I hold my younger brother close in alarm, stunned and perplexed and filled with horror. He is so shaken . . . so completely petrified as he clings to me, clutching at my shirt. This . . . this must have what Marik was dreaming about! What he had been so reluctant to tell us was that he was having night terrors about his father molesting him! But why would he dream about such a thing? Was it because of last month? That experience had left him so distraught. . . . But somehow, something is telling me that while what happened then may have triggered this, it wasn't completely responsible.
I stare at the blood dripping down the back of Marik's poor hand. It is obvious he broke the mirror in a fit of rage—or perhaps desperation. The shards are scattered all around us now, and I must take great cautions so that Marik does not cut himself on any of them. I am certain that Marik must have knocked those items off his shelf last night, instead of them simply falling. But I do not blame him. He has been suffering again, but attempting so hard to do it in silence. It shatters my heart. Marik does not deserve such things. Why can he not simply have peace?
"Let me see your hand," I tell him quietly after a moment, when his shaking has somewhat ceased. I know he still wants me to hold him—I can see it in his eyes and in the way he doesn't want to let go of me—but his wounds must be tended to before they become infected. Then I will continue to offer whatever comfort I can.
"You're seeing it," Marik retorts, allowing me to raise his wrist and examine the cuts on the back of his hand and his fingers. "But Rishid . . ." He swallows hard, something obviously on his mind. He doesn't seem convinced that I am telling him the truth of the matter. But perhaps he has reason to doubt, after Ishizu and I both withheld the knowledge from him that it was the evil one, his Yami, who had truly killed Ishizu's and Marik's father. "Rishid . . . what if it happened . . . and you never knew?" he whispers finally. So he does not believe I am keeping truths from him again! But this thought makes me pause. Why is he so intent on believing this happened? Or worse . . . what if it possibly . . . honestly . . . did?
I push that thought away before I entertain it too deeply. No! It did not happen to Marik. His father was a cruel, heartless man, but he hadn't molested his own son! I would have known if he had. Wouldn't I?
Carefully I turn on the water and hold Marik's hand under it for a moment, though he winces in protest. I smile slightly, patting it dry with a nearby towel, and then apply an antiseptic wipe. Memories of Marik as a child come to my mind as I do this. I see Ishizu and I both tending to various cuts and scrapes he had sustained from being too adventurous. He had always protested our attempts, saying he was quite well and didn't need to have the injuries sting from the cleaning. But we had always cleaned the wounds anyway, of course, and then would hold the boy close, making him forget the pain by telling him stories. If only it would be that simple now. If only I could take away this emotional pain of my brother's with just a short, fictional tale! "Why do you believe he did such a thing, Marik?" I ask him softly. "To my knowledge, he never did. I never believed he was the sort of person who would . . ."
"What is that sort of person, then, Rishid?" Marik responds forlornly. He doesn't wait for an answer. Instead he sighs, watching me clean his wounds with an almost blank expression. "I suppose you figured out that . . . I've been dreaming about it happening." He speaks matter-of-factly, but I can see the flicker of torment in his eyes.
"Yes," I reply quietly, glad to find that none of the cuts seem deep. But I bandage his hand lightly, sternly telling him with my eyes to leave the gauze on until the scabs have begun to form. When he was a child, Marik was always prone to remove the bandage before he should, complaining of it being too uncomfortable or too willing to provoke an itch. "Why didn't you tell us, Marik?" I have an idea as to why he kept his pain bottled up, but I want to hear it from him.
Marik looks down at the floor, studying his reflection in one of the larger mirror shards. "You already have so much to worry about, Rishid," he says sadly. "Halima . . . your birth father. . . . I didn't want to add to it all. And I know I don't remember Father ever . . . touching me like that. . . ." He swallows hard, trembling slightly at the memories from his dreams. "I must just be going crazy."
Instantly I look up, gently but firmly laying my hands on his shoulders. "No, Marik!" I say emphatically. "Your mind is very much intact." He had feared that his sanity was failing him after the incident with the zombie in the museum, but I had strived to convince him that such thoughts were absolutely not rooted in truth. He had been through something traumatic and couldn't be expected to just all of a sudden behave as he normally would. Now, if what happened then is making him dream of his father doing such abominations to him, he cannot think that it is because he is going mad!
