Naughty or Nice?  An Accidental Roots Holiday Tale

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December 1st 

 

“What ‘cha you doing out here?” Adam’s deep voice shattered the quiet of the storage shed.

Micah about jumped out of his skin.

Jerking away from where he’d been rummaging, Micah watched as Adam Klay, his lover and partner, wandered from the kitchen out to what they’d dubbed the ‘shed-teaux’. Dammit, Micah hadn’t heard his car. He’d been hoping to dig out the holiday decorations before Adam got home.

“Looking through boxes?” He answered hopefully.

Adam threaded his way through the stacks of boxes to where Micah was, guiltily, standing. Very much feeling as if he had been caught red handed.

“Yes, I’m a trained investigator, I can see that.” Adam chuckled. The chuckle stopped when Adam looked into the box and saw the strands of colorful outdoor lights tidily packed side by side along with the necessary extension cords. Behind and alongside Micah were several more boxes of outdoor lights and decorations, lids all open from his search. The indoor decorations were here somewhere as well. His mom had collected one of those holiday villages and maybe he could find a place for that too.

“Baby,” Adam’s brown eyes filled with worry, “what’s all this?” Reaching out he tugged the belt loops on Micah’s jeans, pulling him close. Adam’s body heat warmed him, Micah hadn’t realized how chilly it had gotten, he’d been caught up in memories. The thin sweatshirt he was wearing not doing much to stave off Skagit’s December chill.

He leaned into Adam’s heat, shutting his eyes for a moment so he could savor how Adam felt against him. Solid. Strong. Warm.

“I wanna decorate the house this year.” He mumbled into Adam’s shoulder. “And, have a party. A small party.” He amended before Adam could respond. He needed Adam to understand that it was time for a party, time to exorcise the ghosts from the house. Or, at least, have a party for them.

An entire year had passed and Micah still had a hard time believing Adam Klay was his for keeps. This would be their first real holiday together – last year they had only just met and some creep had been trying to kill Micah. This year he wanted it to be different. He was no longer living in a fog of grief, he was ready.

Adam leaned back peering into Micah’s eyes, “A party?” he parroted, skepticism dripping from his words.

“A small party.” Micah tugged Adam back again, he missed Adam while he was at work. He always missed Adam, loved the way they fit together. Loved it when Adam rested his chin on Micah’s shoulder, like he was doing right now. 

Adam’s chest expanded against Micah’s as he took a deep breath. There was a muffled grumbling sound then Adam asked, “Who are we inviting?”

Yes. Micah internally chortled.

“The usual suspects, Seth and Sacha of course. Ed, Sara. Joey and Buck which would mean Miguel as well. And the boys, Dom and Kevin. I think Dom has a pretty serious girlfriend. Sara probably has a lost soul or two she wants to include. Anyone else on your team you think might want to come.”

“Weir.”

“Yeah.”

“Which means Sterling.” Adam still distrusted the bartender, small business owner of the Loft a local bar, even though he and Weir had become a thing.

“Yeah.”

“Fuck.” Adam sighed and the word didn’t have much heat behind it.

“It’ll be fun.” Micah didn’t want to lay on too thick but he wanted a party. He wanted their friends to come over and celebrate the new year, new lives and generally ‘being alive’.

“It’ll be fucking awful, but god dammit, you know I’ll do anything for you.”

“Even invite Weir?” He knew Adam liked Weir, Evan as his boyfriend Sterling called him these days.

“Weir’s fine. But if I invite Weir I gotta invite Nate and Gomez. If I invite Nate and Gomez things are going to get crazy. Gomez is a dangerous woman. She and Nate have some kind of contest going.”

Micah shifted so he could put his arms around Adam properly, enjoying this moment. Adam didn’t normally stop to, well, cuddle. Constant motion was his default setting. Even at home in the evenings he’d be on the phone pacing through the living room to the kitchen and back again.

The shed-teaux was cold now Micah shivered against it. Dark had fallen and the single 40 watt bulb over their heads wasn’t keeping back any shadows. Cheery light tumbled from the kitchen window stretching across the lawn but not quite reaching the two of them. The dank odor of rotting leaves, wet with rain, assaulted his nose. Winter was here.

“Do I want to know what kind of contest?” Micah ventured after a moment.

“No.”

“So, party? Decorations? Lights on the house?”

 Adam stepped out of their embrace, grabbed Micah’s hand pulling him out of the shed and down the three little steps to the yard. Together they shut the doors and secured the padlock before heading back into the house.

Rain had been falling steadily for several hours, the grass was mushy to walk on and the back steps slick. Adam reached for his hand again as they made their way through the kitchen door to the warmth which awaited them. Out of the corner of his eye Micah caught a small form, probably the stray cat he’d seen over the past week, slinking underneath his rhododendron bush. It really was too cold outside for a cat, he needed to put some food out. Tomorrow he would put Frankenstein’s crate outside with a blanket tucked inside it.

“Yeah, party, lights, the whole shebang.” Adam shut the door against the dark. “But I’m gonna have to demand an advance payment.” He prowled close to Micah again, his body heat ghosting against Micah’s skin.

“A bribe?” Micah’s eyebrows shot upward.

“Sexual favors, probably,” He laughed wickedly, “a lot of them.”

“Hmmm, sex before dinner?” Micah pretended to think about it. He hadn’t started cooking so nothing would burn.

Adam growled.

Micah smirked, “That’s a yes?”

“I’m only hungry for one thing right now.”

They didn’t make it upstairs. Micah didn’t care, they’d had sex on nearly, probably, every surface in the house and every single one of them was his favorite. Adam’s was the couch. He loved to peel Micah’s clothing off and turn him into a quivering, begging, puddle of goo.

