There were nearly twice as many gods in the main hall as he had met previously. He was doing a lousy job of keeping up with all of their names as well.
There was Isis. He could remember her fairly easily, though to be honest, a first meeting like that would be hard to forget. She had patted his hair, and cupped his face between both of her hands, and said something in a language that he had never heard before. Bakura had eased her hands back off of him and whispered to her, "He's not Set. I'm sorry, Isis, but he's not your brother." And then there had been the crying, soft and strained and nearly twice as bad as if she had started letting out banshee wails.
He had sat there useless, and Malik had eventually appeared and led her away. Bakura had explained offhandedly that they were from vaguely similar areas of the world, Egypt and Sumeria, and so had adopted each other like Bakura and Amane had done. Isis was still with Malik and presumably Amane, but that still didn't change the fact that he had frozen up like a statue at the sight of the first tear. He really didn't do well with people crying.
Varon was the next god he got to meet, and he didn't think he was going to forget that man any time soon as well. There was something about the way those dark chocolate eyes watched him that made him feel like the second course of someone's favorite meal. Bakura had been as still as a board next to him, watching every move Varon made with more caution than he had seen the man use combined to date. Bakura had called him 'Coyote,' and Kaiba had to admit that he was intrigued by that. Not enough to ask, not when that person made Bakura of all people nervous, but maybe there was something in one of the books about Coyote.
Then there was Honda. And he was indeed the same Honda who had lived in the room next to his for a short time months ago. It was weird: the last time he had seen Honda, the man was swinging from a makeshift rope improvised out of bed sheets, and now here he was fighting with Malik over how best to proceed on the next step of their plan.
Finally, there were the ones that he had not even been able to keep up with their names as they were introduced. The names came up from time to time in conversation – Vivien, Siegfried, Raphael, Rebecca, Ryuuzaki, and a few others – but he wasn't completely sure he could put a name to a face. He definitely couldn't pick out which human name went with which god name.
At least, it wasn't just the core group that he had seen earlier. He could confess that he had been worried about that. He hadn't been able to parse out how in the world the limited group of gods he had known previously was going to save the world. It just hadn't seemed possible.
The number of gods here had nearly doubled, with some talk circulating about others showing up, and he was starting to get a better feeling about their chances of success now. It still wasn't exactly what he would have considered to be a huge number, but he was a bit more optimistic. It felt like they – and therefore, the world – might have a better chance of survival this way.
"—We should be trying to ferret out their plans sooner rather than later," Honda was arguing, solely with Malik now, as everyone else seemed to have turned to calmer discussions excepting those two. Of course, their volume more than made up for everyone else's lack of participation. "I mean, they were seen—"
"—entirely too close to Glastonbury Tor, yes, I know," Malik growled back. "I was the one who reported that. I was the one who actually found out about it in the first place. You don't have to tell me about it, you know."
"Then we should know what it is they're planning before they start actually doing it. We have resources now."
Malik glanced over at him, past Amane and Bakura. Why?
Oh, wait, no, no way. Had Honda just called him 'resources'? That wasn't cool at all.
"Our 'resources' are not exactly unlimited." And he had to be amazed at the venom dripping off every syllable out of Malik's mouth. It was almost a thing of beauty. "And I'm not exactly hot on the idea of throwing any of our three listeners to the wolves, so to say. Or have you forgotten what it's like to take care of the humans?"
"Unlike you," Honda fired right back, "I still have worshipers. I'm not buried under the sand in some modern war-torn country, where the world has all but forgotten your original country even existed."
Malik let out a growl that actually made the hair on his arms and on the back of his neck stand straight on end. He was already pushing himself to his feet, presumably to go around the table and try his damnedest to kick Honda's ass, when Amane grabbed him, a hand around either arm, doing her best to hold him in place. To his surprise, he could actually see the effort it was talking her to keep him in one spot.
Honestly, he couldn't say he blamed Malik for losing his temper at that. Just from what he had picked up here and there in his time in this place, it seemed like that would be a 'below the belt' shot.
The dark looks Honda was receiving from a combination of Amane and Bakura only cemented that idea in his mind. It really looked like they were about to be short a couple of allies before the night was over, no matter how he looked at it. Either Amane was going to let go and Malik was going to kill Honda, or Malik's head was going to explode from the intensity of the glares Honda was sending his way. Either way, it looked like someone was going to die soon.
At least until there was the loud crack of a hand hitting the wooden table hard. He glanced down the opposite direction, away from the two arguing gods, to see Atemu pushing himself to his feet. Most people's attention seemed to be split between the All Father at the end of the table and the fight in the middle of the table – probably for the very good reason that either one, Atemu or the fight, could prove fatal in an instant if the mood struck. Personally, he felt a bit confused, seeing as how it felt suddenly like he was seeing Atemu in an all-new light.
