In Which Bear Attacks Santa Claus And Is Rewarded With A Bone

It was late Christmas Eve, and the only sounds were the snap and crackle of the fire in the fireplace and the occasional rustle of a page turning and the clink of a teacup in its saucer. Not even the proverbial mouse could be heard, not, Harold reflected, that he would ever live in a place that had mice. He must not, he also reflected, ever let Mr. Reese find out that he did such a clichéd thing as reading A Christmas Carol every year the day before Christmas.

He had just got to the Cratchits' pitiful goose and the glory of the plum pudding when there was a new sound after all. It was something of a rustling, something of a dragging, and something that sounded slightly like swearing, all rather muffled and seeming, ridiculously, to come from the fireplace. Beside Harold's armchair, Bear rose to his four feet, his hair rising, a low snarl coming from his throat.

"Blijven, Bear," Harold said, and the dog obediently stayed beside his chair, but he still growled low.

Harold himself could only watch dumbfoundedly as ash and soot rained down into his neatly laid fire and, presently, two black boots landed right in the fire, with two red-clad legs in them. Only moments later, and he could not have said how it happened, a tall, stout, white-haired old man wearing red and white had extricated himself from the fireplace and stood, panting slightly, before him. Bear was now growling like fifty stomachaches.

"Harold Finch?" the jolly old saint asked, not that he looked very jolly, being very sooty and a trifle bad tempered.

"Yes," Harold said.

"Call off your dog. I've got a present for you." He rooted about in his pockets, pulling out a number of very odd things, such as an umbrella, a bag of Bertie Botts' Every Flavour Beans, a red clown nose, a leather wallet, and, finally, a grenade.

"Here it is."

"I think you've got the wrong person. Grenades should go to Mr. Reese."

"No, this is a gift from a very particular admirer of yours. She said to remember her to Harry." He smiled in a not very nice way at all, pulled out the pin, and tossed it into Harold's teacup. Bear snarled and leapt on him.

"Bear, stop it. Stop, Bear!"

He had forgotten that Bear only obeyed Dutch commands, and the snarling and growling went on, and swearing as well. Finch came slowly to consciousness. Comprehension of what was going on and memory of where he was seemed to return excruciatingly slowly to his drugged mind, though later he realized it was only a few seconds.

Fireplace? was his first conscious thought. I don't have a fireplace.

The next thing he remembered was the crushing pain of Reese's football tackle, the wave of relief at not being engulfed in flames, and the horror at watching their Irrelevant die from his own grenade. He and Reese had parted that Christmas Eve discouraged, Finch refusing to let his partner know how much his life-saving tackle had hurt him. He couldn't get back to his library; he barely made it to the medicine cabinet of his closest safe house, consumed what was probably an excessive amount of painkillers, and fell on the bed.

A Christmas Carol every year, he thought fuzzily. Of course I don't do something so sentimental.

Bear was still snarling in the background.

"Bear, what's wrong?"

A short, sharp bark. Finch raised himself carefully on an elbow, turned on a lamp, and squinted at Bear. The Belgian Malinois had his forepaws planted on the chest of a supine figure and was snarling into its face. If you could call it a face. It looked white and plasticky and crooked. Gradually Finch realized he was looking at a mask. A Santa Claus mask. There was swearing—and possibly crying—coming from beneath it. Was that—? Spilled on the floor were various safe-cracking tools. And he thought this was a safe house.

"Goede hond, Bear," he said. "Wacht." And Bear, who had looked over at him with his excessively happy dog-smile, resumed his highly threatening position.

Finch lay back down. His head was spinning. Definitely too many painkillers. He dug his phone out of his pocket.

"Mr. Reese, you may want to get over here and rescue Santa Claus from Bear."

"Finch?" Reese said sharply. "Are you alright?"

"Depends on your definition of 'alright.' I am a little disappointed with my lack of a fireplace, but Santa Claus appears to have come despite that. I've always thought he would be a good housebreaker. I think my burglar alarm is going off. Odd."

"Finch, tell me where you are."

For a moment he debated with himself whether he wanted to tell Reese the location of one of his safe houses, but his partner sounded so terse. He gave the address.

He'd almost gone to sleep again when the door banged open. John Reese. Couldn't enter a room like a normal person but had to destroy all the hinges and shoot things.

"Harold, what's going on?"

"Use your eyes."

"Tell me if you are alright."

"Nothing a little time and sleep won't cure. It's Santa you have to be worried about."

Reese spoke gently to Bear, reached down and hauled the Santa to his feet, stripped off his mask, and frogmarched him from the room, calling back to Bear, "Bear, blijven, wacht."

Bear settled down in the doorway, his ears alert. Finch looked at his phone.

"Why, it's Christmas."

He awoke to late-morning light, snow outside the window, the smell of coffee, and Bear's head resting on his arm. He did not normally let the dog in his bedroom, but today he patted his head.

"Goede hond, Bear."

He got up stiffly, still in pain but not so much, winced at having slept in his clothes, and stumbled into the bathroom. One hot shower and fresh clothes later, he felt better and came out into the kitchen, Bear trotting happily behind him.

"Better, Harold?" Reese was drinking coffee, but he poured hot water over a teabag and gave it to Finch. "I think you were wasted last night."

"I was no such thing," Finch said primly. "Though I distinctly remember Santa Claus trying to break into my safe."

"Well, that part was real. He was just a common safecracker in a mask."

"What did you do with him?"

"Put the fear of God into him and handed him over to the police. He's wanted. What is it, Bear?"

Bear was sitting in front of the refrigerator whining.

"Oh, yes." Reese reached his long arm up and pulled down a bag from the top of the refrigerator. "I got Bear a Christmas present for his valiance."

Bear quivered with anticipation, his paws moving on the floor. Reese unwrapped a large, rawhide bone and held it up; the dog became absolutely pathetic in his eagerness.

"Bear, afwachten."

Bear instantly became still, his eyes still focused on the bone but his body perfectly disciplined.

"John, don't torment him."

"It's good for him."

But Reese gave him the bone, and he leapt upon it and instantly began gnawing it joyously. Reese grinned. "Merry Christmas, Bear."

"Do I smell…peanut butter?"

"The bone is flavored with it."

"Is that healthy?"

"It's perfectly fine, and obviously he loves it."

Bear was stretched full length on the floor, holding the bone with his paws and gnawing away. Finch wrinkled his nose.

"I rather doubt he has any appreciation for the fact of its being a Christmas present."

"No, but he's done his job in protecting you and should be rewarded. You, on the other hand, may have appreciation for a Christmas present." With a slightly abashed grin, Reese handed Finch a book-shaped present wrapped so beautifully he surely never did it himself. "Merry Christmas, Harold."

"Well," Finch said awkwardly. "I have a gift for you as well, but it's probably at your apartment. I didn't anticipate you being here."

"You shouldn't let Santa Claus break into your house. Well?"

He opened the gift and very nearly started laughing. It was a copy of A Christmas Carol. Not valuable, particularly, but over a hundred years old and beautiful.

"Funny. I was just thinking I should read this again."

"I wasn't looking for it. I just saw it one day."

Finch smiled. "Thank you, John."

"You're welcome, Harold. Breakfast?"

"If you can find anything. I wasn't anticipating being here either. This is a safe house, not my home."

Reese made a face and started opening cupboards. Finch took the book into the living room with his tea, sat down, and opened it. Bear brought his bone and settled near his feet. The only thing missing was the fireplace.