Author's Note: Well, I finally finished my holiday fan fiction, and for once I got done with something on time. This is a very special fan fiction indeed, almost the perfect Christmas story. It's got moments to make you laugh, moments to make you cry, and moments that may even inspire you. Above all, I hope it makes you smile. Another very special thing, this is one of my few non-yaoi fan fictions, by request of my yaoi-hating best friend who wanted to read it (in the original plan, it was). However, it could possibly still be implied for my friends who are addicts like I am. This story was originally a one-shot, but I've decided to make the final edit into three different chapters. I rushed to finish this on time in between doing lots of things for school, applying to college, and also in preparation for Christmas. If there are any really dumb typos in it, please inform me. I did edit it, but I may have missed a few things.

I dedicate this story to my best friend Kiko, who not only managed to keep this hardcore yaoi fan from doing what she normally does best (only because I love her), but also for being downright amazing, and also to my good friend Keyla who was there for me when I didn't know who else I could talk to. Thank you both for keeping me sane during this hectic December.

To everyone else, enjoy the story and have a Merry Christmas or whatever it is you celebrate!

It was bitter cold outside and the wind howled against the thick canvas material of the pavilion tent that was the makeshift shelter for ShinRa's SOLDIERs, on a mission near the Ancient Capital to investigate some strange sightings that had been reported around the area. The night was starless and blanketed over, promising snow before the morning. Even in the gloom, the white trees seemed to glow with ethereal light. Zack stared out at the bleak scenery, enjoying one last drink before crawling into his bed, a not very comfortable drab blue sleeping bag provided by ShinRa to all of it's military personnel on away missions.

It was Christmas Eve, but that held little matter to those who served ShinRa Electric Power Company. As long as there was work to be done, it didn't matter what day of the year it was. For a ShinRa employee, there was no guarantee of ever having a holiday. This fact was the reason Zack and five other SOLDIERs found themselves spending the night far from home and freezing cold even on the eve of such a special day. ShinRa as a whole wasn't sentimental, and they were simply the ones who were sent out to deal with whatever it was the company decided was troublesome. It was their duty, and however unpleasant it could be, they did their job with pride and honor.

Zack, as a SOLDIER First Class, had been put in charge of the mission. Like all of the men in his company, he would have much rather spent the holidays someplace warm, dry, and safe, rather than in a drafty tent miles away from everyone he cared the most about. He sighed to himself, smiling wistfully out at the white trees and the gray sky.

"Hey, Zack," one of the SOLDIERs, a second class named Luxiere, called from his sleeping bag. "Could you close the flap, please? It's cold enough in here without you letting the wind in. I'm freezing my balls off."

The First Class was instantly pulled from his thoughts, turning and flashing the man a sheepish grin. "Sorry!" He called, sealing the tent and blotting out the harsh surroundings with canvas. "You could have let me know sooner that the situation was so urgent!" He gave a friendly laugh and made his way over to his own sleeping bag.

"It's fine." Luxiere said with obvious sincerity. "I'm glad you were put in charge of this mission. Not many people would have allowed their men to get pissed the night before a big mission."

Zack smiled, remembering the small Christmas party the five SOLDIERs had celebrated with earlier. "Hey, I didn't let you drink enough to get completely trashed." Zack said, giving the other man a friendly punch on the shoulder. "If any of you wake up with a huge hangover tomorrow, I'll know one of you brought something along that wasn't on the mission protocol. " He gave the other a mock glare.

"Hey, it's not like you didn't." Luxiere said, appearing somewhat shaken. He fidgeted nervously, staring down at his sleeping bag as if it were the most interesting thing in the world.

Zack snickered. "You little sneak!" He slapped his knee in amusement, nearly rolling on the floor laughing. "I knew I didn't bring that much!"

