Author's note: The painting described in this story is not, so far as I know, a real painting. The description of its artist's style, however, is more or less accurate.
Kaiba clung to the railing of the boat, gritted his teeth against the seasickness that threatened to engulf him, and mused that this was all Pegasus's fault.
It had to be someone's fault, anyway. The idea that anything that went wrong had to be the fault of somebody was an idea that had served Kaiba well for many years, and one which he was not inclined to let go of now. Pegasus seemed the most likely suspect. A few days ago, Kaiba had been in the planning stages of creating a new attraction for one of his theme parks, when one of his corporate lawyers had turned up pointing out that the contract that would allow Kaiba to do what he was planning on doing with Industrial Illusions' intellectual property had expired two months ago. A renegotiation was called for. Normally, this would be a simple matter of flying to San Francisco and banging on Pegasus's office door until he came out and signed the new contract.
The problem was that Pegasus wasn't at home. Being a man of incurable wanderlust, he had wandered off to see how one of his archeological digs was coming along, and was currently staying in one of his many vacation homes somewhere in Europe while he went over his latest findings. Anyone else would have had a lesser employee authorized to negotiate contracts and sign papers, but the sad fact remained that Pegasus did not trust Kaiba (a feeling which, Kaiba had to admit, was understandable and mutual). They would deal with each other face to face or not at all.
The boat gave another roll and plunge, and Kaiba's stomach did the same slightly out of sync. He closed his eyes tightly. If only, he thought, Pegasus could have gone anywhere else. His house in Japan, for example, was a model of elegant simplicity, not to mention conveniently close by. His refurbished English country house was charmingly cozy. Kaiba hadn't seen the new mansion in Brazil yet, but he'd heard it was a modern marvel as well has possessing a splendid view of the ocean. Even the New York penthouse would have offered the opportunity for a bit of entertainment in the city once business was done. This house, though, was located on what amounted to a large rock somewhere off the coast of France (or possibly Portugal; Kaiba had never bothered to pinpoint it exactly on a map) which had no landing strip or helipad, and could only be conveniently accessed by boat. Kaiba liked boats if they were proper cruise ships with all the comforts of home, and even appreciated a nice yacht if it was doing something sensible, like floating serenely in a harbor while someone hosted a cocktail party on or around it. This boat did not come up to Kaiba's standards, though he had to admit that the ocean might also have something to do with it. The water had been calm when they'd left the mainland, but now a stiff breeze had come up, and the waves had been getting progressively choppier, to the point where even his usually reliable stomach was beginning to complain.
I will not get sick, he told himself firmly. Pegasus has put me through enough indignities without making me sick as well.
He watched the horizon, willing Pegasus's island to come into view. By a herculean effort of will, he did not get sick.
It was drawing near sunset when the island finally came into view, a jagged black thorn stabbing upwards at a blood-red sky. He could see pinpricks of light where the house itself stood. Within a few minutes, they were pulling up to the pier and lowering the gangplank. Kaiba made his way onto solid ground with a gratitude he was careful not to let show. He was on enemy territory now, and he could not afford to reveal even the slightest sign of weakness.
Predictably, Pegasus did not come to meet him at the dock. It was getting late, after all, and the winds off the ocean were growing colder. A pair of anonymous servants were waiting there, though, warmly dressed in matching jackets and caps. One of them picked up his suitcase, while the other was already carrying a high-powered flashlight.
"Welcome ashore, sir," said the one with the flashlight, in the hushed, regretful tones one might have used to say "I'm afraid she didn't make it through the night." Kaiba had noticed on previous visits that Pegasus's serving staff were a singularly joyless lot - probably, he reflected, an occupational necessity when dealing with someone capable of as much eccentricity and general weirdness as Pegasus.
With the aid of the flashlight, the little party picked their way up a winding track, little more than a crack among the larger stones. Without the aid of the light, they never would have found their way. Well, presumably the staff knew it well by now, but Kaiba would probably would have spent the whole night wandering in circles. The gravel crunched beneath their feet. Then they clambered up a particularly steep slope, made a curve around a tall stone, and found themselves suddenly standing on a long, wide, elegantly flagstoned pathway, lined with flickering lanterns - actual lanterns, Kaiba realized, with candles set inside them. They gave off a soft dancing glow that revealed few details of their surroundings, emphasizing the darkness rather than shedding illumination. The sun hadn't completely set, but the boulders around the courtyard obscured its light, and the house itself loomed over them, casting a long dark shadow punctuated only by a few softly glowing windows. Kaiba had an unsettling sense of having stepped back into the dark ages, and shook it off. This was just Pegasus, grandstanding as usual.
Now is not the time to let yourself get shaken up by a few shadows, he scolded himself.
The moment was broken as the front doors were flung dramatically open, and Pegasus himself swept out.
"Kaiba-boy!" he caroled. "How simply splendid to see you! Please, do come in and make yourself at home."
"This is a business meeting, Pegasus, not a social call," Kaiba snapped. Inwardly, he winced. It was too early in the game to be letting Pegasus get to him, but he was jet-lagged and slightly queasy, and Pegasus's brand of syrupy hospitality irked him.
"Of course, of course," said Pegasus, undaunted. "But I'm sure you'd like an opportunity to freshen up from your travels first. I'll have someone show you to a guest room, and we can talk business after you've had a chance to unwind. I thought perhaps you'd like to join me for dinner and then get a good night's rest. We can talk business in the morning when we're both bright and chipper."
"I'd rather finish this and get it over with," Kaiba grumbled.
Pegasus smiled sweetly. "Look at it like this. The sooner we finish our negotiations, the sooner you can get back on that boat again. I hear the wind is going to pick up tonight."
Kaiba involuntarily glanced back the way he had come.
"Fine," he said. "I suppose I can stay for dinner."
They went inside the building. Calling it a "house" was a misnomer. It was a tall, blank-faced building with thick outer walls and small windows. It looked ready to withstand a siege, at least on the outside. The inside had been furnished in Pegasus's own opulent style, causing Kaiba to wonder fleetingly how he'd gotten all the antique furniture and precious art objects up that narrow path without destroying them.
"It's always castles with you, isn't it?" Kaiba muttered. "You think you're royalty. The King of Toon Kingdom."
"What, you mean this?" asked Pegasus, looking around his domain as though seeking the source of Kaiba's confusion. "This is not a castle. Actually, this used to be a monastery."
Kaiba snorted. "A reprobate like you, living in a monastery? That's sacrilege. You're going to hell." He said it conversationally, with no particular conviction or condemnation. He didn't believe in hell, but if there was one, he had no doubt that the powers that be would make sure he and Pegasus ended up as next-door neighbors there.
Pegasus paused, folding his hands prayerfully and gazing upwards, his expression rapt and a little sad - a penitent contemplating the saving grace of God.
"We are all sinners in the eyes of the Almighty," he intoned, and spoiled the effect with a truly devilish grin. "The difference between me and the Holy Order of Saint Whatever is that I cop to it. They wasted their lives pretending to be holy."
"They're probably turning over in their graves right now," said Kaiba.
