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Tremors

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Anzu Mazaki did not consider herself magically gifted by any means. She wasn’t psychic, she didn’t have a preternatural instinct, and while her life was generally pretty good, she wouldn’t call herself lucky.

Instead, Anzu danced, and that meant that she knew the difference between the vibrations made by a young ballerina practicing her petit jetés on a hardwood floor and Jounouchi and Honda thundering down Domino High’s linoleum hallways in a race to get their food first from the school’s mini convenience store.

The tingle that started on the balls of her feet didn’t feel like any of that. But it did feel familiar.

It felt like heavy stone shifting.

Like the earth awoke from its slumber, ravenous and craving… something. The way the earth shook some months ago, back in Egypt, back when Atem

Anzu shot an urgent, horrified glance at her lab partner, one stoic Seto Kaiba, who’d started coming to school every day since they’d returned from Egypt. It was almost like he didn’t want to miss Atem, so he settled for seeing Yuugi in class on a daily basis. At least, that was Anzu’s theory. It wasn’t as if he really talked to her, except in single word bursts. But he didn’t need words this time, and neither did she: he met her gaze with his own vexed one, his eyebrows knit– and then in the time it took Anzu to inhale, his eyes widened slightly.

Five seconds later, it was like that scene Anzu dimly remembered from Jurassic Park, except instead of water in a cup, the rippling liquid was in everyone’s ongoing chemistry assignments.

Seconds after that, bottles shuddered and tipped to the floor, glass shattering, plastic beakers and graduated cylinders bouncing to the floor. People’s murmurs started to grow urgent, fearful.

There was a snap !— and then Anzu felt an arm hook onto her torso as someone bodily swung her under the heavy lab bench, right as the overhead fluorescent light burst from its cover, sparking wires and brilliant glass showering the area where she’d stood moments before.

Then came the screams –from the other students in the class, and then surprisingly loud ones from the hallway, the classrooms next door, and outside on the track. Anzu swallowed, forcing herself to keep her head down but her eyes up –and on Seto Kaiba, whose own gaze never wavered from her own, as the world came crashing down around them.


It felt like an hour had passed, maybe two, but unless the clock on the wall had broken without falling, it had only been six minutes.

Only six minutes.

But in that time, supply cabinets screeched off their wall mounts, vomiting glass, metal, and shards of plastic before they tipped over and splintered; a framed periodic table shuddered and fell flat on its face; ungraded tests gushed from plastic paper organizers; and outside, shingles and cement bricks from the perpetually under construction gymnasium struck the ground, near-silent claps of thunder amidst the chaos.

Anzu had expected that the fire alarm would go off, and that at least one other teacher would arrive momentarily to check on everyone. But her head throbbed and her throat felt parched from all the dust that had exploded from the ceiling when entire panels crumbled to the floor. 

It was different… from back then, from when the rumbling meant that Atem had gone to the Afterlife, the Ceremonial Duel concluded and the Millennium Items were gone for good. Back then, the rumbling meant that they were no longer welcome here, that there was no place for living souls in the tomb of the once-nameless pharaoh. They’d all escaped from the crumbling dark and into the gleaming light of a new day in Egypt, savoring the warm open air.

Egypt had been nothing like this. Anzu heard Yuugi’s cough, Jounouchi mumbling something to him followed by a loud bang as he undoubtedly kicked some fallen object away from himself and his best friend. She heard Honda hiss as he touched some wound –a fresh scrape or cut, or the beginnings of an ugly bruise. Her own legs still felt like jelly, but tingled nonetheless, this time from falling asleep after having been tightly cramped for several minutes.

She tried to stand, tried to emerge from under the lab bench to check on everyone —she was the class representative, after all— but apparently Anzu had lost her sense of balance, and she wobbled and nearly slipped on a shard from the broken light fixture, falling backward into Seto Kaiba’s arms.

Anzu had never seen him so pale. Under the lab bench, in the shadows, he’d stared at her almost like he was trying to bore a hole in her head with his eyes. Now she knew he hadn’t been looking at her at all, but through her, trying to concentrate and solve this new problem that interfered with his meticulous routine. Judging by the momentary wobble in his own legs, she surmised he hadn’t quite figured it out yet. He did, however, abruptly remove his hands from her shoulders the moment Anzu found her footing; his gaze swept the classroom and took in the damage.

“Everyone okay in here?” Anzu swung her head toward the door, her neck making an awful set of popping sounds. Every joint felt cramped, tight, and burning. It was one of the teachers for first-years, someone Anzu hadn’t had before. As class representative, she should have been able to speak, to look around and mentally check off in her head which classmates were there today, and where they were now. But with each beat of her heart, her head throbbed, and most faces seemed to blur as she tried to make them out among the settling dust.

Someone else answered for her, a male voice; it wasn’t Kaiba or Yuugi or Jounouchi. Was it the teacher? In any case, the first-year instructor in the doorway said something else —wait here for some time and then head out to the open courtyard— and then he nodded and dashed down the hallway to look after other students.

At some point, Yuugi, Jounouchi, and Honda came up to her, but all she could do in reply to their questions was nod yes or shake her head no; yes, she was okay; no, she wasn’t bleeding; no, nothing was broken. Her ears still rung shrilly, and Anzu thought she saw blue and orange sparks at the edge of her vision, but if she blinked hard, they disappeared, at least for a minute. 

Kaiba had stepped back, away from her and her shaking forearms, her wobbling legs. There, but removed, a meter or so away. His gaze seemed glassy as he looked around but didn’t appear to see anything. Still, he followed Anzu and the boys at that same “nearby but not together” distance, after they’d received the all-clear and students started to make their way down the stairs to the yard where they often had gym class. When they neared the entryway that separated the main building from the gym, though, Kaiba stepped into her field of view, but a second too late.

Anzu had heard the students wailing, crying out for Nagakura-sensei. She saw a thin leg clad in light blue striped sweats, a pool of blood rapidly staining the sides crimson. The rest of her was surrounded by debris.The woman had been the girls’ gym teacher for less than a year, and approached the job with the same unwavering enthusiasm that Anzu had for dance. In fact, she’d happily incorporated some of Anzu’s suggestions into the school’s required physical education dance lessons. After the most recent parent-teacher conference, Nagakura-sensei’s enthusiasm made Anzu’s parents grudgingly accept that dance could, in fact, be a viable career path for her.

And now Nagakura-sensei was gone. It didn’t matter how broad Seto Kaiba’s chest was; nothing could undo the sight of a teacher’s body crushed under a pile of cement brick. Apparently she’d died pushing her own students out of the way.

It wasn’t as if the school teetered on the verge of collapse, however. It was a mess, no doubt about it, but… it seemed like everyone made it out okay. Most everyone, Anzu corrected herself. Even if they’d only lost Nagakura-sensei that day, it was still one loss too many.

