by Winter

ATF Alternate Universe


Chris beeped his horn at the car that cut him off. Damn, he hated this time of year. Two more shopping days until Christmas. Denver was busy with sightseers and holiday shoppers. Usually his drive to the office took an hour; with the holiday traffic, it was more like an hour and a half. Chris counted to ten so he wouldn't curse as the pedestrians continued to cross after the light had turned green. Finally they were across, and Chris went the last two blocks to the federal building and pulled into the parking garage. He parked the Ram, turned off the ignition, and leaned his head back on the seat. When he thought he had calmed down, he opened the door and climbed out. Cuervo jumped off the hood of Ezra's Jaguar and stalked over to Chris. He twined between Chris's legs until he gave in and leaned down to pet him.

"Pushy aren't you?" Chris scolded as he scratched his ears.

Chris gave Cuervo one last scratch and headed for the elevator. As the doors closed, he watched Cuervo jump on the warm hood of his truck. He rode up to the eleventh floor listening to piped in Christmas music over the elevator speaker. He exited as soon as the doors opened and headed for the team's offices. Chris hated the tacky decorations that were hanging from the ceilings. He just shook his head as he entered their area. He was happy to see it wasn't loaded with decorations. Josiah had a poinsettia on one corner of his desk. Nathan had decorated his with a red garland. Buck and JD had various Christmas toys form McDonald's scattered over their desks. Chris smiled when he noticed that Buck had put a small Santa hat on his hula girl. When he glanced at Vin's and Ezra's desks, he wasn't surprised to see no decorations at all. Like Chris, they didn't buy into the joy of the season. Chris knew Ezra had spent many Christmases away at boarding school. Vin had spent his at various foster homes where he was lucky if he got a pair of socks. Neither of them saw any reason to celebrate. Chris also hadn't celebrated Christmas since Sarah and Adam had died. He stepped into the bullpen, and they all looked up.

"Morning, Chris," Josiah said.

'What happened, Pard?" Buck asked. "Got caught in the holiday traffic?"

"I don't want to talk about it," he said as he headed for his office.

As he walked by Vin's desk, he noticed him staring at the computer with a candy cane stuck in his mouth. Chris looked at his watch and shook his head. It wasn't even 9:30 A.M., and he was already eating candy. When he got to his door, he unlocked it and walked in. He removed his coat and walked over to the closet to hang it up. When he opened the door, an avalanche of green and red plastic balls tumbled out and pooled around his feet.

"TANNER!!!!" he yelled. "Get your ass in here!"

The others looked up at Vin when they heard Chris yell. Vin just looked up from his computer and smiled. The candy cane sticking out of the corner of his mouth made him look like a kid. He stood up and headed for Chris's office. The others followed at a safe distance. When Vin got to the door, he opened it and leaned on the jamb.

"Something I can do for you, cowboy?" Vin asked innocently, taking the candy cane out of his mouth.

Buck looked over Vin's shoulder and started laughing. Chris was standing surrounded by green and red balls. He tried glaring at Buck, but it did no good.

"Get in here and close the door," Chris growled.

Ezra just shook his head and went back to his desk. Nathan and Josiah patted Vin on the back and said it was nice knowing him before they went back to work. JD didn't think he'd ever seen Chris so mad. He decided to pull the laughing Buck from the scene of the crime. Vin walked in and closed the door.

"I'm glad I'm not Vin," JD said as he sat behind his desk.

"I must agree with Mr. Dunne," Ezra stated. "It would appear that Mr. Tanner has finally pushed his lucky."

"I'll pray for him," Josiah said.

"I better go dig up a first aid kit," Nathan said worriedly.

"Y'all don't know Chris very well if you think he'll stay mad at Vin," Buck said confidently.

Vin finished closing the door and leaned against it. He put the candy cane back in his mouth and looked at Chris. He saw the mischievous sparkle in the sharpshooter's eyes and tried to stay mad, but it was no use. Chris just shook his head as Vin walked through the balls towards his desk. He opened the drawer and pulled out a bag from his favorite bakery.

