Title: And All Through The House

Authoress: Ladya C. Maxine

Rating: K

Summary: Tala is determined to catch Santa Claus in the act of delivering presents and drags his friends along for a late night expedition. Sequel to 'Jolly Old Saint Nicolas',both based in the 'Untold Truth' universe.

Warnings: none

Disclaimer: I do not own Beyblade or any of the characters. Any and all unrecognizable characters belong solely to me and are not to be touched. I am not making any money off of this and I write with the sole intent to entertain.

A/N: This is the promised follow-up story to Jolly Old Saint Nicolas. This title is a sentence out of the Christmas poem/story 'The Night Before Christmas' (a.k.a. 'A Visit From St. Nicholas').


And All Through The House

by Ladya C. Maxine


"Kai?"

The lump under the blankets muttered something in its sleep and inched away from the finger poking at it. The poker pouted, pulling himself further onto the tall bed, wondering why his friend had such a big bed to begin with. His lower half dangling over the side, his feet no longer touching the floor, he stretched an arm out and prodded the lump again.

"Kai?" he whispered louder, this time getting the figure to make a small jump.

"Huh?"

"Are you awake?"

"No."

"Then how come you're talking?" he frowned.

Nothing.

Now frustrated and indignant at being ignored, the redhead scrambled onto the bed and promptly sat on the lump. It squirmed beneath him before a tousled head and a pair of sleepy red eyes emerged from under the heavy silken sheets.

"What are you doing?" Kai yawned.

"Are you awake now?" he asked, speaking in whispers.

"Yes."

"Then let's go."

"No."

"I haven't even told you where!"

"I still don't want to go. Why aren't you sleeping? It's bed time."

"Exactly."

"…"

"…"

"…Huh?"

Ata sighed, putting his hands on his hips and rolling his eyes like Natasia did when she got fed up with something.

"He's coming tonight, Kai. If we stay up then we can see him!"

"Who?"

"Santa Claus."

"We already saw him," he argued, fluffing his pillow and burying his face in it, pulling the covers back up till his shoulders.

"But I want to see the reindeer!"

Ata was not going to give it a rest. Ever since meeting Santa Claus in the mall his redheaded friend had been awestruck. Natasia had read them The Night Before Christmas poem every night since then before bed time as well as bought several Santa-based decorations. At dinner this evening Ata had been unable to sit still and had accidentally spilled his juice all over Bryan, who had gone to bed in a bad mood soon after despite the endless apologies. Natasia had tucked them (as in himself, Ata and Ian since Spencer and Bryan were both too big for that stuff, plus Bryan had been cranky) and told them how tomorrow they'd wake up to find presents under the big Christmas tree in the living room. Kai had quickly fallen asleep and had been dreaming pleasantly, until a few minutes ago.

"They're on the roof. Natasia won't be happy if we climb up there in the middle of the night," he reasoned, settling down once more.

"So we'll just wait for him inside."

Kai bolted at the new voice, throwing Ata off him who landed with a surprised bounce, getting rather tangled in all the sheets. Kai looked around to find the second midnight intruder standing beside his bed, too short to follow Ata up.

"What are you doing up?"

"I can't sleep. I want to see Santa again. I don't want a car anymore. I want a helicopter! If I tell him now before he puts the car under the tree then maybe he'll switch them."

Ian was no better than Ata. Sure, Kai himself believed in Santa and was looking forward to his presents, but he knew that it was impossible to catch Santa in the act of bringing presents. He'd tried it himself and it didn't work. Santa was magical; he probably makes himself invisible when he comes inside so that no one can see him.

"How can he get a car under the Christmas tree?" Ata asked rather reasonable, trying to untangle his leg from the sheets and so far not succeeding. "And Natasia will get mad when she finds tire tracks on the carpet."

"That's why I want a chopper!" Ian said as if it was so obvious. "Santa can leave it on the roof if he can't get it under the tree."

"Natasia isn't going to like you leaving it there either."

"I'm bringing it back to the abbey with me."

"Boris is not going to like that at all."

"Geesh, for the smart one you sure ain't bright. I'm going to hide it in my room under my bed when we get back, duh!"

Kai watched the two debate, not sure if this was a dream or not.

"Let's got downstairs and I'll prove to you that he can get it under the tree," Ian insisted, backing away and waiting for them to follow.

