A/N: For those of you who are unfamiliar with the manga, I've uploaded the two pertinent pages from volume 38 of the manga. You can find them at my livejournal, username kamiyashi, so please feel free to drop by and friend me if you feel like it. I intend to start using it more, so maybe this will be good motivation for me.
And now for the conclusion of this arc of the Endless Loop Series.
Part IV: Sealed Away
Kaiba stared out the window with a scowl, still annoyed that he had caved to his brother's request. The busy streets of Cairo were passing by in a blur and Kaiba smugly noted that none of it felt familiar because of the priest. His mood quickly soured when he realized that was probably only because Seto's Egypt had looked far different.
He settled further into his seat as he glared at the back of the driver's head. At first Kaiba had thought Isono had arranged for it since the brothers had seen the driver holding a sign with, "Seto," written on it immediately after exiting the airport. When the man revealed that Isis had arranged for him to meet the pair at the airport to transport them to the sacred dueling grounds, Kaiba had almost refused to get into the car. There was no way that Isis had been able to foresee his arrival in Japan back when she still possessed the Millennium Tauk, but how else had she known?
Only his brother's pleading gaze changed Kaiba's mind; he already felt bad enough for the delays in getting to Egypt. His last meeting had gone over schedule and he had left a few hours later than he had originally intended. Mokuba hadn't said anything about it, but the disappointment was evident in his eyes.
The further away they got from the city, the more anxious Kaiba became. He never should have agreed to come to Egypt, but it was a bit late for regrets now. What the hell had he been thinking? No matter how vehemently he insisted that he was only accompanying his younger brother for Mokuba's sake, Kaiba knew that part of him had simply wanted to see Yami again. He hated that fact, but it still remained frustratingly true.
What was he even planning on saying? There wasn't exactly a protocol on how to handle confronting a spirit after months of ignoring him, so Kaiba had to figure out something and fast. The view outside was becoming nothing but sand as the modern buildings faded from sight and every mile made Kaiba feel increasingly nervous. What the hell was he supposed to do?
At least he had the length of the card duel as a time buffer. They were probably going to show up halfway through the battle, but that was fine with Kaiba. It gave him more time to prepare himself for what would come afterward. He already knew the outcome of the battle, although he was a little curious about how Yuugi and Yami intended to fight when one of them wasn't exactly real. If Yuugi was playing the duel in his mind, Kaiba had better things to do than watch the kid's facial expressions change. "Why the hell did I agree to this?" Kaiba muttered with a heavy sigh.
Mokuba nervously looked up at his older brother and wondered if he was supposed to answer the question. Kaiba hadn't been looking at him when he spoke, but Mokuba still felt the need to softly reply, "Because it's important."
"Hn," Kaiba said dismissively with a snort. "Important for who?"
Sounding mature beyond his years, Mokuba answered, "For all of us." Even though his brother would never admit to it, it was definitely important to Kaiba, too. If he really didn't care, nothing would have swayed Kaiba once he made up his mind. Mokuba knew that Kaiba was just too stubborn to admit that the mou hitori no Yuugi was the closest thing to a friend that he had, but that was just how his older brother was.
Kaiba didn't say anything to that, mostly because he couldn't refute the statement. It was yet another thing that irritated him and he resumed his silent staring out the window. Kaiba Seto was supposed to care about no one other than himself and his little brother, so why did he concern himself with Yami?
He was so lost in his own circular thoughts that Kaiba didn't notice when the car finally came to a stop. It was only when he heard the driver say in heavily accented Japanese, "We've arrived," that Kaiba realized where they were. This part of the desert didn't look any different than the other expanses of dunes they had already passed, and yet something about it made Kaiba shiver despite the heat.
"Nii-sama, do you want me to bring your briefcase?" Mokuba volunteered, scrambling out of the car with it once his brother nodded. He reverently carried it, knowing that Kaiba's Duel Disk and deck were inside and Mokuba couldn't wait to see his older brother duel against the mou hitori no Yuugi.
The sense of foreboding from that morning returned full force and Kaiba watched as the extended Yuugi-tachi exited from an underground passage. It was only after Kaiba drew closer that he noticed that they were all crying. None of them had noticed him yet and Kaiba decided to make himself known by condescendingly asking, "Is defeat that painful?"
