Author: Regann PM
COMPLETE. When Kaiba has a problem, Jounouchi comes to his aid. Remember: deserted parking lots are romantic. JxS with the added bonus of some inventive uses for Petroleum Jelly and free automobile maintenance tips. What more could you ask for?Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance - K. Jounouchi & Seto K. - Words: 14,554 - Reviews: 82 - Favs: 224 - Follows: 26 - Published: 08-24-03 - Status: Complete - id: 1491253
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Some days are better than others.
Jounouchi Katsuya wasn't entirely certain of where he'd first heard that old saying, but it was one he'd always remembered knowing. Maybe it had been something his mother had once told her sister when commenting on married life to an alcoholic whose mood swings were swift, frightening and unpredictable. Or maybe he'd heard it on TV; it smacked of the false modesty which athletes tried to pass off as sportsmanship in interviews when they were so damn smug about victory that no one believed them anyway.
He knew it was something he'd said a few times himself -- to Yuugi, after losing a friendly game of cards; to Honda, after recovering from a not-so-friendly street fight. Like it had been hard-wired into his brain, it was one of those adages he knew and used and heard with no real idea of the origin behind it.
Lately, however, it had become more than that -- it had become his damned slogan, inspiration, motivation, and explanation all rolled into one convenient sentence. It was a mantra, one he repeated in his head over and over, the words falling somewhere between a prayer and a ongoing joke. That was probably because it seemed as if Jounouchi had been having more than his fair shares of bad days, the not-better outweighing the better by a few good stones.
Some days are better than others, he reminded himself grimly as he set himself to task, methodically although mechanically working his hands into the mass of jumbled hoses and metal parts of the old automobile suspended above him.
Today, he'd realized all too quickly, was not turning out to be one of those all too few better days.
It was a Friday which had immediately put Jounouchi into a good mood from the moment he'd awoke that morning, but events had rapidly deteriorated in a way which had completely eradicated any good feelings he might have had. First there had the unpleasant round of questions and answers from his irritable father, the elder Jounouchi nursing a bad hangover and a headache the size of a small Polynesian island. As usual, his father had gained consciousness with only dim awareness of what had led to his being sprawled inelegantly on the living room floor which meant he spent the better part of an hour demanding answers to questions to which he really didn't want truthful replies. It was maddening, but the son had mastered that tap dance years ago; still, it bothered him that he had to tread through it. But even he -- with his surprisingly patient attitude toward his father's "memory lapses" -- had almost blown a gasket when his father had brought up the cat.
"How many times do I have to tell ya that I don't like cats?" the older man had muttered, glaring over at the young man. "Ya know I can't stand them. Like that damned white fluff ball of yours. Can't believe you even had the gall to bring it home in the first place."
When he'd been about twelve years old, Jounouchi had had a "white fluff ball," a stray he'd picked up in the neighborhood who he'd simply called Cat. The fact that Cat had been dead for two years and his father still complained about it whenever he saw any neighborhood cat made it very hard to restrain himself from clocking the old geezer before he'd rushed out to catch the cross-town bus.
Some days are better than others, the proverb passed through his head again. At least, his father hadn't thought that he'd killed his son in a drunken fit and then forgotten about it in a drunken blackout. Now, that had been a bad day which Jounouchi was loathed to repeat.
Swallowing a colorful expletive as his absentmindedness caused him to clunk his head against the corner of the radiator he was checking, Jounouchi scowled at the memory of that morning as he rubbed his sore forehead. The episode with his old man had made him late for his bus which had made him late for work. And, although his employers at the Yamada Auto Repair were understanding enough to forgive him for the one-time blunder, the two other mechanics at the shop were on vacation, leaving him as the only full-time worker on shift that day.
And, of course, that particular Friday was the day on which everyone needed either an oil change or a lube job, so he'd been working at a frantic pace since he arrived, flying through a never-ending queue of customers, doing repairs with Midori, the youngest Yamada and the only female, working in the office where she dealt with telephone calls and payments schedules. While he was pleased to be able to be finished quickly, Jounouchi was bored with almost mindless services he'd been doing, so much so that he found himself wishing for a good challenge.
Although he'd only be working as a auto mechanic since just before school break had began, he'd quickly mastered the rudiments of his job, gaining skills enough to handle most of the problems which came to him. When he'd expressed his own amazement at his speed, Yuugi had pointed out that he'd learned Duel Monsters in a similar manner. His friend's comparison had made a lot of sense to Jounouchi; in fact, his desire for a challenge at the workplace was very much like his appreciation of a good duel, both of them calling upon him to use his wits, his luck and his know-how to figure out a problem. Just as he wanted strong adversaries in order to become a better duelist, he now wanted more complicated and delicate repairs so that he could expand his mechanical expertise. More than he wanted to admit, he loved the half-experimental procedure he used in trying to understand what was wrong, the trial-and-error system tilted by a good pinch of intuition. And nothing gave him more pleasure to find the problem and then fix it.
Except perhaps winning a particularly challenging duel.
Jounouchi sighed dramatically as he slid himself farther beneath the hulking 1970s vehicle, pausing to squint at the clouded face of his wristwatch. After wiping the grime from its surface, he could read that it was finally 6:43 PM which meant that they'd be closing in less than twenty minutes. Finally, he groaned to himself. This day'll be over. Shit, this has been a helluva bad day and it's like…never ending. Heh, at least I'll get PAID. That's gotta count for somethin.'
As he brooded over his current bad day and the ones which had preceded it, his mind immediately jumped to Kaiba Seto, an subconscious action which didn't help improve his already sour mood. It wasn't a concrete sort of thought; more of a wispy passing-by thought, something fleeting but undeniable, gone almost before it was recognized. It made the young mechanic's concentrated frown deepen, a reaction fueled both by confusion and annoyance.
For some reason that Jounouchi didn't understand, Kaiba always managed to cross his thoughts on these all-too-frequent rough days, a fact which boggled the blond. What was it about bad days that made him think of Kaiba? Was it that the ideas of miserable and Kaiba were so interconnected in his free-associative brain that any thoughts relating to one brought thoughts of the other? It seemed the simplest and most straight-forward answer but there was a niggling at the back of his brain, the place where his higher analysis toyed with these convoluted questions and usually found answers which matched the questions in complexity. And anything involving Kaiba Seto was considered complex by default, even by Jounouchi.
The dominant side of Jounouchi flatly refused to listen to that overanalyzed alternative, that there could be another reason which made him think of Kaiba on days when he wanted nothing more than to go home, crawl into bed and forget the world existed.
Jounouchi would not accept that he did it because thinking about that cold-hearted, arrogant, self-centered bastard actually made him feel better.
Twisting painfully on the wrench in his hand, the young mechanic ferociously tuned out any more strange thoughts floating up from the analytical side of his brain and instead focused on the fact that it was exactly 6:46PM -- only fourteen minutes until he could stop working, get paid and go home.
And finally, his bad day could end.
Somewhere on the other side of the city, high above the streets in a glass-and-steel monument to construction, architecture and modern design, the cold-hearted, arrogant, self-centered bastard of Jounouchi's irritating thoughts was leaning heavily against an expensively ancient desk with papers, files and the ever-present laptop obscuring its polished mahogany surface. Studying the liquid crystal screen while his fingers tapped on the smooth keys at a furious pace, he paid little attention to the lower slant of the summer sun which spoke of early evening, light glinting off the clean lines of the sparsely decorated office. With the hour being very near the 7:00PM mark, few people still loitered around the grand building when the day had officially ended at five o'clock, so an eerie, almost un-natural silence had settled over the empty floor, broken only by the rhythmic drum of Kaiba Seto's fingers on his computer.
Like Jounouchi, Kaiba Seto knew about good and bad days, although his criteria for both was dramatically different on the most basic of scales, as was his approach to dealing with the hand dealt to him by fate from day-to-day. While easy-going, affable young mechanics were prone to accept events with grudging exasperation and hope for a better tomorrow, impatient young millionaires preferred more proactive measures when dealing with life's ups and downs.
