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[RPF] The Most Wonderful Time of the Year [1/3]
Cheese
zodgory
Summary: Tom works as a mall elf. Chris works at Footlocker. What starts out as initial antagonism turns into a comfortable friendship.

A/N: Basically inspired from this tumblr post. And when I say "inspired," I mean that I dropped other things I was messing with and started working on this.
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“Aren’t you a little tall to be an elf?”

Tom plasters on the smile he puts on for the more “precious” children and whips his head in the direction of the voice that asked the question. It’s a guy around the same age as him sporting the trademark striped uniform of a Footlocker employee. Except what’s usually an ill-fitting, baggy shirt on others is well-fitted to the guy’s built form (the sight nearly makes him want to fling off his green vest and traditionally peppermint striped tights in indignation).

“Don’t you have some overpriced commission for a ludicrously colored pair of sneakers to be chasing?” bites back Tom a bit sharper tone than intended. The holidays are a trying time of the year.

The other guy’s dirty blond eyebrows shoot up towards his hairline as he unfolds his thick arms to raise his hands in a calming manner. “Whoa, sorry there. Didn’t mean to jingle your bells,” he says apologetically while his mouth tilts into a little half-smile that Tom supposes he’s supposed to take as a gesture of “everything’s all good now.”

If anything, it only serves to irk him even further, and he straightens up from the beige wall he had been leaning against for the duration of his absurdly short lunch break. Taking a deep breath, he avoids the voice of reason in the back of his head, marches his way closer to the shoe salesman (and does not jingle, thank you very much) and grudgingly notes how the other guy is a bit taller than him (by only a little so it shouldn’t really matter, and Tom still has his pointy cap on which gives him a slight advantage, yet it does).

“Well you did so happen to rustle my wreath so please excuse me as I go back to spreading holiday cheer to those not dressed as reject referees,” states Tom in the falsely cordial voice he has taken to adapting more often than not considering the general age of his customers. He then exhales before giving the guy a curt nod of the head and turning on his heel to make it back to Santa’s village.

Before he’s out of earshot, he hears the other guy mutter, “Poor bastard,” but chooses to ignore it. With any luck, he’ll never run into that guy again.

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“I really am sorry if I offended you last time,” says an oddly familiar voice.

Tom looks up from the stale 7-11 doughnut he had grabbed off the counter that morning in his rush to get out the door. Looking down at him with appropriately icy blue eyes is the Footlocker employee who is now sporting a puffy jacket from which the recognizable striped shirt peeks through the gap where it is unzipped.

For a second, Tom wants to play it coy so as to have the other man highlight what exactly he had said wrong in their last encounter. The idea dissipates quickly though, and he just sighs. “Your question probably didn’t warrant as much of the venom I slew back.”

The other guy shakes his quickly. “No, I get it. Long day dealing with swarms of overly excited kids and their parents. You finally get a moment of sanity just to have some guy rib you about your job.”  Done with his assessment, the sneakers salesman shoves his large hands in his pockets and withdraws his lips into his mouth.  The sight is rather endearing on such a big guy, but Tom simply shrugs his shoulders before taking a bite out of his bland dessert.

“It’s not the first time someone’s taken the piss,” comments Tom as he chews around his food in the hopes of having it taste better.

The other guy shrugs his shoulders in return. “Still feel bad about it,” he mutters in a low rumbling voice that somehow manages to make Tom’s toes curl inside of his already curled shoes. Then he seems to be digging around in the pockets of his insulated coat before holding out a sandwich bag containing some decorative holiday cookies.

“What’s this?” asks Tom with a raised brow as he inspects the offered treats. Smiling Santas and Frostys peer at him alongside festive trees, ornaments and snowflakes. The inside of the bag is slightly fogged, indicating their freshness. His mouth involuntarily waters at the sight.

The bag shakes as the fellow mall employee leans in closer. “You know. ‘Tis the season for giving and all that. And from the looks of it, that doughnut’s not exactly brightening your day.”

Tom can’t argue this last point, so despite the fact that he has only known this man in passing for two days (much less does he even have a name), he takes the bag. Picking out a snowflake-shaped cookie, he bites into it carefully only to smile broadly as the sugar cookie makes contact with his taste buds. He promptly nibbles on the rest of it and thanks the other man through a full mouth.

This time it’s Footlocker’s turn to nod his head before checking his watch, saying a hurried farewell and leaving. Tom’s content with the fact that running into the other man won’t be as awkward as before. In fact, it will be quite excellent as long as he keep bringing such delicious cookies.
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“So how exactly does one become one of Santa’s Little Helpers?”

