His teacup was rattling against his saucer.
Seated in his study, absently ignoring the muted sobs from Jean and Scott's corner, Professor Charles Xavier observed the curious phenomenon. Searched for any nearby traces of psychic energy that might be jarring the fine porcelain, and failed to note any. Storm hadn't raised so much as a hint of static since she'd huddled into an overstuffed chair. The New Mutants were back in their beds... or sleeping bags, given the damage caused by Boom-Boom, Bobby, and one loose Shadow. And from the sense of minds around him - and the silence of the mansion's much-taxed security systems - it wasn't a result of a mutant power such as Avalanche's.
Yet the cup was shaking rather vigorously now, milk-lightened tea sloshing near the edge-
"Put it down before you drop it, Charles."
Logan. Carrying an incongruous tray of plain, steaming mugs, one of which he jabbed in Storm's direction. The weather-witch took it automatically, wrapping dark fingers around brown ceramic as if it were the last source of warmth in the world.
Xavier frowned. "I hardly think this is the time for-"
"Tea. Down. Now."
...Oh. It'd been his hand shaking, all along. How odd.
Xavier sipped the salty broth, taking in the familiar tastes and textures of chicken soup. Onion, a hint of garlic, the comforting just-tough-to-the-tooth slide of a noodle. How incredibly ordinary.
How jarringly different from the creature now ensconced in his infirmary.
"Between the ceiling falling and the lightning blasts, I think we wiped the evidence clean," Logan stated, cupping hands around his own mug after glaring Scott and Jean into taking theirs. "The hoods in the locker were pretty out of it before you got to them, and Sabretooth's not going to talk."
Xavier shuddered. "How can you possibly think of avoiding the law at a time like this?"
"Somebody's gotta." Logan's smile was wry. "Don't think the cops would understand self-defense by way of ceiling."
"Yeah." Logan slurped his soup. Looked over at Jean, huddled into Scott's shoulder. "You go ahead and cry, lady. Get it all out. I've seen some ugly things; that was bad." Glanced back at Xavier. "But it was the right thing to do."
Rubbing his girlfriend's arm, Scott glared. "We could have stopped him!"
"Yami did stop him." Wolverine fixed the teen with an unwavering stare. "Listen up, Scott. You want to lead the X-Men? This is the worst lesson a leader's got to learn. The worst anybody ever has to teach." Fingers clenched on his mug. "Sometimes, you have to choose who dies."
Xavier shook his head, denying the argument. "That's no lesson for anyone in my school, Logan."
Then we better take this conversation private, Prof. Now. Anger curled around the edge of Wolverine's thoughts. Because you're about to make the worst mistake of your life -and maybe the last one of theirs.
//It's no mistake to show mercy, Logan.//
It is when that's the only weapon you give them, Charles!But the fury was damped, controlled; a thinking rage, not Wolverine's berserk fury. Did you look around that lair of his? Did you check the scents? Did you see the wallets Janus left piled in a corner, when his little "toys" broke and he gave them to Sabretooth? What's it take to get through your head that Janus was killing people?!
//We could have held him-//
You don't know that. You don't know anything about these Shadows, Charles. Yami does - and Yami picked the optionhe thought would keep his people safe. A thick brow rose. Thought you didn't like to second-guess experts, Charles.
//Expert? That inhuman, arrogant, psychopathic, manipulative-// Xavier set his mug down with a thump. //Have you any idea what's going on down in that infirmary, Logan?//
//It's - it's-// Xavier grimaced, and opened his perceptions of the not-quite-sleeping minds below.
Love. Glittering, perfect trust. Two minds in one like interwoven hands, coaxing warmth from each other.
And an unmistakable snicker. //...He made a rather interesting splat.//
//Sorry, aibou.// The feeling of lips nuzzling under spiky hair filtered through, chaste and loving as a brother's kiss. //It's over. It's done. I have you back. My light, my angel....//
//My second self... but what are we going to do about Seto?//
//Hmm... there should be a way to get you back where you belong. The Puzzle holds your spirit as fiercely as mine, after all. Though it would be best to wait until we're rested. While you remain within Kaiba, he heals as we usually do; with the strength of two spirits. And he needs that strength, aibou. Dr. McCoy claims he came too near to death as it was, and I did not take such pains to lose such a priceless treasure as an honorable opponent now-// Flickers of irritation touched Yami's thoughts like far-off lightning. //Xavier.//
Annoyance that echoed and reechoed from Yugi, sun-bright to storm-cloud dark. //Oh, kami-sama... Professor, haven't you ever heard of knocking?//
Light and dark roiled together, gathering force like a sandstorm. //If I can sense you, I can challenge you. Leave.//
"Erk." Blinking, Wolverine slugged back soup. "That was-"
"Both of them," Xavier acknowledged. Rubbed his eyes, and wished, fruitlessly, that he'd never made that last phone call to Japan. "Logan... when Yami told Tea and Mokuba he'd handled the problem, their first thought was 'dead or insane'. No surprise. No horror. They simply accepted it."
"And Yugi's such a cute little kid, too," Logan muttered. "Charles...."
"How many bodies has he left behind?" Xavier gazed into the depths of his mug. "What do I tell Solomon?"
Logan sighed. Set his mug down. Leaned over the desk, and met Xavier eye to stark, serious eye. "You don't."
Kaiba came to himself in a tumble of sheets, a huddled curl on a sunlit, soundless mattress. Where... what....
He remembered lightning. An earth-shaking roar. The sudden, wondrous thrill of knowing the pattern of magic, of living half in himself, half in the mind of the winged glory that had come at his call. He'd struck, and missed, and tried to strike again-
And now he was back in his silent refuge, shut off from the world.
No. Not quite silent.
