Santa and the Devil

by MOG

Rating: PG (but it's only humor)
Disclaimer: No profit being made. (But the ATF universe is mine…and they can’t take that away from me.)

Notes: This was inspired by Heather F. relating a story to me about trying to get her pack of four dogs to sit for a Santa photo. If any of ya'll ever meet her dog Elvis, don't dress as a fat man in a red suit. I borrowed her OD (original dog) Diablo for this fic. Thanks to Shawna Smith for beta & finding that black shirt of Ezra’s. And to Tidia is posting for me!

“C’mon Chris…it ain’t gonna hurt nothin’.”

“Buck, it’s the first day of my vacation. Technically, I’m not even here right now.”

Larabee stood in the near-empty bullpen area that Team Seven claimed as theirs. Dressed in a pair of faded jeans, softened with age; a black Broncos t-shirt and black Carhart jacket that brushed down to mid-thigh, the ATF team leader hardly blended in with the surroundings of the Federal Building.

Sitting beside Chris on a leather leash, a large black dog panted and waited for his owner to move so that he might follow.

“But,” countered Buck, “ya needed to come in to get Josiah’s fly-fishin’ rod that he’s loanin’ ya, so you are here. And since you’re here you can spend five minutes and indulge the kid. It’s only a picture.”

Larabee lowered his tone and hissed out an answer. “It’s a picture with Santa Claus. I’m a grown man and I carry a weapon. I don’t get my picture taken with Santa Claus.”

“Diablo doesn’t have a problem with it.” Wilmington gestured to the animal resting with a bored expression beside Larabee.

Chris looked at Buck with a ‘what kind of argument is that?’ expression. “He’s a dog.”

“C’mon. JD thought it’d be fun if we all got in there. And the money goes to charity.” Wilmington paused and gave the other man a critical glance. “Ooh, pard…you’re tellin’ me you’re so cold you wouldn’t even give money to help poor kids have a Christmas?”

Larabee shot his old friend a flat look. Buck tried again.

“Look, the kid never got a picture with Santa when he was growing up. Hell, from what I gathered, there were even a few years when Santa missed his house completely. What’s wrong with a family picture a few years late?” Buck smiled broadly. “ ‘sides, you seen that lil’ brunette elf helping out?”

Wilmington let out a soft wolf whistle as his hands slowly carved a curvaceous shape in the air. “She can sit on my lap anytime.”

Rolling his eyes, Larabee began to walk past Buck but Wilmington caught him on the arm. “Chris…”

There was a sincere look in Buck’s eyes and the team leader knew he was beat. Shaking his head he walked towards the elevator that would take him to the lobby. “Five minutes…that’s all you get.”

+ + + + + + +

A small corner of the Federal Building’s lobby had been richly decorated with a large, plush high-backed wood chair upholstered in a deep crimson-colored crushed velvet. Full, lush poinsettias circled the festive Oriental-style round rug that Santa’s chair rested on, and nearby a 20-foot tall Christmas tree sparkled with silver ornaments and clear, white lights.

It was only ten a.m. and the Federal employee’s kids and families wouldn’t be showing up for the annual charity photo event for a few hours. Chris reluctantly exited the elevator and walked with Buck to join their teammates.

The work load had been light over the last few weeks and with only three days before Christmas Larabee’s team had indulged in the peace and taken a much-needed casual approach to their jobs.

Vin and Ezra were off to one side, leaning on a wobbly folding table that had been set up for the photographer’s cases and extra equipment. Tanner’s lean legs stretched out as he rested his boot heels on the highly-polished lobby floor.

His faded blue jeans were flecked with white paint from some long-forgotten project, but he’d at least made the effort that morning to pull on a fresh white t-shirt and toss a thin tan, plaid flannel button-up shirt over the top. With his long-hair resting unbound around his face Vin looked more like he should be a prisoner of the Federal Government rather than an employee.

Beside him, Ezra rested with arms folded across his chest murmuring something conspiratorially to the sharpshooter. Standish had also taken full advantage of the relaxed atmosphere of the holiday week, much to his co-worker’s surprise.

Forgoing his usual suit-and-tie ensemble, the southerner opted instead for a simple pair of khaki trousers and a thin black V Strass Versace t-shirt. The shirt, a soft material blend with a tight, stretchy fit, showed off Standish’s efforts in the weight room.

This also resulted in several long minutes of harassment that morning from his teammates and a comment from Buck regarding the southerner sure having a ‘purdy mouth’. Standish effectively silenced them in his own fashion. “One day you boys may look this good…and then you can be worthy of bein’ wrapped in one-hundred and forty dollars worth of style.”

Larabee eyed Tanner and Standish suspiciously as he approached the photo area. They seemed a little too happy and Chris strongly suspected the bottle of Maker’s Mark bestowed upon Ezra that morning by Josiah was now lacking in volume. Thanks to experience, it gave Chris an uncomfortable feeling when he saw those two laughing quietly.

