December is here! Like hell yeah! Wieeehhh!

My muse is baaack...

For all who are waiting for me to update Soaring On Broken Wings and Questioning...People, I'm working on it! Arrgh. Gimme some more time...pretty please?

If I owned Kingdom Hearts, fanfiction writers would get paid for coming up with story ideas...and other than that, I'd be a billionaire.

-------- - --------

A Christmas Cliché

-----------------

"HI-KA-RI! Run faster!"

I threw a glare at the blonde man standing beside the track, who was currently laughing at me. Cloud Strife was known as one of the terror professors in gym; he had the uncanny ability to make you feel that you're going to die of exhaustion in oh, say, the next ten seconds.

I pushed myself to run faster, but the muscles in my legs were refusing to cooperate; they were screaming at me to stop already. This is exactly why I preferred skateboarding to running, or walking, even. Skateboarding takes me a lot less time and a lot less effort. And a lot less sweat..

"400 meters in five-point-ninety-six seconds!" Cloud exclaimed with a self-satisfied smirk, thumbing the stopwatch as I finally crossed the painted white line. "Really, this is a new record, Hikari."

"S-shut up," I shot back, immediately collapsing on the grass beside the track. "I h-hate y-y-you..."

I blinked, and raised a hand to swipe at my eyes. My eyes were starting to haze over, and I clutched said hand to my chest. I started wheezing and my lungs felt like two soda cans being crushed inside my ribcage. My throat started to burn as I lay back on the grass, trying to catch elusive breath.

"Roxas, you dork," my view of the early-morning sky was suddenly clouded by a haze of brown; two concerned sky-blue eyes hovered over my face. Suddenly I felt something plastic being shoved into my lips, and I was being forced to a semi-upright position. "Breathe in...hold...breathe out..."

After two puffs of medicated spray, I was well enough to be able to breathe normally once more. And once I was able to breathe normally, I think Sora, my savior and my close friend, took it upon himself to smack me upside the head.

And while Sora may look like a reedy little kid, he sure can hit hard.

"Ow! What the heck, So---"

"I told you not to take Sir Cloud's bait!" the spiky-haired brunet admonished me, kneeling beside me on the blades of green and waving the inhaler in my rapidly-reddening face. "Sheesh! I can't leave you alone for ten seconds without you trying out a new dare!"

I rubbed the side of my head where Sora's hand had hit. "But he was asking for it!" I whined, using my hands to support me as I sat up straighter. Stealing a glance at Cloud, I remembered why exactly I had pushed myself to the limit -- he had challenged me to run around the whole track oval as fast as I could. If I could do it, he said he'd give me a straight A in gym, no strings attached...Wait. The more I thought about it, the stupider I felt; so what if I got an A when I was wheezing to death on the oval's pavement in the first place?

Cloud knew I had chronic asthma ever since I had been able to walk and wheeze. He was only doing this to make the suffer...I'll even bet he was thinking I couldn't do it. Well, I actually didn't run around the oval in under four minutes --- that insane speed was reserved for our track team, not our gym class.

Sora must've seen the expression on my face, for he handed me my inhaler, folded his arms, and shot me a look that said loud and clear: I told you so.

I smiled sheepishly. He got to his feet and pulled me up. "Thanks."

He laughed, and I glared at Cloud one last time before heading to the shower rooms.

- x -

"Up for another challenge?" Riku said conspiratorically, voice lowered and aquamarine eyes amused.

Taking a bite out of my hamburger, I tilted my head to answer yes. I almost had to duck to avoid the scorching warning glance Sora shot at me from beside the silver-haired boy. So what? I was considered the bad boy of our group; the one who took almost every single dare thrown at him. I liked the feeling of adrenalin rushing through my veins; and for some reason, the dares made me feel like I had a purpose in life.

"I'm daring you to take that emo girl, Naminé, to second base."

I choked on the bread that I was chewing. So did half of the people sitting at our lunch table, who were unfortunate enough to hear.

"You're insane," Kairi hissed from beside Sora, her beryl eyes flashing with anger. No wonder. First base meant Frenching, second base meant touching, third base meant...well...it was better left unsaid. "You. Are. Insane."

