Ehi.

i thought about this story while riding around the university at nine in the evening.

and seeing all them latenight-lovebirds under the stars.

it's amazing, i tell ya.

Kingdom Hearts (c) Square Enix

(A Christmas Cliché)

V: 'twas the night before Christmas

- x -

For the first time since I could remember, I was happy during the Christmas holidays.

I no longer felt the loneliness that had come to haunt me every single time December rolled around. During the day I poured myself into work at the café; I went out of my way to make the patrons happy. Yuffie and my other co-workers were constantly asking me about what miracle had come over me, that I was no longer the brooding, surly Roxas they had come to dread when the holidays came.

I just shrugged off their prying with a grin, or sometimes, when Yuffie's taunting grew a bit too much, I 'accidentally' spilled scalding hot coffee all over her apron.

Riku and the others would show up at Clare and Bonné's with alarming regularity. They'd joke around even more, thus resulting in even more 'accidents'. We arranged for a get-together on Christmas Day itself, at my apartment. I still hadn't gotten around to decorating it, nor did I have any plan of doing so. I believed in the saying 'What you see is what you get', anyway.

Except for Naminé. I spent every night with her, at the fountain, talking about college life and just plain living in general, talking until around midnight. I had to leave before then, because the last bus home came by before twelve, and the next bus was at five the next morning. I'd get on the bus and leave her alone, sitting on the fountain's rim as she played with the water.

I asked her why she was spending her nights at the park, when she could be cozy and warm inside her home, but she only replied with a simple, "I like the fountain more." I didn't question her reasoning.

Today was the 23rd of December, and I had the next two days off from my job at the café. I planned on asking her if I could spend the day with her, but I was uncomfortable with the thought. I mean, we had only truly become friends three days ago, but now I knew more about her than I did during the past two years. We were not only acquaintances now, but friends. I like her, I really do. Once you break down her defenses, she was a good companion.

"Nam," I called, walking up to her. She turned around from stirring the fountain water with a finger, and smiled.

"Rox," Naminé greeted back, looking up at me. "Ah, you're quite early tonight. It's only eight in the evening."

I scratched my head sheepishly, and took my usual place next to her. "The café let me off early. Besides, I'd rather spend time here with you than at work."

A beautifully innocent blush spread through her cheeks, and she shyly looked down at her feet. "Truly?"

I had to laugh at the formalness of her word. "Madly, deeply, do."

"Roxas!" she said indignantly, surprising me by taking a playful swipe at my head.

"Fine, fine! Really!" I laughed, fending her hand off and taking it in my own. Ignoring the surprised sound she made, I cradled her hand in one of my own and traced her palm with the other. "Are you cold?" I asked her concernedly, looking at her. " 'Cause your hand is like ice."

She immediately withdrew her hand, and I cringed. "It doesn't matter."

"It does matter, Naminé!" I argued, this time taking both her hands in mine and breathing on them to somehow warm her fingers up. "I care about you, okay!"

She fell silent, but she didn't remove her hands from mine. I continued rubbing her pale fingers in between mine, smiling slightly at the contented sigh she gave out.

We remained that way for a while. I didn't really keep track. It might've been a few minutes or a few hours, I couldn't tell. All I knew was that her hands were in mine and that she was happy. I was happy. It was all that mattered, on this frigid December night with 'Jingle Bells' tinkling in the air.

"Roxas...?" her voice cut softly through the still night, and her eyes briefly flashed upwards towards mine. "Don't you have someone else to spend Christmas with?"

I choked on my own spit. I just realized I had never told her anything about my ilustrious past, and her father had not told her anything either. Looking away and fighting the lump in my throat, I let go of her hands and started twiddling my thumbs. "I live alone."

"This isn't your hometown?"

"My family's been long dead."

Uncomfortable silence hung between us for a while, before she hesitantly took my hand in her own. I blinked, and shot a curious look at her.

"It's cold," she said simply, as if that would settle the matter.

