Pairing/Characters: This story is gen, with hints of azureshipping.
Word Count: 8 920
Story Rating: PG-13/T for blood, some suggestive incidents, language, and discussion of child abuse.
Story Summary: Anzu and Kaiba end up stuck in a room together. Things happen.
Disclaimer: Anything you recognise? Totally not mine.
Spoilers: For Duelist Kingdom and the beginning of Battle City.
Warnings: There is description of bodily injury. If you're not so hot on blood, watch out.
Feedback: Yes please. This is my first het piece in nine years. Concrit is appreciated.
Special Thanks/Dedications: For T.K. Yuy, who encouraged me to write this.
This is what happened.
It wouldn't have occurred, Anzu thought, if she hadn't spent so much time being friends with Yuugi. Yuugi, though incredibly sweet and the very definition of honest, had a way of attracting all kinds of trouble, and after being around him for so long she was starting to think his unfortunate tendency had rubbed off. And so when Anzu went with him to cheer him on as the defending champion in the second bi-annual Duelist Kingdom tournament – a tournament she was pretty sure Industrial Illusions was only holding because they'd realised they could make incredible amounts of money by charging an entry fee – it should have come as no surprise when she ended up in an unbelievable fix.
The catch, of course, was that she wasn't in this fix alone, and the ever-resourceful Yuugi was completely oblivious to her situation, dueling his heart out in a room somewhere in what had once been Pegasus' castle.
It started when she slipped out of the large room, once a ballroom and now a dueling arena, so she could find a bathroom. She'd been following Yuugi around all day, first through the last few general rounds and then into quarterfinals, and with the exception of a quick stop for a box lunch she'd simply been running all over the castle from arena to arena, watching Yuugi flatten one duelist after another. It was high time for a quick five-minute break.
She was on her way back to the arena when a voice stopped her.
"I thought this area was for duelists only."
"I'm here with Yuugi," Anzu answered, not even bothering to turn around. So she'd walked out the wrong door to get to the bathroom – big deal! She'd been watching Yuugi's bag anyway. If anyone wanted to throw a fit all she'd have to do was flip up the top and show them Yuugi's name and entry number pinned carefully to the inner flap. Only Kaiba could find a way to make an official duelist's guest look like an idiot.
"Pets aren't allowed in the arena, Mazaki."
If she'd simply pushed past him, gone down the hallway, and walked back through the door, it wouldn't have happened, Anzu thought ruefully as she brushed dust off her skirt. But instead she'd spun around, furious, and Yuugi's lifelong curse manifested itself once again.
"Coming to cheer on a friend doesn't make me somebody's pet, Kai-"
And then Kaiba's name turned into a scream, because she'd stamped her foot directly on the tiny black button hidden carefully in a miniscule slit in the carpet, and then they were both falling.
Kaiba, the heavier of the pair, landed first. Anzu heard a sharp crack, and then she was sitting next to him on a dusty floor and trying to pull her skirt back down without making it too obvious.
"Where are we?"
There was no answer. Anzu turned her eyes away in a random direction – it didn't really matter which, since the fairy-gleam of light from the trapdoor did not extend down the full twelve or so feet to where they sat. If Kaiba wanted to ignore her, she could deal with that. What she couldn't deal with was not knowing where she was, and so after catching her breath from her less-than-graceful landing she got up, held her hands out in front of her to avoid running into anything in the darkness, and began feeling for the walls.
Thirty very small steps marked the room from side to side, forty-four from the back to the locked door at the front. If she'd had a torch she could have measured better, but Yuugi's bag didn't have one – only a couple of bottles of water, a few snacks, and a change of clothes. Even so, she estimated the room to be perhaps six feet in both directions – maybe seven feet from front to back.
"This is weird," she said fervently, hoping Kaiba would say something in return. Something. Anything. Just something to remind her she wasn't alone in the dark in a room that smelled like it hadn't been touched since Pegasus' departure.
He said nothing.
Anzu turned around, irritated. She knew Kaiba wasn't big on teamwork, but if they were supposed to get out of here, she was going to have to be able to rely on him at least a little. The castle was huge. She didn't fancy having to wait until someone walked down the duelists' corridor and found a random trapdoor open in the middle of the floor.
"It's small down here."
The tone in Kaiba's voice was not one Anzu liked. It was the carefully calm tone of someone on the verge of hysterics, and with her attention no longer diverted by the strange textured pattern on the walls Anzu could hear his breathing. She did not like its sound, either.
"A little," she admitted. "I think there might be shelves here. It's not as small as it looks."
"We have to get out of here."
Anzu heard the knife-edge of panic slipping into his voice, the heavy sounds as he pushed himself up off the floor, the sharp cry when he realised something had been broken by the fall. He sank back to the floor.
Anzu shuffled to his side, trying very hard not to kick him. Already she had a sneaking suspicion about what was going on.
Please please please tell me I'm wrong. Please tell me he's just a little freaked out because he went from standing in the middle of a bright hallway teasing me to sitting in a dark room with a broken whatever-it-is in about two seconds flat. I can deal with that. But if it's –
Anzu got down on her knees next to him, not letting her mind finish the thought.
"We're going to suffocate in here."
"Kaiba-kun – "
"There's not enough air for two people. They're not going to come for us. They won't know where to look."
Anzu took a deep breath. Kaiba wasn't just talking anymore; his words were practically tripping one over the other, his voice rapidly growing both louder and higher in pitch. Soon, Anzu thought, he'd start to scream.
