It was closer to lunch before they ventured out of Bakura's rooms. Mokuba was still sticking pretty close to him, and Gwyllgi was no more than a step or two away from the boy at all times. It pleased him, because his little brother could use a friend other than him. It had only been the two of them for entirely too long. Maybe sooner or later, they might even meet another person for Mokuba to befriend. He was going to hope that, if Bakura and Gwyllgi could see him, then others here could too.
But first, they would both need some time to get to this place. Annwn was what Mokuba had called it. It sounded both foreign and exotic in weird ways he couldn't quite place. He could see how it would be known as the Otherworld. Everything about it was, in point of fact, otherworldly. There weren't that many people to be seen, but the ones who were visible tended to be youthful, appearing around the same age as he was. He hadn't seen anyone who was much older than he was, though that did make sense. Who would want to spend the afterlife in anything other than the prime of their life? No one really seemed to be dead, not as he would have previously thought of it anyway. No one was dragging about, moaning, or groaning. Instead, it was more like a happier continuation of life. That was reassuring.
What was a tiny bit confusing to him, though, was that he hadn't seen anyone besides them dressed in anything resembling modern clothing. His confusion must have shown on his face because, without prompting, Bakura explained, "Once people stop believing in an afterlife, they don't go there any longer. There haven't been real believers in Annwn in ages."
He nodded. "I guess that makes sense," he offered quietly.
So when a man appeared around a corner just ahead of them, dressed in blue jeans, a blue and white t-shirt, and a denim jacket too warm for the weather, he didn't even bother assuming he was one of the dead. As unconventional as it might have seemed, this man had to be another of the gods. It made sense, he supposed: while the blond hair might have been a believable shade for a human, those amber-gold eyes were a bit above and beyond what he would have expected to see passing someone on the street.
"Bakura!" he called out, waving excitedly. After dealing with the other gods he had met, he was glad he hadn't been expecting this guy to be the stoic and bland image of the gods he might have had before this little adventure began. Instead he was vibrant, almost painfully so, in a way that defied explanation except to say that he had a forceful personality even from at a distance and he was cheerful without being the annoying version thereof that Mazaki had always been. Maybe it was more than this guy seemed outgoing in a way that he himself did not think he would ever be. "When did you get back?"
"Late last night, shortly before you got back yourself." Bakura's tone seemed a bit stilted in a way it hadn't been with Amane or Malik. His psychology wasn't the best, but he had been on the receiving end of enough of it through the years that he could hazard a guess: this guy might have been an acquaintance of Bakura's, but they didn't seem to be friends the way he was with his sister -- or even reluctant friends as he was with Malik. So, if he was at least somewhat friendly with the guy, then this couldn't be Atemu. "Amane said you had some success."
The blond nodded, an easy smirk on his face. "Yeah, some. I found Yuugi." Bakura nodded, and to Kaiba at least, it looked merely polite, not like actual interest. "It's kind of freaky, though."
Now that was mildly disturbing, the thought that anything could be 'freaky' to a god. What qualified as 'freaky' to one of them anyway?
"What's freaky?" Bakura prompted. Now on this, he definitely looked interested. Perhaps he was wondering the same thing Kaiba was.
"The guy, Yuugi I mean, he looks just like Atemu. Okay, maybe not just like him: he's a little shorter and his eyes are a different color. But otherwise, he looks just like Atemu." The man snickered, but instead of sounding amused, it sounded rather worried instead. "I mean, he even wears a shit ton of leather and everything."
Bakura looked like someone had punched the breath out of him. "R-really?" he finally managed to get out, though it sounded entirely too breathless for Kaiba's tastes.
The blond nodded. "Yeah, seriously." He shook his head, apparently trying to clear it a bit. "I haven't heard anything about the guy Atemu found, except that he apparently shot Atemu down hard."
That seemed to help Bakura recover quickly. "Oh? Now this I need to hear all about."
"I don' t have all the details, but apparently, Atemu made a pass at him and the guy freaked the fuck out. I was just heading over to Mai's and Mana's to try to get all the dirty details."
"I like the sound of this guy already. Let me know what you find out, okay?"
The blond nodded then finally glanced past Bakura at him, Mokuba, and Gwyllgi. "I see you didn't come back home empty handed either."
