christmas past

"You look like her tree topper," Penny says it before she reconsiders that speaking to a supernatural being so familiarly might land her in some very hot water. She also can't act as if she isn't looking at one, talking like one that is sitting on her dresser, days before Christmas.

In any case, she's right: the little ghost that sits on her dresser looks like the angel that she had found in her grandmother's attic decades before from the cherry red hair to the serene smile on her face to the white dress with gold ribbons that had been tattered when Penny had wiped the dust off of her all those years ago. A dress and ribbon she had fixed herself, using her mother's childhood sewing machine.

Athena, is who Diana says in her head. She has Athena's eyes.

"You're supposed to give me wisdom, aren't you?" Penny says, and the ghost smiles more, nodding her head.

She should turn back. Go back to sleep. She has so many things to do as queen, and yet she knows that if she turns her back, the little ghost will be back, probably. To give her what needs to be given, to do what needs to be done.

So reluctantly, Penny reaches her fingers out, and allows the little ghost to grasp her finger. A feeling of warmth washes over her.

She opens her eyes and it is 2010, and the her from that time is sitting on the couch, with Tabitha out of the room. She knows it's her old home, after Adelaide had died. It's been years since she sold her books and a new season of The Vampire Diaries is on the television and it makes her groan.

Not that. Please anything but that, she thinks. Yet she can't stop herself from sitting up on the couch, feeling that little buzz of excitement to see the titles on the screen. All around her are varying Christmas cards, all of them with addresses, names, greetings on there.

For the first time, Penny can see the exhaustion on her face from back then. It had been wearing on her, having to care for Adelaide all those years, to see her slowly declining. She had invited Tabitha over both out of being her older sister — always caring for her, always looking out for her — and because, she thinks she was exhausted. She had done so much, carried so much on her shoulders and yet here she was trying to complete Christmas cards that were past due with her hair a mess, a few cigarettes tucked in her back pocket she was going to secretly smoke, and still worrying about anyone and everyone.

The angel on the tree glows more as the past her calls into the kitchen, "It'll start in a bit! I just have to finish the cards."

Tabitha says something back, and Penny sighs as she watches herself look at interest with the television. The were — are — still paying her for her books. There's still a bit of hope that they'll get it right, and she can feel herself groaning at the thought of what would actually happen: the doors shutting in her face, the plummeting awfulness that her work would be taken from her, the hopelessness and betrayal she had felt afterwards. The inability to write for years and years after, consumed by the anxiety of it.

And yet, even as she thinks those gloomy thoughts, she can feel Diana pressing against her. Showing her the smile on her face at the credits, the way she had joked with Tabitha about the actors, the way they threw popcorn at each other previously.

The way she looks as she leans back, eyes flicking from the card — writing it to Mitya, a long one that had at least three paragraphs in it — to the television. The fact that even at this moment, busy with everything, she had done what she could for the people around her. That she had felt better being with them than without.

There's a reason she's seeing this. A reason she doesn't know as she watches herself, feels herself looking at the letters, at the television, working through them. A reason that she finds herself falling into the memory, the laughter of it all, the fun it used to be to see what she made on television.

That even in the beginnings of disappointment, through the years of ensuing confusion...

Something was still good in it. Something in the memories still made her smile, still felt hope for, even in the things she couldn't accomplish, even in the mixed bag. Those doors had shut, but she had gone to California, gotten a job that had suited her and in time, found by Diana. She had kept with Tabitha, making sure she had any and everything available. Had come to see Mitya and helped as much as she could, even if other people refused to. She still kept in touch with her mother, as acrid as she could be, and her father. They were still together, in a way, even if it wasn't the same.

The little ghost nudges at her as in the memory, she seals up a letter, sighing at it. Penny remembers thinking that maybe it wouldn't do any good to send it. And she had tried anyway, sent them out to family members who hadn't written back, who ignored it. But some... some had surprised her. Some had been happy to hear from her, and she had gotten pictures of Adelaide she hadn't seen before, she had heard stories she hadn't heard before.

All because she at least had the temerity to try.

Gods can be very heavy handed with lessons. But also... right, she thinks. To keep trying even if it fell out from under her, to keep her family close.

The memory dissolves around her until the last thing she sees is the ghost twinkling out.