Despite What You Might Think
Chapter 5: Think Part 1
Dedicated to Meena, the Meaner because she practically owns this story anyway, and to AkaVertigo because she's never let me forget that I need to finish this.
AN: Two years. Two years? Two years!
Seto did not hear the light tapping on the door to his office so engrossed was he in locating a single syntax error his dry run had glaringly informed him existed in his nearly flawless program – 'nearly' being the key word. How could a syntax error be throwing off his entire program? How had he managed to wind up with a syntax error in the first place? He must have been severely distracted.
Lately, he had come to associate the word 'distraction' with one particular person. Thankfully, she had called and informed him (informed Ashiro, actually) that she would not be available to work this morning due to some family matter or the other. He missed being able to use such an excuse. He was glad that she would be away. He would be able to stay in the comfort of his own home and really get some work done. When the door to his office was opened, he realized he had forgotten to factor in one crucial element – Mokuba.
His brother stood in the doorway looking much the same as he always did in a T-shirt and jeans but his countenance exhibited a rare aura of boredom. Seto ceased his fingers' rapid movements and waited for Mokuba to speak.
"Are you busy?"
The answer would be thought obvious. However, Seto had made a promise earlier in the year that he would make an effort to spend more time with his brother during spring. Well, it was spring and today he was free to do whatever he wanted without the eyes of a certain brunette making him conscious of his every action. He was not self-conscious in the sense that it made him awkward but he was more aware of everything when she was present. Everything was sharper, every slight movement more noticeable and he was generally more alert. Conversely, there were times when everything became a blur and that led to disaster. The pool fiasco was far from forgotten. Tuning his attention back to the present, he replied, "Not really. Did you want to do something?"
Mokuba smiled brightly and plopped into one of the chairs opposite his brother. He shook his head and declared, "I just wanted to talk."
Seto's eyes widened just the tiniest bit. Although he and Mokuba had a good relationship, open communication was not something they often indulged in. Many times, they understood each other without needing to have long, meaningful heart-to-heart conversations. Nevertheless, far be it from him to ever push his brother away. If Mokuba wanted to talk, Seto would listen.
"So… how's work?" Mokuba asked.
Seto's eyebrow rose. Mokuba had not expressed interest in Kaiba Corp affairs since Battle City had ended. Although the younger Kaiba still spent much of his time at the office while school was in session and still held the position of Vice President, he had nothing to do with running the company. His was a titular position once more. The actual severance was Seto's idea. Having made his younger brother Battle City Commissioner only to see him kidnapped and his life threatened, the CEO had decided that enough was enough. If Mokuba stayed out of the spotlight for a while – the way he had been pre-Duellist Kingdom – he would be out of harm's way. Much to Seto's surprise, despite being disappointed, Mokuba had taken it well.
To Seto's surprise, his younger brother seemed genuinely interested in what he had to say. Mokuba listened intently to Seto's breakdown of events at Kaiba Corp and asked astute questions about points that caught his interest. Seto even found himself making mental notes of some of the suggestions the thirteen year old put forward. On realising this, he smiled to himself, inwardly proud of his sibling's growth. Then, Mokuba strayed off topic.
"Hey, isn't the anniversary thing we go to every year coming up soon?" he asked.
Seto nodded in confirmation, his thoughts instantly on his impulsively acquired 'date'.
Mokuba sighed heavily and then looked at Seto again. He breathed deeply and then asked in what was probably the most sing-song voice Seto had heard him use in a year, "Do I really gotta go?"
The reflex action was to instantly correct Mokuba's deplorable use of language with, "It's 'Do I really have to go?' and actually, no, you don't. Not this year."
To put it lightly, Mokuba's face lit up. Then he frowned, his bewilderment clear. "Why not?"
The coffee that Seto had been sipping splattered lightly across the monitor. Did he really have to explain why Mokuba didn't have to go? Was it no longer sufficient for a child to be allowed to escape what he considered to be nothing less than punishment and not question it? Scowling at himself as he wiped his monitor, he tried to come up with the least embarrassing way of saying that he had practically been forced into finding a date. When he was finished, he replied:
"The company has deemed it… necessary that I arrive with an… escort."
"An escort?" Then Mokuba's eyes widened and he laughed. He laughed. Seto crossed his arms and glared out the window. True, the situation itself was ironic but it wasn't – ok, fine, it was that funny. He waited patiently for Mokuba to stop laughing. Finally, the boy was able to catch his breath.