If Jounouchi's mantra was "some days are better than others," Kaiba Seto's was easily "kill or be killed" because when complications arose, he dealt with them much in the same way he did opponents in card matches -- he preferred to quickly crush the cause of his irritation in the most degrading and humiliating way possible. From experience, he'd learned that few troubles or troublemakers couldn't be dealt with in such a way.
Those few included Mutou Yuugi and his ever-present, ever-annoying sidekick. The damned dog.
A pause in his fast-paced typing choked the office with silence as Kaiba briefly closed his strained eyes, taking a few well-earned minutes to rest them. He'd been working almost completely without respite since early afternoon, uninterrupted from when he'd ordered his secretary to ignore all requests for audience on pain of death -- both hers and whoever she allowed to interrupt him. Mokuba, as always when it came to Kaiba, was the exception to that order.
His day, which had begun before dawn, had not been a particularly pleasing one, although the afternoon of intense programming was a satisfying enough accomplishment that he was in danger of considering the day a fair one, inconveniences aside. Those inconsequential but completely bedeviling inconveniences included a serious problem with his chauffeur which made it apparent that he'd have to spend next week interviewing prospective employees for the now-empty position.
Of the varied and sundry things which Kaiba hated, inefficiency and gross dereliction of duty ranked somewhere among his top ten, particularly when those two concepts could be used to describe an employee. After two unexplained and unannounced tardies, with the second coinciding with an extremely important early morning conference, mercy had been in very short supply.
Deciding that his eyes had rested long enough, Kaiba turned his attention back to the tiny rows of white-on-black code dancing across his glimmering screen, fingertips flying over the keyboard as if possessed while the rest of his body remained a study in tensed non-movement, a state too active to be considered stillness even though no muscles except those in his fingers flexed with motion.
His mind had just reached its perfect pinnacle of oblivious concentration when the familiar electronic ring of his cell phone sounded from somewhere to his left, the high-pitched sound muffled by being buried under a stack of business papers. Groping around the haphazardly strewn files, he finally located his chirping cell phone.
"Kaiba Seto." Clipped, brisk and utterly flat, the spoken words sounded strange to his ears after so many hours in the muted noiselessness of his isolated office.
"Niisama!" Mokuba's energetic voice seemed to radiate warmth through the receiver.
"Mokuba," he drawled in return, lazily amused by the sheer exuberance expressed in the single greeting. "What is it?"
Instead of answering, he replied with a question of his own in that infuriating way of children. "Are you still at the office?"
A brow arched at the impertinent question. "Yes, I am, as a matter of fact."
"Seto!" he chastised, although the high-pitched tone was interpreted by his older brother as whining. "You're supposed to be on your way here. Remember?"
"Of course I remember," he assured him, almost wounded by the accusation. "I promised I'd take you to see that movie and we're going. It's only…" He trailed off to glance at the glowing dial of the digital clock on his desk which was blinking 6:47PM. "It's already that late?"
"Uh huh," Mokuba's voice was smug. "After that whole thing this morning about 'I'll be there at exactly 7:15 and if you're not ready, we're not going' speech of yours, you're the one who's gonna be late."
"Yeah, yeah," Kaiba muttered, both amused and annoyed by his younger brother's attitude. "I've still got time to make it there before 7:15. And you had better be waiting," he warned as he cradled the cell phone in the crook of his neck so that his hands were free to fly over the computer keyboard. After a few chirps and beeps, the laptop screen went black and he snapped the top down. "I'm walking out the door this minute," he informed the pint-sized timekeeper on the other end of the line as he pulled on his trench coat before stuffing the portable black box of circuitry into his briefcase.
"As long as you're leaving right now," he intoned, a grin reflected in his voice. "I'll be waitin'. You better hurry."
"Of course," Kaiba deadpanned, teasingly serious even though the wit of it would escape his sibling. "I'll see you in less than twenty-five minutes." After an exchange of perfunctory goodbyes, he pocketed the phone and strode through the empty corridors of the impressive building, sparing little attention to the old, bow-legged janitor who paused in his task of emptying trash cans to watch the young CEO walk to the elevators. Jabbing at the lowest button on the gleaming panel, Kaiba settled back to wait for the elevator's descent while he tried to remember the title of the film Mokuba wanted to see. For some reason -- probably because his brain was still processing programming codes on an intrinsic level -- the title eluded him, situated tauntingly at the edge of his memory. He could almost recall it…he'd recognized it a very days earlier in the week when he'd overheard Yuugi and the damn dog talking about it when he'd passed them on the street because he'd distinctly began to doubt Mokuba's taste in visual media entertainment when he'd heard that second-rate duelist refer to the film as "the best damn thing" he'd seen.
Something had to be done if Mokuba was developing tastes which ran similar to his.
Even with the alarming number of windows present in the building's construction, Kaiba was still ill-prepared for the sudden assault of the late afternoon sun on his overtaxed eyes; when the slanted glare of the sun's reflection hit his face, he was forced to squint against the brightness. Scowling, he headed across the open expanse of lined asphalt to the one vehicle still sitting in the parking lot, a sleek black luxury car which spoke of wealth with its classic lines and understated elegance. Kaiba produced a key ring from his pants pocket and flicked his hand toward the car as he approached, pressing the small red button on the electronic remote in order to unlock the doors.
When his actions were not met with the usual flash of the head- and brake- lights, his scowl deepened as he quickened his steps. He deposited his briefcase on the shiny hood before he reached down, grabbing hold of the handle to check if the door had unlocked. When he realized that it had not, he glowered at the car in silent accusation before fiddling with the group of keys in his hand and jamming the correct one into the keyhole.
After the briefcase was settled into the empty passenger seat with an air of practiced ease, Kaiba slid his lanky frame into driver's seat, the same abused key he'd used to open the uncooperative door still clutched in hand. As he slid the key into the ignition, the young millionaire was calculating his estimated time table silently, wondering briefly if he'd have enough time to actually meet his own 7:15PM deadline when…
Stopped mid-thought by the decided lack of desired response, he scowled in frustration as he tried the key again, only to be answered by a strange sound caught somewhere between a gurgle and a whine. He tried once more, but to no avail -- the damned car was not going to start.
His anger piqued, Kaiba groaned out of frustration and leaned forward to rest his head none so lightly on the car's steering wheel as he weighed his options. Truth be told, he could call a cab and simply leave the car at the Kaiba Corporation building over the weekend. It wasn't as if he didn't have other cars. But he was loathed to leave the very new and very expensive vehicle in a open, deserted parking lot, not even for a few hours. While there were extensive security protocols which protected the actual skyscraper, nothing more sophisticated than surveillance cameras patrolled its distant perimeter.
Kaiba retrieved his pocketed cell phone and quickly perused through its stored list of telephone numbers. First, he'd call the automotive repair shop where his cars were usually serviced, then he'd call Mokuba to tell him of the change in plans. He'd have the car towed, and he'd take a cab home and the situation would be resolved, although he doubted he and his brother would make the showing of the film as they'd planned. As he waited for someone to answer his call, he noticed the time -- 6:52PM.
He hoped that the shop was still open for business.
It was exactly 6:57PM when Jounouchi let out a victorious whooping cheer to signal that he'd finally finished with his last oil change of the day. All that was left for him to do was rearrange his disarrayed tools and move the old car out of the garage for pick-up on Monday. So pleased with the fact that his day was only three minutes from officially being over, he never heard the phone ring or Midori's sugary-sweet voice as she answered it. Nor was he aware of the same petite young woman as she leaned against the door jamb which separated the garage from the dingy room her father called an office, eyeing his long, denim-clad legs still sticking out from underneath the car as he gathered the last of his tools.
