The Promise Basket

Rose rubbed her socks against the cushions of the sofa, trying to get warm. The fire barely heated the room, and she was glad she'd worn the soft green turtleneck with her jeans.

"Let's see--the Arnold Palmer autographed biography for Pete, chocolate turtles for Helen, Mom's sweater, Mr. Pratchett's getting a CD of Beethoven-- hey Mac, what do you think Jack wants for Christmas?"

"A space shuttle," came the distracted answer. Sprawled out on the sofa, Rose looked up from her list to see MacGyver, looking far too good in his cable sweater and jeans stringing Christmas lights down the center pole of the spiral staircase. With a flourish, he wrapped the end of the cord around the very bottom, anchoring it in place with a piece of duct tape. Rose tucked her pen between her teeth and delightedly clapped her hands. Mac bowed.

"Thank you, thank you--"

"Now go turn them on and see if they work, bright boy," Rose hooted. "Betcha at least one of them's burnt out."

"You're too cute to be so skeptical, Brat," Mac muttered as he walked to the light switch next to the front door. One flick down and most the lights in the houseboat went out. Another switch went up, and a curvy spiral of multicolored lights began blinking down the center of the staircase. Rose made a loud 'Oooooo' sound that bordered on a giggle as not one but three lights remained black.

"I could have put money on it--" she laughed. Mac moved in the semi- darkness, but instead of going to the lights, he impishly dived over the back of the sofa, tackling Rose and knocking them both to the floor in front of the blazing fireplace. She squealed, wrestling with him until he pinned her on the rug there.

"Give up yet?" she demanded. He laughed.

"Let me get this straight--I have you dead to rights, pinned, unable to move, and you want to know if I'm going to give up?"

"If you submit now, I'll go easy on you."

"Not a chance, Brat," he kissed her nose, retrieved the Christmas list, and then flipped Rose over across his lap. Instead of spanking her however, he used the middle of her back as a desk while he looked over the page. She propped her elbows on the carpet, giggling.

"You forgot your brother--what do you get a famous rock star for Christmas anyway?'

"Not a rock star, a muuuusician, MacLover. Newt's a pain in the butt about the difference. I'll just get him what I always get him--more guitar strings and a huge bag of licorice." She reached out to play with his untied sneaker laces.

"Mmmmm," MacGyver wrote it down on the list while Rose squirmed, trying to sit up. He tapped her butt warningly with the pen before returning to the list.

"And Penny?"

"Same as Evelyn--a Vandi gift certificate--she wanted earrings the last time we went shopping--can I get up yet?"

"Certificate--" Mac wrote. "No. And your dad?"

"Pa-- gets harder every year," Rose sighed. "Last year I got him the National Science Award winning book about the praying mantis, but I don't think I'm going to top that."

"A new field guide?"

"Honey, he's the west coast entomological authority for the US. He writes the field guides."

"Okay, what about socks?"

Rose made a face. "Geez, Mac, when were you ever thrilled to get socks for Christmas?"

"Okay, you have a point," he admitted, wincing at his own suggestion. "Something for his hobbies?"

"Let's see--they are, in no particular order: bugs, chamber music and chasing my mom around. I could manage some season tickets for the symphony maybe."

"Okay, I'll put that on the list. So that leaves you, Brat. What do you want for Christmas?" MacGyver shifted to let her sit up.

"Right now I'm on Santa's naughty list," she confessed as she twisted her hair up and pinned it in place with the pen. "I was supposed to a whole bunch of goodies to the office party last night and forgot. I don't think either Helen OR Evelyn is too happy with me right now."

"Hey, if you forgot, you forgot--to my way of thinking, that's just not bad enough to get on the naughty list," Mac pointed out as he plucked the pen out of her hair to write something else down on the paper.

Rose sighed, shaking her tresses free again. "It is to me. If mom finds out she might put me last in the promise basket this year."

Mac looked over at her, puzzled. "The promise basket?"

"Yeah, I told you about it, didn't I?  It's a family tradition at Christmas. We all put our names in this tiny pink glass basket Mom brought with her from Odessa. We draw names, and we extract a solemn promise from whoever's name we pull out. I've pulled Dad's name two years in a row--The first time I made him promise to start an exercise program, and this time I made him promise to paint the kitchen."

"Did he do it?"

"Both of them, you bet--Clowderbocks keep their promises--that's why it's so serious. There are only two rules. First, the promise has to be something that can be done--no wishing for the impossible. The second rule is that whoever makes the promise has to do their best to keep it, even if it takes all year." Rose smiled a little, remembering.

"So what did you have to do this year?" Mac asked curiously.

"Mom made me promise to write Aunt Nora every week. I feel really good about keeping that one. Newt made mom promise to learn how to use the internet, and Pa made Newt promise to write a song about crickets . . . my family's weird," she concluded, but MacGyver was smiling gently.

"I have to know--Did he actually write the song?"

"I expect he did, and he'll probably end up playing it for us all--Newt knows better than to mess with a basket promise. Mom writes them all down in this journal so we can't forget or change them before the year is up." Rose sighed.

Mac thought for a minute, tapping the pen on his nose as he did so. "When do you do this--New Years?"

"No, usually the day after Christmas--between the holidays, sort of. That way they're not a resolution and they're not a Christmas present. Hey, you'll see it yourself in less than a day anyway. Have you got an itinerary set yet?"

"Well--" MacGyver sighed, running a hand over his face. He frowned, thinking out loud.  "I go to Pete's tonight, do lunch with Penny and Perry tomorrow, and drop off stuff for various folks as I make my way to your parent's place--sounds pretty full but I should be able to handle it. How about you?"

"I've got to wrap presents tonight, meet with Evelyn tomorrow for more shopping, give Bing the keys to the lab and get to mom's kitchen early enough to help her with the gingerbread. Doesn't sound as if either of us is going to get much rest on this holiday."

"What else is new?" Mac chuckled gently, wrapping an arm around her shoulders and nuzzling her ear. "And you're still avoiding the question, Brat--what do you want Santa to bring you?"

"A new wetsuit--one of the crush models from Bodyglove," she admitted. "I would love the hot pink one with black piping."

"Ouch! Hey surfer girl--you ever consider a less expensive sport like hang gliding? It might be easier on Santa's wallet in the long run," Mac mock-grumbled. Rose shook her head.

"The only way I'm going off a cliff is if you push me, so don't get any ideas, MacGyver. Don't worry, I was saving up for the wetsuit anyway." Rose stood and stretched, reaching her arms up towards the low ceiling of the houseboat.

"Back to wrapping. Got any more tape around here?"

"Yeah, second drawer under the computer--let me get it for you." Mac sauntered over to the desk while Rose took a last look at the list, muttering to herself. He reached into the drawer as casually as he could, pulled out the battered Band-Aid box there and tucked it in his pocket before rummaging for the tape.

"Seriously, Mac, what do you want to get Jack for Christmas?"

"Seriously--movie passes. I get him about thirty every year. Seems to make him happy." MacGyver made his way back to her.

Rose took the tape and handed Mac a square burgundy package with a green bow.

"Here's Pete's book--tell him merry Christmas for me too, okay?"

"Sure. You'll be here when I get back?" the question came out with the endearing shyness that made Rose tingle; it still mattered to him.

"Of course--" she put her arms around him in a quick hug. "How else am I going to get back on the nice list?"

