Notes: Much thanks to everyone who has been following this story! I've been enjoying it immensely, and I think that I will post a couple of stories that I wrote taking place before this fic. One of them is the story where Cloud is shot that's been referred to several times. Thanks again!
A week had passed since the calamity at the Temple of the Ancients. Sephiroth was recovering well, and was already back to doing company work. But Zack had begged him not to work today, and to just relax. After all, it was Thanksgiving! A time for feasting, and friends, and being thankful for all that one had. And, Zack said, they all had plenty to be thankful for.
Trista, Maryn, and Pala had all been invited for dinner. In addition, Barret had come from where he had been working at the mine. Marlene was thrilled. Cid and Shera had opted for a quieter dinner at home—though with Kadaj and his brothers living there as well, it was doubtful that it would be quiet at all. Yuffie had come, however. And even Vincent had ventured out. Yuffie, as well as Trista and Maryn, were helping Aerith and Tifa in the kitchen. Zack was assisting as well, in between sorting through the many strings of Christmas lights he had purchased.
"Are you actually going to decorate the entire house and yard?" Angeal asked, raising an eyebrow as he watched Zack sitting cross-legged on the floor, lights draped around him and going through his hair. There must be at least half a dozen separate sets!
"Sephiroth won't like it," Cloud said, crossing his arms.
Zack looked up, blinking innocently. "Hey, it'll just be a little bit!" he said, pulling one strand down from his spikes. "Maybe some red and white lights going around the kitchen doorway, and some white ones going up the lamp, and colored ones on the pillars outside . . . !"
"A little bit, huh?" Angeal shook his head. "I can just imagine Sephiroth's expression if he comes in and finds all that."
"You'll know if he's really ticked off," Cloud added. "His pupils will go that creepy catlike way."
Angeal had to turn away to hide a bit of a smirk.
Cloud frowned. "What is it?"
Zack looked over at them, unwinding the rest of the strings of miniature bulbs from around his body. "You actually found something funny, Angeal?" he asked, and grinned. "Wow, they're right about this being a season of miracles!"
Angeal shook his head. "I was just thinking about something Marlene said," he replied.
"She seems to like you," Cloud said.
"She does," Angeal agreed. "She took me on a tour of the library and Sephiroth's private office. I asked her how often Sephiroth goes in there." He gave Cloud a sidelong glance. "She said it's usually when he feels like screaming. And that when Cloud feels like screaming, he just does it." From what he knew of Cloud, that seemed to be a very accurate statement.
Zack snickered. Cloud rolled his eyes.
"Nothing's lost on the kids!" Zack smiled then.
"Of course not."
They looked up at the sound of the new voice. Sephiroth was coming down the stairs, removing his glasses as he did.
Zack grinned. "Seph!" he greeted, then gave him a mock scolding look. "You were working again!"
"I was checking to see if there was any news about the future of Fragmented Triangle," Sephiroth grunted in reply. "Apparently, Azazel Rakesh was the head of the board of directors. But the other members refuse to comment on his current whereabouts, and they haven't said anything at all as to whether the company president is missing. According to their website, all is well."
"I'm sure we weren't expecting them to say that their bosses may have ended up killed by a stone with a mind of its own." Cloud looked bored.
"No." Sephiroth came to stand near them. He was definitely eyeing the lights with which Zack was adorned, but he did not comment.
Zack shook his head. "I dunno. . . . Somehow I've got the feeling we haven't heard the last from them." He glanced towards the kitchen. "But I hope Maryn has."
Angeal nodded. "She shouldn't have to deal with the likes of them." She was much too good and pure to have to encounter such cruelty. Though, from what Zack and Sephiroth had told him, she had been forced to live with Dalton in her childhood. And she had come through it still happy and sweet.
Somewhat like Zack with his perpetual cheery outlook. No wonder they got along so well.
Maryn had even said that, with all the horrible things Dalton had done, she hoped that he had gotten out of the collapsing temple. Angeal did not know that he could feel that way about it, especially after what had happened to Sephiroth. As long as Dalton was alive, he would no doubt be the bane of their existence. Though, considering what Gunju Rakesh had caused, maybe Dalton being dead would not change anything.
