"Yes, Nathan, this is, indeed, an illegally imported Christmas tree. What can I say - it's a fair cop, guv'nor. Well done."
"I wasn't saying anything," Nathan said mildly.
"No need - one look said it all." Duke turned to Audrey. "Now, evidence of a crime should be turned over to whatever agency of law enforcement is nearest, isn't that right, Agent Parker?"
Audrey backed away slowly, hands spread. "Illegally imported or not, no way I'm lugging that thing up the stairs. And anyway, it's a Christmas tree. I don't think you can import these illegally."
"If there's a way, I'm sure he'd be the first to try it."
"Careful there, Nate - that came really close to sounding like a compliment," Duke said, dragging the tree perhaps one inch closer to the stairs. "Wouldn't want you to kill yourself during the holidays."
"There's popcorn in the kitchen," Nathan told Audrey. "Want me to make some?"
Audrey sighed. "Look, Duke, you want us to help, all you need to do is ask."
"Yeah," Duke said. "About that. I was thinking more along the lines of, you know, I get the tree, and you two get it to the apartment. I mean, that sounds fair, right?"
Nathan snorted. "Wrong."
"Popcorn sounds good," Audrey said.
Duke scowled. "Fine. Will the two of you please help me with this tree? Pretty please?"
"See?" Nathan said. "That wasn't so hard, was it?"
It took them about fifteen minutes to get the Christmas tree to the living room. Audrey was rather afraid it would take considerably longer for her hands and arms to stop prickling. One of the downsides of insisting on a real tree, she supposed.
On a more positive note, they'd managed not to drop the tree on anyone's foot at any point. A small victory, perhaps, but one she felt was worth celebrating.
Plus, the entire house seemed to be smelling like pine.
"Admit it, I did good," Duke said.
"You did good."
Nathan returned from the kitchen, bearing a tray with three mugs of hot chocolate.
"Okay, now you're starting to scare me," Duke said, reaching for one of the mugs.
"Does it make you feel better if I say I put a secret ingredient in that one?"
Duke suspiciously peered at the contents of his mug. Nathan grinned at Audrey. Duke looked up and cautiously sipped. "Strangely enough, it does."
"All right then." Audrey picked up a mug of her own.
"Oh, and before I forget: yes, I was kidding about that tree being illegally imported."
"I'm surprised." Nathan turned to Audrey. "Are you surprised?"
"Presents," Duke said.
"No presents," Audrey said firmly. "I mean it, Duke. We got a tree, we got decorations, we're going to get a Christmas dinner, but we're not going to do presents. Right, Nathan?"
"Oh, unfair," Duke protested.
"Majority rules," Nathan said. "Seems fair enough to me, doesn't it?"
"Not when you're always voting with Audrey."
"Sounds perfectly fair to me. Sorry, Duke. Maybe next year."
Nathan leaned back in his seat. "I said I thought we should go with the majority. I didn't say I was voting with Audrey."
"But you are, right? Come on, Nathan - do you know how hard it's going to be to shop for the two of you? Especially in a place like Haven - I mean, no offense, but there's not exactly a very wide selection of shops to pick from here."
Duke smirked. "Look at it from the bright side: less shops means you'll be done that much sooner."
"Well, yeah. Done with deciding I can't find you anything."
"I'll make you a wishlist. For Nathan, too, if he's too lazy to make one himself."
Nathan lifted one hand. "I also didn't say I was voting with Duke."
"What, we're supposed to bribe you or something?" Audrey asked.
"Agent Parker! Such shocking language. Although if you are open to bribes, Nate, I'm sure I could find an item or two that might interest you."
"No bribes. And no ... not giving presents."
"That means we are going to give each other presents, right? Just checking."
"Duke, I'm not going to get you a pair of fuzzy handcuffs. I don't care how badly you want them, I'm just not going to walk into a store here and tell whoever's behind the counter I'd like to look at their selection of recreational police equipment."
"You could probably mail-order those. Discrete plain brown paper envelope, that sort of thing."
"I don't think so."
"Anyway, that one's Nathan's. Although I put some fuzzy stuff on mine, too."
"Fuzzy bunny slippers. You want me to get you fuzzy bunny slippers?"
"They're cute, completely innocent and Nathan will probably laugh me out of the bedroom first two dozen times I wear them. It's going to be good for him. He doesn't laugh nearly often enough. Plus, they're nice and warm."
"I'm not going to get you a pair of fuzzy bunny slippers."
Duke sighed. "You know, I'm beginning to see why you're having so much trouble with this shopping for presents stuff."
"After all this time, you still don't trust me."
"Try: after all this time, I know better than to trust you. Receipts, Duke. Make sure you've still got them."
"You know, there's a difference between importing goods and stealing them. I realize the difference might be a little bit complex for anyone not involved in law enforcement but - oh wait."
"Audrey told me about the handcuffs."
"Did she also tell you about the bunny slippers?"
"Didn't think so. Well, don't worry - I think I'm seeing a future wherein the two of us won't need to do any washing up for at least a month. Chore coupons: the gift of the anti-shopaholic."
"You thought I'd want her to get me bunny slippers?"
"Handcuffs, Nate. It was the handcuffs for you."
Duke stared at the item he'd just unwrapped. "Well. This is certainly a surprise."
"Mail-order," Nathan said.
"Seems like there's something missing, though. Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't these supposed to come with a key?"
"Ha!" Audrey said, revealing the contents of her own package - a small box which opened to reveal a small key. Duke gave Nathan a long and not entirely friendly look. Nathan grinned.
"Merry Christmas, Duke, Audrey."
"I've changed my mind - you did deserve the bunny slippers."