"...And then Amara threw this ball of lava at the Shadow, and it squealed, and threw some of the fire back, and the rug went kind of whoosh, and Tea blasted it with the fire extinguisher-" Mokuba paused for breath.
"Then Rogue slashed it with a flashlight, and it lost control of Tabitha long enough for a bunch of Jamie's duplicates to jump her." An echo of sensation filtered through; Tea's fingers, caressing his palm. "It was wild."
"Sounds like you guys had as bad a night as we did."
That was his voice, Kaiba realized. Yet that wasn't him answering... and his hand was wrapped around fingers that had never gripped him of their own free will. //Yugi!//
//You're awake!// Relief, calm; a tickling affection, curling around his thoughts like ribbons of sunlight. //We were starting to get worried. Dr. McCoy said we got the toxin out, pretty much. And Yami thought he'd found everything Janus did. But we weren't sure, and the Professor doesn't know enough about Shadows to really know what he should be looking for-//
Janus. The name dredged up odd scraps of memory; challenge given, challenge accepted, the knowledge his eyes were pure ruby as Shadows claimed their prize.
Yami. That was Yami's memory, woven into his own.
Yet it felt like his. Felt... familiar, like the locket still around his neck.
Stay calm. Stay calm. //You're using my body to talk to Mokuba?//
//Well... you weren't awake.//
Kaiba held back a snarl of irritation. //Fine. I'm awake now-//
A double chuckle brushed him, and he knew neither Yugi nor his other had been fooled. //Just come forward,// Yugi said, matter-of-fact as if he traded minds every day. //It's not hard.//
Of course. Hedoes do this every day. Concentrating, Kaiba willed himself out of the sunlit sanctuary, back to life and a whip-slashed back and weariness....
Blinked back infirmary lights, and realized that nothing hurt nearly as badly as it should. How?
"We were able to work a healing spell while you were out." Yami nodded to Tea; together, they helped him sit up. "How do you feel?"
The CEO scowled, taking in the watching eyes of Xavier and Logan, the pile of his clothes just out of reach, the too-familiar lines of bandages on his back, the airy chill of his hospital gown where the sheets weren't bunched up against him. No. If they've undressed me, they've seen... I'll kill them.
But there was a worse problem.
My deck. Where's my deck?
Chill. Calm. "I have a headache that talks. I believe it's yours." A headache Kaiba could still feel laced into his thoughts, touching, influencing.... Stay out of my mind!
//Seto, please? I was just talking to them; I don't want to miss anything.// A hesitation. //And if we share the pain, it doesn't hurt you as much.//
Share the pain? Why would Yugi want to share his wounds?
And his arms were full of black-haired brother, warm and worried and breath hitching in silent sobs. "Mokuba," Kaiba murmured, feeling tears soak through white cotton. Breathing in the apple-scent of shampoo, a hint of leather, a trace of pure sweet that meant someone had let his brother demolish a bowl of vanilla ice cream. "Mokuba, it's all right. I'm here."
"I was so worried...."
//It was close,// Yugi said soberly.
//Too close,// Yami agreed, grim.
Xavier cleared his throat. "Most of your injuries appear to have been psychosomatically induced," he offered. "A reawakening of what Hank tells me were... repeated old traumas." The telepath frowned. "We asked your brother if he knew the source of your injuries. He claims it's none of our concern."
You asked Mokuba.... Calm. Bank the rage. "It isn't," Kaiba said flatly.
Xavier's face creased in professional concern. "I know you must find it difficult to speak of. But there are certain techniques developed to assist those in your situation-"
"My situation is none of your business, Xavier." It's over. It's done. And if I intended to speak of that to anyone - ha! - it would never be you. "Where is my deck?"
"Well, after the Professor saw Kurt and Kitty, and they were pretty exhausted, and... we kind of compromised." Tea eyed the telepath, took two decks out of her jacket pocket. Tucked them back out of sight under Logan's watchful eye. "They know I can't call anything."
A sane precaution. If an annoying one. But - two decks. Yami let them take his? And they're still in one piece?
//Xavier was reluctant to allow me to remain near you otherwise.// Ruby narrowed. //And I refuse to lose a good duelist because of a minor inconvenience, Kaiba.//
Minor inconvenience? Kaiba gave Yami a sidelong glance. Took in the Puzzle's annoyed glint. Minor to you, maybe. He wanted his dragons. Now.
Yugi's laughter tickled him. //Try not to want that too hard, Seto. You're still tired... and we're close enough to the Puzzle right now they just might answer. I don't think the ceiling could take it!//
Seto blinked. But - he didn't have his cards.
//Even when the Ghost held it, your Blue Eyes heard your call.// Dark strength wove into him, let him lean on it when Mokuba's grip sparked new pain. //You've found the Heart of the Cards, Kaiba. Mere distance cannot take that away.//
Heart of the Cards. Hmph. Logic and power won duels, not some fickle emotional tie to the fantastic images within his deck-
//You don't really believe that, Seto.// Yugi's thoughts were quiet, but stern as Yami facing down an opponent in the final round. //Not anymore.//
Ha. Kaiba knew the shape of his doubts, gaping darkness in the pit of his soul. Knew the heavy solidity of self-hate and mistrust, rust-edged swords that tore hope and dreams to tatters. Against such a foe as that, a spark of belief in the Heart of the Cards was flimsy as a....
A soaring pyramid of white limestone, guiding Ra's rays down from the heavens. He stood near the top, gold still holding dawn's chill on wrists and collarbone, dragon white and warm and faithful by his side. The massive head bent to his, blue meeting blue like sky and lightning and the raging torrent of the Nile over the cataracts....
