A/N: I've got my second Christmas chapter posted in time for Christmas! Once again, thanks to those who have reviewed: Taeniaea, Frooky90, laniDG11, and opticon217! Reviews are always great encouragement.

Chapter 7: Making Christmas

Kanixa raced up to Axel from the far end of the graveyard. She stopped in front of him, taking a moment to catch her breath before giving him the horrible news—

"What's the matter, Nixa?" Axel asked before she could speak. "Think you saw a ghost?" he smirked at her.

Kanixa reined in the urge to give him a snide comeback. This was no time for that. "Maybe," she said instead. "Axel—I just saw someone in an Organization coat run into a portal." She gave him a nervous look. "I think they're back."

She stared at Axel, waiting for her pronouncement to sink in. Hello—Organization back? Dire consequences? But the redhead didn't look at all apprehensive. Instead, he looked a bit…annoyed. He hid it well, but it declared itself in the way the joking expression left his face, leaving it unreadable, and his shoulders slumped a bit.

"Look, Nixa," he said after a pause. "I know you think you saw something, but it was probably your imagination running away with you. This place can do that to people."

"I'm not people. I don't just jump at shadows, Axel!" Kanixa glanced over to Demyx, who'd been standing close enough to overhear the entire exchange, hoping that her friend would throw his support on our side. The sitar player just shrugged.

"I would say we should check it out if there was anything left to check out. But you say the guy you think you saw—"

"I know what I saw," Kanixa cut in, beginning to lose her temper.

"—vanished into a portal," Demyx finished. "So there's nothing left to see. Let's just focus on the mission at hand, and keep an eye out for anything else weird."

"I can't believe that neither of you believe me!" Kanixa folded her arms across her chest.

"It's not that we don't believe you…" Demyx began slowly, looking over at Axel for support.

"It's just that if there's a way for a Nobody to come back—one that's faded—I've never heard of it," Axel said flatly. "I'm not saying it's impossible, but…" he trailed off. "Look, let's just hope you're wrong." With that, he turned and began walking back toward the cemetery gates. "We're done here," he called over his shoulder. "Let's go see what the others are up to in town."

After giving Kanixa one apologetic glance, Demyx followed after him. Kanixa brought up the rear, hands curled into fists at her sides, inwardly fuming. Who did they think she was—some pampered princess like Kairi who would freeze at the first sign of trouble? She wasn't overacting and she wasn't imagining things! There had definitely been a figure in an Organization Coat lurking in the shadows at the far end of the cemetery, almost as if it had been watching the fighting going on. When it had spotted her, it had nodded at her before disappearing into a portal. Like it wanted her to see it, in the hopes that she would become the girl who cried wolf…

Kanixa sighed, shaking her head. Even she had to admit that last thought was a bit far-fetched. Axel was right—the chances of the Organization somehow being back were next to zero. And even if that did happen, surely they'd have better things to do than play mind-games with the few remaining Nobodies…the few remaining Nobodies who'd played a big part in tearing down the Organization in the first place, Kanixa reminded herself. Oh, right. If the Organization was back, then destroying her, Axel and Demyx would be a pretty high item on their to-do list.

"Nixa?" Kanixa had been so lost in her own thoughts that she nearly walked into Axel's outstretched arm, which held the cemetery gate open for her. She looked up to see his green eyes boring into hers. "You okay?"

"I think so."

"You think so? Come on, where's your determination? We've got a holiday to save." Axel shoved at her shoulder playfully, but she could see past the smile on his face to worry beneath.

Kanixa gave him a smile in return, hoping that it didn't seem too strained. "You're right," she replied. "We can't let Sora out-show us, now can we?"

"That's the spirit!" Axel declared as they turned left out of the cemetery, heading towards town. "Let's see if we can find this Jack before Sora and the others do."

"You know," Demyx commented, stroking his chin, "something about that name worries me a little. Jack Skellington. Sounds a bit like—"

"Hello, all," a jovial voice boomed in Kanixa's left ear, and a hand that felt like it might as well be a bunch of bones took her shoulder in a firm grip.. "Did I hear you mention that you were looking for me?" She glanced over to look into the empty eye sockets of a –

"SKELETON!" she shrieked, throwing herself backward, out of his grip. Once she regained her balance, she summoned her Keyblade, lowering herself into a fighting crouch.

