He Sees You When You're Sleeping
By Barb C
Disclaimers: The usual. All belongs to Joss and Mutant Enemy, and naught to me.
Pairing/Characters: Buffy/Spike, OCs
Synopsis: ANYA: There is a Santa Claus. Been around since, like, the 1500s. He wasn’t always called Santa, but you know, Christmas night, flying reindeer, coming down the chimney—all true. He doesn’t traditionally bring presents so much as, you know, disembowel children, but otherwise… - The Body
Author’s notes: This story takes place in the same universe as "Raising In the Sun," "Necessary Evils," and "A Parliament of Monsters." It takes place in the year 2046 in the Barbverse timeline, and contains spoilers for previous works in the series. Tons of thanks to betas typographer, fenchurche, kehf,
deborah37, slaymesoftly, rainkatt, brutti_ma_buoni,
jen_nsync_landl, and a special shout-out to ladyofthelog for Midwestern geographical consultation!
Momma moved them into the house at 1642 Revello Drive two weeks before Christmas. She'd had enough of Toledo snow, she said, but Tammy knew it was really because of Dad. Sunnydale had no bad memories attached. There was no snow in Sunnydale - maybe some frost on the windshield when you got up in the morning, but December in California was bright and clear and sunny, hardly like Christmas at all. Tammy knew better than to complain, but she didn't think Momma'd miss Dad any less in California. She sure wouldn't.
"You've got your own room, and a whole yard to play in now, honey," Momma said, as they sat around in the empty living room eating Doublemeat Burgers. "How do you like that?"
Tammy shrugged. The yard was bare brown dirt because of the water rationing, and the only thing growing in it was a thorny straggle of bougainvillea bushes, their leaves a deep green and their flowers a bright magenta even in the middle of winter. "It's OK, I guess."
"How's Santa gonna find us?" Simon asked. "Does he know we moved?"
Momma just smiled. "He's got ways, baby boy."
Tammy said nothing, but she threw her burger away with the wrapping paper when Momma wasn't looking. It didn't taste like the burgers back home.
Two days after the moving van left, the old lady who lived down the street brought them a plate of Christmas cookies. Her name was Mrs. Summers-Pratt, and she was an energetic, bright-eyed sparrow of a woman, with silvery-blonde hair swept up in an elegantly messy bun and a smile as wide and bright as the California sun. She was a retired ice skating teacher, she said, but she still gave a few lessons now and then. She and Momma talked for a bit, and before she turned to go, she laid a small hand on Momma's arm and said, "Sunnydale's a great place to raise a family, Mrs. Arnault, but if you run into any trouble - " and her voice went imperious, like the queen of a secret country - " - any trouble at all - give me or my husband a call."
"I surely will," Momma said, but Tammy could tell she thought Mrs. Summers-Pratt, like her name, was a little bit odd. But the cookies were really good, and that was all Simon cared about.
That evening Tammy rode her bike down the street, pedaling slowly past Mrs. Summers-Pratt's house. Simon ran after her on foot, hollering, "Tammy! Wait for me!" and she didn't try to ditch him, like usual. Simon was annoying, but familiar.
Mrs. Summers-Pratt's house was a rambling old two-story Craftsman with a big broad front porch, built to the same plan as the house they'd just moved into. The yard wasn't bare, though: it was surrounded by privet hedges and shaded by a pair of huge old live oaks. A wilderness of roses lined the porch. On the porch steps a figure in black jeans and t-shirt lounged in the long evening shadows, honing the edge of a big crook-bladed knife across one knee.
Mr. Summers-Pratt, for that was who it was, was a small wiry man, going stocky with age. His belly had a comfortable lead on his belt buckle, but you could see the lean, strong old-man muscles working in his arms as he sharpened the knife. He had thick iron-grey curls, and very blue eyes in a deep-lined, sharp-angled face. His skin was the color of Momma's ivory earrings, like he never went out in the sun at all. He looked up as she rolled to a stop, as if he'd been expecting her.
"Tamika Arnault, is it?" he said. He had a funny accent. "Just moved in?"
"Yeah," Tammy replied, guardedly. "That's me."
"I'm Simon!" her brother announced. "That's a big knife."
