XOX

Disclaimer: Yu-Gi-Oh belongs to Kazuki Takahashi.

Author's Note: I started this in November, when Christmas music first began attacking the airwaves. If I knew so many YGO X-Mas fics were going to be written, I wouldn't have bothered with this one. But here I am, two days before Christmas and uploading this fic. Why? Because I like it.

XOX

Dedicated to everyone who encouraged me to write again and supported 'With the French Maid in Kaiba's Room!'.

XOX

White Berries

When a dispirited Serenity runs into a strangely gregarious Kaiba, she starts to believe that maybe during the Christmas season, magic, hope, and even love, is in the air... (SxS short one-shot)

XOX

And we're getting a divorce.

Children are unlikely to remember memories from early in their lives unless it's a traumatic experience. An accident, a death... a divorce. Being harshly awoken in the middle of the night, ripped out of bed and tossed into a car without being able to vociferate a single farewell and only cry, cry, cry. It always sickened her to watch television and see the happy, complete families depicted. Hers was obviously broken and the only options available to fix it were options she had no desire to take.

Of course, as a child she had tried to warm to the feeling of the joyous, family oriented season of Christmas. Gifts were always a good incentive, although she silently wished for something from her brother. When they had grown older, he began to visit and bring her small things that she cherished unnecessarily. She still did.

And then it became tedious and heart-breaking. Joey came, stayed long enough to toss something at her, and then leave. Their mother's excuse was that he was getting older; it was unbearably true. He had his own friends to meet with, while she had no one. Friends, yes, but more like acquaintances. There was almost a tinge of jealously in her when she thought back to the loyal bond her brother had with his friends. It was almost like he had chosen them over her.

Walking outside in the bitter cold of winter, Serenity waved her arms about for a brief moment in attempt to warm the chilled limbs. Her bubble down-filled white jacket wasn't helping keeping her warm and internally, she cursed it.

This year was unbelievably her worst.

When Joey had called her, he had the nerve to sound upbeat and excited for his five-minute visit. She had replied in what she felt was a justified cool tone, keeping her voice steady and disinterested in whatever he was saying. That conversation was the shortest they had ever had, yet the longest.

The lights in the stores shone luminously, almost appearing to offer warmth and Eden from the cold. Her gaze lingered on each of the stores, admiring the holiday decor and the pretty objects in the window that she could never have. She paused in front of one window, the display offering a classic novel about eternal love crossing times and social barriers, when a couple unconscious knocked into her and continued on their way, arm in arm.

Wistfully, she stared at them for a moment, her gaze eventually flickering back to the book.

A pernicious gale nipped at her cheeks and seeped into her coat, cutting short her admiration for the book. Walking to her desired destination, her mind was still occupied with the miserable aspects of the holiday season. Therefore, she didn't realize she was steering closer to the curb of the sidewalk than comfort.

She was close to the crosswalk when a black car sped by. Its wheel haphazardly embedded within a miniature lake of slush and in an instant, Serenity was sprayed with the cold, muddy liquid. It took a moment before the incident registered in her mind, and the first thing she realized was how cold she was. The wet coat was quickly becoming iced, faint white frost already visible as it crisped.

"You're going to catch a cold standing outside like that," a deep voice commented, breaking her out of her shock and disgust. Her gaping mouth opened further, unwilling to forgive whoever had done this to her and unknowing where to go. She was still two train rides away from home and the discomfort of riding in a sopping wet coat was not appealing.

"Fine, don't say anything." The voice sounded more dismissive than resentful and after blinking a few times and wiping the slush off of her previously white coat, Serenity faced the speaker. She released a small gasp from seeing him only a foot away from her, shocked that he actually cared enough to come, nonetheless speak, to her. His face registered in her mind a moment later and her heart pace went on overdrive.

Seto Kaiba was enough to make anyone scared out of their minds.

Quickly, in her mind she receited a prayer to God, begging him not to let Kaiba remember who she was. It was just her luck that he managed to show up right when she least wanted to see someone -anyone- she knew. Her head quickly snapped to the direction the speeding car had been going but found the search fruitless. It was gone.

