Disclaimer: I don't own anything but those poor words
Summary: Sara gets the Christmas of a lifetime... hints of C/S
Hi everyone, this one shot took much more longer to write than expected. I felt like sharing some love in the end of 2012 and start 2013 on a good note. There are hints of C/S so if you don't like, don't read.
When the Spirit Moves You…
I sigh, lazily letting the last moments of my dreams fading away. I'm in no hurry to wake up and start my day, since the world has just turned into a battlefield caught in the madness of Christmas, what a joke.
Like everyday for the past month I repeat my mantra 'survive until the new year's eve', once that's done I'll finally have ten long months of peace. I sit up and stretch out with a yawn. A yelp of surprise escapes me when I open my eyes. I fall out of my bed as I try to stand up without untangling from the sheets first, and grab the baseball bat standing next to my bed; I brandish it firmly ready to attack.
"What the hell are you doing in my apartment and how did you get in?!" I shout at the young man who's standing at the foot of my bed.
"Hi," he waves a hand at me with an embarrassed smile.
Hi? Is he kidding?
Wait, wait, I think, no I know that I didn't come back home with anyone last night, I did go to a club but I didn't drink anything to the point of forgetting something and I know how I got home. "Don't you move asshole or I'm busting your head out!" I'm warning him angrily.
"I knew it was going to be tricky with you…" he mumbles to himself scratching one of his eyebrow with his thumb. "Everything is fine, I come in peace," he talks to me again.
"I don't know how you got in but you have ten seconds to get out of here you psycho!"
The young man doesn't move an inch in spite of my threats. I'm not the kind to be intimidated, I've taken enough beatings in the past not to be afraid and I know how to fight so this guy will get out of my apartment willingly or violently.
When he doesn't move I charge, I swing the bat twice in his direction but don't touch anything when I should have hit his shoulder. My intruder didn't move at all, worse he doesn't seem to have taken a single hit; instead of that he's standing with his arms crossed upon his chest, looking at me. I hit it again and this time I clearly see the bat going through his body.
"Fucking hell…" I'm not trembling with rage anymore, this time I'm shaking with apprehension because something unnatural is going on here. I swing the bat again to the same result.
"Let me know when you're bored," he says with a sigh when I put back a little distance between us.
"Who the hell are you?"
"The name is Claus, I'm a Spirit of Christmas," he declares seriously.
I look at him with disbelief, after a long silence I laugh nervously. "Of course… what was I thinking? Claus, the spirit of Christmas, it's obvious why didn't I think about that before?" I put a hand on my head. "I'm sleeping… this is the only explanation…" I laugh again. "That's it, I'm still asleep… I'm going to wake up and everything will be alright again."
"I can assure you that you're not dreaming," says the intruder.
He's lanky, dressed in black from head to toe – slightly large pants, sleeveless shirt that lets tattoos show on his forearms – his cerulean eyes and red hair are contrasting with the pale shade of his skin.
"I'm dreaming, this is not real…" I repeat over and over again. "Proof… I need a proof that I'm just dreaming."
After a few seconds I glance at the baseball bat. "I wouldn't if I were you," says my unwanted guest.
I put my hand on my bedside table and hit it with my bat. "Son of a… fuck me swinging it hurts!" I swear out of pain.
"I did warn you."
"Oh shut it," I groan through my teeth.
"Well, now that we have established that you weren't dreaming, can we talk?"
I sit down on the bed and massage my hurt fingers. "Oh no…" I think I finally understood what is happening. "Oh no… I have a brain tumour, don't I?" I ask the young man. "You're an hallucination… a materialisation of my tumour…" I pinch the bridge of my nose. "Damn it, there are so many things I should have done…"
He moves in front of me. "I'm not an hallucination and you don't have a brain tumour," he says calmly.
"Right, because seeing the spirit of Christmas is a perfectly normal thing," I reply with sarcasm.
"I'm not the Spirit of Christmas, I'm a Spirit of Christmas," he specifies.
"Evidently… I'm drowning in dementia with Christmas…it's official, my life is a cosmic joke."
I close my eyes and breathe in deeply, I need to hold on to my reason. "This is not real, everything is fine," when I open my eyes my hallucination is still there. "Okay Sara, get it together."
I stand up and start my daily routine, trying my hardest not to pay attention to my hallucination which isn't easy since he's talking to me.
"Like I said, I'm Claus, a Spirit of Christmas, if I'm here today it's because you lost sight of what Christmas really means and my job is to fix that."
I eat my breakfast pretending that nothing out of the ordinary is happening. "This is not real, this is not real."
"And I'm being ignored… fantastic," my hallucination sighs. "Boy it's going to be long…"
When I arrive at work I walk with my eyes trailing on the floor because it's the only place where I can't see my hallucination.
"Hey Sara, you have a perfect timing," Greg states with enthusiasm. I dare to look up and face him. "The guys and I are going to buy a tree, are you coming?"
"No, I got better things to do," I mumble then walk away before he can say anything else.
"See this is exactly what I meant when I said that you had lost sight of the true meaning of Christmas."
"Oh you the hallucination, you keep quiet," I grunt between my teeth.
I lock myself up into my lab and start working hoping that the distraction provided by work will help me to stay grounded.
"Are you going to ignore me for long?"
"This is not real… you are not real…" I chant every now and then.
Someone knocks on my lab door, I've been there for three hours and everything would be perfect if it wasn't for the fact that my hallucination is pacing back and forth on the other side of the table – which pisses me off beyond anything.
"Hey, we got a great tree, and we could use a little help to decorate it," Greg informs me.
"Asks the lab techs, I'm sure you'll find someone."
"Oh come on Sar…" he moans. "Be cool, we're going to have little fun."
"Damn it Greg, I don't want to decorate a stupid tree, alright?!" I lose my temper. "Would you please leave me alone now, because I have work to do."
I don't need to look at him to know that he's offended by my outburst. I'll be honest I feel guilty already, but I'm on the edge and of course this is the day he has decided to be a pain in my butt.
As soon as Greg leaves I here someone clapping. "Wow… that was nice," my hallucination remarks sarcastically.
Two more hours go by before someone decides to bother me again, I swear that if it's Greg I'm going to be physically violent with him. Against all my expectations it's Nick who opens the door. He scrutinizes me for a few seconds then comes to sit by my sides.
