A/N: Originally a Secret Santa fic for Tasha on the Genesis Awards forums. Now that the Santas are no longer secret, I assume I can post it up here for your viewing.

Day 1

Nibelheim in winter, and sparkling frost clings to the tops of the gas-lamps, lightless in the dawn. The earth is coated in a layer of sheer ice. Silent sky whirls white, an empty vortex murmuring its mournful song.

When Lucrecia steps out of the Shinra mansion, the song is interrupted by a whiplike crack. Peering down, she observes a web of fine lines extending from beneath her right foot. The sight gives her a strange sense of guilt; she-

"Whatcha writing, Vincent?"

Mr Valentine is silent, breathing slowly. There is a time and a place for turning into Galian Beast and ripping off heads; this, he must accept, is not it. It must be confessed that his motives are not the kindest; he is less concerned about the ethical implications of decapitating the sixteen year old girl, and more with the knowledge that once he is in his monstrous state, his rage will command him to destroy everything in his path, and he has written two damned good paragraphs that he is most reluctant to lose.

"That is none of your concern," he mutters, eventually, glaring as he feels the last tenuous links to his concentration slipping away, knot by knot. Silently, he wills her to be quiet; he knows that if he tells her to be quiet, she will take it as an invitation to talk (this in itself causes its own fair share of churning irritation).

"Yeah, yeah, whatever, lemme see!" With typical ninja prowess, Miss Kisaragi snatches away the piece of paper before Mr Valentine has time to blink (does he still blink?). "Blahdiblahdiblah," she reads aloud, as Mr Valentine permits himself an almost-imperceptible wince. "Snow, dumb crazy lady-"

"Lucrecia," Mr Valentine interrupts, through gritted teeth. "Beautiful Lucrecia."

Miss Kisaragi ignores him, skim-reads the page again, and then (thank God!) returns it. She has a slightly apologetic look that immediately arouses his deepest suspicions.

"... Erm," she says, "no offence, Vincent, but this is kinda boring, y'know?"

"Your opinion will be given the consideration it warrants," he replies.

"You should put a monster in it, or a gunfight!"

"That's yet to come," he remarks, semi-sardonically.

Miss Kisaragi looks rather surprised, but quickly recovers. "Yeah, well, I bet you're gonna take ages getting to the good bit. Here, lemme write it for ya." She gestures for the paper.

"No," replies Mr Valentine, although it is without much conviction. He knows well the futility of fighting the battle lost.

"Gimme!" And sure enough, she whisks it away again.

When Lucrecia steps out of the Shinra mansion, the song is interrupted by a whiplike crack. Peering down, she observes a web of fine lines extending from beneath her right foot. The sight gives her a strange sense of guilt; she is a very stupid woman and then one day she was all 'oh I know let's stick alien goo into my baby' and we ALL know what a good idea that was-

"Lucrecia was not stupid and she did not know that Jenova was an alien; she thought it was a Cetra; you are misrepresenting events and it was an understandable mistake, it-"

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Yuffie replies. Vincent's always funny when he gets mad (especially cuz he tries to hide it and just FAILS). "Whatever. She still went and did it!"

"I do not wish to have this conversation," Vincent mutters, sulkily. Yuffie can't help smirking.

"Why're ya having it, then?"

"..." Vincent glares. Yuffie's a bit disappointed that he doesn't reply with 'I am not!';she's actually caught him out with that one before now. She sighs.

"D'ya want the paper back?"

Vincent nods, although his eyes are narrowed. She sighs again; she was going to say 'want it, can't have it!' and run off with the thing, but since he's guessed that one, it'd be better to avoid being predictable. Might even take him down a notch. So she folds the paper into a plane, tosses it back to him, and is rewarded by a fleeting look of surprise. Then she goes in for the kill by leaving as swiftly as she arrived (and then, of course, peeking through the cabin door to see the result- sure enough, Vincent's eyes are wide as summon materia. A passerby would think he'd just seen a bandersnatch compete in a chocobo race.).