Yuugi looked up and squinted against the bright sun in order to see Kaiba. The tears started anew as he struggled to say, "No, it's just that he—"
It was only when Yuugi went to touch the Millennium Puzzle out of habit that Kaiba noticed its absence. "Where is he?" Kaiba demanded harshly, disgusted when the rest of the Yuugi-tachi started sniffling as well. "Where the fuck is Atem, Yuugi?"
Hearing Kaiba say Yami's true name startled Yuugi and he stared at the taller duelist who had come even closer. He hadn't told Mokuba over the phone and there was no other way for Kaiba to have found out, so Yuugi was more than just a little confused. "Kaiba-kun, how did you know that was his name?"
Hearing Yami referred to in past tense sparked a strange fear in Kaiba and an irritating desire to see that the former pharaoh was fine and very much present. "Answer my question," Kaiba commanded coldly, his patience having reached its limit.
"I—I don't know," Yuugi stuttered with a sniffle. "He walked through the doors and then—"
Isis interrupted to explain, "He returned to the place he belonged, Seto."
"No!" Kaiba growled, startling everyone. "He doesn't belong there!"
Approaching Kaiba in order to ask a question meant only for him, she looked him in the eyes when she spoke. "Is it that he doesn't belong there or that he doesn't belong there with him?"
Kaiba clenched his hands into tight fists, willing himself not to lose control in front of everyone. He glared at her with all of the hatred and anger he felt at the moment. "Isis, I'm warning you—"
Laughing quietly as she lightly touched the place where the Millennium Tauk used to rest, Isis showed no signs of being intimidated. "At least take comfort in the fact that some part of your soul will always remain with him," she told him solemnly before returning to Yuugi to say her goodbyes.
Comfort? The mere idea of it had Kaiba fuming. How was he supposed to take comfort in the fact that Yami was with Seto? No, what Kaiba wanted was for Yami—no, he wasn't supposed to want anything! He wasn't supposed to want Yami by his side, but he thought his rage was going to boil over at the thought of never seeing Yami again. This wasn't how it was supposed to happen! Yami couldn't possibly be gone. True, he wasn't technically supposed to exist, which would negate the impossibility of disappearing, but still. No, there had to be an answer in the underground duel ring, something that the rest of them had missed.
With his decision made, Kaiba walked purposefully toward the stairwell, causing Yuugi to yell, "No, Kaiba-kun! It's too dangerous to go in there!"
Mokuba rushed after his brother, but was stopped by Isis. "No harm will come to him in there," she reassured them, although they still looked wary of her promise.
Everyone watched in silence as Kaiba slowly disappeared into the dark passage and they all wondered the same thing: what was wrong with Kaiba?
Oblivious to the group's concern, Kaiba carefully made his way down the stairs, shivering as his fingers ran over the hieroglyphs on the wall. When he reached the landing, Kaiba finally had a little light to see his surroundings. The candles didn't provide much to go by since most of them had been blown out by the impact of the stone tablet's destruction, but it was enough.
Kaiba couldn't shake the feeling that he had been to this place before and he cautiously approached the giant stone door with the eye that had decorated all of the Millennium Items. Without understanding his own actions, Kaiba reached out and pressed his palm against the stone and was instantly shown a brief image of Yami walking into a bright light toward a large group of people who were waiting for him on the other side of the door. For a moment Kaiba thought he saw Seto smirk at him, but the image faded too quickly for him to be sure.
He refused to accept that something had happened to Yami. First off, there was no way that he would lose to Yuugi, so what had happened? Yami wasn't the type to just give up, so what other reason was there for him to have been defeated?
Kaiba tightened his hand into a fist and he banged it hard against the stone, trying to shock some sense back into himself. The pain caused him to wince, but did little to distract him from the problem of Yami's disappearance. "You were never real," Kaiba whispered to the darkness, almost as if trying to convince himself. But if Yami wasn't real, then why was the pain? Why did it hurt so damn much? There was a crushing pressure in his chest and suddenly Kaiba found it hard to breathe.
They would never finish their battle and that angered Kaiba. He had finally found a worthy rival only to lose the opportunity to duel against him. There would always be other competitors, but he inherently knew that no one else would ever make him feel so alive, feel so passionate in the midst of a fight. Would there really never be another chance to face off against Yami?
None of it was making any sense to Kaiba. Why had Yuugi been able to beat Yami? The other thing that Kaiba didn't understand was how Yami could just walk away from it all. Wasn't he always lecturing about the importance of friendship? So why did he leave everyone to return to a time that he said he no longer belonged in anymore? Hadn't he told Kaiba in his dream that he wanted to see him one last time? "Then why didn't you wait?" Kaiba demanded angrily, his nails digging into his palms.
