Chapter Three; Long Walk Home
Amari rubbed warily at her wrist as she sat alone at a table for four and waited for the others to arrive. Malik hadn't let go of her, or had stopped running, until they were back at the front lobby of their hotel. Not five minutes later they received a call from Ishizu telling them to dress up and meet her at a restaurant called Le Chien Noir for dinner with her and an unspecified third party. Malik was currently hiding in the bathroom, waiting for his sister and her friend to show up so he wouldn't have to be alone with her a second longer, something Amari was unsure whether to be happy or irritated about.
This is dumb. She thought as she tapped her unwrapped fork against her open menu. This night is dumb. Coming to America with them was dumb. Accepting their freaking invitation to come home was dumb. She sighed to herself, slouching forward with her chin propped up with her palm. She bit the inside of her cheek as tears once again crowded the back of her throat. And I'm dumb for letting my guard down. I really hate myself right now…
At the thought of her scars she imagined them burning like they did whenever Shadi wanted her attention for something. She knew it was only a memory brought on by her feelings. Shadi had not contacted her since her part in the final battle was over. Her scars had been nothing but scars for years now.
She thought about him sometimes, wondered why he'd healed her in the first place. She still had so many questions regarding the events of Kaiba's tournament. So many things were unclear to her, even today. Why had it been up to her to make that choice? What exactly was the power of the Sennen Bracelet that only Rune could use it? And if that were true, how had she been able to activate it? Many nights she stayed up with these thoughts, chasing their answers in circles that only led to more questions. Her tapping increased along with her irritancies as the questions returned swiftly to the front of her mind. She tried to tell herself it didn't matter anymore, but she could feel in her gut that wasn't true. The questions always nagged at her, taunted her, challenged her to find the answers. It was really bothersome to think about.
Amari stood when she spied Ishizu weaving her way through other diners to their table, her arm linked loosely with that of a man with broad shoulders and a mane of crimson hair. He was fairly tall, so much so Amari had to tilt her head some to look him in the eyes. They were confident eyes, that of a businessman, but they weren't unkind. When he caught her eye he smiled broadly at her, his teeth contrasting against his dark goatee.
"Amari," Ishizu greeted, "I'd like to introduce you to the owner of the museum, Mr. Ezra Ramses. He's also a good friend of mine and the main benefactor to my exhibit." At her introduction the man took Amari's hand in a firm grip. It wasn't an overpowering grip, which she was thankful for since her wrist still hurt from Malik's forceful retreat.
"My," he greeted with raised eyebrows as they went to sit. "I thought you said you had a brother, not a lovely younger sister!" The chuckle he let out was charming, and Amari felt her face flush under the sudden compliment.
"I-I'm not her sister." She stammered quickly in embarrassment. "I'm just a family friend staying with them for the summer." Ishizu nodded in agreement, but Amari didn't miss the small drop at the corner of her mouth and it caused a small twinge of guilt to flutter in her chest.
"Ah, I see, I see." Mr. Ramses said, unwrapping his napkin with a flick of his wrist before settling the cloth square on his lap. "Well, all the same I'm glad you could join us for dinner… but I was certain you said your brother was coming?" He directed his attention to Ishizu, who mirrored his movements before lifting her glass for the waiter to pour water into.
"He'll be here soon, if he isn't here already." She replied with a calm smile. She looked to Amari, lifting a delicate eyebrow. "I thought he would have come in here with you. I'm surprised." Amari felt her ears begin to burn, and she looked down at her menu to avoid either pair of curious eyes.
"Err, well," she mumbled. "He's…" Before she could finish Malik approached the table and sat down next to her without a word. Amari tried to catch his eye, but instead he turned his head to purposefully shut her out. Amari sighed, meeting Ishizu's surprised glance instead. Amari shrugged her shoulders at her and rolled her eyes to try to mask the tension between them as a petty argument, but Ishizu's pursed lips told her plainly she hadn't hidden anything. She didn't need the Necklace to tell her a conversation was in her very near future.
"You must be Malik, then." Mr. Ramses greeted Malik with a smile and extended his hand across the table. "Very nice to meet you at last. I've heard a lot about you from your charming sister." Malik forced a smile and shook the man's hand.
