A/N: Sorry for letting this go so long without an update. This is an interesting chapter. It's different from what I usually write. Also, there's a character from "The Greatest Fan of Her Life" in this chapter. You might want to check it out if you haven't read it before.
"I try to climb your steps, I try to chase you down, I try to see how low I can get down to the ground. I try to earn my way, I try to tame this mind, you better believe that I'm trying to beat this." - "Sick Cycle Carousel", Lifehouse, No Name Face.
Sunlight filtered in the room. Jounouchi woke up on the floor, very confused. He paused a moment to remember why. Nothing came to him. He sat up, recognized the room, and everything slide into place. Right. Mai's apartment. Trying to kill herself. Nightmares.
Yawning, he stood up. Man, it'd been a long night. He looked at the clock. It was nine in the morning.
"Hey, Mai? What day is it?" It was only last night that he'd been with his co-workers, right? So did he have to go to work today or not? It was a tense moment while he waited.
"Sunday," she called back. He sighed, relieved. Crisis averted. Mai appeared in the doorway. Jounouchi blinked. He'd never seen her in anything but a mock-corset and a skirt. She was in sweats and a t-shirt. No makeup.
"Why?" When he kept staring at her without responding, she added. "...what is it?"
"Ah, nothing!" he stammered. "Just... never seen you dressed like, uh... casual... before."
She looked down at what she was wearing, and Jounouchi quickly added, "Not that I mind! You look great! But it doesn't matter... ah, I didn't mean anything by it! ...I'm gonna stop talking now."
"Right..." she eyed him. "...you okay?"
He almost said 'tired', but swallowed it. "Fine." She kept her eyes on him another moment, but if he was crazy, who was she to judge?
"Well, now that I'm..." she made a tired gesture towards the ground. "...still here, I have some errands to run. And I'm not supposed to be by myself."
"I don't mind," Jounouchi responded without hesitating. "We should stop by my place, too... I'll need to grab some stuff if I'm going to stay here."
Mai nodded. "Right."
The trip to Jounouchi's apartment was quiet. They took the subway again. Jounouchi thought of her car, the blue convertible that he'd watching for these past years, but he said nothing. Trying to make conversation, he told her that he was a Duel Monsters teacher. He told her that Shizuka was ready to go to university. Yugi was nominally retired, but played just about anyone that asked, and was an advisor for KaibaCorp. Anzu was in America. Honda moved closer to his sister and had a decent job. Bakura was at university. Otogi was off promoting DDM.
Mai responded in all the right places, but compared to the Mai he remembered, she might as well have been silent. The Mai he remembered wouldn't let him go on like this. She'd ask questions, and she'd give her own opinions of what everyone was doing, whether he wanted to hear it or not. Would she ever be that Mai again?
They arrived, and made their way to his apartment. The section of town was a cut above what he'd grown up in. He still checked in on his dad regularly, but there was no point living there anymore. It had been the first time in his life he was able to walk home without looking over his shoulder. It took him a while to break the habit. One good thing about growing up as he did, he was satisfied with a simple place. The building was very modest, but everything worked, there weren't any bugs, and it was all his own.
The quiet was so odd, Jounouchi almost explained all these things to Mai. He mentally cringed at the thought. That was just what she needed; Jounouchi's angst-filled tales of druken fathers and gang wars, and how this small, modest, far-away apartment was so much better than all that. Still, someday, she should know that part of him. Someday.
They arrived at his door, and entered. Jounouchi pocketed his keys and kicked his shoes off. "I'll try to be quick, but make yourself at home," he offered.
"Thanks," she nodded. He left her for the moment and went to his room. Mai looked around the living area. The place looked about half as big as her apartment, and he was a considerably better duelist than her. The room could use some straightening up, but it was better kept than she might have expected from him. A few dishes were piled in the sink, but more were drying in the dish rack. There were papers all over his counter and tables, but stacked into piles. DVDs were lying haphazardly around the TV, but crammed into the TV shelf nonetheless. Everything had its own little pocket of organized mess.
