By Alecto Perdita
Track 12 - Echoes
Posted: August 6, 2010
Warning(s): Spoilers for the Kaiba Grand Prix arc
Email: alecto . perdita (at) gmail . com
Disclaimer: Yu-Gi-Oh is the intellectual property of Takahashi Kazuki, and is being used in this fanfiction for fan purposes only. All situations, opinions and characters not belonging to Takahashi Kazuki are the intellectual property of Alecto Perdita.
A week after the fight with Dartz, I found my mind wandering in the direction of Yugi and his rag-tag team. In the aftermath of the battle on Atlantis, we went our separate ways after returning to Miami. With the opening day of KaibaLand USA so close, Mokuba and I needed to get back to California as soon as possible. My brother had offered to give the rest of them a ride back as well, but they declined. They were going to make their way west in the Hopkins' little RV and "take in the sights." For that week we spent apart, I was far too busy to even think about Jounouchi as I juggled the theme park's opening and buying back the rest of the stock from Doma's corporate takeover of my company. Not surprising either was the fact our stock price had hit an all-time low.
As for the organization of the KC Grand Prix and the other Duel Monsters tournaments that were to take place in conjunction with the park's opening, I was forced to delegate a majority of its planning to Isono and Mokuba.
"Don't worry, Nii-sama." My brother puffed out his chest in pride. I knew he had done a lot to alleviate the immense workload for me. "Soon all anyone will be able to talk about is our new KaibaLand and the Grand Prix. Our stock prices are bound to go up then!"
"How is the online registration coming along?" I turned to Isono.
Isono, the only man to work almost as much as I do, wiped the sweat from his forehead with a handkerchief. I made a mental note to send him away on a mandatory paid leave after this was all said and done. "Three S ranked and three A ranked duelists have confirmed their participation in the Grand Prix. We've made travel arrangements for those that have RSVP'ed. Both of the smaller Hobby League tournaments are full, as well as the California Regional Tournament taking place later this week."
"Seto-sama, what about Mutou Yugi and them? Do you think they'll come?" Isono flipped through the various pages in his clipboard.
I smirked and folded my hands together. "Of course they will. They still owe me for last week."
"I'll take care of it then, Seto-sama." Isono bowed to signal his intention to leave.
I noticed that Mokuba had just barely rolled his eyes. My brother hopped to his feet and ran over to the older man. "I'll come with you, Isono. They won't be able to back out then."
At that moment, I was finally satisfied with the course of events. As long as the tournaments went off without a hitch, we would no doubt recover from the unfortunate encounter with Doma. But like so many other things (especially things that called for the involvement of Mutou Yugi and Jounouchi Katsuya), the tournament did not go smoothly. The fact that someone, even someone like Siegfried von Schroeder, had hacked my systems on more than one occasion infuriated me to no end. And then there was that brat, Rebecca Hopkins, who blew through the backdoor of the system with ridiculous ease... I was going to have to fire half the IT department after this mess, recode the base architecture, and do a complete systems overhaul myself after this latest mess.
The evening reception after the first day of dueling was a different experience than the one that announced the start of the tournament. It was smaller and more intimate, organized by Mokuba to give the participating duelists and other VIP guests a chance to socialize with each other and other invitees. But as usual, I found these types of events both dull and mind numbing. I glared over to where Sieg was standing in the corner of the ballroom, pointedly ignoring everyone that tried to approach him. Isono and his team were still busy trying to piece together the connection between Sieg Lloyd and the von Schroeder family. I was going to catch and expose that bastard.
Before long, my attention was drawn back to Yugi and his cheerleaders. Rebecca, Anzu, and that Chinese duelist were hanging all over a horrified and possibly traumatized Yugi. The shorter boy kept looking desperately to where Jounouchi and Honda were polishing off the contents of the buffet table. Once in a while, one of them would just snicker and throw their besieged friend a thumbs-up when they weren't busy terrorizing the catering staff. Otogi was the only one making good use of his time by networking with other guests and duelists. And from across the room, Jounouchi and I caught each others' eye. He immediately broke off the gaze and stared hard at the plate full of food in his hand instead.
I sighed, wishing again that Mokuba would at least keep me company. But he had run off to talk with that Leon Wilson boy instead. So much for brotherly solidarity.
"Yo, Kaiba. You look dead on your feet."
I gave myself silent credit for not jumping at those words. The lack of regular sleep must have been catching up with me because I had no idea when Jounouchi managed to sneak up on me.
"What do you want, Jounouchi?" I grumbled, suddenly feeling too tired to fight with him.
He shrugged. "You're standing in the corner of the room by yourself. Since it's your party, I just thought you might actually socialize with people. Or at least fend off some overenthusiastic duelists."
I almost groaned at his words. "I've already had to deal with that Vivian Wong woman." Several encounters with the aforementioned duelists had required the physical intervention of my bodyguards for resolution.
He laughed and the mood lightened around us, if only a little. "You haven't even seen the little bitchfight she's been having with Rebecca all day. She was so determined to duel Yugi, that she lured Sugoroku-jii away and pretended to kidnap him."
"You could have reported her to security. She would have been disqualified." I frowned.
Why couldn't anyone in these tournaments just duel without the drama? If it wasn't a brainwashed gang trying to steal everyone's rare cards, it was the end of the world.
