Disclaimer: I do not own any of
the characters presented here and am not making any profit off of
Title: From Business To Pleasure
Word Count: 11,257
Romance: Kaiba Seto x Mazaki Anzu
Notes: This takes place a few years after the Ceremonial Duel and was written for the second season of the Yu-Gi-Oh Pairings Challenge. Comments and criticism gratefully accepted.
Summary: Kaiba Seto never noticed when he fell. He didn't even notice he'd stumbled in the first place.
Kaiba Seto remained as still as a post in his seat, despite being bored out of his mind. His fingers itched to pull out his laptop from the container by his side, but he schooled himself to be patient. As much as he wanted to get some work done, even though there was no actual necessary work at the moment, he couldn't allow his attention to be removed from the stage before him. This, in a way, was work as well: research, to be precise.
Not by so much as a twitch of an eyebrow did he betray his current impatience with how long it was taking for the show to begin. It was annoying enough that he had to be here. It was also no one else's concern what might be going through his mind. He was here to determine if this dance company actually deserved a contract with KaibaCorp or not. That was all anyone needed to know.
He wondered just who it was that had suggested that contract in the first place. The company's manager had sent him an e-mail concerning their offer, but it hadn't mentioned anything about whoever it had been. All that had been said was that it was one of their members who had grown up in Domino City. That only meant it could be one of a few thousand or more people.
The playbill he'd been handed when he'd entered had all the names of the dancers involved in this, and several of the backstage crew as well. He didn't bother looking at it, though. Even if this person had grown up in Domino, there was no guarantee that it would be a name he recognized. Not to mention that he had laid it in the empty chair next to himself when he'd sat down and didn't feel like exerting the effort of picking it up to look through it.
Finally the lights dimmed, and the curtains on the stage pulled back to reveal the setting. Seto's boredom wasn't alleviated in the slightest as the dancers began to emerge, supposedly for the amusement of the audience. He wasn't fooled; they wanted to get paid, just like everyone else did. This simply happened to be the medium they chose to be paid for.
His seat was the best in the house, of course. He wouldn't have anything less than that, regardless of his interest in what was going on. He was Kaiba Seto, he had the best, and that was all there was to it. He wondered if Mokuba would have had a better time with this than he was. Unfortunately, his brother was still in college and wouldn't be home for another couple of months, and this decision couldn't be delayed. I'll have to give him a call, Seto decided. At the least, it would give him someone interesting to talk to again. There had been a decided lack of that since Mokuba had left the mansion.
He watched the show, his interest more in the special effects than anything else, as that was what he was there to decide on. It could work, he slowly began to realize. There had never really been a doubt about that. What he needed to know was if this was worth his time in the first place.
As the dance continued, one of the performers began to attract his attention more than the others. She was incredibly graceful and skilled, no doubt the product of years of training. With her costume and makeup, it was impossible to tell what she really looked like. She had long blonde hair streaming around her as she danced, and brilliant blue eyes. Something about her face underneath the makeup, what little he could see of it, did look a little familiar, though. Maybe I've seen her somewhere before.
By the time everything came to an end, Seto had come to his decision. This wasn't the most talented batch of people he'd ever seen in his life, but given that he'd never bothered to attend ballet or any other kind of theater on a regular basis, that wasn't saying very much. But they could use his company's help.
The curtains had slid shut again by the time he made his way backstage. Dancers and assistants and people of every shape, flavor, and type were running this way and that, doing things that were as incomprehensible to him as he presumed the workings of his company would be to them. He paid no mind to any of them as he made his way to the door that declared behind it lay the manager's office.
Three sharp knocks announced his presence, and a male voice called from beyond the door, "Come in." Kaiba swung the door open and was only mildly surprised to see two people there. One sat behind a desk, while the other was seated in one of a pair of chairs in front of the desk. "Ah, I thought it was going to be you, Mr. Kaiba. I'm Komatsu Saburo. I believe we've communicated via e-mail?"
Kaiba nodded shortly, not looking at whoever was in the other chair. If they were important, then Komatsu would have introduced them. "You want a contract to use my holographic technology in your performances."
"Yes, indeed. I believe it would give us a style and a look that no other dance company currently has. Our trouble has been that most such devices are very unwieldy and require too much effort to carry around with a group like this. But your Duel Disks are capable of creating holographs that don't need all of that machinery."
"It will require a lot of time and effort to modify everything for what you want, but it can be done," Kaiba declared. "Observing your performance has convinced me that it might be worthwhile as well." The publicity potential alone would have convinced him, if nothing else had. "I can have a contract drawn up in a few days."
Komatsu nodded, then glanced at the third person in the room. "Before you leave, I thought you might want to meet the person who suggested this in the first place. She's one of our best dancers. Mazaki Anzu."
If Seto were anyone else, he might've been taken by surprise. As it was, he only nodded slightly and glanced towards the girl. No, not a girl anymore. He hadn't seen her since they'd all left high school, but she was now a woman of twenty-three. She hadn't yet changed out her costume, but the makeup was gone, and so was the blonde wig she had worn. He recognized her now, both as the person he'd vaguely known in high school and the dancer that had attracted his attention while on the stage.
She smiled at him, slightly nervously. "It's been a while, hasn't it, Kaiba?"
"You might say that." He couldn't say he was all that surprised, now that he thought about it. She had made some mention in his hearing once or twice that she wanted to be a dancer when she grew up, and it seemed she'd fulfilled that dream. "This certainly explains why you approached my company, Komatsu."
The manager nodded slightly. "Mazaki has told us many times of KaibaCorp's skill and experience with this technology. She's also been helping us design what we hope they'll be able to do for us, in terms of ideas and the like." Seto wondered what else she'd told him. They had never really been that close, but perhaps it would be interesting to get to know her a little better these days.
"Hey, I've got some free time," Mazaki spoke up, looking at him daringly. "If you want to talk about some of the things we've had in mind for the show, what we want out of the holographs, things like that..."
