The dreaded Part 13! Their luck changes . . .
|Chapter 61: Blue-Eyes
Seto stepped out of the bath, and it began draining. A powerful blast of warm air dried him from head to toe. Joan followed, but the air failed to activate. Seto remedied the situation with a simple voice command, making a mental note to update the bathroom's programming to detect a second person as he strode to the sink to finish his routine.
Once in the bedroom, Joan found her luggage on a stand, placed there by one of Seto's servants. She pulled out her toiletries bag and went back to the bathroom. She squeezed in beside Seto as she fixed her hair. She then pulled out a few cosmetics and applied them while Seto stared. Joan finished and packed the cosmetics back into her bag. She turned to Seto. "Damn, you have it bad."
"Have what bad?"
"The love bug." Joan gave Seto a quick kiss and skipped back to the bedroom, where she slipped into a classy dress, leaving her bras and panties untouched. She then turned to admire Seto as he donned slacks and a shirt.
Seto caught her staring and smirked. "Seems you have it just as bad."
Joan smirked back. "Maaaaaaybe."
Seto pressed a claw on one of his dragon figurines. The display shelf slid into the wall, revealing a vault full of Duel Monsters cards.
Joan blinked. "Oh. Um . . . OK?"
"You're looking at the world's biggest collection of rare cards and all you can say is OK?"
"You know I've never even played, right?"
"Well, Marc taught me Monsters of the Duel, but I've never even held an actual Duel Monsters card."
"So you're a Duel Monsters virgin."
Seto deactivated the vault's extra security measures and picked up a deck at the back of the vault. He fanned out the cards until he found what he was looking for. "Are you ready?"
Joan sensed from his tone of voice that this meant a lot more to him than it did to her. She nodded and let Seto hand her three cards. She stared down at three Blue-Eyes White Dragons, the edges of the cards a little rough from years of use before they'd been locked away in the vault. Not knowing what to say, she kept looking at them, admiring the artwork as well as the wear on the cards.
Seto watched Joan examining the cards and realized she could never fully understand what they meant to him, unless . . . A light pulse surged through his brain as he tapped into the ring's power and released his memories to her.
Joan saw a pale woman with white hair and blue eyes. Unlike the cosplayer Seto had dueled, the real Kisara wore a plain linen dress, not an evening gown. Something about her soul radiated pure light and grace. Joan saw visions of Seto's past life in ancient Egypt, of him first meeting Kisara and freeing her from slave traders, of her dragon spirit coming back to blast white lightning on the bandits who destroyed his home. Nothing could compare to the bond they'd formed that day, and Joan instantly knew why the modern Seto had never bothered trying to find love.
Kisara's downfall came in a torrent of evil magic as she jumped in front of the ancient Seto to save him from an attack brought on by his corrupted father. Her spirit infused with Seto's as her life faded, leaving him with the power of the dragon in his ancient life. The modern Seto had felt mysteriously drawn to the Blue-Eyes White Dragon until some adventures with his high school classmates revealed his past life to him.
The vision faded, and a moment passed before Joan finally spoke. "Thank you for sharing that with me. I see now why you distrust anything magical."
"Just promise me you won't die trying to protect me from some evil nutcase."
Joan laughed. "Don't worry about that. I have too many reasons to live, and you're only one of them. Of course, if I have the option, neither one of us will die."
Seto took both of Joan's hands in his. "Then let's make sure you have another option."
"Sure. What are you thinking?"
"Evil assholes like to use Duel Monsters to get what they want. If we build you an unstoppable deck, they won't stand a chance against you."
"I see. You'll also have to teach me how to play, then."
"The game itself is so easy that children play it. Mastering it is another matter. Fortunately, you're looking at the best duelist on the planet."
Joan smirked. "Even Nathaniel knows that."
"Good. Then he should make a decent practice opponent for you."
"It's a good idea in theory, but I'm not sure when I'll find time for that."
Their stomachs rumbled. They would have to finish this another time.
Chapter 62: The View
After some food and another round of fucking, Joan and Seto went back to the vault to pick through cards. They made some progress, but Joan didn't even have half a deck by the time Seto's alarm went off. Seto sighed and shut the vault. He then went to don his white suit while Joan touched up her makeup. They then had a light meal in the limo as they headed into the heart of Domino City.