The answer was simple: Yami probably thought that Kaiba would never have followed him to Egypt. What reason would he have to think any differently? Suddenly Kaiba was filled with a remorse that was borderline guilt. If he had come back to Domino sooner, would Yami have still left? Would it have changed anything? Was this what the priest had meant about Kaiba being responsible for changing Yami's mind about where he belonged?
Kaiba wanted to be angry at Seto for stealing Yami away, but that was ridiculous—especially if the former pharaoh had gone willingly. Had Kaiba's stubborn pride really cost him the only thing he had ever wanted?
His mind instantly rebelled against the selfish desire. Kaiba Seto was not supposed to want anything, but for some reason or another, something in him had fixated on Yami. It was wrong, but that changed nothing.
What did he want, anyway? Somewhere along the way it had become about more than just the duels. Did he really want something like those dreams for himself? That was impossible and yet…
Kaiba was filled with a sense of desperation that confused him. Had he actually just considered trying to recover the Millennium Puzzle from the gaping cavern it had fallen into in order to revive Yami? Somehow he knew that it would never work because Yami had moved on, but there had been that momentary glimmer of hope.
Hope? The very thought of it made Kaiba sneer at the ridiculousness of it. If Kaiba was going to, 'hope,' for anything, it would be to return to his senses. He had wasted too much time as it was with such ridiculous nonsense. Yami had apparently moved on and Kaiba should do the same, but for some reason he was still rooted to the spot.
The memory of Seto saying, "It seems that I have lost him in two lifetimes," came to mind and Kaiba struck out at the door with his fist. His bones cracked in the silence and he could already feel himself starting to bleed from his flesh scrapping against the stone, but he paid it no attention.
Kaiba refused to admit defeat, but it was becoming exceedingly difficult not to. He had lost to his former incarnation because Yami had chosen Seto over him. The past that he hated had defeated him by claiming Yami once more and Kaiba was having a hard time finding a victory for himself. He had been defeated in every way and it angered him because there would never be a chance for a rematch. Redemption would never be his, nor forgiveness. Then again, he had never earned it for his past transgressions because of Gozaburo, so why should Yami be any different?
Because he is different, Kaiba's mind answered, stubbornly refusing to refer to him in the past tense. Yami had always been different and held a place for Kaiba that no other had ever occupied, although he wasn't sure how that had happened. At some point Kaiba had even begun to enjoy Yami's company, but never again would that be allowed.
He was never supposed to be anything more than a rival, but Yami had somehow become something else. Kaiba would normally have berated himself for such foolishness, but there was no point now that Yami was gone. It shouldn't have been hard to accept that someone who was never real was now no longer in existence and yet it was proving harder than he would have ever imagined.
As much as Kaiba had protested Yami's existence, it was hard not to acknowledge him. That was because Kaiba had felt Yami's warmth and he could not deny it; strangely enough, he had never tried to. For a short time he had experienced the proof of Yami's existence, even if it had required Yuugi's body to act as a medium of sorts. He had never known that level of ease and Kaiba wondered if he ever would again.
No, he wouldn't allow himself to be so vulnerable ever again. Wait, vulnerable? he repeated in his mind, unsure of where that adjective had originated. Kaiba Seto was never vulnerable; he couldn't afford to be. And yet Yami had worked past some of his strongest barriers without Kaiba even being aware of it. Was that because Yami had seen into his heart when he had subjected Kaiba to the Punishment Game? But if Yami had…if he had actually done such a thing, then he would have known what leaving would do to Kaiba.
Everything important to Kaiba had been taken away from him throughout his life and it left him unable to trust in anything other than himself. His parents, his childhood, his innocence, and even Gozaburo had all been ripped away from him. As much as he hated his adopted father, Kaiba had a begrudging sense of respect for the bastard in some ways; there had been a reason it had hurt the day he had stopped calling him, "father." It was just another lesson from Gozaburo, another thing taken away. Kaiba's enemies had tried to kidnap Mokuba on numerous occasions and there had been several attempts by other companies to take over Kaiba Corporation, but those events had always been under his control. And now Seto had taken Yami from him. Would the priest have still succeeded if Kaiba had fought back?
Kaiba had been so confident in Yami that it hadn't seemed possible for any other outcome and yet he had been defeated and returned to the priest. Maybe if he repeated it enough times, it would finally sink in that the unthinkable had actually happened.