"You know I'm here is you need to talk, right?" he says softly.
"I know Nicky, but I can assure you that everything is fine." My hallucination snorts but I ignore it.
"Sar… you've sent Greg packing twice, and you are obviously edgy."
"I'm fine Nicky, seriously," I repeat.
"Alright, I stop pushing, but don't hesitate if you need me," he kisses my temple. "Come on, let's go decorate the tree then we're going to prepare our elves costumes for the children's party."
I sigh with exasperation. "You're not going to do this as well."
"I don't want to decorate a stupid tree, or to disguise myself as an elf, or to do anything that has to do with that stupid thing that is Christmas from close or afar."
"Oh come on," my hallucination protests.
"Sara, don't be so grouchy, it's nice, there's a good atmosphere…"
"I can't believe… did I start speaking Japanese without realising it or did you just team up to piss me off today?"
"Nick, I'm serious, stop breathing down my neck with this. I don't do Christmas, it makes me literally sick it's visceral, so do your things but forget about me!" I lose it.
Nick sighs and stands up as well. "Everything isn't about you… even if you don't like it, you can at least do it for the kids"
"Don't lecture me. I think it's stupid and fake, so I don't see why I should pretend to smile for some kids."
He opens his mouth to say something but changes his mind. He turns his heels and walks to the door, he shakes his head and faces me again. "Sara I love you, with all my heart I do and there nothing I wouldn't do for you, but sometimes you're so…" he closes his fist in the air as if to catch words in the air. "Nevermind, have fun with your files," he adds before leaving.
"Unbelievable…" I turn around and see my hallucination rubbing his forehead. "Should I find a puppy for you to kick or better yet to set on fire?" he asks.
"Oh shut up!" I tighten my fists. "Why am I even talking to you? You're not real!"
"Freaking heck, I thought nothing could surprise me anymore, but that was before meeting you…" he mumbles something in a foreign language then looks at me again. "This is…" he shakes his head. "I misjudged the whole thing by miles"
"Please, shut up, I'm begging you."
"You failed, not that it comes as a surprise," he states. "Well, let's take it back from the top then," he concludes before snapping his fingers.
I open my eyes and find myself in bed. I frown then I chuckle. A dream, it was just a stupid dream. I sit up laughing. "Trust me to have the weirdest dreams."
I bury my face in my hands and take a deep breath. This period has always been difficult for me but I think this year I've reached a new low. "It was just a stupid dream", I chortle again.
"I hate to burst your bubble, but it wasn't."
I lift my head slowly and look at the foot of my bed. Impossible…
"Hi again, I'm still Claus and you're still not dreaming, you still don't have a brain tumour and you're still not swimming in dementia."
"No… no, no, no, no, no… this is insane… wake up… wake up…"
"Here we go again… please don't hit yourself with a bat again, it lost its comic potential after the first time."
I'm holding my head with my two hands and seethe as if I was in pain. "This is worse than I thought… I'm in depression, deep, deep depression…"
"First denial, now depression… figures," my hallucination rolls his eyes.
"You're not real… you're not real…" I start pacing.
"Again, I'm real. The sooner you accept that idea the better, trust me."
I don't say anything and start my routine, ignoring the entity in my room. "Seriously, you're going to ignore me again?"
I force myself not to look at him again, maybe it's just temporary and he'll disappear eventually.
"Hey Sara, you have a perfect timing," Greg asks me as soon as I step a foot in the lab. "The guys and I are going to buy a tree, are you coming?"
Is that a joke?
"Greg, I already told you that I didn't want to hear about that stupid tree yesterday!" I reprimand him.
"I didn't see you yesterday," he frowns in confusion.
"Yes you did and you said the same thing," I mark a beat "In those exact same words come to think of it," I muse under my breath.
"Actually it never happened as far as he's concerned," my hallucination whispers in my ear.
"Just don't bother me with that tree again," I grunt to Greg before walking away.
"You might want to take your moodiness down a notch because technically this day has never happen for them."
I massage my temples as soon as I'm sitting in my lab. "This is a nightmare…"
"You're exaggerating," my hallucination states before sitting on the table not so far from me.
"And now I'm talking to you which means that I'm losing it… fantastic," I'm still making circles with the tips of my fingers on my temples.
"Hey, don't think it's easy for me, there are a thousand things I'd rather do other than staying with you when you're being difficult."
"Then please go, nobody's holding you back."
"That's the thing, I can't go. Until you remember the definition of Christmas you are stuck and incidentally I'm stuck with you," he remarks. "Hooray…"
"The definition of Christmas? That's all you need? Fine, it's a stupid thing that is plunging the world in a vortex of madness and consumerism, people are not people anymore they are blood thirsty animals in stores just to buy shit they don't need and won't be using after a week or so, hey but at least they can fake being happy. There, you have your definition, now leave me alone."
"Oh boy…" he sighs.
I'm about to say something when Nick enters after knocking. "You're alright?"
"Yes, Nicky, I'm fine. I told you that already," I reply with a hint of exasperation.
"No you haven't," Nick frowns. "Anyway, come on we have a tree to decorate and elves costumes to try on."
My anger instantly picks up. "Are you fucking kidding me?"
"I told Greg that I didn't want to hear about that stupid tree, and I told you that I didn't do Christmas and that I certainly wasn't about to disguised myself as a fucking elf. I told you all this yesterday and you're all acting daft, so yeah are you fucking kidding me?"
"Primo, I haven't seen you in two days, neither did Greg because we were at a seminar in Boston; secundo, I don't know who peed in your coffee this morning but that wasn't me so take a chill pill," he chuckles. "And tertio stop being such a kill joy and come on have a little fun with us."
"Nicky I'll say that one more time, I don't do Christmas."
"It's for the kids Sara, come on."
"In what language do I have to say this so you leave me alone for good? I don't do Christmas or anything that has to do with it, so please for goodness sake stop bothering me with that once and for all!"
He snorts bitterly. "Message copied loud and clear," he comes back coldly. "You know I love you, but sometimes it's hard to believe you actually have a heart," he says before slamming the door shut.