Seto considered that for a few moments. He had just been thinking of speaking with her on some kind of level, and he didn't have anything else to do that evening. "Very well. My limousine will be waiting in twenty minutes." If she couldn't get ready in that amount of time, he would leave. He pulled himself to his feet, nodded slightly towards them both, and swept out of the room, closing the door behind himself as he did.
A coffee shop would be the best place, he decided as he headed for his limousine It would be neutral territory of a sort, and he was somewhat in the mood for something to drink regardless. He seldom trusted anyone else to get his coffee, or any other drink, for him. No matter how many times he fired people for mistakes of that caliber, they always seemed to get his order wrong. The only way to do some things was simply to do it for himself. That way if a problem did occur, he knew exactly who was to blame for it.
"I'm expecting a guest," he told Arakaki once he was close enough to his limousine "She should be coming out within twenty minutes."
"Very good, sir," the chauffeur bowed his head slightly. "Where shall you be going?"
He considered for a moment, then named the closest coffee shop to the theater that he knew of. "I doubt we'll be there more than half an hour or so." If they couldn't get all the discussion they needed to do done in that amount of time, there were other places that they could go. He preferred not to stay too often where the public could crowd in on him, unless it involved Duel Monsters somehow. His personal space was his personal space, and getting too close to it had consequences.
He settled himself in the limousine, thinking over what he had seen. The dance company was skilled, there was no doubt about it, even though there were others that were better. He might have to invest in them, beyond what he was already planning. It would do his reputation no harm to be seen supporting more arts than just his games. Not that he really cared what other people thought of him, but if it could make other aspects of his life easier, he would do it.
To occupy himself while he waited for Mazaki, Seto pulled his laptop from the case and opened it. He was making plans for the next tournament KaibaCorp would be holding in another few months. He hadn't made up his mind if he were going to participate or not. Perhaps he'd make that decision once he knew if Yuugi were going to be there. There was no use in doing it if the one person who could really give him a challenge wasn't there, after all.
Once he'd fixed a few minor errors in the planning stages, he turned to his work for Duel Academia. That was going better than he'd dreamed it would, even after just three years of existence. Perhaps I should make a personal visit to inspect things? He made a note to do so in the next few months.
That was all he had time to do before Arakaki opened the door again, and Mazaki slid in next to him. "So, where are we going to go?" she asked as the door closed and Arakaki moved around to the front seat.
"A coffee shop I know of," he said calmly, closing the laptop and putting it back in the case. "Do you object?"
She shrugged. "Doesn't bother me. It's been a while since I've had a chance to check any of the places around here out anyway. There's all kinds of places I haven't been before."
He nodded slightly as the limousine began to move out towards the shop he'd chosen. He hoped that talking to her was at least marginally bearable to deal with. Otherwise, he would very much regret the waste of his time and effort.
The worker at the coffee shop had more than likely seen several unusual things during the course of her life in Domino City. They didn't include Kaiba Seto entering with a young lady and walking over to the counter to place an order as if this were something the richest man in the city, if not the country, did on a regular basis.
Kaiba, on the other hand, didn't care if a common coffee shop worker was surprised by his presence or not. He made his usual order, paid for it, and stepped to the side to wait while his companion did the same. He still carried his laptop in one hand; there was always the chance he might have to look up something online at a moment's notice. Also, he was simply used to doing so. His fingers moved about the carrying handle a little as he waited, considering just what they would need to talk about.
This place is rather noisy. And crowded. Perhaps coming here hadn't been the best idea, but he would manage it. If it reached a point where he couldn't work, then they could move the discussions somewhere else that much sooner.
Once they both had their drinks, Seto cast about to find a suitable table that would be out of the way of most of the noise. The best he could find was one in a corner, but it would do. He settled down there, draping his coat across the back of the chair, and looked at her.
"What exactly did you want to do with the show?" he asked, getting down to business. He could only hope that she would be the same way. He had no intentions of getting drawn into some discussion about all of her old friends and what they were doing now or what had happened in the past.
"This is what I had in mind." Kaiba almost breathed a sigh of relief as she responded just the way he'd hoped, sketching out verbally the plans she'd had. They mostly involved using holographic projectors to create more elaborate scenery and such things for the stage productions. It would be fairly easy to adapt something to handle this, and would at most be the work of a few weeks or months, depending on how the circuitry needed to be modified.
He sipped at his drink, thinking over some of the designs. His technicians could do most of it, but he would have to work out the first alterations himself. He was the only one who knew how all of it worked. He intended to teach Mokuba, once his brother got back from college, but for now, it was all him. It was the best way to make certain no one was able to steal his work. Not that people hadn't tried, but he was quite certain none of them had ever succeeded.
"Why did you suggest working with me?" He hadn't exactly thought about asking the question, but now that it was out of his mouth, he wanted to know the answer.
She shrugged a little. "I knew you had what our company needed. Is there something wrong with that?"
"No." He'd worked with a lot of people he didn't like before. This was simply more of the same. On the other hand, they didn't have the most wonderful history together. "But this is you, and this is me."
Mazaki shrugged again. "So? We're buying a product from you, and you're getting publicity and money from us."
Was she being cynical or realistic? Or did it matter? She was honest, no matter what. He appreciated that. The fine shadings of truth that those who called themselves friends often indulged themselves in revolted him more than it didn't. This was much more refreshing.
He finished the last of his drink and disposed of it in the nearest available waste receptacle. He was about to ask if she needed a ride back to the theater when something inside stopped him. Other words came out instead. "I think we need to go into more detail on what kind of scenery you'll need programmed so I know what to work with." What he said next surprised him as much as it did her. "We can discuss it over dinner."
What kind of an idea was that? Not that having coffee together had been that horrible, but that was almost sounding like a date! He mentally shook his head; this was business, nothing more.
To her credit, she didn't stand there and stare at him like some kind of an idiot. He did detect a note or two of surprise in her voice, however. "Why dinner?"
