Many Thanks to my Beta - Lori
Not my guys, just borrowed for this story
"Conference room in five minutes. AD Travis wants to talk to us," Chris said as he walked through the bullpen, ignoring the quiet cursing coming from several of the men seated at desks around the room.
Chris closed his office door behind him and moved around to sit on the edge of his desk, his green eyes focused on the dark window where he could see the falling snow backlit from the street lights. He didn't blame his team at all for grumbling. They had been working non-stop since before Thanksgiving on a big bust, and it had all gone down last night, the 22nd of December. When it had finally ended this morning at around 3:30 am, everyone had returned to the office to complete the paper work and all of the reports so that they could take several days off for the holidays. Travis had been informed that everything had gone well, and for once, no one was hurt, aside from a few bruises and scrapes. He had seemed happy at the news, but then had told Chris that he wanted to talk to the entire team.
Chris looked at his watch. It was 6:30am and he was exhausted. Running his hands over his face, he rose from his seat on the desk and walked back to join his team, who were tiredly making their way to the conference room, also known as the lunchroom. The men took their regular seats and waited. Vin folded his arms on the table and within minutes his head was resting atop his arms and he was fast asleep. Chris smiled affectionately; the sharpshooter had been hidden in the rafters of the warehouse since early yesterday afternoon and had been running on nothing but adrenalin for the last few hours; now that they had accomplished their mission and the excitement was over, he was drained.
The others were about to fall asleep as well; as Chris walked around the large conference table placing cups of coffee in front of everyone, the outside office door opened and AD Orrin Travis strolled into the room. The team came to attention and Chris nudged the sleeping sharpshooter, who snapped awake instantly. Vin opened his tired blue eyes, then sat up straight in his chair, trying to wake up and reaching for his cup of coffee.
"Sorry to disturb you, men, but I'm as glad as you are that this bust has finally gone down. There is now over a million dollars' worth of drugs and guns off the streets, thanks to Team Seven. You all deserve some time off, and I think I have just the thing for you. Evie and I rented a log house near Estes Park for the holidays, but since she broke her leg last week, we can't use it. I am offering it to the seven of you, with the understanding that you do not burn it down!" Travis smiled as he looked at the tired men sitting before him. "The house is three stories, with five large bedrooms, a den that can be used as a sixth bedroom, four bathrooms, and a 10 man hot tub. There is a gourmet kitchen stocked with several days' worth of food and drink and a huge fireplace big enough to stand in; several of the bedrooms have small gas fireplaces as well. Right outside the back door there is enough deep powder for you to go skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, or whatever else you want to do. All you need to take up there are warm clothes, extra food, and whatever sports equipment you need to keep you happy. The rooms are already made up, and the house is even ready for Christmas; it's decorated for the holidays and there is even a decorated tree in the great room. My only condition is that YOU DO NOT BURN THE HOUSE DOWN! If you do, I promise you will all pay for it for the rest of your lives." Travis turned to Chris, handing him a key ring and a sheet of paper with directions.
"The house is paid up through January 2nd, I will see you back in here on the 4th, and not one day before. Now get out of here. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, men!" Travis turned and walked out the door before anyone could react or respond in kind.
For several long moments the seven men sat in silence, digesting what they had just heard. Then Buck's "Yahoo!" resounded around the room and they all began talking at once.
"Ladies!" Chris' voice cut through the babble and silence fell again. "Looks like we're all going on vacation for a while. Let's get home, get packed, and meet back here at, what? Shall we say noon? Nathan, do you think Rain would like to come? What about Casey, JD? They're both invited if they can make it on such short notice. Also, make a list of groceries you are bringing, and we'll compare notes, then shop for whatever else we need on our way out of town. Now, who's up for skiing?"
"How about snowboards too?" JD asked excitedly.
"Inner tubes? Those're fun too," Vin added quietly.
"Boys, whatever you bring will have to fit either in the Ram or Josiah's Suburban."
"What about Christmas? We need to bring our gifts!" exclaimed JD.
"We can use my SUV too Chris, then there should be enough room for everything and everyone, especially if the ladies can come." Nathan offered.
"We 'kin use my jeep . . ." Vin started to offer.
"No!" Several voices shouted at once.
"It's runnin' right now . . ."
"No! We want to get there, not stand out in the snow beside the road trying to fix it," Buck said as the others nodded in agreement.
"It's fine now," mumbled Vin; he was determined to defend his beloved jeep, even though it spent more time in the repair shop being worked on than any other vehicle in the city.
"It's almost seven. Can everyone get ready and be back here by noon? You should have time for a little nap too if you need it," Chris said. As everyone nodded he looked over at Vin. "You can come with me; we'll stop at your place first. I can use your help with the horses and with loading all the gifts and everything else that is at the ranch."
"Okay," Vin agreed, glad he didn't have to drive; he was just so tired right now.
"Ezra, I'll pick you up at 11:30 if you'd like," Josiah offered as the men rose to get their coats and turn off their computers.
"I would appreciate that Mr. Sanchez. I have no desire to leave my Jag at these facilities for a week," Ezra replied by way of thanks.
Nathan looked at Buck and JD, "I can pick you two up on my way back, same time?"
"Thanks Nathan. We'd appreciate it. JD's trying to get a hold of Casey to see if she can come. We'll let you know if we need to pick her up or what." Buck glanced from Nathan to JD, who was on his cell phone.
"Yeah, I have to talk to Rain too. I know she can really use the time, I just hope she can get it. She won't want me gone for Christmas and New Year's, so I'm sure I won't be going if she can't. But I'll still pick you all up."
Before everyone walked out the door, Chris made copies of the directions to the house and handed one to each man, just in case a driver lost his copy or they got separated on the way to Estes Park.
Chris pulled the big Dodge Ram into his parking spot in the Federal Building's underground parking lot just before noon. He was glad that he'd put the canopy on it before the weather had turned. The back end had his and Vin's duffel bags of clothes, and winter coats, and boots, Vin's snowboard, his ski's, several bags of food and all the Christmas gifts that had already found their way beneath his tree. Arrangements had been made for the care of the horses after he and Vin had cleaned the stalls. They'd taken time to deliver Nettie's gifts to her, and left Casey's there also, after hearing from JD that Casey couldn't get the time off, even though her hours were shortened at the Vet clinic for the week.
