Categories > Anime/Manga > Yu-Gi-Oh!

Miss Scrooge

by Azurite 0 Reviews

Domino High has a modern-day Scrooge, but it isn't Seto Kaiba. [Oneshot/Complete]

Category: Yu-Gi-Oh! - Rating: PG - Genres: Humor,Romance - Characters: Seto Kaiba,Tea Gardner - Warnings: [!] - Published: 2009/01/01 - Updated: 2009/01/02 - 10852 words - Complete

Miss Scrooge
A Yu-Gi-Oh Holiday Fic
By: Azurite - azurite AT seventh-star DOT net
Site: seventh-star DOT net

Rated: Um, PG/T? It is a 'ship fic, after all.

Conceived/First Written: 12/22/08

Posted: 1/1/09

Dedicated to ILB, who requested a Seto/Anzu (Azureshipping) fic with the theme "The Joy of Giving." Oh, how I've turned that theme on its head!

I don't own Yu-Gi-Oh! or any other trademarked/registered/copyrighted brands, names, or characters mentioned herein. This is a non-profit, for-entertainment venture only-- that is, I'm not making a cent off this, so don't sue. In the eternal words of the Gingerbread Man, "Aw come on, it's the holidays!"

This is unbeta'd. Any weirdness is the result of... that. Comments and constructive criticism are greatly appreciated!

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year, everyone!

He wasn't sure how he managed to consistently surprise everyone every year, especially since his holiday routine was always the same. He never changed that routine. It happened the exact same way on the exact same dates every single year, without fail.

But each year, he always encountered some employee or another that was absolutely flabbergasted by their week and a half of paid vacation time (not from their accrued time, of course) and the size of their end-of-the-year bonus. Even though he had a veritable platoon of secretaries, directors, vice presidents, and other people with whom he worked closely and on a regular basis (and none of them had been replaced or left the company since he'd hired them), at least one of them each year registered shock when he announced that he wouldn't see them again until after the New Year.

There were even a few years -nearly the last three consecutive ones, in fact- when they had major projects or contracts that would undoubtedly continue into the new year. For some strange reason, people seemed to think this was an excuse for him to revoke his long-standing policy -the one he'd instated the moment he became CEO- of not working over the winter holiday.

He never did.

It wasn't just Seto Kaiba's company policy not to work or make his employees work over the holiday, it was his personal one.

He had a good reason for it too, but no one ever asked about it. He supposed it was because they were either too happy or too confused.

And that just suited him just fine.

So the routine continued: half a week before Christmas Day, Kaiba Corporation closed its doors until January 3. Unfortunately, that fact didn't hold true for the rest of Japan, let alone its schools, so Seto Kaiba found himself at Domino High one cold, wintry day....

The last two years at this time in December, Domino High had closed earlier than intended due to inclement weather. The Japanese had a very strict school schedule: one that, more often than not, didn't take weather into consideration. What this meant was that school was in session even if the relative humidity hit 85 percent, or (on the other end of the heat and humidity spectrum) if it was less than zero degrees Celsius outside.

Fortunately or unfortunately (depending on your view), the weather wasn't so foul quite yet; it was cold, but it hadn't so much as rained, let alone snowed. As a result, the majority of students in Seto Kaiba's morning class were grumbling about how they had to be in school on the day of Christmas Eve.

'It's not as if they'd be inside spending time with their family,' Kaiba thought.

Even though he wasn't friends with any of his classmates, he knew full well what they'd be doing if they'd been snowed out of school today: shopping with friends, going out with their significant others, and pigging out on fried chicken. Him? He'd be doing what he'd been doing for years, and what most of his classmates wouldn't bother with until the New Year's holiday, when parents and employers alike would force the point home: spending time with his family.

In his case, that was just one person: Mokuba. But he was more than enough, and despite the smallness of their family, Christmas for the past four years had been pleasant.

No matter what the sales charts said or what the outcome of his last duel with Yuugi was, nothing could make Seto Kaiba unhappy at Christmas. He was free from Gozaburo, healthy, well, and more than privileged. He was educated, had a good home, job security, and... that was enough. So what if he didn't have a best friend like Yuugi with his gaggle of laughing, cajoling classmates? So what if he didn't have a pretty girlfriend to spoil with extravagant gifts laced with romantic intent and deep meaning?

So what?

So what if the memories of his favorite Christmas were fading with each passing year? Who cared if he had trouble remembering his mother's face past the old glow of Christmas lights, or if he couldn't quite recall whether his father had been happy or sad the Christmas before Mokuba had been born?

'Mother was only two and a half months pregnant then, but....'

But he couldn't remember if she'd been sick or not. He couldn't remember if his birth father's face had been smiling and happy or gaunt and withdrawn, knowing his wife wouldn't survive a second pregnancy.

So what? It was all in the past now, wasn't it? There wasn't anything he could do about any of it: not his father's expressionless face, his mother's appearance, or the fading memories. He was grateful for everything he had now, even if it still felt like he had a hole in his heart.

And so Seto Kaiba let a smile curve his lips ever-so-slightly as he watched Yuugi and his friends out of the corner of his eye. They hadn't come into the classroom groaning about the lack of snow or the fact that they had to be in school that day; it seemed they were all (minus one; for some reason Mazaki had yet to arrive) chattering excitedly about their various winter break plans.

Having nothing particularly better to do and lacking the shame (some would say 'manners') that would prevent him from doing so in the first place, he listened in. It seemed the mutt would be going north to visit his mother and sister, while Yuugi's father was coming home for a rare stretch and staying with Yuugi's mother and grandfather in their home above the Turtle Game Store. Yuugi seemed quite pleased with the fact that Sugoroku intended to keep the store open late that night, saying that last-minute shoppers would bring in good business.

'Something tells me he'd be up anyway, trying to see if Santa could get into a house that doesn't have a chimney.'

Despite everything -the duels, the Millennium Items, Egypt and everything in-between- Yuugi still seemed like a child to him sometimes. He was perpetually wide-eyed and full of wonder, and had yet to fully lose that naivety that Kaiba once thought made Yuugi so weak. Yuugi still came across as an innocent to plenty of people who didn't know him better, but that wasn't it; his optimistic attitude was infectious and made those around him want to believe in a better world.

Sometimes that infectious attitude almost got to him.

Sometimes.

But clearly, this year, Yuugi's viral strain of 'happy' was losing its effectiveness, for his numero uno best girl friend, the cheerleader Anzu Mazaki, had just come into the classroom, and she looked more like she had a case of rage than she did Yuugi's smiling syndrome.

She didn't join her friends in their small circle around Yuugi's desk; instead she stormed right to her desk, threw her satchel down with a slam, and proceeded to sit in her chair as though she had a steel pole (covered in ice) stuck to her backside. Her narrowed eyes were riveted to the evergreen chalkboard in the front of the classroom, not once straying to stare back at her friends, each and every one of them gawping at her like landed fish.

