Originally written for the Kagebros Secret Santa 2021! I'm just posting here since I think it'd be fun. Fun fact: this is the longest oneshot in the kagepro fandom. It's not the best by any shot but I had some fun writing it. This is completely unedited besides a brief glance over it to make sure there's no spelling mistakes (back when I wrote it). It's also super prose-y and I'm sorry LOL!

Additional context - everyone in the Dan is alive. This includes Ayano, Hiyori, and also Konoha and Haruka are both alive. I'm not going to explain how it happened.

You can read as gen or pre-ship, there's a few lines towards the end which hints are shippy but I couldn't make up my mind.

Actual wordcount: 24,551

Disclaimer: I do not own Kagerou Project.

╰┈➤ Part one.

It was like any other day at their house, which was to say that it was both enjoyable and very noisy.

For some reason, while Marry wanted to snuggle up and slowed down considerably during the winter, her friends had taken the opportunity to get more active. Which was great! She loved being able to spend time with everyone.

More and more often, her peaceful time would be interrupted by her friends coming over to hang out, to the great joy of Kano. He got moody enough to play pranks on her if people didn't come over, so it was a nice change from when everyone had been busy with their exams.

Today, Marry had curled up in the small armchair she found the most comfortable, reading a book she'd managed to check out from the library.

(And what marvel libraries were! She loved the idea that people also liked having large selections of books to choose from. It was interesting to see how much humans really were just like her, and it was reassuring.)

Today also happened to be a day that they'd decided to all come together to celebrate the release of Momo's new Christmas album.

In between bursts of being absolutely fascinated by her book, she'd half listen to the conversation everyone was having about it. Kano and Kido and Momo were all excitedly chattering about it, every time they swept in or out of the room. Something about Shintaro helping her out with the music on the album. It was still pretty strange to think of him without being surprised of how far he'd come over the past year.

It was nice to have everyone around her, enjoying themselves. Even if it was the kind of day where she just wanted to read her book and immerse herself in the reading. She hadn't wanted to be alone, which was why she'd decided to come out here.

Marry couldn't help but let out a small hum. Such interesting things, so much to read about! She looked around quickly, to make sure no one noticed her noise, but everyone was moving in and out of the room at their own pace. Thank goodness.

It really was the perfect day to read a book while enjoying the company of her friends!

Which is, of course, when Momo finally burst into the room, apparently tired of loitering in the kitchen with Kido. She announced to the room at large, "Let's do something fun, I'm getting bored."

"We have a karaoke machine." Kano nodded as if he'd been waiting for the moment, pulling a microphone out of nowhere. Or, well, not nowhere. She's witnessed enough group party nights to know how this thing worked. Marry was just surprised at how eager he seemed to be to sing karaoke, every single time the opportunity came up. His eyes practically sparkled when Momo reached for the microphone.

Marry, very stubbornly trying to keep reading in her comfy seat, did her best to tune out the singing.

And to be fair, it was completely fine for the first few songs. The others started to slowly fill the room, as if drawn by Momo's eye power.

Then Kano got over excited and took the microphone.

Yeah. Marry decided she didn't really think she would be able to focus any more. Shintaro was making a very interesting face of both disgust and awe, which was a pretty good summary of how the performance was going.

So she did the smart thing - she left the room.

It wasn't mean, was it? Sure, she left a few moments right after he started singing, but it probably wasn't that bad. Kano wouldn't take it as an insult. The guy had surprisingly thick skin, which was a good thing considering that he liked to make fun of everyone he ever met. So, he wouldn't be offended by her leaving to find a quiet place to read.

Except he would, and then he'd be all huffy trying to pretend that it hadn't bothered him. The whole next week would be a little awkward, and he'd give her a sad look whenever she wasn't looking. And she'd be confused why he was sad, until someone explained it to her. Probably Ayano, if she was being completely honest. Oh no. It was definitely too late to return to the room now, as she could hear him entering the chorus while Kido began to loudly ask him to tone it down. Maybe she could write an apology card to him? Would he like something like -

She bumped into something solid, her book falling out of her hands when she jumped at the contact.

She hadn't really been watching where she was going. That was the bad thing about getting distracted by apology cards. Marry glanced up for a moment, and gave a nervous smile when she saw Konoha staring blankly down at her.

Marry wasn't exactly the best person at reading expressions, but Konoha didn't even have an expression to read. It was a little hard to tell what the guy was thinking at any given moment.

"Sorry, Konoha! I wasn't really paying attention to where I was going," Marry began to explain, hands waving around her as she did. Konoha continued to stare. "You know, the karaoke? The karaoke was loud, and I wanted to read my book. Um, you know. Because I like to read. What do you like to read, Konoha? You do… read things, right? Sorry! I don't want to be mean. I'm sure you can…"

Her flustered half sentences were interrupted by Konoha picking up the fallen book. Marry hadn't even been thinking about him grabbing it, since she was so busy asking if he could read.

He had her book! She hadn't really wanted anyone to know what she'd been reading, because it felt pretty personal to her.

"Oh, Konoha! That's my book." She told him, fully expecting him to pass it back.

Konoha nodded, flipping through the pages instead. Marry resigned herself to just… standing there, in the hallway, waiting for Konoha to date his curiosity.

The speed he was flipping through them was a little too fast for him to be actually reading. But maybe he could just read really quickly?

"Um, are you enjoying it?" Better make sure that Konoha was enjoying it. She was a bit shy to let someone else know what she was reading, but she didn't mind too badly.

He looked up from the pages for a brief moment, locking eyes with her. Then he nodded. "Nice pictures. What's this about…?"

Pictures. Pictures? Right! She nodded. She'd almost forgotten about the pictures in the book, before he brought them back up. Though, to her credit, she'd only forgotten because she was embarrassed about dropping the book in the first place.

"The book… It's about traditions. I was reading the Christmas part. Have you heard about Christmas, Konoha?"

He shook his head.

"Ah, you see! Christmas is a holiday. It's not as big here as it is in other places, but I still think it's nice! You give presents to each other, and you have fun, and you spend time with everyone you love!" She couldn't help but get a bit excited as she explained it. The book made the holiday seem really, really fun, in her defense.

Konoha nodded. "It sounds nice… Spending time with friends is always nice. Is Christmas today?"

Marry couldn't let him go on with misinformation. "No, silly! It's a special day. Today's just a normal day." She continued before Konoha could make a comment about how he thought most days were special. "I just… Seto told me they used to do this, way back. I was curious, so I looked it up. My mother and I didn't really celebrate anything."

A glance up, to make sure he was still paying attention. Konoha had closed the book to give her his full attention.

"So I want to experience everything in the book! I want to try and do everything that we weren't able to, so I can tell mom about it all. If I live a life full of happiness, mom can have that too. That's why I was researching it."

With all of that out in the open, she was done speaking. It seemed like Konoha didn't have anything to say, either. They were left in an almost painful silence for several seconds. Marry could practically feel her cheeks redden as they got warmer.

Before she could really work herself into a panic, though, Konoha finally opened his mouth. "I think… we should try all of this. Since it's special."

His expression didn't betray whatever thoughts were going through his mind, but Marry knew her eyes were starting to get watery at the concept that he would go out of his way to do something special just because she asked.

"So… We should do Christmas things as a group? That would be fun, yes."

Konoha shook his head once. "No, just the two of us. Easier to plan." It made sense, considering a lot of their friends had commitments and work to do during the week. Marry and Konoha didn't quite have it so bad yet.

Marry thought about it. Christmas wasn't too far away, and while Kido had mentioned using it as an excuse to have everyone over, no one else had planned anything. It would be really nice if she was able to try the activities she'd read about. It was even nicer that Konoha was offering her a way to try them without being by herself. The decision was easy to make.

"Thank you, Konoha! I hope you don't mind spending every day with me for a tiny bit." She reached out to grab his hand, and he let her.

╰┈➤ Part two.

"Okay, Konoha," Marry began, attempting her pile of papers onto the coffee table, "this is all the stuff I've been able to research. Do you want to hear?"

The papers slid through her fingers and all onto the floor. She watched the pages flutter for a moment, before attempting to pick up as many papers as quickly as she could. Lucky for her, Konoha really didn't seem to care that she'd failed her intended task.

A very, very good start to their meeting!

She'd decided that they needed a game plan if they wanted to tackle the monolithic beast known as Christmas. If the two of them were going to get through the next week with as many Christmas activities as possible, then they needed to get all their ideas on the table. Literally, as Marry had demonstrated with her stack of ideas.

Konoha, for his part, didn't seem to be carrying anything. In fact, he was even wearing the same clothes he always did. While he had a lot of pockets, she couldn't think of any places he would have hidden paper. Well! She was sure he'd have some good ideas!

And he even gave her a nod, as if to tell her to go ahead, so obviously he was just waiting his turn.

"Okay, so! I asked my housemates, and they each had some very good ideas. Seto said we should go see the lights, and play in the snow. Kido said that we should try baking cookies! And then…" Marry paused to think. She forgot that her notes were in front of her, choosing to try and remember the conversation instead. "Momo was over that night, so she said we should try to get little presents for everyone! And also sing Christmas songs. Then Kano said we should try ugly sweaters…? He said to go trick or treat too."

After Kano had said that, Kido had elbowed him, but no one had said that they weren't supposed to go do that.

Konoha opened his mouth to make a small ah sound, stopping Marry in her explanation. "Trick or treat… I know that. I heard of it."

"Really? Then it's a Christmas thing, right?" Marry asked. How lucky! She was glad that Konoha knew what it was, because she was still a bit too embarrassed to consult the book she'd gotten from the library.

He looked at her with a slightly tilted head. What could he be thinking…? "I don't know. I just heard it."

Ah, that was what he had been thinking. Well! Marry would add it to the list of stuff to do anyways.

"Okay! That was everything I found out. What about you, Konoha?"

There was only silence. She kept her smile up, but felt it start to falter the longer that Konoha stayed silent and stared back at her. Did… Did he not have anything?

"Ah, I know," Konoha said, interrupting any worried thoughts she might have. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his cell phone. He very slowly and purposefully pressed each button he needed before putting the phone on the table. Marry tilted her head to try and see who he was calling. All she could see was the speaker symbol, showing that Konoha intended for them both to hear the conversation.

"Yes, hello Konoha? Is everything okay?" Oh, it was Haruka! He sounded a bit worried.

Konoha almost nodded, before catching himself and responding verbally. "Yes. Hello Haruka. I'm with Marry."

Marry wondered if she was supposed to say hello or not. It was a bit too intimidating, so she just waved at the phone.

Haruka, for his part, just let out a short laugh. "Hello Marry! How can I help you two? Is anyone hurt, or something?"

"No one's hurt." Konoha replied almost immediately. He proceeded to not elaborate whatsoever. The three of them were left in silence, as they waited to see if he'd say something.

It was a little strange. Marry really did begin to wonder if she'd need to speak up. She hadn't been prepared to speak to Haruka, though! He was a very friendly person, but he couldn't come over super often because of his physical therapy appointments. Whenever he did come over, Marry liked to think about what she wanted to say before they talked.

Just before the silence got too long, Konoha opened his mouth again. "I called because we-"

"Oi, Haruka, who're you on the phone with?" Takane's voice was a little muffled, but clearly annoyed. "You left so suddenly that the waitress got confused! I had to sit there and try to explain what happened to you!"

"Ah, Takane!" He didn't sound very put off at the irritation. "It's Konoha and Marry. They're together right now."

That was definitely her queue...! Marry waved at the phone. She missed whatever Takane said next, the woman's voice was too soft to pick up from their end of the phone, but there was the sound of rustling on the other side.

Then - "Alright you two. What do you want?" Takane asked, seeming to have taken the phone from Haruka.

Marry privately thought that even though talking to Haruka was intimidating, talking to Takane was even more so. The few times she'd met her as Ene, she'd been a very different person. The person she was after getting her body back was scary enough to start a fistfight with Shintaro and win. While Marry didn't think Takane was a mean person, she didn't want to accidentally say the wrong thing and make her upset.

It was a good thing that Konoha decided to take the lead in the phone conversation, then. "Ene. We want to do Christmas. Do you have... ideas?"

"Haa? Christmas, hm?" Takane's voice was a near drawl, but she sounded slightly less annoyed than she had before. She hummed, the phone muffling it partially. "Let's see... Do you two have the Christmas cake on the list yet? Or KFC?"

Konoha looked towards Marry as if asking for the proper response. She shook her head. What did KFC have to do with Christmas? It definitely hadn't been in the book. Konoha just stared. Marry stared back. Neither of them dared to answer Takane.

Apparently the silence was enough of an answer for Takane. "Seriously? Did no one tell you two how to have a proper Japanese Christmas? God. Listen, kids, write this down."

"Okay, Takane," Marry replied, preparing her pen and paper.

"To have a nice and proper date, you need to have KFC, then go get Christmas cake for dessert, then go to a market to see the lights. I don't know if you two have ever like... done holidays before? No offense. But that's the right way to do it. Read my Christmas manifesto and weep."

Well. Those were certainly plans! Marry had written them down, in addition to her previous notes. She gave Takane's voice an eager nod, once again forgetting that the other couldn't see her through the device.

Konoha, for his part, decided to clap slowly.

"Anyways," Takane said, voice back to normal instead of the excited half shout she'd reached, "that's what you should do. I'll hand you back over to Haruka, kay?"

"Thank you Ene." Konoha said quietly.

