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Tue, Dec. 27th, 2005, 02:50 am
demoerin:

Recipient: mink9101
Request: "[Seto/Seth], Fluff, angst, friendship...I don't mind anything, really."
Title: A Certain Lack of Destiny
Rating: PG-13. Contains character death (pretty clean, though).
Notes: Beware the unholy mix of manga and anime. I've only seen Battle City in the anime (dub version), only seen Egypt Arc in the manga, and this was the only idea for a story I got, so.
And I swear there's Seto/Seth interaction like you asked for, especially since it's the only thing you asked for, it just takes its time in showing up.

Sorry it's late! I suck and am full of abject apologies. There are excuses involving long drives and aunts' houses and Internet connections that weren't, but that's boring. Have fic instead.

 


 

He would have come only to speak to the Pharaoh and to monitor Marik's progress; he would have come later, but for a tug of dutiful feeling. He would have ignored the presence of the thief, but for a thought that its removal would ease the passage of the Pharaoh. This version of the thief was insignificant, after all. Only the battle for the God Cards was needed to determine the Pharaoh's strength, and after that the version of the thief that was present in the Memory would suffice.

But it was not his place to make things easy for the Pharaoh, and now the price for his actions had to be paid.

"Well, guardian! Since you think you know so much, let me test you – do you know how my Millennium Ring manipulates souls?" the thief asked.

Shadi's eyes widened; he took a fractional step back.

"I see you do understand," said the thief. "Don't look so astonished … you should have expected I'd be a little angry at being forced into a dark game where you wouldn't even wager your Millennium Items."

"It is my right as guardian to test your claim on the Millennium Ring with a dark game."

"Well, it's my right as winner to do what I want with your soul. It was a neat trick to place our souls as the stakes – as guardian of the Items, you could have used my Ring until you felt like bestowing it on someone else. But tricks like that don't inspire me to kindness."

Light stabbed forth from the Millennium Ring and engulfed the guardian. He showed his emotions through only the mildest expressions: a twist of his mouth, a sharp exhalation. But his features twisted and grew out of proportion, making him snarl against iniquity and show a painful anguish, caricaturising his emotions as he stiffened, grew still, and shrank.

The spirit of the Millennium Ring snatched up the doll before the winds blowing across the deck of the blimp could. For a moment it felt heavier than its size made feasible, which was usual for soul-dolls, but then it lightened until it finally crumbled.

The spirit laughed as dust sifted through his fingers. There went that pompous one! He had suspected that the guardian was more ghost than man, as he had seen him several times through the centuries, and was not surprised that a ghost was too weak to bear the pressures of the Ring's power. Something at the back of his memory prompted him to feel that the guardian had richly deserved his end, and he smiled in the pleasure of a job well done.

It was a pity that the guardian's Items had vanished at the moment of his defeat – but ah, well, by the end of the Battle City tournament the Puzzle and the Rod would be available.

The spirit walked back to the banquet from which the guardian's magic had called him. The shadows of a dark game trailed him, but were soon pulled apart by natural law and scattered into the corners of the airship.

***

His mind awoke before there was a body to hold it, and so he could not scream. He had been dragged from somewhere beautiful and a place that was rightfully his. It had been his choice to turn away from that, but it still hurt.

The pain had only his soul as a target and so struck him at his deepest level – but that changed after a moment. He solidified as strength poured into him from another source, until finally a body was knit around his spirit. The pain stretched through it all and became bearable. When the Millennium Key and Scales appeared – the first around his neck, the other within the pockets of his robe – the last of the pain disappeared. His existence was bound with the Millennium Items; they acted almost as extensions of his body. Or he acted as theirs.

The body had formed with its eyes closed, and he was surprised into keeping it that way. The surprise came because he could not sense danger – although this sensation of safety did not come from his physical self.

He was now the guardian of the Millennium Items – more ghost than man – and his senses stretched beyond a reach that he was used to.

He suppressed the information. Knowing that he was safe was enough, and it was too taxing to work with the other information too. Breathing was hard enough to get used to, since he didn't yet feel as if the world had any business cramming itself down his throat. Every gulp shoved traces of his afterlife from him – he felt became cold, heavy and more energised than he had been since his last life – but it was a dim realisation as he felt the afterlife slip from his memory. Those dreams didn't belong in the mortal world.

Nor did they belong in one with a purpose such as his, he reminded himself, and opened his eyes into the wind so that he would have real reason for tears.

The courtyard in which he stood had structures to the left of him, and a railing to the right. Winds howled around the higher corners of the buildings with storm-strength, and enough reached down to the floor where he stood to cut coldly through his robes. It all seemed to be grey. He stepped towards the buildings, but had to slow his pace to a tentative trial and error as gravity tugged too hard at his new body.

What kind of guardian would he be if he couldn't yet walk? If he was dropped into a world thousands of years beyond the one he knew?

