Conceptualized/First Written: 12/21/04
Completed/Final Edit: 1/28/05
Posted: 2/9/05 – Sorry for the long delay. My excuse? School. -_- Tool of the Negaverse, I tell you! (whoops, wrong fandom.)
Don’t Forget! If you’d like to know what I have to say to your reviews, check out the official WDKY page and click on ‘Review Replies.’ Alternatively, you can check my LiveJournal and go to my Memories/Azurite’s Fanfiction section. I’ll eventually add a Review Replies section as well, so if you see that, check there!
By the way… the R rating still holds for this fic, and every chapter. This one is rated R for mild language.
“We’re all going to die horrible, horrible deaths!”
Ten pairs of eyes turned to look at the speaker, who tossed his hand over his eyes in a thoroughly dramatic fashion.
“Will you stop being such a drama queen?”
“But that’s my job!” the young man protested, staring at his classmates from the space between his fingers. “Besides,” he continued, “wouldn’t you care to be just a skosh bit dramatic, knowing that despite all our accolades and hit performances, the Domino High drama department is one show closer to going under?”
“Gee Shunsuke, I never knew you were such an optimist,” another boy drawled sarcastically from the auditorium seats.
Shunsuke and the other members of the Domino High Drama Club were all meeting at their usual time, in the usual place– despairing about the usual thing: the fact that they were severely under funded, despite all the awards they’d gotten in the past, from last-minute, haphazard shows. Emergencies such as the one facing them now always proved to be to the Drama Club’s benefit, but not this time– not a single one of them had an idea for a production that could possibly carry the club into the Spring semester.
“Well we’ve got to do something,” a girl sitting on the stage pointed out reasonably. “Why don’t we try to coordinate some kind of effort with the other visual and performing arts clubs?”
“Well, let’s see,” Shunsuke stood up and began pacing the “pit” area where the club sat, “there’s the Choir Club, and not a single one of them wants anything to do with us. Even when we tried to work a musical out, to get some of their members interested, they shunned us. Then there’s the art and design clubs, but they only want to work with us if we’ve already got good ideas in mind for sets and costumes– none of them want to act. Orchestra and Band are only interested in helping us out if we have a guaranteed audience big enough to split profits with them. Do I even need to mention the more exclusive clubs, like the Poetry and Haiku Club, the Jazz Band, the Strings Ensemble, or the Pop Music Club?”
“What about the Dance Club?” someone in the rear piped up. Eyes widened and faces brightened at the mention of the new, highly-successful organization.
“Yeah, that’s right! There’s plenty of girls in it that would be willing to work with us– all we have to do is talk to Téa or that Chieko girl!”
Shunsuke didn’t look convinced. “What’s to stop either one of them from doing what all the other clubs have done and reject us flat?”
The girl sitting on the stage shook her head vehemently, “Neither one of them is like that, I’m sure of it. They’re both such nice girls, and Téa’s a creative genius when it comes to dance numbers– I’m sure we can think of something that her club will want to participate in!”
“That’s the other big problem,” Shunsuke sighed, flopping down in his chair once more. “We still don’t have an idea for what to do! We’re less than two weeks away from Christmas Day, which means we’re beyond pressed for ideas here!”
“Uhm–” a quiet voice in the rear of the auditorium piped up. No one heard the small boy speak. Akane, the girl sitting on the stage and vice-president to Shunsuke’s “Director” position of the club noticed however, and she signaled everyone to be quiet so the boy could stand up and be heard.
“Well, well,” the boy began, twisting his fingers together, “I– I know I’m just a first year, but but… Mi-Miss Ninomiya likes to showcase good stories written by students in her English c-classes. M-Maybe we can ad-adapt one of them fo- for the stage?”
Shunsuke glanced at Akane, who looked contemplative. Then her face broke out into a wide smile, “That’s a great idea! We’ll ask her if she’s got any top recommendations, and then we can contact the author to see if they’d be willing to help us out!”
The boy looked astonished that they liked his idea, and soon everyone was chattering away.
Someone else piped up, “What about a holiday-themed story? Everyone likes those this time of year, right?”
“Yeah!” More people hollered, excited by the prospect of their sole performance finally coming to fruition.
“Okay! We’ve got a game plan, ladies and gents– let’s do this!”
“Recommendations, you say?” Miss Ninomiya, always the cool, composed teacher, raised an eyebrow. “Truthfully, I changed my curriculum, and I don’t have any story submissions from this year.” The drama students looked crestfallen, afraid that their best and only idea had been shot down before it could even get up in the air.
“BUT,” Miss Ninomiya smiled in that mysterious, coy way of hers, “I do have some excellent works that fit your description.” She opened one of the heavy metal drawers in her desk, pulling out a thin manila folder. She picked out a select few papers contained therein, and handed the short stack to Shunsuke, who beamed.
“Look them over, and if you like any of them, talk to the students. If you need help finding them, I believe all of the writers are currently enrolled in my second-year English course.”
“Thank you very much, Miss Ninomiya!” Shunsuke grinned broadly, practically skipping out of her classroom. Akane was kind enough to remember to bow politely to the teacher, before she too dashed off.
A few moments later, the two of them sat in plush, foam-gushing chairs sitting center-stage in the auditorium. They each had a stack of three stories, all of them several pages long.
“Hey, you won’t believe this,” Akane grinned widely, “but one of the stories here was written by Téa Gardner herself!”
“Oh? Is it any good?”
“Well, I’ve only skimmed the first few pages,” Akane admitted, “but it sure is an interesting idea. It’s a modern adaptation of Charles Dickens’s ‘A Christmas Carol.'”
“A modern version hm?” Shunsuke’s interest looked mildly piqued. “Go on.”
“Funny thing is, she used names of all her friends– so if we really wanted, we could cast them, and everyone would be perfectly in-character.”
Shunsuke looked startled. “Let me see that.”
He read over the script intently, his mouth set in a tight line. Eventually he broke out into a wide smile, and then laughter. “She’s got Seto Kaiba as Scrooge!”
“Yeah, and she’s the equivalent of Belle! Funny thing though,” Akane mused, “she wrote this before they started going out.”
“Officially,” Shunsuke reminded her with a raised finger. “They could have been seeing each other behind the whole school’s back without anyone even knowing!”
“That’s impossible,” Akane stated firmly. “Not only are you always on top of all the hot gossip, but trust me– if they’d been going out in secret, one of Téa’s friends would have told and spilled the beans to the rest of the whole school.”
“I presume you’re talking about the nephe– er, I mean, Joey Wheeler?” Shunsuke smirked, referring to Joey’s role in Téa’s story: Seto’s happy-go-lucky best friend. The original story had him as Scrooge’s erstwhile young nephew by the name of Fred, but Téa must have realized that such a relationship wouldn’t work for her story, so she kept Joey’s name and changed his role to suit her story’s purposes.
“If this really was written a year ago, Téa sure had some strange ideas about the relationships between her friends,” Akane grinned. “I mean, Kaiba as Scrooge I get, but why would someone as greedy as him even have a best friend?”
“You forget,” Shunsuke pointed out idly, “we’re talking about Téa Gardner. There’s no one she doesn’t make friends with.”
“Don’t tell me you didn’t hear, then?” Akane asked, a devilish grin curling her lips.
“Hear what?” Shunsuke demanded, shifting in his chair so he was facing Akane, a determined expression on his face.
“Not long after the school festival, Téa fainted in class. When she came to, she got into this huge argument with Bakura outside of the nurse’s office.”
“Whoa, whoa– Bakura, as in Ryou Bakura, the ‘too-hot British transfer student?’ from earlier last year?”
“Bingo,” Akane nodded. “I’m pretty sure they’re not friends.”
“Makes no sense,” Shunsuke bit his thumbnail. “I just saw the two of them eating lunch together a while back.”
Akane shrugged. “Maybe they got over their differences?”
“Hmph. Maybe. If Téa can find it in her heart to date Ebenezer Scrooge himself, then maybe she can forgive Bakura for whatever he said. Though he’s so quiet all the time, I can’t imagine him saying something to get Téa riled up. I thought she was everyone’s darling?”
“Hah!” Akane laughed. “You didn’t see her and Wheeler attacking the kendo club’s training equipment a while back. She can be vicious if you give her the chance.”
“BUT!” Shunsuke smiled, “She’s supposedly much nicer when she gets her way, right? She just wants to be a star– so let’s make her one. Come on.”
And with that, Shunsuke dragged Akane out of the auditorium off to find Téa and make ‘A Modern Christmas Carol’ story come to life.
“Are you serious?” Téa stared at Shunsuke and Akane, still stretching with the rest of the Dance Club. They met during lunch time three days a week, and for two hours at a time after school on those same days, plus the occasional one-hour session on half-day Saturdays. All in all, the fledgling club was popular enough to warrant a very predictable schedule, which was excellent news for Shunsuke and Akane.
“One hundred percent, totally,” Shunsuke affirmed. “We really like your story, and plus you’re the co-President of the Dance Club. If your girls are interested in being overnight sensations…” Shunsuke trailed off, his words easily catching the attention of the surrounding Dance Club members. Akane subtly rolled her eyes, but Shunsuke just kept grinning.
“Gosh, I wrote that last year, back before–” Téa laughed, recalling how she’d cast Kaiba as Scrooge, and she as Belle, Scrooge’s ex-girlfriend.
“Ironic, huh?” Akane grinned. “And in your story, you had an even happier ending for Scrooge– he gets back together with you.”
“Don’t tell me you want Seto to be part of this too, right? He’d laugh if he found out I’d written this all that about him, and last year, too…” The truth was, she’d written the story shortly after the Battle City tournament, and Téa’s mind had been so frazzled, she had hardly completed any of her assignments until the last minute. An early December television screening of ‘A Christmas Carol’ prompted Téa to write her own version– but she found herself unable to erase recent events from her mind. So, she’d cast her friends –and everyone else she knew– as characters in her ‘remake’ of the popular holiday story. Surprisingly, the story was a hit with her picky English teacher, and Miss Ninomiya had kept it as one of her prize ‘example’ works.
“Well, of course!” Shunsuke said, surprising Akane and Téa. “Who better to play the grouchy workaholic than Mr. Seto Kaiba himself?”
Téa shook her head as she sighed, “Well, I’m in. But I hope you won’t be sorry about bringing Seto into this because… well, I guess we’ll all see, huh?”
“You’ve got to be kidding me, Téa,” Seto stated flatly, giving his girlfriend a disbelieving look.
Téa shook her head vehemently, “No, I’m not. Please, Seto? Just give it a chance…”
“Can I at least read this script?” Seto asked blandly. “After all, if I’m going to be the lead character…” He allowed himself a private smirk, remembering Téa’s description of the story and his role in it. He actually didn’t mind being associated with Ebenezer Scrooge —“A fine role model for any businessman”– or even having Yugi ‘Bob Cratchit’ Moto as his underling. But Téa told him little else, especially when it came to how she’d ‘modernized’ the classic tale and given it a “happier” ending.
Téa’s face abruptly turned scarlet and she squeezed her eyes shut. She turned away, her face still burning bright. “Uhm, well, I still have to find Chieko so I’ll get back to you with that–”
“You realize if you don’t tell me what I need to know, I’ll just find this Shunsuke character and ask him, right?” Seto pointed out, a smirk curling his lips.
Téa halted in her tracks, her cheeks still pink. “Oh… okay.” She sat down and began, her voice starting out soft but quickly growing to a higher pitch and faster pace. “So it’s basically a rewrite of Charles Dickens’s ‘A Christmas Carol,’ but it takes place here in Domino during modern times, and you have to remember that I wrote this just after Battle City ended –what was it– eleven months ago? And well, anyway, my brain was just a bit frazzled from everything that happened, and I happened to be cramming for this assignment late at night, and they happened to be showing the movie ‘A Christmas Carol’ on TV, so I watched it and decided the ending wasn’t happy enough, and I actually knew people kind of like those in the movie, so…”
“Téa–” Seto interrupted, but Téa kept going, much to Seto’s frustration. ‘Glare?’ No, that didn’t work. Téa wasn’t even looking at him. ‘Yell?’ That would just get her angry, and frankly, Seto didn’t want to put up with the additional embarrassment of getting into an argument with Téa with their classmates watching. ‘Kiss her?’ It was the most tempting of the three options– especially considering Seto wasn’t paying attention to Téa’s words so much as the way her lips moved as she babbled. But… he couldn’t do it. For the same reason that he couldn’t yell at her, he certainly couldn’t kiss her, either. Their classmates were watching Téa prattle on and gesture wildly, mild amusement plain on their faces. Finally, Seto grabbed Téa’s wrist mid-gesture, and she immediately stopped speaking.
“Slow down,” Seto whispered under his breath. “And summarize the whole thing in a few sentences, instead of an epic speech, will you?”
Téa sighed, wrinkling her lips. “Sorry. Okay. So… well I basically cast all my friends in the roles– ‘course, back then you weren’t a real ‘friend,’ I guess, but I thought of you first when I thought of Scrooge,” her cheeks turned pink again, “and I just kept going from there. There weren’t many female roles, so I wrote myself in as Belle.”
“So,” Seto smirked, “you wrote yourself in as my ex-girlfriend, hmm?”
‘Shoot.’ She’d been hoping he didn’t know the story well enough to make that connection immediately. But this was Seto Kaiba– he could probably recite the entire story word-for-word, along with any of Shakespeare’s works, and probably a bit of Freudian psychology while he was at it. Téa avoided telling Seto that she’d technically rewritten the play– and given Seto-Scrooge a happier ending by getting back together with her character.
‘He’ll laugh. Or refuse. Or…’ But he seemed to be in a pretty agreeable mood. If only she could get out of the classroom before he found out too much.
‘Let him figure out the ending once he gets the script!’ Téa thought, a streak of determination flaring to life within her. The only catch was, Seto was staring at her, expecting an answer to his question.
Téa flushed an even deeper crimson, shaking her head. “Really, I didn’t… you know I didn’t think about you that way back then…” Rather, Yami had occupied almost every single one of her thoughts, romantic or otherwise. And when the whole Battle City tournament ended…
“Didn’t you?” Seto only smiled in that triumphant way of his. “I did save your life, you know.” He was, of course, talking about the time he used his Blue-Eyes White Dragon card to stop one of Malik’s henchmen from crushing her under a two-ton crate at the edge of the Domino Harbor.
“We were even,” Téa sniffed, not desiring to recall the period very much. However, Seto didn’t seem to notice her reluctance in bringing up the subject, and continued on, looking perplexed.
“Even? What are you–”
“I saved Mokuba from those Rare Hunters. It’s the same difference to you, isn’t it?” she asked rhetorically. “Now if you’ll excuse me,” she stood up, not giving Seto the chance to reply, “I’m going to find Chieko, now.”
And with that, she dashed out of the room, leaving Seto Kaiba very confused and somewhat upset with himself.
An old feeling returned: why was it always around Téa, things got so complicated?
Chieko Sagusa was about to look for Téa too, but a quick trip to the administrative offices left her with an entirely new goal: to show a brand new student around campus. Since it was lunch time, Chieko hoped to show the new student all the less-populated places, so that the areas crowded with people eating, practicing, or chatting away could be saved for another time. She felt proud just to have gotten used to Domino High enough to be considered for an important task as this one– helping a new student out.
She wanted to ask the transfer where he was from; she was from the United States, and Ryou Bakura, while born in Japan, was from London. This student had a rather exotic look to him; where could he possibly be from?
Curiosity overwhelmed Chieko, so much so that she didn’t give finding Téa a second thought.
Hours passed before Téa had the heart and mind to coordinate with everyone; after she’d dashed away from Seto, she found herself unable to find Chieko. So, she retired to the quiet solitude of the roof, where she picked at her lunch. With her mind so full of Battle City, and how it was very nearly a year since it had ended, she found it very hard to concentrate, much less eat.
Her thoughts kept straying back to the fear that continually gurgled up within her whenever she considered that time– almost on par with her parents’ death, in relation to the fear she felt compacted into a single period.
After the bell rang, she’d finally resolved not to think further on it; Seto had no idea why the subject of his infamous tournament upset her so, and there was no reason to let it haunt her. She returned to her classes, speaking with Yugi, Joey, and Tristan during their breaks. All of the boys seemed amused by the idea of Téa’s story being turned into a play, and they agreed –though with a certain measure of reluctance on all their parts– to help out in whatever way they could.
By the time the final bell rang that day, Téa hadn’t spoken to Seto any more than she had at lunch.
“Téa!” Chieko bounded through the crowds, somehow appearing graceful even when she was shoving and sliding past masses of people.
“Chieko,” Téa smiled gratefully, “I was looking for you earlier. What happened?”
“Oh,” Chieko waved her hand as she caught her breath, “the teachers had me running around campus doing all sorts of things. I’m just glad to finally go home.” She wanted to tell Téa about the exotic new student, but Téa looked as though she had something far more important to say.
“Oh yeah,” Téa shifted her weight from one foot to the other, ignoring the goose bumps crawling up her arms. “So the Drama Club wants to put on a musical of this story I wrote last year– it’s a modernized version of ‘A Christmas Carol.’ We’re still looking for interested players– are you in?”
“Of course!” Chieko smiled widely. “Especially after all those talks with the administration– they’re amazingly insistent about having extra-curriculars on our transcripts.” Her mind immediately started burbling with ideas– costumes, sets, the songs, the dance numbers… Just as quickly as thoughts of the student she’d toured earlier came into her mind, they were swept out by creative visions and hope-filled ideas.
That was a peculiarity about Chieko– once she was focused on something, it became her sole source of energy and activity, with little else encroaching on her mind.
“So true.” Téa smiled, ready to launch into the whole description of the play. But Chieko’s gaze wandered, staring over Téa’s shoulder. “What is it?”
Chieko smiled gently, “I think there is someone else with a more… pressing conversation. I shall talk to you later, okay Téa?” Without so much as an explanation, Chieko dashed off, leaving a very confused brunette in her wake. When she finally turned around, she realized where her goose bumps and anxiety came from. Standing as tall and imposing as ever was her expressionless boyfriend– waiting in silence.
She sucked in a deep breath and walked alongside Seto, keeping quiet. She couldn’t think of anything to say to him, and doubtless he had little to say to her. He could have just left school on his own, leaving her to walk home by herself, but…
‘I guess I do owe him some sort of explanation, but… he just wouldn’t understand.’
Once in the limousine, the silence continued to reign. One minute passed, then two… then three.
“I’m sorry,” Téa finally blurted. “You don’t know why I hate talking about…” she shifted her gaze out the window, watching Domino blur past, “…about that time. I don’t really want to get into it, so… let’s just not talk about it ever again, okay?”
“Téa, I–” She probably expected him to apologize. But what did he have to apologize for, anyway? How was he supposed to know what Battle City meant to her? She obviously didn’t want to talk about it, so… what else could he do? On a whim, he grabbed Téa’s hand and pressed a soft kiss to it, surprising her. Her cheeks were pink when she finally turned to look at him, a question in her eyes.
It wasn’t really an apology, but it was the closest he could come. All he needed was that unspoken reassurance from her– that she wasn’t mad at him, that she didn’t… hate him. They could have their share of differences and playful arguments, but in the end…
‘I just want her to smile at me.’
Well, they were an odd couple, that much was certain.
The following day during lunch period, the entire Dance Club met with the Drama Club in the auditorium, with Téa dragging along Seto, Yugi, Joey, and Tristan. Duke, for his part, chose an apt moment to disappear amongst the ranks of his fan club, and was nowhere to be found. Chieko joined the growing ranks, once again having forgotten the new student– even though the two of them had been in this very auditorium a few hours ago.
“This is our school’s auditorium,” Chieko gestured to the wide open space, with its wooden chairs and scarlet carpeting. “It may not look like much now, but one of my classmates has assured me that it will be bustling with life soon enough. We’re putting on a production of Charles Dickens’s ‘A Christmas Carol,’ but modernized and set here in Domino.”
Chieko was hoping for some sign of interest from her otherwise-silent companion. But he said nothing, instead just looking about the auditorium with mild interest.
“Have you ever read ‘A Christmas Carol,’ or anything else by Charles Dickens?” Chieko queried.
Instead of responding, the young man beside her only shook his head. Chieko still smiled, but her left eyebrow twitched. This ‘simple tour about school’ was certainly proving to be frustrating.
“Chieko!” The blonde and her companion turned to the source of the voice, a third-year student bounding down the stage steps. “Great, Téa told me you were up for the performance. I have a good idea of what you can do to help us out, if you’re interested– hey, who’s this?” Shunsuke barreled onward, inspecting Chieko’s partner.
“Would you stop being such a busybody, Shunsuke?” A new voice called out in an exasperated tone. It was Akane, holding a sheath of papers in her arms.
“Well, he’s new here, right?” The young man nodded slowly, as if assessing Shunsuke in his mind. “But… no, I swear I’ve seen you somewhere before. You didn’t go to this school before?”
Chieko blinked in surprise; it was the first time her companion had spoken in the past half-hour. It was a rather flat, simple answer, but an actual answer nonetheless! Maybe Shunsuke could pry some more information out of him…
“Oh, I’ve got it!” Shunsuke snapped his fingers. “You must be a duelist, right? We’ve got so many of them in this school, sometimes I lose track. All these tournaments and Battle Cities and…”
“Hey! I’ve got an idea!” Akane interrupted. “You probably need to get some extra-curriculars on your transcript, right? Well, we’re looking for some participants for our musical. I know it’s a bit abrupt, but we’ve actually got some great minor roles, or–” Akane looked a bit sheepish as she suggested this, “well, a rather major non-speaking role that would fit you really well.”
