A/N: Hello everyone!
Sword: And Happy Holidays! It feels good to say that again.
Pen: Oh, yes. It feels so "good" to put up with bills you cannot hope to pay off before the next holiday or having to act cordial to people you loathe.
Sword: We do it all the time.
Anyway, Sly Cooper and all related material belong to Sucker Punch. Sword, Pen, and the story belong to me. Please enjoy.
Sword: Yes! Sly Cooper! This means I can wear my bandit costume again! *pulls an old sock over her head* Hey! Who turned out the lights!
Up On the Rooftop
"Come back here, Ringtail!"
Wads of electric shots exploded on the second floor. Part of the banister shattered into piles of wood that collapsed onto the lower level. But Carmelita did not care. She raced up the stairs and down the dim hallways. She held her shock pistol at eye level, spinning this way and that when she thought she heard a sound.
"You know, Ms. Fox, I think I've decided what to get you for Christmas," a deep voice said. It bounced around the halls, leaving Carmelita clueless as to where it was originating from. "You strike me as a practical person. Someone who would enjoy something useful first and foremost."
"What did you have in mind?" Carmelita asked. She leapt from behind a corner, discovering another deserted hall.
"A picture of me with a target painted on it. That way, you can practice at home."
She saw a striped gray tail behind a full-size potted plant near a door. It twirled and danced gracefully through the air. "No thanks," she said. "I'd rather have the real thing." She squeezed the trigger and the pot fell apart into dozens of pieces. The "tail" was actually a dark, striped drape billowing near an open window.
"Anytime. How about dinner?" the voice said right behind her. She spun around in time to catch a glimpse of a dark figure running down another hall. Carmelita gave chase, following her prey to another open window. The figure hopped out the window and she clambered out too, shooting wildly into the open air.
The Parisian night was frigid. Carmelita was thankful she had dressed warmly in a thicker jacket than normal and her longer police uniform. She stepped lively, but carefully on the ice-slicked rooftop. What snow there was crunched under her boots as she searched around for the figure.
"Careful, Carm. I'd be brokenhearted if you fell." She glanced at a nearby chimney emitting copious smoke clouds. When the moon peaked out, a raccoon silhouette behind the smoke materialized.
"I'd be brokenhearted if you fell too," she said, shooting at the silhouette. The electric, buzzing ball dispersed the smoke, but failed to find its mark.
"I knew you cared," the shadowy, male figure said as he ran away, a hefty bundle over his shoulder.
"Of course. You're not getting out of jail time that easily," she said, a grin twitching at her lips. She fired again, but he jumped to a lower rooftop. Carmelita followed suit. Thankfully, the second roof was nowhere near as icy and she could sprint flat-out.
As she fired with one hand, she pulled out a walkie-talkie with the other. "This is Inspector Fox! Cooper is on the run and I'm giving chase. Send back-up to main and fifth!"
"Roger," a fellow officer said. She tucked away the walkie-talkie and continued to fire. Her target ducked and dodged all her shots. They raced over ventilation units, around walls, and anywhere else he led her to break off the chase. He swung high through the air, using a crooked cane. The bulky bag over his shoulder made his flights and landings awkward. He did not do it much, but it did put a lot of distance between the two when he did. However, Carmelita was persistent and refused to give up when she was so close.
Soon enough, they ran out of roof and the police sirens in the distance were closing in. The figure stopped at the edge of one ledge, ran along it, and trapped himself at another end. He was blocked on all sides by a wall and ledges. The only way back was through Carmelita. She slowly approached him, her pistol aimed squarely at his chest. "Give it up, Cooper! You're surrounded!"
He faced her, those twinkling chocolate eyes behind his black mask regarding her with a sort of amusement. He brushed some ice off his baby blue sweater and pulled his matching beret low. He dropped the large bag onto the ground and leaned on his wooden cane, its crooked top dipped in gold. He grinned at her. "It looks that way," he said. "I enjoyed our romp."
Something was wrong. Carmelita knew that much. "What are you up to, Sly?" she said. She thought about shooting him now. Experience had taught her that he usually had an ace up his sleeve.
"Thinking about what else I could get you for Christmas," he said, twirling his cane.
"You can dwell on that in prison. I've fixed up a jail cell just for you."
