, you're not icky, Carrie. You just don't feel well." He failed to notice the unusual shade of green that his charge was turning and didn't realize what she meant until she threw up on him. "Feeling better now?"
Carrie nodded at him, but then held her nose as she looked at his shirt. "Ewww, Osh."
"Yeah, I know. I'm going to change right now, I promise. Uh, Carrie, does icky mean that your tummy doesn't feel good?" At Carrie's nod, Josh muttered, "Now you tell me."
After an unsuccessful search for a t-shirt or a sweatshirt in Sam's apartment, Josh settled on one of Sam's older dress shirts. "I don't know Carrie. I've been with your father for almost three years, and I still can' t find a casual shirt anywhere in this apartment. I know he owns them - I' ve seen him wear them, but when I need one I can never find one. Why do you think that is?"
Carrie hadn't understood much of what Josh was saying, so she just stared at him and then said, "Hundry Osh."
"I don't think so right now. Let's just have a little juice and see how that stays in your tummy first, okay? And while we're waiting, I have a project you can work on."
"Okay, Osh," Carrie said happily. Projects meant she could get messy, and that was always fun.
Carrie and Josh spent the next several hours working on the wrapping paper. Josh had the distinct impression that Carrie was as talented as her mother had been and at least as messy. He remembered Kelly's studio quite clearly - the walls and the floors had been covered with paint. And now, interestingly enough, so was Sam's living room.
Carrie had kept the juice down and even eaten a bit of Toby's chicken soup. She was taking a nap while Josh figured out how he was going to either clean up the mess or explain it when Sam saw it.
When Sam came in he found Josh on his hands and knees on the floor scrubbing up something that looked suspiciously like paint.
"What are you doing, Josh?"
Josh banged his head on the coffee table when he attempted to pop up at the sound of Sam's voice. "Cleaning?" he said hopefully.
"What were you and Carrie doing today?" Sam asked as he looked at his living room, which was now rather red and green. And his favorite shirt was covered in Carrie-sized handprints.
"We, um, did art projects," Josh said hoping that he sounded convincing.
"Where are they?" Sam asked with interest.
"Where are what?"
"The art projects. I'd like to see them."
"Why can't I?"
"What time of year is it? What month? What season?" Josh asked, exasperated.
Sam's eyes widened. "OH! Okay, sorry. No more questions except would you like some help getting whatever that is out of the carpet?"
Josh grinned. "Sure. And I'm sorry about the shirt. I just couldn't find a t-shirt anywhere."
Sam shook his head but laughed anyway.
"I've sent a package to the house in Virginia. It should be waiting for you when you arrive this evening," Mary said.
"Uh, okay. What's in the package?" Josh asked, afraid to find out the answer.
"The things you will need to accomplish today's task."
"And those things would be?"
"You'll see when you get out there, Joshua. Didn't you ever hear the expression 'curiosity killed the cat'?"
"I did, but as I'm not a cat, I've never worried about it much," Josh said with a laugh as he hung up the phone.
He stopped by Sam's office on his way out to let him know that he was taking Carrie on a top secret adventure, but that they would surely be home by bedtime.
"Thanks for telling me, Josh. I appreciate it."
"I didn't want you to worry. We'll see you later."
"Make sure you get the right kid this time, okay?" Sam said with a sly grin.
Josh glowered playfully at Sam as he left to pick up Carrie. The drive to Virginia never seemed to get shorter no matter how many times Josh did it. He remembered, because of it, why he and Sam had not simply moved out there. By the time, they arrived Carrie was cranky and hungry, two facts she wasn't shy about sharing with Josh.
"Hundry Osh. HUNDRY."
"Little bit, use your inside voice, please." Josh said quietly.
"Not 'side, Osh. HUNDRY." Carrie started more quietly, but ended on a bellow again.
"You're inside the car, Carrie. That's inside too. And I know you're hungry and we'll take care of that as soon as we get to the house, okay?"
"'kay, Osh. What doin?"
"I don't know, little bit. There's a box waiting at the house from your Grandma Seaborn, and we'll find it when we get there."