Shunsuke seemed to know what Akane was talking about and gave the new student a once-over. “You’re right. He would.”
“You’re talking about the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come?” Chieko spluttered. She glanced at her companion, her eyebrows furrowed. Well, he certainly did have an intimidating aura about him…
“A non-speaking role, correct?”
Shunsuke and Akane nodded eagerly, wisely staying silent while the new student contemplated their request.
“Very well. But I have other pressing matters to attend to for the next several days, so I will not be able to attend any rehearsals for a while.”
“Oh! That’s totally okay!” Akane blurted, clapping her hands together. “There will be announcements about the final dress rehearsals posted up here at the auditorium and by the dance studio… just make sure to be here for those, and know your role and everything. It’ll be great!”
“Well then– now that that’s settled…” Chieko could sense that Shunsuke and Akane wanted to get their newfound ‘Ghost’ to tell them more about himself, but she couldn’t waste any more time. Besides– she wanted to find out more about this new second-year on her own.
“I’m very sorry, directors, but we do have to get going– there is much more of the school to see!” Chieko didn’t give anyone a chance to protest, dragging the new student out by his arm. Midway through their rushed trek up the aisles, Chieko realized with a flushing of her cheeks that her companion was very well-toned, with muscular arms that spoke of strength untapped.
Once outside and far away from the auditorium, Chieko spoke once more. “So, do you play Duel Monsters?” Shunsuke thought that the newbie was familiar– a duelist of great fame, perhaps, but in a school with so many popular duelists, it was hard to know for sure. The world of Duel Monsters was never one of great interest to Chieko anyway, and it was only now, getting used to her friends and their strange pasts that she bothered to take a stronger interest in the subject.
Her companion hesitated, shifting his gaze out toward the courtyard. A cold December breeze whipped through the trees, sending what few leaves were still attached to branches off into the distance.
“I used to.”
And that was the end of that conversation– her companion walked away before Chieko could so much as utter another syllable.
Now Chieko sat in on the meeting easily comprised of fifty students, all chattering away about the upcoming musical. She didn’t even consider that the new student was nowhere to be found among Class 2-B, nor among the lines of other students.
“Attention, everyone!” Shunsuke called out in an excited voice. It took another three hollers, with Akane joining in on the final one before they got everyone’s attention. Despite the masses of students, the auditorium was clearly divided– the Drama Club members took up their usual seats in the front center section, while the Dance Club members occupied the back and right, while Téa, and her band of friends, Chieko included, sat near the front right.
“Well, after many grueling hours last night, we’ve managed to convert Téa Gardner’s absolutely amazing rendition of ‘A Modern Christmas Carol’ into script-form. We have enough copies to go around, so take a look and see what parts interest you. But before you ask, yes, a couple of parts are…” Shunsuke smiled at Seto and Téa, winking at the latter, who blushed from all of Shunsuke’s compliments, “reserved. We’ve left all the names intact though, so it shouldn’t take a genius to guess which parts are reserved for who. You’re welcome to audition for them nonetheless, if you’re up to having a major lead role –and I tell you, almost all of them are big roles. You never know– the actual people might rather be set designers!”
Everyone laughed, eagerly grabbing a copy of the script when it came their way. Téa grinned when she got her copy; she, along with Seto and their other friends opened the script, smiled to see her name plastered all over the cover page.
Not much later, laughter spread throughout the crowd; people seemed to agree wholeheartedly that Yugi made an excellent Bob Cratchit archetype, that no one but Seto could play the greedy miser equivalent of Ebenezer Scrooge. Joey seemed thoroughly amused by the fact that his role was that of Seto’s old ‘college buddy,’ the too-enthusiastic replacement for Scrooge’s nephew.
“Hey, I got a wife in this!” Joey exclaimed. “Who’s it gonna be?” A gaggle of girls from the Dance Club eyed Joey flirtatiously, and he puffed up, smiling broadly. But it was Akane, sitting casually on the stage, who fixed Joey with a casual, half-lidded glance– startlingly reminiscent of Mai. Joey gulped and sat down quickly, thumbing through his script once more.
Téa spotted the tell-tale blush on his cheeks, and whispered conspiratorially to Chieko, “I should recruit Mai for this too, just to freak Joey out.”
Chieko agreed with a smile. “That would be most amusing.”
Soon enough, the entire room was abuzz with laughter and chatter; people discussed the parts they wanted, and the parts they knew would be best filled by someone else. Some girls loved the idea of there being a whole slew of extras: that meant they wouldn’t have to take center stage, but they’d still have very pivotal roles. Shunsuke’s script had Téa’s story converted into a musical, but there wasn’t a single incident when Seto would have to sing.
“Darn, I was kind of hoping I’d get to hear you sing…” Téa mock-pouted, giving her best doe eyes to Seto. He blinked once and turned away, forcing himself to be unfazed.
“Not a chance.”
Téa still smiled. “Oh, I’ll get a tune out of you somehow…” she murmured, reaching up to sneakily dance her fingers across Seto’s ribs. He jolted immediately, practically tipping off the top of the chair he sat on. Téa only smirked when he shot her an indignant look.
‘Ticklish, much?’ she mouthed, laughing to herself. Seto only glared at her.
Days later, Shunsuke and Akane had the entire production planned out to a tee. People were busy at work designing sets and costumes, and slowly but surely, buzz spread throughout the school of the upcoming musical. Even the organizations that previously shunned the Drama Club became interested, their presidents and advisors offering their services.
“This is great!” Akane exclaimed. “We’ve got the Orchestra lined up for all the musical numbers, plus some Choir Club members interested in filling in the empty spots we have for extras! And the Band is okay with performing intermission music, and then some entertainment later on for a cast party! Can you believe it, a cast party!”
Thanks to the fact that the major roles were being played by the very same people their characters were named for, there was little difficulty in the way of memorizing parts. Everyone agreed wholeheartedly that Shunsuke, ever the enthusiastic ‘drama queen’ he was, should play the narrator– a descendant of the author of the original play, Charles Dickens. Much to Yugi’s embarrassment, the beautiful third-year vice president, Akane, would be playing his girlfriend, the story’s equivalent of a hot-headed ‘Mrs. Cratchit.’
When it came time to choose people to play the Ghosts, many realized that while Téa left them unnamed, as they had been in the original story, the Ghosts of Christmas possessed surprising similarities to other characters– namely Tristan and Joey.
“So for the Ghost of Christmas Present, we need someone who is jolly…” Shunsuke began, looking at the gathered cast members.
“Someone who likes partying–” another voice put in.
“Someone who likes to eat!” A second-year student in the back hollered.
“Sounds awfully like someone we both know…” Seto whispered under his breath to Téa, smirking as he glanced at Joey. The latter boy remained utterly oblivious, unaware that everyone was thinking of him for the role.
After a few more descriptions of the merry Ghost of Christmas Present, all eyes turned to Joey, who was still reading his script. When everyone hollered out his name, he bolted out of his chair in surprise.
“What? What’d I do?”
“Congratulations,” Akane smiled devilishly as she sauntered up to him with a thick pink highlighter, “you’ve just been nominated to play the amazing role of the Ghost of Christmas Present. You get to stuff your face and party like there’s no tomorrow. Your reaction, sir?” Akane held the highlighter up to Joey’s face as if it were a microphone. Joey just gaped, his jaw hanging open.
The crowd only laughed.
As lunch time came to a close, all of the roles were filled– though Téa, who had been carefully keeping track of who would play whom, seemed a bit confused.
“What is it?” Seto asked her, eying the way she was chewing on her pen and nibbling on her thumb-nail.
“Well, Yugi’s playing himself– the original story’s Bob Cratchit. Tristan is the Ghost of Christmas Past and the charity clerk you meet at the beginning… I’m Belle, and Chieko’s going to be Joey’s wife, ‘Clara.’ The twins–” she gestured to two giggling first-year twin girls, who were making eyes at Yugi, “are playing Yugi’s younger sisters, since we all decided everyone looks too young to have kids just yet. Akane is going to be Yugi’s girlfriend, and Hiroshi, the guy who actually suggested to Shunsuke that he use Miss Ninomiya’s story submissions, is playing the homeless caroling boy.”
“So,” Téa bit her lip before continuing, “we’re missing two of the biggest roles in the play! The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, and Tiny Tim!”
“Oh, don’t worry about the final Ghost,” Shunsuke called from the stage.
“Oh yes! Téa, I forgot to tell you, but yesterday I toured a new student around the grounds, and introduced him to the directors here.” Shunsuke and Akane beamed, loving the title Chieko bestowed upon them. “Since it’s not a speaking role, he agreed to play it. Unfortunately, he had some pressing engagement that prevented him from coming to the meeting.”
“We’re okay with that, though,” Akane assured Téa. The guy certainly has a way of just standing there and looking intimidating,” she glanced out of the corner of her eye at Seto, who obviously didn’t understand her innuendo regarding how he too fit the same description. “Well, we cast him right then and there. We need whoever we can get.”
“Come to think of it, I thought he looked a bit familiar…” Shunsuke began, but then he shook his head. “But nah, there’s just no way.”
At first, Téa thought that maybe that they’d cast Bakura on the sly, but Chieko had just said that the frightening Ghost was a new student.
‘One less problem to deal with,‘ Téa thought to herself. She couldn’t face Bakura, not after the whole DV8 incident. What made her feel horrible about it all was that Ryou was the true victim of her negligence –she had, after all, promised him a part in the Dance Club. But she couldn’t think about that– not now. There were other pressing matters at hand.
‘But what about Tiny Tim?” Téa reminded everyone.
“Well, originally we thought of Yugi,” Shunsuke grinned lopsidedly, “but you had him cast as Kaiba’s worker. So we tried to find other people…”
“No luck. No one really has that ‘childlike innocence’ Tiny Tim needs, you know?” Akane finished.
Téa remembered how she’d associated each of the roles in Charles Dickens’s story with people she knew; when it came time to cast the role of the modern ‘Tiny Tim,’ there had really only been one face…
“I’ve got it!” Téa snapped her fingers.
“Who?” Akane, Shunsuke, and Chieko all looked bewildered; then again, Téa was the original author of the modernized story.
Téa smiled broadly, “Why, none other than the cutest little rascal Domino has ever seen–” she turned to Seto. “wouldn’t you agree, Seto?”
Shunsuke and Akane blinked, not understanding. “But Kaiba’s already playing Scrooge–”
“He’s not exactly child-like, either…” Shunsuke added under his breath.
“I don’t mean this Kaiba,” Téa thumbed toward her boyfriend. “I mean the littlest Kaiba!”
“Mokuba?” Seto uttered, his eyes widening. “Are you sure he can handle something like this?”
The moment he said the words, he regretted them. True, Mokuba was still in elementary school, but Seto of all people recognized that Mokuba was more mature, and had been through much more than his peers. Still…
‘I’ll have to talk to Mokuba,‘ Seto thought grimly to himself. And not just about a potential role in the play– about everything else that had been disturbing their formerly-close brotherly relationship before. Above all else: trust.
To make matters even worse, Téa had an expression on her face that looked as though she were reading his mind. It wasn’t just the fact that she knew Mokuba was cute, and had the ability to win over whole crowds with his puppy eyes. She knew that getting Mokuba involved in their activities would require Seto to talk to him…
“Never mind, I’m sure he can. I’ll talk to him tonight.”
“We need to talk.”
To a different person, in a different time and place, those four words would have signaled the beginning of the end. But to Mokuba Kaiba, they only meant that he was in trouble. To make matters worse, Téa just left Seto’s office with a gentle smile and a meaningful glance toward both boys. Then she closed the large double-doors leading to the rest of the Kaiba mansion — and effectively cutting off any chance of escape.
“…What about, Big Brother?” Mokuba asked with a forced grin. Truthfully, he was still trying to work through his feelings for Téa– and the unprecedented jealousy he still harbored toward his brother.
So what if he was only twelve, or that he’d never really run Kaiba Corp.? Who cared that his grades were less than stellar, and that, while he was an expert gamer, he was nowhere near his brother’s level?
That was just the thing– Téa didn’t care, and that was why Mokuba liked her so much.
But as with everything else, Seto was the champion. While Mokuba would never stop being his number one fan, and Seto Kaiba’s constant source of faith and boundless energy, it didn’t stop those little bits of doubt creeping in from the back of his mind, reminding Mokuba of all that Seto had that Mokuba could never even dream of possessing.
“You tell me,” Seto responded just as promptly, sitting on the arm of his office couch. Mokuba was still standing a distance from him, pacing from the doorway to the window and back again. He never did like being in locked rooms. “What’s on your mind?”
Mokuba stopped pacing and cast a hesitant gaze back at his brother. In the past, he easily could have told his brother exactly what was on his mind. But not now– not ‘I’m don’t want to be second-fiddle to you anymore. I’m tired of being “Seto Kaiba’s little brother,” instead of me, Mokuba Kaiba.’ Mokuba half-wished that his brother knew what was bothering him so– that way, he wouldn’t have to worry about these awkward conversations.
But his brother was far from psychic– if anything, he was stubborn beyond all belief, and wouldn’t address a problem unless it dealt directly with him.
‘Maybe a long time ago, I would have been one of those matters that dealt directly with him…‘ Mokuba sighed, and resumed pacing.
“Why are you doing this, Big Brother?” What he meant was ‘Why are you talking to me? What are you going to get from this?’
“It’s been a while since you’ve called me that.” Seto responded, ignoring Mokuba’s question. “Téa told me that when she found you in the park, you called me ‘Seto,’ instead of ‘Big Brother.'”
Mokuba paused, contemplating an appropriate response. Truthfully, he hadn’t put much thought into how he referred to his brother since that incident. But by no means had Mokuba forgotten about it entirely. Seto would always be his older brother, but…
“I’m growing up.”
Mokuba waited for a response with bated breath, half-expecting his brother to make some sort of snarky comment about his height. It was true– Seto inherited their father’s good looks and dominating height, while Mokuba inherited his mother’s dark hair and petite stature. But such things as appearance mattered little to the younger Kaiba. Life experiences taught him that trust and family mattered above all else. What did you have when you couldn’t trust your only family?
“That’s what I was afraid of,” Seto sighed softly, much to Mokuba’s surprise. Of all the answers he expected his brother to make, that wasn’t one of them.
After a few minutes of silence, Mokuba finally decided to settle down beside his brother on the couch. Words were still hard to come by, so the younger Kaiba decided to contemplate his fingers before responding.
“This is weird. You haven’t paid attention to me like this in a long time.”
Seto shot him a surprised glance. “Do you want me to?”
“Of course!” Mokuba blurted before he could really stop himself. “What I mean is… well… look, I know…” Quite suddenly, visions from the morning after Téa’s birthday, when he’d walked in on the two of them wrapped in each others’ arms and totally lost within one another assaulted Mokuba’s mind. Tears stung at his pinched-shut eyelids, his cheeks growing increasingly hot.
‘I won’t cry, I won’t cry, I won’t cry!’ Kaibas didn’t cry. That was the rule. Ever since they’d become Kaibas, that meant they had to be stronger, better, faster– it meant those bullies from the orphanage couldn’t look down on them anymore, or beat up on them, or…
“I know you and Téa are going out and all, and I know I said I’m growing up, but–”
Abruptly, Mokuba found himself smothered in his older brother’s embrace, the only part of his face not squished against Seto’s arms being half of his nose on up.
“Don’t turn into me, Mokuba. Don’t even think about it.”
“Big Brother?” Mokuba queried, though his voice came out as muffled. Seto eased up on his grip slightly, but he still held Mokuba within his arms. The elder Kaiba was silently grateful that Mokuba was still small enough to fit in his arms. One day, that would all change, and one day, Mokuba would be his height, wearing his suits and trench coats and…
‘I can’t imagine it.’ Somehow, the idea of Mokuba becoming just like him concurrently sickened and confused Seto Kaiba. What would become of the carefree little brother who spoke his mind, but was always his number one fan, most loyal supporter and believer, and the one he could always trust and rely on, no matter what?
“It’s hard,” Mokuba finally whispered, his voice unexpectedly cracking. “It’s hard watching you guys together. She’s the first real friend I had besides you, Big Brother,” Mokuba began, referring to Téa indirectly, “and… I liked making her smile. And I know she makes you smile too, but…”
It was strange. He was jealous of his brother because he had the pleasure of Téa’s company, her touches and her smiles… her unadulterated, unconditional love. But on the same token, he was jealous of Téa, because of all the undivided attention she seemed to get from Seto, and how before, when only Mokuba could have read his older brother’s mysterious expressions, now Téa could as well.
‘He really is growing up,’ Seto realized, albeit with more than a measure of reluctance. Starting junior high in a year, and then…
“Not for long, kid. The minute you turn thirteen, I’m hauling you in front of a crowd of people and YOU can talk about the past year’s developments and successes.”
It was all said purely in jest, but… eventually, people would expect Mokuba to take a more active role in the company that his brother now ran. He’d more than proved his worth acting as Battle City Commissioner, after all. But now, nearly a year after Battle City and months after that snide remark said merely to quiet his brother, Seto found himself doubting whether he wanted Mokuba to take any part in Kaiba Corp. at all.
If he did… that would mean Mokuba really was growing up. Growing up, and going away.
Seto Kaiba prided himself on his intelligence– and he was smart enough to know his brother better than anyone else. And he knew that he couldn’t keep Mokuba pinned to Domino, to Tokyo, or even to Japan. Mokuba had to want to stay. But… would he?
“She does,” Seto finally responded, his voice soft and somewhat gruff. Funny– after his mother had died, Seto never would have thought another female could have any sort of impact on him whatsoever. But…
‘Things change. People change. I… even I changed.’
“You love her, right?” Mokuba asked. But he wasn’t being flippant about it– his dark eyes were shining with a fierce glint to them –over-protectiveness, almost– that Seto once thought was reserved just for him. But now Mokuba had to think of Téa not as his crush, as he had for who-knows-how-long, but as “Big Sister Téa.” How hard that had to be, for a boy so young and already so heartbroken…
“I–” Even just speaking to his brother, the answer didn’t come easily. “I don’t know.”
Mokuba peered at his brother, craning his neck as if Seto were some sort of zoo animal on display.
“What are you looking for, Mokuba? It’s not written on my forehead in indelible ink.”
“It should be,” Mokuba responded back just as promptly. “I think you’re just too scared to tell her.”
Seto abruptly stiffened, his eyes narrowing. To anyone else, such a stance and icy expression would mean sudden death for them, but Mokuba didn’t seem the least bit fazed. Rather, he yawned out of the corner of his mouth, and brushed a few stray bangs aside.
“I. Am. Not. Afraid.”
“Are too,” Mokuba responded promptly. “You’ve never had a girlfriend before, so how would you even know what to tell her?”
‘Damn.’ For a twelve year old, his brother was startlingly perceptive. And he was right. Everything else Seto Kaiba said and did was based on previous experience. He’d lived life the hard way for many years, learned from each and every experience, and resolved to never make the same mistakes over again. He continued to live in this manner day by day, even applying the concept to his duels.
Never the same duel twice. Never the same deck. Never the same strategy. Always know your opponent. Always expect the unexpected. Always…
‘Be sure of yourself, above all else. Without that knowledge, you lack confidence, and you expose weakness. Then you are weak.’
“Even if you are right,” Seto started, heavily emphasizing the ‘if,’ in his sentence, “you know just as well as I do that rushing into things only makes you a fool.”
Mokuba bobbed his head up and down in a jaunty nod, closing his eyes in self-assurance as he spoke. “Yeah, but some things you just know.”
Obviously, Mokuba ‘just knew‘ about how he felt for Téa, and that was why he could go about being so open with his feelings, and so carefree with his actions. In a bizarre twist of fate, Seto Kaiba found himself jealous of his brother. It was a feeling that came and went rather infrequently, only serving to perplex him when it did occur. Him, jealous of Mokuba? But then…
‘Téa was right. Mokuba really is like Tiny Tim. So… selfless and caring. He’s nothing like me.‘ But that thought didn’t disturb Seto in the least. It was more the thought that this loving, caring boy that fit so snugly into his arms, that was Seto’s last reminder of his mother, his last link to his father… that he would fade away, and change into someone else. Someone hardened to the world. Someone… like himself.
The innocent, smiling Seto that had been lost to Gozaburo Kaiba never returned. Seto knew that his conscience would never forgive him if the same fate befell Mokuba.
“Stay you, okay Mokuba?” Seto mumbled under his breath, forcing his gaze away from his brother. “Don’t ever change.”
Mokuba regarded his brother silently. ‘Maybe he does need me, after all.‘
A few more minutes of silence, and then Seto Kaiba rose to his feet and straightened his rumpled shirt. “Are you up for a challenge?”
Mokuba jumped off the couch, glad to have the strange tension between him and his brother lifted at last. So their conversation probably wouldn’t be considered enlightening by anyone else’s standards, but what did anyone else matter to the Kaiba brothers? Anyone besides Téa, that is. What mattered is that Seto at least paid a modicum of attention to Mokuba, clearly desiring to straighten things out between them and stay ‘brothers’ no matter what.
‘And… I resolve to really, truly treat Téa like the big sister I’ve never had. ‘Cause even if he can’t say it, I know Big Brother loves her. I can’t –I won’t— get in the way of that. No matter what.’
“When am I not?”
Seto turned his back to Mokuba, wondering how to phrase this rather out-of-the-ordinary request about the role of “Tiny Tim” in Téa’s play. Surely Mokuba would be shocked that he’d agreed to it, let alone was acting as recruiter for other roles.
