CHAPTER 51: RISE OF DESTINY
From Homer to Tolkien, heroes have returned from quests to find that the home they've come back to is almost unrecognizable as the one they've left.
Of course, as Dorothy from "The Wizard of Oz" can attest, sometimes the reverse is true as well. You can fight your way back home to discover that it isn't the only – or even the major thing – that's changed.
It was strange watching Gozaburo turn to smoke, watching him swirl towards the Puzzle, watching it shatter leaving nothing behind. He was finally gone. I'd expected to feel triumphant, like I'd finally won my longest game, but all I could think of was how much I wanted to go home. I'd been trying to reach my future, now I was finally ready to meet it. With perfect timing, that was when the VR pods appeared.
But I should have known we weren't leaving without a little more drama and a few good-byes. Before we could head for the pods, a giant, translucent, pink soap bubble appeared on the horizon. It grew bigger as it approached, until we could clearly see Noa, Pegasus and a blonde haired woman inside. Pegasus' arm was around her. Even at this distance it was easy to tell he wasn't letting go any time soon.
"First it was unicorns, now he's riding around in soap bubbles. It's a good thing we're leaving before I have to watch Pegasus using the Blue Eyes Toon Dragon as his personal taxicab," I muttered.
"For all we know, he's harnessing its breath to cook dinner. Castles to live in… fantastic beasts to ride… I wonder how long he's been planning this?" Yami murmured.
That thought was even more offensive than Pegasus' usual antics, but before I could say anything, Mokuba and Yugi started laughing.
"It figures Pegasus would try to outdo Good Witch Glinda," Mokuba said.
"From the Wizard of Oz," Yugi added, glancing in my and Yami's direction.
I wasn't sure which one of us he was clarifying things for, but if he thought I was in a business relying heavily on special effects without having studied its history, he was more off base than usual. Yami was looking blank though, so I explained, "Early fantasy movie, circa 1939. Special effects as clunky and unconvincing as you'd expect given the decade. The best one is the simplest: changing from black and white for Kansas to color for Oz."
"The best things – like love or family – are often the simplest, Kaiba-boy," Pegasus said as they stepped from the huge, cotton-candy pink bubble as casually as if we were back in Domino and they'd just gotten out of their car.
Yugi gestured towards the pods. "Once we leave, this can't be undone," he said as if we hadn't covered that ground pretty thoroughly already.
"Maybe I should have insisted he move on without me. Maybe if I hadn't returned…" Pegasus' wife said. It was strange hearing her voice. I'd always dismissed her as just being part of Pegasus' crazy obsession. It took me a moment to remember her name.
"If you hadn't, I'd have spent eternity trying!" Pegasus said, grabbing both her hands and facing her.
"I'm selfish. I wanted this chance so badly," she said, looking up at him.
"You don't know what'll happen when we leave," Yami interrupted.
"Neither do you. The question is, which fragile, unknowable existence do you wish to stake your life on?" Pegasus answered.
Yugi looked ready to argue, but Yami nodded. "I understand. If everything I loved was here, I wouldn't want to be anywhere else."
Noa had been in the background. He walked towards Mokuba, then stopped for a moment, squinting his eyes and frowning in concentration. He took a final step forward and wrapped his arms around Mokuba. He stayed there hugging Mokuba and feeling Mokuba return the gesture until his form became slightly shadowy again. Mokuba was left embracing the air.
Noa stepped back. "I wanted to hug you before you left."
Mokuba nodded. "I love you, brother. I'll never forget."
"Of all the different ways people keep seeking immortality, being remembered by the people you love is the best," Noa said.
Noa turned to me and bowed. I returned the gesture. I remembered Noa saying that the same man had raised us. Now we had both had a hand in ending his existence.
"He was obsessed with you," we said to each other at the same time.
"No," Noa said sadly. "He was obsessed with seeing his legacy survive. Once my part in that was over… or maybe it's just that what he wanted was always going to be more important than what he had and he never could keep from throwing away what he had. He never learned."
I thought of Yami who'd come into this game eager to trade any chance at a future for a glimpse of his past, as though time could run backwards. I hadn't been any better. For all I'd talked of a future I'd never believed I deserved one. And we'd both forgotten that the road to the future starts in the present; that what's going on here and now matters. Maybe that was another difference between me and Gozaburo. Unlike him, I could learn.