*We remember, Seth. Our caller. Our friend. You who shaped us out of the Shadow Realm, who gave us breath and life and the pharaoh's blessing. We remember.*
But... I don't. Almost a plea, to that three-part harmony of wings. He didn't remember. Fragments of scenes, of hope and light and strange familiarity... that wasn't remembering. It couldn't be.
//Nor do I remember. Not more than the faintest of images. But it's enough that you believe, sorcerer.// Ruby glinted, warm as dragon flame. //And you do, Seto Kaiba. You believe in us. And at long last... you believe in yourself.//
"Are the three of you quite finished?"
Kaiba arched a brow at Xavier, tucking Mokuba to the side. "As if you wouldn't know."
Tea hid a laugh behind her hand. "He doesn't." Blue eyes danced as she glanced Yami's way.
Kaiba suppressed his own smile. Hmm. Perhaps there were advantages to having an annoyed Egyptian pharaoh around after all. Occasionally.
Mokuba frowned. "So how are you going to get Yugi out of my brother's head?"
Xavier rolled his chair forward. "I had some contact with Janus' mind. And I've observed the rest of the students he affected, now that their... darker selves... appear to have returned on their own. I've an idea of how his powers functioned." Disapproving eyes cut to the King of Games. "Though I could have used quite a bit more time to examine his capabilities."
Yami didn't so much as shrug. Typical.
"Well." Xavier drummed fingers on his chair arm. "Given that Janus apparently pulled you out when you were quiescent, Yugi, I think we'd better start by making sure you've released full control of the body to Kaiba-"
The intercom warbled. "Charles. Have you gotten everything - er, straightened out?" Dr. McCoy asked.
"Not quite, Hank." Xavier flexed his hands. "Though we were about to start."
"Problem?" Logan put in.
"Indeed." Beast cleared his throat. "Solomon Mouto's on the phone. He'd like to speak with Yugi."
As one, Yami and Kaiba glanced at each other.
"He says it's important. Something to do with Joey passing out, and a boy named Ryou?"
Tea and Mokuba huddled together. "Oh no," Tea murmured. "Poor Ryou. He seemed to be doing okay... you don't think-?"
Who knew, Kaiba thought. The white-haired teen possessed by a tomb robber's spirit could have wreaked any amount of soul-stealing havoc in the short time Yami had been out of Domino City.
Yet another reason to have dragons tap-dance on Xavier's head. As if he needed any more.
"Isis protect us," Yami muttered.
Kaiba shook his head. "You're going to have to take this one."
The CEO smirked. "It's not as if he'd believe my voice."
"It's a phone. Not a demonic spawn of the Devourer's underworld." Kaiba gave the pharaoh a cool glance. "You watch through Yugi's mind most of the time. I'm certain you've seen him use them."
"It's not that!"
Seto blinked. Ruby had retreated into violet, pacing away. If he didn't know better, he'd say the King of Games appeared - unnerved?
"You don't want to scare Yugi's grandpa," Mokuba said quietly.
"It would be altogether too easy," Yami admitted, facing away from them. "Yugi is a gentle soul, and I... I have been many things, but never that."
"No kidding," Logan said dryly. Rubbing his head, as if the memory of a headache had lodged there.
"But he is." Tea blushed, absently wrapping a strand of dark hair around her finger. "Sometimes."
"I know you will, aibou, but-"
//You can do this, Yami. I believe in you.// Wry warmth. //And then... when we get home, we'll talk to Grandpa. Both of us.//
"A whole new meaning to conference call," Kaiba observed dryly. Glanced at Xavier. "Perhaps you'd better put this on speaker."
I can do this. I will do this. I shall... sear the mind out of the vile mortal who created this hideous device-
//All right, aibou.// Yami pressed the button Logan had indicated. "Grandpa?"
"Yugi!" For such a small man, Solomon's voice fairly boomed. "How's the visit been so far?"
"Er... somewhat hectic," Yami admitted. Soft. Keep it soft. And gentle. "Grandpa, what happened to Joey?"
"The strangest thing!" In the background Yami could hear the bustle of the shop, a clatter and giggle of Serenity taking apart a 3-D jigsaw puzzle, a few, fervent whispers. "Tristan brought him in; exhausted, apparently, he's snoring on your bed right now. But before they went upstairs, he was mumbling something about a bug and gold fur and Ryou... Yugi, I know you explained that Malik was behind that incident in the hospital, but that young Ryou still strikes me as a bit odd."
Ryou's odd, Yami thought dryly. Bakura's simply homicidal. "Could I speak with Tristan, Grandpa?"
"Oh, yes, of course...." Solomon's voice faded out.
A hand fumbled with the phone in Japan. "Yugi?"
"Some might say so," the King of Games replied.
"Oh. Right...." Tristan paused. "You're on the phone?"
"It's a long story, Taylor. Give us the important details," Kaiba interjected.
"Details, Tristan," Yami demanded. "Joey?"
"Um. Well. I went to talk to Ryou. And... it was going okay. For a little while... oh, heck." A thump came over the line, as of someone cupping fingers around a receiver. "You're the duelist. Man-Eater Bug versus Milus Radiant."
Yami frowned. Milus Radiant. 300 Attack points, 250 Defense. One of the weakest of Joey's new monsters, a golden, hound-like beast with lapis claws, teeth, and horn. Yet far more deadly on the field than its points promised, for it was a Beast Effect, raising Earth monsters' Attack by 400 and decreasing Wind monsters' Attack by 500. Joey had been quite looking forward to using it in a rematch with Mai. But against a Man-Eater Bug?
"Gold-furred mess on the field," Kaiba put in dryly.
"No, actually... Ryou managed to stop it."
Stop it? Yami raised a dark brow. "Not your usual duel, I take it."
Tristan sighed. "I think I kind of gave up on usual around you guys after that whole mess with Malik."
