He was hanging above an endless black chasm, just barely clinging to something above him. He could feel his hand rasping against a piece of wood as he struggled to hang on. His other hand clutched at someone else's, and he looked down to see her intense blue eyes looking up at him. Her face was pale with fear, and he could see strands of her hair clinging to her sweating face. Her expression was one of pure fear.
"Seto! Don't let go!" she begged. "Don't let me go!"
"I won't! Just hang on!"
He gripped her hand still harder, so hard he feared he would hurt her, but he knew he must not let her fall no matter what. His muscles screamed in pain at the effort involved with keeping himself and her suspended with only the strength of his hands and arms. He could feel her palm sweating, and his own as well. Her hand was slipping...
"Hold on! Please hold on!" she begged. There was an edge of tears in her voice now.
"I'm trying! Just don't let go!"
It was no use; her hand continued to slip. He gripped with all his might, but her hand slipped out of his like a bar of wet soap. He gasped and clutched futily at the place where she had been, but she was already plummeting away into the dark. She did not cry out at all, but only gazed up at him with eyes full of disappointment and reproach.
Seto awoke in darkness, gasping, sweat glazing his face and gluing his nightclothes to his skin. He reached for a bedside lamp to drive away the shadows, reassuring himself that he was not in some ancient Egyptian underground vault, but in his own lavishly appointed room, in his own soft four-poster bed, and that there was no danger of anyone slipping away into a bottomless abyss.
A quick glance at his clock showed him that it was a little after five in the morning - too early to do anything, but not early enough that it would be worth the bother of going back to sleep. He kicked off his blankets and shuffled into his bathroom to get a cup of water. He drank it slowly, concentrating all of his attention on feeling the coldness creep through his system and chase away some of the feverish heat the dream had sent through him. Sweat still plastered his hair to his forehead, and he took a moment to splash some cold water on his face, as well.
It won't be long before people are going to start worrying about me, he thought, looking critically at his expression in the mirror. It had been days since he'd had an uninterrupted night's sleep, and he was beginning to show it. There were dark shadows under his eyes - faint, yes, but visible to anyone who bothered to make a close inspection. Mokuba would surely notice; he noticed if his brother had so much as a hangnail. Normally, it would be easy enough just to tell him what was bothering him, but this time...
I would rather not talk about her. Kisara.
His lips moved silently, saying her name again. He was determined to use her name, no matter how uncomfortable, embarrassing, or even painful it was. He owed her that much.
It had been after that strange day when he had learned her name that these nightmares had started. So many strange things had happened that day that he was tempted to pass it all off as a bout of insanity, except that Yugi and the others remembered it, too. He had overheard them talking about it, when they thought he wasn't listening. It was true, too, that Yugi hadn't been the same since that day when his other self had walked off into the light. More than that, Kaiba had to believe it was real because he was experiencing it for himself. When the Pharaoh's memories had been released, some of his had come back as well, memories that would have remained buried in the depths of his soul all his life. They crept up on him in his idle moments, triggered by some sight or scent, or by a snatch of music, and suddenly he would find his mind's eye full of dusty streets and busy marketplaces, watching ceremonies long forgotten and listening to a language that his mind shouldn't have understood but his soul did. Thankfully, most of them were easy enough to ignore. They were blurry, like the memories of his distant childhood, more emotion and visceral feelings than true memories. He didn't have to think about them too hard.
The downside to this was that his memories of Kisara were likewise blurry, and he did not want to forget her. Kaiba respected loyalty, and he couldn't help but feel he owed something to the girl who had laid down her life for his past self... the girl who had become the Blue-Eyes White Dragon. Her spirit had been watching over him from across the eons. He had arrogantly assumed all this time that he had come to possess those three cards because of his own superiority, and had even torn one to shreds, never thinking that they were his only because a young girl he wouldn't have given the time of day had died for him.
And what have I done to pay her back for it? Nothing.
Well, of course he could do nothing! It was only a week ago that he had even discovered she existed. Anyway, she had died three thousand years ago, and there was nothing he could do about that now. Nothing he could do except try to hold on to a memory that was already slipping through his mind the way water would slip through his fingers.
