Author's Chapter Notes:
I’ve always been irritated that Xander never seemed to care that his actions caused at least 2 people to die. And hey, he has a soul!
Santa Claws by Lilachigh

Chapter 2 An Ancient Enchantment

The atmosphere around the dining-room table could have been cut with a very, very blunt knife.

Buffy had called a meeting of the Scoobies and told them what she and Spike had learnt at the Children’s Home. That a small boy called Terry had been kidnapped by someone disguised as Father Christmas.

Xander, his face pale and drawn, was sitting slumped in his chair, very still; Buffy could see big drops of sweat beading his forehead. Anya had slid her hand onto his arm, but Xander didn’t respond.

Finally he looked up at Buffy, his voice strained. “So, what you’re saying is that this little boy who told you about Terry, this Eric, is an orphan because I called up Sweet from his hell dimension? Eric’s father was one of the people who burnt up?”

Buffy hesitated, then nodded slowly. It was difficult to say, but she had to tell the truth. “Well, we knew people had died, Xander? We just didn’t know who. Now we do.”

“Sweetie, what you did, it was a mistake. Anyone could have done it,” Anya said brightly.

“But anyone didn’t. I did,” Xander said bitterly. “Let’s face it, it’s typical. Everything I touch in life goes wrong.” He raked his fingers through his black hair and glanced up swiftly to where Spike was lounging against the wall in the shadows, watching silently. “I suppose you’re having a good laugh about this, bleach boy? Go on, have your say. I deserve it. I wish I had burnt up instead.”

“Xander!” Willow sounded horrified.

Spike shrugged. “I think if we’re going to get involved in a “who’s killed more people ” competition, then I win hands down. I’m in no position to beat you up over what you’ve done.”

Xander laughed, but it wasn’t a happy sound. “You kllled because of what you are, Spike. I killed out of stupidity. Somethings never change.”

Buffy broke in quickly. “Look, this is getting us nowhere. What’s done is done. What we need to concentrate on now is finding these children and the guy who’s dressing up as Santa Claus and kidnapping them. The police obviously aren’t getting anywhere with it and I feel we have to lend a hand - because - because - ”

“Because I’m a homicidal fool!” Xander said angrily and pushed his chair back from the table.

“What do you mean, Buffy - the guy who’s dressed up as Santa Claus?” Anya was busy peeling an orange, looking puzzled.

Willow sighed. “Come on Anya, keep up with the conversation. The little boy told Buffy that Father Christmas came and took his friend Terry.”

“So an evil Father Christmas is working in Sunnydale.”

Buffy stared across the table at the ex-demon. “But Father Christmas isn’t real. This is obviously a guy wearing a red robe and a beard. Dressed up.”

“What do you mean, Father Christmas isn’t real?” Anya said hotly, digging her fingers into the orange, and not realising that Willow and Dawn both had to duck as juice squirted in all directions. “Of course he’s real.”

Buffy laughed, the sound tailing off as she realised Anya wasn’t joking. She glanced at Spike but he was looking as bewildered as Anya.

“Of course he’s real, Slayer,” he said. “Why did you think he wasn’t?”

Dawn squealed with delight, her eyes shining. “Honestly, Spike? You mean there’s a real Father Christmas living in Lapland in a snow house with elves and reindeer and he flies through the air in a sleigh every Christmas Eve delivering presents and - ”

“The one I knew was a distinctly unpleasant old man with bad breath who drank too much and spent most of the year in Hawaii on a beach,” put in Anya. “He hated reindeer - said they made the most dreadful smells which wasn’t pleasant when you were flying behind them. He detested going back to all the ice and snow and having to do the whole gift thing every year, but then he had no choice, of course. That’s part of the magic contract.”

“I knew a very nice one once,” Spike said eagerly, his blue eyes dancing. “Dru and me, we met him in Vienna. Dru wanted to help him prepare the toys for Christmas - she was fascinated by the dolls, you know - but Darla and Peaches thought he was boring so we - ”

He stopped, suddenly aware of the appalled faces turned towards him. Everyone except Anya who was still calmly eating her orange, had eyes as round as baseballs with mouths open to match.

Buffy took a deep breath. “So Father Christmas is a demon?”

Spike shook his blond head, his blue eyes showing the faintest glimmer of a smile. “No, Slayer, of course he isn’t. Not a demon. Not a vamp. He’s - well - he just is. Into every generation one man is born to be Santa Claus. When one dies - ”

”Another one is Chosen! Why does that sound so familiar?” Buffy asked dryly, grinning back at him.