Hmm. True. "Is Joey all right?" Milus was a small creature, but if Joey had summoned it... the blond had a spark of magic, but nothing near the raging bonfire that was Kaiba's soul. Isis and Nephthys must have held their hands over you, truly.
"Snoring like a log, but since when is that news?" A thump over the line, as if Tristan was scratching his head. "Um. I don't suppose one of you guys could get back here? Just in case? I mean, I know you're supposed to be visiting, and all...."
"I'll arrange the flight." Humor glinted in Kaiba's gaze. "I still have a program to finish. And it's not as if you have much welcome left here to wear out."
Silence from Tristan's end. "I probably don't want to know, do I?"
"Well, it wasn't as bad as Battle City!" Mokuba put in.
"No offense, Mokuba, but that leaves a lot of ground open... oh. Ah, sure, Mr. Mouto."
The phone rattled, changing hands. "You're coming back? So soon?"
"I think I'd better," Yami said honestly. Felt his aibou's prompt, and hid a grin. "Besides, I think Kaiba doesn't want Mokuba going home alone."
If looks could kill, Kaiba would have had his blood all over the floor.
"Kaiba? That arrogant young... Yugi, what on earth-?"
"I'll explain when we get home, Grandpa. I promise." Ra, don't let Fate make a liar of me.
"All right, Yugi." Solomon's voice was quiet, thoughtful. "You take care of yourself, do you hear me?"
"I will, Grandpa."
Yami listened to the silence of the empty line, bringing his breathing back to normal. With luck, he wouldn't speak with Solomon again without Yugi's mind safely in his. I think I'd rather face a rogue lion with only a javelin.
//You did fine.// Yugi let out a mental sigh. //But we better get this over with before he calls back!//
"Not," Kaiba interjected dryly, "Before I get a change of clothes."
Mind-reading... magic... condition, hmph! Just another excuse to pry into a soul's privacy... how dare he....
Sprawled in the chair in Seto's soul room, Yugi listened to the CEO's quiet rant. "I think the Professor means well."
//You would.// Angry fingers snapped buttons into place, smoothed a tailored blue shirt over bandages with practiced ease. //I swear to you, Yugi, one of the vilest phrases ever created is "It's for your own good." Damn him. Damn them both-!//
Yugi winced, feeling what Kaiba was trying not to think. "I won't tell Yami. Not if you don't want me to."
Fingers hesitated on Kaiba's locket. //But....//
"We share our minds. But I don't have to tell him what I saw. What Janus... made you remember." Yugi poked at the computer, wondering at the solidity of detail. He'd bet if he could find a way to take off its cover, every circuit would be wired in place. "That's private. I didn't mean to see it, but I did. And I'm not sorry I saw it, but it is private."
Confusion swirled through the room, lifted sunlit drapes like a silent breeze. Yugi felt Kaiba stalling for time to think, sensed him move toward mirror-flash with a brush and impatient strokes to pillow-mussed hair-
Chill gripping him, Yugi pushed forward. //Kaiba? What's-//
They were looking at the dresser mirror. There was Kaiba's reflection, and the faint ghost of his own; like Yami's, when they were holding a morning conversation before school.
Seto wasn't even glancing at his shadow. Blue was fixed on wide, wondering blue, and shivering.
It's not me, that can't be me, never me-
//Kaiba,// Yugi said softly. Seeing the traces of himself in a face suddenly open and vulnerable. //Seto. It's all right.//
Never all right, not me, I don't look like that. I've never looked like that. I've never been that warm, that-Kaiba shied from the thought.
//Seto Mitzura, listen to me!//
Kaiba sucked in a breath, as if he'd been struck. Rage and grief and pain- //That is not my name!//
Yugi let that half-truth swirl past him. Seto'd paid in blood for Kaiba; he had the right to deny any other name. Even his own. //It's just an echo. It happens to me, when Yami senses we're about to merge our minds. I wasn't trying to block you out, and you don't know how to block me, so it just... happened.// He wrapped his current partner in his surety. //Don't worry. Once I'm out, you'll be fine.//
"Then let's get this over with," Kaiba growled, stalking toward the stairs and the library. "And so far as Yami and whatever doubtful impressions you might have garnered from a madman are concerned...."
Struggle. Hesitation. Fists clenched, before Kaiba flung open the library door and stepped through. //...Do what you want.//
Hands on his lap, Xavier observed the smoldering CEO, the knuckles bone-pale where Yami gripped a wooden chair. "It would be best if you both sat down."
Eyes locked, the two rivals took matching seats.
Yugi sighed. //Would you two relax already? This isn't a duel!//
//Sorry, aibou. I'm not entirely pleased with this plan.//
Kaiba snorted. "You're not?" Scowled. "Where are the others?"
"Untangling psyches is delicate work. Even Jean's presence would be a distraction." Xavier arched a brow. "You can hear him?"
"Yugi can." Kaiba's lips pressed into a thin line. "Finish this."
"I'd ask you to try to remain calm, but I can see that would be a lost cause," Xavier murmured. "I believe physical contact would facilitate the transfer."
Yami cradled the Puzzle in his hands, holding it away from his chest. Met Kaiba's gaze, ruby to sapphire.
Yugi felt the CEO steel himself. Reach out-
Warm gold. Shadow magic, cool and soothing as a spring breeze. The desert heat of Yami's mind, calling to his own.
And a swirl of reality, sucking down-
"Oof!" Marble floors, polished within an inch of their life. Yugi brushed himself off, leaning on a blue-painted wall as he got back to his feet. Wait a minute. I know this wall.
"Yugi?" Kaiba's footsteps rang through a familiar doorway a heartbeat before the young man stepped through, echoing in that odd way Yugi recognized from countless visits to his own soul room. "Where are we?"