"No biggie. She already lost to Rebecca at that point and Yugi easily won. Besides, it's nothing we couldn't handle!" He made that strange expression of his.
Deciding that a change of topic was needed, I looked down at his admittedly impressive arrangement of food that stood almost half a foot on his plate. "I see that you've decided you can't beat me in a legitimate duel and are eating me out of house and home instead."
"Well, don't put out such great food then." He pointed a drumstick in my face and I crinkled my nose. "I gotta find a way to get Vivian to cook again though, that was the best Chinese food I ever had. I could eat seven bowls of that fried rice!"
"You're a pig. How do you manage to eat so much?" I asked because I was legitimately curious. More often than not, he had some type of food in hand when he wasn't busy dueling or cheerleading for Yugi.
Jounouchi fell silent for a few moments, leaving me to wonder if I said anything wrong. "Force of habit, I guess. When my old man was still around, it was hard to say when my next good meal was going to be. Better to stuff myself than go hungry."
I could have kicked myself then. The issue of Jounouchi's father was probably still a sensitive one- even though the son of a bitch was behind bars where he belonged. No doubt, the bastard had been too busy throwing away any and all money on cheap booze to properly feed his own son.
He shook his head violently, as if it would shake off the fit of melancholy that fell on him. "Besides, you gotta eat to have the strength for the next fight. I gotta get back to the others." He must have noticed Isono heading in our direction.
Jounouchi fished a handful of celery sticks from somewhere on his plate and shoved them into my hands. With nowhere else better to put them, I simply held onto them as he hurried away.
"Seto-sama, we have the report on Sieg Lloyd." Isono presented me with a small stack of papers.
Transferring the celery into one hand, I took his report with my free hand. For a moment, I considered just handing them to Isono to throw away, but Jounouchi's last words came to mind. I brought a stalk to my lips as I began scanning the results of Isono's report on Siegfried von Schroeder.
Jounouchi tipped the container of rice and his head back, trying to finish the last of his meal without getting it all over his face. A spoon was only so useful when his hands were tied together. The darkness of the office he was being held prisoner in didn't help matters either.
He felt around on the floor for the bottle of water his captors had also left behind. The cool liquid caused his busted lips to sting like hell. All in all, his punishment for speaking out of line wasn't too bad. His ribs and back were sore from a few kicks, but it was worth it to protect his face. Like most other actors, his face was an asset to be protected at all cost. Black eyes would heal, but broken noses could not set properly and become crooked. Not to mention Sophie would have his ass for anything less...
He had gotten a better sense of his captors though. For all their posturing, they weren't really into the physical violence part. They beat him just enough to get the point across: to shut up, to sit down, to stop resisting... But that was about it. They seemed reluctant to go any further. They weren't like his old man, who had relished the violence. And thankfully, his father had yet to appear before him again since he first came to.
That was perhaps the most troubling part of this whole ordeal.
"Kaiba, you better find me before I die of boredom." He said out loud, even though no one would hear him.
Jounouchi was both comforted and worried by the idea that Kaiba was looking for him out there. If anyone out of the gang was to rescue him, he would put his money on Kaiba. But he also knew how...intense Kaiba could get about this sort of thing.
When they first met Mokuba, Jounouchi felt nothing but pity for the kid. Back then, he felt pity for anyone that had to associate with the older Kaiba- himself included. Aside from the coma, Jounouchi had been more than a little surprised when Kaiba first stormed onto Pegasus' island in a fit of rage and determination. Though he didn't approve of the underhanded tactic Kaiba used to gain entrance to Pegasus' castle, the scene of the other boy hanging to life by a desperate ploy of psychology more than convinced Jounouchi of Kaiba's single-minded drive to rescue Mokuba. And though he thought himself better than that, Jounouchi did wonder at times if he would have done the same for Shizuka.
Was Kaiba now searching for him with that same sort of suppressed desperation that Jounouchi so often saw in regard to Mokuba's safety?
Jounouchi'd like to think he was better than that- waiting like some damsel-in-distress in need of rescuing. He'd like to think he could find his way out of this mess on his own.
It was always nice to know Kaiba cared.
"Even till now, when men were fond, I smiled and wonder'd how."
Perhaps even better than the others, Honda knew just how impossible it was to dissuade Kaiba once the CEO's mind had been made up. Kaiba Seto also didn't know the meaning of subtlety if his life depended on it.
"Please just let me do the talking. If you say one wrong thing, you'll scare all of them and we'll be lucky to even get directions to the nearest bus stop." Honda hissed outside the entrance to the bar.
The dingy wooden interior spoke of better years long gone. It was obvious from the wrinkle on Kaiba's nose that he did not approve of the surroundings. All eyes were on them as soon as they entered through the door. It was only expected with the way Kaiba stank so obviously of money. It was going to be a wonder if they got around the block without an attempted mugging.
As they passed the bar, Honda asked the bartender. "Is Abe-san in the backroom?"
The bartender just nodded and returned to cleaning the glasses as he was doing before.
The backroom that Honda then lead them into was slightly less worse for wear. A mahjong table with tiles thrown haphazardly across its surface sat in the corner of the room. A man in his fifties with rapidly graying hair sat behind the broken desk in the center.
"Abe-san." Honda came to a stop in front of the desk and bowed. Out of the corner of his eyes, he saw that Kaiba made no attempt at the courtesy.
