A/N: Thank you to everyone who has reviewed the story so far, you guys honestly make my day.
This chapter is rated T
Chapter 4: What Dreams May Come
Unconsciousness claimed him and set him adrift. A winding river stretched out beneath the canopy of a moonless night, his body half submerged into the unbroken surface. Above the stars were clear and bright, reflecting a rainbow of colour into the onyx waters around him, that danced with the singing waves along the shore. Serene stretches of overreaching branches funneled his vision heavenward, the sky filled with twilight colours and pale diamonds, glistening together like fireflies in the deep latticework of the night. Thick trees formed up like sentries on the riverbanks, fortifying a wall of greenery that gossiped among themselves with each pass of wind.
A real rush of air shifted his hair, pieces tickling the side of his nose and making him aware of his body again. It may have been small, but the disturbance drew Yugi's attention from the dream. Outside pain and misery prowled the edges of wakefulness, and he did not want to linger there.
Instead, he raised a hand to drown the hairs, submerging them fully in a broad halo around his head. For the first time since he had been asleep, he moved, becoming aware of the forest watching him - faces peaking out behind burls and roots, small children gathering in shadow, bodies aglow and luminescent silver.
Yugi tensed, fear soaking into his mind as he noticed them. He wanted to be alone; he needed to be. It was only when he was alone that he felt safe any more, secured in isolation. Unafraid to be himself. Years of abused trust wore out his sociable nature. There was a small suffering that accompanied all interactions with strangers, and he was tired of having his faith betrayed, of being used and discarded, time and time again. It was better to be alone, guard himself, and shelter his heart so no one could hurt him.
But, as he watched, his brow began to unfurrow. Recognition set in. He knew them; the ethereal crowd was a portrait from his past. They had been his childhood friends and neighbours. They were the people he had grown up with and never expected to see again. Some, he was happy to remember, a smile working the corners of his mouth as pleasant memories came to mind. It was strange to think of them as ageless. He knew they were are older now. But, as they called to him and waved, acting as though the they were all still his friends, he could not help but feel joy.
To think that there had once been a time without tags or labels, no rumours or shaming. Just friends, and games, and laughter, and fun. Why did that all have to end? Why couldn't one mistake have been forgiven; was it really such a crime?
Silent tears graced his cheeks. He would not have even noticed if one had not slid over his ear, making him shiver. Wiping at his eyes, Yugi watched as the earlier apparitions began to disappear, their clouded bodies paling before drifting off in soft wisps of smoke. He wanted to go with them. Disappear into the stillness. Pause time and stop moving forward.
Part of him wanted to give up. To let it end. He thought of it sincerely, but a piece of him stood vehemently opposed. It echoed back, refusing to accept the path fate laid out. Mentally he found himself stuck between these two desires. He was in the middle, battling with the lie he had held dear to him for far too long. In reality, he did not want to be alone any more. He wanted, desperately, to have at least one friend he could depend on. He was tired of every relationship falling apart. His needs, their needs - he always put others before himself, and too few reciprocated. He worked hard to keep every friend he had ever had, and yet, he was still alone.
First his parents, then his friends, and then… his grandfather. Everyone went away. It was something he had come to accept, but still feared.
More tears budded in the corners of his eyes, liberating themselves in a steady stream that flowed along his nose, across his jaw, and down to his neck, before joining with the starlit river. He had promised himself he was over this, choking on his next breath as a whimper escaped. He tried, so hard, to put the past behind him… To let it all go, move on, but it was always alive in his heart. It haunted dreams.
Somewhere, deep down, in the jumbled collage of thoughts, he knew this was a dream. But that fact had not stopped him from enjoying the tranquility until now. He was faced with a choice. It was time to give up on wishful thinking and the childish notion that the past could change. Only the future mattered; a grim, dark, and pain-filled future that loomed on the horizon of his consciousness.
He did not want to face it. He averted his gaze from the shore and watched the sky instead.
The current gained speed.
Yugi sighed, a heavy breath sinking in his chest as he blinked and more tears snuck free. He was tired of hanging onto the pain; tired of hurting and opening his heart to people. Each fresh heartache tore him up and left him a hollowed vessel. He was emptied, spent, and was done exposing his heart to the elements. If it meant being alone forever, then so be it. He was already fragile and drawn too thin. There was nothing left to give.
More ghosts emerged from the jagged shores of his past, climbing out from the muddy banks like clay dolls. As the light of life settled in their eyes, his middle school friends took form and began to chase him, gleefully following from the land and shouting for his attention. It was a similar sight to when Yugi's parents used to drop him off early before school to play.
These ghosts looked as though they hadn't aged, still only ten years old, and unaware of the falling out that was to come.
If only he hadn't trusted them. If only he'd kept his feelings to himself. If only, if only…
He learned the hard way to close himself off and emotionally detach. It was an act he applied daily for customers and faking interest in boring lecture topics. All it had taken was a single day, one secret, and he earned an entire school's scorn and mockery. He hated to recall it, even now. It had been ages since he thought of their faces considering what happened. He had been nine, one year their junior, and had the biggest crush on a boy from their soccer team. Foolishly he confided in his friends about it.
Anger flared in him, and without notice the scenery shifted. The ghosts began dispersing and the current once again gained speed. It slapped viciously at the shoreline, churning and uprooting clods of dirt that stained the water brown.