A distant tsunami siren wailed disconsolately before petering off into silence. Female students hugged each other with desperation:

I thought I was going to die! 

Poor Nagakura-sensei! Did you see—?

Did you twist your ankle?

Several clumps of male students knelt or sat in the middle of the open field, trying not to look shaken even as they slapped each other's shoulders with little force. The conversations there seemed more staccato: 

Hey man, you holding up? 

Nah, it’s just a scratch. Might get a badass scar from it though, right?

They were inland enough, here at school, that if there was an actual tsunami, they would see it coming and be able to escape to… well, somewhere, probably. But any visible water seemed relegated to a single broken sink near the gym, and a fire hydrant just outside the school gates, bubbling water from its base. 

Anzu felt the ringing in her ears begin to subside just as a group of teachers —most covered in dust, and at least a few with what she assumed was blood— announced that the prefecture’s government had issued guidelines for schools to keep students in place, no one should leave until it was deemed safe….

She glanced around, trying to spot Kaiba, to thank him, to ask if he was okay, only to see him slipping out of the school’s front gate, wedged open as it was by the demolished brick pillar that used to support half of the gate. Anzu didn’t even have the chance to take a breath and call out to him before he was gone.


Later that night at home, Anzu sat with her parents in the living room watching the news. It was the only thing on, anyway, and it wasn’t as if she could just go to sleep, or do homework in her room.

While their modest home seemed mostly intact, a few things had broken during the earthquake: a glass ballerina figurine Anzu kept atop her dresser; a Black Magician Girl on Broadway! mug Yuugi had procured through some secret means; a few pieces of her mother’s china. Otherwise the house was just in need of a mild cleaning, what with books and papers scattered on every flat surface. Even their television survived, though there was a tiny hairline crack in one corner of the screen that her parents didn’t seem to notice.

This was far from the first earthquake the Mazaki household had lived through, but it was the first… big one in Anzu’s memory. Like, really big. There’d been others, something like one or two a year in Japan, but most of them seemed to happen on one end of the country or the other, never anywhere near Domino. The tsunami siren going off seemed a more frequent occurrence and more often than not, it was just a precaution: get high up, get away from the water. She’d never actually seen a tsunami here in Domino (not that she’d never seen a tsunami; her adventures with Yuugi –Atem, really– meant she’d seen several thanks to Dartz, but it wasn’t exactly something she cared to remember, especially these days). 

Still, her parents were the no-nonsense sort, and had made sure to fix all the heavy furniture to the wall with anchors and straps and L-brackets and such. They had an emergency bag at the ready, right near the front door and tucked behind the umbrella stand. Anzu was the one responsible for checking the expiration date of the fire extinguishers throughout the house. Everything else was reliant on the fact that their home had been a new build just ten years ago, and was subject to some of the country’s most rigorous earthquake building standards.

...live from the site of the largest fire in Domino at this moment, the Kaiba mansion, where the mostly-brick structure suffered a complete collapse earlier today due to today’s estimated 8.4 magnitude earthquake. Resulting water main breaks and the collapse of three nearby electrical poles have meant that…

“Hey, Mom, Dad? Can I borrow the car real quick?” Anzu had gotten her license two months after her 18th birthday a short while ago, but she hadn’t made much use of it besides going to get groceries for her mother one day when she was home sick.

Her parents turned to her, her father’s eyebrows raised. “You’ve had your license for what, three months now? And you’ve barely driven—” her father protested, but Anzu merely pointed to the screen. A few meters behind the reporter stood Seto and Mokuba Kaiba, staring blankly at the firefighters attempting to combat the blaze swallowing the Kaiba Mansion whole. The silhouette within the flames more resembled a skeleton’s hand than it did a home, the fingers of each floor, each ceiling, collapsing joint by joint, moment by moment.

“Those are my friends.” That was all Anzu said: no “They have no parents” or “They might have a penthouse downtown, but….” 

At least some portion of Yuugi’s exploits became headline news, and fortunately or unfortunately, that meant Anzu’s parents knew she was part of them. That also meant they knew full well who Seto Kaiba was: not just the prefecture’s resident billionaire industrialist, but her best friend’s rival, her classmate, her… well, the guy who’d saved her life this afternoon, to be honest. That part had come out earlier, when they picked her up from school late in the day and asked her if she was okay, how she seemed so unscathed when they’d seen other students limping out of the school, or with bleeding bandages around their heads. Her arms were still sore from the hug they’d given her.

Mrs. Mazaki shot a glare at her husband, and his mouth snapped shut. She stood up and grabbed the car keys from the bowl on the half wall near the door, and gestured for Anzu to follow. “Honey, get the guest room ready, will you? And put out some of your old gym clothes, I know you never got rid of them and they’re in that box at the bottom of the closet in there.”

Mr. Mazaki’s ears turned red as he scrambled to his feet with a mumbled “Yes dear,” and he turned down the hallway to clean up the vacant spare bedroom that only ever saw use when Anzu’s paternal grandparents visited once a year.

Anzu turned to her mother, feeling tears prick at the corner of her eyes. Mrs. Mazaki favored her daughter with a half-smile. “Well, are you coming? Don’t think your generous spirit came from nowhere, young lady. I might not have been onboard with your dance career idea at first, but I’ve always told you to be there for your friends. If it weren’t for my friends, I never would have met your father, and then you wouldn’t be here today. So come on.” Anzu smiled gratefully before following her mother to the entryway, sliding her shoes on, and heading out into the night.

She tried not to think about her mother’s words “your dance career idea” echoing in her head. She tried not to remember the small, skinny envelope she had sitting on her desk in her bedroom, with the Juilliard School letterhead on it.

Anzu tried to spin everything she did into something that would help her in the future. Her grades would of course improve her chances of getting into a private university; her extracurriculars would boost her chances of a scholarship; her tangential notoriety could increase her visibility to admissions officers. Everything led back to getting into her dream performing arts school in New York.

But this was just the right thing to do. And she could focus on something to the exclusion of all else, if it meant she was helping. That was all she ever wanted to do, really. It would be nice if she could dance while doing it, somehow, but….

It didn’t matter. For now, there was just Seto and Mokuba Kaiba, and whether they’d admit to it or not, they needed her.


Mrs. Mazaki ended up parking the family’s Subaru some blocks away from the site of the former Kaiba Mansion; there were too many police cars, fire engines, and news vans lining the rest of the hilly street for them to find parking any closer. Unsurprisingly, that meant by the time they neared the summit, the area seemed to be completely opposite the private estate it was supposed to be.