Marry echoed the sentiment. "Thank you Takane!"

There was another rustle, then Haruka's voice came through again. "Ah, I hope you two have a fun Christmas together! Talk to you later."

Marry made sure she waved goodbye to the phone, listening to the call disconnect. Well! Takane and Haruka were as intimidating to talk to as they always were, but she was glad that she could add another step to her checklist. She made sure that she penciled in Takane's specific instructions wherever she thought they would fit with her existing ones, and couldn't help but smile. Their upcoming plans were looking really fun...! She was so excited to be able to try everything with Konoha.

Speaking of which, she looked back over towards him. He was still looking at the phone, a little lost. Did he not know what to do next? She could help him out.

"Ah, Konoha, I think you put it into your pocket! That's what Kido always does." He looked back towards her, and nodded quietly before doing exactly what she'd directed him to do.

There were a few moments of silence, before Konoha spoke up himself. "That's my research. Are we all good?"

Marry couldn't help but laugh, and then picked up her tentative schedule to show him. He didn't really read it, but her confidence seemed to inspire him enough to give a tiny smile. "I see... Well. Let's have fun starting tomorrow. See you, Marry."

Konoha began to head to the door. He was probably trying to spend time with his own housemates before Marry started to take all his time up, so she didn't really mind the abrupt ending to their meeting. Instead, she smiled at his back.

"See you tomorrow, Konoha!"

╰┈➤ Part three.

Marry, after considering their many options, had decided that it would be easiest if they started with something small. Something that was less intimidating than going out into public and having to deal with a whole bunch of people. As much as she'd been trying to acclimate herself to crowded places, it was still scary to think about how many people lived in the city with them.

So! To get them both into the holiday spirit, and to get at least one thing off her list, Marry had decided that their first activity would be making cookies.

It didn't seem like it would be too hard! Kido had been fretting a lot about it, making sure that Marry had both a recipe and a decent understanding on food safety before she felt anywhere near comfortable leaving them alone. She had really been worried about what they'd do to the kitchen. In the end, Marry had to phone Momo to come over so that she could have the kitchen to herself. And Konoha!

As it was, though, Marry didn't really remember any of the food safety stuff Kido had talked about. It had sounded scary, but she'd survived as long as she had without needing to eat food! There was no way she and Konoha could hurt themselves.

A quiet knock near the door of the kitchen got her attention, and she turned. Konoha was standing there, looking the same as he always did.

"Hello Konoha!" Marry called out, a smile easily stretching her face. He waved back, lips working very slightly. "Today we're going to make christmas cookies! Kido gave me a recipe for it, so it's going to be super easy too."

"Ah, cookies… Yes, they taste good. It's a good idea." Konoha hadn't moved from the doorway, other than to look slightly surprised at the activity she'd chosen.

She got started anyway, grabbing the flour and just pouring a bunch of it in. For research, she'd tried to watch some cooking videos on the phone. From what she could remember, they usually dumped in a whole bunch of ingredients and then put it in the oven! Besides, Konoha didn't seem to think she was doing anything wrong. He liked to eat, right? He'd definitely tell her if anything she was doing was terrible.

As she mixed, she watched him slowly move into the kitchen with the corner of her eye. It seemed he was slowly heading... to the fridge? Ah! He must be hungry. The idea of cookies was making her a bit hungry too.

"Konoha, you can take anything you want from the fridge! I don't think Kido will mind." Probably. Marry wouldn't be in trouble for telling him that.

"Thank you."

Konoha opened the fridge to peer inside. He kept it open long enough that Marry finished mixing her dough and began to lay it out on the cookie sheets. The kitchen was mostly silent, aside from the sounds of her getting the kitchen running and the gentle hum of electronics around them.

Finally, when she was putting the cookies in the oven, he picked out something and closed the door. She wasn't really paying close attention, instead opting to turn on the oven, so she jumped at the sound of plastic ripping.

When she turned around, Konoha was eating raw chicken straight from the styrofoam. Marry was just glad he wasn't eating the beef. Kido wanted to make a hotpot later.

She quickly made sure the oven turned on properly, then turned back to face Konoha.

"So, Konoha! We have to wait... um..." Ah, she'd definitely forgotten how long the cookies were supposed to take. "We have to wait half an hour! Let's tell Christmas stories!"

"Christmas stories?" Konoha asked. Heh. What Konoha didn't know was that Marry had prepared for this! She would come out on top as the most knowledgeable on Christmas ever.

Marry gave him a quick smile, hopping to sit on one of the counters. She had never tried it before, but that was what today was for. She was going to try a whole bunch of new things! Like sitting on counters when no one was around to judge. She patted the counter in invitation, but Konoha simply stayed put. Well. If he was comfortable, then she wouldn't force him to move!

"Yes, I read some books! Let's see..." Marry paused for a moment. What was the story she'd read... "There was a rich man named mister Scrooge. He was very rich and didn't like to spend money. One Christmas Eve, he was asked to come to dinner by his nephew, and he said no. Then he was asked to spare money for charity and he said no. He was very mean. He tries to go to sleep but then he sees a ghost! It's the person he ran a business with, covered with chains. It's really scary and he's scared."

She paused to see if Konoha was following along. Konoha blinked.

"So he sees another ghost. The ghost of Christmas! And the ghost shows him the past, which is why he hates Christmas. Because he was very lonely. And also his fiancee broke up with him. Then they show him the present, where his worker is allowed home to visit his very sick son. And they tell mister Scrooge that he'll die if mister Scrooge doesn't do anything!" She gasped dramatically, as if she wasn't the one telling the story. "Then they show him the future, where it turns out he died and no one cares. And also, also, the son of his worker died, so he sees everyone crying for him. So mister Scrooge begs for another chance to not be lonely. And he has a nice Christmas! The end."

Konoha gave her a small clap. "Thanks, Marry. I enjoyed the story."

Marry hopped back off the counter, and took a bow. It hadn't exactly been 30 minutes, but the cookies really did smell like they were done! So she quickly grabbed oven gloves, and took out the tray.

The cookies... looked very dark! But it would definitely taste just fine. Marry was pretty sure that this would be perfect. She took one from the tray, hissing as it burnt her fingertips, and quickly swallowed it. Very strange tasting!

Strange taste aside, the smell was a little worrying. As well as the smoke that was coming out of the oven.

Kido burst into the kitchen, looking very panicked. She headed straight for the tray, and began to attempt to speak, but no words came out. Momo came trailing in after her, looking much less panicked. After one look at the tray of cookies, she started laughing.

"Ha! Check this out, Marry, Konoha!" She said, picking up the most strangely shaped cookie from the tray. "Don't you think that this looks like big brother? Haha! How ugly!"

Marry peered at the cookie. The lumpy and burnt thing did not peer back. It didn't look terribly Shintaro-like, but she nodded anyway.

Momo seemed to enjoy the response nonetheless, and tossed it into her mouth while cackling. The laugh quickly turned into a kind of gagging. "Ah, this is nasty. Danchou, you're the one who left the kids alone in the kitchen!" She dragged out Kido's name in a sing-song voice.

"Ah, Momo. You guys..." Kido finally managed to say, shaking her head. Her serious expression had shifted into something more amused. "This is why I bought some kits for you two, you know? I told you last night, Marry. Let me get them."

She opened a cupboard quickly, and pulled out two boxes. The outsides of the two of them displayed little gingerbread houses, complete with little gingerbread people that came along with them. Kido had also pulled out a few small bags filled with candy. She looked back at the others in the kitchen, then at the burnt cookies, then back to the boxes.

"I'll get it ready, ok?" There was a hint of a sigh in her voice, but she was smiling as she emptied out the boxes and prepared everything for them. And, to her credit, she did it much quicker and cleaner than Marry would have!

It didn't take very long for her to lay all the ingredients out for them, a surprising amount of gingerbread pieces and candy spread on the table.

"This good, Marry?" Kido asked, turning her gaze to her.

"Yes! Thank you very much, Kido!" How grateful she felt for Kido to do that!

Kido seemed pretty dang satisfied with that, and let out a small laugh. "This time you two don't have to cook anything. Try not to make a mess, alright?"

She began to leave, and Momo stopped taking photos of the cookies long enough to follow her.

"Have fun! We'll be a couple rooms away if you need us!" Momo waved her phone as the two of them left, a huge grin on her face.

Their conversation on the way back to Kido's room was partially intelligible for a few seconds. Something about Shintaro being grumpy about the cookies, and Kido saying something too quiet to hear. The last thing Marry could really hear was Momo once again laughing.

Marry turned back to Konoha. He looked right back at her, before seeming to realize he was still holding the styrofoam from earlier. Luckily, everyone had been over so many times that he knew exactly where to find the garbage can, and quickly got rid of the trash. He turned back to look at her again.

"Should we start decorating, Konoha?" Marry asked, gesturing towards the gingerbread house materials.

"Yes... I think so." He took a seat at the table and promptly popped a piece of candy in his mouth instead of decorating. To his credit, though, he started to sort other pieces to put onto the house.

That definitely answered her question, though, so she also took a seat and got to work creating her gingerbread house.

For the most part, the two of them worked in silence. Konoha wasn't the most talkative person in their friend group, which Marry was glad for. There was something comfortable about not having to speak.

At first, she didn't have any idea what to do. She could create what was on the box, obviously, but something nagged at the back of her mind at the idea. What was a house to her...? With a few tactical breaks, and a lot of suspension of belief, she slowly managed to form a cookie replica of her childhood home. So much of her life had been spent hiding away inside the place, but some small part of her missed it. What was better than a place to hide all by herself, when life started to be too much?

"Ah... Don't you think it's sad?" Konoha asked suddenly. He was toying with a piece of gingerbread, flipping it back and forth under his finger. When she made an inquisitive sound, he shifted his gaze from the pastry to her. "The story you told. It means being alone is sad."

What were the chances? She kept her eyes locked on her gingerbread house. "Yes, I think it is." Her voice was quieter than it had been for a long time.

Konoha nodded, the motion catching in her peripheral vision. There was another brief moment of silence before he spoke up again. "It makes me happy that we're friends."

When she looked back at him, he gave her a faint smile. She couldn't help but return it. Konoha had managed to somehow speak directly against her self doubts. If she'd stayed there forever, she would've never met her friends. The shame of being lonely would've been even worse than being overwhelmed sometimes, wouldn't it?

It was quick work finishing her gingerbread house. At some point, Konoha had gotten bored of trying to figure out how to connect the pieces and let her use his pieces, instead eating the two gingerbread people that had come with his kit.

She got out of her seat, and put her hands on her hips proudly. The house looked perfect! Sure, parts of the candy were slowly sliding off from melting icing, but she thought it was the prettiest gingerbread house ever. If only she was allowed to use her phone... Ah, it didn't matter! As long as the house got eaten, then her mother and grandmother would see it. That was definitely how the daze worked!

Besides, Konoha was looking a little hungry again. She'd just let him know that they could eat it together!

"Konoha, let's eat this house together, ok?" She made sure to phrase it like a question, just in case he minded. It didn't seem like he did, though, because he eagerly reached to the house and promptly broke it into two pieces. One of which was just a single wall.

He took the bigger part and began nibbling on it.

Marry gladly took her little piece and ate it. Yes, this was definitely a great start to their Christmas plans! She couldn't wait for what she had in store for the next day!

╰┈➤ Part four.

After such a great first day to their plans, Marry had become confident enough to put what she privately thought was one of the scariest tasks as their plans for the second day. Even now, waiting outside for Konoha to be dropped off, she was a little hesitant. There was still time for her to change her mind, right?

No, no, she couldn't just do that. They had a very strict Christmas plan to follow, and she wasn't going to be the one to ruin everything for Konoha!

Sure, he'd asked them to both do it because she was reading her book, but she still wanted it to be perfect for him.

She was brought out of her thoughts by the sound of a car door closing. Konoha had arrived! In the car behind him, Shintaro and Takane waved.

Marry waved back at them, then turned her smile back to Konoha. "Hello Konoha! Are you ready for today!"

"Hello Marry," Konoha answered, looking away from the car to her. He gave a small nod in response to her question.

It was very exciting! And still very scary. But she knew they could do it! The least scary person to spend time with was definitely Konoha! If anything bad happened, she was sure that he'd be the best person to be around.

So, she grabbed his hand and began walking away from the house. Today… they were going to go to the mall!

While she'd generally been telling people her plans, she didn't want anyone to worry about her going somewhere busy. Instead, she'd told a little lie. She said they'd go ice skating instead, and declined all offers for help getting to a skating rink. It was probably for the better, in all honesty, since she didn't really want to wear skates. They looked way too tight.

As they walked, she kept taking glances towards Konoha. He didn't seem to mind being dragged around, but she wondered if he wanted to talk.

"Did you like the cookies we made yesterday? I had to throw most of them out, so I didn't get to taste any." Kido had made her throw them all out. She had also told Marry that she wasn't allowed to try cooking unless someone else was in the kitchen with her. And by someone, she meant herself, Hibiya, and Seto only.

"I liked the cookies." She was very glad to hear so! It was practically glowing praise. He kept going, though. "Ah, but they got thrown out..."

Konoha looked a bit sad, his neutral expression shifting a tad towards a frown. Oh no! She didn't want him to have a bad time this week!

"Don't worry, Konoha! I have more Christmas food in my plans!" Marry waved her free hand, trying to reassure him and not get worried that he wasn't having fun all at once.

