Shadow: Right so…plunnies are evil, evil beings that subvert your mind on the day a oneshot is due in and decide that no! You will not be finishing off the seven-page oneshot you'd been writing slowly for the past week, but will instead entertain a whole new idea altogether and write it. Quickly. Damn them. (-muttering-)
For Compy's contest, round four.
Notes: Pairing this time is Euroshipping – Seto Kaiba x Ryou Bakura. So, obviously, shonen-ai (boy x boy). Some mild language, and…adventure? Other pairings lurk too, but they're all het. If you don't like, hit the backspace now.
"Why doesn't mummy wear her hair like that more often?"
Jounouchi Mai, thirty-two years old and seated before the vanity mirror in the bedroom she shared with her husband, two hairpins in her mouth and her hands up in her hair as she attempted to tie up unruly curls in a fashionable knot, looked down upon hearing the voice of her six year-old daughter, feeling one small hand touch the top of her leg.
"Evangeline, sweetie," Mai spoke around the pins - before she finally gave up, letting her hair swing loose and full over her shoulders as she removed the offending articles from between her lips, "it takes too long."
"But it looks pretty." Stretching her other hand Evangeline – Eva, affectionately, to all who knew and loved her – touched her mother's back, stroking one golden curl almost reverently.
Mai smiled down at her daughter, at the little girl who shared her looks but kept her father's soft brown eyes. "Your hair'll grow longer too, Eva, as you get older." It was a source of strife for Evangeline, that her hair was nowhere near the length of her mother's; the issue had been raised many a time, so Mai knew exactly where her offspring was heading with the discussion.
"Promise," Mai assured the girl, before resuming her efforts to put said mane up for the evening. Katsuya and she were going out that night, and the dress she was wearing just didn't look quite right without an up-style. "Do you know if your daddy's almost ready, sweetheart? He's been in the bathroom a long time."
Evangeline nodded. "He said he was almost finished when I asked him." A thoughtful pause. "I came here straight after, to see how pretty mummy was."
Mai smiled again at the blunt compliment, and she would've petted her child save for the fact both her hands were occupied once more, lost in drifts of stubborn blonde. Her hair was refusing any and all attempts she could muster to wrap around into an elegant knot, and Mai's frustration was building to ridiculous levels.
Then, she dropped a hairpin.
It was a pretty, silver-metal thing, quite plain and unadorned, but it sparkled when the lights overhead caught it, plummeting down, down, down to bounce, once, twice on the floor before taking one final ironic leap to plunge straight down into the most minute of holes between the wooden boards.
Evangeline, bless her, was down on her knees at once to try and retrieve the fallen pin, but it was to no avail. Even her little fingers couldn't fit into the tiny crack between the boards, and there simply wasn't enough time to rip up the wood just for one awkward little hairpin. Mai inwardly cursed, hair tumbling free once more, and Evangeline looked up, a little worried.
"Will the mice eat it, mummy?"
"Sweetie, we don't have mice."
"Will the spiders eat it then?"
Mai considered the question. "…We'll send daddy down to rescue it before the spiders eat it."
"But daddy's going out with you this evening." Evangeline's concern wasn't going away, brown eyes wide. "He won't have time to rescue it."
"Then who would you send down to rescue it instead?"
"Ryou," the little girl decided with an air of finality. Evangeline liked Ryou; he was her babysitter quite a lot when her parents went out, and he brought her sweets and read her stories and didn't 'patty-nise' her like some other adults did.
"It would be quite an adventure…" Mai trailed off somewhat, seeing the light of determination beginning to glow in Eva's eyes.
"Ryou could manage it!"
"But it's dark and black and probably cold down there…"
"Ryou'd do it," Evangeline insisted. "He'd bring back your pin, mummy – he would!"
"But what would happen," Mai asked, suddenly sliding off her chair and kneeling on the floor beside her daughter in a rush of genius and warmth, "if the story was a little more complicated than that?"
"Story?" Determination slid into eager enthusiasm, Evangeline quickly deciding to snuggle into her mother's arms, cling to Mai with anticipatory delight. "What story?"
"Well you see," the woman began, leaning forwards to impart some wonderful secret, "Ryou would have to take it back from the little prince made of ice…"
Ryou Bakura was beginning to wonder why he ever got up in the morning. Really. Since the age of twelve karma had had it out for him, life taking an almighty screaming head-dive before he'd even officially become a teenager, starting off at a jolly old pace and then outright zooming down the slippery slope to go smack into whatever pit of hell lurked at the bottom. Fate – officially – Did Not Like Ryou, and so he found himself in the middle of some godforsaken wasteland made of ice and snow. The moon overhead was full and bright, perfectly pointing out the whole lack of nothing he had in front of him to look forward to on his wonderful walk to Anyone-Knows. Strange, knobbly, hard-to-make out things lurked for him on the distant horizon, and a sinking feeling was rapidly taking form in Ryou's gut – no doubt it was shortly going to go the way of the Titanic.
