[December Thirty-First]

A/N: This is it. The final chapter. I've worked a bit on this one, and once it was all said and done (there are three holidays) I believe it may be the longest chapter I've ever written for a fic. It clocked in around 5,500ish words. A lovely chapter if I do say so myself.

I just wanted to take a moment to thank everyone who ever read this. Regardless of whether you reviewed (though those of you who do review know how much I love you!) and regardless of anything else, by clicking on this fic and reading even a section you've made part of my goal possible. This past year with this fic has been a crazy journey, and I know I've admitted to more than a few of you that I wasn't sure I was going to make it. Well, I did - and if you're here, so did you. I know I've improved as a writer over this past year, and I feel I've learned some valuable lessons as a person as well. It's been a wonderful, crazy ride for this fic and though next year's won't be nearly as obnoxious I'm looking forward to it as well. (10 Things I Know About You will be posted tomorrow, or perhaps site!midnight. We'll see. A possible updated-whenever-my-muse-strikes fic called A Day in the Life Of which would just detail small happenings in characters lives may be put up to.)

So now, whether it's already 2010 yet (how's the future, by the way?) or not, sit back and enjoy whatever wrap-ups (and new ideas? Oh no...) I have presented in the final chapter - 400! - of Every Day is a Holiday. I'd really, really appreciate it.

//Make Up Your Mind Day//

Ohtori Choutarou sat. The room was silent, bar the light tap of keys from his conductor across the room. Though they were on holiday, Suzuki-sensei has called him in to discuss the recent developments in his future.

Ohtori had known, of course, that his teacher was sending out recordings of him. He wasn't that thick after all, and a quick question to Oshitari (though he had blushed and apologized profusely for asking such a 'silly thing' when he'd questioned) was all it took to clear up any denial that he was, in fact, being both presented and scouted.

Ohtori looked down at the papers, pamphlets, brochures, and letters scattered on two music stands he'd pushed together. It was a mind-boggling array of information, the type of thing that held everything he'd ever dreamed of and more.

Sitting in front of him on those stands were copies of the tapes that had been given out for pre-screenings. Each one matched up to the school they'd been submitted to – Toho Gakuen School of Music, Tokyo College of Music, Royal Academy of Music, Le Conservatoire de Paris, Manhattan School of Music, The Curtis Institute of Music, Juilliard School – and the letters from each of those schools.

They were all acceptance letters.

Every single one of them, or at least as acceptance of a letter as one could get without going in for a live audition. He was being offered the chance here, by all of them, though he hadn't asked to be and now he was stuck half having a panic attack because he couldn't decide which of the fabulous schools he wanted to attend.

"Ohtori-kun?" Suzuki-sensei's voice was quiet, much like his disposition when he wasn't conducting – a cool, calm exterior that blended in perfectly with the rest of the Hyotei hierarchy until his rehearsal space was threatened, his program was on the brink of being cut, and then he poured all of his soul and energy into keeping it together. He was, without a doubt, Ohtori's favorite teacher at the school, a quietly bundled person with a flaming passion that Ohtori yearned to follow. "Sorry to interrupt, but it seems perhaps you're in need of guidance?" Ohtori blushed a deep scarlet but nodded, for it was true, and Suzuki-sensei pulled up a chair and sat down next to him.

"Obviously the first decision you'll have to make is whether or not staying in-country matters to you. While Japan has some fine programs – I myself studied at Toho and I can say that my alma mater is nothing less than fine – one cannot deny, as both a musician and an educator, that there are finer choices out there. Finer choices in which you are being given the opportunity to audition for, should you choose to do so." Suzuki-sensei sat next to him, looking expectantly, but his gaze was not pressuring as it could have been. They remained engulfed in silence for a few minutes as Ohtori sat, mind reeling. The teen spoke.

"I… I think, sensei," he began softly, "that I would most definitely be open to a school abroad. Monetary issues should not arise, and while my English is a bit shaky it's… it's not bad." Ohtori looked up from where he was studying his knees to see the man smile.

