Disclaimer: Not mine. I'm only borrowing them for a bit. I won't get their strings tangled, I promise.

A/N: Request-fic for Azurite, who asked for Seto/Anzu and the theme 'fried rice.' This marks my first time writing these two as a couple, so please be gentle. They're in a strange place. The title comes from one of Aesop's fables (which can be found at http / en . wikipedia . org / wiki / The underscore North underscore Wind underscore and underscore the underscore Sun) Many thanks to the novels Wide Open by Nicola Barker and Valhalla by Tom Holt, both of which gave me some Important Ideas to noodle with.

Continuity: No real spoilers, but probably set post-series.

Feedback: Very much appreciated. As I said, I'm an Azureshipping virgin, so feedback would be mucho terrific.

The North Wind and the Sun

© Scribbler, July 2006.

She's waiting for the others when he appears, suddenly blocking her sunlight and casting the wooden table in shadow. She's eating egg-fried rice from a plastic container – pink, emblazoned with a motif of red hearts. He remembers this later, as though it's somehow significant.

Her chopsticks pause halfway to her mouth, not raising any further but not falling either. There's a lot of who she is in that tiny action. "Yes?"

He's a lot less blinkered than people think he is. He watches the world, always waiting for his moment, and then strikes with all the ruthlessness of a coiled snake. He sees what others don't want him to see. He understands all about weakness – mostly how to exploit it, but also how to recognise and catalogue it. He does this so he won't ever fall prey to it himself. He can't afford to.

And yet, here he is: clean-cut blue lines of a school uniform, regulation briefcase, neatly combed hair. Conformity is trying to swallow him. He fights against it the only way he knows how – by immersing himself and destroying the façade from the inside out. He was the high school dropout. Never mind that he runs a multinational corporation with an annual profit margin that's more than the economy some developing countries – people look at him and see that much. How capable can he be, they ask, how fit for the job, if he never even finished a basic education? He can't afford for his reputation to be undermined that way – or any way. And so he fights.

She doesn't. She seems to revel in her conformity. Her desire to fit in, to be accepted, is nauseating in its openness. She doesn't seem to care that she risks becoming static, or that anyone could take advantage of her naïveté. Neither does Yuugi, but he's different. Yuugi isn't fixed. He's all things to all people. He's implausibly good-hearted, but he's malleable. That's how he's survived, and that's the disease that's slowly devouring him. She, on the other hand, has it in her to be cruel. She hates to acknowledge it, but underneath her pretty words and fine speeches, under her loud morals and traditional values, under her skin, she can be just as ruthless as him.

He has his own moral set-up, his own fears and beliefs, which are multifaceted, rich and comprehensive. They're simply well hidden, like potatoes – several feet under. Central to this is that he doesn't try to disguise who he is. You can't survive that way in this world. He knows it. In fact, he prides himself on being shut up, frugal with his emotions, never spending more than he has to, so that the occasions he does show them mean more. The rest of the time he is like an oyster, or a beach hut in Winter: all bolted, all boarded, and only a few with the right key to unlock him. He is like the bright lips of an old wound – resolutely sealed.

For this reason she unnerves him. She keeps reaching for him, and no matter how many times he slaps her hands away, they always reach out again. Yuugi's do the same, but there's less suspicion to be portioned to him. Yuugi is wide open. He's proved himself. He is (almost) above suspicion.

She is not. He doesn't trust her motives in trying to reach for him. He's heard her tell him what she really thinks before (wet-faced, snarling, the fractured breeze of the battlements at his back). He thinks that maybe she does, too, and so is trying to compensate now that he's proved his worth and redeemed himself in her eyes.

He doesn't need her pity, her moralistic speeches, or her softhearted gestures. He's survived this long without them. He believes that each person can only live one life, and that nothing in him can now be different than how it is. He ignores her insistencies that he has changed already. He is a closed book, his pages permanently fused together – and yet she keeps trying to take him down from the shelf and read him. She has no right. She isn't welcomed, and neither are her efforts. It isn't her place to open him up.

