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Merry Christmas Vincent Valentine

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Under a star sprinkled sky the temperature dropped dramatically. The wind howled and dark low hanging clouds rolled down from the mountains and began preparations to let loose their payload over Balamb Garden.

Silently, fat white flakes began to drift from the clouds. Quickly they covered all imperfections as Jade Sunrider sat and looked out the window of her room, watching the snow fall. Her fiancé, Vincent Valentine, came up behind her and embraced her. Jade leaned back into his muscled chest. “I haven’t seen snow like this since I was a little girl,” she said softly.

Vincent held her closer and kissed her cheek. “Then it’s about time,” he whispered, his deep voice low and melodic, his red eyes shone softly at her, as crimson as the snow speckled scarf he still wore. “You deserve the most beautiful of holidays.”

“No, Vincent,” Jade replied. “You deserve it!” She grinned and he didn't miss the telltale twinkle in her bright, mako-green eyes.

 

 

***

 

Zell Dincht was in a tight spot. His face was smudged with flour and he was confronted with the most terrible opponent of his entire existence.

Time… But also his fiancé, Shayla Flamedancer! He recalled with an audible gulp.

The egg timer on the counter ticked its last and Shay finally put down the frosting knife and allowed him to dart past her and get at the cookies cooling on the cutting board.

“Finally!! I’ve been waiting for these all day!” he cried in triumph.

Shay rolled her eyes as Zell shoved a reindeer cookie, unfrosted, into his mouth. “Whatever. It’s only been like, 20 minutes! And they’re not even frosted!” she exclaimed.

Zell stuck his crumb filled tongue out at her.

“Now remember,” Shay said while whipping up the frosting, “You can only have a few, the rest are for the party tomorrow.” The counter was covered with plates of cookies of all kinds. Raspberry-filled cookies, sugar cookies, and cookies with chocolate and vanilla swirls.

Shay sighed, this was never going to be enough, but the oven could only hold so many cookies at a time, and they hadn’t even started the mouse shaped ones yet. Zell paused with a Santa cookie halfway to his mouth, a huge dollop of white frosting on it, and waited for his girl to bawl at him to put it down. The reprimand never came; he risked a glance over at her to see if she was even giving him the stink-eye. Shay appeared to be lost in thought.

“What’s the matter?” he asked, finally just stuffing the Santa in his mouth and putting his arms around her from behind while he chewed.

Shay sighed and leaned back into his chest. “I’m such a dumbass. I never should have volunteered to help Selphie with the festival again!” she grumbled in defeat.

Zell continued to chew and finally swallowed the cookie.

“So what’s the big problem?” he asked once his mouth wasn't obnoxiously full.

“The oven,” she complained. “It’s just not big enough to get them all done in time! And I don't have enough bowls and cookie sheets, even with the ones I borrowed from Jade and Vincent...”

Idly he chewed on a Christmas tree while mulling over this problem. He hated to see Shay so sad; and then it hit him.

Hard.

“You know... The lunch ladies still owe me for eating all those tainted hotdogs that time,” he grinned mischievously at her. “I bet they’d let us use the big ovens in the kitchen for this.”

Shay leaned back and looked up at him, her mismatched eyes lighting up. “You really think you could talk them into letting you into the kitchen again?”

He nodded, dropping some crumbs into her hair as he did so.

In a rush of holiday energy, Shay began to grab all her bowls and spatulas and cookie sheets and dump them in a box. “That’ll be perfect!”

 

Meanwhile….

 

Selphie was standing on a box on top of a chair that was on top of a table while trying to hang the mistletoe high above. All the while Irvine was standing below, looking up trying to “help”, but really just looking up her skirt at her frilly pink panties.

“You know, Selphie, people are not going to be standing on the table. If you want people to kiss you need to hang it over a chair,” he pointed out when she shifted and he lost sight of the pink lace and frills.

Selphie looked down at who was talking to her and realized what Irvine was up to and tried to cover up her panties all the while giving him an adorable, flustered gasp.

He laughed and climbed up onto the table to try and help her down. She was still pretty flustered and good-naturedly whacked him one on the shoulder but allowed herself to be lifted down to the table, and then the floor. Rinoa came over carrying a box of ornaments.

“Selphie, what do you expect me to do with these?” Rinoa asked, holding up the box. Inside were some colored balls and a tangled mass of lights.

Squall was off to the side, busy sifting through a stack of papers and pretending not to be there. Rinoa had wheedled him into helping out and he was going to do as little as possible, lest someone rib him for it later.

Selphie looked into the box and wrinkled her nose. “Put them on the tree. Duh.”

Rinoa raised an eyebrow. “What tree?”

Squall began edging towards the door, just knowing that this was going to lead to an errand for him, and he was not going out to cut down a stupid tree in this weather! At least he wasn’t on “ice-rink duty”, he didn’t envy Laguna and Raine that job at all. Of course Raine had vast experience at that, being from up north. In the background noise he heard Rinoa start to say something, “Well, I don’t think Squall is doing anything really important right now…”

Oh crap.