Ata had only managed to tangle himself in the sheets even more. Since he couldn't sleep anyway with his best friend lying trapped there, Kai crawled over and managed to free the redhead who wriggled out the rest of the way.

"Come on, Kai! Please?"

And so it came to be that the heavy wooden doors opened and three little heads poked out into the dark hall before three little bodies crept out. They were almost at the stairs that lead down to the second floor when Kai stopped.

"Wait here," he said, creeping back to where they had come from.

"Where you going?" Ata called softly.

"Maybe he has to go to the bathroom," Ian said, taking a seat on the carpet. All this late night sneaking around was making him tired.

"It's not seven o'clock yet. Kai always goes at seven o'clock."

"I thought he went at two."

"No, that's Spencer."

"So who goes at five?"

"That's Bryan."

"But someone always goes at three."

"That's you, dummy!"

"…Oh yeah!"

Kai soon returned, holding a bundle in his arms.

"Are those cookies for Santa?" Ata asked, pushing himself off the wall.

"No," Kai yawned, holding the bundle closer and it made a small sound of discontent. He pulled away the pink blanket wrapped around it to reveal Saskia's sleepy face. She yawned too, showing her four little front teeth. "But Sassy will be all alone if we go downstairs."

So, now numbered four, they made their way down to the second floor, walking softly as not to alert Santa in case he was already inside. Ian and Tala's doors had been left open but all the other doors were still closed. They made sure to walk very slowly when passing Natasia, Ivan and Jeremei's doors. The grown-ups hated it when they walked around the house at night and would send them straight back to bed if they caught them. Kai in the lead with Ata and Ian following closely behind, they had just reached the top of the main staircase when…

"Where are you guys going?"

"Sssssssssssssssshhhh!" all three hissed back at the figure walking up to them.

"Not so loud!" Ata whispered as hard as he dared. "He'll hear you!"

Scratching his belly beneath his shirt, Spencer yawned, his blond hair sleep-tousled.

"Who?" he asked, not lowering his voice.

"Ssssssssssssssshhhhhhhhhhhhhh!"

"Is there a leak in the gas pipes?"

The last member of their group had awoken, walking unsteadily towards them as he rubbed his violet eyes, squinting up as he tried to find the source of the constant hissing.

"Why do big boys always make big sound?" Ian whispered to Ata who shrugged.

"We're going to go see Santa," Kai filled the two older boys in.

For some reason they looked at each other, sighed, then looked back at them.

"The mall is closed," Bryan reminded.

"Santa's in the living room," Ian said, already creeping down the stairs.

Ata followed him, as did Kai though he had to go slower since he had to keep his balance as well as carry something. Watching their friends descend, Bryan and Spencer shared tired looks again but with more than half the team up they might as well go along. Though it was Kai's house it was never a good idea to leave three 8-year-olds alone in the dark, especially since Kai seemed to have brought Saskia down. If anything were to happen to any of them Natasia would hold the two eldest responsible for leaving them to their will and not notifying her.

"So much for a good night's sleep," Spencer muttered, clumping down the stairs. Somewhere on the first floor a chorus of 'Sssssssshhh's chastised him for being so loud.

"Kai should have kept his big mouth shut," Bryan added.

"I heard that!" Kai growled back, having reached the bottom.

Clustered at the foot of the stairs, they, at least the younger boys, strained to hear any sound while the elder leaned against the wall, trying to stay awake.

"Nothing," Ata decided at last.

"Did we scare him off?" Ian wondered out loud.

"You couldn't scare a fly."

"Shut up, Bryan."

"That one just put you on Santa's naughty list."

"What? No fair! You made me say it!"

"Sssssssssshhh!" Kai and Ata warned though Ian continued to glare at Bryan, who smirked back.

"Can we get this over with?" Spencer pleaded, missing the softness of his bed. It wasn't everyday they got to sleep in really comfortable beds like the one in Kai's home; the beds in the abbey were rock solid and had no pillows.

"Let's go," Kai said.

