CHAPTER 5: FULL HOUSE
A platform had appeared with Shadi's arrival; its sides were intricately carved with hieroglyphs. It looked singularly out of place in Kaiba's modern, newly-redecorated office. Four large stone Ushebti statues were on it, forming a square. Four pairs of kohl-outlined eyes stared out at them, their faces expressionless beneath the ceremonial headdresses. Four sets of identical arms were folded across four chests. Each right hand clasped an Ankh. They stood in their sarcophagi, rows of hieroglyphics running in horizontal stripes from shoulders to feet. Their heads came up to Yami's waist – or where Yami's waist would have been if he'd never gone to the mansion and picked a fight with Shadi. A thin cord had been strung from each statue. They met in the center to form the outline of a pyramid above them. At its apex, high above Yami (and even Kaiba), hung the Millennium Key.
"These look familiar. The last time we played this game, you lost," Yami said.
"I don't think history will repeat itself. Nor will I," Shadi answered. "The last time, I was testing the heart of a pharaoh. The statues represented your heart; they were bound to serve the gods."
Kaiba put Yami on the platform. He studied the four figures. They were triple his height. Shadi's meaning was clear. The last time they had felt familiar, animate. They'd been a part of him. Now their blank faces, as they stood there waiting for a soul to trap, made Yami shudder.
"Yes. They are waiting to be occupied. You were right: two Millennium Items are in play in this game, the Scale and the Key." Shadi set the Scale at the juncture of the four Ushebti figures, so that it was resting on their joined shoulders. "If you can use the Scale to reach the Key, you win. If either you or even one of the Ushebti figures which will form your foundation crumble, the Key will fall and be lost to you forever."
"It seems you've learned nothing since we met, yet expect the conclusion of this game to be different," Yami said.
"There is every difference! You once told me that the Puzzle represented the power of unity. Now you no longer have the Puzzle. The last time you fought to protect your people, as a pharaoh must. How will you fare when you are the one depending on them? You renounced divinity. Is humanity – not just yours but your friends' – strong enough to bear up under the burden?" Shadi smiled. "It looks like we're about to find out. Your uninvited guests are arriving."
Kaiba and Yami looked at the security monitor. Yugi, Jounouchi, Honda and Anzu were fighting with the guards… who obviously recognized them and were trying to hold the little band off without hurting them.
"Let them come up," Yami told Kaiba.
Kaiba was tempted to throw the lot out, but he looked at the diminutive figure beside him and nodded, wondering why he was taking orders from a doll. But it was Yami's game; he deserved to choose his hand. Kaiba groaned as he saw Mokuba run into the building. He tapped the walkie-talkie in his KC pin on his duster.
"Tell them if they wait ten minutes for you to disarm the security system they can come up," he told his security team.
Even with the sound off, it was easy to interpret Mokuba's reaction. "Mokuba seems to think you're lying," Yami said.
"I am. And I don't have much time."
"It all comes down to Mokuba for you, doesn't it?" Shadi asked.
Kaiba didn't bother answering.
"I would have left your love for your brother untouched," Shadi said.
"Then the rest falls apart. He seems to want me the way that I am."
Kaiba had one eye on the security monitor as he said, "There's only four statues. There's no reason for Mokuba to be a part of this."
"I would not involve a child in these games," Shadi agreed.
"Why the hell not? You seem to have no problem screwing around with everyone else's lives," Kaiba said.
"I will swear on any oath you require. If they were not binding, I would not be here. I would leave Yami with the size that suits him so well. Why does your cold, hard logic always break down when it comes to your brother?"
Kaiba ignored his question, saying, "You need four people to fill these statues. That much is clear. I said I was in. I stand by my word. Do it quickly." He slapped his hand on the stone figure closest to him. It landed with a hollow thud. Kaiba barely repressed a shiver at the sound.
Yami groaned, then pressed his lips tightly together. Kaiba looked at him and laughed.
"Good," Kaiba said. "I don't have the time to argue this one out. Everything – even when it seems like it's for free – comes with a bill attached. This is the price I'm willing to pay to give you a shot at winning on your own terms. I know all about tainted victories. This one has to be clean. Besides, I've been turned into a statue before. I can deal."
