Author Note: And I quote: "As Is" is a series of fic-bits based on this idea: what if Seto Kaiba and Anzu Mazaki were to become friends? What would such a choice lead to? "As Is" follows the everyday aftermath of our blue eyed couple's decision to be with each other, reluctant, romantic or otherwise. (Set at the end of the series because the Universe can only sustain so much weirdness at a time. Even when that Universe is YGO sponsored.) An "illustration" for this little ditty can be found at http: img. photobucket. com/ albums/ v292/ akaVertigo/ OtherFic/ ShowMeLove. jpg (Don't forget to remove the spaces.)
Dedicated to the incorrigible, irrepressible and utterly impossible Sammy R for reasons beyond count. Thank you, bella.
Something was wrong.
Anzu's absence from class did not disturb Seto Kaiba. At first. There were, after all, a number of perfectly mundane, boring reasons for why she could've been missing. A minor sickness, for example. True, it was a bit early in the year for flu season but…
Next he considered the simple possibility of exhaustion; she had been clocking more work hours than usual while staying faithful to a rigorous dance schedule. Seto dismissed the idea quickly; Anzu was too disciplined and conscientious to neglect her health that way. Mentally, he made a note to call her later and pass on class notes. After all, it wasn't like her ragtag posse provided much academic support.
It was the behavior of her friends that got him…apprehensive. They had clumped over Yuugi's desk per standard procedure but it was a noticeably less animated huddle than usual. It was, in fact, downright quiet. For one brief moment Seto actually considered asking Yuugi what was wrong. Because Yuugi's every move clearly said that something was. Luckily, the insanity passed without Seto acting on the impulse. But the expression on his rival's face remained uncomfortable to behold, disturbing in its unfamiliarity.
Yuugi looked defeated.
What in the world had happened, and why wasn't Anzu there to play nursemaid to…oh. Oh, damn.
It wasn't a complex situation to figure out though he almost wished it were. The actions and incidents of the past week congealed into an epiphany. An unpleasant one, yes, but not unexpected, no. Hell, he'd been awaiting for this to happen in one form or another for a while now. Yuugi's growing nervousness, eager but unsure, and the way the mutt/thug duo hunched conspiratorially over the smaller boy during lunch. The way the conspiracy vanished when Anzu appeared. And Anzu's own uncharacteristic stiffness, a lightweight tension coating every move and phrase. It had been a sore week, it was obviously going to be a bad mess, and he had done his damn best to stay out of it.
When he found Anzu sitting outside his office, heartbroken head to toe, Seto knew he should've tried harder.
The excuse she gave him was "lunch". That Anzu would resort to using such a feeble pretext for talking with him was a disquieting; the tactic had been obsolete for several months now. When he pointed out the time, well into the afternoon, Anzu shrugged, hesitating for a bare moment before flashing a threadbare smile, apologizing for bothering him. Didn't know what was the matter with her today, I mean I knew you'd be working, I'd just, oh, never mind. I'm sorry. See you in school, Seto, 'kay? Don't work too hard.
She turned to walk away.
Normally, he'd let her go and return to his work, minding the unspoken code of behavior set up between them. Their relationship (and, oh, how he was beginning to detest that word) did not rely on Seto taking the initiative. Normally, if words were to occur they would come from Anzu, be launched at Seto, and get volleyed from one to the other until it became clear that neither was going to run away. Eventually something akin to conversation would fall into being. At times the whole thing felt like an accident.
Seto was not a willing conversationalist but with Anzu he had learned to be a fairly agreeable one. At least, he had learned to tolerate the act and that was an accomplishment in itself; the actual talking seemed more of consequence, a leftover result, rather than the goal itself. This mostly came from the fact that Anzu, while sensitive enough to know when to back off, was usually too stubborn to back down. Normally, Seto let her set the pace simply because it was too great hassle to do otherwise. So, normally, if Anzu were to smile, he'd leave it at that and let her go.
Normally, her eyes wouldn't be so red.
Italian or Chinese, Seto asked her.
"When I was little I wanted to be a mermaid."
"What?" It wasn't quite the avenue he'd been expecting.
