Pairing: Ryan/Brendon (Pete/Patrick)
Disclaimer: Sadly not real, or I would so be there.
Summary: Christmas time at the mall sucks, especially for those who work there. Brendon has given up on Christmas, Ryan is uptight, and Jon just wants to help.
A/N: Written for pfor for santaatthedisco! I really love this, so I hope you do too! Merry Christmas, everyone!
Word Count: 13,239
Everything is decked out in green and red, gold, accents of silver draped around every winding staircase, stuffed into every window display. Santa hats perch on top of the stuffed animals in the toy shop and children clinging to their parents’ hands point and cry out in joy as they pass. Children gather to watch the train in the window chug round and round on its tracks.
Outside the many glass doors that lead into the large shopping mall, snow is coming down in light flakes. It settles on the sidewalk, where soon, a mall worker will spread salt to melt it all away. Through the tinted glass, it looks like night but it’s really mid-Friday morning and the snow will come down for a lot longer time to come.
There’s a sort of line stringing out from the coffee shop in the middle of the rotunda and Jon can see the barista there – he’s new and Jon’s not really sure of his name – making some holiday drink, capped with enough whipped cream to put even Brendon into a coma.
Jon’s own little shop is empty at the moment, but it won’t be for long. The holidays are very good for business.
Another line interrupts the coffee shop’s as it winds out from the huge display set up directly in the center of the rotunda. From the floors above, it looks like an explosion of holly and fir trees tied with red ribbons. Fake reindeer guard the entrance to the line and a pudgy man dressed in all green down to his jingling feet and up to his jauntily-perched elf’s hat, stands there as well, stopping over-eager children and attempting to cheer up the few that bawl their eyes out the closer they get.
Jon has been watching the line for a good half an hour in which several frazzled mothers have attempted to get decent pictures of their children with Santa.
It’s a bit of a joke, Jon thinks, eyeing the Santa Clause selected for this year. He appreciates the idea, though, and can’t help but smile as he watches a little boy struggle in his mother’s grip and kick Santa’s shin before scurrying out of the line.
“Laughing at someone’s misery?”
Jon turns as a dull voice reaches his ear. His friend, Brendon, is standing in the door opening, staring out at Santa and the elf, who try to wrangle the children as best they can while the parents clearly ignore all that is happening.
“Cheer up, Bren,” Jon says, hopping up onto the counter beside the register and gesturing Brendon forward.
Brendon just sighs and slides up to the counter, letting Jon hug his shoulders. As he watches Brendon, he can see the resigned sadness in his eyes, the I-wish-it-were-spring-already look. Why? Because Brendon’s birthday is in spring, and because Christmas is not.
Brendon goes through it every year, and every year, Jon doesn’t mention it. It usually starts in mid-November and lasts through early January.
“How’s business?” he asks instead of telling Brendon that it’s okay to miss home, that a lot of people don’t go home, can’t go home.
Brendon sort of shrugs and gazes out the large opening to the rotunda where the line for Santa is getting longer and the coffee line is getting shorter.
“People like puppies for Christmas, but they’re not really a good gift.”
Jon wishes the old Brendon would come back. The holidays always do this to him. Jon hasn’t yet figured out how to cheer him up.
“How’s that beagle puppy you guys got in?” Jon asks, continuing his attempt at distraction.
Brendon isn’t watching the children anymore, but the coffee stand instead. The line has dwindled and two boys are standing around talking now. One Jon knows is Spencer, but he’s never met the other.
“She’s sweet,” Brendon says finally, “but she’s kind of old. No one will want her.”
“Come on, Brendon,” Jon says, sliding off the counter and giving him a light squeeze around the shoulders. “That’s not the spirit. Someone will want her.”
Brendon shrugs. “We got the cutest kittens in, though. They’re so adorable. I want one.”
Laughing, Jon grabs Brendon’s arm and leads him out the door. “You can’t. Your apartment barely fits you let alone the two cats you already have.”
“You should get one then,” Brendon says sincerely, letting Jon steer him over to the coffee shop. “You only have one. Dylan needs a playmate.”
“Maybe,” Jon says, just to pacify him. “Now, I’m buying you coffee to cheer you up.”
“I don’t need cheering up,” Brendon protests, but doesn’t stop as Jon shoves him to the counter.
“You need something,” Jon mutters and doesn’t elaborate upon Brendon’s furrowed eyebrows. “So order some caffeine and go back and sell that beagle. She needs a good home.”
“You should buy her!”
Jon shakes his head but smiles. “Bren, you know I can’t.”
