DISCLAIMER: Charlie's Angels and its characters are the property of Spelling-Goldberg Productions. I've made no money from this story and am merely playing with the characters for my own entertainment.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: It's been a while since I've written anything new, since 2020 has been exhausting in multiple ways. But I really wanted to write a story before the end of the year, so pushed myself to come up with something. This is yet another of my experiments with subverting the phrase "a picture is worth a thousand words." This time, each scene is a thousand words (as counted by my word program...lol), and hopefully paints more than can be contained in a single picture. It's fairly hastily written and edited, and isn't quite the light, happy Christmas story I originally intended, but I rather like what I ended up with. Plus, the more I play around in the world of Charlie's Angels, the more I fall in love with the characters. Especially since Kris and Kelly are just too cute together.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author
FEEDBACK: To cheerfuloceangazer[at]gmail.com
By ocean gazer
Kelly scowls as she sweeps dirty straw off the stable floor. Her muscles ache; she's developing blisters despite her heavy work gloves; and here in the mountains, it's far colder than she's used to. Though the exertion is keeping her warm enough overall, her nose and ears are chilled, and she's just generally miserable.
This isn't quite what she'd envisioned when Charlie told them about this case.
The Flying J Ranch, which trains both exotic and domestic animals, then sells them to circuses and roadside zoos, has been plagued by multiple incidents where the beasts mysteriously escape their pens. The gates and cages remain locked and there are no obvious holes in the walls, but somehow the animals get free. The ranch owner, Juliaan old and undoubtedly intimate friend of Charlie'sbegged him for help figuring out what's going on. Charlie, always responsive to feminine wiles, naturally took the case. Even though all of the Angels objected.
It's not that they don't understand the gravity of the situation. They do. The loose animals haven't hurt anyone yet, but it's only a matter of time before something bad happens. Still, none of them have any special experience dealing with semi-wild beasts, yet their boss seems oddly unconcerned about that minor little detail.
Kelly scowls again, then coughs as her energetic approach with the broom stirs up dust.
She dislikes this assignment for more than just the obvious reason that her cover is doing all the grunt work in the stables. It's because she's exhausted. They all are.
The Angels have been working their tails off for months now. During September, they had a whopping five days off. Total. In October, it was only four. And then came November, where they literally worked every single day except for Thanksgiving and the day after.
Charlie promised them a light workload in December, where they'd catch up on paperwork and then get a vacation. So far, that hasn't happened. They still haven't had any time off, taking on this case immediately after solving another one.
As yet, they have no suspects, no witnesses, and no motive. Granted, they've only been here a few days, but usually by now they have something to go on. In this situation, however, every worker at the ranch has keys to the animal pens, so there's no easy process of elimination. And since there's no way to find out precisely when each animal got loose before it was discovered, they can't really check anyone's alibi.
It feels like they're on a wild goose chase. No pun intended.
Shaking her head, Kelly sets the broom aside and grabs a shovel. Bit by bit, she scoops up the pile she's made, tossing the dirty straw out the door into a larger pile that's situated just outside the stable. She's still not entirely sure what the ranch hands use the stuff for. Nor does she really care.
She leans the shovel against the wall and picks up the broom again, moving over to the next section of the stable floor, trying not to aggravate her blisters. At least her assignment, dirty and tiring as it is, isn't the worst of the lot. Sabrina, as usual, lucked out, posing as a reporter looking into the exotic animal trade. Bosley is undercover as someone interested in starting his own ranch and eager to learn the ropes. Kris, however, is stuck in the role of a ditsy maid, whose main interest in life is batting her eyes and flirting with every available man.
Not that Kris isn't good at it. But Kelly knows her friend gets tired of always playing the eye candy and obvious bait.
Of course, she wouldn't get stuck doing it all the time if she wasn't so beautiful and charming, with that bright blonde hair and those big blue eyes and that cheerful, good-natured personality.
Kelly sighs wistfully. She's had a crush on Kris since practically the first case they worked together. She'd thought the feeling would fade over time, but instead it's only grown stronger.
Over the past several months, she's frequently glanced up from whatever she's doing and caught Kris staring at her, only to have the blonde blush and look away quickly. Some days, Kelly is certain that she's not the only one with a crush. But then she thinks she must be imagining things, and ruthlessly squelches the idea. She doesn't want to get her hopes up only to have them shot down.
She's practiced in the art of flirting and seduction. All the Angels are, since it's one of the ways they get close to their suspects. But it's a game, of sorts, when she's doing it for work, where she knows she'll be walking away at the end of the case. And skill at wrapping men around her little finger for the job doesn't mean she's good at romance in real life. Sometimes, it's her own fears and demons that sabotage things. More often, it's because she's terrible at picking decent men to date.
She's definitely better at playing a part than she is at making an actual relationship work.
All of which is neither here nor there.
Kelly sighs again. She and Kris are friends, good friends, and if that's all they ever are, well, it's far better than not having the blonde in her life at all. Mooning over what she doesn't haveand is convinced she can't getisn't doing her any good. After all, if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.
The best thing she can do is focus on the case, and try to wrap it up as quickly as possible. The sooner they're done, the sooner they can go back home. If they're lucky, Charlie will give them their promisedand long overduevacation. If not, well, at least she'll be able to sleep in her own bed. And it'll be a lot warmer.
The thought is strangely motivating, and she attacks the straw-covered floor with renewed vigor.
Kris flops down on her bed in the staff cabin she and Kelly are sharing. With a sigh, she rolls onto her back, throws an arm up over her head, and closes her eyes. She can't remember the last time she was this tired.
Not that her assignment is all that physically demanding. Poor Kelly got the short end of the stick this time. But as hard as they've been working for months now, she's got no energy left.
Especially since she's been running circles in her head, trying to figure out if she's misreading the signals she's picking up from Kelly. Sometimes, she's positive the gorgeous brunette is flirting with her. Other times, her teammate is as hard to read as a rock. And while Kris knows it's nothing personalfrom what she's pieced together of Kelly's life, it's no wonder her friend is so often aloofthat doesn't make it any less frustrating when she simply wants to know where she stands.
She's had a crush on the brunette nearly the entire time they've worked together. Really, what's not to love? Kelly's smart and sensible, cool under fire, incredibly loyal, fiercely protective, and one of the kindest people Kris has ever met. That she's beautiful as well is just icing on the cake.
Some days, Kris thinks she needs to just take the initiativemake a move, and see what happens. Most days, the idea terrifies her. Not solely out of a fear of rejection. She's seen Kelly gently rebuff many unwanted suitors, and is certain the brunette would let her down equally gently. But she's afraid of how it might change things between them. She loves working with Kelly, Sabrina, and Bosley, and doesn't want to do anything that could damage the rapport and trust they've built with each other.
She values her friendship with Kelly far too much to run the risk of ruining it by confessing her feelings without being sure they're reciprocated.
Even if being only friends isn't really what she wants.
Before she can get too pensive, she hears voices outside the door. She opens her eyes and pushes herself up until she's sitting with her back against the wall, her thin pillow propped behind her.
She smiles at Kelly, who offers a fond smile in return, then gives a little wave to Sabrina and Bosley, who are trailing behind the brunette.
Kris waits until they're all seated before asking, "So, any news?"
Sabrina's sigh sounds disgusted. "Nada. Zip. Zilch. Charlie checked into the financial records of the staff, but didn't find anything odd. I've been making a nuisance of myself, asking lots of questions of anyone I can corner, but I still have no idea who might be responsible for opening the pens and letting the animals out. No one's seen anythingat least not that they'll tell meand no one has any suspicions of their coworkersat least none that they'll admit."
Kelly clears her throat. "That squares with what I've observed. Not that I've had a chance to get close to any of the animal trainers, but the ranch hands and stable boys all are on good terms with each other. I haven't even heard any of the usual grumbling about the bosses or the owner. Which, as you all know, is highly unusual."
Kris nods, and sees Sabrina and Bosley doing the same. Probing for and listening to gossip is a huge part of their investigations. Most of it ends up having little to do with whatever case they're working, but it's still a staple of almost every place they've gone undercover.
Bosley offers, "I've noticed the same thing. Of course, I'm spending most of my time with the bosses, who are currently schooling me in the finances of owning and operating a ranch. Even so, there's a remarkable lack of complaints about lazy or incompetent employees."
Suddenly aware that everyone is looking at her expectantly, Kris fights the urge to fidget and says quickly, "I've got nothing either. Other than trying hard to sell me on their individual charms"she makes a wry face"the trainers are fully focused on the animals. They have different specialties, so don't work together much, but they aren't badmouthing each other either."
