Heyyy :D

So it seems there are people actually reading this story, wow, thank you! As an early New Year's present, here's the next chapter~~ Sorry it took so long, I wrote it a while ago and then completely forgot about it orz

Disclaimer: Don't own, don't sue. OCs are mine though :3

Warnings: Manga spoilers, I guess? Also very mild swearing.

Also, flowers go to Nanaga, for being an awesome beta as always :3

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to those who celebrate it! Everyone else, have an awesome week! Hope you enjoy the chapter~


Chapter 3: O Come, All Ye Faithful

It's high time you figured this out, kid:
Everything you thought you knew about 'Santa Claus'
Is nothing like the real thing.

oOoOoOoOoOo

"…I'm not your friend Salt anymore."

It was some time before Marie came back from putting the children to bed. Rudolph had left not long after Salt – why does he insist on being called Noël? What's wrong with 'Salt'? – had stormed out. Pierre didn't begrudge the silver-haired Reindeer for going; he knew Rudolph was worried about his partner. What had happened to the Salt that Pierre had known? He was never that harsh. His bark was always worse than his bite, but now they're both equally stinging. How could he change so much?

Pierre sighed, rubbing his forehead wearily. It's been ten years, he reminded himself. That's a long time. Why should I be surprised that he's not how I remember?

"Oh? Where are Noël and Rudolph?"

He glanced up briefly at the sound of Marie's quiet voice before he went back to staring at the fire burning steadily lower in the grate. "They had to go somewhere. Noël said to thank you for your hospitality." And then he stormed out of here. Why does he hate me so much now?

"At this time of night? Will they be alright? We had room…" Marie sat down on Pierre's right, her brows knitted over liquid brown eyes filled with worry.

"They'll be fine. Salt just … Noël just had other places to be." As far away from me as possible. "After all, Christmas Eve is a very busy time for Santa and his reindeer."

Marie smiled. "Hush, or you'll wake the children if they so much as hear the word 'Santa' … Chanson came up a while ago; he's asleep now. He doesn't believe in Santa, you know. It's a shame."

Pierre's mouth twitched as he tried to look suitably sombre. Well, he'll be learning differently if Salt has anything to say about it. His silent amusement died quickly as he saw the troubled frown on Marie's face. "What is it?"

Brown eyes met brown and held them. "Pierre, how did Chanson get those injuries? How did you get hurt? You were gone so long, I was so worried…"

Pierre reached over and squeezed her hand. "It'd take more than a street thug to get the best of me, Marie. Chanson too, I think." He fell silent, trying to figure out what to say. It's so matter-of-fact for Salt and Rudolph, but to everyone else it must seem so surreal. Marie waited patiently, trusting that her mahogany-haired friend would tell her the truth once he sorted it out. "I'm not entirely sure," Pierre began hesitantly. "I only got there at the end. But, Marie, Chanson was attacked tonight by something called a cauchemar. I told you about them once, do you remember?"

Marie's eyes had widened in surprise as Pierre began to talk, but at his question her brows lowered in thought. "The monsters that eat people's souls…?" she asked hesitantly, covering her mouth when Pierre nodded grimly. "They're real? Not just a story for curfew?"

"They're real." Memories of a time long past flickered in Pierre's mind's eye. "My best friend was hunted by them. It was because of them that his brother died." Pierre sighed heavily. "And now they're after Chanson…"

"After Chanson?" Marie repeated in horror. "But why?"

"I don't know … He has something they want, I guess. Noël didn't know either." At Marie's questioning look, Pierre raised an eyebrow. "Noël – no, Salt – that man is my best friend from all those years ago." A small gasp escaped his friend before he could continue. "The cauchemar were after his power back then – he's a Santa Claus. Rudolph is his Reindeer, they fight cauchemar." He gazed off into the fire. "Noël says that Chanson needs to go with them so he can be safe."

Marie stared at him for a long moment, taking it all in. She smiled weakly. "I'd say you were joking, but … you wouldn't lie to me about something like this."

"I wouldn't lie to you at all," Pierre replied. "You don't lie to people you trust, right?"

Her beaming smile was his reward for a few seconds. Then it trembled, anxiety flashing across her eyes like reflections of the dancing flames. "I … I'm worried, Pierre."

"I know. So am I. Chanson's in danger."

"No," she shook her head. "Not just Chanson. I'm worried for all of you."

"Even me?" Pierre teased to hide the swell of emotion in his chest. They were neighbours, friends and nothing more, but even so Marie really saw their mismatched group as a family.

Marie shoved him away lightly as he grinned. "You get in so much trouble all the time that I'm always worried about you." Her cheeks were a faint pink, although the room was rather warm from the fire.

"I don't get in that much trouble anymore," Pierre protested. "I'm much more respectable now."

"Respectable in your old age?" she replied with a small grin, raising an eyebrow wickedly. Pierre raised one in reply – Who are you calling old? – and stood up with a groan.

"Well, your elderly, respectable friend is going to go and filch a cookie before Santa comes and eats them," he said, stretching his back. "Care to help him hobble out to the kitchen?"

"Hobbling will build your character," Marie told him with a straight face, although her eyes twinkled with mirth. "I'm going to go to bed now. Try to leave Santa some cookies, at least." She patted his shoulder and skipped to the door. Pausing in the doorway, Marie turned around, hesitated and then said, "Pierre, if Chanson is in danger and your friend can help him … Will Noël come back?"

"Of course! It's Christmas Eve, isn't it? Santa Claus has to come and visit sometime." Reassured by his grin, Marie grinned back and waved.

"Good night," she called over her shoulder.

"Good night," he replied quietly, returning the wave. When Marie was out of sight, however, his hand slowed to a standstill and his face became sombre. Well, at least I hope he'll come backSalt is so different now to the boy I knew. Buthe can't have changed completely, right? There's still hope of finding him. Who he used to be.

Please, Salt.

oOoOoOoOoOo

It was the sound of footsteps above him that woke Pierre out of the uncharacteristic gloom he had fallen into, staring into the fire moodily as it burned itself down to embers. For a moment he stared upwards, wondering if it had been his imagination and was just about to return to his brooding when the tap-creak came again. With a small groan, Pierre pulled himself to his feet and headed towards the stairs. Maybe Phillip is having trouble sleeping again, he mused as he passed the kitchen. Or maybe Brown eyes that saw surprisingly well in the gloom fell upon the plate of cookies left out for 'Santa'. Pierre snagged two of them on his way past and headed up the stairs quietly. In this part of the house, his house, he knew his way around from memory and had no need for any kind of light. His caution was more for the sake of not waking the children rather than surprising any would-be thief – Pierre knew most of the thieves that worked his neighbourhood and besides, no thief would break into a house full of kids even if it had something of value. As a result of these two reasons, Pierre (and Marie as well by virtue of being his friend) had less cause to worry about robbers than most in their part of the city.

Up on the second floor, Pierre checked on everyone. Oliver and Phillip were fast asleep, the red-head snoring quietly. Pierre grinned as he pulled the door further over and tip-toed away. He glanced across to the room that Will and Peel shared with Chanson. Once again, Peel had abandoned her bed to sprawl across her brother's, something the boy put up with surprisingly well even though he was left with only a small part of the bed to himself. Those two slept so deeply that they wouldn't have noticed a riot going past; the extra care the older man was now putting into being quiet was for the grey-haired boy's sake. Chanson slept lightly, so lightly that there had been several times when Pierre had woken him simply by opening the door to check on them all. It wasn't that surprising a habit: no doubt it came from his time living on London's streets, where a boy could run into trouble if he let down his guard.

