"And then he comes down the chimney, into your house, and leaves you mountains of gifts!" Fai finished, ending his story with great bravado. Sakura looked enchanted, and even Syaoran had a smile curling around his lips.

"What a wonderful person!" Sakura chimed, hands clasped together. "Your country has such fun traditions, Fai!"

The wizard shrugged. "Well, in a world where it's always winter, you need something to make all the snow seem less dreary and more fun. And, sometimes, a little magic is just the thing for that." He winked.

Kurogane, meanwhile, crossed his armed and frowned, staring at the chimney.

"What's wrong, Kuro-pon? You look like you have something on your mind."

He restrained himself from rolling his eyes. Why wouldn't something be wrong? Fai had just told them all that a red-clad intruder would be breaking into their accomodations tonight (where had he gotten his intelligence, Kurogane wondered, that he knew about this so thoroughly? Kurogane himself hadn't even known of the planned attack), leaving "presents" (read: poison and various other assassination tools) for them, and then leave before any of them were the wiser.

What wasn't wrong with that?

"I think we should post a watch." He said simply. As primary guardian of his little group, the responsibility would fall to him to protect them all in the event of danger or an attack. Hell, he wasn't even sure how someone could fit through that chimney. That Santa Claus guy was bound to have some secret art to do it.

Maybe...

No.

There was no way that there would be ninjas in this world. But...a red-clad ninja, perhaps one so cocky and confident that he announced that he would break in and attack people while they slept...no. It was best not to take any chances. After all, this guy came around on a slay, right? That sounded all too close to what he'd done back on Shirasaki's roof, killing without mercy, taking no survivors...

He became lost in thought until the magician responded, sticking his tongue out teasingly.

"Saa, Kuro-min, you know that he won't come if you stay up all night watching for him."

"Good." Kurogane replied, nodding. There. A surefire way to avoid premature death: watch out for it.

It was good advice.

Things progressed smoothly, until everyone was getting ready for bed. Sakura, yawning, placed a plate of cookies and a glass of milk on a small table by the fireplace. She grinned up at the ninja.

"Oh, Kurogane-san! Won't this be fun?"

Fun? He thought. Taunting the enemy and inviting him in with sweets and drink, the two things that were bound to lure him inside? Hell, Kurogane reasoned, maybe that wanted to see how he'd fare against this Santa Claus invader. Maybe they wanted to take the stronger ninja with them on their team...

A thought struck him. Maybe he was softening up too much? He definitely hadn't been killing as many people as he used to--but that was because of the curse! Surely they knew that? Surely they knew that he was still as vicious, just as cold-hearted a killer as ever, and that no way was he regressing?

Maybe they doubted it.

No way. He was going to get back to Tomoyo-hime no matter what, even if it meant poking a few holes in that mage's snowy traditions.

He'd show them.

"This...Santa Claus," he said slowly to Fai, who had come down to check that everyone was getting to sleep, "you said that he has a pack of rain demons leading the slay, did you not?"

This was the part that had Kurogane a little worried. One ninja, reputed to be an acrobat and probably about as skilled or better than he was, he might be able to handle. Rain demons following him on his wave of destruction on top of that...well...He gritted his teeth. It would be a challenge. Not one that he would pass up, though.

Fai gave him a strange look. "Rain demons? ...Ah! Kuro-bun, you silly thing, you mean reindeer. Yup, he's got reindeer for the sleigh, and a whole sack that he takes along with him for keeping his presents in, weren't you listening?"

A sack. Kurogane grimaced. Probably containing a multitude of deadly things.

The thing that bugged him most was that they knew about all this and yet they did nothing to stop it! What, did they want him gone that much? Or...

Did they trust him to take care of them while they slept?

He blinked, an unfamiliar sensation curling around his ribs.

While he considered what emotion was doing that to him, Fai did his non-whistle merrily and added a few orange things to the dish Sakura had left out. Instantly, Kurogane was suspicious.

"What are those? Are they some sort of deterrent?"

Fai laughed and shook his head.

"Hyuu, no! These are carrots for the reindeer."

Kurogane looked at the vegetables quizzically. Who knew rain demons preferred carrots? That magician had more knowledge about enemies that he'd given him credit for initially.

"Come on, Kuro-tan! You've got to go to sleep."

