So Here It Is, Merry Christmas

by Sue M

AU: Little Britches ATF – Little Ambassadors Series

Disclaimer: Not mine, never were, never will be.

Note: My thanks again to Nancy for her speedy beta, and also to Katy for her adds and thoughts. Thanks girls.


The last few days had been frenetic but Christmas was almost here. Before leaving, Josiah had given each boy a sum of money in order for Ieuan to take them to buy gifts for their fathers. Their ever-diligent carer took his task to heart and researched various options for the money available. He then arranged to take the boys shopping in the local, but well set-up town, a location chosen with a specific purpose and shop in mind. With the job done after traipsing around shops for hours and feasting on KFC and an ice cream...or two, Ieuan and the boys wrapped the gifts, reminding JD to keep them secret, and the Welshman hid them away ready for the big day.

Next afternoon, and both Chris and Buck could feel their little ones tremble as they stood on the platform of Windsor Royal Station. Josiah's visit had been so fleeting that, despite assurances he would return for Christmas, the boys had been unsettled, and cried themselves to sleep for several nights after. The men felt their sons would only truly believe them when Josiah was once more holding the pair in his loving embrace.

Having travelled in with Ieuan last time, Josiah yearned to experience more of the British rail system, and so insisted on travelling from Heathrow to Paddington, and then on to his family, by train. Anticipation grew when a garbled announcement over a distant speaker and their fathers' alertness, forewarned the boys that Josiah's train was imminent.

Chris rested his hand on Vin's head and caressed the soft tresses as they watched the approach of a train engine's lights. Buck wanted to sweep JD up, such was the little one's quaking, but he knew, the moment their brother of the heart stepped onto that platform, he would be bombarded by two mini Josiah-seeking missiles.

The train stopped and carriage doors opened, but no sign of Josiah left the boys staring between the line of carriages and their fathers. Before either man could burble out an uninformed explanation, right at the very end of the train, a familiar form alighted and the boys took off running.

"Uncle Josiah!”

"Unca Josiah!”

As expected, two streaks of warm flesh hit Josiah at full tilt, but the man was more than prepared and already on one knee, arms wide to receive the incoming. “Boys, my boys!”

The embraces were fierce and the little ones found tears replacing their voices...as did the gentle giant enveloping the tiny bodies. Choked with emotion, Buck and Chris stood silently by, waiting their turn to properly welcome Josiah back to their temporary home. Unable, or unwilling to release his cherished nephews, Josiah rose to his feet, bringing them both up with him.

JD opened his arms. “Group hug!”

Laughing, the five came together and savoured the moment. The boys giggled.

"You're squashin' us!”

"You's squishing me an' Vin!”

Finally separating, Josiah kissed each cherished little head and set the boys down.

"Home?” a grinning Buck asked as he swept up Josiah's bags.

The big man's smile lit up the station. “Home, brothers; time for family.”

Josiah's second whirlwind tour of the little family's current home to view the newest decorations, ended in the kitchen sitting around the table and staring at an iced Christmas cake.

"Magnificent,” the big man praised. Vin beamed, JD squealed and clapped his hands.

"Iss for Christmas,” JD informed.

"Can hardly wait,” Josiah enthused.

"Two more sleeps,” Vin said, in uncharacteristic excitement.

"Hope you don't mind,” Chris interjected, “but Jane and Eric are really keen to meet you properly, so I invited them over for supper.”

"Wonderful. I've been looking forward to a get-together in the flesh, so to speak. They seem like very nice people.”

"They are,” Buck agreed. “We've been real lucky to have met and known some great folks during our stay here.” He looked fondly at the boys as they turned the pages of the books on trains Josiah had bought them. “It's as if these little guys came with magic dust, or something. Everyone adores them.”

"What's not to adore?” Josiah grinned, his large hands caressing each little head. “And their dads are pretty special guys, too.” His eyes misted over. “You are very much missed back home.”

Buck nodded. “And we miss home like hell, but it's been good too, y'know?” His eyes drifted to two gazes scrutinizing him. Buck's brow furrowed, then he nodded. “Swear jar?”

"Uh huh.”

"You said hell...”

"JD,” Chris admonished. “What have I said about you repeating the swear jar words?”

Big hazel eyes stared. “Not...to?”

"Perhaps I should make you pay, too - take it out of your allowance...”

"Yessir.”

"...Next time.” Chris winked and Vin grinned.

"Sorry,” JD said, softly.