Chris looked across the seat at Vin as he parked the truck. Vin's head was resting on the window; he was sound asleep, his heavy leather coat wrapped tightly around him. Chris decided to let the truck run until he woke up, and pulled his eyes away from the sleeping man. Vin had slept from the time they left his apartment all the way to the ranch, then in from Nettie's place all the way back to the office. The two hours of sleep wasn't nearly enough for Vin, who'd been going since noon the day before. At least the rest of them had gotten several hours of sleep while the sharpshooter was stuck 20 plus feet up in the rafters of the cold warehouse.
Closing his eyes, Chris listened to the quiet rumble of the big diesel engine and the low snores of the man beside him. Within a few minutes Josiah's Suburban was pulling in beside the black Ram and Chris quickly exited his truck.
The men were storing their things in the bed of the Ram when Nathan's SUV pulled in and three men and one woman got out. More things were sorted and transferred between the vehicles; Christmas gifts were stored in the back of the SUV and filled the whole back end. Some food items were put into ice chests to keep them from spoiling and the chests and bags of food went into the Suburban. Other items were packed into the Suburban also.
"Rain has to work New Year's Eve, so we'll be coming home early," Nathan told Chris as his skis and JD's snowboard were loaded into the Ram.
Ezra was checking over the grocery lists the men had written, and was making a list of additional things that he thought they'd need.
"So since I am the only woman, that means I am in charge of you all. And just to let you all know, I am NOT going to be in the kitchen working all the time. I am going to play too; my skis were just loaded." Rain directed a mock scowl at her husband's teammates.
"Rain, darlin', we wouldn't dream of makin' you do all the work in the kitchen. We'll all take turns cookin'!" Buck promised, smiling as he grabbed her hand and gave it a quick kiss.
"Okay guys, is everything loaded? What do we need to get Ezra?" We should get on the road as soon as possible," Chris said as he closed the canopy door.
Ezra handed the list to Chris, "We primarily need breakfast foods, Mr. Larabee, and perhaps some more lunch items as well. In addition, if anyone has a desire for a particular type of snack food, we can purchase those things this afternoon. I do believe we have plenty of food for our dinners, though."
"Thanks Ezra. Load up everyone. We'll stop at that grocery store over on 197th, it's on the way." Chris turned and moved to the Ram, Buck followed as JD went with Nathan and Rain and Ezra slid into the Suburban with Josiah.
The caravan of vehicles made a quick stop at the grocery store, where the seven men and one woman spread out through the store, selecting everything from deli foods to candy. They were soon headed north through the snowy countryside and the holiday traffic. Vin had awakened long enough to join the others on the shopping trip, but upon returning to the Ram he had crawled into the back seat and using his thick coat as a pillow, covered himself with a heavy blanket, and fallen fast asleep once again. On the floor beside him was a large bag full of snacks, and another sack with several deli sandwiches and a soft drink. Buck and Chris talked quietly in the front seat, both drinking from large cups of black coffee.
Daylight was quickly fading when the three vehicles turned into a long plowed driveway and drove half a mile to a huge log house, partly surrounded by tall trees. The whole front of the house, from ground level to roof, was composed of huge glass windows which afforded an uninterrupted view of the valley through which they had just driven.
Everyone helped unload the rigs and carry their things inside. The house had a large, beautifully decorated Christmas tree to the far side of the great room; before long the floor beneath the big tree was covered with stacks of presents. Rain, Nathan and Josiah organized the kitchen, unloading the ice chests and the bags of food and putting everything away in the large pantry and refrigerator before starting dinner preparations. Wood had been laid in the huge fireplace, and soon a crackling fire had been lit. Duffel bags, suitcases, and boots were placed near the stairs until everything could be sorted and taken to the bedrooms. While dinner was cooking, the rest of the team members took the time to enjoy the stunning view from the great room windows until total darkness settled in, and then they began to explore the house.
The large living room was comfortable with three couches and several recliners and overstuffed chairs that were laid out in such a way that visitors could look out the windows and watch the fire or the 62" color TV. The floor to ceiling windows spanned almost the entire width of the front of the house and were three stories high. There were shelves of knick-knacks and books in the corner of the living room. Large Indian patterned rugs were scattered throughout the 30 by 45 foot room, partially covering the hardwood floor. The dining room and adjacent kitchen were a step up, overlooking the living room and the huge expanse of windows. A large picture window on one wall of the dinning room looked out onto a nearby meadow, while the other outer wall held sliding glass doors leading out onto the deck.
To the right of the kitchen was a laundry room and a large bathroom with several shower stalls. A back door from the bathroom opened onto an enclosed porch that held a 10-man hot tub. A door on the left led from the porch onto a covered deck that ran the length of the back of the house. A pile of firewood was stacked neatly just off the deck and covered with a tarp. A second door led from the deck to a small mud room located at the back of the kitchen. On the other side of the bathroom there was a small den containing shelves of books, CD's and DVD's, a desk with a computer and a large plush sofa that opened into a bed.
Stairs to the left of the front door rose to the second floor, which held three large bedrooms and two full-sized bathrooms. The two larger bedrooms had small gas fireplaces. A two story loft jutted a third of the way over the living room. Another set of stairs led to the third floor and two more large bedrooms, one with a gas fireplace, and another bathroom. There was also another, smaller open loft area overlooking the living room and the large windows. Both loft areas were furnished with comfortable chairs strategically placed to provide ample light for reading as well as to take advantage of the breathtaking view.
Bedrooms were soon chosen and clothes put away, then everyone met downstairs again. An hour later dinner had been served, eaten and the dishes and kitchen had been cleaned up. Everyone gathered in the living room and visited, enjoying the warmth of the fire, as Christmas music played in the background. Lights twinkled on the Christmas tree and outside it had begun to snow again.
It was barely 8:00 p.m. when Chris noticed the bobbing heads of his team, trying to stay awake. Vin was asleep in one of the recliners, and Chris could see everyone was ready to call it a night. His own eyes were getting heavy. Looking at his friends, Chris smiled and said, "Hey, time to hit the hay everyone. It's been a long two days and tomorrow is Christmas Eve. Come on sleeping beauty, bed time." He touched Vin's arm lightly and the young man woke with a jerk, his hands instantly clenched into fists.
"Whoa there, Junior! It's just us here. You're safe; now get your skinny butt out of that chair and get up to bed. I have a feeling you and JD will be busy tomorrow." Buck laughed at the sleepy-eyed sharpshooter, holding his hand out to help pull Vin out of the chair.