"You know, sometimes nice is overrated . . ." he whispered, bending his head to kiss her. Rose smiled against his mouth, letting her tongue flick playfully around his questing one for a long delicious moment.

"Mmmmm. Now I'm confused again--what list am I supposed to be on?" 

"Keep kissing me like that and we'll both end the naughty list-- again, Brat-" Mac pulled away reluctantly and reached for his jacket and scarf.

"All right, I'll be back, but don't wait up--and don't snoop!"

 "Spoilsport!"  Smiling, Rose picked up a roll of snowflake paper and watched him go.

            ***                  ***                  ***

"Christmas with the family--sounds serious, MacGyver," Pete kidded in a semi-somber tone. "Are you sure you're up to this?"

"Nope," Mac admitted honestly. "I haven't done a traditional Christmas in years, Pete. You know that I usually spend it at the Mission, or donating blood or maybe with Jack--it's going to be kinda hard to join in on something customary."

"I guess--have you met Rose's parents?"

"Only her mom, briefly, back when we got rescued," MacGyver admitted. "Even then, she was kinda preoccupied with Rose, so we didn't do more than shake hands." It was late; they were finishing the last of a bottle of sparkling cider at Pete's living room table, admiring the small tree Pete had put up in his front window. On the table sat two wrapped gifts, one in pink and one in gold paper. Mac picked up the gold one and gave it an experimental shake.

"I have no idea what her dad's like, except that he's a leading authority on insects and comes from West Virginia."

"Probably the academic type," Pete murmured. "Where are they living?"

"In the foothills. It's going to be a long drive if I want to get there before the snow falls, so I better scoot. The pink one's for Rose?"

"Glad you figured out the color code there, Mac," Pete smiled. "And by the way--if her dad asks you your intentions, you better have an answer ready. Something mature and sincere would be nice."

"Mature?" MacGyver gave a self-deprecating chuckle. "That's asking a lot, Pete."

"I know, but try anyway-," Pete replied, tongue in cheek. "You might mention you have a steady job, even though none of us can talk you into a haircut."

"I'll see you after New Year's Pete." MacGyver scooped up the packages with a grin; the older man's hearty laughter followed him out.

The cold snap that the weather forecasters had been predicting finally hit, and Mac shivered as he fumbled with the door. The low moan of the wind wove through the marina, and the restless lap of the waves under the pier made it even chillier. Guiltily MacGyver stepped in and climbed the dark stairs to the loft. He spotted Rose curled up under the quilt and smiled to himself. Swiftly, Mac stripped off everything but his boxers, and climbed under the duvet. Sleepily, Rose rolled to him, draping herself across his chilly frame, her warmth seeping into his skin. Mac gave a deeply contented sigh, and shifted until Rose was practically draped over him before dropping off to sleep.

Hours later, just before dawn MacGyver woke up fuzzily, wondering why he felt so . . . aroused. Without opening his eyes, he concentrated on his other senses, savoring the responses of each of them. He could feel the bed's flannel sheets around him, soft and warm from sleep. The sweet scent of Rose's skin mingled with his own tickled his nose. Mac listened carefully. Beside him, Rose gave a low purr in her sleep, her chest pressed against his bare upper arm. Mac smiled to himself. Gently, he turned his head and feather-soft, kissed her exposed collarbone, working his way down the full slope of her breast, the satiny fabric of her thin camisole sweet under his lips. She stirred; Mac paused, waiting until her breathing became deep and regular again before continuing his slow nuzzling along her body. It was precisely the sort of intimate challenge MacGyver loved best about waking up with Rose. He could feel her begin to stir, responding to his stealthy but oh so delicate touches.

With growing intensity, Mac gradually managed to bring Rose to a half-awake stage, her restlessness more apparent. She gave a little moan deep in her throat and snuggled closer, her arms moving to hold him, but he brushed them away and continued letting his mouth travel under the hem of the top and long her flat stomach, his tongue lightly probing her belly button. Rose giggled, and defiantly rolled facedown, momentarily thwarting his sensual onslaught, but MacGyver merely grinned, and trailed his kisses across the uncovered small of her back, eliciting a quivering gasp.

"Oh--you awake?" He asked innocently, stretching out on top of her spine, resting his chin on her shoulder. She didn't answer, but rubbed back against him, shifting her hips in slow twists that made him breath harder.

"Go away--I have to be good for Santa," came her muffled growl from under the pillow. Mac snorted in her ear before starting to nibble on it.

"It's way too late for that, Brat--although I could put in a positive word for you if . . ." his hands began to push the camisole up; Rose squirmed under his touch.

"Mmmmm--Hey, is that the North Pole or are you just happy to see me?" She turned her face to kiss him.

"More than happy," MacGyver rumbled back. "Wanna play some reindeer games?"  She tried not to laugh, but it was too much, and she spluttered her giggles as he turned her over, peeling her out of the nightie in a few quick tugs.

"Reindeer games?"

"Shhhh--we don't want to wake the elves," he warned, and his next kiss quickly ended any conversation. Rose quivered, feeling the heat of his mouth against her breasts, his hands skimming up the insides of her thighs. As his kisses moved south along her body, she felt her own breathing go ragged, and she slid her hands through his soft tousled hair.

"Mac--" came her whimper. He let his lips make a warm trail down her abdomen, feeling the tremble of her muscles as his hands opened her thighs. With tender skill, his tongue swirled lightly around the sensitive bud deep within her fur. Rose groaned, but Mac settled his shoulders to brace her thighs open and kissed lightly across the delicate down under his lips.

"I love the way you taste, Rose . . ." he admitted huskily. "Like honey mingled with wine," With a sigh, he bent his head down again and lapped gently.

Involuntarily, Rose's hips bucked under Mac's hands as he continued to focus his tongue deep within her velvety folds. She trembled; moments later a small glad cry escaped her throat, the sound faintly melodic. MacGyver shook his hair free of her grip, pressed a last kiss to the inside of one of her thighs and shifted to lie at her side.

"You're looking really smug right now, aren't you?" she sighed when she caught her breath again.

"Yeah," Mac admitted shamelessly, a grin in his voice. "I'm afraid so."

"Mmmmm--" Rose let her hands glide over his chest and down his stomach, her nimble fingers curling around him in a teasing stroke. He gave a low pleased rumble, rolling towards her, but she ducked his kiss, choosing to bend forward across his hard stomach.

"Rose--" came his bewildered but amused tone. "What are you--oh? Ohhhhhhh--" he trailed off into a sudden intake of breath. Rose stopped long enough to laugh softly before letting her mouth glide down over him again.  Mac bit his lips, shivering as she set a leisurely pace, her mouth slick and warm, her tongue sliding against the underside of his heavy shaft. Slow relentless heat grew in the pit of his stomach, radiating down between his strong thighs. MacGyver's breathing grew rough; his hands tried to tug at Rose's shoulder as he grunted,

"Brat, stop . . . I'm . . ."

She let one of her hands slide up his damp furry chest to his mouth, gently pressing her palm against it. He groaned, licking her fingers, his body tensing. Swiftly his stomach tightened and he shuddered in three hard spasms of pure pleasure. Rose drank him in with tender swiftness, a few last tongue swipes leaving him clean. She sighed. Fumbling under the quilt, she crawled back up to snuggle against his relaxed frame. His silence was unnerving her, and she ventured to touch his chin.

