Sorry it took me so long to get this chapter ready- most of it has been sitting here already written for a couple weeks, but I got distracted with a few things. Updated a couple other fics, did some reading, puttered around with some other stuff… you know how it is.
Anyway, I finished it up and edited it while listening to the song 'The High Road' by the band Broken Bells over and over again, so it probably colored the finished product to some extent. Great match in tone, and it contributed a title for the chapter as well. I hope you guys will like the chapter. Check out the song if you have a chance, it's a cool one.
Disclaimer: I don't own anything mentioned in here. Not Yu-Gi-Oh, Seto, Anzu, or Yugi's polka dot underwear. Ha! I wonder how many people actually read this disclaimer carefully enough to catch that last one… ;)
Tripping Over the Moon
Chapter 3: The Borderline
For not the first time in the past half hour, he wondered what he was doing here.
The kitchen was colorfully decorated and spotlessly clean, the occasional expanse of wall or free surface dotted with a trinket or photograph. Some of those pictures were like bad memories to Seto- Yugi and Jounouchi dueling at the Kame Game Shop, the entire nerd herd eating ice cream cones at what looked like the beginning of the Battle City tournament, Anzu on graduation day with Yugi's arm across her shoulders… people and things that Seto hadn't thought about in a long time. He'd been glad not to think about them.
She had left him to his own devices after putting the coffee on to brew, absently turning on every light in the apartment as she headed to her bedroom to change. Surely the experience this evening had left her somewhat shaken. Presumably that was why she had invited him in. But why, exactly, had he accepted? To be polite? That wasn't exactly his style. Out of concern for Anzu? Again, unlikely. His eyebrows creased as he frowned into his coffee, trying not to think about the possibility that he hadn't wanted to be alone with his thoughts, which remained in an unresolved and distracted state despite his better efforts.
Emerging from the bedroom, he watched Anzu walk to the front of the apartment and hang his coat carefully on an empty hook next to the door. He didn't miss the small motion made by her eyes as she checked that the locks were secure. She smiled nervously at him as she came into the kitchen, wearing some nondescript but flattering pajamas. Her hair was in a loose braid. She poured herself a cup of coffee, gesturing to him with her head. "Let's go sit in the living room. It's a little more comfortable than here."
Seto hadn't even noticed that the kitchen chair was uncomfortable until she mentioned it. Truthfully, his body did feel a bit stiff. Her furniture wasn't the worst quality it could be, but it still appeared to be something that would be affordable on a college student's budget. He followed her into the living room and selected a well worn armchair. Anzu curled her legs beneath her and sat on the couch to his left.
Uncomfortable silence seemed to be a theme of the day for them, and it had returned with a vengeance. Anzu sipped her coffee repeatedly as though it were the only thing she could think of to do. He had unfortunately forgotten to refill his cup before sitting down and felt like half his body had been swallowed by the surprisingly comfortable armchair. He placed the empty cup on the coffee table, where yet another photograph caught his eye.
It was a picture of Yugi, and yet it wasn't. There was a certain confidence in the smirk upon the face looking out of the photograph, a hardness of expression that Seto had seen but a few times on his rival. If he had known there was another spirit dwelling within Yugi he never would have admitted it, but this photo seemed almost like conclusive evidence that the presence existed.
"Weird, isn't it? He's gone forever, you know. Sometimes I don't even believe he was there unless I see this picture."
"Hn," Seto said dismissively, picking up the frame to look a little more closely. "Probably just a trick of the light. Magic is for babies and weirdoes, Mazaki. I see nothing other than Yugi in this photo. It's not healthy to let your imagination run away from you."
She let out a short giggle. "If that's true, Kaiba, how did you even know what I was talking about? You wouldn't have acknowledged it with an answer if you hadn't seen it there yourself."
Seto shrugged, returning the picture frame to its home in a face-down position. This was a subject he preferred not to linger upon. Without even contemplating, he employed the time-honored strategy of changing the focus of the conversation by trying to piss her off. "It's funny, Mazaki. I thought you and the shrimp were somewhat of an item. Why wasn't he the one rescuing you tonight?"