He went and sat down on the edge of his bed, but he didn't bother to try to sleep again. Instead, he picked up his deck from where it lay and began shuffling through it. One by one, he drew out the three Blue-Eyes White Dragon cards and laid them on the blankets in front of him. Their foil surfaces glittered slightly in the lamplight. Seto had often thought that they were the epitome of beauty, but... things were different now. He'd seen the real thing in battle, not just a picture or a hologram. Nothing else came close. And even the original Blue-Eyes was only a part of something greater. With a sigh, he put all the cards away again.
What to do?
He lay down on the bed and let his mind wander. One hand toyed with the necklace he wore, even in sleep: the locket that held the picture of his brother. He flicked the locket open and shut, open and shut, listening to it click. He wished suddenly that he had something like this for her, something he could hold in his hand to look at and remind himself of what she had done for him.
Click. Click. Click. Click.
Seto sat up suddenly as an idea locked itself into place. He knew exactly what he was going to do, and how to do it. The only problem was, he was going to need a bit of help, because much as he hated to admit it, it wasn't something he could do on his own. Even more disagreeable, there was only one person on Earth who could do what he wanted, and it wasn't someone he liked. Not that there were many people he did like, but asking this one for help was going to be particularly mortifying. He sighed. Might as well do it now, before he lost his nerve. He reached for a telephone and looked up a number. As the phone rang, he smiled. If nothing else, he'd have the satisfaction of waking up an old rival at six in the morning. Even as he was thinking that, he heard someone pick up on the other end.
"Hello!" sang a cheery voice on the other end. "What can I do for you this lovely morning?"
Seto blinked. "How can you sound so happy at a time like this?"
"Oh, Kaiba-boy! I haven't heard from you in ages! How splendid. Just couldn't stand to be apart anymore, could you?"
"Believe me, Pegasus, I wouldn't so much as look at a picture of you if I could help it," Kaiba replied. "Unfortunately, I can't think of anyone else who can do what I need done."
"Oh, really? Is that so? What on earth can you want?"
"I want you to paint a portrait."
Pegasus laughed. "You're asking the wrong person. Flattered as I am, there are other painters in the world. Get one of them."
"I can't. If I could ask someone else, do you think I'd be talking to you? You're the only one who can do it right."
"Then it will have to go undone. You must understand that I simply do not paint anymore - not for you or anyone else. I'm retired. I don't even do the Duel Monsters cards anymore, so if that's what you want..."
"It's not like that," said Kaiba. "Look, I'll pay any price you name."
"Cost is not the object. Do you think I'm lacking in funds just because I've stepped away from my company for a while? I already have enough that I could never spend it all even if I tried."
"It doesn't have to be money. I said any price you ask."
"Really?" Pegasus sounded slightly more interested. "You are aware, I hope, that any is a strong word."
"I mean it. As long as it won't harm my brother or do me or my company any lasting damage, I'll pay whatever you want, if it's in my power."
"I see. Would you, for example, give me back the Blue-Eyes White Dragons?"
Kaiba paused for a long time. "I might. If you did a good enough job."
"Oh, really? How fascinating. This must be quite the portrait you want. Who is it you want a portrait of, anyway? Is it anyone I know?"
"No," said Kaiba, "nor are you likely to. She is... no longer here."
"You mean dead."
There was another long pause. Kaiba drummed his fingers on the bedside table.
"Are you still there?" he demanded.
"I am intrigued," said Pegasus softly. "I admit, I am highly intrigued. This is a mix of elements too interesting to turn away from. It's lucky for you I have no pressing engagements. Have you any photographs to work from?"
"No," said Kaiba. "Nothing but my memories."
"Ahh," Pegasus said. "Very well. I'll take the job. Come 'round to my place tomorrow and we'll work something out."
"Tomorrow? I have a meeting tomorrow."
"Cancel it. You said any price I ask, and part of the price is that you work on my time. I'm not going to hang about and twiddle my thumbs waiting to do you a favor."
"All right, all right. Tomorrow it is."
"Lovely. I'll dust off my easel then. Ta-ta, Kaiba-boy. See you then."
There was a click, and Kaiba was holding a dead reciever. He shrugged; that had gone off better than he'd thought it would. Ah, well, there were still a few more minutes before he was expected to get up and do anything. Feeling much more at peace in his mind, he lay down his head, and quickly dropped back to a dreamless sleep.
The next day, Kaiba had rescheduled his board meeting and replaced it with a flight to America. He spent most of the flight looking out the window at the neverending ocean and wondering just what he was getting himself into. What had seemed perfectly sensible in the moments after a five A.M. nightmare looked a bit different under the light of the sun. The only thing that really steeled him to go along with it was the idea of Pegasus laughing at him for being such a coward as to be unable to face him again.