"Good to hear, Ohtori-kun." The crinkle of delight at the corner of the old man's eyes was reassuring. "Do you have a certain one of the schools here in mind or would you like me to discuss each of them with you? I've been told it can be highly beneficial to organize a list comparing the pros and cons of each school." Ohtori shrugged slightly, blush rising again as he studied the brochures in front of him.

"I think… I think the… The… erm, Le Conservatoire de Paris" – the words rolled awkwardly around Ohtori's tongue, not used to the language though he was making an attempt, and his blush deepened – "is out, because I know little to no French." (And there was a part of him feeling increasingly guilty for dropping the language in order to pursue tennis when he was in his last year of elementary school.)

"Of course." Suzuki-sensei nodded in understanding. "That leaves us with the choice of either an American conservatoire or an English one. Do you have a preference?" Ohtori shook his head more firmly this time, feeling a bit more steady on his proverbial feet. Despite his unsure answer, Ohtori's eyes were fixed on the Juilliard brochure. Suzuki-sensei chuckled.

"While I'm quite aware of the acclaim The Royal Academy of Music has, I think we both know the excess travel time would bit a bit of a waste." The man chuckled again, but it was the type of warm sound that an experienced educator gave at the joy of having watched a student mature and achieve a goal. "Shall I respond to both Juilliard and Curtis, then?" Ohtori gave a mute nod. "Good then. Enjoy your holiday, I'll contact you and your family via telephone in order to determine when auditions are best to be scheduled as well as to discuss other key details with your parents." Suzuki-sensei stood, handing him the brochures for both Juilliard and Curtis before heading back to his desk to finish up some work. Ohtori stood, giving a polite bow before exiting the music room.

Feet clicked down the silent hallways as Ohtori made his way through the labyrinth of halls known as Hyotei in order to walk home. The school held none of the vivacity it did during the day when students wandered the halls, bragging about their new car despite the fact that most of them couldn't drive or studying frantically for a test because they'd been out all night partying. Instead the coolness of the marble and other fine building materials permeated the air, a type of solitude that was not all together unpleasant wafting around the building in a more proper, formal way. Overall the feeling was professional: it may have been a high school, but it was preparing its students to go somewhere, and that was what was truly import.

As Ohtori Choutarou stepped outside the building he took a deep breath, inhaling the cool winter air not too unlike that inside, he gave a small smile.

It was Make Up Your Mind Day, and he had just made up his mind – on something all together life changing!


//Unlucky Day//

"No is not an option." Though the declaration was firm, Akutagawa Jiroh's tone was soft. He sat next to the displeased heir to the Atobe fortune on the lavish bed he had spent many a night in. Atobe did not meet his caring gaze.

"No," the teen repeated. Jiroh sighed, dropping his head to his hands in frustration.

"We've already been over this three times, Keigo!" Jiroh half-yelled in exasperation. "Your father has even agreed to it. It's happening."

"Ore-sama does not care; Ore-sama will take whatever measures necessary to make sure it does not." At the cold, stilted reply, Jiroh snorted.

"With what? The accounts you've had frozen?" Atobe's body stiffened but he sat upright, determined to keep his act together. Jiroh continued, voice the type of sarcastic that was usually only heard from Shishido or Gakuto. "Like I said before – all of your accounts have been frozen. You're a minor. And you and I both know you've never bothered to keep more than a few thousand yen in cash around the house."

"The answer is no." This time Jiroh could hear the trepidation in Atobe's voice, the fear that this really was going to happen, because when Atobe-sama even agreed to something, well… it happened.

"Keigo." Jiroh was outright pleading now, and not ashamed: he wanted Atobe to be able to make this choice by himself without being unnecessarily forced into it. While Jiroh wasn't an official Atobe, the entire house staff knew about this decision (they had been informed not to favor the young master Atobe under any circumstance by Atobe-sama) and most of them supported both it, and Jiroh along with it. "Please, please go along with this. Don't make it more painful then it has to be. Don't make me check you into an in-patient facility."