"Gamma? Go see?"
"Not today, sweetie. This is just a box from her." Josh sighed. Sam wanted the holiday to be about them with Carrie, so he had decided not to take Carrie to see his mother. Josh thought it was a mistake, but he hadn't argued with Sam because he did want to spend the holidays with both of them.
Carrie looked upset when Josh snuck a glance at her in the rearview, but she seemed to have become occupied with the idea of the box and what it might hold. Come to think of it, he was curious too.
When they arrived at the house a large box awaited them. Josh approached it hesitantly, but Carrie toddled right up to it and patted it gently. "Gamma box."
Josh grinned as he unlocked the door. "Yeah, Carrie. It's Grandma's box. Let's take it inside - we'll eat, and then find out what's in it."
"NO - open NOW," Carrie demanded imperiously. Josh looked at her steadily, thinking about how much she sounded like her mother.
"Eat first, then open. Them's the rules, squirt," Josh said as he hoisted the box across the threshold and then led the way to the kitchen to fix something for dinner.
After dinner, Josh and Carrie opened the box and discovered an array of Christmas decorations. Some were clearly meant for the tree, others for general display around the house. Josh studied all of the things in the box and then called Mary. "Where's the catch this time?"
"There really isn't a tricky part today - well, except possibly putting the angel on the tree. You might want to look at it carefully before you do it, and be exceptionally careful with it. If you break it, I will fly out there myself and hurt you," Mary said, sort of threateningly.
"Where did these come from, Mary?"
"Look at them carefully, Joshua," Mary repeated as she hung up the phone. She had convinced the guy Sam had taking care of Kelly's place to find this box for her, and once she had carefully re-wrapped the contents to withstand shipping, he had arranged its delivery for her as well.
He was still puzzling over what Mary had said when he thought he heard Carrie say something. "What was that little bit?"
"Is Momma," Carrie said decisively pointing at the angel.
Josh glanced at it quickly, and remembering what he had heard Sam tell her before said, "It doesn't look like Kelly, sweetie. But you're right, you're Momma's an angel now."
"NO! MOMMA!" the little girl shouted at him. "Is too Momma." She stuck out her little lip in a stubborn pose so much like Sam it was startling. Josh decided to look at the angel again and realized that it looked amazingly like Sarah.
"Do you mean Sarah, baby? Was Sarah Momma?"
Carrie nodded as a big tear slipped down her cheek. "Want Momma."
Josh bundled her up in his arms and held her protectively. "I know you do. We all do, baby. you have Daddy and me."
Carrie's face brightened as she looked around. "Daddy?"
Sam will be happy to know that he can bring a smile to his little girl's face, Josh thought. "Let's get these decorations put up and then we'll go find Daddy, okay?"
"'kay, Osh." Carrie scrambled down off of Josh's lap and started digging in the box. As she pulled things out, Josh realized that Mary had sent him Kelly's personal collection of holiday ornaments. Each piece was clearly designed and created by her - the colors were sometimes off-beat, but many pieces were quite traditional. Sleighs, bells, candy canes, and Santas (though Kel's Santa's bore a remarkable resemblance to Sam). He also found a hand-sculpted menorah with a carefully penned inscription on the bottom "For Joshua, Much Love Kelly". The date indicated that she had made it for him within the last year - a fact that brought a lump to his throat. He was holding his last present from her.
Finally, they reached the bottom of the box and had put all of the ornaments on the tree that needed to be placed except the Sarah angel. Josh picked up the angel and tried to decide how he could best get it on the tree. As he moved the angel in his hands, he discovered a note written on the cone under the skirt: "For my own Angel, love Kel." The date on it indicated that she must have made this angel for Sarah in the first year or so that they were together. Josh looked down to discover Carrie staring up at him.
"Up, Osh." Carrie lifted her arms to be picked up.
