With Every Christmas Card
In spite of all the advertisements claiming otherwise, Joey Wheeler was pretty much certain that there was nothing on earth you could get for the person who already had everything. He should know; he'd been trying, valiantly, for the better part of a week. All he'd done was convince himself of the impossibility of shopping for a Saks Fifth Avenue recipient on a K-mart budget.
He emerged from the fragrance section of Sephora, reeking of equal parts cologne and failure. It was not that Seto Kaiba had asked for anything. (Which was part of the problem. Joey didn't want him to ask.) It was a general oversight, on the part of the holiday gift peddlers, that their copious lists failed to include anything for "the teenage multibillionaire game and dragon nerd you've been fucking on the down-low for the past three months."
He wandered through crate & barrel and picked up and put down any number of things: wine charms with dangling chunks of raw quartz, sleep masks made out of white faux fur, antlers on top of antlers with antlers on. Then there was the low end of the stocking stuffer aisle in the drug store, where soda-flavored lip balms and candy pooping snowmen reigned supreme. In the process, Joey found six or seven perfect gifts for Yugi and Serenity without even trying; little things for Tristan and Tea were almost as easy. But for Seto Kaiba, the man who for years had been a thorn in Joey's side before becoming the regular cause of Joey's inconvenient chemistry class boners, nothing. Not in the entire Domino City mall.
It was infuriating most of all because Joey knew, somehow, that Seto was going to get him something outrageous. Something perfect and classy and expensive and thoughtful, and Joey knew he could not counter that with a furry eye mask and a pooping snowman. There had to be something.
The pack of cards in the drugstore checkout was an afterthought, a force of habit. Joey didn't even look at the theme, though he knew two new ones had just come out. Yugi had been pestering him to go through the singles at the game store for a few weekends. But Joey had been spending his free time wondering if it was too soon for those white leather wrist restraints he couldn't afford. (It was, he told himself. And then he had to go spend ten minutes in the bathroom taking care of the side effects of thinking about Seto in them.) Joey was just tired of walking in and out of every store in the mall without buying anything, something he knew from long experience would get the mall cops hassling him. So he slipped the unopened card pack in his pocket on his way out into the rushing shoppers festiving home with their treasures, or whatever it was supposed to be in the song. He didn't have time to ponder it, because he turned the corner around the Bath and Body works and ran smack into Seto Kaiba.
A moment of awkward recognition, followed by an an uneasy look around the crowded mall. They had not yet been public about anything, only Yugi knew. In spite of Joey's worry that anyone glancing their direction would see WE ARE TOTALLY FUCKING EACH OTHER in giant neon letters above their heads, everyone else in the mall was too busy to notice them at all. Which was remarkable, Joey thought. Seto Kaiba was imminently noticeable. From the perfectly folded tissue poking up from his shopping bag to his blue and white tartan scarf, he looked like he'd just stepped out of one of the Lord & Taylor shop windows. All he needed was a bit of fake snow. Joey, in his worn hoodie and battered sneakers, felt downright urchin-like by comparison.
"Christmas shopping?" Joey said at last, after an awkward pause that seemed to last six or seven years.
"Mokuba is," Seto answered. "He likes to do his in person, so I bring him here and let him loose a few hours with Isono. I've already done mine."
"Oh. Right." Joey refrained from asking about the bag. Probably a small European republic that Seto had decided to buy on impulse. Maybe for a stocking stuffer. "I'm done too... mostly."
Christmas came, went. Along with Easter and the fourth of July and Halloween and Veteran's Day and then it was Christmas again, while they started at each other and tried to sort out what to say. Conversation seemed much more difficult while they both had their clothes on.
"...Buy you a coffee while you wait?" Joey asked, realizing that staring awkwardly at Seto in the middle of the mall would be marginally better if they were sitting down.
"Yes, thank you," Seto said, in obvious relief, and Joey knew Seto felt every bit as weird and awkward as he himself did. And in some strange way, that recognition made most of it disappear. By the time they were in line at Starbucks (flat white and creme brulee latte with extra brulee), the conversation was almost normal. What they were getting for their siblings. How crowded the mall was. How they looked forward to a few days off. Neither of them had happy childhood memories of Christmas, so it was a relief not to pretend otherwise.
