Crooked Way
Chapter One: "Schedules"
by Apollymi
Disclaimers: Yu-Gi-Oh! is owned by Takahashi Kazuki and all associated copyright holders. Therefore, unfortunately, I own nothing here, except the storyline.
Word Count: 1,215
Sequel to: Where Angels
Archive: DarkMagick(dot)net, FanFiction(dot)net, and Apollymi's Grimoire. Anyone else, ask first.

'Four o'clock,' Kaiba thought to himself with an inaudible sigh. 'At this point in the afternoon, Mokuba should definitely be home from school.'

What was frustrating was that he wasn't there himself. He had gotten used to leaving early on Fridays to spend the weekend at home with Mokuba and Bakura. Today was proving to be the exception to that rule, though. The board of directors meeting had run late earlier in the day, and that had been enough to throw his entire day off. As it stood now, he figured it would be at least another hour or so before he was able to finish everything up and head out.

'And if I'm an hour or more late getting home, Mokuba will be sending out the cavalry,' he thought with some amusement. His little brother was a bit... overprotective, ever since what had happened two years ago; no, in truth, the two of them had always been a bit overprotective of each other their entire lives. That was fine. It was just how they were.

'No, Mokuba won't even get a chance to send out the cavalry. Bakura will already be here, if he isn't already in the building somewhere.'

He knew better than to expect to know exactly where the white-haired man was at all times. He had gotten involved with a thief-and a damn good one at that. Trying to keep a finger on him at all times was futile at best.

Besides, a lot of the time Bakura did actually hang around Kaiba Corp with him... and he made no bones about the fact it was to keep Kaiba both safe and out of trouble. They both did still have a common enemy out there.

He fought the urge to shiver slightly. What had happened two years was still heavy on his mind. It was a hard thing to shake, apparently: being kidnapped to have your soul and magic drained as a battery for the Unnamed Pharaoh. It was not easy finding out that the last person who had been taken, Bakura Ryou, had been drained to a lifeless husk of a body, left alive only because his body didn't know it was time to die yet. It was not easy knowing that the person behind all this, that thrice-damned Collector, was still out there somewhere.

Hell, for all Kaiba knew, the man might well be getting ready to try the whole stunt all over again. They had recovered the Sennen Items, sending some of them back to Egypt with Malik's sister when she had come to check up on him, and Mutou Yuugi still had the Puzzle. Somehow the items being divided up as they were didn't seem to be a strong enough deterrent. Somehow they should be doing more. What, he didn't exactly know, but it seemed like there should be more that they could do. Somehow.

"Are you going to be in here all afternoon working?"

And speaking of Bakura being in the building already and coming to retrieve him… What was that expression: 'speak of the devil and he shall appear'? It was particularly apt where Bakura was concerned; the man delighted in appearing out of nowhere.

Like right now, there was no way Bakura could have gotten from the door to the filing cabinet quickly enough and quietly enough that Kaiba wouldn't have spotted him. Now, the air vent in the ceiling above said filing cabinet… That presented a whole more Bakura-friendly options. If there had ever been a person who was dementedly in love with tiny crawlspaces, it had to be Bakura.

And honestly, most of the time it was kind of nice knowing that Bakura was around. He wasn't going to go as far as to say that he was frightened of being here alone, in his own office, in a company that he ran, in a building that he owned. He was Kaiba Seto, after all, and he wasn't afraid. But happier knowing that the white-haired thief was around? Definitely.

If anyone had asked him a few years ago, back in high school, if he would be happy to see the Spirit of the Ring on a daily basis, he would have had their heads for idiocy. Now, though? It was a plain fact of life. Having Bakura around was good, not because Kaiba couldn't take care of himself, but because Bakura being around meant he didn't have to do it all the time; occasionally, he could let someone else take care of him, instead of him doing the same for everyone around him.

Actually, no, he didn't have to justify it: he just enjoyed having Bakura around. He enjoyed letting Bakura take care of him. He enjoyed seeing how well Bakura and Mokuba got along.

And he would end anyone who tried to threaten that. He was allowed to be selfish on this, and he was going to be.

"I'll be finishing up in an hour or so," he answered, taking a quick visual inventory of the stacks of papers on his desk.