"Mac--you okay?" came her timid voice. He gripped her hand and tugged hard, forcing her to roll on top of him. Mac's kiss started at her forehead and ended on her mouth.

"I think my spine melted," he murmured quietly, his voice deep and slow. "Completely liquefied. And I love you."

"Mmmmm," Rose laid her head on his chest, the top of her head under his chin. "That's nice." One of his hands stroked her back; she could hear his steady heartbeat under her ear.

"I didn’t mean to render you speechless like that, but I thought since these might be our last, uh, reindeer games for a while."

"Yeah, in know--I've already packed my sleeping bag and I'm prepared to take the sofa at your parent's place. But when we get back, feel free to render me anytime. I insist," he laughed deep in his chest and she joined in.

"I'm sure you do, MacLover, I'm sure you do . . . " came her sleepy reply as they started to drift off.

***                              ***                              ***

Penny Parker-Penn fairly quivered with happiness; her dark eyes shone, and the rosebud of her mouth held a new softness when she looked up at her husband. Perry Penn squeezed her shoulders in his big hands and shook his head in wonderment, his long dreadlocks swinging.

"Penny my love, you don't have to announce your condition before anyone else can even say 'hello'," he chided softly in his British accent.

"I know, but I'm sooooooo happy!" she blurted with bouncy honesty. "I can't help it, Per Bear! It's just so amazingly wonderful that I've just got to share it!"

"Penny--" slightly stunned, MacGyver stared at her, or more precisely at her stomach, which held a slight roundness now. She laughed and pulled him into an unresisting hug.

"It's okay, MacGyver--I've got half a year to go, so let me hug you while I still can. Isn't it great! Perry and I are going to remodel the entire left wing of the mansion, but of course we don't know if it should be pink or blue yet, but either one would be sweet don't you think?"

"It's--great. Congratulations, Penny," he hugged her back and smiled down at her beaming face. She rolled her eyes and sighed, the motioned for them to follow her into the huge foyer.

"Single guys are sooo weird about babies--must be a maturity thing. Honestly, the minute a girl gets pregnant they all act as if she's highly contagious and avoid her and stuff. I thought you might be different than that MacGyver, but I guess it's pretty universal."

Over the top of Penny's head, Perry gave MacGyver a sympathetic grin before interrupting his wife.

"Cut the man a break sweetheart--if it wasn't for Mac we wouldn't even have met, remember?" he reminded her softly. Penny chuckled, her dimples deepening.

"Oh yeah--" she blushed slightly, and Mac took advantage of the distraction to look out the long windows of the living room towards the view of the city below as he tried to get his thoughts together.

"So you're looking at a June baby I guess," he ventured. Perry nodded, waving to the maid to set the tray of sandwiches down on the long table.

"That's about right--Penny will be through with her next series of commercials and I'll be starting on a video for Newt's new album by then--at least that's the plan since I haven't heard from him in a month."

"Wow--suddenly that seems so--soon," he ventured weakly.

"Just around the corner, in a manner of speaking. But hey, I grew up with eight brothers and sisters, MacGyver, and I kind of miss the crowd, you know?  And with my sweet Penny as a mother, you know our child is going to be gorgeous, right?"

"That's absolutely true," he agreed, and Penny sighed happily.

***   ***   ***

Rose tossed the last package in the back of the truck and turned to Evelyn, hugging her tightly. "Thanks--if I didn't have you to help me fight the crowds, I don't know how we could have done it."

"No problem girlfriend--I've got the moves, ya dig?" Evelyn mock karate chopped the frosty air of the parking lot, and the sight of the tall bespectacled librarian going through a martial arts routine made Rose laugh. They got in the car, buckling up.

"So?" came Evelyn's patient question. Rose knew her friend well enough to hear the unspoken question and blushed.

"So, it's even now the most amazing rapport I've ever had. Sure he's still cranky and shy and has to be reminded to put the toilet seat down, but other than that--"

"Be honest, Rose. Is he--?" Evelyn started the car, revving the engine to make her point.

 Rose suppressed a giggle. "Oh yeah. Frighteningly good sometimes, Ev--I keep wondering if I really deserve someone like him."

"You do," came the quick reassurance. "I just wish you two would come out and tell everyone that you're together. It's not the sort of thing you can keep secret for long."

"Maybe after Christmas--we just didn't want to jinx it, you know? Everybody remembers all those little squabbles we had, like that time I dumped that watering can on him," Rose muttered. Evelyn laughed.

"It was such a good shot too--when you got done with Mac he looked like a wet cat. Even Pete was cracking up."

"Yeah, but see what I mean? Who'd believe we'd end up together after something like that?"

"Everyone, Rose--MacGyver's always been a little too self-assured at times. It's nice to see someone get under his skin a little, and shake things up," Evelyn told her. "Besides, you needed someone too, Sweetie--thank God you dumped that Ramon fellow. You do know Mac was jealous of him, don't you?"

Rose shot her friend a look of mock-surprise as they stopped for a red light."Oh really? You mean he wasn't dropping by all those weekends because he liked the pet shop?"

Evelyn snorted. "Get real, Rose. The day you and Ramon had lunch on the foundation terrace, MacGyver was a complete thundercloud. Practically had his nose pressed to the glass, watching you two."

"Ah well, the better man won I guess," Rose ventured thoughtfully. Evelyn reached a hand over and patted Rose's shoulder.

"Have you two talked seriously about the future yet?  Marriage maybe?"

Rose looked down and hesitated a moment before replying. "Not really. I think we're just taking things one at a time right now. All I want to do is get through Christmas--"

***                              ***                                    *****

MacGyver looked at the stone fence and the name on the mailbox with a squint. It seemed to match up with what Rose had written, but with the dusting of snow over everything, it was hard to read. He got out of the jeep and walked over to get a better look.

"Now Tayvon, lad, use your eyes and tell me if this is our guest," came a voice. Mac looked over to see two people emerge from a small copse of trees and head towards him. He studied them as they approached.

The man in the down jacket was well over six and a half feet tall and lanky-framed, with a mournful face and half-moon glasses perched on a pointed nose much like Rose's. His heavy mustache was iron grey, and he wore his curly silver hair in a long ponytail down his back. His bright blue eyes were kindly but sharp; he looked down at the boy next to him, waiting for a reply.

The boy in the blue ski parka was young, maybe seven or so, with chocolate colored skin and bright brown eyes. He pursed his full mouth and looked at MacGyver carefully for a long moment, then nodded.

"He's blonde, and tall, and has a jeep, just like BabaLara said, so he's MacGyver," The boy piped up confidently. The man smiled, patting the boy on the shoulder.

"Three matching points--good job, lad. Run back and tell BabaLara he's here, will you?"

"Sure thing Doctor Matt!" Turning, the boy darted up the long driveway, kicking up snow as he did so. The older man chuckled and held out a callused hand to MacGyver.

"Please tell me Tayvon's correct and you are MacGyver, or I'll never hear the end of it," he rumbled.  Mac nodded, shaking the proffered hand.

"Yes sir, he's right." For a moment the two men considered each other, and broke into mutual smiles.

"Good to finally meet you. I'm Matt Clowderbock--welcome. Need a hand with your things?" Without waiting for a reply, Matt began unloading the back of the jeep, hefting the sleeping bag and backpack easily. MacGyver grabbed the carton of wrapped presents and locked up the jeep as Matt led the way.