"It's a right corker of a knife," said Mr. Summers-Pratt. "Good on you, Simon. I always fancy knowing the neighbors' names."
That was a strange thing to say. Tammy frowned. "How come?"
Mr. Summers-Pratt had dimples when he smiled, and the corners of his eyes crinkled up in a way that made the corners of Tammy's mouth itch to smile too, though she didn't. "Harder to eat someone you've been introduced to, innit?"
His teeth were strong and white and sharp, and for just a second, Tammy could have sworn that his very blue eyes flashed yellow, like a cat's. "We gotta get home," she said.
"Can we have more cookies?" Simon asked.
Mr. Summers-Pratt turned his very blue gaze on Simon, and said, "Christmas is coming. Hadn't you better mind your sister?" in a voice that was mild as pie, but Simon's eyes went big and wide and he whispered "Yessir," in a voice he hadn't used since Dad died, and all of a sudden Tammy hated everything and everyone, but especially Mr. Summers-Pratt.
"Come on, Simon," she snapped and wheeled the bike around. She rode home as fast as she could go, standing up high on the pedals, and didn't even care when Momma scolded her for leaving her brother behind. Mrs. Summers-Pratt brought Simon home fifteen minutes later, in possession of a handful of cookies and a grin that lit up the house, because Mr. Summers-Pratt had showed him the right way to sharpen the big knife.
Tammy saw Mrs. Summers-Pratt a lot after that - out pruning roses in her yard, at the grocery store, down at the mall. Sometimes Mr. Summers-Pratt was with her, and sometimes he wasn't. She saw Mr. Summers-Pratt by himself a few times, too - tinkering with the ancient black boat of a car in the driveway, or drinking beer and arguing about soccer (which he called football) with two or three cronies. But she never did see Mr. Summers-Pratt standing in the sun. Momma found out from Mrs. Fitzgibbons (who was even older than the Summers-Pratts, and a lot more tottery and creaky) that Mr. Summers-Pratt was retired, too, from the family business, but it wasn't real clear what kind of family business he had retired from. All Mrs. Fitzgibbons would say was, "They're an odd family. But I can't deny they've been a big help over the years. A very big help indeed."
Simon ran down the street to the Summers-Pratts' house every chance he could get, and made friends with the Summers-Pratt grandchildren when they visited. Momma might have had second thoughts, but she was working double shifts for extra Christmas money. So she was more grateful than worried when Mrs. Summers-Pratt said she'd raised five children herself and knew all about juggling work and family, and Simon was no trouble, no trouble at all.
Tammy didn't like it. "I think he's a vampire," she said, stirring her Cheerios round and round in the milk. She hadn't timed them, but she was pretty sure they got soggy faster in Sunnydale than they did in Toledo. "California's full of vampires."
"Now how likely is that, girl-child?" Momma said, setting Simon's bowl in front of him. She took all the "Demons Walk Among Us!" stories in the National Enquirer with a grain of salt, whatever that meant. "He's not hard on the eyes, and he must have been quite a looker when he was a young fellow, but he's an old man now. Vampires mostly turn 'em young and pretty, if you believe the papers."
"Maybe he got old afterwards," Tammy argued, but she could tell Momma wasn't taking her seriously.
"Well, if he is a vampire, you just wear your cross and don't invite him in, and you'll be all right. Simon, honey, what on earth is that?"
"It's a map for Santa to get to our new house," said Simon, inscribing another squiggle in crayon on the crumpled piece of paper. "I got something important I'm asking for."
Tammy rolled her eyes. "There's no Santa Claus, dummy. It's just a story."
"Hush, now," Momma said, one hand caressing Simon's soft brown cheek. "Don't go spoiling it for your little brother. If he thinks Santa's coming, well, Santa's coming. Now I got to get to work."
Christmas Eve, it snowed.
Not anything like the big blizzard of two years back, the one that had shut down the whole Midwest for almost a month solid and swallowed up twenty-seven men, women and children in Ohio alone so completely that the bodies were never found. (Momma had prayed for months, sure Dad would come back.) The chirpy forecasters on the Weather Channel scratched their heads and said that while the freak (almost magical) weather conditions that had caused the monster blizzards had definitely broken the previous fall, maybe the world was still shaking itself back to normal, whatever normal was these days. And it wasn't like it had never snowed in Sunnydale before. Though that was so long ago that Tammy figured Mrs. Summers-Pratt must have been a girl when it happened.