"Shadi?"

--If he couldn't even sense lurking threats coming up behind him?

It was a woman who had called out, and she stood at some distance from him. She did not seem to be armed, but he did not relax his guard. "No," he said. "Shadi is no more."

She gasped. "I had hoped…" Her voice trailed off into silent grief, and the woman shook her head.

The guardian would have gasped too, but breathing was still being a tricky little thing. This woman spoke in his tongue, a language that should be long dead – and more than that, her voice seemed familiar.

"I'd hoped that I would be in time to stop what I had foreseen," she said, putting her hand to her throat, where a gold object glinted.

"The Millennium Necklace! Are you … Isis?"

She shook her head. "No. Not in this lifetime, Guardian. My name is Ishizu. And as I'm too late to help the one who came before you … I offer my assistance to you."

"Why would you help me?"

"I am loyal to the Pharaoh," she said. "I recognise who you were, and I recognise who you have become. And I believe you need a guide – you are not in the world you know, and you're likely to be overwhelmed."

Her insolence had him speechless. Him – overwhelmed?

He stayed his anger with great difficulty, because ultimately she was correct. This was not his world, and he was not the pharaoh he had once been. He was only a servant now.

He sneered to himself, before pushing the matter aside. "Tell me what happened to the guardian before me."

"The vision showed spirit that inhabits the Millennium Ring beating Shadi in a dark game. He … crumbled Shadi's soul."

The thief, the demon, the fool. Who else would it be? "A fair match." He growled. "Then there are no grounds to remove the Ring from its bearer." He discarded the matter and asked, "Where is my Pharaoh?"

She seemed shocked. "You won't do anything about Shadi? About the Ring?"

"I will do what I must."

She stared at him a moment, and it occurred to him that her eyes were not like Isis'. The priestess he had known had not had eyes of deep blue, and they had rarely looked so weary. "That reply is, perhaps, the one Shadi would have given too." She turned in the direction of the buildings. "Follow me."

He had to be careful of his balance while walking, and to cover it up inspected his surroundings. The building was strange; most of it was made of oddly coloured metal, and the tower they were standing on was so high that he could nearly touch the clouds. The way the clouds were blown so swiftly through the sky gave the illusion that it was the building that was actually moving…

He strayed close to the railings as he went to Ishizu, looked past it, and realised that the building was moving. Flying, in fact.

He stepped away from the railing, wobbling only a little and trying to ensure that he was not any shade of green.

It was … odd, though. All these things around him were not much of a surprise.

Ishizu waited just out of sight beyond the door, looking over her shoulder as she waited, and walked on as soon as he reached her. "I'll show you where you need to go. And I will give you warnings, too, Guardian. Firstly," Ishizu said, "I am here for my own reasons. I'd prefer to keep my presence as hidden as possible, and will take my leave of you soon."

She did not even presume it necessary to ask. The guardian became tantalisingly aware of the weight of the Millennium Key on his chest, and one hand reached into the slit in his voluminous robes that allowed him to touch the Scales. But no, he could not exact revenge for disrespect he no longer had a right to be angered by. Besides, the insidious power of the Key was mildly disgusting, and the Scales simply weren't interesting. If only the Rod weren't in use…

And just how had he known that the Rod was being used by its destined bearer, rather than a usurper?

"Second," said Ishizu, "whatever magic you have, I suggest you use it to learn all you can about this world, or you will find your time here difficult. It can be overwhelming."

"I know enough," he said, irked that now she would think him an idiot too – but his ire faded as he realised that what he'd said was true.

"You don't have the market cornered on foresight," the guardian said, pretending he wasn't figuring this out on the spot. "Shadi was entirely capable of thinking about things larger than himself. He stored knowledge in the Millennium Scales in case he could no longer do his duty, and it will guide me adequately."

Ishizu stopped walking in surprise, and he did the same. He did not, after all, know where to go, in spite of everything else he might know. "Do you understand this language?" she asked him in a tongue that he had never heard before.

"Perfectly."

"Good. Then things will be much easier." She began to walk again and he followed as he had to. "Now for my next warning. I'm not entirely sure how to say this, but … You've been on the Battle Ship all along, and on this earth for quite some time."

He touched the Scales, hoping for some clues from the unexpected font of information. There was a minute glow from the Key as it integrated the knowledge into his mind. Swiftly, the information became a part of him that was not like something learned, but like something he'd long known.

"A reincarnation of the part of my soul that stayed on earth… Seto Kaiba," he said.

"Precisely," said Ishizu. "But there is a problem; and I must apologise, because I'm the one who caused it. I assume you know about the Battle City tournament?"

He hesitated, searching his mind, then nodded. "I have that knowledge."