"Honda-kun, I thought you were off the beat now with that cushy desk job. Or are you just on the verge of a particularly juicy story?" The older man's eyes sparkled as he spoke.
"You could say that. I need to know if there's been talk of any kidnap and ransom jobs."
"And this is current?" Abe's facial expression darkened.
Honda couldn't help but flinch under that gaze. "Yes."
Abe stood abruptly, causing Kaiba to make movements to prepare a physical defense. Honda glared at the CEO and silently willed him to back down. Abe was not going to hurt them, there was only so much a man his age could do. But Kaiba always was the paranoid bastard...
"Honda-kun, you know I won't talk to you about anything the police hasn't already closed on. That was our deal. You can't pay me enough to protect me from the scum out there. It's the only reason they put up with me besides the cheap booze."
"And yet you still serve the people you call scum?" Kaiba spoke for the first time and Honda really wished the brunet just kept his mouth shut.
Abe reached over to grab the walking cane that had been leaning on the side of the desk and hobbled over to them. "For those of us not born with a silver spoon in our mouth, Kaiba-sama, a scum's money is still money and it'll pay for rent and food." He redirected his glare at Honda to emphasize his point. "I don't snitch to cops and I don't snitch on jobs that haven't bombed."
Honda tried his best not to stare at the mangled leg that left Abe limping for the last fifteen years. "I know, but I'm desperate for any leads. This isn't for a story, but I'll pay you triple, quadruple our usual price." He was incredibly aware that his voice had taken on an edge of desperation.
"What could be so important that you would ask me to put my life on the line then?" The older man demanded.
"It's Jounouchi, he was the mark."
"Honda..." The warning was all too clear in Kaiba's tone.
"Shut it, Kaiba. Abe-san's known Jounouchi for longer than you have." He growled in return.
But the stunned and concerned look on the older man's face must have been what convinced Kaiba. Jounouchi and he had known Abe for as long as they were considered old enough to be called to take Jounouchi's drunken father home from this very bar- which was about the time they were twelve years old. Abe had always had a particular soft spot for Jounouchi and Honda was betting on that to buy him some leverage.
"That boy's always getting himself into trouble." Abe turned and hobbled back to his desk. "Things have been pretty quiet on the ransom front and I don't think any of the yakuza families are in on it. We would have already known otherwise. There were rumors of some small-timers trying to pull a big job, some would even say a stupid job with a ridiculously high-profile public figure. But I don't have any other information other than that at the moment."
Honda felt his shoulders slump in disappointment. He knew Abe wouldn't lie to him. He pulled out a photo of Maruyama Jun and placed it down on the desk. "We think he may be one of the people involved. You'll let me know if you hear anything, right?"
Abe picked up the picture and stared at it for a few moments. Honda could sense that Kaiba was becoming more and more agitated by the second. He wished there was something he could do for the other man, knowing that Kaiba was perhaps the one most perturbed by Jounouchi's kidnapping. But Kaiba, the stubborn bastard, refused to show it and would work himself to the death to find Jounouchi if need be. Honda promised himself he'd drill it in for Jounouchi just how hard Kaiba had worked to find him when they finally got the blond back.
"I can tell you did," Abe's word brought Honda out of his reverie. "If Maruyama Jun is really involved in something as serious as this, his cousin, Yuichi, probably put him up to it first. Yuichi generally runs in the fraud and embezzlement racket, so kidnapping for ransom isn't too out of character of his M.O.- especially if he needs money. But Honda-kun, you and I both know this sort of job has to be planned very carefully, it doesn't just pop up out of nowhere. Hiding places and stolen cars have to be arranged for use, and a few dry runs for practice. They were probably watching Jounouchi-kun for a while before they took him. Maybe you should take a closer look at the people that have been around him lately."
It was almost midnight by the time they got back to Kaiba Corporation's main office building. The empty take-out containers and the smell of curry hanging in the conference room told Kaiba the group had Indian for dinner. He felt his own stomach rumble at the smell of food- reminding him that he hadn't had any food since breakfast. From the hungry look on Honda's face, the other man was experiencing similar hunger pains.
Kaiba took his seat at the head of the table where Malik passed him a container of jasmine rice and chicken curry. Honda immediately busied himself with a piece of naan even before taking a seat. Everyone at the table looked exhausted.
"So how did it go, Nii-sama?" Mokuba asked as he rubbed the shoulders of his girlfriend leaning against his side.
"We have a second name, but not much else to go by." He grumbled unhappily. "And the kidnapper's call?"
Rebecca pulled herself out of Mokuba's embrace and hit a button on her laptop. Kaiba listened carefully to the recording of the call between Sophia, Shizuka, and Jounouchi's captor- for any hint of where Jounouchi may be held. He narrowed his eyes at the sound of Jounouchi's words being cut off, most likely by someone physically lashing out. "Any luck tracing the call?"
Rebecca shook her head in disappointment. "They kept it too short and sweet. I couldn't triangulate the position any further than the general downtown and surrounding areas. The number itself belongs to a pre-paid cellphone bought second-hand."
"We'll have to wait until they send us the information about the drop-off. I have a security team briefed and on standby." Mokuba reported and Kaiba just nodded. He was grateful that his brother had already taken care of the hassle of getting a security team prepared. That alone would be worth more than the entire Domino police department.