Tammy knelt at the window in her nightgown, watching the fat white flakes spiral silently to earth, covering the bare brown yard in white. The leaves of the bougainvillea were already withered black flags in the frost.
"But I wanna wait up for Santa!" Simon protested, as Momma tucked him in.
"Simon, honey, you wait up for Santa, he'll never come. So close those great big eyes of yours and maybe when you open 'em there'll be some Christmas waiting for you."
Simon burrowed under the covers and scrunched his eyes shut, and Tammy followed Momma downstairs and into the front room. "You take good care of your brother," Momma said, like she always did. "Don't open the door to any strangers, and if there's any trouble, you call 911, and then you call me." She kissed Tammy's forehead. "And maybe Santa'll bring you something in the morning, my hard-headed little girl."
"Ain't no Santa," Tammy muttered, because she knew Momma hated her saying 'ain't' - Girl-child, were you raised in a barn? Momma would say, and If you behave like an ass, you're getting hay for dinner. But this time Momma just sighed and looked tired, and walked out the door.
Tammy poked around in the living room for awhile, trying out various ways of re-arranging the sad little row of presents under the shrimpy green plastic tree so they looked bigger and shinier than they were. She thought about texting Shania and Kelly back home, but all her friends back in Toledo ever wanted to talk about was stuff that happened to them in school, stuff Tammy didn't know anything about anymore, and anyway, it was two hours later there. She might as well just go to bed.
So she checked the locks front and back like she always did, and was just pulling the front curtains shut when a sound behind her made her turn.
Simon was down on his hands and knees in front of the blocked-off fireplace. Momma wouldn't let them light a fire in it, because it hadn't been used in eleventy-billion years, and the damper was stuck shut, and God knew what was up that chimney. But there was Simon, tongue wedged into one corner of his mouth, brow scrunched in a determined frown, setting fire to a little heap of crumpled-up paper with a pink plastic lighter.
"Simon! Where'd you get that?" Tammy snatched the lighter away, but it was too late: the papers were already going up in flames.
"I'm sending my map to Santa!" Simon yelled back. "You don't want us to have any Christmas at all, you selfish ol' poopy-head!"
"That's not true!" She wanted Christmas, all right, she just wanted the real thing, not this... this fake! She stomped on the collapsing pile of red-rimmed ashes with her slippered foot, sending sparks flying. "And there ISN'T ANY SANTA!"
"There is!" Simon's lip trembled, and tears welled up in his big brown eyes. "There is, there is, there IS! And he's COMING!"
Both of them shrieked and grabbed each other as the long-stuck damper fell open. Wind whirled down the chimney, grabbing hold of the last fading sparks of the map, spinning them around in a carousel of fire, whisking them up, up and away. For a long moment Tammy stood there shivering, holding Simon tight while he clung to her just as hard, his face buried in her chest. But nothing happened. There was only a faint cold draft from the open damper.
"Time for bed," Tammy whispered at last, and Simon gulped and nodded.
Simon didn't make any fuss when she tucked him back in. Tammy made sure all the upstairs windows were shut tight, and checked all the downstairs locks again, just in case. She tried to reach up inside the fireplace and close the damper, but her arm wasn't long enough, and all she got was a handful of soot and fragments of crappy old bird's nest for her trouble.
She was washing her hands in the kitchen when she saw it. Out through the kitchen window, a ripple of shadow against the flurries of white - a stray cat? If it was, it'd be the first one she'd seen since they moved to Sunnydale. She squinted into the shadows of the back yard. There it was again, crouched beneath the wheels of her bike. It skittered around the corner of the house, heading for the front yard.
Poor California kitty, probably never seen snow before. Tammy turned off the water, tucked her cell in the pocket of her robe, and padded out to the front door. She shot the bolts one by one, snick snack snick, and stepped out onto the porch. Maybe it wasn't Toledo cold, but the night air was enough to raise goosebumps on her arms through her terrycloth robe, and the cement of the porch was chilly even through the soles of her slippers. She peered out into the swirling snow.