He attempted to look busy, sifting the papers a little faster. Damn! No good, he heard footsteps behind him. When they stopped behind him he cringed and turned to face his doom. It was not Rinoa or Selphie, but Jade and Vincent looking a little concerned.

“Squall, you alright man?” Jade asked. “You look like someone is gonna smack you.”

“No, I’m fine,” Squall replied gruffly. “I thought you were someone else.”

“Oh, okay. Vincent and I were just going to go for a walk but thought we'd see how the decorating was coming along,” she explained.

Squall looked over his shoulder and the others were all gathered in a small huddle doing... something.

Good. Now was his chance to escape.

“Perfect! I was just about to step out myself. I’d better go and see how Laguna and Raine are doing with the ice rink!” he mumbled as he followed Jade and Vincent down the hall.

The pitter-patter of little feet running up behind him sounded familiar, like they belonged to a too-perky girl who had an errand of the conifer nature for him to run.

Crap and a half!

“Hey, guys, wait up!” shouted Selphie.

Squall walked a little faster. Jade and Vincent walked a little faster, confusion on their faces but somehow sensing they were about to get roped into something supremely unfun.

Selphie made that last little burst of speed and caught up.

Vincent, ever the gentleman, turned around to look at Selphie, much to the annoyance of the other two. “Oh, Selphie, we didn’t hear you!” he said smoothly with a look of pure innocence on his face. Jade tried not to giggle at his expression.

“I need someone to pick up a tree for the festival!” she panted as she looked hopefully at the three people standing there as they all stared off at some distant point on the horizon and tried to look like they didn’t hear her.

Suddenly, a crash behind them caused everyone to jump. A salt shaker and bowl rolled down the hall, followed by a loud curse and the sound of fist impacting flesh. Jade walked over and picked up the salt shaker and tossed a pinch over her shoulder. Just in case.

“I told you not to carry them all at once! Now the whole batch of dough I had going is ruined!” They all recognized the sharp voice of an angry Shayla Flamedancer.

“Hey, I was just trying to save time! See if I ever help you again!” came Zell’s rebuttal, then Shayla's usual annoyed sigh.

“Yeah, I know,” she said miserably. “You were just trying to help. Come on, help me scrape this stuff off the walls.”

Jade smiled, she could just picture the narrated scene in her mind.

Vincent, seeing an easy out for him and Jade, picked up the mixing bowl and he and Jade tried to hurry down the hall before Selphie saw them leave. Squall, also seeing an out, began running down the hall in the opposite direction when Selphie turned away from him.

“Hey Squall!” Her shrill voice carrying behind his retreat. “I still need a tree!”

“Ask someone else, I have to find a janitor to help clean up!” he yelled, his voice fading with distance.

A dejected Selphie walked down the hall to where the group was using rubber mixing scrapers and forks to rub cookie dough off the walls and floor where it had splattered. Looking very miserable and dejected, she plucked at a piece of dough on a doorknob and asked quietly, “Is there anyone here that is free this afternoon to run into town and pick up a tree for the festival?”

Jade suddenly felt kinda bad for her. Selphie was only trying to make a good party so that everyone at the Garden could have a fun Christmas.

“Yeah, me and Vincent are free,” she said, almost before she knew what she was doing. Vincent looked up at her from the floor, a little surprised, and then he saw the look of gratitude spreading over Selphie's face. He knew then that he had fallen for a good woman.

“Great! Here’s the money for the tree. Try to get a really nice one!” Selphie cried happily as she dug through the seemingly bottomless pockets of her Christmas themed jumper.

 

* * *

 

Snow was still falling when Jade and Vincent got outside. It wasn’t too cold and there was nothing but silence surrounding them. Rather than destroy the mood, Vincent held back saying anything about Jade’s vow never to get involved in one of Selphie's projects.

Jade was enjoying the stillness of the snow covered countryside, looking around remembering and how happy she was when Vincent proposed to her. Finally, they came to Balamb town and it was all lit up and everyone was so cheerful.

Wandering through town, making easy conversation they came to the tree lot. It was late in the season and everything looked pretty picked over. The two SeeD’s walked through the lot, looking over the trees in various stages of needle-loss.

“This little spruce looks okay.” Jade pointed to a medium sized tree that didn’t look to far gone.

“Yeah, that will be a good one,” Vincent agreed and walked over to the salesman. “Excuse me, we’d like to buy this tree,” he said, motioning to where it was leaned up against the fence and Jade was looking it over.

“Sure, that one’s only twenty gil,” the guy replied, getting out the keys to his truck, obviously getting ready to close up shop for the rest of the weekend. Vincent nodded and pulled out the handful of random money Selphie had handed him. He passed it to the guy who looked it over, a scowl on his face.

“What the hell are you trying to pull buddy?!” he stated, holding out his fist, bills poking out of it. Vincent took it and looked closer. Fake board game money, a few actual bills, some real change and some that appeared to be leftover foil covered chocolate coins from Easter.