"Are you mute?" Kaiba now attempted to provoke her. It was probably his twisted way of displaying concern. Confused by his sudden interest in her and her wet, slowly freezing, late self, she finally looked at him and gasped.

Behind him, about a meter away, was the black car, illegally parked in the snow drive. Her eyes flashed back to Kaiba, an unreadable expression on his face, before she took a step back. Coats could be washed. Her pride, however, was at an all-time low and as delicate as a thin icicle.

"I-I have to go..." she stuttered, clutching the bag in her hand tightly. She was well aware of Kaiba's cynical and derogatory nature. After he refused to take Bakura to a hospital back in Battle City, she was enlightened first-hand of his selfish nature. Since he was speaking to her, a basic stranger, he obviously wanted something. Perhaps he would yell at her for getting in the way of his car. "I'm going to miss my train...and..."

Without bothering to finish her sentence, she took a step in the general direction she planned to run but was terrified when she felt Kaiba grab her wrist. His hand was so large that her wrist looked like premature tree branch he had snapped off and with the thought, she found herself struggling out of his grasp.

It wasn't much of struggle, mainly consisting of Serenity at an awkward pre-dash position, wriggling the lower half of her arm, and Kaiba seeming annoyed, holding onto her with an effortless grip and standing tall and stiff. People on the street began to stare at the scene and finally, Serenity let her arm become limp and straightened her posture.

"Yes?" she asked meekly, still remaining an arm's length away from Kaiba. She could have sworn he twitched and she noticed his hands ball up into tight fists.

"Yes?" he recited in a tightly drawn voice. "I come out into the cold to apologize for splashing you, you try to run away and make me look like some stalker or ...worse and all you can say is, 'yes'?!"

Replying, "yes" was probably not the best word so she decided against it. Instead, she apologized, bowing down low like she had a year ago. Certainly, he was the only teenager she had ever bowed to. She remained bent, waiting for him to leave or say something in return. When her back began to hurt, she lifted her head slightly to see him standing like an officer, arms closed and eyes calculating.

"Get up," he said in an exasperated tone after their eyes met for a brief moment, hers peeping up and attempting to see through her cascaded auburn hair. Even in the winter the everlasting, crisp blue chill of his eyes could never be rivaled. Serenity stood to her normal height and wrung her hands together, wondering what he wanted with her now. "Your coat is ruined."

He wasn't even looking at her with the observation, his eyes focused on the passing traffic. She didn't reply, silently wishing that he would leave. What did they appear like to the people passing by? They stood close enough to be touching, her head was down and he seemed like he couldn't care less about her. An annoyed adult with a child.

"Let's go."

"W-what?" she exclaimed the moment his hand had grasped hers. No, he had grabbed her wrist to be more precise.

"You can't wear that coat," he replied while he towed her along like a disgruntled parent, "so I'm buying you a new one."

"I...I don't want a new coat..." she stuttered between attempts to catch her breath. The CEO obviously didn't notice that her short legs gave a grand disadvantage for her in terms of speed. He ignored her while easily weaving through the condensed crowd to reach the entrance of a store she hadn't thought twice about stepping within. Even a simple scarf from the extravagant designer store would be the cost of her entire wardrobe.

With a single hand he pushed the door open and paused. Serenity stared at him with a blank expression, wondering what he was doing.

"Well, get in," he hissed, as if speaking to an idiot. Feeling her cheeks flush and blood rush to her ears, she quickly obeyed his command. Once inside, she was at a loss for words or direction. Instead, she stood in one place, knowing well that escaping was not an option. Kaiba had deliberately held the door open for her so that when he let go of her, she would be unable to sneak away from him.

Dubious about the unfolding situation, Serenity attempted not to make any contact with the man when he stood beside her and gave her an unreadable look. The silence and uncomfortable atmosphere between them was quickly severed by an approaching saleswoman, who was smiling broadly, and falsely.

"Hi, how may I help you today?"