"Just outside your soul room. This is the corridor to the rest of your mind. How you reach out to your body." Yugi listened down the hall, catching a second set of footsteps.
Kaiba's head jerked toward the sound. Blue eyes narrowed. "That's not Yami."
"No," Yugi agreed. "Come on!"
"Odd mental imagery," the telepath was muttering as they rounded a last corner. "Corridors instead of landscapes; very closed personalities. I should be able to draw the two together, and yet-" Xavier turned, steps light and assured. "Ah. There you are."
"You're standing," Kaiba said accusingly. Eyed the starry dark beyond Xavier, where walls and floor and all seemed to fade into shadows. "Where are we now?"
"This is the realm of the mind, Kaiba. The very edge of yours, as close as we can get to Yami." Xavier looked down to meet Yugi's gaze. "I don't want to fling you loose, as Janus did. We've no assurance that Yami would be able to reacquire you. You might end up cast out, a wandering mind without form. Or you might end up in another mind entirely; possibly one not as able to accommodate your presence as Kaiba's." The Professor rubbed his temples, stared into the mist. "If we can form a temporary link between your minds, Kaiba could release you to Yami with the minimum amount of damage. Yet... Yami's mind is...."
"Dangerous," Yugi said quietly. "I know."
Amusement caressed them. //I heard that, aibou.//
"He's close." So close, Yugi thought wistfully, standing on the very edge of shadows. Almost close enough to reach out and touch.
Xavier laid a hand on Yugi's shoulder, beckoned Kaiba closer. "I can provide the form, but the substance must be yours." He accepted the scowling CEO's grip. "Try to get closer to Yami."
"But that's the end of the hall," Yugi protested. Yet... Yami was so close. So close.
...And a foot of stone solidified from mist, marble and colored blocks intermingled.
"Floor, but not a corridor," Kaiba muttered, eyeing the shadows still pressing close.
Yugi swallowed, sensing the hungry absence behind the façade of innocent fog. "Um... it's a long way down."
"This should be enough. If we tread carefully." Xavier studied the stones a long moment more, nodded. "One step at a time."
Hand in hand with Kaiba, Yugi frowned in concentration. Form the blocks. Fit them around Kaiba's rough marble, and try to skirt the gaps as the two stones met. Keep moving toward that shadowy sense of Yami, the distant echoes of a familiar corridor between two soul rooms....
And violet-black granite snaked out of the mists, seizing blocks and marble in a flash of golden light.
Familiar arms closed around him, the voice so like his own murmuring ancient endearments. "Miw-sher, mery-i. Sa, sa, I have you...."
Yugi lifted his head from that comforting shoulder, taking in the reassuring sight of the corridor between their soul rooms; the violet-black, twisted stone of Yami's side meeting and mingling with the bright-colored blocks that surrounded the door to his room of light and toys. "I'm back?"
The spirit chuckled. "With guests, it would seem." Reluctantly easing his grip, Yami gave Yugi a roguish grin, and stalked silently up to tap a gaping Kaiba on the shoulder.
The programmer started, jerking his eyes from the colorful games and stuffed animals spilled over a room full of sunlight. "You." Blue eyes glanced between the bright warmth and the darkly grinning King of Games. "That's not your room, is it."
"No, this one's mine," Yugi said cheerfully. Kaiba's was okay, but it felt so much better to be home. "That one's Yami's." He pointed toward dark stone, where the Horus eye was carved on a door solid and foreboding as a pharaoh's tomb.
Kaiba stepped clear of the doorway, gaze searching for an exit. "I'll take your word for that."
"You will not." Yami's tone was friendly, but unyielding as carved stone. "Kaiba. Allow me to grant you the same courtesy you showed my hikari."
Blue eyes widened slightly, and Yugi found himself caught between a giggle and a sigh. Poor Kaiba. Always looking for the trap. "Please, Seto? We don't get much chance to show off."
"Show off?" Yami murmured, as Kaiba fell in reluctantly behind them.
"Well, we are, aren't we?"
"Hmm." Yami's smirk softened into a smile as he touched the carved eye. Granite grating on granite, heavy stone slid aside.
Kaiba stepped into the labyrinth, swallowing dryly as he took in the endless ranks of doors, the countless stone stairs twisting in ways gravity had never intended. Took a breath of the endless, chill darkness that reigned here, waiting to suck down any who strayed in unwanted....
Yami's hand blocked the programmer's attempt to bolt. "You granted my hikari safe refuge in your soul room, Kaiba. You're in no danger from mine." The spirit's face was calm, gentle as it never could be dueling.
Yugi felt Kaiba's curiosity warring with caution as the CEO eyed his two rivals. "I don't pry into other people's... privacy," Kaiba bit out.
"If I've left the door open, you're not prying." Yami lifted his hand, indicated the endless corridors. "We won't allow you to be lost."
"Yami?" Yugi murmured as Kaiba picked his way up a set of stairs.
"Shh. Let him get a bit farther, aibou."
A blue trench coat fluttered through the first door, and Yugi pinned his darker self with a look. "What are you doing?"
"Allowing the Puzzle a chance to remember him." A familiar smirk was dancing in ruby eyes. "It shouldn't take long. You brought back the flavor of his magic, and Seto has more of Seth in him than he'll ever admit."
"What shouldn't take long...." Yugi felt the first subtle tremor of the Puzzle's power, and clapped a hand to his head in disbelief. "Yami! He's going to kill you."
Yami chuckled softly. "It wouldn't be the first time he tried-" The spirit's head jerked up, ruby gaze narrowed. "Something's wrong."
Yugi gulped. He could feel it; a sense of doors being pried open, of relentless curiosity circling closer and closer to the gaping wounds Janus had left in another mind. "Oh no. He wouldn't!"