Mid-way through the action of rolling himself from beneath the old car, Jounouchi froze at the sweet -- and polite -- way in which Midori called out to him, instantly suspicious. Never in the months that he'd worked in her family's garage had the youngest Yamada ever addressed him politely if she didn't plan to ask him for something.
"The answer's no, Yamada," he told her firmly, his head finally appearing from beneath the rusted fender of the old brown car. "I don't care what it is, I ain't gonna do it."
"Jounouchi!" she cried, stamping her foot in a show of temper. "I haven't even told you what I wanted yet!"
"But I know you want somethin'," he pointed out. He stood straight, stretching his arms high above his head to work out the kinks his lower back had acquired from being under a car for so long. His face contorted contentedly as his bones audibly popped back into the correct alignment. "And I ain't gettin' involved."
"But…we just got a call," she explained, on the young man's heels as he began to return his tools to the tall metal toolbox which cluttered the garage floor. "Guy might need a tow if you can't fix 'im up quick. He's offering to pay a lot of money if we come now. We're the only place in town he could find that was still open. Somebody has got to go out on this call."
"Have fun," her companion returned wickedly, stealing at glance over his shoulder at her pouting face. He closed the mottled, once-red toolbox lid before turning to look at her, arms crossed over his chest. "Gimme my check so I can get outta here."
"C'mon, be nice," she cajoled. "I can't go -- look at me! I've already changed and my date will be here to pick me up any minute now. Please?"
At Midori's mention of her clothing, Jounouchi snuck his first glance at them he'd had since he'd began work on his last car --- and his eyes widened at the sight of his co-worker dressed in a pleated navy miniskirt so short that the white sailor middy which accompanied it was dangerously close to passing its high hem. Platform shoes, teased hair interspersed with clip-on brassy-blond weave…it was borderline kogaru, sexy, trendy and definitely against the dress code imposed on the nineteen-year-old by her father.
"While daddy's away, his baby girl plays, huh?" he inquired sarcastically, one eyebrow disappearing high beneath the fringe of his unruly bangs. Her frowned deepened, creasing the glittery make-up she'd applied to her face. "You know your dad would flip if he saw you like that."
"Save the lecture, oniichan," she rolled her eyes. "I'm just asking you to take this last job. Please? We've already wasted five minutes arguing about it."
"I've already got all my hours," he reminded her. "You'd have to pay me overtime."
"Fine," she nodded. "Time-and-a-half. Now get your ass on the road."
"Nope," Jounouchi disagreed, grinning. "Double time."
"Hell, no! My dad will kill me!"
"He'd kill you for them ridiculous clothes you got on, but that didn't stop you from wearing them."
"Jounouchi! Double time? That's waaaaaay too much."
"Whatever. I'm outta here then. This day's been like a bad dream anyway. I'll pick up my check Monday."
With his parting remark, he took three steps toward the door before Midori yelled desperately at his retreating back. "Fine! Fine! Double time!"
He stopped, turning to look at her. "I knew you'd see it my way. Now where's this call at anyway?"
Midori pushed a slip of paper covered with her small handwriting into his hand, then began to push him toward the door. "It's all on there. Now get your ass on the road."
Jounouchi was more than happy to oblige and so he plopped himself down into the seat of the garage's tow truck, the lure of double time too much to ignore. There was something about getting twice the salary per hour which was completely irresistible, especially when money didn't stretch quite as far as one might like.
Just a few more hours. Then this day will really be over.
"No, Mokuba," Kaiba growled into the cell phone receiver. He was leaning against his sleek dysfunctional car, and the warmth of the late afternoon sun was soaking into his back through the layers of clothes he wore. "For the last time, you are not to call a taxi and come down here. One of us waiting for the tow truck is more than adequate."
"But Niisama," the younger boy protested, his voice carrying loudly through the lines. "I could keep you company and stuff! It's no big deal. I know how to call a taxi."
"No," the elder brother replied resolutely, his tone of voice effectively ending all argument. "I'll wait for the damn tow truck myself and I'll see you when I get home. Understand?"
"Yeah, yeah," Mokuba conceded. "I got ya."
Unbeknownst to the younger of the pair, the hard lines of Kaiba's face softened at the disappointment he heard in his brother's voice. "Good. Now, if you find out when that film is showing, we can always go tomorrow, okay?"
"Sure thing! I'll find out," the child promised, excitement overtaking his earlier disappointment. "I'll have all the info by the time you get here."
"You do that," Kaiba affirmed, then bid his younger brother goodbye before he shifted his eyes to glance moodily toward Kaiba Corporation's parking lot entrance. He'd been waiting over fifteen minutes for the tow truck, one hired not from his usual, tried-and-tested garage because they had already closed for the evening when he'd called. Their helpful evening operator had directed him to the only garage she knew to stay open for business past five o'clock -- Yamada Auto Repair. He had been doubtful about their service originally because he was accustomed to dealing with Koruda, but after he'd called and spoken to a bubbly young woman who spoke rapidly when promising a quick response to his offer of a great deal of money -- she'd hemmed and hawed about it being three minutes from closing -- he had been even more dubious.
His hard glance toward the entrance had slowly become an unmistakable glare, his face having lost all signs of the softness it gained while talking to Mokuba, his impatience multiplying exponentially while the wait lengthened. By the time he saw the clunky tow truck with the Yamada stenciled on both its doors barrel into the empty parking lot, twenty-three minutes had passed since he'd called for it, that amount of elapsed time unacceptable to someone as demanding as Kaiba. While the truck veered and spun so that it stopped a few spaces away from its immobile target, the young millionaire pushed himself away from the car, his expression annoyed and dangerous as he slowly stalked toward the new arrival. He hadn't gone more than a few paces, however, when the truck's driver bounded out of the cab, slamming the stenciled door shut behind him.
What Kaiba saw made him stop in his tracks.
As if his day had not been stressful and infuriating enough, who was standing there waiting for him but the mutt, that damned dog who seemed to have the same annoying tendency as a bad penny to keep turning up? If it had been in Kaiba's nature to betray his emotions expressively, he might have thrown his head back and asked some celestial being why he seemed to be doomed to suffer every form of torture imaginable on that particular day; instead, he allowed his lip to curl slightly in a definite sign of distaste and his spine stiffened so that he could use his taller height to full advantage as he readied himself for the typical verbal skirmish.
There was another part of his brain -- another separate part, different from the one which was still running through program codes -- which chose to make use of Kaiba's sharp senses to notice some others things about the new arrival which did not involve ways to cause him pain, either mentally or physically. Jounouchi was tanned, probably from all his time spent outdoors over the summer months, and his lean frame was attired in a pair of faded jeans, stained and dirty from the workplace and his light blue chambray work shirt was messily untucked. The first few buttons of the shirt had been left undone, revealing a stripe of skin as the collar lay askew against his throat. The light-colored hair was disarrayed and wild, bangs falling haphazardly into his brown eyes in its usual fashion and his whole manner was guileless and open, even in the face of someone he made a great show of disliking.
That same honest sub-layer of Kaiba's overworked mind also recognized that Jounouchi looked as if he'd just stepped out of someone's deepest, darkest fantasies as he stood there lounging against the battered truck and obviously amused by the blatant expression of surprise on Kaiba's face, all sunlight and subdued sex appeal in his grungy work clothes. And that same plain-speaking strain of candidness knew that if the so-called second-rate duelist had materialized out of anyone's fantasies, it was most certainly his own.
But since Kaiba had the habit of ignoring the less-than-stoic part of himself which noticed such things in the same way which Jounouchi tended to disregard his higher analytical thought processes, all he actually noted about the dog's appearance was that there was a streak of dirt which ran down the curve of one cheek, emphasizing the dirty street-punk image which he easily associated with his rival's rude, idiotic best friend.
