DISCLAIMER: I do not own Yu-Gi-Oh or any of the characters related herein. The dialogue at the end of this story is directly from episode forty of the anime, but all the rest is the result of my own imagination. This is merely a speculative fiction – please don't be offended. Special thanks to my dear Lena/Sylvia for being the bestest beta-reader ever! *smooch*

House of Cards

By Kabuki

May 2003

It was happening again, and as though in a sick dream the silver-haired young man moved to her side and pressed the call button urgently. "They're coming, my love. Just lie still. They'll bring the painkillers again and you'll be fine." He tried to smile but only managed a reassuring nod. She held out a pale hand and he eagerly took it, nuzzling against her palm in open adoration and devotion. "It'll be alright, you'll see. In a few years maybe we'll laugh about this."

"Pegasus … I love you … always …"

"Cecelia, please, I love you too but don't act like this is the end. The doctor says they're on the verge of finding a cure. You can't just give up!"

"I … can't help it … love …"

He clutched her hand, desperately casting about the room. He saw the familiar silhouette of Croquet outside the door, and his heart lurched as he realized that if any miracle had occurred without his notice, the older man would have immediately informed him. Pegasus turned back to his wife, her wasted form grown so thin and frail in only a few weeks. Her blonde hair sprawled limp and lifeless about her head, sticky with sweat and tears. She knew that death awaited her at any time, and she was not taking it well. He'd sat by her side for three days straight, barely eating and unable to sleep. He stared as her chest rose and fell beneath the blankets and tried to wrap his mind around the fact that she would be gone in less than a month. He bent and kissed her fingertips, stroking her hair as the tears fell freely again. "Oh, my dearest, please don't cry."

She made a muffled sound, her beautiful blue eyes clenching as the pain shot through her again. "Oh God, but it hurts! Pegasus!"

He cradled her head against his chest, kissing her hair and forehead softly as the pain flared. It had been like this for days, on and off. She woke in the middle of the night to the terrible pain, often unable to sleep for hours afterwards. She was desperately afraid, he could see it in her eyes, and he'd vowed to never leave her side. Only a few months they'd been married, though they'd been friends their whole lives.  How could he return to the home they'd shared knowing she was suffering? There was simply no choice to make in the matter.  If she was hospitalized, then he may as well have been too despite the objections of Croquet who kept insisting that it wasn't healthy to deprive oneself of sleep and nourishment.  Pegasus paid him no mind – Croquet was notoriously nervous in hospital wards. It had been the subject of much amusement whenever Cecilia had pretended to be pregnant for one day.  They'd told the poor disheveled ex-FBI agent he'd be forced to stay with her as a bodyguard the entire time she was hospitalized.  Of course, at the time it had only been a joke.  He held her all the tighter as he felt another spasm wrack her frail form, and he felt helpless as he whispered soft assurances against her blonde hair.  "Trust me, it'll be alright."

She clutched tight to his shirt, straining the yellow fabric in her pain-filled writhing. He held her desperately, determined to help her see it through. The episode was longer this time, and he felt the familiar worry gnawing at his mind. "Cecelia, should I get the nurse?"

She shook her head, her beautiful mouth twisted into a grimace. "No! Stay … with me, please! I'm so scared!"

"I won't leave you, I promise." His heart lurched as he held her all the more closely. Where was the goddamned nurse? He pushed the button again and again, thinking maybe that if he called enough attention to himself the lazy bitch would get off her ass and do her job. If anything happened to Cecelia because of them …

"Croquet!  See if one of those nurses has the time to come in here," he gave the steeled bodyguard a desperate look as the man poked his head in the door and nodded.  His weathered eyes took in the tragic scene before disappearing into the hallway, his combat boots echoing on the linoleum tile.

The distraught husband heard his best friend and lover give a low moan as she huddled closer to his chest, shivering. "I'm cold, Pegasus, so very cold."

He stroked her hair gently. No matter how bad it got, she was always the most beautiful creature in the world to him. "I don't think there're any more blankets. Should I peek in the cupboard?" He stood, detangling himself from her clammy limbs.

"It's not a … cupboard, dear … it's a … cabinet."

"Picky, picky." He grinned trying not to let his worry for her show and moved calmly to the other side of the hospital room. He didn't want to frighten her by rushing around the room in panic. There were flowers and balloons everywhere, mostly from him. He couldn't stand the thought of his darling Cecelia being deprived of beauty. He'd purchased as many brightly colored objects as possible. He pushed aside a balloon in the shape of a blue rabbit to open the cabinet door and smiled. "They must've restocked. I wonder when?" He pulled the warm, fuzzy blanket from its hiding place and brought it to his love. She smiled weakly as he draped it over her prone form, tucking it in around the other, more expensive comforters which he'd brought from their home. "Better?"

"Yes, that's … much warmer. Thanks."

"Tis my greatest pleasure, m'lady." He made a little bow before taking his seat at her side once more.

"You're … crazy."

"So I'm told." He placed a hand over his brow and rolled his eyes melodramatically. "Oh, woe is me! Crazy and in love with a beautiful woman, what is this world coming to?"

"Absolutely crazy." The blonde woman managed a laugh, nothing like the angelic tinkling he'd fallen in love with, but the effect was the same as he leaned in and planted a kiss on her cool cheek.

