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Red as Fire

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Red as Fire
By Alecto Perdita
Rating: PG-13
Revised: March 21, 2008
Email: alecto . perdita (at) gmail . com

Disclaimer: Yu-Gi-Oh is the intellectual property of Takahashi Kazuki, and is being used in this fanfiction for fan purposes only. All situations, opinions and characters not belonging to Takahashi Kazuki are the intellectual property of Alecto.


-
"I am bound
Upon a wheel of fire, that mine own tears
Do scald like molten lead."
- King Lear
Act 4, Scene 7
-

He remembered how he first met her. It was at the school fair. He usually wouldn't have gone to events like that but his little brother had insisted. He would not deny Mokuba of anything the boy's heart desired. So he gritted his teeth and endured the idiocy of his peers and their childish antics.

"Look at all this, Nii-sama!" Kaiba Mokuba turned wide excited eyes up to his brother, Kaiba Seto. "There's even a Magic & Wizards demonstration! They went all out!"

Kaiba was quiet. He had to be if he wanted to be able to think amongst the chatter of his classmates. He nodded slightly but his mind was on his latest project at work.

"Kaiba-kun?"

Kaiba whirled around to look down into the innocent eyes of his archrival, Mutou Yugi. The ever present Millennium Puzzle glinted brightly under the sun of this bright Saturday afternoon. He frowned. No, this was not his nemesis, it was the other Yugi that supposedly resided within the strange amulet.

"What are you doing here?" An acrid voice snapped.

Kaiba smirked then as he often did. Jounouchi Katsuya was a thorn in his side more than he should be. He didn't even know why he bothered to acknowledge the blond-haired boy, yet he couldn't help but bait the poor boy. "I doubt you could comprehend the reason, mutt."

Jounouchi gritted his teeth but did not say anything. Kaiba was surprised by the boy's sudden restraint, but it might have something to do with the small girl at his side. Jounouchi Shizuka recently had surgery that corrected her degenerate eye disorder, which she almost lost her sight to. She was a tiny little thing, gentle and timid, everything that her brother was not. She smiled politely at him with pleasant emerald eyes but remained silent.

Honda Hiroto was busy trying to entertain the small redhead, all the while sending death glares at Kaiba. Mazaki Anzu only acknowledged him briefly before pulling Jounouchi away. Kaiba was surprised that Bakura was not with them but then again, the boy left the country a few weeks ago to spend some time with his estranged father.

Mokuba tugged on his brother's sleeves. "Look, a fortune-teller."

There were usually fortune-tellers at these school fairs but they were always students with a hobby in divination, nothing more. She was different though. She had to be in her early twenties. She was dressed completely in fiery red. Her robes pooled around her like a pool of crimson blood. Her perfectly manicured fingernails were also painted with fire. A simple red cloth was draped over her round table, adorned by the usual crystal ball and deck of tarot cards. Everything in her booth looked as if they had been kissed by fire. Her perfect cherry lips curled up in a grin, beckoning the group to her table.

Kaiba scowled. He dreaded the thought of having his fortune told. Being as well-known he was, it would be blown out of proportion and everyone in Domino would know by the week's end.

"Come on, Nii-sama. It can't be that bad." Mokuba urged. Kaiba could sense Jounouchi smirking at him.

Yugi glanced at Anzu in a questioning manner. "How about it?"

She shook her head vigorously. "Remember the last time I went to see a fortune-teller?" She shuddered at the memory.

"Well, this fortune-teller's a woman." Yugi pointed out. He walked up to the red woman.

She lifted smoldering embers to meet guileless violet. She smiled deviously at Yugi with perfect white teeth. Her long talon-like fingers caressed a blood red crystal shard. "What will it be? Tarot cards? Palm reading? Crystal ball gazing? Do you have any specific questions in mind?"

Yugi fidgeted under the woman's intense gaze. There was something unnerving about this woman. "I want to know what's in store for us in the future." His hands closed around the Puzzle.

She smirked. The crystal in her hand glinted wickedly in the sun. "I don't need the aid of any tools to see that. Your path was already set before you millenniums ago. It's up to you to walk the road, both of you." Her eyes glimmered with hidden meaning just like her crystal.

Yugi held onto the Puzzle tightly. His little knuckles were turning white. "What exactly lies ahead? Why is...our...path already set?"

She leaned back in her seat, looking like a large lazy cat. She yawned slightly, looking bored for all the world. "You will always endure. Just trust in yourself and your other half. You are the protagonist of this story after all. You will succeed in the end and win the heart of your lady fair," she glanced at Anzu out of the corner of her eyes. "You will have your fairy tale ending but the road is always long and hard. Do you think Sleeping Beauty mail-ordered a prince to wake her up with a kiss?"

She turned hungry eyes to Kaiba. "You, on the other hand my dear boy, have an much longer and more difficult path before you. There is a shortcut though, if you choose to take it. You're not the antagonist of this story, but you are most definitely the anti-hero."

Kaiba snorted. "I don't care for fortune telling and things like that. It's all a hoax."

She threw her elegant head back and laughed. The silk red shawl that covered her head fell away to reveal hair like a tapestry woven of the darkest night. "It'll only be a matter of time before you believe. You cannot deny the power of the Puzzle yet you deny me," she crouched over her crystal ball. "Do you see anything?"

Kaiba frowned. He refused to look into the deep recesses of her crystal sphere.

"Scared, Kaiba?" Jounouchi sneered.

Kaiba whirled around. His dark coat billowed around his slim form. Gray blue clashed with defiant hazel. The two glowered at each other, neither willing to step down from the challenge. It was only the two of them now.

"Mr. Kaiba, don't let my efforts go to waste." He turned to face the woman again. She smirked at him. He suddenly realized that it was the same expression he often wore. Jounouchi must have noticed too, for he was gaping at the woman in shock. "Tell me what you see, boy."

Kaiba could do nothing but gaze into the crystal ball as she commanded. He stared. It was dark, darker than her hair. It was impossible though, considering the very physical structure of a crystal dictated that it be transparent. If anything, it should be red. A tiny light blossomed like a flower and grew. It became a raging fire of orange and red. It returned to black though.

"You see?" Kaiba lifted his gaze from the crystal to the woman. She was still wearing that same smirk. "Fire is the giver of life but it takes life just as easily. Fire is hate. Fire is passion. Fire is everything you can imagine and more. And fire…? Fire is red… The flames of desires burn brightly in the darkest corner of your soul. Fire needs. It consumes. A single flame lights your path and guides you on your way. Yet it is only in the darkest of nights that you will confess to the secrets deep within you."

Kaiba took an unconscious step back. He didn't want to but it was an involuntary response. Her words resurfaced unwanted memories he had tried so hard to repress. The darkest night... His heart puzzle... The Realm of Darkness... Those were the darkest nights... Those were the times when he was forced to be honest with himself, as he never was. He pushed the memories back, deep into the back of his mind.

She stood up and approached him. He took another step back and she followed. She held up a thin card, dripping in red with carefully written white words. She pressed the card into his numb hands. "My card, Mr. Kaiba, if you should ever want to follow up on this reading."

He grabbed Mokuba's hand and walked around. His knuckles were a ghostly white as he tried to recompose his mask. She had chipped his icy facade and melted away the top layer. She had done it with words alone. He could not doubt the incredible power of words now. His fingers closed tightly the card, crinkling the edges of the paper. He had enough of all this nonsense. A burst of hazel flashed through his mind. No... He bit down on his lower lip so hard that he bled. He bled crimson red. Red...just like that woman. He wanted to laugh at the bitter irony.

-
"…the wicked caitiff on the ground,
May seem as shy, as grave, as just, as absolute
As Angelo. Even so may Angelo,
In all his dressings, caracts, titles, forms
Be an archvillain."
- Measure for Measure
Act 5, Scene 1
-

Jounouchi sighed and stared down at the cup of coffee in his hand. The coffeehouse milled about him, but it all seemed out of this world. He had been like this ever since they left the school fair.

Shizuka sat across from him. She wasn't fond of the beverage like her brother was, but she always found that they best connected over a good cup of coffee sometimes. Okay, coffee on her brother's part. She preferred hot chocolate. She frowned. It seemed wrong for such a youthful face to display such a scowl.

"Onii-chan?"

Jounouchi did not answer. The only sign he was still alive was his rhythmic blinking.

"Onii-chan!"

He blinked rapidly. He stared dumbly at his sister for a moment before he grabbed the cream and dumped it into his cup.

"Uh...what were you saying, Shizuka?"

She sighed. Her brother could be such a basket case sometimes. "Are you thinking about what that fortune-teller said? Does it really bother you that much?"

He swirled the stirrer in his cup, watching as the black coffee swallowed the cream. "It really shouldn't, but it does. I don't even know why it's bugging me. I don't get what she was trying to say."

"Kaiba-san seemed to understand what she was trying to say to him." She lifted the warm cup to her lips. She knew she had hit a nerve when her brother tensed up.

