The words had been stated so baldly, the tone so matter of fact, that he couldn't even find it in himself to call bullshit on the statement. It might have been easier to swallow if Bakura would have at least been willing to meet his eyes, but instead he kept his head tilted back and his pale eyes locked on the ceiling above them.
"Gods?" he repeated. "Really?"
"Maybe I should have said that we were gods. Very few of us are worshiped anymore. Without belief, we aren't as strong as we used to be."
God, some small part of him was just waiting for someone to jump out from behind the door or something and yell 'psych' or something -- something so that he didn't have to try to process news like that. "Gods..." That was the part he was having trouble with, not that everything here wasn't hard to swallow. That part was just particularly hard to swallow. Okay, if that was what Bakura was, then... "Who are you?"
Bakura shrugged. "I've had a lot of names over the years. Hades or Pluto might be one you recognize." And he wasn't going to choke at hearing something like that. "Gwynn ap Nudd was one of my firsts and has always my favorite. I like 'Bakura' best now."
He didn't actually know that much about mythology, but something about the name Hades did stick out in his memory. "Hades? Like the god of hell?"
That finally got Bakura willing to meet his eyes. "The Otherworld is not hell. It's just where souls go when they die, good or bad. It's the same with a lot of the other underworlds. There are only a few where people go to get punished, and frankly I've been too busy to be in the punishment game lately."
An odd thought occurred to him. "What about your sister? Is she real?"
And at that Bakura finally laughed. "Amane? Yeah, she's real. Like me, she's living under an assumed name, but she's still around. We're not actually blood siblings, but we death gods tend to stick together. Not too many people like us after all."
It made some sort of sense, he supposed. No one wanted to be reminded that they could and would die, and a death god would be a walking reminder of that. No wonder they stuck together. Maybe it was his lacking knowledge of mythology, but he was sort of striking out on trying to think of any female death god -- err, goddesses. But that was a question he could best save until later.
"So why are you," you gods, "at war with these..." He trailed off, not completely certain of getting the name right.
"The daevas. When they first started appearing, we thought it was just another pantheon making themselves known. It wouldn't have been the first time, and they played right into that. They made us think that they were one of us... right up until the point where they slaughtered Osiris." He sighed. "Even then, I guess we were all in shock. I mean, it's hard to kill one of us, and they made it look easy." Another sigh. "They still make it look easy."
"How long has this war been going on?" It seemed like something could be important.
At that, Bakura paused, looking away. He could watch the white-haired god's lips move silently as he obviously pondered the answer to that. "Since they killed Osiris," he finally declared, though by no means did he sound absolutely certain. "That has to have been about six or seven thousand years ago."
Six or seven thousand years ago... Bakura made that sound like a stretch of time no longer than a few weeks. The reality of it was beyond his comprehension, though. Bakura had said 'millennia' before, but somehow it had seemed like exaggeration before. Now, for it to be so casually stated, that just confirmed it as fact.
"So where are we now?" he asked, breaking the long silence. Really, he had tons of other questions, but he was going to make this be the last one. Surely Bakura had much better things to do than sit around here and answer questions from him. From the way Malik had spoken, Bakura seemed to be fairly important to this war.
"Annwn." At Kaiba's apparent confusion, he elaborated: "The Otherworld, at least the Welsh-Celtic version of it. The daeva haven't found it yet, so it's our safety zone. Our base of operations, I guess is the best way to put it. We've been hiding out in the realms of the dead for the last century or so, because it's one of the last places anyone would think to look for us. No one -- not even the gods -- like the death realms."
Except the death gods, he concluded, though he kept his thoughts to himself. At least, he assumed they were still private. If he could hear them talking, then maybe the reverse was also true: maybe they could hear him thinking. Now that was a scary thought. He didn't like the idea of anyone messing around in his mind, even someone he provisionally liked. If he didn't like the mere idea of Mokuba being possibly reading his mind, then there was no way in hell he was going to be comfortable with the thought that complete strangers here might be able to take glances in on him.
"I guess that makes sense," he offered.