"Here, kitty kitty kitty," she crooned.
Over there, under the raggedy skirts of the bougainvillea. A rustle, a skitter in the snow-frosted heaps of papery bougainvillea bracts that littered the ground below. Tammy tiptoed off the porch - the bulb in the motion sensor light was out, but there was enough of a glow from the streetlight to see where she was going. Her slippers left brown footprints in white snow, and soggy bracts squished beneath her toes, fragile as onion skins. She crouched down, lifting the long thorny whips of the bougainvillea branches, peering into the shadow...
Eyes glinted red in the darkness. Tammy stretched out a hand. "Come on, kitty. It's too cold for you out here. I won't hurt y - "
A scuffed black boot crunched down beside her, and a hand fell on her shoulder, cold as the night itself. Tammy spun around with a yelp, slapping the end of the bougainvillea branch at the intruder.
"OW!" The hand was snatched away, and its owner skipped back like a waterbug on a puddle. "Watch where you aim that thing, bite-size!"
All Tammy's breath left her with a whoosh. It was only Mr. Summers-Pratt. He was dressed for the cold, in a woolly red sweater beneath a black leather jacket that looked almost as old as he was. A matching knit hat covered his ears. He had a long-stemmed pipe clenched between his teeth. Tammy glared up at him, telling herself that the shiver in her voice was from cold, not nerves. You couldn't be scared of an old man wearing a bright red Christmas sweater and a matching wool hat, could you? "What are you doin' in my yard?"
Mr. Summers-Pratt took his pipe from his mouth and licked the bloody scratch on his hand like he enjoyed the taste, and counted off on his fingers, "Out. For. A. Smoke." He folded his thumb down with that crinkle-eyed smile. "Little girl." He gestured with the stem of his pipe. "Promised the wife I'd have another go at giving up the ciggies, but chucking tobacco entire for Christmas's inhuman. Might ask you the same thing. Bit late for a constitutional, innit? Past time a morsel your age should be in bed."
"It's my yard. And I heard a cat. And - and - " Tammy backed towards the porch, wishing the light would come on. Mr. Summers-Pratt wasn't very big, but his hand on her shoulder had been as strong as iron, and he'd moved awful fast just then.
"Not many cats hereabouts." He drew on the pipe again, exhaling little dragon-puffs of smoke. "Most likely you're hearing Santa's elves."
"I'm not six!!" Tammy snapped. "And if you don't go away, I'm gonna text 911." And she grabbed the little gold cross on her necklace, and thrust it out at him.
Mr. Summers-Pratt only chuckled. "Don't care much for me, do you? S'all right, I'm none too fond of most people myself. On your way, then. I'll be gone soon enough... but only soon enough." He threw a sharp look at the bougainvillea. "Hear that, you little bastards?"
Tammy was just about to decide that Mr. Summers-Pratt wasn't just weird and a little scary, he was crazy as a bedbug, to boot. But from the heart of the bougainvillea there was a chittering noise, like high-pitched laughter. Tammy got on her way. And slammed the front door behind her.
Once inside, in the modern electric glow of the living room lamp, Tammy felt kind of dumb, and she wasn't even sure what she'd been scared of. A stray cat? Mr. Summers-Pratt, who might be a vampire? Even if it had been something icky like a rat, it wasn't like it could do anything worse than bite her and make her get a rabies shot. But the hard cold weight of the cell in her hand felt good anyway. She thumbed it on.
The screen was dead.
It was an old phone, second or third hand, and the batteries weren't the greatest, but she'd charged it only a few days ago. Tammy frowned, shook it. Unease pricking the back of her neck, she plugged it in again and danced from one foot to another - there, it ought to be charged up enough to make one call. Momma, she decided, because... Momma. She hit speed dial.
Only a weird hissing noise came through the speaker, like wind in snow. And then, cold and shrill and far away, the sound of high-pitched, chittering laughter. Tammy yanked the phone off the charger and flung it to the floor. She stood there staring at it, chest heaving, shivering hard. The living room was freezing, she realized, because of the open damper.