Why was he struggling with this? He was quickly becoming annoyed with his newfound sentimentalism and Kaiba needed to stop. His behavior was appalling and he was grateful that there were no witnesses to his stupidity. Things could not be allowed to continue and he challenged himself to prove that none of this really mattered. Maybe it was a good thing that Yami was gone. He would no longer be a distraction; out of sight, out of mind. Now Kaiba could resume his normal life and pretend that none of this had ever happened. Besides, he was too busy to duel, so what did it matter if his main rival was there or not? Kaiba had no use for the past and if that was where Yami had chosen to be, then Kaiba had no use for Yami, either. Yami had made his decision, so now it was time for Kaiba to make his.
He's gone, so get over it, Kaiba told himself harshly, completely unprepared for the effect his words would have on him. It almost felt as if he had been punched in the stomach and his eyes widened in shock. Instantly Kaiba chastised himself for his own reaction. Hadn't he already known that? Thinking about the possibility of it and acknowledging it were apparently two very different things.
He forced himself to say out loud, "He's gone," and Kaiba could hardly believe that it was his voice that spoke those words. His tone lacked the authoritative announcement that he had intended; instead it was filled with weakness and wavered in disbelief.
Kaiba didn't understand the intensity of his own reaction. There were so many varied and overwhelming emotions when there should have been none. It was almost as if he were still under the influence of the priest and yet Kaiba knew that it was just him reacting; somehow that made things worse. No, this wasn't happening! Kaiba Seto was not going to be reduced to such a state over a single person who technically didn't even exist!
His resolve couldn't compete with the rush of feelings inside of him, unfortunately. It hurt more than all of his previous losses to Yami combined and Kaiba stared blankly at the stone in front of him as he sank to his knees, softly repeating, "He's gone."
What will you do when you lose him? the priest's voice taunted in Kaiba's mind and he narrowed his eyes in reaction. Kaiba belatedly realized that he was trembling, but he could always blame that on the cooler temperature of the underground arena. There was no way that he would be physically affected by all of this. And yet the pain was intense and Kaiba felt a tightness in his throat when he accidentally whispered, "You're gone."
It was only then that Kaiba realized just how much he had lost. He closed his eyes to steady himself as he struggled to regain control, leaning forward to rest his forehead against the stone doors as his voice once again betrayed him with a sorrowful, "Atem."
Kaiba furrowed his eyebrows as he saw another vision, but he refused to open his eyes for fear of it disappearing.
Yami turned when he thought he heard someone calling his name from the other side of the door. He started to take a step back, but was stopped when Seto grabbed his wrist. "What are you doing?" Yami asked with the slightest hint of annoyance in his tone.
"You belong here now," Seto reminded, his grip tightening on Yami's slender wrist.
Yanking himself free, Yami told him, "It might be aibou," as he started walking back over to the door. Seto just frowned and said nothing as he watched the pharaoh's retreating form.
Once he was close enough, Yami reached out and touched the doors, stretching his senses beyond to discover who had tried to summon him for a final time. He stared in disbelief when he realized that it was Kaiba and not Yuugi who had called out to him and Yami pressed against the stone in an attempt to get closer. "You came," Yami said breathlessly with great joy that soon turned to sadness. If only he had waited just a little longer…
As if sensing his thoughts, Seto approached him and gently rested his hand on Yami's shoulder to give it a reassuring squeeze. "You cannot undo what has been done," Seto reminded him, although there was a slight edge in his voice as he examined the doors that had brought his pharaoh back to him.
"I know," Yami confirmed to appease the agitated priest, touching his hand lightly before letting go. He subtly gestured for some distance and Seto begrudgingly complied; only then did Yami return his attention to Kaiba.
Concentrating every ounce of spiritual energy into his actions, Yami tried to reach Kaiba beyond the doors between them. Gently caressing Kaiba's cheek, Yami willed his words to reach him as he once again promised, "I will find a way back to you." He could feel the faintest hint of Kaiba's complicated emotions and Yami wished for a way to comfort him. Attempting the impossible, Yami used the last of his rapidly depleting energy in order to brush against Kaiba's lips, hoping that his warmth reached across the divide. "Kaiba, I—"
The disconnect was abrupt and Kaiba made a quiet noise of protest. He could still feel the gentle pressure on his lips, the warmth of the caress, and could hear Yami's voice softly in his ear. Even if he had just imagined it, some pathetic part of Kaiba wanted—no, needed—it to be true. It didn't matter if the masochistic side of him used it against himself later; for the time being, it was the last thing of Yami he possessed and he stubbornly clung to it like a spoiled child. The warmth had been so familiar, but the lingering sensations were already starting to fade away into memory, just like Yami himself would.