"They gutted the Greek underworld." Bakura's voice itself sounded gutted, and without letting himself put too much thought into it, he pushed himself to his feet, quickly crossing the few steps between them and knelt at Bakura's feet. He didn't even let himself stop from reaching out and placing a hand on Bakura's knee. He didn't know much about offering comfort, but this seemed like it was a good thing.
Maybe better than good, he thought abruptly a few seconds later. If he had needed proof still that Bakura was more than human, his reflexes would have been the biggest clue ever. He hadn't even seen or heard the man move before he found himself sitting across his lap, legs dangling over the side of the chair. He was miles stronger than a man of his height and apparent lack of muscle mass should have been Bakura was oddly silent, though. He felt comfortable, however, with this silence. If there were secrets to this silence, they were ones that didn't apply to him.
He let Bakura hold him for a long moment before he decided to speak again, trying for a small smile. "You know, I don't remember my mythology all that great, but I do seem to remember something about a Persephone." That got Bakura's attention solely focused on him, and this time the grin he was wearing for Bakura was real. "I don't have someone I've got to worry about being jealous of me, do I?"
The white-haired man let out a laugh. Much like the one in the cafeteria, there was something odd and special about it. He was starting to get the feeling that this was the kind of laugh Bakura made when he was truly pleased by something, as opposed to just being amused. "You don't have anyone to worry about. Both Mana and Mai are here for their own good, not because I wanted them." He chuckled briefly. "I do seem to have a habit of kidnapping and collecting people, though, don't I?"
"Going from little I remember of the myths, yeah." Two? Wait, no, Bakura had said that he was Hades, Pluto, and another god; that name he wasn't even going to try to pronounce. Maybe it had something to do with that. "So am I being collected or--"
He cut himself off as soft lips brushed against his own. It was barely enough to be called a kiss -- and it was a dirty way to derail his train of thoughts.
"Yes, you have been collected, Seto, and I'm not intending on letting you go. Not now." His voice was starting to turn sad, and Kaiba couldn't say he liked that. He preferred Bakura at least a bit cheerful. "I've been alone too long to let someone like you go now."
That word floated back up through his mind: 'millennia'. That was a long time to be alone, he thought drearily to himself. Well, if he had his way, that was never going to be the case again. Not for him, not for Bakura.
"I guess I can live with that," he quipped quietly, the words coming to him surprisingly both easily and quickly. He paused, pretending to take a moment to consider this. "Yeah, I can definitely live with that."
"Good" was all Bakura replied, not moving in the least to let him go. If anything, he was being held tighter, closer, more intimately than he had been before.
That was... confusing to him. He didn't know much about mythology; it had never been a topic that had been of any real interest to him before; but it didn't make a lot of sense for a god to be so lonely. Maybe it should have, though. Bakura was a death god, after all, and by his own admission, not even the other gods cared much for them... except apparently to use their realms in times of need. That bothered him, almost as much as the idea of Bakura being lonely. If he were one of them, he would have been having words with the whole lot of them about that.
What he did remember of mythology, which admittedly was not all that much, just what came up on television on occasion and stories he vaguely remembered his uncle telling guests, at least the Greek gods had been very humanlike, with very human failings and vices. Bakura had said at one point that he had been a Greek god, Hades to be exact, so perhaps... Maybe they weren't all that different from humans: just extremely long-lived and powerful. That he could wrap his mind around better. It made them into something vaguely more approachable in his mind. If he was going to be working with them to try to win their war against the daevas, then he needed to be able to be around some of them besides Bakura.
He had only met one other of them before, at least face-to-face: that weird guy Malik. It stood to reason that Malik was a god as well, though he didn't want to even think too much about who Malik might have been. As casually cruel as the blond man had been, as easily as he radiated hostility, maybe he had something to do with war or fighting or something. He couldn't fathom a guess beyond that, though. He simply didn't know enough to try.
In the meanwhile, though, perhaps it was best if he just thought of Malik as another man, if he thought of him as just 'Malik'. He certainly didn't want to start thinking of anyone as 'the god of' whatever. That was simply too overwhelming for him for right now. Maybe once he had had time to get used to the idea and all, maybe then he could start trying to process all of them. For now, though, procrastination and denial seemed the best ways to go. That way, he could deal and perhaps even be useful.
