(Disclaimer: This might come as a shock but... I actually own Christmas. I don't own anything else in this story though.)
The Curious Gift Shop of Christmas Magic by Cun
Snow was falling in Academy City. White crystals gathering in heaps in the streets, creating white mounds everywhere. The cleaning bots were having difficulty traversing the slippery substance, and were more than once seen trying to clean up the fallen snow.
Snow in Academy City was actually quite rare. With the climate they had, they were lucky to have more than a slippery mud-like substance on the pavement. But, as if the advanced technology of Academy City had even come up with a way to control the weather, the snow was falling elegantly now just a week before Christmas. While this was definitively welcome as a visual pleasure, it also resulted in most of Academy City's inhabitants packing themselves into warm clothes trying to fight off the chills (those who didn't were probably espers who had an ability that could keep them warm nevertheless).
The clothes stores experienced an explosion of interest in the new, skin-colored tights for girls, seeing as few of the schools uniform skirts were warm enough to fight off the cold, especially the shorter ones. The tights were thin, yet warm, and made it look like you didn't actually wear anything more than usual. For girls who cared about their looks it was a must, and of course, this included a whole lot of girls.
"Figures you'd rip up yours only a day after getting it." Ruiko was grinning at a rather down-beat Kazari, who was holding up her tights with a defeated face from inside her dorm room.
"I saved my allowance for a month to afford these too…"
"Eh, you knew it was going to be this cold? Even Academy City's weather forecast didn't foresee this!" Ruiko was wearing a black jacket over her uniform and a thick white scarf wound around her neck.
"Does it matter? It's useless now…" Kazari sighed deeply. And today of all days, when they had planned to go shopping with Misaka-san and Shirai-san.
Leaving the dorm, they met up with the Tokiwadai duo in the shopping district, and they had barely even greeted before Ruiko jumped forward and said: "Hey, you guys definitively have those new tights, right? Being rich and all."
Mikoto sweat-dropped, and Kuroko sighed overbearingly. "Of course, a woman knows how to dress herself." She was wearing a red jacket over her uniform, and the red laces tying her pigtails up actually fit the season for once. Other than that, she hardly seemed dressed for fighting off the cold.
"Oh really?" Mikoto asked with a solemn face. She was wearing a warm, pink scarf around her neck and matching gloves and ear mufflers. Her Tokiwadai uniform was hidden beneath a warm beige coat. "Weren't you the one cursing and whining about how easily ripped those tights are, and bought four pairs before you finally managed to put them on in one piece?"
Her pigtailed roommate stiffened up, and Kazari and Ruiko grinned and sweat-dropped.
The snow was falling with exaggerated vigor, and the streets were full of students packed in scarves, mittens and caps or ear mufflers. Every puff of breath created small clouds of smoke in the air. The street lights were all decorated with golden bells, and during nighttime they flashed in red and green. Every shop had hung up Christmas decorations in their windows; it seemed like the entire city was ready for the holidays.
"It's so pretty!" Kazari said, glittering eyes taking in all the luxurious decorations they walked past.
"Uiharu loves pretty things; just add it to your headband, why don't you?" Ruiko suggested wryly.
"By the way, won't the flowers die in this weather?" Kuroko asked, looking up at Kazari's headband with mild interest. Even though it was in the middle of December, the flowers still looked as bright and colorful as ever above her yellow ear mufflers.
"That's not a problem!" Kazari smiled broadly.
Ruiko observed the flowery headband and stroked her chin with a gloved hand: "You should have some evergreen bushes in there during this season. Or maybe a Christmas sheaf!"
"What? I'd get bird droppings all over my hair!"
"Hm, well, I need to buy a gift for my brother." Ruiko said, looking into the windows of the different shops they passed. "He's getting greedier for every year; he thinks Academy City hands out gold bars for all the students…" Her voice drifted off and she stopped, staring at something inside the shop they had just passed.
"Hmm?" The others stopped as well, turning back to look at her.
"Hey, Uiharu… didn't you want one of these?"
"What?" Kazari walked up to her and looked inside the window. "Excuse me-? No, I don't want one of those, and I never will!" It seemed like the shop Ruiko had stopped outside sold transparent Christmas lingerie's; Mikoto observed the window display and reddened.