"That's 'Skellington,' actually," the skeleton corrected, holding up a bony finger as he gave her a death's-head grin. "Jack Skellington, at your service. I don't think I've met you before, though. Are you in town to help with the celebration?"

"The name's Axel—got it memorized?" Axel asked. He'd summoned his chakrams when Kanixa screamed, but now he let them vanish. "This is Demyx—" he nodded at the former Number Nine—"and this is Kanixa. Halloween's months gone. Isn't it a bit soon to be gearing up for next year?"

"No, no. Christmas!" Jack corrected. "It's practically here!" He spread his arms to demonstrate his enthusiasm, and for the first time Kanixa noticed that he wore a homemade Santa suit. "Your costumes are wonderful, by the way," he said, nodding at their Organization coats and weapons. "Very sinister…but not quite in the Christmas spirit."

"Hey! I thought you got banned from Christmas, Jack!" A voice called. Kanixa turned to see Sora standing a few yards away, Kairi just behind him.

"Ah, Sora! Good to see you!" Jack hurried over to the Keybearer, his quick, long-legged strides rather reminding Kanixa of the way an insect moved, and pumped Sora's hand up and down several times. "And…well…I'm not allowed to actually deliver the presents, but I don't think old Sandy Claws will mind me helping out. Just a little. With a few decorations, a few presents. What I have planned will really give Christmas that extra bit of flair!" the skeleton declared, lifting up a hand and clenching it into a fist for emphasis.

"I'm sure," Axel drawled. "But if you really want to help Santa, he needs some Heartless whacked. Are you up for that?"

"Heartless? Very spooky, great for Halloween, but they have nothing to do with Christmas," Jack said, brow ridges lowering in a frown. "I've noticed some cropping up in town, scaring some of the kids, but then, who doesn't like a good scare?"

"They're in Christmas Town, too, terrorizing the elves," Axel said.

"Oh, that will never do! I'm glad to help out in any way I can, of course," Jack added quickly. "I'm just not sure what to do to get rid of Heartless. That's more your line of work, isn't it, Sora?" he asked, turning to give the spiky-haired boy an inquisitive look.

Sora thumped himself on the chest. "I'm here to help!"

"Peachy," Axel cut in. "But what we really need to know is how the Heartless are getting in. Any ideas about that, Keyblade Master?"

"Well, uh—" Sora frowned. "I already sealed this world's Keyhole. They shouldn't be coming back—unless they're getting in some other way."

"Some other way. Great. That really narrows it down," Demyx muttered.

"I know someone who might be able to help," Jack said. "Dr. Finkelstein's probably the brightest man in all of Halloween Town. And he happens to be a friend of mine. Maybe we should go to him for advice—"

Sora shook his head. "I've already tried that. Dr. Finkelstein doesn't have any idea where the Heartless could be coming from, either—or what they're after in Christmas Town."

"Hey, fellas!" Kanixa glanced over to see Goofy running up from the direction that Sora had come from, closely followed by Riku and Donald.

"We didn't find Jack," Riku said, "but we did find Heartless. We took care of them, but we noticed something suspicious. When the Heartless appeared, it looked like they ran out of some sort of dark portal. A gateway to the Dark Realm. Like the kind the Organization used to make." He glanced over at Axel, Demyx, and Kanixa, eyes hard.

"You don't think that we—" Kanixa began to protest, but Riku was already shaking his head.

"No. You've been with us the whole time, and besides, the townies say that the Heartless problem has been going on for nearly a week. But if you're not the ones running around opening corridors to the Darkness, then who is?"

"Maleficent?" Sora guessed.

Kanixa opened her mouth to say what she'd seen in the graveyard, but one sharp look from Axel shut her up. "Good guess, Sora," he drawled. "And it fits. Especially since the King just warned us about her and all. Besides, it's not like she hasn't done this sort of thing before. Not all of the Heartless sent out last time were from us, you know." He smirked at Sora.

"I know," Sora replied, tone unusually grim. "But then, how do we stop it? I guess I could try re-sealing the Keyhole…."

"Great thinking, Sora! Where is it?" Jack asked.

"Well….it's kind of hard to remember…" Sora scratched his head.

Axel's shoulders slumped. "Man, I don't believe this," he sighed. "Well, keep thinking about it, Sora. And while you're thinking, the rest of us will do some poking around. Let's split up again."