Momma never held with guns, but there was a baseball bat in the hall closet, and Tammy took it upstairs with her, just in case. Simon was fast asleep when she checked his bedroom, and it was warmer on the second floor, so she decided the best thing to do was go to bed. She crawled under the covers and lay there for a long time, cradling the baseball bat in her arms. Nights were always longest, and noises always creepiest, when Momma worked the late shift, and this was the longest, creepiest night of all. Momma always reminded her third-shift pay was better, and working Christmas Eve meant time and a half, and time and a half meant Christmas presents that weren't socks and underwear. So Tammy tried to go to sleep.
She lay in the dark, remembering Dad: his big booming laugh, his smile white in his dark face, the way he'd loved to play with the beads in Momma's long waterfall braids, till she slapped his hands away and told him to quit that right now, in the way that meant she really liked it. But remembering Dad always meant remembering the night he went out into the storm, and never came back.
Every sound in the house was etched on her eardrums: the drip of the leaky faucet in the bathroom, the soft ticking of the mantel clock downstairs, the rustle of palm leaves in the wind. Tammy rolled out of bed, baseball bat in hand, and tiptoed over to the window. The street light on the corner was out - it hadn't been out earlier, had it? Only a few brave strands of Christmas lights blinked in the snowy darkness, red and blue and gold. She leaned the bat against the wall and knelt in front of the windowsill, chin resting on folded arms, nose pressed to the glass. She and Simon used to do that back in Toledo, when they were little, little kids. Waiting for Santa Claus. Sometimes she wished she wasn't too old to believe, but tonight wasn't one of those times.
A figure solidified out of the shadows around the broken street light, silent as spilled ink. Tammy rubbed the breath-fog off the window glass with the hem of her nightgown. The silly white pom-pom on its red wool hat winked at her - Mr. Summers-Pratt. He leaned against the lamp-post, arms folded across his chest, puffing on his pipe. Snow freckled the shoulders of his black leather jacket, and his head was wreathed in blue smoke. Every now and then he lifted his head, nose to the wind, like he was smelling for something.
She sprang back from the window with a gasp, grabbing the bat. "Simon! What're you going out of bed? It's near midnight!"
Simon shuffled around the corner of her door, rubbing his eyes and trailing his ratty ol' baby blanket behind him. "Tammy," he whispered, "I hear reindeers! Up on the roof!"
"There's no - " Tammy started, and then she froze. She could hear something overhead. The click of flinty hooves on shingles, or the faint, eerie scratching of tiny clawed feet?
"See?" crowed Simon. "Santa's coming after all!"
"It's not Santa," she said, hugging her brother close, nose buried in the dark fuzz of his hair. "We got roof rats, or something. There's roof rats in California. It was on the news. You go back to bed."
Simon's lower lip pooched out. "Don't wanna."
"Don't you argue with me, Simon - "
Somewhere downstairs something crashed. Tammy drew a sharp breath and gave Simon a little shake. "You stay here," she whispered fiercely.
It was dark downstairs, dark and cold. She wasn't used to the shapes of the new house yet, or its noises. It was probably just the damper, hanging loose and banging in the wind. Tammy took a fresh grip on the bat, mouth set in a grim line, and almost dropped it at the foot of the stairs when something skittered across her toes. She fumbled for the light switch and slid into the living room, bat raised high. She couldn't hear anything but the tock-tock-tock of Gram's old wind-up clock on the mantelpiece. She couldn't see anything but red lights glittering on the Christmas tree.
Then she remembered that Momma had turned off the tree lights before she'd left... and Christmas lights generally didn't come two by two.
A wild shrill yell rang out, and down they tumbled from the tree. Elves. They bounced across the living room in a chorus of lunatic giggles: red-eyed, point-eared horrors, their grinning lipless mouths filled with translucent rows of needle teeth. They leaped for the hem of her robe and hopped to her shoulder with whoops of glee, clawed at her eyes and yanked at the ends of her braids, waving their soot-smudged green felt hats.
