Warnings: Actually... none. Imagine that. How shocking, though I guess this should come with a 'don't try this at home' warning.
Disclaimer: Sadly, I don't hold any claim on these characters. They are only borrowed from the most generous Stephenie Meyer. All will be returned in the same condition that I've found them, and this time they really will be no worse for wear.
AN: Just another one of Emmett's misadventures that was accepted into a collection to raise money for Toys for Tots with the hope of brightening a needy child's Christmas. It really is an excellent cause. When it was suggested that I might want to look into writing something for it, I jumped at the chance and Emmett jumped at the chance of being the star. Seems he was very eager to make the little ones happy as well. This story is entirely his fault, so you know where to take the complaints. *nods*
Well, it might not be entirely Emmy's fault considering that it was Jasper1863Hale who pointed me in the direction of the project. She also lent me a great deal of support along with her beta-ing and banner making skills. This would not have come about without her. Love ya, chick. *hugs*
Hope you all enjoy. Now let the silliness ensue.
"It will be great! Come on, guys. You know you want to do it," Emmett cajoled.
The bearish boy was lying on the couch with his feet over the back, his head hanging off the cushion, causing him to view his video game upside down for an additional challenge. "Just think about how much fun it will be, not to mention all the joy we'll be spreading. We're talking Christmas: peace on Earth and good will to all men."
The sounds of electronic explosions and general mayhem did very little to convince the siblings of their brother's altruistic plan.
"Good will doesn't generally consist of breaking and entering, Em," Jasper muttered from his spot on the floor, where he was picking off the nearest mindless zombie that shuffled towards his rifle fire. "Things that get your butt tossed in jail are, by their very nature, considered bad. You lookin' to get coal and switches in your stocking this year? Cause I'm telling you right now that I sure as hell ain't."
"Coal and switches?" The bruin laughed while he shrugged off the thought."Like that would happen. You worry too damn much, Jazzman. This will be a piece of cake. We would just be picking up Santa's slack. The only reason we'd be going into people's houses is to leave things. Stealing is wrong and that's what lands you behind bars, but giving is good. This is the season for giving after all. What could be better than giving presents to some little kids who aren't gonna have a merry Christmas because their parents don't have enough to make it happen?"
"I know that your intentions are good, honey, we all know that, but the problem is that what you're suggesting is still an illegal activity. Even if you're not stealing, you're trespassing. The police don't care what you're doing in someone else's house on Christmas Eve, they will still lock you up," Rosalie commented as she continued to address the family's Christmas cards.
"They don't lock Santa up."
"Em, I hate to be the one to have to tell you this, but Santa Claus is a myth." Edward joined the conversation from his perch on the piano bench while he continued to entertain the group with some festive tunes. "If he wasn't, we wouldn't even be having this conversation." The bronze haired boy's brow furrowed in thought for a second before he added, "And I believe they even made a few holiday movies that disprove your argument."
"Movies? Pfft. What do they know? We're talking about real life here, Eddie, not some silly Hollywood make believe. Even so, there should be a Santa. He's the spirit of Christmas," the boy countered. "The belief that the little ankle biters have in him is what keeps the magic of the holiday alive. That right there should be reason enough for us to do this. We're not only going to be making a bunch of kiddos happy, but we're actually helping to save Christmas by keeping their belief in that rotund elf alive."
"We could make cookies and leave them with the toys. Who doesn't like cookies for Christmas?"
Rosalie's mouth fell open while she threw a glance in her sister's direction, and Jasper dropped his game controller in his lap to cradled his head in his hands.
"Alice," the soldier muttered softly. "Hummingbird, you can't seriously be considering this harebrained idea. You can see what's going to happen. I don't have second sight, but I can picture the five of us spending Christmas together down at the Forks Police Station in a six by eight cell. I don't know about the rest of you, but as much as I love this family, that's a little too close for comfort, not to mention what will happen when Papa finds out. It won't exactly be chestnuts roasting on that open fire."
"It won't be that bad, Jazzy, and it will be fun. We'd be bringing so much happiness to those little ones that it will all be worth it. Daddy wouldn't stay mad after he realizes all the good that we accomplished."
"You have a lot more faith in Carlisle's compassion than I do, sugarplum."
"Ah, you guys are scared because you think we'll get caught. There's no way. You keep forgetting what we are. We're wicked fast. We can be in and out of a house with toys..."
Emmett gave a little nod, motioning towards his only sensible sibling while he continued to fire off shots at the reanimated corpses.
"And cookies, before a normal person can bat an eye. We just need to figure out which houses have the neediest kids, and then devise a plan to break into them. I don't think any of us, with the possible exception of Alice, is going to fit down a chimney."
"Eww. I don't want to get all sooty," the pixie complained. "Besides, I have a better idea. I can pick the door locks to get us all in."
Jasper glanced away from the television screen to stare at his mate with a dumbfounded expression.
"How...? You know what? I don't even want to know how or why you came about that skill."
"A girl never shares all of her secrets," Alice quipped while turning her attention to the laptop screen to start a search for holiday cookie recipes.
"See? That's perfect! Now all we have to do is send Eddie out to do his mind magic and find out what the less fortunate kids want and we'll make it happen. What could be simpler? Seriously, guys, this is a piece of cake. You can't say 'no' now. The plan is all worked out and totally flawless. Nothing can go wrong."
Jasper snorted derisively. "Oh sure, Em. We've never heard that statement before. That's become your equivalent of the human's 'here, hold my beer.' Every single time your dumbass comes up with a plan, the rest of us end up paying for it with a strip of our hides. Well, this old boy knows better. You do what you want, but I won't be party to it."
"You know, Jazzman, I always forget how much my brilliant ideas scare you. Must be a shame to have to wallow in all that fear when you could be stepping up to embrace the challenge like a real man."
"Not going to work this time, Em. Sorry, chief. Everyone in this room knows that I'm not a coward, so you might as well just drop it cause that ain't going to do you a lick of good," Jasper stated matter-of-factly as he leaned back against the coffee table and stretched his legs out.
Putting the computer down, Alice slipped off of her chair to join her mate on the floor. Wrapping her arm around his neck, the pixie kissed Jasper's cheek. "You're right, Jazzy. You are very brave, and that's why we need you to come with us to keep us safe. You can't let Emmy and I go out there by ourselves. Who knows what sort of trouble we'll run into. I need my gallant, fearless soldier by my side to look after me."
When Jasper's character on the screen faltered, his wife took the controller from his hands and placed it on the table before curling up in his lap.
Running a finger along his lips, Alice pouted while giving Jasper a look that could melt the hardest heart. "You promised to always protect me. You can't very well do that from home."
Jasper groaned softly and closed his eyes before he spoke again. "I can do that just fine if you stay home with me like a sensible person."
"Jazzy, you're not being fair."
"Yeah, come on, Jasper. What's your beef about helping to make some little kids happy?" Emmett huffed as he paused the game. "You were a little kid once. Don't you remember what Christmas is all about and how excited it would make you? It doesn't take much to make a child happy. I can remember getting excited about having some candy and an orange in my stocking. It's the excitement of discovery and a little pay off for being good."
"And what about the naughty children? Ya gonna be able to tell 'em apart?"
"There's no such thing as a naughty kid at Christmas. They are all on their toes trying to be really good for Santa. I know I always was. I'd play tricks and get into trouble on Halloween, ask for forgiveness during Thanksgiving, and then be on my best behavior through New Years."
"All the way through New Years, Emmy? That must have been difficult for you," Rose said with a smile.
"Oh it was, believe me, but my mom used to say that Santa was still keeping an eye on me until the baby new year was born, and if I acted up, he'd realize that he made a mistake by leaving presents at a naughty boy's house. To make it right, he would come back to gather up what he'd given me and re-gift them to some kid that really was well behaved. Thank God that never happened, but I was often left wondering how he planned on getting the candy back."
Jasper lowered his head and rubbed his eyes as he muttered to himself, "Please make it stop." Finally drawing a breath, the soldier looked from his mate to his husky brother before inquiring hesitantly, "Exactly why are y'all hell bent on doing this?"
"Because of the little boy," Emmett answered in a tone that clearly reflected the bruin's current opinion of Jasper's inability to grasp simple logic.
After a moment of silent reflection, the southerner sighed and simply asked, "What boy?"
"The little boy at the store when we were all out shopping the other day. Didn't you notice him?"
"Jeez, Jasper. Where were you?" Emmett flipped over so he was sitting upright on the couch, staring directly into the soldier's eyes."There was a little boy just bubbling over with happiness while he pointed out what Santa was going to bring him, but when his mother went and checked the price of the toy, you could see in her eyes that it didn't have a chance of making it into Santa's sack. How did you not see that?"
"I don't know, Em. I must have been busy with something else."
"Then I guess you didn't hear her tell him that his letter to Santa got sent out late this year, so she didn't want him to get his hopes up. He was just positive that even without the list, Santa would still know that was what he wanted. It was heartbreaking to know that little boy's dreams were going to be dashed because his parents didn't have the spare cash to see to it that Santa comes through. That's why we have to do something. We have the money that they don't. Yeah, it's not a bag of penny candy or an orange, but the toy he wanted still isn't something that would break most banks. I'm sure that his parents would have bought it for him themselves, but times are hard, Jazz. You see it all around you. How can you sit there and not want to do something? It's such a little thing to us, but it can make a world of difference for a child. It helps to keep their hopes and dreams alive." The big bruin gave his brother a pleading look. "Become the Spirit of Christmas, Jazz. It's the right thing to do."
Jasper sighed deeply and slowly shook his head.
"Oh, tell me that you're not seriously considering going along with this insanity," Edward demanded as the joyful tunes came to an abrupt end. "Jasper, you're smarter than that. How many times do we have to end up with our butts in a sling before we stop going along with this doofus and his wild ideas?"
"Looks like at least one more time, Edward."
"YES!" Emmett exclaimed, hopping up from the couch. "You are so not going to regret this."
"Then why do I already know that I will?"
"No, Jazzman, you won't. This is going to be the best thing that we've ever done." Quickly turning his attention to his mate, the bear boy gave her his most dashing smile. "So, babe, what do you have to say? Are you in?"
Rosalie rolled her eyes but nodded. "Well, it's not like I'm going to let you get in over your head by yourself, and it is a good cause for a change."
"For a change? Hey, having fun is a good cause."
"Sure it is," she scoffed.
Ignoring his wife's lack of enthusiasm, Emmett looked at the last holdout with pleading puppy dog eyes.
"No, Emmett. Just no. I have zero interest in being sucked into another one of your disasters. This is going to end horribly and everyone knows it, they just won't admit it. Well, I don't have any trouble saying it."
"But Edward, you like kids. Don't you want to do something nice for them?"
"Of course I like kids, and I think what you want to do is very generous, but you have to find some way to help that's within the confines of the law. Come up with an idea that falls within those lines and I'll be happy to go along."
"What if you'll remain in the clear? We really need you to keep track of what's going on with the people in the houses. No one can do that like you can."
"And how would I be 'in the clear'?"
"Alice will be doing the breaking and the rest of us can do the entering. You can stay outside to be the lookout and you can give us a yell whenever you hear something going on inside the house that we should know about. If we work it this way, in the remote chance that something bad happens, you can just split. No harm, no foul. Hell, that would probably even work in our favor. If we do get arrested, you can come bail us out before Pops gets involved. You'll be set to save the day while helping us save Christmas."
Edward was beginning to refute Emmett's idea when the southern soldier cut him off. "Hold your horses just a second there, Edward. While I hate to admit it, the doofus has a point. We'll be able to make this all work much smoother if we're not worrying and looking over our shoulders the entire time. Having you there as a safety net could make all the difference in the success of this operation. What ya say, Ed? Can we count on you to have our backs?"
"Please, Edward. We need you," Alice chimed in sweetly.
The mind reader felt a slight surge of pride at his sister's words, and while he tried to remain sensible, he knew already that he was doomed. Once again his good sense would lose out to another of Emmett's misguided campaigns, and when the time came for it to implode, he would blame Alice for dragging him along.