"Ara, Onee-sama, don't tell me one of those are on your wish list as well…" Kuroko appeared in front of her, smiling smugly.
"Of course not!" Mikoto exclaimed, backing off from the window and her roommate as if on instinct. "And don't you dare give me something embarrassing!" She was already embarrassed.
"Well, with Gekota accessories being the only thing on your list, it's hard to find something interesting." Kuroko huffed.
"It's not the only thing on my list, and I don't trust your level of 'interesting' to match with mine!" Mikoto barked at her.
"So, what kind of stores do you guys want to visit?" Ruiko asked, looking around at the countless people occupying the street.
"I need to go and ask if I can return this…" Kazari peeked at the bag she was carrying; it held her ripped up tights.
"Okay, so let's do that first."
"It sure is snowing a lot." Ruiko said, looking out from underneath the roof they had found shelter from the continued snow fall. They were standing outside a tiny café, each with a cup of hot chocolate in their hands. Kuroko, who had laughed at the ridiculous idea of having to cover up her hands or neck, tried to warm her fingers on the cup while clattering her teeth.
"The weather forecast was mystified as well," Kazari said, looking up into the sky. She was not cold now, luckily; the store where she bought her tights had gladly traded it into a new pair (apparently their production had upped a lot after the product became so popular), and so she was protected from the cold air. "They say the atmosphere shouldn't be cold enough now."
"It sure is cold enough down here though." Ruiko said, rubbing her arm with her free hand.
"In any case, it's pretty, isn't it?" Mikoto said, acquiring their attention. She was looking at the snowflakes falling from the sky with a small smile on her face. "Somehow, everything seems so quiet when it snows, even if there are just as many sounds as usual… eh?" She noticed their stares, and then suddenly reddened.
"You really are a romantic, Misaka-san!" Ruiko exclaimed, and Kazari nodded vigorously; Mikoto pulled back, stuttering: "A-ah, no, it's just – it is, isn't it?"
"Onee-sama!" Kuroko cried, throwing herself at her upperclassman all of a sudden, "Let us eat dinner tonight in the snowy evening, lit by but a single candle –" WHAM! Mikoto's fist hit the top of her head squarely, and Kuroko toppled into the snow face first.
"I won't eat a romantic dinner with you, and besides, sitting outside in the snow is cold!" Mikoto barked.
"Hm, at least the snow makes hitting the ground a bit softer." Ruiko commented, while Kazari grinned.
"Womesamah," Kuroko said, and then raised her head up, spitting snow; "It was just a suggestion…"
"Ah, Misaka-san, does that mean you would eat a romantic dinner with someone else?" Kazari suddenly asked.
"Eeh?" Mikoto reddened again, and then hurriedly stared into her cup. "N-no, not really…" Eating a romantic dinner in candlelight with anyone was… yet, maybe with him it would be…
"Ah, but your cheeks are red!" Ruiko exclaimed. "You're thinking about someone, aren't you!"
Mikoto flinched. "I-it's cold, it's normal to have red cheeks! And who the heck would I think about anyway!"
"Onee-sama!" Kuroko gasped, smacking her hands to her cheeks. She was back to her feet; her school uniform was completely covered in snow in the front, since she failed to understand the point of zippers on jackets. "It's that man! That mongrel of whom you always mutter about in your sleep…" She made an exaggerated motion of fainting into the wall behind them. "Kuroko… Kuroko has lost…"
Mikoto resisted the urge to empty her cup full of hot liquid upside her head, and settled with growling: "Stop having those weird fantasies of yours and pay attention to reality! Jeez."
"Ah, but this is Shirai-san's Personal Reality," Kazari grinned, "and it's high level too."
"Oooh, I wonder if I'll have twice as many presents if I really believe it'll happen?" Ruiko said, a determined look settling on her face. She clenched her fist and proclaimed: "I will succeed no matter what!"
After having finished the hot chocolate, they opted for going inside. The most obvious place for girls to go inside during these times was of course a clothes store. The inside of Seventh Mist mall was just as crowded as ever; in fact, it seemed like it was even more crowded than usual.
"Woah, so many people…" Ruiko stared.
"I wonder if this is even allowed according to safety prescriptions…" Kazari said.