Kaiba tore down the stairs, heading for his soul's corridor at a dead run. "Xavier!"
"No!"Yugi and Yami grabbed him, held him inside the labyrinth.
"Seto, don't!" Yugi pleaded, dragging on one infuriated arm. "You know the path isn't stable! If you don't cross it slowly-"
"That's my mind! My memories!" The sorcerer struggled, shadows glimmering about his hands. "Let go of me!"
"No."The Puzzle glowed around two throats, bright as the eye on Yami's forehead. "We're not going to lose you."
"He has trespassed in your soul, Kaiba," the darkness growled. "And for that, he will pay."
"Look. I know you want to see them." Logan stood in front of the library door, a glowering, metal-clawed sentinel of doom. "But the Professor said he needs quiet if this is going to work, and he's going to get it."
I'm not going to scream. I'm not going to scream.Tea tapped her foot in frustration, ticking off her mental to-do list. Yugi's stuff was packed... not that he'd had much chance to unpack. Mokuba said he had his luggage together; she and Kaiba would probably be able to find anything he'd missed. She'd even helped Mokuba go through some of the Duel Monsters cards he'd brought with him, sorting together forty that seemed right. They were set. As soon as everybody was back where they belonged... well, Yugi and Mokuba would head back where they belonged.
So where do I belong? If I come here to dance - if I follow my dream to New York....
The Millennium Items had come to Domino City, and so far they seemed determined to stay there. And every time they started acting weird, she got caught in the middle. Some might call that a good reason to get out of town for good.
Only her best friend was right in the middle of the weirdness. For good, for now, and forever.
Leave Domino, and she'd leave Yugi.
But... duelists travel. The good ones go all over the world. Just look at Kaiba, and Mai. Mai even told you Joey was good enough to do it - though she warned you not to breathe a word of that until he's finished school.
Tea shook away the thought. First things first. She'd lived in New York before, though only for a little while, swept along as her father's job moved them from Domino to America and back. Time to check out what was real, and what was just colored by a child's memory. Check out the schools, check out the atmosphere; see if something felt right. Or wrong.
Besides, if Bayville was any example, New York had more than its own share of weirdness.
Weird magic, or weird mutants? Which do you think you can handle?
Which do youwant to?
Tea tapped again, absently noting how the rhythm blended with Mokuba's pacing. Jazz it up a little, maybe add a half-beat....
"The Professor's fixed a lot of minds," Kurt said, tossing a pencil back and forth. One hand missed a grab; his tail snatched it, threw it Kitty's way.
"Think she got that by now, Kurt." The brunette caught the pencil between two hands, threw him a glare before settling back against the wall, nibbling her lip. Apparently Xavier wanted to talk to them both as soon as he was done.
Talk, sure, Tea thought. She'd seen teachers crossed before. These two were going to be seriously in for it. Maybe I can help. If I could talk to the Professor first... he doesn't know Yami. He's never felt.... She fought down a blush. When Yami says "Trust me", you don't think. You just - do. Because he trusts you, and he trusts himself, and how could you ever turn your back on that....
Kitty tilted her head at Tea. "So if you're not worried about the whole mind-meld mess, what are you worried about?"
That!Tea flung herself at the door, closing her ears against the scream. Oh, please don't let anybody be dead, please....
Logan was already inside, growling as he held a groaning Xavier's shoulder. A snarl rippled his lips.
"Um..." Violet eyes went wide, fixed on the growling mutant as the leather-clad teen backed toward a corner. "Help?"
"Yugi!" Tea hugged her friend close, feeling worry lift off like lead weights. If Logan wanted to do anything, he'd have to go through her first.
"Logan..." The Professor's voice was shaky, but sane.
"Charles?" Wolverine's tone was dark. "You okay?"
Tea gulped. The last time she'd heard a voice like that, Bakura had decided someone had to die.
"There's a particularly abominable folksong resounding through my head, but... more or less." Xavier rubbed his head. "Sabretooth with a chainsaw, indeed."
A familiar cold snort echoed behind her. "I told you to stay out of my affairs."
"Big brother!" Mokuba swarmed into Kaiba's lap, wrapped his arms around his brother's neck as the programmer stood. "You're all right!"
Kaiba let his head dip into dark hair for a long moment, holding his brother close. "Yes." He pulled back enough to meet Mokuba's gaze. "Are you packed?"
"Yeah. But I was just thinking...." Mokuba snuggled close again, whispering.
Oh boy. They're up to something.Tea rolled her eyes, held onto Yugi's hand as she tried to discreetly usher them both out of the room. Just outside the door she saw Kurt and Kitty glance at each other, start sneaking away.
//Don't think you two are off the hook.//
Mid-sneak, the teenage mutants froze.
//Kurt, Kitty, in here. Now.//
"Nice try," Tea mouthed at them as she and Yugi slipped out into the hall.
"Whew!" Yugi let a breath sigh out as they put a hall bookcase between them and direct line-of-sight of the library door. "That was a little too close." He took her right hand. "Hold still?"
"Um..." His finger was tickling over her palm; long straight line, shorter straight line across, a loop to crown it... and a subtle glow of gold that sank into her skin like water into parched ground. "Yugi, what-?"
"Ankh," he murmured, just a trace of ruby glimmering in his gaze. "And sa." His fingertip shaped a bent horseshoe curve on her left palm, gold and dark at once. "Life, and protection."
Not Yugi, Tea realized, feeling heat rush to her cheeks. But not Yami either. It was both of them; that heart-stopping, enticing blend most saw only when he dueled. "What'd you just do?"
"It's a protection spell." His smile was shy and knowing at once, warming her to her toes. "Not a strong one, I don't want to draw anything to you, just more like... well, a tripwire. If you don't mind?"
