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Two Broken Mirrors

Chapter Text

At the intersection of Kaiba-Corp Blvd. and Domino Ave., a custom-made Audi R8 waited patiently as the traffic light illuminated the motionless young CEO in his driver’s seat.

Overcome with exhaustion, he closed his eyes for brief moment, but quickly regained his composure as a flash of green skimmed across his heavy eyelids. As the car started to accelerate, his younger brother, Mokuba, begins to recite the summary report of an incident that occurred today.  Seto Kaiba struggled to listen, adding yet another task to his overflowing work agenda.  Seto expected nothing less than extraordinary from all of Kaiba Corp’s employees, and as their leader, he strives to achieve the impossible.  The success of Kaiba Corp had nothing to do luck, he reminded himself, but was the result of his backbreaking labor and avid determination. 

As Mokuba concluded the last few details of the report, Seto redirected his attention to the clock on the dashboard, reading [2:34AM].

'Four and a half hours,' 

That’s all the sleep he’s going to get after a 21-hour workday. 

Running his fingers through his dark chestnut hair, Seto slowly eased the Audi onto his expansive driveway, shaking his brother awake as he does so.   An unexpected wave of adrenaline rushed through his body as he stepped into the frigid night air, the sudden invigorating shock jolting Seto’s body awake.  He paused; the feeling reminiscent of his past experiences, the excitement of finding the last Blue Eyes White Dragon; the bitterness of losing for the first time; and the joy of being pitted against a worthy adversary.

Seto pressed his fingers firmly against his burning temple.

‘Stop it,’ he warned himself, as he stepped into the front foyer of his enormous mansion.  Feeling dejected and empty, he paused for a moment to clear his head of these unhappy fleeting thoughts.  “Mr. Kaiba, this came in for you this evening,” his maid said sleepily, handing him a folder.

‘Two and a half hours.’ He sighed as he dragged himself to his office, glancing at the folder full of work he has to complete.

On the opposite side of the world, 23-year-old Ana Nikolaev sat quietly to herself, eyes half open as she waited for her departure to Tokyo. As the plane glides through the misty runway, Ana looks out the window, unsure of the new adventure that awaited her on the other side of the globe.

 


 

 

As Seto settled in his office for the morning, he adjusted his chair slightly, shifting away to avoid the blinding morning sun.

“The profiles of the new research interns, Mr. Kaiba,” Roland said, handing the somnolent young man a small tablet, “the HR department requests that you personally vet the candidates before they proceed on to the final selection process.”  Seto begrudgingly sips on a cup of black coffee as he absentmindedly scanned through the list of applicants. Normally, doing some cardio workouts would be enough to fully wake him, but not today, today he really needed that extra boost from the caffeine.

Scrolling through the tablet, Seto was slightly disappointed at the similarities between this crop of applicants and the previous pool of interns;

…Adisa Mmeremikwu – Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Computer Engineering;

Amir Al-Aswad – King Abdulaziz University, Aerodynamic Systems;

Hanshi Li – Beijing University, Organic Chemistry;

Joseph Warren – Harvard, Political Science;

Landon Brighton – Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Robotics;

Priyanka Laghari – Harvard, Biomedical Engineering;

Sophia Perez – University of São Paulo, Neurophysiology;

William Evans – Cambridge, Cor…

 

"Mr. Kaiba," executive secretary Hiroka chirped, her voice ringing through Seto’s earpiece "Vice President Howard from U.S. EnGen is on his way for the merger negotiations; he is expected to arrive around 8:30 this morning."

'Ugh, I don't have time for this nonsense, I’ve got more important things to deal with.'  Seto thought, unable to trudge through the rest of the boring list with more pressing matters on hand. Thankful for the interruption, he shoved the tablet back into Roland's waiting hands. "Hiroka, tell Howard he better be here AT 8:30AM" he barked.  "And give this to Mokuba," he then ordered, pointing to the tablet, "he should be waking up soon, if not, make sure he's up by 10:00." Seto instructed.

Mokuba has earned a few more hours of rest, he reasoned, knowing his little brother went to bed late last night.

With a curt tilt of his chin toward the door, Seto quickly dismissed Roland, not wanting to be bothered by these little college nobodies any longer.

 


 

 

As Seto busied himself with the tasks ahead, Ana arrived at her apartment in the heart of Tokyo. While she enjoyed her previous trips to this city, she's not overly fond of the crowdedness that comes with it. Bustling cities are great for the occasional visit but ideally, Ana would have preferred a more idyllic living situation for her extended stay.  Disobeying the exchange student policy, Ana got herself an apartment, loathing the idea of having to share her personal space with a roommate.

A few weeks prior to her arrival, Ana browsed through some apartment listings near Ginza. ‘Not bad,'  she thought.  Aside from the obvious luxury boutique shops and Michelin decorated restaurants, it's only a 20-minute drive to University of Tokyo (UT) and considerably more private than a place near college town.

Thinking back, Ana regretted her decision to enroll in the prestigious exchange program. ‘Meh,’  She thought as she read through the advertisement on the last day of her Fall semester. ‘A 1 years stay, and it’ll only count for 20 credit hours? Not worth it.’ She thought, tossing away the brochure.  But unfortunately, as one of the higher achieving students at MIT, the institution took notice of her absence and strongly 'encouraged' her to sign up for the program, going as far as to offer extra incentives like waiving certain graduation requirements.  

Unloading her luggage as soon as she reached the front door, Ana bolted to the bathroom for a much-needed shower.

“Disgusting,” she whined to herself as she scrubbed her body furiously; she was sure flatulence was released in her flight cabin, making her gag through her dinner.  Annoyed for not being able to charter or to fly her own private jet; albeit her own fault for waiting until literally the very last minute, Ana was still very grateful for everything she has.  Very few people, let alone students, can afford their own fully furnished two-story apartment in the center of Japan’s premier, in other words, expensive-as-hell, shopping district.

 


 

The next morning, a brand-new Aston Martin One-77 sat waiting for Ana on the front curb of her apartment, a gift from her older brother, Mikhail, no doubt. A little excessive perhaps but trying to convince him otherwise would take more effort than she was willing to invest.  Eager to avoid Tokyo’s infamous rush-hour stampede, Ana happily hopped into her new car, driving carefully as to avoid being caught without a valid driving license.

 

Walking to her first class, Ana noticed some curious stares that were tossed in her direction.

'Was it the car?' she wondered

nah, the car was deliberately parked out-of-view;

'my clothes?'

can't be, unless skinny jeans are suddenly head-turning worthy;

'maybe it's because I'm not Japanese?'

not exactly, there are lots of foreigner on campus.

Unable to come-up with an answer to her satisfaction, Ana shook off the thoughts and continued on.  

 


 

"Nii-sama," Mokuba smiled as Seto stepped off the elevator onto the main basement corridor. Ignoring his little brother's greeting, Seto marched straight to Lab B-8, where he spotted an unfinished optics tracker. "Where is Ishida?" he inquired sharply, looking around the room. "Um, don't know bro, I think he left for lunch about 20 minutes ago."

... wrong answer.

Sensing danger, Mokuba attempted a hasty distraction, "Hey! Have you seen the updated card reader system yet Seto? The software recognition speed had doubled since you last saw it!" he shouted, trying to drag Seto away from the lab.

"Why else would I ever bother coming down here?" Seto scoffed, continuing to inspect the tracker, albeit a little calmer than he was a few seconds ago. The ferocious young man was well aware of the effect he has on people, his sheer presence alone was usually enough to intimidate most into submission; a menacing trait he inherited from his late stepfather Gozoborou, a trait Seto both valued and despised.

Just then, a middle aged man with neatly combed hair burst through the lab doors, and with one look from the weary CEO, he knew he was in for an epic ass-chewing.  Although it was only a momentary absence, Ishida was aware that any excuse or apology made to Seto will be made in vain.   As the nervous program director stepped closer, Seto noticed Ishida's lab coat was peppered with the spilled contents of his half-eaten lunch, dropping his soup out of panic no doubt.

'What an useless idiot,' Seto scorned.

 

“I-”

"Save it!" Seto snapped, cutting short whatever Ishida's pathetic attempt at an apology was going to be. The whole room halted to a standstill at the sound of Seto’s booming voice.  Ishida trembled before him, cringing as if he is expecting a blow to the face. "The mock-up lenses from Germany were delivered yesterday, so tell me, Ishida, why is it sitting on the counter!?" Seto bellowed, crushing the tracker in his hands.  "I..I.. we thought the trackers had to be...be.. disassembled before the installation, so...so... we thought..." Ishida stammered.

Irritated with this delay, no, this EASILY avoidable delay, Seto narrowed his eyes, "DR. Ishida," he emphasized, "Do you know how to read? Do you know how to follow simple directions?" he scolded, pointing to the unopened, still shrink-wrapped protocol manual. "I paid extra for those custom lenses just so you DON'T have to do any disassembling," Seto shouted as he glared at the cowering man, “You should be fired for his.” He threatened.

Looking around at his shocked employees, Seto frowned at their lack of progress, "You simpletons better have these trackers reassembled and operational by 9:00AM tomorrow, if not, you'll live to regret it!" he threatened the room at large. As he prepared to leave, a bewildered Seto wondered how these supposedly top-of-the-line employees manage to consistently fuck up the easiest of tasks.

'These incompetent buffoons certainly have a common gift of making simple things complicated.' He fumed.  If this is the level of talent available at Kaiba Corp, then the rest of the world must be overrun packs of idiot toddlers.

'Oh well,' Seto though, debating if he should save his breath. 'No, they ask for it, so I might as well enjoy it,' he sneered as he sought out his next victim.

Chapter Text

The setting sun provided the perfect backdrop for the Tokyo skyline, a mixture of blue, red, and purple hues blended seamlessly into the darkening sky. Ana looked out her lab window, wishing she could be at home instead, enjoying a nice big dinner with her big brother. 

'It's not like I'll be seeing them again after all this,' she thought as she looked around at her classmates, not bothered to befriend any of them at all.

Ana’s antisocial tendencies aren’t helped by her hatred of small talks and useless formalities either.  Staying away from the limelight unlike her outgoing brother, Ana was accustomed to spending time in isolation aside from dealing with the obligatory social necessities like school for instance.  But mostly, she enjoyed her solitude, trading a lifestyle of wealth and comfort for more worthwhile activities. Like learning a new language; exercising; the art of hacking; music … all in all the makings of a well-rounded person, but unfortunately stubbornly proud and seemingly lacking empathy.

 

 

'Can't believe Kaiba allows this ridiculousness to be broadcasted,' Ana mused as she watched the rerun of Battle City finals while finishing her last organic extraction of the day. 

While not a duelist herself, watching teenagers shout strategies at each other over a card game would always be preferred over the background chatter in the lab; although Marik Ishtar and Yugi Mutou's little hooky-spooky back and forth about shadow realm is getting a bit out of hand.

Ignoring Marik and Yugi's long drawn supernatural debate, Ana thought of something funny that occurred the other day.  While trekking across campus, she was approached by a group of young boys, all of them eagerly asked for her picture and autograph.  "Anata wa watashi ga dareda to omoimasu ka (who do you think I am)?" Ana teased in response. "Your Japanese sounds great! Did you learn it for the interviews for the launch of Versace Winter collection here in Tokyo?" they beamed.

'Versace... Versace... hmm, I swear I read about this somewhere...' Anna stalled, pretending to gather her words, 'Ah! It's that model Barbara Palvin!' she smiled. "Yes, I'm the new spokesperson for Versace Japan."  Ana said as she scribbled Barbara Palvin's name onto their notebooks, taking selfies with the young fans left and right.

Laughing to herself as she walked away, Ana wondered what had prompted her to lie ...  Getting a sadistic kick out of tricking gullible people?  The stress of school manifesting into maniacal psychotic tendencies? 'Eh, it can't be that bad,' she shrugged, 'they got their autograph and I got my answer.' Happy to have finally pinpointed the reason for the stares she's been receiving, Ana was oblivious to their compliments on her apparent attractiveness.

 


 

 

As Ana started her on late-night writing session that evening.  Twenty miles away on the outskirts of Domino City in the eastern Tokyo Metropolis, Seto Kaiba sat alone in his home office, pouring over the data sent in by his senior analyst.

'Why isn't this working?' Seto thought as he closed his eyes in frustration, 'the hardware and simulations ran perfectly just 3 hours ago, and all of the regressions were verified at 99.99%! Why isn't this working?!' Aggravated, he pressed his forehead into his hands. 'It won't get resolved until the investigation team conducts a forensic-analysis tomorrow.'

Feeling lightheaded, Seto leaned back onto his soft leather chair and loosened the top 3 buttons of his dress shirt in an attempt to cool himself down. Stifling a yawn as he resigned himself to calling it a night, he closed his laptop with more force than he intended.

Passing by Mokuba in the living room, Seto hid his bitter disappointment at yet another failure as he patted his brother on the head. "Everything ok Seto?" Mokuba asked looking up from his book. "Yeah..." was all he could muster to say before walking away.

 


 

 

Stirring as the morning sun filtered through the large floor to ceiling windows into his cavernous bedroom, Seto was greeted by a pounding headache as he dragged his way into the bathroom. 

Supporting his tired body as he propped his hands on either side of the sink, he looked up at his reflection; a pair of bloodshot eyes stared right back at him, slightly obscured by a bed of messy brown hair.

'Slept in my work clothes again...'

Removing his expensive wristwatch and setting it aside, Seto lumbered his way towards the shower as he tossed aside his wrinkled dress shirt and pants.  Stepping into the cold shower, Seto closed his eyes as a jet of icy water pour over his face.  His sore aching muscles tensed as water rained over his body.  As the temperature warmed, Seto did some simple exercises in his enormous shower, wanting to wake up without having to chug another cup of coffee.

Lately, Seto finds so little satisfaction in doing the things that he used to enjoy; he has everything now; money, power, intelligence, looks, and if he chose to, women. But why does he still feel so hollow?

“I’m just tired that’s all.” He whispered, returning to his regular shower routine. 

 


 

 

"Internships in your respective fields are a requirement while you attend the University of Tokyo." Tanaka-sensi announced, "We pride ourselves in graduating students who are not only intelligent but are also diligent and experienced. You are here because you were deemed to be the best of the best by your superiors and fellow students, now go out there and prove that you are worthy of representing our prestigious university."

'That sure as hell wasn't in the brochure!' Ana's eye twitched at this unexpected inconvenience.  Tanaka droned and on about the available opportunities, bragging endlessly about UT’s glorious reputation and how the school is well connected with every major corporation in the larger Tokyo area.  “…and please submit your resume and the preferred vocations to Hiro-sensi by the end of this Friday." He finally concluded.

Ana bowed with the rest of the class, mentally kicking herself for not reading the program contract in more detail.  As Tanaka-sensi exited the classroom, an eruption of chatter followed suit,

"...I've already contacted the HR at Sumitomo Mitsui Financial, who are you applying to?"

"...did you hear? Kaiba Corp isn't accepting anymore interns this year", "that sucks! I really wanted to work there!"

"My uncle works at Toyota Motor, he's the vice director of the engineering departm...".

 

Ana frowned as she blocked out the buzzing chatter around her. 'Shimadzu would be ok but it's on the other side of town,’ she mused, assigning numeric values to each option based on their potential impacts and benefits. ‘I would give Industrial Illusions an 8, but Pegasus seems a little....Oh wait!' she jumped.

'Ugh, So Stupid! How could I have forgotten this?' Ana smacked herself on the forehead as she opened her laptop. By that afternoon Ana has put forth her resume for MoSAIC, the Tokyo subbranch of a large biotechnology company conveniently owned by her brother, so by extension, her; although Ana assumes no responsibility on the business end of things. 

As her's finger pressed [SEND], Ana was completely confident that yet again, her utter brilliance has saved her from another unexpected setback. Beaming at herself in her blissfully arrogant state, Ana had totally underestimated her brother's propensity to jest at every situation. 

 


 

 

For months, Seto and his team has been hard at work on the iris tracker system, trying to enhance the visual holographic projections without warping the image proportions. As part of his next innovation, the ambitious Seto Kaiba had intended to incorporate the otherwise perfected Duel Disk-X with an upgraded laser-tracing iris sensor. 

Impatient for the elevator, the young CEO stormed down the long flights of stairs towards the basement of his building, hell-bent on finding the person responsible for last night's failure.

Kaiba Corp is the frontier innovator for visual gaming products all around the world, amassing a legion of loyal and eager fans along the way.  The culmination of these small but constant delays was severely hindering the scheduled unveiling of his latest product.   This level of setback was not only an embarrassment to the company, but also to Seto Kaiba himself.

 "We've pinpointed the source of the problem Mr. Kaiba, it's an error from the robotics department," Roland said, scurrying alongside Seto. "Director Schmidt thinks it's one of the new interns from MIT sir." Roland concluded, his brow furrowing lightly as he felt a sense of pity. The poor kid has no idea what's coming, it's better to face death than to face Mr. Kaiba's wrath and fury after a mistake of this magnitude.

 


 

 

"Sorry Seto, please forgive me, I should've looked into their profiles more carefully," Mokuba pleaded, as he stood in front of Seto's desk, his head hung low in an attempt to avoid his big brother's searing gaze.  As much as Seto wanted to reprimand him for such a critical error, he can't bring himself to fully blame Mokuba.  Instead, the next 30 minutes, Seto scared the living shit out of the poor intern and his graduate advisor by unleashing the full rage of his inner Obelisk the Tormentor onto them.     

'Who the hell do they think they are!?' Seto raged after terminating the video conference call.  Mokuba flinched as Seto flung his pen at full force over his little brother's head, lodging it into the wall behind him.  A sudden beeping from his phone reminded Seto of an upcoming meeting he has with an important investor.  Trying to find some inner peace Seto closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. "M..Mr. Kaiba sir, you have a call from MIT on line 2." secretary Hiroka stammered through his headpiece.  Agitated by this unwanted disturbance, Seto roared back into his speaker "What the hell do they want now?!"

"I think they want to ... um renegotiate the terms of employment for the interns sir... and also to send you a....a replacement." Hiroka ended quietly, unnerved by the subsequent silence that followed.

"What...?" Seto finally muttered, "say that again?".

"Ye..Yes sir, a replacement sir.  Her name is Ana Alexei Nichovae, Nikooleev..." Hiroka struggled, eager to redirect Seto's anger to someone else.

'Re-negotiate? They must be dumber than Wheeler!’

"She specializes in biochemistry, and comp-." Hiroka continued,

“Be quiet, I didn't ask!" Seto shouted, ripping off his earpiece.

Well accustomed to her boss's temper tantrums, Hiroka waited patiently as Seto regained his composure. "Fine," he hissed, slowly replacing his earpiece. "They better make sure she's well compensated," Seto warned, his incredulous expression gradually morphed into his signature mocking grin, "because I'm going to make her life a living hell."

 

Chapter Text

"Just wait till I come home, you evil son-of-a-bitch." Ana snarled at her brother, Mikhail, while glaring at the rejection letter he had sent her.

["As direct offspring of the late Rozalina Nikolaev,"] NERO interjected in his monotone voice, ["the intended insult of the expression you-son-of-a-bitch is ineffective when it's used against another offspring sharing greater than 50% genetic makeup post recombin-."]

"Ok, Ok!" Ana shouted, cutting the AI's sarcastic reply short.

NERO (short for Neuro-Electric-Resonance-Operator), is the next generation artificial hyper-intelligence simulation model, created by Ana as part of her PhD research.  Ana programmed this cutting-edge AI all by herself using a combination of neuro-algorithmic machine learning and nanotechnology. Although NERO is just a prototype, she has grown quite fond of him.

"This is the best thing ever," Mikhail laughed, his booming cackle amplified by her cellphone speaker. "If it weren't for your stupid idea of a jok-". "Oh Whatever Ana!” Mikhail interrupted, “I told you already, I WAS going to accept your application, how was I supposed to know they were gonna force you to work at Kaiba Corp?" Mikhail defended, "besides, you? Working for Seto Kaiba? Hahaha... !"

Despite Mikhail's constant pranks, Ana loved her older brother dearly.  He's only family member she has left after the death of her parents over 12 years ago. Mikhail took over for their father and mother after their passing; continuing their research on nano-technology and artificial intelligence for the advancement of biomedical engineering, for applications like enhancing prognosis accuracy, cell regeneration, and gene therapy.  

As brilliant as the charismatic Mikhail may be with money and business, he is no match for his little sister when it comes to math and science.  Between the two siblings, they managed to launch the giant technology conglomerate known as MoSAIC, the most successful and profitable biomedical research company on the planet.

'Ugh,' Ana grumbled to herself as she hung up the phone 'I should've seen this coming.'

Yes, Ana was the brainchild behind MoSAIC's technical success, but it was her brother's sharp wit and cunning that had brought in all of the investors and contracts. With her ridiculous level of pride and stubbornness, Ana wanted to prove to herself she’s capable of surviving on her own.

As the only student without a formal acceptance letter for an internship, Ana was forced to take over for the previous intern, Landon Brown, at Kaiba Corp. In an effort to offset this inconvenience with some form of personal compensation, Ana negotiated for leniency on her exams and homework assignments; as if she was just going to accept this job without a fight.

 


 

 

"...please arrive no later than 7:30AM on Monday the 16th," a voice chirped from Ana's voicemail, "once you've arrived please proceed to level 60 and ask for Secretary Hiroka at the front desk, she will discuss the details of your work assignment with you.  And if you have any questions, please don't hesitate to call us back.  Again, my name is Yuriko Tataka, Kaiba Corp Employment Management Division, representative #698-K2."

 


 

 

As Ana strolled towards the entrance of Kaiba Corp Monday morning, a shadow skimmed across her as she approached the front staircase. Glancing up, she could see a pair of colossal animatronic Blue-Eyes White Dragons towered over the main gate, reminding Ana of the lion statues guarding the gates to the Forbidden City.  As she continued towards the main atrium, she paused for a moment to take in the garish display before her; statues of Kaiba himself and a panoramic projection of duel monster holograms reaching all the way up to the skylight.  

MoSAIC, unlike Kaiba Corp, limited their services to exclusive clienteles like hospitals, research labs and government facilities. “As if Mary from down the street would buy a car sized MRI to put in her living room.” Mikhail would joke. So, these attention-grabbing decorations were never high on the list of priorities for advertising, nor was putting their cutting-edge biomedical devices on display for all to see.

Per the directions provided by Yuriko, Ana arrived at front desk of the 60th floor and proceeded to inform the young receptionist of her appointment with Hiroka.

"Please, follow me," the woman smiled, stepping away from her desk as she guided Ana to her destination.  Slowing her pace as they neared the back of the building, the woman suddenly announced, "Unfortunately, Mrs. Hiroka is currently unavailable," before stopping abruptly in front of a large frosted doorway,

"But not to worry, Mr. Kaiba is expecting you instead," she concluded as the frost cleared, revealing a dark hallway behind the giant glass doors.

"Mr. Kai..., but, what?" Ana whirled around for some answers but the woman had already disappeared behind the corner.  Unsure of what to make of the situation, Ana stood on the spot, turning her head back and forth wondering how she should proceed.

'Oh, for God's sake...'

Having run out of patience, Ana marched towards the pair of intricately carved Mahogany doors at the end of the dimly lit hallway. Biting her lips to calm her sudden nervousness, Ana lightly rapped the door.

 

*Creeeeeak*

 

A ray of light from the harsh morning sun blinded her instantly. Ana's delicate greyish steel-blue eyes, accustomed to the hazy lighting of her apartment and the perpetually darkened basement labs, started to water immediately from the searing pain.  Knowing this must be a deliberate set-up by Kaiba to intimate her, Ana produced a sardonic grin as she tilted her head aside slightly, seeking shade behind her bangs.

"Oh great, another one," a low husky voice drawled from somewhere in room. 

Squinting and straining with her eyes, Ana was able to make out the rough outline of a man sitting behind a large desk, his facial features obscured while backlit by the window that stretched from the floor to the ceiling.

“Hmph," Seto grumbled at the sight of Ana, his trick didn't work as intended.  Ana's unflinching steadiness against the blinding sun, something Seto struggled with himself, ignited both an immediate interest and an intense sense of irritation.

'Come on, you can do better than that,'  Ana sneered. This petty bullshit was nothing Mikhail hadn't tried before.

 

Presuming that the sitting figure must indeed be Kaiba, Ana gave a deep, somewhat curt bow.

"Good morning Mr. Kaiba, I'm An-"

"I know," Seto snapped, "go bore someone else with your introductions". 

Ana startled, slightly taken aback by his abrupt rudeness. "Of course, sir," she smiled, her lips re-curled into a mocking grin, "had I known you’d done so much research about me, I would have given you the same courtesy."

"Just as I expected, dumb and disrespectful." Seto scoffed. "My apologies Mr. Kaiba, but MIT didn’t want to waste the talents of their better students so needlessly.”

 

The ambience grew cold, as their eyes met.  Ana could see Roland shifting uncomfortably through her periphery, but neither she nor Seto were willing to be the first one to break eye contact.

'It's definitely not the worst thing that's ever been said to Mr. Kaiba,' Roland thought, wiping a bead of sweat form his forehead, 'but this level of disrespect, from a subordinate!'

 

Eyes still burning from the blast of sunlight earlier, Ana was no match for Seto's unrelenting glare.  On the verge of giving in to those piercing indigo eyes of his, Ana's eyelids flickered wildly ....  "Nii-sama!" Mokuba shouted, bursting through the office door.  Thanking the heavens that the competition is finally over, Ana quickly closed her eyes, quenching her burning iris with sweet sweet tears.

"What is it Mokuba?" Seto asked, looking away, but not before catching Ana's little teary moment. "Schmidt and Ishida are looking for you, they're waiting in the second-floor conference room."  The younger Kaiba responded, turning a curious gaze onto the girl standing next to him.

"Handle this," Seto gestured towards Ana as he headed out the door.

"Sure Seto."

'Handle me? Why you-"

"Oh, and Nikolaev?" Seto sneered, staring down at Ana as he turned to shut the door, "better luck next time."

Chapter Text

Mokuba tapped his foot impatiently as he asked for the second time “So you're the new intern huh? Look, I'm supposed to show you around Kaiba Corp, so if you'll quit stalling...." he said curtly. "My apologies, Mr. Kaiba." Ana said wiping the tears from her eyes, while trying her best to address the twerp with the upmost respect. "That's right! You know, I'm not just Seto's younger brother, but I'm also the Vice President of Kaiba Corp." the teenager said proudly, pointing to his name-badge.

'Oh, you're his brother alright.'

Wanting to jest with Mokuba for a bit, Ana smiled sweetly and inclined her head forward, tucking her hair behind her ears.  She proceeded to looked down shyly and muttered in the sweetest voice possible, "Watashi no koto o yoroshikuonegaishimasu (please take care of me)." This cause Mokuba to take a small step backwards, completely thrown off by Ana's sudden change of demeanor.

'Pff, teenagers, too easy.'  She scoffed haughty at the fact that yet another person was unable to resist her fakery.  Rolling her eyes, Ana followed Mokuba out of the office.

With the initial excitement of a personal tour around Kaiba Corp wearing off as the exclusion quickly became long and tedious.  Ana looked on uninterestingly as Mokuba insisted on explaining every detail about every little thing.  Completely unable to concentration on Mokuba’s stupid speal about some random software used by their marketing department, Ana felt he had just wasted 20 minutes of her life bull-shitting her about something he had probably never even seen until just minutes ago.   As they finished the 5th hour of the tour, Ana couldn't help but ask, "Pardon my interruption Mr. Kaiba, but do you guys do this all the time? For all of the interns?". She questioned. "No, since you're a late addition to the team, we just wanted to make sure you're all caught up that's all." Mokuba answered quickly, without missing a beat, as if he was expecting this question all along.

'Riiiight, cut the horse-crap kid', Ana thought as she begrudgingly expressed her gratitude for his time.

In truth, Mokuba was just following orders; helping Seto figure out what makes the new intern tick. Unfortunately, however, Mokuba was unable to progress with Ana beyond the typical pleasantries, let alone diving into more private matters.  So, he has opted to subject her to as much stimulation as possible, choosing to carefully observe her reactions instead.

 

Arriving at the 36th floor for the final portion of the tour, Ana finally broke. Tired and hungry, Ana was felt on edge as they trekked through the Game Design and Theory department. 

The high ceilings and bright windows lit up the enormous work floor, making the place resemble more of an airport terminal than an office workspace.  Except, to Ana’s dismay, rather than seats and vending machines, the office is jampacked with tiny cubicles that crowded tightly around each other with litters of sketches and heaps of beta model testers piled all over the floor.

With barely any space to walk, Ana dodged aside for the 12th time, narrowly avoiding collision with yet another worker as he flew past them carrying armful of junk.  Aside from the rainbow-puke of messes, the flashing of strobe lights, and human projectiles, what Ana hated the most about this place were the noises, THE DAMN NOISES! Shuffling papers, loud buzzing chatters, the inconsistent droning of prototype testers....

*Clang!*

Ana flinched as someone hammered down on a piece of steel piping, the thunderous bangs echoed around the room. 'Ugh!' Ana thought, as she bit down hard on her bottom lip, feeling like she’s having a bad trip on acid, 'End this damn tour already!'

'Gotcha!' Mokuba grinned as he watched Ana became visibility irritated; shifting around uncomfortably, unable to mask her annoyance any longer.

 


 

 

"Forgive me for the intrusion," Mokuba said, as he and Ana stepped into the main lobby, "but what happened in the office today?"

"I'm.... not sure I follow."

"Your meeting with my brother... uh I mean Seto."

'And? So what?' Ana shrugged, "I'm sorry sir, but I have no idea what you're talking about."

 

"What does Seto mean by better luck next time?” Mokuba interrogated.

“Why don’t you ask him?”

“What did you do?” he persisted, ignoring her request. 

"I… stared at him?" Ana replied with an upwards inflection, uncertain of what Mokuba was demanding of her. "You stared at him?" he repeated, "but why?" he continued, probing Ana out of his own curiosity, not many people can stand making direct eye contact with Seto, let alone star at him for prolonged periods of time. 'What's with this kid?'  Ana groaned in her head, exasperated at his unrelenting persistence.

"Well let’s see, he's tall, handsome, intelligent, wealthy, athletic..." Ana went on and on sarcastically, listing the generic ingredients of a Disney prince charming, “...and I bet he smells nice too." She concluded, throwing all formalities out the window.

"I'm sorry Mr. Kaiba," Ana continued, cutting Mokuba short before he could launch off into another tirade of questions, "I bet your brother gets stared at all the time. See! there's one right now." she said, pointing to a girl in her Kaiba Corp uniform, gawking at one of Seto's holograms, “Why don’t you try asking her instead?”

"Yeah, you're right, he does get stared at a lot," Mokuba agreed, dismissing her with a nod, "but I’ve never seen him stared at them back." he whispered to himself as Ana left the building.

 


 

 

"Good work Mokuba." Seto praised after hearing of the clever rouse Mokuba had devised on Ana. "Sure thing!" Mokuba answered, seeing as Seto has no time for dinner again, he tucked into his big brother's helping of rice and sashimi.

But Seto was unable to stay focused on the progress report before him, his thoughts keep drifting away back to the incident that had occurred this morning.  Although his encounter with Ana only lasted a brief moment, (as a matter of fact he's already forgotten her name), there's just something about this new intern that irked him deeply.

'Doesn't she know who I am? Doesn't she know her place?'

He thought, remembering how Ana disrespected him like he’s a nobody. Seto has never backed down from a challenge; be it the success of a business, a children's card game, or an impromptu staring competition.

'Was it a draw?'  He questioned, second guessing his victory,

'No, I definitely won.'  What if had Mokuba hadn’t interrupted?

‘I would’ve still won, the girl was practically crying the whole time!' 

"Grrrr," Seto grumbled, wondering why he's so bothered by her. Mokuba glanced up from his dinner, intrigued by Seto's strange behavior.  The usually uber-focused young man now bore a vacant expression, his chin resting lightly over his loosely laced fingers. Despite their close relationship, Seto has never opened up about any of his personal interests to Mokuba.  He has always kept them concealed, often leading to misunderstandings between him, Mokuba and...well basically everyone else.  Like how his unwillingness to express brotherly affection had caused a rift between him and Mokuba while dealing with Noah.  Or fueling Joey’s resentment for him by endlessly taunting the poor puppy, but Seto only did it because he finds Joey Wheeler really funny.... funny because he's a sore loser, but still, funny.