Coughing slightly, Mokuba said, "I don't believe it. The company is making you date? Did I miss the Apocalypse or something?"
The look Seto gave him was hardly appreciative. Sighing, the younger Kaiba sat back. With an impish glint in his eyes, he asked, "So, did you find a date?"
"Actually," Seto replied dryly, "I asked Anzu."
Mokuba was under the impression that his jaw was somehow dislocated since it was resting on the floor by his sneakers. Not to mention, he was probably outdoing most Looney Toon characters with his popping eyes. Bugs, that dear old cross-dressing bunny, would hire him instantly. Finally, when he was able to close the then gaping orifice that was his mouth and straighten his eyesight, Mokuba realized that there was still something he needed to know.
Turning back to Seto, who had been watching his brother's reaction with a smug semi-smirk, Mokuba opened his mouth to ask a question. Before it was even halfway out of him, Seto answered it.
"She said yes."
Anzu walked slowly down the hallway, trying to even out her erratic breathing after her mad dash up the stairs of the Kaiba mansion. She kept her eyes focused on the marble tiles. Subconsciously, she avoided stepping outside the border of each one. When she rounded the bend, she took a deep breath. She had never been inside Seto's private study; she had never seen what mysteries lay behind the heavy oak doors. She glanced up. Obviously, she wouldn't be finding those out today. Mokuba was already making his way out.
Then she paused. She had seen some strange things in her time – after all, who wouldn't having been friends with Yugi Motou – but she had never expected to find Mokuba Kaiba doing a ridiculous jig while walking backwards. As she drew nearer, she realized he was chanting something with a gleeful smile on his face.
"…got game. Seto got game. Seto got game. Seto got game. Seto got ga– Hi Anzu!"
Her eyes narrowed. There was too much stress on her name and he had pitched his voice. She glanced past him through the open door and wanted to laugh. The older Kaiba was sitting behind his desk with his head in his hand and was shaking it from side to side, looking for all the world like a parent asking himself, "Where did I go wrong?"
Quite suddenly, he looked directly at her, a hint of humour in his expression. It was the first time she had ever seen that look. It changed his features drastically. Until that moment, she had never realized how severe his expression really was, how old it made him look, how unpleasant. If only he would smile more. If only…
She smiled timidly at him and turned her attention back to Mokuba (who was still singing his little ditty). Placing a cool, steady hand on the back of his neck, she stilled him though she was unable to wipe the broad, practically face-splitting grin off his face.
"What are you so happy about?" she asked as they walked back down the hallway. He glanced at her and she was sure that there were few thirteen year olds that could manage to look that enigmatic. He seemed to settle into an air of pure satisfaction and shook his head. Though sceptical, Anzu decided not to push the issue. Instead, she asked, "So what do you want to do today?"
Mokuba flopped onto his sofa and shrugged lazily. "Anything."
Well if that was how it was going to be…Anzu smirked. "Ok. Let's see… Kaiba said you were a bit behind on … Math. How's that for starters?"
Anzu hid her smile when his eyes went wide, his face the picture of revulsion. "No! Please. How about we play some…" She watched his eyes dart quickly around the room and settle on a box on his desk that had not been there yesterday. "…chess. Yes, let's play some chess?"
Sooner than she could reply, he had already started bringing the box toward her.
"I think this means school work is out of bounds this spring," she stated.
"'Think'?" Mokuba asked, setting up his side of the board. She noted he'd instantly gone for the black pieces. "I know."
"Anzu, how long have you been working here?" Mokuba asked quite suddenly. Anzu, never taking her eyes off the chessboard, replied, "About two weeks. Why?"
Mokuba considered his question carefully, trying to find the best way to put it without it coming across as what it actually was: a way to get his brother and his babysitter to spend more time together. Eventually, he said, "Well, you've never really had any of Cook's dinners. The lunches are great and everything but they're usually pretty casual. She only cooks dinner once a week and since today's the day, I was wondering if you could stay for dinner?"
Then she looked up. "Dinner?"
"Yeah," Mokuba put on his most charming smile and threw in his infamous 'eyes' for good measure. "We're friends. Can't you at least stay for dinner?"
She looked at him for moment then sighed. "Let me just call my mother and ask her if it'll be ok."