If he let down his guard. There was one of the problems: Chanson wouldn't let down his guard when there were adults or anyone older than himself around. He remained closed off to everyone, Marie as much as Pierre and the two of them only slightly less than total strangers.

He sighed. With time, maybe, he'll come to trust us.

I hope.

That left only Ivy, Marie's niece, who was staying with them while her parents travelled to the other side of the country for some reason or another. Still, Ivy slept in Marie's room, so Marie would be taking care of her if she couldn't sleep.

So who was walking around up here?

Another shuffle, coming form the end of the hallway where a door led to a small balcony that overlooked the street. Pierre's mother had badgered his father for two entire months until the man had given in and built it; the young Pierre had liked to sit there and watch people go by. The older Pierre liked to go there to think.

He had an inkling of who it might be the moment all the children had been accounted for, so it was with only a small degree of surprise that he found Rudolph pacing around outside when he poked his head out the door.

The Reindeer turned around as Pierre came fully outside and shut the door behind him. There was guilt in the green eyes as he said, "Pierre… I hope I didn't wake you up?"

"Nah," the mahogany-haired man said, shaking his head as he came to lean on the railing beside Rudolph. "I was still awake anyway. I thought it might have been you." Mutely, he offered one of the cookies he stolen from downstairs. A smile tugged at the Reindeer's mouth as he accepted it with quiet thanks. Pierre turned around and leant backwards on the railing as he gazed up at the stars instead of the streets below, biting into the second cookie. "Where's Salt?"

Rudolph, who had been happily munching on the sweet, shook his head sadly at Pierre's question. "He's not back yet."

"I hope he's alright…" Pierre said quietly, brows knitted together with concern.

Green eyes studied the man beside him. So different to the youth he had met so briefly a decade ago and yet so unchangingly the same. Even after being ignored by his best friend for years, he's worried about him. Noël, can't you see that no matter what you do, Pierre will always be your friend? Rudolph sighed mentally at his Santa Claus' stubbornness. Was Klaus-sama always this obstinate? Aloud, he replied, "If it's Noël, I'm sure he'll be fine."

"Yeah…" Pierre's voice trailed off, concern still etched in his features. Deciding that Pierre had a right to know, Rudolph expanded on what he'd said earlier.

"I think Noël has gone back to the North Pole to tell them about Chanson and the situation here. He should be back in a day or so."

Pierre blinked. "The North Pole?" Well, it makes sense that they'd live there, I guess Wait. "In one night? By himself?"

Rudolph laughed, causing the other man to jump slightly in surprise. It was such a bright and cheerful sound, making Pierre realise that he'd never actually heard the silver-haired man laugh before. The situation was always so serious He shook his head, returning his attention back to Rudolph as the Reindeer began to speak.

"Noël's using magic to teleport himself there and back," he explained. "So it'll only take him the time to explain things to everyone else."

"Salt can… teleport…?" Pierre knew that he must look stunned; he certainly felt it. Salt, using magic? To teleport? "Why aren't you there with him, though?"

Rudolph sighed. "The Santa Clauses are the ones who handle the magic, Pierre, not us Reindeer. Since Noël left before I could get there, I can't follow." Which isn't exactly the truth, the Reindeer apologised mentally to the other man.

"Someone needs to go and tell everyone about this kid, and I don't like leaving him unprotected in case another cauchemar comes to call," Noël said briskly, his back to Rudolph as he took his compass from a pocket. "So Rudolph, you should stay here 'til I get back. Keep him safe."

Rudolph nodded. "I will." Still, he wasn't sure about Noël going alone. "Noël, are you –?"

"Yeah, I'm sure," Noël answered before his partner could finish, activating the compass with his magic to transform it into his staff. He'd heard that phrase so often it was easy to guess when it was coming. "I won't be in any danger, but that kid might be, and so might Pi – all those other kids with him."

Yep, he's worried about Pierre as well. Rudolph couldn't help smiling to himself. Noël scowled as if he could hear his partner's thoughts.

"I won't be gone long. Keep them all safe, Rudolph." It was hard to tell in the bluish glow his staff was emitting, but Rudolph thought Noël's face might have gone slightly red as he commanded, "And don't tell Pierre I said that!"

With a flash of blue light, the Santa Claus disappeared.

Pierre was still frowning. "Wait, so Salt just went without you?"

"He'll be back."

"Will he?" Pierre asked suddenly, sadness in his voice and in his expression. "He's avoided me for the past ten years. What's to stop him doing it again?"

"Pierre…" Rudolph stopped, unsure what to say. "Pierre, he is worried about you all, no matter what he says. I just don't think he likes to show it."

"That sounds like Salt," Pierre replied with a lopsided smile. He sighed suddenly, head drooping. "I guess I just never thought there'd be a day when he'd close me out too. I thought we were friends."

"You two still are friends."

"I wish I could say that with as much certainty, Rudolph … but why did he never come back?"

Rudolph shrugged. "I… don't really know, Pierre. Noël's… changed since then, I think, although I don't know what he was like before. But I'm worried about him as well. He's never cried once since that day, no matter what happened and also…" He hesitated. "All the other successors, they all seem so open, although I'm sure they have secrets they keep hidden as well. Noël …"

The conversation lapsed into silence as the Reindeer trailed off, both of them falling into their own thoughts. Pierre stared up at the full moon. He was surprised that Rudolph would confide even this much in him, considering they hadn't really spoken much the last time they'd met. Something that had been nagging at him all this time came to mind. "…Hey, Rudolph? Why do you call him 'Noël' anyway?" Considering he basically exploded whenever I tried to call him Salt.

"Because that's what he told us to call him." At Pierre's questioning look, the silver-haired man sighed. "I don't really get it myself, but … I don't think he wanted anything that connected him to his past anymore. So he changed names."

Is that why he's avoiding me then? Because I remind him of his past? Pierre's eyes sparked with determination. Well, Salt, you're not getting rid of me that easily! "Huh. Well, I know Salt, not Noël, so that's what I'll call him." And if it annoys him, well, at least he isn't ignoring me completely, then.

Rudolph covered a smile with his hand. It looks like Noël isn't the only one who is stubborn to the core. "You look after the children well," he said, changing the subject. "They seem happy."

"Really?" Pierre was pleasantly startled. "I'm just fumbling my way along, really. Marie knows way more about looking after kids than I do. I guess 'cause she has a little sister; I was an only child."

Hm. He said Marie isn't his girlfriend, so "How did you end up looking after them all, anyway?" Rudolph inquired, genuinely curious.

Pierre chuckled as he shifted positions, mirroring the Reindeer's pose as he looked at the street below. "Like I said, it was Marie's idea. Will and Peel joined us while we were still fixing up the house. Those two and Phillip we adopted legally from the orphanage – Will and Peel were having problems there, if I remember rightly… Oliver and Chanson, though, they are – were – street kids, not on any of the city registers so there's nothing we can sign or anything that would hold up if the law tried to take them away. There's so many more; I'd take them all in if I could, but…" Pierre sighed. "Not even the Queen's palace could house them all, I think." A yawn escaped him. "So, Salt will be back?" At Rudolph's nod, Pierre looked thoughtful. "Actually, I guess we won't see either of you tomorrow though, hmm? It being Christmas Day and all."