"Split up? Sora's the only one who can detect the Keyhole," Riku said. "His Keyblade—"

"You've got one too, don't you?" Axel said, nodding at Riku. "And so does Kanixa." Riku considered for a moment, then shrugged his assent to Axel's logic. "I think we've got the whole Keyhole-detecting thing covered."

"Really?" Kanixa asked, skeptical. "But...are you sure that's something I can do? The Keyhole is the door to this world's heart or something , right? Hearts aren't exactly something I have experience with."

Axel raised an eyebrow. "I don't know what you're talking about. Your element is emotion—you have power over hearts. Power strong enough to spill over to those of us without them. If this world has a heart, I'm pretty sure you can find it."

"I never thought about it like that…" Kanixa muttered, ducking her head and running a hand through her hair to conceal her embarrassment. Axel made her power actually sound important and cool, instead of what it was, which was nearly useless. It wasn't like her element could actually help her with her fighting skills or anything.

"So, let's split up," Axel said authoritatively. "We—" he gestured at Kanixa and Demyx—"will take Christmas Town. If this place has a light side and a heart, it's there."

"Don't be too sure," Riku demurred. "Sometimes light can be found in unexpected places. Even in the places that look the darkest. I'll look in Halloween Town."

"We'll look with you," Sora said, flashing his friend a grin. "Won't we, guys?" he asked, looking at Donald and Goofy and Kairi. Donald and Goofy nodded their agreement, expressions resolute, and Kairi went over to put a hand on Riku's shoulder.

"Whoever finds the Keyhole will do their best to close it, agreed?" Axel asked. "And then come and find the others."

"Sounds good," Sora agreed. "See you soon! And be careful," he added, looking unusually solemn. "If Maleficent is behind this—"

"Please. You think we can't take her? I'm hurt," Axel drawled. "You just watch out for yourselves—and wait for us to find that Keyhole before you do!"

The challenge distracted Sora. "I bet you we find it first!" he called, then turned and ran back towards Halloween Town proper. His entourage followed quickly, and soon the three Nobodies were left with Jack.

"So, gentlemen! And lady," Jack added quickly, giving Kanixa an apologetic glance. "Let's be off to Christmas Town!"

"We were already planning on it," Axel said, eyes unreadable as he looked over at the skeleton. "But I wasn't aware you were coming along for the ride."

"Of course! If Sandy Claws needs me to help save Christmas, I'm happy to help. And it seems like your group could use my help, since Sora has so many friends following him."

"Great. We're saving Christmas with the help of a giant skeleton," Demyx muttered. "This just might be the weirdest day ever."

"Hey, Jack. You've worked with Sora before, right? Were you with him when he sealed the Keyhole for this world the first time?" Axel asked.

"Sora's helped me out on several occasions," Jack said brightly. "Mostly we've had to stop Oogie Boogie from ruining both Halloween and Christmas—"

"And where did you do that?" Axel asked. Kanixa mouthed at Demyx, 'Oogie Boogie?' The former Number Nine just shrugged, apparently at a loss as well.

Jack put a bony finger to his mouth, thinking. "Well, the first time we defeated Oogie at his mansion, but that burned down after the battle. Then we fought him in Sandy's workshop—"

"Santa's workshop!" Axel snapped his fingers. "That's got to be it! Let's get going." And with that, he headed towards the gateway back into Christmas Town—a Christmas tree carved into the trunk of one of the trees in the creepy woods around them. Kanix a and Demyx exchanged a helpless glance as Jack charged through after Axel, then headed through the portal themselves.

Kanixa had to close her eyes against blinding whiteness—the snow-covered hilltop outside of Christmas Town sure was a change from the gloomy woods around Halloween Town! She took a deep breath of the frosty, clean air, and smiled happily. She knew which she preferred! The carpet of snow, the snug little village below, the lights, the decorations…Axel had to be right. This was the world's light half. Surely the Keyhole would be here.

The quartet started down the steep hill that led into town, and this time Kanixa picked her steps carefully, not anxious to slip and have a repeat performance of plunging down the hill. Axel and Demyx found their footing with similar care, but Jack stalked down the hill with an alien kind of grace.

"Sandy's workshop is just across the town square," Jack explained, pitching his voice low. "But I have to warn you—he's not all that fond of me."

"You and me both," Axel snorted, looking at the skeleton with interest for the first time. "What did you do?"

