By GinaD & Joy

Dear Santa, I don't want no toys for Christmas. I'm only writing this because I have to. If you're really real, all I want for Christmas is Uncle Ezra to be home. 


Dear Santa, It's me, JD. Remember me? I still have the same name, but now I'm fishully Buck's son. The judge said so and we gots papers to say so. I still live at the same house. I want some cars for Christmas. Can you bring some for Vin, too? He's my brother but he won't ask you for them. We both wants Unca Ezra home for Christmas. Can you do that?

"No, Ringo! No!" Vin shouted. "Gimme that!"

The little blond struggled with the pup trying to get the Christmas ornament away from him.

"Ringo, drop it!"

Vin and the pup both turned wide-eyed at the authoritative command. Ringo gave a final shake of his head, pulling the ornament away from Vin before dropping it.

Chris counted silently to ten. Between Vin's sleepwalking expeditions and Ringo's efforts, they had already redecorated the Christmas tree twice. Now the decorations from the lower branches were again scattered beneath the tree.

"I'm sorry," said Vin. "I told him not to do it, but he ain't listening."

"He's not listening," Chris corrected.

"Yes, Sir. He's not listening," Vin amended.

Ringo dropped his head contritely knowing he was in trouble.

Chris frowned at his son calling him "Sir."

"Oh, no!" JD cried as he entered the room. "Bad, Ringo!"

The pup dipped his head even lower.

"Take him out to the kennel," Chris said quietly.

"Yes, Sir." Vin's response was barely audible as he took the dog by the collar and led him toward the kennel in the yard.

Chris surveyed the mess beneath the tree. After the pup's first excursion under the tree, they had replaced all the lower decorations with plastic and moved breakable items higher. Evidently Ringo had had several minutes on his own because several balls lay on the tree skirt, chewed beyond recognition.

"Is Vin in trouble?" asked JD.

"No," Chris answered as he turned to the dark haired boy. Movement to his left drew his attention back as Elvis scampered in and snatched up the ball Ringo had dropped.

The blond cursed in frustration. Enough was enough. He hoped Buck got home soon, because he really needed a break.

JD clamped his hand over his mouth. Chris had said another bad word. The five-year-old looked at his second dad and then at his pup.

Elvis looked expectantly at Chris, then dropped the ball and trotted over to JD to lick his face.

"Kennel?" asked JD.

Chris nodded and JD led the pup toward the backyard to join Vin and Ringo.

Sighing, Larabee bent and began picking up the mess the pups had created. At least when Vin "redecorated" the tree during one of his sleepwalks, he didn't destroy ornaments.

A few minutes later the back door banged shut and the patter of little feet could be heard crossing the kitchen floor. JD wiped his nose on his sleeve as he looked up at Chris.

"Cold out there?" Chris asked.

JD nodded. "I comed to help."

"Thanks," said Chris as he handed JD the garbage bag to hold. "Where's Vin?"

"He's staying in jail with Elvis an' Ringo."

"Jail, huh?"

JD nodded.

Chris dumped the last of the ruined ornament remnants into the garbage and took the bag from JD.

"Do you think you could be really good and stay out of trouble for a few minutes?"

JD nodded vigorously, his thick black hair bouncing with each nod.

"Okay, we'll put Scooby in the VCR and I'll go get Vin out of jail."

"And Elvis?"

Chris took a deep breath. "And Elvis," he agreed.

JD smiled and trotted over to the sofa, plopping onto the seat with a bounce. Chris plugged the much loved Scooby Doo tape into the VCR and then made his way to the back yard to emancipate his son and the two pups.


The seven-year-old looked up sharply.

"It ain't fair."

"It's not fair," Chris corrected automatically.

Vin huffed in frustration.

"They're just pups and they was here first. It ain't... It isn't their fault they don't know about Christmas trees. It isn't fair to put them in jail. We should put the tree in jail!"

Chris took a half step back. It was a simple answer: Fence the tree. He and Sarah had done that when Adam was old enough to toddle around and pull decorations off the tree.

