Characters: Big Mike, Casey, Chuck (Gen, Humor)
Summary: Wanting to kill your Secret Santa recipient does not demonstrate holiday spirit.
Author's Notes: I started this for nbc_las, but couldn't finish it in time, and probably wouldn't have stayed within the word limit anyway. But on the plus side... Chuck holiday fic!
Big Mike was going over sales numbers at the Buy More when his email chimed. He glanced at the title: Secret Santa Assignment. Well, he thought, about damned time!
He used to run the Secret Santa thing himself, back when corporate first started stressing the importance of 'teambuilding' activities. In those early days, people drew names out of a jar (except for Lester, who still claimed to be Jewish most of the time). But then Morgan created a computer program that randomized the names and sent out automatic emails, so Mike turned the task over to him. He couldn't help noticing that Morgan's name always wound up in the hands of a pretty girl (this year's bet was on Anna Wu). But even if Morgan doctored his own assignments, it was still worth it to be spared the overall work.
Mike finished adding up sales receipts for the first week of December. Not bad—a hair below last year, but nothing alarming. Next week was sure to pick up. Having squared that away, he opened his email to see whose Secret Santa he'd be this year.
Damn! Someone had to get Jeff, of course, but why did it have to be him? He shuddered, rolling his eyes up toward the ceiling as if reprieve might be waiting. Nope—nothing but light fixtures and water stains.
Why did it have to be Jeff?
Well. Big Mike sure as Hell wasn't giving him alcohol or dirty magazines, which seemed to be Jeff's main interests. He'd like to give Jeff a ten-pound box of work ethic and ambition, but nobody sold that in stores.
Damn, damn, damn…
Still, he had to set a good example—it was the principle of the thing. All for company morale, especially the new folks like John Casey and that tall red-haired kid who never spoke. Morton. Milton? Marvin. Whatever—him.
There was a knock on the door. Big Mike looked up, and speak of the devil, there was John Casey himself.
"Sir," Casey said, "I received an email about a holiday gift exchange. Was it official?"
"Is this a Buy More-approved event?"
"Of course it is!" Big Mike chuckled. "We do it every year."
Something had John Casey fidgeting like a six-year-old at a church picnic. "I'm afraid I'll have to decline," he said.
"Decline? Do you have some sort of religious objection? Because otherwise, it's too late, son—the assignments have all gone out."
Well, that was a funny expression John was wearing. Mike hadn't thought a person could look so pained over such a trivial event. "Now go on, John. Have some fun with it. Only happens once a year."
John Casey looked as if he might explode, but all he said was "Sir"—in the kind of voice a man might use when all hope was gone.
Huh. Big Mike shook his head, and went back to wondering exactly how he was going to muster up enough holiday spirit to find a decent present for Jeff…
Casey paced around the break room, stewing. Bartowski, he thought. Why does it always come back to Bartowski?
He suspected Bartowski was actually behind the whole gift-exchange idea, or was at least the original instigator. Touchy-feely gift-giving had Bartowski written all over it, as did roping Casey into the mess and assigning himself to be Casey's giftee.
So now Casey had to find a present for Chuck. The only things he knew Chuck really wanted were a degree from Stanford and Agent Walker, both out of Casey's jurisdiction. After that, it was puppies and kittens (Chuck's sister would never forgive him), and the vast and unnavigable waters of nerdware. Grrrrrr.
Casey punched his locker, leaving a sizeable dent.
Out on the main floor, Chuck was manning the Nerd Herd station for the afternoon. It had been quiet, so new email was a welcome distraction. He opened his Secret Santa assignment and smiled. Look at that—I lucked out again!
In the employee area of the store, Lester found Jeff sitting in the cage and grinning off into space.
"Secret Santa?" Lester asked.
"Anna Wu," Jeff breathed in awe.
The two of them looked at each other, then burst out in unison the single word that percolated through their twin-mind:
Casey felt like he'd spent days looking for Chuck's present, though it had only been a few hours. Radio Shack, Sharper Image, Mrs. Field's Cookies. That last part had actually been for him, a moment of weakness when the aggravation wore him down. He'd also stopped in front of the mall's pet store, just because it was there. The window display of puppies seemed to mock him—the perfectly ungiveable gift.
Damn these civilians and their stupid rituals.