"I didn't think you could change either. I was wrong," I said to Noa. "They say chess is a game of patricide with the new king surpassing the old."
"In a way, I hope so," Noa said. "I hope he's at peace."
I just hoped Gozaburo was gone for good, but Noa had earned my silence on that front. I hated the old bastard, but Noa was no better or worse than myself. And no one else, not even Mokuba, would ever know as thoroughly what it meant to be Gozaburo's son.
"I wasn't a player," he said. "But just like you, I found my own answers. It's funny… I was the one looking for this all to end, not Father… and I'm the one with the second chance. It doesn't seem fair somehow."
He concentrated again then leaned forward and pressed his palm to mine. The gesture seemed to call for a response. I put my free hand on his shoulder. As we broke apart I put my hands in my pockets. I was glad my clothes had managed to repair themselves one final time since I didn't want to show up in Domino looking like some stray dog from the gutter. Yami squeezed my shoulder briefly.
Pegasus looked at Yugi. "Tell Anzu not to be too angry with me. Tell her I'm happy." He smiled. "Tell her I was made for extravagance, just as she's made for more mundane and earth-bound joys. Remind her not to overlook the little things in life."
Yugi blushed, then nodded and said, "I'll tell her."
Pegasus laughed. "Believe me, I'm trying to do you a favor, little Yugi."
"He's sending Yugi back looking like a tomato. Some favor," I muttered to Yami, trying to figure out when Yami had decided jabbing me in the ribs was a fun activity.
Maybe the others had more confidence in the sanctity of penalty games, or maybe they just had more confidence period, because after a final set of farewells, Mokuba, Yami and Yugi went to the VR pods and jumped in without hesitation. Yugi slammed the door shut. Mokuba and Yami did the same a moment later. I'd reached the pods as well, but I hesitated and watched them disappear. As I breathed a sigh of relief, I heard Pegasus chuckle behind me.
"I would have done the same. I would have made sure they were safely bestowed rather than risk rejoining a world that didn't contain them."
Cynthia said, "But sooner or later you'll lose the ones you love – or they'll lose you. You can't control that. Please don't try."
"Like your husband did? If you think it was such a bad idea why are you here?" I asked.
Her smile was too sad to be merely a matter of pixels and refracted light. It might have been the realest thing in this world.
"He gave me a semblance of life and paid with his sanity. Have you ever loved anyone so much you'd give up everything you have for them?"
My smile matched hers. "Yes. And I'm going back for more of the same."
Noa came forward again. "Tell Mokuba…" he said, then he stopped.
"I will," I answered, although we both knew neither was going to be able to find the words. "Good luck," I added. It wasn't much, but I meant it. I looked from him to Pegasus, surprised to find I was worried. "Take care of yourself," I added.
"So much distrust," Pegasus murmured.
"I've seen how you treat your partners," I observed.
"Cynthia never wanted anyone hurt on her behalf. In my grief over losing her, I dishonored her memory."
"I'm willing to take the chance." Noa smiled. "Your brother taught me to hope."
"Then it seems that we've reached an accord." Pegasus looked at me. "You're a little too old for me to call you Kaiba-boy anymore."
"I always was," I pointed out.
"In either case, it seems the title has passed to a new owner. I will try to do a better job by my newest partner. He's so much cuddlier and nicer. It shouldn't be too difficult."
I saluted and climbed in the remaining pod. It was time to catch up with the others.
Waiting is hard.
We looked at each other as the first pod appeared. Anzu crossed her fingers. Jounouchi started mumbling, "C'mon, Yugi," as if repeating it over and over would bring my grandson safely home. It was suddenly hard to breathe. In all the weeks we'd been here, I'd never known that Isono and Fubeta were armed, but now they were pointing guns at the pod as we waited to see who – or what – emerged.
The pod doors finally opened. Yugi jumped out and ran straight to me and his friends. After a second of silence as we absorbed the fact he was really here in front of us, cheers exploded all around me. I tried to hug Yugi, but had to settle for grabbing a shoulder. Jounouchi and Honda pounded his back and whatever else they could reach. I grinned. My grandson was a chip off the old block – Anzu was the one he was hanging onto. I turned back to the front of the room as more pods materialized.