"Do you want to put our angel on the tree, Carrie?" At her nod, Josh sighed and picked her up. He handed her the angel as he tried to steady both the little girl and the angel at the same time. Remarkably, Carrie managed to get the angel on the tree without breaking it; she was tilting a bit, but she seemed to be firmly in place. Josh got Carrie into her coat, took a final look around the house, a bit in awe of how strongly he could feel Kel and Sarah's influence on the holiday scene he and Carrie had created. He locked the door behind him as he and Carrie headed out to find Sam.
"Can you explain this to me again, because I just don't think I understand how I'm supposed to do this," Josh asked.
"It's simple, Joshua. You're taking a holiday picture of you, Sam, and Carrie."
"But shouldn't we have done this weeks ago?"
"Perhaps a formal portrait, yes. However, this is a candid shot," Mary explained patiently. "You need to take this picture without Sam realizing that you are doing it."
"How am I supposed to do that?"
"You are a creative man, Josh. I have faith in you," Mary said with a chuckle as she hung up the phone.
Josh set up a camera as unobtrusively as he could on a shelf in Sam's apartment. He had convinced Carrie to wear a dress - no easy undertaking on the best of days. All he was waiting for was Sam.
When Sam arrived home, he found Josh in a green sweater and Carrie in a cute little red dress with white lace. He was puzzled when Josh handed him a red sweater which seemed to complement Josh's green. "Uh, Josh?"
"I thought we should get in the holiday spirit tonight. It's only two days before Christmas after all." Josh smiled.
"Well, okay," Sam said doubtfully. "I'll just go change."
When Sam came back out in the red sweater, Josh grabbed him playfully and kissed him breathless.
"Uh, not that I'm complaining, but what gives?" Sam asked glancing down at their daughter, who was making faces at the display. Josh gestured upwards and Sam discovered that his ceiling was about plastered with mistletoe.
"Subtle, Josh. Very subtle." Sam grinned and kissed him again. He leaned down to pick up Carrie and said, "Now sweetie, kiss Josh. That's what you do when there's mistletoe around."
Sam was so intent on Carrie kissing Josh on the cheek that he didn't notice the flash go off several times. The three of them settled on the sofa to drink hot cocoa and watch _It's a Wonderful Life_. Josh couldn't help but feel exceptionally good about getting this part of the project off without a hitch.
Josh had convinced Donna to take the film for developing first thing in the morning. He was now waiting for her to return with the pictures, and he was getting anxious. It shouldn't be taking her this long.
Donna was walking down the hall as slowly as possible. She kept hoping that something would happen between where she was and Josh's door that would keep her from having to tell him the bad news. She knew he was going to be disappointed about the pictures, but, really, there was nothing she could do. She straightened her shoulders, marched into his office, and shut the door behind her.
"I don't see any pictures, Donna."
"Well, see, here's the thing -"
"I don't want to hear about a thing, Donna. I want my pictures. Where are they?"
"As I was saying, it's kind of like this -"
"No, Donna. I want my pictures," Josh said more loudly.
"There are no pictures, Josh."
"DONNA!" Josh cried plaintively. And then he said more quietly, "What happened to my pictures?"
"To be honest, I'm not sure. I took them the film; I dropped it off like you asked; and now they can't find the film or the pictures." Donna looked at Josh's face, which had gone an interesting pale shade. "Josh, there wasn't anything incriminating on that film, was there?"
"You don't have photos of you and Sam in a compromising position that have suddenly gone missing, do you?"
"I don't know. Depends on how you define compromising. The pictures are of Sam holding Carrie and her kissing Sam and then me alternately on the cheek. So far as I remember there are no photos of me kissing Sam or vice versa. I suppose those could be incriminating, couldn't they?"
"Let's just hope they don't show up in the _Post_ tomorrow then, okay?" Donna asked.
"Let's hope. Keep on this, Donna. I need those pictures." Donna shook her head at his level of panic and left him to doing whatever else it was he was supposed to be doing in the two days before Christmas.
Josh really tried not to panic. He couldn't honestly remember if there *were* pictures of him kissing Sam or not. It wasn't as if his relationship with Sam wasn't a rather open secret in Washington, but he didn't want it to spread to the heartland or anything like that. As he had told Kelly more than once, the rules were different for Sam and him.
