Genre: Challenge fic (GWYaoi 2005 Novella Challenge)
Entered: GWYaoi 2005 Novella Challenge (1st place - Wildcard Category), Sands of Time
Word count: 15,008
He was running. It seemed he’d been running forever, and he was starting to forget a time, if there had ever been one, when he wasn’t running. Every breath in and out of his lungs hurt now, and his legs felt like they were burning. His whole body was aching to collapse, but there was no way he could stop now. He had to find them, the Bakuras. They were somewhere in this city. This city had been his only clue, if he had read the elder Bakura’s sign three months ago right. Dear God, let him have interpreted the sign right.
One neon sign blurred into another then finally bled out as the shopping district gave way to apartment buildings and homes. How the hell was he going to find them in all this mess of people? The clue he’d been given wasn’t enough to go on after all, and he couldn’t slow down. For all he knew, they were closing in on him right now.
“Kaiba Seto?” The voice was unfamiliar but spoke with such surety that, despite the phrasing, informed him the speaker knew exactly who he was and what he was doing in Domino City. The voice wasn’t old, though, the speaker probably no older than him – not one of his pursuers.
He stopped and slowly turned to take in the tan young man sitting on the doorstep of the building he’d been passing. With that skin tone, coupled with the blond hair and purple eyes, he had to be a gaijin, though there was something… familiar about him. “Who are you?” He had to be proud that, no matter how tired he was, he didn’t allow himself to show it to this virtual stranger.
“You’re a little earlier than I thought you’d be. Good thing I came down early anyway. I’m Malik Ishtar. I live upstairs with the Bakuras.”
This was almost too good to be true. No, forget ‘almost’. “Prove it.”
”What, that I knew you were coming isn’t good enough?” No, there were too many ways that information could have been found out. He shook his head, and Malik laughed in response, a harsh, broken sound like shattered glass. The tanned man dug in one of the many pockets on the vest he was wearing and tossing something at him.
In the split second before he caught it, an image flashed through his mind of a tanned hand digging through a pocket. That’s why Malik seemed familiar: one of the Bakuras must have included it in the message. Then he caught the thrown object, and a new wave of images assaulted him: Malik settling down on the steps to wait; one of the Bakuras putting the object in his palm; “get upstairs, Seto, it’s getting late;” one of the Bakuras (sometimes it was so hard to tell which one was which) grabbing this object and the one they’d left him before from the younger spiky-haired kid; “get your ass upstairs, Seto, now…”
With an effort, he stemmed off the flashes and focused weary eyes on Malik, who was grinning like a Cheshire cat. “Do you believe me now?”
He nodded slowly. “Where are they?”
The blond man bounced to his feet. “Upstairs waiting on you. Ryou’s been in a fit since we heard you escaped.”
Then the younger Bakura hadn’t changed much, he mused as he followed Malik inside and into an elevator. Good, he didn’t think he could take stairs. All the same, he had to glance over his shoulder a few times. Paranoia was a force of habit now.
A hand touched his shoulder, hitting nothing but the cloth of the long-sleeved shirt he wore, but still he shied back, almost to the wall but not letting himself touch it. Malik held both hands up before himself, his voice and face apologetic. “Sorry, I forgot they said not to touch you. I just wanted to tell you that you lost them four blocks back. You’re safe here for now.”
”For how long?” He must be tired, if that slipped out.
The blond shrugged. “A few hours ahead is my limit, but right now I don’t sense any danger coming for a while.”
The Bakuras obviously trusted this guy, and it sounded like he was one of them. Maybe he could relax for a little bit. As the elevator started to rise, he glanced down at the object he still held in the palm of his hand: a domino, one of Yuugi’s at that. Had the elder Bakura been saving it till now, so he’d know it was safe?
When he’d gotten the first one, hand-delivered by Yuugi several months after the Bakuras’ disappearance, he’d been so confused and skeptical that he almost hadn’t taken off his gloves to see what was going on. Curiosity (Why was Yuugi, the only one of them who still got mail from his family, getting a domino with a note attached that only said for ‘For Kaiba Seto’?) got the better of him, though, and he’d looked. After that, it had just been a matter of planning his own escape, waiting for the right moment, and running for it… and running and running and…
A bell dinged, and he straightened to attention as the doors open. “This way,” Malik stated, leading him to door 601 and knocking two times, pausing, then knocking once more. He could hear locks opening, and the door swung open. For a moment, he wondered which of the Bakuras he was seeing, till Malik solved the dilemma by grinning and stating, “I’m back, Ryou! I told you guys he’d be here soon.” The blond moved past the white-haired man, still talking. “Man, it was cold out there! I hate Japanese winters. How can you people stand all the damn snow?”
Ryou shook his head before turning back to him. “I’m sorry about Malik, Kaiba-kun.” As unfailing polite as he remembered, most definitely. “Please, come in. Our home is your home for as long as you wish to stay.”
It had been so long since he’d been anywhere but the Institute that he almost forgot to take off his rather battered shoes and put on slippers. A pair was waiting for him just inside the door, blue at that. The elder Bakura was the only one who knew how much he liked the color, though, so this had to be his touch.
“Where’s your brother?” he found himself asking. It felt so good to be inside where it was warm and not a chilled sterile white. Every part of him was trembling with exhaustion, but he couldn’t drop yet. Not until he saw the other Bakura too and was sure he was all right also.
“Setting you up a place to sleep.” Ryou smiled faintly. “We thought you might like a place to rest first then eat and settle in.”
It was just like the Bakuras to think of everything. For two people whose abilities didn’t include foreseeing the future, they always seemed to be prepared for it. “Thank you,” he muttered softly. “Which way?”
//Down the hall, first door on your left,// whispered in his mind.
It had always surprised him how at ease he felt with the other Bakura. He was a very private person and had actively rejected the other telepaths at the Institute. Bakura he got along with, though, probably because the white-haired man never tried once to pick his thoughts apart, no more than his brother had ever tried to mess with his emotions.
He moved past Ryou and Malik, following the directions he’d been given. The door wasn’t even pulled closed all the way, so he had only to elbow it open. “Bakura?”
Another white-haired man straightened from smoothing out the covers on the bed. //Welcome to Domino, Seto.//
He’d never heard Bakura speak anywhere but in his mind. He doubted anyone except Ryou and perhaps the scientists at the Institute had heard the man’s voice. He had only ever used his telepathy to speak for as long as Seto had known him. “You could have left me a clearer message, you know.”
//You wouldn’t have believed it was from me if I did. I know you, remember?// Silver eyes looked over him critically. //You look like hell.//
“I feel like I’ve seen a slice of it.”
“Niisan, here’s the extra blanket.” He nearly jumped to hear Ryou’s voice behind him. The pair of them were both too quiet, but usually it was only the older Bakura that was able to sneak up on him, though Ryou had managed it a time or two before. Today, though, he was jumping at shadows. He’d be better once he got some sleep. “And here, Kaiba-kun. These are the only gloves we have. Malik and I will go pick you up a better pair tomorrow.” Carefully, he accepted the proffered gloves, slipping them on and forcing a brief stream of images to stay back for now.
//How did you make it this far without them?// And there was that familiar faint note of worry. No one else but Bakura really worried about him anymore, since his own family died six years ago. This was why he found his way here, after a year since he’d seen the other man.
And both Bakuras were staring at him expectantly, obviously await an answer. “The doctors would have suspected something if I’d gone outside with them on.”
Bakura was nodding, but it was Ryou who replied. “Of course, and those people’s ideas of clothes don’t exactly include lots of pockets.”
He nodded. “Then I just ran and kept running and tried to keep from touching anything or anyone.”
//You’ll be safe here for the time being,// Bakura’s voice whispered in his head, thoughts so soft he could nearly wrap himself around them. Hell, he seemed to recall having done that a few times before the Bakuras’ vanishing act. There had been times he’d stumbled into the room he’d shared with Bakura, barely getting one foot in front of the other as exhausted as he was by what seemed like endless tests, much as he was now from running, and found the white-haired man awaiting him, and before he knew it, his body would be tucked into one of the two beds while his mind was in whatever new scenery Bakura managed to dream up. It was the advantage of having a skilled, powerful telepath for a roommate.
When he first met Bakura, he had thought the other man was much, much older than he was. The white hair and his old, world-weary eyes threw him off. Of course, he met Ryou shortly after that and soon came to realize that apparently both Bakuras’ hair had gone white from the force of their powers. They were incredibly strong individually but even more so when together, so they’d been forbidden to room together in the hopes it might keep them from being powerful enough to escape. No one at the Institute except the Bakuras, him, and maybe Ryou’s former roommate Yuugi knew that, no matter the distance they were separated, the brothers could always communicate telepathically, just as they could always sense each others’ emotions.
