A/N: A Sephiroth-centric one-shot? Never thought I'd see that happen...
Truth be told, it's actually a Sephiroth/Angeal/Genesis one-shot, but clearly centres around Sephiroth. FFnet would only allow two character names in the story profile anyway, and any other label than the one I'm using would have been mildly confusing and lead people to assume it's a different kind of story... (why do most people think of pairings first, and friendship later?)
That's the complicated version. The short version is: Blame NephilimRising ;)
Note for reading: In 'my' version of events, Sephiroth became friends with Angeal and Genesis pretty late (compared to other stories, that is), namely after they joined SOLDIER, which would make them all around 16 years old at that point. This takes place about half a year after that, but Genesis and Sephiroth still don't really get along...
This little story (for that's all it really is) was plotted quite some time ago, but written mainly in the last few days and edited while baking cookies. Befitting the style of other great Christmas stories ("The Gift of the Magi", anyone?), it's pretty simplistic and more focused on the overall message than on overly poetic style. Hope you enjoy it anyway.
Oh, and the quote used at the end (in the note) is not mine; it's taken from "Winter Solstice Song" by Lisa Thiel.
Warning: Can contain traces of seasonal emotionality. But that's the only point worth mentioning here, unless you are expecting smut or romance in the following. In that case: turn back, this is not your type of story.
And of course there is a dedication, the special Yule-edition:
First and foremost, this story is for the one and only NephilimRising. I – well, actually some so-called authors - put her through so much fandom-insanity recently, therefore she deserved a little treat.
This is for you, dearest, for being my personal Sephiroth-muse, constant inspiration, partner in crime and awesome friend.
Special thanks goes to onexlostxsoul, for virtually (meaning 'via MSN') holding my hand through parts of this (without even knowing), to chibipinkbunny for last-minute-encouraging feedback, and of course to all my dear friends, readers and reviewers out there. I can't even put in words how grateful I am for each and every one of you, so please read it between the lines of this story. You mean more to me than you know...
Blessed Yule, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays (whatever you celebrate, and even if you don't) to all of you!
They call it Midwinter, Yule or simply Winter Solstice. The latter is also the name of a phenomenon which occurs exactly when the planet's axial tilt is farthest away from the sun, at its maximum of 23° 26'. This astronomic event lasts only a moment in time, and is virtually invisible to the naked eye.
Sephiroth's glance drifted from the sheet of paper in front of him over the books and notes covering his desk. No matter how people called it, this specific day had never been different or extraordinary to him. Ignoring the minor detail of the sun's unusual position, it was a day like any other, so what was there to get all crazy about? He surely wasn't in the mood to join any of the oddities going on tonight. Instead, he preferred the silence of this room, actually an improvised office space, but pleasantly deserted on this very evening.
Casting a glance out of the window right next to where he was sitting, he realized that it had finally stopped snowing. An immaculate white blanket had swallowed the surrounding landscape, and created a special kind of faint glow in the dim light of the late afternoon. Looking at it felt almost like going blind, still Sephiroth couldn't resist doing so. Growing up in Midgar, the teenager had only rarely had a chance to witness the change of seasons. The snow of the metropolis was thin and watery, never enough to cover up the eternal grey, and the only glow visible there was a faint greenish-white. He had to admit that the sight was pretty, but again, nothing to get all upset about. Nevertheless, he remembered the expression on Genesis' face when they had learned that a small part of the SOLDIER unit was going to spend the week out of Midgar, and that they were part of it. While Sephiroth himself had taken the news pretty indifferently - work in Midgar was just the same as work somewhere else - Genesis had been thrilled to say the least, and Sephiroth had still no idea why. As if I ever knew why he does what he does… He sighed. In the 16 years since his birth, he had grown used to the fact that people were acting irrational and for no good reason more often than not, but his comrade seemed to take this to a whole new level.
However, it had been strangely interesting to see Genesis' reaction to the snow right after their arrival. His eyes had started to sparkle just as much as the myriads of snowflakes in the sun, and a light, dreamy smile had been permanently glued to his face in from that moment on. Even his mood had been slightly better than usual. A small, but noticeable change. And changes happen for a reason.
"Is this the first time he has ever seen snow?" Sephiroth asked as soon as Genesis was at a safe distance.
Angeal looked at his friend with a hint of confusion. "Of course not. Banora has quite a lot of snow in the winter, at least the part where we grew up."