He beamed as she pulled out her cell phone. Before she dialled, she moved her queen and stated, "Checkmate."
"Check." Seto paused mid-step and listened. They were in the den. He turned on his heel and padded silently back to the ajar doorway. He pushed it open – none of the hinges in the Kaiba mansion ever squeaked – and leaned against the doorframe. Although they sat with their backs to the door and to him, he could see their faces at an angle. Both were engrossed in the game.
Seto watched as a small smile crept onto Anzu's lips, tugging playfully at edges. She swept the board with one last assessing glance then, "Checkmate."
Groaning in exasperation, Mokuba threw his weight backwards, his hands in his hair. In a split second, Seto saw himself and blinked. Mokuba pushed his bangs away from eyes and proceeded to loudly remonstrate, "Anzu, I thought you said you couldn't play!"
Her smile blossomed fully and after playing around a bit with her marble Queen, she replied remorsefully albeit near grinning, "I said I couldn't play well. I apologize for bending the truth."
Mokuba regarded at her for a moment, his expression thoughtful before he smirked and said, much to Seto's astonishment, "Seto would love to have a go at you."
The little devil! Double-entendres already? Mokuba's eyes shimmered with repressed laughter and the corners of his mouth pulled back fractionally. When Anzu lowered the glass she'd been drinking from, Seto pushed off of his brace and, feeling wicked, said, "I do suppose I would."
The hint of colour that graced her cheeks nearly made him grin. In fact, he did grin and she blinked. He almost laughed. But he supposed he'd startled her enough for one afternoon. Turning his attention to his brother, he asked, "Did you win?"
"No. Anzu beat me upside down in both matches," Mokuba complained, obviously dissatisfied with the outcome. Then, without warning, Seto found himself being pushed into the chair Mokuba had recently vacated.
"Black or White, Seto?" Mokuba questioned, hands on the chessboard.
"Ladies first," Seto replied, smirking at his new opponent. She inclined her head in regal gesture of thanks. It suited her, Seto thought. It made the arch of her neck look perfectly sculpted. As Anzu's King's pawn took two brave steps forward, Seto wondered what it would feel like to trace that line with his fingertips.
Mokuba looked up from his Dragon Ball Z manga and rolled his eyes. In all his life he had never witnessed such a long game. Seto and Anzu had been playing one set for hours. Anzu had quickly won the first game – much to Seto's surprise – but his brother had managed to redeem himself by swiftly winning the second. They were on the tie-breaker and it was taking forever. Literally.
Mokuba checked the time on the grandfather clock behind him. Wow. Had it been that long? Dinner was in ten minutes. That meant that the two players hadn't left the room in three hours. He turned his attention back to them and remembered that he hadn't even told Seto that Anzu would be joining them that evening. He cleared his throat:
Neither player took notice of him. His babysitter was busy planning her next move and his elder brother was too busy staring at the top of Anzu's bent head. Seto's long, slender fingers were trailing up and down the side of the table in an unconscious motion. Unnecessary movements from the elder Kaiba were so rare that they were of particular interest to Mokuba, who watched a small…something play along Seto's lips. Anzu was too enraptured in the game to notice how enraptured her opponent was in her. And considering who her opponent was; that had to mean something.
Finally, she made a move which Mokuba was almost sure Seto had not registered. However, the fingers left the side of table and moved to the edge of the board. Anzu's eyes flickered onto them for a moment before returning to gaze intently at the pieces. Seto's fingers paused beside the black Rook or Bishop at intervals. The younger Kaiba had a sneaky feeling that Seto was just being naughty – even if subconsciously – by prolonging his turn for such an extended period. Mokuba knew Seto was unaware of both his expression and his actions at the moment and, sighing internally, decided that it was time to do his job and save Seto from himself.
"Seto!" Mokuba called sharply.
The two teens' heads shot up simultaneously. Anzu tried to regain full consciousness of her surroundings, wondering how it had gotten late so suddenly. Seto cursed himself silently. What did he think he was doing? He moved to push the sleeve of his shirt back and realised there was nothing to push. When had he rolled up his sleeves? Dismissing it, he checked his watch.
Anzu, having already verified the time using the clock behind Mokuba, turned her attention back to Kaiba and frowned. She didn't remember him folding his sleeves back. Not that she minded, of course. He had arrived immaculately dressed in black slacks and a white, long-sleeved work shirt. Apart from having rolled the sleeves back to just below his elbows, Seto had also undone a few of the top buttons leaving the collar splayed. It exposed only some the smooth skin of his chest. And she had once thought that only girls could make that tantalizing.