The First Class had felt bad about having to force his comrades to tag along on this mission and give up their Christmas, and hadn't been particularly thrilled about loosing his own holiday, either. Before they had boarded the truck that would carry them over to the location of their mission, he had hurried into the city and bought two six packs and a cheap radio in preparation for a small, surprise Christmas party for the other SOLDIERs, and snuck it all in with the various supplies. It was no secret that ShinRa's military personnel oftentimes brought along items that were nonessential to the mission, and even alcohol, for their own amusement on away missions, but it was frowned upon by the company and strongly discouraged. However, being that it was Christmas Eve and Zack had broken the rule himself, he chose to let it slide.

"Ummm…I'm not in trouble, right?" Luxiere questioned, still seeming a bit uneasy but loosened up a bit by his commander's laughter.

"Of course not!" Zack said with a grin, standing up and pacing a bit to work off the rest of the energy from his fit of laughter.

"With all due respect, Zack," another SOLDIER, Kunsel, called to them. "Some of us are trying to sleep so that tomorrow won't suck anymore than it has to."

"It is late, isn't it?" Zack commented, ruffling his own hair as if slightly embarrassed. "Yeah! I guess it is, huh?" He did three quick squats and then laid down, nearly entangling himself in his sleeping bag in the process. "Goodnight!"

The tent fell silent soon afterwards, but Zack remained awake, laying on his back and staring up at the canvas ceiling. He recalled the events of the evening, smiling slightly. He was glad he had decided to bend the rules a bit. The night and the following day would have been unbearably unpleasant, otherwise.

For much of the night, the SOLDIERs had gathered around a big lantern with a junky little heater, drinking and telling stories of their time in the ShinRa military. The cheap radio he had bought was propped up nearby, it's reception fuzzy but still playing Christmas songs even through the static.

His phone had gone off while he was listening to Kunsel rant about a particularly dangerous and highly exaggerated encounter with "an army of tonberries!" he called out, waving his arms in a ridiculous fashion, the alcohol clearly taking effect. "There were at least fifty of them, what with their kitchen knives and all! But I warded 'em all off and said! 'Hey, tonberries! This is my territory! Your kitchen knives belong to me!'… and they all ran away, but they left their precious cutlery for yours truly. And that, my friends, is where the cafeteria in the ShinRa building really got its new shipment of silverware!"

Zack had already answered his phone before Kunsel had reached the portion about the tonberries running for their mothers. "Hello?" he said, retreating from the others as Luxiere called out "You liar! The last time you told that story it involved forty cactuars and a hot girl from Kalm!"

The voice on the line was Aerith. She giggled a bit before answering. "I know you're going to be busy tomorrow, so I just called to say Merry Christmas, Zack!"

He smiled, shaking his head slightly. Aerith was a great friend and he was so glad he had met her….even if that had involved falling through the roof of the church in the slums and making an idiot out of himself. "Thanks, Aerith!" he said. "Merry Christmas to you, too."

She giggled again, obviously in a great mood. "What's the mission about?"

Zack gave an overdramatic sigh. "Something totally not urgent that could totally wait until after Christmas to look into."

"Oh." Aeris sounded a bit disappointed. "I'm so sorry! Too bad they ruined your Christmas for that!"

"It's fine." He said, his smile audible in his voice. "How is your Christmas Eve going? Any plans for tomorrow?"

"Oh, Zack!" She laughed. "I already told you all about them! You're so forgetful!"

"I'm sorry!" Zack said, jumping back as if alarmed and getting a strange glance from the other SOLDIERs, who promptly went back to their boozing and boasting. "Tell me again?"

"My mom and I are having some friends over for Christmas dinner tomorrow!" She said, sounding excited. "I'm actually helping her with the cooking right now. I probably shouldn't talk too long."

Zack sighed. "Okay, don't want to keep you or anything." He smiled. "Merry Christmas."

"Merry Christmas." She said again, sounding a bit more serious this time around. "And Zack, be careful, won't you?"

"Of course. Goodnight, Aerith."

After the conversation, Zack had become a bit less involved in the festivities of the other SOLDIERs. Aerith would be fine, he knew. She had been looking forward to her Christmas for at least a month, maybe more, and he knew that she wasn't missing him terribly at the moment. However, Cloud he was a bit worried about.

"Hey, Spike. Christmas is coming up soon, isn't it?"

