The Little Match Girl died.
She had been Hartley Rathaway’s only friend.
Snow was falling over Central City, clouding Hartley’s glasses and stuffing up his already-fuzzy ears, as he watched the undertakers bundle her into the cart. They’d taken their damn time coming. No profit in a homeless girl’s funeral. There was a good chance they’d just toss her into the river. Hartley had called them anyway, because she deserved better than just being left here.
The undertaker’s boy was looking at Hartley funny.
“Yes?” Hartley snapped.
“You’re Mr. Rathaway’s boy.”
Oh, here we go. Hartley was starting to forget what it was like to be recognized, but it still happened, now and then. He cleaned off his glasses with a damp sleeve so he could peer at the kid. Yeah, he was familiar. He’d been an apprentice of his father’s, once. “Cisco?”
“Yes!” Cisco smiled - an adorable smile - and that’s when Hartley really remembered him. He and Hartley had entertained themselves together as teenagers, for a few pleasant months, side by side in front of the fire, on the floor of his father’s big parlor, building matchstick towns and talking about all the ways they would help the city, when they grew up. And then his father let Cisco go - like he did with all his employees, in the end. No one measured up to Mr. Rathaway’s standards.
Not even his own son.
“Hi,” Hartley said, for want of anything better to say. His glasses were already snow-fogged again. He wondered what he’d give to be in front of that fire back home right now. (Not enough.)
The undertaker’s boy was still smiling at him. “I hope you’re doing okay,” he said softly.
“My best friend just died of malnutrition and the fucking cold,” Hartley deadpanned. “How do you think I’m doing?”
The sadness that crossed Cisco’s face was almost enough for Hartley to wish he hadn’t snarked at him. “I’m sorry about the Little Match Girl,” Cisco said sincerely. “Everyone liked her…”
“Her name was Bette,” Hartley muttered. “And they didn’t like her enough, did they?” He rolled his eyes to the cloudy sky. “But hey, maybe she got taken to heaven by the angels.” Best anyone could hope for, around here.
Cisco was looking even sadder. “I wish I could have done something to help her,” he murmured.
Hartley considered pointing out that if wishes were horses, Little Match Girls would ride far, far away to Coast City, where it was warm and the town wasn’t run by rich tyrants. Including a specific couple of tyrants that Hartley was, unfortunately, related to. “Don’t wanna buy a match, do you?” Hartley asked, smirking.
But Cisco didn’t have time to answer. The undertaker was calling, head shoved out the window. “Francisco!” What was his name? HR something... Randall. He’d always seemed like a nice enough guy, but overworked and underpaid - like everyone else in this town. Hartley felt a useless flicker of empathy for the two of them, bringing out the town’s dead all the way through Christmas.
But then, Central City had a lot of dead to collect. And never more so than at Christmas.
“Sorry,” Cisco said, like he really was. Climbing into the front of the cart, he shot one last - adorable - smile at Hartley, and then the horses clattered off, and they were gone.
Like everyone else.
Hartley had no more reason to stay here. He wasn’t sentimental enough to wander the streets gawking at brightly-lit windows like Bette, but a brisk walk might help with the chill stiffening through him, already turning his toes numb. As he dragged himself up, he caught sight of something on the ground.
Hartley reached down for it, his stiff limbs protesting.
Empty. He’d figured. Poor Bette.
He shoved it into his pocket, skimming his frozen fingers over the rough sandpaper strip along the side of the box, as he set off on the long walk downtown. Maybe they’d be giving away stale turkey pies out of the back of the Jitters Inn. After all, it was Christmas.
Eyes fixed on the icy ground, Hartley didn’t see the man on the bridge with his burning torch, who’d been standing vigil over Bette since before Hartley got to her.
“I’m back!” Mick called out.
This time, he remembered to bang the snow out of his boots before he stepped into the safe house. “Just because we currently live in a crumbling abandoned townhouse on the shitty side of town, it doesn’t mean we can’t take a little pride in our home, Mick,” he muttered under his breath, in an attempt at a drawl. Unlacing his now mostly-dry boots, he placed them carefully at the end of the neat line of six other pairs, stepping back to decide if they were straight enough. Mick Rory couldn’t keep a pencil straight, never mind a line of boots, but somehow his partner managed a setup like that. “Asshole thinks he’s too good for the bent joke,” he said, and laughed to himself.
Picking up his huge bag of wrapped gifts, he threw it over his shoulder like a sack. With his red - stolen - fireman’s coat, he looked the perfect picture of a seasonal figure, and he barely managed to restrain a ho ho ho as he clattered through to the kitchen. It was going to be hit or miss whether Len was in a festive mood.
He got his answer as he ducked his head to avoid the low beam at the entrance to the kitchen. (He’d fallen foul of that one a few times in the month since they’d been here, to all the Rogues’ raucous amusement. Assholes.) The warm, delicious smell of baking pies hit him first. Len was singing some Christmas ditty Mick wasn’t familiar with, as he shoved a nearly-done leg of lamb back into the enormous oven. “And whither sailed those ships all three…” He looked around and smiled as Mick stepped into the kitchen. “Oh, hey, you’re back.”