"That's so sweet," Sly said, placing a hand over his heart. "What are you doing for the holidays?"
"Going out of town, visiting family. And most importantly, watching you stay behind bars," she said. Her finger started to pull the trigger.
He stopped the crooked piece and kicked the bag off the roof. Carmelita halted, bewildered by the action. There were plenty of valuable goods in there. Then she saw it. She mentally kicked herself for not preparing for such an escape. He had pulled this same stunt on taller buildings in heists the world over.
"I got it now! I know what else to get you," he said. With that revelation, he fell off the roof. Carmelita shot at him, but the electric ball blasted apart bricks on the adjacent building. She ran to the edge and saw Sly's getaway van idling below beneath the fire escapes and metal balconies. He poked his head out of the passenger window, waved, and the van zoomed away.
Carmelita furiously fired at the fleeing vehicle, but relented after the charged bullets dissipated into the cold night. He had escaped. Again, she bitterly thought. All she could do was holster her pistol and trudge back to the scene of the crime. Along the way, she listened to the radio chatter of rookie cops, gung-ho for glory, being given the slip by Sly. "Here's over there!" "Down that street!" "Watch out! He's going the wrong way!" "I lost him!" "Does anyone see him? Does anyone have eyes on Cooper?" She could not help, but grin a little as she imagined the cocky thief evading capture.
However, questions about Sly's heist and motivation weighed on her mind. No less than a week ago, he had burgled a smuggling ring in Spain. By Interpol's estimates, he had made off with a sizeable amount shortly before they busted the criminals. It was Sly's nature to take some time off, allowing Carmelita and him some peace. So why rob again so soon? she wondered. There was no apparent reason, but perhaps the evidence gathered at the most recent robbery would shed some light onto his motive.
By the time Carmelita returned to the casino, the head honcho of the operation was being carted away in a squad car. Henchman and innocent employees were rounded up, some answering questions and some hauled off like their boss. In the middle was an aging hound dog, barking orders at the officers.
"I want every piece of evidence collected and filed properly!" he said. His hands remained jammed into his pea coat at all times and he stood ramrod stiff against the bustling background. "Get a statement from every witness, even the ones across the street! I don't care what they saw or what they know. I want every ounce we can get on these guys!"
"Inspector Fox reporting, Commissioner," Carmelita said, saluting him.
He glanced over his shoulder and nodded at her. "Fox. I take it Cooper gave you the slip?"
"Unfortunately, sir," she said.
"You gave it your best anyway. Besides, we nabbed our prize, so good work, Fox. Very good work."
It had not all been her. Carmelita knew that without Sly's interference and help, they would have come up empty-handed and the operation they had been trying to bring down would have continued. Not that any officer wishing to retain their job would ever point that out to the commissioner. She was tempted though, especially since Sly had distracted the head honcho long enough for her to have a clean shot. It was the least he deserved since she had then turned her pistol's sights to the raccoon.
"Take the rest of the night off, Fox," the commissioner said. "That's an order," he cut her off. "You've more than earned your vacation for the next two days and to turn in early. We've got this covered."
"Thank you, sir." She saluted again and walked to her squad car.
"And Fox!" She turned back around. "No working at home either! That's an order. I don't need you driving yourself insane trying to catch Cooper nonstop."
Carmelita loved a reprieve as much as the next person. After all, everyone needed to push away from the desk once in a while and take a breather. However, she was the kind to only request an hour or half the day at most to balance months of work. So when she was forced to relax on vacations, she could do anything but.
Christmas Eve had proved itself to follow the same pattern. She had an enjoyable meal at home, finished some last minute shopping for presents, and met up with some friends for lunch. After that, her afternoon was devoid of any task or goal that needed to be accomplished. And with nothing to do until the next day when she would celebrate the holiday with family, she stalked her apartment.
Room by room, she paced back and forth. The Christmas tree in the corner was decorated and the rest of the rooms had been adorned with lights, tinsel, and festive baubles. Television had failed to hold her attention and she had read all her books countless times. Soothing music did not help, nor did gazing at the city from her veranda. The latter actually proved to exacerbate her predicament, as she mentally replayed the chase on the rooftops once more. Sly was in the city and she was desperate to seek him out. Where was he hiding? Why had he committed another heist so soon? What was his angle this time?