"Do you have to bring that bastard into this?" He gritted his teeth.

She watched her brother. She had been the careful observer ever since her operation. She relished being able to drink in details of the physical world as she could now. Her brother's breath was coming quicker than before. His nostrils were flared and his pupils were dilated. "Why do you dislike Kaiba-san so much? He looks really quiet and solemn, not anything like a regular sixteen-year-old boy. He really cares about his little brother. He doesn't seem that bad. He can't be that bad…"

His fingers clenched down on the cup. He was going to crush it. "That bastard's done almost everything possible to us. He thinks that just because he has money, he can do whatever he wants. He's cruel, heartless, and...and...a bastard above all!"

"He seems to push all your buttons at once." She giggled slightly. Her brother was always short-tempered, but she had never seen him this riled up before.

He glowered, glaring at the cup as if it would just shrivel up under his gaze. "He's an egotistical, megalomaniac bastard. It's that simple."

"You and him are a lot more alike than you think, Onii-chan." It was a quiet reply that shattered the tense air between them into a million cutting shards.

"Don't be ridiculous! Kaiba and me are nothing alike!" He grabbed the cup and drained its content in a single gulp. "I hate him!" He snarled savagely.

She was not so sure. There were emotions in her brother's eyes that he obviously did not know he was feeling. Even if Jounouchi did hate Kaiba, it was not for the reasons that her brother had stated. She wished that Jounouchi would be honest with himself for once. She frowned after she took her first sip of her hot chocolate. It was strangely bittersweet.

-
"But man, proud man,
Dressed in a little brief authority,
Most ignorant of what he's most assured,
His glassy essence, like an angry ape
Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven
As makes the angels weep, who with our spleens
Would all themselves laugh mortal."
- Measure for Measure
Act 2, Scene 2
-

Jounouchi's head hit the desk with a slight thud. He couldn't believe how boring English Literature was. Why had he chosen this elective in the first place? Right, he hadn't chosen this class. He had been late in applying and this was the last class with any open spots. Just his luck, Kaiba was in this class as well. At least Anzu was in the class too, so he wasn't completely alone. She was also the only one keeping him from strangling Kaiba.

"Shakespeare raises some interesting questions in this play. When are moral choices personal? Desire, lust, love; what are the boundaries between these, and how and when are they blurred? Does power corrupt?" The teacher droned on. Half the class was asleep at their desks too. Like Jounouchi, most of the students were not in this class by choice. "Let's pick up where we left off yesterday. Turn to Act 2, Scene 4, line 151. We're going to need an Angelo and an Isabella."

The class was silent. Not a single hand was in the air. The teacher frowned at her class. "Don't make me pick on someone again." She warned. Still, no one raised his or her hand. She furrowed her brow. She pulled out the attendance sheet. She closed her eyes and placed her finger on a name on the paper. She stared at the name. "Kaiba-kun, Angelo if you please."

Kaiba stared at the teacher with calm eyes. Most of the class was awake now. He calmly waited for an Isabella to be chosen. The hand of every girl except for Anzu shot up in the air. They would give anything to play the part of Isabella to Kaiba as Angelo, especially in the scene where Angelo confessed his love to Isabella.

The teacher's scowl deepened. Now she had volunteers. She closed her eyes again and picked another name. "Jounouchi-kun, Isabella."

"What?" Jounouchi was now wide awake as well. His fists slammed into the surface of the table as he shot out of his seat.

The boys in the class immediately burst into laughter. The relationship between Kaiba and Jounouchi was well known throughout the school. This could not be missed. They snickered as they began chattering amongst each other.

"Come on, Isabella." One of the boys jeered in a lusty tone.

Jounouchi bit down on his lower lip. He didn't want to do this. Why in hell would he want to do something like this? But he couldn't afford to fail this class. He was barely passing as it was, even with Anzu's help. His eyes met Kaiba's but it was only for a second before the other boy turn away.

The teacher nodded toward Kaiba. "If the two of you could please come to the front of the room."

Kaiba stood and swiftly walked to the front of the room, without expression. Jounouchi dragged his feet. He looked like he was on the way to the gallows. For him, it was.

"You may begin, Kaiba-kun." The teacher smirked slightly. This would be interesting to say the least.

"Plainly conceive I love you." Kaiba's voice was monotonous and emotionless. His English, however, was perfect. You wouldn't expect anything less from him anyway. Every word was clearly punctuated.

The entire class burst into laughter again. It was the kind of phrase you would never believe Kaiba to say even if the world was ending. Jounouchi's face was beginning to turn red. The teacher glared at her class. "A little more emotion please, Kaiba-kun."

"My brother did love Juliet, and you tell me that he shall die 't." Jounouchi's reading was both quick and forced. His English was no where as good as Kaiba's. It was a jumbled mess. Most of his class snickered at his poor attempt at English. Jounouchi thanked God that this scene mostly consisted of Angelo pretty much rambling.

"He shall not, Isabel, if you give me love."

There was a roar of laughter again.

"I know your virtue hath a license in 't which seems a little fouler than it is to pluck on others."

"Believe me, on mine honor, my words express my purpose."

"Ha!" Jounouchi's laughter was genuine and bitter. He was laughing at the irony of the situation. Kaiba was about as sincere as Angelo was. "Little honor to be much believed, and most pernicious purpose. Seeming, seeming! I will proclaim thee, Angelo, look at 't. Sign me a present pardon for my brother or with an outstretched throat I'll tell the world aloud what man thou art."

"Who will believe thee, Isabel?" Kaiba sneered, locking eyes with the blond for the first time. He took a step forward and closed the distance between him and Jounouchi. His face was inches away from the other boy, and Jounouchi took an unconscious step backwards. "My unsoiled name, th' austereness of my life, my vouch against you, and my place i' th' state will so your accusation overweigh that you shall stifle in your own report and smell of calumny."

Jounouchi wanted to punch the other boy for his smug tone. This was, indeed, bitterly ironic.

Kaiba continued, "I have begun, and now I give my sensual race the rein. Fit thy consent to my sharp appetite; lay all nicety and prolicious blushes that banish what they sue for." He ended in a husky whisper.

The class was strangely quiet now, mesmerized by Kaiba's performance. They had no idea Kaiba could act so well. Jounouchi certainly had no idea… His breath was caught in his throat as he saw a whole cluster of strange emotions flash through the brunette's eyes. The bell rang; shattering whatever was between the two of them. It was gone. The icy facade had fallen back into place. Kaiba's eyes were lifeless now but that gray blue still left a burning impression on Jounouchi.

He shivered. What was this feeling?

-
"The state whereon I studied
Is, like a good thing often read,
Grown sere and tedious. Yea, my gravity,
Wherein-let no man hear me-I take pride,
Could I with boot change for an idle plume
Which the air beats in vain. O place, O form,
How often dost thou with thy case, thy habit,
Wrench awe from fools, and tie the wiser souls
To thy false seeming!"
- Measure for Measure
Act 2, Scene 4
-

Kaiba stared at the charts and graphs on his computer screen. He frowned. The company's earning this quarter had fallen yet again. He had a long way ahead of him. His company had hit a big slump when he was stuck in that perpetual state of death the last six months. He had the Big Five to thank for that. A monkey could run the company better in his absence than those fools.

He ran a tired hand through his hair. He could see his reflection in the computer screen and he looked at least ten years older than he really was. He wouldn't be surprised if he had aged that much. He closed his weary eyes. He needed sleep.

His hands were shaking as he reached for the mug of coffee at his side. His eyes snapped open. The darkest nights… He should have recovered by now, but he hadn't. He had awakened from the darkness of his own heart, only to be trapped in an eternal landscape of black. He had not recovered. He didn't know if he would ever recover from those experiences. He hated the feeling of being so weak.

He looked back at the screen. The colorful charts and graphs fell into each other and blended into a single shade of hazel. He slammed the power button on the monitor. His hands shook in rage and not fatigue now. Why hazel? Why was all he saw hazel? Hazel…that was the color of Jounouchi's eyes…

Ever since reading that scene in English Lit, he hadn't been able to get that dog out of his mind! Every detail of the entire scene was etched into his mind. He remembered every detail of that class. He remembered being just centimeters from Jounouchi's face at the end of the reading. He remembered the sound of those words on his tongue. It had started out sour with: "Plainly conceive I love you." But it was something more by the end. It became something more…

What was wrong at him?

Now he saw red and suddenly the fortune-teller's word came back to his mind. Fire is hate. Fire is passion. Fire is everything you can imagine and more. And fire…? Fire is red… He was angry. He hated himself for reasons unfathomable. He hated Jounouchi for bringing out that performance. And he hated Jounouchi for bringing out those emotions.

The fortune-teller… No. The Red Lady. The entire school had come to call her the Red Lady since the school fair for lack of any other name. Her every prediction had come true since then. Every single one. This was all her fault. Everything started with her. He hated to admit it but there were feelings, feelings he didn't understand even before her. Yet it wasn't until after their meeting that those feelings became overwhelming. He didn't want these feelings, especially not towards that dog.