"The kitchen is a madhouse right now, so we'd better go through the lab," Matt advised. "Follow me--" They turned along a path that led around the house to a long enclosed porch. Once inside, MacGyver marveled. The room was full of terrariums and mesh cages, with clipboards dangling near each. Three electron microscopes sat on a workbench along with a computer and a Bunsen burner. Over the connecting door to the house, buried in the middle of a collection of Far Side cartoons read an ancient paper sign: Bug Bunker. Matt stopped in front of one terrarium and sighed.

"Hippodamia Convergens--looks like my sweet girls are still chowing down on the aphids."

"Ladybugs?"' Mac guessed, peering into the glass.

 Matt nodded."Dear little ladies of the garden--not that I have a grudge against aphids or whiteflies myself, but they do distress Lara something terrible when they take over her roses," Matt scribbled something on the clipboard and picked up the sleeping bag again.

"This way . . ." the warm perfume of gingerbread drifted through the house, making Mac's stomach rumble. They made their way down a side hallway and through the living room.

Matt called out in a loud deep voice. "Lara my love, Rose's beau is here."

"Oh!" A clatter of pans rattled out, and MacGyver watched as a delicate woman in jeans and a turtleneck sweater scurried out towards him hands outstretched.

"Mac-Gyver!" she purred in her slight Russian accent. He tried to take her hands, but she slipped her arms around him in a tight hug, and all he could do was grin down at the top of her head as she squeezed. In the doorway, Rose watched and tried not to laugh.

"You wonderful man, saving our Rose like that, I'm so grateful that you did, so smart, so clever!" she craned her head to look up at him and her eyes widened. "And handsome! Rose, you failed to tell me he was so handsome!"

"Yes I did!" Rose spluttered. Her mother winked at Mac and nodded as she loosened her grip and stood back.

"Oh yes, and I quote-- he has wonderful dimples and the sweetest brown eyes--wasn't that what you said, Briar Rose?"

"Mama!" Embarrassed, Rose dropped her face in her hands while Matt laughed. Mac blushed, looking down at Lara Clowderbock. She had deep brown eyes herself, and fine red hair touched with silver at the temples. Currently she had smudges of flour on her chin, and part of her bunned hair was falling out, leaving long tendrils along her fine neck. Mac could see where Rose got her freckles and sweet mouth, but the height had come from Matt since Lara was barely over five feet tall.

"Call me Lara, please. We're so happy to have you here--Matt, he's going in Newt's old room, right?"

"As rain, my love. Where's Tayvon?"

"Watching the oven--the timer's still on the fritz and I can't trust it, not with the gingerbread."

"Maybe I can help," MacGyver offered mildly. Lara looked at Rose, who nodded and pointed to the kitchen. Mac gave Rose a quick peck on the cheek as he stepped through the doorway and surveyed the scene.

Trays and trays of spicy warm gingerbread were cooling on practically every surface available--On a stool near the double stove, Tayvon waved as he drank a glass of milk. MacGyver walked over and examined the timer dial. He took out his knife and pried the glass cover off of the dial while the boy watched him curiously.

"Looks like the hand on the timer's come loose--the dial's still turning, but the needle's slipping on the spindle," he muttered. Rose and her mother were watching too. MacGyver slid the timer hand off and looked at the base of it, nodding. He glanced up at Rose.

"Got any egg whites? He asked softly. Lara nodded, pulling a fresh egg from the refrigerator and swiftly separating it for him. He smiled his thanks and dipped the end loop end of the timer hand in the gooey liquid. Carefully he pushed it back onto the spindle until it fit tightly, and then put the glass face back on the dial.

"There--the heat of the oven will solidify the egg albumin and make it stick tight. It's better than something like superglue, which could release some dangerous vapors at high temperatures." Experimentally, he twisted the timer, "how long now?"

"Ten minutes--" Tayvon offered in an awed voice. The hand rested at the ten-minute mark, and slowly began to shift.

Rose laughed. "You did it again, Mac!"

"Amazing!" Lara chuckled and rolled her eyes. "Looks like you are free of guard duty, Tayvon."

"That was cool," the boy admitted, staring at the dial. Mac shrugged modestly and looked around the kitchen. Lara handed him a wedge of fresh gingerbread.

"Well done, Mac-Gyver. That batch on the counters is going to the Mustard Seed clinic, the one on the table is for the homeless shelter on Donovan Street and the last one is for Miss Anne and the girls at New Start--Rose, you can help me pack them up."

Matt peeked in the kitchen and sighed.

"Annnnd it's all being given away--Never marry a communist, MacGyver--they'll claim all of this is social activism, but truly it's just being neighborly for the holidays."

"Oh hush, Matti--we don't have time to argue it again," Lara snapped back at her husband who grinned. Rose already had foil out and was wrapping the fragrant loaves in neat packages.

Mac fell in beside her to help. "A communist?"

"Yeah, mom was--she and her older sister defected when one of the symphonies toured the states back in '58 or so."

"--A long time ago," Lara broke in absently as she packed a cardboard box with gingerbread. "I hope you don't mind helping us deliver these."

"I'd love to," Mac admitted cheerfully. "Absolutely love to."

 

The Promise Basket – Part II

The night sky was clear and bright; a full moon shone down as Rose stepped out the kitchen door to take out the garbage and have a quiet moment. Faintly she could hear the sound of Tayvon and her father at violin practice, and the soft voices of MacGyver and her mother talking in the dining room. She set the bag in the can and looked out over the driveway, wondering if Newt would make it in time. In the distance, between the trees the Christmas lights of the neighborhood twinkled brightly. She wandered down the drive, shivering in her sweater, looking at the snowman that she and Tavon had made earlier.

"It's Christmas Eve, Newt--where are you?" she wondered out loud before turning around to go back inside.

"First we hang stockings, then we go to eight o'clock service, but you aren't required to go, and when we get back we play Monopoly before going to bed," Lara was explaining to MacGyver, who was helping her grind parsley. He dusted the fresh bits onto a paper plate.

"I don't mind the service, and as long as I can be the Racecar, the monopoly's fine with me too. What time does Tayvon go to bed?"

"He'll be sent off by ten thirty or so--he's pretty good about that." Seeing the question in his eyes, Lara sighed. "He's an unofficial foster child--Matt and I are caring for him while his mother is at a shelter in another state.  A bad situation with the father you understand. We've had him here for about three months now, and he's the dearest little fellow. I hope we can keep him."

"Me too," Mac agreed, picking up the parsley.

Lara smiled. "Tomorrow is when the fun begins, Mac-Gyver. We have Draw breakfast, and the underwear round, and all sorts of visitors too."

"What?" Confused, he followed Lara out to the Bug Bunker, where Matt looked up form some notes he was taking. He greeted them, kissing Lara on the cheek, and taking the parsley from Mac.

"Dinner for my crew . . . Lara, you are a treasure. What are you whating about, MacGyver?"

"You wife just said something about underwear for tomorrow."

"Oh the underwear round! A tradition I guarantee you won't find in any other household--one round of presents that we open are underwear--everybody gets them, nobody is allowed to complain. You'll know the package when you see it--trust me." Matt looked lost in memory as he grinned.

"I'm getting underwear?" Mac demanded desperately.

"Oh yes--Rose made sure of that," Matt and Lara shared a knowing glance and tried not to laugh.

"On the bright side, Rose and the rest of us are getting some unmentionables too, so it's not as if you're being singled out," Lara reminded him.