He picked up the phone debating whether he should call Sam to tell him about this missing film or call Sam's mother and see what his next assignment might be. He settled on Sam's mother.
"I'm teaching Carrie to what?" Josh asked.
"Sing Sam's favorite carol."
"But I don't know what his favorite carol is," Josh said plaintively (which he seemed to be doing a great deal this holiday season and he didn't know why).
"It shouldn't be too difficult to figure it out," Mary said, adding almost under her breath, "if you really know him, that is."
"Okay, Mrs. Seaborn, I'm getting the feeling that you're mad at me for some reason. I don't think I've done anything to you. I do know Sam quite well. But, I'm Jewish, remember? I don't know Christmas carols. I wouldn't even know where to start."
Mary admitted, to herself anyway, that she was being too hard on Josh this time. To Josh she said, "It's 'The Peace Carol.' If I know my son, you'll find a CD somewhere called _John Denver and the Muppets_ -- the song is on that one. Listen to it, and teach it to Carrie. I think you'll like it, too."
So during lunch, Josh ran over to Sam's apartment and found the CD that Mary had mentioned. He listened to the carol on the drive back and discovered that he did, indeed, like the song, but he couldn't imagine Carrie successfully singing a word of it. He was willing to try, though. When he arrived back, he found Donna sitting in his office waiting for him.
"Tell me you have good news, Donna."
"If you don't have good news, go back out and find some - please?"
"I think it depends. I got a call from someone who said the thing you wanted is yours and you could come get it. She wouldn't be more specific - just said you'd know what and you'd know where. So, is that good news?"
Josh jumped up and started sort of dancing around the office. "Yes, that's good news. In fact, that's great news. Now, what about my pictures?"
"So far, no luck. But they are searching, and they swear this has never happened before. Oh, you know the drill." Donna said, with a sigh.
"Yeah, I guess I do. Okay, I'm going to go pick up my thing. I'll be back in a while, and don't tell anyone where I've gone," Josh said as he grabbed his coat and headed back out of the office.
"That won't be difficult, Josh. I don't have any idea where you're going," Donna muttered as she went back to her own desk.
When Josh came back about an hour later, Donna was staring at him. "So where is it?"
"Where is what?"
"Whatever it was that you practically ran out of here to get. I don't suppose you've got skis in your car, do you?" Donna asked playfully.
"No - I don't have skis in my apartment; my car; Sam's apartment, or anywhere else for that matter. I got your present weeks ago; this one was for -" Josh broke off as Sam approached.
"Josh - you got a second?" Sam asked.
"Always," he said as he led the way into his office. "What's up?"
"I kind of need you to take Carrie tonight, if you could."
"Okay." Josh didn't pause to wonder why Sam sounded almost unhappy about this; rather, he considered himself fortunate that he wouldn't have to make up an excuse to get Carrie.
"Well, that was easier than I thought. Um, can she stay with you tonight, too?"
"Sure," Josh said expansively. "What do you need the time for?"
"Her Christmas present. I need to get it set up and I don't want her to see it before I'm done. I'll just take it to the house when I'm finished," Sam said.
"NO!" Josh shouted and then recovered himself. "I mean, no don't worry about that - we can take two cars out tomorrow or something. It's too far for you to drive late at night and I don't want to have to worry about you."
"Ooo-kay. I'll wait if it will make you feel better." Sam was confused, but anything that kept Josh on an even keel at this time of year was fine with him. After the wall incident this year, he didn't think it was possible to be too careful with Josh. They then turned their attention to several work related issues.
As soon as Josh and Sam had shut themselves in Josh's office, Donna had run out to the photo lab again. An hour later, she returned just as Josh's office door opened, and she heard Sam say, "Thanks again, Josh. I really appreciate everything."