His thoughts raced for a reasonable explanation, and he found one. "Because it's getting a little too noisy in here to discuss things properly, and I want to know what it is I'm dealing with before we get anything signed on paper. It's most convenient to do that in a setting of my choosing, and I choose dinner."
She looked almost as if she were going to smile, or perhaps refuse. If she refused, that was quite all right with him. He could discuss the same things with Komatsu. It might not be quite as interesting, as Komatsu struck him as more of the type to suck up to a higher authority. He preferred someone capable of thinking their own thoughts to deal with, not a parrot in human form.
Seto considered, glancing at the clock. He'd taken in the early show, which meant it was still not that late. Any time would really be appropriate. "How soon can you be ready for it?"
Now she looked at the clock, then looked back at him. "An hour and a half?" That would be eight-thirty or so. It was a little later than he usually liked to eat, but he could deal with it.
"Very well. I'll have the limo sent around for you then." He set his laptop on the table and checked the closest restaurants he knew of that would be most likely to have an opening around that time. In moments, he'd set up a reservation for two at one of his favorites. He didn't eat out very often, preferring his own cook's talents, but when he needed to for some reason, that was where he preferred to go.
He closed the laptop and put it back in the case. "Are you going to need a ride back?"
"I could walk it, but if I'm going to be getting ready, then I'll need all the time I can get." She smiled as she spoke. It was a rather pleasant smile, all things considered, quite unlike the ones he remembered seeing from her to other people. She'd never sent one his way, not that he'd ever cared. Perhaps he would at least find out what some of her friends were doing. There had to be small talk at some point, and he couldn't think of much that was smaller than that. Though she would have to be the one to start talking about them.
He nodded slightly and started out, scooping his coat up as he did. Things were not progressing badly. He hadn't expected some of the turns the day appeared to be taking, but since nothing was out of his control, he was quite fine with them. It was a bit of a spice that he found he enjoyed a great deal more than he had suspected he would. It was almost like a duel. The truly enjoyable part was not knowing what his opponent was going to do next. Granted he could normally figure it out with most people, but this was just different enough so he was pleased not to.
He didn't bother telling her not to think about this as some kind of a date or not to think she would get a bonus of any kind for doing this. If she had a single ounce of brains, or even so much as half an ounce, she would know better. Given that she'd been able to select a career and follow through with it, which was more than roughly ninety percent of the people he had attended school with hadn't yet figured out how to do, he felt confidant that she wasn't that much of a moron. He knew it wasn't a date, and she knew it wasn't one, and if the people who watched didn't know that, it didn't bother him for a moment. They could think whatever they wanted. He knew they were wrong and that alone mattered.
"You know, we're probably going to see this in the papers tomorrow," she said as they got back into the limo. "You know what reporters can be like."
He barely gave it so much as a thought. "If they want to fill their publications with trashy lies, that's their concern, not mine." A real reporter would try to get the real story, unlike most of the idiots who carried cameras and could string two words together vaguely coherently and thought that made them either reporters or writers.
"I've had more than one of their type trying to claim I was dating Yuugi or Jounouchi just because I went out to eat with them. Supposedly I was even cheating on them both. With each other." She rolled her eyes and shook her head. "I love finding out about my own love life from papers I wouldn't buy on a bet."
"I would have thought you wouldn't mind being romantically linked to Yuugi, whether you were or not," he commented. He recalled she'd had a crush on one of them, though for the life of him he couldn't remember which one it had been.
"Maybe once. But not now. He's my best friend, that's all." There was no trace of bitterness there, only something that might have been the remembrance of things long past. He really hoped she didn't want to start telling him, now or later, about how things hadn't worked out with them. Other people's romances didn't interest him at all. Let them deal with it on their own. He had enough to do running his company and raising his brother.
After dropping her off at the theater, he had Arakaki take him back to the mansion. He had his own preparations to be made, and at least one of them would take half of the remaining allotted time. Getting ready for the dinner itself would only take roughly twenty minutes altogether. But calling Mokuba to inform him of the latest project KaibaCorp was about to take on would take a little longer.
"It sounds as if things are working out good there, then." Mokuba's voice was clear as a bell, and his image was just as perfect on the video screen. Seto approved greatly of the latest phone technology. It made talking to his brother almost as interesting as being with him in person.
"I believe so. Perhaps we can consider branching out into the film industry in a few years," Seto said. He ran a comb through his hair as he talked, seeing no reason why he shouldn't combine his preparations with his conversation. It wasn't as if Mokuba hadn't seen him get ready for a dozen or more meetings already. This was no different.
Mokuba nodded. "I bet we could. So, you're going to be talking with Anzu, huh? It's been a while since I've seen her."
"Likewise, at least until today." Seto finished his grooming and checked his suit. Everything looked quite acceptable in his opinion. If Mokuba thought differently, he would have said something already. Since he hadn't, all was well. "I'm certain the tabloids will be drooling all over themselves tomorrow about this." There was a hint of contempt in his voice. If he had the time, he would buy out each of those scandal rags and make something useful of them, such as a bonfire. But giving any of them attention only made them all worse.
His brother said nothing for a few moments, just watched him through the screen. "They'll never learn," he said at last. "If you ever do decide to date someone, they're going to be so shocked they'll probably all die of heart attacks on the spot."
"A lovely thought." Seto smirked briefly, and almost considered turning this business meeting into a real date, just to test Mokuba's theory. It wasn't worth the trouble, sadly enough, or the risk of it being wrong.
Mokuba laughed. "If any of them come asking me, I'll tell them what I always do. That if you were dating, I'd know about it before anyone else. Up to and including whoever you were dating."
Seto chuckled a little, more because of how true it was than anything else. It was entirely possible Mokuba would know even before he himself did. That was how well his brother knew him. He glanced at the time. He still had a few minutes before he had to go. "How are your studies going?"