Still half asleep, Vin mumbled, "Goodnight," to the others, and let Chris lead him up the stairs to his room. Buck, JD and the others followed, one by one. Nathan and Rain were the last to retire, as they stayed behind to close the fireplace doors and turned out the lights. Soon silence descended on the big log house.
Christmas Eve day dawned with the sun trying to break through the high grey clouds. When its light hit the snow, it was bright enough to blind a person, it was so brilliant.
The team members woke slowly woke to the sounds of Christmas music coming from the living room, and quiet clinks coming from the kitchen. The smell of fresh coffee filled the house.
Chris was the first to venture downstairs, knowing Vin had risen earlier. In the kitchen his best friend was working over the six burner stove, humming to himself as he worked. A Santa hat sat cockily on his head, his lean frame was clad in a deep red flannel shirt and dark blue jeans, and he wore thick white woolen socks on his feet, which were tapping to the beat of the music. He expertly flipped a pancake onto the pile at the back of the stove, while with his free hand he lifted the lid from the big pan to check on the eggs. Another pan on the next burner held slices of ham. Chris smiled as he watched Vin cooking, then he moved towards the coffee pot.
"Mornin' Santa," Chris said as he grabbed a coffee mug and filled it with the aromatic brew. Knowing that Vin had prepared it, he automatically added a heaping spoonful of sugar.
"'Bout time y'all were getting up. Sun's up and breakfast's almost done," Vin said as he flipped over several more pancakes.
"I'll get them up. You realize it's barely 8:00 a.m., don't you?" Chris asked, taking a cautious sip of coffee.
"Yep. But it's Christmas Eve!" Vin's smile lit his whole face.
Chris shook his head and headed for the stairs. He could tell his partner was excited; this was Vin's first Christmas with Team 7. Chris knew Vin had had a hard life and had never really celebrated the holidays, so the team had decided to make this Christmas special for their sharpshooter. Vin's excitement was barely contained; Chris could see it in the little things he was doing, like cooking enough pancakes to feed an army. He smiled as he went up the stairs. He needed to get everyone down to the kitchen pronto before Vin really got carried away; he didn't think anyone would appreciate having to eat leftover pancakes for lunch.
From the third floor JD came bounding down the stairs, followed more slowly by Buck and Ezra, who was wearing pajamas and a fancy brocade robe. Chris turned and knocked on Josiah's and then Nathan and Rain's door, then turned around and made his way downstairs, glancing over the railing at the living room. A slow smile crossed his face. Hanging across the huge fireplace were eight colorful Christmas stockings, all between eighteen and twenty four inches long. Each stocking had the initials of one of the team members on the top. Chris noticed the longest stocking had a 'VT' on it.
"What are you looking at, Brother?" Josiah asked, coming up behind Chris on the stairs.
With a shake of his head Chris pointed towards the fireplace across the room. Josiah laughed when he took in the stockings. "I believe Santa Tanner has struck!"
"Yep, I think so too," Chris smiled. "Wonder where he hid all that?"
"I'm sure we'll never know. A cup of coffee sure sounds good."
"Be careful, Vin made it."
"Oh. Thanks for the warning. He does like his coffee pretty strong, that's for sure."
The two men made their way to the kitchen and Josiah poured himself some coffee, lacing it with liberal amounts of cream and sugar before entering the dinning room. Buck and JD had quickly set the table as Ezra poured juice into glasses. When Nathan and Rain arrived, Chris brought in the large platter of pancakes, followed by Vin with a plate of ham and another of eggs.
"Eat up everyone. There's plenty to eat," Vin said as he placed the food on the table near Rain. Another pot of coffee appeared as everyone settled down to eat the filling breakfast.
As soon as breakfast was finished and the kitchen cleaned, Vin, JD, Chris, Buck and Josiah bundled up to venture outside, pulling on boots, heavy coats, scarves and gloves.
The five men made their way through the snow, first around the house to enjoy the view, then beyond towards a small building two hundred feet from the back of the house. They could see a towrope extending from the back of the building, going up the hill towards the top. Investigating, they found instructions and a big generator powerful enough to pull the rope and several people to the top, almost three quarters of a mile away. They stood and looked at the rope setup for a couple of minutes, wondering if the generator could really pull the rope that far, but they noticed that, though it extended up the hill there was several pulley type devices between the building and the top of the hill that the rope seemed to go past. The return rope was above their heads, so no one had to worry about getting hung up on it. There were two tall poles with pulleys for the returning rope easily seen.
Vin and JD grinned at each other, "You guys get the generator going, we'll tell Ez, Nathan, and Rain. Want us to bring back your skis?" JD asked as he and Vin turned towards the house.
"Yes," Buck called as the two hurried away. "Kids! You couldn't pay me to get out on one of those damn boards."
"Just hope they don't end up getting hurt." Josiah shook his head as he thought of the two youngest team members and their penchant for getting hurt and injured.
"I know. They've been out on them a few times, though, so they know what they're doing." 'I hope,' Buck added under his breath.
With a rumble the generator started up, and the three men stepped back. They watched it for a moment, then flipped the lever to get the rope moving. The rope slid smoothly across the strong pulleys and began its round trip travel up the hill at about waist height. The upper, returning loop was moving smoothly also, twelve feet above them. As they watched the smooth moving rope, they realized that it was really a heavy covered cable. Buck looked at Chris, a smile crossing his face; they had both been wondering how a 'rope' could be that long.
Glancing towards the house, they saw Vin and JD headed back towards them, snowboards, skis, and poles in their arms. Nathan and Rain followed behind, carrying their own skis as well as a small ice chest.
Vin and JD handed Chris, Buck, and Josiah their equipment. With a whoop they dropped their boards beside the moving rope, slid their feet into the bindings, and grabbing the rope with gloved hands, they were off, being pulled towards the top of the hill.
For a minute Chris watched the lean blue clad figure of Vin going up the hill.
As if feeling his gaze, Vin looked back, a smile on his face, 'I'm fine Cowboy. Havin' fun. See ya at the top.' Chris heard.
'Be careful pard,' Chris thought back as he resumed putting on his skis.
A short time later they were all headed up the hill. At the top, they found another small building through which the cable entered and exited on large pulleys and wheels. The building also held a row of benches across one wall, with more outside along the front. Vin was standing off to one side looking at the view.
