Well, this is it, the last chapter of Intruders. There was originally supposed to be an epilogue, but by the time I finished writing this chapter I realized that I had already written it the way I wanted the story to end.
Story stats (for the curious):
Original publish date: 7/1/03
Last chapter posted 6/8/07
I missed the 4 year mark by 23 days. I considered waiting until July 1 to post the final chapter, but figured I'd tortured you all enough.
Final word count: 202, 908
Number of pages (Times New Roman, 12pt): 462
There's not much to say now except thank you for sticking with this story through the long months between postings and all of the horrible cliffhangers. Almost four years is a long, long time to wait for the ending, but I hope it's been worth it. This is my favorite story, and I'm glad to have had the chance to share it with all of you. Special thanks go to LuoLiBei and Nenya85 for editing the story. You both made the last chapters the best ones and I thank you for the time you took to sift through my work.
I hope that you've enjoyed the story, and I ask that, if you're here reading this last chapter, to please leave me a review. I'd really like to know who has made it this far.
As always, all mistakes/omissions are my fault. Nenya85 tries hard to steer me in the right direction, but I always manage to find a way off the path.
Chapter 37: Small Steps
Kaiba had chosen a dark and out of the way place a good distance away from the hospital's main entrance to wait for his driver. He'd called the mansion after he left Mr. Moto and explained to the butler that Gozaburo was gone and would no longer be terrorizing the staff. The butler had been so relieved to hear the news that he'd wanted to come pick Kaiba up himself, but Kaiba had told him to stay at the house and wait for him instead. It would take the driver some time to make the drive from Domino, which left Kaiba with a little too much time to think.
He hadn't lied to Mr. Moto or Yami when he'd said that Gozaburo's cruel words about what happened in Egypt had made him finally understand that there was nothing he could have done to stop the attack and that he was not to blame for it. Logically understanding that and making his heart realize it were two very different things, however, and right now, all he could focus on was the look of triumph on his adoptive father's face as he'd watched the attack. No matter what he told himself, Kaiba couldn't help but feel the rush of shame that memory brought him.
Kaiba ran his hands over his face and through his hair in a nervous gesture he hadn't exhibited in years. He looked up at the brilliant, night sky and focused on a point of light in an attempt to clear his mind of the memories his submersion into the past by the Millennium Rod had brought to the surface. When the night sky morphed into the impossibly blue sky of ancient Egypt, Kaiba looked away and started to pace.
"Damn it, get a grip," he told himself.
When he'd left the scene of Gozaburo's demise, he'd been in a state of mild shock and hadn't yet fully worked out what he wanted to do next. Kaiba had surprised himself when he'd told the cab driver to head to Tokyo University Hospital. It had been a spur of the moment decision, but it made sense, since he had the Millennium Items to return and Mr. Moto was the last person Kaiba had seen Mokuba with. When the memories began to creep up on him on the drive to Tokyo, Yami's calming presence in the puzzle had grounded him to reality. In the hospital, Mr. Moto's worry had given him something else to focus on. Now, standing alone on an empty street, there was nothing to distract him from the place his mind seemed to be stuck in.
Kaiba jumped at the unexpected voice and whirled to face the speaker, his heart in his throat.
"You're jumpy too," the high priest added.
"How did you find me?" Kaiba asked, unable to completely mask the fact that the priest had surprised him. "You returned the buckle you were previously using to locate me."
"I didn't need the buckle this time, because now you're keeping something that belongs to me," the priest replied.
Realizing what the priest was referring to, Kaiba reached behind him and retrieved the Millennium Item. "This was very helpful. Thank you," Kaiba said as he returned it to the priest.
"I take it that you succeeded?"
Kaiba nodded. "He was greedy and power hungry to the end."
Seto smirked. "Yes, my priest was like that too." The item glowed softly in its owner's hands before the priest put it away. "The Millennium Rod has a way of showing us the truth in our hearts, whether we want to see it or not. Did it show you what you needed to see?"
Kaiba had a strong urge to feign ignorance about what the priest was referring to, but decided that lying to the priest would be the same as to lying to himself. That was something he'd never done, no matter how difficult his life had become. He'd walked forward on the strength of his convictions and the promises he'd made and he wouldn't back away from this, no matter how difficult the subject. Kaiba was aware that the priest knew what had happened with the bandits, the man had said as much during their first encounter, so Kaiba saw no reason to mince words.
"The Millennium Rod pulled me into what happened… into the rape," Kaiba said, his voice cracking on the word. "It also pulled my adoptive father into it."
"I don't imagine that he reacted any differently than the bandits," the priest said.
"No, he didn't," Kaiba replied. "He was actually very pleased with what happened."
Kaiba saw the priest's face harden in anger, and it suddenly dawned on Kaiba that the priest was one of very few people that had ever been angry on his behalf.
