Author's notes: This ficlit is dedicated to LuckyLadybug, who also gave the name of "David Tanaka" to Duke's assistant, the unnamed character he speaks to in episode 46 (he is named here with her blessings). Also, this fic was highly inspired by the Rockapella song "The Hope We Hold." As always, the characters are not mine, but the story is!

December was, inevitably, the busiest month of the year for Duke Devlin and the Black Crown game shop, as well as Solomon Muto's Turtle game shop across the street. It was the reason why they were both hiring extra workers for the holiday season—Duke and his trusted right-hand man, David Tanaka, had done the usual holiday hiring standby of posting a "Help Wanted" sign for students from Domino University to apply if they were staying for winter break. Solomon had taken a different approach—hiring his grandson's friends for the season. This did not come without its risks; Joey and Tristan had played games of "catch falling objects from the shelves because of improper storage" on more than one occasion, but Solomon refused to hire anyone else.

Though both shop owners had been concerned about drawing business away from each other, they need not have worried—there was practically the same amount of demand for Solomon's novelty games as there was for Duke's newer games. And, in general, Duke's general appearance, as well as that of his shop, attracted a rather different crowd than Solomon's did.

And it was certainly a varied crowd that found its way into Duke's shop. Bonz and his two lackeys, Sid and Zygore, had traipsed in one morning, looking for new zombie cards. And, to Duke's amazement, a rather quiet Rex Raptor had even come by a few days ago to buy some dinosaur cards; he had come sans Weevil, and it seemed that the insect duelist's absence had made Rex noticeably more amicable. Rex had even shown some interest in Dungeon Dice Monsters and ended up buying a set out of sheer curiosity. Duke had been curious and had wanted to ask why he was on his own and what had happened to Weevil, but he decided against it; Rex seemed to be in good spirits without Weevil, and Duke wasn't about to spoil his mood by reminding him of the cheating Weevil.

Aside from them, most mornings and afternoons were filled with people he mostly did not know—though he did recognize his frequent customers and chatted with them as they made their purchases. It was on such one such afternoon that, after the crowd of customers headed off for lunch, allowing Duke and David a moment's peace, Duke let his hired help take a lunch break.

"You won't be joining them, Dukey-Boy?" David asked, his usual smirk on his face.

"Someone has to stick around in case we get any customers who are eating on the go," Duke answered. "And I don't see you going with them."

"Someone has to restock," David replied, without missing a beat. "Luckily, I foresaw this turn of events and prudently stored some sandwiches in back."

"You would."

"I have enough to spare," David added. "Give me a moment, and I'll bring them out once I restock some of our more dwindling merchandise."

Duke merely suppressed a smirk of his own as he walked around, putting back the games the indecisive customers had left on other shelves. He was in the middle of this when Serenity Wheeler came in, carrying a bag that contained a few wrapped presents.

"Hello!" she called, cheerfully, trying to open the door while maneuvering with her packages.

Duke held the door open for her, surprised to see her here. Serenity seemed to sense that.

"I'm here to do some holiday shopping," she explained. "I want to get gifts for everyone in the gang, but it's not easy."

"I figured," Duke said. "But is there any reason why you're here instead of helping your brother get his commission?"

"Sure. I want their presents to be surprises, so I can't buy the gifts right in front of them," she said, with a grin. "And I was wondering if you could help me pick something out that they might like."

Duke sighed. Of course—he should have know that was the reason why. Oh, well.

He quickly pushed his disappointment aside and put on a smile.

"I'd be only too happy to help," he said. "Are you picking something out for everyone in the gang?"

"Yes, but I've already done some shopping elsewhere," she said, taking the wrapped packages from her bag and placing them on the counter. "I got some perfume for Mai, and these…" She placed her hand on what looked like a wrapped shoebox. "I overheard Téa saying that she could use a new pair of dance shoes, but she was putting off buying them until next year because she still had to do her shopping. So I had Joey go on a stealth mission to find out her shoe size, and he came through."

Duke had to suppress a snark at the thought of Joey on any sort of stealth mission; somehow, he didn't envision it being very stealthy at all. Joey Wheeler was not known for being inconspicuous.

"So now I'm looking for things for the boys—Joey, Tristan, Yugi, and Ryou," she finished.

"I see…" Duke said, noticing the absence of his own name. He couldn't really blame her, of course; he had always distanced himself from the others, never quite fitting in. Really, it was no surprise that Serenity didn't consider him "one of the gang."

He took a look around the shop.

"Well, you know Yugi—he's always into any sort of game," he said. "We've got Duel Monsters cards, but if you want to try something different, you might want to look into something Dungeon Dice Monsters."

"Well, I know Yugi and Joey already have Dungeon Dice sets already," she said. "But Tristan doesn't—maybe he'd like one!"

Duke's eyebrows arched. He doubted that Tristan would want to be reminded of him—particularly with Serenity involved.

"Maybe you might want to consider Capsule Monsters for Tristan?" he offered, hastily.

"Yeah, maybe that'd be better…" she agreed, selecting a set. "Yugi and Joey already have sets of those, so he can play with Yugi."

"Not Joey?" Duke inquired.

"Well, Joey won't be in town," she said, with a grin. "He's spending Christmas with Mom and me—we're both going back next week! Oh, it's going to be great, Duke! When we were kids, we'd stay up until almost midnight on Christmas Eve, playing games and watching out the window, and after opening our presents on Christmas morning, we'd play games all day, too! But ever since our parents split, it's been tougher and tougher to do that since we couldn't really afford to have Joey come all the way from Domino, plus… I don't think he had really wanted to see Mom since he blamed her for separating us. But now that he's been working for Mr. Muto during the holidays for extra money, and since he's finally buried the hatchet with Mom, we're able to do it this year. I think Mom is happy to have him back for Christmas, too…"

Duke genuinely felt happy for her. He loved to see her smile like that. And he knew that Joey would be happy to spend Christmas with his sister; as crazy as he was, there was no doubt as to how much Joey cared for her.