“You want to prove to the world that you’re ‘Mokuba Kaiba’ and not just my younger brother, right?” Seto finally asked, facing his brother with a semi-smirk creeping across his lips. The shock on Mokuba’s face was undeniable, but he quickly closed his slacking jaw and nodded vigorously.
‘Maybe Big Brother is psychic after all.’ Mokuba grinned to himself. But maybe it was just a minor brother-to-brother sort of psychic connection. Surely if Seto had any extra-sensory perception, he would have gotten together with Téa long ago.
“Domino High’s putting on a musical version of a story Téa wrote last year. It’s a modern adaptation of ‘A Christmas Carol.'”
“Seriously?!” Mokuba practically jumped a half-meter in the air, his eyes shining with delight. Even if his brother tended to fit the ‘Scrooge’ archetype, Christmas was always Mokuba’s favorite time– time when Seto had no excuse not to spend time with him, and when they could really have fun as brothers, and as family. Even with Téa as a new addition… well, it’d be three times the fun!
One of Mokuba’s favorite Christmas activities –much to his older brother’s chagrin– was watching every rendition of ‘A Christmas Carol’ ever made, from the old black-and-white versions to the one with the Muppets, and the one with that foreigner Bill Murray. The whole marathon tended to take hours and result in at least four bowls of popcorn and twelve candy cans disappearing in a single day but… it was tradition.
Needless to say, the younger Kaiba absolutely adored the story.
“Yes, seriously,” Seto responded plainly. But his little brother’s enthusiasm was just a bit infectious. Just a bit. “Téa thought of you first when considering roles for her version of Tiny Tim. You in? Rehearsals start this week, every evening until around nine. The performance is on the 23rd at six o’clock.”
“Whoo-hoo! I’m Tiny Tim, I’m Tiny Tim–” Mokuba didn’t even bother formally responding to his brother; he just bounded out of the office with a holler, his smile wide and bright.
In the wake of his brother’s enthusiasm-packed exit, Seto shook his head in resignation. “I guess that’s a ‘yes.'”
“So we’re finally having our first dress rehearsal today,” Shunsuke clapped his hands together, “and we’ve actually got every person here for once!” Their first dress rehearsal began in the late afternoon into the night. Shunsuke arranged to have a large dinner delivered, but was adamant about not spending a cent until they’d made it through the first few acts.
Scattered laughter spread throughout the Drama Club; most of them were still chattering about how successfully everything was coming together. Thanks to Chieko’s excellent ability to multi-task, she acted as choreographer and costume director, along with her minor role as Joey’s new bride. Since everything was set in modern times, everyone wore modern clothes– but they were all playing characters who were several years older than the actors were in reality. That meant they had to dress just a bit differently…
“Well,” Chieko fixed Kaiba with a flat stare, eyeing his bleach-white business suit and blue silk tie, “at least I won’t have to help you knot your tie.”
From backstage, a familiar howl pierced the air, “I’m dyin’ here! Help, he–” Then there was an abrupt gagging sound, and hushed laughter. Ever since he’d gotten a major role in the play, Joey became even more of a ‘drama queen’ than Shunsuke was at times. It was hard getting him to ‘tone down’ his act and just be himself, which was exactly what Téa was hoping for when she wrote Joey into his role as Seto’s former college buddy.
“Everyone’s here?” Téa queried, just for verification purposes. She knew about the girls in the Dance Club acting as townspeople and extras; she spotted Yugi and Tristan snickering over their suits, and she had Mokuba sitting at her side, the small boy clad in a worn t-shirt and torn denim jeans.
Her story was really coming to life.
Chieko nodded in affirmation. “Yes. Even our elusive Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. He must have finished whatever pressing matter kept him away from all the other rehearsals, apparently. If Shunsuke has his way, we should be able to get through the entire script today.”
“Music and all?” Mokuba piped up from his seat.
Chieko nodded warmly at their youngest recruit. “Yes. Although, I agree with Téa…” she nodded toward Téa and Seto, “that it is quite unfair that everyone but your brother sings in this performance.”
Seto just shook his head, his arms crossed over his chest. “Thank goodness.”
“Maybe you should just come over when Big Brother’s in the shower,” Mokuba uttered in a stage-whisper. Téa and Chieko’s eyes widened in surprise, the former girl’s cheeks turning a brilliant shade of pink.
“Mokuba…” Seto murmured in a low whisper, bordering on a growl.
Mokuba blatantly ignored his brother’s warning and continued, “He’s actually pretty on-key, I think, though that might have something to do with the shower acoustics…”
Téa and Chieko burst into laughter, while Seto had his chance to turn red.
“Five seconds, runt.”
Mokuba’s jaw dropped and he immediately sprung from his seat and tore across the auditorium in a dead-run. Exactly five seconds later, Seto sprung from his own seat and tore after his rambunctious little brother, much to the watching crowd’s amusement and surprise. However, before Seto could catch his younger brother, Shunsuke clapped his hands again and called out through his bullhorn.
An hour or so later, there were only two scenes until the end of the play; Seto had only to meet the voiceless Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, and then he would realize the error of his ways and make amends with Yugi, Joey and… Téa.
Téa wrote her story so that Seto could have his reunion with her character, and that they’d “give it another try,” but there was no mushiness involved. For some strange reason, it felt… wrong. Like she was cheating both herself and the character she played. But then again, this was considering Seto’s stint as the most miserly ‘Scrooge’ there ever was…
Maybe it had something to do with the odd feeling that threatened to swallow Téa ever since they’d started rehearsing.
‘I’m sure it’s just because I haven’t finished memorizing everything yet.‘ Téa glanced at Seto, who, as always, exuded an aura of confidence. He’d long ago memorized his lines, having reminded Téa about his supposedly-infallible “photographic memory.” The same ‘memory’ that failed him in August when they’d first kissed… but that was water under the bridge. Best she just let it go and concentrate on the play instead.
Yet, she couldn’t shake the odd feeling that kept trying to overwhelm her.
They were between scenes now, and she was supposed to head off-stage until Seto had his traumatic, life-changing experience with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. Téa shifted her weight to one foot, memorizing what she could of her last scene’s lines when a cold tingle rippled down her spine.
She glanced up and saw the imposing, dark figure of the Ghost standing right beside her– as though he’d appeared out of nowhere.
‘It… It can’t be.’
Téa dropped her script without blinking, her eyes wide. Step by step, she stumbled backward, her breath growing increasingly cold and prickly in her chest.
The newcomer guised as the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come didn’t move. The bright stage lights continued to glitter off the golden chain around the Ghost’s neck, and the large Eye of Horus pendant in the center. She recognized that shape– it was the mark of the Millennium Items and all who knew of them. The chain itself wasn’t a Millennium Item; Yugi still had the Necklace stocked away somewhere for safekeeping.
But it wasn’t the chain alone that terrified Téa into silence.
It was the sun-tanned golden skin clutching the scythe; it was the unusual lavender eyes just barely visible through the black rayon mask disguising the Ghost; it was the gold bracers peeking out from under voluminous dirt-gray sleeves.
“Stay away from me!”
She remembered the invasion of her mind, the warping of her memories, the twisting of her senses. She remembered being bound to a metal chair on the edge of an unsteady dock. She remembered seeing her two best friends duel one another, in what could be a life-or-death situation. She remembered bile creeping up her throat, and residual sensations from her controller flashing through her memory.
Seto and the others in the auditorium stared at Téa in confusion and astonishment; why was she so terrified of a student? He was just in costume, and surely Téa knew that!
The Ghost moved forward slightly, raising one of its arms as if to halt Téa from continuing. But she didn’t. Her cheeks flushed and her eyes tearing, she dared to yell at the Ghost once more.
“Why are you here again, Malik?”
Eyes that were once confused now widened with surprise, then narrowed in suspicion and anger.
Yugi looked from Tristan to Joey and then back up at the stage, where Téa trembled not a meter away from Malik, still disguised as the Ghost. Seto stood a short distance away from both Malik and Téa. The logical course was to wait –just a moment– and see what either of them would do. Not because they dictated his actions, but because he wouldn’t be the brash fool who did something stupid.
‘Always let the enemy make a fool of himself.’ Or so years of training under Gozaburo dictated. Maybe now, Seto Kaiba hesitated for a different reason.
It was Téa who finally shifted; her eyes watered with tears and she dashed backstage, not giving Malik the chance to say a single word.
Malik dropped his head, and sighed to himself. He tugged off the mask, but didn’t meet Seto or Yugi’s gazes. Instead, he just ran after Téa, Seto hot on his heels shortly thereafter.
“Hold it,” Seto grabbed Malik by the hood of his costume before he could take another step toward Téa, who’d run off into the blackness of the backstage.
Malik gagged for a moment, shooting Seto an angry glare. When he realized it was Seto Kaiba, his former opponent in the Battle City tournament, his eyes widened. He shifted his hood again, and crossed his arms over his chest.
“What are you doing here?” Malik hissed in a low voice.
“I could ask you the same question,” Seto responded snidely. “Where do you think you’re going?”
Malik didn’t respond; instead, he regarded Seto with a casual eye, appraising him as if he were some sort of prized object on sale. “So it is true.”
“What are you talking about?” Seto didn’t bother dignifying Malik by referring to him by name. For all he knew, Malik was again using an alias and trying to dominate the world or something stupid like that. But…
“You. Her. The two of you,” Malik sneered, running his tongue across his teeth. “It makes no sense.”
“Will you stop speaking in fragments and just spit it out already,” Seto growled, quickly growing irritated. “What are you doing here, and why the hell do you think you have any right to go after Téa?”
Malik raised an eyebrow, but didn’t respond to Seto’s question. Instead, he turned around, facing the darkened backstage area. He could easily tell where Téa was hiding, but Kaiba didn’t have to know that he knew that– or how. If it was indeed true, and Téa had become romantically involved with Seto Kaiba… well then, Kaiba could find his precious girlfriend on his own.
“You’ll have to forgive me,” Malik stated in that presumptuous way that Kaiba came to associate with all members of the Ishtar clan. “I merely wanted to allay her fears of me. I’m not here for…” He caught sight of Yugi, Tristan and Joey hovering near the outskirts of the curtains, waiting for Malik to say the wrong thing and give them a reason to interrogate him into next week. “I am not here for anything malicious. I mean no harm to any of you.” He addressed Kaiba and Téa both, knowing the two of them could hear him perfectly well, just as Yugi and his friends could.
“I’ll speak to Téa another time.”
“We’ll see about that,” Seto muttered under his breath. Malik only raised an eyebrow and walked off, not even giving Yugi, Tristan and Joey a second glance.
Shunsuke stared as calmly walked across stage, disappearing between the curtains. He then shifted his confused gaze to Akane, and then to the other cast members assembled out in the audience.
“Uhm… well we’ve been working pretty hard for a while– how about some dinner?” Shunsuke was obviously not an expert when it came to sorting out awkward situations, but the other cast members seemed to think Shunsuke’s idea a fine one, and they all followed him out of the auditorium in a great exodus.
“Man, this is heavy,” Tristan sighed, flopping down onto a folding chair in the cast preparation room. The whole place was littered with bolts of fabric and stray pieces of plywood; amongst all the mess, no one would see their little gathering of people discussing this most unexpected turn of events.
“What does weight have to do with it?” Mokuba asked innocently. The only reason why Joey, Yugi, and Tristan didn’t mind that Mokuba tailed after them was because they knew that Seto, being the only other one on stage with Téa at the time Malik made his debut, went after the duo.
“Nothing,” Tristan grumbled. “It’s just an expression.”
“Man, why the hell didn’t we go chasin’ after that jackass?” Joey scowled, punching a fist into his other palm. Then his expression grew sheepish as he realized Mokuba was peering up at him with a curious smile on his face. “Er, uh… ‘scuse my French.”
“That wasn’t French,” Mokuba responded smartly, earning a glare from Joey.
“Joey’s right though,” Tristan cut in smoothly, before anyone could make any more snide remarks. “Why are we here, while Kaiba’s in there with Dr. Evil and Téa?”
Yugi sighed deeply, frowning. “Because Kaiba’s her boyfriend, and we’re not–”
“Like that matters!” Joey yelled. “Just ’cause they’re goin’ out doesn’t mean Téa doesn’t need friends no more. ‘Sides,” Joey added, his voice dropping lower, “Kaiba wouldn’t know why Téa’s so upset if Téa had the reason hangin’ on a neon sign around her neck.”
“Why is Téa so upset?” Mokuba queried, the same innocence as before filtering in through his voice. He looked perplexed, as if muddling through the possible reasons why Téa would be afraid of Malik. The last time they’d all seen the Egyptian was during Battle City, but everything had been resolved peacefully– and without any casualties, as far as they knew. So why would he scare Téa so much?
“Because,” Tristan began angrily, “Malik totally took advantage of her during Battle City.”
“D-Don’t say it like that, Tristan!” Yugi yelped, shaking his hands about wildly. “You’ll give Mokuba the wrong idea.”
“But it’s the truth,” Joey snapped, crossing his arms over his chest. He leaned against a nearby cabinet, balancing one of his feet against the wall. “Come on, Yug’ don’t treat ’em like a kid. Mokuba was there, he saw it all.”
Mokuba bit his lip. Joey was right– he had seen it all, but like his brother, he didn’t understand much. He was a lot more open-minded than his brother– he was sure of that, but…
“Say, Mokuba,” Tristan started, scratching his chin thoughtfully, “weren’t you with Téa before she got er– sidetracked by Rare Hunters?”
“You mean before Malik warped her brain into a pile of melted gelatin?” Mokuba asked blandly. “Yeah, I was. She helped me escape from the Rare Hunters but then she–” Mokuba trailed off, his voice full of regret.
“The kid’s got our point down pat,” Tristan grumbled. “So again, why are we in here while Téa’s out there with Señor Psychopath?”
“Are you talkin’ about Kaiba or Malik?” Joey asked sarcastically.
“Joey!” Yugi frowned at his best friend, shooting him his best glare. Joey opened one eye and glanced at Yugi, noting the reprimanding expression on his face.
“Awright, awright. Sorry,” Joey grumbled, slumping against the wall. “I can’t believe you’re still defendin’ Kaiba, Yug’,” he muttered under his breath.
“Neither can I,” Yugi mumbled softly. “And you’re right, maybe we should be in there with Téa– but maybe that would only make things worse.”
“How so?” Mokuba asked. “I mean, we’re all her friends, right?”
“True,” Yugi started, “but I think the reason why Téa’s so scared of Malik is because he took control of her multiple times– and she could never stop him.”
“Yeah, it wasn’t like you,” Tristan gestured to Joey, “when you broke out of Malik’s control. Téa never could do that.”
“So you’re saying that if we were in there, Téa might think we’re just rubbing it in– that she can’t control situations, and she always needs help from her friends?” Mokuba questioned.
The older boys stared at Mokuba, surprised by his perfectly on-target and mature answer.
“Well,” Yugi scratched the back of his head, feeling sheepish for having dumbed down his explanation for Mokuba’s sake, “yeah.”
Mokuba only shook his head, “I dunno, though. Something tells me my brother won’t be the best person to help matters, either.”
Once the backstage was empty again, Seto made every effort to locate Téa. She had to be back here somewhere— the auditorium’s rear exit was on the other side of the stage, and there was nothing on this side but closets, spare props, and the curtain controls. And…
Stifled, but an audible sniffle nonetheless.
Seto followed the sound, having tracked down his brother by the sound of his sniffles on multiple occasions. Only now, he was trying to find his girlfriend, and figure out why Malik’s presence upset her so much. Surprise he could understand. He too was surprised by Malik’s reappearance in Japan. To top it all off, he was not only in Domino, but in their school, in their grade, and in Téa’s play!
Suspicion would have been understandable too, but somehow Seto doubted that it was simple suspicion of Malik that brought Téa to tears.
A salty droplet of water landed smack on Seto’s nose, trailing down to the corner of his mouth, at which point he promptly wiped it away. He glanced up and found a shadow sitting far up in the prop lofts, where dusty mannequins and cardboard treasure chests sat, stuck to the wall by thick, gray cobwebs.
He found the ladder going up a few moments later, quickly scaling it and making his way past the clutter to her side. Though every fiber in his being protested at sitting down amongst the mess, this seemed to be one of those times when his ‘better judgment’ was better off silenced.
“Téa…?” He kept his voice low and quiet, aware that Téa was in tears. But this was different from all those times back at the orphanage, when the older, bigger kids bullied Mokuba. For one, Téa wasn’t his little brother, and it wasn’t bullies that terrified Téa– she’d proved on more than one occasion that she could handle people like that just fine on her own.
Seto remembered walking into Crump Financial’s office, only to see Téa punch his former associate smack in the nose. Five other bulky men were just as indisposed, scattered about the office. There was no doubt in Seto’s mind that Téa could handle bullies.
She didn’t answer him, she just kept on crying and sniffling intermittently, her form shaking with suppressed sobs. Seto frowned, looking off to the side. He half-hoped that when he glanced down to the dimly-lit backstage, he’d see Yugi or Joey staring up at him, giving him some measure of reassurance, or some idea of what he could say. He just wasn’t used to this… ‘comforting.’
The best answer seemed to be not to give one at all, so Seto hesitantly sat on the dust-covered floor of the loft, dangling his legs off the same way Téa did. A second later, he wrapped his arm around her shoulders, letting her scoot closer to him. It wasn’t so bad, really– having her there, in his arms– even if she was crying, and not smiling or sleeping. Those ways were the ways Seto preferred to have Téa, because having her unhappy just didn’t seem to compute in his mind. It just wasn’t right.
“I’m so scared, Seto,” Téa finally whispered. “I can’t go back down there.”
“You don’t have to,” Seto murmured. “Shunsuke called a break for everyone. Pretty much everyone left to have dinner.”
“E-Everyone?” Téa mumbled, briefly nuzzling her face against Seto’s chest. She scrubbed away her tears with her sleeve, but more just kept coming. She couldn’t stop. “Even h-him?” By ‘him,’ she of course meant Malik.
And the truth was, Seto didn’t know if the Egyptian had left the auditorium. For all he knew, he could be standing amongst the shadows below, still wearing that rag-costume of his.
“I…” He couldn’t lie to her. Better to change the subject. “Why are you so scared of him. Téa?”
Téa didn’t answer at first, instead staring at her knees. Her legs seemed to disappear into the darkness of the backstage area, like a massive creature were eating her, bit by bit. She’d felt like that once…
“Thank you, for what you said to him. It… it means a lot.”
Seto blinked in surprise. When he’d chased after Malik and threatened him to stay away from Téa, it had all come instinctively. Of course he wasn’t going to let a known psychopath go chasing after her. Even if what he felt for Téa was still a bit confusing, that didn’t change that he felt something, which meant she had to be protected, above all costs. It meant she was his, and no one else’s…
“I didn’t tell you what happened last week, when… when I met up with Crump.” Try as she might, Téa couldn’t keep the revulsion out of her voice. Just saying Crump’s name caused a cold shiver to ripple down her spine, and memories of his raspy voice and clammy hands to echo painfully in her mind.
Téa continued before Seto could ask any questions, though his expression immediately hardened into one of extreme seriousness.
“I snuck right past you, you know that? Now that I think about it, I wish you would have seen me and stopped me, because–”
“Did he do anything to you, Téa?” Forget Malik, Crump would die if he’d done anything to hurt Téa. It didn’t help that instead of answering him right away, Téa just looked away and began playing with her fingers.
“…Tied me to a chair. Duct tape glue is really hard to get off, by the way.”
“Téa…” She was good at dodging the subject, and she knew it, too. Of course, this all went back to her fears, anyway– while Seto refused to admit that he even had any, Téa tried her hardest to ignore them altogether, until they came to face her. Hadn’t they learned by now that running away didn’t solve anything?
“If I hadn’t stashed a nail file under my sleeve, I wouldn’t have been able to cut through that duct tape,” Téa explained in a dull whisper. “Then he would have succeeded in tearing more than my shirt open, and–”
“I’ll kill him.”
“He’s already in jail, Seto,” Téa sighed. But after everything the Big Five had done to her and her family, why was she even defending Crump? Why waste her energy? Seto was right.
“I’ll kill him anyway.”
Téa laughed shortly, flattered by Seto’s over protectiveness. Sometimes his timing was a bit off, but… in his own strange way, he could be awfully endearing. “You don’t really want to end up back in jail again, do you? I wouldn’t be able to find any evidence to get you out, and last time I checked, your lawyer abandoned you.”
Of course, she was right. It wasn’t fair.
“I hate this.” Her voice was soft and monotonous, with her head hanging against her chest. “Every now and then, I can be strong. I can be smart, I can be quick. But… when it really matters, I get kidnapped, brainwashed, tied to a chair with a two-ton crate hanging over my head. I always need to get rescued. I hate it!” The tears slid down Téa’s cheeks, even as she squeezed her eyes shut as tightly as possible.
“I won’t let him hurt you, Téa.”
She stiffened in his arms, her cheeks suddenly flushing with an angry heat. “You won’t let him? That’s not how it works, Seto. You don’t own the world or anybody in it, least of all me! You certainly don’t give permission to–” Téa cut off, her eyes abruptly darkening. She shook her head and sighed sadly. “What’s the use?”
“Téa, I–” Somehow, somewhere, he’d messed up. But how? He just wanted to protect her– what was wrong with that?
“What now? Are you going to say, ‘it’s okay to be weak and vulnerable like that, because I can protect you’? Do you think that’s what I really want? Do you think that’s what I need from you?”