Kuroko gave a deep sigh, hands on her hips. "Having to do your Christmas shopping in such a throng of people; Onee-sama, let's find a more private boutique to suit our needs."
"I don't want to know what kind of needs that would be," Mikoto muttered. Then she sighed. "Still, it's impossible to even walk forward with this many people, isn't it…"
"Not to mention the lines are a mile long in every store." Ruiko said, scouting into the stores around them. Then she suddenly faced the other three girls and said: "Hey, I know about this new shop that opened the other day; apparently it has every kind of gift you can imagine! Wanna go have a look?"
Kuroko snorted. "I highly doubt any store could claim something like having every kind of gift…"
"Well, Shirai-san, your type of gifts is only found in special stores that no one else would dare enter."
"I am merely a mature woman in all ways." This claim awarded her with some pretty meaningful looks at her chest, but not even Mikoto found it in herself to comment.
"'The Curious Giftshop of Christmas Magic'." Kazari read the sign above the door of the shop Ruiko had led them to. It was placed in a rather hidden street with little traffic, though several students were in the area, apparently because of this store alone. It was rather small, and gave the feeling of a wooden hut in the middle of the forest, even though it was placed in the center of a metropolitan city. A couple of girls exited the store with giggles and smiles, carrying a bag of goods each.
"What kind of store is this?" Kuroko asked, looking in the glass door to the dark shelves inside. It was hard to discern anything through the frosty glass.
"It's a gift shop, like the name says." Ruiko said. "I read about it on the net the other day and I really wanted to give it a visit." She promptly went inside, and giving a small shrug, the other girls followed.
The inside of the store seemed much bigger than what the timid outside would indicate. It was packed with shelves upon shelves with… things. And just like Ruiko had said, there were all kinds of things, from Norwegian flutes to Japanese figures only an otaku would know what portrayed. Kazari immediately brightened and ran over to a large array of flowers by the window; Kuroko was mysteriously drawn to the glittering lingerie section, and Mikoto found herself enthralled by the dozens of small animal figures gathered in a shelf.
"Oh, look at this!" Ruiko showed up beside her; she was holding a baseball bat decorated with glittering golden stars all over that twinkled in different colors. Mikoto sweat-dropped. The other girl made a swinging motion with the bat and said: "If I had this, I could even rival your railgun when we're fighting bad guys. Take this! My batsmash will instantly finish you off!" She made a swing, then laughed and rubbed her neck. "I guess that's just silly."
Mikoto grinned awkwardly. Then her gaze fell on a figure on the very top of the shelf, and her eyes widened. The figure of a silver dolphin in a bluish glittering wave practically screamed for her attention. Ruiko followed her gaze and saw it too. "Woah, that's nice! You going to buy it, Misaka-san?"
Before she could answer, a man appeared from beside the shelf all of a sudden, startling them. "Can I help you, madams?" He was dressed in grey pants, a white shirt and a black vest. His grayish hair was combed neatly and he had a small moustache below his nose.
"An Englishman!" Ruiko spluttered, and then instantly smacked a hand over her mouth and reddened. The man smiled humorously.
"Um…" Mikoto started; her eyes darted up to the dolphin figure again. The man noticed, and said: "Ah, your interest has fallen on one of Sir Michael's figurines, I see." He reached up to retrieve the figure, and held it carefully in his hands. "This is Damascus, the Goddess of the dolphins. It's made of real silver and is one of his most priced creations."
"Um, how much is it?" She asked, not really getting anything of what he was saying. To her, it was just a pretty figure.
"Well, while the normal price is quite affordable, for you…" He studied her with a scrutinizing look, and she gulped and stiffened, "I'd say 8000 yen."
Ruiko gaped. Mikoto stuttered: "O-oh, well…" She wasn't sure whether she had that much cash; probably she had to pull out her card. Before she could even move to check though, the man said: "Ah, but since you seem so genuinely interested, I will lower the price to 7000 yen just for you."
"Eh?" Did he think she was haggling? "Ah, that's fine, I'll take it!"
Ruiko was still thunderstruck.
Once outside, both Mikoto and Kuroko carried one small bag each; Ruiko and Kazari had been scared off by the prices.
"Man, to think everything costs more than a thousand yen." Ruiko sighed. She gazed at the other's bags, and frowned. "You guys really are ojou-samas, aren't you?"