Brendon sighs again but turns to the counter and stares up at the menu for a second even though Jon knows he’s going to get the same thing he always does. Instead, he smiles at Spencer, who is waiting at the cash register.
“Hey, Jon,” Spencer greets him, glancing up from his phone where he’s probably been text messaging his girlfriend.
“Spence,” Jon replies, glancing at the new barista. He’s standing sort of apart from them, looking Brendon over and then taking in Jon as well. His eyes slide over Brendon’s skinny jeans, his messy hair, his black-rimmed glasses, and patterned shirt. Jon finds it odd but says nothing.
“Your usual?” Spencer mumbles, still typing into his phone.
“Yep,” Jon agrees and Spencer nods, lingering one more second before going to start Jon’s drink.
The new barista hesitates a second and then approaches the register as Brendon sighs and glances down. The sad frown only lasts a second as Brendon catches sight of the new guy.
Jon sees a smile spread across his face slowly as he blinks.
“Hi,” Brendon says, his voice uplifting already.
“Uh, hi,” the new kid sort of mutters, but after a sharp look from Spencer, clears his throat. “What can I get you?”
Brendon pauses, leaning forward over the counter and the new barista takes a step back almost instinctively.
“What’s good here?”
Jon bites his lip to stop from laughing. Brendon knows what’s good there. He’s been working at the pet shop in the mall for nearly two years and the coffee shop is his favorite drink place in it. Mostly because it’s right across from Jon’s shop.
The barista pauses and looks around vaguely. “We have a holiday candy cane coffee, or gingerbread lattes or…”
Brendon’s face is falling again at the mention of more holiday-related things. Jon knows it doesn’t help that the counter on which he’s leaning is plastered with fake snowflakes and holly leaves. A Christmas CD is on display next to the register and coffee mugs with happy snowmen on them are for sale in a rack beside that.
“I’ll just have a caramel frappuccino,” Brendon mutters instead, glancing away from the barista and meeting Jon’s eyes for a moment.
Jon frowns, wishing he could do more for Brendon than he does. The barista looks a little confused at the sudden change in Brendon, but nods and makes the drink.
“Here,” Spencer says, handing Jon his drink, his eyes once more glued to his phone as he types in a response.
“Who’s the new guy?” Jon asks and Spencer barely glances up.
“Ryan. I got him the job.”
“You know him?”
“He’s my best friend.” Spencer has finally tucked away the phone if only for a minute and glances over at Ryan, who’s frowning at the mixer as he tries to remember what goes into the frappuccino. “He needed a job.” Spencer pauses and casts a glance at Brendon, who’s hanging morosely on the counter, watching the long line to Santa. The elf at the front of the line looks tired as he helps a little girl onto Santa’s lap. “Something wrong with him? What, his favorite puppy get bought?”
“Spencer.” Jon frowns. Sometimes Spencer can be insensitive without meaning to.
Spencer sighs and glances at his phone as it vibrates. “He’s just not his usual self.”
“No, he’s not,” Jon agrees, sighing as Brendon continues to watch Santa.
The clock in the store rings noon and Jon looks up as a round of Jingle Bell Rock comes on over the loudspeakers and fake snow begins to fall in the rotunda. It happens everyday at noon, and as much as Jon loves Christmas, he’s beginning to hate that song. It reminds him of Mean Girls.
Brendon sighs loudly and turns as Ryan approaches with his drink.
“Thanks,” he says, quirking a small smile that Ryan seems puzzled at as Brendon takes the drink and takes a sip, closing his eyes and smiling contently for the first time in the past hour.
Ryan just stares and Brendon opens his eyes, frowning again at the line and turning to Jon. “I have to get back. I only had a ten minute break.”
“Okay,” Jon agrees. “Don’t work too hard.”
Brendon smiles slightly and shakes his head.
“Hug a kitten for me.”
Brendon nods and leaves with only a quick glance back at Ryan, who still looks confused.
Jon watches Brendon lope past the elf, who is shaking his head and silently praying to the heavens as a little girl cries on Santa’s lap.
Turning, he opens his mouth to say something to Spencer, but Spencer’s attention is back on his phone and Ryan is still frowning after Brendon, so Jon just shrugs and heads back to his store.
The elf looks thoroughly exhausted at seven o’clock when Santa’s assistant announces that Santa has to go home and feed the reindeer to the remaining people in line and they’re herded away to return the next day.