"What are you doing here?" Kaiba demanded to know, snarling. Suddenly, he felt inexplicably furious with fate for bringing him help in the form of this idiot; he couldn't be certain if it was simply the young man's presence which made him so angry, or the smug look on his face or even the extremely strange undercurrents of thought he'd tried to suppress. Most likely, it was a combination of all three.
The half-grin widened as Jounouchi shrugged. "Whaddya think I'm doin' here?" he asked, motioning toward the truck in which he'd arrived. "I'm here to look at your car."
Kaiba stilled in his aggressive approach. "You're a mechanic?" questioned he dubiously.
"Yeah, I'm a mechanic," he answered, puzzled by the question.
"Ha!" The young millionaire snorted, amused and disbelieving. "You can't even tie your shoe laces correctly and you want me to believe that someone allows you to repair the vehicles which they plan to drive? What kind of idiots are they?"
"Hey!" Jounouchi growled angrily, leaping forward. "I didn't come here to take any shit offa you, Kaiba. If you don't want me to look at your car, then I'll leave ya here and you can call somebody else."
The superior smirk faded into a glare, as he nodded his head in the direction of his expensive car. "Get over here then, mutt. Do what I promised your boss lady an exorbitant amount of money for you to do."
"Ya -- she is not my boss," the mechanic grumbled as he shouldered past the glowering young man who stood silently watching him with glittering eyes. He ran a hand over the sleek line of the car's hood, followed by a low whistle. "Damn, this is nice."
"What did you expect?" Kaiba couldn't help but reply. "The last thing I'd own is a piece of junk."
Jounouchi was torn between trying to maintain a professional attitude and allowing the situation to denigrate into the usual exchange of insults. Remembering that he desperately wanted to go home, he decided only to respond by rolling his eyes and muttering under his breath as he stared down at the broken car. Giving it one last appraising look, the blond glanced back at Kaiba. "So, what's the problem?" he asked, arms folded across his chest.
"Isn't that what you're here for?" the young millionaire jeered, lip still curled in distaste.
The other young man rolled his eyes again before looking heavenward, as if to ask for divine guidance. "Damnit, Kaiba -- there could be a million things wrong with it. Unless you want to be sittin' here a few hours from now, gimme a hint."
"It won't start," came the unwillingly helpful reply.
"Okay, then, that's a start." Jounouchi yanked open the driver's side door and deposited himself in the driver's seat, one foot still resting against the pavement of the parking lot. The dashboard was a confusing jumble of knobs and gadgets, each of them an indication of the car's high retail price. From the other side of the car, Kaiba couldn't help but wince at the sight of the dog's oil-splattered jeans sliding against his cream-colored interior, followed by his grubby hands running idly over the Italian leather which covered the steering wheel. Leaning against the very comfortable backrest of the driver's seat, Jounouchi turned the key which had been left in the ignition, listening thoughtfully as the car repeated the half-gurgle, half-sputtering noise which it had made for its owner earlier that afternoon.
"So?" The car owner finally ground out when the silence coupled with the mutt's unnaturally pensive expression became too much to bear.
"It won't start."
The noise Kaiba made in response to such a stellar comment was a dangerous cross between a growl and a half-swallowed murderous scream. "I knew that, you stupid mutt. I guess it was too much to hope that you could even be of a modicum of use."
Some days are better than others, Jounouchi reminded himself, gritting his teeth to clamp down on his anger. And some days are unbearable. Outwardly, the clenched jaw was accompanied by a tightened fist allowed to land heavily on the dashboard, the force causing an answering reverberation to shake along its surface. "One more comment and I swear I'll--" he stopped mid-sentence, dragging his eyes away from his fist to glare at his companion.
Pulling himself out of the car, Jounouchi brushed his hands at the invisible dirt his shirt had acquired from being inside the car of such a cold-hearted, arrogant, self-centered bastard, as if the distasteful personality traits were contagious. "Since it won't start, it might be your starter…but I don't think so. The problem is probably with your battery 'cuz I think it's pretty much nothin' more than a big black box at this point. But that could mean that the problem could be your battery or it could be your alternator -- if that's died, the battery never got a chance to charge."
While Kaiba appeared bored by the status report, he was secretly impressed that idiot knew the word alternator, much less how to pronounce it and use it correctly in the sentence. That skill alone made him as intelligent as the dog to which he was usually referred.
"You have any idea when it was last checked?" He wanted to know, still looking at the dark-haired young man who stood on the other side of the vehicle, as foreboding and unreadable as ever. "Hello?"
"Move," Kaiba ordered as he marched around to where Jounouchi stood with the driver's side door wide open. Since Jounouchi made no move to follow Kaiba's command, the millionaire was forced to maneuver in the constricted berth left available so that he could lean into the car and retrieve something from his glove compartment. As he did so, he accidentally brushed his body against the solid one blocking his path; the action was innocent, barely more substantial than a breath, but its effect was much more profound. Feeling a spark pass between them at the feather-light contact, Jounouchi quickly scrambled out of Kaiba's way while the young millionaire seemed to freeze mid-reach, if only for an instant.
Even as Kaiba was straightening and tossing a small blue notebook at Jounouchi, seemingly unaffected, he was rather consumed with ignoring not only his own racing thoughts about the matter, but also his pulse which had climbed rapidly in the wake of the accidental contact.
"What's this?" Jounouchi asked as he caught the flung notebook, brow furrowed as he held it up to Kaiba.
"You can read, can't you? Or is that asking too much?" He settled his back against the car, his whole demeanor one of patronizing indifference.
Jounouchi scowled but dutifully opened the book, eyes quickly scanning the tiny black writing. Almost in disbelief, he thumbed through a few more pages. On each page was a detailed and tedious listing of all repairs, changes and even gas-ups which the car had had since it had came into Kaiba's possession. "You keep a book of all this stuff?" Jounouchi's tone was one of incredulity as well as faint amusement.
When Kaiba answered with his usual glare and a tight nod of affirmation, the humor bloomed into a hearty chuckle and the blond's shoulders shook slightly as he tried unsuccessfully to stop the laughter.
Jounouchi shook his head, still chuckling as he clutched the notebook. "It's just so…so anal…so you to do something like that."
Both angry and discomfited, Kaiba shifted his weight uneasily from one foot to another as he pinned Jounouchi with a dark look. Taking the hint, the mechanic subdued his laughter and returned his attention to the notebook, this time with the actual intent of gleaning information from it. After a moment, he closed it, then jammed it into his back pocket. "There's no reason that either of them should have failed," he admitted, scratching his head. "Lemme get my meter."
"Meter?" The other young man echoed uncertainly as Jounouchi jogged over to his truck and half-disappeared as he reached into it through the open window. When he returned, he had a small bright-yellow rectangle in his hand.
"Pop the hood, would ya?" he asked Kaiba who had remained standing by the opened driver's side door.
When the hood's first locking mechanism released, Jounouchi inched his hands into the created opening and released the second one, which allowed the hood to open completely. With his view now blocked, Kaiba reluctantly moved around to the front of the vehicle where he could watch Jounouchi examine the car.
Jounouchi set the meter on the edge of the car's frame, then flipped it on as he untangled the red and black wire probes connected to it. Placing the wires aside, he lifted the cap covers from the battery's posts, running his finger over metal which lay beneath the rubber casing. Matching black to black and red to red, he touched the probes to the exposed terminals, then watched the digital window of his meter for signs of a fluctuation in the readings.
"Dead as a doornail," he pronounced as he clicked the round dial on the meter to the OFF setting. "Definitely your battery."
Kaiba huffed, suddenly infinitely more impatient. "Then go ahead and tow it and stop wasting my time." He reached into a pocket to pull out his cell phone. "I'll call a taxi and you can take --" His words were cut off by the sudden -- and irritatingly pleasant -- feel of Jounouchi's calloused hand grabbing his wrist and thereby stopping him from raising his cell phone to his ear.