Walking down the Highwind corridor, she passes Cait Sith.

"Don't s'pose ya know where Vincent is?" he asks.

"He's in there." She gestures to the cabin, grinning. "He's feeling grumpy and doesn't wanna be disturbed."

"So I should sneak up an' yell 'boo!' usin', lessee... my new, sparkly purple megaphone?"

"Yup!" They both snicker. Reeve's, like, her thirty-years-older-with-a-beard-and-longer-hair twin. If the cat hadn't been a Shinra dog, she'd kidnap him all for herself. But, y'know.

When Lucrecia steps out of the Shinra mansion, the song is interrupted by a whiplike crack. Peering down, she observes a web of fine lines extending from beneath her right foot. The sight gives her a strange sense of guilt; she is a very stupid woman and then one day she was all 'oh I know let's stick alien goo into my baby' and we ALL know what a good idea that was-

These are just some of the destructive thoughts that whirl around in her mind, ripping apart her fragile sense of self, a hollow porcelain doll shivering in a house of cards with foundations of brittle twigs and birds' legs. The disturbance of the surface of the icy ground is enough to send her spiralling into self-reproach; as always, she is the destroyer, the vulgar, clumsy mannequin, human only in form, despoiler of beauty wherever she treads. A cancerous growth that ruins all it touches, a vampire that devours that which it desires and poisons the rest. And this is dreadful damn Miss Kisaragi to Hades I'll have to copy out the first couple of paragraphs onto a new piece of paper because I refuse to befoul this one with crossings out; I tried to link her nonsense in with my prose to keep some aesthetic value (I don't know about you but I quite like aesthetic value) but it is impossible and oh just damn her.

Mr Valentine presses his lips together in a thin line, takes a fresh piece of paper from the drawer and starts anew.

Nibelheim in winter, and sparkling frost clings to the tops of the gas-lamps, lightless in the dawn. The earth is coated in a layer of sheer ice. Silent sky whirls white, an empty vortex murmuring its mournful song.

When Lucrecia steps out of the Shinra mansion, the song is interrupted by a whiplike crack. Peering down, she observes a web of fine lines extending from beneath her right foot. The sight gives her a strange sense of guilt; she is a typical human. Her genius and her illness combine to form the tears which freeze to her cheeks. Her thoughts take a morbid turn; she lets out a sob and wrings her hands, staring at the knuckles which jut out, stark and white, through the translucent skin. And then the blueness of her veins calms her, she laughs a little, closes a few perspectives down and fixes her mind.

She becomes used to the cracking of the ice underfoot; the destruction is a lamentable necessity, and there is some beauty to be found in the fractures themselves. Perfection is a myth, and false perfection is a stagnant, stifling force that-"

"BOO!"

GALIAN SMASH STUPID CAT PAPER HELLO PAPER GOODBYE PAPER GOODBYE CAT STAY STILL CAT SHUT UP CAT DIE CAT DIE WHY WON'T YOU DIE ANGER ANGER GALIAN ANGRY ANGRY WHERE WHAT WHO WHO CARES SMASH SMASH EVERYTHING EVERYTHING SMASH CRUSH DESTROY OW WHAT OH DREAM POWDER WHAT THAT'S NOT FAIR SMASH SMAaaash... oh... my writing... oh damn.

...

Day 2

Her molten bronze hair spilled out from her loose ponytail, fire in the sunset. He could see her eyes reflected in his reflected in hers; her lips parted; he allowed his own to shift into a slight smirk; it was time. The silly, malleable girl would be his to exploit. And if it turned out that she couldn't bear children, he'd still get some enjoyment out of it, albeit of a more sensory than intellectual nature. Lucrecia, in her innocence, was completely blind to his scheme; she thought the great professor loved her.