"Kaiba," Yami said, then stopped, lost for words.
"You told me at Alcatraz that I had to find a different way," Kaiba said. "Trust is one I haven't tried – until now." Kaiba turned to Shadi as the gang in the lobby raced for the elevators. "Mokuba's seen me turned to stone once already. Do it now or the deal's off."
"Done," Shadi said.
There was the flash Yami had started to associate with Shadi's magic. He stared at the platform. The four figures were no longer identical. The lines of hieroglyphics that ran across the front of the sarcophagus of the closest figure had turned to cords, binding Kaiba even as he was caught and frozen in the act of straining against them. His eyes were outlined in kohl, but they were almost covered by the shock of hair falling in front of them. However, the blaze of anger in them was as vivid as if Kaiba was still flesh and blood; only in the granite-hard determination underlying his rage did he seem to be truly stone.
Shadi looked at the figure sadly. "That was a singularly rash and ill-judged decision."
"It was his to make," Yami replied.
"And yet you have chosen to make him part of your foundation. Can't you feel him straining against the confines of his prison? How long will it be until he cracks?"
"That does not change my answer."
"You are as imprisoned by his choice as he," Shadi observed.
"But we were both free to make our own decisions and play them out as we will."
The elevator bell interrupted them. On the monitor, Yami saw Yugi, Jounouchi, Honda, Anzu and Mokuba scramble out of its doors in a mad jumble of arms and legs. They raced into the office then stopped short, crashing into one another, staring with shock at the stone statues in front of them. Four mouths fell open at the sight of Kaiba's bound figure.
"I'll kill you!" Mokuba yelled, lunging at Shadi, only to be held back by Jounouchi and Honda.
"This just keeps getting freakier and freakier," Jounouchi moaned.
"It's the start of your end game, isn't it?" Yugi asked Yami.
Yami nodded as Shadi explained the challenge.
Yugi looked from Yami to Kaiba. "A foundation needs four pillars, doesn't it?" Yugi asked. He stepped forward. "You've been my support ever since we met."
"Mine too," Jounouchi agreed. "Whatever you need – I'm here."
Honda and Anzu nodded.
Anzu looked from the figures to Shadi. "I don't really remember what you did to me last time… I don't think I want to."
Shadi lowered his head at that. "Please believe that it was a necessity."
"I don't," Anzu said decisively. "Playing with people's heads just because you can is never a necessity."
"I had to test the pharaoh!"
"Why? He would have been just as worthy if you had trusted him," she said.
"Worthy? When he refused to rejoin his comrades in the after-life?"
"Hey, wait a minute!" Jounouchi interrupted. "Yami only got the chance to stay here with us because he saved all your ancient Egyptian butts, remember? Are you saying you shrunk him because of some stupid grudge?"
"He meddled in things that were no longer his concern. The High Priest was not his business," Shadi said.
"The High Priest… you mean… oh shit, I knew this was all Kaiba's fault!" Jounouchi shouted triumphantly.
"Jounouchi!" Yami and Yugi shouted together as if they still shared a throat and voice box. Honda tightened his grip on Mokuba since the younger Kaiba looked like he couldn't decide who to tackle first – Shadi or Jounouchi.
"Shut up," Anzu said. "No matter how many times Kaiba's pissed me off until I couldn't see straight, no one deserves this." She looked at the stone figure, at the unseeing eyes that glared so defiantly, and gulped. "Kaiba volunteered didn't he?"
Yami nodded, pride evident in the gesture. Anzu turned back to Shadi.
"Then I think you've lost, whatever happens next, because unity really is stronger than anything. Even Kaiba seems to have figured that out."
Yugi nodded, then turned to Shadi. "You started this game. We're here to end it… and I'm still waiting."
"As you wish," Shadi answered.
They closed their eyes against the sudden glare, then stared at the second Ushebti figure. Yugi had copied the position of the Ushebti figure, standing at attention with his arms folded across his chest, as though determined to honor the spirit of the game. But one stalk of hair had escaped the ceremonial headdress to spring forward over his face. And his eyes were as wide as they'd ever been, his face as cheerful, as though being turned to stone was a new adventure. The hand holding the Ankh had its thumb stuck triumphantly up, already celebrating victory. Yami couldn't help smiling and saluting his partner.
