Well, I stepped into new ground with my most recent story, "Kyou Dake," and now I'm doing it again! It's fun testing new waters, but oh man, it can be tough. Thanks to all who read, reviewed, and/or favorited my latest work!
I've never written this point of view before, or even this sort of story, so I hope you guys like it! There isn't a set time period, as it skips around, but just so you know, Jounouchi's birthday is in January, so "a few months after his birthday" is around late March or very early April, post-canon. This is based on the second-series anime, and it's rated for very vague references to violence. There's really nothing else to warn about, unless you find sibling cuteness and angst offensive. Obviously, non-romantic. Seriously, though, I only say that so no one can get the wrong idea.
"Yakusoku," by the way, means "Promise."
I very much hope you all enjoy this one, and pretty please leave a review when you finish!
Shizuka did not like trains.
She supposed it was only natural. Her very first real train ride had been spent screaming and crying and banging on the windows and being held to the seat by her mother. She had known even then that it wasn't going to change anything, but not for one second did she regret it. Even still, she tried to avoid that topic with her mother.
She had kept that discomfort over all her years, even when she hit adolescence and knew she should have gotten over the habit. It was silly, really. Not liking trains when there was so much to like about them. She had taken a train after she had her operation. She had taken a train to get her operation and on the way back home after all the events of Battle City.
Then again, maybe she still wasn't getting the best impression.
But she didn't mind the train today. She didn't mind handing the conductor the pass her mother had finally seen fit to buy her, and she didn't mind sitting there through the long ride to Domino. She didn't mind looking out the window and watching the trees and lakes go by, even though she had long gotten used to her new sight.
And she didn't mind hearing the dinging from the speakers around her and the announcement of arriving at Domino Station.
She gripped her suitcase, and she felt the always-strange sensation of the train slowing with the faint screeching on the tracks. The scenery outside the window had grown more urban and lively, people shuffling back and forth around the station as the train pulled in. One of her hands automatically latched onto the seat in the final stretch of stopping, and the instant she felt the train cease to move, she stood.
People crowded out of the train and onto the platform, and she waited, quiet and polite, by her own seat until she saw the hallways had cleared. She grip on her suitcase was tight without her meaning to make it so, and she felt her heard pounding so hard in her chest that it almost hurt, but not quite.
The station was loud. She had to hold onto the edge of the doorway when she stepped out so she didn't trip, but the nervous feelings swirling inside of her made her unsure whether it was true precaution or just the almost unbearable giddiness. She turned her head back and forth. She waited, like she had waited so often in the past. She held onto her suitcase, so tight and anxious, and she tried to remember to breathe.
"Hey! Shizuka! Over here!"
One voice cut through the others, and her head perked and she flicked her eyes around the station one more time. Men and women, a few children, bags carried and rolled along the floor …
And an older boy with thick blonde hair and a big grin, running toward her and the train with a klutziness so unlike him, waving like he was five years old yet again.
He was going to get in trouble, and he knew it. But he did it anyway.
It was the first time she was old enough to realize that it was his way of saying he loved her.
She had been asking for a long time to go. She had seen it in pictures and the movies, but she had never gone. She had never seen it for herself.
And then her parents started talking about separating.
Shizuka going with her mom … and Oniichan staying with their dad.
It was four days after they finally told her, on that afternoon in early spring over school break when both their parents had gone to work, that Oniichan walked into her room, smiled, and told her they were going out.
He didn't tell her where. She asked and she asked and she tried every little tactic to get him to say where it was, but he never told her. He would just smile while they stood at the bus stop and sat in their seats and looked out the window, and tell her they were going somewhere special, and it was going to be a surprise.
Shizuka got down on her knees and scooped up handful of sand for the tenth time and let it run through her fingers. It felt like a million grains of the really expensive sugar she got in her birthday cake, and she giggled when it tickled her toes. Oniichan splashed in the waves again. She laughed every time he jumped from the cold water flowing over his bare legs, and every once in a while he would kick it toward her. It would never hit her, but he would always laugh back.
She had told him she wanted to come last week. She had told him flat-out, instead of going to their parents. And he had smiled and told her he would take her himself.
But their mom and dad had said a lot of things lately they didn't mean.
So she didn't really think Oniichan would actually do it.
"Shizuka! Over here!"
Shizuka giggled and raced across the sand, and she felt her feet against the shifting ground. She felt the warm sun on her face and the air a little chilled around her. She dropped to her knees where her brother sat waiting for her with an unformed pile of sand in between them.
"We're gonna build a sandcastle!" Oniichan moved back and forth, and Shizuka noticed he was still panting from how much he had run. His cheeks were flushed, but he smiled and laughed when she smiled back at him and clapped her hands together.