During daylight hours, the city had almost as many duelists as Joan's university had cyclists. Young and old alike sported various duel disks, some more flashy than others. Joan stared at one adorned with blue and pink rhinestones that reminded her of Dark Magician Girl's costume. "Mokuba told me how most people still prefer the traditional duel disks over the implants," Joan commented. "It makes sense now."
Seto twirled a lock of her hair. "Want one?"
"Already got one. Mokuba set it up to hide the glowing jewels, or to explain why they glow in case anyone asks."
Seto's eyebrows rose. "They . . . glow?"
"Activate random glow," Joan commanded. Marc's façade dropped and the gemstones revealed their full glory.
Seto watched the opal flash in time with his thoughts while the ruby and sapphire blinked in tandem. "How long has it been doing that?"
"Ever since the run-in with Sartorius," Joan admitted.
"And you didn't think to tell me sooner?"
"Oh, we thought about it, but we decided against it."
"It was a group decision."
Seto turned to Roland. "And you didn't think to tell me about it?"
A bead of sweat formed on Roland's forehead. "This is the first I'm hearing of it, Sir."
Seto glared until Joan said, "We kept him out of the loop on purpose." She transferred more memories to Seto, showing him their concerns that night, how Mokuba had convinced her and Marc to keep the ring's glowing under wraps.
"Next time Mokuba lies to save face, don't buy into it," Seto warned.
Joan grinned, remembering how much fun that evening had been. "He didn't lie; he just distracted you for a bit. You would have missed out on getting me pregnant if you were busy freaking out about the magic."
"All the same, we can't afford secrets when dealing with something that concerns all of us."
"I agree. No more secrets."
The limo pulled up in front of the humongous Kaiba Corporation office building. It seemed like a lifetime ago that Joan had last set foot in a building of this size. A little flashback from her internship sent a chill down her spine, but she reminded herself that an entire ocean sat between her and the place she never wanted to see again. The Blue-Eyes White Dragon statues, though silent, seemed to confirm her conviction. They existed to protect Seto — and her by extension.
Seto took Joan's hand as they approached the imposing doorway. They entered a spacious lobby containing a café frequented by the caffeine addicts on Seto's payroll. The regulars stopped their conversations and stared mid-sip as their boss strolled by with the only smile they had ever seen on his face and a stately woman only half of them recognized from having watched Seto's latest duel.
The pair stepped into the executive elevator along with Roland and the blond American bodyguard. As soon as the doors closed, Joan pressed Seto against the elevator wall and ravished his mouth. Roland and Tamara exchanged glances but otherwise pretended not to notice as Seto's hand found its way under the hem of Joan's dress and squeezed her bare ass. They kept at it a few moments after arriving on the top floor, leaving Roland no choice but to awkwardly hold the door until they finished.
Joan straightened her dress and stepped out of the elevator to see a man in a deep bow. He rose to reveal a lined face that indicated decades in the corporate world. "Mr. Kaiba, so glad to have you back. Mrs. Kaiba, so glad to meet you."
Joan bowed back. "Glad to meet you too . . ."
"Apologies for not introducing myself. I am Tanaka, Mr. Kaiba's head secretary."
"Head? How many secretaries are there?"
"I oversee the stockholder relations manager, the social media manager, the public relations manager, the digital security manager, the legal team leader, and several others."
Joan's eyes widened. "That's quite a list."
"What did you expect?" Seto gloated, pleased that he'd managed to impress her for once.
"I don't know, some busty young thing who gives you head whenever you want it," Joan replied.
Seto chuckled. "I tried some of those back when I first took over Kaiba Corp. They annoyed me constantly and didn't know a keyboard from an eyeshadow palette."
Seto took Joan's hand once more and led her into a private office the size of her entire apartment. Aside from the monstrous desk, the room contained three black leather couches and several chairs positioned in front of a flat-screen TV with every game console Joan could name and many she didn't recognize. As Seto had promised, there was not only a private water cooler but a kitchenette at the far end of the room.
