Warning: This chapter contains violence, not exceptionally graphic but more detailed than there has been thus far, including a detailed account of child abuse. Consider yourself warned. None of it is anything you wouldn't see in a PG-13 movie these days, though.
This chapter also has some new characters, in mention only. Nonetheless, I felt it necessary to list their name comparisons just to keep from getting too confusing.
Original Name (Dub Name)
Mutou Yugi (Yugi Moto)
Atem (Yami Yugi, this is his original Pharaoh name)
Isis Ishtar (Ishizu Ishtar)
Malik Ishtar (Marik Ishtar. I hate this Americanisation. It gives me crawlies.)
Pegasus J. Crawford (Maximillion Pegasus)
Chapter Three: The Guilt of Remembrance
Katsuya turned when a loud cry cut through the steady murmur of conversation. The scream broke off, only to continue again a breath later. He sighed and shook his head. "That's what he gets," he grinned, turning back to his comrades. "Stupid human."
"Hey, it's not like it's his fault," asserted the green-eyed young guard to his right. "He didn't ask to become her contracted servant or anything—he probably doesn't even know what it means."
"Oh-ho," chimed Arken from his place leaning against the exit door beside Ryou. "Do I detect a human-sympathizer in our midst, Ryuuji?"
The black-haired guard shook his head, waving off the accusation with one tanned hand. "Nah, nothing like that," he said easily. He narrowed his eyes slightly. "It's just…" He turned his emerald eyes on the closed doors and gave a melancholy grin. "…He's just like me."
Hiroto stifled a growl. "He is nothing like any of us," he hissed, voice a gravelly rasp. His narrowed eyes flashed scarlet as emotion surged through his psyche, and he clenched his hands into fists so tight his claws dug into the flesh of his palms. "He's a filthy, disgusting, idiotic human who spends his time killing us for sport."
Katsuya placed a hand on his friend's shoulder. "Hey, Hiroto, are you all right?"
The brunette batted away the offered hand and turned his back to his comrades. "I'm fine," he assured them darkly. "But I'll be a lot better when all this if over and that bastard is gone for good. We'll all be better."
Ryou sighed, lowering his head. "I wonder if that's true," he murmured.
The agony in his arm reached a crescendo and Seto's vision went momentarily white with pain. His voice broke and the scream caught in his throat as his lungs finally emptied; the hunter jerked back and his wrist tore free of Shizuka's hands.
He looked down at her with wide eyes—even the one he couldn't see through, the one that was still covered by a bloody patch and bands of gauze, went inexplicably wide. He gasped for breath, skin soaked with sweat, and as coherent thought returned he found that the girl was staring at him with eyes that were just as wide. She stared with obvious confusion and slightly-veiled fear, mouth open ever so slightly, just enough to give a flash of white teeth when she inhaled.
"I-It didn't—" She took hold of his wrist and kissed it again. This time there was no pain, no lances of fire running through his bones, nothing.
Seto blinked as the woman tried once more and then, defeated, let both his hand and her own drop. "Is that it?" he inquired, looking down at his wrist. The wound was still there, two small gashes angry red. He didn't feel any different.
Shizuka sunk down in her chair, eyes distant and expression bordering on frantic. "No," she whispered in reply. "Breaking a contract causes a physical break as well, a bone should have snapped." She shook her head, looking down at her wrist. She pulled away the fabric of her sleeve and Seto was shocked to see on her own porcelain skin wounds matching those he bore. "It didn't work, it didn't break." Her brow furrowed. "Maybe this is part of our terms and conditions. Maybe this is a requirement."
"Terms and what?" he inquired, arching one eyebrow in no little confusion. What she had said was beginning to sink in at last—the contract wasn't broken, meaning he was still as good as her slave. Under normal circumstances he would have attacked the young woman, but a flash of female screams through his memory held him back. It didn't make sense for her not to be able to break that contract, unless she was doing this on purpose.
Seto gave her another glance and decided that this had not been her intention; the fear and surprise in her eyes were too genuine, the shaking of her fingers as she held them to the aching wound on her wrist too real. She didn't know what was happening any more than he did.
Shizuka took a deep breath, closing her eyes and holding her hand to her head. "Please leave for now," she said. "Go back to the infirmary and recover; I'll summon you again when you're well. At that time we will try again."
The hunter nodded weakly, turning to walk out in a daze. He was a Vampire's servant and not even the Vampire knew how to fix it. He was trapped, trapped as he had never been before, this time by bonds of his own creation. He had agreed to this, he had done this by his own choice. Now he wasn't permitted to turn his back on that decision.
He opened one door and stepped out, eyes downcast. The quiet hum of conversation died instantly, and he felt all eyes rooted on him. The man with green eyes was the first to speak. "Hey, are you sure you should be wal—" he broke off, looking the hunter up and down. He stared in silence for a long moment. "You…You don't have any broken bones."
"What?" that was Katsuya, stepping forward and shoving his comrade aside to examine the hunter himself. His brown eyes widened when he realized the black-haired young man was right.
Seto lifted his eyes at last and shrugged. "No, I don't," he replied simply, his voice unreadable.
The head guard took a shaky breath. "But—"
"It didn't work," the hunter explained. "It just…didn't work."
With that he continued on his way, walking past the three trenchcoat-wearing figures to reach the door. He heard a low growl from one of them—the voice was one he barely recognized, meaning it was probably the brown-haired Vampire displaying such rage.
Seto was barely a meter from the door now, and reached out so he would be able to open it the minute he was in reach. A voice behind him hollered, "Hiroto, no!" and Seto found himself slammed to the floor by strong, claw-tipped hands.