So he hadn't quite figured out the reason yet. As if this boy needs a reason for anything… He knew it was strange to refer to a newly promoted SOLDIER Third Class as 'boy', but in his eyes, this was just what Genesis was. Most of the time, at least.
When he heard to door open behind him, he immediately turned his head. For a second, he actually evaluated the option of thoughts being able to attract the person you were thinking of, like an odd form of calling, but he knew it wasn't possible.
"You haven't seen Angeal around here, have you?" Deep bright blue eyes looked more past then at him.
Of course… I should have known he's not here for me. That's only logical, after all. "No, as a matter of fact, I haven't. Not since this morning. If I do, I let him know you were looking for him."
"Oh, you don't have to. I'm not looking for him at all. Quite the opposite."
Sephiroth frowned. "Then why do you ask?"
The glance he got in return spelled out something very impolite, most likely including the word 'stupid', but obviously Genesis was still caught in that unexplainable mellow mood. "I'm asking, because I want to make sure he's not around. Not yet, to be precise."
"Oh, that makes sense."
The tone actually suggested it didn't, but Genesis just shrugged. His glance wandered through the improvised office space and finally rested on an object on Sephiroth's desk. "Can I borrow those?"
Checking the direction of the glance and figuring out that he meant nothing but a pair of scissors, Sephiroth nodded. "Help yourself." And this time, I won't even ask what you need them for…
Genesis smiled and reached out for the desired object in a fluent, almost theatrical movement that reminded Sephiroth of the odd and overdone way some people expressed excitement with. A totally inappropriate gesture for a practical purpose, and it showed. The small elegant hand collided with a pile of notes in the process, and - due to the sheer force of the movement - sent them flying all over the room.
"Oh great…" Sephiroth couldn't help but mutter through gritted teeth. He had caught one of the papers with an almost inhumanly fast movement, but the rest was now covering the floor in a totally random array.
"I'm sorry. But it's not like you're planning to work tonight, is it?" A small, apologetic smile, that suddenly vanished from Genesis' face when he realized his opposite's unmoved, serious expression. "Oh, so you are?"
Sephiroth didn't bother replying, but instead kneeled down to try and salvage his carefully established order. To his surprise, Genesis still looked at him with wide open eyes. "Really?"
"What does it look like to you? Of course I'm working. Or trying to, at least, unless some ignorant fool comes around and spreads chaos." He was annoyed now, and determined to show it. The sooner the other left, the better. Yet again though, he was in for a surprise. With a soft sigh, Genesis got down on the floor as well and started to collect papers. Realizing that they were clearly numbered in the corners – so he knows something about logic after all - he even made the effort to sort them out.
Sephiroth watched him from the corner of his eye. Why is he doing this? Sure, he would help Angeal in such a situation, but me? He can't stand me after all… As hard as Genesis was to figure out sometimes, his dislike was always impossible to ignore.
Despite the unusual situation, they worked in silence for a while, until Genesis suddenly asked: "Do you even know what day it is?"
"Winter Solstice. Also called Yule, or Midwinter. Depending on the shift of the calendar, the winter solstice occurs on December 21 or 22 each year in the Northern Hemisphere, and June 20 or 21 in the Southern Hemisphere. This year, it takes place on December 21, at exactly twenty three hundred thirty eight. In other words: Tonight. In exactly six hours and twenty one minutes."
A thin smile. "Oh, so you are aware of it after all… but I bet you don't know what this day is really about."
"If you are asking me why people make such a big deal out of it: No, I honestly have no idea. The actual phenomenon only last for a few seconds, and it's not like there's anything interesting to observe anyway. So what's the point?"
Combing through the growing pile of paper in his lap, and pausing for a second to put another page in its place, Genesis returned: "Some things are more than just what meets the eye." He nodded towards the decoration above the door that someone had put up in honour of the holiday, a garland made out of holly and other evergreen boughs. "What do you see when you look at this?"
"A waste of space. And either time or money, whichever the noble contributor invested in it."
Sephiroth had expected a fierce reply, but instead got just a small tilt of the head. "Well, that's not how I see it. A green plant should not exist at this time of the year, yet it does. Therefore, it's a symbol, meant to show that life prevails against all odds, and under certain circumstances, even the impossible is possible." He paused, before he returned to the original topic. "Tonight is a very special night."
"It marks the beginning of winter, the reversal of the gradual lengthening of nights and shortening of days. And it's the longest night of the year."
