It's a Wonderful Final Fantasy
Disclaimer: this is an idea RAMPANTLY ripped off of the holiday classic. It is also so AU it's not even remotely funny, so don't take it seriously. I don't treat them badly enough to own their copyright, that's Square's job. Maybe they don't have Christmas, but they probably have something very like it and do you think they'd all be speaking ENGLISH anyway? Call it a translation. Happy Holidays and remember, everyone's life means something. ^_^}
"I see what you mean. We cannot leave things as they stand."
There was a considerable pause. The green infinity spun and swirled around them.
"Well, who should we send?"
The pause was even longer this time.
"We... we could..."
"You DO remember last time, don't you?"
"...yes. But that poor man was going to blow up his Gundam anyway, we really should let him have another chance. That was a hopeless case."
A heavy sigh. "This one may be harder."
"I believe in him. Send him for me."
The summons was answered almost immediately, but the two presences frowned at the delay.
"Heh, heh.. sorry I'm late." He jiggled into his pants, smoothing unruly hair. Whassup?"
the first presence cleared his throat. "Here. You have a new duty. And if you're successful-"
"My wings?" The new arrival looked at them both, wild hope in his eyes. "Really?"
"Only if you succeed." The second one cave him a conspiratorial wink. "Take this. It will give you all the background you need. Come back to us when you are done."
"A game?" He frowned at the disk. "Okay, if you say so." He turned to go back into the green beyond, and tripped on a stray bit of energy. "Whoops."
The two presences exchanged a pained look.
"C'mon, Bert, this is ME."
"Sorry." The owner of the Balamb weapon shop was in no mood to be connived. "We're totally stocked, Almasy. You've been doing a damn fine job, but there just ain't that much call for the stuff these days. Come back in a few weeks, when my stock's gone down. I might be able to buy some off you then."
Seifer scowled, tapping his gunblade up and down on one shoulder. "Half price." He offered.
Bert shook his head. "I'm sorry, I just don't need 'em. Maybe in Timber, my brother has a shop, he might buy some tentacles off you."
Seifer did not feel like announcing the fact that he couldn't afford the train ticket. "Yeah, sure. Whatever." He hefted the package and stomped out of the shop. "Just don't come cryin' to me when you're out of supplies!"
Bert sighed, watching him go. Poor guy. He felt for him, really he did, with the holidays and all. But what can you do? A fella had to look out for his own family, first.
"How'd it go?" Raijin asked, bouncing to stay warm in the flurry of snow. Raijin could never find a coat to fit him, but he did have a worn t-shirt under his vest and a wooly scarf so cheerful it made Seifer want to toss.
"Here." He growled, tossing the load of tentacles and adamantine into Raijin's arms. "He's not buyin'."
Raijin frowned. "But... we gotta pay the hotel bill tomorrow, ya know? And Fuujin still ain't feelin' so good and--"
"I know! I Know, damnit!" Seifer ruffled his hair in agitation and Raijin stared hard at the bundle in his arms. Seifer was yelling a lot more lately. It had gotten worse since Fuu had come down with something a few days ago. But money had been scarce long before then.
"Maybe we could go to the Garden, ya know?" Raijin offered tentatively. Seifer had gone very still, glowering at the ice and salt slushed pavement. "Squall would-"
"I will not," Seifer growled, "Go groveling to Leonhart for charity. WE are perfectly capable of taking care of ourselves. But if YOU want to go then FINE. Go sniveling to garden for a handout, is THAT what you want?"
Raijin recoiled. Seifer hadn't been like this since, well, since The Sorceress. And even then he'd been a lot more vague and mellow-dreamy, not this frayed rage that just seemed to simmer under his open trenchcoat. "No, no, that's not it at all, Seifer? I'm just worried about Fuu, ya know? I think she might need a doctor or somethin', maybe? I never seen her so pale."
"She was fucking pale to begin with, Raijin." Seifer still chewed his lip worriedly. "Look, just take that stuff back to the hotel and keep an eye on her, would you?"
"Okay," Raijin turned to go; obedience was always easiest, especially when Seifer was angry. "But what will you-?"
"Hey," Seifer spread his arms, and for a second he looked to Raijin just like Seifer should look, cool and confident. But then he just looked cold, his throat exposed to the wind, necklace icy on his collarbone. "I'll think of something. Go on."