She saw Josh glower at Sam - again, and knew what at least part of the conversation had been about. Josh hated feeling like he wasn't really as fully invested in Carrie as Sam was. But, she knew what Sam had gotten Josh for Christmas, so she knew that feeling was going to be long gone after the holidays. She caught Josh's eye and gave him a subtle thumbs up to let him know that she had, in fact, retrieved his pictures.
Josh pulled Donna into his office and demanded, "So you got them finally?"
"Yes, Joshua. I used all of my persuasiveness and I managed to convince them to give me your pictures."
"How did they turn out?"
"You wanted me to look at them too? I didn't do that," Donna said with a small smile. She *had* looked, and they were adorable pictures, but she didn't want Josh to know she had.
"Fine. Let me have them. Do I have anything else on my schedule today or tomorrow?" Josh asked, looking around for his calendar.
"You are a free man, Joshua. Go enjoy the holiday," Donna said with glee - knowing that if he were leaving the building, she wouldn't be far behind him.
"I plan to, Donna. I plan to," Josh said with a grin as he went to get Carrie.
He spent a quiet -- well, sort of quiet evening with Carrie attempting to teach her the song. It didn't sound much like the carol on the CD, but it sounded like Carrie, and he knew Sam would love it just for that.
**Day Twelve (Christmas Eve)**
Josh woke up early - the couch was just not comfortable anymore. He remembered when it had been, but he'd been younger then. He waited patiently for Carrie to wake up, and when she did he asked her to sing the song again to make sure she would remember it.
Finally, he thought it was late enough that he could call Sam's mother for his last assignment.
"Joshua. This last tradition is probably the most important. We always have waffles after midnight mass."
"I thought midnight mass was a Catholic thing." Josh said confusion evident in his voice.
"It is a Catholic thing."
"But Sam isn't Catholic."
"No, he's not, but I am and he has gone to this mass with me since he was young, and he still goes. It's tradition."
"Okay, so waffles? You mean like waffle house?" Josh heaved a sigh of relief - this was doable.
"No, I mean homemade waffles. And since you won't be going to mass, you can make the waffles."
"Oh. I ruined cookies. I may have ruined candy. What makes you think that waffles are going to fare better?"
"I have faith in you, Joshua." Mary giggled as she hung up the phone.
"At least one of us does," Josh muttered.
Josh wrapped his present for Sam and Carrie sort of wrapped her present for Sam. There was a great deal of tape involved - Carrie really liked tape. After feeding her breakfast, Josh searched the cable stations for child appropriate holiday movies and settled in to wait for Sam to call.
When Sam finally called, Josh held his breath for a second and then he looked at Carrie. "Well here we go, sweetie. Let's see what Daddy thinks about his surprises." Josh had agreed to meet Sam at the house in a couple of hours, but he left immediately so that he could be there when Sam arrived.
Sam was surprised to see that Josh had beaten him to the house. Sam left early and was certain he would get to the house before Josh could. He walked up to the door and stood staring at the wreath. It was oddly shaped, but it was clearly done by Carrie and he thought it was beautiful.
He opened the door, and stuck his head in, "Hello - anyone here?"
"Daddy, Daddy," Carrie called as she ran down the hallway to meet him. "See. Osh did it."
"Whoa, little one. One thing at a time - who made the wreath?"
"Osh and Cawie," Carrie said with obvious pride.
"You did a fabulous job, sweetie. Now where's Josh?" Sam was peering down the hall, but couldn't see Josh anywhere.
"See, Daddy. See." Carrie started pulling on his hand to propel him down the hall.
"Okay, show me what Josh did." Sam knew he would get no peace until he checked out whatever Carrie was worked up about. As Carrie pulled him into the living room, Sam's breath caught in his throat. "Josh really did do it, didn't he, Carrie?" Sam's eyes were shining as he took in the Christmas tree, and Kelly's decorations. All of a sudden, he felt arms sliding around his chest and turning him toward the man to which they were attached.
"Hey you. Didn't think you would ever get here," Josh said as he pulled Sam closer still.
"How did you -" Sam began to choke out. He paused, took a breath, and tried again. "How did you do all of this?"
"I've been busy, remember?" Josh said with a sly grin.
