"You don't have to sign up if you're a wuss," Honda taunted.
Jounouchi growled and threw a punch in his friend's direction. Honda laughed and danced out of reach.
With one hand on her hip, Anzu's other hand dangled the sign-up sheet in his face. "Just put your name down. I only need one more signature before the school will authorize this. Don't cause trouble for everyone else," she chastised.
Him cause trouble? She was the one—
He was about to argue when Yuugi cut him off.
"It'll be fun, Jounouchi-kun," Yuugi pleaded. Then he unleashed his puppy eyes. "It's our last summer together."
There it was— the clinch in their pincer movement. His friends might not think the world of his intelligence, but even they must know he could smell a setup before he saw it.
But damn if Yuugi's puppy-dog eyes weren't effective.
He relented. "Fine, give it here."
Scrawling his name in the last empty square felt a bit like signing his own death warrant.
As soon as Jounouchi's borrowed pen left the paper, she snatched the clipboard back. "No take backs," she smiled smugly.
No one knew exactly where the courage test was taking place ahead of time. As class representative, Anzu was in charge of organizing the event and she was extremely tight-lipped about the whole thing.
They, Jounouchi included, offered to help on multiple occasions, but she turned them down each time. It turned out she already had an assistant.
The email went out early on the evening of July 14th— when the humidity and heat that blanketed Domino City had reached an annual peak. It simply read: Come test your courage and face your fears. 11:30PM sharp, then followed by an address on the edge of town.
Jounouchi's t-shirt was soaked through with sweat by the time that he, Honda, Yuugi, Bakura, and Otogi caught the bus a block away from the Turtle Game Shop. They rode the bus for about 40 minutes, until Domino's buildings gave way to the woods. There was very little noise this far outside the city. It was unnatural. The last leg of their journey involved a trek along a wide but deserted road, and their final destination was an old church that loomed in front of a dense backdrop of trees.
Based on its crumbling facade, the cathedral had seen better days. A path illuminated by candles led up to the one door standing ajar. Jounouchi stopped in the shadow of the building, fighting the shivers that ran down his spine.
"Jounouchi-kun, what's wrong?" Yuugi asked.
Honda gave Jounouchi's back a firm shove forward. "Come on, Anzu will have our skins if we're late."
Anzu was the last thing that Jounouchi was worried about in a place like this. But he swallowed the comment and walked into the church's dim interior. The inside was similarly lit by candles like the ones outside— which he realized were electronic up close. But the high vaulted ceilings remained curtained in darkness because the faint light didn't reach up so high. Jounouchi scanned through each of the dusty pews, some already partially collapsed. A collage of graffiti covered one wall. He recognized a few of the tags.
Most of the class had already gathered around the abandoned cistern and was buzzing with anticipation. Honda led the charge to the front of the crowd where Anzu stood with an unexpected pipsqueak trailing her.
"What are you doing here? Isn't it past your bedtime?"
Mokuba glared defiantly back. "I'm helping Anzu."
Jounouchi slung an arm around around Yuugi's shoulder, stooping over to match his friend's height. "Better watch it, Yuugi, he might have a crush on Anzu."
Both Yuugi and Mokuba turned bright red enough to light the room with their faces. Yuugi hid his behind his hands and Mokuba darted forward with a low growl. Jounouchi dropped his best friend and jumped back to dodge the kick aimed at his shins, bumping into someone along the way. He turned, but his apology and grin shriveled when faced with a Kaiba who somehow towered over him with only an 8-centimeter height difference.
"Ugh, you're here too." Jounouchi groaned.
"Don't mistake me for you. I'm here to keep an eye on Mokuba and the equipment."
"Jounouchi," Anzu barked, tearing his attention away from his rival. "I'm trying to get started here."
Jounouchi threw one last glare at Kaiba as the other boy drew away from the rest of the group. "Stuck-up asshole," he muttered under his breath.
Anzu cleared her throat and they quieted. "Before we start, I'm going to tell you a little about the history of this cathedral."
Jounouchi shivered and shuffled closer to Yuugi, who gave an encouraging smile.