Seto was silent. Wasn’t that what he’d always been offering to her, from the start? Why now was it suddenly so wrong to want to protect her? Only minutes ago she seemed to find it… well, almost ‘cute,’ and now–
‘I will never understand women.’
“You just don’t get it, Seto. I thought you would, because we’ve been through so much of the same things, really. When you lose someone that means so much to you…” Téa trailed off sadly, her voice breaking slightly. But no! She couldn’t let herself become weaker and more vulnerable. She had to prove to Seto that she didn’t need his care. Wanting and needing were two totally different things…
“It’s nice knowing you care so much, Seto, but I don’t want to be a sheltered girl, hiding out from the big bad world for the rest of my life. That part of me is gone.”
“Then why are you still so terrified of Malik?” Seto countered suddenly, turning steely-blue eyes on her. Damn it all, he just wanted answers– straight, clear ones. Was that too much to ask?
Téa fell silent in the face of this new question. Out of sight, she clenched her fist. No matter how many explanations she made, or how many tears she cried, Seto would never understand. He’d needed protection just like her, but while Téa eventually got that protection and became stronger because of it, Seto never did. He’d never been protected by anyone, not since his parents’ death, and as a result, he was the protector, instead of the protected. It simply wasn’t in his mind to let Téa be strong for him, or even for herself– it made no sense to someone like him.
“You don’t know what it’s like– to have someone… rape your mind like that! You never believed that any of that ever happened, even when you saw it with your own eyes. You didn’t bother to ask questions or understand it– you just ignored it! You accused us all of making believe, of pretending and playing in Egyptian fairy-tales, when you knew all along it was so much more than that!”
“How can I understand anything you’re saying when you don’t bother to say it clearly? Téa, what does all this idiocy about the past have to do with Malik? He’s a damn fool, and he doesn’t deserve the power you’re giving him by being so afraid!”
“I know that!” Téa yelled, just a bit too loudly. Her voice echoed hollowly off the catwalks, resounding in the auditorium for a moment before it faded. “I know. But it’s not idiocy, and just because it’s the past doesn’t mean I’ve dealt with it completely. I– I can’t. I can’t just forget.”
A simple question, but a stupid one.
‘Everything I say… he hears it, but he just doesn’t listen.’
“You just wouldn’t understand!”
Joey, Yugi, and Tristan all wandered back into the auditorium, wondering if Kaiba succeeded in talking to Téa. They all suggested that Mokuba stay outside with the rest of the cast, lest Malik still be wandering around.
The youngest Kaiba didn’t appreciate the idea– after all, he knew too well that he practically had a neon sign above his head reading ‘BAIT!’ in brightly colored letters. Anyone that wanted to take advantage of his brother could do it through him. But… they were right. It was safer with crowds of other people. So he stayed outside, but that didn’t stop him from worrying about all of them– not to mention Téa or his brother.
Opinion was still mixed regarding what to do when they saw Malik again, as he hadn’t followed the rest of the crowd outside. But they couldn’t find him in the auditorium, and now they were torn about what to do. They head up to the stage, looking for any sign of life. None of them expected Téa, still in tears, to come barrelling into Joey’s arms, nearly bowling him over.
Joey stumbled backward to regain his balance, forced to wrap his arms around Téa to keep her steady. She buried her face in his chest and refused to let go of him, holding onto her blond friend like a lifeline.
“Tell me,” she cried into his arms, “tell me why was I so stupid? Why am I with someone like him? Why did I think for a single second that he’d understand a fraction of what we’ve all been through together, that he could believe–” At this point, her words became incomprehensible as her body became racked with sobs, the whole of her trembling uncontrollably.
Joey looked helplessly to Yugi and Tristan, who obviously had no idea who the ‘he’ Téa was referring to was.
It was then that Yugi looked up toward the darkness of the back-stage are from where Téa came; a person stood there between the curtains, the angles of his face contrasting sharply with the shadows. From the expression on Kaiba’s face, it was plain he’d heard everything Téa just said– it hurt him deeply, and though he didn’t realize it, it showed. In the next second, Kaiba wheeled on the ball of his foot, back into the darkness.
“Y-You know, Téa,” Joey began, raising one arm to scratch the back of his head. He was about to do something unprecedented– and quite possibly stupid. But he had to hazard a guess, because his friend needed comfort more than anything right now. He knew where she was coming from, and why she was so upset, so… “If it weren’t for him, you probably wouldn’t even be here right now. He saved your butt back then, during that duel…”
Téa stilled in his arms, sniffling once loudly. A second later, her voice came, muffled. “You’re right… I guess.”
He’d done so much for her since then, especially recently, when times had been even tougher. But in the course of a single hour, everything seemed to put so much pressure on her, and bring back so many painful memories… and Seto could never understand any of them. He could never understand what it was like to have your mind ripped from your control. He could never understand what it meant to stand on the sidelines while someone wore your face, spoke in your voice, did things you’d never do, and fooled all your friends…
“Why is he back?” Téa whispered a minute later, her voice hoarse. “What does he want from us? The God Cards, now that he knows they’re all in one place? Or the Millennium Items, now that you have so many of them, Yugi?”
Now the ‘he’ she meant was Malik, and if the paleness of her face and the shaking of her body was any indication, she was terrified of him.
“We don’t know,” Joey finally managed.
“But we’re sure as hell going to find out,” Tristan added firmly. Both boys looked to Yugi for affirmation. He didn’t know what to say to Téa; he wasn’t her boyfriend, and though he wanted to be with her, embrace her, and reassure that everything would be all right, somehow, it didn’t feel like his place to do so. Not anymore.
Yugi just nodded, a gesture that Téa only saw by turning her head just-so. It was enough for her though, and the tiniest of smiles crept up her lips. With her friends by her side –people that could understand— maybe they could get to the bottom of this.
Hidden by curtains, props, and shadows, Malik watched these proceedings with a neutral gaze. Finally, he turned away, allowing himself to be enshrouded in the darkness once more.
‘Téa, I wish I could tell you why I’m back here… that’s it’s because of you…‘
“Are you sure, Téa?” Yugi and the other boys cast hesitant glances at their friend; despite the fact that she was so distraught over Malik’s reappearance, she was no longer crying. Her cheeks regained some of their color, but her eyes were still red, and her lips were still twisted into a plastic smile.
“Y-Yeah. I just need to be myself for a while.” There was a silent agreement to keep an eye on Malik, and so Téa bid them a goodbye as she dashed up to the roof to eat her dinner alone. “Thanks, guys!”
And then she was gone.
Yugi sighed deeply, flopping to the floor outside the stairwell exit. “What a day.”
“It ain’t over yet, Yug’,” Joey frowned, opening his hot boxed dinner and picking at it with his chopsticks.
“You’re telling me,” Tristan grumbled between bites of sticky rice. “We still have to find out why the heck Malik’s back.”
“We just have to ask him,” Yugi stated softly.
Joey and Tristan stopped chewing and stared at their friend, their jaws dropped and their lips spattered with grains of rice.
“Come again, Yug’? You want to ask Malik why he’s back? I don’t know about you, but I really don’t think there’s a point. How many reasons can there be for why he’d be back, anyway?” Joey shook his head resolutely, refusing to believe that Malik could have possibly enrolled in their school and gotten cast in their play for reasons that weren’t malicious.
“It’s been nearly a year though, Joey,” Yugi murmured. “People change.”
He was not-so-subtly referring to people like Téa and Kaiba. A year ago, had someone asked the two if they had any intention of moving in together and becoming deeply involved, they both would have thought it was a joke. But so much happened, and now…
Yugi stood up abruptly, letting his empty dinner box clatter to the floor.
“Where you goin’ Yug’?” Joey asked curiously.
“To find Kaiba,” Yugi responded simply before dashing off, not giving anyone a chance to respond.
The eldest Kaiba sat, as stiff-backed as always, in one of the auditorium chairs. The way he was staring at the stage, it was almost as if he were watching a performance that no one else could see. Yugi approached him slowly at first, finally resolving to just talk to his rival and get it over with.
‘No… we’re not rivals anymore. Téa loves him…’
Yugi sucked in a deep breath and marched down the aisle, sitting beside Kaiba without saying a word. He stared at the stage too, wondering what fascinated Kaiba so much that he hardly even blinked.
“She’s up on the roof.”
Kaiba stayed silent, still staring at the stage. Yugi frowned to himself and decided to try again.
“Do you even understand why she’s so upset?”
“She won’t talk to me anyway,” Kaiba finally grit out, refusing to face Yugi. “I already screwed up once.”
‘More than once, actually,’ Yugi thought mentally. But he couldn’t say that aloud– it wouldn’t help matters any. It wouldn’t help Téa.
“What did you say to her?” Yugi asked. Whatever he’d said, it caused Téa to question why she was even with him– so his words must have upset her greatly. Though Téa’s tears were more than enough just cause in Yugi’s mind to accuse Kaiba of a multitude of crimes, there was always another side to matters– he just had to find out what it was.
Kaiba lowered his gaze from the stage to his lap. he stared at his hands, balled into white-knuckled fists resting on his knees.
“That I’d protect her,” he murmured. “How is that wrong?”
Yugi sighed. So, his suspicions were correct, after all. Téa was sick of being in situations where she lost all control. She didn’t want to keep being rescued or protected– she wanted to be able to fight back on her own. Having someone say he’d protect her –though said with the best of intentions– didn’t help her state of mind any. She wanted Kaiba to understand that simple fact, and it didn’t register in Kaiba’s mind.
“She doesn’t need you to protect her,” Yugi began. He might as well be telling himself the very same words. Téa didn’t need him like she used to, and that was why he found himself distancing himself from her, even though they remained friends, even though he still cared for her… “She wants you to, though, but… without saying so.”
Kaiba glanced at Yugi, a frown creasing his face. “What’s the difference?”
“You know the difference between wanting and needing, Kaiba. I don’t have to explain that to you.”
And it was a good thing Yugi hadn’t even tried, lest Kaiba accuse him of being belittling or condescending.
“It doesn’t explain why she lets herself get so scared of Malik. He has no power over her.”
“She could say the same thing to you about Pegasus… or Gozaburo Kaiba.”
Kaiba shot Yugi an icy glare, though his eyes searched the smaller boy’s for any sign that Téa told him about the ghost incident.
“How do you know about him?” Kaiba hissed. He hated remembering Gozaburo and his words, his foul treatment of his own adopted sons. But… Kaiba forgave him. Gozaburo was just a shadow of a memory now, and it was a waste of energy to think otherwise.
“Who didn’t know about him?” Yugi responded quietly. “Your taking over Kaiba Corporation was big news. Articles were all over the place about your father’s death, and plenty of magazines did profile stories about him… I might have been young back then, but I still kept up with the news.”
So, Yugi didn’t know. It was a relief, but a minor one at best.
“You were there,” Yugi continued. “You saw Téa acting strangely. Even if you didn’t want to believe in Egyptian magic and past lives, or prophesied duels, you had to know that was Téa. Malik was talking through her. He took control of her.”
“…She said he raped her mind,” Kaiba murmured quietly.
Mind-control. Millennium Magic. Cards brought to life in Dark Duels. Souls lost in inexplicable comas. The transformation of body and soul.
Of course it would sound preposterous to anyone else– to anyone with any sense! Yet… they were right. He had seen it with his own eyes, and he’d still been unable to believe it. And now he was paying the price for it. The longer he spent away from Téa, the less she would feel he knew her, understood her, or cared for her, and then their relationship would end before he could even figure out what he really felt.
He couldn’t let that happen.
Yugi nodded solemnly. “I can’t imagine what that was like for her. It’s no wonder why she and Mokuba have always gotten along so well,” Yugi allowed himself a lopsided grin, “they’re both always being used as bait.”
“Not exactly something to be proud of,” Kaiba grumbled.
“There are bad people in this world, Kaiba,” Yugi put in. “For a long time, Malik was one of them. He came all the way to Japan only to hurt people, and to get revenge for something he didn’t understand. He was full of so much hatred that it consumed him.”
That explained Malik’s psychotic ‘other’ half that appeared during Joey and Odion’s duel back on the Battle Ship. But that hardly meant Kaiba was going to start believing every little thing about magic or Millennium Items that Yugi said.
“Why can’t she just let go of the past, though?” Kaiba asked, pressing his hands together.
“You just wouldn’t understand!”
“What wouldn’t I understand?” he asked bluntly, looking at Yugi.
“The past is what makes you who you are,” Yugi started out softly. The explanation held true for everyone, not just Téa. “Téa is like you in the sense that she doesn’t walk away from something unless she’s sure she’s learned from it– that she’s gotten stronger because of it.”
Kaiba paused. “Did you just compliment me?”
Yugi fixed Kaiba with a flat stare, wrinkling his lips. “Would you stay on topic, please? Besides, I’ve dueled you enough times to notice that much about you.”
Well, that much was true. Never the same deck twice, that was Kaiba’s motto.
“But in Battle City, Malik just kept taking control of her mind, and unlike Joey, Téa couldn’t stop him. He did it right until the very end… so she left Battle City thinking that she got weaker, instead of stronger. Malik coming back just reminds her of that.”
Much like Gozaburo’s spirit appearing made the past that much more painful for Kaiba. Though he’d denied the existence of ghosts up until the last minute in a dangerous situation, part of Kaiba might have sensed the truth– and that was why he’d snapped at Téa, when he discovered she was delving through his past.
Gozaburo Kaiba had committed suicide, leaving Seto plenty of power and control, but none of the strength he’d taken away from the boy Seto had been: an innocent, wide-eyed child.
That strength had yet to return.
“Well,” Yugi stood up, clapping his hands to his thighs as he rose to his feet, “I think you should go talk to her, now that you understand everything.” He glanced at Kaiba with a raised eyebrow. “You do understand, right?”
Kaiba nodded slowly, rising to his feet as well. “If she’ll let me…” he murmured quietly. Yugi glanced back at him, but didn’t say anything. Moments later, the two of them walked out of the auditorium, heading back to the stairwell door where Joey and Tristan waited.
“What do you want, Kaiba?” Tristan seethed as soon as the taller boy appeared from the auditorium. As far as Tristan was concerned, whatever Seto had said to Téa had only upset her further, so he was in no mind to be courteous to Kaiba in any size, shape or form. Téa wanted to be alone, and he would respect that– and would prevent anyone from going upstairs, even if it was her own boyfriend.
“Tristan, Joey,” Yugi appeared behind Kaiba, looking to pacify his friends. “It’s okay. He’s going to talk to Téa.”
“But Yug’ I thought we said we’d–” Joey protested, but then his jaw dropped as he noticed a third presence appear from the dimly-lit auditorium.
“Let me speak to her,” Malik said bluntly, though his soft tone made his words seem like less of a demand. He only glanced at Kaiba and Yugi for a moment before facing Joey and Tristan, who still blocked the door.
“Not a chance, bucko–” Tristan growled, rising to his feet. Yugi looked as though he had something to add, but he kept silent.
“What do you have to say to her?” Kaiba asked pointedly, asking the question Yugi hadn’t.
“That I’m sorry,” Malik answered without hesitation, surprising the others. “That people change.” His words were crisp and pointed; his narrowed eyes shifted abruptly back to Kaiba, silently implying that if Kaiba could change, then so could he.
“I’m unarmed,” Malik continued, pointing out that he no longer wore the thick, concealing robes of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. A sweeping gesture across his casual wear –a pair of black trousers and a form-fitting, long-sleeved lavender hooded sweatshirt– revealed that there was no way he could be hiding anything that could hurt Téa. “I do not wish to hurt anyone, least of all Téa.”
Kaiba’s eyes narrowed at Malik’s words, but he didn’t say anything. He didn’t trust Malik, but considering the past hour or so, he really didn’t have much of a choice, did he?
“I dunno man,” Joey whispered under his breath to Yugi. “If we let him go up there, shouldn’t we go up there, too?”
Yugi seemed torn; Téa explicitly said she wanted to be left alone, but maybe Malik’s intentions were… pure. Or as pure as they’d get for him, anyway. Surely he wouldn’t try to throw Téa off the roof or anything. Still, Yugi was positive he couldn’t be trusted. Not completely, anyway.
Almost immediately, a plan formed in his head, and he gestured toward the door, much to Joey and Tristan’s astonishment. Malik glared at the both of them, and soon enough they stumbled away from the opening. Malik didn’t bother looking back as he opened the door, and calmly walked up the stairs.
“Come on,” Yugi whispered, motioning to Joey, Tristan, and even Kaiba. “We’ve gotta follow him.”
She heard the door open without even turning her head.
Téa sighed to herself, wishing that her friends would keep to their word once in a while. But they probably had the best intentions in sending Seto up here–
“I want to be by myself for now, Set–” Her eyes widened when she realized it was not Seto who’d come upstairs to intrude on her night-time solitude, but Malik. Immediately, she stood up straight and stiffened; she couldn’t run– the roof wasn’t a very large place to begin with, and Malik was blocking the only door.
“What do you want?” she breathed quietly, her pulse beginning to race. Damn Malik for scaring her like this. Damn her own self for not being able to believe in herself the way she believed so easily in everyone else. Why was it so easy to be strong when she was already in the thick of danger, but when it skirted about her, tracing her skin and giving her goose bumps, she just stood stock-still, frozen and unable to move?
‘I just can’t… take care of myself the way I want to. I want to be strong, really I do, but… Why, then, do I need everyone else so desperately?’
“Just to talk,” Malik stated quietly, raising his hands in a ‘surrender’ fashion, palms out and facing Téa. Her gaze was still suspicious. “Really.” He even stepped away from the door as a gesture of good faith; if she wanted to, she could run right now, and he wouldn’t stop her. He didn’t want to let her go, but… if she wanted to, then… so be it.
“Five minutes,” Téa whispered, looking toward the open doorway. She stepped toward it hesitantly at first, waiting to see if Malik would abruptly lunge toward her and attack her. But he made no move; he didn’t even flinch. “Ten if you’re on good behavior.” Once in the doorway, Téa kept one foot behind her, ready so she could turn and run if necessary. Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted the door jamb, which meant she could lock Malik on the roof if the need really arose.
“I know what you’re thinking,” Malik began, earning a surprised stare and a raised eyebrow from Téa. He shook his head, ignoring her expression that clearly said ‘Oh, really?’ and he continued. “You’re wondering why I’m back. If I’m here for the God Cards, or the Millennium Items, or to get my revenge. Well, I can tell you the honest truth right now: I’m not.”
Téa’s expression didn’t change any, indicating that she still didn’t believe him. Of course not; after everything he’d done last year, why would she trust him at all?
“I’ve actually been here for two months or so now. And you haven’t heard anything about evil Rare Hunters or priceless artifact thefts now, have you?”
Forced to answer, Téa reluctantly admitted, “Well, no… not exactly.”
“I couldn’t stay in Egypt any longer. There is no reason for me to remain there and guard the ruins of a palace that holds no meaning for anyone yet. I couldn’t stand being confined in the desert, away from the sun, away from civilization. I came back to the only place where I truly felt free— here.” Malik chose his words carefully, but he strongly doubted that Téa would understand the true meaning behind them.
Malik’s words struck a chord in Téa. They were… ironic. She’d spent almost all her life in Japan and thought of it as a prison. The monotony, the mundane life she lived… it was all so average and boring, and for the longest time, she’d wanted nothing more than to break away. Even magical life-or-death duels offered nothing new to Téa. But with the death of her parents, everything changed.
Was it really possible that she and Malik were… alike?
“I’m here with the Egyptian Gaming exhibit from before– now it’s here in Domino on permanent display,” Malik frowned slightly as he continued, “on my sister’s orders.”
“Isis is here too?” Téa questioned. At least the older Ishtar, likely accompanied by Malik’s surrogate brother Odion, could keep a close eye on the younger freedom-seeker, if need be.
“No,” Malik began, watching the play of emotions flit across Téa’s face. Surprise, disbelief, and finally– fear. “She insisted on remaining with Odion back in Egypt. She will not leave the ruins unattended. Too much happened the last time the Tombkeepers neglected their duty.”
Téa hadn’t the slightest clue what Malik was referring to; maybe he meant Pegasus, and the time he first invaded the ancient ruins, and instead of discovering necromancy magic, he found Duel Monsters?
“During the day, I supervised the exhibit set-up. At night, I attended a cram school in order for me to take the Spring semester entrance exams to this school. Thanks to my above-average history score,” Malik allowed himself a coy smirk, “I was allowed entrance, with enough credits to put me in second-year standing.”
“Then why haven’t I seen you in class?” Téa challenged him, a fraction of a second later. She crossed her arms over her chest, quickly tiring of Malik’s strange ‘explanation.’
“I’m not in class 2-B,” Malik responded just as promptly. “Few students seemed to recognize me from last year’s tournament– but the school administration certainly did. They said there were already ‘far too many celebrities’ in 2-B, and so assigned me next door– to Class 2-C.”
Téa looked slightly relieved, but she didn’t say anything; it was obvious she was waiting for him to get to the point.
Only two minutes left.
“I hope you can understand me when I say that I have changed, Téa. I bear you and your friends no ill will, and I hope that one day, the same will be true in reverse.”
It all seemed just a bit much to swallow. Malik, reformed? It was too good to be true.
“That can’t be the only reason why you’re here,” Téa finally said, her eyebrows drawn together. Even Isis, with her first exhibition of the ancient Egyptian games, had an ulterior motive– she wanted to force Kaiba into starting Battle City. All that in order to lure duelists from around the globe to Japan to compete with one another, so Malik and his Rare Hunters would show up. In turn, Isis would enter the tournament herself and duel Kaiba in the hopes of saving her brother from the darkness.
