The next few days following that were far quieter, allowing for longer times to rest. Or at least, for the others – my own small plan was nearly ready by now, and on the night of my 170th day with the Organization, it was put into place. Stiltzkin had promised us he'd keep Saïx and any other curious members distracted, while Saïx's Replica and I busied ourselves around the castle. While the drab grey and white walls resisted paint, they were fine with having things tacked onto them.
Overnight, the handrails around the castle sprouted coils of tinsel in various colours, while the walls suddenly sported wreaths and long strings with Christmas cards on. A large fir tree – a real tree, at that – was, after much effort, hauled into the Grey Area and decorated, the lights not just on the tree but around the top of the vast windows in the room. Despite my misgivings about the various members, I left a scattering of presents around the base of the tree, along with one gag gift for Demyx. Be patient, you'll see what I got them soon.
I knew the chances were that none of them would have anything in return – no one else knew about this, after all – but as they say, 'tis the season for giving. Or is it 'for forgiving'? I wasn't going to be doing any forgiving any time soon though.
Finally once everything else was in place, we liberally scattered snow over the tree, the Grey Area and much of the rest of the castle, taking care not to leave any tell-tale footprints in it. The last of it was dusted outside the lab that had once been Vexen's and was now habited only by Saïx's still unnamed Replica. In case you're wondering why, he refused to take a name.
With all our preparations finished at last, I used a corridor to reach my room so I wouldn't leave any tracks, then settled down to catch what little sleep I could in the few hours before anyone woke up.
Actually, I didn't sleep. Alright, so I didn't have any presents of my own to open, not unless Stiltzkin was planning to leave me one, but I was almost excited just to see the reactions. They might be Nobodies, but they all remember what it was like to feel, and sometimes their minds make them unconsciously act as if they do because it was once used to that.
Typically, Luxord was the first to rise. I'd been tuning in on each of them in turn as the time grew closer for someone to get up, and caught him just as he was leaving the room.
He didn't appear to notice the snow at first, until he realized there was an odd scrunching sound every time he took a step. It took a few moments for him to make the connection, but he had just got up.
Besides a faint smile, he made no further reaction to the snow, appeared to pay no attention to the decorations, and went off to get breakfast. Thankfully the boredom of that was interrupted by catching Xigbar get up, who was more alert unlike Luxord. He noticed as soon as he left his room, glancing up and down the corridor at our handiwork.
I hadn't been pushing for sound, but Xigbar's room is only just down from mine, so I heard the muffled comment he made of, "Merry Christmas to you too, tiger." I wasn't surprised he'd figured out who was responsible.
I had previously thought Saïx to be an early riser, but either he overslept or just wanted a lay in that morning, because Demyx was next up, closely followed by Xaldin. I decided since most of the others were now up, it was time I put in an appearance, making tracks for the Grey Area. I wanted to get there before Demyx did.
There was one little curiosity when I reached there though. Well, more than one. I knew exactly how many presents I'd left under that tree, and how they were arranged. There was a collection of small but neatly wrapped boxes atop the ones I'd left, and a second pile just beside the tree. There were no tracks on the floor at all though. No one had been here since I'd left the night before. I doubted Stiltzkin could be responsible for all of them, as some were bigger than he was.
Someone scrunched up behind me while I was distracted by this.
"What did we do to deserve this treatment?" Xigbar quipped as he passed me. "I thought you'd be after our blood by now."
"Me?" I asked, my face the picture of false innocence. "Surely you don't think I did this?"
"Tell me at least a few of those aren't from you and I'll believe you," he chuckled, throwing himself onto one of the couches, which emitted a rude sound. Xigbar and I stared at each other for a moment before he reached under the cushion to pull out a whoopee cushion. Saïx's replica must have stashed it there without my noticing. I contrived to look even more innocent, while Xigbar just burst out laughing.
I took another seat, checking it to make sure it hadn't also been left with anything unexpected, then sat down to wait.
"Not gonna see if any of them are for you?" I asked Xigbar.
"I'll wait my turn like a good kid," he replied. "Wouldn't be right to start without everyone else here."
"True enough. That one's different though," I added, nodding to a separately wrapped gift that was beside both window and wall. Demyx's gag gift. I had got him a real one too, of course. "It's a special one. It's for Demyx, that's all I'll say."
On cue, Demyx joined us. "Did someone say my name? And does anyone know how a blizzard managed to pass through while we weren't looking?"
"Little sport there was just saying something about hearing that big gift over there being yours," Xigbar told him. "Probably another one in all that under the tree, but they're for later."
"You mean, like a Christmas present?"
"What other time of year has snow and decorations, Demyx?" I asked. "Go ahead, see what it is. And don't call me little sport," I told Xigbar.
"You'd prefer tiger, no doubt," Xigbar suggested.
"Hey, can you blame me?" I asked as Demyx almost eagerly tore the wrapping off to reveal what appeared, at first, to be a normal and well cushioned chair. "First Xion leaves, then you guys force me into working for you... I dunno, what's a Nobody to do I ask you?"
Xigbar chuckled again, then surreptitiously nodded to Demyx so I'd notice him settle into the chair.
The chair might have looked and even felt normal, but it was actually something Stiltzkin had called up another moogle friend to make for us. You know what a water bed is? The chair was something similar.