The albino's steps crunched as he stepped over the hard ground, blades of grass so sharp they almost cut straight through the soles of his boots. His breath, warm and wet, came out as mist, dragons dancing in the air before dissipating into the cold and frost. He was on a mission, he knew, a mission so great and grand and bloody awful simple because one six year-old had blinked far-too googly big brown eyes at him and asked him sweetly if he would mind going to fetch her mother's hairpin from the terrible kingdom-under-the-floorboards.
Ryou, like the soft twit he was, had quickly caved in the face of cuteness (like he always did), and promised to go to the very ends of the earth itself if it meant making dear, darling, precious little Jounouchi Evangeline happy.
Evangeline had promptly squealed, delighted at having gotten her own way with Ryou (like she always did), and sent him on his way.
And so – the kingdom-under-the-floorboards, the land of ice and snow. The long, long walk Ryou endured to get somewhere-that-resembled-somewhere-relatively-helpful-and/or-interesting, all with the pretty, sparkly lump of shimmery rock in the night sky above. And there were no stars. Brilliant.
He walked straight into the cobwebs.
Ryou panicked when he felt the sticky, cloying strands touch his skin, trying to take a step back but only encountering more of the same stuff, loops and loops of gummy rope wrapping around his lithe form as he struggled, trying to break free. And with cobwebs there had to be-
"Well, well, well. What do we have here?"
Spiders. Giant ones at that.
Ryou glared as the owner of the delightfully obnoxious voice came into view, longing very much to snap off the eight twitchy legs attached to the repulsive fat body before him and ram them down the green-haired, bug-eyed arachnid's throat. (Who ever said the innate violence had been restricted to his darker half alone?)
"Lunch!" A somewhat less bug-enthused spider waddled into sight, red cap stuffed firmly over its head as it – Ryou was rather disgusted to note – drooled in the Brit's direction.
"My lunch." The first spider insisted – and was it just a coincidence it looked so much like that Haga guy? Ryou twitched when one furry limb touched him rather possessively on the shoulder, about to open his mouth and complain but –
"What?" Spiders shouldn't be able to reach that pitch… The Ryuzaki-dinosaur-spider-thing did not look pleased, voicing his protests.
"I got here first," the Haga one insisted. "Therefore he's mine."
"This is my area of the web -"
"Which you abandoned some time ago -"
"But I still put the time and effort into creating -"
"It was a total nightmare when I arrived, really. Food was escaping here, there and everywhere -"
"The groundwork was established by me -"
"The intricacy of the web was my own design -"
"Um," Ryou wriggled in his bonds, rather put-out at being ignored. "Don't I have some say in who gets to eat me?"
The spiders ignored him.
"Well so I am I but do you see me complaining?"
"Well, you just blatantly laid claim to some food that wandered into my web, so of course you're complaining you irresponsible, egocentric arachnid! If you think for one instant -"
"He's mine!" The Haga one neatly sliced through half of the bonds trapping Ryou, dragging the startled man to him when it looked like Ryuzaki was just going to reach out and take him.
Ryou gagged at the stench of the spider, the eight-legged freak's fur mottled and matted with dried blood, ooze and dirt. He didn't want to think about where half of the ick came from, trying to worry more about his mortality than the smell.
The spiders continued to argue over his head, until eventually, they reached a sort of compromise: -
"Shall we just share him?" From Haga.
Ryuzaki: "He's fat enough for both of us."
"Excuse me?" Ryou couldn't help the squeak in his voice, torn somewhere between affront and fright. "I am not fat." Upon seeing the leering Ryuzaki approach and the hot breath of Haga behind – ew, was that saliva on his shoulder? – Ryou decided to be more vocal about his protests. "Really, I'm skinny! All muscle, terribly stringy. I wouldn't even make a decent mouthful."
"Nice try." Haga lowered his head, mouth stretched in a sickening grin. "We're gonna wrap you up and have you as a human milkshake…"
"Spider venom'll liquefy your corpse," Ryuzaki helpfully added, sidling even closer. "Tasty."
Ryou let the quietest of eeps. "You…you can't eat me!"
"Why not?" From both the arachnids.
