Well hello! It's been a long (two years, I know) time hasn't it? I'm really quite suprised and exceptionally happy at the support this has gotten through the years, despite the break. I'd like to give a good reason for the haitus, but in the end, all of them are really just excuses. All I can say is that sometimes things happen one after another that really bog your creativity down and demotivate you to do anything really at all. Thanks to the amazing reviews, faves, alerts, etc ( they have always been my sunshine on cloudy days) that I have gotten from this story, I've never given up on taking it up again, and now here it is! The next chapter! Its been a horrendously long time since I've done any writing, so please forgive me as I've gotten quite rusty. Also, I sincerely hope you dont mind the fact that this is a Christmas chapter; I wrote part of this back in december and it had some elements I liked, and it felt like it would be a bit of a waste if I didn't use it, so I ended up finishing it now. A rather peaceful chapter, nothing gritty and particularly dark, though characters may potentially be OOC ( its been a while). Nonetheless, I hope you enjoy it and review!

(*DISCLAIMER: I don't own DOGS, its brilliant characters, etc )

Sometimes, he would remind her of lace.

The way he was always so stiff before softening up to others, like fabric after the first wash; unnaturally beautiful and slightly uncomfortable, Naoto could imagine the intricate loops that weaved together his thoughts.

She suddenly thought of this as they walked down the snowy street back to their home, with the white snow falling on their heads and on the bags stuffed full of leftover food from Christmas dinner. Their breaths in almost perfect unison, the puffs of hot air blew out lazily in front of them as the two of them walked home side by side.

It was so far one of Nill's most successful attempts (with the help of Badou) at cooking and she refused to let them leave without taking some of the food with them. The girl had stuffed the bags with as many boxes as she could before letting them go. Some of the food would have to be put in fridge, Naoto thought, and wondered if there was enough room for it all.

It was the first time Naoto had ever properly celebrated Christmas. Bishop went to great lengths to transform the church into something more befitting the occasion, and -the most bishop-like thing she's seen him do- even held Christmas Mass.

The church was a bright and happy comfort to her, but, as they turned the corner onto the next street, Naoto felt no such cheer in the rest of the city.

Rampaged by the raids and the attacks, the city had crumbled into a state of desolation. Some people sat quietly on their doorsteps, not minding the cold as much as they did the miserable state of their homes.

A group of tattered children huddled together on the sidewalk ahead, curiously watching the snow drift down from the sky until they spotted Naoto and Haine walking towards them. Their eyes glued to the large parcels of food, they looked on hungrily and only broke their stare when they realized Haine had taken notice of them.

The two of them momentarily paused in front of the children. Naoto noted that they were all mutant children, though that didn't stop them from shrinking away from albino's red eyes. The poor things were frozen under his stare, unsure of what to do.

"Do you want this?" He asked, motioning at the bags of food. The children jumped at the sound of his voice, then blinked. When they registered his words, they looked at each other uneasily, before hesitantly nodding their heads.

Without a word, Haine placed the parcels on the floor in front of them and continued on his way home.

A small smile graced upon Naoto's lips as she watched the children look at the packages in disbelief. With a quiet "Merry Christmas", she left her bags with them as well and followed after Haine. As she crossed the street, she heard little cheers and cries of "Merry Christmas Nii-chan and Nee-chan".

'What a softie' she thought, but she knew better. As her steps mirrored his a few feet away, her eyes glanced at the shoulders that sagged with the burden of his guilt. He had his moments of gentleness, but Haine was just as harsh, cold, and broken as she was.

It felt odd to Naoto, knowing how their fates had once dangled so easily in someone else's hand. It seemed as though their entire lives were no different from a bunch of delicate webs that clung desperately to each other, afraid to fall apart at the slightest disturbance.

"Stop staring holes into my back."

Naoto smiled. Then again, she supposed, even the finest lace could toughen up with a bit of starch.

They entered their apartment quietly. She welcomed the peace of the flat, which ushered them away from the reality outside. Her coat and scarf abandoned by the desk, Naoto resigned herself to the sofa.

"Candies from Nill"

Naoto looked at the little bag that Haine pulled out from his pocket; the long strands of strawberry lace peeked out from an unsealed corner. She nodded in acknowledgement, and quietly watched him shrug off his coat and head for the bathroom.

The sound of running water soothed her fatigue, and Naoto found herself dosing lightly until Haine's footsteps woke her.

He had unravelled the bandage around his neck, straightening out the wrinkles in the white cloth. The collar was exposed to the dim light, giving off a cold, metallic gleam.

"Let me." Naoto offered. She knew it wasn't necessary; he could have done it easily himself (albeit a bit messily), but was Christmas and her conscience wanted her to do something for him for his act of kindness earlier that evening.

Somewhere in the back of her mind however, Naoto knew that what she really wanted was to establish some sort of physical connection; some sort of intimacy that would tell her they were the same not only in spirit, but in physical weariness, in pain.

Something that would remind her that they were humans, and not ghosts.

It was a daring proposal, with Haine's history of reactions towards women, but things were different now; they had almost grown accustomed to each other.

She knew he no longer had any fear of her touch, but nonetheless, he was still cautious around her. His bright eyes stared at her sharply, questioning her motives, but after some hesitation, he dropped the cloth into her open hand.

"Do whatever you want" he muttered, running a hand through his damp hair. Grabbing the bag of strawberry lace, he settled down comfortably on the sofa, chewing on a piece of the red candy.

Naoto worked steadily, her arms swiftly reaching around his neck to wrap away the metal device from sight. He watched her, motionless save for those red eyes that followed her movements. For a brief moment, Haine glanced down to the exposed part of her scar, his look an odd combination of curiosity and something she couldn't quite recognize.

Her fingers lightly grazed the collar as she fastened the end of the cloth. He hissed at the contact, and she began to retract her arms, but a pair of hands stopped her wrists midway.

She tensed and frowned. Her glare met his, challenging each other to back off; for him to push her away or for her to break free her arms, but neither granted the other the relief of separation.

They were only inches apart now; he had closed the original distance between them before she realized it. His hands now released their hold on her wrists and moved to rest on her cheeks. She recalled how those hands once held her face under very different circumstances, but now the danger lay in the fact that she was sinking deeper in their mutual destruction, the dark threads of her existence twisting tightly with the red and white lace of his. She could feel the pulse of some wild instinct start to kick in, as inches diminished to centimetres, millimetres, and-

-Naoto suddenly found herself alone on the sofa, with the bittersweet cries of Christmas salutations outside, the quiet squeaks of pistols being cleaned in the other room, and the subtle taste of strawberry lace on her lips.

Please review! Thanks again so much for your support!