"Ouch, that was brutal," my hallucination chortles. "And that's another epic fail for you, now guess what."
"What?" I growl.
"We take it back from the top again," he singsongs then snaps his fingers.
I open my eyes and realize that I'm sitting on my bed.
"Okay, let's get this over with. I'm Claus, a Spirit of Christmas, you're not sleeping, dreaming, having a nightmare, you don't have a brain tumour and you're not crazy. Now, do you think we can talk?"
"This can't be…" I grab my head.
The young man in my bedroom slumps his shoulder and lets his head drop. "Oh come on…" he whines.
I look at him for several seconds then get out of bed and rush to my living room. I turn on the television and get on one news channel.
"This can't be… we're the 20th of December, we're still the 20th of December…" I look around and the young man is still there. "We're still the 20th of December," I tell him.
"That's impossible!" I explode. "This can't be! Two days ago was the 20th of December… so it can't be today!"
"Except that it is and yesterday and the day before are the same day," he reflects with a tilt of his head.
"Yeah, you've mention that already," he states. "Remember me mentioning that you were stuck?" he asks rhetorically. "Well, now you know what I meant," he grins.
I feel like I had been hit on the head by a ton of lead, so I go and sit on my couch and bury my face in my hands.
"Don't tell me you're going to ignore me again. This is getting old and fast."
I'm too busy trying to make sense of what's happening to bother with a reply.
"In case you still haven't understood, you need me, so let's talk," he keeps on.
This can't be… this is impossible, time travel doesn't exist. I'm a scientist for goodness sake!
"Whenever you're ready…"
Maybe I've been poisoned, or I took some drug without remembering and now I'm having the worst bad trip of the history.
"Anytime soon would be nice, really."
I don't know, nothing makes sense, none of it!
My thoughts are interrupted by the whistling of Carol of the Bell, I snap my head up immediately with a mean face and raise my finger at the hallucination who's sitting in front of me on my coffee table. "Nuh-huh, don't!" I warn him.
"So I found your Kryptonite," he smiles. "Sara, we really need to talk."
I sigh deeply and pass a hand through my hair. "Fine, let's say you're Santa Claus…"
"Just Claus," he corrects me. "Santa's my old man, although don't tell him I called him old, there's barely a century between us and in that aspect he's right that's not much."
I stare at him as he rants, and I have a hard time deciding which part is the craziest. "Right," I nod. "And you are… the spirit of Christmas."
"Just a Spirit of Christmas."
"You mean that there are more of you?"
"Oh yeah, I have loads of brothers and sisters," he confirms.
I snort nervously. "Brilliant," I clear my throat. "So your name is Claus… Claus?"
"Your father is Santa Claus and you are Claus Claus?"
"You can't be that oblivious," he smirks. When I look at him blankly his eyebrows touch his hairline. "North, that's our family name, so my full name is Claus of the North, although we drop the particles because it's a bit pompous."
"You don't exactly look like a spirit of Christmas."
He chuckles. "Unless I'm wrong I'm the first you've ever seen so it's not like you had much to compare me to."
"True, but the black outfit, the heavily tattooed arms and the fire red hair? Not exactly joy inspiring."
"For the record, I'm cool and black is cool, then I only wear my formal suit on Christmas day," he chortles. "Can you imagine me walking around in curled-toe shoes with red pants, green fluffy jacket and a beanie all year long? Come on, I have standards."
"Fascinating," I give him a tight smile. "What do I have to do for you to disappear?"
"You just need to understand the real meaning of Christmas, and for that you to change your attitude."
"And if I don't?"
"You will, unless you'd rather be stuck in this day forever," he shrugs.
"The thing is that I'm not about to let some spirit bully me, so we need to talk things through in order to find a common ground of sort."
"Bargaining? Really?" he looks at me in disbelief.
"Yes, Claus. I'm not going to magically like Christmas because you're here, so you're going to give me a price or something, in order to meet me halfway. Then you're going to fly or whatever to find someone else to mess up with."
"Sara…" he winces. "You can't bargain your way out of this," he says firmly.
"Just tell me what I have to do so we can get this over with."
"You need to understand what Christmas means."
"Can't you change record? I mean, you've been saying the same thing over and over again and this is as helpful as a hole in my elbow."
"This is as specific as it can be."
I sigh "Whatever, let's go."
"Hey Sara, just the one I wanted to see…"
"Let me guess you're going to buy a tree," I cut off Greg, might as well not waste anytime. "Sure let's go."
"Uh… cool, let me grab my coat."
"What about this one?" Greg asks. Since we've arrived at the store, Greg has been like a mix between a five year old on crack and a girl lost in a shoe store unable to choose something, as for myself I'm on the verge of puking because the scent of the pine trees is heart sickening.
"It pretty much looks like every other tree we've seen."
"Yeah but it has to be perfect, one bad tree and Christmas might be ruined," he tells me like it was obvious. "What about that one."
"Still a fucking tree," I mutter.
"You're not helping," he reprimands.
"He's right," chips Claus.
"What do you want me to say? We're surrounded by pine trees all looking alike, they are all green, they are all tall and they all have a heady smell, frankly I don't get why it takes you so long to pick one!"
Greg's smile fades away as he shakes his head. "Why did you volunteer to come with us to pick a tree if you have no interest doing it? I mean it's not like I put a gun against your head," he gets upset. "This is supposed to be fun and you're ruining it acting like freaking spoiled brat. If you don't want to be here, fine, then just go and wait for us by the car or something, we don't need you," he spits then storms away to join Nick who's looking for trees with Warrick in another aisle.
"Greg, come on…" I call him back but he ignores me.
"Well done," Claus claps his hands.
"Damn it!" I swear as another thorn gets stuck in my flesh. "This is stupid…" I complain.
"We got it covered, you can go if you want," Nick informs me flatly.
"Fine," I don't protest and go to my lab.
"You're going to have to do better than that," Claus says after a long silence.
"I tried, they don't want me."
"Can you really blame them? You're sucking the fun out of everything."
"I don't see the fun in picking a tree, putting stuffs on it or spending thirty minutes trying to untangle Christmas lights, it's dumb."
"Well look on the bright side, you've won something."
"Another go at it," he chuckles humourlessly before snapping his fingers.