Which is what he did.

Micah lay boneless against the armrest legs spread wantonly, one over the back of the couch the other on the floor keeping him from falling off. Adam leaned over his body, simultaneously sucking and licking Micah’s erection, playing with Micah’s hole running a finger along the sensitive nerves outside before partially penetrating him, every once in a while he would reach up and tweak a nipple sending an electric shock of lust and desire down to his dick where Micah could feel himself throb. If Adam kept this up Micah was going to come before Adam was inside of him.

“Please,” Adam pushed down with an aggressive suck and Micah felt the low hum of orgasm spark into something more imminent, “Jesus Christ Adam, I need you in me. Now.” He wasn’t above begging.

Adam slid his swollen lips back up and off Micah’s absolutely rock fucking hard erection caressing it with his tongue as he did so, the cool air of the living room helping him to calm down, a little. His ability to think? To Speak. Gone.

“Mmmm.” Adam leaned back, pulled Micah’s hips up onto his thighs. The leg which had been on the back of the couch slipped onto Adam’s shoulder. Adam positioned himself and slowly pushed in, filling Micah in the most incredible way. They’d gotten good at this over the last year. Adam knew exactly how to torture Micah by scraping his rod across his prostate – every single time. Micah soon lost himself in sensation, of being full, of being near orgasm but not quite, riding the outside edge of a wave that was going to come crashing down any second.

He looked Adam in the eyes, knowing he wouldn’t be able to hold back. Adam leaned in closer, pushing himself further into Micah, closed his mouth over Micah’s sucking and ravishing his lips, sucking his tongue into Adam’s mouth. Micah came with a groan and a shudder, come splattering across his stomach and chest. Adam pulsed inside, grunted before slumping bonelessly over him, his chest heaving.

They lay for minutes, it could have been hours Micah didn’t care, he drifted in and out enjoying the sound of Adam's chest rumbling against his own.

A buzzing sound rattled on the coffee table. Adam cursed and groaned, sliding off Micah to reach for it. There was only time for a hurried kiss before Adam disappeared into the night. Micah stood at the living room window wrapped in his ratty plaid robe watching Adam’s tail lights dim then disappear around the corner.

“Great start to the holiday season.” He muttered to himself before turning off the light and heading upstairs to the empty bed.

 

TWO

Adam slithered through the crowd at the airport. Ok, he admitted, he was shoving. His shoulder bumped against another man’s, who whipped around and glared. The stranger immediately dropped his gaze Adam tried to readjust his own. It wouldn’t do to be stopped by security, Fed or not, because someone reported him as dangerous.

Deep breath. Deep Breathing. Adam consciously drew in a lungful of air holding it a second before releasing it. Jesus, he got a good whiff of somebody’s body odor, it could easily have been himself. He wanted a shower and Micah. Not in that order.

“Excuse me.” Trying to slide between a woman with a double stroller attempting to wrangle several kids under the age of five or so, one was lying on the floor screaming. A man, possibly her husband or partner, stood off to the side his back to the family fiddling with a smart phone. Adam suspected the children were his due to the dagger looks the woman was shooting him as she tried to negotiate with the toddler and keep the other small humans from wandering off. Adam didn’t want kids of his own, but for the life of him couldn’t understand why husbands and fathers acted like it was a favor when they helped out with their own families.

He’d been on the east coast for eight and a half long days. Getting home to Skagit wasn’t easy with everyone else on the planet trying to get home as well. The east coast was gearing up for a snow storm after they’d only just dug out of one. He wasn’t home free, first he had to negotiate through the throngs at SeaTac airport then suffer a two hour drive north to Skagit.

Finally breaking free from most of the crowd he walked faster, breaking into a jog toward the parking garage. At the elevators he hit another crowd of families and friends also heading out into the Seattle night.

“I heard there was a wind warning.” A woman remarked to her daughter or friend.

“Me too, I guess the Thanksgiving wind storm decided to wait until Christmas this year.” The other woman replied.

Fuck. Adam tried not to groan out loud. His cell phone was buried in his jacket pocket underneath his gloves and a scarf. The elevator doors opened and the mass of people pushed on. Adam tried to move to the back, he was parked on the roof. It was impossible to get to his phone without elbowing someone in the gut.

Finally, after stopping on every floor and disgorging people, the elevator made its last stop. Adam and a few others got off. The others quickly disappeared into the night. Before he left the shelter of the elevator kiosk he checked his phone. No calls. Good. He swiped the weather app. A huge red flag appeared, clicking he read the winter weather warning. The first windstorm of the season was predicted to hit sometime in the next three or four hours. Adam could already feel the push of the storm against the protected area where he stood.

Something brushed against his jacket. Automatically he pulled it closer. God damn this storm, he had to get home. Not being home wasn’t an option Adam was willing to consider. From behind him he heard a rustling sound, a light breathing. Spinning around Adam had to look down to confront…to see a grubby small human who was the only other person in the shelter with him.

The boy, Adam assumed it was a boy from its clothing, looked to be about six or so and had a one handed death grip on the bottom of Adam’s long raincoat. The child’s other hand was curled into a fist, as if he was holding something very tightly or ready to protect himself. What the hell?

“Hey there,” Adam quickly looked around but any other adults had disappeared into their cars. No one was calling out a name, no one was frantically looking for their child. There was no one else on the roof.

Kneeling, Adam asked, “Where are your parents?” The boy, he was pretty close to certain, didn’t reply still gripping the hem of Adam’s coat as if he was afraid Adam would bolt. The boy read him well. Traditionally he and kids did not mix successfully. Kon, a foster kid he had pretty regular contact with, told him he was scary.