 

"Hey big bro, what cha thinking about?" Mokuba asked, trying to sound casual, "Huh? What?" Seto answered absentmindedly.  "Is it the new intern? She's not that bad looking huh?" Mokuba continued, trying to breach the subject.  Eyes pensive, Seto struggled to remember what Ana's face looked like. ‘Probably mediocre at best,’ he thought. The only thing he could recall was her stare... and her long luscious eyelashes that batted gracefully, framing her sultry grey ey–.

"Who cares!" Seto said, snapping out of his daze "I've seen better."

 

His many misfortunes with members of the opposite sex in both his professional and personal life has taught Seto a very valuable lesson: the level of a woman's attractiveness is positively correlated to amount of bullshit he's going to have to deal with. 

That being said, Seto won’t object to entertaining the occasional fangirl or super model that managed to evade past his hotel security (only if they’re up to his stand of course). But most importantly, he welcomed the workout, because practice makes perfect after all.  But every girl he has ever been forced take out on dated with (you know, business associates, introducing him their daughters) either bored him to death, was scared to death of him, or were always vying for his attention like a pack of annoying, desperate ....

''What did Mokuba call them?' Seto wondered, looking up at his ceiling,

"Oh yeah, THOTs." he scoffed.

 

Finished for the evening, Seto closed his laptop and readied himself to leave. But upon seeing his little brother so entranced by whatever he's watching, Seto decided to join him on the couch instead. Siting with his legs crossed and arms lounging over the backrest, Seto thought of Ana again, "did Roland clear out the cubicle like I asked?" he suddenly remembered.

"Err yes." Mokuba answered distractedly.

"Good, we don't want her getting too comfortable now, don't we?

Chapter Text

Ana was surprised to see Yugi Muto working in the Game Design and Theory department at Kaiba Corp, but then again, who else better? His most recent game, Spherium, launched to such an international success, even Kaiba can’t deny Yugi’s ingeniousness at designing puzzle related games.

“Um, I’m not sure why they sent you here,” Yugi said apologetically, scratching the back of his head, “but I’m sure we can find something for you to do, it’s a very busy department after all, ha-ha-ha-” he jabbered, more awkward than usual.

Resigning herself to this hellish fate, Ana stared on lifelessly as they worked their way through the maze of cubicles.  While Yugi, on the other hand, was totally unnerved by the zombified looking intern trailing behind him.  None of this makes sense! Why was she assigned to a department with zero experience whatsoever?  And why bother assigning her a workstation when the other interns are allocated to the peripheries of Kaiba Corp's labs and workrooms?

As they rounded the corner towards the center of the work floor, Ana’s thousand-yard stare narrowed into a vicious glare.

“This will be your workstation starting today,” Yugi said as he stopped next to a tiny 5-by-5-foot box. 

'Oh, I see how it is.’ Ana seethed,

‘An intern being given center real-estate on Kaiba Corp’s design floor? Who are they playing at?’  Thinking of the only person who could’ve to authorized something like this.  “Seto fucking Kaiba.” Ana hissed under her breath.

 

"This s a high traffic area, so try to keep everything confined to your station." Yugi smiled as he handed Ana the keycard to her prison of a cubicle. 'Right,' She thought, observing the piles of junk rolling around her. "Absolutely, no problem Muto-san," she answered calmly, not wanting to get filed up over the assignment. "Eh, we're around the same age, call me Yugi," he corrected, "and sorry about the mess, it couldn't be helped." He apologized.

Having had professors for parents and a genius for a brother, Ana was well accustomed to the eccentricity of creative people, she grew up seeing litters of drafts and equations strew about her home.  But just because she’s used to it, it doesn’t mean she likes it.

“Oh! And Bill here is the floor manager for this department,” Yugi moved aside as a big, stocky man stepped forward, “he’ll help you to get everything started, feel free to find me if you have any questions.” He smiled.  

With little formal education and training, Bill manipulated his way up to his undeserving management position.  And unbeknownst to Ana, her new cubicle used to belong to the very man standing before her.  Having his prized cubicle, that he has long coveted, stolen away by some new intern, Bill Howe was itching to start inflicting some serious damage upon Ana.  

Seto was fully aware of Bill’s horrid reputation but made a last-minute decision to let him keep his managerial position knowing the hell this vile human being would unleash onto Ana for taking over his workstation. 

Isn’t this a bit too much? Keeping around a bad employee just to do your dirty work? Going all sorts of extra to retaliate against some poor little intern?

’No, I’m Seto fucking Kaiba, nothing is too over the top for me.’

 


 

 

Busy with the upcoming unveiling of the new Duel Disk-X system.  Seto had not seen Ana since their first unfortunate encounter.  Out of curiosity however, he would occasionally inquire about her. “She looks fine to me,” Yugi would reply, “She keeps to herself and doesn’t really talk to anyone, but she always finishes her work on time.  Bill does boss her around a lot though, I can tell him to stop before I leave if you’re worried abou-”

“That’s not necessary”

“Ok,” Yugi stopped, a little perplexed, “It’s so unlike you to ask about an intern Kaiba-kun, did she do something wrong?” 

“That’s none of your business Yugi.”

 

But in reality, Ana was exhausted beyond belief.  Bill’s incessant bullying and abuse was taking a huge toll on Ana’s usually more stable mental health.  The only satisfaction this loathsome asshat has in life is to exploit people and provoke some sort of response, any response, out of his victims.   Unwilling to surrender, Ana suffered in silence.  After almost collapsing from a lack of sleep after a grueling 40-hour work week (in addition to school and graduate research) she remained defiant, refusing to show any signs of weakness, not even to her own brother.  Besides, although Kaiba Corp is staffed with international employees, but in accordance to the Japanese work culture, it's still considered a taboo to complain about your superiors. 

 


 

 

The tired intern recoiled as another burst of laughter rang out from behind her, intermingled with the loud shuffling of jammed printers.  Closing her eyes for a moment, she groaned as she opens her eyes to the shadow of Bill fast approaching her workstation, ready to dish out one of his hourly “disciplinary” lectures regardless of her actual performance. 

“This is all wrong!” the sweaty man shouted loudly for everyone to hear, “Were you even listening? I told you exactly how I wanted this done! Aren’t you from MIT? Then why are you such an idiot?” He hollered, slamming a folder of loose-leaf files onto her shoulder, causing the contents to fly everywhere.  Apathetic to this hourly routine, Ana sat expressionless, facing her desk, rolling her eyes as she waited for him to finish.

Appearing to effortlessly breeze through the exceedingly difficult tasks set before her, Ana had unknowingly placed a target on her back.  It wasn’t only Bill that hated her, many of the department seniors disliked her as well, wondering how an intern could do something that had taken them years to learn.  But having to perform well outside of her field of expertise, Ana actually struggled a lot. She often went way beyond what was expected of her to just ensure her final product was perfect.

“You’re not going anywhere until you’ve fix this properly, and make sure you hand the other diagram in by 3 o-clock this afternoon!” Bill hollered as he walked away, gloating about his accomplishment. 

People looked on as Ana snatched the loose files of paper from the floor, sighing quietly to herself.  With Yugi gone and Kaiba turning a blind eye, no one was willing to risk their necks for the new intern.

‘No matter,’ Ana though, peeking down as her wristwatch beeped quietly. Although cellphone use are banned on the workfloor, her AI pal, NERO, has been secretly recording Bill’s every temper tantrum, even managing to capture it on video it a couple times.  Knowing what she and Mikhail would do to the fool, Ana was waited patiently, not wanting to jeopardize her internship before taking her revenge.

[“I smell a lawsuit coming.”] NERO cheerfully chirped into her earbuds masked behind her hair,

‘Well, I’m smelling blood.’

Chapter Text

Seto’s interest in Ana waned as his preoccupation with work took over.  Busy with yet another day of mundane errands, Seto turned his brain on autopilot, his mind glazing over as the sales reps presented a graph he’d already seen before.

“Mr. Kaiba, as you request, the sketches for the new building have been completed, would you like for them to be sent to your office?” Hiroka interrupted the meeting.  Seto, sapped of all motivation having sat through inspections and meetings all day, told Hiroka he would retrieve the sketches himself, wanting to stretch his legs before resuming his work for the evening.

 


 

 

Ana was staying late today, having to make up for the time she took off to study for an exam. The office was considerably quieter with only a few people working overtime, trying to meet whatever deadlines of their own. Having not slept well for days, Ana placed her head in her hands, taking a moment to regain her focus.

“Slacking off?”

Ana snapped awake, looking around for the source of the voice.

Meeting again, Seto and her eyes locked on instantly once more. Ana glared on with deadly determination. Seto grinned as they held each other’s gaze, watching at Ana’s pitiful attempt to intimidate him, almost passing off as cute with how serious she is trying to be.  “Shi-” Ana almost cursed as her vision began to falter; eyes tired from the non-stop late-night study sessions.

But unbeknownst to her, Seto too, was straining to keep his eyes open after having to meticulously comb over every detail of his latest mockup this morning.  His vision started to cloudy from staring at microscopic components all morning. 

“No!” Ana growled, yielding to her component; her eyes felt like they’re bleeding. “Hmph, I knew it.” Seto sneered, “you’ve disgraced yourself once more…. whatever your name is” he said dismissively while crushing the handle of his briefcase in his hands, trying to suppress his own pain. 

“Ha,” Ana mused quietly, wondering how she ended up in this ridiculous situation.  Standing up, she took a deep bow and looked into his icy blue eyes once more, noticing redness and inflammation.  “Oh? But you said you knew, Mr. Kaiba.” She smiled, “looks like you didn’t do enough research after all.”

“Well, not that it matters,” Seto scoffed, sporting his signature smirk, “I wouldn’t want to my waste brain cells on your pathetic existence anyways.”

 

“Of course not sir,” Ana continued, “apparently you enjoy wasting your time staring at me instead.”

“Because if I don’t watch you, you might slack off again.” Seto snickered.

“I’m just trying to fit in with the employees at Kaiba Corp’s that’s all.”

“Oh don’t worry, with the quality of crap you’ve been turning in? You’ll fit right in.”

“Are you trying to be funny Mr. Kaiba?” Ana frowned, very sensitive about people dissing her work.

 

“Must I show you?”

 

Seto sneered as he removed two pieces of paper from the folder tucked under his arm.  He laid the two nearly CAD diagrams neatly, side by side on her desk.  One was clearly rushed with lines all over the place, weird geometric dimension, and randomly scattered labels.  The other was professional looking with neatly drawn lines and correctly placed labels, the details obviously fine-tuned with finite element analysis software.

“This…” Ana muttered as she looked over the diagrams.  It was the same diagram Bill gave her this morning! With the order to have it fixed and submitted by the end of the day.

“This," Seto said, pointing to the messy drawing, "is the masterpiece you handed in. And this," he continued, pointing to the drawing beside it, "is what your manager had to do to fix it.”

Yesterday, late afternoon, Seto received a CAD diagram for the new building from the design department to review. And Bill, upon receiving a very angry phone call from his boss, decided to blame his poor workmanship on Ana.  And the next morning, after ordering Ana to fix his mistakes, he stole her work and passed it off as his own. 

'So this is why Bill wanted this done under his account name! That bastard!' Ana fumed.

“You are worse than the last idiot you replaced.” Seto scoffed, looking at her contemptuously as Ana’s eyes darted back and forth between the two drawings, frantically looking for any trace of her name or ID number to prove to Seto it was her work.

Content with how badly he seemed to have unnerved her, Seto slipped the neatly drawn diagram off her desk, placing it back into his folder.  “I’ll just give this back to you,” he sneered, tapping at the messy drawing on her desk, “so you can look at it every day and be reminded of what a failure you really are.” he laughed. Ana knew it was pointless to try and argue with him. Speechless, she held back her urge to cry out in frustration.  “I…. I…” she mumbled, lips trembling slightly as she looked up again into his glacial blue eyes.

Slightly confused, Seto ready and was waiting for one of Ana’s usual retorts, but she just stood there, looking at him.  Having rarely spoken to a girl this harshly before, Seto hesitated for a moment, wondering if he had crossed line, ‘whatever, who cares.’ He thought as he rolled his eyes.  “Now that I’m done wasting my time,” he snarled, “I hope I don’t ever have to stare at your pathetic work ever again.”

 


 

Finding the keys like Seto had asked, Mokuba walked towards the middle of the design floor, seeing Seto’s head of brown hair peeking above the cubical walls. “Here Seto.” Mokuba said as he neared the center, holding out the key in his hand. Looking around the corner, Mokuba noticed Ana gazing up at her brother, her expression wounded and exasperated.  “What’s going on here?” he asked. “Nothing, let’s go.” Seto snapped, taking the key into his own hands.

 


 

 

The brothers marched up onto the balcony of the design floor.  As Seto unlocked the drawer to retrieve Yugi’s design work, he couldn’t help but to wonder how the oh-so-tough Ana was doing, after being chewed out by the infamous Seto Kaiba.   Giving in to his curiosity and a tiny smidgeon of guilt (intermingled with a sense of self-satisfaction for getting her back), Seto peered over the balcony onto the mess of cubicles below.

Ana sat idly at her desk in a state of catatonia, eyes downcast, her arms resting stiffly against either side the CAD drawing he had left on her desk.

“Ana! What are you still doing here?!”  Hearing some commotion, Bill marched out of his office, staying late only as an excuse to bill his boss for overtime. Seto watched as the middle-aged man stomped his way across the floor, heading straight towards Ana’s workstation.

"What the hell is this?" Bill growled, snatching up the CAD drawings from her desk. "Are you serious?" He shouted, face growing red with rage, "I thought I told you to finish this before 4:30 and put it Kaiba's dropbox! What is wrong with you? Do you WANT me to look bad?" He chucked the pile of drawings onto  Ana's head, one of the sharp edges sliced into her skin, giving her a slight paper cut on the back of her cheek.  Ana, clinched her fits and Ana looked up slowly, smiling at him with an expression of pure malice.

Stunned by the spectacle before him, Seto’s stood with his mouth open, unsure if he should be outraged or entertained by Bill's outburst.

“Now you’ve done it!” Bill continued, knowing he’ll be getting an earful from his boss again tonight.  Kicking her desk, he pulled her chair around to face him, his face almost touching hers.  “How the hell did you get hired here huh?  Just because you think you’re pretty?  How the hell did YOU get my workstation?”  Bill screamed into Ana’s face. Enraged by her lack of response, he grabbed Ana’s mouth. “Whose dick did you have to suck-”

In a split second before Seto or Mokuba could react, Ana punched him hard across the face, knocking the man off his feet (along with a few teeth).

“Seto-Kaiba’s-Dick-You-Dumbass-Mother-Fucker!” she panted, knowing full well that’s what Bill was after, landing punch after punch on his face with every word.  “And-He-Liked-It!” she yelled, kicking him back down as he tried to get up.

As the man writhed on the floor, moaning with pain. Seto, unable to contain it any longer, tilted his head back and roared with uncontrollable laughter. As the sound of gleeful laughter rang out from above, echoing around the now empty room, Ana jumped up, started. With her adrenaline still pumping, she looked around the room, ready to deal out another ass-beating.

Looking up, Ana was shocked to see perpetually stoic Kaiba doubled over, holding onto Mokuba’s shoulders, laughing like there’s no tomorrow.  In stark contrast to his younger brother who just stared on in utter bewilderment.

Rolling her eyes, Ana ignored Seto and grabbed Bill by his collar. Dragging him up to face her, she lowered her voice, “If I ever see or hear from you again, I will have you fucking murdered in your sleep.” Ana hissed, before chucking him back into the ground.

Collecting her stuff, Ana marched out of the office looking straight ahead without as much as a single glance at her cackling boss.

“Roland,” Seto called into his earpiece between fits of laughter, “clean up on aisle 36.”

Chapter Text

“So did…. did you and her…” Mokuba stammered as the plane took off. 

It was quite alarming to see the eternally calm and composed Ana fly into a sudden blind rage over Bill's comment.  Even more terrifying, however, was his brother’s fit of hysterics, a moment of unrestrained levity so rare coming from Seto that Mokuba genuinely feared for his life.    

“Drop it Mokuba,” Seto said, not looking up from his book, a faint smirk forming on his lips.

 

Bill was fired that very evening.  Between the hush money Seto provided (along with a generous amount of black mailing), and Mikhail’s ties with the local Yakuza, Bill Howe disappeared quietly from Ana’s life, never to be heard from again.

Although the Kaiba brothers are out of country for the next few days, Ana still stayed away from the areas Seto frequented, but just as a precaution. It’s bad enough having to stop Mikhail from going after Kaiba, “Why didn’t he step in sooner!?” Mikhail shouted over the phone, Ana had no patience to deal with her boss’s irritating remarks as well. 

 

Without her knowledge, Seto had given specific instructions that no one is allowed to give Ana orders except for Yugi and himself. 

It’s all part of his way to hush this up I suppose,” Ana assumed, suddenly finding herself unburdened by the usual stream of menial tasks that accompanied Bill’s stench.  With Ana’s unofficial promotion, she had found herself transferred to a workstation on the balcony, finally insulated from the hustle and bustle of the cubicles below. He’s up to something again.’ she thought, thinking back to the last time Seto had given her a “prime” work location. ‘I’ll have to start checking for bombs under my desk.’

These drastic changes made by Seto hadn’t gone unnoticed by the employees at Kaiba Corp.  Now with a rumor circulating about her and the boss, Ana’s plan to stay under the radar flew right out the window. 

‘Someone must’ve heard me shouting… about…dammit!.’

Ana slammed her head on the desk, regretting how that single moment of lack of restraint was costing her.  Steadying her shaky hands, Ana vowed to never let her emotions get out of control like that again.

 


 

“Sweet Baby Jesus!” Hiroka shrilled as she sprinted towards Ana. “Oh thank god someone's here.” She panted, catching her breath.

“Why hello Mrs. Hiroka, uh let me find go some help for you.” Ana said politely, inching away trying to escape the crazed woman.

“No, I’m fine. I’m fine… No No! Not fine!” Hiroka stammered, “Please, you have to help me, they’ve all gone home for the weekend, and no one… they’re busy….” She pleaded.

“Well, the janitor is here. Ha.” Ana chuckled, a very inappropriately timed joke.

“My boy is in the hospital, …an accident … field trip, my husband is out of town, Mr. Kaiba is flying back tonight for the exhibition, and I… deliver the documents. but …but my boy...” Hiroka whimpered on and on, looking at her in desperation. "Anna, I mean Ana, right? Please, please will you help me."

‘Ah shit… well there goes my evening.’ Despite her reluctance, Ana took pity upon the poor woman after being on the receiving end of Seto's wrath herself.

“Ok ok fine, I’ll deliver them for you, just tell me where.” Ana said holding up the sobbing mother.

“Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you!!” Hiroka cried, squeezing Ana’s hands.  “You’ll have to change before you go, quickly now!” Hiroka shouted pulling Ana towards the lobby.  As they waited for the elevator, Hiroka took out her key card “This should give you access to my office, please don’t tell anyone about this and please don’t do anything stupid tonight,” She implored, “I’m trusting you with this.”

 

*Ding* the elevator door opened

“Take the brown briefcase on my desk, the invitation is next to the keyboard, and take my dres-”

*Ding*

Hiroka was cut short as the elevator doors closed.

 

‘Did she really just hand me her key card?’ Ana grinned as she ascended the to the top floor,

‘Sure, I won’t do anything nothing foolish tonight,’ She chuckled, sliding Hiroka’s door open, ‘but she didn’t say anything about later!’

Ana spotted a small brown briefcase sitting on Hiroka’s desk.   Unable to find the invitation, Ana extracted the information she needed from a scribble of chicken scratch on a memo pad.  “Regency Park Hotel, Ginza.” Ana relayed, as she attempted to change into Hiroka’s dress. [“42 minutes from departure with current traffic conditions.”]  NERO reported, [“we might make be able to make it.”]

With her apartment only minutes away from the Regency, Ana gave up on Hiroka’s frilly complicated dress, and decided to just wear her own instead. What the heck is in here?'  She wondered, feeling the weight of the dense brief case.

Already 20 minutes behind schedule, Ana sped down the quiet highway as she hummed to herself. “♬ Karma- Karma-Karma-Karma-Chameleeeoooon” she smiled, already cashing in credits for the day.  Next to her, NERO busied himself with Hiroka’s key card, [“Copying - 90% Complete.”], as he replicated a digital rendition of the hardware along with every line of code. 

 


 

 

“Where is Hiroka?” Seto hissed, wondering how Ana snuck in without an invitation. 

“She had an emergency, sir.” “What emergency?” “I don’t know.” “Dammit!”

Ana’s vagueness infuriated Seto, just as she had intended.  

 

The guests assembled in the entrance lobby, anticipating the official grand opening of the exhibition party. 

Determine to ignore the existence of everyone near him, Seto leaned against the wall, one heel resting on bottom of the wall trim as he crossed his arms.

“Don’t touch me.” he snapped, suddenly pushing Ana away with the back of his arms.  “Must be horrible having to wait with the rest of us peasants huh?” Ana mocked, after he knocked her into a drunken greaseball of a businessman she’d been avoiding this whole time.

“At least you know your place now.”

 


 

A blast of cool air chilled through lobby as the doors finally opened to the enormous ballroom ahead. “Oh look, your favorite!” Ana chirped, pointing to a miniature Egyptian display; an inverted pyramid made of bronze that bore great likeness to the one Seto dug up a few years ago.  

‘Did she just?’

"Isn't it?" Ana smiled, teasing Seto, knowing full well his bitter history with Yugi, Ishizu, Marik and those darn millennium items they kept yapping about during Battle City finals.

 


 

“Give me that,” Seto snapped, snatching the briefcase out of Ana’s hands as they neared their assigned table.

“Oh Kaiba-boooy, tsk tsk, must I teach you?” a voice wafted as Seto and Ana looked up in unison. “Always so harsh with the ladies my boooy, don’t you know these delicate little roses can be easily,” the man snickered as he flicked his finger onto on his wine glass, “-shattered?”

“Pegasus.”

“At your service, hmm-hmm-hm.”

 

Seto’s lips curled, 

“I think you’re in the wrong place Pegasus; the daycare center is downstairs.”

 

“HUHP!” Ana snorted loudly, covering her mouth with her free hand to stifle the laughter. 

 

“What?” demanded Seto,

“Nothing sir, nothing.” 

“Oh loooook, Kaiba-boy, you scared the poor thing!” Pegasus cooed, feigning a piteous expression.

“Not as much as your face has, let’s go.” Seto ordered, leaving a chuckling Pegasus behind. 

 

‘What the hell is so funny?’

Seto wondered as Ana walked beside him, pursing her lips to hold in her giggles.

‘She’s gone insane!’

No one has ever found any of his insults remotely amusing, except for the chuckle here and there from Mokuba.

‘Whatever, I’m funny.'

 


 

 

“Bonjour Monsieur Kaiba, Comment vas-tu?”,   “Bien, j'espère que tu vas bien aussi.”

“凯巴先生,好久不见!”,   “李先生你好.”

"Impressive,'  Ana thought as Seto showed off his expansive repertoire of languages. Gotta hand it to him, it takes balls to attend such a large international event by by one's self without toting around a translator. It’s not like Hiroka would’ve been much assistance, seeing how she struggled with Ana’s last name. 

 

Setting aside any biasness from their personal conflicts, Ana steadied herself against a wall.  Being a good scientist, Ana wanted to observe her boss with objectivity.  As she watched form the sidelines, Ana scrutinized Seto's every word and movement.  Like cracking open one of her research experiments, she wanted to see if there's more to the guy what's obviously been put on display.  As she analyzed the man before her, she struggled to see beyond his prudishness, insistence, and coldness.  But for young Seto to have achieved already in such a short amount of time, there must be something else hiding beneath all of that apparent assholery....

Whatever that is, Ana gladly looked on, finding this piece of eye candy's confidence (or cockiness depending on how one looks at it) actually quite, sexy.

'Oh this is fun.'  she grinned, ' Seto Kaiba, I'm going to figure you out.'

‘That’s right peasant,’ Seto sneered as he looked back at Ana, mistaking her inquisitive stare for awe, ‘gawk at me like the rest of them.’ 

 

 

 “What the...?”  A familiar voice suddenly materialized behind them.

‘Mikhail!’ Ana and Seto thought in unison.

Chapter Text

Mikhail was stunned and confused by the sight before him.  Stepping in front of his gorgeous entourage of models, Mikhail looked back and forth between his younger sister and his childhood rival.  

“What are yo-” Mikhail begin, but was cut short as an older man bellowing from across the room, “ميخائيل وكيبة! كيف حالكم؟” the man laughed, marching over to shake Seto and Mikhail’s hands. “سيد الأنصاري ، سعيد جدًا لرؤيتك أيضًا (nice to see you too Mr. Ansari).” Mikhail smiled, greeting him like an old friend.  Seto tensed as Mr. Ansari looked to him, waiting for a response. 

“السيد كيبا سعيد برؤيتكم سيدي. (Mr. Kaiba is happy to see you sir).” Ana jumped in, not wanting Seto to lose face. “هذا جيد! (That’s great!).” roared the oil tycoon, striking up a conversation with the two young CEOs, as his own interpreter had finally caught up.

 

[What are you doing here?] Ana texted as Ansari distracted Seto, busy pushing one of his daughters on him. [You tell me! What are you doing here with him? Didn't you see my name on the invitation?] Mikhail asked, wondering how Ana went from intern to secretary in only a matter of weeks. [I couldn’t find the damn invitation. I’ll explain later, and don’t blow my cover!] Ana warned, not wanting give Seto the gratification of knowing he bullied his rival’s little sister.

 

“Tell him we are dating.” Setp ordered as he motioned Ana over; his voice angry while his face remained impassive. Ana furrowed her brows. “Do it!” he glared, hissing into her ear.  As she translated, Ana could feel the resentment exuding from the father and daughters as their eyes narrowed, looking down at her as if she was vermin: their third attempt for a match-up with Seto Kaiba had gone awry.

 

Seto turned slowly, facing Ana she bid goodbye to the suitors, gloating at their disappointment. His eyes glowering as he towered over her, shrouding her with his shadow.  Ana greeted his glare with the same gloating expression.  Then, with one eyebrow raised, she mockingly returned the stare, smiling to herself knowing she had spoken without his permission, and more importantly, had bested him in front of company.

 

 

“Why so serious?” Mikhail said jokingly, but his eyes menacing.  No one threatens his baby sister. 

“What do you want Scholtz?” Seto growled, not taking his eyes off Ana.  

Although the siblings may share the same hair color, they do not share a common last name; a ploy by Mikhail to distant himself from Ana, to keep her out of any potential dangers of being associated with him. 

"Didn't your old man teach you any manners? It's rude to look away when someone is talking."

"What do you want?" Seto repeated, transferring his glare onto Mikhail. 

The small group of onlookers gathered around as they continued to glare at each other.  Men crossed their arms and looked on with interest as the two formidable businessmen readied for battle, a showdown to the likes of Batman vs  Bruce Wayne.  The women gushed at the two handsome young men, wishing they were the center of their dispute.

 

 

Seto’s takeover of Kaiba Corp and the launch of MoSAIC occurred within just 2 months of each other.  Although there was no conflict of interest business wise, the media loved pitting the two handsome, intelligent, and not to mention obscenely wealthy CEOs against each other.  For that reason, the two hot-headed and arrogant young men have always been each other’s throats, refusing to submit to one another.  “To protect a man’s pride,” as Mikhail would say. “More like a by-proxy dick size competition.” Ana would jab right back.  Their childish rivalry extended far beyond what she thought was professionally and financially acceptable: Kaiba makes a deal with Industrial Illusions, Mikhail signs a military contract with the U.S. government; Mikhail procures an exclusive island, Kaiba blows up his own exclusive island; MoSAIC releases a hypersonic jet, Kaiba gets a blue-eyes white dragon jet; Kaiba builds a space elevator; Mikhail purchases the international space station.  

 

 

“I see that you're looking a little empty over there Seto, just wanted to see if you'd like to borrow one of mine.” Mikhail provoked as each of his arms wrapped around a model.  Ana twitched in disgust as the two models started pecking her bother on the cheek, their hands resting on his chest.

Without warning, Ana was jerked forward as Seto tugged her by the shoulder, slamming her against his body. He gripped onto her tightly, pulling her close as she stumbled from the sudden action, all the while whiling looking non-nonchalantly at Mikhail. “Don’t you know the first rule of business Scholtz?” Seto smirked as he wrapped his arm tightly around Ana's waist, “Quality over quantity.”  

Dumbfounded, Ana remained still as her brain tried to process very un-Kaiba-like thing that had just transpired. 

Mikhail launched forward without thinking and grabbed his sister’s arm, yanking her away from Seto.  Seto laughed, placing his hands in his pockets “looks like I’ll be the one doing the lending tonight.” he sneered.  “What did you just sa-” Mikhail moved forward, fist at the ready.  Ana rushed between them, mouthing silently at her brother, imploring him to stop.  “Once again Scholtz, I win.” Seto sneered, dragging Ana away. 

 


 

 

“You know him?” Seto asked darting a dirty look at the slightly inebriated Mikhail as they filed into the auditorium for the after-dinner charity auction.  Sick of always having to pick up after Mikhail’s outbursts, Ana answered dismissively, “we’re former schoolmate sir.” “In the same Arabic class?” Seto asked. His lack of ability to convey Arabic didn't preclude him from picking up the subtle differences in people’s intonations. Looking dead ahead, Ana answered, "perhaps" trying to hide her smile, being thoroughly impressed for the second time by her boss tonight. 

 

The auction was held by the famous Christie’s Auction House and had the usual assortment of antiques and trinkets; a recently discovered painting by Leonardo DaVinci, which Ana highly doubted its authenticity; a dinner menu that survived the sinking of Titanic; an imperial jade ring that once belonged to a Qing dynasty emperor, etcetera-etcetera.  And to improve their client's privacy protection, the bidding was conducted using an electronic system through a discrete handheld clicker device. 

As the auction started, Mikhail would shout randomly over the auctioneer, throwing out stupid puns and jokes for everyone’s amusement.  His antics made him look like a spoiled rich brat, but Ana knew better. This was her brother’s way of disarming people; these egotistical business types are much more susceptible to manipulation when they think they have the upper hand. However, Mikhail can get carried away sometimes, and tonight is one of those.

“I have ten thousand here, ten thousa-, fifty thousand, fifty thousand.” The auctioneer buzzed as Mikhail started outbidding Seto over an ultra-rare limited-edition duel monsters card (privacy protection or not, it's kind of obvious Seto would be the one bidding on the card).

"Hey Kaiba! Sweetheart!” Mikhail shouted from three tables ahead, “I can go all night long baby,” he smiled, holding his clicker in the air for everyone to see, adding another $10,000 to the bid.  The patrons laughed as they watched on with great fascination; it’s such a rare sight to witness someone taunting Seto Kaiba so openly.

On the other hand, wishing it to be over already, Ana soon tired of the childish bidding war her brother had started.  Raising her hand as if to brush her hair, Ana whispered into her bracelet [“NERO, tell the idiot to stop.”].  At once, Mikhail glanced at his vibrating wristwatch and turned to meet Ana's eyes.

‘Look away dammit!’ Her eyes widened at the half drunken Mikhail, fearing Seto would notice this silent exchange between the two of them.

“Alright alright, you can have your card Kaiba." Mikhail jeered as raised his hands in the air. "Make sure to give it a good-night kiss for me after you’re done making love to it tonight.” he laughed, dropping his clicker on the dinner table to signal cease fire.  

[“Oh don’t worry Scholtz, I’ll tuck her in real nice.”] Seto sneered as he sent Mikhail this message. Clearly, Seto had mistaken Mikhail’s brotherly affections towards Ana as that of an ex-lover’s jealous rage.  Seto leaned back, crossed his legs and draped his arms over the back of Ana’s chair, smirking as Mikhail’s shot him a poisonous glare. 

 

 

While the boys were busy with their petty fighting.  Ana was transfixed at the final item on display. 

“The final piece for the night, the Boissier-Sarasate, a marvelous piece of artwork of superb craftsmanship.” The auctioneer continued as his assistant carefully lifted a beautifully varnished violin from a equally intricate wooden case with her gloved hands. “A wonderful piece of history crafted by the house of Antonio Stradivari, year 1690.” The assistant walked around gracefully as she held the violin for the audience to see. “One of the only two Stradivarius that belonged to the famed Spanish musician Pablo de Sarasate." He concluded.  "The bidding starts at $10 million.”

