CHAPTER 44: JUSTICE STRIKES BACK
When Caesar crossed the Rubicon with his army in 49 BC, he set in motion a course of events that led to civil war, the death of a republic and the birth of an empire (who knew that George Lucas was a Roman History fan?) and not least – in fact, Julius Caesar probably considered it the most important detail in this little history – to his own assassination.
As you can gather, the original Rubicon was a really big deal, especially to the thousands of schoolkids forced to memorize Shakespearian speeches on the event (most of whom probably wished Caesar had died peacefully in his bed.)
But doesn't the line separating childhood from adolescence form Rubicon of its own? Maybe there are all sorts of lines we cross every day without anyone noticing. And since these little mini-Rubicons are so private, we even get the chance to wander back and forth without anyone but ourselves and our loved ones being any the wiser.
Kaiba practically dragged Mokuba out of the room the second my friends had left. I was surprised he'd lasted that long. He threw another "thank you" at me over his shoulder. I said, "No problem," to the air.
For the first time in ages, Yami and I were alone together. Yami smiled at me and cleared his throat, reminding me of all the dust in the room.
"Come on," I said. "We'd better find a relatively clean bedroom with beds that won't fall apart when we look at them." I went into the hallway and ran up the stairs, skipping over the broken steps. I was used to Kaiba's safe houses by now. "If this sanctuary is anything like the others, we better head for whichever room looks like the biggest wreck from the outside – it's our only chance of finding someplace habitable."
"I would have expected no less. Just when you think you've reached Kaiba's core, there are always more layers to unpeel," Yami said. I turned around, surprised to see a smug smile on his face.
I went to the attic. The bottom of the door was in shreds. It looked like rats had eaten their way into the room. Perfect. I opened the door. As I'd hoped, it was a bedroom – probably the best one in the house. The beds were covered with faded crimson velvet embroidered covers that matched the deeper red brocade wallpaper. It would be like sleeping inside a freely bleeding wound, but at least it was clean.
"I feel like we haven't had a moment to ourselves since we met up again," I said. "Tell me everything!"
He smiled, but for the first time since I'd known him, Yami looked something less than totally confident. He cleared his throat again, even though there wasn't any dust up here.
"Yami? What's wrong? Did you find something out… about your past?" I asked.
"What? No. I'd almost forgotten. Strange, isn't it? I came into this game to find that very thing, only to learn that who I am was more important than who I was."
"That's great! I can't believe you're free of the Puzzle… of everything. How did you do it?"
"Each time I used the Millennium Items, I gained a piece of my past. And each time the trail led to the grave, until finally I used the last two Items and I could feel myself dying. I couldn't hang on to both the past and present; I chose this life, with you and Kaiba. I played one of the new cards Pegasus had created, Phoenix Reborn. It carried me back to you, burning all that was left of my past, destroying any chance of reclaiming those memories. I took the Puzzle off Kaiba's neck and put it around my own – and I didn't disappear."
I felt like an idiot. I'd seen that Yami was the one was wearing the Puzzle, not Kaiba, but I was so used to seeing it around our neck, I hadn't really taken it in.
I looked at him, hard. It was strange not to know what Yami was feeling. His words sounded a bit sad, but he didn't look sad, just a little more thoughtful than I was used to. I went through all the words I knew trying to find the right one to fit his mood. Pensive… that was it. Then Yami smiled and his face changed. I'd never seen him grin like that, looking ridiculously happy, a little bit shy – and remarkably like an ordinary teenager.
"It's amazing to know beyond doubt that every thought, every emotion, every action, is my own. I can acknowledge what I'm feeling and it's real in a way it never was before. That's a gift I never realized I was missing until I'd been granted it. To truly be able to…" Yami pressed his lips together and looked at me out of the corner of his eye, uncomfortable all over again. And I had no idea why.
It was weird seeing a Yami I didn't quite recognize. Yami had been the first person to believe I was more than the whiny cry-baby everyone else saw, the first to believe that I didn't need to toughen up to be a man. We'd been apart for weeks and now that we were finally together, I didn't have a clue what was going on in his head; I couldn't hear his voice in mine. I was alone even though Yami was standing right next to me.