All that comfortableness came to a screeching thought as they sat together at a sticky, crowded table too small even for two cups of coffee, and Seto said, "So, I got you something."
"Ah," Joey said. He had been gently tearing open the plastic lid of his coffee cup, and now his thumb went right through.
"It's not much," Seto added, in what Joey thought was haste. "I didn't want to-- I thought--" Seto Kaiba scowled, and thrust the bag he was carrying at Joey. "Here. Go ahead and open it."
Dear Seto, Joey thought, composing a mental thank-you note as he rummaged in the tissue paper, Thank you so much for Slovenia. It's just what I wanted and will go perfectly next to Croatia.
"Just a little thing," Seto said, as Joey pulled out a heavy bottle of cologne. Polo red. Joey had a bottle of it--well, a bottle of the knockoff Walmart version of it--on his dresser at home. Serenity had gotten it for him three Christmases ago, and he'd eked it out as long as he could manage, though at this point all that was left was fumes and a quarter-inch of alcohol. Seto had noticed.
"I didn't want to do anything too..." Seto began, and let it trail off, taking a long drink of his coffee. "Merry Christmas, Joey."
Joey laughed as he bundled the bottle back into its tissue. "Man, I've been all over this mall for the past three days looking for something--"
"It was four days for me," Seto interrupted, wryly. "Confronted constantly by how much money can't buy."
"You're murder to buy for, you know that."
"So I've been told. You're no picnic yourself, Wheeler. At least I know that cologne fits."
"At least it's not Slovenia," Joey said, and laughed at Seto's confused expression. "Three days, and I'm sorry to say, this is all I've got." He slid the Duel Monsters card pack across the table. "Here. Merry Whatever."
Seto arched an eyebrow as he picked up the pack, tilting it so the foil flashed in the light of the Christmas lights in the window. "This is the new series Pegasus has been promoting for the last two weeks," he said. "Have you heard anything about it?"
Joey shrugged. "Just that he's got some secret Christmas one-of-a-kind chase card in it. Yug's been after me to go through the loosies down at the shop, but I've been trying to buy a present for this hot guy I've been screwing."
Seto made a little noise in his throat, just enough to let Joey know that he was doing what he wanted to, and not something that Joey had told him to do. It was the sort of thing done more often in more intimate situations, and Joey blushed into the dregs of his latte as Seto tore open the foil pack.
"Ugh, who even uses those things?"
"You mean besides the guy who just won the Mexico regionals?"
Joey rolled his eyes. "Besides that."
"World Carrotweight Champion."
"Pegasus really needs to lay off the cocaine."
"Hm. Ghostrick, XYZ changer, Jam Token, Snow Globe Blue Ey--What?!"
"What's that?" Joey said, yanking himself out of his drink. "Snow Globe? I've never heard of--" His voice dwindled to nothing as Seto held out the card to him, a slight tremor in his fingers.
Snow Globe Blue Eyes Christmas Dragon. Glittering in snowflake holographic foil in Seto's hand. Pegasus' chase card.
"Oh my god," Joey breathed. "How did you--"
"How did you?" Seto countered. "How do you ever? But you always do. Joey. Goddamn gambler. I can't take--"
"Oh no you don't," Joey said, pushing Seto's hand back. "It's your Christmas present, you opened it, and I don't use Blue-eyes."
"Then sell it to me. It's worth at least--"
"It is worth," Joey said, grinning all over his face, "A Merry Christmas, Seto. And I won't take anything else for it."
"Joey." Seto cradled the card in his hand as though it was a live butterfly, indescribably beautiful and apt to fly away. "Thank you."
"Ya welcome," Joey said, and even though the mall was crowded and a kid was screaming somewhere and his coffee cup was empty, he was indescribably happy. "Just don't murder me with it next time we play."
Seto's laugh was short and sharp, his dueling laugh. "Like I would even need a card this powerful to beat you. Keep dreaming, Wheeler."
The insult had absolutely no sting, and Joey smiled right through it. "How about I dream you get me another latte?"
Seto tucked the card carefully into his breast pocket, and rose. "That, I can do."