However, Riku ignored her and focused on me. "We'll wager your skateboard tournament winnings. If you win, I double your money; if you lose, well..." he smirked, stabbing into a lettuce leaf with his flimsy plastic fork, "I take it all."

I took another bite of the burger, and started chewing thoughtfully. I had won the national championships for freestyle skateboarding just last week, and my winnings were enough to pay for my apartment for six months. So if Riku doubled it...I won't have to worry about rent for a year. I knew he'd do it, simply because he's filthy rich --- his parents own the largest chain of banks here in the mainland. It'll probably just cost him a week's allowance.

I, on the other hand, had an apartment to look after. I had been completely orphaned by the time I was five; my mom and sister died in a car crash where my father had been driving.Two days after my dad committed suicide, and left me on my own. I had been bounced from foster to foster home, and I didn't last a year through any of them. They claimed I was too difficult to handle.

Soon, everyone had started to give up on me. Even the orphanage director had given up. I was suddenly left to my own devices at the age of fifteen. I had an I.D forged and applied for work at a local café, pretending I was already eighteen. The proprietor didn't really care, as long as I worked hard. With the first few paychecks, and with the first few months I spent on the street, I managed to save enough to rent an apartment. I was worrying about the next months when I heard from a friend -- the one who dealt about the street happenings -- that there was a small skateboarding stint in one of the warehouses in the area. I took it as an opportunity to work off stress.

Well, it paid off: I was, unofficially, the youngest person to ever win the competition. It was an exhilarating feeling; to be able to stand proud with all the people cheering for you. It felt weird, honestly, after being passed to and fro for almost ten years. I felt that it was my rightful place.

I started joining every single skateboarding competition in the area, both for the thrill and the money. I had connections from my days spent wandering the streets --- they knew where the stints were. I started winning, and my street name, BHK --- short for Blonde-Haired Kid --- , was well on its way to becoming known as the epitome of skateboarding smarts, on the south part of the mainland.

I went back to school in the same year, with a full scholarship. I don't know how I did it, but blame it on one of the more recent families who had adopted me -- the Caraways. They had the largest private library in town, and since they banned me from using my skateboard, I had nothing else to do but read. I have a fondness for reading ever since. Just...I don't show it. It kind of ruins the image.

I finished high school with honors at 16, and I graduated with no friends, only acquaintances. My batchmates were much too intimidated by me and my bad-boy-with-insane-grades attitude.

It was a refreshing change once I set foot inside the mainland's university. Although small, not all of them knew my reputation, and therefore, I was able to make a close circle of friends. They weren't enough to fill the void of losing my family, but they were the closest thing to it.

When I wasn't studying, I was skateboarding, or working. Winnings or not, money will gradually slip away, so I continued to work at the local café. I had been working there for so long that all the patrons knew me by face --- in turn, I recognized who they were, and chatted them up a bit.

I continued to skateboard, and, in a twist of luck, managed to get into a prestigious and well-known contest. I won, and they sent me to the nationals. I won that one too, and then they sent me to the internationals. I placed second, but it was enough.

The winnings that Riku was referring to belonged to the most recent, which was my second national championship. Hm...I admit, if I lost the dare, I'd have to work overtime at the café all throughout the Christmas season, just to be able to get enough money pay for this and the next month's rent.

But I loved a challenge, so I grinned at Riku. "Sure," I said, licking my lips hungrily as I glanced over my shoulder, scanning the cafeteria in the off chance that she was here.

"She's over to your left, right near the silver tinsel," Riku pointed out. "Ah, this'll be a hard one, Hikari."

I gave him a smirk of my own, and turned back to observe Naminé.

Naminé Ivalice had earned herself a reputation of being an emo. What would she be if she wasn't? She had always been sighted sitting alone, with her sketchpad in front of her and a blank look in her eyes. She was hard to carry a conversation with, and she never really did anything to separate herself from the crowd. Her appearance did that for her.

She was now sitting, alone as usual, at one of the tables, with her flaxen hair looking windswept. Naminé was so pale she almost glowed, and in the blue plaid regulation uniform, she honestly looked dead. My stomach churned at the thought of getting to second base with this girl, but what the heck. If you double my winnings, that's a lot of money.

"Hmmm...I'll give you a month. How about it? The taped proof has to be in my hands before that."