Anzu waved a fry, gesturing at the ocean. "Mermaid. You know, fish tail and pearls? Living underwater, keeping pace with dolphins and the like."
"Hn. I'm guessing you drank a lot of sea water as a child." He paused, thoughtful. "That would explain certain things."
She threw the fry at him. Missed. "Jerk. And it was Anderson."
"As in 'Hans Christian'?"
"Yep, the one and only," Anzu said. "Growing up it was my favorite fairy tale. You?"
"'No' as in 'Little Mermaid' wasn't your favorite or 'no' as in this is boring as heck and you'll throw me over the rail if I don't shut up?"
"'No' as in I didn't read a lot of fairy tales when I was younger."
"Ah." She popped the last fry into her mouth, chewing with relish. Then, "You know, that's a sort of strange way of putting it, "when I was younger". Most people would just say 'when I was a kid' or 'when I was a child'. Most guys would say 'when I was a boy'." She caught his expression. "I'm just saying. Don't scowl; your face will freeze that way."
He wished she'd just come out and say it all ready. Whatever it was. Seto wasn't used to this, to her being like this. What he was used to was Anzu speaking her mind and him enduring it. The openness that made her, the simple, characteristic sincerity that she had always approached him with, was gone. Seto had not realized how much he had relied on it to guide his responses to her. The girl with him now, watching the Domino bay with her elbows propped up on the railing, was a stranger. Anzu's weird state, placid and evasive, was making his nerves tight. He didn't recognize the guarded expression, no more than he recognized the bleak gaze and exhausted smile. He didn't recognize the way she kept both fists balled in her jacket's pockets. He didn't recognize her somber clothes; dark jeans, sneakers, baggy sweater, and a windbreaker the color of wet slate, an ensemble that made him think of an unfinished disguise.
"Why," he heard his voice asking, "did you want to be a mermaid?"
"Why not?" She shrugged again, ambiguous. "It seemed really romantic when I was eight."
Right. Seto bridged the distance between them, mimicking her stance, hip leaning on a guardrail. "How did it end?"
"What?" Apprehension flickered in her expression. It was the first clear emotion he'd spied so far.
Seto kept his gaze on the water. "The story, how does it end?"
"Oh." This close to the water, the wind was sharper, its chill a warning of changing seasons. Anzu was tugging her jacket collar higher. She had been biting her nails again, Seto noticed; the rough edges gave a raw, injured look to her hands. "She dies."
"The mermaid? Why?"
"Because the prince she saved is in love with someone else."
"So she can't fulfill the bargain made with the sea witch; she was supposed to gain his heart or be turned into foam."
"Hn. Should've read the fine print better, then; there's always a loophole."
"Spoken like a true shark." Her humor was barren but acceptable. It was reassuring to see evidence of wit surviving emotions. "There was a second option."
"Kill the witch?"
"Kill the prince." Anzu's voice adopted a storyteller's lilt, cheery and genuine as tin. "Her sisters brought a golden knife and said that if she were to kill him, the mermaid would regain her tail and be free to return home."
"But she didn't."
Anzu nodded. "But she didn't. The mermaid stood over the prince's bed, watching him sleep with his new bride, and realized she loved him still."
"And then she died." Seto didn't bother hiding the disdain in his voice. "How romantic."
"Maybe it is," Anzu said. The desolate expression turned wistful, almost calm. "She didn't die, not exactly. The following dawn, at the moment of her unmaking, airy beings offer her the chance to earn a soul. Instead of becoming foam she fades into the sky, following the hope of a different life."
"So the fish learns to fly?" He flicked imaginary lint off his cuff. "What a bunch of tripe."
"If you don't want to know, then don't ask." She pushed away from the rail, suddenly tense, and shoved both hands back into her pockets.
"No one is forcing you to talk, Anzu." Seto's patience was a tool like every other skill kept in his arsenal but he was starting to suspect that patience wouldn't fix this problem. Fine then, there were other methods. "If you have something to say then hurry up and say it; don't hide behind some lame brained storytelling."
Now she turned to stare at him; it wasn't a friendly look. "Excuse me? The great and mighty Seto Kaiba is lecturing on forthcoming and openness, oh, let me alert the press; careful, I might die of shock."