This time Atobe physically scooted away, increasing the distance between them by a good few feet. Jiroh's face fell, dejected, and hands made a soft noise as they fell to hit the bed.

"O-O-re-sama p-politely refuses." There was a stumble in Atobe's voice, something so unusual Jiroh's eyes practically shot open, because it meant that Atobe was crying.

"Keigo." This time the word – the name – was tender, filled with as much love and care as Jiroh could put into it. Lithe yet strong arms that could only belong to a sports-loving teenager wrapped themselves around Atobe's, and the heir's head fell sideways, landing on Jiroh's shoulders. Droplets of water that Jiroh knew were tears left small dark splotches on the strawberry blonde's properly pressed shirt.

The last say of the name had done it: Atobe cracked. His hands shook violently where they rested in his lap as sobs silently wracked his body. He made no sound, as he had been trained to do at a young age. For once he let everything down, the mask he had worked so hard to mold and perfect over the years laying beside him cracked and useless. Jiroh rubbed reassuring circle's on the other teen's back, sending a single silent prayer to whatever kami was watching over the both of them at the moment for making Atobe listen.

The Atobe heir sat up more straightly, shoulders pulled back as he wiped the last of the tears he would let be shone from his face. Jiroh nodded, standing and offering his hand to Atobe. The boy took it – something he normally would not – and surveyed himself in the mirror to make sure was presentable (he had to straighten his shirt collar once) before nodding. The pair headed out the door of Atobe's bedroom, down the elaborately decorated hallway and down the marble stair case that – despite having been there for years – showed no sign of wear. Atobe paused for a second or two only in order to run his hand down the ornately carved banister, before heading out the front door and to the waiting car, Jiroh accompanying. The feeling of the banister under his fingers still lingered, and though he would be back – soon – there was still the feeling that something was changing, that the next time his perfectly sculpted fingers traced the familiar carvings something would be different.

Hopefully, something would.

Because it was Unlucky Day, and Fate had decided that he was going to be checked into an outpatient treatment program for both a shopping and a work addiction.


//New Year's Eve//

"Youth is when you're allowed to stay up late on New Year's Eve. Middle age is when you're forced to." --Bill Vaughan

"Do you think it's dead yet?" Kirihara Akaya asked, looking out the kitchen window. He sipped a mug of hot cocoa eagerly, burning his tongue in the process but not caring. A few moments later Yukimura Seiichi joined him at the window, looking outwards toward the tree they had planted earlier that year.

"Not dead, unfortunately," the captain said with a sigh. "It's probably just dormant for the winter months."

"Well… do ya think we could get an army of squirrels to kill it or something?" Yukimura shook his head in response to the question.

"Even if we did manage to find an army of squirrels and get them to cooperate with us, chances are they would probably accidentally harm the flowers Shizuka and I plant every year." Akaya gave a half-glare.

"You're going to let this evil tree dominate our lives simply because you don't want any harm done to your flowers?! It's… it's an outrage! A scandal! A...

"What comes next?" Akaya asked, puzzled as he attempted to finish the quote. Yukimura laughed, shifting his mug to his other hand so he could more easily lean over and peck Akaya on the cheek.

"Nothing; the quote is finished after that."

"Oh. Right." Akaya shrugged. "I still say the stupid tree needs to go. You said so yourself – it's evil!"

"And it hasn't bugged us for the past few months because all of its leaves fell off and it went into hibernation," Yukimura reminded, laughter in his voice. "Don't bother it yet."

"Next year?" Akaya asked, hopeful. Yukimura laughed again, his voice light and melodious.

"I'll make it a resolution," Yukimura assured him, blatantly ignoring the fact that those were never met. "Now can we go enjoy New Year's Eve in a proper way aside from planning the death of arborous foliage?

"The new year begins in a snow-storm of white vows." --George William Curtis

"You promise you'll call?" Tezuka nodded. Fuji fidgeted, fixing the collar on Tezuka's polo despite the fact that the teen would don another one once he landed because the flight was long enough for him to need to change clothes. "And you'll eat properly?"

"Hn."

