The Slayer Who Saved Christmas
A/N: If you feel the urge to hurl through this story, bah humbug!
FIC: MC ’47 Dec ’01 The Slayer Who Saved Christmas
Title: The Slayer Who Saved Christmas
Rating: R (For Language later)
Relationships: X\F, T\K
Feedback: In lieu of a Faithbot yeah.
Disclaimer: If I own the chars, why don't Faith and Cordy do as their master tells them? Woe is me.
Xander, Faith, Tara, & Kennedy belong to Mutant Enemy.
Alex Cross belongs to James Patterson.
You better watch out
You better not cry
You better not pout
I'm telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town
Santa Claus is coming to town
Santa Claus is coming to town
22nd December 2001
The department store was full of busy shoppers hurriedly picking up their last minute bargains. All around were garishly coloured streamers, spray-on snow, Merry Christmas signs and the like, and by the elevator on every floor there stood an illuminated artificial Christmas tree. Christmas pop songs and carols blasted out of the crowded toy store’s sound system.
Xander grinned as he looked around. Savouring the excited children as they ran around, eyes filled with wonder as they dragged their parents in search of this year’s coolest toy. One day, this would be him he promised himself, with his kids. "Just why in the hell are we here?"
"I wanted some games for my PS 2," Xander lied as he glanced at his girl-friend, she was as usual collecting open-eyed stares from teen boys and only slightly less juvenile ones from their fathers. Faith was dressed in black, knee-high motorcycle boots and too-tight to breathe leather pants. Her glossy mane rested on the up-turned collar of the matching jacket as it swung open to reveal the fully-filled tight black tank top underneath, nipples enticingly leading the way and revealing several inches of sexily flat belly.
And that was before she even moved in her uniquely half-slink, half-stalk way. How he wasn’t flattened in the stampede to get to her was an unending miracle to him.
"See anything ya like?"
Xander grinned slightly at Faith’s caustically asked question. "I think we both know the answer to that," he rejoined before glancing towards the department store’s Santa, a trail of under fives waiting for their audience. "Tell me little girl," he leered, "do you want to sit on Santa’s knee?"
"Funny fucker," Faith snorted. "He’ll probably be keen on the idea, but it really ain’t my bag."
"Shame," Xander sighed. Faith shot him a confused look, his girl-friend wonderfully unaware of all the attention she garnering. "I’ve got a pair of Santa and Santa Little Helper’s costumes tucked away somewhere."
Faith shot him a dimple-revealing leer. "Now ya’re talkin’ my language."
Eyes still on the excitably queuing children, Xander licked his lips, nervous as he readied himself to broach what he was certain would be a sensitive subject. "You ever think about what Reese said?"
"Who?" The colour fled Faith’s high cheeks. "Oh him," his girl-friend shuffled from foot to foot, her nervousness somehow costing her some of her unearthly grace. She shrugged and then laughed, a note of hysteria in her voice. "Kids, me? Jesus, Xand, I’m only nineteen, get back to me in say five years minimum. ‘Sides, we’ve gotta set up this Brotherhood, right. Globe-trotting kick-ass warriors remember?"
Xander opened his mouth to protest then nodded mutely. He didn’t know if it was fears about her becoming her mother, about him losing interest if she got pregnant, about being able to protect their children, or something completely different, but the terror in Faith’s eyes had only ever been matched when they’d been confronted by Kakistos. Xander bit back a sigh, Faith would make a wonderful parent, if only the scars of her past could be soothed.
The news that life wasn’t fair or just wasn’t a revelation, but it was still a heck of a kick in the teeth.
Gathering himself, and fighting back the pained tears that threatened to over-whelm him, he looked around. "Where did Tara and Kennedy go?"
Faith grinned half-heartedly. "Tara mentioned somethin’ about goin’ and getting’ some lingerie as presents."
"What?" Xander’s gaze shot back towards his girl-friend, eyes alight with horror. "There’s semi-clad hotties and I’m wasting my time here? Why don’t you people keep me informed!"
"Perv," Faith’s chuckle was a good deal more assured this time. Suddenly the Slayer’s dark eyes narrowed. "Holy shit!"
Xander found himself echoing Faith’s shock as he noted a sextet of bulbous-bellied but long necked and armed green-skinned creatures with brooding eyebrows set above deep-set red eyes stalking through the busy store, heedlessly pushing through the shoppers and converging on the Santa’s grotto in the centre of the floor. "They’re good Grinches," Xander said doubtfully. "Really good costumes."
"Nah," Faith shook her head, "my dedar is going nuts-."
"Like gaydar, only for demons," Faith impatiently explained. "Keep up dumbass."
"Oh right," Xander’s heart quickened. "Maybe they’re friendly?"
"Oh yeah," Faith snorted, "those eyes are just all about spreading goodwill to all men. They’re heading for the Grotto."
"Noticed that," Xander nodded.
"Why do ya figure?" Faith queried
"Child sacrifice?" Xander shook his head. "Doesn’t really matter. You grab the kids-." Faith looked at him. "Fine," he sighed. "I’ll grab the kids, you shift Santa out of the firing range."
"Great, I get the boozy old fart with wandering hands," Faith grumbled as she one-hand vaulted over the shelf in front of them, landing with her usual effortless grace.
"Wanna swap?" Xander shouted after her. A vigorously shaken head was all the answer he received. "Figured."
"Oh when the snowman brings the snow
Oh well he just might like to know
He's put a great big smile on somebody's face
If you jump into your bed
And you cover up your head
Don't you lock the doors
You know that sweet Santa Claus is on the way"
"Jesus," Faith mumbled as she slinked through the massing shoppers, a sort of slow hysteria beginning to seep into the crowd as they began to realise the strange creatures weren’t just clowns in costumes. Dirty old man or screaming brats, what a freakin’ choice.
Although it was kinda cool to get some action between the tedium of shopping. A surprisingly authentic looking elf approached her as she hurdled over the grotto’s wooden picket fence. The pointy nosed and eared elf was only three foot tall at the most, and dressed in black and white ringed trousers, a blue velvet jacket, and red shoulder braces. Oh, and one couldn’t forget the violently yellow headwear with a bell on the end and tortuously curl-toed blue slippers. Guy looked like he dressed in the dark after takin’ LSD. "Don’t even," she warned as she snatched hold of the elf by one of his red braces and dumped the now lewdly swearing small person at the other side of the fence. "Watch your language around the rugrats," she reprimanded before racing over the surprisingly authentic fake snow, around the Christmas tree, and over the neatly stacked pile of presents to land in a crouch in front of the store Santa.