"The tournament is founded on the basis of tablets that my family have guarded since the Nameless Pharaoh's rule. A large part of the tablets have been lost, and the story they depict has been whittled down over the years, and I could only tell half a story to Seto Kaiba and to the Pharaoh – of their destined duel."

He knew those tablets. He knew the story they told. A story that should never have been; a duel he should have been strong enough to resist…

"I am loyal," he said. "No matter what."

"Unfortunately, the Pharaoh doesn't know that," she said. "The story on that tablet only tells of the battle you and he once had, and of the battle you're destined to have. That's the story I told the Pharaoh, and the one that helped to inspire Kaiba to hold this tournament. He is the Pharaoh's most eager rival, and he wishes to prove that he will not lose now as he did then."

She paused, looking at him. He glared at her. "I offer my apologies, but I did what I needed to. Now I must leave – and I'll give the last warning: You should find what you're looking for behind this door, though it won't be there long. Good luck, Guardian." She walked away, around a corner and out of sight.

He is the Pharaoh's most eager rival…

He could hardly believe that his reincarnation wished to fight the Pharaoh. That was the reason he'd put his memories into the Millennium Rod, so that part of his soul could wander the earth and retain its memories, ready to assist Pharaoh. But now it had turned out that his reincarnation had not been destined to possess the Rod, but rather this … Malik Ishtar.

There wasn't time for this. He had his duty to do.

He opened the door. Two men staggered past it, dodging each other's fists, and as he stepped out to keep them in sight, they hurtle over the railing and off the building.

Blimp, he reminded himself, determined to keep a hold of the facts at his disposal, and walked to the railing.

***

"Hi, guys," said Duke, pushing open a door. "We'd like to you to meet someone…"

The guardian revised his opinion about Ishizu as he walked in behind Duke. She was shrewd. Saving the friends of the Pharaoh (or at least that was what they claimed to be) was a good way to get introduced.

Tristan rubbed the back of his head, looking vaguely embarrassed. "Um, this guy says he's the guardian of the Millennium Items. Wants to see 'the Pharaoh'."

A man with yellow hair groaned. "Not another one!" He whirled around, glaring. "Are you gonna go crazy and try to kill us?"

"Unlikely," said the guardian. He inspected the people in the room. They were resigned, surprised, and perplexed, but none carried the Millennium Puzzle. His gaze caught on one of them all the same.

"Why are you looking at Bakura like that?" the yellow-haired man demanded. "The Millennium Item stuff already took enough out of him!"

He hissed. Bakura. That robber was their personal curse, wasn't he?

"Cool it," said Tristan; but the voice was suddenly distant to the guardian as he touched the Scales, intent on judging the tomb robber's soul.

With that touch the Scales gave him its factual, impartial knowledge, and his hand fell away as if without his control. His mind snapped to the indignant way that the man had defended the tomb robber. "He's your friend?"

"Of course he is!"

"Joey, calm down," said Tristan. "Hear the guy out, he's not acting like a nutcase yet!"

"These guys with Millennium Items are always whackjobs!"

"He saved our lives," said Tristan. "So give him a break, will ya? Me and Duke, uh, tripped and fell. Went over the railing and almost slipped off the side of this thing, but he was just in time to help us up."

"How awful!" gasped a girl, who walked over to him at once, hands clasped. "Thank you so much! Can we repay you at all for helping our friends?"

At last! "Yes. Could you tell me where the one who bears the Millennium Puzzle is?"

"Oh, that's the name of Yugi's pendant, right? Yugi's in his room, I'll go get him!"

"Wha- wait, Serenity!" said the yellow-haired man – Joey, as Tristan had said.

"Be back in a second, big brother," she said, and was out the door.

Joey whirled around and glared. "So, guardian of the Millennium Items, huh?"

"That's what the man said. And if anyone would care to notice," said Duke, "he's also Kaiba. In drag."

Tristan shot him a reproachful look, seeming to think that the likeness could have been pointed out in a better way. The other people who were not unconscious divided between staring at Duke, who was playing idly with his hair and didn't seem to be paying attention to much else, and the guardian.

"Aagh!" said Joey.

"He is," said a woman with yellow hair, sounding somewhat awed.

Joey screamed again.

"Well!" The other woman in the room shook herself out of a glassy-eyed daze. "I – I'm sure you can tell us all about it, um, Guardian. Let's introduce ourselves! I'm Téa Gardner."

"There's no need for introductions, it's obvious who this is. He's invisi-Kaiba," Duke said in reasonable tones. "That's what you call the specimen who sneaks onto his own blimp without being seen, is really well-tanned and dresses in drag."

"Shut up!" Téa hissed.

"Though it's not very good drag," observed the woman with yellow hair.

"That's Mai," Téa said loudly. "This is Joey. The girl who went out is Serenity, his sister. And um, the one in the bed is Bakura. He had some trouble – lost a duel, kind of, though it wasn't him – I'm sure you know what I mean. And, um, you are?"