Trying not to be ‘scary’, Adam smiled at the boy – he hoped. “Do you need help? Are you lost?” Still nothing. He took stock of the child, somewhere around five or six he decided, a little dirty, there was a smear of something on one cheek. His dark hair was flat and had a ragged cheap looking cut, almost as if it had been done quickly.

He was very pale, Adam touched the back of his hand to his forehead, he didn’t feel an elevated temperature. His clothes were not nice or clean, a striped cotton sweater dirty and baggy as if it had been made for someone much larger. Jeans with holes in both knees, too short for his legs. the hems had been let down at some point but they still did not reach past his ankles.

The wind chose that moment to strengthen whistling past the shelter, lonely and frightened. Fuck. He did not need this right now. Adam needed to get home to Micah. The past almost ten days had been hellish enough. Adam missed his lover’s gentle presence, the way Micah’s touch alone calmed Adam when he was feeling frustrated or angry. Micah filled a space in Adam he hadn’t known was empty before they’d met. Whenever he had to travel that space emptied far too quickly, leaving him restless and cranky.

The boy shuffled closer, reaching his other hand toward Adam as he knelt there. At first Adam thought he was wanting to get closer for warmth but his small hand landed on Adam’s waist where he’d hastily clipped his badge. He normally kept it in his suit jacket but he’d been in a hurry and onto his belt it had gone.

The wind whistled again, gathering strength testing itself for coming hours. How had this child made his way to the elevator? Where were his parents? Guardians? Anyone?

“My name is Adam.” He pointed to himself.

The boy cocked his head to the side, appraising Adam through his dark lashes. The boy’s eyes were a clear crisp blue at the moment they seemed to be appraising Adam further.

“Artur.” He breathed out almost so quietly Adam couldn’t hear over the wind.

“Arthur?”

“ArTur.” The boy repeated more firmly, not letting go of his grip on Adam’s coat, or badge.

 

ThREE

Eight days.

Eight days to decorate the house and surprise Adam. Now eight days wasted. Spent, as in couldn’t retrieve, planning a party that kept morphing like an amoeba or something. Micah’d made the mistake of asking Joey James for advice and somehow it had turned into the both of them planning what would be Micah’s first holiday party since before the death of his parents and sister.

What had he been thinking, bringing in Joey? Buck, on the other hand, had been thrilled because Joey was driving him crazy with wedding plans and this gave him at least a small distraction. For Buck maybe.

Micah hadn’t lost complete control, he hadn’t let Joey invite anymore guests, but he had to keep his eye on him and make sure crazy stuff didn’t go beyond speculation. For instance, no ice sculpture involving Disney characters or, well, just no ice sculptures. He chuckled thinking about it. It was better than thinking about how unprepared he was.

A couple days after Adam left, they’d been hanging out over at Buck’s house – Joey’s too now Micah figured – brainstorming a menu for the party (finger foods versus an actual meal) when Joey gasped  wide eyed at Micah. Micah’d been thinking potluck or buffet, but didn’t think it was worth getting that worked up over.

“Bouncy house!”

“Excuse me?”

“Bouncy house, you could rent one of those bouncy houses, I’ve seen where they make them for adults and we could – ”

“No.” Buck’s deep voice interjected into the conversation. He’d been sitting quietly going over inventory or something but ‘bouncy house’ had gotten his attention, “Absolutely not.”

“Buck, it would be fun! Adults like to jump around too.”

“Are you trying to round up more business for St. Joes emergency room? No. No bouncy house and don’t pester Micah about it either. No.”

Joey sashayed his way over the couch where Buck lounged with his laptop. He delicately lifted the computer and put it on a side table before sliding onto Buck’s lap. Micah’d sighed. Good grief these two had it bad. Clearly Joey was done with planning and the bouncy house had been a way to get Buck’s attention.

The begging and shameless exhibitionism had continued for a few minutes while Buck pretended to be horrified (knowing perfectly well that Joey was just winding him up), and Joey continued egging him on, ‘oh, maybe, we could have a bouncy house at our wedding”, to which Joey received a “Hell. NO”, and a laughing quick kiss to shut him up.

Ugh. It’d made Micah miss Adam all the more. Now, five days later the only thing he’d done was invite people, with the caveat that he didn’t know the day for sure because Adam wasn’t home yet. The stupid thing was, he wanted to decorate with Adam. He wanted a new holiday tradition.

Unfortunately Adam’s career took him away, randomly, for days sometimes weeks. In this instance for over a week. In general Micah didn’t resent Adam working so hard to close the cases his team was assigned to. But Micah was struggling with resentment this holiday season and feeling guilty about it because somewhere out in the world there was a family, a wife, a husband, brother, someone was struggling with crushing grief. Micah knew grief, was far too well acquainted with it. After all, it had ruled his life for over a decade.

Micah’d woken that morning to Adam’s cell number showing as a missed call along with an unintelligible message on his phone. He’d played it several times before admitting he would never be able to decipher it. When Micah tried to return the call it went straight to voicemail. Micah was hoping against hope that meant Adam making his way home, west bound on a plane headed to Seattle and then their little house on Elizabeth street in Skagit.

The one still not decorated for any sort of holiday or celebration.

With a sigh and shake of his head he vowed to push back the blues he felt hovering over his shoulder. He was not falling back down there. He slurped down the rest of his coffee before shrugging on his coat and wrapping a soft woolen scarf around his neck. The shed was still full of decorations and they weren’t going to put themselves up. As an afterthought he grabbed his earbuds and scrolled through his stored music for some holiday cheer. He could do this.

