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Kaiba finishes the day with minimum socialization and maximum dickheadedness. Working for hours straight without rest, he doesn't even stop for food, because as CEO of a multi-billion dollar company, he exists far above such petty, human needs. Such is the norm.
Jounouchi doesn't bother him too much. Wandering around the office, he taps his fingers and acts typically bothersome, but he doesn't deliberately seek out ways to drive Kaiba to the brink of insanity. This behavior isn't normal, but it doesn't present a real problem, and without Jounouchi's constant interruptions, they actually arrive home before three in the morning. They may achieve more than four hours of sleep tonight.
But exhausted or not, when Kaiba collapses against his bedroom wall in an undignified heap—which definitely constitutes as both abnormal and decidedly problematic—Jounouchi can't help but be alarmed. The man's breathing is labored, and he clutches at the carpet with shaking fingers, and for a moment Jounouchi stands frozen, uncomprehending. With growing trepidation, he realizes that if Kaiba is having some sort of break down, he can't call for help or even move Kaiba to the bed. As a ghost, he's helpless. So Jounouchi takes the only course of action he can see.
He pokes him.
He hadn't known what to expect, but he's slightly shocked when he makes actual contact. Unlike when he tried to tap Yugi on the shoulder or punch Honda in the face, his finger doesn't pass right through. After spending the entire day as a disembodied spirit, he realizes he hasn't once tried touching Kaiba, and now that he has, he finds the sensation odd. Walls and chairs support Jounouchi when he wants them to, but Kaiba is the first human who feels real.
Experimentally, Jounouchi pokes him again, with the same result. Kaiba doesn't react, his face clammy and slack, but he still provides resistance, like Jounouchi exists, and if he didn't hate Kaiba so much Jounouchi would hug him. But he does hate Kaiba, so he withdraws his hand and inches away. Let sleeping dogs lie, after all, and no, he's not above making vengeful dog comments when the guy looks catatonic.
"Kaiba?" he asks after a moment, because as much as he hates to admit it, the man's crumpled form disturbs him.
He isn't supposed to look like this. As his rival, it's Kaiba's duty to stand at his massive six feet and sneer down at all the insignificant, un-rich little people. Yet gasping for breath and muscles limp, he looks indisputably human. His eyes clench shut and his head leans heavily against the wall behind him, as if he's too exhausted to support it on his own. His hair is mussed and sweaty, his neck exposed and damp, and most noticeably, he can't cross the last five feet that stretches between his door and his bed.
"Come on, fancypants," Jounouchi encourages nervously, clapping his hands together, unsurprised when they don't make a sound. "Remember that asshole representative from Industrial Illusions? You know, the one at that meeting an hour ago? Just pretend that guy is the floor and walk all over him. Show 'im who's boss."
Kaiba's eyes crack open, but he doesn't attempt to move, instead opting to stare feverishly over at where Jounouchi makes dizzying motions with his arms, which, in fact, symbolize world domination and crawling to bed in the standard Jounouchi Katsuya sign language for the humanly impaired. Kaiba doesn't appear to be fluent.
Hovering awkwardly, Jounouchi wonders if he would be better off feigning ignorance and walking as far away as he can; he thinks he can make it to the next room. He could give Kaiba some privacy, and he wouldn't have to be scrutinized by Kaiba's intense but impassive stare. He wishes the man would at least have the decency to glare; Jounouchi finds Kaiba's eyes devoid of hatred or mockery much more unnerving.
"Come on. You lasted through math class and a three hour business meeting. This is nothing," Jounouchi tries again.
He isn't sure why he bothers. Kaiba can sleep on the floor if he really wants to; it's no skin off of Jounouchi's back. In the morning, he'll suffer through the pain an abused spine right along with him, but there are worse things in life, like being nice to Kaiba. Jounouchi fidgets when Kaiba doesn't answer right away.