The words stopped. Anzu let out a breath she hadn't been aware she could still be holding. She'd been taking the wildest of bets in the hope of cutting through the haze of panic she could practically see building itself around him, and against all odds it had paid off.
"Listen to me. Look up. The trapdoor's still open. We'll have plenty of air, and the castle's practically swarming with people right now. So we might end up sitting here for a couple of hours – so what? Sooner or later Yuugi's going to go looking for me. He's going to be worried when I don't come back, and I took his bag, so he's going to know I didn't just go out the other door and get separated from him." Anzu ignored the paper-thin logic in that last statement, and hoped Kaiba wouldn't be quite aware of it. Her current goal was to calm him down, not to be rational herself. "They'll do a search of the castle. All we've got to do is listen for people in the hallway up there, and when they come looking, we'll call out to let them know we're here. They'll find the door, or drop a ladder, or something. We'll be fine."
Anzu listened to the jagged edge of his breathing and was beyond shocked to realise the sound she was hearing was an eerily silent version of crying. Even when Mokuba was in danger she'd never seen Kaiba cry – not so much as a single tear. She wrapped her arms around his shoulders, unable to be angry with someone who was clearly trying, even now, to hide behind whatever shields he had left just to stay in control of himself and failing. She wasn't surprised when he jerked away from her.
"Don't tell me you're the clingy type."
Anzu shrugged, aware of how stupid it was to shrug in the dark. "Excuse me for trying to offer sympathy."
"I don't need your sympathy." The voice that came to her out of the dark was not Kaiba's; it was a voice struggling to be cold and in control in the face of blind panic and rapidly losing. Anzu began counting elephants in her head, and when she'd reached ninety of them – roughly a minute and a half – she reached for him again. This time he let himself be held, although he held himself stiffly away from her as though she were a piece of hot iron ready to burn him.
"You're claustrophobic, aren't you?"
"No." The tone was incredibly nasty, and for half a second Anzu was tempted to simply walk off to the farthest corner of the room and leave him alone. Then reality reasserted itself, and she changed her mind. She couldn't simply walk away from someone so petrified they were shaking inside their clothes. She reached up to brush his hair out of his face instead.
"I'm fine with small spaces," he said, and it was so unexpected Anzu jumped. "I just . . . don't like small spaces when they're dark. It's too much like the closet."
You've got to be kidding me. He's afraid of the dark? Kaiba? And then the second part of his statement registered, and Anzu frowned.
"None of your business." The angry tone was returning to his voice. Anzu half-wished it wouldn't. She didn't want him afraid, but neither did she want him yelling at her. Anzu shrugged.
Kaiba didn't answer. Anzu sighed.
"I wish we had a pocket torch."
Kaiba swore. "I'm an asshole."
Anzu couldn't help herself. She started to giggle.
"What?" Even the irritation in his voice, layered over that still-simmering panic, couldn't stop her.
"You're the one who said it."
Kaiba ignored her. "I have one. Unless it broke."
"Where?" Anzu was aware that she sounded ridiculously like a woman looking for antiques at a rummage sale, but she couldn't help herself.
"On my keychain." Anzu felt his arm brush past her and down to his belt. There was a long pause.
"Gone. Just – gone. My keys are gone." The edge of panic was creeping back.
"Don't move." Anzu brushed the ground around him with her hands.
"Don't be stupid. I think I broke something," he said in a voice that was too shaky to be a growl. Anzu knew better than that – there was no "think" about the situation, and either he was in shock or his pain tolerance was absolutely surreal – but decided not to break the news to him until they had a little light to break it by. Anzu got to all fours and began crawling around him in gradually widening ovals, still brushing at the ground.
"Kaiba-kun." Anzu felt carefully around the edges of the small metal piece. It might be too good to be true, but maybe . . . "Your keys. Is one of them magnetic?" The thing she'd found was key-sized and metal, but rectangular like a key blank.
"The one to my office."
Anzu felt the top edge of the piece. The hole for the keyring was intact, which meant the ring itself had probably snapped. Anzu made a mental note about men who could get to level hundred-and-something on Tetris but didn't know enough to put keys on a carbine or heavy-duty ring instead of one of those stupid little rings that were really only glorified wires.
"Well, I found your office key, then. The ring has to be around here somewhere." She reached in his general direction and touched his back. "Here, take this."
Kaiba took the magnetic key from Anzu's fingers. She returned to her search and was rewarded moments later by something cold and in a shape that might once have been circular if there hadn't been a break in it. She picked it up, ran her fingers around it, felt the half a dozen pieces of metal hanging from it, found two things both slightly larger and distinctly un-key-like. Her fingers searched along the short barrel of the first thing, and she cried out when the beam – much brighter than she'd expected – hit her squarely in the face. She swung it away, and between the spots in front of her eyes could see Kaiba shielding his face.
"You're supposed to point it at the ground, Mazaki."
Anzu flashed the beam at the walls.
". . . Kaiba-kun?"
Anzu heard a noncommittal kind of grunt that she supposed was supposed to be taken as an answer.
"Why would somebody have a trapdoor leading into a wine cellar?"
"It's Pegasus." Anzu was relieved to hear the panic in his voice slowly dying.
A derisive snort. "I can tell you've never sat through a meeting with the man."