That moron!’ Was all that Vincent could think. Jade seen the lack of movement in the direction of the chosen tree and look of genuine bafflement on her fiancés face, so came over to see what was going on. Vincent looked up at Jade, and then back to his chocolate smudged hand with disgust.

“Let Selphie go out and cut down her own damn tree!” he muttered to her and turned to leave as he attempted to wipe the chocolate mess off his fingers but only managed to smear it on the front of his jacket.

The guy running the tree booth overheard. “No good. These forests are protected,” he commented and started tossing trees into the back of his truck.

Jade grabbed Vincent's retreating cape and held on. “Wait, we need a tree! Let me see that money.”

Vincent handed her the chocolate smeared wads of paper. She examined the clump and came up with four gil and forty-two cents. Sighing with dismay she turned to the tree vendor.

“How big of a tree will this get us?” she asked, not expecting anything more than a laugh.

The tree guy felt a little sorry for them, so he looked around what he had left and said, “Well, not much. This is all I have in your price range.” He held up a scrawny little four foot tall tree with some needles poking out of it.

Jade glanced over at Vincent and he just shrugged. “It’s better than nothing I guess,” he said. “And it’s her own fault for not giving us enough money to get a good one.”

Jade nodded in agreement.

“Okay. We’ll take it!” Jade handed over the money; the guy frowned at the sticky condition of it but stuck it in his wallet anyway. With a look of resignation, the two began their journey back to the Garden.

 

***

 

For once things seemed to be going smoothly.

Zell was running the row of mixers full of cookie dough and seemed to be actually enjoying it. Even if he was insisting one behaving like it was some kind of race.

Shay sighed and tried to run her hand through her hair for the millionth time, only to recall that he had put a bandanna over it to keep it out of her face.

“Hey, I think this one is ready!” Zell said, and turned off the mixer. Shay came over to inspect it and found that he was right.

“We have a winner!” he hooted and took the bowl off the stand.

“Okay, start rolling it out,” she commanded him, reminding him of his sworn duty as cookie roller. “This is for the last batch of sugar cookies. When the one on the end is done just let it sit. It needs to go in the fridge overnight,” she told him.

“Aye, aye!” Zell gave an enthusiastic salute and over turned the bowl. The dough came out with a heavy and wet splat as it hit the counter-top, sending up a small cloud of flour in the process.

Shay turned back to the set of little mice shaped cookies that she was adding eyes too. They were made of chocolate, with little almond sliver ears and black licorice tails. Arrayed on the counter like rows of soldiers, the army of cookies witnessed the arrival of energy incarnate.

Selphie was practically tripping over her own feet in her haste to start moving stuff out to the main area of the quad. Zell was rolling the dough out on the counter with over exaggerated care and Shay was just finishing the last of the mousy eyes. Watching Selphie running back and forth carrying stacks of chairs, plates and miscellaneous items was nearly hypnotic. The rhythm was broken as the back door banged open, a chilled breeze wafted through the room, sending papers and snowflakes dancing in the breeze.

Laguna came in brushing snow from his down jacket. Selphie screeched to a halt before nearly running him down.

“Cripes!” he cried and backed up a step, barely avoiding her frantic body.

Selphie leaned back to keep the stack of plates she was carrying from toppling over and knocking them both out. “How is the ice rink?” she asked, blinking up at him through the swirling snow he had left inside.

“Well, Raine has it all done,” Laguna said and shut the heavy door. “All we need now is to wait for it to freeze over. She’s really excited to get out her skates!”

Shay went back to eyeing the last of the mice and Zell began to press cookie cutters into the dough. At this point Laguna ambled over to where Shay was squeezing out frosting onto some crèmepuffs to casually pick one up and pop it in his mouth. Shay frowned at him for stealing one of her cookies.

"Sounds like it's going to be a lot of fun. I haven't skated in ages!" Zell exclaimed. “Right babe?!”

Shay only grunted in reply as she was still focusing on applying the final mouse nose.

Laguna nodded. "Raine says she's going to teach me how to skate. I guess I'll have to wear some extra padding..."

Shay laughed. "It's really not that hard. Once you get your balance it's as easy as riding a bike." Behind her Zell was stifling chuckles. Laguna glanced with concern at him.

"What's wrong with you?" Laguna asked, not liking the devious look that had taken over his friends face.

"I was just thinking I'd bring my camera out to the rink tomorrow night. Y'know, get some pictures of my little 'Ice Princess' here!” Zell replied, patting Shayla on the shoulder.

Laguna rolled his eyes and walked away. "Yeah, right…" he muttered. He had seen that look in Zell Dincht's eyes before.

Whatever he had planned, it wasn't going to be good!

 

***

 

The snow was slowing down a little as Jade and Vincent passed the makeshift ice-rink. It was a shallowly dug up area that Selphie had ordered filled with water. Raine was just finishing winding up the hose as they walked by.

“Hey, what’s that thing you’re carrying?” she asked, her brow furrowed as she looked at the tiny 'tree' Vincent had grasped in his clawed hand. Jade thought the whole “tree situation” was kind of funny and quietly started to giggle behind her hand. Vincent frowned and stiffly held the tree up at arm's length.

