Christmas at the Chans' was always an unusual sight, with the usually irate Uncle in an infectiously good mood. This year was no exception to that, despite the city recovering from Drago's rampage earlier in the year. There was, however, something unusually unusual this year.
“Aiyaaa! Finn, tree top is for star, not Disco ball!”
Uncle had hired the Enforcers as helpers during the battle with Drago, and the arrangement had stuck. There had been some apprehensions at first about giving them a second chance after the opal incident, but they had proven earnest in their desire to become people who didn't have to lie to their nephews about long disappearances. Hak Foo was an odd one out there, but the going theory was that he wanted in on the excitement that seemed to follow the Chans everywhere. Lately, however, the 'excitement' was in adapting.
“Maybe according to tradition,” Finn said proudly from next to the Christmas tree. “But I thought it might be fun to switch things up a bit.”
“Don't listen to him, Unc!” Chow cut in from the couch. “He pulls this every time we let him at a tree.”
Chow just snickered as Tohru carefully plucked the Disco ball ornament from the top of the tree. It was at that moment that the door slammed open, startling Tohru into dropping the ball of mirrors and sending Finn diving to catch it. Chow nearly dropped his game controller, and the TV flashed a bright 'GAME OVER' screen.
“Ho ho ho, Merry Christmas!” Jade bellowed from the open doorway. Before anyone could react, she'd darted into the back of the store and climbed up onto Tohru's shoulder. “So, what'd you get me, T?”
“Christmas Eve, Jade. You do not get to open gifts until tomorrow.” Jackie answered for Tohru as he entered the room after his excitable niece.
There was a loud “awww” as Jade dropped to the floor, landing heavily in her snow boots and thick winter jacket. She quickly perked up when she caught a whiff of something sweet on the air. “What smells delicious?”
“Oh, Ratso's baking cookies.” Finn answered from the floor.
No sooner had he said it than Jade was off, darting for the kitchen in the hopes of convincing the baker to let her sample the holiday treats a little early. Jackie was left shaking his head as he took off his own jacket and hung it on a hook by the doorway.
“That girl...” he muttered, before turning his attention to Uncle. “We managed to get what we were after, but it was not easy. Everyone is stocking up for the possible storm.”
“Pfeh.” Uncle waved his hand dismissively. “Waste of time, there will be no storm. Has not snowed in San Francisco in maaany years. Will not snow now.”
“I hope you are right.”
– – –
“So much for 'will not snow.'” Jackie sighed as he looked out the window at the blanket of snow settled over the street. More was coming down at a heavy pace, and it didn't look like it would be stopping any time soon.
Jade had a different opinion of the weather, pressing her face to the window with an excited grin and a shout of “White Christmas!”
“Yes. It is a good thing we got those snow shovels yesterday, isn't it, Jade?”
“Yeah, I guess...but I don't really wanna talk about work right now. It's Christmas morning! Presents!”
She took off, practically dragging Jackie the first few feet behind her, out of the storage room converted into a cramped guest room. Most of the city's larger buildings were in some form of ruins, and Uncle had been forced to make room for Jackie and Jade while their apartment building underwent repairs.
Downstairs, the former Enforcers were just waking up and clearing away their travel mattresses from the floor when Jade came tearing halfway down the spiral staircase before leaping over the railing. She nearly fell over, turning around so fast in her bare feet, before she dashed into the living room and grabbed the first present she saw with her name on it.
“Hey now,” Ratso chided. “Don't you think you should wait for your uncles and Tohru first?”
“Relax, I'm not gonna open it yet.” Jade said, the box already to her ear.
Instead of the rattling of the Christmas present, all Jade heard as she shook the package was the sound of Uncle's voice calling from the doorway, “Merrrrry Christmaaaas!”
Tohru was squeezing into the room behind Uncle, and Jackie had already made his way to the couch. Jade took that as her cue to start tearing the paper off her presents. Jackie had gotten everyone warm clothes, claiming they would need them if the weather kept this up. Uncle's gifts had been similarly uniform: quartz crystal pendants that he claimed were good luck and full of grounding Earth chi. She found it much easier to get excited about the Super Moose plush from Tohru, cookies from Ratso and video game from Chow, though Finn's introductory collection of music from the 70's just seemed lame. She'd been even more disappointed to find that Santa's present had just been a battery powered hand warmer.
By the time gifts were open and packaging cleaned up, the snow seemed to be slowing down.
“Well, I should probably see about clearing the sidewalks, before someone slips out there.” Jackie said, reaching for his jacket as he spoke. He was interrupted by a hand on his shoulder and Finn's voice.
“No need, Chanmeister. We'll take care of it.”
“That's right,” Chow added. “We're getting' paid to do this kinda stuff, right? Gotta earn our keep.”
“You guys just have fun with your holiday.” Ratso finished. Hak Foo was muttering loudly but illegibly, but didn't seem to have any real objection to the task as he was the first to stomp out the door.
“Huh.” Jackie shrugged as he put his jacket back. “I guess I will just put on some tea for when they are finished.”