Her face grew solemn, not unlike a priest presiding over a funeral, as she spoke, "This was actually one of the earliest churches built in Japan by Portuguese Jesuits in 1565. Of course, this is not the original church, but the foundation is still the same. After Christianity was officially outlawed in 1632, the local government decided to make an example of the Christian community here. One Sunday during Mass, soldiers boarded up the church from the outside and set the building ablaze. The building, along with everyone inside, burned to ashes."
A hushed murmur swept through his classmates. Several girls moved closer to each other for support. Jounouchi made sure his feet stayed glued to the spot where he stood.
One hand rose over the heads of the audience. "Then why is there a church here now?" Maeno asked.
"The current church was built in 1905. Originally, a rich merchant from Kyoto planned to build a mansion in this spot. He was warned not to by the townspeople. Because for decades and even centuries, they had heard strange noises and saw strange lights in the area. Children would disappear into these woods— never be seen again. They knew this place was haunted by the spirits of those who were burned alive. But the merchant didn't believe them. Many accidents happened after construction began, workers got hurt and building materials went missing. Soon no one would come work on the house. The merchant raged at the locals, calling them cowards and thieves. But he refused to give up on the project and hired workers to come in from Kyoto," she paused abruptly and turned the flashlight in her hand up, illuminating her grim expression from below.
Suddenly, Jounouchi was all too aware of the breath trapped in his throat. Behind him though, he heard a distinct-Kaiba-like snort. Anzu threw a glare that seemed to say "stop ruining it for everyone else."
After wrestling her irritation under control, she continued, "The night before the workers from Kyoto were supposed to arrive, the merchant sleep-walked all the way from his bed to the construction site. He picked up a shovel and dug through the night. The next morning, the workers found the merchant standing over a pile of charred bones."
Some of the girls squeaked, while a few of the boys snorted. Jounouchi would never admit that the sound that escaped his mouth was closer to the girls'.
Anzu smiled— the faint light cast shadows that stretched her lips too wide. "The merchant abandoned his plans to build a house here. Instead, he hired an Italian architect to design and build a church. The merchant made only one demand in the design: a set of underground escape tunnels."
He really didn't like where this was going...
Mokuba stepped forward, bearing a box in his arms. The box was full of trinkets, like small toys and cute stationery found at the local 100-yen store.
Gesturing to the box, she said, "For tonight's trial, you will be randomly paired with a classmate and make a journey through the tunnels to the memorial at the other end. Once outside, you will leave a token from the box at the memorial and then follow the stone path back to this church. You will each be given a flashlight to use. It's perfectly safe as long as you don't stray too far from the designated path. Are we ready to get started?"
"Let's do this!"
Jounouchi wished he could be half as enthused.
Anzu started counting off everyone in attendance. As she reached the end of the group, her shoulders drooped and she narrowed her eyes. She counted everyone again starting from the other end. "Someone is missing."
"Uh, Saeki's out of town," someone chirped.
"We have an odd number of people," she frowned. Then her face lit up and she got that evil glint in her eyes, "Kaiba-kun—"
"You're already here."
"You don't want to disappoint your classmates, do you?"
Kaiba stared back, unimpressed.
Seeing she was getting nowhere, she appealed to Mokuba with a glance. The kid pounced on his brother and pouted, "Please, Nii-sama! We— I worked so hard on this."
Kaiba's face gained a pinched quality that made him look more constipated than usual. But it was obvious to Jounouchi that he was struggling and even more obvious that he was going to give in. There was never any question of how tightly Mokuba had Kaiba wrapped around his little finger.
Kaiba turned his stormy gaze away. "Fine."
Jounouchi leaned back to catch Honda's attention and made a whipping motion and sound. They snickered in unison.
"Thank you, Nii-sama!" Mokuba skipped away and returned with a tissue box. As Anzu explained that there were sheets of paper inside numbered from 1 to 20, Mokuba extended the box to his brother first. Kaiba stuck his hand in and drew first. He wouldn't show anyone his number. Jounouchi pitied whoever was going to get paired with his sourpuss face.