“What does it look like?” he gritted out.

Raine, having hardly ever seen Vincent being sarcastic wasn’t sure whether to join in Jade’s laughter or take him seriously, so she politely said, “That’s a very nice tree, Vincent.”

Jade could no longer hold back her mirth and burst out laughing. By now Vincent could see the humor in the situation and chuckled some as well. Raine took that as a sign she could join in laughing at the sad tree as well.

“I guess Selphie is in for a surprise!” she giggled.

“It’s Selphie's fault that this is all we could get,” Jade said to her, and related their excursion to the tree lot as they all walked in the front doors of the Garden.

As she heard the doors close Selphie came trotting up to the group and the three who had just come in put on their most serious of faces.

“Where’s the tree?” Selphie asked, avidly looking behind them to see if, perhaps, there was a truck bearing a monstrous tree outside.

"Selphie, when you were collecting for the festival fund did you bother to look in the donation box?" Jade asked her.

"No. I just dumped it out and gave it to you guys. Why?" She looked puzzled.

"Because this is the only tree we could afford," Vincent replied and held out the sad little tree to her.

At first Selphie looked from person to person, to see if they were making sport of her again. But when she seen the serious looks and realized that they weren't teasing her, her face fell.

"I'm sorry guys, I should have looked in that box before I sent you out..." she said, and turned to walk away.

Raine moved forward and put her arm around Selphies shoulder. "I'm sure we can fix it up really nice, and it will look great!" she said cheerfully.

Selphie just kept walking, sniffling a little. "Yeah.... Great," she mumbled.

Jade looked over at Vincent. "I hate to see her like this. I bet nobody would even miss a tree around here. There's so many of them…" Jade said, with a sly look at her betrothed.

Vincent set the tree down on the table next to the box of ornaments. He picked up a red glass ball and hung it on one of the upper branches. The tree bent under the slight weight, ornament dangling dangerously close to the tabletop.

"You're probably right. If we went out a ways into the woods…" he said quietly, a smile forming on his lips. That's all that needed to be said, and the two turned and went back out the door.

 

***

 

Selphie had decided she wouldn't let the little matter of the poor tree get her down too much, and the preparation continued. She had sent some of her minions out with dozens of strings of white lights to hang in the trees around the ice rink. Once that was done she hightailed it back to the kitchen to check on the cider and hot chocolate supplies and made sure there was enough.

Shay and Zell were just finishing cleaning up.

"Anything else you need done in here?" Shay asked, hoping the answer would be 'no'.

After a moment's thought the two were sent to finish hauling chairs out to the Quad.

"Oh! And see what you guys can do with the tree!" Selphie called after them.

 

Meanwhile….

 

 

Out in the forest Vincent and Jade were tromping through the snow. Jade was leading a large golden chocobo that had a tarp and chainsaw strapped to its back.

"Hey, this one looks good," Vincent said from up ahead. Jade caught up and looked it over.

A nice blue spruce, just like the one they had seen back at the lot.

"Yep. That's the one!" she agreed, retrieving the chainsaw.

Once it was cut down, wrapped up in the tarp, and strapped to the chocobo, they were ready to go. The snow, still falling, covered their tracks, and eventually the stump. Jade had cut it very low, and by summer, nobody would even know what had transpired there.

Hand in hand, and laughing to themselves at their little Christmas mischief, Jade and Vincent started back to the Garden.

"You know," Jade said quietly. "This was actually kind of fun!"

Vincent pulled her closer. "It was. Spending time with you is always fun. Even when it's committing a crime."

They both laughed and Jade dropped the chocobo's reigns as Vincent swept her into his arms and kissed her. After a few moments they parted, "I'm so glad that you came here," Jade said quietly to him.

"So am I," he replied, brushing the snow from her hair.

Several seconds went by as they just gazed into each other's eyes. Finally something bumped Jade from behind, and an angry "KWEH!" reminded them of their mission.

"Guess we'd better get this tree back before everybody goes to bed," Vincent said, laughing at Jades attempts to fend off the chilled bird.

 

***

 

"What does she expect us to do with this?" Zell asked Shay, plucking at a dried up branch with the tips of his fingers. His fiancé stared at it with him, brow furrowed.

"I knew she was a little off, but yeah… this is just … yeah,” Shayla sighed in resignation. “I guess we're supposed to decorate it?"

And so they did. At least... they tried.

Shay removed the red ball that Vincent had initially hung on it. Zell attempted to fill it out with some garland, but all that did was make it look like one of those ridiculous 'grow your own plant pet' things you get in a box, only gold.

After several frustrating minutes they stood back from the table to get a look at it.

Rinoa happened by, carrying some more lights. "What the heck is that?" she asked. "That's not the big centerpiece tree is it?" she asked dubiously.

Zell and Shay shrugged. Rinoa sighed and shook her head, continuing on to the doors.

"Oh my!" They heard her exclaim, and turned to see what the commotion was.