"Fine, but only so long as I'm not directly involved."
"Being our lookout is still directly involving yourself, Edward. You just get to be the one to make a quick get-away in times of trouble," Rosalie said with a smile.
"Great. So we're all in agreement here. I promise you guys, this is going to be so worth it. We're going to make so many little kids happy." The bruin sat back down, his game currently forgotten as his mind raced with ideas. "Alright, Ali. Naturally you will be in charge of getting the toys."
"Aye aye, skipper!" The pixie gave her brother a salute. "Rose and I can start hitting the stores tomorrow afternoon."
"Eddie, see about doing a little reconnaissance in the less affluent areas of town and try to find out which kid lives where and what they want for Christmas."
"Mind reader, duh. No one else can pull it off."
Edward huffed as he shook his head, but mumbled, "Fine."
"And we're going to need costumes just in case we get spotted. Alice, that will be back on you to get. I'll be Santa and Rosie will be Mrs. Claus. Let's see; Eddie and Jazz can be my elves and you would make a really adorable reindeer. I wonder if we can find you a red light up nose."
"Hold up there, Em. I'll run these gifts to the underprivileged with you, but I will be damned if I'm dressing up like some damn elf." The soldier balked at the idea. "I'm not getting dressed up in some stupid costume with pointy ears and shoes that have the toes all curled up. Who came up with that damn idea anyway? That can't be comfortable. Nobody has feet that look like that."
"Oh, Jazzy, I know what we can do. We can alter your Robin Hood outfit to look like an elf. We'll just have to make a few adjustments and add some jingle bells to it. It will be perfect; and what a sexy elf you will be," Alice purred as she leaned in against her mate with a lustful grin.
Jasper wrapped his arm around his wife before quickly glancing around at the his smirking siblings.
"Alice, I thought we agreed to never bring that up in public," he whispered in her ear. "Need to know, darling."
Emmett, unable to contain himself any longer, broke down in fits of raucous laughter. "Jazzman, you really have a Robin Hood costume? Oh my God, but that's just golden. Does it have green tights and a feathered pointy hat? I've heard that tights are comfortable when it comes to holding everything in the right place. Is that true? Oh, go put it on for us. Is it like a set of jammies or something?"
The soldier glared at his brother before snapping, "It's theatrical."
"Well from the sounds of things, last night's performance damn near brought down the entire house, literally," Edward smugly added to the conversation.
"That's it. I'm done. Count me out. I'll be damned if I'm going to submit myself to become a laughing stock to a bunch of hyenas," the Major barked angrily, only to have his mate whisper softly in his ear.
"They're just jealous because they wouldn't be able to pull the sexy elf look off. Don't let them get to you. We're doing this for the children so they can have a happy Christmas. It doesn't matter what Em or anyone else thinks. Stick to your guns and be the best elf there ever was. Prove that you're the bigger man, Jazzy."
"I guess the tights will prove if that's true or not," Emmett snickered.
"Emmy, that's enough. Leave Jasper alone. Do you want his help or not?" Rose narrowed her eyes at her lover, and when he failed to respond, she gave a sharp nod. "We're going to have to pull together if we want to get this done."
"Sorry, bro." Em wiped a tear from his eye while bringing his mirth under control. "Just couldn't help myself, but it's all out of my system now. I think it's cool that you and Alice... Well, yeah. It's all good." The boy reached a paw out to his brother. "Still friends?"
The southerner looked down at the outstretched hand, but it wasn't until his mate gave him a sharp poke in the ribs that he finally accepted it in his own and gave it a shake.
"Not just friends; family. I know you can't always help being a jackass, but I love ya anyway."
Edward cleared his throat loudly. "I know that no one cares about what I think, but I'm not interested in wearing some stupid get up either. I was thinking all black, so I can blend into the shadows."
"That would be great if it was Halloween, Eddie, but even the lookout needs to be festive. Pleeeeease. It's just this once, and I promise I will never ask you to do anything ever again."
"Oh yeah, like that's even possible," the Major snickered.
"Almost never." The burly boy edited himself as he pleaded with his brother.
The 'youngest' lowered his head and scowled while grumbling to himself.
"Then it's settled," Emmett declared with a huge grin then pointed to each of this siblings in order. "Elves, reindeer, and the ever so seductive Mrs. Claus."
He waggled his eyebrows before grasping his mate in a hug that lifted her off the ground. With a passionate kiss, the bruin spun his wife around before gently placing her back down in her chair.
"This is going to be the best Christmas ever. Just you guys wait and see. All those little chibblins are going to be so excited. Tiny tots with their eyes all aglow will get their presents on Christmas alright."
Emmett's infectious excitement soon held the rest of the young Cullens in it's grip. While they were all still very much aware of the high probability of Emmett's plan imploding upon itself, the closer the big day came, the higher their spirits soared.
"Does anyone have a good idea for explaining to Mom and Dad where we're going to be on Christmas Eve?" Rosalie asked one evening, as she curled up on the sofa with her mate while the siblings gathered around to watch a marathon of Christmas cartoon movies.
"Caroling," Edward quietly suggested.
The blonde beauty quirked a brow at her brother. "Caroling?"
"Why not? It doesn't seem quite like an outright lie that way. We are planning on going door to door to spread good cheer, after all. What better way to share the joy of the season than through traditional songs?"
"Edward, I don't think..."
"I think, you might be on to something there, Edward. I can take my guitar with us to make it look a bit more feasible, and it would help explain why we're all dressed up like fools," Jasper replied, narrowing his eyes in thought. "No, I like it. I really do. Carlisle is always at us to find more ways of fitting in. What's more human than going caroling on Christmas Eve?"
Rosalie sighed softly as she gazed at her military brother in disbelief. "I don't think the humans go in for that sort of thing anymore. When's the last time you can truly recall hearing of people caroling? Back in our times, sure, but now..."
"We'll be reviving the tradition," Alice chirped. "We can go out with candles and..."
"Carlisle will never allow that," Edward quickly pointed out. "You don't remember what happened the last time Em arranged a candlelit 'dinner' for Mom and Dad on their anniversary?"
"Hey, it's not fair holding that against me, Eddie. How was I supposed to know that one of the damn deer would manage to get a leg free and kick the candles over? I put the fire out before too much damage was done. It was just the table cloth, and that was getting old anyway. In some ways I did Mom a favor. She got an entirely new dining set in the end. I call that a successful anniversary celebration."
"Maybe, but Carlisle made the new rules quite clear after that."
"Yeah, no 'take out' in the house and no lit candles unless special permission is granted," the bear glumly stated before his eyes brightened. "But this is a special occasion. You've gotta have candles at Christmas. It's tradition. We'll just ask permission and we won't light them until we're far away from the house. I'm sure Pops will allow it just this once."
"Emmy," Rose called to gain her husband's attention. "We're not really going caroling. There's no need to light our way. We have to be sneaky, remember?"
"Of course I remember," Emmett huffed. "But candles are awesome."
"We can just use those battery operated fake candles," the pixie happily pointed out. "Daddy would have no reason to say no to that. It will make our alibi more convincing, and we can easily stash them in the jeep once we're out of sight without worrying about wax dripping everywhere."
"Dripping wax can be fun when it's done right, hummingbird," Jasper stated with a smirk that made his wife giggle.
The pained look on Edward's face caused Jasper's grin to broaden. "Sorry, Ed. I'll do my best to keep it to myself."
"A little too late for that now."
"What are you all up to?" Esme asked when she came through the door from working in her greenhouse all afternoon. The frozen ground during winter always made her a bit sad, but at least she still had her tropical babies to keep her occupied.
"Who? Us? We're not up to anything. Why would you think we were up to something, Momma?" Emmett's response came a little too fast and too loud for comfort, earning him an elbow in the ribs.
"Smooth, Emmy," Rose hissed too softly for their mother's ears.
Esme suddenly looked a little worried when she glanced over her brood while shrugging out of her jacket and gardening boots. "No real reason, Em. It just looked like you were having some sort of a deep conversation. I figured it was a meeting of the minds."
"We were just making plans for Christmas Eve, Momma," Alice chimed in and drew the attention of her siblings along with her mother.
"What sort of plans?"
"We're going caroling," the seer chirped. "We thought it would be something different and fun. No one really carols anymore, so we wanted to see if we could spark people's interest in rekindling an old tradition. Jazzy is even going to bring his guitar. We were just discussing what songs we wanted to add to our repertoire."
The matriarch smiled gently at her children. "That does sound like a wonderful plan. What songs did you decide on?"
"'Silent Night'. 'Rudolph'. 'White Christmas'. 'Heat Miser and Snow Miser'!"
Jasper ran his hand over his face then glared at Emmett.
"What? It's a great song. I can do the Snow Miser section while Eddie does the Heat Miser bit, and the rest of you guys can be the little carbon copy back up singers," the bruin concluded while beginning to hum the tune from the television show they had just watched.
Alice rolled her eyes and smiled sweetly. "As you can see, we haven't quite decided yet."
"You still have time to work out the details," Esme stated supportively. "You know, Carlisle has a lovely singing voice. I bet he would enjoy getting out of the house to spread some holiday cheer. Maybe we'll just tag along with you for a little while. I think that would make for a nice family outing."
"Oh, no, no, no. You don't want to do that," Emmett exclaimed, jumping to his feet.
Esme glanced over at her bear and carefully noted his odd countenance. Her burly son looked for all the world as if he was going to be sick.
"Why not, Emmett? I know that we're getting old, but I promise we won't do anything to embarrass you," the matriarch said with a wink.
"Yes, Emmy, do tell Momma why she and Dad can't come along with us for some wholesome family fun," Rose said with a smile while digging her elbow deeper in her mate's ribs.
"Because..." The boy looked around for someone to save him, before suddenly realizing that he was on his own with this one. "Because it's part of your Christmas present." Esme looked completely befuddled, so her muscle bound boy continued. "We're going out caroling on Christmas Eve to give you and Pops some time alone to enjoy Christmas. With us always underfoot, you guys rarely have any time for yourselves. We thought it would be nice for you to share the night together; just the two of you and a ball of mistletoe." Emmett waggled his eyebrows then hung his head as if embarrassed before adding, "It was supposed to be a surprise, which is why no one wanted to tell you until that night, but... Well, Momma, that's why you can't come caroling with us. You and Pops need to concentrate on making your own sweet music at home."
Esme's eyes shone brightly as venom tears clouded her vision. "Oh, Emmy."
The loving brunette hugged her son tightly while the rest of the room gawked in amazement, leaving the bruin to simply shrug.
"I've been blessed with the best children in the world. That's so sweet and thoughtful of you all. I'm sorry that I went and ruined the surprise, but I won't say a thing to your father, and I promise that I'll be just as surprised as Carlisle. I'm a very good actress. He'll have no idea that I knew anything at all about your plans."
"That's great, Momma. We really don't want Pops to know until the last minute. Don't want to give him the chance to over analyze things. You know how he can get. This is supposed to be a chance for you two to live in the moment and just enjoy yourselves; no thinking involved, if you know what I mean."
Esme gave Emmett a final squeeze before she released him and let her gaze roam over the rest of her family with love beaming in her eyes.
"I'll just go get myself cleaned up now and leave you all to your discussion." Humming happily to herself, the matriarch headed towards the staircase before she glanced back over her shoulder. "Alice, don't forget to add 'Here Comes Santa Claus' to your song list. It's one of my favorites and always guaranteed to bring a smile to the faces of young and old alike."
"Oh, we won't, Momma. Everyone will know that Santa Claus is coming to town this year. We'll make sure of that."
"That would be Emmett Claus," the bearish boy muttered under his breath. A smug grin spread across his face mere seconds before the pointed toe of his wife's boot caught him squarely on the shin. "OW! Would you quit?"
"Quit what, Em?" Esme asked, cocking her head slightly.
"Quit...hanging around to spy on us or we'll never have any fun. You're not making this easy, you know? Now, if you want Santa to visit this house, you'll have to be a good girl and let his little helpers get back to work," Emmett chided.