"Well, once I stumbled onto this place, I wanted to capture a bit of the Christmas spirit for myself. So…I invited Sandy to take a vacation and let us in Halloween Town handle Christmas for the year. We constructed a sleigh and our own reindeer team—" Kanixa thought about asking about how they did that, but then changed her mind. Given that it came from Halloween Town, she probably didn't want to know—"and made presents…" Jack trailed off, sighing. "But there was a slight problem with my plan—"

They never got the opportunity to hear what that flaw was. With little popping noises, a mob of Heartless sprang up in the middle of the town square. Besides the run-of-the-mill Halloween Town Heartless, Kanixa spotted a few that seemed to fit with Christmas Town—giant jack-in-the-boxes—in addition to the usual Halloween Town spooks.

Axel charged straight at the group, slinging his chakrams ahead of him to deal some preliminary damage. Kanixa summoned her Keyblade and followed after him, stopping to engage any Heartless who stepped in her way. The little monsters were all around, she noticed when she glanced away from battling a Wight Knight to see how the others were doing. Demyx played his sitar frantically, calling up columns of water to knock a pair of Gargoyles out of the sky. Jack battered away at one of the jack-in-the-boxes, attacking in a flurry of arms and legs. And Axel sent another one up in flames as she watched, reducing it to nothing but fading tendrils of darkness and a freed heart floating up into the sky.

A well-timed blow from a Wight Knight, taking advantage of her lack of attention, sent her stumbling backwards. Instantly Axel was in front of her, taking down the Heartless with a spinning attack. "Watch out!" he snapped at her over his shoulder. "Let down your guard and they'll be all over you!" As if to demonstrate, he reached behind him to send a Gargoyle that had been trying to sneak up on him sprawling.

"Yeah, yeah," Kanixa muttered, getting to her feet just as Jack dispatched the last Heartless.

"I see what you mean," the skeleton said, frowning. "There are Heartless everywhere! No wonder Sandy Claws is having trouble getting his Christmas ready!"

"The sooner we find the Keyhole, the sooner everyone's problems will be solved," Axel said. He nodded at Kanixa's Keyblade. "Keep that out. Maybe it will help us to find the Keyhole."

"How?" Demyx asked.

"I don't know, I'm not a Keyblade wielder!" Axel snapped. "Maybe it will glow or something…anyway, what are we doing standing around here and talking?" he demanded, obviously trying to guide the conversation past his lack of knowledge. "We should be checking out Santa's workshop!"

He crossed the square and went up the steps to Santa's house. As the others gathered around him, he rang the bell impatiently, pressing the buzzer in so that the noise resounded around the inside of the house nonstop.

When the door opened, at first there appeared to be no one there. "Down here!" a voice squeaked, and the entire party tilted their heads down to see an elf peering out from behind the door. He wore a green outfit surprisingly similar to Riku's Christmas Town outfit, and Kanixa resisted the urge to break out into a foolish smile. He looked so cute!

"Are you here to help us get rid of the Heartless?" the elf asked.

"That's right," Axel agreed, giving the elf a friendly smile that Kanixa didn't trust for a minute. "We think we know why they're popping up. We just need to take a look around Santa's workshop—"

"But that's classified!" The elf squeaked. "No one can go in Santa's workshop! Then people could tamper with the presents and even—" the elf's voice dropped into a terrified whisper—"find out what they were getting for Christmas early!"

"Don't worry. We're not expecting presents," Axel assured the elf. "And are you sure we couldn't look in the workshop. Sora said—"

"You're a friend of Sora's?" The elf's resolve appeared to waver. "Well, I guess it would be all right this once…come in."

"Splendid!" Jack declared, coming into the elf's view for the first time. The elf's mouth rounded into a comical "o" of horror.

"It's you! You're not allowed in here!" He made as if to slam the door in their faces, but in the blink of an eye Axel had wedged his boot into the opening.

"But Sora sent him too," the redhead said, tone friendly and reasoning. "And you may not like us, but without our help, you'll never be ready in time for Christmas. Why not give us a chance?"

The elf considered for a long moment. "…Okay." He opened the door, letting them step into the house, and then led them down the narrow hallway and to a big door on the right side. "Santa's workshop is through here. But I'll have to supervise you. You understand."