One of the first times Bakura had pulled him into his mind for the night, he’d summoned up the nerve to ask what he never would aloud: why Bakura’s eyes were so ancient, especially compared to his brother’s, who was only three years younger. Bakura just did that sad half-smile and replied that Ryou never had thousands of people’s thoughts hitting him all the time - and he was shielding him from the worst of the emotions. It seemed Bakura had always been trying to protect them all from as much as he could.
“Thank you, Ryou, Bakura,” he said softly, letting himself sink down on the bed. He’d almost forgotten how a real bed felt after six years of sleeping on the cot-like beds the Institute provided. Trust Bakura to find a way to get a Western-style bed. Then again, as he looked around, he recognized telltale signs that this was most certainly Bakura’s room and therefore Bakura’s bed.
“Good night, niisan. Good night, Kaiba-kun,” Ryou called over his shoulder on his way to the door. “Sleep in if you’d like. Malik and I are going to get up early and get some shopping done. Niisan will make you breakfast or whatever when you get up.” He pulled the door closed behind him, forestalling any reply he might have had.
He was battling to keep his eyes open at this point, but… He plucked at his shirt tiredly.
//They feel like that place, don’t they?// He nodded, and Bakura left his post next to the bed to cross over to a chest-of-drawers. //I’ve got a pair of sleep pants here that should fit you.//
“I don’t want to kick you out of your room, Bakura,” he stated softly, closely watching the other’s movements in lieu of letting himself fall over asleep as his body was begging to do. “I can sleep somewhere else.”
//Seto, you can be such a dumb shit sometimes, for as intelligent as you’re supposed to be.//
He blinked, half-wishing he could and half-glad he couldn’t see Bakura’s face with his back turned. “What?”
//We roomed together how many years?//
“Five,” he replied immediately. He had been thirteen when he was brought to the Institute, while the Bakuras had already been there at least a year at that point. He remembered wishing he could room with the other Bakura because the tall sixteen-year-old with the strange eyes was intimidating. “This isn’t the Institute, though, and it’s been a year since we’ve seen each other.” And Bakura had left him behind when he and Ryou ran. He winced as the thought slipped out unguarded; there was no way Bakura hadn’t heard that. “I’m –“
//If you dare say you’re sorry, Seto, I’m going to punch the shit out of you.// Bakura slowly turned to face him, hands apparently still grasping something in the drawer. //The bed is yours while you’re here. We either share it like we used to or I’ll go sleep on the couch. It’s up to you. But don’t you dare say you’re sorry for anything to me. I don’t want to think they broke you that much while I was gone.//
How had he nearly forgotten how passionate Bakura was about everything? “It’ll be all right if we both stay here, I guess,” he decided aloud. “It’s not like we’ve never done it before, right?”
He could watch Bakura relaxing, then the grin he recognized built on the other’s face. //All right. Catch.// Blue flew at him, and he caught it reflexively.
”Did you feel the need to buy everything for me in my favorite color?” he asked, allowing a faint smile to grace his face as he examined the matched pajama set.
//I even sent a color sample out with Ryou and Malik.// Bakura was smirking, but that was pretty typical. //Granted, Malik wanted to bitch about it a bit, but I convinced him otherwise. Think they’ll fit?//
“Yeah.” Didn’t Bakura go out anymore?
Another pair of pants in hand, Bakura headed towards the other door. //The bathroom’s through here when you need it. I’ll be back in a few, so you go ahead and change if you want.// Bakura vanished behind the door, and he even felt his mental presence retreat a bit too.
He shrugged, starting to peel his way out of the clothes he was wearing. Bakura always was a bit odd, even for a telepath.
He didn’t remember getting changed or collapsing on the bed, though surely both must have happened because that’s where he found himself when he stirred a while later. Some things, at least, never changed: Bakura still took whichever side of the bed was closest to the door, and he still ended up wrapped around the other man during the night. Surely he had noticed as well, despite never breathing a word about it. He knew it never bothered him because it saved him from a hundred horrible dreams and memories, since the older Bakura was the only person he could touch without gloves or other clothes and never be assaulted by images.
Bakura seemed to be asleep now, apparently oblivious to his sudden return to wakefulness, so he cautiously crawled over the man and headed into the bathroom, completely unaware of silvery eyes following his every movement till they were blocked by the bathroom door.
/What’s bothering you, niisan?/
He almost laughed aloud at the worry in his brother’s mental voice. //Nothing’s wrong.//
/You feel… concerned about something. Is Kaiba-kun all right?/
He let out a laugh purely between their minds. //I’m just glad he made it out. Now I can take care of him properly. He needs to be spoiled.//
/He doesn’t need an older brother, you know./
A smile twitched briefly on his face before he carefully wiped it off as the bathroom door opened again and he returned to faking sleep. //That’s not the position I had in mind.//
Seto crawled back over him and started arranging himself into the spot he’d originally occupied, carefully making sure the bed sheets were between him and the wall and several inches were between his bed partner and himself.
/Be careful not to rush him, niisan. I don’t think Kaiba-kun’s ready for any relationships right now./
//I know. I will be.//
He nearly gave himself away by jumping or speaking or something when Seto’s bare hand touched his face. “I’m glad I made it back to you, Bakura.”
He pulled back, feeling heat flushing his cheeks, and buried his face in the pillow. If Bakura was even marginally awake, he’d have either heard the words or picked up on the thoughts behind them. Still, he was too tired to be embarrassed for long, probably the reason why he kept slipping, and soon enough he’d drifted off again.
The next time he awoke, the bed was empty. It took him a few minutes sitting up on the bed and glancing around the room to place where he was again. He was a little amazed at what all Bakura had managed to accumulate over a year: a chest of drawers that he presumed to be full of clothes, books liberally covering every available surface save the bed and most of the floor, a few J-rock posters, and glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling and the walls. He liked that touch; it was very Bakura.
Speaking of the white-haired man, where was he? The room was lit by sunshine peeking in through the window covering, but the door into the room was still closed. He grabbed his gloves off the bedside table and pulled them on before moving to explore beyond Bakura’s room. Last night he’d been too tired to really look around. The Bakuras had definitely made this apartment their own, with little knick-knacks littered down the hallway to the living room on small end tables or displays on the wall, definitely a Ryou touch. The living room, however, was crowded, and he could see more than just their tastes? It was a bit more Middle Eastern; Malik’s maybe? He had to wonder what the gaijin’s story was; he’d never seen anyone like him at the Institute, though he was obviously a talent like the rest of them. He’d have to ask Bakura about it whenever he found him.
The aroma drew him into the next room even before Bakura spoke in his mind, //Ask me about what?//
He would never in a million years would have pictured Bakura as being in the least bit domestic. He had always figured Ryou cooked and did everything around the house, but now that he saw it, it made a strange sense, especially since it seemed Bakura was the one inside most of (all of?) the time, not Ryou as he’d originally thought. “Malik? What’s his deal?”
Bakura shrugged, setting two bowls down on the table. //He’s a precog. Ryou found him frisking people blind, mostly in stuff like blackjack or anything else where he could make bets on what would come up next.// Bakura huffed, the breath fluttering his hair. //Ryou, being the kind-hearted sap that he is, brought him home and kept him, like a stray cat or something. All in all, he’s not too bad.//
Of course, there was more to all that, but it certainly wasn’t any of his business. He took a sip of the miso soup Bakura had given him before asking his next question, “What about this place? How’d you guys find it?”
//It found us.// His confusion must have showed on his face because Bakura chuckled and clarified, //When Ryou and I left that place, we had nowhere to go. He remembered the return address that had been on Yuugi’s letters, so that seemed like as good an idea as any to start, and we went to Yuugi’s grandfather’s place.// That was strange. He couldn’t remember ever hearing admiration for anyone from Bakura before. //He took us in for a while, then he went into debt to buy this building before it could be torn down. Everyone in here is working to pay him back for the place to live – and most of us for more than that.//
Sooner or later, everything always came down to Yuugi these days. He’d known the boy was generous to a fault, but he never would have suspected it was a genetic trait or something. “I’m glad there was someone here who would do something like that.” Till he’d gotten Bakura’s message, he’d had nightmares of the brothers living on the streets or something, nothing protecting their abilities from becoming overwhelming or anything of that ilk. He could never bring himself to admit something like that. There was one more thing he would allow himself to admit, however: “I’m glad you’re all right.”
As always, Bakura seemed to know what he meant. //I was worried about you too.// A knee nudged him under the table. //Now eat. Ryou and Malik will be home soon.//
“Oh?” It definitely wasn’t the best miso soup he’d ever had, but it was certainly far from the worst. “Do we have plans?”
//They’re taking you out to get more clothes. Unless you wanted to keep wearing that all the time?//
“You’re not coming?”
//…// He watched Bakura look away from him almost guiltily. So his suspicions had been correct?
“Bakura?” he prompted.