"Forgiven. Let's get supper ready, huh?”

"Yeah!” the boys chorused. They had no idea what that entailed, they just knew it meant Jane, Eric, and Ieuan would be coming over.

After the opportunity to grill the profiler about every nuance of his life, Ieuan watched enrapt as Josiah, Eric, and Jane talked with ease. The man was a wealth of knowledge and experience, and bursting with love. He could see why the boys and their dads adored him.

"Flying choppers in the Gulf,” Eric repeated. “Heavy duty stuff.”

"It helped shape me into the man you see before you, but it's not an experience I'd ever care to repeat.”

"I'll bet. Do you still hold a licence?”

Josiah nodded. “I do, but I haven't flown in some time, and have no desire to do so, again.”

"No...'Mrs. Sanchez'?” Jane fished, acknowledging the shake of Josiah's head.

"I found myself, at first, devoted to the Lord, then to the career path I chose. Not only am I happy, but my contentment is complete with my surrogate family.” He glanced fondly at the boys and men in his life and touched a hand to his heart. “If the path of true love eludes a soul, then what more could a man want than the love of a good family?”

There was a pause, then Jane wagged her finger at Josiah. “Oh, smooth. You're good.”

The adults laughed, the boys frowned.

"Good at what?” Vin asked.

"Okay guys, bedtime.”

JD got down off his chair and awkwardly scrambled into Josiah's lap. He stood on his uncle's thighs and placed his hands on Josiah's shoulders. The man steadied him, and grinned. “JD?”

"Would you read us the next champ-ter of The Railway Children?”

"I would be honoured.” He noted the furrowed brows at his reply and nodded.

"Yes.”

"Yay!”

Yeah!”

Bidding their friends goodnight, the boys shot off in their nightly 'race' to beat a deliberately slowing Buck up the stairs. He looked back at the group. “Give us five, Josiah, okay?”

The man nodded. “Will do.” He turned his attention back to their guests. “I'm much obliged for the invitation to join you all for Christmas dinner.”

Ieuan smiled. “Can't wait. Thanksgiving was really good, and Jane cooks a mean turkey, too.”

"Will you be joining us for church and the Christmas Eve service, tomorrow?”

Josiah looked to Chris who nodded and answered first. “Yeah, we're all going. The boys have been rattling on about 'Nine Lessons and Carols for weeks, now.”

"Count me in,” Josiah assured.

<><><><><><><>

Seven a.m. and Josiah's rumbling laughter heralded the start of Christmas Eve when two little tykes couldn't wait any longer to sneak into the guest bedroom and bid the man 'good morning'. Not that Josiah was truly surprised by their arrival. He had heard them debating their entrance outside the door.

"We should maybe wait, JD. He's prob'ly tired after all that travelin'.”

"But V~i~n…it's th'openin' of the big door of the chocolate adven' cand-elar t'day an' I wants Unca 'Siah to watch us.”

"But…I don't think even Dad an' Buck are up yet.”

JD rubbed his nose. “I jus' climbed on Da's belly an' pulled open his eye an' it kinda looked at me, so I think he is.”

It was Josiah's stifled chuckle at that remark that alerted the boys to him maybe rousing. They grinned at each other, and once Vin nodded, JD pushed open the door.

“’Morning Unca 'Siah!”

“’Mornin' Uncle Josiah.”

A laughing Sanchez barely moved his leg in time to protect the delicate parts of his nether region before JD's knee landed where they were situated only a millisecond before. The man's muscular arms dragged the giggling boys toward him and he squeezed them tight.

"Good morning to you both. I trust you slept well.”

Vin nodded. “Uh huh. Did you?”

"Like a log, thank you. This bed is very comfortable.” He noted JD's frown. “Something bothering you, John Daniel?”

"Logs don't sleep.”

"Uh, no, not as such…”

“…They jus' lie in the dirt.”

Josiah smiled. “JD, it's just a figure of speech…”

"You ain't got dirt in the bed, have you?” When Josiah's eyebrows rose, the little five-year-old giggled. “I's teasing...”

Josiah grinned.

"...'Cause you couldn't get a log up the stairs…”

The boy squealed as both Vin and Josiah wrapped him in the comforter and started tickling him. That was how Chris and Buck found them. They surveyed the dishevelled bedclothes and a grinning man and boy.

"Good of you to make the bed, Josiah,” Buck said, waggling his eyebrows.

