Disclaimer – Not mine. Nutbunnies.
A/N – This started out as one thing and morphed into something else. It's … almost meta, though I didn't actually intend it that way. Just give it a chance to make sense and it will. Weirdly, it was inspired by Lily Savage talking about the peripheral dangers of interviewing Robbie Williams at the height of his fame.
The Price of Fame is not Tax-Deductable
© Scribbler, May 2008.
One's first love is always perfect until one meets one's second love.-- from 'The Exploits & Adventures of Miss Alethea Darcy' by Elizabeth Aston, 2005.
Anzu sometimes wonders what it would be like to be fought over instead of fighting over someone else.
It's understandable really. Yuugi has absolutely no idea what he does to those lacking Y chromosomes, and that's half of what attracts them. Rebecca and Vivian would be bad enough, but when fangirls from the duelling circuit begin mailing him their underwear Anzu starts arriving early to walk to school so she can remove any telltale squashily bulging envelopes from the Mutous' mail. She's waging war against an enemy she can't even begin to fight and the tide of hormones threatens to drown her – as well as kick, punch, scratch and lightly maim her when they catch her outside duelling arenas.
"It's because you're a girl," Jounouchi says, like that's supposed to help. "You're their competition."
"That's stupid! They don't even know him outside of magazines and what they see on TV!"
"Yeah, but they'd like to and you do, so that makes you the enemy."
She can understand it, but that doesn't help when she's dabbing antiseptic on her cuts and grumbling while Honda fetches a bag of frozen peas from his freezer to numb her aching, denting shin.
Yuugi, on the other hand, doesn't understand. It's not in his nature to hurt things that are precious to those he cares about. He thought that was the province of evil tyrants and wicked villains, so to find it in normal people shocks him. He keeps apologising until Anzu orders him to stop.
"It's not your fault. You didn't ask them to like you." Except that he did just by being him. Yuugi does that. Once you get past the impossible hair and the fact he's actually a teenager with stunted growth, not a child who stuck his finger in an electrical socket, everything about him demands that you like him. Yuugi is a genuine, bona fide Nice Guy.
"I don't know why they like me so much," he says in a miserable voice. "I'm nobody special. Not anymore," he adds, hand instinctively wrapping around the cartouche at his neck. They all have them and wear them every day, even Jounouchi and Honda, who hate even faintly emasculating jewellery. Jounouchi once tried to wear a gold chain with 'bitch' on it until Anzu threatened to stuff it somewhere that really would make him somebody's bitch.
She resists the urge to whap Yuugi on the head, because he's Yuugi and you don't do that to Yuugi. Honda or Jounouchi, fine, and she's even whapped Otogi and Ryou before; and if Kaiba's bodyguards would get lost long enough for her hand to meet the back of his head she'd be there like a shot, especially when he's being a prize-winning ass, which is … all the time, actually. But Yuugi? No way. Even if it wouldn't summon hordes of bloodthirsty fans to exact vengeance on her, he's just too … too Yuugi to whap, even when he's missing the obvious again.
When he wins another championship, proving once more than he's just as talented a duellist as Yami, Yuugi tells a reporter in the winners' circle that he wishes everyone would stop picking on Anzu. His fans, whipped into an idolising frenzy by his victory, respond by thinking she's obviously brainwashing him, or withholding sex to make him say what she wants, and gawd, she's such a slut. They don't listen when Yuugi says she's his friend, not his girlfriend. They plug up their ears when he pleads and makes sure the reporter writes down his request for reasonable behaviour. Anzu responds in turn by wearing dark glasses and hats when she goes out, even on hot days. There's nothing reasonable about extreme fans.
She keeps fighting them; not in the flesh, but metaphysically grabbing Yuugi's arm and playing tug-o-war. She learns to not react when girls she doesn't even know spit at her in the street – they barely look old enough to be out of prams, some of them, way too young to know half the words they fling – and cements her smile so not even a thermonuclear explosion could shift it. She types her name into an internet search engine once, out of morbid curiosity, and never does so again.
"Hate pages?" Ryou boggles.