"Yeah, it is… Why do you ask?

"Just wondering if you had any plans. Like y'know, going home to visit family or going to get drunk with your buddies… Oh gods, don't tell me they gave you a mission! I thought you had the holiday off!"

"I am off. But I don't have any plans. What would I do? You're the only real friend I have here, Zack. And nope, I'm not going to go all the way back to Nibelheim just for Christmas… I can't…"

"Why not?"

"I'd rather not talk about it…"

"We're friends, right? You can talk to me."

"I really don't want to talk about it."

"Don't get all defensive on me, Cloud! I was just wondering. Y'know, spending Christmas all alone in the barracks isn't any fun!"

"Hmm. Not much choice, is there?"

"Why don't you come over to my place? I don't have any plans either. Aerith will be busy and I wouldn't want to show up and scare her mom's friends. The people in the slums aren't quite fond of ShinRa, y'know…and Gongaga isn't exactly close by, so I can't visit my folks and be back in time for work the next day."

"I wouldn't want to be any trouble…"

"It'll be fun! You can come over to my apartment on Christmas Eve and we'll get totally smashed and watch dirty movies... or if you prefer, I guess we could watch some of the sappy Christmas specials on TV. Hey, don't look so offended!"

"Zack, I'm not old enough to drink…and I just so happen to prefer those sappy Christmas specials you mentioned to whatever it is you have planned…"

"That's the beauty of being in the ShinRa army! It doesn't matter! But hey, we can watch that sugary junk if you want. But I'm sure you would find that you enjoyed the other stuff even mor- hey, don't try to hit me!"

"Sorry."

"Liar. Anyways, the next day we can exchange whatever cheap gifts we manage to scrounge up for each other with our lousy pay, maybe even get a good laugh out of them, and go for more of the same from the night before. Sound good?"

"Better than being alone in the barracks, at least."

"You won't regret it, Spikey! It'll be the best Christmas ever, I promise."

But it wasn't the best Christmas ever. Zack was miles away from Midgar on a mission, and Cloud was alone in the SOLDIER's apartment, probably watching stale Christmas specials and feeling rather lonely. He sighed, remembering the conversation he'd had with the young blonde a few days beforehand.

"Hey, Cloud."

"Hey, Zack! I'm really looking forward to Christmas. I'll be over there on Christmas Eve as soon as I get off duty!"

"Spike…"

"I mean it, too. I know I'm always late to our training sessions, but-"

"Cloud."

"What's wrong?"

"I… I got a mission."

"On Christmas?"

"Yeah."

"Oh…"

"I tried to get out of it, but I didn't have much say in the matter."

"…Well, Christmas in the barracks will be okay, I guess… At least I have a day off."

"No, it's not okay, Spike. I promised you."

"It's okay, Zack. Really."

"Tell you what… You can stay in my apartment for Christmas, it'll still be lonely but it'll be better than the barracks. At least you'll have the TV and the radio, and I'm sure even my couch is more comfortable than the beds you recruits get."

"Zack, you don't have to…"

"It's no trouble at all. Just promise me that all of the Christmas cookies my mom sent me won't be gone when I come back, and it's fine by me."

"Well… I suppose it is just a little better than the barracks."

Zack sighed, sincerely wishing he could have made good on his promise to Cloud. He would much rather be warm in his own apartment with his best friend eating junk food and watching television than out in a tent in the cold on a mission that could definitely wait. Spending Christmas with the blonde cadet, no matter what they ended up watching, would have been perfect.

Then, a thought occurred to the raven-haired SOLDIER. Sure, this mission was supposed to be fairly simple, nothing too potentially dangerous… but on every mission, there was the possibility of things going completely wrong. He hadn't even had the opportunity to wish Cloud a "Merry Christmas" before he left on the mission. What if something did go wrong, and he never had the chance to say "Merry Christmas" to him again? He'd said it to Aerith earlier that night, the other SOLDIERs too at their little party. He'd sent his parents a Christmas card a few days beforehand and he was sure they would have received it by then. But he had only seen Cloud for a few moments earlier in the day, when he'd given him the keys to his apartment. He'd barely been able to say "Goodbye" before they called him over for departure, and he'd had to run off quickly from the apartment building or risk being late.