“Miss me?” Mick asked, dumping the bag and wrapping his arms around Len from behind. Resting his head on his shoulder, Mick gazed down at the bubbling pots on the stove. “This is looking good.”
“You sound surprised,” Len drawled.
Admittedly, Mick was hoping one of the Rogues who was less of a disaster in the kitchen had done most of the work on this meal. “I ain’t about to get poisoned or force-fed charcoal remains, am I?”
“I love you too,” Len said flatly, but his grin back at Mick said he really did. But it dropped into a frown a moment later. “You okay?”
Mick shrugged. “Remember that homeless kid down by the waterfront?”
Len turned around, leaning back against the table. “The poor bastard with the Rathaways for parents, or the girl with the matches?”
“Matches…” Mick raised a meaningful look at Len. Thirty years together meant neither of them had to say much out loud anymore.
Sighing, Len asked quietly, “The cold get her?”
“Yup.” Mick wasn’t about to give away how sad he was about that. But angry? That, Mick Rory could do. He was famous for it. “Can I go roast someone alive?”
His partner tapped his fingertips on the tabletop behind him. “Where you gonna start with that?”
“Don’t care. Any of the rich assholes who run this shithole of a town,” Mick growled. “You know I heard she went to ask Mayor fucking Thawne for his help and he threatened to stick her in his workhouse?”
Len raised his eyebrows. “Lovely man, Eobard Thawne.”
“And don’t get me started on Osgood Rathaway,” Mick muttered. “The kids round here tell some story about ghosts visiting him one Christmas Eve telling him to change his ways, and does he?”
Len snorted. “Of course not. Keeping his factories going and paying his workers a pittance - that’s worth all the poor bastards dying in the streets.” Len steepled his fingers in front of his face, a hard look freezing his features. It was the kind of look that said someone was about to get their comeuppance, Rogue style.
“Christmas Day heist?” Mick suggested hopefully. “Knock one of those proud assholes off their perches?”
Len turned back to the stove. “Wouldn’t help, Mick.”
“It would cheer me up. And I could roast someone.”
Chuckling, Len shook his head. “We haven’t planned it, Mick. We’d only get rumbled by Constable West, or one of the heroes.”
“Fucking heroes,” Mick bit out. Where were they when the Little Match Girl was freezing? “Doubt they’d get us. They’re probably off partying at City Hall right along with the fucking Rathaways…” He trailed off. There was nothing else to say.
But Len had gone back to staring blankly into bubbling pans. “What happened to that kid who used to hang out with her?”
“The Rathaway boy?” Mick shrugged. “He was there...” Mick hadn’t really given him a second thought. Now, he did. Poor kid - alone in the snow on Christmas, and his only friend—
A crash brought Mick’s sadly chugging train of thought to a halt. Probably for the best.
“The fuck is wrong with you, Axel?”
“Piss off, Cloud Clown!”
“You’re the clown, Axel! Grow up, you little—”
“HEY!” Len pulled off his oven mitts and strode through into the front room, wearing his there’s about to be a dead Rogue in this safe house face. “It’s Christmas, children. You can keep the noise down for one damn day…”
Not in the mood to moderate a fight, Mick didn’t bother following. He grabbed a fork, opened the oven - sighing as he breathed in the rush of scalding air - and poked the lamb doubtfully. “Definitely gonna poison me,” he muttered.
They’d run out of stale pies at the Jitters Inn. The owner took one look at Hartley, begging at the back door of the pub, sighed and said, “Sorry, Hartley. Nothing left,” before politely but firmly closing the door.
It wasn’t Mrs. Allen’s fault, Hartley thought, as he turned back towards the snow. The Allens rented this pub from the Rathaways - and for extortionate rates, if Hartley knew his father. And with Dr. Allen practically giving away his services, the Allens probably weren’t eating much more than Hartley was.
And now the snow was getting worse, threatening a blizzard. Not a great time to have an empty belly.
Hartley ignored his snarky inner voice. He was starting to lose track of how long it had been since he’d eaten. If he became the second person to die in the snow in Central today, Bette would kill him. The idea left him chuckling, an edge of hysteria in his laugh.
His head was too fuzzy for him to bother to care where his numb, desperate feet were taking him. He just kept walking.
Until he was standing in front of his parents’ house.
The fight didn’t last long. By the time Len started yelling, “Lunch is served - come and get your Christmas before Mick eats it all,” the Rogues were in better spirits.
“A solid seven out of ten,” Axel declared, helping himself to the biggest heap of roast potatoes it was physically possible to fit onto a serving spoon.
