Author's Note: This fic was inspired by the prompts "A cappella" at 18Coda, "Fall from grace" at 10 Inspirations, "30 ways to say a single 'farewell'" at 30 General, and "He was running out of road; he was running out of breath" at 31 Days on LiveJournal. It was also inspired by LuckyLadybug's story, "Shadow of a Man." Disclaimer: I don't own these characters.
A silver beam of moonlight illuminated the young man as he walked, giving his skin an unearthly glow. His steps were slow and pained; it was a miracle that he was even walking at all after being pushed off of the roof of a yacht and then falling into the ocean. The current had carried him far away from Domino, and now he was struggling to return. He wasn't sure how long he had been away, or how far he would have to walk, but it felt like a thousand years since he had fallen, and it seemed like he had already walked a thousand miles.
"I don't know how much longer I can keep this up," he thought, being honest with himself. Yes, it was pessimistic of him to think so, but he had to be realistic. He was never one to sugar-coat.
His pride, of course, immediately chided him, "Of course you'll keep it up; you have to show them all that no one and nothing can defeat Seto Kaiba so easily. And if that isn't enough motivation, what about Mokuba? Giving up on yourself means that he is now alone."
Seto couldn't bring himself to imagine what Mokuba must be going through right this moment; the fact that he hadn't surfaced anywhere near where he had fallen would have led everyone to believe him dead. The weary part of his mind protested that if everyone thought that he was already dead, it wouldn't matter how long it took to return; they wouldn't even be expecting him. And there was always the possibility that he wouldn't make it home, which would only confirm everyone's beliefs… a self-fulfilling prophecy…
But he had to admit that Mokuba wouldn't be alone; the boy had a close friendship with Téa Gardner, one that they had forged back in Battle City. And Yugi (along with the rest of his entourage) would also help him through the troubling times that would soon arrive…
"It doesn't have to be that way!" his rational mind screamed at him, uncharacteristically agreeing with his pride. "Keep walking, and you can be there for your brother yourself!"
The young man shuddered as the night chill descended upon him; his still-soaked trenchcoat offered no warmth in its condition. He had wanted to abandon it, but realized that if it had been found by someone else, it would only have given further proof to show that he was gone.
He had to ask himself how he had ever got into this situation in the first place. Someone always seemed to be after him just because he was a highly successful entrepreneur at such a young age. That didn't make sense; he wasn't stopping them from achieving the same, so why did they unleash their frustrations at him? Was there an unwritten rule that stated that someone so young couldn't get so far so soon? Would he have been left alone if he had waited until he was thirty before creating his fortune? Although he didn't like to admit it, perhaps the only person who could understand what he was going through was Siegfried von Schroeder, who wasn't all that older than he was. But he doubted that Siegfried faced the troubles that he, Seto, had faced before. Pegasus had been after him during Duelist Kingdom, not Siegfried. Dartz had tried to take over Kaiba Corp., not Schroeder Corp. And Siegfried himself once tried to ruin Kaiba Corporation. No; it seemed like not matter how old he got, there would always be someone out there to try to take away what he had worked so hard to create.
"Then why do you insist on torturing yourself?" asked a voice.
Seto shook his head slightly; clearly, he was hearing things. Between the fall and the swim, it would be expected that he was somewhat delirious.
"If running Kaiba Corporation is giving you nothing but trouble, then stop," the voice went on. "You were never good enough; it's no wonder all this is happening to you."
Seto growled at the unseen voice; of course, the voice would be one telling him that he was a failure.
Deciding to ignore it, he continued to limp further down the road, his weary muscles screaming in protest. As the night turned colder, he could see his breath depart from him in clouds of mist. Spells of drowsiness began to cloud his mind, and he began to consider stopping for a quick nap.
"No; not now…" he ordered himself. "I can't risk it in this condition… If I fall asleep here, that may be it."
Gritting his teeth against the pain, he continued onward. As he continued to follow the road, he had to wonder if he was heading in the right direction at all; he had been so turned around when he had fallen into the water, he hadn't been able to determine for certain which direction the current had taken him. He had been able to find the North Star prior to the start of his return journey, but had no clue where he was in relation to Domino. In the end, he decided to follow his instincts; he was reluctant to do so, preferring to act on rational facts, and he was praying that he was, in fact, walking towards Domino.
Hours went by. A dense fog was rolling in, clouding everything in a mist so thick that Seto couldn't even see the road anymore. His feet felt like two cinder blocks: cold and heavy. He had lost all feeling in his hands and feet, and he wasn't sure how he was still able to walk.
And, unbeknownst to him, Seto was drifting further and further away from the road as the fog grew thicker. He soon became aware as the ground beneath him became grassy. He also noticed that the ground was beginning to slope upward, and every step forward took more and more strength and inner will to progress. He tried to recall this place. Was it the hillside right outside Domino? If it was, then there wasn't too much distance left; all he would need to do is to climb the hill, and the outskirts of Domino would be on the other side.