Yugi had tried so hard to forgive them. He blamed himself for their misguided words and cruel acts. They had been young, stupid, unaware of how their teasing tore up Yugi's world. It had laid the ground work for countless days of bullying and he had never escaped their criticisms on his own. The rumours followed straight into high school, and it all would have continued, if not for Anzu…
Anzu. He missed her so much. They had been inseparable as kids - fishing, playing, swimming - spending the better part of their summers together at the lake. Their families' cottages shared a property amongst everything else. Both they, and their parents, had been good friends. But, everything changed after the accident. His grandfather was determined, but no miracle worker. The acreage had been taxing on Yugi's father so it only made sense for Sugoroku to sell. Yugi understood, but, quietly, he resented his grandfather for it nonetheless. He had not seen Anzu until high school because of it, a painfully long departure from his best friend given all that had happened in between.
But it was Anzu that saved him from the rumours and bullies. All it had taken was a kiss on the cheek. Even the girls that had once teased and rejected him began to ask him out and follow him around like love-struck groupies. But, it was hard to trust their compliments. Their actions held no sincerity. No matter what they said, or did, none of them could hold a candle to Anzu when it came to Yugi's heart.
She may not have been the most popular, or even the most beautiful, but to Yugi she was perfect. There was no other. Anzu was his everything; his angel, his goddess, his first love.
She was the one who mattered, who changed his life and gave him hope again. She chased away all his demons, lifted the curse, and mended the remnants of his tattered soul. High-school was one of the happiest times in his life thanks to her. But, just as high school was ending, and he couldn't have been happier, she had to go and ruin everything.
She had dated before, in fact there was hardly a time when Anzu was not taken, but, unlike then, Yugi finally had the courage to ask her to the spring dance. She already had a date and turned him down - nothing he did not already expect, but what broke his heart was the phone call at two in the morning the next day.
He could still remember racing out to meet her at the park, completely unaware that he had his shirt on backwards from dressing in the dark. She was sitting on the swing, still in her gown, corsage tossed to the side with her head bowed, moving the sand idly with the toe of her shoe. She looked up when she heard him approach, eyes stained with thick mascara lines.
No words were needed. He knew what her date had done, what he had stolen, and foolishly discarded. He held Anzu until sunrise without a word, silently crying with her as he kissed her hair and finally spoke the words he had long held back; "I love you". It may have been wrong to say it when she was vulnerable, but given the way she kissed him, the fact that she said 'yes', and asked him to be hers from then on, he would do it again, without hesitation.
They dated through the rest of their senior years, best friends and, the 'cutest couple', as her friends put it. Nothing particularly changed between them other than parting kisses and handholding that started to accompany every outing. He did not mind. He understood Anzu's reservations about taking things to the next level. He never pressured or asked. He wanted something far more precious than her body. Something no one else deserved to have.
By the time graduation rolled around, things had grown more serious between them. He saw a side of Anzu he never expected, though thoroughly enjoyed. They had still never taken things 'all the way', a fact which grew more frustrating each time Anzu left him to awkwardly sort out his 'problem' on his own. But, that was hardly their biggest concern.
With four months left until to graduation, Anzu received her acceptance letter for the dance academy she had always dreamed about. It was fantastic news, something Yugi should have been happy about. But, it meant Anzu would move once summer began. To Yugi, it may as well have been the apocalypse come early. He had received his own art scholarship in Domino and it was foolish to move with her, a point they argued over many times.
Yugi wore down, conceding that it would be a waste to give up the scholarship and pay for a full education elsewhere. And yet, he did not want it to end; he didn't want to break up. He knew Anzu did not believe in long distance relationships, and that no matter how many times they argued, she still insisted they return to just being friends.
After one particularly heated argument, in a fit of emotion-induced bravado, he dared her to end it - right then - walk away and not come back, if that was what she wanted. Why wait? Why slowly crush his heart and make him suffer? Unfortunately, she did not hesitate. She did as he asked. And took every piece of his heart with her at the slam of the door.
Yugi didn't go to school for two months after that. He was depressed and spent every day in bed, each day passing more quickly than the last. It was not until his grandfather forced him, that he went back to school. There was barely enough time to catch up on assignments and repair his grades before the semester ended. He managed, set to graduate with honours, but took little pride in it knowing Anzu would be at grad with someone else.
It hurt to be near her. To see her smile, or hear her laugh. It hurt just to know that she had already moved on and adapted to a life without him.
They barely talked. A few words, here and there. It was hard not to cry whenever they parted company. He was so used to greeting her with kisses, holding her hand and escorting her to and from class. He caught himself, often, waiting by her locker without thinking, only to hastily retreat as she approached with the new boyfriend in tow.
They could not even be friends any more. Anytime Yugi tried to hang out with the same circle of friends, HE was there too. Touching, groping, kissing – always with his hands on her. He quickly learned to stay away, ignore any offers to go out when the group got together. He could not handle it.
Within two weeks of returning, Yugi had isolated himself entirely. His one wish was for the final month to pass quickly, then he would never have to see any of them again. A few girls asked him to be their date for grad, but he declined. He only wanted Anzu.
In the background of this drama, his grandfather's health had started deteriorating. He needed more help around the shop and enlisted Yugi to cover for him. Instead of going to grad, Yugi chose to stay home and tend the counter, happier than he would have been if he had dressed up for the sake of some silly sheet of paper. Besides, it would have been torture to see Anzu wearing the mermaid-coral dress. They had spent days picking it out before the break up. Instead he had been content to pick his diploma from the school later, a point his grandfather, for once, did not argue with him on.
