Sanctuary: Ashley, Henry, and Will
Ashley and Henry were in Henry's room, clustered over a tray filled with a variety of small to medium bowls and a large pitcher. They were quietly laughing, obviously absorbed in some project or another. Will watched them for a moment, heads bent, fair hair touching dark, and felt a pang of envy. They were like fond siblings with a common past; they shared a bond he could never feel.
"What are you guys up to?" he asked, ambling towards them, his manner casual. He was surprised at their reaction. Ashley assumed a defensive stance and Henry quickly moved in front of the table on which the tray rested, arms crossed, looking guilty as hell for some reason.
"Nothing," replied Ashley brightly, her posture relaxing as she recognized Will.
"Not a thing," echoed Henry. "Just hanging out."
"What's on the tray?" Will pressed forward, craning his neck around Henry. "Is it feeding time for some creature or another?"
"No," said Ashley firmly, while Henry mumbled, "Sort of."
Will looked from one to the other of them. "Really? After all we've been through you can't trust me?"
Ashley flushed at this admonition, and Henry rubbed the back of his neck. They exchanged looks full of meaning, and again, like siblings enjoying unspoken means of communication, apparently came to a decision. They moved aside, revealing what Will had already glimpsed.
Looking into the pitcher, Will was startled to see fresh milk, cream already pooling on the surface. "What the heck..?" he began.
"It's a tradition," said Ashley hurriedly. Henry nodded, backing her up without words. She went on, "We put it out for the E.L.F.'s"
"The what?" exclaimed Will. "Did you say elves?" He shook his head in despair. "I've seen a lot of crazy things here, but honestly. Are you trying to tell me you two are putting out milk for the elves at Christmas time?"
"Yes," said Ashley, her voice taking on a defiant tone. "You get better presents if you do. Besides," she added, "It's only polite. Some of them stay here the whole season. On and off," she giggled. Henry laughed at that, and again the two of them shared a conspiratorial look.
Will started to feel like he was living in some kind of strange Hallmark Christmas special; one of the animated ones with oddly drawn characters and jerky motion. Someone was probably going to burst into song any moment. "Let me get this straight..." he began.
A loud beeping noise from Henry's tablet computer, which had been set down on the table next to the tray, interrupted Will. "Magnus and the Big Guy are back," he said to Ashley. "They want me downstairs to help with the tree."
Ashley nodded and said crisply, "I'll take care of this and join you in a few minutes." Henry left at a quick trot, leaving Will alone with Ashley.
Pouring a little of the milk into a small wooden bowl, carved with figures of some sort dancing around the outer edge, Ashley handed the bowl to Will. "Put it outside your door." Then she filled a second bowl and set it outside Henry's door. Coming back into the room, she picked up the tray, then turned back to Will. "It's up to you, of course. But it couldn't hurt, could it?" Flashing one of her brilliant smiles, she strode out with her burden.
Will shook his head, careful not to spill any of the creamy milk. Those two had to be pulling his leg. Didn't they? As he walked back down the corridor, heading for the staircase, he passed the door to his room. Hesitating, he looked at the bowl, then the door, then at the bowl again. Shrugging, he set the bowl down by the door jamb. Traditions were important, and there was no harm in this one. Unless the milk attracted rats.
He caught himself looking back to see if anything was creeping out of the shadows towards the bowl. Then he jerked his head back, wondering if it worked if the elves were observed. Smiling at his own acceptance of the superstition, he hurried along. He could hear Magnus calling his name. Will found he was looking forward to seeing the tree. Yes, traditions were a good thing. Shared rituals knit a group together, making strangers and co-workers into a family. Besides, he sheepishly admitted to himself- he really wanted that autographed baseball for Christmas.