Me: So I've decided to stop sucking and get my ass in gear. Starting with the persevereshipping (OtogixAnzu) that's Compy's 6th round. Not too difficult, and I already have the startings of an idea. (nods)

Total and utter thanks and props to Little Kuriboh, who used one sentence in Episode 14 of TAS that sent this whole mess off. If it weren't for him, I'd probably have written this anyway, but then I couldn't say it was inspired by LK. XD

And I think I should get major props for being able to use 'perseverance' in this story. XD

Warnings: Sexual and mature themes. The use of OCs as minor and background characters. Some swearing when characters are too drunk to care.

Lesson Number One

He saved her. He saved her, and she goddamn knew it well enough to feel the burn of shame and humiliation. Had she not gotten herself into such a situation – not come to New York with no money, not accepted the hospitality of a man she barely knew, not gotten drunk and shown just how well she could dance – then it would never have called for such a thing.

Mazaki Anzu was a proud woman, and she hated that after everything, she was indebted to someone just as stubborn as she was. But in the end... it didn't really matter.

"Hey, Otogi you asshole! I've been calling your freakin' name for the last hour here! Why don't you get off your freakin' high horse and come join the lowlifes for once?"

Otogi Ryuuji glanced up from his coffee and his board game, blinking at the figure at the doorway. He yawned and took a sip of his forgotten drink, grimacing at the cold and lingering taste of its poor quality. "What is it, Himejima?"

Aforementioned friend and cohort – who was already slightly drunk if the loose tongue was anything to judge by – was standing by the doorway, leaning against it and lazily blinking at the creator of Dungeon Dice Monsters. "You, Otogi! You are what it is!"

"… What?"

"Look man, you've been sitting at that freakin' game for a week now. Give it a break! Relax, have some fun for once in your pathetic life. We're gonna go down to the CatScratch, come with us."

Otogi frowned, recognizing the name of the bar. "… Isn't that a strip club?"

"Your point being?"

The black-haired once-duelist sat back, tapping his pen against a perfectly shaped thigh. "Who's coming with you, Himejima? Mcintosh? Newbie? Your seventeen-year-old brother who legally can't get in?"

Himejima flapped a hand before tossing his shoulder-length blonde hair out of his face. "Look man, you didn't see anything, you don't know anything. 'Sides, it's not doing anything to you, is it?" When Otogi didn't respond, the blonde pressed forward. "C'mon, please? You've been working your ass off, take a freakin' break man. Let the creative juices flow, not get squeezed out."

Amused, Otogi said, "You sure you're not stoned too, Himejima?"

"Nah man, I just had a couple of be – oh, ha-de-freakin'-ha Otogi you asshole. Grab your girly accessories and let's just go already."

Grinning, the other grabbed his wallet and keys before strolling over. "You're paying, right?"

"Like hell I am. Just get your ass in the car and quit complaining, I'm having a freakin' aneurysm just waiting for you."

All that greeted his words was laughter before the door was slammed shut.

"Are you ready to go out there? It's almost your turn."

Anzu sighed moodily, swishing the random drink her friend had given her. "Ready? Am I ever ready?"

"Oh, c'mon Anzu, you know you're the best dancer we've got." The attractive redhead next to her leaned towards the mirror, reapplying some mascara. Anzu idly reached out and buttoned the bottom of the other's corset. She glanced down. "Oh, thanks, I hadn't noticed… y'know Anz', I still don't get why you don't just up and quit this place. Keith can't have that much money on you."

Anzu shook her head. "He has enough, Clarissa, that's all that matters." The redhead, Clarissa, frowned and pursed her lips. "Don't worry about it, alright? It's my own fault anyway."

"Honey, it's all our faults," she said flatly. "None of us ever see it coming. But Anzu, don't you have friends back home who'd be willing to help? Some childhood sweetheart or best friend who'd give you a hand? There are rumours that you're tight with those really famous duelists, y'know the Motou kid and the blonde?"

The brunette was shaking her head violently. "No, no, no, I can't Clarissa, don't you understand? I told Yugi and Jounouchi that I'd come to New York and fulfill my dream of becoming a dancer."

"Kid, you are a dancer."

"Ha, ha, Clarissa, I'm being serious."

"I know, I know – but let them bail you out of this whole mess and you can become the dancer you always wanted, don't you see?"

She was shaking her head again. "I can't, I just can't. Telling them what's happened to me and then asking them for help is like you giving your little Maria to an adoptive agency, see? You'd never give your daughter up even though you're a single mother making money off of bartending and prostitution. I'd never go back and ask for help."