He pulled out the card she had given him and considered paying her a visit. No! She would only make things worse. He crumpled the card and threw it into the wastebasket.

He turned back on the monitor, in hopes of continuing his work. He could not. His fingers were poised over the keyboard but they would do nothing. All he saw was hazel eyes enthralled with awe and emotions he did not want to acknowledge. He slammed his fist into his desk. No! He would not have this!

He needed answers and he needed them now. Only she, the Red Lady, could give him those answers. He fished through the wastebasket and pulled out the crumpled card. He smoothed out the card.

It read: Fire's Divination Services.

-
"Take, O take those lips away,
That so sweetly were forsworn,
And those eyes, the break of day,
Lights that do mislead the morn.
But my kisses bring again, bring again,
Seals of love, but sealed in vain, sealed in vain."
- Measure for Measure
Act 4, Scene 1
-

Jounouchi glared at the play and paper before him. Their assignment was an essay analyzing Angelo's character. The questions were: 'Why does Angelo do what he does?' and 'How does Angelo respond to his feelings for Isabella and why?' Jounouchi chewed on the end of his pen. He had been raking his brains for the last hour.

Anzu was seated across from him. They were working on their essays in the kitchen of Yugi's house. Jounouchi was not willing to stay in the library and he certainly wasn't going to let her go to his house. The last place they could work in peace and quiet was Yugi's house above the Game Shop.

She did not have a lack of what to write. Her pencil flew across the paper in a storm of kanji and hiragana, with the occasional English.

He thought back to his scene with Kaiba. Strange butterflies fluttered in his stomach at that thought. He hadn't been able to get the other boy out of his head since then. Kaiba was a lot like Angelo in many ways. They appeared all good and virtuous on the surface, but they were both snakes underneath. They revealed their true colors when there was something they wanted. He snickered. They were also both power-hungry egotistical maniacs that needed to be committed to the nearest loony bin as soon as possible. He banged his head against the table. He had absolutely no idea where to start. He couldn't write a paper based on the comparison between Kaiba and Angelo.

She peered at Jounouchi's paper. "You haven't even started!" She scolded. "You're going to fail at this rate, Jounouchi! You can't afford to fail this class!"

He groaned. "I know! But what's there to say? Angelo did what he did because he's an ass."

She sighed. "You're not going to get away with just that. You have to name his motivations and how it affects his actions."

"He's horny bastard!" He exclaimed. "What more is there to say?"

"Jounouchi, I wanted to ask you something." She put down her pencil and faced him. "You've been acting strange lately, ever since that scene with Kaiba-kun. Is there something going on between the two of you?"

He glared at her. "Are you smoking something, Anzu? 'Cuz I swear you just implied I was gay. And even if I was, there certainly wouldn't be anything between me and that bastard Kaiba."

She rested her chin on her folded hands. "Then what happened that day? There was something between the two of you. You can't deny it, can you? I'm not blind. Kaiba-kun doesn't act. It's not that he can't, but he's too honest and blunt for his own good. No matter what he's done to us, he's always been forward about it and has never beat around the bush. What was that air between the two of you? What was that tension?"

He didn't know what to say. No, he couldn't deny it but he certainly wouldn't acknowledge it. "I don't know." He muttered.

She sighed again. "I think both you and Kaiba-kun need to be a bit more honest with yourselves. What do you think, Jounouchi?"

"I still don't know..."

-
"...is precise,
Stands at a guard with envy, scarce confesses
That his blood flows or that his appetite
Is more to bread than stone."
- Measure for Measure
Act 1, Scene 3
-

The house was small and quaint, nested in a quiet neighborhood at the edge of Domino City. The neighbors would have never known about the type of woman who lived in that house. As soon as he had stepped over the threshold of the house, an overwhelming scent of herbal oils and perfume assaulted him. Incenses burned on a small strange altar in the corner. She had led him into a small room in the back. It was obviously a private room that most customers did not see. As one would suspect, the room was decorated entirely in different shades of red. It was small and warm. A velvet loveseat was facing an armchair with a table set between the two pieces of furniture.

Kaiba was crouched over in his seat. He glared at the woman lounging lazily over the loveseat. "Why am I feeling these emotions? What are they?"

She was amused. He could tell by her twisted expression. "These emotions, they were always there. I certainly didn't create them out of anything. They were always there but you've always ignored them."

"No!" He snapped in denial. "I...can't..."

She raised an inquiring eyebrow. "Can't or won't?"

"This is all your fault. Before I met you, everything was under control and now..." He ran a hand through his mussed hair. "I just don't know anymore. After everything that's already happened, I don't need this too."

"So you admit they're there?"

"No..."

"You don't sound too sure."

"I was sure about everything, until I met you. What did you do to me?"

"I'm trying to make you see the truth."

"What truth?"

"The truth within your heart."

"I have a heart?" There was a round of acrimonious laugh.

"Yes…you do. You care for your brother. You love him. You do have a heart."

"It would be easier without a heart..."

"But it is the heart that makes you human."

"Then what are you?"

She laughed then. There was that same amused expression on her face. "A fortune-teller, a witch, a sorceress, a wielder of Power, a practitioner of Magick. I am what I need to be, boy."

He glared at her even more. This was going nowhere. "What did you do to me?"

"I simply unlocked the gates." That was her only simple answer.

"Why?"

"To make you see the truth."

"Again with that phrase! But why me?"

"Because you seemed like a very interesting character."

"You mean because you were like me once, before you sold your soul."

"You're a very perceptive boy. No wonder you're already a CEO of a company at your age. Yes, I did sell my soul to gain these powers... Now tell me, boy, these emotions..."

"I don't know what they are... I don't... They're everything. They're hot and cold, thrilling and frightening all at once. It's like fire one second and ice the next. Why am I even telling you this?" He closed his eyes and buried his face into his hands.

She gestured casually to the room. "You can only speak truth in this room. Even I cannot lie in this room, I may keep things from you but I cannot tell a lie. Now these feelings, they're toward that blond-haired boy?"

"No..." He tried to deny. "Yes..."

"Is it hate?" She asked. Her eyes bore straight through his soul, stripping him of all his defenses and leaving him completely vulnerable. He hated the feeling. "Do you hate him?"

"Not completely but that's part of it." He muttered.

She laughed then. It was a bitter sound, like the alluring call of the Sirens. Her long elegant fingers stroked the crystal she held. It was deep red, like the crimson blood that flowed through his veins. "Hate is not an emotion, my dear boy. It is a disease, a disease that devours everything in its path and spares nothing." She leaned forward, closing the distance between them. She ran a cruel finger down his cheek. "You should know that by now. Hatred has already burned all but a thread of your humanity."

"Love and hate are two sides to the same coin, just like life and death." He glared at her. He didn't know why he had come back to seek her advice.

"So do you choose life and love or hatred and death?" She purred.

"That is not a choice I can make. I forfeited that right years ago," he moved back in his seat, away from her seductive scent and conniving words. "You should know that better than anyone."

She smirked. He could see his own face in hers. It irked him how much they were alike, but she was a lot more far-gone on that path than he was.

"You're right. We've both forfeited the right to make such a choice." She glanced at him out of the corner of her eyes, like a hawk watching its prey carefully. "You're a Scorpio, are you not?"

He nodded slightly in response.

"Scorpios are strange people. You are children of water but are filled with the passions only capable of fire. Do you know what your most negative attributes are?" She did not wait for him to answer- not that he would. "You understand your failings but never those of others. You're self-destructive, ruthless, overbearing, suspicious, jealous, possessive, dangerous, quick-tempered, sadistic, secretive, insulting, cunning, vindictive... The list just goes on."

He gritted his teeth as she named his every flaw that he was all too aware of. "Is there a point to this? If there is, then get to it."

She ignored his comment. "But you're also capable of being passionately caring, protective, emotional, sensual, compassionate, and concerned. You never forget a kindness or an injury. You can be a saint or a sinner, but you'll pursue whichever course with equal zeal. You are a walking contradiction, with the most perplexing dual personalities like a Gemini (1). Anyone who has a strong Scorpionic influence is intractable and impenetrable. The secret you remains secret... A Scorpio goes through three stages of growth. The first is exercising power through emotions and instinct. This is symbolized by the scorpion, an insect that's more likely to sting itself than others. The second stage is exercising power through intellect, which is symbolized by the golden eagle, a bird that soars higher than all others. You are already in the second stage. The final stage is to exercise power through love. That is symbolized by the dove of peace. A Scorpio's spiritual goal is to learn the meaning of selfless love..."

"I don't know why I even came back here." He stood up from his seat. She would not give him the answer he wanted. Why was he even trying? He would not hear of this nonsense involving love and all. His dark trench coat jerked with his every angry step as he walked toward the all too inviting exit.