"Yugi…" he began to say.
"I've missed you," I interrupted.
"You too," Yami agreed, and his familiar, friendly smile was back.
"It's never going to be like it was before, though. I'm going to miss that a little… knowing what you're thinking as well as I know myself, feeling you beside me though everything I do. It's like losing an extra sense of hearing or something," I said.
I was used to sharing my thoughts with Yami. But I would have given anything to take that one back. With those few words his face had shut down, the almost giddy joy I'd seen minutes ago was gone.
"Don't worry; we can fix this," he said. "Maybe if you went through with the Puzzle and I didn't use the pod, everything would go back to the way it was."
"No! That's not what I meant, Yami!"
"If it makes you unhappy…" he said.
I had to stop this. I couldn't let a couple of careless words ruin his life before he had a chance to live it.
"No! I'm thrilled. It's just that, even after all this… I'm used to depending on you and sometimes I get scared. But when you know something's right, you just got to keep moving forward and leave your doubts behind in the past where they belong," I said, for once, matching Yami's ability to make speeches at the drop of a hat.
The expression on Yami's face stopped me short. He was shaking. It took me a minute to recognize that he was trying to keep from laughing hysterically.
"Damn… I've been in this game too long. I sounded just like Kaiba, didn't I?" I asked.
Yami nodded and gave up trying to keep from laughing. I'd never heard him giggle before. I wondered if, even after all we shared, there were sides of him I still had to learn about. And I suddenly realized that would be okay. Whatever changes came up we'd learn to roll with them as friends. And the thought of me echoing Kaiba… before I knew it, I was laughing along with Yami.
"Are you sure? I'd do anything to make you happy," Yami said.
"Positive!" I answered, smiling as Yami relaxed.
"I came into this game searching for a past. Instead I gained a life – one I can live with you and Kaiba," Yami said, looking thoughtful again.
It was funny the way Yami kept bringing up Kaiba every time he talked about living. Now that I thought about it, I remembered that Pegasus had said something about Yami and Kaiba, too. I hadn't paid much attention because I was used to Pegasus not making any sense. But now I couldn't help feeling like I'd missed something. Yami cleared his throat again.
"How did you two get along?" I asked at the same time Yami starting speaking again.
"Kaiba and I were intimate," Yami said.
I thought I'd gotten used to just how strange this game was – I mean Jounouchi was dressed like a dog – but this was one curveball I hadn't seen coming.
"Intimate? You mean like sex?" I wondered why my voice always came out in a squeak at all the wrong moments.
"Are you sure it's not some weird side effect of being in this place for so long? Or from the Puzzle getting switched around so much?" I blurted out.
"I'm not a slave to the Puzzle," Yami said sharply.
I nodded quickly. I hadn't meant to insult him.
Yami added, "At first I feared I was. Then I realized – no matter who wore the Puzzle, you were still the bravest, wisest person I know. I'm honored you call me your other self. But I'm not. I know what I want."
"But you guys are always arguing," I pointed out.
"Yes," Yami said with obvious satisfaction. "Kaiba will never stop struggling onwards, even when he's heading at full speed in the wrong direction. I've met his demons. And formidable as they are, he's stronger still. Kaiba will fight his way into his future and I want to be part of every moment of that conflict."
I'd always known Kaiba was special to Yami; that he mattered in a way that no one else, except for me, did. But I always thought it was part of that "nobody gets to mess with my rival but me" thing they had going on. Then I thought back to when we'd all met up… how many times Yami had grabbed Kaiba's arm, how Kaiba hadn't swatted Yami's hand or pushed it away, how closely they'd stood.
"What about Anzu?" I asked.
"She's my friend," Yami said.
I started to ask, "Does she know about you two?" Then I remembered how awkward she'd been when she'd talked about them. Of course she knew. She'd probably taken one look at them and picked up on all the clues I'd needed spelled out. And Yami had lived in my head for years. Maybe the separation had already happened and it had been another thing I hadn't noticed.
I took a deep breath. "Are you sure, Yami?" I said instead. I'm not sure who I was asking about – Kaiba or Anzu.