Subject exhibits hostility when provoked. Typical. "What you are is a coward." How far could he push this? "Frankly, I'm disappointed, Anzu; I figured you had more nerve than that. Apparently the patron saint of friendship is a fraud?"
"What the heck do you think you're talking about?"
"A coward and a hypocrite. All those talks about loyalty and honesty and yadda yadda; where's your halo now?"
"Stop it." She was shaking her head slowly, side to side, and staring as if he'd grown horns. "Just...stop it. You have absolutely no idea what-I don't even know why I'm talking to you of all people." It was still her "good girl" voice, the one used to encourage and sooth lunatics but there was heat underneath the niceness. Spots of high color were beginning to grow on her cheeks. In response, Seto could feel his own expression cool. Strange how their tempers were continuously out of synch; they pulled and repelled according to some simultaneous force yet never managed to run in the same direction.
A permanent mismatch, Seto thought.
"Yes, why me? Why not go to one of your amoeba counterparts, the mutt or the thug; I'm sure they'd love to sit and prattle about whatever fairy tale you want. Better yet," Seto said, frigid and soft, "why not go to Yuugi?"
It was the killing blow. Anzu stared at him, eyes wide, face flushed. The windbreaker was too big; her hands were fisted in the hem of each sleeve. When in anger, she looked like a child: when in fear, like someone lost. Suddenly he wished there hadn't been a need to take things this far; pushing her this way seemed cruel and despite the rumors living off his name, Seto had no taste for true cruelty. But it was too late to back out now.
Kaiba motto number one: never start what you don't intend to finish.
"Why not Yuugi?" He repeated. "You skipped school just to avoid him, don't bother denying it. What happened, Anzu? What did he say to you?"
It was a basic strategy; force your opponent to show their hand. Tempt and taunt, provoke your opponent until they give into their temper and make mistakes. And Anzu, he knew had a temper. Seto had been counting on it, waiting for the thornier aspects of her personality to surface and give him a fight. Maybe then he could figure out how to deal with the situation. Whatever the form, a fight was something Seto understood.
Emotional suffering in a friend was something else entirely.
"Shut up, Seto." She spun on her heel, turning away from him. "Listen, let's just forget about this, okay? I'm sorry I bothered you, I'm sorry I dragged you away from your valuable paperwork and I'm sorry I ever had the stupid, stupid idea that I could talk to you in the first place. I'm sorry." Her voice was the softest he'd ever heard it but there was steel in it. Little surprise, really, that it echoed with Seto's memory of Yuugi's fallen expression.
"I'm sorry," she said again. There was a terrible note of finality to it. When she began to walk away, he didn't want to follow. If the situation were reversed, if it was him walking away, Seto would want to be allowed to do so. But it wasn't him, it was Anzu and her shoulders were trembling.
The difference between what one wants and what one needs and what gets done is a hard one. Damn annoying, too.
"Anzu." No reaction. "Anzu, wait." She didn't. Catching up with her was easy; he reached for her hand out of some Mokuba ingrained parenting habit and didn't let go when she stopped walking.
If only he could. "What happened?"
"Let go, damn it, let me go!" She pulled away, clawing at his grip but still not looking at him. "I don't want to talk about it." Which cinched the weirdness right there and then; Anzu was the type who was always willing to 'talk about it'.
They ended up struggling for possession of her wrist; Seto knew how to disarm an opponent, how to immobilize, but his aikido training wasn't tailored to opponents he didn't want to hurt. Finally, he managed to lock both of her wrists in a grip and keep them there. Finally, Anzu looked at him.
She was crying.
He almost let go, panicking that he'd applied too much pressure to the hold, handled her too roughly, but, fine, look, he was letting go right now and why was she still doing it? Every CEO/Duelist instinct fled in blind, male panic. Twelve years of dedicated big brotherhood, however, remained to flounder helplessly.
"He's in love." She looked on the verge of crumbling entirely. "Yuugi said he's…he told me…he's…" The rest dissolved in tears, a ragged torrent of misery.