Ryuuji and Katsuya turned to Hiroto as the growl deep in the back of his throat intensified, his eyes glowing bright scarlet as he ground his inhumanly sharp teeth. The man in the brown trenchcoat curled his clawed hands into fists and bent his legs at the knees, as though tensing for a jump. "Sully Shizuka-dono, will you?" he hissed. "Taint her with your filthy blood…"
"Well I'll taint you with your own filth!" The young man leapt up, surging forward in an obvious attempt to tackle the retreating hunter.
"Hiroto, no!" screamed Katsuya.
But it was too late—the brown-haired vampire was on the young man in an instant, claws digging deep into flesh, ripping bandages and clothes to shreds with a single swipe of his razor-tipped hands. Beneath him, the hunter struggled to move, to pull away, to defend himself, but in such a wounded state already there was nothing he could do.
Ryuuji and Katsuya rushed forward, trying to pull the guard off the human, but to no avail. He continued to avoid their hands and tear free when they at last found hold of his thrashing form. "You filthy, bastard of a human! How dare you even touch her!" he roared, voice so deep it could never possibly be called human. His claws dug so deep into his flesh his fingers were buried up to the first joint, scraping bones and tearing muscle with each move. "How dare you hurt her! How dare you—how dare you—how dare you!"
Katsuya jerked backward as Hiroto hit him in the face, the blow so hard it sent him sprawled out on the floor; the bronze-haired Vampire reached up to wipe away the fine trail of blood running down from his lip and ground his teeth. He took a deep breath, threw back his head and yelled. "Arken! Ryou!"
So suddenly no one could be sure where they had come from, the two white-haired young man appeared on either side of the berserk Hiroto. Ryou let out a cry and reached out, slender hands taking instant hold on the Vampire's arm, as Arken did the same on his other side. They moved in unison, pulling the bloodstained brunette off the gasping hunter and dropping him on the floor.
Arken glared down at the man, eyes burning bright blue with rage. Ryou, too, looked down with narrowed eyes that glowed from within, still brown nevertheless. "Idiot!" Arken growled. Ryou completed the admonition. "Do you realize what you've done!"
Hiroto looked between the two impossibly strong men and shook his head. "I-I was just…I couldn't…" he sighed and cast his brown eyes downward. "I couldn't hold back…"
Ryou slanted the head guard a look. "Katsuya-san," he said softly, his voice filled to the brim with constrained rage, "go check on the Mistress."
Katsuya's eyes widened and he shot to his feet. This couldn't be happening, the contract could have settled, she could be all right—
He threw open the door and found his sister, sitting in her chair, staring down at her hands. Her wide eyes were filled with tears, but those twin trails of blood looked minute in comparison to the gashes and lacerations that ran up the length of her body. Her white shirt was soaked and clung to her body like a second skin, this one crimson and reeking of Vampire blood.
"N-Nii-san…" she squeaked, turning her amber eyes from her hands to him in complete confusion. She struggled to rise from her chair, but the motion caused her to grind her teeth and bite back a cry of pain. Jounouchi Shizuka collapsed forward onto her desk.
Seto struggled to rise, to push himself up, but the only answer his body gave to his inquiry as to whether he could move was screaming pain that ran up his entire figure. He clenched his eyes shut and choked back a scream, automatically rolling onto his side and curling up into a ball.
Human reflexes are amazing, he thought. They aren't fast enough or strong enough to fight off a monster that I know is right behind me, but they're programmed to make me look like an infant when I'm in pain. Wonderful.
"You shouldn't try to move," came a soft voice to his left. His opened his single usable eye and struggled to see; the faint flash of white and black that obscured his vision proved that it was most likely Arken. The young hunter let out a sigh of relief as the white-haired warrior reached down to brush his bloodied hair back from his face—Arken had helped care for him before, there was no reason to be afraid of him. "Come on kid," the man said, the distinct sound of a smile in his voice, layered with an unnamable form of sorrow. "We'd better get you back to the infirmary."
Seto found himself lifted up, one of Arken's arms hooked under his legs and the other around his shoulders. "Ryou," called the lankier young man, "you take the Princess." The steady rhythm that followed this command, bumping Seto up and down, was most certainly the man walking, but Seto never felt the cold bite of outside air. Not even after what seemed like a short eternity and Arken laid him down in a bed, placing a hand on his head and whispering a short series of words that commanded him to sleep.
The young hunter did.
Ryou stepped out from behind the curtain with his eyes closed, exhaustion etched clearly into his features. He was wiping off his scarlet stained hands on a piece of white cloth, turning the alabaster to garnet. He gave a smile in the direction of the gathered group—Arken, sitting at the hunter's bedside, Katsuya, Ryuuji, Mazaki and the young Rebecca. "She's going to be all right," he assured them with a smile. "She's lost a lot of blood, but that's nothing a couple good drinks won't fix." He turned his eyes on his other charge, and cast a questioning look at Arken.
"Oh, he's going to be fine," he said easily. "The wounds were easy to clean and easier to dress—Princess took the brunt of it, anyway. By morning all he'll have is bruises." He grinned broadly, but the darkness in his eyes proved that he still held a great concern. Ryou, being who and what he was, understood immediately and stepped to one side, gesturing for his partner to go see the young Vampire woman.
Arken practically jumped to his feet and rushed past his slightly-smaller companion. Out of everyone on the estate, no one worried more about Shizuka than Arken and Katsuya, but Ryou couldn't permit the guard to see his sister just yet.