“I’ll wait by the car. You go find your friends,” Mrs. Mazaki told Anzu. She still got out of the vehicle, if only to stare at the blaze up-close. The firelight reflected in her eyes made her seem sad, in contrast to the determined expression she’d worn throughout the drive as she navigated past blinking street lights and emergency crews directing traffic around this chunk of upended asphalt, that nearby fire. Anzu nodded in reply, then swallowed her own fears —were they okay? Had either of them somehow been in the home when it caught fire or started to flood? Were all of their limbs intact?— and pushing them back into her stomach before heading resolutely up the hill.

Though the blaze had died down somewhat thanks to the combined efforts of several firefighting teams, the area was still roped off; caution tape streamed from one police car to another in a sort of daisy chain around the area, while at least three different television reporters seemed to be recording or preparing to record yet another statement about the destruction of the Kaiba mansion. Anzu didn’t spot the Kaiba brothers at first. Too many people seemed to be running around, and she didn’t like the look of the one policeman whose eye she caught as she scanned the area, looking for the tallest beanpole or the smallest black mop. It helped to think of the brothers in such terms, if only because everything else was a blur of black and blue, of red and yellow.

Right near the edge of the light cast by the fire, just barely shadowed by the copse of trees lining the street, stood Seto and Mokuba Kaiba, a little dirty, but otherwise intact, as far as Anzu could tell. They were actually in the exact same spot she’d seen them standing during the television broadcast, even though that was at least 40 minutes ago. 

A man in a gray coat who hadn’t been there during the TV report nodded after scribbling in a notebook and saying something to the elder Kaiba. He gave a slight bow with his head, and then turned and left the Kaiba brothers alone once more. Anzu exhaled a breath she didn’t know she’d been holding; neither of them had any bandages on, and there was no nearby ambulance with a beleaguered paramedic insisting one of the brothers get in so he could get examined. She’d imagined something like that on the way here, that she’d arrive and find herself looking into the back of an ambulance with a bloody Kaiba on a stretcher and a helpless Mokuba sobbing beside him.

If it had been like that...there’d be nothing I could do.  

So Anzu was grateful, for once, that her catastrophic thinking had been proven wrong. It was a bad habit she’d picked up since Battle City, back when bad situations got worse and her own fate seemed as much in the air as Yuugi’s. Whether this time, it was due to fate —or simply the sheer willpower of the Kaiba brothers— remained to be seen.

It hadn’t been easy getting here from Anzu’s neighborhood; several streets had liquefied and were closed off, while most others were clogged with heavy traffic consisting largely of emergency vehicles. Anzu waited until the policeman that stood between the caution tape strips, doing absolutely nothing besides looking serious and unhelpful, glanced toward the fire. She dodged under the tape and sprinted toward Seto and Mokuba, heedless of whether the cop spotted her and yelled anything or not.

“Hey,” Anzu said, slowing her gait to a walk as she reached the brothers. Neither one of them seemed to notice or register her appearance, not until she walked in front of them and blocked their view of the fire, the same way Kaiba had blocked her view of Nagakura-sensei earlier. She didn’t stretch her arms out, the way she had tried to block Kaiba back in the Virtual World — that feels so long ago, now — since they weren’t exactly trying to approach the blaze. It didn’t look like they even wanted to move, rooted to their positions the way they were. But if there was one thing Anzu was good at, it was making herself seen, one way or another.

“There’s no point in standing here in the cold staring at that—” Anzu cut herself off before saying “rubble.” True, there was little left of the Kaiba mansion beyond what was now a skeletal wrist, if that, jutting out from the hillside. The rest was char, smoke, mud, and little else. But regardless, it had been Kaiba’s home for years. And now… it was gone.

“Hey, why don’t we get out of here,” Anzu said, jutting her head in the direction of her mother’s car. “Come with me. It’ll be better than trying to stay at some hotel that’s nowhere near school or work, right?” The smile in her voice didn’t reach her face; she knew just as well as they did that schools prefecture-wide (if not nationwide) would be closed for some time, and even if Kaiba loved to throw himself into his work, there wasn’t much he could do without his expensive equipment, his handpicked staff, his… everything.

“Big Brother, I’m tired. And hungry,” Mokuba mumbled, tugging on Kaiba’s hand and as he pulled his brother down the hill in a stilted gait. They bypassed the police tape with a swift brushing of Kaiba’s arm, and he held it up as Anzu passed underneath it, her eyes meeting his for a split second. His eyes weren’t glassy, the way they’d been earlier, right after the quake. Instead he just looked…

Tired.

It was a look Anzu knew well, at least on her own face. She had to admit, she hadn’t seen it on Kaiba’s face often, if at all. He seemed to be always on, always ready. But how could he have been ready for this?

It wasn’t as if Anzu wanted to ask, but she did open her mouth to thank Kaiba, in that automatic way she did whenever someone held a door open for her or something. But before she could speak, Mokuba’s stomach growled– loudly. Kaiba glanced down at his brother, about to say something, but then Mrs. Mazaki’s warm voice rang out from a few meters away.

“Hop in, boys. I’ve got fried chicken at home with your names on it!” She waved to them from a spot a few meters away from the family car, her genuine “Mom smile,” as Anzu termed it, creased with worry. Mrs. Mazaki had no regrets about calling their destination “home,” even as the Kaiba mansion collapsed just a bit more. 

Had the brothers ever really thought of that place as home? Maybe it was just “where they lived,” as jet-set they seemed to be. Or maybe it, like their name, was just something they couldn’t let go of just yet.

She knew the feeling.

The fried chicken was no foie gras or whatever fancy food Anzu was sure Kaiba was used to having for dinner, but it was the best they’d been able to get on short notice, what with random neighborhoods being out of power and others warned not to try and use any gas stoves or furnaces due to potential ruptures of the underground mains. Had Anzu’s mother’s words been something he heard just yesterday, Anzu had no doubt Kaiba would have responded sardonically. But tonight he just nodded wordlessly and got into the backseat of the car.

Anzu got into the passenger seat a moment later, and remembered to scoot the seat up as far as she could tolerate; weren’t Kaiba’s legs two thirds of his total height or something? Her seatbelt chafed at the neck a bit, but considering the scene they were driving away from, she didn’t want to bother adjusting. She took one last glance at the orange-red glow in the car’s rear view mirror, and saw Seto Kaiba in the back seat, his eyes closed for what was probably the first time that day. She could tolerate a little chafing. And probably more than her fair share of sardonic comments in the days ahead, if she was being realistic. But...that was okay. If it meant the Kaiba brothers —even if only Mokuba would outright call her a friend— were safe, then she’d put up with whatever Seto Kaiba could throw at her.