Not that he won't laugh at me anyway, he thought bitterly, watching the waves roll away beneath him. I must have sounded so completely pathetic, calling him up and practically begging for his help. But he's the only one with the connection to the Duel Monsters. It wouldn't be right to hire anyone else.
Perhaps this could count as penance, of a sort? Certainly having to deal with Pegasus was punishment of some kind.
His Blue-Eyes White Jet touched down gently on the outskirts of Pegasus's garden, disturbing a few flowers as it settled into place. Evidently, the staff had been expecting him, because he was greeted by a suited and sunglassed man who Kaiba dimly remembered was called Crocketts.
"Mr. Kaiba," he said with a bow. "Welcome. Pegasus is already waiting for you in his studio. Shall I escort you?"
"Fine, fine," said Kaiba. "Let's get this over with."
He was led through the halls of Pegasus's manor until he finally arrived in a strikingly plain room. It had little in the way of furniture, only a pair of wooden chairs, an easel, and a small table that had been grouped together into the center of the room. There was a faint scent of turpentine on the air, and a few dusty-looking old canvasses were stacked in a corner. Everything else was bare, from the plain wood floors to the unadorned walls. Kaiba took a few steps into the room, feeling oddly hesitant. A guess told him that this was the room where the Duel Monsters cards had been brought to life. Everything from the weakest monster to the God Cards themselves had been reborn in this place...
"Well, there you are!" said a voice. "I've been waiting for hours. And here I thought you were an early riser."
Kaiba grimaced a little. He hadn't realized that the room was occupied until he'd heard someone speak. Now he finally saw Pegasus, half-hidden behind his easel. He supposed he could be forgiven for his mistake; Pegasus seemed to have eschewed his normal flamboyant mode of dress, and was wearing a worn-looking shirt with signs of paint stains on its sleeves.
"Unlike some people," Kaiba replied, "I have important things to do, on occasion."
Pegasus smirked. "Isn't it lucky for you I don't have anything important to do anymore? If I did, you would not be getting a painting. You still might not, if you aren't nice to me."
"Get real. I'm not nice to anyone, especially not you."
"Then maybe I'll settle for interesting. Can you do interesting? I only took this job because I was bored, and I shall be frightfully disappointed if you can't do anything but grouse."
"What do I look like, a court jester? I'll pass, thanks - we don't need two fools in this room."
"Oh, so you have learned some new insults! This might just be fun, after all."
Kaiba rolled his eyes in exasperation. Obviously there was no chance of talking to Pegasus as if he were a sane human being. He decided to resort to shock tactics.
"I saw your other eye last week," he said.
That had the desired effect. Pegasus's foolish expression went to one of shock, and then curiosity.
"Really? How on earth did that happen?"
"Somebody gave it to me," said Kaiba with a casual shrug. "He told me I'd need it to join in some kind of game."
"I see... I suppose you don't still have it."
"Not anymore," said Kaiba. "It's been destroyed, I think. I think all of those Items were."
"Ahh." Pegasus closed his remaining eye and sighed a little. "I suppose it's all for the best. If I'd ever gotten it back, I might have been tempted to do something foolish."
"So what else is new?"
"There is a world of difference between playing the fool for an intelligent reason, and being foolish for a bad reason," Pegasus retorted. "I should know. I've done both."
"I ought to write this down."
"Why are you telling me all this, anyway? Are you saying that Seto Kaiba the skeptic has become a believer in the powers of magic?"
"I didn't say that," Kaiba replied. "I will say, though, that I've seen some things that make me think."
"A rare occurrence, that."
Kaiba shot him an icy glare. Pegasus shrugged.
"You walked into it," he said.
"Humph," said Kaiba. "Anyway, it was the game that brought me here. If it was really a game. The reason I was given the Millennium Eye was so that I could learn the truth about the connection between myself and the Blue-Eyes White Dragon."
"I did. And that is why I am here. I've seen the original Blue-Eyes White Dragon from the distant past."
"I begin to understand," said Pegasus. "Many of the original cards were based on monsters of the human spirit. Knowing that, shall I deduce the exact reason why you are here?"
"Knock yourself out."
"In that case, I surmise that what you want is a portrait of the girl whose soul supplied the Blue-Eyes White Dragon... and that is why you've come to one of the few people on Earth who would actually believe you."