"You'll get enough rest?" Another nod. "And you'll make sure not to stress your elbow or shoulder too much if they're beginning to hurt?"

A pause. "Hn."

"Or your wrist, too, right? I've seen the way you rub it – if it starts hurting you promise me you'll get it checked out right away?" Another pause, slightly longer than the last one.

"Hn."

"Promise me?"

"Yes." It was an actual word this time, though still monosyllabic in nature, and Fuji sighed. He looked out the large glass window behind Tezuka, fingers still entwined with the other teen's. He watched a plane land in the distance and his instincts told him that was the one Tezuka would be boarding in the next twenty minutes or so – it just needed to dock and let its other passengers off, before Tezuka and others headed for Germany, toward a training facility not far from where Tezuka had once gone through intense physical therapy.

"And you'll-"

"Fuji." The use of the last name meant serious business, and the tensai sighed again. He opened his eyes, looking straight at Tezuka before melting against him.

"I'll miss you," Fuji said softly. Warm arms wrapped around the smaller teen and Tezuka gently kissed the top of Fuji's head, not caring if anyone saw them. His parents had dropped him off earlier – far to flitty to care, because that was just their nature (Tezuka took more after his grandparents) – and the two were alone, bar the company of strangers.

"I'll miss you too." Those four words were simple and sweet and expressed everything both of the boy's had been feeling. "I'll come home though, quite a bit. They scouted me, so they're paying plane expenses."

"Milk 'em for what it's worth," the tensai muttered around tears. Though he knew this was what Tezuka wanted more than anything – to be offered the chance to train and play professionally – it was the most heartbreaking decision he could make. It was one of the reasons both of them had put off scheduling the final decision to train when the offer had first been made in August. There was some dispute over whether or not Tezuka should finish up the school year at home, but in the end the bar had been set: it was the New Year or never. Reluctantly they'd decided on a 'yes' and the Tezuka family had decided Tezuka would continue his schooling virtually – all of the teachers had agreed at any rate, particularly the younger female ones, because there wasn't a staff member on campus who didn't love Tezuka Kunimitsu for whatever reason.

"I'll make sure to," Tezuka told him, chuckling. The sound was warm and resonated deep in the young man's chest, a comforting rumble that made Fuji want to do nothing more than hold him tightly forevermore. Carefully Tezuka tilted the tensai's chin upwards and kissed him, not bothering to be ashamed or consider the fact that they were in public or even do anything but push all of his raw emotion into it.

They pulled away a minute or so later, panting lightly. Tezuka wrapped his arms around the tensai and held the smaller boy firmly to his chest as they both watched the plane pull in.

"Flight number 306, now boarding," came the voice of an all-too-cheerful flight attendant. Tezuka looked down at Fuji, the closest he would get to a sad smile crossing his face, before pecking the boy once lightly on the lips. Then Tezuka had grabbed his suitcase and pulled out his boarding pass, striding away before Fuji's clingy side had a chance to kick into affect.

As Fuji Syusuke watched the plane pull away from the gate – and as Tezuka Kunimitsu looked out the window at the darkening sky as his plane took off – they each shared a single, same thought: this New Year's Eve truly was the push towards a new year of all sorts of unknown things.

"The proper behavior all through the holiday season is to be drunk. This drunkenness culminates on New Year's Eve, when you get so drunk you kiss the person you're married to." -P. J. O'Rourke

"Somebody please explain to me why I decided to 'host' this again?" Tachibana asked in a sigh. It was meant as a rhetorical question for his ears only, but before he could make sure everyone knew that Mori had burst out with an answer, nose still firmly buried in one of the new books he'd gotten.

"You thought it would be more beneficial for us to spend time together as a team instead of all sitting in separate locations unorganized, because we would 'bond'; in reality you were probably attempting to reduce the amount of New Year's Eve related alcohol consumption that would occur, because you secretly fear that because we all come from rather controversial backgrounds we'll turn to rather controversial techniques to entertain ourselves when bored, including the illegal consumption of alcohol."

