Last Christmas

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"Last Christmas, I gave you my heart
but the very next day
you gave it away.
This year, to save me from tears
I'll give it to someone special…"

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It was mid winter. A gentle snow was falling, sprinkling the normally dry, dusty and bumpy roads white, frosting windows around the edges and bringing wool scarves and mittens smelling of mothballs and must from the top shelf of the closet.

Lanterns along the streets came on earlier, smearing in the fog like oil paintings in water, fulfilling the Nebilheim Christmas card appearance it acquired with wreaths and holly on door fronts, toys in shop windows and an enormous pine tree dressed in twinkling lights, glass balls and glittering tinsel.

He hated this time of year. Not because of the crowds -- though they were no picnic -- or the cold or the snow or the incessant "fa la la la la" drifting above hollow bells and laughter. It was the significant misstep in his otherwise decorous appearance. Pressed suits were replaced with heavy jackets and light switches became feared foes. Even his footprints came haphazard and daubed in the snow.

He didn't know where his wits had gone.

At the end of the street, carollers swarmed around the door of a little shop, absorbing the warmth that funnelled out, sipping their hot cocoas over leather-bound folders. The elderly man inside, too frail for this weather, clapped his hands in rhythm, maybe his foot was tapping too -- Vincent couldn't see.

When they finished their final tune, receiving a handful of worthless change in their upturned hats, they wandered away and he came closer, leaning in to the window to watch a small train chug around the tracks, blowing its little whistle.

His eyes, with their bizarre festive colour, jumped from item to item, evaluating the significance of each one, and imagining the expression that was to be worn on the receiver's face, before his own dropped upon discovering the price was two times a year's salary.

The train continued along its plastic track, passed cheap ceramic coffee mugs and frightening looking clown figurines, passed fuzzy bears with red ribbons around their necks and dolls that said, "Mama!" when you pulled the string coming from their back.

On the other side of the glass, the elderly man caught his eye, followed his gaze as scarlet as his cheeks, and nodded slowly. Vincent bit back a smile as his would be present was plucked from its spot between a tacky frame and leather gloves.

She would love it. He hoped.

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His breath formed clouds of white, drifting heavenwards, settling as droplets in his lashes until it was painful to blink.

His ears pricked up, catching the faint crinkle of shoes in the snow. He half-turned and watched a shadow emerge from the fog, squirming and bubbling until it acquired a petite form with long legs and arms and a round head with hair cut short and large eyes. Her chin was swallowed by a thick scarf and on her hands were swimming in gloves the size of oven mitts.

"Vincent Valentine." She said his name like a computer.

"Everyone's inside, aren't they?"

She nodded. Slow. Mechanical. Like him. "Miss Kisaragi is complaining. They are waiting for you to return before they open the presents." Her head tilted slightly. "Is that for Lucrecia?"

His dark brows disappeared beneath his headband and his golden fingers scraped together chillingly. "No."

"Who is it for, then?" Her icy eyes settled on the ring and her nose scrunched at the thought of the young ninja bouncing around in a fit of excitement, waving the ring in front of everyone's face like it was a Sierra full of materia all for her.

In a flurry of scarlet and white, he walked beside her and a rush of warmth came to her cheeks.

"Merry Christmas," he murmured, his lips on her skin.

Her vision clouded. "This is not your character."

"No, it's not." His shoulders rolled. "Maybe it's the cold."

Shelke smiled her foreign smile. "Maybe I'm too much like her."

Though impossible, his voice seemed to deepen more. "Maybe."

The diamond on her mitt sparkled like the starry sky above. "I don't mind though."

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Disclaimer: All characters are property of Tetsuya Nomura and Square Enix.