Bakura turned, a hand casually slipping into one of his own. Belatedly, he realized he was starting to tense up and made himself relax again. "Kaiba Seto, this is Jounouchi. He's our resident healer and medic around these parts, and you're never going to find a better one." The guy, Jounouchi, laughed shortly, not even pretending to look embarrassed. Clearly, he was very comfortable in his knowledge that he was the best that was going to be found. "Jounouchi, this is Kaiba Seto and his brother, Mokuba."
"Pleased to meet you," he offered.
For a long moment, he was uncertain whether or not he should extend his hand in greeting or not, but Jounouchi solved that little problem by offering his own first. "Likewise... Kaiba, right?" He nodded. Only one person here was going to call him 'Seto', and it wasn't this person he had just met. "I take it you must be the first listener." Again, he nodded. "Good. I'm glad to hear you're willing to help us out."
"Yeah, some of us need all the help we can get," Bakura quipped.
Clearly Jounouchi knew it was not meant at him and maybe even know whom it was meant for, from the way he snorted hard. He glanced past Kaiba to where Mokuba stood, started, and glanced back again. Alarmed, Kaiba also turned to look at his little brother.
Okay, maybe it was a bit odd to see Mokuba trying to tuck himself back behind Gwyllgi. He was short enough still to get away with it, if it weren't for the way the dog kept dancing back behind him, as if they were playing some exceptionally fun game. Why would Mokuba be trying to hide himself anyway, though? That part made no sense to him. His little brother was one of the most outgoing, gregarious people he knew, after all.
"Hello there. I can't say I've seen one of you guys in years," the blond commented, and frankly, it made less than no sense to him. Combined with the nervous-worried-embarrassed expression on Mokuba's face, he could admit that he was completely and utterly lost.
Mokuba looked like he was about a split second from either burying his face in Gwyllgi's admittedly short fur or turning around to make a mad dash back to the suite of rooms they had recently left. Honestly, he couldn't remember the last time he had seen an expression like that on Mokuba's face, but it was probably when they were still living with their uncle Gouzaburou. Kaiba started to speak up for his little brother; it was his job to do so, after all, as an older brother; before Mokuba recovered his composure and pulled himself up to his full height. "I came here with my big brother."
Both of Jounouchi's eyebrows shot up to his hairline immediately. "Really? Cool, so you're sticking with him?"
Mokuba nodded. "Definitely."
"Cool." If he looked closely, he could see Mokuba release a breath he must have been holding all this conversation. Clearly, he had been thinking Jounouchi was going to say something, but so far, the blond was keeping it to himself. "I guess that means I'll be seeing you around then." He reaffixed his attention back to Bakura, who looked mildly curious at best. "I need to get over to the girls' place and see what I can find out about this blowout. If we're lucky, Mana took pictures. Later, Bakura." He took a few steps past them but then paused and turned back. "Oh, and Bakura? Atemu has been on the prowl since he got his feelings hurt. Just thought you should know."
Bakura snorted inelegantly. "I'm not avoiding him in my own realm, but thanks for the heads up. Let me know what you find out."
"Sure thing," Jounouchi answered then vanished into thin air, just as Malik had done last night.
He didn't like this. He didn't like some random god knowing something that made his little brother so nervous and willing to try to hide or run. He wanted to know what it was, so that he could fix it immediately. It was what big brothers did, as far as he was concerned.
"Seto, babe, you look mad enough there to start steaming," Bakura interrupted his thoughts, effectively bringing him back to what was going on around him. The white-haired man had stepped closer to him, never releasing his hand, while his other had come up to cup his cheek. He looked as worried as Mokuba had only a few moments ago, without the side of... fear. That was what he had seen in Mokuba's face, and that had to be why he had disliked the whole situation as much as he had.
Impatiently, he shook off both of Bakura's hand and moved back over to Mokuba, kneeling down in front of him and checking him over as he hadn't done in years. After all, for years, no one had been willing to see Mokuba but himself; they had all ignored him; so he hadn't had to worry nearly as much about someone hurting him. While it was good that people were willing to talk to him, to acknowledge him now, that apparently could mean that they could hurt him.
"I'm okay, niisama," Mokuba whispered. "I promise, I'm okay."
He shook his head, speaking just as quietly. "Something that guy said upset you. What is it?"
In turn, Mokuba now shook his head side to side violently. "No! I mean, it's nothing." He turned an arch expression on his little brother, one that he hoped obviously said he didn't believe a word of that protest. It seemed that he had been successful when Mokuba sighed and corrected himself, "Okay, how about it's nothing I want to talk about? Can we just leave it dropped, niisama? Because it's not like it's really bad, but it's going to upset you, and I don't want to do that."