"I – I -" Ryou flailed wildly for an idea to save his neck. "I'm blood-type AB! I'll be terrible for your social skills. I mean honestly – you think any hot female spider's gonna look at you twice with AB blood going around in you?" The albino flapped his hand, forcing confidence. "I think not. 'AB's', they'll say. 'Simply far too critical and indecisive to settle down with.' Think of your future! One little bite, and your love life's officially down the drain with incey wincey."
"He…" Ryuzaki took a step back, "he actually has a point…"
Haga scratched his head with one of his seven free limbs. "Females are usually into that blood-type stuff…" he looked at Ryou doubtfully. "You're really AB?" Ryou nodded fervently. "Damn…" Sighing, Haga set about snapping the web binding his prey, Ryou slipping out of the adhesive ropes thankfully and standing a few steps away from the mourning arachnids.
"What?" Ryuzaki asked him irritably, clearly upset at having lost a potential meal. "Can't you just get going instead of taunting us?"
"I…don't know where I'm going," Ryou admitted honestly, becoming slightly more at ease around the giant spiders now it was clear they won't going to eat him. "I was wondering if you could point me in the direction of the nearest city, or something?" It would be a good place to pick up gossip on the hairpin – it had to be giant in this land-under-the-floorboards, the size of Ryou himself.
"That way." Ryuzaki pointed morosely due north of their position. "I don't know why you'd want to go there though. It's a terribly depressing place. Whole city's busy weeping about their heir apparent."
That piqued his human companion's interest. "Has he died?"
"No," Haga replied, "he just turned into a human ice sculpture overnight."
"Always was rather a cold individual," the green-haired spider continued, "so one day he literally froze over. Hasn't moved or breathed or talked for…two years now?"
Ryuzaki propped his chin up with one leg. "That sounds rather dead to me."
"Nah," his companion refuted him, "the heir's little brother went to consult the various witchy people of the kingdom – they said the Crown Prince wasn't dead, but would 'ne'er be properly alive once more until his heart is warmed by human emotion'."
Ryuzaki didn't look impressed. "That's awfully trite."
"Isn't it?" Haga agreed.
Ryou left the two, shaking his head, his path due north towards the city, on his destined way to meet the prince made of ice –
"Kaiba?" Jounouchi Katsuya wandered calmly into his bedroom, one hand on his clean-shaven chin, eyeing his preoccupied wife on the floor beside their daughter. "You're telling our one and only child a story involvin' Kaiba?"
"Kaiba?" Evangeline blinked cutely up at her father, momentarily flummoxed by the title, before remembering a certain brunet her daddy always seemed to shout the name at when he seemed vexed. "You mean uncle Seto?"
Mai laughed as her husband twitched, petting Evangeline's hair. "Yes, daddy means uncle Seto."
Katsuya barely held back a growl. "He's not her un -"
"And nor is Yugi, technically," Mai chided the male, "but they're as good as family anyway, and wonderful godparents."
Evangeline didn't care about that. "Does daddy know the story?"
"It has Ryou going to find mummy's hairpin and massive spiders and a kingdom with a prince made of ice," Evangeline ran to her father, clinging to the man's legs.
"And it's all in the kingdom-under-the-floorboards," Mai added helpfully.
"Mai, honey," Katsuya made sure to stress the endearment, a playful parody of his wife's affection for pet names, "if the hunger's beginning to affect you that much -"
Mai clambered up from where she'd been kneeling on the floor – a feat in her high heels – and smacked her spouse on the arm. "I need to finish getting ready. Would you tell Eva the rest of the story?"
Jounouchi looked doubtfully at the clock in the room. "The reservation's in an hour, and we've got to drive there as well -"
"Please, daddy?" Evangeline clung all the more tightly to her father's leg, wrinkling his trousers. "I need to know what happens to Ryou an' uncle Seto!"
Katsuya sighed, but bent down to scoop his daughter up in his arms. She clapped her hands together in delight, quickly scrambling into his hold, wrapping her arms around his neck, and planting a kiss upon his cheek. Her father looked at his wife.
"I'm just kept firmly wrapped around the fingers of the women in my life, aren't I?"
Mai laughed, and shooed him from the room.
"So," said Jounouchi Katsuya, as he carried his daughter down to the living-room of their home, "where shall I continue the story from?"
"The city!" Evangeline replied immediately, tightening her hold. "The trip's dull so put Ryou in the city! Everybody's upset there," she informed Katsuya knowledgeably. "Uncle Seto's been turned into ice because his heart is cold, an' he can only be woken up prop'ly by the warmth of human emus."
