Chapter One: A Slight Company Reorganization
The first thing that told Bernard something was wrong was the sickening sense of déjà vu that hit his gut as he watched the sleigh descend from the ceiling. Had it been any other time, he would have brushed it off as part of the repetitious nature of the yearly job. But he knew enough about magic to recognize some of the subtle clues it left behind. Something, besides the sleigh, was up.
The second thing, obviously, was when he saw Jack Frost lounging in the back of the sleigh, wearing Santa's coat.
Oh no. This was not good.
"Is that who I think it is?" Judy asked, squinting up at the sleigh beside Bernard.
"Yes. I need you to go find Curtis and contact the Council."
"But what about-,"
"Now, Judy. We don't have much time."
"...Yes, sir," she said before disappearing into the crowd.
Many of the other elves had stopped working to gawp at the descent. For once, Bernard couldn't blame them. The whole sleigh-descending-from-the-sky bit happened every year when Santa returned, new or not, so he usually scolded those wasting their time watching it. This was the first year a pre-existing Legendary Figure had usurped another. He couldn't fault them for staring now.
Bernard clasped his hands behind his back to hide the fact they were visibly shaking. He was all too aware of the many precautions in place to prevent Jack from doing exactly this. Somehow, he managed to get around all of them.
He was not looking forward to greeting Jack once he landed.
"He did WHAT?!" Curtis shouted as he and Judy sprinted towards Santa's office. Judy recognized the onset of a rant and let the question go unanswered.
"Does he have any idea how many codes and bylaws he's broken just by touching his coat, much less putting it on?"
"Probably," Judy huffed, amazed Curtis had any breath to spare for complaining.
"And there's no way he could've even been there unless he used the-," Curtis stopped dead in his tracks. Judy rolled her eyes, making a U-turn in the hallway.
"Come on!" she said, pulling on his sleeve, "Save your dramatic realizations for the Council!"
When they finally reached the office, they burst in, throwing common courtesy out the window.
"Abby!" Curtis yelled, "We need to..."
He let the message trail off as he took in the sight of the entire Council seated around the fireplace. They were all already there.
"IF YOU'RE HERE TO CALL US TOGETHER, I BELIEVE I'VE BEATEN YOU TO IT."
He stood in the center of the group, towering over all the seated Figures. Abby was currently skirting around the group, handing out mugs of hot chocolate and purposefully ignoring Death.
Judy elbowed Curtis in the side when he spent too long staring at the looming, hooded figure before him. He cleared his throat to regain some composure before speaking.
"Jack Frost has arrived. Bernard should be bringing him here shortly."
"GOOD. WE HAVE A FEW WORDS TO SAY TO HIM, AND I CAN'T LINGER HERE FOR VERY LONG."
Abby came up beside him, holding up a trembling tray with the last mug of cocoa on it. She kept her eyes glued to the ground as he accepted the drink.
"THANK YOU," he said, before somehow taking a sip without moving his skeletal jaw.
She nodded, still keeping her eyes on the ground, then half-ran out of the room, hugging the empty tray to her chest.
There was a prolonged silence, punctuated every once in awhile by someone slurping from their mug.
"THIS COCOA IS EXCELLENT," Death commented to whoever was listening.
Judy smiled a little, "Thank you, sir. It's my own recipe."
It was at that moment that Jack decided to fling open the doors, making as big an entrance as he could muster.
"Ladies and gentlemen! Everyone give a round of applause for your new Santa!"
Needless to say, there was complete silence after this announcement. Bernard stood behind Jack's outstretched arms, cringing into a facepalm.
Jack lowered his arms, his grin weakening into a grimace.
"Oof. What a dead crowd we have here tonight."
"Jack, you are in no position to be so flippant," Mother Nature scolded, standing to join Death in the center of the room.
"It's 'Santa' now, my dear," Jack said, sauntering up to her with a sanctimonious jab to her collarbone. "Did you miss my announcement? I can do it again if you want."
"Please don't," the Easter Bunny groaned.
"I DON'T BELIEVE THAT WILL BE NECESSARY," Death spoke up. Jack gave him a leery sideways glance.
"Well, well, well! If it isn't Death himself. I take it you've been keeping busy. I haven't seen you at the last few Council meetings."
"That's because you haven't been at the last few council meetings," Cupid muttered, eliciting a stifled giggle from the Easter Bunny and a glare from Mother Nature.
"MY DUTIES ARE NOT LIMITED TO A SEASON LIKE YOURS ARE," Death said, taking one last sip of his cocoa before placing the mug on a nearby table. "PEOPLE DIE EVERY DAY."