“’Morning, son. JD not with you?” Chris winked at the grinning boy.

"Help…DA!”

The 'bump' under the bedclothes drew their attention. “I could have sworn I heard JD's voice,” Chris commented. “Shame he's not here, we were about to make some pancakes…”

"Here, I's here!” The wriggling mound finally surfaced, black hair sticking up every which way. “I want pancakes!” He bounced onto his knees and he and Vin began tickling a laughing Josiah.

Chris and Buck winked at the big guy in the bed and glanced at each other. “Gonna be a l-o-n-g day,” Buck stated.

"Oh yeah,” Chris agreed as the pair headed off to make the first of what would likely be several pots of coffee this day.

With a plan to walk the dogs before setting out for church, the boys went to their room to dress warmly. Returning to the kitchen the little ones halted outside the door on hearing the men talking.

"So, Ezra's doing okay, now?” Buck asked.

"Let's just say he's doing better,” Josiah replied as he glanced at the pair seated with him at the kitchen table. “This enforced, but much overdue sabbatical has caused our southern brother to search deep into his soul and psyche. For a while, it took him down a dark path. Maude's new 'significant other', and her move out of the US, added to the situation.” He smiled. “But since his visit with her, I've seen him in much higher spirits, and finally talking about coming here to see you all.”

A noise from the hallway had the three men sit up. Josiah changed the conversation. “I must say, I'm looking forward to this evening's service.”

Chris nodded. “The boys are, too.” He looked at a pair of blue eyes peeking around the door. “Oh, hey guys. You ready for that walk?”

Two subdued boys walked into the kitchen. The three men exchanged glances. Josiah stood. “Hey, how about just us three walk the dogs, huh? I'm sure your fathers could use a little time to themselves.”

There were still a few things to do, but both men understood what Josiah was up to and nodded. “Great idea,” Buck said, standing to hand each boy his coat, hat, scarf and gloves. He and Chris dressed their sons warmly, and unhooked the dogs' leashes. The canines barked excitedly. They didn't need to be restrained, but just hearing the rattle of the leashes would alert them to a walk.

From the doorway, the two fathers watched the little entourage set off. Chris squeezed Buck's arm. “Josiah's on it. Come on; let's get the gifts down from the loft while they're out.”

<><><><><><><>

After much kicking of leaves and painful silences, Vin finally spoke. “Uncle Josiah, what's really wrong with Uncle Ezra?”

There it was. They had heard.

"Yeah, whass r-e-e-a-lly wrong with Unca Ezra?”

Crouching down, Josiah glanced toward the dogs to make sure they were in sight, then addressed the boys. “Your Uncle's fine. He felt a little low a while back, what with the team not working, his mother finding a new husband, and you all so far away; but he's doing better, now.” Josiah sighed at the sad faces.

"We all get a little blue sometimes, right?”

They both nodded.

"Well, Ezra was a little blue, but he's positively in the pink again, now.”

"Like a rainbow,” JD decided.

"Sort of, yes.”

"So…no more 'feel bad' thoughts? He really does want to see us?”

Vin's questions prompted a big bear hug for the boys. “More than anything in the world. He just wanted to be sure he was at his best when he stays.”

“An' now he is?” JD's muffled voice asked.

"Absolutely. He just needed to visit with Maude, first.”

Lighter of heart, the boys and Josiah resumed their stroll and chatted of the 'Nine Lessons and Carols' they would be enjoying in church, presently.

Later that evening, two sleepy boys were carried into the house. The church service had been thoroughly enjoyable, even more so when both Jane, and Ieuan each read one of the Nine Lessons, and, standing on a pew between Buck, Vin, and Chris, JD had belted out each hymn with gusto, whether he knew them or not. Leaving the church, Josiah and the men shook hands with Reverend Powell; in fact, Chris and Buck ended up dragging their big friend away, so involved was the discussion between him and the Reverend.

Ieuan invited his friends to his place for a festive nightcap of warm cider, and virgin eggnog for the little ones. Several carols were belted out, before the boys became concerned about what time Santa might come, prompting the group to bid each other a 'Merry Christmas', and go their separate ways.

JD was struggling with the stroll home almost instantly, and Buck picked him up. Halfway home and Vin was also flagging and scooped up by his dad. Their exhaustion was a relief. At least they would go to sleep quickly tonight.