Mokuba interrupted both their musings. "Seto, I think it's time for dinner. Cook's already called twice. And I asked Anzu to stay for dinner tonight. She's never had dinner with us so I thought tonight would be perfect."
Perfect for what? Seto thought. He looked across at his employee, who was very interested in finding something in her purse, and then back at his brother. Contrary to popular opinion, Seto was not entirely unobservant of his younger sibling's forays into matchmaking. However, the situation as it stood was irrevocable. The invitation had long been extended and, it appeared, accepted. He shrugged offhandedly.
Anzu hadn't even expected that much. When the Kaibas left the room, she sat back and smiled to herself. She recognized the attitude she had just been treated with. Yugi was familiar with it also: a grudging respect. She glimpsed at the chessboard one final time. She was better than she had thought.
"Oh yeah, then there's the Final Fantasy VII movie," Mokuba said to his sitter. They were in the middle of a conversation about video games and other related items. Or rather, Mokuba was expounding and the other two were listening patiently. Occasionally, one of them would comment. Anzu tended to further express her opinion than Kaiba, who only made derisive noises at mention of games he found lacking. "Hey Seto, doesn't Mrs. Yuriogoku work with Square Enix?"
"Mrs. Yuriogoku." At Seto's blank look, an exasperated Mokuba turned to Anzu and explained, "Mrs. Yuriogoku is an old, old lady. If you see her at the ball, she'll probably tell you something about how cute you are."
Both Anzu and Seto were half-gaping at him. It was the first time anyone had mentioned their date since it had been made. Seto said, "I think I know who you're talking about."
Out of the corner of her eye Anzu him saw turn his attention back to his meal, a small smile playing at the corner of his mouth. Mokuba reclaimed her attention saying, "Every time she sees me she asks me how old I am. Last year, I told her I was twelve and she said that I couldn't be that old – I was just so cute last year when I was four. Plus, she has this cane she's always shaking. Seto says she's shifting gears."
Anzu stifled her chuckle. When she had swallowed, she shot a glance at Kaiba then said, "I always thought Kaiba Corp and associates were all… um… Big 5 material."
Mokuba shook his head instantly. "Nope. They were just Gozaburo's cronies. Most of the real Kaiba Corp is made of some pretty cool people. Well, not cool… funny. Like Mr. Mitsugu."
"You don't like Mr. Mitsugu because he pinches your cheeks." The teasing, abrupt accusation came from the older Kaiba.
"He pinches yours too," Mokuba countered. The expression on Kaiba's face was enough to tell Anzu that it the truth. Unable to maintain her composure, she laughed. When she looked back at Kaiba, his bangs covered his eyes but on his lips sat a small smile.
"Mr. Mitsugu works in Finances," Mokuba clarified. "He's been around Kaiba Corp since before I can remember. He calls Seto 'child' every time he sees him. Makes his," he inclined his head towards Seto, "teeth grate."
Anzu grinned. As Mokuba continued his barrage of anecdotes, both she and the atmosphere became more relaxed. It amazed her to find that Kaiba Corp was made up of such Motley crew characters. She assumed that what really mattered most was their knowledge and expertise rather than their social interaction habits. But they were amusing nonetheless.
There was one tale that caught her attention especially and she wound up chuckling despite it not being as funny as some of its predecessors. It was idea of the Seto Kaiba ducking away from a sixty-two year old, 5'2" man that made her laugh. According to Mokuba, when Seto had been much younger – right after they were adopted – Mr. Futeki had threatened to hang him (Seto) from the top of the Kaiba Corp tower, upside down. Not having been aware of his significant position, Seto had believed it and to this day, in spite of knowing better, Seto still walked the other way when he saw Futeki.
With regard to the older Kaiba, the comment about Mitsugu had been the icebreaker. Although he was nowhere near as animated as Mokuba, his perfectly timed comments injected a level of dry, mature humour that Anzu found immensely entertaining. She began to laugh more and more when he spoke until, at one point, she realised she was just waiting for him to say something for her next giggle.
Toward the end of the main course, Mokuba was warning her about the more notorious individuals, such as Mr. Haji who was constantly attempting to get pretty girls to sit beside him. She spent the remainder of the meal with most of her outward attention still ensnared by Mokuba.