"Numbers 1 and 2 should come get their flashlights and offering now. We're going to wait five minutes between sending off each pair, so please be assured that you'll be alone down there."
Several people laughed. Jounouchi was not one on them.
Mokuba continued around to the rest of the group until everyone drew from the box. Jounouchi flashed his number, 17, at Yuugi, who shook his head and revealed his 9. Yuugi's partner turned out to be Bakura, and they both breathed a sigh of relief at being paired with someone they knew. Honda matched with another boy they had never spoken with, while Otogi drew Sakura, one of the prettiest girls in their year.
Two by two, the number of people in the chapel dwindled down to a handful.
"Seventeen and eighteen," Mokuba finally called.
Both he and Kaiba stepped forward at the same time and then stopped short. They stared at each other— Kaiba unblinking and Jounouchi in disbelief. Come on, his luck couldn't possibly suck that much!
Anzu glanced worriedly between them. "Is this going to be a problem?"
"No," Kaiba said and headed for the stairs.
Jounouchi grabbed the first item from the top of the box of stuff, a wooden top, and shoved it deep into his back pocket. Then he sucked in a lungful of air and followed Kaiba into the dark bowels of the church.
The stone walls of the tunnels were cool and dry. It might have been a nice break from the stifling heat above ground.
You know, if he wasn't trapped in underground tunnels beneath a haunted church— narrow tunnels with barely enough space overhead for Jounouchi to stand up straight.
In the dark.
Alone with Kaiba.
Could the night get any worse?
Jounouchi glared at the back of Kaiba's head, hoping it'd give him a headache or something. At least that's what he presumed to be the dim shape bobbing up and down several feet in front of him. He raised the flashlight from the path to double-check and snickered, watching as Kaiba walked bowed over to avoid running into the ceiling.
Then a shriek echoed down the cramped corridor. Jounouchi jumped and cursed when his head bumped the low ceiling.
Kaiba turned, shining his flashlight directly into Jounouchi's face. "You're not scared, are you, bonkotsu?"
He threw an arm over his eyes and bristled. "Of course not!"
Kaiba smirked. The combination of light and dark made it look like a pair disembodied lips floating in mid-air. Jounouchi tried not to shiver.
Jounouchi continued, "I don't see why I'm stuck with you, guess that means I'm doing everyone else a public service."
"Let's get this over with then."
Why couldn't he be with Yuugi?
About seven yards in, the tunnel widened enough for two people to walk comfortably side-by-side, but not tall enough for either of them to stand straight. Jounouchi wished he could say the change was reassuring— except the tunnel zig-zagged back and forth like a snake, making it impossible to see what waited beyond the next bend.
He swore a third shadow just flickered across the wall. Jounouchi quickened his pace to catch up with Kaiba. In his hurry, he tripped over a raised flagstone and fell into Kaiba's back with a soft oomph.
Kaiba sighed loudly. "Are you going to jump at every little sound and shadow? Really, bonkotsu, even I thought better of you than this."
"Hey, so you're telling me that Anzu's story didn't even spook you— not even a little? I don't believe you."
"It's a children's story. Next you'll tell me that you believe in ghosts." Kaiba said in disgust as he started walking again.
Jounouchi fell into pace next to the other boy and aimed the flashlight in his direction. "What? You don't believe in ghosts?"
"No, it's superstitious nonsense."
"Bullshit! What do you call the other Yuugi then? Or did you just wipe the last two years from your hard drive?"
"Very funny. And I prefer to think of Yuugi and his other self as an isolated incident."
"What about Bakura and Malik Ishtar then?" Jounouchi countered smugly.
Kaiba glared, but nothing could put a damper on Jounouchi's triumph. It wasn't everyday that he got to rub the bastard's face in just how wrong he was. He could do this all night. He was about to continue with more examples when Kaiba went very still, his flashlight drifting up to a point above Jounouchi's left shoulder.
A chill crept up the back of Jounouchi's neck. "What is it?"