//I haven’t been able to leave the building in four months, Seto.//
He could have been knocked over with a feather in that instant. Bakura, housebound, like some kind of common talent? The hell? “What do you mean?”
//I’m shielding almost every talent in here to some extent, some more than others. I’m extended to the point that I can barely shield my own mind inside the building, much less out of it.// A faint smirk touched his face as he looked back at him. //So, as much as I’d like to ogle you trying on new clothes, I’m afraid I’m stuck here.// He winked. //You could always model for me here, though.//
He felt heat flush his cheeks. Only Bakura could make him blush, and he had given up trying to make him stop years ago. He never thought he’d have missed this too, though. “Ba-Bakura!”
//What?// That voice was too innocent for Bakura. Why did the white-haired man have to so enjoy teasing him? He’d been doing it since he turned fifteen and had finally started shooting up till he was a little taller than Bakura. A pale hand picked up the bowl that he’d finished, and he glanced up. //Ryou and Malik are in the elevator on their way up. You might want to start getting dressed. No one outside this apartment is allowed to ogle you in your PJs, after all.// There was a brief pause. //And I’m not sure Malik’s allowed either. Let me know if he tries, and I’ll turn him into a vegetable, okay?//
“Does he get to pick which vegetable?” he deadpanned, drawing a laugh in his mind from Bakura.
“We’re home, niisan, Kaiba-kun!” Ryou’s voice called out.
“We’re back and ready to go out again – Oww! Damn it, Ryou! That hurt!” And there was Malik’s voice. A second later, the pair appeared, Malik rubbing his stomach and glaring at Ryou. “I’m not a punching bag, you know.”
“Poor baby. You’ll live.” Ryou was smiling broadly, more so than he’d ever seen him do before, and even he could read the lack of tension coming off him. Life outside the Institute was obviously agreeing with one Bakura at least.
//Knock it off, you two. You’ll traumatize him,// Bakura chided. //Go get dressed, Seto. Some of my clothes may still fit you – or at least come close. I’ll do my best to kick these two into shape before you get back.//
“Be back in a few.” He stood slowly and left the three of them in the kitchen. It was a lot to process at once. He’d never thought of Bakura’s powers having such a limit on them, even though he’d know there had to be some kind of limitation or else the white-haired man probably would have gone mad or died from the drain by now. But that he was playing guardian to so many people that he could barely take care of himself? That was unlike the somewhat selfish Bakura he’d known.
This new Bakura was only somewhat similar to his Bakura - err, the Bakura he’d known at the Institute, the only who had rerouted all the guards’ minds so they thought they were chimps, the one who had put fudge in Atem’s shampoo bottle, the one who had stepped up to take the blame for anyone else’s mistakes, the one who hadn’t spoken a word aloud in at least six years, though probably more. After the Bakuras, Atem had been there the next longest, and he had told him once that he’d never heard Bakura speak before either, so it was almost definitely a good deal longer than the stretch of time he himself had known the man, he pondered to himself as he selected a pair of slacks and a long-sleeved button-down shirt that didn’t fit too poorly. So maybe Bakura hadn’t changed that much after all and just had developed a large base of people – probably with a smaller idea of their own potential – to play older brother to.
He tugged at the shirt sleeves till they just met the edge of his gloves. It was the best fit he was going to find here, of that he was fairly certain, but he was still enough taller than Bakura that it wasn’t perfect. He’d have to wear a jacket or something because otherwise he ran the possibility of touching someone or something, neither of which he wanted to chance.
Almost nervous about what they would say, he stepped out of the bedroom, still pulling at the shirt self-consciously as he walked into the living room where they were now waiting. Silver eyes glanced up at him first as he’d expected, but it wasn’t Bakura who spoke first. “You look like a foreign business man,” Malik began, before choking on his laughter as Ryou elbowed him in the stomach.
“Then we’ll just let you do the talking, Malik-chan,” Ryou returned too sweetly, “and they’ll think we’re all gaijin for sure.” The younger Bakura snickered and grinned as he sank down in a mismatched oversized chair. “You might be able to negotiate us some nice price mark-ups.”
Bakura stood and headed over to a closet near the door, emerging with a long, thin coat as he spoke, //Mutou said to put it on the card this time, but don’t go overboard. We’re already in the hole for the month. Here.// He set the coat around his shoulders, careful not to touch him directly, not that he’d have really minded it from Bakura. He could tell Bakura’s next words were for him alone. //Try to relax and have a little fun while you’re out. Malik says there’s nothing to worry about for today, and I have someone downstairs trying to make sure everything flows your way. So have a good time, okay?//
“I’ll try,” he leaned up to whisper in Bakura’s ear. “I wish you could come.”
//I can’t, I’m afraid to say. I’ll walk you guys downstairs, though.//
Maybe he was talking to Ryou at the same time he was talking to him, but the younger Bakura hopped to his feet and announced, “It’s time to go, Malik! Time for more of your favorite thing in the world.”
He had to smile as the gaijin groaned. “I hate shopping.” But he started slipping back on a coat way too heavy for the current weather, grumbling something to himself about stupid freezing Japanese winters. As he pushed himself to his feet, he took a moment to really look at the strange young man: he’d already noted the bright blond hair and lavender eyes, plus the apparent precognitive powers, the odd fashion sense, probably about the same age as himself and Ryou, and… And apparently he was attached at the hip to the younger Bakura, who had been playfully messing with the many layers Malik was wearing but now was being tickled till he laughed helplessly by the blond. It was good to see, perhaps reaffirming in its own way. Still, he couldn’t help feeling a touch of envy though, as he frequently did for people who either had no talents to speak of or had ones that were less obtrusive; they’d never have to go through life without being able to touch a single thing or keeping a mile-deep shield around their mind. Maybe Malik’s ability had some hidden drawback he’d yet to see, aside from the limited timeframe he’d mentioned before, but for now…
For now he would content himself to just follow where the elder Bakura pulled him, though, stepping onto the elevator and watching as the doors closed behind them.
“Are you going down to see Jyonouchi-kun while we’re gone, niisan?” Ryou asked. Who was this Jyonouchi, he wondered? Better still, what was this odd, hot emotion he felt upon hearing that? And why was Ryou giggling? “He was saying how much he missed seeing you the other day.”
Very nonchalantly, Bakura leaned over and lightly smacked the back of his brother’s head. //You make it sound like we’re having a torrid affair or something, you little pervert. Now knock it off before you break Seto.//
“Yeah, sure. Whatever you say, niisan.” The younger Bakura grinned at him, as if he was part of whatever joke was being played on the young man’s brother. Problem was, he had absolutely no idea what the joke was or if he even really was a part of it. He rarely got the joke, especially with these two.
//Don’t worry about that. My little brother’s just a pervert.// The words were accompanied by a purely mental sensation of arms wrapping around him. //Just try to put up with him a bit, okay?//
Out of the corner of his eye, he glanced over to the other two occupants of the small elevator. Malik and Ryou seemed to be in some sort of protracted conversation that involved a lot of whispering and an equivalent amount of giggling. Why did he have the feeling he and Bakura were their topic of choice at the moment? Still… He leaned back so that he was just barely touching Bakura and whispered, “Thanks. I’ll try to put up with him.”
Was it his imagination, or were the other two oddly silent?
//Good.// Bakura sounded like he was grinning, but he didn’t look as the elevator doors opened. //Try to have some fun today, all right?//
Malik and Ryou stepped around them and started speaking to a young man sitting on the steps, much as the tanned gaijin had been last night. “Jyonouchi-kun!” Ryou greeted him, turning that smile of his on a thousand watts.
“What’re you up to?” Malik continued, stepping up behind Ryou.
The new blond man turned slightly to look at them behind the other two. “Waiting to see Bakura.” Why was he almost literally seeing red? Bakura didn’t even answer in words, merely tilting his head to the side. “Dad wanted to talk to you. Something about a case he needs help with.”
If he could get his hands on Ryou and Malik, he might have to smack them both. Bakura was right; they made it sound like they were… involved. That seemed to be untrue now, though, and he wanted to know why they had implied so heavily. It wasn’t like he and Bakura were in a relationship or anything after all, and even if they were, he certainly was not the jealous type – and why was Bakura grinning like that?
//You’re ranting a bit there, Seto.//
He crossed his arms over his chest and tried to think back ‘So?’, even if he wasn’t sure it got through.
The elder white-haired man smiled even more broadly. //So, nothing. It was cute.// He started to bristle, but Bakura kept speaking. //There’s nothing going on between Katsuya and me.// If it were anyone but Bakura, he’d be concerned by the usage of a given, instead of a family, name, but it was Bakura and he used first names for damn near everyone. //Don’t worry over it, and go have fun. I’ll see you when you get back.//
He had to fight a flush of heat to his cheeks as Bakura lifted his gloved hands and laid a kiss on the covered palm of each. Did the man know what he did to him? The grin had turned a bit mischievous; he’d say, yes, he knew, and he’d probably been counting on it. He – he couldn’t think. It was barely a touch, not even connecting with his flesh, and he couldn’t think. He shakily drew his hands back to himself and stammered, “I – I’ll see you soon, Bakura.”