"That's correct again, but it's just facts. Plain cold facts. And not the reason why people celebrated this night over so many centuries."
Sephiroth swallowed his biting remark about people clinging to many stupid traditions for no significant reason. Strangely enough, he felt himself wanting to see things from Genesis' perspective for once. What exactly does the world look like through your eyes? Worse? Better?
Reaching for another piece of paper, his helper continued: "Even though this is the longest night, it is inevitably followed by a shorter one. Gradually, the light comes back, which is why Yule – or Winter Solstice - is also called the 'rebirth of light'."
"So let me guess: you are saying it's a symbol as well?"
Instead of replying, Genesis raised a counter question: "Have you ever felt like caught in impenetrable darkness, in the cold, all alone?"
Sephiroth just looked at him, neither nodding not shaking his head.
The other teenager held his glance for a moment longer, until he lowered it again in a gesture that looked a bit frustrated, but also surprisingly accepting. "It's a symbol for the hope that no matter how dark our path gets, there will be always be light at some point as well. I know it's just hope, a small spark in the darkness, a tiny detail to cling to, but sometimes this is all we have. It was all I had for most of my life…"
Then suddenly, there were no more papers left to collect. Genesis got up from the floor in a graceful, effortless movement, and held out his sorted pile. Sephiroth accepted it silently. He got up as well and pretended to be concentrating on putting the papers back on his desk, while Genesis turned towards the door. When his hand already rested on the handle, he suddenly hesitated. Without turning back to face his peer, he added in a low voice: "It's a dark world, Sephiroth. No one should face it all alone."
"That sounds a lot like one of Angeal's lectures..."
"Believe it or not, this is something I figured out on my own." He looked at Sephiroth again, with a strange mixture of irritation and curiosity. "I just wonder..."
"You wonder?" Sephiroth asked, surprisingly gentle for all he was used to.
"Nothing." Genesis returned curtly. As if he had finally made up his mind, he opened the door. And just in the very moment he left, he decided to answer nevertheless: "I just wonder why you never did."
"Seph? Oh sweet Gaia, you can't seriously be working…"
Truth be told, Angeal was right. Sephiroth hadn't been working ever since Genesis left. Instead, he had stared out of the window, into the growing darkness swallowing the strange light the snow created, and tried to make sense out of what he had just been told. Part of him insisted there was no such thing as sense in this case, yet part of him wanted to find it.
"Well, we have this assignment is strategy class…"
Angeal frowned. "Does the word 'holiday' mean anything to you?"
"Great, now you start as well. What's up with you people tonight? One could think the missing light causes a serious lack of intelligence…"
Surprisingly enough, Angeal ignored the harsh tone. He picked up a chair, sat down and looked calmly at his friend, the way Sephiroth had seen him look at Genesis many times. "What's the matter?"
Sephiroth just shook his head, yet he should have known that the other would not give up that easily. Ever since Angeal had started to try and befriend him, he had gradually extended his protective and caring attitude, even though Sephiroth felt it was an odd thing to do, because if anyone didn't really need protection, it was him. Teenager or not, he was a SOLDIER, already labelled a strategic prodigy by most members of the Military Department.
However, all strategy seemed to fail under Angeal's patient, questioning glance. "Nothing. I don't feel in the mood for joining the cheer, it's just not… me. That's what I already told Genesis, and…" He stopped, uncertain if there was any sense in telling. After all, it made him sound like a whining child.
The far-too-grown up expression on Angeal's face didn't help the slightest. "So you two had another disagreement?"
"Does that surprise you? I really don't get why you still think we would get along some day… he's not even trying."
"You might not understand it yet, but arguing is Gen's way of showing that he cares. He would just ignore you if it was otherwise."
"Whatever. You really shouldn't waste your time trying to explain the unexplainable to me. Given the date, I'm sure you have more important things to take care of."
Winter Solstice is celebrated throughout the cultures with festivals and rituals revolving around light in form of fire or candles. In addition, people hold gatherings that often involve a meal and gift giving. But that was nothing he would know about. True, he recalled Professor Gast trying to introduce him to those traditions, but he had never seen much sense in them. Those get-togethers meant spending time with lots of strangers, eating fancy food, making pointless small talk and pretending politeness and interest. None of that seemed the least bit attractive to him, so he had spent the last years far away from anything that resembled a Yule celebration. And again, this year would be no exception.