Chris and Buck skied to his side and gazed out at the landscape. Beyond a line of trees to their right they could see houses and cabins scattered along several ridges and the hills stretching towards the east. There was another ski slope and a few more houses dotting the pristine landscape to the north. Down and to the west were more trees surrounding the house in which they were staying; there were no other residents within at least a couple of miles of their place. The foot of the Rocky Mountains, covered by low clouds, could be seen off in the distance, to the west and south
"I sure hope those clouds lift. Would like to see all this in the sun," Vin remarked as he turned and made his way through the 2 ½ feet of powder to the building again, sliding easily across the snow.
"It'd be beautiful from up here, that's for sure," commented Chris as he and Buck followed Vin.
Moments later they were back at the building and preparing to head back down the hill. Nathan and Rain were already well on their way down, with Josiah right behind them. Buck and JD were poised on the edge of the hill waiting for Chris and Vin to join them.
Vin reached the slope and with a loud yell pushed off and slid away from the others. JD was almost on his heels as Buck and Chris followed. The skiers easily passed the younger men on their snowboards, but the large grins on their faces told them the youngsters didn't mind.
Chris and Buck reached the bottom of the hill as the other three were ready to head up again. The two long time friends watched as the others were towed up the hill, waving at Vin and JD still coming down. They rested as they watched the snowboarders weave back and forth across the hillside, going near the trees, then shooting back towards the towrope. Several times they shot into the air over buried rocks or logs. A few times Chris opened his mouth, then snapped it closed before he could yell at them; Buck's face mirrored his thoughts.
When the young men reached the bottom they took a quick drink of the water that Rain had thoughtfully provided, then were headed to the towrope.
A couple of hours later the seven people were trudging through the snow headed for the warmth of the house. Vin and JD chattered non-stop about trying a few different jumps and a trail they'd seen in the trees.
Leaving all their equipment outside on the covered deck, they brushed the snow off themselves and entered the house through the back door into the kitchen area. They removed their boots and coats and hung in the mud room. Delicious smells emanated from the kitchen, and Christmas music was still playing through the house. They all headed for the living room, noticing Ezra curled up in one of the armchairs with a book. Looking up at his red-faced friends, Ezra stood up and said, "Lunch will be ready in a half hour. Would anyone like something hot to drink? I have a pot of freshly brewed coffee all ready."
"Yes. Please. Appreciate it. Thank you," was heard as everyone answered at once.
Ezra tipped an imaginary hat and headed for the kitchen as several men moved to stand in front of the large fireplace. Vin stood as close as he could without getting burned, still bundled in his coat.
"I think you boys have had enough snowboarding for awhile. Vin you look half frozen! Are you alright?" A concerned Nathan eyed the young sharpshooter warily.
"'am just a bit chilled but I feel fine. Fire feels good," Vin shivered as he answered.
"Here, Mr. Tanner. Coffee with lots of 'stick to your ribs' power," Ezra said, handing Vin a large mug of steaming coffee, then distributing mugs to the rest of the team.
Soon Vin had warmed up enough to take off his coat, then one sweatshirt.
"Hey Junior, how many shirts do you have on?" teased Buck.
"'nuff to keep me warm," Vin replied.
Chris raised an eyebrow at his friend as Vin took a few steps away from the fire.
"Two sweatshirts, three Henley's and a tee shirt. That answer ya'll's questions?" Vin smirked, drinking down his coffee.
"Vin, sweetheart, don't you pay any attention to these guys. You wear whatever helps keep you warm," Rain told him with a warm smile on her pretty face.
"Yes, ma'am," Vin said smiling back at her.
Rain was a doctor at Denver General Hospital and had treated all of them at one time or another. Though she was happily married to Nathan, she considered all the men her brothers, and the quiet, shy Texan was a favorite of hers. They all knew that Vin was usually cold all the time, and she figured that he'd be freezing the entire time they were outside playing in the snow.
"Food is served," Ezra called before anyone said anything more about Vin and his clothes.
As they headed for the dining room Vin pulled off another two shirts. Chris, a grin on his handsome face asked, "How in the world do you ever move your arms with all those clothes on?"
"No problem. Don't forget I'm not as old as you are. You old men wouldn't be able ta move."
"Brother, you'll be our age soon enough so you better be careful," smiled the grey haired Josiah as he dropped a heavy hand on Vin's thin shoulder.
Vin ducked his head, "I know." He shot a smile at Josiah and Chris, "But I'll never catch up to you guys," he laughed.
After a hearty lunch of grilled meat and cheese sandwiches and bowls of homemade chicken vegetable soup, the kitchen was cleaned up and everyone sat around the living room enjoying Ezra's special blended coffee.
"You coming out to play in the snow Ez?" JD asked of the auburn haired undercover agent.
"I might venture out to see what you all are doing."
JD and Vin exchanged a grin. Chris caught the look and glanced at Vin, 'What are you two up to?'
'Nothin'. Jist makin' sure Ez has some fun too.'
Chris snorted. He had an idea what was going to happen.
Soon Vin and JD were bundled up again, anxious to get outside before it got dark. Everyone else got ready and slowly followed them outside. Ezra pulled on a heavy warm wool coat and gloves; he wasn't planning to be out in the cold very long.
As the rest of the team walked out the door they were bombarded with snowballs and soon a full fledged snowball fight erupted. No one was safe, and there were no teams; it was a free for all and snowballs hit everyone, some with deadly precision. Laughter rang out as the fight moved away from the house. Rain was the first to head for the safety of the deck, covered in snow. She brushed off and with a smile hurried into the house. Grabbing her camera she was back outside moments later, snapping pictures.
With a final effort, Buck, Chris, and Nathan rushed the laughing sharpshooter as he dodged their snowballs. Realizing he was in danger, Vin took off running, only to be tackled by a snow covered Ezra who had been hiding behind a large tree out of sight of the rest of the combatants. As Buck and Nathan ran after JD, Vin and Ezra went down in the soft snow. Chris plowed to a stop before he tripped over the two downed men. Vin twisted agilely and managed to pin Ezra underneath him. Deciding to take full advantage of his position, he started piling snow on top of his teammate who was trying hard to buck Vin off his back. With an evil grin, Chris shoved Vin off Ezra and into the deeper snow.
Once free, Ezra whirled on his knees, grabbed handfuls of snow and began plastering Vin, with Chris' help. Laughing, Vin crawled away then swiftly rose and bolted for the house and safety. He was pelted with snowballs as he ran.