When again she had time to think, i.e. during dessert since Mokuba's mouth suddenly became too busy to talk, Anzu became conscious of the fact that even though she thought she had seen a lot more Seto Kaiba during their one-on-one, she really had only seen the tip of the iceberg. Once, during one of Mokuba's more comical stories of Ms. Ashiro and "The Man Who Wanted to Tango", Seto had laughed… just laughed. There had been no malice, no infuriating smugness or condescension tainting the action. It was not a cackle, or a contemptuous or bitter laugh, but truly genuine laughter. It was pure, simple, unadulterated mirth. It was the way she imagined the child with the white teddy bear would have laughed once upon a time.
From then on, she had covertly observed Seto, hoping that her conduct was not too palpable. She doubted he detected her attentions, so focused was he on Mokuba. Watching them together – watching him with Mokuba – reinforced what she had already ascertained: no one knew Seto Kaiba. No one could. With his younger brother, Seto became a real person with real emotions rather than the robotic image he wore in front of the rest of the world. She was finally able to glimpse beneath the ice and, perhaps, understand why standing on the edge of a tower with nothing but pounding waves, jagged rocks and death staring back up at you wasn't such a bad prospect when the only person who could make you real was being threatened. She could not even halfway begin to think about what she would do had she been in his position.
The other thing she had noticed about Kaiba's laughter was the effect it had on his features. Just as it had earlier, humour made him seem so much younger – so much more like the age they shared. Similes of 'eyes like sapphires' didn't come close to the real thing. When Seto Kaiba laughed, he became – and this she believed to be the understatement of the decade – devastatingly attractive. For that single illuminated moment in time, he radiated everything in the world that she could ever want. He was the embodiment of everything adjudged mortal sin.
Dinner had been a unique experience but, admittedly, one Seto could find himself taking pleasure in. He and Mokuba had not shared a meal with so much mirth in quite a while. It was one of the few things Seto regretted about his drive to work late into the nights. Apart from that, however, Seto had spent much of the time purely captivated by the blue-eyed sprite seated to his right. Often, Seto had scorned the incessant laughter that Yugi's crowd exuded. Now, he supposed he could understand why those boys would sprout joke after joke. He had fallen into the trap himself. Anzu Mazaki's laughter brightened a room and no matter how hard he tried Seto wound up savouring it and, in his own way, attempting to perpetuate it.
He was able to claw himself away from the jaws of that temporary insanity after the meal had concluded. Now, he was faced with another mammoth task: take Mazaki home in the Mercedes he had stupidly told Mokuba he wanted to drive. To top it off, his beloved little brother was "too sleepy" to accompany them. Great. Just great.
He viciously forced his arm through the sleeve of his trench coat and started down the stairs. Mazaki was waiting by the door. Repressing a sigh, he walked briskly toward her. Mokuba materialized from behind her and gave him a huge goodnight hug before practically skipping up the stairs. Seto quirked an eyebrow at his disappearing back then signalled for Mazaki to follow him out. The driver had already brought the car around and was awaiting them at the foot of the steps.
As he turned off his driveway and onto the road, Seto snuck a peek at Anzu. He wondered what she would look like formally dressed. He wondered what they looked like right then; together, alone, in the front seats of his brand new dark blue Mercedes. Did they look like employer and employee or, perhaps, something more? Then he thought to himself that even though he had been trained to be constantly image-conscious, this was pushing the limit.
"I don't think I'll be able to come to work Monday morning," she declared suddenly. He glanced at her briefly but turned his attention hastily back to driving.
"Well, I have some shopping to do. I need a dress, among other things," she replied.
He opened his mouth, intending to ask her if there was need for him to foot the bill – after all, she was doing this for him. The feeling that shot through him at that thought was quickly brushed aside but he still wound up croaking out something to the effect of, "Do I have to pay?"
"For what?" Her tone was a mixture of confusion and wariness. He realized that she was bracing for an insult. Of course, he knew he didn't have the nicest track record with her and her friends. He had called Wheeler a dog to his face too many times to count but, for once, he had not meant to offend her. Trying to keep his voice as neutral as possible, he clarified:
"I meant the expenses for the dress. This is a…favour to me. It's the least I could do."
Her expression was unreadable. He was glad to have driving as an excuse to not have to look at her. Finally, she said, "Thanks, but no. My sister's back from Hong Kong and she's going to handle it."