Then, six weeks after graduation, the heart attack happened. His grandfather died before the ambulance reached the hospital. Word spread, and flowers arrived. Half-baked apologies and showers of condolences provided little solace. Anzu had already moved on. She had already left for her new life. No one was there for him.
All he had was his grandfather's lingering words to encourage him. "Only a fool lives their life for someone else, get out of this bed and make something of yourself. If you won't do it for your own sake, do it for me!" It was the same words that had initially pulled him from his depression over Anzu. Now it was a daily mantra, giving him just enough strength to keep going.
Live for yourself and no one else.
He tried. He kept the game shop running for most of the summer, but like their cottage, Yugi knew he could not maintain it once school started in the fall. With the decision made, he began to clearance the inventory and looked for buyers. It was not hard to find someone, and, by August, it was all said and done.
At eighteen Yugi was officially settled into a new life. His old one had ended. He had a new job, a new home, and even a new outlook on life. He was a new Yugi, weathered and cynical, but determined to face university and prove the world wrong. He wanted to be more than another face in the crowd, more than a pathetic kid that could not stand up for himself. He was tired of acting as a stepping stone for other people. He was ready for a fresh start; determined to make it happen, make his grandfather proud - make himself proud.
Then Anzu returned.
She had been home visiting her parents when she heard the news about his grandfather. Yugi still had no idea how she did it, but she managed to find his new apartment and appeared back in his life just as suddenly as she had left it. He had barely crawled out of bed and found clothes by the time she was ready to break down the door that night.
It was as though the last eight months had never happened. Her panicked expression and tears wore down the walls he had built, without a single word being uttered. And, the moment she wrapped her arms around him, she was instantly forgiven. No hesitation, no turning back; the night shifted into day as their emotions ran wild, Anzu restoring the life she had stolen.
But it was never the same.
He loved Anzu, but there remained a fear that she would one day leave again. Perhaps he was paranoid, but he did not fully trust her or the new friends she made at university. They were too different, and did not shy away from voicing their dislike of him. Whenever they were around Anzu, she became a different person, someone Yugi could not relate to or understand.
Was there even a point in waking? Anzu would move on, a point she had already proved once. He could feel the darkness waiting for him, lingering in the distance. All he had to do was wait and let the current sweep him into eternity. He felt it, and knew it to be true.
A crisp blast of pain reminded him what choosing life entailed. He had not forgotten what happened. If he woke he would have to suffer, and he was tired of being hurt. He closed his eyes and leaned back, letting his body sink deeper into the stream.
Maybe it would be best to let go…
A soft whine caught his attention.
Through the smoky waters he spotted what looked to be a small dog perched on the edge of the river, watching him drift by as it danced in place. Its limbs shook, working up the nerve as it prepared to come in after him. He marvelled at the strange twist his dream had taken. He had never owned a dog before. So, this was no memory.
The pup moved further up stream and tried again, its small legs repositioning as it lowered before fumbling into the water with an unceremonious plop.
It was adorable at first, but within moments it became clear that the current was too fast. The young wolf could not paddle fast enough to keep its nose elevated and it began to drown. Its nose snorted water, each breath a struggle, before it was fully swept under.
Yugi ducked beneath the waves, watching it tumble and fight to orientate itself. It was just beyond his reach. He leaned forward and planted his feet against the smoothed rocks, anchoring himself against the tide. The small bundle slid into his arms and Yugi kicked free to surface.
The stream was turbulent. Fuming rapids slammed against him and he had to fight each jet of water. It was a nightmare to navigate, spray stinging his eyes and choking his airway. He lifted the wolf higher on his shoulder, the weight forcing him down, but he was better at holding his breath. In the distance he could hear a waterfall, and cursed himself. This was the end he had been waiting for. Of course, it was. Now he had to fight it, if he wanted the pup to live.
His bare feet slid across the slime covered rocks, unable to find footing as he scraped his way towards the shore. The wolf pup climbed higher, half of its body resting on Yugi's head, although most of the weight remained supported against his left shoulder. At least now he had both hands free.
He reached out for low hanging branches and exposed roots, swimming proving harder as the current became too strong to battle. It pulled him closer to the center every time he lost footing and he equally lost patience with it.
But he did not give in.
In desperation, Yugi lunged forward and snagged the side of the shore. The clay was loose and broke free, sending him down river. He had to fight for a strong hold and dig his feet into the mud. It was already breaking loose, but held long enough for him to hoist the small wolf onto the safety of the ledge. A foothold crumbled, but he held on. He dug in again and rested. He did not have the upper body strength to pull himself out. The banks were well above his head, slippery, and gutted by the churning river.
But, the pup was now safe.
Above, golden eyes peered over the edge, staring down at him and pacing before the wolf yelped and tossed its head back in a short yowl. Yugi had never heard such a sound before. It reminded him of his own pain and fears of being alone, like a small child crying out for comfort. He wished he could reach up and pet it. As much as he wanted to pull himself free, it did not seem like he could.
Yugi sighed, resigning himself. If it had not been for the wolf pup he never would have fought the current to begin with. So, why fight it now? He should just let go and let the water sweep him over the edge, into oblivion, like he had craved. What was to stop him?
