A/N: OMG I'm alive! Yes! Merry Christmas to all you lovely people that have continued to review despite my prolonged absence. Thanks to your reviews, the prodding of several people and Tsuyunoinochi for helping me kick some of the kinks out of this chapter.

Disclaimer: I don't own DSs but Nintendo does! And of course I don't own Barbie.

Chapter 14

It was cold. No, that's an understatement. It was so cold that if I had nuts to freeze off... well, they'd be frozen. I was getting snow up my nose and I'm pretty sure my feet were poking out from my shallow hiding hole, but I doubted anyone would really notice them and that was the point. I peaked out through a little gap in the snow and waited, waited, waited for the perfect victims. Ah, I mean participants.

There they were! I had to struggle to keep still as excitement bubbled through me. The group of little six year olds wasn't close enough just yet and if I made too much movement now, they'd notice me. Almost, almost, almost... Now! I leaped up from the ground and held my arms menacingly above me while standing on my tiptoes to make me look taller.

"Fear me! I am the ghost of Christmas past! Moooooooooooo! No, wait- uh... what do ghosts say again?"

By this time, the kids had all scurried away screaming so I received no reply. Shrugging, I trudged back to the front porch where Tsuji had been standing and watching my little show. I took off the snow goggles, the over-sized plastic reindeer antlers, and the green, red, and gold garland that was draped over my shoulders and wrapped around my limbs.

"I think you were looking for 'boo'," Tsuji suggested.

"Oh yeah, that's the one, isn't it?" I sat down on the steps and surveyed the nearby houses that were now decked out with garishly colorful lights and light-up plastic Santa Clauses. Well, most of the houses were, anyway. The houses where snooty people lived only had the white icicle lights and white wire-frame reindeer in the yard. I hadn't realized it before, but apparently even holiday decorations had their fads and fashions. "So you've been taking all this sudden holiday cheer pretty quietly. I take it you remember Christmas, then?"

He nodded. "Yeah, I know about its origin and everything. What I don't know is what an overweight elderly man in a tacky red suit has to do with it."

I gasped appropriately. "You don't know about Santa Claus, the corner stone of national consumerism and commercial bastardization of what was once a sacred and pure thing? Well, I'll educate you! A long, long time ago a bunch of parents decided that there should be an easy way of making their kids behave, you know? Meanwhile, all the toy companies gathered together in hopes of coming up with an idea to sell more toys. Well, the parents and the toy companies just happened to be holding their conferences in the same town, and happened across one another. That was when they were struck with inspiration. The parents would promise their kids mass amounts of toys once a year if they were good, and threaten to withhold those toys if they were bad. The toy makers, in turn, would advertise all these awesome new toys every year that the kids would want so much that they would refrain from putting frogs in their mothers' underwear drawers and scaring their little sisters. But, there had to be a single figure for the kids to look up, one single symbol to control all the chaos that would otherwise ensue. Thus, Santa Claus was born."

"Is that really the truth?"

"Whaaaaat? You think I would lie to you?"

"Not at all. I know you would."

"That isn't very nice!" I exclaimed. "Santa Claus is watching you, y'know. If you're a naughty boy you won't get any rewards." On second thought... "Well, go ahead and be naughty if you really want to. I'll reward you myself." Wink, wink!

"Comments like that aren't exactly innocent either, Ria."

I shrugged. "I stopped believing in Santa a long time ago. So anyway, the idea is that this Santa Claus guy lives way up north with a bunch of elves that make toys all year long, and he watches all the kids to see if they're good or bad. Good ones go on the good list and bad ones go on the bad list, right? So on Christmas Eve, Santa Claus hops in a sled and goes to every child's house around the world, shimmying down their chimneys to deposit presents beneath their Christmas trees while they sleep. Unless they're on the bad list, then they get coal or switches."

"So... parents threaten their kids that if they don't behave an overweight old man will break into their houses while they're sleeping? One that watches them all the time? I would behave in that case, too."