The numbers soared instantly as people started to bid. “$10.5 million, $10.8 million, $12 million!” the auctioneer struggled to keep pace.  Ana stomped her foot lightly in exasperation as she looked frantically at the back of her older brother’s head. ‘Come on! Look at your phone!! Pick up the clicker!’ she pleaded as Mikhail ignored her attempts in earnest, thinking it’s another string of insults by Seto.  “$14 million going once! $14.5 million!”  the bidding slowed as patrons began to drop off.  Unable to contain her frustration, Ana lurched backwards as the auctioneer shouted “- going twice!”, not realizing she had knocked Seto’s arm off in the process. 

In dire desperation, Ana almost grabbed Seto’s clicker on impulse but restrained herself once she saw that the blasted thing was tightly clutched in his other hand.  Peeking up at his face, Ana was irritated by Seto’s blasé expression as he conversed quietly with the person next to him. 

“Sold! $17.3 million! That’s a new record ladies and gentlemen!” The auctioneer beamed as the audience cheered.  Ana slumped forward and bit her lip in bitter disappointment. She’s been dying to have her own Stratovarius ever since seeing one at her first violin recital 15 years ago.  It's a such shame that exclusive item like this are rarely put up for sale.  More often it's passed down within a family from one generation to the next.  Try as she might, but even with all the money in the world, Ana had been unsuccessful in her attempt to find one for sale until tonight.


 

At Seto’s behest, Ana walked silently to the back of the auction room, wondering if she had cashed her karma credits a little to early.  ‘No doubt they would’ve listed the items on there.’ she sighed, wishing she had searched harder for Hiroka’s invitation. 

Ana forced a polite smile as she handed the broker Seto’s small briefcase of cash.  “Please inform Mr. Kaiba that he is to expect a delivery at his place of residence on Monday morning between the hours of 8:00 and 9:00AM.” the broker informed in a monotone voice as he handed Ana a slip of paper, some sort of receipt. 

 

“What took you so long? I told you 10 minutes 20 minutes ago.” Seto asked impatiently as they met at the front lobby.  Ana lingered backstage, busy looking for the person who won the bid. She hoped that in finding them, she can bargain for the item with a better offer.  But her search was fruitless, hindered by the hordes of people constantly inquiring her about her relationship with the two feuding CEO's.

 

“My apologies sir, it was very crowded, here’s your slip.” she said, handing Seto the piece of paper.  “What the hell am I going to do with that?  Give it to Hiroka.” He ordered as they proceeded to the back entrance, avoiding the fans and the paparazzi.

 

 

As they exited through the back door, Ana spotted a drunken Mikhail driving towards her apartment , no doubt crashing there for the night. 

"Use your head for a second, would anyone let their date go home in a cab?” Seto said, rejecting Ana's attempt to find another ride home. “Well, yes…” Ana replied as Ansari’s daughters drove past in their barbie pink Rolls-Royce, “all the time.”.

“That’s absurd.”

 

Seto and Ana stood silently in the falling snow as they waited for the limo near the back gate.  They were in such a hurry to leave that Ana had left her jacket behind.  Feeling dejected over the violin, Ana even didn’t feel her body temperature plummet as the snowfall intensified. 

‘Serves you right.’ Seto thought, looking at Ana’s snow-covered head, her thin black dress barely covering her upper body.

 

“Where the hell is Roland?” Seto snapped as Ana started to shiver in the frigid night air.  Unwilling to return inside knowing the lobby would be swarming with paparazzi by now, Seto begrudgingly took off his overcoat and draped it over Ana’s shoulders. 

Her shivers subsided instantly. Ana closed her eyes as she bathed in the soothing warmth, inhaling deeply, she grinned.

‘I was right, he does smell good.’  

Chapter Text

Roland arrived in Seto's Lamborghini Urus at the back gate, rambling on about having to retrieve the backup car because the paparazzi had spotted the limo earlier.  As usual, Seto wasn’t interested in hearing any excuses and brushed off Roland as he hurried down towards waiting car.  Noticing her boss’s quickened pace, Ana followed suit, wondering if the coatless Seto was rushing because he was trying to get away from the cold.  She was no doubt grateful for his kind gesture, but to her, it also means owing him a favor she didn’t ask for.  Hurrying towards the car in her 5-inch heels, Ana carefully maintained her balance and trained her eyes to the ground as the blizzard billowed around her.  With the car just up ahead, Ana reached for the handle but stopped midway when she realized Seto was already waiting with the car door open.  Ana slipped in and muttered a reluctant “thank you,” but not before the door was slammed shut in her face.

Outside, Ana could see Seto’s silhouette disappear as he walked back towards the hotel with Roland following close behind.  He was carrying another suitcase, this time bigger than the one she had brought with her.  As they reached the back landing, the two men were quickly joined by a third, who Ana was sure would be Pegasus, judging by his flouncy hair and dramatic body language, and the two men exchanged briefcases after a hesitant handshake.

A limo pulled up beside the Urus, presumably Pegasus’s ride as he followed Seto back outside.  Upon seeing Ana in the backseat wrapped tightly in Seto’s overcoat, Pegasus sniggered and opened her door.  “Look at you Kaiba-booy!  I’m surprised!” he winked knowingly at the silent Seto, “Going through aaaall this trouble just for her? Tsk tsk, but I guess she IS worth every bit of it after all.” he said, looking Ana up and down.  “Mind your own damn business.” Seto snapped, his cheeks flushing pink, which Ana would have attributed to the cold…or perhaps from something else?

“I’m going to have to start calling you lover-boooy from now on. Oh! I’ve taught you well.” “Perhaps Mr. Kaiba can return the favor and teach you some manners,” Ana interjected, reaching for the door handle, “don’t you know things shatter-” Ana mimicked, flicking some snow at Pegasus, “-easier in the cold?” and slammed the door shut.  Seto scoffed, amused by Ana’s comment. “Put it in the trunk,” he ordered Roland as he pushed past Pegasus, “and make sure the heat is on.” Seto’s voice crescendoed as he re-approached the car, darting a glare at the finger wagging Pegasus as they drove away.  

 

“Where to Mr. Kaiba?” Roland inquired, but his eyes were looking to Ana in the rearview mirror. Taking Seto’s silence as her cue, “Kaiba Corp.” she said, not wanting them to see Mikhail’s car in her driveway.  Besides, Ana wanted to test out the counterfeit access card before having to surrender it back to Hiroka.  Garnering no more than a quick frown from Seto, Roland took off without any objections. 

The 45 minute ride dragged on for 80 minutes as the car navigated through the snowstorm.  Ana welcomed the complete silence after being subjected to the obnoxiously loud chatter and music from the dinner earlier.  Pegasus’s taunts had not escaped her either. What did he meant by her being worth it and Seto going through all this trouble, what trouble? The trouble of giving her a ride? ‘It would be a first for someone like him, at least that I know of.’ Ana giggled to herself as she envisioned the headlines tomorrow Front-Page News: Seto Kaiba Seen Cavorting with Kaiba Corp’s Latest MIT Intern in the Backseat.  

‘Yeah, let’s hope not.’

 

As the car passed under a well-lit tollbooth, a flash of black and white caught the attention of Ana’s eyes.  A palm-sized metal chessboard sat on the car’s center console with tiny magnetized onyx and ivory chess pieces scattered on top.  Ana leaned in slowly for a closer look at the exquisitely carved pieces, not wanting to draw any attention to her interest.  The chess match was so close to completion; just one more move by the black knight and it’ll be check, and another move by the bishop and it’ll be checkmate. Unless the opponent’s queen goes for the bishop first, but then the player can counter that by advancing their castle to check instead.  Suddenly, remembering the current reigning World Chess Championship champion is sitting in this very car, Ana looked over eagerly, wanting to ask Seto for a quick match.  To her dismay, he was sitting as far away from her as he could, looking out the window, arms crossed, obviously not wanting any disturbance. But what are the chances of ever being trapped in a long car ride with the youngest chess grandmaster in history again?  She had already lost out on a Stradivarius this evening; would she let another golden opportunity slip through her fingers tonight?  Ana opened her mouth as she extended her hand towards Seto.  Hovering over his arm, she suddenly retracted; once again, her stubborn pride trumping over her intense curiosity.  ‘Anyone but him,’ unwilling to disclose her admiration for his skillful chess play openly, Ana closed her mouth and shook her head, passing on this once in a lifetime opportunity.


 

Ana’s moment of hesitation was captured by the snow reflected window, giving Seto a clear view of the Urus’ interior.  From the corner of his eyes, he saw Ana reached out for him but then quickly retracted and re-bundled herself in his jacket and resumed her lookout through the window.  With nothing else to occupy his mind, Seto questioned about how he ended up in this strange predicament.  

‘It’s all her fault.’

The reason why he offered Ana a ride was so he wouldn’t look bad in front of other guests, but why the hell did he insist on giving her a lift all the way to Kaiba Corp when he could’ve just kicked her out as soon as they’re far enough from the venue? Why did he give her his jacket when he hates the cold himself?  What’s her deal with the Stradivarius? Does she play the violin? What other languages does she speak? Why is she sniffing his coat with her eyes closed like a weirdo? 

Seto glanced down at the center console and saw one of the black chess pieces has been repositioned, ‘hmmm, check, clever move.’ he acknowledged. Ana must’ve moved it when he wasn’t looking.  Without much thought, Seto reached over and moved a white chess piece to check the opponent’s King.  He looked over to Ana, almost wishing she had noticed, wanting her to participate.  But to his disappointment, she sat as she did before, facing away from him as she stared out at the barren white landscape. 

Undeterred, Seto continued to look at Ana with interest.  After all, she was the first girl who had ever (whith the exception of those lunatics from Yugi and Wheeler’s so-called fan-clubs ‘If you can even call it that.’) to react so indifferently to his touch, let alone a hug from him. 

At this moment, Ana, not taking her eyes off the scenery, tucked her hair behind her ears.  A small pinkish scar barely visible under her makeup could be seen streaked across the back of her cheek; Bill’s souvenir on the night he hurled the CAD diagrams at her face. Seto smiled, remembering Ana’s appropriate, but hilariously violent, response to Bill’s outburst.  This also reminded him of the time Gozaburo threw Seto’s Kaiba-Land blueprints back in his face, except, of course, he handled it much better than she did. 

Observing quietly, Seto mentally retracted his previous statement to Mokuba regarding Ana’s mediocrity.  As much as he’d hate to admit it, Seto enjoyed her company; she’s obviously got some brains on her, and she’s clearly not afraid to retaliate against his insults. Indeed, she even seemed to find a select few funny apparently. To top it off, her natural beauty is greatly complimented by her unique enigmatic personality and her intelligence.  No wonder even Mikhail, one of the world’s most notorious playboys, couldn’t seem to maintain his composure around her.

 


 

“We’re here Mr. Kaiba.” Roland announced, interrupting Seto’s thoughts.  “Hmm? Yeah.” he stumbled; suddenly aware he’s been staring at her intently this whole time.  She looked back at him, her head cocked slightly to the side. “Would you like for me to take anything back to the office sir?” she asked as she removed his jacket and retrieved her clutch. “You have access to my office?” Seto asked sharply, snapping back to reality. “No, but I can if you’d like for me to.” Ana batted her eyelashes as she bit the bottom corner of her lip, jokingly flirting with him.  “Get out of my car.”

“As you wish.” Ana smiled. Getting her hands on Hiroka’s card was a fluke, but getting the boss-man’s card was going to take a lot more effort.  As Ana bowed, she suddenly spotted the rearranged chess pieces, ‘Ah ha! Just like I predicted!’ without hesitation, she learned over and moved the bishop in place, inadvertently giving Seto a generous view of her nice supple cleavage. “Checkmate!” she beamed, mistaking his blushing cheeks for anger. Ana playfully tossed Seto’s coat onto his lap as she stepped out of his car, “Thank you for the ride sir.”  followed by a deliberate glance at her winning chess match, “Oh!" she said dramatically, pretending to have remembered something of great importance, "Better luck next time, Kaiba.” She emphasized, “Oyasuminasai (Good Night) Kaiba-Sama!” Before the now thoroughly flustered Seto could respond, Ana shut the door as Seto had done to her before, grinning from ear to ear as she strolled from Kariba Corp’s parking garage to the interior elevator.

Chapter Text

The largely unoccupied building echoed with the clacking of Ana’s heels as she marched towards one of Kaiba Corp’s less frequented elevators.  A winter weather warning had been issued, forecasting the crazy blizzard to last overnight.  In accordance with the federal law, Kaiba Corp, like all other business, dismissed their workers to mitigate the risk of injuries from traveling in hazardous conditions.  With only a few employees remaining behind for emergencies, Ana had no trouble navigating through the building unseen. A digital clone of her was doctored to appear at her workbench using the latest imaging synthesis program, Deepfake.  And through a little manipulation of Kaiba Corp’s closed-circuit security monitor system, the path from the parking garage to Hiroka’s office was full proof against any recording or detection.

Knowing she wouldn’t be seen, Ana did a little celebratory dance as the card reader accepted the fake.  Quickly stowing it away, she took the same path back towards the parking deck where her backup car was waiting.


 

“Hey! Hold On!” Mokuba pounded on Ana’s driver’s side window as she started reversing out of her parking spot, causing her to slam on her breaks.  “Evening, Mr. Kaiba.” She greeted unenthusiastically as she rolled down her window, having hit her quota for unexpected surprises for the evening. “Where do you live?” Mokuba demanded, the hoarseness in his voice made it sound a little harsher than he intended. ‘First Hiroka, then Kaiba, then Mikhail, now Kaiba Jr.? What have I done to deserve this?’ Ana tilted her head back in defeat, the kid obviously wants to ask for a ride.  “My address is listed in the employee directory sir.”  She answered, not wanting to get roped in to yet another obligation.  Mokuba shivered as a gust of wind blew past him, he wondered how he’s going to persuade her for a ride.  As a firsthand witness to Bill’s painful demise, he knew pulling the boss-card will only result in Ana’s anger. Besides, Mokuba knew she wouldn’t buy into his I will have you fired tactic.  And, judging by her car, a Bentayga Mulliner, offering her financial compensation was probably out of the question as well.

A small voice rang out from Ana’s car speakers [“…has to move the bishop to 3 instead of moving the rook, Kaiba’s strategic placement from the last move has put Carlsen in a huge disadvantage…”] upon hearing the commentary, Mokuba immediately recognized it as a replay of last year’s world chess championship (WCC for short), and knew what he had to do.  “I know this is sudden, but I really need a lift home. Roland is the one who usually picks me up, but I forgot he’s driving my brother tonight.” “I-” “and I’ll get you a ringside ticket to this year’s WCC if you do.” He added quickly before Ana could protest.  For seasoned competitors, it’s customary for them to be gifted 2 complimentary VIP tickets to the championship match, but with only Mokuba there to cheer him on, Seto’s second ticket always went to waste.  ‘First of all, damn this kid is sharp, second of all-’ “The event is fully booked and less than a week away, how are you going to get an extra ticket?” Ana furrowed her brows, skeptical of Mokuba’s offer.   But he was already pulling out his phone to show Ana his e-tickets.  “Deal, get in.” Ana unlocked the door and the teen quickly hopped inside.

“I can’t believe I had to bribe my employee just to give me a ride.” Mokuba said, buckling his seatbelt, “were you just going to let me freeze out there?” he whined as he placed his phone on her dashboard while the GPS calculated the best route to take to avoid any accidents from the inclement weather.  “I never said that, you came to that conclusion on your own.”  Ana smiled, turning on her snow traction.  Thankfully, the snowplows have cleared most of the roads, but whatever progress they’ve made, it would be quickly undone as the snow recovered the pavement.

“What were you doing here so late anyways?”, “Well Mr. Kaiba, that’s a long story, just ask Seto, err Mr. Kaiba I mean.” “It’s fine, just call me Mokuba.” Unlike his brother, Mokuba didn’t mind being addressed by his first name in casual settings. “Wait, you stayed late because of Seto?” he asked, just now catching her answer.  Ana briefly summarized her adventure for the evening, conveniently leaving out the details about the violin and their encounter with Mikhail.  Mokuba was shocked, and rightfully so; the Seto he knew would’ve never done something like this, he would have kicked her out as soon as they were out of eyesight from the hotel.  “What is going on?” he asked quietly as they cruised down the almost empty highway.  Having never had to share Seto’s affection with anyone else, Mokuba was slightly jealous of whatever attention Ana was getting from his big brother, no matter how trivial.  

“Why are you listening to chess matches anyways? Don’t girls usually listen to Katy Perry or Billie Eye-Lash or something?” Ana chuffed at Mokuba’s lame joke.  

“I have a question for you,” she retorted, “why didn’t you just call your brother for a ride?  I’m sure he could’ve sent someone over.  Are you scared of him or something?” She added, knowing Seto’s temper. “No, he’s been really stressed lately, I just don’t want to be a bother that’s all.”  Ana understood exactly what he meant. As the younger sibling of an equally successful CEO, Ana never bothered Mikhail with trivial stuff, even though she knew he would be there for her at the drop of a hat.

Not wanting to make any more small-talk, Ana passed the aux cord to Mokuba, so to speak, and just let him entertain himself for the remainder of the ride.  At 3:00AM sharp, they arrived at the front gate of the Kaiba brothers’ home, a sprawling estate dominated by a giant manor.  Paying no attention to the impressive estate, Ana was rather annoyed at the layers of security they had to go through before being allowed inside.  

“Where are you going?” Mokuba shouted as Ana started pulling away. “Home.” She mouthed through her closed car window.  Mokuba sprinted down the steps and opened the passenger door. “Why don’t you just stay for the night? It’s not safe for you to drive in this condition.”  Ana looked around her, the storm was so heavy it’s even dimming the floodlights. ‘Oh man it’s icing.’ She thought as she pursed her lips.  A little rest to wait out the ice storm wouldn’t hurt.  But what if Seto considers her an unwanted guest?  “Don’t worry, I’m sure Seto wouldn’t mind.” Mokuba smiled, as if reading her mind.  “Besides, we won’t tell Seto you’re here, right Marlina?” he winked at the maid waiting beside him.  She nodded politely as the rest of the staff followed her motion.

Ana took off her heels as she treaded up the stairs, following Mokuba’s directions as she made her way to one of the many guest bedrooms.  Marlina had gone off to retrieve some fresh towels, making a fuss the whole time to Mokuba about not being properly warned ahead of time.  The elderly maid quickly dismissed herself from Ana’s room after dropping off some clothes and fresh towels and mumbled something about shampoo and conditioners; Ana got the sense the staff here at the Kaiba Manor doesn’t deal with female visitors very often.  Being a germaphobe, Ana took a shower despite being in this foreign environment.  Afterwards, she reapplied her perfume, masking the stuff Marlina gave her, which smelled masculine as hell.  The clothes she was given were a few pairs of grey colored knee length maid skirts and what she was sure had to be Seto’s dress shirts.

With only a few more hours until dawn, Ana decided to pull an all-nighter instead. Afraid of sleeping in, she decided to use this opportunity to explore, and more than likely snoop, around the mansion instead.  She crept quietly out of her room, and tip-toed down the hallway.  Unlike the Kaiba Corp. building, the manor was decorated much more modestly, with traditional accents and classic furnishings.  Ana headed down the west wing and stopped as she passed one of the open doorways.  The room was bathed in the unmistakable orange glow of a well-lit fireplace.  It looked like an office space, but seemed much more cozy.  Curious, Ana walked into the room, the soft carpet quieting her footsteps.  A beautiful marble fireplace blazed away in the back corner of the room, surrounded by a couch and a couple love seats.  Walking towards the fireplace, Ana accidentally bumped into a table and froze as something shifted behind her.  Turning slowly, her eyes found a sleeping figure laying on the couch opposite of the fire.  Seto laid with one hand holding an open book resting on his chest and one arm draped over the seat, his fingers lingering above the open laptop sitting on the ground.  He was wearing the same outfit as earlier in the evening, but without the suit jacket, the tie that hung loosely around his neck intertwined with the duel monster necklace he’s always seen wearing.

The softly flickering light illuminated his handsome face as his chest moved slowly to the rhythm of his breathing.  Much more carefully than before, Ana maneuvered her way towards the couch and moved his laptop aside as she sat on the ground, facing the sleeping figure.  She folded her arms on the edge of the seat and rested her chin on top.  For a moment, she stared transfixed at the young man, her own face inches from his.  ‘Objectively,’ she thought, observing Seto without any distractions, ‘he’s pretty damn good looking.’

Being a little nosier than usual, Ana tilted her head to get a better look at his book, ‘Ladovsky…’ no doubt he was researching for some inspiration for his upcoming duel stadium.  Curious, she gently worked one of her hands underneath his and lifted it from the book. ‘Ooo, original sketches.’ her eyes widened, letting her palm rest on his chest in place of the book as she skimmed through the pages.  Almost instantly, Seto’s icy grip tightened around her hands.  Ana looked up hastily, worried she had awoken the slumbering beast; to her relief, he remained sound asleep.  ‘What is he, some kind of new age vampire?’ Ana thought as her own hands started to go numb from his grip and freezing hands.  She looked around the room and spotted a folded throw draped over one of the loveseats that was thankfully within arm’s reach.  With her hands still trapped beneath his, Ana carefully arranged the blanket over the Seto, hoping another source of warmth would loosen his grip, but alas he just held on tighter.  Not wanting to wake him, Ana ceased her struggle to free her hand and just resigned to finish the book in this awkward position.  Using the dying fire as the only source of lighting, Ana examined each of Ladovsky’s hand drawn sketches in detail, completely captivated by the stout, yet delicate intricacy of Stalinistic architecture.  

Ana was knocked out of her trance as her phone started ringing, Mikhail’s name flashing on the screen as she fumbled to grab it.  Thankfully, the sound was muffled by the carpet, and she quickly silenced it and looked up at the sleeping figure once again. Luckily, Seto remained undisturbed.  The time display caught her eyes as her phone flashed on again.  It was already 5:50 in the morning, late by Mikhail’s standards, the only early bird in the family.  ‘Shoot, I should get going.’ she thought as her eyes adjust to the darkness beyond the window, it had stopped snowing.  After reassuring Mikhail of her safety over a few text messages, Ana tried to pry her fingers loose from Seto’s grip, but to no avail.  Having never took him for a heavy sleeper, Ana wanted to gauge the delicacy of her situation. She gingerly poked Seto on the cheeks, then advancing to his chin when he didn’t respond to the former. ‘Wow, he must be really tired huh?’ she thought, now brushing his lower lips with her thumb as she cradled his face in her hands.  Deciding there was no risk, she forcefully pulled her hands out of his and quickly replaced it with the book.  As swift as a ninja, she snuck out of the mansion and hopped in her Bentayga, the guards at the gates giving her no problem since the car was cleared just the night before.


 

A fountain of embers erupted in the fireplace as the last log crumbled into ashes.  The sleeping figure on the couch woke as the fire crackled it’s last dying breath. The blanket slid off Seto as he bolted awake. ‘That was a weird dream.’ He thought, tossing the blanket aside.  He was dueling Noah again, not sure why, since he has beaten the twerp once already.  But they somehow ended up in a frozen tundra, just another cheap virtual reality trick, but damn it was cold.  On the verge of collapsing as his body started to freeze, his hands suddenly warmed as he drew a card he had never seen before from his deck.  The heat from the card radiated from his hands to his chest, then to the rest of his body.  Fearing he would lose his only source of warmth, Seto clutched tightly onto the card as the duel continued.  As expected, Seto won.  As soon as Noah’s life points hit zero, the scene dissolved before him and morphed into that of his childhood home.  The sweet aroma of citrus and gardenia perfumed the air as he walked towards the kitchen, the scent was so familiar to him, yet he couldn’t recall where he had smelled it before.  The silhouette of his mother came into view as she prepared his bento for the day.  She turned to him as he called out to her, smiling sweetly, she reached out and stroke his cheeks gently.  The warmth in his hands subsided and everything dissolved again, next thing he knew, Seto was falling down a pitch-black cavern with no end in sight. 

Seto brushed his hands through his hair but paused midway as he caught a whiff of the very same flowery citrus-y scent he remembered from his dream.  Confused, he sniffed at his hands, his shirt and even the book, all of which carried that exact same familiar scent.  Questioning his own sanity, Seto made his way down to the breakfast table, wondering if he’s hallucinating again from overwork.

Having promised Mokuba they would stay silent, the mansion staff was caught in a pickle between being fired by Mokuba for informing Seto of the late-night visitor, or being fired by Seto for not telling him about it.  To their relief, the young man just casually munched away at his breakfast, so absorbed in his own thoughts that he didn’t even notice his staff’s unusually fidgety behavior. 

Chapter Text

Accustomed to using public transport on snow days back in Massachusetts, the heated streets of inner-city Tokyo made driving much easier for Ana.  One would’ve thought a few years of college in the American Northeast would’ve prepared her for snowpocalypses like this, but it just fueled her dislike for the cold. 

“Misha Misha.” looking tired and disheveled, Ane greeted her brother lazily as she collapsed onto her giant beanbag near the breakfast nook.  Mikhail, on the other hand, a man of intense personal discipline, was already alert and dressed for work.  Mikhail looked up from his laptop as his sister trudged her way towards him and quickly ended a call.  “Are you ok? You had me worried.” He sighed, sipping on some green tea, the only caffeinated beverage he could find in Ana’s apartment. “I’m fine, I just stayed over at a friend’s place.” Mikhail rolled his eyes playfully, they both knew it was a lie, she had no friends.  “Sorry about last night.” He smiled apologetically, knowing he went a little overboard with the whole Kaiba thing, and also feeling guilty for bringing home some random hook-up instead of his little sister.  Ana waved him off, knowing that it was nothing to get heated over, shit happens. 

A small knock sounded from the kitchen entrance as Mikhail’s assistant entered her apartment, Ana greeted the man with a simple smile but otherwise remained silent as he went over the day’s itinerary with her brother. 

‘What in the Elon-Musk type of shit is this?’ Ana puzzled.  “You’re going to work on a Sunday?”, “Mhmm.”, “Aren’t you hungover?” she questioned as both men prepared to leave.  “Do I look it?”, “No.”, “Then what’s your question?” he smirked, draining the rest of his tea.  She never understood how these business go-getter types do it, you know, the Seto Kaibas of the world.  These freaks of nature who wake up at ungodly hours in the morning no matter how late they went to bed the night before and adhere to a strict routine and refuse to deviate from it unless absolutely necessary.

“Hey, you academic types are the freaks, not me.” Mikhail said suddenly, knowing exactly what Ana was thinking at the moment.  He never understood her lifestyle either.  It’s a miracle she manages to accomplish anything with her chaotic schedule, sleeping in one day then pulling an all-nighter the next.  She'd rather cram 5 hours of work into 1 and slack off for the other 4.  Not to mention, a person has to be insane to purposely isolate themselves from any social interactions, case-in-point being those scientists you see in movies with secret labs in their basements, going bonkers making human centipedes.  Oh, but crazy part is, Ana does it without any caffeine.

“I think one of us is adopted.” They both came to the same consensus, laughing.  “I got you a present by the way.” He said, pointing to a box of her favorite macaroons sitting on the counter. He had bought it from a boutique shop in Paris just before flying to Tokyo for last night’s event.  “Ты самый лучший!” Ana smiled. “I know I’m the best.” He laughed as he walked out of her apartment, gently closing the door behind him. 

 


 

 

To prepare for the world championship this Saturday, Seto canceled all of his lunch plans for the week and filled that time instead with practice chess matches.  He took advantage of the Japan being the host country for this year’s tournament and flew a few chess masters out early so they could spar with him.  On Tuesday, he welcomed the highly distinguished grandmaster Maurice Ashley, while his assistants cleared the meeting room and moved in a chessboard table.  They started with the exact same sequence as they did last time, repeating the same moves until only a few pieces remained. 

At their last meeting, Seto had stopped the match at this exact step, wanting some more time to mull over his next move.  This was the very same configuration Ana saw on the miniature chessboard in Seto’s Urus.  He had set it up to help him visualize his next move, just something to do during long car rides.  “Well?” the grandmaster gestured at the board, curious what move Seto is going to play next.  Thinking back carefully, Seto begrudging acknowledged that Ana’s move with the knight and bishop combo was perfect, a guaranteed win for this match.  Dismissing her, he refused to believe a substitute intern had thought of something he couldn’t; because of that, Seto has been hard at work the last few days trying desperately to devise a better alternative, going so far as asking Yugi for advice.

“I’m quite ill-prepared to end this.”, “Oh? wah mek that?” the kind Jamaican grandmaster smiled, perplexed at Seto’s atypical answer.  Briefly, Seto explained Ana’s audacity in choosing his next move for him.  Curious, Grandmaster Ashley insisted enthusiastically on seeing what this employee of his had done.  As Seto mimicked the movements Ana did, the grandmaster burst into laughter, clapping his hands loudly. “Dat a Checkmate! Brilliant!” he beamed, “Whoeva dis person is, he or she deserves a big fat raise.” he chortled.  The young CEO’s face grew red as the chess master continued to praise the unknown employee.  Knowing Seto respected his opinions greatly, Grandmaster Ashely smiled and patted Seto gently on the arm, “Yuh are a gud lad mi son, nuh let this get yuh down.  It’s a gud ting to kip round someone who is smarta than yuh.  It keeps yuh sharp.” He smiled; touching is index finger to his temple.  “Luk at mi! 82 and still gwaan strong, that’s because I’m married to a wuhman who knows everything betta than mi!” He laughed. “Com, com, let’s ‘ave anotha match.” He waved Seto closer with both of his hands. 

While one of Seto’s assistants busied themselves resetting the board, the grandfatherly man reached into his bag and withdrew a tin of homemade ginger snaps “Before I forget.” he smiled and handed it to Seto. It was a gift from his wife; something he had always brought with him whenever he visited the young man.  Having rarely eaten anything that isn’t prepared by a chef or at a restaurant, Seto greatly appreciated this kind gesture, although he never vocalized his gratitude beyond the typical formalities.  Seto received the tin with both hands and mumbled a thank you as he set it aside.  Grandmaster Ashley smiled kindly and nodded in response to Seto’s unspoken appreciation.

 


 

 

“Ana-Banana!” Mokuba shouted as he sprinted up the stairs of the balcony Thursday morning.  “Banana rhymes with An-Na not Ana.” she shook her head as he reaches her desk.  “-sir.” she added quickly, noticing heads peeking up around them as people overheard their informal exchange.  “Get back to work!” Looks like Mokuba noticed the same thing too.  “How may I be of assistance?” she asked, returning to her attention back to her computer now that everyone had scurried back to their stations. “You know how to play chess right?” he said, pulling up a seat and sat backwards onto the chair.  “Yes.” She answered inattentively.  “Wanna play during lunch?” he asked eagerly, perking up at her answer.  Ana look at him with a raised eyebrow, suspicious of his motives; giving someone a lift home shouldn’t be the social equivalent of a gateway drug to friendship.

“No.” She answered firmly, turning away to refocus on her work again.  

“Why not?” he pleaded.

“I’m leaving at 11:00.”

“For just a few minutes?”

“No.”

After badgering Ana for well over 15 minutes and ultimately failing to persuade her, Mokuba decided to pull his trump card. “I’ll cancel your WCC ticket.” he threatened.  “Going back on your promise? That’s very unKaiba like of you.” Ana sneered.  Mokuba grinned, and simply said “I don’t remember signing anything, and verbal agreements aren’t legally binding here in Japan.”

“Oh you’re good at this.” Ana’s eyes widened and nodded mockingly.  The more she interacted with the brothers, the more she saw the resemblance.  “Sweet, meet me in conference room 5709B at 11:30, bring your lunch with you and don’t be late!” ‘Does he have to be so loud!?’ Ana facepalmed as Mokuba ran back downstairs, shouting as he goes.

Turns out, Grandmaster Vishwanathan Anand was scheduled to play with Seto today but had to cancel last minute due to some health problems that required immediate medical attention.  Mokuba knew how much these practice sessions meant to Seto, it’s one of the few times he gets to enjoy himself without the added pressure of having a championship title being held over his head.  Setting aside his jealousy, Mokuba went with his hunch and sought out Ana, unaware of chess match that had occurred in the Urus.

 


 

“Who are you?”  Seto’s deep voice barked from the conference room doorway. 