'Someone doesn't want to be here today.'

Which was odd, actually. Mazaki usually seemed to thrive in crowds, especially crowds of friends, which she had no shortage of at Domino High. But today she seemed especially grouchy, and Kaiba couldn't think of a discernable reason why.

Being the logical sort who liked to figure things out (and having nothing better to do until the teacher showed up), Kaiba mentally listed the possible reasons why Anzu Mazaki, the effervescent do-gooder, might be upset on Christmas.

'One - she couldn't get a reservation at a nice restaurant for tonight with her boyfriend.' But no, she didn't have a boyfriend. Despite the fact that Mazaki hadn't been one of the duelists Kaiba made it a point to know every last detail about, he'd looked her up on account of her close association to Yuugi. And even though his chief rival wasn't his chief rival anymore, he still kept up-to-date with all of Yuugi's goings-on. And all of Yuugi's friends. But mostly Anzu because... well, she was just interesting.

Pushing that rather odd thought aside, Kaiba moved on to the next possibility. 'Someone told her Santa Claus isn't real?' No, Mazaki wasn't that naive. No matter what her association with Yuugi, she was always the most sensible of the group.

So what, then?

But Seto Kaiba had no more time to ponder, for their teacher had just walked in, and Christmas Eve or no, school was in session.

Lunch was about to come to a close when Kaiba made his way back into the classroom, only to hear someone speaking in muffled tones from behind the sliding door. The door was, in fact, open just enough for him to slip inside if he wanted to, but he opted to stay outside for a moment.

A blurred figure moved past the window looking into the hallway, neared the door and then performed an about-face.

'She's pacing.' He'd recognized the voice -muffled though it was- as Anzu, and being that he'd seen Yuugi and Jounouchi engaged in a ridiculously drawn-out, old-fashioned game of Duel Monsters (they weren't using Duel Disks on school property; the last time Ms. Chono had seen a Curse of Dragon, she'd about thrown a fit and banned Duel Disks from campus), he knew she was alone.

So she was on the phone with someone she didn't care to speak loudly to, someone whose words were causing her to pace, and someone she felt she had to speak to in complete privacy.

'But who...?'

He didn't know why he cared.

He was about to just walk into the classroom when suddenly Anzu's blurred shadow stopped just short of a meter from the doorway. He heard her sniffle once and then say "You can't make it back at all for Christmas?" She seemed to tip, and Kaiba wondered if she was about to faint or something. Since when was Mazaki so fragile? He almost threw open the door completely just in case -adamantly ignoring the little voice in the back of his head demanding why the hell he should care- but then he saw her start pacing again,

"No, I understand, Daddy. The meeting's important. Okay. Okay. Have a safe flight. Bye."

There was the soft click of a cell phone closing and then a very loud sigh. Kaiba figured it was as good a time as any to enter, and when he did, he saw Anzu flopped down in her chair, her head in her arms on her desk.

"Again," she whispered.

'Ah. So this isn't the first time he's cancelled on her.' Maybe Anzu had the feeling that he was going to cancel earlier, and that was why she'd been in a sour mood all morning. But now, that boiling anger seemed to have simmered into a depression, and it wasn't something Anzu wore well.

"So your father can't make it home in time for Christmas?" he finally said. "That's too bad."

Anzu's head snapped up and Kaiba found himself genuinely surprised by the fire in her eyes. He wasn't quite sure what startled him more: the look in her eyes, or the fact that he recognized it --from two years ago at Duelist Kingdom was the last time she'd looked at him that way-- and, up until now, hadn't realized how much he'd missed it.

That instant of nostalgia was his downfall though, for Anzu rose from her chair, stiff-limbed and very nearly quaking with red-hot rage.


"Seto Kaiba, you jerk! I know you're a total Scrooge that doesn't believe in the holidays or the goodness of people, and that you're a rude nimwad with no sense of manners, let alone the need for a person's sense of privacy, but don't you dare pretend you know the first thing about me, what I'm thinking or feeling, or why other people might be important to me! You're an arrogant, self-absorbed ass, and you wouldn't know the true meaning Christmas if it kissed you with chicken-and-cake breath!"

And with that, Anzu stormed out of the classroom right as the lunch bell ended, ignoring the startled looks of Yuugi, Jounouchi, and Honda as they all attempted to squeeze in the door at once. The tardy bell rang shrilly, but Anzu did not return.

She did not return at all that period, and only when bell rang a second time indicating the end of the period did Seto Kaiba shake out of his stupor.

'Chicken-and-cake breath?'

He didn't know where that had come from, but the rest of it... well, Mazaki was more than off-base. She was off-kilter too. Okay, he hadn't exactly explained his presence or "broken the ice," so to speak, in the most pleasant of ways, but he'd been trying to be sympathetic and she'd just let off on him! She accused him of not knowing what she was thinking or feeling, but he knew exactly how: lonely, upset, betrayed. But she wouldn't let him -an "arrogant, self-absorbed ass," in her words- empathize with her. No, she couldn't believe that he knew just what Christmas was or meant to others. Fine. If she was going to be stubborn, so was he.

'Let her /friends deal with her.'/

He'd resolved to do that just as a very gentle, very hesitant tap came on his shoulder. He wheeled around in his chair, about to give whoever it was his fiercest glare, but he came face-to-face with Yuugi Mutou himself. For some reason, the glare that he'd been saving faltered.

'Here it comes.' He was in for it now, a lecture from the midget King of Games.

God, why had he ever wanted that title? It sounded so pretentious now.

Kaiba steeled himself for what would undoubtedly be Yuugi's whiny tone, asking him why he'd bullied Anzu or said something to upset her, because of course as her pet starfish (Jounouchi was the guard dog, and Honda was the rhinoceros), he'd always take her side, know that anything that upset her was the fault of someone else--

"Are you okay?"

Kaiba blinked in surprise. "What?"

"I said, 'Are you okay?' Anzu gave you quite an earful." He stated it as fact, which could only mean one thing.

"You heard?"

Yuugi blushed the color of a ripe tomato. "Anzu doesn't exactly have a soft voice...."

For some reason Kaiba wondered what other experiences Yuugi had had with Anzu screaming. He decided he didn't like where that train of thought was heading and promptly let it derail.

"It's Mazaki," Kaiba said by way of explanation, as if he'd said 'Why should she bother me?'

"Yeah, but she shouldn't have said those things to you."

"She's..." Kaiba paused as he mulled over the right word to describe Anzu Mazaki. He'd known her for about two years now. No matter what she said, he did know her pretty well, didn't he? "She's got spirit."