Yami didn't hesitate. "When I walked into Kaiba's soul room after Death-T… I saw a 10 year old boy… he was standing proudly, unafraid of what was coming. As I stepped towards him, picking my way across the wreckage of his soul, he dared me to kill him. Kaiba's been doing that ever since, facing down everything in his way, even me. And how I feel about Kaiba has never changed from that moment to this, I just hadn't learned to see it before. But I should have known from the moment I entered his soul room and saw him without masks or evasions or defenses that part of me would remain, willingly ensnared. He's so unyielding… so vulnerable… so very precious."
"I never knew you felt like this," I said. I'd just sort of assumed that he liked Anzu because I did – and it was hard to believe that anyone – especially someone as awesome as Yami, wouldn't want her.
"Neither did I," Yami answered. "But even though I hadn't been looking, I'd found someone who challenged me, who believed in my solidity before I was ready to do so myself, who didn't flinch from the darkness, the wildness in my nature, who was willing to reveal his own scars in turn. When I played Phoenix Reborn, when I grabbed for life, the flames felt like Kaiba and they carried me back to him."
I couldn't doubt Yami, not after hearing all that. I'd heard him speak passionately before, but always about an ideal like friendship or trust – never about a person.
I started to ask if Kaiba felt the same, but I didn't want to insult Yami again… and I couldn't imagine Kaiba letting down his guard enough to have sex with Yami if he didn't at least feel something.
"Kaiba doesn't strike me as someone who'd take to a relationship like a duck to water," I settled for saying.
"No," Yami answered with a smile. "But he's not willing to give up and neither am I. He keeps struggling to trust, to believe. At first he tried to hide all the emotions he was wrestling with. Then slowly, he started to let me see them, as if I was back in his soul room again, invited in where I had been an invader before. Do you have any idea what that means to me?"
Now that I thought about it, although Kaiba hadn't exactly been chatty, he'd been way politer to our friends than I'd expected. I'd wondered at the time what was up. And he kept on winding up standing next to Yami as though that was where he belonged. Maybe this would work out; they were both intense and stubborn and if Yami was right, they seemed to have decided that no one but each other would do.
It still wasn't my idea of a romance; it sounded way too exhausting. I guess it was one more proof of how different we were. I bit back a smile as I realized that if Yami was going to be with one person and me (hopefully) with another, we really did need our own bodies.
I was mumbling something supportive when we heard Kaiba holler, "Mokuba, wait!" somewhere below us.
Yami looked at me in alarm. "Kaiba was planning on telling Mokuba about us."
I nodded, relieved. I'd wanted a sign that Kaiba was serious about Yami. This one was written in neon.
Yami stared at the door like he was waiting for another yell. "Do you think Mokuba's angry with him?"
I shook my head. "No way. Can you imagine Mokuba disapproving of anything that made his brother happy?"
"Kaiba sounded upset," Yami said with a frown, still looking at the door.
I didn't bother pointing out Kaiba could probably manage to sound upset while eating ice cream.
"You're not going to be happy until you see for yourself that everything's okay, are you?" I asked. "They're probably in one of the rooms on the second or first floor. It's not that big a house. Why don't you go find him? You know you want to."
Yami smiled. "We may be separate now, but you still know my thoughts."
I hid my own smile until Yami left. I didn't tell him that a psychic connection wasn't needed to know what was on his mind.
I ran out of the house screaming my brother's name. I didn't reach him. Before I'd gone ten paces, four unbreakable glass walls rose up to surround me, cutting me off from Mokuba. I jumped up to grab the top of a wall and pull myself over it, but a glass ceiling morphed into place, knocking me back to the ground. I was trapped. I was going to lose Mokuba just when I thought I'd seen my way clear to winning.
I recognized the card the game had used to separate us: Connection Rejection. I'd designed it myself right after tag team duels became popular. It could block a team from forming. Pegasus had refused to include it in his new releases at first.
I cursed as I lost sight of Mokuba. I was in Pegasus' office again – or rather, his office was in this damned glass cage with me.
Pegasus was sitting behind his desk. I was leaning across it, looming over him. I heard him say, just as he had back then, "You don't know what you're asking for, Kaiba-boy."