Outside, Finn quickly lost interest in the task of clearing snow. Instead, he swung his shovel around like it was a warrior's staff.
“Look out, there snow'ay you can stand up to Finn's mighty moves!”
He twirled the snow shovel over his head, only for the uneven weight to break his grip and send it tumbling into the snow. Bending over to pick it up, he was met by a twin shovel-full of snow from Ratso and Chow.
“Get back to work!” They both shouted.
“Augh, that's cold!” Finn shouted back.
“Yeah, it's a lot colder than I ever remember it getting' in San Francisco before.” Ratso noted as he lowered his shovel.
“Then it's a good thing we ain't stuck in it, huh?” Chow responded. “Imagine if we'd still been livin' in one'a them apartment buildings and hadn't had nowhere to fall back on.”
Ratso put a finger to his mouth in thought as he looked at the broken skyline, then asked, “Hey, youse don't suppose Valmont was still livin' in one'a them, do ya?”
The thick, uncomfortable silence that followed was interrupted by a somehow British sounding sneeze. Following the sound led them to the delivery entrance of a closed store, where a pile of blankets was huddled under a short overhang, still covered in snow from the city's stiff winds. Peeking out of the blankets was a familiar, thoroughly miserable looking face, framed by white bangs.
“Valmont?!” Ratso and Chow said in unison.
“Big V?!” Finn said at the same time.
“I...have no clue who you're talking about.” Valmont said from his pile of blankets.
The three quickly set to clearing the snow off of their former employer. Chow crouched down in front of him and asked, “So, what're you doin' in this part'a town?”
“That's none of your ruddy business.” Valmont huffed.
“Your apartment get blasted by Doomsday Boy?” Finn asked. Valmont's indignant huff answered the question by itself.
“Hey, how about you stay with us?” Ratso offered. “It's kinda crowded, but we could make room...”
“I don't need your charity.” Valmont snipped, then sneezed. The sudden noise caused the snow piled up on the overhang to fall, leaving him again covered in snow. “Oh, very well.”
The three helped Valmont out from under his pile of snow and blankets and led him back the way they'd come, only for him to balk when he saw their destination.
“You're staying with the Chans?!”
“Yeah, it's a funny story, really...” Chow started.
“Y'see,” Finn continued. “Back when the end of the world was knocking, we offered to work for Chan's uncle 'cause, well, we didn't wanna see the world end.”
“And it stuck.” Ratso finished.
“I don't care.” Valmnont responded, turning around and crossing his arms. “I am not going to go begging the Chans for room and board.”
His statement was followed by a fit of sneezing as the wind picked up and blew the falling snow into his face. His indignant huff melted into a pout as he looked back at the brightly lit storefront, and the window showing a warm, dry interior.
Finn cleared his throat and rubbed the back of his neck before pointing out, “Uhh, Big V, you're kinda already sick. Do you really have much choice?”
“Oh...if I must.” Valmont deflated. “But only until this blasted cold is over with.”
– – –
“Lemme get this straight,” Jade said, squinting at the Enforcers from her perch on the front desk. “You want us to make room for Valmont to stay here until all this snow business is over?”
“Absolutely not.” Tohru said from one side of the room.
It was Jackie who disagreed first, with a sigh and shake of his head before he said, “I do not like it, either. But we cannot just leave him out in the snow.”
“Sez you.” Jade retorted. She had shifted her glare to the pouting man near the entrance to the store, who was looking at the window displays far too closely for her liking.
“Jade...” Jackie started, only to be cut off by Uncle.
“Is not in Christmas spirit to turn even greedy thief out into snow.”
“But Sensei...” Tohru started.
“C'mon, Big T,” Finn interrupted. “We're beggin' here!”
“We promise we'll keep him outta trouble!” Chow added.
In the display window, Valmont sneezed and unbalanced the vase he'd been looking at. He had to scramble to keep it from crashing all over the floor, after which he sniffled loudly and looked around in the hope that nobody had seen his moment of clumsiness.
“Besides,” Ratso pointed out. “He's sick.”
“Tohru sighed, defeated. He couldn't send a sick person out into the mercy of the elements, even if that person was Valmont. Jade was not so easily swayed, but Jackie cut off her protests.
“I am sorry Jade, but you are outvoted. We will just have to keep a very close eye on him to make sure he does not steal anything.”
Jade hrumphed, but an idea was already forming. If she couldn't get rid of Valmont, she'd just have to give him some incentive not to cause problems. The first chance she had to catch him alone, in the bathroom washing his face after so much sneezing, she cut off the doorway and crossed her arms. Valmont hadn't heard her coming, and he jumped and turned around when he saw her reflected in the mirror.
“When did you get there?”
Ignoring the question, Jade went right in to what she'd come here to say. Her expression and tone were hard, bordering on hostile, as she said, “Everyone else might've decided to let you stay here, but don't think that means I trust you for one minute. I'd better not catch you doing anything to hurt Uncle, Jackie or Tohru, or else.”
Valmont scoffed, “Or else what, you'll kick me in the shins?”
“Or else,” Jade answered. “I'll dig out my old shrinking spell and make you small enough to stomp.”