The sun was already low in the sky when their castle was formed and shaped and decorated with twigs and seashells. The blue changed into red and orange and yellow and little bits of pink where the clouds floated about, and it looked like the prettiest TV picture she had ever seen, only a million times better. The day was ending. They would go home soon.
And when they got home, Okaasan and Otousan would …
Shizuka breathed out.
"Glad we came?"
She looked up, and Oniichan smiled at her. Not a big smile, but it made something in her lighter. His brown eyes gleamed against the sunset.
His smile grew. "Let's come again!"
Shizuka dropped her head, then looked up at him, as if he was much taller than he had been before. Images, sounds ran through her head. Memories she didn't want to remember.
Oniichan looked back down at the castle, and he smoothed over one of the towers with his hand. Suddenly, his hands didn't look like the big brother hands she knew. They looked small, like hers. But they still looked strong.
"Even if Tou-chan and Kaasan split up, it'll be okay!" He looked at her, and she saw her dad, before he stayed out late nights and came home smelling funny and saying mean things. His smile was real. "I'll take you!"
The heavy feeling in her chest lifted, and Shizuka felt her face soften when she lifted her hand and stuck out just her pinky, like Oniichan taught her on her fifth birthday before she blew out her candles.
Oniichan laughed just a little bit, and his face and his voice were strong and real when he took her pinky in his own, and she couldn't tell which finger belonged to who. Her heart felt warm, and her spirit, just for one second, felt free.
He nodded, and no nod had ever meant so much.
Oniichan told her it was going to happen.
He came into her room late one night when she lay awake in her bed listening to the yelling downstairs, the shatter of glass on the wall. He climbed under the covers next to her, and even though she didn't open her eyes, she felt his arms slip around his waist and pull her against him so she could listen to his heartbeat.
She had a million things she wanted to say, but her voice caught in her throat, and a few tears escaped her eyes and seeped into his pajama shirt. He squeezed her, and she heard him breathe.
"It'll be soon now."
He said it so quiet, so simple, like saying he wanted grape jelly on his sandwich. She reached up and clung to the fabric by his arms, and he held her so tight like he never wanted to let her go.
"I'll protect you," he whispered. "I promise."
She wanted to ask him to stay with her that night. She never did. But he never left, and she fell asleep snuggled into his arms, his shirt wet from her tears, and the nightmares that had haunted her left, if only for the night.
After breakfast the next morning, her mother walked in with two suitcases in her hands.
Shizuka did not hate her mother.
She had tried to, for a little while. She had tried to hate her when her mother told her that her father did bad things and because of that she wasn't going to get to see Oniichan anymore. She had screamed and banged on the car window when her mother pulled her into the car to take her away.
Through it all, she had never really hated her.
But she still did not question herself when she got up and locked the door.
The flowers—so blurred already, everything so blurred and vague—her mother had stuck on her bedside table suddenly looked dull and dead. She felt the space of the room close in around her, but she didn't care. She curled her knees close to her body, and she wrapped her arms around them, and she imagined Oniichan was holding her like he used to late at night when she was scared.
It was ten minutes later when she heard the banging on the door.
"Open the door, Shizuka!"
The voice reminded her of those evenings alone with Oniichan. Hiding. Hiding from the fear and from the pain. From the yelling in the kitchen and the shattering of glass.
"Shizuka! Shizuka, open this door! Shizuka, please!"
Bang. Bang. Thump. Thump.
She slapped her hands over her ears and squeezed shut her eyes, and she swung her head back and forth and told herself she was safe.
"No! No! I won't have the operation until Oniichan comes!"
The banging kept on for what felt like so very long. It would stop for a minute and she would hear whispers from the other side of the door. Voices, nurses, the doctor she had met yesterday when she first arrived. She imagined scalpels and knives and people in white clothes. She imagined Oniichan walking away from her, so far away, and no matter how much she screamed, he would not come back.
"Shizuka! Open the door! Please!"
Alone. All alone here with no Oniichan to protect her. Okaasan would not protect her. Okaasan took her away. Okaasan made her go. She pressed her face to her knees and she breathed, and she imagined the waves breaking against the sand, and the sunset glowing in the sky. Oniichan and she, smoothing the sandcastle and placing one last little seashell to its tower. The pinkies held, the words from smiling lips.
The voice was not her mother's.
Shizuka's head shot up.
They told her not to take off her bandages yet, and she didn't. She wanted to, so very badly, and something ached in her chest when she heard the voices around her and the panic and the pain and she couldn't even know what was happening.
But she didn't take off the bandages.