Nevermind that for now. Sephiroth's pessimism was really rubbing off on him.
Now Zack began carrying the different strands around the room, to the locations he had previously considered. "So!" he said over his shoulder. "Have you figured out what kinda job you might like to get, Angeal?"
"I don't know," Angeal answered. Something with fighting, or swords, was what he was good at, and yet on the other hand, he had already seen so much of both. There were likely to be other battles at some point. And getting a job involving more of the same sounded overwhelming. For right now, he wanted to be able to relax.
Zack straightened up, grinning as he looked to Seph and Cloud. They looked back, a silent message passing between them. Then Zack looked back to Angeal, setting the rest of the lights down as he walked over to his former mentor.
"Well," he announced, "Seph and Cloud and I were talking last night, and we wondered if maybe you'd like to come work with us at Jenova Corp!"
Angeal blinked in surprise. He still had an aversion to big corporations—first Shinra, then Fragmented Triangle—but this would be different. He would be working alongside old friends, and a new one. And they were the ones in charge. There would not be any shenanigans going on at Jenova Corp, not unless they were not sanctioned by Sephiroth and company. And such incidents would be stopped. Jenova Corp was an honest business, unlike the ones he had been involved with in the past.
"There's some managerial positions open," Cloud put in now, "if you wanted."
"It would be a logical career choice," Sephiroth said, "considering the circumstances." Angeal could spend time searching all over for a job that might not even offer much security. But at Jenova Corp he would have such freedom, plus, he would be in an environment halfway familiar to him and with people who cared about him.
"I didn't know if I'd like the work at first," Zack said, "but now I've settled right in!"
Angeal smiled a bit. "Maybe I will try it," he said.
Zack whooped, glomping Angeal with enthusiasm and gusto. Angeal started, then waved Zack off in a good-natured way. Zack was not bothered.
"This is great!" he declared. "Everything's just the way it should be!"
Aerith peeked out of the kitchen, looking amused. "Dinner will be ready shortly," she announced. "For Heaven's sake, Zack, are you going to leave the lights strung around everywhere?" She placed her hands on her hips in mock annoyance.
"Nope!" Zack said cheerfully. "Who wants to help me put them up?"
"I'll help!" Maryn called from the kitchen. "As soon as I get the gravy done!"
"I knew you would!" Zack chirped.
He received three sets of deadpan looks from the other men. But at last Angeal relented. "That's probably the best way to make sure you don't overdo it," he said.
Cloud shook his head. "He's already done that." He gestured to the railing leading upstairs. It was draped in garland and lights.
Sephiroth continued to look at his best friend. "You're going to make the neighbors think I'm a buoyant person who enjoys celebrations," he said.
Zack smirked. "Aww, Seph, don't be such a Scrooge!"
Sephiroth's look did not change. "What are you talking about?"
Zack handed him the end of a string of lights. "Here, hold this while I get the knots out," he said, and rushed on, "They have this story here on Earth about a guy who hates Christmas. But his old friend who's dead and some other ghosts help get him straightened out."
Sephiroth never took his gaze from Zack. "This is a very strange planet."
"Hey," Zack grinned, "just wait! You and Cloud and Angeal will get in the holiday spirit yet!"
At last Sephiroth looked away, a trace of a smile sneaking onto his features. If anyone could make sure that such a thing happened, it would definitely be Zack. After all, sooner or later, it seemed that everything Zack wished to have occur ended up taking place.
He looked over as Zack spoke again. Now the brunet was looking thoughtful.
"Why is it, that simple missions never are the least bit simple?" Zack blinked at him.
Sephiroth shook his head. "Because that's how life goes," he answered. "Apparently that's one thing Earth and Gaia have in common."
Zack gave him a mock mournful look. "Now how did I know you'd say something like that?" he moaned.
"After all this time, you must have figured out a few things about me," Sephiroth said, deliberately echoing part of an exchange of theirs from ten years previous.
Zack grinned. "Maybe more than a few!" he said in return.
Cloud and Angeal looked over at each other from where they were affixing some of the lights. There was a very calm, peaceful atmosphere today. Even engaging in this activity, which was not something either of them had ever dreamed they would be doing, was not stressful or unpleasant.
For now, at least, all was well.