There was a soft tap at the door, one that sounded entirely too restrained to have been the only other god he knew here, interrupted the quiet moment. Bakura heaved an annoyed sigh and a sound that might have almost been a growl. "Who is it?" he called just loudly enough to be heard. What he didn't do was move in any way or let go of the man in his arms.
Frankly, he wasn't too sure about the prospect of meeting someone new while sitting in Bakura's lap. He wasn't sure what sort of picture it was going to send out, but he was fairly certain it wasn't one he wanted to be remembered by in a group like this. At the same time, though, he was awfully comfortable and Bakura's arms around him felt so good.
The door opened with a quiet whisper of sound, just barely enough to be heard. Both he and Bakura were facing away from the door, but he at least had a good enough angle to see a young woman with long curly black hair slipping in the door, closing it quickly and quietly behind her. "Just me," she commented, her voice little more than a whisper.
"Amane," Bakura returned.
So this was Bakura's pseudo-sister. It was immediately obvious that they were in no way blood related. For starters, they looked nothing alike. Where Bakura was all shades of light and white, Amane was darkness: black hair, dark blue eyes, dark clothing. The only thing they seemed to have in common was the pale shade of their skin. Maybe that was something all death gods had. Most death realms, from his tenuous grasp on mythology, were hidden away in caves and underground, and death gods rarely strayed from their realms in the myths, so maybe it made sense that they would all have been pale.
"Malik told me you were back," she stated softly. It was odd, but she didn't seem capable of loud speech, or maybe she just preferred to hold herself in moderation. "I'm glad to hear you returned both unharmed and successful." The smile she offered Kaiba was a flash of too sharp teeth that seemed a bit too feral for his safety. "You must be the listener my brother was sent to retrieve. I'm Amane."
He accepted the hand she offered, making no effort to rise from where Bakura had placed him earlier. "Kaiba," he returned. No one else here seemed to use more than one name, so it was perhaps best for him to likewise restrain himself. It took a moment, but he did remember to press forward with some of the manners he had picked up from Mokuba. "I'm pleased to meet you."
This time, her smile seemed more genuine, though still dangerous, as she sank down into the same spot on the couch he himself had occupied until a few moments ago. "I'm glad to hear this. I feel likewise. It's good to see my brother a bit less gloomy."
"I'm still here, you know," Bakura groused. He did not seem to be too annoyed, however. "Don't talk about me like I can't hear you."
"But it's ever so much fun, brother." She offered Kaiba another smile. Each one had been a little different than the one before. This one bordered on actually being friendly. "I do hope you will stay with us a while, Kaiba."
Why did that make him a little nervous? He decided to go with his gut for once, and so he answered carefully. "I hope to," he replied.
Bakura's grip on him tightened briefly into something very much like a possessive hug. "Seto will be sticking around." He said it as if it were a bald-faced fact, like there was no arguing with it once he pronounced it.
Amane nodded. "Very good. I'm quite pleased to hear that. I should go, in that case, and make certain that Malik knows this. Maybe this way, he will cease his whining and let us plan a bit." She stood, smoothing down the black dress she wore, and focused all her attention once more on Bakura. "Jounouchi and Atemu seem to have had similar luck with acquiring listeners as well, if the rumor mill proves to be truth for once. I cannot help but think this is a good thing."
When Bakura finally answered slowly, his voice sounded like it was all business. He glanced over his shoulder at the man, and he couldn't help being a little surprised at how serious he appeared to be. It was probably wrong of him to think that the person he had known before was Bakura, while this was Hades/Pluto/that other god; it was that startling a difference at least, like they were almost two different people in the same body. He would have said that it was the difference between the relaxed Bakura he had known to date and a more serious Bakura, but that otherworldly power had seemed to grow around him as well as he had spoken. He preferred his original theory at this point.
"That's good. I suppose then we should hope that this ridiculous plan of Atemu's actually is worth a damn."
"Perhaps it will be. It would be a nice change of pace, would it not?" Amane turned to look down at Kaiba again and offered in a conspiratorial whisper, "Brother does not get along with Atemu. To be truthful, few of us do."