"Hiroto-san?" he queried of the head guard.
Katsuya cast his brown eyes downward and shook his head. "Back in his room," he replied. "Ryuuji's taking care of him now."
Ryou nodded in understanding. "And who's next?"
"Me, then Arken, then you. Rebecca said she'll go last, but she wants a turn too."
"Don't forget me," Mazaki warned. Her blue eyes glowed dangerously—she was clearly more than just upset by this recent turn of events. "As soon as you're done, Ryou, that jerk is mine. I don't care if he went berserk—he caused that much pain to Shizuka-chan and he's sure as hell going to pay for it."
Rebecca sighed. "He sure is. Even Rafael and Valon are going to want a piece of this one." She narrowed his eyes. "Heck, maybe I should send a letter to Lord Pegasus and Lady Cecilia so they can come have a go at it, too."
Ryou actually chuckled at that. "Well, as interesting as that sounds, I think it's time we got to bed; I do have an errand for you, though, Rebecca-chan." He turned to Mazaki, then Katsuya. "You two can see her, but I think we should all be in bed pretty soon—it's almost six o'clock."
The guard and the messenger nodded, and the rest of the group filed out. Katsuya waited, but Mazaki gestured for him to go first. "You're family," she said with a smile. "You should talk to her."
He gave a grateful smile and stepped past the curtain just as Arken brushed past. The white-haired man took hold of the guard's arm and held him immobile just long enough to whisper into his ear. "She's pretty roughed up, Katsuya. Don't overreact."
The blond nodded and Arken released, walking past Mazaki with a smile as Katsuya took a seat past the curtain at his sister's bedside.
Arken was right—she was pretty roughed up. Her face, her arms, her neck; everything was covered in bandages. What hurt the young man the most, however, were the bands Ryou had placed around her eyes. Katsuya knew it was only to make sure she didn't come in contact with any bright light that could disturb her sleep, but it was unsettling nonetheless.
The young man sighed deeply. "Hey Nee-san," he said quietly. "Listen, Hiroto's in trouble for what he did, you can finish off the punishment whenever you wake up…" He swallowed thickly, his mouth dry. "I don't think I can handle this, Nee-san. Seein' you like this…it's like Ryuzaki all over again. I hate it. And it's all because o' some stupid human you were forced t' make a contract with. If he'd never've showed up, you'd be all right. Hiroto wouldn't o' been such an idiot."
He lowered his eyes, heaving another sigh. "But then, if he'd never've showed up, then those rônin would've taken you away, huh? Then you wouldn't be here with us anymore at all, wounded or not." He shook his head. "He saved you, I know that, but I'm still not happy t' have him here. When you wake up, Nee-san, could you tell me why the contract didn't break? Could you tell me why he's still here, sleepin' in the bed next t' yours? Why you chose someone that put you in a hospital bed again, after we thought you'd never have to after your surgery?"
Katsuya blinked and raked a gloved hand across his stinging eyes. "Dammit, Shizuka. You could've chosen one of us. We've stood by you through everything, contracted or not. I know, findin' him was hitsuzen, some sort o' preordained destiny. But what kind of destiny forces you to take in a perfect stranger? A hunter that's been killin' our kind for fun?" She shook his head. "I just don't get it, Nee-san. I don't get it at all."
"It's so bright out that I have to send a human, but Ribbon and Mana won't be up for another hour or so," Ryou explained carefully. He gave the little girl a slip of white paper and a black card with a number and name clearly printed on it in gold, and she surveyed them thoughtfully as he explained what to do. "You have your Jounouchi Estate certification card, right?"
She nodded, fishing through her pocket until she produced the white card. White, meaning she was human. The Vampires all had black ones, with varying color text to denote their rank, while Arken and Ryou both hand cards of grey—Ryou's with white print, Arken's with black. "All right, you need to show that to the woman at the desk, then the black card I just gave you, then ask for what I wrote for you here." He touched the paper again.
"Two pints, fresh, AB negative," she read aloud.
Ryou nodded, standing straight once more. "Now before you remind me that Shizuka-dono doesn't like drinking human blood, I know. However, the fact remains that her recovery will be excruciatingly long if she continues to sustain herself on deer blood, and she cannot afford that—not with what's happening in the world right now."
Rebecca nodded, reaching up to push up her glasses when they slipped. "All right. When I get back do you want me to have Mana heat it up?"
Ryou shook his head. "When Arken gets up at four he'll do it." He smiled weakly, baring teeth. "Mana tends to burn things."
The blond nodded in understanding, then turned toward the door. "I'll be back as soon as I can," she said. With that she hurried off, opening the door just a crack—not enough to let any of the pale sunlight leak in—and slipped out. Ryou let out a relieved sigh as the door clicked shut behind her.
"Just like old times, huh Shizuka-chan?" Mazaki Anzu said softly, leaning her elbows on the girl's bed. "Except last time it was just your eyes that were bandaged, this time it's everything." She closed her blue eyes and shook her head. "I'm really sorry about what Honda-kun did to you, Shizuka-chan. I still can't believe he went berserk like that."
Mazaki hadn't seen the handiwork of a berserker in a long time; not in over a decade. Looking at Shizuka now, in the same state her contracted servant had been after the attack from Haga, made the girl's eyes sting and her heartbeat quicken all over again. It had been bad enough to lose Ryuzaki, now she could lose Shizuka, too. Both her best friends, lost forever because of some idiot Vampire's rage.
"I can't believe anyone who would willingly choose this life," she muttered, raking a long-fingered hand through her deep brown hair. "I just don't understand why we keep doing this."