She looks over at Sabrina, noting that both Kelly and Bosley follow suit. She bites back a grin. Bri is definitely the leader of the packthe one they all rely on to take charge and come up with a plan. Even Charlie tends to defer to her judgment.
Sabrina says dryly, "Like I said, we've got nothing. I've been racking my brain trying to come up with a motive, but I can't figure out what anyone has to gain from the animals getting loose. It's not like they've got guests or tourists who might be scared off."
"Maybe it's a murder plot," Bosley suggests. "Let the wild beasties out, knowing that if someone is killed, it'll be considered a tragic accident."
Kelly protests, "No, that's too uncertain. There's no guarantee that the animals would even go after the right person, let alone do any actual damage."
Sabrina raises an eyebrow. "The theoretical murderer would be far more likely to be attacked than the intended victim. It's possible, but I agree with Kelly. It's pretty far-fetched. Not to mention risky."
Bosley frowns. "So where does that leave us?"
Bri shrugs. "I dunno. I don't have a clue who we should focus on. None of them seem like likely suspects."
Kris waits for a moment, then asks the obvious question. "So if we've hit a dead end, then what do we do?"
She glances at Bosley, whose frown deepens, then at Sabrina, who shrugs again. She shifts her gaze to Kelly, who simply looks annoyed.
The brunette's tone is as exasperated as her expression. "I guess all we can do is wait until another animal gets loose and take it from there."
Kris shakes her head and sighs heavily. "Terrific."
Sabrina carefully picks her way across a snow-dusted field, tryingand failingto keep up with Julia. The ranch owner might be pushing sixty, but she's spry and surefooted.
Not that Sabrina has any particular reason to rush. Yes, she's interested in seeing the far-off enclosure where the ranch houses its big cats. Yes, she's curious about how secure it is. Yes, she's excited by the prospect of seeing a tiger up close, albeit still at a safe distance. But none of that overrides her desire to do so without breaking an ankle.
When she hears a faint but very distinctive scream, she forgets her caution. She abruptly turns and runs back across the rutted field, racing headlong towards the sound.
She knows that voice, has heard that scream more than once. Kelly's in trouble.
As she nears the buildings and open-air pens clustered together in the center of the expansive ranch, she slows down, listening intently. The screams have stopped, but she hears loud rustling, agitated and guttural hissing, cries of distress, and horses whinnying. She heads towards the stables, vaguely aware that Julia is right behind her, dimly registering a flurry of motion off to the side. Sabrina ignores it, focused on finding her teammate.
When she pushes through the doorway of the stables, Julia hot on her heels, her mouth drops open and she skids to a stop, staring in utter disbelief. Kelly is on the ground, curled in on herself. Two Canada geese are hopping around the brunette, wildly flapping their wings, hitting her.
Sabrina gapes at the sight, completely frozen in place. Normally, she's the level-headed leader who can always figure out what to do in any situation. But this . She doesn't have a clue.
Suddenly, a slight figure rushes past her, followed closely by a tall, burly one. Sabrina watches incredulously as Kris circles around and stands protectively over Kelly. The diminutive blonde stretches to her full height and faces the geese, staring them down, her arms spread wide as if she's trying to make herself as big as possible.
The burly manwho Sabrina finally identifies as Rafe, one of the animal trainersbarks a sharp command.
Instantly, the geese stop their attack. Rafe issues another command, and the giant birds turn towards him. He gives a hand signal, and the geese waddle casually over to him, as if they're just out for a Sunday stroll. Two of the ranch hands move in, and Sabrina stares disbelievingly as the birds, now completely docile, obediently follow the men out of the stable.
Shaking off her momentary paralysis, she makes her way over to Kelly. Kris is already kneeling beside their downed teammate, one hand stroking the brunette's hair. Sabrina sees the lingering fear and shock in brown eyes. She squats down and asks, "Are you hurt?"
Kelly's voice quavers. "I'm not sure."
After a minute, Kelly tries to sit up, but falls back. Sabrina holds out a hand and pulls her up. When the brunette attempts to stand, Bri needs Kris' help to get the other woman to her feet.
Kris wraps an arm around Kelly's waist, and Sabrina frowns when she registers how heavily the brunette is leaning against the blonde. Slipping an arm around her friend's waist from the other side, her frown deepens when she feels how hard Kelly is trembling.
They slowly guide their thoroughly rattled teammate back to the cabin. Julia, Rafe, and Bosleywho appeared after all was said and donetrail behind them.
When they reach the cabin, Sabrina makes the trio wait outside so she and Kris can examine Kelly in detail.
Once Sabrina is satisfied that her friend isn't seriously injured, she helps Kris get Kelly propped up comfortably in bed, wrapped in a blanket. She smiles when the blonde settles in beside the brunette, holding her hand and murmuring quietly to her.
Beckoning the others inside, Sabrina waits until they're all seated, then volunteers, "Kelly's okay. She'll have some nasty bruises and will be sore for a while, but nothing's broken."
She heartily empathizes with their sighs of relief. That was too damn close.
Silence hangs over the room for a minute, then Julia says sharply, "Those geese used to wander the ranch freely and have never showed any signs of aggression before. What happened?"
Sabrina turns her attention to Rafe, who merely shrugs. "I have no idea. For wild birds, they're about as tame as you could want. And I know I locked their pen after I fed them this morning."
Julia sighs. "I'm just glad you got to the stables as quickly as you did. And that you've done such a good job training them that they followed your commands without hesitation."
Something about the exchange bothers Sabrina, though she can't put her finger on what. She glances at Kelly, who though obviously still unnerved by the attack, is suddenly alert. Aha. At least she's not the only one who picked up on something odd. She looks at Kris, whose focus is centered on Kelly rather than the conversation, then at Bosley, who appears utterly oblivious. Typical.
But whatever it is that she detected, it's a mystery for later. Right now, Kelly needs some rest.
Sabrina says as much to their visitors, then brightly thanks Rafe for his help, assures Julia that everything's fine, and shoos them and Bosley out of the cabin.
Once they're gone, Sabrina plops down on Kris' bed, stretching her legs out and leaning back against the wall. Idly, she watches Kris fussing over Kellyhelping her lie down and get comfortable, then stroking her hair. She listens with one ear as the blonde hums softly, clearly intent on soothing the shaken brunette to sleep.
Sabrina chuckles to herself, wondering when the two of them are finally going to get a clue.
Quickly, she sobers. She's certain there's something important about what just happened, something that's a key to cracking this case. She only wishes she knew what.
Kelly limps slowly towards the stables, trying not to aggravate her aching ribs. Though the geese didn't do any major damage, she's bruised and battered and none too happy about it.
She's not heading to the stables to work. She's looking for Rafe, to thank him for coming to her rescue. And she's also hoping to get a feel for why the situation is still nagging at her. Though it's not just her. Sabrina is equally troubled and equally unable to identify why. Kris, bless her sunny little heart, is just confused.
She hears shouting coming from the vicinity of the woodshed, and frowns. That sounds like Sabrina.
Picking up the pace as much as her injuries allow, Kelly hobbles towards the area, which consists of four lean-tos filled with stacked firewood bracketing a clearing where the logs and branches are split. As she draws near, she frowns worriedly. Sabrina sounds scared, which is entirely unlike her.
More sounds fill the airsnarling and staccato bursts of whistling. Kelly moves a little faster.
When she finally wends her way between two of the lean-tos and sees what's happening, she feels like her eyes are going to pop out of her head. Sabrina is on the other side of the clearing, backed up against a pile of firewood, leaning awkwardly on it. A huge dogor maybe a wolfstands right in front of her, growling and snapping its jaws.
Fear pulses through Kelly. She's not close enough to do anything, and doubts she could help in her condition anyhow.
Then, like magic, Kris appears in the clearing, emerging from the other side of the lean-to on her left. The blonde skids to a halt as if sizing up the situation, looks around frantically, then picks up a hefty branch and charges forward. Kelly watches in astonishment as her teammate smacks the dogwolf?in the head with the limb.
She isn't sure what, exactly, she expects to happen. But it's definitely not what does. The wolf, definitely a wolf, turns towards Krisnot seeming at all fazed by the blowand snarls menacingly. The blonde raises the branch to strike again, but doesn't get the chance. In the blink of an eye, the animal leaps.
Kris goes down under a ferocious pile of fur.
Terror seizes Kelly by the throat and she screams.
Moments later, though it feels like an eternity, there's a resounding crack. The pile of fur abruptly stops moving.