He was pretty sure he was still red when Malik and Ryou dragged him out the front door, each of them pulling him by an end of his borrowed jacket.
It was starting to seem to him that Ryou and Malik knew everyone in this town, as well as exactly how to work each and every one of them. Every article of clothing had been bought at discount prices, and even the lunch they were now eating was at a reduced rate. Finally, he had to ask as the waitress brought some kind of desert with a wink and a grin, “Do you know everyone in this city?”
Malik was digging into the sweet with gusto. “Her?” He pointed at the waitress’s back with one of the forks she’d also brought. “Never saw her before in my life.”
“It’s probably horrible of us, but we worked out a system.” This didn’t sound good; he wondered if the elder Bakura knew. “Malik’s good at finding people who are easily manipulated, and I can make that even easier because I can follow where their emotions are going and steer them in the direction I want them to go.”
Malik laughed, a little alarmingly in its sudden appearance and volume. “You should have seen it when Bakura still used to come out. He and Ryou could work a person like nobody’s business. It was great. We never had to pay for anything.”
“Are you guys really that broke?” something inside made him inquire.
As if by some unspoken signal, Malik set his fork down and Ryou picked up his own. “We are beyond broke. ‘Broke’ implies that you once had money. Niisan and I never have had any. Everything we have was either borrowed, stolen, or donated.”
The Bakura he remembered was as prideful as they came, nearly as much as he himself was. He’d rather steal than take charity. How much in that room was stolen? Most of those lovely books to start with, he'd bet. Loans or things he could eventually return he’d have taken with fewer qualms than if they were ‘donated’. He could understand the mentality; he was much the same way, after all. He would be paying all this back the second he got money of his own. He wasn’t too sure how he was going to accomplish that, of course. His… handler back at the Institute frequently said he had a gift for investments. Maybe he could still make money move without that old bastard over his shoulder. Where to get the money to start with though? His parents had set up a trust fund for him and his brother before their deaths, but he couldn’t touch it till he turned twenty, another eleven months from now. He wasn’t waiting that long, not for something this important.
“Kaiba-kun?” Ryou sounded worried. How odd. Someone aside from Bakura and his own six-years-dead family was concerned for him?
”Did I say something to upset you?” What an odd question, but Ryou was pushing on. “It’s not really that bad, I swear. For the most part, we just have to cut out… luxuries, and niisan has got a deal going with the local police so we use our talents to help them out and they pay us a bit.”
And the answer to his problem just fell into his lap. “I could help with that.” Malik looked up sharply. “I could… I don’t know… see crime scenes, tell them about the criminal. I know one of the police forces in Tokyo has someone like me on retainer.”
“It’s not easy, you know,” Malik cautioned. “Half the cops resent us being there, and the other half only just barely tolerate us. Not to mention the nightmares from using your abilities like that.” He gave a visible shudder. “It’s horrible.” He grabbed his fork up again, stabbed a bite off the desert, and shoved it in his mouth, looking sharply away.
Ryou winced but turned back to him to explain, “Malik picks up murders when he goes up to the station. His surroundings determine what he sees.”
So that was the drawback to Malik’s abilities: they were like his own, but instead of seeing the past, he saw the future. Given what the blond liked to wear when not outside in the winter air, he was willing to bet he wasn’t limited by touch either. It was strange, but he was almost glad he had that limitation now; it kept him from catching images at random.
Malik turned back towards them and spoke slowly but with excitement clear in his eyes. “Bakura says I’m sitting on a plateau with my powers. They’re slowly stopping to increase and finally are evening out. Pretty soon I’ll be able to control them better.”
This seemed to cheer Ryou back up immediately. “Niisan’s our resident expert. If he says Malik’s powers are about to even out, then they will.” He must have looked curious or confused or something because Ryou then kept speaking. “We were at that place for just about forever. He picked stuff up, more than I did.”
Something in his stomach was tying itself into knots. “How long is ‘just about forever’?”
“Since he was twelve and I was nine.”
Nine years?! They were there for nine years? Holy fuck, no wonder Bakura could work the system in that place the way he could. “So long?”
Ryou snorted inelegantly, tossing his fork down on the table with a loud clatter. “They had to wait till Kaasan and Tousan had a little ‘accident’ before they could get us. Of course, I’m sure they didn’t mean to kill our little sister Amane along with our parents.”
Ryou sounded so callous, he could almost swear it was the man's brother he was speaking to. No, not callous. No, his words were just matter-of-fact, like his family being murdered wasn't the topic of conversation. If Malik hadn't already climbed onto the younger Bakura's lap to wrap his arms around him, he might have been half-tempted to reach out to Ryou himself - because suddenly Ryou seemed a lot more like Bakura than ever before.
The mental voice was little more than a whisper. Given how far they were from the apartment building, that really wasn't a surprise. Still... He had to resist the urge to check over his shoulder for the white-haired man.
Concentrating to form coherent words in his mind wasn't as easy as those two made it seem, and his eyes closed to work properly at sending the message. 'Ryou's okay. He's just upset.' He paused a beat then added, 'I asked some stupid questions.'
There was a mental brush, so faint he couldn't tell if it was Bakura's equivalent of a slap or a hug before silence return to his mind, nearly deafening in its quiet. Ryou let out a jagged laugh, an almost frightening noise which sounded thick and wet and so very loud that his eyes were drawn open again. Malik was smiling as tears ran down his face. Looking around, though, the dark-skinned man was far from the only one upset; at least half the restaurant patrons were sobbing.
//He'll be just fine in a little bit. Come on home now, though, before my little brother decides all of Domino needs a good cry.//
He had to hold back the urge to nod. Sometimes it still surprised him just how much like talking this could really be. "Bakura-" he began aloud.
"Says to come home," Malik finished, wiping at his face. "He doesn't like Ryou being out when he's upset."
Between himself and the lamppost, he thought Bakura might have a rather wise idea there. But he wasn't going to say anything about it. And he wasn't going to mention that they'd just left without paying either.
"So that's one of the infamous Bakuras?"
He scowled at the voice's owner as the man spoke through almost hysterical tears. "Given the fact you're sobbing like a little bitch, I'd say that was Bakura Ryou."
"How can you tell?"
Really, if it wasn't such a public place, he'd probably go ahead and shoot the man in the face for his stupidity. "If it was the other Bakura, you'd be a drooling misfit now." More than normal, he clarified strictly to himself.
He'd known, if Kaiba Seto ever escaped, he'd lead them straight to the ever-elusive Bakuras. It had been a gamble, but so far it was paying off. As long as the other Kaiba never found out he'd allowed the man's favorite test subject to get out, it'd all be fine.
"If he's with the Bakuras, though, and they're as powerful as all that, how are we going to retrieve him?"
Again something twitched in the back of his mind, urging him to just go ahead and shoot his companion - put the man out of his own misery. He resisted. There was something odd about the thought. Not that he didn't regularly entertain notions of murdering this guy in his sleep, but there was a touch of 'other' there, something that simply screamed to him that someone else was influencing his thoughts. He knew the 'hand' of a telepath when he felt it. It was a little clumsy; either the telepath was a novice or he was too far away to work him properly. And given the topic of their conversation...
"We need someone who can get around the Bakuras and the young Kaiba," he reasoned aloud. His companion stared at him expectantly. "We need the summoner."
Maybe it was just him, but they seemed to have gotten back to the apartment awfully fast. Out of the six lights the cab had come to, only two were red though, so that certainly hadn't hurt matters any. That blond guy was standing just outside the door, bouncing on his heels impatiently. Malik started to hand the driver his fare, when the man's face went blank and he drove off without it.
He had to blink in surprise a moment. Bakura must have taken control of him. Were they really that desperate?
"Will you guys get in here?" the blond - that Jyonouchi guy, he reminded himself - hissed just loud enough for them to hear. "Bakura's having a fit."
He had half a second to wonder - no, worry - that he meant that literally, that Bakura was having the telepathic equivalent of a breakdown like he'd seen other 'paths do previously, before Bakura's voice broke in, //I am not. Just get upstairs, all of you.//
"Me too?" the blond chirped.
Bakura's voice was quieter, almost like he wasn't planning on him hearing what was being said. //Only if you really want to, Katsuya. Thanks for the help with the lights.//
The blond shrugged then turned his attention back to them. "Come on. I'll take you guys upstairs, then I'm heading back down to keep an eye out for Shizuka."
Ryou beamed and gave a slight bow. "Thank you, Jyonouchi-kun. Umm... This isn't a number three, is it?"