"B-Because," came a raspy voice. Mazaki started and looked at the young Vampire as she reached up to her face and tugged away the bands over her eyes. "Because we're Vampires, Anzu-chan. Without our servants, we're alone."
Mazaki shook her head, blue eyes stained red with tears. "You were never alone, Shizuka-chan. We've all always been here for you."
Shizuka let out a weak breath. "You were alone," she replied. "You're more alone now that Ryuzaki's gone than you were before you found him."
"You are," Shizuka asserted, closing her amber eyes once more and settling in for further sleep. "And now that I know what it feels like to have someone like that, I can see that I used to be alone, too. "
Mazaki placed a hand over the girl's eyes. "You," she said simply, "will never be alone." She sighed. "Go back to sleep, Shizuka-chan."
The wounded Vampire did.
The woman shakes her head slowly, then with growing vehemence as the words of the man in the white coat sink in. "But…but she's only a child! Barely twelve years old!"
The man sighs and lowers his head apologetically. "I'm sorry, ma'am, but the test results clearly state that your daughter—"
"How long does she have?" the woman inquires darkly, raking a hand through her short blond hair. The man is silent for a long moment. "Doctor?"
He sighs again. "With this kind of condition it's hard to tell. It could be a year, six years, or six months. She's fading fast, Miss Jounouchi—I'd guess she'll be completely blind by the time she's fifteen."
That seems to shake the woman even more, and she casts tear-filled eyes on the girl lying in the bed beside her. The girl's auburn hair has been cut short just for this visit—it was in the way at the last examination, and both the woman and her daughter decided it would just be easier to cut it for next time. It would grow back.
"Is there anything we can do?" she asks softly, brown eyes rooted on her child. "Any medication she can take?"
The doctor shakes his head and looks at the girl as well. "I'm afraid not, Miss Jounouchi." He is sadden by the girl's short hair—he remembers last time she came, when it fell in silky locks to her tailbone. She has sacrificed it only to find out there is nothing to be done. Nothing that's certain, in any case. "The only thing we could do would be surgery, and even that is rarely used. The method is still relatively unproven, there's no telling if it would work or not."
The woman swallows heavily. "How much?" she asks.
"Miss Jounouchi?" He knows her annual income, and that most of that is poured into the amber bottles her husbands finds solace in. There is no way she can afford this procedure without doing something drastic and foolish. From the look in her eyes, she knows this as well.
"How much does that surgery cost, doctor?"
He sighs and leans forward, whispering in her ear. He has noticed that the little girl, supposedly asleep on her hospital bed, is shaking slightly. She is awake, and she has heard every word. She, like her mother, knows that there is nothing they can do.
"Two pints, fresh, AB negative," Rebecca recited carefully. "Two pints, fresh, AB negative. Two pints, fresh, AB negative. Two pints, fresh, AB negative."
She didn't seem to notice the odd looks sent in her direction as she trotted down the street, either that or she just didn't care. It was seven now, the time when Ribbon and Mana and the other maids woke up, and Rebecca was already just a corner away from her destination. She smiled proudly—she had never been sent on an errand like this before. Arken once tried to send her to go get some beer, but Ryou had stopped that nonsense almost before his partner had finished speaking. The girl had been sorely disappointed, until she recalled that Arken didn't drink. Then she was just curious as to what he was going to use the beer for.
Her booted feet tapped as she walked, reading the slip of paper Ryou had given her over and over and over aloud, just to be sure she would be able to say it properly to the woman at the desk. Rebecca had never been good with humans; Vampires were much easier to deal with, at least you could count on them to be dishonest. With humans you could never be sure.
The petite blood looked up at the tall black building towering over her and a sound of awe escaped her lips. She had never been to the blood bank before—Rafael's bar, yes, but never the bank. The bar only served animal blood, the bank dealt in human fluid—she had been told it was completely different, but being human she couldn't be sure.
Bracing both hands against one of the glass doors, Rebecca opened the portal and stepped in. The inside was flat and smooth, the floor and walls covered with sleek black tiles that reflected her face wherever she looked. "Amazing," she murmured.
"Are you lost, little girl?"
Rebecca flinched at the title—she was small for her age, she knew that, but that didn't mean she appreciated being treated like a toddler. She looked down from the walls and saw a black desk at the end of the room; as she trotted up to it she pulled out the card Ryou had given her, her certification card and her identification. "No, I'm here to make a withdrawal," she said easily.
The woman behind the desk—a human with bright red hair pulled back in a dangerously tight bun—arched one eyebrow at the maturity in the child's voice. Rebecca held out all three cards and the woman surveyed them carefully.
She turned to the computer and keyed in the number from the black card. "Jounouchi Shizuka," she read aloud. "High Level Vampire, owner of the Jounouchi Estate…" She narrowed her eyes and turned to Rebecca. "You work with Miss Jounouchi?"
Rebecca nodded. "I'm her administrative assistant," she said easily. That was her technical title, but Rebecca more often found herself working under Ryuuji or Ryou.
The woman picked up Rebecca's card and her ID, reading them carefully. "It says here your legal guardian is Otogi Ryuuji," she declared. "If he's your guardian, why do you work for Miss Jounouchi?"
The girl was getting annoyed now. She pushed up her glasses and set her jaw, trying to find some way to explain the relationships on the estate. The green-eyed vampire was technically her legal guardian, he had been the one to rescue her when the Vampires attacked her home and she bore his mark on the back of her neck. Her grandfather was her blood relative, but if a human child was recovered by Vampires any claim a blood relation had to the youth was severed.