"You think I can give you answers, boy."

The word "boy" was a direct insult that struck him hard. It remained him that he was still young and naive.

"You think that I would be able to share the bitter knowledge of our dilemmas with you. You know what the right choice is, but you're still bent on making the wrong one. You truly are the anti-hero of this story."

He whirled around to face her one last time. He stared at her as she lounged lazily across the velvet red loveseat. The scent of incense and perfume was thick in the air. "Not anymore than you. I'm not the bitch that lounges in a room somewhere as she screws with the lives of every person she comes in contact with." He shot back.

"So you finally acknowledge my powers? I am just trying to open your eyes. Are you that blind? Have you already sold your soul? Why must you keep comparing me to you?" Candlelight reflected off her dark eyes, lighting them with the flames of hell. "You are not me and you know it." She continued to stroke her crystal. "I see a lot more than you think, boy. I see your every pain, your every irk, and your every joy. That's what set me apart from you. I see. You don't."

"I've had enough of these riddles. I came here for answers, not for more questions." He brushed the curtains apart.

She laughed again. "Sometimes the answers are found in questions. The entrance is as inviting as the exit, Mr. Kaiba. They are one and the same after all. You'll be back. I can see it."

He did not look back. He knew she was still smirking at him in the exact same way he did.

She called after him. "The choice will be set before you, just as it was for me years ago. The power of a god 2 will be laid at your feet. You will have to choose between life and death, love and hate. If you should choose my path, it will be the death of whatever you managed to savage of your soul in these last few months. You know who your other choice is. You do not need me to tell you that. What will you choose?"

She received no answer. He was already gone. She bit her cherry red lip. Even she could not see what the boy's choice would be. "Remember what I said about fire. Fire will always be the end result but in what context? Hate? Or love?" She whispered to no one but herself. She hoped...she hoped he would not choose her path. For unlike her, he had a chance at salvation... He had a chance at love...

-
"...a man whose blood
Is very snow-broth; one who never feels
The wanton stings and motions of the senses,
But doth rebate and blunt his natural edge
With profits of the mind: study and fast."
- Measure for Measure
Act 1, Scene 3
-

Kaiba strolled through the park. His hands were stuffed in the pockets of his trench coat. The Red Lady hadn't helped. Not that he should have expected any help from her, this was all her fault after all. He kicked angrily at a stone in his path. He ignored the sound of children at play.

"Kaiba-san?"

He turned at the sound of his name. It was the mutt's sister, Shizuka. She was seated at a bench with a sketchpad on her lap and a case of art pencils at her side. She patted the seat besides her, inviting him to sit with her. He hesitated for a second. What reason did he have to associate with her? Then again, what reason did he have not to associate with her? He took the seat and they sat in silence as she went back to her drawings. Curiosity won over him though. He peered at her sketchpad. She was working on a picture of a group of little boys playing baseball. It really was quite well done. He found himself admiring the younger girl's talent. "You're very good."

She blushed at his compliment. "Really? You wanna see?" She offered him her pad.

He took it gently, as if he was afraid it would crumble to dust in his hands. He flipped through the various drawings she had. She drew a lot of pictures of Yugi and his friend. There was a particular one of Yugi staring wistfully at Anzu. He had always known that the short boy had a crush on the spunky girl. "These are amazing. I've never seen artwork that could convene meanings and emotions like this. You captured Yugi perfectly."

"Onii-chan-tachi is a very interesting group. They make the most interesting subjects for my art. There's just so much life and contradiction to each of them. Don't you think?" She gazed at him curiously.

He nodded just slightly. It felt strange complimenting another person but her talent was simply amazing. It sounded awkward on his tongue. These sketches weren't just artwork. They were expressions of life. "Beautiful."

"It's nothing really. It's just a hobby really, but I love to draw. It...it was scary, the thought that I would never be able to draw again or see my friends and family." She drew her knees up to her chest. She looked so small and innocent. He wanted to steal her away and protect her from all the evils of this world.

"You were going blind, weren't you?" He asked quietly. This was obviously a very sensitive subject.

"Yes, and I would have been blind by now if Onii-chan hadn't raised the money for the operation..." She muttered, blinking back tears.

"Yugi's the one who won the money." He scolded.

"Yes, but Onii-chan did so much. He was the runner-up in the tournament. He must have been a great player." She looked up at him with sparkling emerald eyes.

It was a pity to think that those beautiful eyes would have become sightless. He recognized the look of admiration in her face. It was the same expression he saw in Mokuba all the time.

"I guess he was okay." He grumbled.

She giggled. She obviously knew this was the closet thing to a compliment she would ever from Kaiba about Jounouchi.

"Onii-chan says the same thing about you. Since Yugi beat you, he said, you can't be all that great of a duelist."

"I'm the reigning Intercontinental Champion. Your brother still couldn't beat me, try as he did." He smirked.

She looked thoughtful. "Do you hate Onii-chan?"

The question caught him off-guard. He had not expected her to ask him that. "Yes. I do..."

"Why?"

"I can't say."

She sighed. "You need to be honest with yourself, just like Onii-chan needs to be."

His eyes narrowed. Why was everyone saying that? "What do you know?"

"Kaiba-san," She looked up at him, her emerald eyes were grave and demanding. She didn't look quite as naive as before, but wise in fact. "I was going blind, not deaf. I prepared myself for the worst. I learned to read the hidden context between the words people said. I learned to listen for the underlying tone because I would not be able to see the expression that might betray them. When I listen to the exchanges you have with my brother, I hear a whole lot of hidden contexts. There are emotions under each word, each insult, and I hear them all loud and clear. I think a lot of people have noticed this also. It's just you and Onii-chan..."

He did not want to answer her. He continued to flip through her drawings. She drew Jounouchi the most. There was Jounouchi thinking..laughing...hurt... She had captured every emotion possible. Kaiba never realized how alive Jounouchi was until that moment. The blond-haired boy was flesh and blood. He could be hurt and he bled. He was alive... He was the complete opposite of Kaiba in that sense.

Kaiba came upon the last finished picture in the pad. It was one of Jounouchi asleep at a desk. Wisps of soft hair fell over Jounouchi's closed eyes and the tiniest grin graced his lips. Kaiba's breath caught. He had never seen Jounouchi so peaceful...so beautiful...

"You like that picture?" She asked eagerly. "It was the first picture I drew in a long time. I drew it not long after the operation. Onii-chan was the first person I wanted to see as soon as I got my eyesight back." She stared strangely at his expression for a second. "Take it."

His head snapped in her direction. "I can't." He denied flatly.

She smiled brightly. "Art is meant to be shared with others. It would mean so much to me if you would take it, please."

He couldn't refuse her. He felt like he was talking to Mokuba. The paper was so light in his hands. The wind picked up, threatening to steal the drawing away with it. "You know, you're everything your brother's not."

She frowned. "You don't know that. You don't know Onii-chan at all." She muttered as she rested her chin on her propped up knees. She stared at the little children playing in the distance. "Our parents divorced when we were young. Otou-san always drinks. My parents argued about it a lot, but it was always just arguing and never escalated into anything else. But when he nearly hit Okaa-san when I was seven, she filed for divorce. Okaa-san wanted custody of both Onii-chan and me. She wasn't willing to leave either one of us to Otou-san's care. Otou-san somehow managed to get custody of Onii-chan though, just to spite Okaa-san for leaving him. Okaa-san and I had to move to Tokyo. It broke her heart to have to leave Onii-chan behind. We haven't seen or heard from each other for years. We were only reunited right before my surgery. Onii-chan's changed. I almost didn't recognize him. He looked the same but it seemed as if he's been to hell and back.

"Did you know Onii-chan was in a gang for most of his years in junior high? He nearly got expelled once because of that. A gang, Kaiba-san... Do you know what kind of things go on in there? Lying, bullying, thieving, robbery, and sometimes even murder. I still don't know much about what happened in that time. Otou-san never cared for Onii-chan. Onii-chan was raised on the street because he had nowhere else to go. I worry about him now. Sometimes, I catch glimpses of the faded scars all over his body." She was shaking as she came to this part. "I don't know where they came from though. Did Otou-san give him those? Or was it from his days in the gangs? Was it from the various fights and scuffles he got into even after getting out of the gang? Is he still fighting? I just don't know and it worries me to no end."

He was unsure of how to comfort her. He wanted to, but he didn't know how. He wasn't sure why she was telling him this story. He would have never known all this about Jounouchi. It almost made him see the other boy in a whole new light. "That's just stupid. If he went to school and studied hard, he could have make a future for himself. He could have been killed in those gangs. He's stupid, he's stupid for making such a sweet sister like you worry to death over him. If your father was abusing him, he should have gone to the police or the school."

"Would you? Would you go to the police if you were in my brother's position?" She asked him desperately.

"I didn't." He didn't know if she noticed the fact he had used "didn't" instead of "wouldn't".