Raijin jogged off, looking back only once to see Seifer offer an unconcerned wave. Once he got around the corner Seifer let it drop, folding his arms inside his coat and walking slowly down the sidewalk. How long he circled the small harbor town he had no idea, but his ears burned with cold and he'd stopped feeling his feet long since. No one passing him on the street gave him a second glance, as far as they were concerned he was just a nobody.
Seifer lifted his head into the icy wind, snowflakes kissing his stinging cheeks. Him. Seifer Almasy, a nobody. Just a few months ago, he'd held the world in his hands, and now what? All he had left was his friends-
~I never seen her so pale...~
Seifer shook his head. Fuujin was tough, just under the weather. She'd get better. Things would be tight for a while but that was nothing new. Besides, Seifer reasoned, coming to a stop in the snow, he still had his skills and his brains and Hyperion and...
~We've gotta pay the hotel bill tomorrow...~
Seifer lifted his gunblade, holding it in both hands. He knew her better than any other lover, the curve of each pin and the ridges on the grip, the way the weight of her would swing out like an extension of his arm, the subtle kick as she spat bullets at enemies. He could not well remember a time before he owned her, his sleek black deadly weapon. She was custom-made, any upgrades had been in simple things, nothing to take away from her perfect lines or mar the razor edge of her kiss.
She'd be worth a lot of money, that was certain. Seifer's fingers fondled the blade-tip. Enough for them to live on a couple of months, maybe.
Enough for a doctor for Fuu.
The black metal surface was unforgiving in reflecting his face, the blue eyes pale as if frozen, darkness ringing them, making him look old. It wasn't like seeing himself in Fuujin's eye, when she lay awake next to him at night. Hyperion gave no warmth back to him in the snow, icy like the street. Seifer forced himself to see the gunblade for what it was, steel and adamantine and gunpowder, just a tool like any common screwdriver. Gil to keep them fed and warm through the winter. Any other weapon would serve him as well.
His heart beating in his throat, and not feeling the cold, Seifer hurried back through the snow to the weapon shop.
Which was closed.
"Dammit!" Seifer beat his fist on the door, rattling the glass, but there was no response. The small sign in the window wished passers-by a happy winter holiday and promised to reopen in four days. Too late.
Seifer pressed his forehead to the door, scar aching. The wind howled in the nearly empty streets, it was well past the time to be bundled up and warm inside, with a hot dinner and no need to venture out in the cold. Seifer wrapped his coat around him, grateful at least for his gloves and began the long walk back to the hotel.
He walked right past it, though, deep in circular thought, and came to a stop only when the sidewalk ended abruptly, his steel-toed boots a mere few inches from a long drop into Balamb harbor. A chunk or two of dislodged snow tumbled off the end of the dock to splat into the water. It was full dark by now, and the pier was deserted.
"Great." Seifer sat down in the snow, glowering at the pewter-colored water. "Some finale, huh." He looked up at the sky, but it was wooly with clouds. There were no stars. "Day before yesterday was my birthday, you know." He said to the sky. "I just remembered." Not that it made much difference. He certainly hadn't improved his position in the last year. Fuujin and Raijin deserved better. They probably would have made SeeD if they hadn't run off to find him, and would be warm and safe inside the Garden right now. Seifer glared at the sky. If it wasn't for him, probably a lot of people would be better off, himself included. Seifer threw a snowball into the water. It made a pleasing plop. Maybe, he wondered, maybe he should just go in after it. His chuckle was bitter. "Merry fucking Christmas."
Seifer jumped, just a little, but had enough presence of mind to pretend he hadn't, still staring at the floating snowball. He hadn't heard anyone approach him; he was REALLY starting to lose it. "EXCUSE me," He seethed. "I'm not in the mood for company."
"I know." There was a pause.
Seifer shifted, his hips crunching in the snow. "Well?"
"oh! I was just waiting to see if you were going to jump or not." The voice wasn't shocked, just curious. "You know."
"Well I'm not." Seifer snorted. "I wouldn't do much good NOW. If I was going to jump I should have done it nineteen years ago."
"Ah. Wishing you were never born, huh?"
"Look, you nosey bas-" Seifer rose to his feet, ready to give some asshole what for, and stopped short. His companion was standing directly in front of him, on nothing, the water a long drop below. Seifer's motion had dislodged a few icicles, and they plummeted between the other man's feet to splash into the harbor.