Despite his earlier reservations he was now as intrigued as his two friends. Shifting Saskia in a position she'd be the most comfortable in, he took the initiative and headed to the kitchen, from where they'd be able to reach the living room. Already he could see the bright lights of the tree; Natasia had left them on at Ata's insistence that Santa would need the light to make sure he doesn't give them the wrong presents. The three crept forward, followed by Bryan and Spencer who were far less discreet, merely shuffling in the back until they reached the kitchen.Kai couldn't understand why they weren't as excited at them. They were almost acting like grown-ups. And he knew why grown-ups never got so excited about Christmas as kids; they only got boring presents like ties and hats.

"What now?" Ian asked as they crouched down near the cabinets.

A sudden flood of light startled them and they spun to find that Bryan had opened the fridge.

"What are you doing?" Ata gaped. "Close the door!"

"I'm thirsty," Bryan replied, settling for the carton of milk. He drank straight from it instead of pouring it out in a glass.

"Natasia's going to be mad if she finds out you drink from the box," Ata reminded.

"She's not here."

"I'm telling!"

"Then you'll be a snitch and snitches don't get anything for Christmas."

Spencer, resting his head on folded hands on the counter top, snickered but the others took his teasing remark seriously. All this Santa stuffwas baloney, but it sure as heck was entertaining also. Both were going to make sure to remind their friends about their Christmas time escapades when they were older.

"And kids who sneak out of bed are also being bad, so they don't get any present either," he said, earning a grin from Bryan.

The three younger boys began to fidget but Kai, as always, refused to back down.

"It's my house and I can go anywhere I want in it," he said, wrapping Saskia, who was now fully awake and cooing, better in her blankie. "And I already met Santa in the mall and he said that he'll bring us presents so he will. Come one."

"I can't wait until I get to fly my own helicopter," Ian said, scrambling forward on his knees.

"You idiot…" Bryan groaned.

"What happened to the car?" Spencer asked, bemused.

"It'll get the carpet all dirty."

"Ah."

"Bryan, what do you want for Christmas?" Ata asked as they tiptoed in the dark.

"A lock on your bedroom doors."

"Someone's cranky," Ian quipped. "Maybe you have to go."

"I go at five."

"I thought you went at two."

"I go at two," Spencer corrected.

"But then who--"

"Never mind," Ata cut in before they fell into the endless spiral once more.

Ignoring the squabbling going on behind him, Kai paused as he reached the doorway to the living room. Ata, who had been directly behind him but had been occupied with breaking up Ian's rambling, walked right into him and he would have tipped forward with Saskia in his arms had Bryan, standing next to Ata and not being in a crouched stealth mode like them, reached out and steadied him, one hand supporting Saskia who giggled at the funny feeling of the sudden pitch forward, unaware that she could have been crushed by her own brother.

"Sorry!" Ata squeaked, eyes wide as he crawled over to check on the baby but she was doing just fine. "I didn't mean to do it!"

"It's alright," Kai assured. "Thanks, Bry."

"Just be careful," the older boy said, eyes scanning the living room. "And it looks like Santa decided to stay home on his fat arse."

"Oooh! You are so going on the naughty list for that!" Ian said.

"Whatever. Can we go back to bed now and do something productive, like sleep?"

"Kai, where's Santa?" Ata asked softly, searching the living room but finding it to be truly Santa-less. And there weren't any presents under the tree either.

"Maybe he's a bit late," Kai offered, walking into the room, patting Sassy on the back as she watched the tree with big eyes, reaching out a short hand as if trying to touch it. "Maybe he goes to other countries first."

"But Russia's closer to the North Pole than other countries," Ata argued, blue eyes dejectedly looking around them. "Look!"

They all turned to find that the cookies and milk he had left on the coffee table were gone.

"He was here," the redhead whispered. "He came but didn't leave us anything."

"Ata…"

Kai had taken a step towards his friend whose eyes were beginning to water. Using the sleeves of his pajamas to try to wipe them away, Ata sniffled.

"I'm sorry…"

"What did you do?" Ian asked suspiciously, beginningto realize that there might not be any presents at all. Bryan slapped him upside the head when Ata sobbed at his accusation. "OW!"

"No hitting," Kai scolded but turned his attention back to the wolf who had sunk to the floor, tears now running freely though he continued to dab at them in vain. "It's not your fault, Ata."

"I'm a b-bad boy a-a-and now Sa-Santa didn't l-l-l-leave a-any presents fo-for any of u-u-u-us," the redhead sobbed.

Hearing Ata crying, Saskia's lower lip began to wobble.