"Hey! If you think I'm letting Yugi go anywhere without me, you've got another think coming! Just put me as far as possible from Mr. Moneybags and we'll be fine," Jounouchi shouted.
Shadi didn't bother answering, entombing Jounouchi with another flash of light. Yami had smiled before. Now he laughed out loud. Jounouchi was winking at him. Like Yugi, Jounouchi had a finger raised in a salute. Unlike Yugi, it was the middle one.
"Wait a minute!" Mokuba shouted. "There's only one spot left! If anyone's joining in – it's me."
Automatically, Yami, Honda and Anzu turned to look at Kaiba's statue, unsure if it was a trick of the light, or if faint cracks had started to appear along its side.
Honda bit his lip, thinking hard. Mokuba'd saved him at Death-T. He hadn't had to do it, you'd think he'd had enough on his mind, but he'd saved him anyway. It wasn't that Honda thought he owed Mokuba… his mind didn't work that way. But… he was older than Mokuba; he understood he didn't need to be in the game to be one of its supports.
"It's okay, kid. I'll stay with you. They need us here to make sure everything stays on the up and up."
"I guess it's up to me, then," Anzu said. "But this time, it's my choice."
The first time they'd met, Shadi had changed Anzu into a beautiful, empty doll. This time, there was intelligence and determination behind her stone eyes.
All four figures were occupied. Shadi's gaze lingered on the slightly battered statue in front of him.
"One of your pieces seems damaged… likely to shatter under stress," Shadi observed.
Mokuba couldn't help but look at Yami. He exhaled as Yami said, "There's a difference between damaged and broken, between damaged and weak." He looked at the four silent figures in front of him. "Kaiba was right; you had a finger on the scale. You dishonored the item you swore to guard. I have chosen my four foundations: hope, love of life, friendship and the determination to change. If these things can't help me grow, then this is the size I deserve to remain. This game ends with a true accounting of our hearts."
Yami looked at Honda, still standing near him, ready to be of help even if he had no idea what to do next.
"The Scale is my starting point. I could use a hand," he said. Honda placed Yami at the intersection of the four figures.
"Let my height match my heart, be one with the strength of the comrades below me," Yami said as he stepped onto the Scale.
As soon as one tiny foot touched the closest golden bowl of the Scale, Yami felt the room fall away. This wasn't his soul room, he thought, remembering the maze where he'd first encountered Shadi. This place was softer, more nebulous, as if nothing here could hold solid shape, much less an unalterable size.
Then Yami was falling, spiraling though a dark vortex. He wondered if he was disappearing, if he had already failed. Then he felt his spirit buoyed by Yugi's simple faith, by his optimism. It was a feeling so simple, so pure it seemed to defy explanation or definition. Even in this strange place, Yugi was his starting point. He could no longer feel the scales or anything else beneath his feet – had lost all awareness of his body at all for that matter – but Yugi, as always, grounded him.
Yami was in darkness, deafened by the silence. He couldn't feel. But there were senses beyond these. Jounouchi was at his right. Yami caught a flicker of the thought, "Man, is this totally insane or what?" and smiled. In spite of the stakes, this was a game to Jounouchi. Yami thought he could learn a lot from his care-free friend. Jounouchi could have been jealous of him so easily, or have hated him as an interloper in Yugi's life. Instead, they'd become friends.
Then Yami was aware of Anzu, patiently waiting. He was humbled. It was all there in front of him: her infatuation, her confused feelings for Yugi. She'd left herself nowhere to hide. For an instant he wished he could return her feelings; he wanted her to be happy that badly, in that moment he loved her that much. As if he was one of the Ushebti figures, he felt himself crumbling under the weight of all he could not do. Somewhere beyond the Shadow Realm, in the world outside, Shadi's eyes gleamed at the sight. Yami looked down. Beyond expectation, he could see. He was falling apart, but Anzu's Ushebti figure was as rock solid as ever. She was trusting to their friendship to see them through anything.
