Updated: Jun 19, 2020
The First Snowfall
Around him, the excitement was palpable. Elves cheered and embraced one another, their faces positively beaming with unabashed glee, as the first snowfall of the winter fluttered silently outside. Sinking down further into his overstuffed red and gold throne-like chair, Nick scratched his chin through his coarse, thick white beard and watched, mesmerised as the tiny flakes danced and spiralled across the windowpane. The first snowfall was an important milestone, marking the countdown to the Christmas Eve ritual and arguably the best day of the entire year. It varied by a day or so each year, but in their magical realm, it always snowed at just the right moment to give them enough time to prepare.
Nick was jolted from his thoughts by a tugging on his trouser leg. Glancing down, he saw one of the elves looking up at him, her large green eyes wide with concern. He inwardly cursed himself for not knowing her name. They all looked the same! It was near impossible to distinguish one from the next.
“Are you okay, Santa?” she asked, her lip beginning to tremble.
Nick gave his jolliest smile and nodded, the bell on his hat giving a faint jingle as he did so. “I’m wonderful, my dear. The first snowfall is a time to celebrate indeed!”
“But you look so sad,” she pressed, biting her lip as she eyed him suspiciously.
Nick stood and tucked his thumbs into his thick black belt, staring down at her from his full height. “You go ahead and celebrate. Don’t worry about me. I think I’ve just got a little bit of a headache.”
She nodded slowly and seconds later was scooped up by a nearly identical elf, disappearing into the dancing hoards.
As subtly as someone three times taller than anyone else in the room would be able to, Nick made his way to the door and let himself out into the corridor. Closing the door behind him, he closed his eyes briefly before making his way to his bedroom. Perhaps a lie down would do him good. It felt odd not being filled with the exhilaration of the first snow. Nick knew that he too should be celebrating and in all fairness, for the last sixty or so years he had joined in wholeheartedly. But last night, Joe had said something to him which had struck fear and melancholy into his usually merry heart. Where was Joe, he wondered. He hadn’t seen him since this morning. Since their conversation.
His heavy boots echoed down the wooden cabin hallway as he plodded his way to their room. As the door creaked open, he realised with relief that the room was empty. Nick wasn’t sure if he was ready to continue their conversation yet. He sank down on the bed with a groan and closed his eyes, his head sinking into the goose-down filled pillow.
Being Father Christmas was a huge responsibility. One which had been handed down from generation to generation for hundreds and hundreds of years. Every one hundred years, Father Christmas would breath his last icy breath and silently dissolve into a beautiful flurry of delicate snowflakes. Nick remembered standing by his own father’s bed thirty years ago, watching in awe as the man he idolised became nothing but an icy damp patch before him. It had terrified him at the time, knowing that this was his future. However, as the responsibility had swept him up, he hadn’t thought about it much since. Even to a semi-immortal being, one hundred years is a long time!
Nick felt a flush grow over his face as he thought about his father. He wasn’t sure quite how he would feel about Joe. Having someone you loved live with you was not the way things were done. There were rules to being Father Christmas. Rules which hadn’t changed in… well, forever! But Nick had already begun to change things, so perhaps this was all his own fault.
Nick found himself flinching even before the door banged against the wall. He could feel it coming in the forceful jolt of the handle and the determined inhalation of breath.
“So here you are!”
For a brief second, Nick wondered if he could pretend he was asleep for just a moment longer. He’d not had enough time to gather his thoughts. Just a few more seconds…
“Don’t you dare pretend you’re asleep!”
Nick groaned and pushed himself up to sitting, squinting as his eyes adjusted to the warm yellow light. Joe was still stood in the doorway, his chin held indignantly high and his dark eyes filled with challenge and a tinge of fear. Despite the situation, Nick couldn’t help but marvel at his beauty. His ebony skin such a stark contrast to the white and bleached pine surroundings. His broad shoulders and strong jaw like a Greek god.
“Stop it!” Joe glared as a smile spread across Nick’s face. “Don’t look at me like that when I’m mad at you.”
Nick shrugged. “I can’t help it. You’re beautiful, even when you’re angry.”
Joe’s shoulders sagged resignedly as sank into a nearby chair. “We need to talk. You know we do.”
“I know,” Nick agreed. “I’ve been trying to think about it, but the first snowfall put a bit of a spanner in the works.”
Joe frowned in surprise and glanced out the window. “Oh! Is that what all the noise is? I can’t believe I missed it...”
“We’d usually be dancing by now,” Nick smiled sadly. “Trying not to squash any of the elves as you try out your latest moves.”