A flash of memory of Adam looking at him and toying defiantly with a Christmas ornament after he'd been told not to made Chris suck in a breath. Adam had been a fun loving but determined child. His persistence with the tree in spite of repeated scolding had forced them to become creative. They'd made the makeshift fence out of baby safety gates wired together. It had done the trick. The tree itself could still be seen through the folding gates, but Adam was forced to keep his distance.

Those same gates were probably up in the rafters of the shed where he'd stored the puzzle box he'd made for Sarah.

"You know, Cowboy," Chris said softly, "I think you have a good idea."

"What?" asked Vin.

"When Buck gets home, we'll work on making a fence to put around the Christmas tree."

Vin grinned. "Ya hear that, Ringo?" he asked as he ruffed the dog's fur. "We're gonna fix it so you don't get in trouble."

Ringo barked in response to his boy's attention.

Chris shook his head. "Let's get inside. It's getting cold out here."

He opened the kennel gate and watched as two happy pups followed his son to the back porch. He had a solution to the pups chewing the decorations, but would it end Vin's sleepwalks? Chris sighed and followed the trio toward the house. He paused, seeing Nathan's Explorer coming up the driveway.

All the uncles were coming over tonight, and things were about to get a lot worse.

Buck sat watching the Christmas tree glow in the darkness. The rest of the family had finally gone to bed. He had to admit the boys had done a good job with the "fence" around the Christmas tree. JD and Vin had colored some pictures and taped them onto the gates for decoration, knowing that anything else they decorated the fence with would be too tempting to the pups. Both boys had been delighted to have their Uncles for dinner on a weeknight, making it a lively event.

Then Ezra had sat the boys down to talk, and everything had gone down hill. The southerner had felt it necessary to talk to the boys in person to let them know he was going undercover again. Buck was grateful that he had told them, but the boys had not taken the news well. Fear of losing their Uncle from another bullet was re-awakened. Things they had hoped were done and over with weeks ago were just as fresh as if Ezra had been shot only yesterday. Weeks of progress seemed to disappear like a puff of smoke.

Ezra cringed at JD's brokenhearted crying. In between sobs he protested and came up with all kinds of excuses why Ezra couldn't go. Vin had teared up briefly, but anger had now overpowered the fear. Reaching out Ezra put his hand on Vin's shoulder. Everyone froze when Vin had grabbed it shoving away with both hands. Then turning suddenly he started to swing tiny fists at his uncle. While not doing any physical damage, his actions had taken all of them by surprise. Even JD stopped crying for a moment.

"Vincent Michael Tanner!"

The small blond stiffened at Chris' authoritative tone. He turned toward his father, flexing his fists, his small chest heaving with each angry breath.

"I know you're upset, but we will not tolerate that behavior in this household."

The anger in Chris' voice made JD cower behind Buck, clinging to his father's leg.

"He didn't mean it..." JD pleaded.

"He didn't do any harm..." Ezra stated at the same time.

"Stop," Chris said holding a hand up towards Ezra. "Pushing and hitting are not allowed. Period. No argument." He turned his attention to Vin. "You apologize to your Uncle."

The seven-year-old was fuming. He shifted from one foot to the other seemingly unable to physically contain his anger and distress. Stopping the motion, Vin glared at his father.

Chris held the eye contact hoping that he wasn't doing more harm than good by standing firm on his demands. Because of Vin's difficult childhood, discipline was often a fine line. His son was standing up to him, something the boy would have never risked in their early days as a family. While he didn't appreciate the defiance, Chris was grateful that Vin felt secure enough to express himself.

He just hoped the seven-year-old's reasoning would kick into gear before he had to take further action.

For several tense moments Vin remained squared off in defiance. Finally he broke eye contact with Chris. He looked at his Uncle, then Buck and JD before looking back at Chris. "I'm sorry!" he yelled running from the room. The outburst coupled with the dash froze the adults for a second. The sound of a door slamming down the hall broke the spell. Recovering Chris started toward the hall only to find Ezra barring his way.