Staring open-mouthed at the scene, trying to process what just happened, Kelly registers Sabrina standing over the wolf, clearly favoring one foot, clutching an ax. At first, she thinks her teammate cleaved the creature's skull, killing it. Then she sees how the other woman is holding the tool, notes the distinct lack of blood, and realizes Bri hit the animal with the blunt end of the ax head.
Heart beating way too fast, she limps over to her teammates. By the time she gets there, Sabrina has dropped the ax and muscled the unconscious animal off of Kris, who is curled on her side, panting wildly. Blue eyes are glassy with shock, and there's a growing red stain on the blonde's left sleeve.
Kelly falls to her knees beside Kris, ignoring her body's protest at the sudden movement. The blonde whimpers pitifully, and she reaches out with trembling hands to stroke her friend's hair, desperate to provide comfort. Sabrina sinks down beside them with a sharp hiss.
Worry rising by the second, Kelly studies her dark-haired teammate carefully. Sabrina waves her concern away. "I'm fine, just twisted my ankle trying to escape."
Taking the words at face value, Kelly focuses once more on Kris. She gasps in horror when Sabrina cautiously peels back the blonde's bloody sleeve, revealing jagged teeth marks circling her wrist.
Frantically, Kelly scans the area, hoping against hope for help. Unexpectedly, she spots Rafe half-hidden behind one of the woodpiles, his eyes glued on them. "We need a doctor!" she screams, relieved when the words seem to break him out of his apparent paralysis. He nods, then runs off.
Mentally dismissing him, Kelly turns back to her teammates, watching Sabrina fashion a pressure bandage around the ugly wound. She concentrates on Kris, who's growing increasingly pale and distressed. Petting blonde hair, she murmurs, "Hold on, honey. Help is on the way."
She's only vaguely aware of her boss and several ranch hands arriving, of Sabrina's terse explanation, of two of the men restraining the still-unconscious wolf and dragging it away. Her entire focus is on Kris.
When Julia and the veterinarian-cum-medic appear, Rafe and Bosley on their heels, Kelly remains at her friend's side, calming her as the doctor examines the bite. At length, he looks up and says they need to get Kris to a hospital. He could clean and stitch the wound, but doesn't have the right kind of antibiotics, so it's best that she get proper medical care. One of the ranch hands offers to drive.
While the veterinarian wraps a clean bandage around the blonde's wrist and gives her a shot of something for the pain, Kelly moves off to the side to huddle with her teammates. Sabrina tells her to go with Kris, that they'll handle things here. Bosley promises to make sure Bri's ankle gets examined.
The medic lifts the wounded woman to her feet. Kelly steps up beside the blonde and slips an arm around her waist. When Kris sways and leans heavily against her, she tightens her hold, ignoring the stab of pain from her bruised ribs, determined to support her friend.
As they gingerly make their way across the clearing, Kelly glances back at her teammates, and finds Sabrina studying Rafe thoughtfully.
She has no doubt Bri is wondering the same things she is. If he was close enough to see the attack, then why didn't he try to stop it? If he stumbled across the scene afterwards, then why was he trying to hide?
Kris grumbles in protest at Sabrina's entirely too perky "Wakey, wakey." She's not actually asleep, but she is incredibly groggy from the pain medication the ER doctor prescribed.
She snuggles closer to Kelly, sighing contentedly when her friend's arms tighten around her. They're sitting beside each other in the hotel bed, though Kris is more reclined than upright. She's half-sprawled on top of the brunette, using her as a pillow.
Opening her eyes, she blinks to clear her fuzzy vision and glances around the room. Bosley, ever the professional, is in the desk chair. Sabrina's sitting on the other bed, her crutches leaning against the wall, her bandaged ankle propped up on pillows. Last night, after Kris was released from the hospital, Bosley brought them straight to this hotel, saying that with all the Angels injured, Charlie had called off the investigation.
Kris hadn't been in any condition to followor understandthe heated discussion that ensued about that. She only knew that both Kelly and Sabrina were upset about something. When she woke this morning, Bosley and Bri were gone, and Kelly sidestepped all of her questions about it. She'd wanted to push the issue, but knew it wouldn't do any good, stubborn as the brunette was. Besides, she'd been in too much pain to argue.
Kelly's voice sounds loud in her ear. "So, what happened?"
Sabrina's face lights up in a self-satisfied grin. "We solved the mystery."
Kris is thoroughly confused, and not just from the pain meds. "Wait. I don't remember much about yesterday, but I thought Charlie took us off the case."
"He did." Sabrina still looks incredibly smug. "But he just told us to stop investigating the escapes. He never said we couldn't question witnesses about the attacks."
It sounds like the same thing to Kris, but she decides not to worry about it.
"And?" Kelly's voice is sharp, though her hold on Kris remains gentle.
Bosley clears his throat. "As you both suspected, it was Rafe."
Kris opens her eyes wide at that. She knows both her teammates had a weird feeling about him, but they never explained what was bothering themor why.
She stares quizzically at Bosley for a moment, then looks at Sabrina. The dark-haired woman smiles. "We didn't even have to push very hard. As soon as we asked what he saw yesterday, he started sweating. A few questions later, he broke down in tears and confessed everything."
Quietly, Bosley says, "His conscience was eating at him."
At that, Sabrina's expression grows serious. "I honestly don't think he expected anyone to get hurt. Every time he let an animal out, he made sure he was close at hand to prevent things from spiraling out of control."
Kelly snaps, "Except with the geese. And the wolf."
Sudden tension floods through the brunette, and Kris snuggles a little closer, showing support in the only way she can. It seems like meager comfort, but she hears Kelly's almost inaudible sigh and feels her friend hug her tighter.
She glances back over at Sabrina, who has one eyebrow raised. "Well, to be fair, he did stop the geese before they did any serious damage. And he tried with the wolfthat's what all those weird whistling noises were. He just thought it was much better trained than it actually was."
There's silence for a minute, then Kris feels Kelly shrug. The brunette says evenly, "Okay, I'll concede the point. I mean, I'm bruised and sore, but I don't have any broken bones. I'm just glad you were able to stop the wolf before "
Kris feels a shudder course through her friend. Carefully lifting her good hand, she caresses Kelly's arm. Swallowing hard around the sudden lump in her throat, she whispers, "Me too."
Bosley adds, "Me three. And I'm grateful that Rafe confessed so we can officially close this case. Not to mention so that Julia can rest easy, knowing there won't be any more problems with animals roaming free."
The conversation lapses there, the others seeming content with what's been said. But Kris is still confused. She mulls things over for a bit, then realizes which piece of the puzzle is still missing. "But why did he do it? What did he get out of it?"
Her gaze is on Sabrina, so she sees her teammate's disgusted grimace. "To advance his career. The Flying J Ranch is small-time, as animal training gigs go, and he wants to be in the big leagues. He thought that by letting animals loose and then being the one who got them under control, word about his skill would get around and people would come to him with job offers."
Bosley snorts. "So when a reporter, aka Sabrina, showed up, he decided it was time to put on a show, hoping that she'd write about itand him."
Kris sighs sadly. All three of them got hurt, and for what? A man's need to play hero to prove his worth. "That's messed up," she murmurs.
"Yeah, it is," Sabrina agrees. "On the plus side, Charlie's so grateful to have the mystery solved that he's paying for our hotel rooms for another night, giving us a chance to rest up before driving back."
That's definitely good to hear, since now that her curiosity's been assuaged, Kris is painfully aware of how tired she is and how much her wrist is throbbing. As if reading her mindor maybe just seeing her expressionSabrina says gently, "Time for you to take another dose of painkillers and get some more sleep."
She can't believe how appealing that sounds. Especially if she can fall asleep with Kelly cuddling her.
Bosley gets up and fetches her meds and a glass of water, which she takes gratefully. She snuggles closer to Kelly, who reaches up to stroke her hair. Warmed by the gesture, she closes her eyes.
Safe and surrounded by her friends, secure and comfortable in Kelly's arms, Kris slips quickly into slumber.
"You did a good job, Angels. Needless to say, Julia is relieved. As am I."
Sabrina fights the urge to roll her eyes at Charlie's praise. Not because it isn't deservedit most certainly is. But she's tired and grumpy and her ankle hurts. Spending six hours in a car definitely didn't do her injuryor her temperany good. And she knows she's not the only one.
She looks over at the other couch, where Kelly and Kris are sitting. The blonde is slumped down on the cushions, her head resting against the back of the couch, her heavily bandaged arm on a pillow in her lap, her eyes closed and her mouth tight with pain. The brunette has an arm draped protectively around her battered ribs, and brown eyes flash with irritation.
The only time Kelly's expression changes is when she looks at Kris and her annoyance gives way to concern.