Her words seemed to do the trick though, since he calmed back down after she said it. Which was perfect, because the mall was finally in sight.

It was a little strange being back at the place. Even though she'd been convinced to go back once or twice before, it was always so off-putting. She didn't really know why, but there were a few of her friends who also weren't very big on coming to the mall either.

At least she was pretty sure that they wouldn't get into any trouble this time! Kido had explained to her that even though there had been the hostage situation that once, it was a very uncommon occurrence. Just paired with Marry's hesitance to interact with large groups of strangers, it felt weird going into there. But that didn't matter! She had Konoha, and she wanted to buy all her friends gifts.

As if he were sensing something, Konoha lightly squeezed her hand. He was looking down at her with an unreadable expression. Konoha's expressions were usually pretty unreadable, though, so she just smiled.

"Let's go in! We can get all of the Dan some presents." Speaking it out loud made her feel even more confident. And her words seemed to reassure him, since he easily followed her inside the building.

And then her confidence very quickly shrank at the face of just how many people were in the mall, and how many options there were. Somehow, she'd always managed to have someone who knew the layout with her to bring her to stores, but she'd come here without knowing exactly what she wanted to buy. Maybe she should've made more of a plan than 'go to the mall'. When she looked at Konoha, he was staring out at the sea of strangers. Did Konoha know where anything was...?

Someone lightly coughed behind them, and she quickly tugged Konoha to one side so that they weren't blocking the entrance anymore.

Marry thought very hard for a few moments. "Ok, Konoha, let's just try to find something that everyone will like! That should be good."

It wasn't exactly a good plan. It wasn't exactly a plan at all, actually, but Marry thought it was better to pretend she had a plan than to just get lost and need to phone someone for help. The two of them could do this!

"Yes." Konoha agreed, but he didn't make a move to lead her anywhere. He looked around the mall with a curious gaze. "I don't come here very often."

Ah... She'd have to lead them around, wouldn't she. That was okay! Marry began to walk through the mall, still holding hands with Konoha.

Privately, she thought that she might get lost if she let go of his hand. Or, even worse, he would get lost! Konoha did stick out in the crowd, but she didn't want to have to ask people for help finding him. With those thoughts in mind, she tightened her grip slightly.

Despite the panic of being in an unfamiliar place, and the worry that they might get lost, it wasn't too hard to find some stores to look around.

No matter how many stores they entered, she couldn't find items that exactly screamed 'perfect gift' to her, but there were a few objects she considered buying for her friends. It was still fun enough to slowly relax (as much as she was able) and look at everything.

As they were leaving the third store they'd entered, empty handed, Konoha suddenly perked up.

"Hm? Did you see something?" Marry asked.

She didn't really get a verbal answer. Instead, Konoha pted to suddenly start heading in one direction, still holding hands with her.

And, well, she really didn't want to get lost! If Konoha had seen something then she'd follow! Who knows, maybe he'd thought of the perfect gift for everyone. She very much hoped that was the case, but they took a few strange turns through the mall corridors.

Eventually they arrived near a non-descript door. No one seemed to be going in or out of the door, but Konoha pushed it open without any hesitation.

There was a much smaller hallway, completely devoid of anyone asides from the two of them.

Marry didn't quite know how or why they had ended up here. This place was very obviously not a shop, and was nothing like the staircases around the mall. She turned questioning eyes towards Konoha, but he just looked more confused than anything else. What had drawn his attention?

Before she could ask, a nearby door opened and someone stepped out.

They took one look at the two of them and instantly scowled. "Come on, you two! You're late for your shift!"


"Huh?" Marry repeated, out loud. She felt nothing but confusion as the person brought them into the room. And as they shoved a bag of clothing into her arms, and pointed her to a changing room.

Marry changed into the clothes quickly, and put the outfit she'd come with into the bag.

When she came back out, the same person from before looked her over with a critical eye, before nodding. There were a lot of people talking among themselves, causing a low hum. She took a small moment to look back at her outfit. It was bright red and green, made out of felt. So many stripes... The shirt had some noisy bells that jingled every time she moved as well. She couldn't say that there was much about dressing strangely in her book. Could this be Trick or Treat?

Konoha came out not too long later, also in a different outfit than the one he'd come in. He wandered over to her pretty quickly. Before she could say anything to him, she was interrupted by a loud clapping.

"Right! Elves, get going to your stations." The head person - the elf? - announced, voice loud over the general chatter in the break room. "Let's make this Christmas magic work! Jingle and jangle, my corporate minions!"

What a strange thing to say! Marry wanted to stay and ask what exactly was going on.

As the crowd began to move, she looked back to Konoha to tell him that she wanted to ask. But, to her surprise, Konoha wasn't there anymore. She felt panicked for a few seconds before spotting the pure white hair of her companion a distance away in the crowd.

Okay. She could do this! She attempted her best to try and follow exactly where Konoha was, but it was a little hard to push her way through the swarm of other elves. Maybe she just needed to wait until they got to their destination.

They walked for a few minutes as a group, the shoppers in the mall parting around them. It was almost like the reverse of Momo's powers - people actively avoiding them. Marry couldn't help but wonder if perhaps being an elf would be helpful in the future. She'd have to test this again once she figured out what was going on.

Finally, they arrived in a large area surrounded by a white fence. There was a very long line of mostly children waiting outside it, all of them bouncing up and down. The elves didn't seem to care, instead going in through the back area of the fence.

Once they got into the fenced area the crowd thinned. Everyone else seemed to know what they were doing, so Marry took the chance to try and find where Konoha had gone.

Luckily, he was pretty hard to miss, even when he was wearing the exact same outfit as everyone else.

"Konoha!" Marry called, waving as she half ran towards him. What a relief! She didn't know what she would've done if he'd gotten taken away by the swarm of elves.

His head swiveled towards her, a slight look of panic in his expression. So Konoha didn't know what was going on either! As soon as she was close enough, she grabbed his hand again. No more separation.

"I'm sorry Konoha, I don't know what's happening." She continued.

He nodded, a barely noticeable tremble in his frame. "We're elves now..."

Yeah. They were elves. That was the best way to understand it. Even if technically neither of them were elves, maybe it was a Christmas tradition to pretend to be one.

"Let's leave this place, okay?" Marry punctuated this statement with a small pat to Konoha's hand, preparing to leave.

Before they could make their grand escape, a loud series of coughs erupted behind them.

Ah, they just couldn't leave, could they? So many interruptions. Not for the first time, Marry almost wished that she could just have the confidence to leave a situation. Or maybe that she wouldn't be intrigued enough to turn around and see what was going on.

Behind them was a man, dressed up in an almost completely red suit, pulling off a fake beard from his face. Marry knew who this was supposed to be! This was Santa Claus! Technically it was a man dressing up as him, but Marry had spent enough time researching Christmas to recognize him instantly. To imagine they'd get a chance to meet Santa before the 25th!

Oblivious to how excited she was at the idea of getting to meet Santa, the man dumped the fake beard onto Konoha's head. Then his coat. Then a fake stomach. Very soon, just a normal man was standing in front of them.

He looked towards Marry and the now covered Konoha as soon as he was done. "Hey, elves, I'm taking my thirty. Give those kids hell for me."

And just as soon as he arrived, he was gone.

Marry watched him leave. She felt absolutely bewildered at how this mall trip had gone. Also she didn't know what a 'thirty' meant in this context, but it seemed like it was just the two of them. Which meant it was the perfect chance to escape.

Since things weren't going terribly perfect, when she turned back to Konoha to let him know it was their chance, he had put on all the Santa outfit pieces.

"Konoha, we should just leave now!" She explained nonetheless.

Konoha gave a quiet hum, looking down at his outfit before looking back at her. "The kids need Santa Claus. Ho ho ho."

The ho ho ho wasn't very energetic at all.

Marry felt she could understand. Konoha... he was just as attached to celebrating Christmas as she was! She definitely hadn't told him who Santa was, so he had done research about Christmas on his own. And obviously he couldn't leave kids upset. That just wasn't the kind of guy Konoha was.

"Ah, I see! But, um, Konoha. Where are we supposed to go?"

Konoha must have been predicting this question, because he pointed towards the area that the previous Santa must have come from. He proceeded to begin walking past the small back section of the area, towards where the kids were lining up. Marry, not wanting to be left behind, ran to follow him.

On the other side of the structure, she could properly see that it was a large red chair. Konoha took one look at it and promptly sat down. She stayed standing beside him, since she didn't want to lose him. No one seemed to be angry about her placement, though, so she was doing something right! In fact, the other elves were busy speaking with the many, many children in the line.

While it was originally very intimidating for her to watch the kids approaching, glee apparent in their eyes, none of them were interested in her. Which was great! Marry was enjoying being an elf more and more as time passed.

No, instead, the kids were excited to speak with Konoha, who very politely listened to them whispering into his ear. He would nod every time, then say 'ho ho ho' in response to everything.

After they were done talking to him, another elf would come by to take the child to the next part of the Santa area. Then another kid would walk up, and Konoha would rinse and repeat his Santa job. It was going surprisingly well! Marry didn't know that so many kids came to a mall to speak to Santa.

In fact, it was going almost too well.

Marry waved the next kid up to sit on Konoha's lap, and the kid smiled widely at her. He hopped up onto Konoha, and began to speak. "Hello Santa! For Christmas I want my family and friends to all die a terrible death!"

"Ho ho ho," Konoha replied, nodding wisely.

"Wait, I." The kid said, looking up at Konoha in confusion. His eyes widened. "Konoha?!"

"Yes, that's me. Konoha Claus. Ho ho ho." Konoha nodded again.

The kid swore, before his form changed before their eyes. In a flash, Kano had replaced the kid completely.

"Weren't you two supposed to be skating?" He asked them, now pouting. Marry looked away inconspicuously. She wouldn't feel bad for lying...!

Konoha didn't say anything in response either, which drew a groan from Kano.

"Seriously! I like coming here and tormenting the Santas, you know? Gotta keep them on their toes!" Kano waved his arms as he spoke, just barely not tipping off of Konoha's lap as he gestured. "I can't believe you two are here! How did you become Santa and an elf?"

A very good question.

"We just ended up here," Marry explained. She also didn't know how they became Santa. Or, well, she did, but she wasn't sure how they'd gotten this far.

"A man made me Santa," Konoha added.

Kano's pout grew at their explanation. "Come on. Man, I wish Ayano was able to make it this time. No one else is going to even believe me when I try to tell them about this!"

Before Kano could continue to complain, the elf from the other side of the chair came by and took him by the hand.

"Come on, little... Little fella?" There was a question in that statement, but they stuck to their guns. "Come on, little fella, let's make room for the other kids in line."

He smiled widely at them. "Of course! I sure hope Santa remembers my wish for enough hairspray to give my entire household an asthma attack this Christmas!"

The elf attempted to hide a wince.

"Bye bye, Santa!" Kano called, waving with his free hand. He mouthed something at them as he left, but Marry couldn't tell what he was trying to say.

Konoha had a simple answer to what had just gone down. "Ho ho ho."

At least some things didn't change.

They only went through a few more kids before Konoha was called behind the chair by another elf. Marry trailed along behind him, once again not wanting to get separated. Once they got there, the old Santa was back, and made a grabby gesture towards Konoha's outfit. Konoha, who was wearing another outfit underneath, gladly handed over the red suit to him. The Santa marched back to the other side, leaving the two of them alone in the back.

Without any further ado, Marry took Konoha's hand and took the two of them back out of the elf area.

She didn't exactly know where the original room they'd come from had been. The whole time they'd been walking to the Santa area, she'd been a little too shocked to remember the path they took.

But that was okay! She headed in the general area that she was sure the room was, Konoha following behind her obediently.

After a few minutes of searching, they were able to find the room, as well as their clothes.

Marry was pretty glad to be able to change back into the clothing she'd come to the mall in. Although being an elf had been temporary fun, she was glad to return to her normal dress. Being in the enclosure, and all the events leading up to it, had been really tiring. So many children going by. So many people around them. It was a relief to go back to regular Marry. Phew. She put the elf costume back into the bag, and headed back out.

Konoha was already outside, looking exactly how he normally did.

"Let's go home, Konoha," Marry decided. Konoha didn't have any arguments, and simply held the door open for them to leave the room.

Their walk back to the house was quiet. Occasionally, Marry would remember how busy their day had been, and couldn't help but sigh. The longer the walk went, the more and more drained she felt. This was why she didn't leave the house too often. While there was usually a very low chance that something strange would happen, it was never zero chance. She was simply grateful that they had been able to leave without being yelled at. Konoha was as silent as he always was.

Once they made it all the way back, she had to keep herself from running inside. She should probably at least say goodbye before she hid in her room.

She faced him again, and tried for the nicest smile she could muster while being sleepy. "Tomorrow will be less busy. I promise."

Konoha didn't frown, or look sad, or even look contemplative. Briefly, she felt worried that he might be disappointed. This definitely hadn't been what she'd had planned. In fact, becoming Santa wasn't anywhere on her list of things to do. What a way for the day to go.

In lieu of a complicated response, Konoha patted her head.

"See you tomorrow, Marry."

Marry didn't need to force a smile this time.

╰┈➤ Part five.

This time, Marry was prepared to not have anything happen that was outside of her plans for the day. She'd stayed up a bit late making sure that everything would be perfect for when Konoha arrived. Sure, she was tired now that she was up, but it meant that nothing weird would happen again.