"Same as always, great. I'll be home next month and you can see my grades then." Seto didn't bother reminding Mokuba that he got a report of his marks regularly. "I've got to go, big brother, there's a study session for a history test getting started soon. I'd tell you not to work too hard, but I know you won't listen to me."
The elder Kaiba sniffed slightly. "It's just a business dinner, Mokuba. It's not as if it's actual work."
"If you say so. I'll talk to you later!" Farewells exchanged, Seto disconnected the call and watched as his brother's image faded to gray nothingness. His fingers caressed the locket around his neck for a moment before he picked up his laptop and headed out for the limousine Being early was never wrong, and much better, in his opinion, than being 'fashionably late'.
This was just a business dinner, he reminded himself once he was settled into the limo again. He still wasn't entirely certain why he'd asked her for it, other than the obvious fact they still had things to work out for the holograph projectors He could have set this task to one of his underlings, but the fact was, he didn't want to. He wanted to be having this dinner with her, as strange and unusual as such a feeling was.
Do I want this to be something more? He examined the thought as dispassionately and as separately as he could. There had to be something he wasn't seeing yet. Yes, she was someone he vaguely knew that he hadn't seen in quite a while. There were several people like that, and he wasn't entirely certain if he would have asked them on something like this. One or two of them he might. If it were Yuugi, he certainly would have, if only to get a feel for how his favorite opponent had changed over the years. It had been too long since they'd had a really good duel, anyway. Even if he couldn't win one, he wanted the chance to try again.
But this wasn't Yuugi. This was Mazaki, who he had barely noticed most of their lives. He'd paid enough attention to know that she was one of Yuugi's friends, and she had briefly worked for him when he'd had Death-T going. She'd been involved somewhat in that whole mess with Battle City as well, before the finals. Other than that, he had never thought much of her. She had just been there, part of the window dressing, like all the others Yuugi collected.
Was there more to her than just being his rival's friend? Obviously there were some things. She was a dancer, a very good one, as he'd seen for himself. If she held any sort of grudge for how he'd treated Yuugi and the rest of their pack during their school years, he hadn't noticed it. Not that it would have interfered in his business negotiations if she had. The fact she hadn't tried to hide from him and pretend someone else had had the idea did interest him. She hadn't shown a bit of hesitance in associating with him all day, either.
That was unusual in and of itself. He had never tried to befriend any of them, and had never felt the lack of it. From what he recalled of her, she surrounded herself with people she called friends. Shouldn't she have been trying to see them while her company was in town, instead of spending any more time with him than she had to?
Of course, he didn't know how long they'd been in town already. She could have already seen them, or have made plans to after today. As long as she still kept up with the obligations to him, it made little difference to him what she did or who she saw. This was, he reminded himself, nothing but business.
The limo drew to a halt, and he heard Arakaki's door shut as he got out and walked around to open the passenger side. It seemed his dinner companion was already waiting. That was good; he hated tardiness in any form. Mazaki entered the limo and nodded briefly at him.
"Nice to see you again," she said, brushing back a few strands of hair. He glanced at her outfit to be certain it was suitable for where they were going and nodded to himself. She at least had some sense of style. That was more than he could say for some of the females that the tabloids had insisted he had paired himself with.
"Spare me the pleasantries," he said. He didn't exactly growl the words, but inanities like that grated against his nerves. He doubted there was anyone other than Mokuba who was ever actually pleased to see him, and pretty lies were nothing more than meaningless words to him.
Mazaki only laughed at his reaction. "Fine, if that's the way you want to be about it." Her words could've had the same edge that his did, but they didn't. Instead, she really and truly seemed to be amused by him. Perhaps being away from Japan for so long had done something to addle her wits. He'd never had that happen to him when he'd traveled abroad, but travel did affect people differently, or so he'd heard.
"I hope you've been thinking about this project," he said after a few quiet minutes. He tapped his fingers against his laptop case quietly. "Once I know everything that needs to be done, I can get to work on the changes I need to make."
"I'm pretty sure I know what we need to do, in detail. And what I don't know, I can figure out fast if I have to." Her own fingers drummed against the seat for a moment or two. "Maybe you can program it so it can be changed, instead of just the same bunch of images? That way we can have more variety if we want it."
That wasn't a bad idea. Not as good as what he would have had, but workable. "I think that can be done." It would make this whole project a little more challenging as well. He liked that. It wasn't an insurmountable obstacle, but a pleasant problem he knew he would solve.
Very shortly they were at the restaurant. Kaiba noticed almost at once there were reporters around. It was hard to miss them, with the way their camera flashes kept going off. Either someone told them that we were going to be here, or we're simply the victims of bad timing. He almost hoped that it was the latter. He didn't want to go to the bother of finding out who had leaked his reservation to the press and make their life a living hell for interfering in his. Not when he had so much else he had to do with this new project, and several of the older ones that hadn't quite finished up yet. One would think people would be a little more considerate of his valuable time.
Mazaki didn't look any happier about the flashing lights and people pressing closer to them than he did. Her temper snapped before his, however, and she glared at the nearest person waving a microphone at her. "No, we are not dating, this is a business dinner. We're negotiating terms for some KaibaCorp products, and that's all you need to know about it! Don't you have something better to do than bother people who just want to eat?"
Seto thought, quite irreverently, that the dumbfounded look on the reporters' faces was an improvement over the nagging expression that they normally wore when he was around. Perhaps he could include a small personal bonus to her for that alone. He would at least consider the thought. It wouldn't last for long; such things never did with reporters. But for the moment, they could at least get into the restaurant and get to their seats without being hassled.
The head waiter showed them to the table that had been reserved and placed the menus in front of them. "I'm terribly sorry for the inconvenience, Mr. Kaiba," he bowed low and humbly before them. "They simply swarmed the entryway just before you were scheduled to arrive. Our manager is so ashamed of himself."