"It's not a request. And I know exactly what I'm demanding," I countered.
"You've been itching to design cards, haven't you? I may have drawn each monster, but when I see them brought to holographic life, they're yours."
"I haven't violated the terms of our contract and you know it," I snarled.
"Of course I know. I was the one who added a rider that specifically said you could design and add cards provided they were mutually agreed upon," Pegasus said as he leaned forward.
"So what's the problem?" I said.
"You could have designed anything, Kaiba. You chose this."
He hadn't called my Kaiba-boy; his tone wasn't taunting. I suddenly realized how much he'd sounded like Sugoroku – and they'd both been telling me the same thing.
"Didn't you learn anything from Battle City?" Pegasus asked.
"You've been keeping tabs on me. I'm flattered." I sneered.
"Or from Death-T? Or Duelists Kingdom?" Pegasus went on relentlessly.
"Don't you dare bring up Duelists Kingdom." I hissed.
"I'm exactly the person who needs to. You know why I did it – why I kidnapped your brother, why I went after you," Pegasus said.
I nodded. I'd heard.
"Who has a better right to tell you that you're a fool than the only man in Domino who's been even stupider?" Pegasus said.
I was too outraged to yell. Pegasus took one look at my face and sighed. "Believe me, this humanitarian impulse surprises me as much as it does you. And you're right – there's no reason for you to trust anything I say. Ironic, isn't it? For once I want to help."
"Please think about why you're designing a card that denies everything you've started to explore." He smiled; the arch look returned to his face. "You have plenty of time to ponder your actions. Our contract requires that we both agree on the addition of new cards – and I don't."
I laughed. "I'd have been more likely to have believed in your sincerity if you hadn't immediately resorted to blackmail. I hope you're not expecting any holographic updates to your new cards any time soon. We both have to agree on that as well. And I don't."
I'd marched out of Pegasus' office, slamming the door behind me, never imagining that moment would lead to this one. Why couldn't I ever see where the path I was building led before it was too late?
Pegasus' office had disappeared the moment I'd whirled out of it. I was back in my virtual world.
Mokuba was facing Chimaera. It shook its lion's head and roared, thrashing its reptilian tail against the ground and beating the air with giant bat wings. I'd faced it after that first penalty game with Yami, when the combined monsters of our decks had attacked me. Chimaera had been one of Yami's little contributions to that party. It had helped to rip me apart, an illusion of death that had repeated itself every night. It looked much more threatening now... and Mokuba was so small. I banged on the glass walls of my prison until they shook but I couldn't topple them and nobody heard me but Mokuba. He grinned and flashed a thumbs up sign before turning back to the monster facing him. I dropped my hands to my sides. The last thing I wanted to do was distract him.
I was helpless. I needed to sacrifice both a Spell and a Trap card that could cancel monster effects to get rid of Connection Rejection, and I didn't have either. I'd deliberately set the bar high – figuring that no one would bother to cross it… the same way that Yugi and his merry little band kept saying (correctly) that I didn't know shit about friendship – and then melted away after each adventure.
Maybe this was what I deserved for not learning quickly enough, for designing Death-T in the first place, for leaving my brother to die there. This time I was the one pounding helplessly on the glass walls of my prison waiting for a nightmare.
Then, Mokuba summoned Swarm of Scarabs. The mass of brown beetles lived up to their name, crawling over Chimaera, picking the flesh from his bones before devouring the skeleton too. They scuttled back in front of Mokuba and went to sleep. He'd played the Spell Card, Effect Rejuvenation as well. Now Mokuba could use Storm of Scarabs over and over with new each turn. I smiled. It was a sophisticated move.
But the game wasn't done. Ancient Gear Beast took care of Swarm of Scarabs, negating its effect. Mokuba kept battling back until he was down to his last card, and facing Orgoth the Relentless. The warrior swept out his broadsword and raised it two-handed. His face was invisible behind his helm.