He came almost full circle to the damaged statue beneath his feet. Kaiba was still straining reflexively against the confines of his stone casing. Like Duelists' Kingdom, like Noa's World, like DOMA, once again he was bound. But this time he trusted Yami to set him free.
He trusted Yami.
That feeling was so new, so exciting, it made even the confines of his prison feel expansive.
Yami could tell: Kaiba was still testing the bindings, but there was no panic, no fear. Kaiba was almost drunk on trust, as if it was a heady, intoxicating thing. It was damnably enticing, Yami thought. An answering thread of desire ran through Kaiba, fastened as securely as his stone binding. Yami was tempted to pry more deeply into Kaiba's heart. But Kaiba was trusting him in this as well: not to peer too closely. It was easy for Yami to be patient… for even without Isis' Millennium Necklace, he'd been granted a glimpse of the future.
Yami looked at Yugi's figure again. He had as solid a foundation as any man could wish for. Yugi had given him that. Now it was time to draw on their strengths and step into his future. Yami felt himself shooting up, until the top of the golden stalk of hair on his head brushed the ceiling that hadn't existed until that moment, until he wondered if the figures of his friends would crack under his weight. But he knew they would hold, even if he did indeed crash through the roof.
Instead of being impossibly high, the key was now far below Yami's hand. He waited, thinking that as pleasurable as it would be to be the tallest of their group, he didn't want to risk going through life as a giant.
Shadi began his counter-attack. All of Yami's pettiness and vanity came flooding back. But this time, Yami was ready. The trick, he thought, wasn't to look past his faults or even to rise above them – but to let them in, to let them cut him down to size. Because he knew he couldn't banish them – and if there was anything he'd learned from Kaiba, it was the danger of trying. And even if he'd been foolish enough, he thought as he cringed with each memory of his frailty, to promise never to be as arrogant again, never to need to be the invincible King of Games... well like his repeated promises to never forgive Kaiba, these would be broken as well.
"I was wrong," he thought, hoping Kaiba could hear him. "Join your tournament or not, and I'll try to accept it... try to have faith that if not this time, maybe the next tournament will be the right one."
Then he found himself returning to his usual size, slightly taller, slightly thinner than his partner, than the youth who had once been his "other self." He had held out his hand, and as he slid back into his original height, he felt the Key fit into his palm. He looked around. He was back in Kaiba's office, standing atop a golden scale balanced on four stone figures.
Yami climbed down and picked up the Scale. He held both Millennium Items out to Shadi.
"Could you face the challenge I beat?" he asked Shadi. "Who would you call on to be your Ushebti figures and add their strength to yours? Even the gods were not made to stand alone."
"Everyone I would have chosen is dead. I see that now," Shadi said, looking sadly at the damaged figure at Yami's feet.
Yami picked up Kaiba's statue and held it in his arms. "Then admit this game is at an end. Release them all."
There was a final flash of light. Then Anzu, Jounouchi and Yugi were standing in place next to each other, leaning against each other to keep from falling over. Yami dropped to his knees under the sudden impact of Kaiba's weight as the taller duelist improbably ended up in his arms. Kaiba straightened himself like a cat leaping from a lap, suddenly conscious of his ruffled dignity.
He looked Yami up and down, slowly, and smirked. "Seems like a lot of effort for not much change."
"Nisama!" Mokuba yelled, as he crashed into his brother. Kaiba wasn't known for public displays of affection. But coming back to life after having been turned to stone was always an occasion that qualified.
"Welcome back," Yugi said, hugging Yami.
"Yeah! I knew you'd win!" Jounouchi yelled, bounding over to join them.
Anzu followed more slowly.
"We won," Yami corrected. He turned to Anzu, "When I would have faltered, your faith in our friendship steadied me. Thank you."
If Anzu's smile was slightly sad as she agreed, "Friends," Yami was wise enough to pretend not to notice.
Mokuba's flying hug had carried Kaiba towards his office windows. Shadi walked over to join them. Kaiba had disentangled himself from Mokuba's embrace, but his hand was absent-mindedly ruffling Mokuba's hair as they stood side by side.