He waved a hand dismissively. "See to it that they're not there when we're done." He began to examine the menu, sparing no more thought for the whole situation. Deciding what he wanted to eat was somewhat more interesting at the moment. As was deciding just how to bring up the topic of seeing one another again, in a less reporter-infested environment. There was, after all, very little like shouting someone down and making a fool of them in public to attract Kaiba's attention.
It was all business. Simply research. He needed to know at least the basics of what they would need, after all. He'd told himself that a hundred times since this whole situation had begun. That was the only reason he made certain he had a seat for as many of their performances as he could manage to fit into his own schedule. He took obsessive notes on how everything worked, along with notations of his own about how to work the holographs with the dancers. It was a challenge that he hadn't had in quite some time, and he loved every second of it.
He seldom spoke to anyone about his sudden interest in the ballet. Or to be precise, in this particular ballet company. He didn't let himself consider any more specifics than that. Publicity, business, that was all it was for him, and all it could ever be. He liked that certainty.
How do I want to handle the publicity? That was a major concern. The ballet company couldn't do it all. They didn't have the skills or the contacts, and it was for his business. That sort of thing was usually the job of the advertising department, but he wanted to be certain it was done right. As always, that meant doing it himself. The outline for what to do, if nothing else.
He hit upon an idea after only a few days of thinking himself into shreds over it. It would have to be a ballet, since that was what the whole point of it all was, but it should be something new and different, something that no one had ever seen before, something that would really show off what his technology was capable of.
Something with her as the star. It only made sense. She was one of the best dancers the troupe had, after all, and if she were the center of it, everything else would shine all the more brightly. Creativity of this sort wasn't his forte, however.
On the plus side, he did know whose forte it was. A single call over to one of the lesser departments was made.
"Sugiyama Kohaku speaking, how may I assist you?" The voice was that of a professional, calm and collected, and the video image was nearly the same, that of a dark-haired woman a little older than he was, seated in a small cubicle. She wasn't quite looking at the video screen when she answered the phone, her attention being more on the laptop before her.
"Sugiyama, this is Kaiba Seto." Seto enjoyed watching his subordinates jump to attention. "I need you to write an original play, to be performed by a troupe of ballet dancers, within two weeks' time. Can you do it?"
She was taken aback a little, but no one survived long at KaibaCorp without being able to adjust quickly and accurately. "I think so. Did you want any particular topic or theme or plot?"
"I'm transferring some data to you now," was Seto's reply as he e-mailed over everything he'd noted about Anzu's dance style, as well as that of the other dancers. "It should take all of this into account. This young lady should be the star of it." He included a recent photograph of Anzu he had on file, for the sake of clarity.
Sugiyama's lips twitched just a little as she nodded, glancing at the image for a moment. "Yes, sir. I'll get on it right away."
"See that you do. I'll have someone get in touch with you concerning the music and choreography." Seto cut the phone call as soon as the words were uttered. Sugiyama Kohaku was normally only part of Human Resources, but he'd seen scraps of writing she'd done here and there. Using her would save time and effort in hiring someone who would complain about artistic license and all the rest of that nonsense.
It would take quite a bit of time before everything was ready, sadly enough. Even if the new story, complete with all the special effects, background music, and everything else that went along with such a production, were ready in two weeks, it would take longer than that for the troupe to cast it properly, then go into rehearsals, and to integrate their work with his new technology. But he was used to things like that. He sent off an e-mail to Komatsu, updating him on his plans, and settled back in his chair, turning his attention to other matters of business.
Try as he might, however, something else kept probing at the back of his mind. For accuracy's sake, it was actually someone else: Mazaki Anzu. She had somehow crept into the corners and crevices of his mind where no one else had ever been, and he had no idea of when, why, or how. He tried not to think that much about her, but whenever he had nothing else on his mind, she kept cropping back up in the most annoying way.
He would have cut off all contact, just to see if that did anything, but unfortunately, it wasn't possible at the moment. There were several different performances that the troupe did that he needed to know as much about as he could, which meant regular dinners and meetings to get all the details. He felt on occasion that not only could someone else have done this, but it wasn't quite necessary to know as much as he was learning about it. He could have simply programmed different versions of scenery and let the manager, or whoever he wanted to be in charge of the machinery, handle switching it around.
Instead, he talked with her more and more, taking reams of notes, and somehow learning more about what she'd been doing over the past few years than he'd ever intended. She'd mentioned some of the others she'd hung around with a few times, though not much of it had really sunk into his brain. Yuugi, he already knew, was running his grandfather's Game Shop, though it had expanded a little. He was in business with Otogi Ryuuji and Bakura Ryou, with Duel Monsters, Dungeon Dice Monsters, and Monster World being the three hallmarks of their trade. Kaiba had already known that, however. He was considering making them some offers in another year or two, just to see if they would consider them. If they didn't, that was fine. He didn't need their works to keep himself in business.
There were other things they talked about during lulls in their work discussions as well. Once they'd even gotten on the subject of movies they preferred and dinners they enjoyed. He was not surprised to find that she enjoyed more traditional foods, whereas he enjoyed a good imported steak on a regular basis.
Perhaps I should invite her over for something here once. It wasn't something he'd ever done for any of his other business associates. Anzu was different, in a way he had yet to define to himself. There was a definition. There always was one. He just didn't know what it was yet. He reassured himself repeatedly that he would know, sooner or later. It couldn't be anything harmful. He could identify a harmful person from a mile or two away. The mere thought that she could do anything to hurt him was laughable. If he'd wanted to laugh, which he didn't.
Still and all, the thought of asking her to the mansion for dinner was a very pleasant one, and he gave deeper and deeper consideration to it. He was certain Mokuba wouldn't object, even if he were there to do so in the first place, so the main obstacle was out of the way. Anzu made up her own mind about things, so if anyone she knew might've raised a protest, she wouldn't listen unless she herself didn't want to accept his invitation.