"Allow me to debrief you on what happened while you were away," Tanaka began.
Seto pulled Joan down to sit beside him on a couch. Roland, Tamara, and Tanaka took seats as well. Tanaka began laying out figures and options that had been discussed in meetings. Most of it went over Joan's head, and she realized she was arm candy again, but at least this time she was a chocolate truffle. She did her best to listen, but only Roland and Seto were truly engaged in the conversation.
"Your recent duel seems to have stabilized our stock prices," Tanaka reported. "Your ability to counter-hack your duel system with your own mind has ignited your fans' imaginations anew. The demand for implants has quintupled."
"They do realize we only offer the voice-activated models for public use, right?" Even if Seto had worked out all the issues with his neural implants, he would never offer peons that level of power.
"Some of them do, but others are under the impression that they just have to believe in the heart of the cards hard enough to pull off a miracle."
"And those morons think a voice-activated implant will help them do that?"
"Fine. Let the cash roll in."
Joan began squirming out of boredom. She might have had more interest in what they were saying if she actually played Duel Monsters. Touching a few legendary cards didn't amount to passion for the game.
"That covers everything," Tanaka finally concluded.
"Good," Seto replied. "Roland, take the Girl Scout on a tour of the city. My whore and I don't want to be disturbed for the next hour."
Joan smirked. "You know Tamara and I were both Girl Scouts, right?"
"You know who I mean," Seto growled.
"Yes, sir," Roland said.
Tamara suppressed a smile as she, Roland, and Tanaka stood and left the office.
"I wanted to see the city too," Joan pouted.
Seto led Joan to the floor-to-ceiling window overlooking Domino. He pressed her against the glass and nibbled on her ear. Joan took in the view as he dropped his pants and lifted her dress.
Chapter 63: Curse
Spent and resting on the couch, Seto's fingers trailed lazily along Joan's waist and stopped on her lower abdomen. "How long until it starts kicking?"
"No idea," Joan admitted. "We'll have to look it—"
The sound of shattering glass jerked their faces towards the window. A woman in a billowing white and blue garment with heavy gold jewelry glared at Joan and Seto. She wielded a golden scepter tipped with a glowing fist-sized lapis lazuli lotus. Rage radiated from eyes that matched the stone.
Seto pressed the KC pin on his collar and spoke into it. "Who ordered the flying maniac bitch that just crashed into my office?"
"Kneel and beg for your miserable lives, heretics!" the woman demanded.
"I kneel before no one. Who the fuck are you?" Despite his loud, unwavering voice, he clutched Joan so tightly that he betrayed his fear to her.
"I am the goddess Hera. Most sheep who stray learn their lesson in due time and return to the flock, but you have gone too far. Repent now, or I shall smite you!" Hera's blue lotus gleamed as it arced through the air on its golden rod and came to point at Seto.
This has to be an elaborate hoax. Somebody must have installed a hidden camera in my office while I was away. I can't show weakness now, Seto thought. "Spare me your empty threats. Nobody's impressed by your golden dildo."
Hera screamed with fury and a blast of energy shot from the tip of her scepter. Joan's left hand shot up and a wave of light from the ring deflected the blast. Seto felt his head nearly split open from the toll the ring's magic exacted. He reeled back and collapsed while Hera's deflected blast tore through the wall of his office, taking out half of Tanaka's desk on the other side. Stunned, Seto's head secretary looked down at the place where his right arm used to be for several seconds before releasing a scream and promptly fainting.
Hera remained unfazed by the casualty as she continued to focus her attention on Joan. "It seems your little toy has more quirks than my followers reported to me."
Joan's heart sank as she remembered the miniature lapis lazuli lotus the festival shopkeeper had given to Mokuba. His suspicion was justified after all.
Seto looked upon the scene helplessly as his body failed to respond to his brain.
Hera approached Joan slowly, floating gracefully rather than trying to walk over the broken glass. "You spent the source of your power too quickly. Look at him: broken and lying at your feet. Without him, you are nothing."
Joan glanced at Seto before looking back at Hera. "What's your problem?"