"Please, Chris, let me. I think I understand a little of what he's feeling."

Chris hesitated, everything in him crying out to go the boys' room, forget discipline and comfort his son. Everyone waited giving Chris the space he needed to make the decision. It was made when he stepped back gesturing with one hand to the hallway.

Ezra stood outside Vin's closed bedroom door the sound of stifled sobbing breaking his heart. Knocking gently he asked, "Vin, can I come in?" A teary sniff followed by silence was his only response. Turning Ezra allowed his body to slide down until he was leaning against the door. For a while all was quiet as man and boy both pulled themselves together.

Well, this is going well Ezra thought as he absently rubbed the ever-present ache in the thigh where he had been wounded. It had been a helluva lot harder than he'd expected to tell the boys he was going undercover. It was hard enough to make the decision that he was ready, but trying to explain it to two small boys had been almost impossible. Ezra replayed the scene from the great room. JD's tears had ripped him open and Vin's anger had finished the job.

While Ezra had been able to reason it out for himself, explaining it to the boys satisfactorily was a different matter. How could he make them understand that being an ATF agent and putting away criminals was fulfilling? He was great at his job and had a very hard time picturing himself doing anything else. He had come to an understanding that the shooting had been an accident. Accidents happened in any line of work. Accidents happened anywhere, any place, any time. He wasn't fooling himself. Ezra was nervous about going under, maybe even frightened, but the key was, he was choosing not to let the fear determine his future.

Pulling his thoughts back to now Ezra knocked softly again. "Vin, I'm very sad that you and JD are upset but this is something I have to do. I wish you'd let me in so we can talk."

Ezra had to wait several minutes but his patience was finally rewarded when he felt the door click open behind him. He waited another moment, but the open door was his only invitation. As he stood up he caught sight of JD and the pups, hovering halfway down the hall. Tears still streaked his face and the way he kept glancing over his shoulder told Ezra that the others didn't know he was there. Sure enough right then Buck appeared at the end of the hall.

"JD," Buck said gently, "come here. Ezra needs to talk to Vin."

"But I wanna be with Vin," JD sniffed.

"It's okay," Ezra held out his hand to JD. "I think Vin would like that."

JD needed no more encouragement. Followed by the dogs he dashed past Ezra through the open door. Giving Buck a faint smile, Ezra turned to follow.

Inside, JD and Vin were sitting side by side on JD's bunk bracketed by Elvis and Ringo. Both pups were unnaturally subdued, cuddling close to their respective boy. Taking a deep breath Ezra sat down cross-legged on the floor in front of them, his leg only giving a slight protest at the position.

"Vin, JD, I hope you know I would never deliberately do anything to hurt either of you."

"Then don't go," Vin replied stubbornly.

Ezra winced slightly at the direct hit but he knew he couldn't give up. Dropping his head he tried to come up with a way to explain his very adult feelings to two small boys.

"I don't want to hurt you, Vin, but I must go."

Vin crossed his arms defensively. He was not going to be easily swayed.

"Remember when you fell off Peso and sprained your wrist? Did you stop riding horses forever?" asked Ezra.

"No, but that's different," Vin protested.

"How so?" asked Ezra. "You were doing something you loved. You were hurt and probably scared by the accident. But when you got better, you wanted to ride again."

Vin frowned. He didn't want this to make sense. He wanted Ezra to stay with them and for everyone to be safe.

"Do you want to go undercovers again, Unca Ezra?" JD asked.

There it was, the big question. And with a confidence he hadn't felt in a long time Ezra gave a truthful answer. "Yes, JD. I do. It's my job. I'm very good at it, and I enjoy knowing that what I do puts bad guys in jail and keeps them from hurting more people. "

It didn't mean he wasn't scared.

"Vin, do you remember when I returned from New Orleans and I talked to you about being afraid and running away?"

The little blond nodded.

"Well, in a way, I've still been running away at work. I'm back home. I'm better physically, but I'm not doing my job."

"Dad said you can do any job you want," Vin answered.

Ezra nodded. "And you could ride a cow or a bike."

