"You're SURE nobody will miss this tree?" Vincent asked apprehensively.
"It's just a @#$in' tree," Cid replied. "Who could possibly miss it?"
"Well, I just thought that because it was out here alone in the middle of this volcano, it might be special," Vincent said, studying the tree. The tree was the tallest tree he'd ever seen. It sat alone on a cliff; its large leafy branches casting shadows over the whole area. Vincent had the vague feeling he ought to know this tree, but he couldn't put his finger on where he remembered it from.
"You seen one tree, you seen 'em all," Cid grunted.
"I guess you're right," Vincent said. He reached into his cape and produced a chainsaw. Vincent and Cid proceeded to cut down the huge tree. They then dragged it to the Highwind, loaded it on, and flew off.
Not long after they had departed, the elemental Dryad appeared where the tree had been. "Holy Mana!" she exclaimed. "What happened?" She then looked up into the sky and spotted the departing Highwind. "Hey! You come back here! STOOOP!"
* * *
Barret walked through the snow-covered town square of Nibelheim, pushing a big wheelbarrow full of genuine North Corel coal. A loud whirring sound from overhead caused him to look up. The Highwind descended from the sky and landed outside the town. "That must be Cid and Vincent with the tree," he said, pausing.
A few moments later, Cid and Vincent walked into Nibelheim, dragging the tree behind them. "That's one big tree," Barret said to them.
"Yeah," Vincent agreed. He looked down at the tree. "Why do I keep feeling that I should know this tree?"
Cid shrugged. "C'mon, let's put this baby up."
Vincent ran into Cloud's house and came back out with the tree stand. He looked at the tree, then down at the stand. "You know, this might be a little small," he said.
"Leave it to me," Cid said gruffly, grabbing the stand out of Vincent's hand. He set it down on the ground, lay down next to it, and started adjusting it with a screwdriver.
"What's all that coal for?" Vincent asked Barret while they were waiting.
"Yuffie," Barret replied simply.
"Okay, I think I've got it," Cid reported. Together, Vincent and Barret hauled the tree off the ground and struggled to hold it over the stand. They slowly lowered the tree down and tried to wedge it into the stand, but it was far too big.
"Try tilting it this way a little," Cid suggested, motioning with his hand. Barret obeyed, and he and Vincent quickly lost control of the tree. It slipped and almost Cid hit on the head before Barret stopped it.
"#$%$! Watch what you're doin'!" Cid shouted.
"This tree's too big, foo'!" Barret said as he and Vincent tried to balance it again.
"TURN!" a rapidly-approaching high-pitched voice shouted from behind them. "I said TURN, you stupid moogle! Uh-oh, too late... Hey, Barret, LOOK OUT!"
Barret turned just in time to see Caet Sith and his moogle barreling towards them on a sled. Before he could react, Caet Sith collided with him. Barret was knocked backwards onto the ground and let go of the tree. Vincent quickly dived out of the way as it came crashing to the ground.
"@#$#$#^%$^*!" Cid swore.
"Stupid cat!" Barret shouted at Caet Sith. He then turned to see where the tree had landed.
"Oops," Caet Sith said.
"Hope there was nobody in that house," Cid said. He reached into his pocket, took out a cigarette, and lit it.
Barret and Vincent ran over to get a closer look at the damage the tree had caused. Two bodies were lying in the rubble, next to some cans of paint that they had evidently dropped.
"Wedge and Biggs are dead!" Barret exclaimed.
"Don't worry, they'll be back," Vincent said clinically.
"Uh, you guys..." Caet Sith said nervously.
"What?" Barret snapped. "Spit it out, cat."
"Wasn't that Tifa's house?" Caet Sith asked, pointing at the rubble.
"Oh, $%(*$%!" Cid said. "We're in for it now!"
"Where is Tifa anyway?" Vincent asked.
"I think she and Aerith went down to Cosmo Canyon to finish their shopping," Barret said hesitantly.
"Or maybe they went wassailing," Caet Sith mused. "What does that mean, anyway?"
* * *
"What happened?" Sylphid asked.
"Somebody... cut down... the Mana Tree!" Dryad wailed.
"What are we gonna do?" Gnome wondered aloud. He thought for a moment. "I know! We gotta believe!"
"That's, uh, great," Undine said.