Tom swallows the swig of water he had just taken and wipes his mouth. “What’s with the curiosity about my employment? Are you looking for a change of pace? I’d be more than happy to trade places with you.”

Chris (as Tom has learned from their multiple shared lunch breaks together) shakes his head emphatically which causes his loose bun to swing from side to side. “No thanks mate. Don’t think I can pull off those tights as good as you,” he says while gesturing at Tom’s long legs which stretch out from beneath his coat.

“Oh, come on,” eggs Tom in a complimentary tone. “You pull off stripes good enough if I do say so myself.”

Chris’ cheeks flush, and he purposefully takes a bite out of his chicken salad sandwich. After swallowing, he says, “Come on. I’m just really curious is all what with you being so ‘vertically gifted’ and beyond what I thought the requirements for a mall elf would ask for.”

“And thus continues the fascination with my height,” continues Tom teasingly as he wags a finger at Chris. “But to answer your question, I guess I owe a lot to Buddy the elf.” His eyes roll slowly at the name and settle on to Chris’ only to be met by confusion.

“Who?”

Tom’s eyebrows quirk together, and he tilts his head at Chris. “You know. Six foot something, curly headed Will Ferrell as a human who was raised as a Christmas elf?”

Chris merely shakes his head slowly. “I’m afraid I really have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Have you never really seen Elf? I took it as some sort of modern holiday classic due to the amount of times it gets replayed over at Radioshack.”

“Can’t say I have. Sounds like something a bit more mature than my nieces would watch. And as for me, I’ll stick to A Christmas Story,” replies Chris.

“What about that summary sounded inappropriate for children?”

“The fact that Will Ferrell’s a man-child in nearly every one of his films, and that’s not the sort of behavior I will be having my angelic nieces imitate,” states Chris in a matter-of-fact tone.

The image of Chris looking after little golden-haired children flits through Tom’s head. It’s a rather endearing image that actually isn’t as farfetched as Chris’ size would have one believe.

“It may be the one film where such developmentally arrested behavior is actually appropriate,” says Tom as an afterthought. “Though now that I think about it, he may be hamming it up a bit more than what’s needed.”

Chris nods along in agreement though he has no basis for Tom’s assessment. Tom appreciates it nonetheless. “Well if it makes you feel better, I don’t think you fit the role of a screaming man-child.”

“Thanks,” replies Tom dryly as he fiddles with the buttons on his threadbare coat. “But to those who know me, I have been described as bit of an overgrown child.”

Rather than laughing at him, as he expected, Chris slides his mouth to one side of his face and hunches his shoulders together. “Well there’s holding on to childlike wonder, imagination, and fearlessness, and then there’s running around like a bloody idiot who throws screaming tantrums at the drop of a hat.” One of Chris’ hands clasp Tom on the shoulder, and the Brit almost feels the warmth of those thick fingers seeping through the shoulder. “And you’re definitely not the latter,” finishes Chris.

Now it’s Tom’s turn to flush (which he will attribute to the cold). He quickly rolls his shoulders (which dislodges the hand) and cranes his head from shoulder to shoulder, satisfied at the crack he hears. Glancing down at his watch, his eyes widen at the time, and he leaps up.

“Oh, Christ! I’ve got to get back now!”

Chris leaps to his feet as well and fishes out the little Ziploc of homemade cookies. Ever since their second meeting, Chris had seen to it to give Tom the seasonal treats. The mall elf tried politely refusing, but the shoe salesman had been insistent to the point of stuffing them into Tom’s puffed out green shorts. Resistance after then had basically been non-existent as Tom did find the cookies to be a delightful treat. They also happen to add to the sparse contents of his stomach.

“Don’t forget your cookies,” he reminds in what might be a light tone but comes out as rather earnest.

“Of course not,” says Tom as he takes them and places them in his own pocket. He smiles brightly at Chris. “These really get me through the day.”

“Gl-glad to hear,” comments Chris with a smile.

Then Tom is off to assist Santa in the spreading of holiday cheer having been given some from his unexpected acquaintance turned friend.

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“You know you’ve got some really poor eating habits for such a svelte guy,” comments Chris through his ham sandwich.

Tom slows his chewing of the stale powdered doughnuts he had found nestled in the back of the cabinet that morning to half-heartedly glare at Chris. “Excuse me that not everyone can still have their lunches lovingly packed for them by mum, but some of us have to make due, and I am not subjecting myself to the food court.” He finishes swallowing with the help of some water. “And I’ll have you know that I have something of an uncontrollable sweet tooth so this suits me just fine.”