"Yes, that's right," Rudolph nodded. "We'll be busy."

"Well, there's more cookies on the kitchen table waiting for Santa and his Reindeer, so feel free to eat them," Pierre laughed. "Marie's cooking is the best in London, if I do say so myself." He stood up and stretched with a yawn as Rudolph grinned. "I think I'll head off to bed now. Do you want to sleep?"

"No, I'll wait up for Noël," Rudolph told him. Pierre nodded and clapped the Reindeer on the shoulder. "Rudolph? Thanks." The silver-haired man didn't need to ask what he was being thanked for; Pierre could see he knew. He hesitated and then continued, "I'm sorry, too." A crooked smile appeared at Rudolph's questioning look. "For stealing your bag all those years ago." Although if we hadn't, what would have happened to Salt?

"Don't worry about it," Rudolph told him, green eyes amused. "There's no need to apologise." Thanks to that, I found my partner. If anything, it's you two I am sorry for. The amused smile became serious as he watched Pierre walk back inside. Rudolph waited until the door had closed before sighing. "You were listening, Noël?"

There was a muffled clatter as the blue-haired man dropped onto the roof and swung down onto the balcony, landing beside his partner easily. "Don't be ridiculous," Noël huffed, adjusting the monocle so that it sat straight. "Why would I want to do something like that?"

"Why indeed," Rudolph replied non-committally. "How did it go?" Noël wouldn't admit to eavesdropping even if he had been.

It was Noël's turn to sigh, rubbing his temple gently. "Well, I told them. Everyone's just as clueless as we are as to why the cauchemar might be after this kid in particular." Silver eyes looked up at the moon, gleaming in the reflected light. "Anyway, it's time to go take care of the other part of our job: I brought the list of names we've been assigned."

"Oh, where are we going this year?"

"Spain, France, a few places in Russia and I think there's a few kids in Australia that Nick can't get to…" Noël riffled though the sheets of paper he held. "I want to get this done as soon as possible so we can get back here. Renne said he'd keep an eye out while he was on his rounds here tomorrow, but…" His eyes darkened. "I don't want to give those bastards any more chances to go after Chanson than I have to." I'll never let those cauchemar get what they want. Not after what they did. Especially not when they're after a kid.

"Well, I guess we had better get started then," Rudolph commented, standing up. He grinned, eyes sparkling. "After all, Santa can't keep the children waiting when it's Christmas, can he?"

oOoOoOoOoOo

The only problem with sleeping by the window is being woken up by the sun every morning, Chanson grumbled to himself as he sat up groggily. When he'd first come here, Will had given up the window-side bed to his friend, guessing accurately that Chanson would prefer to sleep by an exit. While over the past few months the grey-haired boy no longer needed a quick escape route should an attacker appear – always a danger to a young boy sleeping alone on the street – Chanson still used it as a way to get out of the house without anyone else noticing. Still, shouldn't need it this mornin'. Everyone's still abed from all the Christmas festives yesterday.

Blue eyes fell on the bed across the room: Chanson had to smile at the sight. Looks like Peel's taken over the bed again, ha! Quietly, he slipped his feet out of the covers and padded the few steps across the room to the chest of drawers that held all their clothes. It creaked as he pulled out his drawer, making him wince. So much for quiet

"Chanson?" a voice asked sleepily. Will sat up slightly, rubbing his eyes tiredly but awake enough to be careful not to disturb his sister."Wha'cha doin'? You aren't goin' out, are you?"

"Don't worry, Will, I ain't goin' far," Chanson replied, voice muffled as he pulled off his nightshirt and changed into fresh clothes, skin pebbling from the cold in the moments between. "Lookin' for work is all I'm doin'."

"Lookin' for trouble, more like," William sighed in exasperation. "Chanson. It's not like you need t' steal anymore. Mama and Papa aren't that poor."

"Shows what you know. Things change quick sometimes and then where'd we be?" Chanson retorted, grabbing his vest. His fingers brushed over the star sewn into the shoulder gently before he put it on. "'Sides, it's so soon after Christmas, it'll be more like goin' for a walk. An' walkin's not 'gainst the law, is it?"

The blonde sighed. "Whatever. Take care at least, Chanson." Chanson grinned as his friend burrowed back under the covers. "Make sure you tell Papa or Mama where you're goin'" was his muffled parting comment.

"Yes, Mama," Chanson teased and slipped out the door. He peeked into Pierre's room as he passed, saw the man was still asleep and sighed in relief. Ever since that strange conversation a day ago, Chanson didn't know what to say to the man. He thinks them cosh-monster things are real? Ha! They're just make-believe, trying t' make me do what they want. Dacqx was just a nutter.

A nutter that could wield lightning, his mind reminded him. Chanson shook his head as he ghosted down the stairs, sighing a breath of relief on finding that Marie wasn't up either. Good. I can slip out unnoticed. His coat, scarf and hat were all still where he'd put them last night, so he grabbed them and let himself out the door quietly.

If he felt apprehensive about going out alone, he squashed that feeling immediately. No monster's goin' t' grab me. Besides, he'd been surrounded by people all yesterday. He needed some time by himself to think.

It was still early enough that the street sweepers hadn't cleared away much of the snow yet, so it was with some delight that Chanson had in walking around the sweepers to create prints in the fresh snow. I put up with their 'Christmas' so they can deal with me going out this mornin', he reasoned. And that blue-haired guy is a nutter too, just like Dacqx. Goin' on about monsters and reindeer and that he's Santa Claus. Idiot. Something like Santa Claus doesn't exist. What did he say his name was? Noël? Not that it matters. The man hadn't turned up at all yesterday or the silver-haired man that had been with him. "And good riddance too," the grey-haired boy muttered, shoving cold hands in coat pockets as he trudged up the street.

He only managed to pick a single purse – coppers only – and an apple from one vendor who'd come to set up early in the hope that people would want to replenish their food stocks immediately after yesterday's Christmas meal.

It was about the same time that he bit into the apple that he noticed both brown-haired Kaylin ahead and sensed someone watching him. Forcing himself to keep walking normally, he thought rapidly. If it's a police 'un, I'm cleanNot many people 'round at the moment, so I'll have t' lose who ever it is in the streets. First of all, though "Oi! Kaylin!"

The thin, waif-like girl turned around, hefting the basket she carried higher on her thin shoulder. "Chanson!" she said happily, her face lighting up. "Merry Christmas! Well, a day late, anyway."

"Same to you," Chanson replied, matching his step to hers. "What'cha doin'? Deliverin'?"

"Ha! Not fer the likes o' me," Kaylin replied. "Gettin' firewood. Dad's got the headache from drinkin' and wants 'is warmth." She showed him the odds and ends of wood and straw scraps in her basket.

Chanson, having seen the girl on such errands before, nodded and was struck with a sudden thought. "Hey, you eaten yet?" When she shook her head, Chanson nodded again thoughtfully. "Stay here a moment." The black coat disappeared into the swirl of early risers who were just beginning to venture onto the streets. He came back a minute later with two buns and another apple, all of which he handed to the girl. "'Ere, eat."

