It's nothing much--just a quick blurb.
December 25, 2004. Nexus City, also known as "the godforsaken ruins of New York."
A man in a bright purple coat, pale red gloves, and hideously fluffy earmuffs walked down the snow-dusted street, whistling. A scrawny girl (she could have been twelve or sixteen; there were many homeless kids in the city these days and few people who cared to identify such details about them) followed him, slinking through shadows that were not much less substantial than she was. He didn't seem to notice her at all. He even stopped at one tiny deli that was still open and never noticed her watching him the whole time. She was pretty confident she could take him and whatever he had in his wallet.
Until she reached for his pocket and her hand closed on a single flurry of snow, while his hand closed hard on her other wrist. She froze.
He smiled at her and held out something wrapped in white paper. "Here. It's a sandwich. Ham and cheese--are you Jewish? I can get you something else if you are--"
She grabbed the sandwich and clutched it jealously to her. He continued to smile, green eyes bright and full of goodwill and holiday spirit behind his glasses.
There were no patrons in the little Chinese restaurant, save the two who had just entered. The man carried a precious packet of cigarettes in one hand as he debated whether to light one now. The woman carried a bottle-sized brown bag. Above them, the lights flickered green and red.
"Someone's gotten into the holiday spirit," Jean Haivoux said. "Or gotten one of those strange power generators."
Elizabeth Hawke made a noise that wasn't quite energetic enough to be a grunt.
Jean turned around in a full circle, then put the cigarettes away for now and walked over to the one employee wiping down tables. "There should be another man here to meet us. Has he come by here? Name of Tom Hughes."
The employee looked up briefly and just shook his head.
Elizabeth spoke up. "He's not here. I'm going."
"He'll be here soon," Jean said quietly, watching her worriedly.
"Even if he is--I don't need to see him." There was very little inflection in her voice.
Jean looked at her for a long moment. There was no sound except for the faint squeak of a damp cloth rubbing over tables. "Give him ten more minutes, Hawkeye. We promised."
"You promised," she said. He flinched. She looked away, above him, behind him, at the wall. "Five."
"Five minutes and we go."
It took four and a half.
Thomas Hughes walked into the restaurant with an apologetic smile already in place, holding up a Thermos bottle of hot cider like a shield. "Havoc, Hawkeye," he called to the two people already seated in a corner.
The latter looked right through him, but Jean offered up a weary smile and a mock salute in acknowledgment of the old names. Tom was technically the ranking officer in Project Steel now--not that there was a group, with Roy gone, but the semantics were occasionally comforting. Sometimes. "I've already ordered soup for us," Jean said. He'd given in and lit one of his precious cigarettes by now.
"Good," Tom said. He sat down and started pouring the cider, pushing a mug to Jean and one to Elizabeth. Jean took a careful sip of his, but Elizabeth merely looked expressionlessly down at hers. Jean glanced up in time to see her situation. Without a word, he picked up the brown bag she'd brought, extracted a whiskey bottle from it, and obediently poured some into her cider.
He had finished and put the bottle away by the time the lone waiter brought their soup.
Elizabeth left first, finishing her soup and cider without once speaking to Tom. She glanced at Jean just once, then buttoned up her coat and walked out. Jean stood up to follow her to the car, then paused, his eyes meeting Tom's. After a moment, he said in a low, intent voice, "Why did you bring us here, Hughes?"
He looked up at Jean over the rim of his mug. After a moment, he set the cider down, took off his glasses, and started wiping them off with his napkin. "So you won't forget that there's something left to take with us into the next year." He smiled as he put his glasses back on. "Good night, Jean. Tell Elizabeth merry Christmas for me."
"She won't listen," he said.
Jean looked at him for a moment longer, then nodded and walked out.
When Tom himself left several minutes later, he was no longer whistling, but singing softly. "'Cause everyone's my friend in New York City, and everything looks beautiful when you're young and pretty. The streets are paved with diamonds, and there's just so much to see." He looked up at the stars and smiled through tears that went cold on his cheeks. "But the best thing about New York City is you and me."