Yuugi suddenly broke into a grin that looked very unsettling, so Kaiba turned away. The scowl was already in place when Yuugi poked him a second time.

"What?"

"I'll talk to Anzu. She's just upset... this is the second or third time her dad's missed an important day to her because of business. Anzu doesn't like it very much, especially since this is her last year here in Japan...."

This tidbit of information would have visibly surprised Kaiba, except at the last second he remembered hearing Anzu talk about New York and dancing and some such. He hadn't put much stock into it at the time. He'd brushed Mazaki off as hopelessly optimistic, a daydreamer and a foolish idealist, but... she was getting out there and making her dreams come true as best she could, wasn't she? Weren't they more alike than different?

"How did you know about her dad?"

Kaiba had been in the hall by the door the whole time, and he knew no one else had been in the classroom with her, and no one had been near him in the hall. So how did Yuugi...?

"She was talking about it earlier, between second and third period. She had a feeling... and then her mom didn't help out with decorating the house because she said it stressed her out too much."

At that moment, Anzu herself re-entered the classroom. She paused in the doorway, took a deep breath, and walked to her seat, trying to smile (but halfway failing) at her friends. When she caught sight of Yuugi's empty desk, her gaze swiveled around and narrowed when she caught sight of Yuugi just behind Kaiba, but Kaiba only stared back at her expressionlessly. Yuugi decided whatever else he might have added wasn't worth it and scrambled back to his seat.

Kaiba had felt a piercing stare burrow into the back of his head throughout the remainder of the day, but he steadfastly ignored it. Only when he was grabbing his things from inside his desk and packing his briefcase (he didn't bother with cheap little satchels like the other boys) did he catch a sidelong glance at the person who seemed to want to bore a hole in his head: unsurprisingly, it was Anzu.

She still looked angry.

'Let her.'

So much for the most sensible, interesting member of that little band of chimps.

Kaiba opted to keep this attitude up for the remainder of the day; it didn't make him act any more foul than usual, so it wasn't as if anyone took notice. As soon as he was out of school, the act would drop and he'd go home, where he wouldn't have to deal with well-meaning and hopelessly idealistic Yuugi, boneheaded Jounouchi, or spit-fire Anzu.

Very briefly, he wondered if he'd miss them.

Scoffing under his breath, Kaiba decided Yuugi's infection had taken root after all. The only way to combat it was with a healthy dose of time away from them, which made Kaiba look that much more forward to getting out of school the split second the bell rang.

And ring it did, precisely at 3:30 p.m. Though the majority of students had been grumbling about being in school on the day of Christmas Eve, they seemed hesitant about leaving their friends and classmates until after New Year's. Even Yuugi, so excited to see his father and mother again, and Jounouchi, eager to see his sister (but perhaps not so much his mother), seemed to linger back.

/'I don't care. I won't miss any of them.' /Or so Seto Kaiba told himself as he grabbed his packed briefcase and swept out of Domino High, oblivious to Yuugi gently grabbing Anzu's arm and tugging her down so he could whisper in her ear. He never saw Anzu's eyes widen, never saw her hand go to her mouth to stifle her gasp. He didn't even witness her start to cry.

It was half past seven o'clock when the doorbell rang.

This surprised Seto Kaiba, for he hadn't yet decided on what variety of take-out his brother and him would have for a late Christmas Eve dinner, let alone placed an order that could have been delivered so promptly-- especially in the freak snowstorm that had just whipped up. He supposed he could have --/should /have, actually-- asked the cook to make something before Kaiba had given him off for the holiday, but he hadn't wanted to add onto the man's workload. The extravagant --and unplanned-- breakfast three days ago had been more than enough to suit.

And being that Seto Kaiba didn't know a casserole from capoeira, he couldn't rely on his own "skills" to be of any help this holiday.

What made it worse was that Mokuba was nearing his teenage years, and he'd already been showing signs of growing distant from Seto. The holidays were the one time of year when circumstances were always perfect for them to spend time with one another, but Mokuba didn't have the enthusiasm he had for it in years past. In fact, it had been a chore just getting him to decorate the house this year.

Suffice it to say, Seto Kaiba wasn't going to push his luck by asking his little brother to decide where to get take-out for Christmas. It would only go to show that Kaiba didn't think things through --not if they didn't involve the company, school, or Duel Monsters in some way. He had been mentally debating the merits of either dim-sum or duck (and it had taken him an hour to weed the choices down to just those two) when the bell rung.

Briefly he toyed with the idea of Santa Claus really existing and bringing him take-out. The thought made him smile. Of course it was silly, but....

He opened the door slightly --he was still a wary man, after all-- and was greeted with the sight of two bright blue eyes and the rest of it --him or her, Kaiba couldn't tell-- covered in snow.

The snow person rose an arm and shook the snow on that arm off, revealing a slender arm clad in a shiny blue fabric with faux fur at the end (Kaiba wasn't sure if it was part of the sleeve or the white glove that followed).

"Do you like fried chicken?" the snow person asked, thrusting a plastic bag marked 'KFC' at him.

Suddenly he recognized those eyes.

He must have been gawping for a good minute, because he wasn't until he saw Anzu shiver and her eyes --red-rimmed, now that he looked closer-- take on a defeated cast that he said anything.

"Come on in from the cold."

Anzu eyed him as if he'd grown a second head, but she walked past him into the warm house, careful to brush off as much snow as she possibly could on the doorstep before she entered fully.

Another half-minute passed before either of them could think to say anything, and once one of them had, Mokuba saved them the trouble.

"Is that dinner? Man, does that smell good-- Anzu? Whoa, you're all wet."

Anzu had the grace to blush and try to squeeze out her damp hair without dripping on Kaiba's marble floors.

"You didn't walk here in that snowstorm, did you? And you brought-- fried chicken? Oh, you're so awesome, Anzu!"

Anzu blushed harder and tried (or so it looked to Kaiba, anyway) to retract her head into the damp furry collar of her coat.

"I brought some Pepsi Gold and Christmas Cake too... not sure if you guys'll like it, but...." Anzu trailed off, holding out another bag with a large white box and a liter of gold-colored liquid inside.

"We'll love it!" Mokuba said before Kaiba could even get a word edgewise. "I'll get the plates, come on! I'm /starved/!" Mokuba charged off to the kitchen to appropriate plates and napkins, both bags in hand, and leaving Anzu and Kaiba alone once more.

"May I have your coat? I'll get it dried."

Anzu blinked in surprise before unzipping her coat and handing it to Kaiba. He was halfway down a side hallway in the opposite direction Mokuba had gone when he turned and suddenly faced her again.

"It's not dry cleaning only, is it?"

Anzu was too shocked by his politeness --and it seemed so sincere!-- that she just shook her head in the negative dumbly. Kaiba disappeared around a corner, leaving her alone in the entryway.