Pegasus dropped him off at the door to a guest room, and one of the dour servants carried his bag in for him. This had only been meant as a short meeting, but Kaiba believed in coming prepared, especially when it came to dealing with Pegasus. The man had never been able to do anything in a reasonable amount of time - he always insisted on turning these encounters into social occasions, insisting that Kaiba sit through dinners or concerts or cocktail parties before anything got signed. With that in mind, Kaiba had packed his toiletries, a few changes of clothes, his laptop, as well as his Duel Disk and deck. If Pegasus wanted to pussyfoot around, Kaiba could afford to wait. Since he had some time to kill, he changed into fresh clothes, ran a comb through his hair, and booted up his laptop to see if there was an internet connection available. There was, which cheered him considerably. Even if he was stuck here for a while trying to negotiate, at least he could get some other work done at the same time. He cleared out a few e-mails while he was there, and by the time he was done, his seasickness had subsided and he was in a good enough frame of mind that he thought he could just barely tolerate the idea of sitting down to dinner with Pegasus.
Kaiba may not have liked Pegasus, but honesty would have compelled him to admit that the man kept a good table. Actually, he had good taste in practically everything, even if it wasn't necessarily anywhere close to Kaiba's taste. Take the room they were sitting in now. Kaiba could imagine what it had looked like before Pegasus had gotten hold of it: blank stone walls, floor of the same, perhaps some plain wooden furniture and a couple of candles. Now there was a hardwood floor in a warm shade of golden-brown, polished to a high shine that probably reflected every bit of sunlight that came through the narrow windows, and was now gleaming softly in the glow of a pair of handsome brass chandeliers. The furniture was likewise wooden, all sleek organic lines and subtle carving. The stark walls had been hung with art and softened with tapestries. It was all a little medieval for Kaiba's taste, but it was effective, and attractive. Pegasus, with his old-fashioned dress and mannerisms, looked quite at home there.
Actually, he seemed more or less oblivious to it. It was one of his few admirable qualities: the way he owned things without being owned by them. He could and did surround himself with beautiful, expensive things, but the minute he heard of some interesting ruins or unusual archeological finds, he could drop everything and rush off to sleep in a tent and deal with twigs in his hair and rocks under his sleeping bag, and be perfectly content. Kaiba knew plenty of people with money who spent it all on things meant to impress other people. If Pegasus owned something, it was because he saw the beauty of it, not just because it was valuable. That bothered Kaiba slightly. He could remember that Da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa and Van Gogh painted Sunflowers, but art history and appreciation was not his strong suit. He could not have readily told you the difference between a Rembrandt and a Renoir. Pegasus could not only have told the difference, but he could have told you why they deserved to be admired in the first place. It annoyed Kaiba to think that Pegasus knew things he did not, no matter how useless that knowledge might have been.
"It is a lovely painting, isn't it?" said Pegasus mildly.
Kaiba jerked his head around to look at him. He realized, belatedly, that while his mind had been wandering, his eyes had been fixed on a painting on the far side of the room. It was, now that he really looked at it, a rather attractive painting. It depicted a young woman standing in front of a mirror while a second woman combed her hair. It was set into its own little niche in the wall, away from any direct lighting, and covered by a glass or plastic barrier to keep it safely climate-controlled.
"I suppose it's fine, if you like that sort of thing," said Kaiba.
"It's a Vermeer," said Pegasus proudly. "You wouldn't believe what I had to go through to get it, but I feel it was worth it."
"He's better than you are, that's for sure," Kaiba replied.
If Pegasus was needled, he didn't let on.
"Of course," he said. "Vermeer was a master. Just look at the textures. You could almost count the threads in her dress, or the hairs on her head."
Kaiba was forced to admit that the painting was incredibly detailed. Pegasus seemed delighted by his assessment.
"Go on," he said. "Have a closer look. Take some time to appreciate the craftsmanship."
Kaiba weighed his options, then reluctantly got up for a better look. He took a few steps, and then a few steps more, until he nearly had his nose pressed against the glass. Then he stepped back again. He was uncomfortably aware that Pegasus was watching him with increasing amusement. Finally, Kaiba turned on him with a glare.
"Is this your idea of a joke?" he demanded.
"Why, my dear Kaiba-boy," said Pegasus, mock-offended, "I never joke."
"Like hell you don't," said Kaiba.
"I do not," said Pegasus. "I may indulge in sarcasm or irony. I may even venture the occasional witticism, but I do not joke. I am generally very serious."
"So what was all that about details and craftsmanship?" Kaiba snapped. He shot a venomous look at the painting, as though suspecting it of colluding with Pegasus in his prank. What had seemed from a distance to be a gloriously detailed painting had turned out, on closer inspection, to be a vague collection of paint splotches, the minute details he thought he'd seen vanishing like a mirage when he drew near it.
"It is craftsmanship," said Pegasus. "Scientifically, you only see a fraction of what you think you see. Your brain fills in the missing detail. Vermeer was an expert at manipulating color and shadow to make you think you're seeing a great deal more detail than you actually are. What looks perfect on the surface is completely different when viewed in detail." He looked thoughtful. "I've always rather liked that."
"You're impossible," said Kaiba. "I'm not going to hang around to put up with your nonsense."
He turned on his heel and began to stalk out of the room.
"You'll miss dessert," Pegasus called after him.
Kaiba made a noise that he hoped conveyed his disdain for that possibility.
"I am going to bed," he said loftily, and swept into the hall.
He was fuming. How dare Pegasus make a fool of him that way? Where did he get off, playing such childish tricks, making him look ignorant and uncultured? Was the man really so insecure that he had to make Kaiba look like a fool, even here where no one could see them?
When it came down to it, there were not a lot of people in the world Kaiba disliked. Most people were not important enough for him to muster any interest in them at all. His brother, of course, was probably the only person in the world he cared about without qualifications. Then there were people like Yugi and Jonouchi whom he would grudgingly tolerate and even more grudgingly respect. For Pegasus, though, he would muster up the effort to dislike him. It wasn't just that he'd kidnapped Mokuba, or that he'd tried to take over Kaiba Corp. Trying to take over Kaiba Corp had become practically a rite of passage for the more brazen business owners of the world. No, Pegasus offended him, deeply and personally, just by being himself.
Kaiba had gotten where he was by hard work, and lots of it. He knew he was more intelligent than the average person on the street, but he was willing to admit that he'd gotten where he was through sheer effort and force of will. Pegasus, on the other hand, was widely hailed as a game-design genius, and he seemed happy enough to accept the accolade. As far as Kaiba was concerned, though, Pegasus was a poseur, a dilettante, merely playing at being a businessman. He was simply a man who'd had one good idea in his life and was busily milking it for all it was worth - or, more accurately, letting other people milk it for him while he played at being an executive. It rankled, especially because, like it or not, Kaiba needed him. Most of his company's biggest profits came from things related to Duel Monsters one way or another, and if Pegasus ever decided to cut him off, his earnings would take a dive. He had to continue to at least pretend that Pegasus was a man of his own rank, and not an overgrown child who spent half his free time watching cartoons.
Kaiba was still fuming as he lay in bed, waiting for sleep to overtake him. It was slow in coming. He was still slightly jet-lagged, and his mind would not stop going over the affronts of the evening, making him too angry to sleep. The waves crashing outside his window did not help either. He had the distinct feeling that they were getting louder, as though even Mother Nature had decided that he shouldn't get any rest that night.