Who looked astonishingly unperturbed by her sudden arrival. "Well hello there!" he boomed like an extremely pale Barry White. "I don’t normally approve of queue jumping, but when it’s a pretty little thing -."
"Don’t get any ideas," Faith warned as she snatched hold of the fat man’s wrist and yanked him off his seat. "Trouble’s on its way."
"Well some would say, wherever Faith Spenser is, trouble is sure to follow."
"What the hell is going on here?" Faith shot a stunned look around before focussing on the rotund man’s sparkling blue eyes, almost blinding in their kindness. "How the hell do ya know my name?"
"Now young lady," ‘Santa Claus’ giggled merrily, not at all put out by the chaos surrounding them. "Didn’t you just admonish Krampus for swearing? Besides," the fat man let out a booming laugh, "didn’t you know I always check my list at least twice? The names that have the potential, they stick."
"Oh shit." Faith groaned as she slapped her head.
Why in her world, couldn’t even Santa Claus be even close to freakin’ normal?
* * *
"What do you think?"
"To quote Xander ‘drool, drool, oooooh’," Tara giggled but didn’t shift her eyes from Kennedy flouncing around in a pink baby doll, she herself dressed only in a white teddy. "We’ll put that in the ‘bought’ pile. What’s nex-," Tara’s eyes narrowed as her girl-friend hurried over to the shops windows. "Kennedy!" she half-squealed. "People will see you!"
"Yeah, and they’re not stopping to look," Kennedy reported before groaning. "Honestly, you can’t take her anywhere."
"Take who where?" Tara asked from her position safely hidden by the changing rooms door, cheeks blazing at her girl-friend’s brazenness.
"Faith," Kennedy replied. "She’s caused some sort of riot at the toy store she and Xander went to, people are running from the store in droves."
"It might not be Faith’s fault," Tara rejoined.
Kennedy laughed. "Loyal, but at least say it like you mean it baby."
"Oh shut up," Tara magically dressed them both. Ignoring the shop assistant’s bug-eyed gasp, she took eight hundred dollars out, slammed it down on the counter, and stuffed their purchases into a bag. "Thanks, we’ll be sure to shop at Victoria’s Secret again. Come on, Kennedy!"
"Ah but I wanted to try on one of those basq-."
"Just come on," Tara grabbed her girlfriend’s arm and dragged her out of the store.
* * *
"All I wanted to do," Xander ducked under one of the Grinches’ punches before toe-kicking it in its bulbous belly, "was some Christmas shopping! I mean," the wheezing thing lashed at him with its dangerously sharp fingernails. Xander leaned out of the way even as he leg swept its legs away from under it. "I know Christmas shopping is meant to be a competitive sport these days," Xander left his feet as he side-kicked another of the creatures in its flabby chest, knocking it over the picket fence, "but this is ridiculous."
And what he wanted to know was, Xander gasped when one of the things grabbed him around his chest and belt and threw him into a shelf, taking out several hundred dollar’s worth of lego display as he crashed to the ground, was why the heck Faith was stood with Santa rather than bundling the old guy out of the building?
Xander winced as he rolled up to his feet, a security guard who’d just run into the store catching a nail-slash across the throat, blood spilling out across the previously gaily decorated wall. "Son of a bitch!" Xander muttered, guilt tightening his chest as he drew a broadsword. He’d resisted drawing weapons, figuring he could deal with these escapees from a demonic weight-watchers without them and because of his pride a man was dead.
Rage burning through him, he leapt up, sword going back and then down, cleaving through the head of the demon advancing on him. In seconds he was charging towards the demon who’d offed the security guard, blood-splattered sword gleaming in the store’s fluorescent light.
* * *
"Oh dear, oh dear," Santa sighed. "And little Alex was such a sweet boy."
Faith stared at the weirdo. "What in the blue hell are you?"
"Faith," Santa waggled his finger reproving at her. In a minute she’d snap the damn thing off. "You’re a lady, please act like one."
Faith groaned as she resisted the over-whelming temptation to sink to her knees and rest her head in her hands. It was all she could do to stop herself from gibbering hysterically.
"Are you hanging up your stocking on your wall
it's the time that every Santa has a ball
does he ride a red nosed reindeer
does he turn up on his sleigh
do the fairies keep him sober for a day."
"What the-." Kennedy’s voice trailed off as she struggled to make sense of what she was seeing. In the two minutes it had taken them to fight against the tide of people rushing in the other direction, Xander had managed to completely wreck the store and sever the heads from three creatures that looked deliriously like Grinches.
But that wasn’t the weird part, oh not even close. Nope, that was Faith stood gaping at a fat man in a Santa suit who appeared to be jollily oblivious of the carnage surrounding them. "What happened here?" she demanded.
"I’m not really sure," Xander wiped his sword off on one of the demons. "At first I thought the demons were after the kids, but now I’m thinking it had something to do with him." Xander nodded towards the man beside Faith. "Why? Well that was my next question."
"W…who," Kennedy glanced at her suddenly pale girl-friend, "is he? He’s not human."
"Of course not," the man had a smile that made her almost giddy with happiness, "I’m an Avatar."
* * *
"Say what?" Faith’s fist clenched at the revelation. She’d had her suspicions, but the ‘Avatar’s’ words were enough both to confirm them and crack the spell over her. Her fist swung out in a perfectly executed right cross.
And stopped an inch from the demon’s ruddy nose. "Oh dear, oh dear," Faith swore she was gonna rip off the Avatar’s finger and shove it up his two zip-code ass if he didn’t stop waggling it at her. "A sweet little thing like you can’t hurt an Avatar, you don’t have the necessary evil streak, darling."
"You can spank me if you want though?" Faith stared down at the leering elf. "Go on sweet-cheeks, lay one on me!"
"I don’t believe I’m hearing this," Faith moaned.
"Krampus behave!" ‘Santa’ scolded the elf before turning towards her, an apologetic look on his creased face, "I’m sorry dear, Krampus is a wonderful organiser but he does have a tendency to be a little lech-."