With an outraged scream Tammy shook them off and began swinging wildly with the bat. The tree went flying. She yelled as razor teeth sank into her ankles, kicked and stomped and smashed, and horrible little bird-boned bodies crumpled beneath her feet, squelching like soggy bougainvillea petals.
Wild-eyed and gasping, she looked around. The staircase was a writhing mass of tiny demon elves, and there in the middle of it all was Simon, eyes white-rimmed in his tear-streaked face, clinging to the banisters. Dozens of twiggy, sharp-clawed hands snatched at his hair and snagged in his pajamas, and they were dragging him downstairs, step by step, bump-bump-bump like Winnie the Pooh.
"Get off of him!" Tammy yelled, whaling away with the bat. The elves only laughed as their comrades died, giggling madly at every splat and crunch. More elves were swarming out of the chimney, too many of them to fight - she had to get her brother and run.
WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM!
Something was pounding on the front door, hard enough to shake the front wall of the house. "Tamika Arnault!" a voice bellowed from outside. "Let me in!"
"No!" Tammy bellowed right back, but her heart sank - if she couldn't get Simon out the front door, she'd have to fight them all the way through the kitchen. And already the elves had dragged Simon half-way across the living room towards the yawning stone mouth of the fireplace. She lunged after him, slipped on elf-gore, and fell to her knees. The bat spun across the room and clattered against the wall.
Dozens, hundreds of evil red eyes turned on her. Dozens, hundreds of evil grins got wider. And then the elves were upon her.
The front door splintered right off its hinges, crushing half a dozen elves beneath it as it fell. Mr. Summers-Pratt stood in the doorway, teeth bared, eyes blazing gold. He strained against empty air like a mime walking against the wind. "I'm trying to help, you stubborn little chit! Let me in, or I'll tear the bloody house down!" He whipped off his black leather jacket and flung it at her. "Get into that, idiot girl! Least it'll keep the claws off!"
For a second Tammy wanted to fling it right back at him, but sharp little fingers were already pinching and poking and clawing at her all over. She burrowed under the heavy scarred leather and thrust her arms through the sleeves. The jacket smelled like smoke and earth and was hardly warm at all, but nipping elf-fingers couldn't get through. As she staggered to her feet, up on the mantelpiece Gram's clock began striking the hour.
The damper banged like a coffin-lid slamming closed, and all the elves set up a raucous cheer, capering around the room. Wind roared down the chimney, blasting out across the living room like a storm from the North Pole itself. The lights flickered and dimmed, and when they rose again, it rose from the fireplace with them.
It towered over the room, eight feet tall and more, in a fur-trimmed robe the color of old blood. Its features were lost in the depths of its hood, but its eyes glowed like foxfire, and a beard of crackling, razor-sharp ice crystals spilled out over its chest. It had a huge cloth sack slung over one shoulder. It stretched out one long bony finger towards Simon, curling nails like scythes.
"Little boy," it said, in a voice as deep as the night, "I have you on my list."
Simon swallowed. "S-santa?"
Mr. Summers-Pratt was growling now, really growling, like a pit bull ready to attack. "This is my town and you know it, you miserable jumped-up excuse for Father Christmas! Get yourself gone if you know what's good for you!"
The hooded head swiveled, shedding icicles that fell tinkling to the hearth. "You hold no sway over me, vampire. I was summoned." It turned back to Simon. "Little boy," it rumbled, "What do you want for Christmas?"
Simon stared, speechless. Out on the porch Mr. Summers-Pratt was talking to someone through his headset, rude and urgent. Tammy struggled against dozens of sharp-clawed elf-hands to reach her bat. At last Simon gathered his courage and whispered,"I want my Daddy back."
The robed figure laughed, HO HO HO like the tolling of funeral bells. "You ask much, little boy. Where then is the offering? Where is the blood and the gold, the incense and the bitter balm, the life spilled out on cold stone that would pay for such a gift? No, little boy, I cannot bring your father to you."
A tear trickled down Simon's cheek. "But... but... you're Santa."
"This I can do," the bone-freezing voice went on. It took the coarse brown sack from its shoulder, and held it open, mouth gaping wide. The elves danced back, chittering and squeaking with excitement. "I can take you to the place where your father is now."