What Abe had last said to them annoyed him deeply. It should have been the first question to ask Sophia and Shizuka: had anything out of the ordinary happened to Jounouchi lately? He was deeply familiar with the methodological and psychological processes around kidnapping for random- he had to be considering that both he and his brother were people of power and wealth. But he hadn't thought to ask them because of the emotional rollercoaster that followed after the first ransom call. Issues with Jounouchi always did seem to override his better judgment.
"To pull this off, they must have kept him under surveillance for some time. Has anyone noticed any strange new people or other strange happenings?" He asked the group.
Contrary to what most people thought, Kaiba was good at reading people- he needed to be in order to discern how his opponents were feeling in the boardroom. He wasn't all too surprised when he saw the quick downcast of Sophia's eyes to indicate she did know more than she was letting on. What did surprise him was the way Shizuka's eyes widened ever so slightly before she looked away from him.
All eyes were on her at once, causing her to squirm in her seat. "It's nothing."
Kaiba decided to focus on Jounouchi's manager instead. He had warned Sophia about the repercussions of keeping things from him, especially if it concerned Jounouchi's safety. Unlike Shizuka whom he had faith in to tell them if she really did know something, Sophia Chang was the stubborn type of woman to take secrets to the grave just because she could. "Chang, I know you're hiding something. Don't forget what we talked about earlier."
This was the easy part. She was the outsider of the group- the one who everyone would not feel bad about harboring suspicions against. From the glare on her face, he knew that she knew that he had her cornered. If she was going to continue to take part in this little rescue attempt, she was going to have to give up her little secrets. With a snarl, she whipped out a thick folder from her over-sized purse. The contents of the folder spilled over the length of the table when she threw it down.
Kaiba picked up one of the sheets of papers that slid down to his end of the table. It was a old-fashioned death threat, entirely composed of characters cut out of newspapers and magazines. You will pay for ruining my life. He picked up another page containing a threat that had been written on the computer and printed from a laser-jet printer: No one's going to miss you. You're nothing but a rat.
Bakura shuffled through the larger stack. "This is a lot. They're organized chronologically?"
Sophia nodded mutely.
"How long has this been going on? Why haven't you notified the police about this?" Bakura continued with his questioning as he read through a few more of the threats.
"We started getting them the first week we were in Domino. And I didn't call the police because it was none of their damn business. I've seen my share of celebrity stalkers in my time, I think I can handle it!" She folded her arms over her chest as she huffed indignantly.
"But this," Kaiba said as he held up a written threat. "Is not the work of a crazed fan. This is someone with a grudge. I should know."
"Hard not to when we get a dozen of these a month." Malik grumbled.
"Which is exactly why I didn't think this was relevant. I don't think anyone looking to kidnap Katsuya would give themselves away by sending something like this in the first place." Her glare challenged them to question, to attack her further. Kaiba was once again reminded of a cat by her defensive posture.
"There's nothing more we can do about it now." Bakura put the threats back into the folder.
Kaiba stood and snatched the folder from Bakura before he could hand them back to Sophia. "I'll hold onto these in the meantime." He could still feel her glare digging into the back of his head as he walked away.
Kaiba was perusing over the latest proposals submitted by the various groups in R&D when Yugi came into his office the next morning. Even the workaholic he tended to be, he didn't usually spend Sunday at the office downtown. Though the group begrudgingly broke apart at 1AM to return to their separate homes and beds, there was the unspoken understanding they would meet again at Kaiba's office to continue their search for Jounouchi the next day. Unable to nap for more than an hour or two at a time, he had given up around sunrise and gone into the office.
"What are you doing here? Shouldn't you be with your wife?" He brought a hand up to massage the bridge of his nose, wishing Sachiko was around to bring him some coffee.
"Anzu's mother is with her right now."
In their youth, the sudden deepening of the voice and the perception of added height signaled the presence of the former great Pharaoh. But as Yugi grew physically and mentally, the usual tells that gave away who was in control of the body became obsolete. So Kaiba, as did the others, had to adjust and seek out the more subtle differences: the most glaring of which was the way Yugi and Yami spoke of Anzu's name. Where before the presence of Yami had aged Yugi's features, it now instilled a sense of adolescent youth.
"I'm surprised it took you this long to make your way down here. You never could keep your nose out of other people's business, especially if it involved danger." Kaiba set aside the reports before glancing at the time on his computer desktop. It was almost eight thirty.
"Jounouchi is an important friend. Yugi wants to help just as much as I do." Yami reached down to finger the Blue Eyes White Dragon paperweight on Kaiba's desk.
Kaiba stood, stretching as he did so. "Come with me to get some coffee and you can tell me exactly why you're here."
They walked in silence down the hall to the kitchenette by the conference room. The coffee in the pot was what was left of the brew from late last night. Unable to draw up the energy to brew a fresh pot, Kaiba poured what was left of the content into a Styrofoam cup and placed it in the microwave for a minute. For a few moments, the room was silent, save the hum of the microwave.
"There is another way we could find Jounouchi." Yami said quietly. "But you're not going to like it, cousin."
He glared at the spirit for the very mention of their supposedly shared past. It was easy to see what Yami was hoping to suggest. It was the only time that Yami felt the need to remind him of the priest that had lived three thousand years ago. Kaiba looked down to glare at the heavy Millennium Puzzle hanging from the other man's neck. "If that's the case, why haven't you done it already?"