Bakura just shot him a look, before stalking over to flop down in one of the chairs in front of his desk, propping both feet up on the desk itself and crossing his hands over his stomach. "Then I'll wait around until you're done. You can explain to the half-pint why we're so late getting home."

That was a threat if he had ever heard one. Mokuba was never too happy when he was late getting home, even if he called first to let the boy know. Bakura had been known to smooth things over on occasion, when Kaiba's younger brother got too annoyed over a late night, but Bakura's word was gold, at least to him: if he said he wasn't going to do something, he damn well wasn't going to do it.

He took another glance at the papers piled up before him and winced as he debated the issues. He could get this pile out of the way now but have to deal with Mokuba when he got home... or he could go on home and just have more papers to deal with on Monday. Once upon a time, he would have automatically chosen the former option; that was just the way he knew to run his business and life; but in the past couple of years, he had been making strides to spend more time with his family.

"Ten minutes, and I'll head out," he compromised, also a new skill he was working on.

Bakura shrugged, as if to say that it was on Kaiba's head, and didn't say anything.

Ten minutes should give him long enough to work through the most pertinent parts of the stuff in front of him. It wasn't a perfect solution, but it was still more of one that he would have considered not so long ago.

And maybe he could shave it down to five minutes, if he rushed through some of the work that was in front of him. Most of it seemed to have to do with the fact it was apparently pay raise time in the company again, meaning he had to sign off on each individual person's merit-based pay increase or lack thereof. It was time-consuming and frustrating, but it let the company hold on to some of its best employees when other corporations might have tried to otherwise tempt them away.

Bakura had claimed that he'd overheard people calling it the 'putting up with Kaiba Seto pay hike'. Bakura had hated hearing it, going so far as to have some extremely petty revenge on the people he'd been eavesdropping on, but personally, he was inclined to agree with it. He was demanding and a perfectionist and a bit of a professional pain in the ass; he knew and accepted this about himself. In fact, he almost took pride in that fact. Not many people could say that with absolute honesty and conviction.

In one of the folders he was going through, there was a note tucked, folded up to the size of an eraser. In precise English letters, his name was written. For the life of him, all he could think was that someone had gone through a lot of trouble to slip him a note. For the sheer dedication of it, he would have almost suspected Bakura... but the other man looked confused, a frown on his face as he sat back up straight to stare at the piece of paper Kaiba held in his hands.

So it hadn't come from Bakura, then. That didn't leave many people it could be from. Mokuba maybe, or the girl down in Receiving who had had a crush on him back in high school and waited until he was with Bakura to say anything about it, or perhaps even his secretary, telling him to go home before it's too late on a Friday afternoon? There were too many options, really.

All that in mind, he carefully unfolded the note, doing his level best not to tear it in any sort of way. Somehow that seemed important even as he was opening it.

The first thing he noticed was that the words were all written in English. There was an odd stiltedness to them, like the writer was trying to be overly formal or something.

What really concerned him, though, were the first two words: "Mister Kaiba." Not many people called him that. His overseas competitors, for certain, and some fans, definitely... but not like this. Even on paper, there was something sinister about those two words.

A warm hand wrapped around his arm. "Seto? Babe?" Bakura's voice was slowly breaking through his shock, and Kaiba lifted his eyes to look at the other man. He wasn't sure when, but Bakura had circled the desk-or gone over it-and was sitting in front of him, a worried frown on his face. "Talk to me. You're as white as a ghost. What's it say?"

He hadn't actually read beyond the opening. Surely there had to be a whole lot more to it than what he had read. Taking a deep breath to steel himself, he glanced back down to keep reading.

"Mister Kaiba,

I see you have been keeping yourself quite busy. I have been as well. I will be seeing you and the thief again before long. Hopefully this time, you will feel more inclined to assist me with completing my collection. It truly will be perfect.

Your friend"

It wasn't signed, but it didn't have to be. Mokuba had banned that word and everything about it from being mentioned around him, but even without that, he only knew of one person who had... demanded his assistance in completely a collection of any sort. Only one person.

The Collector was back.

30 December 2013

Second verse, same as the first.

[ Prologue | Schedules | Safety | Sensibility | Tenacity | Conscious | Security | Command | Insight | Balancing | Determination | Communicating ]