"I'm not surprised," Seto said, his voice hard. "Men like that live on the suffering of others."
Seto stepped closer to Kaiba, so that they were almost touching. Kaiba found himself staring into familiar, blue eyes; eyes that suddenly seemed alien because they displayed a lot more emotion than Kaiba ever allowed himself to.
"That attack was meant for me," Seto finally said. "I was the one who Hori wanted to hurt, the one he wanted to extract revenge from. I should have been the one to go through what you did." Seto paused, but did not look away, which allowed Kaiba to see the regret and guilt that shone in his eyes. "There is nothing that I can do in any lifetime that will ever make up for that. All I can offer is my sincerest apologies."
Seto got to his knees in front of Kaiba and bowed so deeply that his forehead touched the ground. Something twisted in Kaiba's chest and he realized that while he may have been the one to experience the attack, the priest was also a victim, because he would forever live with the guilt of having been the cause of it.
Kaiba sat on the ground and pulled the priest's head up so that they were face to face once again. "Neither one of us should have had to go through that," Kaiba said, the words feeling a little more true now that he'd voiced the thought for a second time. "The fault lies with the bandits, not with us, so no apology is necessary."
The priest smiled, and Kaiba couldn't help a small smile of his own.
"Those are wise words," Seto said as he sat beside Kaiba. "What are you going to do now?"
Kaiba thought about the question for a moment. "Go on living," he finally said. "I have a brother to raise and a company to run. I don't have time to dwell on the past."
"That sounds like you," the priest said. "Don't get too busy that you bury the past, because, as your experience with your adoptive father should have shown you, your past will eventually break free of the chains you put it under."
The two men sat in silence for a moment, until Kaiba broke it.
"What's going to happen to you now?" Kaiba asked.
"The pharaoh is saying goodbye to his double at the moment. When he is finished, we will return to our time."
"Will you remember any of this?" Kaiba asked, motioning to the city around him.
"I don't know, but as long as you remember, it will be enough," the priest answered.
They both stood up, and the priest offered Kaiba one last bow. "It's time to go. Take care of yourself, Kaiba. I have a feeling that you'll find your way once again."
Kaiba smirked. "You should know that better than anyone," he said.
"Goodbye, Kaiba," the priest said.
"Goodbye, Seto," Kaiba said and the spirit faded into the night.
Kaiba watched the spot where the spirit had last stood and wondered what it had been like for the priest to know of a future that he would never live to see. How tantalizing had it been to touch something he knew he could never reach?
His driver arrived a short time later, and Kaiba instructed him to drive to the Moto's game shop. Once he'd arrived, he hadn't even gotten out of the car before the door to the residential part of the shop was opened and Mokuba came running towards him. As soon as Kaiba got out of the car, Mokuba threw his arms around his big brother. Kaiba's first instinct was to pull Mokuba away, and it took some effort to fight it and let Mokuba wrap his arms around Kaiba's waist. Mokuba's momentum caused both brothers to collide with the side of the car, and Kaiba couldn't entirely stop the grunt of pain as his injured hip hit the car.
"Brother, are you hurt?" Mokuba said.
He removed his arms from around Kaiba's waist and proceeded to pat his brother down. When he came upon the wet, bloody hip, Mokuba turned Kaiba towards the street light so that he could see the injury better.
"That bastard shot you!" Mokuba exclaimed as he fingered the hole in the fabric of the slacks.
"Its okay, Mokuba, it was only a graze," Kaiba said and patted his brother's head in what he hoped was a comforting gesture. "Mr. Moto cleaned and dressed the wound at the hospital."
"So you've already been to see them?" Mokuba asked.
Kaiba raised an eyebrow. "How else did you think I knew to come pick you up here?"
Mokuba's face flushed with embarrassment at the good-natured jibe. "Are you sure you're okay? Did Gozaburo injure you anywhere else?"
"Just bruises and scratches," Kaiba said as Mokuba noticed the scrape on his chin, "nothing that I can't recover from."
Both brothers looked at one another, Kaiba content to bask in his brother's concern, and Mokuba apparently just glad that Kaiba was still in one piece. Kaiba had no doubt that Mokuba would insist in cleaning up all of the small cuts once they got back to the mansion and decided that for once, he wouldn't fight the attention.
"So are you ready to go home?" Kaiba asked. "Do you need to go tell the idiots in there that you're leaving?"
Mokuba shrugged. "They're standing behind the door, so they know you're here. For once, they're being considerate and staying inside."
Kaiba glanced at the door and for the first time noticed the two shadows behind it.
"Don't burn the house down, mutt," Kaiba said, unable to keep from goading the blonde duelist.
"Shove it, you bastard," was Wheeler's reply.
Kaiba almost smiled at the familiarity of the exchange, but caught himself in time. Mokuba must have noticed the glint in his eyes, however, because Mokuba did smile.