"Let's track down that airship," Salamando suggested. "It couldn't have gotten that far."
The other elementals nodded their agreement and then disappeared to pursue the Highwind.
* * *
"What should we get for Caet Sith?" Tifa wondered as she and Aerith strolled through Cosmo Mall in Cosmo Canyon with a shopping cart. "He's a robot cat on a stuffed moogle. What could he possibly need?"
"A new megaphone? A magic 8-ball?" Aerith suggested, grabbing an 8-ball off a shelf and holding it up to Tifa.
"Sure," Tifa said.
Aerith threw it into the shopping cart and kept walking. "Good. Now we've only got Yuffie and Cid to get stuff for."
"How 'bout a nice shiny new Steal Materia for Yuffie?" Tifa said, pointing at a rack of yellow Materia. Aerith stopped the cart while Tifa grabbed a Materia and tossed it on top of Caet Sith's 8-ball and Rude's hair growth formula.
Aerith crossed Yuffie off her list. "Good. Now let's find something for Cid and get back to Nibelheim. I need to bake the cookies."
"I thought you already baked some cookies," Tifa said.
"I did, but Palmer ate them all."
Tifa and Aerith passed the store's Santa. It was Bugenhagen. Crouched next to Bugenhagen's chair was Red XIII, with a pair of felt antlers taped to his head. "Ho ho hooo!" Bugenhagen said. "Doh! I mean, ho ho ho!"
"Red XIII!" Aerith said, reaching down to pat him on the nose. "You look so cute."
"Please don't do that," Red XIII said patiently.
"Sorry," Aerith apologized.
The next kid in the line sat down in front of Bugenhagen (as Bugenhagen didn't really have a lap). "And what do you want for Christmas?" Bugenhagen asked the kid.
"I want a set of 1/35 Soldiers, a Poyozo Doll, and an Umaro Chia Pet," the kid said.
"Ho ho hooo!" Bugenhagen laughed. "Wait, that's, ho, ho, ho! Sorry; my bad."
"Grandfather, these antlers are making my mane itch," Red XIII whispered to Bugenhagen as the kid walked off and the line moved up.
Meanwhile, Aerith and Tifa continued on through the mall. "I wonder if we should take back that tie we got for Red XIII," Tifa suggested.
"Nah," Aerith said. "It's fine. Let's find something for Cid."
"Fuzzy pink bunny slippers?" Tifa suggested as they passed a display of slippers.
"That's perfect," Aerith said, grabbing a pair. "Well, it's good enough, at least."
"Are we done, then?" Tifa asked.
Aerith checked her list. "I guess so. I was trying to find a partridge in a pear tree for Cloud, though."
"You can't do that!" Tifa exclaimed. "That was MY idea! I thought of it first!"
"You did not!" Aerith snapped.
"Well, I'm glad we agree," Tifa said, moving briskly towards the exit.
"Hey, wait a second!" Aerith shouted, hurrying to catch up with Tifa. They paid for their purchases and left the mall. As they crossed their parking lot to Tifa's car, they came across Yuffie, who was holding a pot and ringing a bell.
"Yuffie?" Aerith said in surprise. "You're working for the Salvation Army? Wow, that's really kind of you. I guess we underestimated you."
"Who said anything about the Salvation Army?" Yuffie said to herself as Tifa and Aerith passed by her. "This money's MINE... heh, heh, heh."
* * *
By the time Tifa and Aerith got back to Nibelheim, the sky was starting to dim. Bright lights were clearly visible from the town square. Cid and Vincent had finished putting up the tree and were stringing lights on it. Cid was on a ladder, while Vincent was perched on the top of his tree in his "Chaos" form. Caet Sith and his moogles were lying in the snow, making snow angels.
"Oh! It's beautiful!" Tifa said, looking at the tree.
Seeing Tifa, Caet Sith jumped to his feet and nervously moved in front of Tifa. "Yeah, it's, uh, nice, isn't it? Real nice. Heh. Could you go away now? We're planning a, uh, surprise. Yeah, that's it, a surprise."
Tifa pushed past him. "Why are you acting so - MY HOUSE!! WHAT HAPPENED TO MY HOUSE!?"
"We're dead," Caet Sith said, pointing his finger to his forehead like a gun.