Not until she heard her brother's voice cry out, and she knew.
"Yuugi, I won't let you die!"
She reached behind her head and threw the bandages from her face.
For a moment, the whole world had gone silent. Everything perfectly still, as if it was waiting. Waiting in the darkness that still rested before her eyes. Darkness she had to make the choice to lift.
Shizuka squeezed her hands together, and let her eyelids open.
Everything blurred together at first. All the colors, the light, the almost overwhelming glow flooding her senses all at once. The sun shining in the late afternoon sky. So familiar, but still so vague and hard to see.
Then her new eyes, her eyes, focused, and clarity came with it.
She breathed in, and that breath felt like she was drawing in the entire world. The sight, the marvelous sight, sent goosebumps along her arms, made her mouth drop open in that quiet stunned appreciation for everything that had been so long taken for granted. The faces around her so real, so detailed, so she could see each hair on their head and all the threads in their clothes and every gleam in their eyes.
And she could see her brother. Her brother and the boy with the spiky hair.
Her brother. Swinging on the chain to reach the boy.
The timer beeped. Moments dragged on and on, and she could only stand there and watch. She could do nothing. She could never do anything.
And she couldn't do anything when the chain pulled on Oniichan's ankle, and the ankle of Yuugi-san, and dragged them both beneath the breaking waves.
She stood there. She stared, and she followed the others. Honda-san reached for her brother. Anzu-san dropped to her knees and screamed for them. But Shizuka could just stand there and look, and think of all she had failed to do. She had seen her brother. She had seen her brother because of what he did for her.
And she wasn't going to lose him.
The others did not see her run. If they had, they did not try to stop her. She didn't even know what she was doing herself. She raced around them with every bit of strength in her legs when she saw the key sparkling in the box that had been by her brother's feet. Her knees stung when she hit them on the dock, but she grabbed it just the same.
She could hear the other boy burst from the water, and she smiled at seeing her brother's best friend safe. Yes. Oniichan had done all he needed, and so much more. Now, it was her turn to be brave.
If there had been anyone talking around her when she dove from the docks, she did not hear them. She did not feel the sting of the water on her eyes, or the cold metal of the key in her hand. She saw only Oniichan far below her, growing clearer and clearer out of the shadows as she drew near.
She had promised herself when she first got the surgery that the first thing she wanted to see was her brother.
And when she looked in his face to pull him up from the depths, those soft chocolaty eyes of his, blinking in confusion and surprise, had never felt so good to see.
He promised he would always protect her.
And to the best of his ability and much, much more, he always had.
They had turned on the heat in the room even though it wasn't cold, and the warm air streamed out of the ceiling vents. Her fingers shivered, and chills ran along her spine with every moment, every time she dared to look. Her eyes darted away from it and yet caught on the sight, unable to look at anything else, until she managed to force herself back.
The machines beeped.
The machines kept him there.
Shizuka squeezed her hands together and fought back the urge to scream.
The others were talking now. Sometimes she would talk, too. She heard herself, far off in the distance, so far away and not really there anymore. Her voice was faint to her own ears. She couldn't hear. She could only see. Only see the form of the older boy lying on the bed, his mop of blonde hair sprawled about his head on the pillow, the machines over his mouth and attached to his bare torso by wires.
Her breath trembled. Oh, how very much she wanted to scream.
She had heard the stories of how your life rushes before your eyes before you die. She wasn't dying. But she saw all the memories, all crashing down on her, all at once. She felt the pain and the horror in a million images and sounds, a million feelings, like they were all trying to be first in her mind but none of them had yet fought to the front.
The day at the beach. The last day they had spent together, without ever knowing it would be the last. The everlasting feeling of emptiness as she grew up far away, only ever getting phone calls and cheap cards on her birthday, and wishing she could see the face of her dearest protector once more. But knowing that was only a dream. Only a wish. A wish she could never make come true.
But he could.
She watched Honda-san pull him from his bed, and she watched the lights and colors flash far away from the tower where Yuugi-san and Kaiba-san had their duel. She watched her brother not move, not protest, not watch as his best friends all around him fought. Fought for him.
She watched him, and it felt like that one moment before she took off her bandages. The moment when she didn't know what would happen. She didn't know if she would see. She didn't know what she would see. But she knew she had to do it. Had to keep going. Because she knew, somewhere deep inside her, that he had not given up. He was still fighting. So she had to fight, too.
Oniichan was strong. Oniichan had always been strong. And for so long, she had just stood by the sidelines and waited, watched as he did so much to help her. She did nothing. She did nothing while he did everything.
But now, she had to do something.
"Remember the night before our parents left?"