"Ryuuji-san is a guard on the estate," she explained carefully. "He works under her older brother and I work under her—gender-separated roles. There aren't many females on the estate, so any that do show up end up working directly with Shizuka-dono." She blinked and stifled and exasperated sigh—she had said females instead of women, a distinctly Vampiristic error. She wondered if any of the maids had the same problem.
The woman behind the desk noticed the girl's manner of speech, for she recoiled slightly and fell silent as she scoured the records. Children raised by Vampires were said to be cursed, some were even rumored to take part in their guardian's drinking habits; Rebecca, of course, knew better, but this woman clearly did not. The girl sighed. "Listen, I just need two pints, fresh, AB negative. That's it."
"That's awfully rare," the woman said quietly, looking back at the young girl. "What does your mistress need it for?"
"If you continue to pry into life on the Jounouchi Estate," Rebecca said carefully, as though reciting from a book, "you will be in violation of article 342-c of the Japan-Vampire treaty, stating that the life and affairs of any Vampire without a criminal record shall remain private business until such time as the Vampire in question decides to make that business public, or criminal behavior is recorded." She smirked, sweeping a length of golden hair over her shoulder. "Shizuka-dono is very private and has a spotless record."
That was her trump card—Shizuka had made Rebecca commit the Japan-Vampire treaty to memory, in its entirety, just for occasions such as this. It was also helpful when trying to turn away unwelcome guests back home, and explaining to the truancy officer why a girl so young as Shizuka's administrative assistant wasn't enrolled in school on the days when she didn't feel like digging up her diploma.
This closed the conversation, and the woman rose to retrieve the requested fluid.
Shizuka was dreaming. Ryou could tell, watching her shift around in her bed, faint moans escaping her lips periodically. Her face was contorted in pain and her teeth ground so hard Ryou could hear their gnashing. He had to do something, and he had to do it fast—Shizuka had never dealt well with nightmares.
As the white-haired young man took a step toward her bed, a faint whimper sounded from the bed behind him. He turned to find the hunter, Kaiba Seto, wearing an expression matching his Mistress' and tossing about in his bed with the same inhibited motions; they both moved as though they wanted to thrash, but were too afraid to move more than a centimeter or so at a time. Their motions weren't synchronized, but Ryou was positive that they were seeing the same sleeping vision. Calming one would calm the other, or so he hoped.
Ryou came to his Mistress' bedside and placed a hand on her forehead, running gentle fingers through her hair and whispering as quietly as he could. "Shh, shh, it's all right. It's just a dream. You're all right…"
The girl jerked away and a louder cry tore free from her throat, this one in time with a groan from young Seto's bed. "O-Otou—" she whimpered, tears forming in the corners of her eyes, scarlet spilling down onto her white pillow.
"Otou-sama…!" That was Seto, his voice a raspy shout, torn from his lips as though by a physical force.
Ryou blinked, brow furrowing. "Father?" he echoed, looking between the two wounded figures. He remembered the scars and discoloration on the young man's chest and ribs, and wondered if he was the source of this nightmare. If so, then that would explain why he hadn't been able to calm Shizuka—she was seeing through his eyes, feeling through his skin, and she didn't know it was just a dream. How could she know? But then, Seto couldn't be certain either, in the state of dreaming, that what he was seeing was not, in fact, reality.
The white-haired man sighed and lowered his nearly-black eyes. "Arken," he murmured. Immediately the taller figure appeared beside him, looking between the two figures in confusion. Arken whistled appreciatively. "Wow, looks a like a party." He looked at his companion. "Whose house?"
Arken came up beside the chestnut-haired young man and bent down over him. "Is poor Seto having a nightmare?" he whispered. He reached out and placed a pale hand on the young man's brow. "It's just a dream, you know. Do you want to wake up?"
Seto rolled onto his side, as though he had been shoved into position. He let out a cough. "O-Otou-sama!" he whimpered. "Please—" he broke off with a gasp, jerking roughly. Arken knelt down on the bed beside the young man, placing a hand on either of his shoulders and pulling him back to proper position.
"It's just a dream, Seto!" he shouted. "Wake up!"
The boy convulses as another kick rams into his stomach, rolling him across the floor until he's laying on his side, his back to the man from which that kick came. The man is tall and muscular, with hair that is cropped short and is just beginning to show a hint of grey—it's always been like that, though, a single spray of grey through the brown, just enough to make him look like an adult but not enough to make him look old.
The boy has hair a shade lighter than the man's, currently streaked not with grey but with scarlet, blood from a blow to his head trailing through his chestnut mane. His eyes are the same as his father's as well, the most intense shade of blue the world has ever seen, like light cast through sapphires. He is also tall, like his father; though barely nine he stands almost at the man's shoulder.
The boy's whimper earns him another sharp kick, this time in his back. It causes pain to flare through his spine and forces him to lay face-down on the tile. There is blood everywhere now, more than the boy has ever seen, and not all of it is his.
Laying in the corner, propped up with one shoulder against the wall and the other against the cupboard, is a woman. She holds in her arms a tiny figure—a black-haired boy no older than five. The boy is bruised but not bleeding, and he is unconscious. The woman is still, her grey eyes closed, but the sapphire-eyed boy knows that she is not merely sleeping. There is blood everywhere, and it makes the boy sick to his stomach.
Today the war ended. Today peace was declared between the humans and the creatures of the night. Today was to bring an end to the bloodshed.