This news did not seem to mollify MacGyver, who watched as Matt and Lara walked down the rows of terrariums, dropping the parsley into each. He sighed and wandered back out to the living room where Rose greeted him with a hug.

"Why the long face?"

"I just heard about the underwear round." he gave her a warning look, a glance that both begged her not to embarrass him.

 She rolled her eyes. "Get used to it, Mac--I warned you my family was weird!" came her sardonic reply.

He looked over at the sofa, where the stockings were laid out. "Let me guess . . . this white one with the bug designs is your dad's."

"Well it does have 'Matthew' embroidered on it too."

"-Yeah, that's kind of a giveaway . . . and the red one with the violins is your mom's, and this green one . . ." he paused, looking down at the stocking. Rose blushed, and stepped closer to him as he touched the embroidered hockey sticks that surrounded his own name.

"You like it? Mom and I came up with the design when I told her you'd be with us this Christmas . . . Mac?" Rose trailed off uncertainly when he made no reply. He looked up at her with an expression of simple joy, his mouth curving into a shy smile that made her squirm with happiness.

"It's great . . . did you . .  . ?"

"Yep. An hour here, an hour there while you weren't around," she confessed, touching it lightly. "It's no big deal, really."

"Sure it is--I haven't had a stocking in a lot of years, Brat. A lot of years."

"Don't get too excited--around here these babies get stuffed with items of a practical nature. Toothpaste and brushes, vitamins . . ."

"You're right, your family is weird," Mac agreed after a moment's thought.

***                              ****                            ****

The phone rang in the middle of the monopoly game; Lara hurried to answer it with the urgency of a troubled mother. Matt tossed his long ponytail over his shoulder, watched her go and sighed to MacGyver.

"Don't let her use this as an excuse to get out of paying you that hideously expensive rent on Marvin Gardens."

They all could hear her half of the conversation in the kitchen, even through the swinging door.

"Boris Newton Clowderbock, how dare you worry your mother like this! Where are you?"

MacGyver looked at Rose, mouthing 'Boris?' She nodded with a giggle, whispering back,

"Kinda makes Angus seem tame, huh? Only Mom gets away with calling him by his first name these days, and only when she's mad."

"Maybe I ought to pass on the rent this time," he replied with a wince.

After a few minutes, Lara came back into the living room, a small scowl on her face. "Newt won't be here for a few days--bad weather out of La Guardia. The little monster claims he tried to call earlier, but I know better."

"That little monster is a grown man, Lara my love. Perhaps he's entitled to a life?" The words were mildly spoken, but the look Matt put behind them was enough to make his wife draw in a deep breath and finally laugh.

"Oh stop being the voice of reason when I want to be mad!" she spluttered helplessly. Tayvon ran to hug her, grinning as she hugged him back and muttered, "Doctor Matt is right, but he doesn't have to be so darn sensible about it, eh?"

"Tush, woman--get back here and pay Mac that rent before I have your firm fanny dragged off to the slammer," Matt grumbled. Rose rolled her eyes and picked up the dice as the game resumed.

Within twenty minutes it was all over; the mighty real estate empire quietly amassed by Matthew Clowderbock had gobbled up everyone's holdings. Rose held out longest, but finally she too, succumbed when her little top hat landed on Park Place with a fated dice roll.

Two thousand twenty two dollars payable to me, darling daughter."

"Pa, that's sooo wrong," she grumbled, trying to figure out the mortgage value of her properties. MacGyver and Lara were sipping green tea and watching; Tayvon was asleep on the sofa, curled into a little ball.

"Capitalistic tripe." Lara sighed, "In Russia, the rent would be divided equally among the players, and the railroads would be free."

"Sure, and free parking would be in some Gulag out in Siberia," Matt teased gently as he moved to pack up the board. Mac yawned.

"Time to hit the hay-- tomorrow will be very busy," Lara announced. She gave Rose a look. "Do not get up before 5 or 6 or 7 my daughter, or you will be last draw for the promise basket, do you hear me?" 

"Yes ma'am," she meekly agreed, and Mac shot her an astonished gaze. As they filed out down the dark hallway he whispered, "Still trying to be good for Santa, Brat?"

"I'm more afraid of my mother's wrath than Santa's judgment, Mac," she admitted as they stepped into Newt's old room and flipped on the lights. The twin beds looked small yet tidy; a huge dresser stood against the wall between them and Rose chuckled.

"My poor mom--she's very modern in a lot of ways, but there are still a few situations that make her twitch. Newt used to bring a lot of girls up for the holidays, and finally Mom decided that they could share a room but not a bed. Think you can live with that?"

"Yep," Mac agreed without hesitating. "First rule as a guest--respect the regulations of the house. In fact, I can go bunk on the sofa if it will keep me in good standing around here."

"No--if you do that then mom will worry that you didn't sleep well, or that we had a fight--just grab a bed and leave it at that, okay?"

"Gotcha," he grinned. Sitting on the nearest one, he pulled off his Nikes and set them under the bed, while Rose slipped out the door, heading to the bathroom down the hall. He waited until he heard her close the door, then swiftly darted to his duffle bag. A few second's frantic digging found the band-aid box; he popped the tin lid open and dumped the contents out in his hand. MacGyver smiled as he closed his fingers over the green velvet box. With stealth, he stole out to the dark living room, moving over to the fireplace, searching for the red stocking. A quick tip of his hand, and the box fell to the toe with a soft thump. Mac slipped back into the room and changed into his sweats trying to look innocent, but it was hard not to grin.

 Eventually he looked up when Rose came back from the bathroom, wrapped in her pink terry robe. "Ready for bed?"

"Uh huh," she yawned, dropping the robe from her shoulders and setting it on the chair. Mac gave a pained little gasp at the sight of her in a peach silk teddy edged with black lace.

"COAL, Brat. You're getting an entire shipment of coal in your stocking," he growled. She batted her eyes.

"Who, innocent little me?" came her purr.

MacGyver laughed, shaking his head in frustrated good humor. He sighed deeply, grabbed her creamy bare shoulders and planted a quick kiss on her forehead, whispering, "You deserve a spanking--later. Go to bed and behave yourself."

"Goodnight Mac," she replied sleepily as she kissed his chin and climbed into her own bed.

***   ***   ***

"Is he awake?"

"I don't think so."

"When is he going to wake up?"

"Honey, I don't know--is anyone else awake?"

"Nope. Just you and me and some of the bugs. I want Christmas to start, Rose! I looked in the living room already and there are like a million billion presents and two of the really big ones are for me and I want to open them but--"

"I'm awake now--" came MacGyver's annoyed grumble. From the other bed, Rose and Tayvon looked up guiltily from their huddle. Mac threw his pillow at Rose; she ducked and Tayvon giggled. Within minutes all three of them were tossing pillows and laughing.

 Finally Tayvon threw himself back across Rose's bed and sighed dramatically. "Man! It takes forever for Christmas to start!"

"Tell you what, little man--you go get dressed while Mac and I do the same, and we'll make enough noise to get everyone else up, okay?"

"Okay!" The boy was up and off like a shot; Mac ran a hand over his chin experimentally.

"Shower and a shave sounds good."

Twenty minutes later, a steamy clean furry chested MacGyver stood over the sink, his towel wrapped low on his lean hips. He had just covered his lower face with shaving foam when Rose walked in. He frowned at her in the mirror.