Joe smiled briefly. “Well there’ll always be next year.”
Silence fell between them as they watched the snow through the dark window.
Nick watched Joe’s profile. He’d always loved him. From the first time he’d leapt out at him ten years ago, brandishing a camera and threatening to expose him. It wasn’t all that unusual to be ‘caught’, but the elves usually administered a bit of memory-loss and things carried on as normal. But that night, as they’d stared at each other in the blinking lights of the gaudily decorated tree, something had happened. Terence, the head elf, had swooped forward to administer memory-loss and Nick had dragged him to a halt by his collar. Joe’s camera had long since fallen to his side, a surprised smile playing on his lips as a silent conversation played out between them.
Eventually, Terence had stomped on Nick’s foot so hard, it had jolted him back to the present and reminded him that they needed to leave. It turned out that Joe was a reporter. He gladly deleted the picture and asked shyly if there was any chance Nick could come back after he’d finished work. Nick had laughed heartily at that. It was all so unusual. But he found that he couldn’t say no. And so, breaking the rules for the first time in history, he had returned to Joe’s house on Christmas Day.
“You’re scared aren’t you?”
Nick looked up. “Scared of what?”
“I’m not scared of him,” Nick scoffed.
Joe shook his head in disbelief. “There’s no shame in being scared. You’re not doing things by the book and he will be pissed off. That’s a given.”
Nick rubbed his hands over his face and inhaled slowly. “I think that’s an understatement.”
“Well I’m here now,” Joe said, his eyes glinting defiantly. “I’ve been here for a decade. He’s not getting rid of me now.”
“That’s not what I’m worried about.”
Nick held his hands up. “No, I know he can’t get rid of you. I mean, I’m worried about the whole heir situation.”
Joe blew out his breath, his full lips creating a perfect circle. “You knew it was going to happen sooner or later. You’ve only got thirty years left.”
At this, Nick’s heart suddenly felt heavy as fear and sorrow flooded through him. Thirty years didn’t seem enough. Perhaps if he’d found Joe sooner? Perhaps if they’d addressed the heir situation sooner?
“Stop thinking about what might have been,” Joe scolded. “What’s done is done.”
Nick frowned. “Who says I was?”
Joe silenced him with a look. “Tomorrow we go and see the Maker. It’s inevitable. You need an heir. I can’t give you one. We need his help. End of.”
“Fine,” Nick sighed. Perhaps it was that simple. If so, why did he feel like his stomach was filled with hot coals?
Joe pushed himself out of his chair and strode over to him. He cupped Nick’s face in his hands and touched his forehead to his. “I love you, Nick. You know that, right?”
“I do,” Nick smiled, his light blue eyes bright with tears. “I love you too.”
Joe smiled back, closing his eyes as he pressed his lips to his.
Nick pulled his thick, camel coloured coat around him tighter against the bitter wind. Last night’s snowfall had caused a temperature drop which was proving most unpleasant in non-magical clothing. Bowing his head against the fierce, white gale, Nick trudged his way through the snow towards the glistening porthole.
Glancing back to check that Joe was still behind him, he shouted above the roar of the wind. “We’re here!"
Joe stopped beside him and stared up at the crystal-blue glistening structure as it seemed to shimmer and pulse as if alive.
Nick eyed him worriedly. “Are you ready?”
“Oh I’m ready,” Joe grinned. “Are you ready?”
Forcing a tight smile, Nick nodded and gripped Joe’s hand, pulling them both determinedly through into the light.
On the other side, it was suspiciously quiet. The stark contrast from the roaring wind to the silence of a non-descript alleyway was jarring.
“Where are we?” Joe whispered.
Nick looked around at the dark, damp alleyway and shook his head. “I’m not entirely sure. But the gateway takes us to The Maker, so he must be nearby.”
He opened his mouth to suggest that they pick a way out of the alley and go for a wander, when he noticed a thin golden line on the brickwork of the wall. It seemed insignificant at first, but as he stared at it, it began to glisten and move with the same otherworldly intensity as the porthole. Reaching out, he tugged Joe’s sleeve, but he’d already spotted it.
“What do we do now?” Nick whispered, taking a step towards the golden line.
Joe reached out a hand towards the wall, his eyes reflecting the shimmering golden light. “You tell me. You’re Santa.”
Immediately, the line thickened, stretching out to form the outline of a rectangular doorway.
Without thinking, Nick stepped forward and pushed at the wall. It swung open as he somehow knew it would.