"That's enough," Atemu commanded. It actually felt like some of the tension bled out of the room at those two words, as if he had commanded it and it was so. "We can't afford this right now, not with the daevas so close to our location. Frankly, you both should know better. Honda, that was out of line. We all made a pact when we joined forces never to bring up each other's past or remaining followers." The taller man nodded and sank back down into his seat. "Malik?" The blond turned his attention to the smaller god; he alone didn't look any calmer at anything Atemu had said so far. "We can't afford blood shed among us right now, and we don't need our loyalties within this room to be more divided than they already are. So please, restrain yourself from murdering him."
"I'll try," Malik groused, finally letting Amane pull him down to sit beside her once again, "but I'll make no promises for the next time."
Atemu nodded solemnly, as if he had expected nothing less, even if he did not sit back down himself. Instead, he turned his attention to the white-haired god at Kaiba's side. "Bakura, you said Glastonbury Tor is the door to Annwn, right?"
Bakura nodded, resting his elbows on the table and looking a good deal more serious than Kaiba had ever seen him so far. "It's one of them, yes, though I have to say, it's the most obvious of them all."
"If they managed to gain entrance through Glastonbury Tor, where would that put us?"
Bakura snorted, though the sound was in no way one of humor. "As Malik would say, screwed blue. Annwn is pretty well fortified as the former home of the Tylwyth Teg, but it's mostly enchantments. We've never gotten a good answer on how well the old fairy enchantments work on the daevas. If they work, then the daevas could be wandering the fairy paths for years. If they don't, then they could appear almost anywhere in Annwn."
"So we do need to know what their plans are for us soon?"
"Sadly, better sooner than later," Bakura agreed. He definitely sounded like he didn't much care for the idea. Of course, finding out the daevas' plan pretty much meant sending him, Yuugi, or Ryou back out into the human world, hope that they could overhear the plans, and hope again that they could get away unscathed to report back what they had heard. There was a lot of hope and not a lot of reassurance to this plan; there were a lot of places where it could go very, very bad, and one of the three of them could end up very, very dead.
And then there was always the assumption that the daevas would be speaking – or think-speaking rather, he supposed – in a language one of them could understand and relate back.
"How soon could one of the listeners be in the human world and working on their plan?"
"In ten minutes, give or take. They would need to go up a route where no one could see them emerge."
Bakura... didn't look too good. In fact, he looked as though he was sitting all alone in the crowd of people. He had leaned forward enough that he was almost touching the table, elbows still resting on it. Leaning that far forward, no part of him was touching Amane on the one side of him or Kaiba on the other. In fact, it was very much like he was withdrawing from the people around him. He didn't want to go through with this plan, Kaiba realized. That was why Bakura was acting like this. The whole thing had too few guarantees, and there was too good of a chance Bakura could be sending a human to his death on the off chance the plan might work.
Amane shot him a glance over Bakura's back before leaning closer to twine an arm around one of Bakura's. Hesitantly, he followed suite, though he instead wrapped his arm around Bakura's waist. Support and family. It suddenly occurred to him that that was what this was. In less than a week, Bakura had become family. By virtue of that, he had also picked up Amane and Malik, and so they were all supporting each other in their own ways. It felt both wonderful and odd: for so long, he had only had Mokuba to depend on as family. He couldn't complain, though; in fact, he could oddly get used to it.
"So who's going to go?" Atemu prompted in the silence that had followed Bakura's words. Blood red eyes glanced at all three listeners in turn. Kaiba could have been mistaken, but he could have sworn that they had lingered on Ryou the longest. Maybe Atemu was still holding a bit of a grudge over Ryou turning him down.
That wouldn't be good. Ryou had some skills from what he had observed, but he didn't think the other man could blend in well enough to fool anyone looking at him. In fact, he didn't think that Ryou could fool anyone into thinking he was actually casually, just from the stammering and nervousness he had seen when he and Yuugi had gone to meet the man.
And speaking of Yuugi, the smaller man might have been better at appearing less nervous than Ryou, but Kaiba had his doubts about his social skills. The way he had introduced himself to Mai and his instant trust of Kaiba alone called more things than he would think to attest to into question. And there had been that whole thing where Jounouchi was worried that Yuugi probably wouldn't come out of their shared rooms until he knew other humans were around - and they wanted him to go chase down daevas?
Damn. Damn, damn, damn. That didn't look good. It only left one option really.