Yami caressed the Puzzle gently. "Unfortunately, I can't. The Puzzle is what maintains the gateway through which all other Millennium Items draw their magic. It gives me knowledge of those dark powers and allows me to manipulate outcomes of chance. But try as I might, I can't find Jounouchi. Maybe if he had an Item with him, I could. But there are too many minds in this modern world and too many other sources of power that interfere." The former king sounded frustrated by the end of his speech.
"Then why bring it up at all?" Kaiba growled. Though he had long accepted the extraordinary nature of Yami's existence and the power that gathered around him, Kaiba didn't like being reminded of it- of something he had no hopes of controlling or understanding.
"I cannot, but Bakura may be able to. When he was still in possession of the Ring, Bakura's darker personality always had a knack for finding things." Yami's posture was completely stiff, probably because he knew exactly how Kaiba was going to react to the suggestion.
He wrenched open the microwave door to retrieve his coffee. Dipping a finger in, he found it to be only lukewarm. He snarled as he ripped into three packages each of sugar and cream. "You can't actually think that'll be safe. Every time one of you decides to play around with those things, something always goes wrong. Last time, Malik nearly took down the entire city's power grid. And whose to say Bakura won't have a relapse? I'm far too old now to take part in your mystical hocus-pocus."
As much as he wanted to find Jounouchi, he wasn't sure the Items would be the best way. He had been witness to all the mishaps they had caused over the years. And he really wished Sachiko was working that day, because his coffee tasted like shit.
"Yes, the Items have gotten harder to use since we defeated Zorc, but we need to try for Jounouchi's sake. I don't understand why you are so determined to forsake your heritage. The Rod would most likely respond better to you than to Malik."
Kaiba crumpled the empty Styrofoam cup and tossed it in the trash. "I'm a technologist, Yami. Just because I must accept the truth of their power, doesn't mean I have to like them as well. I have my own ways of locating Jounouchi. You'll see."
Yami narrowed his eyes as he held Kaiba's unwavering gaze. "I just hope your hubris doesn't get Jounouchi killed."
Inconspicuous: that was what the security detail told him. Kaiba Seto was many things, but a wallflower was not one of them. And so he was stuck at the Domino Shopping Mall without his usual trappings. No impressive trenchcoats or ludicrously expensive tailored Italian suits, just an unassuming ensemble of a plain black turtleneck paired with slacks. He almost felt...naked...
The text messages containing information about the money drop-off came around lunchtime. Shizuka and Sophia was each told to take a million each in shopping bags and to deposit them near trash cans at two different ends of the mall. They were told to go alone or else...
From his vantage point on the second floor, Kaiba observed the crowd of shoppers that invaded the building that Sunday afternoon with great wariness. He could see Sophia weaving in and out of the crowd, impatiently checking the time on her cellphone. He pressed the talk button on the Bluetooth earpiece hanging on his lobe. Yami was watching Shizuka from a similar vantage point at the other end of the mall.
"Just leave the bag, Chang. Don't look over here and leave the mall. We'll take care of it," he hissed and glared daggers into the back of the woman's head.
On the floor below, her shoulders tensed and shook with poorly concealed rage. Taking one last look around her, she left the shopping bag leaning against the trash can outside of the hallway leading to the restrooms. Kaiba didn't relax until she was out the nearly exit and into the arms of the security team waiting in a van in the parking lot.
Pressing the talk button again, he asked. "Yami, how's Shizuka doing?"
The reply came immediately. "She just put the bag down and is on her way to meet up with Sophia and the others."
"Good, everyone hear that? Be on standby. If anyone approaches the bags, don't stop them. Let them take it and tail them discreetly. We need to be sure of where they're holding Jounouchi and his safety before we move in. I won't tolerate any mistakes." He barked, even though his security team didn't really need the reminder. He only hired the best of the best.
A chorus of "Yes, Seto-sama" sounded over the earpiece.
Kaiba checked the time on his watch- there was still a half an hour till the deadline the kidnappers had set for the drop-off. Even in the large crowd, he could pick out the members of the security team decked out in civilian dress. He only hoped they weren't so obvious to the kidnappers when they came to pick up the money. The minutes ticked by like hours instead and the mall only seemed to get more crowded as time passed.
"Any movement on your end?" Honda's voice came over the earpiece. The brunet man was walking around on the first floor of the mall and Kaiba approved of how he managed to stay out of sight. At least someone was able to blend in inconspicuously with a crowd- which was more than he could say for Yami and some of the security team.
According to Kaiba's watch, another fifteen minutes passed without anything happening. He caught himself as he began tapping on the railing he was leaning against.
Honda's voice over the conference call said exactly what Kaiba was thinking. "This wait is killing me."
Yami started to say something over the line when their potential conversation was cut short. For a second, everyone in the mall came to a complete standstill as the shrill sound of the fire alarm rang throughout the building.
"Everyone, hold your position." Kaiba barked as some of the shoppers started moving toward their nearest exit.
"Don't, it may be a false alarm set off by the kidnappers." He clutched the railing until his knuckles turned white.
"Kaiba, look toward the middle of the mall. It's not a false alarm." Yami said with absolute calm.
Begrudgingly, he looked down the length of the mall where plumes of black smoke rose into the air. He wasn't the only person to notice that little fact as several cries of "Fire!" came from the crowd of shoppers and everyone began moving more urgently toward the exits. The mall rent-a-cop fell swiftly on groups of onlookers that stood around to take pictures with their camera phones, herding them toward the nearest doors.