The ride home was quiet and uneventful, and took less time than it had getting there, thanks to the rapid response from prefectural emergency crews. While nothing could shove the cracked sidewalks or the upended chunks of street back into place, all of the fires Anzu and her mother had passed on the way to the Kaiba mansion were extinguished, and now there were flashing detour signs, neon-vested crews directing traffic, and fewer people on the street, hugging each other or ogling the destruction all around.

Judging by the news, most of Domino had it lucky. There were some cities that had gotten flooded by the tsunami that had roared almost 10 kilometers inland, and others that were being evacuated because the quake damaged nearby nuclear reactors. Sure, there were some parts of the prefecture that were worse off than others… Anzu glanced at the gray smoke filling the night sky in the rear view mirror.

Way worse off.

Anzu had been meaning to start a daily gratitude list. After today, she could probably name a hundred things she was grateful for having.

Still having, Anzu amended as Mrs. Mazaki pulled the Subaru into the small carport next to the house. It was a good thing the heavy rippled metal sheet that had once served as a “roof” for the carport fell down some months ago and Mr. Mazaki had never gotten around to bolting back up again. If he had, it might have fallen on the car and shattered the windshield, and then what would they have done? 

I still would have wanted to go. They probably just wouldn’t have been all that fond of walking seven and a half kilometers to get to my house.

Especially after their own mansion had burned to cinders.

The Kaiba brothers followed Mrs. Mazaki up a shallow set of steps into the house, Anzu bringing up the rear. She felt awkward, not carrying anything like she usually did when she accompanied her mother somewhere in the car. But what was there to bring? If the fire had started not long after the earthquake, then even if Kaiba had headed straight there after he escaped school, there wouldn’t have been anything he could have done, anything he could have saved without endangering his own life. Whatever he had… would be gone.

“Hey there, come on in,” Anzu heard her father say. He sounded strained, like he was trying to sound “normal” in spite of the fact that his teenage daughter was essentially bringing two boys home to stay for who-knows-how-long. “You boys like chicken? We’ve got enough for at least two and a half teenagers!” 

Anzu groaned, even as her father tried to laugh at his joke. “Dad, really?” Her father took one look at Mokuba’s withdrawn expression and his chuckles dwindled. Mr. Mazaki pursed his lips and pulled out a chair for the younger Kaiba to sit in. He handed the entire bucket of chicken to Kaiba and plunked a roll of paper towels in front of Mokuba.

“Eat up,” Mrs. Mazaki said, a weary smile creasing her face. “When you’re ready, we’ve got some new toothbrushes you can use and a pair of sweats you can wear for bed.” She looked like she was going to say something else, maybe “You can stay as long as you like,” but the words never came. 

Kaiba bobbed his head in what Anzu assumed was thanks, the first time she’d ever seen him make such a gesture to anyone, but he didn’t say anything. After a beat, Mrs. Mazaki leaned into her husband, whispering something in his ear. Mr. Mazaki cleared his throat and rose from his seat.

“Get some rest, everyone,” he said. It wasn’t his usual “Good night, Anzu,” because how could anyone have a good night after a day like today? She’d be lucky if she could get to sleep at all, not knowing what tomorrow would bring. But… at least there was chicken.

Mokuba listlessly chewed at a drumstick, then a thigh, then another drumstick. Kaiba just sat there, completely still, but his eyes flicked from left to right, examining Anzu’s home. She wasn’t sure if she should say anything. Or what she could say. So she grabbed a piece of chicken for herself and sighed before plopping herself next to Kaiba and eating with her hands. There were a few bags of scattered fries and a box with biscuits, none of it particularly good for her diet or her complexion, but what did any of it matter anymore?

Domino was in shambles, Mokuba and Seto Kaiba were staying at her house for the foreseeable future, and oh yes, that letter.

Anzu really didn’t want to go to bed. She didn’t want to try and sleep, because even if she somehow managed it, she was sure all she’d have were nightmares. Bricks falling, dust clogging her lungs, Nagakura-sensei giving her a thumbs-up as she walked into the light. Then razor-sharp letters falling from the sky, slicing through Anzu’s skin until she was nothing but a pile of ribbons.

But what was there to say?

Soon there were only crumpled paper bags, empty cups, and greasy paper towels on the table. Anzu wordlessly stood up and bunched them into her palm, then tossed them into the kitchen trash bin next to the counter. If this had been any other night, she would have crowed something about a three-pointer, or a hole in one, just to make her sports fanatic father laugh. But tonight, she just let the lid spin back into position.

She couldn’t just leave them down here, right? They didn’t even know where the guest room was. Why did it feel like she needed a shot of courage right now?

Well, it’s not as if I’ve ever had boys stay over before. Not even Yuugi….

Especially not Yuugi, actually. Her parents weren’t exactly fond of him these days, having gotten Anzu involved in things like Duelist Kingdom and unplanned trips to America, Egypt, and, in her parents’ words “who knows where else.”

“But Yuugi’s grandpa was in danger!”

“How was that your responsibility? And the news said that there were terrorist attacks happening during that so-called ‘Battle City’ tournament you went to! Someone destroyed an entire pier at the Domino Docks!” 

Oh, that. It wasn’t as if she could explain that she was there when the dock got destroyed, and it wasn’t by terrorists, it was technically by the tournament’s own organizer when he had a remote controlled helicopter slam into a cargo container to save her life, but….

“And when all those crazy monster sightings were happening, what did you do? Hop on some stranger’s plane and fly to America!”

Ah yes, America. Where Pegasus had flown everyone thanks to a mysterious foreknowledge of his impending disappearance. Where Anzu clambered on top of a speeding train in an effort to save Yuugi —no, Atem— from making one of the worst mistakes of his life. Second life. Reincarnation? Whatever.

And it was where Kaiba “strongly encouraged” Yuugi and Jounouchi to duel in the KC Grand Prix so that they could get a free ride back to Japan.

That America, which now brought forth memories of duel after duel after duel, rather than Anzu’s dream of studying at one of the world’s top dance schools.

A dream deferred, I guess.

Her parents either didn’t remember that Kaiba had been involved in every single one of those incidences too, or they didn’t care. He was a special exception, maybe, for having saved her life today. Again.

“Come on, I’ll show you guys upstairs.” 

There, not that hard, was it?

The boys rose and shoved their chairs under the small round table with a squeak and fell in line behind Anzu as she flicked off the kitchen light and headed upstairs.

She gestured to the guest bedroom, which indeed, her father had cleaned up. A pair of old boys’ gym sweats lay on the bed, somehow still intact after more than 20 years. The smaller of the pair had her father’s name on it: Ietsugu Mazaki Class 1-C, next to a blue toothbrush in plastic wrapping. 

“Bathroom’s the last room at the end of the hall,” Anzu said softly. “I’m right next door, if… if you need anything else, I guess.”

She turned to go, but Kaiba’s voice stopped her in her tracks. “What’s this?”