Anzu ran a hand over her face wearily. "Just for the sake of my own sanity, Kaiba-kun, would you please tell me how that relates to what I just asked you?"
"Because if you had, you wouldn't keep asking stupid questions when I tell you the answer is 'It's Pegasus.' He's the only bastard in the world demented enough to find something like this funny."
Anzu flashed the beam back in Kaiba's general direction, keeping it carefully around chest-level. It ran across his leg, and Anzu forgot all about being trapped in a dark wine cellar.
Kaiba looked down at his own leg, clearly startled. Anzu fumbled with the other not-key on the ring. The knife opened with a satisfying snick sound, and Anzu made quick work of the last six inches of Kaiba's right trouser leg. The torch beam flickered wildly.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Kaiba tried to swat her away. Anzu didn't let him.
"This isn't just broken, Kaiba-kun. It needs cleaned."
Anzu waved a hand in the general direction of the wall.
"You're out of your mind, Ma- Christ!" Kaiba jumped as Anzu's fingers brushed his leg.
Anzu pulled her fingers away. "Um – you might not want to look at this." There was apparently no broken bone – Anzu breathed a short sigh of relief – but Kaiba had managed to land on what might have been the only split board in the entire room. Anzu looked at the piece of wood sticking out his leg and fought the urge to be sick. She reached for a wine bottle, instead.
"Do you want some of this?"
Kaiba gave her the kind of look that burns. "No."
"Then I don't want to hear you scream when I pull this out. Fair warning."
"Alcohol doesn't affect your sensory perception that quickly, Mazaki," Kaiba said, in the kind of tone Anzu would have employed with a three-year-old. Anzu watched his eyes dart around the walls and wondered if he was trying to figure out how many of the bottles he'd have to go through to knock himself out until help arrived.
"Then take a swallow and I'll wait ten minutes. I've got a watch on. And if somebody comes to haul us out before that, then they can deal with it."
"I'll tell you again: alcohol doesn't work that fast."
"Fine." Anzu found the corkscrew attachment on Kaiba's knife and reached for a bottle. "Do you want the cork to bite on, or should I just pull your belt off and gag you with it?"
Kaiba only glared. Anzu shrugged and popped the cork. "Last chance."
Kaiba snatched the bottle out of her hand. Anzu found herself impressed in spite of herself when he threw his head back and downed something probably quite close to a full wineglass in only two swallows. She considered aiming a well-placed jab about his drinking habits, and then decided not to. Kaiba plunked the bottle on the floor.
"Now will you stop bitching at me about drinking the damn alcohol?"
Anzu wondered to herself when Kaiba had developed such a colourful vocabulary, but said nothing – only looked at her watch.
"Eight-thirty." She flicked the torch beam at the walls, got up, began to examine bottles. Every once in awhile she stopped to check the time. At last she returned to the middle of the floor with two more bottles in hand.
"I can't believe you actually tried to put me out with a bottle of merlot."
"Do you think I'd be more successful if I hit you over the head with it?"
"I think you need to stop associating with the mutt. He's teaching you all kinds of violent habits. Next thing you know he'll be giving you fleas."
Anzu considered jumping to Jounouchi's defense and then decided she'd rather irritate Kaiba just a little. With the pocket torch in hand he'd returned to his usual prickly self, and already it was beginning to annoy her.
"Yuugi's pets don't get fleas. We're too clean for that." She chanced a glance up from under her fringe. The look on Kaiba's face – completely wrong-footed and a little shocked – was worth it all. Anzu turned her eyes back to his leg before she could start laughing.
"Do you actually think this asinine idea of yours is going to work?"
Anzu settled herself more comfortably on the floor. "Of course it will. I got it from this alternative-medicine website. You're actually supposed to use vodka, but it's still alcohol, so . . . " She looked at the piece of wood, reached for it, pinched it between her fingers. The danger now would be in keeping the wood from splintering off in his leg – the piece she was holding was only about a finger's thickness all through. Anzu grimaced at it, and then pulled, alternating hands to keep it moving in a straight line. It was not the worst thing she'd ever been through – fighting Zorc still held the top spot on that list – but it came close. She reached for the first bottle of merlot and poured it over Kaiba's leg. A muffled sound came from Kaiba's general direction. Anzu looked up. He was pressing the back of his wrist to his mouth. Even in the face of a wound that was probably going to need stitches, he wasn't going to scream.
Anzu emptied the bottle, then looked down at the injured leg. It was bleeding profusely. Anzu considered her options, and then reached for Yuugi's bag.
"Sorry, Yuugi," she whispered, pulling out the dress shirt he'd worn the day before for the opening ceremonies and ripping a couple of strips off the bottom. She could always buy him another shirt. Kaiba could not just magically regenerate blood at the same rate he was losing it, and Anzu didn't feel comfortable saying that someone would be along in only a few minutes when an injury was involved. Anzu tied the strips together at one end and wrapped her makeshift bandage around the hole in Kaiba's leg, pinning it with a safety pin from Yuugi's bag.
"Now let's get you out of this mess." Anzu got to her knees and then to her feet, and reached for Kaiba's wrist to pull him up from the floor. He managed to get to his feet, and then nearly sank right back to the ground as his weight hit his right ankle. Anzu heard him hiss in pain.
"I think so. Shit."
Anzu grabbed his arm and draped it over her shoulders before he could protest. She took a step, waited for him to catch on and swallow his pride, and then helped him limp from the blood and wine spilled on the floor to a more hospitable bit of planking.
