|The Only Constant
Author: Ellen Brand PM
Follows "Ankoku Wa Osore Nai." In the aftermath of Joey's return, life goes back to normal... or as close as Domino City ever gets.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Words: 11,285 - Reviews: 22 - Favs: 41 - Follows: 6 - Published: 10-22-03 - id: 1569779
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Disclaimer: YuGiOh does not belong to me. It is the property of several Japanese people and corporations. All I want is Joey and Kaiba... *drool* Ahem. This short is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for language, implied violence, and implied sexuality. This is a follow-up to "Ankoku no Osore Nai," and also a bit of an experiment. I don't usually write in first person, but it bit me this way... Go figure.
The Only Constant
"Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine." -- Anonymous
"I'm not going to let you do this, Joey," he says softly, big eyes still locked on mine. "I won't let you throw away your humanity."
Humanity? I have to laugh. Like I need or want something so... WEAK. Doesn't he get it? Doesn't he see how much better, stronger than human I am? What power we can have? We can be GODS, for Pete's sake! Immortal, eternal, going where we want, doing what we want...
The chin's sticking out again. I've known him long enough to read him like a book. He's not going to do it. I'm offering him the world with both hands, and he's just gonna throw it away. For that damn shadow that's done nothing but bring misery to all of us ever since that puzzle got back together. I should never have pulled that piece outta the pool.
Fine, then, Yugi. You want to cling to your humanity, your mortality? I'll go one step better. Grabbing him, I tilt his head to one side, exposing that soft neck. You want to be mortal? Then like all mortals... you DIE. Sinking my fangs in, ignoring the screams of the nitwits I used to call friends, I get my first taste of his blood.
And it tastes like heaven.
I don't know how I managed to keep from screaming as I wake up. Every muscle in my body is tense, and it takes me a second to realize I'm staring at a white-painted ceiling, lying on my own bed, not sucking Yugi's life away in that damn warehouse. It's only been a few days since I got back; I shouldn't be so surprised that I'm having nightmares. I just... hadn't realized it got to me that deep, y'know? I was home, I was fine, I hadn't really hurt anybody... Mai said she forgave me, and her eyes said she meant it. She even kissed me on the cheek before she left Kaiba's.
Yeah, Seto Kaiba actually invited us all over to his mansion for a welcome home party. I think that had to be the weirdest thing out of the whole mess. Forget the fact that apparently the Blue Eyes are REAL, forget the fact that I was a blood-sucking undead fiend... Seto Kaiba threw a party. Not much of a party, mainly just us hanging out in the backyard, goofing off, but still, a party is a party.
Yugi and Yami weren't that surprised. Come to think of it, neither was Tristan... I think I missed a lot while I was out, and nobody's had a chance to sit down and tell me about it yet. I'm not the only one who was freaked out by the whole thing. Apparently, not only did Kaiba help, and actually ADMIT he could do magic, but Bakura decided to pitch in, too. Shows you just how nasty this thing was, I guess.
Of course, my dad was drunk for most of it. Apparently nobody ever told him I'd left the hospital. I got home from Kaiba's, and he was already passed out in his chair. When he woke up, he just grumbled a "welcome home," and told me to make dinner. And last night, he got plowed and threw a bottle at me. Ah well, nice to see some things are still kind of normal.
I still can't quite believe Yugi actually offered his throat to me. Kaiba, sure-- it was a bet, and he knew he could beat me. But Yugi... God, he just stood there, so sure that he knew me, knew I wouldn't. And he was right. How can anyone have that kind of faith? And oh God, if he had been wrong...
I can't. I can't lie here thinking about this all day. I'm gonna go out for a run, soak up the sunshine. I can't get enough of the sun these days. And maybe... maybe I'll call Serenity. I need to hear from her, to remember that some things in my life haven't gone to hell.
Maybe I just need a little hope.
Things definitely need to change around here. I haven't exactly been neglecting my business; I could no more do that than stop breathing. But with the Duelist Kingdom, getting trapped in my own computer game, Battle City, and now the Black Pharaoh, I haven't had the time to concentrate on it the way I wanted to. We've been limping along in low gear since I... terminated the Big 5, running mainly on momentum. That's fine for a while, but if Kaiba Corporation is going to stay competitive, I need to start doing some real work. This company is my dream, my lifeblood. There's no way I'm letting it run into the ground.
First major order of business is to rebuild the security staff. Kimo and his goons were loyal solely to the Big 5, and when I fired them, I was left with a skeleton crew, but at least they were loyal. And I haven't had any major projects that would require major security recently... but dealing with a vampire Wheeler made me realize I need a better security force, and I need them now. I need somebody who can go toe to toe with a strategist like the mutt, who I'll admit (if only in my head) is one of the best I've faced. Actually, I seriously considered offering him the position, but it wouldn't do me much good to have a head of security who had to go to high school at the same times I did. Besides, we'd kill each other in five minutes. Still... I'll make a note. If I didn't have to deal with him all the time, it might work.
But I still need a security head, someone I can delegate most of the work of rebuilding the staff to. Which is why I'm sitting here reading profiles and conducting interviews. Most of them, to date, haven't been a smashing success. Kimo and the Big 5 had connections. Japan's security specialists aren't beating down my door to work here.
"Mr. Kaiba?" My secretary. She looks a bit scared-- guess my temper's getting to the point where it's oozing out into the waiting room. I try to put a less-annoyed expression on my face as I nod for her to continue. I don't think it worked.
"The next applicant is here... A Miss Gaudet."
"Send her in, please, Amano-san." As she leaves, I grab the appropriate profile. Alixandra Gaudet, American. Age 18-- huh, barely an adult, even by American standards. Louisiana Cajun, place of birth, New Orleans. Family history of cops, bodyguards, and security specialists. Fairly long list of references... no pictures. Apparently she really, REALLY doesn't like being photographed-- several information gatherers lost cameras, not to mention teeth. This should be interesting.