"And he eats their cookies!" I laughed and shook my head. "But no, if they behave then he will come to their houses. And leave them presents. But really it's just the parents that buy the presents and wrap them up and leave them for the kids. Adults trade Christmas presents, too." I held back from asking if I could sit in his lap and tell him what I wanted for Christmas. "So what do you want?"

"For Christmas?"

"Yeah, I all ready know what I'm getting for everybody else. I'm getting my Mom a new book by her favorite author, Emily a couple of new Barbie dolls for her to dissect and a small bag of coal just for shits and giggles, so that just leaves you."

He shook his head. "You don't have to get me anything. You've done enough for me as it is."

"Nonsense! Remember what I told you before? As part of this family, there is no such thing as owing one another. I'm getting the rest of my family a gift, so it only makes sense to get you one too."

"Well, if you really want to, I guess... I don't know what to tell you, though."

I sighed heavily, but it didn't sound serious even to my own ears. "Guess I'll just have to use my natural brilliance and figure it out, huh?" I wish I were naturally brilliant, though. It was Tsuji's second first Christmas and I wanted to get him something really special and meaningful and all that jazz. I couldn't just buy him a gift certificate like I did for my other friends. Or Laura, in other words.

"So what are you hoping to get this year?" he wondered.

"Do I get to sit in your lap while I tell you?" Ah, dammit! I'm having more and more trouble keeping these comments to myself lately. I covered my face with my hands and shyly peeked out through my fingers at him. One black brow was arched in question and I mentally scrambled for cover. "It's just a joke, Tsuji," I forced a laugh after a moment. "See, at the mall every year they have some guy dress up like Santa Clause and kids go sit on his lap while they tell him what they want for Christmas."

"The more you tell me about this Santa Clause guy the more like a pervert he sounds," Tsuji said. "You never answered my question anyway."

"You never answered mine!" Argh! Shut up while you're ahead, Ria!

His lips quirked into his famous semi-smile and he asked, "You want that badly to sit in my lap?"

"Yes! No! Fucking hell!"

He blinked calmly at my confused out-burst. "So which is it?"

"A pony."

"What?"

"I want a pony for Christmas," I spoke resolutely, determined to put any and all conversation about his lap behind. "I want a pony and a Nintendo DS. I've been a very good girl so I should get them!"

"Seriously?"

"About the DS yes, not about the pony. Having a prankster dog around the house is bad enough and I'm afraid Emily might try to annex it as the first horse of her world-dominating cavalry or something. I think Mom is getting the game system for me anyway. You wanna help me snoop around her closet later?"

"Will that also involve you sitting in my lap?"

"You're doing that on purpose aren't you?" I cried. "You're actually teasing me! For your amusement! Except that you can't be amused so you're just doing this to be spiteful aren't you?"

He blinked at me innocently. "Why would you think something like that? I was just asking an honest question."

"You liar!" I accused jokingly. "Those puppy dog eyes don't fool me anymore." But even still, I didn't think I could ever be angry with him while he was looking at me like that. "Tell me honestly, just how long have you been playing with me like that using the guise of ignorance?"

Before he could answer, I heard a miniature stampede on the front lawn and turn to find an army of pre-teens standing before the six year-olds I'd scared away.

"There she is! It's the scary Christmas cow! Get her!" One of the littler kids yelled and I suddenly found myself being pelted with snow but the pre-teens. Little brats, all of them...

"Tsuji, shield me!" I cried, huddling up into a little ball on the steps.

"But I think I hear your mother calling me," he replied and started indoors.

"Hey you jerk, don't abandon me!" I protested and scrambled for the door as well.

My mom was seated in the living room however, and as soon as she spotted me dragging in snow trailing behind me she shook her head frantically. "Oh no you don't! You stay out there and get the snow off you first young lady!"

Great, a fire-breathing dragon lady to my front and a volley of snow to my back. I wisely chose the snow and stood out on the porch for several minutes, peeking in the window while my back was thoroughly pelted. Inside, Tsuji sat down with my mother and the two spoke, but about what I didn't know. It wasn't that it was unusual for them to speak, it's just that they both had the distinct look about them of plotting. Against who? Against me of course! What if mom was asking him to tell her all the bad things I'd done? True, I'd never done anything really bad or mischievous while he was here, but there had been enough not-so-innocent innocent comments to damn me to ten years worth of coal and switches. What can I say? I think with my hormones.

