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CHAPTER 45: THERE AND BACK AGAIN
Both Seto Kaibas were at their most difficult the next morning, although they seemed to have switched roles a little, in the night. Seto was monosyllabic, and Kaiba was snarling at anything that moved. I allowed him to unleash his savage temper on Yugi's friends without comment. Kaiba would probably have restrained himself (or tried to), if I had asked. But the day would be painful enough for him, without my forcing the pretense of civility on him.
All of us, except for Kouma (who was in the kitchen with Sugoroku) were in the living room, waiting for Shadi. It was the room Kaiba and Mokuba had been playing chess in on the night we had all landed on their doorstep and this journey had begun.
Seto was standing a little apart from the group as usual, looking out the window at the gardens – or more probably at the motorcycle track that was barely visible in the distance. He was wearing the clothes he had arrived in. It was a little unnerving seeing Seto back in that neatly pressed pants and button-down shirt, his eyes as blank as when we had first met.
"Everything must go back to the way it was before. It is time for them to return…" Shadi said as he appeared.
"What's the problem? Trying to figure out how to do it? Even you must know by now, that if you just chuck Mokuba back in time, Seto'll follow," Kaiba said with a sneer.
"As I suspect you've guessed, that probably wouldn't work. Most things involving Sennen Items must be done voluntarily."
"But it's your last resort, isn't it?" Kaiba pressed.
"Have you changed so little in 3,000 years, that you still need me to acknowledge that you were right, and I was wrong? I should have trusted you both. I admit it, freely."
"You will allow Seto the dignity of making an informed choice," Kaiba stated flatly. It was not a question.
Shadi nodded in response.
"What are we going to tell him?" Anzu asked softly.
"We are not going to tell him anything. I am going to tell him the truth. And before you waste whatever limited brain cells you have, trying to come up with some pretty lie… let me remind you that he isn't stupid… and he's me. How do you think I'd react to being lied to?" Kaiba gave the room the most feral grin I had seen yet. "Seto deserves to hear the truth about what he's going 'home' to from me. The rest of you can stay the hell out of my way."
"Wait… I didn't mean you, Mokuba. You know it all, anyway," he called out, as Mokuba got up.
His younger brother smiled. "It's okay. You need me to get Kouma."
Anzu shrugged her shoulders in apology at Yugi, then went to hug Mokuba. They left the room together.
Hopefully, Yugi would be a lucky young man, soon. Kaiba was right – if your tastes ran that way, you could do a lot worse than Anzu.
Yugi and Honda started to follow, but waited by the door. Jounouchi hung back for a moment, looking at me irresolutely. "You know, it's not fair," he finally blurted out. "In the end, the little punk really came through – and this is his reward. We owe Seto big time."
I smiled at Yugi's best friend. "Any debts owed to Seto will have to be paid to Kaiba."
"Yeah, like he's ever going to collect. You know, I still like the little guy better. It's a shame we can't chuck back Kaiba, and keep Seto." He grinned at the look on my face. "It was just a thought. I didn't really expect you to agree," he said as he left the room with his friends. Only Shadi, I, and both versions of Seto Kaiba were left.
"Come here," Kaiba said harshly to Seto. His younger self left the window and came to stand in front of him.
"You need to see what you're in for," Kaiba said. He slowly unbuttoned his shirt and slid it off, exposing his chest and back to Seto's inspection. The burns were familiar. The scars were not. Kaiba stood there as expressionless as an underwear model as his younger self scanned his torso. Seto swallowed, but didn't flinch, until Kaiba said, "This is not the worst. You'll betray Mokuba. You'll try to kill him."
"Why?" he whispered.
"Because once Gozaburo suspects that Mokuba is what keeps you whole – you won't have a choice. You'll give up everything – even your love for Mokuba… even your sanity… even what little honor you've managed to hold on to – not that much will be left by then… rather than risk any harm coming to him. And by the time Gozaburo dies, it'll be too late. You'll have burned every bridge and there's no crossing back. The only thing keeping you alive will be Mokuba. You'll try to kill him for that. You'll be luckier than you deserve." He nodded in my direction, "Yami and Yugi together will save him. Don't worry, Mokuba will survive – far better than you. You'll have to live with the knowledge of your failure… your betrayal… knowing that you owe Mokuba's life to your rival – that he protected Mokuba when you would have killed him. For two years, every time you look into those crimson eyes, all you'll see is Mokuba screaming in terror… screaming your name in vain. It'll be like being caught in a continuous trap card, and it'll take you two years to find the right spell card to sweep it off the field."
Kaiba faced Seto… holding himself erect, ready to meet Seto's condemnation. I don't think I could ever tire of seeing Kaiba standing like that, facing his challenges. But Seto looked at him thoughtfully.
"But in the end… now… Mokuba's okay. He's happy, isn't he?"
It was not quite a question, but Kaiba answered it.
"I'm not the best person to gauge happiness, but, yes, I believe so."
"And Kaiba Corporation's weapons capabilities have been destroyed?"