And it did. Silence fell on us again, but this time, it was the type of silence that spoke volumes --- it spoke of familiarity and comfort and most of all, happiness.

"What about you?" I found myself asking. "How are you going to go about this Christmas business?"

To my surprise, a faint smile curved her lips, and she tilted her head thoughtfully. "My parents are going to be with me," she said softly. Although it wasn't markedly loud, I could discern the joy in her voice.

Depressed as I was over the absence of my own parents, I couldn't bring her happy mood down. "Congratulations," I said teasingly, squeezing her fingers. Suddenly, a thought occured to me, and I sat straight up, impulsively letting go of her hand. I cringed as she drew back, surprised at my action.

She peered at me, drawing her cardigan around herself. "Roxas? Is something wrong?" she asked in her now-familiar quiet voice.

"Naminé..." I settled my gaze on her. "What you said last week...about Christmas break? Are..." I paused, trying to ignore the lump stuck in my throat. "Are you really moving back?"

She bit her lip, and tears started shimmering in her eyes. She bowed her head so that her hair flounced forward, hiding her face from view. I could see that she had started trembling, and one didn't need to be a genius to find out what the answer was.

Wordlessly, I wrapped my arms around her shoulders and drew her closer to me, trying to ignore the stinging cold when the night air met my own warm tears.

- x -

I have a problem.

When I woke up this morning, with the date on my cellphone proclaiming it was only one day before Christmas, the first coherent thought that came to mind was that I had fallen in love.

With Naminé.

Fate sure liked to screw my life up.

Now I had resorted to cleaning up my apartment, trying to get the nagging feeling off my mind. I was so bothered that I even started putting up Christmas decorations, something that I had never done before in my entire life. Christmas was never a huge event in my vocabulary, but I somehow felt...inspired.

I had been halfway through getting the Christmas tree I bought through my door when the faint melody of 'Jingle Bells' rang throughout the apartment. I promptly let the tree go -- and stubbed my toe in the process -- and started patting my pockets for my cellphone.

Yes. That melody was my ringing tone. It had a lot of fond memories. Never mind if it ruined the skater-boy image.

I flipped my phone open and cradled it between my ear and shoulder, trying to move the tree again. "Hello?"

"Hey, Roxas!" Sora's exuberant greeting almost shattered my eardrum. I stubbed another toe against the doorframe, and mentally cursed the brunet for being so loud.

"Somebody's happy," I muttered.

"Of course!" He somehow missed the sarcasm. "Now, with that grouchy mood of yours, I, on behalf of your dearly beloved friends--shut up Riku--" Heckling could be heard in the background, "I'd just like to remind you that it's your place we're crashing tomorrow for Christmas."

I rolled my eyes, finally managing to heave the tree through and stand it in the nearest corner. "How could I forget? You reminded me every single day in the café, dork."

"Very good," he said approvingly. "You take care of drinks, and we'll take care of the rest. Oh yeah, Riku and Tidus will stop by your place later and set up a tree--"

"No need," I cut in, staring disdainfully at the rips on the white carpet that my dragging had done. "I've already got one, and---"

"You what? Did I hear right? You, Roxas-the-Grinch, actually went and got a Christmas tree?"

"No, I just oh-so-wanted to have a pine tree coatrack in my apartment." I stepped backwards, trying to see if the tree was in the right position. "I'm turning into an interior designer."

An enthusiastic squeal shrieked through the connection, and I backed away so fast I tripped over one of the randomly-stacked boxes of Christmas balls.

"Cripes, Sora, was that you?" I winced in disbelief, the sight of rolling around baubles of shiny plastic crowding my vision. I started crawling around, trying to retrieve them before they got out of hand.

Another squeal. I hit my head under the table where one of the balls rolled into.

"I'm talking to you when you're coherent," I stifled a curse, before snapping my phone shut and throwing it over my shoulder. It hit the carpet soundlessly, and I turned back my attention to retrieving the ornament. My eyebrows furrowed; it had been stopped in its tracks by a rather large plastic bag, from which gifts were sprawled out.