Edward's mouth fell open as he looked from his mother to his brother and back again.
"Coal and switches, Emmett," Jasper hissed through his clenched teeth, but he was amazed to hear his mother's sudden musical laughter.
"I would never dream of interfering with Santa's plans, Emmy. I don't want my name to go down on the naughty list this close to Christmas." Giggling like a school girl, the vibrant woman hopped up the steps and vanished from the landing.
The quiet thud of a bedroom door was followed by the sound of the shower being turned on, alerting the little group that their mother was abiding by their wish for privacy the best that she could.
"What in the hell was that, Emmett?" Edward snarled at his dark haired brother. "Have you gone and completely lost your mind? You don't scold Esme."
"Chill, bro. It worked, didn't it? That's all that matters."
"You got lucky, bro," Jasper informed him with a shake of his head before his gaze fell on Alice. "And you too, little Miss."
"What did I do?"
"Santa Claus is coming to town?" The Major cocked an eyebrow.
"Well he is, isn't he?" Alice remarked as she sat a little straighter with a smile on her lips.
"You all know this is going to come crashing down on our heads. We've already had too many close calls," Edward warned. "Alice telling Carlisle that she was organizing a toy drive at school and that's the reason why there's no room for his car in the garage. Jasper racing through the house in a green tunic while trying to head off the mail man so Carlisle and Esme wouldn't see the rest of these ridiculous get ups being delivered."
"If you had gone to meet him, I wouldn't have had to."
Ignoring his brother's comment, the mind reader continued. "Rosalie and Alice nearly burning down the house trying to bake cookies."
"Edward, you're making that out to be worse than it really was," Rose informed him with a icy glare. "It was only a little bit of smoke and that was our first batch of cookies. With a test batch you are bound to have a few minor problems. We got the hang of it in no time and the baking went smoothly after that. We even sent Carlisle to work with a boxful, and I'll have you know, everyone loved them."
"Or so they said," the youth scoffed.
"At least we're doing our parts to make this work. What have you done, Edward? I don't recall you coming up with that list of houses or the children's toy requests," Rosalie challenged.
"That's because I was chased out of a playground by some parents who decided I was some sort of a pervert."
"Why would they think that? What were you doing?"
"Nothing! I was trying to find out what their kids wanted for Christmas, like you guys asked me to do!"
"Whoa, whoa, whoa. Take it down a notch, dude. It's cool, Eddie. Yeah we've had a few bumps in the road, but I bet there hasn't been a single organization who had everything run smooth their first time out of the chute," Emmett said as he settled back down on the sofa and wrapped a protective arm around Rosalie's shoulders. "Over all, I think we've done really well. We've covered our tracks. We've accomplished what we needed to up to this point without any one suspecting a thing. We have a little over a week until Christmas. Guys, we just need to hold it together until then. Once it's over, we can sit back and enjoy our own Christmas knowing that we did a great thing for the kids of Forks. Let's not start going for each other's throats now when we're so close to the finish line. Victory is within our grasps. Don't throw it all away now. We're either going to succeed as a team or we're going to go down as a team. I don't know about the rest of you guys, but I'm not in favor of letting this ship sink. I say we pull together and keep on course. There's a bunch of little kids out there who are counting on us. We owe it to them as well as to ourselves to not let them down."
Alice smiled at Emmett from across the coffee table and received a wink in return.
"Where the hell did that come from?" Jasper inquired.
"Carlisle Cullen's teamwork lecture number twenty seven, with a few changes from yours truly, of course," the bruin replied puffing out his chest with pride.
"Well, one of the cogs in this machine still didn't do his job," Rose snarked as she glared at Edward.
"Actually, Rose." Alice pulled several sheets of paper from the confines of her magazine and placed them on the coffee table. "Edward did a really good job. We have everything we need. All we have to do now is wait." The pixie suddenly averted her eyes before adding, "And we need to get the toys out of the garage so Daddy will think we've already dropped them off. We can put some of them in the trunks of Edward's and Rose's cars. The rest we'll have to put up in the attic because the garden shed has a couple of leaks that really need to be fixed soon before the tools rust." Getting up from her chair, Alice extended a hand towards her mate. "Come help me?"
"Do you really have to ask?" Jasper and Alice headed towards the garage, leaving their siblings behind.
Emmett, Rose and Edward sat in a strained silence before the muscular boy nodded in the direction of the garage. "All in this together. Let's get this done."
Scooping his wife into his arms, the ringleader charged out of the door while Edward reluctantly followed.
They truly think that this is going to work. The bronze haired boy shook his head sadly while a deep breath rushed from his lungs. If things are so certain, then why do I just know that we're flirting with disaster? Maybe I'm just being paranoid. It's probably because I've lived with Carlisle the longest and I know that no matter how we spin this, he won't approve.
Opening the garage door, the reluctant participant was met with the sight of his siblings laughing and carrying on while they stashed toys in every hiding place imaginable.
Jasper was tossing footballs up to Emmett who clung to the garage ladder like King Kong. The girls were testing batteries in a variety of electronic gizmos that lit up, buzzed, whirled, danced, and held conversations with their owners.
"And to think I would have been thrilled with a ball and a mitt."
"What was that, Edward?" Alice asked, turning away from her task of shoving the largest plush dog that the boy had ever seen into the trunk of his car.
"Just thinking out loud."
Smiling brightly, the pixie tossed a new MP3 player to her brother. "I uploaded Christmas music on it to help get you into the mood. Tune in and come help me get Fido kenneled up."
With the ear pieces firmly seated and cheerful tunes filling his head, Edward found himself feeling a little more hopeful about Emmett's mission. He had to admit that bringing happiness to a child was a noble cause, especially at Christmas. Carlisle might see that they really were working towards the greater good. The breaking and entering bit still bothered him, but if it didn't bother those doing the actual deed, why should he put a damper on their spirits?
Surrounded by toys and the laughter of his siblings, the gifted boy felt the years melt away and for a precious hour or so he allowed himself to feel like a child again, enthralled by the wonder of the season.
Maybe this won't be so bad after all. You never really know.
After the night of Edward's outburst, everything neatly fell into place. The toys were packed and sorted by address and the child's name, the route had been devised, and everyone, even Emmett's most disgruntled elf, was feeling positive that everything would work like a charm. The entire operation had been planned out in minute detail since, with two overly helpful parents in the house, nothing could be left to chance.
As the days remaining until the big night swiftly passed, Operation Mistletoe went into full swing. There had been a few minor set backs, mainly due to costume failures and some over protective parents that didn't appreciate the odd bronze haired boy who continued to show up near the playground, but all and all, things were shaping up nicely.
The largest piece of the puzzle to overcome had been how to move the vast amount of toys that Alice had procured. Emmett's jeep naturally would serve as their makeshift sleigh, but with five vampires in it too, there would be precious little space for presents. For over a week, solutions had been suggested only to be dashed when flaws rose to the surface, until the day Edward discovered the answer to their prayers.
While running a little reconnaissance mission to make sure that the children were behaving themselves well enough to rate the 'nice' list, the mind reader came upon an old abandoned logger's cabin. The run down shelter had certainly seen better days and it appeared that the forest was in the process of reclaiming it, but the roof was still decent enough and the structure reasonably secure for their needs. He had no idea how many times he'd passed it up without noticing it, but if he hadn't noticed, then surely the humans would be equally as oblivious to its existence.
Within hours of his report, the cabin had been turned into the perfect center of operation; once the local rodent population had been evicted, of course. Over the last few days, the boys had carefully gathered and bagged the bulk of the toys to strategically stash them at the convenient rendezvous point. It was anyone's guess how they had managed to accomplish their mission undetected, but the fact that they had was all that mattered.
The big day had finally arrived and the Cullen house was a hive of activity and excitement. The tree was decorated, presents were wrapped, and holiday tunes and fragrant spices filled the air. They often claimed that the walls were decked and spiced cider mulled on the stove for the sake of appearance should an unexpected visitor stop by, but deep down they simply enjoyed the traditions of the holiday and how very human it made them all feel.
While it was destined for the local soup kitchen, Esme spent days concocting and creating an expansive feast for all of the senses; a tradition for which the children were very thankful. A matriarch in the kitchen meant two less eyes to take notice of their unusual activities and nearly guaranteed the safe execution of their plan.
Wiping flour off of her hands, Esme listened to the whispered voices of her children upstairs, followed by the occasional thud. She could only imagine what they were getting up to, but since nothing in the house had been broken in weeks, she didn't feel the need to interfere with their fun.
A quick glance at the clock proved that it was later than the matriarch had realized and soon her adoring husband would be home from his evening rounds at the hospital. A gentle smile brightened her face when she thought about the sweet gift of a romantic evening that awaited her thanks to the thoughtfulness of her children.
Leaving the kitchen, Esme stopped at the foot of the stairs and called up to her baby bear. "Emmett, honey, I have some pies that I need you to take into town. Reverend Peterson is expecting them, and I hate to keep him waiting. I'm sure he has other things to do on Christmas Eve."
"Does it have to be right now, Momma? I'm sorta in the middle of something."
"I'm afraid it does, baby. It will only take about twenty minutes at the most. Surely you can spare just a little time?"
The sound of hushed arguing piqued Esme's interest, but before she had a chance to investigate on her own, the bruin came bounding down the stairs...dressed head to toe in a Santa Claus outfit.
Esme brought her hand up to her mouth to stifle a laugh, but her eyes danced with amusement at the odd sight. Clearly less amused was the burly boy.
Putting his hands on his hips, he cocked his head to the side and watched his mother's attempts at controlling her merriment. "It's not funny, Momma. My zipper is stuck, so I can't get these blasted pants off."
"But why are you wearing the rest of it, Em?"
"Well, duh. I would look stupid with just the pants. This is an all or nothing kind of thing."
"Why are you wearing it at all?"
"To go caroling. We thought it would be a nice idea to add a little flair to our performances."
"It certainly adds something, baby." Esme choked back a giggle before clearing her throat to regain control. "Sweetheart, I'm happy to see that you're embracing the holiday, but this might be a little too much. I don't think you need all the bells and whistles just to go singing door to door."
"We're spreading the holiday cheer. What's more cheery than a fat man in a red suit?"
"You make an excellent point, Em," the petite woman conceded, before she reached out and patted her son's rock hard belly. "But Santa seems to have lost some weight."
"Santa decided to start working out," Emmett replied, pulling himself up to his full height while he struck a pose. "Hauling those toys is tough work if you're out of shape. Besides, I never could figure out how Santa made it down those chimneys with his gut sticking out."
"Magic, Emmy," was his mother's answer as she gently patted his white bearded cheek. "You make a very striking Father Christmas."
Drawing her hand away, Esme rubbed her fingers in an attempt to rid them of a sudden tackiness.
"Baby, what did you use to make that stick?"
"Superglue. It was Edward's idea." The boy grinned brightly. "The only problem is that I got it on a little crooked and now I can't fix it. We used three tubes since it didn't want to hold at first and now..." He gave the synthetic white fur a tug then shrugged his massive shoulders.
"Oh, Em." Esme gave a sad shake of her head. "I'll call the hospital and..."
The boy's eyes became huge as he stammered, "Momma, I don't...No, Momma. It's...I'm fine. I don't need to... I'm fine."
The matriarch smiled at her son's all too human reaction. "I'm just going to call your father and ask him to bring home some adhesive solvent. It's what they use to free up sticky situations when other people have accidents."
"Really, Momma, I'll be okay. There's no reason to bother Pops. I'm sure that something we have around here can get it unstuck."
"You could try drooling all over it, Em," a deep southern drawl called out from upstairs. "Venom can dissolve most things."
"Very funny, Jazzman."
"Just a suggestion, or maybe your mate can lick it off for you." The sound of a rapid fire crack was followed by a yelp and a soft hiss, then the soldier quickly fell silent.
"Emmy, what about paint thinner?" Alice suggested helpfully while she skipped down the stairs with her mildly sullen mate in tow. "I bet that would take it off, and I'm sure Momma has some around."