"Don't kid yourself. The weapons we created will be killing people for years to come. But there will be no more. The cycle ended here."
"And when people hear the name 'Kaiba' they think of games, not death?"
"Except for the people who know me, yes."
"Did you keep your promises?" Seto demanded fiercely, impatiently cutting to the heart of Kaiba's hedged statements.
"As best I could. And I will go on keeping them. I swear it," Kaiba replied with equal earnestness.
Seto bowed, as if sealing a contract. "Then I would be honored to become you."
Kaiba re-buttoned his shirt as Mokuba and Kouma entered the room.
"Just think," Mokuba said as the door closed behind them, "In less than three years, you'll be Vice President of the new Kaiba Corporation."
"How will I be able to help him when everyone keeps saying I won't remember any of this?" Kouma wailed.
"Don't worry. You'll remember that he needs you. That's all that matters."
"I can do that. I promise," Kouma answered. "It's like we're two pieces on the same side of a chessboard. And the King has to look after his Knight too, because even if all the other pieces disappear, it's okay as long as we have each other."
Mokuba nodded, then stepped past his younger self and hugged Seto. "I'm so glad that I got to know you. And it was great having a Nisama that was even shorter than me."
"Am not!" Seto said automatically.
Mokuba looked over Seto's shoulder at his older, older brother. "And the next time we go to the motorcycle track, boy do you have a surprise coming! I can't wait for you to see all the new tricks you taught me."
Mokuba finally broke the embrace (I don't think Seto could have), and stepped back; tears standing in his eyes. Seto's were dry as he reached out to claim Kouma.
He led his younger brother to Shadi, then turned to Kouma and said, "It'll be okay. I promise that I'll protect…"
For the first time, Seto's voice faltered. I knew he would forget this all a minute later, but I couldn't let him leave like this. I had to offer both the men I loved a fragile peace; wondering which one would be able to hold onto it for longer.
"If Gozaburo hadn't known he could twist your heart, he never would have allowed Mokuba to remain alive, and a hindrance to his plans, any more than Akunadin would," I told them. "It all went horribly wrong, but you never broke faith because you made each decision putting Mokuba's welfare above your own. You gave up everything to keep him safe. And you won. You need to know that, Seto Kaiba – both of you."
I didn't see Seto's reaction. I was too busy looking for Kaiba's. His face was as impassive as ever, but almost imperceptibly, his shoulders had relaxed.
But it was Seto who answered.
"I haven't won anything – at least not yet. I have a job to finish before I can rightfully claim victory," Seto pointed out. He held Kaiba's gaze as he added, "I've got to go back. The game can't be played without a sacrifice."
"It never has, and it never will," Kaiba agreed, giving Seto his surprisingly gentle half smile.
Seto nodded and put his arm around Kouma's shoulders. He looked at Shadi and smirked. "You seem a bit slow on the uptake today, Ghost Boy. In case you missed it, that was your cue to make with the fireworks..."
Before Seto had quite finished his sentence, there was a blinding flash, and all too suddenly they were gone – as was Shadi.
I reminded myself that Seto was not dead. In his recklessness, steadfastness, and his pride… in his delight at his own cleverness… in his need to face every challenge as if he was as invulnerable as his dragons…he lived on in the man at my side.
Seto Kaiba had truly grown into his name.
"Why didn't he try to escape again?" I asked. It was easier talking about Seto in the third person.
"He won't get the chance. He'll arrive back at the mansion three hours too late. After Gozaburo had Kaeru and God knows how many others killed; after Gozaburo had discovered the lockets. He'll arrive back just in time for Gozaburo to realize how badly he was duped, and Gozaburo never took defeat easily. He'll forget that Seto's his only choice for his heir, he'll forget everything but that he wants revenge. He'll beat Seto within an inch of his life. It's a good thing the spleen is a non-essential organ – he's about to lose his," he spoke calmly, as if losing body parts was an everyday experience.
"It'll take Seto weeks to recover. And during all that time, he'll run his perfect plan through his mind over and over… trying to figure out what went wrong. And the only logical conclusion he'll come to, is that since he can't determine what went wrong, it's too risky to try again," Kaiba continued, still in the same cool voice, as if he wasn't talking about his own damnation. "It won't matter anyway. By then he'll have realized just how many people his weapons killed; just how many people died because he wanted a splendid future for Mokuba and himself. From then on… there's no going back. He'll know he has to stop Gozaburo or die trying. He'll realize that the only way out of his nightmare is to dive right into it… to become as much like Gozaburo as possible and beat him at his own game. Seto's off and running – and the road leads to Death-T."
I'd been massaging Kaiba's shoulders. Now my hands stilled, and I bowed my head into the curve between his shoulder blades. Kaiba had hugged this knowledge to himself; had spared me the realization of the enormity of what we were asking of him; had spared me having to endorse his decision; had spared me everything until it was too late for anything but regrets. He had been, in all ways, my true champion.
I was in love with the man, but I spoke to the boy who had vanished.
"Gods, Seto…" I whispered into his back, "I am so sorry."