He was holding up the other gym uniform, which didn’t have a name on it, just a smeared hand drawing of the Abominable Snowman.

Anzu’s lip curled up in the corners. Her father had a bad habit of hanging onto things laced with memory, but she didn’t honestly expect this would be one of them. “Ah. Dad’s college wrestling nickname was ‘Yeti.’ I guess he hung onto it after all these years. Don’t worry, I’m sure it’s clean. Did you get a toothbrush?” 

Kaiba glanced back at the bed, where a bright green toothbrush lay nestled among the selection of blankets piled on top of the queen-sized bed. “Yeah. We’ll be fine.” 

Anzu inhaled sharply. This was home. This was safe. No dust, no falling brick. Kaiba could be less than a meter away, looking and acting like a shell of the person who she’d just been working alongside in Chemistry Lab earlier today, and the outside might look like hell, but… it was enough. It had to be, for now.

“Okay then. Well… good night.”

She winced as soon as she said it, but Kaiba didn’t seem to interpret her words as anything more than customary. She bowed her head in his direction and then shuffled out of the room, pulling the door shut as she went. On the other side, in the darkened hallway, she let out a long sigh.

“Good job, Mazaki. Real good job.”


No ignoring it anymore, then.

It wasn’t as if she was hungry anymore or anything. Anzu figured she should wait until Kaiba and Mokuba used the hall bathroom —it wasn’t as if she was half as dirty as they were, covered in soot and who-knows-what else. 

I hope Dad left out towels, too.

They could shower, brush their teeth, and go to sleep. But Anzu? 

She stared at the letter on her desk, the one she’d plucked from the ground as soon as she’d gotten home. The quake shook the mailbox to the ground and dented it, almost beyond recognition, but Anzu saw the corner of the white envelope peering out from under the lid. She’d nearly sliced her fingers open prying it out from the flap of metal it had gotten stuck under, and at the time, she had thought it’d be worth it.

But it was so thin. So small.

It can’t be anything other than a rejection letter.

So… if she knew what it had to be, then there was no point in opening it at all, right? She could just ignore it.

At least for tonight.

And yet Anzu couldn’t exactly go to sleep right away. She waited for some sign of the brothers emerging to at least brush their teeth, but so far, there was nothing. 

Anzu pulled a moist wipe from her nightstand, scrubbing the last of the day’s dust and grime from her face. Somehow, it didn’t quite feel enough. It was like her face had gained a permanent shadow that no amount of moisturizing ingredients could brighten. 

Maybe I just need some sleep?

Except she wasn’t tired. And she had no desire to turn her lights off, to close her eyes, not when she had no idea if the electricity would go out tomorrow, if the water would shut off, if there would be more aftershocks. There had already been three, less than an hour after the initial quake, but after everyone at Domino High had gathered in the yard. Everyone had started hugging then, if just to feel some semblance of balance. But Anzu’s own legs felt tingly and wobbled the rest of the day.

Reports indicated there would probably be more aftershocks, but who knew when they’d strike or how powerful they would be? Would putting things back together even be worth it, if it would all just fall apart again?

Well, it’s not like I have any control over any of that.

So what could Anzu do right now, in this moment? Her room was as cleaned up as it could get. The envelope… well, it could stay where it was. And she could change into her night clothes, at least. She’d changed into more comfortable clothes as soon as she got home, counting herself lucky to even be able to shower, let alone with hot water. But it was cold now, and while normally that helped with getting to sleep, tonight all it did was keep her eyes wide open.

Maybe if she did a bit of light exercise, she could exhaust herself to sleep. Besides, when she thought about how slow she’d been today, it was almost embarrassing. Seto Kaiba, having to grab her and pull her under their lab bench? She prided herself on her sense of rhythm, on being in tune with the world around her. And yet today she’d felt completely out of sync, except for that first moment before the quake hit….

If only I’d been stronger!

Anzu frowned, switching from stretches to push ups. With each push, she glared up at the offending white envelope on her desk. What had it been? Her essays? The fact that she was an international student? Her pre-screening video?

It wasn’t as if they’d tell her. No doubt the letter was full of generic platitudes, something along the lines of “Regrettably, we must inform you that you have not been recommended for enrollment. However, the faculty was particularly impressed by your pre-screening video and encourages you to apply again in the future…”

Maybe it was her figure. She wasn’t exactly one of those lithe ballerina-types. If generosity was hereditary, then so was body shape, since Anzu and her mother both were curvy for their height. She’d started thinking of it as a blessing, once she got to high school and instead of feeling awkward around boys, started thinking she wanted their attention. Specifically Atem’s attention, but she hadn’t known his name at the time. Or his true destiny.

And that whole “Pharaoh in the body of my best friend” made things even more awkward.

Good thing I never explained that to my parents. They probably would have locked me in my room for the rest of my life.

Anzu started to do sit-ups, hooking her feet under the low frame of her bed.

Maybe if I get to a hundred tonight, I can get some sleep.

That was her theory, anyway, until Anzu’s door, left ajar so she could hear when the Kaiba brothers finished brushing their teeth or whatever, creaked open.

“What are you doing?”

Anzu had been mid pull-up when Kaiba’s voice startled her, and she fell flat on her back.

“Ow! Kaiba-kun?”

Kaiba leaned against her door frame, which would have been bizarre had he not been wearing her father’s old gym clothes. Instead he looked… ordinary. Even his hair didn’t seem quite so put-together as it usually did.

“Oh, I was just… exercising, I guess. Sorry if I woke you or something.”

“I hadn’t gotten to sleep yet,” Kaiba said, crossing his arms over his chest. He raised a brow at her, as if to ask “You too?”

“Maybe… maybe we should go back downstairs then? So we don’t wake everyone up,” Anzu suggested. Kaiba inclined his head and pushed himself away from the door, heading back down the hall without a word.

“Guess I’ll make some tea or something, then…” Anzu murmured, following him out the door.

There was no point in talking about the earthquake, Anzu decided. No point in checking whether or not he’d been thinking the same thing that she had, in that split second before everything fell to pieces. 

She went through the motions of preparing some chamomile tea, deciding that Kaiba was probably lactose intolerant and didn’t want warm milk, and he probably wasn’t the kind of guy who wanted honey in his tea, either.

Was he one of those sorts who saw honey in tea as sacrilege? He probably had his coffee black, too.

But I can’t just ask him! It’s– it’s weird.

Weird that he was there, weird that they were together, weird that they were alone. But for some reason, “weird” just didn’t do the situation they were both in justice. She’d invited him to her house (sort of), she’d kept him up (sort of), and here she was, trying to help him (sort of). Nothing seemed quite… right.

“So, college wrestling, huh? What’s your father do now?”