"Ow!" Faith squealed and started as her butt stung. She glared in disbelief at the elf.
"You got the ‘Buns of steel DVD’ last Christmas, babe," Krampus grinned. "I definitely approve."
"You pinched my ass you little fucker!"
Faith started after the giggling elf only to find her route blocked by ‘Santa’. "I’m sorry dear, but I can’t allow you to strangle Krampus, he is essential to my -."
"Owww!" Kennedy’s squeal interrupted the Avatar.
"Oh dear," ‘Santa’ sighed.
"Come near me and I’ll turn you into a leprechaun," Tara warned.
"Well there’s no need to be nasty!" Krampus squeaked.
"Will someone explain what is going on here?" Xander cried with the desperation of a man clinging to his last tether.
"I’d love to young man, only I would suggest we leave here before the authorities get here," suggested the avatar.
"Yeah," Xander grimaced, eyes shooting from her chasing the surprisingly fleet-footed elf around the devastated toy store to the beaming avatar. "The police will probably have the exits cut off by the time we get downstairs."
"Downstairs," the ruddy-cheeked man giggled. "Oh no, we don’t go down." The Avatar pointed at the ceiling. "We go up to the roof."
"Why," Xander nodded sagely, "of course we do."
* * *
Faith barely noticed the biting air as she and the others spilt out onto the shopping mall’s flat roof. She was too busy trying to keep the pervy elf from mauling her goodies. When she reached the roof, she purposely dropped the elf she’d carried up the four flights of steps on one of the hot air vents. "Owwwwww!"
"Burn did it?" she idly asked before fixing her suspicious gaze on ‘Santa’. "Right, answers, now""
"What’s an Avatar?" Kennedy demanded.
Santa beamed as he stuck his chest out. "When the world was very young, the gods decided that the virtues – those emotions that govern the ‘good’ side of your soul should have caretakers-."
"Wait?" Xander interrupted. "These virtues are?"
"Ah, Justice, Honesty, Chastity, Compassion," Santa recited,
"Strike one Faith," Kennedy snarked.
"Love, Loyalty, Kindness, Bravery, Charity, Sensitivity," Santa continued.
"Ooh strike two," Kennedy continued.
"Patience," Santa shot Kennedy a look.
"And you’re out!" Kennedy crowed only to silence at Santa’s glare.
"Dependability, Mercy, Honour, and Determination," Santa finished. "I’m," the fat man bristled with pride, "Hope."
"Yeah, there’s some big names there, Justice, Bravery, Honesty, Love," Faith commented, "but what’s the good of Hope?"
"Hope, dear child?" The Avatar looked mortally offended. The lousy day she was having, she could give a crap. "I was there to give ‘hope’ to an embattled British prime minister in 1939, to help a young shy Elvis gain the confidence to enter the recording studio for the first time. Every time a boy or girl summons up the courage to ask someone out, I’m the hope of romance. Every time a young writer writes a story, I’m there, the hope of publication. Every time somebody reaches for something they’ve never had before, I’m there giving them the hope they need."
"Okay, okay," Faith didn’t bother to try to hide her skepticism. "But what’s with the Santa costume?"
Santa’s eyes sparkled. "Who says it’s a costume?" Sparks like fairy lights blazed and bells tinkled when the Avatar waved his hand extravagantly.
Faith gaped when a cherry-brown sleigh pulled by nine antlered reindeers appeared in the light and sound show’s wake. Then looked round at a thud to see an unconscious Kennedy lying on the roof. "Oh boy," Krampus started towards the fainted teen, "babe in need of CPR!"
"You stay away from her," Tara hurriedly moved in front of her lover, glaring at the elf. "Or I’ll turn you into an imp!"
Krampus’ face took an injured look. "You try and help some people."
"Holy shit," Faith finally gasped as she returned her gaze to the sleigh.
"Faith," Santa sighed. "What did I say about your language?"
"Bite me, owwww!" She spun around and glared at the elf, hand rubbing at her behind. "You son of a bitch!"
"What?" The elf attempted to look innocent. "You said to bite you?"
"Out of all the reindeer you know you’re the mastermind
Run, run Rudolph, Randolph’s not too far behind
Run, run Rudolph, Santa’s got to make it to town
Randolph he can hurry, he can take the freeway down
And away went Rudolph a whizzing like a merry-go-round."
Xander groaned. Everything was going waaaay too fast for him. He was seriously out of his depth, and he battled world-ending demons as a living. "So you’re the real Santa?"
"Every one has a job, Alex," the fat man chortled. "Bringing hope is a full-time gig don’t you know?"
"Those were real Grinches?" Tara sounded as if she was coping perhaps as well as he was.
Which was to say she was on the edge of a nervous breakdown rather than in the middle of one.
"Um," Santa’s jowls fell and the merriment in his eyes dimmed. "Perhaps I should explain that on the sleigh. After all, there was rather a scene. I’m sure the police will be here presently."
"I’ll sit on your knee if there ain’t enough room, Sweet-Cheeks," the elf offered.
"You lay one finger on me and I’ll bounce your stunted ass off the sidewalk," Faith warned.
"There you go making friends again, Krampus" sighed Santa. "I can’t take you anywhere."
* * *
Tara gasped as the sleigh lifted off the roof’s mundanely gravelled surface, entering the night’s cold air and a world of yet as undreamed of magic. Tara spent a few seconds savouring the cold air tickling her face and determinedly not looking down at the streets with their now uncomfortably ant-sized people dwindling into the distance as they climbed higher and hig-.
Oh goddess, she shuddered uncomfortably. And then her eyes narrowed as she realised something. "You’re not using magic to power this sleigh are you?"
Santa suddenly let out a belly laugh that seemed to almost shake their crowded sleigh. "Not in the strictest sense no," the avatar agreed. "I power the sleigh with my virtue, hope."
"And about your Avatar thing?" Xander impatiently demanded.
"Ah, as I said Avatars are the personification of virtues in human form," the elderly man chuckled, full beard bouncing in matching good humour. "And as such immortal and invincible," the elderly man’s voice took on a more sombre note. "At least until this, my last year as avatar when I pass ‘Hope’ onto the next man-."
"Next man?" Kennedy shrilled beside her. "Can only a man be an Avatar?"