By late afternoon Micah had separated the outdoor from the indoor lights and was going through and testing each strand to make certain they still lit. He remembered his dad doing that every year grumbling good naturedly about the burden put on him to have the most creative light display in the neighborhood. Inevitably his dad would run out of time, and patience, and they would instead have the ‘most boring light display’ a contest Brett Ryan had been proud of winning year after year.

Once he was done with the lights, calculating that he was going to need to replace about half of them, Micah moved inside. He would get the ladder out tomorrow and put up the lights in the most boring way possible as a tribute. Maybe he would use only a single color. He chuckled thinking about how his mom would’ve protested.

As Micah headed back into the house he looked around for the cat. Not Frankie who was ensconced on the bed in the guest bedroom, but the stray which had taken up residence under the shed-teaux. He hadn’t actually seen it up close but something was eating the cat food he’d been putting out. It was far too cold for a small cat to be constantly outside.

Inside was warm and inviting, but still too quiet. Micah wasn’t used to the quiet anymore.

 

Three 

The boy did not seem to know more than his first name and he wasn’t letting Adam go. In the time since they had gotten off the elevator no one else had arrived. The wind was picking up again and the drive home was going to be a bitch. Adam jabbed the down button several times trying to get the elevator to hurry up. If he was paying a visit to airport security he wanted to get it over with, at least get home before daylight.

A horrible sound came from the kid, a visceral animal-like sound. Adam recognized it as pure terror. Artur dropped his grip on Adam’s jacket and fled from the shelter into the, now, pelting rain. Under the pale sulphuric glow of the parking lot lamps Adam tracked the small figure as he darted wildly across the soaking concrete looking for an escape or possibly someplace to hide.

“God fucking dammit.” Adam ran out into the rain after the frightened boy.

The rain had intensified now it was more like standing under a hose or open faucet. Adam was immediately soaked to the skin and had a hard time seeing from the water running down his face. Slowed the kid down though, luckily, which meant Adam caught up to him as he rounded a parked minivan and darted toward the exit ramp.

Scooping him up by the waist Adam carried a struggling Artur across the tarmac splashing through several puddles along the way. He unlocked his car with the remote and opened the back passenger door. Artur was shaking, writhing and kicking to get out of his hold but Adam had a decent grip on him. As carefully as he could, he swung the boy around gently placing him on the seat so his legs were still out of the car – not trapped. A small foot caught him hard in the knee and a fist made impact against the side of his head. There were probably tears streaking down Artur’s face but as wet as they both were Adam couldn’t see them.

The terror in his eyes told Adam enough. Artur’s mouth was moving but no sound was coming out. Fuck. Adam leaned closer, not caring that the kid was filthy, soaking wet, that he had no idea who the kid was, and wrapped him in a hug. The little body shaking violently against his own screamed everything.

It took ten minutes for Artur to calm down enough for Adam to communicate with him.

“It’s okay, it’s okay.” Adam crooned. Again and again, not knowing if Artur understood.

The rain pounded against his back running down and soaking onto his slacks before dripping inside of his leather loafers. Both of them needed to get out of the weather. Adam lifted the boy further into his car scooting in beside him. Artur finally quit struggling and relaxed against Adam’s side. Breaking all the rules of engagement yes but this situation called for desperate measures. He fished around in his coat pocket for his cell phone.

Of course, because this is how life worked, the phone was soaking wet from being in his coat pocket, the screen flickering in complaint. Desperately he tried Mohammad’s number.

“Hello?” No matter the hour Mohammad always answered a call.

“Hey, problem.” His phone was going to die any minute. “I gotta explain fast with no interruptions.” He went on to quickly explain and that he didn’t think the kid was going to be easy to manage, that he’d already tried to run away.

“My phone is about to die. It is two days before Christmas this place is a fucking madhouse but no one seems to be out looking for a lost kid.”

“Can you take a picture and send it? Let me make a few phone calls.”

“Hurry. My phone’s about gone.” The screen kept flickering, crap.

Adam prayed his phone would hold out just a little longer. He needed to call Micah. He tapped his fingers against the seat of his car, trying to wait. Just as he was going to send a quick text, Mohammad called back. Adam looked at Artur tucked under his arm, no kid had ever snuggled against him before. The feeling was unique but not unwelcome. His goal as an agent was usually to bring closure to families and loved ones, not make small children feel safe.

“At this time no reports of missing children either in the airport or at local PD’s, I sent the picture around, contacted our CPS person and all the local shelters are full, she thinks she may be able to find an emergency placement but they have to interview him first.”

“No.” Adam looked at the boy again, long lashes dark against the pale skin of his cheek. Artur had passed out with exhaustion, his chest rising and falling with rhythmic breaths. “No. Call Maureen James for me, please.” Maureen was a friend and qualified emergency foster care placement in Skagit. She would take Artur, Adam had no doubt.

He felt Mohammad’s hesitation. This was a highly irregular request. God knew what authorities would think about him taking the child to another county. Too fucking bad.

“I have a funny feeling.” He did.

“I—” Adam’s phone died. He chose to take that as a sign. Unfortunately now he really couldn’t call or text Micah. He checked the dash clock, 01:15. Any self-respecting parent would have missed their kid by now. Micah was probably a sleep. He hoped.

Making certain Artur was strapped in as tightly possible, Adam gently disengaged himself. Artur didn’t stir. Even with his head cocked at an uncomfortable angle and his mouth slightly open he looked like a grubby angel. Shutting the door quietly before sliding into the front seat Adam started the car and drove over to the shelter where he’d abandoned his carry-on bag. It was still sitting there, banged up from all of Adam’s travel and slightly damp after its trip from the plane to baggage claim.

