Notes: MUWAHAHAHA! Two Christmas-themed fics in a row! Oh this is gonna be fun! **rubs hands together.** The story is mine, the characters from the YGO TV show and the title are not (thank The Masked Reviewer for the latter!), and this is full of sibling and friendship cuteness! This is a direct sequel to Home for the Holidays, so get acquainted with that one if you feel you may get confused XD
It was the week before Christmas and all through Domino City the residents were preparing for the big day. The streets were brightly decorated with many strands of colored lights, bells, reindeer, and other such things associated with this special and sacred time of year. Many shops had Nativity scenes in their front windows, and several Santas were making their way down the snowy streets.
Yes, it was snowing on this night—quite heavily, actually, and the weatherman had sent out a winter storm warning for several counties. Children ran excitedly through the falling flakes, trying to catch the coveted whiteness on their tongues. Some threw snowballs, much to their parents' disapproval and resignation. And others ran up to the Santas, excitedly relaying what they were hoping to find under their trees.
Christmas carolers walked up and down the streets, singing their praises and stopping to help anyone who needed it. Their gentle presence quietly reminded everyone there what the true meaning of Christmas is with their songs and their kind deeds.
Marik pulled his leather jacket closer around him as he trudged on through the icy whiteness. Snow was not something he was fond of. And he couldn't help remembering how he had nearly been frozen to death in it only a couple of weeks prior to this. He had been protecting Mokuba from the cold when they had been out in the canyons after Mokuba had escaped from the Mafia don Del Vinci. Thankfully, Seto and the other Ishtars had rescued them before anyone had perished.
The Mafia don was still at large now. Marik didn't like to think about that, but he did anyway. Del Vinci had a personal vendetta against Seto Kaiba now, and he had made it known that he would keep using Mokuba as the way to hurt his nemesis.
Lately Seto had thrown himself even harder into his work. Mokuba didn't know the entire reason why, but Seto had eventually confided in Marik that he was looking under every rock and stone for Del Vinci. He wanted to get him captured before Christmas, and Marik, whole-heartedly agreeing, had offered his help.
Seto had refused. "Del Vinci is my problem," he had growled. "It's my brother he wants to kill in order to kill me!" Angrily he had slammed his laptop closed, looking at Marik with eyes of flames and daggers. He didn't appreciate anyone—not even one he respected such as Marik—butting in on something he considered his job.
But Marik hadn't given up. "And Mokuba is my friend!" he had retorted. "I want Del Vinci captured just as much as you do. It's as much my problem as it is yours." He had placed his hands on the desk and leaned over, answering Seto's glare with one of his own.
Seto hadn't answered at first and had simply turned away, staring out the window of his office that overlooked all of Domino. "If that's the way you want it, then so be it," he had said then, calmly lacing his fingers together.
But if he didn't want to work unitedly, Marik intended to keep looking for Del Vinci on his own time. Marik was a lot like Seto Kaiba in several ways—both were extremely hard-headed and stubborn, both cared deeply for Mokuba—one as a brother, the other as a close friend (though Marik knew deep in his heart that he considered Mokuba as more of a younger brother than simply a friend)—and both refused to admit when they had pushed themselves to the limit.
Marik turned around, jarred from his train of thought. Thomas Taylor, one of two freckle-faced, red-haired, mischievous boys who had previously liked to torment poor Marik, was now standing on the curb and waving. Taylor's brother, Brandon, still got enjoyment from being mean, but Taylor himself considered Marik a friend now.
"Hello," Marik smiled. He wasn't wary of Taylor any more, though he definitely still was of Brandon.
Taylor ran over and looked the teenager up and down. "You're cold, Blondie," he declared with a frown.
Marik forced himself to stop shivering. "I'm fine," he replied. He didn't care much for the nickname "Blondie," but he preferred it over what Taylor had called him before—"Girly-boy."
Taylor glared. "You're cold," he repeated. "You're not used to the snow. And you nearly got turned into a popsicle before."
Marik now just looked at Taylor calmly. "But I didn't, and I have no intention of ever letting that happen to me," he said in reply, stepping under the glow of a streetlamp decorated with strings of Christmas lights that wound around it like a bright snake.
Though Taylor would never admit it, he had been alarmed those couple of weeks before, when the news had come from Téa that Marik had braved the snow, trudged through it, and then had lain in it for hours, protecting Mokuba.
