Disclaimer: Forlornly not mine.
A/N: This one has been lurking on my hard-drive for a while. It's actually embarrassing how long it took me to get around to editing it, considering how short it is. More of a coda than a fic, really. Ah well. C'est la vie.
A Pair of Unrescued Unicorns
© Scribbler, August 2009.
'Heroes know that things must happen when it is time for them to happen. A quest may not simply be abandoned; unicorns may go unrescued for a long time, but not forever; a happy ending cannot come in the middle of the story.' -- Peter S. Beagle
Mai turned over, blinking in the morning light that filtered through the blinds. When she pulled them back fully it poured in like melted butter looking for a lobster. The room instantly looked brighter, for all it was a mess of rumpled sheets and scattered possessions.
She picked up a book, accidentally dislodging a pile of CDs. Trying to catch them as they teetered crazily and slid off the cabinet, she heard a chuckle behind her and turned to see one eye peering from under the pillow.
"It's a little late to see whether our music tastes match."
She didn't blush. It just wasn't something she did. The heat in her cheeks was from them waffling all night and blood finally being returned to them. And if anyone tried to say different she'd –
"Were you about to leave?"
"I …" She blinked. Looked at the book. Turned it over without reading the title and ran a hand through her hair. Her fingers caught in tangles so she left off before she looked like an idiot. Image was important, after all. People judged you on your image. Right? "No. I wasn't about to leave."
He pushed himself onto his elbows, face in that unmistakable half-grin she'd recalled so many times while searching the world for herself. Her travels had taken her to Shanghai, Quingdao, Milan, Los Angeles, and even, for a brief time, Domino City. Yet she'd eventually gravitated back to a sleepy little sea town on the Japanese coast where nothing ever happened, and the people liked it that way.
Hardly the place you'd expect a former horseman of the apocalypse, but weirder things had happened. Mai knew that firsthand. She'd lived through them – not least of which was Vivian Wong, the brashest, pushiest, least sensitive woman on the planet.
A memory intruded of Vivian turning to her and yelling, "You idiot! You think you're going to find yourself on the road, or lurking somewhere in a foreign country? Look inside yourself, for crying out loud. Did you ever do that? Because that's the only place you'll be hiding!"
And Mai had looked, sifting through the layers of her own personality to what lay beneath years of learned behaviour and habit. What she'd found had been the seeds of a person she'd thought lost when Malik locked her away and stripped her of her self-worth. Since then Mai had either been trying to mask herself, using the Oricalchos as a buffer, or pretend to be that former version of herself. She'd found the façade easier to maintain than actually unearthing her old self and changing it to fit in with the life experiences she'd gained, since the old Mai was nothing more than a ball-busting duellist who liked shopping and never talked about her family.
Going back to Domino was what had finished off her transformation. Seeing Yuugi and her old friends was an uplifting experience because of their boundless forgiveness. Even Honda stood back to let Jounouchi approach her, as if sensing that this was the make-or-break moment in their budding romance.
Mai had looked at Jounouchi the same way she looked at herself, sifting through the layers to see what lay beneath all the crap they'd put each other through. She'd seen in him possibly the greatest friend she could ever have, and had never actually asked for. She'd hugged him, allowing herself to cry for what felt like the first time in forever. It had felt good. Better than expected. This new Mai wasn't tough to the exclusion of her own emotions, but neither was she totally controlled by them. So when hugging Jounouchi didn't spark the flames of desire, Mai knew enough to realise that despite everything, she only looked at him as a friend and equal much older than his seventeen years. She loved him enough to lay down her life for him, but she wasn't in love with him.
All of which had led her to a house down by a beach, and a creaky staircase that led to a front door she'd last seen when carrying an unconscious man and enough emotional baggage to fill an entire the hold of a Boeing 747. It hadn't been a dark and stormy night this time, but the meeting was no less emotional for it.
"Would you like some breakfast?" she asked now.
"Sure, I guess."
She started for the door, and then stopped. "I don't know where anything is."
He grinned, flipping back the covers to reveal he was wearing the bottoms to match the pyjama shirt she was wearing. One night and they were already sharing, but instead of too fast it felt absurdly … comfortable. "Hang on and I'll fix it." He passed in front of her, trailing the faint scent of motor oil and musk, then stopped and swivelled to face her. "Mai, I …" he started, but then baulked.
Mai shook back her hair, knotted and tangled as it was. Like the unflattering pyjama top, somehow she didn't care so much about looking like a wreck this morning. Yeah, yeah, image was important, but you know what? Honestly? Blah blah blah. Just like her finally accepting herself for who and what she was, frailties and all, this entire situation had been a long time in coming.
"I like French toast," she said into the silence. "And Viv taught me how to make a mean omelette if you have any eggs."
His troubled expression smoothed. He understood what she wasn't saying. "Is this the part where I say 'You can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs'?"
Like picking up everything and putting it back together again after a hurricane, you built your house stronger the second time around. Both Mai and Valon had learned this the hard way, but sometimes hard-won lessons are the best.
It wasn't a happy-ever-after ending, but it was a real one, and that was even better.
'If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.' -- Orson Welles