Thank you to all of the reviewers who remind me this story exists and should be updated. Canoodle Doodle, rosepetals98, ChaniaGo, Innocent Vash, 1enchantedgirl, YGOfangirl4ever, Astreich689, Melonyia, and 7LightWings7! I'm very sorry I don't always answer reviews personally, but rest assured I read them all, and I'm incredibly grateful for your support. Thank you!
"Hey, Kaiba," says Jounouchi, and it's friendly and automatic, like how he asks Yugi if he watched the duel monsters tournament last night.
"Kaiba," he says again, this time annoyed. He sounds impatient, like how he addresses Honda if he's dazedly staring at Miho, and Jounouchi has to repeat himself for the fifth time.
"Oi. Rich boy," he snaps, and now he's downright frustrated, like how he talks to Kaiba when he's being a dick.
Decidedly bored and agitated, he fidgets impatiently, because he's being ignored and there's a perfectly un-tormented substitute teacher sitting at his desk up front. He fails to see the point of having a substitute if no one uses class time productively—he doesn't see a single paper airplane, not one—but Jounouchi is a disembodied spirit and Kaiba displays no intentions of joining humanity and having a moment of fun. Bemusedly, he thinks that if Kaiba did use a sheet of his KaibaCorp work for a paper airplane, the thing would probably cost more than an actual one.
He can laugh about these types of things now. Finally resigning himself to his hopefully temporary fate, he's at least trying to stop thinking about its possible permanence. Choosing a more optimistic approach, he's decided that if he doesn't want to repeat a year when he reclaims his own body, he should start listening to the teacher's lectures and try to keep up with the material. Pestering Kaiba is losing its ingenuity, and it's not like he has much else he can occupy himself with, aside from listening.
So now he finds himself with nothing to do, because the substitute is giving them a work day. The students don't necessarily use the work day to do any actual work, but the class doesn't require paying attention to any lesson, either, and while everyone else socializes, Kaiba slaves away at his laptop in some sort of self-inflicted stupor, leaving Jounouchi alone in his misery.
They sit next to each other now. Kaiba has made a habit of leaving the chair pulled out for him, because if he fails to do so, Jounouchi makes himself positively insufferable. With that threat in mind, he rests his transparent head on his arms, watching his rival type with increasingly narrowed eyes.
"So you're going to ignore me, Kaiba?" Jounouchi taunts, rising out of his slouch to pose and flash a winning smile. "What's wrong, too intimidated by my stunning good looks to look me in the face?"
What do you want? Kaiba asks reproachfully, a stray thought directed at him. Jounouchi jumps; Kaiba has been developing that particular talent over the past few days, ever since he spoke to Jounouchi in his exhausted delirium. Despite the end of his denial, however, the man rarely acknowledges him, and so Jounouchi is unused to communicating mentally without needing to speak aloud. It's unnerving, to say the least.
"Oh, uh—" Jounouchi doesn't actually have anything to say, he'd just wanted someone to talk to, to entertain him. Being a ghost, he finds himself lonely enough that even Kaiba seems like appealing company.
I'm busy, Kaiba thinks at him waspishly, pressing a key on his laptop particularly violently as if to prove his point. He shows little sympathy for Jounouchi's plight.
"Busy being a douchebag, maybe," he mutters in response, giving up on the conversation and leaning back, wishing he could tilt his chair and balance it on the back two legs. He misses the little things in life, like falling over when Honda tries to kick the chair leg out from underneath him and cursing loudly while the class laughs.
Go listen to your idiot friends, Kaiba suggests irritably. The thought is slightly garbled as the man starts working again, unfocused and with his mind traveling elsewhere. His mentally transmitted sentences are only clear when he pays attention.
But Jounouchi doesn't want to listen to Honda, Yugi, or Anzu. His friends are moving on with their lives, saddened at times, but telling themselves Jounouchi would want them to keep going and to keep having fun. He does want that for them, but it hurts all the same, being left behind while he has to watch. There's a big difference, to know that people will move on after you're gone, compared to being forced to watch as it happens, to hear them ask about each other's day and bicker about homework while he remains unnoticed. When Kaiba arrives early he can sit with them before class, but often the visits make him feel more alone than ever, and sometimes he can't haunt his friends and stay sane, not without the ability to punch Honda in the shoulder or ruffle Yugi's hair. How lonely is it, that his friends are only feet away and he can't reach out and touch them.