Slowly, Kaiba lifted one hand and pointed to where the light shone. "There—"
He didn't wait for Kaiba to finish before whipping around and running face first into a convex wall. "Fuck! Dammit, Kaiba!" He pressed a hand to his aching nose.
When Kaiba laughed, the sound managed to be the one of the most deeply insulting noise Jounouchi had ever heard. Even if it did make him seem more human— however briefly.
"Are we there yet?" Jounouchi asked.
He didn't expect to get a reply; and he didn't get one.
"How much longer do you think it'll take?"
His only response was the click of Kaiba's heel against the flagstone.
"Hah-fucking-hilarious. You're not gonna let me forget about this, are you?"
Kaiba had gone quiet again.
Jounouchi hated to admit it, but he'd lost track of time down here. The tunnel seemed to go on forever. If felt like they'd been down here for hours, even though Anzu had assured them that it would take them no more than half-an-hour to walk the damn thing. The things he did for his friends! They better appreciate him after tonight.
He'd take anything to distract him from the sense of doom following him like a sick puppy. If he had to resort to the tactics of a five-year-old, well— Jounouchi could live with himself afterwards.
The only sign that Jounouchi was having any sort of effect was the increasingly rigid set of the other boy's shoulder. Kaiba'd crack eventually.
"Come on, Kaiba," he called for the dozenth time. "I know you can hear me!"
"I could kill you right now and leave you to rot. No one would ever find you," Kaiba finally growled after what seemed like an eternity.
"Hah! As if you would."
Kaiba stopped, turned abruptly, and tried to loom over Jounouchi. Really, who did Kaiba think he was fooling? They were practically the same height, and Jounouchi had faced down way more beefier guys before. "I could," he snarled.
"But you wouldn't," Jounouchi insisted. While that might not have been the case in their first year of high school (oh, and Kaiba had tried then...), he really believed that now. Unless Jounouchi did something really heinous, Kaiba wasn't going to hurt him— much. He broke into a lopsided grin. "Besides, I'd haunt your skinny ass forever."
The tension broke.
Kaiba groaned, "Please don't."
Jounouchi continued gleefully. "I'd get to to live it up in that sweet mansion of yours. Your bedroom is probably the size of a whole 1LDK (1). I bet you have your own personal dueling arena! Oh, even better— a shrine to your massive ego."
"You've thought about this entirely too much." Kaiba turned away in disgust and continued down the tunnel.
"Come on, there's gotta be something awesome at your place. Don't tell me you have a underground bunker or a Batcave to brood and sulk in!"
Kaiba coughed and his shoulders gave a barely perceptible twitch. "There is a bunker. It was built after the war and maintained through the 50s and 60s."
Jounouchi couldn't help himself as a short bark of laughter escaped his lips. Kaiba looked so guilty, like a little kid caught with his hands in the cookie jar. It was rare for the other boy to leave an opening this huge, and Jounouchi would enjoy it for however briefly it lasted. He opened his mouth to grill Kaiba more on this underground bunker when something white seemed to bleed out of the wall behind Kaiba's head. He froze, as the white circle expanded and took the shape of a small pale hand. The hand was trailed by an equally pale forearm, then an elbow, a shoulder, and long stringy black hair reaching out of the wall.
He gave a decidedly unmanly yelp.
Kaiba glared at him. "If you're trying to get back at me for earlier, you're going to have to try a lot harder. No one believes your shit acting, bonkotsu."
As Kaiba spoke, the ghostly figure— the fucking ghost was hanging out of the wall from her torso up. Her exposed skin was scarred and covered in large patches of burns, including the half of her face that became visible when she quirked her head at a 60 degree angle. Her one hand was still raised in mid-air while her attention was very deliberately focused toward Kaiba.
Jounouchi moved at the very moment that she struck. Determined to not leave Kaiba to her mercy, he grabbed Kaiba's long sleeve and yanked with all his might. It wasn't the most elegant rescue in recorded history. The sleeve tore clean off, and the two of them tumbled back in a tangle of limbs and sore asses after hitting the stone ground. The sleeve was still clenched in Jounouchi's white-knuckled fist as Kaiba pulled away and shoved Jounouchi down again.