"You just love barging in on me, don't you? Ever since the first day we met."

"I don't love to barge in, I consistently barge in. And never when the toilet is involved I might add," Rose replied as she perched herself on the edge of the tub, propping one foot up and shaking her nail polish. She wore a pink oversized sweater with white leggings, and her hair was in a French twist.

"Don't you usually do that in the bedroom?"

"But I like to watch you shave--it's one of those estrogen meets testosterone things, Mac."

Resigned, he rolled his eyes and turned back to the mirror. He ran the water, wet the razor and began in slow efficient strokes; the soft scraping sounds mingling with the running water. Rose studied the two bottles, then the toes of her right foot.

"Pink or silver?"

"Pink," came his absent mutter. She shrugged and proceeded to uncap the first bottle. With delicate concentration, she painted the toenails of her right foot. Mac pinched his nose and shaved his upper lip, ignoring the faces Rose was making at him in the mirror.

"Mac?" She started on the left foot.

"Yes, Brat?"

"You doing okay with this whole--family thing?"

"So far so good--We'll see after the underwear round," came his patient reply.

Draw breakfast was precisely what it implied, with everyone drawing lots for jobs. Mac pulled pancake duty, Rose had juice squeezing, Matt and Tayvon had dishwashing and Lara handled all the little jobs that included table setting, toast making and setting out condiments.

   

Mac studied the huge bowl of batter he'd made thoughtfully, and then began looking through the cabinets. Lara watched him with amusement.

"Hunting for something?"

"Yeah, a funnel," came his distracted reply. She fished one out of a drawer, watching as he ladled batter into it, holding his index finger over the hole at the end. He let the batter flow through into the hot griddle, forming a perfectly round pancake. He repeated the action, dropping three other pancakes onto the griddle while Lara beamed.

"Beautiful! But how can you set it down and not have batter run everywhere?"

"Like this--" Mac let the excess batter flow back into the bowl, then set it point down in an empty glass. "I only put enough batter in it to make one set of pancakes--cuts down on the mess."

"A handy trick--I may have to remember that," Lara admitted with a laugh.

After breakfast, the opening of the stockings began in earnest, with everyone simultaneously dumping out their loot and making comments. Fancy soaps, various lotions, new toothbrushes and nail clippers seemed to be the order of the day, along with the odd assortment of bath gels, bags of candy, and in Tayvon's case small goodies like tops and marbles. Rose laughed when she saw that both she and her mother had given Mac aftershave.

"Old Spice, and Bristol Harbor—great," he muttered weakly, holding up the bottles. Matt patted his shoulder commiseratingly.

"Curse of the season, lad. Be glad you don't wear ties on a regular basis the way I have to--I've got so many damned bug ties it boggles the mind."

Rose sighed, and set her stocking aside to gather the bottles of polish and perfume; Mac nudged it back towards her.

"Sure it's empty?"

She gave it a shake and the green velvet box dropped out with a heavy thunk. She sighed with happiness.

"You got it for me!"

"Yep."

"I guess I did drop a lot of hints,"

"True, since you weren't subtle about this,"

"So I can show it off to everyone,"

"Un huh--"

"And I won't have to come on to you or dig around in your pocket for that big heavy thing of yours when I need some serious screwing done--"

Alarmed, Lara and Matt looked at each other and then at Mac, who caught their expressions and blushed.

"It's a pocketknife!" he blurted quickly, gesturing towards the box. "She's been wanting one and I found the ladies' version of mine, and . . . . Ahhhh!" He trailed off, dropping his face in his hands. Rose, who had been playing with all the various apparatus on the Swiss Army knife looked up absent-mindedly at her startled parents.

"What?" she demanded. Lara began laughing, burying her face in Matt's shoulder; he guffawed along with her, and even MacGyver started to join in. Rose looked at them as if they had all lost their minds while Tayvon shook his head at the absurdity of grownups.

"That," Matt announced, wiping his eyes "Takes the cake and then some. Briar Rose Althea Thais Clowderbock, you kiss that man and apologize. I think we better go to the underwear round right now just to even out the embarrassment."

"You're right, Matti--Tayvon, sweetie, help me pass out the purple packages--" Lara dug around the tree, handing various gifts to Tayvon, who brought them to the appropriate person while Rose kissed Mac's cheek.

"You first," Matt told the boy. Tayvon ripped into his package with all the subtlety of a lioness going into an antelope.

"Star Wars? Oh man, and Yoda's right on the butt--I ain't never wearing these!" came the disgusted evaluation.

 Lara shook her head at Matt, who shrugged. "Better him than me."

"Spoken like a man who hasn't opened his present yet," she warned. Matt looked around and gave a resigned sigh, then slowly peeled the paper off the box in his lap.

"Gracious . . . Boxers with musical notes . . .  wait a moment--isn't this the opening stanza to Bach's first concerto? Lara, you sly woman!" Looking through his half-moon glasses, Matt studied the underwear intently before glancing at his wife and winking.

She smiled. "My turn," she declared, a flush of pink crossing her face. "All I can hope is that is isn't as bad as the year I got the tie dye brassiere . . ."

She peeked in the gift bag and bit her lips, looking at Matt mischievously. "Chili peppers?" She lifted a tiny corner of silky cloth out for general inspection.

"Chili peppers," he confirmed forthrightly. "Appropriate for a winter's day--MacGyver, I believe it's your turn."

MacGyver looked down at the gaudy purple package resting on his knees and gritted his teeth. He closed his eyes and tore open the paper. "Oh man--"

The boxers were bright blue, and covered with a design of Boy Scout merit badges.

Rose snorted as MacGyver's high cheekbones went pink yet again. "Fashionable, yet practical, huh? I know nurses in the Emergency room will love those."

"If I'm going to the Emergency room in these, I won't be going there alone--" Mac warned her, but Rose laughed.

 She faltered when she realized everyone was staring at her expectantly. "Oh yeah--" She tore the paper on the squashy package in her lap. Rose chuffed out a breath in surprise as the panties slithered off her lap; she picked them up, flinching. "Ah Geez--Betty Boop?"

"That's what you get for being a smarty pants, Rose," her mother scolded. Mac tried to hide his smirk, but didn't succeed; Rose shot him an evil glare.

"You're just lucky we didn't get our packages mixed up," she hissed, and Mac shook his head.

"Sorry, out of all the things I've done both for the DXS and the Foundation, cross-dressing is right out," he insisted firmly.

By lunch, most of the presents had been opened and lay around the tree. Tayvon and Rose were out taking the new snowboard out for a test, and Lara was working on lunch. In the lull, Matt and Mac took a moment to record data in the bug bunker.

"Blattella germanica--sturdy, tank-like, indestructible. I have a great respect for the common cockroach. They're two days prior to initial molting, so let's add a 2 percent sugar water to the feeding."

"Gotcha. What's over here in the tented boxes?"

"Lunar moths. They've got a few weeks more of hibernation to go," Matt murmured. He cast a glance over at MacGyver, who was sitting on a stool, carefully measuring sugar into a beaker.

"You know lad, I'm supposed to ask you about your intentions regarding my daughter, right?"

Startled, Mac looked up at the smiling older man and gave a slow nod. "Yes sir, I know that's how it's done, traditionally," he ventured.

Matt rolled his eyes, a small smile on his weathered face. "There's nothing traditional about this family, but you've figured that out by now. And as for your intentions, well, I have a fair guess as to what they are as well," Matt held a cocoon up and studied it intently through a magnifying glass, letting the silence stretch out.