On the other side of the wall was a curious room. Each wall was lined with shelves. Each shelf was filled to bursting with books and objects; some familiar and some completely obscure. Nick was aware of the door closing behind them as Joe stepped through.
“Nick! It’s been a very, very long time.”
It had indeed, been a long time. So long in fact, that Nick couldn’t even remember it. But of course, he had been a baby, so it would have been unlikely. He took in the tiny frame of the old man that held their fates in his hands. He wasn’t much taller than an elf and his white wispy beard trailed on the floor before him. Robes would have seemed more suited to his appearance, but he was instead clothed in a brightly chequered suit, topped off with a shiny black bowler hat. Nick didn’t have to turn around to see the look on Joe’s face. He could picture it quite clearly.
“I suppose you know why we’re here?” Nick began.
The Maker squinted at him for a moment, clearly perturbed by the straightforward nature of his question. Slowly, his gaze moved over Nick’s shoulder and rested on Joe. “Yes,” he replied slowly. “I believe I do.”
They stared at each other in silence for what seemed an eternity, before The Maker spoke again. “Come through and have a cup of tea. We have much to discuss.”
With that, he turned and shuffled through a small doorway into a tiny kitchen.
Nick and Joe followed, ducking as they entered, taking a seat at a small wooden table. As the room before it, every space was filled with piles and stacks of objects. It was a wonder The Maker could even find the kettle.
“I’m almost surprised that you have come to see me at all,” The Maker continued, his back to them as he pottered at the counter. “You seem to like doing things your own way.”
Nick bristled slightly and felt Joe’s hand on his knee. “I don’t see why Father Christmas has to live by himself. What difference does it make?”
The Maker turned and surveyed Nick with his small grey eyes. “Alone? What happened to the thousands of elves?”
“You know what I mean.”
“Was your father lonely?” The Maker enquired, turning back to the tea making.
Nick considered this, surprised at the question. It wasn’t something he’d ever really thought about. “I suppose I only ever knew him when he had me,” he replied eventually. “I have no idea how he felt in the decades before.”
The Maker turned and shuffled towards them, two mugs of steaming liquid in his hands. As he handed them over, he wrinkled his nose and readjusted his glasses. “And now, you want an heir?”
Nick held his gaze, unsure of whether this was a question or a statement. “Yes please.”
Nick felt Joe’s grip on his leg tighten. “What do you mean, ‘no’?”
“Just what you think it means. The Bearer will not be part of this.” The Maker picked up his own cup of tea and sat in a chair opposite, his face unreadable.
“But if there is no heir, what will happen when Nick’s hundred years is complete?” Joe asked, unable to keep quiet any longer.
The Maker frowned at this before shrugging nonchalantly. “Perhaps you should have thought of that before you changed the rules. The way of Father Christmas is something that has always been. Now it is lost.”
Joe stood, his hands raised in disbelief. “So there’ll be no more Santa? All because he chose to bring me with him? That’s ridiculous!”
“Ridiculous or not, that is my decision,” The Maker replied calmly. “Which decision you make next, is entirely up to you.”
Nick felt the blood drain from his face. He was vaguely aware that Joe was still talking, but it all seemed echoey and distant. What had he done? Had he destroyed his own legacy? What was The Maker asking him to do? Leave Joe? That wasn’t going to happen. Was it?
Nick looked up to see Joe tugging him to his feet.
“Let’s get out of here.”
Still in shock, Nick rose to his feet, his eyes never leaving The Maker’s passive, wrinkled face. He allowed himself to be pulled back into the first room as Joe slammed the kitchen door shut behind them.
“Can you believe him?” Joe hissed.
Nick shook his head. The fuzziness persisted as he gazed dazedly around the room. What was that noise?
Joe waved his hands in front of his face. “Are you listening to me?”
“Can you hear that?”
“Can I hear what?”
Nick pointed in the air. “That noise.”
Joe’s mouth hung open in exasperation, but he listened anyway and as he did, he began to nod. “I do hear it. What is it?”
“Sounds like some sort of music box music,” Nick murmured. “Like the ones the elves used to make years ago.”
Joe looked around them searching for the source. “It could be coming from anywhere in this tip.”
“No. It’s not coming from in here,” Nick shook his head and pointed at the wall to their right. “It’s coming from in there.”
Amongst all the shelves and cupboards and stacks of things, a small door was almost completely camouflaged against the wall. As quietly as they could, Nick and Joe made their way towards it, the sweet sharp notes of the music box growing louder with each step.