Coming through the doors was a rather large tree, wrapped in a blue tarp and being dragged by Vincent.

"Where's the stand for this?" he asked Rinoa.

"Probably with the rest of the decorations," she replied with a wave over her shoulder. "Where did you get this? I thought the lot was closed!”

Caught on the spot, Vincent just blurted the first thing that came to mind, "Traveling salesman. It's an import."

Rinoa looked at him with suspicion for a moment, and finally grinned. "I see...." she said and kept going, shaking her head all the while.

Zell had come up beside him. "Smooth one, Valentine," he said. "Here, lemme give you a hand with that." The two guys wrestled the tree into the stand. It was a little lopsided, so Shay stood back and directed them which way to tighten the screws until it was perfect.

"Gotta let it warm up some before we can do anything with it," Zell said. "It's a nice one though. Where's Jade at?"

"Putting the chocobo back in the stable," Vincent replied from somewhere behind the tree. He had accidentally cornered himself while getting it into position and was trying to figure out how to get out without knocking the whole thing over.

Shay, who had gotten immense amusement out of watching the two manhandling that big tree into place, finally said something."It's crooked."

Zell turned on her and got her in a headlock. "I didn't see you in there helping!"

She punched him in the kidney. "Stop! You're getting sap in my hair!" she cried.

"Knock it off you two! Save the violence till it's actually Christmas!" Jade said loudly as she came up behind Vincent who had finally managed to extract himself form the tree, and pulled some pine needles from his hair.

Zell released his girl and she good-naturedly punched him one last time. The two grinned at one another like love-sick teenagers.

"What took you so long to put the bird back?" Vincent asked.

"I had to wash the sap out from under my nails," Jade said straight-faced with a shrug.

All he did was smile and nod, glancing at her hands where the needles she'd pulled out of his hair were still stuck to her fingers. The twinkle in her eyes gave her away. She was up to something.

"It's a very juicy tree," she said, changing the subject. "Even sap on the needles. It's just everywhere I touch now. Terrible…" she explained.

"Yes, just terrible," Vincent said, smiling at her boldfaced lie.

A "SQUEEE!" from behind them caused the group to jump. Selphie came running up and began to dance delightedly around the large tree, exclaiming at its size and color and whatever else she could come up with.

"Where did you guys get this!? It's so fresh! Wow!"

Jade and Vincent looked at each other to come up with an answer.

"Found it in the ditch. Musta fallen off someone's truck." Jade finally said.

"Lucky us! What a great tree!" Selphie cried, she leaned into the branches to get a better look. "Awesome! You guys get this decorated and we'll call it a night!" she said in her commander voice.

So the four friends took the few boxes of ornaments and got to work. After about an hour the girls pronounced it done. The guys having long since sat down after they thought it looked 'good enough', which was about ten minutes into the whole project.

"You guys finally done with that?" Zell said as the girls stood back by the table and admired their handiwork. Jade crossed her arms and gave her brother a look.

"If you're going to do something, you may as well do it right," she stated.

Vincent put his arm around her. "It looks beautiful," he said and kissed her cheek.

"Kiss ass…"Zell muttered under his breath.

Vincent discreetly flipped him the bird.

Shay, stifling giggles, finally said, "We'd better go to bed. It's going to be a long day tomorrow."

 

***

 

The next morning, right at the ass crack of dawn, Shay was in their room bouncing on the bed, still in her pajamas.

Zell was passed out, laying face down and snoring away. Oblivious to her attempts to wake him up.

Finally, in a last ditch effort, Shayla crawled up beside him and whispered seductively in his ear, "Breakfast is ready."

In an instant Zell was out the door and in the kitchen.

"Where's breakfast?" he exclaimed, looking around, fork in hand and brandished before him as if he were ready to taken down something and eat it on the stop.

"It's actually going to be a few minutes, I just put the pop tarts in," Shayla laughed as she followed him out into the kitchen.

"No eggs n bacon?" he asked, his shoulder sagging in disappointment.

Shay shook her head. "We're out. We used the last of the eggs in the dough yesterday, and you ate the rest of the bacon last night. Remember?"

"Oh yeah…" Zell recalled his midnight snack.

"It'll be okay though,” Shay was saying. “According to Selphie, the kitchen staff is going to have a veritable feast today!"

“WOOT!” Zell cried just as two pastries popped out of the toaster and he handed one to Shay.

"So what's on the agenda?" he asked, his mouth full of blueberry goo and crumbly breading.

"Sounds like Selphie got some under-classmen to 'volunteer' to run the stands and stuff today, so they could get out of helping with setup last night," Shay explained and they both exchanged knowing looks. Selphie had no doubt roped the poor kids in with copious amounts of tears until they had agreed to help her.

“So we get the day off?!” he asked hopefully.

Shayla shrugged. “I think so? But... you know Selphie. She's probably going to spring something on us as soon as she sees us!”

 

 

***

 

It was around 10:00 before Jade and Vincent made an appearance down at the Quad.

"Up late last night?" Shay asked Jade with a sly grin.