When the kids' arms got tired of throwing and they wandered away, I brushed all the stray white granules clinging to my winter coat away and trudged back inside. My mother had disappeared and Tsuji was reading a book I know he'd all ready read at least twice. Maybe I should get him a book for Christmas, too? The boy would read pretty much anything he could get his hands on, but that didn't give me any clue as to what kind of book he most enjoyed. I wonder if I just gave him a copy of the kama sutra if it would give him any ideas? Insert perverted chuckle here.

I left him to it and went back to my room, flopping across my bed to think. I guess I should've expected that a guy like Tsuji wouldn't be easy to shop for. He had preferences I knew, but he's generally so indifferent it's hard to pick up on them. I knew that he liked to watch crime dramas and mysteries on television in the evenings, and I found out while on break from school that during the day he'd watch soap operas and talk shows. I think it was during Thanksgiving break that I discovered that habit of his. I'd found him watching the screen intently with Puck stretched out on the sofa beside him. He'd told me that he liked to watch the people and try to figure out what emotions were supposed to be running through them and how those emotions motivated what they said and did. I halfway expected him to start trying to mimic the actors but thankfully, he didn't. I'd like any emotional expressions of his to be formed with his own emotions. Emotions, yes that what I really wanted to get him, but something else meaningful would simply have to do. Too bad I was ready to pull my hair out in frustrated cluelessness. Maybe a Law & Order boxed set would just be easier?

Thankfully, an idea occurred to me before I could get around to yanking the follicles. I needed to get Mom and Emily's presents anyway, so why not take him along to the mall and see if anything catches his eye?

An hour or so later we were wandering together through the thick throngs of holiday shoppers with not just our hands entwined but our arms as well to prevent us from getting separated. At first, whenever a stranger brushed passed Tsuji, which was often, I could feel him shiver, but he refused my offer to return home and after a while, it seemed that it didn't bother him quite as much. I suppose my dear little Tsuji was growing up. Although I'm really not sure how much I like that thought.

I grabbed Emily's Barbies from the toy store. Well, one was a Barbie, a gymnast kind or something with extra flexible joints I knew she'd enjoy. The other two were cheap imitations, the weird off-brand kind with name's like Betty that inexplicably had their underwear painted on. These I knew would be simple decapitation fodder.

As I was browsing through a clearance bin of dolls, eyeing one in particular that was missing hair on both sides of its head to create a Mohawk that made a perfect punk-rocker look, I caught Tsuji frowning at one of the Ken dolls in the bin. It was marked down too because of the missing clothes.

"Does his bare-nekkid plastic offend you?" I wondered.

"Well no but... what kind of sick joke is this?"

I had no clue how to respond with that aside from an oh-so intelligent, "Eh?"

He thrust the doll in my face. "It's been castrated. It's missing its pe-"

I quickly jammed my hand over his mouth and shot a look around us at all the little kids in the stores with their mothers and the little old grandmother nearby that was giving us a sour look.

"That's the way they all are, Tsuji. And don't say that word in front of the kids!"

"Fine, it's missing its... thermometer. If I were a child I would be more terrified of this than of that Santa Claus character you were speaking of."

I couldn't help but snicker at this. "Good thing most boys don't play with Barbies then. Although, come to think of it even action figures are uh... lacking in that particular area. Hmm, do you suppose that's what traumatized you so badly you don't remember anything now? Playing with dolls that were missing thermometers?"

He shook his head and set the toy back in the bin. "No, but I would almost think that such abominations might give a young boy a complex."

It was difficult to call Tsuji 'freaked out' by the weenie-less dolls but it clearly disturbed the poor guy on some level, so I led him out of the store as soon as my purchases were made. Next stop was the bookstore.