Since the day before had been so strange and busy, she decided that they would do something much easier to deal with.

Before she headed out she'd made sure to send a message to Shintaro, letting him know that Konoha needed to meet her at the train station. While normally, she would've sent the text to Konoha himself, he tended not to read his messages unless someone reminded him. It made complete sense to her, though. Growing up without any technology at all made some things (like regularly using a phone) hard to remember on instinct.

But she did like that the devices made a very loud noise! It was wonderful hearing the little chime and knowing that her friends were wanting to speak with her.

For example, when her phone alerted her of a new message as she walked. She pulled her phone out, checking to see if it was Shintaro or someone else. It was a text back from Shintaro, letting her know that Konoha was also heading out. There was also a message from Seto, telling her to have fun.

She stopped in the middle of the sidewalk to send them both a reply filled with the little faces.

As soon as she was done, she slipped the phone back into her pocket and kept walking to the train station.

Marry figured she should wait outside the train station for Konoha, since it was bound to be a whole lot busier inside the place. She'd only been on the trains a few times - the most notable time being when she'd been brought into the city by everyone.

Trains were still a little scary, but she figured the trip would be worth it this time!

Konoha didn't take very long to show up to the station anyways. He was dressed the same as he always was, with the replacement of a scarf around his neck instead of the usual neckband. It was still the same colours, with light green arrows on it.

He made his way over to her quickly.

"I'll tell you what we're doing when we get on the train!" She informed him, gesturing at the station behind her. Konoha turned his gaze from her to the station, eyes wide. Maybe Konoha had never been on a train by himself either?

Well! They'd experience everything together! It was much less scary when there was someone else backing her up.

They both headed over to the clerk of the station. While it was a tiny bit difficult to purchase the tickets (in her defense, Marry had never bought tickets before!), the clerk didn't get upset. The woman must've gotten a lot of strange customers day to day, since she just handed them their tickets and shooed them away in order to help the next people in line.

Marry quickly thanked her, before entwining her arm with Konoha's and leading him to the waiting area.

It was during the lull of morning travel, some time after most people headed out to their work, and before lunchtime came around. Which was good. If the train station had been too busy today, Marry would've been completely overwhelmed.

But, as it was, they were lucky enough to not have to share the train with too many people.

They were also lucky enough to not have to wait very long for the train to arrive. Marry checked once, then twice, that it was the train they were supposed to get onto. There would be nothing worse than getting on a train only to realise they were heading in the wrong direction!

They found seats on the train easily, and Marry carefully tucked the bag she'd brought with her underneath the seat she chose.

"Today we're going to be playing in the snow! I don't know how much you liked being Santa, but I thought we could try something a bit more fun." And with far less people. That was definitely the biggest factor in her deciding that they'd go play today instead.

Konoha's expression didn't change too much, but he tilted his head slightly in question. "I haven't seen a lot of snow. What kind of playing?"

"This is the one thing I got to do with my mom, actually." Which was part of the reason why she was so excited to do it with him! She wouldn't be blind sighted by anything. They'd have so much fun! "Both of us got a little more sleepy around winter time, but she would always take me out to play with her. The snow's so nice and white and fluffy...! But! Yes! We used to go outside, and she'd show me things that grandpa showed her. Like snowmen, snow angels, and everything."

He was still watching her, gaze decidedly more curious than before. That meant her storytelling was definitely working.

"You'll see when we get there, ok? For now we can just relax."

By relax, she meant she was planning on catching up with her reading while they waited. She pulled the bag back out from under her seat, and took out the book she'd packed. Within a few moments, she was completely enveloped in the story, no longer paying attention to her surroundings.

As she read, she slowly began feeling more pressure on her side. At the end of a chapter, she paused to sneak a peek and saw Konoha leaning completely on her. She craned her head slightly and saw that his eyes were shut. His breathing was quiet and even. She guessed that even Konoha had times when he felt sleepy. Which... happened to be more often than the rest of their group. There were a lot of times that Konoha would just take a short nap when he thought people weren't looking. Well, she'd let him keep napping! It was a little awkward trying to get back to reading her book, but she figured he must be tired if he was sleeping on the train.

The rest of the train ride went by in a flash. Sooner than later, she was gently shaking Konoha so that they could get off at the proper stop.

He grumbled a little bit, before opening his eyes and blinking rapidly to get rid of the sleepy feeling. His weight shifted off of her, probably to give her room to do whatever she needed to. Marry took the chance to tuck her book back in.

A few minutes later, the train pulled into the station, and the two of them got off of the train.

Marry once again took his hand, reassured by the weight of it, and began to lead him towards where her old home had been. Or, well, into the forest itself.

She wasn't really sure that she'd be able to go back to the house this soon after leaving. In some ways, it felt like very little time had passed, as the trees slowly began to get more familiar. She purposefully took them away from the exact path to the house, instead aiming for a clearing that she knew existed.

While they walked, she couldn't help but feel grateful that she'd put on so many layers before she'd left the house. Usually winter made her pretty tired, and very cold, but the excitement of having a fun time with Konoha was enough to keep her as aware as possible. That and the hand warmers she'd stuffed into her mittens. It was a strong contrast to how she felt yesterday, when her plans very quickly unraveled.

They arrived at the clearing, and she let go of Konoha's hand to run ahead of him. The clearing was completely filled with crisp white snow, barely disturbed aside from the tracks that some wild animals had left behind. It was interesting to think that, although she'd been gone for a while, people were still too nervous to go too far into the woods. When she got a decent distance into the clearing, she whirled back around to face him, a wide smile on her face.

"Look how nice it is, Konoha!" Marry called, waving her arms in the air. To his credit, Konoha was staring out at the snow. He just didn't do much besides trudge through it after her.

But that didn't matter! She would show him how to have fun.

"Have you ever made a snowball?" That would be the easiest thing to start with. From what Marry could tell, most people in her life had made one at least once. The irresistible urge to turn a bunch of snow into a ball.

Konoha shook his head. Apparently that urge wasn't as irresistible as she'd thought it would be.

The best way for her to teach him would be to simply demonstrate. She knelt down into the snow, ignoring the brief feel of cold against her knees. Marry had planned ahead of time, choosing to put on a full pair of pants on underneath her skirt. She quickly began to gather snow, and as promised turned it into a ball. As soon as she finished turning it to a ball, she stood back up and handed it over to Konoha.

"Thank you for the gift," Konoha said, holding it with his bare hands.

Weren't his hands cold? She guessed not, since he wasn't reacting in pain in any way.

Marry made another snowball for herself. Then she looked at Konoha, to make sure he was watching, and threw it lightly at him.

The snow splattered against his outfit, and he jumped a tiny bit.

He probably just needed a little encouragement. "Throw yours too, Konoha!"

Konoha looked back down at his snowball, then threw his at her. It hurt a little bit, but her many layers protected her from any snowball damage. She laughed, and gestured towards the snow laid out in front of them.

"Now you make some more...!" For a few more moments, she stayed where she was to make sure that he would be good to go without her guidance. Which, as he knelt down and started hesitantly grabbing at the snow, he was! She then ran across the field to the other side, to give them more space. Theoretically, Konoha's throws would be a little more dulled with distance. Theoretically.

Well! She wouldn't know until he properly made one, would she? As quickly as she could, she made another snowball and tried to throw it at him. The snowball fell in the middle of the field between them.

That was okay though. She could just keep trying to make snowballs, and keep trying to throw them to hit him. The idea of managing to whack Konoha with a snowball was very exciting! She'd throw so many snowballs, and he'd get buried in the snow, and then -

As if on queue to humble her, a snowball flew through the air and hit her arm perfectly. She let out a loud 'eep', and looked up from her snow gathering to see Konoha staring at her across the clearing.

Somehow, he'd managed to make a whole bunch of snowballs while she hadn't been looking. They were all stacked neatly, in a semi-pyramid, and he took another snowball from near the top.

"Ah, wait, Konoha, you made so many -"

Before she could finish her sentence, though, he let the other snowball fly through the air. Instinctively, Marry made a dive for the snow in front of her to avoid getting pelted. She got a face full of cold for her efforts, but she didn't feel the snowball hit her.

Slowly, she looked up at Konoha, staying where she was. Konoha grabbed another snowball from the pile. His face was very difficult to read, as far away from him as she was, but he was definitely going to keep throwing snowballs at her no matter what. As he reared back to throw, Marry scrambled to her feet and started running in hopes to avoid it.

The next few hours were a blur. After she'd gotten over the fear of getting pelted, she started to find it pretty fun to run away from the snowballs. She wasn't exactly the best at throwing them herself, so it was probably for the best that Konoha had taken over as the throwing machine. Every time she managed to run away, she couldn't help but laugh from pure exhilaration. And every time she got hit, it was just more incentive to run even better the next time.

Still, as time went on, she got hit a bit more and more. Either she was getting tired, or Konoha was just getting better at predicting her movements.

Marry decided the best next step would be to simply fall onto her back and not get up.

Konoha was at her side in the blink of an eye, kneeling down beside her. "Are you okay?" he asked. She felt a little guilty that she'd worried him so badly, so she nodded quickly.

"I want to show you something new! You need to be a bit further away first though."

At the reassurance of her wellbeing, as well as the request for space, he stepped away a bit. Marry proceeded to wave both her arms and legs through the snow, creating a snow angel. She popped up to her feet just as fast as she dropped, and bounded over to Konoha's side to look at the angel with him.

"This is a snow angel! See how the legs made a little dress, and the arms made wings?" She pointed at the mentioned parts of the indent to properly show him.

"Ah... I see." Konoha replied, lightly smacking a fist into an open hand.

He then lay on the snow, on his side, knees and arms bent at odd angles. When he got back up, he looked at her expectantly.

Marry looked at the shape in the snow. Then looked back at Konoha. "What's that, Konoha?"

He also looked at the shape in the snow, then back at her. "It's a snow snake."

She angled her head to get a better view of it. The shape he had made was pretty squiggly, to give him credit. She could see how it was supposed to be a snake. Poor Konoha, he must have been disappointed when she hadn't reacted properly. Well, she'd just have to make up for it by joining him on his snow snake crusade.

"I'll make one too!"

After that declaration, she tried to copy what he'd done. It was more difficult than she thought to position herself in the snow. As she got up, though, she saw that her snow snake was a little wobbly around the edges. Ah...

Konoha nodded at the sight of the snake.

"Now they have friends," Konoha explained, gesturing at the two snow snakes and the snow angel.

It was kind of nice to think that the figures they made were friends. Just like her and Konoha! Actually, it made her pretty happy. Maybe Konoha just wanted to let her know how much he cherished their friendship! Even if he was a tiny bit scary while throwing snowballs at her.

"Oh, wait, there's one more thing I want to show you!" Marry said, remembering that she'd had one more activity for them to do before they just started messing around. "Let's make a snowman!"

He gave her a confused look, but followed her lead when she kneeled in the snow again. She started bunching up snow, and was glad to see Konoha also do so.

"So what we're going to do now is make bigger snowballs!" As she explained, she started rolling her ball to start packing it up larger.

Konoha copied her motions. "To throw at each other?"

He hesitated a bit before asking, as if to point out the fact that Marry hadn't landed any hits on him during the previous snowball throwing.

"No, we're going to put them on top of each other!" Konoha blinked at the further explanation. "Then we find sticks, and then rocks. So let's do our best to make them huge, ok?"

The explanation seemed to be good enough, since he simply continued to roll the snowball.

Between the two of them, it didn't take very long to finish rolling the different balls to a decent size. She called him over to help her finish rolling hers. Maybe she'd gotten a tiny bit carried away while making it, especially since she didn't usually do heavy lifting in her free time. But with Konoha helping, it was a much smoother process.

Once hers was large enough, she gestured for Konoha to stop pushing and headed to his now abandoned snowball. Marry tried very hard to lift it up on her own, and could only stare at the hands when she wasn't able to. Betrayal... from her own arms...

Konoha picked up the ball and plopped it on top of the larger one they'd created for her. That was good! She didn't have to feel betrayed by her arms now, and could finish building the head of the snowman. Which she did. Konoha almost approached to help, but she waved a little to let him know she was fine. One snowball was perfectly manageable! Marry could do it!

And, once she thought that the head was a proper size, she was even able to lift it up to put on top of the body of the snowman. Konoha helped position it from the other side as she put it on, but otherwise she'd done it herself.

"Now, we find the rocks and sticks! We need two sticks, and just a whole bunch of small rocks." The only issue with this was that the area around them was still pretty well covered by snow. She looked around them, wondering where the items may be hiding underneath it all. Well, there was no better way to find it than by searching for it.

Marry walked a tiny distance away from the snowman, and began to dig in the snow in an attempt to find the rocks they needed. At that point her fingers were starting to get a bit cold, but it was worth it to try and finish the snowman. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Konoha size up a tree and begin climbing it. That was certainly a way to try and find branches for the snowman! Seeing him trying so hard made her want to find the stones even more. She redoubled her efforts to find stones underneath the snow. Finally, she managed to find a small group of pebbles, and carefully extracted as many as she could.

When she got back to her feet properly, she saw that Konoha had snapped off two branches from the tree he climbed. He jumped down with both in hand, causing a cloud of fine snow to billow around him. It was always so cool to see Konoha jump around!

She headed back to the snowman so that they could complete him. Konoha made his way over as well, and offered her the sticks.