His baiting did not have the desired effect. Anzu's blue eyes went wide and she jumped up from the couch, almost spilling her coffee. "Oh my god! Yugi! I forgot to text him!" She ran to the kitchen table where she had left her purse, fumbling for her cell. Texting furiously, she moved slowly back toward the couch. Noticing the bemused expression on Seto's face, she absently explained, "Yugi and the others were with me at the club, but I didn't want to take a taxi with them just for a few lousy blocks when it wasn't even on their way…"
The girl froze, obviously remembering what had happened to her on this supposedly simple trip home. A few pieces of hair fell out of her braid as she shook herself back to reality. "Anyway, I was supposed to text him when I got home." Tossing the phone on the couch as she finished her message, Anzu put her hands on her hips and glared at him. "Yugi does care about me. This was all my fault for being so stubborn…"
Anger deflating as quickly as it had come, she slouched back onto the couch looking slightly dejected. Seto, as usual when it came to Yugi, could not let the matter rest. "If you were my girlfriend there's no way in hell I would allow such a thing. Isn't that runt ever going to grow a backbone?"
This was usually the point where the pompoms came out, and cheerleader Anzu rose to the defense of her dear friend Yugi. Again, Seto did not receive the expected response. Anzu's cheeks turned oh so slightly pink as her eyes locked onto his. "He is not my boyfriend!"
Silence reigned once again, for a few moments. Anzu let out a deep breath, leaning her head back onto the couch cushion. When she spoke, the words seemed to be mostly for herself. "Why do people always think that?"
Seto Kaiba released a low chuckle, knowing he had touched upon a sensitive subject. "Oh please. Like you haven't noticed the way Yugi has been looking at you since we were twelve? He's head over heels- not that he'd have to fall very far to make it to that point." He smirked. Surely this would be enough to send her over the edge. He wasn't sure quite why he wanted to make her angry. He could admit that it was perhaps a way of diverting or distracting himself. Or maybe he just wanted to see those eyes flashing at him again… but again, he was disappointed.
Her head lolled sideways on the cushion so that her glance was turned his way. His joke about Yugi's height seemed to hang in the air, ignored. "I know Yugi thinks he has feelings for me, but it's just puppy love. Why doesn't anybody ever wonder about what I want?"
There are some conversational traps that are unavoidable even for someone as intelligent as Seto Kaiba. He was about to fall straight into one of them. "Oh? And what is it that you want, Mazaki?"
She stared at him, rather shocked. It wasn't simply the question he had asked; it was a combination of everything that had happened tonight. The attack, the fact that she had invited him here, and now this. Were the poles reversing or something? The world definitely wasn't normal when Seto Kaiba started asking questions about her love life. With this total disintegration of rational behavior, what else could she do but answer?
Giving a small smile, her expression became thoughtful. She could see that he was regarding her with some amount of trepidation. "What do I want? I don't know if it's so simple that I can put it into words…"
"Well that's nothing new for you."
She glared at him.
"Sorry, I couldn't help it. You're such an easy target." He clasped his hands and propped them behind his head, affecting a relaxed pose. His long limbs looked a bit incongruous gracing her battered leather armchair, but he certainly looked comfortable enough. Having Kaiba here made her feel strange. His questions were unintentionally incisive, and she wasn't sure she wanted to face up to some of the answers...
…like the fact that he fit pretty squarely into several of the categories of 'things she wanted'.
It wasn't like she was… interested in him. Not precisely. It was more about the way he sometimes made her feel. She enjoyed the stinging barbs he had always thrown her way, because she liked the challenge of retorting. And as anyone who had ever been pinned by that steely cold ocean gaze knew, Kaiba certainly had a way of making you feel like you were the only person in the room. Plus, that sweater clung so enticingly to his body… no, she wasn't even going to go there. What was the word she was looking for that would sum all of this up?
"…Passion. I guess that's the simplest way to describe it."