"'Emus'?" Katsuya hid his smile in the girl's neck, amused despite himself at his wife's inventiveness and his daughter's mangling of vocabulary. "Are you sure it wasn't emotion, or somethin'?"
"Alright then…" they reached the living-room, Jounouchi setting Evangeline down on the couch beside him as he continued Mai's little tale. "…So Ryou went t' the capital city…"
It was horribly busy in the city. Ryou dodged out of the way as a horse-drawn carriage bore down upon him like hell on wheels, the beast pulling the thing along at least two times as large as him, metal-shod hooves making sparks when they hit the cobbled roads. The gleam of intelligence (Satan, Satan, Satan) was in its eyes, and Ryou had no desire to be trod-upon/run-down/mutilated beyond all recognition by an antisocial horse with an anti-human grudge to work off.
Ryou, instead, managed to collide with some of the passers-by, the crowds shooting the poor albino hideously nasty looks for daring to step in their path. Ryou, doing his very hardest to offend no-one, offended everyone, until eventually a crotchety old woman beat him over the back of the head with her shopping basket and squawked at him to get out of the way and stop irritating the common folk with his nefarious ways. Ryou, apologising for what had to be the seven-hundred-and-seventy-seventh time in ten minutes, looked up at her when he was apologising –
And then she screeched, attracting the attention of everyone in the crowd, flailing in Ryou's general direction (her cane almost swiping the young man's head clean off of his shoulders): "Look at his eyes!"
Ryou looked around, nonplussed, unsure of what exactly was wrong with his eyes (he thought they were quite pretty, if he had to say so himself), as everyone about slowly began to turn around and gawk –
"Don't stand there, you idiot!" And Ryou felt his hand grabbed as he was promptly yoinked off of his feet and yanked in some random direction by – um…someone in a furry cloak?
They ran and they ran and they ran and Ryou was just about to put in a complaint that his feet hurt and that he still had no idea why he'd just been forcibly stolen from the main street when his sort-of-abductor finally stopped, Ryou stopping short behind them.
And then he was smacked very sharply on the side of the head.
"Ow!" Ryou yelped at the motion, clutching at his much-abused skull and glaring at the young woman before him. "What was that for?"
"Have you no common sense?" Hands on hips, the blue-eyed brunette before the Brit actually cut quite the intimidating sight. "You shouldn't be out in public looking like that!"
"Out in public like what?" Ryou asked, put-out.
"Don't be ridiculous -" the stranger paused, catching the sincerity in the other's expression. "…You really don't know, do you? Where are you from?"
"Away from here." Ryou replied, albeit it a little sulkily. "Where people at least pretend to be sane."
A short bark of laughter. "…Only those with blue eyes are allowed on the streets here, stranger. Anyone else is flung in prison."
"…Seriously?" The brunette nodded. Ryou blinked his very brown eyes, and shrank back into the wall he was leaning against. "Oh." He looked at the young woman before him – the blue-eyed woman before him. "Why did you help me?"
"Because I don't believe in the rule." She had a lovely smile. "My husband's eyes are purple. I'm Anzu, by the way –"
"Auntie Anzu!" Evangeline shrieked delightedly, elated to have her father bring in people she knew so well to the story. "Auntie Anzu saved Ryou? Go Auntie!"
Jounouchi grinned, ruffling the little girl's hair. "Indeed – go Anzu."
"And she's married to uncle Yugi, right?" The six year-old continued eagerly. "Right?"
"That's right. She's married to Yugi, and they both welcome Ryou into their home when he's feeling a bit lost, so Ryou tells them his tale…"
"I've heard of something like that," Yugi said simply, when Ryou described the hairpin he was looking for to the couple before him.
"Really?" The albino couldn't hide the spark of hope within him.
A nod, Yugi clearing away the dishes Anzu had made for them to eat as they talked. "It sounds a lot like one of the great curiosities the youngest prince had brought in to try and melt his brother's ice."
"One of the great curiosities?"
"Yugi," Anzu scolded her husband, "you know those are just rumours -"
"There's a shred of some kind of truth in every rumour," Yugi shot back, "and I have heard talk of a great piece of silver metal worked into a strange hooped shape – much like a giant hairpin, now I think about it."
Ryou beamed. "How would I go about getting it back?"
His hosts looked at him blankly. Anzu shook her head. "...If it even exists, Ryou, it would be utterly impossible to retrieve. I mean…if it is one of the great curiosities His Highness, prince Mokuba has brought to the Royal Palace to try and intrigue his brother into stirring from the ice then…I doubt he'd just willingly give it up."
"Even if it obviously doesn't work?" Ryou glanced between the two before him, feeling weariness set in once more. "I mean – it is just a hairpin after all. It's about as magic as I am."