 

Ana looked up from her homework, her lunch spoon dangling from her mouth.  With the extra 30 minutes to spare between clocking out and meeting Mokuba, she had already changed into her casual clothes, planning to bail the hell out as soon she’s done with the kid.  It took a minute for Seto to recognize the girl sitting before him having only seen Ana in either business attire or formal wear. 

“What the hell are you doing here?” He asked harshly as his assistants maneuvered around him, setting up for the chess game.  Catching onto Mokuba’s gig, Ana sighed and smiled to herself; somehow, the kid had played them both.  She unhurriedly replaced her spoon and cleared away her homework before standing up and taking a deep bow.  “I was told to be here sir.” she answered. “By who?” Seto asked incredulously.  “By Mr. Kaiba of course.” “I never-” Seto stopped short as he realized who was behind all this.  “I don’t play with amateurs.” he sneered, his staff pausing their setup and looking uncertainly at each other, unsure of what to do.  “What, afraid of losing again?” Ana tilted her head and looked on tauntingly, knowing she was aiming for a sore spot.  “You better watch your mouth.” He warned. “Then prove me wrong.”  

Growling, Seto signaled for the set-up to continue as Ana smiled and sat excitedly, finally getting that chess match she wanted from him.  

Chapter Text

“This won’t take long.” Seto ordered everyone to leave the them and not to enter the room unless they’re called upon.

As if conducting a business meeting, Seto explain the rules and mechanics of the match thoroughly, so there would be no confusion with other variations of the game.  Ana listened intently; like Dr. Ishida, who stupidly ruined Seto’s iris trackers, she’s not the type to read instructions before starting anything; but unlike him, she tends to figure things out pretty quickly. 

“Got it?” Seto asked, wondering if she had caught it all.  “Sir, yes sir.” She responded, looking up at him with sparkles in her eyes.  “I’ve never seen anyone get so excited over a defeat.” Seto smirked.  “Mhmm,” she responded absentmindedly, not even hearing what he said, her mind already completely focused on the game.  “Go.” Seto ordered, nodding towards her white chess pieces.  He picked up the apple Roland had brought him earlier and leaned back in his chair as he started eating away.  Unbeknownst to him, she started the game with a highly advantageous handicap, having watched his chess matches for years. Seto, on the other hand, was going in blind. 

Twenty minutes in, both Seto and Ana were both sitting much straighter than they had been at the start.  He was completely caught off guard by how quickly Ana was able to keep up; not only that, he was actually having to pay attention to the game, forgetting the apple in his other hand.  Their pace slowed as the game progressed, with both taking longer and longer to consider their next move.  Part of the issue Ana had with Seto’s play style was his tendency to improvise when his initial strategy isn’t panning out exactly how he wants it.  With her initial handicap gone, Ana is now playing him at her full capacity.  She is playing like a computer algorithm, trying to always stay one step ahead by analyzing her opponent’s every possible move, weighing in outcome and eliminating the riskier options.  That way, she’s almost universally prepared no matter what strategy they throw at her.

Seto eyes narrowed as he considered his next move.  He’d never encountered anything like this before; Ana played as if she knew what his next move what going to be before he even planned it.  How did she decipher his moves?  With over 1040 ways a chess game can unfold, no way a human can do such astronomical calculations, not even in 10 lifetimes. 

 


 

 

Her neck stiff from hunching over for so long, Ana took a break as they neared the end of the game and looked up from the chessboard.  Waiting for Seto to finish his turn, Ana glanced at her watch, they’ve been at it for an hour already.  Seto's apple now sat on the conference table with only one chunk taken out it.  

‘No wonder he’s so skinny,’ she thought, recounting how he only sipped on some water at exhibition/charity dinner, leaving his dinner untouched.  ‘What if he’s not really a cranky person but is just perpetually hangry?’  She leaned back in her chair as she continued to stare. ‘Maybe he’s suffering from some sort of vitamin deficiency, the man looks like he doesn’t see the sun very much.’ She narrowed her eyes, quickly dismissing that diagnosis as she remembered how nice his skin was. ‘Besides, his hair and nails look fine.’ Ana checked as Seto fiddled with one of the chess pieces between his long slender fingers.  ‘Those muscles though,’ she gawked as her eyes traveled up.  Even though it’s hidden under layers of clothing, she could still see the clearly defined outline of his biceps. ‘How does he get enough protein in his diet if the man never eats? And those abs...’ she continued, visualizing him in his battle city outfit that did nothing to hide this man’s godlike physique.  ‘It can’t be genetic, Mokuba looks nothing like him.  When does he have the time to work out? Is he an android in disguise?’  If so, whoever programmed his voice did an amazing job.  Add his height and his delicious smell, bet girls would love to get Kabedon-ed by him all day long, not she could ever see him doing it tho.  Speaking of girls, how many has he been with?  Ana couldn’t recall coming across any sex scandals related to either of the Kaiba brothers.  Is he a virgin?  Does he have them murdered afterwards?  Or is he just a bad performer?  But he can’t be that bad right?  Because the man is like the perfect definition of big-dick-energy.  Ana licked the corner of her lips as he eyes traveled down south. ‘I wonder…’ 

 


 

 

“Hey Nikolaev. Nikolaev! ANA!”  Ana snapped out of her trance and jerked her head up as Seto shouted her name.  With the most ‘WTF’ expression written on his face; Ana realized what Seto had just caught her doing.  Feeling her cheeks burning, Ana quickly cleared her throat and scrambled to make her move.  ‘Oh shit, oh shit,’ she panicked having lost track of everything over her momentary distraction.  In her flustered state, Ana was unable to focus correctly and slid one of her rooks into the wrong position.  ‘I am so fucked’.  Ana mentally kicked herself, wishing she hadn’t done that.  What the hell had come over her for her to fangirl over him like a total perv? When she’s so close to winning too!  Ana threw off her hoodie angrily as her body temperature shot up from the adrenaline and loosened her hair as she felt the onset of a pressure headache.

 

 


 

After debating between the two possible options he could take, Seto had decided on the riskier route and made his move.  He waited patiently for Ana to take her turn, but after what seemed to be hours, he finally lost his patience he looked up from the game.  What he saw confused the heck out of him. 

Ana was sitting upright but her eyes were fixated on a specific location at the center of his trousers.  She bore an expression that was a mixture between Blackbeard trying to find his lost buried treasures and that of a kid eyeing a piece of candy she was told not to eat.  He quickly looked down and made sure his zippers were done. 

“Hey Nikolaev.” he called, no response.  “Nikolaev!” he called louder as Ana licked her lips seductively.  Unnerved that he’s actually getting turned on by this.  “ANA!” he shouted her first name as a last resort; himself responding to Seto more readily than when he’s addressed as Kaiba.   Her eyes widened as she saw his face and immediately looked back down at the game, her whole body glowing pink.  Seto, on the other hand, recovered quickly, being accustomed to the constant ogling of women around him.  Still, how the hell did he get so turned on just by seeing her lick her supple juicy li-. ‘No, stop thinking about that!’ Feeling his pulse quickening again, Seto blocked out the thoughts and refocused on the match. 

After Ana’s grave mistake with the rook, Seto moved in, preparing for the killshot.  Suddenly, a familiar smell filled the room and he looked up for the second time as Ana yanked her hoodie off and threw it onto the chair beside her.  The citrusy gardenia like scent intensified as she pulled her bun loose and let her long espresso locks fall past her shoulders.  ‘Ladovsky?’....Mom?'  Seto thought, now even more confused than before.

 


 

 

‘I have to do something.’ Ana won’t allow herself to lose this match, she cannot live with herself knowing it wasn’t her lack of skills but her stupidity that had cost her this game. Seto isn’t known for giving people second chances, even if he expects them for himself.  Her eyes darted back and forth around the room, searching desperately for inspiration. After spotting a small blueprint-like drawing tacked onto one of the bulletin boards, her mind immediately thought of the book she had caught Seto reading.  She recalled seeing Seto’s sticky notes plastered throughout the book with a Japanese proverb written on several of them.  ‘It’s a commonly used phrase but what the heck, why not give it a shot.’

“Если вы едите отравленные блюда.” She sighed out loud as she moved her piece.  Seto’s head shot up as she ended her sentence.  “Say that again.” He ordered. “Если вы едите отравленные блюда.” she repeated hesitantly, pretending to be startled by his sudden change in demeanor.  Is she playing some kind of cheap Russian parlor trick on me?’

 

The phrase Ana uttered is the Russian translation of the Japanese proverb 毒食わば皿まで, the equivalent of in for a penny in for a pound.  It was something his mother often used to help motivate herself to continue or to start over whenever she messed up on a dish or a craft.   Seto used this phrase as form of self-motivation on nights he worked from home.  Whenever he felt the urge give up for the night and crawl into his large comfy bed, he would jot this down on a sticky note and place it in whatever project he was working on, a small motivational habit.

 

Running on fumes and being so preoccupied with his thoughts, Seto’s body went into autopilot and played an move that nearly cemented his defeat.  “Check,” Ana said quietly as she moved in her pawn into place, but her declaration was completely ignored by Seto. 

A reminder for his 1:30 meeting suddenly sounded from Seto’s phone and snapped him out of his daze.  With only 5 minutes left to spare, and confident in his inevitable victory, Seto wanted to get this match done and over with.

 

‘Wait,’ he paused as his queen hovered over the chessboard, ‘What happened?’  When did he move his rook?  

4 minutes and 11 seconds. 

‘When did I play this?’ he stared at his misplaced rook incredulously, furious at what he had apparently done.

3 minutes and 23 seconds. 

‘No, I can’t go with my original play, my king is in check. Shit, I haven’t prepared for the meeting yet.’

2 minutes and 18 seconds. 

Seto panicked slightly, while maintaining his usual cool, collected demeanor. He glanced at his watch again.

1 minutes and 52 seconds.

With no time left to think, he somehow managed to return Ana’s check and rose from his seat exactly as his alarm sounded, signaling the end of the match.

“We’re done.” He said, turning and striding out the door, leaving Ana staring at the draw that he managed to produce with his final maneuver.

Chapter Text

The clicking of camera shutters and the shuffling of people greeted the 8 World Chess Championship finalists as they filed into the quiet conference hall.  The commentator did a brief introduction for each player, summarizing their titles and past accolades.  The commentator concluded by announcing the tournament would be conducted elimination style and played consecutively, with a winner to be announced by the end of the day.  A faint applause sounded as the finalists took their seats. 

From viewing previous broadcasts, Ana knew there was no such thing as ringside seating for these types of events.  With little to no audience participation (and silence taken as a literal virtue), chess matches are more commonly televised rather than attended as a live event. The chess masters are always surrounded by a mob of reporters and journalists while whatever little audience was in attendance resorted to viewing the matches from a monitor instead. 

However, the ringside seats Mokuba promised were indeed ringside freaking seats.  The usual horde of people holding cameras and microphones were now replaced by tripods that are either mounted on the table, or planted firmly on the ground.  That had opened up a lot more room for people to sit closer to the ongoing match while not being obstructed by a wall of reporters.

Ana received a text message as she handed the valet her keys.  Mokuba had conveniently forgotten to inform Seto of her attendance today.  In response, she opted to watch from the lobby until it was Seto’s turn instead, not wanting her surprise presence to cause any inconveniences for him.  After waiting for 2 hours, it was finally the last of the heats: Seto Kaiba vs Fabiano Caruana.  Ana seated quietly beside Mokuba as the arbiter announced the start of the match. 

 


 

 

‘Why did I ever think I could’ve beaten him?’ Ana lamented as the two 25-year-old world champions clashed toe to toe against each other.  Thinking back to their own game, Ana was shocked that Seto had somehow ended their match with a draw even after she successfully pulled off the Ladovsky stunt.  Meanwhile, she, the exceptional genius that she is, started with a handicap but still managed to sabotage her own game in the end.  Although technically neither emerged as a winner, Ana knew Seto would’ve totally kicked her butt.  ‘And he didn’t even eat lunch that day!

 

The quiet applause resumed as the names of the 4 quarter finalists were announced.  

During the break, Ana sat transfixed in her seat, stroking her chin while watching the accelerated replays of the heats matches on a large television display.  

Mokuba stood back respectfully as Seto finished his customary rounds of greetings and handshakes before running to greet him.  “Don’t you dare.” Seto warned jokingly, knowing Mokuba always tried to congratulate him at the end of every match, “there’s no cause for celebration.”. 

“Fine then, تهانينا (congratulations)!” Mokuba grinned.  

‘Huh? When did Mokuba learn Arabic?… and why Arabic?’

Seto’s question was suddenly answered as Mokuba pointed towards the direction of a lone figure seated in audience area.  And she was, Ana, one of the few people in the world that knew of Seto’s shortfall on this particular language.  “Why is she here?” Seto questioned sharply. “It was my idea, please don’t be angry with me.” Mokuba pleaded awkwardly, hoping Seto wouldn’t mind his decision; and, like always, Seto let him get away with it.  

The rest of the finals went without a hitch and of course, yet again, Seto emerged victorious.  Ana didn’t clap, but smiled brightly as the president of the organization pronounced Seto the champion of this year’s WCC tournament.  She was genuinely happy for his achievements; obviously, he’s earned it.  Ana’s wounded pride was one thing, but she’s also the one to give credit where credit is due.  

 


 

 

Mokuba followed as Seto was ushered towards the press conference room.  Not wanting to stick around, Ana made her way past the crowd of photographers and interviewer, intending to head straight home.

“Ana?” she turned at the sound of her name.  A handsome young man with dark hair and glasses rushed towards her, “It’s me! Antonio Marchesi! Don’t you remember?” he laughed at her puzzled expression. “Ok, how about Andy from Organic Chem class who sat 2 seats down from you?” “Oh…” Indeed, he is Andy from Organic Chem who sat 2 seats below her.

“You… look different.” “Yeah I lost like 70 pounds.”

The two old schoolmates struck up a conversation as they maneuvered through the lobby.  Turns out, Andy’s brother is the new talent this year and had managed work himself all the way to up to the finals before losing to Kaiba.  Good, she knew that last name sounded familiar.  Andy did basically all of the talking while Ana listened.  She knew he had a thing for her way back in undergrad but she did not share the same feeling in return, ‘aaand this is why.’ she pursed her lips as the young man droned on and on about his new job, his houses, his cars, his expensive wine collection etc...; obviously trying to impress her.  It doesn’t matter if the person is thicc, skinny, tall, short, hairy, bald, rich, or poor, to Ana, annoying is annoying. 

“Andy, I have to go.” Having had enough of her time wasted, Ana stopped his incessant yapping and turned to leave.  “Hey! Who’s your pretty friend?”  Ana groaned as Andy’s brother walked towards them with his squad of bros following behind.  Another round of introductions ensued followed by even more bragging from the Marchesi brothers. ‘You people are insufferable!’ Ana lamented as Marco and Andy Marchesi, literally blocking her path to leave, recounted Macro’s brilliant chess play for the second time.

The door to the press conference opened as the reporters and photographers filed out.  Ana searched for an opportunity to slip away and escape this hell. 

“So hey uh, what’s your number?” Her search was abruptly halted as Marco stepped closer with his phone in hand.  “Sorry I don’t give out my numbers.” Ana said, trying to leave for the third time but was pushed back by Marco, “Ok you need to move asshole.” she shoved back.  “Why not?” he smirked, moving even closer, forcing his phone onto her. “Because no one would ever go out with a loser like you.” A familiar voice rang out.

Marchesi’s squad of people parted as a sneering Seto stepped forward, sporting his shiny new champion’s medal.  'Oh Bless you, you beautiful creature!'  Ana never thought she would be so relieved to see Seto Kaiba in her life; and this time, without Seto’s initiative, Ana pushed through the wall of people and stepped behind him.  “First you stole my championship title now you’re trying to steal my girlfriend Kaiba?” Marco taunted; arms crossed. “Don’t blame me for your incompetence Marchesi.  Besides, we all know I’m better looking than you.”  Ana laughed into her hands as she nodded in agreement. It’s true, Seto IS much better looking. 

“We’re leaving.” Ana gladly followed as Seto marched towards the exit.

 

 

Less apprehensive than before, Ana was about to offer her gratitude but was cut short as Seto silenced her by holding up his hand.  “Save it,” he snapped, “consider this a form of compensation for the fat idiot you beat up.” and with that, Seto slammed his car door close and drove off.  Ana was unsure why she felt so disappointed at his sudden stoniness, but this is Kaiba after all, what did she expect?

As Seto pulled around to leave, a grinning Mokuba gave Ana a slow wink and a huge thumbs up before waving goodbye.  

'What the hell was that for?’ 

Chapter Text

‘What the hell was that for?’

The question echoed through both Seto and Ana’s minds as Mokuba gestured out the window.  Looking behind her, Ana was sure the wink and thumbs up was meant for someone else.  If they were supposed to be “in” on something together, maybe he should’ve clued her in first.

 


 

 

Mokuba’s little stunt had Seto concerned, not about his brother’s blossoming friendship, but rather, he’s suspicious of Ana’s motives.  This stranger emerged into his life only a few weeks ago and already she had somehow manipulated him into firing an employee, chauffering her around, playing chess with her, wasting time to save her her, and even getting seduced by her.  Thankfully, the only thing she had managed to accomplish so far was wasting his time. But Seto had to put his foot down now that she has gotten Mokuba involved.

 “You said she did you a favor, what favor?” Mokuba could tell by the tone of Seto’s voice that he meant business.  Unwilling to risk a lie, Mokuba answered truthfully, “I asked Ana drive me home the night of the charity auction, I forgot Roland wasn’t on the scheduled to drive me and it was already snowing by the time I was done working. She was the only one I saw left in the building.”

“Was she informed of this beforehand?” Seto asked, wondering if that was the reason why Ana went back to Kaiba Corp that night.  “No, I saw her in the parking deck at around 2:00 in the morning.” 

Mokuba’s answer set off an immediate red flag; a whole hour was unaccounted for between the time she was dropped off and the time Mokuba saw her.  Seto took a mental note to have Roland investigate on this matter later.

“Why didn’t you just call me?” he asked sharply, feeling a bit wounded that his own brother would rather risk a ride home with a stranger than to ask his big brother.  “I… I didn’t want to bother you.” Mokuba said quietly, his voice almost fearful. 

“I’m sorry.” Seto muttered, wishing he hadn’t been so harsh with Mokuba just now. 

“There is one more thing I need to tell you. That night, uh, because it was already really late and was it was icing…I had Ana stayed over in one of our guest rooms for the night.”

*Screeeeech*

The Audi skidded across the pavement as Seto slammed down on the breaks.  The citrusy scent, Ladovsky’s book, the chess match… It all makes sense now.  Just what the hell is she playing at?

“Wha, what’s wrong Seto!?” Mokuba’s voice trembled as traffic halted around them, nervous he had finally crossed the line with this one.  Without responding, Seto resumed his driving and picked up his phone.  “Roland, cue up Kaiba Corp’s security footage from last Saturday night and tell Marlina to do the same for the house.”  He then looked sternly at Mokuba, “Stay away from Nikolaev from now on, I don’t trust her.”

 


 

 

The cafeteria was almost empty by the time Ana was able to break for lunch.  Taking her favorite seat by the window, she picked up her chopsticks and opened the bento she had just purchased. Unable to work up an appetite, she closed the lid and laid down her utensils. 

For the first time in a long time, Ana genuinely enjoyed someone’s company, unfortunately it was Seto Kaiba’s. Not only that, she looked forward to seeing him every day, which never happens to her having always grow tired of people by the end of week 1. Albeit a very unconventional friendship by societal standards, but to her, Seto was fast becoming one. To her disappointment, she thinks she has made a mistake.

Ana sat anxiously as she twirled a straw in her hands.  She doesn’t know why it bothered her so much but Mokuba had stopped greeting her and avoided her like the plague.  Seto, on the other hand just ignored her completely, no taunts, no staring contests, nothing; just glares and scowls if interaction is absolutely necessary.  Ana desperately wanted to know if she had done anything wrong but refused to go seek answers or disclose her feelings because she’s too afraid of embarrassing herself.

Not sure how to properly deal with this kind of situation, Ana disappointment devolved into anger and resentment as she over analyzed every single detail.  She considered all of the worst-case scenarios and concluded that: Seto hated her this whole time, she was just too stupid to see it.  And Mokuba was only nice to her so he could convince her to do things for him. 

Ana is aware of how ridiculously overdramatized all this is, but she couldn’t help it. ‘Whatever.’ She snatched up her uneaten lunch box and stormed back to her workstation, reminding herself to stop by the bookstore and pick up a few titles on the psychology of friendship.  

 


 

A solemn Seto sat at the head of the table as his board of directors silently took their seats.  He called in his senior staff members for an emergency meeting, needing their vote regarding an important matter.  

It had come as a surprise when Seto received a report of Kaiba Corp’s difficulties breaking into the Russian market.  With such a vibrant gaming culture and home to some of the best gamers in the world, Russia wasn’t high on his list of markets that would have required aggressive corporate maneuvering to gain a foothold in.  The research team was now suggesting that a strong sense of nationalism was the driving force behind Kaiba Corp’s lack of progress in Russia.  With an economy that is based heavily on the exportation of goods and services, many foreign commercial enterprises had failed in this respect because of the low demand for imports.  To succeed in such a self-reliant economy, Seto needed the backing of the powerful Russian oligarchs. 

The majority vote by Kaiba Corp’s board of director’s supported Seto’s plan to attempt a negotiation with Ivan Krevchanko, the Russian media czar with a monopoly on everything entertainment related.  The business part of it will be easy, as bribery never fails, but convincing the man himself would be more of an issue.  Seto knew persuasion was not one of his better traits (unless it’s through force or threats); this was especially true if he must deal with this xenophobic old bastard.  Sending anyone else in his stead, however, will be looked upon as an insult.

“Mr. Kaiba, what exactly are your planning to do?” Director Ito asked.  Seto dismissed him and signaled for the next question, unwilling to disclose his strategy to his executives.  Unbeknownst to the board of directors, Seto already had a plan in motion, but it was just too risky to discuss it so openly right now.

 


 

 

Hiroka held the door open as the directors funneled out of the conference room.  She greeted Seto as Mokuba joined by her side.  “Mr. Kaiba, Miss Krevchanko has just arrived.” Hiroka announced.  

To rub elbows with the media czar, Ivan Krevchanko, an introduction from within the oligarch’s inner circle was absolutely vital.  Lacking the essential time and resources necessary to network his way in, Seto devised an alternative plan.  Seto had acquainted himself with Alena Krevchanko, Ivan’s youngest daughter, one of the most popular Russian influencers dominating the social media platform.  Seto reached out to her, he was sure she would be the perfect person to get him in touch with her grouchy old man.  And with him being herald as one of the top 10 eligible bachelors in the world, he knew she couldn’t resist him.

Seto acknowledged Hiroka and waved her to the side.  “What’s the status on the Moscow trip?” he asked, re-directing his attention to Mokuba.   “Everything is good to go bro.  The trip is scheduled for 14 days, including the arrival and departure dates.  Lector and Roland will look after Kaiba Corp’s operations while we’re gone, but they’ll have hourly reports sent to us electronically.  Since it’ll be the holidays, I don’t expect our absence will be too much of an issue anyways.”  Mokuba concluded his status report and waited for Seto’s confirmation.

“14 days? I said 8 days max.”  Seto, incensed by the adjustments that were made without his approval, snatched the itinerary out of Mokuba’s hands and read through it quickly.  “Alena’s assistant called earlier and added the 6 extra days.”  Mokuba responded as he himself looked through the extra activities that were added to the list, “shopping, sightseeing, dining out… just the stuff normal couples do.” Mokuba pointed out, “Remember bro, this girl thinks she is bringing you home to meet her the family for the holidays, not to help you work up a business deal with her dad.”

Seto slammed the itinerary on the table and clinched his teeth. 

“Screw it, whatever.  Who else is coming with us?”  At his question, Hiroka handed him a list pf the names and titles of the people that were to form their entourage.  “Fine, whatever.” He grumbled and signed his initial beside each name. 

Seto hesitated as he reached the bottom of the list, eyeing the picture of the last person he was supposed to approve; Ana’s piecing grey eyes looked right back at him as if she’s luring him into another staring contest.  “Did she check out?” he asked, unsure of his decision.  “Yes, Lector contacted both Agent Hause and Agent Xu for a background check and both of them said her record was spotless.” Mokuba answered eagerly, hoping it would ease Seto’s doubts about Ana. “Well, she did get a couple speeding tickets, but they were all dismissed in court.” he added, not wanting to risk omitting any details again.

With such limited free time lately, neither Mokuba nor Seto had had the chance to review the security footage from his home on the night of Ana’s sleepover.  Seto was more concerned with her activities in the Kaiba Corp building once his butler had reported nothing to be stolen or removed from the manor.  The Kaiba Corp footage showed Ana exiting the Urus and heading straight for her workstation.  She then proceeded to work at her desktop for about an hour before shutting down and leaving.  Kaiba Corp’s system verified what he saw by logging her digital activity which matched the timestamp of the footage.  Everything made sense except for her Bentley Bentayga, she had apparently drove to work one day and just left it there until the night of the incident.  That’s one hell of an expensive car for a regular college kid to just leave sitting around. 

“Leave it up to the freaking college intern to be the only one that’s able to speak Japanese, English, Russian, and Arabic fluently.” Seto grumbled, tossing her file aside.

Upon hearing that the Ansaris were planning to visit Moscow during the holidays, Seto thought of the only person he knew that could translate for him efficiently.  With Hiroka unable to tag along because of her child and the more qualified employees on vacation for the upcoming holidays, Ana was the best option he has to a finding a translator slash personal assistant so last minute.  Under any other circumstances, Seto would’ve demanded for his employees to work with no excuses heard, but deep down he is quite a sensitive soul when it comes to spending quality time with family members.

 


 

 

“Enough!” shouted Seto, silencing Hiroka, who had been pleading for him to take the intern.  He has no idea why his senior secretary is so invested in Ana.  ‘Well she did take over for Hiroka that night.’ Seto thought back to the charity auction, ‘and she was able to keep up with me the entire time.’ he reasoned. “Yeah, until her ex showed up.” He groused under his breath, remembering Mikhail’s reaction upon seeing her by his side. 

“Mr. Kaiba?” A young receptionist knocked on the glass door. “What?” “Miss Krevchanko is heading over here sir.”, “I didn’t ask for her to.” “She insisted, sir.” Seto closed his eyes and took a deep breath “I’ll deal with that later.” he said, pointing to Ana’s picture before shoving his chair back and storming out of the conference room. 

Chapter Text

Seto begrudgingly allowed Alena Krevchanko to kiss him goodbye after denying her request to stay the night.  Their evening started off normally, with the typical introductions and pleasantries.  As they progressed through dinner, Seto was surprised to find himself relaxed and enjoying their conversation.  Alena was not only beautiful and polite; she also came off extremely intelligent and charming.  They discussed current affairs, politics, technology, and explored many more topics Seto wasn’t used to discussing with girls he goes on dates with.

En route back to her hotel, “Ooo Ledovsky!” Alena exclaimed, snatching the sketch book that was cushioned between Seto’s e-brake and the driver’s seat.  “Are you familiar with his work?” Seto asked, intrigued by her sudden enthusiasm.  “Oh no, I just saw the Russian last name that’s all.” She laughed, flipping through the book haphazardly, causing some of Seto’s notes to fall loose.  He watched as she swept the notes together with her hands and gather them into a messy pile before hastily stuffed them into the book.

At the site of her manhandling his property so carelessly, Seto turned up the volume in his car to drown out his bubbling fury.  He breathed slowly as the melody of Vivaldi’s concerto in B minor sounded from his speakers, gradually sedating his anger.  From the corner of his eyes, Seto saw Alena flip her hair dramatically, scowling at his dashboard display.  “You don’t like this stuff either huh?” he tested.  “No at all, classical music is so boring and stupid, how could anyone listen to this stuff?” she disapproved, falling into Seto’s trap.  “Ana would.” Seto growled without thinking, louder than he had intended. “Ana who!?” Alena snapped.  ‘Shit, why did I say that for?’ With one hand on the steering wheel, Seto quickly reached out with the other and took Alena’s hands.  “Hmm?” he sounded, feigning ignorance to her question.  No further inquiries followed, just looks of suspicion.

Mokuba greeted them at the hotel, wanting to leave a good impression by personally bidding Alena goodnight.  Right as the brothers readied to take their leave, Alena, however, suddenly grabbed Seto by the arm and pulled him towards her.  “It’s late, would you like to stay the night?” she smiled seductively.  “Uh… Oh Seto! Johnson just called; he needs you back in the office ASAP.” Mokuba shouted, thinking quick on his feet.  Disappointed, Alena quickly planted a kiss on Seto’s lips and waved goodnight.

As they drove home, Mokuba pointed out to Seto that Alene was very nice and charming during their goodbyes. But right as the door was closing, Mokuba caught a glimpse of the Russian heirs chucking her cellphone at her assistant and shouted something degrading.  Seto nodded in response by quickly dismissed it afterwards, not wanting to be caught up in something so petty. 

 


 

 

“Who the fuck is this?” Ana croaked hoarsely into her cell phone; furious at the unknown caller who just interrupted her peaceful slumber.  “You greet your mother with that mouth?” A deep voiced rumbled from the other line. “Kaiba?” “That’s President Kaiba to you, you disrespectful halfwit.”

Ana sat up in her bed and checked her clock; it was 4:30 in the morning.  “I need you to get ready and be outside within 10 minutes.” Seto ordered. Ana peek out her window and confirmed she wasn’t dreaming. Right in front of her apartment was the very same Lamborghini Urus she had rode in previously, with Seto’s familiar silhouette in the back seat.   “I don’t work on Sundays.” she snapped, her unintentional rudeness a side effect of her grogginess.  “If you’re not out of your apartment by 4:40 with a suitcase in hand, mark my words, you will be fired.”. “Like now?”. “NOW!”

Ana scrambled out of bed and sprinted towards her closet.  “Where are we going?” she asked, frantically tetris-ing stuff into her suitcase, “9 minutes.” was all that responded.  Zipping up her suitcase, Ana rushed into her bathroom and grabbed her spare bag of makeup and toiletries.  “How long are we gone for?” “5 minutes.”  Irritated by his lack of help, Ana threw her phone on the bed and freshen up as fast as she could, forgetting to press the [End] button.  At the 2-minute mark, Seto could hear a loud thud followed by her yelping and a symphony composed of the world’s most colorful expletives.  ‘English, German, Chinese, Spanish, Hindi….’ Seto listed as Ana spouted a string of profanities over her speaker.  When she finished, he counted 9 languages total, with a few he was unable to discern. 

With a suitcase in one hand, Ana slung her backpack over the shoulder as she dashed towards the car, limping slightly.  The driver relieved her of the suitcase and stashed it in the trunk as she climbed inside. 

“Ohayōgozaimasu President Kaiba, how are you doing on this fine lovely morning.” Ana greeted sarcastically as she settled next to Seto.  “Good!” The still groggy Ana suffered a mini heart attack as Mokuba popped over the front seat like a crazed jack in the box, his head bobbing up and down. “Settle down Mokuba.” Seto warned ominously as he gave Ana a quick glare.  ‘Geez, somebody needs to get this Blue-Eyed White Asshole a coffee.’  Ana rolled her eyes and buckled herself in.

 


 

 

Seto finally gave in to Mokuba and agreed to take Ana to Moscow with them, but not before having his ears nagged off by his little brother about it.  Mokuba suspected his brother of having a positive impression of Ana and wanted to her with them in Russia to help keep Seto happy (and because he liked being around her as well).  Happy to hear the reluctant “yes” from his Nii-Sama, Mokuba had no idea his incessant pleading had done more harm than good.  Seto didn’t the idea of having Ana tag along, purely because he felt like her presence was forced upon him. 

As they neared her apartment, Seto was shocked to see the area Ana was residing in.  How was she able to afford a two-story condo in the middle of Ginza?  Rich parents? Inheritance from dead rich parents?  But none of that showed up on her background check.  Looking closer at the cars parked in her driveway, Seto saw the Bentley Bentayga he was familiar with, and next to it, an "Aston Martin One-77?!” Mokuba exclaimed, also shocked to see the $3 million-dollar car sitting so casually in Ana's drive way.  Upon closer inspection, Seto noticed a tiny MoSAIC logo stamped on the rear window of the One-77, easily overlookable if one wasn’t paying close attention.  