Josiah, Nathan, and JD were thoroughly engaged in a conversation with, what Larabee could only guess was, the ‘elf’ Buck mentioned. An attractive brunette with a fresh, sweet face and long curly brown hair, the photographer turned quite a few heads. Chris figured the little, red velvet outfit with a short, white fur trimmed skirt didn’t hamper the attention she received, either.

Sanchez, however, appeared to be getting most of the brunette’s attention. Flashing a flirtatious smile, she said something with a laugh and lightly fingered the tall man’s festive southwestern-patterned vest, which covered a crisp white long-sleeved button-up shirt with a short priest-style collar.

Jackson and Dunne exchanged a furtive rolled-eyes glance. Turning, JD grinned with surprise as Chris and Buck approached. The youngest member of Larabee’s team doubted that his roommate would convince Chris to participate in the photo JD hoped to get with his teammates.

“Hey Diablo!” Dunne slapped his chest, encouraging the large dog to jump up. The animal happily pounced on the young man, wagging its tail wildly and licking Dunne’s face.

Larabee reined his pet in but JD knelt down and continued to shower the dog with vigorous back scratches.

A southern drawl, somewhat thicker than usual, echoed slightly in the cavernous lobby. “Well, Mr. Larabee…how delightful that you’ll be joinin’ us for this grand holiday experience.” Standish’s mischievous smile broadened, “And how nice - you brought a date.”

Ezra and Vin did little to hide the burst of giggling that followed. Chris fixed his two agents with a hard stare and made a mental note to saddle them with the next shit detail that came up.

“Is this everybody?” The brunette glanced around at the men and wondered what the youngest member of the group held over the others. He’d introduced himself as JD and answered proudly when she asked what their duties were in the Federal Building.

Seven ATF agents who could obviously take care of themselves in any situation were acquiescing to a photo with Santa Claus. ‘Yep’, she thought, ‘it had to be some pretty serious blackmail material.’

Nathan smiled politely at the photographer and answered her question. “Yes, ma’am. And I’m guessin’ ol’ Diablo there is gonna make it eight.”

The woman nodded approvingly. “That shouldn’t be a problem at all.”

She ushered them towards the ‘Santa chair’. “If you all want to stand over here I can position you.”

Only Ezra and Buck were close enough to hear Vin’s quiet response. “Just as long as it ain’t missionary, that’s too borin’.”

This sent Standish and Tanner into another fit of muffled laughter, resulting in Buck smacking them ‘Moe-style’ on their heads in an effort to shush them.

The photographer stepped towards Larabee, her hand outstretched. “I’d be happy to take your puppy if you’d like to remove your coat for the picture.” She smiled at the dog. “Maybe we could even find a little Santa hat for him.”

The team assumed Diablo took exception to some part of the woman’s offer, they just weren’t sure if it was to ‘puppy’ or ‘little Santa hat’.

A growl accompanied a flash of white teeth and a quick snap of strong jaws. The woman leapt back with a speed rarely associated with heels as high as those she wore.

“Diablo!” Chris pulled the dog back into a submissive stance and offered a half-hearted apology to the woman. “Sorry. He’s not much into the holidays. I’ll just keep the coat on.”

Standing on the other side of the chair with Vin and Buck, Ezra murmured softly. “Apparently Diablo also feels the missionary position is borin’.”

Vin didn’t even bother to subdue the giggling as he and Standish rolled into another fit of laughter that resulted in them wiping tears from their eyes. Buck grabbed them both by the backs of their collars and with a quick jerk, yanked them upright.

The brunette photographer moved to the side of the chair away from the dog and maneuvered three of her subjects in a zig-zag pattern. Buck in back, Vin just in front off his right shoulder and Ezra off Tanner’s left shoulder.

Stepping back onto the red carpet the woman did her best to smile confidently as she pointed at the remaining teammates to arrange them while not getting close to the grumpy-looking black dog beside the man in the Carhart jacket.

“Let’s get the most handsome in the back.” She flashed a smile at Josiah.

“Then we’ll have to have the most polite, most sweet, and…you two.” With a long slim finger she directed the others into an off-kilter square; Nate, JD and finally Chris and Diablo.

Backing towards the camera she glanced over her shoulder just as a plump older man, replete in traditional Kringle attire and real white beard came through the lobby from the direction of the men’s room.

“Just in time, Santa,” she cheerfully chirped.

The man wiped lightly at his red nose and looked at his next group of participants with an odd expression, but covered it quickly. He was being paid to be Santa Claus, he’d be Santa Claus.

He got within two steps of the group and a low growl emanated from the pack. The man froze and glanced with big eyes at the black dog curling its lip up at him.

Chris tugged at Diablo’s leash but it did little to deter the animal and the dog’s hackles remained up.