Drinking hot chocolate in the sitting room, and with a child on each knee and tucked snugly under his arms, Josiah's rich, deep, soothing voice read 'The Christmas Story' to both men, and enraptured boys. When he was done, he kissed two little tired heads 'goodnight', and watched in adoration as Buck took each boy's hand and walked them up the stairs to bed. He sighed.

"Leaving here will be hard.”

"You're welcome to stay,” Chris offered.

Josiah's glistening gaze crinkled in a smile. “Bless you, Chris, but I have things I both need, and want to do before your return home to complete our little family. But it's good to know I'm welcome to return should the opportunity arise.”

Chris smiled, warmly. “You'd better believe it, Preacher.”

Buck tucked the boys in and sat in the rocking chair they had recently acquired on loan from Jane. He smiled when Chris came in and plopped down to sit cross-legged on the floor next to him.

Opening a book, Buck read aloud 'Twas the Night Before Christmas'. The boys could barely hang on, but did, and as he spoke the final line of the poem, four little eyelids slid shut.

For a long while, and in the glow of the nightlight, the two fathers simply sat and watched their sons sleep. Eventually, Buck rose, helped Chris up, and they both kissed each slumbering boy goodnight.

<><><><><><><>

Excited voices at six a.m. heralded the dawn of Christmas day for the Larabee-Wilmington-Tanner-Dunne household. The men would later reflect on the fact that, had the boys not been so pooped the night before, 'dawn', might well have been several hours earlier.

Worse than kids themselves, and with the rule that the boys could open their stockings prior to rousing the rest of the house, Buck and Chris hastily dressed and padded across to the boys' bedroom.

"Merry Christmas, boys!” the men chorused.

"LOOKIT!”

Both dads laughed to see their sons surrounded by torn Christmas paper, and all manner of stocking stuffers; from felt-tipped pens, to sticker and colouring books, small themed Lego packs and more chocolate, candy, and sweets, than a candy-addict's store cupboard.

"That should keep 'em quiet for...oooh...couple days?” Buck chuckled.

"Merry Christmas!”

"LOOKIT, Unca 'Siah!”

The big man ambled into the paper-littered room. “My, my, aren't you boys lucky?”

Two pairs of eyes looked up at him and they both nodded and spoke together.

"Yessir.”

Despite their obvious excitement, the sincerity in the reply brought a lump to all three men's throats to realize, despite all that their sons had received over time with their new family, each and every new gift was as cherished and appreciated as the first.

"I wonder if Santa left anything downstairs.” Josiah more stated than asked. He noted Vin's tiny flash of disdain, right before excitement took over in the form of JD snatching up Vin's hand and tugging him toward the door. Quickly stepping aside, the men watched the boys race off, and hastily followed.

In less than half an hour, little fingers had torn wrapping paper to shreds. Now two beaming boys sat amongst the carnage surrounded by all manner of toys. From Nathan and Ezra they received pretty much all the different Harry Potter Lego sets. Josiah's gift was a variety of Transformer Lego sets, all bought, on strict instructions from his Denver brothers, on his return to London. There was also Magnetic Gruffalo, several books, dinosaur T-shirts, with an orange T-Rex for Vin, and a blue Diplodocus for JD; and giant inflatables in the forms of a T-Rex for JD that stood higher than him, and a Pteranodon for Vin which would be hung from the ceiling in the boys' room, later.

The men's excitement had been no less than the little ones' when the boys opened the first of their main presents. Ordered from the Natural History Museum, and bought by Ieuan, JD had a pocket microscope set, and there was a novice telescope for Vin.

The second of the main gifts were stared at for a long while before Vin finally spoke in hushed tones.

"These are really ours?”

"Uh huh.”

Hugs abounded until the little ones plopped back down on the sitting room floor and hugged their Nintendo DSi XLs to their chests.

There was, however, one more surprise. One large box remained, and the men urged the boys to open it together. The screams caused the dogs to run from the kitchen, only to hastily return to their cosy beds when they could see their little humans were fine...excited, but fine.

Before them lay an Xbox 360. The fathers hastily explained it was only on hire, but if the boys got on well with it, they would consider them having one when they got back to the States. JD clutched his Nintendo.

"And this gotta go back?”

"No!” Buck quickly assured.

"They are yours,” Chris endorsed.

More hugs, then Vin grabbed JD. “Our turn!” he hollered.

The previous night, Ieuan had passed the boys' gifts for their dads to Josiah to place under the tree. He had also slipped one under there from the boys for Josiah, too. Each man was handed a brightly wrapped parcel and after thanking the boys, they eagerly ripped them open.