"No. Onii-chan's not like that. He's too stubborn for his own good. He almost was killed in that gang..." She whispered so quietly the he could barely hear her anymore. "Honda-san saved him... Honda-san finally helped Onii-chan get out of that gang. Onii-chan wasn't always this rash or reckless. You're right though. He could have worked hard and excelled. I know he could have achieved so much if he only tried. Onii-chan's a lot smarter than you give him credit for. I think he just stopped caring after a while. Life or death, that no longer mattered to him. That thought scares me more than anything, more than losing my sight.

"Life on the streets changes you. You have to act tough even if you really aren't. It's the only way to survive. If you let your weakness show, people will take advantage of you. You may think that Onii-chan is wearing a hat too big for his head, but it's his defense mechanism. It's the only way he knows how to protect himself," She lifted knowing eyes to meet his own. "Just like how you protect yourself by pushing people away. You're afraid to let others discover your weaknesses. You're afraid of being hurt too..."

He turned away. She was right. He did push people away. It was his way of protecting himself. It was what he was taught. It was a conditioned response. He closed his eyes as he remembered the sting of a riding crop against his soft mortal skin. He could hear Kaiba Gozaburo's words in his ears: "People will use your weakness against you. If you're foolish enough to let others see it, then it's your funeral." The collar tightened around his neck. He choked for air and he bled as the whip cut his flesh...

He pushed back these memories. He had more than enough unwanted memories these last few weeks.

"You're a lot more like my brother than you think. I know things were a lot worse for you than him but you both had similar experiences. He's a lot like you in many ways too, though he managed to keep his heart. You can't push people away forever. Eventually, they'll get tired of trying to reach you and give up. You may think you want them to give up but you don't. Humans crave the companionship of other humans or they'll go crazy. Stop pushing, Kaiba-san, or they'll push you out of their lives." She pleaded him. Tears surfaced in her eyes.

He couldn't face her. He couldn't stand to look into such tearful eyes. It was like watching Mobuka cry.

"Shizuka-chan!" A certain male voice sang.

Her head snapped in the direction of the speaker. A brilliant smile lit up her entire face. All the previous signs of telltale tears were gone. "Honda-san!"

Honda wore a goofy grin on his face. "I hope I didn't keep you waiting for too long."

She shook her head. "No. I had Kaiba-san to keep me company."

Honda noticed the other boy for the first time. A frown settled over his features. "Is that all?" Kaiba could have sworn the other boy was jealous.

She leapt to her feet and grabbed Honda's arm. "We were just talking about Onii-chan." She winked at Kaiba.

Honda raised a curious eyebrow. "Jounouchi?"

"Remember what we talked about." She nudged him.

"Right!" He exclaimed as realization hit him.

She bowed politely to Kaiba. "I'm glad we had a chance to talk, Kaiba-san. Just keep what I said in mind." She picked up her sketchpad and gestured to the picture of the sleeping Jounouchi. "Please take good care of it." She turned and led Honda away, chatting animatedly with the older boy.

Kaiba watched her go. Her every word was engraved into his mind and he could not get rid of them. He looked down at the sketch in his hand. He had nowhere else to run to now. Confrontation was the only way forward. He was at a lost with what to do with this new information. He wondered if Yugi even knew about Jounouchi's situation. He doubted it. Jounouchi would most likely try and keep it from Yugi. He could have always used this information to blackmail Jounouchi but that would be violating Shizuka's trust in him. What point was there to that anyway, except to see Jounouchi squirm?

He gripped the edge of the paper so hard that he crinkled the drawing. He was always good with confrontation. Why was it so hard now?

-
"I have begun,
And now I give my sensual race the rein
Fit thy consent to my sharp appetite"
- Measure for Measure
Act 2, Scene 4
-

Jounouchi said goodbye to both Anzu and Yugi. Anzu was staying over at the Mutou residence for dinner at the insistence of Yugi's mother. She had invited him also, but he needed to get home before his father did. He did not want to get caught by his father in a drunken stupor. The blows always hurt the most when his father was drunk. Hopefully, his father would not be home for a few more hours. Maybe then he could have a few more hours of peace and quiet.

He didn't know why he stuck around with his father. He didn't have to take this abuse. Was he trying to prove himself? Prove to who? Himself? His father? Did he really think he would he was stronger because he put up with it. Now that his mother was back in Domino, he could run to her and tell her everything. She wouldn't let him go back after that. But then, his father might do something drastic. Jounouchi would rather die than let his father harm anyone else, especially Shizuka. There was no point in trying to get away. He had survived this many years. What's a few more? The signs were easy enough to hide. He was a known delinquent. People always assumed he got those scars from fights. No one ever suspected an alcoholic father had a hand in it.

He sighed. It was a dark moonless night. He almost wished he had left Yugi's place earlier. He ran through the alleys and backways. They made excellent shortcuts, even if they weren't the safest places to be.

He leapt over a fallen garbage can. A cat cried out shrilly as he passed. He was running again… He was always running. Confrontation was not a strong point for him and so he kept running. He would forever be running away…

A dark figure suddenly jumped in front of Jounouchi and he couldn't stop in time. He collided against the solid frame and was thrown back to the ground. The obstructing figure stood perfectly still, like a statue. This other person had not even been thrown off by the impact.

Jounouchi rubbed his head. He gazed angrily up at the imposing figure. "What the fuck are you doing here, Kaiba?"

Kaiba stared stoically at the boy on the pavement. He didn't speak for a few moments and only stared at Jounouchi.

Jounouchi shivered. He didn't like that look in Kaiba's eyes, shadowed by the moonlight. "Jesus, you're creeping me out like that." He picked himself off the dirty ground and brushed off his shirt.

"I was looking for you." The quiet reply was lost to the howling night wind.

Jounouchi scowled. "You've finally lost it, Kaiba."

"You may be right..."

Jounouchi stopped cold. Did Kaiba just agree with him? He shook his head. "Whatever, I'm going home."

"You shouldn't go back."

"And why shouldn't I?"

"You're making your sister worry needlessly about you."

Jounouchi whipped around and growled. "Stay away from Shizuka."

"I can't help it if she wants to speak with me. Don't go home to a father like that."

Panic gripped Jounouchi's mind. He had been found out, by Kaiba, his worst enemy, no less. The world just loved to screw with him. "What do you know?"

Kaiba took a step forward toward him. "I know a lot more than you think."

Jounouchi grabbed the lapel of the other boy's jacket and forced him back against the brick wall. He was mildly surprised he had been able to accomplish such a feat. He'd usually be kissing dirt right about now. "If you tell anyone, I'll-"

He suddenly found himself in the position Kaiba had just been in a few seconds ago. His eyes widened slightly in fear. His body protested in pain at being subjected to such harsh treatment. Kaiba's grip had always been stronger.

Kaiba leaned in until his nose just barely touched Jounouchi's. He smirked. "You'll do what, Jounouchi?"

Jounouchi felt his body lock up. Kaiba was just too close for comfort. A sudden scent of soap assaulted his senses. They were so close that Jounouchi could smell Kaiba. Figures. Kaiba didn't seem like the kind of guy to wear cologne in his opinion. The brunette's warm breath on his face was slowly driving him mad. Jounouchi steeled himself. He couldn't lose focus now. "I'll kill you."

Kaiba chuckled and licked his lips. He knew it was an empty threat. He was fighting the urge. He really was, but it was hard when he was this close to Jounouchi. He could see the fear clearly flickering through Jounouchi's eyes." "I'd like to see you try..." He closed the distance between their lips.

Jounouchi's eyes darted frantically from side to side. This could not be happening. Kaiba was not kissing him. He couldn't move. Kaiba had pinned him securely against the wall. As strange as the situation was, he was enjoying it. He didn't want to, but he was. Jounouchi had kissed several girls in his lifetime but nothing compared to this. Kaiba's lips were hard and demanding, seeking to dominate. Jounouchi groaned and closed his eyes, giving into the other boy and this wild sensation. Dear Lord... He actually wanted this... He leaned in and returned the other boy's kisses.

They remained like that for minutes, though it seemed like hours. Kaiba didn't want to pull away, but his lungs demanded air. Damn the fact he was human... He felt Jounouchi's head drop against his chest. The blond's arms were wrapped tightly around his neck. Kaiba tried to calm the fire raging through his veins. He stared down at Jounouchi's serene face illuminated by the moon. It was just like the sketch in his pocket, the one Shizuka had given him. Peaceful... Calm... And beautiful... He cradled Jounouchi's chin and lifted it up. Kaiba bent down again, catching Jounouchi's lips again.

Jounouchi sighed, though he hadn't meant to. The kiss was softer this time. He could even describe it as sweet. His mind was reeling, probably from the lack of oxygen to his poor brain. And his heart was pounding. He would have been happy just to die there. Jounouchi's eyes snapped open as reality bitch-slapped him. He shouldn't be doing this, especially not with Kaiba.