The door opened and let in another wave of babbling. "I got kind of lost, I'm still not sure about my way around this place—" It was Serenity. "But here's Yugi!"

The skin was pale and the clothes were strange; half of him found it normal due to Shadi's knowledge from the Scales, but the other half was relieved at all the familiar things that remained. The bearing, the face and the unmistakable hair.

"My Pharaoh," he said, and stepped forward. "I am your servant. I am here as successor to the position of guardians of the Millennium Items, and I pledge myself to you."

The Pharaoh stared back at him, eyes strangely wide and posture gone rigid. It occurred to him that he should be bowing. But he'd hardly ever bowed to the Pharaoh who had once been his companion – and besides, it was too late now.

After a moment of silence, Téa said, "We were just introducing ourselves. He – the guardian was just about to tell us his name."

"Ah. That's good…" said a voice, rich and low, that he remembered in his best and worse memories. Pharaoh sounded startled, and then tentative: "What is your name?"

It burdened him with pain to hear the request come from that person, and he wished with a fervency that made his fists clench that he'd never needed to destroy the Pharaoh's name. But it was done.

This moment was important. A name formed part of a soul's existence; how could a thing be whole if it had no identity? It was only a shadow of itself. He could not claim the name he'd had in life because he was now something else. To bind himself to an existence as a guardian, Shadah had become Shadi, and as for him…

The Scales and Key slid knowledge into his mind of a name that came from a people who had been strangers in Kemet; now it seemed right that it would serve a man from Kemet who was a stranger in another land. It was close enough to his own name to serve him, and he said, "Call me Seth, my Pharaoh."

"Is that your name? But I thought it would be…" The Pharaoh's voice died out and his eyes flickered with something just shy of tears. There was a torn and desperate familiarity there, reaching for solidity – and then gone.

"Call me Seth."

Pharaoh took a step away from him. What remained of his memory had been betrayed, and his face made this no secret.

"The remaining finalists must now report to the main concourse," said a voice from nowhere – a voice that came over the speaker system. "The next duellists will be chosen…"

***

"It's creepy." Mokuba peered at Yugi's group of friends, seeming more fascinated than fearful. "He really looks like you."

"I'm trying to watch the duel," Seto said. "Marik has an Egyptian god card, and I'd rather watch out for that than stare at some idiot with a halfway decent facelift."

"He kind of stands like you, too," Mokuba said. Though Seto refused to look anywhere but the duel – it wasn't important – he could see that his brother kept glancing back and forth between him and the boy standing with Yugi's group. "He stands exactly like you."

Seto made a sound of intense irritation. "It's easy enough to make tapes of my television appearances, study them and copy me. I'm more concerned with how that nut got onto the Battle Ship."

He'd been chewing out his guards about this point since they'd brought the surveillance from Bakura's room to his attention and told him that no, this wasn't the mystery eighth semi-finalist, just someone who looked almost exactly like Seto Kaiba and who hadn't been seen boarding the blimp. Next time he was getting more security cameras installed, no matter how much electricity the duelling ring cost.

He would have liked for some sound in that video of his double, too. From their reactions, the double had surprised them, and at one point Gardner's gestures had indicated that she was introducing herself and the others in the room. They didn't seem to know him well, but had accepted him.

"Do you think he's dangerous?" Mokuba asked. "You hear some crazy stories about obsessed fans…"

"Of course he's dangerous. Look at him." Seto's eyes narrowed, but he kept watching the duel between Marik and Joey. "But he's part of Yugi's menagerie, for whatever unfathomable reason, and Yugi's pretty skilled in keeping them under control."

Raised voices sounded above the sounds of the duel, directed at the duellist called Namu.

"Usually," said Seto.

***

"But he was attacked by those Rare Hunters! Joey said so." Tristan looked sceptical.

"It's a ruse to gain your trust. He is Marik Ishtar." Seth glared at the one who held the Millennium Rod and the card of Ra and was met with a dazzling smile.

"Guys, trust me," said Marik. "I only escaped from those Rare Hunters because they were after you and Joey, because you knew Yugi well. I had to go buy painkillers."

"He's holding the Millennium Rod behind his back!" Seth snapped. "That man on the duelling platform has a copy. I wielded the real thing, I can recognise it!"

"He's holding it behind his back? I think we'd notice a big old Millennium Item…" said Tristan, voice petering out as he noticed that Marik was, indeed, keeping one hand behind his back.

Marik crossed his arms in front of him. "You were saying?"

Seth muttered a curse, remembered that Pharaoh needed to duel this twip, and changed it to a prayer for patience. "Turn around."

"I will not submit myself to your interrogaAAa~!!"