She looked up at him, and she jumped when the blimp hit the faintest hint of turbulence. He smiled and reached out to steady her, and very slowly, she gave a nod.
"You came in to be with me," she whispered. She scooted nearer to him, the dark night surrounding them and the bright artificial lights, and the new world they had entered. "You took care of me."
He looked at her, and that smile he wore was so old and yet so very young. He slung an arm around her shoulders and pulled her to his side, and he stared out at the stars in the sky and the town glimmering below them, and for a moment, Shizuka imagined they could fly.
"You took care of me, too, Shizuka." His voice was quiet and real. "And now you're right here with me again."
Strength. And courage. All that she had never possessed, and all that she had ever admired.
The blinking of eyes looked like a dream to her. The eyelids that fluttered open, the dull brown appearing behind them, and the shimmering of the lights in the distance reflecting off those strong and loving orbs.
It took all she had not to leap from where she stood.
It felt like the same bus.
She knew it wasn't, it couldn't be, but it felt like it. The seats were worn down and the paint on the outside was scratched and a little dirty. But it held that sense of familiarity about it. Oniichan had picked out one of the seats near the front and given her the side closest to the window while he sat by the aisle. She pressed her face to the glass and watched the yellow markings on the road zoom by, and she felt eight years old yet again.
"You really won't tell me where we're going?"
She turned her head to look at him and wait for his reply. He smirked at her with that smirk hinted with mischief, but toned over with gentle kindness. He looked older than when she had last seen him, though he was only a few months into seventeen.
"It wouldn't be a surprise if I told you."
Shizuka giggled and gave a nod.
She laid her head against the window, and she felt the faint vibrations of the glass as the bus rolled over the asphalt of the old roads. "I really like this city."
She felt her brother lean against the seat and shift as he found himself a more comfortable position. She imagined him shrugging and staring at nothing like he did when he had something on his mind.
"Yeah, it's pretty nice, isn't it?"
Shizuka agreed, but she stayed silent.
The bus rolled over a rough spot on the street and bumped, and she and Oniichan both laughed when they went bouncing in their seats. She looked at him, like she had over and over again since he had picked her up at the station. She looked at how his vibrant blonde hair had started to pick up the tiniest hint of tan, and how his brown eyes had grown wiser, older, elegant.
He had started to look like that when he had come back from that trip to Egypt, the last time she had come here. It hadn't been all that long since the end of Battle City. He hadn't had all that much time to change. And yet it looked like several years had gone by in the way he had looked.
He was still Oniichan. He was still goofy and funny and a little overprotective. But there was something different about him that she simply could not explain.
But she didn't think it was bad.
She let out a long breath, and laid her head against the window again.
"Will you … go somewhere, off to college, when you graduate?"
She spared another glance at him, and she found him staring off into space as he gave a shrug. "Don't know yet." A smile twitched its way onto his lips. He turned to meet her eyes. "I guess I'll figure it out as I go along."
She opened her mouth to respond, to speak of what was pushing at her from the inside, when she felt the bus slow and lurch to a halt. Her brother stood and grinned.
"Here's our stop!"
Shizuka hadn't really bothered to notice where they were headed after a while. Her mind had long been occupied with other things, and Oniichan didn't allow her a moment to collect her thoughts this time, either. He grabbed onto her hand, like he had done so long ago, and he pulled her through the short aisle and off the bus, only allowing her a second to turn and thank the driver.
They stepped onto the ground, and the bus drove off. Shizuka's jaw dropped.
"Oniichan, this is …"
The cliff out in the distance. The highway that always seemed so big and scary even though cars hardly ever drove on it. The faint sound of water breaking along the shore, though she could not yet see it, only hear its gentle song.
Oniichan smiled when she met his eyes.
She felt the warm squeeze when his hand grabbed hers and pulled her forward, down along the road, making the wind blow her favorite pink skirt and her hair snatch on breezes and whoosh backwards like it always did when she ran as a child. He looked back at her with that big funny grin, and she smiled, and she saw that little boy in front of her. So much older, so big and strong, even though he still had almost as much growing up to do as she.
He stopped at the top of the ledge that hovered over the sands and crashing waves below, next to the staircase that led them down. Shizuka pressed her hands to the chilled metal that nearly burned her in places where the sun hit, and she leaned forward so much she felt her brother's hand grip her shoulder to steady her.
"It's still here!"
He laughed. His hair blew in the wind when she looked at him. "Of course it's still here! Did you think they'd get rid of it?"
"But …" She sighed, and reached out a hand, like she could feel the water beneath her fingers despite the distance. "It's still so quiet and … peaceful. Just like before."