Téa shuddered, remembering the icy, distorted voice of Dark Malik, with his throbbing veins and flashing eyes. He was even more terrifying than his other half, who hadn’t been borne of hatred, but only wanted revenge for something he didn’t fully understand.
“No,” Malik said after a moment, breaking his gaze from Téa. “It’s not.” A minute later, he sighed and continued speaking, though in a softer tone. Telling her was against his better judgment, since she was directly involved –and aside from the reasons he’d already told her about, she played a major role in his coming back to Japan.
“There is a prophecy that Isis and I never told you about– inscribed upon the stones now housed at the museum. I am here to ensure,” he winced, though Téa couldn’t begin to fathom why, “that it comes to pass.”
“What prophecy? The one about Yugi and Seto dueling to the end? Seto is the other person in the tablet, isn’t he?” It was something never explicitly stated –not to her, anyway– but she’d always had that gut feeling.
Malik shook his head. “He is, but… it’s more complicated than that. In truth…” Malik looked pained. He wanted to tell her, but doing so would only put her further down the path of danger. He couldn’t reveal anything– not to her, not to anyone. Not yet. “I cannot tell you.”
Téa’s almost-hopeful expression deflated immediately, hurt and suspicion returning.
“I–” Malik started.
‘I want to tell you. I want to warn you that you’re in danger, but in saying so, that might cause things to happen even sooner. Unexpected events have already set the stage for things to come, and… I cannot take any further risks. I’m sorry.’
“It’s… it’s okay,” Téa finally mumbled. “Besides, I’m guessing like all prophecies, it’s not one I’d want to hear, right?”
Malik contemplated whether to be blunt and honest, or wry and humorous. Either way, she’d get the truth. “No, you would not.”
Though he’d been direct about it, Téa still let out a brief chuckle, but one without any humor.
Téa finally stepped away from the doorway no longer inclined to run. Maybe… just maybe Malik was here to live the life of a ‘normal’ teenager. She could definitely understand his desire for freedom, even if she’d never lived under the sands of Egypt for her entire life.
She breathed in the icy December air, staring up at the cloudless, star-studded sky. Night fell on Domino, tinting the sky in rich hues of blue and violet. Briefly, Téa wondered if views like this meant anything to someone like Malik, or if he placed any stock at all in the moon, the sun, and the stars. Even when they were both dead and gone, the stars would still remain…
“Once,” Malik started again, a puff of his breath appearing amidst the chilly air, “I was inside your mind.”
Téa winced; she’d hoped that subject would never come up again, as it was painful enough recalling it in her own memory, let alone having her abuser stand at her side, just as changed as she was, hoping for a new lease on life.
“Though I was… ill-intentioned at the time,” Malik grinned wryly, “you did leave quite a lasting impression on me. Though you were unwilling to relinquish control, while inside you, all I saw were pure emotions– worry for your friends, kindness toward others…” Malik trailed off. Initially, he’d posed as ‘Namu,’ and befriended Téa and the others. He suspected that she was the one most deeply wounded by his betrayal. “Even when your own life was in danger, all you thought of were your friends. I admire that, Téa. I hope you believe me when I say so.”
Admiration, from a reformed killer? Sure, why not? She was in love with Kaiba, after all. Surely there were bigger things out there to surprise her.
Téa would have said something, but Malik continued, unaware that she’d even opened her mouth to speak. “All my life, I ran away– from my family, my duties, from the truth. That… fear,” Malik grimaced, far from liking any admission of weakness he made, “led to hatred, and…”
“And the rest is history,” Téa finished with a wry smile and a sigh. “I get it.”
Malik glanced up at her, the beginnings of a feeble smile curling his lips. “You do? I mean– I really do want to try here, as strange as it sounds. I couldn’t just keep living in Egypt. The Tombkeeper’s lifestyle has never been the one for me.”
“…I kinda figured that out, what with all the technology you were obsessed with while you were here last,” Téa chuckled, remembering Malik’s yacht, motorcycle… and everything else he either “borrowed” or took control of, one way or another.
“But you,” Malik changed the topic abruptly. “I thought you and the Pharaoh–”
“No!” Téa interrupted him swiftly, briefly glancing toward the doorway. For a moment, she thought she saw Seto. On closer inspection, all that was there was darkness. Just a trick of the light, probably– she’d been imagining things. “I mean… you know as well as I do what has to happen to him…”
Malik favored Téa with a surprised stare. “I didn’t think you knew.”
Téa sighed resignedly. “I figured it out the hard way, after Battle City.” After Battle City, everything changed. After all the duels, the supposedly-prophetic visions, and more than her fair share of close-calls, Téa decided once and for all that it was no use loving someone who didn’t truly exist– someone who didn’t even have a body to call his own.
No, Yami wasn’t there to star in Téa’s daydreams. He was there to solve the mysteries of his past, to give Yugi the true friend he’d never really had, and then… to get the closure he never had in life.
“He is still here, though. For a time. Why didn’t you–”
“That’s like asking ‘why didn’t you try and take over the world where duelists like us didn’t exist, and you’d get no resistance?’ I mean… it’s in the past, okay? And… even if we’d known about other possibilities, I doubt we would have changed our minds, you know?”
Malik nodded in slow understanding, realizing what Téa was trying to say. It was pointless to reflect on actions committed to history– to the past. They could not be changed, regardless of what either of them willed. Within both of them, there’d been a shred of recognition –of acceptance and admission– that what they truly desired could never come to be, despite any few circumstances in their favor.
Despite Yugi revealing he loved her, and likely giving Téa a chance with Yami as well… Téa still couldn’t imagine herself going back to that time and hurting her best friend in that way, and openly pursuing a Pharaoh who she knew belonged not to her, but to the ages.
Despite Malik having had a true brush with power and glory, he knew that if he could go back, nothing would change– the darkness in himself still would have destroyed his sanity, his very mind. He never would have known true revenge… he never would have recognized who was truly responsible for his father’s death.
“I guess this is our own way of coping, huh? We lose everything, and start all over again.”
“Yes. It is the same for us both.”
‘How strange.’ Both of them thought it at the same time, but neither said anything aloud.
“Well, welcome to Domino High, I guess.”
Téa and Malik walked downstairs together, though Téa, ever the cautious one, allowed Malik to go in front of her. She wouldn’t take any chances.
“Why the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, anyway?” she finally asked. “I mean, why call attention to yourself like that? If you weren’t in this play, it probably would have taken all of us a lot longer to notice you even came here.”
“The part is fitting, is it not?” Malik asked her after a moment. To his surprise, Téa laughed genuinely, nodding her head in agreement.
“I guess that’s true. Did you know Chieko said you were–”
Suddenly Téa bumped into Malik, and she froze where she stood. Malik had stopped, staring at the shadows. Dimly illuminated by the lower stairwell, Téa caught sight of two shadows, doing their best to remain still. One was smaller than the other, but was topped with spiky hair going in several directions. The other was ridiculously tall in comparison, with a perfectly trimmed haircut and an obvious part cutting down the center of his head. Téa sighed to herself, shaking her head in resignation.
“Yugi, Seto– we can see you. And I’m okay, so will you please stop hiding?”
The shadows moved a moment later, immediately followed by a holler, “Ow, that was my foot, you nimrod!” and then a “Well, that wasn’t my face, you idiot!” A second later, the florescent light that normally flickered in the stairwell blinked on, revealing a quartet of sheepish boys. Seto looked the least embarrassed of the bunch; his face was turned to the side with his lips set in a thin line. It was plain that he thought he was perfectly justified in being there, crammed in the tiny opening near the lower stairwell, eavesdropping on Téa and Malik.
Téa turned to Malik, ignoring the boys’ antics as they tried to worm their way out of the small space they’d crammed themselves into.
“We are going to make this the best play Domino has ever seen, right?”
Malik smiled and then nodded firmly. “Indeed we will!”
Moments later, the other boys joined in their own hoots and hollers– all except Seto. He only stared at Téa, his expression unreadable to all present but her. She could read his eyes the way no one but Mokuba could.
‘I forgive you and… I’m sorry,’ she mouthed in response. Seto seemed to exhale deeply, and then he turned away, opening the door back out to the hall. Téa smiled warmly, and led her pack of friends back into the auditorium for the last of their dress rehearsal.
Téa sighed. She was exhausted and hungry, and wanted nothing more than to collapse on the couch… Dance Club practice wore her out that afternoon, and she wanted to relax as much as she could before she, Mokuba, and Seto headed back to the high school for that evening’s dress rehearsal.
Sure enough, there he was, sitting there quietly reading a book. He didn’t even blink as Téa approached– he just kept right on reading.
Téa’s left eyebrow twitched. ‘I don’t even get a “hello” from him? That better be one good book.’
Téa sidled over to the couch, sliding over the arm and edging slowly toward Seto. He still gave no indication whatsoever that he even saw her. Téa noticed with mild amusement that the book in Seto’s hands was ‘A Christmas Carol,’ and he didn’t seem to be having any trouble whatsoever with the 19th century English.
‘You’ve read it a hundred times before, Seto, I’m sure of it. Come on, it can’t be more engrossing than me!’ A bit jealous, Téa smirked, deciding to do whatever it took to distract her boyfriend from his reading.
She leaned closer, closer… she could smell his cologne now, but he still didn’t move a muscle. Téa made to nibble on Seto’s earlobe and shock him out of reading, but to her absolute astonishment, the second she leaned forward, she toppled straight through him!
Téa let out a scream that could have been heard around the world, if the Kaiba mansion didn’t have soundproof walls. Much to her surprise, Seto flickered –a hologram!?– and started laughing.
She back pedaled as fast as her legs could take her, until she was panting and flushed on the coffee table beside the couch. She glanced about wildly, looking for any sign of the perpetrator– the real Seto.
A few moments later, he appeared from behind the staircase, laughing in synch with his holographic self.
‘He must have been hiding in the hall heading down to the basement and the gym. He probably saw me come in and plotted this whole thing! Why that–‘
“Jerk!” Téa squealed, her face still hot. “Do you have any idea how much that scared me?”
“Hardly enough,” Seto responded, still chuckling. “Consider that payback for not telling me you rewrote Scrooge’s ending. You know how embarrassing that was, getting to that final scene with you last night?”
“You mean the great Seto Kaiba gets embarrassed?” Téa retorted sarcastically, still clutching her chest. Her pulse was still racing, but at least her face cooled down some. She glanced sideways at the hologram. Now he was translucent– visible, but you could see the couch cushions right behind him.
“Hah.” Seto pressed a small, pen-like device in his hand, signaling the holograph to disappear. “So what do you think? It’s the prototype of my Active Response Holographic system.”
Téa eyed Seto critically, finally relaxing as he approached her. “It was very… realistic.”
“So I noticed. Were you going to bite his neck or something?”
Téa flushed scarlet again, though not because she was scared.
“No…” she mumbled quietly. Seto only smirked and leaned in closer, as though couldn’t hear her.
“Speak up, please!”
“No…” Téa repeated through gritted teeth, her cheeks growing ever-redder and burning warmer. ‘Stupid Seto…’
“Then what were you going to do?” Seto asked, a hint of mischief in his voice. Téa could tell by the smirk on his face that he was enjoying this far too much.
‘I’m going to shut you up, that’s what!’ Téa smiled privately to herself before bounding forward and suddenly wrapping her arms around Seto, pressing her lips against his in an unexpected, warm kiss. When she pulled away, she noted with a measure of delight that now Seto’s cheeks were red, and his eyes were wide.
“Just that.” Téa smiled impishly, sauntering back to the table. She picked up the hologram’s discarded copy of ‘A Christmas Carol’ and walked off with it, heading toward Seto’s office. It took him a moment before everything started processing in his brain once more, and he hurried after her.
“We’re going to be using the hologram in the play– just so you know,” Seto smirked, obviously implying that Téa would be terrified of another twin of him appearing alongside her on stage.
“Wow, Shunsuke will be impressed. Honest-to-goodness special effects, hmm? But I didn’t know you’d been working on anything for the company lately…”
“Well, there was no other way to have me be present at the same time as my past self for those scenes with Tristan,” Seto reminded her. “We always had a stand-in for the rehearsals, but you know the kid who did it is terrified out of his mind of actually being on stage. Actually, I think he’s part of the lighting crew. And as for work, I’ve cut down on my office hours– I spend more of them at home– for you and Mokuba.”
Téa nodded solemnly. “How sweet of you. But you’re right about the stand-in guy. The technology though– you said it’s a prototype?”
Seto nodded. “It’s similar to the same sort of holographic technology we use for dueling, except it’s more readily programmed. It can respond to a wider variety of commands and prompts, as opposed to ‘attack’ and ‘defend.’ But so far, I’ve got the only one projector.”
“So,” Téa quirked a smile, “you turned yourself into a Duel Monster?”
Seto dropped his head, sighing in resignation. “You’re hopeless, you know that?”
Téa only bobbed her head in a happy nod. “Hopelessly in love you mean!”
Seto looked at her with a small smile, and moved forward to embrace and kiss her– this time, of sound-enough mind to kiss her fully, and prolong the moment for as long as possible.
Five, ten, twenty– no wait, thirty–
“There’s so many people…” Mokuba whispered, peering through the thick scarlet curtains.
The night of the performance had arrived at last, and the auditorium of Domino High was quickly filling up with all sorts of people.
Téa walked by him, straightening her skirt and blouse. “Got stage fright?”
Mokuba shook his head vehemently, catching sight of his brother adjusting his tie in a nearby mirror. His older brother was watching him like a hawk, and no doubt listening in too. Mokuba had to prove to his brother that he could take care of himself– and that meant not being scared of a crowd in a school auditorium. Of course, he’d always need his big brother– but he couldn’t be entirely dependent on him.
Seto smiled, still glancing at Mokuba out of the corner of his eye. It was just the reassurance the younger Kaiba needed.
It was his first big performance, and he had an awfully important role. Plus, he wasn’t attached to Seto’s character at all. He was simply playing Mokuba, the youngest brother of Yugi, with an unfortunate sickness that crippled him. As if his ragged, dirty clothes weren’t enough, Mokuba made sure to practice his puppy-eyes to their fullest degree– he’d win the audience over no matter what!
He shuddered, goose bumps racing up his arms and legs. At least he wasn’t in the first few scenes. He didn’t come in until Seto came to Yugi’s house with Joey, acting as the Ghost of Christmas Present. His next and last scene would be toward the end, when Seto had his change of heart and started treating Yugi like a human being, rather than an android to do all his bidding.
“Okay, everyone– curtain in five minutes, so get to your places!” Shunsuke called, fixing his own bow tie. He placed his top hat on his head, quirking it at a jaunty angle. He winked once at Mokuba before ushering everyone off-stage.
Not long after, Shunsuke stepped out from behind the curtain, his form highlighted by a lone, bright spotlight. With his introduction, the play began.
‘Darn, I’m late. Hope I haven’t missed much.’
It had been a last-minute decision on Mai Valentine’s part to attend Domino High’s ‘A Modern Christmas Carol,’ but once she arrived on the campus, she was flooded with an overwhelming sense of nostalgia. Despite knowing that the curtains opened at six o’clock, she couldn’t help herself from touring the darkened, almost hallowed grounds, tracing her fingers over every bench top and stairwell banister. She even found her initials inscribed on a bench just outside the school, beneath the shadowed limbs of a leafless tree.
The branches of the frozen plum tree shuddered when an icy wind blew through them, curling through Mai’s golden hair.
‘Brr– cold. Guess I better get inside.’
The young boys working at the box office gaped at her, either stunned by Mai’s beauty, or recognizing her as a famous duelist. It was more likely the former, though– after all, Domino High had more than its fair share of champion duelists within its classes.
“Why did you get married?”
Mai blinked in surprise; what was Seto Kaiba doing onstage? She expected Téa to have some role in this production, being the type to seek the spotlight, but…
The blonde peered at her program in the dim lighting of the auditorium, her violet eyes widening as she caught sight of many more names besides Seto and Téa’s that she recognized. Namely, that of the other person on stage with Seto…
“Why? Because I fell in love!”
“You fell in love?” Seto asked incredulously. “That’s just about as ridiculous as ‘a merry Christmas!’ Honestly, Joey!”
“Come on, Kaiba,” Joey protested. “You haven’t even met Chieko! Besides,” Joey straightened, putting his hands on his hips, “you used to believe in love.”
Mai edged her way to a seat in the rear of the auditorium, but Joey’s line stopped her dead in her tracks.
‘Chieko?’ The blonde girl Téa introduced me to at the festival?’
Mai knew it was only a play, but she couldn’t help the jealousy that abruptly surged through her.
Seto stopped typing on his laptop –which looked entirely too real to be a prop– and glared at Joey. “Don’t even start.” Seto cast a sideways glance at –was that Yugi!?– as if ensuring that the smaller boy was busy working, and not listening in on their conversation.
“It’s the truth!” Joey retorted. “Back in college, you used to be fun! I kept tellin’ Chieko all about you, and now she wants to meet you– come on, Kaiba, we’re still buddies, aren’t we?”
Mai had to stifle her laughter by putting her hand over her mouth. No one else in the audience was laughing, but that was probably because they didn’t know Joey and Kaiba as well as she did.
‘Seto Kaiba and Joey Wheeler– friends? Yeah, right– when pigs fly.’
It was all very amusing. This certainly wasn’t the version of ‘A Christmas Carol’ that Mai once read in Miss Ninomiya’s English class so many years ago.
“Joey– look, I have to work. Would you just go?” Seto seemed to be trying his hardest to mask the exasperation that was plain on his face.
‘Hmph. Never thought Kaiba had it in him to be an actor.’ But he wasn’t half-bad, really.
Joey’s hopeful expression deflated, and he shoved a hand in his pocket. He grabbed a gift bag he’d tossed on a nearby chair and sighed.
“Well, if you change your mind– you know where I’m at.”
Seto only grunted in response, waving Joey goodbye without saying a word.
“Merry Christmas, Yug’!” Joey called to Yugi, who was still busily filing stacks upon stacks of papers into a nearby cabinet. Yugi was supposed to be freezing, judging by the way he shuddered and trembled, but he was a far warmer character than Seto’s Scrooge-like persona; he warmly offered a ‘Merry Christmas’ in kind to Joey, even if the two weren’t best friends in the play, as they were in reality.
‘Merry Christmas… hmm.’
A few minutes later, the scene transitioned to later in the evening, with Yugi propositioning his employer for Christmas Day off. After much arguing and rationalizing –the latter entirely on Yugi’s part– Yugi was given the time off work. He excitedly finished his work, and brightened even more when Téa stepped on-stage.
“Ready to go, Yugi?”
At that moment, Kaiba stepped back onstage, as though he’d been working in another office and walked back out to tell Yugi something. His eyes widened as he froze, regarding Téa with surprise.
“What are you doing here?”
Téa looked up at Kaiba, her expression calm but her eyes narrowed. “I did have a life and friends before meeting you, Kaiba,” she responded icily. “Now if you’ll excuse me– my friend Yugi and I are going out for dinner.”
The two of them walked off stage while Kaiba stood and stared– until he too, finally sighed and exited in the opposite direction.
The curtains closed at last, signaling the end of the first scene.
He’d let his other remain in control for the entirety of the first act, but Bakura knew the story of ‘A Christmas Carol’ well enough –ironic, really– and immediately suppressed his other self at the start of the next act.
Téa would be back on stage soon, and this time for more than a brief, three-minute appearance.
‘Hmph. Tristan as the Ghost of Christmas Past? How pathetic.’ Tristan also doubled as a charity clerk appearing sporadically in the first and final acts– the point of which was to jolt Seto Kaiba’s ‘Scrooge’ character into recognizing aspects of his life that were sending him down the spiral of desolation. If he didn’t make any changes, he would end up like his dead and chained business partner ‘Marley,’– ironically, a ghostly figure bearing a striking resemblance to the Dark Magician.
Now Kaiba watched as the Ghost of Christmas Past led him through many scenes of his life– from childhood, when he was the most studious one in a crowd of his more playful peers, up until his young adulthood, and his first job working at a toy company known as “Fezziwig’s.” More ghostly reflections of the past– causing even Bakura himself to wonder. It was simply not possible for there to be multiple Seto Kaibas, but there they were.
But the fool didn’t believe in nor possess any magic, so that left only one possibility: technology. The other young Setos had to be holograms or something similar. Each and every one of them artificial, from the child with wide blue eyes, to the young man only a few years short of the real Kaiba’s performance-only post-college age. He wore a deep blue trench coat and an teal shirt with matching slacks– an echo of the outfit that he’d worn when Bakura first saw him in this lifetime. It was the same outfit that Kaiba wore to Duelist Kingdom…
‘Fitting, in a strange way.’
This younger Seto Kaiba was speaking to a nicely-dressed Téa, who was sitting on stone park bench with her hands clasped together and her faced turned away. The rest of the park was empty, frozen-over and colored in shades of decay: brown, black, and icy blues and grays. A building sporting the Kaiba Corporation logo towered in the distance. The stage quite literally seemed to be set for Seto’s future as a leading businessman– and one of the most known greedy, workaholics of his time. Or so the story went.
“Téa, we just have to wait– it’s impossible for us to be together right now.”
“Only impossible because you want it that way,” Téa responded quietly. “I’ve been replaced.”
“What are you talking about?” the holographic Seto demanded. “Replaced by what?”