Inside the bag was a million miles of dark and cold, a million miles of wind, a million miles of snow, and not a single star. "Daddy's in there?" Simon asked, straightening up a little.
"No he's not!" Tammy shouted, kicking an elf aside. Six more pulled her down. "Simon, don't go in there! It's a trick!"
Phosphorescent eyes turned on her. "It is no trick."
Simon's soft little-boy mouth firmed, and he shot a pleading look at Tammy. "I gotta find Daddy," he said, and took a step forward.
Tammy scrunched her eyes shut, took a deep breath, and whispered, "Come in."
Mr. Summers-Pratt burst through the barrier of air with a roar. Elves pounced him from all sides, shrilling their battle-cries. They fell back in squeaking dismay when the old man's face rippled and changed, elongating into a horned and scaly muzzle lined with savage fangs. Mr. Summers-Pratt dropped to all fours, flexed his claws and snarled, smacking elves aside like a tomcat killing mice, bat-bat-bat-bat. Elves flew every which way as he fought his way across the living room.
Tammy scrambled after her bat. Dead and dying elves were everywhere, and she took vicious satisfaction in clubbing the ones that still moved. Mr. Summers-Pratt was human again, breathing hard and braced between Simon and the looming figure in the blood-red robe. His hands and face were covered in dozens of tiny bites and scratches. "You hold fast, Simon," he said. "This blighter's not telling you everything."
The robed figure cocked its head. "Vampire, vampire, foolish mortal vampire, you have no authority here. The boy summoned me. And your time in this world is almost ended. The winters are few indeed before you leave it for good."
Mr. Summers-Pratt stood with his black boots planted foursquare on the hearth-stones, shoulders broad and sturdy in his red wool sweater, thumbs tucked into his belt on either side of the big silver buckle just below the firm round bulge of his tummy. He rocked back on his heels and scowled, glaring up at the dark recesses of the hood with an insolent tilt of his chin.
"It's that 'almost' that's a bitch for you, mate," he said, and jumped.
He changed in mid-air, and his great ebony-clawed paws slammed into the broad fur-trimmed chest, bowling the huge figure over backwards into the fireplace. He rammed his horned brow straight into the hooded face, fangs slashing at the being's fur-swaddled neck. Over and over they rolled across the hearth, kicking up clouds of snow and soot, roaring and howling and thrashing. But however strong Mr. Summers-Pratt was, the thing in the robe was stronger. Slowly but surely it forced him down, its terrible boney hands locked around his throat, while Mr. Summers-Pratt struggled and snarled and swore, and tried to kick his boots off so he could gouge his foe's belly with his hind claws.
Tammy swung her bat, good and hard. It came down right on top of the creature's hood with a CRACK! The creature swung around and straightened to its full height, holding Mr. Summers-Pratt at arm's length. Its foxfire eyes fixed on Tammy. "You've been a very naughty little girl," it rumbled.
"Let him go!" Tammy yelled.
"You heard her," said a voice from the doorway.
It was Mrs. Summers-Pratt. She was dressed in stylish slacks and a cheerful holiday sweater with holly berries on it, but she could have been wearing a gunnysack for all Tammy cared, because in one hand she was holding a very long, very sharp sword. She whirled the blade around with careless, expert grace and glanced at her husband. "Need some help, honey?"
"Ta ever tho," said Mr. Summers-Pratt, and his accent sounded really funny coming through a mouth that had never been intended to form human words at all. "Took you long enough."
"I had cookies in the oven," said Mrs. Summers-Pratt, and she sprang into the air and brought the sword down with a THWACK! on the red-robed arm holding her husband. The being let out an Arctic bellow and dropped Mr. Summers-Pratt, and the fight was on.
All back and forth across the living room, and all up and down the stairs Mr. and Mrs. Summers-Pratt fought the demon together, and together they held it at bay. Her sword, and his fangs and claws, bit deep again and again, rending and tearing and stabbing and slicing. But none of it mattered, because every cut and every bite closed up like footprints disappearing in falling snow.
Tammy knew she had to get Simon to safety while the creature was busy. She looked around. Her brother was huddled to one side of the fireplace, and in his hands was the big brown sack. He held it up, looked inside. Squeezed his eyes shut and shivered. Tammy knew what he was doing.