A rough tongue grated against his muddied fingers. Twin ears poked out, shifting back and forth just out of reach. It wormed a smile across his face to know he had not been abandoned. He lifted a finger and felt it connect with the soft pad of a nose. The wolf huffed and nipped in revenge, its baby teeth barely hurting as its paw swatted and held the finger down. Yugi laughed, trying to see more of the wolf over the edge as he drummed his fingers and heard the wolf startle back with a soft 'wuf'.
He was not sure if the pup would pounce again, or if it had gotten bored and wandered off, but moments passed, and Yugi assumed the game was done. Then something heavy stepped on his hand and a large object dropped over the edge, nearly striking him in the face. It slammed into his elbow then fell away with a heavy splash.
Frowning, at what he swore was amusement in those golden eyes, Yugi turned his attention to the stick floating down the river. It had been a fair-sized branch, long enough to get stuck between the shore and one of the protruding rocks. It was possibly also thick enough to support his weight if he could wedge it in the mud tightly.
He did not think that the wolf had meant to do this when it brought Yugi the stick, but it was worth a shot. There was little room for error at this point and if the stick drifted off before he acted, there would be no other way.
On the count of three he let go. His feet grazed the rocks in an attempt to find footing and slow himself. The protruding rock he wanted came up fast and he grabbed it, clinging fiercely and dragging himself closer.
He was almost there.
The little wolf paced the shore, waiting for him.
He heaved himself up onto the rock, steadied himself, and prepared for what would surely be the hardest part. The stick only had to support his weight for a moment, but if it let go, there was not much left between him and the falls.
The wolf made a celebratory bark and Yugi beamed, appreciating the enthusiasm. He readied himself and tested the stick, putting increasing amounts of pressure down until he felt it begin to slide. With one final, deep breath, Yugi went for it.
The stick slipped out of the mud and vanished, but not before serving its purpose. Yugi hit the ground with half his body over the edge, hands desperately clawing at the earth, uprooting grass and clinging to soil as he squirmed his body forward. Finally, enough weight was balanced in his favour that he could draw up his knees. The little wolf was there to greet him, sticking his nose into Yugi's hair as it tried to nuzzle through the wet mop and gain access to Yugi's face.
Yugi sputtered as the cold tongue lapped at his mouth. He sat up and pushed the little intruder away, but, undeterred, the wolf hopped into his lap, tail wagging so frantically its entire hips swayed. It attacked his hands, trying to restart their earlier game. Yugi grinned, stealing his hand away from the monster's jaws to passively stroke its matted grey fur. "You're too sweet, but why are you alone?"
The words caught the wolf's attention and it sat up to meet Yugi's gaze. Amber eyes glistened, bright, like the warm glow of a honeyed moon. It stepped away from him, putting a small distance in-between before throwing its head back in a long howl. It should have been an impossible for the pup to make such a deep sound, but as the chorus grew in volume, and so did the wolf's size. It loomed over him now, nearly taller at the shoulder than Yugi was when he stood upright. He was dwarfed by its shadow, radiant eyes piercing with golden fire, as it presiding over him like a king holding court.
Yugi swallowed, fear rising as the golden eyes studied him. That golden fire began to spread, engulfing the entire wolf in a halo of radiant light. There was no way to know what the wolf was thinking. It had its head tilted, as though considering something, before it stepped forward and pressed a paw against the center of Yugi's chest.
It was heavy. Like being hit with a medicine ball. The furred toes twitched in time with his heartbeat, the appendage otherwise holding in place like a well thrust spear. Its expression was not threatening, but it held him down while the light oozed from it body and spilled over Yugi like the slow drizzle of honey.
Everything around them began to fade. Darkness drew near, and a vacuum of silence quieted the roar of the waterfall. Everything was gone except the two of them.
Then, the weight on Yugi's chest shifted. He panicked, but could not move. The paw began to sink into him. The second joined the first. He was terrified, but the wolf was unaffected. It dipped its head and pressed its nose into the same place, continuing until its face disappeared, and it stepped through. Carefully, with a sense of tenderness, it squeezed its whole body into him. The tail flicked twice, Yugi's final sight before the light began to pool back towards his chest. The entrance sealed; the light faded. All that remained now was darkness.
He touched his chest, breathless.
The wolf was gone. Or, more accurately, it moved inside him.
He could feel it, just below the surface. It was warm and brushed against the underside of his skin. Yugi could only imagine that this was what a heart attack felt like, a sensation of something wrong, but with no control over it. He breathed deep, panic setting in as the darkness began to melt away and the whole dream dissolved into a stale light.
He had been out for a while. It was a thought that idly occurred to him as he grazed the surface of consciousness. It hurt to breathe, the air cold, and stingy his throat. There was a draft and his muscles constricted in a shiver, trying to fend it off. But, even that small movement hurt.
He did not want to be awake. He willed himself to sleep again, to ignore the pain; but, of course, thinking about it made it worse.
Pain fired up his spine like arcs on a tesla coil and he broke into wakefulness with a strangled moan. He frantically scanned his surroundings, blurred images stinging his retinas in a swirl of fogged vision. It was too bright too see straight. His eyes squeezed shut, lamenting his eagerness. A volcano of pain erupted at the back of his eyes.
Oh, why did he have to wake up?
He tried again, half lidded eyes creaking open to allow the soft spill of moonlight to diffuse between blinks. Slowly his vision recovered enough for him to hold them open and capture a few blurry details, here and there. With enough squinting, the world began to focus and Yugi got his first real look at his surroundings.
The walls were made of cinderblocks and not insulated. A few pieces of would-be furniture speckled the room, but each had suffered serious abuse. There was a tiny window at the end of the room, square and small, with no way to open it unless the bars were removed first.