"You're a fool," Kaiba mutters eventually, his eyes sliding shut again, although at least his breathing grows more controlled as he inhales deeply.
Jounouchi knows he's the only one in the room, but it's a testament to how thoroughly Kaiba has ignored him the past few weeks that he still peeks behind him to see who he's addressing. Even when he confirms that no one has spontaneously materialized, he nevertheless deems it prudent to point to himself in the universal 'who, me?' gesture.
But Kaiba still has his eyes closed and doesn't see him, so for his benefit, Jounouchi asks out loud, "Me?"
Kaiba snorts, then gives a heavy sigh with his next breath. "No. The other voice I'm hearing inside my head."
Jounouchi gapes. After weeks of negligence, that was shockingly direct, and he doesn't bother to hide that he thinks so. His mouth drops and he gives a choked squawk, but unfortunately, his vocal chords don't seem overly keen on obeying, and his mouth closes, opens, and then closes again much like he's some sort of mutant, blond fish.
"What, nothing to say?" Kaiba asks. "I should've known that the only way to shut you up is to speak and watch as your feeble mind scrambles to keep up."
Now Jounouchi downright splutters, but coming up with no coherent response, Kaiba continues mercilessly. The mental wall between them is finally burning down, a fire of built up frustration forcefully suppressed for two weeks and only now given oxygen.
Kaiba's lips curl back, somehow intimidating even as he remains in his slouch against the wall. Instead of defeated, he appears completely relaxed save for a barely perceptible undertone, tense and ready for a fight. Neither of them have the energy to reestablish the mental barriers between them, so Kaiba's anger surges across Jounouchi's mind, adding fuel to his own so that twice the rage mixes into a kind of fury he's never experienced before.
"But perhaps you'd understand if I implemented a more primitive form of communication," Kaiba intones, a predatory gleam in his eyes. "Of course, such unsophisticated interactions are far beneath me, but I'm sure we could find someone who's on the same level. After all, the lug, your brunette friend, seems a likely candidate."
"Hey!" Jounouchi finally interrupts, fists clenching. His hands are trembling from exhaustion and anger, although at this point, he's unsure whether it's his own or Kaiba's. "What the hell? You play dumb for two weeks and now that you suddenly admit I exist, you treat me like an idiot?"
"It's the only reason I'm acknowledging you at all," Kaiba sneers back, abruptly containing his anger again, although not as adeptly as before. The red fades, replaced by a faintly lit room and impeccably clean floors. Jounouchi calms enough to clear his head, even if he still seethes at the insult. He collects himself enough to notice that beneath the rage, Kaiba really is exhausted, and that his fatigue comes from the very effort to suppress and hide his weakened state from Jounouchi.
"What the fuck is that supposed to mean?" Jounouchi demands, wondering why Kaiba would try to mentally block him to that extent. How badly must Kaiba want to keep him out, if he's willing to drive himself to the point of collapse just for that.
Of course, due to their painfully and newly unobstructed mind, they undergo a confusing bout of Jounouchi knows that Kaiba knows that Jounouchi knows that Kaiba knows what Jounouchi really wants to ask, but Kaiba only answers the question that was directly spoken.
"At first," he states between clenched teeth, and Jounouchi senses rather than observes that the man feels tired to the point of pain. "At first, I thought you were just a creation of my own mind. I did not see the purpose of the hallucination, but I believed it possible for someone with my intellect to fabricate something as complex as an entire human's conscious."
Jounouchi doesn't quite understand, but he thinks he's starting to, and he doesn't like where this is going. "Like...Beautiful Minds only with your ugly brain instead?"
The pieces click together now as he remembers movies and similar stories of people creating imaginary humans so complicated, they can't tell apart their creations from reality. Jounouchi doesn't feel remotely amused by the fact that Kaiba genuinely thought he'd gone crazy, because no matter how much he hates the guy, he can't find schizophrenia and hallucinations funny when the assumption isn't overly preposterous given the situation.