"Hm…" Yugi scrutinised his guest oddly. "What you perceive as magic and what others perceive as magic may be entirely different, Ryou Bakura. Don't be so quick to write things off because you can only view them in one way."
"But I -"
"I'm in a story?" Blank-faced surprise was laced with amusement, Ryou Bakura standing in the doorway to the Jounouchi living-room with a vague smile upon his face.
"Ryou!" Evangeline squealed and leaped from her seat, running to fling herself at the Brit. "Ryou, Ryou, Ryou!" She giggled when he hugged her, petting his fluffy hair affectionately. "Mummy and daddy have been telling me stories about you and uncle Seto and uncle Yugi and auntie Anzu. And there were spiders." She was very keen to impress this fact upon her beloved babysitter.
"Were there now?" Ryou took the girl's hand when he straightened properly from the hug, waving slightly laconically to the still-seated Katsuya. "I used the front door-key since I thought you and Mai'd be busy."
"S'okay." Jounouchi flapped off the explanation. "It's what we gave you a spare for, isn't it?"
"Ryou?" There was a call from upstairs, and a few moments later Mai came through the room, smiling warmly at the newest arrival. "Ryou! I thought I heard your voice." Her hair was finally done up, her make-up on.
"Mai, you look as lovely as always." The albino swept a bow, and got swatted in the shoulder in laughing response. Ryou pouted, before drawing Evangeline to him. "Always with the abuse, Mai…at least little Eva here loves me – don't you, Eva?" The girl giggled again, and nodded.
Mai shook her head, still smiling. "Katsuya…I'm ready to go now, and since Ryou is so graciously here on time..."
"We'd best be off." Jounouchi looked a little apologetic as he rose to his feet, accepting his coat that was handed to him by his wife.
"But -" Evangeline suddenly protested, "but my story."
"…Ryou'll finish it for you," Mai replied immediately, a strange smile upon her face. "Won't you?" She asked the pale man.
Ryou regarded her warily, put on guard every time he saw that calculated gleam in any of the Jounouchis' eyes. "I…" Evangeline trembled before him, eyes wide and pleading. Ryou gave in. "I'll try." The girl beamed.
"Good." Mai leaned forwards then, whispering something in the man's ear that made him blush. Katsuya smirked when Ryou half-heartedly glared at him –
"You two are incorrigible, you know that?"
Mai patted him on the head, much like you would a pet. "We're only doing it in your best interests, darling." She and her husband left.
Ryou sighed when they were gone, collapsing bonelessly onto the sofa. Evangeline instantly clambered up beside him. "Story?" She begged.
The man could do nothing but oblige. "…For some strange reason, Yugi and Anzu were very determined that, even though they originally thought the task impossible, they were going to make sure Ryou saw his task through to the end…"
They'd broken into the Royal Palace. They'd broken into the Royal Palace. Anzu was loving it, humming under her breath as she darted ninja-style from pillar to pillar; Ryou was dogging her heels, feeling a little sick, afraid of being caught and fed to the prison rats, and Yugi was huddled wailing to himself in the corner, having the proverbial panic-stricken kittens.
"This is the life, isn't it?" Anzu reclined sunnily on the pillar that was their current hiding place, smiling dreamily at the ceiling. "The thrill of it all, the hunt, the adrenaline pumping in your veins…"
Ryou clutched at his stomach, and looked green. "I'm going to be sick."
Yugi whimpered and burrowed into his wife's side.
Anzu frowned at both of them. "You have no sense of adventure."
"Of course I do," was Ryou's swift retort. "Right now it's curled up in bed back home with a good book and a nice cup of tea. Remind why I'm not doing the sensible thing and being there alongside it?"
"Because you made a promise." Anzu said, very flatly.
"Which begs the question why we're here…" Yugi lifted his head to look at his wife.
"Because we made a promise," Anzu replied, frowning now. "And none of us must ever break our promises."
Ryou and Yugi looked at one another. And then they looked back at Anzu.
"Of course not," they chorused, perfectly insincere.
Anzu scowled at both of them before looking away and grumbling to the side. "I need more female friends, really, I do…"
The trio walked. They ran. They hid. They stalked. They watched. They waited, and they generally acted like wannabe-ninjas and/or secret agents as they made their way through the Royal Palace. It was a wonder, with all their antics, they avoided the attention of the Royal Guards, but perhaps fate was shining down on them all just this once –
"Oi! You three!"
They'd been spotted.
Yugi, Anzu and Ryou, being confronted by two clearly startled guards, did the very best thing that first sprang into their minds.