Taylor had yelled at Brandon in a fit of fury after Téa had left. It had been Brandon who had convinced him to go back to his teasing ways of earlier, but Brandon had taken things many steps further and had done things that were actually mean to poor Marik. "He might die now!" Taylor had wailed. "After all we did to him and everything! He could die!! I never wanted anything to actually happen to him!! He never did anything to us!" He still didn't understand why Brandon had become the way he was. In the past, Brandon had been more kind than Taylor himself.
Now Taylor followed after Marik as the teenager headed off down the street. "Where are you going?" he asked curiously.
Marik sidestepped several angry, thoughtless shoppers before he found his motorcycle and climbed on. He had been to Toys, Etc., hoping to speak with Mr. Thorton about Del Vinci—who had been black-mailing the toy store owner in the past—but he hadn't had any such luck. Mr. Thorton claimed he didn't know more than what he'd already told the police. Marik didn't know whether that was the truth or not, but he had no way of finding out at this point.
"Right now, I'm just going home," he told Taylor. "Only the insane would stay out in a storm such as this if they do not have to." He adjusted his helmet and left the goggles up. With the near-blizzard conditions, Marik found he could see better without them. "Come with me, if you wish," he offered. Taylor lived right across the street from the Ishtars.
Taylor grinned. "Sure!" He was entranced by motorcycles and the like, and he wasn't about to pass up a chance to ride on one. "No one knows I'm here, actually. I just kinda left the house. Mom's off at some business meeting and the other kids were just being boring, so I thought I'd check things out downtown." He leaped on in front of Marik, since he was much shorter, and grabbed a helmet of his own before latching on to the handlebars.
"I see," Marik said as he revved the engine. He remembered when Seto had told him more about Taylor and Brandon, including an account of a horrific baby-sitting experience he'd undergone a while ago. Taylor (who had been called Tom) had been mischievous then, Seto had said, but he seemed to really be good at heart. He had had less contact with Brandon, but he hadn't realized that boy could be so mean as he had been being. Seto had left most of their recent scoldings up to Téa, but he himself had said a few things about how disgusted he was with their recent behavior. But nothing had gotten through to either of them until they had found out about Marik's near-death.
Marik was just relieved that at least Taylor was nicer these days. He was tired of being rejected, tormented, and treated cruelly. Only a select few people had truly been accepting of him in his life—something else he shared in common with both Kaiba brothers.
There wasn't much chance for talking once the motorcycle had been started. The roar of the engine drowned out any attempts at such, and so both boys remained lost in their own thoughts.
The snow was becoming heavier now—and thicker and wetter. Marik could tell it was going to become even worse as the hours went by. His experience in the canyons had taught him the form that snow took when it was preparing to unleash all of its possible chaos upon the hapless townspeople. And this was exactly that sort of snow. All that Marik wanted to do was burrow into a quilt by the fireplace before the worst of it struck.
There would be no hope of finding Del Vinci tonight. Now he was hidden even better than before. His home was still deserted, and any allies of his were in prison or had disappeared as well, without a trace. Marik idly wondered if Seto had had any better luck.
Seto, as it turned out, hadn't. He gazed out at the snow from his office window, a furious, determined look in his cold blue eyes. Another possible lead had just fizzled out, but that only made the young businessman who had encountered many impossible situations before only become more steadfast in learning how to obtain his goal.
"Del Vinci, you will be in prison before Christmas," Seto vowed aloud. "I swear it. I personally will deliver you somewhere from which you can never escape! And then never again will you use Mokuba against me."
It had become his greatest obsession in the past couple of weeks. After Mokuba had nearly died for the second time at Del Vinci's hands, Seto had thrown himself full force into his search for the escaped Mafia don. How had he managed to weasle his way out of prison before, after what he had done? Seto couldn't understand it. Del Vinci had nearly killed Mokuba in that vault, but his lawyer had gotten him off the hook!
"This time you're not gonna escape," Seto growled low as he returned to his desk and opened the laptop. "There won't be any lawyer in the world that will be able to help you! Justice will be done."
The screen lighted up and displayed Seto's latest finds—which were nothing to jump for joy over. The boy scanned through the meager list, scenes from the past flashing through his mind. Mokuba laying dying—last year in the vault, this year in the snow. . . . Del Vinci's holographic image laughing maniacally at Seto. . . . Rage and hatred filling his soul until all he wanted to do was kill that evil man.
He nearly had the previous year. The gun had been in his hand. . . . He had looked down at Del Vinci cowering on the floor. . . . His finger had been on the trigger. . . . He could have pulled it. Why hadn't he? Should he have? The questions plagued his mind until he could barely stand it.