"Uh," Seifer began. He didn't think Float worked that way.
"I'm an angel," he explained.
"The heck you say." Seifer took a step back, warily.
"No, really. I'm an angel." He paused, considering. "Well, almost."
"You don't LOOK like an angel," Seifer accused, wondering if one could go mad from exposure to cold. "You look like a punk kid." A BUFF punk kid, Seifer admitted to himself, eyeing him. With bare arms in the falling snow, and spiky wild black hair. "Or a hedgehog."
"Look DON'T start on my hair, 'kay? I'm here to HELP you." The angel jabbed a definitely corporeal finger in the middle of Seifer's chest. "So just watch it."
"How?" Seifer demanded.
"You wished you were never born? You got it, pal." The angel stuck out his tongue, and folded his arms. "Good luck."
And he was gone.
Seifer blinked and spun around, ice crackling under his boots. It was no longer snowing. "Hey!" The empty harbor wind howled back at him. "Hey, hedgehog?" Seifer blinked, stomping down onto the sidewalk. Great. He was seeing things. He'd better just go back to the hotel and-
Seifer scowled. The young man accusing him looked vaguely familiar, but Seifer was too agitated to place where. "What? If this is a damn charity thing, I'm broke, got it?"
The barrel of a gun was instantly aimed at Seifer's chest. "I don't recognize you. Name, Rank, Serial number!"
Seifer rolled his eyes. Was this some kind of joke? "Almasy. Classman level five. 9851304. Now quit pointing that at me, before I do something nasty."
"Are you with Balamb?"
Seifer winced. "Not recently, but-"
Several clicks sounded in the clear winter air, and a ring of weapons, mostly the kind that could be cocked, surrounded him. Six or seven people, Seifer guessed, some in worn SeeD uniforms, none of them looking friendly. "Drop your weapon." One demanded. "Or have it shot out of your hand."
Seifer, swearing SOMEBODY was gonna get it for this, let Hyperion fall to the snow.
"I knew it." The first one jerked his head at someone. "Cuff 'em, Meg. We'll see what Quistis has to say about this little spy."
"Quistis?" Seifer asked, as his wrists were trussed. "What does Quistis have to do with this?"
"Shut him up, too."
Something collided hard with the back of Seifer's head, and he knew no more.
When he came to again he was in a small, crowded area. It took him a moment to recognize the Balamb hotel lobby, since it appeared to have been converted into a bar. Seifer tried to rub his eyes, but he was still handcuffed and dizzy, held up between two of his captors.
He must have slipped in the ice and banged his head; this was all some whacked dream.
"Commander!" The young man who had arrested him elbowed a few people aside to get to the bar. "Quistis! We found the spy!"
Spy? Seifer lifted his head, but all he could see was his captor. Where was Quistis? Why were all these people here?
"Thank you Nida, but Selphie already found the intruder."
"Really?" Nida turned to someone else that Seifer could not clearly see. "Where is he?"
Someone laughed, and not very nicely. "Floating face-down in the harbor, where I left him. Stupid Galbadian sorceress toy. They're getting more and more clever, you know."
Nida shook his head, smiling ruefully. "Did this one try to bribe like the last one did?"
The crowd shifted, and Seifer could see them now. Quistis was hunched over a drink, staring hard at a sheet of paper and making notes to herself. One arm was in a sling, a threadbare SeeD uniform jacket slung over her shoulders. Selphie, standing next to her, was only recognizable by her stature and the crescent wish weapon leaning against her instep. Gone was the saucy flip hairdo, and the smile was cold as she spoke. On one finger she twirled a black cowboy hat.
"Can you believe he tried to convince me we were kids together? Honestly, like I'm gonna fall for that shit." Selphie's eyes hardened, she tossed the hat to the bar. "As if I could forget what they did to Trabia."
"You killed him?" Nida looked relieved.
Selphie shrugged. "Well, DUH." She reached under the bar, and handed Nida a rifle that was eerily familiar. "See if somebody can use the gun, though. We're short enough on weapons as it is." Selphie's laugh was chillingly the same as always. "Tell them it's a Christmas present from Sorceress Edea."
Seifer glared around the room, beginning to get angry to cover the fear. What the HELL was going on? Quistis? Commander? Where was Squall? Where the fuck was the Garden, for that matter?
