'Tis The Season


--Seasons Greetings--: The Turks have a change of plans.
A/N: I'm not too sure what prompted me to write this little drabble series. Perhaps because it is nearing Christmas, and I do so adore Christmas cheer. :Confounded pause: Do they have Christmas in Midgar? Eh. Why not.
Don't take offense that I'm making the holiday they celebrate Christmas and not Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or that one Hindi holiday. I'm not biased—I've just never celebrated the others, and don't want to sound like an idiot. So Christmas it is. Besides, you get presents in all of 'em, anyhow. I think… (See what I mean?)
This takes place the winter after Advent Children.

Tifa Lockhart blamed it on the snow.

It was three weeks before Christmas, and she had already hung the usual decorations over Seventh Heaven: mistletoe over the stairway arch; wreaths on the doors; a little tree in the corner of the bar, the ornaments still in a cardboard box, since she neither had the time nor the willpower to put them all up yet.

Earlier that day, the pounding rain promised danger, and had turned first into thick balls of sleet that bounced off the windows, and then into powdery snow; and the howls of the wind outside blew the foundations of Seventh Heaven furiously, making the concrete walls shudder and Tifa pause uncertainly.

Cloud had come home sopping wet and far too late for Tifa's liking, after it was hard to see five feet in front of him anymore, two undelivered packages in his hand. The snow instantly melted into puddles by the front door as he shook the glittering dust off of his shoulders and hair. Tifa got a mop from the back closet whilst Cloud told everyone still at the bar to go home when they still could. Marlene abandoned her homework and fetched a big beach towel to drape over the spiky blonde, and Denzel bused the tables as the few locals downed their last drinks, left their tips, and shrugged on their coats, ready to brave the way home.

An hour later, Tifa was just about to swing the sign on the door to 'Closed'—not that anybody could see it in the swirling snow anyway—when there was a sudden, indistinct crash somewhere outside in the near vicinity, muffled by the shrieking wind.

Cloud looked up from the bar where he was paying the electric bill, and both him and Tifa stared at the door for a long moment as if they expected snow monsters to come barreling inside, ready to devour all in their path.

Without warning, Cloud and Tifa's unvoiced thoughts came true, and there was a furious banging on the door, shaking the snow off of the glass pane to reveal hazy shadows outside. Tifa gasped, and Cloud instantly retrieved his sword from the back wall where it had been resting.

There were shouts outside that were carried away by the wind, and abruptly, the door banged open to blow in the biting cold, flurries of snow, and four snow monsters carrying suitcases.

Marlene, who had been watching from the top step, screamed and ran to Tifa, hugging her knee. Cloud swung his sword forward, but raised an eyebrow a moment later and dropped his arm.

The snow monsters, like Cloud had, were stamping off the white from their bodies, shrinking smaller and smaller until—a flaming red head of hair appeared. Cloud scowled as the young man halfheartedly raised his nightstick to point it at his face, bringing his sword again to meet it with a metallic clang.

Tifa, who recognized them a moment later, sighed, her hands on her hips. "It's you lot." She nodded polite acknowledgement to the four of them, saying her respective hellos.

Tseng, who had brushed enough snow from the top of his head to make out his raven hair, warily thumped more snow from his pants to the floor. "Reno, drop it."

Reno smirked at Cloud and obligingly dropped his nightstick. "All in good fun, yo."

Cloud had not relaxed from his defensive stance. "What are you doing here? You're not welcome."

Reno sighed, promptly flopping onto a barstool. "Hey, you think we want to be here, yo?"

Elena, whose blond hair was damp and stringy and was helping Rude beat snow off of his back, made up for her comrade, asserting, "We're stuck."

"Stuck?" Tifa asked, an arm still around Marlene.

"Yes. We were on our way to a little time off when the blizzard bent one of the helicopter's spinners, and the engine froze. You might have heard us crash-land?" Tseng replied, shaking out his hair.

"It was gonna be a warm vacation, too." Reno added grumpily. "Right by the southern coast, yo. Now we're stuck here."

As obvious, Cloud was still a bit skeptical about this information and, of course, wanted them to leave. "I'll call Rufus." He said, starting up the stairs. Tseng stopped him.

"All of the phone lines are cut."

Cloud paused, turned back, and took out his cell phone.

"We tried that, Chocobo. The cellular services are down, yo."

"And all modes of transportation are closed. We've checked that as well," added Elena. Tifa sighed, reassured Marlene and Denzel, who had been standing frozen near the back room, that it was all right, and resolutely got out the mop again.

"Then… you'll just have to stay here."