Santa let out another belly laugh, apparently unaffected by Kennedy’s strident tone. "Oh bless you, child," Santa replied. "When the gods created the avatars, they made eight of us male, and eight female, no sexism, there has to be a balance, there always is. Only, as a designated male avatar, I can only pass my virtue onto another male. If the demons manage to catch up with me before I pass the power on, then," the Avatar sighed, "the virtue will gradually seep from the world."
"A world without hope, that’s," Xander shuddered, "like a world with Twinkies, monstrous." Xander looked towards Santa. "What are you doing out here? You should have your head down!"
The Avatar shrugged. "Christmas is such a hopeful time. I love the children, their innocence and hope for the future. I always get a job at one of the big malls the week before Christmas, do a couple of drop-ins at orphanages, that sort of thing. Besides, I have to find my replacement before Christmas Day."
"Clock’s ticking," Kennedy gloomily pointed out.
"I know," Santa sighed.
* * *
Faith blinked as they landed in a deserted lot behind a derelict looking warehouse, the elf suddenly jumping in front of her and taking her photo with his cell phone. An elf with a cell, every time she figured this situation couldn’t get any weirder it did. "What the hell was that for?" she growled.
"My friends would never believe I met you without evidence!" the elf explained. "You’re a real celebrity in the elf world!"
"Oh right," Faith stared suspiciously at the elf. "I guess that’s five by five."
"Right," Krampus licked his lips. "Now that’s settled, how about some topless shots to get you warmed up before we go for completely naked?"
"That’s it!" Faith lunged at the surprisingly agile elf. "I am gonna kill you!"
"Tell me Faith!" the elf giggled as he rushed away from her. "If I put some mistletoe on my belt where would you kiss me?"
Suddenly Xander was in front of her. "Get out of my way, Harris, I’m gonna wring that little bastard’s neck!" she snarled.
Xander as usual ignored her. "You heard what Hope said would happen if he died."
"Yeah," Faith nodded, eyes fixed on the elf who now had his usefully long tongue out as he waved at her, "world without hope, big downer."
"Yeah, that’s something we can’t risk happening," Xander took a breath. "We have to help."
"No!" Faith’s gaze snapped back to Xander even as her heart dropped. "You can’t mean," she shook her head, "no it’s too horrible to even think!"
"Yes, we’ll be protecting Santa while he looks for his replacement." Xander nodded dolefully. "Which means we’ll be putting up with Krampus for a lot longer."
"I knew you wouldn’t be able to tear yourself away, Sweet-Cheeks!"
"Rocking around the Christmas Tree
at the Christmas party hop
Mistletoe hung where you can see
Every couple tries to stop"
"How are you supposed to find this replacement?" Faith kept one eye on the pervy elf who was currently bothering Kennedy, Tara having somehow scared the shit out of him, and one on the jolly man who was apparently Father Christmas.
"Ah," Santa beamed at her, "such a keen mind. Such an incisive question-."
"Just get to the answer," Faith snapped as they strode through Washington’s busy night streets, conscious that for once all the eyes weren’t on her. What a weird freakin’ group they looked, three young and happening people, Kennedy, a Santa, and an elf striding through one of Washington's less exclusive streets. Actually, less exclusive was putting it nicely, they were two blocks out from a red light district, and one street away from skid row. There wasn’t much festive cheer here, all cracked sidewalks, crumbling brownstones, filthy shop windows, and desperate looks. Faith shuddered as she thought she saw something rat-like move in the shadows. "Quicker we find the answer, quicker we can leave ya and ditch Krampus."
"Yes," Santa sighed, "I’m terribly sorry about Krampus. He’s the most effective administrator and attaché, but he does a slight tendency to lechery."
"A slight tendency he says?" Faith shook her head in disbelief before instinctively glancing over her shoulder to see Krampus sneaking up behind her, hands out-stretched. "Don’t even," she warned in a growl.
This was a real crappy day.
"You never answered Faith’s question," Xander reminded the Avatar.
"No, I didn’t," Santa’s tone was suddenly sorrow-filled again. "I’m looking for someone, someone who has very little, but doesn’t dwell on their own problems, but instead concentrates on spreading their virtue throughout their home city. Someone who cares for others before themselves."
"Faith used to spread her virtue all the way through Boston."
Faith glared at Kennedy then smirked when the elf made a lunge for the potential. "Match made in heaven."
"Who were you before you know?" Xander queried.
"Before I was chosen?" Santa sighed wistfully. "An avatar has to be replaced every thousand years. A thousand years ago I was a rescue climber in Switzerland, leading teams into the mountains to search for lost people. It was quite the adventure, but when I was offered this chance," the avatar sighed. "The opportunity to be the holder of hope for a thousand years, there are some honours one can’t resist."
"Yeah right," Faith was less than convinced. "’Cause runnin’ around with a bunch of horny elves must be a bag of laughs."
Santa chuckled, the avatar’s good humour bouncing back. "Oh yes, well that helps keep one young. But the things I’ve done, seen, and the happiness I’ve felt, oh it’s beyond description." Santa’s ruddy face turned to her. "But you know how it feels, every time you save someone, it’s the same, knowing you’ve made a difference."
"Yeah," Faith nodded thoughtfully as they passed by a pawn shop, "guess I do."
"Apart from the Grinches, who could be hunting you?" Xander asked.
"Gryla and Jack Frost would be the major two." Santa sighed. "Any demon really, but those and the Grinches are the ones who’ve positioned themselves against me."
"Jack Frost?" Faith snorted. "Seriously?"
"Oh I wouldn’t joke about that," Santa sighed. "Jack Frost used to be one of my elves but eight centuries ago he decided he was too good for our work, and ran away. He’s spent all this time learning dark magic and causing mischief." The Avatar dabbed at his suddenly moistening eyes. "And he was such a nice boy once."
"And the Gryla?" Tara asked. "Is that the ogress from legend?"
"I’m afraid so," Santa sighed. "A most hateful beast she is. Eight feet tall and six hundred pounds of bad attitude."
"I’ve dated worse," Faith grinned at Xander. "Hell, I’m dating worse."
"You could always trade up, Sweet-Cheeks!"
"How will we find this special person?" Tara asked.