When Kaiba pulled away, the one thing he hadn't expected yet expected was Jounouchi's fist connecting with his jaw. He reeled back. He massaged the marred skin as he watched the blond with unfathomable eyes.

"I hate you." Jounouchi hissed. He turned and ran.

He was always running from everything...

-
"I will encounter darkness as a bride,
And hug it in mine arms."
- Measure for Measure
Act 3, Scene 1
-

Jounouchi marched angrily up the hall to the door of the apartment that he shared with his father. That bastard, Kaiba! Who did he think he was? It must have been another sick ploy the other boy had devised to fuck with Jounouchi's mind. He never thought Kaiba would ever go that low. He didn't know what was worse...the fact that Kaiba had kissed him or the fact that he himself had responded?

His pace slowed as he approached the door. He pressed his ear against the door, listening hopefully for his father's snore. He frowned. The TV was on. His father was too drunk to watch TV most nights he got home. He turned the key cautiously and peered into living room. The TV was on. His frown deepened. It was the nightly news. His father definitely did not watch the news.

Two heads of identical auburn red was seen over the edge of the couch. One of the heads turned at the sound of the creaking door. "Onii-chan!"

Jounouchi was frozen to where he stood at the doorway. Shizuka leapt over the couch and caught him in a tight hug.

"Onii-chan, why do you have to live in a place like this?" She asked.

He glanced around the messy apartment. Beer bottles and cans littered the stained carpet floor. The curtains were torn and the furniture was in complete disarray. It was not the most charming picture of domestic harmony, to say the least.

"Katsuya…" Jounouchi and Shizuka's mother, Jounouchi Michi, stood from the couch. Shizuka had inherited her auburn hair from their mother. Their mother was a petite woman, but the form failed to hide her iron will and determination. She looked vulnerable now with tears threatening to spill from the corner of aged eyes. "I'm so sorry for all of this… I'm so sorry for failing you…"

His mouth opened and shut like a landed fish as words failed him momentarily. "How did you get in here?" He stuttered.

Shizuka chewed on her lower lip. "We were worried about you and we wanted to see how you were doing."

"How did you get the address?" He demanded.

"Please don't be mad." Shizuka pleaded. "I asked Honda-san for it. He didn't want to, but I begged him."

His jaw was set tight. "Get out now!"

"Katsuya…" Michi began.

He cut her off. "Don't. Just leave. Quickly. He'll be back soon." He hissed with sudden urgency. He couldn't let his father find both his sister and mother in the apartment. It would be far too convenient for the older man.

"You mean, Otou-san?" Shizuka could see the fear that now swarmed her brother. Her own heart froze in her chest, forgetting how to beat momentarily.

"Well, well, isn't it my sweet little daughter and the whore who left me?" A new voice suddenly drawled from the doorway.

All heads snapped in the direction of the newcomer. Jounouchi's father looked surprisingly sober for someone who had been drinking his evening, and in fact his entire life, away. His bulky frame took up most of the doorway. His dirty blond hair hadn't been combed in days and dead hazel eyes that leered at Jounouchi's mother.

"Tanaka…" Michi gasped. She instinctively pushed her children behind her.

Jounouchi Tanaka laughed at her feeble attempt to defend the teenagers. "I always knew you'd be back. You can't resist me, whore." He took a menacing step forward. The apartment was filled with the sudden overpowering stench of beer and whiskey.

Shizuka leaned back against her brother. The smell of alcohol was overwhelming to her senses. The fumes made her dizzy.

Tanaka laughed gruffly. "Aww…is this too much for the little princess? I can make you the princess of my bed if you like."

Shizuka gasped. She just wanted to turn and run, run away from this horrible man who was supposed to be her father. He was blocking their way out though. They had no where to run or hide.

"She's your daughter, Tanaka!" Michi exclaimed in outrage. "How can you even think of something like that?" Tanaka's tall frame towered over the petite woman.

Tanaka swung an arm out and cuffed Michi across the face. She was sprawled over the coffee table, a large bruise forming on her cheek. She glared hatefully up at the man she had divorced years ago. "You monster!"

"Okaa-san!" Shizuka wanted to run forward and help her mother but Jounouchi held her back.

Tanaka sneered. "I'm just wondering if the little bitch learned anything from you, whore. Maybe you both wanna keep me company tonight."

The floodgate burst open. A deluge of rage overcame him. Jounouchi charged forward. His fist connected with Tanaka's jaw, snapping the man's head back. "If you even touch one hair on either one of them, you're dead. I'll personally see to it." He growled.

Blood seeped from Tanaka's busted lips. He gave Jounouchi a toothy grin. He grabbed the lapels of his son's shirt and lifted Jounouchi inches off the ground. "So you're trying to be the knight-in-shining-armor? Didn't anyone ever teach you to respect your father? You'll get your chance if you're patient."

Jounouchi struggled. He dug his nails into Tanaka's arm but to no avail. His father was nearly a hundred pounds heavier than him. There was no way Jounouchi could win against a man of that size but he would sooner die than let this man hurt his mother and sister.

"Katsuya!" Michi screamed. She turned terror-filled eyes to her daughter. "Call the police, Shizuka!"

Shizuka ran for the phone all the way on the other side of the apartment. Tanaka grabbed a beer bottle off the coffee table and flung it at Shizuka's head. She shrieked as she ducked. The bottle smashed against wall, spraying Shizuka in alcohol.

Tanaka dropped Jounouchi like a rock. He pounced on Michi and stadled her. "You're not getting away, bitch. Not this time."

Michi clawed at Tanaka's face, raking across his cheeks. "Stop!"

Jounouchi rose to his feet and rammed into his father. Tanaka turned furiously to his son. He pushed Jounouchi back carelessly. Jounouchi stumbled and struggled against the inevitable laws of gravity and inertia. A protruding nail caught his shirt and ripped half the shirt off his back as he fell. Tanaka was not done yet. He approached the boy and heaved Jounouchi to his feet.

Shizuka gasped as she saw her brother's back. A long jagged scar ran from Jounouchi's neck all the way down to his lower back. She had always wondered why her brother favored wearing high collared clothing so much. Now she knew...

Tanaka reached into his pocket and drew out a switchblade. "You stupid dog." He growled. "Looks like I'll have to discipline you. You're nothing more than one of those street rats. I knifed plenty of them on my way home. They think they can jump me and take my money," he trailed the blade down Jounouchi's side. "You're just like them and no one's going to care if you get knifed."

He shoved the blade deep into Jounouchi.

Shizuka grabbed a wooden plank that was lying conveniently at her feet. She lunged at Tanaka and slammed the board against the back of his head. Tanaka's eyes rolled back and he fell. Shizuka's hands were shaking. She dropped to her knees. "Onii-chan!"

"Damn," Jounouchi cursed. He tested the knife buried in his side. The world was beginning to spin around him. "Never thought I'd go out this way." He yanked it out and the bloodied blade landed on the hardwood floor with a clatter.

Michi was finally shaken out of her shock. She made for the phone and called an ambulance.

Jounouchi moved a hand away from the wound. His hands were stained...red...red as fire... His vision darkened.

"Jounouchi!"

Shizuka twirled to face the doorway. Kaiba Seto was just standing there. She stared. Kaiba was really there, right before her eyes. The muscles in his jaw were clench together so tightly as his intense eyes focused on Jounouchi's gaping wound. His entire body shook with rage.

Kaiba was at Jounouchi's side at once. "You stupid idiot, you didn't listen to a word I said." He snapped.

Jounouchi glared at the other boy with as much ferocity as he could musters in his weakened state. "Why the fuck are you here? Go away…I never asked for your help." And he lost consciousness.

-
"Ay, but to die, and go we know not where;
To lie in cold obstruction and to rot;
This sensible warm motion to become
A kneaded clod; and the delighted spirit
To bathe in fiery floods, or to reside
In thrilling region of thick-ribbed ice"
- Measure for Measure
Act 3, Scene 1
-

Yugi, Anzu, and Honda arrived at the hospital together. The news of Jounouchi's attack was most unexpected and distressing. Although none of their guardians were too happy with them going out so late at night, they could not stop the teenagers from going to their friend in times of need. Jounouchi was in the emergency room. He needed a blood transfusion and some stitches. No one was sure if Tanaka's knife had pierced any internal organs. To their surprise, Kaiba was the only one waiting outside the emergency room.

"Kaiba-kun?" Yugi stared at his classmate. "What are you doing here?"

"Where's Shizuka-chan?" Honda demanded.

Kaiba raised impassive eyes to meet the other boys'. "She's with her mother, filling out the paperwork."

Honda took off without another word to go to Shizuka.

Anzu nodded to Yugi. "I'm going to make sure Honda doesn't do anything stupid. About what we talked about before-"

Yugi cut her off. Violet orbs pierced through a hazy veil of sapphire. "I know, Anzu. Don't worry about it."

"I'm only worried about Jounouchi." She muttered as she walked away.