Jon watches from behind his counter where he fiddles with one of his cameras, cleaning the lens and getting ready to pull up a customer’s photos and format them into a Christmas card. Santa is sitting in his throne-like chair, his long white beard scraggly now and his hat crooked over his dark, shiny hair. Jon would say he’s about twenty years too young to be Santa, but he didn’t do the hiring.
“Ho ho ho!” Santa cries, standing up from his chair and waving to the passing people. “Looks like Rudolph is getting hungry. I’d like to thank the best elf ever for helping out today. Patrick!”
The elf gives Santa a tired look but smiles slightly at the grin he receives.
No one is listening as Santa talks and Jon laughs as a little kid runs from out of nowhere and kicks Santa in the shins again. Santa doubles over and the elf comes over, laughing, and helps him off to the side and into the back.
Jon shakes his head and sets the camera aside, pulling up the photos he’s taken that day. Most of them are of children in fussy Christmas clothes – red dresses, green suits, dressed as poinsettias. A few are of families and happy couples posed in front of a fake Christmas scene complete with Christmas tree and fake presents.
As Jon messes with the photos, choosing the best one, his eyes stray to the coffee stand. There are still people hanging around it, but there is no line at the moment. Ryan and Spencer are there, leaning against the counter and talking nonchalantly.
Jon pauses for a second, watching them. He knows Brendon saw something in Ryan today, even if the nonspirit of the holidays erased it within seconds.
Jon’s reflection is cut off as two people appear in the doorway to the studio. It’s the elf, or rather, Patrick, and Santa, also known as Pete.
“Hey, guys,” Jon greets them, closing out the photos he’s been working on. “How was the crowd today? It looked a little dicey at times.”
“I’m in mourning for my shins,” Pete complains, hobbling inside while Patrick just smiles and follows after him, collapsing on the low waiting couch while Jon spins around in his chair.
Jon just laughs. “I still can’t believe you’re Santa.”
“I am totally Santa,” Pete protests. “The kids love me!”
“Except the one the screamed bloody murder the moment she was put on your lap,” Jon points out and Pete frowns and rubs the back of his head.
“Took a piece of my hair with her, that one did.”
Jon laughs again and Pete just shrugs.
“It’s not so bad, though. I’ve got the best elf in the world.”
Patrick sighs but lets Pete nuzzle into him. “I can’t believe I let you talk me into this.”
“You’re my magical Patrick Elf!” Pete says firmly, smiling into Patrick’s neck. “I need you there.”
Patrick sighs again but still smiles when he rolls his eyes. He looks instead to Jon, trying to ignore Pete’s wandering hands.
“How are things going?”
“The Christmas special is a big hit,” Jon replies, glancing at the giant poster plastered over the outside window advertising two eight by twelve prints, a Christmas letter card, and ten wallet-sized photos.
“We should get our picture done, Patrick!” Pete exclaims, pulling away excitedly. “For the Christmas card!”
“What card?” Patrick asks uneasily.
“The Christmas letter, of course!” Pete says as though Patrick should already know and have it typed up.
“Oh, right, the Christmas letter,” Patrick repeats, shrugging at Jon, who just grins.
Pete and Patrick have been together for a little under a year, but Patrick should expect things like this from Pete, especially considering how they’d gotten together.
Pete had taken to stalking Patrick at his job in the Hallmark store, buying inordinate amounts of holiday cards when there were no holidays in sight. He’d bought a blank card and written “marry me” in it and slipped it into Patrick’s bag one day. The next few months had been spent trying to convince Patrick that he was serious and not just crazy.
In the end, Patrick hadn’t accepted the proposal, but he had agreed to date Pete to at least get him out of the card store.
“I can do that for you guys if you want,” Jon offers and Pete’s eyes light up.
“You are the best friend ever!” he cries, jumping up and hugging Jon tightly.
Jon just laughs and pats his back until he finally pulls away and rounds back to Patrick on the couch.
“Yeah, stop by tomorrow and I’ll get you guys in.”
“Totally! We’ll come by after Santa’s done.”
“So does this mean I can get a direct wish to Santa Clause?”
Pete pauses. “Well, I do have connections. What do you want?”
Jon pauses, glancing out the window to where Ryan is fumbling through a latte for a customer in the coffee stand.
“Let me get back to you.”
“Do you think he’s cute?”
“Who?” Jon is focused on the computer, dragging a photo onto a happily festive card backing bordered with red holly berries.
“The new barista.” Brendon is looking carefully out the large front window of the studio at the coffee shop where Ryan is looking bored as he tops off a macchiato.
“Ryan? Sure, I guess,” Jon mutters, glancing up quickly. He really needs to finish this before the customer comes back in the hour he told them it would be done.