"This is ridiculous," he told himself, throwing off his blankets. It was not in his nature to waste time. If he was incapable of sleep, he was not going to let precious hours slip by while he stared at the inside of his eyelids.
It occurred to Kaiba as he began pulling on his clothes once more that this was, in some ways, a valuable opportunity. He had visited Pegasus a few times, for business purposes and for the occasional unavoidable social event, but this was the first time he had ever been left unattended in the man's home. Pegasus was bound to be asleep by now, and most of the staff as well. No one would notice or care if he snooped around a bit, so snoop he would. The two of them had been locked in an uneasy truce for some time now - Pegasus didn't dare try to take over Kaiba Corp again, nor did Kaiba dare to move too openly against Pegasus. Right now, they both relied on each other to keep their companies afloat, but Kaiba always worried that the notoriously erratic Pegasus would someday decide that his company and his reputation didn't matter as much as all that, and if he ever decided that sinking Kaiba was worth the risk of being dragged down with him... No. That could not be allowed to happen. Sooner or later, Kaiba would find something he could use against the man, something that he could use to keep him in check.
Normally, Kaiba was good at that sort of thing. It was amazing what you could do with an Internet search, even if you didn't resort to the sorts of investigative tricks Kaiba was capable of. The trouble was that for such an eccentric person, Pegasus seemed astonishingly resilient to scandal. You would think that a man like him could at least manage to get drunk in public or take up with a mistress. Or another man, even. That sort of thing still made people look at you askance, especially if your line of work obliged you to spend as much time with children as Pegasus's did. So far, though, nothing had turned up. It seemed like if Pegasus wasn't involved with his business or his art or his staggering collection of cartoons, he was instead cheerfully playing Lord Bountiful with various charities, theaters, museums, universities, and sundry historical and scientific organizations. In public, at least, he was regarded as odd but inoffensive.
In private, though... Well, this wasn't his permanent residence, but there was always a chance something would turn up. It would be better than sitting around doing nothing, anyway. With that in mind, Kaiba set out to explore.
He had been right about this much, at least: no one seemed to be awake. Pegasus's servants had cleaned up everything that needed cleaning and gone back to their rooms, and Kaiba didn't intend to bother them. Instead, he began a methodical search of the building, starting from the ground floor and working his way up. The first floor was mainly uninteresting, containing as it did the entry hall, dining room, kitchen, a sitting room, and various servants' rooms and facilities. There would be nothing of interest in the laundry room. The second floor seemed to be primarily for the use of visitors, housing as it did several guest rooms, an entertainment room with a massive television and vast library of videos, and even a small dueling arena. The third floor, though, seemed to be Pegasus's personal space. Kaiba was not surprised - of course the man would give himself the rooms with the best view. They were also, he couldn't help but notice, more lavishly furnished, in the opulent style that the man seemed to favor. This was the only place in the building he had seen any sign of carpet - a thick, soft red one that muffled his footfalls until they were inaudible over the crash of the waves. The art on the walls here had a certain sameness to it, not in the content or color, but in the style Kaiba recognized as Pegasus's own. Seeing them tickled a memory from the back of Kaiba's mind.
There was a woman, wasn't there? That's what started this whole thing - the girl who used to model for him. Maybe instead of looking for dirt on him, I should be finding out more about her.
He tucked the idea away for future research. Instead, he began snooping through the other rooms. One door, the one he guessed led to Pegasus's bedroom, was closed, and not even Kaiba dared to sneak around someone's room while they were still sleeping in it. There was a library, though, an extensive one that took up most of that floor, and that did look promising. Kaiba stepped into it, looking around with grudging appreciation. Pegasus might be a thorn in his side, but you couldn't fault a man for keeping a good library. Kaiba toyed with the idea of turning on a light, or at least one of the lamps he could see dimly in the light from the windows, but he rejected the idea as too risky. There was always a chance that Pegasus would get up for a midnight snack, or worse yet, be stricken by insomnia and come to find some bedtime reading. Kaiba still had his cell phone in his pocket, and while it was unlikely it would be able to pick up any sort of reception, it was still useable as a makeshift flashlight. By its pale blue light, he began making a methodical search of the shelves.
What he found disappointed him. Not that he'd been expecting blatant pornography or anything like that, but in a way, what he found was even more annoying. The shelves were filled to bursting with nonfiction and reference books, ranging from sets of encyclopedias to coffee table books full of photographs to old and crumbling volumes that would have been the cutting edge of science a hundred years or more ago. They were mostly thick, dense tomes written in everything from modern English to ancient Greek. They would not have bothered Kaiba as much if they hadn't been liberally sprinkled with bookmarks and sticky notes, as well as marginal notes written in Pegasus's distinctively flowery handwriting. He had clearly used these books, and used them often. It did not fit with his image of Pegasus. The man was clever, yes, in his demented way, but scholarly? There was no way. He refused to allow that this irritating person was his equal, or even superior, intellectually. It wasn't possible.
Kaiba slammed the book he'd been browsing shut, and then winced. He waited a moment, wondering if anyone had heard him, but the house stayed silent. He decided there was nothing to be found in this library tonight that would be of any use to him, so he slipped silently out of the room. As he did so, he closed his cell phone, and for a moment, he was completely blinded as his eyes adjusted to the new light level. As he stood in the doorway, waiting to be able to see again, he became aware that there was a light at the far end of the hall - a very faint light, one he might not have seen at all if his eyes hadn't been straining for any hint of illumination. It was coming from behind a thick closed door, with only the faintest chink for light to slip past it. Kaiba wasn't the only one awake. He hesitated, weighing his options. Maybe someone had just forgotten to turn off a light. Maybe someone on staff was getting some cleaning done when there was no one awake to bother him. Or maybe his first instinct was right, and Pegasus was wide awake and working on something when he didn't think Kaiba would be watching him. If that was the case, there was only one thing Kaiba could really do.
With the soft carpet to muffle his steps, Kaiba made his way to the end of the hall. There he paused, pressing his ear to the door. There was no sound... no, almost none. There was the softest of faint rustlings. Kaiba toyed with the notion of simply flinging the door open, but caution won out. He opened it a crack and peered inside.
The room was an art studio, of course. In retrospect, he realized that he should have known there would be one. Unlike the other rooms, this one was not decorated in the slightest. It was simply a bare room with a utilitarian tiled floor and one wall that was completely made up of windows. Cabinets and framing materials were lined unobtrusively against one wall. Near the windows, Pegasus sat in front of an easel, with a lamp pulled close to him for light. He was sketching something, though it was too far away for Kaiba to make out any details, so he didn't bother to look for any. He looked, instead, at Pegauss.
For the first time since Kaiba had met him, Pegasus was something other than perfectly dressed, wearing only a frayed shirt and paint-spattered khakis. His face was calm and serious, showing no sign of the humorous, often faintly mocking expression he usually wore. The golden lamplight glittered faintly off his silvery hair. His blind eye was turned towards the door. He clearly hadn't seen anything.
Doesn't the man ever sleep? Kaiba wondered, torn between irritation and admiration.