Isono spoke into the pin on his lapel, probably telling the small army waiting outside the door to stand down.
Mokuba and Yami climbed out next. I'd thought the room couldn't get any noisier; the next minute proved that it could. Yami ran to Yugi and embraced him, saying "Partner," again and again as if it was Yugi's name. Yugi let go of Anzu to hug Yami in return. They clutched each other, laughing and shaking, like years had passed instead of minutes since they'd last seen each other.
"I'm so glad! I can't believe it's all really happening," Yugi cried. After another hug and a few more tears, Yugi released Yami and reclaimed Anzu's hand.
"I know! I can't either!" Jounouchi said, springing forward to poke Yami in the belly before pinching his arm.
"Hey!" Yami protested.
"That proves it! This isn't a dream!" Jounouchi shouted triumphantly.
"You're supposed to pinch your own arm, not someone else's," Honda said.
Everyone burst into laughter. I hugged Yami. "It's good to be able to do that in this world as well."
Yami smiled. "Yes it is."
I glanced back at Isono and Fubeta. They hadn't holstered their weapons. I looked around for Mokuba, suddenly realizing that he hadn't joined the celebration. He was still by the VR pods. I swallowed, suddenly nauseous as I counted… there were only three pods in all. Mokuba was staring at the blank space where the fourth pod should have been.
"Yami…" he said, glancing at the still-cheering crowd.
Mokuba had spoken quietly, but Yami turned as swiftly as if he'd been summoned from a deck. He ran back to Mokuba.
"Where's Nisama?" Mokuba whispered, lacking breath for more than those two words.
Yami scanned the room, then slammed his hands down on the pod door nearest him and said, "Damn him!"
"Yami… you don't think… he wouldn't…" Mokuba said, reaching towards him.
With the kind of timing Kaiba specialized in, the fourth VR pod finally arrived.
Yami ran to the pod, almost getting hit in the face as the door flew open. He reached in and grabbed Kaiba by his coat lapels. The taller duelist had to scramble to keep his long legs from getting tangled in the pod wall as Yami dragged him out.
"You just couldn't go on faith, could you?" Yami demanded.
Kaiba must have managed to hang onto something from his game because he looked sheepish.
"Yami…" he said.
"You had to offer yourself as a target one last time. At heart, no matter how much you try, that'll always be your first instinct, won't it?" Yami demanded, shaking him slightly.
Kaiba's eyes widened. For an instant he let Yami see that he was afraid, without caring who was watching.
"I'm sorry." Kaiba said the words quietly, but they got the entire room to turn and stare at him.
"Don't be. It's part of who you are," Yami replied, leaning against Kaiba's chest. "I'm just glad you're here so I can fulfill my promise to yell at you as often as possible." They were both sublimely unaware of their audience.
"What now?" Kaiba asked.
"This…" Yami said, kissing him.
"Yes. This," Kaiba answered as he bent down to return Yami's kiss.
"Hey! What the fuck?" Jounouchi said, the last word muffled as Honda got his hand over his friend's mouth.
"I don't get it either, but this is so not the time, Jounouchi," Honda whispered.
"We did it. We're home," Kaiba said, briefly lifting his head from Yami's. The pure longing in his voice silenced even Jounouchi.
Anzu smiled at Kaiba and Yami. It was a determined smile, but it was there. She was holding Yugi's hand tightly.
"I'm glad you're both back safely," she said, although there was no sign that either Kaiba or Yami had heard her.
Yugi grinned and grabbed her other hand.
"This game was about finding yourself," I reminded Jounouchi and Honda. "Sometimes when you do that you find the people you want to be with as well."
Jounouchi's eyes lit up. "So you mean if Mai and I played this game…" he said.
I looked at Yugi who was holding on to Anzu's hands, then at Yami and Kaiba who had finally stopped kissing. "If you know who you want, why do you need a game to tell you what to do?" I asked.
"This is definitely going to take some getting used to," Jounouchi said, but he was grinning. Having his friends safe outweighed everything – even seeing one of his best friends kissing his biggest pain in the ass. He turned to Isono. "What gives? Why didn't you give us a heads up? Did you guys see this coming?"