He can't live with that today. So tragically, this means that his only possible company is the workaholic sitting next to him.
"What are you working on, anyway?" Jounouchi asks, leaning closer to peer over Kaiba's shoulder. The proximity feels awkward, like two friends who are comfortable with each other, but pulling away now feels like he'd be surrendering something, so he stays put.
He briefly considers making a 'whoo, you stink even when I don't have a nose of my own' comment, but in the end he decides he wants a conversation that doesn't involve mutt jokes. A shocking revelation, but it seems even he can grow tired of insulting Kaiba, so he disregards the thought with passing amusement.
It's confidential, Kaiba tells him, stiffening at Jounouchi's nearness, but he also doesn't pull away, probably feeling the same sting of pride, that flinching would be giving the other some sort of power. Jounouchi considers this, and leans closer, just to mess with him. Confidential, his ass.
"Aw, come on, who am I going to tell?" Jounouchi complains, and Kaiba stares stoically ahead, which is good, because if he turns his head while he's this close and if Jounouchi turns his head at the same time, they'd probably kiss. With that disturbing thought, he inches away, although he does so subtly, because his agitation makes him feel like he lost to Kaiba somehow, by chickening out first.
It's actually a good thing he pulled back, because then Kaiba does turn his head, his eyes widening slightly when he sees exactly how close Jounouchi is. He's relieved at the genuine surprise he feels across their mental link, because it would be wildly uncomfortable if Kaiba had been eavesdropping on that previous line of thought. They stare at each other, frozen and silent, and he's struck with the fact that Kaiba's eyes are a jolting blue, and Jounouchi panics because he's going to drown in them, and he doesn't mean that in a complementary or romantic way, he means that Kaiba's eyes are creepy, because somehow being close enough to see that depth makes Kaiba more human, more real, like his existence overshadows everything else and Jounouchi will be crushed.
He really wants to pull away now, but doesn't. What does Kaiba see, he wonders, in his own transparent, dull eyes. He always thought that brown holds no depth, not like the ocean, no, more like dirt. But now that he's see-through, he feels self-conscious, like Kaiba can pick through his every thought just by looking him in the eye.
Kaiba can, actually. But he doesn't. Jounouchi feels a wave of gratitude when Kaiba turns back to his laptop.
It's a new program, Kaiba states, and it takes Jounouchi a moment to realize that the statement is actually an answer. He's being let into the loop, and he gapes at Kaiba's jaw, which, come to think of it, is still too close for comfort, so he turns to look at the laptop as well. I'm creating the technology to make solid, holographic duel monsters.
"If it's solid, is it still a hologram?" asks Jounouchi, before the implications suddenly hit him, and he jerks to look at Kaiba again. "Wait, you mean, you can touch them?"
Am I using too many big words? Kaiba drawls derisively, because apparently this conversation has been far too civil and requires immediate dickheadedness to revert the anomaly.
"Hey," Jounouchi complains, but he doesn't bother to retort, still thinking. He experiences a rush of unease, recalling a certain Death T experience that reminds him exactly why he doesn't like this man. "Wait, so...you want people to be able to feel the attacks?"
Kaiba's lips thin, then wordlessly he turns the laptop a fraction of a degree towards Jounouchi, inviting him to look at the screen, glancing up to make sure no one is watching him. Jounouchi suddenly remembers that they're not alone, they're in the back of a classroom and the other students are all chattering around him. Games and papers cover their desks, and Kaiba's own table is a rarity, the only one with just a laptop and nothing else. It's not the first time Jounouchi has blocked out his surroundings, but it unsettles him, because since Kaiba is the only one who hears him, recently he seems to tune out everything except him, like his entire world is a distant blur, except for Kaiba, who's impossibly, imposingly present.