"Good night Joey and Tristan," Mokuba called.
"Good night, Mokuba" both of them called out as both Kaiba brothers got into the car.
Just as Kaiba was about to shut the door, Wheeler's voice reached him.
"It's good to see you in one piece, Kaiba."
Kaiba's only response was a fractional nod of acknowledgement before he shut the door and instructed the driver to take them home.
Yami got up from where he'd been sitting at the foot of Yugi's bed and walked around until he was next to his sleeping partner. Yugi looked much better than he had that afternoon, and Yami hated to think what the teenager had gone through to merit an overnight stay at the hospital. Yami had wanted to ask about what had gone on in that forest ever since Kaiba had returned the puzzle to Yugi, but he'd refrained for two reasons: he didn't want to interrupt Yugi's rest and he didn't feel like he'd regained the right to pry into Yugi's life. The last time he'd done so had led to their current, shaky situation and Yami didn't want to make it any worse.
Mr. Moto had fallen asleep on the chair beside the bed and was snoring softly. The man had to be exhausted, but so far had held up well under the circumstances. Yami was particularly impressed with Mr. Moto's tenacity when it came to Seto Kaiba. Yami had never seen anyone else treat Kaiba as Mr. Moto had, and he'd been gratified to see that the strong, honest, and caring disposition with which Mr. Moto had handled Kaiba had allowed the teenager to open up to the elder Moto when he'd needed it the most.
A new presence made itself known to Yami and he wasn't surprised to hear the pharaoh's voice when the man finally spoke.
"They've been through a lot these past few weeks, haven't they?"
Yami turned to find the pharaoh standing by the door. The man was looking at Yugi with a gentle expression on his face.
"He's one of a kind," Yami said. "If it weren't for his strength, I wouldn't be here."
"He is a very strong young man," the pharaoh said and turned to face Yami.
When the spirit saw the pharaoh's eyes, he could see that something was bothering the other man. It didn't take Yami long to remember how the pharaoh had reacted when he'd been told that Yami existed only through Yugi, and realized that the pharaoh must be remembering that conversation as well. Yami had been meaning to speak to him about the circumstances of his existence, the little he could remember, since that day, and he wouldn't get a better chance than the one he had now.
"Let's go somewhere else so we don't disturb them," Yami said, running a transparent hand over Yugi's hair.
Yami left the room and led his double to an outside waiting area located fairly close to Yugi's room. It was empty, which Yami was grateful for, since he couldn't travel very far from the puzzle on his own.
"I can imagine that you'd want to know how I ended up like this, a sprit tied to a Millennium Item," Yami said.
The pharaoh nodded slowly. "It is my understanding that if you misuse the items you are punished by entrapment in the darkness and solitude of the item you abused, left to slowly go mad."
Yami raised both eyebrows at the unexpected piece of news.
"You didn't know that?" the pharaoh asked, clearly perturbed. "That was one of the first rules of the use of the items, how can you forget that?"
The pharaoh's voice rose with his emotions and Yami couldn't help a sigh. He understood the strong reaction, however. He would have reacted the same way had their positions been reversed.
"I wish I was able to enlighten you about how I came to exist in the Millennium Puzzle, but my memories of my life in Egypt are all gone," Yami said, his voice a calm contrast to the pharaoh's. "My memories begin the moment Yugi put the puzzle together and I was once again able to roam the living world."
The thought of having no memories seemed to disturb the pharaoh even more. He opened his mouth to say something, but then closed it with a click. Yami opted to wait and let the pharaoh work out his thoughts.
"So you don't know anything about what happened to the kingdom?" the pharaoh asked. "If you ended up in the puzzle, something catastrophic had to have happened."
Yami closed the distance between himself and the pharaoh and offered the man a sincere smile. It had been hard for him to grasp the facts of his own existence, especially when he'd learned how it had more than likely come to pass. He could only imagine how hard it was for the pharaoh, who still lived and ruled Egypt.
"I don't know everything that happened, but I do know that the kingdom was in chaos. The power of the Millennium Items was somehow misused, and it would have led to the kingdom's destruction, had I not sacrifice myself to put a stop to it."
The pharaoh's face changed slightly at the explanation, and Yami smiled when he realized that he'd guessed right about the root of the pharaoh's distress.
"Whatever leads to the sealing of your soul in the Millennium Puzzle, it's not due to your negligence or abuse of the power entrusted to you. From what I have learned, it is a necessity to keep the kingdom in one piece."
The pharaoh studied Yami fiercely, as if looking for a lie or misdirection. When he was satisfied that there was none, he visibly relaxed.
"I love my people and would do anything for them and for my kingdom," the pharaoh said. "It was distressing to think that I'd fallen so far out of line that I'd misuse the power I inherited from my father."