Vincent flew down from the tree and turned back into human form. "It was an accident," he apologized. "We were setting up the tree, but it fell down, and..."
"It was all Barret's fault," Caet Sith added. "But I'm a cute lovable animal, so you don't care, right?"
"Shut up, Caet Sith," Cid said, still up in the tree stringing the lights.
"By the way, do you happen to know what wassailing means?" Caet Sith asked.
"You've just destroyed my house and now you're here talking about wassailing?" Tifa demanded. She burst into tears.
"I take it you don't know," Caet Sith said.
"Knock it off, Caet Sith," Aerith said sharply.
The growing confrontation was diverted when Cloud walked out of his house, carrying a stepladder and a string of Christmas lights. "What's going on here?" he asked nonchalantly.
"I think Caet Sith is about to lose one of his lives," Vincent said.
"My house!" Tifa wailed.
Cloud looked around at the group. "This does seem to be a problem," he said in typical understatement. "Why don't we talk about this when we're all here?"
* * *
That evening, Cloud, Barret, Tifa, Aerith, Caet Sith, Red XIII, Yuffie, Cid, and Vincent were seated in Cloud's house, playing Scrabble -- except for Barret, who was playing PaRappa the Rapper on Cloud's TV.
"Hmm... I'll play 'mesembryanthemum' on that triple word square," Red XIII said. "Can somebody put the tiles down for me?"
"This is unfair," Yuffie complained as Cloud took Red XIII's tiles and played them on the board.
"How many points is that?" Cid asked Red XIII.
Red XIII examined the tiles. "96," he reported emotionlessly. Cid swore and added the score to Red XIII's ever-growing total.
"What kind of a word is 'mesembryanthemum?'" Aerith asked. "I'm looking that up."
"Can you look up wassailing while you're at it?" Caet Sith asked, raising his hand.
"It's a kind of flower," Red XIII said.
"I forfeit," Vincent said resignedly.
"What do you mean, I'm rappin' awful?" Barret suddenly shouted at the TV. "I was rappin' good!"
"We do have more serious matters to discuss," Cloud said, looking across the disarrayed table. "As you may already know, there was an accident today in the town square."
"I take the Fifth!" Caet Sith blurted.
"Specifically, the Christmas tree fell on Tifa's house and crushed it," Cloud said. "The tree also killed two painters who were painting the house, Wedge and Biggs. I don't want to point fingers, so it seemed fair if we all chipped in to help pay for the repairs."
"I don't have any money," Yuffie said quickly. "I, uh, donated it all to the poor."
"I don't have any either," Caet Sith said. "I'm just a robot cat on a stuffed moogle."
"I'd like to help, but I don't use money," Red XIII said. "I have no use for it," he added haughtily.
"Don't look at me," Barret said, still intently playing PaRappa. "I spent all my money on a Tickle Me Spekkio doll for Marlene. Them toys keep gettin' more expensive. It's those damn Shinra."
"Well, this is great," Cloud said when they had pooled their money on the table. "We have, uh, 4000 gil. Now what?"
"We could take it to the Gold Saucer and try our luck at the Chocobo Races," Caet Sith suggested. "Or Super Dunk..... nah. Scratch Super Dunk."
"While we're thinking, let me get those cookies I baked," Aerith said. "If Palmer didn't eat them again." Aerith got up and walked into the kitchen. She returned shortly with a tray of gingerbread Moogles.
The group ate the cookies, paying no attention to the shadowy figure peering intently through the window of Cloud's house. When they had finished, they each went off to do their separate things. Vincent just stood silently in the corner, and Barret continued to remain on the couch, playing PaRappa.
"I'm going to collect some more generous donations to the needy," Yuffie said. She threw on a coat and left the house, humming to herself.
"Having trouble?" Caet Sith asked, sitting down on the couch next to Barret. "Let me try."
Barret silently handed him the controller. Caet Sith stared intently at the screen and rapped perfectly through the level on his first try. "Thank you, thank you," C.S. said. He handed the controller back to Barret, then stood up and started bowing extravagantly. "No autographs, no autographs, they'd be worth too much.... but I wouldn't mind if you'd tell me what wassailing meant."
Barret threw the controller to the ground and stormed around the room, cursing in disgust. "Wow, we should get Cid in here and you two could do a duet," Caet Sith grinned.