When Téa finally looked up, the whole audience could see tears shimmering in her eyes, wholly authentic. “A golden idol– or maybe a bank full of yen.”
‘You should know better than to get involved with him, Téa,’ Bakura smirked to himself. ‘In every lifetime, power will be his priority– no matter how he has to attain it, or at what cost.’
The irony of his own thoughts were lost on Bakura; his gaze remained fixed on Téa and her every move. It hardly mattered that she couldn’t see him– it was probably better that way. All Bakura cared about was that the odd connection he’d felt with her– it had returned once more, and his only goal was to explore it completely. But the question persisted– did she feel it too?
“That’s not true,” Seto argued, his voice startlingly soft. Further to stage-right, his older self watched with an expressionless face. He was obviously trying not to be moved by the scene– watching himself make what was undoubtedly the biggest mistake of all his years.
“It is so!” Téa cried, rising. “You loved me once– you made time for me. Now, everything is about your business, about money!”
“How can we possibly be happy if we have no way to support ourselves, Téa? I–”
“Just don’t,” Téa whispered harshly, though loud enough for the audience to hear. “All I needed –all I ever wanted– was you.” She turned around, her back to both Setos, and a soft piano intro filtered in. Hushed whispers filled the auditorium as the young girl began to sing.
“There was a time when I was sure that you and I were truly one… that our future was forever, and would never come undone. And we came so close to being close, and though you cared for me, there’s distance in your eyes tonight, so we’re not meant to be.”
Bakura hadn’t even realized that his jaw had dropped –just a few centimeters, really– but once he did, he quickly snapped his mouth shut.
A strange connection, and a beautiful, haunting voice. A familiar dance…
“The love is gone… the love is gone. The sweetest dream that we have ever known! The love is gone… the love is gone. I wish you well, but I must leave you now alone.” Téa danced alone while Tristan and the two Setos watched, an artificial snow drifting down onto the stage in light flurries.
“There comes a moment in your life –like a window– and you see your future there before you, and how perfect life can be,” Téa sang in her soft soprano. A gentle smile blossomed on her lips, but quickly faded as she continued to sing and sway across the stage. “But adventure calls with unknown voices… pulling you away. Be careful or you may regret the choice you made someday…”
Téa repeated the chorus, additional instruments filtering into the song from the orchestra pit at the base of the stage. The audience sat enraptured, all of them watching in awe. For his part, Bakura couldn’t tear his eyes away from her– he felt so insanely close to solving the mystery of his bizarre connection to Téa… but what was it?
“It was almost love. It was almost always. It was like a fairytale we’d live out: you and I! And yes, some dreams come true,” Téa moved toward the younger Seto, gently laying her hand on his before moving away. “Yes, some dreams fall through… And yes, the time has come for us to say goodbye!”
Téa stopped dancing, and the snow ceased falling. The older Seto, watching from the side, watched brokenly, amazingly looking as though he were about to cry. It was an expression Bakura never imagined he would have seen on Seto’s face– not in thousands of years. He mouthed the final words of the song right along with Téa, his gaze never leaving her, even as she moved off stage.
“Yes, some dreams come true… Yes, some dreams fall through. Yes, the time has come for us to say goodbye…”
“Spirit, remove me from this place,” Seto muttered to Tristan, the former boy doing an awfully good job pretending that he was on the verge of tears.
Tristan just shook his head, his bizarre gray suit draped with filmy fabric glowing with an odd light. “I told you– these are the shadows of things that have been. They are what they are, do not blame me!”
“Spirit, leave me!” And then the stage went black.
Seto awoke, once more in his bed. He bolted upright for a split second and then, feigning exhaustion, slipped back into sleep once more. The stage was dimly lit for only a few moments before a brilliant light and a booming, chuckling voice sounded from the darkest side.
“Haha, come on in, and know me better!” It was Joey’s laugh all right, but he was concealed by thick, gauzy curtains illuminated from behind. When Seto, still clad in pajamas, threw back the curtains, he gasped.
“Joey, what the heck–”
“I am the Ghost of Christmas Present. Like the Spirit who appeared ta ya before me, I take the form of someone in ya life who touched ya heart in some way. Come in, and get ta know me better!”
So it wasn’t really Joey– but it was, in an odd sense. This time, he wasn’t wearing a suit, but a fuzzy green bathrobe trimmed with white fur. As if that ridiculous outfit weren’t enough, he wore a garland of holly and ivy twined in his hair, tangling in and out of the dirty blond locks as if the wreath grew from his head.
The curtained-off area resembled Seto’s bedroom, but it was decorated with bright candles and holly berries, plates of glistening food heaped high on ornately carved tables, and colors shining from every direction. Seto seemed a bit reluctant as he stepped forward and observed his re-decorated room with a measure of awe.
“You’ve never seen anyone like me before!” the Sprit exclaimed jovially. “That is to say, not one that can do as I can!”
“Never,” Seto responded with a brief nod.
“Have you never met any of those who came before me, my brothers who have come to this place?”
“I’m afraid not,” Seto responded. “How many brothers do you have?”
“Over two thousand,” the Phantom responded proudly with a nod of his head. He then rose to his feet.
“Spirit, take me where you want. I–I learned a lesson from the Ghost of Christmas Past, a lesson which is working even now. If you have something to teach me, then let me profit by it.”
The Ghost broke out into a wide, pleased grin, and moved forward. “Touch my robe.”
Seto did so –hesitating just a bit, much to the audience’s amusement– and held fast. Quite abruptly, everything that once decorated Seto’s bedroom vanished in a great burst of light, the authentic smells drifting away with the images. The audience gasped in awe and surprise, amazed at the display of special effects– or perhaps, a touch of genuine Christmas magic.
Another moment later, the stage darkened and then brightened again, revealing Seto standing with Joey in the middle of Domino, with people milling about. A light snow fell on the town, but everyone seemed deliriously happy and excited despite the cold. It was Christmas Day.
They walked around the town, observing merry revelers everywhere, from the poorest homeless person to the most fur-swathed woman, tottering by in stiletto heels. Eventually, they made their way to a part of the stage with a set designed to look like the Turtle Game Shop, complete with the tiny residence just above the store.
When they stepped inside, Seto was astonished– a beautiful older girl hunched over a meager stove, while a girl just a bit younger than her set the dining table. From off-stage, two rambunctious twin girls came in, hollering and giggling that ‘Big Brother’ was on his way back with the Christmas goose, and that they’d smelled it cooking in the butcher’s, and known that it was their goose, without a single doubt in their minds. Another young man appeared on-stage, straightening a collar a few sizes too big for him. He kept fiddling with his too-big collar and sleeves, trying to assist by blowing on a pudding cooking on the range.
When another young lady appeared, the wide stage set as the insides of Yugi’s house suddenly seemed cramped. Already, there were five people bustling about, and Yugi and Mokuba weren’t even on stage yet.
“Big Brother’s coming!” one of the twins squealed, “Hide Big Sister, hide!” The newest party member ducked behind a large, old chair draped with fabric, invisible to the side of the stage from where Yugi was expected to appear.
Yugi entered, with Mokuba amazingly hoisted on his shoulder, the two of them draped with a tattered blanket. Yugi himself wore the same suit as before, though with him standing up and facing the audience, it was easier to see how worn the suit was in places– though it had apparently been mended to look nice for the holiday.
The second-eldest girl appeared prematurely from behind her hiding spot, greeting Yugi with a happy hug.
The two twin girls squealed once more and picked up Mokuba, barely giving the boy a chance to put down his small crutch. They all hurried off-stage, claiming that he had to wash his hands before they had dinner.
Akane, playing Yugi’s dutiful girlfriend, smiled. “How was he at the volunteer center, today?”
“As good as gold and better,” Yugi responded softly. He glanced at his other ‘siblings,’ busying themselves by readying the house. “Akane, you don’t have to do this.”
“I want to, Yugi,” Akane responded in a happy whisper.
“But you could be spending Christmas with your family.”
“You are my family,” Akane hugged Yugi, unaware of the scarlet blush that covered the shorter boy’s cheeks. “You and all your brothers and sisters. Ever since your grandpa passed away, all of you have been having such a hard time. I want to help out because I can– because I should. Because I love you, Yugi. Isn’t that enough?”
Yugi was still blushing, but he nodded by bobbing his head twice.
“Mokuba gets thoughtful, sitting by himself while we prepare dinner over there…” Yugi went back to telling Akane about their time at the volunteer center. “He says the strangest things sometimes. He said he hoped that everyone saw him, because he’s a cripple, and would remember on Christmas Day, who made lame men walk and blind men see.” Yugi’s voice trembled when saying this, the pride for his ‘little brother’ evident.
“I keep wondering if Mokuba has your mother’s religious spirit,” Akane whispered. “She was always a very active church-goer.”
Yugi nodded solemnly, then shook his head a moment later. “Mokuba never met Mother. She died when he was born…” Akane only nodded in silent agreement.
A second later, the twins came back with Mokuba, and shortly thereafter, they rushed off to fetch the goose. When they came back, there was a great to-do, so much so that anyone watching would have thought that a goose was the rarest of all birds, even more phenomenal than the black swan. But in the meager household of the Motos, the goose was exactly that– a rare and very special treat.
Mokuba sat in the smallest chair at the table and beat on the table with the handle of his knife, issuing a feeble ‘Hurrah!’ when Akane cut open the goose and allowed the applesauce and stuffing mixture to gush forth.
Akane passed out plates with meager portions of mashed potatoes, divided up as evenly as possible given that there were seven of them. There was a precious china boat in which steaming gravy simmered; Akane kindly reprimanded any of the siblings who poured more than their fare share over their slice of goose. Between the lot of them, a single person barely got more than a wing or a leg, but no one seemed to take notice or have the heart to complain. To them, it was a royal feast!
Sage and onions to their eyebrows, pudding up to their ears– though to Seto, watching the proceedings with the Ghost of Christmas Present at his side, noted that he’d seen pigeons peck at more food than the family had on their plates.
At last the dinner was finished and cleared away, and a piping hot jug of cider was brought forth, poured into small plastic cups. Yugi held up his cup in a toast, ignoring the burning heat pressing against his palm through the plastic. “A toast! A Merry Christmas to us all, every one!” Yugi’s siblings all cheered, and Akane raised in own cup in silent agreement. Once the cups were suitably tapped together, they all took a sip, hissing at the spicy heat that assaulted their tongues.
“To Mr. Kaiba!” Yugi announced, raising his cup once more. Seto blinked, edging forward, thinking for a moment that Yugi could hear him. But the Ghost of Christmas Past told him explicitly– no one could see, hear, or otherwise sense him, not in the slightest. “The founder of the feast!”
The table went quiet, the siblings looking uneasily from Akane to Yugi and back again. If the expression on Akane’s face was any indication, it was clear she didn’t agree with Yugi’s toast.
“The founder of the feast indeed!” Akane cried, her face growing red. “I wish I had him here. I’d give him a piece of my mind to feast on– and I hope he’d choke on it!”
“Choke!” The twins echoed before bursting into a fit of giggles.
“Toasting a man so revolting, heartless, stingy, and unfeeling!” Akane continued, her voice growing louder with each word. “You know Kaiba is just that, Yugi– you know better than anyone else!”
“A-Akane… the kids… Christmas Day!” Yugi began hesitantly.
Akane dropped into her seat once more. She busied herself by primly adjusting her worn skirt prettied up with some old ribbon. “I’ll drink for your health and the Day’s,” Akane murmured. “But not for his. Long life to him! And a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! He’ll be very merry and happy, no doubt!”
“No doubt!” The twins repeated once more, imitating Akane’s staunch expression. She raised her cup and drank from it, taking only the tiniest sip in favor of Seto Kaiba. The other children followed suit, but not Mokuba– he raised his cup and drank the whole of it, toasting Mr. Kaiba in the loudest voice he could manage, given his role as a feeble youth.
“Spirit,” Seto began in a low voice, “tell me if Mokuba will live.”
It took a great deal of practice to say that line without getting choked up by the slightest bit of emotion. Considering that Seto Kaiba was, in reality, known for being rather emotionless and hard-shelled, asking such a question about his own brother took a vast amount of resilience. But in this performance, Mokuba wasn’t his brother at all– he was his own person, and a cheerful, hopeful young man, despite all that life had thrown at him.
“I see a vacant seat,” Joey responded gruffly, “in the corner near the stove, and a crutch without an owner– carefully preserved. If these shadows remain unaltered by the future, Mokuba will die.”
“No–” This time, Seto was allowed to let emotion come through, his voice breaking at the right moment. “No, Spirit, say he will be spared!”
“If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future,” Joey repeated, “then no more of my race will find him here. What then?” Joey shrugged. “If he’s gonna die, he’d better do it– and decrease the surplus population!”
Seto fell back, stunned– his own words thrown back at him by a once-jolly Ghost. In the first scene, he’d said those very same words, speaking to Tristan, a representative of a charity seeking donations. Seto, being the ‘miser’ he was, turned him down flat, claiming there was enough space in homeless shelters and prisons to prevent him from needing to donate a single yen. When Tristan countered by saying that most would rather die than go to such horrible places, Seto only shouted the same words as the Ghost of Christmas Present now repeated to him.
They suddenly sounded so much more awful than they ever had before.
Seto looked about, inspecting the tender Moto family once more. They weren’t much– a feeble group in a tiny house. They weren’t particularly handsome or pretty in any respect, nor were they well-dressed or well-fed. Judging by the pots and plastic tubs on the floor, they were far from being water-proof, and their garments had probably seen more owners than Seto had– and he was someone who owners of everything great and small turned to, for any sort of monetary loan.
“Come.” Joey had only to say a word, and the set darkened once more, the slightest of clatters indicating a change of location. When the lights brightened once more, there was a puffy couch situated on the far left of the stage, Joey returned to his suit, though he’d disposed of the jacket by draping it over the sofa’s back. Surrounding him were other people, all smiling gaily, while Chieko sat prettily at his side, wearing a fancy velvet dressed trimmed with rhinestones.
Beside Seto, the Ghost of Christmas Present remained– though only those in the cast were aware that the Ghost was merely a hologram, programmed with a certain set of functions and commands.
“So, we’ll play a game, okay?” Joey suggested, ignorant of his other self and Seto, standing on the right of the stage. Everyone around him laughed and nodded in hearty agreement.
“Twenty Questions?” Chieko suggested, and everyone agreed. All decided that Joey should go first, though a sly smile crept up the host’s face as he thought of something.
“Is it an animal?”
“Yep,” Joey responded. During previous rehearsals, he’d teased Seto by naming him a ‘vegetable,’ and alternately accusing him of being as hard-hearted as a ‘mineral,’ but since his playful jokes only served to frustrate Shunsuke, he ceased to crack them during this final performance.
“A live animal? One that still exists?”
Again, Joey nodded. His guests pounded him with question after question– was it a disagreeable animal, like a bat or a rat? Yes, it was awfully disagreeable, but it was no bat or rat. Was it savage? Indeed, very much so, but no, not a cat or feline of any sort. Only sometimes did this animal growl and grunt and speak, and yes, it could be found within Domino. But it walked about the streets of its own accord, not led by anyone, or made a show of. It didn’t live in a zoo, was never killed in a market, and wasn’t a horse, donkey, cow, bull, dog, pig, bear or cockroach.
With each new question Joey looked closer and closer to bursting at the seams with laughter, his face reddening so much that he started to resembled a tomato. Whatever the true answer was, it obviously amused him so much that he never went a round without laughing heartily. At one point, he toppled off the backside of the couch and started to hit his hand on the nearby table, howling with laughter.
“I’ve got it!” Chieko exclaimed, at last understanding the source of her ‘husband’s’ amusement.
“You do? What is it?”
Chieko grinned, “It’s your old friend Seto Kaiba!”
Howls of laughter erupted from the gathering and the audience alike, with some of Joey’s revelers pointing out that the “Is it a bear?” question should have been answered in the positive, and they may have thought of Kaiba before Chieko.
“He’s given us plenty of amusement today, despite refusing to be here. A toast to my old pal Kaiba’s health!” He raised a glass with some warm cider in it, toasting his friend.
“To Kaiba!” the rest of the guests cried in jest, raising their own glasses and downing them.
Kaiba, who’d dared to participate in Joey’s game for a few moments, fell silent once it was revealed that he was the butt of their jokes. But he couldn’t hate Joey for it, nor his beautiful wife or any of their friends.
“I deserve it,” Kaiba mumbled, though the Spirit beside him seemed to disagree. During the course of the game, the Ghost had been programmed to age, and now Joey’s hair fell to his shoulders, streaked with white and gray. A five o’clock shadow washed over his face, giving him quite the appearance of a haggard old man.
Soon enough, they were back outside in the cold, and with the help of blue lighting, it seemed as though night had fallen on Domino. The set glowed with phosphorescent paint, glowing where neon city lights normally would have twinkled in Christmas celebration.
“Are Spirits’ lives so short?” Seto asked of the holographic Joey, noting his aged appearance.
Joey nodded solemnly, the wreath on his head quickly decaying into dead leaves and rotting berries. “It ends tonight– at midnight.”
Seto noted something odd protruding from underneath Joey’s long, and now tattered bathrobe.
“Forgive me if I’m not supposed to ask this of you, Spirit, but I see something strange and not belonging to yourself, coming from your robe. Is it a foot or a claw?”
“It might as well be a claw,” the Spirit responded sorrowfully, beginning to fade, “for there is flesh on it. Look here.”
From the fold of the clothes, two holographic children appeared, just as faded as he, but with vastly different faces. They were wretched and hideous, with wrinkled skin spread taut over visible bones, and deep, lightless eyes sunk deep into the caverns of their skulls. A boy and a girl both, with tattered clothing and yellowed nails, stringy hair and pale cheeks.
They both clung to the Ghost, prostrate in humility, clinging as if desiring something only the fading Spirit could give.
Seto tried to say something, but his voice came out choked; it would have been a complete lie if he’d said they were fine children, and after all he’d learned with the Spirit at his side, he could say nothing of such falsehood. Instead, he said, “Spirit, are they yours?”
“They are humanity’s,” the Ghost responded. “They cling to me, beggin’ on behalf of their fathers. The boy’s Ignorance, and the girl’s Want. Beware them both in all their power, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see written the word ‘Doom,’ unless it somehow be erased.”
“Have they no resources– no refuge?” Seto asked softly. Though he’d created the holograms on his own, staying true to both the original story and Téa’s bizarre adaptation, the two phages never ceased to amaze and disgust him.
“Are there no prisons? No homeless shelters?” The Ghost again echoed words Seto himself once spoke, shaking his head as he did so. Ivy leaves and holly berries began to fall off his head, disappearing into nothingness.
A sounding of deep chimes ringing twelve rose from the Orchestra Pit, and when Seto looked about again, the Ghost and its children were gone.
The echoes of the final tolling of the bell continued to resound throughout the auditorium, even as deep fog covered the floor of the stage, signaling the entrance of the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come. The lighting changed from a light, bright blue offset by white light to an ominous dark light, filtered onto the stage through various materials. The whole area appeared quite like an empty, solemn graveyard, with Seto standing alone and tall amongst the dead stones at his side.
It was then that Seto truly grasped what Akane had told him earlier– that Malik had the ability to stand there and somehow emanate an aura of intimidation. Only in that moment, surrounded by dim light and cold, artificial fog, did Seto possess even the slightest amount of fear toward his co-star and once-rival. Supposedly, Malik was a different person– with new goals in life, new aspirations to reach for. So why did he still make Seto so uneasy?
Seto wasn’t the only one– hidden by the darkness of the audience, Mai felt her heart clench. It suddenly became very difficult to breathe, her chest feeling as though it bore the weight of an entire building on it. But she couldn’t look away. Something about this rewritten ‘Christmas Carol,’ something about Téa, Yugi, Joey, Tristan… something about the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come…
A few aisles up and to Mai’s right, Bakura sat– his eyes narrowed. He knew who stood cloaked underneath the graying, shredded robes of the Ghost. He knew without Malik so much as showing a single inch of skin, or his unusual lavender eyes. Other people might have been able to make the connection, based on the shining chain marked with the Eye of Horus on its pendant. But Bakura knew…
‘Another obstacle to remove.’
Not in the least bit aware of Mai’s discomfort or Bakura’s resolution, the audience continued to watch the proceedings of the second-to-last scene, enraptured.
“Am I in the presence of the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come?” Seto finally uttered, his voice low. The Spirit, as expected, did not answer, but lifted a hand and pointed onward.
Those in the first several rows of the audience could easily see the hand didn’t look the least bit human– it was far too large, far too long, and a nasty mixture of gray and green– the color of decayed flesh. What the audience didn’t know was that it was a perfectly healthy human beneath those robes– simply wearing stuffed gloves smothered in oil paints and petroleum jelly.
“You are about to show me the shadows of things that have not happened, but will happen in the time before us,” Seto persisted. “Is that so, Spirit?”
The one thing Malik had to be good at for his role as the Ghost was giving silent answers– indicated only by slight gestures. His character embodied fear, mystery, and the unknown. He had no voice, only movement. Malik moved slowly, the hood of his robe contracting. To the audience, it seemed as those he had just barely inclined his head– and that was the only answer Seto Kaiba received.
Though he’d already encountered two Spirits, this one seemed to instill a greater sense of fear in Seto than either of the previous ones. His legs seemed strangely unsteady, so much so that he found himself unable to move when the Ghost started to move forward. The Ghost glanced back momentarily, noticing Seto’s condition, and he paused, allowing the young man behind him time to recover.
