by: Micah Rodney
"We require eggnog!"
The booming voice of a well-past-inebriated Rude thundered through the Goblin Bar. The usual haunt of the Turks was alight with cheap colored bulbs whose glow bounced off the silvery tinsel lining the table. A flimsy plastic tree, which stood barely taller than the wassailing Turk, was positioned precariously close to a space heater which seemed to be the only source of proper warmth.
Reno was forced to ponder exactly what the old barkeep did with all the gil they poured into his coffers every Friday night. He stood a head shorter than his compatriot, though the fact that he actually had hair made up some of the difference. Any other day, the two of them would be in dark black suits; calling cards of their uncomfortable work. But in light of the onset of the solstice holiday, Rude was sporting a bright red sweater with white lining, and Reno was wrapped in a navy-blue winter jacket.
"I think you've already had plenty," replied Hal, the owner's son. He'd inherited all of his father's business acumen and none of his good looks.
"Where's the old guy?" Reno asked. "It's Christmas Eve. Kinda hoped to see him."
Hal shook his head, his silver hair growing even more unkempt. "He's taken ill. The weather hasn't been doing him any favors."
The replacement pointed out one of the windows to the frigid mix of snow and ice that was rapidly blanketing the plate of Sector 8. Midgar didn't usually get weather like this, but once in a blue moon a frosty gale made its way down from the northern continent and cloaked the metropolis in white.
"So we get to spend the night with you," Reno smirked, patting the snow out of his ginger hair and claiming a stool at the bar.
Rude sat down beside him and immediately laid his bald head on the table. A small clump of snow dropped onto the mahogany bar.
"Office Christmas Party already over, it seems," Hal commented, casually wiping off the bar and setting down two coasters.
"He, uh, usually handles his liquor better. But all he had to eat today was a few candy canes and, well..."
"And unfortunately we don't serve real food here," Hal added pointedly. "Maybe the Wutai Grill down the street might be better for you?"
"Wutai booze is terrible," Reno explained. "Just get us two eggnogs and we'll be on our way."
Hal sighed but made his way around the bar to start their drinks. Reno lowered his head to the cool surface of the bar for a moment. A cheap jukebox was crackling out ancient Christmas music which must have been recorded several decades ago. He used to hear this particular horn-heavy piece every winter.
His mind went to his childhood in the slums, back before they were properly called that. There was that one toy shop of red-brick with a lacquered-wood roof. The brightly-lit window serving as a veiled gateway into a world of luxury he would never know. But on Christmas Day, the kind-hearted young shopkeeper passed out small, hand-crafted toys to any kid who came by. The music echoed through the street, the bells of the local church rang and the toymaker donned an outfit which made him a fine imitation of Father Christmas.
It was one of the few kindnesses Reno could remember from his early days.
The sound of a full glass hitting mahogany jostled Reno from his recollection. He rose his head to be greeted by a clear glass full of the cream-colored concoction, sporting a dash of ginger powder and a candy cane.
"Old man usually adds whip-cream," Reno chuckled.
"Twenty gil a pop," Hal replied curtly. "And I don't want any trouble."
Reno looked around the empty bar, momentarily confused before his meaning became clear. "Buddy, we're on holiday time, alright? We just wanted our usual nightcap before we toddle on home and wait for Father Christmas to leave us presents, visions of sugarplums dancing about in our drunk little heads."
Hal scoffed and rested his hands on the bar. "Look, I know what this is about. Shinra keeps trying to muscle us out of our spot, but we're not going anywhere. We've had this bar for nearly fifteen years and we're not running back to the slums!"
Reno raised his hands defensively as Rude lifted his head to bark out a concise, if somewhat slurred, retort. "We like this bar!"
"What he said," Reno explained, patting Rude's back as he attempted to take a swig of his own drink. "Who is doing what now?"
"You mean to tell me you don't know about your boss's rate hike? Trying to push us out of the bar just because we're slumborn," Hal's lip curled at the term. "You have any idea how hard my father worked to make this happen for me and my family?"
"I just wanted a drink," Rude grumbled, standing up and making his way towards the restroom in the back.