Tifa entered the room. "Have you guys seen the tape anywhere?" she asked.
"The tape?" Vincent repeated. "No, I haven't."
Tifa looked around the room, lifting up cushions and peering down behind chairs. Soon the rest of the group, except for Cloud and Yuffie, was in the room, all hunting under furniture and inside cupboards for the tape.
"Where is the tape?" Tifa demanded.
"Wrapping packages?" Caet Sith asked. "For ME?"
"No, actually I was going to wrap the Steal Materia I got for Yuffie while she was gone," Tifa answered.
"You actually got somethin' for Yuffie?" Barret said. "I got her some coal."
"Me too," Vincent said.
"So did I," Cid admitted.
"Yeah, but my coal is genuine North Corel coal, the world's best coal," Barret countered.
"Shut up, Barret," Caet Sith said.
"What did you get Yuffie?" Cid asked C.S.
"A copy of War Gods," Caet Sith cackled. "Mwah ha ha!"
"That was cruel," Aerith said. She looked around room. "By the way, where's Cloud?"
* * *
"The tape, Cloud! Bring me the tape!" Sephiroth commanded.
Cloud slowly stumbled across his snowy backyard towards the hill where Sephiroth stood, while his other self writhed on the ground outside the door. As soon as Cloud was close enough, Sephiroth snatched the roll out of tape from his hands.
"Yes!" Sephiroth gloated. "I am inveeeeeencible! I have the tape! Forget the Black Materia; I have the tape! Those AVALANCHE fools are going to spend the whole day hunting for the tape! But it's mine! Mwah ha ha!"
* * *
"Oh, here we come a-caroling," the Turks sang as they strolled through Nibelheim.
The door of Cloud's house swung open and Cid's head poked out. "Hey!" he shouted at the Turks. "What are you makin' all that #%@$in' noise for? Keep it down out there!" He then slammed the door in their face.
The Turks looked at each other, then Reno rung the doorbell. Cid opened the door again. "What the %^*&% do you want this time?" he asked.
"Uh, did you know Sephiroth is on that hill up there?" Reno said, pointing up the hill.
Cid stepped outside and looked up on the hill. Sephiroth was standing on the top of the hill behind Cloud's house, holding the roll of tape triumphantly in the air. Cid swore and ducked back inside the house.
A few moments later, Barret, Tifa, Aerith, Cid, Vincent, Red XIII, and Caet Sith fanned out of the house, all armed with their weapons. "By this way, this gives me a chance to ask me a question that I've been meaning to ask for a long time," Caet Sith said to Red XIII. "How exactly do you use a comb as a weapon?"
Sephiroth turned towards the group. "Fools!" he shouted, holding up the tape and the Masamune. "Don't move or the tape gets it!"
"Sephiroth's got the tape!" Barret said. "Wha' are we going to do?"
"Sssh!" Tifa said. "Listen!"
Faintly, off in the distance, sleigh bells could be heard. They grew gradually louder until a team of Chocobos crested the hill and trampled over Sephiroth. Tifa immediately dived on the tape and clutched it protectively. Behind the Chocobos came a present-filled sleigh with Rufus in it.
"Wark!" one of the Chocobos squawked.
The Turks burst into song again, this time singing "Jingle Bells." "I thought I told you to stop that @#$*in' racket!" Cid snapped.
"Hello, everybody," Rufus said, hopping out of the sleigh. "I brought you guys a Christmas card." Rufus handed the card to Cloud, who had recovered from his bout of schizophrenia.
Cloud looked at the card. It was a white card with a large picture of Junon and the Sister Ray. An arrow labeled "Wish you were here!" was pointing to the barrel of the Sister Ray. Below the picture, written in simple but elegant letters, was the single word "NOEL."
"It's touching," Cloud said. "Gets me right here."
"What are you up to now, Rufus?" Barret asked suspiciously.
"I'm here for the first annual Shinra holiday toy drive," Rufus explained. "I figured we can be kind and generous for one month out of the year, and still be a greedy, ruthless, corporation the rest of the time."
"Do you by any chance happen to know what wassailing means?" Caet Sith asked him.
Rufus gave him an odd look. "How are things with you guys?"
"Well, things were fine until SOMEBODY -" Aerith glanced at Caet Sith. "- dropped a tree on Tifa's house."