"Then, why, Rishid?" Marik gazes at me, looking so broken and so helpless. Usually his voice rises in volume when he is greatly upset, but now he seems to have no strength to even begin to cry out. "Why do I have to keep being plagued like this?!" He gestures wildly in the direction of what is left of the mirror, but then his shoulders slump and his gaze falls. "And why," he says in a voice that I can barely hear, "why would I create such a delusion, Rishid? I don't see any logic in it. What if . . . what if it did really happen?" Then he tells me of the strange dream he had just before he had broken the mirror, of how he saw his younger self and spoke to him—and of what the younger Marik told him at the end of it.
I listen carefully, surprised and concerned. If Ishizu were overhearing, she would most likely say that it seemed almost a prophetic dream or a vision, something that wasn't just concocted from the depths of Marik's mind. But I myself am not certain. I don't want to admit that maybe for some reason, someone is trying to remind Marik of something treacherous that happened in his past. I don't want to admit that perhaps my brother has suffered things that not even I or Ishizu have ever known about. And I don't want to admit that perhaps his father was capable of doing such evils to a precious son he had already wronged greatly. It is too wicked a thought for me to even entertain.
"What's happening to me, Rishid?" Marik asks now. "What's going on? Either subconsciously something has been triggered that I myself haven't even remembered for years . . . or I'm off my nut. Those are the only explanations!" He grips at my shirt again, staring up into my eyes and pleading so desperately for a straight, concise answer. I can see the adoration of a younger brother in his eyes. He is longing for me, his elder brother, to be able to reassure him again and to put him at ease. But I am not certain how to do this. I am so saddened to admit it, but I do not know how to help my brother.
"You are not insane, Marik," I tell him again, firmly, once more gathering him into my strong arms. "Never think that! Your strength and your mental will have never ceased to inspire me. But now . . . I am afraid I don't know what the true answer is." I look at him compassionately, pain in my eyes for his pain. "We will find out, though," I add then. "I promise you, my brother, we will!"
Marik sighs, not looking convinced. And I do not blame him. For how, truly, can we find out? I am certain Ishizu knows nothing of the matter either, though of course I will speak with her about it. The man in question is dead and has been for five years. And I doubt highly that anyone else who lived in that underground city would know. What's more, the city itself is destroyed now because of Dr. Portman's bombs. The only way, it seems, that we could ever find out now is from Marik having more of these visions and then perhaps at last remembering whatever dark secrets are hidden in his mind and heart.
"It's hopeless, Rishid," Marik says aloud before pausing. Then he smiles a bit, having the first hint of peace that I've seen from him in a while. "But . . . there is one thing I do know for certain," he remarks, "and that's that you and Ishizu will stand by me, no matter what happens."
I smile as well. "Yes," I agree. "Always."
A shadow falls across the doorway and we both look up. Ishizu is standing there, looking concerned. She did not hear the mirror break, to my knowledge, so I am slightly curious as to her expression. She surveys the scene, taking everything in, and instantly comes to the conclusion that Marik has been distraught and that I have been trying to comfort him. Her eyes widen upon seeing the broken, blood-splattered glass across the floor. "What has happened in here?" she asks softly.
Marik sighs. "It's alright, sister," he replies. "I just . . . I was angry and I broke the mirror." He pulls away from me, trying to smile and show Ishizu that he's well.
Her gaze drifts to his bandaged hand. Slowly she steps closer, gently taking the hand in her own. "Marik," she whispers, "what is disturbing you?" I know how distraught she has been over our brother's obvious distress. But Marik will surely tell her, now that he's told me.
Marik looks down, letting Ishizu touch his injured hand. "Sister, I. . . ." He shakes his head, struggling for the right words. I lay my hand on his shoulder. Ishizu needs to know about this. I can see Marik is wanting to tell her, perhaps hoping that she knows the answer to his perplexities. He raises his gaze back up to hers again. "I've been having nightmares, Sister," he chokes out. "Nightmares . . . about Father. And . . . I'm afraid they're real."
Ishizu looks at him with the utmost compassion and understanding. "Marik, what is it?" she asks again, patiently, trying to encourage him along.
But before Marik has a chance to say anymore, a voice calls from downstairs. A familiar voice. "Odion?"
All of us freeze. Halima. . . .