"God, what are you thinking, Riku?" Kairi's best girlfriend, Selphie, growled, shooting the silver-haired boy a glare. "Just because we're one of the most well-known groups in the university doesn't mean that we can toy with someone just for fun!"

I cleared my throat, drawing Selphie's glare to me. "It isn't just for fun," I pointed out. "It's for money too!"

Riku leant back with a grin on his face and a challenge in his eyes. "Well, Roxas," he stuck out his hand, ignoring the girls' scandalized glares and Sora's indignant protests. "Have we got ourselves a deal?"

I wiped my hand on Tidus' pants -- who was unfortunate enough to sit beside me -- and shook his offered hand. "Deal."

Tidus chucked his fork at me. I ducked.

- x -

Luckily, I found out that Naminé had taken up similar subjects to mine. Her course was Multimedia Arts, while I was taking up Computer Science.

Later, in calculus class, I made my first move.

Now, Naminé almost always had at least one-seat distance between her and the other students. This made it easier for me. I did have only four weeks to get her to second base, and it didn't hurt to be careful.

Putting on my best smile, I heaved my backpack over my shoulder and walked over to her place by the window. "Uhm," I forced myself to sound as casual as possible, although bile was burning at the back of my throat at the thought of sitting next to such a repulsive girl. "Is this seat taken?"

Naminé turned from the window, and looked at me.

For a second, I swore I felt my heart skip a beat. We locked eye contact, and I had to admit, this was the first time I had really done so. It was creepy, the way she scrutinized me.

Finally she shook her head, and gestured to the seat. Heaving a sigh of relief, I collapsed into the chair and stared at the blackboard. This was insane. Really. But being the persevering BHK that I am, I racked my thoughts for a way to introduce myself. Not that I think she didn't know who I am, I mean, who doesn't?, but it was common courtesy to exchange names. And if I'm lucky, phone numbers.

The room fell quiet when the professor walked in, a quiet woman named Aerith Gainsborough, legendary for her impossible-to-pass midterms and finals. I had considered requesting for a change of classes, but it would be too much trouble to do so. I could always retake calculus, anyway.

I dug around in my bag for my notes, when an idea hit me.

"Argh," I muttered, shifting things in my backpack, trying to sound distressed instead of bursting into laughter. "Cripes. I forgot my notes."

I turned to Naminé. "Do you have notes for this class? Can we please share?"

She tilted her head thoughtfully, took out a small notebook from her binder, and handed it to me. Opening it and studying her precise handwriting, I ran a hand through my hair. "I'm Roxas, by the way. Roxas Hikari."

She reached over and tapped the front cover with a pale finger. Naminé Ivalice, it said, embossed in gold letters on the black cover. I started to wonder if she was mute or something, because this would be one hell of a lot harder if she was.

"Nice to meet you," I forced out, covering her pale hand with mine. It felt so cold it was a wonder I didn't pull away.

We remained like that for a few seconds before she pulled her hand back and started drawing once more, a slight but noticeable blush settling on her cheeks as she did.

I grinned triumphantly, and turned my attention back to the class, returning each and every look Miss Aerith sent my way with a smile.

- x -

I had no idea how, but news spread like wildfire that Roxas Hikari, skateboarding prodigy and university heartthrob, had begun courting Naminé Ivalice, an unknown girl with an emo attitude. Sure, people were suspicious, but I played along with the rumors, saying that I found my real love and all that jazz.

Everybody believed it. I think even Naminé did.

I had taken to smirking at Riku at every opportunity I could get. Kairi and Selphie were not talking to me, while Sora was trying the best as he could to make me drop the deal. He even offered to double my winnings himself; but I wouldn't hear any of it. I wanted to fling my victory into Riku's face and gloat about it.

Here I was, waiting at the main gate of our department's building -- Multimedia Arts and Computer Science were under the same domain -- for the flaxen-haired girl. I had taken it upon myself to walk her to every class I could, ignoring the urge to throw up as I did. Frighteningly enough, I had found out more about Naminé than the two years before. She loved to draw, she never let her sketchpad out of her sight, she liked iced coffee, and she was a bit of an obsessive-compulsive person. And many more things.

I looked up into the sky; it was about nine in the morning but it was still cloudy. It never snowed in our part of the world, but the weather made up for all that in coldness and more. And now that Christmas was approaching fast, it was colder than ever.