No, she would tell herself every time she ripped her mind away from the romp. The commissioner's words echoed in her head. No working. That means no Cooper, she ordered herself. But she was already rejuvenated and eager to return to work. She felt that all her energy was going to waste cooped up in her apartment, yet she had no other place to go.
Carmelita remembered considering a walk about town, enjoying the city's decorations, right before she fell asleep in the veranda chair. When she awoke, the sun was saying the last of its goodbyes to Paris. The streets below were illuminated in a colorful glow from the multi-colored lights strung about lamp posts and store fronts. Some people walked to and fro, trying not to slip on ice or rushing in and out of shops.
Standing up and stretching, Carmelita decided a cup of cocoa was in order to ring in Christmas. She headed toward the kitchen and heard a soft thump on the roof. She turned her eyes to the ceiling. When nothing more came of it, she wrote the noise off as the tenants above her.
As she heated up some instant cocoa mix, she wondered if the commissioner would allow her to only take off one day next year instead of two. Besides, I'll still have Christmas off for family. I'll just need to finish my shopping earlier. The idea sounded solid and she rehearsed the speech she would deliver to the commissioner when she returned.
When her coca finished, Carmelita poured herself a cup while putting the finishing touches on her request. "Which is why I feel it would be in the departments best interests to allow me only one vacation day for Christmas instead of two," she said, practicing to herself. She walked back to the living room and settled down into her chair. Before she could even take a sip of her drink, there was another thump. Softer than the last, but coming from the wall. The building settling, she thought.
The television in front of her was showing some old black and white Christmas special. But Carmelita's eyes were focused more on the photographs sitting on the mantle above. Some were of family when she was a child and others were of her now, surrounded by colleagues and friends. A few depicted Carmelita triumphant over a bust, with an early one in particular featuring a shadowy raccoon figure in the background.
The Christmas special ended a few hours later, so she set her cocoa aside and turned off the television. It must be close to midnight, she thought. Carmelita did not feel sleepy yet, so she wandered into her bedroom searching for something to occupy her time. Her workstation in the corner called to her with the stacked case files. Sly's file sat on the top, his name on the manila folder calling her. She could almost hear him teasingly asking, "Don't you want to know what I'm up to? Don't you want to find me?"
No work, her boss' echo reminded her again. She quickly grabbed a novel from her bookshelf. It was a slow, plodding story that she was sure would swiftly put her to sleep.
Carmelita walked back into her living room, but stopped. Something was different. Nothing appeared out of the ordinary, yet she was sure there had been a change. The television was off and her cocoa sat on the table near her unmoved chair. The balcony doors were shut and the decorations had not been disturbed. There was something she was not seeing. She just could not put her finger on it.
Then, as she was examining her Christmas tree in the corner, she saw it. Tucked underneath the low hanging branches were two packages. She dropped prone and pulled them out. Both were wrapped in bright red paper and laced with large blue bows. Attached to each was a tag emblazoned with a white raccoon symbol, covered by a baby blue mask.
"Cooper!" Carmelita hissed. She ran throughout her apartment, flipping on lights and performing a quick search. Nothing. He was not in any of the rooms. Then she sprinted to the balcony, throwing open the doors, searching high and low.
There you are. Several houses over, a figure ran back and forth across rooftops, a bundle once again thrown over his back. Carmelita grabbed her long coat and gun. She was glad she had chosen warm pajamas to wear that evening.
She locked her balcony door after she came out again. Don't need any more thieves in here. Then she climbed up one of the fire escapes, heaving herself up higher and higher. How did Sly have the strength to do this every night, especially when it was as cold as tonight and with no ladders? But she figured that if he could do it, she could too. She did eventually reach the top and paused for a breather, her lungs already icing over.
Sly was further away, but Carmelita had no problem racing after him. The rooftops were close enough that she could leap from one to another. Only a few were far apart and she was only slightly detoured then. So far, Sly had not caught onto her. Or maybe he had and was waiting for her to strike first. Either way, Carmelita approached rapidly and cautiously along the slick rooftops.
It was not too difficult to catch up to Sly. Carmelita had an advantage, for the thief slipped in and out of every apartment and house he came across. Stealing on Christmas Eve from innocents? That was not his style. Then again, a heist so close to another one was not his style either. If he had decided to pillage the city's citizens, he had sunk to a new low and was no better than the common crooks she caught day after day. Carmelita felt disappointed in a way. She had believed Sly to be different. She intended to lock him away in a cell for as long as possible.