"You're very good at that," she commented, handing him one of the buns back.

"Practice," he grinned. "Come on, I'll walk you home." The hairs on the back of his neck were still on end. Damn, they're still watchin', whoever they are. Go away, ya nosy bastards!

The walk to Kaylin's house was quick. Much better, it was in a part of town that Chanson knew extremely well, down to every nook and cranny. As soon as Kaylin was out of sight and out of potential harm, he started walking down the street as though everything were fine. Chanson turned the corner, glancing back as he adjusted his scarf to hide that fact. He dismissed the two beggars on the other side of the street straight away: he knew them both by sight if not name and neither of them ever left their street. But … There! That blonde man 'restin'' by the wall, hunched against the cold. There ain't no reason for anyone t' loiter here who don't live here or ain't a beggar. Plus, there was something about the man that made Chanson finger his hidden knife warily. He picked up the pace, turning down another street and then another. His ankle began to throb quietly, reminding him that it had had barely a day to heal and still had some ways to go. He ignored it as the crunch of footsteps followed him, stopping when he did and speeding up with his own.

Alright, if that's how 'e wants t' play it Chanson growled, glancing back and finding the blonde man still behind him. The grey-haired boy pulled his cap low and ducked into a side alley, dashing down it as fast as his injured ankle would allow and into another alley. He heard the footsteps pick up speed behind him and darted down yet another alleyway –

– Only to curse as he skidded to a stop in front of a tall wall. Since when was this street blocked off? Dammit! I'm trapped! Blue eyes searched quickly. Both the wall before him and the houses to either side were too high to climb, a conclusion he came to just as crunching snow heralded his pursuer's arrival.

Chanson scowled at the blonde man, hand going to the belt knife he wore in case of situations like these. So much for just a peaceful walk "Oi, you. Who are you?"

"Hmph. You don't recognise me? Figures." Chanson gaped as the man shimmered, his shape blurring until blue-haired Noël stood before him.

"You!" Chanson exclaimed. "What the 'ell are you doin' followin' me? An' 'ow'd you do that?"

"You ask too many questions, brat," Noël snapped. "Especially for one who just ran the length of London." He took a seat on a nearby barrel, glaring at Chanson in such a way that told the younger boy that he would not be amused if Chanson tried to make a run for it. "For your information, I specialise in illusion magic. I disguised myself to make sure you didn't try anything rash today and just as well I did! Are you an idiot, to go out alone without telling anyone when you know there are others after you?"

"Not this stupid cosh-monster thing again," Chanson snapped. "It's stupid! Who'd believe it? I dunno how you got Pierre to work with you, but I ain't buyin' it! 'M not stupid!"

"Well, you're giving a good impression of it at the moment!" Noël growled in response, before pinching the bridge of his nose in exasperation. "Look, kid –"

"Chanson."

"Chanson, then. I don't care if you don't believe me. I told you that, didn't I? It's still true. Cauchemar are still after you, whether you think they exist or not. I don't particularly care for protecting a brat like you, but I will not give the cauchemar what they want, and it seems at the moment that happens to be you." Noël's voice grew angry again. "And you were risking all that – for what? The chance to pick a few pockets?"

"Well, 'scuse me, Mr Santa," Chanson said, scorn tinging the title. "Some of us 'ave t' if we want t' eat. You 'ave a problem with me bein' on the liftin' lay?" Like I care what you think anyway!

"I dislike people who trick other people," Noël said tightly. That note of sadness flashed across the unnaturally silver eyes once again, gone too quickly to fully identify. Chanson was growing too angry to care anyway. Who does 'e think 'e is, just comin' out o' the blue and tellin' me how I should act?

"What the 'ell is that?" he retorted scornfully. "Didn't you say you used illusion magic?" Not that I believe magic exists, but if I have t' play your game "Ain't that just based on trickin' people?"

"In order to see through an illusion you need to be able to cast that illusion yourself," Noël replied tightly, teeth gritted as he readjusted his monocle. "A cauchemar illusion once cost someone close to me their life. I don't want that ever happening again."

'Ewhat? Chanson blinked, unsure of what he'd heard. Cauchemar ain't real, right? So how could they kill anyone? He took a slow step backwards, eyeing the blue-haired man warily. Noël didn't seem to notice, taking advantage of the boy's silence to press on. "And to make sure they don't kill you too, you need to come back to the North Pole with Rudolph and I." Silver eyes narrowed as the grey-haired boy burst out laughing. "I fail to see what's so funny."

"You!" Chanson replied, tugging his scarf back into position. "This! Everythin'! The North Pole? You're kidding me, right?" Fever dream. "Can't you 'ear yourself? What part of it could possibly be…?" The amusement in his voice died down as Noël continued to stare at him. "You're serious, ain't you?"

"Finally he gets it," Noël muttered.

Chanson was already shaking his head. "Crazy, that's what you are! Are you kiddin' me? The 'ell I'm just goin' t' come with you with only your say-so to prove it!"

There was a strange sense of déjà vu in the air as Noël snapped in reply, "Kid, if you don't come, you're gonna be in danger! There's no other way!"

"Don't just decide that yourself! I don't want t' go, and I ain't goin'! Gimme one reason that I can believe why I should!" Noël was silent, frowning and apparently deep in thought. "See? There ain't even one believable reason why –"

"Chanson, shut up."

"Why the 'ell, you –!"

"Shut up now!" Noël yelled, blue light flaring in one hand as he jumped off the barrel in a flash, other hand reaching out to knock Chanson down into the snow. Chanson hit the ground none too gently, a stone hidden beneath the snow grazing his cheek. With a growled curse, he pushed himself up angrily.

"Damn you, don't just go knockin' people… down…" Chanson trailed off, sapphire eyes widening as they finally saw what Noël had noticed already: two shapes blocking the alley entrance and three more perched on the roofs around them. They weremonsters; there was no other word for it. Chanson scrambled back in uncontrollable fear as he got a better look at the giant forms, white and grey and red and gold and nothing like what humans would look like

What the hell?

"So, they finally turned up," he heard Noël mutter as the man shifted sideways to plant himself once again directly between Chanson and the new arrivals. With a start, Chanson noticed that Noël now held the same sapphire-gemmed staff he had when he had come to Chanson's rescue last time. Is that what the blue light was? Where did it even come from?

Two, four, fiveDamn. At least they're fairly low-level ones, so I can probably take them all on by myself Noël swung his staff up into a defensive position and raised his voice, addressing all of the cauchemar. "You can't have him." Having to protect this kid is gonna hamper me, though. A rustle of cloth made Noël glance behind him quickly, only to see Chanson getting to his feet. "Stay down, kid. I can protect you better if you aren't getting under my feet all the time," he said quietly. Chanson snorted, unsheathing a belt knife from somewhere, the blade looking battered but still razor sharp.

"I don't need you t' nursemaid me." The boy's words were sharp, his brows lowered in a dark scowl, but the glimmer of fear in his eyes and the white knuckles from gripping his knife too tightly betrayed his true emotions.

Any reply Noël intended to make was lost in a growl as the cauchemar on the roof, bored of waiting, leapt towards them. The gem in his staff flashed and he swept in downwards in a long slicing motion. Two of the cauchemar were quick and managed to dodge it but the third was not so lucky: it collapsed, split in two from head to toe before it evaporated into black mist. Chains snaked towards the two humans, striking sparks against the barrier of light that suddenly surrounded Noël and Chanson.

