Disclaimer – Everything recognisable belongs to Kazuki Takahashi. Everything else … well, it's my fic. You do the math.

A/N – Some parts of this fic are based off my own experiences, though I'm not going to say which bits. I started this at the end of March, and between then and now I've broken off to do a hell of a lot of university work. Coming back to finish it, I realise that I actually don't really like it anymore. The start's okay, but the whole second act feels … wanting. At least, it does to me. Leave me a review and tell me if you agree. Points to anyone who can spot the side-references to DC's JSA comic book, The Vicar of Dibley, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and Dexter's Laboratory.

A/N Parte Deux – I've been approached in the past by people wanting to write stories based on my fics, and I can say with complete certainty that I'm totally okay with that. Especially with this fic, since I don't like it all that much and I'm sure other people could improve upon it without really trying. So this is my blanket statement saying, sure, if you want to write then do it. Just tell me at some point, okay?

Edit September 2008 - This is now the first fic in what is affectinately called the Ship Sailing Series. You can find the reading order for it, complete with links to each fic, at obabscribbler. livejournal. com/425690. html

A Ship Sailing Over the Edge of the World

© Scribbler, May 2005.

I never thought I'd live to see eighteen. Isn't that dumb? Every day, I look in the mirror and say, "What? You still here? Man!" Like even today. I woke up this morning, you know? And the sun was shining and everything was nice, and I thought, "This is going to be one terrific day, so you better live it up, boy, because tomorrow, maybe you'll be gone." – James Dean, Rebel Without a Cause.

"Hi there, you've reached the Mutou residence. We can't get to the phone right now, but just leave a message and we'll get back to you as soon as we can."


"Hey, Yuugi. Bet you never thought you'd hear from me again, huh? Listen, I'm taking the fact that I got your machine to mean that you're out, so I'll leave you my new cell number. I'd really like for you to call me. It's 0704563382. Or you can call my mom's place. If I'm not answering my cell, chances are that's where I'll be. Well, I guess that about covers it. Catch you later."


"The person you are calling cannot answer at present. Please leave your message after the tone."


"Anzu! I can't say it wasn't a surprise to hear from you, but I was more surprised to hear you're back in Domino. Pleased, though. Are you visiting your mom? I hope I did this message so you get it. I'm not good at working these things."


"The person you are calling cannot answer at present. Please leave your message after the tone."


"By the way, that last message was me. Yuugi. Well … bye."


"Hi there, you've reached the Mutou residence. We can't get to the phone right now, but just leave a message and we'll get back to you as soon as we can."


"Yuugi. I'd forgotten how much your messages make me laugh. Considering you mastered so many complicated games before you were out of high school, Moptop, I'm unfailingly amazed by how bad you are at operating answer machines. Anyway, sorry I missed you this morning. I was at the bank and I guess I left my cell on silent in my bag. Listen; call me back when you get this message. I'd really like to talk to you. It's been so long since we did more than chat between time zones online."


"The person you are calling cannot answer at present. Please leave your message after the tone."


"Anzu, I am soooo sorry I took so long getting back to you. I must've walked past the answering machine, like, a million times and I never realised the red light was blinking. I'm not surprised you switched your cell phone off. I guess it is pretty late. Call me in the morning, around nine-ish. No, wait, better make that ten. We're getting a shipment to the store at nine and I don't know how long it'll take to unload. Anyway, call and I promise I'll be in. Or better yet, you could pop around and we could have a proper talk. I'm sure I could get Grandpa to watch the place for a couple of hours. Practically all he ever does these days is sit in his armchair and bitch at the television. I swear, I'm going to enter him for Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, just to shut him up."


"The person you are calling cannot answer at present. Please leave your message after the tone."


"Do I even need to say who that last message was from? And what's the deal with calling me Moptop? You haven't called me that since we were in, like, sixth grade."


"Hi there, you've reached the Mutou residence. We can't get to the phone right now, but just leave a message and we'll get back to you as soon as we can."


"I don't know. Do you need to say? Well, Yuugi, it's 10:15 and yet again you're not answering your phone. I don't suppose you carry a cell I could have the number of? Because frankly, this is getting ridiculous. If I didn't already have plans this morning, I'd so march over there and take you to get the tattoo 'answer your messages' on your forehead. As for the Moptop thing … call me nostalgic. I walked past a bunch of Care Bear dolls in the bric-a-brac store yesterday and nostalgia made me buy them. All twelve of them. They're sitting on my bed right now, and it feels like I de-aged about fifteen years. Whereas you seem to have frumpified. 'Pop around'? Don't only English people and those over fifty say that?"


"The person you are calling cannot answer at present. Please leave your message after the tone."


"Care Bears? I thought you hated those things. And I don't see how you can accuse me of being bad with my messages when you're barely picking up your phone. In any case, this morning really wasn't my fault. There was some problem with the order sheet. You know, for that shipment I told you about? We ordered a hundred of these new electronic games form America, but they billed us for a thousand. I had to convince the delivery guy to take nine hundred of them back to the warehouse, and he wasn't happy about it. I'm just glad Yami wasn't around. I don't think I could've dealt with two mules. Um, no cell phone for me. I have more than enough trouble with our landline to mess around with mobiles. Besides, remember the last time I had one of those things?"


"Hi there, you've reached the Mutou residence. We can't get to the phone right now, but just leave a message and we'll get back to you as soon as we can."


"Didn't it melt when you sat on the radiator? And I can like Care Bears if I want to. I'm a woman; it's my right to be fickle. Except where you and your messages are concerned, Yuugi, because there I'm reserving my right to be just plain pissed off that I can never get hold of you. Call. Me. Back. I didn't come all the way home from Manhattan just to talk to your machine."


"The person you are calling cannot answer at present. Please leave your message after the tone."


"So what did you come back for? Even if you're only vacationing here for a few days, you could spare a couple of hours to drop by the store. We extended the opening hours from 4pm to 5, so come by and actually see me if I'm so terrible at picking up my stupid messages."


"The person you are calling cannot answer at present. Please leave your message after the tone."


"Anzu? What gives? It's Tuesday evening and you still haven't got back in touch. I'm sorry if I sounded tetchy yesterday. I didn't mean it. Yami and I just had a bit of an argument, was all, and I guess I carried my tetchiness over to my phone manner. I was still hoping you'd drop by today, though. We're open the same times tomorrow, so … don't be a stranger, okay?"


"The person you are calling cannot answer at present. Please leave your message after the tone."


"Anzu, where are you? It's now 5:45pm, Wednesday, and there hasn't been a peep out of you. I'm checking my messages constantly and everything! Have you already gone back to America? I hope not. You don't visit often enough, and I'd hate to have missed you."


"The person you are calling cannot answer at present. Please leave your message after the tone."


"I'm starting to get worried, Anzu. It's 11:25 on Thursday morning, and besides not answering your cell you haven't replied to the email I sent you, and I know how fanatical you are about checking your inbox. Civilisation as we know it could have crumbled, and you'd still be checking your inbox to see if your anti-spam-bot's working. I was thinking about calling your mom's place, but I'll give it a couple of hours first. I don't want to disturb her if there's a reasonable explanation. Just … call me, okay? Let me know you haven't fallen off the face of the planet."


"The person you are calling cannot answer at present. Please leave your message after the tone."


"Okay, so, no message, no email, and no answer at your mom's place. Have you been kidnapped by aliens? Actually, I guess I shouldn't joke about stuff like that. The kind of lives we've led, I wouldn't be surprised if little green men had beamed you up into their craft. If they have, tune them into a frequency that matches the phone line. I'll be waiting."


"The person you are calling cannot answer at present. Please leave your message after the tone."