"She needs a new jacket," Kaiba said, motioning to her with a tilt of his head to the side.

"All right, I'll show you our winter collection."

She half expected him to wait by the doors but he followed, walking right next to her as if they were friends, lovers, anything. But they weren't. He wasn't anything to her and nor was she to him.

The saleswoman began to show them coats, and Kaiba would nod or shake his head to them while Serenity remained silent. When the saleswoman attempted to gain an opinion from Serenity, the younger girl remained silent, refusing to even lift her head. Instead, she smiled sadly and shook her head 'no' to everything.

"Give us a moment," Kaiba finally said and the woman departed, leaving the two alone in the brightly lit, white section of the store, surrounded by expensive winter jackets.

"Are you going to pick something, or what?"

From her downcast vision, she could see him tapping his most likely imported leather shoes in irritation, the fabric on the hem of his dark pants fluttering slightly with each impact of his foot against the white marble floor.

"I can't let you do this," she said quietly, her eyes focused on his shoes. "It's too much."

"It's nothing to me. Besides, I was the one who got you wet. You should be angry with me."

"No, I'm not..."

"Any other girl would have quickly taken advantage of this situation."

"Then I guess I'm not any other girl..."

She could hear him release a brief laugh, which sounded like the forced release of air or like he was choking for a moment. She really couldn't tell whether it really was a laugh or something else.

"I guess you're not." He then sighed, one thing she could easily detect through her ears. "But you should still be mad at me." If she had looked up, she would have seen him looking at her intensely, as if she were a difficult puzzle he was attempting to solve.

"No..." But that was a lie. Of course she was angry at him -he had humiliatingly dragged her to his store and was practically trying to pay off his wrong doings. Her chest began to feel heavy and her breathing deepened with the thought.

"No?"

"You can't do this..." she said, moving her dark eyes to focus instead on Kaiba's jacket, a long black wool coat with a zipper. She couldn't imagine him zipping it up himself, although it was a trivial task. His hands were currently in his pocket and she wondered where he kept his money. "You can't just buy people like this... You can't buy an apology."

Like Joey can't buy me gifts to apologize for being gone all the time... Like Mom can't buy me gifts to apologize for tearing us apart...Like my friends can't buy me gifts to apologize for never being there for me...

"I saw your brother last year on Christmas."

Her eyes linked to his before she could even realize it. It was then she noticed the hard look in his eyes partially faded, revealing Kaiba as what he had always been: a human being. It seemed hard to believe, but there was a softness in his eyes, like something had been taken out of him. She somewhat didn't like it; he seemed more sad.

"Joey...?"

"Well, if you're the same girl from those few years ago at Battle City," he said, breaking eye contact and looking out the massive windows of the store. As he spoke, his body turned away from her. "He was delivering packages on Christmas."

He had rung the doorbell twice, rapidly. Running to the door, she hurriedly opened it to greet her brother and nearly smothered him with a hug despite the cold.

"Serenity, I've missed you so much," Joey said, pulling away to take a good look at his younger sister. "You're growing up fast..."

"You should come inside, it's cold..." She was already making her way into the depths of the home, assuming her brother would follow. "I was worried that you got lost--"

"Seren, I'm sorry, but I'm busy. I still have to deliver some gifts to Yugi and the gang. Here. Merry Christmas, Sis."

Catching the gift, she looked up to see a blurred image of him running off into the cold, waving.

"What does that have to do with anything?" she snapped, implicitly surprised with herself.

"You miss your brother, don't you?" Kaiba inquired and she was startled by how quickly he came to conclusions.

"That's not it!" she cried out, causing some of the saleswomen and customers to look in their direction. Quickly, she lowered her voice. "I just don't like trying to get home and then being splashed by a car and having my favorite jacket ruined!"

"You seem happier when you're with Joey," Kaiba said, thumbing through some white long down-filled bubble jackets. "Not that I know you enough to be sure of that but... Older brothers do love their younger siblings." He moved to another rack to observe the white pea coats. "You should speak up. Tell him how you feel. Tell anyone who's bothering you how you feel."