"If the reference is the only way that will allow you to grasp the situation, then yes."
"You thought you were crazy...but now you don't," Jounouchi summarizes slowly, and then something occurs to him. "What changed your mind?" he asks suspiciously, abruptly catching up with the situation in an instant of comprehension. "You realized I'm way too complex and deep to be something you made up?"
"The opposite. I realized your stupidity is far too immense for even my subconscious to replicate."
It figures. Jounouchi's eyes twitch, but his rival's exhaustion is apparently wearing off on him, much like the anger had a moment ago, and he doesn't have the energy anymore to claw and yell and complain. With a scowl, he plops down next to Kaiba with his forearms resting precariously on his knees, his back leaning on the same wall as the most powerful man in Domino. He snorts a little at the thought.
They stay like that for a while. Jounouchi studies Kaiba's room, a familiar place after being attached to him for so long. In the soft light, he stares blankly at the expensive but simple bed sheets, soft waves bordering the edges. Across the room, the lamp's glow bounces off of the bathroom's reflective tiles, the corridor dark and unwelcoming, far away from where they rest.
"You're a fool," Kaiba informs him again, deciding to finally explain his earlier insult, because apparently there had been authentic consideration placed in it. "Because you should have taken control when I was weakened. I would have done so without hesitation if our positions were reversed."
Jounouchi snorts. Like he doesn't know that already. "Yeah, but that's the difference between you and me, rich boy. I ain't an asshole."
If he beats, no, when he beats Kaiba, it will be when he's at his best. That way he can say he defeated the man when at full power, not just because of a fluke. Kaiba may think that's stupid, that a win is a win because weakness means loss, but Jounouchi plays by different rules than the world of cutthroat, corporate scumbags.
He'll truly win one of these days, and he'll gloat and laugh more maniacally than when he shoved an entire pie in Honda's face.
"It would go against my every instinct not to take advantage of such a weakness," Kaiba states, and Jounouchi frowns at the blatant disregard of his manly pride. He knows the other man heard that internal thought-monologue. "So the fact that your personality did not take control when I was susceptible contradicted my theory that you were a result of my subconscious."
"Well, it took you long enough," Jounouchi mutters, seeing holes in that explanation, like how would Kaiba know what his subconscious thinks about anything, but doesn't argue.
Maybe Kaiba just wants to stop exhausting himself by denying the truth.
Jounouchi sighs, reaching up to run a hand tiredly through his hair, and that's when he notices that he's even more see-through than before. He lowers his arm quickly, studying the appendage with mounting alarm.
His vision blurs. Now that he's noticed, the weakness seems to intensify, as if knowing it exists amplifies the pain. He attempts to focus, squinting when a wave of nausea passes through both Jounouchi and Kaiba. In a disorienting and terrifying moment, he flickers, like a dying light bulb—the nausea worsens as he fights to maintain his own form—and then he's back in Kaiba's mind with no body, corporeal or otherwise. The dizziness fades to a dull throb and their eyes slide shut in an uneasy repose.
Jounouchi panics. Kaiba may still hear his thoughts and emotions when he maintains himself as a separate apparition, but at least it gives him a semblance of control and independence. Illusion or not, he's not willing to sacrifice it. He forces himself away, concentrating on his own hands and vision, recoiling from any shared perception. Kaiba gasps, back arching so only his head touches the wall. When he recovers, he hisses and then starts fighting Jounouchi's separation.
The action is unexpected, and Jounouchi slips back and forth for a long moment until he finally understands why.
If you keep draining me with that form, you'll kill us both, Kaiba snaps, Jounouchi continuing his struggle for several more moments before he catches on.
His own form takes energy, and he takes that strength from Kaiba.
Stopping short, he has no time to remorse over the loss, slipping immediately into unconsciousness with only a chance to give a vague, languid protest that they really shouldn't sleep on the floor.
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