"Well I can sense them, when they’re my vicinity," Santa explained. "I’m guessing the sort of person I’m looking for will be involved in some sort of charity work. That’s why I brought us here," the avatar smiled beatifically. "Plenty of soup kitchens to explore!"
"Oh goody," Faith muttered.
"This for you!" Krampus was suddenly in front of her, a glitteringly gold ladies watch in his palm. "Come with me Sweet-Cheeks, I know how to treat a girl." The elf wriggled his eye-brows suggestively. "Just wait ‘til we pass a 7-11 I’ll get us some Champers, make the party really flow."
Faith looked over her shoulder at an alarm’s shrill peel to see the pawn shop’s shattered window before returning her gaze to the elf. "Krampus, tell me you didn’t just break into that shop."
Krampus leered up at her. "Okay, I didn’t."
"She swears a lot doesn’t she?" Santa remarked.
Xander shrugged. "Can’t say I noticed."
"She does it so often, it’s kind of like background static," Tara added.
Faith crossed her arms and scowled. "How is it I’m being perved on it by a horny midget-"
"Not all of me’s mini, babe."
Faith shuddered. "And I’m the one in the wrong?"
"You don’t have to swear around me, just moan a lot."
Faith threw her hands up in the air. "Will someone shut this damn elf up!"
"You better watch out
You better not cry
You better not pout
I'm telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town
Santa Claus is coming to town
Santa Claus is coming to town."
Alex Cross fought back the sick taste rising in his mouth as he crouched before the murder scene. A combination of brains, skull, blood, and skin was splattered against the soup kitchen’s wall, the victim’s decapitated corpse stuffed in the huge metal pot the kitchen’s runners had used to make the soup.
"It sure doesn’t get any easier does it?"
Alex glanced behind him. At six three the Washington Police Department’s ‘dragon-slayer’ towered over most of his fellow police officers. Not this one though, Alex was perhaps two inches taller and not at all better built. Yet despite his thickly muscled physique, the young man stood behind him rested easily on the balls of his feet, almost like a jungle cat waiting to pounce. "You look too young to sound so experienced," he commented as he straightened and turned to face the powerfully-built Caucasian.
His detective’s eyes took in everything about the young man in an instance. The kid was mid twenties, but with cool brown eyes that were far more experienced than his years suggested. Yet despite his world-weary eyes, there was a friendliness to the youth’s mouth that suggested he was quick to smile. His black locks were just about in the collar of his black shirt, a suspiciously good brand of shirt on a cop’s salary, while the thick muscles suggested he wasn’t someone who spent a lot of time in a gym, but built his muscles the hard way, through the practice of martial arts, his wide shoulders stretching his leather jacket.
After a second the young man stuck out a hand. "Alan Harris."
Alex shook the hand, noting the young man’s latent power, bubbling under the surface of his polite persona. "Det. Alex Cross."
"Heard a lot of good things about you sir," the young man winced as he glanced over Alex’s shoulder. "Jeez, whoever did this had some strength."
"I’m guessing the murderer was hyped up on some drugs," Alex replied.
"PCP maybe?" The younger detective smiled wryly before sobering. "Have we got any ID yet?"
"Oh yeah," Alex nodded. Robbery hadn’t been a motivation for this butchery, the victim’s wallet had still been in their pocket. "He’s Oscar Mendez." Alex shook his head. "Poor guy, he’s run this soup kitchen for fourteen years, and what thanks does he get?"
"Doesn’t feel like Christmas anymore does it?" Alan smiled sadly. "Anyway, it was a pleasure meeting the great Doctor Cross, be seeing you." Before he could reply, the young man had turned and left, leather trench-coat swishing around his ankles.
* * *
Xander let out a rattling sigh as he scrambled up the underground building’s steps, ducked his head under the entrance’s low ceiling, and made for the marginally cleaner outside air. He’d always had a theory that if you looked and acted like you belonged somewhere, the majority of people wouldn’t actually question your presence.
Which was a really nice theory but more than a little fraying on the nerves to try out.
Or as Faith would put it, made you wanna shit your britches.
Xander’s chuckle died on his lips when he considered the carnage inside the soup kitchen. The detective might have thought someone high on PCP might have done it, but he knew better. That sort of strength, that sort of rage, it had to be demon.
If it wasn’t, well that was another hit for his faltering faith in humanity.
Gathering himself, he hurried across the street windswept, rain-slicked road, ducked under the not working lamplight, and entered the darkened alley just beyond to find his companions, Faith stood holding the elf at arm’s length, a disgusted look on his girl-friend’s face. "Jesus, talk about an one track mind, you make Xan sound like a monk!"
Not at all sure as to whether he should be offended, Xander turned to a worried-looking Santa. "Oscar’s dead, if I had to guess the Gryla did it, the murder took real strength."
The avatar looked down at his feet and sighed. "Such a shame, all I’d heard suggested Oscar was a fine man."
"Fates want us together," Krampus leered. "Don’t fight it, babe. Once you’ve have elf lovin’, you won’t go back."
Tara shot the elf a revolted look and Faith a pitying one before glancing at the Avatar. "H…how do the demons know which people are likely to be avatars?"
Santa’s smile carried with it several lifetimes of pain. "Those directly opposed to me can sense the potential in people just as I do."
"Oh boy," Xander groaned as the tactical ramifications of Santa’s revelation hit him, "that means they’ll know exactly where-."
"Heads up, Xan!" Faith interrupted. "Grinches at the rear of the alley!"
"Don’t worry, babe!" Krampus yelled. "I’ll protect you!"
"To find us," Xander wearily finished. It was just one of those days.
"Here comes Santa Claus!
Here comes Santa Claus!
Right down Santa Claus Lane!
Vixen and Blitzen and all his reindeer
are pulling on the reins.
Bells are ringing, children singing;
All is merry and bright.
Hang your stockings and say your prayers,
'Cause Santa Claus comes tonight."
This time, Xander didn’t have to worry about security cameras picking up him using weapons. This time, he drew a pair of silenced Berretta 92Rs to prevent the police across the road from hearing the shots and threw Faith a broadsword. "Ken! Tara! Guard Santa!"
"Hey, dopey!" hollered Krampus. "Babe’ll need more protection than that when I’ve finished with her!"