"So who did you get, Nida?" Selphie asked, dismissing one Galbadian sharpshooter as if he never was. "Were there two spies?"
Nida shifted his weight. "Well, he looked pretty suspicious, and was armed, so I brought him in. Might just be bonkers, though." Nida waved to his men, and Seifer was hustled forward. "Thought you'd want to talk to him, Quistis?"
"Just what the hell is-" Seifer began, but stopped as Quistis slowly lifted her head to look at him. Her eyes were full of old, tired hatred, a slender line of scar curved its way down one cheek.
"Who are you?" She asked, unfriendly. "Did the Galbadians send you to spy on us? Or maybe pick us off in our sleep like last time?" Quistis stood up, leaning on the bar for support. "Is your precious Edea out of missiles?"
"Commander," Selphie began, giving Quistis a nudge towards the barstool. "Maybe you need to take a break, hmm?" Selphie exchanged a glance with Nida over Quistis's head. "Not now. We can put him in the brig overnight, right?"
Quistis sank back down, muttering to herself, refilling her glass from the bottle on the bar. Seifer just stared, speechless. Quistis was roaring drunk.
"C'mon, let's go." Nida waved to his men, and they began to pull Seifer away.
"Wait! Dammit, I said WAIT!" Seifer flung his guards off long enough to get back to the bar. "Instructor! What's going on? Where's Squall?"
Quistis was about to retort with a snarl, but at the mention of Squall's name she put her head down on the bar, shoulders shaking with grief.
"Shuttup!" Selphie gave him a good kick. "How dare you mention that to her? Nida! Get this bastard out of here! We can hang him in the morning." Selphie turned away from Seifer, one arm going around Quistis. Her voice became soothing, she petted the messy twist of blond hair. "There, now, ssshhh..."
Unconsoled, Quistis wept on.
Seifer let himself be dragged out of the room, his eyes on the two women by the bar until the crowd of Garden students and refugees masked them from his eyes.
"So what do you think?"
Seifer lunged up from the metal bunk, hand groping for his absent gunblade. "You again!"
"Hiya." The angel walked through the barred door and looked thoughtfully around the impromptu basement cell. "Nice lodgings."
"What the HELL is going on here? What did you do?"
The angel shrugged, hands in loose pant pockets. "Granted your wish. Seifer Almasy never existed. Welcome to the 'better off' world."
"Never existed?" Seifer paced the small prison, trenchcoat swirling. "Where's the Garden? What's wrong with Balamb? What-"
"The Garden was completely destroyed in the first missile salvo, some months ago. Remember? The one Edea launched a few days after the parade? The people downstairs are the only survivors of that attack." The angel perched on the one chair in the room. "You're in the middle of a war, Seifer. The third Sorceress war."
"Bullshit." Seifer snarled, looming over the so-called angel. "There was no third sorceress war, and those missiles should never have hit Garden. Squall warned-"
"Squall Leonhart and his entire team were killed in their SeeD exam, right before the war broke out." He actually looked apologetic. "There was no one to tell them to leave the city square, Seifer. YOU weren't there. And even if they had left before the mechanical spider got to them, Squall never had a rival every day of his life to keep him on his toes. He was unprepared, to say the least. His ineptitude cost the team their lives." The angel hopped off his chair, standing close to Seifer, who had gone very, very still. "You helped make Squall into the man who could defeat you, Seifer. Who could defeat *her.* Without you there..."
Seifer stared hard at the concrete floor, fists clenched. "His...*entire* team?"
"Yes. Zell, too, I'm afraid." He waited a moment before continuing. "Shortly after that Galbadia rose to power under the Sorceress Edea. Ultimecia has complete control over her. There is no one to stop them. Esthar has retreated even more from the scene and maintains neutrality. Dollet, FH, Timber, and Trabia are all under martial law. It's only a matter of time before Balamb gives out as well. They won't last past New Year's, that's for certain."
"Why?" Seifer asked, quietly. "Why is everything so wrong?"
"One man, Seifer." The angel smiled softly. "Never underestimate the power of one man. No matter how insignificant he may seem, he just might wind up saving the world."
"How would you know?" Seifer asked, after a long pause. "Who ARE you?"
The angel ruffled his spiky black hair, sheepish. "I told you. I'm a pending angel. But you can call me Zax. And trust me, I'd know." Zax stretched, yawning. "So. Are you convinced that your life is worth something, or do you need to see more?"