Eventually, she landed on the same roof as Sly. She drew his gaze toward her. Carmelita whipped out her pistol. "Fre-!" she started, but stopped when she saw him clearly. The raccoon had traded his normal outfit for jolly old Saint Nick clothing. His wool trimmed red cap sat askew atop his head and a white beard covered most of his face, except his eyes behind his usual black mask. Underneath his red and white suit, Carmelita noticed some padding around his belly. His black boots were caked in snow and he carried a large bag very much like the one last night.
It was such a ridiculous sight that Carmelita had trouble controlling herself. "Freeze, Cooper," she said a little softer, hoping he could not see her twitching mouth. "Planning a Santa-themed heist?"
"Quite the opposite," he said. He dropped the bag and opened it. "Care to see?"
What was he trying to pull? Was there a dangerous device in there? Something to slow her down as he made his getaway? Carmelita was dubious, but walked closer all the same. She kept one eye on him, but briefly looked into the bag. She was not prepared for what was inside.
"Toys?" she asked him. No jewelry or valuables were bulging out the sack that night. No, toys had taken that place. Toys of every kind were crammed into the bag: stuffed animals, trains, cars, dolls, action figures, games, and much more. Some were wrapped, others were not. "Are you that desperate for money you'd resort to stealing from children?" she spat, holding her pistol at his head.
He laughed. He laughed hard and slapped his knee. "Stealing from children? That's a good one!" he said in between bouts of gut-busting guffaws. When his laughter subsided to small chuckles, he wiped a tear from his eye. "C'mon Carm. You know me. I only steal from criminals, remember?"
That much was true. On one of their merry pursuits long ago, he had said there was no honor or challenge in stealing from normal people. And of all the thieves she had met over the years, Sly was nothing if not honorable and- dare she say-? good. He had all the qualities of an upstanding citizen, sans his career choice.
Her pistol lowered, but she was no less wary. "Then what's with the bag?" she asked.
"Gifts," he said. He pulled out a toy train. "For the kids," he added. Then he lifted a smaller bag out of the larger one and tossed it to her. "For the parents."
Carmelita opened the sack. There was a bundle of money inside. Hundreds upon hundreds of dollars at least from her count. "Should make a nice stocking stuffer," Sly said, grinning.
"So that's what you're doing?" she asked, rummaging through the toys. "Playing Santa?"
"Why not? 'Tis the season of giving," he said. "Why not be festive about it?" He tied the bag and stood up. "Are you going to arrest me? Because if you are, could you wait until I finish?"
All of her years of Interpol training, instinct, and experience with crooks screamed for Carmelita to arrest him then and there. All three presented a good argument that there would not be a better chance than she had now and that she should not trust the word of a criminal.
But this was Sly. Sly Cooper, the most honest thief she had ever met. A modern day Robin Hood now playing Santa. His chivalrous selflessness and noble nature broke the stereotype of the thick-headed, morally bankrupt criminals. Also, since it was officially Christmas, she would feel like a complete Scrooge if she interrupted his kind gesture.
Warily, she lowered her pistol. "Alright. I'll wait until you finish," she said. "But I'm coming along. If you try anything, I'll arrest you on the spot."
His face lit up. "I hoped you would say that." He opened the bag again and riffled through it. He handed her a forest green costume and leggings, red shoes that curled at the toes, and a small pointed cap. The costume was in her size. Had he brought it along on purpose? No, more importantly, how did he know her size? "One of our guys didn't show up." She was still skeptical that a guy would just happen to wear her exact size.
"There's no way I'm wearing this," Carmelita said, trying to hand it back.
"Aw, come on. Where's your holiday spirit? I could use an elf to help out," Sly said, grinning. "Besides, the more clothes, the warmer you'll be. Not to mention that it makes a good disguise. What would anyone think of a cop running along with Santa on the rooftops?"
"Okay, okay. You've made your point." She looked unsurely at the costume. "You said one of your guys didn't show. Do you mean to tell me it's not only you?" Carmelita asked, slapping the cap onto her head.
