Title: Just Another Christmas Even

Possibly a bit of a different Christmas story...

All the usual disclaimers apply.

The Challenge: This month we're setting a Christmas challenge. We've got two
choices for you. We have 20 words for you and you'll need to use at least TEN of
them, OR we have a line for you to use. The words are: ICE, COLD, HEART, UNWRAP,

Eyes closed, Lee absorbed the sensations around him. Rustling sounds, breathing, a sheet covering his body. He licked his dry lips and grimaced. The taste that met his tongue certainly wasn't high quality BRANDY. Inhaling deeply, he noted that the smell of cedar was missing. Strange...Just a few minute ago he was sure there'd been a fresh Christmas tree in the living room.

Furrowing his brow, he tried to make sense that little mystery. Had he been in the living room? It had all seemed so clear but now, it was rather hazy... Maybe he'd had a bit too much of that spiked EGGNOG at the Agency Christmas party. Fielder was always pushing the stuff, seeing who he could get drunk enough to do something really embarrassing. From the way he felt, it was certainly possible that he was suffering from a major hangover. Every inch of his body seemed to hurt.

Briefly he thought about opening his eyes but if he was indeed hung over, the light would be like needles going into his brain. It was best to wait. He'd go back to sleep for awhile and then solve the problem of the missing tree...


Gentle fingers traced over his brow, then down his cheek. A voice whispered softly in his ear. "Sweetheart, it's time to wake up. It's Christmas Eve you know."

The voice was soothing and slightly husky. It brought a smile to his face. He knew that voice, heard it in his dreams and secret wishes. Opening his eyes, he saw an ANGEL hovering over him. Deep brown eyes smiled into his.

"Hey, big fella. I thought you'd never wake up."

Reaching up, he pulled her down for a slow, warm kiss. "Mmm... Sorry about that. I don't know why I'm so sleepy."

"It's the after effects of your ASSIGNMENT. Being drugged takes a lot out of you."

"You can say that again." He swung his legs up and bit back a groan. His arms and legs felt heavy, like he could hardly move them but, if he'd indeed been drugged, then some residual complaints could be expected.

"Here, I made you some of that fancy coffee; the kind with whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon on top." She wrapped his hands around the warm cup and kissed the tip of his nose. "Now you just sit there and relax while the kids and I finish up."

Leaning back in the recliner, he observed the festivities before him. The children were stringing popcorn while their mother put the finishing touches of RIBBONS and bows on presents wrapped in bright RED and green paper. Carols were playing softly in the background and through the window, a light snow was falling. Lee felt a smile breaking out on his face and contented warmth settling in his HEART. This was how it was meant to be. Sitting with his family on Christmas Eve, not stuck doing some rotten assignment in an ICE COLD warehouse or a god-forsaken back alley.

"We're all done!" Delighted cries met his ears as the children danced around the room with the popcorn chain."

"Be careful you two, or that will break!" Their mother warned as she abandoned her wrapping and rescued the garland. Together they draped it around the tree. The chain was a bit sparse in some areas but matched the tree perfectly. The boys had helped decorate the evergreen and most of the ornaments and TINSEL were from the middle of the tree down, only a few having made it to the upper branches. Lee grinned. While not the perfectly assembled yuletide symbol pictured on Christmas cards, it was a family tree, decorated with love and excitement. That was what really mattered.

The children chattered away and a plate of cookies appeared along with a glass of milk and carrots for the reindeer. "Will Santa really eat all of those cookies," a wistful little voice asked.

"Well... There are quite a few. I suppose you can each have one before going to bed." Winking at Lee, she handed out two cookies then herded the children towards the bedrooms. Thundering feet could be heard racing up the stairs then the running of water as teeth were brushed. Finally all was quite.

Lee felt his eyes growing heavy. Night was falling and the room darkened. A fire crackled in the hearth. THE FLAMES DANCED IN THE DARKNESS CREATING A WORLD OF MAGIC. A soft sigh reached his ear and the cushions compressed beside him as a warm body settled next to his. Her hand grasped his and squeezed gently. "I love you," she whispered, laying her head on his shoulder.

"I love you, too." He murmured back, idly reaching up and twirling a brunette curl around his finger. Inhaling deeply, her intriguing scent filled him. She was perfect, from her deep chocolate brown eyes, to her slim figure and sexy voice. Her sense of humour, her kindness, her optimistic outlook... Everything he'd ever wanted was embodied in this one woman. Closing his eyes, he smiled and relaxed into the soft cushions. Yes, everything he'd ever wanted was here...

"Rest now. We'll be waiting for you..." Her words echoed in his ear as he fell asleep.


He was cold. His feet felt like ice. The soft chair had been replaced by a hard, flat surface. What was going on? Where was the smell of cedar? Why were there no carols playing? His wife should be snuggled beside him. Something was wrong, dreadfully wrong. Forcing his eyes open, he blinked.

A stark white ceiling was the first thing he saw, then equally bland walls and an array of machines beeping and blinking. The unmistakeable smell of medicine assaulted his nostrils and he felt a wave of panic rush through him.

"What?" He struggled to sit up but firm hands pushed him back down.

"Take it easy, Scarecrow."

Lee darted his eyes to the person beside him. A tall blonde woman, fashionably dressed, with just the faintest furrow on her brow was standing beside him. Francine.

Licking his lips, he spoke carefully, not wanting to reveal too much of his confusion. "How long have I been here?"

"Ten days. It was touch and go for awhile. They used a new drug on you and it took some time to come up with an antidote"

"And I was on assignment...?"

"By yourself. As usual. You know Lee, you really need to get off your high horse and accept another partner. This lone wolf thing has gone on long enough. One of these days, we're not going to find you in time and despite what you might think, some of us will miss you." Francine ran her perfectly manicured fingers across his forehead and gave him a half smile.

The gesture was meant to be comforting but it was nothing compared to the gentle touch of his wife. His wife! Where was she? And what about the children? He voiced his concerns. "My family?"

"Family?" Francine looked taken aback for a moment. "Oh! You mean your uncle. Billy called him and the Colonel said to give you his best when you came around."

Lee was silent for a moment. His uncle. That's right. There was no one else. No one really cared if he lived or died. The happy home with a wife and children around him was just part of a drug induced hallucination. A wave of sorrow washed over him and his HEART ached. They didn't exist, yet he felt their loss as keenly as if the dream had been a reality.

Lowering his lids, he sent Francine on her way. "I'm tired. I think I'll rest now."

"Sure, Lee. I'll come and see you tomorrow, if I have time." He heard the clicking of her heels and the gentle whoosh of the door closing.

Opening his eyes, he plucked at the sheet covering him. It had all seemed so real. The tree, the carols, the presents and the fireplace; his wife and children gathered around him. He could recall every detail of the room, every expression that had flit over the faces of his children. Inhaling deeply, he knew exactly what his wife had smelled like, how her hair felt, the softness of her touch on his face, the sweetness of her lips...

He swallowed hard and firmed his jaw. None of that was real; he should put it out of his mind. Picking up the newspaper that was laying on the bedside table, he noted that it was December twenty-fourth, Christmas Eve. Setting it aside, he turned his head to look out the window. A soft snow was falling and the glow of Christmas lights could just be seen.

Blinking rapidly, he scrubbed his face, catching the lone tear that had escaped his eye. Another Christmas Eve and he was all alone. Merry Christmas, Stetson.