But that was easier said than done. In his condition, a walk up the hill could take more strength than what he had to give. And the exertion might prove to be too much for him. And what if this wasn't the right hillside? What if he had been going in the wrong direction? And what would become of him when he found out? If the exertion didn't get him, the shock might.
"Will you stop thinking like that!?" he chided himself.
But his own weakened condition concerned him; the clouds from his breath were thinning with every progressing step. He was limping up the hill, not even walking, and yet his pulse was higher than it should be.
"You're either close, or far," his rational mind said. "See where you are first before deciding to give up. And the only way to find out is to make it to the top of the hill…"
He was nearing the peak of the hill when it happened. His ankle suddenly twisted beneath him, and with a cry, he collapsed upon the hillside. The lush grass softened the force of the fall, but he was convinced that he could go no further.
"I can't… Mokuba, I'm sorry…" he mentally said to his younger brother. "I need to rest for a little while; I hope I gain enough strength to try walking again later, but if I don't, little brother, know that I tried."
"That's it, Seto," the mysterious voice said.
Seto hardly heard the voice; he was wondering what else to say to Mokuba… to explain the reasons why things happened this way. Mokuba would never forgive him for giving up, especially if he was this close…
Seto now forced himself to his knees and tried to progress up the hill that way; he would go on until he lost consciousness. He knew that if Mokuba was aware of the fact that Seto was right now fighting a personal battle to make it up the hill, he would be lending whatever help and support he could give.
"Would he be the only one…?" Seto asked himself. Based on his previous experiences, he doubted if anyone else would be so willing to help. But hadn't Téa Gardner been there when he had fallen? She had tried to help; it was nice to know that someone besides Mokuba cared.
"Thanks for trying, Gardner," he thought.
And he knew that Yugi and the others would also help, some more willing than others.
"I can just see you now, all extending your hands out to help me…" he thought, with a roll of his eyes, but he was being only slightly derisive. He was almost willing to put up with their company right now.
But they weren't here. Not even Mokuba was here; he was alone with that strange, haunting voice.
"Who are you, anyway?" Seto asked aloud.
"If you don't remember me, then you're more out of it than you think, Seto; you're halfway gone. You may as well forget about Kaiba Corporation; it rightfully belongs to me anyway."
Seto's eyes had been half-closed with exhaustion, but now they snapped open; that one remark was enough to identify the voice as the one belonging to his stepfather, Gozaburo.
"Leave me alone!" he growled.
"I didn't bother with trying to find you, Seto," the man's cold voice replied. "You're hearing me without any effort on my part. Keep walking if you want… as you get weaker, you'll even be able to see me. And to think, you came so far… How typical that you'd give up now. It's no wonder you can't run Kaiba Corporation effectively. And now the whole world knows it."
"I've run Kaiba Corp. a lot better than you ever did!" Seto roared, glaring around furiously. "And I actually have people waiting for me to come back! No one's waiting for you, Gozaburo."
"And you think that makes you superior to me?" Gozaburo asked. "Didn't I tell you that concerning yourself with others was a sign of weakness?"
"Frequently…" Seto growled, with a roll of his eyes.
"The majority of your troubles were because of your concern for that worthless brother of yours!"
"Gozaburo, you can insult me all you want, but you'd better not let me hear you say another word about my brother!" Seto shot back, a new energy rising in him. He stood up now, albeit shakily.
"Look at you now," said Gozaburo. "Do you see how rage empowers you, Seto? You're on your feet again because of your rage against me."
"Wrong," Seto said, walking on, his hand seizing the card-shaped locket around his neck. "I'm on my feet because there are promises—and dreams—that I still need to fulfill."
Yes, there were promises and dreams; he remembered very well how he had promised Mokuba long ago that they would open a chain of worldwide amusement parks. So far, there was only one; they still had a long way to go, but they would get there. But first, he had to get home.
He couldn't hear Gozaburo anymore. Either he had decided to keep quiet, or Seto had regained enough strength to no longer hear him. He didn't pause to consider which reason was correct, for he had just reached to top of the hill. He noticed the bright lights of a city, barely visible through the fog. And that was when he noticed the Kaiba Corporation headquarters shining like a lighthouse to a ship.
He collapsed to his knees again, not in weakness, but in relief. He had made it home.
A passing taxi gave him a much-needed ride into town. When he handed his credit card to pay the driver, the man stared at the name and yelped, convinced that he had been driving a ghost. It took a moment for Seto to explain that he was, in fact, perfectly fine, and decided to leave the poor man a generous tip in exchange for the frayed nerves.
He had requested to be dropped off outside the Kame Game Store; something had told him that Mokuba was in there. And, once again, his instincts had been right. The others swarmed him, hardly daring to believe that Seto Kaiba was actually once again among them. But no one was more relieved than Mokuba.
Seto, in the meantime, sent his brother a silent thanks. More than anything, it had been their promise and their dream of a worldwide Kaiba Land chain that had helped him to go on.
He had kept his dream alive, and, in return, the dream had kept him alive.