"So the branches make arms," she told him, putting the two sticks in the side of the snowman to do so. Then she handed him the rocks. "With the rocks, you make a face! Whatever kind you want."

With a very serious nod, he began to carefully place each rock on the snowman's face. She made sure to look away while he did, just in case he got nervous when people watched him. And also because she wanted his snowman face to be a surprise! It would be interesting to see what Konoha came up with.

For a few moments, all she could hear was the sound of the forest. It was calming, and it was familiar enough that she could probably stay in this clearing forever if she wanted to. It almost sounded nice. Being somewhere with a friend, for the rest of time...

"All done." Konoha announced. Which meant she was allowed to turn around!

The face on the snowman was very basic, and slightly lopsided, but very clear to make out. The mouth was set in a straight line, and underneath one of the snowman's eyes were two dots.

"This is me." He explained to her. Then, before she could say anything, he quickly rearranged the features on the face. Now the snowman was smiling widely. "This is Clearing Eyes possessing me."

Marry simply stared at him for a moment. She shook her head at him, but she laughed quietly. "You're so strange, joking about that!"

Ah, Konoha. He really was a confusing person. He also looked far too pleased at the bad joke, the edges of his lips slightly quirking. Marry shook her head again, then switched the snowman back to normal Konoha. To normal snow Konoha, at least.

"Let's keep this version."

Since he had decided to be silly, she opted to take his hand and pull him a bit deeper into the clearing before he could change it back to Clearing Eyes.

After a bit of searching, she was able to find a patch of snow that still remained untouched from their previous activities. Marry pulled Konoha down, using their joined hands, into lying on the ground side by side. As she looked up, the sky was covered by bright gray clouds. There were the faint sensations of it beginning to snow again against the exposed skin of her face.

She found her voice, quieter than it had been when she'd admonished him only a minute ago. "How about we watch it snow, Konoha?"

He made a hum of agreement, so she settled in to watch the clouds roll by.

"Ah, Kido packed us hot chocolate. It's in my bag, if you want some."

"It's alright. We can have it later."

The warmth of Konoha against her side, the dull cold of the snow beneath her, contrasted just enough to relax her. Once again, the feeling of rightness took over. She loved being with her friends, and she was slowly coming to love the city. But if all of them, everyone, wanted to hide away... She almost felt she could understand what her grandmother had wanted to do, so long ago. The thoughts felt a bit silly in her mind, but she decided she'd just let herself have a good time. Wasn't that what their Christmas plans were for? How grateful she was that Konoha had wanted to do this all with her.

As she thought, and as the white noise of the forest engulfed her, she found herself slowly falling asleep.

What felt like a few seconds later, she woke up to being on the move. Her arms were loosely draped over Konoha's shoulders, and she took a bleary moment to look around them. They were back in the city, far away from the forest. She tightened her grip slightly, which must have alerted Konoha to her being awake.

"You fell asleep." He told her, continuing to walk. "We're almost at your house now."

And, sure enough, the house she shared with the siblings was coming into view. She perked up slightly, sleep tugging at her reactions enough that she didn't reply just yet. Marry spent the seconds remaining of their walk over bringing herself back to alertness.

Once they were right outside, Konoha let her climb off of his back.

"Thank you, Konoha," she began to say, and got interrupted by an involuntary yawn.

"Yes. Thank you for today." He paused for a moment. "It was fun."

That was very good news! Marry gave him a big smile, glad that he'd even expressed his enjoyment.

She yawned again, which was a pretty obvious signal that she was still tired. So, instead of drawing out the moment too much more, she settled on a simple goodbye. "See you tomorrow! We'll have even more fun."

╰┈➤ Part six.

After a long sleep, Marry had woken up feeling a lot better. Maybe it had been the cold, or maybe she'd just worried too much the previous night to get good sleep. Whatever it had been didn't matter too much in the end.

She felt completely ready to tackle another few points on her checklist!

Upon checking the time, it was a few hours too early for Konoha to be heading over. It did help her realize that she'd been making Konoha come over too much. Since she was already awake, she decided that she would go to him instead!

Determined, she quickly got ready for the day, making sure to dress warm once more. Then she headed downstairs, to see if anyone in the house would be available for her to ask for help.

Marry poked her head into a few of the rooms, before finding Ayano sitting in the living room. She was reading something on her phone, though, so Marry hesitated to speak up. Should she interrupt, just to ask her a question? What if Ayano was reading something really important? It would make her feel bad.

Luckily, Ayano seemed to notice Marry's anxious trembling. "Hm? Oh, good morning."

"Good morning!" Marry replied easily. The next part was the more nerve wracking one. She looked down at the floor.

"Are you okay, Marry?" Ayano asked. Her eyes were nothing but warm and inviting.

That was the thing about Ayano. She always seemed to notice when someone had something on their mind. Not only that, but she always had advice to offer as well. Privately, Marry figured that being stuck in the daze for so long must have given Ayano a lot of time to think about life. It made her come off as very wise, and a little sad.

… and now Marry had spent a bit too long not replying to her.

"Um, I'm. Yes!" The perfect response to someone asking about your wellbeing. Marry looked back towards Ayano. "Would you be able to take me to the Kisaragi house?"

Ayano made a humming kind of noise as she thought about the reply she wanted to give.

"Hm… The only reason I'm not saying yes right away is because I'm pretty sure my therapist told me to not see Shintaro for a while." She thought it over for a few more seconds. Then she gestured dismissively once. "Eh, it should be fine if I just drive you there. Are you wanting to go right now?"

"Yes please!" Marry replied. That had been a lot easier than she thought it would be!

With a nod, Ayano stood up, sliding her phone into her pocket as she did so. She stretched briefly, before heading towards the front door with Marry trailing after her. Once Ayano had put on a suitably warm jacket and shoes, they were good to go.

Together, they got into the car that the Tateyama siblings had been able to buy once they were old enough to drive. It turned out that mister Tateyama had been really rich and no one had known for a very long time. Marry remembered that one of the first things that Ayano had done, once they'd finally repealed her death certificate, was get her driver's license to justify them having said car.

Before they headed out, Ayano fiddled with the radio for a few moments until it turned to a light pop tune. Upon listening to it for a few minutes, it turned out to be a Christmas song. Ah, Ayano was trying to help get her in the Christmas mood!

They drove in silence for a while, simply listening to the pure joy that Christmas songs were. Ayano was humming along under her breath.

The silence didn't last forever, though, as Ayano finally broke it. "You and Konoha have been spending a lot of time with each other, right? What have you two been up to?"

An easy question to answer. "We've been doing Christmas together! Every day we go out and do something that we wanted to try doing. Both of us kind of missed the chance before now, so he offered for us to try out everything."

"Ah, I see! I hope you two are having fun, then."

"Definitely," Marry replied, smiling. It had been one of the more exciting things that she'd done in a while. With as anxious as crowds made her, sometimes it was hard to try doing new things outside of her routine. So this thing with Konoha, where they were just going places and spending time together, made her really grateful.

There was a small break in the conversation as one of Momo's new Christmas songs began to play on the radio.

Even though she'd heard Momo's music quite a few times before now, it was exciting to be able to recognize a song. And to recognize her friend's voice! It was the first song where both of them were able to hum along.

As the last few notes of the song played, they pulled into the street where the Kisaragi house was. Ayano slowed down to a stop in front of their house, temporarily parking the car.

Marry quickly unbuckled herself and got out of the car, not wanting to keep Ayano for too long. Before she could walk up to the front door, she was stopped by Ayano calling out after her.

"If you need help getting home, make sure to bully Shintaro into driving you. You can even call me to get him to do it. Okay?" Ayano looked at her expectantly. Marry nodded eagerly.

Satisfied with this response, she rolled up the window and drove off with a wave.

It was easy enough to simply go up to the door and ring the doorbell. Marry thought that doorbells were really interesting. A button that makes noise just to let you know that someone is waiting to see you? Another amazing innovation of technology.

The door opened, to the slightly confused Kisaragi mother peeking outside.

She smiled when she saw Marry, though. "Hello there, Marry! I don't see you too often. Are you here to visit one of the kids?"

Over the past while, she'd slowly gotten to know all the members of the Dan from the sheer amount of times one of her children had brought them home. She was nothing but friendly to everyone.

"Yes, I'm here for Konoha today," Marry informed her.

Miss Kisaragi nodded knowingly, then took a few steps back to let Marry in. Once Marry had made it inside, she closed and locked the door properly.

"Are you the reason Konoha's been going out so often? He always looks so excited when he gets home. Not that he tells us too much, that secretive boy." Miss Kisaragi sighed in an overdramatic way, shaking her head with a smile. She attempted to lead Marry to the living room, but Marry simply followed her to the kitchen when she began to make tea as a refreshment. "What did Shin say… You two are doing Christmas things, right?"

"We are! We're having a lot of fun!"

Marry stayed in a corner of the kitchen, waiting for the tea to be done. Miss Kisaragi prepared a cup with well practiced motions, before passing it over to her.

"I see, I see! Feel free to bug my babies for help, okay? Unless you want it to be just you and Konoha. I'm sure the two of you want to be alone for the holiday." The smile she gave Marry this time was slightly different, with one of her eyebrows slightly raised and everything.

Marry, oblivious to the subtle teasing, smiled back. "I'll ask if we need help. So far we've been alright doing everything alone though."

It was very good that she had friends who were willing to help her. And that she had a friend's mother that was willing to help her. Even if she didn't quite need help at the moment, it was reassuring.

The conversation partially tapered off then, both of them content to simply have a nice quiet morning.

Which was interrupted when Momo came into the kitchen, yawning as loud as she possibly could. She headed straight for the fridge, and began rooting through it for something. With a hum, she called out to both of them. "Good morning, mom! Good morning, Marry!"

At that, Momo paused, holding a carton of orange juice and leaving the fridge open.

"Ah, Marry! You're over so early!" She sounded shocked. Marry waved. With her free hand, she wiped at her eyes, then blinked when Marry was still in their kitchen. Momo visibly went through a few emotions before settling on acceptance. Instead of questioning it further, she simply drank from the carton.

Miss Kisaragi made a small sound at it, but when Marry looked at her the woman didn't look terribly annoyed.

A phone made a brief alarm sound, and each of them patted down their pockets to try and figure out whose phone was ringing. With a triumphant huff, Miss Kisaragi pulled out her phone. The one that was making the noise. She read the screen, mouthing the words, then sighed.

"Sorry girls," she began, placing her cup into the sink, "I really would love to speak a bit longer but the corporate world requires my presence!"

Once her hands were empty, she gave Momo a kiss on the forehead, despite protests. She also gave Marry a kiss on the forehead, not wanting to leave anyone out from her motherly affection. Or, perhaps, because Marry giggled at the expression that Momo made.

"Have a good day, dears!" She called behind her as she left the room.

The kitchen remained in silence for a few moments, as they listened to Miss Kisaragi leave. Marry took the opportunity to finish drinking her tea.

As soon as they heard the front door click, Momo set down the orange juice carton to properly address Marry. "Is there a reason you came over? Usually Konoha goes to you."

She didn't look angry or upset that Marry was there, she simply looked confused.

"I wanted to surprise Konoha. He always comes to me, so I thought it would be a treat if I did it for him." Momo gave her a look. The type of look that was usually reserved for when Kano was pretending to be someone else. And, sure, maybe Marry wasn't the type of person who went out of her way to go places, but she tried hard for her friends! She couldn't help but pout.

The pout seemed to appease Momo though, since she put her hands up in a gesture of surrender.

"Sorry, Marry, you never know." The implication that Kano came over pretending to be other people often was a little funny. Marry knew very well what it was like to get pranked by him. Sometimes she didn't even realize until Kido got the disappointed look.

"It's okay!" Marry reassured Momo.

The two of them shared an understanding glance. They both got it.

Momo yawned again, covering it with a hand. "I'll go wake up Konoha for you, okay? He doesn't usually wake up as early as me."

"Ah, thank you!" How nice of her to offer!

With a nod, Momo headed up the stairs presumably to wake up Konoha. Through the walls of the house, Marry could hear the sound of Momo opening a door. If she strained her ears slightly she could hear the low hum of voices upstairs. Though certainly not enough to make out what they were saying. Then after a minute or so, Mary could hear the opening and closing of doors once more.

Sure enough, Konoha came walking down the stairs in a few minutes. His hair was a bit of a mess, but otherwise he looked fairly normal.

"Good morning," he said. He looked a bit confused, but he continued in his greeting. "I didn't realize I needed to be up." His words were a bit hesitant, as if he was wondering why she hadn't waited at her house.

"Ah, don't worry! I wanted to save you a trip today," Marry explained. It was strange how everyone thought it was weird for her to come over.

But that just meant that she'd need to leave the house for surprises more often! That way, her friends would always understand how much she loved them and wanted to spend time with them. It would just… have to wait until the weather got warmer. As much as she wanted to expand her boundaries, there was only so much activity she could get up to during the winter without feeling completely exhausted.

Speaking of activities, though, she still hadn't told Konoha what they were going to do that day. "Today we're going to go buy a Christmas tree!"

"Oh, really? Can we come too?" Momo asked, causing Marry to flinch in shock.

When had she come back down the stairs?

Momo stood in the doorway to the kitchen, with a noticeably tired Shintaro right behind her. The bags beneath his eyes were darker than Marry usually saw him. He noticed her staring at him, and tried to give her a reassuring smile, but it looked as scary as his forced smiles always did.