He was trying to work up the nerve to crawl inside.
"You can neither best nor banish me, mortals," the red-robed figure intoned. "Even now you grow weary. Cease your foolish striving and leave me to the task I was summoned to do."
"Not the way it works," gasped Mrs. Summers-Pratt. She tossed a wisp of silver-blonde hair out of her eyes, and she really did look like a queen. "You don't get this one. Not this time."
"Fool," said the creature. "Not a single name can you strike from my list. I was summoned."
And all of a sudden, Tammy knew what to do.
"Simon!" she cried, sliding to her knees beside her brother. "You called him here! You can make him go away!"
Simon looked up. He sniffled. "But he said he'd take me to Daddy."
Mr. Summers-Pratt made a low, growly noise. "And he will. But you already know where your Dad is. Don't you, Simon?"
Simon looked down, the way he did when he didn't want to answer. Tammy took his hands, prying them away from the frayed edges of the sack. "Dad's gone, Simon. I loved him. Momma loved him. You loved him too. But he's gone. And the only way you can go to where he is - "
For a long moment her brother didn't say anything. And then Simon's whole face crumpled up, and he started to sob. Tammy wrapped her arms around him and she was crying too, both of them rocking together on the cold stone hearth. Her brother's head came up, eyes full of little-boy fury. "You're a big liar!" he yelled at the red-robed figure. "You don't care about my Daddy! And I DON'T BELIEVE IN YOU!"
A keening wail of dread arose from the dozen or so elves left alive. The red-robed figure threw back its head and howled like the heart of a prairie blizzard. Its long knobbly fingers reached out, grasping for Simon, as it loomed taller and taller and taller -
- and whish! went out like a candleflame, and was gone.
"Bloody hell," grumbled Mr. Summers-Pratt, wincing. "I've thrown my sodding back out again."
The house was a mess and the front door was in splinters (for which Mr. Summers-Pratt was not sorry at all, because, he said, if Tammy'd let him in when he first knocked, he wouldn't have had to break it down). So Mrs. Summers-Pratt cleaned her sword (because, she said, if you take care of your weapons, they'll take care of you) and then she called her oldest daughter, who was an officer with the Sunnydale police force, and very handy in emergencies like this. And then she called Momma, who agreed that if there were prowlers in the neighborhood, then the children would be better off staying at the Summers-Pratt's place until Momma could get home.
So at two in the morning, Tammy and Simon found themselves bundled up on the Summers-Pratts' couch in clean dry robes and slippers borrowed from some of the thirteen-and-counting Summers-Pratt grandchildren. Mr. Summers-Pratt started up a fire in the fireplace while Mrs. Summers-Pratt fixed an after-midnight snack, and then ordered her husband to the big overstuffed armchair with a heating pad for his back. In no time at all, everyone was sitting around the fireplace drinking hot chocolate and eating grilled cheese and ham sandwiches and tomato soup. Except that the red stuff in Mr. Summers-Pratt's bowl wasn't tomato soup, because of course he was a vampire.
(He had got old afterwards, he said, but that was a long story, and anyway, all vampires got old and demony-looking sooner or later. He was just doing it sooner, being an impatient bloke. Tammy was so pleased at being proven right that she decided that maybe she did like him a little bit, after all.)
Tammy was warm and full and tired, and Simon's head was nodding heavy against her shoulder, his long dark lashes fluttering lower with every breath. "I'm sorry, Simon," she said.
Big sleepy brown eyes blinked at her. "How come?"
"About you not believing in Santa anymore." It had saved them all, but it was kind of sad anyway.
Her brother's gaze drifted over to the armchair, where Mrs. Summers-Pratt was fussing over Mr. Summers-Pratt, who was obviously enjoying being fussed over. Mrs. Summers-Pratt wrapped an arm around his red-wool shoulders and gave a mischievous tweak to one grey curl. She whispered something into his ear. Mr. Summers-Pratt took his pipe from his mouth, threw back his head and laughed till his little round belly shook.
"It's OK," said Simon, and smiled a drowsy, contented smile. "I still do. I just never knew Mrs. Claus had a sword."