"That sums it up. So, can you do it, or do you only know how to draw monsters?"
"Of course I can do it! I'll have you know there was a time when I spent most of my time painting portraits, including a good many studies of the female figure. So there. You just tell me what to paint and I will paint it."
He pointed at the chair in front of his easel, and Kaiba, not knowing what else to do, took a seat.
"Make yourself comfortable," said Pegasus, tearing off the top sheet of paper from his sketch pad to reveal a fresh one. "This could take a while."
"What am I supposed to do?" Kaiba asked. "You're supposed to be drawing her, not me. Why do I have to sit here?"
"Because just as I am the only one who can paint this picture, you are the only one who knows what it ought to look like when it's done. You're going to sit there and tell me what I need to know."
"Ah," said Kaiba. He hadn't given a lot of thought as to how exactly he was going to get this picture from his memory to the canvas. "Well... she was..."
Pegasus waved a hand. "Don't even bother trying to tell me what she looks like. When I want to know what she looks like, I'll ask. Tell me what she is like."
"Loyal," said Kaiba. "Absolutely loyal, no matter what. Even if it meant facing certain death, she would stand by someone she cared about."
"That's more like it. You just keep talking like that. And tell me, what color were her eyes?"
"Blue," he said promptly. "As blue as the eyes of the Blue-Eyes White Dragon."
There was a soft scratching sound: Pegasus had begun to make the first marks on his clean white paper. Taking a bit of encouragement from this, Kaiba began, slowly and falteringly, to relate his experiences in the game world, beginning with waking up and finding himself in an alley, directly in the path of an oncoming blue-eyed girl. It was difficult, at first, to relate something so personal to someone else, especially someone he actively disliked, but he gradually relaxed. It helped that there was an easel in between himself and Pegasus, so that he was only talking to the back of the sketchpad. He told everything he could remember, both from the game he had witnessed and these new, puzzling memories that had been surfacing ever since, the ones he knew belonged to his past self. No matter what he said, Pegasus offered no comments on the story. His only interruptions were to ask the occasional question: "Was her hair short or long?" or "What would you say the shape of her face was?" or then again, "Would you say her nose was more straight or curved?" These questions, casually inserted into the narrative, coaxed out details that Kaiba never would have found the words to describe on his own.
This might just work, he thought, as he wound closer to the end of his story. He might just have it in him to make this work...
"...So then he attacked directly, and she stepped in to take the hit," Kaiba continued. "There was nothing I could do to stop her. I couldn't save her." He took a deep breath, trying to steady his voice. "She died in my arms."
Kaiba stopped talking, partly because he was uncomfortable with the emotion of his narrative, and partly because he'd realized that Pegasus had stopped sketching.
"What's your problem?" demanded Kaiba irritably.
"It's nothing," said Pegasus. He sounded a touch hoarse. "It is only that I haven't done this kind of thing in a while. My hand is cramped. Give me a moment."
Kaiba waited impatiently while Pegasus did whatever he was doing behind his protective screen. He heard a sharp intake of breath that might have been called a sniffle, if anyone could believe that Pegasus was capable of such a thing.
I highly doubt he's been moved to tears over my plight, thought Kaiba. More likely it's the fumes in this room. The smell is enough to give me a headache.
"Anyway, I believe I've got a rough sketch worked out," said Pegasus, sounding a bit more collected. "Have a look, if you like."
Kaiba got up, trying not to wince at the stiffness in his legs. Sitting on the hard, uncushioned seat had left him feeling numb from the waist down. Nevertheless, he managed to stride over to the other side of the easel to have a look. The paper that had once been white was now covered in a collection of gray and black markings, and out of those marks peered a pair of soulful eyes.
"It's her!" he exclaimed, in one of his more inarticulate moments. "Kisara..."
"I believe that is what we were trying to do here, yes," Pegasus said. "I take it this satisfies you?"
"I made the right choice," said Kaiba. "I don't know how you pulled it off, though."
Pegasus chuckled softly. "There is a knack to reading minds. I am not as good as I once was, but I can still manage a few tricks. There isn't nearly as much in people's minds as you would think."
Kaiba didn't deem this double-talk as worthy of his attention. He turned back to the sketch, trying to imagine how it would look when it was rendered into a real portrait.
"How long will it take to finish?"
"Give me about a week to spruce it up a bit. I'll drop it off at your place as soon as it's done."