"Wait, what?" Miss Kisaragi gave Mr Valentine a confused look. She had relieved him of his paper again today; he had the horrible feeling this was going to become routine.

"Yes?"

"I thought you said she was a genius," Miss Kisaragi said, frowning.

"Your memory is reliable," he replied.

"Well then, why's she so stupid?" Miss Kisaragi folded her arms.

"It's from Hojo's perspective. It is definitely not what Lucrecia was actually thinking at the time; I know that for a fact."

Miss Kisaragi gave Mr Valentine a puzzled look. "But it doesn't say 'I', it says 'he', so it's not from Hojo's point of view! Or did you get it mixed up? Well, I guess it's an easy mistake; I can change it for you, if you want..."

Mr Valentine paused. There was a chance, here, to attempt to teach Miss Kisaragi the many subtleties of the craft of writing, to expand her horizons, to give her a new take on the world. He could enrich her life immeasurably. There were two factors he would have to take into consideration, however: his own patience, or lack thereof, and Miss Kisaragi's willingness as a pupil, or lack thereof.

There was a definite lack on both accounts, so Mr Valentine dismissed the idea and sighed.

"There is no need to change it, Miss Kisaragi. I shall do so myself. You are quite right. I must be feeling tired. I think I shall sleep."

Without another word, Mr Valentine placed his head down on the table in front of him, pulled his cape over it and closed his eyes. To his delight, Miss Kisaragi left the room shortly afterwards.

To his dismay, someone else entered.

To his relief, that someone was Nanaki (or Red XIII, but Mr Valentine was one of the few members of AVALANCHE who made an effort to call the fellow by his birth-name rather than the one Hojo had ascribed to him. The reasons for this were twofold- the former was that it was basic respect and courtesy, and the latter was that he himself would have hated to be called 'our quirky little Turk'.)

"Hello," the beast (Mr Valentine disliked referring to Nanaki as a beast; it seemed rather rude, but without the requisite knowledge of his species, there was little alternative) greeted as it entered the room. "I don't suppose there's a quiet spot to have a nap here? Cloud and Barret are... being Cloud and Barret."

Mr Valentine gave a curt nod. No further explanation was necessary.

"I won't disturb you, will I?" asked Nanaki. Mr Valentine felt no small measure of appreciation for the fellow. If the humans on this airship would only follow Nanaki's example every once in a while, everything would be far more pleasant for everyone.

Mr Valentine shook his head. "If you have need of a blanket, I have little need of this cape."

Nanaki smiled. "I think I'm okay. If you don't mind my asking, what are you doing in here?"

"Attempting to write."

"... Attempting?"

"Miss Kisaragi."

"Oh dear." Nanaki gave Mr Valentine a very sympathetic look. Mr Valentine made a mental note to ensure that he and Nanaki stayed in the same party in the future. His kindred spirit padded over. "If it's not too personal, may I have a read?" Nanaki asked. Mr Valentine nodded again.

"Do as you wish." He passed the paper down to his furry acquaintance.

Nanaki started to read, but quickly stopped, furrowed his brow, and took a couple of steps back. In reply to Mr Valentine's questioning look, he mumbled, "You said it wasn't personal!" He sounded rather reproachful.

Mr Valentine was understandably confused. "I wouldn't consider it personal, no."

"Well, while I know I'm not too familiar with human mating habits, I can't say that they seem to be particularly... impersonal, you know?"

"I don't see the relevance," Mr Valentine replied. "In that piece of writing, Hojo and Lucrecia are not..." His cheeks grew hot at the very thought. "You mean... does it read as though...?"

"Yes," Nanaki replied, his voice a mix of finality and total mortification. "What's supposed to be happening?"

"They are kissing for the first time, following a picnic at the beach."

"... I... I'm very sorry, but it really does read like..."

"I am burning this right now and we will never speak of it again."

...