Against Cloud's wishes, Tifa had dragged him into the backroom for a 'meeting' and there, bullied him into letting the Turks stay temporarily. As Cloud stared at her moodily, his arms crossed, Tifa said that maybe the Turks weren't who they used to be. Shinra was remolding itself from the horror it once was, right? Maybe they were just trying to mend their lives as well, and live. Perhaps they had changed, or were never that horrible of people, besides their assassin status (which Cloud found almost laughable); besides, they had worked alongside them during the Geostigma outbreak, and before that. "Anyway, they even tried to pay rent," Tifa informed him with an almost amused chuckle. Tseng had insisted that they pay for their living quarters, and had taken 120 gil out of his wallet. He then proceeded to prod money out of his fellow Turks, and when the other three seemed reluctant, he had all but practically hung them upside down by their feet, shaking out the contents of their pockets.

Elena had 20 gil, a stick of lip balm, and her gun; Reno's pocket revealed a pack of smokes, a few gil, and three phone numbers—one of which was written in sparkly, pink writing—of Shinra-knows-who; and Rude had ten pairs of sunglasses.

Tifa had decided not to ask about that one, and after unsuccessfully trying to say that they didn't need to pay her, to which Tseng replied that they must, told them that they could pay her back by working it off at the bar.

Reno looked resentful. "Aw, what's there to do anyway during a snowstorm, yo?"

Tifa equipped him with rubber gloves, a bucket of bleach, and showed him the art of cleaning bathrooms, and Reno was smart enough to shut up after that.

At nightfall, everything was more or less in order again. Marlene and Denzel, who had felt a little uncomfortable with the four Shinra assassins around the place, had loosened up a little bit, though they still hid behind doors and ducked into rooms most of the time. Marlene had offered a hesitant, shaky smile to Elena, who had grinned cheerily back at her, and Denzel had helped Tseng move his suitcases. It was something. More than Cloud, who had remained mostly silent from the time of their arrival.

After a slight disagreement, the Turks had been assigned living quarters. Elena was to get the guest room; Reno would sleep in the office on the pullout sofa; Rude occupied the back room (Tifa and Cloud extracted a dusty cot from the closet); and Tseng slept in the main room couch, by the fireplace (1).

Cloud wanted to sleep on the couch to oblige their visitors, no matter how welcome—or unwelcome—they happened to be, but after many shouts of protests from all four Turks and the children against it, he was quite literally pushed back into his room and the door slammed in his surprised face. Elena told him through the door that if he even attempted to sleep on the couch, Tseng would sick Rude on him. Rude confirmed this fact with a slight grunt, and even though Cloud knew that beating Rude wouldn't be such a hard feat, he decided there was no point in stirring up trouble.

Maybe Tifa was right.

By day three, the mammoth blizzard had blown itself over, the exhausted wind shriveling back to a gentle but stinging breeze. A few folks had braved the towering mounds of powder and dug their way to the top of the twelve feet snow to snowshoe around town.

Tifa had thought that Seventh Heaven would be relatively empty throughout the effects of the whiteout, but by six o'clock that night, there were knocks on the buried door and she opened it to reveal two locals, wanting beers, and she had to tell Tseng to remove his blankets from the couch and stoke the fire.

By eight o'clock that night, the bar was as busy as it was any other night; apparently, the townsfolk needed to get out their houses and socialize—get a breath of fresh air, as one of them told her—somewhere, and Seventh Heaven was the perfect place. They had even dug a tunnel of sorts from the top of the snow to the door, so that one could simply jump down to the front step after snowshoeing around.

Tifa put Elena to work as a waitress, and she did relatively well, catching extra tips from the men, before Reno, who had been placed behind the bar counter as he knew how to mix drinks exceptionally, appeared by Tifa, glaring after his co-worker. "She thinks she's such a jewel," He grumbled, before tying on one of the aprons.

Tifa asked him what he was doing, to which he said, "Babe, I'm gonna show her how a real master does it." And rolling up his sleeves, he took a shot of Vodka and promptly took up a tray of orders to a table of young women.

So of course, Tifa had to place Tseng behind the counter, and told Rude to take over Tseng's position of 'bouncer'. The bar was more festive than usual that night. Reno, of course, proved to be a great success with the ladies, and when they closed, he and Elena counted tips and bickered about who made the most before handing it all to Tifa to 'pay off their continuous debt.' Rude had been able to prevent four fights amongst the more tipsy men, and Tseng improved so much at taking and making drink orders he didn't even need the order pad or the ingredient book.

They all looked exhausted, so Tifa hustled them up to bed, laughing a bit after them as they congratulated themselves on the first night of bar work.

She turned to Cloud, who had been brooding behind the counter most of the night as he watched the Turks work their magic. "See? I told you they weren't all bad," She said with a brief, tired smile, before hanging up her own apron to go upstairs to check on Marlene and Denzel.

Tifa was probably right.

Cloud sighed, his grip on his sword that he had hidden under the counter loosening, before following her up.

(1) I'm almost sure they don't have a fireplace in Seventh Heaven, but let's say there is for future references .