The passion and certainty the pharaoh said those words with touched a part of Yami that he rarely acknowledged, because it was so full of questions that he had no answers to. What would it be like to know, without a shadow of a doubt, where you came from and what you were destined for? He was sorely tempted to ask the pharaoh about his life, about his family, but decided that those were not things he needed to know, at least not yet. His journey was still alongside Yugi, and together they would find the answers he was seeking.
"Do you know why you're here?" the pharaoh asked. "Is there something you hope to accomplish?"
Yami took one of the empty chairs closer to the balcony and looked out over the sleeping city below. He'd asked himself that question many times during many restless nights, but he had yet to come up with an answer that rang true to him, because he was torn between the life he was fighting to recover and the life he'd built with Yugi.
"I seek my past," Yami finally answered. "I want to know who I was and how I got to be here, but I also seek to protect those that I've sworn my allegiance to in this life."
The pharaoh came to stand beside Yami, but Yami did not turn to look at his double.
"Those are two very different goals," the pharaoh said. "I wish you luck in finding your way and deciding your destiny."
Yami did look up then and was greeted by the pharaoh's sincere smile.
"You will return to your kingdom and your people. Make sure that you do what you can to ensure their safety," Yami said.
High Priest Seto chose that moment to appear, and he gave Yami a low bow. "I wish you well, Pharaoh," the high priest said to Yami. "May the gods bless your journey."
Yami stood in front of the two men and also bowed. "Goodbye," he said and the two visitors vanished.
Yami felt a pang of loss already as he looked out at the city. They would return to their lives and Yami needed to return to his as well. He turned to leave and was surprised to see Yugi standing by the door. He had stepped out onto the waiting area and looked as if here were still half asleep. There was a blanket wrapped around Yugi's shoulders, but he was still shivering in the chilly, night air.
"You shouldn't be out of bed," Yami chided, then frowned when he realized how that sounded.
Yugi smiled sheepishly and scratched the back of his head. "I probably shouldn't, and if grandfather finds out, I'm in big trouble," he said as he walked closer to Yami and pulled the blanket tighter over his shoulders.
"Our visitors have left, haven't they?" Yugi asked, and Yami wondered how much of the conversation with the pharaoh, if any, Yugi had overheard. "Seto stopped by to say goodbye," Yugi added.
"Really?" Yami asked, a bit surprised to hear that.
Yugi's eyes softened a bit as he thought back to the conversation. "He wanted to thank me for the support I've given Kaiba," Yugi said. "Like Kaiba, the priest takes his responsibilities very seriously, and he feels that he was the reason Kaiba was attacked. He told me that since he couldn't be here to help Kaiba deal with the consequences, he was glad that I was willing to stand by him and offer my help."
Yugi paused for a moment and sighed. "I hope to be able to live up to the priest's expectations."
"You've done more for Kaiba than anyone else could have," Yami said, "both here and in Egypt. I don't think that you have anything to worry about."
They lapsed into uncomfortable silence, during which neither looked at the other. When the silence became unbearable, Yami finally spoke.
"Why are you out here, Yugi?" Yami asked.
Yugi took the seat Yami had recently vacated and brought his knees up to his chest. He coughed a couple of times, and Yami was tempted to tell Yugi again that he shouldn't be out here in the cold.
"I felt your distress and needed to see what was causing it," Yugi finally answered. "It's difficult to not know what is hurting someone who is as important to me as you are. When I saw the pharaoh, it answered my question."
Yami was tempted to bring up the incident that was keeping Yugi at arm's length and remind him that he'd felt the same way when he'd gone into Yugi's soul room, but decided that it wouldn't be in their best interest to argue about that incident right now, when Yugi wasn't entirely healthy. Yugi seemed to be reading his mind however, because he was the one who brought it up.
"What you saw when you went into my soul room that night was not everything," Yugi said, and Yami could tell that it was taking a lot out of Yugi to say those words. "Watching those men… hearing Kaiba screaming… and then finally seeing him give up when they threatened me was the most horrible thing I've ever had to experience," Yugi continued. "I couldn't do anything and I couldn't convince them to stop what they were doing, so I…"
Yugi trailed off, and Yami could see tears shining in Yugi's eyes. The tears did not fall, however, and Yami felt a sense of loss as he watched Yugi fight off his emotions and school his face into a mask that looked alien on Yugi's normally expressive face. The experience had changed Yugi in a way that Yami couldn't imagine but could already see taking effect.
"I killed them, all of them," Yugi said, his voice eerily devoid of emotion. "Somehow, I tapped into the power of the puzzle and committed murder."
Yami was momentarily speechless. Murder was not a word he had ever imagined Yugi would use to describe his actions, and Yami wasn't sure how to react to that right away. The images he'd seen in Yugi's soul room suddenly came back to him, and he could clearly recall seeing Yugi digging what Yami now knew were graves. He didn't have to ask Yugi who he'd killed, because he could also clearly remember how Kaiba had looked right after he'd been raped.
