Shadow of the Templar: Happy/Merry
On timeline: December, two months after With A Bullet
An honest-to-God Shadow of the Templar holiday story. It was one of the first things I wrote in this universeI wrote it on New Year's Eve 2004, wrapping it up less than twenty minutes before the New Year struckand since it contained enormous spoilers for both Double Down and With A Bullet, I couldn't put it up on the website for years.
They spend Christmas together mostly because some of them have no place else to go.
Oh, Mike spends Christmas morning with his family, sure, but he's always back by early afternoon anyway. Nate, possibly alone amongst them all, has a fine relationship with his remaining parent, but he's Jewish, so. Sandra is very noisily ignoring her horrified family, Simon hasn't spoken to his father since his mother died, and if Johnny has any family left, he's not saying.
Rich... Rich used to handle things by calling his parents in Seattle on Christmas morning and then being extra irritable all day.
Simon guesses this year they'll find out how Dave handles things. He'd been happy enough to accept their invitation to join the party, so Simon figures that like most of the rest of them, there's something keeping Dave from his family, too.
It's supposed to be clear and cold out tonight, with snow maybe blowing in in the early hours, and Simon's put on a sweater in deference to the weather. The taxi will be here soon. Taxi, because Simon intends to be somewhere between drunk and comatose when he comes back home.
Both his neighbors have put out strings of lights on their balconies. One of them put a red bulb in his hall light. All over the city there are colorful little lights, and horrible carols in stores and bars and restaurants, and people in coats carrying packages. While Simon generally ranks the Christmas spirit as only slightly more real than the Jersey Devil, it's hard not to feel something when everything in your environment is beating you over the head and screaming HOLIDAY STUPID at you.
He's flipped open his phone before he really realizes he's going to do it, and while it rings in his ear he wanders over to lift up his blinds and look out the front window of his apartment, watching for the taxi. Red and green lights gleam silently at him from across the street. It's calming, in a way.
"Answering service," says the cheerful female voice.
"Yeah." Simon pauses, not so much gathering his thoughts as inspecting this pleasantly calm and distracted feeling that's settled over him. "I'd like to leave a message for Jeremy Archer, please."
"Yes, sir. Whom shall I say is calling?"
"Simon. Tell him it's Simon Drake, and he's got my number."
"Yes, sir. And the message?"
The taxi pulls up outside. Simon drops the miniblind. "Tell him I said Merry Christmas."
"Yes, sir," the unknown woman says, but Simon's already said a distracted goodbye and hung up. On his way down to catch his taxi Simon sets his phone to ring directly through to his voice mail. No calls for him tonight.
It's a tradition, if four times in four years can be called a tradition. They get together at Sandra's place on Christmas, in the evening, and for a while they play poker and drink just like they always do. The only real difference is that Sandra finds some radio station playing Christmas carols and leaves it on at a near-subliminal volume, and she's got a little tree, one of those pathetic two-foot-tall 'lonely bachelor' Christmas trees, with red lights and a few cheap ornaments and a chain Johnny made from beer pulltabs and twist-ties one year when they all thought he was asleep.
After they have dinnerPizza Hut's finest, usuallythey're buzzed enough to have the annual awards. They sprawl out all over Sandra's living room with their drinks and rehash the year, suggesting awards to be given to each other and the felons they've dealt with. Worst Driver Who Is Not, In Fact, Nate. Biggest Waste Of A High Caliber. Most Inventive Impromptu ToolWeapons Count. A fight usually breaks out over which particular hapless criminal wins Biggest Idiot Of The Year.
This year has a bumper crop of awards. Mike proposes that Dave be awarded the Flaming Mousepad award for October's debacle, and despite Dave's protests that he really didn't have much to do with it, the award is approved and presented to him in the form of a fresh beer. Sandra proposes that Johnny be awarded this year's Fun With Superglue award. Johnny just grins and accepts it, then tells Sandra that he bought himself new pants and underwear on Sandra's credit card, and he hopes she doesn't mind. Only not quite in so many words. There's a scuffle. Nate distracts the scufflers by proposing that they all share the Still Alive While That Son-Of-A-Bitch Is Dead award, and the acclaim is so thunderously loud that all is forgiven. Johnny proposes a toast to Jeremy here, and they all agree and toast him in absentia, even Simon.