The windshield wipers did the best they could but visibility was terrible. Adam was grateful that it was late so the roads were basically empty. Only crazy people like himself were out driving. A local AM station kept him apprised of the increasingly terrible weather conditions as he determinedly headed north. A monotone narration helping to keep Adam focused on the road and not of the small being in his back seat. Winds were predicted to have sustained gusts of fifty-four miles an hour, rain had a one hundred percent chance of continuing, rivers were beginning to test the limits of their banks. Adam pressed harder on the gas pedal willing the storm to wait, just a little longer, for his luck to keep holding.

Artur slept on, undisturbed by the wind, pounding rain or road conditions. Adam reflexively checked the rearview mirror every few minutes, making sure he was still asleep. The weather forced him to keep under the speed limit. It was four am by the time he turned off of I-5 and made his way toward home.

The house was dark, as he expected. Leaving his suitcase in the car Adam carefully unbuckled his small passenger and carried him to the house. He tried to be quiet but he nearly brained himself, and Artur, tripping over a box sitting in the middle of the front porch. He peered into it, strands of lights. Right, holidays.

The front door opened and the love of his life stood there. God, Adam needed to get him a new robe. For one thing the thing was so threadbare it was close to indecent, and for another it was  fucking ugly and Adam hated it. He wanted Micah wrapped with the softest most beautiful fabric keeping him warm, yet Micah insisted on that awful robe.

“Adam?” Micah wasn’t fully awake, his eyes were half-mast and squinting against the porch light. The robe slipped a bit revealing a little more skin. Micah shivered and closing the gap against the wind.

“Hey, baby.” Shuffling Artur a little to the side he leaned in to place a gently kiss on Micah’s lips.

“Um, who’s this?” He backed up to let Adam inside.

Adam followed Micah into the living room. The rumpled blankets on the couch and pillow said Micah had been sleeping there.

“You been sleeping on the couch again?”

“The bed’s too big without you.”

Adam needed to hold Micah, to feel him. He really needed to get out of his wet clothing first.

“I’m gonna lay Artur down here. Okay? I think the kid is passed out from exhaustion, he’s not gonna wake up soon. Then I gotta call Mo. Let me be clear though, what I really want to do is go up to our bedroom and wrap myself around you. Okay?”

Micah smiled, a special one reserved for only Adam, “Okay.”

Four

Micah thought he was dreaming. Sleeping downstairs on the couch with one ear cocked for Adam’s uncertain return he’d half heard tires turn into the drive before headlights swept across the front of the house. Not a dream then.

What he hadn’t expected was to find Adam standing on the porch with a small child in his arms. Kids generally avoided Adam. Micah thought it was the air of law enforcement which always lingered around him. Like he was going to catch them misbehaving or worse. Even Kon, Maureen James’ semi-permanent foster child, behaved around Adam and that was a feat in itself.

While Adam called his boss from the land line, Micah tucked blankets around the sleeping boy. Frankenstein tromped loudly down the stairs, tail straight as a bottle brush and just as bushy. By any estimation the least elegant cat on the planet, strolled over to sniff and see what the fuss was all about before he jumped up onto the couch and tucked himself under the boy’s arm.

Micah couldn’t believe his eyes. The cat barely tolerated him, hated Adam and now…liked a strange child? He shook his head as he heded into the kitchen where Adam was on the phone.

“Yeah.” Adam nodded. He hadn’t taken off his coat yet, was standing at the counter jotting down notes as he talked. “Okay. So nothing? Great.” Not great, by the tone of his voice.

Micah pantomimed Adam taking of his jacket. Tucking the phone under his ear Adam peeled off his extremely damp jacket. Micah put a hand on his shoulder, he was damp all the way to the skin.

“Right. Maureen’s coming over?” Adam nodded, “Okay.”

Coffee needed to happen. The circus was coming to…his house. Micah ground beans and got the big coffee maker ready while Adam wrapped up his conversation. His man was exhausted but it seemed neither one of them were getting anymore sleep today. Any, in Adam’s case.

A half hour later Adam had showered and dressed in dry clothes. Looking sexy as hell in a pair of worn denim work pants, a basic white t-shirt and his UCLA hoodie. Micah was also dressed and had two cups of coffee in his system. There was a light knock on the front door before Maureen James swept into the house.

Anyone with eyes could see she was Joey’s mom, a diminutive fireball of a person. She had stepped up and taken Kon in last year, now she regularly helped the Skagit CPS with emergency placements although Kon was the only one who was still there. Micah thought she wanted to adopt him but his case was complicated and international so while he was a ward of the state he could not yet be adopted.

The story Adam had related about how the little boy had latched onto him at the airport was crazy. But as of this time there still had not been any child reported missing in the SeaTac area. No family had lost a child on their way home. He was, it seemed, abandoned. Surely by now someone would have realized that their young child was missing?

Currently Artur sat still wrapped in blankets on Micah’s couch. The traitorous cat had negotiated a spot on Artur’s lap and didn’t look like he planned to leave anytime soon, eyeing anyone who came close with great suspicion. Micah had offered Artur some cut up apple and a jelly sandwich but he had eaten neither. Instead petting the cat and crooning to it in a language neither he or Adam understood. Frankie’s yellow eyes gleamed possessively as the boy’s hand stroked his head.

Maureen peeled off her rain coat handing it to Micah before seating herself on the other end of the couch from Artur.

“Hi Sweetie.” She pointed at herself, “I’m Maureen.”