Number three? The hell? Even Malik looked a little nervous waiting for the answer, but the blond just rolled his eyes. "Six lights, four of which were green. I'm on number two of a set now. So if you're taking the elevator, now's the time to do it." He was speaking to the back of Ryou's and Malik's heads, though, because they'd already breezed by him upon hearing the words 'number two' and had pressed the button for the elevator to come down.
He must have been staring or something, for the blond shifted slightly to look at him. "What?"
"What do you do?" he blurted out.
Brown eyes stared at him curiously before he answered, "I change luck."
"I don't believe in luck."
"Then what the hell do you call that with the lights earlier?" He was all but growling.
"'Coincidence'?" Forget growling. The blond was snarling, and Ryou and Malik were staring like it was too horrific to look away. "I'll show you-"
//Knock it off, both of you.// He winced - they all winced at the sudden loud sound of the elder Bakura's mental voice. //You're acting like children, and this isn't the time for it. Now shut up and get the hell up here.//
"Busted," Malik singsonged under his breath. The doors slid open behind them as Ryou casually swatted him in the stomach. He seriously doubted the dark-skinned barely felt through all those layers, yet he was rubbing his midsection and complaining, "What was that for?"
"You're being a dork, and if you keep it up, you're going to get in trouble with niisan too."
"Bakura doesn't care what I do as long as long as I don't hurt you. Oww! Will you two quit ganging up on me?!"
Again he heard the faintest whisper of Bakura's voice in his mind. //When did I ever say that, Desert Rat?//
He couldn't help snickering, which got a pretty quick reaction from Malik as well. "What's so funny?"
"The whole Desert Rat thing." And why the hell were they staring at him like that?
//Because you shouldn't have been able to hear that.// Bakura's voice was... different this time; it sounded closer and more personal. Obviously now he was speaking only to him. //And before I was trying to speak only with the Desert Rat. How-?//
Ryou's voice cut in eagerly. /Niisan, what if Kaiba-kun has a bond with you, kind of like I do?/
"How?" he had to pipe up. He hadn't seen Bakura in years. Surely it would have happened years ago, back at the Institute, when they were together so much more, if it was going to happen at all. Wouldn't it? No one really understood how telepaths' abilities worked; far less was known about it than many of the other types of talents, especially when it came to 'paths of Bakura's levels, even at the Institute. He knew finding 'paths was getting harder and harder, at least according to his... handler, because the minute someone admitted to hearing voices in their head, they were treated as schizophrenics and pumped full of psychotropic drugs, any of which had the side-effect of shutting down the brain centers which governed telepathy. And everyone was staring at him again. Oh, the elevator had stopped on the sixth floor and he was standing there. At least Bakura was there now.
The elder white-haired man stepped forward and took his gloved hand. //Damn, Seto. You used to tell me you 'went away' when you were working on something. I see what you meant now. You zone out something fierce.// He almost mumbled an apology, but Bakura continued, this time obviously opting to speak to all of them. //Are you all okay?//
He nodded, vaguely catching Ryou doing the same out of the corner of his eye. Of course it was Malik who spoke first though. "A little ticked at being left out of the loop, but fine."
"What's wrong, niisan?" came next from Ryou.
Bakura shook his head, apparently not willing to answer yet, and that Jyonouchi guy piped up instead. "There were a couple of guys at the restaurant looking for you guys."
The murderous look Bakura sent the blond went a long way to killing any notions he might have had of the two of them together. If looks could kill, the other man would be six feet under. //I wasn't planning on telling them like that, Katsuya.//
"If I left it to you, you'd pussyfoot around it and they wouldn't know to be more careful." And apparently the Jyonouchi guy gave as good as he got. "I'm going to down to check on Shizuka." He couldn't help but notice he went through the door leading to the stairs. Maybe there was something to this luck manipulation after all.
As far as he could see, though, there was only one possibility for why these guys were showing up here and now: they had followed him. He had come to the Bakuras for protection, but instead he'd led those goddamn Institute bastards right to the brothers and every other talent in the building. He'd... betrayed them all. He should go now, while he still stood a chance of leading them off. That Jyonouchi guy's trick with the lights should have them thrown off just enough for him to make this work.
//Seto?// It was hard to ignore Bakura, but he was more than halfway considering giving it a go. He needed to start planning the next part of his journey, after all. //Seto-baby, shut up. You're not going anywhere yet.//
"I've led them right to you and your brother though!"
//We'll deal with them. Trust me: if they try to hit here, we will hit them back.// The white-haired man stepped closer, carefully wrapping an arm around him. //I'm not letting them keep you away from me again.//
"Can you do it?"
The summoner rolled his eyes. "Yes, it'll be a cinch. What do you take me for, an amateur like you?" He returned to studying the cards in his hand and finally set one down. "I play Mystical Elf in defense."
"Ooh, you're up to something," the person he was playing against teased. "What are you going to do?" He set a card on the table face down and smiled. "Turn over."
"What am I up to, he says," the summoner complained, looking back down to the cards in his hand. "I'm trying not to get my ass handed to me is what I'm doing."
"Would I do something like that to you?"
"Since you're the only one who can? Yeah, you would, in a heartbeat." His competition grinned.
A little nervously, the other cut in again. "When will you do it?"
The summoner looked up again, a dire expression in his eyes. "Tomorrow."
"I'm not going tonight. I'm going tomorrow. Tonight I'm having a game-" red eyes snapped back over to the younger man he was playing against "-and I am going to win this time!"
"Keep telling yourself that, and play your next card already."
The other nodded slowly. "I'll leave you to your game then. Please take care of this first thing tomorrow." Stepping backwards, he moved out of the room. A second or two later, they heard the lock click shut and both let out a sigh of relief.
"I can't believe they managed to find Ryou-kun and Bakura-kun," the younger of the two whimpered. "Kaiba-kun must be so upset."
"Kaiba will be fine."
"Are you really going to go after them? Won't that be dangerous?"
"It'll be fine, I promise."
"What about Bakura-kun, though?" the younger persisted. "He won't be too happy if you go after Kaiba-kun. You don't think he'll try to hurt you, do you?"
"Bakura's my friend. He won't hurt me."
"I promise it'll be fine, aibou."
It had taken hours to get Seto calmed down and in bed. Even now, lying in his bed, he didn't seem relaxed, instead twitching ever so slightly. He was pretty sure the taller man would be tossing and turning were his body not still used to the cot-like beds provided at the Institute.
He couldn't hold back a shudder, thinking back to those beds. In the nine years and eight months he'd been 'a guest' at the Institute, he couldn't recall more than a handful of mornings when he'd awakened well-rested on the slabs they tried to pull off as beds. Sleeping on the cold tiled floor might have been more comfortable, not to mention his feet always hung off the end, leaving him with the most uncomfortable pins and needles feeling in the mornings. And Seto had a couple of centimeters on him, so it had to be have been worse on him.
He didn't think he'd ever forget that first night of freedom, when he and Ryou had tumbled into the Kame Game Shop in the middle of a nighttime rainstorm. Sugoroku had taken them in and dried them off and then finally asked who they were. That first week, he and Ryou had shared a bed in what used to be Yuugi's room - and it had been a tight fit, but it was wonderful because it was a real bed like he'd nearly forgotten - before the old man had presented them with a gigantic tool kit and the keys to this place. It had taken them two weeks to make it habitable for them to even move in. It was difficult going, but they were slowly making this place into a home. From the moment the first new talents, Katsuya and Shizuka, along with their parents, had been brought in, he'd been working on making this place into a haven for people with abilities.
And always it had been in the back of his mind that he wanted to help the others in the Institute, bring them here, and it had always been his intention to start with Seto.
Seto was here now, though, and with the exception of this little revelation, he seemed to be adjusting pretty well to life on the outside. How had Ryou so elegantly described existence at the Institute to Sugoroku shortly after their escape? Life in a glass box, where you can see the world outside, but trying to touch it means hitting a wall or getting cut on the shards when the glass breaks... or something like that anyway. Ryou was always the more poetic of the two of them.
//How odd is that, since I'm the one who practically lives in my own mind all the time?// he murmured to himself.
It was also a little odd to him that he'd gotten so nostalgic since he'd been bound to quarters, so to say. Having late-night conversations with oneself was supposed to be a sign of madness, wasn't it? If he really wanted to, he could probably have them with the Prime Minister or just about anyone else in Japan - except those inside the Institute's bubble. He had never really figured out how they kept telepaths from slipping their minds in or out, but somehow that remained the case with this technological marvel of Kaiba Gouzaburou.
He hadn't been the one to turn up the information, but he'd verified Katsuya's father's findings. It was strange to think that Seto's uncle was the one behind that torture factory. He wondered sometimes, strictly to himself, what Gouzaburou's role in all this really was. He knew the man had begun the Institute after his own son, Noa, developed abilities - psychokinesis, if the reports read correctly - that, untrained, had imploded on the boy, killing him messily, slowly, and painfully. There were nights when thousands and thousands of voices clambered in his mind and he could imagine how dying by his own talent would feel.