Mick raised an eyebrow at the kid. There was steam rising from the spread laid out before them. Crammed onto every corner of the table were serving dishes full to bursting - green vegetables, carrots, goose-fat potatoes, a giant jug of gravy, and at the center of the table, the perfectly roasted lamb. And this was all before Mick brought out the trifle and Christmas pudding. With the Rogues, there always seemed to be more mouths to feed than bodies who turned up for a heist - but this time, Mick didn’t mind. This was the first good meal they’d eaten in months, and none of the food was even stolen.
As things got bleaker in this town, the Rogues had started helping out, just here and there. Embarrassingly enough, the whole town managed to notice. Today’s veggies had come straight from Rabbi and Mrs. Stein’s farm over on the Keystone road - Mick had fixed up their roof last month, when it had started letting in water, and they’d dropped off this little lot in thanks. Mrs. Jackson, the butcher, wouldn’t take a penny for the lamb, no matter how hard Mick tried to pay for it. “Oh, off with you,” she’d said, pushing Mick out the door. “Least I can do after your Shawna saved my Jefferson’s leg after he got frostbite last winter.” (Mick found a way to sneak back and leave half the money on the counter anyway - she couldn’t afford to give that away for nothing at all.) As for dessert, Len had quietly bailed out Mrs. Allen a couple of months ago when she couldn’t pay the rent on the inn. She’d been paying him back just as quietly ever since. When a Jitters Inn-special trifle turned up on their doorstep this morning, Len brought it indoors with nothing more than a “Huh,” but his smile had said it all.
“Seven, hmm?” Len tilted his head at Mick. “A whole point more than last year. We’ve outdone ourselves… Lisa, you can’t just eat lamb. The vegetables are right there.” Len scowled when his sister ignored him, a habit sharpened by a lifetime of practice. “Not that I really care, but if you get scurvy, you’re paying your own doctor’s bills.”
“Oh, stop griping, Lenny.” Lisa lifted her glass, just refilled for the third time, to toast him. “I also have wine.”
Downing his water, Axel sent his glass skimming across the surface of the table towards Lisa, who had enough sense to catch it before it went crashing to the floor. “I want wine,” he demanded.
With near-perfect timing, Mark, Shawna and Sam said in unison, “You’re seventeen.” Axel scowled and went back to working his way through all the potatoes.
At Mick’s elbow, Shawna laughed. When Mick didn’t, she poked him. “You’re quiet,” she said. “What’s up?”
Mick sighed, pushing his food around his plate. “Dunno.”
“Oh, don’t give me that.” Shawna propped herself up on her elbow to smile at him. “It’s Christmas, Mick. What have you got to be sad about?”
He looked up, the flickering fire in the hearth catching his eye. But for once, he wasn’t getting lost in the devouring blaze. He was thinking about how warm they all were, and how much of this huge spread was about to be left over…
Mick raised his voice. “It ain’t right.” But he couldn't compete with Christmas dinner. The Rogues just carried on eating and laughing and arguing. Mick grabbed a spoon, slamming it down on the tabletop, sending the bowl of carrots clattering to the floor. “This ain’t right! We’re really just gonna sit here?” The assembled company were now gawking at him in confusion. Mick flung out an arm towards the blizzard just beyond the window. “When a girl died out there today, and another kid is out there in the snow with no one to help him?”
Len lifted his hands in a shrug. “Appreciate the sentiment, Mick,” he said quietly. “But you know what I think. It ain’t our job to look out for anyone but the Rogues.” He picked up his fork again. “But I won’t argue if you want to go out looking for Hartley Rathaway.”
“And what about the next kid?” Mick growled. “The next apprentice Rathaway lays off. The next family Thawne evicts from their cottage.” He stared out of the window into the hopeless gloom of falling dusk and snow. It had to be damn cold out there.
“Not our problem,” Len muttered. But Mick could hear the thaw in his voice.
Mick met his partner’s eyes, remembering the scrawny kid he’d saved in the workhouse, thirty years ago. “Good thing I never said that about you. You’d be six feet under the snow right about now.” He raised an eyebrow, in a challenge and a dare.
From the other end of the table, Len held Mick’s gaze for a minute - and laughed. He was shaking his head as he shoved back his chair, stood up, and rounded the table. “Fuck you, you contrary little—”
Mick didn’t get to hear what kind of contrary little thing he was. Len was too busy kissing him.
For several minutes.
“Eww,” said Lisa.
“Aww,” said Shawna.
“I’m gonna barf,” said Axel.
“Are you two quite finished, and did you wanna share the joke with the rest of the class?” asked Mark.
Len and Mick, as it happened, were not quite finished. When they were, Len pulled away - keeping a delightfully possessive hand in the small of Mick’s back - and said, “Eat up, children. We’re hitting the Rathaways tonight.”
In the whole of his life, Mick didn’t think he’d ever been so smitten.
He even managed to ignore the chaos that broke out around the table, too busy beaming at Len. His hero.
“Last check-in,” Len drawled. Mick never tired of watching him give the final orders before a job, all fired up with confidence and anticipation. Nothing like it. Len pulled back the curtain, showing off the indigo night beyond the window. “Snow’s stopped, for now, so we’re good for the walk through town.”