"No way!" Was what he was going to say when a crack of thunder cut him off, and the sound of raindrops pelting along the roof cut him off.

A chill of anticipation rushed up his spine. The advent of the rain demons.

His hand was gripped firmly around Sohi's hilt, sword out and gleaming in front of the fire (if that guy could escape a lit fire, Kurogane sure as hell wanted to see it) before anything more could be said.

"I think I'll sleep down here tonight."

Fai sighed, giving up, and climbed the stairs to go to sleep.

Kurogane stayed like that for a long time, in a perfect guardian stance, waiting and waiting...

It was extraordinary, he mused, as the rain ran tracks down the windows and thunder rumbled overhead, that they had come to trust him so. He chuckled to himself, wondering just what he'd done to merit that sort of thing. Probably not nearly enough. But, tonight, he promised silently, he'd show them just how right that decision had been. He'd show them.

And they'd see that...well, maybe he didn't not care about them as much as they thought. Yeah, it could be annoying traveling with such weird people, but...they were okay. Not the best, but okay. Not the kind of people he'd just let die...

Would Tomoyo approve of them? he wondered, brain going in odd directions as he finally sank into a tired slumber to the comforting sound of the rain on the windows, Sohi still clutched in his hand.

When he woke up, he nearly skewered Fai.

"Woah, Kuro-bun! Watch out!" The magician backed away as the ninja got his bearings again. Kurogane looked around. Presents, wrapped in bright colors and ornamented with shining bows jumped out at him. What? How--

"I failed." He said softly, sheathing Sohi with a sigh of relief from Fai.

"Why didn't you take his sword from him while he slept, Fai-san?"

"Well, Sakura-chan, to tell the truth, I was a little afraid that he'd just attack me out of reflex..."

"Oh..."

"But enough of that! Now that everyone's awake, let's open presents!"

Kurogane's eyes flew fully open. This was the thing that he must prevent at all costs!

But before he could get to them, Mokona jumped on top of his head and blocked his vision.

"Gah! Damn it, white pork bun! Get off my eyes!"

"Aaah! Kurogane's so angry this morning!"

"Yeah, no kidding!"

By the time he'd managed to get the manjuu off his face, Fai had distributed presents and already the kids were opening them. Kurogane barely had time to warn them about poisonous tacks that might be hidden on the sides of the boxes or disguised in the wrapping, when suddenly, Fai was before him.

"Here you go, Kuro-rin! Looks like Santa left something for you, too."

Kurogane inspected it. From the outside, it appeared to be a very normal package. He proceeded to open it delicately, wishing that he'd instructed everyone on the correct, careful way to open a package from an unknown sender and avoid poison, but...ah, it was too late for that now.

Once he opened the lid (careful to open it first with his eyes averted, just in case of a spray of venom), he tentatively looked inside.

"What's this?" He asked gruffly.

"It's your Christmas present, Kuro-bun!" Fai replied, exuberant, making sure that Syaoran and Sakura were well-occupied with their things.

"It's a copy of some ninja magazine." He muttered. It was actually the latest issue out, and on the cover it promised that secrets about the midnight ninja's past would be revealed (he was really looking forward to this-- the midnight ninja was his favorite), new ways to make weapons on the go would be discussed, and even fellow ninja sharing their tactics.

"Ah, don't you like it?" The magician asked, a little sheepishly. Kurogane frowned. Since when did Fai start acting all nervous? He decided that manga was more important than learning about yet another of Fai's many neuroses, and eagerly began to read.

Letting out a breath he'd been holding, Fai went over to join Sakura and Syaoran as they examined their stockings and pulled out candy and more gifts.

The morning passed without much getting done, and a lot of reading on Kurogane's part.

He was feeling much better about this. Hell, maybe Fai had just put together the whole thing to see how he'd react. Tsh, trust the magician to do something like this.

But...he considered, there was the matter of all the rain. In this weather, they really should have had snow...

He shrugged. Weather was weird.

Once, though, while he continued reading (it was a special holiday edition and had extra pages) he chanced to glance up at the cookie plate, and noted with some small hint of trepidation that some of the treats had been nibbled on and the milk half-drunk.

The carrots were gone.


Author's Note:

I think that's got to be the first time I used "The carrots were gone" and intended it to be ominous sounding. Ah, crack is a funny thing. Hope you enjoyed reading this!

--cy.