Kaiba stiffened, and I realized that I had broken our final taboo. How often had the words, 'Are you daring to offer me pity?' fallen from his lips? Yet, how could I love Kaiba, without feeling, if not pity – then pity's cousins, grief and sympathy, for his life? In truth, my love was mingled with my sorrow at his damage; mingled with my joy at his strength, until I could no longer tell where one began and the other ended.
Kaiba had accepted my friendship. He had accepted my love. But compassion was the one gift that even Mokuba had never dared to offer. And it was time to see if Kaiba could accept from a lover what he would not from a brother.
"Did you learn nothing from our duel in the Kaiba Land basement?" I demanded. "Your life points cannot be diminished without my feeling their loss. You're not a dragon, although you have the heart of one. You're not an Elven warrior, although you have his moves, his wild grace. You are a man, and I love you. Is my love any the less because I love the pawn as well as the Knight?"
He shuddered. For a moment I was afraid he was going to throw me off; was going to reject what I was certain he would see as a tainted love. I thought he was going to hate me for it… and for a moment, so did he.
But if I had learned not to let my strength become my weakness, so too it seemed had Kaiba. He relaxed the proud shoulders he had held erect for so long. For the first time, he let himself lean on me.
"We both made promises last night," he said. "I meant every word. I will hold to my vows and I do not release you from yours." I didn't need to see his mouth to know that his lips had twitched somewhere between a smile and a smirk as he added, "Will that content you?" repeating my question of the night before.
"Always. Forever," I answered.
Without ending the embrace, with my arms still circling him, I moved so we were facing each other. He bent forwards until he was resting his head on top of mine. I could feel him relax into my hold. For the first time, I could feel the heaviness of his spare frame as he let me hold him up.
Kaiba looked down at me. His smile was gentle… wistful… but when he spoke his voice was as calm as ever, laced with detached amusement.
"So, why the long face?" he asked, "Haven't you learned yet that it's the future that matters? Whatever happened, has already happened. It's all in the past, now."
But he was still leaning on Mokuba and myself, as he let us lead him from the room.
Thanks to Clarity for volunteering to take on the long task of editing Déjà Vu. I appreciate your time and effort.
Thanks to Kagemihari for being Kagemihari.
Acknowledgement: I'd like to thank Kazuki Takahashi for creating such fascinating characters.
Title Note: I left my favorite author for last. I was tempted title this chapter 'The Return of the King' but I'm much too respectful of/intimidated by Professor Tolkien's 'Lord of the Rings' to borrow the name of the third book. Then I remembered that the title of 'The Hobbit' in the Shire was, 'There and Back Again,' which seemed oddly appropriate.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: You wouldn't think you could get writer's block doing Author's Notes, but you can – because part of me doesn't want to admit it's over. Also, it's easier to put words in other people's mouths (even Kaiba's), but it's hard to say what I'm feeling without sounding unforgivably sappy.
(God, I'm going to miss that 13 year old punk.)
I can't believe 'Déjà Vu' is over. It's strange to think that whatever I'm doing tomorrow, it won't be working on this story. It's been a long journey, and I'd like to thank everyone for taking it with me.
I think it's impossible to write without coming to care deeply about your characters… to the point where I sometimes felt silly, and wondered if I was losing all sense of proportion. So I can't say how much I appreciated hearing what people thought, or how touched I felt, realizing that other people cared about what was happening to Kaiba and Yami and Seto and Mokuba, too.
Writing can feel like such a solitary thing sometimes; like it's just you and a notebook (or later just you and your computer.) But thinking back over this last couple of years, I realized just how communal a process it's been. There were so many things that weren't in the original draft of the story, until people wrote in asking questions and offering suggestions and helping me see the story through fresh eyes.
Professor Tolkien once said that part of his aim in writing the 'Lord of the Rings' was to "try his hand at a really long story that would hold the attention of readers, amuse them, delight them, and at times maybe excite them or deeply move them." I'm a little shy of admitting: in a much more amateurish way – this was my aim, too. I wanted to write a long, seamless, ridiculously ambitious story – where everything tied together until the ending seemed inevitable – regardless of whether you used Shadi's or Kaiba's definition of fate.
I know Kaiba and Mokuba and Yami and Yugi are fictional characters, and borrowed ones at that – but they feel real to me. I wanted to leave them in a place where there was a sense they could go on with their lives without needing any further assistance (or interference) from me.
Writing Déjà Vu has been a wonderful experience. Thank you for reading it.
SPOILER WARNING FOR END OF MANGA AND DESCRIPTION OF NEXT STORY…
Future Announcements: I'm currently working on a new story (in addition to the ongoing 'There's no such flavor as Kaiba Light.') This new story begins the instant the manga ends and takes Kaiba, Yugi and Mokuba on an adventure to find Yami.
Of course, as a very wise and holy elf notes, seeking and finding are two different things…
Anyway, if you've enjoyed Déjà Vu, I hope you'll check it out when I begin posting. I hope to be ready to start in March or April.