"That abomination growing inside you. You are a disgrace to womanhood everywhere."
"I'm sorry you feel that way."
Hera's glowing blue eyes drilled straight into Joan's. "Listen, upstart whore: you're tipping the balance of nature by claiming four men. I won't stand for it!"
A little smile tugged at Joan's lips. "Let me get this straight: you're jealous of a whore like me?"
Hera dodged the question. "Whores like you deserve punishment and suffering, not the joys of motherhood. Even death would be too kind." Hera thrust her scepter against Joan's navel. Joan's hands fizzled with weak sparks as she desperately tried to tap into her magic again. Instead, a jolt of pure terror shot through her body. "That abomination in your womb will grow. You will labor to bring it into this world, but it will turn to dust before you can hold it in your arms."
Seto's brain reconnected with his body, and he struggled to sit up, wishing he had enough strength to hurl something at the Greek cunt that had just condemned his child. He almost missed the days of the Millennium Items, when a golden eye could read minds, a golden necklace could predict the future, and a golden dildo merely granted the wielder temporary control over someone's body.
Seto regained focus just in time to witness Hera's triumphant expression before she turned and flew out the shattered office window. Joan sank to her knees and burst into tears just as Roland and Tamara burst into the office.
Chapter 64: Faith and Reason
Calls from Michael and Marc competed for Joan's attention. Seto ordered Roland to set up a video conference call, and soon they had faces on the flat-screen TV in Seto's office. Tamara took Joan's phone and mounted it on a tripod, relieving Joan's trembling hands. Michael and Mokuba appeared in the same panel, and seeing her own familiar couch in the background provided a small measure of comfort to Joan. More importantly, the way Seto held her reminded her that she didn't have to bear the bad news alone.
"Laura is listening," Marc nodded in the direction of where Laura sat offscreen. "That last brain zap didn't sit well with me, and she wants to take me to the hospital, but we all know that's pointless."
"Yeah," Michael agreed. "They're just going to bill you ten thousand bucks for all the tests, refer you to a psychiatrist who specializes in drug addiction, and send you home. Seriously though, that last one knocked both of us on our asses."
Mokuba nodded beside Michael. "So, what happened?"
Seto picked up Joan's phone and directed its camera at the wreckage of his workspace and the hole in the wall, through which Roland assisted Seto's crippled head secretary. Luckily, the blast of energy had cauterized Tanaka's arm, delaying the need for medical attention. Roland escorted Tanaka away from the scene as Seto brought the phone back to the tripod.
Marc and Michael stared at their phones with wide eyes while Mokuba asked, "Is Tanaka going to be OK?"
"Yes, but now I have to design an entire cybernetic arm instead of just a finger. I told you we should have removed her finger."
Mokuba rolled his eyes. "Just tell us what happened, Seto. Did you lose control of the ring?"
"Quite the opposite," Joan said. "It saved us from getting obliterated by Hera."
"Hera the Greek goddess?" Marc clarified. One of the previous companies he'd worked for had used her as a character in a game, so he knew the legends well.
"The very same," Joan confirmed.
"Hold up. Are you talking about a cosplayer or actual freaking Hera?" Marc asked.
"Actual freaking Hera."
A moment of silence passed as the men in California wrapped their heads around this new development.
Laura's head popped into Marc's frame. "For real? I mean . . . how do you know it was really her?"
"She . . ." Joan paused, unable to get the words out.
Seto pulled Joan to his chest, and she sank into his embrace. Her lips quivered and her eyes leaked.
"What the fuck did she do!?" Michael demanded, already dreading the answer.
"She cursed us, our baby," Seto filled in.
Marc froze. He'd wondered about this since that moment he'd let his fantasies get the better of him and had been immediately rewarded by a brain zap. He'd shoved his fears to the back of his mind over and over, but they kept surfacing. The way Seto said "our baby" with more emotion than he had ever heard fall from the CEO's lips drove reality home.
"What baby?" Laura asked.
Marc's finger twitched to end the call, but he realized that would leave him with even more explaining to do.
Mokuba noticed the ashen look on Marc's face and tried to cover. "The one Joan and Michael are trying to have." Another tense second passed before he added, "But Seto and I are hoping to get lucky too."