"Wait just a minute." Seifer said. "I was thinking what I was thinking because of Fuujin and Raijin. How do I know they AREN'T better off?"
Zax held out his hands. "You don't. But if you can find them, maybe you can ask them."
And Seifer was alone again, but this time on the street outside what should have been the weapon shop, but was instead a bombed-out shell. Seifer turned around, slowly. The blanket of dirty snow could not cover the ruins of what Balamb had been. There were no holiday decorations, barely a handful of windows were lit.
Only the wind answered him. Swearing, Seifer folded his arms in his coat and bowed his bared head to the icy gusts, heading for the nearest shelter.
The train station was mostly intact, and the lights still worked. Stamping his feet to get warmth back into them, Seifer looked around for signs of life. Blankets and remains of habitation were scattered on the floor; Quistis must be using this for the main shelter. A monitor in the upper corner bucked and flickered with an image, and Seifer arched his neck to see the static-laden transmission. It was apparently a Galbadian news broadcast; the Dollet tower was at least partly working.
"...certain -pzz- defeat of -zpt- our nation's enemies. In other -ffzzzt- news, members of the -snapkrrzzt- -ber Resistance known as the Timber Ow- -krrzt- executed today after -pzz- sentencing. -zz- Daughter of General -zzkt- araway pleaded guilty to charges of terror-zz-ism and was executed -fzzpop- members of her team. Later, we'll -krrt- give you the latest casualties from -krzt-..."
"That's a real shame, ya know." Someone said, at Seifer's elbow. "A real shame. Pretty girls shouldn't die."
Seifer jumped. "Raijin?"
The tall man did not answer, still frowning thoughtfully at the TV. After a moment he sighed, and began slowly sweeping the floor with a push broom. "Shouldn't have to kill all these people, ya know? It's not right. Just not right. Not right for pretty girls. I knew a pretty girl..." He continued to mutter to himself and sweep, methodically making a little pile of dirt.
"Raijin!" Seifer took him by the front of his workshirt, giving him a good shake. "Raijin! What are you doing here? Where's Fuujin?"
Raijin blinked slowly, eyebrows lowering in his dark face as he pondered this question. He squeezed the broom handle carefully. "I... I sweep the floors, here." He said at last, not meeting Seifer's eyes. "It's what I always do. No trains these days but... I still do as I'm told. Still needs sweeping! People gotta sleep here, ya know. Can't sleep on a dirty floor." Raijin pulled out of Seifer's hands, shuffling his broom over the tile. "Always told to keep... keep it in good shape. People always tell me.. how nice it looks." Raijin turned to Seifer, a simple smile on his features. "Don't you think it looks nice?"
Seifer, his throat tight, managed a nod. "Yeah."
Raijin beamed. "Gotta, go, now, ya know. Come visit, okay?" Raijin patted Seifer's shoulder, and returned to work. "Gotta sweep... gotta..." He fell to muttering, slowly working his way through the depot, massive frame hunched over, huge hands painstakingly manipulating his broom.
"He never stayed at Garden." Zax said, at Seifer's elbow. "Had a bad experience there early on, his mind was never quite right after that."
"Raijin." Seifer said. "God."
Zax reached out as if to touch Seifer, but hesitated, putting his hand down. "People need you, Seifer. More than you know."
"Where's Fuujin?" Seifer asked, his voice low.
Zax shuffled his feet. "I'm not supposed to-"
"DAMN YOU!" Seifer picked the angel up by the front of his gray top, rattling him back and forth. "I'M TIRED OF YOUR STUPID GAMES, GOD DAMMIT! NOW TELL ME WHERE THE HELL SHE IS! RIGHT NOW!!!"
Wind roared in Seifer's ears, and Zax managed to free himself, gasping. They stood on broken pavement, trees twisted like grotesque corpses. No snow had fallen here. Nothing grew. Seifer frowned at the once-blue rim of a fountain. The Garden quad. Ground Zero.
"Fine." Zax spat, standing, rubbing a hand on his lip. "Fine, you self-centered little bastard. She's through there." Zax pointed vaguely at a broken wrought-iron gate that Seifer did not remember being there before. "And don't blame me. You see what you asked for." Zax leaned against a broken bench. "Sometimes I think you might deserve it."
