Author's Note: Seto Kaiba. Anzu Mazaki. Friends. "As Is"
I'm glad we had this conversation.

Tying The Knot

"I say that I am myself, but what is this Self of mine
But a knot in the tangled skein of things where chance and change combine"

- Donald R. Perry Marquis


It was, of course, entirely improper to smile. Inappropriate to the point of mild cruelty, almost. In a way it was a bit like seeing a car accident. Messy, ruined, and yet fascinating in its own ghastly way. Once you saw it start a strange sort of morbid curiosity compelled you to finish watching. You'd scarcely dare to blink for fear of missing out on some chaotic detail. Giggling, however, was another matter.

Seto glared at her. "Share the joke?"

"I wouldn't dare," Anzu quipped. From her position on the bed, she smiled up at him, adopting her most innocent expression. Somehow she didn't think it was convincing. "Just for the sake of my weak and mortal curiosity…"

"What?"

"Just how bad at this are you?" She really did try to keep the laughter out of her voice. Honest.

He turned back to the mirror, ignoring her with aristocratic aplomb.

Anzu tried to muster up some measure of guilt but there was simply something too strange about the situation to not be funny. Mostly it was a matter of place, time and person, emphasis on person. Place, because they were in Seto's bedroom, which was normal for Seto, sure, but not anywhere she had ever expected herself to be. Time, because it wasn't the first time and, despite Seto's ever present grumbling, the last. And person, because…well, it was Seto Kaiba, the guy who once upon time seemed to have the personality of a migraine and the charm of a rattlesnake. Of course, once upon a time Jounouchi was just a delinquent bully, Honda a thug-wannabe, and Yuugi a short, shy kid who was kind of good at puzzles.

Amazing what a girl could discover if she learned to keep an open mind.

Like, for example, the fact that a certain CEO multi-millionaire had absolutely no clue as to how to put on a necktie. Actually, no, that wasn't fair; he knew how to put one on. He just didn't know how to tie it without incurring asphyxiation.

Anzu watched the genius of Domino fumble with the accessory, feeling a cocktail mix of pity (this was his sixth try), amusement (his sixth try), and admiration (sixth). Admittedly, the number of high school males able to successfully knot a necktie was slim but…

"Honestly, I figured this would be an inborn talent for you. Or something." Anzu pulled up her legs, sitting Indian style on the navy bedspread. "I mean isn't a tie the most sacred part of the corporate uniform?"

"I didn't exit the womb wearing a business suit, you twit."

"Jerk," she responded mildly. "But this can't be the first time you've worn one, right?"

"No, it's not." She saw his reflection scowl as more struggling ensued.

"Then what do you usually do?" Anzu arched her brows, knowing the mirror would relay the expression. "Cheat and resort to clip-on's?"

There was a soft snarl, an angry snap of fabric, and a fat ribbon of silk landed next to her. She picked it up with mild interest, briefly fingering the sleek fabric, before looking back to Seto. He met the glance with one of his own, chilly and irritated, and then picked up the suit jacket draped over a chair.

"Mokuba."

Anzu raised both brows, earning a look just as frigid as its predecessor. Only this time there was a slim shade of, oh my, embarrassment in the blue.

"Mokuba…ties them for you?" It was simply too adorable to be real, especially considering a Kaiba was involved.

Seto scowled at her again but nodded. His hostile sheepishness oddly endearing but also the final straw, she fell back as the laughter spilled out. Three seconds later a suit jacket landed on her head. It took a few tries but Anzu managed to compose herself enough to sit up and pull off the jacket, holding it in her lap. Seto was straightening his shirt cuffs.

"Where is the kiddo, anyway?" She glanced at the digital clock on the nightstand. "Shouldn't soccer practice be over by now?"

"They've extended them for this week since they have-"

"-a game coming up, I remember. Against Tamachi, right?"

Something sharp and unreadable flickered in Seto's expression but it was gone too fast for her to identify. Surprise? But why would that be, considering the way things were lately Anzu was virtually the younger Kaiba's nanny. The arrangement suited them both just fine; Mokuba because he got a cozy caretaker with a familiar face and Anzu because she got was permission to the steal the workout studio hidden in the mansion. Well, not hidden exactly, but any place that took two separate staircases to reach qualified for the category of "needlessly obscure placement." Despite this mutual amicability, the arrangement did not happen without a lengthy amount of less than calm debate. It was all Seto's fault, naturally. The jerk had been determined to pay her and Anzu had been determined to drum a point through his dense mentality; she liked Mokuba, he was a friend, and it'd be snowing in H-double-hockey-sticks before she accepted money for something as elementary as helping a friend.

Despite the stellar IQ, Seto seemed to have a lot of trouble grasping this idea. Eventually, they managed to wrestle out an agreement that fit everyone's principles and paranoia; every bout of babysitting would be repaid by access to exercise space. Anzu always looked back at the incident with equal amounts of exasperation and satisfaction. Still, it was nice to know that Seto was capable of compromise…even if he first had to be bludgeoned with the concept of it for a week.

It wasn't an easy thing, keeping a Kaiba.

Lost in shallow contemplation she couldn't help jumping a bit when Seto said her name.

"Huh?"

"I said pass me that damn monstrosity." He turned back to the mirror, his expression comically grim. Anzu swallowed her laugh, and moved the jacket off her lap, uncurling her legs in the process. She slid off the bed with the tie in one hand, wondering if her facial muscles were up to the challenge of keeping a straight face for round seven. Unlikely.

"Turn," she commanded.

Suspicious but obeying, he did so.