As I led Tsuji inside, I felt him pause behind me. Well no, he didn't pause. He just froze right where he stood and when I turned to look at him he was staring like some kind of deer caught in the headlights of a monster truck at the cashier behind the counter. I couldn't figure out for the life of me why. It was just a girl about my age, crooked glasses and strawberry blonde hair thrown into messy braids. She wasn't even looking our way. Not at first. When she shifted her gaze toward us I hoped that she might give some clue as to the reason why Tsuji had been staring at her with something akin to terror... or as terrified as one can be without emotions. She merely shot me a smile and turned her attention elsewhere, however. That was when I noticed that Tsuji was no longer at my side but was ducking behind a bookshelf nearby.

"Tsuji what the hell are you doing?" I demanded.

"Looking at this book," he replied as if the answer should be obvious.

I arched a brow at the display on the end of the aisle that he was looking at. "Let's see... 'A Single Mother's Guide to Pregnancy', 'The Dummy's Guide to Getting Pregnant', and 'How to Look Sexy When You're Expecting'. Gee, are you trying to send me a message here, Tsuji?"

"Well you did offer to bare my children."

I felt myself blush at the implication but brushed it off. "Not until I see a ring on this finger."

Tsuji sighed and moved with fluid speed to the cover of the next shelf. "Aren't you going to get your mother's book?" he questioned as I followed.

I nodded. "Yeah, it's over there on the new releases shelf," I replied and pointed to the shelf to the side of the cash register. "Come on."

"No, you go ahead," Tsuji shook his head with a grim little expression. "I'm going to... look around at stuff. I'll meet you outside the store."

Okay, something was definitely up. I knew for sure now. "You never like to separate!" I argued.

"Just this once it'll be fine. I need to go look at something else."

"Like what?"

"Umm..." he gazed around the store looking for an idea until his eyes lit on the corner furthest from the cash register. "I need to go look at something over there."

And without waiting for me to say anything, he took off for that area as if being chased by a pack of rabid, man-eating wolves. Or a pack of rabid, man-eating Tiffanys. I didn't even get the chance to question why he wanted to browse the gay porn section and I wasn't even sure I wanted to know.

I tried to shrug it off, deciding I'd annoy an explanation out of him once we were home and went to grab the book I was looking for. When I went up to the counter to pay, the girl that had offered me the warm smile before was glaring at me like I'd tried to start a bon-fire with the self-help section. I tried to make amends, even though I had no clue what I might've done wrong.

"Hi, um... Kim," I read her nametag. "It's a lovely day for a mystery romance novel, wouldn't you say?" I tried to kick up conversation while I handed her my book. With the look she gave me it was more like I'd been kicking her puppy or something.

I didn't manage to get any words out of her during our brief exchange and I didn't really care. So long as she didn't leap over the counter and try to bite me I was happy. I found Tsuji outside, looking a bit pale and shaken.

"Do you want to go home now?"

He shook his head. "Not just yet. I have something else I have to take care of first, actually."

"Okay cool. What is it?"

"Well, it's something I have to take care of alone, actually. As much as I don't like to do it."

"Oh, what's that?"

He smirked despite his discomfort with the idea of separating again. "Eliminating any excuses for you to sit in my lap."

It slowly dawned on me, and I say slowly because any mention of Tsuji's lap sets my brain off in a completely wrong direction, that he was talking about finding me a present. "Oh really Tsuji, you don't have to do that!" Really, I'd rather sit in your lap!

He shrugged. "I know that. But I want to."

Well I couldn't argue with that logic. I let him go, agreeing to meet him in front of the pizza place for lunch before deciding to do a little more shopping of my own. What could I possibly get for that boy? I hoped maybe window shopping might give me ideas. Hm, guys liked electronics, right? But that was way too expensive for my budget. There wasn't any need to get him new shoes, or more clothes. I stopped in front of the lingerie store window and wondered if I tried to present myself as his present if he'd unwrap me. But of course, I was too poor and too self-conscious to invest in any skimpy unmentionables, so if I did that I'd just have to try taping bits of wrapping paper to myself and sticking a tag to my forehead. That sounded like a traumatic paper cut waiting to happen.