"Of course." Axel gave the elf a smile before throwing open the door. Kanixa's mouth dropped open—the room on the other side with huge. Three enormous conveyer belts stood on the other side of the room. Every few seconds a present dropped from the ceiling onto one of the conveyer belts, where it made a swift trip down to the chute at the end. The quartet stepped out onto the stairs that led down to the workshop floor, the better to take in the room.

"Is that all to load the sleigh?" Kanixa asked Axel.

"Yeah. The presents drop down from the packaging room upstairs. Talk about a big operation. There must be more good kids among the worlds than I'd have guessed." He pulled a face. "But that's enough talk. It's time we started looking for the Keyhole."

"Right." Kanixa held her Keyblade straight out in front of her, feeling foolish. Closing her eyes, she concentrated, trying to envision a Keyhole for an entire world. For a second she could sense it, and almost see it on the backs of her eyelids—a glittering outline of light in the darkness. But it wasn't here. It was far away. "You guys, I think we're in the wrong place—" she began, opening her eyes.

"I'll say," Axel muttered, stepping in front of her, spinning his chakrams nervously. "Take a look at that!"

Across the room, a huge Heartless appeared. It had planted its feet in the space between the conveyer belts, and its huge head brushed the ceiling. Kanixa swallowed, hard: this was easily the biggest and most intimidating Heartless she'd ever seen. It looked basically humanoid in shape, with huge, spade-like feet and relatively narrow legs that merged into a huge, muscular-looking torso and arms. The thing had biceps bigger around than she was! The basic Heartless emblem glinted on its chest, but this time the design was red and green. Its face was a mass of dark tentacles, apart from its eyes, glittering with a sinister intelligence. And perched on the top of its head, a Christmas hat stood at a jaunty angle.

Their elf guide took one look at the monster and ran away, yelling in a squeaky voice, "Heartless! Heartless in the workshop!"

"Well, that's helpful!" Kanixa murmured before turning her attention back to the giant Heartless.

"I don't like this," Axel said. "This smells like a setup. Like someone knew we were coming here to look for a Keyhole, and sent us this Heartless instead." He snorted. "Some Christmas present."

"It's here and we're here. So we might as well take it down," Demyx said, summoning his sitar. His calm tone belied his way his fingers shook a bit on the strings. Kanixa could understand his nervousness. This was one big Heartless—and to do her part, she'd have to rely on her own strength. A monster like this wouldn't have a heart to appeal to, or emotions to manipulate. The only thing she could do would be to try to batter it down.

"Let's get started," she suggested, giving Demyx a smile. "What are we waiting for—Christmas?" Lowering herself into a crouch, she prepared to spring over the railing and at the Heartless-

Axel grabbed her by the hood. "Sorry, Nixa. Ladies first doesn't apply here, he told her with a smirk, releasing her and pushing her backwards, out of harm's way. He held his chakrams out from his sides, and the edges ignited. Like a discus thrower, he launched them both at the giant Heartless, and then leaped after them himself.

Both chakrams hit the Heartless squarely in the chest—and then, so did Axel, delivering a powerful kick with both feet that knocked the creature back a step. Axel landed neatly in front of the Heartless, catching his chakrams on the way down.

The Heartless lifted one giant foot to try to crush him, but Axel easily dodged. "Is that all you got?" he taunted.

Kanixa ran down the stairs and hurried over to join him, flailing away at the Heartless's nearest foot with her Keyblade. To her surprise, the Heartless didn't react at all to the blows, as if she was just some pesky fly buzzing around her ankle. Instead, it calmly bent over and plunged one arm into the ground up to the wrist, sending up a shockwave that nearly knocked her off of her feet. Darkness boiled out from around the arm, and Demyx, who stood closest, took several nervous steps backward.

"That's not good," Axel muttered, stating the obvious, before launching himself at the arm. "I think I found a weak point!" he called as he battered the thing's arm with his chakrams, sending up evaporating wisps of darkness as his attacks hit home. Demyx struck up a new tune on his sitar, and water clones of himself glided toward the arm and began to bludgeon it with their "sitars."

"No fair!" Axel called to Demyx. "You always find a way to get out of the really dirty work."

"I can't help it if I'm more creative than you," Demyx replied, giving the redhead a challenging smile. The smile quickly evaporated, and he called, "Axel, look out!"