Mac sighed. "But . . ."

"I know, lad, I know. Rose is as skittish as a colt, and just as prone to saying no as she is yes. She wasn't always like that, but . . ."

"Yeah. We talked about . . ." Mac couldn't figure out the way to phrase it; he glimpse at Matt, who nodded.

"-O'Keefe." The name came out laced with bitterness. Matt set the cocoon down and rubbed his eyes.

Mac waited until the older man looked up again. "Uh huh. I know about the broken jaw."

"Good," Matt muttered. "She must be serious about you if she discussed that monster. He cost her a year of surgery and physical therapy, and left her more than a little gun-shy in the relationship department."

"She's coming around," Mac confided. "And I can be pretty patient."

"A fine virtue, MacGyver. How long have you known Rose?"

"Two and a half years," he thought back with surprise. "We met when the Foundation was doing a sting in cooperation with the FBI."

"Hmmmmm." Matt adjusted a temperature dial on a terrarium and stepped closer to Mac, taking the sugar water solution from him and poured part of it into an eyedropper. "More to the point, how long have you been in love with her? Not the physical stuff--" Matt waved a dismissing hand and frowned, "But the heart of the thing."

The pause this time was longer; MacGyver crossed his arms and seemed lost in thought as Matt went back to the terrarium and set the dropper into their dish.

"Matt, to be honest, there doesn't seem to be a defining moment for that--as long as I've known her she's been moving in her own orbit in my universe--she kissed me before she even told me her name for crying out loud!"

The memory was enough to make him grin in a lopsided fashion. Matt came back over and clapped a heavy hand on his shoulder; MacGyver looked up into his affectionate, fatherly smile.

"On such inconsequential things hang the balance of our lives, lad--rest assured. Lara adores you, and I trust her judgment on matters such as this. Now let's get on with the rest of Christmas and see if the soup's ready."

 

The Promise Basket – Conclusion

Rose and her mother worked quietly in the kitchen, a team of efficiency as they moved around each other in tandem. The counter was nearly clean, and the soft flow of twilight was visible through the window. Lara wiped her hands on the dishtowel and looked up at her daughter with a tender glance.

"Briar Rose, my child--he's a good one," she finally admitted. Rose nodded in agreement, and gave her mother a quick hug before putting the milk away in the refrigerator.

"Yes he is."

"I like him. He has gentleness to him. Very nice hands."

"I never thought of them that way, but yeah, he does have very nice hands. Artistic, sort of," Rose conceded. Her mother gave a smile, arching an eyebrow at her daughter.

"And I'll wager they've done more than just hold yours, too--" Before Rose could do more than shoot her a quick look, Lara added, "I wasn't born yesterday, Briar Rose--please tell me there's more in your heart than desire this time."

Rose struggled to find the right answer: she took a long moment to put away the foil-wrapped leftovers before answering.

"You know there is, Mama, but it's hard to look at it properly. It's like being in the water. It's all around you, and yet you're looking through it. Your vision gets filtered by what's in your heart without you even being aware of it. Mac's permeated so much of my perspective on things that it scares me. I don't know how I feel at times."

"Good answer," her mother replied, handing Rose a cookie tin to put in the high cabinets. "Tell me--if the filter was gone, what then?"

"You mean if we broke up?"

"I mean if he died. Tonight--hit by a car, choked on something, fell off down the stairs and broke his neck . . ."

"My God, Mom!" Rose stared in shock at her mother, her blue eyes wide, "Don't even joke about something like that! It's not funny--"

 Lara took her daughter's hands in her own and squeezed them tightly. She waited until Rose drew in a breath in the epiphany of the moment.

"That's called love, Rose. If you cannot imagine a life without him, I suggest you prepare yourself to do something about it."

Stunned, Rose tried to think of something to say, but her mother merely winked and walked out of the kitchen, calling, "Matti, time for a walk. Do you want to go too, Tayvon, or is that Gameboy thing still your whole focus right now?"

Within a few minutes, MacGyver and Rose had the house to themselves. He sat on the sofa in the living room, absorbing the latest issue of Popular Mechanics.

"I still have a present for you, Mac," she told him flirtatiously.

He looked up at her. "Something not for general viewing?" he guessed, a small grin on his face. She shrugged, and disappeared into the bedroom, returning with a flat package. Rose tossed it into his lap and perched lightly on the arm of the sofa looking down at him.

He studied the present, thinking hard. "Wayne Gretsky's autograph?" he asked.

"Close, but, not quite," Rose laughed. Mac opened the paper, letting it fall away from the picture frame. He studied it for a long time, his expression hard to define. Rose waited.

"Wow . . ." came his assessment, finally. Rose giggled as he shook his head and repeated himself, "Wow."

"Evelyn and I spent an hour trying to explain to the lady what I wanted. She thought we were nuts, but finally she agreed to take it--so it's okay?"

"It's more that okay, Rose. It's  . . ." MacGyver struggled to find the right words. He reached for her, tugged her into his lap and planted a kiss on her head.

The portrait photograph of Rose should have had a feather boa, or a nightgown, or something equally glamorous, but it didn't. Instead, Rose was dressed in one of MacGyver's hockey jerseys and practically nothing else, her long legs bare and elegant. She was lying on top of a goal net, jersey slipping off one shoulder, goalie gear scattered on the ice in front of the net. Her expression was sweetly flirtatious; the look of a pinup girl from an old Forties calendar.

Mac sighed happily."I didn't think Christmas could get any better."

"Thank goodness--that ice is cold, especially when you're barefoot."

"That's a real rink?" Mac brought the picture closer to study it.

 Rose nodded. "Yeah, out in Anaheim. I wanted the genuine thing, you know, not some mock-up in a studio. Evelyn helped me talk to the manager and the photographer--everyone was really nice about it. There are a bunch of proofs of the shoot, but this one was really the best."

"There are others?"

"Well yeah--"

"Go get 'em," he ordered firmly.

 Rose shrugged. She darted back to the room and returned with a packet, handing it to him with an embarrassed twinkle. He dumped them out and carefully studied each one. The first was Rose biting a hockey puck, teeth bared in a mock snarl as she winked at the camera. Another showed her lacing up a skate, the jersey hiked up enough to show her round bottom in lacy pink underwear. The third showed her in the penalty box, slamming her fists on the Plexiglas, her cleavage in full and delightful display.

 MacGyver drew in a deep, deep breath. "I want 'em all framed, Rose."

"Really?"

"Positively. You're catering to my baser nature here, woman," he looked up at her speculatively and growled a tiger growl at her. She felt her face grow warm under his gaze.

"And you're going to put them up--where?"

"Our bedroom--think of them as inspiration for a different sort of Stanley Cup performance, Brat."

 It dawned on her then what pronoun he had used. She reached over to tweak his nose; he intercepted her fingers and planted a kiss on the knuckles as they locked gazes for a long moment.

"Love with you is a strange and wonderful thing, Miss Clowderbock," he admitted.

"Likewise, Mister MacGyver--" she teased.

At three, the wind began to howl; Rose sleepily heard the sound of the storm whipping through the trees outside. She huddled into a ball, wishing she had Mac to steal warmth from. By morning, the outside world was buried in another two feet of snow.

 Matt made a crackling fire as he announced, “Power's off. First time this winter, too."