They don't mention Rich. Very carefully, they don't mention Rich.
After a while the awards taper off, but the rehashing doesn't. Along about midnight the conversation turns quiet, a little melancholy, and they go back over the parts of the year that weren't as good. They start with the small stuff: the guy who got away and was only stopped when he ran his car into a liquor store. Mike getting called on the carpet by their superiors for beating on a scumbag a little too hard. Sandra fracturing her wrist during a messy icy chase last January.
They're all fairly drunk by the time they get around to Simon getting shot. They still don't mention Rich, but they're all thinking it, and they don't look at each other much. "I don't wanna" Mike says at one point.
"Then don't," Johnny says, and Mike closes his mouth and stares into his beer.
Finally, they all fall silent, looking at the floor and thinking their own thoughts. It's time for Simon to complete the ritual.
The first year they did this, once everything had been rehashed and they all fell silent, Rich put up with it for a minute or so before snorting and saying, "Fine, so let's do better next year."
They all looked at Rich, and then Johnny raised his mug and said, "To next year."
"Next year," they all repeated, and one by one they drank to that, dismissing the last year and putting it away.
The next two years, when the silence fell, Simon took it on himself to repeat both lines. "So let's do better next year," he said, and then, "To next year."
"Next year," they all said, and drank to it.
This year Simon raises his mug and says the first part, and they all think of Rich.
"To next year," Simon says after a hitch, and there's a pause before Mike repeats, "Next year."
"Next year," they all say, one after another, even Dave. Johnny knuckles Dave on the arm. Then they all make a stab at helping to clean up, and call taxis, and go home.
The next week or so will feel like living in limbo, tidying up the detritus of the last year and preparing for the next. On New Year's Eve they'll all get together again and hit the bars, getting roaring drunk, and everybody who wants to dance will dance with Sandy, and it'll dispel the last shreds of melancholy from Christmas, and then they'll dive into the next year and make it theirs.
Simon gets home around three, just as the first few flakes of snow are starting to skirl out of the sky. He doesn't bother to turn on the lights, although the red-and-green lights from outside filter through the blinds. Instead he kicks off his shoes and automatically checks his voice mail. One message. International call.
Well, Jeremy says with a little laugh, purring into Simon's ear in the dark. He pauses, and in the background Simon can hear the buzz of polite conversation and the clink of silverware, and classical music playing soft and low. Happy Christmas to you, too, Simon, Jeremy murmurs, amused, and there's a slight pause before he hangs up.
Simon smiles a bit as he deletes the message. Then he goes to bed and sleeps well.
Christmas always finds him in London. He hasn't missed a Christmas with Ethan in almost fifteen years, and he doesn't intend to start now. He flies in a day or two before and takes his old room again, helping Ethan make all the last-minute preparations for the party, although really his help isn't needed.
The monstrous old house is decorated for Christmas from top to bottom by a team of hard-eyed professional decorators that have been working for Ethan since approximately the dawn of time. Ethan likes silver and white, so silver and white it always is, with greenery and tiny white lights for accent. Ethan's party is famous amongst a certain set. Ethan only invites the best, the most powerful, the most well-mannered people in the underworld, and they all come. They always come. If you're a jewel thief, or a forger, or a counterfeiter, or a smuggler, chances are fairly good you aren't on speaking terms with your own family, and it's always nice to be with people who speak your language. Once upon a time Ethan was one of the very best, quite nearly the stuff of legends. Now he's retired, and the legend rests comfortably on Jeremy's shoulders, instead.
The guests arrive in ones and twos starting in the late afternoon, dressed to the teeth, stepping from expensive cars and limousines. Ever since Jeremy became a part of Ethan's household it has been his job to answer the door, to greet them and shake their hands or kiss their cheeks, and take their coats and wraps, and point them to the massive ballroom where Ethan holds court.
Ethan feels that a butler is too remote a touch for Christmastime, which should be a time for family, even this sort of ersatz family. So even now Jeremy answers the door.
Bran is always invited. Bran never comes. His place at the table stands empty every year, and his wine glass is always filled.