"I can't believe this."
"It isn't the kind of thing that's part of the usual KaibaCorp operations, is it?"
Anzu expected another of Kaiba's scathing looks and a nasty comment on her humour skills, and was surprised when nothing of the kind was forthcoming.
"Not really, no."
"I can wrap your ankle to keep the swelling down, if you want."
Kaiba shook his head. "It can't be long now."
Anzu nodded. Yuugi's opponent had been down to 1400 life points when she'd left. The duel had to be over soon. It had to be. They'd know Kaiba was missing as soon as they called his number. Yuugi would look over to catch Anzu's eye for a bit of support in the few nerve-wracking seconds between duels – the place he'd once confessed made him more nervous than beginning the duel itself – and then he'd realise she was also missing. People would start looking almost immediately. No, it couldn't be long.
They sat in silence for a short amount of time, ten minutes that felt like an hour, and then Anzu couldn't help it anymore. She grabbed one of the water bottles out of Yuugi's bag, slid back toward the puddle of wine in the middle of the floor, and rinsed Kaiba's blood off her fingers. She caught sight of the splintered piece of board, easily six inches long, and shuddered. The wood was old and dry, and had drunk his blood like the wine it was now sitting in. She finished as quickly as possible and returned to Kaiba's side. He took the water bottle out of her hand, took a long swallow, glanced at Anzu's face, and handed it back to her.
"If you pass out, Mazaki, don't expect me to catch you."
"Wouldn't dream of it," Anzu said, taking a drink of her own from the bottle. The sheer amount of blood on the floor, blended in a macabre mixture with what had once been a bottle of vintage wine, had made her more lightheaded than she wanted to admit.
And so the pair of them waited. At one point Anzu pulled a granola bar out of Yuugi's bag, broke it in half, and offered part of it to Kaiba. He turned it down. Anzu left it in the wrapper and ate her own half. Eventually, lulled by boredom, darkness, and adrenaline crash, Anzu nodded off.
She woke to the sound of a loudspeaker announcing that, with quarterfinals now finished, the tournament's semifinals would begin the next morning at ten o'clock, and wishing all the duelists good luck and good night. Dismay set in as Anzu realised the sound of duelists' feet above them was moving in the wrong direction. Anzu darted to her feet.
"Hey! Hey, up there! Hey!"
Nobody heard her. Anzu sank back to the floor, ready to cry.
"You were saying something about a couple of hours, Mazaki?"
Anzu raised her hands helplessly. "I thought – I don't know why Yuugi didn't say anything. Or – why didn't anyone come looking for you when you didn't turn up for your match?"
"I already dueled. I was up against that moron from Brazil – the one with the Exodia deck."
"Jaime something or other. Yuugi dueled him this morning."
"That's the one." A pause. "I'm going to miss the duel tomorrow. Shit."
"Somebody's got to find us before ten."
"Don't count on it."
Anzu sighed. Kaiba spun his keyring listlessly.
"If you keep doing that, the keys are going to fall off."
"Probably." Another pause. "I found the light switch. It's been disconnected. Or maybe the bulb is busted. I'm not sure which."
"You've got to be kidding me," Anzu moaned.
"Do I sound like I'm kidding?"
Anzu sat back. The light from Kaiba's pocket torch reflected off the metal of his keys. Anzu sat up straight again in a hurry.
No answer. Anzu pushed onward anyway.
"Do you have a credit card on you?"
The look he gave her – ridiculously long-suffering – made Anzu feel like laughing in spite of their situation. "No."
"A driver's license?"
"Do I look old enough to drive to you, Mazaki?"
Anzu took a deep breath and counted to ten. "Any piece of hard plastic that's roughly the thickness of a credit card, that I can use to try to get us out of here without waiting all night?"
" . . . " Kaiba dug into his coat pocket. Anzu fought the urge to roll her eyes when she realised he was pulling out his deck. He slipped something off one of the cards and handed it to her.
Anzu tried to bend the card protector. If Kaiba used the same kind of protectors as Yuugi, she was going to have to say no. Anzu breathed a sigh of tentative relief. Yuugi's card protectors were tough, but flexible. This one did not give when she squeezed its sides.
"I hope so." She got to her feet and pulled a bobby pin out of her hair.
"I'm going to need the torch. And maybe for you to hold it, if you wouldn't mind."
"What exactly are you trying to do, Mazaki?"
"Pick the lock." She paused. "It's one of those violent habits I picked up from Jounouchi."
Kaiba tried for his feet and let out a kind of growl before getting back to one knee. Anzu ran a hand over her face.
"Your ankle." She sighed. "Hold on."
A quick rummage through Yuugi's bag told her she'd find no help from that direction; Yuugi's heavy dress trousers were useless for what she needed, he'd been wearing his jacket when she'd left the room, and the remains of his dress shirt weren't large enough to be any kind of help.
"I can't believe I'm doing this," Anzu murmured. "Can you close your eyes?"
"Because I'm going to have to take this off, and I'd rather you weren't watching."
Anzu expected Kaiba to argue. She was relieved when he decided to take pity on her and closed his eyes obediently. Anzu pulled off her blouse and straightened the tank top she'd been wearing beneath. It was thin, and if he shined the light at her chest he was probably going to be able to see her bra, but she'd have to deal with it; Anzu didn't have a third hand to hold the torch with, and if – when – she succeeded in getting the door open, he was going to have to walk out with her.