"I swear," Xander shot the first of the Grinches in the head, his brains satisfyingly splattering into some cardboard boxes stacked against the wall, "if Faith doesn’t rip that midget’s lungs out and hang him with them, I will!" A second Grinch lunged at him, dangerously sharp nails leading the way, slicing through the dark night, but Xander took out his frustrations with the horny midget by blowing the demon’s head off.
"Xander! The fire escape!"
Xander cursed at Kennedy’s shout, he looked up, gun likewise swinging towards the steel-grey escape overhead. His eyes narrowed as he caught sight of a Grinch snarling down at him, but before he could pull his trigger the beast launched itself off the landing.
"Damn!" Xander cursed as the fat-bellied creature slammed into his chest, the combination of the impact and the rain-slicked ground underfoot sending him crashing to the ground, head bouncing off the sidewalk.
* * *
Faith purposefully dropped the pervy elf into an especially muddy looking puddle as she reached for Xander’s flung blade, a smirk playing on her lips when the outraged midget hit the water ass-first. Her smirk died when she was charged by a trio of Grinches.
The moment the sword touched her fingers she was moving, swinging forward to take the head off the nearest Grinch, blood spewing out to splatter the wall to its left. The Grinch had barely begun to fall when Faith also left her feet, Slayer-powered legs carrying her into the air, high above the stunted demons’ head. The moment she landed in a crouch, she spun around to face the still turning demons, sword flashing to impale the neck of the one to her left.
"Shit!" Faith swore as the demon moved at the last second, turning her killing blow to a wounding stab through the shoulder. Even as the beast wailed and she tugged her sword out, the other rushed her, slashing nails leading the way. Hand still gripping the sword, Faith leaned away from the attacker, until her leather jacketed torso was parallel to the ground, left leg kicking out and crashing into the demon’s belly, knocking it back for long enough for her to pull out the weapon and straighten.
She’d barely straightened when the demons charged her in a pincer move. Faith dropped into a crouch before powering up, legs firing out into a split-kick that caught each of the demons in their fuck ugly faces, knocking them both on their asses. Faith landed with a smirk and started marching towards the nearest of the two. She leapt into the air, drawing her knees up into her chest when the Grinch grabbed a steel trash can and threw it at her.
Her leap carried to the beast’s side, her sword slicing down and through its neck upon landing. She saw the other Grinch pick a four by four out of the rubbish and charge her out of the corner of her eye, so she dropped down into a one handed handstand and sprung off, feet swinging gracefully through the air to smash into the demon’s face, flinging him back into the garbage he’d just climbed out of. Before the demon had time to react, she’d sprung up and strode to its side, her blade slicing through its flabby neck.
In an instance her ‘admirer’ was back at her side again. "Um," Krampus licked his lips before leering, "you’re supple. I like that. I always like party games this time of the year, wanna play Naked Twister?"
* * *
The demon’s fists slammed into Xander’s face, banging his head repeatedly against the ground. "Will you," he kneed the thing in its belly, knocking it off him, "stop that!" He rolled up to his knees, groaning as he realized he’d dropped his guns. He glanced around to see where they were.
And ducked when the demon leapt up and lashed at him with its nails, missing his throat by scant inches. Xander grabbed the creature’s wrist before it managed to pull it back, yanking the beast forward and onto a hastily drawn K-BAR, the blade thrusting deep into its right eye.
* * *
Santa watched the youngsters in action, a deep sadness shrouding him. He truly hated violence, in his mind it was ‘the death of hope’. But he wasn’t so naive as to think it didn’t have its place in the world. And these children, they acted with such tremendous spirit and innate goodness, even the one carrying such a hurt and fear within her.
Santa smiled slightly. But maybe he could help her with that hurt before this was all said and done.
* * *
"You’re a godsend, Charles," Annie Hawkins praised the big black man who’d donated her twenty thick wool blankets for her homeless shelter.
The African-American flashed her a smile. "Ack, Annie. The dye didn’t come out proper on them; the colour didn’t come out right. They’d only have been thrown, but I thought of you." The muscular black lifted out half of the sheets. "If you wait here, I’ll take these in and come back for the others."
"Okay." Annie smiled as she leaned against the back of the grey van. She’d been running this shelter for a dozen years, ever since her little, her smile slipped slightly; Tommy had run away from home. She couldn’t help him, wherever he was. But she could help other teens like him.
She pulled her coat around her; it was so cold even for the time of year. Or maybe it was loneliness, the sort of chill that no amount of fires or radiators could remove.
"You do-gooders make me sick." Annie’s brow furrowed as she looked up. Her eyes widened at the baffling sight that greeted her, a pointy-eared and nosed midget with stony green eyes stood on a fire escape, dressed entirely in black glaring down at her. "Helping people!" the midget ranted. "Don’t you understand misery is a natural state? Upsetting the-." The midget tilted its head to one side. "Say, you look like you’ve got a nice rack under that wolly, would you hook a brother up with a look?" The mini person sighed at her open-mouthed headshake. "That’s what I figured." The creature pointed a spindly finger and shot her a skin-crawling leer. "Say goodbye Annie."
* * *
Jack Frost smiled as the woman crumpled to the ground, skull shattering against tarmac. The woman was dead, now to deal with the real target – Charles Johnson. All the do-gooding he did, church volunteering, phone line support, charity fund raising. It made him sick. His smile widened as the shelter’s door began to open. Here he came.
"The moon is right
The spirits up
We're here tonight
And that's enough
Simply having a wonderful Christmas time
Simply having a wonderful Christmas time"
"Two dead, an Ann Hawkins and your target Charles Johnston. M.Os different from the last time, but no less weird. Their hearts apparently froze."
"Jack Frost," Santa mumbled, heart-sickened by Xander’s tersely delivered report as the young man climbed into their car. All these people killed because of him.
"Who’s next Nick?"
Santa half-smiled at the Slayer’s deliberately jaunty tone, noting she’d bestowed the considerable honour of a nickname upon him. She was a good girl behind all the attitude and leather, a real sweetheart. "Andrew Johnson," Santa closed his eyes, "he’s a good man, spends all his spare time throughout the year making toys he gives out around the orphanages at Christmas."
"Nick," Faith’s tone was now more impatient, "we ain’t got time for his life-story. We need directions, stat!"
"Oh boy," Tara muttered, "now she’s nagging at Santa Claus."
"Can’t take her anywhere," agreed Kennedy.