"I can't see anything," Duke said, voice still blandly disinterested as he leapt away from the shocked Marik, "but I can feel something when I poke his back. If he's got some big and gaudy magic thing like Yugi and Bakura, he's wedged it in the back of his pants."

"The Millennium Rod has the power to manipulate minds. If he doesn't want you to see it, you won't. And incidentally, Marik, I was thinking of winning that Item back from you, but as of now, you can keep it." Seth smirked. "Get away from us."

Marik's face turned dark and ugly, and then he smiled. "Oh, you'll see more of me soon enough."

"I look forward to that, Marik." Pharaoh stood proudly once more, and Marik didn't dare to look back as he stalked as far away from them as he could.

"Wow. Good call, Seth," Mai said. "There seem to be crazies left, right and centre tonight…"

Tristan was berating Duke. "That was insane! You saw what Marik did to Joey – he could have had your mind right there."

"Look, Tristan, I already lost my mind sometime today, and everything that's going down makes much more sense without it." Duke shrugged, and also turned to the duel.

They all fell into the role of spectators, watching tensely and cheering. Seth studied them and wondered what the Pharaoh saw in them. Though grown adults, they behaved like children – but then, they were considered children in this culture and in this time. And Téa seemed loyal; Joey showed the promise of good instincts, and Duke, despite his foolish behaviour, was getting a grim look on his face that indicated that he knew how serious these events were.

And there stood Pharaoh himself, intently watching Joey duel now that the diversion with Marik had passed. When Seth looked away, he thought he felt those eyes turn to him – but he never caught the gaze.

***

Seto removed his jacket and hung it around Mokuba's shoulders. His brother's shivering was symptomatic of mental trauma rather than actual cold, but by the way Mokuba clutched the jacket around his seated body it seemed to be appreciated. "You did well until staying calm," Seto told him. Mokuba had hardly shown a reaction until the door to their private part of Battle Ship closed behind them.

There was silence for some time, broken once by Seto placing an order at the kitchen, then by his receiving the delivery. When he sat back down, Mokuba spoke.

"His face was twisting…"

"Drink this," said Seto, holding a mug of hot chocolate out to Mokuba. "Are you sure I shouldn't get the medical staff to send something rather than the kitchen staff?"

Mokuba took a sip of the hot chocolate. "I'm the commissioner, I can't be doped up. And I'm seeing things without drugs, anyway."

"If Marik's … performance was a hallucination, we all seemed to suffer from it. I have no idea what's wrong with him, but there's no need to worry. Security is on alert."

"Let's fix the machine so the next draw will give out his number. Maybe he'll get beat and we can just throw him off the blimp."

Mokuba seemed to be building up bravado rather than making a serious suggestion, so Seto had to hold back on the exclamation that it was an excellent idea. If they fixed the outcome of the next draw, he would see the real Ra in action. But Mokuba had been a stickler for the rules throughout Battle City, and it would cheapen his effort if Seto encouraged him to cheat.

"I'd like to throw that other one off the blimp," he muttered.

"The lookalike?" Mokuba shivered again. "It's really weird, Seto. He doesn't just look like you, he uses his face like you do. I mean, once when you were watching the duel, you had the exact same expression on, from the way your mouth looked to the way your eyebrows move."

Seto paused in thought for a moment. "Mokuba, don't think I'm trying to coddle you – but I want you to stay in here and find out something about this man. You can start by searching fan websites."

Mokuba wrapped both hands around the cup, and looked like a fortune-teller who'd just peered into a chocolaty and troubling future. "It's weird. This guy should be famous already. Even if he'd just done his makeover to look like you, information should've leaked. We should already know about this. The Domino press should already know!"

"He looks like he just came over from Africa. Maybe he's not international news yet." Seto grimaced. "Still, I want you to find out what you can. The biggest part of your job as commissioner is over, so the rest of the tournament should run smoothly."

"It hasn't been going smoothly so far," Mokuba said. "But I'll do the research."

"It's just about time for the next duellists to be picked." Seto stood up and reached a hand out for his coat, and Mokuba dutifully began to unwrap himself from it. "Put the alarm on when I leave."

Luck was on Seto's side, because Marik was chosen for the next duel. His smile was subdued only by the thought that Mokuba might start thinking that he'd cheated.

He ignored his lookalike as easily as he ignored the rest of Yugi's group, sweeping to the duelling platform before them all.

***

Another had fallen. They stood by Mai's bedside and spoke in grieving tones. Seth stayed back to let them mourn and dwelled on his own thoughts.

Pharaoh had rushed in front of Mai and Joey … Seth had nearly been too shocked to form a shield with the Scales and the Key. These people must be more precious to Pharaoh than he'd believed they could be. Perhaps he should start thinking of them as if they were Pharaoh's court.

He wondered if he would find traits of the priests he'd served alongside in these childlike warriors. It was unlikely, given that Pharaoh remembered nothing.