Josiah's gift was a Christmas tie, and a rather nice brown, leather wallet. He was delighted and a little overwhelmed, and squeezed his nephews tightly. Buck's and Chris's eyes misted over when their boxes revealed rather nice cufflinks. Chris's pair had 'Worlds Best' on one, and 'Dad' on the other. Buck's had letters. One was 'D', and the other 'A'.

"For your sharp suit days,” Vin explained.

Before more hugs could be given, Vin ducked down and he and JD passed a small box to Josiah, and a package each to their dads. Josiah revealed a mug with the slogan 'Keep Calm and Carry On'.

"We have one each for Unca Nathan and Unca Ezra, too,” JD stated.

"Will you pass 'em over for us?” Vin asked.

"I surely will,” Josiah choked out.

Their fathers' chuckles drew their attention. Chris held up his black Tee with white writing that said 'Licensed to Glare'; while Buck held up his blue one with yellow writing which stated 'Agent Da – ATF'.

"Awesome, boys. Thank you.”

"Not done.” JD's breathy mumble came as his butt faced up while he searched through the tattered paper for their last surprise. With Vin's help, they uncovered a bag and handed the three men a box each.

"There's also one each for Unca...”

"...Thanks, boys, I'll see they get them,” Josiah pre-empted. “My, we have been spoiled.”

It was evident that this was the gift the boys truly cherished and the three men reverently opened the packages. To choked gasps, trembling fingers activated the digital photo keyrings. Ieuan had uploaded photos of the various events throughout the family's UK stay so far, and happy images of the Cheese Festival, Halloween, Bonfire Night – the post-party, Thanksgiving, The Nativity Play, and many various shots of the Eric and Jane, Ieuan, and the boys and men walking, playing, and laughing passed before their eyes.

"This is...magnificent.” Josiah's soft utterance said it all.

"Ieuan said - with 'em, you's can keep us close a-l-l the time.” JD emphasized 'all' with his arms wide.

"Only if you'd like to,” Vin quickly, and shyly interjected. No one had ever wanted to do that for him since his ma's passing, and he would never presume anyone else ever would, either.

Snatching the boys into their arms, both fathers hugged them tight.

"I'll put it in my breast pocket, close to my heart,” Chris whispered into Vin's ear.

"It won't be as good as having you in my pocket, Li'l Bit, but it's a close second.”

JD pushed back. “You can't get me in your pocket, Da!” he squeaked. “I's not that teeny.”

The spell broken, all three men laughed, and Josiah stood. “While you boys fix up the Xbox, I'll rustle us up some breakfast. Croissants and Pain au Chocolate all round?”

"YAY!” the boys squealed.

"Coffee!” Chris and Buck insisted as they began pulling out the console's instruction sheet.

<><><><><><><>

After walking the dogs, and meeting up with Ieuan, the little family and guests each excitedly tried a small piece of the boys' Christmas cake. Deeming it to be 'yummy', the group headed over to Jane and Eric's for Christmas dinner.

Little eyes sparkled at Jane's artificial, but beautifully decorated tree. Adorned with red and plaid bows, red and silver baubles of varying sizes, striped candy canes, ornate figures, and festooned in white lights, it twinkled majestically in one corner of the dining room.

The table was laid out like a banquet. On top of the burgundy cloth, matching china, elegant silverware and crystal glasses sparkled in the candlelight from the pillar candles dotted along the length of the centre of the table. Covered serving dishes sat on their very own little heaters, filled with several types of vegetables, and roast, mashed, and boiled potatoes. Sage and onion, chestnut, and sausagemeat stuffing, and bread and cranberry sauces were located intermittently, along with condiments. At the far end of the table sat the biggest turkey Buck and Chris had ever seen. Jane would comment later that no part of that bird would go to waste – and they never doubted it for a moment.

Two little ones gasped in awe. JD looked at Eric. “I'ss like the Queen's house.”

He laughed. “Only I reckon we'll have more fun.”

Buck leaned in to Chris. “I bet there are sprouts in one of those pots.” He visibly shuddered.

Chris stifled a chuckle.

"Let's eat before it goes cold,” Jane insisted.

"We have presents for you.” Vin and JD said together.

"As do we, for you,” Jane assured, but I thought it might be fun to exchange them later, yes?”

The boys nodded. Taking up chairs, the little ones looked at their pretty glasses with concern. Jane smiled. “Boys, nothing here is more important than my guests. Don't worry about spilling.”

