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those who also serve

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It was Andy Darden that had started the tradition, a few years ago, although newbies like Mills wouldn’t know that and the old-timers wouldn’t bring it up.

Traditions were important.

So the December 24shift was always Kris Kringle in Firehouse 51 – Kris Kringle and cocktails.

Well, technically of course, they were mocktails, but Severide always insisted that Kris Kringle and cocktails had a certain ring to it. Shay pointed out that Kringle and cocktails didn’t start with the same letter either, to which Severide had rolled his eyes and told her she should know better than to fight a losing battle.

Shay let it rest, mostly because the mocktails, despite being non-alcoholic, were always delicious: sugary confections that were essentially liquid candy.

Mills had brought his sister Elise in to help serve the mocktails, and she was standing behind the bar with Katie, who Severide had brought in. They were holding a whispered discussion, and Mills in particular kept glancing over at them uneasily.

Severide kept glancing over too, although the whole time he was looking at Katie, like he couldn’t believe he was so lucky to find her.  Shay tapped his ankle lightly. “She’s not going to disappear, you know,” she reminded him, because sometimes he forgot that family were the people who stuck around.

Years later and she was still teaching him that.

The presents were all stacked on the table, where the guys had been staring them off for the last hour.

“Split a cracker with me?” asked Severide.

Shay rolled her eyes. “Deep down, you’re secretly a dag, aren’t you.”

“You wound me, Shay,” he said, clutching at his chest dramatically. “Now come on.”

She obediently held fast to her end, although as usual Severide ended up with the biggest half of the cracker. She suspected that he'd cheated, but didn't call him on it. 

He placed the paper crown on her head, pressed a kiss to her forehead.

 “Don’t say I never do anything nice for you,” he said, like that’s remotely a possibility.

“Yeah, but what have you done for me lately?” she said, because she’s Leslie Shay and she’s never met a moment she couldn’t ruin.

“Who wants to play elf?" asked Otis, gesturing to the pile of presents waiting to be distributed.

Shay held up her hands in protest. “No way,” she said. “I did it last year.”

“You’re a Grinch, you know that?” Hermann said, but there’s no heat to it.

Shay doesn’t respond because truth be told she can be kind of a Grinch, and it’s been a rough year – for all of them.

Boden walks around the corner, wearing a Santa suit.

Everyone was speechless for a moment, until Severide started applauding, and everyone joined in.

“Hail to the chief,” said Hermann, twinkling.

“We’ve been through a lot this year,” said Boden, and he sounded as sincere and commanding as when he was in full uniform, standing at attention. Perhaps the Santa suit was just another kind of uniform, when it came to that. “Let’s have some fun.”

He picked up the first present and inspected the label.

“Severide,” he said, executing a neat throw which Severide neatly intercepted.

“Nice paper,” Severide smirked, rolling it over in his hands.

Shay peered over his shoulder at the blue happy birthday print, decorated with clowns on skateboards.

“Clowns on skateboards,” she mused. “It’s very you, Severide.”

“Aw, shut it,” said Hermann. “Cindy used up all the Christmas paper wrapping the kids presents.”

Everyone groaned in unison.

“What part of Secret Santa don’t you understand?” Mouch said.

“Well, thanks Santa,” said Severide, winking as he peeled away the paper to reveal a new pair of headphones.

“Santa says you’re welcome,” said Hermann gravely.

Otis was in the corner, tinkering with his microphone – for some reason he thought it would be a good idea to give his podcast listeners a running commentary of the gift exchange.

“Alright, who thought it would be funny to give me that?” groused Mouch, as he unwrapped a book and held it up. Famous Speeches and Orators of the Twenty-First Century.

 He flicked through it, looking pleased despite himself, and Shay hid a smile. She’d thought of him as soon as she’d seen it in the book-store.

Casey’s phone rang and he looked down at the display, and a grin broke across his face. “Excuse me,” he said, rising from his seat and walking down the corridor, his gift left behind on the table.

“Booty call?” Cruz stage-whispered to Mills, who shook his head as Dawson hid a smile.

Hermann elbowed Cruz. “Don’t be an idiot,” he said. “It’ll be Ben and Griffin.”

“Casey didn’t even open his present,” Mouch groused.  “That’s half the fun, seeing what everyone got.”

Casey slipped back into his seat beside Dawson. “Mouch is annoyed you didn’t even open your present,” she announces.

He picked it up and then set it back down. “How about you tell Mouch I already have everything I want,” he said.

“You’re not nearly as smooth as you think you are, you know,” she said, and she reached up her hand to touch his cheek.

Shay threw a cushion at them.

Dawson glared.

“Sorry,” Shay lied. Dawson would give her hell for that later, but it would be worth it. 

“Apparently you can have too much of a good thing,” Severide sing-songed in her ear. “I think I’m officially cutting you off.”

 Shay sculled the last of her cocktail before he could snatch it off her, and then banged the empty glass down on the table, defiant.

“Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the House,” Mills intoned gravely, “not a creature was stirring, not even a –“

“Truck 81, Squad 3, Ambulance 61,” came the announcement over the intercom 

“God bless us, every one,” intoned Otis into the microphone, in his best Tiny Tim impression, and then he thumbed off the switch, grabbed his jacket and headed for the truck.

“Merry Christmas, folks. Let’s save some lives,” said Boden, shrugging off his Santa hat and coat. Underneath, he was wearing his uniform.

Severide threw his arm around Shay’s shoulder. “You heard the man,” he said. “Let’s go.”

She followed the others out to the truck.