Oblivious to her brother's attempts to be sociable, Momo continued. "Big brother broke the sink last night! Like, right in two somehow." Shintaro grumbled something that was impossible to make out. Momo completely ignored him. "I wanna surprise mom with a usable sink later tonight. It's her Christmas gift, you know?"

Well, if Momo put it that way, Marry didn't mind them going to a store together. The more the merrier.

Though she did take a moment to lock eyes with Konoha, trying to see if he was okay with them tagging along to their Christmas time. He just nodded.

Marry looked back at Momo and nodded also. Just in case Momo needed a yes from both of them.

"Yay! Let's go shopping, then!" Momo cheered.

She practically bounced out of the room to go get ready to leave. Konoha followed right after her, presumably to do the same thing.

Since Marry hadn't exactly taken off her coat when she'd gotten to the house, she simply took the time to rinse out her tea cup and put it in the sink. No need to permanently stain one of the Kisaragi's dishes. She jumped when she heard an annoyed sigh from behind her. Ah, Shintaro! Somehow, she'd forgotten he hadn't followed Momo right away.

"Do I not get a say in this?" Shintaro asked very quietly.

The answer was apparent about five minutes later, when they were all sitting together in the car.

Shintaro, the chief complainer, was driving them all with a particularly grim look on his face. Momo was sitting in the front beside him, and would change the radio station every time she found a song boring. This was usually accompanied by her loudly announcing she was changing it, and Shintaro's grip getting a bit tighter on the wheel.

Marry and Konoha were simply sitting in the back, both buckled up. Every time she glanced over towards Konoha, he was staring straight outside his window. She totally got it. Most of the time, Marry liked to stare out of windows on vehicles too. Watching the sights race by, and seeing how big the world was, it was all so cool. But today, she found herself curious enough to keep watching Shintaro and Momo bickering.

Compared to her quiet drive with Ayano earlier, it was super different!

Right before her eyes, Momo reached out to the radio again, having gotten bored of the song that was on. Shintaro must've hit his grumpy limit, because he swatted her hand away from the tuning buttons.

"Oi, stupid big brother! I'm just changing the station." Although Marry couldn't see her face, she was pretty sure that Momo was pouting based purely on how she said the words. She was also holding the wrist of her swatted hand, as if to show how much she was hurt. Emotionally, of course.

Shintaro sighed, very loudly. "Idiot sister." He also grumbled something that only Momo heard.

"Do I need to find the Shintaro spray bottle?" Momo asked. Shintaro didn't say anything for a few seconds, which seemed to be all the leverage she needed to open the glove compartment and start searching.

"Oh, come on! Just stick to one station, Momo. It's not that hard."

"You simply don't have the ears of an artiste, big brother!"

"Wh - do you even know what artiste means?"


"Ugh, just. Beethoven's 9th symphony is a Christmas classic! I bet Marry wanted to hear it."

At that, Momo whipped her head around to look at the back seats. "Marry, did you really want to listen to that old boring music?"

Marry eeped at being brought into the disagreement.

The car was silent for a few moments as both siblings waited for her to reply. When she didn't Momo let out a triumphant crow of victory, and turned back to her brother. "See? You're just stupid, stupid!"

"Yeah, well..." Shintaro paused, obviously trying to think of something to say back. "You're the stupid one!"

The rest of the argument went in a similar vein, with them just calling each other stupid a few times over. Taking a breath of relief, Marry glanced over to Konoha to see how he was holding up.

He was still staring straight out the window, face impassive as the car was filled with the cacophony of arguing and classical music. If Marry strained her ears, just a bit, she could hear him quietly humming along to the music. It was a nice song, despite Momo's desire to change it. Maybe he'd felt some kind of kinship to the song? Marry was pretty sure she'd said it was the 9th something, and Konoha was the 9th member of the Dan. Yes, it made sense why he was enjoying it.

Eventually, the bickering between the siblings ended when Momo gasped loudly. "We missed the turn for the hardware store! Quick, quick, do a u-turn!"

Despite Momo's best pleas, Shintaro did not in fact do a u-turn. Instead, he groaned and turned right at the next corner. They simply circled around the block until they were able to turn into the store's parking lot. There wasn't any arguing as they pulled into a stall. Momo seemed to be content that they'd managed to make it to the store in the end.

In just a few minutes, they were out of the car and into the store. It was absolutely huge! As far as the eye could see, there were random household implements for sale. Marry had been to a few stores in her life, but she'd never been in a place where they sold stuff like sinks and lightbulbs.

What a strange and unusual place to be. Well, it was a good thing that Momo and Shintaro were here with them, since she didn't think that Konoha knew too much about sinks either.

That was, of course, when Momo looped her arm around Shintaro's arm and began to walk away. "See you two later! Me and big bro will go get what we need, okay? We'll give you two your space."

Which made that the second time today Marry had been told something in that vein. She couldn't react quickly enough to tell Momo that no, they needed to stick together so that no one got lost or confused. Before she realized it, she and Konoha were once again alone. It felt just like the mall, but a tiny bit less scary since there were less people roaming around.

Though she couldn't exactly be mad that they'd been left alone. The whole reason they'd come here was because she and Konoha had decided to spend their free time together and experience Christmas for the first time.

It… wasn't bad being alone with him. Actually, it's almost easier to focus on the experience when it's just the two of them.

Despite not minding that it was just the two of them, it was still impossible for them to make it around the place by themselves. Not wanting to keep the entryway to the store blocked for too much longer, Marry grabbed Konoha's hand and began to walk in a random direction.

Surely, if they searched for long enough, they'd be able to find the Christmas trees!

The sheer belief in their abilities to get lucky was enough to keep her hopes up as they wandered through the shelves.

The sheer belief also slowly began to wane as they went through more and more aisles. Lots of strange metal and plastic objects surrounded them, but she hadn't seen any hint of a Christmas tree at all. Not only that, but they'd turned down enough aisles that she completely didn't remember where they'd come from either. They were definitely lost.

She looked up at a shelf filled with birdhouses in despair. Momo wouldn't take them to a store without Christmas trees, right? It wouldn't make sense.

Konoha tugged at her hand, and gestured in a general direction when she looked up at him. Curious, she followed along as he guided them to another area of the store. They came out of the aisle and found themself in a section filled with fake grass and a whole bunch of chairs.

"Let's wait for help," Konoha told her, before plopping down on one of the chairs. He didn't specify whether he meant the siblings coming back for them or an employee helping, but he definitely had the right idea.

Marry also sat down, since she was pretty sure they'd end up lost in the store forever if they kept walking around.

They both waited. And waited. And waited.

No one really walked by the section of the store they were in, and those who had didn't really look at either of them too closely. It seemed like they were going to be stuck here, sitting in the store, forever. Marry tried to keep her hopes up, but she really didn't want to have to live in this store. If she couldn't even find the Christmas trees, then how likely would it be that she'd find a source of water to drink from? Not very likely.

Eventually, she spoke up. "Um, Konoha, I don't know if anyone's going to-"

And was interrupted by the sound of a phone ringing. Konoha took his phone out of his pocket and stared at it for a moment before answering the incoming call. He didn't say anything for a moment, then held it away from his ear to turn it to speakerphone.

"- that Hiyori reminded me about you! What the heck are you two doing?" Ah, it was Hibiya. He sounded very angry. Though Hibiya always sounded a little grumpy when he talked. Most of Marry's friends had let her know that it was purely because Hibiya was a young boy, and that he needed time to grow up and be less grumpy. "Did you put me on speakerphone?!"

"Hello Hibiya!" Marry thought it would only be polite to let Hibiya know she was happy to hear his voice.

It must have had the opposite effect as intended, though, since he groaned loudly at the sound of her reply. In the time he'd been back at his home, had he stopped liking her? She didn't think it was possible, but maybe he'd made a million other friends he wanted to speak to more.

"Wait, um. Hi Marry." Never mind, he was saying hello back! "Listen, okay? Hiyori wondered how you two were doing, so I snuck to the bathroom to see. And you two are just sitting there! Where's everyone else?"

Ah, he was worried about them. He even used Hiyori as an excuse to give Konoha a phone call. It was very cute of him.

"We got lost," Konoha replied. It was very matter of fact.

The sound Hibiya made in response to that was a little funny. "Who did you come with? I'll tell them where you are so you don't stay lost forever, okay?"

"Wait, wait, Hibiya! I'm really sorry to be a burden, but can you tell us how to get to the Christmas trees? We got lost trying to find them, and I don't want to waste Momo and Shintaro's time by not getting one. Please?" They couldn't have come all this way for nothing!

Konoha nodded in agreement.

"Ugh, fine. But you two owe me... um. You owe me ice cream, next time we come visit, okay?" Hibiya sounded much less grumpy this time around, his voice a lot softer than it had been when he'd been worried about them being lost. He was quiet for a few moments, while he used his eye power.

Then, after a moment - "Head into the aisle that has the number 13 above it."

They followed along to his instructions for a few minutes, with him half yelling whenever they went the wrong direction. But, to his credit, he managed to safely direct them to the Christmas tree selection in the store without too many troubles. Marry let out a cheer when she saw the trees, glad that they'd finally been able to make it there. So what if they'd needed a little help? What mattered was that they found their way in the end.

"Thank you, Hibiya! We'll be okay from here," Marry informed him, smiling widely.

"Yeah, yeah. Thank Hiyori for reminding me you dummies exist. I'm gonna go text the hag to let her know where you are now." He paused for a moment, before hastily adding on, "Don't move from where you guys are. I mean it! I won't always be available to help you two get out of trouble."

Hibiya followed that up by hanging up.

Konoha put the phone back into his pocket, then approached the Christmas trees to inspect which one they'd home with them. Which was definitely the right idea! Marry felt excited again, knowing that they'd be able to cross another item off the checklist. She joined Konoha in inspecting the trees. They were all fake, obviously, but some of them were bigger than others, and some almost looked real until she got really close and looked at the needles.

All of them were very beautiful, though, decorated fully with strings of plastic and ornaments. Someone must have put a lot of time into making the tree display beautiful.

It was a really hard decision to make. As much as she enjoyed plants, she had never had to buy a tree before. She looked to Konoha for his opinion.

He was looking at the biggest tree that the store had available, with a particularly thoughtful glint in his eyes. The tree was so big that it was taller than Konoha. She bet that if she sat on Konoha's shoulders, it would still be taller than the both of them.

"Do you think we should get that one?" Marry asked. She didn't really have any better selections.

"Yes. It's the ultimate tree." Konoha was so in favour of it, in fact, that he proceeded to pick up the tree and tuck it under his arm. Marry jumped back, not wanting to get smacked by the huge tree. It was kind of funny to watch Konoha carry it so effortlessly.

It was less funny when he knocked over all the other trees, turning around to face Momo as she called their names.

Momo (and Shintaro, being dragged along) skidded to a stop when he did so. They all watched the trees topple over with wide eyes.

Shintaro was the first to break the silence, with a succinct, "Holy shit."

"Ah, um, Konoha," Momo began, looking at all the trees, "just put that one down. You have to grab the box instead."

Konoha plopped the tree on top of the pile of other trees, then looked at the tree boxes that were available for selection. He once again grabbed the biggest one available.

"All done. We found our tree," Konoha informed Momo, as if he hadn't created a trail of destruction.

"Perfect! Let's get out of here before we get in trouble."

No one had any arguments against that logic, and they all followed her to the checkout of the store. The buying process was quick, with Momo paying for everything they'd gotten, and they soon found themselves back in the car.

The car ride back was a lot more calm than the ride over, since Momo decided to regale them all with stories about how her shopping experience had gone instead of changing the radio station to annoy Shintaro. Marry found herself only partially paying attention to the story, taking the opportunity to stare outside her window this time. Every now and then, she'd shift her gaze a bit upwards to see what Konoha was doing in the reflection of her mirror. It seemed like he'd had the same idea as her, though, since he was also looking out the window.

That wasn't to say that Momo's story was boring at all! Apparently, they'd had some funny moments in the store as well. Most of which involved Shintaro making some kind of mistake, but he didn't seem to care enough to tell Momo to stop speaking. So she kept going.

She was partway through recounting how Shintaro had slipped on absolutely nothing and face planted in front of a cute employee when they came to a stop in front of Marry's house.

"Alright, that's enough of that," Shintaro said, finally interrupting Momo. He shifted the car into park. "Let's get that Christmas tree set up. I'm sure you two need all the help you can get."

His harsh words were immediately offset by the tips of his ears going red. "Uh. No offense, of course. It's just that you two, you... You know?"

No one answered him, which caused him to sputter out something that probably wasn't even a human language in embarrassment. Once, Momo had told Marry privately that it was best for Shintaro to come to the conclusion he'd said something weird by himself.

He simply let himself out of the car to avoid the self-perceived blunder, and the rest of them followed suit. Konoha easily lifted the tree box out of the trunk, and they headed inside the house.

Marry and Konoha separated from the siblings once they were inside, with Marry leading him to the living room. Not that Konoha would get lost in their house, but because she was super excited to get the tree set up.

The two of them tackled the issue of setting up the tree together, without any help from anyone else. There weren't any instructions that Marry could find, so they simply tried to push pieces together until it could stand up on its own. That didn't mean that they were quite done with it, though, considering the fact that the branches were all bunched together and looked nothing like a tree at all. Marry did her best to open up the lower ones on the tree, and Konoha took care of the higher ones, but their efforts left the tree looking pretty bare. It didn't really look like the example they'd seen in the store.