Chris gave Ezra a hand and pulled him up, taking a look at him he started to laugh. Ezra was covered in snow his hair was white and standing up in frozen clumps. They made their way towards the deck where Vin was brushing off the snow and Josiah was using Rain's camera to take pictures.
JD came barreling around the house and leapt onto the deck as Buck and Nathan rounded the corner a moment later. Everyone met on the deck and peace was restored. After everyone was brushed off, Vin and JD decided to go snowboarding while there was still plenty of light. Picking up their boards they invited the others to join them. Ezra, Rain, and Nathan gathered their skis, changed boots and followed them.
Almost two hours later the three had given up skiing. Rain said she was cold enough; Ezra agreed, and wanted to check on his dinner. Nathan, after a glance at Vin and JD decided to call it quits also. They all agreed that the hot tub sounded like the best place to which they should retire.
Vin and JD decided to have one more run and were halfway up the hill when a low cloud drifted in, bringing with it a dark, damp fog. By the time they reached the top of the hill it had started to snow.
"Vin, we can't see twenty feet ahead of us!" JD said, looking down the hill at the swirling snow.
"Yeah. We have to stay close to the towrope, and just follow it down. We'll be alright. Just keep the rope on your left and in sight. I'll see you at the bottom." Vin smiled encouragingly at the younger man and pushed off.
JD followed the blue clad figure down the hill as the snow fell faster and the fog closed in on them. He hoped they'd get to the bottom soon; it felt like it was taking forever.
Vin glanced over his shoulder as he made another turn towards the rope about forty feet away. He'd been zig- zagging back and forth to keep his speed down, and with the almost white-out conditions he didn't want to run into anything or get lost. He knew there were several buried logs and rocks along the way. From the corner of his eye he thought he saw something. Just as he spotted a lump in the snow ahead of him, a yell from behind made him look back towards JD.
All of a sudden something crashed into him with enough force that he was knocked off his board. He heard something snap as he tumbled over and over in the snow, tangling with another body. They were rolling fast when at the last moment he remembered the snow covered lump ahead of him. His eyes were so full of snow he couldn't see a thing, and the last thing he knew before darkness descended was that something hard smashed into the side of his head.
JD glimpsed a figure coming at Vin through the blinding snow. His reaction was to yell a warning to his teammate, but it was too late and he watched in horror as both figures turned their heads towards him just an instant before they collided. The momentum of the crash carried them both down the hill and several seconds later they were lying in a heap against a large boulder, neither one moving. Broken skis littered the snow beside them, and Vin's snowboard leaned crookedly against the rock.
JD quickly released himself from the snowboard bindings and plowed through the snow to the men's side. Both were dressed in blue and he couldn't tell who was who until he spotted Vin's long hair and knelt down beside him. Vin lay on his side with his back up against the boulder; while the other man was draped partially over it. Pulling off his gloves, JD located a pulse in Vin's neck, then tried to wake him. Receiving no response, he quickly ran his hands up and down Vin's arms and legs checking for fractures, then examined his head he found a lump forming behind his right ear. Next he turned to the other man, easing him from atop the boulder and laying him down on the ground next to Vin. JD's eyes opened wide in surprise as he found a strong pulse in the man's neck; a quick examination of his limbs and head revealed no broken bones but a similar lump on the back of his head.
"Damn. I've got to go for help. I can't get you two to wake up," JD muttered to himself. As he looked around he knew he had to mark the spot where the two men lay injured. Between the rapidly falling snow and the dense fog, the men would soon be impossible to locate without some kind of sign. JD tried once more to wake them, moving them as close together as possible; he then covered their faces with his long woolen scarf. He placed Vin's snowboard into the ground next to the pair, then using pieces of the broken skis as markers, he headed back for the towrope. Then he raced down the hill on his snowboard as fast as he dared. In less then ten minutes he could make out a light on the small building and see movement around it.
Chris had been listening to the talk swirling around him, as he sipped a doctored cup of coffee. He watched as the fog came down and the snow started to fly by the windows. Visibility was cut down to just several feet. A chill ran through him and his hand froze halfway to his mouth. Vin. What's wrong?' he thought, as he straightened. 'Vin, where are you?' Silence met him.
Turning swiftly he set down his mug and looked at his friends. They'd seen him stiffen and cock his head, and knew immediately that he sensed trouble. "Let's go. Something's wrong."
The men jumped up and headed for the kitchen and their coats.
"Stay here Rain, no sense you coming out in this," Nathan said as he stopped her with a quick kiss.
"I . . ."
"It's alright Rain. Maybe get something hot ready. Figure those two will be half frozen," Chris told her as he pulled on a stocking cap.
"All right. I'll stay. Be careful," she said.
Within three minutes the five men were gone, skis under their arms, heading for the towrope building. Buck hurried into the building as the others were putting on their skis; he had seen a big light on the outside of the building and looked around until he located the switch and flipped it on. The light illuminated the area around the building and extended out almost thirty feet.
As Buck was putting on his skis they heard a yell, and a moment later JD was there, his face pale from the cold and fear.
"Vin?" Chris' voice rang out as he stopped.
"Up there. He collided with someone and they're both unconscious. I put the guy's broken ski by the rope to mark the turn-off. Then just go to the left and follow the broken skis. Vin's board is beside them." JD answered in a rush. Chris grabbed the rope and the others followed.
"Get inside and get warm, we'll be back soon. Rain is waiting. Go JD," Buck ordered as he grabbed onto the towrope last.
"Okay," JD replied, but the men were gone. He undid his snowboard and made his way to the house, shivering with the cold.
Chris spotted the broken ski and let go of the rope; a moment later Josiah was beside him and they were moving towards the left as JD had instructed them. They were soon joined by Nathan, Ezra, and Buck. It took only a couple of minutes to find Vin's snowboard and Chris was brushing the snow off the two figures beside the rock as Josiah pulled the scarf away from their faces. Nathan immediately began checking out the two men.
"Try to wake them. It'll be easier to get them down if they're awake," Nathan said as he looked over the other man's legs.
Josiah held Vin in a sitting position while Chris started rubbing his friend's slack face. 'Come on pard, wake up. We have to get out of this weather.'
Vin moaned and tried to turn his face away from the rough fingers.
Josiah was running his hands up and down Vin's arms as Vin leaned against him. "Brother, open those eyes and let's get out of here," he said his mouth close to Vin's ear.