"Pick up, pick up, pick up, pick up, pick up, pick up, pick up, pick up, pick up!"


"The person you are calling cannot answer at present. Please leave your message after the tone."


"You're really started to freak me out now. It's been five days since you last called, and judging by what you said in that message, it sounded like you weren't going for making me call back just to ignore me. I have to go out now, but I'll be back in a couple of hours, and Grandpa will be watching the store while I'm out. He's much better than I am at getting to the phone before it goes to the answering machine."


"The person you are calling cannot answer at present. Please leave your message after the tone."


"I stopped by at your mom's house today, Anzu, but nobody answered, and Grandpa says there weren't any calls while I was out. Please call me back, if only to tell me you're okay. I'm worried."


"The person you are calling cannot answer at present. Please leave your message after the tone."


"Anzu, guess who came in the store today? I'll save you the work – it was Jou, and he brought Shizuka. Apparently she's getting herself an apartment here in Domino, to be closer to him and Mai. I always thought it would be nice to have a brother or sister like one of those two. Uh, Jou or Shizuka, that is. Not Mai. Not that it wouldn't be fun to have an older sister like her, but … ah, forget it. Anyway, I mentioned that you'd been back in town, but they both said you never got in contact. What gives? It's not like you to skimp out on your friends."


"The person you are calling cannot answer at present. Please leave your message after the tone."


"Ryou was at the shopping mart today. It was my turn to do the groceries – but then, it's always my turn. I don't trust Yami to bring back anything we actually need, and the concept of a limited budget seems to have bypassed him completely. Anyway, um, what was I saying? Oh yeah, I saw Ryou, and we got talking, and I kind of mentioned you, and he was real surprised to hear you'd been back in town. Same as Jou and Shizuka. So I ask again, what gives, Anzu?"


"The person you are calling cannot answer at present. Please leave your message after the tone."


"Anzu, I called Honda and Mai on a hunch. They said you hadn't got in contact either. I would've called Kaiba or Otogi, too, except Otogi's been on sabbatical in Kenya for the last three months – something about rediscovering his family tree – and I doubt you'd contact Kaiba anyway. We're all really worried about you. Get back to someone. Please. It doesn't even have to be me. Just let us know the 411. Please. I don't have the number of your dance company to find out if you're back in America, so … come on. Please."


"The person you are calling cannot answer at present. Please leave your message after the tone."


"Where are you?"


"The person you are calling cannot answer at present. Please leave your message after the tone."


"Don't make me phone Kaiba. I'll never forgive you if you force me to do that."


"The person you are calling cannot answer at present. Please leave your message after the tone."


"Did the aliens abduct your mother, too? Because nobody's been home for a while. For the record, I pushed the newspapers through the letterbox so nobody could see the place is unoccupied."


"Hi there, you've reached the Mutou residence. We can't get to the phone right now, but just leave a message and we'll get back to you as soon as we can."


"Thanks, Yuugi. Sorry I've been MIA for the last few days. I didn't mean to skimp out on anyone."


"The person you are calling cannot answer at present. Please leave your message after the tone."


"It speaks! But not very much. So where are you? Are you still in Domino, or are you in Manhattan? And for that matter, where did your mother go?"


"The person you are calling cannot answer at present. Please leave your message after the tone."


"Not again. It has now been exactly twenty-three hours and fifteen minutes since my last call. Anzu, are you deliberately avoiding me, or what? A guy could get a complex from all this radio silence."


"The person you are calling cannot answer at present. Please leave your message after the tone."


"Are you mad at me? Did I do something wrong? Is that it?"


"Hi there, you've reached the Mutou residence. We can't get to the phone right now, but just leave a message and we'll get back to you as soon as we can."


"Why, when something happens, do you automatically assume it's your fault? I'm fine, Yuugi, I've just been caught up in a few things recently. I'll speak to you soon, okay? Promise."


"The person you are calling cannot answer at present. Please leave your message after the tone."


"And why do you always seem to call when I'm either out, or when I can't get to the phone? This is too much collective coincidence, us missing each other all the time. I feel like I should be asking your answer phone out for coffee. And you still haven't answered my question about where you are."


"The person you are calling cannot answer at present. Please leave your message after the tone."


"Anzu, Jou came into the store again today. He asked for your cell number, and I gave it to him. Hope that was okay. He's just as worried about you as I am; so don't be surprised if he calls. He's much better at this stuff than me."


"Hi there, you've reached the Mutou residence. We can't get to the phone right now, but just leave a message and we'll get back to you as soon as we can."


"Yes, he called. Endlessly. Between the two of you, my message box is approaching bursting point. Shut the hell up for a while, will you? … Sorry, sorry, I didn't mean that. Look, I'll call you tomorrow. I will. Goodnight, Yuugi."


"The person you are calling cannot answer at present. Please leave your message after the tone."


"It's been three days, Anzu. Which tomorrow were you aiming for?"


"The person you are calling cannot answer at present. Please leave your message after the tone."


"Hellooooo? Anyone out there?"


"The person you are calling cannot answer at present. Please leave your message after the tone."


"Here's a piece of news. I got a visitor in the store today. Called himself Omishi. Said he was your mother's boyfriend. I didn't believe him at first, but he had a picture of all three of you from when they went to visit you in Manhattan last Summer. He explained a few things. Well, more than a few, actually. Anzu, why didn't you tell me? Why didn't you … Nng. Just … just call me, okay? No jokes this time. Call me, if you can't face me. Though I don't see why you couldn't come to see me, too. I thought our friendship counted for something."


"Hi there, you've reached the Mutou residence. We can't get to the phone right now, but just leave a message and we'll get back to you as soon as we can."


"I might've known Omishi would spill everything before I was ready. Interfering old … Rrr. I don't know what Mom sees in him. Yes, I'm still in Domino, but I'm much better than he's probably made out. He has this habit of blowing everything out of proportion. But since I know how you like to martyr yourself over every little thing unless you're set straight – okay, Yuugi, you win. How about we go out for dinner sometime this weekend? If Yami doesn't mind loaning you out for an evening, that is."


"The person you are calling cannot answer at present. Please leave your message after the tone."


"It wouldn't matter even if he did. Just tell me when and where, and I'll be there."


"Hi there, you've reached the Mutou residence. We can't get to the phone right now, but just leave a message and we'll get back to you as soon as we can."


"Pepito's, Saturday, 9pm. I made reservations. Just tell the hostess you're with Miss Mazaki if you get there before me. Now if you haven't already, go to bed, Yuugi. It's late. I'll see you the day after tomorrow."


The clock was ticking. Yuugi was fiddling with his sleeves, tugging them down, then pushing them back over his wrists, only to tug them back down again. Every tug and tick made his anxiety levels rise. The chosen one, who had faced down evil spirits and shared his headspace with a five-thousand-year-old pharaoh, was practically shaking in his skin at the simple prospect of meeting an old friend for dinner.

The waiter kept coming over and asking him if he wanted another drink. He declined each time, swilling the clear sparkling liquid around in his glass to indicate he wasn't yet finished with it. He wasn't a big drinker, and though the idea of getting nicely sloshed made this rendezvous seem much easier, he knew in his heart of hearts that a clear head was better. The unlawfulness of drinking and driving helped solidify the decision. Still, the fine stem of the wine glass they'd used for his lemonade gave his restless fingers something to play with – when they weren't occupied with the sleeves of his uncomfortable jacket.

