Actions

Work Header

Elf Hugs For Christmas

Work Text:

 



Justin sighs, slumped on the counter in the gas station's deserted store while snow falls outside in the night, blowing against the plate glass.

It's his own fault he's here on Christmas eve. He volunteered. But Marcia's got her kids, and José's got his parents. Justin's only got Aunt Myrtle, and she doesn't believe in Christmas, calls it "a crass commercial extravaganza". They never celebrated it, not once in the ten years since Justin came to live with her after his parents died in the plane crash.

It's not that Aunt Myrtle's a bad person, she's just kind of... serious, and although she took him in without complaint she'd never meant to have kids. She teaches and writes textbooks, dry, dusty tomes about economic history. Justin's not academic and he always felt he'd disappointed her, ending up in dead-end retail jobs like he has, first Starbucks, then Walmart, then here.

It's not what he thought he'd be doing. His dad was a pilot and Justin had wanted to be a pilot too, to fly, soaring way above everything like a bird. He can't think of that now, literally can't think about it or he gets panic attacks. Since his parents died when his dad's Cessna crashed in the Rockies, Justin's had a phobia about flying.

He makes himself get out from behind the counter to restock the snacks and candy section, sliding the small bags of overpriced nuts onto their metal prongs and straightening the boxes of cheap, waxy chocolates. There's not much needs doing—the cold and snow are keeping most people at home. Justin hopes they're cozy, sipping hot chocolate around fires and wrapping presents, but he knows some people won't be able to afford a fire, or presents, or hot chocolate. Maybe not even a home.

Justin’s not doing so well for himself, which is one reason he’s still living with Aunt Myrtle and working the night shift, which has slightly better pay rates. He feels like a failure compared to his friends from high school who all seem to have better jobs than him. He’s drifted away from them as they don’t have much in common anymore. He hates running into past classmates, sure they’re judging him, his crappy job, and his shabby chain-store clothes, finding him wanting.

Anyway, his old friends are all engaged or married and some have even started a family. Justin's never had a girlfriend, much to his aunt's despair. He’s just never been interested in sex, except maybe a little kissing. For a while, that confused him and he thought he must be gay, but he doesn't want sex with guys either, so he doesn't know what that means. He does dream of romantic kisses—close-mouthed and soft, not that nasty deep throat stuff with tongues. He dreams of cuddling, of being held. No one really touches him since his parents died—his aunt's nice enough but she's practical and brusque, not demonstrative. Sometimes he imagines being hugged when he’s trying to get off to sleep, but he doesn't think he's likely to find anyone who’d be satisfied just with that and he’s not anyone’s idea of a romantic hero—he's decidedly average-looking and the mustache and goatee he grew to look more sophisticated haven't been an unqualified success.

Justin's back at the cash register again and the gas station's still deserted. He's dozing on the counter, half asleep and dimly aware of the doorbell ringing, which sets the goddamn cheesy "Deck the Halls" musak tinkling. Justin's come to loathe it.

A voice mutters, "Oreo for Santa, Oreo for Santa". Must be someone planning to set out the usual offering of milk and cookies. He points vaguely at the cookie section and looks around but there's no one there. Then he sees... something... on the anti-shoplifting closed-circuit TV. Is that... a kid? In an elf suit? Justin guesses there’s an indulgent parent in the car outside, but then the kid’s at the counter and he's very much not a kid, his face that of a cheerful, slightly anxious young man about Justin’s age. But he's short. Like an elf. Justin looks outside for the car the guy must have come in. There's a sleigh. With reindeer. And what looks very much like Santa at the reins. He gapes and blinks, rubs his eyes, but nope, it's still there.

The...elf? Because what the fuck else can he call it, no, him. He has really pointy ears and a floppy blond forelock, not to mention the red and green elf suit. The elf stretches up on tiptoes and deposits four packets of Oreos and a tall plastic cup filled with cheap orange soda from the drink dispenser. He looks worried, quirking a half-smile and shrugging up at Justin. He’s really cute. Short, but cute.

"You don't know how this works, do you?" Justin says, because this isn't right, the offering for Santa’s all wrong with the nasty fake soda and the cookies sealed away in their factory packaging.

The elf looks chagrined and shakes his head. "It's my first day," he says, which, what?

Justin suddenly wants to know everything about him—where elves like him live because surely it's not the actual North Pole, what with global warming? Did he graduate from some sort of Christmas elf training course, or did he win a competition so as to be Santa's helper this year? Then Justin pushes all his questions aside because the guy, the elf, still looks worried, and that's not right. It's Christmas, and Santa's elves shouldn't be frowning or upset.

Okay, so Justin has to help him. He turns and gets the tall glass (it’s actual glass, not cheap plastic) that he uses for his own drinks and fills it with the full-cream milk he set aside to make himself a coffee later on, then he breaks open a cookie packet and shows the elf how to pull apart the halves and lick off the filling, before dunking it in the milk. The little guy's eyes light up and yeah, there's a merrier Christmas for you, right there.

Justin can't help but grin, and he can't stay back behind the counter like a schmuck with a stick up his ass, so he comes out, and then they're playing hide and seek all through the store and no fair, the elf's so much smaller and he can hide in all sorts of nooks and crannies, even in the freezer, which, elf, Christmas, snow and all that—he probably doesn’t even feel the cold. In the middle of the excitement, Justin accidentally calls him "Lil buddy".