Perhaps Gouzaburou had started the Kaiba Research Institute with noble intentions, but if so, they'd run far astray. He and Ryou had been among the first brought in almost ten years back, and it was already corrupting from within by then, back when Gouzaburou still took a hands-off approach to running the place. Right before they ran away, the eldest Kaiba had started getting more involved, mainly by become Seto's primary 'handler'.
He had always hated that term. It made him feel like an untrained animal. He was no creature to be put on a leash and controlled - and neither were any of the other Institute talents. If he could accomplish what he wanted to, none of them would have to hear that term ever again.
The sun was just starting to peek over the horizon when he felt a hand on his shoulder shaking him awake. Years of honed reaction had him on his feet and ready to fight before his body was even mostly awake. Grey eyes regarded him steadily, and that dead gaze made him feel like an insect. "It's time to go, summoner."
It took him a moment to place the face to a name, and when he finally did, he felt his eyes go painfully wide. "You're not supposed to even be out of the Center, much less thinking about going outside the Institute."
"I'm going with you." That was apparently that in the younger talent's mind. "Hurry up and finish getting ready before I start moving you myself."
This... was going to complicate matters.
Even Malik was subdued at breakfast this morning, he noted. Ryou didn't look nearly as chipper and happy as he had the day before, and Bakura... The elder white-haired man had barely glanced up from first his cooking then his eating. An air of gloom hung throughout the apartment, and frankly, it was starting to piss him off. In his mind, he was watching a clock tick down to when he finally exploded, much like those bombs on the TV shows Mokuba used to watch.
The faintest of smiles touched Bakura's lips at the image of the countdown he knew he was projecting, then Malik's head jerked up, whipping side to side madly as though looking for something only he could see. Ryou dropped the spoon in his hand with a clatter, hurrying around the table to kneel at the dark-skinned man's side, placing a hand on one of his arms. "What is it, Malik?"
To Ryou's touch, the other calmed slightly, though his breathing was still short and heavy. "Something's coming, something - It's fucking huge! It's coming here, looking for - for - for someone!"
Ryou reached up to touch Malik's shoulder. A faint glow surrounded him, the only clue Seto had he was using his powers to keep the other man from hyperventilating. "What is it that's coming, Malik?"
//And when?// came immediately after that from Bakura.
"It's - it's..." Lavender eyes abruptly went unfocused, staring off at nothing. "Blood dripping from the sky, lightning - divine light to punish the transgressors, holy sky dragon king."
The Bakuras exchanged a terrified look, the older one rising from his seat now, and Ryou turned back to Malik with new urgency. "When is it coming?"
The word echoed, coming aloud from Malik and in their minds from Bakura as the building began to shake on its foundations around them. "Earthquake?" he whispered at Bakura where the man stood at the window, having moved there before Ryou asked his last question. He didn't believe it was anything so mundane, but he had to ask.
//No, worse: dragon. Goddamn it, Atem. They had to send Atem.//
”What’s so bad about Atem?” He always assumed the spiky-haired man and Bakura were friends. They always seemed like friends, perhaps of the caustic sort but friends nonetheless. Once upon a time, he’d even though there was something between the two. Bakura’s statement of ‘it’d be like fucking my brother’ reassured of the invalidity of that quickly enough.
//I can’t read him. There are too many minds there to find his.// What exactly does that mean? Bakura glanced at him over his shoulder. //You do know what Atem does, right?// He shook his head, and the other man sighed. //He summons. There’s not even a real name for what he does. He just finds beings in other dimensions and brings them here. Like that dragon there.// Bakura gestured at the kitchen window, and he moved to look out.
A huge deep red creature swirled around the sky, coiling and uncoiling itself around buildings. It was easy to see the monster – the dragon – was waiting on something, and he had a sickening suspicion he knew exactly what that was… or rather who that was.
With a tired sigh, Bakura stepped away from the window, walking towards the door. “Niisan!”
“You’re not going down there alone,” he found himself arguing, taking a few steps after him.
//Ryou, you need to stay with Malik and bring him back out of this. Seto, babe, what’re you going to do against a dragon?//
“Got a gun?” he immediately fired back.
Bakura started shaking his head in negation when Ryou answered, “In the living room, under the couch.” Bakura turned sharp silver eyes on his brother, who merely shrugged and continued, “It’s Malik’s. There should be a full clip in it. Be careful, both of you.”
For half a moment, he watched Ryou turning back to Malik, touching him so very gently, speaking words no one else could hear. To himself, he quietly admitted what it was: envy.
The dragon was… certainly a lot bigger from down here. From the sixth floor, it was hard to get a scope for its size. At this angle, though, the creature was gigantic and very nearly everything he could see when he looked up.
Bakura was striding right up to the door like he didn’t have a fear in the world, even if he did stop just inside the doorway. //Atem! Get your ass out here where I can see you right now! Quit hiding behind your pets!// Oh yeah, Bakura did pissed off rather well.
“I think Osiris would object to being called a pet, Bakura,” Atem replied, stepping into view. “I knew that would get your attention.”
//Believe me, you were better off without it.//
“You know why I’m here, right? You know what they want me to do.”
//None of us are going back to that place. Never again. Go back to your masters and tell them Bakura told them where to stick it.//
“’Kura, you know very well I can’t do that. They’ll have my ass in a sling.”
//That’d make things easier for Yuugi now, wouldn’t it?//
“That’s just mean.”
His head whipped around to the side and he nearly had the gun raised before he realized it was that Jyonouchi guy. The blond was staring at Atem like he’d seen a ghost or something. With Atem, that was always a valid possibility, but he didn’t think that was the case this time. “That’s not Yuugi,” he finally answered. “It’s Atem.”
“He looks so much like Yuugi,” the other whispered, moving closer to him to see Atem better. How did this guy know Yuugi? For the first time he could remember, he reached out to brush what little skin was unprotected at his wrist against the blond’s hand. Images came hard and fast, but somehow he managed to sort them: “see you later, Yuugi – I hope it goes well!;” checking the clock and waiting reluctantly for the call, because that’s what best friends do, isn’t it?; flipping on the news and seeing the unexplained fire at the Kame Game Shop; rushing to the hospital where Jiichan had been admitted with third degree burns; “Anzu said she didn’t like you like that and left then everything started catching on fire?;” a tearful Yuugi nodding, and hugging him because that’s what best friends do, right, no matter what they might feel for the other; men in dark suits walking into the room…
With an effort, he pulled himself back and discreetly shook his head to clear it. So the blond had it bad for Yuugi, which he supposed made it all the more interesting since he had to be the best friend the smaller spiky-hared boy went on and on about to no end, but this was hardly the time to contemplate this. Silently, he walked up to stand closer to Bakura and tried to think at him, ‘Are you okay?’
//Atem’s an ass.// The answer came fast, and he had to smirk. //Something’s not quite right here, Seto. He’s being cagey.//
“Are you going to come along, Kaiba, or am I going to have to bring you back?” Atem demanded. Absentmindedly, he wondered if Atem and Malik might be related or at least from the same part of the world. It was worth looking into – but not now.
“Not a chance,” he threw back quickly.
Atem glanced at the ground and back up, an unfathomable look in his red eyes. “I’m sorry then, Kaiba.”
“Are we done doing things your way now, summoner?” a new voice asked. What new monster had Atem managed to call up now? He’d never heard of him calling one that could talk. A figure stepped into view behind the spiky-haired man, one with long, shaggy back hair and dressed in baggy jeans, a blue and green striped shirt, and a polar vest over it all. It wasn’t till the other lifted his head and he saw grey eyes he hadn’t seen in six years that he knew who this was. “Hello, niisama.”
It couldn’t be… It just couldn’t be… “M-Mokuba?”
”Of course. Come home, niisama. Come home with me.”
That voice was hypnotic, a thousand times more so than anything a telepath could ever hope to do to him. He couldn’t resist it even if he wanted to; his feet were moving of their own volition, going right past Bakura, down the steps, and beyond Atem till he stood before the tall young man his younger brother had become where Malik’s gun dropped from his numbed fingers. “I thought – they told me you were dead, Mokuba,” he whispered.
“Uncle thought it was for the best.” He held a hand out to him, and he couldn’t resist taking it. “Now come home, niisama. Come home so Bakura will.”
“That wasn’t the deal,” Atem turned to argue. Mokuba didn’t even look over at him. “The deal was to bring Seto back only.”
“The Big Five want their top-prized telepath in Japan back where they can take care of him. That’s why they let niisama out. And that’s why we’re heading back. All of us. Catch up.”
He felt the ground vanished from beneath his feet then nothing.