Isono and Fubeta looked at each other and shrugged. Their matching infinitesimal smiles looked equally out of place on their usually serious faces.
Yami had his arm around Kaiba's hips; his thumb was hooked around the taller boy's belt. He was using it as a handle to steer him towards the group. Kaiba would probably have stood on the edges – or slipped out of the room – but he followed Yami docilely enough. Mokuba circled around them like a noisy satellite.
Kaiba looked over at me. His body stilled. I could read the uncertainty on his face as clearly as if he had opened the covers of a book. I started to tell him to keep in touch, that my home was always open to him. But I knew, as much as he had changed, if all I did was offer, he'd never follow through.
"If I have to haunt the Kaiba Corporation lobby until you finally decide it's time to go home, I'm not giving up on our friendship now that I've gotten to know you," I told him.
"I better tell my security staff to give you the run of the place then." He glanced at Isono. "If they haven't already. Go home and get some sleep first though, old man. You look like shit."
"So do you," I assured him.
Isono and Fubeta had holstered their weapons, but they'd remained in the back of the room. Mokuba caught sight of them and ran forwards, launching himself at them. Isono caught him in midair.
"You guys were awesome! I knew we could count on you!" Mokuba yelled.
Isono walked towards Kaiba, with Mokuba still hugging him around the waist. He reached his boss and held out a sheaf of papers. Even from here, I could see it was a contract. Kaiba took the letter on top and scanned it. His face paled as he read.
He called to Yugi, "You need to hear this; it concerns you as well."
Yugi and Anzu walked over.
When they had reached him, Kaiba began reading Pegasus' letter aloud.
"Dear Kaiba boy:
My felicitations. If you're reading this, you've managed to survive as usual. As you know, since I tried to take it over by force, I've always thought that Kaiba Corporation and Industrial Illusions belonged together. My reasons were completely selfish, but the idea was sound. However, now that I'm at the point of gaining everything I sought from the merger, I'm giving you a present: part ownership in Industrial Illusions. Do I really need to tell someone as experienced as you that nothing comes without a price? You'll have to learn how to play nicely with others, since Yami and Yugi are now your partners. (It seems like a reasonable assumption that if you managed not to kill yourself in the face of so much temptation, they survived as well.)"
"Pegasus must have made a mistake! I don't know anything about business besides how to stock shelves and make change!" Yugi said.
Kaiba snorted then continued reading. "I'm sure little Yugi has interrupted by now to say something pointlessly modest. Ask him who is better equipped to understand all those duelists who want to play the game for fun."
Kaiba paused again, winced as he scanned the next part, glared pre-emptively around the room, and then resumed reading in such a deliberately expressionless voice it managed to keep everyone quiet.
"As for your other partner – and I hope you appreciate how wonderfully ambiguous the word 'partner' can be – remind him that business is just another game, and I doubt that all the magic has left him in that regard.
I realize there were four of you in that virtual world, but the best present I can give your brother is to treat him like an underage child who shouldn't be mixed up in any of this, even though he's remarkably good at meddling where he doesn't belong."
Kaiba folded the letter and handed it and the contract back to Isono.
"You're not going to listen to him about me, right, Nisama? Because if we're adding on Industrial Illusions, you're going to have to let me take on more of the marketing and promotions. You know I like it more than you. It's the only way you're going to have the time to design new cards. Only no more hateful ones!"
"The game will always require 'hateful' cards as you term them. But I promise to remember that it also needs balance," Kaiba said seriously.
"And you have two partners who'll remind you," Yami pointed out.
Kaiba turned to the VR pods. "The first order of business is going to be dismantling those things."
"Poor Noa," Mokuba said.
Yami frowned thoughtfully. "I hope Noa's all right. I hope the temptation to find and assemble the Puzzle pieces, to try and redeem his father doesn't prove too much for his fortitude."
"It won't." Kaiba reached in his pocket, then held out his hand. The eye from the center of Yami's Puzzle winked at us, reflecting the overhead lights.
"Nisama?" Mokuba asked.