"I didn't want you to find out, which is why I shut you out," Yugi continued when Yami didn't speak. "I'd also promised Kaiba that I would keep what I'd witnessed a secret. He's had so many betrayals in his life and I didn't want to become another one, so I vowed to keep the secret with him. I failed miserably and betrayed him anyway."
Yami kneeled in front of Yugi's chair, made his hand as solid as he could while not in his or Yugi's soul room, and tilted Yugi's head up so that he could see his partner's violet eyes.
"The betrayal was mine, Yugi," Yami said without releasing Yugi's chin. "I was worried about you and the only option I thought I had at the time was to find out for myself what you wouldn't tell me. It was wrong, and I am very sorry for breaking your trust like that. You didn't betray Kaiba, you kept your promise."
With his chin in Yami's hands, Yugi could not turn away. He held Yami's gaze, and the spirit had no trouble seeing the pain that Yugi was trying hard to bury.
"You'll be glad to know that Kaiba understands that our concern for his well being was what motivated our actions at that time," Yami added. "He said so after Gozaburo had been killed."
A ghost of a smile graced Yugi's lips. "I'm glad," he said.
"The Millennium Puzzle reacts to its wearer's desire to protect, Yugi," Yami said, hoping to alleviate some of the guilt Yugi was undoubtedly feeling over the deaths he caused, even if they were well deserved. "You wanted to save Kaiba, and the puzzle helped you do it. Your actions ensured that you and Kaiba survived the ordeal and are still here to tell about it."
"Those men are still dead, Yami," Yugi said, his voice louder and slightly more forceful.
"Yes they are, and their deaths are a burden you will carry for the rest of your life," Yami said. "However, I can also say that every time you see or talk to Kaiba, or see him interact with his brother, you won't regret having made that choice."
Yugi stared at Yami for a long time, until he finally nodded.
"I am sorry for violating your privacy, Yugi," Yami said. "It was not my intention to hurt or betray you," Yami said and released Yugi's chin.
"I know, Yami. I can't give you a hard time when I would have done the same if our roles had been reversed," Yugi said and got up. "We should probably head back, before grandpa wakes up and comes to drag us back inside."
Yami smiled at his partner as they made their way inside.
Four weeks later
Mokuba rushed out of school and scanned the parking lot for the car that was always waiting for him. He came to a stop when he realized that it wasn't there. Thinking he'd missed it, he scanned the parking lot once again, but didn't see it the second time either. Before he had a chance to worry, his brother's convertible pulled into the parking lot and took its place in the line of cars waiting to pick up children. Mokuba grinned widely at the unexpected surprise and ran over.
"Big brother, what a surprise!" he said and settled into the passenger's seat, still grinning. "Where did you send the driver off to this time?"
"He's in Nagoya and probably won't return until tomorrow afternoon," his brother replied.
Mokuba frowned. "What's in Nagoya?"
His brother didn't answer until they were safely away from the school and back on the main road.
"A certain game designer that's been in the news a lot lately, whom I've managed to hire," Seto replied, the triumph clearly in his voice.
Mokuba's jaw dropped. "You hired Isao Matsumoto?" Mokuba asked.
Isao, over the past year, had proven to be a very talented game designer with a start up company who'd vowed to give Kaiba Corporation some competition. The two games his company had managed to release had been popular, but nowhere near the popularity that Kaiba Corporation games had. When Isao had first made his claims against Kaiba Corporation, Seto had said that the man was intelligent, but lacked the funding to really threaten them.
"Keep your friend close and your enemies closer?" Mokuba added when his brother didn't reply to his previous question.
Seto shook his head. "This time, it's not a matter of enemies," he said. "Isao is very intelligent, and he has a strong desire to make great games, he just doesn't have the financial backing to do so. Kaiba Corporation's assets will allow him the freedom to create the games he really wants to make."
"While ensuring that they're released with our name, not his," Mokuba added, smiling slyly.
His brother turned to him and gave him a half smile. "Let it never be said that I'm a lousy business man."
Mokuba grinned at his brother's sharp thinking and careful planning. It was great to see him finally get back fully into the business of making games. The aftermath of Gozaburo's meddling in the business had been severe. Most of the deals he made had been back-room deals crafted and agreed upon in secrecy. When Seto refused to honor them, the people involved couldn't outright accuse him of breach of contract, but they had been more than willing to attack his company in other ways, and bad publicity was never good for any business. The few military companies with which Gozaburo had brokered legitimate deals had been ready to sue, and it had taken a lot of persuasion, and some bribing, to keep everything under control. The process had taken a lot out of his brother, which hadn't helped with the more personal issues that Seto had also been struggling with.