It was at this thought that Pharaoh turned away from Mai and walked to him, and suddenly Seth felt the pressures of his duty bearing in too tightly. He didn't know this man, not if this man could look at him with so little recognition.

"I want to thank you for your help," Pharaoh said. "Ra's might was great, and I might not have been able to bear it on my own."

"I'm not sure of that, Pharaoh," he said. "You were bolstering the shield with your own power. Not just that of the Puzzle – most of it was your inherent power. It's a good sign. It's what might allow you to win."

Pharaoh grinned in a way that was disconcerting – it was so broad and eager that he looked like a small boy that ran about wide-eyed at everything. "You know much, Seth. I'm sure you know much about my past. You were there, weren't you? You're the priest shown in that tablet."

Seth's eyes flickered away from the Pharaoh's gaze, and he cursed himself for showing the weakness. "Pharaoh, I am not your enemy. That tablet is—"

"Much of it was destroyed," Pharaoh said, and his voice sounded most oddly gentle. Seth had never heard that tone before; but then, he didn't believe Pharaoh had ever heard him sound so panicked in life. "There are large tracts of the history that I don't know. Even if it shows us fighting, I know that you aren't my enemy – that you weren't."

"Never."

Pharaoh stared. The surprise in the look hurt Seth more than he cared for. "You're not like Kaiba at all."

"Even though he fights you, Pharaoh, I do not – I never will. He's part of me, but he shouldn't have become your enemy – he should have helped you."

Pharaoh grinned again. "Kaiba isn't my enemy. He's a rival that I'm proud to duel. I wouldn't be as strong as I am without a rival like him. But Seth, you must tell me how you can be a reincarnation of yourself and the guardian of the Millennium Items at the same time." Pharaoh sounded like a boy demanding a story, eyes shining as brightly as a child's.

It was unbearable, and Seth looked away again. The others were looking to the corner where they stood, speaking in urgent whispers, and he appreciated their wary looks. Pharaoh had built himself a good court.

"It was only part of my soul that stayed," Seth explained. "The earthbound part of me left my mummy, as I had always intended to do, and I was free to be reborn. I'd planned to do it because I wanted to be sure that I could help you when the Millennium Puzzle was solved. The other part of me was in the afterlife, where I stayed until tonight when Shadi died. I had bound myself in life to be next in line to be the guardian."

He stopped as Pharaoh stared at him in shock. "Shadi's dead?"

"Yes." Seth bowed his head briefly in respect. "The one who killed him was the spirit of the Millennium Ring."

Pharaoh's face turned thunderous. Seth wondered, feeling delightfully uncertain about the future of the tomb robber, whether Pharaoh had enough of his power for a little punishment game.

But the speakers told the duellists that they were being called for the last duel of the night.

***

Seth studied his reincarnation for the first time that night, full of relief. It would have been an unsettling experience to kill himself for endangering Pharaoh. But Pharaoh said that Seto Kaiba had strengthened him, even without concrete knowledge of his past.

Perhaps some things could not be forgotten, and he vowed anew to make sure Pharaoh would realise this too.

Pharaoh stared so intently at Kaiba in the duelling ring that Seth looked too. He saw echoes of himself in the stance as well as in physical appearance, and even in the clothes. The coat seemed to move in the way that his priest's robes had, and the shoulders were in a similar style.

The duel was one between well-matched opponents. He could sense the strategies flying through Kaiba's mind and was pleased to see Ishizu force her Necklace to tell her exactly what she wanted to know. Priestess Isis had been terrifically useless half the time, insisting that the Necklace would only send visions when the gods felt it was necessary, rather than when Pharaoh's train was wondering if, say, bandits were about to ambush them.

Seth saw that Kaiba also echoed him in determination. He was not sure, however, that he'd ever seen Isis look as determined as her reincarnation did. Ishizu Ishtar fought for her brother, and it made her fierce.

Seth had no hope for her brother whatsoever. He would have killed the piecemeal creature inhabiting Marik's body immediately if it didn't seem to be an even better opponent than Marik had been. He wondered if Shadi had fostered Marik's madness as a useful test for Pharaoh, or if he had simply let it be when he saw it. The Scales did not hold information to answer this in one way or the other, though it was a relatively important point.

The absence of a direct answer could be an answer of itself, Seth reflected. Perhaps Shadah had at last learned that terrible deeds were necessary in the course of duty.

Though there had been people besides Shadah who'd tried to convince him that such things were unneccesary…

The thought was too fragile – nearly wistful – and was shoved aside in the exhilaration of seeing the god Obelisk. He wanted to be in the ring and send the god crashing forth himself! He would like to fight his reincarnation for that card.

Then the fragile thought crept back, a deep little feeling rooting into him, and grew until it won against his exultation.

"Hey, Seth, you all right?"