Used to Shays innuendo Jade just rolled her eyes. "Why's Zell look so tired today? You work him pretty hard last night?" she shot back.

Shay laughed. "Oh yeah, had him cleaning up the kitchen."

Vincent couldn't resist the opportunity. "Is that what they're calling it these days?" he said dryly.

Zell came over, yawning.

"Get that 'kitchen' cleaned up?" Vincent asked.

"Yeah, some of that stuff is hard to get out. You really have to put a lot of effort into it!" he said. "Especially the pipes. I was up half the night scrubbing and plunging as deep as I could! Why, you wouldn't believe what was all crammed down in there!”

The other three couldn't hold back laughter anymore.

Poor Zell just stood there, laughing a little while trying to figure out what was so funny in what he had said.

"What?" he asked in confusion when his mind came up with nothing.

Shay just shook her head. "Come on, we'd better go set out the cookies." She said and took his arm, leading him away from the other laughing couple. She couldn't help but lean in and whisper, “You are good at cleaning out my kitchen pipe!”

Jade, who over heard, howled with laughter.

 

***

 

The group helped Selphie put the finishing touches on some of the decorations.

Zell had to finally drag Shay away from the tree to keep her from fussing and re-arranging ornaments. They went and helped Raine and Laguna smooth the ice over on the rink so that it would be nice and shiny. Once that was done, Raine went over to the bench and sat down, patting the place next to her in an invitation to Laguna. He shakily made his way over and plopped down next to her.

"It's time, isn't it?" he asked, looking resigned to his fate.

"Sure is!" she replied and handed him a pair of navy blue ice skates in his size.

Once on, Raine stood before him and held out her hands. Laguna was unsure but Raine slowly started skating backwards, towing him along. Shay and Zell sat on the bench and watched.

"Oh, look at how cute they are!" Shay squeeled, smiling and glancing up at Zell, and then turning to watch Raine and Laguna again. Zell looked over at his fiancé, he still hadn't given Shay her present, and wondered if now was a good time.

He had agonized for days about what to get her.

After discarding several ideas he finally asked Jade about it and she had told him that he should think of something on his own, because it would be more special that way. Finally he'd gone to Vincent and asked what he'd gotten for Jade, and that gave him a better idea than his original.

Besides, he doubted she'd like a set of weights very much.

Zell cleared his throat, and took her hands and held them between his own.

"Your hands looked cold," he said quietly. Shay smiled up at him and leaned her head against his shoulder. They sat like that for a little while, Zell still warming her chilly fingers. He'd hidden her mittens that morning while she was in the shower to ensure the perfect set up for this moment.

After a bit he pulled out the present from his coat pocket.

"Here, these should keep you warm." And he put some new fleece mittens on her hands.

"Oh they even match my coat! Thank you!" Shay exclaimed as she pulled them on. Something cold was inside the right mitten, and she looked up at him as she pulled that something out.

"Oh my god…" She was speechless. "How did you even…?" Zell smiled as she held up the slinky omega chain bracelet.

"I took your necklace to the jeweler in town and asked him to make one that matched."

Shay brushed tears from her eyes as she held it up to study it.

"It looks just like it!" she breathed in awe and hugged him again. "Thank you Zell. I love you so much!" she exclaimed happily.

"I love you too, babe," he replied and squeezed her. "I'm glad you like it."

"It's wonderful!" she said as she put it on her wrist, pausing as Zell went to assist her. "But I don't have your present with me right now. It's back in the room."

Zell kissed the top of her head. "That's okay. I can wait."

It was then he realized that Raine, Laguna, and about four other couples had stopped what they were doing to watch them. And he thought he heard Raine's voice faintly on the wind saying, "Oh, look at how cute they are!"

 

***

 

Jade and Vincent had entered the snow sculpture contest and were busy getting the main body of their piece shaped up. At noon, the staff had some lunch set out and everyone stopped to eat. Shay was excitedly showing Jade her new bracelet and telling her the story behind it. Zell looked over at Vincent with raised eyebrows. Vincent shrugged back, he'd not found the right time yet.

Besides, he wanted to give Jade her gift in private.

None of the festivities really started until later, so Shay and Zell went out to help Jade and Vincent with their snow sculpture.

"What's it supposed to be?" Zell asked, standing back with his head cocked to the side.

Jade frowned at him. "What's the matter with you? Are you blind or something? It's a Torama!" she exclaimed, throwing a handful of snow at him.

Zell ducked, but wasn't quick enough and it hit him in the side of the head.

"Ow! My ear!" he howled and shook his head.

"Quit whining and get over here and help," Jade said to him, ignoring his pretend pain.

"What!? I can't hear you! I've been deafened in one ear!" he said loudly, but knelt down in the snow to help anyway.

An hour later the judges came by. Squall, with a clipboard, was following behind Rinoa and Irvine.

Jade raised her eyebrow at the cowboy,

"What do you know about art?" she asked him.

Irvine grinned sheepishly. "Selphie just asked me to do this 'cause the girl that was supposed to got sick last night and can't leave her dorm."