Nightmares, which were a constant companion to his brother, suddenly became more severe. Seto started to work constantly in an attempt to stave off sleep, but that only worked for a few days. When Seto finally succumbed to exhaustion, the nightmares would appear. Mokuba wouldn't have known about them if not for the fact that Seto had fallen asleep in the den one night and had inadvertently woken Mokuba up when he'd started to scream. Seto, upon waking and fining Mokuba's arms wrapped around him, had forced Mokuba away from him and yelled that he didn't want to be touched.
His brother had never been one for a lot of physical contact, but Mokuba had always been able to wake Seto up from a nightmare with a touch, whether by putting his hands on Seto's cheeks or by hugging him. Seto had always known it was Mokuba and had never reacted violently, until that night. His brother had apologized profusely for the outburst, and Mokuba had demanded to know what was going on. Seto had cringed at the request, and Mokuba had been so worried that he'd pushed until Seto admitted that something had happened in Egypt, but that he wasn't able to tell Mokuba what it was. Surprised that Seto had admitted even that much, Mokuba had taken the explanation at face value and let it drop.
A few days later he'd noticed that his brother was spending a lot of time with Yugi Moto. It was unusual, but his brother's nightmares seemed to subside after he'd been around the other duelist. Mokuba had been hurt that his brother couldn't confide in him when he could clearly confide in Yugi, and he'd made the mistake of mentioning it. Seto had felt guilty when Mokuba had confronted him, but had explained that, since Yugi had shared the experience with him, he hadn't exactly confided in Yugi either.
"Today is your study group day, right?" Seto asked, bringing Mokuba out of his musings.
"Yes, it's at Shin's house," Mokuba replied.
He noticed for the first time that Seto's hands were tight around the steering wheel, making his knuckles white.
"Is everything okay, brother?" Mokuba asked as they turned onto the street that led to Shin's house.
"It's just been one of those days," his brother replied as he pulled up in front of their destination. "Don't worry, Mokuba, I'll be fine."
Mokuba wished that there was more he could do, but he trusted his brother to handle this situation in the way he thought best.
"The session ends at 7:30," Mokuba said, "and Shin's mom usually makes us dinner."
Mokuba stepped out of the car and leaned in through the open window. He put a hand on his brother's arms and inwardly smiled when his brother didn't flinch.
"I know you'll be fine, but I still worry," Mokuba said. "Make sure you eat dinner, okay?"
A small smile appeared on Seto's face. "I will, Mokuba. I'll see you at 7:30."
Mokuba stepped away from the car and watched his brother drive away. Something was definitely going on with Seto today, and Mokuba hoped that his brother's next destination was somewhere he could find a little bit of peace.
"What can I use this card for? It doesn't look too powerful."
Yugi smiled at the boy standing on the other side of the counter, holding one of the cards out of the pack of Duel Monster cards he'd just bought. When he'd come into the shop, the boy had said that he'd just recently picked up the game, and then he'd promptly fallen silent when he realized that he was talking to Yugi Moto, the Duel Monsters champion. Yugi had found the adoration in the boy's eyes embarrassing, and had managed to get the boy talking again by showing him where the card packs were and asking him more about how he got into the game. Once the boy had realized that Yugi was just another teenager, he hadn't stopped talking.
"This is an excellent defense card," Yugi said, taking the Giant Soldier of Stone out of the boy's hand and holding it up to the light. The bell at the front of the shop rang, signaling that another customer had arrived, but Yugi decided to finish the conversation with his current customer before addressing the new arrival. "When you're in a situation where you're up against a more powerful monster, using this will give you some time to pull a more powerful summon from your deck, or a magic or trap card to use against your opponent," Yugi added.
"Defense is for wimps," came a familiar voice from the boy's other side.
Yugi looked up to find Seto Kaiba leaning over the counter to look at the card Yugi was holding. The boy, who suddenly realized that he was surrounded by not only one champion, but two, took a step back and gaped at Kaiba.
"You should use this as a sacrifice for a stronger monster," Kaiba added as he handed the card to the stunned boy. "All defense will get you is a long, drawn out death at the hands of a more powerful opponent. Wouldn't you rather direct the match instead of waiting to see what your opponent is going to do?"
The boy was too stunned to reply, and Yugi had to shake his head at Kaiba's philosophy.
In Duel Monsters, like in life, no one made Seto Kaiba wait.
"Either strategy can work," Yugi conceded, "but which one you use will depend on what else is in your deck. Remember, all of the cards must work in harmony or they won't work at all."
The boy looked down at his card, up and Kaiba, and then at Yugi. He smiled and nodded enthusiastically. "Thank you, I'll keep that in mind," the boy quickly said and practically ran out of the shop.
"We're going to go out of business if you keep scaring off my customers," Yugi chided as Kaiba set his briefcase on the counter.
"They won't come back if you give them bad dueling strategies," Kaiba replied.
