Nicholas North held a trembling crying young man in his arms.
He might be 300 years old but, like Peter Pan, he would never quite grow up.
He was a boy who had experience something terrible. And Nicholas wondered if he would ever recover.
It was Jack's favorite tooth spritelet that had woken Nicholas from his sleep in the middle of the night. It was the evening after Thanksgiving and his young friend slept in an empty guest room.
Her urgency roused him and he slipped quickly from his bed.
"What is it?" his wife mumbled, trying to pull herself from sleep.
"I'm sure it's nothing," he assured her as he pulled on his boots, "go back to sleep." She'd been only half awake and was back under the sandman's spell almost as soon as the assurance was out of his mouth.
"Now, show me," Nicholas commanded the little fairy and she whizzed away.
He found Jack in his bed, tossing, and was galvanized into action when he heard the soft anguished cry. He crossed the room in two large steps and leaned over the boy.
"Jack?" he called. "Jack."
Jack did not respond, and Nicholas found himself disturbed to see twin tracks of tears down the boy's face.
He took him by the shoulders and shook him firmly. "Jack!"
Jack gave a short gasp and his eyes opened, but they were still unseeing.
Caught between his nightmare and the waking world and stripped of his usual defensive disregard, Jack's lip began to tremble.
Nicholas might not have any children of his own but he had enough love to cover all the children of the world and he crouched and pulled the boy to him with a sigh.
Jack was trembling violently, though Nicholas doubted it was from the chill in the room, and when he heard the softest sob against his robe he knew his guess had been right.
"There now," he said, patting Jack's head once with his brawny hand, "you are safe. Everything is okay."
Jack did not acknowledge him for a long while and Nicholas found himself wondering sadly at how long the Spirit of Winter had been alone. When was the last time he'd been cared for. Did he even remember having a father? And, what nightmare plagued him so?
And this is where Nicholas found himself, holding a distressed young Jack in the protective circle of his arms and wondering if there was anything he could do to help him heal. How tragic was it that a spirit of Joy should be so damaged?
After a time the trembling stopped and Nicholas felt resistance against his arms as Jack tried to pull away. Nicholas let him.
Jack would not meet his eyes, staring instead at the floor as he wiped away the last of his tears.
"North, I'm sor-"
"No!" interrupted Nicholas, "No sorry. Not here."
Jack's eyes raised and he looked Nicholas with unguarded gratitude.
Nicholas reached out and ruffled Jack's white hair before resting a fatherly hand on his shoulder.
"You know, you are safe and welcome here, Jack. Always."
Jack nodded, though Nicholas doubted he understood the full implications of what the other Guardian had just said.
Nicholas smiled kindly at Jack and pressed a kiss to his forehead, "Good, now sleep."
Eyes still shining with gratitude, Jack slid back under the covers and closed his eyes. Nicholas closed the door beside him and returned his room.
Nicholas North, Father Christmas, might not have any children but he found he loved Jack Frost like a son. And he knew then as he slipped back into bed that if he could help it, the nightmares would end.