"Likewise." Malik replied, the lines around his mouth taut in fake pleasantry. "Not to sound rude, Mr. Ramses, but is there any specific reason why we were invited to this business dinner?"
"Malik." Ishizu hissed in warning, but Ezra waved off her tone with the back of his hand.
"Actually, I'm glad you asked that." He said, lifting a glass of freshly poured wine to his lips. "When I said your sister has told me much about you, I wasn't exaggerating. From what I hear you're a very bright young man. You're well versed in your history and lore, and you have capable leadership skills." Amari didn't miss the small twitch in the corner of Malik's mouth. "What I'm trying to lead up to is this, Mr. Ishtar: I would like you to come internship under me, in my museum. You'll be paid, of course, and you'll work along with my son. Normally I would pick a history or business major fresh from college for this position, but from all the praise your sister has given to you, plus the exceptional family genes," He paused to wink playfully at her, "I feel you'd be most suited for this apprenticeship." He offered another broad grin and lifted his glass in a toast-like gesture. "So, what do you say? Are you interested in the job?"
Malik sat in silence for a moment, appearing rather stunned.
"That… that would be great, Mr. Ramses, thank you!" he said, his own broad smile unfurling slowly from his lips, one that this time was not completely forced. "Really, thank you!" Amari sat back in her seat, also rather stunned. What did this mean? Was he going to stay in New York, then?
She glanced over at him, drinking in the light atmosphere around him. She realized, with a small sinking feeling in her chest, that this was the happiest she'd seen him since they'd met again. He really wanted this, it seemed. She moved her gaze to her glass, watching the rest of the conversation through a distorted view. Her mind was fractured, her freshly hurt feelings warring with her want to be happy for her friend and another emotion she couldn't find the strength to name. She slumped in her seat when the waiter returned, ordering her meal in a soft and somewhat solemn voice. Malik glanced her way curiously, and she forced herself to straighten and offer him an encouraging smile. He turned away again without returning the gesture. Amari decided she couldn't do this anymore.
"I'm going to the bathroom." She mumbled, getting up from her seat. Ishizu looked over at her with concern, but Amari shook her head to fend her off. She just wanted to be alone right now. As she left the table she heard Mr. Ramses offer another roar of a laugh at something Malik said. She steeled against it as she stomped in the opposite direction of the restrooms, right out the door and onto the street.
I just need some air. She thought as she walked briskly back down the sidewalk. I'll just go for a quick walk to clear my head, and I'll go right back. She wrapped her arms around herself, carefully sidestepping a woman on her cell phone and a group of businessmen simultaneously. She was getting better at avoiding shoulders at least, even if she still wasn't skilled at avoiding fights. She slowed her paced with a sigh, stopping to lean against a back alley wall. She looked down the small crack in the buildings. It reminded her of Domino. It made her miss Yugi.
"Hey, are you alright?" A voice called from the front of the alley. Amari snapped her eyes open to look in the direction of the voice. A boy about her age stood there, his strawberry-blonde mop of hair haloed by the streetlights behind him. His face was silhouetted in shadow, but she could tell his was in great shape. He was as tall as Malik, if not even taller, and there was a hint of muscle under his graphic tee-shirt. "It's dangerous to hang out in these back alleys. You never know who might be lurking there. A girl like you is easy pickings."
Amari pushed off the wall, annoyed but also a bit amazed. He looked white, but he was speaking to her in impeccable Arabic. She approached him warily, her mind wandering back to the boy at the tattoo shop. There were many coincidences happening today. It was making her nervous.
"A girl like me?" she asked, a little annoyed by the comment. The boy shrugged, making room for her to come back out into the open.
"You reek of tourist." He replied easily, shoving his hands into his jean pockets. "Thugs love tourists. They're too busy looking at everything to notice they're being had. And if they happen to be on a long vacation," he shrugged, "well, let's just say it takes a bit longer until someone realizes they've gone missing." Amari gulped, looking nervously behind her as if someone really was waiting to pounce out at her. She quickly moved out of the alleyway's opening. She'd already had enough experience with kidnapping.
"Uh, thanks for the advice." She said. The boy shrugged again, fishing a lighter and a pack of cigarettes from his back pocket.