The redhead was about to protest when someone called Anzu's name. The brunette sighed and stood. "That's my cue. Look, just drop it, alright? See you in a bit." Putting on a seductive and mysterious smile at doorway, she stepped into the light and disappeared.

"There she is!" hissed one of the group – by the fourth or fifth drink, it was beginning to get hard to tell one from the other. Otogi had never been a great drinker, and weeks of abstaining hadn't done anything to help that record. "Look, look, isn't she great?"

Idly, Otogi glanced over at the dancer who had come on stage. Even in his drunken state, he found himself very impressed. He heard cheering and idly wondered where it came from – before he realized that he was the one doing the cheering. Damn… I hate when I'm this drunk. The consequences in the morning were never fun.

The girl had started to crawl towards them, the cheers getting louder and more obnoxious the closer she got. Otogi blinked in surprised as all the money that his own group was throwing at her – he had always laughed at the idiots who found themselves out hundreds of dollars because they were too drunk to notice. But tonight, tonight Otogi was taking a break. He figured a twenty wouldn't hurt, so he fished it out and was about to slip it into the – was that leather? – G-string that was coming his way when suddenly –


The name had slipped out without him realizing that he was saying it. The light had flashed on the dancer's face at the right moment for but an instant, but searing blue eyes were hard to forget and although the hair was longer, he could have sworn…

Did she freeze in the millisecond between music beats? Otogi couldn't be sure but suddenly his outstretched hand and twenty were left frozen in midair and the girl was spinning away, faster and faster and the song was over far too soon. He found himself staring at the spot where he had seen the flash of blue eyes, where he could have sworn…

Anzu slammed herself into her seat, face red, utterly mortified. "I-I… Clariss' I can't stay the rest of – I have to go, nononono I can't be here right now, shit, this isn't happening, I can't – "

"Anzu," said the other girl, alarmed. She dragged her into a seat and pressed a drink into her hand. "Speak to me babe. What happened? Why are you so shaken up?"

The other downed the drink in a fluid motion. It was instantly refilled. "I saw someone, Clarissa, someone who can't be here and can't know I'm here. You've got to let me out for the rest of the night, Clarissa, please, I'll work an extra night this week or something or – "

"Slow down babe, you know I got to talk to Keith first," said Clarissa with a frown. "Look, relax, I'll see what I can do, alright? I'll bribe him with sex if I got to." Anzu looked up sharply with a frown. She waved it off. "Sit here and take a minute to breathe. He likes you and you've never failed him, I'll say you've come down with something. Stay here for a few minutes, alright? I'll be back." Anzu nodded wordlessly. Clarissa pressed her rosy-red lips to the other's forehead before bounding away. The brunette sighed and buried her face in her hands, waiting.

Otogi was up and out of his seat as soon as she had disappeared, drunken senses suddenly snapping sober. He hadn't seen anyone from Domino in years – and now, here, at last, was Mazaki Anzu! Sure she wasn't Kawai Shizuka – he'd always been partial to her – but hell, she was someone he had shared some of the best years of his life with.

He hadn't been mistaken. He couldn't have been mistaken. Anzu had a face you couldn't forget. It was something about her eyes, a fierce pride and perseverance that didn't fade even after she looked away. So even if it cost him a bit of money – which it did – Otogi was determined to hunt her down in the club that night.

After bribing bouncers, bartenders and other strippers, he finally was able to get backstage and started to look. He found her sitting at a mirror, staring blankly at a half-sipped drink in her hand. It was definitely Anzu and no mistake.

He approached her hesitantly. "Anzu?"

She jumped, upsetting her drink. Swearing, she grabbed a paper towel off of the table in front of her, kneeling to wipe it up. Her hair formed a curtain between them.

Otogi frowned. "Anzu, it's me, Otogi." When she didn't respond, he pressed. "Anzu, c'mon, what's this? I thought we were friends."

Finally, Anzu looked up fiercely. "I can't let my friends know about this, Otogi. I can't let them see me like this. I'm not 'Mazaki Anzu' here. I'm not anything."

He felt his face draw into a frown. "Anzu… Anzu, please, tell me what happened, what brought you here. The Anzu I knew wanted to be a dancer but not this kind of dancer."

Her hand snapped back before he realized what was happening. He rubbed his face and looked at his now-wet shirt, dismayed. Her empty glass lay rolling on the linoleum flooring. "Don't you think I know that?" she hissed. "If I had known I'd end up like this I would have never come to New York in the first place."