The room was silent, bar a giggle from An. Tachibana went bright red but shook his head, muttering something under his breath about needing aspirin as he headed back into kitchen.

Uchimura sat on the couch next to Mori, leaning against his double's partner and using him as a kind of human pillow; Ishida was planted on the floor as was Sakurai. Shinji sat in between Uchimura and Kamio, muttering under his breath but it wasn't loud enough or annoying enough to attract any real attention or dislike so no one bothered him. Next to him was Kamio, An half planted in his lap. Though Kamio was not quite so daring, An had decided to use her brother's absence from the room to kiss him and the redhead didn't appear to be objecting either.

It was a scene perfect enough for a fairytale, and for once in their lives Fudomine shared a simultaneous positive thought: things were going well.

Perhaps this New Year's Eve – and all of the eves after – would be a good occasion after all.-

"New Year's Resolution: To tolerate fools more gladly, provided this does not encourage them to take up more of my time." --James Agate

"It was so nice of your family to allow us to celebrate here," Oishi said, bowing as he thanked the other teen. Kawamura nodded, hand wrapped around his neck in a familiar sheepish gesture.

"It was no problem at all, really. It was my father's idea, really – he remembers you guys from junior high." There was a slight tinge of sadness in the statement, but the fact that all of the old regulars – even Echizen and the famous "Ichinen Trio" (who were now in their final year of junior high!) – were gathered to celebrate the night. Though traditionally a family holiday it had somehow worked out and Oishi and Eiji were the last pair to arrive, stepping in from the cold weather and sitting down next to everyone.

The night was, of course, a wonder. It was filled with a bit too much singing and joke telling from Momo and Eiji, Kaidoh falling asleep in the corner (to which Fuji had snapped a number of pictures and Inui had commenting something about how the other teen was used to sleeping from the house of no later than nine PM to no earlier than four AM), and Tezuka impersonations being done heavily because the supposed next-year captain was no where to be found that night.

"You're doing well, saa Taka-san?" Fuji asked toward the end of the hectic night. Kawamura nodded.

"Yeah. Things around here have really been going great – Otou-san's been having a bit of back trouble recently but it's nothing that's impaired him so much I'm not able to pick up the slack." Kawamura quieted before continuing. "You're all doing well? I got out to see a few of the matches last year, but I only managed to make it to one of the earlier Kantou matches this year." The sadness with which this statement was made was tangible, and Fuji had a strong urge to hug his friend, but he resisted.

"Yeah, we've been doing well. Something tells me Eiji's gonna cause Mitsu to blow a fuse in the next year, but that depends on how much Eiji he's actually exposed to, I suppose." Kawamura nodded mutely, surveying the crowd of people he'd most closely associated with in junior high. Despite the time they were all really the same; sure, there were some height differences here and there, and the Ichinen Trio looked far more masculine than he had ever imagined they could (Echizen had even grown a bit and his shoulders had begun to widen), but overall they were still the exact same people he had left.

It was reassuring to know that nothing had really changed.

"Taka-san?" Fuji's voice snapped him out of his thoughts and he blushed sheepishly in embarrassment.

"I'm sorry," he apologized, "what was that?"

"Oh nothing," Fuji commented wistfully, the type of comment only another tensai could decipher. The younger boy looked out on the crowd of friends as well. "It's nice to know some things stay consistent, isn't it?" Kawamura nodded.

"The best resolutions are to not change at all." The comment was out of Kawamura's mouth before he realized it and a hand slipped up to cover his mouth, hoping the accidental slip-up would be ignored. Fuji's eyes crinkled, revealing blue underneath, and he titled his head slightly as he studied the other teen.

"Perhaps you're right," he commented once more in that wistful tensai tone. "But resolutions are built from promises, promises are built from dreams, dreams are build from wishes, wishes are built from hopes, hopes are built from experiences – and what more could one want in a new year than experiences?"

It was a comment that left him thinking the rest of New Year's Eve.

