Disclaimer: How are they not mine? Let me count the ways …
A/N: For Christa, who requested it. Not sure this is precisely what she wanted, but it's the best I can do. As such, this comes with severe 'Oh bloody hell, I hate this sodding fic' warnings.
Continuity: Anime, post-Egypt Arc. Spoilers for the end of the series, even if it's just to upend them into an AU.
Feedback: Feedback would make me very happy. I smile when I'm happy, and I get a little dimple in my cheek. Will you make the dimple come out and play today?
© Scribbler, July 2006.
When you try your best but you don't succeed, And the tears come streaming down your face,
When you get what you want but not what you need,
When you feel so tired but you can't sleep,
Stuck in reverse.
When you lose something you can't replace,
When you love some one but it goes to waste
Could it be worse?
And the tears come streaming down your face,
-- Coldplay, Fix You.
Yami is tall. He is not, however, as tall as Yuugi, which makes no sense for very obvious reasons. Nevertheless, it's the first thing that pops into Anzu's head when she walks into the game store and sees him poring over a new card shipment.
He stands with feet apart, hands raised and head bowed as if in prayer. He has his back to her, and since the door is open to aid the broken air-conditioning, it's a safe bet that he hasn't heard her come in. The back of his neck is damp with sweat, little beads gathered around the soft hairs there – possibly the only soft thing about him. He cuts an imposing figure even when alone – the eternal champion defending his title. He is the loudest person she's ever met. Every movement he makes, every pose, every twitch, they're all shouts.
She thinks that maybe, just maybe, this is why she developed her infatuation with him. When he appeared she was at that age where ordinary girls begin learning to love dangerous things. When he appeared he and his noisy honesty seemed the most dangerous thing she'd ever encountered – even beyond the convict who held a gun to her head. That man was brash and stupid – all bull-headed violence to Yami's insidious ferocity. Yami never disguised his darker impulses. When he appeared, all Anzu's previous crushes seemed like candyfloss compared with this new spice – sugary sweetness to hot disquiet. Maybe she's still at that age, but now he has competition as the most dangerous thing she's ever encountered.
His noisy honesty still fascinates her, however.
She steps forward. A floorboard creaks. Yami turns, bringing with him the scowl he has been treating the cards with. His eyes blaze, impenetrably dark, the corners of his mouth turned down in a judgment that is ruthless but significant – the frown of a deity, of a king. A king of Egypt? Maybe. It's an expression Anzu both trusts and fears. It simultaneously alienates her and draws her forward, further into the store, towards him and his vestiges of a bygone world.
She feels like a moth.
She wonders if, one day, she'll burn up.
"Hello, Anzu." Yami's expression drops away into his version of affability. "Are you looking for Yuugi? He's just upstairs. I can call him for you, if you like."
"It's okay. I was just on my way home from dance class, and I thought I'd call in and see if Grandpa got the AC fixed yet."
"Sadly, no. We're supposed to continue in this oppressive heat until Tuesday, when a repairman will arrive. We are not, apparently, a priority case." He curls his lip, and Anzu almost wants to laugh at his arrogance.
"New cards?" she asks instead.
Yami glances at them in disgust. "I think that's what they're meant to be."
"Is something wrong with them?"
"Not with their strength, per se, and there are some interesting traps and magic spells amongst them, but … they don't feel right."
"Look." He casts them down on the counter with obvious distaste.
Anzu peers at them, and as she does a slow smile spreads across her face. "But these are so cool!"
"You like them?" Yami sounds genuinely surprised, as though it hasn't even occurred to him that the rest of the world might not share his opinion.
"What's not to like? Do you even realise what these are? Man, Pegasus must've gone to a lot of trouble to secure the say-so to release these things. The copyrights alone – and the royalties! I hate to think. Ooh, but here's Gus-Gus the mouse, and Maleficent – she always scared me as a kid – and Sneezy, and Belle, and oh! Look," she waggles a card at Yami, "Dumbo!"
"What in Ra's name is a 'Dumbo'? That looks like a deformed elephant."
"That's because he is a deformed elephant. And way to poop on my nostalgic glee."
"These cards remind me of Leon's deck. Only with more saccharine."
"Of course. Haven't you ever heard of Disney?"
Yami's answer is blunt, no-nonsense, and a little defensive. "No. Should I?"
Anzu's mouth clunks open. "Really? Man, Yuugi has been seriously remiss in his acclimatisation duties. We have to enlighten you. Oh, yes, it's movie time." She refrains from actually rubbing her hands together, instead settling for a shiny grin and a catalogue of movie titles that change Yami's expression from defensive to dismayed.
"You want me to sit through hours upon hours of children's entertainment?"
"It's family fare – universal. It means anyone can enjoy it."
"If what you've told me about them is true, then I most certainly won't." Yami's voice is brutally dismissive.
She frowns a little – but not much. If this were Jounouchi or Honda she would've boxed their ears by now. "Don't be so closed-minded. You'll enjoy yourself. And besides, at my house we have an oscillating fan in each room, and a fridge that makes ice."