Ishizu frowns. "That is right," she says, looking back toward the doorway. "She came a moment ago and I had her wait in the living room while I came to find you, Rishid. But when I saw . . . this . . . I forgot all about her presence." So that is why she looked distraught when she approached, I realize.
Marik also frowns, looking highly irritated. "What does she want?" he mutters. I remember that he didn't know she was planning to come today.
I sigh, hearing her call again. "To tell me more about myself," I tell him, trying not to sound as sarcastic as I feel. What could she possibly tell me of importance? I know perfectly well about myself. I know who I am and where I belong, things that for ages I was uncertain about. I am not a nameless servant. I have a surname now—the Ishtar name. Marik's and Ishizu's name. My name. I am their elder brother.
Ishizu pats my arm. "Perhaps at least she will volunteer useful information about your father," she suggests.
"He's a psychopathic nutcase," Marik retorts, heading for the door. "Not to mention greedy and not worthy to be Rishid's father." I can see he is more than slightly ruffled. He, indeed, bespeaks my own annoyance. As far as I am concerned, I have no true father. Both my adoptive father and now my biological father have proven to be cruel, wicked beings. An odd thought occurs to me as I and Ishizu follow after our younger brother.
We don't have any reason to celebrate Father's Day.
Bandit Keith stood at the corner of the street, leaning on a lamppost. The strange man had given him his first assignment—follow the Egyptian woman who would come to visit the Ishtar residence. It seemed a boring thing to do, and Keith didn't see the need for it, but his contact was very insistent on it being done. And so Keith was doing it.
He glared at the Ishtar home through his dark sunglasses. So the kid was living in a fairly ritzy neighborhood now, probably because of that sister of his. And while his former master was living it up, Keith was practically broke! Of course, that was mostly because he had been spending all his money on alcohol and even drugs at times, but Keith didn't look at it that way. Pegasus had destroyed his reputation, Marik Ishtar had mind-controlled him, and it was all leading to Keith breaking down. He couldn't stand it when someone got the better of him.
What he didn't realize was that really, he chose to let them get the better of him. He wouldn't have to react to things the way he did. But he did anyway.
He flicked a toothpick away into someone's nearby lawn. That woman had been in there for a long time now, it seemed to him. What was she doing? And who was she? The mysterious man hadn't explained any of that. Keith didn't even know his name. But he was promised both wealth and the revenge he desired if only he would assist in helping this person with his plans. So names could wait. Keith was desperate for his chance. And this man, who said that he eventually wanted Marik's older brother, had the perfect scheme for them to both get their desired ends.
Keith remembered how the tattoo face had always lingered around Marik, as if they were inseparable. If that man was taken from Marik, the boy would most likely be broken. Keith sneered to himself at the thought. Then Marik would know how it felt. And while Keith's contact did what he wished to the brother, Keith would set his sights on Ishizu. It hadn't been lost on him that she was a beautiful woman. And it had been a while since he had enjoyed the company of one.
"Soon," Keith growled, looking at the house again over the top of his sunglasses, "you're gonna have everything important to you taken away, Marik Ishtar. Just like what's been done to me!" He drew a pistol out of his belt and ran his hand over it, sneering to himself as he caught his reflection in the shiny black metal. He wouldn't use it right away. Maybe he wouldn't use it at all. But it intimidated people. He liked that aspect. He liked the feeling of being on the giving end of the intimidation instead of the receiving end. And he would intimidate Marik. He would break that punk's spirit so badly that he would wish he were dead.
Halima is waiting downstairs when we arrive. I stick my injured hand in the pocket of my black khaki pants, not especially wanting her to notice the bandages and wonder what happened. I'm not all that fond of her, but then, none of us really are. She abandoned Rishid, for Heaven's sake! And then she comes to him twenty-five years later with tales of how she was instructed by some stranger to leave Rishid by the well so that his father wouldn't find him. Maybe it's true. And then again, maybe it isn't. She could just be using Rishid's father as her excuse for being negligent. I wouldn't put it past her. She could even be working with the man!
"Hello, my son," she greets Rishid, seeming worry in her eyes. She greets me as well and I nod curtly in reply, seeing no need to do more.
"What is it you want?" Rishid growls, skipping all manner of greetings. Usually he is so polite. This tells me he's as irritated—or even more so—than I am and that his temper is wearing thin. I smirk slightly to myself. An angry Rishid is not something anyone should see, especially if they're on the receiving end of his anger.