Bakura had been yelling the last few minutes. It was really a wonder the entire block didn’t have migraines. The volume had only been increasing since Kaiba vanished with the younger Kaiba, and since everything had been directed at the older one, he could only assume the white-haired man was being ignored or somehow he couldn’t be heard. He was almost hoping it was the former because otherwise… Well, the otherwise was a little scary.
Still, the all-powerful Bakura, possibly the most lauded telepath alive today, standing inside a doorway screaming out to his… friend? Lover? What was Kaiba to him? He had screamed like the brunet was his most important person, but he hadn’t moved.
He took it back. Bakura took about three steps forward out the door, the blond man behind him yelling for him to stop. He was barely out the door and down a step before he let out a purely mental scream, hands going up to grab his head in very apparent pain, then his eyes rolled up in his head and he was down.
“…fuck.” And that was the blond where he was trying to lift Bakura. Amber-colored eyes looked up at him critically. “Hey, you, sorta-Yuugi! Can you give me a hand here?” He almost looked behind him to see who he was talking to. “Yeah, you, with the tan and the almost-Yuugi hair. He’s not that light, you know, and I don’t want to drag him.”
Apparently, he was going to help because he was moving forward, after going back for the gun, and helping to pick up Bakura’s legs. “What happened to him?”
“He can’t leave the building.” Holy hell… He nearly dropped his burden in his shock. Bakura, housebound? Suddenly he couldn’t wait to tell aibou about this. They set the white-haired man down on the lobby floor, then the other looked up at him again curiously. “Why do you look so much like Yuugi?”
“We haven’t really come up with an explanation,” he answered carefully. They had their suspicions, but this was neither the time nor the place for that discussion. He had a few questions of his own, after all. “How do you know aibou?” He felt his eyes narrow. “You aren’t… ‘Jyonouchi-kun’, are you?”
He’d have to be blind to miss how the blond’s entire face lit up. “Yuugi’s mentioned me?”
He had all of half a second to feel insanely jealous before a muttered //Shit// filled his mind. Bakura sat up shakily, the palm of one hand ground into his forehead.
“Bakura, you’re an idiot,” Jyonouchi-kun stated plainly. “What were you thinking?”
//That someone had just made off with Seto!// the telepath snapped, struggling now to his knees. //Katsuya, I need to borrow your sister.//
“You aren’t seriously thinking of going there? That kid as good as said it was a trap!”
//You’ve never been to the Institute. You don’t know what it’s like there. And Seto’s back there.// There was an almost hysterical edge in the man’s voice he hadn’t heard in the six-plus years he’d know him. //There’s no way in hell I’m leaving him there!//
Once upon a time, he’d thought he’d never see a day like this, where he’d see proof that Bakura could really care for anyone besides his brother. There was something there, and the absence of it was hurting the telepath, much as being away from his aibou pained him.
“How are you going to handle that?” Jyonouchi-kun asked worriedly. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he too felt much the same. After all, he’d seen too many talents’ powers turn them inside out, and he’d hate to see that happen to his friend. “You can barely-“
//I’ll handle it! Just get your sister!//
He trailed the blond with his eyes as he stopped to the stairs, slamming the door closed behind him. Bakura sank back down to sit on his heels, rubbing tiredly at his temples. He moved to kneel behind the white-haired man, but his hands were knocked away when he started to touch his shoulders. “Same old Bakura. You never change. You still can’t accept any help.”
//I’m not forgetting that you came here to take Seto away,// the other snarled back at him.
“Bakura, he can’t handle his powers. They need to finish training him so he can. He can leave when he can touch things and control his visions.”
//Idiot.// He started to bristle before the other continued to speak. //Seto’s been able to control what he sees for years. He’ll never be able to touch anything and see nothing though. His powers don’t have that kind of an off switch.// He sighed, finally dropping back to lean against him. //They don’t want to let any of us go, even you and me, who are over the legal age.//
He blinked a second, letting this new information sink in. “So you and I could leave whenever we want?”
//In theory. We’re both over twenty, but I did have to break out to leave.//
“We’re old enough to come and go as we please, but they’re not letting us,” he surmised. “Isn’t that illegal?”
//Our families are dead. Who’s going to report it for us when we’re on the inside?//
“What about aibou?” he had to ask in slow dawning horror. “His grandfather’s still alive.” He felt his eyes go wide. “And he’s been able to control his abilities since just after Ryou-kun left. What are they going to do to aibou?!”
//Probably just take care of Sugoroku. Yuugi’s a pyrokinetic. It’s hard to top that for sheer destructive power. They won’t hurt him, but I dread to think what they’ll want him to do.// He let out another sigh, this one tired. //He’s like a walking H-bomb, after all.//
He felt his blood run cold. “I won’t let them do anything like that to my aibou. He’s coming back with us when we leave.”
Bakura nodded. //I owe his grandfather too much to leave him there this time.//
He climbed to his feet, pulling the white-haired man up as well, speaking softly as the door to the stairs opened again and Jyonouchi-kun and a redheaded girl stepped out, “Let’s go get them back.”
The minute Mokuba left the room, his mind abruptly cleared. Well, except for the blinding panic when he realized where he was and the utter confusion at how his baby brother was alive and being controlled by the Institute. And that was not to mention the fact he was apparently powerful enough to make him walk away from the freedom he’d been longing for… and Bakura. He couldn’t believe they got him to just walk away from Bakura, just like that, after all he had been…
The door to the small, stale room in the Center where Mokuba had left him opened, and his brother walked back in, walking in the midst of all the members of the so-called Big Five. He halfway wondered if they even had names.
The one in front glanced around the room then locked eyes on Mokuba. “Where’s Bakura? You were supposed to bring him back also.”
Grey eyes blinked once, twice, before he spoke. “Atem was supposed to bring him. Niisama was the only important one to me.”
The one who had spoken sneered, upper lip curling back, and raised a hand. As he started to bring it back down towards Mokuba’s face in what could only be intended as a backhand slap, Seto rose to his feet. He had no idea what he was going to do – try to stop it or maybe get between them – but he only got a step before the man froze a split second then turned to point at another of the men and yell, “In the name of the Moon, I’ll punish you!” The worst part was probably the fact it was a balding man in his late forties or early fifties doing the trademark pose of a blonde teenaged superheroine.
All of them had to blink for a split second before another of them turned shifting eyes at the door. “Bakura’s here… Viva la France!” He even moved to pose with one hand inside his jacket in an obvious Napoleon pose.
Almost immediately after that came a third one piping up, “Let them eat cake,” while the fourth just started barking.
By now, he’d had long enough to get over to his brother and at least check him over briefly to make sure he was all right. Unfortunately it had also given the final member of the Big Five time to gather himself. “Where are you, Bakura?” he yelled.
//Here,// the white-haired man replied, walking calmly in the room. He was standing closer to the man and could see the faint stress lines around his eyes though. Being here was hurting him, but here he was either way. //You really don’t want me here, though, Mister Big Shot.//
“You have no idea. Now that you’re back…”
//I’m not here for you.// Silvery eyes turned to him. //Are you all right, Seto?// He nodded slightly. //Let’s go home.//
“No way,” the man stated. “Mokuba, stop Bakura. He’s trying to take your niisama away.”
His little brother looked to him, over to Bakura, then back to him. “Niisama?”
“Stand down, Mokuba,” he whispered, wrapping both arms around his brother. “Bakura’s our friend.”
“No!” the final Big Five screamed. “Take Bakura down, now!”
//That’s quite enough from you. Why don’t you go away too now, Mister Big Shot?//
“I’m a telepath too! You can’t just rewire my mind – Oh ye of little faith, why reason ye among yourselves, because ye have brought no bread?”
//Who says I can’t rewire your mind, asshole?// Bakura slumped against the door.
In his arms, he could feel his brother start to shake. Faint sparkles of tears began to form in the corners of his eyes as a short scream escaped the young man’s lips. In the corner, one of the windows to the rest of the Institute shattered; no matter how upset or powerful he was, that shouldn’t happen, since those windows were designed to withstand everything short of a nuclear bomb. “Mokuba?!” he cried in alarm. “What is it?”
//…fuck. Hold him, Seto.//
“What are you-“ Abruptly, the boy went limp in his arms, and he had to struggle to hold him up. “What did you-“
//I shut off his mind temporarily,// the white-haired man replied, letting himself sink to the floor. //Apparently, Jesus there was the one controlling him. When I shut him off, it turned off the telepathy holding the kid back. Until I can fix him, I just shut him down for a little bit.// He took a deep breath and slowly released it. “He’ll be fine once I have a chance to work with him some.”
It took him a moment to stop feeling relieved and start realizing the last words had been aloud. “Bakura?”
“I can talk, yes.” He shrugged in a tired movement. “It’s just so… imprecise. It’ll just be our little secret, okay?”
“Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not.”
