Somewhere in Southern California
BA detested that song.
He hadn't really understood it the first time he heard it. When people sang it in 'Nam, it made him want to cry, which made him want to strangle the singers. It fit his situation too well then. Though it shouldn't have, it fit his situation too well now.
Still, he let it get as far as the second stanza before he manhandled the dial to another station.
He really didn't want to hear the last line.
"Hey, I was listening to that!" Murdock protested from the passenger seat. He reached to change the channel back.
BA glared at him.
"Well, this song's good, too," Murdock said, prudently sitting back. "Has more of a beat anyway." He started tapping his foot and snapping his fingers in time with the music.
BA shook his head when Murdock started adding lines that weren't part of the official story of a certain red-nosed reindeer. He wasn't in the mood for Christmas songs, least of all coming from Murdock's mouth. But he wasn't ready to attempt the futile battle of complaining about them. Besides, it was only a couple of days each year, and the fool was clearly enjoying himself.
Murdock had a holiday pass from the VA. He was going to spend the time with the team, as had become custom for them. It was also customary for Murdock to carry an extra bulky bag with him and act very secretive about its contents.
"What'd ya bring with ya, fool?" BA decided the usual Q and A was better than listening to Murdock sing just now. It might take his mind off of customs he could no longer participate in.
"Stuff," Murdock sang, not missing a beat.
"Tryin' to smuggle yer room out?" He knew the question was ridiculous. But it earned a half-second frown from the crazy man before Murdock went along with the game.
"Well," Murdock drawled, "there has been a rash of disappearances lately." The grin let BA know there was nothing to really worry about. And his following words confirmed it was just a story. "I think the elves have come for a visit again," Murdock said conspiratorially. He put on an Irish accent. "The little people're getting' tired o' makin' the toys for the end of the rainbow, ya know."
"It's a pot of gold, fool," BA corrected.
"Really?" Murdock acted surprised. "Well then, you better be careful, big guy. They might decide it'd be easier to take yours than to make more. Elves are sneaky."
BA rolled his eyes.
"Can I change the channel back now?" Murdock asked. "These guys are okay, but I like Bing and Bob better."
BA grunted but didn't glare. Murdock took that as permission. He turned the receiver from a channel playing all the old Christmas songs sung by all the new singers, some of who BA didn't even recognize, back to the channel showcasing the classics by turn. This hour was Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, sometimes even together.
They fell silent for a while as they continued down the highway toward the beach house Face had scammed for the month. It was cold for this time of year, which was to say there was little more than a chill in the air. BA grew up in an area that made this seem like the middle of summer in comparison.
"Ooh, that would be fun," Murdock said dreamily.
On the radio, Bing was dreaming of a white Christmas. Not a very likely possibility in Southern California.
"Want ta have one tonight?" Murdock asked. "I've been practicing. No way you'll cream me this time!"
"Ain't gonna snow at the beach, fool."
"So?" Murdock shrugged.
"So how can we have a snowball fight when there ain't no snow?" BA had to wonder about Murdock, sometimes.
"So we'll use… cotton balls, or something," Murdock said with a triumphant grin. "We could do it at night when it's colder and pretend it's snow!"
"A cotton ball fight?" BA scrunched his eyes at the image that evoked. He could just see Murdock throwing up handfuls of cotton balls and insisting what came down was really snow. Then scoop it up off the ground and act disappointed when his ball never made it's mark.
The only time Murdock was good at snow ball fights was when he was hitting himself. BA knew, he'd seen it often enough. Face was almost as bad. Hannibal was the only one who made a good opponent. He gave as good as he got. Not that BA could really blame Face and Murdock, they just didn't have the practice. They grew up in places where the sun liked to shine through the winter. They didn't have the years of experience BA had at packing the snow just right, of making sure it wasn't so wet it hit its target as ice, or of knowing what shade of white was perfect for eating and which shades to avoid…
BA smiled at himself. Times like today when he missed the real snowball fights. Missed being forced to wear too many layers and clunky snow boots. It was the only time of year his mother's admonitions to pick up his feet made any sense.
BA sighed. He ignored Murdock's questioning gaze, and concentrated instead on the road. The house Face managed to procure was off a tiny dirt road that was easy to miss. BA had passed it three times as he tried to find it.
"Nice," Murdock commented when they pulled up. The house was tastefully done to blend in with the trees and vegetation that liked to grow on cliffs near an ocean. A couple of the trails led away from the house, one into the forest, one down to the beach. Leave it to Face to try to find the best of both worlds.