Everything about this evening seemed uncomfortable, or at least geared to make him feel that way. First, Yami had been his usual possessive self, demanding to know where he was going, what he was doing, and whom he was going with. To preserve the peace, Yuugi had told him he was going bowling with Jounouchi and Honda, the way they did every couple of weeks. Yami used to go with them, until he realised that there was no healthy competition to their games, save taking bets on how long it took Jou to get paralytic, and tossing a coin to see who took him home to Mai. Gradually, bowling had become a time they left their respective partners behind and became just three friends out for a few hours of simple fun. Yami understood and respected that, which Yuugi appreciated, having seen the way Morijiri regularly chewed Honda out for it.

However, Yami's acceptance of the excuse did not make Yuugi feel any better. If anything, it made him feel guilty for lying. Granted, Yami and Anzu hadn't always had the deepest of friendships, despite her old crush, but they hadn't exactly been at each other's throats, either. There was no reason for him to lie about meeting her, but rather than explain the specifics of it all, Yuugi had plumped for the easier option and lied – something he wasn't great at, anyway. Really, it was a miracle Yami had believed him, and he had practically broken the speed limit dashing to the car, just so he wouldn't be called on his story at the last second.

At least, he supposed, he had the guarantee that Yami would not figure out what was going on by listening to Anzu's messages. Yami had mastered the duel disc pretty much instantly, and wasn't doing too badly with technology as a whole, all things considered. Nevertheless, he still thought the answer phone was a tool of evil.

Grandpa had asked what was up, and Yuugi had told him the truth because he was even worse at lying to his grandfather than he was at lying to Yami. Sugoroku Mutou had just nodded, pulled thoughtfully at his beard, and then asked what he and Yami wanted for dinner.

Yuugi let his eyes fall shut, trying to forget the way the car had refused to start, the way every stoplight had been against him, the way every parking lot he tried was full so that he had to park three streets away, and the way he'd run into the restaurant, panting and dishevelled, only to discover that Anzu wasn't even there yet. He'd been ushered to a seat when he gave her name and his own, so she hadn't been about making reservations. Still, eyes flicking between the clock and door – which he had to lean way back on his chair and peer not-at-all-conspicuously around an aspidistra to even see – he couldn't help but feel like she wasn't going to come.

Fifteen minutes later, he was seriously considering going to the corridor of from the bathroom and calling her cell, even though she'd said not to. A small commotion made him look up, lean back precariously, and then let his chair clonk back into place at the figure who appeared by his table.

"Hi, Yuugi," Anzu said, voice familiar as gravity beneath his feet. She wasn't wearing a hat – oh no, that would've been far too mundane – but set off her smile with a blue silken headscarf shot through with silver threads. They glittered in the overhead lighting, and when she slung her coat over the back of the opposite chair he saw that her only-slightly-outlandish outfit matched the scarf perfectly. "Sorry I'm late. You wouldn't believe how difficult it is to get a taxi around here."

He waved away her words. "Don't worry about it. I haven't been waiting long."

"Pfft, yeah, like I believe that." She picked up the menu and scanned it. "Have you ordered yet?"

Yuugi caught the eye of the waiter that had been bothering him. He scurried over, perhaps a little overeagerly, and looked only slightly crestfallen when he spotted Anzu.

"Would the lady like a drink?"

"Hang on a sec, I'm just looking. Um, I'll just have a diet coke, thanks. And would you mind awfully holding the lemon?"

"As the lady wishes."

She smiled triumphantly as he walked away. "Hear that? I'm a lady. Glad someone finally noticed." Her earrings undulated. They were long and gipsy-like, obviously chosen to turn the scarf into an actual look.

Yuugi tried not to notice the way the waiter kept casting glances over his shoulder, the way his eyes traced their outlines for very different reasons. "Hey, I always said you were a lady," he defended.

"Not enough, I'm afraid. We women are like ravenous wolves in the middle of a nuclear winter. We're never satisfied with a few measly compliments. We need vats of them to keep us going."

He smiled, only now realising how different she sounded in person than on the phone. In person she sounded vibrant and effervescent and all the other words he'd always associated with her.

His left hand found the stem of the wine glass. "So how are you doing?"

Her smile never flickered. "Seamless lead-in there, Yuugi. Not at all awkward."

Blood crept into the edges of his cheeks. "And the remarks from the peanut gallery helped enormously with that awkwardness."

"Sorry, sorry." She shook her head, brought her elbows up onto the tabletop and rested her chin on her hands. Her gaze balanced on the lines of neat script on the menu. "I'm good. Famished, but otherwise good. I was thinking of ordering the Chicken Piri-Piri. You? This place does a mean Teriyaki if you want something more traditional. Just don't bother with the starters. They fill you up too soon, and the salad cart's free for as many servings as you like."

"You sound like you've been here before," he acknowledged. "You also sound like you're avoiding my question."

"Avoiding it? I answered you. I'm fine. Fit as a fiddle. Never better. I could take on an evil magical megalomaniac right now, if I wanted to."

"Riiight." He looked at her for a few more seconds, then turned his attention to the menu he'd already read through a dozen times. "I was going to go for the Szechwan Tofu."

Anzu raised an eyebrow. It was pencilled in. "You turned vegetarian?"

"No, it just sounded nice. And vaguely within my price-range."

"Forget about the prices. I'm paying. This is my treat."

But Yuugi shook his head. "I couldn't - "

"Yuugi," Anzu jabbed her little finger at him, "I'm going to get mightily offended if you don't let me pay for this. I asked you out, therefore I foot the bill." Her tone left little room for argument.

"But - "

"Yuugi." There was a distinct warning in her voice.

"All right, all right, you can pay. But only if I get to give you some cab fare."

She rolled her eyes. "That's really not necessary - "

"I insist. It's the gentlemanly thing to do."

She stared at him. Then she stifled a giggle. "Hell, you look so self-sacrificing sitting like that."

"Like what?" He raised his arms a little, examining in a half-circle around his chair. "And why is that making you laugh?"

"No reason, nothing, I'm just in a bit of an odd mood." She snorted into her hand again. "For a minute there, I thought you were going to produce a flag and hope up on the table to announce your quest for the Holy Grail, or something."

Her giggles were catching. It helped that they'd once stayed up until the wee hours watching subtitled Monty Python. The memory came easily, leaving a warm feeling in the pit of Yuugi's belly. "I never really understood what the Holy Grail was, or why it was so important," he admitted.

"I think it was some kind of cup."

"Like a trophy?"

"No, like the thing you drink out of." Anzu tapped her chin in thought. "Maybe it had special powers – the magical ability to stop all spills and preserve all clothing."

"Hm," Yuugi pondered. "I would've preferred a trophy. Especially after all those years spent questing."

Further conversation was subdued by the reappearance of the waiter with Anzu's drink. She took it gratefully and placed it on the coaster in front of herself, catching beads of moisture on the tip of her finger and watching how they refracted the light.

"Are you ready to order?" the waiter asked, producing a notebook.

"Actually, yes." She nodded and made little gestures with her fingertips. "I'll have the Chicken Piri-Piri – but could you leave out the wine, please?"

He looked faintly irritated. "But madam, the Vinho Verde is an integral part of the dish." His voice lifted at the end, perplexed.

"I know, but I'm really not supposed to have alcohol, and everything on this menu seems to be swimming in it."

"Very well then. I shall inform the chef of your request."

"Thank you."

"And for sir?" He looked expectantly at Yuugi.

"Um … I'll have the … um … I think I'll try the Szechwan Tofu. With rice."

"Brown, long grain white, or egg fried rice?"

"Brown, please."

"Very good, sir," said the waiter, while behind him Anzu made stabby motions in Yuugi's direction. He collected their menus, but paused, glancing at Yuugi's glass. "Would sir like a refill?"

"No, I'm fi - " Yuugi started, but Anzu cut in.

