Candy-Apple Red

Author's Note: This sounded better in my head then it came across on paper. But there's nothing to be done about it. It's finished. Santa has a new car, again.

In January, the magic started to fade.

It was strongest during the darkest days of winter, when the northern half of the world was cold and frozen, and when children turned their thoughts to trimmed fir trees and Christmas wishes. During that time, he was a stout and jolly dream-builder dressed in red velvet, black leather, and snow-white ermine.

But after all the presents had been opened, and the wishes either fulfilled or forgotten, the twinkle in his blue eyes faded to a soft shine, and the roses in his cheeks were replaced with papery paleness.

Santa Claus, alternately known as Kris Kringle, Saint Nicholas, and Father Christmas, was an old man, and he looked it, except towards the end of December. He liked books, peppermint ice cream, and long naps.

On January second, he was indulging in the last of those when his wife interrupted him.

Once, Elizabeth had been the most beautiful creature on the Earth, a dark- haired fairy princess with curling coal-black hair past her hips and dark eyes that were all but unfathomable.

Only her eyes remained the same now.

They were scowling down at him. He blinked pale blue irises back at her.

"It broke down again."

"It?" mumbled Santa incoherently. It always took at least five minutes for his brains to catch up with his body when he first awoke.

"The car," his wife clarified. Her tone conveyed the frustration of one who had spent y hours trying to breathe life into an obviously dead object.

Santa yawned expansively. "So have Davin fix it again." Davin was the elf in charge of mechanics on the North Pole, and he had made sure that their 1931 dark blue Maxwell had run far beyond it's natural life.

Which was a blessing, because car shopping was a curse that Santa despised above all others.

"Nicholas," intoned Elizabeth, "no. You will get out of that bed, and you will go buy us a new car. Is that understood?"

He groaned and sat up. "Yes, dear."

He had learned long ago that there was no point in arguing with his wife when she called him Nicholas. It was a sure sign that she wasn't going to budge.

***

The last time Santa had purchased a car, it had been 1931, and Chicago. The salesman had been a particularly slippery character who had looked like he moonlighted for Capone on the side.

He thought this time he might try some other city.

"Hey, Joe." Joe was the house-elf. He'd proved himself entirely incapable of building anything that would stay together for more than five minutes, but he was a fabulous cook, and viewed dust as a sin punishable by death, so he had become the cook/housekeeper, where he could simultaneously do the most good and the least damage.

"Yeah?" muttered the elf from behind a huge cookbook.

"What's your favorite city?"

The question was enough to distract Joe from the Thai curry recipe he'd been perusing. "Favorite city?" he inquired. "I haven't been off the Pole in over 500 years."

"I didn't say you had to have personally experienced it." Santa pinned the only other male in the house with an exasperated look. "C'mon, name a city."

Joe stared at his much taller employer blankly for a moment. "Well, I've heard Seattle's nice."

"Seattle it is, then." And Santa hurried away, intent on beginning and thus completing his thankless errand as quickly as possible.

Joe continued to stare after his boss for several moments, until he heard someone else come into the kitchen. He turned to see a slim blonde elf making a beeline for the coffeepot. "Oh, hi, Kelsie."

"Joe," she replied curtly as she poured a cup. "You look perplexed."

"It's nothing terribly important. By the way, do you know what the forecast for Seattle is today?"

"Torrential downpours. Why?"

"Oh, no particular reason."

***

Derek Michaels questioned his latest customer's sanity.

The man dressed smartly in a dark charcoal gray suit had seemed to just appear in the car lot, and had stood out there for at least twenty minutes before he had finally come inside.

He also looked disturbingly like Santa Claus, but that was neither here nor there.

"So, Mr. Kringleklaus. What sort of car are you looking for?"

"Oh, one that runs, preferably. That's the problem we're having with our current vehicle."

"Ah. Well, sir, all of the cars here run extremely well, so I don't think that's an issue." Derek chuckled nervously. His customer merely flashed a brief smile and continued letting his eyes roam aimlessly around the dealership.

Derek floundered for a moment. "Well.what will you be using the car for? That will help us determine what you're looking for."

"Errands and such. Basically groceries shopping."

"I see. Shall, I show you our latest models of sedans, then?"

Santa shrugged. He wasn't particularly interested in them, but the quicker he got this over with, the quicker he could get home to his mystery novels and ice cream.

Twenty minutes later, Derek had shown Santa every sedan in the dealership, and both of them were getting a bit desperate and frustrated.

"As you can see, sir, this model is both practical and luxurious. It features an extensive trunk area, leather seats, a three-cd changer, and."

"What's that?" asked his suddenly breathless client. Derek looked up and smiled.

"Well, that's the latest model of Aston-Martin. Gorgeous, isn't she?" And someday, the car salesman vowed, he would own one himself. In proper James Bond-blue.

"Beautiful."

Derek smiled widened. He could hear the commissions adding up in his head.

***

Elizabeth smiled as she heard the wonderful sound of a brand new car engine roaring up the drive. Her smiled lasted all of five seconds, until she twitched opene the curtains.

"Oh great gods," she whispered.

Kelsie peered over her shoulder to see what had so perturbed Mrs. Claus. "Well, that's to be expected."

"Expected?!"

"Of course. You sent him car shopping, alone, in January, when he's always depressed. He's not going to come back with a nice quiet sedan then."

"But that color.." moaned Elizabeth, covering her eyes. "It's so brilliant. His sleigh isn't even that bright a shade."

"I believe they call that 'candy-apple red.'"

Mrs. Claus let her head thump against the table where she and the green- eyed, blonde were sitting. "If a week's groceries fit in the boot of that car, I will sincerely be surprised."

Elizabeth shook her head in despair as she heard her excited husband calling her name.

"It could be worse," commented Kelsie.

"How?"

"He could have come back with a motorcycle."