Serenity gave a wan smile and continued.

"The only thing is… I'm not so sure what games we can play. Our interests in games have changed so much. I guess that's why I'm here."

"Well, what sort of games did you play before?"

"Board games—though they've gotten so old, with pieces missing by now," she answered. "I know I'd have better luck looking in Mr. Muto's shop for new ones, but, like I said, it won't be a surprise if I shop there."

"I can help you out here," said Duke. "Pegasus has launched a new campaign—market Duel Monsters to a wider audience. He's doing that by releasing Duel Monster versions of classic games—and that includes board games. And since I've got a contract with Industrial Illusions, I'm carrying a lot of the merchandise." He led her to a set of shelves. "Take your pick: Duel Monsters Monopoly, Duel Monsters Life, Duel Monsters Risk, Duel Monsters Clue…"

"Duel Monsters Clue?" Serenity asked.

"Yeah—you have to figure out which Duel Monster defeated Exodia Necross with which magic card and on which field."

"So something like… 'It was the Flame Swordsman with the Salamandra in the Wasteland?'"

"Exactly like that," Duke said. "Like I said, it was Pegasus's idea…"

"I think it's cute!" she said. "I'll take it! And I think I'll take Duel Monsters Life for Yugi."

"We actually have a special offer—buy any three of the Duel Monsters board games and get 25% off the total," Duke said. "You can buy a third for yourself."

"Oh!" Serenity exclaimed. "Well, I did like the idea of Duel Monsters Monopoly…"

She looked through her purse, and her shoulders slumped.

"I'm sorry, Duke—even with the discount, I won't have enough money for my train ticket back home…"

Duke thought for a moment.

"Tell you what," he said, taking the Monopoly game from the shelf, anyway. "This one's on me."

"Oh, Duke, I couldn't—!"

"Just think of it as my Christmas gift to you, Serenity," he said. "Come on; we'll ring all this up."

Serenity had gone slightly red, but soon recovered, smiling.

"Duke… thank you," she said.

"Not a problem," he insisted. "You'll want these gift-wrapped, huh?"

"Well, yes… How much—?"

"That's free, too," he said, though he usually did add a small fee for wrapping. "I'll wrap up the Monopoly, too, so that Joey won't figure it out."

Serenity thanked him again and paid for the other games. She gathered them up, as well as her packages from the other stores, thanked Duke again and wished him for the holidays, and left the store, heading across the street to meet up with her brother.

Duke sighed. Well, he had made Serenity happy—that was the most important thing.

David now entered, sandwiches in hand.

"You waited for her to go, didn't you?" Duke said, biting back another smirk.

"I was always taught to use discretion," his assistant replied.

"We were hardly having a private conversation."

"What? Oh, I was referring to the idea of a customer seeing you eat a sandwich while you were assisting them, Dukey-Boy—hardly professional, as I'm sure you'd agree," he answered. "But are you telling me that there would there be a reason why you would have private conversation with Miss Wheeler?"

"No. Not at all," Duke said. Again, he reminded himself that it was his own aloofness that had brought this about.

Deciding not to dwell on it, he accepted the sandwich from David and began to eat. It was then he noticed one of Serenity's wrapped packages from her other bag—a long but thin rectangular box, a card tied to it with a ribbon.

"She forgot this," he realized, picking it up. "Hold the fort for a moment, will you?"

"But, of course…" David replied.

Duke threw on a coat and headed across the street, present in hand.

"Ah, good afternoon, Duke!" Solomon said. "If you've come to check out the competition, you'll see that we're a little empty during lunchtime. The boys are in the back room, eating."

"So I hear," Duke said, hearing the unmistakable sounds of Joey and Tristan stuffing their faces. "Actually, I came to give this to Serenity—she left it behind in my store."

"She's in the dining room with Téa; Mai is there, too—she took her lunch break from the casino to eat here," Solomon said. "The ladies prudently decided not to make this a co-ed lunch."

"Wise decision," Duke smirked, as Yugi yelped something about Joey and Tristan getting crumbs all over the floor.

Deciding to ignore the chaos in progress, he crossed to the small dining room. Unlike the Black Crown, which was a store and nothing more, the Turtle Shop was also the Muto household. On the way, Duke cordially nodded to Yugi's mother, who was on the phone, but she acknowledged him in return with another nod.

"Hold up, Ladies," Mai said, as Duke approached. "We appear to have a visitor…"

"I'm not staying," Duke promised them. "Serenity, you accidentally left this behind."

She merely smiled in reply.

"No, not really," she said. "I mean, I did leave it behind, but… Well, didn't you take a look at the card?"

Duke stood there for a moment before registering that it was his name on the card, and that the package was for him. He wasn't to know it, but it was a box of gourmet chocolates—Téa had gotten the name of a good chocolate shop from Seto in order to pass the information along to Serenity.

Another smile crossed Duke's face—a real one this time, not a forced one. He thanked her and left, returning to his shop. He didn't even notice the cold, December air as he crossed the street.

"She didn't want it back?" David asked, wryly.

"Very funny. It turned out that it was for me."

"Well, now you know, don't you, Dukey-Boy? Check the tag from now on."

Duke suppressed another smirk, set the gift aside, and mused as he ate the rest of the sandwich.

Maybe he was an outsider. Maybe he wasn't as much a "member of the gang," like the others were. But maybe, he didn't need to be. Serenity's gift to him had been more than just a box of special chocolates.

It was acceptance.