JD giggled.

Vin didn't.

"It would still be transportation, but it would not be * your * horse."

"Is undercovers your horse?" asked JD.

Ezra smiled as the younger boy picked up the concept. He had fallen and needed to get back on his horse - not just any horse, but his horse.

"What if you get shot again?" asked Vin.

Ezra reached out his arms and was pleased as both boys scooted off the bed and ran into the waiting embrace.

"I know this whole experience has been very frightening for both of you... for all of us, but it isn't something that happens all the time. Thankfully, it is rare for an officer to be shot in the line of duty. I can't guarantee that I won't be injured again, but I can guarantee that I will always be careful. And I can guarantee that I love you very much."

He paused and hugged the boys closer. "We can't let fear run our lives. We need to live every moment to the fullest and make the best of every situation."

Smiling to himself he felt two little boys hug him, holding on for all they were worth. He hadn't erased their fears, but hopefully they could understand that this was what he needed to do.

The sleek dark truck looked out of place in this part of Federal Boulevard. This section was more used to souped-up muscle cars or ones showing every year of their age.

"You don't have to do this." Chris said for the hundredth time. He'd been saying that ever since the request for Ezra's services had landed on his desk. Ezra had been asked to resurrect an old alias from his FBI days, Ian McBride. As Ian, Ezra had worked his way in the inner circle of a very smart arms dealer, Kyle Martin. He'd used that position to gather enough evidence on one of Kyle's seconds in command to turn the man. It hadn't been enough to put him away for very long since it turned out, for an arms dealer, Kyle was rather honorable. So even though they hadn't been able to pin much on him, now that he was out of prison the FBI wanted to know what he was planning. Kyle hadn't known that his arrest and prison time was compliments of his old friend Ian/Ezra so the Feds wanted Ezra to look up him and say hi. It was hoped that Ezra would be able to easily insinuate himself back into the organization.

From the moment the request had been made Team Seven had fought for a postponement until after Christmas. Even Director Travis had called his boss asking for the extension. But in the grand scheme of things the FBI didn't care that having their Uncle go "undercovers" right before Christmas was going to devastate two little boys. The only concession was that Ezra would be allowed to pull out if he hadn't found anything by Christmas Eve.

"I believe my only other alternative is to quit. Or let Buck implement his plan."

Chris grimaced, "That is not a solution."

"No," Ezra chuckled, "but the expression on Nathan's face was priceless."

"I suppose." Chris' lips twitched as he pictured the horror on Nathan's face when Buck had offered to shoot Ezra, someplace non vital, so he could be home for Christmas.

"You ready?" Chris studied the man in the seat next to him.

Ezra's response was a non-verbal nod. Dressed in black jeans, turtleneck and leather jacket he already looked and was acting the part of his undercover persona. Ian McBride was a moody low-level wheeler dealer from South Carolina. The moody part suited Ezra's present mood perfectly.

Chris leaned closer his voice intent. "I don't want you doing this if you have any doubts."

With a flash of his customary grin, Ezra opened the passenger door of the SUV they were using. "Chris, I appreciate what you're saying, but the day I don't have any doubts about an assignment is the day I truly quit undercover." Stepping out he turned back, "I'll be in touch."

"Ezra," Chris stopped him. "Don't get creative, I want you back no later than Christmas Eve. Vin and JD are expecting you to be there."

"Would I disappoint my two favorite nephews?" Ezra tipped an imaginary hat before turning to walk away down the street. Chris watched until he disappeared around the corner. Starting the SUV he drove back toward the office slowly.

Hi Computer. This is me, JD. Vin won't talk to you again. I don't like it when Vin won't talk. He says he's okay but I know he's scare-did. We already talked to Dr. Will two whole times this week. Vin needs to talk to him again.

I think Chris needs to talk to Dr. Will, too. He says he's okay but he keeps on going outside to work in the barn. He works real hard for a long time and then he just stands by the fence and looks far away. Sometimes Vin goes out there and stands with him. Vin don't want to play when he's like that. Maybe Dr. Will could have Chris draw some pictures or play some games so he don't be so quiet.