“It’s a mile,” Axel whined.
“Put another scarf on. It’ll give us a chance to look for Hartley along the way.” Len relented at Axel’s scowl. “If you really can’t hack it, we’ll borrow a sled.”
Raising a hand, Mick checked, “Hartley’s my thing, yeah?”
“And the torches.” Len held up a finger in warning. “But no setting fires if anyone’s in the house. You know the code.”
Mick held up a bag full of torches. He’d been soaking them in kerosene all afternoon. Maybe he was a little fired up himself. “Got ‘em.”
“Good.” Len’s fond smile was warm enough to light a spark in Mick’s heart. He could handle the snow with his partner there. “Explosives?” Len asked, and Axel lifted his own bag with a wicked grin. “Good. Lisa, you’re in charge of the gold. Make sure you get a good chunk out of there, just to piss off old Rathaway.”
“Damn right,” Lisa agreed, eyes sparkling, probably at the thought of the jewelry she could swipe along the way.
“Mark, you’re on smash-and-grab duty. Shawna, fill your bag, but your priority is to help if we find Hartley. Sam, Rosa… just stay out of trouble.”
Hand in Sam’s, Rosa grinned. “Never.” She got an amused eyebrow-raise back from Len, who opened the door, letting in a blast of freezing air. “Well, then. What are you all waiting for? Time for the most ambitious, poorly-planned heist in Central City history. Let’s clear out the Rathaways.”
The cheer was only drowned out a little by Shawna’s scream, as she discovered the frog Axel had left in her coat pocket. As Mick passed Len, holding the door open, he bounced his eyebrows at him - and got a quick kiss for his trouble.
This was going to be fun.
“What do you want?”
The imposing figure of Osgood Rathaway stood in the cracked-open doorway, barring Hartley’s way. Six feet from the Christmas tree lights and warm fires of his childhood home, and the distance had never felt more vast.
Hartley hadn’t seen his father since the night he threw his son out into the literal cold, in a blizzard worse than the one now quieting down around them.
This was a terrible idea.
He couldn’t stop shivering. His teeth were clitter-clattering so loudly that Hartley could hear them - he didn’t ever remember hearing his teeth before. “I’m cold,” his voice croaked.
His father raised a disdainful eyebrow. “Should have thought of that before you brought shame on the family by getting caught with my book-keeper, shouldn’t you?”
To his father, Roderick had been just one more in a string of unsatisfactory employees. He’d been looking for an excuse to fire him. (He’d probably been looking for an excuse to toss Hartley out onto the streets, too.)
To Hartley, Roderick had been… special. But Hartley hadn’t heard from him since Osgood Rathaway found out about the two of them. He wouldn’t be surprised if his father had found a way to make him disappear. Osgood couldn’t punish his son by going to the press with the scandal - too worried about shame on the family - but that wouldn’t have stopped him threatening anyone else.
“You’re still here,” his father said.
“Please,” Hartley muttered. Not even above begging anymore. How the mighty have fallen, snarked the voice in his head. But then, you know what they say about what comes after pride. And you were always so full of that, weren’t you?
“Shut up,” Hartley whispered, hands around his head. “Shut up, shut up…”
His father rolled his eyes. “Oh, for heaven’s sake. Not content with shaming us with your lascivious ways? Now you’ve lost your mind, now, too?” Shaking his head, Osgood turned away.
“Dad, please!” Hartley tried, one last time. “I’m cold, and I— I miss you and Mother.” He dashed away the tears running down his face. They were only going to freeze, and that was the last thing he needed. “I lost a friend to the cold today… Poor Bette...” Hartley was thinking out loud now, but he was too tired to care.
Osgood frowned. “That silly girl with the matchbox? Good riddance. She came here earlier asking us to buy one of her overpriced matches. Filthy little beggar.”
“Leave,” his father said, not turning around. “Or I’ll call the constable.” Muttering curses under his breath, Osgood Rathaway marched inside and slammed the door behind him.
Hartley made it as far as the gate before his legs gave way altogether. Finally giving in to the cold and the hopelessness, he curled up in a pathetic little ball. “I’m sorry, Bette,” he murmured, with a gurgled laugh at himself. He never would have said anything so sentimental if he hadn’t been falling unconscious.
And then darkness came down around him, and it didn’t matter anymore.
There was no sign of Hartley along the river.
Mick kicked a trashcan. With his feet numb in his boots, this wasn’t ideal. “Ow.”
“Got that out of your system?” Len asked. “‘Cause we’re nearly at the Rathaways’ place, and I want you focused when we hit it. So if you need to punch a lamppost, be my guest.”
Mick scowled at his partner’s smirk. “I’m worried we’re too late, asshole.”
Len tilted his head like there was no good answer to that.
When they had set off, the Rogues had been in high spirits. The longer they walked through silent streets past tumbledown houses lit by single candles, the more somber the mood got. Now the silent line of Rogues rounded a corner, and the huge Rathaway house came into view, lit up like a tastelessly decorated Christmas tree.