//Shut up, you. Shizuka, get in here.//
A light flashed before his eyes briefly. When it died down, a red-haired girl stood before them. “Done already, Bakura-san? That was quick. Oniisan and Atemu-san still haven’t gotten Yuugi-san out yet.”
//Take Seto and the kid here back to the apartment, then come back for the others and me.//
“You’re staying?” It was hard to keep his voice soft even for Mokuba’s sake in the case. “Why?”
Bakura leaned close enough to brush his fingers through Seto’s hair. //I’m ending this for good tonight, one way or another.//
///What the hell do you mean ‘one way or another’?///
//Exactly what it sounds like, Seto-babe. If I don’t make it back, I want you to take care of the talents for me. Keep my little brother safe.//
///You’re coming back, Bakura, if I have to drag you out of hell myself.///
The white-haired man smiled faintly and nodded. //Sure thing, Seto.// A hand, delicate and feminine, touched his shoulder, and the world started to flash out around him. //One miracle coming right up.//
“I thought you said you could handle this lock ‘no problem’, Jyonouchi-kun.” Yeah, maybe he was whining, but even his muted senses could tell his aibou was on the other side of that door, and he wanted – no, needed – to make sure he was okay with his own two eyes. “You said-“
“I know what I said. Now if you’ll kindly shut the fuck up so I can tell what number I’m on. I’d like to know if I’m going to be able to pick the lock or poke myself in the eye,” the blond snapped back under his breath where he was leaning down to inspect the lock.
Then he heard what he’d been waiting to hear: his aibou’s voice. “Atem-chan? Is that you?”
“It’s me, aibou! We’re trying to pick the lock. We’ll be in there in a few.”
“Oww, shit!” Jyonouchi-kun yelped, half jumping on him. Behind the blond, he could see the lock turning into so much red molten metal before falling to the ground. “He’s definitely learned to control it.”
The door pushed open, and his aibou’s face appeared around it. “Atem-chan! You’re back, and – Jyonouchi-kun!”
Aibou went into a full-fledged pounce, and he suddenly found himself on the bottom of a mini-pileup as the younger spiky-haired man tried to give the blond an impromptu tonsillectomy. There was a white-hot surge of jealous anger that went through him at the sight. Did this mean he just got dumped? He let out a completely undignified squeak as aibou pinched one of his nipples. Okay, maybe he wasn’t out of the picture yet then.
//This isn’t a porno, you three,// Bakura’s voice echoed in their minds, as effective as a bucket of cold water at breaking the mood. //Straighten up. Shizuka’s on her way to get you.//
The redhead, Jyonouchi-kun’s sister according to Bakura, teleported in front of them, and whatever mood was left was killed.
Behind that door lay the key to taking down the Institute for good. Something deep inside him told him that once he stepped through his doorway, he’d be able to change their futures. Girding up every bit of courage he had, he pushed the door marked ‘Kaiba Gouzaburou’ open.
An aged man with hair nearly as white as his own and a neatly groomed mustache sat behind the desk at the center back of the room. Eyes that reminded him eerily of Seto’s little brother’s looked up at him. He braced himself, not sure what to expect.
“Ah, Bakura!” he greeted, his tone friendly enough. “Did you and Seto enjoy your visit? Are you bringing him back now? I know the boys were saying how much they missed him.”
The hell? He reached out with his mind and scanned the surface of the other’s. What he saw there both shocked and sickened him. Whatever kind of man he had once been, Gouzaburou was it no more. Now he was little more than a puppet of the Big Five, reprogrammed to the point there was hardly anything left of him. And this was the man who’d started the Institute?
As quickly as he could, he reached down his mental link to Seto. //Babe?//
There was a brief fizzle that transcribed itself into annoyance. ///Don’t you dare leave me like that again! What is it?///
//I’m standing in front of Gouzaburou…//
///You’re what?!/// Seto had definitely gotten the ability to change his mental volume down quickly.
//…and he wants to know where you are. ‘The boys’ were missing you.//
Confusion leaked through to him. ///’The boys’?///
//Apparently one of them is the kidlet there with you. Seto, babe, he thinks Noa’s still alive.//
///He thinks… No. He was there when Noa died. He knows he’s dead.///
//Not anymore. The same guy who was working the kidlet must have been working him too. There’s nothing left of him now.//
///Can you fix him? Like Mokuba?/// There was a faint note of hope in his mental voice that he hated to kill.
//No, Seto. When I said there was nothing left, I meant there is nothing left. At least with the kidlet, I have some room to work. There’s not even anything to build on here.//
///With the Big Five down, he’s going to die, isn’t he?/// Reluctantly, he sent an affirmation. ///Can you at least make sure it doesn’t hurt? He is my uncle, after all.///
Completely to himself, he wondered if Seto knew what he was asking him to do and what the risks were in it. //All right. I’ll have to go offline while I’m at it, so don’t get too upset, okay?//
He waited till he got a note of agreement before he shut down the thready link between their minds. Really, would Seto have asked that if he knew what it entailed? Not that he wouldn’t do it, but… The only way he could guarantee the man before him didn’t die painfully was to kill him himself, shutting his brain completely down a section at the time. He’d never had to do it before, but he’d heard of another telepath who had, only to get stuck in the person’s mind and die right along with them. He liked to think he was more skilled than the average telepath, but with the threat of death looming…
“Are you all right, Bakura-kun? You look a little pale.”
He opened his eyes and stared at the man before him in resignation. //I’m fine.//
“When you were dropping Seto off, did you happen to see Noa? I can’t seem to find him.”
//I’ll take you to see Noa,// he whispered. He pushed an image of the dead boy into the older man’s mind for him to concentrate on as Bakura started shutting down his mind.
“Where the hell is Bakura?” Jyonouchi fumed, pacing a tight lap back and forth in front of the chairs in the Bakuras’ living room where Atem and Yuugi were sitting. “It shouldn’t be taking this long!”
“He said he was going to finish all of this once and for all,” Seto softly said, glancing down to where his brother lay with his head on his shoulder.
“But what does that mean, Kaiba-kun?” Yuugi piped up. “It’s not like Bakura-san can take down the entire Institute on his own.”
“Maybe he can,” Atem countered, “if it’s true the Big Five are out of the picture. Then that just leaves Gouzaburou.”
“That’s where he is,” he responded. “At least that’s where he was last time I talked to him.”
“Shizuka?” All eyes shot over to Malik, who had been oddly silent till then. “Go back and get him now.”
“He hasn’t called for a pick-up yet,” she negated. “I wouldn’t want to get in his way.”
“You won’t. He’s unconscious… I think.”
The girl’s eyes widened and she vanished quickly. Seto stood swiftly, laying Mokuba down to lie flat on the couch. Almost immediately afterwards, she reappeared, nearly on top of him. It was just as well too, since she collapsed under the man’s weight first thing, and he caught the limp body, lowering him to the floor, his head in Seto’s lap. “Bakura?!” ///Bakura?///
There was a distressing silence for a few long minutes. In the background, he could hear a sniffle come from Ryou. Belatedly, he reached down to check the older white-haired man’s pulse at his throat.
//Stop it. That tickles.//
Ryou let out a jagged sound of relief that he wasn’t too sure he wasn’t echoing. It didn’t get much better than this. That place was gone, he had his little brother back, and Bakura would be all right. What could possibly top this?
He batted the sheets away from his face, peering out at Mokuba sleepily. “Hmm?”
“You aren’t mad at me, are you?”
He sighed but smiled to himself as well. It had been three months since the destruction of the Institute, as well as two months since he’d assumed the reins of power of his uncle’s business, Kaiba Corp, and a month since Bakura had started making visible progress on Mokuba – and it had been a very busy three months because of all that, not to mention finally making some much needed repairs to the apartment building they still lived in. And if being woken up at six a.m. several mornings out of the week was a byproduct of it all, well, it was one he could certainly live with.
“Of course not, Mokuba.” He moved to prop himself up on his elbows, still lying on his stomach. “What’re you doing up so early anyway?” Like he wasn’t up this early several mornings out of the week for the past month to ask the same question.
Mokuba opened his mouth to answer, but the voice that spoke came from the other side of the bed: “Go away. We don’t want any.”
By no stretch of the imagination was Bakura a morning person, especially not at this time of the morning. He wasn’t even sure what time the telepath had gotten in last from training with one of their new talents; of course he was exhausted. Still, grumpy or not, it made him happy his brother and his lover got along. He’d worried about that.
Mokuba finally stopped snickering at Bakura’s sleepy words and replied, “One of Atem-san’s little dragons is loose in the building again, the black one. If I can catch him, can I keep him this time?”
“Give the evil little thing to Shizuka, you mean.” Bakura stuck his head under the pillow after that comment, completely missing the light flush that touched the young man’s cheeks.
Life here wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination – and he wouldn’t have it any other way.