Anzu blinked in surprise and glanced back at Kaiba to reply, but the moment she did, her fingers slipped from the handle of the tea kettle to the burning hot spout.

“Ouch!” She swallowed the tail end of the yelp as soon as it sounded, and immediately thrust her fingers under a stream of cold water from the nearby sink. She relaxed after a moment, but when she turned around again, she was surprised to find Kaiba right behind her —immediately behind her, in fact— with a strange expression on his face.

“Uh… I’m fine. Fingers just slipped, is all.”

“You should be more careful.” 

Anzu blinked. Her gut told her to snap at him, to say she normally was careful, but their whole world had gotten upended, quite literally, today, and she could handle a little burn on her fingertips. She’d handled everything else, hadn’t she? But… something about the way he said it was different from that familiar sardonic tone he used when mocking Jounouchi.

“I– I will. Thanks.”

Again, he didn’t reply, just tilted his head a bit. He also didn’t move back.

Anzu gulped and went back to preparing the tea, focusing intently on her fingers so she didn’t burn them again and give Kaiba an excuse to…

To do what? Come closer? To hold my hand?

“He’s an electrical engineer,” Anzu said, and after preparing the tea, she handed a cup to Kaiba, “for one of your rival companies, sorry.” 

Kaiba took the cup without question. “I have a lot of rivals.” He took a sip, surprising Anzu with how calm he looked when his eyes closed and he inhaled the gentle herbal aroma.

“And your mother?”

He had yet to sit down, to move away from her at the counter. Anzu turned back to preparing her own cup, perhaps being a bit liberal with the honey for her tea.

Why does he care? Since when does he care?

That’s when Anzu remembered: today he’d saved her life again. The first time was… probably back the pier, after... after Malik. After that, in the underwater fortress. And then there’d been Dartz. And… 

Maybe he’d cared, in his own strange way, for a long time now.

“An accountant,” Anzu sighed. She took a sip of tea. “I just… I could never do something like that.” 

“Not your speed?” 

“There’s just no… no energy in it, you know? I need to do something more… creative. More physical.”

Again with the raised eyebrow. But there was a little quirk to Kaiba’s lips that wasn’t there usually —at least, not that Anzu remembered seeing (not that she spent a whole lot of time looking at Seto Kaiba's lips, really!)— and she flushed.

“Dance, I mean. Dance.” The exhaustion of the day finally crept its way into her bones, and Anzu flopped gracelessly in the nearest chair, sighing yet again. “They don’t approve, obviously. I mean, they’re a bit more amenable to it since Nagakura-sensei talked to them, but—”

Remembering the cheerful gym teacher —and her blood-soaked sweats— just made tears sting Anzu’s lash line. But if there was one thing she wouldn’t do, it was cry in front of Seto Kaiba. Not here, not anywhere. Not anymore.

“Well. They probably have a point. It’s not exactly a career with long term prospects, I guess.”

Much as she tried to ignore it, the presence of the unopened letter from Juilliard sitting on her desk itched at her brain, like an annoying commercial jingle she couldn’t get out of her head. It would have been easier if the earthquake had just destroyed their mailbox completely, and any contents got swept away in the wind or a fire hydrant bursting or something. It would have been better to not get anything from the school instead of… of… 

“Dammit,” Anzu swore softly. She tried to will the tears away, but they came regardless, pooling under her eyes and streaking down her cheeks. “I didn’t— I tried... “ She scrubbed at her cheeks, desperate to avoid looking pathetic in front of Seto Kaiba, here in her own damn kitchen. This was her territory, her home; shouldn’t she feel completely comfortable here, completely capable?

That stupid letter was ruining everything. 

Without looking at Kaiba’s expression —surely he was holding back a laugh at how pathetic she was behaving, right?— Anzu bolted from her chair and dashed back up to her room. She grabbed the offending letter off her desk and ran back to the kitchen, taking the stairs two at a time with steps as light as she could manage. Sure, she was furious at herself, but she didn’t want to wake anyone up.

“Here,” she managed, huffing a little. “Just– I can’t open it. You do it.”

Both of Kaiba’s eyebrows raised in unison this time; either he hadn’t expected her to come back downstairs, or he hadn’t expected her to thrust a letter from The Juilliard School in his face. He took the letter from Anzu’s outstretched hand, noting the slight shaking, the gulp she forced down her throat.

Without any further pretense, he tore open the envelope and unfolded the single-page letter within. He read silently, deep blue eyes scanning each English word without so much as a quiver in his lips to indicate what he was reading. Then he looked up at her, his expression unreadable.

“What? What does it say?”

“You know what it says, Mazaki,” Kaiba told her with a sigh. “What’s the point in me reading it to you? You don’t strike me as a masochist.”

This time Anzu did collapse to the floor, her knees simply failing to hold her up another moment longer. She stopped crying, but now her chest hurt, like her heart was actually breaking inside her chest.

“Yeah, I...I did know. And I haven’t told them yet. My parents, I mean.”

Kaiba stayed silent a minute, glancing down at Anzu and then at the letter. Then to her absolute surprise, he slipped the letter back into its envelope and proceeded to rip it all in half, then in quarters, and finally into tiny pieces. He sprinkled the whole thing into the trash can, pieces mixing with the greasy paper towels and the empty fried chicken bucket.

“I’m sorry.”

Anzu looked up, confusion and astonishment warring on her face. Why on Earth was Seto Kaiba apologizing to her?

“That you didn’t get in. The letter didn’t say why.” 

Anzu let out a soft, wry laugh. “I doubt they would. It could have been anything: my pre-screening video didn’t have enough ‘technique,’ or maybe my choreography was poor. I don’t know, maybe my English just isn’t good enough.” 

“Ninomiya-sensei would beg to differ,” Kaiba said. This time Anzu’s surprise quickly softened into something else. 

“Thank you, Kaiba-kun.” She rose to her feet with a sharp inhale, glancing up at her family’s modest home with its boring ceilings, its already-outdated wallpaper, its yellowing linoleum. It felt small, even though it wasn’t nearly as tiny as the apartment Jounouchi lived in with his dad. Yuugi’s home above the Turtle Game Shop was about the same size, and so was the place where Honda lived with his parents and his dog.

“It doesn’t matter, in the end. I practiced, I saved, I must have recorded that pre-screening video at least ten times… and I’ll never get that application fee back. It was all a waste. And my parents will probably say as much. They’d rather I get a ‘sensible degree’ in something like computer science or education.” 

At this, Kaiba scoffed. “You don’t strike me as a member of the IT crowd,” he began, “but a teacher, maybe…” He nodded, as if this thought were intriguing.

Who am I kidding? He probably reads spreadsheets on a daily basis that are more interesting than my future.

Anzu glanced at Kaiba skeptically. “You think I’d be a good teacher?”

