He was coming back later every year.
She didn’t mind. She loved him so much. No one else could ever give so much of himself and expect and receive so little in return. His rich rewards were the insatiable love for the fantasies he inspired, and the knowledge that there was always great need for his services.
Every year brought more hopeful little dreamers needing him to help make those dreams come true. It was the same every year; it had been that way for as long as she could remember. And though some who came before her may have found the monotony maddening, she drew great comfort from it. His job was exhausting and dangerous, but she loved him more with every year that flew by for his steadfast dedication to it—and to her.
She sighed, threw the afghan off her legs, and stood, her knees popping. She hated to abandon the toasty fire, but this was important. If nothing could stop him from com- pleting his rounds, then by God and all that reigned over creation, nothing was going to stop her from greeting him after his arduous journey and making him comfortable again at home.
She shuffled toward the front door, her legs and feet protesting the cold. It didn’t matter that he would be weary. He would still greet her with his rumbling chuckle, still win her heart with his rosy cheeks when he smiled.
She lived for it.
She smiled as she approached the door, knowing the crew was already taking care of the animals and guiding him home through the blankets of sleet and snow, home to her. She heard the soft crunch of hard frost as she touched the doorknob, and her heart fluttered again, just as it always did when he finally returned. Though they were both old and gray, their love kept them youthful and occasionally spry enough to keep the bedroom as warm as their kitchen and their hearts.
She opened the door, and her breath caught in her throat. He staggered toward her and fell into her arms, and she barely kept her footing as she dragged him inside. She leaned him against the door frame and gazed into his twinkling eyes.
He gave her the smile, and though it was weak, it held the promise he’d always kept.
She closed the door, shivering from the frosty breeze that kept worming its way into their bones with the determin- ation of the alpha-to-omega life-cycle that ruled the mor- tals. Soon it would be time to brave the challenge and get back to work, but for now, it was time for comfort, and a reminder of their inseparable bond.
She took a deep breath, wrapped his arm over her shoul- der, and practically carried him over to the chair in which she’d just been sitting, hoping it still bore some of her body heat. It was getting harder each year to warm him up after his trip.
He chuckled as she helped him settle into the chair, and he kissed her on the cheek before she rose.
“Nothing I can’t handle, my love,” he said, stretching his snow-crusted boots out on the ottoman.
When she got the fire roaring again, she smiled and turned to him and lovingly removed his boots. She set them beside the fire, and when he smiled at her again and held his hands out to her—those rosy damn cheeks just glow- ing—she fell into his merry eyes all over again, and drifted back into his loving arms.
They cuddled, and she rubbed her cheek against his, feel- ing the softness of his snow-white beard and mustache tickle her and send tingles up and down her spine. It was still just like the first time she sat in his lap.
“I think, my dear,” he whispered in her ear, making her tired old immortal heart flutter yet again, “that it’s time to settle in for a long winter’s nap.”
“Yes,” she mumbled. Finally, it was. There would be time enough again, and it would come far too soon, to prepare for next year’s trip. For now, it was their time.
“Yes,” she whispered, and kissed him.
She stood and smiled at him, wriggled her fingers, and he took them and stood beside her. They hugged, and it melt- ed the remaining icicles that worry and fear had frozen in her heart.
Apparently it had been another successful trip, because she felt his strong heart beat against hers. She squeezed him, cherishing the feel of his arms around her. He kissed her again, and finally belted out his hearty trademark laugh. She giggled, loving the way his ample belly jiggled just like a bowl full of jelly.
In only another three-hundred-sixty-four-point-two-five days, it would be time to load up the sleigh again. Every- thing would be chaos again, frantic elves scrambling everywhere, trying to meet the deadline.
But for now, the night and the long winter were theirs to share.
May you all be blessed with the love and company of your family & friends, and may all your most heartfelt dreams come true.