Yugi took a deep breath, his abs aching at the effort. He knew from experiences that bruises hurt more as they healed. He liked to think it was the same day, but he had to question whether it was natural or artificial light coming through the window. He could not tell given the angle, but he knew he was underground, because the window level with the grass.
An earthy, musty smell, put him in mind of a cellar or storage room. Based on the cement floor and poorly stuccoed ceiling, it was not an ideal place for housing guests. If the solid iron door had anything else to add to his inward conversation, it might suggest Yugi was not welcome here - a thought the bucket in the corner, likely agreed with.
Yugi groaned his displeasure. Not only had he been mugged, but now he woke to find that he had been abducted as well.
But, maybe mugging was not the right term. He remembered coming out of the game shop around ten and calling Anzu. Ryou was scheduled to arrive around ten-thirty, so he thought he would sneak in a quick phone call to check up. She had not answered. Before the call went to voicemail. Then, a modified Chevy pulled up and three men stepped out. The truck pulled off to park and Yugi sensed their deliberateness. He had set his things aside for them, not wanting a fight and willing to offer whatever he had. But, they were not interested in the bag – they wanted Ryou.
He had accidently kicked his stuff over when he hopped the rail and ran. He knew the recent extension made the mall's parking a labyrinth and he had planned to use it. He might have even made it, if not for the dogs. The sound of their claws eating up the distance gave Yugi a moment to realise what was about to happen. Then a full body of fur slammed him into the pavement.
The dogs recovered faster and latched onto Yugi's leg. He shrieked, but the thugs caught up to him and fed a bandana into his mouth. It hardly helped muffle anything. Yugi was in hysterics; his leg turned to bloodied pulp. The driver called the dog off, ushering them all into the privacy of the underground before things proceeded.
They even bothered to prop up against the closest wall before unleashing all manner of hell, in the form of jabs and kicks that made the world spin. He nearly forgot about the wound on his leg and tried to stand, tried to run. The moment he got his feet beneath him, he tried, but the world swayed and he collapsed after four steps.
They punished him for that. Let the dog have another turn. Then again, now that he thought about it, they looked more like wolves than any breed of dog he had ever seen. Big and muscled, brown fur as thick as molasses, with green eyes, keen and aware, clearly taking pleasure in his pain.
Yugi was barely perceptive enough to realise they had been asking questions. He was caught in the adrenaline. It had taken a hard slap for him to stop sputtering and pull his mind back into focus. His name was easy enough, but for the rest he could offer few answers. They kept mentioning this one word, again and again: Senjiyuu. He had no idea what it was, but he would never forget it.
He thought, initially, they had the wrong guy. But, as he suggested this, they eerily listed his class schedule. They knew where he had been and who he was with. Clearly, they had been following him for weeks, and yet, he had not had the faintest clue as to why.
It still eluded him. He could not answer any of their questions and his body showed it. They thought pummelling him could make him talk, that hitting harder would coax an answer, but they had no way to break Yugi into confessing something he did not know.
He glanced around once more and confirmed his original thoughts. They were keeping him alive to interrogate again. Once they had what they wanted, it was bye-bye Yugi. He should have been in a hospital. They had only done what was necessary to keep him alive. Why put Humpty back together if the plan was to crack him open again?
He shuddered to imagine those thick hands back at his throat, fingers dense as steel, squeezing, pulling the air from his lungs. He remembered questioning whether victims heard the 'snap' of their own neck. He was happier without an answer.
The sound of dogs fighting cut through his train of thought. He looked to the window and listened. An unsettled feeling rose in his gut. Human voices chimed in. Muffled words of anger. Shouting, then fighting. The sounds blistered into a cry of war.
Yugi curled in on himself. That was likely to be him soon enough. Some goon would come in, beat the truth out of him, then feed him to the wolves.
He needed to get out.
With a slow breath Yugi fought to sit up. He bit back the pain, groaning impatiently as his body refused the command and dropped him back against the pillow. Everything hurt, and now the world was spinning. He felt sick. In hindsight it was a terrible plan, but he would not sit idle and wait for the end.
He touched his chest where the wolf had entered, feeling no lump, no scar, or pain. It was one of the few places that didn't ache - something to be grateful for, considering it was right over his heart. He sighed and let his hand drift over his body, feeling out the bruises and cuts with gentle presses that spurred on a variety of pain.
He did not feel the wolf inside him. There was no brush of fur or warm sensation like before. If only he could go back and dream again, play with the little wolf awhile longer. This reality of despair festered like an open sore. He did not to wait to be killed this way. He would rather have died in his sleep than relive the attack.
There was a record of what happened etched onto his body, written in blood. The grotesque recounting told of how close he had been to death. If he was attacked again, it would be worse. They were not in public any more, so now they might take their time. He could only imagine. But he knew at least one thing they wanted: the name of man giving him rides to school. Ryou's name.
Yugi had refused. It made it look as though he had been lying the whole time. That was when the pain truly escalated. And Yugi saw…. Something, weird. One of the men took off his shirt and started to change. It was like something straight out of Hollywood. Except it was real. Unless the pain had made him delusional – that was a nice thought.
Fur had sprouted the man's chest. His eyes changed from hazel, to amber. Then the face contorted and elongated into a muzzle, complete with ears and fangs. The man cried out, becoming less human by the second. Bones snapped, skin peeled. Fantasy merged with reality, and before him, a wolf now stood.