And even though Seto wasn't surprised, even though he had been aware of the rejection since the moment he'd seen Yuugi Motou's defeated face, even though he'd knew the confession would occur the moment he learned to identify the longing that shone in the Yuugi's eyes when Anzu touched his shoulder, he still couldn't help staring, at loss at how to respond. Powerless. Knowing a truth did not render one prepared to face it.
Slowly he put both arms around the girl and pulled her closer. Anzu wasn't fighting now; instead she balled a hand in his coat lapels and cried and cried and cried. Seto let her do so.
Really, what choice did he have?
What choice did he have?
Yuugi Motou was not a person who did anything by half. What he said, how he acted, the way he dueled, all of these carried the full, undiluted weight of his heart behind them. Even when he paced himself, strategizing with lethal subtlety, even then Yuugi still built his strategy on pure emotion. Underneath that emotion, Seto suspected, lay the fundamental desire to win. It was perhaps the only thing they had in common, which suited Seto just fine.
Because otherwise, it was safe to say Yuugi was all heart.
He was not as compulsively driven by his feelings as the blond mutt, but Yuugi still did, and most likely always would, act on what he felt. A damn waste of energy in Seto's opinion but it had gotten Yuugi this far with miraculous success. So perhaps Yuugi was less a fool and more of an especially blessed optimist. It was only out of respect that Seto did not call him a romantic.
Still, he had honestly thought Yuugi was smarter than this.
Sitting next to him on the couch, knees together, eyes miserable, warm mug cradled in both tired hands, Anzu finished her tea and Seto revised his opinion; Yuugi was a fool. He watched Anzu put down the mug and begin to compose herself, rebuilding her attitude layer by layer and resolution by resolution. Stronger than she looked, really, the little cheerleader. Sometimes he felt able to admire her for that and other unexpected things. Occasionally he still felt like a scientist dealing with an alien and not understanding a damn thing the specimen was babbling about. But sometimes he cared enough to try.
Perhaps, Seto admitted, Yuugi and he had one other thing in common, after all.
"Have you ever wished you could go back to being eight years old? Or any other age, as long as it was nice and little?"
Seto considered the idea, especially the 'nice and little' aspect. "No."
"Don't start, Anzu." He took another sip of coffee. "The answer's not going to change just because you interrogate it."
"It never hurts to ask." The words were followed by an unconscious wince. "I mean, it- never mind. Sorry. I'm an idiot."
"Before I agree to this confession, let me ask you something." His tone was maliciously polite. "May I?"
Judging from the suspicion edging her gaze, the girl was obviously regaining her mental equilibrium. But she nodded yes, cautious.
"Why come to me?"
"Because I knew I'd have you to myself." The answer was abrupt, its honesty genuine and graceless. Seto watched her fingers unwind and reweave in her lap. She didn't mean to say it, he realized. But having said it, Anzu seemed resolute in following the thread.
"Jounouchi and Honda usually hang out at the game shop after school and that's not somewhere I can-" She paused to swallow. Hard. "Bakura's still in England. Shizuka mirrors Jounouchi. Mai…um, no. No way, no. As for the rest…" She shrugged. "Half the school thinks we're engaged and my mom's all but adopted him by now." Anzu's shoulders fell further down. "The thing is, when it comes to this…everyone is on his side."
Including you. "Glad to be your safety zone." The words happened without warning but Seto figured his surprise was better guarded behind the expected sarcasm. "Look, are you really that shocked by this? You're nowhere near as dumb as you look, so did the painfully obvious fact that Yuugi Mutou is in love with you really come as that much of a fucking surprise?" Odd, he wasn't sure where the actual anger, instead of the just the handy pretense, had come from but there it was. Very odd.
"It can't be the first time a boy has approached you this way." He'd heard enough classroom rumors to comprehend Anzu's significant social status; apparently, the girl was a catch. But then again some people thought fish made fascinating pets; people's interests were an ever strange animal. Still…"You're hardly a leper."
That got him another strange look, half bothered and half amused. "The mixed blessing of short skirted uniforms, Seto; useless for basketball but great for unwanted attention." The humor expired as quickly as it'd come. "Yuugi isn't like other boys; he's special."