Not that Sabrina can blame her. The youngest Angel hasn't looked so hot for the last couple of hours.
"Now, girls, I know I promised you some time off, but--"
"No buts, Charlie." The words are out of Sabrina's mouth before she can think twice about them. Sitting up straighter on the couch, she snaps, "No more investigations. No more excuses. We've been working our butts off for four months straight, and we need a break."
She's grateful when Kelly jumps to her defense. "Bri's right, Charlie. We're tired and hurt and in no condition to take on another case. I don't care how urgent it is or how long you've known this old friend."
Sabrina shares a knowing glance with Kelly, and shakes her head. The brunette rolls her eyes.
Charlie is quiet for a minute. Sabrina's not sure if it's because he's disappointed with them or if it's because he's trying to find a way to break whatever bad news he has. Eventually he asks, "What about you, Kris?"
When the blonde doesn't respond, Sabrina stares at her in sudden alarm. But Kris looks the same as she did the last time Bri checked. And, notably, Kelly doesn't seem at all dismayed by their cheerful teammate's unnatural silence.
More relieved by Kelly's nonchalance than she would have expected, Sabrina offers dryly, "Kris is so exhausted that she's half-asleep."
Gaze still on the blonde, she grins when Kris opens her eyes and gives her a thumbs up.
"Well, Angels, as it happens, I agree with you. What I was going to say is that I promised you time off, but failed to keep that promise."
Sabrina suddenly feels horrible about her outburst. Before she can say anything, Charlie continues, "You don't need to apologize, Sabrina. It was the logical assumption to make. At any rate, I'm very grateful for all your hard work. As a reward, I'm giving you the next three weeks off. I don't want to see any of you back in the office until January seventh."
Bosley protests, "But what about the backlog of paperwork, Charlie?"
There's a chuckle from the speaker box. "Not your worry, Bosley. I've hired a couple of temporary assistants who will take care of it."
In the background, Sabrina hears two very youthful, very feminine giggles. She shakes her head and rolls her eyes. Charlie's taste in employeeswith the exception of Bosleyis disturbingly predictable.
She's not at all surprised to find that Kelly's reaction is the same as hers. Even Kris is rolling her eyes.
Finding her tongue, she says, "Thank you, Charlie. You're a prince!"
Her teammates quickly echo her sentiments.
Charlie chuckles. "I'm hardly royalty, Angels, but I appreciate the thought. Enjoy your vacation."
And with that, the line goes dead.
For a few minutes, none of them move, sitting together in near silence. Sabrina's thankful for the time off, but it happened suddenly enough that she isn't quite sure what to do with it just yet. Not to mention that with being on crutches, she's a little worried about her ability to manage on her own in her apartment. She has no doubt her teammates are feeling the same type of uncertainty.
She's shocked when it's Bosley who's up and out the door first, declaring that he's got places to go and people to see. She's even more shocked that he doesn't stick around to make sure they all have a way to get home. She wonders when, exactly, he developed a social life that they don't know about.
Her surprise deepens when it's Kris who finally breaks the silence. The blonde sits up a little straighter on the couch, and glances between them. "Why don't you come and stay at the beach house with me? With our various injuries, it's probably not a good idea for any of us to be by ourselves."
Sabrina brightens immediately at the prospect, and a quick look at Kelly tells her the brunette feels the same. With the hours they keep and the travel they do, none of them have a large circle of friends. She loves her job, but it sometimes makes for a lonely life.
Kris chews on her lip, then says softly, "And with Jill not coming home this year, I'd really like the company. If you don't have other things you'd rather do for the holidays, I mean."
The blonde's tone is wistful, and Sabrina's heart aches for her. Thankfully, Kelly is there to provide comfort, scooting closer to Kris and carefully pulling her into a sideways hug.
Sabrina sees the nod Kelly gives her, and speaks for both of them. "That sounds great, Kris. You're rightnone of us are in good shape and we shouldn't be alone. But more than thatit's been a while since I've celebrated Christmas, and I'd love to spend it with both of you."
Kelly murmurs, "Me too."
The tenderness in the brunette's tone makes Sabrina smile.
She's not sure when her teammates became her family. She only knows she's really glad they are.
Sitting on the couch, her legs outstretched across the cushions, Kelly reaches up to take the mug of tea Kris hands her. She murmurs her thanks, and gets a dazzling smile in return. The younger woman's expression is so warm and welcoming that it nearly takes her breath away.
For a long moment, their gazes lock. Then, Kris blushes and turns away. Kelly reaches down to scratch Albert's head where he's dozing on the floor beside her, and watches idly as the blonde heads into the kitchen and pours a cup of tea for Sabrina, who's ensconced on the daybed, her sprained ankle propped up on pillows.
Kelly's eyes follow the blonde, studying her thoughtfully as she gets an ice pack out of the freezer and takes it to Sabrina, carefully positioning it on the dark-haired woman's injured ankle. For the life of her, she still can't decide if Kris actually has a crush on her, or if she's just imagining things. She supposes it doesn't really matter anyhow. It's not like it's the right time to try and sort it out.
Not because Sabrina is there with them. That doesn't bother Kelly. She and Bri don't keep secrets from each other.
But because she's too sore and too tired to put in the effort right now.
At the mere thought, Kelly yawns and sinks back into the couch cushions. She definitely overdid it yesterday. Not that she had much choice.
She'd played chauffeur, since neither of her friends could manage driving, going from the office to Sabrina's apartment to grab some clothes, to her house to pick up her dog, then to the beach house. By the time they arrived, Bri was in pain and cranky, while Kris was in pain and dazed. They both needed her help to get from the car to the house. Then Kelly made dinner, got Sabrina situated on the daybed with her ankle elevated, changed Kris' bandages andliterallytucked her into bed, washed the dishes, tidied the kitchen, and coaxed Albert into his travel bed. When she finally crawled under the covers next to the blonde, who was fast asleep, her ribs were screaming at her.
Lost in thought, Kelly blinks in surprise when she realizes Kris is standing beside her again, deftly straddling Albert who's still dozing, clearly not disturbed by the unfamiliar presence above him. The blonde smiles tenderly at her, then drapes a blanket over her. Not very neatly, given that she's mostly doing it one-handed, but still. Kelly's as warmed by the gesture as the fabric.
It's been a long time since anyone's fussed over her, ormore accuratelysince she's allowed anyone to fuss over her. Usually, Kelly keeps her guard well up, not letting anyone get too close. But somehow Kris always manages to worm her way past her defenses.
That should scare Kelly. It always has in the past. Instead, it feels good to have Kris doing these little things to take care of her. It leaves her feeling loved.
She looks over and sees that Sabrina is nose-deep in a book. Big surprise. Then she gazes up at Kris, who's still standing next to her. "Sit with me?" she invites, bending her knees and pulling her feet back to make room on the other end of the couch.
The blonde glances over her shoulderno doubt checking to make sure Sabrina doesn't need anythingthen graces Kelly with a radiant smile that sets her heart fluttering. Moments later, Kris is settled on the cushions across from her, her bandaged wrist carefully propped on the arm of the couch, resting on a pillow.
Kelly hesitates for a moment, then stretches out her legs, setting her feet in Kris' lap. It's not that she thinks the other woman will mindhell, as touchy-feely as the Angels are with each other, it's the kind of casual affection that none of them usually blink at. But she's a little worried that her feelings for her friend are too obviously on display, and is starting to second-guess even those impulses that feel normal and natural.
When Kris' good hand settles on her calf and the blonde begins an absentminded caress, Kelly sighs in relief.
After a few minutes of sitting together in companionable silence, Kelly's relaxed enough that she acts without really thinking. She pulls her feet back and sits up, then carefully shifts around, moving slowly so she doesn't jar her sore ribs. Gingerly, she lies down on the couch, ending up with her head pillowed in Kris' lap.
Then, abruptly realizing what she's done, she freezes. There's familiarity, and then there's familiarity. While they've slept in the same bed more than once and snuggled up to each other many times, this feels like a different level of intimacy somehow, and she's afraid she's crossed a line. But before she can pull away or apologize, Kris starts gently stroking her hair. Suddenly, Kelly feels like she can breathe again.
As if the blonde is reading her mind, she hears Kris' soft, "It's okay, honey. I'm glad you feel so comfortable with me."
Kelly sighs in contentment, and closes her eyes.
Kris' fingers in her hair are lulling and it isn't long before she's fighting sleep. She knows she needs rest, knows that even though her injuries aren't as serious as those of her teammates, she needs to take it easy so her body can heal. But she wants to enjoy this moment a little bit longer.