"Yes, he would." Then, to Yuugi, she said, "I've seen more bubbles in my moisturiser than in your glass. Are you driving home?"

"Yes, but - "

"He'll have the lemon and lime twist."

The waiter raised an enquiring brow at Yuugi, who sighed and mumbled, "What she said."

"Very good, sir," replied the waiter in a manner that implied it was anything but good. He finished writing and sauntered off, tearing the leaf from the notebook before he entered the kitchen. They could just hear him yelling, "Got another coal-hole notox, Rumiya!" before the doors swung shut.

Yuugi couldn't keep the puzzlement from his voice. "Coal-hole notox? What's that supposed to mean?"

Anzu took a sip from her drink and propped the side of her head on one fist. "It means tight-ass. As in, a rectum so tight you could stick coal up there and get a diamond. And notox is a play on the word 'intoxication'. It means non-alcohol drinker." She shrugged.

Yuugi was caught between insulted on her behalf and surprised that she knew these definitions. He settled for the latter, since she didn't seem bothered about the slur and he didn't want to offend her. "How do you know that?"

Another shrug. "I picked up a few things in Manhattan. And that job I had in that sushi restaurant when we were in high school."


They sat in silence for a long moment.

"So how are the guys?" Anzu asked, breaking it. "I kind of fell out of touch with a lot of them. Laziness, I suppose. If you weren't so prompt with your emails it might have been the same story all round."

"They're fine." Yuugi drained his lemonade, grimacing at the flavour without the bubbles to temper it. Sugar made a beeline for his bloodstream, trampling anything that got in the way. "I told you about Shizuka's new apartment, right?"

"Uh-huh. Has she chosen it yet?"

"Not yet. She's still living with her mom while she's in college, to keep costs down, but she plans to move over here sometime in July."

"That'll be nice for Jou, having his sister so nearby."


Silence again. The waiter returned with Yuugi's drink, clinking the empty wine glass onto a tray to take away. Yuugi shot him a reproachful glance for the 'coal-hole notox' comment, but he must have got it wrong somewhere, or else there was a problem in translation, because he got a lascivious answering look.

The new glass was tall and broad, like Anzu's, with no helpful stem to play with. Rats.

"Is Honda still shacked up with that Misa girl?"

Yuugi shook his head. "No, she was three girlfriends ago."

Anzu blinked. "Oh. So who's the new squeeze? I'm assuming there is a new one."

"You assume right. Her name's Morijiri Hu-somthing. They live in an apartment on the lower-east side."

"Wait – Morijiri Hutsu?" Anzu lifted her head from his fist, forehead creased a little in thought.

Yuugi cast his mind back to when he'd been introduced to the dark-haired temptress Honda had met at first-aid class. Not the most auspicious of meeting places, but Honda's usual variety of girlfriend came from the bars and clubs he frequented, so it was nice to meet someone who didn't fit into the standard mould. Morijiri was small and lithe, five feet nothing in heels, and had a propensity for make-up so heavy that, had it fallen off, would have killed the proverbial cat. Her response to being introduced to Yuugi, Yami, Jounouchi and Mai was to say a brief "Hi there," and then replace her tongue in Honda's ear. Mai had hated her on sight, and spent the evening trading both subtle and not-so-subtle digs with the back of her head.

"Yes, I think that was her name."

"Hmf. I went to dance classes with her. Always more interested in the contents of the boys' tights than how to perform a perfect jeté." Speculation confirmed, Anzu nodded and took another sip of her drink.

"Yeah, that sounds about right." Yuugi stared at his untouched glass, with its slices of lemon and lime impaled on either side. A small umbrella poked cheerfully between the ice cubes. He used this to stir, glad to have something to occupy his hands.

The next silence was volleyed until their meals arrived. A second waiter accompanied the first, carrying one of the hot plates. This one female and ponytailed, possibly too young under her make-up to be working in a place like this. They both looked appreciatively at Yuugi, but the girl showed more decorum about staring at Anzu. As they made their way back to the kitchen, Yuugi saw her nimbly kick her co-worker in the shin without so much as breaking her step. He felt like applauding.

The tofu looked delicious, as befitted the status Pepito's held in the citywide restaurant guide. It wasn't the best in Domino, but it was definitely in the top five. Nevertheless, Yuugi only poked at his meal, moving a piece of tofu in circles around his plate. There were so many things he'd rehearsed saying, so many questions he'd phrased and rephrased with each stoplight, corner and gear-change. He'd intended to ask straight out what was going on, but sitting there, across from Anzu, who had seen him at his lowest ebb, lent him a shoulder to cry on and been there for him before Yami ever came on the scene … the words were frozen.

"You're not eating."

"Hm?" He looked up, startled from his thoughts. "What?"

Anzu gestured at his plate. "Eating. You're not doing it, and you're food's getting cold."

"Oh. Right." Obediently, he pushed rice into his mouth with his chopsticks. It was cooked to perfection, neither too hard nor too soggy. Only after he had swallowed, and his stomach had thanked him, did he realise how hungry he was. He'd skipped lunch out of nerves, which had also stopped him snacking while Yami and Grandpa tucked in to their supper. He took another mouthful. "This is really good."

"Isn't it just? Mom introduced me to this place when we went out for her last birthday. Before that, the most elegant restaurant I'd been to in Domino was the McDonalds over by the freeway." She laughed, chopsticks dangling from her fingers.

"Hey, you're not eating either."

"Meh. Not really hungry." She poked at the thinly sliced pieces of chicken lying in the centre of her plate. They were covered in grill marks and a thick orangey-red sauce. She fisted the chopsticks and leaned back her chair, a reflective expression ghosting across her face. "Yuugi," she said after a moment, and then stopped.

"Yes?" he prompted.

She shook her head. "Nothing."

"Aw, c'mon. You can't just do that. Spill. What were you going to say?"

"No, really." She waved the chopsticks in concentric circles, but didn't seem to be aware she was doing it. "It's not important."

"Can't I be the judge of that?"

"Let me think. Um, nope, still no."

"Hmf." He chewed a piece of tofu thoughtfully, swallowed, made to wipe his mouth with his wrist and then remembered where he was. Living in a house composed entirely of males did nothing to improve his manners.

He stared at his plate. On a scale of things he didn't want to be confronted with, this was right up there with continent-sized serpent and angry quarterback holding a grudge and a two-by-four. Some nightmares never went away, no matter how many near-death-experiences you had.

Still, it all came down to needs, musts, and then wants.




His gaze moved across to her plate, with it's sticky red sauce, and then travelled over her hands, halting abruptly between them where a spot of darker red had landed on the carefully folded napkin. Another joined it, quickly absorbed by the material, and then another. Yuugi found himself morbidly fascinated by the steady drip-drip-dripping.

"Oh!" he heard Anzu exclaim somewhere above his line of sight. "Oh, shit – excuse me."

She grabbed the soiled napkin and ran for the door with the signboard 'Powder Room'. It was pastel pink with fairy lights around the frame, and not at all the kind of place he would have associated with cleaning up uncontrolled bodily expulsions.

She came back after just less than ten minutes, a little paler than before. The napkin was gone. She stopped off by the waiter who'd served them, Yuugi assumed to ask for a new one. Behind his smile the waiter looked about as friendly as the old lunch ladies at Domino High during a health inspection, but he complied and went to fetch it. Anzu sat down with no trace of blood on her – anywhere.

Yuugi couldn't think what to say. It was a hell of a conversational push. He gripped the umbrella so hard between thumb and forefinger that the little wooden toothpick snapped.

"Hey," Anzu said softly. He looked up. "So how're you doing?"