Thinking of this, the boy lets out a broken laugh, tears of pain and of anger and sorrow stinging in his eyes. An end to bloodshed between the humans and the Vampires, maybe, but not between humans and themselves. This situation is a prime example.
Just moments ago his mother, the woman in the corner, dragged herself to where he younger son hid and gathered him up into her arms, whispering that everything was going to be all right, that daddy would calm down soon. She sang to the boy, telling him to sleep, promising that when he woke up everything would be all right. The echoes of her lullaby as she rocked the child back and forth still echo through the older boy's mind, and it's enough to make him laugh again.
The end of the world war, maybe, but his is nowhere near a close.
The laugh is misinterpreted, and the tall man kicks the boy in the side. The child tensed for the blow this time, so he is not thrown quite so far. "F-Father, please—"
The man bends down and takes hold of the boy's hair, picking him up by his scalp. "Bastard," he spat. "Today was supposed to be a triumph, today we were supposed to win. But instead brats like you gave up, brats like you came up with some damned treaty…" His blue eyes narrow and he throws the boy to the ground. "Clean up your mess," he commands, stomping to the doorway. "I'll be back in an hour."
The boy pushes himself up. "…What?"
"I said clean up the mess. I'm going to go get something to eat."
It is at least midnight now, maybe later. Nothing will be open, no place for the boy's father to eat. He is confused, but does not question his father's words. If the man is going to be gone for an hour, then the boy will use that hour to the best of his ability. There is already a plan forming in the back of his mind, and he bites his bottom lip to keep from shouting in exultation. He is going to escape. He is going to take his little brother and escape.
As if able to sense the boy's thoughts, the man spins around and kicks the child again. The sapphire-eyed little boy is sent sprawling out on the floor, his mother's blood splashes around him as he slides across the tile and barely bumps into her before he can stop himself.
"I expect this place clean by the time I get back." With that the man turns and walks out. The boy remains tense until he hears the door close, then hears the car start up in the driveway. He sighs and closes his eyes in relief. His father will never come home to a clean house again, he decides. Whether he's dying or not, he's not going to let his little brother grow up in this sort of pain.
The boy tries to sit up, but is forced back down when his mother's arms at last fall limp and his little brother falls from her grasp, landing as dead weight in the boy's midsection. The wind is knocked from his lungs, and everything goes black.
In unison the two wounded figures' eyes snapped open, amber and sapphire. Seto arched his back and gasped for breath, whereas Shizuka's eyes merely went wide, edged with frantic confusion. For the woman the world blurred back into focus and she let out a relieved sigh, sinking into her pillow once more. For the hunter however, it was considerably different. He sat bolt upright in bed, crying out in pain as one of the many wounds on his body protested the sudden movement, and looked around with wide eyes.
Arken reached out and placed a hand affectionately on the young man's head, smiling sympathetically. "It's okay, kid, just go back to sleep. It was just a bad dream."
"It was just a dream," Arken promised. "I don't know what you saw, but whatever it was it wasn't real." He urged Seto to lay back down and the young man, surprisingly, complied. Whether he really appreciated the help or he was merely to exhausted for defiance Arken didn't know, but he was happy to see the young man let out a sigh and close his unbandaged eye.
Seto breathed deeply for several seconds before opening his eyes and again and staring off into the distance. "It wasn't just a dream though," he said. "It was real, years ago. The war had just ended and father was so angry…he hurt her again, but this time he didn't stop."
Ryou came up from Shizuka's bed, where the young woman had fallen back asleep, and viewed the young man with concern. This didn't seem like him at all, to speak of himself and his dreams—or his past, as he seemed to be saying it was. "Seto-dono?"
"He just kept kicking and hitting and I told him to stop and—" his eyes widened and he took a gasping breath, letting it out in a sigh as his eye slid shut. When that sapphire opened again he turned to Arken and Ryou with an unreadable expression, clearly awake at last. They doubted he had been before. "What time is it?" The childish fear that had been lining his voice before was gone now, replaced with neutral maturity.
"Seven-eighteen," Arken said, glancing at the clock on the wall.
Seto's brow furrowed. "Shouldn't you two be in bed? The sun's up by now."
Ryou smiled and gestured around the infirmary. "Blackout curtains," he said amicably. "Not that we need them, but Shizuka-dono does so we have them shut."
The hunter nodded weakly, eyes drifting shut, then snapping open again as the white-haired man's words sunk in. "Shizuka?" he inquired, sitting up again. "What's wrong with her?"
"You were attacked," Ryou said. "The contract hasn't settled yet, so…" He stepped to one side and gestured to the bed neighboring Seto's. Apparently the curtain had been pulled back, so the hunter could easily see the battered young woman. His eyes widened at the sight of all the bandages and the dark blood staining them, and the memory of his mother, bloody and hiding in the shadows of the kitchen while her husband beat her older son half to death surfaced in his mind. He winced and shook his head, holding a hand to his bandaged right eye as pain lanced behind it.
He looked back up at Ryou and Arken. "Who?" he inquired, deadpan.
"Honda Hiroto," Ryou replied easily. "The guard in brown."
Seto nodded once and then pulled back the blankets, swinging his legs over the side of the bed. Arken and Ryou were on him in an instant, forcing him back down. "Slow down, kid," Arken warned. "He's sleeping right now anyway—it's morning, remember? I understand you want a piece of him but—"
"Get off of me," the young man commanded, eyes narrowing. Seto could deal with the fact that the guard had hurt him, there might even have been hope for some form of forgiveness in a century or two, but no one—no one—raised their hand to a woman while Kaiba Seto was around. If one drop of female blood was spilt within a mile of the hunter he would make sure the one responsible paid for it. There was a reason Seto had never hunted females before, after all. To harm a female, regardless of species, screamed against everything Seto Kaiba strove to be. To harm a female was wrong, even evil, and there was no way Seto could stand it. To harm a female was to become his father.