"You're bothering me..." she said in a quiet voice, finding it strange that she was speaking so rudely to Kaiba. Kaiba smirked in response and nodded his head slightly.

"Quick learner." With a flick of the wrist he pulled out a size 4 white, double breasted, mid-length pea coat. "Try this one on."

"I'd rather not..."

"Listen, I don't have all day."

"Please, Mr. Kai--"

"Listen here," he said, leaning close to her until she had no choice but to look at him. "You are going to try on this coat whether you like it or not."

"Why? Why do you care?"

"I may be mean but I'm not cruel," he stated, a twisted smile coming to his lips. "If you stay in that, you're going to catch hypothermia by the time you reach home."

"It doesn't matter to you..."

"Well, if you die, a lot of people would be sad. Your father, mother, brother, and friends..."

"Stop talking to me as if I'm a child!"

"But it's true, isn't it?"

"How do you know?"

Another smirk, but this one was different. His eyes were downcast, smile wry, small and forced. "How do I know...?"

Tight-lipped, she shrugged her ruined jacket off. A part of her demanded that she be angry and she was; however the anger merely stemmed from the fact that Kaiba was right and quickly, her ire dissolved into a fulfilling feeling of need and warmth. Despite what little she felt she contributed to the world, she still affected the lives of others. And if one line was severed, the rest would fall apart.

She eased into the pea coat, which was too big for her. A size 2 was retrieved and it was a perfect fit. Observing herself in the mirror, she could see Kaiba's reflection behind her. He was seemingly stealing glances at her, trying to seem disinterested.

"Mokuba says that girls like hearing that they look cute in something," Kaiba said. "I suppose you look good in that coat."

Cute and good are two different things..."This looks bad on me," she lied, inwardly liking the jacket

"Let's hurry and pay for this -my brother is waiting for me at home."

"I don't want this," she repeated again. The count was lost.

"Okay." He ripped the tag off of the coat and picked up her ruined one before she could reach it. Walking at a normal pace, he reached the cash register and ordered for her old coat to be disposed and paid for the new one.

Together, as they had entered, they left. Yet this time, Serenity had to open the door for herself. Kaiba had stopped right outside of the entrance, seemingly waiting for her.

"Thank you, Mr. Kaiba," she found herself saying when she faced him, unable to think of anything else. The new coat was actually quite warmer than her other one. "I hope you and your brother have a merry Christmas."

"Mokuba will," Kaiba said, a smile tugging threateningly on the corners of his lips. "I don't know about me. Well... let me tell you one thing. If there's anything I hate, it's someone equally pessimistic as I am, and you're beginning to hold a candle to it."

She didn't reply, her thoughts focused on the prospective Christmas and previous year. The reasons to remain pessimistic were balancing evenly with optimism, but then again, were reasons really necessary? What was she feeling at the moment?

"I have my reasons," she said quietly as a response to his indirect question. It was slightly beginning to creep her out the way that Kaiba was acting, almost like a deep-thinking sage. Maybe too much liquor-filled holiday candy had filled him with false holiday optimism. He certainly wasn't acting as pessimistic as he claimed to be.

Kaiba seemed to be contemplating something, his head tilted heavenward. He then bent down and smiled softly when his lips just barely grazed her frost-bitten rouged ear. "Things aren't always as bad as they seem."

As she turned her head in question, she was shocked to find her lips taken by Kaiba's in a soft, barely-there kiss. Before she could utter a single sound, nonetheless recover from her first kiss, he was walking away. Taking a step forward, she wanted to run after him but stopped when he motioned with a single finger to the sky. She looked up but saw only the endless blue, caressed by a few clouds. Turning her attention back to where she had last seen Kaiba, she was dismayed that he was gone.

Her previous countenance of discontent began to seize her once more but was hindered upon catching an observation from a couple exiting the store. Slowly, the soft pads of her finger tips lightly touched her newly kissed and forever changed lips.

"Mistletoe."

Fin.