"You can go right in, Miss Gaudet," I can hear Amano saying. Putting the folder away, I brace myself. I've only met a few women in the upper levels of the security business, but they've all been the same- cold, businesslike, sharks in mid-priced suits. Something tells me this is going to be different. I'm not sure what; maybe it's that magic sense I've just embraced. Maybe it's the comments in the folder, which waver between glowing praise and downright rabid denunciation. Maybe it's just experience of life in Domino City.
... Or maybe it's the three giant lizards snickering in the back of my head.
She's TINY-- that's the first thing that hits me as she enters my office. Taller than Mokuba, but only just-- I'd say about five-three, tops. She's got the build to match, too-- what Americans call "petite." At least what I can see of it.
That's the second thing-- her clothing. No hyper-professional grey suits here. Her hair's red-- bright, coppery red, drawn back in a braid. And she dresses along with it. The jacket is turquoise, unstructured linen, masculine cut. Yes, I notice these things, just like I notice the bulges that indicate she's carrying not one, but TWO guns under it. Wonder how she got a permit for those in Japan.
The jacket's the most professional thing on her, too. She's wearing blue jeans, a black t-shirt and-- uh huh, scuffed cowboy boots. Definitely American, and doesn't care who knows it.
I finally look up and meet her eyes, which are, I notice, the same color as her jacket. She's amused, too, by my sizing her up. Not offended, though; of course, I didn't think she would be. Security specialists know an evaluation when they see it.
"Please, have a seat." This is going to be an interesting interview, I just know it.
She doesn't so much sit in the facing chair as perch in it. One of the drawbacks of her size, I suppose. She hardly looks any older than Mokuba, much less me. Admittedly, only by a year, but still.
"Miss Gaudet? I'm Seto Kaiba. Thank you for coming to this interview."
"Call me Alix, please. I'm not much for formalities, as you've probably guessed." Her smirk's a bit too close to the mutt's for my comfort. And her voice... somehow, I have a feeling a lot of people underestimate that low Cajun drawl. "This is business dress for me," she continues, gesturing at her jacket.
I'm not going to laugh. I'm not. Just because I can't remember the last time I put on an actual suit for a business meeting... And whatever sadist decreed that high heels should be business dress for women ought to be shot. I was getting flowers for a month after I first told the female employees they could wear flats.
"Alix, then." I pointedly DON'T offer her the use of my first name. It doesn't seem to bother her. "I see you're from Louisiana... quite a distance. Why come to Japan for a job?"
A careless shrug. "Mah brother's partner on the NOPD is from Tokyo originally. I started learnin' to speak the language when I was eight. I was looking for work, heard about your opening. I'm comfortable here, thought I'd give it a try."
Hmph. It's as if she's read one of those interview preparation articles and is determined to break every rule they have. Then again, I never have been much for rules. I flip through the folder again. Her qualifications are undeniable, and the few negatives in the folder strike me as exaggerated, or something I can live with. Just one more question.
"So, Alix, why do you want to work for me?"
She's sizing me up now, obviously trying to decide whether or not to offer me some corporate line of bullshit. "You've got a reputation," she responds slowly. "You're a son of a bitch in the corporate world, but you're an honest one. You play hardball, but you play clean. My daddy taught me that in this business, you never work for a man you wouldn't take a bullet for. I'm not sure about that, but I won't work for someone I don't respect. And besides that, you're supposed to be hell on wheels on your employees, but you're fair about it. And if anyone messes with you OR your people, there's hell to pay. I like that." She smiles then, a slightly off-center, wry grin. "Besides... You're one of the few men I've met who thinks with the head on his shoulders."
That's it. I've never been impulsive, but sometimes you just KNOW what the right decision is. I've always been a firm believer in hunches, even before I accepted that magic might have some validity. Besides... she's entirely wrong for the job. The total opposite of what a security chief should be.
"You're hired. You start work Monday."
I need to have my head examined.
God, I think I'm the only one in this section younger than thirty. Of course, this IS the university library, and it is the religion/mythology section. I'm probably also the only person in here who isn't working on a thesis. I'm getting some funny looks, but I don't think anyone is going to bother me. I just have to get in, find what I need, and get out.
I could go to Yugi's grandfather, of course... he's got that library that we had to pry Kaiba out of to eat. I don't want to do that yet, though... I guess I don't want Yugi and Yami to know how spooked I am. Not yet, anyway.
"Just a simple spell, Tea." Yeah, right. I thought I was comfortable with magic; I mean, I've seen so much of it, it's normal now. Okay, having Malik rummaging around in my mind was pretty freaky, but that was one time. Seeing what Kaiba could pull out of his cards barely fazed me.
Maybe... maybe it was because I was the one doing the magic. I've always just stood by and watched, lent moral support, or the strength of my friendship. This was something completely different. It was... like flying. I could feel this energy inside me, ready to come when I called, to do what I asked. Is this how Yami feels? How Kaiba feels? No wonder his eyes change every time he summons a Blue Eyes.
And then... SHE came. I don't know who she was, exactly, but then again... I've always known her. She was so familiar, like my mother, and yet not, a reigning queen and a warm pair of arms. I think I used to hear her singing to me when I was young. She fit into me like she was part of me, but... I think it was the other way around.
I-- She-- WE scared Bakura, I think. That's fair; he scares me a lot of the time. But when I looked at him in the warehouse, he wasn't scary. He was just lost, hurting. I wanted to heal him, to take away all his pain. He knew her, even though he wasn't saying. And she... she knew him in ways I can't even get my mind around. And she loved him anyway. Which may be what scared him, come to think of it.
This place is huge! I'll never be able to get through it all. Not that I have much idea of how to find out anything, but... okay, she was obviously Egyptian. And her color was silver... it had to have something to do with that pendant. Silver, the moon, goddesses-- Goddesses? Yeah, she was a goddess. No way she could have been anything else. Yami recognized her too, although I don't think he knew from where. But our powers fit so perfectly...