The elf stops dead and asks, "How'd you know my name?"

"It's Buddy?"

"Yeah!"

"Well, you know my name,” Justin says, glancing down at his nametag, which is kind of beside the point but it settles the elf down because fair’s fair. Maybe it's that magic thing where names have power and the elf thinks Justin will have power over him. Justin doesn't want power over Buddy, or anyone. He just wants a friend, and ideally some hugs.

For a moment it hits him hard that he hasn't had this much fun for years, not since he was a kid. It sobers him, makes him feel sad and empty inside, and he goes back behind the counter where they share another Oreo and Justin tries not to think about his new friend leaving.

Inevitably, a horn blares out from Santa's sleigh—whoa, Santa's sleigh, and Justin's awed all over again. But then he just stands there staring, as Buddy hurriedly gathers up the Oreo packets and scampers to the door.

Justin's stomach clenches because of course Buddy's going. It's Christmas eve and goodness knows how many more households they still have to visit. Of course Buddy has to go. And Justin has to stay in this empty, fluorescent-lit box, peddling food with negative nutritional value, cheap commercial crap, and fossil fuels that are killing the planet. 

At the door, Buddy pauses and looks back. Justin eyes him sadly, trying to memorize every detail but knowing that in a day or two it'll seem like a dream. Maybe it is—maybe he's asleep with his head on the counter, snoring. Maybe he ate too much licorice and hallucinated.

Then Buddy jerks his head sideways at the sleigh outside. "You coming?" he asks, grinning, his eyes bright.

Justin doesn't hesitate because hell yeah he's coming! He skids around the end of the counter and runs for the door, flips the sign to "closed" and then he's outside, coatless, the cold and snow punching him in the throat, making him gasp. Buddy's having difficulty clambering into the sleigh with his hands full so Justin lifts him up and they're both laughing. Santa is, too, that classic hohoho belly-laugh, his eyes sharp under the fur-trimmed cap.

"A new recruit, excellent!" Santa says and Justin half falls into the back of the sleigh, up against Buddy, blown snow melting in his eyelashes now because it's not cold in the sleigh, it's warm and cozy and he fits his feet in among the brightly wrapped presents as Santa urges the reindeer on, Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and all, and the sleigh picks up speed but it must have inertial dampeners—he knows about those from streaming old episodes of Stargate Atlantis when the gas station's quiet—so there's hardly any sense of movement and no risk of being thrown out as they soar into the snowy night sky, the sleigh spiraling up above the gas station down below.

Buddy passes Santa a few cookies from the open package and Santa crams them into his mouth and chews with relish, getting crumbs in his beard and making appreciative noises. For a second Justin worries about the life he's left behind, but Santa gets mail so he must be able to send it, too. He's got to be part of the Universal Postal Union and Justin will be able to drop his aunt a note so she doesn't worry about him. He decides not to fret about it.

"Hey, Buddy, you want a hug?" Justin asks his friend because he’s suddenly sure he can ask for anything. He can have anything.

Buddy turns, grinning up at Justin from under his lashes. "I'd like that," he says, a little shy, and then his arms are around Justin's waist and Justin wraps his own arms around Buddy and holds him, tight but not crushing, aware of how much bigger he is.

"Oh, man, I've been wanting a really good hug for so long," Justin whispers.

Buddy snuggles into his chest. "I know—it’s why we came. It's your Christmas wish."

"Don't I get three wishes?" Justin teases, but he suddenly shivers, afraid that after the hug he'll find himself back at the counter, waking up from a doze. His arms tighten around Buddy; he's never letting go.

Buddy pulls back slightly and looks up at him fondly, and Justin feels a little better. He thinks Buddy probably knows everything—about Justin's parents, and Aunt Myrtle, and his loneliness, and his fear of...

"Wait, I don't fly," Justin says, swiveling to peer out into the darkness and the snow swirling over and around without touching them. He lets go of Buddy, who looks up at him, enquiring. "I'm terrified of flying," Justin says, baffled. "It's, like, this phobia I've got."

"Not anymore, not here," Buddy says softly. "And, sure, you can have three wishes. What else d'you want, apart from hugs?"

"I want to stay," Justin says fiercely. "With you. If... if that's okay?" Buddy positively beams, so it looks like it is. Emboldened, Justin says, "And I want to learn to fly the sleigh!"

In the front seat Santa chortles, turns, and beckons Justin to change places with him. Santa clambers cheerfully into the back where he pounces on the Oreo packets and grabs another fistful. "About time I had a designated driver," he says. "Now I can drink eggnog as well as milk."

For a moment, Justin's hands falter on the reins and he's filled with fear of the night, the rushing snow, of how high up they are, and how small all the houses are below them. Then Buddy climbs into his lap and puts his hands on Justin's, helping him keep the reindeer steady.

Buddy's a warm weight against Justin and Justin's arms are around him, their hands entwined. He bends down and kisses Buddy's temple, right by his forelock. Buddy turns, smiling, and kisses Justin on the cheek. Justin's heart swells. It's Christmas, and it's magic, and they can make wishes come true.

The abandoned, snow-swirled gas station and its empty forecourt fall away behind them as Justin and Buddy guide the sleigh up and away in a great, wild arc, past the second star to the right, and straight on 'til morning.