Disclaimer: If I owned Yu-gi-oh, this would have been in the anime.

YGOYGOYGOYGOYGOYGO

"So, how you been, Mai?"

There he was. Grinning at her. She'd avoided him for three months, and now… here they were. Champion's lounge at yet another tournament, and if she walked out, everyone would know why.

She supposed she could… find someone else to talk to, but everyone had drifted away, including Yugi after he'd said hello. Everyone knew.

Kaiba might call Joey a mediocrity, but after the victories he'd won, second place to Yugi in so many tournaments, people couldn't really ignore that he was a champion.

Sure, he seemed like a punk, but then all duelists had their… idiosyncrasies. Her and her skimpy clothing… Rebecca had even used to carry a teddy bear out onto the dueling field.

You ignored the underdog at your peril. Duels were broadcast worldwide, it was practically a sport, and duelists checked out the competition. Watch duelist after duelist fall due to underestimating this guy… just like she had. They were catching on, but he still had the advantage over the dumb ones… and why wasn't she talking? She hadn't been struck dumb by the sight of him, certainly not.

"Fine." That was true. She's won a lot of money at various tournaments… he hadn't done so badly himself, enough to get his own apartment and disown his father… and sheesh, she really had been paying attention.

She'd watched all his duels, but that was just checking out the competition! And… she'd had to be sure he looked after that sweet sister of his.

She still remembered… she'd been around the corner when he'd opened the handkerchief with her card in it back at Duelist Kingdom, but she'd heard his little intake of breath… it had sounded like hope. Like dawn.

And why did this guy make her so poetic on the inside and so tongue-tied on the outside?

"Cool, cool." He nodded, grinning, like she hadn't cost him his soul and he hadn't fallen, smiling, into her arms.

He was always grinning at her. When he'd thought she was hot, when he beat her, when he fell for her, over and over again. He'd faced Malik for her, she'd found out before the… thing with the green stone, why had she been surprised when he'd risked his life and soul yet again?

And lost again. Because of her.

"So, Mai." He pointed at the bar. "Want to get a drink?"

Legal drinking age here was 16. She got a martini, and tried not to be pleased when he just got a coke. She'd known he wasn't the type, even if everyone talked about his father… well, she… wasn't a cold-hearted business woman anymore, at least.

The sins of the fathers… but they'd both escaped that. Right?

They sat there and sipped and gulped it down, respectively. Her hand was curled around her deck, for reassurance. He smiled at her when he put it down. She sipped so she didn't have to acknowledge it, though she looked at him out of the corner of her eyes.

She should probably say she was sorry, but that wasn't anywhere good enough. It would just cast a damper on this… well, she couldn't really call it a conversation. She sipped, to give herself an excuse not to talk, and he seemed content just to watch her.

Punk. Staring at her, like he had on the boat. But you couldn't really call it checking her out. He'd already checked everything off, it seemed… why did the idiot seem to think she was so perfect?

Now that she looked back on it, it had been sort of cute how he'd told her he hadn't seen her in that vision. So embarrassed… she should get the details out of him sometime.

Now, coming up onto the dueling platform on the Battle Ship, risking disqualification, to hold her and tell her he had seen her, and try to get through to her when she hadn't seen him, looking through him like she did too much… he'd stood there and vowed to protect her, and he hadn't been kidding. He would have taken that hit and he would have died… or maybe he wouldn't have.

He'd dared Ra before, and took that hit fighting Malik for her and survived. He'd survived falling to the Oricalchos. For her.

Punk had nine lives… he was like that cat, in the stupid song from summer camp, that always came back no matter how you tried to get rid of it… the song had detailed some fairly gruesome ways of trying to kill it, but none of them involved gods. At least as far as she could remember.

And damn. Her martini was empty. And she really shouldn't have two just before a duel. Who was she dueling? The category 3 winner… Joey had been in category 3. And he was still in the competitor's lounge.

My, Mai. What have you gotten yourself into now?

"How's it going?" He asked. Didn't he already know? She'd been keeping track of him… she should be honest with herself, she'd been practically stalking him.

"Fine." And hadn't he just asked basically that same question? She wasn't sure… "I've been winning a lot of tournaments." Of course.

"Of course." He grinned. "You're the best, Mai."

She snorted. "Flatterer. That's Yugi."

He nodded, eyes a little more serious, remembering. Yugi did seem different now… no puzzle. The spirit had to be gone, otherwise Yugi would never have taken it off. But he seemed to be doing alright… more than alright, the kid was kicking ass on the field. "'Sides him." Joey said, smiling again.

Mai snorted again. "Every duelist knows they are the best. You think you're going to lose, you do." And she couldn't lose to him today. She wanted to duel Yugi again. She remembered Duelist Kingdom… that duel had been flawed, both of them held back by old fears.

She wanted to duel Joey again… or she would. It would prove she was free of the taint. Or not… She sometimes thought she didn't want to know, out of fear it still lingered.

It was amazing how quickly everyone had forgotten. But then, nothing came before Duel Monsters. Well, almost nothing. She fingered her deck, the rings on her fingers clicking against each other.

He shrugged. "I'm not enough of the idiot they say I am to think I'm better than you, Mai." Once again she wondered how he could smile while saying something like that. "Though these others? Joey Wheeler is better than them any day!"

She couldn't help but smile back. "How's the dueling going?"

Joey looked embarrassed, leaning on the bar and looking for words. "It's tough, being a professional. Lot of things to think about, like getting visas for going to another country… lotta tricks I jus don't know, Mai."

He stood up. "I'd like to talk to you about that… after the duel." It was time, wasn't it.

And was he asking her to teach him? She stood up, holding out her hand for him to shake it. "I'll stick around."

They didn't have to be what people said they were, what their history said they were, either of them.