My eyed widened; I had completely forgotten about the gifts. Sora would probably kill me with happiness once he found out I actually went and bought gifts, instead of giving out money like I usually did. Completely forgoing the scattered-ornaments-issue, I rummaged through the plastic bag and carefully arranged each gift at the base of my newly-dragged-in Christmas tree.

I had nestled Riku's gift right between Tidus' and Kairi's when I found myself with an extra jewelry box. Curious, I flipped it open, and a silver ring with a crystal the color of the sea stared back at me.

A smile spread across my face as I shut it closed, and slid it into my pocket.

I'm going to give it to her tonight.

- x -

Naminé wasn't there at the fountain when I had arrived.

As I slumped dejectedly into one of the benches, I figured out that she had probably been busy packing up her things. She did say she would be moving back to London during Christmas break; who was I to assume that she'd be spending her Christmas here?

I tugged the zipper of my jacket upwards as the evening breeze blew my way, ruffling my hair and cooling my ears to the point of discomfort.

She could've called me, or something.

But then again, was she under any obligation to do that? After all that I had done, it was a miracle that she had forgiven me so quickly. Now that I thought about it, she probably still hoarded a grudge against me.

I just wish I could've given her the ring.

I drew out the white velvet box from my pocket and snapped it open, patting the crystal gingerly with one cold finger. And I made a decision right then and there. I would give it to her, whatever it took. Even if I had to follow her all the way to London just to be able to do so.

I felt a determined smile tug at the corner of my lips.

'Jingle Bells' filtered through the night air, and I blinked. I shoved my hands into my pockets and searched for my cellphone, before realizing I didn't bring it. Furrowing my eyebrows, I got to my feet and whirled around, searching for the source of the melody.

It was coming from behind the fountain. I followed it, trying to discern the direction.

I stopped right at the edge of the street bordering the park; and I found out where it was coming from. A small speaker had been mounted beside the large double doors of the white multi-storeyed building across the street. I chuckled to myself; who would've thought that such a large, cold building could look so warm and homely during Christmas?

A bit like me...who would've thought that Roxas-the-Grinch could become so warm during the season he once hated the most?

Love...I thought, staring upwards and admiring the arrays of twinkling lights arranged painstakingly around each and every window.

I choked on my own spit and staggered backwards when I realized what building this exactly was.

St. Bevelle's General Hospital, neon lights announced in large, twinkling letters.

- x -

Swallowing nervously, I pushed my way through the double doors of the hospital. Even the sterile hallways were decorated with holly and tinsel; the personnel sported red Santa hats. I knew how hard it was for them to be away from their families this Christmas Eve, and I greatly admired how they still managed to keep the smiles on their faces.

It was at times like this that I almost considered myself lucky for getting used to living alone for so long.

Some of the nurses were regulars at Clare and Bonné's, and they greeted me enthusiastically when I passed them. I waved and wished them a Merry Christmas back.

I approached the receptionist's desk, and I did a double take. My calculus professor, brunette Miss Aerith, was adjusting one of the green garlands of everlasting leaves on the wall behind the counter. My gym teacher, spiky-haired Sir Cloud, was seated on one of the waiting chairs nearest to the counter and sipping from a mug, newspaper hiding his face from view.

"Ah," I managed to splutter. They both looked into my direction, and they both blushed crimson.

"Good evening, Roxas," Aerith said pleasantly, walking towards me and taking out a clipboard from a table. "What can I do for you?"

"Don't ask," Cloud said gruffly, slurping up what disturbingly looked like hot-chocolate-drenched marshmallows. "Aerith's filling in for a friend."

I opened my mouth to tell him I wasn't going to ask anyway, but Aerith cut me off. "And Cloud's keeping me company," she beamed, clasping her hands as much as her clipboard could allow. "Isn't he a sweetheart?"

Cloud choked on a marshmallow.