"What now?" I growl at Claus after being back at the beginning of the day yet again. "I did everything right this time, I smiled when we picked up a tree, even when we had to decorate it, I freaking sang songs, I did everything and still you snapped your fingers!"
"It's useless if you don't mean it," he points out.
"Time out, you never said anything about meaning it!"
"You're supposed to learn the meaning of Christmas, so it goes without saying!" Claus' tone suggests that I'm stupid which doesn't help with my nerves. "I've been straight with you, you're just being thick about it."
"I've had enough!"
"Then really try!" Claus replies.
Claus and I seem to have engaged into a war of will, and the more I repeat that day the less I care. I do try but no matter what I do Claus just sends us 'back from the top'. I'm not going to be bullied by anyone, much less a spirit so I figured that my best way out was to catch him at his own game. He wants to repeat that day, fine, I'm going to show him what it is like when I actually ruin Christmas.
I know I'm wearing him out because sometimes I barely have the time to tell Greg to shove the tree up somewhere painful that Claus snaps his fingers and we go again for another round.
I've reached my limit though, it's probably the forty second try at the day and I just want time to go forth like it's supposed to and Claus to leave my life for good. Christmas period is hard as it is to go through under normal circumstances but to have to relive one single day over and over again is torture. I don't think Claus realizes that I will not cave in and that he's wasting his time. It's not that I'm being reluctant, I've just had years to hate Christmas, as a matter of fact I don't think I've ever liked it to begin with, and there's nothing, absolutely nothing that will change my mind about it.
"I want my life," I tell Claus.
"And I want mine, you think I'm having fun repeating that stupid day?"
"You're the idiot snapping your fingers."
"I've already told you…"
"Yeah, yeah I need to learn what Christmas means, and I have."
He looks at me suspiciously. I open the march and guide us to the break room where the huge tree we took over an hour to decorate to the perfection is standing in the room, most of the team is in as well as four or five children, everyone is talking about the tree and the project they have for holiday.
"Thanks to you I've understood that Christmas is a time to pick up tree… and decorating it," I talk aloud with a smile on my face and as much sincerity as I can fake, I don't pay attention to the stares I receive from everyone in the room. "Sharing smiles and love…"
My eyes never leave Claus' as I speak, I can see a glint in his eyes when he thinks that I've finally learn that lesson he has been talking about since we first encounter. I can't explain the rush of twisted pleasure I feel when I see that glint of hope shatter just as I grab the tree and bring it on the ground, if anything Claus' face turn paler than it already is and I think he's too shocked at what's happening to actually do anything, in fact everybody is shell shocked.
I break the tree, stomping on it, taking a chair to help me break every piece of it, I destroy the lights, the decoration and save the star that was on top for last.
"Christmas is nothing but a joke!" I rage through my teeth. "This is just a fucking tree, and all this is nothing but a fucking joke!" I'm breathing like a bull ready to charge, all my anger let loose. "You're going to give me my life back immediately, because if you send me into another loop I swear I'll burn the whole place down!"
"What the fuck is wrong with you?" someone – I don't bother to know who, shouts at me, they didn't censor themselves in spite of the young people in the room.
If I wasn't so enraged I'd probably think about the fact that for everyone in the room I'm talking to something invisible, but like Claus said he's real, and right now he's the only problem I want to deal with.
Claus' eyes have almost turned from blue to black. He only looks away when the cry of a child invades the room, followed by another one and another one, turning into a choir of childish sobs. Claus' jaw tightens, his fist balls up when he looks at me his glare is full of a fury such that it is close to hate.
"That's it… you've crossed a line," his voice is oddly calm when he speaks. He raises his hand slowly and snaps his fingers.
Unlike every time before I don't find myself in my bedroom, we are instead in an unknown location. Claus is pacing in front of me like a mad man.
"I knew it would be hard with you… I knew it, everybody did which is why I'm the one here…" he rants. "I've been more than patient with you, I played it soft you weren't compliant, you want to play hard? Fine by me but you're in for a painful trip sweetheart."
"Oh and what are you going to do spank me?" I chuckle.
"You don't get it, do you?" he stops pacing and looks at me. "Your actions have consequences, it's not about you rejecting Christmas, it's about you ruining it for everyone! You can't fathom the mess you're creating! I've been watching you, I never stopped, and every year you ruined things a little more, selfish as you are not even caring the slightest bit."
He's speaking to me with contempt mixed with anger. "Just because it's a joke to you doesn't mean that it is for the rest of the world. You don't understand what you're destroying, you're too dumb and too blind to actually see behind the surface."
"Yeah, I'm the Grinch, sue me."
"Argh!" Claus groans, at lost for words. "Let's go," he orders and starts walking away.
We are in a the middle of trees, a little forest of sort, it's dark yet for some reason I feel a sense of familiarity.
"Are you taking me to the elves' factory?" I joke, my smile vanish when I look up and see a tree house. I stop dead on my tracks, I thought I had won the battle but Claus has just taken back the control of the situation. "Why are we here?" I seethe.
"So you can learn," his tone is algid.
"What do you think I'm going to learn here?"
He finally notices that I'm not moving anymore and turns around. "The only thing I've been trying to make you remember since we met."
"And you figured that I'd learn what Christmas means in the Sidle's household?" I smirk bitterly.
"It's where you lost sight of the meaning of Christmas."
"Gee I when I wonder why? Could it be that it was just one more excuse for my father to get drunk beyond reason and beat the crap out of us all… mind you in his great generosity he'd always make it special by adding his tools to his instruments of choice to get his fun," I ramble with despise. "My favorite has to be the when I was eleven and my dad decided to have fun for an entire day and almost killed two of my brothers in the process… and now thanks to you I'm going to be able to relive that as an adult, thank you so much you daft prick!"
Claus scrutinizes me then closes the distance between us and stop in my personal space. "You think I don't know any of that?" he asks calmly.
I can feel the colour draining from my face, his answer was unexpected to say the least, I clench my jaw caught between anger and hurt.
"I'm a thousand and some centuries old Spirit, do you really think there's anything about you that I don't know?" he keeps on. "You couldn't hide your dirtiest secret from me even if you wanted to," there's no pride in his expression, if anything he looks like he's pained by that fact.