When he returned, she was still standing there, looking awkward, as if she wasn't sure if she was invited into the rest of the house, let alone if she would be allowed to eat any of her own fried chicken.

Despite the shivering and closed-up position Anzu had adopted, she didn't seem to notice him re-enter her space; her gaze seemed rooted to the family room to her right, where a tall Christmas tree stood, fully decorated with twinkling white lights, gold, red, and evergreen ornaments, and a brilliant silver star at the top. She was staring at the roaring fireplace with its two stockings hanging from the mantle, and the small smattering of photos on top.

Kaiba threw a towel onto her head.

Anzu whipped around, startled and pulled the towel off her head. She stared at it, then at Kaiba, looking disconcerted, as if she didn't believe the towel was real.

She was looking at him as if she expected him to suddenly turn into a reindeer. A beat passed, and when he had yet to sprout antlers, she slowly said "Thank you."

"Thanks for the chicken. Come on, I'll make you some cocoa."

He started striding back through the entryway and back to the family room, which would lead to the kitchen, but a tug on his arm stopped him before he could round the corner. He turned back slightly and stared at Anzu. She was back to looking like a turtle again, all awkward and closed-up.

She swallowed and scrubbed at her face --he had not said anything to make her cry!-- before speaking again, this time in a hoarse whisper.

"I'm sorry, for everything I said earlier. I'm the Scrooge, not you."

Kaiba raised his eyebrows, but he didn't know what to say exactly. One of Yuugi's gang, apologizing to /him/? And Mazaki, of all people? But if he wasn't a reindeer, then she was really being sincere. She had come all this way --in a snowstorm, no less!-- to apologize to him.

"I-- I should go. I said what I needed to say, so--" she pivoted on her foot and started to head back to the door, heedless of the fact that she was without a coat and it was still storming fiercely outside.

"You're not going back out in that."

Anzu froze momentarily before turning around. "What?" Her voice was like the window: hard and frosted with ice. She didn't take too kindly to being told what to do, even in a situation where, moments before, she'd been apologizing and handing out free food.

Kaiba realized that the two of them were akin to a pair of tightrope walkers, always wobbling between kindness and certain death with their words. He took a deep breath and tried to put himself in a good mood --a grateful mood, for not many people would ever apologize to him for /anything/, let alone bring him and his brother Christmas dinner as a means of cementing the gesture.

"Please. Stay."

Anzu's lip started to quiver, causing Kaiba to briefly wonder if she'd caught pneumonia being out in the snowstorm. "I don't deserve--" she began, but Kaiba abruptly closed the distance between them and did something that surprised them both: he put a finger on her lips. The gesture had the intended effect, and Anzu quieted immediately, her eyes wide and staring at him as though she were a deer caught in a pair of headlights.

"Three Christmases without your family? I think you do deserve it."

Anzu's lip started to quiver again, but this time she made a concerted effort to stifle the reaction before it turned into something worse, like a bout of crying. Kaiba had the feeling she'd had more than enough of those today.

"Come on, that chicken of yours will get cold," he said as he gently led her into the dining room. Anzu said nothing about his hand on the small of her back, so he kept it there as they walked.

"You never answered my question: does a guy like you actually like fried chicken?"

"I don't know, I've never tried it," he answered honestly.

"What!? /Never/!?" Anzu turned to him with wide eyes and a wider smile, and for the first time that evening, Seto Kaiba felt himself relax.

"The snowstorm is expected to continue through at least ten o'clock this evening, meaning a very White Christmas for folks throughout Domino and most of the surrounding prefectures...."

"You're lucky you got here when you did, Anzu," Mokuba said between mouthfuls of drumstick. "I mean, the weather's only gotten worse."

Anzu smiled hesitantly before biting into her own drumstick, taking care to be as delicate as possible despite the fact it was finger food. "You say 'worse,' I say 'better.' When was the last time we had a White Christmas here in Domino?"

"Good point," Mokuba agreed with his mouth full again, shaking the remainder of his drumstick at Anzu. She winced as a piece of loose chicken dangled threateningly at her, but the meat miraculously stayed firmly attached.

Apologies from Mazaki, a freak snowstorm leading to a White Christmas, and a relatively-relaxed Christmas dinner without any effort? Tonight certainly seemed to be a night for miracles.

Anzu let the tiniest of smiles show before she returned to nibbling delicately on her own drumstick.

"Sho Anshu, whysh you here for Chrishmash?" Mokuba asked, his mouth full.

Anzu was wincing again, so this time Kaiba didn't hesitate. "Mokuba, don't talk with your mouth full."

Mokuba gawped at his brother--his mouth open a few centimeters-- before closing his mouth to finish chewing and swallowing the last of his drumstick. "Sorry, Bro." Kaiba didn't miss Mokuba rolling his eyes at having to be polite.

'He probably thinks I'm a hypocrite.' Not for chewing with his mouth open, but for trying to be polite in front of someone else --Anzu Mazaki of all people, who never before had ranked on the Kaiba totem pole of importance. But everything was different on Christmas; even Mokuba had to know that.

"Well, before school today, my mother got a call that her sister --my aunt, who might as well be an alien for how different she is from my mom-- and her family wouldn't be coming for Christmas like they usually do." Anzu dropped her bare-boned drumstick onto her plate. "My cousins are the only family my age, and Christmas and New Year's are about the only time we see each other. My favorite cousin," Anzu scowled into her creamed corn, "has decided it would be more... profitable to work as a host this holiday season instead of spending time with his family."

She sighed heavily and then met Mokuba and Kaiba's gazes. "Sorry for unloading on you guys like that, it's just frustrating to have a family like mine."

Mokuba shifted uncomfortably in his seat without saying anything, so Kaiba himself spoke up. "It's fine, but... at least you have a family to complain about."

Anzu's eyes widened and she swallowed. "Yeah, I-- I know. I shouldn't have said--"

"It's fine," Kaiba repeated. "So your aunt's family cancels, your father's got business--" he trailed off, wanting to find out how the Anzu who'd still been --as far as he'd known-- enraged when he'd left school had suddenly become the girl with the quivering lip sitting before him. If she thought his holiday attitude of politeness and thankfulness was disconcerting, she had no idea what her mood swings were doing to /him/!

Mazaki was interesting, all right: interestingly confusing.

"Yeah, Dad had this big business meeting that he had to go to. Anyway, after that, Mom decided the stress was too much for her and she left for some artists' retreat on Mt. Fuji. Whatever happened to spending time with your family on the holidays, huh? At least you guys have the right idea. "

"Yeah, Big Brother gives the whole company paid time off from the 21st through January 3rd," Mokuba said.

Anzu blinked in surprise. "You do?"

"Personal policy," Kaiba responded gruffly.

"But-- why? You could be making so much more money...."