Xander gazed between the two of them, frowning at the identical expressions on their faces. “So he isn’t always a good Santa?”

“Of course not, sweetie,” Anya said airily. “I don’t suppose the Slayer has always been a nice girl over the centuries. I mean, look at Buffy. I mean, don’t look at Buffy because when you do you get that silly expression in your eyes that I hate so much, but yes, sometimes the Santa Claus is just plain mean, nasty and evil.”

“Wow!” Willow said. “I’m so glad I’m Jewish! No sense of loss here.”

Dawn pouted and tossed back her long dark hair. “Well, I think you and Spike are making it all up. You’ll be saying there’s such a thing as a real Easter Bunny next.”

Anya screamed and leapt up from her chair. “Don’t even mention that monster out loud! You’ll bring him right here, into this very room! You should know what happens when you do things like that.”

“Look, Anya, sit down. Dawn’s sorry. She didn’t mean to upset you. Look, you have to tell us how to find the evil Santa. Spike - do you know where he’ll be?”

The vampire hooked a booted foot under the rung of a chair and pulled it over to him. He sat astride it, his face close to hers. “Well, Slayer, we know where he’ll be in a week’s time. It’ll be Christmas Eve. He works on that night.”

Buffy sighed. “We can’t wait that long. He’s got these little kids. What does he want them for? Is he - I mean, does he kill them? What if he takes some more before Christmas? We daren’t take that risk.”

“Perhaps I can track him magically,” Willow said. “I know I said I wouldn’t use my powers, but this is an emergency.”

“No!” Buffy and Xander both spoke at once.

“It wouldn’t do any good,” Anya added. “Santa is part of old magic, far older than yours, Willow. He belongs to an ancient enchantment that existed back in the Dark Ages. That’s why he’s survived for so long. There’s no one left who knows the spells that made him or the ones to stop him.”

Buffy stood up, looking grim. “Well, ancient magic or not, I’ve got to find him and stop him,” she said. “Anya - Spike, we’re relying on you two. Come up with something, some idea of where he’ll be.”

She turned away from the table, resting her hand briefly, absently on Spike’s shoulder as she passed, needing the contact but unaware that Xander was watching, frowning.

“I’ll ring Giles in London,” Willow said. “He might know where to look.”

“And I’ll start on the books he left behind when he went,” Dawn said enthusiastically and Buffy didn’t have the heart to tell her that it was extremely unlikely that any of The Watcher’s reference books would mention magic this old. There would have been no one around in those days to write it down.

Buffy pushed open the door and went outside, glad of the fresh air on her face. The moon was rising and a fine scarf of stars crinkled across the sky. She sat down on the top step and closed her eyes. She was so tired; and she was due at the Double Meat Palace for her next shift in half an hour.

But the night was lovely; it was hard to remember that wickedness could roam at will through this town and she was the only one who could stop it. She thought of little Eric in the children’s home and wondered if he was out in the grounds again, slipping through the trees like some little animal instead of being safely tucked up in bed, dreaming of Christmas presents and fun.

She felt rather than heard Spike come outside and sit next to her. She didn’t look at him.. She didn’t need to. She could remember, so clearly, sitting here with him on the night her Mom had told her she was seriously ill. The pressure of his shoulder next to hers was the same, the faint smell of leather, whisky and cigarette smoke, the tang of blood. Buffy knew that if she lived to be a hundred - unlikely, but hey, miracles happened - she would always be able to recall that smell and link it in her mind to a very strange word where Spike was concerned - comfort.

“Thinking about Eric?” he said with that uncanny ability he had to read her mind.

“Yes. He was a cute kid. And brave.”

“Got sharp teeth,” Spike said, holding up one long slim finger for her to inspect where the little boy had bit him.

Without thinking, she reached over and dropped a kiss on the chill skin. “There, all better,” she said and then drew back as his breath hissed through his lips and the hand dropped to her thigh, cold through her jeans, sending ripples through her nervous system.

Green eyes and blue clashed fiercely and, for one wild second, Buffy wondered what would happen if she threw herself into his arms and kissed him properly.  There, on the porch, with all her friends and family within a few feet of them, liable to come out and join them at any moment.

And then the moment passed, the door creaked and Xander and Anya came out.

“Buffy!” Anya said importantly. “I’ve been thinking. There’s only one person I know who might be able to help. We need to contact my ex boss. We have to speak to D‘Hoffryn. And quickly, before he goes away for Christmas!”

to be continued

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