Sadly, they all ran in different directions at a fork, but that was good in many regards as there were only two guards, and there were three people that needed chasing. One guard when after Yugi, the other after Anzu, and Ryou ran on alone, unchased, constantly looking over his shoulder until he ran face-first into a mammoth set of double doors.
"Ow…" Ryou groaned, rubbing his nose (why was it always his head?) and glowering as best he could with watering eyes at the great doors before him. They'd parted slightly due to the force of his collision and strange light glowed from within – curious, Ryou pushed on them, and stuck his head inside.
Inside lay a cave of wonders. Ryou's mouth dropped open as his wide, wide eyes took in the marvels before him, the albino's feet automatically moving and walking him inside so he could look at everything in closer detail.
Exotic birds-of-paradise fluttered to-and-fro in enormous golden cages, the walls bedecked with silks and tapestries. The floor was piled with cushions and carpets, strange statues littered here and there. An amazing construction of bronze metal span around and around in endless circles – a model of the solar system? – a humongous tank dominating one area filled with dark-eyed shy creatures Ryou rather fancied could be something closely akin to mermaids. There was what looked like a bejewelled human skull, a pianoforte that played by itself in the corner and –
The hairpin. Ryou swooped forward upon catching sight of the giant silver-metal hair adornment, elated to have the end of his task so close in sight. Now all he had to do was get it back to Mai –
He saw him then, out of the corner of his eye. Ryou turned upon catching something gleaming under the lights, attention caught by a beautiful sculpture kept mostly concealed by a sheer curtain the shade of the summer sky. Approaching the creation, wondering, Ryou could only admire how beautiful it was, eyes raking across the tall, slender form, elegant cheeks, handsome face. It looked so…so real Ryou fancied he could almost see the statue's eyes move, the albino reaching out to touch the sculpture's one outstretched hand with a soft smile –
It was ice. Cold, unflinching ice. Rather than pulling away Ryou clutched the hand of ice more tightly – it was cold, too cold to melt by his touch alone surely -, studying the sculpture's beautiful face more closely. He'd never seen a more commanding, a more arresting figure; it was just such a pity –
Cold metal touched the side of Ryou's throat, cold fury speaking into the Brit's ear:
"Just who the hell are you, and what do you think you're doing here?"
Ryou's eyes darted sideways, and met frosty grey-blue. "I…" He couldn't find the words.
"Do you know who I am?" the one holding him hostage demanded – a young man, clearly new to adulthood.
"I am his Highness, Prince Mokuba – now step away from my brother!"
Ryou gulped and –
Ryou broke off his story, coming back from his dreaming as he spoke only to realise his young charge had fallen asleep on his lap. It was no surprise, really – it was quite late for the young Evangeline, and the cadence of her babysitter's voice was soothing enough, it seemed, to send the little girl off into a deep sleep.
Ryou smiled, absently petting the child's hair, before slowly, hesitantly, reaching into his pocket for his mobile phone to check on the time. He'd been at the Jounouchis' for a few hours – Mai and Katsuya would be back soon enough, and –
He…didn't quite know why the two had chosen such a story to tell their daughter. Well, that was a lie. He did know, sort of, except… Pink rose in the Brit's cheeks at the thought of it, a habit he'd never quite managed to lose. Ryou would forever blush when he was embarrassed, quite unlike the stoic Kaiba Seto, whom Ryou had…whom Ryou had – oh, whom Ryou had liked for so long. Liked, yes. Liked. And everybody seemed to know about it except for Kaiba himself, even though Yugi, Anzu, Jounouchi and Mai insisted otherwise. It was a mutual thing, this…this liking, only Seto wasn't going to get down off of his high horse anytime soon and Ryou was far, far too self-conscious to even consider making a confession and –
God, there were some things about him that would just never grow up, wasn't there? It was almost pathetic, how he clung to his shyness, how he quivered and hid and watched all his other friends pair off and settle down, have children like Evangeline, try for children like Yugi and Anzu and –
Ryou mulled things over to himself, lost in his thoughts and unaware of time going by. He jumped about a foot in the air when a hand laid itself on his shoulder, nearly shrieking, but a friendly palm clapped itself over his mouth before he let out a noise and woke up the slumbering Evangeline.
Katsuya grinned down at him. "Were you asleep?"
Ryou shook his head, a little dazed. "No, I…" he offered a sheepish smile, "I was just off in my own little world."
"Did Evangeline behave herself?" Mai came in through the door, pulling down the hair that had taken her so long to wear up. Women - Ryou would never understand them.
"She sat and listened to my story – fell asleep and hasn't made a peep since."