"Huh?—" Axel curled himself into a ball and rolled away from the Heartless just as it pulled its arm from the ground, lifting it high in the air. Kanixa watched as the giant hand curled into a fist, wondering if it would try to smash someone. Instead, darkness boiled out of its fist, stretching out into a long, thin rod that became—

"A candy cane," Axel said flatly. "It just made a Candy Cane of Darkness." A feral smile stretched across his face. "Color me unimpressed, monster." He drew himself up and then leaped up at the Heartless, preparing to deliver anther double-kick to the chest.

Halfway to his target, the Heartless swung its candy cane at Axel like a club. The candy cane hit Axel in the torso with a sickening thud, and Kanixa watched in horror as it threw him across the workshop to crash into a wall. He slid down to sprawl on the floor, groaning.

Kanixa glanced from the Heartless to Axel, torn. Should she focus on revenge, or on helping a friend? Making her decision, she hurried over to Axel and knelt beside him. "Hey? Are you all right?"

Axel ignored her as he got to his feet, one arm curled protectively around his torso. He stayed hunched over slightly, getting his breath back, eyes blazing hate as they locked onto the Heartless. Demyx still pounded the thing with water columns, and Jack Skellington launched himself at it in a blur of motion, wrapping himself in flames before he did so. Wait—flames? She blinked to make sure that she was seeing correctly. Yep, the skeleton-man had definitely called up fire. Apparently Axel wasn't the only pyro around.

"Axel?" Kanixa repeated her question. "Are you okay?"

"Never better," Axel replied shortly, straightening up and calling his chakrams to him. "Someone has got to teach this monster that it takes more than a candy cane to take me down!" He slung both of his chakrams at the Heartless, but instead of arcing back to him they both lodged in the creature's chest.

"Burn, baby!" Axel shouted, snapping his fingers. The chakrams burst into flames, and soon the Heartless did too. Demyx wisely stopped hitting the Heartless with water attacks, on the off-chance that he might accidentally put the creature out. Jack kept up his attack, and Kanixa hurried over to join him. A few hits did the trick, and soon nothing was left of the Heartless but a rapidly evaporating puddle of darkness on the floor, and a heart that floated up to the ceiling before disappearing.

Kanixa glanced over her shoulder at Axel, who'd walked over to join her. "Remind me not to get on your bad side," she said, nodding at where all signs of the Heartless had pretty much vanished.

"I don't like being played with," Axel said. "And someone is definitely jerking us around. If it's Maleficent, I'm going to make her sorry." The certainty in his tone and the lack of emotion on his face sent a cold chill down Kanixa's spine. Then he smiled, and the moment was over. "But you should be happy, Kanixa. You just saved Christmas!"

"You mean, you just saved Christmas," Kanixa corrected. "You're the one that just destroyed that Heartless."

Rapid footsteps could be heard in the hallway, and the elf returned, followed by Santa. Both of them stopped on the stairs, clearly surprised to see only Axel, Demyx, Kanixa, and Jack. "Wh-what happened to the Heartless?" Santa demanded. "And—what is he doing here?" He pointed one black-gloved finger at Jack.

"I heard you were having some trouble, Sandy. So I came to offer my services," Jack said brightly.

"I've told you. I've told you a hundred times. I don't need any more of your 'help.' Creatures of Halloween Town have no business interfering in Christmas!" Santa declared, folding his arms over his stomach.

"Really? Because he just helped to destroy the Heartless that tried to wreck your workshop," Axel drawled. "I think you owe him some thanks."

"Nonsense!" Jack waved that idea away with one bony hand. "I'm glad to help. But don't you fellows think we'd better go and tell Sora what happened here? He seems to be the expert on the Heartless."

"if Sora's an expert on anything, I'll eat my chakrams," Axel muttered. More loudly, he said, "Sure, why not. Let's see what the others found."

"Sora?" Santa repeated. "Sora's here?" He sighed. "Not the brightest boy, but he has a good heart. Good thing he finally worked his way back on my 'nice' list."

"Wait, wait, wait." Axel put up his hands. "You mean Sora was on the naughty list? How high are your standards, anyway?"

"Sora told everyone he didn't believe in Santa Claus eight years ago. His friend Riku put him up to it, told him Santa Claus was for babies. So if he doesn't believe…"

"No presents. Got it," Demyx finished for him.

"But he's saved Christmas twice now—normally from this one's meddling," Santa said, glaring at Jack. The skeleton looked suitably cowed. "Putting him back on the nice list was the least I could do."