"Don’t worry babe," Krampus spoke up, "I’ve got your back. Or at least your perfect ass! Owww!"
"I told you, no touch," Faith snapped.
"Why do I think my life’s a Carry On film?" Xander mused as he looked towards Santa. "Directions?"
* * *
Andrew Johnson smiled as he pulled up in the driveway of the single storey building, the sound of excited children and Christmas music coming through loud and clear. The kids in here didn’t have much but they were happy.
His smile broadened as he climbed out of the car and made his way to the trunk. With luck, they’d be just a little happier in half a hour or so. His wife and he had never been blessed with children, and when she’d died five years ago, well the light had gone out of his world. But just because he didn’t have any light in his, didn’t mean he couldn’t illuminate a few childs’ lives. He turned to the trunk, brow furrowing as he searched through his pockets looking for his keys.
Johnson turned at the earth-trembling growl behind him. His legs went funny at the eight foot tall, wart-faced, bug-eyed woman stood behind him, a few wisps of grey hair hanging gamely onto the woman’s skull. Although what race she was a female of he had no idea, because no human woman had ever so closely resembled the Incredible Hulk. He opened his mouth to either stutter out a greeting or a plea for his life. Even as his lips began to move he wasn’t sure which.
And then a gleaming SUV screeched into the road, its yellow headlights swinging towards him like a sniper’s scope-light. And then the freak of nature was flying into the air, flung there by the car screeching up the drive to crash into the back of the monster’s legs, the beast hitting the orphanage’s lawn in a howling heap.
Johnson gasped as the car screeched to a stop just inches from his own legs. His eyes widened as the most unlikely bunch of people including a young man, three beauties, a Santa, and the most convincing elf he’d ever seen leapt out of the car. "What is-."
"Get him inside!" growled the taller of the two brunettes, a leather-clad goddess that was young enough to be his daughter, but that didn’t stop his most unfatherly thoughts. "We’ll deal with Femzilla!"
"Come with us if you want to live!" the new-age looking of
the three girls grabbed his left wrist, the shorter brunette grabbing his right and starting dragging him towards the orphanage.
"I’ll help you with the ugly sow, babe!" yelped the elf.
"Oh lucky me."
"You can thank me later," the elf leered.
"Who are you people?" Andrew gasped as they crashed through the door.
"Well that’s rather complicated," the jolly fat man replied.
"Perhaps we should wait until our friends have finished?"
* * *
"Right now I’m tryin’ to decide who’s my biggest problem," Faith eyed the walking skyscraper as she clambered to her feet, "the walking roid, or the permanently perverted?"
"Hey! Elves have feelings too! Come and kiss me better!"
"Jesus!" Faith looked up as the demon straightened, a less than happy look on its face. "Just punch me and put me out of my misery."
Krampus blew her a kiss. "You don’t have to be awake to be fun, babe."
"Jingle bell, jingle bell, jingle bell rock
Jingle bells swing and jingle bells ring
Snowing and blowing up bushels of fun
Now the jingle hop has begun,"
Gryla snorted like a bull before charging her, the lawn trembling underfoot. At the very last second, Faith launched herself to the left, hitting the ground on her shoulder and rolling straight up. The beast turned to face her with worrying speed, Faith ducking under a roundhouse that would have taken her head off and propelled it into the bushes of a house half-way down the street.
She came up fast, thrusting with the sword Xander had earlier given her. Her eyes widened when the thing caught it in her palm, wrenched it away from Faith’s grip, and threw it away like she’d throw away a toothpick.
Shock slowed her reflexes enough so that she barely managed to duck the beast’s straight right, its spade-sized fist parting her hair. "Get her over here!" Xander yelled from his position stood on Johnson’s station-wagon’s roof. "I’ll chop her head off!"
"And how am I –ughh!" She gasped when Gryla snatched her around the throat and flung her into the front of the house.
This wasn’t going well at all.
* * *
Johnson’s eyes widened as he watched the beautiful brunette being flung around like a beach ball. "We can’t just let it attack them! We have to call the police!"
The girl’s companions seemed largely unconcerned. "As long as Faith continues to land on her head, she’ll be fine," retorted the other brunette who then winced when the monstrous woman hit the lithe beauty with a hard right, "ouch, that had to hurt. Besides, what are you going to tell them?"
Andrew’s mouth opened and shut, the teen had a point.
"What’s going on here!" Andrew groaned as he looked behind himself to see the orphanage’s severe-featured owner bustling towards them.
As always Ms. Gravis was dressed in her customary featureless grey dress, her black hair tied in a bun, and horn-rimmed glasses hanging on a chain around her neck. Despite her unyielding appearance, Andrew knew that Ms. Gravis had a kind but disciplined heart. There was sure to be trouble.
The hippy-looking girl nimbly yet unobtrusively blocked the bureaucrat’s approach and view. "Please keep your voice down ma’am," the girl glanced to the clown in the Santa costume, "We’re trying to work out how best to get our friend and his presents into the children without any of them guessing, give them a real treat. Maybe if you made sure no-one saw him that would help?"
Ms. Gravis stared at the girl, bemused by the combination of her soft tone and authoritarian manner. "Very well," the orphanage owner nodded slowly. "I’ll have a lockdown called."
"Thank you," the girl smiled kindly. "That’ll be wonderful."
* * *
"Shit!" Faith dodged a left before kicking out with a right, her heel bouncing off the ogress’ elephant sized thigh with little or no apparent effect. The monster charged her again, Faith dropped into a forward roll that sent her rolling under and through the demon’s legs.
"Oh she can contort herself into all sort of interesting positions," the elf commented as she sprung upright, the demon already turning to face her.
"That’s it!" Xander shouted, her boy-friend’s normally long patience snapping. "If you don’t stop talking about my girl-friend like that, you’re going to spend the holiday season with a Christmas tree shoved up your ass!"
"If you can’t stand the competition, ahhhhh!" Faith’s eyes widened as Xander grabbed the elf by his collar and flung him into the thick green bushes at the far side of the garden.
Things were getting really surreal, and for her, that was sayin’ a mouthful.
Blood pounding, Faith waited until the demon was in arm’s-length before back-flipping out of reach, closer and closer to the car, until she was pressed up against its side. Faith risked a glance up at her man. "Nice move with the elf, hon. Think you can handle Gryla though, she’s way bigger, and punches like a son of a bitch."
