"Are you sure you want to do this?" Donna asked, looking on as Sophie piled the warmer half of her wardrobe into a well-worn suitcase.
"Yes," Sophie explained, her voice showing just a hint of exasperation as she answered the question for the twentieth time. "December is always so cold and rainy here. Plus, the hotel's not usually busy this time of year. It's the perfect time to go."
"I suppose it is," Donna agreed, as she did every time. "Still. Three weeks without my baby. It's going to be rough."
Sophie shook her head fondly. "Just think about how much harder it would've been if I actually did go off with Skye."
"I know," Donna replied, and she sat down beside her daughter. "I'm going to miss you."
"You could come along, you know," Sophie offered. "I'm sure all three of my dads would love to spend time with you, too."
Donna sighed. The offer was tempting, in a way, but so was giving her daughter a chance to really understand all three men with no outside interference and old baggage to weigh her down (hand-me-down suitcase aside). "No, no. This is your time to bond with them. Besides, someone's got to stay around and take care of this place."
"Suit yourself," Sophie replied. "Anyway, Bill will be here to pick me up soon. I'll spend a week with him, and then fly out to England to see Harry. After that, I'll go help Sam pack up in Ireland, and we'll both be back in time for Christmas."
"And you'll send me postcards from everywhere, right?"
"Of course, Mom."
"Are you sure you packed enough, though?"
Sophie looked down at her overstuffed suitcase and laughed. "Do you wanna help me close it?"
It really did take both of them to close the thing, with Donna sitting on top while Sophie zipped it shut. As she stood back up, Donna surveyed the room. It looked emptier and lonelier already.
"So when is Bill supposed to be here, anyway?"
"Four-thirty, give or take."
Donna checked her watch, and her eyes went wide. "Well, it's four twenty-five now, we'd better run down to the docks!"
And so, final checks completed and suitcase in hand, they did.
Boating with Bill was always a pleasure. Of course, they didn't go too far; the weather being less than ideal for international travel by sea, but he at least took her for a nice long ride before arriving on the mainland. From there, they took a flight to Sweden and a car ride into town, where he showed off his home and writing studio.
"They've got me writing a book about my adventures," he explained. "From the sounds of it, some folks expect it to be a big hit."
"That's amazing," Sophie told him, eyes taking in the various photographs, letters, and postcards he had strewn about.
"I suppose so," Bill agreed. "Guess it just goes to prove that you never know where life is going to take you. Not that I really need to explain that to you, eh?"
"Not really," Sophie agreed. Taking life by the horns had been her mother's motto for as long as she could remember, and Donna had definitely passed that onto her daughter. Spending time with her three potential fathers was testament to that spirit in both of them.
About halfway through her visit, Bill expressed his one regret.
"As wonderful as it was to pick you up," he explained, "it would have been nice to have my own Lucia to give me pepparkakor for once."
"Pepperkackor?" Sophie repeated.
"Aye, pepparkakor." Bill said once more, and Sophie tried to memorize the sound of the word. "It's an old Swedish tradition. A girl dresses in white with a wreath of candles on her head and delivers pepparkakor to her family. It's a kind of cookie we like to have this time of year."
"Well," Sophie said, "why don't I see what I can do?"
Perhaps she did it on the seventh, rather than the thirteenth, and perhaps her cookies weren't the absolute best, but Bill insisted that they were great for a first try. And it was nice, Sophie thought, to take part in a tradition that was a little part of her father's heritage.
"I hope you don't mind the change of plans," Harry said over the phone, the day before she was set to leave for London. "It's just, there's been some issue with our German clients. And they asked for me personally, leaving me little recourse but to go as asked. But I'd still like it if you were to join me. Do you think you would mind?"
Maybe Harry wouldn't be able to see her smile, but Sophie hoped he could hear it at least. "I wouldn't mind at all."
Munich was a beautiful place. Perhaps the days were a little more boring than she'd hoped, with Harry bolted up in meetings, but she passed the time exploring the town, using what bits of German she'd picked up from tourists to get by.
Nights, however, were the best part. Harry made a point to leave as early as he could manage, taking her along for any dinner meeting that couldn't be avoided. With his effort, they were able to spend most nights exploring the city's Christmas markets, checking out the sights and sounds, indulging in the food and drink, and buying small gifts for each other and their loved ones. Harry looked at new collars for his two cats, and once put on a pair of retro sunglasses and sang along with Waterloo as it played through a booth's speakers. (He claimed it was part of his spontaneous side.)