It's rare for her to ever show any hint of vulnerability. Always being calm, cool, and collected is a survival techniqueone she learned as a small child. But she feels safe with Kris. Has since the day she met her. And being here like this, soaking up the blonde's easy affection, feels oddly like coming home.
She manages to stay awake for a while. But then Kris begins to hum softly, and in a matter of minutes, Kelly is fast asleep.
Kris lounges in a deck chair, gazing at the ocean. It's a cooler-than-normal day, and there are few people out on the beach, with even fewer in the water. The waves are perfect for surfing and she longs to be out there riding them with an ache that's almost physical.
But her injury makes that impossible. Though the bite is on her wrist, her hand is swollen and sore too, and the doctor warned her not to use it much for a week or two. The thought makes her scowl and she squirms restlessly in her chair. Her scowl turns to a wince as the movement makes pain flare to life.
Hugging the wounded limb close to her chest, she takes slow, even breaths, calming herself. It doesn't completely erase the throbbing ache, but it does lessen it a little.
She knows she should get up and go inside. She's overdue for another dose of painkillers, not to mention that the cold is seeping into her bones. Normally, chilly weather doesn't affect her too much, despite being raised in southern California. But the injury is sapping her strength, leaving her feeling oddly vulnerable.
Despite knowing she should move, she stays where she is. For one thing, she loves this view. She loves being outside with the wind on her face and the salt spray in the air. She loves hearing the roar of the waves. It soothes her.
For another thing, she spent all day yesterday tending to Sabrina and Kelly, and is enjoying this time to herself. It's not that she begrudges helping them. Not at all. In fact, she's honored that her friendsboth far more stubborn and independent than she isactually let her look after them. Particularly Kelly. It's nothing to do with them. It's that although she's genuinely outgoing and sociable, she also has an introverted streak and needs a certain amount of solitude.
Normally, she gets that while surfingspending an hour or two out on her board with only the sea and sky as her companions. But right now
She scowls again at the reminder of the painful bite and all the ways it's limiting her. While she's glad they solved the case so no one else gets hurt, she's still not happy that they were in harm's way to begin with. For all that Charlie values his Angels, there are times when he's strangely oblivious to the very real danger he's putting them in. Which is balanced by the times when he's far more concerned about potential hazards than is warranted by the actual situation.
Kris shakes her head. By now, she should know better than to try and understand her mysterious boss. She's simply grateful he finally gave them some time off. Even if it's hard to actually enjoy it, laid up as they all are. Even Kelly, who arguably got off lightly, is sore and hurting and doesn't have much energy.
She sighs. But before she can get too pensive, she hears footsteps. Kelly appears beside her, a glass of water in one hand, a bottle of painkillers in the other. Kris gratefully takes the pills the brunette shakes into her palm. She pops them into her mouth, then reaches for the water to wash them down.
Kelly takes the glass and heads back into the house. Buoyed by her friend's thoughtfulness, Kris feels her gloomy mood starting to lift.
She hears footsteps again, and moments later, a blanket is draped over her. Kris smiles up at Kelly, who returns the gesture before plopping into the deck chair beside her. Squirming slightly, she carefully positions her wounded arm in her lap, then uses her good hand to adjust the blanket until she's cozy. When she finally settles, she's sitting so she can shift her gaze between her friend and the ocean.
Silence hangs heavy between them. It's distinctly uncomfortable, and Kris is keenly aware of the weight of it. She just doesn't know what to say. It feels like something has shifted between them in the past few days and she's now absolutely certain that she's not the only one with a crush. But she's not sure if Kelly's actually ready to acknowledge it, and she doesn't want to rush the brunette. Especially when they're both hurt and exhausted.
At length, she says softly, "Thanks for being such a good friend."
It isn't all that she wants to say, but it's the literal truth and is neutral enough that it shouldn't spook Kelly.
She's rewarded by a wide smile. Brown eyes are full of warmth and affection. Kelly speaks equally softly. "You're welcome. Thanks for inviting us to stay with you. Not just because we all need the extra help while we're recovering. But because it's nice to not be alone right now."
Kris hears the melancholy note in the brunette's voice, has pieced together enough about Kelly's past to know that the holidays are often rough for the other woman. She frees her good arm from the confines of the blanket and reaches out, grabbing hold of her friend's hand.
Earnestly, she says, "You and Bri are part of my family, and I'm glad you're here. It makes the holidays less lonely, especially since Jill's gallivanting around Europe and is too busy to come hang out with her baby sister."
She's rewarded by a rich laugh. Kelly says dryly, "Not to mention racing from one boyfriend to the next."
Kris rolls her eyes. She loves Jill fiercely, but her sister's almost compulsive need to have a man in her life is a never-ending source of confusion for her. She can't imagine having to be in a relationship to be happy.
Kelly's fingers tighten against hers. The brunette's expression is sympathetic. "Well, her loss is our gain."
The simple words touch Kris deeply. She smiles, then looks back out at the waves, still holding Kelly's hand.
Silence falls around them again. This time, it's comfortable. Familiar. Like a warm blanket.
"Thanks so much for helping me out with all this, Bosley. I'll see you tomorrow."
Sabrina hangs up the phone, a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. Balancing her weight on her crutches, she slowly walks back to the daybed. Limping heavily, mind you, but still walking. She knows the doctor said she should wait at least a week before putting weight on her ankle, but she's going stir-crazy being essentially confined to bed. Besides, it's been five days. That's close enough to a week for her.
When she reaches the daybed, she sinks down on to it gratefully. While it feels good to start taking small stepspun fully intendedto regain her independence, she can't deny that she's worn out after even that brief walk. Not to mention that her ankle is throbbing.
With a resigned sigh, she leans the crutches against the wall and scoots back on the mattress until she's sitting with her back against the daybed's railing, two fat cushions propped up behind her. Carefully, she maneuvers her injured leg up onto its nest of pillows.
Once she's comfortably settled, she fishes her book out from under the covers. After a minute, she marks her place and sets it down. She checks her watch for the umpteenth time, not sure whether to be worried or annoyed that her teammates are still sleeping.
At least she assumes they're sleeping.
She nearly giggles aloud at the thought. Of course that's all they're doing. Even if they've finally figured out that their feelings for each other are mutual, which she's absolutely positive they haven't, there's a snowball's chance in hell that they'll actually act on those feelings with her in the other room.
Sabrina shakes her head. For skilled detectives, they're being awfully dense.
On the one hand, she's glad they're still asleep, since it gave her a chance to set her plans in motion with Bosley. On the other hand, it's nearly ten and she's more than ready for breakfast. And, sadly, she's not yet mobile enough to even fix herself a bowl of cereal.
As if the mere thought is a summons, she faintly hears rustling and murmuring coming from the bedroom. There's the thud of a door closing, then water running.
She tunes out the familiar sounds, picking up her book. In a couple of minutes, Kris appears in the living room, still in her pajamas, hair sticking messily out of her two-day-old braid. Idly, Sabrina notes that Kelly's going to have to do the blonde's hair again.
Kris beams at her in a way that's entirely unnatural for someone who's just climbed out of bed, and heads into the kitchen. Sabrina sets her book aside again, listening with interest to the sounds of water being poured into the coffee maker, grounds being scooped out of the can, and the gurgle of the machine working its magic.
The fridge door opens and shuts, and before she knows it, Kris is standing in front of her with a bowl of yogurt. Sabrina eagerly grabs it. She's got a spoonful in her mouth before she realizes her haste might have come across as a little rude. She swallows and says thanks, then quickly takes another bite. She really is hungry.
Kris laughs, not seeming at all offended. "Sorry we didn't wake up earlier to feed you."
Sabrina rolls her eyes and waves her away.
Before long, Kelly joins them. The brunette is fully dressed, hair neatly combed and styled, looking her usual polished self. It's quite a contrast to Kris' casual comfort. Sabrina chuckles to herself. Opposites definitely attract.
There's a flurry of activity in the kitchen, which Sabrina can't see, facing the opposite direction. But what she can't see, she can smell. In short order, Kelly hands her a plate of bacon, eggs, and toast. Kris follows with a mug of coffee. She digs in without waiting, glad when her friends sit on the couch rather than at the breakfast bar.
Once they're finished eating, Kelly gathers the plates while Kris refills the mugs. Sated and satisfied, Sabrina sips her coffee, while her teammates plop down on the couch again.
After a few minutes of quiet, she clears her throat. "It's almost Christmas. If we're going to do anything for the holiday, we should probably get started."
She doesn't miss the measuring look her friends shoot each other. Eventually, it's Kelly who responds. "I don't know about anyone else, but I don't have the energy to shop for gifts or search for a tree."