"You got a name?" he asked, hitting the pack against his palm. Amari watched him bite a filter between his teeth in mild fascination.
"Amari." She replied. The lighter lit his face and palms with a soft, orange glow. He took a long drag of his cigarette, blue smoke trailing out of the ash, before letting it come back out of his lungs. It escaped from his mouth, transforming into an ugly gray cloud.
"Anthony." He offered, his name blowing away the rest of the smoke like a magic spell. He offered the cigarette to her. "You want a drag?"
"Uh, no. Thanks." She answered, hands raised in a dismissive gesture. He put the filter back in his mouth, the tip drooping near his chin.
"You got a place to go, Amari?" he asked, jamming the pack back in its proper place. Amari looked down at her feet.
"I was at a dinner party," she sighed, "but it was obvious I wasn't wanted." She leaned up against the wall, her eyes still planted to the ground. Anthony glanced sideways at her, releasing another tendril of smoke from between his lips.
"I find that hard to believe." He commented, jerking his chin at her. "No one would ignore a pretty girl like you when you're wearing something that nice." He swept his free hand over her dress. It was simple, but there was an elegance to the pencil skirt design and the way it shifted from black to blue in the street light. She blushed at the compliment.
"Yeah, well, I really don't want to go back, otherwise." She said glumly. "It's too… uncomfortable. I'm too out of place." Anthony leaned on the wall next to her. He flicked half an inch of ash off the end of the burning paper, and she watched the red embers fall.
"Then don't." he said. "Simple as that."
"Not, it's not simple as that." She snapped, suddenly annoyed again. "I still have to face them. And besides, I…" she shifted nervously, and Anthony raised a sculpted eyebrow at her. She mumbled the last part, embarrassed. "I don't know how to get to the hotel by myself." Anthony offered her a sly grin.
"Is that all?" he chuckled. "You must be fresh off the boat then, huh?" Her flush deepened at his teasing, and she glared at him to make up for it. "Okay, okay, don't make a face like that." He relented, rubbing the back of his neck. "I'll guide you back to wherever. What's the name of the hotel you're staying at?"
Amari stayed quiet for a moment. Gramps always said she was too trusting for her own good, and that observation had held up for most of her life. She glanced up at Anthony from the corner of her eye, waiting for her answer. Still, there was something about him that just felt… nice. Safe. She felt she could trust him.
"The Luxor." She finally said. Anthony nodded, tossing the filter onto the floor to trample under his foot.
"My dad owns a few rooms there." He said. "Usually he offers it to important guests. I stay there sometimes when I want to get out of the house." He grinned again. "Or if I have a girl over."
"Don't get any ideas." She said dryly, but she offered him a smile in return. He laughed.
"Wouldn't dream of it." He promised with a shake of his head. He pushed off the wall. "Come on, I'll get a cab." He said, clasping her shoulder. She jumped with a gasp, jerking away from him. He held his arms up in surprise, eyes widened in shock.
"Christ! What? Sorry, did I hurt you?" he asked. Amari forced her breathing to stay normal as her heart pounded painfully in her chest, cold sweat dripping down her neck. Her scars were burning, and this time it did not feel like her imagination.
"N-no, sorry." She stammered, forcing a small smile through the already subsiding pain. "I just didn't expect it, that's all." Anthony stared at her for a moment longer before turning to hail a cab. Amari wrapped her arms around herself tightly, shivering as the lack of heat left her with a sudden chill. She thought she felt a pair of eyes trained on her back, but when she turned all she saw were shadows creeping out of the alley's opening. Anthony opened the cab door for her and ushered her inside.
The second they passed through the revolving doors Ishizu descended upon her, grabbing her by her shoulders with fury in her eyes.
"Why did you leave like that?" she cried, shaking her. "Do you know how worried we were? We thought something had happened!" Amari grimaced, tensing in her grip.
"I'm sorry." She said meekly. "I-I just wanted to get some air. I wasn't feeling well."
"You could have called!" she snapped, pulling her into a tense hug. "You didn't even say anything…"
A lump formed in the back of Amari's throat, and she returned the hug unsteadily.
"I'm sorry." She repeated, throat tight as she tried not to cry. Ishizu pulled away from her, her eyes a bit softer.