Da says it's okay, but Da needs to talk to Dr. Will, too. He's gonna run out of dollars. He sad bad words a whole bunch of times this week and had to put lots of money in the swear jar. Dr. Will says people sometimes say bad words when they's mad or sometimes when they's scared and don't want no one to know.

Unca Siah and Unca Nathan might feel better if they talk to Dr. Will, too. I don't think Dr. Will gots enough chairs in his office. They made me scare-did when they came over and watched a movie with us and it wasn't even Friday or Saturday or Sunday. They just wanted to hold me and Vin the whole night. They says they are fine but I think they miss Unca Ezra like me and Vin because Tuesday was when Unca Ezra goed undercovers again. He hasn't gone undercovers since he gotted shot. He let me see where he gotted shot. It was kind of funny looking but there wasn't no blood no more.

Unca Ezra telled me it would be okay and he will call me as soon as he can but he might not be able to but that doesn't mean he doesn't love me or miss me. He's gonna be home by Christmas. He said so.

He did not!

He did so, Vin! And you ain't telling this, I am!

He didn't promise to be home before Christmas.

Yes, he did.

Did not! He didn't promise!

Ow! Vin, stop it! Da! Vin hitted me!

. . .

. . .

. . .

. . .

. . .

. . .

Sorry, Computer. I had to go for a minute. Vin getted in trouble for hitting me again and he's crying. I don't like it when Vin cries. He don't mean to be bad. He's just... He's just... I want Unca Ezra, too.

I'll be back later. Vin has to clean up our room and I'm gonna help.

Chris sat in the living room staring moodily into the fire. Buck had sent him in here when he found Chris standing outside the bathroom holding a half ripped towel instead of helping Vin with his bath. Doing what he did best, Buck had stepped in and finished getting the boys into bed.

Chris' lips twitched slightly as the thought came to him that in effect Buck had given him a time out. In the last week there had been several "time outs" around the house. Chris sighed, dropping his head into his hands. It had been rough ever since the night Ezra had come out to tell the boys he was going undercover.

He wondered what Ezra was doing right now, probably sitting in some musty hotel room or smoky bar.

Ian McBride savored his glass of brandy appearing completely uninterested in his surroundings. In actuality he was listening intently to the man behind him, Kyle Martin, as he set up a meeting over the phone. Ezra was slightly surprised at how quickly he'd fallen back into the Ian persona. After all the events of the last year he felt it should have been harder to return to that hard edged, uncaring character. But from the moment he'd 'accidentally' bumped into Kyle, Ian had taken over.

In fact, Ian thought, this was exactly the kind of setup he liked. Kyle seemed to have come out of prison with a great deal of disposable income. The two men were currently sitting in a rented condo in Breckenridge after spending the day skiing. Ian was positioned on the couch where he could see both the magnificent view of the snow covered mountains and still enjoy warmth from the fireplace. They had just returned from dinner at one of the most exclusive restaurants in town and now were enjoying some excellent brandy.

"Call me back when you have the details finalized." Kyle walked around to fling himself down on the other couch, tossing his cell phone on the coffee table. "I have no patience for stupid people."

Ian smiled lazily, "A personality trait I remember well. What ever did happen to that obnoxious toady, Larry wasn't it?"

"He's doing life down in Texas. Finally killed the wrong person and got the Rangers after him." Kyle took a drink. "Those Rangers are why I never did business in Texas, especially the Dallas area."

"Indeed, I've heard they do make life difficult."

"They do. I like a place where the law doesn't take things so personal."

"Kyle, you've been gone what, seven years?"

"Eight, what's your point?"

Ian leaned forward, cupping his brandy glass in both hands. "Denver has acquired its own rather insistent team of do gooders. ATF ones."

"Yeah, heard of them," Kyle shrugged, "I plan to handle my business quickly, quietly then disappear." He stood up, moving over to lean against the fireplace mantle. "I had a lot of time to think in prison, Ian. My priorities have changed." He gave Ian a crooked grin, "Course that doesn't mean I won't kill anyone who's stupid enough to get in my way.