Mmm... what's this? Smaller, white binding, written in- oh great, it's written in English. I CAN read it, thanks to Joey and Yugi helping me with lessons, but it's slow going, and I'll probably miss something. Still, the silver lettering is a clue I'm on the right track. Let me see-- "The Inconstant Moon: A study of Lunar Goddesses and their worshippers from 4000 BC to present."
... Okay, this is freaky. Finding exactly what I was looking for on the first try? Well... maybe it's not really what I need. Reaching out, I pull it off the shelf, flipping it open at random. The left-hand page (remember, Westerners read backward, Tea,) has a picture of a woman in robes, hands extended towards a glowing circle that I figure has to be the moon. The title is "Drawing Down the Moon." On the facing page, it talks about how moon worshippers believed that they could invite the goddess of the moon to come into their bodies and share power with them to perform works of... magic.
That's it; this is going home with me.
He should be sleeping. The time is edging towards midnight, and though there is no school tomorrow, recent events have been stressful. But I can feel him through our link, staring out at the world, still awake. Not from fear or nightmares, as one might expect, but simply... thinking. As am I.
I don't know what it is that keeps Yugi awake tonight, but as for me, I'm sitting in my soul room, surrounded by what scraps of memories I can dig up, thinking about something the Black Pharaoh said. To be fair, it is something I've thought about before, though never have I given it as much thought as tonight.
I am dead. Five thousand years ago, I gave my life and half my soul to stop the Shadow Games, to seal them away when they began to threaten the land. My Shadow was bound to the Puzzle, to seal the gate. What remained of my soul, my Light... was returned to the Wheel of Time.
To be reborn after five thousand years as Yugi Moto, a boy of no name and family, no importance as we reckoned such things. Born only as Light, and yet he grew strong. I sometimes marvel that he has not broken under that which the world has thrown at him before I came to him.
I am dead. Yugi is alive, and his body is what keeps me here, in this world. The Puzzle merely keeps me separate, myself, with my mind and memories intact. Or at least as close as I can get.
I'd come to terms with that, with knowing I was as dead as all I had known, that I was only Yugi's Shadow, the part of a soul that had been lost. I was a spirit, and my duty was to protect and guide my light from the darkness that we had to face again.
But I'm not a spirit, not truly. I am not a ghost. Both of those are creatures far more ethereal than I, far closer to moving on into the West. I am a shade, just as that mockery of Kaiba was. I am still tied to this world, tied to the living. I am closer to being one of the undead than a true spirit. A revenant. Something walking that should be dead and buried. In fact, one might say that I myself disturb Ma'at, the true order.
It was this that let the Black Pharaoh grasp me, attempt to draw me from Yugi's body and turn me to his own whims. And it was due to Yugi that he failed. My light would not let go, despite knowing what I am. And the power I felt from Tea was ages older and stronger than my own, but it- SHE- accepted me. Approved of me.
The time will come, may it be far in the future, when Yugi will finally pass from the Earth, and I shall pass with him. Then, if Ra so wills, perhaps we may be reborn as one soul once more. In the meantime, we ARE together. And THAT is right.
The moon's full tonight. And wow, is it gorgeous. The light's so bright, but it's delicate, not like sunlight. Sun is warm, strong... this is cool silver, just sort of laying everywhere like water. Grandpa started teaching me English when I was little, since I was always so interested in archaeology. I always thought it was funny that "tsukikage," the Japanese equivalent to English "Moon Light," broke down into two words that translated to "moon" and "shadow." So the light of the moon is also its shadow. Halfway between shadow and light...
Whatever was riding Tea in the warehouse... it had something to do with the moon. And Grandpa's friend gave her that amulet... in silver, which is linked to the moon. And she fit in so perfectly with us. Shadow, light... and moonlight. Moonshadow.
Is Tea linked to us? Is that why she got the amulet? I remember picking up something from Yami's memories about Hathor, and the living queen, the wife of the pharaoh... he didn't seem surprised that it was Tea, but he won't tell me why. He just grins when I ask him and says I ought to know the answer. Well, I DON'T!
Tea's been my best friend for ages. It seems right that she should be part of us, somehow. I know she likes Yami... A LOT, and he didn't seem too upset about the date I set them up on. Once he had time to cool down, anyway.
And the moon's already in the west, which means it's after midnight, and I should probably be SLEEPING. But after everything... I just CAN'T. It's all changed so much. I know Joey's still jumping at shadows, and I don't blame him. He's also gone through a lot of mouthwash, trying to forget the taste of blood. Mai's spent a lot of time with us, too, mainly with Ryou, oddly enough... and Bakura doesn't seem to have a problem with that. Go figure.
Kaiba doesn't want to see any of us ever again. I give that a week, tops. He needs us, and he knows it; he just hates admitting it. Mokuba knows it too, though, and he'll make sure Seto comes to us when he has to. I was really surprised that he could call his dragons right out in the open like that, and so easily. Watching him sleep against a giant basking lizard, though, was priceless. Good thing Tristan brought a camera.
He won't tell us who he dueled before coming to get between me and Joey. I know something happened, and it threw him pretty bad. But at the same time, he seems... calmer, somehow. Like he finally put something to rest that was bothering him.
I think we're making progress.
Moonbathing. What a concept. Of course, I suppose if you're as fair-skinned as Ryou Bakura, sunbathing is kind of out, unless you carry a gallon drum of SPF 100. I wonder if it ever bothers him? He's so pale, so quiet, so gentle... he fades into the background if you don't specifically look for him. You might think he was weak-- if you didn't pay attention. Everybody knows about his dark side, his yami, the homicidal spirit sharing his head... but that's not the only strength Ryou has. The boy has his own backbone, and you're only going to get yourself hurt if you underestimate him.
I know the others wonder why I'm spending so much time with Ryou, after everything that's happened. It seems kind of crazy to me, even, but... I just can't face Joey. Not yet, not until I get my head back together.