"And that probably has something to do with the stick up his ass," Bakura groused. "The man's one of the few All Fathers who have survived this long, not the Second Coming of Osiris or anything. One of these days, his mouth and ego are going to write a check that his body and powers cannot cash -- and I'm going to laugh my ass off when that happens. I might even sell tickets. It's going to be great, I'm telling you."
Obviously, Bakura really didn't like this Atemu guy. He couldn't remember ever hearing anyone talk about someone they worked with like that before, even some of the orderlies at the hospital or, worse, some of his uncle's servants in regards to his uncle. He had heard some venom tossed around before, but that might have taken the cake.
He listened politely while Bakura and Amane made their goodbyes and until Amane was out the door with it closed once more behind her before he asked the question currently raging through his mind: "So why don't you like this Atemu guy?"
Bakura actually growled again. "I don't hate him. No, I despise him. He joined the fight late, and that's probably why he's one of the only All Fathers still around. It's certainly not because he's that great of a fighter or anything. It's just that... all the luck seems to flow his way the minute he starts doing anything. He'll be fighting, and the daeva's sword will break. A daeva will attack at him, and the attack will go right by him. It's uncanny, even for one of us. I've never seen anything like it. No one has, and it's given him a big head apparently. He's going to have to start greasing it soon to get it through doors. Plus..." Bakura trailed off.
Curiosity peaked, he prompted, "'Plus'?"
"Plus, rumor has it he either ran off or killed the underworld god of his pantheon. The rumor mill even has it that he might have killed him off personally. I know he has not made a habit of being nice or even polite to Amane or me. There aren't too many left after we're gone."
"I would prefer," he stated archly, "that you were not 'gone'. Amane and Malik are the only two people I know here, and no offense to your sister, but Malik did seem to want me dead; I'm not sure how successful she would be at stopping him."
"Oh, you'd be surprised. Amane has a particular talent when it comes to Malik. All she has to do is threaten to cut him off."
"Okay, wait, obviously I'm hearing wrong. You didn't just imply that your sister is sleeping with that Malik guy... did you?"
Bakura chuckled. "It blew my mind too the first time I heard the news. They do seem like opposites, don't they?" He nodded numbly, still in shock from trying to even picture a quiet, restrained person like Amane with someone as brash and crude as Malik. "Apparently, from what she tells me, Malik reminds her a great deal of her brothers. Two of them at least. Her blood brothers, of course. I'm nothing like Malik most of the time..." He paused again, obviously considering what he was saying. "Unless Atemu is involved."
"Should I ask who her brothers are?" Somehow he was actually sort of dreading the answer. "Are they here? Will I be meeting them?"
He was actually a little relieved when Bakura shook his head. "No, they're not here. They're not dead or anything, I'm told, but they're some of the gods that can't be released to join the battle, not until things get really, really dire."
That didn't sound good. "What kind of dire would it have to be for them to be released?"
Bakura took a deep breath, releasing it slowly. "It would have to be the kind of dire where we would rather end the world than hand it over to the daeva. I don't think we're to that point just yet. I really hope, actually, we can head this thing off before it gets to that point."
Yeah, if the choices were release some apocalyptic deities to destroy their earth or wait a bit yet, yeah, he kind of hoped it never came to that point either. "I'll second that," he nearly choked out. "I think I can speak for a lot of people when I say I prefer being alive at this point, especially compared to the world blowing up."
"More like an eternal winter, but that's beside the point. We're trying to hold off on killing the planet just yet, and who knows what the daeva have in mind for it? All that can be certain is that it would be horrible. Humans would either be wiped out or end up wishing that they had been, whichever is the more frightening fate." He released a breath heavily. "That's why we have decided that Fenrir and Jörmungandr are going to be held in reserve. I think ending the world would be the preferable outcome if it comes to us losing. It isn't a decision we arrived at lightly either," he continued quickly, as if he sensed the question Kaiba had been about to ask. "It's our final ace in the hole, only to be done if we've been wiped out."
"How?" He couldn't help it if he sounded skeptical. This was all a little bit above his pay grade. Maybe if he knew the myths and had a basic idea what to build upon, maybe then this would all be coming more easily, but as it was, his mind just couldn't wrap around any of this.