Still, he watched for a moment, mostly out of idle curiosity. He'd never actually seen Pegasus do what he did best before. He worked swiftly and confidently, making tiny marks on his paper with great precision, the lines of his body conveying his total absorption in his task. This was a different man from the cartoonish clown Kaiba knew. It wasn't fair - even without his customary splendid clothing, he still looked impossibly elegant, with his paintbrush poised just so in his slim hand. Kaiba could do "businesslike" and "imposing" and, on a good day, even "regal", but that sort of effortless grace was more difficult to obtain. He had the uneasy feeling that he was seeing a truer image of Pegasus than he'd ever encountered before, and maybe something closer to the truth than Pegasus liked people to see. It was too bad, really. This person looked much less annoying than the man Kaiba knew. He stood and watched for a while, until he began to feel uncomfortably like a voyeur. He shut the door and made his silent way back down the hallway and back to his bed.
So, had he learned anything tonight? He mulled over what he'd seen and decided that he'd come up with a few avenues of further investigation. Still, he'd hoped for more. He knew firsthand that Pegasus was not a saint, even if he was living on sacred ground right now. It wasn't fair of him not to leave evidence of this lying around. To search and find only evidence of a talented, well-educated gentleman was unnerving, and more than a little frustrating.
Kaiba was still mulling over what his next move should be when the sound of the waves finally lulled him to sleep.
He was awakened the next morning by a resounding crash. Kaiba sat up, his pulse racing for a few seconds in blind panic as he reeled through the possibilities. Explosion? Gunshot? Servant dropping his breakfast tray? Then the crash came again, and he relaxed marginally as he realized that what he was hearing was nothing more than a meteorological phenomena. It was thunderstorming.
Since he was awake and not likely to get any more sleep now, he went about the business of getting dressed for a new day. With any luck, he could pin Pegasus down to negotiations and get him to wrap this business up quickly so that he could go home. He wondered, fleetingly, what it was that Pegasus seemed to enjoy dragging things out. He seriously doubted the man liked him any better than he liked Pegasus. Was it just to annoy him, to waste his time? Or was it just natural perversity, making him refuse to do something just because someone wanted him to do it?
As Kaiba checked his reflection in the mirror, he decided he might just turn the tables on Pegasus this time. He'd been invited to stay as a guest, so he'd use that. He would put business off for a little while, long enough for him to at least make certain that there was no clue in this house to an angle he could use against him. If nothing else, he supposed he could make himself at least as much of an annoyance as Pegasus was to him.
He went downstairs in a fairly sanguine mood, and found Pegasus at the dining table eating Belgian waffles loaded with strawberries and whipped cream. He waved cheerily at Kaiba as he came in.
"Good morning, Kaiba-boy!" he chirped. "Isn't it a splendid morning?"
Since rain was still lashing fiercely at the windows, Kaiba simply scowled at him.
"You think you're funny, don't you?" he grumbled.
"You sound like you need coffee," said Pegasus, and pushed the pot in his direction.
Kaiba was reluctant to give even that much ground, but he did need coffee, so he poured himself some while a servant glided over to his elbow and asked what he would like to eat this morning. That was a minor relief. He'd been afraid that he'd be expected to eat waffles and strawberries, and seasickness or no seasickness, he didn't think his stomach could tolerate that level of sugar this early in the morning. He ordered a more sensible breakfast of eggs and toast and sausages before settling back to doctor his coffee the way he liked it.
"I'm still not in the mood for your jokes," he said. "Your prank last night was bad enough."
"Now, what makes you think that I played a prank on you last night?" asked Pegasus, all innocence.
"Don't play dumb with me, Pegasus," said Kaiba. "Do you think I haven't forgotten? You and your blasted Vermeer."
Pegasus laughed delightedly. "Ahh, Kaiba, my dear, naive, innocent boy."
Kaiba glared at him. Nobody, to his knowledge, had ever called him "naive" or "innocent" before, and he wouldn't have wanted to place any bets on "dear" either.
"Mr. Kaiba," said Pegasus, in his singsong way, "thinks I tell jokes. This is because Mr. Kaiba thinks the opposite of being serious is being funny, and therefore thinks that if I am being funny, I am not being serious. Mr. Kaiba should learn that the opposite of being serious is being not serious. Joking doesn't come into it."
Kaiba snorted. "Mr. Pegasus should stop talking about Mr. Kaiba like he isn't there."
"Oh, you do have a sense of humor! Well done," said Pegasus, not at all offended. "I suppose now you're going to want to make up for it by talking business all morning."
"Not really," said Kaiba tersely. "I haven't decided I feel like speaking to you at all right now."
"That's nice," said Pegasus, nodding serenely. "You can't go home now, anyway."
Kaiba, who had been contemplating his coffee, jerked his head up. "What do you mean?"
"Well, look at that storm! You can't expect a boat to sail through that," said Pegasus. "Even if you wanted to leave, you couldn't get home safely. You'll just have to stay here until the weather clears up." He smiled. "Won't that be fun?"
"How long until the storm is over?" Kaiba asked.
Pegasus shrugged. "Who can tell? It could be over in an hour or in days. You'll have to check the weather forecast."
"I'll do that," Kaiba muttered.
His breakfast was delivered to him, and he stabbed at his sausages with slightly more force than was necessary. He knew the weather wasn't Pegasus's fault, but it still bothered him obscurely that as soon as he had made up his mind how to turn the tables on Pegasus, something like this made his plans completely moot.
"Since you're trapped here so unfortunately," said Pegasus, "perhaps you'd like me to show you around the house a bit? I have some excellent artifacts on display here." His expression turned wicked again. "And some artworks less likely to aggravate you than the Vermeer."
Kaiba raised an eyebrow. "Why are you being so sociable?"
"Why, because I like your company," Pegasus answered.
Kaiba snorted. And he says he doesn't tell jokes.
"No thank you," he said. "I have work I want to catch up on."
Pegasus sighed. "Suit yourself, then." He looked, Kaiba thought with some surprise, genuinely disappointed.
Kaiba finished his breakfast and left the table with mixed emotions. Part of him was wondering if he ought not have taken Pegasus up on his offer of a tour. He probably knew places in this building worth looking at that Kaiba might never notice. On the other hand, what were the odds that he'd be willing to show them off? Yet again, his findings last night had made him curious. He had half a mind that he might like to quiz Pegasus on some of these artworks and artifacts he claimed to have, and see if he was really as erudite as his books suggested he was. If nothing else, it would be a refreshing change of pace to hear Pegasus talk about something sensible, for a change. Some of it might have even been interesting.
Next you'll be saying you really do enjoy his company, after all. What is this, Beauty and the Beast?
He shook his head at his own foolishness. Dimly he remembered his caretakers at the orphanage reading him fairy tales, and he recalled that the Beast had been horrible to look at and rather dim, but good at heart. If anything, Pegasus was the opposite: attractive, well-groomed, intelligent, cultured, witty in his own strange way, but rotten at the core. Putting the two of them together in a castle - well, monastery - was not going to make the two of them more kindly inclined towards each other. Kaiba wondered if he could be going stir-crazy already, to even be considering the idea that he might take any pleasure in Pegasus's company.
And Kaiba had work to do. He returned to his room and began coaxing his laptop to go online. It didn't like the storm either; his reception was flickery. He fired off an e-mail to Mokuba letting him know that he was delayed but in good health and would be with him again as soon as possible, and sorted through various bits of news and minor emergencies that his underlings had seen fit to tell him about, and then settled in to do some serious research. If Pegasus wasn't doing anything in the present that merited attention in the present, it was time to dig a little into his past.
