Hello boys and girls, time for your happy Kaiba/Pegsy goodness to begin here and now. I warn you, though, that I appreciate good angst and tend to dabble in it myself, so if your looking for a happy-happy joy-joy fic, this might not be for you. This is a side project of mine and always open to revision, so if you spot something please do tell me – criticism is accepted, so long as it pertains to the form and not the content/subject material.

And now, bad poetry *ahem* ….

There was a once a fan-fiction creator

Who thought ownership a no-brainer

She typed and she tried

But the web host denied

And insisted upon a disclaimer…

… I don't own Yugioh!!

Off-Kilter

By Kabuki

October 2003

Part 1:

Pegasus strode from the dueling arena with a spring in his step, his hands in his pockets as he nodded to his guards. None of the men met this penetrating gaze, but he could peer into their minds anyway. The fear he found there was expected. Still, though, he wasn't sure how he felt about the cowed hired guns which lined the corridors. One of the men stood near the front of the hallway, his arm chained to the child Mokuba. The boy was normally rambunctious and rebellious to a fault. Pegasus had corrected that irritable trait. He regarded the soulless boy without emotion. "Return him to his cage. He's not necessary now. In fact," he smiled grimly, "Put him in a cell near his brother. Kaiba can't say I'm completely heartless after all." He giggled and took great pleasure in the way the hired man quaked before him. Lovely. The sense of power and complete control was addictive, especially to someone who'd never garnered much attention or sympathy from the masses.

Until seven years ago, that is.

He was riding high on this superior feeling, and he retrieved the soul cards from his breast pocket once more. "Solomon Moto and a pair of Kaibas – not too shabby if I do say so myself. Ah, Kaiba-boy, look at you! Even in spiritual bondage you're the picture of calm." He narrowed his eye, the amber gaze intensifying so that the security guards took a step back. "We'll see how cool and collected you'll be after I defeat Yugi Moto. He's your last chance, isn't he?" Pegasus clicked his tongue and replaced the three cards with a shrug. "Such a pity."

He continued down the expansive hallway without any more words to his men. From his safe vantage point, Croquet watched the change of mood with a heavy heart. There wasn't much time left until the master completely lost control. He knew he would have to act fast if he wanted to prevent Master Pegasus from hurting himself any further. He eyed the men as they went their separate ways, all intent on carrying out their orders. The Kaiba brothers were led away firmly despite the fact that neither boy could possibly escape. The sight made the stalwart Croquet indescribably furious, and he clenched his fist at his side.

Since the fair lady Cecelia had passed away, nothing had been right for Master Pegasus. Barely a man and already he'd suffered such a terrible tragedy. Croquet remembered when he'd first met Maximillion Pegasus, only son of Sara and James Crawford and heir to the massive fortune his father had built in the design and construction of the most lavish casinos throughout the world. He'd been contracted to guard the boy and serve as a bodyguard of sorts – quite a change from the position of most promising rookie in the FBI and the years of police experience he'd gained working the mean streets of Los Angeles. He'd been twenty-five, the youngest member of the force and the best rifleman on the league. He'd made four assassinations in the name of freedom and justice before he'd retired.

James Crawford hired only the best, and the man he chose to guard his son was no exception. He changed his name to Croquet, the agency had informed him he'd be better off forgetting about his real name after all the work he'd done for Uncle Sam. The pay was good, better than what the agency doled out, so Croquet had taken the job. He was surprised to find the person he was to protect with his very life was a mere boy, with wide honey-brown eyes and an inviting grin. He was shy, though, and when Croquet had been introduced to his charge the boy had muttered a greeting before lowering his gaze, his silver hair covering his face. James Crawford had dismissed his son, and once the boy had removed himself from the trio of adult Croquet had pointedly asked Mr. Crawford why his son needed such careful protection.

Husband and wife had exchanged glances then Mr. Crawford had sighed and poured a glass of red wine. "Our son has a special gift, Mister Croquet. Have you ever known a child who could read thoughts?"

"I've seen a great many things, Mr. Crawford, but mind readers are not among them."

James Crawford had chuckled, rolling his wine glass back and forth in his fingers before taking a slow sip. "I can tell you don't believe me. It's alright, there's no need to apologize, I don't believe it sometimes either; but trust me when I say it is the truth. My son has been subjected to all manner of experiments in Cambridge by the Psi Phenomena specialists there, particularly the study of the functioning of the overactive pineal gland in his brain … ah, but I see I'm boring you. It's all very fascinating, and I'm afraid I do get quite caught up in the idea. Our son has been pronounced one of the most promising young subjects, and as such he is required to take frequent trips away from home to various universities for study. So you see, we need you to go along, make sure he isn't kidnapped or any such thing. I'm needed here for the tending of the casino and my wife cannot travel anyplace where she might chance upon any of her socialite friends."

The woman had nodded, smiling. "They think the entire enterprise madness, though I admit Maximillion does have a gift. He's so very bright after all."