"Just… warn me next time." she sighed, rubbing her temples when she let go of her. "I'm responsible for you on this trip, remember. You're still a minor, Amari."
Only for another week. She wanted to retort, but she kept her mouth shut, knowing the extent of Ishizu's worry. Anthony coughed awkwardly behind her, and she suddenly remembered him. She tuned to gesture in his direction. "Uh, Ishizu, this is Anthony. He paid for my cab to get back." Anthony raised an eyebrow at her.
"I thought you were paying me back for that." He said. Ishizu sighed.
"I'll pay for it." She said. "Thank you, Anthony…" she trailed off as Malik and Mr. Ramses came through the doors. They slowed their pace as they approached, Mr. Ramses looking at Anthony in mild surprise.
"Ant! I thought you had a party to go to tonight." He said. Anthony shrugged, meeting Amari's eyes rather than the older man's.
"I rescued a lost sheep on my way." He said with a small wink at her. Amari looked away first, feeling awkward. Ishizu was looking at her funny. They would have a lot to talk about later, that was for certain.
"I see, so you found her then." Mr. Ramses answered with a slow nod. "Well, no better time to meet than in the present, right? I guess this could be considered fate." He crossed the room to throw an arm over him, Anthony appearing a bit uncomfortable. "This is my youngest son, Anthony." He said to the group. "He's the one I mentioned would be interning alongside you, Malik. He's a good kid, smart, charming-"
"Dad, enough." Anthony grumbled, attempting to push the man's arm off. All it got him was a ruffle of his hair. Amari couldn't help herself but to grin at the red flush burning his ears. Let him know what it felt like to be teased. She felt Malik's eyes trained on her, but when she turned to look at him he was already addressing his new employer's son.
"Thank you for helping her back." He said to Anthony. "I hope she didn't get you into any… trouble." He glanced back at Amari as he said this, causing heat to rise back to her face. How dare he! Not only was he acting like she was some lost child, he was making her out to be a magnet for trouble.
It's not like half that trouble wasn't your fault! She wanted to yell, but Anthony beat her to saying anything. He shot Malik a sly grin, but the hardness in his chestnut eyes told Amari he was just as annoyed as she was.
"Not at all." He insisted. "Actually, she's quite the delight. You'd know that if you paid more attention."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Malik snapped, fists clenching dangerously. Anthony shot his hands up with a slight shrug.
"I'm just saying that maybe if you were a bit more observant you'd realize she'd quite a catch. If I were as lucky as you I'd hold onto her and not let her go. Though I guess, if you're not willing to step up I could always take her off your hands." He turned to look at her, his smile hard in his anger. "What'd you say, Mar? Want to share a room together?" Malik took a step towards him, but Mr. Ramses got between them before he could swing.
"Anthony, apologize!" he roared, surprising Anthony and Malik both.
"What?" Anthony asked in utter bewilderment. "Dad, why should I-"
"I did not raise my son to act this way!" Ezra bellowed, gaining the attention of everyone in the lobby. "These people are our guests. You will apologize to them."
Anthony growled, rubbing angrily at the back of his neck. He bowed his head to stare at the ground and took a moment to collect himself before looking back up at Ishizu first.
"I'm sorry, Ms. Ishtar. I was very rude." He said. Ishizu smiled back at him, but there were tight lines around the corners of her mouth.
"I'm alright, Anthony." She insisted with familiarity. "Though, I think that apology should be directed more towards Amari rather than myself." Anthony immediately turned to face Amari, sincerity in his eyes as he stepped closer to her. She also stepped closer to him, not thinking much of it. She saw Malik tense in the corner of her eye, but she opted to ignore him. He deserved it, after ignoring her all evening.
"I'm sorry." He told her earnestly. "My plan backfired, I guess…"
"It's fine." Amari said, the awkward feeling returning when she realized what he was trying to do. "But I think you misinterpreted what I'd said earlier." Anthony grimaced, leaning just a bit closer so they couldn't be overheard anymore.
"So then, that jerk isn't your boyfriend?" he asked in hushed tones. Amari shook her head. "Damn." He sighed, rubbing his neck again. "I really fucked up then, huh?" She laughed at that, surprising those who could not hear them.
