Originally started for the crack challenge on the lj comm 'locketpair', and then it got all out of hand.
In some places, going more than seventy-two hours without sleep was enough to get one declared legally insane. Kaiba Seto was presently in a position to appreciate the logic of this stance.
Forty-eight hours was nothing. Headaches were a near-constant condition for him anyway, and the tremors improved after the first thirty-six, as long as one carefully monitored one's caffeine intake. And the minor visual hallucinations were easily compensated for in most situations, though it was best to avoid jet piloting and the like.
But after the third day the hallucinations move into the major arcana, and become noisier and harder to ignore. Much harder. Bouncing spots at the edge of his vision were one thing, but when they came into the foreground, still hopping up and down and squeaking as well--
God, he hated Kuriboh.
"Kaiba-kun," and Yugi had noticed him glaring ferociously at empty space. Again. "Maybe you should get some sleep..."
Five times in the last hour was a new record. Kaiba had given up answering. He knew damn well he should sleep. He wasn't an idiot. Loss of efficiency due to sleep deprivation eventually outweighed the disadvantages of wasting hours with one's eyes closed.
The thing about sleep deprivation was that the worst of the symptoms weren't caused by the lack of physical rest, but the lack of dreams. The brain needed regular bouts of REM to function. Dream-deprived, the subconscious compensated by spurting fantasy into the real world. And when one did finally go to sleep, the system caught up by bypassing the normal sleep stages and dropping one immediately into the dream state.
Kaiba was used to nightmares. Like the headaches, they were an endurable symptom of existing. But not now. Better the impossible creatures living before his eyes than the death he would see if he closed them. A thousand possibilities and they were all the same in the end. Cold skin, bloody or bruised or blue with drowning; gray eyes, staring open glassily or forever closed. And silence, like the cold, motionless and ceaseless, ever unbroken by any voice, any breath, any heartbeat.
Just nightmares. Untrue. Unacceptable and unendurable. But every passing second increased the chances that those refused dreams would become reality.
Mokuba had been missing for three days, and every beat of Kaiba Seto's heart marked another instant closer to the fourth day, another instant farther from hope.
Three days since his brother had walked out Kaiba Corporation's doors to catch some sun on his lunch break, and dropped off the face of the earth. His bodyguard had been found in the hedges around the parking garage, taser-stunned. He remembered nothing. No witnesses, that the police had located.
Three days and there had been no contacts. No notes, no ransom demands, no threatening calls. No leads, nothing to explain how or why his brother had been taken.
Kaiba knew he needed sleep. His reflexes were quarter-speed or worse, his coordination was shot to hell, and his patience--well, his patience had never been that impressive anyway, but usually before he yelled at his assistants for responding to his question too slowly, he would at least remember to ask the question first. His employees, paid to deal with him, had all fled by now, leaving only one individual behind.
Yugi was still here. Yugi had been here in Kaiba's office for the last three days. He had turned up mere hours after the missing person report had made it onto the news, had asked Kaiba what he could do to help. Kaiba had told him unequivocally that there was nothing. Yugi had nodded, and said he understood, and then had not left. Except when Kaiba did, sitting next to him in the limo as they canvassed Domino, searching.
Maybe it wasn't sleep deprivation after all. Spending seventy-two hours in the company of Mutou Yugi was quite enough to get one declared legally insane.
Yugi didn't have the right contacts or disposition for the calls and emails Kaiba had to make. But he was quick enough to grasp data sorting, when Kaiba finally gave in and decided if he were going to be there regardless he might as well make himself useful. He had spent the last couple days patiently going through records of past and present KaibaCorp employees and associates, flagging those with anything suspicious.
Otherwise Yugi was in constant touch with his friends on his celphone. They were combing the city on foot, Kaiba had picked up. Searching, though he had made no requests of them.
Kaiba hated the itchy, uncomfortable feeling of gratitude.
He hated even more that none of them had had any more success than him.
Besides helping with the search, Yugi had ordered takeout meals, had stuck chopsticks into Kaiba's hands and even dared to close his laptop, though he hadn't gone so far as to place a bowl of noodles on top of it to keep it shut, as Mokuba did at times. Eating was inefficient but starving was even more so, so Kaiba had forced down what was offered. He had made a point not to thank Yugi for it, but that rudeness had entirely passed Yugi by, or at least was not enough to stop him from bringing more food at intervals, with the same quiet, teeth-grinding patience.
Yugi had mentioned that Kaiba should take a nap a few times, but he hadn't been really insistent about it until a couple hours ago, when he had awoken from a nap on the couch to Kaiba loudly pontificating that he didn't need to be told what to do by a bodybuilder with a sword and the most absurdly pointed ears since Mr. Spock's.
Fucking Celtic Guardian. He was even more of a busybody than his deck's master. Kaiba had pretended he had been talking on his headset instead. He didn't think Yugi had bought it, but his rival hadn't said anything. Except to start suggesting that perhaps Kaiba ought to get some rest every quarter hour or so.
Though Yugi was talking to himself now.
And answering himself, which was even more annoying.