If the reaction to the casual brush of bodies had been a spark, then the sensation caused by direct skin-on-skin contact was like lightning, so white-hot that Kaiba felt as if his skin were burning. On one level, he wanted to yank away from the touch; on another, he wanted to revel it. He acted on neither impulse, however, because he found himself suddenly frozen into place when his eyes caught Jounouchi's brown ones which seemed similarly caught in the gaze.
Taking advantage of the other's uncustomary paralysis, Jounouchi used his free hand to pull the cell phone from Kaiba's suddenly lax grip. "Ain't no need for that," he stated, twirling the small black device in his fingers. He released his hold on the other young man's wrist. "I can fix that. All I hafta do is jump you off. Just gotta get something else outta my truck."
He grabbed his bright yellow meter with a swiping motion, then tossed the cell phone haphazardly into the black car, the small device skittering to a stop in the passenger seat. Leaving the still-motionless Kaiba, Jounouchi bustled over to the lone tow truck, tossing his meter into the passenger seat through the rolled-down window with lazy flick similar to the one which he'd used on the cell phone. Once he was busily pulling out tools from behind the truck cab's seat, he let out a long shuddering breath.
What was it in his disturbed brain which made him lose all sense when it came to Kaiba? Being a fundamentally earthy person, Jounouchi had always been one to express himself through touch; be it by means of a punch or an embrace, his emotions became manifest in tangible, straightforward action. He was a tactile learner as well as a tactile instructor -- he needed to touch in order to understand and hope to make others understand by the same measure.
So what was he trying to express by reaching out to Kaiba? He wasn't sure why he'd done it, only that he'd wanted to touch him, especially after how good it had felt when he'd accidentally slid against him when he'd reached into the car. And it had felt good, the feel of his fingers on the brunet's skin, the sensation made oddly more delicious than the differences: Jounouchi's fingers were rough, skin toughened by his practical labor while Kaiba's wrist had seemed baby-soft, pampered by the delicate work for which he used his hands.
But of course, none of it was related to the mysterious reasons why he often thought of him at strange times for no particular reason, or why the bastard's nearness always made Jounouchi's heart beat faster and his breath a little quicker. The stubborn streak in him refused to let him connect the dots in order to clearly see the picture which the various dots of circumstances were forming, even as it became harder for him to ignore it.
Luckily for Jounouchi's equilibrium, his turbulent thoughts were easily smothered by more practical ones, and the deeper meanings of his actions were conveniently forgotten in the face of his current task. Whatever he was thinking mattered little, anyway: as always, he would rely on luck and instinct to guide his actions.
"What is that?"
Despite his rudeness, Jounouchi could tell that Kaiba was genuinely interested in the small black machine which he had lugged from his truck over to the car. Roughly the same size and rectangular shape as carry-on luggage, it had two insulated cables attached to its top which resembled the probes of the meter but on a larger scale. "It's a battery charger," he explained without preamble. "I turn it on and then hook it up and -- BAM -- we can start the car and give the alternator a chance to work its magic and charge the battery."
"What's if it's the alternator that's faulty?"
"Then we'll know, won't we?" he answered, shrugging while his hands were preoccupied with carefully detaching the terminals from the battery's posts.
Kaiba eyed the procedure with obvious scorn. "Then we'll know? Can't you do better than that, dog?"
His temper flared, Jounouchi rounded on the millionaire. "Do you know anything 'bout cars, moneybags? Because if ya do, then I'm outta here and you can figure this out, ok?"
Kaiba was silent, not because he wanted to be, but because he'd been cornered by the question. The truth was that he knew next to nothing about automobile mechanics, and even less about the specifics of his car's sophisticated system. While he may have been considered a genius -- rightly considered, in his opinion -- because of his technological prowess, something as rudimentary as a car battery was outside of his realm of expertise.
When the silence stretched between them into the space of a full minute, Jounouchi ended it with a self-satisfied snicker. "That's just what I thought. You don't know nothing about it."
"I don't dirty my hands with something as lowly as that," he retorted, coldly superior. "That's what I pay idiots for. Now, repair it, idiot."
With a muttered "One of these days I swear…" the mechanic went back to work, using a dirty-looking rag to rub furiously at the now-dissembled connections before he replaced and tightened them. Jounouchi tossed the rag aside and then rummaged through the small duffel bag of tools he'd also brought from the car, pulling out a small plastic jar. The jar's lid had not been properly closed and he made a sour face as he noticed two of his fingers were covered in a clear, paraffin-like substance which resembled --
Jounouchi snorted, rolling his eyes even as he reached for the previously discarded rag. He stuffed the jar back into the recesses of his toolbag "Yes, Kaiba, it's petroleum jelly," he answered slowly, enunciating as if he were speaking to a small, confused child. "It's a good, cheap product which can be used for all kinds of stuff. Stain remover, sealant, lubricant…ya know, stuff."
Suddenly the whole conversation flashed through Kaiba's mind and three distinct pieces floated to the surface, all of them completely unrelated within the dialogue's context but strung together in his mind in way that had vast meanings. He tugged at the color of his shirt as he silently cursed the heavy material of his trademark trench coat -- it had gotten rather hot.
Anal, jump you off, and lubricant were very suggestive tidbits in the mind of a teenaged boy, especially when they were spoken by someone whose touch felt like velvet and sent sparks through one's central nervous system.
Pulling out of his self-made stupor, Kaiba realized that Jounouchi was still discussing the virtues of petroleum jelly. "Keeps corrosion down and it's just as good as any fancy-shmanchy stuff you can buy. It gets the job done in a pinch."
Instead of trying to make a comment, Kaiba chose to glare silently while secretly still recovering from his own mind's devious trick of imagination. He wasn't certain what kind of 'pinch' to which the mechanic referred, but he could easily think up a few which involved not only the petroleum jelly but Jounouchi as well.
He tugged at his collar again, cursing his traitorous mind and body.
After he finished with the terminals, Jounouchi squatted down in front of the charger, tapping the button on its front until the CHARGE light was blinking at him and a loud hum filled the air. Once again matching black-to-black and red-to-red, Jounouchi connected the clamping ends of the cables to the terminals, mindful not to cross the two colors.
He dusted his hands on his faded jeans in absentminded habit as he stepped back to survey his handiwork. Jounouchi slid back into the passenger's seat and turned the key in the ignition, an action which was rewarded as the new hum of an engine joined the charger's in the air of the empty parking lot.
"Like I said, easy," Jounouchi grinned as he ran a hand through his disarrayed hair.
"I'm impressed," Kaiba told him sarcastically. "You actually managed to do something right, it seems."
Usually, Jounouchi would have had an angry reply for Kaiba's acerbic remark, but his attention was focused intently on the fancy knobs and dials on the car's dashboard, his eyes lingering on one in the top left-hand corner. "Hey, Kaiba, what's this one for?"
Rolling his eyes, he walked around the still-open car door and glanced down at the specified dial. "It's for the headlights," he explained, before glancing over at the charger. "Should that still be connected to the car battery?"
"Shit!" Jounouchi flew over to charger, switching it off before disconnecting the cables from the battery. Once his toolbag had been moved out of his way, he shut the hood of the car with a resounding clang of metal. As he did so, he noticed the light from the car's headlights hitting his jeans, creating a stripe across his knees where it lit the denim to a different color.
As if the thought were that light itself, Jounouchi suddenly understood why Kaiba's battery had died so unexpectedly.
And it took all the willpower he had not to cackle hysterically at the new-found information.
As nonchalantly as possible, Jounouchi stuck his hands in his jeans pockets and looked up at Kaiba, noticing that the other young man had been watching him go through his routine. "What time did you get here this morning?" he asked, despite the look of irritation on Kaiba's face.
"What does that have to do with anything? Can I leave now?"
"No," Jounouchi answered to the second question. "We've still got to let the alternator have a chance to charge the battery."
