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Saving Worlds With Your Elf Boyfriend

By Dana Berube in Issue Thirteen, January 2024

So you travel to another world, save the kingdom, and get the girl. Except, because you’re queer and this is a dragon-haunted world, your girl’s a guy, and he’s an elf. And when it’s time for you to go home, he insists on following. So back you go, hand-in-hand with your new elf boyfriend, to a drafty apartment in Boston, Massachusetts.

The first few days in your world, he’s so excited he barely sleeps. He laughs as he opens and closes the refrigerator. The first time you take him on the MBTA’s “big iron worm” might be the best day of his life. No one has ever found a trip to Dunkin Donuts so edifying.

The most mundane things—the grocery store, a traffic helicopter, an automatic hand dryer—become wondrous through his eyes. Your student loan-blighted life had seemed so gray and grim before you jumped through that portal. Now, because of him, you smile every time you dry your hands in a public restroom.

He hides his ears with glamour and beanies, but you can’t hide that he’s not from around here. Luckily, he looks good in skinny jeans and your friends and family are terrible at geography, so you pass him off as student who just arrived from East Timor—or was it Brunei? They think he’s a little odd, but you’re clearly happy together, so they’re happy for you. Your roommate moves out, so soon it’s just the two of you, playing house. The rent is steep, so for money he casts glamour on costume jewelry, making it look like real gold and jewels long enough to sell it to pawn shops.

Translation spells help him pick up English, but translating twenty-first century America is harder. An unwell man on the iron worm calls him something evil because of his brown skin. Cashiers are impatient with his thick accent. You swat his hand away from yours when you cross paths with a horde of drunk, hollering bros after a hockey game. Just to walk to the store you have to teach him about guns, cops, homelessness, heroin. There is so much to explain about your world, and the shame burns you. There was hatred and violence and poverty in his world too, of course, but what he can’t understand is why your world has these things too, and so much. You can’t find a way to answer that doesn’t feel like it incriminates you.

Your whole life you have carried the sins of your species like a heavy backpack. Your shoulders ache, but mostly you’re used to it. But how do you explain Jim Crow to a pair of horrified eyes for the first time, or the Holocaust, or mass shootings, or that the planet is burning and no one will stop it? Why? he keeps asking, and you have the Wikipedia list of reasons, but it’s not enough.

He doesn’t say it, but you both think it: You saved my world, can’t you save yours?

Over time, your elf learns how to take the bus, text, and order at Starbucks like anyone else, but he’s still undocumented. The fear is a sharp stone you carry in your gut. What if he needs to go to the hospital? What if he gets arrested? How will he survive if something happens to you?

When you met, you were the visitor from another world, the wielder of arcane technologies and exotic magicks. After a few months here, you worry that the shine’s off now that he sees the truth of you. You’re no hero. You’re an art school dropout who works retail. You may have defeated a Dark Lord, but you have to take your Zoloft every day just to get out of bed. How could you save Earth, or America, or Boston? You’re terrified you won’t even be able to protect him.

You hate your world.

One night, tangled in his arms, your doubts and anxieties win. You ask if he regrets coming here, if he resents you, if he thinks you’re as ugly as the world that molded you.

He holds you close and kisses the tears from your cheeks. He says, No world that made you could be beyond hope. The dragons are bigger here; too big for you to slay by yourself. But this is now my home too, and I want to fight for it—with whatever blades we have.

Will you show me how?

You swear you will.


First, you save yourself.

The pawn shop scam is successful beyond your wildest dreams, and after a year you’ve stashed away quite a lot of money. He still finds the city enthralling, but you can see that the pace and noise exhaust him. He misses green spaces. He is, after all, an elf.

You buy a car and move to a cottage in Vermont. He grows vegetables and you make art. The peace and quiet helps, as does a new medication. His spell-kissed garden is so bountiful you rake it in at the farmer’s markets. You sell a few paintings, and the Patreon for your webcomic gains subscribers. Finally, you have the money and energy to look beyond yourself.

You adopt a shelter dog, then foster more. You shovel snow for the old widow next door and supplement her EBT with his zucchini. At night, he drives around magicking solar panels to be more efficient and gardens more fecund. When there’s a ballot measure to protect undocumented people, you conquer your anxiety and go door to door advocating for it. Every week you both throw some cash to a queer mutual aid group, or to anyone else in need. Every day, you read and you listen to learn justice and un-learn cruelty.

It's not glorious. Elf bards do not sing songs of community development meetings in dusty church basements. You know it's the barest of starts, pebbles lobbed at leviathans. But in this world, this is what the fight looks like, and these are the weapons you have. And maybe that’s okay.

He still looks at you like you’re his sword-wielding hero.

So day by day, bit by bit, you keep trying to save the world, together.

© 2024 Dana Berube

Dana Berube

Dana Berube is a writer, artist, editor, and erstwhile Mandarin Chinese translator whose short fiction has been published by Zombies Need Brains, the Chicago Tribune, and Luna Station Quarterly, among others. She lives in Boston with her partner and her very orange cat. You can find her on Twitter at @dana_berube and at @dana-berube.bsky.social.

Fiction by Dana Berube
  • Saving Worlds With Your Elf Boyfriend