A/N: I was THRILLED that I finally set a fic in manga-verse so I could skip Doom and just focus on Malik's duel. And then I realized HE TELLS HER ABOUT THE DREAM IN THE MANGA. D: Which totally screwed up my ending. So I had to rewrite it, which I did in just two days to make up for the awful time between the first and second chapters.
Mai pushed her way through the people, concentrating on holding herself together for just a second longer. Just keep it together for this one step. And now another. Keep calm, you can HANDLE this, it's just a duel disk, nothing happened, no one's screwing with your mind, you're fine, you're fine...
She finally broke through the back of the crowd and bolted for the door. The sounds of the crowd died away. Her heels clacked on the floor as she crossed the entranceway. Jounouchi ran after her, the noise of the crowd audible as he opened and closed the door. Mai didn't bother to turn around, continuing outside.
As soon as she felt the cool air on her face and heard the door latch behind her, she let out a long, shuddering sigh, and leaned against the wall. Everything was okay. It wasn't Malik. It wasn't. No one was trying to kill her.
"Mai?" Jounouchi poked his head around the door. She stood up straight, and forced a smile on her face. Stay cool. Don't let him see you messed up.
"Yeah?" She kept it short, not knowing how long she could keep this up.
"You alright?" He shut the door behind him, coming over to her. She nodded, turning away. Oh damn it all, why did she feel like crying? Why now?
He touched her arm, as she had done to him before. Where he had jumped from surprise, she flinched, afraid. He stared when she pulled away from him.
"Mai, what's wrong?" Jounouchi asked, trying to circle around to face her. She turned towards the wall, not sure why she wanted to hide from him so much.
"Nothing," she lied. Hesitant, Jounouchi reached out his hand to put on her shoulder. She braced herself, and didn't pull away from him this time, but still trembled at the touch.
"What happened?" he pressed again, concerned.
"Nothing," she whispered, trying to make it true. "Nothing, nothing happened, nothing..."
"Something went wrong up there, Mai, I know it."
"No... just wanted some air," she said, now looking at the door. No, she could not go back in there. Not yet, she was still afraid that man would press her into dueling again. She moved away from Jounouchi, his hand sliding off her shoulder.
Jounouchi grasped her wrist so she wouldn't leave. "Mai. Talk to me."
"There's nothing to talk about." Jounouchi heard her lie echo with his own. "I'm fine..." He took a hesitant step towards her. Mai let him. "I'm..." She let it hang, not finishing the sentence, and making a noise like she wanted to cry but wouldn't let herself.
"No, dammit, I'm not fine!" she cried, surprising Jounouchi. "It wasn't fair! I didn't do anything to him, and screwed with my head for FUN. Why did I have to be the one--" Her hand was shaking, and Jounouchi didn't know what to do.
"Why did ANYONE have to fight him? We weren't even in his way for getting at Yuugi, he just wanted to KILL!" Jounouchi realized with a start that she wasn't talking about the dueling man tonight, but Malik. The red flag that went up when she almost fell on stage--was because she'd done the same thing in her duel with Malik. Jounouchi's hand tighted around hers.
"And now I'm still screwed up from it, but I can't... no one can do anything about it, and that idiot in there wants to make that kind of a duel normal, and I just... I--" her voice broke, and she stopped, trying not to make a sound as she finally started to cry. She flipped her handbag open with one hand and started to rummage through it.
Jounouchi let go of her hand, and approached her. Head down, she dug through her purse. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a plain white handkerchief, which he offered to her.
"I still owe you this," he offered. Her head still down, Mai stared at it for a moment, and then let out a strangled laugh.
"I'm such an idiot," she shook her head, taking it from him. "When I lost to Yuugi, I didn't want you to know I was crying. But when I gave you the handkerchief, obviously you knew. Now I don't want you to see me crying, but... I can't help it... and I know I shouldn't care--" She glanced to the side, still not wanting to show her face to him.
"Hey." Jounouchi put his hand on her shoulder. Mai looked at him, nearly laughed again. His eyes were closed. "I'm not looking."
She just looked at him a moment. "Oh, Jounouchi." Mai turned to him, resting her forehead on his shoulder, clutching his arm. He didn't move when, at last, she let the tears fall. "Why did it have to be us? Why did we have to duel Malik?"