"Oh, I took care of those things already. Besides, as fond as I am of honouring the traditions, I'm not one for fancy parties either." With a calculated side glance, Angeal added: "Neither is Genesis, by the way."
Sephiroth looked up in surprise. "But the way he spoke about it… I thought…"
"Oh, it is important to him. Very much so. Still, sometimes you don't need big gestures to show that." Then, as if to underline that point, he suggested: "Let me tell you a story…"
Sephiroth evaluated to protest, but only for a short moment. He knew that Angeal's stories usually included a point he really wanted to make, and therefore he would tell them anyway. No story is not worth hearing, after all…
"So there were these two boys…"
"Ok, I'll listen, but under one condition: don't insult my intelligence. If this is about you and Genesis, just say so."
"No use in trying to deceive you, I guess…" Angeal showed his younger friend a patient smile that made him look far older than a teenager yet again. "Well, when I first met Genesis, due to circumstances that were so extraordinary and unique that you could call them mere coincidence – or fate – I had no idea about a lot of things. For example, I didn't know that his presence in Banora that day was only due to the fact that his nanny had dared to overstep the strict lines of her contract. Soon after, she was fired after such a 'transgression' was discovered. I don't know why Genesis' parents were that keen on keeping their son away from the 'ordinary' people, but they did, or at least they tried to. I can't really tell you what it was, but after our coincidental first meeting, I felt drawn to that little boy. He was so… different from my other play mates. And I know that Genesis must have felt the same, because he tried everything to make sure we could meet as often as possible. Mostly outdoors, on his parents' ground, so they would not notice. It was the most exciting summer of our lives, but eventually autumn came, and then winter. Due to the changed weather, it became harder and harder for us to meet secretly.
The evening of Yule came, and I hadn't seen Genesis in over two weeks. I had no idea why that was, whether I should worry or be upset that he had simply forgotten me. It had been snowing heavily since the afternoon, and the snow had piled up all around the house. My mother and I weren't expecting anyone, so were pretty surprised when we suddenly heard someone knocking at the door."
"Let me guess…"
"No need to. You would be right. It was Genesis, with snow in his hair and completely out of breath because he had ran the whole way. He hardly took the time to take his coat of, and instead proceeded to tell me that he had been ill for a week, and that his parents hadn't allowed him to leave the house ever since. He had desperately waited for a good opportunity to escape them, but that opportunity never came. Finally, he had decided to come over anyway. Back then, I didn't know in how much trouble he would be later on because of that…"
Sephiroth saw Angeal's expression harden for a moment, and he recalled the distanced tone Genesis always used when he talked about his parents.
"He said that he didn't have much time, but that he had wanted to wish us a blessed Yule. 'And I wanted you to have this.' With these words, he handed me a book. It was one of his own books, I knew that because we had read it before and I had admired the colourful pictures in it. Genesis looked at me with wide open eyes, curious to see my reaction. I gave him a bright smile. 'That's really nice… Are you sure about this?' The light in his eyes became even brighter. 'Of course I'm sure. I want you to have it, because you… were so kind to me.'
I was touched, and I didn't know what to say… unless a realization suddenly hit me. My expression must have changed so suddenly that Gen was almost shocked. 'You don't like it?'
'Quite the opposite. I like it a lot. It's just that…' I thought I needed to be honest about it. 'I'm just sad, because I have nothing for you.'
He made a step forward and gently put his hand on my arm, as if to comfort me. 'That's no problem… I have enough toys at home.'
But I wouldn't take it. 'That's not the point. I have nothing to give you, and that is bad, because you are my best friend.'
I had no idea what it was, but suddenly the expression in his eyes changed again. It was doubt at first, almost hurt, and then a deep, honest joy, the joy of a child that has just received the greatest present imaginable. And then... sorry, I really shouldn't tell you that part..."
"Because Gen is most likely going to kill me for doing so, if he ever finds out." Angeal smiled, obviously lost in the memory of that moment, and then continued nevertheless. "Before I even realized what was happening, he was clinging close to me, as if he was afraid I could vanish on the spot. It took me quite a while to figure out that he was crying, too. While I held him in my arms that day, I suddenly knew it was meant to be. We were friends before that night, but we have been best friends ever since." He looked at Sephiroth, obviously expecting some sort of reaction.
"A nice story," Sephiroth finally admitted. "But what exactly is the point?"