Livid, Seto’s mind raced as he started piecing all the clues together.  Car, apartment, Mikhail, MoSAIC, the auction dinner… ‘This gold digger has been seeing Mikhail this whole time!’  How else could she afford all of this?  And her refusal to be driven home after the auction dinner?  He would’ve seen Mikhail’s car in her driveway that night, and she would’ve been outed right then and there.  ‘Yes, it all makes sense now!’  

Despite his reservations about Ana’s trustworthiness, Seto never said he didn’t enjoy her as a person.  He thought about their chess match often, of how much challenge she had brought back into his life, how endearing her face was while focusing intently on her moves, how great she smelled, and how tantalizing she looked as she bit down on her luscious pink lips.  And the day she showed up to support him at the Championship; the way she smiled at him; and how angry he got at the Marchesi brothers for knocking her around.

 

At this moment, Seto felt betrayed.

Chapter Text

“I can’t go, my final proposal defense is tomorrow.” Ana protested firmly as Mokuba announced the itinerary for the next two weeks, flabbergasted at their inconsiderateness.  Not only that, if she went, she’d be forced to spend Christmas away from her only family AND she’d be missing his birthday as well.  

“Cancel it.” Seto ordered simply, staring nonchalantly out the window.  

“I can’t, it’s been scheduled for months.”

“I don’t care.”

“If I miss this, I’ll have to wait a whole another year before I can defend again.”

“That’s not my problem.”

“And I’ll miss my brother’s birthday!”

“Too bad.”

Ana paused as the rage that had Bill laid bloody on the design floor started bubbling inside of her. “Let me get this straight,” she said, her voice calm despite her rising anger. “you wake me up at 4 o’clock in the morning, blackmail me into getting in your car, refuse to let me leave, and expects me stick around for two weeks while you wine and dine some rich girl from Russia?” 

Finally turning around to face her, Seto glared “And?” he questioned, looking down at Ana as if she was the dirt beneath his feet.  “Seto I-” Mokuba interrupted but was immediately silenced as Seto threw him a threatening glare; Mokuba had no right to speak on this matter, as he was the one who begged for her to come along; and for that, he must deal with the consequences.

“And if I just leave?”

“You’ll be fired and kicked out of your program.”

Trying to remain cool, Ana breathed deeply.  This can’t be real, she told herself, why is he being such an asshole to her? What had she done?  Realizing there’s no use arguing with the man, Ana took a moment and worked up the courage to do something she absolutely detested, only as a last resort.  

“Please.” She said quietly, the word escaped her mouth awkwardly as her own brain struggled against her pleading.

No response.

Ana’s determination wavered as Seto maintained his silence, humiliated by her momentary weakness.  But Christmas has always held a special place in the sibling’s hearts.  Since the passing of their parents on Christmas eve, Mikhail and Ana had always spent the holiday together as a family, both to commemorate their parents, and as a silent reassurance to each other that they will always have each other’s backs. 

Risk losing more face for the sake of family, Ana let go of her pride as she addressed the man before her earnestly.  “Mr. Kaiba. No. Seto, please.  It’s for my family, Christmas is much more than just a holiday to my brother and I.  It’s….it’s also the anniversary of my parent’s passing. Please don’t do this.  I beg of you, a….as a….” Ana hesitated as she struggled to say her next word. “…as a friend.” she pleaded, trying her best to hold her composure.

 

 

Seto felt a knot forming at the pit of his stomach as Ana implored him to let her go.  His brain was having trouble comprehending Ana’s words. ‘Did…did she just call me Seto? and…her friend?’ a surge of emotions welled up inside him as he tried to make sense of her revelation; Ana had just admitted to returning his unspoken feelings for her. ‘Friend.’ he repeated.  It’s been such a long time since anyone has referred to him as a friend, Seto has no idea what to do with any of this information.  He knew her parents were dead but ‘She has a brother?’ That can’t be, it didn’t show up on any of her background checks.  But the glimmer in her eyes as she spoke of him shone exactly like Mokuba’s whenever he talked about Seto. 

 

No!’ He yelled in his head, reminding himself of her relationship with Mikhail.

Channeling every ounce of his will power, Seto regained control of his emotions.

I’m not going to fall for this, she’s trying to trick me!’ Seto clinched his fists tightly and gathered himself together.

“Friends? With me?” he scoffed, mocking Ana’s sincerity with his loathing glare. “I don’t know what kind of fantasy world you’re living in, but I would never be friends with someone like you.”

Ana’s felt though as if his words had just punched her in the chest.  Seto hesitated as Ana gazed up at him dolefully, and he could tell she was deeply hurt by what he had just said.  But it was too late to go back on his words now.

“But keep on begging though, it suits you.  Did you learn that from your brother and dead parents as well?”

 

Mokuba watched with trepidation as Ana’s face went dark.  Her eyes suddenly expressionless as she stared lifelessly at them, a like mannequin head on display. 

“S…Seto? Ana?” Mokuba asked cautiously, completely dumbfounded by what had the hostile exchange that had just transpired before him. 

“I’m sorry for the interruption Mr. Kaiba,” the driver announced, “but we’ve arrived.”

 


 

The brothers boarded their private jet with Ana trailing close behind.  Alena greeted them eagerly with smiles and kisses but stopped as the broodingly beautiful girl followed them through the door.  “Who is this, my darling?” she smiled, lagging onto Seto’s arms, but her eyes narrowed viciously. “Does it matter?” he huffed, walking away towards the lounge.  Taking this as a sign of Ana’s unimportance, Alena lips form a malevolent smile as she darted Ana a venomous glare, taking care to make sure Seto didn’t see.

 

Ana sat near the edge of the lounge as the plane took off.  There were quite a few people seated on the flight, most of them part of Alena’s entourage. Mokuba took the seat directly opposite of hers as she opened her laptop.  “Ana?” he asked quietly, she looked up him without speaking, her smile was warm, but her eyes were cold.  “Are you ok?” he continued, his voice quivering slightly from nervousness.  Ana nodded, but her smile remained plastic.

“Mokuba! Come join us!” Alena’s friend ran over and tugged on his arm.  “Sorry, I’m busy at the moment.” he answered awkwardly, trying to brush the girl off.  “With her?” the girl squawked, sounding rather insulted by his answer.  Ana’s eyes traveled up slowly as Alena’s friend continued to pester Mokuba; the attractive blonde girl leered back at her as she waved around her a diamond encrusted phone in her hands.  Ana was sure she’d seen her before, probably one of Mikhail’s one-night stands.  “Sorry Tatiana, I’ll be over soon.” Mokuba sighed. “Ok! Join us soon! I want you on my snapchat.” Ana resumed to her work as the pretty blond winked at Mokuba and returned to her group friends.   Having been around enough of those spoiled rich brats, Ana wasn’t even marginally bothered by her prissy attitude. 

 

“Do you guys see what she’s wearing?” “Let me guess, she shops at Wal-Mart.” one of the girls drawled, making fun of Ana’s Americanized accent. “She doesn’t even own a purse.” “Hey Sasha, that’s not nice, she’s poor.” fits of giggles erupted from the back corner as the girls mocked Ana.  Through her headphones, Ana could hear snippets of their conversation as the girls chatted away in Russian. Unbothered, she turned up her volume as the dulcet lyrics of the renowned wordsmith Slim Shady drowned them out with his angsty rhythms.  Seto tended to his morning emails and tried to ignore them as well, but their nasty little comments did not go unnoticed to him. 

Mokuba frowned, having finally been clued in on what’s happening.  So what if Ana isn’t wearing designer clothes or expensive jewelry? She totally exceeded his expectations for someone who only had 10 minutes to get ready. ‘At least she looks good regardless of what she’s wearing.’ Mokuba thought bitterly as he sauntered over to the group of girls, hoping his presence would put an end to their snide little tirades.

Seto would’ve agreed. Plus, being an avid techie, Seto knew the gear Ana was carrying with her was worth more than any of their outfits combined; her laptop alone had to have cost more than $350,000; her headphones are at least $100,000; and her tablet probably retailed around $75,000; all of her stuff are obviously custom handmade by some of the most exclusive electronics builders in the world.  ‘But it’s Scholtz’s money.’ Seto fumed, knowing who probably bought her everything.

  


 

 

“….Mikhail Scholtz!....” Ana snatched away her headphone as her brother’s name being shouted out loud.   “What kind of half-breed idiot has a Russian first name and a German last name?” Following the sound of the earsplitting giggle, Ana’s eyes narrowed as she spotted Seto perched in the center of the lounge, Alena talking loudly as she cozied up by his side.  Her group friends scattered around them like courtiers, vying for the attention of the King and Queen.

“Why not just call yourself Michael? Mikhail?” the girls giggled as they followed her lead mindlessly.  Seto sniggered, obviously enjoying Alena’s mockery of Ana’s brother.

 

As Alena leaned her head against Seto’s shoulders, Ana’s memories of her suddenly clicked.  She now recalled walking in on a passed out naked Alena in her own bed at home months ago.  Mikhail had brought her home for a one-night stand but refused to date her after finding out she was screwing his friends behind his back.  This bitch is STILL bitter about that?

 

“Oh, and let me tell you guys,” the blond from earlier suddenly whispered dramatically, waving everyone in.  “I’ve seen his thing,” She leaned in closer, “and it’s dismal.” she held out her pinky for everyone to see. 

The stylus in Ana’s hand snapped as the people around her roared with laughter.  Mikhail may be a shameless playboy, but he has always been an absolute gentleman about it.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a one-night stand or a long-term relationship, he never divulged any of his partner’s secrets, not even to his sister, let along speak so derogatorily of them.  ‘Dismal my ass.’  Ana was sure she’s heard Tatiana scream bloody murder about Mikhail’s Russian Stallion while getting railed by him one night.  Taking a mental note to warn Mikhail about sleeping around too much, Ana replaced her headphones and forced herself to refocus on her work. 

Seto glanced over as Ana peeled her eyes away from them, the broken pieces of the stylus falling from her hands.  He continued to watch as Ana held her fingers to her mouth, legs shaking and breathing slowly.  ‘So she does care about that bastard.’  Seto seethed, a feeling of jealousy washed over him. 

  


 

 

Unlike her friends, Alena was much cleverer and more discrete with her bullying.  So accustomed to being the most intelligent, attractive, and wealthy girl in the room, the social media queen couldn’t help but feel resentment towards Ana, whom she found to possess more refined beauty than herself. 

Alena knew openly making fun of Ana would make her look bad, so she took to circling around the lounge and introduced herself to Seto’s staff members.  She stopped as she reached Ana’s booth and sat across from her like Mokuba did previously. “Hello, I’m Alena, what’s your name?”  Ana’s eye twitched as Alena flashed her a phony saccharin smile. “Ana.” she answered simply.  At the sound her name, Alena’s eyes widened and glanced over at Seto, could this be the girl he spoke of in the car that night?  “Oh… ok.” Alena nodded knowingly, her eyes becoming cold.  

“So,” she continued, looking back at Ana “how do you like your flight so far? Much better than flying commercial huh?” Alena giggled facetiously, grabbing Ana’s hands like they’re some sort of best friends. “Indeed.” Ana responded blandly, playing along.  “Your v-neck is so cute, where did you get it from?” “Walmart.”

Alena pursed her lips, unsure of how to proceed as the young girl sat undauntingly before her.  While Alena considered her next move, the flight attendants filed into the lounge and distributed breakfast menus to everyone.

“Oh! Let me help you!” Alena moved across the table and forcibly sat in Ana’s booth.  She laid her menu down in front of them and pointed her finger to each item.  “This is keesh (quiche), it’s sort of like an eggy pie; this is crape (crêpe), it’s basically a sugary flat pancake; and this is a soo-flei (soufflé)…” Alena pronounced every item slowly, her tone deliberately mocking Ana as if she was some kind of a peasant toddler. “…but the best scones I’ve ever had are from Le Méridien in Monaco, have you ever been?” Alena finished with a smirk, knowing Ana could never afford a meal at the 3 Michelin start restaurant. “Never.” Ana answered insipidly and with zero appetite, proceeded to hand back the menu as she thanked the flight attendant. 

A little unnerved by Ana’s unhinged attitude, Alena upped her antagonization.  “And what do you do at Kaiba Corp.” she emphasized, her tone becoming more derisive.  

“I’m President Kaiba’s personal assistant, didn’t he tell you?” Ana announced, knowing her answer would irk the already seething Alena.  “but what do you do?” she continued, her tone jabbing.  “I don’t see much assisting done.” The czarina snapped, unable to contain her anger any longer.  “I will assist President Kaiba when it’s necessary.” Ana answered coolly, looking over at her boss expectantly but Seto ignored her out of spite.  “Seems like the President is in a charitable mood today.” Ana continued mockingly.  “But of course, I will be there to assist him when he needs me to.” She repeated, returning Alena’s saccharine smile.


Chapter Text

Moscow at night sparkled like an enchanted forest as the city flickered with millions of festive fairy lights. Everywhere Ana looked, trees and building alike dazzled, draped in colorful garlands and streamers.  Ana meandered slowly through the almost empty city streets, leaving a trail of footprints in the freshly fallen snow; savoring her moment of peace after the hellish plane ride.  The clock tower chimed loudly from the city square, signaling the end of another workday for the locals, prompting Ana to quicken her pace.

“добрый вечер Aна, Здесь для некоторого шоколада? (good evening Ana, here for some chocolates)?” An elderly lady shouted gleefully as Ana jogged towards her stall.  “Добрый вечер, бабушка Петрова, как обычно, пожалуйста. (good evening grandma Petrov, the usual please).” Ana returned her greeting with a quick kiss on the cheek. 

Having family traditions had never been a thing in the Nikolaev family.  That being said, Ana clung onto one sacred rule; Christmas wouldn’t be complete without having Grandma Petrov’s desserts after dinner.  She never had the chance to discuss the origins of this tradition with her parents before their passing, but she was sure it had something to do with her father’s Russian heritage.

The smiling babushka pardoned herself for a moment and returned with a box of her special chocolates, Turkish delights, and many other traditional Russian dessert items.  “Я приготовил это для тебя и Миши (I prepared it just for you and Misha).” she beamed, enthusiastically shoving the carefully wrapped box into Ana’s arms.  “Нет (No)!” she said firmly, shaking her head as Ana took out her wallet.  A few years ago, an unfortunate accident had caused Grandma Petrov’s house/shop duplex to burn completely, destroying all of her family’s belongings.  Having always considered her more of a surrogate grandmotherly figure, the Nikolaev siblings fully financed Grandma Petrov and her family a brand-new home and sweets shop.  Ever since then, the kindly grandmother had refused any form of payments from them and would bake a giant box of delicious holiday treats for them whenever Christmas neared. 

Ana accepted the baked goods graciously and bid the old woman good night.  She held on tightly as she made her way back to the hotel, taking special care to not slip on the snow-covered streets.  Thinking about how excited Mikhail was going to be for this year’s goodies, Ana’s mood dropped abruptly as she deliberated on how she was going to break the news of her absence to him.  Not wanting to face the inevitable, Ana turned the corner and decided to take the longer route back.

 


 

 

Seto sat alone in the hotel lobby as other guests gradually retreated to their rooms for the night.  He gazed lazily out of the floor to ceiling window as he admired the breathtaking view of the city, savoring the quiet serenity of the now fully emptied lobby lounge.  

Despite the witching hour rapidly approaching, Seto couldn’t sleep, not with so much on his mind. 

First, he was quite ill prepared for his meeting with the Russian oligarch Ivan Krevchanko tomorrow morning, which had been rescheduled to occur much sooner than he had anticipated. Second, after unwittingly listened in on one of Alena’s phone conversations with her father, Seto could tell Ivan was quite unhappy about their meeting, loudly expressing his apprehension of having to entertain yet another one of Alena’s new boyfriends.  On top of all that, the valuable time Seto had set aside to prepare for his upcoming Duel Disk X unveiling had been stolen from him after Alena added the 6 extra days to their trip without his knowledge.

Resting his elbow on the armrest, Seto closed his eyes momentarily and leaned his head against his knuckles.  Straining to stay awake as he forced himself to work, he eventually gave into temptation as exhaustion forced him into a desperately needed slumber.

Some time had passed before a hand took Seto by the shoulder and gently shook him awake.  Blinking, Ana’s familiar features came into focus as his own eyes adjusted to the lobby’s scintillating surroundings.  “You’ll catch a cold.” her soothing voice sighed as she picked up his laptop and tugged his arm softly. The faint chimes of a grandfather clock could be heard echoing from the entrance lobby, announcing the time to be 5 o’clock. 

“I don’t need your help.” He snapped, pulling Ana away by her hand, nearly knocking the box of sweets out from under her arms.  Snowflakes fell from her head as Ana bent over to keep balance, the frozen white crystals contrasted sharply against her dark espresso curls.   She shuddered slightly as Seto curled his hands around her own, rescuing her once again from the cold.  The sudden warmth thawed her icicle like fingers which were stinging with pain just a few seconds ago.   Was it intentional on Seto’s part??  Or was he just too tired to realize what he was doing?  Regardless, Ana’s mittenless hands were quickly released as Seto’s eyes caught the Christmas sticker that was affixed to the box, the inscription reading: [For Ana and Misha, Merry Christmas].

“Who is Misha?” Seto asked bitterly, still harboring resentment against her and automatically assuming the worst.  Hearing only crickets, Seto mistook Ana’s silence as an admission of guilt,  an unfortunate assumption since Ana was simply busy contemplating a satisfactory answer for him.  Without hearing her answer, Seto stormed off towards the elevators.

 

With his laptop still in her hands, Ana chased after Seto. They stood in silence as the elevator started moving, taking what felt to be an eternity longer than usual to reach the top floor.  Surrounded by reflective wall panels, Seto scowled as he observed Ana becoming increasingly despondent as they ascended.  Having never felt this way towards anyone before, Seto suppressed his urge to vocalize these concerns to her; taking such action felt too foreign for an elitist such as himself to do.  Seto hated how much he had allowed Ana to fill and control his thoughts and emotions, thinking that perhaps putting some distance between them would help liberate his mind.  Looking away, Seto forced himself to plan for tomorrow’s work instead, leaving Ana to steep in her silence. 

 


 

 

Once they had reached the top landing, the laptop was abruptly snatched out of Ana’s still frozen hands, and without so much as a thank you she was elbowed aside as Seto unlocked the doors to his presidential suite.  “Good night, Mr. Kaiba.” Ana uttered, an autonomous action at this point, just as Seto slammed the door in her face. 

Ana stood in the hot shower as she mulled over what had transpired the day before.  If the trip had taught her anything so far, it was to expect nothing but hell for the next two weeks.  Now that her personal affairs had been all screwed up, it didn’t help that Alena had been nothing but downright nasty to her from the beginning. Unable to ignore or walk away from her, the prissy heiress’s humiliating comments bothered Ana far more than usual, her preferred solutions having been rendered unrealistic in this situation.  This whole shitshow bothered her; she never took Seto for someone who would tolerate the “mean-girl” stereotypes, let alone date one. Recalling how Seto admonished her for her “unprovoked” rudeness towards Alena, Ana understood it was an indirect order for her to suffer in silence.  Yet, despite his callousness, Ana couldn’t let Seto sleep in an open lobby, while having not the slightest idea of why she felt compelled to do so. 

 


 

Ana could swear that Seto’s precious Egyptian gods were set on punishing her as she answered a frantic knock at her door.  Jenny, a recently promoted secretary acting as Hiroka’s temporary replacement, barged into Ana’s room and flung a pile of Seto’s clothes onto her bed.  “I don’t know what to do Ana.” she bit her nails nervously, pacing around the room.  In bits and pieces, Jenny to explained how a drunken Tatiana has somehow managed to spill something onto one of Seto’s luggage bags, dirtying his entire stash of business suits.  Normally, something like this would have been easily resolved by a quick visit to the local shops, but the inexperienced Jenny was unable to locate such resources so deep into the night.  “He’s meeting Ivan Krevchanko in less than 4 hours; He said he’ll fire me if I can’t resolve this by morning.” “But this isn’t your fault.” Ana frowned, thinking she wouldn’t have panicked like this if she was in Jenny’s position.  “Do you think Mr. Kaiba cares about whose fault it is?” 

Honestly? “No.” Ana sighed. As his assistant, the hopelessly unreasonable Seto would probably blame her for this too.  At her suggestion to go and wake Seto, Jenny hastily waved her hands in protest. 

“No! Hiroka warned me to never do that unless absolutely necessary, Mr. Kaiba hates having his sleep interrupted.”

‘Well ain’t that a bitch.’ The compassion Ana felt towards Seto earlier slowly dissipating, remembering how he had woken her so unceremoniously just the day before. Now she must sacrifice yet another night of sleep while he gets to nap in peace just down the hall.

Entering crisis mode, Ana instructed Jenny to get some rest as she pushed her out the door, “I got this, just know you own me own one.”  Ana closed the door forcefully; she knew having Jenny’s jittery ass around will just make things more difficult for the both of them.  

Under such a time crunch, Ana knew there was no time to procure a whole new outfit, let alone one tailored to Seto’s size.  Picking out the least soiled of the bunch, Ana dialed the concierge and inquired about the hotel’s laundry services.  “I’m sorry ma’am. Indeed, our facility does offer emergency laundry services, but I’m afraid we are not equipped to comfortably handle this kind of expensive custom-made items.”  

Ana browsed through the rest of Seto’s luggage and was miffed by the fact that every single one of his outfits seemed to cost at least $20,000.  With his hands tied, the concierge offered Ana an alternative solution; the hotel would provide any cleaning services necessary as long as Ana was the one who provided specific cleaning instructions.  “I can send our head laundry supervisor to your room with supplies and the waiver if you would like.”  With now less than 3 hours to spare, Ana took the risk, hoping that between her and the supervisor they would be able to figure out how to clean the suit without damaging the fabric.

 


 

 

“Sir, Madam, your breakfast.” The waiter placed an assortment of breakfast items on table as Alena took a seat across from Seto.  “I’m so sorry about last night.” she smiled apologetically as she sipped on her coffee, completely embarrassed by Tatiana’s accident.  “It’s fine.” he answered, but his sullen expression did not match his answer. 

As they finished their breakfast, a small knocked sounded at the door as Ana walked into the breakfast room with Seto’s Dormeuil Vanquish II suit in her hands. Mumbling some generic greeting to the two lovebirds, Ana strolled past them without looking and headed to the master bedroom suite.  She could hear Alena scoffing about something behind her, but she was too worn-out to care.

“Are you deaf?” Seto asked as he walked in behind her, arms cross.  “Only when you talk like a mute.” She replied, having no clue the hell he’s yabbering about.  In truth Seto didn’t say anything to Ana beforehand, he just enjoyed watching her get so bothered by his deliberate annoyances.  Before, he could respond, Alena butted in with a lame joke of her own, ruining a perfectly good comeback had Seto prepared.

Angry Seto didn’t find her funny, Alena wrenched the sparkling clean suit out of Ana’s hands and hung it next to her enormous collection of couture dresses.  Ana winced as the burn on her finger grazing the edge of a hanger.  Holding herself still for a few seconds, Ana closed her eyes and suppress her impulse to cry out as a shock of pain shot up her arm.  Ignoring them, Ana took a seat in the living room, closing her eyes for a moment of rest.

“Thank you.” Ana’s catnap was disrupted as she heard Seto’s voice next to her.  Thinking he was addressing her, she looked up but realized he was only thanking Alena for adjusting his tie.  Upset and sick of this thankless job, the worn-out Ana moped in the corner, wondering how long much more she can tolerate more before she finally gives up.

 

 

Chapter Text

The initial meeting with Ivan Krevchanko went as expected, with the old man receiving Seto begrudgingly as his daughter jabbered on about nothing.  “Daddy, please say something.” She ordered playfully, as her father eyed Seto with disapproval.  Distrustful of their sudden budding romance, Ivan didn’t think much of their relationship but respectfully chatted away, not wanting his daughter to lose face.  Ivan was no novice when it comes to his daughter’s boyfriends; his years of practice in the business had trained him to sniff out people who he suspected of having ulterior motives.

At around 11:00AM, Ivan Krevchanko’s mood lit up considerably as his business protégée joined them for a visit.  Standing up to greet the sharply dressed dirty blonde, Ivan smiled proudly as he made introductions, “Kaiba, this brilliant young man here is my protégée Aleksei Vasiliev, the man who is to be the successor of my empire one day.”  Alex smiled charmingly as he and Seto shook hands.  Seto should’ve known the conservative Krevchanko would’ve never allowed his daughters to take over his media empire; after all, tradition dictated that the oligarchs to pass down their businesses to male heirs only.   

“I believe we’ve met before.” Alex mused as Alena rushed past Seto and hugged him excitedly, “at the charity auction.” Alex finished as he quickly returned Alena’s hug with much less enthusiasm. “I believe so.” Seto said coolly as Alex’s eyes darted curiously between him and Alena. 

 “I think that’s enough for today.” Ivan suddenly interrupted, wanting no more of his time wasted with more useless chatter. “You may leave,” he waved dismissively at Seto, before turning to his daughter, “Alena, I need to talk to you” Ivan looked sternly at his daughter as she followed him out of the guest room, fully intent on giving Alena a good lecture about her overly promiscuous behavior.

 

Outraged that he was dismissed so unceremoniously, Seto stormed out of the Krevchanko’s great room and sat quietly in the backseat of his limo as he waited for Alena.   “I know, I’m really sorry.”  Ana’s voice came within his earshot as she paced slowly with her phone glued to her ear. “I’ll make it up to you I promise, I’ll even save all of grandma Petrov’s treats for you.” Ana laughed as the person on her other line made a joke of some sort.  “Ok, alright, love you bye.” Her smiled faded as she hung up the phone.

“Hey Ana! What on god's earth are you doing here?” Alex sprinted over and hugged Ana tightly, acting much friendlier than he was with Alena, with Seto watching in bewilderment.  “Alex!” Ana greeted, a wide smile returning to her face. 

“Misha texted me just now, he says you’re not going home for Christmas this year.” As they struck up a conversation, Seto sat back quietly, his brow furrowing as he listened. ‘So she does have a brother named Misha.’ he thought, recanting his hasty assumption of their relationship from last night.  “What happened here?” Alex questioned as he carefully lifted Ana’s hand, addressing the circular red mark on her left ring finger.   “I burned it while doing wifely duties last night.”, “Yeah right, be honest, were you soldering stuff you shouldn’t again?”, “I was ironing a suit, and who the hell told you about the soldering incident!?”

The gratitude Seto felt as he looked down at his sharply pressed suit transformed into rage as he watched Ana grin at the man in front of her; a puppyish smile she had never shown him before. 'Dammit, stop touching her!’ Seto thought angrily Alex brushed a strand of hair out of Ana’s face

“It’s shaped like an oval-cut ruby," Alex mused as he held onto Ana’s delicate fingers, examining her burn up close. "is that my hint?” he teased, an obvious joke about an engagement ring.  With the tip of her tongue lingering by the corner of her lips, Ana narrowed her eyes seductively and pulled Alex in by his tie.  

At this sight of this {}Seto hastily straightened himself in the backseat and leaned in towards the window, his eyes tracing Ana's lips as she whispered inches away from Alex's face, "What more hints do you need?".  Her lips puckered slightly as she dragged her hands down, pulling Alex in for a kiss.  Strange it may appear to be, this was nothing but an inside joke between them; something they would do to deliberately annoy Mikhail.  "Smooth, but next time but don't pull on my tie, you're choking me." Alex whispered back as he grabbed Ana's hands, his response undetected by Seto as he was busy glaring at Ana.

From his own recollections, Seto couldn't recall seeing Ana exhibit any sort of friendliness toward her male co-workers (or anyone else for that matter) besides himself.  Being so used to having a monopoly on Ana's attention, a surge of anger flashed through Seto as he watched her act so affectionately to another man of her own free will.  Seto's shaking hands hastily reached for the window switch. He had never been one to share, and he had no plans to start now.

But before he could press the switch however, Alena’s voice rang out of nowhere, her tone much nastier than usual.

“You know this broad Alex?”  Alena glared as she stormed towards them.

‘Oh god, fuck off for once!’  Sick of Alena’s bullshit, Ana jumped ahead and answered before Alex could respond, “No he doesn’t.” she replied politely, not wanting to exacerbate the situation any further.  “Then learn to keep your hands to yourself, slut.” Alena hissed under her breath as she pushed between them and yanked open the car door. “S..Seto!” her voice stuttered as she realized he was watching them this entire time, mistaking his livid appearance for her ‘slut’ comment towards Ana.

With jealousy coursing through his veins, Seto responded the only way he knew how, “That’s right Nikolaev, stop acting like a whore, isn’t doing one billionaire enough?” Wanting her attention and wanting to show Alex up, Seto tried to play his insult off as an agreement to Alena. In truth, he had secretly hoped to provoke Ana into one of their usual friendly banters, something he had been missing dearly for the past few miserable days.  But, with nothing but scowls from Ana, he was treated to another bout of silence by her instead.

“Who the hell are you talking to?” Alex snapped. No one had ever spoken so derogatorily to his best friend’s little sister before.  “Let it go.” Ana whispered under her breath as Alena got into the car with Seto, who made no attempts to acknowledge her as she climbed into the seat beside him. “Apologies Vasiliev, my employees are usually much more well trained than this.  I will make sure Nikolaev suffer the consequences for wasting your time.” Seto smirked, ignoring his questions. 

Respecting Ana’s wishes, Alex said nothing as he glared at the seated couple. “Kaiba.” He nodded curtly. “Vasiliev.” Seto mimicked the same gesture as Alena slammed close the door.

 


 

Insisting on a tour of Moscow, Alena walked side by side with Seto as they meandered through the gorgeous city.  Not wanting to jeopardize his chances with Ivan, Seto feigned interest as Alena blathered away, acting as their tour guide.  But even the fascinating history and the vibrant architecture couldn’t distract Seto from thinking about Ana, who was tired and hungry and struggling to keep pace behind them.

‘Why her?’ Ana thought bitterly as she typed away on her screen, trying to explain the situation to a fuming Alex.  Finally looking up from her phone, Ana balled her uninjured hand into a fist as the Seto and Alena linked arms before her, seemingly enjoying each other’s company. 

He had enjoyed his time with her too, didn’t he?  ‘Not really.’ She recalled, considering how Seto never cracked a smile except to mock her.  ‘Forget it, he pretty much admitted to hating you.’ Ana shook her head as she followed behind, upset at her lack of willpower to defend herself and to keep him out of her mind. 

 

As the day progressed, the shadow under Ana’s eyes grew darker and darker, a telltale sign that she had gone the last 38 hours without sleep. Additionally, Seto couldn't recall seeing Ana eat anything during that time either.  By dinner time, Ana’s voice sounded much weaker than usual as she catered to Alena’s many ridiculous demands.  Despite his bitterness towards her, Seto was concerned for Ana’s famished state, but felt powerless to do anything about it as Alena had stuck to him like a barnacle all evening. ‘Where is Mokuba when you need him?’ Seto groaned internally, knowing full well Mokuba was busy coordinating with Roland in running Kaiba Corp during his absence.   

 


 

 

Back at the hotel and having finally gotten rid of Alena for the night, Seto called Ana into his dining room as room service dropped off some dinner.  As a butler lifted the cloche, Ana narrowed her eyes in disbelief ‘What the?’ Ana was not sure if it was a coincidence or Seto had done a lot more research on her than she had expected; more than half of the items set before Ana were some of her absolute favorite foods.  “Stop acting like a brat and eat something.” Seto ordered firmly, aggravated that she had chosen to starve herself. 

Confused by Seto’s sudden generosity and thoughtfulness, Ana wasn’t sure if she should be creeped out, impressed, or grateful.  “I’m not hungry.” Ana answered defiantly, still unable to muster up an appetite for the past 2 days; although the ice cream looked very tempting.

Infuriated by her disobedience and her gallingly unyielding attitude, Seto growled as he rounded on Ana.  “Why are you so damn stubborn?” he barked, exasperated at her mulishness, but also out of genuine concern for her health. 

Ana, however, wasn't buying it and look at him coolly, “Why do you care?” she snapped back.

‘Why DO I care?’ Unable to answer this question for himself, Seto gave Ana one last chance.  “If you don’t eat something within the next minute, you will be fired.”  Being so accustomed to hearing this and having him never follow through, Ana was no longer scared of Seto’s empty threats.  

“Go ahead, fire me.”  

“Fine then! Starve!” Giving up, Seto shouted as he stormed out of the room and slammed the door close behind him. wondering why he ever bothered.