"But what if it's the alternator that's faulty?" he countered, repeating his earlier comment.
The studied look of innocence which was so difficult for Jounouchi to maintain crumbled into a devilish grin. "That ain't it," he assured him. "I'm pretty sure I know what happened. So tell me, what time did ya get here this morning?"
"If you must know, I arrived around 5:45AM," Kaiba said. "I don't see what that has to do with anything, however--"
"Before sunrise, right?" Jounouchi guessed, still grinning.
His findings confirmed, Jounouchi's grin widened as he leaned against the purring vehicle, arms casually folded behind his head. "Don't worry, moneybags. It happens to everyone," he explained in mocking sympathy. "Well, it's never happened to me, but hey…some of just got a little too much on our minds, huh?"
Kaiba stared at him as if he'd sprouted a second head. "What are you talking about, dog?"
"Why your battery died." The mechanic hid his smug expression by turning away to grab his toolbag. He hefted the charger with the other hand, the bag slung over his shoulder as he straightened. "You left your headlights on all day and it drained the battery. That's why it died."
"I did not!" The young businessman looked scandalized at Jounouchi's pronouncement, as if he'd accused him of something more serious than forgetfulness. He had never in the past ten years been so unobservant as to leave even a minor detail unattended.
Jounouchi shrugged, unaffected by the impassioned denial. "Whatever. Check for yourself," he said, motioning toward the car with his elbow. "Just make sure ya turn 'em off when ya do, 'cause they'll just slow the chargin' down." Having made his relished announcement, Jounouchi called upon another old adage about the better part of valor and retreated to the relative safety of his tow truck.
Fully intending to do just that, Kaiba peered down through the open door, sweeping his eyes over the dashboard. When he finally focused on the correct dial, his terse expression slackened in the realization that Jounouchi was correct -- the knob controlling the headlights indicated that they were on and he noticed for the first time that all of the controls on the dashboard were softly illuminated, another sign that headlights were in use.
To someone that was not Kaiba Seto, the mistake seemed harmless enough; Jounouchi had easily corrected the problem by charging the battery. But Kaiba Seto had learned early in life that small, stupid mistakes eventually led to large, stupid mistakes and his solution had been to use the discipline he'd mastered to make no mistakes, small or otherwise.
He thought back to that morning…why hadn't he remembered to turn them off? He'd been angry about the chauffeur and he'd been worried about the meeting with the Brazilian distribution company, he recalled clearly. Neither situation, however, merited an error, even one so trivial. Then he remembered that he'd also been consumed with the codes he'd been writing, having worked out a particularly tricky section for his newest prototype. In fact, even after a half-day's work on them, they still were present in his mind.
Unsurprisingly, Kaiba read extensively, everything from the classics of both the Eastern and Western traditions to the practical treatises on technology produced by the innovators and competitors of his field. Somewhere in those many pages of print, he'd read of the Muses, the classical Greek goddesses who were said to inspire the greatest artists to create their masterpieces. While their traditional role had been limited to arts and philosophers, Kaiba had a fondness for the idea of a muse of computer technology, a capricious benefactress who took pleasure in striking her followers with divine inspiration at the most inopportune times. It was probably the most logical explanation for his sudden flashes of brilliance at some of the most inappropriate moments, always when he had little time to spare to devote to their fruition.
Just as he had been all afternoon, he'd been so preoccupied with ironing out the details of his latest project as well as the usual burden of meetings, events and functions that he'd overlooked it, just as thousands of ordinary people had done in their lives. But Kaiba, who did not consider himself ordinary by use of the word, found that small reassurance hollow and vapid.
It had been a long time since Kaiba had felt so obviously stupid, not since he'd let Mokuba talk him into trying out a new videogame of his, Dance Dance Revolution, a fiendishly addictive game which had been created for the sole purpose of making its players look utterly ridiculous. Even within the confines of his own home with only his beloved younger brother as an audience, the young man felt as if he'd never regain his dignity after earning a lowly C on the most advanced level of DIVE, although he was still uncertain if the loss of dignity had been a result of participating in the game itself or his pathetically low score. Knowing that he failed at anything, in even the smallest way, nagged at his mind.
For this embarrassing imbroglio, he had Jounouchi as a witness -- a fact which did not ease his self-disgust about the matter. He was one of the last people he wanted to know of his mistakes, even if it was a trivial one.
Especially if it was trivial.
"Hey!" Jounouchi hollered across the parking lot from where he sat in his tow truck with the door gaping open so that his feet could rest on the ground. "Close that door, will ya? It ain't helpin' the battery none!"
Though Kaiba hated to be given orders, he knew that Jounouchi's directive was a good one. He closed with door without complaint after testing that his electronic remote would allow him to unlock the door once it was closed. He waited a moment, lingering beside the gently thrumming car as he swept his eyes over the darkening horizon. The time was rapidly approaching eight o'clock, and the intense sun had sank farther behind Domino's irregular skyline, casting burning colors and dark shadows over the clean lines of the buildings as they jutted against the sky.
He loitered beside the closed door for a moment, expecting Jounouchi to eventually rejoin him but instead the blond was still half-sitting in the truck cab, head lain back against the seat and eyes closed as if he'd fallen asleep. Kaiba glowered at the oblivious youth, then stalked across the pavement. Instead of kicking him into attention, he leaned heavily against the truck as he waited expectantly to be acknowledged.
The faint sound of the truck's radio permeated the air, the volume so low that its presence was sensed more than heard. Jounouchi remained still and silent for a moment, then --
"It's not that big of a deal, ya know," he remarked, slowly raising his head and opening his eyes to squint at Kaiba as he stood with the setting sun behind him. The light fanned out around him, seeming to glow around the dark edges of his outline, chiaroscuro in effect. It also lent him an ethereal air, like a saint's painting from a church -- a parallel which was richly undeserved in Jounouchi's opinion. "So, stop being brooding about it."
"I'm not brooding."
"Yes, you are." He flattened his feet against the ground and stood up after he switched off the radio. "C'mon, get over it. Shit like this happens to everybody once in a while."
"Not to me." It was a surprisingly honest answer coming from Kaiba, so honest that Jounouchi's eyebrows rose.
"Yeah, well…we can't always be perfect, ya know," Jounouchi pointed out, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. He closed the truck door with a loud bang before leaning against it, so close to the other did the same that Kaiba swore he could feel the heat radiating from his body.
"Some of us can try…" Once again the answer was honest, but tinged with humor as he smirked down at his companion, obviously implying that Jounouchi was not one of them who did.
In response, Jounouchi rolled his eyes, not too simple to miss the implication. "Yeah, and some of us are arrogant, snobby bastards, but we've all got our problems."
His comment won him a slanted glare and an abrupt change of topic. "When will I be able to leave?"
Jounouchi checked his watch, using his other hand to flick his hair away from his eyes. "Another fifteen minutes or so. Then we'll turn it off and start it back up, to make sure it charged. It's just to be on the safe side."
"In that case, I'll just risk it and leave now," Kaiba told him. He hadn't even taken a step before Jounouchi blocked his path.
"Just let the damn thing charge, Kaiba," he instructed. "Fifteen more minutes won't kill ya."
Aside from his irritation with being commanded to do anything, Kaiba was becoming increasingly unsettled by Jounouchi's physical proximity, his personal space dwindling steadily. Whereas moments before there had been a good six inches between them as they both leaned against the truck, Jounouchi now stood directly in front of him, so close that the toe of his sneaker was firmly pressed against his own dark boot. He shifted uncomfortably, rolling his shoulders in an effort to relieve his coat's suddenly oppressive weight.
"What's the matter? Got a hot date you're late for?" Jounouchi grinned, crossing his arms over his chest as he regarded the dark stoicism on Kaiba's face. He took a step back, as if in response to the palpable tension in Kaiba's body language. "That why you're in such a hurry?"
