Author's Note: I don't think they'd have Christmas in FF8 world, since they have a completely different religion there. However, I'm sure there'd be some sort of festivities, so I came up with one, like Christmas, but different! And...oh, never mind. Square owns everything! I'm just writin' this stuff!
Esthar. The huge, technologically advanced city really got into the spirit of the holidays. Everywhere there were Hyne wreaths, stars, and lights glittering softly. The crowds were really out today! There were only 5 more shopping days until the first day of the Festival of Hyne and people were walking through all the shops, laughing, and having fun, while deciding on the perfect gift for their loved ones. It was a joyful time for all.
All except one.
A young blond woman was standing in one of the shops, holding several bags of goodies for her friends when she noticed a man, woman, and little blond- haired, blue-eyed girl a short distance away. The man was leaning down and buttoning the little girl's coat up because they were about to leave the shop and it was chilly outside. The little girl waved a tiny hand at her mother and then turned back to her father with a huge grin. He tweaked her nose and she started to giggle before throwing her tiny arms around his legs in the biggest hug ever. The woman said something to her husband and he nodded, hoisting the little girl up on his shoulders. She slipped her hand through his arm and they left the shop. The woman who was observing them imagined she was the little girl and those were her parents. The perfect family.
Quistis tore her eyes away from the happy scene and turned to face her friend. "I'm here, Selphie!"
"Did you see someone you knew?" the petite brunette asked, her green eyes sparkling. She was carrying several boxes, stacked high above her head. Peeking to the side, she regarded her friend. Quistis had seemed pretty introspective lately and Selphie hoped she was all right. Afterall, this was the holiday season!
"N-no." Quistis wistfully watched the young family walk out into the street and disappear from her view. She turned back to face Selphie. "I was just...do you need help with some of those?" She changed the subject.
"Oh would you?" Selphie asked. Quistis took a few of the boxes out of her arms and Selphie giggled. "Peek-a-boo!" she laughed.
"So are you finished with your shopping?" Quistis asked as the two friends began to walk back towards the transport that would take them back to the Ragnarok. Selphie had sweet-talked Cid into letting them take it to Esthar for some last minute shopping.
"Just about! All that's left to shop for is Matron and Nida."
"Oh, you're getting Nida a gift?" Quistis smiled. "He'll appreciate that."
"Yeah, well he's always trying to hang around us, so I wanted to make sure he didn't feel excluded," Selphie replied. "The lift's here!" They boarded the lift and sat. Selphie dropped the bags and boxes and began to sift through them, trying to arrange them in a manner that would be easier to carry. Quistis stared at the wall, deep in thought.
"Are you ok, Quisty?" Selphie asked, her large eyes full of concern.
"Of course I am!" Quistis smiled. "Why wouldn't I be?"
"I don't know. You have no reason to be in a mood! It's the happiest time of the year! And besides, you've got everything!" Selphie laughed as she slipped the smaller boxes into the larger ones.
"Yeah, everything..." Quistis sighed to herself. Everything except the one thing I want most...she thought.
"I am the Queen!" Rinoa declared. "I tell ya, I am MORE than good. I am SO good, there should be a statue built in my honor!"
Quistis laughed at her friend. "What are you talking about?" Rinoa had knocked frantically on her door and so Quistis had opened up, of course. Rinoa immediately jumped on Quistis's bed and danced around, proudly.
Rinoa dropped down to a sitting position. Her eyes twinkled as she whispered conspiratorially. "I convinced him."
"Yeah! He didn't want to go to Esthar for the Hyne Festival, but I convinced him!"
"Laguna will be so happy," Quistis smiled.
"Yeah, he will. And Ellone too. She's been hoping they would develop their relationship ever since Laguna told Squall he was his daddy. He wasn't going to go, but I turned on the charm," Rinoa grinned.
"And NO ONE can resist the Rinoa-charm," Quistis laughed.
"That, they cannot!" she agreed. "I'm gonna go tell Selphie now! I just wanted to let you know!"
"Well, I'm really happy for you. Will you be going with him?"
Rinoa nodded. "Yeah. We're going to stop and see Caraway...I mean, Dad...and then head out there to spend the holidays in the Presidential Mansion."
Quistis asked, "So are things better between you and your father?"
Rinoa shrugged. "They're getting there. I mean, I'm still having a hard time dealing with him, but I know he cares about me in his own funny little way." She glanced at the clock. "Oh! I've got to go find Selphie before it gets too much later! See ya, Quisty!"