"I'll do it," he stated. Okay, maybe it might have come out closer to a question than a statement, and maybe he was barely talking loud enough for Mokuba, Bakura, and he himself to hear the words. Still, though...
Bakura whipped around to face him so quickly that he was surprised the white-haired god didn't get whiplash. Hell, he was surprised he didn't get whiplash just from seeing Bakura do that. "What? No way."
"I'm the best choice," he continued softly. "I know more going into this than Yuugi or Ryou, and I'll... have Black Shuck with me." Although he suddenly found himself disliking the whole idea a lot less now than he had only a few moments ago. Having a monstrous creature like that going into a very unknown situation could only be a good thing, he figured. He didn't want to say the rest of what he had been thinking: that he was the only one of them that was actually even somewhat qualified to be doing this, that Ryou or Yuugi might choke under this. Hell, he might choke under this, but it was the best option.
"All right then, it's settled," Atemu stated. "Kaiba will be heading out and seeing what he can find shortly."
Atemu at least seemed to be oblivious of the dark look Bakura was turning his direction. He looked like – Actually, no, Kaiba couldn't think of anything Bakura looked like at all, other than ridiculously pissed off. With the look the shorter god was getting, he would actually really hate to be in his shoes, because honestly, if Bakura glared much harder, Atemu might have melted.
"I'll be going with him." While it was no surprise to hear the white-haired god say those words, it was a huge relief to hear them. He had only been in Annwn about a day, and he was already thinking of going up to the human world as 'leaving home'. He liked Annwn. It was a thousand impossible things all piled in an even more impossible pile, but it was Bakura's home, so he would like to think of it as his own as well. "There is no way he's going alone."
"I hate to say it," Isis finally spoke up, "but the daeva do seem to be attracted to the presence of us gods, and once they find us, they seem to want to do nothing more than kill us. Having a god with the listener could spoil our chances to find out their long-term plans by making them focus on the short-term ones instead." She sighed, offering both Kaiba and Bakura a wan smile. "I hate to say it, but it's a very bad idea, Hades."
"Bakura," the man at his side corrected with a sound that was part sigh and part growl. The look he had turned on Isis seemed to shout about betrayal; apparently, he had been counting on her siding with him on any part of this whole thing. And he so very obviously did not like this part of the plan. For that matter, he didn't seem to care too much for the plan in general. It had to be done, though. There was just no way around it. It was time for him to earn his keep.
"I'll be fine, Bakura," Kaiba returned quietly, trying to pitch his voice to just the two of them. "Like I said, I'll have Black Shuck with me. You did say that having him around was like bringing an H-bomb to a knife fight. He'll keep me safe." A low whine seemed to echo from under the table near his feet. Apparently, the dog agreed with him. That was good. Maybe between the two of them, they could convince Bakura.
"I'm sorry, Bakura." Wait a minute... Atemu? That was Atemu saying that. "I'm sure all of us dislike the idea as much as you do–"
"Somehow I doubt that," he heard Mai commented in a stage whisper, one obviously intended to be heard by the entire group.
"–but it has to be done. One of them has to go out there, and Kaiba has volunteered. We can't play favorites with the humans, now can we?" Bakura didn't answer, though. Instead his eyes were narrowed, and he was glaring at Atemu for all he was worth. At least, that was what Kaiba could tell out of the corner of his eye. He wasn't willing to try meeting Bakura's eyes right now, not when he had just pissed Bakura off so badly; instead, he kept his eyes focused on the table right in front of the white-haired man and his arm around the back of his waist. "All right then. Good luck, Kaiba. Let us know what you find out when you get back."
If he got back, he thought dourly to himself, but he didn't vocalize the words. He didn't want to risk provoking this whole group all over again. It was like those words were the signal to close down the conversation.
Almost as one, many of the gods and goddess around them pushed themselves to their feet and filed away. He even felt one or two of them pat him on the shoulder in passing, but he wasn't paying any attention to them. Instead, his vision was still locked on the table, while all his real focus was on the man – the god – sitting next to him.
Soon enough, the only gods still in the room were Bakura, Amane, Malik, and Mai. Ryou was still sitting patiently next to Mai, concern buried in those chocolate brown eyes as he stared at Kaiba. Amane and Malik seemed to be wearing identical expressions of shock, varying only by the degrees to which they displayed it. Bakura was completely closed off, and Mokuba was staring at him in disguised terror. And Mai...
"You know," Mai's voice cut in his thoughts, "I can't decide if you're heroically stupid or stupidly heroic. I'm leaning towards just plain stupid. I can't believe you, Kaiba. Why the hell would you volunteer for something like this?"