"Could you two keep it down? I'm trying to work here," Kaiba growled.
Kaiba looked up. And blinked hard to clear his vision, but he apparently wasn't seeing double, but an actual second Yugi standing next to the first. Taller, angled eyes, streaked hair; he knew the pharaoh well, but usually it was either him or the smaller model. Not both together, in matching navy uniforms and golden pyramid puzzles, giving him identical odd looks.
"Fuck," Kaiba muttered, "don't tell me I have to beat both of you to get my title back."
Both Yugis blinked in simultaneous synchronization. "Kaiba?" the taller one demanded. "Can you see me?"
It wasn't as ridiculous a question as it sounded; when Kaiba looked closer he realized there was a certain translucent inconsistency to the other Yugi's being. Dammit. He focused on the original, solid, real Yugi and tried to shut the hallucinatory one out of his vision. Which was difficult with the way he was waving his arm. "No, of course I can't see you, I'm not seeing things that aren't there."
"Umm," Yugi said. "Good, Kaiba-kun," but the particular way he said it sounded less actually convinced and more 'convince the crazy man I am convinced'. If it had been an edge of fear in his voice Kaiba wouldn't have minded, but it sounded more like Yugi was humoring him.
And Kuriboh was still hopping up and down in the corner of his eye. Kaiba glanced surreptitiously at the other Yugi's translucent sleeve. The real Yugi wasn't wearing a duel disk, and there wasn't one on the pharaoh's arm, either. None in this office, so that bouncing furball couldn't be a hologram.
If Kaiba didn't know better he would swear the monster's infernal jumping was intended to cheer him up. Or at least placate him, like the things that Yugi wasn't saying aloud but were still so audible in every word he spoke. Don't give up, Kaiba-kun. We'll find him. Don't lose hope.
As if he ever would give up. Yugi should know him that well, at least.
The text on his laptop screen blurred when he tried to refocus on it. Kaiba rubbed his eyes, reached for his cup of coffee and found it drained. On a scrap of paper under the cup he had scribbled 10:35. He checked his watch. 11:04 PM. He should wait another hour at least. Though his head was pounding and his hands trembling already, so really, what difference did it make? He picked up the cup.
"No more coffee now! It's not good for you, Kaiba-kun."
The only reason he knew that wasn't Yugi's voice was because Yugi didn't sound like a girl. Otherwise that chiding tone could have been his exactly, even if the voice was the wrong gender. But Mazaki Anzu wasn't in the building, that he knew of.
Blue pastels danced before him, blocking his way to the door, and Kaiba grimaced as Black Magician Girl shook a chastising finger at him. "How about some food instead? You don't need any more caffeine in your system."
Kaiba's fuzzy vision begged to differ, but arguing with a product of his unquestionably demented subconscious wasn't worth the trouble. "Fine," he said, and put the cup back down.
"Kaiba-kun?" Yugi asked, from behind the non-existent vision of his card.
Kaiba looked from the magic girl to the other Yugi instead. "You should run another scan of the satellite--" He stopped. No, Yugi couldn't. He was sitting on the couch where Mokuba should be sitting, and using the laptop Mokuba should be using, but Yugi didn't know how to access the satellite network.
"Never mind," Kaiba said, "I'll do it." Not that it had done any good the last six dozen times; wherever Mokuba was being held, he must be far enough inside or underground that his tracker couldn't be located. But if or when he were moved, the signal might show up. Kaiba had attempted to refine the system to pick up a weaker signal, but the interference within the city was too great for accurate readings, and he had too many other possibilities to investigate to have time to work on that problem.
Mokuba would probably be able to come up with something, if he were here. Yes, this whole mess would be much easier if Mokuba were here to help. If Mokuba were here to find himself.
He definitely needed more coffee.
But Black Magician Girl was still blocking the way to the break room with the coffeemaker, when he looked. Kaiba shook his head. "I'll be back in a moment," he said, as if Yugi or the denizens of his deck might be going anywhere. He only wished.
The private bathroom adjacent to his office was equipped with a shower as well as the other necessities, designed for all-nighters. No coffee, but he dialed the water temperature down to just above freezing and stuck his head under the faucet. The icy stream wasn't enough to wash the gritty feeling from his eyes, but it blasted away the worst of the weariness.
Straightening up again, Kaiba peered around the washroom. He wouldn't suspect either Yugi of peeping, but Black Magician Girl was another story. Never trust another player's cards, especially one that dresses like that. He was alone, however, the room silent but for the rush of water.
He shoved dripping bangs out of his eyes and looked at himself in the mirror. Blue eyes and wet face and his reflection stood alone, too. Not even a flicker of imaginary motion at the edge of his vision, but that wouldn't last. When he raised his hand before him, it was shaking; even making a fist he couldn't stop those tremors. Withdrawal. Sleep was a worse addiction than alcohol or cocaine and he hadn't managed to break it, though not for lack of trying.
Legally insane. Of course Kaiba was aware that he fit the profile for several mental disorders even under optimal conditions. Losing his mind didn't especially concern him. He was no coward, to fear losing his life. And losing his soul, he'd done that several times already.