"It's okay, Sassy," Kai assured, rocking her gently. If she started to cry then Natasia would wake up and then they'd all be in trouble. But Ata was upset and needed him too. He didn't know what to do.

"What are you doing?" Ian's cross voice asked.

Bryan didn't answer as he continued to tug Ian with him, walking over to take Ata by an arm and forced him to his feet.

"Bry?" the redhead gasped, almost stumbling.

None of them got a chance to find out what the falcon had on his mind as he now herded Kai along with the first two while motioning to Spencer to follow. Confused, they complied and allowed him to lead them out of the living room, past the study and past Saskia's playroom. Their destination turned out to be the large guest room where Kai's parents used to let special business guests stay. Ian was lifted up onto the huge bed, though Bryan purposefully dropped him a bit unceremoniously. Ata went next but he was placed down gently.

"We're going to sleep," Bryan said with a voice that left no room for argument, taking Saskia from Kai and signaling him to get on as well, only giving her back when Kai found a suitable spot next to Ata. "It's late and if you don't sleep you won't be able to keep your eyes open tomorrow. The presents will be here in the morning."

"But, you said…" the redhead wiped his nose, still unsure of the situation.

'The things I do for you,' Bryan sighed mentally before answering,. "It's not your fault, Tala. Santa will bring the present or I'm going to make him."

None of them doubted that. If there was anyone who could make grown-ups afraid it was Bryan. Most of the adults in the abbey were afraid of him and always made an effort to be extra nice when talking to him.

"Bryan's right…kinda. He'll bring your presents, without being forced to," Kai reasoned, placing Saskia between him and Ata, making sure she was covered. The big pink eyes blinked sleepily as she yawned, rubbing her eyes with small fists. Reaching past her, he adjusted the smaller boy's pajamas and using his own dry sleeves to wipe his face. "He had so many presents he probably had to go back to the North Pole to get another sleigh just to bring them."

"He could have just brought them in my helicopter," Ian insisted, getting a light shove from Bryan. "Quit it!"

"You're not a bad person, Ata," Kai said softly, stroking the fiery hair.

"…I just want to be normal."

No one replied at once, pretending to be too preoccupied with finding a spot on the bed, which was large enough for four grown-ups so it easily accommodated the five boys and one tiny baby girl. Spencer, who had taken the space next to Kai, stared up at the ceiling. Ian fiddled with the fringes of the edge of the pillow he had grabbed for himself where he laid on his stomach at the foot of the bed. Bryan formed the other barrier by laying himself down next to Ata once everyone else had made themselves comfortable.

"We're special," Kai corrected, passing Spencer a pillow which he gratefully accepted. "We're better than other people."

"But I don't want to be better. I want to be like them. No one likes special people," Ata persisted, stroking Saskia's cheek.

"…I like you," Ian said softly. "And I like Kai and Spencer and Bryan…sometimes. And Santa is going to bring us presents because we're good boys. We do everything we are told to do and we behave, except Bryan. But he's a lost cause."

"Sleep with one eye open tonight, Ian."

"Can we just go back to sleep and wait until morning?" Spencer muttered.

They didn't argue. With the excitement of seeing Santa wearing off they could now feel the burning in their eyes and notice how tired they really were. Spencer was the first to nod off. Ian wasn't far behind, hugging the pillow beneath him tightly, snoring lightly. Bryan made sure he had enough cushions nearby, ready to smack Ian with one should his snoring, which usually got louder during the course of the night, disturb him too much. Still, Ian was safe for now as Bryan's body lost it's alert tension and his breathing evened out. Between them Saskia had long since gone back to sleep but Kai and Ata still fought the inevitable for a while longer.

"I don't care what Santa thinks," Kai said softly to his friend who was laying with his back to him. "You're not bad, Ata. And even if you were, I'd still be your friend. No one is perfect."

"Kai?" Ata whispered, staring at Bryan's sleeping face.

"Yeah?"

"If we don't get any presents anyway…I won't mind that much."

"Why not?"

Rolling over so that he was now facing the bluenette, Ata felt the urge to hug him but Saskia was in the way. He hated it, to lay in bed with nothing to protect him. They were all laying on top of the sheets and he didn't want to bother the others by trying to crawl under the covers. With Kai inaccessible he reached behind him and finding one of Bryan's arms he pulled it over him, cuddling back against the older boy. Bryan's eyes fluttered briefly and opened slightly at the sudden contact but realizing that it was only Ata he didn't pull back, leaving his arm draped over the redhead's waist, and fell back asleep. Only when he was securely held did Ata answer Kai's question.