"I have some in the closet in the garage, but I'm not sure that would be safe. I'd feel better having Carlisle bring the medical grade solvent home."
"It might not be safe for a human, Momma, but there's no way it can hurt me," Emmett scoffed, but Esme noticed a worried look in his bright amber eyes.
"Nah, I'm good." The bruin flashed his mother a winning smile from behind the mass of fuzzy whiteness before glancing over at the soldier. "Jazz, do me a favor and see if you can dig around for that paint thinner while I go run the eats to the church. When I get back, we can take this thing off and try again."
"You've got it, brother, but just in case this don't work, keep the venom idea in mind. I'm sure Rose could come up with some way to saturate your face well enough," Jasper finished, and then cringed when Rosalie stepped up behind him, fully expecting to be slapped again. This time the Major's twin did nothing but offer him an alarming smile before joining her husband.
"Come on, Emmy. Let's go get that delivery done so we can finalize our plans for tonight and finish getting ready."
"Emmy, you might want to pick up some spirit gum. That's what people use to put on costume elements like a beard."
"We tried that, Momma," Jasper replied. "It wouldn't stick. That's why we went with Edward's suggestion. Figured if it could hold a construction worker to a beam, it should be able to hold a white horse tail on this horse's ass."
"Jasper," Esme scolded softly. "You shouldn't call your brother names like that, especially on Christmas Eve. You wouldn't want to wind up on Santa's naughty list now, would you?"
Eying Emmett closely, the soldier muttered a quiet, "Fat chance of that happening."
"Let's go back upstairs and make those last minute tweaks to your costume, Jazzy."
"Yeah, Jasper. Go try on your tights and make sure they still fit. Those things sometimes shrink if you're not careful when you wash them," Rosalie purred slyly at her brother while slipping her arm through her mate's.
"You didn't," Jasper hissed.
"Didn't what, brother dear?"
Clapping her hands sharply, Esme gained the attention of her brood.
"Enough of the insults and bickering. I don't want to hear anymore of that today. It's Christmas Eve and I want to see some good will."
"Oh, there's plenty of good will going around, Momma," Alice chimed in. "Everyone's just feeling a little anxious about tonight, and that makes us act a little weird. It's only stage fright. Nothing to worry about. We're still one big happy family, isn't that right, Jazzy?"
The beginning notes of Silver Bells drifted through the house when Edward began to play his piano to help lighten the mood.
A slight nudge from Alice sent Jasper over towards Emmett. "Sorry, Em. I didn't mean anything. You know I was just screwin' with ya, right?"
Emmett's grin brightened as he pulled his brother into a hug worthy of any bear. "I know, bro. Besides, I can be a horse's ass sometimes."
Jasper chuckled and slapped the bruin's back while managing to slip free. "Here, let me help ya git loaded up. Alice and I have a surprise out in the garage for you anyway."
"We sure do," the pixie chirped while scooping up a couple of pies and raced ahead of the others.
Upon entering the garage, Emmett was stunned to see his beautiful Jeep sporting large brown felt antlers from the tops of both doors. There was also a huge red ball-shaped nose attached to the front grill, and a leather strap of bells spiraled around the bumper, completing the effect.
"Couldn't quite figure out how ta make it into a sleigh, so we went with the next best thing," Jasper said with a smirk, watching their mission leader approaching his vehicle at a very slow pace.
Blinking, the bruin stood staring mutely at his well loved truck before he suddenly gave a loud whoop of excitement that summoned their mother and Edward to the garage. "This is AWESOME! I have a reindeer, and we already know she can fly."
Rushing over to the Jeep, Emmett gave the rubber nose a squeeze and grinned happily.
"That's not quite all, Emmy," Rose added as she stepped forward with a small black remote control. "This part was Edward's suggestion," she muttered with an eye roll. "But naturally, I did the installation."
Pressing the button on the remote, the blonde haired vixen brought the Jeep to life with flashing green and red undercarriage lights, and the nose began to glow.
A roar of laughter filled the garage seconds before Rosalie found herself swept off her feet and spun through the air.
"This really is the best thing ever. You guys are the greatest!" Kissing his wife, Emmett finally placed her back on the ground then turned to his siblings. "Come here." Before any of them had time to react, Jasper, Alice, and Edward were squished together in the bear boy's arms. "I love you guys."
"We love you too, Emmy." Alice giggled when her brother planted a sloppy kiss on her cheek and let her wiggle away before turning his attention to Jasper and Edward.
The Major stiffened in his arms and shook his head. "No. No need, Em. I feel ya, brother. Don't... Just don't."
"Come on, Jazzman. Give me some of that sweet southern sugar."
"Emmm-it," the soldier softly drawled while a low warning growl rumbled in his chest.
"What? Don't you love me, bro?"
"You know that I do, but..."
"Then show me how much."
Jasper pulled back a split second before the burly dark haired teen leaned in to cover Edward's face with a barrage of venom spit laden kisses.
"Oh, for Christ's sake, Emmett! Stop it!" Edward yowled as he weaved and ducked his head in an attempt to avoid his persistent brother. "That's disgusting."
"But, I looove you."
"Then go love me from across the room." Giving a great shove with both hands, the mind reader knocked the bruin away while he wiped at his face. With Edward continuing to sneer, his siblings and mother enjoyed a good laugh. "It's not funny."
"Oh, but it is, Big E," the bruiser called as he doubled over in laughter. "I never thought I would be able to get you with your mind stealth thing, but I did. I figured it out. All I need to do is think of something else, and I've got you."
The first born crossed his arms and scowled in utter annoyance until his mother's touch caused him to glance away from the pack of hyenas he called his siblings.
"It was all in the spirit of holiday tradition, sweetheart. I'm sure Em didn't mean for you to get so upset."
"Oh, yes he did, Momma," the soldier helpfully added as he tried to hide a snicker behind a nagging cough.
"Jasper, please," Esme scolded as she shot her southern son a dark look.
"Yes, ma'am," he replied, glancing away while scuffing the toe of his boot against the cement floor.
The bronze haired boy continued to sulk, causing his mother to turn back towards him and tenderly card her fingers through his unruly locks. "Look up, darling."
With narrowed eyes, Edward glanced towards the exposed rafters and noticed a ribbon bedecked ball of greenery dangling there. "What the hell?"
"Alice and I have been keeping ourselves busy with the decorations, Ed," Rose finally chimed in as she regained control over her breathing.
"In the garage? Really, Rosalie?"
"Romance can occur anywhere, little brother," the blond beauty answered with a dazzling smile. "Oh, and a word of advice, you might want to mind where you stand when you brush your teeth."
Edward brought his hand up to his forehead, trying to rub away the impossible headache that he could feel coming on and groaned loudly.
"Holiday fun, sweetheart. Your sisters are just trying to liven things up," Esme softly offered before turning her attention back to her fun loving bruin.
"Emmy, please go take care of those delivers before it gets any later."
"On my way, Momma." Wrapping his arm around Rose's waist, he pulled her under the mistletoe and kissed her deeply. "Let's see if we can get this rein-gear flying."
"No speeding, Emmett. Remember what your father said about getting another ticket."
"No sweat, Momma," he called back while sliding behind the wheel. "They would have to catch me first."
The boy just laughed as he backed out of the garage and barreled down the drive with Christmas music blaring all around. First the pies for the poor and then tonight the real fun would begin. People didn't know it yet, but the Christmas spirit would soon cloak the tiny town of Forks thanks to the newest member of the Claus clan. This was going to be a great night and it would all be because of him. When those little kiddos with nothing to look forward to woke up to find presents around the tree, it would be because Emmett Claus and his band of holiday helpers came in the night to make their dreams come true.
The day passed swiftly, and before they knew it, the Cullen Christmas Caroling Crew were dressed and noisily heading towards the door to tackle their holiday mission.
"Wait a minute. Let me get a look at you," Esme called from the living room where she was busy lighting candles and dimming the lamps in preparation for her romantic evening.
"Aw, Ma, we really need to get going."
"Jasper Cullen, I've only seen bits and pieces of costumes. I would like to see the full ensemble."
"Yes, ma'am." The soldier entered the room with his head slightly bowed and his antlered mate on his arm.
"Don't you two look adorable?" Esme gushed, causing the boy to sigh.
"I'd say that little sis looks good enough to eat," Emmett joked as he scooped a giggling Alice into his arms and spun her around. "You're lucky that I bulked up earlier."
"And that you'd rather drain a bear," Alice shot back while slapping the bruin's shoulder.
"Emmy, where's your beard?"
"It melted, Mom," Rosalie answered for her mate as she made her appearance, her black high heeled boots clicking on the hardwood floor. "The acetone we used to take the glue off dissolved the beard as well. Santa is just going to have to be clean shaven this year."
"Starting a new tradition, Momma," the muscular boy offered in explanation while placing his sister back down. Wrapping a protective arm around his mate's waist, Emmett rubbed his hairless chin with his other hand and grinned. "Besides, this face is just too handsome to cover up with whiskers."
The matriarch chuckled softly and smiled at her happy baby bear. "You're very correct, Emmy. I don't think anyone will even notice the missing beard once you dazzle them with your smile."
"Sweet lady, you always know just the right thing to say." Emmett leaned over and gave Esme a kiss then looked to his siblings. "We need to be heading out if we want to entertain before the glowing eyed tots hit the sack."
"Wait," Esme stopped them as a questioning look crossed her face. "Where's Edward?"
"Out here," a voice answered from the hall.
Emmett stepped aside and Esme was treated to the sight of her baby dressed in an outrageous red and green elf outfit, complete with a bell tipped overlay collar, hat, and curled toed shoes.
"Oh, Edward, you look adorable."
"I look ridiculous."
"You look like Jingle, the number one elf," Emmett commented with a happy grin.
"More like a court jester," Jasper muttered with a smirk. His comment earned him a slap on the bicep from his wife before Alice floated over towards her brother.
"I think you look perfect, Edward; very festive. Don't listen to anyone who says otherwise." The pixie straightened the mind reader's hat a little and brushed some lint from his shoulder before giving a light nod. "Santa couldn't ask for a better helper."
"I wish he would try," the bronze haired boy groaned.
"Let's load up the reindeer and hit the streets. This holiday cheer isn't going to spread itself," the bruin called as he clapped his hands together. "Have fun, Momma. Don't do anything that Rosie and I wouldn't do."
"Possibilities are wide open with that one," Jasper snickered as he caught his wife's hand and headed out towards the garage.
"You have fun, too, baby bear, and stay out of trouble," their mother called after her retreating brood.
"Of course, Momma, but don't you worry about us. It's Christmas Eve after all. What sort of trouble could we possibly get ourselves into?"
"Emmett, you damn moose, get your foot off of my head," Edward hissed in a tone that was lower than a whisper.
"Well you shouldn't be on the floor, bro. What are you doing down there anyway?"
"I'm trying to clean up the milk that you spewed everywhere. We're supposed to be leaving presents, not a flaming mess."
"You know what I don't get?" Jasper called from his spot near the fireplace where he was assembling a race car track. "Why did the doofus try to drink it in the first place?"
"Duh. Santa has to drink the milk and eat the cookies that the little kids leave out. That's how they know he's real. Alice said so, and besides, I remember leaving cookies and milk out for the fat man when I was a young'un myself."
The soldier in the Robin Hood outfit glanced over at his Santa suited brother with a raised brow. "And did you see Alice eat the carrot that was left out for the reindeer?"
"No, but she would have if she wasn't beta carotene intolerant. She hid it in the toy bag so we can drop it off at the stables. That way even the horses can have something from Santa for Christmas."
Jasper rolled his eyes, but before he could speak, Rosalie placed a hand on her mate's shoulder and whispered in his ear. "Baby, you are sugar and lactose intolerant, along with everything else that makes up human food."
"Yeah, but it's not like I can hide a glass of milk. We can take cookies to the horses, but I have to do something with the milk."