Rinoa was walking around the snow-Torama, nodding. Irvine stepped back and tilted his head to the side. "What's it supposed to be?" he asked. He had to retreat behind Squall to avoid the oncoming onslaught of snowballs.

By 5:00 everyone was starving, and began gathering in the Quad for the big dinner. Selphie had wanted to make it another formal affair, but was overruled by just about everyone on the committee. She'd pouted for a while, but then someone pointed out that with all the outdoor activities going on that it'd be a hassle to go change and then change again to go back outside.

It was an awesome spread of food, the lunch ladies spared no expense! Ham and turkey, raspberry cobbler and stuffing - all the side dishes! The big lighting fixtures were turned down to dim, up above it was clear and the stars shone brightly through the glass roof. The lights that Selphie had strung around the quad provided a very festive atmosphere and even the moogles had come out of their new homes in the nearby forest to celebrate with their Garden friends.

Someone had set up a podium at the head of the room, and now Selphie took her place and began her speech. "Thanks for coming out to the first annual Christmas Festival! Before any of the announcements I want to thank all of the volunteers who made this possible. Without them, this would not have been possible. So thanks everyone! Now…here are the winners of our snow sculpture competition. In second place we have Jade and Vincent, with their snow-Torama." Applause all around, Jade laughed, surprised that they'd made even second place.

"First place goes to Quistis and Kiros, for their Leviathan!" Selphie announced to more applause. It was a very impressive piece of work, all the spines done out in icicles. Quistis had been in it to win!

Finally, Selphie got to the end of her announcements, "…so everybody eat up and go have some fun! The Festival officially ends at 2am!"

 

***

 

After dinner, Zell suggested that they all go for a walk to check out the rest of the snow sculptures. They ambled around for a while to take in the sights; most people were gathered around Quistis and Kiros's, 'ohh-ing' and 'ahh-ing' over it. There were some standing in front of the Torama as well, and Jade was pleased that they weren't tilting their heads in puzzlement.

Their course veered towards the ice rink where Selphie had one of her minions manning a hot chocolate booth. Jade and Shay leaned up against the back of an empty bench while the boys got them something to drink.

"So, what do you think Vincent got you?" Shayla asked Jade.

She was silent for a moment, watching the other students out on the ice for a bit. "I really have no clue. That man is a slab of stone when he wants to be," Jade replied.

"I bet it's something really nice," Shay said. "I still have to give Zell his. I hope he likes it. It's nowhere near as expensive as this must have been." She fretted and reflexively rubbed her wrist where the bracelet was.

"I'm sure he'll think it's great," Jade said. "I just hope Vincent likes his. It was hard to think of something he'd want or need."

"Hey, he'll love it. And it is something you both can enjoy," Shay giggled, "Hell, you've been planning it for months, it's not like he's got a choice in the matter!"

The conversation ceased when the men returned carrying four cups of hot chocolate.

Zell and Shay sat down on the bench. Vincent shuffled his feet restlessly.

"You two keep going if you want, Shay and I are gonna do some skating when we're done with these." Zell made faint shoo-ing motions at Vincent, and gave him a 'get the hint' look.

Vincent nodded and took Jade's hand.

He led Jade among the trees that were strung with lights to a secluded bench along the path. Both of them saw this as an opportunity to finally give each other their Christmas gifts. Simultaneously they turned to one another reaching into their pockets and started their planned speeches.

"Jade, you're…"

"Vincent, we…"

They realized what they were doing and laughed.

"You go first," Jade finally said to him.

Vincent smiled at her. "Close your eyes first," he said quietly.

Jade shivered in anticipation and a faint frown appeared at her brow when he gently unzipped her coat a little ways. Unsure what to expect next, she moved closer when he leaned into her. Realizing he was fastening a necklace, her face broke into a smile.

"Okay, see if you like it," he said, and she opened her eyes and looked down. A silver chain with an infinity symbol hung around her neck. She took off her gloves and lifted it up to study it. Where the two lines crossed was a small diamond set down into the silver.

"Oh, Vincent…" she breathed, and looked up into his eyes. "It's beautiful."

"So you like it?" he asked.

"I love it. And I love you even more!" She pulled him closer and kissed him, much to his delight.

After a few moments Jade broke the kiss.

"Now it's your turn!" she said, and pulled some small papers out of the inside pocket of her jacket and handed them to him. Vincent looked perplexed for a moment and then began to study them. Jade watched his face anxiously, hoping that he would like it.

"These are tickets to a hot springs resort?" he said finally, slightly puzzled.

"Yeah, the same one that we went to before. I didn't know when you would want to go, so I spoke with the headmaster and arranged for a four day weekend for us whenever we decide to take it. Everything is paid for; all we have to do is call the resort."

Vincent was speechless for a moment as all the information sank in. At last he pulled her close and kissed her passionately. They were lost in the moment and didn't hear the several crunches of boots in snow.