"Yeah, a little." She admitted, softer.
"Well, I don't like him much anyway, so I'm glad I was able to still piss him off some. You know, even if I just said that to get at him, that offer I made can still stand." Amari raised an eyebrow at him.
"I thought you said you wouldn't dream of it?" she accused. He offered her a wolfish grin.
"You never know." He answered. He winked once and stepped back, turning to Malik with a more hostile expression. Malik returned it tenfold, making Amari feel a bit uneasy. Anthony stepped up to him, hoping to intimidate him with his sleight difference in height.
"Sorry." He said coldly, sticking his hand out in front of him. "We cool now?" Malik glared at him, ignoring the hand, and crossed his arms over his chest. They stayed like that for a tense moment before Anthony finally clicked his tongue and walked past him, muttering an intelligible word. Amari watch him walk out with a small frown on her face. She heard Ezra sigh and turned to see him shaking his mane of a head.
"That boy…" he trailed off, looking at the three of them in turn with his own apologetic smile. "Be certain I'll talk to him when I see him next. I honestly don't know what's gotten in to him lately."
"Thank you, Ezra." Ishizu said with a nod. "There was no true harm done. For now, though, I think it's best we all retire for the evening." She glanced to Amari as she said this, and Amari shrank back a little. Obviously this did not include her.
"Right then, I'll see you bright and early tomorrow to go over the paperwork with you." Ezra said with a small salute. "Goodnight, all. We have a busy day ahead of us."
When he left, Ishizu turned without a word to the elevator. Amari went to follow her when she felt a hand on her arm pull her back.
"We can take the stairs." Malik told his sister, already dragging Amari towards the opposite side of the lobby. Amari shot Ishizu a pleading look, but the older girl pointedly ignored it as she called out, "Don't take too long." Before the doors slid shut. Amari gulped audibly. Stupid siblings and their gang-up routine. Her only hope would be to race Malik up the steps before he could bite her head off.
"Hold it." Malik snapped the second she strode ahead of him. She flinched, stopping where she stood on the steps and clenching the railing in anxiousness. Malik ascended the step below her, his hardened eyes trained on her paling face. "You want to tell me what the hell happened in there?" he asked, an edge to his voice she easily recognized. Her stomach clenched. He was trying to boss her, like he'd done when she was in his custody. Well, tough luck for him, but she was not his prisoner this time around. She did not have to put up with this.
"You were there. I don't need to explain anything." She answered in a snooty tone before continuing up the steps. He reached out to take hold of her wrist, and she turned back to look at him with a glare.
"You went home with a stranger!" he snapped. "Are you really that stupid? We're in an unknown city! He could have kidnapped you! Or worse!" Amari yanked herself out of his grip, gnashing her teeth in a sudden flare of anger.
"The only one who's ever wanted to kidnap me is you, remember!" she shouted back. "Ant is a good guy, okay? All he did was help me get back to the hotel safely! He was kind to me, unlike some people!" Malik's eyes widened at the comment, appearing genuinely taken aback. When he was able to recover, his eyes darkened.
"So what, is that all it takes for you to go with someone? For them to be nice to you?" he bit, fists shaking. "Is that why you looked so close to him them after knowing him for, what, and hour? Tops? It shouldn't take long to get you into a hotel room with him then, huh?" Before she could stop herself, she backhanded him across the face. All her anger, all her frustration came rushing to the surface, colliding with tears in the back of her throat. She was at her limit.
"I hate you!" she shouted. "I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!" Malik looked up at her, fury and something worse in his piercing eyes. He pushed her against the wall, his fingers digging into her shoulder as he shook with rage.
"Fine." He growled, his voice low and trembling. "Do what you want. Let him take advantage of you. Just don't expect me to be there to help you in the end." He let go, going past her with heavy footsteps. She watched him as he went, tears blurring her vision as the events of the day finally crushed her. She covered her face with the back of her arm, exhausted. She just wanted to go home.
Haha wow 2 updates in a year that's pitiful. Sorry guys. I really didn't expect to be away for that long! I hope you still want to stick with me, whoever's left, at least. I'll try to be better about my updating now that my hiatus is over. Sorry! Again!