Ian raised his glass in a silent toast while inside Ezra cringed slightly at the reminder.

"Where is it!"

"I don'ts got it."

"You took it."

"Did not."

"Did too."

"What is going on here?" Buck shouted.

Vin and JD stood facing each other over the puzzle box. Ever since Uncle Ezra had gone undercover, Vin had focused on nothing but his puzzle. Both Chris and Buck had tried to get him interested in other things. But not even JD could distract him, something that caused friction between both boys.

Now, the day before Christmas Eve with no word from Ezra everyone's emotions and tempers were volatile. Tears in his eyes, JD ran to Buck who swooped him up. With JD's head settled on his shoulder Buck turned to Vin. The little blond was standing fists clenched the picture of defiance except for his shiny eyes and quivering chin. The sight calmed Buck down immediately. "What's wrong?" he asked kindly.

"It's ruined." Vin waved a hand toward the puzzle box.

Moving closer Buck looked down dreading what he'd find. But instead of a million little puzzle pieces or any of the other horrible things he'd expected he found instead a completed scene. Completed except for a single piece. In the center of the black horse's body was a glaring hole.

"Well now, it's only a missing piece. I'm sure we can find it."

But two hours later when Chris got home they still hadn't found it. Explaining things briefly, Buck took an exhausted JD upstairs, leaving Chris to deal with his frustrated, angry son. Picking Vin up, Chris settled into the chair in front of the puzzle. The two of them studied the puzzle silently for a few minutes.

"It's pretty hard when you've worked on something for so long and then you can't finish it I guess."

Vin sniffed then nodded his head. Chris could feel both against the front of his shirt. Vin whispered something against his chest. "What?" Chris asked.

"Now Uncle Ezra's never comin' home."

Chris was experienced enough not to offer an immediate platitude, instead he asked, "Why does the puzzle mean Uncle Ezra isn't coming home?"

Vin mumbled something.


"Cause if I don't finish the puzzle Unca Ezra won't have to help me save it." Vin sobbed bursting into tears.

Chris could only hold Vin and let him cry. They had tried everything to reassure the boys and still each secretly had doubts. The only thing that would truly help was an uninjured Ezra for Christmas. Silently Chris promised that if the team had to tear Denver apart, tomorrow they'd find Ezra.

Hi Computer, it's me, JD. Vin is sitting in Chris' lap in the rocker. We worked on Vin's puzzle earlier, but we can't find the last piece. We looked everywhere. Chris growled at Da, but Da says he didn't do nothing. Vin got all quiet. I could tell he was upset that he can't finish the picture. He telled Chris that he could put the puzzle box back in the garage 'cause he's not gonna do no more puzzles. Uncle Ezra was going to help him make it into a forever picture, but now he can't because we can't find the piece and 'sides, Unca Ezra's not here. Buck made me go in the kitchen then because he said he needed me to help him. I think he just wanted me to come with him so Chris and Vin could talk by themselves. Vin and Chris is watching an old movie now. It's kinda boring. It's about some guy named George and nobody 'members him except this guy named Clarence who says he's an angel. It's about Christmas.

Unca Ezra isn't done undercovers yet. He has to come home soon. I don't want him to miss Christmas. Unca Nathan and Unca Siah taked me and Vin to buy presents for Da and Chris and Unca Ezra. We didn't buy presents then for Unca Nathan and Unca Siah because they could see them and then it wouldn't be a surprise. Da taked me to the store to get a present for them and for Vin, and Chris taked Vin after he got done at Dr. Will's office.

I can't talk very long today. I'm in trouble. I did something I wasn't supposed to do. But Unca Ezra wasn't home yet and I just wanted to know. I called Unca Ezra's new daddy on the phone. I just wanted to make sure Unca Ezra didn't go stay there again. I like Unca Ezra's momma and daddy, but I don't want him to go stay with them again. They aren't coming to Christmas. They's going to see Mr. Peter's brother.