"We have spells set in place. When the last one of us is killed, when there are no more gods to hold the line between the daevas and humans, then the bonds on Fenrir and Jörmungandr will break. If we've done our job right, even Loki will be released, as well as every horrible thing any of us have ever held captive. These things will either kill the daeva or end the world. Either way, it will be better for humans than what the daeva will do."
So it... this thing wasn't about the gods wanting to take out these daevas for their own purposes or because the daeva were slaughtering them. The real answer was there, buried in Bakura's words, spoken no doubt without realization but with truth. This losing battle they were fighting against the daeva was to keep the daevas from humans. It wasn't something he had ever thought of before: that there might be something out there keeping humans safe from something too horrible to think about. After all, he left the imagination to Mokuba.
What kind of horrible things were the daevas then, in that case? If the gods were willing to destroy the planet and all its peoples rather than let them fall to these things, how horrible must they be? If the gods had set up fail safes to have humans killed themselves rather than by the daevas, what kind of terrifying things must the daeva be? It was probably worse than he could even begin to imagine.
"A fail safe then?" It might have come out sounding like a question, but it seemed they both knew it wasn't one, wasn't anything near one. In short, it was checking a fact, confirming it for future reference.
"Definitely. I don't like leaving things like this to chance." Bakura paused again, leaning back a bit to better examine him. "You look exhausted, Seto. Of course, it's the middle of the night for you."
He... hadn't even thought of that. They had left at dusk, and a lot had happened since they walked out of the hospital (and that was something that was never going to stop being amazing to him). "It probably is pretty late," he finally agreed.
"Pretty close to midnight, I think, if you count time zones and such. Come on." The white-haired man pulled him to his feet easily, the show of strength very casual, like he could completely move Kaiba without even thinking about it. He stopped at the wall behind them and pressed lightly. It opened easily and silently to reveal a bedroom. He would think more about the size and state of it later, because right now all he was thinking about was how comfortable that bed looked. How the hell had Bakura managed as long as he had in the hospital knowing he had a bed like this waiting for him at home? "You can stay in here," Bakura continued, forcing him to refocus his thoughts.
"I can... You're not..." If he was stammering, he was going to blame it on his exhaustion and the trying events of the evening.
"Nah," Bakura returned. "I need to at least make sure Atemu hasn't broken my realm while I was gone. I wouldn't put anything past the little bastard. Aside from that, I need to sit Malik down and... have a talk with him."
That was right. Bakura had promised to deal with Malik about the death threats. Surprisingly enough, he had almost forgotten about them. If he was following through on that part of his promise, however, did that also mean he was going to follow through on the other parts? Because if Mazaki was going to be smote, he wanted to be there to see it.
"All right," he agreed. In truth, he was too tired to argue. There was too much that had happened in a single night for him to properly process or deal with everything that had presented itself so far. Maybe once he had gotten some sleep, maybe then he could begin to actually do something to help out here.
For right now, though, he just wanted to climb into that huge bed, wrap himself up in the sheets on it that looked softer than anything he had ever seen before, and sleep a year. Well, maybe not a year. It was probably best to keep things like that himself. He did remember some stories about people visiting the fairies or the gods or something, and then they end up not coming back for a hundred years.
"If you wake up before I get back, there are some books over there you are more than welcome to. Some of them might even cover some of the people you might meet out there tomorrow."
He turned in the direction Bakura had nodded to see an entire wall covered in books. A few of them appeared to be fairly new, perhaps printed in the last century, but the majority looked ancient. The majority looked like things that should belong in a museum or to people like his uncle, not casually laying on shelves waiting for people like him to read them.
"My home is yours, in short," Bakura finished.
If he weren't about to drop from lack of sleep, he could seriously get behind properly appreciating an offer like that. In the morning, perhaps, he would, but for now, sleep was much, much more important. "Thank you," he offered quietly.
So apparently Bakura wasn't kidding about waiting until Kaiba was ready to do anything more than he had so far. All he did now was kiss him lightly on the cheek before turning to head back out again with a quiet "Good night".
He had been wondering when Mokuba was going to pipe up again. He had been being unusually quiet, especially for him, and if so much hadn't been going on, it might have been worrisome. But perhaps his little brother was just as overwhelmed by all this as he himself was. God knew that was easy enough to happen, with things like they were right now. Anyone could easily get overwhelmed.