Artur nodded but didn’t reply, just kept stroking the cat.

“Can you tell us anything?”

Nothing.

“Do you speak English?”

Nothing. Maybe a slight shrug of small shoulders.

She cocked her head a minute. Picking up the apple she said “apple”, then she pointed to Artur. He looked at her for a minute then he said something that sounded like “yabluco”. This went on for a few minutes, Maureen pointing and saying the English word then Artur would say something back, obviously in his native language. It felt like victory when Artur pointed at Frankie and said something like ‘kit’ and Maureen replied with ‘cat’ and ‘Frankenstein’. She pointed at herself again and said ‘Maureen’.

Micah and Adam had been standing off to the side, trying to be unobtrusive while Maureen worked her magic on Artur. The quiet of the living room was disturbed by a knock at the door.

“Who the F—”

“I got it.” Interrupted Micah before Adam taught Artur his first American curse word.

Joey James was standing on the other side of the door. As was Buck Swanfeldt and Konstantin, Maureen’s permanent foster child. Kon had grown in the last few months. He’d shot up a couple of inches as he got the food and care he needed. No longer a spindly delicate kid he was a terror on the soccer field, dedicated animal protector and passionate third grader at the local elementary school.

The three of them pushed into the room. Well, to be fair, Joey and Kon pushed. Buck rolled his eyes, looking extremely sheepish with his hands shoved into the pockets of his heavy sportsman’s jacket as he trailed behind them.

“By all means, come in.” Adam quipped sarcasm dripping from each word.

Poor Artur tried to sink as far into the couch as he could focusing only on the cat. Kon pushed past Joey to approach him.

“Who are you?” he asked in his lightly accented English. Micah thought that by summer the accent would probably be completely gone. Kon looked thoughtfully at Artur, who had not answered. Facing Maureen he asked, “Is he like me?”

“We are trying to find out poppet.” Foster child or not, Maureen loved Kon that much was clear.

Kon started to speak to Artur. But not in English. No one else in the room spoke Ukrainian. Maureen started and looked like she was about to say  something, to tell Kon they didn’t know what language Artur spoke when Artur surprised them all by answering Kon.

The two boys spoke for a few moments before Artur slumped back against the couch holding Frankie so tight Micah was sure he would bite, except the damn cat looked like he had won the lottery.

“Mama Maureen? I think you need to call Uncle Sacha.”

Putting aside the shock that Kon had been able to speak with Artur, Micah stomach plummeted. There was only one reason why Kon would think his ‘Uncle Sacha’, needed to speak to Artur. Sacha would come too, didn’t matter that he had retired from law enforcement. Supposedly retired, Micah knew, much like Weir, Adam had consulted him a few times over the last few months on cases. Sacha was keeping a hand in but had stepped away from the day to day stress.

“I’ll call him.” Adam returned to the kitchen.

By nine am only days before Christmas Micah’s house was full of most the people in Skagit he considered friends. Not exactly the party he’d been planning.

Five

“This had better be good.” Bolic’s gravelly voice carried over the land line.

Adam massaged his forehead, Sacha Bolic pretended to be gruff but Adam knew he had a soft spot for the underdog, if Artur was the victim of human trafficking they needed to find out. Where there was one there were more. Sacha was, unfortunately, an expert.

“Yeah. I got a kid. Here at the house. I think, we think, you need to talk to him.”

Adam had to give Sacha and Seth credit. They were at the house in under half an hour. Maureen was still sitting at the end of the couch doing her due diligence keeping Artur safe. Micah, Joey and Buck disappeared into the kitchen. Seth joined them and soon Adam heard the sounds of pans and bowls hitting the counter. He grinned, his brother did like to cook. Bake specifically, Seth wouldn’t be able to pass up the chance to make something delicious for the crowd.

Kon had tucked himself in next to Artur. It was horribly adorable and Adam felt his heart strings tug at the sight of the two boys, one with his arm protectively slung over the smaller boy’s shoulders. The cat still hadn’t moved. Adam wasn’t going to try moving it, the damn thing bit him whenever he got close.

Sacha was a big man. Premature salt and pepper hair he was letting grow a little longer now that he wasn’t out chasing down criminals every day. Adam met the question in his hazel eyes, nodding toward Artur.

He had a gift Adam didn’t when it came to people. Adam was very good at his job but he was usually assigned the ‘bad cop’ role in an interview situation. Kneeling next to the couch Sacha began speaking. The oddly rhythmic sound of spoken Ukrainian chasing away the silence which had fallen in the room.

At first Artur didn’t say anything. Didn’t respond, acted as if he wasn’t listening. Instead he stared down at the cat in his lap and kept stroking Frankie’s head. Kon leaned over and whispered something in his ear. Adam thought he saw a twitch of a smile cross Artur’s face.

Whatever Kon said broke the spell. Artur spoke in a flood. Sacha chuckled motioning him to stop for a second.

“Maureen, I’m going to record what young Artur has to tell us. Adam are you official?”

“Until I hear otherwise.”

“I’m hungry.” Announced Kon. He turned to Artur and asked something, probably offering food. Artur nodded. Kon slipped off the couch and went to join the rest of the crew in the kitchen. Stopping before he entered he looked Sacha in the eyes and said very seriously, “I told him you are a good guy.” Adam snorted.

 

Maybe Artur hadn’t seen Buck when he came in with Joey and Kon, maybe he’d been looking at the cat. Adam didn’t know how anyone could miss Buck, he was a big man. Albeit a big quiet man. Regardless, when Kon came back in the room pulling his personal hero, Buck, by the hand Artur lost it again.