He wanted so desperately to shake his head in disagreement. He didn't want to drop the subject; he wanted to know what had upset Mokuba. Instead, he bit down on his lower lip and slowly stated, "I don't want to, but I will... if you want me to."
"Mokuba," Bakura's voice cut through the painfully tight silence his brother's lack of an answer had left, "whatever it is, I'm sure you can tell him. Seto's your brother, and there's nothing that's going to change that."
His brother looked a split second away from tears. "No. I don't want to."
Kaiba wrapped his arms around the boy and pulled him close to his body, as he hadn't since they were both a lot younger. "You know you can tell me anything, Mokuba. I won't hold it against you or anything."
"You might for this." The words were sniffled out and nearly broke his heart. In response, he only held on more tightly.
"No, I won't. You can tell me if you want to Mokuba. You can tell me anything."
Mokuba cast a terrified glance first at him then to Bakura then back to him. If he didn't know better, he would think he was looking to Bakura for help in the explanation he was obviously struggling with. That didn't make any sense, though. Why would Bakura know the answer to Mokuba's dilemma, after all?
"You know, up until a few years ago," Bakura began, apropos to nothing, from where he had been leaning against a wall since Kaiba had left his side, "there were a lot more living people in Annwn. This is the realm of the Fair Folk, as well as the realm of the dead. About twenty years ago, though, the daevas first arrived in Wales, and everyone panicked. The Fair Folk had never been threatened on their home turf before, and Wales itself was too close to the borders to Annwn. They started running and hiding in the human world, including finding places to hide their children." He took a deep breath, fixing his eyes on Mokuba briefly but significantly, before he turned his gaze back to Kaiba. "Sometimes, they switched them out with human children, so that they had ready-made families waiting to care for them."
Mokuba sniffled, a sound he hadn't heard his brother make in years, pulling in closer than he had been before. In a quiet voice, he whispered, "That's where I come in."
Could he be blamed that the first two thoughts that went through his head were 'for how long' and 'no wonder no one would -- could -- see him in the hospital', he had to wonder. Because of all the inane things that could have gone through his head, those were the immediate ones. Of the two, though, he decided to go with the former. It was probably a bit more relevant to the conversation.
"Okay," he answered, trying for the calmest voice in his arsenal and succeeding fairly well, he thought, "for how long then? Since when?" Was the Mokuba that was here now the Mokuba he had always known, or was there an exchange made at some point? He was hoping for the former and not the latter, because if there had been a switch made any time recently, then he had utterly missed it, which didn't say good things about his observation skills... nor his qualities as an older brother.
"Since... since always?" Mokuba ventured hesitantly.
Again Bakura stepped in with an explanation. "The Fair Folk usually switch their children out with human children in infancy. With all of this going on, as far as I was ever told, they got desperate enough to start switching them before birth or even causing a woman to be pregnant by hiding the child in her womb. Which of these Mokuba is, I can't say. It hasn't been recently, though," he assured, combating Kaiba's biggest fear in this conversation. "The Mokuba you know now is the Mokuba you have always known."
"Is that-- Are we--" Mokuba floundered, clearly trying to ask a question that he wasn't too certain he actually wanted an answer to. "Are we okay... niisama?"
And just like that, the roiling in his gut went away. "You're still my little brother, Mokuba. That doesn't change." He glanced down and tried to look critical. "No more big surprises, though, okay? I'm not sure I can handle that."
Mokuba paused, looking as though he was considering whether or not he had any more surprises to pop on him, even as he wiped furiously as the few tears that had escaped. "Does the fact I can do little magics count as another big surprise?" he finally asked.
That... shouldn't have been a surprise, given the previous revelation, but somehow it still was, at least a bit. "How small is 'little'?"
Mokuba shrugged. "I made all the people in the hospital not see me. I didn't want them to make me leave. It's like you used to say, niisama: we're Kaibas, and Kaibas stick together."
He vaguely remembered saying that, back at the orphanage, if he recalled correctly. If he was right on the timing and location, then it was when their uncle -- when Gouzaburou had showed back up and offered to bring him -- and just him -- home. The rest of the events of that evening were still a bit of a blur, but he did remember waking up the next morning in the infirmary with Mokuba curled up on the bed with him and a still wet plaster cast on his arm. He had wondered for a while what had happened, but eventually he had dismissed, as he had so many blank spots in his childhood.