"I love you too, Sniffles."

"I'm not ... that mouse so … don't call me Sniffles."

"But you're all sick and sniffly. From here you sort of resemble a mouse. Yes, I think Sniffles is apt."

"If I wasn't on … so much medication … I'd make up some silly … nickname for you  wise guy." She reached out again and he held her hand tight, tracing lazy circles on her palm. She sighed and closed her eyes. "I love you. I don't want … to leave you."

"I know." He felt his throat working, constricting at the thought. He hated to talk of the serious topics, but now there was no avoiding it. He rubbed her face against his cheek, and she tangled her fingers in his soft silver hair. He was bedraggled from the long hours of worry, but his eyes still shone with hope and adoration. "I think it'll be ok though. I refuse to believe that something wonderful won't happen. They'll come through that door with a cure and we'll go home just a few days later. Everything will be fine again, don't worry."

Cecelia allowed her eyes to slide shut. The pain wasn't as terrible as it had been a moment ago, and with her darling husband nearby and talking in his low melodious voice, she felt relaxed and at peace for the first time in days. She tried to give his hand a little squeeze, to let him know that she was alright, but her hand wouldn't work properly. She frowned a little, and tried again, but she only felt his own heat radiating off and into her skin. The cold was fading too … what was happening? She tried to open her eyes but lacked the strength. Then his hand pulled away with a jerk and she felt his hands on her shoulders. "Cecelia? Cecelia!"

She struggled to answer, but her body felt so weak suddenly. An overwhelming sadness engulfed her as she heard the desperation in the voice of the man she so loved, and she realized too late that he'd never really expected her to die. She wanted to reach out to comfort him, but she felt her consciousness slipping away. His voice came as though from a long way away, and she was terribly afraid of the distance and the implications as she heard him cry out, in a voice which chilled her more than the oncoming death:

"I'll bring you back, my love! I'll find some way, and we'll be together again, one way or another!"

*****

Pegasus slumped forward, and groaned in utter agony. His cards were skewed about in complete disarray, but he didn't care about them. Four years he'd worked, done everything in his power to save her, and for what? Nothing. No amount of tournaments or past winnings could compare to the ultimate defeat he now suffered. Yugi was indeed the master duelist. He'd won fair and square.

Now the souls would have to be released. For an instant he toyed with holding them anyway, of attacking Yugi Moto as he celebrated with his friends and banishing them all to the Shadow Realm. He regarded them coldly, their friendship and mutual bonds too close to sever, and realized for the first time Cecelia was truly lost to him. He'd never felt more alone in his life.

He knew their attention would surely return to him, and as the tears began to roll down his face, he knew he should release the stolen souls as quickly as possible. Yugi looked tired but victorious, his friends clamoring around him happily, cheering the short kid for his triumph.  Pegasus turned away, and before the group turned to notice him, he summoned a final bit of Shadow magic and opened a portal around himself, taking him directly to his chamber. He would undo the wrongs he'd committed -- that was the easy part. What to do next, though … he'd never planned on losing. He'd made a promise to Cecelia as she'd passed into death, and he'd held onto that promise with terrible ferocity. He'd never stopped believing in the final miracle, that something good would happen to correct all the wrongs in life, that somehow he and Cecelia would be reunited with another chance at life and family and happiness. Now, though, the dream was over. He couldn't hide behind the childhood memories and playthings anymore. Reality was unavoidable, he now knew, and no amount of faith or hope could undo the ills of fate.

Why had he lost, he wondered as he rematerialized in his bedchamber and examined the enormous portrait of Cecelia. It made no logical sense. He was the creator of Duel Monsters! Did that make no difference? The Millennium Puzzle must be the key, the boy Yugi had shown amazing resilience to the powers of the Millennium Eye in the Shadow Realm. In fact, he knew there were two separate consciousnesses within the single body. It didn't make much sense, but then nothing made sense anymore.

"It's all over. Everything I've struggled to obtain is now beyond my grasp. Keeping their souls will not serve me now, besides, I'm a man of my word. And because of the defeat I suffered at the hands of Yugi, and the mysterious spirit of the Millennium Puzzle, I am duty-bound to fulfill my pledge. And so, I release these three souls."

A plot was already forming in the back of his mind, how to steal the Millennium Puzzle and use it for himself, now that he had a better idea of how it worked and what its powers were; but it quickly dissipated. He bowed his head, leaning heavily over the table o that his silver hair obscured his face. He'd failed. Never again would she be alive. He waved his hand and allowed the powers of his golden Millennium Eye to undo the magic it had wrought, returning the souls to their proper places. When the soul cards were empty, Pegasus squeezed his eye shut, the energy seeping out of him and back into the souls themselves. He was weakened, but it didn't seem to matter.  He'd broken his solemn vow, and for the first time in four years, he allowed himself to truly mourn. "Cecelia, I'm sorry, but I have failed you. My attempt to take over Kaiba Corp, my efforts to get all the Millennium Items was all done for you. In the hopes that I could restore you, body and soul."

A voice slithered across the room from the window, filled with menace and oozing sarcasm. "How sweet."

"Huh? Who's there?" Pegasus stiffened and turned, knowing that whoever stood there was out for personal gain. He regarded the silver-haired boy with something like terror as the realization of what was about to happen sunk in. "Bakura."