"You went to an amazing amount of trouble." At least Sam now had a clearer idea of how Josh had gotten all of his injuries over the last week and a half.
"You're worth it," Josh said. He and Sam sat staring at the tree until Carrie was ready for a nap. Sam convinced Josh to go up with her, so he could bring in the presents that he had. As he was putting things under the tree, he noticed one from Josh for him, and he placed his for Josh next to it.
That evening Sam took Carrie out for the evening service, and Josh elected to stay home. Once Sam was gone, Josh went into the kitchen and dug out the recipe that Mary had given him for the Seaborn waffles. He didn't know how they were different from regular waffles, but he knew they must be.
When Sam came back with Carrie, he smelled something strange coming from the kitchen. "Uh, Josh? What are you doing in there?"
"Osh did it," Carrie said with certainty.
"Let's hope so, Carrie," Sam said with a grin.
"Shi - I mean, shoot. Sam, you're back early." Josh hurried out into the hall covered in flour.
"There's something frighteningly familiar about this scenario. And what do you mean I'm back early? How long do you think a service like this lasts?"
"I figured a couple of hours at least." Josh said reluctantly.
"An hour - tops. So what have you been up to while I've been gone."
"Making waffles - they, uh, didn't turn out real well." Josh blushed.
"I wouldn't expect that they would. Josh, you remember that you can't cook, right?" Sam was staring at his lover, wondering what had possessed him to undertake something like this.
"I was possessed with the holiday spirit - that's all."
"Okay, I'll believe you. Even if I don't so much." Sam grinned as he pointed at Carrie who had curled up on the couch and fallen asleep. "She looks like a little angel, doesn't she?"
"Yeah, she does." Josh agreed.
After watching their girl for a while, the Sam carried her upstairs while Josh played Santa Claus.
The two of them retired to their room and celebrated the holiday their way. Both were well aware that morning would come early so they made sure that they put something on for Carrie's wake up call.
Carrie woke them up at 5am. Josh studied her bleary-eyed. "Carrie, Daddy and I are sleeping. Can't this wait?"
"No - Cwismas, Osh. Go now," Carrie demanded as she bounced on the bed to wake up Sam.
"Hey, why is the bed bouncing?" Sam asked with mock severity.
"Cwismas, Daddy. Go now," Carrie demanded again as she bounced some more.
"All right, little bit. Let's go." Josh took one hand as Sam took the other. They gently swung Carrie off the bed.
Carrie had received plenty of presents and was completely absorbed in playing with a doll - ignoring the play kitchen that Sam had set up in his apartment and then taken apart again when he realized it wouldn't fit in his car -- when Sam finally reached under the tree and handed Josh a slim box.
"Oh look. A tie. Just what I always wanted," Josh said sarcastically.
"Boxes can be deceiving. You should actually open this one," Sam said, the slight quake in his voice betraying his nervousness.
Josh opened the present and found a folded piece of paper. He looked up at Sam, trying to figure out what this was all about. "Uh, Sam?"
"Just read it, Josh."
Josh unfolded the paper and read it. Although it wasn't, technically, a legal document in that he couldn't file it with the courts, Sam had done everything in his power to make Josh as full a parent as he was. He had named Josh as Carrie's legal guardian in the event that something happened to Sam. And the document stated, clearly, that Josh was in all ways as much a parent to this child as Sam. He couldn't find the words to express what he wanted to say as he turned his gaze back to Sam.
Sam cleared his throat. "I just wanted you to know that I think of you this way even if I can't find a way to get it legally recognized yet, I believe it. I hope that's good enough."
"Yeah, it's good enough," Josh said quietly.
Sam let Josh sit for a few minutes, and then he said, "Can I open mine now?"
"Actually, not yet. Carrie, you need to get your coat. You too, Sam," Josh said as he pulled the small box out from under the tree.
"Josh, I'm in my pajamas," Sam objected.
"Doesn't matter. Just get your coat. And before you ask, no, I'm not telling you where we're going. Just get your coat." Josh flashed his best 'you can't get mad at me' grin while Sam wandered off to get his and Carrie's coats.