Mai smiled. "Did you finish it? The story, I mean?" Ryou shook his head. "Pity…"
Katsuya went around the other side of the sofa, trying to pick up Eva without waking her, but the little girl stirred, blinking open her eyes. "Daddy…?"
"Hey, sunshine…" The blond loved his daughter – it was obvious to see. "It's time t' get you to bed now, alright?"
"No…" The protest was barely above a whisper, "I…I…" a small yawn, smothered with a small hand, "I have to hear the end of the story…" She was drooping.
"I'll tell it to you when you're in bed, sweetheart." Mai trailed after her family up the stairs, before stopping partway to look back at the vaguely wistful Ryou. "You come too – don't you want to know how the story ends?"
"Mai…" the albino shook his head. "Stories don't always work out the same in real life."
"What is real life," Mai countered gently, shushing the other's disquiet, "but a greater story? Come," she stretched out a hand to her friend, refusing to budge until the albino followed her to Evangeline's room. "Hear the end."
"Mummy?" Evangeline was waiting. Katsuya, seated on the base of his daughter's bed, was patiently waiting. Ryou, standing in the doorway of the room, was waiting, hope and pessimism waging way inside of him.
Mai began the beginning of the end of the tale…
"This is your brother?" The question was a quiet one, whispered.
"Of course it's my brother!" Mokuba replied angrily, clearly upset. "What are you, stupid?!"
"I'm new to the city." Ryou answered, trying to meet fury with gentleness.
The prince didn't care. "Come away!"
Ryou's hand tightened on the sculpture's. "Your brother is -"
"I said, come away!" Mokuba panicked a little, afraid Ryou's warmth would melt the ice his brother was currently composed of in the wrong way, and Seto would turn to water, break down to irretrievable nothing. "Don't touch him!"
"Why?" Ryou was naturally curious. "Are you afraid to?"
"Nobody touches him!" Mokuba yelled.
"In case he melts!"
Ryou was confused. "Isn't that what you want him to do?"
"It's – I – you don't understand!"
"Then…please explain?" Mokuba glared at him, mutinously silent. Ryou sighed. "I…do you know," he asked conversationally, "I came to this kingdom in the search of a giant hairpin?" Still more silence. "It's over there." He nodded to the pin, a few metres away.
"You can't have it."
"But I promised someone I'd -"
"You can't have it."
"Please," it was a quiet plea, Ryou looking very seriously into the prince's eyes, "let me have it. It's doing your brother no good -"
"How do you know that?!" Mokuba asked, angry once more. "Has he spoken to you, moved for you, looked at you? No!"
"Is there nothing I can do that would have you release the hairpin into my care?"
"…Unfreeze him." Mokuba nodded to his brother, a mirthless smile on his face. "Make Seto human again."
A small frown worried Ryou's face. "But…the city's populace said it's been two years since -"
"Exactly." Mokuba dug in a little deeper with the blade at the albino's throat, and the Brit felt a small trickle of warmth run down his neck – blood, no doubt. "How dare you come in here and presume to-? How dare you – do you even know what it's like to have a big brother made of ice?" There were unshed tears in Mokuba's eyes, the cloudy orbs glittering brightly. "To not hear him laugh, or see him smile or move or – or – or -" the prince heaved one, sole, dry sob, breath shuddering. "The witches and the soothsayers I consulted in the beginning said big brother would go back to normal, would soften once his heart was warmed by human emotion and I've tried, but I – I just can't -"
Hesitantly, Ryou suggested the only thing that sprang to mind. "Have…have you tried – um -" he could feel himself colouring a little. "Have you tried loving him?"
Mokuba looked at him scathingly. "What do you think?"
"Not as a little brother," Ryou amended, flushing darker. "I meant…does he have a lover of some sort or -"
"Seto never had one." Mokuba brushed the comment aside. "So I didn't go out and look for one when he was like this."
"But…what if that's what he needs?"
Mokuba looked at him stonily.
Ryou looked back, dark red. (Damn his blush, damn it.)
Mokuba – slowly – withdrew the blade from Ryou's neck. "…Kiss him."
Ryou choked. "What?!" And flailed. "I never meant – I didn't mean – not me, damn it! Bloody hell, you'd think – I – I mean he's pretty, and all, but no, no, I really -"
"…I'll give you the hairpin."
Ryou paused. "Whether…he unfreezes or not?"
Mokuba nodded. "Whether he unfreezes or not."