Which left the last question: would she want to do it? He would have to find out, and the only way that he could, would be to simply ask her. The decision made, he picked up his cell phone and dialed her number. She'd given it to him after their first business dinner, in case he'd needed to get back in touch with her about anything. It was quite convenient that he had, as it turned out. He'd needed to get in touch several times.
"Hello, Anzu speaking," she answered after two or three rings. "Did you want another business lunch, Kaiba?"
"No. I was calling to ask if you would like to come over to the mansion tonight for dinner." He was short and to the point. Why waste time with petty words?
There was silence on the other end for almost thirty seconds. He had never really cared that much for the Millennium Items or the unusual abilities that those who possessed them had exhibited. But if Pegasus and his Eye had been there at the moment, he might have considered asking to find out what was going through her mind just then.
"What time?" She finally said, and another person might've sighed with relief at her acceptance. Kaiba only checked his watch.
"Seven-thirty." He would have to call home to have his cooks arrange something special. He had noted all the foods she'd mentioned she preferred the most, and they would be easily acquired, along with a few things he suspected she might like once she tried them. He wanted to tell her about what he was having written for her as well. He was certain she would appreciate it. "I'll send the limo and Arakaki for you."
"I'll see you then." Was there a trace of pleasure in her voice at those words? It was hard for him to be entirely certain. He wasn't used to most people being happy to talk to him.
"Good-bye." He clicked the phone off and put it down, wishing that cell phones were at the same point landline phones were video-technology wise. It would have been useful to be able to see her when he asked. He mentally shrugged; it didn't matter in the end. He had asked, she said yes, and now it was going to happen. He reached for his desk phone and put in a call to his staff at the mansion, letting them know there would be a guest for dinner and what he wanted them to serve.
Once that was done, he started to work all the more sincerely on several of the projects he had laid out before him. He wanted to be certain nothing came up to interrupt him during his dinner. Generally no one tried; he'd been known to fire people for bothering him with work when he didn't want to be bothered. He had precious little free time as it was, and he guarded it as jealously as he did his Blue Eyes White Dragons.
Kaiba Seto prided himself on being able to focus on whatever it was he wanted without hesitation, until he accomplished whatever goal it was that he had, or he became convinced for some reason that it wasn't possible. When he'd wanted to free himself and his brother from Gozaburo, he had focused on that thought for six years, until he'd succeeded at it. When he'd wanted to defeat Yuugi in a fair and honest duel...well, he was still working on that one, though he'd let up a little. That was one of those goals that could take a while. He was willing to wait even more for it, and somewhere underneath the desire to win was the desire to keep playing even more. That was something he only acknowledged to himself in the dark of the night, however, in that time when truths can be said that are too terrifying and too deep for the daylight hours.
While what stirred within him in regards to Mazaki Anzu was not quite as deep or disturbing or unreal as that, it was strong enough and intense enough that he chose not to think about it unless he felt he had to, or unless he consciously chose to.
Such as now, when they were eating dinner. He'd arranged for the meal to take place in the smaller dining area, the one where he and Mokuba habitually ate. The larger ones were used on those rare occasions several other people came over, which tended to be once every few years or so. He wasn't exactly the kind of person who preferred lots and lots of company, after all. This room was small, comfortably furnished, and allowed for privacy from the help. KaibaCorp help knew better than to eavesdrop anyway. The story of how he'd dealt with the traitors in his employ on his return from Duelist Kingdom was legendary. He'd made certain any new hires knew about it, too. It was part and parcel of the orientation meeting before they began work.
He wanted to figure out exactly what it was that he was feeling for her. This had somehow evolved from something more than a business relationship. It didn't feel as if it were the kind of weakness he despised in so many others. On the contrary, it made him feel stronger to know that he could talk to her about some things. She had never been an older sister, or a younger one for that matter, but when he spoke to her of the concern he felt for Mokuba being away, she listened, and he saw the light of understand in her eyes. When he mentioned certain business troubles, she still listened, even if she didn't grasp them the way he did, and just talking frequently was able to help him deal with it.
"I'm having a performance written for your company," he said when they were halfway through the meal. "It's to provide publicity for you and for me. It's designed especially for the holographic additions. I don't expect it to be ready to perform for several months, given rehearsals and the like, but I thought you might want to know, as it's going to center around you."
Anzu stared at him, frozen for a moment or two. "It's going to what?"
Did she have some kind of a hearing deficiency? He was certain he'd spoken clearly enough. "I said that it's going to center around you. I've seen how well you can dance. I've sent all the information on your troupe to the writer I chose, so they'll be certain everything is tailored correctly."
She took several long breaths, and he wondered if perhaps he should have waited til she wasn't eating to tell her. "Oh." That wasn't exactly the reaction he'd expected.
Shock, he decided to himself. There couldn't have been anyone else who had ever ordered something like this for her. That was quite all right with him. Breaking new ground was what he did best.
"So, I heard you're going to be sponsoring another tournament?" she asked after a few minutes of silent eating. He nodded briefly.
"The next generation of Duel Disks is ready to be released, and there have been several hundred new cards released in the last two years. A tournament is the perfect place to see how the two interact." He still hadn't made up his mind on if he were going to take part in it or not. So far, Yuugi hadn't signed up, but that didn't mean he wouldn't at the last minute. Perhaps if I do, he will as well? The thought teased pleasantly at his mind, and he decided to go through with it.
She nodded a little. "I heard from Jounouchi that he's planning on entering it."
"I'm not surprised." He didn't bother to sneer. The blond entered any and every tournament that KaibaCorp or anyone else had. It was how he'd funded his way through college. His luck is apparently holding. Bah. Kaiba turned his thoughts away from the minor irritant that was Jounouchi Katsuya and to something much more interesting. "How long is your troupe in Domino City for?" He hadn't bothered to ask before, but now he found himself curious. It was amazing what not wanting to think about people could do for one's conversational talents.