I stifled a laugh as a blush settled on his cheeks, and turned instead to Aerith, who had on one of her secret-smiles. "Uh..." I trailed off, realizing that I really didn't have anything to do here. Heck, I was supposed to be figuring out how I'd follow Naminé. "By any chance, did someone with the surname Ivalice sign in the log today?" I asked, at a loss of anything else to say.

She tilted her head thoughtfully, before walking to one side and flipping a rather thick book open. "Wait, let me check..."

I was observing how the Santa hat managed to hang off Cloud's head when she finally spoke up. "Here!" she tapped her pen against the ruled lines of the logbook. "A Mrs. Eden Ivalice, escorted by Dr. Alexander Ivalice, signed in at around six in the evening."

"What?" I blinked, and reached over the counter, twisting the book slightly so that I could see it. Sure enough, in precise handwriting, was what Aerith had just read out.

I felt my heart turn over, and I released the book with shaky hands. "W-what room is it?"

"537. Left wing, ICU's."

That was all I needed to know before I spun around on my heels and sprinted in the direction of the nearest flight of stairs, ignoring Cloud's yells about me, overexertion, and asthma.

- x -

"534...535...536..." I slowed to a stop and slumped against the wall, wheezing uncontrollably as I did. I fumbled for my inhaler and took in two grateful puffs, trying to blink away the spots dancing before my eyes.

Footsteps pounded in my ears, and I looked up just in time to see Dr. Ivalice walk out of room 537 and look around, a tired expression on his face. He noted my presence with mild surprise, and he extended a hand to help me up.

I took his hand and pulled myself to my shaky feet, but I still had to lean on the wall for support. Running up five flights of stairs and two wings was not a good thing for an asthmatic to do.

"Roxas," he said, folding his hands and walking to lean on the wall besides me. I flinched, but stood my ground.

"Dr. Ivalice, where's ---"

"My daughter has lung cancer, Roxas."

I froze, and disbelievingly raised my gaze to stare into Dr. Ivalice's eyes. I just noticed how fine the wrinkles were around his blue orbs, and I realized they were wrinkles of worry and exhaustion. My mouth worked soundlessly; my voice had died in my throat. All I could do was gape at the man.

"She...Naminé..." he hesitated, and closed his eyes, "I may not specialize in cancer, but I know when to believe a fellow doctor. We had been giving her chemotherapy, but the cancer itself had grown immune to the treatment around six months ago." He swallowed, and a small tear escaped from the edge of his eye, "She had resigned herself to her fate, and gave the permission to stop treatment. She wanted to live the most normal semblance of life she could..."

I made a dry choking noise, and sank to my knees.

"She had been given only a week to live when December started," Dr. Ivalice sighed, giving me a wan smile. "But thanks to you, she had been able to hold onto life for just a little while longer."

"To...me?" I stammered.

"Yes..." he replied distantly, getting off the wall and clapping me on the shoulder. "I have never seen my daughter so happy. She has developed a habit of keeping to herself, after all these years of being asthmatic...and then lung cancer. Naminé had finally begun to break down her defenses. I am glad. It wasn't too late."

"Oh God," I put my face in my hands, trying to minimize the cracking of my voice.

"Thank you, Roxas Hikari," Dr. Ivalice's voice said brokenly, and I didn't need to raise my head up to see that he was crying. "This is the best Christmas present I had ever recieved: to see my daughter happy."

Footsteps pounded on the tiled floors once more, and I struggled to my feet and followed him inside.

A woman I assumed was her mother, with the same flaxen hair and porcelain skin, regarded me with wan grey eyes as I walked inside. The room itself was rather spacious; probably the best one money can buy. After all, the Ivalice family was rich, that much I could tell.

It might be big, but the furniture was sparse; most of the room had been taken up by various machinery, which were silent. No numbers on the panels, no blinking lights and illuminated buttons. They stood at the side of the room, blocking the curtains, like silent stewards watching over the frail girl lying cushioned on the white bed.