"Don't move and keep visual on the money." He commanded over the earpiece as the crowd around him became like a tide trying to sweep him away.
"Easier said than done!" Honda replied.
Someone grabbed him by the shoulder and spun him around. It was a mall security guard. "Sir, you need to leave."
Kaiba snarled at the man. "Get your hand off me. Do you have any idea who I am?"
The guard just rolled his eyes. "Sir, you could be the Emperor himself, but you're still going to have to evacuate the building. This is not a drill."
The crowd around them continued to move, sending Kaiba another step closer to the security guard. He ripped his shoulder out of the guard's grip to look back down at the spot he had been surveying. He couldn't see the bag of money anymore, not through the swarm of shoppers racing toward the doors. "Surveillance team, have the packages moved at all?"
"No Seto-sama, according to the tracking devices, the bags have not been taken yet. We're receiving information that the fire department's ETA is fifteen minutes-" Came the reply from the surveillance team stationed in the van in the parking lot.
"Kaiba, I'm in the parking lot. I just couldn't fight both the crowd and the security guards." Honda interrupted the report, sounding both irritated and apologetic.
"Yami?" He asked.
"I have also been removed from the premises." The spirit reply flatly.
His frustration increased exponentially by leaps and bounds. "What good are you if you can't even handle a few rent-a-cops?"
"I don't abuse my powers on mortals." The former pharaoh snapped back, sounding equally as pissed.
Mokuba's voice broke through the chatter with startling clarity. "Nii-sama, please leave. I understand your determination, but it's not worth risking your life. Jounouchi wouldn't want that."
Kaiba felt all the fight drain out of him as two bodyguards suddenly flanked him and grabbed him by each arm. The two men bowed their heads in apology as they spoke in unison, barely audible above the noise and panic. "Forgive us, Seto-sama, but our orders are from Mokuba-sama." He shot another glance toward the still not visible bag somewhere in the sea of people below before he was forcibly dragged away.
Half an hour of cursing (mostly on Sophia's part) and nervous hand wringing (mostly on Honda's part) later, the fire department managed to finally extinguish the flames. No one had been hurt, but Kaiba was just about ready to kill someone with his bare hands. It took another fifteen minutes of squabbling with the police and thinly veiled threats before his security team was allowed back into the mall. By then, the building had been completely sealed off to everyone except for rescue and emergency workers. He looked over at computer screen displaying the location of the tracking devices planted in the bags of money. True to his security team's word, they didn't so much move a pixel the entire time they waited.
Sophia watched the firefighters with eyes both dark and grim. "The money's gone already."
Shizuka and Honda immediately turned to face Jounouchi's manager. "But the tracking device-"
"Don't you see?" She waved her hand at the building. "This was all a distraction to throw us off their trail. I'll bet you that fire was arson."
A loud crackled proceeded the report from his team over the radio. "Seto-sama, we have collected the packages."
"Any signs of the kidnappers?" He hated the fact his heart was racing entirely too fast, threatening to break free of his rib cage. But he wouldn't show it because he needed to be calm and methodical.
"None," There was a small pause of hesitation. "But the money's also gone, Seto-sama."
Rebecca repositioned her half-moon glasses on the bridge of her nose and did her best not to make fun of the three-year-old machine sitting in her lap. Shizuka hovered just next to her on the couch, watching anxiously as the other woman worked. After the failed attempt to find out Jounouchi's location with the tracking devices, the group had gone back to Kaiba Corp to wait for news from the kidnappers. In the meanwhile, there was always the possibility that the kidnappers would just return Jounouchi after they got what they wanted. But the hours passed without any further contact with the kidnappers and the tension among the group reached a new peak. On more than one occasion, Yami would pull Seto aside and they would argue in a low and furious tone. Around 5PM, a bodyguard appeared in the doorway of the conference room and announced that they had located the money. The news sent everyone but the Kaibas into a frenzy, because he had known it would only be a matter of time before his backup plan produced results.
When the men left to conduct their raid on the warehouse where Jonouchi was most likely being held, Shizuka had pulled Rebecca aside to ask for a favor. It was only when they were in Jounouchi Michi's apartment and away from the prying ears of Kaiba Seto that Shizuka was willing to give voice to her reason for worrying.
"I'm beginning to think Otou-san may be involved with this." Shizuka said with a face full of shame.
Rebecca agreed with the other woman that in light of recent events, it just seemed like too much of a coincidence for Jounouchi Tanaka to take a renewed interest in his children's lives now. She had swallowed the acerbic remarks that threatened to fall from her tongue. In some way, she could understand why Shizuka had wanted to believe her father was a reformed man. She knew that Shizuka always tried to see the best in people- it was the quality that both Honda and Seto loved most about her. Because as an artist, Shizuka always chose to focus on the beauty of the world.
Rebecca reached over and gave the other woman's hand a firm squeeze, smiling and trying to reassure her. She also didn't think Shizuka should be the guilt-ridden one if the older Jounouchi was the one responsible for the current situation.
"So can you find out what he was doing on my computer?" The other woman was staring at the time displayed on the DVD player, probably worried about the impending raid on her brother's location.
Rebecca scanned the list of websites in the browser's history, but none of the ones listed seem out of character for Shizuka. "Not easily though, unless you have a keylogger installed on your computer. You said you saw him using email?"