"Why Santa fight?" came a deep rumbling voice; it took Chanson a moment to realise that it came from one of the monsters. "No need. Only want boy-child."

"Only boy," another nodded in agreement. Chanson felt his blood run cold as more voices joined in, mumbling and gravelly.

"Give boy over."

"Give him."

"Or we take, okay?"

"Take boy."

"Like hell that's gonna happen!" Noël snapped. "Why are you even after him, anyway? He's just a pipsqueak." He ignored Chanson's glare, squinting through the rippling light of his barrier. One, two, threeWhere's the other one? There were two at the entrance.

"We were told to get boy."

"Get him, okay?"

"But why?" Noël repeated. If he could just keep them all distracted for a few moments longer while he gathered the energy for his next spell…

"Macaron say so."

Nods. "He say take boy."

"Take him."

Macaron? the Santa Claus had time to wonder before the ground exploded underneath him, tossing him and Chanson into the air. Noël smashed into the brick wall, his vision going white for a few seconds as pain flared across his entire body. His staff had been knocked out of his grip with the explosion – he saw it lying in the snow a few feet away as he pushed himself up the wall, ears ringing. No; not an explosion, he realised grimly, understanding where the missing cauchemar had gone. It burrowed underground to get past my barrier, dammit! No wonder they were so talkative!

A horrible thought occurred to him. If it had burrowed up under his barrier –

Silver eyes cast around wildly, spotting at least two of the cauchemar bearing down on a feebly stirring patch of black. "Chanson!" Noël screamed. "Get up!" My staff! He snatched it up out of the snow and muttered a command. A pulse of energy flared around one of the cauchemar, swirling around it like a blizzard until it froze solid and shattered. Noël turned his attention to the other one as Chanson staggered to his feet. Unlike Noël, Chanson had kept a hold of his knife despite being thrown into a wall and now held it out in front of him in such a way that he could block or attack. The blade flashed as a cauchemar reached out a hand for the boy; Noël watched the monster rumble back in amazement, blood gushing from a long cut.

Something cold wrapped around his body, trapping his arms to his side tightly. Noël looked down, startled as more chains slithered around his body to hold him. He cursed; while he'd been distracted, one of the remaining cauchemar had snuck up on him.

"Santa not interfere," the cauchemar growled. "Kill you."

"Kill you and take eyes," another added. The cauchemar controlling the chains growled in agreement, closing its hand into a fist. The chains around Noël's body tightened, squeezing the breath out of him. He let out a strangled cry as the cauchemar around him laughed at his pain, the pain that was going to crack his bones and crush him to death. The brick wall at the end of the alley flickered as he groaned, before it disappeared entirely.

Chanson's head snapped around at Noël's scream of pain; it went on and on and on without the Santa seeming to draw breath. They're killin' him! Was the grey-haired boy's only thought, horror seeping through him as he watched the heavy coils of chains around the blue-haired man's chest tighten mercilessly. If they killed him –

I can't defeat them by myself

I won't let anyone die

"Stop it, you bastards!" he shouted, anger and fear welling up in his chest and bursting out in a white heat with his words. Even as the last sound left his mouth, his right hand was already snapping forward, sending the knife he held spinning straight for the cauchemar holding the ends of the chains. "Let 'im go!"

Whether stunned by such a foolish action on the young boy's part or just distracted, the cauchemar failed to dodge aside in time and the knife blade struck it directly in the heart. It screeched, a high-pitched unearthly sound that hurt Chanson's ears and exploded into a dark mist. The chains around Noël melted, letting the Santa drop to his knees in the snow. Chanson only had a single second of relief before another giant hand slammed him into the wall. Damn, I forgot about the one near me! Without a weapon, Chanson had no way to defend himself. Sensing this, the cauchemar, a giant thing of green and white, advanced on him slowly as Chanson scrambled backwards.

Noël gasped for breath, his mind reeling and his lungs burning. Something warm and gentle had brushed past his skin at the boy's shout, stealing some of the pain from his chest. The cauchemar had felt it too, he was sure of it – the chains had loosened for a moment before Chanson's knife struck home, weakened by whatever Noël had only brushed. The snow beneath him was half-melted and slushy but still icy cold, soaking his knees and coat and pooling around his staff –

My staff.

Automatically, he grabbed it and lurched to his feet, bruised lungs still protesting as he coughed. Where was Chanson? "Chanson!"

"Argh!" came a cry to his left. Chanson was backing away from another cauchemar, a ragged tear across the front of his coat. With a cry of pain, his already injured ankle gave out and dumped the boy on his backside in the snow, the cauchemar looming over him.

"No!" muttered Noël, raising his staff. He was forced to jump back as a cauchemar swung down in front of him, jagged teeth gleaming in a predatory grin.

"Santa not interfere or I eat your eyes, okay?"

"Damn you, just get out of my way!" Noël snapped. "Chanson!" No matter how he tried, however, he couldn't get past the cauchemar blocking his path. "Move! Chanson!'

"You die now, okay?" the cauchemar said cheerfully. Noël threw himself to the side as it raised a fist and smashed it into the wall where he had been standing only moments ago.

"Not today, I'm not," Noël muttered." Don't you dare die before I can reach you, kid!

I'mgonnadieI'mgonnadieI'mgonnadie Chanson's mind babbled in an endless stream as he stared up at the huge monster in front of him. These monsters are goin' t' eat me! He shut his eyes tightly.

'Chanson, did you have a nightmare again? Ssh, they can't hurt you… Here, did you know? If you sing this song, it'll scare away any bad monsters in your dreams. Come on, I'll teach you… If you sing this, you'll be safe, I promise.'

"Boy come with us, we take you to Macaron," he heard the monster say. Chanson scooted back, eyes still tightly closed, hands clapped over his ears to block out that terrible voice.

"Stay away!" he shouted. His bruised back protested as it struck rough brick; Chanson had nowhere left to run. "Don't come near me!"

'You'll be safe, I promise.'

He didn't know why he started singing it; it wasn't as though he thought it would work. However, he didn't have any better options. It was a foolish fantasy: these nightmares were real, couldn't be sung away or forgotten in a lyrical flow. His voice, rusty after so long without singing and made hoarse from yelling squeaked as he tried to stutter out the first line. "G – go away, e – evil d – dreams…"

Come on, lackwit! Sing it properly, can't you? Chanson scolded himself. He cleared his throat and tried again, fear making his heart beat thunder loudly like a sped-up metronome.

"Go away, evil dreams,
Things aren't what they seem,
Go away and leave my dream's sight,
Far from me this blessed night."

Noël heard Chanson's quavering voice as the cauchemar in front of him raised its fist once more to strike. What on earth is he doing? the Santa wondered, shaking his fringe out of his eyes. He'd lost his monocle somewhere, although that was the least of his worries. At least I know he's alive if he's singing.

Chanson's voice was growing stronger as his fear flowed out through his voice, leaving him feeling calmer. He repeated the same verse over and over, waiting for a hand to grab him, for pain, for something.

It was Noël who noticed it first, since he had kept his eyes open. Actually, it would have been more accurate to say the cauchemar noticed it first; the one blocking Noël's way had paused, its arm still raised to smash down upon him; but now it appeared – transfixed – by something. Taking the offered opportunity, Noël raised his staff and whispered a word; the cauchemar exploded into a flurry of snowflakes that drifted around him like a whirlwind.