"That's right. There's Murray, Bentley, me, and a few people we paid to help out," Sly said, ticking everyone off on his fingers.
"So is that why you robbed the casino last night?" She slipped out of her jacket to pull on the costume. "To pay those guys?"
"That's one reason. We would have sold some things through our fence, but he's on holiday and we needed some cash quick. We also had to purchase some last-minute gifts. Namely the ones for the parents." He admired her outfit. "You definitely look the part," he said, uncontrollably smirking.
"Let's just go," Carmelita said as she pulled on the leggings and slipped into the shoes. She had to admit that the extra clothes did help her stay warmer. She put her jacket back on and followed Sly along the roof.
When they reached the ledge, he leapt onto the next rooftop. Carmelita stopped and took a running start. She was unused to the floppy shoes, but managed to safely land on the next building. Sly was already shimmying down the fire escape and into one of the apartments. Carmelita considered not following since she did not want to be accused of breaking and entering. However, her need to keep an eye on Sly outweighed that.
She scooted down the fire escape ladder and crawled into the open window. Inside the darkened room, Sly was finishing up his gift-giving. The stockings hanging on the wall were already brimming with toys and money sacks. Beneath the small tree in the corner, he was placing some wrapped packages. He was true to his word. He was giving presents to everyone.
It was startling to Carmelita, who had only ever witnessed Sly purloining everything not nailed down. Yet it somehow fit the thief and touched her heart. She had known him to be generous at times, but never this much.
Sly flung his sack over his shoulder and quietly jerked his head to the window. Carmelita crawled out and Sly followed. He shut the window on his way out. "Come, elf," he said, chuckling. "To the next family on the nice list."
"Don't push it, Cooper." But Carmelita inwardly grinned nonetheless.
Sly jumped for the nearby balcony and unlocked the sliding doors. Carmelita brought up the rear and he handed her some wrapped presents and toys to place under the tree. She accepted the gifts and arranged them beneath the low branches. Once finished, she stood back, satisfied with her work. Carmelita imagined whoever lived in the apartment waking up in the morning and being excited about the prospect of the presents. It would be wonderful to see their faces light up- the children thanking Santa for the toys and the parents at ease with any monetary dilemmas for a while.
She remembered herself when Sly tapped her shoulder and beckoned her to the doors. Once they had exited and he had shut the doors, he turned to her. "See? It's fun, isn't it?"
Carmelita had to admit that it was fun. She was enjoying herself far more than she thought she would. While the criminal implications of breaking into homes was clearly illegal, she could not deny the intentions were good and pure. Maybe Sly would use that as a defense after he was arrested. It certainly put her a little at odds at the moment. Perhaps she would overlook that one detail. After all, his act certainly outweighed the wrongdoing at the moment.
He was already off to the next home and she quickly ran after him. For the next couple of hours, they continued their gift-giving across Paris. Carmelita could have claimed she did it all because she needed to keep Sly in check, but she believed the raccoon would not have stolen a thing anyway. Deep down, she enjoyed the generous gesture to the city as much as he did. Although at one point, she suggested leaving the gifts on doorsteps so as not to be accused of breaking and entering if caught. Sly only laughed and pointed out the presents could be ruined or stolen then. "Besides, what kind of Santa doesn't leave them by the tree and eat the milk and cookies?" he said, offering her one such treat at a house. She ate the cookie and went back to arranging the presents. He did have a point about Santa's image and the risk the presents would be in if left outside.
Surprisingly enough, they never had any close calls. Sly was quiet to enter and leave. Carmelita never even heard him distribute some of the louder toys with bells and whistles. It was like he had practiced this in the past. When asked, he acknowledged that this was not the first Christmas his gang had done something like this. "But we're more organized this year," he said. "This time, it's on a larger scale."
The ordeal ended far too soon for Carmelita. When they reached the last apartment, she was confronted with the issue of arresting him. Normally, she would have slapped a pair of handcuffs on him and acted like it was business as usual. Yet she found herself a little saddened as she placed the last gift underneath a bushy tree. She half-hoped Sly would try to escape.
But he did not. He climbed onto the roof after they finished and she slowly approached him. He made no move. He only stood there, waiting for Carmelita. Her hand reached for her pistol. "I know we have a deal, but if you don't mind, there's one more stop we need to make."