"It was all Barret's fault!" Caet Sith shouted through his megaphone.
"Gee, that's too bad," Rufus said. "Tell you what. Since I'm such a nice, caring, guy, I'll buy you a new house."
"Wow, thanks a lot, Rufus," Tifa said.
"Aw, ain't it sweet," Caet said. "If this gets any more cloying, I might have to shoot myself."
* * *
"All right, we know where they're staying," Gnome said after Shade had made his report. "Let's get 'em."
"Wait a second," Lumina said. "They're not all responsible for cutting down the Tree. It would wrong be to punish them all. We're Elementals, you know. We've got to keep up our reputation."
"Well, how are we going to find out who did it, then?" Undine asked.
"I guess one of us will have to go scout around again," Salamando said grudgingly.
"Thanks for volunteering," Gnome said. "You've always been a team player."
"I didn't -"
"There could be fighting," Dryad interrupted. "We don't want the Tree getting hurt in all of this. We'd better some bring in some Gemma Knights to protect the tree."
"Right," Luna agreed. "Dryad, Sylphid, and I will go back and get some knights while Salamando scouts around. Salamando, when you've found out who it is, leave us some kind of signal so we can see who it is."
"The rest of us will block the exits from the city," Shade said.
The elementals all nodded in silent agreement to the plan. "Break!" Gnome said.
* * *
'Twas the night before Christmas
It was starting to snow
Not a creature was stirring
Not even a Chocobo
The stockings were hung from the chimney with care
In hopes that Bahamut soon would be there
Yuffie was nestled all snug in her bed
While visions of Materia danced in her head
One creature, however, was stirring. Salamando carefully eased open the door of Cloud's house and crept inside. The living room was completely dark except for the minimal light that Salamando's aura of flame provided.
Suddenly, Salamando felt himself grabbed from behind. He was dragged backwards and rudely shoved into a small compartment. "Got you!" the leader of the Scorpion Army whispered triumphantly. "This time, you're not getting out of our furnace so easily. We've put a lock on this time."
"Pretty smart, huh?" one of the flunkies said.
"Quiet!" the leader hissed. "You'll wake everyone up. C'mon, let's get this thing out of here."
The two flunkies tried to picked up the furnace, but found themselves unable to lift it with the added weight of Salamando inside. "It's too heavy, boss," one of the flunkies complained.
"What?" the boss demanded.
"It's too heavy," the flunky repeated.
The boss thought for a moment. "We'll have to get some ropes or something to tow it with. If we hurry, nobody will notice it's here."
"Huh?" one of the flunkies said, scratching his head.
"Never mind," the boss snapped. "Just follow me."
The three-member "Army" hurried back to their airship, leaving the furnace behind. It gradually began to warm Cloud's living room with the heat of Salamando's flames. Inside Yuffie's coal-laden stocking, a small fire began to burn.
* * *
Sylphid, Luna, and Dryad approached Cloud's house with a force of Gemma Knights. "Let's hope Salamando did his job and found the culprit," Sylphid said.
The three elementals crept inside the house. By now, Yuffie's stocking was blazing merrily over the fireplace. Dryad gestured at the stocking.
"That's a novel way of doing it," Luna said.
"All right, let's get her. Dryad, you guard the tree," Sylphid said. Sylphid and Luna teleported up to the room where Yuffie was staying.
Yuffie was sitting at a table on the far side of the room, counting the money she had received at the mall. "Hands up!" Sylphid shouted. "We know it's you!"
Yuffie jumped to her feet, scattering coins on the floor. "I wasn't going to keep the money, honest!" she blurted.
"Money?" Luna asked, confused.
Red XIII poked his nose into the room. "What's all this noise?" he asked.
"Really!" Yuffie was pleading. "It was all going to go to a good cause!"
"What have you been up to?" Red XIII demanded of Yuffie.
Sylphid rubbed his head. "What about the Mana Tree?"
Red XIII pawed over to the table. "Human nature shows itself once again," he said. "I think you've got a lot of explaining to do, Yuffie."
Yuffie glanced around the room and saw herself surrounded by the Elementals and Red XIII. She turned quickly and dived out through the window, landing in a mound of snow outside the house.
Red XIII sprung through the window after her. Yuffie pulled herself out of the snow and tried to orient herself in the darkness. Suddenly, some voices began to drift towards them.