As I was wandering past a jewelry store I felt someone tap me on the shoulder and turned around, hoping it was Tsuji and not a member of the magical gossip queen society. What I found, however, was an 'eat shit and die in the most spastically humiliating manner possible' look leveled at me through crooked spectacles. Ah, of course. Why didn't I consider that the grouchy, possibly homicidal cashier might want to amble over for a friendly little chat?

"Can I help you?"

"He's mine, b-bitch!"

I blinked. I paused and looked around. I rub my eyes and looked around again. No, I was right in thinking I was still in the mall. For a moment, I'd begun to think that perhaps I would find myself on the set of a tawdry daytime talk show and if that were the case I wanted to be prepared to duck from any flying chairs that might come my way.

"Yes, I'm t-talking to you."

"Now that we've established that, may I ask who you are and to what man you're referring?" Certainly she couldn't be talking about Tsuji, right? She didn't even know Tsuji.

"Y-you're holding him hostage in a l-loveless marriage! You b-better give him a di-divorce so he can be with me!"

I had to stop again and look around. "No seriously, am I on some kind of candid camera show? Have I been Jack-Ass'd or whatever it is you MTV kids do these days?" I wondered. "Hey Mom, I'm on TV!" I cried out, just for good measure.

"Oh n-no!" Kin gaped in horror, effectively drawing my attention back to her. "I-it's worse than I feared. You're on drugs aren't you? Oh poor Tsuji is m-married to a crack-whore!"

"How do you know Tsuji?" I demanded. "And if I'm a crack-whore who do you think is my pimp?" The vision of Tsuji with a pimp cane, furry coat and feathered hat floated across my mind, but I realized now was not the time to chuckle about it and instead filed it away as next year's Halloween costume possibilities. You know, in case convincing Tsuji to go as a Play Girl centerfold didn't work out.

"Tsuji is a v-very sweet boy. He loves me, but you g-get in the way."

"Okaaaaaay. So did you know Tsuji before he lost his memory or something?"

"H-he lost his memory too? What have you done to him?"

I sighed and slapped my forehead. Where the hell was Tsuji when I needed him anyway? Surely he could straighten this mess out. But wait, she was calling him Tsuji too. While I had come to think of the mysterious boy living in my house as being Tsuji, and in my mind he was always Tsuji, if someone had known him before they would've known him by a different name surely. Which meant that...

"I will w-wait for him forever! F-follow him to the ends of the Earth!"

Yep. Somehow or another Tsuji had acquired a genuine stalker. A true fruitloop by the looks and sounds of it. I sighed heavily. Great, as if I needed anymore competition with him. Granted, I liked to think even I would have a leg up on a stalker but then, she did have that whole unflappable devotion thing going.

I had largely stopped paying attention to her ranting, instead trying to decide if backing away slowly or running like my ass was on fire would be a better option for this particular nutcase. For instance, when I was seven and my weird Uncle Joel came over for a visit, he'd stop barking like a dog at me so long as I backed away slowly and left my crayons for him to gnaw on. With Granny, however, the faster you ran away the less of her raunchy stories were likely to stick to your brain and scar your soul for all eternity. Escape tactics varied.

As it turns out, I didn't really have to wait long before the decision was taken out of my hands. Like a dramatic scene of violence in a suspense movie I caught the barest flash of metal out of the corner of my eye... except it wasn't really metal but gleaming white plastic. C'mon, give me a bit of artistic license here. I want to be dramatic too, dammit! In any case my attention snapped back to Kim just in time to see her raising some kind of sharp object over her head, only to bring it down as hard as possible on my arm. For a moment, my heart stopped beating, my breath caught in my chest, my eyes widen in anticipation of pain. And then...

"Ow, those prongs are sharp!" I whined as the plastic spork left behind four faint little imprints on my arm. "Watch it!"

But she didn't watch it, whatever that hell that really meant. She stabbed at me again, and I just barely managed to sidestep out of the way. Though plastic utensils had never really been one of my top fears, I worried she might eventually figure out that the only way to really hurt me with that thing was to try poking me in the eyes, so I turned and fled.