He was silent for a moment. He kept his hand on her shoulder and rubbed it back and forth, like the late nights spent keeping her safe when the yelling became too much.
"This place doesn't change much. And most people don't come around here until summer. So we get it all to ourselves!"
Shizuka's lips twitched into a smile and she let go of the railing with a laugh.
"Race you to the bottom!"
"Hey! You cheated!"
The wind blew around them, the air still chilled with the fading essence of winter and the new warmth of spring, and their laughter filled the air that had only before known the sounds of water against the sand. Each time their feet hit the rusted metal steps of the stairs, it clanked, and once or twice Oniichan nearly slipped, but they soon came stumbling down onto the beach, before the beautiful afternoon and the rushing waves below.
Shizuka panted, but her smile had yet to fade.
Oniichan ran toward the water without more than a second's pause. She watched him, just for a moment, making sure all of this wasn't just a fond memory before she raced after him. He stopped right before the water reached his toes.
She cocked her head, standing a bit behind. "So, is the water still …?"
She covered her mouth to suppress her laughter when he leapt back upon the waves rushing to greet him. He stumbled on the sand and fell right on his back, and she saw him scrambling to get further onto the sand so he didn't get washed over by the water again. A giggle slipped through her fingers.
"Yep!" she muttered behind her hand. "Still freezing!"
He smiled up at her, his smile nervous and young, but oh so very real. "I really need to stop doing that, don't I?"
This time, Shizuka did not stop herself from laughing.
Five minutes later he was back in the water, still nearly shrieking each time he stepped deeper in, but trying with every bit of him to act brave and strong. She knew it bothered him, and she wanted to tell him he didn't need to go further, but she knew he was doing it for her. And she was going to let him. If that was what he wanted, if that was how he would show her he could still protect her, then she wasn't going to get in his way.
She watched him, and she watched her image of him switch between the boy who was now seventeen and about to begin his senior year of high school, and the young brother of hers who dared to get in trouble just so he could make one wish come true.
She dropped to her knees and scooped up some of the wet sand nearby, not caring when her favorite skirt got dirty, or when her hands grew so coated in her "materials" that she could barely see the color of her own skin.
Shizuka flicked her gaze to Oniichan, wet up to his waist but climbing out of the water to meet her. She looked back at her messy creation, and she felt her smile grow small but true. "Just a little something. Like … like old times, you know?"
The sand shifted around her when he trudged through the sinking mud beneath his now-bare toes, and she met his eyes when he plopped down next to her, his pants instantly in need of a good long rinse.
"Mind if I help?"
She laughed. "Of course not!"
And he laughed, too.
Together, like so long ago, they formed the sand into vague shapes, then added details. They patted on more water to stabilize each tower of the palace, and now that they could reach higher they made it bigger and stronger. Shizuka gathered seashells, smooth and wet and pink, from where the waves broke against the sand, and she stuck each one onto each tower Oniichan finished.
And suddenly her favorite skirt felt like the dress she had outgrown years ago, and Oniichan's T-shirt and jeans looked like the shorts and shirt that were always a little too big.
He looked up after such a long time, and he met her eyes, and his own gaze sparkled with wisdom and with youth that could never be lost.
She drew her hands from the sand. It felt rough against her fingers, but at the same time old and familiar. She broke her brother's gaze and stared out into the ocean.
"If you go away to college … will you still come visit me?"
Shizuka didn't look, but she heard the movement of the sand when Oniichan scooted nearer to her, around their castle, never once disturbing their creation. She somehow knew he was smiling.
"Oh, you don't have to do that—"
"I will," he repeated, and when she turned back to look him in the eyes, she didn't think she had ever seen him mean something more than he did in that moment. "You just wait and see."
She blinked and stared at the young man before her, growing up like she was. Slowly, and yet so fast, the time flying away as they tried to catch up with it. But the two of them always there. Always together.
"And … even if you leave … I'll … always be your little sister, right?"
He chuckled, and the sound was like a music box with her favorite song. "Always, and forever, too."
She hesitated, her hand held just in front of her in the air. She felt her other fingers curl in so her little finger was the only one left. She looked at her pinky, and at Oniichan, and at her pinky again. She held it out.
He smiled at her, and the sun that was almost setting out in the distance made his face seem to glow. Looking just like that little boy, that big brother, who had always been there to protect her. Like he would always keep her safe, even if he couldn't be near her all the time. He would always do all he could to be her Oniichan, through all the difficulties, through all the trials and pain.
Shizuka's lips twitched into a grin with his pinky encircled hers and squeezed it tight, and their smiles matched and shone in the new world and the new life they would step up to meet.