When he looks down at me like this, it's hard to believe he thinks I shadow him. Of course he's not purposefully looking down at me, or being his snide usual self. No, this is different. We're standing side by side, and while my height and his might make things awkward at times, I've come to know the difference between him looking down at me cruelly, and him just plain looking at me.
I don't mind it, truth be told. Though he might crack short jokes at my expense, it's never truly bothered me (however if he were to do it to Yuugi, I'd easily tell him to back off). Being tall works for him, it builds that scary façade that he's known for, it makes his opponents fear him. I don't think he needs all that extra build up, but we're supposed to work with what we're given.
That's why, sometimes, when we're across the field from each other and I'm able to see that rare flash of surprise, or lucky (from my prospect) fear- it makes me feel tall. It makes me feel worth it. It makes everything better.
Not that I need it. I have a high confidence on the dueling field, especially with him. I almost feel at times like I can't fail him- when it's me, and the game, I should really be worrying about. I don't know when it started. There used to be a time I absolutely loathed him and his selfish behavior before I truly understood it was never just that. There was a time when I would have easily called an attack and ended his life so quickly.
Safe to say neither of us is who we exactly were when we started.
He crosses his arms, I cross mine. Mirror movement that's gotten so repetitive by now. And then he cracks that smirk at me, but I don't move my lips. My façade is impassive at best, neutral at worst. I don't like thinking that he knows what's on my mind. Sometimes I feel like giving him a challenge on purpose. I know he can rise to it; he's one of the only ones who can. Maybe that's why I do it.
So close now, not like the battlefield at all. There I at least have the advantage of such a distance that I can meet his eyes easily. But this close…? He's a foot taller than me, definitely bigger and stronger than I. My eyes rise as far as they'll go, my head tilts up- and he's still smirking. Now I think it might be because I have to look up. Does he want me to? Sometimes I know what's on his mind, sometimes he's a puzzle that frustrates me.
I almost feel uncomfortable now and I can't place the reason why. Our stances are the same, and yet so different. His looks loose, but I know it's not. I know underneath everything he's keeping control so tightly the cords might want to snap any minute. My arms tuck tighter across my chest, my hip shifting unconsciously outwards, the belts catching me up from moving further. We're still just staring at each other, like we haven't moved at all.
Has this gone on for hours?
There's a flash of cameras up ahead, but I still haven't looked away. They're taking pictures. The ones that get deemed favorable enough will appear in the tabloids and the headlines tomorrow, I'm sure of it. I'm used to it by now. I can't imagine why they keep taking them; it must be the same photo one after another.
Just for a moment I look passed him, rather than at him. He notices immediately of course. He always does. Sometimes I wonder if there's a well of jealousy hidden in him sometimes. When the moment is right and I don't respond the way he's planning he seems to get stiffer. But here? He can't. He can only respond in ways that no one else will see. His smirk might still be there but it's a little hollower, at least until my attention draws back.
Why had I looked away? What was there to look at? Had I done it specifically to see his reaction? Was I really that needy for it? I didn't need reassurance, neither of us did. Or at least neither of us talked about it or acted like it.
My stance loosens.
His arms drop.
Our eyes catch again, briefly, fleetingly; my lips still haven't moved. I know he's questioning it with the stare he's giving me, but I'm not giving answers back. I know it bothers him. I know I'll pay for it later in some way. A mark I'll have to hide with my collar, a bruise I'll be reminded of as the leather shifts against my legs.
…is that why I do it?
"Tell us about the latest Duel Disk release!" A reporter demands, not asks. Kaiba steps away from me, he goes to the podium that had been resting just a mere few feet away.
A few seconds. It had all happened within a few seconds.
Sometimes I envy our ability to make time stop just to try and figure each other out a little more. Sometimes.
Now my eyes are out to the crowd, the blinding flashes of cameras, the signs of fangirls crying in the distance, hands waving in my direction. Notice me. That's all they want. And yet I feel like I understand their pain. My eyes go back to Kaiba who's speaking boldly, as usual, about this new release he'd locked himself up in his office for months to complete.