At the time Croquet had thought the man and wife a pair of lunatics, but after accompanying young Maximillion Pegasus Crawford on a routine month-long study at Duke University in South Carolina, Croquet had to doubt his firm convictions. He'd watched as the boy sat passively as a professor held up playing cards, his amazement growing as the child guessed every suit. After the first few minutes Croquet began inspecting the room through the one-way glass, searching for a way the kid could be getting all the correct answers. The boy had looked to the mirrored glass with a sly smile and spoken nothing of it after the session had ended. Croquet had felt the first niggling of belief smothered by the firm conviction that the boy had to be faking, but as he'd watched Maximillion grow into a man his opinion had drastically changed. After seeing all that he could do even before his fateful trip to Egypt, and now after all that the strange power of the golden eye-piece he had witnessed, Croquet was willing to proclaim James Crawford a model of sanity and reason. He wasn't sure if Pegasus had lost his mind or if the weird Egyptian artifact was controlling him in some unspeakable manner. If he could get it away from him, Croquet would wrench the eye free from the boy and fling it into the sea, but the object was fixed in his flesh, immobile and permanent as a robotic arm or hand.

Croquet shook his head, the current time and place rushing back to him. He couldn't let this madness continue. Cautiously, he followed Master Pegasus down the stone hallway, his hand on his gun and his mind thinking on all sorts of foolish notions as he tried to approach undetected – a nearly impossible feat, he'd learned. He knew the weapon in his hand was loaded only with blanks, but he had to find some way to threaten the man. Things had become so strange lately, he wasn't sure if his employer was even in his right mind anymore. But then, he wasn't sure if a gun would provide any protection either from the intense power of the Millennium Eye, even if it were loaded.

Slowly and with the utmost skill, Croquet crept after his employer, weapon at the ready. He told himself it was just a precaution, but with recent events in mind he couldn't take any chances. He'd expected to follow his quarry all the way to the tower chamber, but the chase did not go far. Croquet stopped short of the foot of the winding stone staircase and peered around the corner. He knew what he would see before the vision presented itself. There was Pegasus, silver hair unmistakable amidst the murky dank of the castle. He stood in an attitude of contemplation, the fingers of his right hand pressed against the focal point of the vestibule, a massive portrait of the Lady Cecelia. Croquet relaxed a little, letting the gun slide back into its holster as he heard Pegasus' low murmuring. It was an uncommon sight for most of the staff, save for the precious few who took it upon themselves to personally protect their employer. The eccentric billionaire often spoke to the paintings, addressing them as one would speak to a departed loved one at a gravesite. Watching Pegasus from the back, however, Croquet was reminded of his purpose. The master had grown painfully thin and haggard, his once wide and trusting caramel eyes – eye, actually, ever since that mysterious fiasco in the Egyptian desert – now simmered with hatred and bitterness. Even the shoulder pads of his suit coat tipped Croquet's trained eyes onto the problem. Master Pegasus had never worn shoulder pads until his health had begun to fail.

"Sir?"

Croquet took silent pleasure as his employer literally jumped and spun around, startled and ready to combat any intruder, but when he turned the smug smile gave it all away as an act. "Ah, Croquet. I wasn't expecting you. And carrying your gun around as well, don't you know there are children about?" He cocked his head a little, the slight motion confirming the lingering playful mood he'd been in earlier at the dueling arena. "Is everything in order?"

"No, not really sir. In fact, I think we need to chat about this new order you've instilled." Croquet watched Pegasus stiffen at his words and nodded, sunglasses hiding his guarded gaze. "I see you know what I'm talking about."

"Now, Croquet, I really don't know what you mean. But shouldn't you be watching Yugi Moto and his bratty little friends? I am paying you to do as I command . . ."

"Naturally, but maybe your skill in giving orders has grown rusty. Tell me, what is the meaning of all this?"

Pegasus shook his head, the charade falling away as an expression of intense sadness washed over his face. Had he been unaccustomed to the ways of his employer, Croquet might have been taken aback by the dramatic change.  Instead he simply stood, his arms folded as his master turned away. "It will all be over soon, old friend. Just do as I ask for now."

"I can't do that, sir, and you know it. This has gone on long enough. You've spent the past few years creating and spreading an obsession with a card game. That's fine, I can understand it in a way. Holographic monsters appeal to the television generation, but stealing souls?"

Pegasus grinned, rocking back in his heels. "Stealing is such a harsh word. I much prefer borrowing."

"Well I think you've borrowed beyond your limit, sir, when you take and old man's soul to force his grandkid into a card game."

Pegasus frowned. "It's not just a card game, Croquet. There's all sorts of matters at stake which you cannot possibly understand."