Carmelita heaved a deep sigh of relief that she had not realized she had been holding. "Which is?" she asked, letting her hand fall from the holstered gun.
He pointed off in the distance with his cane. "The Happy Camper Orphanage," he said. "You mind?"
"That's pretty far away," Carmelita said, crossing her arms. "How do you plan on getting there?"
He directed her attention to the street level below. She peered over the snow-lined edge and spied the Cooper van. Standing on top was Murray, dressed in a too-small elf costume. The pink hippo held his arms open and Sly dropped the toy bag down to his partner in crime. "Shall we?" Sly asked, offering his hand to Carmelita.
She accepted it. What could giving toys to some orphans hurt? He wrapped his arm around her waist and catapulted the two of them into the air. He hooked onto a window ledge with his cane and propelled them toward a balcony. The descent was dizzying for Carmelita and she wondered how Sly dealt with it constantly.
When they fell onto the van, Murray's goofy, grinning face morphed into one of abject terror. Sly waved him off and said, "It's fine, Murray. Let's go."
The hippo looked dubious, but climbed into the driver's seat. Sly opened up the back doors and bowed to Carmelita. "After you," he said.
The ride over to the orphanage was pretty quiet. After Paris had been left behind, there was only a long, empty stretch of road disappearing into the yawning dark night. Snowflakes pelted the windows harmlessly. The one who finally talked was Sly, leaning over the front seats and asking the others how things had gone. "As well as I had expected," Bentley said. His eyes consistently darted back and forth between Sly and Carmelita. He pulled his elf hat down farther to cover his face. "Last-minute shopping can only yield so much. And our friends helped out well. They already went back home to wrap gifts."
"Bentley, she already knows. So you can drop the code speak," Sly said. "How about you big guy?" he asked Murray. "Any problems?"
"Nope!" the driver said, shaking his head. "We hit a ton of hou-Er, it went fine." He had caught Bentley's warning eyes and changed his tone quickly.
Sly rolled his eyes and sat next to Carmelita. They were surrounded by deflated sacks, some filled a little with toys. She figured there would be enough for a few dozen children at least. "Sorry they're so jumpy," Sly said, throwing one leg over the other. He pulled his beard down, revealing his wind-chilled face. He rested his elbows on the empty stack of bags-turned-seats.
"It's alright," Carmelita said. "I understand."
"I don't know about you, but I've enjoyed tonight so far," Sly said. "Maybe you and I could make this an annual tradition? I pick you up, we deliver gifts, I go to jail, and we can have dinner while I'm behind bars."
His arm had snaked its way around her shoulder. She smirked and laid her head against the wall, close to his. "Sounds tempting," she said. "Do I have to eat with you?"
"Ooo, ouch!" Sly cried, clutching his chest. "Oh, why do you wound me so?"
She playfully hit his chest. "I was kidding, Ringtail. Of course I'll have dinner with you." He perked up, beaming like a child who had found exactly what they wanted under a Christmas tree. But the jail part of his suggestion reared up the ugly head of what she had to do once the gift-giving was finished. From the back, she had caught Bentley and Murray exchanging looks when Sly mentioned jail.
Carmelita had to make a choice. Her cop instinct flared up, yelling that there was no choice except to arrest him. But another side insisted that despite his law-breaking, Sly had been a good person tonight. That side also reminded the cop in her that it was Christmas.
Her thoughts were interrupted two-fold. One by Sly's nose inching closer to her as if attempting a kiss. She did not back away from it, but was unprepared for his silent advance. The second, which broke through to Sly as well, was Bentley. "We're here," he said. Sly sighed and put on a happy face, but Carmelita saw disappointment in his eyes. Perhaps there was in hers too. His seemed to say, "Maybe later?" He replaced the snowy beard over his face.
The group clambered out of the van. They unloaded the bags, some of which Sly carried to the top window. He neglected the chimneys, as he had all night. When she had asked why at one house, he had told her, "I tried it one year and was covered in soot. Then a child saw me, thought I was the boogie man, and ran off screaming. So it's easier to use windows."
Sly motioned to himself, then one of the top window. He pointed at the rest and made a circling gesture. Bentley and Murray nodded, toting several bags to the back of the orphanage. Carmelita walked behind the two, shouldering the rest of the load. Sly opened the window and slipped inside.