"It was Yahoo Mail, I have an account with them too."
Rebecca typed the URL to Yahoo! Japan into the browser's address bar. On the login page, she entered the username of Shizuka's email and a password. The login succeeded, she noted with satisfaction.
Shizuka stared at her with eyes wide with admiration. "Wow, Mokuba wasn't kidding when he said you could hack anything."
"It would also help if you didn't use Honda's birthday as the password." Rebecca teased lightly, but made a mental note to go over the finer points of secure password creation with the woman at another time. She noted the large number of email exchanged between Shizuka and her brother, but those had come to a stop two days ago. She clicked through to the Sent folder and immediately spotted something odd. About a week ago, Shizuka forward some of her emails with Jounouchi to another email address, jtanak1961 (a) gmail . com (1). Turning the laptop toward Shizuka, she asked. "Do you remember sending these emails?"
"No, I have no idea who this is." Shizuka crinkled her forehead in deep thought.
"I think it's fairly obvious who this email address belongs to." Rebecca's finger lingered over the username on the screen. "What emails were forwarded?"
Shizuka took the laptop from her laptop and quickly clicked through the five or so emails. "They're all emails from Onii-chan, mostly about his schedule, when his flight is leaving, about his new hotel room..."
Both women fell silent as the pieces of the puzzle clicked together. Sophia had been wondering how the kidnappers even knew where Jounouchi and her had been staying after moving hotels.
"We need to call the police." Shizuka muttered urgently.
Yami reluctantly pulled on the bullet-proof vest Kaiba handed him- after all, Anzu would kill him twice over if anything bad happened to Yugi. Honda and Sophia had also been bullied into wearing similar vests, but when Kaiba's bodyguards tried to force the same on the CEO, he just snarled at them and said he wouldn't have the vest hindering his movements. Another black suited man in sunglasses passed each of them an radio earpiece, which they all looped around their earlobe. Their cellphones had been turned off and left behind in the car they came down in.
They were stationed about a hundred feet away from an abandoned warehouse on the pier where the money had been tracked to. Yami looked out over the deep blue sea and his mind unwittingly brought up memories of his duel with the brainwashed Jounouchi. They would find Jounouchi- they always did. He reached down to grasp the Millennium Puzzle- the feel of the cold metal washed over him.
Yugi's astral form appeared next to him and placed a hand on Yami's shoulder. 'We'll get Jounouchi-kun back.'
"Kaiba, how'd you find out about this place if they left the tracking devices behind?" Honda asked as the rest of Kaiba's security team started to move in and surround the building's three known exits.
Yami was equally curious, especially after he spent the last two hours trying to convince the brunet it was time to bring the Millennium Items into play for Jounouchi's sake.
"I irradiated the money," was the only reply Kaiba would give.
"You what? And you let Shizuka handle that stuff?" Honda took a step forward before Yami firmly planted himself between the two men. Yugi's spirit form stared up at Kaiba in wide-eyed shock. Sophia was also glaring at the CEO, but she had been doing that for the last day or so.
"Calm down, Honda." Mokuba's voice came over all their earpieces. "Exposure is only dangerous to humans in greater amount than what we used here over a period of months, if not years. It's a very low level radiation, which is why it took a few hours before the warehouse showed up on our satellites. Contingency JMP was originally conceived with Nii-sama and me in mind, and takes into account all the things our enemy would most likely use to counter us. That way even if kidnappers had a way to disable electronics, we would still be able to track the money. It's military grade isotope DH-300 (2), you could guide an ICBM (3) from across the Pacific with it. Nii-sama only uses the best."
"You are one frightening man, Kaiba Seto." Honda muttered and was perhaps feeling a bit shell-shocked.
Kaiba just smirked in reply and for a moment, the tension in his facial muscles dissipated.
Yugi studied Kaiba closely before remarking, 'Kaiba-kun is really giving his all for Jounouchi-kun's sake.'
Yami nodded in agreement. 'If only he had put this much effort into finding Jounouchi when he first left, this might not have happened.'
Yugi turned and smiled sadly at Yami. 'Yes, but all that matters is he's doing it now. He wants to keep Jounouchi safe and by his side. We can't waste time thinking about the what ifs now.'
The group moved in silence to position themselves at one of warehouse doors. They were flanked front and back by two of Kaiba's bodyguards. Yami could see that Yugi was nervously eying the bodyguards' guns and he reached out with his mind to soothe his beloved partner. The grateful smile from Yugi's spirit form never failed to warm Yami to the core and fill him with renewed determination. For Jounouchi, they thought in unison.
After a slight crackle of static, someone spoke over the radio transmission. "Seto-sama, we have visual of possibly the kidnappers and the money, but no signs of the hostage yet."
Kaiba straightened his posture before giving his order. "Move in, and I want Jounouchi Katsuya safe at all cost. Kill the bastards if you have to."
The bodyguards in front immediately kicked down the door and stormed the building. Men in black suits and dark sunglasses flooded in through all the doors that lead into the warehouse's main storage area. Three men froze over a rickety table where they were counting the pile of yen notes.
"Don't move or we will not hesitate to shoot you where you stand." Kaiba roared as he stormed onto the frontline.
"We didn't do anything!" One of the men, Maruyama Jun, screeched as he eyed at the guns trained on him.
