Like another recent project, "Cemetery Dance," this story is an exercise. Like Dance, its center is everybody's favorite pair of angst-ridden but oh-so-lovable siblings. But, also like Dance, there's a particular someone who pops in to steal some of the spotlight. That someone? A little gambling king we like to call Yami.
I'll be honest; I was never all that fond of the guy at first. The second-series anime on which most of my work is based didn't really do a very good job of presenting Yami in a well-rounded light. He came off as a preachy, cocky little goody-two-shoes, and that—frankly—bores me to tears. And I always thought that it wasn't a very good fit for my favorite anti-hero. Why would Seto freaking Kaiba take the time out of his busy, angsty day to worry about such a would-be Messiah? Surely he has better things to do. Like iron his trench coats, maybe.
So, I set out to find a rival worthy of Seto's unadulterated badassery.
In my travels, I happened across this guy.
I think he's a much better fit. Don't you agree?
He stopped walking and stared at the coin as it skittered across the ground, just in front of his feet.
He turned his eyes deliberately, mechanically, as if he were a shape-shifting alien who knew what human beings looked like, but had yet to understand just how they moved. The dark figure was barely moving, himself; the only constant movement was his right hand, as it flicked a second coin into the night air.
"Mutou," he said.
The dark figure's head tilted downward. "Kaiba."
"The common custom is to speak if you want someone to notice you."
Yugi Mutou—currently in his "confident" form—gave a dark little chuckle. "And we both know how well that would have worked," he said. "After all, you have such a stellar track record." The glinting silver coin disappeared into a pocket of the gambler's tight black jeans. Yugi stepped closer, his normally open, gentle face looking sharp, scrutinizing, and even a touch manic.
Seto Kaiba thought for a moment that it was a trick of the meager light, but he could never be sure of anything when it came to this one. Yugi Mutou was an eternal mystery, for whom the laws of nature seemed to apply only at certain times. The most logical theory Seto had thus far come up with was that Yugi was the victim of a surprisingly beneficial case of dissociative identity disorder.
Except that Yugi and his "alter" were fully aware of each other, and seemed to converse with each other on a regular basis. Yugi seemed to consider this second version of himself to be a good friend. A defender, a guardian, a mentor. This did not fall in line with Seto's knowledge of dissociative disorders, and so he couldn't help but doubt his own theories.
Yugi Mutou was the only person to have ever made Seto doubt his own knowledge.
For that, if nothing else, Seto was respectful—and more than a little wary—of him.
"What are you?" Seto asked, eyes narrowing.
Yugi laughed. It was a dark laugh, an ominous laugh...a laugh much like one might have expected to come from Seto himself. The gambler said, "I cannot help but notice your particular choice of words, Kaiba. Most people would ask who I am. But then, you do not consider me to be a person, do you?"
"I have had reason to doubt."
Seto smirked. "I'm sure you are."
Yugi stepped even closer. He gestured to his left. "I believe you were on your way home? Allow me to accompany you. We can...unravel the mystery of my existence on the way." When Seto scowled at him and did not move, Yugi raised a thin eyebrow. "Your brother is at home, alone. Surely you do not want to leave him in such a state. And I do believe..." He looked down at his left wrist, at the digital watch he wore. "Yes. Yes, it is now officially his tenth birthday. You wouldn't want him to wake up on such a special day to find you gone. Would you?"
Yugi's tone was one of honest concern tinged with the undercurrent of a covert threat, intermingled to the point that Seto wasn't sure what to make of it. He said, "I highly doubt that Mokuba is awake at this hour." Yugi's smirk, so like Seto's own, widened. He showed his teeth, and they seemed to gleam. "Nevertheless, he is not alone. I am not so lax in my own security that I would leave him unattended in the middle of the night."
"Ah, well," Yugi said, "there is no security like the security of knowing that one's appointed guardian is nearby." Seto began to walk, and wondered in the back of his mind if he was doing so in some subconscious attempt to escape. It didn't work, if so, because Yugi kept stride with him easily. "You wouldn't deprive the poor boy of that. Not on his birthday."
"I am hardly across the country, Mutou," Seto said.
"Still," Yugi said, "what if he has a nightmare? What if he wakes up, scared of the dark, and comes shuffling into Niisama's room, looking for comfort? And Niisama is gone. It's almost heartbreaking, Kaiba. Don't you agree?"
Seto realized that he didn't much like this version of Yugi Mutou. Within the arena, he was sharp, quick, intuitive. He was the ultimate challenge. He was a born fighter, willing to take chances and able to play his opponent just as much as he played his cards. In the arena, Yugi Mutou was a living adrenaline rush.