Da telled me I shouldn't have called, and that calling to New Orleans costs money. I told him I'd give him all the money I have left after buying Christmas presents. I gots lots. I gots sixty-two cents. He just squeezed me and said I can't use the phone to call anyone but him or Chris or Unca Nathan or Unca Siah or Unca Ezra.

I hope Unca Ezra comes home tomorrow. Maybe he can help us find the missing piece.

Bye Computer.

Three days before Christmas the day was bright and clear. After seeing their fathers off to work the boys spent the morning making cookies, switching between trying to contain their excitement about shopping with their uncles that afternoon and feeling guilty about being excited. But Dr. Will had repeated over and over in their recent session that it was okay to enjoy Christmas. Their Uncle Ezra wouldn't want them not to enjoy it. It was sad that Uncle Ezra wouldn't be there today, but Uncle Josiah and Uncle Nathan said they would help them search for the perfect gifts. Privately Dr. Will had told Chris that while Vin had said the right things and seemed to want to believe them, he should be ready for some sort of fallout.

For some reason their uncles didn't want to take them to the Mall or WalMart this year. The boys didn't know why. The Mall was full of fun things to see and lots of people and WalMart was always exciting. They had lots of great stuff to look at there. But Unca Josiah and Unca Nathan had seemed very hesitant to try either.

Mrs. Potter helped them pass the time, helping make Christmas cookies. After explaining that they were going to give some of the cookies as gifts to others, she let the boys help select the types of cookies they would make from the pictures in the cookbook. Soon they were up to their elbows in cookie dough.

Cookie cutters were used to form Christmas shapes, which would later be frosted. Mrs. Potter allowed the boys to create their own shapes from the left over dough. There were several dough snakes some lumpy figures purporting to be pups and a couple of horses with wiggly legs.

The boys cooperated and kept busy all morning, sampling each type of cookie as it was completed. So by the time their Uncles arrived to take them shopping, both boys were on a sugar buzz. Mrs. Potter just smiled knowingly as she handed off the hyper kids to Nathan and Josiah.

Nathan shook his head as he and Josiah stood inside a men's room waiting for the boys. He didn't understand why they didn't go before they left the house.

Josiah chuckled. "They're boys," he said simply. "They have more important things to do."

Nathan rolled his eyes. "You know, I think he did it on purpose."

"Who did what?" asked Josiah.

"Ezra," Nathan replied. "I think he took this case just to stick us with the shopping again."

"It's not so bad..."

"Not so bad?" Nathan replied. "Don't you remember we lost them last time?"

"They weren't lost," Josiah laughed. "They were with Ezra."

"But we didn't know that. I thought I was having a heart attack."

Josiah smiled as the boys exited their stalls at the same time.

"Wash!" he reminded them as they dutifully ran to the sink. Then he turned to Nathan. "That's why we're here in Evergreen. Lots of small stores with a wide variety of items."

Nathan looked at him as if he'd lost his mind. "Yeah, but now they have an entire town. I'm not letting them out of my sight for a second."

Josiah chuckled as the boys ran over to the air hand dryers and raced each other to dry their hands.

And blow each other's hair.

"Vin? JD? Where are you?" Nathan said for the umpteenth time.

Josiah shook his head at his teammate's overreaction.

"We's right here," said JD tugging on the back of Nathan's coat. "Look at this. Isn't it great! What is it?"

Nathan blew out a sigh of relief. "That's called a bolo tie, JD."

"Do you think Da would like it?"

"I know he would," Josiah said. "He could wear it to court."

"I's gonna get one for Unca Ezra, too." JD raced back toward the rack.

Vin rolled his eyes and scuffed his toe on the carpet. This store was boring. He didn't want to get Chris or Buck a boring old tie. And he didn't want to get Uncle Ezra one either.

"Hurry up, JD," he exclaimed interrupting an intense debate over black agate versus turquoise. "I wanna go to the next store."

"Patience, Vin," said Josiah with a wink. "Are you sure you looked at everything in here?"