He took one look at the tall blond man and exploded into action. Pushing the cat unceremoniously off of his lap where it landed with a surprised hiss. Artur scrambled off the couch, falling to his knees before trying to crawl behind the couch but it was pushed directly under the window. Seeming to realize the front door was his only means of escape he bolted to his feet.

For the second time in twenty-four hours Adam found himself with a child in his arms. The same child.

“It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay.” He crooned over and over as Artur first struggled then calmed in his arms. He’d retreated the guest room where there was a little more quiet and less people.

There was a tap on the door frame, Sacha stood waiting. How he managed to look unobtrusive and harmless Adam would never know. His hands were tucked in the pockets of his worn jeans and he had on a half buttoned Mr. Roger’s sweater. Adam supposed that made some kind of impression of harmlessness.

“Yeah?”

Sacha asked Artur something. The boy answered but his head was pushed into Adam’s shoulder. Sacha approached, Adam turned so Artur would be facing him. Gently Sacha chucked Artur’s chin and said something. He felt Artur nod.

“What?” Adam asked.

“Well,” Sacha grimaced, “I think we have a pretty good description of at least one of the shitheads who were holding Artur.”

Artur’s story was tragically simple once Sacha got him talking again. Artur, and several other children the numbers were uncertain, had been held somewhere near SeaTac. An apartment building it sounded like, but easily could have been a small office building. Artur had never seen the outside during the day.

Yesterday a door was carelessly left ajar and Artur had slipped out unseen by his captors. Protected by the patron saint of puppies, ducklings and lost children, he ended up at the airport without being hit by a car, snatched by someone else, or discovered by his captors.

He’d been lurking around the corner from the bank of elevators when he spied Adam. Adam’s coat had swung open and Artur’d seen his badge flash from where it was clipped to his belt. Through the thick fabric of his pants a sharp grip tightened against Adam’s thigh, a reminder or a threat Adam wasn’t sure. The bane of his existence, Frankenstein had oozed back onto Artur’s lap when they sat down. Frankie’s paw with its razor-like claws lingered a fair warning of potential violence. Adam went to lift it away and received a baleful look. Fine, the fucking cat could keep his paw there.

Where Artur had been held was going to be difficult, if not impossible, to find. It had been dark when he’d snuck away and he couldn’t read, he’d been intent on sneaking away from the ‘bad men’. And, yes, one of the men looked an awful lot like Buck. Artur rattled off several names Adam learned from Sacha were other children. He counted eight of them. Sacha confirmed this but went on to say that Artur mentioned some of them ‘had gone to their new families’. Adam’s stomach roiled. He’d much rather investigate murder than human trafficking. How Bolic had managed as long as he had Adam had no idea. Merry Fucking Christmas.

Six

Funny how one little thing could completely change a person’s perspective. For instance, Micah thought as he sat at the kitchen table with Buck sipping from a steaming cup of coffee and watching Seth and Joey make a compete mess of his counters, he had never considered kids.

And yet, there was Adam, sitting in the living room with a child who apparently had decided Adam was safe. Grumpy, terminally terse, barely socialized, Adam Klay was comforting a child. He’d only nearly dropped the f-bomb once and he and Artur had managed to exchange a few words with Sacha’s help.

Poor Buck, he was devastated that Artur thought he was a bad guy. The man literally did not have a mean bone in his body. Micah was fairly sure Artur would realize that eventually. Especially if Kon had anything to do with it. Kon who was plastered on the other side of Artur. Artur’s self-appointed body guard, of a sort. Sitting so close to Artur it was painfully clear that he and Kon were, not from the same family, but similar genetic stock.

Jet black hair, pale skin, deep blue eyes, angular features bordering on androgynous. They were beautiful children who terrible people had planned, in fact had probably already, sold. Micah couldn’t think about it. It was hard enough for him to read about human trafficking the news but seeing this vulnerable little boy taken from his home, maybe even sold by his own relatives, made him sick to his stomach.

The heady scent of blended cinnamon and sugar filled the kitchen, saturating Micah’s senses. He was momentarily tangled between present and past, a memory of his mom and sister making the traditional Ryan family cinnamon rolls mingling with what was happening now; his new family had dropped everything to come to the house, one of whom was baking something delicious smelling. It was a welcome feeling, the ghosts he had lived with for so long were giving way to the living.

“Hey Buck.”

The blond looked over from where he’d been watching his fiancé and Seth roll out dough for the cinnamon rolls. Joey was telling Seth a story about a new hot doctor in the ER.

“Yeah?”

“You wanna help me put up lights? Or are you opening the shop today?”

Buck grinned, “Yeah, that sounds perfect. Shop’s closed ‘til Tuesday.” He pushed away from the table, “but, hey, I’m gonna let Miguel know we’re here for a while. He has a habit of getting in trouble if he’s left alone for too long.”

“Tell him to come over if he wants. I have a feeling we’ll be here all day and looks like those two are making enough for a feast.”

While Buck called Miguel Micah found gloves and a knit hat and only briefly questioned why he thought venturing outside in the wind storm to stand on ladders was a good idea. His boots were on the back porch he tugged them on. Buck joined him, together they dragged two ladders out of the shed. Micah gathered up the boxes of lights he intended for the back of the house and stacked them by the door where they were easily reached.

Quickly and efficiently the two of them hung the strands of boring white lights from the eave along the back of the house before adding a few dangling snowflakes for good measure. Micah decided to (for this year anyway) go the same route his dad had and be boring. The pouring rain wasn’t making it easy, they were both going to need a hot shower once they were done.