Seto swallowed hard, his face a mix of determination and fear. What he didn’t say was plainly expressed on his face; though hidden by the dusky shroud of the Spirit’s robes, ghostly eyes peered at him intently, examining his every move and expression. Not being able to see the Ghost’s eyes put him at an unnerving disadvantage, and it showed in Seto’s body movement.
“Ghost of the Future!” Seto exclaimed, his voice unnaturally loud, “I fear you more than any other specter I have yet seen. But I know you’re here to do me good, and as I hope to change and become another man from what I was, I am prepared to accompany you, and do so with a thankful heart.” Seto paused, sucking in a breath. “Will you not speak to me?”
The Ghost only pointed once more, remaining silent.
“Lead on!” Seto said, swallowing the lump in his throat. “Lead on, for I know that time is against us!”
The Ghost moved slightly, Seto abruptly standing in its shadow. In that moment, darkness swallowed the stage, broken only by speckles of bright light moving faster than anyone could imagine.
Momentarily, the two stood amidst the gray city, the once bright and neon background blurred and faded. The light sounds of rain echoed in the distance, presenting a more dismal scene than any before. People milled about, but not at all like the jovial crowd the Ghost of Christmas Present had showed him. Salarymen in suits rushed back and forth, some of them rolling up their sleeves to inspect gold watches. A few of them clumped together beneath a lamp-post, toward which the Ghost pointed.
Seto noted that the Ghost’s hand pointed in the general direction of this first group, and so he edged forward to listen to their conversation.
“No,” said one of the salarymen, “I don’t know much about it, either way. All I know is– he’s dead.” The last word of the man’s sentence was spoken in an ominous voice, one that prompted his companions to chuckle lightly.
“When did he die?” asked another.
“Last night, I believe,” the first man responded, staring off at the audience as though waiting for a bus to come rolling down the aisles.
“Why, what was the matter with him?” a third man inquired, looking surprised. “He always seemed pretty healthy to me. I thought he’d never die.”
“God knows,” said the first with a yawn.
“What has he done with his money is the more important question,” pointed out a fourth, red-faced one, who sounded awfully congested.
“I haven’t heard,” the first man replied once more. “Left it to his company, I suppose. He hasn’t left it to me, that’s all I know.” This earned a general laugh all around, but filled with only wry humor.
“It’s likely to be a very cheap funeral,” the first man continued. “For the life of me, I don’t know anyone who’d go to it.”
“Especially not after that tabloid incident with that young man and that lady. I suppose they may have had something to do with him at one time, but they certainly won’t now.”
“We could always make up a party and volunteer,” the first man put in.
“I don’t mind if lunch is provided,” the congested man said. “But if I’m going to show my face at his funeral, I’d better be fed.”
“Well despite it being my suggestion, I’m probably the least interested out of this whole bunch– I never wear black if I can help it,” he gestured to his light gray suit and blue tie, “and I never eat lunch. But I’ll offer to go, if anyone else will. Now that I think of it, I suppose I might be the closest thing to a friend– whenever we spotted each other on the street, we did stop and speak.”
“If you can call his one-word comments ‘speaking,'” one of the other men put in sarcastically. The men laughed once more, and parted ways, leaving an obviously confused Seto Kaiba standing in their wake. He recognized most of those salarymen– none of them worked for him directly, but he’d had business dealings of various sorts with them, or else respected them as fellow businessmen. But their words made no sense to him, and it seemed as though the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come was no more inclined to speak on the matter than he had been before.
The Phantom glided down the street, his movements carefully choreographed so as to appear as though he were drifting through the masses, instead of between the people. Though Seto knew he wasn’t part of this world, this future, he still couldn’t rid himself of the habit of dodging jostling shoulders and pushy arms.
The Ghost pointed to two more people speaking –these quite familiar to Seto. They were the heads of two prestigious companies with whom he’d made major deals– so said Seto in soft observance, knowing that he would get no reply from the Ghost.
“How are you doing?” one said to the other. The greeting was repeated; it was all just a matter of formality between businessmen.
“So did you hear? The brat finally gave in.”
“He bit off more than he could chew, that’s for sure,” the second man returned. “He’s really dead then, hm?”
“Hm.” The first man nodded, then buttoned up the last few buttons on his coat. “Cold, isn’t it?”
“Seasonable for this time of year,” the second man responded. “You’re not a skater, I suppose?”
The first businessman laughed sharply, his voice coming out as a husky bark. “No, no. Something else to think off. Well, I’m off.”
There wasn’t another word. That was the extent of their meeting, their conversation, and their parting.
Seto turned a quizzical gaze toward the Ghost; why would the spirit attach such importance to such trivial conversations? But no, they had to have a hidden purpose. There was simply no reason else why the Ghost would have pointed the salarymen and business brokers out to him. So that meant Seto had to figure out the meaning behind their words on his own. The first clue he had was that someone had obviously died– but it couldn’t be Marley, since that happened in the Past, and this Spirit’s domain was that of the Future.
After much low musings under his breath, Seto realized he didn’t know anyone to whom the conversations would apply. But maybe it didn’t have to be anyone he knew immediately– perhaps it was simply a matter of taking in the moral of this man’s death, and treasuring every word he heard, in order to learn from them.
Perhaps if he saw his future self and how he acted, it would solve all these riddles floating around in his brain.
Seto searched for himself amongst the crowds; if the clock on the nearby tower was any indication, he should be in the area any moment now. But minutes passed, and still Seto saw no sign of his future self.
“Maybe I’ve come to my senses in this time and gotten away from that godforsaken stuffy office,” Seto grumbled to no one in particular. For a while now, he’d been contemplating a change of life, and so maybe these shadows of the future represented his newborn resolutions achieved.
It was then that Seto realized that the Spirit was again pointing, still standing as quiet and dark as ever. Seto dared to look up toward the mass of black that concealed Malik’s face; he shuddered visibly, unnerved by how well his once-rival was concealed by his hood and robe.
The stage dimmed and blackened again, the setting now that of a less-than-favorable part of Domino, replete with dank alleys and dirty, abandoned buildings. The Ghost and Seto moved toward one building in particular, the curtains in the window faded, stained, and torn. The paint on the door was chipped, and graffiti covered every square inch of rotting brick that made up the rest of the place.
The lights brightened on this new set, a tiny room cluttered up with an assortment of things ranging from old tea sets to worn furniture. A student dressed up like an old man shuffled from corner to corner, occasionally returning to a disheveled desk to glance at some paperwork. Only moments into observing the place, a woman carrying a heavy bundle slunk into the shop, followed by another woman similarly laden and finally, a man wearing faded black.
The three of them seemed briefly astonished to be meeting one another in this place and this time, but their blank astonishment disappeared soon enough, replaced by jovial smiles and dark laughter.
“I’ll be going first,” said the women who’d entered before the others. “Sarako with her laundry will be second, and Mr. Undertaker will go third.”
“Moe, I wish you’d just call me Yahiko,” the undertaker grumbled under his breath, his chin just about touching his chest. The first woman didn’t pay Yahiko any attention, and instead grinned strangely at the old man, the apparent owner of the cluttered pawn shop.
“Well come in, come in, then!” the old man exclaimed. “None of you are strangers here, you all know that! But close the door behind you– how it squeaks! There’s no rustier piece of metal in this world than those hinges there, and no bones older than mine!” The old man gave a barking laugh, and moved further into the tiny space. He brushed aside some moth-bitten cloths hanging from a bar– poorly serving as curtains that divided the store from the man’s sad excuse for an entertaining room.
Moe threw her bundle on the floor and sat on a nearby stool with a measure of defiance gleaming in her eyes. She stared boldly at the other two, silently challenging them to present something better than what she had. It was obvious that they all sought to exchange their goods for money, but the only thing that mattered was who got the most money for what.
“Well, every person’s got a right to take care of themselves,” Moe pointed out, defending herself though no accusations had been made. “He always did.”
“That’s true!” Sarako echoed. “No man more so than him.”
“Well don’t stand there looking afraid,” the pawn broker chided Sarako. “No one’s the wiser for you bringing his old goods here, and it’s not as if we’ll be picking holes in each other’s coats, correct?”
“No, indeed!” exclaimed Yahiko and Moe at the same time.
“Fine, then!” Sarako burst out at last, exhaling deeply. “That’s enough. Who’s the worse for the loss of a few things like these, anyway? Not a dead man, I suppose.”
“If he wanted to keep them after he was dead, then why wasn’t he more personable in his lifetime? He’d have had someone take care of him or something, and maybe he wouldn’t as stubborn and alone as he was.”
“But he was stubborn and alone,” Moe persisted, “and it’s all the truest words ever spoken. It’s a judgment on him.”
“I wish it was a bit of a heavier judgment,” Sarako sighed.
“Maybe then we could have all laid our hands on something better than what we three got away with, hmm? Well, open that bundle, Jogen. We all know what we were doing before we met here. Tell me if it’s worth anything– I’m not afraid to be the first, or to let the others see it. It’s no sin. Go on and open it, Jogen.”
But Moe’s words incited an odd sense of bravery in her companions; Yahiko the Undertaker presented his bundle first, revealing a small scattering of objects: a musical snow globe with a good third of its water evaporated away, a few sets of cuff-links, and a brooch of no great value. That was all.
Jogen examined each of the items carefully, and then scribbled the amount he’d pay for them –non-negotiable– on a corner of recycled brown paper.
“Funny, this,” Jogen held the brooch up to the light. “It’s a woman’s.”
Moe and Sarako exchanged a surprised, then thoughtful glance. It was Sarako who spoke first. “Do… do you think it was hers?”
“Most likely. I don’t know any other woman who was ever close enough to him. But don’t you worry, Yahiko,” Jogen smiled widely, revealing blackened and yellowed teeth. “After that last row the two of them had before he died, I doubt she’ll be coming to reclaim this. It’s not worth much anyhow, but then again, she was never a very rich girl.”
“So you don’t think he bought it for her and took it back after they– you know, went Splitsville?” Moe queried with a raised eyebrow.
Jogen shook his head in the negative. “Highly unlikely.” And that was all he said on the matter before moving on to Sarako’s bundle.
As Moe observed earlier, it was indeed laundry that Sarako carried with her– sheets and towels, to be precise. Bundled up amongst them were silk pajamas, a few pieces of silverware, and a portion of a tea set, with china cups and saucers.
Jogen held the pajamas in his hands momentarily before turning an astonished glance toward Sarako. “They’re still warm.” A pause. “I don’t pay extra for warmth, you know.”
“You should,” Sarako snapped in an uncharacteristic display of boldness. “It was the only warmth he ever had!”
They all laughed, but Jogen wrote Sarako’s account on another corner of paper, tearing it off and handing it to her. He sighed melodramatically while he did so. “I always give too much to ladies. It’s a weakness of mine, and the way I ruin myself. But I warn you, Sarako, if you ask me for another yen, I’ll knock off a thousand from my asking price.”
Sarako smiled weakly and nodded, gratefully accepting what she could get.
“Now open my bundle,” Moe declared, thrusting her bundle forward. Jogen did so, his eyes widening. “Bed curtains? You mean to say you took them off, rings and all, with him still lying there?”
“Yes I do,” Moe responded smugly. “Why not?”
“You were born to make your fortune,” Jogen sighed with a smile. “And you’ll certainly do it.”
“I’m not one to hold out my hand for anyone– not when I can reach out and grab something. I most especially wouldn’t help out a man such as he, and you know it, Jogen.”
Jogen continued to rifle through Moe’s package, staring at the soft wool blankets he found folded up. “Ironic,” he muttered, holding them up. “It’s not as though he can catch anything now, but were he a bit more bundled up…”
“He did die of pneumonia, didn’t he?”
“Some thought it was suicide through poison,” Moe nodded firmly. “Say what you want. Those blankets would have been wasted if it hadn’t been for me.”
“Wasted?” Yahiko ventured. “How?”
“By having him buried in it, no doubt! Those are the best blankets available– not a single hole or worn spot in the whole of them!” Moe crossed her arms over her chest, defiant once more.
“We were going to bury him in it,” Yahiko murmured under his breath. “So it was you who took the blankets off the second time.”
Moe’s expression fell for just a second, before she regained face and scowled at the undertaker. “And why shouldn’t I have? Cotton is just as good for him as it is for anyone else, and becoming enough for a body such as his. He can’t possibly look any uglier with different blankets.”
Seto listened to this all with horror slowly creeping its way onto his features.
“They’re demons,” he murmured to the Ghost. “They might as well be marketing the corpse itself!”
“Ha!” Jogen laughed, snapping Seto from his thoughts. “He frightened every last soul away from him while he lived, only to let us profit by him when he was dead! Ha ha!”
Seto shuddered from head to toe, moving toward the Spirit once more, hoping that by simply standing in its shadow, he would be moved away from this awful place and this dreadful conversation.
“I get it,” Seto grumbled. “I get it. The fate of this man might as well be my own. My life is heading that way, isn’t it? I– Good god, I…”
The scene abruptly changed, lights dimming and furniture and props shifting. When the lights rose once more, Seto found himself in a darkened room with an odd sense of familiarity about it. Whether it was his bedroom or not, he could not tell; the light was too dim to make anything distinctive out. Only slight shapes and shadows could be made out: that of a bare bed, covered only in sheets. A lump lay across it, and it was then that Seto realized with bile growing in his throat that it was the body of the man in question.
Unwept, uncared for… alone.
Not even the coroner bothered to take his body away.
The Phantom pointed toward the head of the corpse, motioning to the sheet covering its head. It would be so easy for Seto to brush it aside and reveal the face of the man, but there was one problem– nothing in this world of the future was material or tangible to Seto. He had no more power to reveal the face of the man than he did to dismiss the phantom beside him.
An echoing, mysterious voice sounded from off-stage, calling out. “This place is Death’s altar, Death’s home, dressed with horrors and draped with terrors. But of those loved, revered, and honored, Death cannot turn one hair to ash or make a single feature odious. It’s not that the hand is heavy and will fall down when released; it is not that the heart and pulse are still, but that the hand was open, generous, and true. The heart was brave, warm, and tender, and the pulse a man’s. Strike, Shadow, strike! See the man’s good deeds spring from the wound, and sow the world with life immortal!”
“If he could be brought back,” Seto mused aloud,” What would his first thoughts be of? Money? Business? They’ve certainly brought him to a rich ending!” Seto remarked sarcastically.
Scratching noises replaced the pitter-patter of rain– a cat howling at the door to the place, and the shadows of mice and rats skittering about the floor.
“This place is fearful,” Seto told the Ghost. “In leaving it, I won’t leave its lesson behind. Spirit, let us go!”
The Ghost kept pointing at the head of the corpse.
“I understand you,” Seto responded, tearing his gaze away from the body, “And I would do it if I could, but I have not the power! I have not the power.” Only in this dream world, in this fantasy, in this play, would Seto Kaiba ever admit to not being able to do something. But there was something to be learned from his archetypal character, his miserly, greedy self who saw no point and purpose to things if they didn’t begin or end with a yen symbol.
The Ghost seemed to incline its head again, staring in that black, unfathomable way.
“If there is any person in Domino who feels emotion caused by this man’s death, show that person to me, Spirit! Please!”
The Ghost spread out the folds of its robe out like a wing, darkening the stage further. When the lights came on, brighter this time, a young woman paced about the stage nervously, waiting for someone.
When that someone –the woman’s husband, no doubt– finally came onstage, Seto observed that he looked depressed and hard-worked, despite appearing no older than himself.
There was a prolonged silence, and then she spoke. “So, what is the news? Good– or bad?”
“Bad,” the man responded.
“We’re ruined, then?” the woman responded dismally, playing with her fingers.
“No. There’s hope.”
“If he allows–” the woman began, an amazed expression on her face. “Nothing is past hope, if he allows!”
“He’s past allowing us anything,” the man responded tiredly. “He’s dead.”
The woman paused, but then a relieved smile spread across her face. “I’m thankful for it, as horrid as it is for me to say. When I went to his office last week to get a week’s delay, some old, half-drunk woman stopped me. I didn’t believe what she said, but now I know it was true– he was dying, even then.”
“Who will our debt be transferred to?”
“I don’t know,” the man responded grimly. “But we will be ready with the money before then. And no matter how tough things have been, we can’t have the bad fortune of finding anyone so ruthless as him in his successor! So we can sleep easy tonight.”
And so it was– the couple seemed happier on news of the man’s death. Pleasured.
“Let me see some tenderness connected with a death,” Seto uttered. “Or else that dark room will constantly haunt me.” He was referring to the dank, stripped room of the corpse, of course.
The Ghost raised the edge of his robes once more and the stage shifted, this time shifting Seto through many familiar streets. He looked about for his own self, but there was no sign of his future self. Soon enough, Ghost and Kaiba found themselves on the step of Yugi’s little house.
But once they entered, Seto found the place nothing like it had been when he visited before with the Ghost of Christmas Present. Instead, Akane sat with the girls, sewing in a corner, while the oldest boy aside from Yugi sat in a corner, quietly reading a book.
Quiet– too quiet.
“‘And He took a child, and set him in the midst of them.'”
“Where have I heard those words before?” Seto mused. He couldn’t recall. It must have been the boy by the fire reading them out; there was simply no other explanation for the voice he’d just heard, or the words just spoken.
He glanced around the room, but the boy remained silent. A moment later, Akane put down her sewing and sighed. “The color hurts my eyes,” she whispered.
“The color–” Suddenly, it dawned on him who’d said those words before. “Mokuba!”
“They’re better now, again. They just get weak in this dim light,” Akane murmured. “I won’t show weak eyes to Yugi though, not for the world.”
“It’s past his time to come home,” the older boy observed, closing his book. “But I think he’s walked a bit slower than usual, these past few nights.”
Silence, broken only a few moments later by strained laughter; Akane’s desperate attempt to be cheerful, though she faltered. “I’ve seen him walk fast– even with… with Mokuba on his shoulder.”
“So have I,” the older boy nodded.
“And I,” the others chimed in, one after another. The five of them all had…
Akane resumed her sewing, “But then again, Mokuba always was very light. And Yugi always loved him so much, even though Mokuba’s birth meant his own mother’s death. Caring for Mokuba in any size, shape, or form was never any trouble to Yugi– no trouble at all.”
From the glowing pride on her face, mixed with flushed cheeks and falling tears, it was plain to see that this was why Akane loved Yugi so much– because he cared even when he didn’t have to. He cared more than necessary, and she loved him all the more for it.
The locks in the door clicked, and Akane stood up, rushing across the tiny set to greet Yugi as he entered. Yugi was shivering madly as he walked in, so his brother immediately wrapped him up in a nearby comforter, leaking cotton stuffing from the sides. Akane grabbed the tea kettle from the range and poured Yugi a piping hot cup of tea, which he drank slowly, with careful sips.
It was plain he was straining against himself, despite protests from his younger brothers and sisters. But Yugi remained cheerful, and appraised Akane and his sisters’ work with a smile on his face. “I’ve never seen a group so industrious and speedy,” he praised them. “You’ll be done well before Sunday, I’m sure.”
“Sunday?” Akane queried. “So you went today?”
Yugi nodded solemnly, “I wish you would have gone. It would have done you good to see how green the place is. But you’ll see the place often. I–” Yugi’s voice started to falter, but he sucked in a breath and resiliently continued, “I promised him that I would walk there on a Sunday. My little brother– M-m… Mokuba!” Yugi broke down altogether, sobbing. If noises from the audience were any indication– he was not alone.
Off-stage, Téa, Tristan, and Joey watched Yugi with admiration plain on their faces. Their friend had admitted to them that this was the hardest scene of all. It was hard conjuring the sort of emotions he was supposed to have– grief and loss beyond description, defying all healing. But Yugi did it– with each and every rehearsal, his performances grew increasingly realistic, and exceedingly emotional. At one point, Téa found herself crying, though she’d resolved after her last bout of tears to make it a long while before she cried again.
Once Yugi regained his composure, everyone gathered around the artificial fire –made of a bright orange lamp and a fan with dyed chenille tied to its frame. The audience thought it looked real enough, and that was what mattered.
“I ran into Mr. Wheeler on the street today,” Yugi spoke. “Even though we’ve only run into each other once or twice at the office, he remembered me– he even said I looked ‘just a little down,'” Yugi chuckled shortly. “When he asked why I was so, I told him,” Yugi swallowed as though making a great effort to continue. “And I tell you, he’s the most pleasant-spoken man I’ve run across in ages.”
In the audience, Mai hurriedly licked away a tear that had somehow escaped her eyes. She couldn’t help but grin despite the melancholy scene; there were just too many lines she and other duelists close to Yugi could misinterpret. Joey, pleasant-spoken? Well, maybe in Brooklyn…
“He told me he was heartily sorry to hear it, and sorry for you, too, Akane. He called you my ‘beautiful and good fiancee. How he ever knew that, I guess I’ll never know.”
“Knew what?” Akane asked, an eyebrow raised in playful suspicion.
“That you’re a good fiancee–” Yugi blushed shyly, “and a beautiful one at that.”
“Everyone knows that!” Yugi’s younger brother put in with a grin.
“Well said! I hope they do,” Yugi smiled for just a moment. “Mr. Wheeler said if he could be of service in any way, he’d be glad to help– he gave me his card.” Yugi produced the small card, forced print handwriting outlining an address on the back side. “It wasn’t for the sake of his being able to do anything for us, so much as how kind he was– that’s why this was such a great meeting, I guess. It seemed as though he really knew Mokuba, and felt with us.”
“I’m sure he’s a good soul,” Akane breathed, wiping away a single tear.