Axel opened his mouth, and Kanixa, sensing what he was about to ask, elbowed him in the ribs. When he glared down at her, she shook her head. "Look. Let's just go find Sora," she muttered. She wasn't about to be put back on the 'nice' list because of begging or blackmail. Nobodies didn't get put on the 'nice' list. And besides, Sora always was unnaturally lucky. Only someone like him could get clemency from Santa. "Sorry for causing you any inconvenience, Mr. Claus. You should have no trouble delivering your presents now."

Kanixa marched up the steps leading out of Santa's workshop, and then headed straight for the door, not looking to see who followed. Just as she crossed over the threshold, a hand landed on her shoulder. She glanced back to see Axel smiling at her.

"Look on the bright side, Nixa. We just saved Christmas. Wonder what the Organization would say if they could see us now?"

"They'd probably chastise us for pretending we had hearts," Kanixa said, not returning the smile. Shrugging out of his grip, she started down the stairs and across the main square of Santa's village. Just as she passed the carousel in the middle of the square, a voice called after her.

"Kanixa! Axel! Demyx! Wait up, fellows!" She glanced back to see Axel and Demyx just behind her, and in the distance, Jack sprinting to catch up to them. "Sorry, I was just discussing Christmas plans with Sandy. It's Christmas Eve, you know. He has a lot of catching up to do!" Jack frowned. "Only when I volunteered to get some friends to help him load the sleigh, he didn't seem very enthusiastic..."

"We've got to be moving on," Axel said flatly.

"But wait! I have a message for you all from Sandy! He says Merry Christmas!"

"Yeah, well, Merry Christmas to him, too," Axel grumbled. "Come on, Nixa. Demyx. Let's go catch up with—"

"Hey, guys!" a voice called from the distance. Kanixa glanced up to see Sora bounding down Christmas Town's hill toward them, followed by his entourage. "We found the Keyhole," Sora reported once he'd reached them. "I sealed it back up." He put his hands behind his head. "I think this world's safe again, for now. Hey, Axel! I finally beat you at something. Guess you missed out on the action this time, huh?"

"Missed out on the action," Axel muttered, glancing back toward Santa's workshop. "Right…"

"Good work, Sora!" Jack declared. "Now I can get back to helping Sandy with the Christmas decorations. And you all had better get home. You don't want to miss Christmas, now do you?"

"Wouldn't miss it!" Sora agreed. "It was good to see you again, Jack! Try to stay out of trouble!" Jack nodded, before turning and heading back toward Santa's workshop. "So," Sora said, glancing over at the trio of Nobodies. "Where are you spending Christmas?"

"No idea. But I'm guessing the folks on Radiant Garden are probably having some short of shindig, right?" Axel asked, glancing over at Kanixa. She nodded in agreement, brow furrowing into a puzzled frown. Why would he bring that up? He hated spending any length of time there. "Then let's go check that out," he suggested, giving her a smile. "I think we can put off figuring out what craziness is going on with the worlds for one night."

"Aw, man, are you serious?" Demyx demanded in a whisper, glaring at Axel.

"Cheer up. There's probably free food. And Christmas lights." Axel didn't sound like he bought into his own pitch. "Look, we're going, and that's that."

"Fine." Demyx folded his arms.

"We'll go with you, then. The more the merrier, right?" Sora asked, smiling at them.

"Merry. Right. That's the word I'd use," Demyx muttered, looking rather put out about the fact that he would be stuck with both Leon and Sora for Christmas.

"Hey, you never know. It could be fun," Kanixa said, beginning to cheer up in spite of herself. "There will be hot cocoa and caroling—but you might want to plug your ears if Yuffie decides to go along. Sometimes it even snows, and we have these awesome snowball fights. Everyone else against Leon—"

"You're right," Axel said, a glint that Kanixa didn't like in his eyes. "That does sound like fun."

"Well, I guess we'll see you there. Let's go, guys!" Sora called, and suddenly he, Riku, Kairi, Donald and Goofy went racing up the hill. "See you on Radiant Garden!"


Spending Christmas Eve on Radiant Garden wasn't so bad, really, Axel decided, sprawled on Aerith's couch with Kanixa beside him. Everyone had made a big fuss about their arriving just in time for Christmas, and even Leon seemed genuinely happy to see them. Well, happy to see Kanixa.