"Your sister?" He hadn't known she had siblings. As far as he was concerned, she was, by all outward appearances, an only child. Perchance her parents were wealthier than he had thought. Out of the corner of his eyes, he saw a fond smile reminiscent of Mokuba's grace her lips.
"Akira Mazaki. She owes me one."
"Oh." He turned right, onto the same street his limo had stopped on days ago. As they passed the place where he had intercepted her, Anzu's head turned fractionally toward the window. Then, her movements nearly imperceptible, she was staring straight out the windscreen.
Again, just like the last time they shared a vehicle, he found himself wanting to ask her what she knew about him. How did she know those things about him? Was there something he was forgetting? And, he asked himself, isn't there more you should know about her?
Anzu was unaccustomed to such quiet car rides though she had to confess that sitting in the front seat of a Mercedes with Seto Kaiba acting chauffeur was rare indeed. When he had glanced at her for the third time, she said, "I don't think I'll be able to come to work Monday morning."
His brows contracted slightly. "Why not?"
She resisted the urge to roll her eyes. Honestly, had he and Joey not despised each other as much as they did, she could have sworn they would have been very well-matched friends. Did she really have to spell it out for him? She answered, "Well, I have some shopping to do. I need a dress, among other things."
With her head facing the opposite direction, she did not see his face when he asked, his tone strained to her ears, "Do I have to pay?"
Why would he ask such a ridiculous question? Then an idea wandered forth that she disliked greatly. He couldn't possibly think that he had to pay for her company, did he? Or, worse yet, perhaps he thought this was part of her 'services'? Either way, this was not an area she desired entry to. Discussing matters of wealth with Seto Kaiba normally meant that whoever was not Seto Kaiba would lose. On guard, she asked, "For what?"
He looked at her again. He was silent for a minute followed by, "I meant the expenses for the dress. This is a…favour to me. It's the least I could do."
That isn't Seto Kaiba, she thought. Conversely, she had seen so many versions of Seto Kaiba in the past two weeks that the man beside her could be yet another, amazingly courteous, actually kind of sweet one. Her lips twitched at the thought of a "sweet" Seto Kaiba. "Thanks, but no. My sister's back from Hong Kong and she's going to handle it."
"Your sister?" There was something he actually had no knowledge of?
The image of her sister formed in her mind's eye and Anzu felt the sort of love she believed Mokuba exhibited every time he saw or even spoke about Seto. She nodded and said, "Akira Mazaki. She owes me one."
Looking up, she recognized the turn he had just made. This was the street. And as they passed, her eyes flickered towards the spot. With her apartment complex drawing nearer, she allowed her eyes to traverse Kaiba's profile swiftly. He was a man of many mysteries, Seto Kaiba was.
Kaiba pulled up in front of the entrance to her building and watched her reach down to unbuckle her seatbelt. The darkness inside the car made the mood alter somehow. It was, along with his annoying subconscious, eventually what Seto blamed for his actions.
As she tried to undo the buckle, he saw the same lock of hair that always taunted his fingers swing downward over her cheek. Anzu, for some reason having a little bit of difficulty with the seatbelt, attempted to blow it away. It was futile. Then a complete shock to her system was delivered when supple digits pushed the lock behind her ear. Her eyes widened and all her movements halted.
Seto withdrew his fingers and latched them firmly onto the steering wheel. He had not meant to do that. Soon, she managed to unclasp the buckle. She had one foot out of the car when she cast a glance at him over her shoulder, the streetlight just enough to display the tiny smile on her face.
When she had vanished into her building, he glared at his fingers – which were tingling seemingly with elation and anticipation. Oh no, he thought, never again. Don't even think about it. But the tingling would not abate, even after he had bathed and gone to bed.
The days leading up to the 28th all but flew past Anzu and the Kaibas. There were, of course, a few exceptions. She did not see Seto Kaiba for the remainder of the weekend. He had left the house before she arrived on Friday and Saturday and did not return until long after she had left. At least that was the report Mokuba presented to her late Saturday afternoon.
"Seto's been going half-mad at the office lately," Mokuba said after swallowing a mouthful of cookie. "He's threatened to fire the whole Social Committee."
"Why?" Anzu asked. They were, after all, essential to the upcoming ball.