Kaiba slowly opened his eyes and he was confused by the fact that the world suddenly looked so blurry. It took him a moment to understand that it was because his eyes had started to water, but there was no was no way that they were tears because Kaiba Seto did not cry. He had probably just been down there too long and the dust and debris from the stone tablet's collapse had started to get to him. It was a logical deduction, but they still wouldn't stop leaking.
It was only when he heard himself taking a shuddering breath that Kaiba realized that it had nothing to do with the dust. Leaning back and sitting to relieve the pressure on his numb legs, Kaiba rubbed his eyes and stared in disbelief at the tears that defiantly remained on his hand. He was crying? But that was impossible! He hadn't even cried for his own parents because he had wanted to set a good example for Mokuba to show him that he could rely on his strong older brother. And now he was breaking down over someone as insignificant as Yami?
Why couldn't he stop the errant tears from falling? Was it really that upsetting to him? That painful? Apparently it was, because Kaiba could not get back in control. He was disgusted by the sound of a sob breaking through and echoing through the dark room, but he was having a hard enough time stifling the noise, let alone stopping the emotional outburst. His body shook from the outpour of emotions, some dealing with Yami while others were a result of things suppressed for far too long and Kaiba had to give up the fight against it; it was exhausting enough as it was without expending the extra energy. Kaiba curled up within himself, hugging his knees to his chest as he hid his shame from anyone who could possibly witness his humiliating reaction. Why couldn't he stop?
How many nights had the priest cried over the passing of his pharaoh? Would Kaiba end up being just like Seto, turning more twisted and desperate with the passing of time? He wanted to believe that he was nothing like the priest, but Kaiba was starting to fear that they were more alike than he would ever care to admit.
And still his tears continued to defy him. When would it be enough? What was their purpose, anyway? They did nothing to ease the hurt, to help deal with the loss; if anything they were only serving to make him feel worse about the whole thing. Yami was not worthy of such tears and yet they continued to fall in his honor, dampening the fabric of Kaiba's pants in the process. He could barely breathe because of the crushing weight and he couldn't bear to think that he would have to live with such feelings every day.
It was so intense and Kaiba had to wonder if everyone felt things so deeply or if it was a result of him not allowing himself to experience things normally. He was suddenly grateful for his limited emotional scale because paralyzing bouts like this were completely unacceptable. Kaiba had mourned for little in his life and yet he felt like another part of him was now missing, buried within the depths of the sacred dueling ground. This was never supposed to happen and yet there was nothing he could do to change it.
Unable to do anything else, Kaiba continued to wallow in his grief, knowing that he would never again allow himself to do so. Eventually his tears stopped as suddenly as they had begun and he sniffled quietly in the darkness. It took a monumental effort, but slowly Kaiba managed to rein himself and his reactions in, walling himself off in the process while swearing to never make the same mistake again.
Yes, he would condemn Yami to memories hidden behind his strongest defenses and never again would Kaiba have to suffer through such indignities. After this, Kaiba just had to keep moving forward without looking back and dwelling on such things. He had no one to depend on but himself and his priority would always be his younger brother and Kaiba Corporation. Kaiba needed nothing else and he certainly didn't need someone who had betrayed him by leaving. The only path he should be concerned with was the one that lay in front of him and continuing to sit in a dusty tomb wasn't exactly the best way of going about such plans.
Doing his best to make himself presentable, Kaiba tried to wipe away the evidence of his weakness; the others could never know and he didn't want to worry his brother. Standing up on unsteady feet, Kaiba swayed for a moment before reaching out to steady himself on the stone doors. Allowing himself one final look, Kaiba couldn't stop himself from whispering, "Goodbye," before he turned to walk away.
This would not shatter him, nor would it break him in any way. Kaiba Seto would continue to move ahead on the path he forged and he would not allow anyone or anything stand in his way. Confident that his emotions were sufficiently under control for the moment, Kaiba walked toward the exit with his head held high. He had come too far to turn back now.