"Are you decent?"
Anzu found herself slightly surprised at the concern in Kaiba's voice and wondered if maybe he was a little bit afraid of girls, too. The idea was ludicrous, but then again, if anyone had told her before tonight that Kaiba was afraid of closets, she would have laughed aloud.
"Yes." If you can ignore the fact that I probably shouldn't have worn a bright pink bra with a white blouse, that is.
Kaiba opened his eyes. Anzu held up the blouse.
"Put your foot out."
"I said, put your foot out. I need to see it."
Kaiba gave the effect of grumbling without actually having to say a word, but complied. Anzu eased his shoe off and wrapped his swollen ankle carefully with her blouse. She only hoped it would work as an effective support; one thing Yuugi's bag did not have was an elastic bandage.
"How does it feel?"
"Can you walk on it?"
Kaiba eased his way to his feet and tested his weight. "I think I can manage."
"Then let's see what we can do with the lock. Don't get too excited just yet, but we might not be stuck here all night after all."
The space of two minutes found them camped out around the door, Anzu bending her bobby pin into what she hoped would work as a pick and Kaiba holding the torch so she could see both the pin and the lock. At last Anzu took the card protector, slid it in between the door and the jamb, and carefully pushed her makeshift pick into the keyhole.
The tumblers turned. Anzu grabbed the edge of the card protector and shoved it downward before the tongues could slide back into place. There was a loud and gratifying click.
"YES!!" Anzu threw her arms around Kaiba's shoulders jubilantly, nearly knocking him off his not entirely steady feet, and then grabbed the door handle. The tongue pressed down, and Anzu pulled.
The door did not move.
" . . . what . . . "
Anzu pushed. She was fairly certain the door opened inward – she'd taken a quick look at the hinges first – but maybe she was wrong.
The door remained in place.
Anzu aimed a swift kick at it, hoping to hear the rattle of hinges that meant the door was only stuck and could probably be opened with a quick blow from a shoulder.
It did not come.
The face Kaiba turned to her was one of disbelief. "You've got to be kidding me."
Anzu shook her head. "I wish."
"Have any other brilliant ideas?"
Anzu had had enough. She whirled on Kaiba with eyes blazing. "I'll have you know if Pegasus hadn't put a stupid deadbolt on the door, Kaiba-kun, it would have worked. At least I'm trying to do something, instead of sitting around feeling sorry for myself!"
There was a long pause. Anzu wondered if tonight would see them each squared off in a corner, not speaking to each other.
". . . if you want to try standing on my shoulders to see if you can make the trapdoor . . . "
Anzu considered the possibilities of this course of action. Then she shook her head.
"Even if you could hold my weight, I think we'd still be a little too short if you put us together. The ceilings are really high here."
"Try it anyway." Another pause. "I won't let you fall."
"What about your ankle?"
Anzu decided it would be easier not to argue and made for the trapdoor. Kaiba got on one knee so she could climb up. Anzu pulled off her shoes and seated herself on his shoulders.
"This is probably going to be easier if I stand up after you do," she said, and Kaiba nodded before reaching up to take her waist. There was a brief pause.
"I think – this might – be in the way." He tugged the edge of her top. "If you slide, it's going to slip. I'll lose you."
Anzu hiked the top up to give him space for his hands. "Better?"
Kaiba nodded and settled his hands on her now-bare waist. Anzu let out a noise somewhere halfway between a quiet scream and a gasp; his hands were cold. Kaiba straightened his back. "Count of three?"
"Works for me."
They counted together. Anzu heard a small, whimpering moan as their combined weight reached Kaiba's ankle. Anzu boosted herself up. Kaiba's hands ran down past her hips to her legs.
Anzu stretched. Her fingers just barely made the trapdoor. She stretched more and managed to hook her fingers over the edge.
And then she discovered the problem.
Even Yuugi, small as he was, could probably not have hoisted himself out of the hole with only his hands, and for Anzu – whose strength was in her hips and legs, not her shoulders – the idea was absolutely ludicrous.
Kaiba let her down easily, hands slipping back up her legs to her waist, and then got back to one knee. Anzu climbed off his shoulders. The room was cool, but she could still see sweat on his face.
"How close was it?"
"If I was a foot taller, I could do it with no problem. I just can't get my arms out." She paused. "Thanks for not looking up my skirt."
"I was focusing more on not dropping you than I was on getting a cheap thrill, Mazaki."
Anzu shrugged. "A lot of guys would have done it anyway." She wiped Kaiba's face with the edge of her top, and found herself slightly surprised when he let her do it. "Do you want some water?"
Kaiba nodded. Anzu found the bottle. Kaiba took a long swallow, swiped his shirtsleeve across his forehead, and then aimed a contemplative look at the trapdoor.
"I wonder . . . "
"How good is your balance?"
Anzu shrugged. "Decent."
"I want to try something."
"Get back on my shoulders. I might be able to lift you."
"You're out of your mind!"
"No. I just want out of here." Kaiba put his hands on the floor to give Anzu the sturdiest mount. Anzu bit her lip, and then complied.
"As soon as you're on your feet, I'll try to boost you."
"One – two – three – "
Anzu felt Kaiba's shoulders begin to move upward and prepared to get to her feet. His hands did not travel this time; he'd already hooked them behind her calves.