"You made it," he'd said when he answered the door of Aerith's house, a pleased smile quirking up the corners of his mouth. Immediately he tried to cover for it by looking macho, but that was hard to do with strings of lit Christmas lights coiled around his neck.

"Get back here, Squall—I mean, Leon," Yuffie said hastily when Leon shot her a glare. "I need you to help me finish decorating this tree—oh, it's you three!" The ninja girl threw herself off of the ladder where she'd been leaning precariously, trying to put a star topper on a big fir tree that had only been half-wrapped with lights. "You made it just in time for Christmas! Isn't it great?" she asked Leon.

Leon's only response was stony silence, until Yuffie towed him back to the tree using his necklace of lights. "Don't just stand there, finish getting the tree lit! And then get in the kitchen before Aerith takes it into her head to make dinner."

"Roger," Leon said hastily, climbing up the ladder to add lights to the top of the tree.

As if on cue, Aerith emerged from the kitchen. "Axel. Demyx. Kanixa. You're back," she said, giving them all a happy smile. "Can I offer you some egg nog? Or some cocoa?"

"Sure," Demyx said brightly. Kanixa, noticing the frantic 'no' motion Yuffie was making behind Aerith's back, chose to abstain, and Axel followed suit. If Kanixa was passing it up, there had to be a reason. A few minutes later, Demyx discreetly dumped his cocoa into the base of the Christmas tree's stand.

"Told you," Yuffie muttered, sounding smug.

The rest of the night passed in a blur of decorating, carols, and the occasional insult from Axel—hey, he couldn't be expected to stay in the same enclosed space with Leon and keep a civil tongue in his head the entire time, now could he? Now Axel sat on the couch, fighting the urge to fall asleep. Beside him, Kanixa had already conked out. She'd declined to go to bed several times, and he could guess why. She was hoping against hope that Santa would choose to show up. But the big guy probably wasn't coming. After all they'd done for him! Apparently Old Saint Nick couldn't let bygones be bygones. What a jerk, Axel decided sleepily, eyelids drooping. He probably should go back there and teach Santa a lesson…

Axel woke with a start, after hearing someone scream.

"Santa! Santa's been here!" Yuffie shrieked, dancing around with glee by the Christmas tree.

"No need to wake up the entire town, Yuffie," Leon growled as he staggered out of the kitchen, rubbing the sleep from his eyes with one hand and clutching a mug of coffee in the other.

"And there's a present for me!" Yuffie continued as if he hadn't spoken, lifting up a shuriken-shaped package. She shook it to see if it rattled, then rapped on it with her knuckles. "I wonder what it could be?"

"Santa left you something?" Leon raised his eyebrows as she tore at the wrapping paper. "If he thinks you've been good this year, he needs better intel."

"I heard that!" Yuffie pouted. "But look—there are presents for you, and Aerith, and Cid, and Merlin, and—hey! Here's one for Sora! I wonder how Santa knew he'd be here?"

Leon knelt beside Yuffie, helping her inventory the presents. "One for Donald…One for Goofy…Riku…Kairi…hey!" He lifted up a small, square box and doublechecked the tag. "Yep. Santa definitely needs to do more research," he muttered, before tossing the small package at Axel.

"Why are you throwing presents at me?" Axel demanded, catching the box mainly on reflex.

"It's got your name on it," Leon replied. "There's one for Demyx…and one for Kanixa, too. That last I can understand," he added in an undertone.

"Hey. Do you hear that?" Axel nudged Kanixa, and she woke up. "You've got something. A present from Santa."

Kanixa's entire face lit up, and she sat up quickly. "Really?" she asked, glancing over at the tree.

"Really," Leon confirmed, tossing her a long, thin box. There was a note taped to the box, and Kanixa flipped it open.

"What's it say?" Axel asked, curious in spite of himself.

"It says, 'I've put you and your friends back on the 'nice' list. Don't make me change my mind.'" Kanixa giggled. "I know that will be hard for you. You're not exactly 'nice list' material, Axel."

"Hey! I'm nice…sometimes," Axel defended. "Hey…don't you want to open your present?"

She shook her head. "I can wait until Demyx wakes up. Besides…I've already gotten the best present. Being shown how great my friends are. Not just anyone would take on Santa Claus for me." She smiled at him.

"You've got that right," Axel agreed, smirking at her. "But next year, Christmas has to squeak by on its own. I won't be saving it. Got that memorized?"