This is an original fic written for the December Holiday Challenge at Taming the Muse on LJ.
Author's Chapter Notes:
Tissue warning and a bit of child abuse mentioned
Shelly lifted the cigarette to her lips, dragging the smoke into her mouth and lungs. She held it there as she considered the snow covered world before her. Same thing every year: cold, wet and empty. Dropping the butt into the ashtray, she turned to go inside, back to the false warmth when a soft sound stopped her. Looking around she saw the edge of faded blue cloth peeking out from behind a pillar. Walking over, she stared in shock at the little boy with dark hair and very pale skin curled into a small ball, the thin hospital robe not protecting him from the bitter cold.
"Hey," she said softly, dropping into a crouch so she was closer to his level. "You shouldn't be out here."
"Wanted to see snow," the little boy said back, looking up at her with big brown eyes. "Never get to go out and see snow."
"Well, you've got to be cold," she said, shrugging off her own robe and wrapping it around him. "Let's get you back inside and warmed up, okay?"
The boy let her lead him back into the hospital lobby, leaning heavily against her side as they walked.
"Which floor are you on?" Shelly asked as they approached the elevators.
Shelly felt her heart constrict. The fourth floor was terminal patients with no hope of recovery. They were silent of the trip up, but Shelly held the boy to her side, giving him what little comfort she could. When the doors open, she ushered him out and walked him to the nursing station, waiting for the woman behind the counter to see them.
"Are you sure he's not there?" the nurse almost begging into the phone. She slumped. "Thank you. If you see him can you please call." She hung up the phone and turned to Shelly, stopping when she saw the small boy. "Evan!"
"Hi Nurse Nancy," Evan said quietly, huddling into Shelly's robe.
"Where have you been?" Nurse Nancy yelled, coming around the desk to wrapped her arms around Evan. "We've been worried sick!"
"I found him outside," Shelly told her. "He wanted to see the snow."
Nancy sighed, letting up on the hug a bit. "You can't go outside," she reminded Evan. "You'll get sicker."
Dark eyes looked up at her, glancing briefly at Shelly. "It won't make a difference, Nurse Nancy. Today, tomorrow or a month from now." He slipped the extra robe off and handed it to Shelly. "Thank you." The two women watched as he walked away, heading to his room.
"Thank," Nancy said. "He's our little boy here."
"What's wrong with him?" Shelly asked.
"A brain tumor," Nancy replied softly. "He's been here at the hospital for the past four years, but they finally admitted defeat earlier this year and moved him up here."
"He's what, ten? And he's never seen snow? What about before he got sick?"
Nancy led Shelly over to the lounge area, sitting down on one of the couches. "I shouldn't tell you this, but it doesn't really make that much of a difference now. Evan's parents were overprotective. If it was raining he wasn't allowed to go out. Couldn't have friends over, couldn't go to a friend's house and most of the time they didn't let him go to school."
"That's horrible!" Shelly exclaimed. She couldn't understand why people would do that to a child. Wrap them in padding until the child could barely breathe.
"It gets worse," Nancy said with a sad smile. "Four years ago Evan started getting headaches, so they took him to the doctor. All the tests later and it was declared to be a tumor. So they started him on chemo and radiation. His parents got worse. The hospital was willing to let him do his treatments from home, but they wanted him to be at the hospital. The doctors didn't argue it too much, and I can't help but wonder what would have happened if they had." She stopped and looked around the cheerfully decorated room, the tinsel and lights twinkling brightly. "At first they were here all the time. His mother practically lived in his room with him. Then the visits got less frequent until one day they stopped all together. We called CPS and they sent someone to their house only to find it empty. They had moved, left Evan behind, all alone."
Shelly blinked away the tears filling her eyes. "Why?"
"We found out about two months later," Nancy continued. "They sent a letter saying they couldn't handle having a sick child. They were starting their lives over somewhere else. To make it worse, they sent the damn thing for Christmas!" She ignored Shelly's gasp. "We didn't hide it from him, even if he was too young to understand. Evan technically became as ward of the State, but we consider him ours. Almost all the nurses and doctors up here and in oncology. He's our little boy, our little light."
"Didn't seem like it earlier," Shelly said softly.
"He knows it's the end, that he's never going to get better," she sighed. "There's nothing we can do to make it better."
Shelly thought for a moment. "There just might be. I'll be back later." Before Nancy could reply, she was off, back up to her floor to beg the nurses there to help her.
Two hours later, she was back up on the fourth floor, telling Nancy and the other nurses just what she wanted to do for Evan. Smiling softly, they agreed and Nancy led her back to the little boy's room. Shelly couldn't help but smile at the murals on the walls in his room. Knights and dragons, not fighting, but together, it was fitting.
"Evan?" Nancy called as they entered the room. "We have a surprise for you."
"A surprise?" Evan said, looking up from a book he was reading.
"Yep," Nancy smiled. "Shelly, the lady from earlier has something for you."
Grinning, Shelly handed over the hastily wrapped presents and waited as Evan ripped into them. Clothing fell out, a thick sweater, a pair of jeans, thermal socks and heavy winter boots. He looked up at Shelly, confusion written on his face.
"Put them on," she coaxed. Nodding slowly he went into the bathroom and dressed, coming back out looking like any other ten year old boy. "Here, the nurses got you this." She handed him something else.
Evan opened the gift and stared in shock at the thick winter coat. He looked at her again, a question burning his eyes.
"We're going out to play in the snow," she crowed, helping him into the coat. She didn't give him a chance to protest, just dragged him along, grabbing gloves and hats from Nancy as they passed.
Outside, they played in the snow, laughing and rolling around in the fluff. They built snowmen and a snow dog, had a snowball fight and make angels. Others came out to play as well, drawn but the laughter. Finally, the cold overcame the fun and Shelly ushered Evan back in, giving promises of hot chocolate with marshmallows. Once back in his room, a male nurse helped Evan strip off wet, cold clothes and dressed him back into warm pajamas before leading him down the hall to the lounge room. Shelly came back down, redressed in warm clothes as well and the two curled up on a couch and watch some sappy Christmas movie, ignoring the even sappier looks they were getting.
"Bed time, Evan," a nurse said, smiling down at them. Grumbling, Evan hugged Shelly and trudged to his room, sleep already dragging his steps.
"Thank you," another nurse said to Shelly as the woman stood up and headed toward the elevators.
Shelly shrugged. "I had fun."
"Which floor are you on? Just in case he wants to see you tomorrow."
"The eighth," Shelly admitted.
Both nurses blinked. Shelly didn't seem like the type that belonged in the psych ward. She smiled at them.
"I'm here every year," she said softly. "I have been for the past six years."
"Not to be rude, but why?"
"Six years ago I was coming home from a friend's house. We had celebrated Christmas on the night before. My husband and daughter were in the car with me. There was an accident," she paused. "They both died. Maggie was DOA, Rob gave up later that night when the doctor told him she was gone. I snapped, spent two months not saying anything, barely eating. Finally I got better and was released. I grieved, but managed to get on with me life until the next Christmas Eve. I snapped again. So, now every year on the twenty third I check myself in. I leave on Boxing Day."
"But you didn't snap this year," the first nurse said thoughtfully.
"No, this year I had something to take my mind off it," Shelly smiled. "I'll be back in the morning. But I'm in room 813 if he needs me."
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