“You could be a good anything, if you stopped limiting yourself to one school in one place, Mazaki,” Kaiba said without missing a beat. Anzu blushed. She wasn’t used to getting compliments like this, not in her home, not… not from someone like Seto Kaiba.

“I… I just thought that if I could pick just one place to go for university, it should be my moonshot, right? The one place that I’d —well, not saw off my leg for, I kind of need my legs to dance— but the place that I’d give up…” Anzu licked her lips, remembering the shock on Yuugi and Jounouchi’s faces when she’d told them she was working at Burger World to save up for her dream of studying dance in New York. “That I’d give up my family for.” 

My family… and my friends.

If by some chance, they hadn’t gone to Egypt last year, if there’d been no trip to a “World of Memory,” no Ceremonial Duel in an ancient pharaoh’s tomb… would she have given him up, too?

Was it really “giving up” when all Anzu wanted to do was escape her family? Wasn’t that a normal thing, to want to “leave the nest,” so to speak, and pursue her dream? Was it asking for so much, to be supported by the people she loved the most?

It didn’t matter. None of it mattered, right? Maybe she just wanted someone to tell her that she was wrong about nothing mattering, and that was why she didn’t feel totally sure that her efforts went to waste. There was still a question hanging in the air, a need for validation. Someone, somewhere to tell her... 

“It matters that you tried. You’ve learned something, haven’t you?”

Anzu blinked. I-Is this a pep talk? Is this Kaiba’s way of cheering me up? His whole mansion burns to the ground, but he’s trying to cheer me up about not getting into Juilliard?

It didn’t seem possible, but Anzu couldn’t think of a better explanation for why, after finishing his cup of chamomile tea, Seto Kaiba continued to sit in her kitchen, while wearing her father’s old college gym clothes, and talk to her.

“Yeah, I guess…” Anzu looked up at Kaiba, who seemed to be waiting for her to explain what she’d learned from the experience. Was this what he did with Mokuba every day after school? Was Kaiba less a brother and more a father—

Oh.

Like two puzzle pieces clicking together —Anzu winced at the thought— her own words reverberated in her mind: That I’d give up my family for… give up my family for… give up my family…

Seto Kaiba didn’t have parents to tell him it was a bad idea to pursue this degree or that project. He didn’t have anyone other than his own business managers to tell him what was and wasn’t a waste of money, and frankly, anyone he hired probably wouldn’t dare to tell their boss that he tended to go overboard with all things dueling. Even his own Board of Directors had betrayed him. With the Kaiba mansion in ruins, that meant the last remnant of Gozaburo Kaiba —outside his name— was gone too, right? 

After Battle City ended last year, Anzu read up on Gozaburo Kaiba, if just to reconcile the sociopath that had tried to kill everyone in an underwater fortress with the legendary business tycoon whose name had been plastered all over Domino’s industrial buildings: Kaiba Heavy Industries, Kaiba Ironworks, Kaiba Corporation Advanced Armaments…. But before Seto Kaiba had ever met Anzu, Yuugi, and their friends, he’d taken over his adopted father’s company, closing all those factories and remaking a once-powerful defense contractor into an entertainment technology company.

Is he… relieved that it’s gone? Happy, even?

“Out with it, Mazaki. You’re not the type to play around, so just say what you’re thinking already.”

Why was it that Seto Kaiba could make her flush so, simply by acting like his usual abrasive self? Though… it wasn’t as if he was being tactless. He was just calling her out on her random bouts of silence, her pursed lips and averted gazes. Seto Kaiba didn’t dally in pretense: he worked directly, with determination, sparing nothing along the way.

“Wh-What do you mean, ‘play around’?” Anzu asked indignantly. “I wasn’t going to say—”

“That you’re sorry for saying you’d ‘give up your family’ just to get into your dream school, when you wouldn’t be giving up a damn thing? That you know it’s foolish to complain about one application to one university when other people don’t even have a roof over their heads tonight?”

Uh-oh, the tears were coming back. But this time Anzu couldn’t be sure if they stemmed from the heartbreak of rejection or Kaiba’s words just now. The tears stung hotly at her lash line, little drops of burning that somehow felt even hotter than the tea kettle had.

“Do you really think I’d say those sorts of things, Kaiba-kun?” she asked softly. Had she given him that impression? After all this time? Besides, he was wrong. He did have a roof over his head tonight. Because of her! But the other part... 

He didn’t seem to care for her soft-spoken words, as he sighed (a little dramatically, in Anzu’s opinion) and pulled his forearms off the kitchen table from where he’d been leaning on them. He looked off to the side, at the dim kitchen with its crooked spice rack and clunky appliances. 

“You’ve never had any problem being completely honest with me before, Mazaki. So why start watching your words around me now?” 

This time he looked Anzu directly in the eyes, and his gaze didn’t waver. It was like being back under the lab bench, his hands resting on her forearms above both their heads, shielding them from the glass and dust raining down from above while the earth convulsed below.

“I–I don’t know what you mean,” Anzu whispered, feeling like his words were eating away at hers. Why was he doing this? Backing her into this corner, where it felt like the only thing she could do was be rude, be mean? It wasn’t who she wanted to be, not even now, with absolutely everything in her life a complete and total mess.

Seto Kaiba had the audacity to roll his eyes at her. “At Pegasus’ castle,” he began, ticking off items on his fingers, “in the virtual world at the base of that goddamned staircase. Back on the Battle Ship. And I’m pretty sure you made at least one snarky remark to me in Egypt, if I remember correctly.” 

Snarky?” Anzu repeated dully. “SNARKY?” She kept her voice low, suddenly aware that with each passing moment, Kaiba’s ribbing got her hotter, louder, and definitely less tired than she was even five minutes ago. So much for the chamomile tea helping her with getting to sleep tonight. 

Why couldn't Seto Kaiba be boring?

“Point being you’ve never had a problem telling me what you think to my face, so even if I got the exact words wrong, I’d rather you say them anyway.” Unspoken were his reasons why he wanted Anzu to tell him that yes, she’d learned something from her rejection to Juilliard the day Domino fell apart: she’d learned that it was minuscule, compared to his losses, tonight and so many nights before this.

That if he could recover from losing Atem, so could she.

If he could handle his own adopted father trying to kill him, she could handle her parents not being completely on board with her dream of studying dance in America.

If he could handle losing both of his parents, only to have any remaining biological family squander whatever inheritance they may have had and leave him and his young brother in an orphanage...

“This is different,” Anzu whispered finally. She’d never had a conversation like this before. Not with him, not with anybody. Not at midnight, not in her own home, not after a giant earthquake shifted almost everything she knew.

It’s not a contest. No one gets points for having lost the most, or hurt the most.