But outside the arena, without the haze of exhilaration, without the thrill of the hunt, Seto found that this Yugi Mutou reminded him none too comfortably of himself. Seto wasn't what anyone could call a fan of his own reflection, and the only mirrors in his home were in the bathrooms.
This was the reason why.
"If you are asking what I found so important that I left my brother without the...comfort of my presence, Mutou," Seto said, voice sharp and full of venom, "you might do well to ask me directly."
Yugi chuckled again. "Oh, now, Kaiba, that's no fun."
"I don't deal in fun," Seto said, "and you don't, either."
Yugi thought about this for a moment, then shrugged. "I suppose you have a point."
He stopped walking suddenly and, for a reason that he couldn't pinpoint, Seto stopped as well.
Yugi held out his right hand toward his rival. "Person or no, I am separate from Yugi Mutou. I do not believe we have ever been properly introduced. Call me Yami."
And again, for no reason, Seto shook the offered hand.
"You confuse me...Yami."
Yami's smirk spread into a full grin. A playful grin. An open grin.
An evil grin.
"Yami is not your real name."
"As far as you're concerned, I don't have a real name," Yami said. "I'm a mental projection to you."
"You are. But if Yami were your name, you would have told me that your name was Yami. You didn't. You said for me to call you Yami." Seto continued to walk, and Yami followed suit, looking thoughtful. "You seem to revel in misdirection. You enjoy speaking in riddles, and gauging how your opponents respond to them. Any instance of interaction is a game to you. A game to be studied, played, and won."
Yami mulled this over. "You're right."
"So, why do you call yourself by such a name?"
"Do you care?"
"No. But if you are going to insist on following me, then I may as well use this time to my advantage."
Yami laughed. "After my own heart, Master Kaiba. Very well, then. I'll tell you why. If..." He withdrew the silver coin from his pocket again. Seto frowned. "You were the one who said I treat everything as a game, Kaiba. I'm simply proving you right. So...call it in the air. Let's see what happens."
The coin shot into the air with a practiced flick of the gambler's thumb.
Seto watched it. "Heads."
Yami caught the coin without breaking stride, picked it from his palm with two fingers of his opposite hand, and showed it to Seto. "Heads," he said. "Well done, Kaiba." He slipped the coin into his pocket again. "You are correct. My name is not Yami. I do not remember my name."
Seto raised an eyebrow. "An alias for the sake of convenience."
"Something along those lines, yes," Yami said. "I trust that you speak Japanese?"
"Well, then, you will note that Yugi's name, in its native tongue, translates to 'game.'"
Yami held out his hands. "Of course, I more commonly hear the term, 'geemu,' on those rare occasions when I hear the language at all. But, that is largely unimportant. My point being, Kaiba, that I am inexorably linked to him. I find it rather fitting that Yugi would have such a name, considering the nature of my personality. We are connected, he and I."
"The nature of many games I play...well, let us simply state that they are hardly innocent," the gambler continued. "I challenge those I believe to have trespassed against my host, and if they circumvent the rules I set forth...if their own faults, their own flaws, lead to their loss...I have been known to dispense judgment. To teach them, you see. It is an old custom. The winner decides the fate of the loser. This is a penalty game. You see what I mean."
Seto's countenance darkened. "...I see," he admitted.
"Sugoroku Mutou, Yugi's grandfather, was a gambler in his own right, in his youth. He took to calling challenges of this nature, 'yami no geemu,' or...dark game. Yami no yuugi, if you like." Yami's blood-colored eyes twinkled with amusement. "Game of darkness. Darkness's game. I...found that I much liked this terminology. So, I adopted it. I am...Yami no Yugi. The...dark side of Yugi." He shrugged. "Convoluted explanation, perhaps, but...rather fitting, I think."
Seto turned his eyes to his rival. "...Hn."
Yami took the coin from his pocket again.
"I told you something about myself," he said. "What say we...reciprocate the idea?" He tossed the coin to Seto. "If I win...you will answer my question."
Seto glanced down at the disc of metal in his palm and smirked. "Fine."
He flicked the coin into the air.
"Tails," Yami said without watching.
Seto caught it.
He thought about lying, but didn't see much point in it. He said, "Very well...Yami."
Yami's bright, sadistic grin returned. "I'm surprised you were honest."
"Most people are."