Losing his brother, however, was unforgivable.
Are you a loser, boy?
He was alone, but that hated voice sounded in his memory as clearly as if his late stepfather were standing before him. Kaiba met the cold eyes glaring at him from the mirror, told himself, "I'm no loser." His voice echoed off the tiles, reflected back to him, a reassuringly real resonance, louder than Gozaburo's ghost.
He wasn't so far gone that he couldn't see the irony of it, deliberately summoning that memory, taking strength from the man he despised more than anything. But he needed to be strong now, however he could manage it.
Three days going on four, and no ransom demands, no contacts, no clues at all. Prepare for the worst, the police officers' faces had been saying all today, silently, just as Yugi's face told him not to give up hope.
It could be anyone. Business rival, ex-employee, random madman. They had run across more than their fair share of all already. No idea why he was taken, and without motive nothing could be deduced. "Do you have any enemies?" the police had asked the first day, and he had laughed aloud. But Mokuba had none, Mokuba only made friends. And it was Mokuba they wanted; if this had been a gambit aimed at him, they would have revealed it by now. If it was a corpse they planned to give him, by now they surely would have...
He needed strength, whatever its source. The despised memory of Gozaburo, or the grating charity of Yugi and his friends. Or madness, the coward's final refuge from reality, but if he needed that shield to keep standing--he could bear to be a coward, as long as he could keep walking, keep moving forward until he got to his brother, until he got his brother back.
Though they seem sane they shall go mad, or was it, Though they go mad they shall be sane? Either was accurate, and far too applicable besides. Kaiba never did like poetry. Most of it was pretty lies, which were worthless, and the rest was ugly truths, which were worse.
He toweled off his hair, smoothed it down. Changed into a dry shirt and checked himself in the mirror. Fatigue hung a gray curtain over his eyes, but through it he could see himself, standing firm, neatly attired, steady, composed. Strong. He didn't look like a madman in the mirror.
Mokuba was waiting for him. Counting on his big brother to come and save him, protect him as he had always sworn to do. Mokuba would only stop believing in him when he stopped breathing--but he wouldn't. He had to believe in Mokuba, believe he was alive, believe that he would survive until he found him.
If Kaiba closed his eyes, he saw a corpse. He kept them open. Refusing to look at that vision, even if he couldn't banish it. Even if he wasn't strong enough himself to keep the same faith in his brother that Mokuba had in him.
Only one Yugi was present when he returned to the office, sitting on the couch with his back to Kaiba, talking urgently on his celphone. No sign of the pharaoh, translucent or otherwise. Black Magician Girl, however, was still around, like her master also in intent conversation, whispering to a scaly green humanoid crocodile.
Kaiba glared at the newcomer. As if Kuriboh and the others weren't bad enough. Wyvern Warrior wasn't one of Yugi's cards. "So what has the bonkotsu found?"
Yugi turned toward him, putting down the phone, expression surprised. "How'd you know I was talking to Jounouchi-kun, Kaiba-kun?"
Glaring at the figures didn't help. Black Magician Girl only waved at him in a kindly way and gave him a thumbs' up. Unlike Yugi's alter ego, they didn't even have the decency to be translucently insubstantial hallucinations. If anything they looked more convincingly real than his Solid Vision holograms.
"--bring him to the police? Did you hear me, Kaiba-kun?"
No, I was trying to figure out what the hell your cards were talking about. "I heard you."
"Ah...then should we go there? Or should they bring the guy here? Even if Jounouchi-kun and Honda-kun can't get him to talk, if he knows something--"
Kaiba jerked up, electrified, the exhaustion that had been blanketing his senses ripped away, bringing the office and Yugi's voice into sudden sharp focus. "What does who know?"
"They don't know, exactly," Yugi said, "but if Jounouchi-kun's right, they've found the man who kidnapped Mokuba-kun--"
"Where?" Kaiba snapped, reaching for his trenchcoat draped over a chair. He donned it in a swirl of white as he strode for the door, hit the communicator on the collar and ordered a car to be brought around to the garage to pick him up.
"Only a few blocks from here," Yugi said, scrambling to his feet to head after him, jogging to keep up with Kaiba's far longer strides. "Kaiba-kun, Mokuba-kun isn't with him, and the guy was refusing to tell them anything--"
Whether or not Yugi's cards were following their master Kaiba made a particular point not to notice. They'd hardly all fit in his private elevator anyway. "He'll talk to me," Kaiba said, punching the button for the garage, so Yugi had to sprint the last few paces to make it into the elevator before the doors closed. "If he knows anything, he'll tell me."
Yugi swallowed, nodded and didn't say anything.
Kaiba studied his blurry reflection in the polished silver of the elevator doors. Unambiguous black and white, tall and straight and collected. Sane.
The elevator's drop was dizzily nauseating, but he didn't let that stable image waver. He crossed his arms, hands clasping his biceps, so they couldn't shake. And steadfastly ignored Yugi's concerned gaze, the visions of his brother's corpse playing in his mind's eye, and the encouraging squeaks of the furry Kuriboh bouncing at his side.
to be continued...