Seifer ignored him, feeling pulled by whatever was beyond that stand of blasted tree trunks. Dead grass crunched under his boots, shedding bits of frost. Seifer shivered. Not even the streets of Balamb had been this cold.
It took a moment, in the dark, to recognize the shapes that lurched up out of the dirt, broken and in many cases hastily erected. Names were scratched on, sometimes a date. Most were blank. Seifer's eyes scoured the burial ground, hoping for a familiar shock of silver hair, for even the sound of another person's breathing. He ran past the recent stones, heart hammering, and tripped over a broken bit of marble to land face-first in a pile of dead leaves. Seifer gasped for a second, the air knocked out of his lungs, and managed to push himself up to his hands.
And came nose-to-granite with a small stone marker.
The name was not remarkable; in fact, he had trouble remembering where he'd seen it before. Seifer blinked, gloved fingertips trebling over the old worn lines. What had Fuujin's name been... before her nickname? The one he gave her? When he saved her from the T-rex in the training--
Seifer's train of thought came to an abrupt, derailing halt. Frantically, he tore aside the grasses that had grown wild, uncovering a pair of dates. Fuujin's birthday, listed first, and last, the day she lost her eye in the training center: the day he had met her.
Or in this case, hadn't.
"Fuujin." Fuujin never was, had never been.
"I'm sorry." Zax murmured, standing behind the tombstone. "Raijin went to find her, but by then the T-rex had already-"
"Stop." Seifer whispered, hands covering the name of a long-dead little girl that he hadn't known. "Stop it."
"You're the only one who can do that, Seifer." Zax sat down, on his haunches. "If it means enough to you. You find that your life isn't so bad, once you lose it." Zax grinned, lopsidedly. "You're lucky, Almasy. Some of us don't get a second chance."
"Then tell me what I need to do!" Seifer struggled to his feet, pleading. "I take it back! I don't want this! I don't want this for them! I have to... have to..." He turned and fled, leaving the small graveyard behind him, not looking where he was going.
Behind him, Zax smiled up at the sky. "Good for you," he said, and slowly vanished as it began to snow again. "It really is a wonderful life, Seifer. It really is."
Seifer crumpled to his knees in the snow, gasping for air and leaning on a railing for support. He took no notice of his bearings, eyes squeezed shut, panting out words between hitching breaths in his throat.
"...to live again. Want to-"
"Excuse me, but have you gone loopier than usual or is it some kind of holiday tradition for you to sleep on the pier?"
Someone laughed. "Heh, that one-eyed girlfriend of yours kick you outta bed, Seifer?"
Seifer jerked his head up, blinking snow out of his eyes. Zell and Irvine stood at the bottom of the dock steps, each holding a sack in one arm. Just beyond them, the Garden hummed at the end of the dock like some ornate Christmas ornament. The snow was falling in soft, clean waves, and Balamb glittered with holiday lights, whole and uninjured.
"Maybe he LIKES sleeping in the snow," Zell hypothesized to Irvine, who nodded.
"Or, like you say, he's a nutzo. Personally-"
"Irvine?" Seifer stood up slowly. "Chicken-wuss?"
Zell scowled, hand on hip. "Dammit, Seifer! Will you quit calling me-" Zell stopped short, distracted by the fact that he and Irvine had been pulled into an enthusiastic, albeit a bit awkward, hug. Their grocery bags crunched in protest.
"You're not dead!"
"Not yet," Irvine wheezed, trying to get air. "Sorry if that's a problem for you..."
"Seifer," Zell squirmed. "um, I love you too, man, but yer gunblade is digging into my armpit."
"My gunblade?" Seifer dropped them to hug Hyperion instead, bouncing a little on his heels. "I have my gunblade!!"
Irvine and Zell exchanged a glance. Zell twirled a finger next to his temple and Irvine mimed tipping back a glass. They both nodded. Saaad.
"Where's Squall?" Seifer grabbed them each by a coat collar, as demanding as always, Hyperion tucked under one arm. "I've gotta see him. Tell me where he is!"
"He's in the Garden, geez." Zell investigated his bag, and hoped the party fare wasn't too squished. "Why d'you-"
Seifer dropped them abruptly and took off down the dock to the Garden.
Zell and Irvine watched him go, blinking.
"So is he drunk, or just insane?" Zell wondered.
"What, you mean right now, or in general?" Irvine shrugged. "Dammed if I know."
