Hello and Merry Christmas, everyone. It's Mengde again. In the spirit of the holidays, I've decided to do a spin on the classic, A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. Of course, I don't think Gaea has Christmas per se, so I invented Meteor Day (when the Planet repelled Meteor) and Victory Day (when Cloud defeated Sephiroth - it happens to fall only a week or so after Meteor Day, just because). Therefore, this piece doesn't look at the spirit of Christmas per se, but rather the spirit of all holidays that unify friends and family. It also looks deeply at Vincent and what could be, so if you like Vincent you should be at home here.

Just like the original story, I'm writing this in five staves, or chapters. Today, the 25th, is Stave One: Hojo's Ghost. The second through fifth staves will be put up on the 26th-30th, so if you enjoy this first chapter, please look forward to the rest of them! Without further ado...

A Meteor Day Carol

A Final Fantasy VII Fan Fiction

Written by Mengde

Stave One: Hojo's Ghost

Hojo was dead, to begin with. Vincent Valentine, as he had dueled the man atop the Sister Ray, had shot him many times. If there had been anything left of the scientist after that, it had been a mere whisper, a shadow, a fragment of memories that could not so much die as cease to exist. Thus, it is safe to say that Hojo was dead.

The man had had no funeral. Nor, if there had indeed been a funeral, would any mourners have turned up. In life Hojo had been a thoroughly unpleasant, domineering, egotistical, heartless, power-mongering, horrible person, and nobody had ever offered him their hand in friendship because everybody had always kept him at more than arm's length.

The reason Hojo's state of death need be established is simple – were any doubt left in one's mind as to the man's being dead, the events to follow would not seem nearly as strange and wonderful as they truly were. Therefore it shall be stated again: Hojo, on the eve of what was to be called Meteor Day and celebrated worldwide as the happiest of holidays, had died a horrible and painful death.

Seven years hence, Vincent stared at several beakers full of glowing mako energy in a laboratory. In a twisted sort of irony, it had been Hojo's work that Vincent had begun to build upon in a quest to remove the alterations from his body. It was also in Hojo's old laboratory in the Shin-Ra building that Vincent performed his endless experiments, for the WRO would not lease him a suitable facility of their own. He was assisted by Shelke Rui, whose unique talents made her an excellent assistant. Hojo's name was still on the door, slowly rusting away. Vincent refused to expend the effort or time to take it down.

The clock neared seven and the laboratory was bitterly cold. Vincent did not bother restoring anything in the lab beyond the most basic state of repair necessary to keep it functioning, and many windows remained shattered and open to the freezing winds roaring past the building at the sixty-seventh floor's extreme altitude. Shelke moved across the room from her station to the small heater in a corner of the room, which was beginning to run out of power.

"Leave it," Vincent said brusquely to her. He was busily writing notes into a lab book, calculating the required amounts of materials for future experiments. "No need to drain from the main power supply."

Shelke said nothing. She instead moved back away from the heater. At her station, she tried to warm her fingers over the flame of a small burner, which was not a very plentiful source of heat.

"You'll want tomorrow off, I suppose," Vincent observed. "It being Meteor Day."

Shelke looked up at him. "If it is convenient, Vincent Valentine," she said.

"No, it's not," Vincent replied. "If I insist you come in here tomorrow and keep monitoring your experiments, you'll think I'm being unreasonable." Shelke did not contest this, so he went on, "But you don't think it's unreasonable when I have to show up and cover all your work for you so we don't lose crucial data."

"Vincent, you know the rate we are going at precludes data being lost in the course of a single day."

Vincent returned his gaze to his lab book and grunted. "Feh."

There was a knock at the door. The two of them exchanged puzzled glances, as they rarely got any visitors, but their confusion was resolved as the door opened to reveal Cloud Strife, dressed warmly and looking, for once, quite happy.

"Happy Meteor Day!" he said.