"Deck the halls with Mako lights..." the Turks sang as they approached.
"You're not getting away that easily!" Sylphid said as he and Luna materialized near Yuffie.
"@#&$@^%!" Cid swore as he walked out of the house with the others in tow. "Are you *&%$in' singing again?"
"It's 2 a.m., my paws are freezing, and I can't see a thing," Caet Sith whined. "Remind me again why I'm out here."
"Is anybody listening to me?" Sylphid shouted angrily.
Elena pulled Yuffie out of the snow and slapped a pair of handcuffs on her. "You're under arrest," she said. "Rude, read Yuffie her rights."
"Rude's not here," Reno reported. "He was drunk, so we had to leave him behind."
"All right, Reno, read Yuffie her rights."
"We're the Turks," Reno said. "Since when she does have any rights?"
"Oh, right, then," Elena said.
"Hey, leave Yuffie alone," Red XIII said. "She's learned her lesson... uh, maybe."
"What did she do anyway?" Cloud asked.
"Stop it!" Sylphid waved his hands desperately, but nobody paid him any attention. "STOP IT!"
"I think she was pretending to be collecting donations for the Salvation Army but kept all the money for herself," Red XIII explained to Cloud.
"I'm sorry!" Yuffie said. "I'll give it all to a charitable cause right away.... uh, Friends of the Planet. How about that?"
"That's great," Aerith said. "Well, I'm glad we've resolved all this satisfactorily."
"I don't think so!" an ominous voice boomed. Aerith cast a Fire spell, lighting up the sky. Mayor Domino of Midgar was standing on top of the hill, armed with a grenade launcher. "Why wasn't I included in this fanfic?" Domino shouted.
"Who's that?" Yuffie asked, pointing at him.
"Mayor Domino?" Reno said in shock.
"Mwah ha ha!" Domino laughed. "You kept me cooped up in that building all day! Well, no more!"
"Domino's gone postal!" Elena exclaimed.
"Die!" Domino shouted, firing his grenade launcher. A grenade arced out and down towards the Mana Tree.
"Do something!" Dryad said desperately from where she stood near the Tree.
Cloud ran quickly in front of the grenade and kicked it. The grenade whistled back through the air and stuck in the front of Mayor Domino's grenade launcher. Domino desperately tried to get the grenade, but it blew up in his face, sending him flying through the air.
"GOOOOOOAAAAAALLLLLL!" Caet Sith cried.
Sylphid watched Domino disappear over the horizon. "Phew... the Mana Tree is saved."
Tifa looked at him as if seeing him for the first time. "Who are you?" she asked.
"I'm Sylphid, one of the Mana Elementals," Sylphid introduced himself. "These are Luna and Dryad. I'll get the rest of us." Sylphid snapped his fingers and the rest of the Elementals appeared, except for Salamando.
"Where's Salamando?" Lumina asked. There was a pounding from inside Cloud's house in response. Cloud ducked into the house, and seeing the furnace sitting there, opened it.
Salamando burst from the furnace. "I can't believe they got me a second time!" Angrily, he kicked the furnace down Cloud's front steps and into the street.
"Oh no!" Vincent groaned. "I knew there was something special about that tree... that's the Mana Tree!"
"That's right," Dryad said hostiley. "And you cut it down!"
"It was an accident," Cid protested. "We were just looking for a Christmas tree."
"Hey, wait a second," Luna said to Dryad. "They did save the Tree from that weird guy."
"True," Dryad said. "Okay, you can keep the tree, but we need it back when you're done with it. Make sure to give it lots of water, okay?"
"Sure," Aerith said. "I'll be glad to."
"Is everything all settled, then?" Shade asked his fellow Elementals. "Shall we head home?"
"Wait!" Caet Sith shouted as the Elementals disappeared. "Do any of you know what wassailing means?"
* * *
"It's gone," the boss of the Scorpion Army said, looking around Cloud's living room for the furnace.
"Santa Claus must have taken it," one of the flunkies said.
"Don't be stupid," the boss snapped. "Santa Claus isn't real."
"What?" the flunkies both cried. "Santa Claus isn't real? Waaaaaah!" They both sat down on the floor and started crying.
The boss sighed and shook her head. World domination was no easy task.