It wasn't properly decorated, of course, but he had pictures everywere. Some were framed, but most just tacked onto the walls. She wandered around to look at them all. The subjects varied: Jouunochi with friends, most she didn't recognize; Kids in uniform; Jounouchi in uniform? What on earth were those? She knew nothing about him anymore. Three years was a long time for her, but she hadn't done anything but duel and live out her nightmare. He had been free, and she could only imagine the things he had done.
"Ready," he called, coming out of his room with a bag. "Oh wait, almost forgot..." He grabbed a computer case off the floor next to his kitchen table, slapped it down, unzipped it, and opened it in a practiced motion. He scanned the piles of papers, and threw what he needed into the case.
"Ready for real this time," he apologized, slinging his duffel bag over his shoulder. "You good to go?"
"Yeah..." she lingered at one of the pictures of him in a red uniform in front of a school. "What's this?"
He came next to her and looked at the picture. "Oh, that's me at work." He moved towards the door. Mai followed.
"What do you do?"
It was nice to hear intiating conversation for once. "I'm a duel monsters teacher." He pulled the door opened for her, grinning at her surprised expression. "Yeah, I get that a lot."
Out they went, doomed to another silent subway ride. They stopped at her apartment again for Jounouchi to leave his things, then out again for Mai's errands.
"So, what're we doing?" Jounouchi asked cheerfully, trying to lighten the mood. "Shopping?" Mai ignored how forced the cheerfulness was.
"Yeah," she answered, to the point. Jounouchi nodded, seeing how his attempts to talk failed. Well, he'd had to do worse things than follow Mai around without talking.
The afternoon wore on. The stops were predictable enough: bank, grocery store, and pharmacy, though Mai was decidedly uncomfortable in the pharmacy. Jounouchi offered to wait outside, but she just replied that he'd better come in. That had been their final stop, and they headed back for her apartment.
Jouonouchi prepared himself for another quiet walk, but Mai broke her silence.
"I've been on my own so long, I'm not used to having anyone to talk to. And I haven't really been talkative much lately, anyway."
It was her way of apologizing for making the day so awkward. "No problem," he answered.
"You can talk if you like. I'm listening, even if it doesn't look like it. It was nice to hear what everyone was up to before... Not that you have to talk... just... thought I'd let you know... if you wanted..."
She trailed off awkwardly. "See, that's why I haven't been talking," she added with a chuckle.
Jounouchi grinned. "Was that a joke?"
"I guess so. Don't expect it too often."
"Oh, I don't know about that."
His prediction there was off the mark, but Mai was feeling better. Maybe all she needed this time wasn't just someone to talk to, but someone worth talking to. Talking with.
They rounded a corner only a few blocks from her apartment and nearly ran into a too-familiar face. All three stopped, Mai even taking a step backwards.
"Mai!" the idiot Takeru stared, slightly surprised that she was even still alive. "What're you-? I mean... ah... um..." he fumbled for words. Jounouchi, normally the most trusting soul on the planet, except perhaps for Yugi, made his presence known to the hapless ex-boyfriend. Takeru had not forgotten his altercation with Jounouchi at the bar, and was all the more intimiated by Jounouchi's out-of-use, but still scary, angry expression.
"I didn't expect to see you so soon," Takeru stammered out finally. "Um... how are you?"
Mai remembered how Takeru's quiet way had once been sweet and endearing. Now, it made her sick. All day, she'd been recovering from the last day, too shocked and confused by Jounouchi's sudden resuce to do much more than follow him around. She came out of her fog for the first time since Takeru left all those weeks ago. When she spoke, it wasn't in the same sullen voice Jounouchi had listened to all day. But then, she hadn't needed to think all day. Now, with Takeru standing before them, her mind raced.
"I didn't expect to see you, either." Ever. Takeru was surprised by the strong answer. "I'm fine."
"No thanks to you," Jounouchi growled unexpectedly at Takeru. Mai turned, startled to see his clenched fist and gritted teeth. She gave him a look that said to stand down and turned to face Takeru. She would handle this. She would. This was her fight, not Jounouchi's, and she wanted to pay him back herself.