"Dump it in the sink, genius," Edward grumbled as he stood up and brushed some dirt out of his hair.
"Hey, that's a great idea, Eddie. I'll do that at the next house."
"Speaking of which, I think we're about done here. Ready to move onto the next one?"
"Almost," Alice called out to her mate as she finished tucking a few small presents in the branches of the tree. "There. Perfect."
The siblings gathered near the door and glanced over the results of their hard work. Even Edward had to smile at their accomplishment. They had turned a fairly barren room into a true holiday wonderland with very few mishaps. They had every right to feel proud.
"I wish I could see the look on the children's faces when they see this," Rose softly voiced the thought that ran through all of their minds.
"You know, I think I could get used to this feeling. We did something really great for these people." Em nodded as he hugged his mate close and gave her a kiss on the cheek. "Now let's do it again."
And they did.
Each house brought new challenges, but the crew became more efficient as they went along, and soon it was as though they were born to make holiday wishes come true.
"Ali, you have got to teach me how to do that," Em quietly uttered while watching his sister disengage the lock on the front door. "Everyone should have that skill."
"It's actually easy, Em. Just takes practice."
Jasper narrowed his eyes in thought as he and Edward stood watch while his wife secured their entry.
"Is that why I've never been able to keep you in cuffs?" Alice's lilting giggle was the only answer he received. "It is!"
"You know, I really didn't need to know any of that. It's bad enough that you can't keep those thoughts to yourself, but to voice them out loud is just..." Edward gave a shudder at the image in his head, sending the bells on his costume jingling.
"Yo, Jazzman, I'll show you how to put them on so the little minx can't reach the lock. It's all in the placement."
"Thanks, Em, but my little locksmith hasn't been able to figure a way out of a Texas handcuff yet." He gave the burly bear a smirk as Edward groaned beside him. "Only thing with that is you have to forbid breaking the rope. Of course the same goes for traditional cuffs, so it doesn't really make that much of a difference."
"Not to be an Edward...," Rosalie started, and then shrugged as the bronze haired boy glared at her. "Well it's true, little brother, and as I was getting ready to say, can we please change the subject? This isn't exactly proper conversation for Santa to be having at work."
"You're right, babe, but a man has to pick up tips whenever he can. So, dude, what's this old west handcuff that you speak of?"
The conversation was abruptly ended by Alice's bright chirp of, "And we're in!"
As soon as the door opened, the kids went right to work with Edward keeping watch outside.
"What's the deal with little girls and ponies?" Jasper asked as he unpacked a play set of brightly colored plastic horses.
"It's not just girls. We've got the same thing on a wish list for a little boy a few houses down the road," Rose informed him while she rolled a bike into the house that sported decals of the same pink pony her brother was holding and staring at with mild disgust.
"They come from a really popular cartoon. There's even groups of adults that follow it. Guys at that," Alice added.
"You have got to be shitting me."
"Hey, it's Pinkie Pie! Sweet!" Emmett exclaimed upon seeing the pony in the Major's hand. "She's the bomb, dude." Jasper glanced up at the bruin and blinked in amazement. "What?"
"You know what these things are?"
"Hell ya. Never missed a show. You ought to catch it sometime. They're awesome. The 'mane' six are cool enough, but Derpy is my favorite. She just rocks."
"Yeah. She's a little gray flying pony with bubbles on her butt who sometimes gets a little cross-eyed." Emmett's eyes suddenly took on a bright glow. "Hey, they don't have Derp in there do they? She's pretty rare."
Jasper rubbed the heel of his hand against his forehead as he groaned softly. "There are times that I don't understand how I became related to you."
"Cause you got super lucky. Bronies for life, Jazzman. Bro-hoof!" The boy held his fist out to his brother, but was interrupted by the sudden appearance of Edward.
"Keep it down," he hissed. "You woke someone up."
Just then, a tiny voice questioned from the hallway, "Santa?"
"Crap," the bruin whispered under his breath, earning him a slap on the back of the head from his mate before he quickly recovered.
"Kaisa," the mind reader muttered quietly so that only his siblings could hear.
"Kaisa," the bear boy repeated. "Now, what are you doing up? You should be in bed like all the other good little girls and boys."
The young girl rubbed the sleep out of her eyes before she glanced around the room at Santa Claus and his odd collection of helpers.
"Santa, what happened to your beard?" the child asked, focusing on the big guy by the tree.
"Oh. Well, you see..." Emmett's mind quickly searched for a plausible answer after having decided that, in this case, the truth would do much more harm than good. Settling on the first simple explanation that the five year old would buy, he smiled broadly and answered, "I shaved."
"I was getting tired of those old whiskers. You have no idea how hard they are to keep clean."
"Isn't it just like washing your hair?"
"Yeah, but it's hair on your face."
"Hair is on top of your head, so it's close to your face."
"That's true, but whiskers catch all kinds of crumbs when you eat. That doesn't happen to the hair on your head. Besides that, my head elf over there likes to play tricks on me." The bruin gave a nod to indicate Edward who suddenly looked very put out. "One of his favorite jokes to pull on me is the old dribble glass. Now milk isn't so bad when you have white whiskers, but I had a purple streak down the middle of my beard from all the grape juice I drink, and let me tell you, that stains something awful. You don't even want to know what sort of mess ketchup makes. My other elf is really into that. He'll squirt it at me just for laughs."
"Ewww." The child made a face as she nodded, accepting Emmett's reasoning, but shooting Edward and Jasper disapproving glances in turn.
"Mrs. Claus had to keep bleaching my beard for me, but the bleach caused her to break out in a rash whenever we kissed, and that's no fun at all."
Rosalie covered her eyes and turned away while her mate wedged his foot firmly in his mouth with his concocted story, as their siblings looked on completely stupefied.
"I have to be able to kiss my missus good night, so I'm sorry to say my beard just had to go. I'll leave that to those duck dudes that have that television show. They pull off the whiskered looked better than I do anyway."
"What happened to your belly?"
"What do you mean?" The bruin looked down as he smoothed his red jacket over his rock hard abs. "What's wrong with my belly?"
"It doesn't jiggle. Santa is supposed to be fat, but you're skinny."
"Santa's doctor said that he had to lay off the snacks in between meals," the green suited elf chimed in. "All those sugary snacks weren't healthy for him."
"Except for cookies," the reindeer quickly added from across the room. "Cookies and milk are like fruit and veggies to Santa."
"Only in moderation, Vixen. Now hush and go eat your apple like a good little doe."
Alice stuck her tongue out at her husband before prancing off to busy herself with swapping Santa's cookies for the ones she and Rosalie had made.
"Yeah..." Emmett muttered slowly before clearing his throat to regain the child's attention. "It was something like that, but the main reason I lost weight is from all the years of hauling these toys around. Back in my fat days, kids wanted rag dolls and wooden blocks; maybe a box of Lincoln logs or two. Stuff that was pretty much light weight, you know? Now I have to heft around gaming systems, computers, and even actual dumbbells. Yep, there's a little boy in Port Angeles that asked for a complete set of weights. Gotta be in shape just to get those suckers in and out of the old sleigh."
The jolly old elf flexed his muscles for the little girl, causing her to giggle wildly at his antics before her warm brown eyes settled on Alice.
"Why is that lady dressed up like a reindeer?"
"You sure do ask a lot of questions for such a small person. I would have thought your brain would have filled up by now." Emmett quickly scooped little Kaisa up in his arms and sat down on the couch, cuddling her in his lap. "That there is not really a lady at all. That's Vixen, the best of the best when it comes to my team of flying reindeer. No one is faster or braver than Vixen."
"She sure doesn't look like a reindeer to me."
"And she shouldn't, because she's in disguise. Shhh. Vixen is very good at make believe, but you can't give her secret away, okay?"
"Why does she have to make believe that she's a girl?"
"Because in their normal form, reindeer aren't allowed inside houses."
"Then why doesn't she stay outside with the other reindeer?" the child asked as she yawned and rubbed her eyes.
"She would get lonely since there aren't any others to pull my sleigh this year. Vixen was the only reindeer who showed up for work. You see, the rest of my team are on strike."
The child blinked in confusion. "Reindeer pause, Santa, they don't strike. It says so right in the song. Up on the housetop, reindeer pause."
"That's paws, little darling," Jasper softly corrected with a chuckle.
"Um, no, Jangle. It is pause. She's right," Edward stated with conviction.
"Really? And here all this time I thought they were pawing up the shingles of folks' roofs." Rosalie covered her mouth as she laughed at her normally infallible brother. "Like you've never made a mistake like that."
"Not that one," she grinned from ear to ear.
Emmett cleared his throat. "Like I was saying, my deer paw, pause, and strike. You see, only little Vixen was brave enough to cross the picket-line and pull my sleigh. She knew that I needed her, and without her help, the toys wouldn't get delivered. A lot of children would have missed out on Christmas if not for that sweet reindeer right there."
"Wow," the child whispered as she gazed at Alice in awe while the seer struggled to shove a too large box into a too small space under the tree. "She's really cool, but I still don't understand why she didn't stay outside."
Emmett gave a heavy sigh while tucking a strand of hair behind the little girl's ear.
"Hunting season," Santa replied matter-of-factly.
An audible slap came from Edward's side of the room, followed by the jingle of bells when the boy slammed his head against his palm and moaned.
Undaunted by his brother's display, the bruin continued. "The reason why my reindeer are on strike is because we lost Dasher's brother, Phil, last year while making a delivery run down south."
Alice snickered to herself while her mate's eyes grew wide as he hissed his brother's name.
Ignoring Jasper, Emmett continued as a stricken expression came over his face. "We were just about to land on a house in East Texas when a gun went off. Some bad men were poaching deer. They were hunting at night, which is against the law, and they shot poor Phil dead. It was his first year in the harness. Little guy had just graduated flying school and made the team a few months before."
"Oh my God, Emmett. You're going to scar that child for life. You can't tell her a story like that. What are you thinking?" Rosalie scolded, but Kaisa was fixated on Emmett with a look of complete wonderment.
"Did they get into trouble?"
"I'll say they did, but that didn't help poor Phil, and it did terrible things to the confidence of the rest of my team. Now they refuse to work unless I equip each and every one of them with bulletproof harnesses, and those things don't come cheap. No, ma'am. Kevlar is really expensive and it's under a patent, so my elves aren't allowed to make it either. You can see my dilemma. So, now you see that Vixen is the bravest of my reindeer. She's risked everything to make sure that all the good little girls and boys have a merry Christmas, and I have to protect her the best way that I can. That means disguising her as a lady so I can take her into houses with me instead of leaving her outside where some bozo with a bazooka can pick her off."
Wide-eyed, the little girl nodded her head before she wiggled her way off Emmett's lap and rushed towards Alice. Throwing her arms around the 'reindeer's' neck, Kaisa hugged the spikey haired pixie tight. "You're the best reindeer ever! You're even better than Rudolf."
"Now don't let Rudy hear you say that. He's very sensitive and a really swell guy," Alice said with a wink as she returned the hug.
"As fun as this is, we have to be going. We're on a tight schedule, remember? Lots of houses to visit and not a lot of time," Edward groused.
"Mister Elf, why are you so tall? I thought elves were short like me." The youngster cocked her head to the side, and much to Edward's dismay, she studied him more closely. "And why do you have so many bells while the other elf doesn't have any at all?"
The boy narrowed his amber eyes as he glanced over at a snickering Jasper. "Because I'm the head elf. You earn your bells as you move up in rank. That one is the newest kid on the block. He hasn't even earned his Christmas red yet."
Rosalie knelt down in front of the child and took the girl's tiny hand in hers. "You're a precocious, curious little thing, Miss Kaisa, and I believe that you've reached your question quota for the night. Let's get you back to bed so Santa can finish his work. I'm sure that your mommy and daddy wouldn't be very happy to find you up so late. They might even make us take your presents back," Rose warned gently as she stood back up while lifting the little girl into her arms. "How about you show me which bedroom is yours, and we'll get you all tucked back in safe and sound?"
"Aw, do I have to?"