The orphanage was not much to look at. A multi-story wooden house with a sign out front reading "Happy Camper Orphanage." There did not appear to be any security to speak of, so Carmelita believed Sly's sneaking was more for show than anything else. Murray and Bentley walked to the back door. The turtle dropped his load and produced a lock-picking kit. Carmelita did not see much because Murray stood in front, blocking her view and humming to himself.
When the door lock clicked, Murray pretended to be surprised. "Oh, someone must be letting us inside!" he said unconvincingly. It was humorous to Carmelita. She walked by them as Bentley shook his head at Murray.
The halls inside were decorated with golden tinsel, but relatively bare compared to other houses so far. Bentley led the way to a common room where a tall tree had been set-up. Sly was already there, emptying his bags. He beckoned the others to hurry along.
Soon the gifts were all laid under the tree or stuffed into stockings. They prepared to leave when they heard someone say, "I was wondering when you would come."
The group spun around and saw a tiger standing in the doorway. She set aside a lit candle and walked over to Sly. "As dedicated to the show as ever, I see," she said, giggling at Sly's outfit. "How are you guys?"
"Good," Sly, Murray, and Bentley answered.
"Oh, Murray, there's some macadamia nut cookies over there," she said, pointing at a small tray near the tree.
"Thanks!" he said and bolted for the treats.
"I was beginning to think you weren't going to make it, Sly," she said.
"Got held up for a bit," Sly said. "How's Mrs. Puffin? Crabby as ever?"
"Oh, Sly," she said. Then she turned to Carmelita. "I see you have some more help this year."
"Yeah." Sly pulled Carmelita closer. "Only for tonight." Carmelita noticed he had left out her name to hide her identity.
But the woman seemed like she could keep a secret. So Carmelita stuck out her hand. "Carmelita," she said, introducing herself.
"Jeanne," the tiger said, accepting her hand. "Not the Carmelita?"
"The one and the same."
"Santa!" All the adults turned to the hallway. Standing there were three children, none older than ten. They shifted nervously, looking at Jeanne. She smiled and the trio scampered in, clamoring around Sly's legs. He knelt down to their level and they hugged him, one even dangling from his neck once he stood back up.
"What did I say about being in bed?" Jeanne asked the children. She tried to sound authoritative, but was failing miserably. She could hardly contain the chuckles at their enthusiasm.
"But we wanted to see Santa," the boy hanging off Sly's neck whined. The other children had been picked up by Bentley and Murray. Sly scooped up his child as well, holding him in his arms.
"Alright," Jeanne said. "If Santa can spare a little time."
"Sure!" Sly said in a booming, deep voice. "Especially for three good little children like yourselves!" He took on a serious tone and looked each in the eye. "You have been good this year, haven't you?" The children all nodded quickly. Carmelita could see his mouth twitching up behind his beard. "Good! Let's see about your presents!" He picked up a few unwrapped toys from underneath the tree and handed them out. "Let's see. We have one Renald. This is Gina's. Here's one for you Deacon."
"You can only have one," Jeanne said. "Save the rest for tomorrow morning." She stood next to Carmelita and watched. The little ones played the gifts and begged Sly and the others to join them. "He's really great with the kids," Jeanne said, whispering to Carmelita. The two women watched the fun the trio had playing with the children.
"Does he come here often?" Carmelita asked.
"Not often," Jeanne said. "Mrs. Puffin doesn't like him coming around given his social status."
"That's a nice way of calling him a thief."
"He's a thief, but he's also a good person. He loves giving back to the children here, especially at Christmas." Jeanne chuckled as Murray lifted two of the children up on his arms and spun them about. "If more criminals were like them, I wouldn't mind that."
"Me either," Carmelita said. "It would make my job easier." In a way, she was reminded. There was still the lingering decision plaguing her thoughts on what to do when the trip ended.
Unfortunately for her, their time at the orphanage did end far too soon. Jeanne clapped her hands and called the children to her side. "Come, come now. You need to get back in bed before Mrs. Puffin wakes up. You three need your sleep and Santa needs to finish delivering presents."
The little ones groaned and reluctantly dropped down from the adults. They each hugged Sly in turn and ran upstairs. Jeanne thanked the group for coming by. "I know the kids really appreciated it. Thank you." She embraced the three men and smiled at Carmelita. "Good luck. And Merry Christmas."