The back door popped open and Joey stuck his head out, “Uh, hey, Micah,” his eyebrows were somewhere between surprised and perplexed, “you have visitors. Adam is busy talking with the hot guys in suits who showed up a little while ago.”

Visitors? “Okay, be right there.” Hot guys in suits? Trust Joey to focus on that aspect. He made his way back down the ladder and headed inside. At the back door he took off his boots and coat, trying to shake as much water off it as he could before going inside.

Again the blast of cinnamon and other spices and heat from whatever was in the oven left Micah feeling wobbly as he made his way through to the living room. The living room was empty of men in suits as well as Adam, Sacha, Maureen and Artur – the rumble of speech, indiscernible, emanated from his dad’s old study. That room wasn’t large, Micah wondered how many ‘hot’ guys in suits had shown up. Then his gaze landed on the couch Adam, Artur and Kon had occupied.

In their place, sitting demurely were two ancient people. From their attire Micah internally assumed they were women and had reached an age where gender became a non-issue but they could have gone either way and…it didn’t matter. They were both wearing what appeared to be matching 1970s era track suits. Bright green, they shone like a beacon in his cool toned living room making Micah want to cringe.

With trepidation Micah greeted the…visitors? As he approached recognition dawned. He tried not to groan out loud.

“Alice, Aroura. What a surprise, uh, lovely to see you.”

Alice and Aroura Mills were two of the relatives Adam had met when they traveled to the Bay area earlier in the year. Micah recalled that perhaps an invitation to visit had been extended during a family barbecue. A loosely, and apparently taken to heart ‘visit anytime – we have lots of room’ kind of thing had been tossed out into conversation. There’s been margaritas involved if Micah remembered correctly.

They weren’t twins, at least Micah didn’t think so.

“Happy Holidays,” Alice, Micah was pretty sure, greeted him. “I hope you don’t mind us popping in on you two. Adam did say we could visit and, to be frank young Micah, the holidays can be a little hard to take in our neck of the woods.”

“What she means is, the rest of the family is off their collective rockers so we hightailed it up here where we would have a better chance of enjoying the holiday without someone setting the barbecue on fire or bringing up arguments dating back to the 1960s.” Added Aroura.

They stood on tandem reminding Micah of the little birds he watched hop around on his bird feeder in the winter. He hugged them both, “How did you get here?”

“Aroura drove.” From San Francisco? “I don’t have my license anymore, but we keep up the Chrysler, it drove like a dream.” Together they settled back onto the couch.

Glancing out the front window Micah saw a cherry red retro car sitting at the curb. He wondered how either one of them managed to see over the dashboard. Was anyone missing two eccentric old ladies? Certainly no one had called the house. Had Adam missed a call?

“Can I offer you lovely ladies something to drink? Coffee?” Joey’s voice broke through Micah’s scattered thoughts. Joey was standing in the kitchen doorway with Seth and Buck behind him.

Buck’s eyes went wide and Micha turned to see what he could be looking at. “Is that a 1957 Chrysler 300?” Pushing past his finance Buck crossed the living room to gape out the window – much like a kid in a candy store. “It is! She’s beautiful.”

“She is isn’t she?” Alice preened. “I bought her brand new. She has leather seats, all chrome detailing. Not a scratch on her.”

“She’s yours?” Buck took in the diminutive sisters with a glance. “You drive her much?”

“She drives like a dream, and these new light weight cars, they talk about gas mileage but we weren’t blown around in the wind and rain.”

Micah almost had to sit down himself when he realized that the two octogenarians had been out on the highway in the winter storm. The volume of the voices from the study rose loud enough for Micah to catch a few choice words from Adam.

“—no way in hell are you taking him back down there. Look at him –” Adam’s voice dropped again and while Micah couldn’t understand what she was saying he heard Maureen’s calming tones.

“I’d love a coffee young man.” Aroura answered Joey’s question. “Can you drop a dollop of brandy in it? It’s five o’clock somewhere.” She tittered. Joey blinked glanced at Micah then turned back into the kitchen.

There was a quick knock on the front door, Miguel Ramirez opened it at their collectives call of ‘come in’.

“I’m not late am I? I stopped at the store and picked up punch ingredients. And egg nog. And rum” He put the grocery bag he was carrying down and began unwrapping himself. First the brightly colored knit beanie and scarf then finally his rain coat all were hung to dry on the hooks Micah had installed by the front door.

“Whoo hoo, let’s get this party started.” Miguel noticed Alice and Aroura sitting on the couch. “ Hello ladies, I don’t think I’ve had the pleasure.” Moving across the living room he took each of their extended hands and placed a kiss on the back of them. Micah and Buck both rolled their eyes. Miguel could be an unstoppable force.

“I think you are my kind of young man. Tell me about this punch recipe, but you must know the best egg nog is homemade. Let’s chat.” Alice patted the couch beside her. There was just enough room for Miguel to squeeze in.

Micah wondered if he was having an out of body experience.

FBI agents were in his study with a little boy who had apparently escaped his captors and also had charmed his cat. His quasi brother-in-law was in the kitchen with two of Micah’s best friends making cinnamon rolls and god knew what else. The living room now held two little old ladies who may have escaped from assisted living and driven 1800 miles to celebrate the holidays with their cousin/nephew (that hadn’t been sorted out yet) and now Miguel Ramirez was in cahoots with them.

Was this a situation where he should have been careful what he wished for? He’d wanted to celebrate the holidays again…all he needed now was for Brandon and Steph to show up and that would be about everyone in Skagit. But he still didn’t have all the lights up outside and hadn’t bothered to find a tree for the living room.

He was going to need something stronger than egg nog.