The two fathers smiled appreciatively at the lady, and took their seats. Placing their napkins in their laps, and each tucking their sons' napkins into their shirt collars, the pair eyed up brightly coloured tubes sitting across their plates.

"Crackers,” Ieuan explained. “You each hold an end, and pull.”

Wishing to comply with tradition, Buck and Chris dutifully picked one up, held an end – and pulled. Both boys jolted when the separating tube went 'bang'. Then they laughed and picked up their own crackers, eager to participate on hearing the noise, and seeing items drop from inside. Soon the sounds of 'cracks and bangs' circled the table.

Chris picked up a plastic whistle, tickled when his companions 'oohed'.

JD snatched up the piece of paper that floated down onto his plate. He read what was printed on it out loud.

"What did the grape say when the elephant stepped on it?” He watched the adults shake their heads.

“Don't know, son, 'what did the grape say when the elephant stepped on it?’” Buck repeated.

 
JD read again. “Noth-in'. It just let out a little wine.” Before he could say he didn't understand, the adults burst out laughing, and Vin grinned. JD's eyes sparkled and he giggled, making a mental note to try that again sometime if it made his grown-ups that happy.

Soon everyone was reading out the jokes from inside their cracker. 


"These are terrible jokes," Josiah commented, while still laughing.


"They're meant to be, it's part of the tradition," Ieuan told him.

Eric noticed Chris fingering a shiny, folded paper from inside his cracker.

"That's your hat. Put it on,” the older man urged, with a grin.

Chris unfolded it, casting a quick glare at Buck when he heard the brunet chuckling.

"Go on, Chris, put it on.”

"Go on, Dad.”

"Go on, Chris.”

Struggling to believe that he, 'hard-assed' Larabee was about to wear a bright yellow paper crown, he sighed, and with a look of disgruntlement, slid it onto his head. Stifled chuckles assaulted his ears. Buck out and out snorted.

"Stunning.”

"Shut up and put yours on,” Chris huffed.

Buck obliged with his red one, and Ieuan snapped off several photos before the men could protest. Chris narrowed his eyes at the grinning Welshman.

"If you 'You Tube' or 'Twitter' those, I'll stick that camera where the sun don't...”

"...Right, well...Josiah, would you lead us in prayer?” Eric interjected, quickly.

The crowning glory of the meal was Jane's magnificent Christmas pudding. “It's traditional to put a coin in these, so be careful biting down. I would hate for anyone to chip a tooth.” She smiled at the little ones, whose eyes were like saucers. “It's quite rich, but I hope you'll try a little piece?”

Both boys nodded, but soon their eyes went even wider when she poured a little brandy over it and set it alight. Chris, Buck, and Josiah sat up straight as it flared up. “Whoa!”

Vin and JD gasped.

"You're burning it?” Vin asked.

"Does it need to cook more Mizzus Green?” JD wondered.

Jane chuckled. “Just a little traditional ritual before we eat it.”

And they did...eat it, but while Chris and JD kind of liked it, especially when JD squealed excitedly on finding the hidden 1 coin, Buck and Vin had reservations and decided on the trifle offered, instead. Only Josiah truly smacked his lips afterwards and eagerly accepted a second piece.

After dinner, presents were exchanged. The boys received hardback books from Jane and Eric. One on European horses for Vin, and one on the Monarchy for JD.

"The Queen,” he had squealed, thrilled with his gift, as was Vin. With a wink, Ieuan handed them games for their Nintendos. “I couldn't let you have them too soon, or I'd have spoiled your surprise.”

Also from the Greens, the men, including Josiah, received a beautifully boxed pewter and brass pint tankard, each one engraved with their names and the date. The men were deeply touched.

Vin and JD handed over packages to the Greens, and Ieuan. Opening them revealed a delightful Gingerbread Kilner, or as the boys called it, 'a cookie jar', and a rather nice box of biscuits to accompany each of the two jars.

‘”Cause you bake such nice cookies,” JD explained.

"And you have to have somethin' special to put 'em in,” Vin added.

Josiah had played a part in the second half of the Larabee-Wilmington-Tanner-Dunne gifts. Chris explained as he handed them over to Eric, Jane and Ieuan.

"We wanted something of home for you to remember us by.”

The two men received belt buckles with a Wells Fargo stagecoach embossed on them. Jane received a Swarovski Crystal Halloween Pumpkin Face brooch. All recipients were clearly touched, and thrilled with their presents.