What a beautifully inane way of putting it. But it did confirm several suspicions about the subject.
"Anzu," he asked. "Do you love him?"
Guilty, she looked away.
"You followed him to Duelist Kingdom, and to Battle City-"
"Hey, I live here-"
"-and you followed him up the tower and to San Francisco and to Kaiba Land. Every time he Duels you're at the sidelines. Hell, the only thing that surprises me is that you haven't jumped into the arena yet."
"Actually, I have. Dueled for him, I mean." Anzu's smile was unsteady but real. "Um, at Duelist Kingdom. It was against Mai, right after we reached the castle and…well, you know."
Seto most certainly did. Surprised, he couldn't keep the curiosity off his face; Anzu as a Duelist was… interesting. Unexpected but not impossible, he supposed. Had she won?
Her voice was wry. "Go on; I know you're dying to ask."
Seto refused to obey her assumption, even if it was true. "Why you?"
"Why not? Yuugi was in no condition to Duel; he barely had the strength to look anyone in the eye. Honda had zero experience and Jounouchi, yeah, okay, he'd won against her once, sort of, but…"
"You didn't trust him." It wasn't a question.
"I didn't trust him against Mai." Irony laced her words. "He was halfway in love with her by then, even if he didn't know it himself."
"So you fought Mai," Seto said. "Because you thought no one else could."
"Because I couldn't bear seeing him like that," Anzu said. "I never want to see anyone I care about fall into that sort of state."
Considering his own hefty part in Yuugi's DK breakdown, the diplomatic thing would have been to stay mute. Feeling like a traitor to his own reputation, Seto nonetheless did just that.
"He's my best friend, Seto; all I ever wanted was to protect him so he could be happy." Her eyes darkened, shadowed with misery and guilt. "I'm doing a super job of it lately."
"Because you refused a brainless invitation to play kissing games in the school yard? Don't be a fool; you'll choke on the melodrama." Diplomacy was overrated.
She shook her head. "Yesterday, the best boy in the world offered me his heart. The most amazing gift anyone could ever give and…and I turned it down like a card. You didn't see how he looked at me, Seto." She bowed her head over the teacup, expression hidden but the depression radiating plainly. "I wish I was eight again; everything was so much easier then. What's the point of growing up if you have break your best friend's heart to be honest?"
Seto didn't have a clue.
"Because it wouldn't be fair," she answered.
Again, it wasn't the answer he'd been expecting. Come to think of it, Anzu often had a habit of doing that. "To whom?
"To anyone." If anything, Anzu sounded downright philosophical. "All right, okay, mostly to Yuugi and me. But eventually it'd spill over and dirty everyone else's mood."
Seto raised his brows at her, sarcastic. "Because the world revolves around the pair of you, of course."
"Because that's one of the consequences of being close." Anzu raised her brows to mirror the sarcasm with aplomb. A heartbeat later the cynicism was gone, replaced by a lukewarm tiredness bordering on melancholy. "I'm not the only champion of Yuugi's welfare, in case you missed the memo; do you honestly think the guys would overlook it if Yuugi and I began to date and be miserable? They'd storm in armed to the teeth with good intentions."
"You could always invest in a pair of muzzles."
"Ha. Ha." Anzu rolled her eyes. "And, by the way, I so do not appreciate humility comments from a guy with an Asia-sized ego."
"Flatterer," he accused. "And, by the way, you're dodging the question again. Badly."
"Am not." She scowled at his look. "Well, not really; it's just that…oh, geez, fine, you're right; it's not about the guys. It's about Yuugi deserving better."
"Better?" Perhaps the "modesty" comment was misfired, after all. "He adores you and you'd do anything for his sake. Get over whatever complex you're nursing, Anzu, and you two can prance off down the yellow-bricked road to live sickeningly happy ever freakin' after."
Another odd look, this time probing, and then she continued as if he'd stayed silent. "What Yuugi deserves is someone who'll match him move for move; someone willing give to him as much as he's offering. Someone who'll recognize him for the special, incredible person he is and be able to accept all the pieces that make him who he is now. Someone willing to be his favorite."
