Santa is starting fade, who's going to take this place this year?
“But we need your help.”
Kris looked up from the engine bolt he’d been carefully tightening, then down as he remembered the man addressing him barely came up to his waist. “No,” he answered curtly.
“Mr. Kringle,” the little person started.
Kris pointed his wrench at the man. “Absolutely not. I don’t want to even hear that name again.”
The man bowed slightly. “Of course, Sire. That does not negate the fact that we need you this Christmas Eve.”
“I left. I left and I’m not going back.” Kris turned his attention back to the motorcycle, clearly feeling that the conversation was over.
“Mr…” the little man stopped, started again, “Mr…” and then seemed to decide just to speak, “Kris. No one else can do the job.”
Kris gestured, indicating everything about himself from head to foot. The little man eyed the heavy, steel-toed boots and leather pants. The black t-shirt was rather bland next to the Mohawk his hair had been shaped into with the tips dyed purple. Spiked bracelets wrapped around both wrists. “Pretty sure if I tried to do Pops’s job, the first person who spotted me would have me arrested,” Kris commented once the little man had looked his fill.
“The point of the magic is that no one ever sees you,” the elf, and Kris was ready to admit that if the little man was from his father, the little man was an elf, said.
“That’s Pops’s magic. There’s no guarantee that it’ll work on me.” Kris tapped the wrench against the meat of his thigh. “So, you wanna tell me why you’re here? Cuz all I keep hearing from you is you need my help, but not why you need it.”
The elf shuffled his feet; looked down at the ground, then back up at Kris. “Santa can’t do it this year.”
Kris frowned, shifting back on his haunches before setting his wrench down, and looking the elf in the eye. And realizing he’d never caught the man’s name. “You mean he won’t do it. He’s just trying to draw me back by refusing to do his job.”
“He can’t,” the elf corrected. “Don’t you think your teenage rebellion has gone on long enough? You knew that sooner or later you’d have to come back to the Pole.”
“Why don’t you tell me what’s wrong with Pops, rather than complaining about what you think is a rebellion? And also who the hell you are.”
The elf huffed in response, drawing himself up to his full height. “I’m Santa’s head elf. My name is Ralph. Santa, your Pops as you call him, is sick, he’s fading because fewer and fewer children believe in him. Then to have you leave your Pops…”
“If you’re trying to tell me this is my fault…” Kris glared at the elf.
“Not at all, Sire,” the elf fell back on the old terms of address again since Kris refused to be addressed by the honorific of Kringle. “But you’ve left your father in the lurch. And no one else can take the sleigh out but a Kringle.”
Kris held up a finger. “One time. One night. And then someone had better find a loophole around this Kringle thing.”
“Why are you denying your birthright?!”
“What has my birthright ever gotten me but cold, snow, and my Pops ignoring me in favor of every other child in the world?” Kris shot back.
Ralph huffed in response to this. “You just need to…”
“If you say I need to give him a chance, I’ll throw you out on your pointed ears,” Kris threatened. “I’ve given him a chance. I’ve given him a chance for the last two hundred years. I left because I’m tired of giving him chances.” He got to his feet, looking around the garage where they’d been talking. “I’ll give you one night.”
Ralph nodded, bobbing a little as he started to bow then thought better of it. “We’ll have to leave now to go to the Pole and get set up.”
“Fine,” Kris agreed. “One night for deliveries and the couple of days beforehand you need to set up.”
“Will you see Santa before you deliver the toys?” Ralph asked tentatively.
Kris glared at Ralph. “You’re pushing it, shorty.”
Ralph glared back. “I’m not short. I’m vertically challenged.”
“Yeah. Keep telling yourself that.”
Outside on the cobblestones, one of the smaller sleighs waited. Kris decided not to question how Ralph had gotten the sleigh here. He knew that the elves could convince the magic to allow them to take the smaller sleighs out on short one shot flights. Still, there was a possibility that Ralph would have been stuck here if Kris hadn’t agreed to go to the Pole.
Stepping up, he held a hand out to the lead reindeer. “Hello, Dasher, old friend,” he greeted him in a low voice.
The reindeer snuffled into his hand in reply, blowing hot air onto his bare palm. Kris smiled, reaching out to pet Dasher as he waited for Ralph to join him. The elf trundled out a few moments later, stuffing something into his bag that Kris chose not to question. It wasn’t like his boss checked in that often or knew the inventory. A quick phone call had assured his boss that he’d be back after the new year and that someone would cover the shop in his absence.
“Are you ready to go?” Ralph asked.
“Let’s get this over with.” Kris swung himself into the sleigh and reached for the reins. Clucking at the reindeer, he got them moving.
Circling around the compound, Kris wondered why he’d come back. He didn’t want to become his father, but here he was, returning to his childhood home as the new potential Klaus. And there was no other possibility.
As the sleigh alighted in the yard, Kris saw someone hurrying towards him. It was, quite honestly, the last person he had expected. When Ralph had told him that his Pops was beginning to fade because the children no longer believed in him, Kris assumed his father would be in a similar state. But his father looked the same as always. It was nearing the end of the year so he was old and stooped, but Kris knew he’d soon straighten up and look youthful, only to age as the year passed. It was one of the oddities of being the embodiment of Father Time. It had been years since Kris had questioned why Santa and Father Time lived together or why both of them raised him. He often got a good laugh out of the teasing Pops gave his father about Mrs. Claus.
Kris swung out of the sleigh and embraced his father as the man reached him, surprised to realize he towered over the older man. “Kris, you came home,” Father murmured as he held his son tightly. “I knew you would.”
“Don’t get too excited, Father. I’m just here to help out for this one year.” Kris squirmed out of the grasp he’d been wrapped in. If he said it enough, he might even believe it.
“Well, come see your Pops. He’ll be glad you’re home.” Father tried to tug Kris in the direction of the house, but his son held firm.
“I didn’t come home to see Pops, Father. I just came home to deliver the toys.”
Tears laced his father’s eyes. “Your Pops will be so proud.”
Kris just prevented himself from rolling his eyes. “It’s one year, Father. And we’re going to spend the next year either getting Pops back on his feet or finding a loophole for this Kringle thing.”
Father smiled as Kris stomped off towards the workshop. “Just as stubborn as his Pops.”
Word Count: 1291
Special thanks to D and B who helped improve this and enjoyed reading it.