I don't think I've ever loathed anyone as much as I'm loathing him right now. "I hate to piss on your lollipop princess but you're not the only one to have grown up in a broken household. There's no excuse for it, it's not right and if I had my way abusers would disappear after having served a long time feeling everything they ever inflicted to anyone thousand fold to the point they'd wish to be mercifully killed."
My breathing is shallow, I'm trying to reign of my emotions yet I can feel myself slowly losing that battle somehow I already know that things are about to go from bad to worse.
"In spite of what you think you haven't always hated Christmas, and your father isn't the reason you've stop understanding the meaning of it all, by the time he had turned into that monstrous, merciless man you had long stopped to care. It was just another shitty day you had to survive to like every other as far as you were concerned."
I feel like he was looking into the depth of my soul with his piercing blue eyes, this is a very unpleasant sensation.
"I know exactly when Christmas stopped meaning anything to you, just like I know that you're trying with all your might not to let that memory creep up to the surface."
"Shut up," I mutter.
His stare turns suddenly affectionate "Do you want to know something funny about yourself?" he smiles fondly. "You'd always ask for the impossible. When you were 4 you asked to have wings so you could fly, when you were 5 you asked to be able to breathe under water, when you were 6 you aimed for the sky and asked to go in space," he laughs a little at the memory, I for myself am struggling to keep breathing.
"None of those things happened, of course, and yet never once did it shake your Christmas enthusiasm," he continues. Unabashed sadness suddenly fills his eyes and his smile fades away. "When you were eight though…"
"Shut up," I repeat in a shaky murmur.
"You still asked for something impossible but…"
"Shut up," I warn him again as my eyes start to prickle and my breathing gets more and more difficult.
"You knew it was impossible but for the first time you believed that …"
"Please shut up," tears are sizzling down my cheeks, I'm begging him to stop but he ignores me.
"…if you were nice enough Eleanor would be brought back to l…"
My left fist flies up to Claus face and connects with him violently twice in a quick succession, he wasn't expecting my reaction because he doesn't avoid the hits, my third punch is about to land on his face but he raises an opened hand in my direction and I suddenly feel like something was pulling from behind, I lose equilibrium and find myself on the ground.
"You red-haired cunt!" I grunt while holding my rapidly swelling left hand.
I had noticed that he had the ability to materialize himself at will, something he's been doing whenever we were alone, he obviously thought that this detail was lost on me, he was wrong.
"Ow… ow…Fuck me swinging! Ow… Seriously?! Seriously?!" he' shouts holding his face moaning in pain and staggering around. "Seriously! Who on Earth hits a Christmas Spirit?! Damn it hurts…" he whines. "That's it… you're on the naughty list for ever!" he points at me before holding face again.
I'm pursing my lips in pain, but I'll be honest it felt good. I drag myself to the nearest tree bark and lean against it still massaging my hand, I don't think it's broken but it's doubling volume.
"Ow… ow… ow…" Claus decides to sit down, mimicking my position against a tree not far in front of me. "I can't believe you hit me… "
"You had it coming," I hiss, shaking my hand and contracting it slowly. I rest my head against the bark of the tree and close my eyes, I breathe in deeply in order to calm myself.
If I have to sort out my painful memories, the one Claus brought to the surface is the worst. I have quite a large brotherhood, three older brothers, one twin brother, one little brother and a little sister; up until I was eight our little cast was completed by my sister Eleanor, the eldest.
I chuckle humourlessly when a piece of puzzle falls back into place. She died on the 20th of December – meningitis, until that day I had never known pain in my life. Elie was solar, so full of life, you knew when she was in a room because her natural good mood was contagious and everyone wanted to gravitate around her. I don't think I ever remember losing her temper or her smile even once, she was gentle and always seemed so happy just to be alive.
Then she was gone and everyone was lost, my whole family lost its balance and we went spiralling out of control. Grief changed everything forever.
"I need a tissue…" Claus pouts after a long silence. I open my eyes and look at Claus whose nose is bleeding profusely. I have a slight twinge of guilt seeing him like that.
"Why don't you magically heal yourself?"
"Don't you think I would if I could?" he looks at me with a pout.
"Seriously? You can't heal yourself? So time loops and dematerialization at will are okay but healing cuts and bruises that's too much?"
"I'm already immortal, can't really have it all now, can I?"
"I didn't learn, alright!" he cuts me. "I'm a Christmas Spirit it's not like I had to fight anyone, so I figured that learning how to magically heal myself was like a useless set of skills," he confesses with frustration. "Now, do you have a tissue or not?"
I chuckle with genuine amusement. I plunge a hand in my pocket take out a cloth tissue I always keep neatly folded.
Claus looks at my stretched hand but doesn't move. "It's clean, I promise."
"It's not that… do you promise not to hit me again if I come closer?"
"You have my word… if only because my hand is swollen and painful," I joke feebly.
He gets on his feet and comes next to sits cross-legged in front of me. I watch him struggling as for what to do and decide to take him out of his misery. "Here, let me help you," I take the cloth from him and start gently dabbing his nose. "I wish I had some water."
Claus puts his clean hand flat against the ground, I'm surprised when water sprouts out of earth like a tiny fountain. I snort with amazement. "Neat."
"Saves the effort of digging," he shrugs.
I damp the cloth, grab Claus chin gently and clean his face. He moans in genuine pain "Come on it's not that bad," I declare.
"I'm not used to physical pain…" he admits.
"I'm really sorry," I apologize miserably.
He chortles. "I'm the one sorry not to have noticed that you had realized I could materialize myself at will," he tries to minimize the situation.
"My job is to observe," I use the water to clean the cloth again. "You're going to have bruises."
"There goes my beauty," he whines.
I roll my eyes and laugh a little. Once he has stopped bleeding, and his face is clean again I lean in deliver a butterfly kiss on his cheek. "Kiss and make it better."
Claus looks at me surprise and a little blush graces his features, he shakes his head and clears his throat. "How about a fresh start?"
"I think it'd be good."
"That's settled then. Come on," he stands up, and starts moving in direction of my house.
"Claus, I got it don't make me go there," I beg.
He comes back to me and holds his hand. "Trust me," he simply says. "Please?"