Day 3

"... And that's the only way I can think of explaining my mind. It's like everything's there; it's just a question of finding it or lighting it up with the relevant evidence. It's so... frustrating. I wish I could just find a way of lighting all the candles at once. It's all there, I know it, I know it; it's like I'm dreaming, like I've forgotten... Do you ever get the same feeling, Vincent?"

"No, I don't really know how my mind works; I don't spend much time thinking about it."

"Oh, to be an idiot. What I wouldn't give. No, tell a lie, I'd rather be the way I am, I don't really envy you; you're too stupid for that."

"And I think you're very stupid for thinking that your mind can effectively spy on itself, so I reckon we're equal."

"Why do you always start arguments with me?"

"What? Look, you were the one who-"

"You just dismissed me straight away!"

"No, I just gave you an honest answer. Would you prefer a lie?"

"I'd rather you died!"

"Well, I'll bear that in mind. Have a nice day, you impossible, impossible-"

"Oh, just go away!"

"With pleasure!"

Turks were never supposed to get into shouting-matches with their clients, but I was prone to impatience in my youth. Faced with someone as utterly brilliant and utterly unreasonable as Lucrecia, I tended to display it quite frequently. It probably didn't help that Lucrecia had the alarming habit of becoming disquietingly beautiful when provoked into a passionate rage. Had I not been hypersensitive to the precarious nature of her sanity, I might have been tempted to purposefully provoke her on occasion. As it was, I would generally attempt to walk on eggshells until-

"Writin' more soft-porn today, Vincent?"

"It was not-"

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Hand it over."

I handed the paper over to Miss Kisaragi without complaint or resistance. If one moves with the whirlpool, Leviathan cannot consume.

After paying great attention to Miss Kisaragi's creative input, I was dismayed when she felt it time to cheerfully leave the room. No sooner had she left, however, than a fragrant cloud of tobacco fumes seeped in, followed by a clatter, a curse and a cigarette, the cigarette having just disengaged itself from the society of Mr Highwind's lips and made its acquaintance with the floor. My sheet of paper, subject to the whims of the draft that generally accompanies an open door, followed suit.

"Double shit!" Mr Highwind was kind enough to stamp on his cigarette before more than a quarter of the page was charred beyond recognition. I acknowledged the great personal turmoil the action must have caused him by anticipating his request and granting it.

"You may read it."

"Huh? I... er... okay, sure..." He sounded a little surprised. I suppose I'm not normally so direct.

His eyes skimmed the page for a few moments, and then he handed it back to me with a shrug. "Too many words for me," he said with a laugh. "Gotta keep things short an' simple, or this guy loses interest." He tapped his head.

I was understandably perplexed. Mr Highwind has never struck me as an unintelligent fellow.

"I am sorry to hear that," I replied. There seemed to be little else to say. Mr Highwind shrugged again.

"I'm no writer. Gimme an engine an' I'll tell ya if it'll work; gimme a book an' I can't tell ya nothin' ya couldn't get outta a kid." He seemed supremely unconcerned about this. My confusion was, perhaps, evident, because he started to laugh. "What's there to scowl about?"

"I don't understand," I admitted.

"Well, that makes two of us!" He slapped me on the back. "Cheer up. Life's too short to go around lookin' like it's endin' tomorrow. Even if it is!" He started laughing again.

"I think I'm going to go back to sleep," I replied. I could envisage no other sensible course of action.

...

Day 4

His baby, she said. She was fiddling with a paperclip, focusing intently on the task. There was a small rip in the wallpaper above the window. I wondered how it had got there.

"How do you suppose that got there?" I asked. She didn't reply. That was irritating; she was quite good at coming up with theories for such things and I valued her input. "Well, thanks," I said, after a few moments.

"... You're welcome," she replied. She sounded like she had a cold. And that was that.

Miss Kisaragi found the piece pointless. Miss Lockhart left the room with a red nose.

...

Day 5

I'd been dead for some time when it happened.