He shrugged, no longer even trying to hide how terrified of this he was. "It has to be done. No offense, Ryou, but I can't see you or Yuugi doing this."
Ryou nodded. "None taken. Yuugi seems a little flighty for this. I've been in institutions most of my life, so I lack anything resembling the ability to socialize with normal people."
He smirked weakly. "I've been in the same boat myself. Normally, so do I."
"Yeah, but you're a lot better at faking it than I am. I shouldn't be so happy you're willing to do this, Kaiba, but I know I'm not able to. So, thank you, Kaiba, for doing what I know I can't." He nodded his thanks – before Ryou surprised him by continuing, "So what can I do to help?"
"More than that" came from Amane. "What can we all do to help?"
Like he had been thinking, family. Just because they weren't Kaibas, at least not by name or blood or any of the things he used to think counted, it didn't mean that they weren't all family and weren't all going to help. He wasn't too used to anyone taking care of him, because usually it was him taking care of Mokuba, but... it felt nice.
"Figure out a way I can get up there too without anyone noticing," Bakura stated plainly.
Mai shook her head, the movement slow and sad. "After you called Atemu out on it, he'll be watching to see what you do now. There's no way you can go up top without him seeing. Someone else will have to go up with Kaiba."
There was silence that stretched for all of half a minute before another voice spoke up, "I'll do it." Frankly, he had to stare at shock at Malik for that. Of all the people here, if Bakura couldn't come, he would have expected Amane or Mai first. He thought Malik didn't really like him all that much, after all. "I've been needing an excuse to up there and kick some ass. This'll do just fine."
"Will that work, Kura?" Mai asked softly.
There was a long stretch of silence before Bakura finally nodded. "It'll have to be. I don't think I'm going to get a better offer."
Malik laughed at that, grinning easily. "Nope, probably not. Not unless you've been hiding some straight-up voodoo shit from the rest of us."
"Not lately," Bakura returned, and he sounded marginally better. He was going to count that as a plus.
"What about you, Kaiba?" Startled, he looked over at Mai to see him her awaiting his answer expectantly. "Is that all right by you as well?" He nodded mutely. It was better, actually, than he had been hoping for. He had been expecting to go back to the human world with nothing but Black Shuck as backup. Having someone like Malik around would be quite the unexpected bonus. "Good. Then we should probably get moving on this before Atemu gets too suspicious."
"Let him get suspicious," Bakura stated blandly, pushing himself to his feet. Kaiba's and Amane's arms fell off of him, but he moved quickly to grab Kaiba's hand before it dropped too far. "Mokuba, I need to borrow your brother before he goes off and does something stupid, okay?"
Mokuba nodded solemnly, way too serious for a child – or presumably, a changeling – of his age to be. "All right. Just bring him back in one piece, all right?"
Bakura nodded absently. "Of course."
"And, umm, " the boy floundered, "I'll be at Mai's, okay? Good luck, niisama."
Kaiba found himself having to scramble to get off the bench seat and onto his feet before he was dragged out of the main hall and back towards their rooms. The journey didn't seem to take nearly as long this time as it had at lunch; in fact, Bakura had barely led him out the door and turned a corner before they were there. What Mai had said about the halls rearranging themselves rang oddly through his mind before all thought ran out of his head at the smoldering look on Bakura's face.
Before the white-haired god even had a chance to speak, he made himself speak up instead, "So, on a scale of one to ten, how pissed off at me are you?"
"Fifteen" came immediately. "It's reckless, and... And I find that I'm not as prepared to risk you as I thought I might have been."
Completely the opposite of the harsh tone in his voice, he spoke very quietly. His voice was only barely loud enough to be heard over the sound of the door clicking closed behind the white-haired god, Black Shuck carefully left just outside the door. Somehow he got the feeling the dog was out there willingly, not wanting to be in here for whatever was about to happen.
"It has to be done," he whispered. "That's why you brought me here, Bakura: to find out what I could about the daevas' plans.
"That's not the only reason you're here."
He looked up, and Bakura was directly in front of him without ever really making a single sound. Gentle hands cupped his cheeks and levered his face up so that his eyes met Bakura's. In those pale eyes, he could easily read how worried the other man was, how concerned he was about Kaiba going out and doing this, before his eyes slipped shut, and warm lips pressed cautiously against his own.
25 June 2012
This chapter has actually been done for 2 years. I have had it sitting in reserve while I worked on finishing the chapter after it. However, since I'm picking Betrüger back up for JulNoWriMo 2012, I'm going ahead and sharing what has been completed.