A gleam of light drew his attention to his lost monocle, miraculously unbroken in the trampled snow. He jammed it on his nose and looked around, silver eyes widening as they found the boy huddled against the brick wall. He was still singing; his voice losing its trembling quality as the boy lost himself in the song. It was a beautiful singing voice despite the plainness of the song, a high, pure soprano that seemed to wash the fatigue from Noël's body as he listened. But it wasn't the song that caught Noël's attention, nor even that the last cauchemar had also paused mid-attack, hand still outstretched towards the boy. No, what got the Santa's attention was the silver light twining around the boy, the cauchemar and even himself. Noël frowned, removed his monocle and rubbed the glass before replacing it on his nose. The light snapped back into existence as he peered through the glass. This lightit's

Why hadn't the monster grabbed him? Why wasn't anything happening? Chanson opened one of his eyes the merest crack and let out a cry of surprise at the huge fingers only a foot away from him. His cry broke the flow of the song; the absence of noise seemed to wake the cauchemar out of a dazed sleep. It shook its head like a dog trying to rid its ears of water and blinked in confusion. Large black eyes fell on the terrified boy and it seemed to remember why it was there. Another yelp escaped Chanson as the giant hand reached for him again.

"Crystal Neige!" yelled a voice, its owner hidden. The cauchemar screeched as ice shards crept up its body, freezing it into a massive ice crystal that reflected Chanson's dirty, scared face back at him a hundred, a thousand times before it dissolved into a flurry of falling snow.

Gasping in bewildered relief, Chanson leant back against the brick wall. I want to wake up now. No fever dream's this bad. I shoulda never left home this mornin'!

A white form strode through the falling snow, making Chanson squeak in fear and draw back before he recognised Noël. The blue-haired man brushed his fringe out of his eyes and stopped in front of Chanson with his hands on his hips. He still held that odd staff.

"Well?" Noël demanded, peering down at him. "Do you believe me now?"

"I – You –" Chanson had no idea how to respond to this. Minutes ago, he hadn't believed in monsters. Hadn't believed in magic. Was Noël telling the truth? Could it be true? If it's not, then what were those things?

"They were cauchemar, like I've said a hundred times already," Noël snapped, having used up his store of patience for the day. Chanson jumped, startled, before realising he'd spoken his last thought aloud. He looked away, too confused and bewildered to say anything. Noël was also lost in thought as he stared down at the kid. What was that silver light? Is that why they're after him? But there aren't anymore successors to be found

"Exactly right, Santa-boy." The amused drawl echoed around the eerily-quiet alley. Noël stiffened and saw Chanson's eyes widen as he looked past Noël. He followed the boy's gaze, glancing over his shoulder.

On the roof behind them, lounging against a chimney – Has he been watching the entire time? Noël wondered – was a humanoid cauchemar. That he was a cauchemar and not a human, Noël could tell from the man's odd clothes and the distinct aura emanating from him that all cauchemar possessed. And – the blue-haired man's lip curled – because he looked very, very similar to another cauchemar that Noël had once met. "Cornet?" he growled, hand tightening on his staff. I defeated him all those years ago, though!

The cauchemar chuckled, his mouth twisting in an ironic grin. "Not Cornet, Santa, although I'm sure he'd be honoured that you remember him." His smile widened at Noël's growl. "I'm someone different entirely."

"Who are you, then?" Noël retorted coolly, examining the newcomer. Short, dark red hair hung around a pale face that was mostly in shadow from where Noël stood. It was easier to make out the details of the cauchemar's outfit: a deep red shawl like the one Cornet had worn, a white shirt with sleeves gathered at the elbow with straps and long enough to reach his fingertips. Black trousers were gathered at the ankle with a gold ring so that they ballooned outwards, the spiky red pattern at the bottom reminiscent of a bon-bon. A long, bright red scarf tipped with two large bells that jingled when the cauchemar moved completed the image.

"Me? Well, I suppose it couldn't hurt to tell you." The red-clothed figure disappeared from the roof. Chanson's gasp of surprise had barely left his mouth when the stranger reappeared only a few feet away, balancing easily on an overturned barrel. He swept a bow like the actors that preformed at the winter festivals, a mocking smirk on his lips. "I happen to be Macaron. Pleased to make your acquaintance, Noël, Chanson."

Silver and blue eyes widened for exactly the same reason. How did he? Chanson gaped. Noël regained composure faster. He probably heard me calling the kid by name and it isn't such a stretch of imagination to think that all the cauchemar know all of our names by now either. Wait, 'Macaron'? "You're the one directing the cauchemar from before?"

That aggravating small amused smile on the cauchemar's face was still there as he straightened. This close, Noël could see that what he had thought to be shadow was in fact a wide black eye patch embossed with a golden snowflake covering Macaron's right eye, the straps passing under the dark red fringe. The iris of his other eye was a pure white, apparently its natural colour rather than blindness despite the two red scars that ran from the bottom corner of his eye down his cheek. "Indeed I am, Santa. Didn't you like my welcoming party? Well, it was for the boy rather than for you, but you looked like you were enjoying yourself." Malevolence gleamed in his visible eye as he smirked at Chanson on the ground behind Noël. "It seems you've certainly become stronger, boy."

"The hell do you know about anythin'?" Chanson growled. "I ain't ever met you, you weirdo!" He staggered back up to his feet, using the wall to stay up and keep weight off his injured ankle. "Just leave me alone!"

"Well, that's a shame," Macaron drawled. He tilted his head to the side, white eye flickering between Noël and Chanson and said no more.

Geez, so we have t' drag everythin' outta him? Chanson growled silently. "What's a shame?"

The corner of Macaron's mouth twitched into that small smile once again, as though pleased Chanson had asked. Or that he took the bait, Noël thought darkly, watching the red-haired cauchemar warily. He's either arrogant or quite high level to reveal himself so blatantly like this.

"Why, that you want us to leave you alone," Macaron shrugged, disappearing. "We're only trying to save you, after all." Macaron's voice was right next to his ear this time, the cauchemar's breath tickling his cheek. Chanson jerked sideways with a yelp as Noël swung around. Macaron laughed and disappeared again, materialising over the barrel once more.

"Save me?" Chanson demanded, scrubbing his cheek in disgust. Don't come near me; don't touch me, you! "From what?"

"From your 'friend' there," Macaron replied, jerking his chin at Noël. "Him, and all the other Santa Clauses. They'll just use your power, Chanson. They don't care about you. Don't trust them. Come with me, and we'll look after you."

"Funny way you have of showing it," Chanson snapped back. "Why the 'ell would I want t' go with a bunch of – of freaks that attacked me, huh? Get lost!"

Macaron sighed. "Ah well, it was worth a try, in any case."

"Alright, why don't you cut the act and tell us what you really want?" Noël demanded. "I've never known cauchemar to care about the well-being of anyone, so I highly doubt it's that."

The cauchemar laughed, the bells on the end of his scarf jingling in tune as his shoulders shook. "True, Santa. Well, to tell the truth… what we really want is…" He smirked, that cold malevolence burning in his eyes as he pointed at Chanson. "Your voice, boy."

