Wanda Haney waited until she got back to her secluded little corner of the administration offices before looking at the crumpled bit of paper clenched tightly in her fist. This was her first year in the Denver ATF office and she was very happy here; the people were nice, the work was important and it was the festive season - all in all, a good year and a great new job. But... There was always a 'but' in there somewhere, wasn't there?
There was one aspect of the 'Christmas' season that she hated and this was it - Secret Santa time. Everyone did their best to find out who you were buying for and then teased you unmercifully about the gift you chose. She'd seen it ruin promotions, nearly ruin friendships... why did something so innocent cause so much hassle?
Sighing resolutely, she opened the piece of paper that she'd selected from the huge cookie jar on its resting place on Sandra's desk and read the name printed on the paper.
Oh crap! Why me, God? What did I do to deserve this?!
Keeping her expression calm through sheer willpower and biting the inside of her cheek, Wanda looked at the innocent words that were filling her with dread. Chris Larabee. She'd heard what had happened to the last poor fool that selected that name... she was doomed.
Well, at least she didn't have a crush on him like the last idiot; she had that going in her favour. Of course, if she'd selected Vin Tanner's name she could have ended up in a similar mess. Nobody had the right to be that polite, shy, gorgeous and completely oblivious all that the same time.
Drawing her attention back to the matter at hand, Wanda got rid of her screensaver and made an effort at pretending to work, absently nibbling at her bottom lip as she did so. Surprisingly enough, she did have a few ideas... hell, this might be fun!
The remainder of Team Seven watched as Chris walked into his office with the surprisingly large package addressed to him that had been left amongst the other packages in the Secret Santa bundle waiting in their offices that morning.
It was festively wrapped and looked too big to be like the edible underwear that he had gotten last year. Just as well; Chris' reaction last year had been spectacular - even for him. More than one set of curious eyes looked at the closed door of his office and wondered what he'd got this time.
The sound of outright delighted laughter that suddenly came from behind the closed door surprised them no end. Could it be that, for the first time in the three years that they had been a team, someone had actually given him something he liked?!
As the laughter continued, gazes locked. The remainder of Team Seven rose en masse, curiosity ablaze. What had Chris been given? Vin was nominated to knock on the door by Buck and JD by the simple expedient of pushing him to the front of the group and they all trailed in behind him.
The sight that greeted them had them all smiling. Chris had a twinkle of amusement in his eyes that hadn't been there for weeks - whoever this Secret Santa was, they liked them.
"Boys, you have to see this. It's perfect!" Chris motioned them closer with his free hand and they needed no second invitation.
Jaws dropped at the present, but the gentle teasing behind it was easily apparent, and this team had no problems with poking fun at themselves.
Sitting in the middle of Chris' desk was a standard brown teddy bear. What set it apart from the uncounted millions of similar bears around the world was its apparel. It was wearing a miniature black cowboy hat, black shirt, black trousers and black duster. It even had a mini lasso and toy pistol.
Voice practically choking on his mirth, Chris motioned to the pile of handmade clothes sitting in the box - this Santa had worked hard given the $25 dollar limit - saying, "He's got an entire wardrobe.
"Doctor's scrubs, a circus ringmaster... and my personal favourite, the camouflage gear and butterfly net."
Fingering the exquisitely stitched ringmaster's jacket, Ezra smiled and said, "It would seem our reputation is universal, gentlemen. Even Father Christmas himself knows that it takes a man of many facets to ride herd on us."
"Damn, that's good," chuckled Buck as he looked at the cowboy bear, and there were various assenting murmurs from the rest of the team.
JD, looking inside the box, said, "Chris, there's a card in here too. Have you opened it?"
Smiling, Chris shook his head and extended his hand for the card. Opening the envelope, he pulled out the card inside and read the message, a smile of pure contentment crossing his features. Wordlessly, he passed it to Josiah, who smiled in turn and said, "Never a truer word written."
Bouncing eagerly in place, JD said, "Let me see!" and, for the benefit of the others, read the message aloud.
"There is a destiny that makes us brothers;
None goes his way alone:
All that we send into the lives of others
Comes back into our own"
Seven friends... seven team-mates... seven brothers looked at each other and smiled.
"Who wrote that?" asked a quietly reflective JD Dunne.
"Edwin Markham," said Ezra, beating Josiah to the punch. "From a poem called 'A Creed', if I remember correctly."
"I like it," said JD happily. "That's us."
"Indeed it is," said Chris. "All right then, everybody back to work."
As his team began to disperse, Chris called, "JD, is there any way to get that on a screensaver for the team? At least over the holidays?"
"Consider it done, Chris."
Once he was alone again, Chris accessed his email and sent an email to the administrator in charge of the Secret Santa program.
Sandra Whittaker opened the email from Chris Larabee with dread, remembering full well the fiasco of the previous year. She then gazed at the content of her email in disbelief. Looking up, she addressed her department and said, "People, you are never going to believe this..."
"What?" asked one of the secretaries, as she watched her normally unflappable boss stare at her monitor in obvious shock.
"I just had an email from Larabee about his Secret Santa present... saying thank you, he loves it!"
The same secretary responded by saying, "Okay, nobody told me hell had frozen over. Why not?!"
Sitting at her desk, Wanda Haney just smiled. She was going to like it here...