"And that would just create more families like yours: divided during the holidays and upset about it," Kaiba explained succinctly. He cast a sharp gaze at Mokuba, but his younger brother remained oblivious to the unspoken message Seto was trying to send: Don't tell her about why it's my personal policy. But he supposed Mokuba wouldn't know the real reason, anyway. Even if he'd been through the same hell that was Gozaburo, Mokuba didn't remember his birth parents. He didn't know why Christmas was so important to Seto at all.

Maybe if he did, they wouldn't be drifting.

Kaiba swallowed the last of his chicken --which he'd been dissecting with a knife and fork, no matter what Mazaki said about it being a 'finger food'-- and spoke. "Our father --our real father-- worked for a company that didn't care much for family time or the holidays, either. Outside of national holidays, he couldn't expect to be home much."

Kaiba stood and covered the few meters between the dining room table and the mantle, where one of the sterling silver-framed photos was of a five-year-old Seto, his father, and his pregnant mother. He brought the photo to Anzu and handed it to her.

"Mom was already pretty sick --worn out from having to watch a five-year-old all the time, I guess-- when she got pregnant with Mokuba. When..." Kaiba swallowed a painful lump that had suddenly formed in his throat, "When it became clear that she wasn't getting better, Dad quit his job. It was the only way he could spend any time with us. We didn't have a lot --our Christmas that year was pretty small-- but I...."

Kaiba turned away abruptly and stared at the Christmas tree. They seemed to be glowing in bright blurs, overlapping one another and casting a white haze over everything else. Suddenly, the haze melted away as he felt a warm and gentle touch on his shoulder. He looked over, and standing there with a gentle smile on her face was Anzu. A tug on his other arm indicated Mokuba had joined him. His younger brother grasped his hand hard and didn't let go. After a moment, Kaiba squeezed back and found the ability to carry on.

"I remember it was one of the best. And even though the Christmases that followed were somber, Dad never let us --well, me, I guess, since you'd be too young to remember much, Mokuba-- he never let me forget that Christmas was a time you were supposed to be with your family, no matter what. So I try and make that possible for all the employees at Kaiba Corporation. It's the least I can do for them when I'm so hard on them the rest of the year," he chuckled.

Anzu let out a brief laugh of her own, shaking her head as if in wry disbelief. But when she turned to face him, her eyes were watering-- but her lip wasn't quivering when she spoke. "And if a family doesn't want to be together?"

This time it was Kaiba's turn to lay a hand on her shoulder. "Friends are the family you choose."

Anzu's lip started quivering again, but this time Mokuba saw and commented on it before Kaiba could. "Are you still cold, Anzu?"

Anzu suddenly burst out laughing, and she kept on laughing until the tears she'd been holding back spilled forth.

"Uh, did I say something funny?"

"No, no, Mokuba," Anzu gasped out between giggles, "it's not bad, it's just-- oh, I guess it's an awful habit, this thing I do with my lip--"

"You /pout/," Kaiba put in. "It's very frustrating."

Anzu only laughed harder.

"For the lady," Kaiba said as he handed Anzu a tall champagne flute, which she accepted with a nod of thanks. "Merry Christmas."

"Hey, don't I get some, Big Brother?" Mokuba whined.

"Mokuba, you can have that whole bottle of Pepsi Gold if you want. I mean-- if you can handle the ginger, that is," Anzu said, a sly smile curving her lips.

"Awesome! More for me!"

Enthused by having a whole liter of soda to himself, Mokuba dashed off into the kitchen to find himself an extra-large glass to put some ice into.

"I like the way you think," Kaiba whispered to Anzu once Mokuba was out of earshot. Anzu glanced back and smiled tentatively at him, her cheeks a faint shade of pink. She didn't say anything, but she took a slow first sip of her champagne.

"Mokuba doesn't believe in Santa Claus anymore, does he?" Anzu asked abruptly. She was staring at the kitchen door, but after a moment's silence, she turned to face Seto. He leaned back into the couch they were both seated on, shifting the stem of his champagne glass between his fingers.

"He found out the hard way," Seto finally said. "From our foster father. It wasn't my intention, but, well...." he frowned deeply. "No matter what Gozaburo put me through or brainwashed me into believing, I still wanted the best for Mokuba. I didn't want him to be deprived of a childhood. But others... they just seemed intent on stripping it away."

Anzu didn't say anything, and when Seto glanced at her, she looked pensive. Suddenly she stood up. "Do you want some Christmas cake?" She smiled when Kaiba nodded, and she headed back to the dining room table. She fished the white cake box from the bag Mokuba had already extracted the Pepsi from and opened it slowly.

"Cute," Kaiba said, grinning privately when Anzu jumped at the sound of his voice. She glanced at him only briefly with the look of a startled cat, clearly unnerved by how stealthily he'd gotten close to her, and just how near he'd been when he finally decided to speak.

"I made it myself," Anzu said, her posture suddenly straightening a bit. She was smiling ever-so-slightly, and Kaiba could detect just the faintest of glows on her cheeks.

She used a cake knife that she'd tied to the side of the box to hand out a slice to Kaiba, who opted to reuse his plate from dinner (after mopping the chicken grease with a napkin, of course).

"It's a sponge cake with a thin layer of strawberries and whipped cream in the middle. I iced it with a light layer of vanilla-flavored frosting and garnished it with some more strawberries."

One of the strawberries had been meticulously decorated to look like Santa Claus; it was this strawberry that was perched on Seto's slice of cake.

"Oh, you cut the cake! Perfect!" Mokuba came back into the dining room holding something that looked like a beer stein lifted from a local bar, filled to the brim with Pepsi Gold.

"Did you empty the whole liter into that thing?" Anzu asked incredulously.

"Just about," Mokuba laughed. "I drank the rest right from the bottle. That ginger flavor is good stuff!"

Anzu quirked an eyebrow up at him. "Well, I hope it tastes good with strawberries. Here you go!" With one smooth, quick motion, she lifted another slice of cake out onto Mokuba's waiting plate.

"I'm sure it'll taste fabulous. Did I hear you really made this yourself?" Mokuba asked before stabbing into the center of the cake with his fork. The resulting piece that he lifted up was nearly the size of a softball, which caused Anzu's eyes to widen, but she shifted her gaze back to Mokuba's face on time.

"Uh, yeah. I know I couldn't have eaten it all myself, and why let it go to waste because my parents aren't around, right?" Anzu laughed weakly.

"You don't have to be so concerned about your dancer's figure; you look fine," Kaiba muttered. Unfortunately, Anzu turned around just after he'd spoken, which meant his mutterings hadn't been as quiet as he'd intended.

"Was that a compliment, Seto Kaiba?"