Chapter Text

The debilitating Russian winter plus the strict schedule she was forced to adhere to is not exactly her idea of a relaxing holiday.  Unaccustomed to being ordered around like a lowly servant, Ana stared at her half-packed suitcase, debating if she should drop Kaiba Corp and redo her internship with MoSAIC instead.  ‘But that’ll just set me back even further.’ She yawned as she closed her laptop, giving serious consideration to provide a generous “donation” (ahem, bribery), to expedite her PhD instead.

The unpleasant company Ana is forced to keep isn’t helping either.  Just last night, she witnessed the budding socialite roping Seto into a conversation by bringing up his chess matches and her interest in them.  The interaction bothered Ana deeply as she watched Alena’s exaggerated reactions while Seto taught her the rules of the game; a ridiculous notion since you can just freaking google the rules yourself.  On top of that, Ana’s almost insatiable need to answer her curiosities meant Seto’s perplexing behavior was driving her into a state of paranoia; one minute he’s offering her her favorite foods, another minute he’s chewing her out for no reason.  Why?? ‘You could just ask.’ She thought, but being so unsure of Seto’s opinion of her, Ana didn’t want to take the risk.

Suddenly, an alarm sounded from Ana’s phone, it was her turn to be on “guard duty”.  Taking over for Jenny, Ana took her seat in the living room of Seto’s suite, ready on standby to receive Mr. Kaiba’s orders. 

It’s boring to just wait around as someone’s beck and call.  To keep herself occupied, Ana opened her novel and pulled out a stack of sheet music from her folder.  She glanced back and forth between Nietzsche’s book, Also sprach Zarathustra, and the accompanying orchestral composition by Strauss; herself attempting to transcribe Strauss’s composition from woodwind to string instruments.

 “That’s wrong.” Ana’s pencil stopped moving as Seto’s voice sounded behind her, his pensive eyes remained transfixed to her papers as she turned around to face him.  “Which part?” she asked.  “The articulation for the Von der Wissenschaft chapter should be more legato.” Seto corrected as he leaned over to trace his fingers across the music notes, his tone of voice devoid of his usual coldness.  ‘Oh shoot, he’s right.’ Ana furrowed her brows.  “How would you write it then?” she asked abrasively as she handed Seto the music score and the pencil.  He pushed it away lightly “Figure it out yourself, moron.”  He said with a scowl, although his eyes remained fixed on the paper.  “By the way, have dinner ready in 20 minutes.” His voice trailed off as he turned away and returned to work. 

‘Why does he keep doing that?’ Ana looked on confusedly as she mused over Seto’s critique, bouncing her pencil up and down on her thigh.  Why does he always sour a good conversation or a fun challenge with this stupid acrid attitude of his?  ‘Ugh I’m at fault too I guess.’ Ana sighed, recalling her overly aggressive tone when she demanded what he meant by more legato. 

Well, how does she herself respond whenever he barks something antagonistic at her? ‘With hostility or indifference.’ Ana sighed to herself.  If Seto is anything like her, expecting him to be expressive with his feelings would be an impossibility.

‘Shit, he even treats Mokuba the same way.’ Ana knew that despite his coldness towards his little brother, Seto wouldn’t hesitate to take a bullet for Mokuba.  ‘That must suck.’ She thought.  Everyone misinterprets his superficial detachment for genuine cold-hearted ness, no wonder why he doesn’t have any friends. ‘Pot calling the kettle black’. Ana smirked. 

Thinking she has finally solved the mystery, Ana next tried to rationalize each and every single one of Seto’s negative interactions with her.  ‘Ok, so maybe he really wanted me to come along to Russia but instead of telling me, he just threatened me instead.  And after the championship chess match, he was probably too embarrassed to acknowledge how he defended me, so he drove off…’

‘Enough about him, what about me?’  Ana exhaled deeply as she forced a confession out of herself. 

‘I like him.’

Despite his callousness, Ana always ends up cheering and caring for Seto.  Regardless if the feeling is platonic or romantic, she really liked being around the unbearable jerk. 

 


 

 

‘Oh shit! Dinner!’ being so engrossed in her thoughts, Ana had totally forgot to call for room service.  Thankfully, the kitchen staff had already started prepped Seto’s dinner in anticipation. “It’s no problem Ms. Nikolaev, Mr. Kaiba has been ordering the same dish for the last few years whenever he’s visited us, we’re used to his schedule by now.” The maitre d' reassured Ana, “The… same dish every time?” her incredulous voice elicited a small chuckle from the other line. “Yes, every time.”  Ana never knew this weird quirk about her boss since it was normally Jenny’s job to get dinner ready. 

“What about dessert?” Ana questioned, “He never orders them.” “I see, thank you Mr. Volkov.”

 

‘That’s weird…’, Ana thought as she hung up the phone, always taking Seto for a secret sugar fiend.  His constant bouts of headaches, having energy despite skipping meals all the time, his weird mood swings…  Ana smiled deviously as an experiment brewed in her mind.

 


 

 

“Mr. Kaiba dinner is ready.” Jenny announced from the doorway, “Where is Ana?” Seto snapped as he capped his pen and closed his laptop.  Despite his annoyance with Ana’s apparent flirtatious attitude towards other men, after days of superficial interactions with the Russian socialite, Seto was yearning for some good conversation on a topic that wasn’t in of Alena’s choosing.   Discussing literature and music theory with Ana over dinner would’ve been the perfect antidote to his now mundane and stressful life.  Shit, he’d rather be playing chess with Ana than having to constantly teach Alena about something he was sure she had no interest in.

 

“Uh, Ms. Alena is still out shopping with Mr. Mokuba sir.” thinking she had misheard him, Jenny stammered.  Kaiba never refer to his employees by their first names, there’s no way he just called Ana by her’s.   “I asked for An-. Nevermind.” Seto sighed as he walked over to his lone dinner.  To his surprise, Seto spotted the book and music sheets Ana had left behind.  Dismissing Jenny from his suite, Seto gathered Ana’s works on the dinning room table and flipped through each page of her unfinished transcription as he tucked into dinner. 

 

Ana busied herself in a corner of the hotel’s massive kitchen as NERO spouted the ingredients into her earbuds.  [Don’t forget to add the cream.] NERO’s hollow voice chirped as Ana whisked the cake batter in front of her. “Uh huh.” She doused pan with heavy cream and pulled out 2 cake pans while doing so, rushing the cake into the oven, hoping it would bake in time before Seto finished his dinner. 

 

A small knock sounded at the door as Seto finished the last bite of his food. “What?” he snapped impatiently, thinking it was one of Alena’s assistants announcing her arrival; why does she insist on staying with him in the hotel anyways, doesn’t she have a rich dad who buys her expensive apartments around the city?  A muffled voice answered behind the door, something about a delivery. “Whatever, come in.”

Seto lowered the music sheets in his hands as the smell of warm rich chocolate filled the suite.  Ana strolled into the dinning room with an uncharacteristically gleeful smile and a giant cake box in her hands.  Seto watched in confusion as Ana moved aside his dinner plate and placed box before him, revealing a giant chocolate ganache cake. 

“Do you like chocolate Mr. Kaiba?” She asked.  Of course he does, heck even the occasional coffee he indulges in carries a cocoa undertone to it. 

Seto gave no answer but raised an eyebrow as he stared at Ana; this is one strange girl.  One minute she acts like a mute or responds only with impertinence, another minute she almost bites her lip off while looking at him like a piece of candy, and now this? 

Noticing his unflinching stare, Ana smirked.  “I’m not doing a staring competition today,” she said as she cuts into the cake, “I got cocoa powder in my eyes earlier.” Seto could see a slight redness around Ana’s iris. ‘She made this?’ Not bad, for an amateur baker.

Stream rose steadily from the slice of freshly baked cake as it descended slowly before him. ‘Hmmm, her finger has healed.’ Seto thought as Ana placed the slice of chocolate cake before him, the burn mark had now receded into a fading scar.

Stepping back, Ana observed with interest, ‘Come on, you know you want it.’ she smiled as wave after wave of her cake’s enticing chocolatey goodness wafted through the air.  Slowly, she was beginning to decode the difference between Seto’s words and his honest intentions.  

 

Should he try a bite? Yes. Seto almost dropped of the pencil as he considered reaching for the fork.

‘Shit I almost slipped.’  Seto scowled.

“Looks disgusting.” The insult was more out of self-defense than anything else. ‘Wow, he’s good.’ The Seto spouts these insults with such conviction, almost causing Ana to break character and say something smart in return.  Reminding herself he probably doesn’t mean what he said, Ana bit her tongue.

“No it doesn’t.” Ana insisted playfully. “I don’t want any.” Seto grumbled but remained seated in his chair.

‘If you really hate it so much, you’d left already.’ Ana smirked. 

He’s acting exactly how Ana did when Seto demanded her to eat dinner that one night; she dropped her stubborn attitude as soon as Seto left the room and wolfed down the food before her.

“I made it just for you Mr. Kaiba, not even one bite?” Ana dangled the fork before Seto playfully.

‘If she insists one more time, I’ll have some.’ Seto concluded, thinking he can play it off as eating her cake the out of pity. “No.” he glared.

“Just try the damn cake.”

Seto smirked at Ana’s exasperation “If you insis-”

“Hey Seto, am I late for dinner?” An exhausted Mokuba interrupted as he slid open the door with an armful of designer shopping bags. ‘Go. Away.’ Seto and Ana thought in unison as a smiling Alena followed behind; her cheeriness evaporated instantly at the sight of Ana.  

“Oh hi Ana.” Mokuba set aside Alena’s bags of luxury goods as he approached the dinner table. “What’s with the cake?” he asked, scratching the back of his head at the bizarre exchange before him.  Irked at the interruption, Ana turned away and rolled her eyes at the ceiling; dammit, Seto was so close to giving in!

“Apparently, Mr. Kaiba here has an aversion to chocolate.”  Ana dropped her façade and answered curtly as she started packing up the cake.  “What? No he doesn’t.” Mokuba whispered quietly with a raised an eyebrow as Seto stood to greet Alena. 

“He likes chocolate?” she whispered back.

“Oh yeah, I’ve seen him power through like 4 bars of chocolate the other day.” Mokuba giggled.

“I knew it!” Ana grinned, she was right all along.

“So what IS with the cake?  Looks delicious.”  Alena walked over to Ana with her infamous saccharine smile plastered all over her face, faking friendliness in front of Seto. 

“More like revolting.” Seto jeered from behind. 

‘Oh my gosh Seto, say something nice to Ana for once!’ Mokuba sighed, exasperated at his older brother’s stubbornness knowing Seto would scarf down the cake if he was alone.

“I had it ordered it earlier today,” Mokuba shrugged, “I was craving some cake, Ana just brought it up that’s all, isn’t that right Seto?”  Mokuba enunciated the lats part of his question while darting Seto a look.  Playing along, Seto smirked, “And how much money did you waste on this monstrosity?” “Don’t know, charged it to the credit card.”  Mokuba replied quickly as his eyes pleaded Seto to stop, woefully aware of Ana’s rising annoyance as his older brother and Alena continued their taunting.  “Whatever.” He scoffed loudly as Alena walked over to the living room. 

Staying behind, Seto watched as Ana eyed her book and music sheets. “Leave that.” He suddenly ordered in a hushed voice once Alena was out of ear shot.  “Ok! I’m doing it right now!” Ana jabbed back in an equally hushed tone as she returned the uneaten slice of cake to the box, slamming the lid close and moving it off of the table.  “Not that, you idiot, this.” Seto pointed to Ana’s book and music manuscript laying on the dinner table.  “And leave the cake too.” He added hastily.  “Wh…why?” Ana stammered.  “Because your work is atrocious and needs a lot of corrections.” He hissed back as Ana cocked her head to the side, ‘Well shit…’ she smiled reopening the cake box.

 “Seto? Come play chess with me! You promised!” Alena’s whiny voice interrupted from the other room. “Yeah Seto,” Ana mocked playfully in a sing-songy voice, “Play chess with meeee.” 

At last, Seto grinned internally as Ana started her long-awaited banter, “At least she keeps her eyes on the game.” he laughed as Ana’s eyes widened and her face flushed from being reminded of her crotch staring incident.

“That’s because playing against you was too boring.” Ana’s voice quivered, trying to recover from her embarrassment.  “Says the loser.” “Fine, I’ll beat you at your own game then.” Seto’s eyes widened at her challenge, “Duel monsters?” he questioned eagerly. But if he remembered correctly, Ana doesn’t play duel monsters.  Still, unburdened by his need to maintain his duel monster champion title, Seto felt nothing but pure excitement at her challenge, for once, it sounded…fun.

“I don’t play with losers Anna.” He teased. “Dammit it’s Ana not An-Na!... hold up, what did you call me?”  “Setooooo.” Alena whined again before Ana could react fully.

“Are you deaf?” Seto scoffed as he turned to leave, satisfied he’s gotten the last word.

 

 

Chapter Text

Early next morning, a trail gradually parted on the carpet next to Ana’s bed as she paced back and forth in her room.  What an idiot she was, why did she challenge Seto Kaiba to a damn duel?  Wasn’t it bad enough that she got her ass kicked in a game of chess by him?  Why oh why did she have to go and challenge the freaking duel monster legend himself in a game she never even played before?  ‘Why didn’t I pick something he’s bad at?’ Scrabble? Catan? Mario cart? Literally anything else! ‘I don’t even own duel monster cards…’ she paced even faster at the thought.

Unable to cope with her restlessness, Ana went out for a morning jog to the local game shop, hoping the fresh air and exercise would helper think clearer.  Cocooned in layers of protective clothing, Ana braced herself against the cold morning wind as she exited the hotel.

Christmas would’ve come early for the shop owner if he had bothered to open up as Ana intended on buying out the whole shop. Too bad the hours he had listed on google did not match his actual operating hours.  Disappointed, Ana bought herself a morning pastry at a local breakfast stall and munched grumpily as she scurried away back to the hotel.    

 


 

 

A habitual early riser, Seto sat alone again in the lobby lounge as he started replying to his morning emails.  Through the window before him, Seto spotted the distinct color of Ana’s dark brown hair as she entered the lounge.  ‘Why is she up so early?’ Seto turned his head in her direction curiously. 

‘Idiot forgot her gloves again.’ he sighed as Ana approached the baby grand piano near the back of the lounge and dropped her backpack beside it.  Neglecting to wear hand protection, Ana wanted to induce some blood flow to her hands by playing the piano. 

Thinking the lounge to be empty, she finished her pastry quickly while she took off her jacket and unwrapped the scarf around her neck.  Sitting down, Ana stretched her frozen fingers a few times and strike the keyboard.  ‘Winter Winds by Chopin, how appropriate.’ Seto chuckled as the slow somber melody sounded from her fingers.  He quietly put aside his laptop and strolled over towards the piano.

Ana didn’t flinch or stop as Seto stopped only a few feet beside her, her body swayed gracefully to the now fast paced rhythm of the song.

‘She’s playing this with her eyes closed!’ Seto’s jaw dropped as Ana’s fingers danced on the keyboard without missing a beat, her body relaxed and her expression serene, playing as if this was second nature to her.  The level of dexterity she has mastered is something he could never achieve personally, he’s tried.

Seto gazed at the striking beauty before him, her ethereal presence amplified by the illumination of the hazy morning sun.  The form fitting sports attire hugged her body tightly, highlighting the curves on her sculpted body; her chest heaving as her left hand changed from chords to runs.  Like any other red-blooded man would, Seto indulged the view before him, admiring her physical beauty, wondering how he had never noticed her like this before. 

[Mikhail is calling] Ana and Seto both jumped as NERO interrupted her performance.  “Hey!” Mikhail’s voice sounded from her bracelet before Ana even accepted the call. “What?” Ana snapped, her eyes still closed and her fingers still hovering over the last phrase she had played.  “Oh wow, you’re awake.” Mikhail sounded genuinely astounded.

“What is it?”

“I want you to quit your internship at Kaiba Corp.”

“Why?”

“Why do you think? The asshat basically called you a gold-digging whore. You’re unbelievable! Why are you putting yourself through this?  It’s so not like you!”

Ana dropped her hands to her side, her eyes opened slightly but remained downcast as the morning sun shinned through the window onto her face. 

“Did Alex snitch on me?” Ana sighed, “It’s no big deal, Seto talks to everyone that way.”

“Stop calling him that.”, “Calling him what?”, “Calling him Seto.”, “But that’s his freaking name!”, “Kaiba is his name too!”

Seto cross his arms and leaned against piano as the conversation unfolded before him.  As he expected, Ana doesn’t normally tolerate people like him. ‘So, I’m Ana’s exception huh? He smirked, listening on with pride and gratitude as Ana defend him against her supposed boyfriend. 

Sick of arguing, Ana snapped at Mikhail as he hurled unfounded accusation against her and Seto “Unlike you, I don’t sleep with everything that moves.” She barked.

“I have to go.” Mikhail said quietly after a long pause. “I’m sor-” Ana’s apology was cut short as her brother hung up the call.

Seto walked away silently as Ana resume her playing but ceased before finishing the piece. Upset over the friction she had caused between her and her brother, Ana had lost the enthusiasm to continue.  She closed the keyboard cover and grabbed her belongings, dialing Mikhail to apologize as she took the stairs up to her room.

Chapter Text

Over the next few days Seto felt drained and upset at the lack of development with the oligarch and at Alena’s increasingly demanding attitude.  How disappointing it was to watch the initially charming and intelligent Alena slowly devolve into someone who was exceedingly clingy and demanding.  Thankfully, Ana was around to keep him company, although she would disappear mysteriously whenever Alena is around, which is always.  

As Christmas approached, Ana could tell Seto was crumbling against the weight of his own ambition, gradually suffocating under the mountain of work that had snuck up on him.  He was putting up a good front however, not even Mokuba could tell the extent of Seto’s metal suffering.  Despite her preoccupation with her own schoolwork, Ana tried to do things here and there to help alleviate his pressure; she couldn’t just stand by and watch him sink further and further into his own mental hell. 

 


 

 

Seto tapped his pen in frustration as he stared at the pile of work in front of him.  Wanting him to relax for a few hours, Mokuba had gotten him some spare time by taking Alena out for yet another round of shopping. 

Deciding to savor his moment of peace, Seto laid back onto his chair and rested his eyes. 

Ceasing her own work as the sound of Seto’s quiet rhythmic breathing filled the room, Ana crept over quietly as she did once before and stared at the sleeping Seto before her.  The sight was reminiscent of the days when she would chug jugs of sweet tea and Mikhail would shotgun cans of energy drinks just to power through multiple all-nighters in order to meet MoSAIC’s deadlines. 

Against her better judgment, Ana draped a thin blanket on top of Seto. She gingerly fished away the files on his desk, intending to finish the work on it in his behalf.

 


 

 

“Wake up sleeping beauty!” Seto’s eye’s shot open as Alena shook him playfully.  “What time is it?” he asked suddenly, “It’s 6:30, why?” Realizing he’d been out for much longer than he had intended, Seto cursed at himself for sleeping in so late and looked over at this pile of work files.  “What the…?” he muttered to himself as he picked up the neatly piled documents; the finished blueprints were plastered with yellow sticky notes, and judging from the handwriting, it was Ana’s doing.  Seto breathed in deeply as the familiar scent of Ana’s perfume diffused from the blanket around his shoulders. 

“Are we still going to Tati’s party, darling?” Alena frowned; her eyes narrowed suspiciously as Seto examined Ana’s notes. “Hmm? Yes, go ahead and get ready.” He answered impatiently, perturbed by her interruption. 

While Alena preoccupied herself in the closet, Seto found Ana sitting at the breakfast nook, phone in hand as she munched away at a something.  “Nikolaev!” he belted at the top of his lungs as he stood directly behind her, causing Ana to launch her half-eaten sandwich halfway across the room.  “What?!” she shouted angrily, having lost her dinner.  “If you ever touch my files again without my permission,” he cautioned, “I will have you fired on the spot.” He admonished.  “You’re welcome.” Ana rolled her eyes as she retrieved the scattered pieces of her dinner, figuring that’s Seto’s way of expressing appreciation for her work. 

 


 

 

Tatiana held her annual Christmas party at one of her parent’s exclusive high-end nightclubs, pack with celebrities, athletes, and political clienteles.  While business functions were a necessary evil, Seto hated these kinds of gatherings.  He sat alone in one of the VIP booths in the balcony while Alena had wandered off to dance with her friends.  The deafening club music was so loud he could barely hear his own thoughts.  Why is he doing this to himself?  Seto regretted ever going through with this plan, seeing how wooing Alena had done nothing for his business ventures. 

“Mr. Kaiba.” Seto looked to his left as the bouncer moved aside for a slightly inebriated Ivan Krevchanko.  “Mr. Krevchanko,” he managed a greeting through gritted teeth as the music got louder somehow.  “Tell them to turn it down.” Krevchanko barked, the thundering bass quieted down as his assistant relayed Ivan’s orders into his walkie-talkie.  “That’s better, where is my daughter?” the man grumbled, looking around the VIP area.  “Dancing with her friends.” Seto pointed to a group of laughing girls beneath their balcony near the bar.  Ivan shook his head and sat down without an invitation.  Before they exchange pleasantries, the oligarch first ordered some Russo-Baltique vodka and had the waiter pour two full glasses.  “Russia’s finest.” Ivan huffed as he took the glass from the waiter’s hands.

Not a drinker himself, Seto took the glass begrudgingly and sipped the drink as Ivan downed it in one go.  “Hmph.” The old man grumbled disapprovingly “What kind of man can’t even finish his drink?”

The hotheaded Seto from a few years ago would’ve snapped and walked out of the room.  But the more mature Seto tonight swallowed his pride and downed the drink in one gulp.  Immediately, Seto felt the effect of the vodka as the blood vessels in his head pulsated with pressure while his stomach and esophagus burned.   “Good,” Krevchanko nodded approvingly as he ordered a refill.  “Kaiba Corp huh?  Did you know your old man and I go all the way back?” Seto winced at the mention his late stepfather. “I remember when Noah was born, never seen Gozaburo crack a smile until that day.” Ivan reminisced, unaware of the family drama that had plagued Seto his whole life.

Deciding to ignore that topic, Seto discussed Kaiba Corp’s latest achievements and products instead.  Bemused by young Seto’s wit and determination, Ivan listened, it’s not like there’s much else he could be doing.  Unlike his contemporaries at this party who are surrounded by young escorts, the more business-oriented Ivan didn’t care to participate in his colleagues’ playboy lifestyle, feeling that such activities were beneath him, unbecoming of a man of his status.  Too bad his daughter turned out to be the opposite.

“Ah, yes.” Ivan chuckled at Seto’s subtle attempt of a proposal to relaunch Kaiba Corp products in Russia.  But little does he know; Ivan was the wrong person to impress. The aging oligarch had already passed the torch so to speak, albeit unofficially.   Although he still possesses the necessary powers to grant any favors at the snap of his fingers, the elderly Ivan no longer cared as he would rather sit back and enjoy his soon to be public retirement and let his trusted protégé, Alex, handle his business for him.  Ivan stopped Seto’s pitch with a wave of his hands. “I’ll see what I can do.” He said, not wanting to promise Seto anything. “Cheers!” The oligarch shouted as he downed his refill of Vodka and Seto followed suit. 

 


 

 

The elderly man seemed unaffected as he continued to down glass after glass of the clear devil juice, meanwhile, Seto’s head started to swim as his vision became increasingly blurry.  Looking around the room to refocus his thoughts, Seto could see Ana whispered to one of the waitresses as she tucked a wad of cash into her pocket.

“Another!” Russian man called, snapping his fingers. At his behest, the waitress swiftly replaced their empty glasses with ones she had prefilled with vodka.

‘This is water.’ Seto swallowed with relief as the icy liquid cooled his burning throat and cleared his head slightly.  His eyes followed the waitress as she returned to the bar and watched as she whispered something in Ana’s ears.  

Thanks to her little trick, Seto was able stay relatively sober as and maintained his composure around the now intoxicated oligarch.  “Daddy! Mr. Kim from Samsung would like to meet you!” Alena suddenly popped out of nowhere and attempted to drag her father off.  “Ok ok, I’m coming.” Ivan steadied himself against his two bodyguards and left without saying goodbye.

Infuriated by Alena’s unhelpfulness, Seto slammed his glass down onto the table and rubbed his lips in an attempt to stifle his anger. 

  


 

 

“I’m impressed, Kaiba.” A sneering Alex strolled into Seto’s VIP area and moved himself towards Ivan’s now empty spot. “Impressed at what?” Seto growled as the unwelcome intruder plopped down across from him, feeling a headache setting in.  “Bedding Alena of course.” Alex glanced at the pretty blonde skipping around on dance floor, “and bedding Ana.” He gestured towards the dark-haired girl sitting by herself near the front of the VIP booth.

“In her dreams.” Seto snapped at the absurd statement, he never bedded either of them.

“Don’t lie, I saw you and Ana cozying up at the charity auction.”

“So?” Seto barked without hesitation, not sure where Alex is going with this.

“Don’t you know she’s Mikhail’s-”

“Mikhail’s girlfriend? I already know that, what’s your point Vasiliev?” Seto interrupted before Alex could say -sister, thoroughly irritated at the mention of Mikhail’s name.

“Wait…” Alex paused.  “You think….his girlfriend?” the young oligarch exclaimed as he roared with laughter.  “Oh man, you have no idea.” Alex breathed between fits of laughter as he patted Seto on the shoulder.

“What’s your problem, can’t you find someone else to annoy?” Seto asked in disbelief, and shoved Alex’s hand away, completely baffled by his strange behavior. 

Taking advantage of Seto’s now inebriated state, Alex pushed the subject.  “Ah yes, Ana and Mikhail…” he sighed, sipping on his drink in an attempt to stifle his laughter.  “She’s beautiful, isn’t she?”

“…No.” The couch shook as Alex giggled silently at Seto’s unconvincing answer.  

“You know, we dated for a while.” Alex lied as he gestured towards Ana with a tip of his glass, “Best girl I’ve ever had, if you know what I mean.” 

Before he could even finish, Seto rounded on Alex who instinctively dodged back as Seto groggily tried to grab him by the collar.  “Talk about her that way again and you’ll live to regret it.” Seto threatened under his breath.  “Oh yeah?” Alex challenged, “And why is that, Kaiba?” 

“Because no one disrespects my Ana.”

“What!?” Alex exclaimed.

“You heard me!” Seto shouted back with a hazy look form his eye.

‘Oh my lord, this fool just confessed his love for Ana!’ Alex laughed into his drink as Seto scowled at him.  “You’re absolutely right my man, don’t let anyone insult your girl like that.”

Alex was having too much fun messing with the eternally stoic Kaiba to stop. He stood to leave but instead of exiting the VIP lounge, he strolled quickly towards Ana.  He glanced at Seto with amusement as Ana jumped eagerly upon seeing him and kissed him on cheek.  “I’m warning you.” Seto growled as he leaned forward with his elbows propped against his tights.

Unsettled by Seto’s menacing attitude, Ana punched Alex on the arm playfully, “What did you do now?  I heard you laughing earlier.” she demanded. “I just stole one of his favorite Christmas cookies.” Alex winked.  “Ugh, no wonder you and Mikhail get along, you two act more like moronic teenagers than grown ass adults.”, “What about your boyfriend over there?” Alex said as he pointed towards the fuming Seto.

“Ha Ha, really funny. You know he’s busy knocking up that bitch Alena.” Ana snapped, the loud music barely concealing the jealousness in her tone.  “I think he’d rather knock you up instead.” he teased.  “Ok! I was kidding.” Alex rubbed his arm as Ana punched him again. “If my information is correct.” he continued, “I think they’re considering an official engagement soon.”

Ana gasped loudly at the Alex’s announcement, “No they’re not!!” she shouted, covering her mouth in horror.

“Hahaha-!” Alex doubled over again with laughter. “Oh you jack ass!!”  He caught Ana’s fist as she came in for another punch and pulled her in for a tight hug. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” he laughed as Ana struggled in his arms.  

 


 

 

Alex rushed outside after he atoned for his sins by promising he’d go skydiving with Ana, (he had been avoiding this for years; her crazy ass would probably cut a safely line on his parachute as a joke). Wiping a tear away from his face, he quickly dialed his best friend. 

“Took you long enough! Guess what I just found out?!”

“What?” Mikhail whispered quietly, trying not to wake the girl sleeping beside him.

“Ok ok ok, so you know how much you dislike Kaiba right?” 

“Please don’t tell me you woke my ass up just to talk about Kaiba.” Mikhail whined.

“Just shut up and listen.” Alex chuckled.

 


 

A few minutes into their conversation, the brunette next to Mikhail jolted awake as he shouted into his phone “WHAT?” he cried as Alex finished his story.  “Sorry, emergency business call.”  Mikhail apologized quickly to the sleepy girl as he jumped out of bed and ran to the other side of the house. 

“I’m telling you, Kaiba has a thing for your sister!” Alex laughed, “imaging having him as your brother in law.” He continued.  

“I’d rather go skydiving with Ana.”  Mikhail retorted as Alex laughed even louder. “You sure he thinks Ana and I are dating?”

“For the hundredth time, Yes!”

“What gave him that idea? It’s not like I made out with Ana in front of him or anything.” Mikhail shuddered at the thought,

“Yeah but you came off really salty that night though.” Alex reminded.

“That because I didn’t want some asshole grabbing onto my sister!” Mikhail retorted angrily, recalling Seto’s little stunt during the charity dinner.

“Again, keep in mind, he doesn’t know you guys are siblings.” Alex said patiently.

 

Mikhail took a moment to gather himself, “What about Ana?  Does she know about all of this?” he asked, still bitter about his last conversation with Ana where baby sister stubbornly defended Kaiba to him. 

“You know…” Alex paused as he deliberated on telling Mikhail the truth.  Deciding he had already done enough damage by telling Mikhail about their encounter at Ivan’s mansion, Alex tried to play it off. “I don’t know, she doesn’t seem to care.”  he said, trying to keep his voice as casual as possible.

Having known Alex his whole life, Mikhail could tell his best friend was lying through the phone. “Bullshit.” he huffed.

“Fine,” Alex relented. “She... I think she likes him too.”

“Oh no.” Mikhail sighed into his hands, wishing it was any one but Seto freaking Kaiba.

“Come to think of it,” Alex continued, “they’re perfect for each other actually, two stubborn friendless recluses who likes board games a little too much.”

“Shut up, don’t jinx it.” Mikhail hissed as Alex laughed at his own evaluation.

“Wait, isn’t Kaiba with Alena?” Mikhail asked suddenly as he scratched his head in confusion,

"Honestly, I think he’s just using Alena as leverage to get a business deal out of the old man.”

“Psh, classic, doesn’t he know you’re in charge now?” Mikhail's voice echoed his surprise that Seto wasn’t privy to such important information, considering Kaiba Corp’s sphere of influence around the world.

“Apparently not.”

 

The weary older brother looked outside into the darkness from his library window: his baby sister had been seduced by the devil.  

'I'll get him back for this.' Mikhail smirked as he started plotting in his head.

"So Kaiba thinks my sister and I dating?" he asked.

”Yeeesss for the millionth time." Alex affirmed.

“And my sister the traitor has gone over to the dark side?”,

“Yes, she chugged the cool aid.”

“Ok, this is what we’re gonna do...”

Chapter Text

In Russia, apparently, the acronym ‘VIP’ was completely lost in translation and didn’t hold the same exclusivity as it did in other countries.  In this case, party goers came and went through the VIP section as they pleased as long as they were friends of the host, which seemingly was everyone in attendance.  Ana shifted in her seat and shook her head for the one hundredth time as yet another person attempted to tempt her with a free alcoholic drink.  She wasn’t exactly averse to the attention, but knowing that no good conversation could be held between a sober and intoxicated person, Ana saved her breath and rejected every single advance for the night.  Although, she was tempted to converse with this red-headed girl who sported an enticingly sexy accent, until her girlfriend showed up of course.

Sick of being eyed by these drunken egotistical athletes and celebrities all evening, Ana sauntered over to the still seething Seto and took a seat near him, hoping his presence would deter any more unwanted advances for the night.  She breathed a sigh of relief and smirked over the comical way people would scurry away as soon as they recognized Seto’s face, looking extra scary with his drunken scowl.  For the next hour, they sat and watched as people danced and partied around them without uttering a single word.  To the uninformed observers, these two introverts detested the existence of one another, but unbeknownst to them, Ana and Seto were just taking comfort in one each other’s silent presence. 