"I wanted you to be happy," Shadi said to Kaiba.
"No," Kaiba answered. "I don't know who you wanted to be happy – but it wasn't me."
"I'm sorry I never got to know the man my old friend became," Shadi said.
Kaiba shrugged. And seeing that dismissive gesture, Yami felt a moment's sympathy for Shadi. With the end of the match, as far as Kaiba was concerned, Shadi had merely joined the ranks of his defeated opponents.
"This is just plain wrong," Jounouchi said. "You were on our side in the last Millennium Battle. We wouldn't have won without you, and Yami would never have gotten the chance to stay here with us. Why'd you do this?"
"To guard the items through eternity… forever vigilant… that's a lot to ask of a person," Yami said.
"You can't be serious! You're feeling sorry for him? He turned you all into stone! Even you guys can't be this sappy!" Mokuba yelled.
"We know what he did. But he was our ally once," Yami said, walking across the room to join the group by the window. "For my part, I bear you no grudge."
"Maybe in another 3,000 years I will learn to appreciate your magnanimity," Shadi said.
"I doubt it. I'm willing to bet it'd take more than 3,000 years to forget what an annoying, self-righteous bastard he can be," Kaiba observed.
"Perhaps your decision was wise and you no longer need to be blessed by the gods," Shadi said to Yami.
"What's in the hearts of men can surpass even God," Yami answered.
"You're quoting me, again? I could get used to this…" Kaiba commented.
"Not unless you start saying something worth repeating more often," Yami replied.
Possibly Shadi had had enough of their conversation, because he picked that moment to disappear.
Yami looked at Kaiba and said, "I wonder about your notion of convenience."
"It was convenient having you on my desk, too," Kaiba answered.
Yami's lips twitched. Kaiba looked at him suspiciously. As tall as he was, he was tired of looks and remarks that seemed designed to sail over his head. Several times over the past week, he'd wished Yami was full sized again, if only so that he could see his face more clearly. But Yami looked the same as always. He stared back at Kaiba as intensely as if they were in the middle of a tournament. His eyes were the color of blood; they held a hint of a challenge. There had to be something more. Unconsciously, Kaiba took a step closer. The nearness helped.
As Kaiba would have been the first to proclaim, even when he had no idea what to do next, he never forgot himself enough to actually look confused. But Yami must have seen something in his face – a hint of an almost-question, perhaps – and his own expression sharpened in response… becoming warmer and more feral at the same time.
At last, Kaiba thought, something new… a change that made the whole rigmarole it took to get Yami's face back to a decent size to read, worthwhile. Of course, he still needed to decipher it. And that made this new game, whatever it was, exciting.
"I do feel more alive around you," Kaiba said.
"And I feel tall."
Mokuba looked at them, reminded of the end of their duels, of how they'd ignore everything around them, until one of Yugi's friends reclaimed Yami's attention. They were interrupted just as abruptly when Jounouchi's stomach gave a rumble loud enough to wake the dead, much less be heard across the room. Mokuba sighed with relief. Everything was back to normal.
"I don't know about you guys, but I'm hungry. Getting turned to stone really works up an appetite," Jounouchi said.
"We just opened a new restaurant on the ground floor," Mokuba said.
"What are we doing hanging out here then?" Honda asked.
"This is your treat, right, kid? After all, we did help save your big brother's ass," Jounouchi said as the gang started to leave.
Mokuba turned to plead with his brother to join them and realized, with a shock, that while things might have returned to normal, it was a new normal. Yami hadn't recollected himself; he wasn't rushing over to Yugi and his friends. Instead he and Kaiba had lapsed back into their staring contest. Mokuba stood there for a moment, undecided. It seemed a shame to interrupt them; they'd never had a chance to finish this particular game before. Besides, Shadi was gone and Yami was back to his regular height; it's not like his Nisama was in any danger. That settled, Mokuba shrugged and headed out to join the others.
The bang of the closing door startled Kaiba and Yami into ending their game. Automatically Kaiba went to sit at his desk, ready to go back to work. He looked up in surprise when Yami made no move to leave the room.
"You're still here? I figured you'd head out now that you're not living in my pocket," Kaiba said.