Chris finally gulps and blinks a few times in rapid succession before finally responding. “First of all, it’s my sister-in-law and not my mum,” he states with a slight smirk. “Secondly, I was just making an observation.”

“You’re very fond of those,” teases Tom as he reaches for another doughnut. His fingers only run into clumps of powder, and he glances down with a frown to see that the small box is indeed empty. With an internal pout, he crumples the box as best he can and tosses it towards the nearby trash receptacle. It doesn’t go into the small hole but lands on the surface which irritates him more than if he had missed completely. Before he can get up to throw it away properly though, Chris rises from their shared bench and properly disposes of the box.

“Oh, thank you,” says Tom in a dazed voice. Once again, going completely against the first impression set by their first meeting, Chris has proven to be a very nice bloke.

Chris simply shrugs before holding out the second half of his untouched sandwich.

Tom looks between the sandwich and Chris several times in confusion. “What’s this now?”

“It’s a bar of soap,” answers Chris sarcastically. “What else do you think it is? I’m just offering you the rest of my sandwich, mate.”

Tom’s eyebrows furrow together at the display. The cookies were one thing but this…He wants to deny the gesture, but a slight ache in his stomach reminding him that breakfast crackers don’t make an adequate breakfast tell him otherwise. Still…

“Are you sure?”

Chris gives him that little lopsided smile of his which has a different effect on Tom not unlike the sensation in his stomach. “It’s no problem. My nieces are always sneaking extra goodies into my lunch, so I’m good.”

With that, Tom takes the cellophane wrapped sandwich and unravels it to get to the food within. Taking a bite out of what he thought was going to be a simple ham and cheese sandwich, he barely suppresses the moan of pleasure as unexpected flavors hit his tongue. He rolls his eyes upward and tries not to devour the rest of the sandwich right then and there. “Mmmmm! What is this?”

Chris’ smile is absolutely smug now. “It’s good, right? Luke’s wife’s a chef. She likes experimenting with new things for her favorite people.”

Tom can only nod in agreement to this as he makes quick work of the rest of the sandwich. “You do know this means that I’m going to be swiping your lunch everyday like some playground bully just to get a taste of whatever delicious morsel you’ve brought.”

“Or I could just divvy it up with you and avoid such a mess,” suggests Chris with a smile.

“Or…that too,” replies Tom slowly and also returns the smile. This friend has definitely brought him some practical benefits. Though he wouldn’t mind for the other kind either.

His smile falters a fraction as his conscious mind catches up to that thought. Where did that come from?

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“So what are your holiday plans?”

Tom mentally sighs at the question though he had been expecting to hear it eventually. It was one of those standard small talk questions they had somehow never broached. He fiddles with his little striped cap before answering. “Probably curled up on the couch with a warm bowl of noodles, while watching It’s A Wonderful Life or whatever other holiday classic happens to be playing on basic television.”

Chris frowns at the answer. “No family over here?”

“Afraid not,” answers Tom as he externalizes the sigh. “And I’m afraid I don’t have quite enough for a plane ticket home either.”

“What about your roommate?”

This question prompts a fond smile to settle over Tom’s face as he thinks of Ken. Eccentric Ken with his active social life and busy work schedule who only took on a roommate for the company as he could actually afford the rent on his own. Of course, Tom had insisted on paying some part of the rent and on buying his own groceries. The latter demand had of course come to bite him in the butt but overall he was quite content with his living situation.

“He’ll be spending it with his various friend circles before ultimately visiting his children for the duration of the holiday,” answers Tom distantly as he starts to imagine himself falling asleep in front of some new animated short trying to become a classic. “What about you?”

Chris shrugs his shoulders in that slight way that Tom has become accustomed to. Considering that he’s wearing that faux referee shirt, it takes on another level of amusing.

“Spending it with my landlord and his beautiful family,” replies Chris.

“You mean your brother,” inserts Tom quickly.

Chris smiles at him cheerily and flicks at the little bell positioned at the top of Tom’s pointed cap causing it to ‘jingle’ ever so lightly. “Ten points to Gryffindor for paying attention!”

Tom tugs his cap away while blowing air out of his mouth that causes his lips to vibrate. “Psssh. I would not be a Gryffindor.”

Chris’ head tilts to the side as he leans back on their shared bench. His eyes narrow as if scrutinizing him, and Tom resists the urge to fidget and instead aims a winning smile full of teeth back at him. “You’re right,” says Chris as he rubs his chin that has inklings of golden fuzz sprouting up. He straightens up and light heartedly pats Tom on his candy striped thigh. “Definitely a Hufflepuff.”