Chris rubbed harder and glanced to his right to see that Buck had the other man leaning against him with Ezra trying to wake him. Both of them had an odd look on their faces. Nathan hovered between the two, taking vital signs and checking for frostbite.
"Come on Vin. You don't want to miss Christmas, do you? If you don't wake up you will," Chris told Vin.
"No . . . 'm awake . . ." Vin mumbled as he turned his head. "Cold . . . What?" Vin opened confused blue eyes and looked dazedly at Chris. "What? JD? Cold . . ." Vin shivered then glanced around, "Somethin' hit me," he said as he struggled to get up.
Josiah straightened, bringing Vin to his feet as Chris steadied him. "Yeah, you and another guy had a crash. Looks like you both will be fine but we have to get off this hillside. Think you can stay on your board all the way to the bottom?"
"Yeah. Jist get it on m' foot."
"We'll help you. You'll be between two of us the whole way down. Buck, how's that guy?" Chris asked as he knelt to insert Vin's feet into the straps on the snowboard.
"A little confused, but he's up now. You'll never believe this."
"Let's get to the house first; they both need to get warm. How do you want to get him down? His skis are toast."
"Only thing I can think of is to hold him between two of us and go down slow."
"Chris if you and Ezra, or Nathan, can take care of Vin, I think Buck and I can get the other man down," Josiah said as Chris stood. Ezra stepped instantly to Chris' side, and between the two of them managed to get Vin up on his snowboard.
"Well, let's try this," Chris replied. He and Ezra each maintained a tight grip on one of Vin's arms as they headed towards the towrope. Josiah and Buck moved slowly with the stranger between them and Nathan followed behind, ready to help if needed. The stranger tried to adjust his feet so they could pull him rather than drag him over the snow; once he found his balance he was able to slide his booted feet through the snow, relying on his two escorts to help him keep his balance.
As darkness fell the small group made their way down the hillside. Vin was still confused, but slid easily between Chris and Ezra on the snowboard. Behind them, Buck and Josiah held the other man between them as they skied down the hill. The stranger still hadn't said a word, and a couple of times his legs buckled underneath him, but they managed to hang onto him and their balance on their way down the slope. Nathan stayed off to the side, gliding easily back and forward to monitor both men's conditions.
Finally the floodlight from the building came into view and they all breathed a sigh of relief. In the darkness with the blowing snow and fog it had seemed to take them an hour, but in reality it had been less than fifteen minutes from the time they moved off the towrope to find the unconscious men. As the men skied directly to the house; Nathan dropped back to turn off the generator and the floodlight.
When they reached the house, the men quickly took off their skis, stowed their equipment on the deck, brushed off the snow and entered the small mudroom. Quickly they shed their boots and outer clothing, then turned to the two injured men and helped them out of their gear. Both Vin and the stranger were wet and shivering, and barely moved as they sat on the bench in the small room. The minute their coats and boots were removed, the two men were pulled up off the seat and taken into the warm kitchen, where Rain met them with mugs of steaming coffee. She took one look at Vin and ordered them to keep moving into the living room. Her eyes widened in surprise as she stood back, letting Buck and Chris lead the way into the other room.
JD jumped up and, grabbing two afghans from the couch, handed one to Chris and the other to Buck. They quickly wrapped their charges in the warm blankets and steered them towards the roaring fire. Ezra slipped into the bathroom and brought out a large towel, which Chris used to start drying Vin's long dripping hair. Somehow in the melee Vin had lost his stocking cap, but no one had noticed until they had reached the bottom of the hill. His head had been covered in snow, which was now melting all over the living room's hardwood floors. Ezra held Vin steady as Chris vigorously dried his hair.
"We have to get them into some dry clothes. It will help get them warm," Nathan stated as he checked the stranger again and shook his head. "I'm Nathan Jackson, this is my wife Rain, and our friends; we're from Denver," he said as he pulled off one of the strangers shirts.
"Ma . . . Martin Fitzgerald. I . . . I'm from New York," the man said as he struggled to remove his other shirt. "I . . . I'm sorry to cause you so many problems. Got . . .got turned around in the fog and snow." He was shivering violently.
"Don't worry about it. This was a small problem compared to most we have. It could have happened to anyone. And everything will be alright, once we get you into some dry clothes." Nathan smiled at the young man. "And maybe you can answer some questions for us too," he added.
"Do you have a brother?" JD blurted out suddenly.
"JD!" Chris' glare hit him squarely.
"Sorry Chris, but . . ." JD looked away then mumbled, "Can't help it. He looks like Vin."
"What?" Chris was helping Vin out of his shirts, but his head came around and for the first time he really looked at the stranger. For several moments he stood frozen in place, his green eyes going back and forth from Vin to Fitzgerald.
"Damn," Chris half whispered.
Vin shivered and looked dazedly around, his long hair hanging in his face. "What? 'kin I go change m' clothes now? I'm cold," he asked looking around.
"Come on, we'll get you upstairs and into something dry, then we can do some talking," Chris said as he took Vin's arm. "I'll see if we can find Martin some dry clothes too."
"I believe I can provide something dry for our visitor," Ezra offered as he followed Chris and Vin upstairs.
Martin looked around the room at the men who were staring back at him with various looks of surprise on their faces. The pretty dark woman, Rain, he reminded himself, crossed to his side and slid a mug in his hand.
"Here, drink this. It will help warm you up."
"Thank you ma'am. I'm sorry to have disturbed your day. I sure appreciate you bringing me in." He took a sip of the coffee, then looked at the young dark haired man who seemed to bounce with energy.
"I was adopted when I was little, under a year old. My parents told me I was a twin, but . . ."
Ezra came down the stairs, a pair of pants, and a thick sweater in his hands. "Come Mr. Fitzgerald, let's get you changed into dry clothes," he said, leading Martin towards the downstairs bathroom. Nathan followed, wanting to make sure he was alright, and knowing that Chris would check Vin and let him know if something was wrong.
JD looked at Buck and Josiah as the two men left the room. "Did you see . . ."
"Shut up JD. We'll talk when everyone gets back. Let's go see how dinner is coming along," Buck cut him off and the led the way to the kitchen.
Several minutes later everyone was back in the living room. Vin, dressed in two more sweatshirts and a pair of jeans, sat on a couch near the fire with an afghan wrapped snuggly around him, a mug of coffee in his hands. He was finally starting to feel warm again. Chris had checked his back as he changed, finding several bruises but nothing too serious. The lump on his head was sore and the bruise was making itself visible, coloring the side of his face.