Through the huge windows, they could see Osgood and Rachel enjoying a feast that would feed half a dozen people and still leave food over.
“Selfish bastards,” Mark growled.
Axel scowled at the window. “Can I throw my explosives yet?”
“Hold on.” Len was peering between the lion-headed gate posts at a shape on the ground, white with snow and curled up in a ball. He beckoned for Mick to follow him through the gate.
It was Hartley Rathaway.
“I’m gonna kill the fuckers,” Mick hissed.
“Not now, Mick.” Len touched the back of a hand to the kid’s forehead. “We need to get him into the warm - now.”
In sync, the two of them raised their eyes to the fire blazing just beyond the big window.
“Axel,” Len said, in the kind of chilling voice that Mick only ever heard from a Leonard Snart with a purpose, “how would you like to create, shall we say, a disturbance of the peace?”
There was a lot of screaming, but no injuries. The plan had been to distract the Rathaways so the Rogues could clean out their place. A few extra explosions sent them running for the constable. And, as Len was happy to explain, it put the Rogues solidly within Plan B territory. “We didn’t even really need to throw away the plan,” Len said, with just a touch of defensiveness in his tone. “And there’s no accounting for plans going off the rails.”
Mick thought back to all the times Len’s plans-within-plans had accounted for everything, from his sister deciding to bang a guardsman at City Hall, to that time there was an earthquake in the Central City bank. But he was too busy with the kid to mention it, laying the sleeping kid gently down on the rug in front of the fire. Real fur - at least that’d help with the cold. “Come on, Hartley.”
Shawna dropped down next to him in a crouch, back from wherever she’d gone to find blankets and hot water. She gave Mick a reassuring little smile. “I’ve got this, Mick.” In the end, the Rogues just sat back and watched as Shawna did the kind of miracles that, with her, weren’t even reserved for Christmas.
An hour later, Hartley was wrapped in three blankets, curled up against Mick’s side - he figured he was the warmest body here - sipping sweet tea while Shawna made him up another hot water bottle. “I can’t believe you guys broke into my parents’ house and scared them away,” he was saying, wide-eyed with delight. His voice was still hoarse, but he seemed okay. Mick curled a protective arm around him. “I’m just sad I missed it.”
“Talking of breaking in,” Lisa interjected, “I couldn’t figure out where your parents keep the gold. Any ideas?”
Hartley grinned at her. “Safe in the basement. Code is 15-06-47. Have fun.” Squeeing, Lisa took off at a run, dragging Mark by the hand. “Interesting woman, your sister,” Hartley told Len, who nodded like Hartley was complimenting him.
Mick was just starting to lose himself in the blazing hearth fire, a reward for a job gone right, when a new voice said, “Anyone wanna tell me what the hell is going on here?”
Mick, Len and Hartley turned lazy heads in the direction of the door. (Rosa and Sam were still too busy eating each other’s faces to notice.) Constable Joe West was standing in the parlor doorway, one fist on his hip, the other holding his nightstick in what he probably thought was a threatening manner.
Len’s customary smirk stretched itself out. “Constable West. What can we do for you on this fine evening?”
The constable strode into the room, poised to grab Len - and then he took in the scene by the fire and paused. “Mr. Rathaway,” he said, nodding at Hartley. “Perhaps you can explain this situation, sir.”
“Please, call me Hartley. Mr Rathaway is someone I don’t like very much.” Hartley pulled himself into a standing position on shaky legs - Mick kept a firm hand on his arm. “I invited these nice friends of mine into my home. I think that’s still legal?”
“That’s not what your father says.” West was looking between Len and Hartley as if the conflicting stories were giving him a headache.
Hartley, who Mick had pulled back down onto the sofa, said, “My father who threw me into the street in the middle of the worst winter Central City’s seen in decades? Yes, let’s all listen to him.”
West was silent, levelling a stare at Hartley, the Rogues forgotten. (Which was handy, as Axel was sitting cross-legged on the big table behind them, munching on a turkey leg that technically didn't belong to him.) “That wasn’t right,” Joe said finally. He glanced back to Len. “But this little gang of criminals have a bunch of arrest warrants out. Everything from confidence tricks to bank robbery.” (At the mention of confidence tricksters, Rosa grinned a little too proudly at Sam.) “You can stay, Hartley, but I need to take them back to the police station.”
“If you please, Constable West,” said another new voice, “there are a few of us here who’d like to speak in their favor.”
This time Mick’s head spun around towards the doorway so fast, he gave himself a crick in his neck.
There was a damn crowd at the door.
Mrs. Allen, who ran the Jitters Inn, was at the front. Her husband Dr. Allen had his hand on her shoulder, and his apprentice Caitlin Snow was hovering behind them both.
Behind them were Rabbi and Mrs. Stein, from the farm on the Keystone road, both beaming at Mick.