"He says he doesn't know why he pays them. All they've been done lately is run things by him. Every five minutes it's, 'I just wanted to run this by you, Mr. Kaiba.' He'd like to run them all through a shredder. I heard him muttering about colour schemes and seating arrangements. Last night, right before dinner, he was shouting down the phone that he didn't care what was on the menu once you could eat it."
Anzu's milk bubbled as she accidentally giggled into it. "It sounds like he is paying sinecures."
"Sinecures are jobs where you earn lots of money, are well-respected and bone idle."
"Oh. Yeah, I think that's the word Seto used too."
A freshly bathed Mokuba stopped instantly when he heard the car door slam. No wait; that was the limo. Either way, it was Seto, who had left a note by Mokuba's bedside saying that he was just running into the office for a few minutes and should be back by 9:30. Mokuba checked his watch. 9:30 on the dot.
As the doors opened, Mokuba leaned against the wall halfway up the stairs and waited. Seto would have to pass him. Mokuba watched as his brother handed over his trench coat and brief case, ran a hand through his uncharacteristically messy brown hair, and scowled almost sadistically. Mokuba winced. Bad day.
Contrary to popular myth, Seto did not bother to hide his darker side from Mokuba. Mokuba was fully aware that his brother was often cold, in business downright ruthless, and sometimes out-and-out cruel. True, Mokuba was not privy to everything that happened to Seto or to everything Seto did but he knew what he deemed to be the important things. Seto was human and imperfect – so was everyone else. The underlying truth was that Mokuba loved him, vices and virtues, because, in the end, they were all the other had.
Seto started toward the steps. His eyes lingered on the entrance to the lounge where Mokuba had found him and Anzu on Tuesday. Mokuba frowned. He knew he had missed something. Seto's fist clenched and he looked down at it, his expression unfortunately invisible to Mokuba. Mokuba was not, however, given time to speculate on the meaning of such actions. Seto was already looming over him.
"Hey Seto." Mokuba had, in the past few months, outgrown the need to constantly address Seto as 'Big Brother'. Although he still loved him unconditionally, he was now able to weigh his faults and Mokuba's total worship of Seto had matured into immense admiration and tangible respect. "Bad day?"
Seto smirked, "Keeps getting worse."
He paused for a moment and looked around. "Where's your sitter?"
"She's not a sitter. I'm thirteen you know," Mokuba joked. "Besides, don't you remember she told you she had to go find a dress for your big date?" Still smirking, he took a drink of his Dasani and, as soon as he pulled the bottle away from his mouth, Seto swiped it. After taking a much longer drink, he handed back a suddenly half-empty bottle in the place of the near brand new one he had taken.
"You look…clean." Seto said, observing his brother. "What do you plan to do today?"
"I was hoping to go outside but it's kind of hot." Mokuba paused briefly before looking up at his brother. "You feel up to some kumite (1)?"
Seto considered it for a moment prior to nodding. "Stress relief."
It was, without doubt, Seto's favourite place in the mansion. The dojo was a soft, pale yellow with muted lighting that lent it an almost candle-like glow. After seeing the Matrix, Mokuba came home and proclaimed that the entire training room in which Neo and Morpheus had done their sparring was lifted from their house. Having seen the movie more than once, Seto was inclined to believe him.
He basked in the calm that permeated the air of the dojo only moments more before marching over to a small stereo nestled inconspicuously in one corner. He pressed play not caring what Mokuba had last left in – he could and would work with anything. Seto began his warm up from the White-belt kata despite being well into the Dans. Absorbed, he disciplined each muscle to move only as much as required and controlled the force behind every strike at his imaginary opponents (who, in fact, resembled the members of the Kaiba Corp social committee). The work out wasn't as easy as he remembered. It had been a little too long since he'd paid any mind to his physical health. Very soon, however, he was back in tune. His movements changed perceptibly from jerky to graceful.
Soon Seto was smiling to himself as he cut down Mr. Chicken-or-Fish.
It hadn't taken Anzu very long to assume she'd located Mokuba. The crescendo of a System of a Down song was a good enough lead. The music emanated from a room that seemed misplaced on the ground floor of the Kaiba mansion. Wedged between the eastern wall and the massive formal dining room, it was a room she had never paid much attention to. Mokuba had said something about using it for karate practice. Shaking her head, she moved toward the door and turned the handle. Locked. Great.