"She's going to kill me with the spork!" I screeched in warning to passersby as I hauled ass for the nearest entrance. Granted the crowd around me looked as though they seemed to think I was the insane one, rather than the spork wielding murderer-would-be Kim but... Well, it wouldn't be the first time I'd been on the receiving end of such stares, so I was pretty used to it. Sitting in the ford court and having a contest with yourself to see which condiment would squirt the farthest when you bang your first down on the packet would earn you such stares. And it's mustard by a long shot.

I continued running at an admirable speed that could possibly land me a passing grade in gym class if only I could manage to replicate it under conditions that weren't life threatening. As I leapt over chairs, shopping bags and baby carriages in the food court I decided to convince my gym teacher to set loose a pack of rabid dogs behind me on the track next time so that I might actually be able to graduate. But that was just one of those random thoughts that floated through my brain somewhere in between 'OMG psycho!' and 'What if she gets hold of one of those big spatulas from the Japanese teriyaki grill place?'

Amazingly I made it outside unhindered and stood out by the curb for a moment, panting. My side was beginning to cramp a little, but at least I still had my eyes safely in their sockets. That's when it struck me... Tsuji was still in there somewhere. Probably waiting in front of the pizza place for me. And Kim, being his stalker, was probably more interested in getting hold of him than me. Damn, I couldn't just leave him in there. But then, he was a master of self-defense as he'd demonstrated before. Still, I couldn't see him laying the smack-down on a girl. And he was all ready afraid of people. And he had all ready tested that fear by striking out on his own today. I had a vision of Tsuji standing in front of the pizza place, trembling in fear and sniffling in abandonment and that was all it took to get the courage up for me to go back in. But not without cover, no sir! After looking around at my options, I pulled one of the long, wide leaves out of a nearby potted plant and held it in front of me by the long stem.

I slipped back into the food court, keeping close to the food vendors on my exposed side and occasionally peeking around my giant plant leaf to get a look at the rest of the area. Had she given up and gone elsewhere? I wasn't sure, but apparently no matter how casually I tried to hold my severed plant part in front of my face, people weren't buying that this was totally normal for me. Regardless, I took up post by the pillar in front of the pizza place and waited.

A moment later I felt someone poke my shoulder from behind me and gave up watching the crowd over the top of the leaf to turn and confront who I thought was Tsuji. What awaited me was actually the vaguely pointy end of a spork... aimed straight for my eyes.

I screamed and stumbled back out of range of her attack. I swung my big leaf at her and tried to smack her in the head with it. "Leave me alone all ready! See, I'm armed and dangerous too!" I let out a samurai-worthy battle cry. "Fear the wrath of nature, bitch!"

I dared a step closer and fwapped her in the head with my 'weapon'. The stem broke upon impact and the leafy part floated to the tile. Yeah. Fuck nature.

She gave an inhuman victory screech that I could imagine some kind of beastly animal making just before it brought down its prey and then stabbed at me again. This time, as the prongs jabbed into the arm I held up in defense, the plastic handle snapped on her weapon as well. But whereas I was left with a useless, slightly limp stem, she was left with the painfully jagged edges of her broken spork handle. Thus proving, once again, why man dominated nature in the first place.

Just as I was stumbling back from another of Kim's jabs the girl was suddenly caught by the arms by a pair of security guards.

"Come on now, young lady, we can't have any of that going on!" one of them scolded. The same man, the older of the pair, looked up to me with a nod. "I don't know what's going on here Miss, but I apologize that a mall employee did this to you. I hope you don't decide to take it out on our otherwise fine establishment here."

I hurriedly waved it off. "Oh no, of course not. Just take her away from me now, please."

"But do you want to press charges or anything?"

I sighed. I probably should, but...

"Look, it's been a long day. I really just want to go home."

"Understood. You're coming with us, little girl," the guards began tugging Kim off to wherever the magical, mystical security office of DOOM was located, even while she struggled and screamed.

"But y-you don't understand! Sh-sh-she's holding my boyfriend hostage! I have to sa-save my angel Tsuji!"

They ignored her and continued to drag her away, leaving me there to breath a sigh of relief. Why exactly was it that I couldn't get a guy to look at me twice but poor Tsuji was attracting all kinds of nutcases? Well duh, I knew why but still. It seemed a little unfair. Shouldn't I get to have a stalker or two as well?