"I guess he liked it huh?" Shay remarked, as her, Zell, Rinoa, Squall, Irvine and Selphie trooped by on their way to the big hill behind the rink. Zell was pulling a sled piled with lots of other sleds. As the group continued on their way he gave Vincent a sly grin and shot him a thumbs up.

 

***

 

Later that night, after most of the revelry died down, Squall lit a bonfire. Benches were dragged from around the grounds to sit on and there was ample room since quite a few of the students had retired.

Couples were snuggled together, just watching the fire. Vincent and Jade were quietly making plans for their vacation. Rinoa and Squall were cuddled together under a blanket, his clipboard kicked under their seat, forgotten at last.

Zell had somehow filched a bag of marshmallows from the kitchen and was charring one for Shayla. She was looking around, seeing who all was there, when she spied an unexpected addition. She didn't say anything to anyone else there, but smiled to herself to see Seifer, with Fujin, leaning up against his chest. The two of them were far out of the edge of the firelight, as if they had just come by to spy on their friends and had decided to stay and enjoy the atmosphere.

It was odd to see Seifer looking so peaceful. But it made Shayla happy to know that maybe he was content, at least for a moment. Fujin too, looked peaceful as the couple glanced up and saw Shay watching them. They nodded and, with smiles and a wave, disappeared back into the night.

"It's getting late babe, you ready to go in?" Zell finally asked, giving up on the marshmallows and turning back to her. Every single one of them ended up a charred lump and the ground around him was a sticky goo filled battle ground.

"Yeah, I'm getting kinda sleepy." She rose and waved goodnight to Jade and Vincent.

Rinoa had fallen asleep in Squalls lap, and he looked done in as well. Selphie and Irvine were nowhere to be seen, and neither were Raine and Laguna. Zell hurried ahead of her so he could get the marshmallows put away. Shayla sped up her steps and caught up with her fiancé as he was coming out of the kitchen.

"Come on. I've still got to give you your present." She grinned and took his hand, leading him back to their suite. Zell chuckled at her eagerness and allowed himself to be pulled along.

After they were both showered and snug in their pajamas, ridiculous slippers and all, Zell and Shay were seated on the couch. She presented him with a small, flat, rectangular wrapped box and watched pensively as he opened it to reveal a picture in a pewter frame.

"Hey! That's from our trip to the beach!" he exclaimed with enjoyment.

"Yeah, before I got hurt. Rinoa was taking pictures the first couple days we were there. I asked her for a copy of this one," she said. "I hope you like it. It's not nearly as nice as what you got me, but I didn’t know what you would want..."

Zell laughed quietly as he looked at the picture, recalling that night. Rinoa had caught them during a rare moment of co-operation as they made s'mores together.

"This is awesome babe! The second best present I've ever gotten," he said, and pulled her close to him.

Shay smiled up at him. "And what's the first?" she asked softly.

"You are," he responded as he leaned down and kissed her.

A sudden knock at the door startled both of them. Zell glanced over at the clock.

"It's 3am, who in the hell could that be?" he said with weary frustration. Shay grabbed his arm as he rose to go yell at whatever unfortunate soul could be out there.

"Just let them go away on their own. The lights are mostly off, they'll think we're sleeping. C'mon, sit back down," Shay said, coaxing him back onto the couch. Zell rejoined his fiancé on the sofa, and they curled up together, and finally fell asleep like that.

 

***

 

Late in the morning, Shay and Jade were on their way to the kitchen to retrieve their various utensils. As they passed the Quad Jade noticed that someone had done some cleaning up. 'I wonder who was up so early to get that done?' she thought. Looking over she spotted a large heap of wrapping paper on a table.

"What'cha lookin' at?" Shay asked her when she paused.

"I thought I saw something move over there," Jade stated, and went to investigate. Getting closer she noticed that Selphie was curled up in a ball sleeping on the table. As they neared she stirred.

"Hey guys!" she muttered sleepily as she sat up, paper falling to the floor, revealing Irvine still on his side snoring. The two just stared at her.

"It's not what you think!" Selphie cried with embarrassment. "Last night I was looking for someone to help clean up afterwards, but nobody was awake. Irvine was the only one who would help me," she said, hopping down off the table, leaving Irvine to continue sleeping. He mumbled something that sounded like "….zzzz a little higher…oh yeah…zzz..z." and rolled over, pulling some more paper up to cover himself.

"Ah huh, whatever,” Jade grinned. “We're on our way to the kitchen."

Selphie trotted after them, trying to look innocent.

"Does that mean you're going to help with the cleanup?" she asked excitedly. The two girls exchanged looks.

"Sorry!" Shay said loudly, as the two sped up their steps, "Zell and I are going to his parents today!" Selphie kept pace, looking up at Jade beseechingly.

Not about to be suckered again Jade told her, "Yeah well, you see Vincent and I have to pack for our trip, so I can't help either."

Selphie realized she'd have to look elsewhere for aid and dropped back.

"I thought you two weren't leaving for another two weeks," Shay commented with a smirk.

"We're not." Jade grinned ruefully.

 

With that, life continued on as it always did at Balamb Garden.