"Get off! What are you doing?" Kaiba growled.
By some miracle, Jounouchi found his voice again. "Saving you from that!" he screamed and pointed at the ghost still half-stuck in the wall.
Kaiba turned and didn't even flinch when he saw the spirit. She, on the other hand, quickly became something out of Jounouchi's worst nightmare as her head swiveled on her neck and fangs grew from her gaping mouth. He didn't react fast enough this time when Kaiba stuck his bare arm right into the mouth of razor-sharp teeth. Jounouchi squeaked, simultaneously assaulted by nausea and the images of Kaiba with a stump for an arm. None of the wet, crunchy noises that he imagined came to pass as the head continued to spin like a top and Kaiba stayed still.
After a few more seconds, his confused brain managed a small "what?", quickly echoed by a "how?".
"It's a hologram," Kaiba rolled his eyes as he retracted his arm. It was intact and bare of any scratch marks. As if on cue, the ghost itself also vanished.
Jounouchi's mouth flapped open and shut several times before he asked, "Like Duel Monsters?"
"It's the same technology." Kaiba dusted his hands, frowning as he examined the hem of his torn sleeve.
Even though he now knew it was fake, Jounouchi still had a hard time getting his heartbeat under 80 beats per second. "You're telling me that your brother set up your company technology just to scare a bunch of high-schoolers on a courage test?! That's insane!"
Kaiba scowled at the same time as he muttered, "—a waste. I believe he also installed some night-vision cameras nearby." He briefly gestured the ceiling as he spoke.
Jounouchi turned his flashlight to examine the rafters overhead. Nestled between two exposed beams was a small rounded object like the surveillance equipments in stores. He raised his fist and shouted, "You're going to pay for this, Mokuba!" He didn't know if anyone was watching on the other end or if the sound would even carry, but it was the least he could do to maintain face. "You hear me, Mokuba?"
Kaiba sighed and resumed walking. "Come on, let's get this over with. The exit can't be that much further off."
"Uh, sorry about your shirt. Did you want this back?" Jounouchi waved the torn sleeve.
The other boy sneered, but didn't slow.
He sighed and pocketed the fabric anyway. There was no telling if Kaiba would change his mind. The night had definitely taken a surreal turn. As he followed behind Kaiba, he muttered to himself, "Crazy fucking rich bastards."
There was no way Kaiba didn't hear him.
Jounouchi felt the stiff breeze first— barely strong enough to sway a leaf. Pushing past Kaiba, he dashed the last 50 yards toward the shadowed contours of stairs bathed in moonlight. He scrambled up the creaky staircase and emerged in a dimly lit clearing with a large stone in the center. With hands stretched toward the open sky, he threw back his head and shouted with glee, "I'm finally free! Whoo!"
He looked back. Kaiba was taking his sweet time. If he didn't hurry up, Jounouchi was going to leave his scrawny ass behind.
Jounouchi took several lungful of air, still heavy and infused with the early heat wave. He checked his wristwatch. It had taken them almost twenty minutes to walk those tunnels, but the return trip above ground would hopefully take less time. He approached the large stone monument, which was simply chiseled with a short poem. At the foot of the monument was a small wooden box full of trinkets left by the other groups that had passed through.
His fingers closed around the wooden top he had picked up at the church when there came a rustle in the bushes.
"I'm not falling for that again," he declared. But despite himself, a slight tremor in his voice betrayed him the sliver of fear inching down his spine.
"Jounouchi..." An eerie voice moaned from somewhere.
"Come out! Honda, I'm going to kick your ass to the moon if that's you." He scanned the clearing, which was surrounded by forest on all sides. He even contemplated going back underground again. What the hell was taking Kaiba so long?!
"Jounouchi..." The voice had moved closer.
First, Jounouchi's flashlight caught on a shred of once-white fabric, torn and stained, peeking out from behind the rock. Then a hand leapt into view, grasping the ragged stone and pushing out the rest of the body with a head full of long black hair and a protruding tongue dragging across the dirt.