When Kaiba finally reemerged into the daylight, he blinked rapidly to get over his momentary blindness. He could hear his younger brother calling out to him and Kaiba braced himself for the impact of Mokuba throwing himself against him. Kaiba still staggered at the movement and he tried not to flinch when he felt Mokuba start crying as he said, "He's gone, nii-sama. He's really gone!"
Hesitantly resting one arm around Mokuba, Kaiba didn't risk saying anything other than, "Yeah." His voice was too unsteady, his pain was too ready to make itself known and Kaiba refused to lose it in front of his brother. It was almost easier to control himself now that he knew there were others watching, but Kaiba still didn't completely trust himself after his unseemly reaction earlier.
Mokuba looked up at his older brother and he could have sworn that Kaiba had been crying at some point. Or maybe it was the dust that had made his eyes look so bloodshot? There had been a pretty big cloud of it coming out of the passageway when they had first arrived, but Mokuba couldn't be sure. He had never seen his brother cry before, so it was hard to identify what he was seeing. "Nii-sama, are you okay?" Mokuba asked in a small voice, knowing how much his brother hated that question and yet it had to be asked.
"Of course I am," Kaiba answered quickly, although his voice lacked its normal arrogant conviction.
"If you say so, nii-sama," Mokuba muttered before burying his face against Kaiba's stomach again. There was an almost vacant, hollow look in Kaiba's eyes and it scared Mokuba a little. He knew that Yami had been important to Kaiba, but it was a little surprising to Mokuba to see his older brother looking like that.
Frowning slightly at his younger brother's tone that implied Mokuba didn't quite believe him, Kaiba still felt the need to apologize, "I'm sorry that you didn't get the chance to see him one last time." It was yet another failure on Kaiba's part and he could only hope that Mokuba would forgive him one day.
Mokuba had been disappointed about it originally, but when he saw how much it was upsetting his brother, his own feelings had become inconsequential. "It's okay," Mokuba told him with a brave smile. "Yuugi told me what the mou hitori—I mean, what Atem wanted to say to me. It was kind of like hearing him say it…"
Appreciating what his younger brother was attempting to do, Kaiba decided against any of his normal replies. There was no point in asking why had they even bothered to come to Egypt because Kaiba already knew the answer. And what good would it do to explain to Mokuba just how different Yami and Yuugi really were? It just didn't matter anymore.
Against his better judgment, Yuugi slowly approached the brothers in order to talk to Kaiba. He cleared his throat to get their attention and decided that it would be easier to start with the younger one. "Mokuba-kun, can I talk to Kaiba-kun alone for a moment?" Yuugi asked shyly, avoiding the glare he knew was probably aimed at him.
Looking up at his older brother for guidance, Mokuba only agreed when Kaiba subtly nodded his consent. "Okay," was all Mokuba said before he ran over to the rest of the Yuugi-tachi who were standing on the top of a dune.
Yuugi got the sense that Kaiba was looking through him rather than at him and it made him nervous about what he wanted to say. "Uhm, Kaiba-kun…"
Taking a deep breath, Yuugi did his best to relate the message Yami had left for Kaiba. Skipping the pleasantries and inquiries into Kaiba's well being, Yuugi got straight to the point; no need to make it any more awkward than it already was. "He wanted you to know that he fully intends to keep his promise."
"Promise? What promise?" Kaiba scoffed as he crossed his arms over his chest.
Yuugi did his best to hide his smile at those words; they were exactly what Yami had predicted Kaiba would say. "The one he made last night?" Yuugi said uncertainly, not really sure how Yami could have talked to Kaiba since they had only found out that morning that the brothers had returned.
Flinching at Kaiba's tone, Yuugi forced himself to maintain eye contact. "The only thing he told me was that you would know what he was talking about," Yuugi explained. "He said that you wouldn't believe him, but he meant it."
There was no way that his dream from last night had been real and yet Yuugi was referencing it. No, surely Kaiba was just being overly analytic about it. "That's impossible," he growled, not willing to confront such a thing yet.
So far everything that had happened Yami had already planned a response for, but Yuugi still wasn't comfortable with what he had to say next. "He also…if you still want proof, he—well, he told me to say something else," Yuugi stuttered, stumbling through his words because of his embarrassment.
"What proof could you possible have?" Kaiba asked skeptically, raising an eyebrow at the blushing boy.
"He said that if I said, 'Thank you for letting me know what it was like to be alive,' that you would know what it meant," Yuugi dutifully related, unaware of the full impact the sentence had on Kaiba.