 


 

 

“Mr. Kaiba.” Ana jerked her head to the right as a sultry voice sounded on the other side of Seto. Her brows arched in amusement as a scantily clad girl took the seat to his right, pressing her legs against his while doing so.  Meanwhile, a shadow was cast over the pair as another gorgeous model-esque girl stood behind the couch, leaning over until her voluptuous breasts were millimeters away from Seto’s back. 

“Go away.” He slurred. 

Undeterred, the seated girl placed both of her hands on his right thigh and squeezed it lightly while the other woman massaged his shoulders.  The balls of steel they must’ve had to approach Seto Kaiba like that.  “Alena will be busy for a while,” the model like girl smiled as she leaned into Seto’s ears, “perhaps we can take her place tonight.” The other finished. 

Alena had not visited once since dragging her father off, and one would think she’d check up on her boyfriend once in a while, if not for his well-being, at least to make sure this type of stuff doesn’t happen. 

Seto placed his head in his hands and hunched over as the earsplitting music thumped around them.  These types of girls often leave on their own after a few minutes of silent treatment; from his past experiences, the more he spoke with them the more they’re encouraged to stay. 

However, taking his silence for a yes, the girls proceeded to hug Seto by the waist and the neck as they giggled at each other.  Now thoroughly uncomfortable by their harassing hands, Seto attempted to elbow one of the girls away, but she just giggled held on even tighter.  What else can he do in his current state? His head was spinning too fast for him to walk away, and it’s not like he can punch them in the face either.  “Dammit, security.” Seto called out weakly as they started unbuttoning his dress shirt while furiously attempting to catch his lips with theirs. 

“Ahem.” The wandering hands stopped in unison as Ana snapped her fingers in the girl’s faces.  “I’m sorry girls, Mr. Kaiba didn’t order any escort services.” Ana snarled as she straightened up, silently ordering them to remove their hands with her glare.  “Um this is the VIP area honey, go back downstairs.”  The model behind Seto sniggered as she leaned over, trying to push Ana with her outstretch hands.  “Exactly, the door is over there in case you’re wondering.” Ana’s snippy remark served its intended effect. 

“Ok just who the hell are you?” The seated girl asked as she slowly released Seto, her eyes narrowed into an awful scowl, a failed attempt at intimidation. 

“She’s the escort I actually paid for, now scram.” Seto barked, finally mustering some strength to brush them aside.  Going through the motion of trying to push aside then girl that was still holding onto him, Seto inadvertently flung opening his already half buttoned dress shirt, exposing even more of his bare body as he extended his arms outwards to remove the girl from his arm.   In an instant, Ana could feel a wave of heat flushed through her body as Seto attempted to stand but stumbled into her awaiting arms.  A shiver went up her spine as their bodies touched, not helped by his intoxicating scent.  “I won’t say it again.” Seto threated the two bewildered as he propped himself against Ana, “Get out.” He finished.  

As the two girls disappeared around the VIP entrance, Seto resumed his original seated position, his body slumped against the backrest.   “Go get the driver, we’re leaving.” He sighed.  “They’re getting the car now.” Said Ana, having already contacted Mokuba and their driver for the night.  “And go get Alena.” He ordered as Ana hastily rebuttoned his shirt.  Without providing an answer, Ana looked around for Mokuba, having no intentions of finding Alena whatsoever.  ‘Alena this Alena that, bleh, I’m not dealing with this anymore.’ “I’ll go get her.” She finally replied after spotting Mokuba in the crowd, who had obviously neglected to check his phone for messages.  “That twerp.” She mumbled as she slid around the table. 

But before she could straighten up fully, Ana felt a hand slide around her ribs and instinctively hurled a slap with full force, stopping whoever’s attempt at groping her chest. Her body recoiled as her hand made contact with her target’s face, her balance thrown off as the person pushed away her arm.   Before Ana could re-steady herself, however, the man shoved her back harshly, causing her to fall into Seto’s lap.  Enraged, Ana regathered herself up as she readied for round two, completely unaware of the fist that was hurling towards her direction.  The would-be punch stopped millimeters away from her face as Seto snatch the man’s wrist mid-air with his left hand, using the last of his energy reserve Seto held tightly onto Ana as he threw the man to the ground, shielding her behind himself. 

Cursing loudly, the man snatched a bottle of unfinished vodka and shattered it against edge of the table.  With the jagged edges pointing towards Seto, he lounged forward, aiming to plunge the glass into Seto’s chest with the full force of his own weight.  Unable to comprehend the situation in his state of disorientation, Seto’s usually agile reflexes have been rendered completely useless by the alcohol he’d consumed.

As his eyes buzzed with starlight, Seto somehow ended up back on the couch.  As he laid there, an intense pain seared across his upper arm and was followed quickly by the sensation of something warm trickling down his sleeves.  Somewhere next to him, a loud crunching sound echoed as Ana’s voice shrieked in agony.  The weight of his head strained against his neck as Seto struggled to prop himself up.  Through his now slowly darkening vision, he could make out the color red everywhere, on the table, on the carpet, and even on himself.  He blinked quickly to regain focus and swore he saw Ana thrashing her legs wildly as she struggled against something.  Rubbing his eyes with the unbloodied hand, Seto saw the same man from before pinning Ana firmly against the floor, fighting to drive a red tinted object into her neck.  Ana strained to keep the sharp edges away from her neck with her blood-soaked hands.  “No.” Seto uttered as he made one final attempt to save Ana, but not before passing out completely from heavy blood loss, exacerbated by the inordinate amount of alcohol in his system. 

 


 

 

 Ana sat up and gasp for air as several bouncers rushed in and apprehended the drunken hooligan, the head of security apologized profusely for their momentary lapse of duty as the bouncers hauled the man away.  “What happened here? SETO!” Mokuba rushed in after hearing the altercation from the dance floor below.  He panicked at the sight of his bloodied unconscious brother lying motionless on the couch.  “Don’t touch him! An ambulance is on the way!” A security personnel warned as Mokuba reached for Seto. “Dammit, what the hell happened to my brother?!” 

Mokuba’s cries echoed in Ana’s ears like a loudspeaker broadcasting from far away. 

While Ana’s body readjusted to the sudden rush of oxygen, her mind was busy replaying what had just occurred in slow motion.   The bottle came so close to reaching Seto she had to physically knock it away while pushing him aside, or else the whole bottle would’ve been lodged into Seto’s body.  A pool of something warm and red formed around her as she slowly sat up from the ground.  “Miss please stay still!”  Someone shouted while they tugged on her arm, preventing her from dislodging a large piece of glass that was jammed into her wrist.  ‘All this from a vodka bottle?’ She thought as she observed the palm sized glass sticking out of her wrist and the large vertical gash next to it now gushing blood.  ‘It’s gonna be such a pain in the ass to get this stain out.’  Ana thought woozily as she looks down at her looked at her lily-white dress now soaking red.  ‘Eh, I got that stain out of Kaiba’s expensive ass suit, this shouldn’t be…..Where is Seto?!’ Ana looked around nervously as she snapped back into reality.

“Ana! Stop moving!” Mokuba shouted as Ana made an attempt to reach towards them. “Miss, please!” an onsite nurse pulled Ana back, trying to stem her blood flow.  “We need to sedate her now!” a frustrated paramedic called out as Ana stubbornly refused to listen to their instructions.  “Is he ok!? Is he badly hurt!?”  She kept repeating while looking desperately at Seto as the paramedics loaded him onto a stretcher.  “Where are they taking him?  I’m going with him!”  Ana huffed as she fought against the hands that were hold her back.  But before she could reach him, the combination of sedative and blood loss knocked her into a coma as she collapsed next to his stretcher.  

Chapter Text

The medevac helicopter was received at the local hospital by every available trauma surgeon that was on call, as well as Kaiba Corp’s private medical personnel that accompanied Seto on this trip.  Meanwhile, Mokuba and the rest of Seto’s staff stayed behind at the party and, with the cooperation of the club owners and local police, made sure no word of this incident was leaked to the press or the paparazzi. 

At the ER, Seto’s condition was stabilized rather quickly once the doctors injected him with coagulant agents and thickened his alcohol thinned blood.  Once enough fluid and oxygen were reintroduced into his system, Seto was up and conscious within 30 minutes of arriving at the hospital.  “You need to stay down!” a nurse pleaded desperately as she guided the disoriented Seto back onto his pillow.  “What happened to me?” He asked, sliding his IV laden hand over his eyes to shield the brightly lit post-op room.  Straightaway, Seto felt a stabbing pain on his upper right arm as he lifted his other hand to do the same.  He was still dressed in his evening attire aside from his dress shirt, which had been swapped for a hospital gown.  Unable to recall the events that had led to his current condition, Seto pried the nurse for more details. “Then go get someone competent enough to answer my questions!” He said angrily, as the nurse only provided vague responses in return.  “Mr. Kaiba, our sincerest apologies, I’m doctor Smirnov, the chief physician on duty.” An elderly man in a lab coat explained as he entered Seto’s room. “I will go over with you your medical status and answer any questions you have.” Dr. Smirnov continued, “However, please understand, due to the delicateness of this situation, I’ve been instructed not to discuss anything until your attorney is present.” He finished with an apologetic nod.  Seto rolled his eyes, “Don’t worry, suing this dump will only be a waste of time, but if you insist.” He scoffed as another doctor rushed into the room.  [“Доктор Смирнов, код синий! (Dr. Smirnov, code blue!)”] a frantic voice sounded from the doctor’s pager followed by the corresponding room number.  Just as the doctor rushed to leave, he ran headfirst into Seto’s legal team as they entered the room.  [“…laceration… radial artery… patient…hypovolemic shock….”] The pager buzzed as it flew out of his pocket and landed on the floor. [“… anesthesia… recent medical records…Nikolaev...room 9…”].

“Nikolaev?” Seto asked as the nurse scrambled to retrieve the pager. “Is he talking about Ana Nikolaev?!” The heart rate monitor spiked as Seto demanded furiously at the medical staff. “Answer me this instant!”

“Mr. Kaiba, I think you should-” The chief attorney was silenced immediately as his boss shot him a furious glare ‘Nikolaev, Nikolaev, I have to make sure…’  Pushing through the pain on his arm, Seto ripped away the IV and monitor instruments and stormed out of the door.  Panic ensued as Seto bolted towards the O.R., but no one dared to stop him.  As he reached room 9, Seto halted as he reached the small window that looked into room 9. 

Surgeons and medical assistants hovered over a bloody mess as they frantically tried to resuscitate Ana, who laid motionless on the operating table.  “What happened to her?” Seto asked desperately as Dr. Smirnov started the decontamination process.  “Dammit, my attorneys are right here!” Seto shouted in exasperation as his chief attorney searched for Ana’s signed power of attorney.  Dr. Smirnov hesitated as he scrubbed his hands, “Ok,” he conceded, “I don’t know what happened at the scene of the incident, but to put it simply, one of her major arteries on her right wrist was severed and she went into shock from severe blood loss.”  He sighed as he donned his sterilized surgical gear. “All of that from a cut wrist?” Seto asked incredulously. “Yes, Mr. Kaiba,” Dr. Smirnov sighed, his tone hardened as he started to lose patience, “according to the paramedic, she panicked at the sight of your unconscious body and started hyperventilating before they had the chance to sedate her.  Between that and her increased heart rate, her brain and other major organs were basically oxygen deprived until she arrived at the hospital.” Seto’s trembling hands gripped the edges of the window as the scene of the attack flooded his memories. “Will she be ok?” he asked, desperately clinging onto hope. “I.. I don’t know.” Dr. Smirnov shook his head gravely as he entered the surgical room.  

Seto’s fanatical eyes darted around the room as Ana’s EKG skipped around erratically ‘Dammit!’ He pounded the wall with his fist in frustration as her oxygen level kept dropping.  

“Don’t worry Mr. Kaiba,” the Chief Operating Officer of the hospital said reassuringly as Seto became increasingly distraught, “we have the latest medical technology from MoSAIC, it has worked almost perfectly so far.”

Seto cursed under his breath; cursing that once again Scholtz was in a far better position to help her than he was; cursing at his helplessly to save her while she showed no hesitation to do the same for him; cursing that he hadn’t cherished her while he had the chance.

 


 

 

Five thousand miles away, Mikhail relaxed in his cozy recliner with a book in hand, eager for some rest after another day of hard work.  Just as he reached for the bookmark, the jarring sound of his ringtone chimed from his phone, cutting through the peaceful silence.  “Did you forget your wallet again Gerung?  I’m not bailing you out of dinner this time.” Mikhail said jokingly as he strolled over to the window of his penthouse apartment.  “Not this time sir, although I won’t object if you offer.” His director of marketing laughed. “I do have good news however.” Gerung continued excitedly, “I just analyzed the automated reports for our latest product and complied a summary report for you.  So far, we are seeing a 95.9% full recovery rate for all trauma patients.” “Perfect!” Mikhail smiled as he watched Central Park gradually turn orange from the hazy evening sun.  “For liability reasons, severe cases of trauma are still handled by surgeons personally, but I did just get an update from Kremlyovka Hospital in Moscow.” Mikhail opened his laptop as Gerung sent over the report. “The first official code blue patient.” Gerund clarified as Mikhail opened the document.

‘Female, 23, 4-inch laceration, severed radial artery, baroreflex mediated blood loss of approximately 2500mL, brain hypoxia induced coma…’ Mikhail’s brows furrowed as he skimmed through the report. “Gosh… is she going to be ok?” he asked as he finished reading, “she’s so young...” he sighed.  “It’s still ongoing, I’ll keep you updated sir.” Gerung answered as Mikhail shut the laptop and poured himself a glass of whisky.  To people like Gerung, this is merely another data point to mark the success or failure of a product; but to Mikhail, this is more than that, he wanted to save her life, if not for her sake, then for the sake of those who love her.

Chapter Text

The next few days following the incident, the hotel’s usually quiet and empty penthouse now resembled the downstairs reception lobby as various people bustled in and out of Seto’s suite.  His own staff frantically busied themselves with calls and meetings, trying to hush up this incident and preventing any embarrassing information from leaking to the press or paparazzi, averting a potential PR disaster for Kaiba Corp.  The level of damage control required for an incident was certainly not a walk in the park.  At the same time, the party organizers were also having to do their own form of damage control, striving to stifle any potential lawsuits by attempting to harass Seto into signing agreements.  This wasn’t helped by the ominous presence of the Russian Investigation Committee and the local police, who harassed Seto and his team for information in an attempt to protect their own country’s reputation. 

On the business end of things, Seto wasn’t fazed by these little annoyances, as this was hardly a traumatic experience compared to what he had dealt with previously on almost weekly basis; just part of the job description when running a large corporation.  However, unlike before, Seto had more pressing things on his mind than just the reputation of his own company. 

“Dr. Smirnov.” spoke Seto as he held a hand to cut off the rambling of the attorney standing before him. “Mr. Kaiba, as requested, an update on Ms. Nokolaev’s condition…” Seto listened intently as he retreated away from the suite’s omnipresent chatter into his bedroom.   Ana’s surprising recovery came both as a relief and annoyance, and after hearing the narrative of what had occurred at the club, Seto was frustrated that he could do so little for Ana, the person who had basically saved his life.  He hated owing people anything, so how was he going to repay her?  Praises? Career advancement? Money? And speaking of money…

‘Of all people….’ Seto thought in frustration as he leaned towards the window, resting his fist and elbow above his head against the cold glass panel.  In his own distorted way of thinking, watching Ana’s life being saved by a MoSAIC product was one more thing Mikhail had done for Ana that he couldn’t.  Seto had to admit though, after watching Ana go from cardiac arrest to a non-critical patient after only 2 days, even he couldn’t deny the incredible advancements Mikhail and his team has achieved in the medical field.  ‘There has to be something…’ Seto was so out of his element, he never imagined having to give so much thought into repaying someone beyond throwing money at them. 

 


 

 

“I’m not paying you so that I can do your job.” Seto said curtly after being asked for the 3rd time about how the PR team should handle the paparazzi questions.  “You can’t leave Mr. Kaiba, we need you around to provide statements to the press!” One of the PR crew members begged as Seto donned his overcoat.  “Did you just give me an order?”  Seto glared at the man, “This had better be resolved by the time I’m back.” He barked at the room in general as he marched out of his suite. 

“Mokuba…” Seto hesitantly said in the privacy of the elevator as him and Mokuba descended to the first floor.  “What…do you think Ana… maybe…” unable to open up to his little brother, Seto’s face reddened as he struggled to complete his question.  “You know,” Mokuba smiled teasingly as he watched his brother stutter around, “Hiroka was rambling to me the other day about The Five Languages of Love.” He said innocently, as if he didn’t hear Seto’s incoherent questions just now, “At first I thought it was baloney, but after dissecting it for a bit, it’s actually quite interesting!  Hiroka says you’re the gift giving kind, and that you dish out words of affirmation, can you believe it? HA!”  Mokuba tiled his head back for a mocking laugh and continued with sarcastic seriousness, “Personally? If I was a girl? I’d go nuts if the great Seto Kaiba would spend some quality time with me and maybe do something fun together like ice skating or something.” “Ice skating?” Seto rolled his eyes and chuckled at the ridiculous suggestion. “Or not! But hey, physical touch is also an option, you can try that.” Mokuba winked as the elevator neared the ground floor, “But not with me though, that would be incestuous and severely frowned upon by most societies…. most.” He elbowed Seto jokingly as the elevator door opened, and Seto returned Mokuba’s smile in earnest. His little brother clearly knew him too well.

But Mokuba was right, Seto wasn’t one to write poetries professing his love for some damsel in distress or showering said damsel with physical affection; although he would love to lavish her with gifts, however.  ‘But she doesn’t seem to lack anything, and I have no idea what she would like…’ he thought deeply as they climbed into the car ‘Wait, there is that one thing.’ He thought. “Mokuba, get in touch with Struchen, I want him to overnight the item in vault 894A from Switzerland to here by tomorrow evening.”

 


 

 

Ana was bored out of her mind as she laid in the hospital bed with only the sound of her beeping heart monitor keeping her company.  As an unintentional experimental patient for the new MoSAIC MedPod, Ana’s physical activity was restricted until the doctors can fully verify her recovery with further examinations.  ‘I’m fine! I helped build the freaking thing.’ Ana was thoroughly agitated as the engineers fiddled around the machine and nurses prodded her sore body with probes and needles.  With no other options, Ana mostly occupied her time by suffering through the local news and talk shows that were playing continuously on the TV; she had given up on her inquiry on Seto’s status and whereabout after being shouted by a poor nurse on the 27th hour of her 12 hour shift, “I told you already Ms. Nikolaev! I don’t know anything! And even if I do, I'm not allowed to say anything!  You meddling millennials.”

Ana sighed as she propped herself up into a sitting position. ‘It can’t be that bad.’ Ana thought as she glanced at the TV. A dead Seto, heck even a comatose Seto, would’ve made the news by now.  Her mind wandered again as she stared at the silent but laughing hosts on the TV, her eyes closing once more as she drifted off into sleep.

 


 

 

“Howdy!” Ana jolted awake as Mokuba tapped her on the forehead with his fingers, completely unaware that her skin receptors were painfully sensitive from the medication she had been taking.  “Ok twerp, unless you’re the reincarnation of Itachi Uchiha, don’t tap me on the forehead like that!” Ana shouted as she pushed aside Mokuba’s hand. 

“Oh yeah?”

Ana yelped in pain as Seto snickered and then poked her square in the forehead, her vision filling with stars as pain rippled through her body. “Uh, I think you really hurt her there bro.” Ana blinked rapidly to clear her vision. “You’re alive!” she croaked as her eyes found Seto, her voice cracked from her excitement. “Of course I am, what kind of stupid comment is that?” Seto sneered, hiding his own excitement as Ana smiled eagerly at him.  “I don’t know why you dragged me here Mokuba, she looks fine to me, I’m done wasting my time here.”  Mokuba rolled his eyes dramatically as Seto crossed his arms and turned to leave. 

“I’m sorry Seto.” he said matter-of-factly, “For dragging you along to visit Ana and for wasting your time, please forgive me.” He continued, knowing full well it was Seto who dragged HIM along for this visit. “If you would, will you be so kind as to check up on Ana for me and ask her how she’s doing in my stead while I visit the gift shop downstairs.” Mokuba finished with a sigh.  “Fine, if you insist.” Seto said begrudgingly as he took a seat next to Ana’s cot, thankful that his precious baby brother knew exactly what to do.

‘Two can play this game.’ Ana smiled to herself as she caught on to their gig, “Well then feel free to leave Mr. Kaiba, your presence here is quite unwelcome anyways.” She huffed as she attempted to cross her arms but failed as the IV line snagged onto something. “Pathetic as always.” Seto mocked in his usual voice but leaned forward to untangle the IV lines as he spoke. “Say the guy who got shanked by a drunkard.” Ana retaliated, “Hello pot, I’m kettle.” He said tauntingly, albeit a little caught off guard. “Hello kettle, who is still alive because of pot, nice to meet you.”

‘Oh Shit! DAMAGE CONTROL! DAMAGE CONTROL!’ Mokuba hopped around nervously as he watched the two argued from the doorway. “Here you go Seto!  Hurry up and show Ana before we have to leave!” Mokuba barged back in and slammed the briefcase he had been carrying onto Seto’s lap, interrupting their little fight. “What’s in there?” Ana asked, playing right into Mokuba’s trap as her aggravation transformed instantly into curiosity.  “Since you had the bright idea of challenging me to a game of duel monsters.” Seto begin as he fiddled with the locks on the briefcase, “I have graciously decided to allow you to use my latest duel technology so you can get some practice in before losing to me… again.” he snickered.

“Seto I have Struchen on the line for you.” Mokuba suddenly interrupted with phone in hand and rushed to Ana's bedside as soon as Seto disappeared behind the doorway. “Sorry about Seto Ana, but he’s actually been worried sick about you and he’s the one who insisted on coming today.” He whispered in her ear as he whipped around every few seconds to check the doorway, “He was afraid you were going to be bored out of your mind here so we brought his new duel disk for you to play with because Dr. Smirnov told him you’re not allowed to move around much, we haven’t even unveiled this to the public yet! Oh crap here he comes.” Mokuba moved away at lightning speed as the door re-opened. “I’ll be in the gift shop!” he shouted behind him as he stepped out of the room, leaving the two brooding lovebirds to themselves.

“Where were we?” Seto sighed as he took his seat and picked up the briefcase again. “My ineptitude as a duelist and your graciousness in allowing me to glance upon your latest technology with my foolish mortal eyes.” Ana smiled.  Still not used to her flip-flopping ways, Seto paused his hands on the lock scanner and took a hard look at the beaming girl before her.  “Humph, exactly.” He agreed, “And you better start practicing.”

 


 

 

Hours flew by like minutes as Seto and Ana engaged in the topic of duel monsters.  She listened intently as he taught her the various strategies and decks she can choose from, as well as explaining the mechanisms of his new duel disk in detail. “With the new iris tracking system combined with our electro-impulse brain-wave detector, the player can experience a virtual duel while still fully functional and conscious…” Ana nodded while Seto rambled on and on; she had never seen him this vocal about any subject before. Ana knew Seto had it in him, that x factor that had made him so successful in everything he does, his thirst for learning and intense passion when it comes to his hobbies and the values he believes in. It was quite awe-inspiring to see Seto’s raw charisma, even if he was acting like a cynical asshole most of the time.  “If I catch you looking down there again, I’m leaving.” Seto threated as he caught her eyes staring at his. “Oh no worries, I heard everything this time.” Ana smiled as she took a long and deliberate look at his crotch.  Indeed, she had been paying attention; for him to show her something this exclusive and on his own time, Ana knew this wasn’t just some trivial to Seto, even if Mokuba hadn’t explained it earlier. This was his way of showing her appreciation for what she had done for him.

“Show me then.” Seto said as he handed Ana the headset and duel disk, “The simulation is programmed for 10 levels, but since you’re a beginner, just duel until level 5 for now, the current beta-testing record is to reach level 5 is within 7 rounds.” “And if I beat that record?” Ana asked as she donned the surprisingly (and thankfully) light duel gear. “You won’t, that record was set by me.”, “and if I beat your record?” Ana repeated. “Then I’ll do whatever you ask.” “Deal!” Ana shouted gleefully as level 1 initiated. 

Driven by Seto’s promise to do anything she asked, Ana powered through the first 3 levels, despite being physically incapacitated.  “How are you doing this?” Seto asked incredulously, as Ana played almost exactly as he would have, but slightly better.  ‘Because I know your strategy like the back of my hands from watching Battle City and Grand-Prix reruns.’ “Because I’m superior to you in every way.” she mocked.

Seto could feel himself sweating from nervousness as Ana finished the 4th level with still 3 more rounds to spare. “You’re cheating.” He accused.  “How?” she laughed, “I’ve been restrained to a hospital bed for the past few days recovering from traumatic injury.”  “I don’t know how, but you must be cheating.”  Seto’s confidence wavered at his own unfounded accusation.  “Would you like to check me for wires then?” Ana smiled jokingly as she started to unbutton her hospital gown. “No! Stop! Fine I believe you!” Ana laughed as Seto panicked.  

The last level was exponentially more difficult than the one before, and her rendition of Seto’s tactics didn’t work anymore.  ‘Time to try something else.’ Ana thought.  Taking inspiration from all of the previous duels she had watched, Ana reassembled her deck with cards that fit a strategy that she felt fit her better. “I can’t find the god cards in the card index.” She whined as she scanned through the catalog for the second time.  “They’re too overpowered.” Seto answered simply.

‘Synchro Summon…XYZ…Bleh, these new game mechanics are so stupid.’ Ana thought as she scrolled through the options, ‘Heh I’ll go with this.’ She smirked as her finger selected the card displayed before her.

“The Dark Magician?!” Seto shouted as he stared in disbelief Ana’s final choice of cards, most of which were from Yugi’s deck. “What are you playing at?” he questioned, “I’m playing card games of course!” “You know that’s not what I’m ask- whatever, you won’t beat my record.”

But beat it she did. Ana had reached level 5 within 6 rounds.

Her triumphant win reminded Seto so much of Atem. Could she be the answer to the long-lost thrill and excitement he’d been chasing for the past few years?  A conflicted Seto felt both pride and concern over her indirect victory against him; unsure of what to say. “Beginner’s luck” was all he could manage.

A sudden knock came at the door as Mokuba entered. “Back from the gift shoppping?” Ana pointed at his emptyhandedness, “Ha uh yeah, forgot my wallet in the car, so hey uh Seto, we need to head back to the hotel.” Mokuba said with a concerned expression. “Who the hell is giving me orders this time?” Seto barked, still focused on Ana’s win. “I’ll tell you in the car, we just have to go.” Mokuba demurred. “Stop dancing around the point, Mokuba.”, “It’s… Alena.”

Seto and Ana’s faces both dropped at the mention of her name. “What does she want?” Seto grumbled, seriously considering whether he should continue with this whole Russian business venture at this point.  “She just said it was urgent business.” “Fine, let’s go.” Seto seethed as he snatched his coat off the chair, “You can keep this for now, but if you lose it, I’ll have your head.”

“So does that mean you’re coming back later?” Seto paused as Ana looked at him with hopeful eyes full of anticipation.

‘She…wants me around?’

Ana was enjoying her time with him so much that she didn’t want him to leave.  “oh um, for this I mean.” She added quickly in a small voice as she gestured towards the duel gear, her face blushing slightly from her accidental admission. 

“Is that the deal then?” “What deal?” “The deal we made before the duel you idiot!”

“Oh… yeah, sure.” Ana smiled cheerfully, wanting nothing more at this moment from Seto than his time and presence. 

“Ok, I’ll take this as our verbal agreement then, don’t ask me for anything else later.”

“So you’re coming back tonight then?”

“I already said yes!”

“You… promise?”

“I never go back on my word.”

Chapter Text

“Stop it with this nonsense, I know what you’re up to.” “And what am I up to, Alena?” Seto had barely had the chance to brush the snow off of his jacket before Alena, seething with newfound suspicion, rounded on him. “Are you really going to make me say it?” her indignant tone silenced the room as she chased after Seto.  “What are you all looking at? Mind your own business and get back to work!” Mokuba shouted at the stunned lawyers and investigators as Seto and Alena disappeared into his office.  

The armchair rocked backwards as Alena shoved it aside, storming her way to Seto’s desk.  “I had you followed, I know where you were this evening,” Alena’s voice trembled as she finished her sentence.  “She’s my employee.” Seto answered simply as he leaned forward, resting his elbow on the desk and peered at Alena with a vacant expression; he had been anticipating this confrontation for a while now.  “I don’t care what she is, you haven’t texted or called since the incident, you obviously don’t care about me!” Seto scoffed at her accusation, not only because she was right in her assumption, but also because of the sheer hypocrisy and lack of self-awareness her statement demonstrated. 

“Did you get in trouble?” “No, I-”

“Did you lose any of your precious Instagram followers?” “What? No-”

“Were you injured?” “No, but-!”

“Then I don’t see what the problem is.”  His tone was absolute; Seto was finished with this childish outburst.

“You’re using me to get something from my father, aren’t you?” Alena's eyes narrowed as she asked, her mouth curved into a menacing smile as she watched Seto shift uncomfortably midway through her question.  He slowly capped the pen in his hand and looked up at the Russian heiress.  “You like her don't you? You're not as clever as you think Seto. I could tell you liked her the day we boarded the plane to come here.” Seto made no attempts to argue as he placed his pen neatly beside the stack of legal forms he had to sign, and prompted Alena to continue with his stare.  

Alena paused, she looked away as she carefully considered her next words. “I am going to make you an offer-.” “-that I can’t refuse?” “Yes.” She nodded. “Whatever your dealing is with my father, I will make it happen, I guarantee it.” Seto pursed his lips skeptically. “How?” he asked. He knew that Alena had to no power over her father’s business, and no amount of Godfather references were going to change that fact either.  “I just will.” “And if you fail?” Seto asked, raising an eyebrow as he laced his fingers before him.  Alena smirked, “The executor of my father’s will is on my payroll; if I fail, I will have Alex deposed upon my father’s passing and sign control over to you.” “What’s stopping me from just finding the executor myself and cutting out the middleman?” Seto shrugged at Alena’s outlandish promise.

“Oh, you think a foreigner like you can really convince Russia’s best lawyers to sell out their most powerful clients? The fact that you’re going through me to begin with shows that’s not how it works here.”  She laughed, “No Seto Kaiba, you may have money, but you have no power in Russia.” And she was right. Seto furrowed his brows as he remembered the time Dartz took over Kaiba Corp and he had been powerless to take it back through political or judicial means.   “And if I say no?” Seto asked as his resolve against her weakened.  Doing business in Russia would not only expands Kaiba Corp’s market share, but an alliance with the Russian government would be a great deterrent to any potential hostile takeovers, as well as good protection from other political nuisances.  

“If you refuse, I will tell father everything; how you tried to trick me, trick him, and I will personally ensure that you will never be able to do business in this country ever again.”

“Blackmailing me is never a good idea.” He warned, “This isn’t blackmailing, Seto. this is a promise.”

A sigh escaped Seto’s lips as he stood from his chair and walked over to the expansive window.  Finally getting a taste of his own medicine, Seto scoffed quietly to himself as he mused; this must be how Ana felt when he forced her to come on this trip despite her pleadings.  And speaking of Ana, already sure of Alena's response, Seto stalled before uttering the question he’s been dreading to ask, “And what do you want from me?”

“For you to never see that Ana girl ever again.”

‘I knew it.’

“I want her fired, I want Mokuba to tell her you’re sick of her, that she's a bother to everyone, and she is to never set foot in Kaiba Corp or anywhere near us ever again.” Alena concluded breathlessly, as if she'd been dying to say it to Seto for days.

“Leave her out of this.” He demanded. “Exactly, I’m leaving her-” Alena said slowly as she drew an imaginary circle with her index finger “-out of everything.”

“Why are you so fixated on Ana?” He snapped, “I’m not done yet.” Alena interrupted, her voice determined “I want you to make our relationship official, show up to social events with me, move in together, and announce our engagement in 5 months’ time.” “Engagement?!” “Yes. I don’t care to get married; at this point it will be for publicity.”

Seto was speechless for a moment as he processed Alena’s demands. “You’re just using me for publicity? You’re willing to manipulate your father and sign over his estate just for some publicity?” Seto was stunned. “That’s ludicrously vain even by rich girl standards, don’t you have better things to occupy yourself with?” He exclaimed. 