"Yeah," he answered in return. There weren't a lot of words he could say about what was going on. It was just...
"This is nine hundred breeds of crazy right now. You know that, right?" Of course, Mokuba would quickly recover his ability to speak and immediately launch himself into giving Kaiba a full rundown of his thoughts. "I mean, not like psych ward crazy, but truly out there crazy. Outer Limits crazy. Small room in the FBI basement crazy. Gods? Really? I stand by my earlier statement: wow."
"So... are we still falling in the paranormal romance realms?"
Mokuba paused, evidentially giving that one some thought before he finally nodded. "Yeah, I guess so, if only because I don't think there's another genre that would fit better. I mean, gods, demons--"
"Daevas," he corrected absently.
"--daevas, whatever. And a war going on on top of all that? Niisama, it's like you've fallen into a fantasy novel with romance leanings, not a romance novel with fantasy leanings. Only you could manage something like this, you know. My older brother," he mused aloud.
"So hit me with whatever you know about all this. I don't want to go back out there unprepared."
"Niisama, I actually don't know that much more than you on mythology and gods and dem-- daevas. Gouzaburou didn't have that much material that covered those subjects, and it's not like either of us have had access to anything since then."
"Then just... tell me what you do know. Please?" He hated to sound like he was begging, but it was information he did need.
"Okay. I know a little about Hades. I know he was Zeus' brother, and he had some kind of cap or helmet or something of invisibility. I know he kidnapped Persephone, the Goddess of Spring. I know he rules Hades, the Land of the Dead, and that it has several sections for people who lived good lives, people who lived bad lives, and people who were going to be reborn. I don't know much more than that. Pluto is the Roman version of Hades. Pretty much everything is the same in those legends, just with different names. That other name, Gwynn ap Nudd," of course Mokuba would remember the name he was having trouble with, "I don't know anything about it, but I can assume it's similar to Hades and Pluto."
He nodded behind the boy at the bookshelves. "Do you think you can find anything in there?" All those books -- and Bakura had mentioned that there might be something on the subject in there somewhere. Mokuba did sometimes enjoy a challenge. Finding out the information they needed would definitely be just that.
"Yeah, I think so. But you're not the only one who's been up for just about forever, niisama. I need some sleep too. I'll look in the morning, once I've been unconscious a while, okay?"
"Okay," he agreed easily. It wasn't a hard call to make, after all. It wasn't like he needed the information right now, like it was do or die or anything. They had a little bit of time.
He didn't have too much to change into to sleep in, since he had left a good deal of what he had at the hospital; it either had reminded too much of the hospital or he had long out grown them. When he had been there, he had usually slept in a pair of scrubs one of the nurses had long ago give him; they were thin, nearly threadbare, but still the most comfortable things he owned. They would have to do for here for now. Maybe Bakura had meant the part about procuring him some more clothes. At least, he hoped Bakura had meant it. A grand total of three outfits, one of which was pajamas, just wasn't the way he wanted to present himself around here.
But they would do for tonight, he decided, quickly changing into the scrubs and crawling into the bed. It was every bit as comfortable as it had looked earlier, but unfortunately, he was still too tired to properly appreciate it. In fact, he had the feeling that he was going to be completely unconscious sooner rather than later.
Mokuba shucked off his tennis shoes and clambered up next to him. "Good night, niisama."
It was the first night of the rest of their lives, after all, so... "Good night, Mokuba."
19 July 2010
And now I'm caught up.
I'm also helping my hikari, Katsuko1978 on FFnet, deal with an issue regarding betaing. Apparently, Hikari did some beta work for this author, Jovianokamigirl, who is now refusing to credit her for the work she has done - and even claiming that another person had done the work that I verified with my own eyes: something to the tune of 300+ corrections. So, a word to the wise: if you want credit for the work you do correcting errors and such, it would not be wise to beta for this person.
The next chapter is what I have dubbed the "info dump" chapter, so be warned.
EDIT (26 June 2010): Thank you to Shadow-Jin-Sin for catching a mistake both my Classics major beta and I missed. All "Vulcan" sections have now been corrected to "Pluto". That is what I get, I suppose, for writing in the wee hours of the morning, huh?