Yes, I know I'm late, but it's still holiday season here, so:). The story was inspired by Christmas Tree drabble challenge on LJ community m7land.
Special thanks to jinks7985 for the beta-reading!
Christmas in Colorado
There had to be a better way to spend Christmas Eve, Nathan Jackson thought grimly, than being stranded in a remote cabin with two of his younger teammates. Definitely had to. On the other hand, he had to admit, with their track record, things could have been much worse. At least there were no hostiles in the area and the cabin had running water and electricity and enough canned food to last the whole winter. And they even had managed to let Chris and the others know they were safe. Of course, JD had had to climb a tree to get a cell signal, and climbing back down he'd fallen and might have earned himself a slight concussion, but other than that they were okay – if one didn't count the ruined Christmas.
Nathan sighed. Of course, he wasn't a little boy for whom the ruined Christmas meant the end of the world, but it still hurt. It should have been the first Christmas the seven of them spent together; last year they'd been still a newly formed unit, but Chris had still been too grim, Vin too reserved and Ezra too jaded for any team festivities. But the past months had changed the men's attitude a lot, and Nathan had been really looking forward to gathering at the ranch, especially after the disaster that was Thanksgiving; well, that just wasn't meant to happen. But he was lucky in a way – if the team had to be divided over the holidays, he far preferred to be with the part 'in trouble' than with the 'worrying' part. And the others would be worrying, despite JD's call.
Though, if Nathan was completely honest, JD and Ezra would have been his last choices for companions on such occasion, but maybe this time he was being unfair. JD's fall wasn't his fault, and so far Ezra wasn't complaining. In fact, Nathan hadn't heard from him at all for the last couple of hours, since the southern agent had gone to explore the attic. With a sigh, the medic stood up. It was time to wake JD up anyway (the concussion was slight, if there even was one, but better safe than sorry) and he'd better check on that southerner.
JD decided to get up, and the two of them found Ezra outside; and Nathan was glad to have JD with him, because he had some trouble believing his eyes. The spruce, growing next to the cabin, was partly cleared from snow and Ezra was in the process of… yeah, decorating with things he must have found in the attic. So far, the tree already had some old children's toys on it, wooden spoons, a broken cuckoo clock with the bird stuck outside, and right now Ezra was placing an old torn boot on one of the higher branches.
"Hey, Ez, what are you doing?" JD asked, surprise clear in his voice.
"Decorating a tree, Mr. Dunne. We can't have a proper Christmas without one, don't you think?"
The sight of Ezra in his designer clothes decorating a live tree with dusty junk finally penetrated Nathan's mind, and he laughed out loud. But then he remembered something…
"I saw some candle lanterns in the kitchen and a bunch of candles, think we could install them without causing a fire?"
"Excellent idea, Mr. Jackson! This way we'll have the best tree in Colorado!"
"Should have kept your big mouth shut, Tanner," Vin told to himself, spitting the snow the nearby pine had decided to pour on him. Continuing on his way, he repeated: "Really should have."
If he had kept silent, or if they had at least one shred of common sense among the four of them, they would have simply waited till the snowstorm in Greely was over, the roads were cleared and then would have retrieved their stranded friends nice and easy. But no, they couldn't do anything nice and easy, could they? Buck had been pacing a hole in Chris's living room, sure the kid would break something without him being there; Chris and Josiah had been both afraid that Nathan and Ezra, stuck together without a job to occupy them and with only JD to run interference, were an explosive combination. And then Vin just had to open his stupid mouth and say that he knew a shortcut to the cabin from Nettie's place through the forest, and it was one of his favorite cross-country ski routes. And then – suddenly – Chris had a few pairs of cross-country skis in his barn, besides the ones Vin kept there, and there were boots that fit not only Chris, but Buck and Josiah as well. And half an hour after Vin had opened his stupid mouth, they'd been dividing the food, booze and presents between four backpacks, and now Vin was making the path, and the others were following about a mile behind, all slower than him.
In fact, Vin was rather surprised that the other three had any experience at all, after all, who did cross-country skiing in Colorado, with all those lovely mountains nearby? Vin himself was better than average for the same reason he knew how to shoot - one of his foster fathers was a huge biathlon fan; Josiah had mentioned a winter or two spent in Scandinavian countries, but Chris and Buck?
"Damn," Vin muttered, having to stop again because of the branch lying across his path. He threw it away with a pole, looked around... and laughed at himself. The forest was beautiful, the snow was glowing and perfect for skiing – and here he was, complaining instead of enjoying the ride! Besides, he, too, was worrying about his friends out there, and, if he was honest, he, too, wanted to greet Christmas with all seven of them together. And if he needed to travel a dozen miles on fresh snow for that – than in was more than worth it!