It took several hours of intense digging to come up with the information Kaiba wanted. Unfortunately for his purposes, Pegasus had apparently been home schooled, rather than attending a public school, and getting hold of any evidence of his childhood history was not an easy task. He did manage to fish up some employment records for Pegasus's various tutors, and those corroborated what he'd already been beginning to guess. It seemed that Pegasus's father, while apparently a kinder man than Gozaburo, had still possessed similar ideas about how to educate a child. Pegasus had been taught from an early age how to manage money and run a business, as well as to speak multiple languages. Then, because apparently any man who would name his son "Pegasus" had some appreciation of the classics, he'd added classes in literature and the arts. It was hard to tell from employment records just how well the young Pegasus had done at these lessons, but presumably he'd gotten at least the basics. At any rate, there didn't seem to be much else to learn, so Kaiba turned his attention to what he guessed would be more fertile ground.
He was right. Pegasus's life may have been lived behind closed doors, but his sweetheart's had not been. Her family had been socialites, and there was a wealth of information to be had about them. He spent a few instructional hours reading everything he could find, and then, satisfied that he'd learned all he could, went downstairs for lunch.
He was somewhat disappointed to find that Pegasus had already eaten and gone. Then again, starting on him while they were eating would probably end in indigestion. Kaiba had already stormed out of one meal without finishing it, and he saw no need to repeat the experience. As it was, he was able to dine in peace and at his leisure while he turned over what he had learned in his mind, considering what he was going to say to Pegasus the next time he saw him. After all, having information was all to the good, but knowing how to use it was real power.
After some prowling around, he eventually found Pegasus standing by a large window, looking out at the storm and the surf. His expression was contemplative. Kaiba came up silently behind him
"Enjoying the weather?" Kaiba asked mildly. He was mildly gratified to see Pegasus jump a little before turning to face him.
"Just thinking," said Pegasus. "And what have you been doing with yourself this morning? I trust your business was fruitful?"
"Yes, it was," said Kaiba. "I even found some time to look around when I wasn't working. You've done a pretty fair job of making a monastery not look like a monastery."
"That was the idea," said Pegasus.
"You have an impressive library," Kaiba continued smoothly.
"Oh, that's nothing," said Pegasus. "You should see the one I have in my main home in California. It's at least five times this size. I have some very rare documents stored there - under lock and key, of course." His expression had become animated, his single eye bright with the passion of a true scholar.
Kaiba gave him a measured look. "You really are fascinated by all that sort of thing, aren't you?"
Pegasus contrived to look offended. "Whatever gave you the idea that I might not be? After all, I am a genius."
"And a romantic," said Kaiba. "I wondered about that."
Pegasus raised an eyebrow at this change of subject. "Why, I have no idea what you're getting at."
"Don't be coy with me, Pegasus. I was at Duelist Kingdom, too. I'm not clueless as to what was going on there," said Kaiba. He snorted. "Some grand gesture about wanting to be with your dead sweetheart again."
Pegasus had gone tense. "I wouldn't expect a man like you to understand anything like that."
"Oh, I understand more than you'd think," said Kaiba. "I looked her up, you know. There's a lot of information out there if you want to find it."
"Whatever you're insinuating, you're off base," said Pegasus sharply. "Cyndia was a virtuous woman. You won't find any scandal attached to her. Frankly, I consider it beneath your dignity to even try."
"I'm not accusing her of anything," said Kaiba. "I'm accusing you."
"I'm afraid I don't follow."
"Then I'll lay it on the line," Kaiba said. "Everyone says you're a genius, and much as I hate to admit it, they're probably right. You're a natural scholar - you've been studying languages and history and the arts since you were old enough to read. Even now, when some people in your position would be wasting their money on fast cars and flashy toys, you're disseminating your fortune on funding science labs and archeological digs."
Pegasus smirked slightly. "You're not telling me anything I don't know."
"Then let me tell you a few more things," said Kaiba. "This girl of yours came from a family with bloodlines and no money. The only reason you ever met her was because her father was in politics and used to go to these parties looking for hands to shake. While you were getting private tutors in Latin and Greek, she was being taught how to dance, write invitations and thank-you notes, and host garden parties. So do you want to know what I think?" Kaiba continued, fixing Pegasus with his coldest look. "I think her family wanted your family's money, and your family wanted her family's reputation and connections. I think she was raised to be arm-candy for some rich man who didn't expect her to do anything but stand around and look pretty. And I don't think a man like you would spend his life in pursuit of a lifelong passion for a girl who couldn't have understood what he was talking about half the time. I know you have Yugi and the rest conned into thinking you're some kind of romantic tragic antihero, but you can't fool me. It was an arrangement, wasn't it? I don't see any reason why I should tell them what kind of a faker you really are. We'll see what kind of a public figure you make when the hero of the masses realizes you're a fraud."
As he spoke, he watched Pegasus's reactions. His hands, which had been resting lightly on a window sill, were now gripping it so hard that his nails must have been leaving dents in the wood, and his face had gone nearly as gray-white as his hair. Kaiba found himself somewhat unsettled. He'd meant to needle Pegasus, to put him a bit off-balance, not to make him look like he was about to keel over of a heart attack. All right, so Kaiba had been subtly threatening his business, but he'd been doing that for years now, and he hadn't thought Pegasus cared that much about his business anyway. Industrial Illusions wasn't a sacred institution to him the way Kaiba Corporation was to Kaiba, so what was wrong with the man?
Pegasus took a deep breath and let it out again. Kaiba had the sense that Pegasus was reminding himself why taking a swing at him would be a very bad idea.
"You," he said, in a voice that shook around the edges, "know nothing - absolutely nothing - about what you are talking about."
Kaiba was not going to let him off easily. "If I'm so far off the mark, then why are you so upset?"
"Do you actually want an answer to that, or are you just looking for an excuse to provoke me some more?" asked Pegasus acidly.
Kaiba hesitated. He had the disquieting sensation that he had perhaps not played this as well as he should have, and it might not hurt to do damage control. Pegasus's expression was more grave than he'd ever seen it, more grave than he'd known Pegasus was capable of being. He seemed to have aged a few years over the course of the conversation.
"Answer or don't," said Kaiba, turning his gaze out onto the storm-tossed ocean. "It's not like I care either way."
Pegasus rearranged himself so that he could rest his elbows on the windowsill.
"In this instance, your facts are correct, but your conjectures are off," he said, in the slightly frayed tones of one trying to calm himself. "Cyndia's family was once very important - they were railway barons back in the olden days - but they've fallen on hard times since then. They had only one child, and their hope was that she would restore their fortunes or at least assume what they felt was her proper place in the social order by finding a wealthy husband. They were only too happy to see me becoming friends with her. That's where you have it wrong - we were friends. If she didn't know something, it was because no one had taught her, no one had allowed her to know. She was interested in the same things I was, and I was happy to share them with her. I gave her access to a world she would not have had available to her otherwise. We were looking forward to being married. We planned to travel the world together..."
He trailed off. Perhaps he was thinking of all the traveling he did now, alone. Then Pegasus roused himself and showed a flash of his usual spirit.