Yugi grinned. "Just because I don't believe in sacrifices as much as you do doesn't mean that my strategy is any worse than yours."
Kaiba just grunted in response and picked up a couple of the packs Yugi had left on the counter. Yugi took the time to examine his fellow duelist, and the tension in Kaiba's shoulders and his clenched jaw told Yugi that Kaiba's visit wasn't just a social call.
"How is the day treating you, Kaiba?" Yugi asked.
He'd learned to phrase the question in the right way so that what Yugi was asking about was clear to both parties. Kaiba, for his part, had learned to answer the question truthfully, as he did for no one else about this particular subject.
"It's brought unexpected, and unshakeable, reasons to think," was all Kaiba said in response.
A week after Gozaburo's second death, Kaiba had come by the school after classes had let out and asked if Yugi had some free time. The intensity in Kaiba's eyes had prompted Yugi to immediately say that he was free, even though he'd promised his grandfather he'd watch the shop after school, and Kaiba had driven them to the docks. Kaiba hadn't made a move to get out of the car, and Yugi hadn't really known what to say, even though he had a fairly good idea what Kaiba wanted. He didn't want to pry, nor did he want to ruin the sacrifice Kaiba was making in coming to him in the first place, so he'd waited for Kaiba to make the first move. After several long minutes, it became apparent that Kaiba couldn't say what was on his mind, so Yugi decided that he'd make it so that Kaiba didn't have to.
"Have you ever been to Dock 53?" Yugi asked.
Kaiba looked surprised at the question. "No," he said. "Is there something special about it?"
"Would you come with me to see it?" Yugi asked.
Kaiba, clearly confused, slowly nodded and got out of the car. Yugi led them to and then past Dock 53.
"I thought you were taking me to Dock 53?" Kaiba asked.
"I am, but we're not there yet," Yugi replied and continued on his well-known path.
When they'd passed the dock, they came upon an outcropping of rock between Dock 53 and its neighbor. Yugi led them around the safety rail and down slippery rocks onto the beach below. He then turned right and headed for the mouth of a cave that was hidden in the shadows of the dock above.
"I didn't know this was here," Kaiba said as they entered the cave.
"I found it by accident a few years ago when I was running away from Joey," Yugi said. "He wanted to beat me up and I hid in here until he got tired of looking for me. I don't think many people know about it, and I like to come here when I need some time alone."
Yugi plopped down on the sand and waited for Kaiba to do the same. When Kaiba was seated in front of him, Yugi smiled gently at him.
"If you so choose, whatever you say will stay in this place," Yugi said, remembering the offer of support and companionship he'd made Kaiba after he and Mokuba had pulled Yugi out of the river and saved his life. "You can also just enjoy the quiet," Yugi added.
Kaiba had chosen not to say anything that day, but they'd stayed in the cave well into the evening. As Kaiba drove Yugi home, he extended his own invitation of support, and Yugi had taken him up on it a few times as well. What had been awkward and stilted at the beginning was starting to feel a little easier. They didn't always go to the cave, though it had become a favorite spot for both of them. Yugi's house and Kaiba's office were also becoming favorite spots.
"Grandpa, can you look after the shop for the rest of the day, I need to do my homework," Yugi called through the open door into the Moto's living area.
Grumbling preceded Mr. Moto's arrival at the shop. Yugi had to work to suppress his grin of amusement at his grandfather's antics.
"Hi, Kaiba," Mr. Moto said when he noticed that Kaiba was in the shop.
His grandfather had caught on very quickly to the reason for Kaiba's visits, even though he'd never let on. He'd taken his self-appointed role as adoptive guardian for Kaiba very seriously, so when Kaiba came to the shop, or when Yugi needed to leave the house, he didn't ask for an explanation, and had even made it a point to make afternoon snacks so that food was available on the rare occasion Kaiba accepted the offer of sustenance.
"Teenagers, they always have something better to do," his grandfather said, keeping up the appearance of an affronted, old man. "What is it this time, dueling?"
Yugi allowed the grin to grace his face. "Precalculus," Yugi replied as he slid off his stool.
His grandfather waved them out of the shop and Yugi closed the door behind them as they entered the living room.
"Precalculus?" Kaiba asked.
Yugi groaned. "If I don't figure out how to find limits, I'm going to fail the midterm," he said as he grabbed the backpack he'd discarded by the front door. He led Kaiba into the kitchen, where they dumped their stuff onto the table.
"My grandfather made rice balls," Yugi said, "would you like some and maybe some tea?"
Kaiba looked like he was going to refuse the offer, before he changed his mind. "I probably should eat something, or else Mokuba will lecture me about not taking care of myself."
Yugi couldn't help but smile at the image of the younger Kaiba lecturing the elder one. "Did he say that today?"
"When I dropped him off," Kaiba replied. "He's having dinner at a friend's house."