"Oh, shit, Anzu," he murmured, a strange little laugh percolating in his throat. He rarely cussed. It just wasn't him. "You're asking me? How are you?" This wasn't the same question he'd asked before. It was weightier. There was a lot of hidden significance to it.

But Anzu shrugged it all off. "Meh." Then, incredibly, she pointed at his tofu. "You should eat that before it gets cold. And take that thing out of your drink, or you'll get splinters in your mouth."

He blinked in disbelief. "After all that time being yelled at by someone else in your dance troupe, I can't believe you're still so bossy."

She smiled. No colour came to her cheeks. A part of him wondered if that was because it had all come out her nose, and another part of him told that part to stop being so gross and callous, and then another part pointed out that an inappropriate running commentary was pretty much the only reason he hadn't bolted while she was in the bathroom.

"I don't think any amount of chemotherapy is ever going to fix that, Moptop."

Yuugi's bravado melted like ice cream in the heat. "Oh, Anzu," was all he could murmur.

She sighed, as if finally accepting the direction the conversation was straining at its leash to take. Her eyes never left his face, as she said simply, bluntly, "Yuugi, I have cancer."

"I know you have cancer," he replied, and then added, "I got the memo."

Anzu's expression turned sharp and dark, like a knife in a nightmare. "I'm sorry, Moptop. I should've come and told you myself. I didn't mean for you to find out like that. I just got so caught up in things … stuff I had to do. Stuff I had to sort out. But I know it's no excuse. I really am sorry."

"What things? What was so important you couldn't catch a bus and come tell me you had cancer."

"Have cancer, Yuugi. Not had." Her voice was like silk tearing on thorns. "And stuff like going for tests. Staying at the hospital." Her eyes darted from one side of his face to the other. "Making a will."

The knife found a spot just beneath his ribcage. "It's … it's that bad?" Was that his voice? He hadn't sounded that squeaky since before puberty.

Absently, she tugged at the knot in her headscarf, rearranging the parts that hung down her back. "Honestly? No. I'm in remission, and the cells they took for the last bunch of tests were benign. But I talked it over with my mom and my dad, and they both thought it was a good idea to get a will drawn up. When this is all over, there's still every chance I could get killed by some freak accident nobody saw coming, and I'd hate to leave behind any needless legal wrangling. I mean, remember the lives we've led. They're hardly predictable. Who could've said I'd be mind-controlled by a megalomaniac with a grudge and magic stick before I even got my first kiss?"

Yuugi swallowed. "I'm sorry - "

"Yuugi, if you apologise to me, I'm going to rip your bangs off and stab you with them. Do not apologise to me. You have nothing to apologise for."

And all he could say was "Uh," because every sentence in his head started and ended with "I'm sorry."

"I know that look," Anzu said with a sigh. "That's the Impending Martyrdom Look. You wipe that look off your face right now. I mean it, Yuugi." She picked up and wagged a chopstick at him, the other rolling off the table with a clink like a broken pencil.

"How long?"


"How long has this been going on?" How long haven't you been telling me you're sick?

She lowered her eyes. "A few months," she admitted.

"How many is a few?"

She told him.

He winced. "And you never said anything?"

"I know, I know, I'm crap, but I thought this would all be over and I could just make it some funny story to regale everyone with at Christmas. Guess I fucked that up, didn't I?"

He didn't answer.

"Is this a detail-deficient silence?"

"This is a really-lost-my-appetite silence."

"Touché. Maybe dinner wasn't the best place to have this talk."

"A few details … might be n- good." He'd been about to say 'nice'. Each sentence chopped and changed between his brain and his mouth, sometimes being sent right back to the drawing board, and still he wasn't happy with anything he came up with.

"Right," said Anzu, voice still quiet but businesslike. She started with, "It's like this," and told him everything from the very first signs, through to the range of drugs she'd been prescribed, all with names like Doxorubicin and Ethinyloestradiol. She told him about the long stays in hospital in America and Japan, and every other dispelled myth, soap opera factoid and solidified truth he'd ever heard about fighting cancer. She explained that endometrial cancer was a cluster of reoccurring tumours that attacked the lining of the uterus, and how even if she made a complete recovery the chances of her ever having children were slim to none. She said it all frankly, even though some parts went right over his head, and didn't finish until "and that's about the size of it."

Yuugi had examined his drink throughout, his plate pushed to one side. His mind writhed like a basket of overturned snakes. "Why?" he said at last.

"Excuse me?"

"Why didn't you tell me when you first found out? Why not tell anyone back home? We talked online dozens of times, and you never once mentioned it."

"…Truthfully? I didn't want anyone worrying. And don't tell me you wouldn't have, Yuugi. I know you, and I can say with complete certainty that your hair would've been a whole lot thinner by the time I finally upped sticks back to Domino to see people." She sighed like she was too tired even to sound exasperated, sipped her drink, grimaced at it, then downed the rest. "I didn't stop to think how you'd feel, being kept in the dark. I'm sorry for being selfish."

"Selfish?" He gaped at her. "When did I say you were selfish? I'm just … shocked. It was a curveball I never expected to have to try and hit, so I hadn't even raised my bat to test my aim yet."

"Grandpa got a monopoly on the sports channels?"

She'd called him Mr. Mutou the first time they met, but always Grandpa after that, like she would rather be part of his family than her own. It was a punch through the film dividing the now from the then, and Yuugi could feel his memory crawling back along the path to when they were kids. Breaking his Gameboy. Working together on school projects. Hiding at his house from her parents' squabbling. Dabbing iodine on his cuts and bruises. Denying she was part of his cheerleading squad at Duellist Kingdom. Sharing an inflatable tyre on the big slide at Water World. Flashing the bullies that one time so he had chance to get away. Hugging him so tight when his soul came back to his body. Sitting in a chair on the pier, screaming at Jou to snap out of it and come back to them.

Anzu was saying something.

"Hm? What?"

"I said it's not much, but I got some revenue from the sale of my apartment."

Yuugi blinked vacantly. "You sold your apartment?"

Her expression was almost like a smile, but was at the same time very sad. "Successful dance companies don't get that way by employing sick dancers."

He took a moment to process this information. "Oh, Anzu, I'm - "

"Ah, ah, ah! No apologising, remember? I've had people apologising at me every time I … well, since this started. If something bad happens, people seem pre-programmed to act like they're personally responsible for it. And they're not. Nobody is."

"But they can't just fire you! That's against the law, isn't it?"

"They didn't fire me. I left."

"What?" His tone was etched with incredulity. "But you love dancing; it was always your dream to get into the New York School of Ballet. You've done so well, gone so far."

"Dreams change, Yuugi." She gave a throaty snort. "Or maybe reality just gets in the way of dreams." She leaned back, pulling her arms towards her depleted chest. It was as if she was distancing herself, but she was still speaking directly to him – not at, but to. "There's a lot of stuff I've had to get used to. Not just the worries about the future, but the day-to-day junk. Nosebleeds, taking horse-sized pills, being tired all the time, falling asleep in random places – stuff that gets in the way of normal things I've always been able to do before. Stuff I didn't necessarily want people to see. My body's shot, Moptop. It's going to take a long time to get this puppy back into shape, and not even the nicest company will carry dead weight for long. It's still a business, at the end of the day. So I decided to remove myself first. And if I can get myself to a level where I can go back and try again one day, then great, but for now I'm just concentrating on the smaller stuff. Like beating the last of this thing into the ground so I can step on it in really thick-soled boots."

"Reclaiming your body from it?"

Another snort. "Funny, my other counsellors don't usually give such good puppy-dog eyes."

Yuugi brought his hands up to his face, pressing his thumbs against his top lip. It was smooth and still held the scent of foam and aftershave. He wasn't the little boy he'd been, nor was he the teenager who'd gone through so many bizarre ordeals. He was a man now. He'd grown up. And yet … something like this could still knock him for six.