She turned away and spied a corridor she was somewhat familiar with though she had only used it twice. It was what in earlier days would have been a called a "servant access pathway" that led to the kitchen where most on-duty Kaiba household staff spent their free time. Somebody, she assumed, would have a key.
Half-way down the passageway, she spotted it: a second door. It opened easily. What surprised her was that instead of being presented with the interior of a room, she was greeted by yet another door – a traditional Japanese door in an otherwise western house. Now she was curious.
Anzu advanced cautiously. The door slid open silently. The lights were dim and visibility was limited from Anzu's angle so she stepped inside quietly trying to dissolve into the shadows and surprise the younger Kaiba. Glancing about, she realised that she was in a dojo. Then she saw him.
In the very centre of the room was Seto Kaiba. Decked in a royal blue karate gi, he moved with a grace not often found in fighters. First and foremost, her eyes moved to his waist. Black. She hadn't honestly expected anything less.
She noticed a change in the music – something by Stabbing Westward off the English Tekken OST. Outwardly, she wasn't one for action anime but her three best friends were guys so she knew her stuff. Kaiba rapidly recaptured her attention, his movements becoming more and more complicated. Anzu did not, by any scale, consider herself well-informed when it came to martial arts. Her knowledge was limited to a few displays and the odd competition on television. What she had seen of martial arts up-close in real life by those who claimed to be skilled martial artists had not served to pique her interest. They had been clumsy and brutal. This… this was something else.
Kaiba was relaxed, self-possessed and in control. Where the boys Anzu had seen had stumbled about throwing awkwardly angled punches and misdirected kicks, he seemed to know exactly what he doing. Instead of staggering about after each kick and fumbling to regain his footing, Seto moved evenly into another position without batting an eyelash. He sliced through the air with what appeared to be a deadly precision.
Finally, she found the word she had been groping for in the recesses of her mind: Kaiba made this look like a dance.
As she continued to watch him, the music she had failed to hear filtered back into her consciousness and she realized that he was moving to the beat. The song blended smoothly into another and there was a subtle change in the way he was moving. He no longer followed a defined pattern rather his actions were dictated by his own mental projection of his opponent.
Indubitably, Seto Kaiba left to his own devices was infinitely more dangerous than anyone else she knew barring those with mind-crush abilities.
As Seto dropped and swung his leg outward in a smooth arc, effectively taking the legs out from under his imaginary opponent, an emotion Anzu could not define bubbled within her. Seto was perilously close to finding her right where she stood but no matter how much common sense told her to move, she was riveted.
Seto Kaiba, at age twelve, had been the most gorgeous boy Anzu had ever laid eyes upon and, perhaps she was stupid, but she had only just realized that over the years he had become the most physically striking person she knew. She was staggered by her own ardency as he continued his unique dance. She knew she was attracted to him and had been for the longest while thus the evident desire that tightened her abdominal muscles did not surprise her. It was the fierce mixture of admiration and pride and – dare she think it? No, not just yet, it was far too early for sentiments with such connotations. Yet, whatever the concoction, it reached upward and held her heart with a strength that made her breath hitch just as the door behind her was thrown open.
"Anzu! There you are!"
How had he missed her? Seto picked up on two things at the same time: the sombre colour of her clothes and the distinct, pleasant scent of her perfume. He cursed himself silently for being so careless.
Mokuba began to speak though Seto knew that neither he nor Anzu was actually listening to the younger boy. She was looking at him as directly as he was looking at her. Something told him that she was not one for staring in someone else's eyes. She was like him that respect…
When she did not turn away, he found himself wondering if she had liked what she'd seen. Even though he was not and had never been one to make an effort to impress girls, Seto wanted her to be impressed, he wanted his performance, conscious or not, to have had some effect because…
Because – and he would only say this once – she was Anzu. She stood up for him against popular majority. She cared enough about him to save his life despite being utterly furious with his antics. She was Anzu, who had been the first thing he'd seen one entering sixth grade and, for a while after, had been the only thing he could see. She had been the girl with the long, wild ponytail swinging behind her and the smile that brightened his week. She was the girl he had always been attracted to and the girl he was beginning to think he cared about.
"You know, this is what the date is for," Mokuba dryly interjected.
AN: Yes, I be alive and yes, there be more.
(1) Kumite, katas, Dans– basically thekarate terminology.
Now, I knowI don't deserve them but... Reviews? Please?