Just Like the Ones I Used to Know

by Tenshi

Author's note: I haven't seen Baccano! in over a year. What there is of this relies only on the wiki article and the anime, as I've not delved further. Apologies for any errors or omissions.

"D'you call this a cappuccino?" Firo inquired to nobody in particular, spluttering at the foam in his cup.

"On the contrary," Maiza replied, with his maddening habit of answering rhetorical questions, and a dubious glance at his decaf soymilk 200 degree no foam sugar-free vanilla London Fog, "I can hardly be persuaded to call it a beverage."

Ennis, whose supernatural biology meant that she could eat pretty much anything and still fit effortlessly into her size six suit, sipped her salted caramel hot chocolate and looked a little bit smug.

But Firo already wasn't listening, cradling his sub-par coffee untasted and staring out the window, where shoppers rushed home with their treasures. Or rather, where they bitched into their cell phones while trying to get into their SUVs, overburdened with surly children and bags from Neiman Marcus, and then proceeded to rear-end each other in the slippery, overcrowded parking lot. It was hardly a fitting line for a Christmas carol.

"It didn't used to be like this," Firo muttered.

"Coffee?" Maiza asked.

"Shopping?" Ennis tried, following Firo's gaze to the window.

"Christmas." Firo said. "Do you remember what Christmas used to be like?"

"Of course I do," Maiza said. "It mostly revolved around mass, and then after that we'd go to mass, and then go to mass some more, then maybe we'd have a cup of watered-down cider and talk about how many people had died of the plague lately." He took a delicate sip off his tea. "Sometimes there was a dead boar for dinner, with some decorative pine branches stuck around his ears. It was all extraordinarily festive."

Firo eyed him, annoyed. He had enough rogue memories floating around in him to know that Maiza was exaggerating, and he only delighted in bringing up his extended age because his younger immortal companions often forgot about it.

"The first Christmas I ever had I celebrated with you," Ennis said. "We drank a lot, and danced a lot, and you gave me a pair of earrings." She put a hand to her ear, as though remembering the screw-post diamante dangles in their green felt box. They were long-lost, now. "I didn't know how to work them."

Firo had gone slightly pink at the memory. Even after decades, Ennis was still reserved in her emotions, but she had them. There was a reason she wore a ring on her finger, one that Firo had dropped in her champagne flute on a millennium New Years, for his proposal. Let's be married by the time the next one comes around, he'd said, and at last, she'd said yes. She loved him, and she knew now what that meant. But it was easy to recall her as she had been all those years ago, as bewildered as a child. Firo had wanted to show her everything, give her everything, the whole wide world. He'd managed, eventually, in spite of a few years in the clink.

"I think what Firo is trying to say," Maiza said, "is that something about the present state of Christmas is lacking compared to such dates in his memory."

"Exactly." Firo winced as the woman waiting in line began a loud conversation to her companion about the difficulties in procuring robotic hamsters. "I mean, it was about spending time with friends and family. The boss used to give all the boys twenty dollars, a ham, and a bottle of the best Kentucky shine right out of Louisville, but that wasn't the point. We all took some time to be glad we were still alive, still together. It wasn't like this."

"It doesn't seem that different to me," Ennis said. "I suppose, other people may have changed, but that doesn't mean you have to behave as they do, does it? You're grateful we're still alive, still together, aren't you?"

"Yes, but it's just... I don't know." Firo put his chin in his hand, still sulky. He couldn't quite put it into words. Maybe, in spite of the young man reflected back at him in the window, he was just old. Something about the carefully constructed homespun decorations in the coffee shop (all made in China) or the reproduction Rockwell Santa on the department store shopping bags made him feel hopelessly out of place. What I want, he thought, is a piece of fruitcake soaked in some illegal rum, and crisp snow icing all the city streets, and friends. Not to feel like I'm too old for my own skin.

He was staring so hard at nothing that it look him a long time to realize his reflection was waving at him. It wasn't his reflection, but the boy standing beyond it, his hair worn long and floppy over one eye and his hoodie emblazoned with some incomprehensible band name. Czeslaw, by some twist of turning immortal on the cusp of an adulthood he would never reach, never seemed to be overwhelmed by modern life. He was as old as Maiza, and he could hack an iphone faster than Firo could unwrap a stick of gum.

"Here you are!" Maiza said, standing up as Czeslaw pushed past the shoppers to reach their table. In some ways he gave away his age: he never slouched, and he never spoke like a child.

"Did you hear your phone?" Czeslaw asked Maiza, faintly annoyed. "I've been calling you for almost an hour."

"Ah." Maiza guiltily pulled his phone from his jacket. The display was dark. "I'm afraid I've let the battery go down again."

"That was last week," Firo muttered. "Do you even know where the charger is?"

"Are you all done with your shopping?" Maiza asked. Czeslaw had come in his own way as far as Ennis had, to develop emotions long damaged, but he still couldn't drive himself anywhere. Maiza left the Christmas shopping up to him, as a rule.

"I ran into Luck and the others," Czeslaw said. The Gandors, of course, had not gone by those names in decades, but they couldn't help giving them to Czeslaw.

"They're in town?" Firo asked, brightening. "I thought they were still in Miami."

"They're in the Williams-Sonoma next door," Czeslaw answered. "Well, Luck is. Keith and Berga gave up on him and went home. Luck's buying a panettone and he told me to tell you that we should all come over. Can we?" He looked at Maiza, for a moment indistiguishable from any other child.

"We can, and we are," Firo said, decisively. "I've had it with this mall-version of Christmas. I want the real thing."

"I'll drive," Ellis said, tugging on her gloves. "You haven't gotten a new ID yet."

"I'll have to ask Luck if he can help with that," Firo said, thoughtful. "It's not as easy as it used to be."

"It would be if you'd just let me break into the Social Security server," Czeslaw grumbled. "Come on, let's go."

"I have to admit," Maiza muttered, as Czeslaw held the door open for Ennis, letting in an icy draft and a blur of flurries, "I myself never really had one of the Christmases you're talking about until after you became one of us." He studied the tips of his gloves, his sleepy eyes too bright beneath their lashes. "After all, it was the first time in two and half centuries that I got to have Christmas with my brother."

Firo said nothing, resting his hand for a moment on Maiza's shoulder.

"Though I do sometimes miss the dead boar," Maiza said, to break their moment of ancient sorrow, incongruous in the middle of a busy mall coffee shop.

Firo laughed for himself, and for Maiza's brother buried somewhere inside of him. "Thanks. For reminding me," he said. "Now come on. Those two are trouble together, and they'll leave without us."

"Not if Czeslaw wants that Heroic Guitar thing for Christmas, he won't." Maiza tilted down his hat before going out into the cold, and Firo reached back for the olive green fedora hanging on the back of his chair. It was not the first one, of course, but it was starting to show its age. He suspected Maiza would buy him a new one for Christmas. He did every other year or so.

Some things never went out of style, after all.


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