He could barely manage to reply with a simple, "Oh," as Yami's words from the dream struck him deep. Had it really been more than just a dream?
"Uhm," Yuugi timidly started to interrupt Kaiba's thoughts, "I don't know what he promised, but whatever it was, I know that he'll do it."
"He can't," Kaiba accidentally commented out loud. There was no way that Yami would ever come back and Kaiba refuse to delude himself into thinking otherwise.
If Yuugi didn't know any better, he would have sworn that Kaiba almost sounded bitter about the fact that Yami might not keep his word. "I don't really understand what he meant," Yuugi admitted, "but it was important to him." He had assumed that Kaiba would have made a sarcastic comment at that, but there was only silence between them. "You were the only person he promised anything to, just so you know."
Overcoming his stunned state, Kaiba's voice sounded raw as he demanded, "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
Yuugi wasn't quite sure how to explain it without angering Kaiba. "He only told us goodbye and thanked us for always being there for him," Yuugi said softly, refusing to start crying again. "Atem didn't want me to tell you goodbye for him, he only wanted to make sure that you knew he intended to keep his promise to you. I'm not sure what that means, but you were always more than just a rival to him."
Did that mean that he hadn't promised to see the Yuugi-tachi again? Why would Yami only say such a thing to Kaiba? And what exactly did, "More than just a rival," mean? It just didn't make any sense. He automatically said, "Yuugi," out of habit, but there were no words that he could think of to say.
Sensing Kaiba's need for a distraction, Yuugi smiled up at him brightly as he offered, "We're all going to dinner now and I'd like it if you would could with us." He knew that Kaiba was probably going to reject him, but Yuugi still invited him because he also thought of the other teen as more than just a mere rival. Now that Yami was gone, it seemed more important than ever to try and get Kaiba to acknowledge the friendship that had slowly been building between them.
Kaiba was too preoccupied to be rude about his refusal. "Mokuba can go," Kaiba told him, which was about as passive aggressive as he ever got.
Knowing that now wasn't the right time to push, Yuugi simply nodded and said, "If you ever change your mind—"
"I won't," Kaiba interrupted him, glad for the temporary distraction from the doubts still swirling inside of him.
Shrugging, Yuugi turned to walk away, but he added, "If you ever want to talk…"
"Why would I?" Kaiba asked with a snort.
"You might need to one day."
"And what reason would you have to listen?"
Smiling at Kaiba over his shoulder, Yuugi simply said, "Because that's what friends do, Kaiba-kun."
Kaiba said nothing as Yuugi walked away and he stared at the retreating form. Left alone to his thoughts, Kaiba could already feel himself starting to shut out everything else. He didn't get very far before Mokuba returned to his side with a concerned look on his face. He allowed himself to be led to the cars, but he stopped short of the Yuugi-tachi. "Please come to dinner with us, nii-sama!" Mokuba pleaded. He didn't know why he was so afraid of leaving Kaiba alone at the moment, but Mokuba was worried all the same.
"Yeah, come on, Kaiba!" Jounouchi encouraged him, although all it did was further cement Kaiba's decision.
"I have work to do," Kaiba lied, knowing that even though he had things to do, they weren't going to get done any time soon.
Glancing between his brother and his friends, Mokuba tried for a final time to convince his brother to join them. "Please, nii-sama?"
"I'll see you at the hotel," Kaiba told him as he accepted his briefcase back from Mokuba.
He wanted to protest, but something in Kaiba's eyes stopped Mokuba from saying anything. There was nothing else that he could do besides watch his brother walk away.
Kaiba was not amused to see that Isis had positioned herself in front of the car door, forcing him into a conversation. "Move," he commanded, not giving a damn that she was the one responsible for providing it in the first place. Their luggage was in it and he was taking it back to the hotel whether she liked it or not.
"Remember that the pharaoh always keeps his word, Seto," Isis told him cryptically before stepping aside without complaint.
Kaiba didn't bother with a response and he quickly got into the car, slamming the door shut with more force than was necessary. Barking orders to take him to his hotel, Kaiba was relieved when the dark privacy glass rose into place and the car started the long journey back to the city.
At first he sat in a numb silence as he stared out the window at the desolate landscape, but that only lasted for a short time. The farther away he got from the dueling site, the worse Kaiba began to feel. He was forced to accept that everything was over, that there really was no going back now. No matter how much they told him that Yami would keep his promise, Kaiba knew that he would never again see him in this lifetime. It wasn't like he was going to live for another three thousand years, so what difference did an empty promise make?