"Bye," Quistis watched her friend skip out of the room. She lied back on her bed and stared at the ceiling. She hoped Rinoa would patch things up with her Father. Rinoa didn't realize what it was like to not have someone to call family. And Squall! When Quistis had found out Laguna was his father, she had become increasingly annoyed with the way Squall tried to avoid him. What she wouldn't give for someone to come up to her and say, "Quistis, I'm your long-lost dad" or "Quistis, it's Mom! How I've missed you!" But, sadly, that would never happen...
It was still early, but she didn't feel like doing much of anything now. She reached over and tugged on the little string of her lamp, shutting it off and bathing the room in peaceful dark.
Quistis waved as Irvine and Selphie took off. They were going to spend the holidays with Irvine's adopted parents. He had been wanting to introduce Selphie to them for a long time now and Quistis knew they would absolutely adore her. Squall and Rinoa had taken off earlier and now Quistis was alone, or so she thought. Someone tapped her on the shoulder. Turning around, she saw Zell smiling at her.
"Zell! What are you still doing here? I figured you'd be on your way home by now!"
"Nope," he shook his head. "I hadn't given you your present yet!"
She touched his arm lightly, "You didn't have to get me anything!"
"I know, but I wanted to. The only thing is, it's not here," he looked at her slyly.
"Where is it?"
"Home? As in Balamb?" she asked. Zell nodded and Quistis shrugged. "Well, I suppose I can stop by sometime and pick it up."
"No, you're not just gonna 'stop by and pick it up!' You're coming to spend the holidays with me!" he insisted.
"Oh no..." Quistis shook her head. "I couldn't intrude like that. Besides, there's plenty I could be doing here. I'll just catch up on things while everything's quiet here. I mean it," she said, sternly.
"Fine," he shrugged. "Have it your way."
"Thank you, though." She smiled at Zell. "It was thoughtful of you."
He shrugged again. "Yeah, it was, wasn't it?" he laughed.
tap tap taptap tap...taptap...tap tap tap
Quistis took off her glasses and slammed them down on her desk. What the heck was that? Frustrated, she mumbled, "Shut up!" The annoying tapping had been going on for several minutes. She scooted back in her chair and walked to the door. Opening it, she looked down the hallway and saw no one. She went to her window and peered out. Nothing!
tap taptaptaptap...tap tap tap
"ARGH! ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!" she exclaimed. She'd find the source of the tapping if it killed her! She cocked her head and listened.
taptap tap tap tap tap taptaptaptaptap
It seemed to be coming from out in the hall somewhere. She opened the door and looked down the hallway again, curiously. Nothing was there. She took a few steps out of her door. "OK, whoever's tapping, knock it off, all right? Some of us are trying to work here!"
"Oh, you wanna be like that, huh?" she muttered, taking a few steps forward. A door yanked open and someone leapt out at her, pushing her to the ground. "What the-?"
"Shhhh.this is a kidnapping," the person said.
"Zell? What the heck are you doing?" she asked. "Get off me!"
"I don't know who you're talking about. But....umm...yeah, this is a kidnapping! You will come with me and not say a word!" the figure replied.
Quistis rolled her eyes. "If you say so," she sighed. He let up on her and as she was picking herself back up, she twisted her body swiftly and kicked him in the shin.
"Oooo." he moaned. Quistis reached down and yanked off the silly-looking knitted ski-mask he was wearing. She saw a familiar tattooed face. Zell's eyes widened and he grinned. "Uh, whoops?"
"Zell, what are you doing? Were you the one tapping all that time? It was driving me nuts!"
"I knew it would," he grinned. "Say, why'd you kick me in the shin? That really hurt!"
"You're KIDNAPPING me! You think I'm just gonna stand by and let you do what you want with me?" she exclaimed.
Zell threw his head back and roared with laughter. "You make it sound like I'm some sort of bad-boy! Hmm, I like it!" His expression calmed. "Just come with me, ok? No questions asked."
"No questions," he insisted. "Come on, I've gone to a lot of trouble here!" He looked at her with his most sincere, biggest-eyed look.
She heaved a sigh. "Fine," she agreed.
"MA! WE'RE HOME!!!!" Zell yelled as he opened the door. He removed Quistis's jacket for her and laid it on a table.
"OH, ZELLY!!" Ma Dincht bustled in from the back room, grabbing her son and hugging him tightly, kissing him on the cheek. "My baby's home!"