It held for longer than I expected before his weight caused it to rupture and spill the water inside everywhere.
"Are you kidding me?" Demyx burst out.
"What is going on here?" Saïx's harsh voice demanded.
"Looks like someone gave Demyx a gag gift," Xigbar laughed.
"Gift? What do you think this is, some kind of holiday?"
"Looks like it to me, Saïx," I said. "Snow everywhere, tree with presents under, looks to me like Christmas has come to the World that Never Was – or at least our castle. I doubt the Heartless even know what Christmas is."
"Who authorised this absurdity?"
"Probably the man himself. Santa Claus, I mean. I doubt Xemnas would bother."
Saïx bore my apparently oblivious front for a time, then headed for the tree, examining the stacks of presents that had been left wordlessly. During that time, Luxord and Axel joined us, closely followed by Xaldin. Axel winked at me behind everyone's back, indicating he had a fair guess who was responsible too.
"Leave them alone," Saïx chided Demyx when he headed for the stacks. "The same goes for the rest of you. Remain here. I will return shortly."
"What, does he think it's a trap or something?" Demyx complained. "Can't he get into the spirit of things even once?"
"This coming from the man who just got soaked?" Xigbar grinned.
"It's Christmas! Everyone's gotta have a little fun, just 'cause it was at my expense doesn't mean I can't have a laugh at it too."
Saïx now reappeared, with Xemnas following him out of the corridor. One of the few times he ever descended to the Grey Area.
"Merry Christmas, boss," I said, trying to make it sound offhand. Xemnas glared at me before he regarded the display of boxes around the tree. I wonder why.
Xemnas now examined the various boxes, the murmured something to Saïx and left again.
"Very well," Saïx muttered. "It seems we are going ahead with this absurd event. Roxas, come here."
"Because some of these are from you – or so the tags claim. You will hand them to their recipients. I have already moved the ones addressed to you to one side for you." Sure enough, there were two boxes that had been set aside. Two small ones, both neatly wrapped, one in the same blue wrapping paper I had used, the other in an unfamiliar red from the second pile.
The smaller boxes were all from Stiltzkin, gifts of various gears for the other members that gave them new weapons. I wasn't entirely certain this was in the best interests, since I'd probably have to come up against a few of them. Saïx seemed uncharacteristically surprised when I handed his to him, seeming almost embarrassed to unwrap it in front of everyone. He hid it well though.
After that we started on my gifts to them. For Luxord, a set of proper poker chips, rather than the makeshift ones he'd knocked up himself. At least he'd have something better to play the game with. Demyx got a book of various songs that I'd had to call Sora to obtain. A sitar might not be the best thing to play some songs you're used to hearing there, but at least I'd know no one here would have heard them. Axel gave a groan when he realized he was going to have to put up with more music – his room was just opposite Demyx's after all.
That was forgotten when I handed him his own one. It had been hard to find something I could get him, so I went for something simple. You might not think a fire in a jar is much, but a handy bit of magic (and another helpful hand from Sora) meant it would take on different forms and colours depending on what was on Axel's mind. Rather unsurprisingly, when he opened it, it took on a colour similar to my hair.
Saïx was by far the funniest – of mine, at least. What else can you get the man with no sense of humour, but a book filled with possibly the worst jokes known to man that will have anyone groaning at them? Does it come as any surprise to find that only Xigbar and Axel found it funny, while Saïx's expression seemed to become very forced as he reluctantly thanked me?
Xaldin was another tough one, but in the end I settled on getting him something I knew he'd have an interest in. Ever noticed how he's remarkably accurate in analysing other people? I toyed with the idea of just getting some book on that sort of thing, but decided he'd probably like a good detective novel. Or three. Got to keep him occupied somehow, right?
As for Xigbar, he'd already shown up once in a mission to Olympus Coliseum, ostensibly to challenge me but really to draw out a giant Heartless. Who knows how he got into those games, but I saw to it the next time the Games rolled around and I was in them, he'd have a free pass to get in, courtesy of some fast talking with Phil.
Oh, and a party hat. Because out of all of them, Xigbar was the only one I could think of wearing one without something about them spoiling it. Be honest, can you really see Saïx with one?
Saïx told me to leave those for Xemnas, as he'd open them after we'd gone out on the missions. Guess he didn't want us to know he wanted to get into the spirit of things either.
Saïx then started passing around the gifts from the second stack, the one I hadn't arranged, and I turned my attention to my two. As I'd expected, one was from Stiltzkin, containing the chain for Crabclaw. Either that was a remarkable coincidence, or he'd found out I was going to ask for it somehow.
The tag on the other one was curiously labelled only 'To Roxas' with no indication of the sender. Inside the small box was, yes, another chain for the Keyblade, a rose on the end of the chain. Attached in place of an actual Keyblade was another tag with a simple note on it.
'Believe in yourself, and you'll achieve what you seek – S.C.'
"S.C.?" I murmured to myself. "Who's that?"
"Roxas, depart on your mission," Saïx told me, interrupting my thoughts. "You are required at-"
"Beast's Castle, I know," I finished absently.
"And Roxas," Saïx said as I started to leave. I turned to look at him. After a few awkward moments he finally managed, "Thank you."