"That's not who you are, Seto Kaiba, and I hope it never will be!"
"Don't tell me who I am!"
Echoes from the past resounded loudly in the quiet room now. Téa's firm voice telling him why he couldn't kill Del Vinci—or anyone. Seto's angry response.
But if Téa was right, then why wasn't that who he was? Seto felt the rage burning in his heart. He felt the hatred, the desire to completely destroy the treacherous, perfidious being from off the planet. What would have stayed his hand? What had then, and what would in the future?
"That would make me as bad as you—killing out of hatred and rage."
His words to Del Vinci as he had lowered the gun. He had meant them then. Did he still mean them now? Did he still believe that? Did he believe it with all his heart, enough so that it would stop him again if the chance once again rose to obliterate that depraved soul? Would he want it to?
So many questions. . . . So very many . . . with no answers in sight.
Slowly Seto stood again, clutching the laptop's handle tightly in his hand. He couldn't answer anything now. So he would go home to Mokuba, his precious brother. Perhaps he would find his answers there.
Bakura watched his father pace the floor of their quaint living room.
"You're going to wear a hole in the linoleum," Yami Bakura grunted from his position in the window seat.
Mr. Ryou ignored him. He didn't care if he wore it away, frankly. He just wanted to know where Frances was, and if she truly was as Yami Bakura insisted. What if she wasn't? What if she was in danger?
In his hand he clutched her note, unwilling to give it up until he found its true meaning. He wanted to believe she was real, that she was genuine. He didn't want to ever believe that she was a fraud, someone out to steal his heart away and play with it before leaving it in a trillion broken pieces on a floor such as this one.
Bakura didn't want to believe that, either. Of course he had had his suspicions about her as well, but maybe it was just nerves. Frances . . . Franceska. . . . After what Franceska had done to him, it was natural to think that a woman with a similar name who came into his life almost as soon as Franceska left could be the same person . . . wasn't it? It didn't mean that they were one and the same.
But his Yami had seen her push Mr. Ryou into the line of fire. Then, for reasons unknown to any but he himself, Yami Bakura had rescued the man.
Oreo leaped into Bakura's lap and let out a puzzled meow. The British boy chuckled weakly and stroked her fur, remembering how she and five other cats had all cuddled into Yami Bakura's lap once, preventing him from even moving.
Oh, if only all people could be as trustworthy as this cat, Bakura thought wistfully.
Ishizu arrived back home from the museum and parked her car in the shelter of the garage before heading for the back door. Something was wrong. Her keen senses had picked up on it the moment she had driven onto the street.
"Marik?" she called in concern, looking around for any sign of her younger brother. The home was completely dark, but Marik's motorcyle was there in the garage. . . . Knowing Marik, he had probably curled up by the fireplace to get warm and had promptly fallen asleep. Ishizu wanted to believe that. She wanted to believe it with all her heart.
But she couldn't ignore her feelings. It wasn't just the Tauk that possessed her of this psychic ability; somewhere along the line, she had been gifted—or cursed—with a genuine mastery of foreshadowing. Sometimes she welcomed it, but other times she simply wanted to be rid of it all. She didn't want to feel that something was wrong with her dear brother, but the feeling wouldn't leave her be.
A hand touched her shoulder and she started violently, jerking away. For a split second, her mind entertained many unwelcome possibilities. Was this a burglar or a criminal of some kind? Perhaps the one who had hurt Marik?!
"It is I, sister," Rishid's strong voice reassured her then. "Do not fear."
Ishizu smiled up at him in immense relief. It was so good to see this dear one safe! "Have you just arrived home?" she asked, still fearful for Marik.
Rishid nodded. "The front door is unlocked," he said grimly. "I was about to enter when I saw you come." And if something was wrong, Rishid didn't want Ishizu to go in alone and be harmed.
Ishizu's eyes narrowed at this news. "We must go in," she said, and Rishid whole-heartedly agreed.
The two Egyptians walked up to the porch and Rishid eased the door open. A crack of light illuminated the otherwise pitch-black room, casting eerie shadows on the walls and showing that nothing seemed to be out of place. Unconvinced, Rishid entered first and then permitted Ishizu to follow him. Both of them called softly for Marik as they advanced into the house but received no reply.
As they approached the stairs, Ishizu suddenly drew in her breath sharply and then dropped to her knees beside a still form. She knew who it was before she was close enough to tell for certain. "Marik," she whispered, brushing his bangs aside. "Marik, what has happened?! Who has done this to you?!" Her premonition had been right! Oh, if only it hadn't been!