One hard swing of Kaiba's fist sent the taxi driver crashing into the concrete ground and yen notes flying everywhere. Kaiba signaled to a group of guards on his right and barked, "Search the rest of the building and find him." Sophia immediately took off after the group sent to find Jounouchi.
Three more guards quickly moved forward and grabbed the three kidnappers before forcing them down to the ground with a gun to their heads. "Seto-sama, they're unarmed."
"Good, restrain them. I have lots of questions for them later." The gleam in Kaiba's eyes and the cruel turn of a sadistic smile were unsettling. For a moment, Yami thought he was looking into the eyes of that monstrous boy who had dedicated an amusement park to his demise.
Sophia and the search party returned just as the three kidnappers' hands were bound with plastic zip ties. The lack of Jounouchi and the stormy expression on Sophia's face was telling.
"Seto-sama, we've searched the entire building but we cannot find Jounouchi-san. However, one of the offices in the back bears signs of someone being held prisoner there. There are empty food corners and a waste bucket for elimination." The guard bowed his head as he made his report.
Kaiba glared down at the three captive men and growled dangerously. "Where is Jounouchi Katsuya?"
Each of the captives squirmed uncomfortably under the gaze. One of them attempted to be defiant. "I don't know what you're talking about. Is it a crime to count money nowadays?"
Kaiba pointed at the pile of bills sitting on the table. "That's my money."
All three captive's face paled.
"I've had enough of this crap." Sophia pushed Kaiba aside and reached into her purse. Yugi gave a small gasp of shock that no one but Yami could hear when she pulled out a pistol and stuck its muzzle against Maruyama Yuichi's temple. "Now start talking before I really lose my patience."
"We really don't know!" Jun screamed.
Sophia narrowed her eyes and lowered her gun. "Wrong answer, now you're going to lose a testicle."
"Stop!" Yami roared as he jumped forward and grabbed the gun out of her hand. "You will not do this, Sophia Chang. This is not right and makes us no better than them."
"I don't have time for your honor and justice bullshit, Pharaoh. Now give me back my gun!" She took a step forward to reclaim her weapon.
Yami reached down into the well of magic stored in his Puzzle and forced the dark power into Sophia's body, locking down her joints and muscles. "You will leave now." He commanded with all the power and magic of his inheritance.
When he release his hold on her, she collapsed onto the ground and gasped for air. She was almost as pale as the men they held captive. She looked up at him with a mixture of hate and awe, making him sick to the stomach.
"Go home, Chang." Kaiba said flatly.
Sophia rose unsteadily onto her feet before snatching her weapon from Yami's limp grip. "Kaiba, I'm done playing by your rules. I'm going to find Katsuya if it's the last thing I do." And as she left, Yami swore he saw a flicker of shadows swarm around and cling to her feet.
"Yami, you can make them talk." Kaiba looked him straight in the eye. It was not a question, but a statement.
Yami nodded. The very thought of what Kaiba was about to suggest tugged at long-forgotten dark appetites. But he now had mercy to temper that absolute justice, Yugi would make sure of that.
"The rest of you get out. We'll interrogate the prisoners ourselves." The black suits immediately vacated the building at Kaiba's command.
Kaiba smirked down at the three captives, who all shrunk back."You're going to wish she shot you instead."
Out of the corner of his eye, Yami could see Honda watching them with a mix of horror and curiosity. Yugi retreated into his Soul Room as the lights overhead began flickering. Shadowy forms drew around Yami like a cloak of darkness with the blackness creeping over the walls and floor blocking all other sources of light. Soon there was only the light from the Eye of Horus shining on Yami's forehead to illuminate the teeth in his sharp smile.
"Shall we play a game?"
...To Be Continued...
(1) Stupid FF . net strips all the url automatically. I hope the email address is still understandable like this.
(2) As most of you have probably guessed, there's no such isotope as DH-300. For radiation to actually to be visible from space via satellite, it would have to be a lot and most probably very harmful to the human body. But this is the same universe with holographic devices and MOMENTUM! (see Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds for reference), so I hope y'all can cut me some slack for my creative license in this part. You can think of it as a super-awesome isotope or that Kaiba just has really, really good satellites.
(3) ICBM = Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, long range weapons usually designed with a nuclear payload
So this was where I had intended to end the last chapter, but as you can see, this chapter is nearly 10,000 words in and of itself. I did want to work Yami and Yugi more into the story, but it's difficult because Anzu is just so pregnant at this time. Poor Anzu is driving herself up the walls at home because she can't do anything. Please don't kill me that they haven't found Jounouchi yet! I promise this will not go on for too much longer.
The flashback for this week gave me considerable trouble while writing it. It occurred to me that Yugi and gang, Kaiba brothers included, started out in California before heading east and I'm guessing making it as far as Nevada by train before Ryuusaki and Haga derailed them. When Jounouchi calls Kaiba in the anime, he mentions Florida as being their destination. Yet Rebecca and Otogi were stuck driving the RV to meet them, but driving across the US can take almost a week depending how many waking hours are spent on driving. So I completely fudged the details around their American trip to make it more realistic rather than following the canon down to a t. I guess the anime directors didn't want to have to deal with the time it would realistically take to transverse the continental USA.
Thank you to everyone who has been reading and reviewing! I apologize ahead of time if you happen to get long, rambling replies from me in return.