“You would be surer of it if you spoke to him,” Yugi said. “I shouldn’t be at all surprised –and you can quote me on this– if he got you a good job.” He gestured to his younger brother, who he’d hoped could intern at Kaiba Corp. But that wasn’t much of a possibility now, was it? Maybe it never had been.
“But it’s just as likely as not,” Yugi finally sighed dismally. “But however and whenever we part from one another, I’m sure none of us will ever forget Mokuba– or this, the first parting among us?”
“And I know that we’ll remember how patient and mild he was, and we won’t fight each other and forget Mokuba in doing so.”
“Never!” Yugi’s little brothers and sisters echoed again, to which Yugi smiled.
“I know–” Seto spoke at long last, though he couldn’t tear his eyes away from the scene at hand, “Spirit, that our time to part ways has come. I don’t know how I know, but I do. Tell me– who was the man we saw lying dead?”
The Ghost inclined his head again, regarding Seto. Both he and Seto knew there appeared to be no order to the visions– those of businessmen, of thieves and pawn brokers, of relieved couples and broken families. The only thing they had in common was that they were in the Future.
The scene changed once more, Seto and the Spirit moving through streets and squares. The Spirit didn’t waste any time; he went straight on to whichever destination suited him, waiting only when Seto dared to tarry behind.
“We’re not far from where my office is, and has been for years,” Seto uttered in a rushed voice. “I can see it from where we are. Let me see where I’ll be, in these days to come.”
The Spirit stopped; his hand was pointed in the opposite direction.
“We’re so close to it,” Seto exclaimed. “Why do you point away?”
The finger didn’t change direction.
Seto dared to break away from the Spirit’s side, and rushed through the crowds of people and countless doors until he found himself in an office. It should have been his office, but it was not. The furniture was familiar, but the placement was all wrong. Little things that Seto had once recognized about his top-floor, city-viewing office were now altered, and it unnerved him mightily. At last, when the figure in the chair at what should have been Seto’s desk turned around…
It was not him.
It was a stranger. No one that Seto knew, but here he was, sitting in his chair, in his office…
Wasn’t it? Wasn’t this his?
Seto turned to his side, finding the Phantom there, rather than below on the streets. It pointed once more, the scene fading and stretching until they returned to the place where Seto first met the silent Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come– a graveyard.
“Hardly a worthy place for the man we saw lying earlier,” Seto mumbled. The fog lessened, revealing a papier maché set of graves, choked with dirt and rot, weeds growing everywhere. In the background, houses surrounded the place, giving it a very walled-in, closed atmosphere.
The Spirit stood among the graves, pointing to a single one.
The ghost hadn’t changed shape or form any, but a renewed sense of terror instilled itself in Seto’s bones, and he dreaded this new meaning he saw in its shape– that of Death.
“Before I get any closer to the stone you’re pointing at, answer me one question. Are these the shadows of things that Will Be, or shadows of things that May Be, only?”
The Ghost kept pointing down at the grave marker.
“The path a man takes in life will foreshadow a certain end, no doubt,” Seto murmured, mostly to himself. “But if a man diverts from his path and chooses a new course, a different end may be achieved.” Seto turned wild eyes on the Spirit. “Say it is so with what you show me!”
The Spirit didn’t move.
Seto moved toward the stone, hesitation plain in his posture. Finally, he stepped away from the stone, revealing to the audience what he saw– his own name engraved in thick, bold letters: SETO KAIBA.
“That’s it then– I’m the man who lay in that bed…?” It wasn’t really a question, even though Seto’s voice raised a bit toward the end of his sentence. He knew– and he feared that in reality, he’d known all along, and had just been unable to admit it.
The Ghost pointed at the grave, and then at Seto.
“No, Spirit! No, no!” Seto gave in, falling to his knees and clutching at his robe. While Yugi could have his difficulties with crying scenes, this was Seto’s most difficult scene. He never prostrated himself to anyone, never begged for anything. But if acting in this play as the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge-archetype had taught him anything, it was that sometimes, necessary sacrifices of pride had to be made, for the greater end.
“Spirit, hear me! I’m not the man I was! I won’t be the man that came about to this end– I have changed, have I not? Why show me a scene such as this, if I am past all hope?”
The hand pointed still, but now, for the first time, it trembled.
“Good Spirit,” Seto continued, “You’re here to intercede on my behalf, because you pity me, or sympathize for me. Please, assure me that I may yet change these shadows you have shown me, and I can alter my life!”
The hand trembled more.
Beneath the heavy robes and hood, Malik squeezed his eyes shut. Now was the worst possible time for him to be feeling hot and faint– for him to be having the visions bestowed upon his family from ages past. Perhaps it had something to do with the apparent sincerity with which Seto begged– something familiar?
No, Seto Kaiba never begged for anything.
But Priest Seto…?
Malik tried to will the images away. It didn’t matter that he didn’t have to worry about having any lines to speak; he wasn’t done with his final scene yet, and he’d sooner return to the catacombs than make a fool of himself in front of so many of his peers.
In this time and place, he was as normal a teenager as he could possibly be– and he was determined to be free, and live out his dream. He would not return to Egypt, not until it was time…!
“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it throughout the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future; the Spirits of all Three shall live within me! I will not shut out the lessons they have taught. Tell me I can sponge away the writing on this stone!” Appearing agonized, Seto grabbed the Ghost’s hand. The hand struggled to free itself– while internally, Malik fought his own mental battle, trying to escape the plaguing of images and sensations flooding through him.
‘Sponge away this stone… return me…’
Something was wrong about all this.
Malik struggled again, though Seto gripped harder. Just as the lights went to black, the visions plaguing Malik stopped abruptly.
When the stage grew light once more, Seto’s bedpost stood where the Spirit once had been, Seto gripping it as though it were a lifeline.
The bedpost was his own– and slowly but surely, joy spread across Seto’s features.
“I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future!” Kaiba repeated, scuttling to get up. His blankets, his sheets– his bed curtains! All of them there, all of them intact and clean and perfect and just as he’d left them when he’d retired…
“The Spirits of all Three shall live on within me! Oh Marley! Heaven and Christmastime be praised for this– Marley, I say it on my knees, on my knees!” And indeed, he was on his knees, half on his mattress and about to topple off. But before he could lose his balance, Kaiba bolted out of bed, touching each and every one of his possessions in sight, as if to make sure they were tangible, if they were real.
Everything… even his pillows, though they were wet with tears. He’d been so desperate in his encounter with the Final Spirit that Seto Kaiba had actually cried– but no one need know that. Kaiba always put his all into everything he did, and that included this performance– all because there was simply no excuse for mediocrity.
“The shadows of things that would have been are faded– or may be dispelled. I know they will be, I know they will!”
“I don’t know what to do,” Kaiba exclaimed, quickly growing short of breath as he briskly moved about. “I’m as light as a feather, as happy as an angel– as giddy as a drunken man! A Merry Christmas to everybody, and a Happy New Year to the world!”
And then, Seto Kaiba did something that astonished almost everyone, cast and crew alike. He laughed. A real, true, genuine laugh– amazing, since all those laughs preceding it tended to be those of caustic sarcasm or his ego-fueled desire for victory. And it was the father of many more genuine laughs to come in that play alone. People gaped. In dress rehearsals, they’d always heard a faint laugh at best from Seto Kaiba– but it was obvious he’d been saving his best performance for last.
Only Téa smiled as Kaiba stood there, laughing loudly. She’d heard him laugh genuinely before, and the sound warmed her to her very soul. Her cheeks were a faint shade of pink, her lips curled into a slight smile. It was little things like his laugh –his real laugh, his real smile– that reminded Téa of why she loved Seto, despite all their disagreements or obstacles they had yet to face.
“How long have I been with the Spirits?” Kaiba mused after he’d regained his breath. “It doesn’t matter– I feel like I’ve been born again! I might as well be a baby, and all the better for it!”
Kaiba marched toward a prop designed to look like a window, throwing flakes of fake snow about when he opened it. The lights grew brighter, revealing a clear sky free of thick fog or mist. It was a glorious day!
“What’s today?” Kaiba called down to Hiroshi, the young man who’d first suggested to Akane and Shunsuke that they adapt one of Miss Ninomiya’s student’s stories in the first place. He wasn’t much for big roles –he preferred to work behind the scenes– but this was his time to shine, and he was going to make the most of it.
“Eh?” Hiroshi called back, looking astonished.
“What’s today, young man?” Kaiba called again.
“Today!” Hiroshi blinked. “Why, today is Christmas Day!”
“Christmas Day!” Kaiba murmured to himself. “So I haven’t missed it. The Spirits have done it all in one night– but of course they did! They can do anything they like! Of course they can. Of course they can.” Once again, Kaiba called to Hiroshi.
“Do you know the gourmet poultry store around the corner, down the street?”
“I sure do!” Hiroshi called back with a lopsided, inquiring smile.
“An intelligent boy! A remarkable boy!” Kaiba exclaimed, heaping praise on the young man who’d once caroled on Kaiba’s doorstep and been tossed to the street. “Do you know whether they’ve sold the prize Turkey that was hanging up in the window? Not the little prize Turkey, but the big one?”
“The one that’s at least half my size, if not bigger?” Hiroshi called back, excitement filtering into his voice.
“What a delightful boy! A pleasure to talk to him– yes, that one!”
“It’s hanging there now,” Hiroshi responded.
“Is it? Go and buy it,” Kaiba said, retreating into his room to grab out a leather change purse. He stuffed some large yen bills into the opening, and tossed in a handful of 500 yen coins while he was at it. He tossed it down to the boy, who gaped at him in surprise. “Have them come here to arrange a delivery, and I’ll give you all the change in that purse. Come back in five minutes, and I’ll double it.”
Hiroshi’s jaw dropped a good five centimeters, eyeing the heavy change purse and then the street down which the gourmet poultry store was open for business. He was off like a shot, the curtains rustling as he bolted out of sight.
“I’ll send it to Yugi’s,” Kaiba mused thoughtfully, grinning in a way that was either malicious or insanely happy. Or perhaps some twisted combination of both. “It’s twice the size of Mokuba, I’m sure. Jogen can make all the jokes he like– there will never be one as great as this!”
Soon enough, the young boy came back with the poulterer’s man, turkey in tow. The turkey was so fat and huge, it never could have stood on its own two legs, so fat and plump it was. A bird of that size would have snapped its own legs right off.
“It’ll be impossible to carry that to the other side of Domino,” Kaiba told the poulterer. He reached into his robe pocket and withdrew his ever-present cell phone; a few blips and beeps later, a black sedan with tinted windows pulled up to the curb, with a uniformed chauffeur opening the door for the astonished delivery man. He paid the boy what he’d promised and double, for the boy only took three minutes to get to the poultry store and back– a miracle, to be sure.
When Kaiba returned to his room to clean up and change, the audience laughed– his hands shook horribly as he tried to shave himself, and several girls squealed in delight as he undressed– only revealing his chest before he disappeared behind his heavy bed curtains and finished changing into costume. As he completed this task, he noted Téa standing between the curtains stage left– grinning like a hyena. Kaiba winked at her, and continued on with the scene.
The play called for him to be dressed in his ‘very best,’ but considering Kaiba’s wardrobe –of formalwear, that is– consisted of the most prestigious and high-end Japanese and French, and Italian designers, everything seemed to be the ‘very best.’ But it was Téa who chose the winning suit– the same one he’d worn with her and Mokuba when they’d gone to the Kaiba Corporation 50th Anniversary Ball, back in August.
Once Kaiba left his house, he ran into many people, startling them by greeting them with a pleasant “Good morning and Merry Christmas,” accompanied by a delighted smile. It wasn’t long before Kaiba spotted Tristan– though no longer guised as the Ghost of Christmas Past, but instead, as the charity worker striving for just a few more thousand yen.
Kaiba swallowed; he never was one for apologizing even when he knew he was wrong, but he knew what path he’d be on if he didn’t. Kaiba strode across the stage to Tristan’s side, catching his attention and grasping his hands in one swift movement.
“Sir, how do you do? I hope you succeeded yesterday. It was very kind of you. A Merry Christmas to you, by the way!”
“Mr. Kaiba?” Tristan blinked. He almost bit his lip to prevent himself from laughing– he was used to calling Kaiba merely by his last name, without any honorific attached. But in this play, they weren’t enemies or rivals– they were two strangers that had the ability to change one another’s lives.
“Yes, that is my name, and I fear it may not be pleasant to you. Allow me to ask for your pardon. And will you have the goodness–” Kaiba bent down and whispered something in Tristan’s ear.
Tristan’s eyes widened considerably, his jaw dropping. “By the gods– are you serious?”
“If you please,” Kaiba nodded solemnly. “Not a single yen less. And a great many back-payments are included in it, I assure you. Will you do me that favor?”
“Mr. Kai–” Tristan stopped, reassessing his words. No, ‘Mr. Kaiba’ was not enough. “Sir, I don’t know what to say–”
“Don’t say anything, please,” Kaiba retorted. “Come and see me. Will you come and see me?”
“I will!” Tristan cried jubilantly. “I– I only wish there was something I could give to you.”
Kaiba was about to protest, but Tristan silenced him by slowly removing the knit scarf from around his neck and holding it out to the CEO on open palms. Kaiba stared at the gift with surprise and silent joy written on his face; his eyes asked if it was truly okay if he accepted. Tristan nodded with a grateful smile, practically shoving the scarf into Kaiba’s arms. After a moment, the young tycoon took the scarf with a smile, and he wrapped it snugly around his neck.
“Thank you,” Kaiba murmured. “Thank you– fifty times!”
And Kaiba continued to walk about, encountering people of all sorts, conversing with people he never would have even looked at before. Soon enough, the lights changed to indicate the bright afternoon, at which point Kaiba found himself before Joey’s household once more. After pacing back and forth, he finally gave in and rang the doorbell. Joey answered, but he didn’t say anything when he opened the door and saw Kaiba’s face– in fact, the only sound he made was something like a balloon running out of helium.
When Joey finally regained his senses, he shook Kaiba’s hand madly, to the point where Kaiba thought his arm might fall off. He was pleasantly surprised to find everyone just the same as when he’d encountered them with the Ghost of Christmas Present. Everything the same– a delightful arrangement of foods and snacks, a brightly decorated home, and a gathering of joyful, surprised people.
Though it was far from his first time meeting Chieko in reality, Kaiba had to pretend for this instance that he’d never encountered the blonde before. He greeted her formally, obviously impressing her with his charming ways, later nudging Joey in the ribs that he’d done well. Joey’s only response was to chuckle and grin.
Soon, evening fell, and Kaiba excused himself from Joey’s festivities to make his way to Yugi’s household. Once there, he put on his best serious look, practically expressionless. He rapped on the door once, twice, three times.
The door creaked open, revealing Yugi– whose eyes widened as he saw his employer looming over him at his very own door.
“So here you are,” Kaiba said in his best growl. It was hard trying to impersonate the cold, callous businessman he had been only a day before; straining on the throat even. Perhaps it had something to do with all the fun he’d had at Joey’s, and the spiced cider he’d drunk glass after glass of. “You didn’t come into work today.”
“B-But Mr. Kaiba– w-we arranged–” Yugi stuttered, his fingers trembling on the door frame.
“I? I? I’ll tell you what, Yugi. I will not stand for this sort of thing any longer. And therefore–”
“What’s going on?” Akane appeared beside Yugi, her eyes narrowing upon sight of Kaiba in her doorway. “YOU. What do you want?”
Instead of answering the obviously angered young woman, Kaiba continued, “And therefore, I’m about to raise your salary!”
“And I’m about to raise–” Akane started, but then she stopped. She, like Yugi, obviously understood his words– though the tone behind them had been entirely vicious at first. Quite to both their surprises, Kaiba smiled, sending a flood of both relief and uneasiness through their veins.
“Merry Christmas, Yugi. And a merrier Christmas than I have given you for many a year– I’ll raise your salary and endeavor to assist your struggling family, even if it means buying you a prize Turkey every day of the week.”
“T-That was you?” Akane gaped. “You…”
“Does it meet with your standards? I admit, I probably could have done better, but there was only the one store open today…”
Akane’s cheeks reddened as she tried to come up with a response, but none would come. She stared at Kaiba, even as Yugi gestured for him to please, please come inside and join them for Christmas dinner.
And then, his eyes met hers.
There she sat at the far end of the table, Mokuba sitting on her lap and chattering away with the other children… Téa. She looked at him, her eyes searching his… and then, slowly but surely, a smile crept up on her lips. She nodded her chin toward the fat Turkey roasting in the oven, and mouthed a genuinely grateful ‘Thank you.’ Seto only nodded.
“And so,” Shunsuke stepped on stage, allowing the scene behind him to continue in soft tones and dimmed light, “Seto Kaiba was better than his word. He did it all and infinitely more, and to Mokuba, who did not die–” the audience burst into cheers, applause, and loud sniffles, “he became as good a friend, as good a man, as good as Domino knew, or any other prefecture, ward, city, or province in all of the countries in all of the world. Some people laughed at his change, but Seto Kaiba let them laugh. He knew full well that nothing ever happened in this world for good at which some people did not have their fill of laughter of at the outset. His own heart laughed with them, and that was enough.”
Shunsuke stepped off stage, allowing there to be one final scene– the reunion especially written for Seto’s ‘Scrooge’ and Téa’s ‘Belle.’
The party since increased in number, swelling to include Joey, Chieko, Tristan, and countless others. The party was loud and merry, and the little Moto family was happier than anyone had ever seen.
Seto tugged Téa away from the festivities, eager to amend the one part of his heart still left wounded. But it could be no coincidence that she was here, in this time and this place…
“Téa, will you– could you give me a second chance?”
Téa blinked up at him, her eyes still searching his. She reached a hand up and stroked his cheek gently, smiling as he closed his eyes and nuzzled against her. For a moment, he was ignorant of the cast members behind and to the sides of him; he was unaware of the orchestra or the audience… all he saw, all he felt was her.
What a strange sensation…!
“You have changed, Seto,” Téa whispered, calling him by his given name for the first time during the course of the play. “I can see it. I never thought I would, but…” she shook her head, laughing privately to herself. “Yes, I’ll give you a second chance.” She let these words register in Seto’s mind, his expression changing from pleading to pleased. But then Téa’s face turned into a warning, a single finger separating her face from Seto’s. “But not a third. Fool me once, shame on you, but fool me twice, shame on me. I won’t do it, Seto. I can’t–”
“I don’t think you’ll have to, Téa. I’m not going to mess this chance up.”
Téa smiled brightly, hugging Seto in a short, warm embrace. At this point, they were supposed to turn around and rejoin the party, and allow the play to come to a close. But Seto wasn’t trailing after her; instead, his hand shot out and grabbed her arm, twirling her back into his arms.
Were the curtains not still open and the stage lights still burning brightly overhead, Téa might have thought Seto was just talking to her normally. He fixed her with a gaze that easily could have, were she a wax woman, melted her into her shoes.
“Wh-What is it?”
The play was coming to its close, and it was time for the ‘happy ending’ Téa had written. But even a year ago, when she’d dared to tinker with the idea of she and Seto being involved with one another, even in a story, she’d left the end peculiarly un-sappy. There were no kisses, no smothering hugs, no sensual dances. She’d left it innocent and almost playful, though it felt just a bit… wrong.
But it seemed that now, despite the conversion of Téa’s story into a sold-out musical, Seto had another idea in mind.
Seto didn’t say anything, but there was a sly curl to his lips and an odd twinkle in his eye; he knew he was improvising, and that Téa would have to as well– but oddly enough, he didn’t seem to care about the gazes of hundreds of people, staring at them in mute shock.
The truth was, he’d been grappling with his feelings throughout the play– through each and every rehearsal, and each and every hour after that. Maybe, he decided, it was time to try and figure out how he felt, by purposefully putting himself in a situation he couldn’t make excuses for, by doing something he couldn’t take back.
In front of an audience of hundreds…
Téa’s eyes shifted, staring at him in surprise and insecurity. ‘What are you thinking?’ she asked him mentally. They were supposed to transition to the next scene, and end the play with a big fanfare and great hurrahs. But…
Seto didn’t waste another second before sweeping Téa up into his arms in quite the gallant fashion; one arm supported her lower back, while his other hand gripped her shoulder. Téa barely had a moment to adjust her own arms accordingly before Seto’s lips came pressing down on hers in a burst of sudden and quite unexpected passion.
The audience cheered wildly, audience members standing up from their seats; boys whistled and girls sobbed. Some of the older audience members let out a chorused “Aww,” while still more simply applauded as loud as they possibly could.
It was only a few moments later, but it felt like hours to Téa; the curtains came crashing to a close, and the audience cheers and applause thundered louder. Seto finally stepped away from Téa, releasing his grip on her and allowing her to regain her balance. However, it took her a second, and she stumbled slightly back into his arms, her cheeks bright red and her pupils dilated into an abyss of black.
“Seto…” she murmured breathily, but before she could say anything further, Shunsuke came rushing out from stage right, quickly ushering everyone to get into their positions for the true finale scene, and after that, the curtain call.
And so, Domino High’s emergency, last minute musical production of ‘A Modern Christmas Carol’ came to a stunning and smashing close.
Credits to Charles Dickens for the slightly-adapted ‘A Christmas Carol’ used in this. You might also want to go to the Official WDKY Page and check out the nitpicky Research Page; you’d be surprised how many references there are to other great works there are in this chapter. I’m sorry it took so long…
THANK YOU to Mamono and Guardian Kysra for beta’ing this chapter!