She gave a little sigh at the sight of it.

But, not one to give up, she let herself be positive about it! If she looked at it from a certain angle, the tree looked quite nice actually. The angle part was very important, because it hid the worst of the patchiness that they'd ended up with. Yeah, they could definitely work with this!

As if on queue, Seto came into the room with a few bins in his arms. He walked past the two of them, in order to set the bins down near the couches of the room.

Then he turned to face them, and was stopped in his tracks by the tree itself.

He looked at Marry, then Konoha, then back at the tree.

"Who left you two to your own devices, hm?" Seto asked them both, just a tinge of disbelief in his voice. He wagged a finger at them but he was grinning widely as he did so. As much as the lopsided tree had shocked him, he just as easily recovered. "Let's fix this tree, okay?"

"Thank you," Marry replied, with Konoha echoing the sentiment a few seconds later.

Under Seto's careful Christmas tree tutelage, they were able to properly spread the individual branches. A mere couple of minutes later, the tree looked just as luscious and full as the one in the store had.

Seto took over once it reached the sparser parts of the tree, instead telling them to look in the boxes he'd brought for them.

The tops of the bins were dusty asides from the fingerprints from Seto carrying them. It made Marry wonder just how long it had been since the family had any use for what was inside of them. She got an answer when they opened them. Inside were a whole bunch of ornaments and strings of plastic, and one bin had a whole bunch of Christmas lights coiled inside it. Some of the ornaments, when she took them out, had her friends' names written on them in childish scrawl.

Marry removed those ones carefully, and set them aside so that they could hang them up themselves. Once that was dealt with, though, her and Konoha took out ornaments at random and started to string them onto the tree.

"Ah, the lights," Seto attempted to say something, but sighed lightly when he saw how quickly they were putting up everything.

Instead, he watched them decorate. Near the end, he joined them in decorating the Christmas tree, trying to even out the empty spots that they'd left while having their fun.

In the end, the tree was a little messy looking, but it also looked like something that people had fun creating. While it definitely wasn't as perfect as the trees they'd seen at the store, Marry found that she liked this one a lot more. From the handcrafted ornaments, to the lights precariously balanced on the branches, it looked absolutely perfect.

Well, except for the lack of star on top. Marry held it in her hands, looking up at the tall tree and wondering how she would get up there. "Is there a ladder...?"

"Let me check," Seto replied, heading back towards the kitchen to try and see if they had one.

She would be fine trying to climb the tree, but it looked like it would tip over if she even attempted to do that. Ah... Without any warning, Konoha picked her up and smoothly deposited her onto his shoulders. She let out a short yell, not expecting it at all, but very quickly realized that there was really only one person who could lift her up with little difficulty. Also, there was only one person who had as pale hair as she did.

Now that she was up this high, though, it was much easier to reach the top of the tree. She reached out and balanced the star on the top, making sure that it was secure before she let go. And… done!

Her weight shifting back must have alerted Konoha that she was done setting up the star, since he carefully knelt down to let her off of his shoulders.

She turned back around to face him, and made sure to smile. "Thank you for helping me Konoha!"

Something about the tree decoration must have gotten to him, because he smiled right back. It wasn't as small as his usual ones. In front of the tree they'd done (mostly) by themselves, surrounded by Christmas lights and the feeling of home. It felt like the same kind of peace she'd felt when they had been lying in the field. It felt even better, knowing that they'd be able to keep seeing the Christmas tree and have the memories of trying to find it.

And even when the rest of her friends piled into the living room to join them, loud as they always were, she knew she would remember it.

╰┈➤ Part seven.

The morning after, Marry woke up slowly. It was nice and warm, and she almost didn't want to properly join the land of the living. As with most good things, it did come to an end. She eventually opened her eyes.

Last night, after having decorated the tree, everyone had decided to have a small sleepover. It was fun! It was pretty similar to the gathering where she and Konoha had decided to do as many Christmas activities as possible together. Complete with karaoke and all. Though this time around, she'd decided to participate in the festivities instead of hiding behind her book.

The best part of everyone having a sleepover (aside from being able to spend time with her friends) was that she didn't have to wait for Konoha to arrive. He was already there!

He was also the only other person in this room aside from her. Everyone else seemed to be awake already.

When she listened intently, she could hear the clink of dishes a few rooms away.

Marry didn't often feel hungry in the sense that her friends did. The way she experienced it was that she didn't need to eat, beyond the constant dull sense of not being full. Once, she'd read in a book that snakes had a different way to sense that sort of thing. It had been weird to realize that some of those traits had carried over to her, someone who was supposedly more human than not.

Glancing at Konoha's sleeping face, she wondered if he was the same way as her. Was he always hungry because he was still snake-like?

Instead of dwelling on it for too much longer, she gently shook his shoulder to wake Konoha.

After a couple rocks, Konoha stared at her with bleary eyes for a few moments, before recognizing her and sitting up. He looked around them briefly, and settled his gaze back to the Christmas tree.

Even in the light of day it still looked as good as it had last night, a representation of everyone's hard work. Also, it was a pretty big change to the layout of the living room, so it made sense that it was the first thing Konoha properly noticed when he woke up.

She gave him a few seconds to become alert, checking her phone to see the time. "Konoha, how about we go out early today? I have plans, but I think we should leave now so it's not busy."

"Hm…" Konoha semi-replied. It was more of a hum than anything, but he snapped out of his sleepiness enough to properly reply. "Okay."

"Okay! I'm going to change real quick, then we can leave."

He nodded, so she folded the blankets she was sleeping under and headed to her room to change into warmer clothing. Today they were going to be traveling again. Even if the idea of what she had in mind was as nerve wracking as going to the mall had been.

While she was in her room, she made sure to grab her little purse. It would be a disaster if she forgot it.

She made her way back downstairs, and to the living room. Konoha was completely alert, out of the blanket pile and waiting for her. He smiled when he saw her, a small and private thing.

Marry decided to tell him what the plans were. Considering how open he'd been to everything so far, there probably weren't any plans that would phase him, but it was just polite to let him know. "We're going to go to Tokyo today. It's going to be a little scary, so let's try our best!"

"All the way to Tokyo…" Konoha replied, which was fair. Tokyo wasn't too far by train but Kashiwa generally had everything they needed.

"There are some nice Christmas things there!" Christmas things which were much easier to find news about than ones in their city. "I saved it until today so that we could work up to it."

"Ah, I see. Let's go to Tokyo, then."

Konoha hadn't exactly sounded against the plan, but the explicit confirmation that he was alright was a relief.

On their way towards the front door, they briefly passed the kitchen. Kido was near the door, and she caught sight of them.

"You two are heading out?" she asked, and Marry nodded in reply. Kido visibly fought the urge to make them eat breakfast before leaving. It was what she usually did with everyone. "Okay. Get back for dinner, okay? Everyone is coming over, and the kids are going to video call us. Hiyori'll cry if she can't see you.'' The last sentence was aimed at Konoha.

While Hiyori didn't have the same level of admiration towards Konoha any more, she still thought he was cooler than the rest of the Dan.

"I'll get us back," Konoha said, solemnly.

Kido accepted his words with a smile. "Perfect. And make sure you eat something as soon as you can. Have fun today."

She made a small shoo gesture with her hands before heading back into the kitchen.

When they left, Marry felt relieved to notice that it was sunny outside. There would've been nothing worse than having it rain when they were going to spend the majority of the day walking. It didn't take them very long to get to the train station, following the same path as they had a few days ago.

The same lady was working there, and the transaction went much smoother. Getting tickets to Tokyo was easy peasy. It only took a few minutes for them to get seated on their train.

In the same vein, getting to Tokyo was fairly easy as well. The ride was an hour long, and Marry repeated the process where she'd brought a book along to read while they waited. It was a bit hard to focus on the words, since she felt a mixture of excitement and nervousness, but she did her best to push any anxiety down. Konoha stayed awake this time, watching out the window and seeing the sights race by.

They left the train, just barely skirting around the edges of the crowds waiting on the platforms of the station.

Once they stepped outside of the station, she couldn't help but stare with wide eyes at the surrounding metropolis. Marry almost wished she'd brought a map with her, since it was such a big city. Kashiwa was big on its own, but it was to a whole other level in the capital. She had written down the address of the places she wanted them to visit, but that was it.

Well, they wouldn't be able to do everything if they just stayed at the train station all day. As she had done for the past week, Marry took Konoha's hand in hers and began to walk in a single direction away from the station. With any luck, they'd be able to find where they needed to go.

The blind optimism was hard to shake when they managed to come across one of the places she'd planned on them going to - KFC.

The building was a little intimidating, as tall and red as it was, but the statue of the old man standing outside spoke of many things. Like the fact that this was definitely the right place to go. He had a Santa costume on and everything, so it was easy to see why this was a Christmas activity.

Konoha paused by the statue, sizing up the guy. She couldn't tell what exactly he was thinking, but it really seemed like he was inspecting the man's outfit.

And once they were inside the building, it was even easier to understand that people really loved KFC this time of the year. There was a Christmas tree tucked into the corner, decorated with little drumstick ornaments. She could see people walking by with containers in their hands, each one covered with the old man in the Santa hat. The employees were all wearing Santa hats as well.

Marry kept holding on to Konoha's hand, needing a little support in the face of having to order food.

Although there were many, many options to choose from on the menu, Marry managed to order them a bucket of chicken to share for breakfast. Or lunch? She wasn't sure which word best described the current time.

It didn't really matter which meal time it was, though, since there were people sitting at nearly every table available.

While Marry had wanted to leave early in order to avoid too many people in one place, it seemed that she hadn't been able to predict the popularity of Christmas KFC. She was just lucky that it wasn't so busy in the store that it was claustrophobic.

"Ah, Konoha," she began, looking around once more in case someone vanished from their table into thin air. Unfortunately, no one did. "Maybe we should find somewhere to sit down and eat?"

"That sounds good." Konoha valiantly held on to their food as they headed back outside of the KFC.

Marry didn't really know where they were, still, but the two of them had a decent amount of time to find a proper place. By walking, and getting Konoha to ask one or two people passing by, they were able to find directions to a nearby park.

It was a few minutes until they were able to find a bench that wasn't being occupied, but they finally managed to sit down.

At that point, Marry was hoping that the chicken was worth it. Especially since it was fairly lukewarm from them walking around for a while. She looked at a single drumstick critically. Oh Christmas chicken, impart your Christmas wisdom. She took a small bite.

… the chicken was alright? Marry personally didn't eat fried chicken too often, but it wasn't horrible. It was a little too oily for her tastes, but she was content to eat the rest of the piece she'd taken. A few bites into the drumstick and she forgot that she had any major grievances with the quality in the first place, getting used to the texture of the chicken.

Konoha himself didn't have many issues, since he was eating his chicken uniformly.

Marry stopped herself at three pieces, pushing the bucket closer to Konoha so that he knew he could have the rest for himself. He took the bucket into his lap and continued to work through the remainder.

It was nice to watch the people walk by while she waited. There were so many people going by. Did any of them have Christmas plans? How recently had they spent time with their friends? Watching people be people, none of them paying the two of them a second glance, was so interesting. She could almost imagine secret little lives for everyone as they passed by, filling in the details on her own to amuse herself.

"Oh, Konoha, look!" She pointed towards a couple of highschoolers walking by, two girls eating KFC together. He dutifully followed her pointing. "They're just like us! I hope they're having a nice Christmas."

He paused long enough to reply. "Me too."

After noticing one group with KFC, she made it her mission to try and find other people who also had it. Surely there had to be more people who were going to walk by. It had quickly approached lunch by the time they'd found the park, so she figured more people would be on break around then.

She'd counted about two more before Konoha tapped her shoulder gently.

"All done," he informed her. That meant they didn't need to stay in the park much longer, as much as people watching had been fun.

They stayed in the park long enough to find a garbage can to dispose of the container in. Once they had found one, they were free to continue along on their day.

Marry didn't actually have anything planned for a couple more hours, which meant it was the perfect time to just walk around. There were a few fun Christmas displays to look at, even if it was just the odd tree covered in lights. The whole time, she kept her arm entwined with Konoha. In a sea of people, she didn't trust her odds in being able to find him again.

She'd remembered, a bit belatedly, that her phone would be able to direct her to a location if she put it in. Which was handy! Although she'd been content to just walk along, she wouldn't have wanted to miss out on the market later. She input the address to the park it was being held at, and waited a few patient seconds for the phone to load the directions. Once it did, she was able to see that it was about an hour away, walking distance. Which, while it would be a bit of a walk, they did have time to kill.

And, while she had her phone out, she typed in the Kashiwa train station to see if there would be a connected station near the park. Ah. It turned out that the reason she had been lost was because they'd gotten off at the wrong station. Well, that and neither of them understood how the train system worked.

It was too late for her to regret it, though.

Walking along with Konoha was a nice experience in and of its own.

As they walked along, Konoha suddenly stopped in his tracks. He was looking specifically at a board outside a small cafe. Marry, confused, read the sign to try and figure out what was going on. It was about the cafe's daily special, some of the seasonal drinks they offered, and their couple's deal on Christmas cake.

Needless to say, her interest was piqued.

"We should try the cake," Konoha said.

He was usually fine to just go along with plans, so it was an easy decision to agree to go into the cafe and try cake. She did wonder whether it was just because the cake was literally marketed as Christmas cake, or because he had been thinking about it for a while.