“Sticks and stones Seto, don’t lecture me about vanity, especially with the way you reacted when you lost your Duel Monsters Championship title.” She snapped. “Besides, who are you to judge? Everyone has something different that means a lot to them; for you, it’s those childish duel monster cards. For me, it’s my public image.”

Indeed, Seto was aware of the reason Alena is incessantly obsessed with her social media and public persona.  Growing up, he never had Gozaburou’s attention, except for the weekly lectures on his flaws and failings. Being brought up in a Russian oligarch family means Alena must have had dealing with impossibly high expectations as he did, and she was likely desperate for the attention she probably never received from her parents. However the difference between them was that Seto, unlike Alena, had managed to channel his frustration into creating games and technology, which in the long term was much less self-destructive than trying to maintain the approval of the public through social media.

“I’ll think about it.” He said quickly, dismissing Alena with a wave of his hands, he needed some time to consdier everything.   

“This isn’t a business deal, my love.” Alena grinned. “I don’t care to wait on you and I’m not here to bargain.  I want an answer now.” She ordered, relaxing into the armchair she had shoved aside earlier. 

Seto closed his eyes for a moment and exhaled deeply.  With his only family being Mokuba, who is eternally understanding, the decision between choosing business or personal affairs has always been easy for him. This time, however, he wasn’t so sure. 

“Well?” Alena prompted as Seto shuffled back to his desk.

‘I will get rid of Alena as soon as this whole thing is over with… but god knows how long that will take.’ Seto wondered as he took his seat again. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and he doubted that he would even get to speak with Krevchanko, or even Alex, again after this if he refused. 

Just this one last time.’ Seto placed his hand over his mouth as he caved in towards Alena’s demands.

I can’t forsake the future of my company, a company I worked so hard to build from the ashes of my stepfather’s empire, over some girl…’ his legs trembled as he suppressed his emotional urge to choose Ana over Kaiba Corp.

But she saved my life, she’s in the hospital because of me.’  Seto felt tension around his head as if a tight rubber band had coiled around his temples, slowly constricting his skull as he continued to contemplate his answer.

Just as he opened his mouth to reject Alena’s offer,  'I can’t…’

The discomfort Seto felt with choosing Ana stopped him before any words were able to escape his lips.  All he had done his whole life, aside for Mokuba, was for the benefit his company, ‘I’ve made personal sacrifices my whole life, what is one more?’  Seto couldn’t overcome his fear of doing harm to the one thing he had confined himself to his whole life.  Although every fiber of his being wanted reject Alena’s offer, logically Seto couldn’t justified it no matter what.

'I’ll make it up to her,’ he promised to himself as he finally responded to Alena.  “I’ll concede to your offer.” He answered, ‘I swear I’ll make it up to her.’   “We have a deal then?” Alena smiled as she extended her hand. ‘ I’m sorry Ana.’  Seto took Alena’s hand begrudgingly and shook it once before quickly casting it aside as if it was some cursed object.

“Deal.”

Chapter Text

“What do you mean she’s gone!? Find her this instant! Don’t you pathetic fools know who I am? I’m Seto Kaibaaaa! Blue eyes! Blast them with your White Lightning Attaaaack!” The makeup artists and stylists laughed hysterically as Alex pantomimed Seto, waving his hands in the air as he showered everyone in the room with playing cards.  “Stop moving around so much!” Alex’s assistant admonished between fits giggles as she struggled to tie a bowtie on him.  “That was a dead-on impression wasn’t it? My best one yet.” Alex laughed as he adjusted the black bowtie his assistant had finally managed to strap around his neck, “Right Ana?” he asked. To his dismay, Ana sat quietly by the marble vanity in the corner of the room, sporting the same solemn expression she’s had for the past few hours, with eyes fixated on nothing in particular, completely consumed by her thoughts.  “Hm?” she asked, sitting still as her personal tailor, sent from Oscar de la Renta, adjusted the delicate laces on the sleeves of her stunning gown. “Assurez-vous d'accentuer les filles (make sure to accentuate the girls).” Alex mimicked her eccentric tailor, Jacques, with a flick of his hand as Jacques fussed over Ana. 

Silence.

“Nevermind.” Alex sighed, dropping his voice slightly.

“Ladies and ‘gents, will you give us a moment?” he nodded politely to the crowd of people in his sitting room, which has been transformed into a makeshift dressing room for him and Ana as they readied for Ivan Krevchanko’s Christmas Party.  A mutter of “yes’s” and “sure’s” followed as the room emptied.  Alex strolled over to the vanity and sat down on the nearest armchair, taking a moment to consider his words, “I’m sorry I wasn’t there when it happened…I-” “No…” Ana stopped him as she snapped out of her trance, the gash on her wrist burning as he reminded her of the incident.  “I should’ve been looking out for you, I shouldn’t have just left you with…” Alex slammed his fist on his knee; he couldn’t forgive himself for allowing his surrogate little sister to get so badly injured while under his watch.  “I’m not 12 anymore you know.” Ana joked as she attempted to diffuse Alex’s frustration, although she herself wasn’t feeling her best either.  “Besides, it was my idiot self who decided to play the hero that night; at least you got me out of that hell hole.”  She smiled, this time graciously and sincerely, remembering how Alex rescued her from the hospital, especially after she was left alone with those horrible things Mokuba had told her...

“That poor nurse by the way! Were you bluffing?” Ana continued as she inhaled sharply, stopping her thoughts from going down that rabbit hole again. “Nope.” Alex relaxed a little after sensing some improvement in her mood.  “- just a friendly reminder that you all work for me now, so get out of my way and keep your mouths shut about this or I’m shutting this place down… Where did you learn to terrorize people like that?” she mocked in a deep voice, echoing Alex’s threats to the hospital staff as they tried to stop Ana from leaving.  “Eh, one learns from the people they meet while doing business.” He shrugged, not taking the risk of mentioning Kaiba’s name again in Ana’s current temperament.  Speaking of Kaiba, Ana may be an oddball, but Alex had never seen her get so riled up nor become so dejected over one single person, ‘What the hell happened with those two?’

The day after Seto’s promised return, Alex rushed to the Kremlyovka hospital after receiving an urgent message from Ana’s AI, NERO, informing him of her condition and intent to escape.  As he raced to her room, expecting a half-dead Ana, Alex had to brush off the hordes of hospital staff trying to bar his entrance to the hospital, only to find her halfway done disarming the instruments she was hooked up to.  “It’s his fault.” Alex grinned as he tapped NERO’s microchip, now disguised within a set of stunning diamond bracelets. “If he hadn’t sent for me, I wouldn’t have blown up on those poor people.”

“Yeah I need to double check him for bugs so he doesn’t keep being a little clandestine tattle tale.” Ana laughed as she rubbed her wrist subconsciously.  “You… didn’t tell Mikhail about this right?” she asked quietly, praying Alex hadn’t pulled the same stunt NERO did. “Oh heck no, knowing his temper? Someone might actually end up dying!” He laughed. “On a serious note, you sure you’re ok with this?” Alex’s playful manner disappeared as he questioned with great concern, “don’t feel obligated.” he continued.  Although Alex’s appearance at Kravchenko’s function was of vital importance for obvious reasons, he wasn’t going to leave Ana alone again until she was safely back in Japan; and if she wasn’t feeling up to going, he wasn’t going to attend either no matter the fallout.

Feeling a little less proud and self-important than she used to, Ana hid her reluctance. “Of course, duh!” she rolled her eyes playfully while beaming Alex a reassuring smile; surprised at her own willingness to attend this atrocity of a party for the sake of someone else, not as a repayment, but of her own volition; especially knowing that her former boss and his now Instagram-official girlfriend were going to be there.

“хорошо (Good)! Jacques! You guys can come back in now!” Alex shouted over his head.  “By the way, thank you for everything.” feeling comfortable with accepting help for the first time, Ana said kindly as the sitting room door swung open.  “Geez, who the hell are you?  Stop being so nice, it’s flippin weird.” Alex shuddered jokingly, but quietly acknowledged her appreciation with a wink as the helpers cheerfully resumed their fussing.

 


 

 

The tense and unsettling atmosphere in Seto’s penthouse suite couldn’t contrast more to the relaxed and jovial ambiance at Alex’s house.  Everyone spoke in hushed voices as Seto, Mokuba, and Alena dressed for the soirée, the feeling of unease almost palpable as the stylists and assistants moved around Seto silently, fully avoiding his gaze.  Jenny, who had taken over as Seto’s primary assistant in the absence of Ana, hastily retrieved a tuxedo from the clothing rack and walked shakily over to her brooding boss, knowing better than to keep him waiting.  Despite his infamous temper, the outburst Jenny witnessed yesterday afternoon was excessive, even by Seto’s standards.  “What do you mean she’s missing!?  How?  Who helped her?  Answer me you irresponsible buffoons.”  The rage Seto was displaying wasn’t of his usual insult filled mocking or shouting, but something much more ominous and threatening.  Although Jenny couldn’t tell if Seto was more worried or angry for Ana, she, along with everyone else, knew better than to test the patience of an angry Seto Kaiba.

Alena, on the other hand, was not the least bit bothered by Seto’s concern towards Ana’s disappearance; she has him wrapped around her pinky now, he could piss and moan all he wanted but at the end of the day, he had to abide to her terms in accordance with their deal. That included his attendance at her father’s party, despite the urgency of Ana’s unknown predicament.  

“What is this crap?  You’re fired.  Go get Wilhelm and get out of my sight.” Seto hissed, scrutinizing his ill-fitting outer jacket, “Oh my gosh! I’m so sorry Mr. Kaiba!” Jenny exclaimed as she examined the tags, she had mistakenly grabbed the mislabeled jacket.

‘Ana wouldn’t be this sloppy.’ Seto seethed as Jenny bowed over and over again, ignoring her as she begged him to reconsider his decision.  “Err, I have the correct one here, Wilhelm just dropped it off.” Mokuba said as he held up an identical jacket with the correct measurements. “Stop crying, you’re just going to make it worse, let me handle it.” he whispered, motioning the crying Jenny to leave the room.  

 


 

 

“Ready to go, my dear?” Alena simpered after she was finally satisfied with her hair.  “hmph.” She smirked as Seto responded with silence.  “The civil affairs minister will be attending the event tonight at father’s behest.” She smiled coyly, “I’ve never known him to linger more than 30 minutes at social functions.” She concluded as her assistant handed her a custom-made Hermes clutch.  Catching her hint, Seto reluctantly turned away from his desk. “Fine.” He mumbled begrudgingly, tearing his eyes away from the tablet that he had been using for updates on Ana and looked to Mokuba.

“Good riddance.” Alena sneered slyly under her breath as Mokuba shook his head at Seto’s inquiring stare. 

 


 

 

“Mr. and Mrs. Badr al Din Ansari! And daughters Shamsaa and Shamaamah Ansari!” The announcer bearing Kravchenko’s badge bellowed over the orchestra as the stylishly dressed Ansari family descended down the grand staircase.  

Determined to evade any and all attention, Ana sat quietly to herself in the shadows of the veranda, away from the hustle and bustle of the party. ‘What is this, the 1800’s?’ Ana mused as the announcer slammed the bottom of his ornate metal staff onto the ground, signaling the conclusion of his announcement.   Ana rolled her eyes as she raised a glass of water to her lips, thankful Alex snuck her in through the side entrance, saving her from this egotistical humiliation.  The jovial nature of Christmas parties was lost to her, and no amount of glittery gold ornaments and festive decorations could change her sullen mood as her thoughts continuously raced back to...

“Mr. Seto Kaiba and Ms. Alena Krevchanko!”

The water in her crystal glass rippled as Ana’s hands trembled at the sound of their names. She paused and glanced over to the grand staircase.  The cheers and applause from the crowd did not hide the sudden whispers and gossip that was initiated by the arrival of this celebrity couple.

“The rumors are true! It’s Seto Kaiba!”

“They’re such a beautiful couple!”

“How did they end up together?”

Ana’s heart somehow both leaped and sank in her chest as the buzz of gossip swirled around her.  She watched with bated breath as Seto and Alena descended slowly down the stairs, arm in arm, followed reluctantly by Mokuba.  Even she couldn’t deny it, they did look splendid together.  From far away, Ana could see Alena’s sparkling smile as she greeted her friends and family while Seto, remaining poised and relaxed, politely acknowledged them with a small nod; only Mokuba’s demeanor betrayed the tension he felt.

“If it’s any consolation, I would daresay that you’re the most beautiful person here.” Alex declared as he plopped down next to the striking beauty, himself a little miffed at the still descending couple.  “That just means your stylists have superior taste in makeup and dresses.” Ana sighed as she slumped backwards onto the chaise lounge. “Stop being such a downer.” Alex said as he nudged Ana playfully, “Come on, there’s a recently recovered Picasso I want you to see!” Alex grabbed her by the waist and forcibly pulled her from the seat. 

“Stop it! Everyone’s looking!” Ana growled in a hushed whisper as he dragged her by the hand, snaking their way through the crowd. “That’s because you’re stunning!” “Quit it with those cliché complements Alex!” “Only because it’s true!”

‘Oh no no no.’ Ana grumbled in her head as she heard some audible gasps from the crowd and caught a few familiar faces she recognized from the charity dinner.

“Who is she? She’s gorgeous!”

“My gosh who designed her dress?”

“I’ve seen her before! With Mikhail and Kaiba! And now… Aleksei Vasiliev?”

Ana could hear whispers as she walked past the crowd of people, she lowered her head in an attempt to shield her face from on-lookers and… “Oof.” She grumbled as Alex stopped short of their destination, causing Ana to bump into him. 

“What is the meaning of this?”

Ana snapped her head up so quickly she could swear she popped a few vertebrate.

“Out of my way, Kaiba.” Alex ordered firmly, pulling Ana up beside him as he tried to walk past Seto, who had a look of stunned bewilderment and confusion.  Alena on the other hand, looked absolutely livid beside him.  

“Alex, you better explai-” Alena started.

“Have you been with him this whole time?” Seto interrupted in Japanese, not wanting the onlookers or Alena to understand or butt-in on this conversation.

“I said get out of my way.” Alex warned bluntly as he attempted to move Seto aside.

“Mind your business Vasiliev.”, “This is my business.”, “What’s your business? Stealing other people’s gir-, employees?”, “So what?”, “So-!”

“Oh drop it Kaiba!” Ana exclaimed, Seto flinched as she called him by his last name.  “Stop acting like you give a damn about anyone.  No one is buying your lies.”

“What lies?” Seto asked, feeling wounded from Ana’s, albeit truthful, accusation.

“Oh ok, playing dumb I see.” Ana glared, “Well then let me refresh your memory.” She said as she moved in front of Alex.  “I waited up for hours.”  Seto trembled at the reminder of his broken promise.  “You lied to me; did you ever come back? Of course not, you just left me rotting in that hospital room, hoping stupidly that you would eventually show.”

“I-”

“I’m not done yet,” Ana interrupted,

“Didn’t you want me to disappear? Wasn’t I just some annoying little play thing you are now sick of and can't wait to get rid of?”  Seto clenched his fists as he remembered how he had foolishly agreed to have Mokuba relay those horrible things to Ana under Alena’s terms.

“Weren’t you the one who sent Mokuba and those two goons to do your dirty work instead of manning up and telling me yourself?  Don’t pretend that never happened.”  Mokuba took a step back at the mention of his name and Alex looked nervously at the escalating confrontation.

“He didn’t mean any of that!” Mokuba defended, looking desperately at Ana as he attempted to protect his big brother’s innocence. “Shut up!” Alena shouted, not understanding a word of Japanese but correctly assumed Mokuba’s intentions.  “Don’t tell my brother to shut up.” Seto warned. 

‘Oh, so he’ll defend Mokuba alright.’ Ana glared, even more incensed at Seto’s unwillingness to stand up for her.  She didn’t care whether Seto had meant those insults or not, there was one thing he couldn’t deny.  “Be it that you’re doing this for money, for love, or whatever it may be.” Ana continued, thinking of all the sacrifices she’s made for him; her schooling, her pride, her family, her life…  “Whether it was you who sent Mokuba or it was someone else; the point is, you allowed it to happen, you made your decision.” Ana pointed sharply at the girl beside him, “So goodbye Mr. Kaiba, and good luck with your life.” Ana huffed as she pushed past Seto.

 

“Ana stop!”

Seto closed his eyes and clenched his jaw as he instinctively reached for the figure brushing past him, regretting his lack of courage to have done this much sooner.

“Seto! Don’t forget our deal!”

Alena protested as Seto seized Ana by her arm, swinging her around to face him.

“Screw the deal.” He hissed as his piercing stare locked onto Ana’s eyes, determined to not fuck it up this time, “This is my final choice.”

“You-”

 

 

 

Alena’s retort was abruptly interrupted as the announcer spoke over the speakers,

“Mr. Mikh – hey hey hey! You can’t-”

The announcer was cut short by a loud screeching as the microphone was wrenched out of his hands.  Alex facepalmed as Mikhail’s voice echoed across the ballroom.

“LAAADIEEEES AND GENTLEEEMEEENN!”

Chapter Text

“LAAADIEEEES AND GENTLEEEMEEENN!”

Mikhail announced as he strutted towards the grand staircase, pausing at the top step as he scanned around the room.  Alex waved his closed palm frantically in front of his neck, gesturing for Mikhail to stop immediately.  Unfortunately, the hot-headed Mikhail took no notice of his best friend and instead he caught, yet again, the sight of Kaiba and Ana.  A flash of anger swept across Mikhail’s face but was quickly concealed as he proceeded with his plan.  “What better time to feel love and happiness than during the holiday season, and with such fabulous company at this marvelous party!” he beamed at the audience. “That you just hijacked” Alex sighed defeatedly under his breath, giving up on trying to stop this madness. 

“So! In keeping with the holiday spirit! It is with great pleasure that I, hereby today, share the most wonderful love and happiness with you all.” Mikhail smiled as he held his arms wide open, beaming around like a circus ringleader.

“Behold! My future bride!” Seto’s grip on Ana tightened as the raving lunatic turned towards them. “My darling!” Mikhail paused dramatically for the audience to turn towards Ana’s general direction.

“Ana!!” 

As if on cue, the crowd gasped and backed away into a circle as a spotlight conveniently landed his stunned little sister. “Come with me my love.” Mikhail smirked as he beckoned Ana with his hand, “Your wedding present is waiting outside.”

“Alex?” Ana rounded threateningly at the guilty accomplice as she tugged her arm free from Seto.   “I had no part in this!” he defended, which was partially true, as Mikhail had gone so far off script that even he was clueless as to what was happening.  “Let go.” Ana hissed as Seto held stubbornly onto her arm.

The pair of icy blue eyes glared as Ana struggled before him.  Seto couldn’t believe it, is she really going to chase after that idiot?  After he had just confessed his feelings out loud?  To a room full of people?  Does all that mean nothing to her? 

In his momentary lapse of concentration, Ana freed herself and sped up the stairs without pause and made for the front entrance where her brother was waiting. 

“Ah shit.” Alex cursed under his breath as he sprinted up the stairs but was pushed aside as Seto went tearing after them. 

  


 

 

Mikhail stood on the front driveway of Krevchanko’s estate, nodding to his assistants as the three figures fast approached. 

“Mikhail!” Ana shouted as she marched towards her smirking brother, feeling both livid and thrilled at his unexpected appearance.  “What was all that for?” she snarled as she closed the distance between them.  Without warning, Mikhail clasped Ana’s face in his hands and pulled her in for a kiss. “Shh!” Mikhail warned as Ana began to protest. “Play along!” he ordered as she had done previously and held her face so close their faces were touching.  Mikhail laughed as he pretended to make out with his sister by pecking her on the nose.  ‘Gotcha!’ To his delight, Seto had halted his steps at the sight of them and balled his hands into fists.  His whole body shook with rage as Ana pulled Mikhail into a bear hug.  

“I miss you!” she cried happily.  She didn’t give a damn what idiotic schemes Mikhail had cooked up this time; after what had transpired after the last few days, she was genuinely happy to see him.

“Ugh...wha?” Mikhail asked, perplexed, fully expecting Ana to have kicked him in the shin or worse for his shenanigans.  Was she really playing along, or had Alex given him the wrong information?  Whatever the case may be, Mikhail pulled Ana aside and signaled his assistants.

“Behold!!” he shouted as two giant drones buzzed into sight with a big rectangular crate tied beneath them.  

Ana jumped excitedly as the box unfolded before her, revealing a custom Lykan Hypersport she had been vying for for months.  The exquisitely detailed car shined as the sapphire encrusted exterior gleamed underneath the hovering drone lights.  “Merry Christmas!” Mikhail beamed as Ana pulled him in for another hug and ran off the examine the ultra-rare supercar.  “Oh my god, I thought you were kidding when you told me Blue-Eyes.”  Alex huffed as he finally caught up to them.  “I never lie.” Mikhail answered proudly as he patted his bewildered friend on the shoulder.  Indeed, upon closer inspection, Ana had noticed that the car was designed suspiciously to the likeness of the blue-eyes white dragon; the subtle off-white color with an undertone of blue and the carefully placed gemstones in the headlights mimicked the distinctly shaped eyes of Seto’s favorite duel monster card. 

“I thought you were going for a Zenvo ST1, how did you get your hands on one of these?” she could hear Alex exclaim bewilderingly as she popped open the driver’s door. “Eh, I know someone who knows someone. Point is, I knew Ana wanted one of these for a while now, and I just so happen to see Kaiba eyeing this at the convention too.” Mikhail whispered, “They only made 7 of these, he can’t get his hands on one of these babies even if he has all of the money in the world.” He sneered.

‘Two birds with one stone huh?’ Ana giggled to herself, classic Mikhail. 

“Look at him! He looks pissed HA!” Mikhail exclaimed gleefully under his breath as he and Alex peeked at the ominously quiet Seto.  Contrary to his usual outbursts, Seto now held a solemn expression, something Ana only witnessed when Seto was truly upset over something.

Unsure of Seto’s sincerity during his heated confession before Mikhail’s interruption, Ana misattributed his despondent attitude to the appearance of the Lykan.  Ana felt a pang of pity as she glanced at Seto’s defeated appearance.  It was a dreadful feeling, having something you’ve desired for so long taken away before your very own eyes; like when she watched the Stradivarius violin slip away at the auction.  ‘Whatever.’ She shook off the thought as she continued to admire the beautiful car. ‘He always gets what he wants anyways.’

But she was wrong. 

For once, Seto couldn’t have the one thing he never knew he wanted.  He was angry, angry he had lost Ana again to this fool.  Angry he hadn’t done more, sooner.  But it’s too late now, her choice was clear, she had abandoned him for another. ‘She kissed him….’ Seto cursed at himself, thinking of the countless times he was forced to kiss Alena when it could’ve been Ana all along. 

“Mokuba...” he looked at Seto woefully his big brother called out his name, but Mokuba was at a loss for how to help as well.  He wasn’t used to Seto being so despondent, and this wasn’t duel monsters where he could cheer Seto on from the sideline, nor was this a situation where mind control or manipulation would somehow set her free.

‘So this is how it feels from the other side.’ Seto scoffed to himself as she watched Ana and Mikhail exchange even more hugs, his body aching as he watched his rival embracing the one person he and been longing to hold himself.

Giving up, Seto unfurled his fists. The sudden release of tension triggered a stinging sensation on his upper arm.   As Seto held onto his wound, the memories of that night slapped him in the face as images of Ana’s bloodied body played over and over in his mind.  How could he be so weak when she had been so strong?

“You smell good.” Mikhail sniffed the air around Ana and commented casually.

“I’ve had it! I will NOT lose to this idiot.” Seto declared, suddenly straightening up as his eyes locked onto the laughing couple before him.  Mikhail’s comment was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

“Has Struchen delivered the item from my vault yet?”

“…” Mokuba was speechless, busy being stunned by Seto’s abrupt change in demeanor. “Yes! He just arrived.” He answered hastily as Seto shot him his signature death glare.  “Go get it and meet me at veranda near the back gate.”  He ordered while keeping his eyes trained forward.  “oh…oh-kay...where?” Mokuba stammered but Seto was already walking away.

  


 

 

“Kaiba! Long time no see.  Look look look! Quality AND quantity.” Mikhail greeted sarcastically as he gestured towards the girl and car behind him.  But Seto ignored his taunts and continued forward. 

“Uh, where do you think you’re going?” Mikhail asked, his voice now stern as he strode in front of Seto, obstructing his path.  “Move Scholtz, my business isn’t with you.” Seto stepped up, glowering at the man before of him.  “Obviously it’s my business.” Mikhail scoffed as he gestured towards the clueless Ana as she fiddled distractedly at the dashboard controls.  “I won’t say it again, move.” Seto growled, heat rising in his chest as he restrained himself from punching his rival in the face.  “Oh yeah? Make me.” Mikhail snarled, equally annoyed at Seto’s persistence. 

“You two, behave.” Alex cautioned as he wedged himself between the two, “I don’t care if you’re my best friend or the CEO of Kaiba Corp., start anything here and I’ll have the both of you thrown out in an instant.” Alex threatened uncompromisingly; this was Krevchanko’s, and by extension his, estate and social gathering after all, and he wasn’t going to tolerate any more tomfoolery from these two in front the guests. 

Taking advantage of Alex’s intervention, Seto shoved the two aside and rushed towards the Lykan.  “Get out.” He commanded harshly as he yanked open the driver’s side door.  Although unnerved by his sudden presence, Ana merely scowled at Seto and resumed her inspection.  “Now!” he ordered again, tapping his fingers impatiently on the car roof.  “Why? Your Alena’s coming.” She said coolly, tilting her chin towards a hysterical woman stomping her way through the crowd.

“Ana!” Alex begged as he accosted Alena while his security guards trapped Mikhail in a circle; fearing the inevitable nuclear confrontation the four of them would have if they got near each other. 

Ana exited the car swiftly, having caught on to Alex’s silent plea.  Without thought, Seto grabbed her wrist and started dragging her away.   “Ow!” she cried when Seto’s dug his fingers into her recently acquired wound, who let go immediately as she yelped in pain.  He had forgotten her injury in the heat of the moment; the sleeve of her dress had hidden her recently stitched cut.  Despite her reaction, Seto feigned ignorance as he took hold of her upper arm.  But inside, he berated himself over this stupid mistake.

“Don’t beat yourself up about it.” Seto slowed his pace as Ana snapped suddenly. ‘How could she tell I was…’ he loosened his grip as he guided her through the back garden, her simultaneously sharp and consoling words echoing in his mind. 

 

The veranda of the guest house was thankfully vacant upon their arrival.  For once, this situation was too bizarre, even for Ana.  Having no idea what to expect, she sauntered over to a stone bench, taking a seat beneath a bush of hawthorn berries as Seto looked around for someone. 

‘Not this again.’ Ana shivered as a gust of wind blew past the building, showering her thinly dressed body with frozen crystals that once covered the hawthorn tree above her.  “I’m fine.” She lied through chattering teeth as Seto started to unbutton his outer jacket.  As always, he disregarded her protest and tossed her the nice warm piece of clothing, knowing she couldn’t resist it.  Except, looking at his thin dress shirt and vest, Ana threw it right back, thinking that surely, he would freeze before her this time.  “This is an order.” He marched over and shoved it in her arms.  “You’re not my boss anymore.” Ana reminded as she shoved the jacket back at him. 

The corner of Seto’s lips curled slightly as he smirked to himself.  “What?” Ana asked indignantly; how could he possibly find any of this funny? 

“Need me to look away?” he mocked, remembering the time she stubbornly refused to eat until he had left the room.  “What?” she asked again, more confused than ever. 

“Nii-san!” Mokuba called from the garden as he rushed over with something in hand.  Seto took this opportunity to stick Ana with the jacket and walked over to meet his brother. 

“Where is your jacket?” Mokuba questioned as he handed Seto a briefcase. “Don’t worry about it.” He answered sharply.  “Well, here,” Mokuba nodded knowingly, producing a small keycard from his pocket.  “I asked the groundskeeper where the guest house was, I don’t know why but gave me this.” He placed the card in Seto’s hand and smiled naughtily.  Seto shook his head and waved a quick thanks with the key in his hands.  He should’ve known Mokuba was up to something. There would be no way that Ivan’s security would be this lax during his big party.   

 


 

 

Inside, the charming guesthouse was nicely heated even though it had been unoccupied.  Ana attempted to return Seto’s jacket, but he motioned it for her to put it aside instead.  He strolled around the living room, flicking on the lights as he does, still holding the briefcase in his hands. 

“Get over here.” Seto motioned as he placed the briefcase case onto a standing table near the fireplace.  “What is it?” Ana questioned as she stood across from him.  She could tell Seto was nervous about something, it was obvious by the way he was trying to steady his breath, the way he was biting the inside of his bottom lip.  ‘Nervous about what?’ she wondered; did he drag her out here to be murdered or something?

Two small clicks sounded as Seto unlocked the briefcase.  He held the lid open and gently pulled away a second cover before carefully examining the contents.  Ana tilted her head as she observed his strange behavior but stayed silent as Seto took his time to look over everything. 

He was nervous indeed; he had never attempted to gift such this kind of present before.  Well, actually he had… but it was never personal, it had always a business expenditure. 

But now that the moment had finally come, anxiety festered through his thoughts.  What if she doesn’t like it?  What if it doesn’t compare to the Lykan?  IS this what she wanted?  ‘Am I doubting myself right now?’ he questioned, wondering where this new found apprehension came from.

“You…ok?” Seto fell back to reality as Ana spoke. He could see concern written all over her face.

Leaving her unanswered, Seto slowly turned the brief case to face her.  

“Where …. did you get this?” Ana gasped and her eyes widened as she leaned in for a closer look, her shocked and curious expression came as a relief to Seto.  “Where do you think, genius?” he scoffed, hiding his own excitement.  

Ana’s hands trembled as she glided her fingers over the exquisitely crafted amber violin now displayed within the case.  “Is this…”, “The very same one.” Seto answered, correctly guessing her unfinished question.  The glossy surface of the Stradivarius flickered with orange and yellow colors as it reflected the dancing flames from the marble mantle next to them.

“But, someone else bought it...” Ana glanced at Seto with starry eyes while her face wore a puzzled expression, but then then quickly returning to gawk at the beautiful masterpiece before her as she couldn’t keep her eyes off of it.  “So?” he answered nonchalantly, savoring her admiration for his gift; savoring her appreciation for his show of affection.

“Why are you showing me this?” She questioned, Ana couldn’t bring herself to hope that this was a gift for her.  Why would it be? They are no longer acquaintances, let alone friends; he has a girlfriend now who absolutely despises her, he dismissed her from her job, he-

Seto sighed; does she really need him to spell it out for her?  “It’s… yours.” he stammered, sounding much more sheepish and awkward than he would have liked.  

Ana looked around the room, dumbfounded, as if Seto was talking to someone else.  “Me?” she cried, pointing to herself.  “Me?!”

“Who else could I possibly be talking to?!” Seto stepped away and paced around the room, exasperated at her cluelessness. 

“But why?” Ana continued, still not believing him.   

“Because I-” Seto stopped himself before he blurted out the rest of his thoughts, frustrated at her lack of understanding.

“Great, I just wasted a couple million dollars on the world’s biggest fucking idiot.” He mumbled angrily to himself, feeling foolish and thoroughly humiliated at his failed attempt.

“Wait!” Ana called as Seto stormed over to the front door, hands hovering over the doorknob as he readied to leave. Seto breath quickened as Ana rushed to his side; perhaps she finally understood his intentions, perhaps she’s now ready to express her gratitude and swore her undying love for him.  

Seto turned to face her.

“Don’t forget to take your jacket!!” she beamed.

Seto’s face turned a deep shade of purple as Ana grinned mischievously from ear to ear.  

Oh, she’s done it this time.

“YOU ARE THE WORS-” Seto’s tirade was cut short as Ana crushed her lips against his.  His body froze as her soft, gentle lips pushed against his own, feeling the heat of her body warming the very air around him.  He stood still even as she wrapped her arms around his neck, tasting her strawberry flavored lips as she kissed him even harder.  Finally, as Ana pulled away for air, Seto gave in to his hunger, as if his body was acting impulsively of its own accord; his arm wrapped tightly around her waist, pressing her body against his own, his other hand rested firmly at back of her head, refusing to let her go as he placed her lips back onto his own. 

 

 

 

*BOOM!*

Seto jumped instinctively in front of Ana as the door was kicked open.

“YOU!!” A furious voice bellowed from the doorway. “GET AWAY FROM MY SISTER!!”