The shirt was surprisingly cool to the touch, its material not yet warmed by body heat. Her movements unhurried but professional, Anzu folded up the white collar so as to easier slip the tie around his neck. It would also the poor thing from being stretched and wrinkled. The key thing, she remembered, was to have the broad end extending just to the top of the belt buckle. She draped the tie around Seto's neck, careful to place the tip of the narrow end at just above the fourth shirt button, keeping the tie seam hidden in the back. Now came the truly tricky part, tying the knot. Let's see now, you keep your finger on the spot of the future knot, and then you pass across and over like that and then around like this and over again, there. Next you pull the broad end through the newly made V at the top, and then you tuck between the top end of the tie and the knot-spot, and then pull to straighten and secure.

"Presto." She surveyed her handiwork, pleased. "How does it feel?"

Gingerly, Seto twisted his head slightly left and right before giving a small nod. "Serviceable." The word carried a grudging atom of respect.

"You're welcome." Anzu's tone was dry. She reached up to turn the collar back down-

-and stopped in mid-reach when Seto stiffened. It was a minor thing, a barely perceptible tensing, that would've been missed by anyone not standing less than a foot away. Funny, how a lousy couple of inches could echo so strongly, a hollow sting. It was that echo more than anything else that gave her enough courage to close the distance.

Amazing what you could learn, when you got close enough to look.

Anzu folded down the collar and fastened the collarbone buttons. She stepped back, picked up the jacket and offered it to him with a smile. Wordlessly, he took it in one hand.

But didn't put it on. Instead, he turned to the mirror again and ran his free hand down the tie's length. "Who taught you?"

"My dad." When his stare didn't abate, she shrugged and continued, ignoring the faint clench in her stomach. "My parents used to go out a lot when they were still seeing each other. You know, dinner and theatre and stuff. Formal. So I learned from watching my mom dress dad." There. That sounded nice and normal, didn't it?

Seto frowned. "'Seeing each other'? Meaning they weren't wed at the time." The boy didn't miss much.

"Yeah." She turned and picked up the suit jacket. "They were never actually married." Turning back, she held out the garment.

"I didn't know." It wasn't an accusation; it didn't even have the hard sound of a true statement. Rather it struck her as an observation, noted and put down, but far from crucial.

Again, Anzu shrugged. "Now you do." He was still staring at her. "It's not exactly something I sing from the rooftops, Seto."

Finally, he took the jacket, slipping it on briskly. "How old were you when…"

"Eight." She sat back on the bed, hands in her lap. "They don't have that much in common, really. When I think back, now, it wasn't that unexpected." But when you're eight years and seven months old it feels like having the foundations of your world sucked out. You feel like you're out of air, like everyone knows and is talking about it behind your back, and like nothing will never ever taste the same again.

"You keep in contact?"

"He sends letters sometimes. From Kyoto." The bedspread was a really nice color, Anzu decided. Blue like the last hour of night with a really pretty oriental pattern on it. "Birthday gifts. Last New Year's he sent tickets to the Giselle performance in Tokyo." She didn't add the part about those tickets sitting torn and unused in an envelope at the bottom of a drawer. Seto's attention lay like a hand on her shoulder.

"I've been okay with it for a while now. Besides, there are worse things," Anzu said and felt the truth of it press down between them. Strange, that it should feel so much like a bridge.

There was a beep from the clock. "Mokuba's back," Seto said.

"Great." Anzu hopped off the bed. Smiled. "Going to say goodbye on your way out?"

"Of course." He finished buttoning the jacket, smoothening the lapels with curt, practiced gestures. "Dinner's in the fridge. Unless you two want to order take out again?"

"Pizza. We'll save you a slice this time."

"Promises, promises." Adjusting his watch, he gave her false look of disappointment. "I thought dancers lived on air and inspiration."

"Doesn't mean we're averse to the charms of pepperoni."

"Hn. Don't let him stay up past eleven this time. I don't care how big a bribe he offers."

"It wasn't bribery; he won those thirty extra minutes in poker." At Seto's puzzled glance, her smile turned wry. "We ran out of pretzels. And would you quit fussing with the suit, all ready; you look fine. Almost respectable even." Parting shot fired, Anzu headed for the door.

She had one hand on the doorknob when his voice turned her head. "Anzu?"

"Yeah?"

"Thank you." The weight of the comment was a small thing, a pebble tossed into the gap, a thread across a canyon. But it was there nonetheless and that counted for something, maybe even a lot. For a moment, Anzu studied the solemn boy wearing a three-piece suit that looked almost as serious as the rest of him. Once upon a time that would've been the only thing she saw. Only people were never as simple as that, were they?

"Don't mention it." Except she smiled when she said it.

Somehow, it seemed appropriate.

::a tie makes us even::

Disclaimer: YuGiOh © Takahashi Kazuki. Only borrowing them for a bit of dress up and pretend. Spot the semi-crossover soccer reference and win a cookie. (Offer void in all countries where oxygen is legal.)

Author's Note PS:
I'd like to start my defense by pointing out that we're never really given much information on Anzu's family. We know Yuugi has a grandpa and a mother, we know Jou-kun's dad is vodka marinated barrel of fun and that Shizuka is frighteningly sweet, we know Honda has a baby cousin and a dog, and we know the Kaiba family has issues (a whole dang arc of them). Anzu? We know zip-zilch-nada. Personally I think she comes from an average salary man household and that's just peachy keen. But for the purposes of this fanfic travesty Anzu's family background will be less orthodox. Because I said so and I can.

I'd like to finish my defense by saying that this is just a fic so why are you still reading this, anyway?