He raised an eyebrow, and she could see that the corner of his mouth had quirked in an almost-smile. "Been reading too many romance novels, Mazaki?"
Rolling her eyes, she deflected his attempt to infuriate her. "Nothing like that, Kaiba. I just… don't want to be treated so delicately all the time, I guess. Sometimes I feel like people look at me, especially men, like I can't do anything on my own. Yugi is a wonderful friend, but he sometimes makes me feel that way the most out of anyone. I know he just wants to protect me, but sometimes I wish he would at least let us have a disagreement or two."
Seto had given up on having a normal day long ago, but was still perplexed by the turn this conversation had taken. "Hn. Oh yes. Because arguing is such a good indicator of compatibility. You might as well just say that we should start dating each other." He let out a noise somewhere between a scoff and a laugh, ignoring the strands of dark hair as they fell across one of his eyes.
"I just mean that I want to be with someone who will challenge me and treat me like an independent person. I can think for myself, you know." She only just managed to hide the blush that rose up when he mentioned the idea of them dating.
One of his legs draped itself across the arm of the chair. He was drifting into more and more of a comfortable position, looking quite innocuous. "Yes, I know. Most of your thoughts seem to fly right out of your mouth before being filtered through common sense. And your wanderings in Domino back alleys are certainly the mark of a genius at work…"
He hadn't meant to cause the pain that coursed through her expression at the mention of what had transpired earlier. He knew it wasn't her fault that she was attacked, but he had made it sound that way. "Sorry. That was uncalled for."
"Making your own mistakes is part of life, I guess." She stretched her arms above her head and rolled her head in a languorous circle. "Don't get me wrong. I was terrified. But once you were there, it was all okay somehow. They couldn't hurt me anymore." Viewing him thoughtfully, she continued. "I wasn't alone anymore. So it was okay."
"I thought you said you wanted to be independent." He tried not to think about the implications of what she had just said. She was comforted by his presence?
"There's a difference between being independent and being alone."
"And you don't want to be alone? Is that what you're saying?" His eyelids were starting to feel heavy with sleep, but she had lulled him into a trance. He hadn't taken his eyes off of her for some time now, and thought she was holding up quite well under the pressure of his gaze.
Or was it the other way around? Anzu's eyes were crystal clear and plaintive. There was so much honesty radiating from that gaze that even the great Seto Kaiba felt a little hot around the collar. "Does anyone?" She searched his face, wondering what was behind the drowsy and unguarded expression he was wearing. He leaned one side of his face into his hand, resting an elbow on the arm of his chair. "I've always kind of wondered, Kaiba. I know you have Mokuba, but… I mean, don't you get lonely sometimes?"
He snickered somewhat petulantly, breaking eye contact. "Lonely? How could I ever be lonely when I'm constantly surrounded by idiots every day?"
Anzu noticed that his eyes didn't correspond with even the moderately unenthusiastic bravado of his response. They were absent, midnight blue with barely noticeable gloomy grey flecks. He almost seemed to be staring a hole through the floor, not looking at her as though ignoring her questioning gaze would make the heavy anticipation in the air go away.
His blatant non-answer was loneliness. And the fact that he was allowing her to see it must be somehow significant. In this night of strange happenings and even stranger dialogues, neither of them had enough energy left to bother with pretense. She was transfixed by the authenticity and weight of his careworn expression. He was too disconcerted and exhausted by their experiences to bother putting up his usual façade. The only question now was, what was going to happen when this bizarre and candid bubble around them burst? The perilous borderline of dawn lurked in the nearer distance...
There. As you can see, these guys still won't cooperate and just get the hots for each other (although I think they secretly have a mutual attraction already)! They're too emotionally and physically exhausted, but hopefully we can rectify this problem in the next chapter. I hope you guys didn't find this too boring, it's somewhat expository, but I enjoy writing them when they're waging this sort of psychological warfare on each other. What can I say- I'm a glutton for punishment! (sigh) They'll thank me in the end. Reviews will be turned into a yummy stir fry. You don't want me to be hungry, do you? ;)