Vincent gave him a cool glance. "You know how I feel about Meteor Day, Cloud."

"I thought this was Vincent's lab," Cloud said with a twinkle in his glowing eyes, "but I see Hojo's name still on the door! Would you be Vincent or Hojo, then?"

Shelke giggled, an affectation she had been practicing for many years as part of her reintegration into society, but she quickly halted when Vincent looked over his shoulder at her, his red eyes glittering. "Meteor Day," he said, ignoring Cloud's joke. "It's a stupid holiday made up by stupid people."

Cloud made a dissenting sound. "Come on, Vincent; stop being such a stick in the mud! We want to see you at Seventh Heaven tomorrow for dinner. And what's so wrong with Meteor Day?"

"You were there," Vincent said. "It was the end of the world. Civilization had fallen apart at the seams. So what if Meteor was gone – we were left in Hell. People are just trying to forget the horror by covering it up with bright lights and garish paper."

"You say that like it's a bad thing, Vincent."

"Meteor Day is a fragile shell constructed around a core of bad memories. The only thing it's good for is burying the past by celebrating it and making it something it's not. 'Happy Meteor Day' is a ridiculous idea. I prefer thinking about the future. Isn't that the reason you married Tifa?"

"I married Tifa because I love her," Cloud countered.

Vincent grunted again. "Feh."

"At any rate, you're still invited to dinner," Cloud said. "I know Shelke is coming."

"Goodbye, Cloud," Vincent said.

"And even though you don't want to celebrate it, I like this holiday, so I'll tell you again – Happy Meteor Day!"

"Goodbye, Cloud."

"Oh – and a Festive Victory Day!"

"Goodbye, Cloud!"

Cloud ducked out and closed the door behind him. Shelke looked at Vincent. "It's seven o'clock."

Vincent gave no indication that he had heard her for a long minute. He made one final mark in his lab book before giving a sigh and closing the manuscript. "Take tomorrow off, Shelke."

"Thank you, Vincent Valentine."

"But get here extra-early the day after to catch up on recording your data!" Vincent called after her as she left the lab.

Packing his meager possessions did not take him long. After he closed down the lab for the evening, he took the only working elevator all the way down to the first floor of the decrepit and dilapidated Shin-Ra Building. As the city of Edge had grown, it had begun to expand back into its parent Midgar. It was to the point where all Vincent had to do to get to his place of unending labor was simply walk a half-mile to Edge's city limits, six blocks out past that, turn a corner, and he was there, confronted with the massive edifice of Shin-Ra's fallen power.

Therefore, Vincent turned the corner in question, walked six blocks back into Edge, and traversed another half-mile to his place of residence. Winter had fallen heavily upon the Eastern Continent this year, and his pale countenance and sleek black hair were quickly dotted with fine flecks of snow. By the time he returned to his domicile, a small apartment in an old building, it was dark, the sun having finally set.

Mounted upon the door to the building was a large, dull knocker, unornamented and unremarkable in every facet. Vincent walked to the door, retrieving his key from within the folds of his cloak, and before his eyes the knocker shimmered and transfigured itself into the ghostly face of Hojo.

The apparition was a pale grey, lit from within by some eerie source of illumination defying classification. In every detail, the horrid physiognomy before him matched the one he remembered as belonging to Hojo when the man lived. Sunken eyes stared out from the lines of an angry face, and rounded spectacles perched high on a sharp nose. Even as Vincent stared at this strange phenomenon, it vanished and became an ordinary knocker once again.

Telling himself that this was merely a trick of the light – an idea he hardly believed but forced himself to accept – Vincent unlocked the door to the building. He quickly got into his apartment and, contrary to his normal routine, secured the door behind him. A brief check of the rooms confirmed the apartment was empty except for him, so he prepared himself a little food before changing into a simple robe and going to bed.

He would ordinarily sleep for a solid eight hours, rising at four in the morning so he could be in the laboratory by five. However, it was difficult tonight to find any sleep, and Vincent lay awake for at least an hour.