He couldn't recognise the voice, and when someone else said, "I think the same thing's happening to Kaiba!" he only knew that he had felt that long before it could be seen.

He saw the line of light as the memories he'd stored in the Rod reached his reincarnation; and felt the vagueness that clouded his mind sharpen as the line of light came to him, too, and he someone else's joy sang into him.

Now he felt the echo in Kaiba, sadness as great as the joy. He saw the memory with Kaiba – the dragon on the tablet, the girl in his arms.

That moment was not for anyone else to know. Seto wasn't, anyone else, but Seth could see the shock removed from him and placed in another's face. He wanted to drag the memory back into its privacy.

The furious resentment was swept away when Seto reacted to what they'd seen, sacrificing a god.

They exclaimed around him, Seto shouted, and he couldn't hear. He didn't care to hear.

"Kisara!" Seth screamed.

He knew the image wasn't real. That wasn't the colour that light would reflect from her scales, and she didn't move that way, as if her head and legs were lumps to be shuffled around one at a time.

She shouldn't be real. She should have died long ago.

Real or not, he saw the dragon's head turn to look at him before she vanished. In the space it had left stood Seto, who looked at him too, before he turned to speak to his opponent.

***

He was here for the sake of duty. He had a chance to atone for turning his Pharaoh into a nameless nothing, righting his impossible wrong.

And Kisara? Bound to his soul, she should have died when he did. He'd wondered why she hadn't been with him in the afterlife, but had thought that the scales would know her heart better than even he could.

But she'd stayed for the sake of the half of him that had remained earthbound. Perhaps she'd done it for her own sake, too, for the will to live had always been her greatest strenght.

For thousands of years, she had lived in the hell of the Shadow Realm. For him.

Duty was a heavy weight on him, from both Key and Scales. Then he thought of Seto, and how he should have lost. Ishizu had repeated her prediction often enough. And afterwards, she'd said something about the Necklace no longer working for her, now that the future had been shattered.

The future being shattered was no excuse for a guardian. They'd always known that destiny wasn't something that came without being worked for, and that strength had to be grown and tested, and paths sometimes created where no path had been. He knew what the future should be, and he would make it so.

Now, though, there was a new future. He wasn't sure yet how to make it, but he would have to.

"What's a Kisara, Seth? Is that what you old Egyptian guys called a Blue-Eyes White Dragon?"

Seth considered being angered by this intrustion, but Joey was entirely too amiable an idiot to rouse him. Besides, sitting in a nearly catatonic state in a corner of Pharaoh's room, showing how shaken he was to people he barely knew, he deserved to have someone speak to him who wouldn't take him seriously.

"She's the woman who was the dragon."

"Wha?! The … woman?"

As if this was a signal, everyone hurried over. Everyone meant Duke, Tristan, Téa and Pharaoh, as Serenity was watching Mai.

"Kisara's the woman who was the dragon!" Joey said, sounding awed. "So does that mean the Blue-Eyes White Dragon was a person? Are all Duel Monsters really people?"

"Tell us, Seth," Pharaoh urged, eyes bright again.

Seth stared at his eager face and stirred himself to speak with great trouble.

"I can't tell you anything, Pharaoh. I've told you too much. Your memory must be your own, and I'm only here to help you find it. There is more at stake here than just your memory, and I can't jeopardise that." He stood, and they had to scatter from where they had crowded around him. "I'll leave you to your rest."

"But Seth, I-"

He let the door shut behind him.

***

"What are you?"

Seto stood in the hallway as immovable as he knew how to be. The security cameras were good enough to tell him what he needed to know: where the other could be found.

The other was surprised, Seto could tell. He wasn't sure if anyone else would have been able to.

"Answer my question," Seto said. "As uninvited guest on the Battle Ship, it's the least you could do."

"If my host wants to talk in a hallway, I think I can be as rude as I like."

"This way," Seto said.

Mokuba was asleep in a chair in front of the computers, or pretending very well. Seto opened a door on the wall opposite the bank of computers that led to the bedroom, and debated whether to carry Mokuba to bed or to talk in there.

He lifted Mokuba carefully, remembering the girl who'd been so limp in his arms, and reassured himself with Mokuba's sleeping sighs.

He shouldn't do this in front of others. It was inconceivable.

Seto strode out of the bedroom, shutting the door behind him and shutting the scene with his brother away, and cross the room with his most brusque, businesslike walk.

"Look at the screens," he said, "and you'll see the hieratic text that was on Marik's Ra card."

"I've noticed."

"I've never seen it before in my life, this text or any other. And I can read it perfectly."

He glared at the other face – the face that was his own, except for skin tone. The expression on that face changed, glaring back at him in what he was sure was a mirror image of his antagonism.

How?