It could not have been real. He had to of imagined it.
Outside, the shouting and dogs silenced briefly, and Yugi's attention was drawn to the echo of fresh voices in the hall, near his door. He heart hammered as they approached. He honestly had not thought they would return for him so soon. But, then again, he had no way to know how long he had been out.
He fixated on the handle when he heard it rattle. His injuries severely limited his movement. The latch jiggled, keys shifting, locks popping; the door squealed open like a gutted pig.
Artificial light permeated the room, blinding him. Two figures stood in the door frame. Neither man seemed prepared for Yugi to be awake, that, or they did not care, and their conversation continued unabated.
The first, and holder of the keys, was a heavy-set man, aged into his later years. He sported peppered hair and a granite expression. He was well-dressed, but dishevelled, as if recently roused from sleep. Dark lines showed beneath his pale eyes. The two-button down, charcoal suit fit him like a proper businessman, cut and tailored to support his wider midsection that threatened to spill over the rim of his belt. Double-pleated slacks sheeted stubby legs that sunk into polished dress-shoes, and he leaned on a mahogany cane to support the gimp in his right side.
His companion was quite the opposite, fit and trim. It was clear that he was younger, taller, and thinner, but there was little else to see of him behind the other's squared frame. It seemed like the first was in charge until the second came into the room. Once he had, it was clear who was boss. Yugi could hardly stop himself from staring as they made eye contact; transfixed by the beauty, that was sin incarnate.
Sin was carved from the night itself, born of storm clouds and lightning that lingered in the midnight tresses of his hair. Red, the deep scarlet of old blood, edged the outer ends of each strand, as if that were the secret to its gravity-defying style. He was lean and composed of tight muscle, ropes and cords of it, that glided when he walked.
Sin was as breath taking; literally so. He had the most stunning pair of maroon eyes Yugi had ever seen.
"It's pointless. I've already told you that he can't-"
The old man stopped talking as Sin raised his hand.
Silence permeated the room. Those love-me red eyes studied him, holding onto the desperate, never-leave-me gaze that consumed Yugi's features. He had never been so enamoured by a stranger before. Beauty magazines and models rarely captivated him. This was surreal. Normally, it was the personality that matter, the soul inside the vessel that attracted him. But this man, he… he was something else.
Yugi felt a warmth rise inside him. It was as if the wolf had raised its head, peeking out and surveying the scene. It watched Sin, displeased to have been disturbed by him.
The older man stepped forward and took notice of Yugi's eyes as well. "Well, I'll be damned. You get your wish after all," he stated blankly, cane striking the ground as he moved to seat himself on the stool by the window.
Yugi was not certain what they planned, his eyes darting to the side for a moment to take in the movement before they moved back to admire Sin. He had moved closer during the distraction, but stopped when Yugi's eyes were fixated on him. Maybe if he looked away again…
Yugi nearly jumped from the bed when a caramel wrist was shoved into his face. He frowned at the offensive object, then his next breath drew in the heavenly aroma, and his hands worked on auto-pilot to bring the appendage closer, eager to investigate.
He pressed his nose against the warm flesh, spruce and cedar relaxing his senses at the thick woodsy smell. It was one of lakes and leaves, clay, dirt and soil. Sin was a gold mine of flavours, a buffet of sensations and scents that unhinged Yugi's mind; it distracted him from the tender sweep of fingers across his cheek, and slow decent of covers from his chest.
A wolf howled and it brought Yugi back with a jolt.
He panicked and rose from the bed suddenly, the white gauze staining red as he pulled unwilling muscle into motion. Sin's hands caught him and pressed firmly on his chest, right where the wolf had entered, to guide Yugi back against the bed. "You shouldn't move."
Now Yugi was confused - that voice was heavenly. Maybe Sin was an angel in disguise.
Yugi laid back as instructed, wincing through the pain. His throat refused to work, so he tried to offer a nod of understanding, but that hurt too. An involuntary whimper escaped him.
"He's going to need someone to redress his wounds. He just reopened most of them," Sin said to Gansley over his shoulder.
The older man grumbled. It sounded like, "it was your wolves", but that did not make any sense to Yugi. Then Gansley spoke again, clearer this time, "I will send someone when we're finished."
Yugi's heart was aflutter as Sin's attention came back to him. The warm hands began to explore his skin, investigating his chest and arms. Heat passed between them in soft caresses, the fingertips ghosting over wounds with gentle presses. Yugi tried not to hiss as Sin neared his hip and touched the area on his right side. That was where the wolf-man had skewered him, and Sin's teasing brought on a strange mix of pleasure and pain.
He ground his teeth together. It was purely pain now.
A choked gurgle formed at the back of his throat. The words were there, but they would not take shape. Sin watched him before realising and laid a finger across his lips to stall the attempt. "It's okay."
Yugi smiled, pleased that he could give up on the effort of trying to speak.
The old man took notice as well, groaning an agitated puff of air. "He's not going to talk. I told you. This was pointless. The Urukai will take care of him until he shifts, by then he will have healed and you can get your answers."
Did anything the old man say make sense?
Sin did not look pleased. But the frustrated mask he showed Yugi eased into confidence by the time he spoke. "I did not come here solely for his side of the story. I came to make sure he is being cared for, and from what I can see, a cell is hardly suitable. He is still human. He will need medical staff on hand for at least the next forty-eight hours in case something goes wrong. Unless you have changed your mind on releasing him into my custody, I suggest you take better care, and see that he lives."