“It shouldn’t be. Nothing’s changed,” Kaiba said flatly, and at that, Anzu slammed her palms down on the table and stood, leaning down on the table so she could glare at him. Who cared if he saw her tear-lined cheeks, her red-rimmed eyes? She didn’t need to impress Seto Kaiba, of all people.

“You’re wrong,” she hissed. She glared at him, looking the once-mighty Seto Kaiba up and down. This was a man she’d seen in expensive trench coats, designer suits, custom “battle suits” and tailored jackets. But here? Here in her kitchen, he was just another teenage boy with mussed hair and old sweats. “Everything else may have changed, Kaiba-kun, but I refuse to change who I am just so you can feel like the King of Losing—”

The second the words were out of her mouth, she regretted them. She had been trying to say why she didn’t want to be mean to him, and here she’d gone and…

Kaiba let out a breath. Anzu didn’t expect the sound, didn’t expect him to close his eyes and roll his head around, cracking his neck, before opening them again to stare at her tiredly.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean—” she fumbled, terrified to look at him straight-on. It was easier to play with her fingers, to look at the table and try and spot a moisture ring than it was to meet his gaze. She felt so hot right now, and her cuffed fleece pajamas didn’t help with the feeling that she was constricted, stuck, burning alive with shame.

“No, you did mean, Mazaki. That’s what I was talking about all along. You have no problem calling me out on my bullshit, and I have no problem calling you out on yours.”

Anzu collapsed back into her chair, now gaping openly at Kaiba. “Oh.”

“Yeah, ‘oh.’ So, you were going to ask something. I know that look on your face.”

Anzu was tempted to answer Kaiba’s question with one of her own: what look? How did he seem to know it so well? But she furrowed her brows, trying to think back to what she’d been thinking about when this whole argument started.

“Are you relieved? That the Kaiba —that Gozaburo Kaiba’s mansion— is gone now?”

Again, Seto Kaiba sighed as he leaned back in his creaky wooden chair. “It is more accurate to call it Gozaburo’s mansion, really. He’s the one that built it, out of imported brick, imported wood. There were Italian marble fireplaces and chandeliers with a thousand Swarovski crystals hanging off them. All to show off.”

“Not really your style, eh?” Anzu attempted the tiniest of smiles. She didn’t expect the tiny smile she got back. Her eyes widened, and the flush that colored her face first from anger and then from shame deepened for a different reason altogether.

“After taking over the company and Gozaburo —doing whatever he did, running away, committing suicide, I don’t know and I no longer care— it was just the easiest option. Mokuba and I had already been living there for six years, so what was another three or four?” He leaned back again, staring at the ceiling like he could see through it, out to a night sky full of stars and not smoke.

“And yet every day I spent there, I remembered him. The way his shoes sounded on the marble floors, getting closer, or the sound of his voice echoing down the hall after he locked me in my room again. Even before we went to that godforsaken fortress, it felt like he was haunting me.”

“Kaiba-kun…” Anzu murmured, not really knowing what else to say.

He leaned forward abruptly, his face just a breath away from hers as he regarded her, his brows drawn down slightly and his lips fixed in a straight line. “Don’t call me that.”

“W-What?” Had he suddenly developed an aversion to her use of honorifics? Did he think she was being patronizing? She was only trying to be polite, after everything— “What do you want me to call you, then?” It wasn’t as if she’d given him some sort of nickname, the way he had for Jounouchi. If you could call bonkotsu a nickname. It was more of an insult, really, and not the least bit endearing….

“Seto,” he replied simply, and Anzu’s eyes widened.

He doesn’t mean—

It was one thing to call Yuugi by his given name without any honorifics. They’d known each other since junior high. Yuugi had seen her through her awkward, gangly limb phase, and she’d seen him… well, not “grow,” exactly, but definitely mature. But she still referred to Jounouchi and Honda by their family names; Jounouchi blushed whenever someone said “Katsuya” (Anzu suspected Mai had something to do with it), and Honda claimed that whenever someone called him “Hiroto,” he felt like he was in trouble. Otogi had prodded her to call him “Ryuuji” in the past, but Anzu had never been one of his fangirls, and stuck with “Otogi-kun,” and she still had a polite relationship at best with Ryou Bakura.

“Seto-kun,” she tried, but she still blushed as she said it. 

Why, why, why do I keep acting so stupid in front of him? It’s just Seto Kaiba!  

Or now, as he apparently preferred she call him, “Seto-kun.” 

Ugh!

Seto favored her with another one of those small smiles of his, and for the first time, Anzu saw it just barely reach his tired eyes.

“We should get to bed,” Anzu said, deciding that she might need to practice saying “Seto-kun” on her own before using it in front of anybody, least of all her parents. Maybe even Mokuba. The kid did have a habit of reading too much into certain situations…. But avoiding saying his name altogether was easy, when it was only the two of them and—

Oh, fudge. Anzu swore mentally as she played back what she had just said. To Seto Kaiba. The guy she was alone with in her kitchen.

We should get to bed. We should get to bed.

“I mean– that is, what I meant to say–”

“Calm down, Mazaki, I know what you meant. I just survived my house burning down, I’d rather not get executed by your father first thing in the morning,” he said, waving a hand at her as he rose from his chair and headed back upstairs. “Good night.”

Anzu blinked, empty tea cups in hand, as she watched Seto’s shadow melt into the darkness upstairs.

Did he basically say that the only reason why we wouldn’t go to bed together is because my parents are here?

“Hey, why do you call me ‘Mazaki’ when I have to call you ‘Seto-kun’?” Anzu hissed. There was no reply. He’d probably gone to the bathroom to brush his teeth, or else he’d headed straight to bed. But she imagined he was grinning that annoying little grin of his, just outside the guest bedroom door. 

Cocky bastard, Anzu thought… but with a smile of her own stretching the muscles in her face. She hadn’t really moved those muscles all that much during the past twelve hours. It felt weird to smile. Weird, but… good.

As Anzu headed upstairs after cleaning the tea cups, she realized that she hadn’t bothered to check if the brothers needed other blankets, or if Mokuba would even be okay sharing a bed with his brother. There was only the one guest bed, and Anzu was pretty sure the only other thing they had was a down sleeping bag shoved into the attic crawl space somewhere. Maybe one of them could stretch out on the recliner in there, facing the shallow balcony that looked in the direction of downtown Domino? It had a view of Kaiba Corp. Tower, now that she thought about it.

But maybe it was for the best if they didn’t look out the window. If they did, they’d just be reminded of everything they’d lost… and how much everything had changed beyond their control. Maybe they’d remember the ghosts that continued to haunt them.

No. I’d rather they both have a quiet, dreamless night’s sleep, Anzu decided. They deserved that much. Mokuba for sure… and Seto, too.