Yugi took a seat next to Kaiba. They sat together in silence, stared at the lit words, "Operating Room," over the doors. "How long has Jounouchi-kun been in there?" Yugi asked.

"About half an hour so far." Kaiba replied, still staring straight ahead at the foreboding doors.

"You never answered my question. Why are you here, Kaiba-kun?" Yugi asked, sounding more demanding than the last time. Silence was his only answer. Yugi sighed. It looked like he would have to do most of the talking in this intervention. "I never understood this. I mean, your relationship with Jounouchi-kun. A person of your temperament and attitude wouldn't even care that Jounouchi-kun exists. If it's not worth your time then it doesn't exist in your eyes. One would think that's exactly what Jounouchi-kun was to you but that's not how it is. You take the time to bait him and tease him and insult him. You're the most frank person I know, Kaiba-kun. You're not sadistic, just vindictive. I've seen how you are to duelists whom you think are beneath you. You just ignore them and sweep right past them, without even so much as a glance. So then, why is Jounouchi-kun anything more than that?"

Kaiba tried to block out Yugi's words. Why did everyone insist on having a say in this? Before he knew it, that girl Anzu would have a speech ready for him. With his luck, the other Yugi would have something to say as well. Why were they all trying to discern his character, like they knew him? They knew nothing about him. He glared at the white wall. This was all the doing of the Red Lady…

"You still won't answer," Yugi frowned. "You can't hide behind a wall of brooding silence forever. You're honest with everyone but yourself. Stop lying to yourself."

Kaiba whipped around. "You're one to talk, Yugi! You're a liar and a cheater as well. You're no duelists. Your other half does everything. Why are you always the hero when your other self does everything for you? Just because you have that stupid Millennium Puzzle?"

Yugi clutched his Puzzle. He stared down at the golden amulet; his eyes shadowed by golden bangs. "I don't deny that my other half is a hundred times the better duelist than me. I don't deny that he is always the one to save me and my friends. He is a part of me though, born through the power of the Millennium Puzzle. We are just two different halves of the same person. I know I'm weak and I can't protect myself. Jounouchi-kun, Honda-kun, Anzu, and my other half has to protect me. I know I can't do anything right… I know that I'm nothing…but while I am nothing…my other half is everything…" Turmoil and guilt tore violently at him.

Kaiba snorted. He wasn't here to listen to Yugi's guilt trip. Part of him felt bad about doing this to Yugi but he pushed that thought down. "Jounouchi means nothing to me. There's nothing more to this."

"Really?" A sly voice drawled. "You're actually addressing Jounouchi-kun by his name now?"

Kaiba glared. The other Yugi had come into play now. "You," he growled.

"Yes, me." The other Yugi continued to drawl. "You say Jounouchi-kun means nothing to you. Then why are you here?" He gestured to the imposing double doors. "Why were you here before any of us?"

"I just happened to be passing through when I heard someone scream." Kaiba replied simply.

"I don't think a millionaire like you, Kaiba, would be just 'passing through' Jounouchi-kun's neighborhood." The other Yugi did not like being lied to… "Most people avoid Jounouchi-kun's neighborhood."

Kaiba whipped around. "You knew?" He hissed. "You knew about his father all along. Didn't you?" Whatever little respect Kaiba had for Yugi was gone now…

It was the normal Yugi that answered him. He shrunk back a little, away from Kaiba's intense eyes. "When you were…away…Jounouchi-kun joined up with his old gang. We went to his house to check on him and we met his father… He asked us not to talk about it…"

"So keeping your friend's confidence is more important than his life?" Kaiba snarled. "You should have done something, anything. He wouldn't be in here if it wasn't for you and your friends."

Yugi cringed. "Jounouchi-kun is very stubborn once he sets his mind to something. We can't save him anyway. He has to free himself from these demons. It's his family, Kaiba-kun. I have no right to interfere with that. If Jounouchi-kun didn't feel as if he was in any danger then I trust him."

Kaiba clenched his fist. "You're wrong. You should have tried. You're at as much fault here as that old drunk." Kaiba felt a strange feeling akin to pleasure as he watched Yugi's expression fall. The other boy tried to recover his composure but failed miserably. The devastation and horror were clear in his eyes and expression. Yugi was at the edge of tears now. Kaiba sneered. This was nothing compared with what Jounouchi had just gone through...what Jounouchi had gone through for most of his life...

Yugi's expression changed suddenly though. Kaiba recognized it as the other Yugi's "dueling" face. "I don't appreciate what you did to Aibou."

Kaiba smirked. "I didn't do anything. It sounds like little Yugi just has a lot of unresolved issues and a low self-esteem problem. I meant everything I said. You just as well killed Jounouchi."

"And here I thought you might have actually learned something in reassembling your Heart Puzzle. Looks like I was wrong." The other Yugi sighed.

"Look, I don't have time for this." Kaiba stood and turned away.

"You do care. I know you do." The other Yugi's words almost brought Kaiba to a stop, just almost... The other Yugi called after Kaiba. "But if you hurt Jounouchi-kun, I will never forgive you."

-
"He should have lived,
Save that riotous youth, with dangerous sense,
Might in the times to come have ta'en revenge"
- Measure for Measure
Act 4, Scene 4
-

Jounouchi pretended to be unconscious. It was simple enough. Shizuka and his mother had been the first to see him after the operation but he couldn't face them. He had failed them. Yugi, Anzu, and Honda came in afterwards. He didn't want to face them now. All of their concerned words whispered to his ears did nothing to ease his pain or guilt. He couldn't protect the people he loved most in this world. He had failed to protect Shizuka and his mother from that man.

The door creaked open. Jounouchi laid perfectly still, listening. Quiet footsteps approached the side of his bed and stopped. The person stood still for a couple of moments.

"Jounouchi."

Jounouchi suppressed an inevitable scowl. Great. It was Kaiba. The last thing he needed now was to see that bastard. He ignored his visitor.

"You may be able to fool everyone else but not me. I know you're conscious."

Jounouchi didn't respond.

"Fine, have it your way."

Jounouchi's eyes flew open as he felt something warm press against his lips. He tried to push Kaiba away but the other boy was stronger than he was. Moments later, Kaiba finally pulled away. His deep blue eyes bore into Jounouchi.

"What the fuck was that?" Jounouchi's face was beet red. He sat up in bed, ignoring the stinging pain in his side as he glared at Kaiba.

Kaiba didn't reply at first. He stared at the area where Jounouchi had been stabbed. "You should have listened to me."

Jounouchi snorted. "Now why would I do something like that?" He turned his head toward the darkened window. "What do you want now, Kaiba?" He shivered suddenly. An elegant finger trailed up his abdomen, where he was bandaged underneath the hospital gown. That one touch shot a strange sensation to the rest of his body. He slapped Kaiba's hand away. "God, what is up with you lately?"

Kaiba sat on the side of Jounouchi's bed, moving just a bit closer. "We need to talk."

Jounouchi scowled again as he moved away slightly in reply. "About what?"

"Us..."

"There is no us. It's just you, Kaiba the asshole, and then there's me, Jounouchi the dog. Nothing to talk about."

"Really?" Kaiba swooped in for another kiss.

Jounouchi swallowed. The world seemed to slow down again. He was enthralled by those eyes that begged you to drown. He wouldn't let himself drown though. Self-preservation was human nature. He rolled out of the way and off of the bed. He landed on the floor in a tangle of sheets as his side burned in pain. "Would you stop doing that?"

Kaiba stared down at Jounouchi from the bed's edge. "You're going to hurt yourself." His eyes were void of emotion again. The blinds were closed and they sat there in perpetual darkness. Strips of light passed through the blinds, highlighting Jounouchi's golden hair. It suddenly occurred to Kaiba to wonder if this was the darkest night that the Red Lady had spoken of.

Jounouchi gritted his teeth. He tore the tangled sheets off his body and glared up at the other boy. "No thanks to you. I hate you, Kaiba Seto."

Kaiba's eyes darkened with those spoken words. "I hate you too, Jounouchi Katsuya." Every word was like a slap across Jounouchi's face or a stab in his heart, even if he wouldn't admit it.

"Then why the fuck are you trying to kiss me? I had no idea you were that messed up."

"There's a thin line between love and hate, if there ever was one in the first place."

"Don't give me that bullshit. Give me a goddamn straight answer for once!"

Kaiba dropped to his knees before Jounouchi. His dark coat pooled around him like cerulean waters. He grabbed Jounouchi's chin and forced those beautiful amber eyes to look at him. "I am giving you one. I've never been so honest about these emotions, any emotions, my entire life!" He bent down and caught his lips again. Jounouchi didn't struggle this time, strangely enough. He wanted this, no matter how much he wanted to deny it. Kaiba pulled away. His breath was harsh. "What do you want me to say? That I love you? That I hate you? I don't even know which one it is anymore. I can't tell you what I don't know myself!"

"Get out, Kaiba." Jounouchi pushed him away. "I don't ever want to see you again."