The threat, though unspoken, hung low in the air. "He may not be pack, but he is ours."
The older man nodded, but could not maintain a poker face. "Just do what you came here for. It's bad enough as it is, and I don't need further hostility between us. Have your look, then gather your people and go. We will discuss this again the night after he-"
A soft knock rasped at the door. "Mr. Gansley, sir?"
"What is it now?" the older man barked, his fury over Sin's comment lashing out at a fresh victim.
There was a long pause. The voice on the other side stammered, then recovered with a hasty reply, "It's… its Ushio, sir. He needs to speak with you, right away."
"Ancestors give him to the spirits... Tell the brat I'm busy!"
"I can't sir. He said it's urgent and I'm not to return without you," the meek voice protested, clearly not enjoying being stuck in the middle.
"That ignorant fuck," Gansley ground out, massaging his temples with his forefinger and thumb.
"It's about Keith, sir. He has information he needs to discuss with you, in private. He says it's urgent and cannot wait."
It was nearly possible to see the gears turning in Gansley's head, like the slow tick of a pocket watch. "Damn these boys," he growled out, teeth grinding audibly as he thought aloud. "Excuse me Yami, but we will need to conclude this business another time. The boy stays with us until after the first shift, that is final. Conduct your questioning and make sure to take those… beasts with you when you go."
"Very well, but I expect to be updated on any changes" - Yami stepped aside so Gansley could pass – "It was one of yours that attacked Yugi, and by those rights that makes him your responsibility. But, if I have to bring the culprits to justice myself, no amount of tradition or respect between us will bar the way."
Yugi had no idea what they were talking about, but collected the pieces so he could put the puzzle together later.
Gansley was not pleased, and did not hide it from showing on his face.
Yami took the opportunity for one more barb. "If I do not hear from you, I will collect him."
At Yami's demands Gansley bobbed his head. He said nothing more, his cane clicking angrily as he walked. The door closed and sealed them inside with a pronounced 'clang'. Yugi turned to Yami for guidance, uncertain of whether he could continue to trust him given the confusing words and unfriendly discussion.
Yugi wanted to go home.
The fact that he had even trusted Yami at all was quickly becoming suspect. Maybe they had done something to him while he slept, slipped him a drug that made him more complacent. It sounded weird, but he was not ordinarily distracted by a pretty face, not when something so serious was going on. His life was in danger. These people had locked him in a cell with an iron door and no means of escape. He could not trust them.
"I'm sorry this happened to you."
The words caught Yugi off guard and he flinched.
There was a long pause; Yugi's disbelieving eyes swelling at the apology.
"You were never meant to be involved. If it's any consolation, I will stop those that did this to you. They won't hurt anyone else."
Yami sighed. Outside, he could hear Akefia barely containing his rage. Mariku was shouting and struggling to restrain him. If they did not need the Urukai's cooperation to stop the abductions, he might have set Akefia loose. He might have even joined them, given what had been done to Ryou. His pack brothers would have to give the Urukai hell on his behalf. Scare them, so that they would all know that this – anything like this, would not go unpunished.
Pale fingertips traced the edge of his knuckles where they fisted the bed sheets angrily. It brought Yami back from his thoughts. Yugi looked terrified, wide amethyst eyes begging him to explain. Yami wished he could tell him everything, but it would be too much, too quickly. Instead he offered a soft smile and took Yugi's hand in his.
"Listen, Yugi, I need to ask you some things. Do you think you could squeeze once for yes and twice for no?"
Yugi squeezed twice, grinning when Yami rolled his eyes. It was not the best time to play games, he realised, and squeezed once more.
Yami softly shook his head and breathed an agitated sigh. "Thank you."
The exhaustion was evident, written into the creased lines on his brow and the way his shoulder slacked in response to Yugi's promise of cooperation. "Did you know any of the people that attacked you?"
"Do you think you could pick out their faces in a crowd?"
Yugi squeezed twice, though that was a lie. If he admitted to recognizing them, they might come after him. It was better to have everyone think he had lost his memory or something. At least until he could figure out who to trust. He was not certain how Ryou was involved, but he was about the only person Yugi was willing to disclose details with.
Then he met Yami's eyes and squeezed once.
"Did they say any names, call each other something identifiable?"
Yugi hesitated. Was Senjiyuu a name? If it was, then yes. If not, then he still had no idea what it meant. He chose to answer no, but squeezed once. It confused even him, then he remembered the name Hirutani. One of them had call the brown wolf that.
"Did they ask about the Senjiyuu?"
Yugi must have jerked forward at the word because Yami planted a hand firmly on his chest to hold him back. "I'll take that as a yes. Try to relax."
Their hands joined again as the panic wore off and Yami continued, his voice soothing, "Do you know what the Senjiyuu are?"
Two squeezes. Even if he had known, saying yes to that question was clearly dangerous.
Another soft knock at the door. It was similar to the one that had disturbed Gansley. Both Yugi and Yami stared it down as it creaked open and a sandy-blonde peeked he his head inside. "I'm sorry, I know I am interrupting, but Master Gansley said Yugi needs his wounds cleaned, right away?"
He made it a question instead of a statement. Which sounded odd, until Yugi noticed the sharp glare that had overtaken Yami's formerly soft expression. There was no telling why the blonde deserved that look, but Yugi shuttered at the thought of being on the receiving end.