Honda Hiroto had just been marked with same loathing as Kaiba's father.
"You can have a go at him first thing in the night, okay? We'll wake you as soon as the sun sets and—"
"I said," Seto seethed, "let…me…go!" His skin flashed bright white for an instant and he threw the two young men off. Ryou slammed against the side of Shizuka's bed and Arken found himself on the floor, staring up at the bandaged young hunter.
Seto stormed over to the door and took hold of the knob, clenching his fingers tightly about the worn metal. "If you wake him now," Ryou said, regaining his breath, "if you fight him in the daylight, he'll die."
Seto clenched his teeth. "Good."
"No," Arken replied, rising at last from his unceremonious place on the ground. "Not good. He dies, it's over. No more punishment, no more pain, no more guilt over what he did to her." Seto flinched slightly and Arken came up behind him, placing a hand on his shoulder. "Listen, wouldn't it be better if he has to live with what he did? If he had to wake up every night and remember that he hurt the one person that holds all the freaks in this place together?"
Seto remembered how his father hadn't come back like he said, how he had never come back. He and Mokuba had buried their mother in the back yard—even though they had tried to clean her up there was still blood in her hair—and how much Seto had hated his father at that moment. His father had left; he would never be forced to step through the room where he killed his own wife, to walk through the halls she had laughed in, to sit on the couch she had lounged on, to lay on the bed where she had lain. He would never be reminded of his guilt, never feel the subtle ache in his chest that would remind him, time and again, that it was his fault she was gone.
If he killed the Vampire that had hurt that young woman, then he would be letting him off easy—easier than his father had been let off. Seto could not allow that to happen.
"Wouldn't it be better if he had to live with that guilt, rather than die and be freed from it?" Arken added quietly.
Seto blinked slowly and released his hold on the doorknob. The odd, white-haired young man was right. Honda Hiroto would not die for what he had done, he would live. And, because he was a Vampire, he would live forever. The young hunter smirked.
Pain flared throughout his entire body, his vision went dark and he fell forward against the door. The last thing he heard was Arken crying out, and the last thing he felt were the young man's arms wrapping around him, holding him upright as he drifted off into the void.
The hunter released the doorknob, swayed slightly in place, and then collapsed. Arken cried out and surged forward to catch him grunting under the taller young man's weight. The kid was skinny, but apparently he wasn't underweight—the young Kaiba was heavy. "God, this guy's amazing!" Arken chuckled as Ryou came up and slung one of Seto's arms over his shoulders, helping his blue-eyed companion to return the young man to his bed.
"How so?" the apparently-young doctor inquired.
"First off, he threw us both off," Arken listed, "secondly, he actually managed to get onto his feet on his own, and stay there; third, he's a hunter and so obviously hates Vampires, but was about to go out there and risk his own neck to avenge one." He let out a short cackle as they laid the hunter down. "Absolutely amazing."
Rebecca walked out of the bloodbank with a smile on her face and a bottle in each hand, humming softly to herself. That had turned out exceptionally well, in her opinion. That woman would never bother anyone from the Jounouchi Estate with her useless questions again, the petite blond was sure of that.
She was so happy to have actually accomplished something that she didn't notice the black motorcycle coming up the street until it was practically right beside her—then her smile broadened and she waved one burdened hand. "Rafael!" she hollered. The other people on the street glanced between the girl and the rider in the black helmet, confused. A couple of them clearly recognized the regalia of those who worked with Vampires, for a select few shot only a single glance and then hurried away.
The motorcycle came to a halt and the rider reached up to pull off his helmet, revealing his short gold hair. He grinned down at the little girl with all the warmth of a relative or extremely close friend, cocking his head to one side. "Rebecca!" he cheered in English. "What are you doing out so early?"
He held up a shiny black bottle. "I'm running an errand for Ryou," she replied in the same language. Rafael looked at the bottle and his brow furrowed. He wasn't a Vampire, that much was obvious by his traveling in the daylight, but he knew blood. He gave the girl a darkly curious glance and she let out a sigh, shaking her head. "Shizuka-dono was hurt last night, badly," she said, layering the English language with Japanese honorifics. "Ryou sent me to get this so she'll heal quicker."
"Get on, I'll drive you home," he said, gesturing behind him. When Rebecca handed him the bottles he began speaking on-topic once more. "The Missy hates human blood," he said. He knew the preferences of every Vampire in Domino, being the proprietor of the only blood bar in the city, and Shizuka's was rather strange as far as creatures of the night went. "She won't drink it."
Rebecca shrugged. "If she won't drink it," she said, situating herself properly on the back seat and pulling on the extra helmet Rafael kept there just for her, "then Ryou'll just give her an I.V. and pump it into her like a human getting and transfusion."
The other blond human nodded, pulling on his helmet and tucking the bottles into the compartments placed on either side of the bike, just in front of his knees. He, being one of two workers in his bar, one of which was usually out of the country delivering messages, often found himself making deliveries, and had designed these compartments specifically to carry bottles such as the ones Rebecca had been carrying. He started up the bike again and Rebecca wrapped her arms around his waist, holding tightly.
"Hey, on another subject," he called back as they started off, doing a wonderfully illegal U-turn in the road just in front of a passing car, "did the Missy get a letter from Cecilia?"