“Ryan?” Brendon repeats curiously, craning around again and biting his lip.
Pausing, Jon looks up, seeing the slightly hopeful uplift to Brendon’s expression. It doesn’t take him long to realize what Brendon is thinking. Careful not to be obvious, he lowers his head again, but continues watching Brendon carefully.
“He’s Spencer’s best friend.”
“Really?” Brendon sounds interested, and if it had been any other time of the year, Jon knows he would have been bouncing all over the store and chattering about how gorgeous Ryan was and how they were meant for each other – a taller, slightly more mature version of Pete and Patrick.
“Yeah. Spence said he needed a job.”
Brendon makes an interested noise and tilts his head to the side as he watches Ryan lean back against the counter and talk to Spencer, who has his cell phone out again and is texting while listening to Ryan.
“He makes good coffee.”
“That’s good,” Jon murmurs, losing sight of his goal for a second as he focuses on the card.
“I kinda want coffee right now,” Brendon says, glancing carefully at Jon, who merely nods, his eyes on the computer screen. “I’m gonna get some. You want your usual?”
“No,” Jon mutters, focused. “Just tell Ryan and Spencer hi for me.”
Jon looks up as he hears the slight upswing in Brendon’s voice, reminiscent of him before the holidays begin.
Brendon leaves the photo studio and crosses the rotunda, past where Santa and his faithful elf are dealing with a sick child. Brendon quickly averts his eyes and hurries past to the square little coffee stand.
Spencer is busy texting as he stands by the steamer and Ryan looks bored as he doodles on his hand with a pen. When Brendon approaches, though, he stops after a second and glances up through a curtain of brown hair. He doesn’t speak and waits for Brendon to say something.
Brendon bounces on the balls of his feet for a minute and looks around. The same bright, cheery sign offering their holiday specials mocks him from near the register and he bites his lip and looks away.
Ryan finally sighs and sets down the pen. “Can I help you?”
Brendon’s mouth upturns into a slight smile. “Yeah, can I have a cappuccino?”
Nodding, Ryan turns to start the machine, but Spencer looks up from his phone.
“Are you sure you should have those?”
“I can have coffee,” Brendon points out, pouting slightly. Just because caffeine is like a drug to him doesn’t mean he can’t have it. “Jon let me have coffee yesterday.”
“Yeah, yesterday you looked like someone killed your favorite kitten.”
“Not Clover!” Brendon cries, scandalized and looking back quickly to the pet shop where Vicky is perfectly, capably, taking care of the animals while Brendon is on lunch. “You’re mean.”
Spencer just rolls his eyes and looks at Ryan, who has paused in making the drink during the argument. “Don’t make it for him. He’ll go through the roof.”
“Hey, it’s my drink and my money,” Brendon argues. “If I want to bounce off the walls, I will. Make it for me, Ryan.”
Ryan looks surprised at Brendon knowing his name since he doesn’t even have a nametag yet, but goes on making the drink. Brendon sticks his tongue out childishly at Spencer, who just shakes his head and returns to texting.
“Thank you,” Brendon says, extra gratefully, when Ryan presents his drink and rings it up.
“Uh, you’re welcome,” Ryan replies slowly, obviously not sure what to do with Brendon. When Brendon takes his drink but doesn’t leave, and only smiles at Ryan, Ryan shifts carefully and glances at Spencer, who isn’t paying any attention, typing furiously into his phone. “So you work at the pet shop?” Ryan guesses and Brendon’s smile widens.
“Yep,” he confirms, glancing back to where Vicky is tapping her watch when he catches her eye. He’s five minutes late back to work already. “I play with kittens and puppies all day.”
“Sounds fun,” Ryan says, though his tone indicates it sounds anything but. He pauses, looking away from Brendon, who bounces slightly again, the caffeine kicking in.
“It’s really fun!” Brendon says excitedly. “Except when puppies don’t get sold and we have to give them to the shelter because no one wants old puppies.”
Ryan scratches the back of his neck awkwardly. “Yeah.”
Brendon waits another few seconds before downing the last of his coffee and tossing away the cup. “I should get back.”
Ryan just nods and Brendon throws him a dazzling smile before turning and heading back to the pet store where Vicky taps her foot menacingly.
Spencer doesn’t even look up from his phone as Brendon leaves and Ryan stares after.
“Don’t ever give him caffeine again.”
Ryan doesn’t reply but blinks and looks back to the counter where the holiday drinks sign cheerfully announces itself.
Spencer clears his throat and still doesn’t look up as he sends his text.