Having anticipated the push back, Sabrina says mildly, "Neither do I. But there are other ways to celebrate. We can make cards for Charlie and Bosley, and call Jill to wish her a merry Christmas. We can bake and decorate cookies."
Kris perks up. "We should totally call her! And I have construction paper and scissors and glue and colored pencils!"
Of course she does.
Predictably, Kelly is still uncertain. "I'd love to talk to Jill, and designing cards would be fun. But we don't have any supplies for decorating cookies and I don't think any of us should brave the grocery store right now."
Sabrina grins. "We don't have to. Bosley will. He loves baking and is coming over tomorrow with everything we need."
Kelly seems torn between interest and exasperation. Sabrina isn't sure which reaction is going to win. But Kris is bouncing in her seatliterallyand excitement shines in blue eyes. When the brunette turns to look at the blonde, Sabrina can't contain her laughter, suddenly knowing which way this is going to go. Poor Kelly won't be able to resist Kris' enthusiasm.
And indeed, she can't.
Kelly smiles fondly at Kris, then turns back to Sabrina. Shooting her a pointed look, the brunette says wryly, "Well, since you've already arranged it, count me in."
Sabrina grins again. "Then let's get this party started."
She's not at all surprised when Kelly throws a pillow at her.
"That smells amazing, Bos."
The genuine delight in Kris' voice makes Kelly smile. The two of them, plus Sabrina, are sitting at a card table in the middle of the living room. Bowls of icing, jars of sprinkles, and a tray of unadorned cookies sit in the middle of the table. The cookies they've already decoratedminus the ones they've eaten along the wayare scattered haphazardly in every empty spot on the table.
Bosley has taken over the kitchen. Finished with the sugar cookies, he's moved on to Chex Party Mix.
Given some of his bizarre culinary choices in the past, she was dubious about putting him in charge of the baking. But she has to admit she's pleasantly surprised. Apparently, as long as he follows an actual recipe, he's a really good cook.
Not that that's been the biggest surprise of the day.
She glances over at the corner between the couch and the wood stove. There's a Christmas tree there, one that Bosley dragged into the house after bringing in the bags of groceries.
When he wrestled it into the living room and set it in a stand, Kelly couldn't stop staring in disbelief. Decorating cookies was one thing. Decorating a whole tree seemed like way too big a commitment, given the Angels' various injuries. She shot a dirty look at Sabrina, who merely grinned like the cat who ate the canary, then glanced at Kris. Seeing the wonder and joy in blue eyes had immediately dampened her annoyance.
Remembering that moment, Kelly smiles to herself. If having a Christmas tree makes Kris happy, then she's all for it.
Feeling eyes on her, she looks up to find Sabrina watching her. She raises an eyebrow and sees the impish smile her friend shoots her. Shaking her head, she ignores Bri and refocuses on the cookie in front of her. It's supposed to be a Santa, but she somehow got the colors of his suit backwards. Oh well. Grabbing the bowl of green icing, she dabs some where his face should be. He'll just be the Grinch.
The unexpected arrival of the treeand a small, mysterious bag Bosley slipped to Sabrinanotwithstanding, the Christmas preparations are a lot more enjoyable than Kelly thought they'd be She normally spends the holiday season alone, doing her best to ignore all the hoopla. It tends to depress her, reminding her of everything she missed growing up without a family. But it's been really nice to spend time with her friends and do these simple but festive things.
Yesterday, they made cards for Charlie and Bosley, which had been a lot of fun. She felt a little bad for Kris, who struggled to use scissors and glue one-handed, but the blonde seemed to have a great time in spite of that handicap. Once they cleaned up the mess they'd made, they called Jill and spent over an hour talking to her, trading the phone back and forth. It was so good to hear her voice, and seeing Kris on cloud nine afterwards made it even better.
The genuine affection the sisters have for each other, even though they spend half their time together bickering, never ceases to amaze her.
Kelly looks at Kris, who is painstakingly spreading icing on a tree-shaped cookie, her face crinkled in concentration. When the blonde manages to get the green frosting applied neatly, blue eyes light up in satisfaction.
The sight is adorable.
One of the things Kelly most appreciates about Kris is her cheerful zest for life and her ability to look on the bright side of almost any situation. Despite all the bad things the young blonde has been through while working for Charlie, there's still a childlike innocence about her.
Kelly fervently hopes that never goes away. She and Sabrina are jaded enough for all of them. She's glad Kris is still able to see the good in people.
Before long, the decorating is finished, sticky hands are washed, the cookies are laid out on trays so the icing can dry, and the mess on the card table and floor is cleaned up.
It doesn't surprise Kelly when Sabrina abruptly plops down on the daybed, shifting her usual position so she's facing the kitchen. The dark-haired woman grimaces as she props her ankle up on the nest of pillows, clearly hurting even though she hasn't been doing much. Kris grabs an ice pack from the freezer and brings it over, placing it carefully on Bri's ankle.
The blonde asks worriedly, "Do you need anything, babe?"
Sabrina smiles and shakes her head.
Kelly settles herself at the breakfast bar. Moments later, Kris slips into the seat beside her. Bosley's on the other side of the counter, stirring something in a bowl. Despite nibbling on cookies while decorating, her stomach growls. The tray of cooling party mix is nearby and she snags a handful. It's still a bit too hot, but it's delicious. She reaches her hand out again, then yanks it back when Bosley lifts his spoon and threatens to rap her knuckles.
"You'll ruin your lunch," he scolds.
She pouts. Kris chuckles and puts an arm around her shoulders.
In a matter of minutes, Bosley has his batter poured into a greased baking pan. Apparently he's in the mood for brownies. He washes his hands and pulls a bag out of the refrigerator. When he unloads it, Kelly's mouth begins to water. Submarine sandwiches from their favorite deli.
She starts to rise, intent on helping, but he waves her back down. Fair enough. Besides, she'll be the one stuck doing all the dishes he's dirtied in his baking frenzy.
He doles out plates of sandwiches and potato chips, then passes around bottles of soda before sitting down on the daybed across from Sabrina.
As they eat in companionable silence, Kelly takes a moment to be grateful that she has such good friends in her life. It's a gift she'll never take for granted.
Kris stands back and admires the tree in the corner of her living room. Not that they've decorated it yet. But Kellythe most able-bodied of the grouphas gotten the lights strung evenly around it, which is no small feat. And, wonder of wonders, none of the bulbs are burned out.
The lights are simplesmall bulbs, all white. A few years ago she debated getting some strands of multi-colored lights to jazz things up, but decided against it. The simplicity appeals to her. It's the same reason she always wants a real Christmas tree, rather than putting up the shiny aluminum one Jill bought years ago and keeps in storage.
She opens the box of ornaments Kelly brought up from the downstairs storage unit and set on a wicker chair, which they've moved closer to the tree for easy access. Pulling out a small paper bag, she takes it over to the couch, setting it carefully down on the cushions. The brunette eyes her curiously, but she simply shrugs and goes back to the chair and the ornaments, fishing out a packet of metal hooks and placing it beside the box.
Kris picks out an ornamenta handmade Raggedy Annand though it's awkward to do one-handed, manages to thread a hook through its fabric loop. As she studies the tree, looking for a good spot to hang it, Sabrina limps over to the chair, crutches under her arms, Kelly right beside her. They peer eagerly into the box to see what's there, and she smiles at their obvious interest.
The decorating goes slowly. While Sabrina is walkingsort ofthe need for the crutches limits her mobility. Kelly's moving cautiously, her ribs clearly bothering her. Kris frowns as she surreptitiously watches them. She makes a mental note to somehow coax each of them to take a nice, long, hot bath later. It'll do them both a world of good.
As for her, she's the same as she was a few days agohurting and still barely able to use her left hand. But a soak in the tub is out of the question, since she has to keep the nasty wound dry. Besides, her friends are the ones who really need the pampering. Bri is pushing too hard to get back on her feet, in the literal sense. And poor Kelly has been stuck with most of the household chores. Kris has done what she can to help, but there are thingslike washing dishesthat are completely beyond her abilities.
Eventually, the box is empty, and the branches are full. Kris marvels at how good the tree looks. There's just one thing left. Walking over to the couch, she picks up the paper bag. She hands it to Kelly, who stares at her questioningly.
"Look inside," she says.
The brunette raises an eyebrow, but opens the bag and peers inside, then carefully pulls out its contents. It's a white papier mache tree topper angel, with golden hair and silver glitter on its wings.