"Eh?" Mikoto blushed. "I-it's just a difference in allowance, I'd guess." To be honest, she thought the price was a rip-off, but for some reason she had just been compelled to buy it.
"So how much allowance do you get, Misaka-san?"
"Aah-ahaha, look how much snow has gathered; I wonder if we'll be snowed in?" She avoided the question with a heroic maneuver. Ruiko huffed.
"What are you guys doing for Christmas?" Kazari asked, smiling.
"Hm, I'll be going home to my family," Ruiko said, gazing out into the snowy street. "Usually we invite my grand-parents as well, and we eat a really delicious Christmas dinner and open presents in the evening."
"That sounds really nice." Kazari smiled. "We're going to my aunt and cousins this year; I'm really looking forward to it!"
"How about you guys?" Ruiko asked, pulling Mikoto out of her thoughts.
"Eh? Aah, well, my parents took some time off to celebrate Christmas last year, so this year I'll just be staying here… Mom has an exam coming up, and dad has an international conference to attend…" She gazed down, flushing slightly.
"Huuh." Ruiko said, while Kazari's smile fell. "That's kind of lonely."
Mikoto grinned. "Ah, no, we don't have much of a Christmas tradition anyway – I'm used to spending it here."
"Then how about you, Shirai? Your parents are busy folks too, right?"
Kuroko gave a proud sigh. "My father's company usually arranges a Christmas dinner for all the employees, so we will be attending that this year as well. Aaaah—" She suddenly cried, throwing herself at Mikoto's arm, "Kuroko will not be able to see Onee-sama open her present – it's a tragedy!"
"By how you're acting lately, I don't think I'll dare open it at all." Mikoto said, and tried to push her off with her left hand, though she might as well have been glued to her jacket. Left with no choice, she electrified her instead.
Ignoring Kuroko's charred form, Ruiko asked the level five: "So, who is that present you bought today for?"
Mikoto flinched, the glare directed at Kuroko turning into a slightly panicky look. "Eh – who…?"
"It's not for Shirai-san, right? Way too expensive for that – oh! Maybe it's for that guy of yours!"
"I don't have a g-guy!" Mikoto barked, reddening. "I'll give it to whoever I want!" She huffed, turning away, yet her stomach was churning just the same. Maybe she should give him a present, after all…
"Aaah, Onee-sama!" Kuroko screeched, once again on her feet. "Don't tell me you're blushing at the mere thought of that baboon!"
"I'm not blushing!" The red-faced ace of Tokiwadai claimed.
The snow continued to fall during the whole next week, day and night. Students with appropriate abilities volunteered for Judgment to help them keep the streets clear enough to at least walk on, while Anti-Skill deployed their vans equipped with plovers to make the highways safe to drive on.
All too soon, the day before Christmas arrived. Students were leaving in heaps to go home for the holidays; the station for buses that would bring them out of Academy City were packed with people. Laughing and smiling, they all seemed to be looking forward to spend time with their family.
Ruiko and Kazari were leaving on the same bus. "I'll see you guys when term starts again!" Ruiko shouted, waving over the mass of people. Mikoto grinned and waved back, while Kuroko smiled beside her. Kazari, too, waved happily, and then they both disappeared inside the bus.
Mikoto kept smiling until the bus had driven away, and then her arm fell by her side.
"Ara, Onee-sama, you don't have to put up such an effort. They are your friends." Kuroko said from her side.
"What are you talking about?" Mikoto said, huffing. "It's Christmas, everyone is happy; isn't that good?"
Kuroko gazed at her roommate's solemn face, and smiled. "Hai, Onee-sama." She then said, looking back over the throng of people. "That's very good."
They went back to the dorm; Kuroko was going to leave on the bus reserved solely for Tokiwadai students that picked them up from the dorm. She entered it with glee, but not before assuring Mikoto she would not open her present before Christmas morning, and flinging a kiss her way that left Mikoto reddening on the pavement.
When the bus left, everything suddenly seemed eerily silent. Mikoto stared after the vehicle until it disappeared into the falling snow; a few other girls that would stay at the dorm for Christmas entered the building behind her chatting eagerly with each other, but Mikoto still stood outside gazing into the white streets unseeingly. A heavy feeling was settling in her chest all of a sudden. Her face seemed solemn, with a total lack of the cheerfulness she'd been sporting ever since one week ago.