"Eh?" Chanson blinked, bewildered. Myvoice? Why? How could they even get something like that anyway?

Noël's eyes narrowed. His voice, huh? So that light was the power they're afterbut there's no way it can have anything to do with the Snowflake, right? "Why would you want something like that?"

A look of mock innocence came across the cauchemar's face. "You mean you – a Santa Claus – don't know the value of this boy's voice? Huh. I think Klaus made a mistake in choosing his successors, if he picked you." Noël snarled wordlessly, anger breaking through his control. Macaron appeared to ignore him, but that tiny sardonic smile had returned. "Well, you can figure it out yourselves if you try hard, I'm sure… but by the time you do, Chanson's voice will be ours."

A wave of anger swept through the Santa and he leapt forward with a snarl, staff whistling down to slam into the cauchemar's skull –

– Or not.

Noël's staff sliced through the space where Macaron had been, smashing the barrel to tiny shards. Macaron's laughter echoed in the small space. They looked up to see the cauchemar floating in mid-air above them, ends of his scarf dangling down.

"You won't get your hands on him," Noël spat, silver eyes furious. They're doing it again, the damn cauchemar! Not this time!

"Ah, but I already have, Noël," Macaron laughed. "And the sad thing is that none of you realise it yet." He raised an eyebrow at the angry glares directed at him from below. "Besides, rather than be concerned with fighting me, shouldn't you be worrying about your friends instead?"

"What do you mean?" Chanson shouted as Macaron cackled. "Plague take you, what do you mean?"

Macaron merely swept them another mocking bow and faded, leaving only his laughter to echo in the narrow street. Chanson threw a snowball where the cauchemar had been in fury, watching it smash against the roof tiles. He rounded on Noël. "What did he mean?"

Noël was silent, frowning at the space where Macaron had been. His face went pale suddenly. "Pierre," he whispered. Silver eyes widened. "Chanson, hurry! We have to get back to the others!"

Chanson, having spied his knife half-buried in the snow had hobbled over to retrieve it. He froze at the blue-haired man's words. "They've gone after my friends as well?" the boy whispered.

"Can you run?" Noël asked, impatient to be gone. Thank god I told Rudolph to stay there while I followed this kid! But even so

In response, Chanson merely turned and ran back the way they had come. "If I hafta!" he called over his shoulder and winced as his ankle protested such jarring treatment. Just as he stumbled and was about to fall, a hand grabbed him around the waist and he was hauled upwards. Chanson jerked, trying to get free as he thought of monsters and nightmares –

"Calm down, kid, it's just me," Noël's voice snapped from above. "We'll be faster if we go this way." Chanson squeaked as they leapt across the roofs and the world streamed past, covering his face a few times when he thought they wouldn't make it. Noël didn't seem to notice, although Chanson could see that the older man was starting to get tired, his breath coming in gasps.

How does 'e know where t' go? Chanson wondered. Most out-towners get lost in the streets, let alone over 'em. Speakin' of which"I got a bone t' pick with you," he announced as they landed on the edge of a long stretch of tiled roof.

"Can you pick it later? I'm busy," Noël replied absently, racing across the tiles so fast his feet were almost a blur. He had to be careful; he could only use this spell for short periods of time and besides, Chanson's weight was putting him off balance and he didn't want to miss his footing and slip.

"That wall at the end o' the alley. That was you, wasn't it?" Chanson accused. "There ain't been a wall there since before I was born!"

Landing with a grunt on the next set of roofs, Noël had to hide a smirk. Well, he's smarter than I thought. "Yeah, that was me. I wasn't gonna chase you across London if I didn't have to."

"Tch," was all the reply Chanson gave, falling silent with a scowl on his face. Noël had stopped paying attention to the conversation anyway; worry beginning to gnaw at his stomach uneasily. Rudolph! Pierre! You two had better be alright! So worried was the Santa that he didn't notice that he'd unconsciously included his old friend in his concern. The wind changed as he drew closer, blowing the stench of smoke and cauchemar into Noël's face. His nose wrinkled automatically, his eyes widening as he caught the copper tang of blood as well. Damnit! I'm only a few more streets away!

"Hang on!" he commanded; Chanson squeaked as they dropped almost two stories to the ground below, Noël landing as lightly as a cat. How is he doin' that? Chanson wondered. There ain't nothin' human that could move like that! He fell into thoughtful silence. Well, 'e does have eyes a colour no man I've ever seen have The boy was jolted out of his thoughts as Noël set him on his feet and strode off without looking back, leaving Chanson to hobble quickly after him.

"Rudolph! Pierre!" called Noël. He rounded the corner to find chaos, or the remnants of chaos: scorched brick and wood, snow trampled and stained crimson and what looked like a crater over there –

And finally, two figures that stood warily at the base of a flight of stairs, blessedly alive. "Rudolph! Pierre!" He dashed towards them. As he got closer, he saw one of Pierre's arms was hanging loosely at his side, covered in blood; his other hand held a long-bladed and wickedly sharp knife that Pierre handled easily. It seems I'm not the only one who's learnt new tricks over the past few years, Noël thought wryly.

"Salt!" Pierre's face was relieved under the dirt and scratches. "You're alright! What about Chanson? Is he with you?"

"'M here," Chanson muttered, coming up beside Noël. His eyes widened in astonishment as they focused on the knife Pierre was holding; his guardian noticed where his gaze was directed and lowered the knife, making it disappear. He moved forward as though to hug them both or at least to make sure they were both real, only to be stopped when Rudolph held out a hand in front of him. As Pierre looked at the silver-haired man questioningly, the Reindeer lifted the point of his sword to Noël's throat.

"The engraving on Yule's door?" the Reindeer asked, eyes narrowed.

"A music note," Noël replied. "A 'quaver', according to him, whatever that is."

Rudolph nodded and lowered his sword. "It's you."

"Of course it's me. But really, Rudolph, you'd be able to smell if I was a cauchemar in disguise," Noël replied, examining them both for injuries. Aside from Pierre's arm, miraculously the only major things they seem to have suffered were scratches.

"True," Rudolph said, sheathing his sword and stepping back to let Noël up the stairs. "But we can't rely on that always being the case, as I recall you saying. What about Chanson?"

Chanson gulped, thinking of that sharp blade at his throat. Pierre patted him on the shoulder in comfort, moving forward slightly so he was between Rudolph and Chanson. Luckily, Noël replied before the boy's imagination could run away from him. "It's him. As for how I'm sure, I'll tell you inside. Rudolph, what happened here?" A hand waved at the damage in the street.

"I believe that is best told indoors also," the Reindeer sighed. "Pierre's arm and Chanson need medical attention as well."

Pierre rubbed his forehead wearily. "And I believe I would like to know what's going on all of a sudden."

Wouldn't we all, Chanson though sourly, not realising that Noël thought the exact same thing.

oOoOoOoOoOo

"So, this Macaron is the one after Chanson?" Pierre asked, eyes following Noël as the other man paced around the kitchen. He winced suddenly as his arm stung like it was on fire; Marie murmured an apology as she continued to clean the deep wounds. Although it still looked worse than it was, Pierre wouldn't be using his arm for the next fortnight or so.

They were all gathered once again in the room where they ate in a strange replay of two days ago. This time, however, William was helping out by tending to Chanson's wounds.