“And don’t break his heart.”
Ryan looks over sharply, but Spencer’s phone is away and he’s helping the next customer, leaving Ryan to puzzle over his words alone.
Technically, Brendon isn’t supposed to name the animals they get in, but he can’t resist when the little grey tabby kitten stares up at him through her large, amber eyes and mews quietly when he pets her. He immediately dubs her Clover and cuddles her when no one’s looking.
The pet shop gets busy around the holidays because people seem to think that buying a puppy for Christmas is a good gift and the novelty won’t wear off after a few weeks when the dog isn’t potty trained and won’t stop barking. Brendon hates watching the dogs leave with parents and knowing that they’ll come back in a few weeks, trying to return them as if they’re a department store and the puppy didn’t fit.
Brendon tries his best to match the puppies to actual owners who will love them as puppies and not as presents.
Brendon’s boss, Vicky, doesn’t say anything when Brendon scoops Clover from the plastic square cage and cuddles her when it’s slow. She doesn’t say anything when he lets the beagle puppy have a longer time in the circular imprint for playtime.
Jon visits Brendon on his breaks when Gerard has actually come out of the back to take photos instead of planning elaborate backdrops for the next holiday.
“This is Clover,” Brendon says upon Jon’s entrance, holding out the adorable little kitten and willing her to draw Jon in with her big eyes.
“She’s cute,” Jon comments, petting the kitten’s head and he hears a loud rumbling purr burst from the tiny ball of fluff.
“Dylan would love her,” Brendon says matter-of-factly, ignoring the fact that Jon isn’t even technically allowed to have one cat in his apartment, let alone two.
“Dylan loves drinking from the toilet,” Jon replies, laughing as Brendon shoves Clover at him and he’s obliged to take the kitten. He smiles as she purrs loudly and curls into his chest. “He loves just about everything.”
Brendon pouts slightly but knows Jon is caving if only slightly as he gazes down at Clover curled tightly against him.
“How’s the beagle?” Jon asks to distract Brendon from his quest to convince Jon to buy the kitten.
Brendon just sighs and glances to the back of the store where the puppies are mostly asleep in their plastic display cages. The beagle is near the front, snuffling into the plastic.
“Still here,” he replies sadly. “No one’s gonna want her, Jon.”
“Someone will,” Jon reassures him.
“But she’s already five months old. Soon she won’t be cute enough and people don’t want not-cute puppies.”
Jon sighs and strokes the kitten in his arms slowly. “You just have to find the right owner for her. I’m sure they’re out there.”
“They’re not in this mall,” Brendon mutters, grabbing another kitten out of the cage, a little orange and white one, and kisses its head. The kitten reaches out and clambers up Brendon’s shirt and Brendon winces as its tiny claws dig into his skin.
Pausing, Jon glances out the window. From the pet shop, they have a perfect view past the back of Santa’s little village and to the coffee shop across the rotunda. Jon can see Ryan there again, leaning against a counter.
He glances back at Brendon, who is struggling to tear the kitten off his shoulder.
“So how’s Ryan?”
“What?” Brendon asks, distracted as he plucks the kitten’s claws from his shirt one by one.
“Ryan, the new barista. You like him, right?”
Brendon’s head snaps up and he finally dislodges the kitten. Placing it back, he pauses. “He’s really cute.”
“Yeah,” Jon agrees, feeling Clover’s rumbling purr echo through his chest. “Have you talked to him?”
“Sort of,” Brendon admits, now watching Ryan carefully through the glass.
“You should again.”
“But what do I say?” Brendon asks helplessly. “He’s so much cooler than me. I mean, he works in the coffee shop.
Jon laughs. “So what? You work in the pet shop.”
“Yeah, but the coffee shop is so much cooler. You don’t have to clean up after puppies and you get free coffee.”
“I bet he’d give you free coffee if you asked nicely,” Jon points out and Brendon’s expression perks up.
Brendon looks as though he’s contemplating it and then shakes his head. “No, he’s too cool. He won’t like me.”
“That’s never stopped you before.”
Brendon thinks again and then shrugs, gesturing for Clover back. Jon goes to hand her back, but finds her claws dug deep into his shirt as he tugs her from his body.
“See,” Brendon says smugly as Jon carefully detaches her claws. “She likes you.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Jon says, smiling anyway as he gets Clover off his shirt and back to Brendon where she continues to purr and stare at him through her impossibly big doe eyes. She must have learned it from Brendon.
Brendon just smiles knowingly as he hugs Clover and watches Ryan through the glass.