One week ago, she got a phone call from her mother explaining how she'd suddenly been told she had to take this exam now or never; also, her father had been invited to a conference that could mean the difference of him keeping his job or not. It's not like it's their fault. Mikoto shook her head and forced a small smile onto her face, yet it died soon after. There was no-one left to keep pretending for. Kuroko seemed to have realized something was wrong, but she didn't want to create an unpleasant feeling for any of the others at this time. Besides, it's not like we really do anything for Christmas anyway. Whenever they did get time off, her father took them to their holiday house in the alps, and they would go skiing, eat normal food and open presents – hardly anything special. It wasn't like she'd lied to the others either; this was hardly the first time since entering school in Academy City that she would be spending Christmas here.
She turned around and entered the dorm, a tickling feeling bothering her chest. Once back in her room, her eyes fell upon the dolphin figure she'd bought one week ago in the curious store. She hadn't even wrapped it up, not knowing what to do with it at all. Now it stood there like a glaring reminder of her failed Christmas.
Huffing, Mikoto grabbed her pajamas and entered the bathroom. She'd just take a long bath and then do absolutely nothing until bed time.
December 24th. Christmas. Mikoto awoke to the sound of bells from the clock in their dormitory; on this day, the dorm invited those students that were left to a late breakfast, and as usual, they were expected to show up. She dragged herself out of bed still feeling sleepy, and dressed in the uniform. Not feeling anything like happy, her face bore an extremely bored expression as she descended the stairs and entered the dining room. A huge Christmas tree decorated with all kinds of colors and lights stood in the middle of the room, a moderate amount of presents beneath it. For the girls that were still left, presents from their families would be put there, and then it was up to the students themselves to decide when and where to open them. Mikoto found it slightly distasteful that she even knew this; the dorm mistress had explained it to her when she reported that she would be staying here for Christmas.
Not even bothering to look at the presents, she sat at one of the many free tables, quite some ways from the few other girls still present. It was only four; three third-years that were chatting eagerly together, and a first-year that looked like she'd rather be buried underground. It was still snowing outside, and the streets were empty.
They were served a traditional western Christmas breakfast (prepared by the maids left in Ryoran Maid School), and then Mikoto wandered up to her room again. She didn't feel like looking for her own presents beneath that tree; perhaps she'd do it later.
Closing the door behind her, her eyes once again fell upon the dolphin figure on her desktop. Something stung in her chest, and she gritted her teeth. She felt like she wanted to cry and shout at the same time. Yet crying solved nothing; no matter how many tears she could force out, her parents wouldn't suddenly show up with smiling faces and tell her they'd be celebrating together after all. Striding forward, she grabbed her coat from its hook on the wall and put it on; pink scarf, gloves and ear mufflers following. Then she took the annoying figure from her desk and strode out the door, stuffing it into a pocket. She'd just go return it to the store.
Kamijou Touma was packed into a black winter jacket and white scarf and gloves, trying to keep from freezing. His spiky black hair was slightly drooping from the amount of snow gathering in it (he hadn't thought about pulling up the hood before it was too late). Why was he still in Academy City on Christmas, you may ask? He wasn't entirely sure himself. His family didn't have a particularly strong Christmas tradition (his father believed it was way too westernized), and this year they were going to spend the day like any other holiday. This was the third Christmas all together that Touma had decided to stay rather than go home. Perhaps it was the unbearable thought of trying to make sense out of the mess in his closet to find the clothes he'd need to pack; in any case, Kamijou Touma was left in Academy City in this season that should be all about families. At least he wasn't alone; there were thousands of students that for some reason or other didn't go home for Christmas. Still, when 80% of the students in a city that housed roughly 1,8 million students went home, that left, well, less than what was needed to even fill a district.
He was trudging through the snow that had gathered on the pavement in district 7, trying his best to look out for slippery areas. He was used to falling on his behind during any kind of slippery weather, but today, he had a reason other than his hurting bottom to look out for treacherous ice. In his pocket was a figure he'd bought just a few days ago in that Christmas gift shop. He didn't understand why he'd bought it when he wasn't even going to celebrate Christmas, and after having stared at it for quite some time, he gave a deep sigh and decided to go return it.
