It can't be a dream. He can feel her warmth and smell the scent of her strawberry shampoo, so it can't be dream. He's about to smile but when he opens his eyes, the illusion is shattered.

The girl beside him looks at him with pity. She climbs out of bed and leaves the bedroom.

He pays this girl, every night, to do this. To sleep next to him, to use strawberry scented shampoo. To pretend. 10,000 yen for a few seconds of bliss, until he wakes up and realizes the painful reality once again.

He tells himself it's worth it.

X

"Maybe it's Fate." He snorts at the thought and fires the lawyer who suggested it on the spot. Fate? That's your excuse? Go back to law school.

There must be loophole. There has to be.

In the last will and testament of Gozaburo Kaiba, Article IX: Specific Bequests, paragraph two, it states that he—Seto Kaiba—must marry the eldest daughter of Deverick J. Chevalier before the age of twenty-one or else forfeit his rights to the Kaiba Corporation. Forfeit his rights to his own company? No way in hell. But his time is running out; only weeks remain before his twenty-first birthday, and he has yet to find a reasonable argument that will challenge the validity of his stepfather's will.

"But I thought you said the arranged marriage was void," Mokuba says, remembering the day Gozaburo's personal representative read the will days after their stepfather's suicide.

"Was void," Seto replies, irritably. "Chevalier just found out he fathered a girl eighteen years ago." Chevalier just happens to find a daughter one month before his birthday. Just perfect.

"But isn't the girl illegitimate?"

"Apparently, she's still considered to be his daughter."

"So you're really going to do it? You're going to marry her?" Seto gives a noncommittal grunt. He really doesn't want to talk about it anymore. "What's her name? When's the wedding? What does she look like? Can she even speak Japanese?" Mokuba's on the edge of his seat, intrigued and excited. He thinks that the mansion won't be as lonely if he had a sister-in-law.

But Seto Kaiba doesn't want a wife. He doesn't need one. She would just be a thorn in his side, someone who'd leech off his bank accounts.

X

In Seto's eyes, Adrienne Chevalier is stupid, annoying, and a walking hazard. She's constantly falling down and colliding with walls and knocking things over. He thinks she smiles too much. Even when he patronizes her, she still smiles. Why won't she stop smiling?

But Mokuba adores her. He thinks she's the cutest, sweetest, most innocent girl in the world. They're always talking, playing games, watching movies. Mokuba teaches her how to play Duel Monsters and in return, she teaches him how to speak French. But sometimes Seto catches them whispering, and he notices that Adrienne's smile becomes forced. And then Mokuba hugs her for a very long time. Seto doesn't know why, but this puts him on edge.

X

Every day, Adrienne stops by Kaiba Corp and brings him a bento. Every day, without fail, even if it's hailing outside. At first, he made a point of ignoring her when she came by, criticizing her efforts, returning the homemade lunch unopened and unwanted. But then one day, he did not have time to eat out and his stomach was unbearably empty. The bento was only a few feet away. Might as well eat it, it's not like she'd ever know. It became habit, eating the lunch Adrienne brought, expecting her.

At dinner each night, Adrienne will talk and laugh and smile. She'll ask Seto about his day. He either ignores her or answers with a terse "fine". He assumed she'd eventually grow tired of asking, but she never did. Seto admits to himself that he admires her persistence, her stubbornness.

When Mokuba learns of Adrienne's musical talent, he buys her a piano. "A belated birthday gift," he says. After dinner, she plays for an hour, filling the mansion with music. And during that hour, Seto can't explain it, but his house suddenly becomes a home. But only for that one hour.

X

Seto can't wrap his head around the concept. Why does he care so much about such a clueless, klutzy, bothersome girl? How? Since when? All he remembers is the Saturday afternoon when she cut her finger after insisting that their hired cook take the day off because she'll be making dinner. He had had gotten angry at her for hurting herself, and then began to wonder why he was so concerned. To everyone's surprise, he bandaged the cut and made dinner himself.

Almost a year after being married, he finally sleeps with his wife. For the first time, someone beside himself sees the scars, the proof of Gozaburo's abuse, the evidence that he was once weak and vulnerable. For the first time, he feels so exposed, unable to hide behind long coats and dress shirts. He's still expecting Adrienne to laugh at him, to pity him, to judge him. But Adrienne just gives him a reassuring smile, kisses his scars, and tells him how much she loves him. They fall asleep with his nose buried in her hair, relishing the strawberry scent of her shampoo.

X

Seto finds himself laughing every day. He's happy. He has stopped working overtime, refuses to work any extra hours at all. His company does not do as well as before, but he no longer places Kaiba Corp nor Duel Monsters in his list of top priorities. He sees that Mokuba is also happier as well. Seto is reminded of the days when their parents were alive, when they were a family.

But sometimes he gets very jealous of his brother. He still catches Adrienne and Mokuba whispering. And then Mokuba still hugs her for a very long time. But he's too proud to ask anything about it.

It was beautiful, sunny morning when Seto and Adrienne were visiting another newly opened Kaiba Land. He doesn't remember the conversation, but the guy working behind a carnival game said, with a wink, "Don't break her heart." For some reason, Adrienne's face became completely drained. When asked about it, she forced a smile and simply answered, "You couldn't ever break my heart." He's not too sure anymore, but he could've sworn she added something under her breath, something that sounded like, "Because it's already broken."

X

He hates himself for loving her. What happened to him? What happened to his tough, indifferent, apathetic self? He prefers the older version of himself. His older version wouldn't be crying.

"You couldn't ever break my heart."

He should've asked. He should've asked her why they were always whispering. He should've asked Mokuba why he couldn't stop hugging her. Why he couldn't stop hugging her as if he wouldn't be able to do so the next day.

"Because it's already broken."

Mitochondrial cardiomyopthy. Genetically transmitted with no cure. A weakness in the muscles of her heart. He thinks it's because she loved him too much.

X

He always eats a large breakfast because he knows he won't eat lunch. Because he still waits for her to bring his homemade bento.

He had her cremated. At dinner he places her urn where she used to sit at the table and he tells her about his day. He tries to do it quickly because Mokuba always starts crying.

After dinner he sets down the urn on the piano and sits on the piano bench, feeling the keys where her fingers use to create beautiful, wonderful melodies.

X

They say it's better to have loved and lost it than to never have loved at all. He doesn't know whether to agree to disagree. The pain is unbearable.

It's January 27th, Thursday evening. The day Adrienne arrived at the Kaiba Mansion two years ago. Has it really only been two years? There's a knock on his door. It's his pretend-Adrienne. They climb into bed and he buries his nose in her hair. It smells like strawberries. Before the he falls asleep, the girl beside him whispers, "You fell in love with her for a reason." His mind remembers the day with his group of lawyers who were trying to find a loophole in the arranged marriage from Gozaburo's will. After insulting every one of them because their lack of success, one of them suggested, "Maybe it's Fate."

X

It can't be a dream. He can feel her warmth and smell the scent of her strawberry shampoo, so it can't be dream. He's about to smile but when he opens his eyes, the illusion is shattered.

The girl beside him looks at him with pity. She climbs out of bed and leaves the bedroom.

He pays this girl, every night, to do this. To sleep next to him, to use strawberry scented shampoo. To pretend. 10,000 yen for a few seconds of bliss, until he wakes up and realizes the painful reality once again.

He tells himself it's worth it.