I was going to lose Mokuba. It was my fault. Every time I'd shoved him out of my way, every time I'd hurt him flashed through my mind. And each memory led to that awful, final moment when I'd watched Mokuba through the monitor at Death-T, his eyes wide, his voice cracking as he'd pled for his life. I saw myself, cold and pitiless, as if I'd been turned to stone, my own voice as empty and hollow as the soul Yami had shattered. I'd told Mokuba that in the world of gaming there were no brothers and I'd triggered the death simulation I expected to kill him.
My prison was as soundproof as the death simulation chamber. I couldn't even call Yami to get his ass out here and save my brother again. I would have done it without hesitation, without regret, even if it meant admitting my failure, admitting I was the weaker man – because nothing, not my guilt and certainly not my pride, mattered more than Mokuba.
There was nothing I could do but watch. I stared at Orgoth the Relentless and wondered why a Blue Eyes White Dragon hadn't swooped in to attack, instead. I froze as I realized what I'd said: a Blue Eyes White Dragon hadn't swooped in to attack.
But it should have.
Now I was thinking again, trying to use the only weapon I had left – my mind – to figure this out. None of the monsters that had attacked Mokuba were mine. I knew beyond certainty if I'd been out there, if the challenge had been a shared one, every monster in my deck would have been on that field targeting Mokuba. And even if I'd managed to beat them all back, I still would have been guilty they'd attacked in the first place, because that was the weight I'd carried for so long it was just another fact of life.
But I was stuck in here. Mokuba was the only one facing – and creating – this challenge, not me. There was only one glorious, inescapable conclusion: my brother believed in me so completely, that the game couldn't send my monsters to kill him.
I leaned against the glass, dizzy with relief. Mokuba wasn't afraid of me. He'd told me that over and over. I'd never believed him. My own guilt had blinded me; my bitterness had kept me bound as effectively as this cage. Now the proof was in front of me. Despite Death-T, Mokuba trusted me right down to his core.
And that suddenly, I knew this would work out. I knew the card Mokuba was going to play next, feeling, for once, in sync with the game I'd designed, the game Gozaburo had corrupted. And for the first time I dared to hope Gozaburo hadn't ruined either of us past redemption.
I'd created two cards. The second had been designed for Mokuba. He'd been so excited when I told him I'd created a Duel Monsters card; then his face had fallen when he'd actually seen it.
"Why'd you design such a mean card, Nisama?" he'd asked.
"I hate the way tag team duels have gotten so popular. They're stupid. I'm sick of being told how great trust and friendship are – as if they're the only answer. How far would we have gotten relying on other people to help us out?" I'd snapped at him.
"But Yugi and his friends…" Mokuba started to say.
I didn't want to hear it. "Yes. They helped. But that doesn't mean I have to feel all the nauseating emotions they think I should or become some naïve sap like everything we went through to get where we are doesn't count." I shuddered. "It's not happening. I don't care what those losers say – no one should be forced into being part of a team."
"But we're a team," Mokuba had said anxiously.
"Of course we are. And I'll design a card just for us," I'd reassured him. And I had.
I'd taken both cards to Pegasus. He'd agreed to add Connection Rejection as long as my second card, Shared Dragons, was included in the next release as well.
Mokuba turned to grin at me again. I nodded and tapped two fingers against my forehead in a salute. Mokuba raised Shared Dragons to the sky with a flourish that made him look a foot taller. Now he could borrow any dragon in my deck, and we both knew which one it would be.
My Blue Eyes White Dragon took to the field. Her Neutron Blast disintegrated Orgoth the Relentless in a blinding flash of light. The walls of my prison melted away. I was free.
I ran over and dropped to my knees in front of Mokuba, like one of those ancient Egyptians Yami kept going on about praying at an altar. I held Mokuba at arms' length for a moment, unable to believe he was alive until I'd memorized his face, until I'd called up and rescanned the ending of the duel as though watching it on instant replay.
Mokuba crumpled in my arms as if we were back in the orphanage, as if he hadn't just won a decisive victory all on his own.
"I'm sorry. I didn't want to scare you! I swear I didn't," Mokuba sobbed.
"Don't ever do that again!" I ordered.
"I won't if you won't," he said, all childishness gone as if it had never existed, even though tears were still running down his cheeks. If granite or steel had been given a voice, it would have sounded like Mokuba.