"It was a going-away present from our brother," Kaiba said shortly. Tears came into Mokuba's eyes. He clutched his brother around the waist. We could see his shoulders shaking, but his sobs were muffled against Kaiba's chest.
"It's okay, Mokuba. He said to tell you… he said to tell you…" Kaiba started.
"I know. I love him too, and I hope he'll be happy. Even if I never get to see him again, just knowing him makes up for it all."
Kaiba smiled. "That's what he said." He glanced back at the pods and added, "And if he's going to be stuck somewhere away from us, my virtual world is a pretty amazing place."
"It was an awesome game, Nisama! It's a shame we'll never get the chance to play it again."
I looked at Jounouchi, Honda, Isono and Fubeta standing together like a mismatched quartet. I looked at Kaiba. He had one arm wrapped around Yami's waist; the other hand was resting on Mokuba's head. I looked at Anzu. She was gazing downwards at Yugi; he was still in her arms. He grinned at me and I couldn't resist giving my grandson a thumbs-up sign.
I smiled back at the youngest Kaiba brother. "I think you're wrong. With any luck, we'll all be playing this game for a long time to come."
Acknowledgements: "Giving Up the Ghosts is over 250,000 words long, but it would take me many, many more words than that to express my thanks to BnoMiko for betaing the story, for listening to me whine and obsess about ridiculously small details, for looking up duel monsters with me, for challenging and questioning and encouraging me, and for making the whole process so much more fun.
I'd like to thank Kagemihari for encouraging me to write Yu-Gi-Oh! fanfiction and Splintered Star for letting me bounce ideas off of her and bouncing a few of her own right back at me.
It's taken me almost four years to complete "Giving Up the Ghosts," and I have absolutely no idea what to say now, except: thank you for reading it.
When I started posting, even though I had an outline and a 200 page double-spaced first draft, I had no idea what I was getting into, how long it would take, or how many words I'd use before reaching the final ones. But one thing that struck me at Alcatraz was Yami telling Kaiba that the demons they carry into their duels aren't contained in their decks. You can see so clearly how the events of Kaiba's life – his parents' death, being abandoned by his relatives, taking on the responsibility for Mokuba's welfare, Gozaburo, being betrayed by Pegasus, the Big 5 and his bodyguards – have made his demons so entrenched.
I wanted to give Kaiba the time to take a good, hard look at them. Kaiba's always willing to fight, but I wanted him to understand the battle and its stakes as well. And I wanted to give Yami and Yugi the chance to look at where they'd been, who they'd become, and decide where they wanted to go from there. Kaiba and Yami spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to win the game. To me though, winning means that they no longer need a virtual world to help them sort things out.
Finally ending "Giving Up the Ghosts" is both sad and satisfying. Sad, because come tomorrow I know I'm going to miss living with it. Satisfying because win, lose or draw, I told the story I meant to, to the best of my ability. Thank you for sticking it out with me. I hope you enjoyed it.
The quote that sums up reading and writing best to me is Louise Rosenblatt's, "A story's just ink on a page until a reader comes along to give it life."
Whether your response is positive, negative or anything in-between, please review. I'd really like to hear from you and find out what you thought/felt about the story.
UPCOMING STORY IDEAS:
About a year ago I was surprised to find out that all my plot bunnies hadn't all taken flight. I actually have two upcoming story ideas:
Tentative title: Hello Kitty Kaiba
Despite the title it's NOT a crossover! Everything's status quo in the Yu-Gi-Oh! world. Monsters are attacking, Yugi and friends are about to save the world and Kaiba's their reluctant ally. Friendship and trust seem irrelevant until a cat-headed goddess decides to take a hand in their affairs.
I expect the story to be 7 – 9 chapters, and head straight into the humor/angst category.
Tentative title: Return to Romance
It was the happy ending nobody expected – especially Yami. He knows he should be grateful but living had never been part of his game plan before. Kaiba decides it's time to repay his debts. But rivalry and obligation don't quite add up to friendship, much less romance.
I'm not sure how many chapter this will be, but I can safely promise it'll be shorter than "Giving Up the Ghosts." I wanted to write a romance, only the more I look at it the less sure I am that the traditional meaning of "romance" applies.
If you enjoyed "Giving Up the Ghosts," I hope you check them out.