Nick reached out and pushed the door, surprised that it gave way easily, revealing a small room bathed in soft pink light. As they entered, he felt a calmness overcome him. Gone was the clutter of the other rooms. In this rosy haven, gossamer strands of material hung from the ceiling against delicate golden furniture. But it was what was in the centre of the room that made Nick’s heart miss a beat.
Sat on a delicate rocking chair, was an angel. Or at least, that’s what she looked like. Bathed in golden light, she sat humming in tune with the music box, her hair cascading down her shoulders, both black, brown and golden all at the same time. Her skin was black, but brown, but white all at the same time and her eyes seemed to shimmer between brown and blue. She was incredible to behold and she regarded them with a delicate smile.
“Hello, Nick.” Her voice was like the sweetest melody ever heard and he felt his soul swell at the sound of it.
“Who are you?” he breathed.
She smiled a smile that lit up her eyes. “I’m The Bearer.”
Nick realised as she spoke that he’d already known. The Bearer had given him life. The Bearer gave life to every Father Christmas that had ever been.
“It’s an honour to meet you,” he replied softly, painfully aware that his own voice sounded like nails on a chalkboard in contrast to her angelic tones.
“The pleasure is entirely mine,” she beamed. “I have looked forward to seeing you fully grown for every day of your existence. You have turned out rather splendidly.”
Nick smiled shyly. “Thank you. I’m not sure The Maker would agree.”
The Bearer’s smile didn’t falter. “Because of Joe?”
A small gasp escaped from Joe. “You know who I am?”
“Of course I do,” she smiled gently. “And I’m afraid I cannot go against The Maker’s decision.”
Nick frowned in confusion. He hadn’t even thought that she might. Had he? He realised then that The Bearer was several steps ahead of them.
She reached out a hand for Nick to kiss and he did so without hesitation. “It truly has been wonderful to see how you turned out,” she said gently. “I wish you both all the best.”
And with that, they reluctantly turned and left.
Back in the cluttered room, it felt painfully cold and uncomfortable again. Nick began to wonder whether the rose-coloured room had actually been a dream. Even as he looked back at the wall, he struggled to see the outline of the door.
Joe pushed open the golden door leading to the alley and Nick followed him through, his heart sinking as the door silently shrank back to the faint golden line.
“I can’t let you do this,” Joe said quietly.
Nick frowned, still feeling dazed. “Do what?”
“Kill off Father Christmas!” Joe exclaimed. “I can’t be the person that ends Christmas! I won’t!”
“What are you on about?” Nick asked, rubbing his temples.
Joe stepped forward and placed his hands on Nick’s shoulders. “If I stay with you, you aren’t going to get an heir. If you don’t get an heir, there’ll be no-one to carry on when you die. If there’s no-one to carry on, then there’s no more Christmas.”
Nick snapped back to clarity in an instant. “You’re leaving me?”
“I have to.”
“No you don’t!” Nick scoffed. “The Maker will just have to find a replacement.”
Joe raised a dark eyebrow. “A replacement? Has there ever been a replacement before?”
“Well, no. But…”
“But nothing,” Joe snapped. “The Maker doesn’t seem to be too keen on starting new traditions. He made it pretty clear. It’s me or Christmas.”
Nick felt his eyes prick with tears. “Then I choose you.”
“Don’t be ridiculous!” Joe scolded, his own eyes glistening. “I’m not going to let you choose me. It’s over. I’m not going back with you.”
“You have to!” Nick reached out and grabbed his hand. “You can’t just leave!”
Joe gently wriggled from his grip. “I do have to. And I can. Once I’m gone you can try The Maker again, and he’ll give you an heir.”
Nick felt a tear run down his cheek and bury itself in his beard. “No,” he whispered.
“Yes.” Joe stepped forward, his eyes brimming with tears. He traced a finger fondly along his face before leaning forward and kissing him gently. “Goodbye.”
Nick found himself frozen to the spot as he watched Joe disappear out of the alley and into the night beyond.
Nick didn’t know what to do. He couldn’t go home. He couldn’t leave without Joe. But he also knew that Joe wasn’t going to come back unless he could fix things. How he could possibly fix things was another matter entirely. Feeling completely and utterly defeated, Nick slid down the wall to the floor and hugged his knees. As he succumbed to his grief, sobs racked his body, his pain echoing against the brick walls of the alleyway.
He wasn’t sure when he’d fallen asleep, but he was quite sure he had as he was no longer in the alleyway. All around him, snow was falling cold and silent. He was sat in a small snowdrift as the Northern Lights waved and shimmered above him.
“Feeling sorry for yourself eh?”