Mind? Mind feeling warm, and safe, and cared about? And he was right here, and so close... she lifted a hand to his cheek, leaned down just enough to bring them eye to eye. "Yami Yugi...."
"Don't look, Mokuba." Kaiba's voice was dry, and all too amused. "It'll rot your brain."
Tea turned bright red, hearing Yami mutter something that had to be rude in Ancient Egyptian. "How long have you been there?" Yugi sighed.
"Long enough." Azure eyes held a glint of laughter as Kaiba took out his cell phone, there and gone almost before Tea realized she'd seen it. "The cab should be here. Are you ready?"
"Just a minute!" Mokuba yanked open the library door, ignoring the raised voices as he dashed in. Tea heard the Professor halt mid-lecture, an indistinguishable cheerful murmur of English from Mokuba-
"Say what?" Kitty's shocked voice echoed into the hall.
"Bye!" Mokuba skidded back into the hall, heading for the front door with a grin almost as wicked as his brother's when Kaiba was about to blow something up. "Come on, nii-sama!"
Tea gaped, but moved. "Do you-?"
"I don't think I want to know," Yugi muttered, snatching his backpack and suitcase as they headed for the front door.
Kaiba was drawing up the rear, glancing back as the students and their dazed professors filtered into the front hall to see them off. Kitty especially was hanging back, ducking away from piercing blue eyes. "What did you say to Pryde, Mokuba? Why is she looking at me like that?"
Backpack in hand, Mokuba just grinned. "Bye, big brother! Have a nice time!"
"Mokuba...." Kaiba crossed his arms in frustration as the doors swung closed behind his black-haired tormentor. "Just wait, little brother. Revenge will be mine."
"Kaiba!" Yugi gave him a look of exasperation. "Maybe it was something nice."
A chestnut brow arched. "You've never had a little brother." Kaiba looked Tea's way, coolly curious. Slid a speaking glance toward spiky hair.
Why can't the floor open up and swallow me.... Deep breaths, Tea. You can do this. Just... forget Kaiba's there, and the Professor's over there, and there's all these people watching....
And... Yugi was looking at her in innocent confusion.
Arggh. Yami, why can't you clue him in?
Probably because Yugi hadn't asked him to. Because Yugi... didn't have a clue. Darn it.
Tea hugged her friend. "Take care of yourself." Backing off a step, she held out two decks. "Um... not sure which one of these...."
Two hands came down; Yugi's on the deck in her right hand, Kaiba's on her left. Kaiba took that deck, turned up a card.
Blue Eyes White Dragon. Tea shook her head. "Why do I even ask?"
Knees to her chest as she perched on a thick oak limb, Kitty felt tremors through the tree-trunk and sighed. It was chill, mist beading in droplets on her blue jacket, weather none of her fellow students would consider fit to be out in. Which wouldn't stop her current visitor. "Should've known it was too quiet to last."
"Hey, Half-pint." Logan climbed up to a nearby branch, fingers gripping damp bark easily as most people held onto subway straps. He glanced back over his shoulder toward the dim green sward close by; you could see the back lawn from here, but from the ground this was just one more patch of leaves. "Jean just got back from her trip with Tea."
Kitty shrugged. She'd had to skip the dance school trips; the Professor was on a grounding spree. Gee, one little let-yourself-get-possessed-by-a-card gig, and you're untrustworthy for life. Major suckage.
The irony of it was, all the New Mutants Janus had messed with seemed to be fine. The Professor had kept them a day for observation, had Beast do a couple blood tests to make sure they were clear, then let them off the hook. Heck, Tabitha was even going to a party later tonight.
Get taken over by the bad guys, you get off, Kitty mused. Help one of the good guys - well, sort of good guys - and "we can't allow you off the grounds until we're certain there are no unforeseen side effects". Oh yeah, Professor. Real fair.
Kurt was fine, beating up on video games upstairs. But if Kaiba hadn't asked her to help him put in the security program, she'd have gone stir-crazy.
Now I'm just going another kind of crazy. And it is. Crazy, I mean. Kaiba? You've got to be kidding.
But Mokuba had seemed so impishly sure. Grinning up at her, even as he used the opportunity of a goodbye hug to surreptitiously plant a packet in her jacket pocket.
Talk about trouble in a small package. I swear all that black hair's hiding the pointed ears.
Logan leaned back against the trunk. "Charles told Jean you two were done with the security program. She thought she'd find you wearing out shoes in your room with Top 40 blasting."
"Like, duh," Kitty muttered. "That's why I'm not there."
"Huh. And I thought it was for the view."
The quiet humor in his tone poked through her fog of distraction. "What view?"
"One that's coming up. Shhh." A wry smile tugged at Wolverine's mouth as he stared intently toward the edge of the Institute's lawn.
A dark blue trench coat swirled out of the mist. Cool blue eyes scanned this edge of the lawn, searching for other figures. Relaxed minutely.
Kitty didn't need Logan's warning glance to freeze. Kaiba's... taking off his coat? What's he doing?
Stretching, apparently; like a dancer, warming up for practice. But Kaiba didn't dance....
Iso take that back.
Long fingers cupped air, shaped it in sweeps of arms and feet. Slow, gentle motions; a flow from stance to stance that reminded her of a brook over rocks, of the beating ocean tide. Ever-changing. Ever-constant.
Wow. That's just... wow.
"Huh." Somehow Logan had shifted near her perch; his voice was almost in her ear. "Looks like Tai Chi, with a little Aikido on the side. Definitely some street-fighting extras thrown in."
Street-fighting? Kaiba was practicing a martial art? "It's so slow," Kitty whispered. So beautiful.
"It's practiced slow," Logan murmured back. "He gets into a fight, all he does is speed up and the other guy's a broken pile on the ground."