No, I'm not scared of him-- I know it wasn't his fault, I know he's himself again. I told him I forgave him, though I really don't think there was anything TO forgive. It's just... seeing him like that stirred up feelings I haven't had for anyone, ever. He was so smooth, so gorgeous, so dangerous... I never was one for bad boys, but Joey pulled at something I'd never realized I had.
God, I'm only nineteen years old! I may have used my appearance to help me win duels, but when it comes to REAL relationships, I don't have a clue. And every time I look at Joey I can't think. I've got to get these feelings settled out before I see him again. And somehow, I know he feels the same.
So, I'm on the western roof of a small house in the suburbs of Domino, at two in the morning, watching as the moon slowly moves towards the mountains. The air is the temperature of blood, a breeze just keeping the heat from becoming unbearable. Ryou's lying beside me, staring up at the silver moon as if looking for answers. The Ring is lying on his chest, glowing almost contentedly in the moonlight. It's probably the most peaceful scene I've encountered since the Duelist Kingdom.
They all wonder why Ryou. Maybe it's because he understands what it's like to have someone else in control of your actions, riding in the driver's seat behind your eyes. Maybe it's because he knows when to be quiet and when to talk. Maybe it's because of Bakura-- oddly enough, I feel just as safe around the yami as I do his host. He won't hurt me unless there's profit in it, and I know that anything else wanting to hurt me would have to go through him, simply because Ryou won't let it be otherwise. Bakura may be homicidal, emotionally unstable, and a bit maniacal, but he's straightforward. He doesn't have the time to bother with lies.
The scars are still on my neck. I don't guess they'll ever go away, but most of the time, they're not noticeable. Especially not with my hair so long. Of course, I could wish the area around them wasn't still so sensitive... but I'm just glad to be alive.
And you know, I think I'm going to stay out here and watch the sun come up.
She's relaxing-- good. Mai still jumps at sudden movements and loud sounds, and I can't say I blame her. We're all still a little jumpy, spending more time in the sun, even my yami. And he usually avoids the light like a v- like Batman with a hangover. (Yes, that's one of Joey's, but I just had to borrow it.)
I don't want to become too scared of the night, though. I've always been a night person, even when my parents were alive. Well, look at me! My hair is snow white, and has been since I was about five. Runs in my mother's family, and believe me, it branded me as a freak in more than one circle in my youth. My skin is pale as any true British Isles native, since Father's people were from Hokkaido. Only my brown eyes prove I'm not albino. If I went outside at noon without protection, I'd be a cinder in minutes. Spontaneous Hikari Combustion.
So I like the night. I always identified with the moon, so bright and full. Yes, I know, the moon is usually a girl in myths, but everyone already thought I was feminine anyway. And there are always a few exceptions. The Japanese myths, for example, speak of Tsuki-Yumi, the moon god.
Sometimes I think Yugi and I are like the sun and the moon. We have so much in common, and we're both the light... but he's warm and cheerfully open, and I tend to be cooler and more retiring. I like the background, what can I say?
I don't really understand why my yami hates the Pharaoh so much but... I know now that there must be a strong reason. He may not be right, but he truly believes he was wronged, and wronged grievously. I know he has morals, though he has tossed them aside to be able to follow his vengeance. But I'm part of him, part he threw away to chase the darkness. I won't let him fall, but... I will be there. Because I know that sometimes, vengeance is the only justice that we can ever have.
Surprised? I've seen the results of the Shadow Games that Yami plays. I KNOW he lets them choose their fate. The line between vengeance and justice isn't as clear cut as people think.
I'll stand by my yami... and hopefully we can find an answer that won't tear us all apart.
Well, this scene is disgustingly domestic, isn't it? Sitting on the roof, watching the moon set... riding behind my hikari's eyes, just watching, not driving for once. It's surprisingly comfortable this way. I suppose I just like being nearby, being with him. And for a woman, Mai's not too bad, I suppose. She knows how to just be quiet, not needing to fill the silence with chatter. Too bad more females don't know how to do that.
I know Ryou's thinking about me, though I'm not listening to his internal monologue. I don't have the time to be bothered by his thoughts, and his Pollyanna nature tends to give me a headache anyway. But I can feel his thoughts brushing against me occasionally, cool and reassuring. We have come a long way since we first met. I didn't realize our connection then-- I only knew I finally had a body again after what seemed eternity in the darkness. And when I saw them... I knew my chance for revenge against the Pharaoh had finally come.
Except. Except that Ryou turned out to be more than just a convenient body-- he was the reincarnation of my light, of the half of my soul that was stripped away when the Pharaoh sealed us both into the Millennium Items. Except that the Pharaoh was in the same boat, with a host-- a LIGHT-- that was as strong as any warrior or priest in the Black Land ever was. A light who despite everything has repeatedly extended the hand of friendship to me, not just Ryou. The Pharaoh doesn't like it... but he goes along with it, because Yugi asks.
I can't decide if the boy is stupid or just very trusting. He still believes that he can somehow win me over, dissolve the centuries of enmity the Pharaoh and I share. And facing off with a vampire who could rip him apart, he simply bared his throat, that convinced that he knew what the other would do. And he was right... I hate that.
All right, I'll admit it; I was afraid for him. He's truly PURE, something I'd almost forgotten existed. And with Ryou's half of our soul reconnected to mine, I find that I can't help but value it. The compassion I willingly threw away for revenge has come home to roost... and now it has a mind of its own.
It bothers me, though... Neither the Pharaoh nor the sorcerer even considered ending the vampire's life, even though it was the most expedient choice, and probably would have been a mercy. Instead they risked their own lives, and even souls to rescue him from the Black Pharaoh's power. Not exactly the actions of men who would condemn an entire village to death for a few trinkets. Could the centuries have changed them so much? Could the Pharaoh's light? Or...
This is ridiculous. I know what happened all those years ago. I swore an oath of vengeance. Not even the gods themselves- not even Lady Isis through the eyes of the priestess-- can sway me from my course.
So why do I keep feeling She was trying to point out something I've missed?