"Then leave," he said, confused. "Anzu, I don't understand."

"You don't – "

"Anzu?" came Clarissa's voice. She walked up to her. "Anzu, Keith said you could take the night off …" Her voice trailed off as she saw Otogi. Her mouth tightened. "I'm sorry sir, but she's not available for tonight, she feels a bit under the weather."

Otogi blinked at her, confused, until it dawned on him. "Ohhhh, I'm not here for – you think I want sex!" he exclaimed, before starting to laugh.

Clarissa blinked at him, but then a voice called, "Sex? Is there a customer here?" to which she quietly groaned.

"Keith!" said Clarissa cheerfully, spinning around and putting on a dazzling smile. "Keith, da'lin', please, you didn't have to come all this – "

"I came to see how my favourite dancer was doing," came a gruff voice as the infamous Keith – formerly known as Bandit – stepped into the light.

The years and "business" that Keith Howard kept had paid off nicely. Gone was the infamous "American flag" bandana and patriotic clothes; in his stead was a respectable suit and tie. His dirty blonde hair was tied back in a neat ponytail, and he'd even grown a small beard, neatly clipped. "And apparently she has a customer?"

Anzu looked down. "Mr. Howard sir," she mumbled. "Sir, I was just about to – "

He waved her down. "Well, we treat customer's well, but sir, this one's expensive." He rattled off a price that was much higher than her usual calling price. "Why not someone…?"

But Otogi had gotten a hold an idea in his mind. "Wha whash tat you saed?" He doubled the amount, playing-up his drunkenness, slurring his words and leaning forward a tad too much. "Hurr." He flourished and checkbook and sloppily wrote an amount out to cash. "C'mon, babeh," he breathed into Anzu's face. "Lezgo."

Under normal circumstances, Anzu would have somewhat protested. So she did. "Sir, but sir, I'm not – "

Keith was too distracted by the sum written on the check. "She is yours," he said. "Pleasure doing business with you. Anzu, take tomorrow off." He wandered off, marveling at the idiocy of drunkards.

When he was out of site, Otogi made a face. "That was expensive. C'mon Anzu, let's get you out of here. And don't you dare object. I may be drunk but not that drunk."

"Wait just a minute – " objected Clarissa, but Anzu shook her head.

"He's right, Clarissa. He just paid a huge chunk of my due off, and besides, I know him."

"You know – "

"Please. I'll explain later."

Clarissa paused, looking at her. At last, she sighed and nodded. "Alright. Hey, you, don't drink and drive 'kay?"

Otogi waved a hand. "Again, I may be drunk, but not that drunk. I'll call a cab. C'mon Anzu."

She sighed and followed.

They got to Otogi's apartment in one piece – Anzu's was in the apartment building next to the club, but as Keith owned it he was sure to also monitor it closely. Otogi figured that with the sum he paid, Anzu would be allowed to spend the night at his place.

Anzu was very quiet throughout the car ride, lost in her own thoughts. Her companion was fine with that – he had quite a lot to think about on his own. For one, he was out several hundred dollars. For another – God, she was a stripper!

Once inside the apartment, Otogi ordered up some pizza and made some coffee. Still silent, he poured her a cup and sat across from on the couch. And then, finally, twenty minutes later when the pizza came and he set the box on the table, he spoke.

"Alright, Anzu. Whatever landed you in this situation is obviously too embarrassing or too scarring to talk about outright, least of all with a once-classmate and someone you haven't seen in a long time. I get that. So I'll do some talking and when you're up to it, you'll tell me your bit." He sat and took a bite of pizza. After chewing carefully, he added, "I'm not stupid, and I came to some conclusions in our short little encounter at the CatStratch. Some of them are obvious, but bear with me, hm?"

She sipped some coffee and after a moment, nodded.

"Alright. Lesson number one: you're not working at the CatStratch by choice." Anzu snorted. "Well I said some of them were obvious!" He waved a hand. "Anyway. How do I know that? You fairly told me.

"Lesson number two: Keith Howard – the once-duelist, the once-intercontinental champion – has something on you – more than likely, money. Judging from the way you treated him, it must be a lot of money."

She flinched. He continued. "Lesson three: It is this very same Keith Howard, notorious pimp and bar owner, who has forced you into your current profession." He put his pizza down. "And four: I just paid off a chunk of your debt, but the fact that it wasn't all of it means that good God that debt is huge."

Anzu carefully put down her mug. "Anything else?" she asked calmly.