Nathan shook his head with a sigh and muttered. “Leave it to Chris to have a dog with an anti-Santa gene.”

On the other side of the chair Buck commented quietly to the two agents with him. “Good news is, if Diablo bites him the blood won’t show on the red suit.”

Larabee was not happy that his animal was hampering him from getting on with his vacation and placed a strong hand at the back of Diablo’s neck. Unfortunately, Santa believed that would be enough to cow-tow the dog.

In a deep, cheery voice the man chuckled at the creature and sniffled loudly. “Now, now, we don’t want to get coal in our stocking…or should I say stockings, looks like you’d have four. Now how ‘bout that picture.”

Santa stepped gregariously toward the group, which was when Diablo made his move. Launching away from Chris with reflexes that matched his master’s, the large black dog shot towards the jolly, fat, head-elf with a snarling bark.

Chaos flooded through the corner of the lobby. Santa flew backwards as 100 pounds of dog hit him squarely in the chest. His strangled yell blended with the pretty photographer’s scream and Larabee’s shout. Diablo, however, had his own agenda.

White fangs flashed with froth and tore into the fabric of the bright red suit. Ripping past the thick fabric of the man’s left pant leg, Diablo slashed at the black vinyl boot top.

With strong hands, Chris got a hold on the dog and pulled him, still snarling, off the downed Santa.

To one side of the tall chair Ezra and Vin were incapacitated with uncontrollable laughter. Standish was nearly doubled over with his arms wrapped tightly around his mid-section.

Tanner couldn’t even stand. In a crouch with his hands leaning on the thick arm of the big chair, he pressed his forehead to the wood and tried desperately to breathe past the laughing.

The man on the floor yelled to anyone who would listen. “He’s crazy!! That animal should be shot!!”

Buck stepped forward and picked up a three-inch by two-inch plastic ziplock bag resting on the cold tile flooring of the Federal Building next to the shredded boot of ‘Santa’. “I’m thinkin’ he should get credit for a collar.”

Wilmington cracked the seal on the bag and dipped a pinkie into the fine white powder contained in the plastic. Dabbing it to the tip of his tongue Buck looked down at the man lying on the floor.

“I know we ain’t got much snow so far this year but I’m not sure it’s up to Santa Claus to provide a white Christmas.”

Through flaps of torn black vinyl, JD spotted the faint glint of something silver against the downed man’s calf and pointed. “He’s packin’!”

Standish and Tanner lost complete control. Ezra wasn’t even on his feet anymore and Vin’s laughter had dissolved into a wheeze with an occasional soft snort.

The man flopped backwards and let his arms and legs fall to a spread-eagle position as Buck removed a small .22 caliber pistol from his prisoner’s tight sock.

With thumb and forefinger massaging his forehead, Chris stood off to the side with a still-agitated Diablo and desperately wished he hadn’t asked to borrow Josiah’s fly rod.

+ + + + + + +

“See what you missed out on over all those years, JD.” Nathan sat in Buck’s chair, his long, jean-clad legs propped up with his heels up on the desk. A few hours had passed since the incident in the lobby and most of the team was back up in the bullpen.

Dunne tried to suppress his smile and maintain an irritated expression. “You guys are just lucky they were able to get a replacement Santa over here so quick so we could still get the picture taken.”

Seated on the corner of Vin’s desk, Buck sighed. “I’d rather have gotten lucky with that little elf.”

Tanner nodded in agreement. “Teach ya to not have a hobby. Who knows what kinda pictures Josiah and that pretty thing are gonna cook up.”

“I’m thinking silhouettes.” JD motioned a curvy figure in the air with his hands. “36-24-36.”

Ezra rested his stainless steel Starbucks travel mug on his desk and recarved the shape. “That, son, was 38-26-36.”

Dunne eyed the southerner warily and Standish responded to the suspicious look. “I’ve developed a cordial relationship with my tailor over the years. I’ve learned a thing or two about measurements.”

Ezra smiled slyly. “While not perfect in a technical sense, I certainly wouldn’t kick her outta bed for eatin’ crackers.”

“Hear, hear,” toasted Nathan with a mug of his own.

Buck tossed a paperclip at Jackson. “Shame on you, I’m gonna tell Rain.”

The ex-medic put on an expression of mock surprise. “I’m faithful, Bucklin. I ain’t blind, but I’m faithful.”

Vin glanced at JD. “So your Christmas gonna be complete now, Kid?”

Dunne looked at his friend. “I force my boss into getting a picture with Santa where his dog just about mauls the guy, while you and Ez are close to pissin’ yourselves laughing on a Maker’s Mark buzz; we arrest Kris Kringle, an ex-felon mind you, on possession of a controlled substance and a concealed stolen firearm and we find out the hottie elf behind the camera has a thing for older guys...”

The kid smiled warmly. “Yeah, I’d say nothin’s gonna top that.”