"So, then...what business brought you out of your home so late this night, my surprisingly honest companion? What was so important that you would leave little Mokuba in the care of your security, rather than yourself, while he is at his most vulnerable?"
Somehow, he'd seen this coming.
It took a long time, nearly a full two minutes, before he said, "I was...visiting my mother."
Honestly surprised, Yami nearly stumbled to a stop. His eyes widened, and he looked incredulous. "Your...mother? Gozaburo Kaiba was only married once, and it ended in divorce before you were adopted. And you would not have been adopted if your parents had been fit to care for you, so either your mother is physically ill, mentally ill, or dead. Judging by the look on your face...I would bet on the third."
Seto's face gave an involuntary spasm. When he spoke again, his voice was as cold as the night air. "If you have done enough research to know my adoptive father's marital history, then you might have done enough research to know the answer to that, instead of betting on it."
Yami shrugged. "You might be surprised at just how little information there is to be found on you, Kaiba. Especially before your adoption into the Kaiba family. So...she is dead, then." Seto nodded curtly. "You would not choose today, of all days, to visit her unless today holds special significance. I suppose, then, that she died in childbirth."
"Well done, Detective."
Yami nodded. "I see. You mention your mother. Not your father. I trust there is reason for that, as well. With you, there is a reason behind everything."
"But it does sound as though you have had dismal luck with fathers, Kaiba. I suppose it is no surprise, then, that you have taken such care with your raising of Mokuba. This does answer...certain questions. Tell me, Kaiba...did your mother have black hair, and violet eyes?"
Now it was Seto's turn to be surprised. "...W-What?"
Yami laughed again, and Seto resisted the urge to send his fist through the gambler's disarmingly white teeth. "I thought so. The little one takes after her, doesn't he? That would certainly explain your lack of resentment. Your...dedication to his welfare. Quite the Mama's boy, aren't you, Kaiba? Admirable. Indeed, most admirable. If I had to guess further, I would say that you were blessed with your father's...aesthetics."
Seto's eyes flared, and his hands clenched into fists.
"And that would explain the self-loathing. Your family is a collection of knots."
"...Do you find this amusing?"
"Amusing? Not at all. Fascinating, perhaps. Are you surprised, Kaiba? You, who have spent so much time learning to gauge others' reactions? You wouldn't have risen to the position you hold without knowing how to read people. You've had training. Some of us...well, some of us are blessed with innate talent in the field, shall we say. And I know I'm right, because your reaction would not be so visceral if I weren't."
Seto gave a long, drawn-out sigh. "We should keep our interactions with each other confined to the arena."
Yami smirked one of his irksomely familiar smirks. "Don't enjoy someone else getting the upper hand, eh, Kaiba? You should have lied. I would have had no way of knowing for sure. You have quite the poker face...when you want, or are able, to use it."
Seto didn't respond. He was expending too much energy on keeping calm.
They walked in silence for a while. Seto pitched the coin back to Yami, who pocketed it.
"...Does Mokuba know?" Yami asked
"That his mother died for him," Yami elaborated. "Does he know? Have you told him?"
It seemed as if Seto planned on ignoring this statement as well, but eventually he said, "...No."
Seto glared at the gambler. "You see. And that means...?"
Yami shrugged. "Nothing in particular. I...cannot deny slight surprise. But it is...nothing of consequence."
Seto closed his eyes and drew in a breath. "Nothing of consequence," he repeated.
"You've always struck me as the sort of man who never sugarcoats anything," Yami said, and his voice was a touch softer, as if realizing he had crossed a line. Seto didn't think that Yami had done it out of any sort of sympathy, empathy, or even regret.
Like everything else Yami did, it was tactical.
Something about that actually calmed Seto. His breathing came easier.
"I don't," Seto said.
"Except when it comes to Mokuba," Yami replied. "Which is odd, considering. You, so brutally honest, would lie...for the one person who matters most to you. Perhaps the one person who matters to you at all. I don't suppose you would care to elaborate on that." Yami retrieved the coin a third time, and held it out, again tweezed between two fingers. "Shall we play again?"
Seto ignored the coin.
"There will come a time," he said with grim conviction, "when telling him will cause less damage than keeping it from him. Eventually, he will have to know. And I will tell him then. But until that day comes...I'll be damned before I make my brother cry on his birthday."
For the second time in his life, Seto saw honest surprise break through Yami's impeccably statuesque face. The gambler said, "...You confuse me, Kaiba."
"It's a simple concept."