After a few seconds of hesitation I take his hand and allow him to pull me up. We walk slowly in direction of the house, where the lights are still on in spite of the pitch black night.
We first go to the window bay that gives onto the living room, I automatically place myself next to the frame of the wall.
"No one can see you," Claus assures me.
I move closer to Claus and have a better vision of what's going on inside. There are only two dim lights on and my father and my mother are there, my dad says something funny and my mom's face lights up. I don't hear anything but in my head I remember that glorious laughter of hers, so musical. My dad keeps teasing her and making her laugh until her eyes water, then he stands up and offer her a hand, to my great surprise they start slow dancing.
"What day are we?" I asked without leaving my parents from my eyes. The living room is decorated and though I can't see it from where I am, I know there's a tree in the corner of the room.
"The 24th of December. You're seven," Claus informs me.
I snort with a smirk. "So that's what they'd do after sending us to bed?"
"Yeah, your dad was a great fan of dancing."
"I didn't know that."
It's strange to see my parents like this. Suddenly all the good memories from my childhood are rushing in the front of my mind. They were happy, and very much in love, my dad was the kind to joke around and my mom was inhabited by a vibrant fire, they both were so alive and they shared that gift of a feeling with us.
"I always forgot how happy they were…" I muse.
"Good memories are always the hardest to preserve."
"I feel guilty to witness this moment, weird isn't it?" I admit with an embarrassed smile.
"They are your parents," he shrugs. "Come on," he puts his hand on my shoulder and suddenly we're in front of a different window.
We are on the balcony of the first floor in Elie's room, being the eldest she had the second biggest room of the house after my parents. I can see a younger version of me sitting in circle with everyone, lost in animated conversation, once again I can't hear anything but I know what's going as if I was really there. We're making our story of Christmas. It was the only night our parents let us being up as long as we wanted, they'd send us to bed but they knew we were not sleeping – the hysterical laughter was hard to miss.
In a normal night Elie and Charlie would read a story to us, but on Christmas' eve we made up a story, from one year to the next we kept on making that story, I was a knight with a pet dragon, two of my brothers are magicians, some are elves and my little sister is a fairy, and we are in a great adventure. We laugh a lot, and when there's action we all stand up and get into it. We are part of the greatest story ever told.
Christmas eve night was short for us, but as kids do we always had energy by tons.
Claus touches my shoulder lightly again and we find ourselves in the living room during what I assume to be Christmas morning. We are all here, my parents are handing away cocoa as we are all sitting in circle near the tree. There are no gifts under the tree but we are all ecstatic and barely holding in place, the reason for that is that our Christmas hunt is about to start.
Elie – helped with my parents – made this game and it was very elaborated. Christmas hunt got us running all around the house with a made up map, trying to complete our quest. Elie would have hidden little presents, one for each of us, but to get it you had to prove yourself worthy, and she had designed personal tasks and enigmas to solve. The gifts were insignificant, they were cool for us but the greatness of it all came from the hunt itself.
I suddenly feel something I hadn't feel in such a long time I forgot that feeling existed. It's like I was my seven year old self, I can feel the warmth, the incandescent and indescribable feeling that I own the world as I see us eagerly taking on the hunt, I feel genuinely high with unabashed and pure happiness. The feeling is so intense that it's cutting my airways, so intense that I'm afraid not to be able to contain it all.
This particular hunt ends up with us all in our garden discovering our newly built, gigantic tree house, when I witness us being amazed and at lost for words, the feeling blooming in my chest just gets even more powerful. How could I ever forget such a high, such a rush, such a sensation? It's so good it feels like a crime.
"There, that thing you're feeling right now, that's what it's all about," Claus' voice surprises me, I had managed to forget is presence. "The world is no perfect place, it has never been and I honesty doubt it will ever be; but at Christmas you get to share something, something powerful beyond words, something so intense that for a while, even if it's just a minute, this world doesn't seem like such a bad place to live in," he elaborates. "Christmas is about sharing a moment with the ones you love, be it a laughter, a memory, a meal or a few hours picking and decorating a tree, anything that will allow you to forget about everything that it going wrong and make you feel happy and alive for a little while. It might not last but it's okay, because at least you'll have had that precious moment and nothing can corrode that."
I don't say anything just keep on watching the younger me and my brothers and sisters smiling and laughing like we didn't know how to stop.
"Can you honestly tell me that what you're feeling right now is not worth fighting for?"
I shake my head, unable to speak so much I'm overwhelmed.
"That's the only and true Christmas gift, and you've been taking that away from everyone you love and care about for over two decades…" there's no reproach in his voice, it's just a plain statement. I do feel sick now that I'm finally understand what I've been oblivious to for years.
I swallow with difficulty before speaking. "I'm ready to change my Christmas policy."
I can hear a subtle sigh of relief from Claus, and though my eyes are glue on what's happening in front of me I can feel that he's about to touch my shoulder. "Please…just give me a moment," I whisper.
I want to make sure never to forget again what it was like when my family was united and happy, never forget what it was like when Elie was still there.
When I'm ready I simply take a deep breath and nod, Claus doesn't say anything and just puts his hand on my shoulder.
The day starts in my bedroom, like every other loop has, only I'm not surprise by Claus' presence and immediately start my routine while he waits for me to be ready to go.
When I arrive at work I expect Greg to ask me if I want to help them pick up a tree but it doesn't happen. In fact three hours go by without anything remotely related to Christmas happening.
"I don't think they're going to pick a tree, they are all there and working…" I think aloud.
Claus pulls a watch out of his pocket, opens it and wince. "Hmmm yeah… I feared that would happen," he whispers.
"What?" I look at him in confusion.
"They're not going to pick a tree. Here's the thing, even though you're the only one to have relived that day consciously several times, each one of your mistakes had an influence on them. Every version of the loop where you ruined things eroded their Christmas enthusiasm, what used to be a bright flame is now a pile of rapidly cooling ashes," he explains. "It's all up to you now," he winces.
I nod nervously. "I can do this… let's go find a tree then."
"How am I supposed to know which one to pick?" I ask Claus when we are walking in aisles of pines trees. "Because they all look the same to me, I'm not being daft or anything."