He pulled out his phone and considered it for a second… he was pretty sure that he didn't have the volume up too loud, and that the other guys were already asleep. He was sure a few text messages wouldn't disturb anyone… at least, not too much.

Subject: You still awake?

From: Zack

Hey, Spike. Are you still up or did the boredom knock you out already?

He only had to wait a minute or so for the reply.

Subject: Mission

From: Cloud

I was asleep, until I got your message. I fell asleep about midway through Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. They've played that movie like three times tonight already. Anyways, how's the mission going?

Zack chuckled, smiling to himself. Poor Cloud must be so bored. He thought as he typed his reply.

Subject: Bored

From: Zack

Pointless. This totally could have waited until after Christmas. I'm freezing to death and Kunsel's snoring is keeping me awake. So, you're getting bored with the Christmas specials, huh? I told ya you'd like the other stuff, but you didn't listen to me...

He waited another minute before his phone beeped at him, signaling a reply.

Subject: Christmas Cookies

From: Cloud

Pervert. I told you, I'm not into that stuff. By the way… your mom's Christmas cookies are really good.

Startled, Zack jumped a little bit in his sleeping bag, typing furiously on the keys of his cell phone. He wouldn't have!

Subject: Bastard!

From: Zack

Don't tell me you ate them all! She only sends those things once a year! Damn it, Cloud! If those are all gone when I get back, you'd better be long gone from my apartment and on your way back to Nibelheim…

The phone beeped a minute later, and Zack eagerly entered his inbox to read what he hoped would be the news that the blonde cadet had not in fact depleted his supply of Christmas cookies.

Subject: Sorry

From: Cloud

I just had one… um, if you don't mind. I'm sorry. I thought you wouldn't mind. You said we were friends…

Zack sighed to himself, smiling. He couldn't help but find the blonde's reaction amusing. Cloud was far too shy to dare eat all of a First Class SOLDIER's cookies, even if they were best friends. He should have known that.

Subject: Relax

From: Zack

I was just kidding. Well, sort of, at least. Of course we're friends.

Another minute or so passed. Zack ruffled his hair nervously while awaiting an answer; worried that maybe he had upset Cloud somehow with his comment about the Christmas cookies. He was taking quite a while to respond. But the familiar beep went off as always, and the SOLDIER sighed in relief, shaking his head.

Subject: Reasons

From: Cloud

Why are you messaging me at this time of night, anyways? Not that I mind, but it seems a bit odd with you being on a mission and all…

Subject: Merry Christmas

From: Zack

If I were to die tomorrow without saying it I'd feel bad, so… Merry Christmas, kid.

Subject: Merry Christmas, Zack

From: Cloud

Merry Christmas to you too, Zack… I wish you were here.

His phone went off again. Puzzled, he stared at it for a moment or two before he opened up his inbox and read the new message.

Subject: Shut up

From: Kunsel

Stop texting. I'm trying to sleep.

Surprised, he sat up and looked over at the other SOLDIER. But Kunsel was already curled up in his sleeping bag as if nothing had happened. Zack grinned, sighing to himself. It was getting late, and they did have a mission the next day... or really later in the day, he realized. Every single one of them would need the rest, including him… especially after all the alcohol. It would be prudent of him to allow himself and the others to sleep.

Subject: Goodnight

From: Zack

Gotta go. Kunsel's getting pissed off at me. At least it stopped the snoring for a while. I wish I was there too, Spike. But I promise you, next Christmas I won't let either of us get shipped away on a mission. It'll be the best Christmas ever, promise.

Love you, Cloud.

And with that he turned off his phone and drifted off to sleep, while the snow began its descent from the grey sky above.

Neither one of them knew that they wouldn't have the next Christmas to spend together, that they would both become nothing but experiments for the company they both served loyally; that what they would see in the next year would change both of their lives forever. Blissfully unaware, they slept peacefully and looked forward to what they believed would be the best Christmas ever.