For half a shining second Anzu thought it was going to work; she'd pull herself out, run to Yuugi's room, and get the sheet of important phone numbers all duelists had been given in case of emergency. She'd call one of the duelmasters or somebody else in charge, tell them where to find the trapdoor, and come back to keep Kaiba calm until help arrived. Someone could put his ankle in a real bandage and examine his leg properly, and tomorrow all would go on as planned.
Then she heard the high, thin moan from beneath her as Kaiba's ankle gave out, and she was left hanging by her hands.
"Oh god – "
She was going to fall again, and this time Kaiba was directly beneath her instead of off to the side. No need to worry about a sprained ankle if she fell and broke his neck.
Except he wouldn't be able to, wouldn't be able to get out from under her fast enough . . .
There was no room for argument with that voice, and so Anzu complied at once. She couldn't have held on for much longer anyway. She tensed in only a moment, waiting for the telltale crack of breaking bones on impact, and then Kaiba's arms were guiding her down to the floor and breaking her fall. Anzu started to cry, a combination of frustration and adrenaline rush, and in some far corner of her mind felt vaguely comforted that Kaiba's hands did not leave her waist.
"Did you not believe me when I said I wouldn't let you fall?"
Anzu took a deep and jittery breath. "I – I just – "
The water bottle was pressed into her hand. "I think you need this."
Anzu took a drink. "Well, I guess that's it for that."
"Well, it was worth a shot," Kaiba answered defensively. Anzu put her hand on his before he could pull away.
"It would have worked if I had something better to put on your ankle. It's not your fault."
"I don't want to be down here anymore."
"I don't, either."
"Maybe we could empty one of the wine racks and move it. I could climb up."
"Kaiba-kun, even if you didn't have a bad ankle, I don't think they'd hold you. You're too heavy."
"Then you can climb up."
"I'm not sure they'd hold me, either," Anzu admitted. "They look pretty flimsy."
Kaiba sighed. "You're probably right." He let go of her waist and limped back to the corner. "I probably should have thought of this before, but - do you have your mobile?"
Anzu shook his head. "I had to leave it to charge this morning. Yours?"
"With one of the duelmasters. Mobiles aren't allowed in the arena."
Anzu pounded a fist against her leg in frustration. "Damn."
"We're going to be stuck here all night, aren't we?"
Anzu nodded. "I think we are." She saw the fear sliding back onto his face and tried to stem it with the dumbest joke she could come up with at short notice. "Look at it this way. When was the last time you were stuck in the dark with a girl in a short skirt and underwear?"
The edge of Kaiba's mouth actually quirked. "Not recently." He raised an eyebrow. "Is that supposed to be some kind of comfort?"
Anzu shrugged. "I guess it's all in how you look at things. Personally, I'm going to take advantage of not being right next door to this pair of complete idiots who kept me up until three in the morning last night."
Kaiba's eyebrows went up in an entirely different way. "Doing what?"
"You know, I was going to go bang on their door and ask them that, and then one of them started screaming in English and all of a sudden it just seemed like a better idea not to."
Kaiba snorted, and then glanced at the pocket torch wedged firmly in the handle of the door. "Did this thing get turned down?"
Anzu went to it and flicked the switch. Back. Forth. Bright, On, and Off. Bright and On looked about the same. She bit her lip.
"Kaiba-kun . . . what kind of batteries does this take?"
Anzu pulled the torch from the door and rummaged through Yuugi's bag again. She was sure his Game Boy had been in here somewhere. Her fingers touched something cool and plastic. Anzu pulled out the Game Boy, slid The Legend of Zelda out of the game slot – somewhere she'd gotten the idea that opening the back of a Game Boy with a game still in it could lead to electric shock – and opened the battery compartment.
Yuugi had taken the batteries out.
A search of the bag's pockets turned up nothing.
"Oh, you're kidding me," Anzu moaned. Kaiba glanced up in her general direction.
Why do I have to be the one to tell him this?
"We . . . I don't think we're going to have this much longer, Kaiba-kun," Anzu admitted, holding up the torch. "I was going to just swap out for one of Yuugi's batteries, but they're not here."
She saw the fear cross his face and scooted over to his side. "So I guess now we just try to sleep. It's kind of early, but we'll probably wake up early and then we'll be able to hear people as soon as they start coming around."
The feeling in the air was not one of reassurance. Anzu wrapped her arms around Kaiba's waist. Kaiba pulled away.
"I'm not going to tell anyone, you know."
Kaiba glanced in her direction. His face was drawn.
"About – you know." Anzu glanced down at the torch, and then at her feet. "I won't tell anybody."
There was a very long pause, during which the torch grew a little dimmer and neither of them looked at each other.
Anzu wrapped her arms around herself. It wasn't horribly cold – no, not too horribly cold. If she'd only been wearing a sensible sweater instead of a tank top so thin she could see through it, she wouldn't even have felt the chill. But she doubted she'd be sleeping tonight; she'd be too cold.
"Don't worry about it." Anzu rubbed her arms with her hands. Something heavy and warm settled on her shoulders. In the dim light of the dying torch Anzu saw the dark blue of Kaiba's coat.
"Don't you need this?"
"I have long sleeves." A pause. "That thing you're wearing looks really thin."
Anzu pulled the edges of the coat around herself. It smelled vaguely like coffee. Anzu smiled at the idea of Kaiba wandering around in an early-morning daze until getting his daily dose of caffeine.