Seto stared hard at Mokuba. The visions Joan had shared with him had come from Mokuba. Surely he knew. What was his game? Or was he having a brain fart?
"I don't understand," Laura said. "Hera is the goddess of motherhood. Why would she curse you?"
None of the men spoke.
Joan finally broke the silence. "For fuck's sake, Mokuba! All four of you got lucky and that's exactly Hera's problem. She said it was against the laws of nature or some bullshit for all four of you to father the same child. So the moment it's born, it's going to turn to dust before I even get to hold it."
"Lucky," Laura repeated, "so that's what you kids are calling it these days." Bitterness edged her voice. "Sounds about right."
"Honey . . ." Marc searched for more words but found none.
"Don't start. I already know I'm not good enough for you. My shriveled-up ovaries can't give you what you want."
"Sweetie . . ."
"You thought you could get away with this, didn't you? Your buddies were going to keep this all hush-hush. At least Joan had the guts to come clean. You boys are cowards."
"Darling . . ."
"I hope Hera curses your dick so it shrivels up and falls off. Now get out of here before I take matters into my own hands. Go."
Marc's line went dead, causing Mokuba and Michael's panel to go full screen. "Real smooth, Joan," Mokuba said. "What happened to telling him in person?"
Seto scowled. "That hag Hera happened. And apparently your precious menopausal narrative designer is on her side."
"Don't you dare talk about Laura that way," Mokuba snapped. "I respect her, and she has good reason to be upset."
"And we don't? Think about it, Mokuba. Mrs. Aurelio loses nothing from this. She probably never had two eggs to rub together in the first place. Marc, on the other hand, is facing his last chance at fatherhood."
"Laura lost faith in Marc. Don't you think that counts for something?"
"Whatever. If you want to tie their marriage back together, that's your pet project. We have our own issues to deal with."
Michael spoke up. "Woman, I think we should skip out on the Imagination of the Mind tournament and stay home."
"No," Joan said, "they're counting on us."
"This isn't some little regional tournament. They'll have enough extra volunteers to cover for us."
"But I need this. I need to be surrounded by more solutions than problems, even if they're not the solutions we're looking for."
"Then you should have said that in the first place."
"Male, I'm tired. The point is I'm going. You can join me, or you can sit on your ass."
"I'll join you, but Woman better get her sleep. Male don't want to deal with cranky Woman."
Joan sighed. "That's going to be hard after everything that's happened."
Seto interlaced his fingers with Joan's. "I'll handle it. Dinner. Bath. If necessary, we'll use the ring."
Mokuba's eyebrows shot up. "You're suggesting we actually use it now!?"
"That ring got us into this mess and it may be our only hope of getting out. We need to practice, test its limits, and form a plan."
"That's reasonable," Mokuba agreed. "OK, good luck."
Michael made heart hands for the camera, and Joan returned the sentiment by moving her index finger in and out of a hole formed by her other hand. They ended the call and, even with Tamara's silent presence, Joan felt comfortable speaking as if she and Seto were the only ones in the room. "Do you think I just fucked up with Marc and Laura?"
"You already know what I think."
"You were supportive and I appreciate that, but maybe Mokuba was right to only give them a half-truth."
"Whore, if Aurelio can't man up and face the consequences of his desires, he doesn't deserve you." Seto kissed her firmly, cementing his intention to hold himself to the same standard. "Now let's get out of here."
Chapter 65: Zucchini
As soon as Michael ended their call with Joan, Mokuba whipped out his phone and texted Marc. Based on what they'd all heard Laura say just a few moments ago, Marc would need a place to stay tonight, and Mokuba had a spare room to offer. He worried about work tomorrow, if Laura would even show up, if Marc would dare risk running into her at work, or worse, if they both showed up with swords and . . . Mokuba took a deep breath. They would have to handle one thing at a time.
Mokuba looked up from his phone. "I don't think Marc should be alone right now. Would it be OK if we invited him over here?"
Michael shrugged. "As long as he's OK with my cooking. I've got some zucchini that's getting old. Woman is going to kill me if I don't use it."