I silently walked over to the bed, and everything came crashing over my head.

Naminé had been so pale because the cancer had leeched the color out of her. Her hair was choppy and stuck out at rather unusual angles because it had been growing out from the chemotherapy. She had always spoken in such a quiet voice because she didn't have the strength to speak so loudly anymore.

I noticed that the sky-blue cardigan she had worn the nights before were now draped at the foot of her bed.

I suddenly realized that the reason why she had not gone to college on the last day, and why she had not been at home the following days, was because she had fallen so ill she had to be confined.

The park, with its majestic fountain, was just across the hospital. Naminé wasn't wearing a white dress under her cardigan; she was wearing a hospital gown.

The sad smile on the maid's face, the quick show of teeth on the limousine driver's...they all knew. This was why her parents were with her during the holidays this year.

And when I asked her if she was going to move back...she just couldn't tell me. She just couldn't tell me that she wasn't sure that she was going to survive the Christmas season.

She just couldn't tell me that she was dying and there was nothing I could do about it.

Silently, I sat on the chair beside her bed, took out the silver ring from my pocket, and slid it onto one of her still-lithe fingers.

And right there, beside the girl I had fallen in love with, I broke down and cried.

- x -

Somewhere, in Twilight Town, a deep, resonating toll of a bell sounded. I snapped my eyes open, and I realized I had cried myself to sleep.

(two chimes)

I glanced at the clock on the far wall. It was exactly midnight, and in ten more chimes, it would be Christmas.

(three chimes)

I softly squeezed Naminé's hand, and I took in a sharp intake of breath when I saw it. On my own hand, on my ring finger, was a silver ring, with a cerulean blue crystal set into it. I blinked rapidly, and withdrew my hand, wondering why Naminé would refuse my---

(a chime)

She was still wearing the ring I gave her.

(three more chimes)

I stared at her face, and I tried to bite back tears (chime) when it struck me that she had been the other one who brought the half of the eternity rings. And she gave it to me, an endless circle symbolizing union and friendship and for me, love.

(another chime)

I placed my hand over hers, hoping that the warmth of mine would ease the coldness of hers.

(one last chime)

She took a deep breath, and her eyes fluttered open. Naminé smiled at me, her familiar half-smile, and she pressed her hand against mine, failing at her attempt to curl her fingers around my own.

"Merry Christmas," she whispered weakly, "Roxas."

"Merry Christmas too," I shifted closer, smoothed away stray locks of her hair, and placed a chaste kiss on her forehead. "Naminé."

When I drew back, she was no longer breathing.

I still held her hand, continuing to smooth away stray strands from her face. I tried to swallow my tears; I tried not to cry, but I couldn't take it. I couldn't keep it all in my chest like she had. I wasn't strong enough.

I clasped her hand in both of my own and brought it up to my face, tears stinging my cheeks and regret stabbing through my heart relentlessly. I wanted to release all of the pent-up emotion, I just wanted to let go, I just wanted to---

I started wheezing. My lungs screamed for air, but everytime I drew in a pained breath, it felt like glass shards were rattling around in my chest. It was painful, it was excruciating, it felt like hell.

I fumbled around in pocket for my inhaler.

-wheeze-

The tips of my fingers brushed against the cool plastic of my inhaler, and a small smile spread across my face.

I withdrew my hand and clasped hers instead, gazing at her pallid face, for which, in all the world, she just could've been asleep. I slumped down, and pillowed my head on my arms, my vision darkening as the wheezing slowed.

And then, the wheezing quieted, and everything faded away into black.

- fin -

- Merry Christmas -

- x -

it's weird, i know. but this was originally intended as a horrifically long one-shot.

it was 37 pages on word!

and no touchie the plot. i'm planning to publish it someday.

read&review.

i'll get back to you.

to the readers of my other two stories...Soaring on Broken Wings,

and Questioning...

next update shall most probably be next year.

happy holidays. and a grand new year too.