Seto stared at her, momentarily confused. "Favorite?"
"Yuugi is Yuugi and Yuugi has a heart big enough to care for the whole world twice over. When he focuses that you, when he opens himself to you, it makes you want to, I don't know, change. He has a way of making people believe they can be better. Special. It's one of the most beautiful things about him."
She didn't take the bait. "No, just kinder than the rest of us. It's one of the things I love best about him but it's also one of the main reasons I worry about him so much."
"You're going to be the end of me, Mazaki. You. Mutou. Why not?"
"Because it's not the same for me as it is for him." She sounded tired, reciting stale words. "I said so straight out but I think he misunderstood. Guess I can't blame him." Seto recognized the look on her face, aftertaste of a flashback, but he knew better than to probe that particular reminiscence. "We're not feeling the same thing. I love him, Seto, but not like that; ultimately, I can't give him what he wants. I don't have it in me.
"He's my best friend and I wish only the best for his heart. That means I want him to be with someone who'll be his. Completely. The best I could do is try. And Yuugi deserves more than that."
What an annoying situation. "You can't pilot his life, Anzu."
"I know that; I just want Yuugi to be happy," she said.
"But I won't lie to him."
"So now you can't even talk to him." Seto scowled, temper vaguely itching to break something. "Brilliant logic that."
"Yeah." She looked at him, brave and miserable. A martyr in her too big jacket, Anzu was obviously a friend to the last. "But this is about as logical as it is easy. And it's not easy at all."
It's not easy.
The problem, Seto thought, was that while it was true that all things changed it did not mean that they changed completely. That Anzu loved Yuugi was obvious; that Yuugi loved her was undeniable. Both facts were evident to the point of stupid. Both parties were stubborn to the point of ridiculous. And why in the world was he now stuck between them?
Somewhere along the storyline things had changed and Seto Kaiba with them.
Things did not get better. Yuugi and Anzu kept their backs to each other, refusing to make eye contact and silence reigned supreme. The rest of the motley crew bounced around the pair, unsure and annoying, turning the whole thing into a nerve-grating tap dance.
Seto managed to endure a week of the melodrama before his patience ran out. One more day of this, he felt, would cause irreparable damage to his sanity. So he made a plan and then he made a phone call.
But first he talked to Anzu.
"How long are you planning to let this go on?" he asked. "Because this has officially become preposterous. What are you scared of? Both of you."
"Making it worse," she said.
"Worse for whom?"
She shook her head. "Just worse overall. All the king's horses and all the king's men aren't going to be enough to mop up the harm." Her gaze turned inward. "Though I guess no matter what happens now…it's over."
"Then let it be over; quit playing tag with your conscience, stop hiding, and move on."
"And what if we can't?" Anzu's gaze was a challenge. "What if this, this thing continues to hang over our heads like a death sentence? Don't you think I want to talk to him? I do." Unconsciously, one hand crept up to her chest, a loose fist pressing against her heart. "Of course, I do; I miss him, Seto. He's two blocks and phone call away, and I miss him. And you don't need to waste your breath saying how cowardly that is because I know." Sighing, Anzu put both elbows on the library table, supporting her chin, and looked at him. "I'm a coward."
There were a lot of things Seto Kaiba could've said at that moment. He could've agreed with her. He could've left the library. He could've offered her a hand to hold. He could've told her he knew exactly why Yuugi was in love. But Seto Kaiba looked at the sad girl in front of him and did none of these.
What he did do was tell her to stop by his office after school.
And when Anzu did, he pushed her inside and locked the doors, leaving her surprised and alone with Yuugi.
Because, damn it, enough was enough.
"You did what?"
The exclamation was loud enough that a waiter and two patrons behind them turned around, curious. Seto ignored them and focused on the woman in front of him, coffee cup frozen halfway to her lips.
"Locked them in my office with orders that the door remain closed regardless of any circumstance excepting fire or earthquakes." He shrugged. "The office is soundproof. My secretary will open the door at the end of the day."
"Which will be…?"
"Seven o'clock." Seto checked his watch. "A little over four hours from now. They'll be fine." Probably.