Halima sighs, apparently realizing she isn't going to be getting a warm welcome. "Your father hasn't bothered you for the last month, has he?" she remarks quietly. Without waiting for an answer she continues. "He's about to strike again."
Rishid doesn't look impressed. "What makes you so certain?" he demands.
"Yes," I can't help but add. "Do you have access to his secret files and his mind? Or maybe he tells you his plans personally?" My eyes flash with the irritation I feel. "Maybe you're his special lackey, sent out to deliver messages to all his victims!"
Ishizu lays a hand on my shoulder, silently telling me to calm down and be quiet. We should allow her to speak, her eyes and gentle touch tell me. She may be bringing valuable information, no matter the reason for which she does so. But I see displeasure for Halima in her eyes as well. Not even Ishizu, with her mild psychic powers, can sense if the woman is telling the truth. And without the Millennium Tauk the chance of determining it is even slimmer.
"He was my husband for many years," Halima replies evenly, not seeming distressed by my comments. "I know how his mind operates." She looks at Rishid pleadingly, wanting him to tell her that he will at least consider what she's about to say. Then she reaches out, touching his arm. "Odion, I am afraid he is going to attempt abducting either you or one of your siblings and that he will try to brainwash you!"
Rishid jerks back at her touch and then freezes in sheer alarm at her words. He stares at her in disbelief, his golden eyes wide as he searches for any hinting of lies in her words. Ishizu and I are also staring. But Halima seems to actually be speaking the truth this time. The fear I see manifested in her eyes doesn't seem to be make-believe, though it could be fear that we'll find out she is lying. I clench my fists, forgetting to keep them both within the confines of my pockets.
"What would make him try that angle?" I snap. "And if he was going to take any of us, why would he bother with Ishizu or me? If he took Rishid and brainwashed him, he could just have him open the door to the treasures, which is what he claims he wants." Saying this leaves a bitter taste in my mouth, as I imagine poor Rishid truly being brainwashed, but it is a fact. If any of us were going to be taken, Rishid is the obvious choice. His father would have no logical reason to take Ishizu or me, unless he has other, hidden motives.
"Marik is right," Rishid speaks up icily, frowning at Halima. "Why would . . . that man try to take Ishizu or Marik?!" He can't manage to call him "father." And I can't blame him. That blasted maniac is a father only in the biological sense of the word. Actually, neither Rishid or I—or Ishizu—has ever had a real father, someone who was kind and loving and tried to help and guide us in the right paths. We did have a real mother, but I never even knew her.
Halima sighs, looking exhausted. "He may decide that, rather than trying to just abduct you immediately, Odion—Rishid—he would take one of your siblings, like last time, to lure you to him. Then he would go through with brainwashing you when you came, though he might then also brainwash whichever sibling he took, just because he felt like it." She looks down, rubbing the back of her left hand. Right now she looks like a frail old woman, but I don't have much pity for her. "Then," she concludes, "he would have not one, but two slaves to do his bidding. And there isn't much hope the third sibling would escape his clutches. If he actually gets the treasure, his greed will only increase all the more."
Rishid continues to glare at her, but I can see that in his eyes is now mainly anger for his father. Then he half-turns away, crossing his arms. "I will keep it in mind," is all he says. But I know Rishid well enough to know that not only will he keep it in mind, he will be on high alert for the next few days. While outwardly he will not seem to behave any differently, he will be boiling with anger inside and want to stop his father before any disasters can ensue.
Halima seems to realize she won't get any further with the subject. She looks at Ishizu, as if wanting confirmation that her warning won't go unheeded. Ishizu nods vaguely, her blue eyes firm in expressing that, Yes, we won't ignore what was told to us. And of course we won't. I don't intend to let anything happen to either Ishizu and Rishid. For now the memories that have been plaguing me are pushed to the back of my mind. My brother and sister are more important.
Now Halima seems to smile a bit. "I remember when you were born," she says to Rishid, a fond, almost motherly expression coming into her eyes. "It was a dark December night, twenty-five years ago, two days before Christmas." She pauses, as if checking the date for certain in her memory.
But Rishid, Ishizu, and I are all stunned speechless. Two days before Christmas would make it the twenty-third. And that's my birthday.