"It's alright," he comforted. "You're okay now, Mai."
"When I dueled him, I thought I was going to die," she said, shaking. "I was so afraid of it. He stabbed me, tortured me, he threatened me with Ra, and all I could think was 'I don't want to die'. But then, he did something after the duel, and I wanted to die. I was in so much pain for so long, I actually wanted it. I can't just get up and walk away from that and everything's okay."
Jounouchi drew closer, memories of Malik's duel reawakening his overwhelming desire to protect her. Neither spoke for several minutes, her crying slowing as time passed.
"I wanted to stop it," Jonouchi gritted his teeth. "I wanted to fight him right there, but he did something and... then you were gone. I tried to get you back, Mai, I did! It wasn't a fluke when I got up in front of Ra. And now you know how worried I was. I dueled Malik, and I almost--"
"Almost died!" she accused, raising her head, tears shining. "You! I can't believe you! Look at me!"
Jounouchi opened his eyes as instructed, faltering under her angry glare.
"And you've been talking to Bakura!" She added. "I didn't tell you those things, Jounouchi--"
"Well... what about me almost dying?" he challenged. "I didn't tell you that!"
"Why not?" she shot back. "I have every right to know! You were trying to help me!"
"I didn't want to...!" He started to shout, but broke off. Sighing, he looked away, muttered, "Didn't want to... hold it over you or anything,"
"Instead of what? Me wallowing in self-pity?" she asked incredulously, anger rising at him not telling her something so important. "I've been all on my own, here, thinking no one could understand about Malik... and then I find out, not only do you understand, not only did you duel him, you did it willingly, risking your life--!" Her mouth kept moving as she tried to form words, but couldn't verbalize her frustration. "And you didn't TELL ME."
"What was I supposed to say?" he asked. "'Hey Mai, I DIED dueling Malik.' That's a great conversation starter."
"You idiot!" She yelled, voice breaking. "Do you have any idea how much I've needed someone who understands?" She continued in a rush, trying to get everything out before she broke down again. "And you've been here all this time, but I didn't know, and you didn't say anything. I couldn't talk to you about it, but I wanted to, I like you Jounouchi! But I just--I couldn't put you through that, though all my pain, not if you didn't know--"
"Mai." He held up a hand, cutting her off. Taking her shoulders, he looked her straight in the eye and asked. "What did you say?"
"I..." She realized what had come out of her mouth. Her eyes widedned; she hadn't meant to say anything like that. "Oh. I..."
"Did... you mean it?" Jounouchi asked, not sure how to feel. Mai kept looking at him, nodded once.
"You?" she asked, and he blushed, answering it.
"Erm..." Well. Jounouchi's hands fell from her shoulders. He was surprised to find it made no difference that she had already stated HER feelings--he was still nervous. "Y-yeah."
"Well then," she breathed, smiling for the first time since they had been inside. He felt dizzy. Was this happening? Did she really--? Yes! Yes, she did! He could've laughed. Yes!
They just stood there, revaling in the fact that they both had feelings for the other. Amazed silence turned into awkward silence as the moments passed, and they looked at each other, neither knowing what to say. They both started to speak at the same time.
"So--" Jounouchi started.
"Should--?" Mai asked at the same time. They both stopped.
"Ah!" Jounouchi motioned for her to continue. "Go ahead." Mai had to keep herself from laughing. Oh, this would be an interesting relationship.
"Should we go back in?"
"Like hell," Jounouchi said, pulling a disgusted face. "And if Kaiba has something to say about him, he can duel us." Mai smirked.
"Just give him one of those new duel disks and he'll shut up," she laughed, but somewhat forced. The idea of the pain-inflicting duel disk was still too inhumane for her to joke about. She rubbed the back of her neck, trying to dispel the phantom burning pain.
"So what did happen in there?" Jounouchi asked, as they walked away. Mai lowered her hand from her neck, grasped his hand instead.
"Nothi--" she started. Jounouchi looked at her quizically when she stopped. Mai shook her head, and concluded, "Apparently Malik's extra-crazy side got reincarnated as KaibaCorp's most boring R&D staffer."