"May all your troubles last as long as your New Year's resolutions!" --Joey Adams

"Nii-san." The voice was soft and accompanied a light knock on the door. Muromachi Touji looked up, pausing his X-Box.

"Yeah?" he asked, welcoming his brother into the room and patting the spot next to him. Taichi sat down and fidgeted.

"I... I..." The younger boy stuttered over words before finely blurting. "I want to go live with Otou-san."

Silence. Absolute, stunned silence. Had Muromachi been holding anything he would have dropped it, his body going completely ridged.

"I... I know that you're... you're not... supportive," Taichi stuttered. "B-but I just..."

"Fine." It was a harsh, bitter word. "Whatever." The tension was sliceable, but Taichi still approached it.

"I... I hate being a bother to you and Kaa-san and I... it would just be... better. Otou-san had a good job and-"

"So we're not good enough?" The words were out before Muromachi had thought about them, and the moment they were he seriously regretted them. The hurt in Taichi's eyes, however, was far less than what Muromachi was feeling.

"Nii-san, I didn't-"

"Of course you did." Yet again the harsh inner comments vocally manifested themselves. "Just... leave, them."

Without another word Taichi got up. A few moments later and a loud slam was heard as Taichi forcibly closed the door to the apartment, leaving Muromachi spend his New Year's Eve alone.

"A new year is unfolding - like a blossom with petals curled tightly concealing the beauty within." --Unknown

"I have an update on an interesting development." Yanagi's voice was sly through the phone and Yukimura could picture the positively wicked expression on his friend's face.

"What is it?" the bluenet asked, bracing himself because it sounded positively priceless.

"It appears Genichiroh has found himself a female friend."

Silence. Then:

"No." The cackle in Yukimura's voice was loud. "Gen's got a girlfriend?"

"All my sources indicate so," Yanagi replied, this time laughing outright. Despite the hilarity they were laughing with, they were laughing with - not at - and neither could feel happier for their other best friend.

"Good for him," Yukimura commented warmly. "Lord knows a girl is just what he needs. Who is she?" Yanagi began listing.

"Teshima Komako, age sixteen, born October tenth, in the photography and calligraphy clubs, weighs approximatel-"

"That's enough, crazy stalker boy," Yukimura said, cutting him off with another laugh. "Good for Gen, though, she sounds like a lovely lady.

"And it's good to know he won't be spending his New Year's Eve alone again," Yukimura added softly after a moment.

"Ahh." Though neither had ever said it aloud, they both knew Sanada had turned down a number of invitations to social outings - particularly things like New Year's Eve parties - out of both embarrassment at not having someone and awkwardness at the fact that everyone else did.

"I'll talk to you tomorrow?" Yukimura asked, breaking the silence that would have been awkward had it been shared by anyone but Yukimura and Yanagi. There was a small affirmative noise from the other teen. "Cool. Tell me if you get any more data on 'Gen-chan's giiiirlfriiiiend'" – The syllables were stretched almost impossibly in a childish giggle that normally belonged to Marui or Akaya –"so I can tease him when I call to ask how his break is going."

"I'll make sure to."

It was a short parting, but it said everything their words didn't.

"An optimist stays up until midnight to see the New Year in. A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves." --Bill Vaughan

"My room is this way!" Akira called, excited. he was running faster than Saeki had ever seen him, small hand wrapped around Saeki's much larger wrist. Two pairs of feet padded down the hall as the young boy pulled his friend, despite the age difference.

"Ouch! Akira!" yelled a female voice as the two of them rounded the corner. As she looked up, though, she realized it wasn't Akira whom she had run into, but Saeki.

That did not change her disposition.

"Sorry 'bout her." The apology from Akira was sheepish but sincere, despite the fact that he should not have been the one to deliver it.

Still, as he looked around, Saeki had to admit, he was incredibly impressed. Up until Akira had called him, overjoyed at finally being discharged from the hospital, and had invited Saeki over - requiring Akira to give him his address, and revealing that Akira lived in one of most upper-class neighborhoods in Chiba - the older boy hadn't even realized Akira's family lineage was highly prosperous.