He screeched, caught between his fight and flight instinct. "You're not real! You're not real!" He reminded himself. Following Kaiba's previous example, he reached out to touch it.
Except his palm met solid matter. It didn't pass through the ghost. It wasn't a fucking hologram.
"FUCK!" He stumbled back, but the ghost kept moving toward him. "Fuck fuck fuck!"
The ghost dove at him. Jounouchi broke for the treeline, hoping the cover would buy him some time. The ghost followed, homing in on him like a predator after its prey.
"Jounouchi, what the hell are you doing?"
Kaiba had finally emerged from the tunnel with his flashlight in hand.
"Stay back. That one's not a hologram! It's real!" So far, it only seemed interested in him. But there was no telling what might happen if Kaiba tried to approach— and he was already closer to the creature to begin with.
The ghost crept ever closer. Jounouchi knew he only had one option before him. "Don't follow me! Call for help!" He headed deeper into the woods, only looked back to make sure it was following him and leaving the other boy alone. It worked. He ran as if hellhounds were nipping at his heel, because they were!
Someone called after him. "Wait, Jounouchi! Stop!" It sounded a lot like Mokuba. Jounouchi wasn't going to let it trick him. In movies, evil spirits always tried to lure people by imitating other people they knew!
"Jounouchi! Listen to me!"
When he risked a glance over his shoulders, all he saw was the grotesque creature with its extended tongue flying in the air like a banner stumbling to keep up.
"Jounouchi!" Kaiba barked from even further behind.
Now he definitely knew it was a trick, because there was no way Kaiba Seto would try to come to his rescue with a vengeful spirit on his tail. The real Kaiba would sit back, laugh, and enjoy the show.
He noticed the drop a second too late. One moment there was ground underneath his feet and the next, he was flying through the air. Gravity, the bitch, yanked him down by the ankle and he faceplanted in the dirt. Then he kept sliding and rolling down the side of a steep hill, banging his brain around the inside of his skull until he was seeing stars. Just when he thought the night couldn't get any worse...
Shit, where was the spirit of an ancient Egyptian pharaoh when you needed him? He blacked out.
Something warm and bright hovered over his face— the light bleeding through his closed eyelids. Jounouchi groaned, pushed past his aching pain, and pried open his eyelids. It wasn't the moon. The dense foliage overhead hid the night sky from view. His vision was blurred, not helped by the light shining directly in his eyes.
"Turn that down, will ya?" he protested weakly— too tired to even raise a hand to bat away the nuisance.
"You may have a concussion."
The brown blob floating above him slowly resolved itself into Kaiba's face, scowling and almost thunderous. He seriously looked pissed off.
"Oh, it got you too."
Kaiba probably blamed Jounouchi for his death. Hurray, an eternity of listening to Kaiba's bitching!
"You're not dead," he snapped. He flicked his flashlight to a spot above, illuminating Mokuba dressed in rags while clutching a prosthetic tongue, about a yard long, in his hands.
"Oh," was all Jounouchi could manage in a daze. "Your brother got me real good."
"Mokuba, go back to the church. Call Dr. Mikage and tell him to come down here immediately." Jounouchi must have a concussion, because he'd been in walk-in freezers warmer than Kaiba's current tone. Which suggested he might be mad at Mokuba. Which was crazy because Kaiba never got mad at his little brother.
"Sure. I'm sorry again, Nii-sama." Then Mokuba slipped away, as quiet as a ghost.
"Can you sit up?" Kaiba asked.
"I think." Slowly, Jounouchi pushed himself into a sitting position. He was in one piece, which was more than what he could say about his broken flashlight lying nearby. His head hurt and there was a throbbing pain in his right arm. He flexed the limb, grateful that his muscles obeyed without too much additional pain. But when he tried to stand, the same could not be said for his legs. He hissed in pain, ankles buckling beneath his body weight as a lance of pain shot up his left leg, and sank back down to the ground. "I think it might be broken."
"Let me see."