"Fine." Kaiba began walking away. "One week."
"I don't suppose it crossed your mind to say thank-you."
"I'll thank you when you're done. If I decide you deserve it."
"Well, see if I ever invite you over again! And I was going to offer you cookies, too."
"Forget it," said Kaiba, and left the room.
On the flight home, all he could think about was the end of the week, when he would have his picture.
Five days had passed, and Kaiba had immersed himself in his work. At the moment, he was busy reviewing the progress reports for one of his theme parks in America, trying to decide whether or not it would be profitable to purchase some unused land nearby and use it to create an extension to it. He was interrupted by one of his servants.
"Sir," he said, "there is someone here to see you."
"I'm busy. Make them go away."
"He said you would see him no matter what you were doing. He's carrying a suspicious- looking package, so we're holding him at the front gate. What do you want us to do with him?"
"A package, did you say?" asked Kaiba, suddenly interested. "Would it be long and flat, like a painting?"
"Yes, sir. Were you expecting something?"
"Send him in. Get him in here now!"
The servant bowed. "Yes, sir. Right away."
He vanished, and a moment later, Pegasus himself arrived, brushing at his sleeves in a pointed effort to show what he thought of being manhandled by suspicious servants. There was indeed a cloth-wrapped bundle tucked under one arm, and Kaiba eyed it eagerly.
"Your people have no manners at all," said Pegasus. "Didn't you tell them I was coming?"
"I thought you said you wouldn't be done for a week!"
"Yes, well... I was, shall we say, inspired. Anyway, it's done. Do you want to look at it?"
"No, I want to wrap it up and put it in the attic and save it for Christmas. Yes, I want to look at it!"
"There's no need to get unpleasant. I was merely trying to be polite."
Pegasus set the painting on an unused chair and began to undo the cords that held the cloth covering in place. Kaiba drummed his fingers on his desk, suspecting that the man was taking more time than necessary, to heighten the suspense. At last, the whole thing was unwrapped, and Pegasus drew the wrapping aside.
Kaiba sat up and stared.
There she was, exactly the way Kaiba remembered her, with her wispy white hair falling across her soulful blue eyes. Her mouth held just the slightest hint of a smile, as if she had just realized that everything was going to be all right, after all. He had been hoping for that. It was exactly what he'd wanted. What he hadn't expected was that there was a little addition to the image that had not been in the original sketch. He was in the picture, as well. It was hard to say if it was his Egyptian self or his modern one, but he was unmistakably there, looking back at her. Their hands were extended towards each other, almost but not quite touching.
"Do you approve?" asked Pegasus quietly.
Kaiba said nothing for a moment. Then he slowly turned around, walked toward his desk, and took his deck of cards from his drawer. He selected three of them and held them out towards Pegasus. Light glittered off their foil surfaces.
"And what is this?" Pegasus asked.
"It's what you asked for, isn't it?" said Kaiba irritably. "You asked if I would give you the Blue-Eyes if you painted the picture."
"I never said that was my price. I was simply trying to determine how badly you wanted this. Really, what would I do with the Blue-Eyes White Dragons? I don't play anymore. Besides, I could print up a thousand of them if I wanted them that badly."
"Then what do you want?" Kaiba demanded. "Say it! Name it and be done with it, so I can pay it and you can go away."
"Nothing," said Pegasus.
"Nothing. I won't ask for anything."
"You mean... after all that... I can't have it?" asked Kaiba. He felt a nasty wrench inside. He couldn't stand this; if this was how it was going to be, he would hunt Pegasus down and...
"I mean that I won't accept payment for it," Pegasus replied. "It is yours, free of charge."
"I owe you for that little, ah, misunderstanding on Duelist Kingdom, and that bit with the Leviathan. Take it and consider us even." He gave a mocking bow and turned around. "And don't ask for any more favors."
He sauntered off. Kaiba snorted a little and went back to admiring his painting. His hand traced the curve of her face and brushed across her brow, as if to push away the strands of hair that obstructed her eyes. Soon he was completely lost in contemplation.
Pegasus looked back over his shoulder and chuckled softly, deeply amused at the sight of the proud young CEO kneeling on a rug, gazing rapturously at a painting.
Look long and hard, Kaiba-boy, he thought. Admire her beauty. Long to hear the sound of her voice. Reach out to touch her and feel what it is to see but not to hold. After all... misery loves company.
With another soft laugh, he turned away and was gone.