The idea abruptly got into his head that he was not alone; opening his eyes made clear that a spectral glow filled the bedroom. He threw aside the bed curtains with a swift and violent motion.

No sooner had he done this than was Vincent looking, aghast, into the phantasmagoric, shifting face of Hojo. The apparition appeared much as it had in life, dressed in a white lab coat, a sneer plastered on its unsightly features. A notable addition was a massive, iron chain wrapped around its waist. The chain trailed along the floor behind the spirit off into other rooms of Vincent's apartment, so long it was, and it was festooned with lab books, scalpels, syringes, glowing vials of mako, restraints, and similar paraphernalia of experimentation and torture. Vincent thought he could even make out, in the foyer behind Hojo – through him, actually, as the ghost was transparent – an entire surgical table, secured to a single link of the chain.

Vincent had seen his share of terrible things, but never had anything so unnerved him. "What… who are you?" he demanded.

"Ask me," the ghost said, "who I was."

"Well, who were you, then?"

"In life, I was your mortal enemy, Hojo."

"Why are you here now?" Vincent demanded. "What do you want?"

"From you? Much," replied the ghost. "But it doesn't appear as though you believe in me."

"Of course not," Vincent said. "You're dead. I'm probably hallucinating. One of the demons you put in my head – or, Hojo put in my head, since he's dead and you're not real – is playing a trick on me."

"Think that if you will," the ghost sighed. "It's not as though I'm here by choice, and it's not as though you can change my being here. If you choose not to believe in me, it won't change anything."

Vincent's eyes drifted to the chain. "Why are you carrying that chain?" he asked.

"I forged it in life, with my insatiable curiosity coupled with my lack of regard for the lives of other beings," the ghost replied. "I made it link by link, and I'm doomed to wander the world, kept down by its weight, unable to move on." He leered at Vincent. "Your chain is not as long as this one yet, but if you continue as you are, it certainly will be soon."

Vincent's gaze darted around himself. He half-expected to see a spectral chain secured to him, but he saw nothing of the like. "What? Why?"

"You are more like me than you might like to imagine, Vincent. You move through the world with your eyes fixed on tomorrow, never looking at the present, just as I did, and the swath of misery you leave in your wake is testament to that. But I, as part of my penance, have been instructed to tell you this – you have a chance, Vincent, to turn yourself around, and uncreate the weighty chain you've made yourself."

Several thoughts darted through Vincent's head, suggesting various courses of action he might take. He finally settled on hearing the ghost out so as to get it out of his room sooner rather than later. "Go on."

"You will be visited, Vincent, by three spirits," the ghost said.

Vincent made an unpleasant face. "I don't need any more spectral beings visiting me," he said. "You've already bothered me enough, and I have three other beings from beyond the pale taking up residence in my skull!"

"Hear me, Vincent!" the ghost thundered. "My time grows short. The first spirit will visit you tonight, as the clock strikes one. The second will arrive tomorrow, at the same time, and the third will arrive the day after, at midnight. Remember what I have told you, and expect them!"

The apparition dragged himself to the window, which opened seemingly of its own accord at his approach. "This is your only chance, Vincent! Heed the words of the spirits, or you will join me in endlessly wandering the world, fettered in iron, wishing to repent your sins but deprived of all power to do so!"

He hurled himself out of the window, his incredibly long chain snaking out after him. The surgical table faded into smoke as it hit the frame, and the window slammed itself closed.

Vincent slowly got to his feet. He checked the window, which was just as secure as when he had entered the room. In fact, there was a thin layer of dust upon the sill, as though it had not been opened in some time. He went downstairs. The door there was also secured, as he had left it. Perplexed and troubled by the whole experience, Vincent decided to go straight to bed. He collapsed against the pillow, determined to forget what he had decided was merely an unpleasant figment of an overactive imagination. A moment later, he was asleep.