I love summer vacation. There are so many things I love about it that it's hard to pick just one, but if I had to, there's one thing that would lead the pack. When summer comes, I have a lot more time to work in my lab.
Yeah, I have a lab-- tech runs in my blood. Seto says that the things that occasionally come out of my tinkering more than justify the cost of letting me have a lab here at Kaiba Corp. _I_ think he just likes having me where he can keep an eye on me, but what do I know?
I'm definitely NOT the genius Big Brother is. Computers are just machines to me-- they don't sit up and beg when I touch them, like Joey says they do for Seto. But I'm good at electronics, and sometimes I DO have really good ideas. I did a lot of translating for those God Cards, after all. And I managed to get Mr. Moto's generator running, even if I did fry it thirty seconds later.
Tristan's pretty cool, you know? I kind of expected him to ask more about Gozaburo, but he didn't. Never even let on that I'd slipped and mentioned the old buzzard. (That's the nicest thing I've heard Seto call him-- most of the rest, I'm not allowed to even THINK for another ten years, Seto says.) I think Tristan's figured out most of what happened back then... He's a lot smarter than some people think.
I can hear footsteps going down the hall outside. One set is DEFINITELY Seto's-- nobody else walks quite like that. The other one's much faster and lighter, but not really hurrying to keep up. It sounds like they can't be much bigger than me... Yugi?
What would Yugi be doing at Kaiba Corp in the middle of a Monday morning? Is something wrong with Joey? Did something else get out of the Shadow Realm? Are we EVER going to get anything to stay put there? Well, I guess there's only one way to find out. Opening the door, I poke my head out to see what's going on.
Seto's coming down the hall at his usual pace, only a little slower than normal. There's a girl beside him, much shorter, but she's keeping up with him without running. Looks like she's used to walking with tall people. Her hair is really red, kind of like Serenity, Joey's little sister. I don't know her, though... she must be new.
They're having some type of argument, I can tell. Pulling my head back a little, I decide to listen. It's not very often somebody dares to argue with the Great Seto Kaiba. This should be good.
She's speaking English, and it takes me a second to adjust, especially since she's got a funny accent. Not like Joey's, or like the ones on TV. This is soft and really nice to listen to, even if it's a little hard to understand.
"All I'm sayin', chere, is that you gotta stop glarin' at your staff like that. Ah don't care what Machiavelli said, it's a hell of a lot safer to be loved than feared. Scared people jump ship at the first moment. Ones that like you will go to the wall for you."
"You're not scared of me," he points out, not looking at her. He sounds a little upset about that-- well, at least to somebody who knows him.
She just laughs. "Chere, I'm used to teasing gators. I know exactly how far you can push before you lose a hand."
A sideways glance. "Why are we speaking English, anyway?"
"Do you REALLY want to hear Japanese with a New Orleans drawl? It's understandable, but it's not pretty."
They're close enough now that Seto can see me standing in the doorway, and he's swerving towards us. That means she's somebody he thinks I need to know, and vice versa. Oh yeah, this is DEFINITELY interesting.
"Mokuba, I want you to meet Alixandra Gaudet, our new head of security. Alix, this is Mokuba Kaiba, my younger brother. He works here occasionally, and has full run of the building."
"Hajimemashita, Kaiba-san." She bows perfectly, a bit lower than I'm used to people doing for someone my age. And she's right, it DOES sound funny. I bow back, just as politely.
"Pleased to meet you, Miss Gaudet," I reply. Might as well give my English a workout while I have the chance."
She grins, straightening up. "Alix, please. As Ah told your brother, Ah'm not one for formality."
"Call me Mokuba then." I'm grinning back, and Seto's got this expression on his face like he just KNOWS something horrible is about to happen. Oh yeah, this one's gonna be good for him... It's about time I had some help around here.
Ahh, summer. The most perfect time of the year, in my humble opinion. The perfect time to get a tan, scope out girls, hang with your buds, fight off monsters from beyond the boundaries of time and space... never a dull moment in Domino City, that's for sure.
It's been not quite a week since we got Joey back, and I've been doing a lot of thinking. (Insert pre-emptive smacking of Joey here.) I've even come to a few conclusions. First off, I'm damn lucky Joey didn't break my jaw with that punch of his. Mom and Dad will overlook a few bruises here and there as "boys will be boys," but having my jaw wired shut would probably have been pushing it. And being a vampire, of course, he probably didn't even bruise his knuckles. Jerk.
Second is that I'm glad Bakura doesn't carry a grudge after the time I cold-cocked him at Duelist Kingdom. We actually made a pretty good team against those shadows, and I think he thought so, too. Funny, I think he actually respects me, which is kind of weird. Bakura doesn't respect anybody!
Talking to Mokuba cleared up a lot about Kaiba, too. Oh, Mokuba didn't say that much, but it was enough to figure out that their adoptive father must have been a real bastard. After that, it's easy enough to see what he must have done to Kaiba over the years to turn him into the ice sculpture he pretends to be... and was becoming, before that duel with Yugi. No wonder he's so scared of Yugi. He's probably never been treated with that much warmth in his life.
Came to a few conclusions about my place in this little group, too. And I AM part of it, even though sometimes I kinda seem like an accessory. With what happened to Tea, it's pretty much settled now that I'm the only one without any magic. Even Mokuba's got a spark of it, somewhere. Well, that's not entirely true- Mai doesn't have any real magic of her own, but since she's a Duelist, she can shape what's leaking if she has a chance. Me, it just sort of ignores me like I'm not even there.
Maybe that's why I can't Duel. Oh, I can get the strategies, I can maybe play well enough to keep up with Mokuba for a while... but it's just a card game to me. I can't feel the spark in it everyone else can. It doesn't grab me. That's why Joey has all the cards I gathered now. They're a part of me, sorta, but I know he can get a lot more out of 'em than I ever could.