"No," he answered, mimicking the gesture defensively. "I promised Mokuba that I'd take him to the movies tonight."
"Yeah?" Jounouchi's grin lost its feral edge, softening as he thought of the youngest Kaiba brother. He liked the kid, despite some of the unattractive qualities he'd learned from his beloved niisama. "How's he been? I ain't seen him much, since I started workin' for the Yamadas."
"He's fine," he said, his face also losing some of its harshness. "Typically active for someone his age."
"You say that like we're so much older," Jounouchi returned, teasingly offended.
He dismissed the jibe, although he was faintly amused by the prospect of Jounouchi's mock-indignation. Sometimes he found it difficult to remember that he was still considered a youth, only a handful of years older than his less worldly brother. "How long have you worked?"
"For the Yamadas? Since about a month before break," he replied. "Before then, I delivered newspapers."
"It's against school rules to work," Kaiba pointed out.
"No matter what you may think, Kaiba, you ain't special," Jounouchi told him. "I got a dispensation from the principal, just like you did."
"Can you even spell dispensation?" The businessman smirked at the sudden scowl on Jounouchi's face.
"Hahaha, look you made a funny," he returned sarcastically. "And for your information, dispensation is spelled D-I-S-P-E-N-S-I-O-N."
"Actually, no it's not," he disagreed, a faint tugging at the corners of his mouth as he fought against a superior grin.
"Go to hell, why don't ya?" grumbled Jounouchi, his displeasure drawing Kaiba into a short, derisive chuckle. "I shoulda left your ass here with a dead battery and then we'd see who was so smart."
"Yes, but then you wouldn't have gotten paid," Kaiba rationalized.
"Yeah, but it woulda been worth it," Jounouchi assured him. He grinned rakishly, stuffing his hands into the pockets of his well-worn jeans. "The look on your face alone woulda have been priceless."
"Hmmph." The businessman glanced toward his idling car in order to avoid eye contact with his companion. Somehow the lightness in Jounouchi's acerbic remarks made him uncomfortable. His tone was rife with friendliness and Kaiba found the whole situation frighteningly intimate, much too social in nature for him to be at ease. Personal human interactions were among the few things at which Kaiba Seto did not excel.
Jounouchi, however, took the act as another indication of impatience. "Don't worry, Kaiba, I'm keepin' the time. You've still got another ten minutes." The blond was surprised that his statement was yet again met only be silence, but he was willing to accept the other's lack of response as a truce and so held back any response of his own. Instead, his eyes caught the last fledging colors of the sunset streaking through the sky, the far-off edge of it already tinged purple and dotted specks which would become stars. Despite the sun having all but disappeared, the aureate effect of the light still clung to Kaiba's form, dabbling at the edges of his trench coat -- today's choice being the purple one -- and hair. Leaning back against the old truck in a way which was typically Kaiba, Jounouchi had to admit that he looked…good.
Better than good, truth be told.
Jounouchi might have wondered at his own thoughts had Kaiba not chosen that precise moment to break his gaze from the distant horizon so that his steely blue eyes crashed into Jounouchi's inquisitive gaze. As it had happened once before, the pair were similarly ensnared, neither certain of how or why they might want to break the intangible contact, the glance becoming a battle of wills as their eyes met and held.
Jounouchi felt his blood hammering through his veins as his breath quickened, both typical reactions for any intense entangle with Kaiba. But he was surprised to see something akin to emotion flicker in the irises at which he stared, and that flicker intensified his usual responses until his breathing came in shuddering pants and his pulse danced wildly in his temple. As if drawn instinctively into action, he took a step forward, his long stride swallowing much of the space left between their forms.
While Jounouchi had been spurned into motion by the electricity in their locked gaze, Kaiba found himself frozen in place, every muscle in his body tensing under the honest and heated force of Jounouchi's dark eyes. The fact that the undisguised emotions in the amber depths reflected his own did little to ease his tension. The situation was slipping out of his control in a doomed tailspin and Kaiba felt uncharacteristically ill-prepared and ill-equipped to handle himself in the face of something as visceral and unfathomable as this. Aside from the indestructible bond he shared with his younger brother, he'd never dealt with something so weakening and illogical as emotions or indulged in anything akin to emotional attachment to anything that wasn't his BEWD cards.
As Jounouchi moved closer to him, closing the gap between them, Kaiba felt helplessness rising up in him, adding to the already-confusing mixture of emotions he felt, although only his stiffened posture spoke of his inner turbulence. They again stood toe-to-toe, almost eye-to-eye as Kaiba's slouched stance lost him all but a slight edge in height. It felt like hours had passed since the mechanic's last comment about the time, since their eyes had melded together as the light steadily faded around them as day gave way to night.
"We've still got eight minutes," Jounouchi finally spoke, his voice soft and mellifluous. "Any ideas how we should spend 'em?"
The implication in the playful words were clear and Kaiba reacted by a slight widening of his eyes, both at the meaning and at the feel of Jounouchi's warm breath on his face. Not only had he lost control, he realized, but he could tell by the teasing lift of an eyebrow and quirk of the mouth that Jounouchi realized it as well.
Kaiba knew that he had to answer Jounouchi's question and the logical part of his brain told him that he should do so resolutely, not only in words but in actions as well. Push him away, he decided, then verbally punish him for daring to seize the upper hand, for even contemplating to take action on whatever tangled urges told him to look at him that way or stand so close, even if those were the very actions which Kaiba himself secretly wanted him to --
The oh-so-delectable feel of Jounouchi's fingers on his face stilled his thoughts until they were dim ghosts, the light touch becoming less hesitant and more a deliberate caress as the fingers softly stroked the taut curves of his cheek, following the pronounced line of bone until it disappeared into the fine down of hair at his ear. The fingers then traced down over the ear and behind it, down the neck until its progress was interrupted by the high collar of the trench coat. Instead of ending his gentle exploration, Jounouchi cupped his calloused hand around Kaiba's jaw and tugged his face closer to his, then removed what little space remained by stepping closer still, until his whole body settled against Kaiba's, trapping the taller man between Jounouchi's solid warmth and the unrelenting metal of the truck.
Kaiba could feel his eyelids sliding shut of their own accord as their noses touched and their shallow exhalations mingled in the scant inches which separated their lips as Jounouchi brought his other hand up to mimic its partner's touch on his jaw. In the intimate proximity, Kaiba's heightened senses catalogued the exact characteristics of Jounouchi's touch, detailing the precise balance between textured roughness and etched softness which separated it from any other touch he'd ever felt on his skin. He easily caught his layered scent, the saline smell of sweat, the tang of motor oil and the crispness of gritty soap mingling together into an earthy odor which he would forever equate with Jounouchi.
When Jounouchi finally brushed his mouth against his, Kaiba's brain stopped thinking altogether, the programming sequence inspired by that fickle muse completely forgotten as he reveled in nothing more important or complicated or simple than the feel of lips moving hungrily over his own. At first tentative but steadily gaining in pressure and courage, the first contact escalated into second kiss and a third, until it was bruising clash of lips and tongues and skin, bodies still pressed together in a way which was far from chaste or hesitant.
As the kiss deepened, Jounouchi's hands slowly slid from Kaiba's face, down to his shoulders so that he could coil his arms around his neck, burying his hands in Kaiba's dark hair and using it as anchor as he arched up into the lip-on-lip contact. Finally shocked out of his paralysis, Kaiba did not allow his hands to remain idle for long, taking advantage of Jounouchi's untucked shirt to slip his hands under the hem and touch the bare flesh of his back before they settled at his waist, absently toying with the frayed waistband of his faded jeans.
It was not lack of oxygen which finally made Jounouchi abandon his somewhat ambitious but thoroughly enjoyable mission to kiss Kaiba senseless -- it was a rather nice way of shutting him up -- but the interrelated sounds of squealing tires and a obnoxious muffler which made him pull away from his activity and glance toward the parking lot entrance. When he saw that a taxi was swerving into the lot, he reluctantly stepped away from Kaiba, who looked slightly dazed even as he watched the taxi speed toward them.