His lips twitched. "You want to beat the living shit out of him."

That made her smile wryly. "That I can't deny, so I won't try to." She took a piece of pizza and idly bit into it. "Otogi… there're some things in life you try to explain. There are other things that even if you could explain it properly you'd rather not. And then there are those things that just don't need any explanation at all. Unfortunately… this is not one of those things." She gestured. "You've been kind, Otogi, and for that I'll explain how I winded up like this. But be patient with me, alright? Hindsight makes me realize what I fool I was."

He nodded. "Alright. Go on."

She sighed. "I came to New York because I wanted to dance. I arrived three years ago with hardly any money and little luggage. I rented a place for a while and started looking for a dancing job – but an unheard of dancer didn't go over well, because the city's full of them. I did odd-end jobs to live and kept trying, but needless to say, I failed. I fell behind on rent and was evicted.

"Keith found me then. I recognized him, and he me, and he took me in. I fell for it. I had such faith in humanity – you remember how I harped on and on about friendship in Japan? I thought that he took me in out of kindness. He fed me, clothed me, took very good care of me. I lived with him for over a year and a half, and promised to pay him back. And then? He showed me a detailed account of everything I owed him. Rent, food, clothes, luxuries. Told me if I really wanted to pay him back I'd work at his club. I was a dancer, right? Might as well make myself known." Anzu chuckled bitterly. "I realize now I should have known – but I was optimistic, three years ago. I've been working for Keith for two months now, nowhere nearly enough to pay him back. He has me in a sort of web – pays my rent, for my food, my clothes, and adds that to my debt. It just grows and grows." She sighed again.

Otogi sat back, contemplating. "Why don't you spend the night?" he finally said. "I don't mind, really. You look like you need a night away to relax."

She wanted to protest, but Anzu was so weary she could hardly think. Memories clouded her mind and she swore… "Yeah. Thanks."

He helped her up. "C'mon, Anzu. Let's go to bed."

The plural caught her off guard. "Together?"

He rolled his eyes. "If I wasn't drunk, I'd take the couch, but honestly, I need to wake up somewhat comfortable. I know I paid for good sex but I'll forgo it," he added dryly. Anzu fingered his lapel, not answering. "… What?"

"You paid for sex," she murmured. "You should get it."

"…" He blinked. "Anzu, I paid to get you out of there. It's alright, I'm – "

"I want to."

That caught him completely off guard. The conversation had drastically changed course. "You drunk too?" he asked weakly. "What was in that coffee?"

She shook her head. "I owe you. It's the least I can do."

He caught her wrists as they came up to unbutton his shirt. "Anzu… maybe in the morning, alright?"

"You'll have a hangover."

"I don't think you want to do this."

"Dammit Otogi – " She kissed him, hard. He wanted to break away, wanted to object that she was tired and he was drunk and this was wrong – but Otogi, like so many before him, couldn't stop from kissing back, from holding her and pressing himself against her.

When he finally had enough sense to pull back, he gasped, "Why, you stupid – "

"Look, call it my private rebellion." She had made up her mind. "Just let me, alright? For God's sake I can't believe you're complaining. Let me give you your money's worth."

So he let her. Pent-up emotions and regret came tumbling out for reasons neither of them could explain, which had nothing to do with the other. Anzu used him, her own "private rebellion" as she'd called it – just another way to fight back, to beat it into Keith that he could never have every piece of her. And Otogi?

Otogi was just along for the ride.

He saved her.

She had left the next morning before he woke up, leaving a note of thanks and praying he wouldn't follow her to the club. Honestly, he had taken a chunk out of her debt and she was grateful for that. But afterwards, afterwards he saved her – and her feelings on that was something she truly could not describe.

He'd bought her out. Gone to Keith and paid off her debt, and then given his apartment to her before explaining that he was going on an extended business trip and needed someone to watch the place.

He'd given her the "out-of-jail-free" card that she didn't even know existed.

Keith had snatched off her uniform and told her to get out of his sight – a welcome change. Her apartment had been cleared, and she found a key and a note in an almost-girlie script – Call it even.

She wasn't stupid. She knew he expected her to keep up with everything and stay in touch. But now…

Anzu smiled and picked up the phone. "Hey Otogi, before you go… I think you left something here."

"And what's that, Anzu?"


Me: (relieved sigh) Much better than the other ones I've shot out. (Minus puppy… (shifty-eyed expression) That goes down with my death I think.) But yeah. Lemme know what you think!