"It was your idea after you broke into the palace for you to get the hairpin – and it's a relatively decent idea, and you're fairly girly-looking for a guy so whether the kiss works or not Seto shouldn't be too pissed off with me because I've never really had the chance to ask him what side of the garden fence he sits on." Mokuba put away his knife, and folded his arms across his chest. "Now kiss him."
Ryou blushed darker but obliged, (he wasn't that girly-looking) terribly self-conscious about Mokuba watching him.
To be expected, the ice prince's lips were cold. Cold and firm, and Ryou closed his eyes because he felt like a class A prat trying to instil life in an inanimate object. His grip upon the frozen royal's hand – that he'd never relinquished until then – finally moved, sliding up to touch the statue's shoulder, but nothing, nothing, nothing.
More disappointed than he would've like to admit at getting no response (the Crown Prince of the kingdom-under-the-floorboards was really a looker) Ryou broke the kiss and took a step backwards –
Only for strong arms to lock him in place, one possessive hand curled over Ryou's hip, the other rising to press very firmly between the Brit's shoulder-blades.
Ryou's eyes flared open and met –
Oh God, such blue.
Before the albino could even make a startled exclamation he'd been pulled properly forwards again, mouth colliding very forcefully with the prince's, and –
Well, for an ice sculpture, the man really was quite a remarkable kisser.
Evangeline smiled, pleased, as she lay back on her pillows, delighted that there had been a happy ending. "So Ryou brought the hairpin back for mummy?"
Mai nodded. "I got it back."
"And the ice prince was woken up from his iciness?"
Evangeline's lashes fluttered, dropping three-quarters of the way into slumber. "And…and they lived happily ever after?"
"I don't know…" Mai looked away from her child, feeling Katsuya lightly squeeze her shoulder, and looked at Ryou standing in the doorway. "Ryou, did they live happily ever after?"
Slowly, hesitantly, feeling the phone nervously in his pocket, Ryou…nodded. "They lived happily ever after."
The Crown Prince and heir apparent brushed Ryou's fringe back off of his face, his fingertips still cool from being laced with ice. "Who are you, stranger?"
"Ryou," Ryou returned, a little embarrassed the (bloody handsome) brunet – for it turned out Seto had lovely brown hair – hadn't let him go since…well, since he'd kissed him. "Ryou Bakura."
"Tell me, Ryou Bakura," and his companion had such a wonderfully arrogant smirk that promised so much, as he leaned down, breath hot against the Brit's ear, "are you usually so forward with strangers?"
Ryou flushed. Again.
It was a long walk up the drive to the mansion, and by the time Ryou finally reached the front steps Kaiba was already waiting for him at the door. The albino had summoned up his courage and phoned ahead, flung his lot to fate and prayed every step of the way but still this – he'd given a happy ending to Evangeline, but stories didn't always tell the truth.
"Seto Kaiba." He slowly ascended the steps, eyes forever fixed on the moonlit form of the brunet lounging back against his door. "Seto." He stopped before the other, and saw the impossibly blue eyes Mai had described. "I was babysitting Evangeline tonight and – and -" words fell a little flatly in the night air. "Do you care about that?"
Wordlessly, Kaiba shook his head. His expression was unreadable.
Ryou swallowed. In make-believe he'd went on a great quest for a hairpin, confused giant spiders, avoided being flung in prison, broke into a Royal Palace and saved a prince – in reality, foes weren't like that. Enemies weren't mythical, and enemies weren't magical. One's greatest foe, as they said, was oneself.
"Seto, I…" there weren't enough words, and Ryou knew…somehow, if he pressed on with this verbal confession he was going to breakdown and run away and that, as they also said, would be the definite end to that so –
He leaned up, and kissed Kaiba's cheek, too embarrassed to be more direct than that, feeling smooth, cool skin beneath his skin. The immortal, untouchable ice-prince.
Cheeks red, Kaiba still wordless, he turned to go. Everyone had been wron-
Kaiba grabbed his chin with sharp, cold fingers, swift as the rapid frost as he pressed a fleeting kiss to Ryou's mouth, chaste, firm – warm. The ice-prince – human after all.
Brown met blue. Ryou smiled.
"What happened between Seto and Ryou in the end?" Evangeline asked her mother the following night sleepily, eyes already half-closed as she drifted off to sleep.
Mai smiled, having had a very squeaky albino on the phone to her earlier in the day, the Brit talking and talking and talking about kisses and moonlight and had they seen the size of Kaiba's room?
(Katsuya's rather dry response: "I wouldn't want to.")
Mai smiled, kept smiling, and leaned forward to brush a kiss over Evangeline's forehead. "That's a story for another day, darling."
Another day far, far in the future. Evangeline was a little too young to hear the epilogue.