It was all-too-obviously decorated by a juvenile hand, and Kris is suddenly afraid her friend is going to think it's silly. But Kelly stares thoughtfully at it, then at her, a kind of wonder dawning in cinnamon-colored eyes.
Kelly cradles the angel in her palm. "It's lovely, Kris."
Strangely nervous, Kris swallows hard. "I uh...I made it. For my dad, the first time he tried to get sober. To be his guardian angel. But it didn't help..."
Tears well up and she wipes them angrily away. That part of her childhood is full of dark memories that she doesn't like reliving. Seconds later, Kelly sets the ornament down and enfolds her in a hug. Sabrina joins them, her long arms somehow enveloping them both. She leans heavily against her friendsher familytouched by their care and concern.
When she calms and the threat of tears is gone, Kris pulls out of Kelly's arms. She glances between her teammates, bolstered by the sympathy on their faces, and murmurs, "Thanks."
She gestures at the angel and says softly, "Anyhow, I ended up with it. I keep it to remind me that there's always hope. Kelly, I want you to have the honor of putting it on the tree. You've done so much to take care of me and Sabrina, and it, well, it means a lot to me."
It's not everything she wants to say, but the tender expression on the brunette's face tells her she's said enough. Kelly squeezes her hand and murmurs, "I'd love to."
Sabrina stands beside Kris and slips an arm around her shoulders. They watch as Kelly carefully stretches up and places the angel on the top of the tree. The brunette steps back to join them, standing on Kris' other side, wrapping an arm around her waist.
The tree is beautiful, with the white lights twinkling and the ornaments nestled in its branches.
She sighs softly and Kelly tugs her a little closer. She rests her head on the brunette's shoulder.
They stand in companionable silence for a minute. But then reality intrudes. Sabrina's arm suddenly falls away from her shoulders. Kris straightens, turning to the dark-haired woman in alarm, and sees the pain on Bri's face and the way she's tightly clutching the handholds on her crutches.
Kelly quickly moves to help Sabrina back to the daybed, while Kris grabs an ice pack. They get Bri situated, then make short work of cleaning up the living room.
When they're finished, Kris notices Kelly grimacing, clearly hurting. She gently guides the brunette to the couch and gets her settled comfortably with pillows behind her back. With a smile, she heads to the kitchen to make tea.
Waiting for the water to boil, Kris' gaze wanders back to the tree and a sudden sense of peace washes over her. The holidays haven't been the same since Jill left. But with her friends here, everything feels right with her world.
Sabrina stretches in her chair, careful not to jar her ankle, which is propped up on pillows on the footrest. She glances towards the couch, where Kelly and Kris are sitting side-by-side, the blonde's head resting against the brunette's shoulder.
She's not surprised to see tears in blue eyes, since Kris is such a sentimentalist, but she's taken aback by the sight of Kelly looking a little misty. They've just finished watching "It's a Wonderful Life," and while the story is admittedly touching, it's not the kind of thing that normally affects the brunette so deeply.
Then again, maybe it's not the movie itself that's getting to Kelly. Maybe it's Kris' unabashed reaction to it.
She smiles and looks away again, her gaze landing on Albert, who's snoozing beside her chair. Sabrina shakes her head. She's never seen a dog that acts so much like a cat. Except when Kelly takes him out for a walk, he's curled up in a corner somewhere, sleeping.
As if the mere thought is an impetus, she yawns. She rolls her eyes at herself. It's not that late and she isn't that tired. She yawns again. Okay, maybe she is a little more worn out than she thought. It's possible the relaxed pace of the last few days is lulling her. Of course, it's far more likely that it's due to her injury taking a toll on her, leaving her more easily fatigued. Much as she hates to admit it.
When she yawns a third time, she makes a decision. The setting is perfect, so it's time to unveil her last holiday surprise. Before she falls asleep and can't.
She pushes out of her chair, then leans over to grab her crutches off the floor. Albert perks up immediately when she stands, rousing himself and heading straight over to his travel bed, plopping down in it. She chuckles. Clearly he thinks it's bedtime.
Glancing at her friends, she sees that they're watching the dogKris with a raised eyebrow, Kelly with a fond expression. As Sabrina positions the crutches under her arms, she notes their gazes swinging curiously to her, though neither of them seems inclined to move.
"Be right back," she says, perhaps needlessly.
She heads to the bathroom first, then goes over to the daybed, fishing around inside the duffel bag sitting on one end of it. A quick look at her teammates shows that they're in the same position she left them in, Kris curled up against Kelly's side. They're talking to each other in low voices. What little she can hear is about the movie.
Fishing out the paper bag Bosley gave her when he came over to bake cookies, she pulls out what's inside and stuffs it in her pocket. Making her way back towards Kelly and Kris, she pauses to turn off the television and shut the doors of the cabinet which houses it.
She ends up standing next to the couch, directly in front of her friends, and balances herself on her crutches. Then she reaches into her pocket and takes out the object, positioning it above the blonde and brunette heads. Kris stares at her in confusion. Kelly arches an eyebrow.
"Look up," she instructs.
Brown and blue eyes track upward and she almost laughs at their expressions when they see the sprig of mistletoe she's holding. Kris looks utterly shocked. Kelly looks like a deer in headlights. When they both just sit there, apparently frozen in place, Sabrina sighs. She hadn't expected this to be quite so much like pulling teeth.
Patiently, she prompts, "And what usually happens under the mistletoe?"
She knows most people would expect Kellyworldly, experienced Kellyto be the one who takes action. But her money's on Kris. And indeed, it's the blonde who makes the first move, turning to face the brunette, then leaning forward to kiss her.
It's a soft, gentle kiss, one that can still be written off as friendly. But when Kris pulls back, Kelly slips a hand around the back of the blonde's neck, desperately tugging her closer, and kisses her in a way that speaks of need and want and is most definitely not friendly.
Sabrina feels like cheering. Finally!
Stuffing the mistletoe back in her pocket, she sits down in her chair while her teammates untangle themselves. The expression on Kris' face is one of blissful wonder. Kelly, on the other hand, seems as frightened as she does happy, like she's still braced for rejection.
When they both just sit there, Sabrina nearly intervenes again. But she restrains herself. If they're not going to sort this out on their own, even after the not-at-all-subtle push she just gave them, then there's nothing more she can do.
At length, it's Kris who breaks the silence. "That was so much better than I'd ever imagined."
Kelly looks startled. "You've imagined this too?"
Sabrina shakes her head. Poor, clueless Kelly.
She sees Kris eyeing her speculatively before the blonde refocuses on Kelly and says, "I have. So many times. I just wasn't sure you felt the same way. But now "
Kris trails off, then gives Kelly an encouraging smile. "I think we're overdue for a serious conversation."
There's no mistaking the flash of relief in brown eyes. "I think you're right."
Hallelujah! Sabrina couldn't have taken much more of them moping around like lovesick teenagers. Quickly, she says, "Well, you're not having your talk in here. You'll have more privacy in the bedroom. Besides, I'm ready to crash for the night."
Kelly pushes off the couch, holding out a hand to Kris. They're halfway across the room, when the blonde stops and turns back towards Sabrina. Her words are simple. "Thank you."
Sabrina beams, feeling quite proud of herself. "You're welcome. Just keep it down and try to get at least a little sleep."
Her smile widens when Kris' face turns crimson. Oh, that was way too easy.
She ignores the murderous look Kelly shoots her.
Kelly sighs softly, feeling a sense of contentment she hasn't experienced in far too long. She's sitting sideways on one end of the couch, leaning against its arm, with Kris nestled between her legs and curled up against her. Her arms are wrapped around the beautiful blonde, whose head rests on her shoulder, and they're facing the Christmas tree. Sabrina lounges in a chair off to the side, Albert dozing at her feet.
The room is dim, lit only by a the flickering flames of a fire in the wood stove and the twinkling of the lights on the tree. The radio is on the classical station, which is playing a selection of holiday pieces.
It's relaxing. Serene.
She yawns. She and Kris were up incredibly late the night before, not falling asleep until well after three in the morning.
In spite of Sabrina's sly insinuation, all they did was talk.
Well, and share several kisses.
Kelly smiles at the memory. She can't believe how completely her life has changed in twenty-four hours. Not only has she finally confessed her feelings to Kris, she's discovered that those feelings are more than mutual. They openly shared their hopes. They candidly discussed their fears and the potential problemsespecially the ways that dating might interfere with the job. And after all that, they're still on the same pagecrazy about each other and eager to explore a romantic relationship.
Given the positive outcome of the conversation, she wants to kick herself for not making a move sooner. Now that she has Kris in her arms like this, it feels so natural and so right that she can't believe she let her fear get in the way for so long.