"Hey, guys?" Selphie shook snow out of her hair as she jogged from the direction of Garden, glancing over her shoulder. "Did you just see Seifer?"
"Yeah." Zell nodded. "Did he seem wacko to you?"
"No more than usual." Selphie frowned in dismay at the crunched bags. "But he did ask me if I'd killed Irvine recently."
Irvine tilted his hat down, thoughtfully. "Let's go see what's goin' on."
Quistis was leaning over a potted plant by the Garden entrance, re-wrapping a strand of lights that had drooped, when someone had the nerve to swat her right on the ass. "HEY!" She stood up, indignant, and caught sight of a familiar grey trenchcoat rounding the corner.
"Lookin' good, Instructor!"
She was still standing there with her mouth open when the trio returned from their party errands.
"Did you just...?" Irvine began.
"Yeah." Quistis nodded.
"C'mon." Selphie waved, and they followed, hot on Seifer's trail.
"Look, Rinoa, I don't CARE if the lights are blinking or not. It looks FINE either way, okay?"
Rinoa scowled. "Why don't you just TELL me which way you like? I know you have an opinion, you just aren't SAYING it." The sorceress pouted. "You really wanted the white lights instead of the colored ones, didn't you?"
Squall flung his arms up in frustration, gesturing at the brightly decorated tree in the ballroom. "FINE! NON-blinking COLORED lights with the GOLD tinsel!"
Rinoa beamed. "Really? I think so too." She hummed a snatch of carol and trotted over to a table. Squall muttered a prayer heavenward. "Where ARE they with the food?"
Squall, after three hours of decorating with Rinoa, was eager to escape. "I'll go check on -OOOOFF!! Seifer?"
"Damn, Leonfart! D'you know how glad I am to see you? Merry Christmas, punk!"
"Er-" Squall squirmed, his feet off the ground as he was hugged around the middle. "I uh-"
"Rinoa!" Squall was immediately dropped, and Seifer hurried across the room to take both of Rinoa's hands and kiss them. "I must say you look absolutely lovely. Have you done something new to your hair?"
Rinoa turned away, blushing. "Aw, Seifer. You were always such a charmer."
"What," Squall asked, from the floor, "Was that?"
"We were gonna ask you." Zell picked his commander up and dusted him off. "He was pretty weird to us, too."
"Can't I wish a happy holiday to my old school chums?" Seifer grinned.
Rinoa was giggly. Seifer still made her a little weak in the knees. "Hey! I know!"
Quistis, Irvine, Squall, Zell and Selphie all shook their heads and made negating motions, but Rinoa ignored them.
"Seifer, do you want to stay for our Holiday party? Now that the food's here, that is. Zell's mom made cookies and we've got all kinds of goodies."
"I'd love to, guys, but I've gotta go check on Fuujin and Raijin. Fuu's been sick and--"
"I hope ya don't mind, ya know?" Raijin poked his head around the door. "Don't be mad, boss? I ah, I saw the Garden was in port so I brought Fuu up to see Kadowaki. She's in the infirmary right now." Raijin hunched up a little, expecting admonishment. "I did myself it so it wouldn't be your pride or nothin."
Seifer brushed past the SeeDs to take Raijin by his immense shoulders. "Raijin. You did the right thing."
Raijin beamed. "I did?"
Seifer nodded. "Thanks."
Raijin shuffled his feet. "Gosh. I just wanted to help, ya know? Since you were all stressed out and stuff. Listen, I promised to help Rinoa with the lights, if that's okay?" He tried not to stare too eagerly at the array of holiday snacks.
Seifer nodded, looking out the doorway towards the doctors office. "Go ahead, Raijin."
Raijin hustled over to the bewildered SeeDs and got them in a group, explaining quickly that things had been a little tight and Seifer was under a lot of stress, so just ignore him if he's acting weird. They murmured understanding. Irvine glanced compassionately at the former knight, and tapped Squall on the arm.
"Hey, Squall. Your dad still need recruits?"
"I got an idea." Irvine pulled them into a huddle. "Listen."
Seifer had been watching the acrobatics from the doorway as Raijin let Irvine stand on his shoulders to reach the top of the Trabia fir tree, but he turned around quickly. It had been a long time since Fuujin had said much of anything. She still looked a little wan, but her cheeks were flushed.