He had done it. He had finally pushed Kaiba away to the point of no return. Some part of his mind screamed about how much of an idiot he was. No, there was no future down this path. He watched out of the corner of his eyes as that wall closed over Kaiba's face. There was no going back now. Kaiba stood and remained still for a few moments, as if waiting for Jounouchi to change his mind but he wouldn't. Jounouchi wouldn't look up. All the sudden, the tiled floor seemed far too interesting. His amber eyes were intent on counting the tiles embedded into the floor.

He saw Kaiba's feet move away, the footsteps pounding in his ears. Part of him wanted to stop Kaiba, to ignore all reason and logic and give himself completely to these emotions, no matter what they were. No. Jounouchi didn't do that though. He just sat there on the floor. The door opened, shedding light into the darkened room. His heart was pounding. The door slammed shut with such finality that he wanted to cry out in anguish. And so he was left alone to the dark hospital room and its maddeningly sterile scent.

Happiness comes in the least expected form. Love is found in the least expected person.

That's what the Red Lady had said to him. It was strange how she had so much to say to everyone else and yet to Jounouchi, she had only said those two sentences. It wasn't even fortune telling. It was just advice, plain and simple. In the end, Jounouchi could only wonder. What was love? What was hate? He didn't know. He wasn't sure if he ever knew, especially when it came to Kaiba...

-
"Even till now,
When men were fond, I smiled and wonder'd how."
- Measure for Measure
Act 2, Scene 2
-

Kaiba watched as the small house went up in flames. The crowd around him murmured and shifted back. The hot flames roared through the air as the roof collapsed. The fire department moved the spectators further away.

"Quite a shame. I really did like that house." Someone sighed besides him.

He didn't turn. He already knew who it was. "I didn't know you were a pyromaniac."

The Red Lady flashed him a feral grin. "It's time for me to move on. What can I say? I'm a sucker for flashy exits."

"And that would include setting fire to the entire neighborhood?" He raised a questioning eyebrow.

She waved him off. "It's contained. No one's been hurt and no one's going to get hurt."

He turned to face her and was taken back for a few seconds. She was dressed normally for the first time since he had met her. A pair of dark sunglasses hid the eyes he knew to be smoldering embers. "So you're leaving? Good riddance."

"Be that as it may. You've still came back to see me." She smirked. "I presume all went well." When he didn't answer her, she frowned. It was a genuine display of displeasure. "He wasn't honest?"

"No."

"That's the trouble with humans. You can never know what the hell they're thinking. There's always the deviation between the thoughts and the deeds." She laughed bitterly. "I had always thought you would be the most hard-headed but it turns out it's the other way around."

"Shouldn't you have seen it? You do have the power to."

"Humans have the power to change the future. One word, one deed, can destroy any premonition just as easily."

"Why did all your predictions come true then?"

Her answer was surprisingly simple. "Because humans are idiots. Because they actually choose to believe what I say. They rather listen to another idiot's babbling instead of making their own tomorrow. If they had tried, they could have changed their future. You already have. Never believe that your path has already been set before you. There are always hidden paths and unseen shortcuts."

"Yes...he has already chosen his path. I can't change that."

"I only have advice for you now." She sounded so concerned and caring that he was suspicious. "Take some time and figure out these emotions. No one can do that but yourself. Maybe you went too fast with him. Get to know him better. He has the same feelings for you, both the love and the hate."

It finally dawned on him that she actually cared. This wasn't just some game to her. "So you do have a heart..."

She smiled sadly at him. "So do you. Don't lose it. It's impossible to get it back after you do. Take care, Kaiba Seto." She leaned over and pecked his cheek. He felt an odd fiery sensation rush through his body. "The blessings of fire." She whispered.

For the first time, he saw her as someone more human and less foreign. "You take care too, although I can't say I'll miss you."

She chuckled. "Didn't expect you to. I've always been told I'm nothing but trouble. I've done all I can for the both of you. The rest is up to you."

"Thank you."

As she walked away, he could hear a forlorn tune upon her breath. "The world has turned its back on me. But that's alright. I'll look toward the guiding light of tomorrow. The fire in my heart and soul will light the path through the darkest nights." He couldn't help but wonder if those last parting words were meant for him. Nevertheless, he held them close to heart.

-
"Our doubts are traitors
And make us lose the good we oft might win
By fearing to attempt."
- Measure for Measure
Act 1, Scene 4
-

Jounouchi shifted uncomfortably in the spectator's section. His side protested in burning pain. He stared at the back of his father's head. The three of them were seated right behind his father and the guard. He wished that the presiding judge would just hurry up and render his decision so Jounouchi could leave.

Shizuka tightened her grip on her brother's hand. Her heart was pounding in her ears. They would soon be free of that horrid man. "I'm nervous, Onii-chan."

Jounouchi shot her a quick reassuring grin. "Don't worry, Shizuka. Everything's going to be alright." He looked back toward the front of the courtroom. He knew how Shizuka felt. He couldn't sit still in his seat either.

The presiding judge seated between the associate judges cleared his throat. "The court is now rendering the judgment. The defendant is hereby sentenced to ten years' imprisonment with correctional labor. Of the total number of days held under detention pending trial, ten days shall be deducted from the said period of imprisonment. You have the right to appeal should you not be content with the judgment. Court is adjourned."

"Not enough if you ask me." Michi muttered darkly as she stood.

Jounouchi and Shizuka followed their mother's example. Jounouchi wouldn't let go of Shizuka's hand. It all seemed so surreal. He was finally free, after so many years.

"You haven't heard the last of me!"

Jounouchi twirled around. As cliche and as hackneyed as those words were, Jounouchi felt his heart leap into his throat.

Tanaka struggled against the guard's grip and his handcuffs. "This isn't over yet, boy," he snarled. "I'll make you pay."

Shizuka tugged urgently at Jounouchi's hand. "Let's go, Onii-chan. Just ignore him."

Jounouchi reluctantly turned away. He was running away again...

They exited the courtroom together, stopping in the main lobby.

"Wait here," Michi instructed. "I'm going to get the car."

The siblings stood in silence for a few seconds. They were each absorbing what had happened today, what had happened in the last few weeks. The world bustled around them, paying them no heed.

"Shizuka?"

She blinked as she was bought out of her thoughts. "Hmm?"

"Wait here, I have to go to the bathroom." Jounouchi walked away.

Shizuka sighed. He had just been unresponsive these last few weeks to everyone in general. He didn't have much of an appetite anymore. He worried her more than ever.

"How is he handling it?"

Shizuka jumped. "Kaiba-san! What are you doing here?"

The brunette shrugged. "I found out the judge was passing the judgment today so I came to watch."

She studied Kaiba. There was something different about him. "Are you feeling alright, Kaiba-san?"

Kaiba ran a hand through his messy hair. "I'm fine, but what about Jounouchi? How is he coping with this?"

She glanced at Kaiba out of the corner of her eyes. She still felt there was something different about Kaiba. It was almost as if he was more vulnerable, as if he no longer had the energy or drive to keep his masks up anymore. "He taking it as well as he can. The Family Court transferred him into Okaa-san's custody. Okaa-san has decided to move back to Domino for Onii-chan. She thinks it'll be good for Onii-chan to stay in Domino with all his friends."

"Yes, but how is he?" Kaiba insisted.

She sighed. "Not very good, I'm afraid. He's always spacing out. He doesn't eat anymore until we have to practically force feed him. Onii-chan's not himself anymore. Yet, strangely, I don't think it has anything to do with Otou-san nearly killing him. It's something else..."

Kaiba was silent. He stared down at his polished shoes. He turned away. "I should go. Jounouchi doesn't want to see me."

"Wait!" She grabbed Kaiba's wrist. "Did something happen between you and Onii-chan?"

Kaiba would not meet her gaze. "I have to go, Shizuka."

"You're not leaving until I have an answer. I'm worried about Onii-chan. I need to know what happened." She replied ferociously.

"I was honest. Jounouchi wasn't. It's as simple as that." He pulled his hand out of Shizuka's numb grip. He turned to face her and she saw through the broken wall.

"Onii-chan rejected you..." She covered her mouth with her hand.

Kaiba nodded. He said a quick goodbye and walked off. Shizuka just stood there in shock. Tears gathered at the corner of her eyes.

Jounouchi appeared suddenly at her side. "What's wrong?"

She twirled around angrily and slapped him. "Onii-chan, you idiot!" She turned and ran away.

Jounouchi stared as his sister disappeared out the door. He was so used to running away from others and now…everyone else was running away from him. He cradled his red bruised cheek. Her words rang in his ears just like her slap. He knew she was right. "You're right, Shizuka." He muttered sadly to himself. "Your Onii-chan is an idiot…"

-
"Little have you to say
When you depart from him, but, soft and low,
'Remember now my brother'."
- Measure for Measure
Act 4, Scene 1
-

To Be Continued in Joey