"They'll be after your head." Mai paused, sipped her coffee, and then smiled. It was not a very sweet smile. "Not Yuugi maybe but Anzu, well, I can just imagine what'll be on her mind."
Unfortunately, so could Seto. "Who wants to live forever?"
Mai shook her head, blond curls in waves around her amused expression, and thoughtfully tapped glossy violet fingernails against the bright red tablecloth. "Do you honestly think it'll work?"
"It's bound to do something." Seto set down his drink, which was too bitter, anyway, and felt a scowl begin to gather around his mouth. "Motou's keeps dragging himself around like someone's set his deck on fire; it's disgusting. He hasn't played one decent game since this whole mess started."
"So, obviously, you're doing this for Yuugi." There was something…sly in the woman's tone, something veiled behind the too pretty eyes and painted mouth. Whatever the trick Seto refused to be caught.
"I am not doing this for anyone; I'm just tired of seeing obstinate idiots act particularly idiotic."
"Ah." Yes, the gleam in her eyes was definitely sharper than usual and all together too crafty for anyone's good. He could practically hear the trap card being flipped. "Of course. But she is a stubborn girl, isn't she?"
Playing dumb would gain him nothing so nothing was what he said. The silence, however, did nothing to discourage his opponent.
"Determined, I suppose. Honestly, I can't help wondering where she gets her nerve. When I was that age I was, well, what I wasn't doing was running around some madman's island, challenging people without a chance of winning. Still it's rather cute. Charming in an Anzu-only way, wouldn't you agree?"
"You Dueled her." Damn, he really did have to ask. "Did she…"
"Oh, that." Mai waved a languid hand in distraction. "She won the match."
"Against someone of your experience and ability?" Seto didn't bother hiding the skepticism in his voice. "Regardless of whatever potential Anzu might have, if any, she's not that good."
"No, she's not," Mai agreed. "But she's…well, she was so sincere. When I came on that island I was only thinking of the cash prize; to me it was purely a matter of gain versus loss with an emphasis on looking like the best. My ultimate goals included Prada, Gucci, and a weekend in Monte Carlo. Fame, fortune and the perfection of a few new tricks, that was all I was after. Only that…" Loneliness flashed in the woman's urbane tone. Seto felt it strike against an unmentionable something inside him like flint, inciting a spark of…what? A reluctant sense of recognition pooled low in his throat.
"I knew what she was fighting for," Mai continued, her composure impermeable once more. "Who wouldn't? It doesn't take a genius to figure out how a girl like that works. Heart on her sleeve, courage in both hands, and every iota of it showing on her face; people like that never need to confess anything. More importantly I knew who she was fighting for. To be honest I was worried about Yuugi too, but I still didn't expect her to step up like she did. Especially not when I saw how scared she was. Because there was not question about it, Kaiba; she understood the odds. Yuugi was not up to handing out clever advice from the sidelines and the other two had even less to offer. It was just her and me, and Anzu knew it. Yet she still went up on that platform to play. A girl like that, well…" Over the rim of her teacup, Mai watched him with open candor. "She could be dangerous."
Seto was too well bred to snort but- ah, hell with it; he snorted. "Dangerous?"
"Of course," she said. "People like her don't play for lifepoints or star chips; they play for invisible, impossible things. They don't start what they don't intend to finish because they don't allow themselves the option of being without. The only way to beat them is to play at their level and, well, that's deep-water territory.
"Playing like that will break your heart."
Violet eyes stared into blue, and Mai smiled like she knew one too many things that he didn't.
"Really, I'd be worried if I were you, Kaiba," she said. "When you give her a chance and a reason, a girl like Anzu will change all the rules. " Mai brought up a hand, fingertips resting lightly against her mouth; the delicate pose an intimidating counterpoint to the frankness of her gaze. "Even the ones you didn't know you had."
She could be dangerous.
In Seto's trained opinion, Anzu could've been a lot of things. First off, she could've been a hell lot more selective about the company she kept. She could've been less defensive about the things she was serious about. She could've been more careful about where her faith went. She could've done worse than come to him. She could've never come to him at all.