"As if we could ever forget you lot,” Ieuan had whispered, but all heard, and Jane and Eric concurred.

<><><><><><><>

Still wearing their paper crowns, a game of charades finished up an exhaustingly wonderful day. Bundling up, the departing group stated their gratitude to Jane and Eric, and said their goodbyes. Walking home, Buck, with JD riding high on his shoulders, leaned into Ieuan.

"Awesome gifts from the boys, dude. Thanks.”

"Actually, I liked the idea of a digital photo frame, and knew a shop in town that had a great choice, but the boys chose the keyrings, and we worked out the rest together.” Ieuan smiled. “I'm glad you liked them, though.” He inhaled the crisp, night air. “The boys tell me that tomorrow you'll be Skyping Nathan and Ezra.”

Both men nodded. “Hoping to,” Buck confirmed. He smiled. “Be good to talk to the guys again. It's been a while. The boys can hardly wait.”

"I'll bet. I'm looking forward to one day meeting Ezra.”

"Soon. The guy's real complex, but...once you get to know him, he's an absolute diamond,” Buck replied.

Ieuan nodded. “I gathered that from what the boys tell me.”

Chris sighed. “Yeah...we got some pretty awesome family.” He turned to Ieuan, and grinned when the man appeared to blush. “From both sides of the pond.”

"Did you know tomorrow is called Boxing Day here in the UK?” Ieuan quickly said to change the subject.

"Uh huh,” Chris answered.

"Kinda funny name, huh?” Buck said, absently.

Ieuan smiled. “Remind me to tell you about it some time.”

The two men noted a sadness flash across Ieuan's face. The Welshman addressed all four before separating.

"I...well, let me just say that I expected most of this year, and especially Christmas to be a bit of a damp squib for me; but you people have made it very special. I'm so pleased you came here, and that I got the chance to meet, and get to know you.”

It was evident there was some deep and concealed pain in that statement. The men nodded, and figured Ieuan, when ready, would one day share it with them.

Once home, the boys begged for one more game on the Xbox. Agreeing, once they had put on their pyjamas, the men sat with them while Josiah made hot chocolate.

Holding a tray of mugs, and from the doorway, the profiler chuckled at the sight of two little ones snoring on their cushions on the floor while, arms extended as they mirrored the action of the game with the controllers, two grown men sat facing the TV screen, totally immersed in their activity. “Good to see the kids enjoying their present.” He laughed harder when he was ignored, and couldn't help but note the familiarity between Chris and Vin's intense gazes while Chris was sat there, concentrating; and that, like JD, Buck's tongue poked out from the corner of his mouth when he too was focused.

Insisting he put the boys to bed, Josiah scooped each boy up one by one and carried them upstairs. Sitting between the sleeping boys, and with a hand on each of their heads, the big man's tears fell.

"I can't bear to leave you, but I know I must. Never forget, I couldn't love you both more if you were my own. Stay healthy, boys, and all four of you come home safe to us.”

<><><><><><><>

With Christmas Day well and truly 'unwrapped', Boxing Day arrived. Josiah and the boys were still in their beds, so Buck popped into the den to check for emails, and maybe write a few. One particular email caught his eye and he yelled out.

"Uh, Chris, you may wanna take a look at this."

The blond joined him and grinned at the email and attached photo as he read aloud:

"'Hey guys, just thought I should warn you of the second Christmas waiting here at the ranch for when you and the boys get home. Folks have been dropping by all week to ask me to keep their gifts safe ready for your return. You best tell the boys Santa's made up for all the stuff they couldn't have this year because of travelling back to the States.'"

The pair's eyes twinkled on seeing the attached photo of the mound of gifts piled high in one of their spare rooms. “Man, the boys are gonna flip when they see this,” Buck said with amusement and a touch of emotion in his voice.

Chris nodded and continued reading. '"Also, the oldest mailman in the world dropped in your parcel on Christmas Eve. I figured you'd want to know it got here safely after travelling all the way from London. Francis.'"

Chris looked up at Buck. His eyes narrowed. "What you been buying now?"

"Huh?" Buck squeaked. "Me?"

"Well, it sure as hell wasn't from me." Turning to the keyboard, Chris fired off an email and then, with a shake of his head, he returned to the kitchen.

"Me. Always freakin' blames me..." Buck muttered, stopping when the chime sounded for the arrival of another email. He opened it and read.