"Just another couple of weeks. Then we're going on again." She toyed a little with some of the food on her plate. He knew she knew that he had been at every performance since that first one. "We'll be leaving Japan in a few months. We have some shows scheduled in Europe. Paris, Milan, that sort of place."
He mentally calculated how long the flight between Domino and Europe was, and what sort of hotel he could install himself at. "You like traveling like that, don't you?"
"It's wonderful!" Her eyes lit up as she spoke, and her voice took on much more animation. The corners of his lips turned up ever so slightly at the sound and he made a note to find out more things he could do that would cause this reaction. "I've seen so much of the world. It does make it a little hard to keep in touch with everyone, but I manage. E-mail's a wonderful thing." She brushed back a few strands of hair from her face and smiled. "Sometimes I miss Domino, but I don't know if I ever want to come back here to stay. It's a good place, but I'm not sure if it's my place."
He nodded slightly, though he had never shared the feeling. "I would never want to be anywhere else." Domino was his home, no matter what. Enough good and foul things had happened to him here to never want to leave it for any great length of time.
"I know. I couldn't imagine you being anywhere else. You and Domino..." She waved a hand between the two of them, trying to convey with a motion what words were failing to say. "You're just part of each other. You're supposed to be here, and it's supposed to be here for you." He couldn't disagree, even if he had wanted to. She was right, after all.
Seto sipped thoughtfully at his wine. He seldom had much, and tonight was no different. The pleasant burning within him didn't feel as if it were a product of the alcohol. Rather, all indications were that it came from the fiery young lady seated only a short distance away. He couldn't be certain without more time spent both around and away from her, to discover the differences. It was not an unpleasant thought.
The silence stretched out between them. He didn't find anything unpleasant in it. He'd never much liked speaking for the sake of speaking. He had no idea of what her opinion on the subject was, but at least there was no mindless chatter coming as she finished off the last of her dessert. She glanced up at him briefly once she was done.
"I enjoyed this," she said at last, flicking her fingers towards the empty plates. She glanced around the room a little, settling back into her chair. "This really isn't what I expected this place to look like, you know." She laughed. "I'm not sure what I expected. Jounouchi and Yuugi told me how big it was, but...I still couldn't imagine it."
"I've redecorated since they were here," he said, thinking back to how different things had been in those days. He had been different then. Were things changing again now? Was she the one bringing the change, in an entirely different style than what he was used to? "There've been a lot of changes."
"I know." Unspoken between them was so much. She had been there when his heart had been shattered at Death-T, and she had stared fearlessly into his eyes at Duelist Kingdom. He had considered her a fool then, with her talk of a chip of life and all the rest. There had been more truth in the words than he'd realized at the time. How much of the turning points of his life had she been a witness to? More than he had realized, perhaps.
She had never mocked him for any of his actions, only unleashed the fire of her tongue, and he'd met it with his own. Every time he thought of that, he liked it, and her, better and better. Someone who was capable and strong, who wouldn't challenge him in the areas he knew he was the master of, but who could challenge him in other areas. The thought of someone who crumbled under his temper revolted him, and someone who ignored him wasn't worth his consideration. But someone who could match him word for word...that he wanted, and hadn't even known that he wanted it until now.
Until he had found someone like that, in a person he would never have suspected or even looked at if this strange turn of events hadn't happened.
It wasn't what he'd expected when this had begun, but expectations had a way of changing, he'd come to understand over the years. He could understand that. He could accept that. Had she had any idea, when she had thought of contacting him for her company, of what all of this would turn out to be? She couldn't have. He hadn't, and he was used to thinking of all the possible outcomes to any situation. He might have looked over this one, but as annoying as it was, even he couldn't be perfect all the time.
Though the surprise result was a fairly interesting one, he had to admit, to himself if no one else. If he had known ahead of time, he wondered if he would have accepted the offer, or passed it to one of his underlings to deal with.
Slowly but surely, he began to realize that he wouldn't have. Everything that had happened was too interesting to pass up, and everything that might happen was too tantalizing to miss out on.
He didn't have to go back to the hotel where the troupe had been staying with her. But he did it anyway. He did as he chose, and if he wanted to accompany her, then so he would do, and so he did.
There were few words spoken as Arakaki drove. If she felt anything like what he felt, she made no mention of it. But he noticed her hand lay on the seat. It wasn't truly reaching for his. She could have just let it lay there for lack of anything else to do. She had a small purse with her, but it had been placed in her lap. She could have put that hand on it, or in her lap, but instead, it lay there. In invitation? He accepted it, regardless of whether that was what she meant or not.
He laid his hand on hers, folding his fingers around her own. He wasn't used to touching other people, much less being touched by them. Her hand was warm, smaller than his own, but there was strength there, and he felt her fingers tightening around his.
Seto looked at her, their eyes meeting as she turned towards him. For a moment, her gaze dropped to their joined hands, then she looked back up at him, a hint of challenge in her smile.
"You feel warm," she said at last. "I don't think there's many people who'd believe that."
He snorted ever so softly. "If they want to be wrong, I don't care." There were few opinions that mattered. The majority of humanity's didn't. Not to him. He was quiet for a while, watching the lights of the city moving past them. He'd ordered Arakaki not to rush. He wanted this to take as much time as he could, without actually dragging things out. He did not want to rush this. He would never rush this. "Let me know when you're going to be leaving Domino. I'll have to make some reservations, I believe."
She looked at him a little curiously. "Reservations?"
"At whatever hotel you'll be staying at. I don't intend to miss a show." There was something that way have been a smile on his lips, and she returned it wholeheartedly, her eyes as brilliant as they had been during dinner. Yes. He was really going to have to find ways to make that happen again and again.
Far too soon, in his opinion, the limousine drew to a halt, and moments later, Arakaki opened the door. "We're here, sir, ma'am."
Seto stepped out of the limousine, not releasing Anzu's hand as he did. She didn't appear to be any more eager to let go than he was as they started towards the hotel door. He glanced at his driver briefly. "Wait here." It was a useless notion but he intended to walk her straight to her suite room door. It would cause him no harm, and would give both of them a great deal of pleasure.