"That's okay," he answered at length. "Just no more magics that make me look like I'm crazy, okay?"
It was all sort of amazing, he decided. Almost every reason he had ever been given for why people thought he might be crazy was slowly but surely being broken down and discarded. All it had taken was a trip with an impossible person to an even more impossible place.
Annwn's very nature seemed to be fluid. One minute the gigantic room they had been in was empty, while the next several long tables and benches had appeared out of thin air. All in all, it looked like the illustrations in some books about the Middle Ages and the artists' ideas of a lord's hall during feast times. Something told him, though, that this was quite a bit bigger than anything that had been seen in the human world had ever been. To the side, there was even a -- what had the books called it? -- dais, though thankfully, it remained unoccupied. Of course, if Bakura was ruler of Annwn, then that should have been where he took a seat, instead of in the middle of one of the empty tables.
He must have worn a confused expression on his face, because Bakura chuckled and explained, "There aren't that many people here anymore, at least not that eat... which definitely doesn't include the dead. It seems silly insist on custom when there aren't that many of us." He glanced around at the huge room, empty except for them. "Though I have to say, I haven't had the heart to change the spell so that it doesn't conjure so many empty places. There haven't been this many people here, not since the Fair Folk left."
Slowly Kaiba took a seat next to him. He didn't even try to scold Mokuba when he clambered over the table to sit on the side opposite them. "Where did they go?" he asked quietly. "Did the daevas--?"
But Bakura was already shaking his head. "No, the daevas didn't find them. At least, they didn't find them here. They panicked when the daevas got as far as Wales, like I said, they hid their children, and they fled. I don't know where they went when they left, but I haven't seen them since. Jounouchi and I are the last of the gods with any connection to the Fair Folk left." He shook his head. "I'm not even sure either of us can call on them if it comes down to needing them. In a pinch or anything."
And that brought something else to mind. "Is there anyone besides the gods in this against the daevas? Like, I don't know," he floundered quickly through his brief knowledge of mythology until he hit on something that he had actually read in the article on Fenrir, "like the giants or something?"
To his relief, Bakura nodded. At least what he had asked wasn't too far out there. "Yeah, Amane's mom has gotten the ice giants to agree to help us, if it comes down to it, to a final battle, I mean. I think we're all hoping that it doesn't come down to that, though."
The little he had seen about frost giants when he was reading up on Fenrir... Well, it gave him hope that their assistance would turn the tide if it came down to it. But like Bakura, he really hoped it never ended up coming down to it. If it did, then humans would probably well and truly be doomed by then. "Agreed. Hopefully, it never will come to that," he agreed.
Bakura opened his mouth to speak... then paused to groaned heavily. "Great," he moaned under his breath. "Just what I didn't need today."
He glanced over his shoulder. Going from that Jounouchi's guy's description of this Yuugi person -- his height or lack thereof, his penchant for leather -- and what he had already observed about the gods -- their unusual physical characteristics, especially their eyes, and that aura of age and power that clung to them -- this guy had to be a god, and specifically, he had to be Atemu.
He didn't look like much, was one of Kaiba's first thoughts upon measuring him up. He looked like he was of an even height to, if not slightly taller than, Mokuba. Yeah, he did wear a lot of leather, enough that he had to wonder if the man had beaten up a really short biker for his clothes. Those were the semi-normal things about him.
Beyond that, everything about him was otherworldly: his hair spiked up into shades of gold, maroon, and violet; and Kaiba noticed as he got closer, his eyes were blood red, as in literally the same shade as newly fallen blood. He felt different from the gods he had met so far, in some vague way that was neither age nor power, and Kaiba had to wonder if that was the difference that made him be classified as an -- what was it again? -- All Father, he thought Bakura had said.
Across the table from them, Mokuba was starting to shrink down in his seat, like he was trying to disappear under the table or something. Of course, apparently his little brother wasn't human, which was still a bit beyond his ability to comprehend, so maybe he was picking up more from this Atemu person than Kaiba himself was. He wished, though, that he could place what it was about this shrimp that made him feel so very different from Bakura, Amane, Malik, and Jounouchi. As it was, however, he had no idea.