"C-h-r-i-s!"

Rejoining him, Chris made a face. "You hollered? Again!" Noting Buck signal toward the monitor, Chris turned to it and saw the new email. “What the hell's he doing up at this hour?” Buck shrugged, and Chris read.

"'LOL...'" Chris looked at Buck and rolled his eyes. "'LOL'? Geezus, Francis.”

Buck snickered and Chris continued.

'"LOL, you guys getting so senile you can't even recall your own purchases? It's wrapped, but as you wanted to know what it is, I peeled back a corner. It says ...Nerf Vortex Nitron...'. Come to think of it, the mailman...a jolly old fella...said something about it being just what every boy wanted; though why he said that, I haven't a clue. Also, he said that age can be relevant to intelligence as well as height...whatever that meant, I mean, it's not like he knew what he was delivering. Okay, later. Off to bed. Been on a stakeout and I'm whacked. Francis.'"

Before Buck could speak, Chris was hastily tapping away on the keyboard again. This time, he stayed and waited for the reply. It took five minutes, but finally, a response dropped into the inbox. Chris silently read it, then gestured for Buck to do likewise. "Read it out loud."

Buck did so. "'Describe the mailman? You sure you guys are alright over there? Okay, here goes, sleep's underrated, anyhow. He was around five-nine, pretty chunky...had like a big round belly. White hair...oh yeah, and whiskers that matched. Like I said, a real jolly kind of guy, for a mailman. Ha...thinking on it, if he'd been in a red suit with white fur trim, he would have been a shoo-in for Santa. Got to go. Keep taking the pills, guys. LOL. Merry Christmas. Francis.'"

"Da!”

On hearing JD's voice from the bedroom, Buck looked toward the den's door. Chris gestured with his chin.

"Go see what JD wants. I need to make a call.”

Five minutes later, Buck returned to find Chris still in the den. “JD's fine. He somehow got his T-Rex stuck behind their chest of drawers...Uh, Chris, you okay? You look like you seen a ghost.”

The blond looked at him, clearly a little stunned by something. “I'm wondering how hard I hit my head when I went down that escalator.”

"Shoot. You feeling sick?”

Chris chuckled. “Maybe a little giddy, yeah.” He raised his hand and smiled at the look of alarm. “I'm fine Buck, I'm fine.” The blond paused for thought. "After the emails from Francis, I made that call to Hamleys I've been planning on. You recall we were surprised when Santa mentioned their Uncles?”

Buck nodded. “And that he knew JD's full name.”

"I don't recall those questions on the forms I filled in. Did you tell Hamleys about..?"
 
Buck shook his head. "No, not me Pal.” The pair locked confused gazes.

"And none of the guys back home knew about the toy the boys wanted that day in London, not even Josiah,” Chris added. “The very toy that's just arrived in Denver postmarked 'London'.”

Buck straightened. For a few seconds, his mouth opened and closed like a startled Guppy until he finally got his words out. "Uh...ha...uh...you don't think?" He laughed, a little embarrassed at the thought that had just crossed his mind. “Nah...forget it.”

"Hold that thought; there's more,” Chris said.

"More?” Buck squeaked.

"When I called to compliment the store on their choice of Santa, the lady thanked me and told me the guy that day was a stand-in, as their regular Santa couldn't make it. They'd never used him before...or needed to since, and have no record of who hired him that day.”
 
The pair glanced back at the email displayed on the monitor, then up at the snow globes adorning each side of the mantelshelf, before staring at each other for a long time.

"Beer?”

"Oh hell yeah.”

"Whiskey chaser?”

"Make it a double.”

"You don't think it might be too early?

"Who gives a...? Uh, no.”

The men laughed uneasily at the wild thought racing through their minds. They paused to once more look back at the snow globes, then to each other as they left the den.

"Nah...”

Continues in New Year Choices

Feedback to: aue.morgan@btinternet.com

Links

Twas the Night Before Christmas

The Christmas Story

Nintendo DSi X

Magnetic Gruffalo

Lego Transformers

Nat History Museum, pocket microscope

Telescope

Hogwarts Castle Lego Set

London Tower Bridge Lego Set

Dinosaur T-Shirts

Inflatables

Cufflinks

Mug

Digital Photo Keyrings

Christmas Crackers

Christmas Cracker hat

Christmas Pudding

Tankard

Gingerbread Kilner

Belt Buckle

Pumpkin Brooch

Boxing Day