"Domo arigatou, Kaiba-kun."
Anzu saw a fuzzy outline shrugging. "I doubt I'd live to see the end of tomorrow if anybody found out I let you die of hypothermia."
"I don't think it's that bad," Anzu protested, hoping he wouldn't just take the coat back. It was warm, soft, and took away her unease about his trying to stare through her top. Kaiba shrugged again.
"This is going to be hell," he remarked, and the resignation in his voice was worse than the cold. Anzu reached for his hand. This time he let her take it.
"It could be worse. At least we've got company."
Kaiba snorted. "Because we normally get along so well, Mazaki."
"I don't know about you, but I'd rather not be alone. Even if it is you I'm with."
A long pause. Anzu brushed her hair out of her face.
"You know, for a really long time I used to hate sleeping with my curtains open because when I did I could see a man in the tree outside my window. And then one day my dad went out to cut off some dead branches, and it turned out the man was just a place where something happened to the tree years and years ago and the branch grew in a funny direction. You couldn't see it in daylight because it was the streetlamp that made it look different. I was afraid of a tree branch until I was fourteen years old. Pretty stupid, isn't it?"
Kaiba sighed, leaned forward, wrapped his arms around his knees, and glanced in Anzu's direction. Then he turned his head back. Anzu put a hand on his shoulder. He clicked off the torch, resigned to its going out in the next minute or two anyway. She could feel him starting to shake again, and squeezed his shoulder in what she hoped was a comforting kind of way.
"It's okay, you know."
Another long pause.
"What happened to you, Kaiba-kun?"
"I don't know what you mean."
Anzu pushed her hair back again impatiently. "I've known you for two and a half years. You're too proud for your own good, and sometimes you drive me absolutely crazy, but you're almost never afraid of anything. Why are you afraid of the dark?"
"It's not the dark."
"You said earlier you were okay with small spaces as long as they weren't dark."
"It's not the dark, and it's not small spaces. It's the two together."
"Fine. So why are you afraid of small dark spaces?"
"You wouldn't believe me." The tone was flat, unyielding, the tone of perfect belief in a negative. Anzu considered pointing out that her best friend had spent two years with his body being inhabited by an Egyptian pharaoh and then decided it would only cause an argument.
"It's none of your business." But the fire was gone from his tone; now he was going through motions.
"I never said it was my business," Anzu conceded. "But I'm curious. I mean, you learned how to fly a plane when you were fifteen. It has to take a lot of courage to do something like that. I just . . . I guess I don't understand how you can do all kinds of dangerous things without missing a beat, but you're afraid of dark rooms."
"When I was a kid," Kaiba said, and his voice wavered. He tried again. "When I was a kid. My father – my adopted father, not my dad – when I got in trouble, he locked me in a closet." Anzu felt the air move and wondered what Kaiba was doing - brushing his hair off his face, trying to get more comfortable sitting on hard wooden planking, maybe trying to ease the pain of his leg and ankle. "I didn't care so much at first – I had a couple of books under my clothes, and I'd just turn on the light and read until I heard him on the stairs – but eventually he caught on and took the bulb out."
Anzu drew a breath that would have sounded like a gasp if it had been just a little quicker. "That's sick! I can't believe – I mean, you don't have any reason to lie, so it must be true, but how could anybody do that?"
She could feel Kaiba shrugging. "No idea. It wasn't actually that bad until I got the flu when I was eleven."
"What do you mean?"
"There was this Christmas party for a bunch of people from the company – it was still Kaiba Industrial back then – and I had the flu. My father decided I was going to be there one way or the other, so he gave me a dose of cold medication and half an hour to get dressed and get downstairs. I'm kind of hazy on what happened exactly – I think the fever was messing with my head – but according to Mokuba I passed out right in the middle of the party. I just remember being dumped on the floor at the top of the second-story landing and being dragged into the closet by my shirt collar."
"For what?" Anzu cried, aware that her anger was being directed at entirely the wrong person. "People get sick! Didn't he understand that?"
"I embarrassed him." Kaiba paused, but it was clear he wasn't done. Anzu had the distinct feeling he couldn't leave the story half-finished; that once she'd started to drag it out of him, he had no choice but to see it through to the end.
"I don't know how long I was in there, because I didn't have a watch on, but when he finally let me out the party was over, so – maybe four or five hours. And then he took me to the hospital to get my hands cleaned. I have no idea how he explained it to them. I ended up in hospital for three days because of the fever, and when you're in hospital for something like that they really dope you out, so there's a lot of this that I'm missing."
Anzu wrapped her arms around Kaiba's shoulders and leaned against him. In her mind she could clearly see a terrified little boy trying to claw his way through a solid wood door, and the image both horrified and sickened her. "I'm sorry."
"You weren't there. You don't have anything to be sorry for."
"I'm sorry it happened to you. It shouldn't have," Anzu elaborated. "Nobody should ever have to go through that."
"I'm sure your friends won't agree."
"They're not going to know unless you tell them yourself."
Another of those long pauses filled the air. And then Kaiba laid his hand against hers.
"You know – if you tell anybody I said this, I'm going to tell them you lied, but – I'm glad you're here."
Anzu smiled. "If I have to be stuck here, I'm kind of glad I've got you for company, too." She paused. "You're not so bad when you're not hurling insults at people."
"Funny. I was just thinking you're a fair amount more tolerable when you're not trying to be Yuugi's little cheerleader."