The party has been in full swing for hours. Dinner is long over, and they have moved back into the ballroom for drinks and dancing, where they will stay for hours yet. Jeremy's cell phone vibrates silently against his hip, and he politely excuses himself from the conversation, setting his champagne glass down and leaving it behind. Several people watch him goa beautiful cat burglar in a low-cut red dress, a pair of 'art restoration experts' in their hired suits, a severe matron with her blue-rinsed hair who also happens to be one of the most successful madams in all of Englandbut eventually the conversation picks back up where it left off.
Jeremy secrets himself in a little alcove just off the main room, so that the background noise is muffled. No business is done at this party, no transactions made, no official deals struck, and it's generally considered bad form to use anything heard at the party outside of it, but still he waits until the space left by his absence has been filled in before he calls his voice mail. The phone is paper-thin, Japanese, years ahead of its time, and isn't heavy enough to destroy the clean lines of his tuxedo.
Annabelle's message makes him smile:
"It's six o'clock here, handsome, so it must be very late there, huh? Anyway, I'm sorry to bother you, but you have one message. One Simon Drake called and asked me to wish you a Merry Christmas. So, message follows: Merry Christmas to you from one Simon Drake." Annabelle pauses and laughs. "And Merry Christmas from me, too, while I'm at it. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, and I'll talk to you soon, I'm sure."
After the party the same decorators descend on the house and remove everything. It takes an hour or so, but usually by the time Jeremy wakes on Boxing Day the house has been restored to its old self. For the next week or so he and Ethan potter around the massive old place, just a pair of old bachelors whiling away the holidays. Ethan cooks for them both and Jeremy repays him with stories of his recent exploits, and together they tinker with Jeremy's arsenal of gadgetry. Ethan always did enjoy the technical side of the business best, and the two of them are never so happy as when they're taking apart Jeremy's toys and reassembling them. They up the voltage on Jeremy's stun gun and experiment with a new, lighter form of knock-out gas. Ethan manages to knock Jeremy unconscious from thirty feet away. A tremendous success.
Jeremy brings Ethan up to date about Simon, of course, while they're disassembling Jeremy's goggles to install the new thermal sensors. Jeremy keeps no secrets from Ethan, even those he really rather would not share. Ethan listens carefully, and nods in all the right places. "Be careful," is all he says.
Jeremy smiles. "I will."
"Fair enough," Ethan says, absently twirling a tiny screwdriver in his gloved fingers. "I do worry that you're letting yourself get too attached."
"I don't believe so," Jeremy saysafter a telling pause.
"Well," says Ethan dismissively. "It's your funeral, I suppose." And that, Jeremy knows, is that.
They don't talk about Bran. As far as they are concerned Bran has reaped what he once sowed. But the memory of him hangs in the air, and sometimes when they don't speak for a while they are both thinking about Bran.
"I" Jeremy starts to say, once, but when Ethan raises an eyebrow at him Jeremy only smiles ruefully and shakes his head. "Never mind."
Jeremy will leave on New Year's Eve, hugging his mentor and telling him to be well, while Ethan scolds him and tells him to be safe, take no chances, remember what he was taught. Jeremy will stash his luggage in the trunk of the limousine and hit the pubs in London, weaving through the crowds, spending money liberally and enjoying the noise. He will find someone stunningly attractive to kiss at the stroke of midnight, and then he will vanish, sometimes to Europe, sometimes to Asia, sometimes to the United States. Business as usual.
Still smiling, Jeremy dials Simon's number from memory. The smile only grows when he's shunted directly into voice mail. "Well," he says, laughing a bit. Outside he can hear Ethan ringing a fork against his wine glass, in preparation for the yearly toast, and he knows it's time to go. He pauses, and closes his eyes, and lets the music and the sound wash over him, and thinks about how very lucky he is. "Happy Christmas to you, too, Simon," he murmurs, and then he pauses again before hanging up.
He slides out of the alcove and back into the main room, claiming a fresh glass of champagne. Ethan delivers his standard Christmas toast, wishing them all safety and prosperity, and when his eyes meet Jeremy's he raises his glass in a silent toast to his successor. Everyone applauds. Jeremy returns the silent toast and takes his yearly completely unrationed mouthful of champagne.