Murdock was struggling with his bag. It was bulky and looked heavy.
"Here, let me get it."
"Oh, no you don't!" Murdock slapped BA's hand away. "No peeking until tomorrow."
No peeking. How many times had he heard his mother say the same thing to him when he was a child? He used to follow her inside with groceries as she used her body to hide any hint of what the presents she carried might be. Kind of like how he was following Murdock now.
The house was warm and smelled of popcorn and butter.
"Are we gonna roast any chestnuts?" Murdock asked as they passed by the lit fireplace.
BA glanced down at the bags filling his arms, suddenly feeling like he'd forgotten something. Mentally he ran through the list Hannibal had given him of odds and ends to pick up after getting Murdock. Nope, he assured himself. He got everything. He didn't have the heart to tell Murdock chestnuts weren't on the list.
He delivered the groceries to Hannibal and Face in the kitchen. BA returned to the living room to find Murdock trying to sneak his presents under the tree. BA grinned and watched Murdock try to pretend he didn't know where the gifts came from.
The tree was small and seemed dwarfed by the spacious living room. Face liked a lot of space. BA was used to the coziness of an apartment. And a tree that threatened to take the living room for itself. He missed the smell of a living tree. Even Murdock got the real thing at the VA. Face had complained about cleaning up the needles, and how they always seemed to get stuck in the carpet, and worried that the house's real owners would notice a stray needle where there shouldn't have been any. They had gotten this little, pre-dressed plastic thing, ostensibly to please Face. BA knew the real reason was because they may have to leave at a moment's notice, and no one really wanted to put the emotional investment into a thing they might have to abandon the next day.
Still, it was pretty. Face always could pick out the nicest fake things. And it served its purpose as a decoration and a continuation of tradition. That was about all they had now. Each other, and the traditions they tried to maintain in the name of normalcy.
Like the way Murdock tried to name the lights on the tree as he watched them blink for most of the night. Or the way Face insisted on stringing popcorn that never made it to the tree. And the way Hannibal spent the evening preparing the ingredients for breakfast and dinner so he wouldn't be in the kitchen all Christmas day. The way BA would watch the ball games, and grumble about parades and old holiday movies lasting too long.
They were traditions, BA reflected as he went to bed later that night, that he wouldn't give up for anything. But there were other traditions he still wanted to be a part of, other family he wanted to spend time with.
BA woke up in the middle of night, blinking at the clock. He watched the ceiling for a few minutes, telling himself to close his eyes. Only he didn't want to go back to sleep. It wasn't that he was having nightmares. His dreams were usually good during the holidays. Thing was, BA liked emotions to be straightforward. If things made you angry, they made you angry. If they made you happy, they shouldn't make you sad at the same time.
He decided a glass of warm milk was in order and headed toward the kitchen.
BA found Murdock by the tree. He seemed to be playing with the presents. Probably shaking them, BA thought with a roll of his eyes. Murdock and Face acted like kids whenever gifts were involved. Face hid his excitement better, but BA had caught him doing the same thing on more than one occasion. You'd think they'd never celebrated Christmas before.
"You better get back to bed, fool," BA said. Murdock jumped and spun around guiltily. "Hannibal's not gonna be happy if you fall asleep over his Christmas breakfast."
Murdock gave his a sheepish smile. "Could say the same about you, big guy."
"Gonna have some milk, first."
Murdock brightened. "Sounds good. Think I'll have some too." He meandered to the kitchen. "Warmed?" he asked by way of offer.
"Yeah," BA said, not following. "I'll be in inna minute."
"It'll be ready for you," Murdock assured him before disappearing.
BA waited until the door had closed before going to the tree. Okay, so he still felt the child-like excitement, too. When he was a kid, he remembered getting up far too early in the morning to sit by the tree and look. And sometimes touch. There was something mesmerizing about the way the colored paper reflected the lights of the tree. All the reds and blues and greens and gold.
BA spotted a tiny package that hadn't been there when he went to bed. It was wrapped in gold tinted paper which didn't match any of the others. Intrigued, BA looked under the bow, which was larger than the gift, for the name tag. He just about dropped it when he read the name in the familiar, neat penmanship: "To Scooter."
BA swallowed, sat right there on the floor. He stared at the package for a long moment, turning it over and over as if to memorize every angle. Careful not to tear the paper, he opened it.
BA was unaware of Murdock watching him from the kitchen door, a smile on his face.
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