Honda performs his own search and, though he's not as strident as Jounouchi, a twitching muscle in his cheek demonstrates his anger. "They're sick," he says, dismissing an 'Anti-Anzu Fanlisting' with links for pages dedicated to elaborate ways Anzu should die. They're puerile and badly spelled, and probably not one of the people behind them could look at spilled blood without throwing up, but the idea that someone sat down and typed out how to kill her is shocking. "Don't listen to them."
"I'm not," Anzu replies. "But it's hard not to feel exhausted against that amount of spleen-venting. Did you see the post about me being a whore with her undies in her handbag? Apparently I've slept with all of you. Multiple times. In public places. I just hope my mother never hears about any of this. She thinks Duel Monsters is just an over-hyped children's card game."
"What do they see in him?" Jounouchi wonders before his brain kicks into gear. "Uh, I mean… well… I'm not saying Yuugi's butt ugly or anything – not that I'd know, being a guy and all… uh, it's just… I'm a duellist too and nobody mails me their panties."
Anzu and Honda whap him at the same time. Their fingertips brush and their smirks are mirror images as Jounouchi bemoans their treatment of him.
"Yuugi's nice," Anzu replies, able to say it because he's making popcorn in the kitchen and can't hear her. "That's really rare. He's sweet and cute and in touch with his sensitive side. Girls like that kind of thing because it's so unusual in guys."
"I can so be sensitive!"
"Uh-huh." Anzu levels an unconvinced look at Jounouchi. "That's why you said really loudly 'man, that's an ugly baby' in the mall last week?"
"Uh…" He doesn't have any defence against this.
Anzu doesn't have any defence against the swelling tide of fangirls intent on seeing her as the primary obstacle between them and Yuugi. Rebecca's too young to be considered a threat, whatever her IQ. No tits, no trouble. Vivian has vanished somewhere on a round-the-world duelling tour, and Mai hasn't been in the public eye since before Doma, so it's just Anzu versus the world.
She conducts a formal interview with a respected gaming magazine, telling her side of the story and missing out the part where she was goo-goo-eyed over the ancient Egyptian Pharaoh who used to periodically possess Yuugi's body. They usually don't do features with anyone but actual gamers, but this has gone beyond anything they're used to. Gaming used to be tiny, gaming magazines even tinier, but the elaborate contests of Pegasus and Kaiba Corp. have drawn a lot of media attention, and Yuugi Mutou's love life is now considered news. Anzu tells them the story of how she became Yuugi's friend, emphasising the word and completely not adding the word 'girl' to the front. Then she battens down the hatches, hopes it's enough and waits for it all to blow over.
"She broke his Gameboy," is the hissed comment on the lips of hundreds of girls when they learn of this. "That bitch broke it and then made him bring another one to school so she could play it! How selfish can you be? Poor, sweet little Yuugi-woogy."
"No, it wasn't like that-"
But neither Yuugi nor Anzu's remonstrations are enough to quell the rising tide of vitriol the article causes.
It culminates in an actual assault when Anzu goes to the supermarket. A girl with hair of determined blonde marches up to her by the cornflakes and hits her in the face with a can of baked beans. She gets in a few kicks before the security guard and one of the guys from the meat counter pull her off. Afterwards Anzu keeps thinking this day wasn't worth getting out of bed for, as she winces against the butterfly stitches being applied to her cheek. The can loosened some teeth and left her with a black eye that's actually more of a purple-burgundy colour. She's lucky it didn't blind her or crush the socket, which is what she tells the guys when they arrive at the hospital.
"Am I a bad person?" she asks in a moment of uncommon weakness.
"Of course not!" Yuugi is the first to exclaim, backed up by Honda and Jounouchi.
"Then how come everybody hates me so much? I recycle, I'm kind to animals, I only eat dolphin-friendly tuna, I donate to charity and I try to do at least one good deed every day. Sure, I'm bossy, and I guess I could back off sometimes instead of pushing my opinions at people, but it's not like I've tried to take over the planet or sacrifice souls to bring back my dead lover or anything." She sighs and stares disconsolately at her knuckles, clenching and unclenching her hands into fists, as though the answer is written in bone and skin and sinew. "I missed the part where I turned into the villain who seduces the pure and innocent hero and then leaves him broken-hearted, or plays kinky mind games with the sidekicks to make him jealous."