"Because you guys are all I'll ever need."

Blinking, Kai smiled, reaching over Saskia to touch a round cheek. The blue eyes closed at the contact but neither spoke anymore. Ata released a content sigh and his body relaxed completely against Bryan's, his breath falling in rhythm with the falcon's.

Kai watched him sleep, so peacefully and innocent. Bryan shifted in his dreams, his bigger body forming a solid shield for his friend from anything that would try to harm him. Spencer was sleeping with his back to him, his broad shoulders moving slightly with each breath he took. Ian, who had the most space since none of the other boys' feet reached the end of the bed, leaving him with room to sprawl out, was sleeping curled in a ball nonetheless.

Straining his ears one final time but hearing no reindeer hooves or someone climbing down the chimney, Kai rested his head down next to Saskia's, listening to her heavy breathing. Finally, his own eyes closed. They were all just going to have to wait and see…


It was still dark outside but not for long so she'd have to hurry.

Slipping her feet into her fluffy slippers, Natasia stood up, covering her mouth as she yawned. The alarm clock shone 05.54 and since none of the boys ever woke up before seven a.m., unless they had to go to the bathroom, she had more than enough time to put the presents beneath the Christmas tree. She'd have to wake Ivan and Jeremei so that they'd bring their share of the load down too. With the amount of gifts they had bought they had to divide everything between the three of them and hide them in their rooms.

Now pulling the huge bag out with a groan, she froze, frowning as she looked around. Something was wrong, but she couldn't put her finger on it. Putting the bag down on her bed, she pulled on her house-robes as she walked across the thick carpeting and opened the door. Poking her head out into the hall, she saw nothing. Had she heard something? No, the place was completely silent. Too silent.

Crossing the hall to Ian's room, she found the door to be open. No snores were coming from within. Was he already awake? Pushing the door further open, she peered in. His duffel bag was still in the corner, despite her having told him to unpack some time ago. Stepping further into the dark room, she found his bed to be empty. He couldn't have gone to the bathroom. None of the boys went at this time. Frowning, she left his room and checked the one next to it but Spencer wasn't in his bed either. When she found Bryan and Ata's room also missing their occupants she began to feel uneasy, especially since Ata's door had been left open as well and his sheets were awfully rumpled, draping over the edge of the mattress as if he had climbed out of bed in a hurry.

Her fists knocked on the door in a way that echoed her urgency. Ivan opened it, his long grey hair loose and his chin prickly with morning stubble.

"Are we going to put out the presents already?" he asked, peering at his watch.

"They're not in their rooms."

"Who?"

"The boys," she explained, anxiety setting in. "Their beds are all empty and I can't hear them."

"Have you checked downstairs?" he asked though reached for his house robe where it was hanging on the rack next to the door.

"Not yet. But…"

"Calm down, Natasia," he cautioned, stepping out once properly dressed. "First of all, you should check by Master Kai. Ata has slept by him before."

"Perhaps they woke up early to see if Santa brought them their presents," Jeremei, having already been awake though had been reading in bed, suggested, coming towards them.

"But then we would have heard them," she argued, looking around her. "Go look downstairs and I'll go see if Kai knows where they are."

That decided, they split up, leaving the presents behind for now. The men headed down the stairs while she hurried up the private stairwell. Reaching the landing, her heart skipped a beat at seeing Kai's door partially open. Kai never slept with his door open. She had found nothing so far to prove that something bad had happened, but the situation was unfamiliar and the silence of the house hung thick around her. Kai's bed was in an even worse state than Ata's, pillows lying about and the sheets trailing all over the floor. When searching the rest of the room turned up empty handed, she began to truly panic. Her nerves were rattled even more at the sight of Saskia's empty crib when she looked into the dark nursery. The boys may have gotten out of bed for some reason, but where was the baby?

By the time she found Ivan downstairs she was near tears. Not now! This couldn't be happening, especially not on Christmas day! She looked up at him hopefully as she half-walked, half-ran into the room but he shook his head. He hadn't found any sign of them yet.