I didn't let go of him – I couldn't – but I loosened my grip enough to get a good look at him. Lavender-gray eyes were never meant to be as hard as blue, but Mokuba managed it. I was reminded he had led a gang in elementary school back in that past we never talked about.
"Sugoroku told us what you did, how you made the game easier for us but harder for you. I never want you doing anything like that again," he ordered.
"Taking care of you is my job. I'm the older brother," I reminded him.
"That's not good enough, Nisama! I'm just as much your brother as you are mine. I don't want to lose you," he said, his voice getting younger with each sentence. "The whole time we were apart I kept worrying if each day would be the one where you'd finally manage to kill yourself."
"I don't take foolish risks, Mokuba," I said.
"I don't want you taking any risks!" he yelled.
I shook my head, my thoughts jumping back to the past. I remembered walking back to the orphanage with Mokuba. He'd run away. Somewhere in his three year old brain he'd decided if he went back to our old playground everything would be okay again. I'd been eight. I'd known better. I'd knelt down, looked him in the eye and promised to be his father. I'd spent weeks in this game confronting my failures, fighting my own weakness. This was the one thing I'd done unarguably, unalterably right. Now Mokuba wanted another promise, but he wasn't three, I wasn't eight – and I couldn't.
"I'm not built like that Mokuba, and you know it."
"No, you're going to go on keep doing all these crazy things for me… well most of the times it's for me," he added with incurable honesty.
"And sometimes it's just for the hell of it," I agreed with a smile.
"I'm serious, Nisama!" He no longer looked like a gang leader, but he wasn't the toddler who'd grabbed for my hand at every street crossing, either.
"I promised to see that you were happy," I reminded him.
"No. You said that we'd be happy and you're part of that, too." Mokuba paused, then looked me right in the eye, just like I'd taught him and said, "I'm scared you're going to die and it's going to be my fault. Just like with mom..."
"Don't ever say that!" I yelled. I'd never meant to do this to him, to make him worry, to make him feel like he was to blame for his own existence. I'd spent my life trying to protect him, and once again, I'd failed, just like I'd never been able to get our father to look at Mokuba and see only him and not our mom. But once again, my own guilt wasn't important. Mokuba needed me.
"Have I ever lied to you?" I asked, close to panicking all over again even though there were no monsters left.
Mokuba shook his head.
"I'm not lying now. I read the autopsy reports. It was one of the first things I ever hacked into. She had heart problems that nobody detected. All this time… have you been blaming yourself?"
I stared at him but he kept his face down.
"Mokuba," I growled.
"Maybe. Kind of. If she hadn't been pregnant… "
"It would have happened the next week or the one after. If you want to blame anyone, blame our father. He should have taken better care of his family, not avoided you when things went wrong. I tried to be better than him, Mokuba. I swear I did. I tried to make sure you knew how much you were wanted."
"You did. I don't remember our father. I've thought about it a lot. I was three when he died. I should remember something… his face, the feel of his arms holding me, the sound of his voice reading a bedtime story. But there's nothing. All I remember is you. I need you, Nisama."
How many times had Gozaburo told me that I was weak, that my dependence on my brother made me a loser – and that the price for losing was death? How many times had I believed it?
"I need you too, Mokuba. I always have," I answered.
Mokuba smiled. "I didn't want to scare you. But I trust you and I couldn't think of another way to make you believe it."
"I know," I said as I got up. I couldn't get the look on Mokuba's face when he'd talked about our parents out of my mind. "You're everything to me, Mokuba. Our dad was an asshole. Never forget either point," I ordered.
"I love you too, Nisama," Mokuba said, hugging me.
I put my arm on his shoulder. We walked back to the house. As we got there, the door opened. Yami was standing in the doorway, glaring at me.
"I couldn't find you. I took my eyes off you just long enough to talk to Yugi! I should have known you'd take the first chance you got to run right into danger. What part of safety is so damn hard for you to understand?" Yami yelled.
I expected Mokuba to agree with Yami, since he'd just finished screaming the same thing. But Mokuba walked up to Yami and stuck his chin out. He crossed his arms in front of his chest and stretched to his full, if limited, height. "Don't yell at Nisama. This was between me and him. I left the house first."