"Picking a tree is like…like falling in love," Claus contemplates. I stop my observation of the trees and look at him funnily. "I'm serious, you'll know when you see the one."
"You're always full of useful advices," I reply with sarcasm. "So anyway, how many brothers and sisters do you have?"
"I have 271 sisters and 270 brothers."
"You're pulling my leg," I joke, but one look at Claus tells me that he's serious. "That's 542 kids…"
"Yup and precisely as many girls as boys."
"Your poor mom…"
"Hey now, she was ecstatic for each one of us, besides we're immortal spirits trust me when I say that we are among the smallest family. My cousins? They are a thousand at least."
"Hey there are five continents to cover… besides how do you think my dad gets all the presents in time?" he laughs. "Actually he does that all by himself but we tag along for the fun… and the cookies and the milk… if you could taste some of the sweetness they leave for him in some house it's…" he trails off when. "Where are you?"
"I found it, I found the one," I simply state when he joins me again.
I buy the tree and we carry it back to my car, well actually only pretend to carry it, because Claus is making the thing levitate.
"And you're the eldest of the bunch?" I pick up our conversation.
"No, I'm the first boy, but I have 6 older sisters"
"Do you even know everyone's name?"
"Of course I do, they are my brothers and sisters, and I know everything about each one of them."
"I dare you to name them all," I challenge him.
"Not much of a challenge but sure, from the top there's Noelle, Maya, Zoé, Héloïse, Chen, Beth, me, Nicholas, Ian, Nora…"
"…August, Philippe, Noah, Imogene…"
I'm making decoration of fortune all while listening to Claus, it figures that just when I decide to get in the Christmas spirit and actually decorate a tree, I can't put my hands on the decorations. Fair enough I've improvised, I went into the reserve I took all the used lab material that we were about to put in the trash, slightly cracks test-tubes, broken CDs, out of used pipettes, anything I could find, some glue and some –expensive – coloured, and silver powder print and voilà.
Granted it's obvious that the decoration wasn't made by an expert but I tried, and in my defence I hadn't decorated a tree since I was 7, that was over twenty years ago so I think I deserve at least brownie points for trying.
"…Paloma, Charles, Zorg…"
"Wow, time out, Zorg? Seriously?" I cut Claus. "That's a bit tough for a girl, isn't it?"
"I'm kidding, I was just checking that you were actually following me."
"I am, I can even tell you that we are at 172 right now."
"I'm impressed," he pouts in admiration. "Her name's Zayah, then there's Artus, Lars, Sweig…"
It's strange for me because once I was in motion everything went on smoothly, I was surprised to feel giddy when people actually liked the tree and its unusual decorations, unexpectedly they added their own touch and it was fun.
Now there are kids running around everywhere as the party is going on, I'm dressed as an elf and I'm trying to spread as much Christmas cheer as I can. It does help that Claus materialized himself for the occasion – although it didn't take much convincing, in fact he begged to attend the party.
"You make a pretty elf."
I blush lightly at the comment, and smile to Catherine. "Thanks."
"Your… date is quite a lot of fun, kids love him," she moves her chin in direction of Claus who's sitting cross-legged on the floor making children laugh.
"Claus… he's not my date," I correct her, and I hope I'm not imagining her sigh of relief. Catherine and I have been tiptoeing around each other for a few months, not that we fight but more that we like each other, or at least I'm starting to appreciate her more, not just as a friend, but as a woman who I might actually ask out one day should I find the courage, or get a sign that she is possibly opened to that possibility.
"He's a… childhood friend who loves Christmas," I explain.
"It shows," she chuckles. "It's nice… what you've done, with the tree, and the party," she compliments. "It's a great change from usual."
"Hey, even the Grinch eventually enjoyed Christmas."
She laughs and suddenly becomes nervous. "I was…"
"I love you!" Claus exclaims putting a arm around my neck and kissing my cheek soundly. "This is a great party! Thank you," he adds before running back to the children.
Catherine is about to say something again but she is called and then more children come in and I have to attend to my elf duty.
I spend the next two days trying to find out what to get as gifts to the team, which turns out to be difficult, and Claus categorically refused to help me out in that quest, but it's alright. I like spending time with Claus as well, he's quite fun for a Spirit.
I surprised my brothers and sister by coming to the family reunion this year. The evening was going great, a bit tedious – in a good way – because my nieces and nephews appeared to be high on something, they talked a mile a minute, and were somehow unable to stay still, but I guess it's a normal state for kids.
I'm having a break on the balcony of my room. "Now that's a satisfied smile."
I nearly jump out of my skin at Claus' voice. "Gee… must you always…" I don't finish my sentence to busy trying to laugh. Claus is dressed with red tight pants, with a green vest and a beanie at the end of which is a white fluffy ball, there are pattern sewed with golden thread on his top and bottom but what takes the cake are his shoes, yellow curled-toe shoes with a little bell at the end.
"You look…" I clear my throat in order not to laugh. "Dashing," I lose my fights and find myself crying with hysteria within seconds.
"Like I said, black is cool," he simply replies with a jaded tone.
"Oh my…" I wipe out the tear pearling at the corner of my eyes once I regain control of myself. "Wow, thank you, I don't remember laughing that hard in a long while."
"I aim to please," he winks at me.
Silence settles between us, I realize now that there's no reason left for him to stay. I must say I'm a bit pained at the thought, I was really starting to like him.
"I can't stay very long," he announces, then walks to my library. He runs a finger against the spines of the leather-bound books, stops at one in particular and takes it out. He then hands it to me with a smile.
"That was Elie's favorite book…" I murmur.
"I know, I also know that no one ever opened it ever since she's gone, you all got your own copies but you never cracked the spine of that one."
"Now seems like a good time to me," he goes on.
I look away about to choke with sadness. I loved Elie to death and the only way I learnt how to deal with her absence was to put her and memories of her in the back of my head, locked in a place I never visit. I've never thought about her more than in those last four days though, and I think it's a bit too much for me to handle.
Claus hooks a finger under my chin and forces me to look at him. "Hey now, trust me," he says with a soft smile, his thumb caressing my skin delicately. He leans in and kisses me on the cheek, I close my eyes at the contact, when I open them again, he's gone.