"I'm afraid the coffee's cold," Vin smiled handing the bag to Chris. "I was expecting you earlier."

"I just have one question," Chris said as he took a seat behind the desk. "How'd you do it?"

"Wasn't easy," Vin answered as he perched on the edge of the desk. "But I can't be giving away my secrets."

"One of these days, Tanner," Chris said as he opened the bag.

Vin smiled as Chris pulled out his danish and leaned back in his chair. Vin got up and headed over to the closet. He leaned in and pulled out a large canvas bag. Vin placed the bag on the floor and stepped on the edge with the heels of his boots. He held the bad open with one hand and leaned down and began to push the balls into the bag with the other. Chris just shook his head. Sometimes it took Vin longer to clean up after his practical jokes than it took him to set them up. Chris switched on his computer and waited for it to boot up.

"Hey, Chris," Vin called. "Got anything planned for Christmas Eve?"

"Nothing special," he answered. "Why?"

"The kids asked me to invite all of you to the party the apartment throws," Vin said. "Josiah already agreed to be Santa."

"Sounds like it might be fun," Chris said.

"Yeah, the kids like it," Vin said. "We have a couple of pinatas, sing carols, drink egg nog, and eat."

"The others all agreed to go?" Chris asked.

"Yup," Vin said as he walked on his knees towards Chris desk. "Buck said it would be a great way to meet women. JD had plans with Casey, but when he told her about the party, she said she'd like to go. Once Nettie found out, she invited herself along. Same with Nathan. He had plans with Rain, but she said it would be nice to give something back to the community. Ezra pretended like I was forcing him, but I know he likes the kids and they like him."

Chris had to smile about that. It was odd, but children flocked to Ezra whenever he was near them. Chris started typing at his computer when his chair was pushed away from the desk. He scowled as he watched Vin crawl under the desk to get some of the balls that had rolled there. He was coming out when he miscalculated and cracked his head on the edge.

"Aw, hell," he yelled and sat down.

Chris looked over and saw blood seeping through his fingers where he held them to the back of his head.

"Let me see," Chris said moving his hand.

"Oh, God, Chris, you're hurting me!" Vin yelled loud enough for the others to hear. "I promise I'll never pull another trick again."

Chris punched him in the shoulder, and Vin started laughing. It wasn't long before the others burst into the office. All they saw was Vin bleeding on the floor in front of Chris. The shocked looks on all their faces had Vin laughing so hard he had tears in his eyes.

"Nathan, take this mad man off my hands," Chris said as Vin stood up.

"What did you do, Chris?" Buck accused.

"He didn't do nothin' " Vin laughed. "I hit my head on the edge of the desk picking up the balls. I just knew y'all would be outside thinking the worst, and I couldn't resist."

"Mr. Tanner, you're incorrigible," Ezra said as he exited Chris's office.

"I thought that was Buck?" JD asked as he followed.

"I told you Chris couldn't stay mad at Vin." Buck said.

"Come on, let's get you cleaned up," Nathan said grabbing Vin's arm.

"Ow, Nathan, stop squeezing so hard," Vin said trying to pull out of his grip.

Josiah smiled as he watched Nathan drag Vin over to his desk and sit him down. He turned back to look at Chris.

"Looks like you're going to have to find more work for that boy to do," Josiah observed.

"I just want to know when he did it?" Chris asked looking at Josiah.

"He was the first one in this morning," Josiah informed him.

"He had to come in pretty early to set this all up," Chris said.

"When Vin has a joke planned, he doesn't let a little thing like sleep stand in his way," Josiah laughed.

"He has way too devious a mind for someone so young," Chris grumbled.

"It's what's kept him alive," Josiah smiled. "So, did he ask you to come to the party?"

"Yup, he asked," Chris answered.

"It will be fun," Josiah observed. "I'll let you get back to work."

Chris watched as Josiah shut the door. He sighed and pulled out the drawer on his desk. He jumped back as Vin's trade mark snakes popped out. Chris just put his head down on his desk and sighed. All the snakes had small Santa hats on with signs that said "Merry Christmas".


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