"Maybe," he said gruffly before stuffing a piece of cake into his mouth. He hoped to avoid further discussion, but the groan that slipped past his lips upon tasting the cake was too audible to miss. Fortunately, Mokuba's exaggerated noises of pleasure as he practically swallowed his slice of cake whole were louder.

"You like it? The cake, I mean?" Anzu asked excitedly, which got Kaiba thinking if she'd originally wanted to ask if he liked her figure. "It turned out okay?"

Mokuba was still chewing his softball-sized piece, but he nodded enthusiastically and gave a thumbs-up. Anzu beamed, and in her delight, missed the once-over gaze that swept over her form from top to bottom-- coming from Seto Kaiba's direction.

Kaiba continued to chew slowly, and when Anzu looked back at him with a querying look on her face, he too, gave her a thumbs-up.

Mokuba seemed eager to tell Anzu that her cake was delicious in words rather than in grunts and groans, so he finished chewing his slice in a matter of seconds and proceeded to do just that. When he ran out of appropriate adjectives to describe the cake or similes to compare the dessert to, he gestured back to the cake.

"Aren't you going to have any, though? I mean, you went to all the effort of making it...."

Anzu raised an eyebrow. "Are you sure? You can have my slice if you really like it as much as you said...."

"I do! But no, no, you have a piece. Come on, it's /Christmas/!" Mokuba said insistently. He attempted to cut Anzu a slice, but it ended up a little jagged-edged, with a strawberry half hanging off the iced top.

Anzu smiled and took the cake slice on her plate. "Thanks. You're really sure--?"

"/Positive/," Mokuba emphasized. "Matter of fact, I'm gonna go upstairs and digest." He smiled gratefully and gave Anzu a tight hug, to which Anzu responded with a breathy laugh. "Hey, I gotta digest too, Mokuba!"

"Okay, okay. Sorry," he said with a smile and a wink at Anzu. Kaiba blinked in surprise. Did Mokuba just...? "Thanks again for all the food, Anzu. Don't know what we would have done without you. I, for one, had a great Christmas."

Anzu bowed her head and then looked up and smiled again. "Thank you for having me. I've had a great Christmas too."

"All right, time to /digest/!" Mokuba grinned and dashed to the staircase cutting the lower level of the house in two. "See you later, Anzu! 'Night, bro!"

Seto nodded at Mokuba and then leaned toward Anzu's ear. "It's code for 'play video games until I pass out,' in case you were wondering," he told her.

Anzu blinked. "'Digest,' you mean?" Kaiba nodded. "Well... whatever makes him happy. I'm glad he enjoyed the food."

"He's not the only one."

Anzu turned to him, her lips ever-so-slightly parted, as if there was a word on the edge of her lips that wouldn't quite come. The moment stretched, but it was Kaiba who finally broke it. "Come on, you should eat your cake."

"I'll have my cake and eat it too?" she asked playfully.

"As you wish, Miss Antoinette," Kaiba responded in kind.

Anzu sat and ate her cake (with at least a little bit more gusto than she had the fried chicken, Kaiba observed) and sipped her champagne, but she kept shifting awkwardly in her seat. Was it because he was just sitting there in front of her at the table, his seat pulled up right near hers, just watching her?

Her cheeks started getting redder and redder, until at one point Kaiba thought of holding up a strawberry to her cheek for comparison's sake. He resisted the urge, though the thought had made him smile.

"Stop that," Anzu said between swallows of cake.

"What?" Kaiba asked. His voice came out a lot softer than he intended. Mokuba wasn't anywhere near earshot anymore, so why was he bothering with whispers?

"Staring at me like that."

"Like what?" he asked. He shifted so his elbows were on his knees and his chin rested in his hands. He kept staring, and Anzu kept getting redder as she tried to finish off her cake. Her attention was clearly on things other than her cake, which explained why her fork suddenly deviated on course to her mouth and collided with her cheek. A smear of white frosting ended up on her lower cheek, like a half-mustache that someone had neglected to shave off.

Upon seeing her face get even more red --and her eyes squeeze shut-- Kaiba realized Anzu was more embarrassed than he'd ever seen her before. He opted to keep his mouth shut and only gesture to the spot where the frosting stubbornly remained, despite all of Anzu's attempts to lick it away.

'Why doesn't she just use a napkin?' Kaiba wondered. There was one on the table right behind her, but Anzu was sitting with the same ramrod-straight posture as she had in class earlier, determined to the last not to shift. Or, apparently, give into the humiliation that so inevitably awaited her by admitting she'd been distracted by him and that was how she'd ended up with frosting on her face in the first place.

Maybe it was the champagne.

It was all highly illogical. But... disturbingly cute. A different kind of 'cute' from what he was used to being subjected to courtesy of Mokuba's puppy eyes. Very different.

"No, it's right," Kaiba leaned forward and took Anzu's face in one of his hands. "Here." His fingertips brushed the side of her neck, and he could feel her pulse racing under her skin. The flush in her face spread, and suddenly Kaiba found himself as the one that couldn't move.

He didn't know what possessed him to lean in. He didn't know why his eyes started to drift shut. He just wanted to.

Centimeters from her lips, Anzu spoke. "I'm sorry."

Kaiba froze a second time, the desperate urge to just kiss her already only barely held in check. Her pulse was still racing, her skin was still flushed, and her eyes were still that bright, brilliant blue-- but this time, without rage or sadness in them. He didn't know what to make of that look in her eyes.

"For being such a bitch to you earlier, Kaiba. For... for everything I said, ever. You're a really great guy."

'Now would be a really good time to know exactly what to say without screwing everything up.'

He decided three words would suffice: for then and for now.

"I'm sorry, too." Then he kissed her.

He didn't expect her to respond, so he wasn't surprised when she didn't-- not at first, anyway. But he wasn't going to walk away without a shred of enjoyment, so he kissed her a bit longer-- just a few more seconds, and that was when she surprised him, and any routine Seto Kaiba might have kept up from that point onward shattered like a broken ornament.

She kissed him back.

And quite enthusiastically, too, which made Kaiba's surprise that much more intense. For all the genius he supposedly possessed, he simply couldn't have predicted that she would have twined her arms around him or that she would have started tangling her fingers into the hair at the nape of his neck. He certainly couldn't have imagined how good it would feel.

Oddly, the first thought in his head as they pulled apart was 'Like coming home for Christmas.'

Maybe that feeling he'd had was like that-- that thing people always talked about: that elusive warmth that made Christmas was it was, that gave people a reason to associate so much with this time of year.

Suddenly Anzu chuckled softly, prompting Kaiba to look at her with a raised eyebrow. She pointed toward her cheek, and Kaiba suddenly understood. The frosting wasn't on her cheek anymore. With a determined smile, he licked... and failed to taste frosting. Stubbornly, he kept trying, ignoring the variety of odd expressions he knew Anzu would have on her face. Suddenly she leaned forward and took his face into one of her hands.