Vin resumed his path, now going even faster, anticipating the expressions on Ezra's, JD's and Nathan's faces once he emerged from the forest.
"Here you are, Mr. Jackson," Ezra handed a lighted long match to Nathan, the last candle lantern too high for him to light himself.
"Just a moment, Ez… Yes, here it is, we are ready. JD!"
JD had left the tree lighting to his older colleagues and was currently trying to make a "snow santa", stating the proper tree needed a figure of Santa nearby. Hearing Nathan's call, he drew himself up and exclaimed:
"Wow! Guys, that's cool! You were right, Ez, we do have the best tree in Colorado!"
Ezra bowed, and went ahead to help his young friend with crumbly snow, but Nathan's hand on his shoulder stopped him. "Ezra."
Nathan pointed at the tree. "Christmas."
"The pleasure is mine, sir."
Nathan chuckled. "Yeah, I can see that. No offence, Ezra, it's just I thought you didn't care much for the holidays."
"None taken, Nathan. Guess you had valid reasons to think so; indeed, I don't care much for Thanksgiving, but Christmas is another matter."
Ezra shrugged. "Different experiences, my friend, different experiences."
Nathan nodded and didn't push further, but Ezra saw he was curious, and for some reason decided to elaborate. Must be the spirit of the season.
"As you might know, Mr. Jackson, I spent some part of my teenage years in Europe. I made an acquaintance of one wonderful lady there, who knew everything about Christmas cheer and was willing to teach. "
"You sure were a good student, Ez."
"Thank you, sir. Shall we join Mr. Dunne in his endeavors?"
The sight that greeted Vin once he'd arrived at the edge of the forest was far different from what he'd expected. A top half of the large spruce growing next to the cabin was still snow-covered, but the bottom part was cleared from snow decorated with… okay, there was no polite way to say it, decorated with junk and lighted with some candle lanterns. JD and Nathan were trying to make a snowman next to it, with Ezra supervising.
It seemed that all their fears were unfounded; nobody was in trouble or wallowing in misery, and Christmas spirit clearly was in place. Though Vin couldn't say he was disappointed. He quietly unfastened his skis and took off his backpack and went to greet his friends.
"Hello the camp!" he shouted, and a moment later he was facing the business end of Ezra's gun. "Hey, it's not the proper way to greet a Santa's helper!"
"Vin!" JD exclaimed.
Ezra reholstered his gun and said casually: "Mr. Tanner! What miracle has brought you here?"
"Not a miracle, just a pair of old skis," Vin pointed at the trees where he'd left his gear. "Kid, you might want to bring my backpack here, it has a bunch of presents inside for under that tree!"
"Cool!" JD ran to the task, and Nathan came close, shaking his head.
"Vin, coming through that forest alone, it was foolish even for you."
"Hell, Nate, I know this forest like my own hand! And I wasn't alone, Santa and other two elves were a couple of miles behind, should be here any minute."
Confirming Vin's words, Josiah's 'ho-ho-ho' filled the clearing.
It was well after midnight when the improvised party was over and everyone found themselves a place to sleep in the cabin. Wishing his friends Merry Christmas and goodnight, Ezra went outside with a glass of brandy to watch the last of the lanterns die out. (Okay, the glass was plastic, but for once Ezra was ignoring that insult to the drink.)
Ezra looked at the tree, which he would have found atrocious under other circumstances, and smiled, remembering Miss Hudson, the woman he'd mentioned to Nathan earlier. Miss Hudson, an old maiden right from the pages of English classics, was the housekeeper in the house of his step-father number 4, in a small town not far from London. Ezra'd spent his 15th Christmas there and he'd already been a complete cynic by then, but his step-siblings were not. The little twins had been abandoned for the holidays for the first time in their lives, and Ezra had found himself helping Miss Hudson in saving Christmas for the kids. They had succeeded, and Ezra had learned one of the eternal truths in the process, the truth known to every decent parent out there – that Christmas wasn't about waiting for miracles, it was about creating them.
And a bunch of wrapped presents, lying on snow under the tree, together with brandy in his glass, was one of the signs that Ezra's teammates also knew about that.
Ezra saluted with his glass to the tree and the stars above his head, thinking about his friends in the cabin and all other people who he'd cared for and who'd cared for him all over the years. "Merry Christmas, everyone."
PS Okay, confession time:). I admit that I stole borrowed the ideas of decorating a tree with old things and a family member arriving on cross-country skis from wonderful Soviet cartoon 'Winter in Prostokvashino'. If by any chance you know Russian, you can look for it on YouTube.