Yami folds his arms. "I once ruled over a land of droughts and desert. I can handle a little heatwave."
It stings that he won't even entertain doing it just because she's asking him to, or that the idea of a night in her company doesn't tempt him. But then, he's never given any indication that he reciprocates her feelings. You can't break a promise you never made.
So she hides her hurt feelings with practised ease and shrugs. "All right, but I know for a fact that Yuugi loves Treasure Planet, so he'll want to come over when I ask him. And Jounouchi and Honda will grace us with their presences if I throw in a few tubes of Pringles and some popcorn. We can make it a proper movie night."
Yami visibly wavers. "Aibou?" he murmurs, almost to himself. Then he looks squarely at her. "Will Ryou and his thief be invited?"
"I doubt Bakura would make it pleasant for anyone, and I don't particularly want him knowing where I live. I might ask Ryou, though, as long as he came without his shadow." She shudders at the thought of Bakura's hungry eyes and predatory smirk. He reminds her of striking snakes and sharks when blood hits the water.
Ryou will understand the condition. He's no fan of Bakura, either – understandable, given their history. It bothers him when Bakura just turns up and follows him places, like a bad smell or a lone wolf tracking one, sickly moose, just waiting for it to tire and fall so he can feast on its flesh. Months can go by without one of them sighting him, and then suddenly he appears out of nowhere. Sometimes he's a little banged up, or acting crazier than usual, but nobody really cares enough about him to ask where he's been or what he's been doing. They'd all be quite happy if he disappeared and never came back, but that'd be just too damn simple. Fate hates simplicity where they're concerned, which is why it dumped Bakura in their laps in the first place.
Still, Ryou has developed several clever ways of losing Bakura over short distances, and will be sure to employ one if Anzu asks him to arrive alone.
"Hmmph." Yami frowns a little, and then comes to a decision. He never spends longer deciding things than is strictly necessary – a consequence of duelling, where every slow thought could cost a game, and every game could cost your soul. "I suppose I can indulge your frivolities this once." Sweat runs down his temple, but he doesn't wipe it away. It would be too much like admitting defeat.
"Good." Anzu nods, self-satisfied. He will be in her house – her home. He will be contained within the same walls as her possessions – her kitchen, her lounge, her bathroom, her bedroom. He will watch her DVDs. He will eat her food. This simple knowledge is enough to send a thrill of pleasure through her. Even if he won't admit it, it feels like a victory. She feels the Duel Monsters cards, smooth and new and suddenly significant in her hand.
Everything is a fight with Yami. Conflict seems to flow through his veins – the veins he fought so hard to gain in Egypt, when he refuted the ancient rules of the Ceremonial Duel and demanded mortality instead. He fought to stay where he was, to be a new person – not just Atemu, not just the Other Yuugi, but someone new, someone different, an amalgamation of the two. He fought for them to call him Yami when they slipped and called him something else, determined to be an individual instead of the blank shadow cast by someone else. He fought to create an identity for himself back in Domino, where they feel it all began and where, actually, it all refuses to end. He concedes nothing. He is like iron, glowing hot and cold, able to bend with difficulty, but not break. He's come close before, but he hasn't broken. Even the condition that the cruel and murderous Bakura receive mortality as well didn't break him. He's strong like that.
Thoughts of Egypt invariably bring up reminiscences of the memory world, and all the people they met and saw there. Anzu thinks of them sadly. She knows the versions she saw were only phantoms. The reality of what happened to them was quite different.
Maybe that's why Yami didn't want to go into the afterlife alone. Nothing was as he felt it should be there. Out here, at least, he can forge a new path and be sure it's real – be sure he is real, and not just a pawn in the manipulations of others.
Anzu will be leaving for America soon. She wonders if he will miss her, or whether she'll join the ranks of faces in his long memory once she's out of sight – someone he thinks of fondly, but just that. He will come if she calls, if she needs him, but only as a friend. There's no room in his heart for her as anything else. She sort of hopes she stays in his head longer than, say, the frission of pleasure at winning a duel, but it's hard to tell. Yami isn't exactly easy to read when he doesn't want to be. Yuugi is a children's book, with clear plots and a strong moral overtone. Yami is something from the stack of battered, dusty old books at the back of the library – oddly formal, sometimes very difficult to understand, and carrying around (in its very sentences, words, letters)the constant reminder that this is a book from a previous era.
"Anzu." he breaks into her thoughts by waving a Poisoned Apple trap card under her nose.
"I said Grandpa already gave both myself and Yuugi the evening off on Friday. Would that be suitable for this watching of movies you're so set upon?"
"Oh. Uh, yeah, sure. I think my mom's working that night, so we'd have the house to ourselves."
He doesn't react to this with anything more than polite acknowledgement.
Inwardly, Anzu sighs. Sometimes, she wonders why she listened to that little voice, which struck at that age where ordinary girls begin learning to love dangerous things.
Even if those dangerous things are cranky ex-pharaohs with lacklustre interpersonal skills.