It's so fantastic. It's amazing. It will further the world of Duel Monsters. I'd heard it all before, with every release. But it was always true, time and time again. I couldn't ever say differently. Kaiba was passionate about the game. It was a beautiful thing.
I realize I've been staring at him for a few minutes, lost in my thoughts. I know because someone is yelling for me, shooting questions my way.
Why is it when we're together, staring at each other, time ticks so slowly? But when I'm by myself I fail to notice how little time I've got left? Why does he have that power over me?
And why don't I have a bigger problem with it?
"I'm sorry, could you repeat the question?" I say as politely as I can manage. Kaiba's eyes darken slightly. I've messed up. I'll pay for that later differently; cruel words and a brush off, most likely. That part I don't like.
The reporter repeats the question, maybe even a little slower, which I find a dig at me. So I reply snidely, to which I can see Kaiba's lips twitch in a slight feral smirk. Even when I'm directing my attention at other people, I'm always hyperaware of what he's doing. I can't say yet for sure if that's a good or bad thing.
The session seems to go on forever. I pay attention now though, I answer questions when asked, I give opinions when needed, I stay quiet when it's appropriate. I gave the demonstration with Kaiba as planned. People were awed, as usual. They always are. I can't really say I blame them. This is all pretty amazing stuff. I don't think they understand just what Kaiba puts himself through to get it out on time, to even do it at all. I don't think anyone gives him enough credit.
My name is called again. I look up, my eyes regaining a clear cognizance that I always lose when I'm inside my own head. People are clearing out, some are trying to get on stage.
I look around for who called me. Who was it?
He'd walked away, my name called harshly. Right. Still in public. I give him a nod and follow after him, down the stairs and to the back stage. The car is late. He doesn't like this.
"What's wrong with you?" He asks, a slightly harsher tone than I'd been expecting. Was he really that mad?
"What are you talking about?" I respond just as quickly, with as little emotion as possible. But I know that's not going to work.
And I'm right. His stance tightens, his eyes narrowing. He knows I know, and he's not even dignifying my question with a response. How typical.
"I was just thinking."
"There are many other times and places to 'think', Atem." He says coldly, his eyes reflecting his sentiment. "My demonstration is not one of them."
Again we're so close, just standing next to one another. My head is tilted up, his down, our eyes are locked. I'm not going to apologize. He'll never get that out of me. Maybe he wants it, or maybe he likes that I don't bow to his will easily. Sometimes I just don't know.
My eyes look passed him, I get the same reaction as before, this time I'd baited him for it. I guess it felt good. "Going back to work?" I ask, as if the answer would somehow be different from every other time I've asked.
"You were expecting something else?" He replies sarcastically, maybe a bit colder because I'm not looking at him. I wonder what he's thinking.
I realize now that I'm looking passed him because I'd never look down. He doesn't scare me. He never has. He never will. Looking down, while it might be a typical thing to do when you're lost in your thoughts, would be a retreat. Both he and I would see it as one. So I look upwards, and I look passed him. And he knows every single time I've done it, I bet.
My shoulders raise in a shrug. "I guess not." My answer is halfhearted. Probably right about the same way I'm feeling right now.
Something in him shifts, changes. It's subtle, so subtle that anyone else looking on wouldn't have even bothered to notice. There's no other way to act in public. I begin to question if he cares what's wrong with me. My eyes draw back to him, darkened with a slight sullen state. I find cerulean eyes to be searching mine, and I don't know what to do about it.
He smirks again. Damn it all. "You'd better not pull this bullshit at my next one." Such a cruel answer. So damnably cruel, and it almost strikes me that I'm pained by it. Then I realize the car has pulled up. The door is opened for him. He's waiting for me to say something, but I don't. Nothing comes. Nothing wants to, and I will never force words. Neither he nor I want that.
But the expectant look on his face makes me think different. In the end I just shrug again, and it looks like he almost wants to pull me into the car with him. But he doesn't. He just stares at me for a moment longer before disappearing with a slam of the car door.
I watch it drive off.
Ten minutes later on my walk home, my phone rings.
I don't answer it.