Vin nodded his head emphatically, sighing heavily which Josiah let pass.

Nathan and Josiah were starting to worry. JD had found all his gifts. Vin though still needed something for Ezra. JD was the one now who was getting more and more frustrated. Vin responded by sinking into silence and stubborn resistance.

Finally Josiah gently suggested that since it was getting dark and cold that they quit for the night.

The morning after setting up the meeting Kyle insisted on doing some clothes shopping. Another reason he and Ian/Ezra got along so well, both appreciated quality clothing. For the kind of clothing they wanted only the stores in Aspen would do. After a productive morning and a gourmet lunch the two men decided to walk Main Street before driving back to the condo. They were passing an upscale toy store when Kyle stopped. He stood staring at the window with a furrowed brow.

"I'm sure that teddy bear is not carrying." Ian joked.

"Kids expect presents on Christmas don't they?" Kyle sounded much grimmer than the subject warranted.

"I believe so," Ian agreed, thrown a bit off balance by the strange subject.

"I got kids." Kyle glared at Ian as if expecting a smart remark. When none was made he continued. "Twin boys, they'd be about six now. Their mom took them out of the country when I got arrested."

"I'm sorry," Uncle Ezra took over, "You must worry about where they are, if they're safe."

"Wife's family has money, she went to them." Kyle's expression smoothed out, "Started writing her a few years ago. She's a strict Catholic making divorce out so she's willing to give me another chance. Told her I'd be there for Christmas."

Ian dropped back into place, "That explains the urgency, one more big score before you leave the country."

Kyle's expression turned cold, "This ain't just about one last score, this is revenge. I do this then Kyle Martin dies." He turned back to the window, "I suppose Elena has already bought them a bunch stuff."

"Revenge on who?" Ian asked coldly, eyes hard. "I have no wish to risk my life and freedom because you have a grudge against someone. I also have no wish to draw the attention of the men we discussed last night. I warn you, I won't be crossed."

"That's what I like about you, Ian, you're consistent." Kyle started into the toy shop. "Don't worry, this ain't about you or the law. In fact you could say I'm giving the law a little Christmas present all their own. Now what would you buy for a six year old?"

"Since you're traveling, something portable." Ian/Ezra took the hint that the discussion was closed, following Kyle into the shop.

"You don't look happy, Ian." Kyle handed Ian/Ezra a glass of scotch. "I would think that a man about to make an easy million would be cheerier."

"Perhaps I would be if we weren't dealing with some of the worst scum in town. You do know that Fredricks is working for Dugan now."

"Still holding a grudge I see."

"I tend to do that when people shoot me."

Kyle laughed, "I can't fault you for that. Just remember, revenge is sweet...
Mr. Standish."

Ezra froze staring at the gun Kyle now held on him. His first thought was, Vin and JD, they would never recover from this. His second was, 'damn'. Still survival instincts ingrained by years of undercover enabled him to raise one eyebrow and ask, "Mr. Standish? Are you picking alias' for me now?"

Kyle chuckled, "Relax, Standish, I'm not going to shoot you," he paused, "unless you make me. I know that's a horrible cliché, but I couldn't resist. Too much time spent watching old movies in prison I guess."

"Well, then let me be as obvious, how?"

Kyle shrugged, "It really doesn't matter, let's just say I figured out a lot of things. You brought my organization down, but that wouldn't have happened if Fredricks hadn't been so incompetent."

"So what now?" Ezra asked.

"Everything goes down as planned. You make a phone call to your boss, Larabee, and pass on the details for tonight. Then we keep our appointment with Dugan."

"I won't set my friends up to be killed," Ezra snarled. "I wasn't with the ATF back then, you have no grudge against them."

"I figured you'd say something like that." Kyle shrugged, "guess I'll have to settle for the Feds." He leveled the gun directly at Ezra while picking up his glass, "Drink up, Standish, I do hate to waste good scotch."

Heart pounding, Ezra did as bid, downing the whole glass in one gulp before throwing it at Kyle's head.

The sound of glass breaking meshed with the muffled sound of a gunshot