Angeal gave him one of those grown-up glances again, the one you would give a child unable to figure out the obvious moral of a fairy tale.
"I mean, he gave you a used book, which isn't really a present in the strict sense, and you didn't give him anything at all."
"You have to look beyond what you see. Sometimes there is more to a simple gesture than what meets the eye. Used or not, the book he gave me was a fairly expensive one and surely nicer than most of mine, but that wasn't the point. The point is that he came over all the way from his parent's estate, just for those few minutes, even willing to face the consequences for doing something he wasn't allowed to do. He tried really hard to show me how much our friendship, how much I meant to him. No one, except my mother, ever tried that hard for me."
"Ok, I might be able to accept that. But I stand my ground about the fact that you actually didn't give him anything in return."
"If you see it from his perspective, I did. Something very precious even. I called him not only my friend, but my best friend." Angeal's glance was intense, as if he really wanted his opposite to get the message this time. "He never had a friend before, Seph."
A child without friends… that sounds strangely familiar… For some reason, Sephiroth couldn't look Angeal in the eye, and he quickly lowered his glance.
"Everyone has their own traditions to celebrate Yule. Genesis and I have ours. The most important one is that we always give each other a present, and this present has to be something of no material value. Just like…"
"Just like back then."
"Exactly." He looked at Sephiroth again, with a calm, meaningful smile. "That's what friendship is all about. Traditions. Little things."
After that conversation with Angeal, Sephiroth decided to give up on trying to work. Someone else was just bound to interrupt him yet again, and even if not, he couldn't really focus on the task as much as he wanted to. With his head full of thoughts, he finally reached the hallway leading to his current quarters. And then he saw something that made him stop dead in his tracks.
What in Gaia's name is that?
The object in question sat innocently enough on his doorstep, as if it had been expecting him. A small cardboard box with a red ribbon around it. Sephiroth picked it up, hesitantly, as if it could explode on contact, and examined it. It was surprisingly weightless, and even after closer inspection remained what it was: a simple box with a carefully tied red bow. He entered the room and sat down on his bed, the mysterious gift still in his hands.
Ok, let's see this as a riddle. An exercise in strategic thinking. The thought made it easier, and a bit less confusing, an accepted challenge rather than something that caught him completely off guard.
It took a while until he finally decided to open the small box. Inside it was a star, made out of colourful paper, a three-dimensional object obviously created by an artist's hand. How is that kind of art called again? Origami, isn't it?
Every little detail of it was carefully crafted, every fold had been carried out precisely and flawlessly. It was nothing short of perfect.
Is that… supposed to be some sort of joke I don't get?
The box contained no note or any other hint, but Sephiroth had a very distinct idea who had put it on his doorstep. There was just one person he knew capable of creating something like this, after all.
That makes no sense. Genesis and I don't get along. And that's an understatement. This looks like a lot of work… You don't invest so much time and effort in someone you can't stand. That's just not logical…
He looked at the delicate object in mild confusion.
Why a star?
His mind automatically ran through all the definitions and connotations for the word he was aware of, but found nothing suitable to solving this mystery.
Some sort of Yule ornament? I made it clear to him what I think of those… But maybe that's exactly the reason why?
And then, suddenly, he could hear the two voices as clearly as if the speakers were standing right next to him:
'Some things are more than just what meets the eye.' 'That's what friendship is all about. Traditions. Little things.'
Was the solution really that simple?
Of course. This is not just a paper star. This is –
his eyes narrowed in surprise
-something of no material value.
He turned the ornament in his hand again, trying to figure out whether this could actually be the answer he had been looking for, when he heard the tiny rattling sound. After hesitating for a second, he shook the object on purpose, and the repeated, slightly louder noise told him that there was really something inside.
It took him just a moment to figure out how to get to the source of this without destroying the delicate paper object in the process. And then he held it in his hand. A small paper scroll. He unrolled it, to discover a message of just a few lines, yet written in a way that made every letter looked like a carefully drawn, detailed picture.
On the longest night we search for the light,
And we find it deep within.
Open your eyes to embrace what is wise,
And see the light of your own soul shining.
Hopefully you figured this out fast enough, so there is still some time left to come down to our room for some pointless yet very traditional celebrating in honour of an astronomical phenomenon that only lasts a few seconds.
The longest night is less dark and dreary if you spent it with friends. Looking forward to proving you I'm right after all.