"I would have thought," he said, "that you of all people would know what it is to be raised for a purpose you did not choose, and be expected to sacrifice yourself to someone else's cause."
Kaiba stifled a wince. That had been a low blow, but he had a feeling he'd deserved it. He felt, in fact rather foolish now. It rankled him to apologize, and anyway, he was not sure how to phrase an apology to cover this particular situation, but...
He was still casting about for something to say, when there was a particularly powerful gust of wind, and something slammed into the window. Glass sprayed everywhere, and Kaiba flung up an arm to protect his face. He heard Pegasus give a cry of pain or surprise, the clatter of a lot of falling glass hitting the floor, and a rather soggy thud. When there was nothing coming through the window but wind and rain, Kaiba risked lowering his arms to see what had happened. There was a large gray and white bird lying on the floor in front of them, with its head twisted at an odd angle. It was clearly very dead.
"It's a damned seagull," said Kaiba, stunned into stating the obvious.
"It used to be a seagull, anyway," said Pegasus. He had not reacted so swiftly as Kaiba. A shard of flying glass had sliced his cheek and severed a few of the fine hairs that covered his missing eye. Blood was dripping across his face, but with all the rain blowing in on him, he didn't seem to have noticed it.
"You're bleeding," Kaiba told him flatly.
Pegasus looked surprised. He touched his fingers to his cheek, and studied them as they came away red.
"Well, would you look at that," he said. "That could have put my eye out." He laughed.
"Very funny," said Kaiba. He was beginning to feel some minor stinging sensations, and observed that he'd taken one or two small cuts on the arm he'd used to shield himself.
"Better get that taken care of," Pegasus advised. "I'll send someone up to your room with a first aid kid once I find someone to deal with this." He gestured at the dead bird with one hand, while the other pressed a lace-edged handkerchief to his bleeding face.
"Aren't you forgetting something?" asked Kaiba dryly.
"Hm?" said Pegasus. "Oh, that. Don't worry. My face isn't so pretty that another scar or two will hurt it."
Kaiba realized he was being dismissed, and decided that this was probably the most graceful exit he could hope for, so he took it. By the time he got to his room, a servant was already waiting at his door with a first-aid kit, and he was able to patch up his cuts with a minimum of fuss. Once it was clear he was not about to die of blood loss, the servant departed, and Kaiba closed his door behind him. Then he walked over to a chair by his window, sat down, and did nothing.
That had not gone the way he'd expected it to. In retrospect, he could even admit that it may have been his own fault. He had underestimated Pegasus, and not just his intelligence. He really never had forgiven or forgotten what Pegasus had done to him, and to Mokuba. In his mind, anyone who would do anything to his brother was clearly a heartless fiend without emotions or morals. He hadn't thought he could hurt Pegasus's feelings because he hadn't ever considered that Pegasus had any feelings to hurt. Not that he generally worried about hurting people's feelings, but...
He supposed he ought to go back to work, to finding some other angle to pursue, or at least to chasing Pegasus down again and insisting that he sign the papers that needed signing so they wouldn't have to spend any more time around each other until the storm let up, but his heart wasn't really in it. He sat by the window and watched it rain.
After a while, he shook himself out of his daze. This was ridiculous. So he had made Pegasus angry. So what? Pegasus had made him angry plenty of times before. Consider this payment for his little prank last night with the painting. Surely Pegasus deserved something for making a fool of him that way.
Then, as these things did, the world shifted perspectives slightly, and the events of the previous night slipped into a new perspective. Pegasus had said "I never joke," and what if he hadn't been? Here was an intelligent man, highly educated, with broad and deep interests. He also enjoyed sharing these things - he'd said as much when speaking of his lost love. He knew that Kaiba's education had been long on hard facts and short on the arts, which Gozaburo had considered complete wastes of time. And here was Pegasus with a painting which he clearly loved and admired, and wanted other people to admire as well. Wouldn't it make sense that he would want to show it off to someone he deemed intelligent enough to appreciate it, and that he would do so in a way that Kaiba would not only understand but remember? He had to admit, he was never going to forget that Vermeer. The next time he heard some blowhard at a party going on about classic art, Kaiba would have something knowledgeable to say about it. He might have felt like a fool at dinner, but in the future, he'd end up looking more brilliant than ever, not just educated and clever but cultured.
In a roundabout way, then, hadn't Pegasus been doing him a favor? The more he thought about it, the more he wondered if it might be so. He'd always assumed that Pegasus hated him for the simple and sensible reason that he hated Pegasus, and the feeling ought to go both ways, but maybe he had it the wrong way around. There probably weren't a lot of people Pegasus could be in any way honest with about the peculiar things that happened around (or because) of him, who were also in his social set and who were also intelligent enough to appreciate his own keen if warped mind. If that was the case, then Pegasus - out of boredom or loneliness or a desire to make amends, or perhaps even because in some strange way he imagined he saw something of his lost love in him - had offered him an olive branch, and Kaiba had knocked it aside and accused him of joking.
This was not a comforting thought to someone who had been telling himself all this time that he had the moral high ground.
If that was the case, it behooved him to extend some sort of peace offering. He hated the idea, but if he'd been in the wrong and he and Pegasus both knew it, it would put him at a disadvantage until he sorted it out again. Kaiba hated apologizing, and very rarely did it.
So he wouldn't. He had more style than that.
He changed into clean clothes that hadn't been rained on or bled on, and he gathered up his papers into his briefcase, and set off to look for Pegasus. The problem was that he couldn't find him. He tried the public rooms downstairs, and the library and the art studio, and even braced himself to peer through the door that led to Pegasus's own master suite. He found nothing but some very posh red plush furniture, some bookshelves, assorted bric-a-brac, and a variety of paintings. One of them was indisputably the beautiful blonde woman Pegasus had loved. She occupied the central place above the mantlepiece, where she could be seen from any part of the room. Kaiba did not like the way she was looking at him, and he shut the door with more force than necessary.
What's the matter, jealous? he could almost hear a mocking voice in his head say. He shoved it away. He might be coming around to the idea that Pegasus was perhaps not as odious as he'd first thought, that didn't mean he actually liked the man, or cared to be liked in return. Anyway, it was beneath his dignity to be jealous of a dead woman, so he was not going to admit to it even if he was.
He hadn't done enough research, that was the problem. If he had taken the time to poke around even briefly inside Pegasus's private rooms, he never would have jumped to so many conclusions. Even a blind man could tell from the contents of this room that Pegasus had truly loved the girl, and probably still did, in some way. But then again, what did Kaiba know about these things? He had plenty of experience with people who admired his talents as a duelist, or simply coveted his money, and flung themselves at him accordingly. This sort of love was quite outside his experience. For a fleeting moment, he could have been jealous of Pegasus for enjoying such a thing when he could not.
But where was the man, anyway? The building didn't have that many rooms in it. Were there any hidden rooms he could have slipped into? A basement level he hadn't mentioned? Kaiba couldn't remember seeing any signs of any. Eventually, he resorted to asking one of the staff.
"The master has gone out, sir," said the servant.
Kaiba scowled. "Gone out? We're on a damned island. Where the hell could he go?"
"He said he was going for a walk, sir."
