Jensen had lost weight at the same rate his father had gained it. His beard had begun falling out, hanging in tangled tufts with spots of reddened skin showing between them. He sat on a bench under a straggly tree, icy rain slipping down the collar of his brown coat, making him shiver.
He’d cancelled the wedding. P.D. and his mother were right. Condemning himself to a lovely marriage wouldn’t have solved anything. If it was going to, there’d have been some sign of returned health as the date grew closer. Instead, only his parents glowed with health, and that had an edge to it, as though there was a time limit.
Jensen knew it wouldn’t last. He was Santa now, not his father. Oh, his father could stand in from time to time, but he couldn’t take over full time again. It didn’t work like that. At best, Jensen had been given a reprieve. He stared over the drab expanse in front of him. The snow was thinner on the ground this year than it usually was, piled in dirty drifts under the trees. It had been snowing less and less each year since he’d taken over and not married. Now he’d cancelled the wedding, nothing would stop the rot seeping into his world.
A shadow fell over him but he ignored it. It was probably either one of his parents or Mer come to try to cheer him up. It amazed him that they never realized nothing would make him happy again. He was solely responsible for the death of Christmas and everything that went with it. He was killing his own people. The shadow moved and the person sat beside him, still silent.
“Peanut butter and jelly,” Jensen whispered, knowing immediately who it was. His breathing eased and he closed his eyes to savor the scent. “My dad told me it was always fruit cake he smelled whenever Mother was near. His father always smelled fresh-baked cookies.”
“You’re an idiot, Jen.” P.D.’s voice was low and ragged, as if he’d spent hours screaming.
“I know.” He sighed, the breath coming from so deep it carried all the pain he’d felt the last few months. “Nothing I’ve done has helped at all. It’s only made it worse.”
“You know I never read the records myself. I just accepted that you had.”
“Of course I read them. They say Santa has to be married to ensure the health and happiness of the Elves and the continuation of Christmas.”
“Like I said. You’re an idiot.”
“Thanks.” Jensen leaned back on the seat and closed his eyes. The peanut butter and jelly soothed him, making every muscle in his body relax. His head became too heavy to hold up so he tilted it sideways and rested it against P.D.’s shoulder. Warmth flooded him and his breathing slowed and deepened.
“So what are you going to do now?”
P.D.’s voice jerked Jensen out of his light doze. He sat up straight and turned to face the man he’d love forever. There was nothing left that he could do to save his people. They were going to die anyway, so he’d grab what happiness he could before the end. “We’re all going to die, P.D. there’s nothing any of us can do about it. I’m sorrier than I ever thought I could be, but I can’t make myself love someone else. You’re it for me. I don’t want anyone else; I never will.” He slid off the seat, onto his knees and reached up to hold P.D.’s hands in his. Fine tremors wracked his body; fear that it was too late. But he had to try. “The time I have left, I want to spend with you. Will you marry me, P.D.? Will you live with me and listen to my ranting and deal with my obsession with toys and helping the people of Earth learn about love, and love me anyway?”
“What if we find a cure? What if we find a way to save everyone but you can’t be Santa because you’re married to me?”
“It doesn’t matter. We’ll leave. We’ll live on Earth and become human, and die in forty years.” He sat back on the seat and drew P.D. close to him. “I’ve tried to live without you and life’s no good that way. I’d rather live a short life with you, than exist for a thousand years without you.” P.D. said nothing and Jensen’s heart thudded. “Do you still love me, P.D.? Have you moved on? Is…,” he swallowed around the sudden lump of trepidation in his throat, “Is there someone else?”
“I was joking before when I said you were an idiot, but I’m not now. You, Kristof Jensen Kringle, are the biggest idiot I’ve ever had the misfortune to know.”
Jensen sat back, a tremulous sigh gusting between his lips. This was it then. He’d sit on this park bench and be alone forever.
P.D. thumped him on the arm.
“Good. I’m glad it hurt, you idiot. You’re so focused on your damned lists and production schedules that you never look around you, do you?”
“Well excuse me for wanting to do a good job.” Jensen huffed. “And you can’t talk, Mr. I’m-the-best-scientist-there-is. How many nights in the last six months did you go home at all?”
“I’ve been trying to save us.”
“So have I!”
P.D. grabbed his shoulders and shook. “If you’d had your bloody brain engaged when you read those records, this would have been sorted out months ago.” He tugged Jensen into a kiss that was at once the same and totally different to the last one they’d shared in September. Yes, it was still almost brutal, but this wasn’t a goodbye kiss. This was nothing like the end would be.
Finally, they separated, breath lingering and mingling, skin tingling wherever they touched. “Santa has to be married to the one person in the world he’ll love forever,” P.D. whispered.
“I know. I—”
“The records don’t say Santa has to be married to a woman. Hell, they don’t even say Santa has to be a man! Did it never occur to you that Christmas is all about love, not tradition? We just use the traditions as an expression of the love we feel.”
Jensen leaned back so he could look P.D. in the face. “What—?”
“Take a look, Jen,” P.D. whispered. He cupped Jensen’s cheek and turned his head to look at the park. It was snowing, coming down heavier as they watched, and the trees…. Instead of standing forlornly in the dim light, they now stood proud, limbs lifting to the sky, welcoming the snow that sparkled as it fell.
“I think you’d better tell Mer the wedding is still on,” said P.D., his cheek pressed warmly against Jensen’s.
He jumped. “The wedding? No! I’m not marrying anyone but you.”
P.D. put his arm around Jensen and pulled him close. “Idiot. Of course you’re not. I’m keeping you.” He pressed a chaste kiss to Jensen’s cheek, making him sigh. He’d never felt more loved.
They sat silently, watching the flakes of snow drift gently to the ground. Suddenly, the silence was fractured by a scream. Jensen looked over at the Workshop to see his mother running toward them, turning to yell at his father who stood at the open doorway.
“Kris! Kris! He’s done it. Our boy’s finally got his head out of his arse and done it!”