Kaiba's words were strangely tense, but Jounouchi couldn't see his face because their only light source was now focused on his feet. Though firm, his touch was gentle as he rolled back the hem of Jounouchi's jeans to examine his ankle. Jounouchi gritted his teeth and bit back a yelp when Kaiba tried to turn it.
Finally, he said, "Your ankle's heavily swollen. Not broken, so twisted most likely. We'll know more when the doctor examines you."
"Whee," Jounouchi fake-cheered. Even if it was just a sprain, he was going to spend the rest of the summer limping around. "Might as well start crawling back."
When he tried to get up again, Kaiba planted a hand on each shoulder and pushed him down. "You really have no brains. Putting weight on it will only make it worse."
"I'm not going to sit here all night waiting for them to find me!" he protested.
"Fine," Kaiba snapped and turned his back to Jounouchi. For a moment, Jounouchi feared the other boy might leave him alone in the woods. With his back still to Jounouchi, Kaiba dropped to his knees and said impatiently, "I'll carry you."
"Bullshit!" Jounouchi shouted and laughed at the same time. "You'll drop me!"
Looking back over his shoulders with a glower on his face, Kaiba retorted, "I'm not in the habit of kicking injured animals while they're down."
"I'll manage. If you don't get a move on it, I really will leave you behind."
That sounded more like the Kaiba he knew and loved. Knowing him, Kaiba really would abandon him and then cancel any rescue attempts out of spite. Jounouchi sighed and grabbed their flashlight before throwing both arms over Kaiba's shoulders. He gave an undignified squawk when Kaiba reached back and steadied his grip on Jounouchi's gluts, a stonethrow away from his buttocks. He really wished he could say this was more humiliating for Kaiba than for him. Kaiba rounded his back, which was deceptively broader than it appeared, before hefting Jounouchi up in a piggyback hold. For the sake of stability, Jounouchi wound his arms around the other boy's neck and directed the flashlight in front of them. The last thing they needed was for Kaiba to get injured too.
"Are you sure you can do this?"
"If you don't shut up, I will drop you, bonkotsu."
Jounouchi closed his mouth with a sharp snap.
The hill wasn't as steep as Jounouchi originally thought, probably 20 degrees at most. Climbing back up it was still slow-going and Kaiba nearly lost his footing twice. Once they were back on firm and flat ground, Jounouchi breathed a sigh of relief. They followed the glow of lights beyond the trees to find their way back. Mindful of Kaiba's earlier threat, Jounouchi kept quiet until they reached the spot where Mokuba had first popped up.
"Wait, can we stop for a moment to complete the test?" he asked as they approached the stone monument.
He could feel Kaiba's entire body tense beneath him, which was a strange sensation in itself. "You still want to play this childish game?"
"Says the guy who plays card games for a living," Jounouchi muttered in retaliation, knowing full well that Kaiba could hear every word from this close.
Kaiba said nothing, but came to a stop as requested. To keep from falling, Jounouchi kept one arm braced around Kaiba's neck as his free hand reached for the wooden top. He gave the toy a light toss and cheered when it landed neatly inside the box with the other trinkets. Without waiting for Jounouchi to resettle, Kaiba started moving immediately. Jounouchi swayed before throwing himself against Kaiba and clung like a barnacle in renewed fervor. More LED candles lit the stone path back to the church, but Jounouchi kept the flashlight trained on the ground.
"Hey, Kaiba, you've been less of a jackass than usual tonight." Figuring that Kaiba wasn't going to comment, Jounouchi continued, "So let's not stop here. Don't be too hard on Mokuba. It was just a prank."
"You're going to take his side even though he's the reason you ended up like this?"
Jounouchi shrugged. Maybe he'd be mad later, but he was mostly tired at the moment. And he had faith that he'd come up with a way to get back at the kid. "Eh, it's not worth getting your panties in a twist over."
"I can't tell if you're simple-minded or that good-natured," Kaiba grumbled.
He poked Kaiba's cheek and smiled, "I'm a saint and you know it. I even tried to save you from the evil ghosties."
"I didn't need saving. They were holograms, remember?"
"Yeah, but I didn't know it at the time. We might not be friends, but I wasn't going to stand there and let Sadako or whatever it was eat you."