Sophie ended up spending half her final morning finding a post office and sending off a dozen parcels to all corners of the earth, hoping that her friends and loved ones would enjoy their contents. And then, too soon, it was time to say goodbye to Germany. Harry was able to travel with her as far as London, which was nice, even if the arrivals process was a little tear-fraught.
"Well, this is my stop," he said.
"You'll have to show me around sometime," Sophie replied. "It'd be nice to see more of London than the airport."
"You're welcome back any time," he told her. "I truly mean that. Admittedly, it'd be preferable to have a few weeks notice, but even if you just pop in, I'll try and be spontaneous about it."
Sophie smiled, and hugged him tight. "I'll miss you, Dad."
Was it her imagination, or was there a tear in his eye as she stepped back?
"I'll miss you too," he said. "Now hurry up. Don't want you missing your transfer."
And so she said her goodbyes and headed to the gate that would take her across the channel to Ireland and the next leg of her adventure.
"Are you sure you don't mind spending a whole week packing?" Sam asked as she helped him transport the contents of his five bookshelves into boxes.
"I really don't," Sophie promised. "I mean, sure it would be nice to see Dublin, or the countryside, but it's also really nice just to get to spend time with you. Plus, you can learn a lot about a person by the type of things he reads and keeps around."
Sam laughed; it was a familiar gesture, even after such a short time knowing him. "Yeah, well, a lot of this won't be making the journey with me. I'm taking the opportunity to downsize. It cuts down on shipping costs, and will help me get into the mindframe that I'm entering a new life. Maybe the life I should've had all along."
"A new life," Sophie mused. "I like that."
"Speaking of which," Sam mused, examining a snow globe he'd just found in a shoebox, "there's a party happening this weekend that I think you'll like to attend."
The party was full of fiddle music, and dancing, and more beer than Sophie was used to seeing in one place. The people were friendly, too, with everyone taking turns to come up and hug Sam and wish him all the best.
"It's an Irish wake," he explained, nearly yelling over an arrangement of Dance (While The Music Still Goes On). "It's not done as often as it used to, but I said I wanted one since I'm leaving everyone, and they were happy enough to throw this together for me."
"But you're not dead!" Sophie exclaimed.
"All the more reason to do it now," Sam explained. "I'm here for it and can celebrate with them as we all say our goodbyes. I mean, there's a real chance I may not see some of these people again, even if I come to visit down the line."
Even if it was harrowing to think about, Sam had a point. Sophie tried to memorize the faces of each person at the party, and the stories they told about Sam and all he'd meant to them.
At the end of the week, he'd be coming home with her, but it was nice to get an idea of the type of man he'd been in this life, in this part of the world.
All in all, it was a picture of a man she was glad to call her father.
"Here's my little globetrotter! Oh I missed you!!" Donna exclaimed, rushing forward to embrace Sophie in a tight hug. Sophie came along easily, squeezing her mother right back.
"I missed you too. Did my package arrive?"
"Yes, yes. I was waiting to open it until you got here. It's under the Christmas tree now, along with all the other gifts."
"You haven't decorated without me, have you?"
"Of course not! I wouldn't dream of it!"
Sam cleared his throat as he approached, a large suitcase in each hand. "I don't suppose you'd like to include me in this too?"
Sophie let go of her mother, and Donna went to give Sam a hug and a kiss too. "It's good to see you, Sam."
"Good to see you too," Sam replied. "I really am happy to be here."
"It'll be nice to have a man around here for a change," Donna said, laughing. "Not that we can't get everything done on our own, of course, but it'll be a nice change of pace, I think."
Sophie laughed. "Just let me know when I should be going to the other half of the island to give you some alone time."
Donna gasped. "Is that any way to talk to your mother?"
Sam shook his head, clearly wanting to change topics. "Anyway. I heard you say something about tree decorating?"
Donna smiled. "Well, we don't have many decorations, and it isn't much of a tree, but–"
"Come on, Dad," Sophie said, hefting her own suitcase up and then looking back at half of her parents. "It's time we let you in on our Sheridan family traditions."