"Do you want me to go?" Yami asked.
Kaiba shrugged. "It's your normal routine after saving the world."
"I didn't save the world. Just my own ass. And yours, of course," Yami said, smiling with false sweetness as he came towards the desk. "Anyway, things change – isn't that your mantra? We can join them later."
"Mokuba's with them. You're going to have to pick him up eventually."
"Don't avoid my question," Kaiba said.
"You didn't ask one," Yami pointed out.
"Fine. Why did you stay?" Kaiba snapped.
Yami moved closer, until his very nearness was a challenge – or an answer.
"Because I wanted to," Yami said, his expression as intent as if they were dueling.
"What new game is this?" Kaiba demanded. "For that matter, what the hell did you mean by saying you wanted more than a duel? What the fuck more is there?"
Yami didn't answer with words, at least not at first. He leaned over Kaiba and pressed his lips to the other man's, deepening his kiss as he felt Kaiba's mouth open in response, moving closer until he was straddling Kaiba as he sat in his desk chair. His hands slid behind Kaiba's back; Kaiba's were already knotted in his hair.
It's hard to objectively measure a kiss. Kaiba and Yami were clearly satisfied with this one. But all kisses, even first ones, have to end eventually. Yami raised his head slightly and smiled from his vantage point on Kaiba's lap.
"You didn't listen carefully," Yami said. "I don't just want a duel; I want a match." Kaiba's eyes widened as they always did when he dueled Yami, as they always did when his rival threw out a wild card, unpredictable and unforeseen. Yami smirked at the sight. "There. My cards are on the table. It's your move. Unless you're going to end your turn without playing your hand," he said.
Kaiba felt the familiar adrenaline jolt he'd come to associate with Yami's presence. Now it mixed with this unfamiliar nearness, with the unexpected ache to close even the hair's-breadth of distance between them. Shadi had tried to violate Kaiba's mind. But Shadi had also felt safe. His behavior had matched Kaiba's expectations of how the world worked and he'd been secure in his own indifference. Yami, who would never move beyond whatever boundaries Kaiba imposed – even as he challenged them – was dangerous.
Then again… Kaiba had always been attracted to danger.
"If it's my move," Kaiba said, as he reached to pull Yami closer, as if this had all been his idea from the start, "I'd better make one, quickly."
Thanks to Bnomiko who helped a lot on this chapter. She really helped me to keep the story on track and to avoid running out of steam just as the finish line came into sight.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I got the idea for this story from an adorable doujinshi picture I saw on the Pharaoh's Palace (the link to the Prideshipping group is on my biopage). I showed High Priest Seto holding a tiny chibi-fied Yami in the palm of his had. The picture was so absurd it was irresistible. For some reason, this image collided in my head with the thought that if Shadi and Kaiba were lovers, Shadi might very well look into Kaiba's soul room and be unable to resist the temptation to remove some of the excess baggage, so to speak.
It's funny, sometimes with a story there's a sentence or an exchange of dialog that captures what I'm trying to say in the whole story. In this case it was the exchange in Chapter 2, where Shadi says, "And what 'right' have I taken from him? The right to be vengeful, unhappy and misguided? The right to blunder self-destructively through his life?" and Yami answers, "Even those rights are his."
Basically, I wanted to capture the fluffy, slightly silly feel of the doujinshi picture that inspired this story, while playing with the idea that if, as Kaiba says when dueling Isis, what's in the hearts of men can surpass even God, it is our flaws, and pettiness, and even our smallness that keeps us human.
Thank you for taking the time to read the story. I hope you enjoyed it. Whatever your opinion, I'd love to know what you think.
Upcoming story announcement: I expect to begin posting a new story in November. (Well, first I need to think of a title.) It starts with a "what-if" premise: what if Kaiba took Yami's words at Alcatraz that he had to defeat his own inner demons to become a true duelist a little too literally and builds a virtual reality world where he could do just that? Unfortunately he forgets that nothing gets deleted in cyberspace and that when Millennium Items are involved the line between virtual and reality can get blurred very easily. Anyway, if you enjoyed "Downsizing for Dummies" I hope you check out my next story when I begin posting.