I only had to wait a little while longer before Tsuji came wandering up to me with a nondescript white bag in his hands. It contained another bag without a logo, inside of which there was paper or something to disguise what he had gotten me. Dammit, throughout this whole ordeal I still hadn't gotten him anything...

When I saw his face, however, I knew without a doubt that I wasn't going to force him to endure this place any longer. He was pale, shaking just a little and while his eyes were emotionless as always the silvery depths seemed... a little more empty than usual. Obviously striking out on his own hadn't been the best idea.

When he reached me I immediately threw my arm over his shoulders, drawing him closer to me. He leaned against me a little, welcoming my presence, and said nothing as I led him out the doors. We walked around the side of the mall to get to the bus stop, and as we did so we passed by the entrance to the big toy store we had gone inside to get Emily's dolls. We had gone in through a different entrance before rather than going through this one, so we hadn't passed by the window displays alongside the doors. There, among the robot and Tickle-Me-Whatever displays was a grouping of simple stuffed animals. There were teddy bears, stuffed elephants, puppies, and tigers that came in both orange and white. Tsuji stopped in front of this display and leaned closer to the glass, peering in at the trio of white tigers with narrowed eyes and a strange, far-away gaze.

"What is it?" I asked after a moment.

His mouth pressed into a thin, hard line as he thought deeply about something. His hand reached out, fingertips pressed lightly against the glass unconsciously as he focused on the tiger. I started to speak again, but stopped myself when I realized that whatever was going on could probably do without my interruption.

"Silver collar," he murmured after a moment.

"What... do you mean?" I asked slowly.

"It had a silver collar. Real silver. With a name engraved on it."

"What did? Did you have a stuffed tiger?" I pressed, beginning to get excited. "Are you remembering something, Tsuji?"

Tsuji opened his mouth as if to answer, then promptly shut it. His face melted from deep inner scrutiny to confusion, much to my dismay. "I don't know. I really... I don't. I was... Did I have one? I can't recall for certain. I just know..."

"You know...?"

"I know I felt something. Fondness, love, security. I know I felt it, but I can't remember what it felt like," he mumbled. "I just remember clinging to it."

I let my gaze drift back to the stuffed white tiger, even as he straightened and his face went blank. "And it had a silver collar with someone's name engraved on it?"

He nodded. "I don't know whose." Then he shrugged. "But I can't remember anymore."

I opened my mouth to insist that we go inside and purchase the stuffed tiger, but a group of unruly kids from school were heading down the sidewalk towards us, effectively stealing Tsuji's attention. He looked very tired and weary just at the sight of them, and I battled with myself over whether it would be better for me to go ahead and get him out of here or to go in and get the stuffed animal. As Tsuji drew in a shuddering breath and stared longingly toward the bus stop, I made my decision. I would just have to come back tomorrow and see if I couldn't purchase an old memory for Tsuji. At least now, I knew what to get him for Christmas.


A/N: Wow. It's been for-freaking-ever. Over a year, right? I apologize again, I really do. It just gets very hard to write Ria's mindset, and then I was seized by another story. I haven't finished that one yet, either, but I'm getting really close, so hopefully I'll be able to update again sooner. I apologize also if the narrative for this chapter wasn't spot-on. Again, I haven't done this story for about a year, so it's hard to fall back into, especially when my other story is so different. Anyway, if it's any consolation I fully intend to do another little mini-chapter for Tsuji, detailing his adventure buying Ria's gift. I'm debating whether to put it up before Ria opens the gift or after, but it will go up. Well, hope you guys enjoyed and sorry again for the wait.

Now, dredging up reviews, some of which are from over a year ago... let's see if anyone even remembers what they said in those reviews.

A dark rose: Sorry, but of course Kim has to make more appearances. She's creepy-stalker-material gold!

Righ: Yes, Ria is like the Japanese romanji, 'Ree-ah'.

DuchessYappingDog: Knowing Kim, it's very possible she may bite him in the butt literally.