Honda and Jounouchi exchange a pained look, but Yuugi just takes up one of her hands in both of his and says earnestly, "They're all nuts. You're a wonderful person Anzu."
"I wouldn't go that far, but it'd be nice for someone outside this room who I don't already know to say I'm not totally evil."
He bounces the tangled claps of their fingers up and down for emphasis. "I'm sorry my fans are so … so…" He searches for an appropriate adjective.
"Batshit?" Jounouchi provides.
"Scary?" Honda offers.
"Nutty like a bag of peanuts?"
"All of the above?"
Anzu smiles. It's tired, battered, and it pulls at her stitches, but it's genuine. "Thanks, guys." Then her mom appears to collect her and the situation dissolves into something more than just their four-way friendship. The guys drift off, each occupied by his own thoughts.
"How can I stop this from happening?" Yuugi wants to know, but nobody can tell him the answer. Short of completely changing his personality or giving up duelling (which he actually considers until Anzu threatens never to speak to him again), there's not much he can do except wait for his fans to grow out of him.
"They'll do that eventually," Otogi advises sagely, like he's the expert in such things. And maybe he is. After all, someone has to be. "Or they'll find someone else to lust over. Fangirls' hearts are fickle. You're just a passing fancy, trust me. By this time next month they'll be asking 'Yuugi who?'"
"I hope so," Yuugi sighs. "I'm sick of worrying about Anzu going out alone and pretending I haven't noticed our mail going missing on school days. And some of the things they accuse her of doing to me…" His eyes become unfocussed with faint horror and embarrassment. "It's like I'm either helpless against her or don't have any free will of my own. Honda says they're just vilifying her so they can imagine themselves riding in to rescue me, but that's unreasonable, right? Right?"
"Welcome to the world of celebrity, little dude."
"I never wanted to be a celebrity. I just wanted to play games, and I happened to be pretty good at Duel Monsters. That's it. I never asked to be a hero, I never asked to get caught up in saving the world, I never asked to be famous and I never asked for this. Anzu's been my friend since we were kids! She's important to me and I hate the way those people are treating her."
"It'll blow over," Otogi reassures him. "It always does."
"Yeah, but before or after she gets hurt again?"
Not even Otogi can answer that one.
The battle rages on. Anzu develops a couple of nervous ticks, but passes them off as the result of worry over their final exams. Yuugi starts calling for her in the mornings instead of the other way around, even though he has to get up earlier so they can make it to school on time. Honda escorts her to her dance classes on his motorcycle and somehow Jounouchi gets roped into being her shopping buddy. She has great fun picking outfits for him, redesigning his wardrobe and introducing him to the concept of unisex salons. She even manages to pin him down long enough for a manicure and is working on how to corner him into a pedicure when suddenly … everything stops. The mailed underwear, the threatening phone calls, the name-calling in the street – everything. Anti-Anzu webpages cease to be updated and some disappear entirely. The front line goes quiet.
Anzu raises her head above the parapet, ready to duck back down again at the first sticks and stones, but it's still the same. It's over.
"They found someone else," Yuugi says incredulously, as though he never actually believed Otogi could be right.
They look at each other, and they laugh, and they sigh with relief, and they even dance a little. Jounouchi grumps that he still doesn't get underwear through his letterbox, until both Honda and Anzu whap him on the head and the world shifts back onto its axis.
"I told you so," Otogi says smugly. "Didn't I tell you so? There'll be one or two die-hard Yuugi-enthusiasts, but this fever has well and truly broken." He pores over the magazine article about the up-and-coming duellist who has taken Yuugi's place in the hearts and minds of his fans. Yuugi is still the better duellist, but their new object of affection is smaller, cuter and even more innocent looking. "Poor kid. He has no idea what's headed his way when he comes to Japan for Kaiba's new tournament."
"We should warn him," Anzu says firmly, and they all agree that Otogi's fortune would be well spent making life-saving international phone-calls.
The gang crowd around the receiver until Otogi, rolling his eyes, presses a button and puts the call on speakerphone. The speakers themselves are positioned in every corner of his office, so when an accented voice answers it booms at them from all sides.
"Von Schroeder Wohnsitz. Wer telefoniert, bitte?"
"Uh, hi. Could we speak to Leon, please?"