The doorman didn't bat an eye as the two of them approached the entryway hand in hand. Seto knew he had seen Anzu getting out of the limo several times over the last few weeks, but this was the first time he himself had joined her. He made a mental note to watch the tabloids again. A few annoying pictures and articles had been printed when they'd had their first business dinner together, but now with fodder like this, there was bound to be more. He wouldn't put it past this doorman, or anyone else they saw who didn't actually work for KaibaCorp and thus valued their job and reputation, to attempt to sell some version of events to eke out their paycheck a little farther.
For now, however, the doorman simply opened the door when they were close enough, and bowed slightly as they entered. There were a few members of the dance troupe scattered in the lobby, mostly talking to one another or to other people there, more than likely fans or groupies or whatever it was that dancers had. A few heads turned, and gasps echoed all over the area as they saw just who had entered.
Anzu glanced at them, an amused tilt to her lips as they headed for the elevators. "What?" she asked, grinning. "Didn't you ever see someone walk into a hotel before?"
The looks they both got were priceless. Seto almost wished he were the type to pull out his cell phone and use it to get some pictures, just to preserve them for all time. His memory would have to suffice. Perhaps some of those tabloids would even be kind enough to have some shots, sooner or later, that he could clip out and save for his amusement and Mokuba's later.
As entertaining as that was, it was still something of a relief to enter the elevator and find that they were the only ones there. He supposed that he could let her hand drop at any time. That, more than anything, was probably what had startled so many people. It was a gesture of intimacy that signaled a strong relationship to many people, especially given that one of the participants was he himself. Again, he brushed off the common expectations and did as he chose. Which meant in this case, that he didn't stop holding her hand.
"They should all know about the new performance that's being written," he said as they rode up. "I informed your manager about it after I arranged for it."
She nodded a little. "I don't know how they're going to take it, though. I'm not exactly the most senior dancer or anything. That's how it goes a lot of the time."
"They'll deal with it." His tone was flat and without emotion or compromise. He would have her be the star of the first show written to include his holographs, and that was final. "If they have a problem with my decisions on how to best present my investment, you or Komatsu can inform them to approach me about it." Perhaps it would be better if he simply purchased the whole troupe to start with. It might cut down on some of those annoyances who thought they knew better than he how to deal with certain things. He made a note to have his people look into it. The sooner this was settled the better. Perhaps then he could also arrange for a few shows near Mokuba's college. He wanted his brother to see just what KaibaCorp was getting into, as well as meeting Anzu again. It had been a while since they had seen one another, and he had the impression that they had gotten along fairly well in the past.
The elevator doors slid open with their usual chime, and they stepped out. Her suite was two hallways away from here, which pleased Kaiba very much. Still joined by their hands, they started down the hallway. One or two people passed them, once some other hotel guest, another time one of the housekeeping staff. If they thought anything strange of what they saw, they were at least courteous enough to keep it to themselves. Kaiba approved; he had had more than enough of people staring and commenting on his actions.
"I have rehearsal tomorrow night," she said as they turned down a corridor. "But I'm free the day after."
"I have some details to get taken care of for my tournament," he mused thoughtfully. "But I think I can find some spare time that day. I'll let you know when it is."
"And I'll let you know if I'm free when you are," Anzu retorted lightly, her eyes twinkling merrily. His heart did not skip a beat or anything maudlin and inane such as that. But those who looked closely and knew him well enough (which at the moment meant only Mokuba) might have noticed a little more amusement in his expression than was usual.
There were no further plans made. That could be done once they both knew just how much time they had to spend with one another. Seto was a master of making plans at the last minute, and having them come off perfectly. Now that he'd decided to join his own tournament, he would have to work that around this new part of his life. It wouldn't be very hard. Perhaps she would like an invitation to watch things from a special viewing area. He would make the arrangements when it drew closer to tournament time. He knew better than to ask if she would cheer for him or for someone else. He wouldn't need the distraction. It was entirely possible that the fact of her being there would be enough of one. A not unpleasant one, but one all the same.
Far too soon they stood outside of her suite door. Seto flexed his fingers in hers for a moment, unwilling to release her, knowing that he would have to. He had never done well with giving up anything that he truly wanted. He looked down at her, noting absently that she hadn't grown very much since they were in high school. He was, and always would be, taller than she was. It was a meaningless thought, but he held onto it, as he would all those that related to her in some fashion.
Anzu looked up at him, that same challenge and fire burning in her eyes that he knew smoldered in his own. He didn't know which one of them moved first. Maybe neither of them had. She leaned up and he leaned down and their lips brushed lightly across one another for the space of a single heartbeat.
It was a kiss that didn't satisfy either of them, and before they had parted for a second, they were each back for another, deeper, stronger, longer, more intense. She was in his arms, and they were around her, and he drank in every moment, knowing there would be times to come when they weren't together, and he would want every memory he could have and then some.
When they finally did separate, neither did what some may have expected. They didn't pretend it hadn't happened. Satisfaction and contentment gleamed from both pairs of blue eyes. Each heart felt just a little more full, a little more well placed in the world, as if the missing part of a puzzle had clicked into place at last.
"We'll have to do that again," Anzu said, and he nodded, that faint tilt of his lips that was his smile occurring once more.
"I agree," was all he said in response. "Good night, Anzu."
She turned to her door, reaching into her purse for the card that would open it, then looked back at him. "Good night. Seto." There was the faintest hint of hesitance about that last word, uncertain if she could call him that. He only nodded briefly, enough to grant that permission, and her smile brightened a little more.
As the door closed behind her and he turned to go back to the elevator, and the limo waiting below, Kaiba Seto knew that he would see her again, no matter how much she had to rehearse or how much he had to work or where she had to go for a performance or what he had to do for his company or his dueling. It was what he wanted.
And Kaiba Seto always got what he wanted.