Once they were seated, Marry sitting across the table from Konoha, she asked. "Have you been wanting to try Christmas cake for a while?"

"Since Ene mentioned it over the phone," he replied, which made a lot of sense.

Marry must've forgotten to put it on her list of things to do, with how surprised she'd been to talk to Takane at the time. That, or she'd added it to the list of stuff they might be able to do if they had spare time. She'd ended up having to cut a few things out. Which made it even more lucky that Konoha had managed to spot the cafe.

The waiter came over to take their orders, letting them know that the Christmas cake was a two for one special at the moment.

Given the fact that it was what they came to the cafe for, Konoha ordered just that. The waiter took their menus and promised to have it out to them as soon as possible. Marry didn't mind waiting a bit. There were a few other groups that had been there before them.

Instead, she took the opportunity to talk a bit more with Konoha.

"Sorry that today isn't super exciting so far, Konoha."

He made a soft sound, and shook his head. "It's not boring. We got to see Colonel Claus."

So he really had been inspecting the KFC statue up close!

"The statue was very exciting," Marry agreed. It wasn't every day that she got to see a man dressed up as Santa. In fact, it was a bit impressive that she'd gotten the chance to see three different Santas in the past week.

Her Santa introspection was interrupted briefly by the waiter setting down the two cakes they ordered.

Ah, more food to eat.

She gave the cake a tentative few bites, and found that she really liked it! Marry wasn't exactly sure how strawberry connected to Christmas, but to be fair not all of the things they'd done made sense. Case in point - the last Christmas thing that they'd eaten had been fried chicken.

Across the table, Konoha was already done with his slice.

The waiter came back, a smile on his face. "Hello again, how's the cake? Can I get you two anything-"

His sentence paused in midair as he noticed that Konoha's plate was empty. Which, fair. He hadn't been gone for a full minute, and the slices of cake were surprisingly large.

"Two more cakes, please," Konoha asked.

The waiter nodded, then left. While Konoha waited for the man to return with the other slices, Marry continued to work away at her own. Compared to Konoha she was a bit of a slow eater.

Which became even more apparent as, when the waiter gave them the extra cakes, she only finished around the same time that Konoha finished the two new ones.

Once more the waiter came around.

Konoha only had the chance to open his mouth when the waiter interrupted. "Sir, I really don't want to ruin your day, but our Christmas cake is in limited supply."

Since the guy looked about ready to cry if Konoha ordered another two cakes, Marry asked for the bill. Konoha gave her a very sad look, with very big eyes, but she stood strong. She paid for both of them quickly, and the two of them left the cafe.

Marry checked her phone again to make sure that they were heading in the right direction. They were, and they could just take their time to walk now that they'd eaten their fill. Or, well, now that Konoha no longer seemed upset about missing out on even more cake. He got over it quickly enough from what she could tell. Every time she glanced over to check on him, he was looking around them.

As if sensing that she was watching him, he looked back to her and nodded. She wasn't sure what that meant…!

But she was alright with them not talking as they walked. It somehow managed to not be boring. Occasionally, one of them would nudge the other gently to point out something that looked interesting in their surroundings, but otherwise they just walked hand in hand.

Her cell phone's directions held true, since she started seeing a large crowd of people the closer to the destination that they got.

Anxiety made her stomach squirm for a moment, but she knew that it would be silly if they came all the way out to Tokyo and only ate food. So she held onto the knowledge that the two of them would enjoy the market.

And, sure enough, the Christmas market finally came into view. Konoha made a small 'oh' at the sight of the decorations they could see from the outside, and Marry completely understood the sentiment. She could see a tall tower made of lights, and other decorations that just instilled some kind of wonder in her even from here.

They didn't have to wait in line for too long, and soon found themselves on the inside of the fence.

If being outside looking in had been exciting, then being inside the place was like a dream. Marry had put a lot of research into her Christmas plans, but nothing had prepared her for what the market would be like.

The hum of people talking surrounded them, as well as the smell of a million different kinds of food. It was absolutely overwhelming! She could find solace in the fact that Konoha looked about as shell shocked as she probably did. Both of them were absolutely Christmas market newbies.

Konoha perked up, from where they'd moved aside to let other people into the market. His head turned a tiny bit, and he gestured with his head to follow him. For a bit, they wandered through some of the market alleys in a random pattern.

He found whatever he was looking for pretty quickly, since he began to lead in a specific direction.

It became apparent what he was taking them to when the sound of music steadily got more audible through the drone of the market. There was a stage, with a small group of people singing, dressed up for the occasion with santa hats.

The people were pretty good at singing, even if most of the other passersby kept walking without paying attention to them. That was alright! Konoha and Marry could be their attentive audience for today. She didn't recognise many Christmas songs in general, which made the fact that she recognised what they were singing a shock.

"I like this song," Konoha informed her, as the choir sang Beethoven's 9th Symphony. She must have committed it to memory since she knew it was the same number as he was.

"It's nice."

They listened to the singing for a few minutes, even when the choir shifted genres and began to sing carols that Marry had never heard before. Konoha was content to watch the people sing, clapping after each song ended.

Eventually, they listened their fill of the music, and Konoha looked back at her. "Where to next…?"

A great question!

She decided to answer it by leading them to the nearest stall in the market, which just so happened to be food. It must have been the right answer to his question, though, since he was eager to order some of the offered product. The next stall over was also a food stall, as was the next. They were definitely in the concession area.

Marry indulged in the stalls as well, to a smaller degree. Konoha was having the time of the life, which seemed infinitely more enjoyable than eating to her.

After they'd visited a few, she nudged him and made the executive decision to leave the food vendors be. If they stayed there the whole time, they might spend all the money she'd brought on snacks! As much as she wouldn't really mind supplying her friend with food, she wanted to see if there was anything else at the market that she might want to buy.

So she was a bit relieved to see that the next aisle over was filled with crafts and trinkets! This might be the best chance she had to buy some little gifts for all her friends. The idea had been in the back of her mind for some time. Her failure to find the perfect presents at the mall wasn't exactly the end of the world, but she still wanted to surprise her friends. There was something special about treating people.

It was also just plain fun to see what people could make in general.

There was a wide array of different things to buy, from stained glass art to cute wooden dolls. More often than not, she found herself wishing that the market was less busy so she could ask the people running the stalls how their craft worked. Maybe she could try selling her flowers at a market sometime? She didn't think she'd like how busy it would be, but it was a thing to consider.

Neither of them pointed out any specific stalls they were interested in while they walked through, instead looking at everything and moving on after a few moments. There were a few stalls Marry saved in her memory for reference, but otherwise they just continued to walk.

The rest of the shopping section of the market was pretty much the same. It wasn't that boring, though, since just being there was well worth the visit.

After the shopping area, though, came the games.

Both of them were absolutely fascinated by the first few they came across.

Marry originally bought a game for each of them, but it quickly became obvious that a lot of the games weren't made with the intention of someone winning them. She lost a lot of games.

The difficulty of the games didn't stop Konoha from absolutely dominating them. He was the most athletically talented in the friend group, a thing which was clear in the way he managed to score the highest amount of points possible no matter what. It was impressive watching him blaze a trail through the games! It was even more impressive seeing the workers' faces when they showed up, working down the path stall by stall.

Neither of them had brought a big bag with them, so whenever he was asked which prize he'd like, Konoha chose the smallest one possible.

It almost felt like no time at all had passed by the time they reached the end of the row of stalls. For a moment, Konoha looked disappointed that there weren't any more games for him to obliterate.

On the plus side, though, they had a whole bunch of stuffed animals to do with as they pleased! There were a few that Marry personally thought they could turn into presents for everyone when they got home. She didn't know how much Konoha liked stuffed animals, but he would probably be fine with that idea.

Even if they had the issue of presents dealt with, she wanted to go back to the actual market area, remembering one specific thing that she'd seen. Quickly, she checked her purse to make sure there would be enough spare money.

"Can we go back to the market really quickly?" she asked Konoha, waving in the vague direction the stalls were in. "I saw something really interesting! We can leave after that."

"Alright," Konoha replied, and followed as she set out to find the stall she was thinking of.

The stall wasn't hard to find at all. It was a place selling small novelty items, with a sign proclaiming they were all handmade. The owner beamed at her while she browsed her options. When they'd passed by earlier, she'd hoped really hard that no one would take the keychain she'd had her eye on.

To her delight, there was still one available, which was exactly what she wanted.

She bought it with very little issues at all. Then, she turned to show Konoha what she'd bought.

That was when she realized that Konoha was not in fact beside her. She wandered a few steps away from the stall, trying to see if she could spot him. Marry wasn't exactly the tallest person, but she tried her best to crane her neck and stand on her tiptoes.

It was a really good thing that Konoha's hair was a standout shade of white. There were a few elderly people in the market with them, but most people were slightly shorter than he was.

She managed to spot his distinctive outfit through the crowd after a tiny bit of searching. He was standing near another stall, speaking to the person running it.

"Ah, there you went, Konoha!" Marry called out, waving as she did. A part of the crowd between them parted at her call, so she took advantage and ran to catch up with Konoha.

This was why she couldn't let go of his hand! Because both of them would get lost very easily.

He looked away from the man he was speaking with, and gave her a small smile. After a few words she couldn't hear, he left the stall to join her side. While she was curious about what they could've been talking about she decided not to pry.

Instead, she led the way until they were able to find a slightly less busy area in the market. It was tucked behind a couple of stalls, and no one else had wormed their way in there yet.

It was a little tight, and a little dark, but she wanted to give him the present she'd chosen as soon as possible. She wasn't sure exactly why she wanted to give it right away, but it felt like the right time.

Konoha looked at her, a question in the way he did.

Marry took the opportunity to give him the small keychain that had reminded her of him the most. It was small, partially misshapen from being handcrafted, but still recognizable as a barbecue skewer. While it was probably a bit silly to tell someone that they reminded her of food, she was still going to let him know.

"This one made me think about you. So it's a Christmas gift!"

He stared at the keychain for a few seconds, not saying anything. Then - "Thank you. I didn't… expect anything."

She let out a small laugh, stopped in her tracks when he looked up to her. The light wasn't perfect, blocked by the stalls and people alike, but enough of his face was illuminated by the soft gold light that she could clearly see his expression. He was smiling again, the same kind that he'd made yesterday when they decorated the tree. It felt like they were the only people in the world for a moment.

The fact that he liked the present made her beyond happy.

"You know," Konoha began, breaking the short silence that there had been, "the man I was speaking with… He said there are some pretty lights. It's a short walk from here."

The unspoken implication was that he was asking for them to go there. She could gladly take the idea and run with it.

Marry smiled. "Let's go see them, then! One last thing before we go home."

She took his hand and led them back out of the small crook they'd hidden away in. They'd seen enough of the market that she didn't think they needed to make any stops, so they were headed straight for the exit. Leaving the market was strange, feeling cool air against her skin when before it had been blocked by a mass of people.

They didn't have to walk far to see the light display the man had been talking about. It was a few minutes away from the market, and the time away from the sweltering atmosphere was relaxing.

The lights were beautiful.

Both of them were silent as they walked down the path lit up by the Christmas lights. Konoha gently tugged at her hand in his, and tilted his head slightly towards a bench when she checked to see what he needed.

She took a seat beside him on the bench, and looked out at the lights.

Somehow, she knew that it was the perfect ending to their time together.

All of a sudden, it hit her how far she'd come in just a few days. Not even a week ago she'd been too self isolating to spend time with her friends. Now, she was in a public area, holding hands with Konoha. She… really could depend on him to make things easier.

There had been small bumps in her plans, and she'd fully not been able to include everything. But at the same time she had so much fun.

And when she looked at Konoha, his face just slightly relaxed in awe as he stared at the lights, she knew he'd had fun too. He may not express very many things at all, but she remembered the smile last night. She remembered him willingly going along with her, and the few times where he'd taken the lead to try and show her something.

Even the horrible trip to the mall had been fun with him there.

The sensation of familiarity finally made sense, something in her mind connecting the dots. Being with Konoha felt like she belonged.

He looked away from the lights, eyes practically shining when they met with hers.

"Marry… this week's been really nice," he said, quiet in the stillness of the night around them. It was almost like he knew she was thinking about him then. Or, rather, that he was thinking about his feelings while they looked at the lights. "I don't want Christmas to end."

"Me neither."

And it was the truth. She didn't really feel a strong connection to Christmas, in the end, or any other holidays, but it had been the time they'd spent. The way that they'd been able to get to know each other, even if it hadn't been through talking for hours on end. How else would she have learnt that Konoha didn't like scary stories? Or how his sense of humour could be brought out? Or how he smiled, in the tiny alley of the Christmas market, after she'd given him the little barbecue keychain?

He looked away from her, satisfied with her answer. She didn't look away from him.

Konoha's face and hair were practically glowing under the different colours of the lights around them. She didn't notice that she was staring until she realized how alive his eyes looked at that moment.

Was this… everyone's teasing made a little more sense, didn't it? If this was one of her stories, it would be the part where they had a dramatic confession. It would be the part where the heroine finally admitted that she was in touch with her feelings.

But Marry wasn't a heroine, and she didn't know what kind of feelings she had. If she just based her feelings off of teasing, then she'd probably get bullied a lot more.

She had time to figure out how hers worked, and to learn how to decipher between all of them.

For now, she was content to know that she was comfortable around Konoha, and that she wanted to have more fun memories with him.

And that was good enough for her.