"But the security system is functioning and there aren't any signs of forced entry," he said, trying to calm her as she heavily sat down on the couch, worrying her hands together.

"Then where are they? They know better than to leave the penthouse. And Saskia's also missing! Someone took her out of her crib. Oh, Ivan! Where are they? We have to call the police!"

She reached for the phone with a trembling hand but Jeremei's voice brought the much welcomed news.

"Found them," he said, sounding as relieved as she felt as he walked in, waving them over. "They're in the business suite."

Saying a prayer, she got to shaky feet and hurried past him, her robes flowing behind her as she swiftly walked towards the denoted room. What had possessed them to leave their rooms to sleep in that one? And was Saskia with them?

The second question was answered when she pushed her way in, stopping at the sight of the children fast asleep in the large bed. Saskia was cuddled up in her blankie with Kai laying protectively beside her, his back and Spencer's touching. Bryan was sleeping on his stomach while Ata was using his back as a pillow while Ian was using the falcon's leg for the same purpose. They were perfectly safe and unharmed. Calming her racing heart, she leaned against the doorframe, breathing heavily. How many times had she told them not to walk around the house on their own at night? Ata had almost electrocuted himself the last time he did that, trying to find the light switch in the kitchen while looking for a late night snack and instead stuck his fingers into an outlet.

Ivan came up behind her but she motioned him to remain where he was. Tiptoeing over, she managed to get Saskia without disturbing her brother or the others. The baby stirred, opening her pink eyes with a yawn. It was high time for her first bottle of the day. Handing their youngest charge to Ivan, who left to change and feed her, she turned to the five boys. It was Christmas morning but that was no excuse for disobeying her orders. She clapped. Loudly. The sound produced was sharp and ringing and got the job done as five heads simultaneously shot up, blurry eyes wide.

"What have I told you about walking around the house at night?" she asked strictly, hands on her hips and mouth in a straight line. "Have you any idea how badly you scared us with this little stunt? We were searching rooms and getting worried and I almost called the police!"

"But--" Ata tried to get a word in, sitting up next to Kai.

"No buts!" she snapped. "I have never been so frightened in my life! You know that it isn't safe and that we are going through dangerous times! And, Kai! You do not take Saskia out of bed when there isn't an adult around!"

"But--"

"No buts! What if she had been hurt? What if she had caught a cold? She's too little and fragile to be carrying around so recklessly! You should have known better than that! And speaking of knowing better," she turned on Spencer and Bryan, who shrunk back. "You are too old to be participating in such foolish antics! What could have possessed any of you to come down here?"

"I-I wanted to see Santa," Ata admitted, eyes downcast. "I'm sorry, Natty. I only wanted to see him and Ian wanted to see him too so we went to Kai and he came and he brought Saskia because he didn't want to leave her alone upstairs and then Spencer and Bryan woke up because they heard us and we went downstairs but Santa ate all the cookies but he left no presents for us so Bryan told us that we should go back to sleep."

She blinked at the long confession, her anger already fading. Ata was close to tears, Kai was ashamed at the idea that he had been a bad big brother, Ian was clinging to Bryan's leg, who along with Spencer was not meeting her eyes. Sighing, she adjusted her soft belt and walked over, taking a seat on the bed. Immediately Ata crawled over, throwing his arms around her and sobbing as she wiped his face clean of tears.

"We're so sorry, Natty!" he cried, burying his face in her chest. "We didn't mean to make you worry! I'm sorry!"

"You're safe," she said, placing a hand on Ian's head as he had moved over as well. "I'm sorry for yelling at you, but I would never forgive myself if anything ever happened to you. I'm saying this for the last time; no more late-night adventures. Am I understood?"

They all nodded. However, Kai wasn't upset that he had left his bed; he was angry with himself for having risked harm to Saskia. Natasia pulled him into her lap. At the age of eight he was a bit too old for such actions, but he didn't mind. With his mother gone Natasia was as good a replacement as he could ever get.

"I kept her in her blankie…" he said in a strained voice. "And I made sure she was warm and that she wouldn't fall off the bed…I don't want anything bad to happen to her too…"

"Then be more considerate in the future," she said, lovingly ruffling his hair as she rocked him back and forth. "You are the only person she has left and she depends on you to keep her safe and happy and that feeling will only strengthen as she gets older. You're going to have to make important decisions and you're going to have to make sure you make the right ones. Understood?"