Kaiba didn't seem willing to elaborate, so Yugi didn't press the issue. He had a feeling that he was going to have to press Kaiba to talk at some point that afternoon and wanted to save his strength for the important stuff. He got the food and spread it out on the table where both of them could get what they wanted. He took his math book out of his bag and opened it to the appropriate chapter. When Kaiba was done booting up his computer and taking out the files he would need for whatever work he was going to do, Yugi pierced him with a stare.
"Too much thinking today?" Yugi asked.
Kaiba stalled by taking one of the rice balls and biting into it. He chewed slowly and his eyebrow rose in surprise.
"I'm always surprised that your grandfather's food is actually edible," Kaiba said.
Yugi kept his eyes trained on his visitor, letting Kaiba know that he expected an answer to the question, no matter how long it took Kaiba to give it to him. Pushing Seto Kaiba was generally not a good idea, but Yugi had learned over the past four weeks that sometimes Kaiba needed a nudge before he felt comfortable saying what he wanted to say. Once Kaiba had finished the rice ball, he finally spoke.
"Kaiba Corporation does business with a company in Egypt" Kaiba finally said and there was a sizable pause before he continued. "They're scouting locations for an expansion of their facilities and sent me some video of the places they're considering so I could offer my advice." Kaiba stopped messing with the file and instead placed his shaking hands, one on top of the other, on the tabletop. His eyes had locked onto a spot somewhere above Yugi's right shoulder, and Yugi could see that, even though Kaiba was desperately trying to remain detached, there was strong emotion in his eyes.
"There was something in one of those videos," Yugi said when the silence got too long and it became apparent that Kaiba was not going to continue. "Are they scouting areas in the desert?"
Kaiba's eyes widened slightly and focused on Yugi with an intensity that Yugi had gotten used to over the past few weeks. He finally nodded.
"One of the locations looked just like the bandit's camp, down to the tents set up all around it," Kaiba said, his voice just barely above a whisper. "I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since, no matter how busy I make myself."
Yugi took a deep breath and slowly released it. He could certainly understand what that was like, as he had occasions where something would remind him of that day and he'd focus on it for the rest of the day, or until he talked to his grandfather, Yami, or Kaiba.
"Once the memories hit, they don't want to let go, do they?" Yugi said. "Everything is still so raw and it probably will be for a long time. It's okay to remember and to be scared about the memories, though. If you deal with them at the time, they won't be as powerful. If you try to bury them with work or school, they'll come at you when you're least expecting them."
"It sounds like you're speaking from experience," Kaiba said with a little less edge to his voice.
Yugi pierced Kaiba with a stare. "Well, you do remember that time I barged into your office at Kaiba Corporation convinced that I'd killed you, don't you?"
Kaiba nodded, his eyes darkening slightly at the memory.
"I fell asleep in class and dreamed about that day. I was so convinced I'd killed you and nothing Yami said could get me to believe otherwise. I had to see you to believe that it was all just a dream."
Kaiba had been in the middle of a meeting, but when he'd seen Yugi, he'd shoved everyone out of the office and had let Yugi sit on the couch and watch him work until Yugi was convinced that everything was okay.
"Has it gotten any easier?" Kaiba asked.
"A little bit," Yugi replied. "I don't dream about it every night anymore. Has it gotten easier for you?"
"Some days I don't even remember it happened," Kaiba answered after a pause, "while other days, like today, it's all I can think about."
"One step at a time," Yugi said, "one day at a time."
"Yami said something similar after Gozaburo died," Kaiba noted.
Yugi chuckled. "He's a wise spirit, but don't tell him I said that. He'll get a big head."
"Like he doesn't have one already," Kaiba said. "Limits are fairly simple, you know," Kaiba added, pointing to the open book in front of Yugi.
"Sure, if you're a genius. People like me, however, need a bit of help," Yugi said and ran his hands through his hair.
"Show me what you're working on and we'll see if we can get them straight in your head for the midterm," Kaiba said and pushed his laptop aside in favor of Yugi's math book.
Yugi flipped a couple of pages until he found the particular problem he was stuck on. Kaiba pulled some paper out of Yugi's notebook and proceeded to work the problem. He snuck a glance at Kaiba and couldn't help but smile at the fact that there was a little less tension in Kaiba's shoulders and his eyes were a little less shadowed.
"What are you smiling about? You should be paying attention," Kaiba said, pointing to the solution he'd worked out.
"Sorry," Yugi said, "I got a little distracted. What was that?"
It took a few hours, but Kaiba managed to get the concept of the limit into Yugi's head. When Kaiba left that night, he told Yugi that if he paid more attention in class, he'd actually learn what his teachers were trying to teach him. Yugi could only grin at the comment, because it signified that Kaiba was his old self again.
This is not the end. This is not even the beginning of the end. It is, instead, the end of the beginning
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