"How are you?" she asked, a threatening look in her eye. Answer. I dare you. The fire that had been dead in her for a long time, long before Takeru ever met her, flared up at the prospect of getting back at him.
"Um... alright," Takeru replied, and that was the end of safe conversation he could come up with. He took a stab anyway. "It's... good to see you again, Mai."
"Too bad we can't say the same," Jounouchi cut in again. Before Mai could say anything to either of them, Takeru abandoned the small talk and went for it.
"Mai, I'm sorry about everything. I didn't realize what would happen-"
"Because you're a complete idiot," Jounouchi growled, but Takeru ignored him.
"I never would have... left like that if I thought it would hurt you that much."
"You've really changed," Mai said in a low voice. "You didn't give a damn before."
"I know..." Takeru wanted to defend himself. He spent months with her, only to discover she was pining for another man. It was HIS time that'd been wasted! But he wasn't a complete idiot, and he swallowed his pathetic excuses. "...and I'm sorry."
"'Sorry'!" Jounouchi spat. "You-"
"Jououchi!" Mai finally shouted. Both men stared at her. Takeru started talking before Mai could string a sentence together.
"Look, I said what I had to say. Whether you accept it, whether you believe me, you ought to be..." he looked Jounouchi over. "...happy, now that he showed up."
"Hey, you-!" Jounouchi stepped forward, insulted, but Mai held up a hand.
"I hope you are, at least," Takeru finished, and she heard the pity in his voice. Too angry to get any words out, she stared him down, fuming, but refusing to show her feelings. With a last look, Takeru turned and left, leaving Jounouchi annoyed and Mai shaking, with anger she told herself.
Dammit, Jounouchi, Takeru, you both are such idiots. Her chance to tell him what he did, gone, and her made a fool because Jounouchi couldn't keep his mouth shut. She tried to remember the night before, all the things she owed Jounouchi, but the memories kept turning into Takeru looking at her pathetically and walking away. She hoped he would just shut up the rest of the way home so she could calm down.
"Idiot," Jounouchi muttered. "Who does he think he is?"
No, he had to go and ruin everything. Mai couldn't help herself. "I hope you're talking to yourself," she snapped. Jounouchi blinked.
"Huh?" He stared at her. Did she just...? "What d'you mean?"
"You!" she spat, not even using his name. "You're the idiot here! What gives you the right to butt in? Takeru is my problem! I can handle him!"
"Wha... why're you getting mad at me?" Jounouchi defended, taken aback. "He... he just left you! He didn't even do anything when we saw you on the news, he just sat there while I-"
"I don't care what he did or what he said to you!" Mai cut him off. "You didn't have to argue for me! I can fight my own battles!" I can! I don't need you for everything!
"I was just trying to help!" Jounouchi uncharacteristically refused to apologize. He'd taught her lessons about pride on more than one occasion, but he couldn't believe she was scolding him for yelling at that idiot. That was one thing he wouldn't apologize for. Anyone who hurt her like that deserved a lot more than a little yelling.
"Next time, don't! I can take care of myself!"
"Really? Then what am I doing here?" Jounouchi knew it was a mistake as soon as he said it, but he was too riled up to think before he spoke, and too stubborn to back down now.
Mai was just as stubborn; Jounouchi was right about her needing him, but she argued back. "Good question!"
"Fine! I'm gone!" Jounouchi backed away from her, both of them still glaring at the other. Mai did not object to him walking away, but shouted after him.
Jounouchi turned and left.
"I guess I kinda thought that it would be easier than this. I guess I was wrong now, one more time." -"Sick Cycle Carousel", Lifehouse, No Name Face.
A/N: Now, you, the reader, now have a very important job before you. I've been planning this fic for many years. I have plans for 12 chapters, plus an epilogue. However, it has been so long since that outline, that the bits of those chapters I wrote are taking a lot of work to fix up and put together. The pacing is screwed up. I actually cut the end of this chapter and stuck it on the beginning of the next , I ask you: would you like to see faster updates and a shorter, better-paced fic, or would you like to see the full 12 chapters as originally planned? Let me know in a review!