I don't Duel. I can't Duel. And you know what? That doesn't bother me at all. You'd think it would but I'm starting to realize something. No deck and no magic equals no attention. Half the things we go up against don't even seem to really SEE me as anything more than moving scenery. Oh, I'm still linked with everybody else through the Puzzle, and I could give my power to Tea in that warehouse, but that seems to have more to do with... well, I know it sounds kind of goofy, but it sounds psychic, rather than magical. You'd think after all the fake psychics we've run across I'd be more skeptical, but... hell, one of my best friends time-shares his body with a five-thousand-year-old Egyptian spirit. Who am I to rule anything out?
So no, I don't have any real powers. But that's okay, because I'm the muscle, and believe me, sometimes this group NEEDS muscle. Not that Joey and Kaiba can't fight-- geez, either of them could probably kick my ass WITHOUT a deck-- but because they're Duelists, they're usually too busy to be able to get physical. It's like my uncle's car. There are times when all the tools and parts can't get it to run... so you have to resort to what he calls "percussive maintenance."
Yeah, I feel pretty good. My best friend is back from the undead, we sent the monster packing, Kaiba's growing a personality, I'm at peace with my place in the group, and we don't have to be back at school for a month. All is right with the world.
Now, if I could only get a date...
What the hell am I doing? It's eight AM. By rights, I should be in my office, looking over figures, charts, and graphs, plotting ways to make my company more profitable, like any reasonable CEO. Instead, I'm walking through Downtown Domino with a bento box in one hand, a thermos of coffee in the other, and no laptop in sight. And there are birds singing. I hate birds.
Let's review. I got to the office at six AM, as usual, accompanied by my unusually-energetic-for-the-hour younger brother, who quickly moved off to his own lab. I arrived at my own suite shortly afterwards, to be greeted with coffee and sticky buns by Amano-san. I should have known something was up, but she DOES try to be nice on occasion. In return, I try not to bite her head off more than once a month. And she makes really, REALLY good coffee.
I was happily plowing through spreadsheets, reports, and various other pieces of information, making decisions and dictating strategies when the something that was up finally hit me. My in-box was empty. This was pretty much unprecedented, so I tried again. Still empty. Another ten minutes of research proved that while I was spending time researching vampires, Old Ones, and just what the hell Solomon Moto cooks with, my company was working double-time. We'd just beat our ship date by a month. And nothing else would be ready for my attention for at least a couple days. In short, I had NO WORK to do.
A bored CEO is not a good thing. I was on my way to R & D to... inspire a brainstorming session when the second "It" happened. To be precise, I was hit with a five-foot red-haired tsunami. In short order, I was somehow transported to the ground floor and told to take the day off, with the insinuation that my presence might cause the boys in R & D to let off a few more of the explosions they were so famous for. Before I could blink, I found myself standing outside a locked door with a rather amused-looking guard standing behind it, holding my coffee and a box that, I discovered, contained onigiri and a peanut butter sandwich. I'm not entirely sure how it happened, but I have a hunch Mokuba was involved somehow.
I decided I might as well walk, since my head of security had threatened to have me sedated if I returned. (One thing I've learned about Alix Gaudet in the past few days is that she doesn't make idle threats. I'd fire her, but the staff already thinks she walks on water, and I really don't want the secretaries spiking my coffee with rat poison. Besides, the woman may be aggravating, but she's good at her job.)
So here I am, walking on an admittedly gorgeous summer morning, and somewhat amused by the fact that I may have seen more sunshine in the past week and a half than in the entire month previous. I could, I suppose, go back to my house, but the damn woman has probably corrupted my security staff there, too. I'd never make it to the computer lab. And how the hell did she get my laptop away without my noticing it?
Okay, Seto, relax. You're ahead of schedule, Kaiba Corp is beginning its recovery, they CAN get along without you for the day, Mokuba is in the most secure building in the city, and I pity the kidnapper who tries to get past Alix. No... I don't actually. I'll probably point and laugh.
Well... hell. I might as well go to the park and see if they've replaced the concrete. I can sit down, eat the box lunch (and feed the sandwich to the squirrels) and drink the thermos of coffee. Soak up some sun. I'll have a chance to get away from crazy redheads, hyperactive brothers, Millennium Items, arrogant Pharaohs, insane tomb robbers, and nosy, overly opinionated dragons. Well, okay, not the last part, but I can hope, right?
... Why do I even open my mouth?
The Mutt's sitting on the bench by the slide. Must be a replacement-- I seem to remember shattering the other one into pieces trying to reach Mokuba. He's staring off into space, and doesn't even notice my approach. Not good-- he's usually as alert to his surroundings as I am. He's wearing running clothes, but he doesn't seem to have done too much exercising this morning. Instead, he's hunched over, one hand held tight to his side. The shirt's white, but I can just see a spot of red by his hand.
"Wheeler." I make certain to announce my approach, having no desire to be thrown into some of the playground equipment. Wounded dogs are always more dangerous, after all.
He looks up, and his eyes narrow as he recognizes me. Not quite the irritation and suspicion he usually focuses on me... this is more measuring, and harder to read.
"Kaiba. I thought you were allergic to fresh air." His voice is level, no inflection. I'm almost impressed.
"I took my shots," I reply, moving closer. "I'm assuming you've had all of yours?"
The insults seem to relax him somewhat. We're on familiar ground, I suppose; if we're sparring, we both know how to react.
"So what brings you out and about and away from your computer? Revisiting memory lane?"
"I could ask you the same thing, mutt. But right now, I suppose I'm a bit more curious about the fact that you're sitting on a park bench bleeding."
He jumps, and a look flashes across his face, too fast to read. I don't have to read it, though... I know it by heart.
"What was it, Wheeler? Scotch or gin?" It's all I can do to keep the disgust out of my voice. I don't like the mutt, but no one should have to endure this, especially not from someone who's supposed to be caring for them. Lucky for me, his surprise gives me an opening, and I have his hand wrenched away from the wound before he can react.
"'Ey, what do you think you're doing?" He's squirming and growling, but between the edge of the bench and my grip on his wrist, he doesn't have anywhere to go.