The action did not go unnoticed and Yami let it fade, offering Yugi a gentle look of apology in its place. Then he turned his crimson eyes back to the door. "You are the one Gansley mentioned, the balveric?"
The slender figure toyed with his hands anxiously, not meeting Yami's gaze. "Y-yes, my name is Malik. Malik Ishtar. My sister runs the clinic, but she is away on business. I-I will take care of Yugi. Nothing will happen, I promise."
There was a strong rattle of fear in Malik's voice. It broke through no matter how hard the boy tried to keep his tone steady. Yami did not trust him, but he seemed harmless enough. "Be sure that you do. I will hold you accountable."
Malik nodded in rapid succession and fetched a cart from beyond the door and pulled it inside. Yugi could not understand why Yami was treating him like this, but maybe they had a history? If so, why was Malik introducing himself? Nothing made sense. And there was no time to tease out any details.
Yami rose to his feet to vacate the spot for Malik. The ashen-blonde krept by him, opening the case of medical supplies and setting a few aside. They shared a look, then Yami turned to leave. He paused at the threshold, looking back at Yugi and fishing something out of his blazer. He returned to the bedside and reached out for Yugi's hand, slipping something into it. He curled Yugi's fingers around the object, patting his hand once Yugi had a firm hold.
"I will be back for you. Keep an eye out, and your back against the wall." He glared at Malik one last time.
It could hardly be more ominous. Malik joined Yugi in raising a brow, watching Yami leave and shut the door behind him.
Once out of earshot Malik mumbled to himself, "Whoever put the stick up his ass should pull it out. It's starting to root."
Yugi snorted at the comment, uncertain as to what he should believe.
He investigated the small object left for him. To his surprise it was the dark magician piece, the one from the expansion that came out today. It had to be from Ryou. He must have asked Yami to give it to him as proof that he could be trusted. If only he had told him sooner.
It could not be a coincidence.
"What's that?" Malik asked, seating himself onto the bed.
Yugi held up the figurine, not expecting Malik to recognise it. "A Monster World piece? Why would he give you that?"
Yugi knew the answer, but shrugged his shoulders. If Ryou trusted Yami, and he did not trust Malik, then Yugi would not be deaf to the parting advice.
Without asking, Malik plucked the piece from Yugi's hand and turned it over between his fingers. "There doesn't seem to be anything special about it? It just looks like an ordinary figure and – oh, shoot, you're bleeding again aren't you? Here." Malik handed the dark magician back to Yugi and grabbed a fresh towel from the cart. He pressed it against Yugi's right hip then took scissors from a tray, cutting away the soiled wrappings.
It was the first time Yugi had seen the damage, part of his mind warning him that, by acknowledging it, it might somehow hurt more. But, he was curious. His clothing had been stripped down to boxers, displaying the full details of the attack in a Pollack-style expression against the canvas of white gauze.
No wonder Yami had been mad. Yugi was a ruined mess. He did not have an iv drip either, but must have lost a serious amount of blood. He would have more than a few scars, no matter what Malik did.
"So, do you know him? Mr. Stick-butt? Uh… Oh, ancestors - please don't tell him I called him that..." Malik looked pale.
Yugi snickered, a hum at the back of his throat the best reply he could offer.
Malik looked at him, then realised, opening a drawer on the trolley to fetch a small pad of paper and pen. "Here, don't try and talk."
Yugi smiled, writing a thank you and answering Malik's question. ~No, I just met him~
Malik paused to check the notepad, rising from the bed to fetch the bucket from the back corner as he replied, "Apparently, he leads the Senjiyuu. But, before tonight, I would have said they were fairytales. Shows what I know."
He clicked his tongue as he sat back down and set the bucket near the bed. Carefully he pulled the gauze away from Yugi's skin and dumped the used material into the bucket. Some of it was stained with a strange mercury colour.
Yugi leaned forward as best he could and tapped Malik with the notepad to get his attention. ~What are Senjiyuu?~
"Shifters. Dangerous ones. They are a bit of a legend, similar to the illuminati. Once a joke, but… I don't know if it's funny any more. Three of them showed up tonight looking for you. According to them, you were attacked because someone was trying to hurt them. It seems a bit hard to believe, but" – Malik gave him a pitiful look – "I don't understand why someone would attack you. Do you know who it was?"
Yugi frowned at that term. ~I don't know who. What are shifters?~
Malik's lavender eyes widened in alarm. His voice held an incredulous tone, "You don't know? Do you not remember? Oh, nevermind… Yugi… I, I don't know how to tell you this, other than to just say it. A shifter is what humans might call a werewolf. You were bit, and you are here now. We will look after you until you go through the change. I can already smell it in you."
His heart raced.
He felt sick.
Bile collected in his mouth.
It wasn't just a dream.
A/N: Hopefully people enjoyed Yami and Yugi's first interaction :3
The chapter's title pays homage to a Robin William's film by the same name that deals with death as a dream. No ideas exist in a vacuum and it was a source of inspiration even though I haven't seen it in years.
"Imaginary" – Evanescence
I linger in the doorway
Of alarm clocks screaming monsters calling my name
Let me stay
Where the wind will whisper to me
Where the raindrops as they're falling tell a story
In my field of paper flowers
And candy clouds of lullaby
I lie inside myself for hours
And watch my purple sky fly over me
Don't say I'm out of touch
With this rampant chaos your reality
I know well what lies beyond my sleeping refuge
The nightmare I built my own world to escape