Cancer. It was a word that held infinitely more threat than 'ancient curse', 'magic powers' or 'Millennium Items'. It was a word mired in the reality of drip feeds, morphine, IV tubes and cytotoxic anticancer drugs.

Anzu rubbed at a spot between her eyes, and he thought about how exhausted she must be. And suddenly he wanted to wrap her in cotton wool like some china doll old ladies kept on the mantelpiece, even though she'd probably yell at him if he ever told her about it.

"The reason I mentioned the apartment," Anzu said, "was because it's a pretty recent development. I moved back home before the sale went through. My health insurance has been taking care of most of my hospital bills, so I'm free to spend that money any way I see fit. My will got finalised this morning. I'm leaving a third to each of my parents and their significant others, and a third to you."

Yuugi kept his hands by his mouth, if only because his jaw would have dropped open had he taken them away. "You can't do that," he started.

"Why not? It's my money. Mom won't let me lift a finger to help with housework since I got back, let alone let me pay my way. We ended up moving into Omishi's house just so she'd stop running around like a headless chicken. It's closer to the hospital, and the change of location seems to have thrown her a bit. Besides, it's all provisional anyway. I have no intention of going to the big dance studio in the sky just yet."

Yuugi's stomach felt like a washing machine on final spin. "It's not … that," he said slowly.

"What's not what?"

"You can't put me in your will."

"Why not?"

"Because …" The sting of antiseptic on his forehead. Warm tears dripping down his neck. A muffled goodnight from the sleeping bag on his bedroom floor. "You … if you're talking about leaving me anything …" A bellow at Jou for an insulted outfit. A heady shout of support from the sidelines. "If I think about what you'd leave me - " A room full of mirrors and pretty girls in leotards. A broken Gameboy. A knot of cold fear at the thought someone had hurt her to get to him. " - then it's like … I'm wishing you gone." A knock at the door – shave and a haircut. A dinging bicycle bell. A wave across the classroom. A DDR machine. A pair of ballet pumps with darned pink ribbons. "Like you're already - " He stopped, a hard lump in his throat.

He half expected her to snap at him in that bossy way she did when he was getting maudlin. Instead, she stood up and leaned across the table to run the fingertips of one hand through his spikes.

It wasn't what he'd expected.

It wasn't like the ruffle Jou gave him when he'd affirmed their friendship for the millionth time, nor like a noogie from Honda, or the monkey-grooming way Mai tried to convince him to let her experiment with it – and it definitely wasn't like anything from Yami. Anzu's fingers were nimbler. Yami had serious hands, hands that always seemed like they had a purpose. Her touch was featherlike, not making contact with his scalp or even touching him firmly enough to pull out a few hairs by accident. Her hands felt like they didn't know what they were doing any more than he did.

"Moptop," she whispered as soft as snow falling.

Yuugi shook his head, trying to say "Stop calling me that!" but his voice cracked in the middle and he couldn't finish.

They stayed that way for a couple of minutes, until the wasted muscles in Anzu's legs gave out and she slumped backwards into her chair. It was just more emphasis of how sick she'd been, how much she was brushing things off, making light of them when she really, really shouldn't. She'd told him what he could have read in a medical textbook, but not how she was. Yuugi wanted to tell her to give him more credit than that, to tell him the warts-n'-all truth, but he couldn't form the words. And guilty as it made him feel, he knew that part of him, the cowardly part that had made him bury his head in a sandwich of pillows where the tears wouldn't show every time he thought of Yami dissolving into formless energy and dust – that part of him didn't want her to take off the rose-coloured glasses.

"You know," Anzu said at last, "I used to wonder where we'd be in ten years' time. We're not even there yet, but this isn't how I pictured anything turning out. I always imagined you settling down somewhere away from Domino – but not too far away, mind. Getting some middling house, a middling job, marrying some nice, middling girl from the suburbs for cooking and babies."

It was a long moment before Yuugi replied, "Nice girls don't cook babies."

She laughed. "Even so, the last thing I imagined was you still living with your Grandpa, let alone taking over his store and sharing the house you grew up in with an ancient Egyptian Pharaoh who just happens to also share your life force."

Yuugi still thought about his mother, sometimes. The way his father's sudden death had driven her away from the whole concept of motherhood, making her run away to the city and set up a whole new life where the word 'housewife' was just a word that came up when she was campaigning against the glass ceiling. He'd had a good life with his Grandpa – better than a lot of kids could hope for. Throughout his teens he'd got cards and expensive presents whenever it was his birthday, or his mother got a fit of the guilts. Sometimes she wrote things like, 'I do love you', or 'I'm sorry', but never what for, so he could never be sure how he felt about her, or how to reconcile those feelings with his memories of old family Christmases and his natural desire to think the best of everyone.

He remembered having to explain to Yami who the gifts were from, and how Yami had nodded sagely and told him about the traditional way he was raised, plucking at his shirt buttons with idle fingers. And Yuugi had listened, commiserating in the appropriate places – the responsibilities heaped on a child, the lack of things Yami'd had compared to him, the weight of knowing you had no choice over your own fate – but somewhere in it all he'd wondered whether this kind of out-angsting each other was really good for either of them.

Anzu sighed, steepling her hands over her nose and mouth like she'd just sneezed. She took them away again before continuing. "I guess what I'm trying to say is that … you've really changed, Yuugi. And you haven't, too. You've surprised me more times than I care to admit, gone through so much more than I think I ever could've, and you came out the other side okay. You don't break."

"Anzu, I - "

"I used to think," she said, as if she hadn't heard him, or else was choosing not to, "that anything that could break you … it'd break me, too. And we'd be broken together." A snort. "Oh, don't get me wrong, the whole crush thing is way past it's sell-by-date. But … but. There is no but. We're different people than we were – strangers, almost, what with me living in Manhattan and you being here. But at the same time, I still feel like I know you better than anyone. Like things changed around us and I only just took the time to notice." She gave a humourless little laugh and shrugged a shoulder wrapped in loose fabric to hide its scrawniness. "Life isn't something you try on for size. Aaand I seem to have successfully neutered the mood of the evening."

"No." Yuugi forced down the lump and reached out for her hand. It took a few seconds, but eventually she moved it across enough for him to lay his fingers over hers. One of her rings jabbed into his palm. "I'm just a little overwhelmed, y'know? This is a … it's a lot to take in all at once. And not that it makes any difference, but between you and me, I think you're a lot braver than I ever was."

"Stop being facetious, Mop- Yuugi."

"No, really, I mean it. You are."

"You're already in the will. There's no need to butter me up."

His budding smile wilted, all its leaves turning brown and dropping off.

"Oh, hell." Anzu rubbed at her eye with the heel of her free hand. "Too much in poor taste?"

"No, but you don't want me to apologise, and you don't want me to compliment you on your bravery, and I'm running on empty for appropriate responses to this whole conversation. You've obviously got almost everything in hand already. You're being competent and level-headed and figuring out solutions where I'd still be gawping at the problem -"

"Pfft, yeah right."

"You don't need me, and I start to wonder what the hell I can do to help – you know, the way I do. And there is nothing so far as I can see, so I'm just feeling about as much use as a condom machine in the Vatican right now."

She spluttered. "Okay, that sounds like something you got from Honda."

Yuugi smiled, only a little wickedly. "Close. Jou."

"Really? Hm, witty, loyal, dependable, not to shabby to look at when he's scrubbed up, makes a habit of further corrupting you with dirty anecdotes. Maybe I should've made my move on the boy before Mai got her claws into him."