"Why would you do that, Mokuba? Your brother's been going crazy the whole time you've been apart, worrying about you," Yami said more quietly.
"If Nisama wants to tell you, he will. Up 'til then it's none of your business."
"Mokuba?" I asked, nodding towards Yami. It suddenly occurred to me that Mokuba had never really told me what he thought about me and Yami being together. I tried to stay calm, but my hands clenched themselves at my side.
"He's the first person you've ever said you wanted, except for me. Haven't I been trying to tell you that I want you to be happy?" Mokuba smiled at me, then turned to face Yami. His eyes were lavender-tinged steel again. He said, "When we threw the Puzzle to Nisama, I expected you to take care of him. From where I'm standing you did one hell of a lousy job."
"Mokuba!" I said sharply. He glared at me. I frowned, but kept silent. Mokuba had just won a duel and mouthing off was a winner's right. He'd apparently decided to celebrate his victory by laying down the law to everyone in the immediate vicinity. He was doing a pretty thorough job of it too. I had a hard time repressing a proud grin, an impulse that vanished at his next words.
"Look at him!" Mokuba continued, waving his hand toward me as if I hadn't spoken. "He hasn't slept in weeks and even though the game automatically keeps us fed – he still manages to look like he hasn't eaten, either. And I'm betting you've used up almost all of the healing potions in your inventory."
"It was hardly an easy charge. It's not like your brother helped. I'm sure I'll master the art of looking after him with practice," Yami said. It took me a minute to grasp he wasn't joking.
"You two are way out of line! I can take care of myself," I growled. It was unnerving having them both talk about me like I wasn't there.
"Then start!" Mokuba shot back just as quickly. He turned back to Yami. "You sound like you're planning on hanging around."
"That's up to your brother to decide," Yami said.
"I hated you for a long time," Mokuba said. "For that first penalty game, for Death-T… you didn't have to sit there and watch what it did to Nisama. I did. And no matter how many times you helped out, it never made up for it. The thing is… I never realized how mad I'd been at you, until I came here and realized I wasn't any more. That's all I wanted to say."
Mokuba hugged me, then pushed past us, entered the safe house and went up the stairs, presumably to find a bedroom. He yelled, "Goodnight!" over his shoulder. He didn't seem to expect me to follow.
I entered the safe house and shut the front door. I leaned against it for a moment, slightly stunned.
"Why did Mokuba doubt I wanted to stay with you?" Yami asked.
I shrugged. "A lot has changed."
"A lot has stayed the same," Yami countered, grabbing the waistband of my pants and pulling me towards him.
"You've met up with Yugi again," I pointed out.
"And the first thing I did was tell him about you." Yami shoved me against the hallway wall and pushed his leg between mine, trapping me. "Yugi deserved to hear such important news from me before I did this," he said, pulling my head down to his level and pressing his lips to mine.
It felt like we'd been apart for days instead of hours. I was hungry for him all over again.
"Why aren't you mad?" I asked when Yami lifted his mouth from mine.
"I will be," Yami promised. "I have time. It's unimaginable. We're going to win. I can feel it. We're going home. Together. And then I'll have all the time in the world to get absolutely furious over what a reckless asshole you can be… how you never, ever seem to remember for more than five seconds that you have people who care what happens to you." He pulled me closer and sucked on my neck at the place where it rose out of my shoulders, throwing a little teeth into the effort.
My gasp was only partly from the sudden, stinging shock of being bitten.
"Right now," Yami murmured against my neck, "I just want to hold you…"
"Biting me also seems to be on your agenda," I pointed out.
"That, too. But most of all I want to make love to you."
He unbuttoned my shirt, ripping a few of them in his haste, then went to work on my body, nipping and sucking his way down my torso, leaving random welts to record his path. Yami liked marking me up.
I moaned aloud as he reached for the waistband of my trousers. Yami had gotten adept at unfastening them one-handed, while his other one played with my nipples, teasing one and then the other. His mouth found my neck again. I was shivering uncontrollably from the meeting of cool air and overheated flesh.