With them was Mrs. Jackson, the butcher, whose smile was directed at Len, while he tried to squirm out of her gaze.
Mick was a little surprised to see Reverend Cecile Horton with them, on Christmas Day. She must have delayed the evening service for this.
Near the back of the crowd were HR Randall, the undertaker, and Cisco Ramon his apprentice - who was trying not to smile at Hartley too obviously, and failing.
Bringing up the rear was Iris West-Allen, the town crier. She was keeping a tight hold on the hand of her husband, Barry Allen, who sometimes helped his father-in-law with evidence at the police station, and… well, no one really knew what else he did, but it seemed very important. He was always in a bit of a hurry. (Barry was looking oddly awkward to be here, like he wasn’t sure he should be advocating for a bunch of criminals. Probably just the whole ‘law man’ thing.)
Joe West folded his arms. “You wanna speak in these guys’ favor, huh? Go on then. What can you all possibly have to say about these good-for-nothing layabouts?”
“Layabouts?” Mrs. Stein laughed. “They’ve been fixing up our farmhouse for years. It’s not like the Rathaways were ever going to do it.”
“Rathaways,” Rabbi Stein echoed in a mutter. “Letting this city fall apart, one house at a time.”
Mrs. Jackson sighed. “Tell me about it. Mick and Len are about the only people I can call when bits fall off my roof. To say nothing of Shawna, when my Jefferson got hurt.” She beamed at Shawna, who ducked her head but smiled back.
“Shawna?” The kind voice turned out to belong to Henry Allen, who stepped forward to shake her hand. “Hah - it is you!” He waved a hand at the crowd. “Miss Baez here was my office manager for years. She even started training as my nurse.”
“Yeah, well,” Shawna muttered, to the Rogues’ curious faces. “Ran out of money, fell foul of the law, you know how it is.”
Henry looked very sad when he said, “You left before I could tell you we’d find a way to figure that out…” As Shawna just stared at the floor, Henry wisely switched direction. “Well, I hear you’re doing an excellent job helping townspeople who can’t afford medical treatment.”
Mick was glad to see a smile peek through on Shawna’s face. Pointing at Hartley, Mick told Henry, “She saved this one’s life tonight,” which only made Shawna look more bashful.
But Henry was having none of her protests. “Well, of course you did! You can’t take her in, Joe. She’s been on the run from you people for too long.” He stepped aside to talk to Shawna, his confident bearing making it clear he wasn’t letting Joe West take her anywhere.
Mrs. Allen was quietly smiling at Len. He shook his head at her, but she firmly shook hers right back. “Leonard won’t admit it, but he’s paid my rent a couple of times this year,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve ever been able to thank you in person, Leonard.”
In an unprecedented moment, Len was speechless. Mick chuckled and clapped him on the back.
The expression on West’s face said he was rethinking. But he pointed at Mark and Axel. “What about these two? All they do is breach the peace and ‘borrow’ things that don’t belong to them. And as for you—” He glared at Rosa and Sam. “Don’t get me started with these con people.”
“Not quite true,” Iris West-Allen said. “Axel’s always there to help out when I’m tired and it’s cold and I’ve been ringing the bell with the news all day.” She shot Axel a smile that made his eyes go wide. He blushed and skittered away back to the table, as she called after him, “I’ll make an apprentice of you yet, Master Walker!”
“Even Mark helps me out at the Inn when I’m short-handed,” Mrs. Allen agreed. “And I’m sure you all know what it’s like when you can’t afford staff because the Rathaways have sucked you dry.” There was a murmur of assent all round. Mark made a gruff noise that wasn’t quite a denial.
HR raised a hand. “And Rosa and Sam spent half a day fixing up my cart last month, when the weather first got bad.”
“And mine,” said Reverend Horton, grinning at Sam and Rosa, who were trying to look anywhere but at the townspeople. This was a challenge, when the townspeople were everywhere. She tilted her head at Constable West. “Come on, Joe. It’s Christmas. Night of miracles.” She winked at Len, off protesting in the corner that he didn’t need any damn miracles, thanks. “Language, Leonard.”
Len coughed. “Sorry, Reverend.”
Joe put down his nightstick and cleared his throat. “I think we might need to take an unconventional route to justice today.” He nodded around at the Rogues. “I guess I can hold off on taking you in till we can decide if all of this help counts as community service.”
A cheer went up, mostly from the younger Rogues, though the rest of the townsfolk made approving noises.
It was good, Mick decided, that neither Constable West nor Reverend Horton heard Len muttering about how he wasn’t giving up his life of crime anytime soon, even after a Christmas miracle. Or maybe they just pretended not to hear him.
Hartley raised a hand to quiet the noise. “And about what the Rogues did for me tonight…” He made a face at the fireplace. “The irony of how close I came to dying on the front lawn of my own family house, while my parents ate Christmas dinner inside, has not been lost on me.” He nodded at a few of the Rogues. “I lost a friend today, Constable. No one helped her. If these good-for-nothing criminals hadn’t intervened, I could have been the next to go.”