That was the sole reason he was even outside in this bothersome weather. This must truly be the result of global warming, was his theory on the extremely interesting subject. Well, for Japan to suddenly have the same climate as northern Russia, something must be pulling the strings. Perhaps a magician was trying to strike Academy City by burying it in snow? In that case, a blizzard would be more effective, wouldn't it? Either way, it seemed like there was nothing a level zero Kamijou Touma could do about it unless someone showed up to be punched by his right hand. Sighing, Touma kept thinking about useless things as he traversed the heaps of snow that had gathered on the ground.
A sudden squeal from up ahead pulled him out of his thoughts. There was a rather obvious lack of people outside compared to usual; though the city was by no means empty, this particular street that would usually be packed with people was currently only occupied by himself, a group of girls on the other side of the road, and a couple that were looking into the store windows up ahead.
Well, those, and a girl that was currently sitting on the ground after having slipped on the treacherous surface. Touma sighed deeply, recognizing the girl quite easily. Even though her school uniform was hidden beneath a beige winter coat, Misaka Mikoto was a girl he seemed to recognize no matter what state she might be in. Though he would rather not, being no gentleman by the books, he still stepped forward and looked down on the girl that still sat on the ground, grimacing. "Are you okay?"
Mikoto flinched and looked up, and then her face reddened in an amazing speed. "Eh? Wh-wh-what are you doing here!" It sounded more like a command than a question, yet Touma found himself answering either way. "I'm enjoying a stroll in the wonderful weather." He said. "And you? Making angels in the snow?"
She turned even redder, if possible. "O-of course not! Wh-why would I do that?"
"Isn't that what kids do?"
"Gah –" Her embarrassment suddenly had to fight for dominance with anger – then, as if showing a sudden burst of maturity, she huffed and started to get up. "You always say such horrible things – uwah!" She slipped again, and Touma instinctively stepped forward and grabbed her arm to steady her. "Eh?" As if surprised to not have fallen again, she stared at the hand holding her firmly.
"I guess it's no surprise you're falling over, with the way you usually rush ahead blindly – at least brush off your skirt." Touma's cheeks reddened just slightly, and he looked away from her disheveled clothes. Mikoto blushed furiously and hurriedly brushed off the snow at her back and straightened the skirt with her free hand. Afterwards, she drew a deep breath and seemed to calm down somewhat.
Turning on him with a glare, she said: "What are you doing here? Aren't you going to celebrate Christmas with your family?"
Touma gazed at her solemnly. "What about you? Don't you ojou-samas celebrate Christmas?"
She reddened again and looked down. "You don't need to say it like that…" Her mutter was just barely audible. Touma gazed at her from the side, noticing her blush.
"I-in any case, you can let go now." She pulled her arm out of his grip, and then regretted the action for a moment; then she shook her head forcefully.
"Try not to slip again; you might hit your head next time." He said, thinking that if she did, she would surely grow furious and start spitting electricity all over. Even though it was cold outside, Mikoto seemed to be as hot-headed as always.
She grew strangely quiet at his words though, looking down still. Touma looked up in the direction she was facing. Was it a coincidence that it seemed like she was going to cross the road at the same place as him? He sighed. If they were going in the same direction, would it be natural for them to walk together? It's not like they were strangers, after all, though he didn't know whether to call her a friend – did friends try to electrify the living daylights out of you on every encounter? Well, better get it out of the way quickly. "In any case, where are you going?" He asked, looking at her again. She flinched, as if he'd disturbed her out of some deep thoughts.
"Ah? Eh, I'm, w-well – it's none of your business, is it!" The dolphin figure was safely kept in her pocket, and just now, she'd been thinking about Saten-san's words: "Maybe it's for that guy of yours!" Though she did in no way regard this idiot as her 'guy' or anything close to it, she couldn't help but wonder if he'd like the figure if she gave it to him. Aaah no, that's impossible! She clenched her eyes shut and shook her head again. In the first place, he's a boy! They don't like things like that… do they? It wasn't like she knew a whole lot about boys, but she had this feeling that he'd look at it with a bored expression and then ask what the heck he would do with it. And in the first place, why did she think about giving this dumbass a present at all?