"I'm afraid that you do."
The little girl pouted slightly before nodding against the beautiful woman's shoulder. "Okay. Goodnight, Vixen. Goodnight, Mister Elves. Nighty night, Emmett Claus. Merry Christmas."
"Emmett Claus?" Emmy raised a brow, watching the girl cuddling into his mate's arms.
"That's what they called you."
Emmy puffed up while his grin grew. "They sure did, didn't they? Well, that's the name that just my closest friends call me, but you know, I'm proud to have you as my little friend so you can call me by my special secret name,too. Just don't share it with anyone else. It has to stay a secret between the six of us."
"I promise I won't ever tell anyone else. Shhh." She put her finger to her lips and gave Emmy a single firm nod. "Pinky promise."
Em hooked his pinky around the little girl's. "Pinky promise."
Leaning away from Rose, Kaisa kissed Emmett Claus on his smooth pale cheek as she whispered in his ear, "This is the bestest Christmas of my whole life."
"Mine, too," Emmett agreed while Rose pulled the little girl away from her husband and started towards the hall before Jasper's voice stopped her.
"Yo, Mrs. C. Hold up a minute. Here. You might as well tuck the little munchkin in right. It is technically Christmas after all." The Major tossed a large plush blue pony with a rainbow colored mane and tail to his sister and delighted in seeing the little girl's eyes light up as she clutched it close to her heart.
The sexy blond Claus gave the elf a light smile before disappearing down the hall as she gently carried the child back to bed.
"Alright, Emmett Claus, let's get our rears in gear, and from now on, we have to be more careful. We got lucky, but who knows when that luck is going to run out."
"Oh please, Jazz. It's Christmas; the season for miracles. We just made that little girl's childhood. You can't ask for anything better than that. You and Grumpy Gus over here worry way too much. You don't see Alice worrying about anything, so I would say that our futures are looking mighty bright. You keep forgetting that we are the embodiment of the holiday spirit. Nothing can touch us."
Three houses later...
"Put your hands on your heads and step out of the house slowly."
"We embody the spirit of the holidays. Nothing can touch us," Jasper mocked as he glared at his misguided brother. "Hope Papa shares that sentiment, because right now I would say we are up a creek."
"How was I supposed to know the house had an alarm system? Ali didn't say anything."
"She didn't get the chance since you rushed in like a bull to practice your new lock picking skills. I told you to wait, but you wouldn't listen."
The previously merry little troop filed out onto the lawn of the little clapboard house while red and blue flashing lights reflected off every surface.
"We are so totally screwed," Edward grumbled to no one in particular.
"Be cool, bro. Once we explain what we're doing they'll have to let us go. They can't hold us for being nice to people. We haven't done anything wrong."
"Emmett, we broke into people's houses," the Major growled low.
"That was just to leave gifts. It's not like we took anything. You saw how excited that little girl was. This is a good thing. We're making children happy."
"The authorities don't see it that way, chief. They see a group of kids going where they aren't supposed to be."
A flashlight beam struck Edward's face seconds before a gravelly voice remarked, "Say, aren't you the punk who's been stalking the little kids at the playground?"
The musician's shoulders sagged in defeat before he sighed and muttered, "As you were saying, Emmett?"
"Don't worry, Ed, I've got this."
Emmett smiled and took a step towards the officer while clearing his throat. "Mr. Officer, sir, you've got that all wrong. I know what you're thinking, and that's not why Eddie was spying on the kiddos. My bro loves those little tykes."
Edward groaned as the police officer slipped a set of zip tie cuffs around his wrists with a nod. "That actually was exactly what I was thinking."
"Oh, not like that. God, dude, that's gross. No way. Eddie was just trying to scope things out for me."
"What exactly was he scoping out?"
"He was hard at work finding out what the rugrats wanted for Christmas. You see, this is all a huge mistake. We're not criminals or anything like that. We're the good guys. We just want to deliver toys to deserving children who might not get them from anyone else."
"As noble as that cause is, son, you were trespassing on private property and indulging in unlawful entry which just happen to be criminal acts."
"We didn't indulge in anything, I swear. We come by our good cheer totally naturally."
The officer stared at the muscle bound boy for several minutes in utter disbelief before switching his gaze to Rosalie who was standing close to her mate. "Are you and your friends tripping on something, Miss, or is this one a little mentally challenged?"
"That would be a 'no' to the first question, but the jury is still out on the second one," Rosalie responded, and then closed her eyes when she felt her wrists being grasped firmly and cuffed behind her back.
"Come on, Officer, have a heart. We're just bringing joy to the less advantaged children. Don't you remember being a little kid? How do you think you would have felt if Santa didn't come because your dad got laid off or something? Wouldn't you have been thrilled to have someone step in and keep your belief in Santa alive? That's all we were doing. Their parents didn't have the cash for toys, so we stepped up to the plate."
"And where did you get all of these toys?"
"A bunch of different stores."
"I assume that you have receipts for your purchases?"
"Well...Um..." Emmett caught his bottom lip between his teeth while averting his gaze from the stern man. "Not on us. We threw them away so our pops wouldn't see them until everything was done. We wanted him to see how good we did before he found out how much we spent."
"Uh huh." The officer could do nothing except shake his head at the boy. "Let's get the five of you down to the station. We can call your pops from there and maybe get things sorted out."
Emmett stared back at the man with a worried expression. "Mr. Officer, can't we just laugh this off? I mean seriously, it's Christmas Eve. You can't arrest Santa and his merry helpers on Christmas."
The cell door closed with a loud clang as Emmett's sad eyes stared through the flat gray bars. "I guess they can arrest Santa after all."
"Two of them," Jasper commented hooking his thumb towards the back of the cell where a very drunk Saint Nick laid sprawled out on a bench with a thin blanket covering him.
"Aw, man, that's just all kinds of wrong. Santa shouldn't be liquored up. That man is a disgrace to the suit."
"Sure, because being a drunk Santa is way worse than being a trespassing, lock picking one," Edward mocked while he claimed a seat next to the reeking human. "Can this even get any worse?"
"You know that it will, Edward," Alice whispered while the usual cheery light in her eyes dulled. "I heard Chief Swan call Daddy. He'll be here soon."
A strained hush fell over the cell as the Cullen kids each reflected on the seriousness of their situation.
"We're doomed," Edward stated simply while he leaned his elbows on his knees and cradled his head in his hands.
"Yeah, that pretty much sums up my thoughts as well. I'm just grateful that Papa isn't the dismembering kind," Jasper mumbled. Catching his mate, the soldier wrapped his arms protectively around Alice.
"Someone please remind me, how did we let ourselves get talked into another one of Emmett's harebrained ideas?" the mind reader groused, pushing the wino away from him before leaning back against the wall. "Screwed. Totally screwed, guys. Carlisle is going to kill us."
"It could be worse."
Four pairs of dark amber eyes turned to Emmett with expressions of disbelief.
"Sweetie, I want to support you, but how exactly did you come to that conclusion?" his mate inquired.
"Well...at least we're safe behind bars. Pops can't get us in here."
"We're going to have to leave the cell at some point," Edward snapped, looking over at his brother. "Not that bars would stop Carlisle from ringing our necks if he wanted to."
"He can't do anything to us without drawing undesired attention. If we stand together, we can wait him out until he's calmed down enough to listen to reason."
"Reason," Jasper drawled the word slowly in a deep velvety voice. "I, for one, can't wait to hear you try to reason with Papa, Em. I think the very fact that we're in jail is gonna reduce your credibility to nearly nothing. We all might as well face facts. Papa is not going to be happy with us, and we'll be paying for this adventure for a long time to come. We all knew the risks going in, so we know what to expect when he gets here, and it ain't gonna be pretty."
"But we were doing something good," the bruin whined sadly while pressing his back against the cold unyielding bars.
"And I agree with that or I wouldn't have gone along with your scheme. Making these little ones happy... Yeah, Em, that is great, and I don't regret a thing about tonight."
"Apart from getting caught?" Rosalie muttered.
"I could have done without that part," Jasper conceded softly with a slight nod before continuing. "But I'm still proud of all we've managed to accomplish. Seeing that little Kaisa light up and experiencing her excitement... Let me tell y'all, the joy she was feeling was incredible. Being able to have that effect on just one child more then makes up for having to suffer whatever punishment Papa has in mind for my hide."
The soldier looked down at his booted feet and inhaled deeply before glancing up at each of his siblings in turn. "We knew the risks. There's no point in pretending that we didn't, or trying to make excuses. We've done wrong, but we know we did it for the right reasons. Also, it's not going to do to be pointing fingers and trying to shift blame." He allowed his focus to remain fixated on Edward while he spoke. "We each made the decision to join in. No one's hand was truly forced. Involvement was voluntary. There's not a body in this cell who can justify making anyone else feel guilty. We all have an equal share in the blame of what went down tonight."
Edward snorted quietly, but offered no rebuttal to Jasper's speech.
The southerner gave his bearish brother a smile. "Just saying it like it is, Em."
In that instant, Jasper's eyes darkened to pitch. It was the scent that alerted the children well before the soft calm voice drifted from the next room.
"Thank you for your discretion, Charlie. You can't know how much that means to me."
"It's no problem, Dr. Cullen. It was really an unusual case. We were able to back track their route and talk to the homeowners. I don't think I need to tell you that they were all really ticked off, but given the particular nature of the offense, they all agreed not to press charges. On that note, I did have to give several of them my word that nothing like this would happen again. I trust that you'll see to that?"
"Rest assured that your word will not come into question because of my children. I really don't understand what got into their heads giving them the impression that unlawful entry was okay, but I have every intention on impressing upon them just how wrong they are."
Upon hearing his father's declaration, Emmett swiftly moved to the back of the cell and subconsciously pressed his backside protectively against the cinder-block wall, causing Jasper to smirk.
"I've got no doubt that their hearts are in the right place, but..."
"Their common sense seems to have abandoned the lot of them," Carlisle concluded.
"It happens sometimes with young people. Hell, it happens with the older folks as well, but in this case, your kids thought they could single handedly fix everyone's troubles. Regrettably, that optimism is something that age and experience tend to beat out of us, so we'll just chalk this one up to youthful enthusiasm."
The police chief sighed quietly before meeting the doctor's glittering topaz eyes. For a moment, Charlie could have sworn that the man was about to laugh, but instead Carlisle coughed quietly and averted his gaze.
Chief Swan raked his hand through his hair and lowered his eyes before speaking again.
"Now, don't take this the wrong way, Doctor Cullen. I don't want you to think that I'm condoning your children's actions, but with your permission, I would like to have a couple of my officers finish up those deliveries for them. Your kids could give them a list of what was going where, and we'll go ahead and make it happen. Naturally the toys will be left on porches, but at least they'll be there when the children wake up. It's the best offer I can make. I just hate to see your youngsters' good intentions go to waste."
Carlisle inhaled deeply as a smile tugged at the corners of his lips. "I think that's a marvelous idea, Charlie. I'll see to it that they provide you with the required information before we leave."
"Speaking of which, there's some papers that I need you to sign so I can release them into your custody. No charges against them, but since they made use of our accommodations, we still have to follow the proper procedures."
"Of course. There's no need to explain. Just tell me what you need from me."
"Right this way, Doc. We'll get you squared away as quickly as possible so you can get back home and enjoy your holiday."
"Hm. This puts a bit of a damper on that, but thank you just the same."
As they listened to their father's fading footsteps, a nervous energy surged through the group that caused even the semi-conscious human to shudder.
"Jasper, please put a lid on that," Rosalie grumbled while rubbing her arms as if chilled.
"Sorry," the Major whispered and lowered his head.
"He can't really help it, babe," Emmett remarked in a soothing voice while he gathered his mate in his arms and held her close. "I mean we're all feeling it. Pops is pissed. You could hear it in his tone."
"He's not pissed," Edward finally spoke up. "He's dumbfounded because he thought that we were smarter than this. He hasn't even decided what to do with us. He agreed with Chief Swan when he said that our intentions were good, but he feels that he has to do something to keep us from acting again without what he feels is thinking things through."