Tom doesn’t give him the satisfaction of ruffling and instead sidles closer, eliminating whatever semblance of space had been between them. “You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

“It’s the leftovers house!” argues Chris.

“Spoken with true Gryffindor bravado,” muses Tom with a shake of his head.

Blue eyes roll at him as Chris chuckles good naturedly. “Whatever,” he says, and it’s as his hand reflexively squeezes they both realize that Chris’ hand is still firmly placed on Tom’s leg. It quickly slides off before either can acknowledge it with a glance, and Chris clears his throat suddenly.

“So yeah, we’ll probably just go to Mass out of habit and then come back to enjoy a nice luncheon before the nieces get to tear through their presents. Then we’ll Skype my parents and my little brother to wish ‘em a good day as well.”

Tom nods along with this, making a mental note to do the same with his mom and sisters. He keeps in pretty regular contact with his mom, but this mall gig has limited his sparse hours of contact with her even more, so it would come as a wonderful gift to have him check up on her. Then his stomach-controlled mind latches on to one particular detail.

“When you say ‘luncheon’ do you mean that—“

Chris holds up a finger. “Sorry but Luke handles the holidays so as to give Sam an extra day off. He still cooks a mean turkey though.”

“Pity,” comments Tom even though his stomach nearly rumbles at the thought of being fed a proper holiday meal rather than the noodles he’ll be scarfing down.

“But she is making some appetizers and a side dish which I usually stuff myself with,” continues Chris as he looks off to a point beyond Tom’s head. The dazed look in his eyes make it seem as if he is already picturing the scrumptious meal which only serves to actually make Tom’s stomach growl in preemptive jealousy.

Tom frowns at the sensation and places his cap back on top of his unruly head of curls. He straightens out his vest, tugs down his own striped shirt and swipes off the imagined wrinkles in his puffy, green shorts. With a sigh, he arises from the bench and stretches out his long limbs with his arms clasped above his head. “Well make sure to send me a picture. Perhaps I can fill my stomach through osmosis.”

Chris, who had snapped out of his daze, watches him with a twinkle of something in his eye. Then an uncharacteristically unsure smile splays across his face. “You know…you’re always welcome to come over and indulge…with us that is.”

Tom’s eyes widen, and he nearly sits back down from surprise. He rocks back and forth on his feet instead. “Th-that is very gen—” He stops himself to anxiously bite his bottom lip. The offer is tempting but…“I-I don’t want to impo—” Then again…He scratches behind an ear and stops rocking. “Are you sure?”

Chris’ smile widens into something steadier. “It’s fine! Despite Luke’s intentions Sam always manages to make more than enough, and it’s not like the girls eat like Tasmanian Devils.” The Aussie claps his hands on his thighs and rises as well. “I just don’t want you spending the holiday alone, you know?” An arm sliding across his shoulder to give him a companionable squeeze accompanies the sentiment (moments like these really boost Tom’s spirits as it really isn’t everyday that someone can easily sling an arm around his shoulders).

Tom looks at Chris, who smiles so surely at him, and feels a warmth from within that can’t be attributed to the mall heating. He thinks about the lazy day he had “planned” and how it would most assuredly dissolve into him passing out on the couch with Ken bursting through the door in a joyous mood the next morning to wake him up. Spending the day with a familiar, friendly face (even if it was a friend he had made for about a few weeks) would do him a world of good as he really wasn’t fond of the idea of being alone. And having ravenously consumed all of Samantha Hemsworth’s creations only convinced him further that his stomach would thank him dearly for it.

He finally nods to Chris. “I would love to.”

The next instant he is being encompassed by the broader man’s body as Chris releases a hearty “WOO!” and gives him a full body squeeze. Tom’s nearly knocked off his feet and hears rather than sees his cap get knocked off. Chris then leans back so that the two of them are steadied, and Tom returns the hug with his own choppy pat on the back. Usually, he loves giving hugs but being caught so unawares has momentarily left him blindsided. Random mall patrons merely give the pair of them a glance (though he thinks he imagines some teen girls looking at the both of them with disappointment) so busy are they in their holiday shopping.

Finally getting his bearings enough to return the hug properly, Tom chuckles next to Chris’ ear. “Shouldn’t I be the one overwhelming you with physical thanks?” He gets a tighter squeeze for that and instinctively clings closer as he’s not opposed to the contact. Quite the opposite really.
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Part Two

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