On the other hand, Seto admitted that she could be surprising. She could be counted on for support without having to be asked. She could be persistent to the point of invincible. She could be kind not because it was easy but because she believed it mattered. She could be changing someone's world without being aware of it. She could be very, very angry about what he did to her.
But what about, Seto thought, what she had done to him?
She was waiting in front of his desk. More exactly, Anzu was waiting on his desk, ankles primly crossed and a book in her lap. Walking into the classroom, Seto felt his reflexes come alert; the book was a hardcover. And the girl, he knew, had a fatally accurate throwing arm.
It would be a good another half hour before the students would start crawling in; they were only ones in the classroom. No witnesses, Seto thought grimly.
"Good morning," she said.
"Morning," he said. "Decided on exactly how angry you are yet?"
"Jury's still out." She twined her fingers in her lap and narrowed her eyes just enough to inspire nervousness. "Figured out how you're going to apologize yet?"
"I plan to do no such thing." Setting down his briefcase, Seto crossed his arms and got ready to lose. "Why the hell should I?"
"Yeah, that's what I thought. It wouldn't do to ruin a perfect track record of subzero behavior. Especially when that record belongs a callous bastard who believes in taking a strong arm approach to delicate social situations."
Something in Seto's stomach began to waver. "World's only living heart donor."
"Exactly. It's like I was telling Yuugi: what else can you expect from a self-declared bastard?" Anzu's expression turned thoughtful, then pleased. "Of course, I was pretty steamed at the time, what with the being locked up like a lab rat and all. Yuugi, however, seemed to have the absolutely ludicrous idea that the previously mentioned human icicle was actually, get this, trying to help." She pinned him with a blue, blue stare. "Totally absurd, right?"
"So some would say." This time Seto looked away first. "Yuugi talks too much."
"Well, four hours is a long time to spend staring at the walls, no matter how expensive the office space. Eventually someone will start talking. So we did." She bit her lip then continued. "It…wasn't easy. But we managed to figure things out, like the fact that what happened, or didn't happen, is nobody's fault. It's the way things are and, that's just it, it doesn't change what's really important."
"Touching. When's the wedding?"
She smiled and it was real, relieved and recognizable; it was the girl he knew. "We've decided to let things be."
She hopped off the desk, setting down the book, and held out her hand. "I owe you."
Warily, Seto accepted the handshake. It was as strong one as he expected it to be. What he didn't expect was the other arm to press across his back, pulling him close.
For a moment, he was wooden, startled, but when Anzu didn't move away, didn't do anything except lower her cheek to press against his jacket, Seto accepted the hug. The top of her head fit neatly under his chin.
"Thank you," she whispered. "Thank you forever and ever times infinity plus. Though the next time you try pulling a stunt like that, Seto Kaiba, I'll have you lynched."
"Next time don't be so stupid; it doesn't suit you," he said. "And I refuse to be friends with an idiot."
Laughing, which was a rather satisfying sound, Anzu let him go and stepped back. Picking up the book, she held it out to him. Thin bright strips of paper stuck out from between its pages.
Seto took it, still wary, and read the title. Then he raised a brow at her. "And the purpose of this is…?"
"Call it a loan," Anzu said, "to help make up for lost time. I bookmarked my favorites but you're under no obligation to them read them first. Maybe if you ask very, very nicely Mokuba will read them to you. And if he won't then I will." She crossed her arms and shrugged. "I know you think it's a bunch of useless, sloppy claptrap and, okay, sometimes it is, but then again maybe you'll actually like one of the stories. You never know; we might even end up liking the same one. Stranger things have happened, right?"
Seto didn't say anything. Instead he stood and stared at the girl in front of him, who just happened to be his friend. Strange indeed, he thought. Dangerous? Well, perhaps the risk was acceptable one. Results were more important than rules, after all. Again Seto thought of changes and people, and of how few frontiers were final.
Then he sat down, opened the book, and began the story.
Disclaimer: YuGiOh © Takahashi Kazuki. Lyrics © TATU. Yuugi/Anzu shippers: don't take this personally. Go cuddle some canon and leave us "Azurites" to our ridiculous notions and AU breadcrumbs.