RavensFallen16: Yes, I mean a ward of the crazy. And Tsuji will regain his feelings but no, he hasn't had them all along.

Minute-glass: Tsuji will remember eventually, and eventually we'll come to leanr about his past, though it will be much later on in the story.

Aragon asten: Oh dear, I believe we may have our first super-devoted Emily fan. Emily is quite pleased. She wants you to be her minion. I can't feel bad about invoking fangirlism either, because it can be a lot of fun when handled responsibly. Besides, Tsuji's just too damn cute not to love, right? Supernatural... maybe. Let me amend my statement a little. For romantic and general purposes I like good guys with dark sides. There are occasions however, that call for bad guys with light sides. Usually occasions such as when I'm in the mood for something particularly twisted or depraved because let's face it, when dealing with bad guys with light sides there's this whole murky black tangle of issues to wiggle through in order to even understand the character. Which makes them a lot of fun, but the complexities and the very unorthodoxy of their nature turns a lot of people away. As for ordinary boys... A lot of people attempt to write about ordinary boys. There are a lot of real-world style stories out there. I guess you could say there are a lot of instances where authors oversimplifying said ordinary boys to the point that they're more stereotypes than characters in some cases but it doesn't always work that way. So sometimes the boy around the corner does get a story. Me? I scared the boy around the corner away, so I have only the strange boys to play with now. Well you know, before I lived in Florida I lived in Alabama. Was that a possibility? If it makes you feel any better, I'm told sometimes that I was, in fact, found in a crater and assumed to have come from Mars.

Sexy-tease: All ready happened.

Butterfingers: I always love to bring out the bubbliness in people. I just hope you haven't burst over the past year and if you have, I apologize. I'm glad you've enjoyed the story so far, though, and to answer your question, yes Tsuji will have serious competition. Ria will not be the only one who gets to suffer jealousy. Though you'll also have to understand it's probably Tsuji's own fault too. But that's not to come for a while yet.

EmilyTheWise: Well, Tsuji is a peculiar boy. Whereas no, most people can't forget to feel, Tsuji can. There's a good reason why, I just can't reveal it yet. Well the plot is slow because developing the relationship between Tsuji and Ria and Tsuji and the rest of the family is a tentative thing. That and because I keep coming up with these little story lines that amuse me, so they end up as chapter. Within the next... probably three chapters, I'd say, Tsuji will probably awaken to his emotions, so to speak. I had a lot of different events planned to write out, actually, but do to so many complaints about the pace of the story and the fact that I've got more on my plate to write now, I'll probably scrap a lot of it.

Aproditeeyes: Thanks for going back and reviewing those chapters. To answer your question on the chapter 14 review, no I didn't steal Tsuji's speech out of a book, I thought it up myself. I had to make it purposely over dramatic to further the insanity of the scene, of course. A Tim Burton-ish quality? Hm, I'd never thought of it that way before.

Bluz: Thanks for the multi-chapter reviews. And I totally love the fact that I corrupted your view of turkeys. You're right, I can't answer if Tsuji's from another planet or not, but you'll all see eventually.

Andrea: Yes, 'Sue-g' is the correct way of saying Tsuji. And I'm like Ria... Mostly internally.

Bleeding Air: Ha, yes a beautiful picture. Although now I'm curious. What does my story taste like, and does it give you indigestion?

RhiaLirin: Well I, like most people am a Pirates of the Caribbean fan, so when I thought pirates, I thought of those names.

Chouchou: I didn't put this story into the manga section because I didn't know back then what the hell the manga section was for. In fact, I'm still not sure what exactly qualifies as 'manga' category when there are no graphics involved. I felt romance was the best description for the story, so here it went. I was trying to get the story to its target audience, anyway. As for helping my readership... Probably. The romance section does seem to be fairly popular.

.A Cat: No I've never done most of the stuff Ria has, but most of that stuff in inspired by thoughts I've had or similar things I've done. Jumping onto the counter of a department store and demanding ventilation is not something I've ever done, but when dragged by my grandmother to the half-off shoe sale where many a thickly perfumed woman had gathered, the thought occurred to me to do so... and I wish I had.