Nick’s eyes opened wide as he looked up to find his father staring down at him. “Dad?”
“Last time I checked!” his father laughed heartily.
“But, how?” Nick fought the urge to rub his eyes as his father flopped down in the snow beside him, his round face tinged with pink from the cold.
“I’m not entirely sure,” he chuckled. “I think you’re dreaming!”
Nick regarded him fondly. Even if it was a dream, he was going to make the most of it. “I’ve missed you.”
“I know,” his father sighed. “It was so hard leaving, knowing that you’d be all alone for so many years. It’s the hardest part.”
“So you were lonely before you got me?” Nick asked, supressing the guilt that he had not endured the loneliness of his forefathers.
His father nodded, his bushy white brows furrowed in memory. “It could get incredibly lonely. Which is why I’m so happy that you’ve had someone with you.”
Nick blinked in surprise. “You know?”
“Of course I know,” he laughed. “And Joe is lovely. You chose well.”
“But I shouldn’t have chosen at all,” Nick spat angrily. “Now The Maker has forced him away.”
His father seemed to consider this for a moment before asking carefully, “What exactly did you say to The Maker?”
Nick thought back over the brief conversation. He’d begged for an heir. Demanded, even! Hadn’t he? Slowly, realisation dawned on him as he met his father’s eyes with a sheepish grin. “I need to go back, don’t I?”
“If you want to change history,” his father placed an arm around his shoulder. “You have to fight hard for it. People don’t like change and sometimes you have to drag them towards it kicking and screaming.”
Nick nodded in understanding. “Thank you.”
His father smiled as a gust of wind blew him away in a flurry of white.
Nick woke with a start, looking around him in surprise. Scrambling to his feet, he didn’t hesitate in finding the golden line once more. He knew what he had to do.
As if sensing his purpose, the golden line immediately illuminated and stretched. Nick pushed it open and strode in once more, fired with determination. “Maker? I need to speak with you!” he shouted.
Whether he appeared through a doorway or materialised from the stacks around the walls, Nick couldn’t be sure, but there he was once more, all beard and chequered suit.
“Yes?” he asked, his grey eyes still unreadable.
Nick stood tall, his shoulders back. “I demand an heir.”
“Demand?” The Maker repeated.
“Yes,” Nick continued. “I love Joe and nothing can change that. I understand that you feel I have messed with tradition, but my feelings do not affect the tradition. When my time comes, my heir will continue as has been the way for all history. The history means everything to me and I can’t allow you to end it. However, I also can not allow you to deny me my happiness. So, I’m not leaving here without an heir.”
The Maker stared up at him in silence. Nick felt a bead of sweat zigzag its way down his spine. Had he said enough? Had he said too much?
After what felt like an eternity, The Maker turned and hobbled towards the other door, pushing it open to reveal the soft glowing interior. Without so much as a backwards glance, he entered, so Nick followed.
What met him on the other side caused his breath to catch in his throat. The Bearer sat glowing in her golden chair, rocking ever so slightly, as this time, she held a tiny baby in her arms. Stood beside her, stroking that baby’s head was Joe.
As the door shut behind them, Joe looked up, his eyes glowing with adoration. “Look!” he whispered. “It’s your heir.”
It took several days for the elves' excitement to lower to an acceptable level. That his father had managed on his own, or any of his ancestors for that matter, was mindboggling. Klaus was a light sleeper and woke several times a night when the wind rattled the windows. Nick was exhausted.
As he pulled on his heavy black boots, he paused and watched as Joe rocked baby Klaus in front of the roaring fire. He was a natural. Nick had never once felt incomplete, but now, with the three of them, he couldn’t imagine how he had felt anything but empty before. He often wondered what would have happened if he hadn’t gone back to confront The Maker. Would he still be here, but with the elves helping him raise Klaus? Would it even be Klaus? His son’s light brown skin was a perfect blend of the two of them, his curls growing longer with every passing month. Nick’s heart ached at the thought of not having him in his life. They’d often discussed whether in fact The Maker had always planned to give him an heir. He was all-knowing after all. Sometimes, Nick could get quite wound up about it, but Joe always put things in perspective. It didn’t matter either way. They were three. They were complete.
“Look,” Joe whispered, smiling over at him, the golden glow of the fire flickering against his skin. “Doesn’t Daddy look handsome in his suit? He’s got an important job to do tonight.”
Nick smiled, fastening his warm red cloak around his shoulders before joining them in front of the flickering fire. “A very important job,” he agreed, stroking the baby’s soft cheek with the back of his finger. “A job that will be yours one day.”