Our department had risen up to the university's challenge of decorating for Christmas. There was a seven-foot Christmas tree in the lobby, and twinkling lights were wound around it in massive amounts. Faux gifts were piled at the bottom, together with faux snow, which was really Styrofoam. Tinsel framed every window, and the hallways were lined with Christmas lights. Wreaths of everlasting leaves and holly were hung on every door. Even the security guards were dressed in a Santa suit. Unfortunately, with our guard's thin figure, Santa looked like he had been drastically malnourished.

I heard footsteps, and I whirled around to see Naminé coming towards me, sketchpad, as usual, clutched to her chest. She had a scarf wrapped around her neck, and her lips were paler than ever. Probably because of the cold.

Aha. Another prime opportunity.

I shrugged off my uniform's blazer and put it around her shoulders. I didn't let my arm drop, and I walked her to class with my arm tightly around her shoulders.

She blushed spectacularly, and I could almost hear Riku's groan of defeat.

- x -

"An iced coffee, a Coke, a Caesar salad, and a cheeseburger, please."

I dug around my pocket for some money, handed it to the lady behind the counter, and waited for her to get the food. Something nudged me in the shoulder, and it didn't surprise me what it was. Riku poked me in the shoulder again. He was next in line to me in the lunch line.

"So..." he said in a low voice, pushing the silver hair out of his eyes. "How's it going?"

I grinned.

He raised an eyebrow.

I took the food from the lady, and set it down on the tray I was holding. I took a straw and some paper napkins, unable to stop grinning. "Shorten the time to two weeks," I proposed, shooting him a look. "But you then double the current deal."

Riku looked at me disbelievingly. "Aww. Rox, I'm your friend, I don't want you to lose money, you know. Two weeks is awfully short."

"It can be your Christmas present to me," I replied, taking my change and counting it. Riku started ordering his food.

"You sure?"

"Yep."

He smirked deviously. "You just amended our deal, Roxas."

I took the tray, and, balancing it on one hand, waved dismissively at him with the other. "Be prepared to lose, Riku."

I scanned around the cafeteria for Naminé, and sure enough, I found her where I left her, right near the silver tinsel where I first saw her pitiful figure. She looked up at me as I sat down across her, and she smiled shyly as I handed her the food. As customary she started digging around her bag, presumably for money to pay me, but I shook my head. The lunch I brought her everyday would be nothing compared to the money Riku would soon owe me.

"Nah, s'okay," I said thickly, biting into my food. "Anything for you, Nam."

Heck, I was calling her by a nickname already. It sent shivers down my spine.

"Thank you," she said quietly but clearly, and I almost choked on my burger. I was prone to doing that, it seemed. But it was the first time she had spoken two words one after the other spontaneously. The other times she'd just nod or shake her head; it was always a one-sided conversation whenever I was with her. I was irked at first, but soon enough, I was grateful for the silence. The silence made it easier for me to concentrate on not dumping her right then and there.

"Uh..." I trailed off, not knowing what to say.

She opened her sketchbook and carefully tore out a page, and slid the sheet across the table to me.

Luckily I had swallowed what I had bitten off; if not, I really would have choked.

Naminé had drawn my portrait, and she had captured my usual brooding expression as easily as a photograph would have. It was expertly drawn in charcoal. What struck me was the care and precision she took in doing so. From afar, it would have been mistaken for a black-and-white photograph.

She started eating her salad in silence, the small smile still on her lips.

I carefully slipped the portrait into an envelope and tucked it inside my bag, forcing a smile and a thank you. I made sure to squeeze her hand as I did. But in my head, I was mentally grimacing.

I stared at her as she paused between bites to stare out the window. Soft golden sunlight was filtering through the windowpane, making her visage almost warm. Our eyes met, and for the first time, I was struck by how haunted her cerulean blue eyes looked.

I mentally grimaced once more, thinking that for once, since this entire bet started, I had never thought of how she would've felt.

x -

there. Now, feed me with REVIEWS.

To meh dearest reviewers, who are kinda pissed at me right now 'cause I hadn't posted in so long... SO SORRY.

Yesh. I shall try to update.

Flamers can go ahead.