"I'll get it sorted out, Rude, don't worry!" Reno called after him.
"Oh, you're gonna tell me that this is all some big misunderstanding?" Hal cursed. "Maybe you can convince your bosses to drop the rent, right? I'm getting sick and tired of Shinra's promises."
"Yo, listen," Reno began, reaching into his coat pocket.
This had been the wrong move. Hal immediately backed away, raising his arms in fake submission.
"Look, look, we don't need to do this. You can have the drinks for free, okay?" Hal sputtered, doing a very good impression of somebody who was genuinely afraid.
Anybody but a Turk would have not noticed him subtly reaching for the rifle hidden behind the drink display.
Reno decided to err on the side of diplomacy, slowly raising his own arms as well, his left hand now bearing a gift-wrapped package. It was a plain job of brown parcel paper and twine, but considering Reno had done it himself he thought it looked good enough.
"What's that?" Hal asked, this time genuinely confused.
"A Christmas present," Reno replied with repressed sarcasm. "I'm told it's something of a custom."
"Your old man," Reno said, lightly dropping the package on the bar before standing up. He then made a show of taking off his coat, revealing his plain t-shirt, jeans and – most importantly – utter lack of a holster or weapon of any kind.
Hal's guard dropped slightly, reaching forward to grab the package. It was barely the size of his hand, and there was a soft ticking noise from within.
"You may as well open it," Reno said.
"Why don't you?" Hal suggested in that way which eliminated all but the desired response.
Shrugging, Reno slowly undid the twine binding the gift and gingerly unwrapped the paper, revealing a small white box. Reno took a glance at Hal, who was clearly waiting for the bomb to go off.
"Oh fine then," Reno sighed.
He lifted the lid with a flourish.
"A pocket watch?" Hal asked.
"Hey, that's not for Hal!" Rude called as he slowly shuffled his way back towards them.
"Well no, it's not. But I guess Hal can go ahead and give it to him," Reno explained. "Hey Rude, what do you think they pay on a dump like this a month?"
Hal snorted defiantly, but Rude got there first. "Oh, probably a thousand gil or so."
"Twelve-fifty," Hal corrected.
"Oh, I'm sorry buddy. I realize I got your Pa a gift but I don't have anything for you," Reno shrugged. "Well I know cash is tacky, but uh-"
Reno hastily pulled out his wallet and fished out an impressive wad of gil notes as thick as the coaster Hal had set their drinks on.
"Mind you that squares our tab too," Reno chuckled.
Flabbergasted, the bartender began to count out the bills, most of which were 100 gil notes. His eyes grew wider as the figure climbed.
"There's like three thousand gil here," Hal commented.
"Oh I'm sure you'll find something to do with it when the stores open back up," Reno chuckled. "Please give my warmest regards to your father."
"I'm not done drinking," Rude explained.
"Just take the glass, I paid for it," Reno instructed. "We have worn out our welcome for the night."
"Wait, I uh-" Hal stumbled over his words.
Reno glanced at the man now perfectly framed by the arrangement of spirit bottles at his back. He looked a man who had found God within the span of thirty seconds.
"Thank you," he finally spat out.
"Hey, Merry Christmas, right?" Reno nodded. "Rude, time to go home."
As the two of them marched out into the blizzard, Rude could only barely voice his opinion.
"You just dropped a month's salary on him. The booze isn't that good," this he said a moment before polishing off his glass of eggnog in one massive gulp.
"Well, I realized the pocket watch wasn't going to be enough gratitude for the old man. Besides, all I ever spend it on is liquor anyways," Reno said, buttoning his coat up and folding his arms.
"I should have worn more than a sweater, huh?" Rude mused, pulling the collar over his ears.
"You're going to be frostbitten by the time you get to your apartment," Reno added.
"So. You gonna tell me what the deal is?" Rude asked, his boots crunching the fresh snow beneath him as he walked.
"He was somebody I needed many years ago, and now I'm somebody he needed. Maybe that's all that there is to say," Reno replied, taking a glance over his shoulder at the Goblin Bar. The lights may have been cheap, but in the haze of snowfall, it almost resembled that same toy store window those many years past.