Rebecca nodded, knowing he would feel the motion. "Mazaki-san delivered it and she's staying at the estate for a little while, just until Shizuka-dono recovers."
"Any clue what it said?"
"No," Rebecca replied. "But I'll bet they're going to hold a meeting sometime soon. The Vampire Lord ruling over Japan is about a millimeter from the line, and everyone knows he won't hesitate to cross it if he needs to."
Rafael thought for a moment. "What about Atem's boy? Has the secret weapon finished his training yet? He's only been at it for six years now." Atem knew he had a gift in his young human charge, and that there was nothing that would be able to stand against the youth once his training was complete, but it was taking too long. Japan had been under the rule of a maniac for long enough—with this recent development of him finally taking a contracted servant, things were certain to accelerate. If the boy wasn't ready soon…
Rebecca sighed. "He's only a year older than I am, Rafael," she murmured into the back of his jacket. "He's not ready to kill anybody yet."
The man sighed. "Too bad he's the only one who can," Rafael muttered as they sped down the street, the wind tearing his words away before his blue-eyed passenger could hear them.
"Young Master! Young Master!" The boy called, walking through the courtyard with a look of concern rooted firmly on his face, deep magenta eyes dark with worry. He sighed as he looked around the area again, looking from the sand garden to the grass to the flowers, all with no sign of the boy. Raking a hand through his golden-streaked hair, the young boy let out an exasperated sigh—Atem would have both their heads if the kid wasn't found soon.
How it was that someone so conspicuous as Atem's young charge could go unnoticed through the palace was a mystery to all, but a well-known one. Not a day went by that the boy didn't slip away from at least one of his lessons. Today he had skipped them all.
The boy sent out to look for him, a Japanese youth named Yugi, cupped a small hand to his mouth once more. "Young Master, your sparring match with Rashid is coming up soon!"
"Tell him to spar with himself," came a disdainful voice from a distance away.
Yugi blinked, quirking an eyebrow, and headed in that direction. Stepping from the grass into the flower garden, Yugi found a young black-haired boy dressed in varying shades of grey spread out flat in the flowerbed. It was a perfect hiding place—Isis claimed that her flowers were tall enough to hide a grown man laying down, and apparently she wasn't far from the truth.
The boy was nowhere near grown, however. He couldn't have been any older than fifteen, if even that, with a face that still spoke of youth and a stance that shouted teenage rebellion. His eyes, staring straight up into the tapestry of perfect blue with white clouds breathed carefully into place by one or another of the local gods, were a shade of azure so deep it would have made the night sky jealous. His skin was a healthy tan, his arms—bare, for the white shirt he currently wore had no sleeves—were well-built but not thick, and the line of his jaw spoke of a strong adult in the making. There was a shadow in his brilliant eyes, however, that spoke of deep-set anger and sorrow as well, and those emotions did not go unnoticed to his mostly-black-haired companion.
"Are you all right?" Yugi asked. The boy did not reply. "Mokuba, this is Yugi talking, not Atem or Rashid or Isis. What's the matter?"
"Why do you care?" the boy, Mokuba, inquired, rolling onto his side and crushing several of Isis' beloved flowers. Yugi winced, but Mokuba seemed to care abaout as much as he thought his companion did.
The little boy clad all in white, with a golden necklace and bracers to match, looking perfectly at-home against the Egyptian backdrop that spread out behind him, knelt down beside his friend. "Mokuba-kun," he said in Japanese—old Japanese, a dialect Mokuba had only ever heard spoken in documentaries about the Bakamatsu and other pre-Meiji eras—in the hopes of winning the boy's confidences a little more. "What is the matter?"
"Do you know what today is?" Mokuba inquired.Yugi blinked, confused. "Thursday?"
"Today is June eighteenth," the black-haired boy said easily, sitting up. He pulled a length of his long mane over his shoulder and went about picking the leaves and flower petals from it. "Six years ago today, Yugi—that means it's my anniversary." He grinned darkly. "I wonder if Atem bought me a present."
Yugi's brow creased. "It was for your own good, Mokuba. If you had stayed with your family without knowing the kind of power you hold—"
Mokuba shot to his feet and stomped away, crunching several more flowers. "I'll be with Malik if you need me," he called over his shoulder. "Tell Rashid our fight is off until tomorrow."
Yugi watched the boy go with a sigh, lowering his magenta eyes. "You'll understand someday, Mokuba. Someday the prophecies will come true and you will understand. I just hope it's soon…"
Author's Note: Not a lot happened in this chapter, sorry. It's more like a pivot, I guess. I got to show a bit of the relationship between Rafael and Rebecca, and mention the relationship between her and Ryuuji, too. Also, now you have a hint about what's going on with Mokuba! Was it vague enough to keep you coming back? I hope so.
Special Thanks to everyone who left those wonderful reviews! It's nice to know that there are people out there who won't tell me I'm immature for being in love with Yu-Gi-Oh—I've been getting this a lot from my friends at work. It's a pleasant change to know that there are people out there like me.
Also, Uber-Special Thanks to my favorite YGO fanfic author, PinkStarz. She probably has no clue who I am, but she's the one who inspired me to start writing down the weird idea ricocheting through my head. If you're a fan of SetoxShizuka, read her stuff. She's the queen of the Silentshipping world.
A fight, pancakes, waffles, three maids, a solarium, a bedroom, leather boots, and (hopefully, if the characters do what I want them to)—drumroll—Noa Kaiba!
If that's not enough to make you come back I don't know what is!