"But we did think it through. Everything was planned out and going great until I missed that alarm system," Alice added sadly as she snuggled closer to her husband.
"That wasn't your fault, Ali. It was just bad luck," Edward told her with a sigh. "It could have happened at any time and with any of us. You can't be expected to catch every little thing, especially when you factor in the wild cards that we are."
The soft even cadence of Carlisle's footfalls drew the attention of every vampire in the holding cell. Soundlessly and with held breaths, they watched as the patriarch materialized in the entrance to the room.
The silence stretched out while their father leaned against the doorway with his arms folded, his face a blank mask that caused nervous fidgeting to infect the group. After what seemed like an eternity of stillness punctuated only by the rhythm of the drunk human's heart, the physician finally spoke.
"I don't understand. There seems to be some sort of a mistake here. I was informed that I needed to claim my children, but I don't see them anywhere. Who are you people?"
"Pops, don't be like that."
"I'm sorry, sir, but you must have mistaken me for someone else. I have never seen you in my life, though if I had to hazard a guess, I would say that you appear to be Saint Nicholas."
"It's me. It's Emmett; your baby bear."
"Oh, I don't believe so. My bear cub would have never ended up in a cage for breaking the law. For that matter, none of my children would. They have far too much respect for me, themselves, and the rules to do anything of the sort."
He allowed the weight of his gaze to fall heavily on each family member, only to be met with contrite expressions while they glanced away; all except Alice. The pixie was clearly struggling, but stubbornly refused to yield.
"They would if they had a really good reason for what they did," she managed to answer in a firm voice that nearly masked her anxiety.
"Such a reason does not exist, princess."
"But it does, Pops. It's like that old question they always ask in Ethics about the dying woman. You know the one. Your wife is dying, but there is a simple medicine that will save her life. Problem is that the shit is too expensive. What do you do? Do you follow the law and allow her to die, or do you steal the medicine, knowing that no one is going to get hurt, and save her life?"
"And whose life hangs in the balance this evening?"
"Hope's." The faint response came from the bronze-haired form that huddled on the bench.
"What was that, Edward?"
Swallowing hard, the youth raised his head until he met with his father's inky stare. "The hopes and dreams of children were in danger of being lost."
"Edward is right, Dad. We did what needed to be done to keep belief in magic and the joy of the holidays alive for just a little while longer in the lives of these children," Rosalie stated while wrapping an arm around Emmett's waist. "You know you say all the time about how children are growing up too fast. You complain that they don't get to enjoy their childhoods any more. Well, we slowed that process down just a touch and that's better than nothing."
"Be that as it may, that does not excuse the fact that you knowingly broke the law. You all know well enough what sort of potential problems that can hold for us. Plain and simple, it's wrong, but to make matters worse, it draws a great deal of unwanted attention. What part of the term discreet do you all fail to grasp?"
"With all due respect, sir, some benefits are simply worth the risk."
"Some are, Jasper, but not this. You of all people should have known better."
"I thought that I did when I first voiced my objection to the idea, but I was wrong. After seeing what I did tonight, I've got no regrets for the things we've done. We changed the lives of some little ones for the better. We taught them that their hard work will be rewarded, and that their dreams still can come true."
Carlisle lowered his head and pinched the bridge of his nose firmly in frustration. It was clear that this discussion was going nowhere fast.
Looking back up at his brood, he clenched his jaw before softly growling, "We shall continue this at home."
Calling the officer over towards him, Carlisle had the man unlock the cell, but his children remained in their places.
Shaking his head, the elder glared sternly at his son. "Emmett, don't. Believe me when I tell you that it's in your best interest to do as you're told right now. It's time to go home."
"I'm kinda starting to like it..."
"Emmett Dale Cullen, if I have to tell you one more time..."
The boy shot out of the cell and was standing just outside of his father's reach in the blink of an eye.
Reaching into his pocket, Carlisle pulled out the keys to the Jeep and held them up for his son to take. "You will stop by the front desk and give the officer there a list of the houses you planned on visiting tonight along with what you would have delivered. The gifts have already been removed from your vehicle and will be delivered to the children in question."
"Really?" The muscular boy's face suddenly lit up with a dimple accented grin. "I mean we heard you talking to Chief Swan, but I didn't know if you were going to actually go through with it."
The sternness never left his features, but the doctor sighed softly as the rest of his children slowly exited the holding cell. "There was nothing wrong with your intentions, Emmett; the fault lies in your execution. The attempt was greatly misguided. There are better ways of making a difference that aren't against the law. If you were unable to come up with a legal method to accomplish your goals, then you should have come to me for help. It would have saved us all a great deal of time and heartache."
"But I wanted to be Santa. I wanted to make wishes come true. How often do you get a shot at something like that?"
"More often than you realize, son." The physician cupped his hand against the back of his boy's neck and pulled him closer as he gazed into Emmett's sad eyes. "The gestures may not always be quite as grand, but the results carry just as much weight. You and I will continue this discussion later in private."
While maintaining his hold on the bear, Carlisle glanced over at his southern son. Jasper stood stock still at attention with his hands clamped together behind his back, looking every bit like the soldier he always would be.
"Sir, this was not Emmett's fault. You can't hold him responsible; not on his own."
"I'm well aware of that, Jasper. From the attempted defense of your activities, I can see that this was a group effort, and as such you will all suffer the consequences."
Jasper continued to keep his eyes locked on Carlisle's for several tense seconds before lowering his gaze once more. "Yes, sir."
The elder watched the boy fall into a reflective state before turning his attention back on his lead trouble maker.
"Alright, Em, this is what you are going to do. You'll give the officer that list and then you will bring your siblings and yourself straight home. No detours. I'll be waiting for you and I expect your keys turned over upon your arrival." Looking up at his collected offspring, Carlisle added a little louder, "I want all keys relinquished. You will all be ringing in the New Year on restriction." The statement was met by soft mumbles of agreement. "Now, get going."
The doctor tipped his head towards the door and stood guard as the teens filed out of the room, but just as Jasper was about to slip through, Carlisle caught his upper arm to draw him to a stop. "A word."
"Have you become a thief due to this fiasco, Major?"
The boy's brow furrowed at the question and a hurt expression played on his face. "No, sir. Never. Why would you think that?"
"No robbing from the rich to give to the poor? I have your word that these toys were not ill gotten?"
The creases in Jasper's forehead deepened as he tried to make sense of his father's puzzling accusation. "You have my word, but why do you ..."
"I understand the Clauses, reindeer, and an elf, but I can't figure out why Robin Hood is making rounds on Christmas Eve."
"Oh." Jasper's pensive look quickly morphed into embarrassment. "Ah. I'm an undercover elf." He nodded slightly before adding a muttered, "Alice. She was in charge of the costumes."
"I see." Carlisle sighed as he reached out a hand and gave his boy's shoulder a squeeze. "At least that puts my mind a little more at ease. I didn't want to believe that you were stealing. You certainly don't want to add to your list of crimes."
Jasper removed his green feathered cap and carded a hand through his hair while staring down at his suede encased feet. "Actually, Papa, to be honest we did do a bit of taking from the rich if you want to get technical."
"Yes, sir. You see, it was your credit card that was borrowed to purchase the toys."
Before the elder could react further, Jasper darted by him and disappeared down the hallway into the safety of the very public receiving area of the station, leaving his father behind, rubbing his eyes in irritation and disbelief.
"There will be no outings for a month, and yes, Alice, that does include the New Years Eve gathering in Seattle. I'm sorry, sweetheart, but I will not make any allowances this time." Carlisle continued to lay out the ground rules while he paced the length of the living room. Esme sat in the chair closest to him where she disapprovingly eyed her gathered children.
"It's just one night, Daddy."
"Baby, you should have thought about what you stood to lose before deciding to break the law. Perhaps now it doesn't seem quite as worth it."
Alice crossed her arms and sulked while she sat curled up next to her mate. "If you had seen the look on that little girl's face, you'd know it would have been worth giving up every party for the rest of my life. It would even be worth giving up my credit card."
Esme couldn't quite suppress a shocked gasp at Alice's proclamation, and Carlisle stopped dead in his tracks. Upon realizing that his pixie was serious, the elder understood how futile his disciplinary attempts were proving as far as this incident was concerned. His childrens' minds were set and there was a distinct possibility that something like this could happen again. He needed another tactic if he ever wanted to be able to enjoy a drama-free holiday again.
"There will be no Christmas in the Cullen house this year."
"What?" It was Esme who voiced the question, but confusion shone clearly across the faces of his children.
"Naughty children don't receive gifts at Christmas, and behavior that gets you arrested counts as naughty in my book."
"No, Esme, this is a lesson that our children need to learn, and right now it appears to be escaping them."
"At least we're not getting switches and coal," Jasper whispered a bit too loudly.
"A variation on that theme can be arranged, Mr. Whitlock."
"That won't be necessary, sir," Jasper remarked while tracing his toe along the design in the carpet.
"Well obviously I have to do something to wake the five of you up to the seriousness of your misbehavior."
"I agree with you, Carlisle, but I don't think canceling Christmas is going about this the right way."
"I think it is." The patriarch's tone sounded more definite. "They went on this little escapade because they wanted to make others happy. Well, they are going to continue doing just that. Tomorrow morning, I was planning on making some quick morning rounds at the hospital so I could enjoy spending the day with my family, but I think the majority of my family will be joining me at work."
"Oh, Pops, I don't want to be cleaning the morgue out again and Jasper doesn't do so well with all the blood."
"Your brother will be fine and I have another task in mind to keep your idle hands busy. You will be delivering the gifts that you would have received to the people who are confined and unable to enjoy their Christmas."
"But Daddy, I already love the..." A strict look from her father quickly silenced Alice, and she lowered her head with a whispered, "Never mind."
"Then it's decided. You will be allowed to keep the gifts from your cousins, and you will each get to choose one gift to keep from those that you exchange among yourselves. The rest of your gifts, including those from your mother and myself, will be handed out. Now, off to bed with you."
"Pops, I don't want to go to bed. Eddie and I have a Christmas Zombie Slayer match to finish up with Jasper playing the winner."
"Restriction, Emmett. Remember? No games, no music, no movies, no..."
"You mean I don't get to watch "A Christmas Story"? Come on. That's a family tradition."
"Perhaps we'll start a new one."
"Enough, Emmett. I don't want to hear anymore. You have five minutes to get upstairs and into bed where I want you thinking about why you are in this position to begin with."
"Because my pops has forgotten what it's like to be a kid at Christmas," the bruin glumly growled before he and his mate left the couch and stomped up the winding stairs.
"Insolent boy," the elder snarled while a muscle in his jaw jumped before he noticed that the rest of his children had remained behind. "So you three need private invitations?"
"No, Dad." Edward shook his head and slid out of his chair. "Just wanted to make sure that you didn't want anything else from us."
"Just a little peace and quite."
Alice slipped away from her mate to kiss her father's cheek. "I'm sorry that we upset you, but you're right about tomorrow. It will make everything better; even for Emmy."
Bidding her mother a good night, the pixie quickly led her mate upstairs with their brother close behind.
"I don't know what to do with Emmett. He's never acted like that. Do you know what my father would have done to me if I had shown half as much attitude as our boy?"
"He's just upset. You know he doesn't mean what he says," Esme said soothingly while reaching up to touch her mate's arm.
"He should consider himself lucky that I haven't taken a belt to his disrespectful behind."
"I'm sure he does, honey. Emmy just needs to vent his frustrations. Deep down he knows that you are only doing what's in his best interest, but that doesn't mean he has to like it."
Carlisle patted Esme's hand before taking it in his to kiss it gently. "I don't know what I would do without you."
"Then how about listening to me?"
"Always, my love."
"Don't make them give up their Christmas."
The patriarch groaned and turned away from his wife."Esme..."
"Carlisle, it's not right to take away from them something they were trying to give to others. It doesn't make sense."