"Ma." he shrugged her off, embarrassedly. The woman laughed and turned to Quistis.
Her expression was extremely maternal and she held out her arms. "Oh, Quistis, you are looking wonderful as always! It's so good to have you here for the holidays!" She enveloped the young woman in a hug. Quistis smiled, shyly, as Zell winked at her. Ma Dincht released her and then grabbed her hand, pulling her towards the kitchen. "You're just in time to help me! I'm about to decorate the Gingerbread Chocobos! Those were always Zell's favorites!" she chattered on and on. Quistis flashed Zell a smile before she was wrenched away. Zell smiled and trudged up to his room. He knew some time with his Ma would really cheer Quistis. She had seemed to be really bothered by something lately.
Inside the kitchen, Ma Dincht was asking the general questions: How is everything going? How's that cutie, Squall, doing? Is he still dating the dark-haired girl? What about President Loire? She had always seen him on TV - would it be possible to meet him sometime? Quistis answered as best as she could while decorating the tiny chocobo cookies.
Finally, Ma Dincht turned around and put her spatula down. "OK, out with it, girl!"
"Out with what?" Quistis asked, puzzled.
"We've visited before and you've never been so preoccupied as you seem now! What's going on?" she sat down beside Quistis.
"Nothing," Quistis said. "I'm fine. It was nice of Zell to invite me here," she changed the subject.
Ma Dincht raised one eyebrow. "He insisted you come because he's been worried about you! He says you've always seemed so happy, but lately...oh Honey! Why are you crying?" She leaned over and placed a motherly hand on Quistis shoulders as the younger woman tried to wipe the tears away.
"I d-don't know...I just..." she looked at Ma Dincht and swallowed. "It's just that this time of year is for family...and I...I don't have one. I just wish that...I see people around me and I..." she couldn't complete her thoughts. She didn't need to, though. Ma Dincht understood her perfectly. She embraced Quistis again.
"Shhh.I know, I know, Honey. As Zell would say, it sucks!" she said and Quistis laughed a little. Ma Dincht continued. "But don't you see, Honey, you do have family! You've got all your brothers and sisters and your Mother, even!"
Quistis shook her head. "It's not the same. I mean I do love my friends as if they were my brothers and sisters, and Matron is wonderful, but it's not the same."
Quistis hesitated. "I don't know...we're not related and...I don't know!"
Ma Dincht smiled benevolently. "You don't have to be related to call yourself family. Zell's not my biological son, but I love him as if he were. Edea raised you guys as if you were her own and I know she'd claim you as her daughter. I know she already does. And if it makes you feel better, you can always claim me as your Ma too!"
Quistis's mouth crept into a smile as she regarded the sweet woman before her. "Really?" she asked softly.
"Absolutely! Let's just say I adopted you late in life!"
"AHEM..." Zell cleared his throat from the doorway. The two women looked up. Quistis brushed her tears away. "I was wondering if I could go ahead and give Quistis her present now?"
"Well, that's fine with me!" Ma Dincht, stood up and picked up the tray of already decorated chocobos. Quistis nodded, so Zell raced back up the stairs and came down with a thick, brown envelope. He handed it to the girl.
She opened it up and gasped, the tears filling her eyes once again. She pulled out two pictures in a frame and smiled down at them.
"That was Matron's...I told her what I wanted to do for you and asked if she had any old snapshots of all of us at the orphanage. She did," Zell shrugged.
In the first picture, Matron was posing smartly in a chair, surrounded by all her children. Quistis was standing beside her, trying to pose the same way. Squall was standing off to the side, with Selphie tugging on his arm. Irvine was winking and his hands were pointing towards the camera imitating little guns. Zell was grinning cheekily and Seifer was standing next to him, holding up two fingers behind his head, putting bunny ears on him. Quistis giggled. "It's wonderful!"
The second picture was taken at the party following Ultimecia's defeat. Cid and Matron were sitting in a chair, posing smartly, with Quistis standing beside them, posing the same way. Squall was standing to the side, with Rinoa tugging on his arm. Irvine had enveloped Selphie in a bear hug and Zell was grinning cheekily, holding up two fingers behind Irvine's head, putting bunny ears on him.
"There's more," Zell said.
Quistis reached inside the envelope and pulled out a card, signed by all her friends. Each had written her a private note. She looked up at Zell and his Ma and said, "This is probably the best gift I could ever have gotten!"
"It's just a couple of pictures!" Zell laughed.
"No, it's more than that..." Quistis looked back down. "You gave me my family."