"No, it's right," and she leaned closer, and for an instant he was sure she was going to kiss him again, and a tingle thrilled throughout his body. "Here." But her lips never made contact with his. She seemed to be off-course, because out of the corner of his eye he saw her lean toward his side. Suddenly there was a warm moisture against his cheek, and Anzu leaned back, a cat-like satisfied smile crossing her lips. Her tongue flicked out, the last of the white frosting disappearing into her mouth.

Kaiba stared for exactly three and a half seconds before reaching out and pulling Anzu into his arms --on his lap, rather-- again so they could kiss each other /properly/.

Seto Kaiba quickly discovered that having his Christmas routine broken wasn't such a bad thing. In fact, judging by all the wonderful things he was discovering --Anzu had a mole on her back right in the middle of her spine, and she quite liked being massaged (and was, in fact, quite vocal about how good a job he was doing, even with her bra, blouse and sweater still on)-- he might have to come up with a new routine. Preferably involving Anzu coming over a great deal more frequently (the fried chicken was optional).

He was looking forward to testing a theory involving kissing every patch of Anzu's exposed skin except for lips and seeing how she'd react when a tinkling noise disturbed his ministrations.

Anzu groaned-- this time, not from pleasure, but from apparent frustration. She shifted on top of Kaiba and scowled playfully at him as he put his hands behind his head and let her wriggle in place. A few seconds later, she withdrew the offending 'tinkling' item from her pants pocket: a pink cell phone with far too many things dangling off it.

"Hello?"

"Where are you?"

Anzu's expression suddenly went from irritated to baffled. "Daddy?"

"Yes, sweetheart, where are you?"

"I-- I uh, I'm at a friend's house." She blushed brightly as she looked at Kaiba, likely thinking the same thing he was: they were definitely not just 'friends.'

"Well, that business meeting of mine got cancelled --the partner on the other end had a sudden change of heart and wanted to be home with his family for the holidays, so we're going to try again through teleconference after the New Year. My flight got cancelled anyway, and your mother's home because the roads to her retreat were closed."

"Mom's home?" Anzu repeated, her eyes wide with shock.

"Yes, Anzu. Now why not bring your girl friend over. I got some chicken from the airport, and your mother's going crazy with the decorating. She banned me from the living room because she says I don't understand the feng shui of holly or ivy or something like that."

"Um... it's a/ 'he'/, Dad," Anzu said quietly, her gaze flickering toward Kaiba to judge how much he'd heard. She looked surprised when she saw him smiling-- and not just that, but chuckling softly under his breath. Clearly, he'd heard everything.

"'He'? But I thought Yuugi, Jounouchi and Honda all had holiday plans--"

Anzu's face reddened further. "Yes Dad, they all do... it's not one of them...."

"Oh, so you're at a boyfriend's house, then? Well bring him over, then!" Mr. Mazaki said.

Suddenly Kaiba's suppressed chuckle turned into full-fledged laughter, prompting the voice on the other end of Anzu's cell phone to raise in volume as the Mazaki patriarch exclaimed "I know that voice! I know that voice!"

Anzu cringed and spoke rapid-fire into her phone. "We'll be there as soon as we can Daddy love you see you soon, bye!" She closed the phone with a resounding click and then dropped the offending phone into her lap. She promptly buried her face in her hands, refusing to meet Kaiba's mirth-filled gaze.

Kaiba sat up and re-buttoned his shirt before turning to Anzu again and holding out his hand for her to take. "Well, shall we go?"

Anzu looked up at him, astonished. He didn't know if her surprised was because he hadn't acknowledged her father's assumption that he and Anzu were boyfriend and girlfriend, or the idea that he wanted to meet her family. Her next words answered that question.

"You really-- you want to meet /my /family? After everything I said about them?" She looked like she wanted to say more. Maybe "After everything you said about your idea of family and why it's so important to spend time with them?"

"Yes. I'd like to be with you and the people you care about on Christmas."

Anzu's lip started to quiver again --ever-so-slightly-- before she bit it and looked up at him hesitantly. She rose to her feet and took his hands. The expression on her face was disconcertingly serious after everything that had happened, and that added to Kaiba's un preparedness when she spoke next.

"Are you sure you can handle more fried chicken?"

It turned out that Mokuba had yet to pass out, and was more than willing to accompany Seto and Anzu to the Mazaki household-- especially if there was more fried chicken involved. He agreed to inspect the snow situation outside as his brother and Anzu cleaned up and closed up the Kaiba Mansion, and promptly dashed outside into the white snow blanketing the lands surrounding the house.

Anzu had just finished clearing the dining room table and re-packaging the leftover cake when Seto, finished with putting the fire in the fireplace out, gently tugged on her arm. He took a deep breath, but when he met her inquisitive gaze, the words he'd been mulling over escaped him like turtledoves flying off into the highest awnings of the house.

"Seto? What is it?" She put a gentle hand on one of his arms, and when he looked into her eyes, he was pleased to note he could readily identify the emotion present there: concern. However he'd treated her in the past, she'd always cared. She hadn't always said it in so many words, and hadn't always said what he wanted to hear when she did bother to speak to (or rather, yell at) him, but he'd always known that.

Today, there'd been a role-reversal: he'd bothered to care and she'd been too hurt to realize. It made everything that he'd ever said or done in the past a lot clearer and senseless. If Anzu could be bothered to make reparations to someone he formerly believed she had every right to hate, then he'd make the effort as well. He'd start with her.

He smiled slightly to himself; she hadn't referred to him with an honorific since before she'd yelled him out earlier today. It hadn't even been 24 hours, but it felt like the whole world had changed.

He licked his lips and finally decided that, where Anzu was concerned, he didn't need to bother with flowery words or jargon.

"Would you be my girlfriend?"

Anzu's hand dropped off his arm, and for a split second, Kaiba felt as cold as the ice cube he was often accused of being. Anzu wouldn't meet his gaze, and the fact that he was just staring at the top of her head made the weight in his stomach seem that much heavier. When she did look up at him, her eyes were bright with tears.

"Did you mean that as a hypothetical question, or are you really asking?"

He swallowed. "What would you say if I was really asking?"

Anzu's straight-lipped expression suddenly blossomed into the most beautiful smile he'd seen that night. She closed the distance between them, but was careful to keep her face right in front of his so he could see her face as she answered.

"Yes."

"I can't believe you managed to polish off another three drumsticks and a wing, Mokuba. Are you sure you're not a human trash compactor?"

"I've been called worse," Mokuba said after he finished swallowing another piece of chicken. "Can you blame me? This stuff is /good/. Thanks a lot for having us, Mr. Mazaki."