He swore when the world started to blur again and he caught a tear on the side of his index finger to examine it. They served no purpose and yet they continued to fall from his eyes against his will. Kaiba knew that he was stronger than that, but it still hurt more than it should have.
As much as he struggled against it, Kaiba lost the battle again and succumbed to his overwhelming emotions. This would be the last time that he would ever allow it to happen and he let things take their course in the hopes that it would get it out of his system. Never again would he allow someone else to make him feel so weak.
He lost track of time as he continued to quietly weep, hating himself for letting it get so far out of control. At least he had the excuse that since it had been so long since he had cried that he had forgotten how to stop, but that thought was just as irritating. He was dimly aware that the salty tears were causing the wound on his hand from punching the door earlier to start stinging and that was annoying as well; he made a mental note to wash the blood off once he was in his room. Futilely wiping the tears away, Kaiba whispered, "Bastard," although he wasn't sure if he was referring to himself, the priest, or Yami.
When they came closer to the city, Kaiba straightened up and forced his emotions to submit to him. By the time they were nearing the hotel, Kaiba's normal stoic mask was back in place. Kaiba Seto needed no one and he certainly didn't need someone who had abandoned him to live in the useless past. It was only when he was certain that he was once again presentable that Kaiba consented to rejoining the rest of the world when they finally reached the hotel.
The check in procedure provided him with an adequate distraction and it wasn't until he was alone in his hotel suite that he was once again assaulted with his previous thoughts. He could hear the priest in his mind saying, "Then you do not deserve him." It was like a slap to the face, but there were no more tears left in him to shed. Instead he steeled his resolve; he would shower and wash the shame off of him, then sleep today's events away. In the morning everything would return to the way it was meant to be.
That thought should have pleased him, but it only made him feel hollow. Something was now missing, but Kaiba would just have to learn to live with it. There was no other option except to move forward.
Walking over to the massive windows, Kaiba looked out at the city from his high vantage point. A small part of him had feared that it might feel like home, but it mercifully felt just like any other city for him.
Resting his forehead against the cool glass, Kaiba sighed heavily as he closed his eyes. He had the rest of his life to pretend that Yami meant nothing to him, but for the moment Kaiba wanted to linger just a little longer in the memories of the warmth that refused to fade away completely. Until he opened his eyes, Kaiba allowed himself to relive those wonderful sensations, painful as they had become. He let the name, "Atem," slip from his lips for a final time before sealing it away behind his mental blockades with everything else that had happened.
Opening his eyes, Kaiba refused to slide any further into his emotions. He had things to do and work to take care of; he had to return to being Kaiba Seto.
There would never be any more tears, but something would always be missing in him.
NEW A/N: I have posted two endings to this story. The first ending is Anywhen, Anywhere, which takes place sixteen years after this story. The second alternative ending is Somewhen, Somewhere and it takes place during this chapter and continues from there to a much different conclusion. They are read independently of each other and are not related. Please enjoy!
ORIGINAL A/N: Well, I'm not really sure how much of a consolation it is, but I have decided on the encouragement of barrie18 to go ahead with the third arc of this Endless Loop Series. I can't promise when it'll be posted and I don't want to reveal any details yet, but there will be something in the near future. I have most of the middle written, but the beginning and ending are mere ideas at this point. The first two arcs came together quickly and I want to spend a little more time on the third part, but I'll post an update in a chapter of Another Lesson once I get a little farther on it.
Having said that, I'm not going to be posting a new story this Wednesday because I want a little more time to develop some other projects. I'll be back to Sunday only updates for a little while, so hopefully that's not too upsetting to you all.
Not a whole lot to add to this, other than the fact that otherwise you can see why part of me really wants to write a oneshot involving the anime interpretation of the final night when Kaiba is on the ship with the Yuugi-tachi on the way to the dueling arena. This was difficult to write and highly emotional, to say the least. I hope that you all enjoyed taking this journey, bittersweet as it has been. The third part should see a resolution of sorts, so please be sure to keep an eye out for it.
The next chapter of Another Lesson goes up on Sunday, June 15th, so please continue to support that story!
I'm looking forward to finally getting to answer some of the questions everyone has had about this story, so please feel free to ask anything in the reviews! Thank you again for all of your kind words on this emotional and challenging piece, I really appreciate it. Hard to believe it's another story done, ne?