Touma saw her troubled face and figured it was one of those mysterious habits of girls he didn't really understand. To be surrounded of so many of them, he sure was a slow learner. Just my usual luck, he sighed. "Anyway, I'll see you around, Biribiri." He waved and walked off.
"Gah –" Mikoto's face instantly turned beet red, and she jogged after him, barking: "What are you suddenly walking off for, just turning your back on the girl, is that how your parents raised you?" She stopped in front of him and put a finger directly into his chest. "I ought to teach you a lesson!"
Touma sighed deeply. "Hai hai, Misaka-sensei, then what should I do?"
Mikoto pulled back, offended yet unable to retort (she had asked for it, after all). "Y-you – you should at least offer to walk the girl to wherever it is she's going!"
I tried, but you refused to answer! He sighed. "You want me to hold your hand, is that it?" He glanced at her gloved hands, and his cheeks grew warm all on their own for some reason.
Mikoto reddened. "That's not it! It's hypothetical – you just need to show some respect – I don't need you to drag me around!"
"I don't see why you're making such a fuss then." Touma said, looking at anything but her blushing face. Even when she made no sense, this girl managed to look good.
"I'm not making a fuss!" Mikoto claimed loudly. The few other people in the street shot them a look. "I'm trying to teach you some manners, that's all!"
"In that case, o' Misaka-sama, should I escort you to your destination?" He pretended to be the chauffeur of the rich girl, and made an impromptu bow.
"Gah – what are you doing, idiot!" She made a move as if to slap him over his head, but his right hand shot out and grabbed hers before she could – her face burst into red, and he glared at her strictly.
"If you're going to get violent, I'll just hold you like this." At least then she couldn't make any sparks. His right hand settled with her left in it for this purpose alone – yet Mikoto was blushing furiously, and grew silent again. "Since it's come to this, you'll have to come with me to my destination." He regretted having to bring her all the way there, but he had a feeling she wouldn't leave him alone either way. In any case, being struck down from behind by a lightning strike was not on his wish list. Better to be safe than sorry.
"Wh-where are you going?" Mikoto asked when Touma started walking; she followed, halfheartedly. One part of her screamed at her to yank her hand free, but another was utterly embarrassed and just a tiny amount of pleased.
"I have something to return to a store." He said, not offering any more information. The green figure in his pocket was best left a secret. If this girl saw it, no doubt she would start laughing loudly and use it as a means to embarrass him for the rest of his life. It had been bad enough to leave the store with it and meeting Tsuchimikado and Aogami Pierce outside.
Mikoto silenced, once again reminded of the dolphin in her pocket. There's no way he would want it. She flushed, and stared into the windows of the stores they passed by as they walked. Her eyes widened as she saw their reflection. We're walking hand-in-hand down the street, just like a c– Her heart beat fast in her chest, and she stared down in front of her feet, panicking. He was grasping her hand tightly, yet not enough to hurt; her fingers twitched, then tentatively curled around his hand.
Touma gazed down at the top of Mikoto's hair from the corner of his eyes; it was full of white snowflakes, and the snow melted as it was heated up from the warmth of her body. The silence around them was unfamiliar; not just because the city was so empty compared to usual, but because silence and Misaka Mikoto didn't go hand in hand. Usually she was a loudmouthed, arrogant brat, yet increasingly, she'd been acting like a gentle kitten in certain situations. The boy gave a small sigh to himself. Just when he thought he knew the girl, she suddenly did something completely unexpected. Perhaps that was one of the quirks of Academy City's level fives, or maybe it was just the way girls was in general.
For ten minutes they walked like this, silently through the streets of the city. Mikoto's mind was swirling in so much chaos that she didn't realize where they were going before the boy beside her suddenly stopped. "Ah, man." He groaned. Confused, she looked up, and was staring right at the shop they'd visited exactly one week ago – however it was dark, and the sign on the door quite clearly read 'Closed'. Her heart stuck in her throat, panic grabbing her chest.
"Just my luck, they'd be closed already…" Touma sighed and scratched his head. If this was the case, he might as well have stayed home. Though, a small part of him was still happy that he had gone outside. Normally he would have blamed the girl beside him for his predicament, seeing as he might have reached the store on time if she didn't keep him up. But just this once, he didn't feel like starting an argument.
