Shadow of a Man

By LuckyLadybug

Notes: The characters are not mine, and this ficlit is! Okay, so I still haven't been able to get the follow-up to The Dance to come out as I want it to, but here's something to tide over everybody waiting for it. This is inspired by the 31 Days prompt Sleeping with ghosts. Thanks to Kaze for plot help!

He was a ghost, really--only a shadow of a man.

He had lost all sense of time. Days, weeks, months--they all blended into one confusing mass of traveling, struggling to get home. He did not think it had been years, at least--and yet, who could say? Maybe it even had been. Hopefully that was just pessimism without truth to back it up.

His plane had crashed, but he still did not know whether it was an accident or sabotage. There were certainly plenty who would have been happy to cause such a calamity. Once he got back, he was going to open an investigation and discern without a doubt what had happened.

His memories of the aftermath were only fragments. He remembered the plane filling with water. He had stayed above it for as long as possible, swimming to the nearest door and finding it jammed. The explosion had happened in the cockpit, and there was no doubt that the pilot was dead. It would have been useless to have attempted going there.

Some of the windows nearest to the cockpit had shattered. They had been too small for him to escape through, and the ocean had been pouring in, gleeful to have found more openings. He had been forced to hold his breath and go under.

Then he had wondered--during the explosion, could the controls for the escape hatch have been activated? Maybe, if they had been damaged in a certain way, that door would have popped open. It had been his last hope. Otherwise, it would likely be jammed and he would be trapped.

He recalled swimming towards the end of the plane, desperate. He remembered hearing another explosion rip through the aircraft, and how he had struggled to go faster before it would catch up to him.

Thoughts had swirled through his mind, of Mokuba and Téa, and how he had to stay alive for them, how he had to return to them . . . how he would not let himself be defeated by Death. They had a fulfilling life together, and he was not willing to give it up.

And then he had seen the open hatch. He had strained for it, desperate to reach it as his air had been running out. He had burst free from the wreckage, parting the aqueous depths as he had frantically tried to rise to the surface. It had always seemed to elude him, being just out of his grasp. But when it had seemed completely hopeless, he had broken the surface, gasping for breath.

He still vaguely recalled grabbing a floating piece of wreckage and clinging to it, but that was where his knowledge ended. He had been told later that he had washed up on the shores of an island, where he had been found by the natives. They had taken care of him, nursing him to health, but there was not any way to contact anyone on the mainland. He hated knowing that Mokuba and Téa likely believed him dead, but there had been nothing to do until he had recovered enough to attempt leaving.

And he had been far worse off than he had even realized at the time. Fevers had plagued him, both because of the island's climate and as a result of his injuries. His wounds had taken a long time to heal as well, and even now, some were not entirely mended.

Now he was standing in front of a low-quality mirror in a thatched hut, slowly buttoning his shirt over the bandages on his chest. He was still a wreck. His eyes were exhausted and haggard, dark lines underneath them from his lack of restful sleep of late. His hands trembled as he closed the top button. And he was favoring his right leg.

At least his hair had been combed as neat as possible. He could not stand being unkempt in any way. It was unfitting and unprofessional.

He gazed into the glass, not really seeing himself as his mind wandered. Téa, Mokuba, and the company were always on his mind. Mokuba was supposed to take over in the case of Seto's demise, though if it happened before Mokuba was of age, or before he felt ready, Seto's will had stated that the board of directors would run Kaiba Corp. He had never wanted Mokuba to have such a burden so young.

Téa would see to it that his wishes would be carried out. She would be devastated, but she would know she had to press on. That was one of the things he loved about her. But he did not want her to have the burden, either. She would push her grief away in order to be there for Mokuba. And that was exactly what he himself had done after his and Mokuba's parents had died.

Had the time of her first performance already come and gone? Seto had promised to be there for her when it took place. Somehow, it seemed as though it had come to pass. And what he could not understand was that he also felt that he had kept his promise. And that was impossible, unless the explanation involved some kind of astral projection.

He frowned, shaking his head. He did not want to think of anything supernatural right now.

One of the natives had agreed to be his guide for a time, once he had been well enough to begin his expedition. And so they had left the island in a boat, traveling for several days until reaching another island. It had not been much bigger or more helpful, though they had been able to stock up on supplies. Then they had set out again. Currently, they were stopped on a third island.

The nearest location with modern conveniences such as telephones was still very far from them. Seto had no way of knowing if they were even going the right direction. He was forced to trust the guide, and communication was difficult due to the language barrier. They had picked up several words from each other, but most communication had to be through hand gestures.

He turned, walking to the doorway of the hut. It was not dawn yet, but it was time for them to head out again. He had been sleeping very little, wanting to spend as much time as possible on the sea. If three or four lost hours of sleep provided the means to return to Domino that much sooner, then it was worth the sacrifice.

The next days passed in the same manner as the others before them--endless and dull as the ocean rocked underneath the boat and carried it along. There was plenty of time to think, to remember both good times and bad. That was about all he could do, aside from writing in the log he had kept ever since he had been well enough to write.

Téa had kissed him goodbye on the day of the crash. Mokuba had hugged him. They had not had any idea, nor had he, that they would not be together at the end of that business trip. He had returned both the kiss and the hug and had departed, to never reach his destination.

The stars were out now. He could picture Téa stepping onto the balcony at Kaiba Manor, gripping her arms from the night chill as she gazed up at the sky. She would be thinking about him, her heart aching.

He clenched a fist.

"Kaiba! Light!"

He came to attention, letting his gaze follow the guide's outstretched arm. In excitement the native was gesturing to a land mass still a distance ahead of them. Many lights twinkled, which was a sight they had not seen on the other, smaller islands. A spark of hope rose in Seto's heart. Was there electricity? Even telephone service?

"Good!" he called back. "That's good."

If there was telephone service, should he call Téa and Mokuba and let them know he was coming? Or would that be too much of a shock? It might even seem like a cruel prank at first, by someone pretending to be him. It might be better to simply go home and let them see him then.

For that matter, he might have a difficult time convincing his private pilots of his identity. It could prove very irritating.

He should not let his thoughts get ahead of him. He should wait and see what he would find. Maybe they would not have telephones at all. Or maybe he would get lucky and there would be a small airfield with a private plane he could rent.

He leaned back in the boat, studying the lights as they drew closer. They would arrive within a half hour, he gauged. Thirty minutes before he would be back in a more modernized civilization.

He might feel like a ghost, but he was not. He was alive and well, and he had his wife and his brother to return to. They had suffered enough.