"No problem, Mokuba," Mr. Mazaki smiled. "I'm glad to hear Anzu wasn't alone during the holidays. I'm glad our plans all worked out so we could have this little dinner, late as it is."

"Nah, it's no problem," Mokuba said, grabbing a handful of potato wedges. "Big Brother and I would have stayed up past midnight anyway."

"It's really no trouble," Kaiba said, reassuring Anzu's father. For all of Anzu's nervousness during the ride there, Mr. Mazaki was surprisingly pleasant. He didn't fit the image Anzu described of a workaholic, nor did he seem to possess a shotgun or any intent of interrogating Seto Kaiba about the nature of his relationship with his only daughter.

Kaiba politely worked his way through a drumstick of his own --this time without a knife and fork, but still armed with an array of napkins-- and glanced at Anzu. She was staring at him like she never had before: as if he were some sort of sparkling marble statue or something.

"What?" he asked her under his breath, once her parents retreated to the kitchen to bring out dessert.

She blinked and shook her head, as if trying to ward off whatever mental haze had overcome her. "Nothing. It's just... for the longest time, I thought I knew you. You seemed like a pretty simple guy. Not my type, but still, I thought you were easy to understand: why you did what you did and that kind of thing. And it's not that being 'simple' is a bad thing, but, well, I realized I didn't know you at all."

Kaiba put his drumstick back on his plate and faced Anzu. "And now?"

"And now I'm learning a little bit at a time just the kind of person you are. I like what I'm finding out."

"Like?" It couldn't hurt to get his ego stroked at least once on Christmas, right?

"Like..." Anzu glanced around and lowered her voice to a conspiratorial tone. "Like, you're a really good masseuse."

Kaiba faked a disappointed look. "Is that all?"

Anzu seemed to think he was being serious despite the joking tone he'd tried to inject to his voice, so she leaned back in. "And you're an excellent kisser."

"That's better," Kaiba smirked.

Anzu punched him lightly on the arm. "Fishing for compliments?"

"Only from you," Kaiba chuckled. "Only from you."

A short while later, Kaiba sat in the Mazaki home's small living area, enjoying sitting in front of the lowered, heated table known as a kotatsu. He'd never had one before --his birth parents and Gozaburo Kaiba had all adopted a more Western-inspired style of interior decorating-- and while he was unused to sitting on a cushion on the floor, he certainly didn't mind the warmth the heater underneath the low table offered.

"You strike me as a coffee drinker," Anzu said, walking back into the room with a plastic cup in each hand. Kaiba looked up and smiled as she entered, and then suddenly noticed something he didn't before.

"Stop."

Anzu froze a meter away from him, a bewildered expression on her face.

Seto took the two parfait cups in her hand and set them down on the end table not far from the kotatsu. Without a word, he gestured up to where a small bit of mistletoe was fixed to the open doorway with a pushpin and piece of ribbon.

Anzu blushed. "I can't believe my mom went so far with the decorating. She was complaining about it before."

"Your mother came home and realized how important Christmas was to you. She wanted you to be here and be happy. Be grateful for that," Kaiba said softly. He swallowed and squeezed his eyes shut, remembering for a startlingly clear instant his own mother's face. He wanted to burn the image of her smile into his mind forever. "Enjoy that while you can."

Anzu reached up and stroked his cheek, somehow managing to look concurrently sad and happy: her eyes were filled with tears, but her lips were quivering in a half-smile, half-frown. She pushed herself into him, burying her face into his chest and just snuggling there for a minute.

"Thank you, Seto."

He held her back --gently, softly, quietly-- and didn't say anything further: not because he didn't know what to say, but because he knew actions at this juncture spoke louder than words.

Anzu seemed to understand that too, for instead of trying to continue the conversation, she pulled back slightly and stood on her tiptoes. She angled her lips toward his and leaned forward, and Kaiba met her halfway.

What had only lasted a moment seemed to stretch on-- at least until they were interrupted by a bright flash.

"Now that's going in the family scrapbook, definitely!"

Anzu leaped back from Kaiba as though his skin scalded her, but his grip on her waist didn't lessen; she only managed to wiggle back a few centimeters. Nonetheless, her face burned even brighter than it had at any point earlier that day, a source of endless amusement for Seto. He couldn't quite keep the smirk off his face, especially as Anzu plaintively cried "/Mom/!"

Mrs. Mazaki, her husband, and, surprisingly, Mokuba as well all peered out from behind the wall separating the dining room from the living room. Mrs. Mazaki triumphantly held a digital camera in hand, looking for all the world like the proverbial cat that had just eaten the canary.

Anzu groaned out of frustration and buried her face into Kaiba's chest once more; he laughed out loud this time, and Mrs. Mazaki delightedly snapped another picture.

One Year Later...

"...the Duelist Academy should be opening up by March of next year. I think that'll do it for today, ladies and gentleman," Kaiba said, tapping the microphone in front of his podium briefly. "See you all next year."

A flurry of reporters started calling him, asking more questions: would Kaiba Corporation expand the Duelist Academy concept to other nations; would foreign students be allowed into the academy? Was he intending for the academy to replace standard high schools?

Kaiba rolled his eyes. The minutiae of the Academy would be released in a massive press release after the New Year's, after the construction on the island completed and the staff hires were completed. He'd announced as much when the conference announcing the Duelist Academy had started, but some people just didn't have the patience to wait a few weeks.

But Seto Kaiba himself wasn't exactly known for his patience. His press conferences and meetings as the Christmas holiday drew near were noted for being increasingly shorter, as if Kaiba couldn't wait for the holiday to arrive.

That/ was/ true, in a manner of speaking, but....

"Mr. Kaiba! Jun Ikusawa, from PROFILE magazine. What will you do for the Christmas holiday?"

Kaiba stopped and raised an eyebrow. PROFILE magazine-- that was some trendy new magazine that focused on in-depth celebrity profiles and assorted trivia about anyone they couldn't get to agree to their rumored three hour-long interviews. He nodded thoughtfully, then smirked --just a little-- as he turned to the crowd of reporters, journalists, and photographers.

"Eat fried chicken with my girlfriend."

Whoo-hoo! All done! I expected this to be a ficlet, but in the process of translating the idea from notes to prose, it got longer... and longer. It usually does with me, doesn't it? At first, I was unsatisfied with the "tone" of the story, even though I knew I wanted to try my hand at a Kaiba point-of-view (but with a different spin on it from the usual Christmastime fics where he's his usual foul-tempered self). Then, quite strangely, on New Year's Day, I got a "fit" of inspiration and just kept writing. I stopped being worried about the tone.

Now, this hasn't been beta'd, and, like I said, I had some reservations about it, but I hope you (especially ILB!) enjoyed it. Let me know what you think!

Once again, happy holidays, and I hope you and your loved ones have a safe and inspiring New Year!

-Azurite
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