It takes a few minutes but I finally works up the nerve to open Elie's book, something attracts my attention on the cover, a bump that shouldn't be there. I realized that there's a small pocket of sort inside the book, more importantly there's a piece of paper there.
My heart is racing as I unfold the paper, when I understand what it is I gasp with surprise. It's a map for a Christmas hunt, the last Elie ever made.
"Unbelievable," I muse to myself.
It's funny how things work, as it turned out the map was not obsolete even after twenty five years. The whole family participated to the hunt and it was awesome beyond word, the last gifts Elie made were still there hidden in corners we had never suspected.
I didn't find my gift because the furniture had been moved around and well… it didn't matter though, what mattered was the hunt itself, and the elation we all got by working at it together with my brothers and sister, we even decided to reintroduce that tradition again for my nephews and nieces.
I'm already back at work, but I'm still happy and euphoric from this year's Christmas, the first happy one since Elie's death and the least I can say it was full of surprise.
"Someone is in a happy place," Claus appears from nowhere.
I'm on the roof of the lab, I wanted a little more time to enjoy the last of my feel-good-Christmas-is-awesome vibe before having to face reality again thanks to my job.
"Someone is back in black," I remark and he rolls his eyes. "You know unless you want me to put up weight, grow a beard and start dressing in red, I don't think I can do more enthusiastic about Christmas, seriously."
"Relax, you did well for a debutant," he states with a smile.
"Then why are you here? We're the 28th already, Christmas is over."
I frown. "How so?"
"Two things," he raises two fingers. "First, I got something for you, something special."
"Ooh are you going to get me that unicorn I wish for when I was 7?" I grin.
"No, because you never wished for a unicorn, you asked for a Pegasus, you were always more of a knight than a princess."
"I'm getting a Pegasus?"
"Drop the magical horses, alright? It's better, much better."
"What can possibly beat that?" I enquire truly intrigued.
"You'll see…" he says with a mischievous smile. He suddenly turns very serious "You can't keep it though, I need you to understand that."
"I'd never had pegged you for cheap," I joke.
"Trust me it's priceless. You can't keep it, do you understand? It's really important."
"Yes, Claus, I understand. You have my word that I'll give it back."
"Good," he sighs with a nod. "Now, remember to breathe, you have 20 minutes."
"20 minutes for what?" I'm lost, but he points at something behind me to my left, the next thing I know my jaw is dropping on the floor.
"Merry belated Christmas Sara," he whispers.
There in front of me is…
I might have died without noticing but right now I don't mind. "Elie?"
My sister, Eleanor is there just a meter from me, grown into a woman. "How? I mean, you're an adult… it's…"
"Impossible?" she chortles. "Well, I'm a spirit so actually it's how you imagine me as an adult, I'm still 19, technically."
I close the distance between us and dare to reach out and my breath gets stuck in my throat when I actually touch her. I rush into her arms and hold on tight to her as if my life depended on it. Everything is right, the strawberry smell of her hair, the light and soft touch of her hand on my cheek, it's like I remember.
I don't know exactly what happens next, we talk but my mind doesn't register much else aside from the fact that she's here with me. I tell her about her map about everything I can think of. She laughs and she holds my hand, suddenly I'm seven again and just confiding to my sister. I'm crying like a baby, but I'm smiling at the same time, I feel so many things at once that I'm afraid I'll implode any time soon.
Then out of nowhere a fine layer of light surrounds her. I can feel my chest tightening because I know what's coming. "I have to go," she voices my fear.
"I don't want to lose you again," I cry.
"You're not losing me, as long as you remember me I'll be right here," she says softly before pushing a bang of hair out of my face, behind my ear. She silently leans in and kisses my forehead, I hold on tight to her trying capture this moment physically, keeping an indelible trace of it.
"I love you," I whisper.
"I love you too my little bubble," she smiles. "One last thing before I go, your gift? It's under the floorboards, the once closer to the wall is loose."
I laugh through my tears and nod silently. I watch as she slowly disappears in front of my eyes, turning into a memory again, I'm sad but overwhelmed with the much more powerful feelings of love and happiness.
"How did you do that?" I wipe my tears and turn to Claus.
"Let's just say it helps to be the son of one of the big bosses," he grins.
I take him in my arms and hold him tightly, I don't think I have the words to express how grateful I am for this gift. I pull back and butterfly kiss him on the lips before stepping away. "Thank you, that was the best gift I've ever received."
"You're welcome," he blushes furiously.
"Your cheeks are about to make your hair jealous," I snort.
"I, uh… have to go as well."
"I know," I acquiesce. "Will I ever see you again?"
"Maybe, if you know where to look. And, if you forget about Christmas again I'll be back to kick your ass," he jokes.
"I think I'm going to miss you," I ruffle his hair affectionately.
"Yeah, it was fun."
"Mostly," I contrast.
"You take care of yourself now," he winks then turns around.
"Hey wait, you said that you were here for two things," I remember.
He faces me again but keeps walking backward. "True, but the second thing isn't from me," he replies enigmatically before waving me goodbye and disappearing.
"Really?" I ask to the air before shaking my head.
I'm about to go back inside when Catherine comes out of the building. "I was looking for you… Greg said you might be here," she declares.
"Wait… please let me talk because I really don't need an excuse to chicken out right now," she says in one go. "First I'd like to thank you for the plane ticket, I don't know how you manage to pull that off, but thanks to you I was able to be with Linds and my family on Christmas."
When I was investigating to know what could be a good gift for everyone I overheard Catherine mentioning the fact that she had to work a day more than planned and that unfortunately there were no plane tickets left for her to be where she was supposed to, and that unless she bought a plane or an airline she wouldn't be there until the 26th. I called in several huge favours and was lucky enough to be able to make her fly out – who would have thought that joining the mile high club would have such an impact one day?
"Then I'd like to invite you to spend New Year's eve with me, at my house…" I'm about to say that I'd love to when I feel her lips against mine in what must be the softest kiss ever. "I'm asking you out on a date… I just thought I'd mention that."
I can feel the corners of my lips touching my ears so much I'm smiling, I decide to reply with a kiss of my own, and don't let go until I feel light headed.
I never thought I'd ever say that one day but…
I love Christmas.
Merry belated Christmas and Happy New Year everyone!
Thanks for reading