"Yes, Natasia."

Seated with them all crowded around her, she shook her head but smiled.

"Honestly, I shudder to think how I'll manage when you are all teenagers…"

"Natty?"

"Hm?"

"When you came downstairs, did you see any presents under the tree?"

Oh lord, she had completely forgotten! And now the boys were up.

"Yeah, Santa should have brought them by now," Ian agreed with Ata's question, looking behind him at the clock on the wall. "We went to check last night but all he had left was an empty cookie plate and glass."

Jeremei must have been hungry after coming in late last night. He usually waited until they had set out all the presents but none of them had ever thought that the children would have gone looking for Santa in the dead of the night. Well, Kai, Ata and Ian at least. Bryan and Spencer had most likely tagged along with their friends to keep an eye on them. A rather mature gesture, she had to admit it.

"I can't wait to get my helicopter!" Ian shouted, much to her bemusement, and jumped off the bed, sprinting towards the living room.

Exchanging looks, Kai and Ata followed, talking excitedly. All three were gone before she could even make an attempt to grab them. Making a worried groan, she rubbed her head.

"What's wrong?" Spencer asked, in no hurry whatsoever.

"We were so busy looking for you all that we didn't put the presents under the tree yet and now it's too late," she said, trying to think of a solution. The boys would be disappointed to find the underside of the tree bare and no presents for Christmas. They could just bring the presents down, but that would ruin the ideal image of Santa Claus and she would have liked it if they still believed in him for a couple more years since it brought some joy in their otherwise mundane life in the abbey. "How am I going to explain it to them?"

"Wow!"

"Awesome! Hey, you guys, come here!"

Ian and Ata's eager voices was unexpected. Getting to her feet, Natasia ushered the other two out of the suit, letting them walk ahead to the living room where she could see Ata staring at something in wide-eyed wonder. He turned, running over, nearly bursting with joy.

"He came! He really came back! They're here!"

Sure enough, the floor beneath the tree was almost sagging with the numerous boxes, all brightly wrapped with bows and ribbons and nametags on them. There were so many, in fact, that even various furniture were covered. Everywhere one looked all they saw was an ocean of colorful packages. Ian didn't know where to look, running about and cheering every time he found one with his name on it. His helicopter was plainly missing but he was too thrilled with the overflow of gifts to care. At least he wouldn't have to hide these under his bed.

"Told you he'd come," Kai said, red eyes sparkling as they turned to Ata, who had fallen into silent stupor. Grabbing his friend by the hand, he led the redhead deeper into the towering jungle of presents.

Natasia was befuddled. How…? Movement in the kitchen doorway made her look over to find Ivan and Jeremei, the former with Saskia in his arms as she happily drank from her bottle, the latter with a mischievous smile on his face. Leaving Bryan and Spencer where they were gaping at the sight before them, she shot the men puzzled looks.

"Did you…?"

"We did."

"But how…?"

"It's a secret," Jeremei winked.

"And some help from Santa," Ivan laughed. "Merry Christmas."

"Merry Christmas indeed."

While the adults talked the boys were eagerly going through the presents. Ian had now begun to pile all his gifts into one big pile while Ata was trying to get one of his own, a rather large gift, from under another pile. Kai was reading the card that had come with it. Spencer had found the unwrapped bags of sweets that had been placed in the tree and tossed them out to the others. Bryan, having gotten two bags of candy, threw the second over to Ian though it landed on the smaller boy's head. Ian, who no longer had to worry about being good for Santa, called Bryan a name that did not sit well with the falcon and was now running around screaming with Bryan in pursuit. He was smaller and so could duck and dodge around gifts and furniture but Bryan merely leapt over them, moving with trained focus and expertise.

Watching his friends' pursuit from where he was sitting on the couch safely and eating his candy, his feet tucked beneath him, Ata giggled. Kai, sitting beside him with one of his gifts in his lap, waiting for the adults to give the go ahead to open it, smiled at the redhead's amusement.

"Ata."

"Yeah?"

"Merry Christmas."

His blue eyes shining brilliantly as he smiled, he rested his head against the bluenette's, staring into the fiery orbs.

"It is, Kai. It really is…Merry Christmas."


The End

Season Greetings!


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