"In a thunderstorm? It's pouring rain out there."
The servant shrugged and gestured helplessly. Clearly, his expression said, it was not his place to question his master's whims. He was there merely to obey orders, not speculate on how his employer's mind worked.
"You're useless," Kaiba snapped, and he turned and marched towards the door. He left his briefcase on the floor by the umbrella stand, shoved the door open, and went out.
Within seconds, he was wetter than he could ever remember being. Rain came down in fat, cold drops, running in rivulets through his hair and down his back. His shoes were filled with water almost immediately, creating a little splash every time he took a step. The wind and the driving rain made visibility almost zero. Holding up one arm in a vain attempt to keep the rain out of his eyes, he sloshed determinedly across the courtyard and down the winding walkway that led to the pier.
That was the plan, anyway. He was lost almost immediately. He had only come that way once, in the dark, with only flickering lamplight to see by. Now, in something that was marginally daylight, with rain pouring down all around him, nothing looked familiar and all the rocks looked the same. He trudged on doggedly. If nothing else, he knew the ocean was at the bottom of the slope and the house was at the top. He would find his way somehow.
Find his way to where? Even if it wasn't a very big island, there was no way he was going to find a lone man amid all this chaos in all these nooks and crannies. For all he knew, Pegasus had taken a turn around the courtyard and gone back inside, and the two of them had missed each other. Probably Pegasus was inside now, enjoying a warm drink and a good laugh at his impulsiveness. Why had he barged out here, anyway? Because he was annoyed at Pegasus for hiding from him?
"Damn it, Pegasus!" he shouted into the storm. "Why are you always doing things like this?"
"You don't have to shout. I'm right here."
Kaiba whirled towards the sound of the voice. Some yards away, two broad flat stones had tilted and overlapped each other, forming a small nook, large enough that a man could sit underneath them and be well protected from the rain. Pegasus had dressed sensibly for the weather in a long black raincoat. Sitting as still as he was, he blended in with the stone and the shadows. Kaiba would never have seen him through the rain if he hadn't chosen to make his presence known.
"Well?" said Pegasus, over the sound of the storm. "Are you going to stay out there until the storm washes you away? Or are you going to come in?"
Kaiba started to go with his knee-jerk response, which was to say there was no way he was ever going to spend time with Pegasus in such close quarters. Then he stopped to consider that it was still pouring down rain, and that he had no clear idea of how to get to any other shelter. Pegasus at least would know how to get back. Maybe if he annoyed him enough, he would decide to lead him back indoors. He clambered over the slick stones until he could crawl his way into the shelter.
It was better underneath the rocks. The ground was cool and a bit damp, but at least there was no longer rain pounding down on Kaiba's head, and the force of the wind was reduced to the occasional stray gust. Kaiba began trying to wring the water out of his clothes. Pegasus watched him with unabashed curiosity.
"Would it be too much to ask," he said, "what possessed you to wander around out here? You did notice it was raining, didn't you?"
"You went out in it," Kaiba pointed out. "Anything you can do, I can do too."
"Better not say things like that," said Kaiba, amused. "You'll tempt me to start doing things just to see if you'll do them too."
"I said I can," said Kaiba, with great dignity. "I didn't say I would."
"You are just determined to spoil my fun today."
The tone was flippant, suggesting that Pegasus really didn't care whether Kaiba spoiled his fun or not, and indeed, that he found Kaiba's efforts at foiling him amusing. Kaiba, however, was beginning to understand that when Pegasus had said he didn't joke, he'd meant it. Pegasus told the truth, but he told such outrageous truths, or told them so lightly, that people assumed he must be joking and react accordingly. It was a very good disguise, really. Kaiba still felt he should have seen through it earlier.
He thought he was beginning to get an idea why Pegasus was so fond of that painting. Perfect on the surface, every detail in place, but when you looked closer...
"That's me," said Kaiba. "I don't do fun."
"Try it someday," Pegasus replied. "You might like it. I promise it doesn't hurt."
"And walking in the pouring rain is fun?" Kaiba replied. "You could have gotten yourself hit by lightning. That would be a thrill, wouldn't it?"
Pegasus chuckled softly. "They used to think lightning was punishment meted out by the gods. That's why it only struck once, you see. If you survived it, the matter was considered settled. I don't suppose anyone ever considered that someone might offend the gods a second time."
"So you're saying you're a particular risk for lightning, then?" said Kaiba, eyebrow raised. "Maybe I shouldn't be sitting so close to you."
"I should think the same applies to you," said Pegasus, without rancor. "But I am willing to take the risk."
"Great. I'm marooned on an island with a maniac with a death wish."
Pegasus laughed. "Look on the bright side. If I get struck by lightning, you'll get to deal with my underlings instead of me. That will make your life easier, won't it?"
Kaiba thought about it. Easier? Absolutely. The people who worked for Pegasus were generally hardworking, reliable sorts of the kind who wanted to get everything done as smoothly and profitably for all parties involved. They would never lead him on any sort of runaround or drag him to social events or deserted islands. Just like it would be easier to never duel anyone who was in Yugi's league.
"It would be boring," said Kaiba.
"Is that a fact?" said Pegasus, raising an eyebrow. "Gracious. I didn't know you cared."
Kaiba leaned back against the cool stone and endeavored to look unconcerned. "Who cares about you? You just provide momentary entertainment sometimes, which is more than your minions do."
"You should make up your mind," said Pegasus. "I thought you didn't care for my little jokes."
"I thought you told me you didn't make jokes," Kaiba retorted.
"Touche, good sir," said Pegasus, inclining his head. "Maybe someday, if Fate favors me, I will manage to instill some vestigial sense of humor in you."
"Don't see what I need one for," said Kaiba. "I've gotten this far without one."
"Yes," said Pegasus, "but where is it you've gotten? Nowhere I'd want to be."
Kaiba glared at him. "I'm perfectly happy with my life, thank you very much."
"Some life. You spend all your time on your business. You hold your friends at arm's length because you're afraid to trust anyone but yourself. You have no time for art or music because someone taught you that those things are a waste of time you could be applying towards gaining money and power. What kind of life is that, I ask you?"
"A responsible one," said Kaiba. "Just because I'm thinking of the future instead of frittering away my time on impulses..."
"Your future," said Pegasus calmly, "is going to be exactly like your present. Or your past. If you truly value something, you find time to do it. You don't keep putting it off until some uncertain future arrives."
"I don't see why it's any business of yours," said Kaiba.
"Then today is just the day for getting into things that are none of our business, isn't it?" Pegasus retorted. "Face it. You like to pretend that you've moved beyond your father's influence, but you haven't. You still can't get past the idea that the goal in life is to compete, to win, and then to find something else to win at."
"So?" Kaiba snapped back. "I'd rather be looking forward to some sort of a future than being trapped in the damned past. Look at you! You're not even thirty and you've given up on life."
Pegasus bristled slightly. "I have not. I have more of a life than you do."
"You're spinning your wheels," said Kaiba. "You decided your life was over when your girlfriend died and you've been killing time ever since. That's why you've got yourself walled up in a damned monastary like one of your stupid monks. You play at being so enlightened, with your charities and your science projects, but it's all just a cover-up. You say I keep my friends at arm's length? I don't even think you have any."