Even Mick could tell that the silence that followed was a little uncomfortable.
A moment later, Mrs. Allen broke it. “I’m sorry.” She stepped forward, offering Hartley her hand. “I should have helped when you came to me. Running out of pies was no excuse - you could have come in for a glass of mulled wine, to get warm by the fire…”
With no hesitation, Hartley reached out to shake her hand. “It’s okay, Mrs. Allen. I know you were just trying to survive, too.”
Mrs. Allen managed a smile. “Please - it’s Nora. And you’re welcome in my pub anytime, Hartley, whether you’ve got money or not.”
“Which is kind of my point,” Hartley said, a little louder, turning to look at the whole gathered town. “Never mind the Rogues - my parents are the ones who’ve ruined this city. They charge you extortionate rent on the inn, Nora. They won’t look after the hundreds of properties they rent out, will they, Mrs. Jackson, Mrs. Stein? They even take ridiculous fees on your medical services, Henry. We’ve been living with this shit for far too long.” (Reverend Horton politely tried not to wince at that.)
Mick pursed his lips at the kid. “So what do you wanna do about it?”
Hartley started to speak— and was interrupted.
“Is there a problem here, good citizens?” said the smarmiest voice Mick had ever had the misfortune of hearing.
“And talking of people who’ve ruined this town…” Hartley turned around slowly. “Hello, Mayor Thawne.” The kid was looking at Eobard Thawne with real hate in his eyes. Mick didn’t care why it was there. He just wanted to step between him and anyone Hartley felt like that about.
“Hartley.” The mayor indicated his head towards him, much like he might deign to acknowledge carolers who had interrupted his dinner. “I’m told you broke into a house you don’t own and scared away the owners. Care to tell me why?”
Len raised his hand, smirk painting his face the perfect shade of snark. “Actually, that was us. Hartley was unconscious at the time.”
The mayor raised a dismissive hand. “I’m talking to Hartley, not you.” The kid’s eyes widened at the mayor’s tone. Mick took a step closer. “How dare you create a disturbance of the peace on Christmas Day? You ungrateful little wretch. First you treat your apprenticeship at City Hall like something you can just walk away from—”
“Oh, the things I could tell the town about that apprenticeship with you, Eobard,” Hartley said, very, very quietly.
If Mayor Thawne heard it, he ignored him. “—and then you don’t even have the decency to die when you’re tossed out on the streets where you belong.”
Mick put a hand on Hartley’s shoulder. He was shaking - probably with rage. Mick’s urge to hit this creep was growing. “Hey, mayor,” Mick said, low in his throat. “You think it’s okay to talk to your citizens like that, do you?”
Thawne rounded on Mick. “You’re not part of this, Rogue. Get your hand off him. You disruptive criminals are going straight to the town jail - and you’ll be locked up for the longest, Leonard Snart. And yes, I do know who you are.”
“Always nice to meet a fan,” Len drawled.
The Mayor struck Hartley across the face.
Mick thought he could be forgiven, in the chaos that erupted afterwards, for punching the mayor right back. It was an excellent shiner.
“I don’t think you’ll be running unopposed next year, Mayor Thawne,” Iris said later, when the mayor was slumped in a chair, with Constable West keeping an eye on him. Apparently, all it took to make Thawne give up was one punch - and an entire town pointing out what an asshole he was. “Maybe we'll be able to persuade Mr. Snart to run for office.”
“Mayor?” Thawne tried, weakly, to object. “A convicted criminal?” No one but Mick heard him. The rest of the townsfolk were too busy making plans.
“What a good idea,” Nora said, beaming at Len. “I’m sure Leonard has some very creative ideas for social housing and reforming the rental market.”
Len stared back at her like a reindeer caught in the lamplights of a passing sleigh.
Henry Allen grinned at Shawna. “I know he’d have a good advisor on local healthcare policy. Hmm, we could start with opening a subsidized hospital… You could pick up your nurse training, Shawna.”
Mrs. Stein quirked a little smile at Mick. “Maybe you could give him some ideas on fixing up the town. The Rathaways have made such a mess of it.”
“Ooh, that sounds good,” Mrs. Jackson piped up. “My chimney’s been blocked for a week.”
Mick didn’t get a chance to tell her he’d be over tomorrow to unblock it. Len yelled, “HEY!”
A dozen faces turned to smile at him.
“I’m not running for mayor!” Len protested. “I got evil deeds to do.”
Half the town offered some doubtful variation on, “Sure you do.”
“I’m not running for mayor,” Len repeated, a little more coldly.
While everyone bobbed their heads back and forth, Lisa raised a hand and said, “I might.” That got another chorus of happy oohs, and then another round of policy ideas, while Len dropped his head into his hands, and Mick patted him on the shoulder.
In the excitement, no one noticed Eobard Thawne slinking away.
Not till HR looked around and said, “Oh, thank God. That twin brother of mine is the worst.”