They laughed, and then laughed some more, until the waiter came over with Anzu's long overdue napkin and asked if they were done with their plates. The food was cold and just starting to congeal, so they sent them away and, in a fit of indulgence, ordered a giant Knickerbockers' Glory. It arrived with two spoons and a lighted sparkler standing upright in the whipped cream. Anzu shrugged knowingly, waited for it to burn out and dunked it in her empty glass.

They managed more than half. It came as no surprise when Anzu gave up first. Yuugi made no comment, but she patted her stomach and said something about the best grub she'd had in a long while, and how cooking with love didn't improve your skills, no matter what her mother's books said.

Eventually, the evening had to come to an end. They noodled with the idea of after-dinner coffees, but rejected it on the grounds that neither of them felt they could fit in another mouthful. So they called over the waiter and Anzu paid the bill, even though Yuugi protested he wanted to pay for his own discarded meal.

"Honestly, Yuugi, let me treat you or I'll get insulted and do terrible things to your hair with my nail scissors."

"At least let me leave the tip."

"'Fraid not, card-boy."

It had started to rain while they were inside. Yuugi consulted his watch and realised they'd been in the restaurant for over three hours – more than enough time for a simple shower to turn into a proper storm.

Dark clouds undulated overhead, their main ambition to hit the ground with as much rain as possible. Water streaked along the sidewalk and into overflowing gutters choked with leaves from trees planted to make the street look more continental. People scuttled past wrapped in macs and bendy umbrellas. It was the kind of storm that made you think the sky had swallowed a diuretic. Thunder and lightning hung around in the background like some sort of chorale, but it was the rain that was the real star of the show. It steamrollered over Domino, vigorous and undeniable.

"Forget the taxi," Yuugi said in the foyer, "I'm driving you home."

"I can manage - "

"If you don't accept, I'll get insulted and do terrible things."

"Oh really? And what terrible things will you do?" Anzu folded her arms with a smirk.

He smirked right back and told her.

She blinked in genuine surprise. "How much of a number have Jou and Honda pulled on my sweet little Yuugi?"

He just chuckled and led her to where he had parked his battered old Ford Passat. By the time they got in they were soaked, and he insisted the heater be on full blast so she didn't catch a chill – though he didn't tell her that part. He suspected she knew anyway, but she made no comment on it, instead tuning the radio to a station that was playing 80s synthetic rock. By the third chorus of 'Living on a Prayer' he was tapping his hands on the wheel while she sang at the top of her lungs and wheezed at him that car songs were no fun if he didn't join in.

"You know I'm tone deaf."

"Since when did you need talent to sing early Bon Jovi? It's like doughnuts – you never eat a doughnut because you're actually hungry, just like you don't need to be Pavarotti to bellow a few lines."

He declined anyway, claiming he had to concentrate on driving. He was well past the stage where he had to sit on the Yellow Pages just to see over the wheel, but driving in the rain had never been his strong suit.

When they reached unfamiliar territory Anzu gave him directions to Omishi's house. It turned out to be a sizeable place covered in terracotta tiles and white stucco. The driveway had no gate or wall; it just led straight onto the street, bisecting the grass verge like it had been drawn with a protractor. Yuugi inched up to the house and wondered whether he should leave the engine idling while he saw her to the door. There was an upstairs light still on.

But instead of gathering her things, Anzu just sat quite still in the passenger seat. Her eyes were fixed on some point in the middle distance. Janis Joplin was yelling from the speakers that "freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose!" In a blur of motion, Anzu reached forward and snapped it off.

"Do you want to come in?" she asked flatly, the answer she wanted clearly evident in her voice.

"Do you want me to?"

"I don't know. I don't know how Mom might react to you … being there."

"She was always cool with me before. Once she figured out I wasn't one of those boys who'd lead you down the wrong path and into the backseat of his car."

"No. You just led me into scary jaws-of-death situations. Which, before you say anything, I went along with willingly, even after it'd happened a few times. Huh, I must've had the hide of an elephant to keep walking into those."

Yuugi let his hands slide from the steering wheel. She wouldn't look at him.



He didn't know what to say, so he swallowed and asked, "So what happens now?"

"I don't know," she confessed. "Now it's all out in the open, I … I kind of want things to change, so I can get back to normal and start living my life again. I want to get better. I want to kick this thing in the can and go back to being someone who doesn't touch her face every five seconds to make sure she's not bleeding. But at the same time…" She trailed off and made a strange noise, deep in her throat.

"Are you okay?" Yuugi asked, immediately all concern. He made as if to touch her, but something about the way she was sitting, hunched but straight-backed, made him pause.

"Honestly? Not exactly double-dip Rocky Road, end-of-the-sale frenzy. But close." Another strange noise, like that which a cat with a broken leg made every time it jolted the damaged limb. It seemed completely involuntary. She didn't even open her mouth to make it. "I'm scared, Yuugi. I'm scared of things … changing."

"Change can be a good thing," he ventured.

"I guess so. Yeah." There was a long pause. Then she sniggered. "I mean, look at traffic lights. If they didn't change, there'd be terrible congestion."


"But on the other hand there's gravity. If that changed we'd all go floating off into space." She sighed and fiddled with the knot of her headscarf.

"So there's good change and bad change. And we just have to aim for a bull's-eye in the good."

She nodded. "I don't want to float away…"

Yuugi bit the bullet and laid a hand on her shoulder, forgetting everything he'd ever learned from anyone about making promises to control the uncontrollable. "You won't. I promise."

She finally looked at him – quick, without hesitation, like ripping off a band-aid. "Yuugi," she murmured, as though the word was all she had left in her repertoire.

The porch light, which had thoughtfully been left on, flickered over them, refracted by raindrops and swept from side to side by the wipers. Only the strip of Anzu's eyes was visible, and in the pale light and dripping shadows it was difficult to tell if they were as full of tears as they seemed.

They sat in silence, Yuugi's hand still resting on her bony shoulder. Anzu's breathing was thin, stirring through her body like dry leaves in a breeze. He could feel every movement of her lungs, every tiny vibration and scratch quivering through the nerves in his palm. It suddenly felt as though the fabric of space and time right there had been plucked, and was resonating back into place – though this thing, this situation it wasn't all better. They were not all better. Not yet. They were just old friends, and despite everything they were both alive right now. It was enough of a miracle to make him savour the moment.

Then Anzu pulled away and the moment was broken. She reached for the door handle.

Yuugi had the abrupt, inexplicable conviction that his private thoughts must show on his face. He grabbed the wheel until his knuckles blanched and asked, "So should I call you?"

She stopped. "Yeah," she said after a moment. "I'm going to go talk to Jou and Mai at their apartment tomorrow, but here's Omishi's number. If, y'know, you want to talk. Or go out again. Or anything." She took a tissue from the box he kept in the alcove under the radio and produced a pen from her pocket, with which she proceeded to scribble something. After a moment she folded it up and handed it to him, smiling.

Yuugi took it and tucked it into the breast pocket of his jacket.

She got out, holding her hands over her head against the rain. "See you around, Yuugi." It was a banal and meaningless thing to say.

"Sure thing." He smiled as she dashed onto the porch and fumbled her key into the lock. He smiled as she stood just inside a beige hall and waved at him backing down the driveway. He smiled until his jaw hurt from the way he was clenching his teeth.

The moon was full, the jaundiced white of old bones. It hung low in the sky like a nightlight in the room of a small child. Yuugi felt the beams beating their fists against the windshield all the way home.

The shop was dark, which wasn't unusual. So was the house, which was. He'd expected to find Grandpa up watching some old movie, or maybe Yami cross-legged by the coffee table, staring at a game of solitaire, or perhaps some ancient translation Grandpa had finagled from the museum for him. Yet everything was silent, as though they'd both been struck by some strange and violent tiredness that just about let them crawl into their beds and close their eyes.