"This is my room!" Akira threw open the door proudly, displaying the large room with joy before pulling Saeki in. The room was a pale blue with sailboats and waves that rose and fell every so often along the middle of the walls. It held more toys than Saeki had ever heard of, let alone owned or seen. The bed was at furthest end of the room, only visible through rows of teddy bears and other plush animals, and it was obviously custom made and hand-crafted, because it was a perfect replica of a sailboat. A canopy covered the top, realistic pictures of sea creatures and their scientific names dotting the fabric.

"I hope you like it..." The young boy trailed off, voice faltering slightly. His face fell a little bit, but he tried to appear cheerful nonetheless.

"It's wonderful," Saeki reassured, watching the boy fondly. Akira ran around gathering toys. "Are you sure your parents don't have a problem with this?" Though Saeki had developed an affinity for the boy over the months they had interacted, there was a significant age difference between the two of them and Saeki was well aware that some parents could find the situation distasteful. Akira shrugged, not looking up from where he was picking his favorite books from a shelf.

"They don't care." The reply was soft and Saeki could feel the injured innocence beneath it. "They're in Europe right now for the hols, left me and Onee-san and Tanaka-san - he's the butler - here." Then, as a reassurance, Akira added, "Tanaka-san likes you. I told him about you when he came to visit." (Though Saeki did not bring this up, he knew these visits were few and far between.) Then Akira looked up at him, just innocent and normal as he always was; Akira held up a copy of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. "Can we read this one tonight? I never finished it..."

Saeki nodded and Akira curled up next to him on the bed. The young boy snuggled into Saeki's side, humming happily he read. The clock was striking 11:58 by the time the two next moved. Akira had slumped over, nearly asleep, and Saeki carefully eased him down and pulled the covers over Akira.

"Two more minute," the young boy complained groggily after catching sight of the clock. "Pl's?"

"All right." Saeki smiled at the nearly-sleeping boy. Akira looked up at, smile lighting up his eyes in a way that reminded Saeki distinctly of Kentarou, and drilled into him the fact that there was nothing more wonderful than a child watching the last moments of New Year's Eve to welcome in the new year.

"The object of a new year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul." --G. K. Chesterton

"I am excusing myself at the moment." It was a harsh reply, and a second later the man stood forcefully and removed himself from not only the dinner table but the building. Niou fidgeted under the table with the hand not currently clasped around perfectly polished silverware.

"Don't mind him," Yagyuu's mother said after a moment, more cheerful than she had been any other time Niou had met her. "So tell me, Niou-kun, how is life?"

Dinner passed much in this fashion, the entire time devoted to simplistic compliments or light chit chat. It was only after the meal had been finished that Yagyuu-san advised her son to "take his friend" upstairs while they waited for a pie to reheat, and Yagyuu did so despite the fact that he did not need to be advised.

"See?" Yagyuu said the moment they were tucked safely away in his room. "I told you, they don't hate you."

"Your father does," Niou pointed out bitterly. Which was, in some respects, true, or the man wouldn't have left in the middle of dinner. Yagyuu shrugged.

"Give him time to come around. You're as good as having Okaa-san's blessing and Lord knows Kanami's fine with you as long as I'm happy even if the incident in which you set her braid on fire is a less than pleasant memory." Yagyuu shrugged, sitting down on the chair in front of his desk. "We're making progress." Niou nodded at the comment, for it was true, and it held some weight even if not much. The Trickster slowly strode over, sitting down in Yagyuu's lap and settling himself until he was comfortable. Chapped lips carefully traced along Yagyuu's neck in feather-light touches, no marks being left for fear of Yagyuu's parents noticing.

"I promise you – promise you – that whether they agree or not, you're mine." Yagyuu tilted the slightly younger boy's chin up, kissing him gently on the lips. "Absolutely, totally mine."

It was all the reassurance Niou needed to go back downstairs and finish dessert with the Yagyuu family in hopes that maybe, by the time next New Year's Eve rolled around, things would be a bit less tense.

"Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right." --Oprah Winfrey

OWARI