I think I was doing a crossword. When it comes to that day, everything's a little hazy around the edges. Lucrecia was saying something to me, laughing. I was probably smiling back; there was no good reason to disillusion her and no good reason to kill myself. Then she stopped speaking, froze and fell, and I went over to find out what my immediate future would likely entail.

I put her in the recovery position and she started to shudder and cough blood. Her veins stuck out through her skin. She said she was sorry and she started crying and I said it was a bit late for that and I went back to my crossword. Then I decided that, on balance, it was probably better to kill myself, so I flicked the safety off. I considered killing Lucrecia, too, but I decided that if she really wanted to, she was perfectly capable of doing it herself. It occurred to me that she'd probably already done just that, and I started laughing. It was a testament to her scientific spirit that she felt the need to ask what was funny. I think I replied with 'sand', although 'snow' would have been more accurate, really.

The only thing that bothered me slightly was the idea of leaving Hojo alive. He was too narcissistic to be trusted to wipe himself off the face of the planet, so I supposed I might as well do two useful things instead of one. So I went down to the basement, and the bastard took me by surprise because I gave in to the desire to see his face. The irony was that, upon realising that I still had such desires, I realised that it probably wasn't a good idea to kill myself after all, and that moment of realisation just happened to be the exact moment a bullet lodged itself in my chest. Live and learn, or not.

"Sheesh, maaaaaan, could you write a more boring action bit?" Miss Kisaragi was not impressed.

"It is not supposed to be an-"

"But it was meant to be the good bit! I stuck with it so I could read the good bit! And it sucks! Fix it! Write it again!"

"No."

"But-"

"Look, just piss off."

There was a long pause.

Mr Valentine felt the blood rush to his cheeks.

Miss Kisaragi burst into laughter. She was still rolling around on the floor when Mr Wallace entered the room. His puzzlement was evident. For the first time, Mr Valentine was grateful that there was a person on the airship who couldn't read. He wasn't in the mood for any more pertinent literary criticism.

...

Day 6

I don't honestly know whether this can be described as love. A cynic would call it obsession. A scientist (ha) would call it attachment. Nonetheless, thirty years later, I still prefer the presence of her ghost to the presence of any living soul. There's quiet beauty in the dream; butterfly fingers and trembling space. I always feel as though there's a shimmering, almost an effervescence, just beyond my-

-Three monsters raced toward me; I shot them but they kept on coming.

"Oh no!" I said. "What will I do now?"

At that moment there was... an explosion! A mysterious, beautiful ninja princess suddenly appeared.

"I'll save you!" she shouted, and then she did. But then suddenly-

-field of perception, in that hazy land between dream and reality- if one's reality is the dream, I suppose it's to be expected; is it reality that shivers behind the curtain, or something else? Something more? Nothing at all? A chemical reaction or-

-Another beast attacked me! Lucky the ninja princess was there; she sorted everything out and then I confessed my undying love to her but then-

-is that just her influence? I'm so tired. I'm so tired all the time. I just want to sleep. That's why I shouldn't-

-LOOK IT DOESN'T MATTER JUST STOP THINKING ABOUT IT YOU'RE BEING AN IDIOT CHEER UP AND GO, I DON'T KNOW, DO A HANDSTAND, OR SOMETHING!

I HAPPEN TO QUITE LIKE THINKING, THANK YOU!

WELL YOU BLATANTLY DON'T!

HOW COULD YOU POSSIBLY KNOW WHAT'S GOING ON IN MY MIND BETTER THAN I DO YOU-

-MAYBE BECAUSE YOU KEEP WRITING IT ALL OVER EVERYWHERE!

BUT THEN- YOU- I- OH, YOU'RE JUST IMPOSSIBLE, IMPOSSIBLE-

-WELL YOU'RE STUPID!

OH, JUST GO AWAY!

FINE! I WAS GOING TO DO THAT ANYWAY!

...

Day 7

oh dear