"Fuu? How're you feeling? What did the doc say?" He resisted the urge to hug her; she didn't know what he'd been through and was not much on public affection. Instead he swallowed her with his eyes, using her face to erase the memory of a bombed-out Garden burial ground.
"Kadowaki said, nausea only normal." Fuujin shifted her weight uneasily.
"So you're gonna be okay?" Seifer broke the rules to put a hand on her shoulder.
"Affirmative..." Fuujin looked uncertain, one lavender eye not quite meeting Seifer's with the usual challenge. "Problem, small."
"What is it, a virus?" Behind them, there were noises of delight as the tree lit up.
"Negative." She frowned up at him, twisting her fingers. "Pregnant."
Seifer was stunned silent. A baby? *His* baby?
"Not, problem?" Fuujin said hurriedly, as close to pleading as she ever got. "Can stop? Child, don't want?"
Screw the propriety, Seifer thought, hugging his second in command fiercely. One didn't become a father every day. "Not, problem," he murmured into her cool silver hair. "Child, want."
In his arms, Fuujin exhaled relief. "Good."
They stood there a long moment, and Fuujin wiggled out of his embrace, straightening her jacket and smoothing her features into the same cool mask she always wore. She glanced around his arm at the party. "Pistachio Ice cream, have?"
Seifer grinned. "I think so."
"Craving." Fuujin muttered, and her boots echoed as she walked into the ballroom.
Seifer watched her go, grinning as she gave Squall a glare for old time's sake.
"Hey, Seifer." Squall cleared his throat. "Look, this is probably bad form, and I know you're all settled in Balamb and stuff, but Laguna's looking for some guys to help clear the monsters out of Esthar, if you're interested."
Seifer arched an eyebrow. "You think I need a job or something?"
Squall peripherally caught the others looking at him. "Nah, nah. Not at all." He shrugged. "It just pays good and he could use all three of you. The Esthar army's kinda pathetic. He's looking to hire for some permanent positions. We were gonna head that way, if you need a ride."
Seifer appeared to consider this for a long moment, looking over Squall's head to where Raijin was jumping excitedly and picking a protesting Fuujin up to hug her. "Yeah. Sure. Why not?"
Squall nodded once. "Cool. Well then-" He was interrupted by the sound of bells; the Garden chimes sounding the hour. "You know," he said thoughtfully, "S'possed to be that an angel gets his wings every time a bell rings." He tilted his head, puzzled. "Don't know why I just remembered that. Lousy GF's." He re-entered the party, fending off Rinoa's insistence that he sing.
"He's right, you know."
Seifer smiled, turning around. Zax was perched on the railing of the Garden's central fountain. Plumage arched up from his shoulder-blades in two glorious curves of white feathers: his promised wings. "Congratulations."
"You too." Seifer gestured to the wings. "Very nice."
Zax grinned. "Ya like? Pretty fly, huh?"
"Um." Seifer said, looking over Zax's shoulder at the two presences that had appeared in a green light out of nowhere to collect the newly appointed angel. One was a girl, in a pink dress with her reddish hair in a bowed ponytail, the other was tall and brooding in a black coat, his long white hair swirling around his slowly beating wings.
"Time to go, Zax," he said.
"Awww," Zax frowned. "Dammit."
"Hey," the girl leaned over his shoulder. "You want to try your wings, right?"
"Alright, alright." Zax tossed a wave to Seifer, grinning. "Merry Christmas! Take care of that kid!"
Seifer held up a gloved hand in farewell. "So long, Zax."
Zax whirled to catch up with the other two angels, but stumbled on the railing and, with a yelp and forgetting that he could fly, went head-first into the fountain.
Sephiroth put a hand over his face, shaking his head. Aeris offered Seifer a sheepish smile. "He will get better?"
It was no fair, Squall thought, leaning on the balcony and sulking. It was HIS party and HIS garden, so why was Seifer hitting on HIS girlfriend and telling all the funny jokes and eating all the strawberry petit fours that were HIS favorite? Some friends. Well if they all liked Seifer better then FINE! They could have him. Squall could just-
"So, like," Rufus Shinra said, appearing next to him, and glancing at his watch, "Are you planning to kill yourself or what? Cos I gotta get my wings and the longer you take just the worse it's gonna be for you. I've got a schedule to keep."
Squall put his head in his hands. He hated holidays.