Martin sat on another couch, similarly bundled up. Nathan had checked him over and found some bruises and the lump on the side of his head changing colors.
Vin and Martin eyed each other warily; how was it possible for two total strangers to look so much alike and not be related?
Everyone introduced themselves to the stranger as Ezra disappeared into the kitchen. "Dinner will be ready shortly," he said returning to the living room a minute later and seating himself in an armchair. The scent of baking bread wafted through the room.
"Ez, did ya make bread?" Vin asked in surprise.
"Mr. Tanner, I do not bake. It was frozen; I just followed the directions on the package."
"Oh. Well, smells good anyway," Vin looked down, his fingers fidgeting with the edge of the afghan around his shoulders. With a sigh he lifted his eyes and met Martin's as they continued to look each other over. A small smile lifted the corner of Martin's lips.
"I guess we could be related, from the looks we're getting from your friends."
Vin glanced around; his own smile crossed his lips. "They ain't too subtle are they? I don't know too much about my background. My Ma told me they adopted me when I was a couple months old, but she never said nothing about a brother or sister, or a twin . . ."
Martin shook his head, "When I was seven my mother told me I had been adopted at the age of five months. They were told I was a twin, but they couldn't find out anymore, if it was a brother or sister. When I was twenty one I contacted the orphanage and was told that the records had been permanently sealed; that the only way I could get them opened was through a court order or by a biological parent. At the time I didn't have the funds to go to court, and I wouldn't ask my family for help, so I decided to wait." He shrugged. "Time got away from me, but I made a vow to myself that after New Year's I was going to begin proceedings."
"When and where were you born?" JD asked.
"May 24th, 1979, in Dallas, Texas. But from what I understand, I was moved from one place to another. My folks adopted me from an orphanage in San Antonio, when they were visiting relatives there. One of Mom's cousins worked there and she told my parents about me. Took them a couple of months before the adoption went through, so in the meantime they traveled back and forth from New York to San Antonio. They had found out there was a twin, but when they tried to get more information, they were told the child had been adopted and there was nothing else to be done." Martin looked at his mirror image across from him on the other couch; he couldn't believe that he had quite literally run into the man. Vin Tanner had his face and eyes, and though Vin's hair was much longer, it was the same color. Vin was thinner than Martin, but he looked to be just as wiry. He could see laughter lines at the corner of Vin's eyes, and knew they probably matched his; he noticed too, that Vin had an easy, ready smile for his friends. Martin wondered what kind of work the seven men were in, but before he had a chance to ask, JD spoke again.
"Vin, isn't your birthday the same day?"
"Yeah, JD it is. And my Ma told me I was born in Dallas too. That's where they adopted me. My pa died when I was two. We moved to Oklahoma City for awhile, then Ma died and I went to an orphanage for a short time then to foster homes." Vin's brow furrowed for a moment then he looked up, a surprised look on his face, "When Ma died, I was with her in the hospital. She said something I never could figure out, but it's stuck with me all these years. She said, 'Vin, I'm sorry. Was my fault, I couldn't take two at the time.'" For a moment Vin was silent, his eyes filled with tears. He felt Chris' hand on his arm.
"Oh God," Josiah murmured quietly; Buck ducked his head as the others looked away.
"Fer twenty two years I've wondered what she meant," Vin half whispered as his eyes met Martin's. "I always thought she was sayin' something about our lives after my pa died, since we had to move around so much. Ma told me he was a Texas Ranger, that's all I can remember about him. But she always told me to remember 'I was a Tanner.'"
Martin and Vin stared at each other for a long moment, their eyes tear-filled.
"I think we can find out easily enough if you two are brothers, if you really want to know," Rain said gently, smiling when two pairs of matching blue eyes locked onto her. "I think you are related, but to be sure, when I return to work, I can take a hair sample from each of you and can easily have a DNA test done. It would take a day or two since it's the holidays, but you would know within a few days."
"How long are you going to be here Martin?" Nathan asked, squeezing his wife's hand appreciatively.
"My flight leaves the 8th for New York. I have to be at work the 9th."
"Are you staying nearby?" Buck asked.
"Well, I'm not sure where nearby is," Martin smiled, "but I'm staying at the Alpine Motel in Estes Park another two days, then I was just going to travel around to check out some of the ski resorts. No definite plans, and now with no skis I really am not sure what I'll do; maybe I'll just go sightseeing."
"I am sure we could accommodate you for a few days, so why don't you plan on staying here with us? What kind of work do you do Mr. Fitzgerald, if you don't mind me asking?" Ezra smiled at him.
"I work for the FBI, Missing Persons Unit in New York City."
"WOW! We're ATF agents in Denver, well not Rain, she's a doctor," JD exclaimed. "Chris is our leader and AD Orrin Travis is head of all the AFT agents here in Denver."
"Oh . . ." For a moment Martin looked around at the men, then a smile crept across his face, "Are you by any chance 'The Magnificent Seven?' We've heard of an ATF team in the Denver area that is outstanding."
"We're Team 7. Not sure why they gave us that tag," Chris half growled.
Before anything else could be said a buzzer sounded from the kitchen and Ezra rose swiftly. "Time to eat, everyone," he called over his shoulder.
Everyone rose, Chris keeping an eye on Vin who rose quickly, then shot a grin at his friend. 'I'm fine cowboy. Jist a few bruises and a little sore. I'm warm now and hungry.'
'Okay pard. Just don't scare me like that again.' Chris responded as he followed the younger man towards the kitchen.
Martin had watched the silent exchange and Buck caught his eye as he came along side him.
"They do that all the time. They have this connection and know what the other one is thinking with just a glance most of the time, kind of like telepathy. At least this was a short conversation, you should see them when they really get into it!" he said with a large smile. "Let's get you some food, before you think we don't feed our friends."
"I'm going to need to get to the motel after dinner. I can't impose on you all any longer, it's Christmas Eve."
"Don't worry. We'll talk about it after dinner," Buck told him as they entered the kitchen.
After a filling meal of beef stew and fresh baked bread with butter, everyone helped with the dishes and returned to the living room.
Josiah stood looking out the window, where all that could be seen was the steadily falling snow. "I don't think we'll be able to get you back to your motel tonight, the snow is piling up pretty fast Martin. The landline is out and my cell isn't working either in this weather."