'Buy More' Casey was the kind of guy who moved Beastmasters and walk-in refrigerators. He was a committed employee—he wouldn't just get Chuck nothing. Even the real Casey wouldn't do that. Probably. True, he wouldn't just randomly give Chuck a present (or anyone, really). But in a standardized gift-exchange, he'd come through.
If nothing else, he'd be motivated by having to face the disappointment and hurt in Chuck's eyes (days and days of it) if he didn't.
Casey growled to himself and kept walking through the mall.
Big Mike was still caught in an ongoing cycle of unhelpful ideas.
Laundromat coupons and shampoo? No. "Finance For Dummies" or "Beyond Your Midlife Crisis"? Still no.
With anyone but Jeff, this would've been easier. Big Mike wouldn't constantly have been fighting off the urge to give presents that sent a message.
He sighed and made a u-turn at the Target store. Maybe inspiration lay somewhere in the workings of that red, red universe.
The Buy More holiday party was held the next morning, in the hour before the store officially opened.
Big Mike no longer wore a Santa suit for the occasion, after one too many comments about him being a "natural" for the role. But Anna Wu was decked out in red stockings and a Santa hat, which seemed to please a number of the male Buy More employees—some, a little too much:
"I've got a present for you, Anna baby," Jeff warbled unsteadily, "and I keep it in my—"
"All right, that's enough!" Big Mike shouted. Damn that Jeff—he should have bought the fool a book on sexual harassment instead of the box of chocolates and gift card he'd finally settled on.
All right, moving on. "I'm going to hand out presents according to names," Mike continued. "We'll announce the Santas as we go, then dig into the food. Keep your uniforms clean, people!"
A vague cheer went up. Big Mike wondered if someone had spiked the punch already.
He picked up the first box. "Anna," he called out.
Anna stepped up for her gift, easing open the wrapper to reveal a bottle of perfume. Nice perfume.
"And her Santa was…?"
Jeff hiked his arm up briefly in acknowledgement, a bashful look on his face.
Huh. A surprisingly classy choice on Jeff's part. I'll never understand these people and all their damn quirks, not if I live to be a hundred, Mike thought.
Anna's present was for Morgan, confirming Mike's suspicions about Morgan reworking some of the matchups. Neither employee seemed displeased with the exchange, though, and that computer program sure saved Mike a lot of grief each year. He decided to let it go again, for now.
"Skip," Big Mike announced, and here came that tall, geeky, redhaired kid. Well, damn. Don't know why I thought his name was Morton or Melvin or whatnot.
The chubby guy with the dark, bushy hair nodded in acknowledgement.
"Okay," Big Mike said, picking up the next present. "Chuck."
Chuck's present was in a gift bag. He peered inside cautiously, and then broke into a huge grin as he pulled out something wrapped in cellophane. "First-year Superman original," he breathed. "This is one of the most awesome presents I've ever gotten, and that includes all the presents that were actually from Awesome."
"And who was Chuck's Santa?"
Casey gave an embarrassed wave, his cheeks tinged red, but he was smiling. Good, Big Mike thought. That's what the Secret Santa exchange is all about.
He kept on going, the pile of presents steadily getting smaller. Jeff seemed to like Mike's present for him, and Casey grinned at the box of imported cigars that turned out to be from Morgan.
"Last one," Mike said, which was the present for him. By his calculations, the only Secret Santa left was Chuck. Mike opened the small box with curiosity.
Inside were a pair of fishing lures, surrounded by superline. They looked so beautiful sitting there that Big Mike got choked up. "Thank you, Chuck," he said. "This is an amazing present."
"You're welcome sir," Chuck beamed, cheerful and sincere as always.
Big Mike looked around at Buy More's workforce, a strange and screwed-up group of individuals who didn’t do parties half-badly and all of whom, down the employee numbers on their paystubs, were his. Not a bad showing. "Well now, everybody," he said, "Let's finish eating and get things picked up before the store opens. Merry Christmas!"
"Merry Christmas!" They shouted back.
Big Mike ambled over toward the dessert table, wondering whether to start with cheesecake squares or peppermint brownies.
He didn't have to think twice about what he'd be doing on his day off tomorrow: deep sea fishing on his cousin's boat, with Chuck's new lures leading the charge.
A lot of people wouldn't agree, but there were days when running the Buy More in Burbank—with the ocean less than an hour away—even seemed like a slice of personal heaven.
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