Ouch. Yeah, that sounded like Kaiba, all right. And like-
Almost against her will, Kitty's thoughts went to the perilous package in her jacket.
Hands froze mid-grab, swept back to his sides as Kaiba walked toward their perch. "Who's there?"
Logan dropped through the branches, landing with a soft thump. "How'd you know?"
"You? But-" Frowning, Kaiba looked past him. "Come out."
Fumbling her way down, Kitty managed a weak grin. I'm so dead.
"You didn't hear her," Logan stated as she rounded the oak. "I know you didn't see her; she learned from me. How'd you know?"
"I...." Kaiba shook his head. "She reached for her deck."
Logan's eyebrows jumped. "She didn't move." He glanced toward her. "Charles know you have a deck?"
So right, I didn't move, Kitty thought, deliberately keeping her hand away from her pocket. "Um... no?"
"Physical contact helps. It isn't necessary." Azure eyes studied her, as if she were a line of code hiding some unexpected feature. "I... once affected one of my own cards, miles away." His gaze turned distant. "I should have known there was something odd at work then. Pegasus' men had tracked me to the lab. They should have had me. But it was my move, and everything just seemed to fall into place...."
Taking a deep breath, Kitty took out the packet. Flipped up the first beautiful, perilous card. Dark Magician Girl. Go figure. "So is this your move, or Yami's?"
"Mokuba's," Kaiba said dryly. "He thinks you'll need it." The programmer picked up his trench coat. "He's probably right. Anyone who's been near Yami tends to attract things. Even Tristan, and he doesn't duel."
"Things?" Logan said darkly.
"Oddness. Magic. People obsessed with conquering the world, or saving it. If you happen to see an Egyptian man with a turban, an ankh, and a set of golden scales, run." A grim smile tugged at cool lips. "Or blast him with a Dark Burning Attack, and then run. I hold honest tournaments. Mysterious interlopers showing up to manipulate duelists into unleashing mystical beasts were not part of the program."
Gold glimmered through the mist as Kaiba settled into his trench coat; Kitty frowned. "What happened to your locket?"
Fingers hesitated, involuntarily tracing new lines of gold across the brown swirl of the card back, a there-yet-not-there shimmer that curved to form a subtle Horus eye. The blue gaze darkened. "I suspect I'll have to ask Yugi."
"His locket?" Logan sniffed. Drew back, startled. "Smells like the Puzzle. How?"
Kitty blinked. "You mean, you don't see that?"
"Kid, I think you see things the rest of us don't," Logan said seriously. Nodded at her deck. "You keeping that?"
"Um..." Eyeing Seto's stance, Kitty wondered herself. Tall, dark, brooding... kind of like Scott. Only I don't think Scott would swing a pillow if his kid brother asked. If Jean asked, but.... She fought back a blush. Oh man, that way lies trouble.
"What?" Kaiba said, exasperated. "I don't know what Mokuba may have said to you, but I do not eat small children for breakfast."
Small?!Kitty bristled, drawing herself up to... damn it, somewhere near his chest height. Great. So much for staring down the guy. "So why don't you tell him to set you up with an Amazon next time?"
Kaiba blinked at her, the slightest hint of confusion touching the cool gaze. "What?"
"Guys! You're all alike!" Kitty flung up her hands, closed fingers hastily over her deck before the wind could tug it free. "I am so out of here."
Long strides caught up to her. "Explain, Pryde."
Kitty tossed back dark hair, Valley Girl to the core. And the Professor says I don't pay attention in his Comparative Culture seminars... he's Japanese, they like women polite, this ought to put him off for good. "Like I'm saying anything more to you!"
Falling in on her other side, Logan cleared his throat. "He said," Logan said dryly, "That you were really a good guy under it all - way under it all - that you love having duelists around who can stand up to you, and Yugi said you thought she was cute in that blue-and-pink card outfit. And that if she gave you half a chance, she'd like you."
Kaiba made a strangled noise.
"So how many times has your kid brother used that line?" Kitty sniffed. Glared at Kaiba... who seemed to be frozen in place, staring at her like a particularly lethal monster that had materialized in his dueling arena.
"Wasn't a line," Logan said quietly.
And blue eyes were fixed on hers, wild and dangerous and beautiful as the dragon he'd called from shadows. Kitty could see sleek white curves rise around him, frail as mist; feel the soul-wind of beating wings....
Blue eyes shot away, glancing at his watch. "I have to go."
Logan's hand on her shoulder held her when she would have followed. "Uh-uh," he breathed, watching the programmer stride swiftly away. "You want to catch him? Then let him go. For now."
Which made less than no sense. Kitty shook her head. "Who says I want to catch that guy?"
Logan eyed her. "This is me, Shadowcat. Not the Prof." He dropped his gaze to the deck in her hands.
Biting her lip, Kitty held it out. "Guess you want this."
Logan shook his head. "Just be careful." He looked up. "They're not safe. Kaiba's not safe. That kid's got scars, and I'm not talking about the ones on his back." His hand squeezed lightly on her shoulder. "But you're an X-Man, kiddo. You want danger, you've earned it."
Kitty managed a smile. "This mean you're taking me out for driving practice again?"
Familiar thuds split the air; a black helicopter swooped down, lowering near the outside of the mansion gates. Hovered there a long minute; rose and swept in a clean arc away.
From one window, Kitty saw Tea wave.
Logan chuckled. "Gotta admit, the kid has style."
Yeah. Yeah, he did.
And Mokuba had left a few email addresses in her deck.
So what's the time difference between here and Japan?
Miw-sher, mery-i.- Kitten, my beloved.
Note: We haven't seen it in Evolution, but in the comics, Shadowcat has both astral sight and a strong streak of dark magic.