Yuugi took off his shoes and coat, hung them all on parts of the radiator to dry out, and went into the sitting room. The light from a streetlamp bounced through the glass, just enough to see by. The television was a quiet demon, the couch a gigantic snake just waiting to guzzle naughty children up past their bedtime.

He turned and went into the kitchen instead. Flipping on the overhead lights with the back of one hand, he enjoyed the way each bulb chased the shadows back and back as it flared into life.

There was folded a note on the counter with 'Yuugi' printed on the side. He picked it up.

Yuugi, don't touch the VCR, I only just figured out how to set it for that western I've been waiting for. Hope your dinner went well. Will talk to you in the morning if you – the words 'need to' had been scribbled out and replaced with 'like'. There's some cold chicken in the fridge if you want it. I've heard those cordon bleu places charge and arm and a leg and then serve only a speck.

Sugoroku's handwriting was a spidery, slapdash affair, as though he was always in such a hurry to get onto the next letter he never bothered finishing any others. Yuugi tucked the note into the pocket of his pants and went to the fridge for the chicken. After all, he hadn't finished his meal at the restaurant, and even with the dessert, the strain of a day with little food was starting to tell. He leaned backwards against the counter, pulling off the top of a plastic box and stuffing a piece of greasy meat into his mouth without preamble or cutlery.

It figured that when his hands were covered in grease he'd remember about Anzu's note. He put the chicken down and rinsed his hands, intending to pin it to the corkboard next to the sauce cupboard before he forgot and accidentally tossed it into the wash. He'd done it once before and lost a semi-rare Duel Monsters card. The memory of explaining to Yami that the splat of mush in his palm really did used to the Crimson Avenger was enough to make his fingers twitch in embarrassment.

The tissue was a little crumpled, so he smoothed it out. There were lines of small writing on it – too many to be just a phone number. Yuugi scrunched his brow.

Yuugi, wipe that look off your face. Right now. I know that the moment you left me you went all miserable, so don't try to pretend you haven't. You don't need to smile, because there's nothing worse than one of your fake smiles, but cheer up, okay? I'm not going anywhere. Besides, you do realise this was part of an elaborate stunt to get you to go out for dinner with me, right? Omishi's landline – 01222898774

Anzu's handwriting was as far from Sugoroku's as could be. Where his was messy, hers was painstakingly neat. Each letter was a perfect example of penmanship – the kind engraved on your brain by a teacher who always seemed to be standing three inches behind your head. It was difficult to believe she'd written the note so quickly, so meticulous was the structure of each whip, slant and arc. There was nothing complicated about it, but it was delicate and beautiful all the same.

Yuugi's left hand twitched into a half-formed fist and then relaxed again. He stayed there, leaning over the note, one hand braced against the edge of the counter. He stayed and stared, but he was seeing what he'd seen across the table at the restaurant. Every breath, every wasted curve, every awkward silence – they replayed themselves like some manic mental TV to which he'd lost the remote with the off button. Each thing she'd told him echoed in Dolby Surround Sound, every dish-clink and fork-scrape and too-red drip burned onto his brain in a timeframe like water crystallising to ice.


He'd been so wrapped up in his thoughts he hadn't even heard the creak on the staircase. He whirled around to see Yami standing in the doorway, rubbing one eye with the heel of a hand. A pair of silken pyjama bottoms hung off his skinny hips, while a mismatching vest clung to his top half, outlining his muscles like black marker pen.

"That was some bowling game," he said sleepily. "I heard you come in. Did you win?"

Yuugi stared at him, mouth opening and shutting like a fish flopping about on the ground while the kid who caught it squealed that it was gross and there was no way he was touching it to put it back in the water.

A frown ghosted over Yami's features, making them sharp and stark. "Yuugi?" He raked a look up and down him, then around the kitchen, as though searching for something he could fix.

Everything he'd wanted to say at the restaurant but hadn't crowded at the back of Yuugi's throat, until he didn't know whether he'd vomit or scream like a person possessed. And he'd seen people possessed. Far too many times.

He bumped backwards against the counter and slid down it, tears streaking from his eyes. One hand found its way to the handle of a drawer on the way down, so that he sat gawkily, gripping like if he didn't hold onto something he'd float away into space. Quiet sobs filled the kitchen, rising in volume until they crammed into every corner and crevice available, and some that weren't.

He didn't see Yami cross the room, didn't even know he'd left the doorway until slim arms wrapped around him and a voice that could bellow unholy threats across a battlefield whispered softly in his ear. He thought maybe Yami was saying "It will be all right, whatever it is," though he couldn't be sure.

"How can you promise that?" he asked, pulling away slightly. "How can you promise?"

As far as Yuugi knew, Yami still had no idea what was going on. But he didn't ask. He showed nothing but basic concern, cradling him like some weeping child on the cold tiles of the kitchen floor. His hair flopped into his face a little, making him less than perfect, not a great Pharoah, or a saviour of the world, or a master Duellist, just someone who cared and was there and warm and holding him.

It was easy to lean his head against Yami's shoulder. It was even easier to close his eyes and let the tears slip from under them. After a moment, Yami reached his arm around the back of Yuugi's shoulders and stroked the soft hairs at the base of his neck. His fingertips made little circular motions, and a soft song – barely more than a hum – filtered from his throat. The words weren't a language Yuugi understood, but it didn't seem to matter.

Yami had serious hands – hands that always seemed like they had a purpose. He pulled a few hairs out by accident, his touch just a smidge too firm. And Yuugi couldn't help but wish that, for once, those hands would feel like they didn't know what they were doing any more than he did.

"Hi there, you've reached the Mutou residence. We can't get to the phone right now, but just leave a message and we'll get back to you as soon as we can."


"Hello, Yuugi. It's Meron Mazaki here. Anzu's mother. I'm sorry for phoning at this hour. Rather silly of me, really. I should've realised you'd be in bed. Not everybody's such a night owl as me, are they? Heh. Still, I'll go on talking in case you can hear me, and you just can't get to the receiver.

"I … I know you got together with Anzu recently, and her voicemail is full of messages from you, so I thought I'd better call. Your phone number's written in a dozen different places in her room, stuck on that sticky-back notepaper one of her Manhattan friends gave her. It's pink, heart-shaped, really very pretty, I suppose. When I came in here and saw it, it was like a message or something – uh, I mean, I just thought I'd better call. You see, Anzu … she died tonight. Just after 11 o'clock. She was just brushing her teeth for bed and … oh God. It was a pulmonary embolism, the doctors said. The blood clot in her leg, the one she got when she was in hospital for so long having her treatment, it broke free and … and moved up to her heart, and … She was supposed to go in on Wednesday and have a scan about it. Dr. Kikaya said there's a routine operation to remove it, we just had to set a date. We were … we were going to go up to my sister's afterwards … mffrrfph. Excuse me.

"Why am I explaining this? If you two talked about what I suspect you talked about on your dinner-date, then I assume she told you about it anyway. You always shared everything when you were kids, after all. The number of times I caught her writing in her diary about you. She used to yell at me so. There are old photos all across her bedspread. She was putting them into albums. You're on some of them. You both look so small ... I guess seeing them is why I wanted to call you now instead of tomorrow. Not like I can sleep anyway, and you sort of … got into my head, I suppose. But you're obviously indisposed right now, so I'll go.

"Oh, God, I didn't mean to tell you this way, Yuugi. I'm sorry. I'm just not thinking very … clearly right now. Please call me in the morning. I'll be waiting by the phone."



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