"Kinda like old times, huh?" William joked. Only his eyes displayed the concern and sympathy he was feeling as he re-bandaged Chanson's ankle where the wound had broken open again. Chanson cracked a lopsided grin in reply, reaching out to ruffle Peel's hair as she looked on with equal worry.

"Big brother was in fight again?" she asked, eyes wide. "With monsters that came here too?"

"Yeah, but I didn't start it," Chanson told her. "Don't worry. Look, I'm all in one piece, see?" He poked himself gently in the arm to demonstrate and grinned, drawing a reluctant smile in reply from the young girl.

"Yeah," Noël replied to Pierre's earlier question. "But not just him. He's got a whole bunch of other cauchemar that seem to be working for him."

"Now that you mention it, there were a few cauchemar that hung back during the fight here," Rudolph said from where he leant on the kitchen bench. "Two of them, both high levels compared to the ones that actually took part in the fighting. They directed the others."

"One was blonde, male, and carried a scythe." Pierre's eyes were closed as he leant back in his chair, although whether to aid his memory or from the pain was unclear. "The other… purple clothes, silver hair … I think female. I'm not sure; most of the time I was just trying to stay alive."

"For someone unused to fighting cauchemar, you did well," Rudolph told him. Pierre flashed a grin at the Reindeer and shook his head, before turning to glance at Noël's pacing figure.

"Do you think they answer to Macaron as well?"

"It's hard to say." It was Rudolph who answered, the Reindeer looking unusually serious.

"So the – the … cauchemar? – the man that attacked Chanson on Christmas Eve," Marie spoke up suddenly, drawing everyone's attention. "Was he part of this too?"

"Mostly likely," Rudolph told her. "From what Noël says, both Macaron and Dacqx targeted Chanson specifically." Marie's mouth twisted down in worry, sadness tinging the brown eyes.

"It's more imperative than ever that Chanson come with us," Noël said, coming to an abrupt halt and pushing his monocle into a more comfortable position.

"Huh? By 'go with you'…" William asked, eyes wide as he paused in mid-bandage.

Chanson directed a scathing glare at the blue-haired man. "An' I told you, I ain't –"

"And what happens if they come back?" Noël demanded. "No, not if; when they come back? Are you willing to risk your safety?"

"Don't care 'bout meself," the boy muttered sullenly.

Noël stepped closer, arms crossed as he stared down at Chanson. "Maybe not, but what about everyone around you? While the cauchemar are after you, anyone close to you is in terrible danger. Are you willing to risk their lives? Do you want to make targets of them for monsters like that?"

Chanson dropped his eyes to the ground to avoid the unnerving silver gaze. In his mind's eye he saw the monsters – the cauchemar – from the alley destroying his home, lightning like that which Dacqx had wielded blasting apart wood and burning flesh. He shook his head mutely as Noël, pressed on. "Those cauchemar in the alley didn't manage to get you only because I was there; only because Rudolph and Pierre were here was your family not hurt and – no offense, Pierre – I doubt that Pierre could have held them all off himself."

"How can I be offended at the truth? Rudolph was the one who really saved us all back there," Pierre agreed. "Thank you." Rudolph shook his head, waving off the man's thanks and also looked at Chanson, green eyes piercing and somehow not … human-like. Chanson shivered.

"Chanson, understand that since they failed this time, they will return and in greater numbers than before." Green eyes held blue in a serious gaze. "Cauchemar do not give up. All of the Santas and Reindeer at the North Pole have fought cauchemar for a long time. If we can't keep you safe while we figure out how to stop them or what this power is of yours that they want, then no-one will be able to."

"There's no other way –" Noël began.

"No!"

The emphatic reply surprised them all, especially since it hadn't come from Chanson. William had jumped to his feet, fists clenched at his sides as he glared at both Noël and Rudolph. "No!" he repeated.

"Will…" Pierre said, unsure how to continue.

The blonde boy shook his head, strands of hair slapping his cheek gently. "Why does Chanson have to leave? Why should he have to go with you to some far away place? His home is here! Why can't he stay here?" Will protested in a raised voice. His fists were shaking slightly. "He's lived here for years before this; those monsters never came before. They only came when you turned up! Go away, and take the trouble you've brought with you!"

Chanson blinked at the tirade of angry words coming from his normally easy-going and quiet friend. Noël's fingers twitched, tapping against his arm in an irritable fashion before they stopped abruptly. The Santa Claus turned to face Will, directing that silver gaze at the younger boy. Will swallowed uneasily but continued to glare defiantly back at him. Noël sighed. "We didn't bring them, kid. Chanson did. I don't know why they never came before, but obviously whatever power he has awoke recently and they sensed it."

"But –!" Will started to protest, cutting off when a hand touched his arm. He turned to look at Chanson behind him. The grey-haired boy shook his head slightly, gently, but when he spoke his words were addressed to Noël. "I'll go," he said quietly.

"Huh?" everyone but Rudolph and Peel asked blankly.

Chanson raised his voice to speak more clearly. "To the North Pole. I'll go. I don't believe I 'ave a 'power' that these cauchemar-things are after, but…" He looked down to the side, blue eyes somewhat sad. "But if it's endangerin' Will an' Peel an' everyone –!"

"Chanson…" The grey-haired youth looked up at his friend pleadingly.

"I don't want you t' get hurt 'cause o' me," he said softly. "Them cauchemar-things are real, Will. You and me 'ave both seen 'em."

"You do have a power, kid. Why else do you think the cauchemar are so focused on you? Why not give up and go for easier and more convenient prey?" A gloved finger tapped the side of the monocle he wore. "This is spelled to see magic, kid. Back in that alley, I saw the silver light of magic surrounding you at one point, and it wasn't mine or the cauchemars'. Moreover, I felt it at least twice when your emotions ran wild." One hand was lifted in a half-shrug. "It's a power I've never seen before, but it is a power and it is why they're after you."

"He said they wanted my voice," Chanson whispered. At those words, Pierre's face grew sombre and he shared a glance with Noël and Rudolph, his uninjured hand coming to rest on the one Marie had placed on his arm. Will and Marie just looked horrified; Peel and the other two were too young to fully understand what was going on, but they caught the gravity in the room and were worried as well.

It was Noël who broke the sombre silence, brushing a sleeve as he turned towards Rudolph. "Well, that's settled then. We'll leave in the morning." His silver eyes swept over the room, seeking opposition to this plan. There was none.

If only things could have been worked out that easily.

Then all of this might have been avoided.

oOoOoOoOoOo

Chapter End

oOoOoOoOoOo

Next Time: Chapter 4 – The Holly and the Ivy

His decision made, Chanson travels to the North Pole with Noël and Rudolph where he encounters unusual things and unusual people. However, his arrival is not appreciated by everyone who lives there. Nor has the cauchemar's gaze fallen from him despite Chanson being at the centre of their enemies' stronghold. What future awaits him? What do Macaron and the others want with his voice?

Like snowflakes that twirl in the winter breeze, their fates are no longer their own.


A/N: Ahh Pierre, no-one is buying the idea you and Marie are just friends :P Also, the spell-thing that chanson was singing is an actual spell I found somewhere to ward of nightmares (nightmares, cauchemar, get it? :D;;;) ...at bleast I think it is, but I don't remember where I found it or if I modified it orz

As always, thanks for reading~~! :D Updates are probably going to be slow, unfortunately :\