"It's better that way," said Pegasus sullenly.
Kaiba rolled his eyes. "Please, spare me."
"Who am I supposed to socialize with, exactly?"
"Don't ask me. I'm not your social secretary," Kaiba snapped. "Anyone you damned please. You've got the money and the looks and a few social graces. You could find someone if you wanted to."
"It's not that easy. You should know that," Pegasus retorted. "There aren't exactly a lot of people I can be honest with."
"And I suppose that's why you put up with my company?" said Kaiba sarcastically. "I mean, instead of just doing business like I came here to do?"
Pegasus avoided his gaze. "As a matter of fact, it is."
Kaiba stared at him. He hadn't expected Pegasus to come out and admit it that way. There was something bleak in the man's expression. How badly off did you have to be to seek solace from someone you were pretty sure hated you because that was the only option you had?
Then again, why had Kaiba run out into the rain looking for him? At some point, he had run out of justifications and denials. He was getting tired of arguing with himself about it. He supposed somewhere along the line, he had stopped hating the man. He didn't know how he felt now, but...
"Well, don't expect me to get all sentimental over it," said Kaiba.
Pegasus shook his head. "You never get sentimental. It might do you good if you did. How will you ever know what you're missing unless you try it?"
"You know what? You talk too much," said Kaiba. "Stop talking."
"I thought so," said Pegasus. "At least I tried."
"Stop talking," Kaiba snapped.
The two of them had been face to face, only inches apart. Now Kaiba grabbed Pegasus's shoulders, vaguely intending to shake some sense into him, but when he jerked the man forward towards him, some other impulse gripped him, and he found himself doing something entirely different.
Kaiba had never kissed anyone before. He realized as soon as he did it that he'd made a mistake, that he really didn't know what he was doing, and that he had probably just colossally embarrassed himself. Then he decided that the only sensible thing to do at this point was to brazen it out and pretend that this was what he'd meant to do all along. It was hardly the least pleasant thing he'd ever done. Pegauss's hands ran gently over his shoulders, encouraging him to relax. After a little while, he relaxed. He'd certainly done less pleasant things in his life.
He waited long enough to make it clear that he was pulling away because he felt like it, and not because he was in any way flustered. He gave Pegasus his best challenging glare.
Pegasus did not look flustered. He looked blank, and faintly unsettled, like someone who has arrived at an event he'd thought he was invited to only to realize he was in the wrong place.
"Why did you do that?" he asked. "You don't want it. I didn't want it."
"Tough luck," said Kaiba.
Pegasus shook his head as if to clear it. "I don't think I'll ever understand you." He paused, staring out into the sky. "I think the rain is letting up. Let's get back inside. I feel I could use a drink."
Kaiba thought about it. "So could I."
They went back out. The rain had slackened to a slow drizzle, hardly more than a mist. Pegasus had sensibly brought an umbrella - even if it was not-so-sensibly pink, and had bunny ears. He politely offered to loan it to Kaiba, who just as properly declined. They made their way back up to the house in a contemplative silence that was not as hostile as it might have been.
Once they were safely indoors, Pegasus shed his raincoat and set his pink umbrella next to Kaiba's neglected briefcase, and they went together into the cozy room where Pegasus's entertainment equipment was stored. Kaiba dropped into one of the overstuffed easy chairs and watched with detachment as Pegasus began rattling around behind a bar at the back of the room.
"What will it be?" Pegasus asked. "If I haven't got it back here, it probably isn't worth drinking."
"Anything is fine," said Kaiba, who didn't often drink, and indeed wasn't technically old enough, but felt there were exceptions to every rule that he didn't make himself.
He leaned back in the chair and closed his eyes for a moment. There were noises behind him of various cupboard doors being opened and shut, the clinking of glassware and the gentle gurgle of things being poured. After a moment, Pegasus returned carrying two glasses. One contained a generous portion of the red wine he enjoyed so much. The other was a tumbler with a measure of something amber colored at the bottom.
"No water, no ice," said Pegasus, with a half-smile. "I didn't think you were the kind to compromise."
"Damned right," Kaiba agreed.
He sniffed the drink cautiously and took a sip. The stuff was potent, whatever it was, but not unpleasantly so. After a few more sips he decided he could get to like it. Pegasus had judged his tastes well. He felt the warmth of it spreading through his damp, chilled limbs and melting away his sharp edges. Perhaps the mistakes he had made today had not been as bad as all that. Things were going to be all right.
"Any complaints?" Pegasus asked. He'd made himself comfortable in the chair across from him and was watching him inscrutably.
"None at the moment," said Kaiba. "You have decent taste."
"In most things," Pegasus agreed.
Kaiba thought that over and decided it might be a compliment.
"Maybe now we should talk business," he said.
Pegasus laughed. "Don't you want to wait until I've had a few drinks first? Press your advantage?"
"At the moment, I'm feeling generous," said Kaiba magisterially.
"In that case, I shall sign whatever you need signed," said Pegasus.
They sent for someone to retrieve Kaiba's briefcase for him, and Pegasus solemnly read over the contract and signed it with his usual flourish. Kaiba watched with satisfaction. Somehow, he felt, he'd come out ahead in this battle. It wasn't just that he'd gotten Pegasus to sign the form, either. They'd renegotiated some things that weren't written down on paper. The full implications of that, he hadn't decided yet, but he suspected that if he managed things right, it would make life a lot better in some ways. For one thing, Pegasus was a romantic. If he thought there was something between himself and Kaiba, he would be loyal for as long as Kaiba cared to keep him that way, and having Pegasus loyal to him rather than merely tolerating him would be a useful thing.
And on the other hand, having reliable access to an intelligent, well-spoken and attractive companion could have its advantages, too. Maybe if they pursued this new development far enough, Kaiba could even learn to like Pegasus. It wasn't such a strange idea, really. Kaiba had spent most of his life finding nearly everyone around him irritating, and had gotten very enjoying being irritated by certain select people. He would have to think about it.
"I suppose now you'll be leaving?" Pegasus asked. "The storm seems to have abated, so nothing is keeping you here."
"I suppose you're right," said Kaiba. He looked down at his empty glass and resisted the temptation to ask for a refill.
"I'll see to it that the boat is readied then," said Pegasus. He looked vaguely disappointed. Kaiba smirked a little.
"So sorry to see me go, Pegasus?" he said. "Don't worry. I'm sure I'll be able to contrive some reason to talk to you again soon."
Pegasus brightened. "Ahh, I see. In that case, I'll let you know if any crises develop."
"I'm sure something will come up," said Kaiba, and he went to get his things.
The trip home went far more smoothly than the trip over. The storm had passed as swiftly as it had come upon them, and the waves seemed to have exhausted themselves, and were lying smooth and quiet. Kaiba spent most of the trip leaning on the deck railing, looking out at the horizon and making plans. He was, he thought, going to have to buy a vacation home. He had not previously owned such a thing, probably because he was deeply averse to taking vacations, but it seemed like something a man of his station would own. It would be a good place to entertain business associates. He would see to it that it was very well decorated - not just with furniture and draperies, but fine art, as well. Perhaps he would find someone who knew a bit about art to advise him.
Maybe, he thought, he'd start by asking if some collector or museum might be willing to part with a Vermeer.