"How noble," Kaiba drawled, but there was less bite than usual.
Jounouchi grinned broadly. "I've made a career out of rescuing your ass, why stop here?"
Kaiba twisted his head to look at Jounouchi— his breath playing across the crown of Jounouchi's head. "How do you figure that?"
Jounouchi counted out the incidents on one hand and quickly ran out of fingers. "Like when Pegasus stole your soul, that time your company executives trapped you in a video game, Battle City, that freaky thing with Noah and your father, DOMA, your American tournament—"
"None of which you resolved on your own."
"Hey! I helped tons!"
"More like got in the way."
He supposed they made a strange sight— he draped over the back of his supposedly worst enemy, who was missing a shirt sleeve. He waved as energetically as he could manage. "Hey guys."
Yuugi, Anzu, Bakura, Honda, and Otogi swarmed at them. For a moment, Jounouchi thought Kaiba would finally drop him flat on his ass. But he froze and remained as still as a statue while Jounouchi's friends fussed.
"Come on, give us some air. Where's everyone else?"
Anzu gnawed on her lower lip. "I sent them home first."
"Thank you for bringing Jounouchi-kun back, Kaiba-kun." Yuugi smiled at the taller boy.
Kaiba nodded stiffly in acknowledgment before handing Jounouchi off to Honda and Otogi, who carried him over to one of the few standing pews. "I'll go meet Dr. Mikage." With that, he went outside to join Mokuba, who'd they'd passed on the way in.
Jounouchi yelped when Otogi grabbed his foot and propped it on the back of the collapsed pew in front. "Hey hey! Gentle!"
"Sorry, Jounouchi, you need to keep that ankle elevated."
"You're a shit nurse."
Otogi had no retort, just smirked and tossed his ponytail over his shoulder.
Several minutes later, Kaiba and Mokuba strolled in with a stern-looking, middle-aged doctor on their tail. His lab coat was rumpled and he carried a old-fashioned doctor's bag. Jounouchi wouldn't have been surprised if he had rolled out of bed not long ago.
Stopping next to Jounouchi, the doctor adjusted his thick glasses and introduced himself. "I'm Doctor Mikage Tarou, the Kaiba family's concierge doctor. A pleasure to meet you."
"Nice to meet you too, doc. You didn't have to call a doctor here, Kaiba."
Kaiba arched an eyebrow. "Hospitals are closed at this hour (2). Would you rather wait until tomorrow morning?"
Jounouchi glanced at his ankle and winced. It was swollen to the size of a softball. "I guess not. All yours, doc."
While the doctor worked, Jounouchi looked for something to distract him from his foot. Mokuba, who had changed out of his costume, hovered nearby with guiltiest puppy-dog expression. Jounouchi grabbed the younger boy and pulled him down to the pew next to him. Mokuba squirmed and protested as he ruffled the boy's longer hair. "I thought the hologram was realistic, but your costume and makeup hit it out of the park. I thought I was a goner."
"I'm sorry, Jounouchi," Mokuba apologized without meeting his eye. "You got hurt because of me."
"Cheer up, it's not that bad." The doctor shot him an annoyed look down the length of Jounouchi's leg. Jounouchi ignored him and peeked at Kaiba from the corner of his eye. "Your brother came in use for once."
"I should have left you out there."
"Blah blah blah," Jounouchi waved a hand dismissively. "Everyone knows your bark is worse than your bite."
Kaiba looked like he was sucking a lemon.
He laughed. It served Kaiba right after all those dog insults. He turned back to Mokuba and stage-whispered, "If your brother's not careful, people might start to think there's a half-decent guy buried under the ego."
Jounouchi watched as Kaiba pulled himself taller, and he met the other boy's imperious glare with a wide grin. Because to a twisted guy like Kaiba, a compliment like that was probably a thousand times worse than an insult.
"I'm going to take down the equipment," Kaiba declared as he marched toward the stairs to the tunnel. "Mokuba, tell the driver to take them home after the doctor is finished."
Yep, definitely a half-decent guy after all.