>From Sam's perspective, they seemed to drive for hours, and they were heading back toward the District, which made absolutely no sense. Finally, the car came to a stop in front of a series of townhouses, but Sam didn't know anyone who lived in this area. "Josh, what the heck? Why are we stopping here?"
Josh just smiled at Sam and handed him the small box that he had shoved in his coat pocket earlier. He watched as Sam opened the box and stared at the key ring with two keys on it. Sam's brow was furrowed as he looked at Josh again. "I don't understand."
Josh was shaking a little as he took the keys from Sam. "Follow me."
Sam got Carrie out of the car and followed Josh, who had stopped in front of the house on the end of the row. He looked at Sam and said, "Merry Christmas" as he dropped the keys back into Sam's hand.
"What?" Sam was still completely confused.
Josh shook his head suddenly very nervous about the present that he had chosen. He inclined his head toward the house. "Um, this is your present."
Sam stared at the house. "You bought a house?"
"Mostly. I haven't signed the final papers, but if you like it - it's ours," Josh said triumphantly. "Why don't we go inside? You can look around. If you hate it, we can keep looking."
"I have a lease." Sam was still in shock.
"So do I. We don't have to move in right away, but once we have it we can move in when we're ready." Josh wasn't sure this was going over as well as he had hoped.
Sam was still dazed but allowed Josh to propel him into the townhouse. It had every feature that Sam would want, plus several he knew would be important to Josh. It even had a small yard for Carrie to play in with a swing set already set up. It was a perfect house. Sam rewarded Josh with a huge smile. "It's perfect."
Josh breathed a huge sigh of relief. "Thank god. You have no idea what I went through trying to find this place."
"I imagine you drove some poor real estate agent insane."
Josh muttered, "Not nearly as crazy as your mother drove me."
"My mother? What about my mother?" Sam asked.
"You know what, the surprises aren't over yet. Maybe we should go back to the other house - whaddya say?" Josh said.
"Okay. I think you've done enough, though."
After an uneventful drive home, Josh dragged Sam back in the house, where he had left the homemade candy on the table. Sam looked at it doubtfully, but tried a small piece. "This isn't so bad. What is it supposed to be?"
"You don't recognize it?" Josh asked, perplexed.
"Uh, no, should I?"
"I guess I messed it up more than I thought," Josh muttered savagely.
Sam didn't know what to say to that, so he kept quiet. He glanced up at the mantle and noticed a candid shot of Josh, Carrie and himself. He picked up the frame and studied the picture carefully. "Hey, when did you take this?"
"Remember the day I taped the mistletoe to the ceiling? Then," Josh said with some satisfaction.
"It's a great picture, Josh. I really like candid shots at Christmas so much better than the formal portraits we always did."
Carrie tugged on Josh's hand. "Now Osh?"
Josh grinned. "Yeah, now Carrie."
Carrie began to sing her song. When she finished, Sam applauded loudly and then whispered to Josh, "What was that?"
"The Peace Carol," Josh said.
"That's a wonderful song, Josh. Awfully hard for a little kid, though," Sam said thoughtfully. He could sense mounting frustration in Josh, but he couldn't quite figure out what was going on.
"Come on, Sam. Don't you recognize what we've been doing here?" Josh asked incredulously.
"Uh, no. I don't know."
"The Seaborn Twelve Days of Christmas. I admit I messed up a couple of them, but you should see the pattern. I worked really hard." Josh was crushed.
"The Seaborn what?"
"The Twelve Days of Christmas. You know all those traditional things that your family did for the holidays: baking cookies; cutting down the tree; paper chains." Josh saw absolutely no recognition in Sam's face.
"Josh - my mother doesn't bake; we got our tree from a lot, and I don't think she'd know what a paper chain was if you showed it to her." Sam said, chuckling. Then he added, "Oh, and Josh - the twelve days of Christmas are after the 25th, not before." He leaned in and kissed Josh for the efforts he had made, and promised they would get even with his mother.
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