Seto sat down, toned his expression to a neutral level. "I asked you what you are, before," Seto said, "but I already know that you're not what I expected you to be. With that option eliminated, I don't know if the alternatives are believable."

"Believe them. It wastes time to do otherwise."

He plunged into it, ignoring logic. "Those were my memories. What are they doing in your head as well?"

"Long ago, I was you, Seto Kaiba. Tonight I was reborn as someone else – not entirely different, but different enough. Now I am called Seth."

The other – Seth – spoke as slowly and carefully as Seto was doing. They edged around each other, tactfully wary and hopelessly aware that they knew each other's deepest secret.

He suddenly wondered if this man could cry. What would it look like? What did he look like when content, or happy? Would it be like Seto's face in the same state? Would it be something Seto would never want others to see, or would it be something that he would never see in himself?

"I should kill you," said Seto.

***

Seth laughed. It's always nice to know that you aren't an idiot. "You're wise," he said finally.

"Then you also think you should kill me? You'll find it's not so easy as people like to believe."

Seth felt at ease, now, and was surprised to see that Seto seemed as snappish and uncertain as ever. Seto was watching him from the corner of his eye, waiting for some kind of response to this statement. Or did he think it was a challenge?

But Seto wasn't quite that easy to read. He covered, redirecting his own and Seth's attention to something else.

"How can suddenly I read this?" He jerked his head to the text. "Why can't I remember anything from my past except how to read this, and that girl?"

His voice didn't change at all. It could not be said that way, as carelessly thrown out as garbage.

"Her name is Kisara," Seth said. "You know it. Use it with respect."

Seto stared at the hieratic text, large on the screen, as if nothing else existed. A long silence passed, and then he said, "I know."

He reached into a pocket in his coat and withdrew a package from his coat. A set of cards. Quickly, he drew out three and placed them on the desk.

The pictures of the dragons were exquisitely rendered. Painted with the help of the Millennium Eye, the Scales told Seth, which saw things as they were, whether in another's mind or in another world.

"This memory came to you because it is strong, and because she is strong," Seth said, looking up at the screen. He could sense Seto's hand dashing along the desk, taking the cards and packing them away in an instant, though he didn't look.

"I think she wanted you to know the memory and not use god, so she pulled it from the Millennium Rod, where I stored some of the memories of my first life. You'll probably remember more if you can actually touch the Millennium Rod. You can read the script because you were once chosen for a Millennium Item, and only those who have been chosen by the Items can understand this."

Seto nodded, not looking at him.

Seth didn't think he comprehended it all, precisely, but how could he fit it all inside himself when Seth had barely been able to push the words out of his mouth?

Kisara had bound herself to his soul – and now he had to take that out and dole it up for the consumption of someone who didn't know, someone who was practically a stranger and who still deserved to know.

Neither of them would manage this in one night, but it needed to be managed. Because here, perhaps, lay a partnership that could renew a future.

"Ask me anything you want to, and I will answer. Tonight, tomorrow, or any day you choose." Seth inclined his head graciously and waited for a reply.

Seto's eyes flicked to meet his once – then looked away again. "There was a vision," he said, still speaking very carefully, "that Ishizu Ishtar showed me. It was of the past, where I was duelling someone. But there was…"

He took a pen from one pocket and a notepad from another, and began to write – no, draw something on it.

The picture resembled an opulent, purple mushroom.

"Did I ever wear a hat like this?" Seto asked.

Seth almost recoiled. "No."

"I knew that vision was ridiculous."

Seto looked smug and mutinous at once, retreating to his old attitude for the time being and still regarding Seth out of the corner of his eye. But it was a start.

 

Tue, Dec. 27th, 2005 04:52 pm (UTC)
mink9101

The delay wasn't bad at all and the fic was worth the wait. Everything from Seth's first appearance to his feelings on the past and interaction with Seto at the end was well written and flows beautifully. Thank you for writing. Happy Holidays.

Sun, Jan. 1st, 2006 10:34 pm (UTC)
demoerin

Ah, thank you for your kind words. I'm glad you liked it. And, um, I'm pretty sure there's a second chapter or a sequel or whatever-you-want-to-call-it coming to this fic; there were a lot of ideas that I couldn't fit into it. Not to pimp myself too much, but would you like me to let you know when I finish the follow-up?

Sun, Jan. 1st, 2006 11:00 pm (UTC)
aboh

^^;; Do you mind adding me to the list because I enjoy reading this pairing?

Tue, Jan. 3rd, 2006 07:16 pm (UTC)
demoerin

I don't mind at all! I'll just leave a comment in your journal when it's done.

Tue, Jan. 3rd, 2006 04:27 am (UTC)
mink9101

Oh certainly. I'd love to see a sequel.

Tue, Jan. 3rd, 2006 07:18 pm (UTC)
demoerin

Cool. I'll drop a comment & a link in your journal when I post it somewhere, then. :)