"Merry Christmas," they all responded. Sly slipped Jeanne a wad of cash before she left.
Once outside, Carmelita was no closer to a decision than before. On the ride back to Paris, she flopped from one side to the other, finding no reason in her officer's mind why she should let Sly go. On the other hand, the rest of her spoke volumes on plenty of reasons to let him escape for tonight, least of which it was Christmas. Over and over, part of her said that Sly deserved a chance to be free and another said that while he had done many good deeds, he must pay for his past crimes.
The van arrived at her apartment and Sly climbed out first. Carmelita hopped out and he stood before her, hands out. "A deal's a deal," he said. From the front, Murray was biting his nails and Bentley was chewing on his lip.
Carmelita reached for her pistol and started to draw it from her holster. Her duty as a cop was fighting with her. She wanted to give him a pass, but she was a cop. She had to uphold law and order as well.
Order. Order. Carmelita spied a nearby payphone. She grinned and replaced her pistol. She nodded at the van. "Go on," she said.
"What?" Sly asked. "Did my charm finally win you over?"
"Hardly," she said. "I just remembered that I was ordered not to work at all. That includes taking you in. Something about me not driving myself insane from work."
His eyes brightened. "I hope our little adventure tonight also aided in that," Sly said. The snow in his fake beard glistened under the moon.
"It was fun. I did enjoy it. However, even though I'm not taking you in, as a concerned citizen, I have to report you."
He traced her gaze to the payphone. "I wouldn't have it any other way," Sly said, twirling his cane. She could sense his anticipation. His readiness to run. It was the same tension running through her own body. "I hope you don't stay away from work for too long. It might get boring."
"Don't worry, Ringtail. I'll be after you again tomorrow."
"Me and my heart." He took her hand and planted a chaste kiss on her fingers. Even though she rolled her eyes, she appreciated the gesture. They did not release each other's hand. Both stood in the powdery snow. She no longer cared who saw or that Bentley was surreptitiously trying to gain Sly's attention by coughing loudly. All Carmelita saw was the thief's dark brown eyes that drew her closer to him.
Was he moving closer? It felt like he was. Or was she moving that fast toward him? It was sudden, but she pressed on. He pulled his beard off. Her lips met his. The warmth surged through her chilled bones, heating her like no fireplace ever could. She would have liked it to last longer, but it was a passing wave. A brief "Good luck" from her and a "Merry Christmas" from each before the chase began. He hopped into the van and she ran to the payphone, knowing he would be fine. Knowing that he held no grudge, but understood completely and would not have her act any differently.
Not more than ten minutes later, she heard sirens close by. They intermingled with one another and the roaring engines, creating a cacophonous mess. Carmelita counted at least a dozen squad cars on the hunt. She knew Sly would be fine. If she knew him- and she did-, he was already in a safe place.
She headed back to her apartment and was surprised to see the sun coming into work. She looked at her microwave. Seven. It was Christmas morning already.
The presents Sly had left underneath her tree caught her eye. She picked them up and sat down in her chair. The first was round and thin. She laughed when she unwrapped it. The gift was a target board, customized by Sly in the middle. He was making a charming and suave face as he held a rose between his teeth. "Cooper," she muttered. He had been serious about the target after all. She shook her head and set the board aside.
The second gift was smaller, box-shaped, and had a note attached to it. Should go nice with your costume. You can keep that by the way, it read.
Carmelita gawked at the message. He had planned on her coming along. Although she had to admit she would have come along regardless. It had been a wonderful evening.
The box was a simple jewelry case, cradling a green and red necklace. She lifted it carefully out of the case and slipped it on. She glanced at the clock. There was some time left before she had to meet her family today. She hung up her new target board, stepped back, and took aim with her pistol. "Merry Christmas, Sly."
A/N: Done! Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays everyone!
Sword: *crashes into Pen* Aw, is it over already?
Pen: Yes, now go away. You readers too. Go away. Leave a comment or something if you so desire, but go.
Sword: You Scrooge! *kicks at Pen*
Pen: Take that ridiculous sock off your head.
Sword: *takes it off and covers Pen with it* Gotcha now! En garde! Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays all you peoples! May God bless you all and may you all have a happy time!