Pulling the shirt away from the wound, I take a look at it. It's not too bad of a gash, and it looks like he tried to use butterfly bandages to close it. Unfortunately his running reopened it, and now it's going to need stitches.
"You need to go to the hospital, Wheeler. If this thing bleeds much longer, you could pass out. And infection is more than possible."
A violent shake of the head greets that comment. "No way, uh uh. Not a chance." All I have to do is raise an eyebrow, and the rest comes spilling out. "They'll call my contact person."
Solomon Moto. Of course. While Solomon would probably not be surprised by the call, anything told to him would get back to Yugi. And this is something Yugi should never have to see. Besides... the last thing JOEY needs is Yami challenging his father to a Shadow Game.
"I just... I tripped, okay? Ducked one, fell on another. It's nothin' major, Kaiba." He sounds tired. And well he should. He's been hiding this for so long, putting up a mask... Oh, you wouldn't know anything about that, would you, Seto? Nothing at all...
*He has what you want... he wants what you have. To receive... you must begin to give.*
Damn dragons, always butting in at the worst times. But... maybe he's right. I pull out my cell phone.
"Driver? Domino City Park, now. As fast as you can. Make it in five minutes, and you get a five percent raise."
Joey's looking at me like I've lost my mind. "What the hell are you doing?"
"Instant karma," I reply dryly.
I REALLY need my head examined.
I don't think I've ever read a book so fast in my life, especially not one written in a foreign language. Funny; I should have had a lot more trouble getting through it than I did. Not only was it written in English, but it was an academic work-- not usually the easies going for someone with a limited vocabulary. But it just... made SENSE to me. I didn't have to reach or strive, and I barely looked at my dictionary. It was like I was meant to understand it.
Goddess worship, it said, has been around even longer than the worship of a single god. And for almost as long, the Goddess has been associated with the moon. I guess it's not that surprising... the whole monthly cycle thing, and all. The moon isn't always female, but a lot of the time, it is.
Incarnation, of "drawing down" of a god or goddess, is often a big part of a lot of the nature goddess religions. That's definitely what happened to me in the warehouse. Faith, opening myself up to a higher power, calling on everything I believed... and then She was there. In me. It wasn't like possession; She didn't take over or wear me like a cloak...we were together, like Yami and Yugi are when they Duel. It was incredible... and really only scary when I came back down.
Funny... it felt so RIGHT when I was standing beside Yami, facing down that monster. I could feel both of them there, with me, beside me... the strong sunlight and the silent shadow... I felt WHOLE, in a way I never had before.
That and the Eye pretty much convinced me that whoever She was, She was Egyptian. A little more research, and I've got it narrowed down to either Isis or Hathor. Logically, I'm leaning towards Hathor- the headdress, the disk between the horns, was her symbol, and she was the daughter of Ra, the Eye of Ra. But... my gut says Isis. Which brings up a very worrying question.
If She was Isis, wife of Osiris, mother of the living king... why did I have so much of Hathor around me? If I wasn't wearing Her symbols, then what WAS I wearing, and why did I change. Actually, it's not the questions that bother me as much as the fact that I think I know the answers. I was wearing Hathor's symbols because I WAS Hathor, for a while. And Hathor was the living Queen, as Horus was the Pharaoh. I like Yami-- and Yugi-- a LOT, but I don't know that I'm ready for what this might mean.
But at least it's over for now. I can go back to my regular life and not think about this... at least until the next crisis.
But I think I'm going to have some INTERESTING dreams...
Seeing Kaiba in the park was weird enough. Having him suddenly go all Florence Nightingale on me was a step beyond weird, even considering the last week. I mean, not that I think the guy would let me bleed to death; he's not heartless, no matter how much he pretends. But it's not like I'm gushing or anything. Okay, so it hurts. And maybe I do get a bit dizzy when I stand up...
Oh hell, he's right. Again. I've made it worse by running, dumbass that I am, and I really am gonna need stitches. I wasn't expecting him to call for his limo, though. If he was so worried, I figured he'd call an ambulance and ship me out. Off his hands and off his conscience.
Then again... he must know what would happen. They'd call Gramps, and it would get back to Yugi. I guess Kaiba wants to see those fireworks about as much as I do. Funny, for two guys with so little in common, we do agree pretty strongly on trying to keep Yugi from seein' too much of the underside of the world. Must be that big brother syndrome.
Okay, so I'm sittin' in the back of a limo, KAIBA'S limo, to boot, trying not to bleed on the upholstery, and his driver is hauling it back to the mansion like there ain't a cop for twenty miles. Guess when you've funded half o' Domino City, you don't worry about traffic tickets.
I worry for a second, as he's helping me in, about what Mokuba's gonna say. Kaiba's reading my mind as usual, 'cause he just shakes his head.
"Mokuba's still at Kaiba Corp. He won't be home for a while, I'm sure."
Well, THERE'S a shocker. I'm still pondering the idea of Kaiba leaving his younger brother at work WITHOUT him as he hauls me into this huge bathroom. What this thing is doing on the ground floor, without a bedroom attached, I have NO idea. But I'm honestly not complaining as Kaiba sits me on the edge of the huge tub.
"Take off your shirt, mutt." He's already halfway out the door as he says that, so I don't even bother yelling at him for the dog crack. Hell, by this point, I'm about ready to consider it a pet name.
... Aw hell, I didn't just say that, did I? Must be the blood loss. I never make puns that bad.
Got a bad moment when the shirt decides it's gonna stick to the cut in my side, but I get it off and throw it into the tub. I can rinse the thing out later. One thing I learned early was how to deal with bloodstains in laundry.
Kaiba comes back in. One hand's got a first aid kit, and I bet it's got a needle and thread. The other hand has a bottle in it, and I know only one thing comes in a bottle THAT shape.
"Sake? Where the hell did you get a bottle of sake?"
He doesn't even look at me, just cracks the seal on the bottle. "A gift from another CEO who apparently didn't think about the fact that I have another three years to go before I reach legal age."