Still, the duality of her nature … intrigues him. She brims with confidence, with humour, and with goodwill. Her voice is loud; she's unafraid of the bigness of her own personality. She's a competent, can-do girl – overbearing, interfering, adventurous. At the same time she exudes a self-doubt and callousness comparable to lightning in a Summer sky. It divides her, forking outwards, towards her wrists and ankles and face. She denies a part of herself, burying it under good intentions and compassion. Yet, like a corpse in a pond, it always rises to the surface eventually. She is not a saint, as Yuugi would have him believe. She is bossy and self-absorbed and meddlesome. She doesn't understand the word 'no'. She labours under the delusion that she can fix the world – that the world needs fixing. She doesn't see what's right in front of her, or else chooses not to. She is foolish. She is confusing. She is human. She is flawed.

He finds himself thinking of her when she's not around, and then chastising himself for it. He doesn't alter his route through the school corridors (straight-backed, long-legged strides, students moving aside to let him pass), but when he runs across her he watches her movements from the corner of his eye. And when she looks at him, looks into him like Isis Ishtar tried to, he wonders what she sees.

He's never cared what others thought about him before (except for Mokuba, whose opinion matters more than even his own, when he listens to it). He almost hates himself for it now.

Except that he's never been driven to hating himself by anyone. He is who he is. He is who he has to be, answerable to nobody. He is who he was made to be. He's a brother. He's a protector. He's an executive. He's a duellist. He's a winner. He would kill for those things, he thinks. They're his component parts. Without them, he's nothing. What he isn't is what she thinks he is.

She's downright maddening in her refusal to accept that she's wrong.

In a game of chess, what piece would she be? The Queen to Yuugi's King? The Knight? Or perhaps she's something else entirely. Perhaps she's just a pawn (small, insignificant, identical to so many others). He'd like her to be a pawn, but somehow he doubts that she is. That would be too simple. Pawns can be pushed around; they don't do the pushing. She pushes him, shoves him like she shoves those blockheads she hangs around with. But he isn't like them, will never be like them (weak, driven by tasteless sentiment, pathetic). So he pushes back, but he can't overcome the feeling that this is actually what she wants, what she asked from the Other Yuugi while he was still around.

He refuses to be second best.

He refuses.

Yuugi is the kind of boy good girls take home and marry. Maybe, given time, he might change her mind about what she thinks she wants from life.

Unlikely, though.

Yuugi won't get the chance.

She's still looking up at him expectantly. Her lips are moist with grease.

He stares at her for a moment. Then he lays a hand flat against the tabletop and leans down, invading her personal space. She doesn't draw back, but her grip on her chopsticks stiffens. She is not intimidated. She's angered by the display.

"You didn't give me anything," he bites off. "I took it."

Her eyes tighten. Her jaw juts out from the smooth coastline of her face. She speaks slowly, and with the air of someone wrestling back her temper with both hands and a cattle prod. "If that makes you feel better, then you go right ahead and think that."

He doesn't dignify this with a reply, but instead stares hard at her. She stares right back, eyes the obdurate blue of a revolver's barrel.

He leaves only when he is ready to do so (abruptly, movements sharp, line of sight sharper). He's pleased with the power-plays in this exchange, but he wants to seal this interlude. He wants it contained, as if it will harm him if it's allowed to roam free.

"Seto!" she calls after him.

He stops, swivels his head, fixes her with a stare that could melt fillings in the mouth. She's broken the rules again. And he … has let her.

Damn it.

Still scowling at him, she proffers her lunch. "I've packed too much, and the guys will be ages. You want to share with me?"

He doesn't so much greet the statement with open arms as crunch it into an armpit-lock and squeeze until the jerking stops. He sneers at the offering, like a vengeful god displeased with what's been laid on his altar. His own lunch makes this effort contemptible. It's obviously homemade. Quite possibly she did it herself. The stereotypical female domesticity grates on him at a quantum level.

She glares fiercely at him. The effect makes Darth Vader's lung-paralysing scowl look like a cheerful smile from a four-year-old.

And he turns again, sits down on the graffiti-covered bench, and snatches the chopsticks from her hand without so much as a 'thank you'.