It was Anzu's turn to snort. "I'm not that bad."
"Not when you're on your own, no." There was a brief silence. "Do you know what I really want right now? Other than just getting out of here?"
Anzu considered her own condition before answering. She certainly knew what she'd like. "Tacos?"
She could feel his face turning toward her in disbelief. "Yeah. Chicken ones."
"With rice and beans."
"And that red salsa that's really hot."
The tone Anzu heard in Kaiba's voice was one she liked; it was the tone of a person experiencing the most delightful kind of disbelief. "You know Chino's?"
"It's the only place in Domino where you can get decent Mexican. Of course I know Chino's."
"I was starting to think I hallucinated the place. Even Mokuba swears he's never heard of it."
Anzu kept her arms firmly around Kaiba's shoulders, even though Yuugi's bag of doughnuts was now calling to her with all its might; with a reminder that he wasn't alone in the dark, Kaiba seemed to be calmer. "I vote we make a beeline there when the tournament ends."
Anzu considered this. "Why not?"
"You'll end up labeled as my girlfriend in the tabloids for the next six months. Fair warning."
"That's okay. I'm tired of being Yuugi's – how did they put it last week? 'On-again, off-again gal-pal.' I think that was it."
Kaiba snorted. "Just wonderful. We'll both be getting hate mail for what we're doing to the poor little Duel Monsters international champion."
"Not really. For awhile they were trying to say I was having an affair with – who was it? I don't even remember. Some regional finalist, I think. Anyway, it went down like a lead balloon. Nobody believed it."
"That's a regional finalist. Nobody gives a shit about regional finalists except for regional finalists. I'm an international finalist. There's a big difference."
Anzu shrugged, then yawned. She turned on the little light in her watch. Just after midnight.
"You should probably get some sleep."
"For when they find us in the morning. They can't disqualify you for needing medical attention before your duel, but I think if you just fall asleep in the infirmary they might bypass you. Anyway, I'm exhausted."
"Then you sleep. I'll be fine."
"I think Yuugi'd understand if I need to catch a nap tomorrow morning. You're the one who's got things to do."
"You'll fall asleep anyway. One of us has to be awake. In case someone comes in the night."
"Nobody in their right mind is going to be walking around the castle at one in the morning. Get some sleep."
The first long pause in a fair amount of time wedged its way into the conversation. Then Anzu felt Kaiba shifting, pulling away from her slowly. Anzu lay down next to him and curled into his coat. With her legs pulled up in a comfortable sleeping position, it made a perfectly suitable blanket. She debated the practicality of trying to roll Yuugi's dress trousers into a pillow, and then Kaiba's arm settled over her waist and made it altogether impossible.
"If you want me, wake me." What she wanted to tell him was that she'd be there if he needed her – but she knew perfectly well that the word "need" would turn his answer into an automatic "no."
Anzu rested her cheek on her hand, and slept.
" – also missing since yesterday afternoon. They might have gotten lost somewhere in the castle."
The voices above did not register to either of the pair sleeping on the floor. Nor did the light that shined down through the trapdoor several moments later. Anzu heard the sound of what might have been a lock being drawn about ten minutes after that, but it seemed unimportant until Yuugi's voice reached her ears.
Anzu tried to sit up. Kaiba's arm was still over her waist, and at some point in the night she'd managed to tuck herself so perfectly against him that moving herself without moving him was going to be impossible. Anzu moved his arm and sat up. Kaiba's coat fell to her waist. Yuugi blushed and looked away. And then Anzu realised what the situation must look like to those still unaware of the entire twelve or so hours she and Kaiba had just spent in one of the upper circles of hell, and so when she shook Kaiba's shoulder to wake him, she decided to revise the story just a little.
"Kaiba-kun – Kaiba-kun! Wake up! You were right! They did find us!"
The noise Kaiba made was of a kind not phonetically translatable, the sort made only by people being taken from deep sleep into full awareness both against their consent and without the help of artificial stimulants. Anzu shook him again and repeated herself with slightly different words. Kaiba sat up, looking completely disoriented, and Anzu got to her feet to give Yuugi a hug.
"It's about time you found us," she said. "What took you so long?"
"I – I didn't even realise you were missing until about midnight, and then I couldn't get hold of anybody," Yuugi admitted. "I figured maybe you went to eat with the other spectators, since dinner last night was supposed to be finalists only."
"You got into the semifinals?"
Yuugi nodded. "It's lucky we found you this early. Kaiba's in, too." He paused. Anzu watched the blush spread across his nose. "Um – Anzu, what exactly happened down here? From the hallway up there it looked like there was all this blood on the floor, and – "
"It's Kaiba's. He fell on a broken board when we landed." Anzu paused. She felt slightly guilty about what she was going to say next, but what Yuugi didn't know wouldn't hurt him – not in this case, at least. "It's a good thing he kept his head. I kind of freaked out a little."
"If you're ready, miss, we'd like to get you upstairs and have you looked at. It's quite lucky you're no more injured than you are."
Anzu nodded and complied, falling into line next to Kaiba to help support him. The blouse on his ankle had become all but useless in the night.
Kaiba kept his eyes ahead, but Anzu could read the word on his lips easily enough:
Anzu smiled and mouthed a message of her own. No problem.
Friday at five?
Anzu bit the inside of her cheek to hide the impish grin trying to spread across her face. Jounouchi was going to have a fit.
I'll be there.