Mokuba nodded and went back to texting.
Michael ambled to the kitchen and started digging through the refrigerator. He always cooked enough to have leftovers anyway, so one more mouth wouldn't be a problem.
Mokuba finished exchanging logistics with Marc and pulled a dining room chair up to the kitchen. "So . . ."
Michael turned to face Mokuba. "So why did Marc's name make it onto that ring in the first place? Sure Joan loves him, she even told him, but he never said it back, unless there's something I don't know."
"I . . . I didn't know that. Marc is the reason Seto and I met her, so it seemed wrong to leave him out. I mean, what kind of man takes his girlfriend to work if he isn't serious about her?"
"I see." Michael turned back to his cutting board. The steady, almost relaxing rhythm of chopping gave them both freedom to think. While Mokuba's statement didn't reassure Michael much over the dynamic between Marc and Joan, it amplified his faith in the Kaiba brothers. Any man could show off his hot girlfriend at work, but if it meant something special to the Kaibas, perhaps Joan was in good hands with them.
Meanwhile, Mokuba wondered if he'd been too naïve about the entire situation. He'd made an assumption about Marc and Joan's relationship, and that had landed them in this mess. But if he'd guessed wrong, why did the ring actually work? Joan's words about love echoed in his mind: people don't usually admit to it right away. Perhaps Marc had good reason for caution when it came to matters of the heart.
Marc's knock startled Mokuba. Michael let Marc in and dashed back to the kitchen to put the finishing touches on the food. Marc sat at the dining table and stared into space while Mokuba searched fruitlessly for words.
Michael set a plate of steak, seasoned potatoes, and zucchini in front of Marc. "Eat, bro. Hunger will only make it worse."
Marc forced down a bite without really tasting it. Joan wasn't the only woman besides Laura he'd fantasized about getting pregnant, but fantasies typically didn't manifest in reality. "It's going to die anyway, right?" he finally uttered.
"Fuck, bro." Michael laid out plates for himself and Mokuba. "Is that what you want?"
Marc speared a piece of zucchini. "If it was mine alone, I'd push for early termination."
Mokuba recalled more of Joan's words. "You're lying to yourself. You want this just as much as we do."
Marc looked at Mokuba. "And you tried to lie for me."
Mokuba couldn't tell if Marc meant that in a thankful way or a chastising way. "I, uh . . ."
"The truth had to come out eventually," Marc continued. "Actually, I should have faced the truth long ago."
"What do you mean?" Mokuba asked.
"Laura is never going to get pregnant without outside intervention, and she's stubborn about fertility treatments, so it's never going to happen at all."
"Oh." Mokuba's mind raced with the new information. "Am I not paying you enough?"
Marc shook his head. "It's not about the money. It's about evolution. She doesn't think we should perpetuate our genes if we can't do it naturally."
"Oh shit," Michael said. "So she really is on Hera's side."
Marc shrugged. "You could say that."
"And oops babies are forbidden?"
Michael stroked his stubbly chin. "Laura has your balls in a vice. That's harsh, to deny you kids like that. I mean, why can't she just cut you some slack and let you plant your seed elsewhere?"
"I may be to blame. It could be my sperm that's the problem, but the thing is I don't want her having kids with someone else either." Realization slapped Marc in the face. "Fuck." Michael and Mokuba waited for Marc to continue. "She's probably fucking Matteo right now."
"Matteo?" Michael asked.
"Her Italian Stallion boyfriend," Mokuba supplied.
"Oh." Michael shuddered as Marc's emotions zapped through his mind. Matteo himself had very little to do with it. It was knowing Laura, her thirst for revenge combined with her thirst for procreation that left him with no doubts about her next course of action. "So what now? You're royally fucked. We are too, but you most of all. Are you just going to sit there and let some has-been goddess destroy what little you have left to live for? Fuck. That."
Marc's lips quirked. "Let's play some video games. I know four with Hera, and I'd like to pound her ass in all of them."
Michael swallowed a mouthful of steak. "Wish I could join you, but the wife's going to murder me if I don't wake up in time for her imaginary volunteer thingy."
"Keep her happy," Marc said.