"I can handle her," Xander responded, a grim look on his face.
"Didn’t doubt it." Faith braced herself as Gryla threw a devastating right, ducking down at the last second.
The ogress roared in agony as her punch crashed through the car window, shattering glass and tearing open the demon’s fist, blood spurting everywhere, the car shaking slightly under the impact. Faith looked up in time to see Xander’s sword slide up, enter the shocked ogress’ trunk like throat, blood flying everywhere as he dragged the blade through.
The ogress made a coughing like noise then fell to her knees, shock in her dull-like eyes. And then slump to the ground, body shuddering slightly in its death-throes.
"So," Krampus climbed out of the bushes, scratch marks on his face, his hat hanging haphazardly on his head, and a bunch of hastily picked flowers in his hand, "has Long-Shanks," the elf glared at a for once speechless Xander, "ever said it with flowers?"
"That’s it," Faith slapped her forehead. "I give up."
"Knew persistence was the key," Krampus leered, "my place or yours, babe?"
* * *
"What’s going on?" Andrew demanded, voice reaching hysterical levels as he watched the insanity going on outside.
"I think," the girl who’d just identified herself as Kennedy giggled, "Krampus is courting Faith."
"That’s not what I meant."
"Oh no," the nutcase in the Father Christmas costume gasped, "Jack Frost, I can feel him. He’s here."
"You know Dasher and Dancer, and Prancer and Vixen,
Comet and Cupid, and Donner and Blitzen,
But do you recall, the most famous reindeer of all?"
"Hey, why is it you always get the sweet T & A, Krampus?"
Faith turned and groaned at the all-in-black elf standing in the driveway directly behind their car. "Another one?" she slapped her forehead again. Just when she thought things couldn’t get any worse. "Why me?"
Krampus looked like he wanted to rip the new elf’s throat out with his teeth. "Because I have a little class, Jack."
"Class?" Xander snorted, "yeah righ-, Jack?" Xander gasped. "Jack-, shit!"
Xander leapt from the car roof when Jack pointed a finger and shot an ice spear at him. Hitting the ground beside her, Xander went for his guns only for an errant wind to pick them both up and fling the pair of them into the bushes. Jack giggled. "First the man I think, I’ll keep the babe for play-t-. Ahhhh!"
The elf screamed as Krampus leapt through the open window at the driver’s side and let the brake off, the vehicle rolling down the drive’s slight incline to crash into and squash the evil elf under it. The vehicle came to a shuddering halt as a beaming Krampus as he scrambled out of it. "I’ve waited centuries to squash him like the bug he is!"
"He saved our asses, how humiliating," Xander muttered.
Krampus ignored Xander to leer at her. "Is it true about the hero getting the gal?"
"Not in this case, no," she firmly decided.
* * *
Andrew leaned against the wall, his suddenly weak legs unable to support him as he stared dazedly at the carnage outside. A squashed flat elf, a decapitated giantess, another elf, a broad sword wielding young man, and weirdest of all, a girl who looked like a super-model but moved like something out of ‘The Matrix’. Finally he managed to turn his head and speak to his companions. "Who are you people?"
He listened with increasing disbelief as Santa explained. "Y….you’re mad," he gasped when the portly man finished.
"Now Andrew," the ‘Avatar’s’ ruddy face creased up into a smile that could out-shine the sun, "you know it’s the truth. You’ve seen what Faith and Xander can do, the enemies they face, but most of all you can feel the truth of my words in your heart."
It sounded corny, and yet somehow, he knew it to be true. "B….but, w….what d…do you want with me?" he managed to stutter.
"I want you," the ‘Avatar’s’ smile was at once filled with both joy and sadness, "to take my place as the avatar of hope." Andrew’s mouth opened and closed without any sound coming out. "You’re the man, you put aside your own problems, your own pain, to concentrate on bringing hope and joy to others. And you could do it for a thousand years!"
"And best of all," the other brunette added, "you’ll get centuries of Krampus’ company."
"Kennedy," whispered the hippy looking girl, "Santa’s actually trying to sell it to him."
"Oh yeah," the small brunette looked chagrined. "Good point. Sorry."
* * *
Faith looked up from arguing with the hands-on elf when the door opened. "Good news!" Santa boomed. "Andrew has agreed to replace me! All we have to do is finish off his deliveries, and travel home, then the change will be made!"
"Travel home?" Faith groaned. "That would be-."
"The North Pole," Xander supplied.
Faith shivered. "It’ll be cold there, right?"
"Not if you snuggle up to me, babe," Krampus suggested.
"Jesus," Faith groaned. The elf was persistent if nothing else.
"What part of the turkey do you like Sweet-Cheeks?" the elf leered up at her. "I’m a brea-, ummf."
"Don’t even," she warned as she slammed her hand over his mouth.
"Faith." Before she had chance to kick the elf back into the bushes, Santa had her by the arm, gently pulling her away from the others. "Thank you for all you’ve done," the Avatar beamed at her.
"You’re a fine young lady, full of love, generosity, loyalty, and courage, fine attributes for any mother to have and to pass onto their children. I only hope that one day you realise you won’t repeat your mother’s mistakes and what a good parent you could be."
"What have you done?" Faith gasped as her belly did a roll, a warmth filling her from within.
"I told you," Santa smiled. "Hope is my gift. I think it only right that my last present should be to someone who’s already given so much."
* * *
"Come in! Come in!"
"Yeah whatever," Faith grumbled as the curvy bombshell stalked through the wooden door held open by Krampus and into Santa’s workshop, the door slamming shut behind her.
"Oh dear!" Santa gasped as he climbed off his sleigh.
"Perhaps I should have warned her-."
Xander’s eyes snapped towards Santa. "Warned her about what?"
His grating tone barely seemed to register on the Avatar staring horror-struck at the wooden cabin in the middle of the wintry landscape. "Well, Krampus’ appetites are hardly unique amongst his people."
"Appetites?" Xander gasped. "You don’t mean-."
"Wow! The babe goes commando!"
Suddenly the door crashed open and an elven missile flew out to crash into the snow just beyond their sleigh. "I want my trousers back right now!"
"I’ll be her G.I. Joe any time!"
"My guess, she already knows," Kennedy grinned.