"What about the insects out in the bunker?" Mac asked, expertly feeding another log on the flames.

Matt smiled. "Battery operated generator built into the side of the house--I've learned over the years, lad, trust me. They'll be fine until the crews come out later this morning. We've got a gas stove, so hot food's not a problem either . . . Tayvon, you ready to put that board to real use?"

"Sure! Except, aren't you too old to snowboard, Doctor Matt?" the boy demanded skeptically.

"Yes--but at least I can see where you fall and dig you out again, Short Stuff. Lara, heat up the cocoa and lay in the towels by the side door--the lad and I are off to make trails."

"I'll come too," MacGyver announced.

Rose sighed. "Okay mom, I guess that leaves us free to do yoga in peace and quiet. You know we have to get back tonight,"

"I know. We'll have a good lunch and then do the basket and pack up. Goodness, it seems so short a visit," Lara mused as she and Rose walked back to the kitchen.

***   ***   ***

All right--does everyone have his or her paper? Good. Sign your name and roll it up . . ." Matt directed. They were all sitting around the living room. Something soft was playing in the background, and the lights on the tree looked bright against the dark afternoon sky in the windows. Tayvon printed his name in large letters; Lara helped him roll the paper up.

"Everyone ready?" she asked softly. Carefully, she picked up a tiny glass basket from the coffee table. It was fluted and lacy with the delicate shade of the inside of a seashell. Carefully she passed it to Tayvon, who placed his name scroll in it. Rose took it next and added hers, then MacGyver and then Matt, who passed it back to Lara.

She smiled. Resolutions can be broken, since they are merely intentions directed at one's self. A promise, however, carries the weight of responsibility since it is made to another. For nearly thirty years, Matt and I have made promises to each other on a annual basis."

"Thirty years?" Tavon grew wide-eyed.

 Lara nodded. "Oh yes, little man. We never asked for anything that couldn't be done, and we tried whenever possible to do it within a year. I gave up smoking on a promise. Matt built me my curio cabinet on a promise. Rose went back to college on a promise."

Matt looked around at the group. "Are you certain you all want to do this? You don't have to, you know."

There were nods all around; Rose felt Mac's hand slip into hers and smiled to herself. Matt nodded, pleased that no one opted out.

"All right. Tayvon, you're the first, so go ahead and draw a name."

The boy reached out and plucked a paper, unrolling it to reveal Matt's strong signature. He grinned. "I got *you* Doctor Matt! So you have to make a promise to me, right?"

"Right. I hope you have something good," the man watched at the boy walked over to him and laid a small brown hand on his chest.

"Take me to Disneyland this year--please?" the boy whispered.

 Matt grinned, and scooped him up, giving him a tight hug."I promise. We'll go on any day you ask."

Everyone smiled; part of the tension eased. Lara nudged the basket towards Rose, who reached out trembling fingers and pulled a bit of paper out. Lara's name showed up in curly cursive.

 Rose took a deep breath. "Mom--okay, I've thought a lot about this, and this year I want you to get a complete physical. Mammogram, blood work, cholesterol test---the works."

Lara locked eyes with her daughter. She nodded. "I promise--not that I'm any too delighted to do it, but . . ."

"Oh mom! You know how important this is," Rose pleaded.

"Yes," the older woman sighed. "I do," She reached over and patted her daughter's hand gently.

 Matt took the basket and pulled out a slip. "MacGyver--" he pronounced, unrolling the paper. Mac looked up expectantly. Matt pursed his mouth and stroked his mustache thoughtfully as he studied the younger man sitting on the sofa, his clasped hands resting on his knees.

 Finally the older man spoke up. "Promise me, lad, that you'll go back to visit your hometown sometime this year. You're a wanderer, but I think you need to get back in touch with your roots every once in a while."

MacGyver nodded in agreement, thinking it over. "You're right Matt--I have been overdue for a trip back," came his slow response. "There never seems to be a good time and--well, I promise I'll do it." Matt nodded, and clapped him on the shoulder, smiling.

Lara reached for the basket."My turn--" she pulled out a roll of paper and revealed Tayvon's name in his large block printing. The boy took a deep breath, preparing for the worst.

"I could ask you to eat all your vegetables this year, but I won't," Lara announced, sweetly. Tayvon went over and butted his head against her shoulder; she gave him a hug.

"Instead, I'm going to ask that we read together at least three times a week. Any books you want, little man--even Captain Underpants if that's what you really want."

"Really BabaLara?" Tayvon looked up at her with a grin. She crossed her heart and nodded as the others laughed. Tayvon gave a noisy sigh, but it was for show; he was beaming as he nodded."Okay, I promise--three times a week, no matter what."

"Good lad--BabaLara will have you reading Pushkin before you know it."

"Pushpin?"

 Everyone laughed. Matt settled back into his chair as Lara nudged the basket to Mac.

"Last promise--" she prompted. Rose shot a look at MacGyver, realizing there was only one little scroll of paper left in the basket. He picked it up lightly, unrolling it between his fingers and thumbs. He didn't speak for a moment, and everyone turned their gazes to Rose.

"Learn to hang glide?" Tayvon offered, giggling.

 Lara joined in. "No, if it was me, I'd make her visit the dentist."

Matt chuckled and leaned forward, thinking hard. "I think it would be nice if she finished her Masters, frankly."

Rose winced at each suggestion; she turned to MacGyver, who fumbled in his pocket. Lightly he tossed something at her; she caught it reflexively, cupping her hands around the small velvet box.

"Marry me," he suggested lightly.

 Everyone gasped. Rose's mouth dropped open, and she glanced down to the box and back up to his waiting face. She tried to say something, but nothing came out for a few seconds. Finally, "---Uh huh?" she squeaked, blue eyes wide. He laughed, and gathered her into his arms as everyone rushed over to join in the hug.

"Oh Brat, if you could have seen your face--" came his rough, sweet whisper in her ear. She kissed the rest of his comment away as Lara began crying, and Matt rubbed her back.

 Tayvon danced around everyone."Marry? That's a dumb promise! Hang gliding is still better," the boy snorted.

Lara laughed, scooping him up in her strong hug. "Never fear, Tayvon, someday marrying will seem pretty good to you too."

"No way! Girls are gross--except for you and Rose," he amended. Matt laughed.

Rose opened the box with shaky hands, and gasped again at the sight of the ring. A pair of half-carat diamonds sat in the double loop of a sideways figure eight of diamond dust.

 She touched it lightly as Mac cleared his throat and spoke."The diamonds are my mom's and my grandmother's--see, I inherited a matched set pretty much, and the mathematical infinity loop was my idea . . ." he trailed off as Rose burst into tears. Helplessly he looked at Matt and Lara, who none too gently shoved Rose into his arms.

"She's happy," her mother explained patiently, "It's a woman thing, Mac."

"This ring is the most beautiful romantic perfect thing I've ever seen in my life!" Rose snuffled. "It even makes up for the stupid Betty Boop panties!"

Everyone laughed again, and Mac plucked the ring out of the box and slid it onto Rose's finger in one graceful move. She stared down at it through her tears.

"So you like it?" he asked gently. She looked up, astonished he could ask such a foolish question, but when she raised her face, Mac caught her chin in his hand and kissed her again, thoroughly and deeply.

Matt winked at his wife. "Think we'll need to write this one down, Lara my love, or do you suppose our daughter will be mindful of it for the next twelve months?"

END