The darkness was familiar and claustrophobic— squeezing in around Kaiba until it had pushed all the air out of his lungs. A pinpoint of light shone in the distance, growing brighter and larger and ever closer. Kaiba moved to dodge it, but he can’t. It was everywhere, consuming him in a burning light and flaying his flesh and then his bones to expose his brain and heart.
A shadow, blacker than the darkness and shining with vengeful fire, boomed, “Penalty game!”
It was a nightmare, and not an unfamiliar one. This is where it usually ends— with his disembodied hand groping the darkness in search of the shattered pieces of his heart puzzle and the rest of the world moving further out of his reach. The work would be laborious and gut-wrenching, but it would end. That much he knew.
Penance and dues had to be paid first.
Yet the dream stretched on into forever, punctuated only by the sound of clicking puzzle pieces. In the contours of his partially reconstructed heart, he glimpsed reflections of Mokuba, the foggy apparition of his birth parents made murky with time, Jounouchi, Yuugi, Shizuka— The number of people increased with each piece that he slotted back into its rightful place.
A hand reached out of the abyss and seized his fluttering heart. Kaiba felt nothing though with an incomplete heart. Gozaburo sneered and closed a fist around the puzzle. The shape contorted and stress lines formed along the polished surface, distorting Mokuba’s face into reflections cast by fun-house mirrors.
Next, a gnarled old man with stringy gray hair and a golden eye rolling about in an empty socket grappled with Gozaburo. Caught in their tug o’ war, the puzzle distended and snapped.
Kaiba emerged from his dreams like a diver. Consciousness came gradually in fits and start. So there was no scream or gasp or jackknifing up in the bed— just the disquiet that blanketed his bedroom. He lied stone-cold still on the mattress, drawing in shallow breaths. The warm bundle next to him stirred briefly before Jounouchi stuck his head out from under the covers.
"Please tell me you’re not getting up already," his boyfriend grumbled.
Kaiba considered it for a moment. He was awake now— his mind buzzing with anxiety and well-concealed shame. Work might distract him, but it wouldn’t bring him peace.
Jounouchi flopped over onto his back. “Come on, tell me what’s wrong, Kaiba.”
"It’s nothing," Kaiba snapped even as he shuffled closer to Jounouchi’s inviting body.
"Nothing, huh?" Jounouchi asked with the hint of a smile on his lips. Were it another time, Kaiba might have taken him to task for his skepticism.
After a moment, Kaiba added, “You’re hogging the duvet.” He nudged Jounouchi’s cold feet over.
"Then you’ll just have to stay close." Jounouchi threaded his fingers through Kaiba’s hair and pulled his head down against his chest. "Or get a bigger one."
Part of Kaiba rankled at being treated like a child and remained tensed while pillowed against the other man’s chest. But he had long learned this was just Jounouchi’s way: to be quick with a touch either affectionate or aggressive. The hand in Kaiba’s hair remained, stroking back and forth while smoothing out the wrinkled edges of his psyche. In the end, the steady beat of Jounouchi’s heart lulled him back to sleep.