"Indeed, it is. And I would expect it from most everyone else. Not you. You're a much more sentimental man than you would lead people to believe. A ritualistic visit to your mother's grave on the night of her death. Lying, by omission, to your brother in order to save his feelings. Your decision to speak to me about it...what's happened to you, Kaiba? Where is the cold, emotionless killer who uses cards as his weapon? Where is the man who would want nothing more than to see me dead?"
"You challenged me. I lost. Reciprocity, Yami. I refuse to owe anyone anything."
Yet again, Yami laughed. "Maybe you believe it's that simple. I don't."
"Believe what you want."
They had reached the front gates of the Kaiba Estate, and as Seto began to enter the key-code that would unlock those gates, he turned to look over his shoulder. Yami stood a few paces behind him, looking past him at the gargantuan mansion that had once belonged to Kaiba Gozaburo, founder of the Kaiba Corporation. Seto could not read the expression on his face.
"The little one declined when Yugi offered to throw him a party," Yami said softly. "I assume this is because he would rather spend the day with you." A smile crossed his face, and he almost looked like the peaceful, unassuming teenage boy that shared his body. "Wish him a happy birthday. From us. And...don't make him cry."
Yami winked, and turned on one heel to leave.
Mokuba sat huddled in a blanket on the couch in the front parlor, watching television.
Seto glanced at his watch. "What are you doing up, Mokuba?" he asked, in a softer tone than he might have employed, had it been any other day. "I sent you to bed three hours ago."
The black-haired boy watched as Seto hung up his coat. "Bad dream," he said simply. Seto strode forward and turned his attention to the TV screen just in time to watch a blonde woman slice a knife through a truck driver's throat. His eyes narrowed.
"I cannot imagine why," he muttered dryly.
"You said I could watch this show," Mokuba said in an almost-pouting voice.
Seto sighed. "That I did."
"I didn't dream about this stuff, anyway."
"What did you dream about, then?"
Mokuba lowered his eyes, and he fidgeted for a moment. He said, his voice small and painfully young, "...Pegasus."
He sighed again.
Removing his tie and rolling up his sleeves, Seto sat beside his brother on the couch, and Mokuba huddled close, leaning his head against Seto's side. Seto wrapped an arm around the boy's shoulders. "That's over now," the elder Kaiba whispered to the younger. "Today isn't the day to be thinking about such things."
"Happy birthday, kiddo."
The episode ended, and Mokuba reached over for the remote to choose another. On impulse, despite the fact that he cared about television about as much as he cared about the mating habits of south African primates, Seto said, "So, what is this show of which you're so enamored, lately? I've never seen you so excited about Tuesdays before."
This had the desired effect. Mokuba sat up, grinning broadly. "Oh, it's great! You'll like it, Niisama! Promise! Want me to play the first episode? So you can see?"
Seto shrugged. "Fine. For the record, this is a birthday present."
Mokuba's grin widened.
He sifted through the DVR until he found the pilot episode of his newest obsession, set the remote aside, and once again settled himself against his brother, letting out a soft, contented little sigh. For a while, Seto wondered if Mokuba would ask where he'd been for the past two hours, but eventually figured that the boy was so pleased with his big brother's sudden interest in his choices of dramatic fiction that he didn't want to break the spell.
Some time in the middle of the third episode, Mokuba fell asleep.
Seto smiled when he heard the change in his brother's breathing. He thought about picking him up and putting him to bed, but decided it didn't matter very much. Leaning back on the couch, he continued to watch, figuring that he would do well to know just what it was he had allowed his brother to pollute his mind with. By pure chance, he rubbed his right leg in just the right way to feel something in his pocket.
He looked down.
He retrieved the silver coin, delicately posed between his index and middle fingers.
"I'm not sure what the hell you're trying to tell me," Seto whispered.
Miles away, in his bedroom on the second floor of the Turtle Game Shop, the man who called himself Yami glanced out his window and grinned.
"...Nothing of consequence."
To those of you who may be wondering, the television show Mokuba is watching when Seto comes home is none other than, "Supernatural."
The 11th episode of the first season, in fact. Some of you may know it as, "Scarecrow."
Why would I let a pure, innocent little angel like Mokuba watch such a grisly, dark, clearly-meant-for-older-folks form of entertainment? Such a silly question. 'Cuz it's awesome, of course. Besides, it seemed to fit the general feel of the entire course of events, don't you think? I'm sure those of you who've watched Eric Kripke's masterpiece will understand what I mean by that. Or, at least, I hope you do. If not...well, go watch it again. Yes, all of it. You'll thank me later.
Ahem...okay. I'm done now.
See you guys later.