Nathan switched on the outside lights, which only illuminated about six feet out from the house before the light was lost in the fog and snow. Nathan shook his head. "Looks like you'll be our guest for the night," he said as he turned the lights out and went to sit beside his wife.
"I'm sorry to be putting you all out tonight," Martin's glance took in each person in the large room.
"You aren't putting us out. We were only doing stockings tonight, and it's no inconvenience to us at all," Vin said rising. "Be right back."
"How did you ever hear of us clear in New York?" JD asked into the silence.
Martin looked at JD, and smiled, "Well we aren't on the other side of the world. We're all Feds and word gets around. There's a little bi-monthly newsletter that goes out, and all the different bureaus have a little blurb about what's going on in their branch. The ATF bureau has mentioned the Denver Team 7 several times. How unorthodox they are, but they get things done. Mentioned they'd received several awards, and that their sharpshooter was one of the best in the country."
"Vin is the best!" JD exclaimed in defense of his friend.
"Vin's your sharpshooter?" Martin asked surprised, his eyes turned towards the stairs where Vin had disappeared.
"Yes. Didn't it say in those articles?" Nathan asked.
"No. Only name they ever mention is Senior Agent Chris Larabee, and that he is the leader of the 'Magnificent Seven.''
"Don't know how 'Magnificent' we are, but we do get our job done," Chris said with a smile at his friends.
"We're the best," JD added enthusiastically.
Everyone laughed, and Chris caught a glimpse of Vin returning, another Christmas stocking in his hand. He glanced away as Vin dug into his own stocking. Looking towards Martin, Chris said, "Your name sounds familiar. Are you any relation to the FBI Deputy Director?"
"Yes sir. He's my father," Martin answered with an odd look on his face, and Chris wondered what was wrong.
As if reading Chris' thoughts, Martin continued, "My father wasn't too happy to be adopting a baby, but Mom wanted a boy; I've got two older sisters. Mom had several miscarriages, was finally told she couldn't have any more children. When her cousin told her about this baby boy she informed my father she was going to adopt him no matter what he wanted. She was told I was a twin, but with the sealed records could get no other information except that the other had already been adopted."
"Me . . ." Vin remarked, slipping onto the couch next to Chris after hanging the new stocking up on the fireplace with the others.
"I'd say so. We look enough alike to be brothers, and with the same birthday and city of birth. Well, I don't doubt it, but its best we find out for sure."
"Yeah. We'll give Rain something to work on."
"Do you two realize that you sound alike?" Rain said. "Even with Vin's Texas drawl and Martin's New York accent, you two sound a lot alike."
"What more do we need?" Vin asked her with a laugh.
"Blood test or DNA test," she promptly answered with a chuckle. "I am so happy you aren't my patient Vin! You are almost impossible."
"Yes ma'am. I've heard that before, even my doctor thinks that," Vin said batting his blue eyes at her.
"All right! That's enough out of you, Vin Tanner. You're flirting with MY wife," Nathan cut in, his voice filled with mock anger.
"Aw, Nate, she's the one flirting w'me." Vin winked at Rain.
"Vin Tanner, I'm not flirting with anyone, and if you don't settle down, I'll turn my husband loose on you," Rain's glare broke into a giggle as Vin winked at her again.
"Aw, Nathan cain't catch me Rain, he's too old and slow."
"Old and slow! I'll show you old and slow," Nathan exclaimed as he shot from the couch and rushed the grinning sharpshooter.
Vin leaped over the back of the couch and sprinted around the room just out of Nathan's reach.
"Hmm. Seems to me I owe our esteemed sharpshooter a roll in the snow, or something," Ezra stated as first Vin, then Nathan passed him. The others smiled as they settled back in their seats to see what Ezra had in mind.
Vin was laughing as he rushed around the room, dodging around chairs, couches, and tables. As he ran by Ezra's chair, Ezra stood and walked deliberately into the younger man's path, reaching out with both hands to grab Vin before the two of them went crashing to the floor.
"Payback, Mr. Tanner," Ezra said as Nathan caught up with them.
A look of alarm crossed Vin's face as he struggled to free himself from Ezra's grip. With a grin Ezra flipped the startled sharpshooter onto the floor and, holding him down with one hand, began tormenting the ticklish Vin with the other.
In less than a minute Vin was yelling "Uncle" and laughing so hard tears were rolling down his face. Nathan, held his hand out and pulled Ezra to his feet, then extended his other hand to the still giggling Vin and stood him up as well.
Vin staggered to the couch and plopped down beside Chris, shooting a glance at his friend. 'You could'a helped me cowboy, ' he thought.
'Not this time, you were on your own. You did take Ezra down and try to bury him in the snow,' Chris shot back at him.
"When you two get finished talking, can we open our stockings?" JD asked as the laughter died down.
"Let's open presents!" Vin jumped up again.
"No!" Buck, Rain, Nathan, and Josiah all shouted at the same time, halting Vin in his tracks halfway to the Christmas tree, JD almost on his heels. The two swung around and looked at their friends sadly.
"Tomorrow morning boys," Buck told them. "But I guess we could check out the stockings tonight," he added, glancing at the other team members and seeing their nods of agreement.
Vin rolled his eyes and walked back to the couch to sit down by Chris again. "JD, you can hand them out," he smiled at his friend.
"Okay," JD moved to the stockings, which were hung where the heat from the fire wouldn't damage them. He grabbed two of them and handed one to Rain and the other Martin.
Martin's eyes widened in surprise and he looked surreptitiously around the room, his gaze landing on the man he believed to be his brother. Vin was watching him and caught his eye and winked. Martin smiled back and dumped the stocking out, laughing as packs of Twinkies, Suzy Q's, Baby Ruth, Butterfingers, and an orange fell out. These were some of his favorite snacks.
Vin grinned as Martin thanked him. His own stocking was filled with the same snacks; he'd split what he'd had in his stocking with Martin. His teammates were pouring their stockings out, finding different fruits, candy and various snack cakes. Nathan and Rain's were filled with fruit and a couple pieces of candy, since they were more into healthy foods.
The friends spent the rest of the evening talking, munching on their snacks, and watching a Christmas DVD. They decided to call it a night around midnight. As everyone made their way upstairs, Chris and Ezra showed Martin to the den and helped make the couch into a bed for him, then retired to their rooms, knowing that Vin and JD would probably be the first ones up and waiting impatiently to open presents in the morning.