"Then what would you have me do? Whip the lot of them? They can't do this again so I have to find something to discourage them."
Turning back, he gazed at his mate in confusion. "What do you mean 'encourage them'?"
"It's more productive to encourage good behavior than it is to try to discourage bad. Encourage them to redirect their need to help in a positive direction. Alice did the shopping. I'm sure that they overbought. Have them load the Jeep up with toys and give them to the children at the hospital. Any extra can just go to the waiting room to keep the babies distracted."
"I don't know, love."
"What do they keep telling you? That the look on the face of the child who caught them was worth any cost. If they hadn't been caught, they would have never had a chance to see the difference that they made, but if they hand a toy to a child in the hospital, they'll get that positive feedback over and over again. Don't you think they would be more inclined to work for that?"
The doctor thought for a moment before nodding his head.
"You were right to punish them, but grounding them for a month is consequence enough. Now teach them. That's what discipline means, Carlisle; to teach. Teach your children a better way, a legal way, to achieve their goals and this will never be an issue again."
The doctor watched his wife while he carefully considered what she was suggesting and felt his irritation melt away.
A smile curled his lips while he gave a little snort of laughter. "How did you get to be so smart, Mrs. Cullen?"
"Part from being a teacher, but most of it comes from watching our children. Just listen to them, sweetheart. They will tell you what they need."
A downcast expression suddenly darkened the patriarch's face. "I didn't do a very good job of listening to Emmett just now."
"Our boy didn't do a very good job of listening to you either."
"I should go talk to him."
"Let him be, Carlisle. It's been a very emotional day for him and he needs time to relax. Give him a chance to think things over. He'll come around on his own. You'll know when he's ready to talk."
"Esme, I just think that it would be prudent..."
"Carlisle Cullen, you are in danger of over thinking. It will be what it's going to be. You have done nothing wrong. The children were knowingly disobedient. They deserve to be punished, and that, my dear husband, is all that you have done."
"Then why do I feel like the Grinch?"
Esme smiled sweetly as she stood and faced her mate. Running both of her hands through the hair at his temples, she pulled him towards her and kissed him on the cheek. "Because you just tried to steal a Christmas that your babies worked extremely hard to make happen."
"And that's not wrong?"
"Not within context."
Carlisle wrapped his strong arms around his wife and laid his head against her shoulder. Inhaling deeply, he felt his body relax in response to her scent and touch. As long as Esme was by his side, he trusted that things would turn out right, but still the voice of doubt echoed in his head.
"I hope you're right."
"I am, Carlisle. Come morning, everything will look better. It is Christmas after all. Have some faith in the season of miracles." Pushing him slightly back, Esme stared into his handsome face and grinned. "I have a few ideas that will help those miracles along. Let's go take a stroll so we can talk in private and set these wheels in motion."
The morning dawned a dreary gray that seemed to reflect the younger Cullens' moods.
Carlisle watched as his children gathered at the foot of the stairs in a silent cluster instead of the boisterous active gang he was accustomed to. Christmas morning usually entailed lounging around in sweats and the occasional bear patterned footed pajamas, but this morning his brood was dressed very prim and proper. While they appeared ready to attend morning services, the only item on today's agenda was a casual gift distribution at Forks Community.
"Merry Christmas, babies! You all look picture perfect," Esme praised while she smothered the group in hugs and kisses.
"We didn't want to embarrass Pops by showing up looking like hobos."
"You would never embarrass me, Em."
The bruin's head drooped while he toyed with a loose thread on his tie. "I sure embarrassed you last night."
"No, bear, you didn't," Carlisle corrected in a gentle tone. "You confused me, and your tunnel vision disappointed me, but you were not an embarrassment."
Glossy obsidian eyes flashed up to meet Carlisle's and seemed shocked to find that the elder was genuine. "I thought that..."
"I used the term misguided, and I stand by that. Since it is my duty to offer guidance to you and your siblings, I am partly to blame."
"You didn't know," Rosalie stated plainly.
"I didn't know what was going on, but I had the feeling that you were up to something. Had I been a bit more attentive, it would have never gone this far. I've been allowing myself to become too absorbed in my work. When that happens, I inadvertently neglect my family. I owe all of you an apology for that."
"Is that what you and Mom talked about on your walk?" Edward inquired.
"It came up," the elder confirmed. "I've made a promise to set aside time for my family regardless of what else is going on. Nothing is more important than you, and staying involved will help me head off future mishaps."
Looking his bruin in the eyes, Carlisle cocked a brow and cleared his throat. "With that out of the way, we can focus on correcting that matter of misguidance."
"Daddy," Alice called and easily gained the man's attention. "We talked things through while you and Momma were out and we've come to a decision."
"Not that we left our rooms to have a meeting of the minds," Edward clarified, causing Carlisle to grin.
"We decided to give up all of our gifts. It would be too difficult to choose, and we're afraid that feelings might get hurt. It really is better to give than to receive, so we're going to give up our Christmas entirely."
Murmurs of agreement followed Alice's speech, but their father shook his head and lowered his gaze while a smile brightened his expression. "You will do no such thing."
"Pops, come on. Give us just a little break."
"Em, this is where my guiding lesson begins. You will do as I say without complaint or backtalk of any kind. Are we clear?"
"Alright then." Turning to his wife, Carlisle gave a nod. "Honey?"
Producing a large plastic container, the matriarch held it out for Rosalie to take. "I set these aside for you to hand out at the hospital. Your father and I dropped the rest of yours and Alice's cookies off at the soup kitchen early this morning. The staff was absolutely delighted with them. They wanted you to know how much they appreciated all the hard work and love you girls put into making them."
Rose glanced down at the box in her hands as a tear came to her eye. "They really liked them?"
"They did, which got me thinking. Would you and Alice like to give me a hand with baking next year? We can start a new tradition. Only if you want to, of course."
"I would love to. Making cookies felt like being a part of a real Christmas celebration. It filled in something that I never realized was missing, if that makes any sense."
"I understand perfectly, darling," her mother replied with a warm smile before turning to her dark haired daughter. "Alice?"
"Yes!" The pixie clapped as she bounced on her toes with excitement. "I've saved about seven hundred and forty three recipes that I can't wait to try. This will be so much fun."
The women happily chattered away before a forceful cough from Carlisle drew the attention of the room.
"We really should get started. I'll go pack the presents up," Jasper offered softly.
"Stand down, Major. You've not been given your orders yet," the patriarch responded with a twinkle in his eyes. "Emmett, please go up to my study."
If he hadn't known better, the doctor would have sworn that his son had grown paler while he stiffened.
"Dad, I'm sure that we've more than earned a trip over your desk, but it's Christmas. Can't you at least put it off until later tonight?" Edward implored. "And why not start with me or Jasper? Don't put this on Emmett. It may have been his brainchild, but we all thought it was a good idea...eventually."
"Thank you for your input, Edward, but I have no intention of putting Emmett or anyone else across my desk. I simply need him to retrieve something from inside it."
Turning to the still shaken boy, the elder quietly ordered, "Go into the top left draw. You'll see a small wooden box with the vehicle keys inside. Come back with the key to the Jeep, but disturb nothing else. Should I find Rosalie's keys missing, I may be forced to reconsider my position on Yuletide tannings."
Carlisle had expected Emmett to be excited, but it was a downtrodden youth who slowly ascended the stairs and returned moments later with the key in hand.
Offering it to his father, Emmett moaned. "She's a sweet ride. I'm sure she'll make someone's Christmas merry."
"I know she'll make plenty of people very happy," came Carlisle's remark while he began to make his way towards the garage without acknowledging the tiny metallic item in his son's hand. "Everyone, with me, please. We have a bit of work to do before we can leave."
"She's clean, Pops. I had just washed her."
"We're not cleaning your Jeep, Emmy. We're going to load her up."
At the door, the teens stared past their father to take in the sight of the mountain of boxes that lined the far wall.
"How did they get here?" Jasper asked as he rubbed his temple.
"It took most of the early morning hours, but your mother and I finally found your hideout and brought the loot home. You really shouldn't leave your things in an unsecured location like that."
Instead of answering the soldier boy, the elder glanced over his shoulder to catch his pixie's eye. "Alice, princess, I don't know what mid-size country you were providing toys for, but some of these really must be returned. Preferably before my credit card bills out."
"Yes, Daddy. I just didn't want us to come up short."
"There was no chance of that happening, sweetie."
"Papa, I hate to state the obvious, but we will never make it to the hospital today if you are expecting us to separate that out first. Not to mention the stores are closed so we can't return them today. Can't this wait until tomorrow?"
"The returns? Yes, but you need to gather up a decent selection to load into the Jeep." Turning around to look upon his children, Carlisle folded his arms over his chest and leaned against the door frame. "Your mother and I have decided to have you visit the children's ward to continue what you started yesterday."
The doctor's proclamation was met with an excited squeak from Alice.
"Unlike your illegal method, delivering presents to the children at the hospital will offer you the chance to see their excitement first hand. I also suggest that you hook up one or two of those gaming systems in the children's wing waiting area. Maybe the little ones won't be as anxious when they finally get to me if they have something to divert their attention while they wait."
"Wow, Pops. Really?" Emmett stared at the older vampire in utter shock.
"Really, Em. I told you that the idea was a good one. While I can't condone your hijinks, I know that they came straight from your heart. You, Rose, and your siblings only wanted to make some less fortunate children happy. I'm very proud of you for wanting to make a difference and bring happiness to others, but you have to go about that the right way. The next time you want to contribute to others in some way, talk to me first. Let me help you find the best method to accomplish what you want to do. Okay?"
"It's a deal!" Emmett suddenly grabbed Carlisle in a bear hug and lifted him off his feet like a rag doll while giggling madly. After giving his father a good shake and a final squeeze, the muscle bound boy gently placed the elder back down on his feet.
Wheezing harshly as he fought to draw air back into his collapsed lungs, Carlisle finally regained enough breath to speak.
"Good. Now...please load..toys." He shuddered as he coughed violently to dislodge the healing venom that flooded his chest. "Have to get to work soon."
Carlisle just managed to step out of the way before the teens rushed by to tackle the tower of toys with the exuberance of any child at Christmas.
Esme gave her husband a worried look while coming up along side of him and gently rubbed his back, but the doctor waved away the attention and coughed again before managing to smile.
"You did good, sweetheart," Esme praised as she gently snaked an arm around his waist.
"They did good, and they deserve the reward of seeing the happiness that they'll be bringing those children."
Esme muttered her agreement before reaching up to kiss her husband and whispered in his ear, "And they would have missed out on that if you hadn't stepped in to show them the way. That's an excellent use of discipline, Doctor Cullen. Your skills are improving nicely."
"I should hope so, Mrs. Cullen. I obviously had a superb teacher, after all."
Carlisle's eyes glittered while he passionately returned his lover's kiss, before a low snarl from near the Jeep broke the mood.
"What the hell, Emmett?" Edward bore a disgusted look as he frantically wiped at his mouth with the back of his hand. "Why did you kiss me?"
"Mistletoe, bro." The bruin grinned as he pointed at the ball of greenery dangling from the ceiling.
"God's sake. When can we take that crap down?"
"Not until the sixth of January, son," Carlisle answered with a grin. "You'll just have to be more careful until the end of Christmas."
"And it looks like he hasn't learned his lesson yet since he's still standing under it," Jasper added with a smirk while advancing on his younger brother.
"Get back, Jasper! I mean it!"
"I'll.. I'll.." The boy snatched a plastic sword from the open window of the Jeep and brandished it boldly. "I'll challenge you to a dual. I will have satisfaction."
"Oh, you are so on. Bring it," answered the soldier with a wide grin as he secured his own light saber and swung at his brother moments before a bright purple projectile of paint exploded on the back of his head.
"Who did...?" He spun around in time to see his giggling mate drop down behind a box with a paintball gun in her hand. "You are going to pay for that one, hummingbird."
Alice squealed as mayhem broke out among the toys, turning the family garage into a playground and creating memories of a Cullen Christmas and an Emmett adventure that the family would never forget.