Besides, the way the tension was steadily building in the room left little time for thinking about trivial things such as that. Atemu's red eyes had caught Bakura's, and each of their eyes had narrowed sharply. Somehow he had the feeling that Atemu hadn't even noticed him or Mokuba yet, and somehow he was just as happy as could be for that fact. He had not wish to want to be caught under that gaze.
"Bakura," the shorter man growled, prowling up behind Mokuba before he finally stopped. It wasn't a greeting. In fact, it sounded more like a threat than anything else.
His little brother's eyes went wide as dinner plates, and finally he gave into the urge apparently because he squirmed under the table, popping up to all but sit in Kaiba's lap. He wasn't disagreeing, even if neither of them had needed physical comfort this close for years. Right now, in the presence of this guy, this god, it felt like they needed it again.
Honestly, if it had felt like Malik could squash him like a bug with a mere thought, it felt now like Atemu wouldn't even need to think about it; he could do it immediately and feel none the worse for it afterwards.
Frankly, it was terrifying.
"Atemu," the god by his side returned. Just like Atemu, the single word was a threat. They really had to hate each other, the way they generated heated tension between the two of them. "So glad you could come slum with us. You usually don't bother, after all."
Atemu growled, but thankfully, he didn't offer to sit. He didn't think he could handle a being like that sitting in the place Mokuba had just abandoned. He wouldn't be able to eat, whenever the food arrived of course, with a being like that sitting across of him. Having him stand nearly to them was quite enough, thank you very much.
"That brat of a new listener I found has banished me from my rooms. He told me that I was not to return until he had left."
Silently, he applauded the gall of someone to stand up to a forceful person like Atemu. He had barely been in the man's presence for two minutes, and already he was considering taking his little brother and hiding under the table or something. Mokuba was clinging to him even, small hands fisted into the material of his shirt as if his grip on Kaiba was the only thing keeping him alive. From just beneath the table, there was a quiet growl, one that sounded like it should have been miles and miles away; apparently, Gwyllgi had little love for Atemu as well.
"My compliments to the human then. Everyone could stand to kick you out now and then."
Atemu looked even more peeved, but he said nothing. Perhaps there was nothing left to say. "So, Bakura," he continued. Oh well, he'd been wrong before; he couldn't be blamed for it happening now. "Tell me about your pet human there."
Bakura lifted a white eyebrow at the less than pleasant epitaph Atemu had bestowed upon him. "Kaiba was the first human in a hundred generations to be brought into Annwn." Atemu opened his mouth to say something, and Bakura cut right back in again, as if there had been no chance for any interruptions. "And he's mine, Atemu. Don't even think about it."
In response, Atemu repeated the same movement Bakura had done, lifting a single dark eyebrow nearly to the hairline. "I have to say, Bakura: I never would have suspected you of going around kidnapping humans."
Kaiba wanted to pipe up. He wanted to say he had agreed to leave with Bakura. He had chosen to be here with the white-haired man. He didn't like any insinuations otherwise. At the same time, though, he didn't want any part in drawing the attention of a being like this down on him. It didn't seem to be conducive to continuing life. He had to say, however, that he had the utmost respect for whoever this other listener was, for being able to give someone like Atemu hell. Whoever he was, then he had Kaiba's respect for that at least.
"How did you think your darling Mana got here?" And that was more a snarl than anything else. He hadn't heard anything even close to that from Bakura before now. The two of them really didn't get along. On that, there had been no exaggeration by anyone on the topic.
Atemu waved off the question impatiently, and he could have sworn that Bakura's eyes narrowed even more than they previously had been. Bakura apparently didn't appreciate being ignored or having things like this pushed aside as if they were nothing. "So where is everyone else?"
Bakura smirked, the look dark and dangerous on his face. "Probably visiting Mana and Mai for the latest gossip on you getting shot down like hell. Tell me there's video -- or pictures at the very least! It's not every day I get to hear about someone like you being turned down."
In turn, Atemu now was the one let out a low growl, the sound like something that belonged in a long bygone era where humans were definitely not at the top of the food chain. Mokuba shivered hard enough that he could feel it and clutched tighter to his shirt; if the cloth made it out of this intact, it would be a small miracle. As for he himself, he wanted to shrink back into a small, dark corner where hopefully no one would pay any interest to him.
Abruptly, though, Atemu smirked. "Even if there were pictures, no one would believe it. The listener I found, Ryou, looks just like you, Bakura."
26 July 2010
Still book pimping here!
http://www.katherinebell.net - All about the titles!