"Not to mention the fact you hate bribes," I smirk. THAT gets him to look at me, those ice-chips narrowed in calculation. I may not know much about business, but I know people. Kaiba doesn't make friends, so there's only one other reason another exec would give him a bottle of something real illegal. And I know Kaiba-- I'm surprised he didn't stick the bottle down the guy's throat.
He scowls at me, but it's got no force. "Surprisingly perceptive. He wasn't quite outright with his... request, so I just accepted the gift and pretended not to realize what it was."
"Bet that drove him nuts."
"Immensely." Now he's smirking, and I got the feeling we look too damn alike for comfort.
He pours a glass of the rice wine, bigger than a normal dose, more what they'd call a "shooter" back in the States. Then he hands me the glass, and my eyebrows practically achieve orbit.
"What the hell?"
The usual sigh and eye roll. "I'm going to have to sew you up, mutt. Now, I have disinfectant, but I don't have any anesthetics. That should keep you flying just high enough not to feel the stitches, so that I won't have to sew you up while you're squirming."
Shrugging, I knock back the glass, trying not to cough as the rice wine burns its way down my throat. Not that I've never had alcohol before, but never much, and sake is damn strong. It's also known for causing hangovers from hell, so I better fill up on water once we're done here.
Kaiba's right about one thing... I'm so light-headed from the drink that I barely even notice him sewing the gash in my side. He's way too good at this sorta thing. I wonder who he practiced on? You don't sew yourself up, and it's obvious Mokuba didn't have to go through... whatever it was. No way he'll ever talk about it; I'm surprised he showed me those scars when we were dueling. But... hell, guess he knew I'd understand. And that's something he probably hasn't had in years.
Oh hell, I AM drunk.
"There." He's packing up the kit... damn, I hadn't even realized he was done. I try to stand up, and find myself wobbling a bit. Kaiba catches me before I fall, though-- he's been doing a lot of that recently. 'Course, I've been bleeding on him a lot, so I guess it evens out.
"Come on, Wheeler, let's get you into a bed," he sighs, adjusting my arm over his shoulders.
"Without dinner and a movie?" Yes, I know it's a lame joke, but come on, it's practically automatic. And who would I be if I let the opening slide?
Kaiba's just rolling his eyes again as he guides me up the stairs. "You're not my type, believe me."
"Come on, everybody likes blondes."
"Are you really this drunk, or are you trying to aggravate me?"
"A little of Column A, a little of Column B..."
"Why did I even ask?" He practically drops me in the middle of a nice, soft, BIG guest bed. "Sleep it off, Wheeler, and come downstairs when you're less annoying."
I should hit him for that, but I can't find my feet. Somehow, I manage to kick off my shoes and burrow under the covers. The bed's warm, and soft, and nicer than anything I've ever slept in. And that's about all I have time to notice before the lights go out.
Seto's always said curiosity is one of my strongest traits, and that it's probably gonna get me into trouble someday. He's probably right. But my brother called from home and actually asked Alix for something-- she wouldn't say what-- of course I'm gonna hitch a ride. And apparently it wasn't his laptop he asked for, because I was the one who remembered to grab it out of his office.
Given that Seto can actually go into withdrawal if he's away from a computer too long, I was really curious as to what could make him forget about his laptop for five hours or so. And I admit it, I kind of wanted to see what Seto was going to say to Alix about the way we maneuvered him this morning. So I asked her to bring me home when she went.
I expected to find Seto in his study when we got there, but it's empty. Alix doesn't seem that surprised though, and she says something about the backyard... This is really getting weird- what would my big brother be doing in the backyard? By choice?
As soon as we step out there, I can smell the heavy ozone that means the dragons have been here recently. More and more, Seto seems to be more comfortable with them out of his head and in the real world. I've got no problems with that; they're fun. But I don't know how well Alix would take seeing them just yet.
The second thing I notice is Joey, sitting at the patio table and looking way too innocent. Obviously he's been doing SOMETHING to drive Seto nuts... but what is he doing here? And why is he wearing some of Seto's clothes?
As we come out, Seto stops glaring at Joey long enough to start glaring at Alix. And me too, I think, but mostly Alix. She just grins back at him.
"You brought it?" Seto asks, folding his arms.
"Of course, boss," she replies, pulling something out of a pocket. As she tosses it to him, I see it's a key card, like the ones we use to get into the house. He catches it easily, and turns back to Joey.
"Wheeler, I want you to meet Alix Gaudet, my head of security. Alix, Joey Wheeler... an acquaintance of mine."
Her smile gets bigger as she walks over and shakes Joey's hand. "Nice to meet ya, Joey."
"You too... Alix." They're smiling at each other. WAY too widely, both of them. I don't know whether to feel sorry for my brother, or sit back and watch the show.
Clearing his throat, Seto waits until the two of them look at him.
"Thank you. As I might have said, Wheeler, I owe you one for saving Mokuba. Not just once, but twice. So... I'm paying my debt." He tosses the key card to Joey, who catches it, no understanding on his face.
"That key card grants you access to the house," Seto explains. I see the light dawning in Joey's eyes. "The room you crashed in today is yours whenever you need it. Just don't empty the refrigerator, and we'll call it even."
Joey's smile is a lot smaller than I'm used to, and he nods. "Deal," he replies, pocketing the key.
... I think I missed something here.
Apparently, so does Alix, because she's looking from one to the other curiously. Then she shrugs.
"Well, if y'all don't need me for anything else, I'll be headin' back to work. I've got a security department to rebuild, y'know." Throwing a grin at Joey, she heads back out.
"She's cute," Joey comments blandly, leaning on the table.
"She'd eat you alive, Wheeler," Seto responds, even as three white blurs start to reform in the yard. Joey's grin widens as he sees the dragons.
"Ey, Mokuba! Wanna help me revolutionize the world of barbecue?"
Seto actually groans. Oh yeah... this is gonna be GREAT.
"Nothing endures but change." --Heraclitus