Even as the thought occurs to her, she recognizes it's not that simple. Her abandonment issues are very real and she's been hurt too many times in her life when she's let down her guard and put her faith in the wrong person. While she knows without question that she can trust Kristhey put their lives in each others' hands on a regular basisshe's also learned through painful experience to keep her walls up to protect herself.
She's just amazed that the younger woman, who's so bright and blithe, understands that about her, realizes why she's so often aloof or moody or tentative. Kris didn't laugh at her fears or even seem all that surprised by them. The blonde simply showered her with sweet kisses and sympathetic murmurs, and whenever she burst into very un-Kelly-like tears, held her close and promised that she'd always be careful of her heart.
Kelly's still profoundly touched by that. For all of the blonde's goofy cheerfulness, Kris is incredibly sensitive and compassionate.
She can't remember the last time a boyfriend was so understanding or comforting. Usually, she's the one providing all the nurture and support. But Kris has always been a caring friend, and it looks like she'll be even more caring as a girlfriend.
The thought warms Kelly through and through. She sighs softly.
Kris shifts in her arms, pulling back to look at her, then reaches up with her unbandaged hand to stroke Kelly's cheek. "You okay, babe?" the blonde asks quietly.
Kelly nods. "More than okay," she murmurs. "Just thinking about how lucky I am to have you."
The blonde's smile is like sunshine after a storm. "Funny, I was just thinking the same thing about you."
Hearing a snort, Kelly glances over at Sabrina, who's watching them with an exaggerated grimace on her face. The dark-haired woman shakes her head. "I never realized the two of you were so--"
"Adorable?" suggests Kris cheekily.
"Sappy," finishes Sabrina without missing a beat.
Kelly can't resist. "Well, it's all your fault, you know."
She watches Sabrina abruptly sit up straighter in her chair, practically bristling with indignation. "How exactly is you two being saccharine my fault?"
Raising an eyebrow, she says, "You're the one who dangled mistletoe over our heads."
Sabrina's expression is incredulous. "What I think you mean is, 'Thanks for pushing us to finally take action, Bri.'"
They trade barbs for a couple of minutes before Kelly suddenly realizes that Kris hasn't said anything. She glances down at the woman in her arms. The blonde's expression is patiently indulgent, amusement glinting in blue eyes.
Of course, it's not unusual for Kelly and Bri to bicker like an old married couple. They've worked together long enough that in addition to seeming to read each others' minds, they also know how to push each others' buttons. But it's still a relief to banter with Sabrina like usual and to see Kris reacting to them the way she always has.
One of Kelly's concerns was that her new closeness to Kris would adversely affect the friendships between the three of them. She knows that worried the blonde as well.
But there's no sense of discomfort. Everything feels normal. It's remarkably reassuring.
Before she can get too lost in woolgathering, Sabrina abruptly grows serious. "Much as I enjoy teasing you, I hope you know that I completely support the two of you and your relationship. I care about you both and just want you to be happy."
Kelly smiles. She knows that, but it's still nice to hear. Kris says softly, "Thanks for being such a good friend, Bri. We love you, you know."
Sabrina grins. "I know."
Heroically, Kelly restrains herself from throwing a pillow at her incorrigible friend.
Not surprisingly, the conversation lapses after that. Sabrina slouches down in her chair and closes her eyes. Kris stretches up to kiss Kelly, then curls up against her again with a contented sigh.
The fire blazes brightly in the wood stove and the lights on the tree twinkle merrily. Kelly tightens her arms around Kris, and sighs happily when the blonde snuggles closer. Warmth and a sense of bliss flood through her. In a way she can't explain, it feels like she's finally found home.
Walking into the living room from the bedroom, Kris stops dead in her tracks, staring open-mouthed at the Christmas tree. Or, more accurately, at the neatly wrapped presents spread beneath it. Those definitely hadn't been there last night when they went to bed. Neither had the red, fur-trimmed stockings, draped across the top of the wood stove.
"Kris, what in the world ?"
Kelly, who's right behind her, having bumped into her when she stopped so abruptly, sounds annoyed. Kris can't find words. Instead, she gestures with her good hand.
The brunette steps up beside her and she hears a sharp intake of breath that tells her Kelly's as shocked by the magical sight as she is.
For a minute, neither of them move. Then Kelly walks farther into the living room, and Kris sees the suspicious look the brunette shoots at Sabrina, who's lounging on the daybed, still in her pajamas.
Bri holds up her hands in surrender. "It wasn't me. I swear. I don't know how they got there, since I slept like a baby and didn't hear a thing." The dark-haired woman shakes her head in apparent dismay. "We're just lucky it wasn't an ax murderer who broke in."
Kelly's tone is wry. "If someone broke in, they were awfully tidy about it. No broken glass or splintered wood."
Despite knowing who the intruder had to be, Kris can't keep herself from smiling. It's been a very long time since she felt such a sense of awe and wonder on Christmas morning, and that's a far greater gift than any of the presents under the tree.
Impishly, she declares, "It was Santa!"
Sabrina rolls her eyes. Kelly shakes her head, though she can see the fond expression in brown eyes. Kris grins at their bah-humbug reactions.
Kelly walks over to the tree, kneels carefully to examine a few of the packages, then stands. "They're from Charlie," the brunette says dryly. "Not Santa."
Undaunted, Kris counters, "Same thing. He's a mysterious man who none of us have ever seen, who knows far more about people than he should, and is always surrounded by an eager crew of helpers."
She's pleased when both Kelly and Sabrina start laughing.
Suddenly excited, like she used to be as a child, Kris bounces from foot to foot. "We should get into the stockings," she exclaims. "That's how my family always did thingsstockings, then breakfast, then presents."
Sabrina shakes her head. "Not until I've gotten dressed and had at least one cup of coffee."
Kris can't help it. She pouts.
Kelly chuckles, presumably from the crestfallen look on her face, and comes over to wrap an arm around her shoulders, tugging her into a sideways hug. "It'll be our new tradition, sweetheart. Coffee, then stockings."
Cheered by the prospect of creating new rituals with her chosen family, Kris quickly agrees. Much as she cherishes her childhood memories of the holidays, what sticks out the most in her mind isn't what, specifically, they did. It's that she spent quality time with the people she loved.
Just like she gets to spend this Christmas with Kelly and Sabrina.
While Sabrina takes over the bathroom to get herself ready for the day, Kris heads into the kitchen to make the coffee. Kelly rummages through the refrigerator muttering to herself, apparently debating what to make for breakfast.
The rest of the morning passes pleasantly. They drink their coffee, then dig into the stockings, which are filled with oranges and candy canes and bite-sized chocolates. They have a decadent breakfast of French toast and sausages, along with more coffee, of course. Then, they gather around the tree to unwrap presents. Kris smiles when she sees the delight in Kelly and Sabrina's eyes. It's not often she sees her cool, collected friends so excited.
The gifts aren't extravagantby Charlie's standards, anyhowbut they are thoughtful. They each get a bottle of their favorite wine, a couple of books, a bag of Hawaiian coffee, and a colorful mug. Sabrina's is brown with a pair of turtles on it. Kelly's is white and covered with sunflowers. Kris' is blue and features a beach scene.
After they clean up the mess of wrapping paper, Sabrina curls up on the daybed with her novel. Kris sinks down on the couch. Her wrist is starting to ache. Kelly appears in front of her, painkillers and a glass of water in hand, and she smiles her thanks as she takes the pills. The brunette settles in beside her, then draws her into her arms.
Kris cuddles up close, leaning against Kelly, relishing the way it feels to be held like this. She's only dated a handful of guys over the years, and none of them were interested in hugging or snuggling. They mainly wanted to get into her pants. This kind of sweet, simple affection is something she's rarely ever experienced in her life, and now that she has it, she realizes just how much she's wanted it without really knowing what, exactly, she's been longing for.
Though she enjoys sex as much as the next person, she finds that she craves hugs and cuddling more. To feel cared for. Supported. Seen. Understood. Loved.
In Kelly's embrace, she feels all of those things. It's something of a revelation.
She reaches up with her good hand to caress the brunette's forearm, and smiles when Kelly presses a kiss to the top of her head. The tree lights twinkle merrily. The fire in the wood stove blazes brightly. In the quiet of the room, she can just make out the low roar of the ocean.
It's peaceful. Perfect.
If she'd thought to ask for a Christmas gift, she couldn't have come up with anything better.
Her girlfriend's arms tighten around her, and Kris snuggles closer to the brunette, sighing in contentment. Warmth and bliss flood through her. In a way she can't explain, with Kelly here it feels like her house has finally become a home.
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