On the screen, there's an array of complicated numbers and images, but Kaiba closes the window and opens another, displaying a more simple image. It's a straightforward design.
"What, you want a duel monsters petting zoo?" Jounouchi asks in surprise. He supposes it's better than a sadistic torture chamber. Actually, the idea appeals to him, since he thinks kids would appreciate a chance to interact with their favorite cards.
For Kaiba Land, Kaiba says curtly, turning the laptop back to face him and typing away, returning to the previous screen. Now shut up and let me work.
"But how does it work?" Jounouchi presses, although honestly, he's shocked that Kaiba's been patient with him for this long, or at least what qualifies as patient for Kaiba. "How can you touch a hologram?"
The technology involved far exceeds your ability to comprehend it, Kaiba sneers, apparently finished with the conversation, and then, almost as an afterthought, he adds, mutt.
Jounouchi bristles. "Yeah? Well, I wouldn't want to be fluent in dickwad, anyway."
I suppose you're satisfied with only knowing how to bark.
"I'm not a dog, you creep."
Kaiba snorts to demonstrate precisely what he thinks of that defense, and goes back to typing as they both fall silent. Seething, Jounouchi scratches fruitlessly at the desk, wanting to carve a smiley face or even his initials, but as a disembodied spirit, this proves unlikely. He gives up when his hand goes through the desk. All he feels is a slight tingling, the same as when he walks or sits, like he can't quite touch but can still feel a leftover sensation because of what he expects. His shoulder brushes Kaiba's, the only thing that feels remotely real when touched, and he jerks away this time, as though electrocuted.
He looks over at Yugi and Honda, where they're begging for homework answers from Anzu for last night's history assignment, and feels empty. The substitute is going over a math problem on the board, but neither of them pay him any attention, and Jounouchi thinks that if nothing else, at least if no one can see him he can't get in any trouble for talking in class.
"Kaiba, don't you duel anymore?" asks Jounouchi, and Kaiba tenses beside him. He already knows the answer, though. "How come you quit?"
Kaiba blocks the mind link, but both of them have been respecting each other's privacy for several days, and Jounouchi, in a moment of reckless determination, listens across the connection. Kaiba may have better mental discipline, but boundaries only work for people who don't share minds, and Jounouchi doesn't even have to try that hard in order to catch a snippet of an answer before Kaiba shoves him out with a cold fury.
A vault, he sees, and a promise to Mokuba that until Kaiba Land is complete, he won't duel, and then right before Kaiba blocks him out, Jounouchi understands...
"You locked away your cards after Battle City?" he gapes, and immediately regrets speaking when Kaiba turns to look at him with barely suppressed rage.
"Stay out of my head," Kaiba hisses, and Jounouchi jolts, because Kaiba had said that out loud, a low whisper that no one noticed, but still seemingly loud after conversations held only in his mind. The man is furious.
"I thought you'd block me," Jounouchi says, bewildered, and then he remembers the amount of effort Kaiba exerted to keep him out before. It must not be so easy, to respond to such an invasion of privacy when it's so unexpected.
Contritely, he scratches the back of his neck, a guilty habit he can't seem to break, but Kaiba doesn't stick around for an apology. He slams his laptop shut and strides out of the room, ignoring the substitutes alarmed shouts and the students telling the man not to worry, Kaiba is special, he can leave whenever he damn well pleases, the bastard.
They don't mention the incident again.
This chapter, in order to bribe you into reviewing, I offer you...the MILLENNIUM FLASHLIGHT! You heard me! THE MILLENNIUM FLASHLIGHT! The Millennium Puzzle may contain an ancient spirit, and the Millennium Rod may have the ability to bend your enemies to your will, but the MILLENNIUM FLASHLIGHT gives you the power to stay up under the covers at night and read yugioh manga and fanfiction! By far, it is the most inspiring of all the items, so behold its awesome power, and review today! :D
...Yeah...so I don't even know what I'm writing anymore. I typed up and edited this thing all in one go, and at this point, wordsaremakingaboutthismuchsensetome. Please review? XD