Now what? Mikoto thought, stiffening. What do I do? The dolphin felt like it was burning her skin through the layers of clothes – she couldn't bear the thought of taking it with her back to the dormitory.
Touma observed Mikoto's face, noticing her increasingly red skin. "Hey," he said, "You need to breathe." She jumped, then gasped, realizing she'd been holding her breath. Touma sighed again. "Well, since this is closed, what I came to do is undoable, I guess." He thought for a moment; their hands still locked together. Then, he suggested: "So, shall we go do whatever you planned to do? Or do you want to go by yourself?"
He expected her to yank away from him and shout at him to not meddle in her business, yet found himself strangely hoping she wouldn't. Even though it was just holding hands, he found he kind of liked it. At least she didn't bite.
"…" Mikoto tried to speak, but the words were stuck in her throat. Her shoulders tensed, and she clenched her eyes shut.
"Woah, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to –" Touma instinctively pulled back, letting go of her hand even though holding it would be a better defense against the electromaster – however Mikoto didn't start spitting lightning. Instead, she thrust her hand into her pocket and pulled out the dolphin figure. Her face was beet red and she refused to look at the spiky-haired boy as she held the figure out for him.
"Here!" She barked, as if it was an order. Touma stared at the dolphin figure with a confused face; this apparently came out of nowhere. "Um…" he started, still careful of any sudden lightning strikes, "what are you…?"
"I came to return it to this shop, but now I'm giving it to you instead!" She shouted, fire burning in her face. "It's a present, a present! Just take it, will you!" She clenched her eyes shut and trembled all over, waiting for the rejection that was sure to come.
However Touma merely relaxed, and smiled. "If that was it, you should have said so in the first place."
She looked up at him, shocked, and he grinned all of a sudden. For some reason, this made her heart beat even harder. "You… you really want it?"
"Well, it's a gift from you, isn't it? It'd be rude to refuse." Even though dolphins weren't exactly something he had a huge interest in, the fact that she even considered giving it to him must have hit a special nerve in his body. He reached out a hand to take the figure, and Mikoto's breath hitched – then he halted abruptly, staring at the figure contemplatively. "You didn't poison it or something, did you?"
"Of course not!" She shouted. "If you don't want it, don't take it, damn you!" She was reddening even more, but she was still not spitting electricity (which was a clear danger sign), so Touma moved to take the figure. Just as his hand touched it, there was a shattering sound, and the snow falling around them fluttered as if from a sudden gust of wind. Mikoto's eyes widened, and Touma was slightly puzzled, yet picked up the figure nonetheless. It was actually very pretty, now that he looked at it.
He studied it for a few seconds, then he looked up at the blushing girl in front of him. "Um… thanks…"
She jumped, as if pulled out of her thoughts, and drew a breath. "Y-you're welcome…" She looked down, feeling both pleased and sad at once. Now that this was over, she'd have no other choice but to roam the city all alone, or go back to the dorm. Neither felt like the right thing to do.
The boy studied the girl closely, and then; "Ah –" He seemed to remember something. Mikoto stared at him from the corner of her eyes, seeing him reach into his own pocket.
He pulled out a green Gekota figure that seemed totally unfit for his person. "Here," he said and held it out with a small smile, "actually, it's for you."
She stared at it as if it was an alien being, and hesitantly took it from his hand. Then, as if struck by some unexplainable passion, she threw herself forward into his chest and wrapped her arms around him. Silently, she tried to fight the tears, and her trembling form made Touma redden all of a sudden.
"Wha – what's wrong?" He didn't get an answer, and so instead, a gentle smile settled on his face. One gloved hand stroked over her hair, brushing off snowflakes. "Merry Christmas, Mikoto."
The snow stopped falling that night. Life seemed to return to the city, if only by a little; at least one could walk outside without getting lost in the snow now. For the few students that walked past a certain Christmas gift shop the next day, surprise awaited in the form of an empty store; the owner, the store sign and all the wares were mysteriously gone in the span of one night. This small mystery didn't trouble a certain Railgun though, who awoke not only to the sight of presents from her friends and family (amongst them a transparent set of underwear from Kuroko), but also to a green Gekota figure standing on her night table – and a tender smile rested on her lips.
After all, Christmas had been good this year too.