The bodyguard snorted, a rather disagreeable sound that made Pegasus wince. "You're a little old for this sort of thing, Max." Pegasus leveled the man with a cool stare until Croquet cleared his throat. "It's not my place, sir, but I must advise you strongly against further action in this manner. There's real hatred for you brewing and soon enough someone will act on it more vigorously than that Kaiba kid."

The silver-haired man seemed to regain some of his elitist mannerisms as his bodyguard spoke, pulling himself to his full height and smoothing his coat absently. "This will continue as long as it must, Croquet, and may I remind you where your paycheck comes from? If you continue to cross me I'm afraid I may be forced to discipline you in the harshest possible manner." He straightened the lapels of his jacket, and in the intense shadow Croquet noticed the unmistakable glint of the Millennium Eye behind the shower of platinum hair.

Croquet nodded, his shaky hands making certain to holster the gun before he straightened his tie. "I get your meaning, sir."

"Excellent, then you won't mind if I dismiss you for now. I'm sure you can find something else to occupy your time for a few hours. I do not require a chaperone this night."

Croquet reluctantly nodded. "As you wish, Master Pegasus."

"Run along now, Croquet, before something terrible befalls you in the night. I have some matters to attend to." He smirked, his human eye hooded by the shadow of his hair. "Yugi Moto is your primary focus this evening. Do not let him out of your sight."

The bodyguard hesitated only a moment before he reluctantly nodded, "Yes sir." He waited a moment to see if his friend would change his mind before turning back the way he'd come in search of the other guards, his frustration made obvious as he stormed down the hall. There would be no way to alter Master Pegasus' commands – no matter what he thought of the matter, Croquet did not wish to risk his own soul being trapped in a card. His employer was subject to wild swings of mood, making him more unpredictable than the staff liked. He'd spent a night in one of the dungeons himself once for openly disagreeing to the Master's idea of building Duelist Kingdom and holding a tournament. Much as he sympathized with the Kaiba brothers and felt his Master was being unfair, he could not turn against Maximillion Pegasus. He'd raised the young man from childhood after his parents had perished in a plane crash. He couldn't help but feel that the man was striving for something. He had a definite plan, though no one knew what it was. Perhaps it would be better, the bodyguard reasoned, to lay in wait and see what tricks Pegasus had up his silken sleeve.

Pegasus watched the man go, keeping his intimidating stance rigid until he was certain his elder was out of sight. Once alone he sighed, shoulder slumping as he glanced up at the portrait of Cecelia, her smiling face unbelievably tragic to him even after so many years. He reached a hand up to stroke the painted cheek, wishing as he always did that some warmth, some life might be magically imbued through the sheer force of his own fervent desire. There was of course no reaction, only the same brush-stroked texture he had grown so accustomed to feeling. The irony was that he had applied the paint with his own hands – he still felt the same desire that had inspired such careful work.

With a sigh he turned from the portrait to face a small statue of the Blackland Fire Dragon beside the sweeping staircase. He touched the serpentine head, triggering a mechanism that made the floor rumble ever so softly as a secret passage swung open beneath the staircase. Without hesitation, Pegasus swept aside the concealing tapestry of a Virgin and Unicorn, descending down the stone stairs into darkness. There was something he had to do, and he knew he could not rest until he'd worked out a few minor details.

The walls were slick with moisture, and the constant sound of dripping water accompanied him on his decent into the bowels of his dungeon. It had been outfitted carefully, and only Pegasus knew each turn in the labyrinth. He'd designed the architectural plans himself, and had hired only the best and most secretive contractors to complete the project, the details of which he'd muddled in their minds once the job had been completed. After enduring so much tragedy, Maximillion Pegasus was not one to take security measures lightly.

The gas-lit torches were easy enough to grow accustomed to, and though he could only see properly out of his real eye, the golden orb's magic allowed him to sense the warmth and mind of the person he sought, acting almost like a compass pointing north. He passed two guards, both of whom nodded in response to his request for privacy as he bypassed them, pressing another hidden lever to reveal an even lower level to the stone chambers. He descended the stairs carefully, treading lightly on the stone so that even in dress shoes he made no sound.

A few more turns and he stood glowering at the guards that laughed and joked at the expense of their captive. He stood in the shadows, his anger slowly building as he watched the grotesque play.  They were tossing coins, laughing and joking as the small projectiles struck the soulless captive who lacked any response or retaliation.  He reached out instinctively with the power of his Eye, touching the minds of his men cautiously before clearing his throat to announce his presence.

"Huh?" The sound of twin firearms being cocked, "Who's there?"

"The boogeyman, of course." Pegasus allowed a low chuckle to escape his lips as he stepped forward into the firelight, revealing himself to them. "Who else would it be?"

Both men stiffened, quickly replacing their weapons as they stammered for an excuse. "We weren't sure, sir. You can never be too careful –"

"Yes, I suppose I can't when my own men point guns at me."

"Please accept our apologies, sir!"

"Enough. I need some time alone with the captive. I'll notify you when you're needed again at your post."