I hated the way he made me lose control.
I loved it.
Every time it happened, I wasn't a weapons designer, I wasn't a businessman, I wasn't even Mokuba's guardian. I was a horny teenager, stripping Yami's clothes as fast as I could while hoping the wall was strong enough to brace myself against.
That's when it hit me: we were in the fucking hallway.
The number of people I wanted to catch me half naked in a hallway, moaning like a bitch in heat, could be counted on the fingers of a closed fist – but even if the list had stretched into the millions, Mokuba's name wouldn't be on it.
"We're not alone in this safe house, remember?" I hissed, grabbing for my pants. "What are you trying to do, put on a show? Mokuba or Yugi could wander downstairs at any moment!"
I'd seen Yami flushed with anger – or more recently, desire, before. This was the first time I'd seen him go bright pink with embarrassment. I liked it.
"Hot pink looks good on you," I told him, smirking.
"Kaiba…" Yami growled. I frowned at the use of my family name, but Yami ignored me and continued, "Must you pick this moment to be insufferable?"
He whirled around, staring at the closed doors, trying to figure out which one to fall into.
I shook my head. "Don't bother with the main floor. Anything this accessible will be worthless."
He gave me that disturbingly proud smile, the one I didn't have to win anything to get from him.
"You are so absolutely, relentlessly yourself," he said.
I didn't see who else I could be, but Yami had pressed in close enough for a kiss, and I was too breathless to argue.
"Yugi headed straight for the attic," Yami said.
Mokuba had probably done the same.
"That leaves the basement," I said.
"Does it have a bed?" Yami asked with a grin.
"Too many," I answered as I went down the stairs.
It didn't take long to reach the basement. The linoleum covering each step was worn from years of use; the dirt was too ingrained to be removed even with the kind of industrial disinfectant that came in ten gallon drums. One door at the foot of the stairs led to the boiler room and storage areas. I opened the other.
It was a storage area as well; one for warehousing unwanted items. The beds were small, identical, and lined in ordered rows. Each was neatly made with the same plain white sheets; each had a blue blanket folded at the foot.
"I was expecting a dungeon," Yami said as he came up to me. He looked from the room to my face and added, "Or did we find one?"
I wasn't sure how to answer. I thought again of Sugoroku saying that I could have designed anything. I could have created an oasis. Instead I'd built a decaying mansion straight out of a horror movie and put the orphanage dormitory at its foundation.
"We don't have to stay," Yami said.
"I don't run," I replied. I walked to the door and swung it closed, enjoying the sound as it slammed shut with a crash that would have brought a staff member running in to scold me, back when Mokuba and I had lived here.
I turned to face Yami. That uncomfortably unfamiliar proud smile was back on his face.
Thanks to Bnomiko for betaing this chapter and for going through pages of manga duels helping me figure out if Kaiba had ever faced Chimaera.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I'm sorry for the delay. Between the holidays and getting sick (I'm fine now) getting this posted took longer than I intended. Also, although the end is in sight, getting there is taking more time for writing, editing and double-checking than I expected.
It's funny, but I think if Yugi were younger and brasher, he'd probably like to say the same kind of things to Kaiba that Mokuba said to Yami (lol), or at the very least, I think the same question would be going through their minds: will this make Nisama/Yami happy?
But although Yugi and Mokuba are obviously going to be concerned, one thing I was surprised to realize was that I didn't think it would be the only concern. As big a change as Yami being in a relationship is – to Yugi the fact that he now has his own body, and all the implications for what that means to them, is an even bigger one. As for Mokuba and Kaiba, one thing that struck me in Kaiba and Yami's duel at Alcatraz was that when Kaiba talks about how much he hates his past, Mokuba is shocked and says that he had no idea his brother felt so strongly. I think there are so many things they never talk about, that once they were together, everything started tumbling out.
Review Note: I reply directly to all signed reviews. I post responses to unsigned reviews on my Live Journal account. The link is on my biopage. Anyone who wants to see a summary of all my responses can also check it out. Responses to the previous chapters will be posted when a new chapter is updated.
I'd really like to know so far into the story what you think. Comments are always appreciated.