“I can see why you changed your name,” Barry agreed.
“Hey,” Mick said brightly, “I think we got the house to ourselves for the night. Can’t see your parents bothering us till the morning now, Hart.”
Hartley grinned. “I guess we should probably let them have their home back before, let’s say, midnight. But they can have a taste of wandering in the snow till then.”
Over at the table, through a mouthful of stuffing, Axel said, “There’s a whole feast here. Anyone want some?”
The townspeople were enthusiastic.
An hour or two later, Hartley slumped back in his chair, sighing. “I cannot eat another bite. I may never eat again.”
“Feeling better?” asked Cisco, who’d been gazing at Hartley for most of dinner. Hartley was wondering if one of them should do something to break the awkwardness.
“Yes, thanks,” he said, raising his eyes to meet Cisco’s, attempting a smile.
Cisco’s smile back was, as ever, adorable.
There was an even more awkward pause - before HR reached over and clapped his apprentice on the back. “Take the rest of the weekend off, Francisco. Spend some time with your friends here.”
“More the merrier, back at the Rogues house,” Mick offered.
Len nodded, grinning between Hartley and Cisco. “Plenty of beds. Twins and doubles.”
Cisco choked on his wine. HR slapped him on the back even harder.
With excellent timing, the town crier proposed a toast. Iris stood with a glass of wine in her hand, while Barry banged on the table with a metal spoon. “Hear ye, hear ye,” Iris started, which elicited a groan from around the table.
“You’re not walking the streets with your bell now, kiddo,” Mrs. Jackson said, in the tone of one who has seen a town full of children grow up and get jobs, and still thinks of them all as twelve years old.
Iris grinned. “Sorry - habit.” She cleared her throat. “A toast, townspeople! To a prosperous new year, in which we unelect Eobard Thawne.”
“And vote in Len!” Axel called out.
Lisa poked him.
“Ow! Or Lisa!”
“To the Rogues,” said Rabbi Stein, raising his own glass. “A better bunch of criminals a town could never find.”
There were general choruses of hear, hear around the table. Henry clapped Shawna on the shoulder, who grinned and promised she’d think about finishing her nursing training next year. Hartley raised his glass to Mick and Len, with the most sincere nods of thanks he could manage. Mick grinned back; Len inclined his head.
Never one to be outdone by the rabbi, Reverend Horton stood, raising her glass. “To Christmas, the season of forgiveness… and changing our ways,” she said pointedly.
Len muttered something about robbing the church silver next year. Mick kicked him.
“To a better town that we all build together,” Jefferson Jackson offered, still a little out of breath from running in late after a Christmas soccer match with a neighboring Keystone team. He toasted the Rogues with his water glass.
“To free healthcare!” Caitlin said, a little too excitedly. A few people chided her for jumping the gun, but she just laughed and poured herself another glass of wine.
“To heroes!” Barry offered, which got him a bored mutter of yeah, sure, thanks, from people who clearly knew something Hartley didn’t.
Len leaned back in his chair, with the biggest smirk of the evening. “Heroes like you, Barry?”
Barry levelled an unimpressed stare at him… and grinned, raising his glass. “And you, Snart.”
Len spluttered his way through a protest, while Mick went wide-eyed for a second, then winked at Barry. Tired from too many surprises, Hartley decided he’d ask about all that later.
“And…” Iris raised her voice over the throng one last time, clearly wanting the last word. Seemed only fair, for the town crier. “To chasing the Rathaways away, if only for a night.”
“Maybe they’ll get another visit from those ghosts, and really change their ways this time,” Jefferson mused.
There were mutters of doubt it from the Rogues, and we can only hope from Reverend Horton and Constable West - who were holding hands. That made sense of the rumors that they were quietly courting each other. Kind of sweet, Hartley thought.
He looked away… to see Cisco grinning at the couple, too. Cisco caught Hartley’s eye, and that adorable smile softened. “Actually,” Cisco said, his tone suddenly decisive, “I think I will come and spend my weekend off with the Rogues. If—” He coughed, and shoved a piece of chocolate into his mouth. “If that’s okay with you, Hartley,” he said around it.
Hartley smiled back. “That sounds good.”
He was rewarded with an even more adorable, chocolate-speckled grin. With this boy around, Hartley was never going to stop smiling. Turned out, he was okay with this.
As the conversation lulled, Hartley raised his glass in one more toast. “To Bette,” he said quietly.
No one could blame him if he got a little misty-eyed as the entire town toasted her.
Reaching into his pocket, Hartley pulled out her matchbox. It rattled. “Huh.” He pulled out one last match, turning the tiny thing in his hand. “I was sure it was empty.”
Across the table, Cisco’s smile had turned sad, but hopeful. “What are you gonna do with it, Hartley?”
“Only takes one spark to start a fire,” said Mick, peering over at the match.
Hartley looked around at the townspeople. “Yeah. That’s all it takes.”
He pocketed the match, for another cold day when he might need it.