"You always were such a bright little ray of sunshine, weren't you?"
"INCLUDING TONIGHT. I SAW YOU THERE WHEN I WAS COLLECTING SANTA."
"Oh yes, how is the old man doing? Can't say he was in very good health last I saw him."
"YOU WERE NOT SUPPOSED TO BE ABLE TO SEE HIM TONIGHT."
"I did, though."
"YES. THAT IS THE PROBLEM. YOU ARE A LEGENDARY FIGURE. YOU ALREADY HAVE A PURPOSE AND A PLACE IN THE WORLD'S DESIGN."
"But I don't like it."
"NEVERTHELESS. IT IS NOT THE JOB OF A LEGENDARY FIGURE TO FILL ANOTHER LEGENDARY FIGURE'S ROLE."
"Oh, tosh," Jack dismissed, reaching past Death to grab his discarded cocoa. "Santa's job is up for grabs once the old man kicks the bucket, and I happened to be around when that happened." He took a deep drink from the mug. "Mm, that is good."
"YOU ARE DRINKING MY COCOA."
"Legendary Figures are not allowed to take Santa's role," Curtis interjected, "That's why none of the elves can take the job, either. We're Legendary Figures in our own right, and it would unbalance the magic of Christmas if one of us took it." The room turned to look at him.
He pushed his glasses up his nose, suddenly self-conscious. "It's in the handbook," he muttered.
"Not to mention that you are the least qualified person to be Santa," Bernard said, crossing his arms.
Jack turned on him. "And what is that supposed to mean, you overgrown yes-man?"
Bernard raised his eyebrows. "Death would be a better Santa than you."
"THAT MAY BE," Death interrupted before the argument could spiral out of control. "BUT THE ISSUE OF YOU TAKING ON THIS ROLE IS STILL A PROBLEM."
He reached over and removed his mug from Jack Frost's hold.
"AND THIS IS MINE."
"Jack, there is no way we can allow you to keep this position," said Mother Nature. "The danger to the Spirit of Christmas aside, the Clause doesn't allow for magical interference when obtaining the suit."
"Ah, but it does," Jack said, turning away from the two of them towards Judy, "You, small lady elf, a hot chocolate, stat."
Judy scowled. Curtis and Bernard stiffened their stances. The two shot nervous glances at each other as Judy left to get the requested cup.
"What are you getting at, Frost?" Cupid cut in.
"Why that glorious little loophole called the Escape Clause. Ah!"
Judy returned with Jack's mug balanced on Abby's tray. He took it from her with an insincere grin.
"Thank you, my dear. And good job everyone, on managing to keep that little nugget of knowledge from me for so long. I would have used it ages ago if I knew I could."
The room was quiet for a long time.
"You," Bernard said weakly, trying to wrap his head around this, "...abused the Clause's safeguard to steal Santa's job?"
"I know, it's deliciously ironic, isn't it?"
"THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH IRONY."
"And this is not a game, boy," said Father Time. "I don't think you're prepared for what will happen if you keep this position."
"You mean all the fame and attention showered on the fat man? I'm more than ready for a piece of that," he laughed, taking himself and his cocoa to his new desk. He settled into the huge armchair and swung his legs onto the table. "If all you're here for is to tell me to give up this cushy new position, I'm afraid I'll have to let you down. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to get to work."
"You're not allowed to-," Bernard tried to object before Jack cut him off.
"Starting with you. You're fired."
Curtis' jaw dropped. Judy nearly dropped the tray. All Bernard could do was blink incredulously.
"I said you're fired. You irritate me. You," he pointed at Curtis. "You're his assistant, yes? Congratulations! You've been promoted. Now everyone out of my office."
"Jack, this is serious!" Mother Nature started, but Father Time stopped her with a gentle hand to her arm. He shook his head and motioned they should talk elsewhere. The Council took this as a sign they had not heard the last of the issue. The Tooth Fairy gently shook the Sandman awake as they all stood to leave.
"IF THERE IS NOTHING ELSE TO BE DONE HERE, I HAVE BUSINESS I MUST ATTEND TO," Death concluded, drifting his way towards the door.
"ONE LAST THING," he said, pausing beside Judy. "WOULD YOU MIND SHARING A COPY OF YOUR COCOA RECIPE WITH ME?" he asked.
Judy took a moment to register that the question was aimed at her, and quickly nodded in response. "Sure. Not a problem."
"THANK YOU. YOU CAN SEND IT THROUGH THE POST," he said, then left the room with the other Legendary Figures.
AN: Death based on Discworld's Death, because he is awesome. Specifically, from the Hogfather movie, because Merry Christmas/Happy Hogswatch.