By the time the taxicab stopped at a strange angle near the front of Jounouchi's truck, the young men appeared unruffled and unaffected, as if the moments before had not happened. When the automatic backdoor of the taxi slid open, a familiar head of unruly dark hair peered out before the new arrival scrambled to his feet on the pavement, the door shutting behind him. The cab quickly sped away, looping the length of the lot in order to turn around.
"Hey, Niisama," Mokuba greeted, chuckling nervously at the look of reproach on his brother's face. Hoping to spare himself a very tedious lecture, the boy directed his attention to the rumpled blond. "What are you doing here, Jounouchi?"
He was about to answer the kid's question when he was interrupted by Kaiba who stepped toward his brother, arms crossed forebodingly. "I think that question should be applied to you, first. What are you doing here after I explicitly told you to stay at home?"
Both Jounouchi and Mokuba winced at Kaiba's tone, sharing a moment of sympathy at being on the receiving end of Kaiba's anger. "I got worried about you when you never showed up at the house," he explained, mannerisms exuding earnestness and concern. "I thought maybe something might have happened to you."
"Then why didn't you call my cell phone?"
"I did!" he exclaimed, taking advantage of his brother's surprised countenance. "I let it ring and ring and ring and you never answered. That's when I figured that something must be wrong."
Kaiba opened his mouth to protest that he hadn't received any calls when he remembered that his cell phone was currently locked away in the passenger seat of his car, where Jounouchi had left it earlier in the evening. Even if Mokuba had called a half-dozen times, he never would had known it. He shot a death-glare over at Jounouchi who had the good sense to appear chagrined. "Yes, well…I still told you not to call a cab and come here," he reminded the child sternly. "However, I appreciate your concern and it is my fault for not answering the phone."
"That's right," Mokuba grinned impudently, mocking his brother's cross-armed stance. "What's the point of having it if you don't answer it?"
The dark-haired kid recognized the warning and so wisely turned his comments away from the elder Kaiba. "So, why are you here, Jounouchi?"
He waved an arm at the hulking tow truck, obviously proud. "I'm the mechanic who took the call on your brother's car."
"You're a mechanic? Really?" At the older boy's nod, Mokuba grinned. "That's cool."
Jounouchi returned the grin, then scanned his watch. "The…er…eight minutes are up," he explained to Kaiba, willing his face not to redden at the multiple meanings in that statement. "I'm gonna check the battery now."
Kaiba nodded, tossing the electronic remote at him. "You'll need this for the door."
He easily caught the small device with an outstretched hand. "I'll be right back," he told them, then turned and headed to the idling black vehicle. Kaiba watched his progress carefully, noticing the way that his once untucked work shirt was now tucked into his jeans at one hip, obviously caused by the rapid departure of his hands from beneath the thin, chambray material. That odd detail alone reminded him to what had just transpired and he firmly ordered it out of his mind.
While Kaiba observed Jounouchi once again slide into the driver's seat of his car, Mokuba was scrutinizing his brother's face, oddly puzzled by what he found there.
"Are you okay, niisama?"
Kaiba glanced down at Mokuba's thoughtful expression. "Of course. Why do you ask?"
"Your face is all red like you got a fever or something," he explained, still examining Kaiba's pink-suffused face. "Are you getting sick?"
"No," he assured him, inwardly mortified that he was blushing of all the stupid, feminine things to do. "I'm fine. I promise."
"Are ya sure? Because you just got redder," Mokuba informed him.
"There's nothing wrong," he stated emphatically, ruffling his brother's hair affectionately. "Don't worry about me."
"Hey, don't do that!" he protested good-naturedly, vainly swatting at the rustled tresses in an effort to smooth it. "You messed it all up."
Kaiba watched him amusedly, recognizing the futility of his brother's efforts. "How can you tell?" he teased dryly.
Mokuba smirked back at him, rolling his eyes. "Yeah, well, at least my face is clean, niisama. You've got something on yours. Right here." He indicated a spot near the cheekbone on his own face.
In an automatic gesture, he touched the mirroring spot on his cheek, running his fingers lightly over the skin before pulling them away to see their tips lightly marred by faint traces of grease. He almost wondered how he could have possibly gotten grease on his face when he recalled noticing something similar on Jounouchi's when he'd first arrived, a dark smudge slashing across the tanned skin as if he'd inadvertently wiped his face with a dirty hand…
The blond was sauntering back over to them, swinging Kaiba's key ring -- the electronic remote re-attached -- on one finger. He tossed the key ring at its owner. "Well, it's ready to go when you are," he pronounced. "As long as you don't have any more of those…accidents…like you had this morning, you should have no problems."
Kaiba nodded tightly, clutching his keys in one hand as he tried to ignore the nagging feeling that something vital was being left undone or unsaid. Perhaps if Mokuba had not arrived, that something might have been said or done in the heat of the moment but given precious time to rebuild his defenses, Kaiba Seto once again exercised iron control over his emotions.
Jounouchi felt the tension thickening in the air as well, so he chuckled nervously as he made a shooing motions with his hands. "Well, I'm outta here if you'd get outta my way," he told them laughingly. "I've got better things to do than standin' around in a parkin' lot on a Friday night."
"Yeah?" Mokuba inquired, grinning conspiratorially. "And what's that? Not like you go a date waiting or anything."
"Shows how much you know, kid," the blond replied, smirking. "I got me a date all lined up."
Was it his imagination or did the Kaiba Seto flinch at his statement? And was there a wounded look in his eyes before he smothered it with his customary frigid glare?
"You really got a date, huh?" While the older Kaiba may accepted the statement, the younger of the pair was still unconvinced.
"Only with some instant Ramen and my microwave," he guffawed, his grin mimicking Mokuba's. "And I'm so tired, I might not even keep that one. That don't mean I wanna stand here all evening." He fished into his truck cab through the open window and produced a metal clipboard with a pen attached to it by a long cord. "If you'd just sign this, I could get outta here."
Kaiba hastily scribbled his name on the correct line, then thrust the clipboard back at its owner, jerking away abruptly when their fingers accidentally brushed. "If that's all?" he inquired coolly.
Jounouchi tossed the clipboard into the passenger-side floorboard as he sat heavily in the driver's seat. "That's all," he affirmed, leaning out of the open window to answer. He ran a hand through his hair to push the bangs out of his face as his eyes locked onto Kaiba's. "Don't worry," he added, one corner of his mouth quirked upward in a teasing half-smile. "You'll get my bill for all services rendered."
If Kaiba hadn't been blushing before that proclamation, he would have been afterward as he floundered for an appropriately scathing comment. Finding none, he announced to his brother his intention to leave, then stalked off in the direction of his car, his fluttering trench coat near-black in the twilight.
"Later, Jounouchi!" Mokuba called back as he jogged after his brother, raising one hand in a frenzied half-wave.
"Bye, kid!" he hollered back. "You brothers take care of yourselves," he added softly as he watched them, the younger talking animatedly as they rearranged the car's contents, the metal briefcase carefully moved into the back seat to make room for Mokuba in the front. When the boy held up the cell phone and waggled it playfully at his brother, Jounouchi couldn't suppress the quiet chuckle which the kid's antics had caused.
Instead of starting his own vehicle, he sat motionless in his truck until he watched the sleek black car roll away, sparing a wry snort as he witnessed Kaiba's driving skills.
He even drives like a maniac.
The sun had finally disappeared beyond the horizon and twilight had settled heavily over the empty lot, the fluorescent street lights sparsely spaced around its perimeter blazing into brightness in time with the ones which lined the streets around the Kaiba Corporation building. Jounouchi settled back against the cracked leather seat of his truck, not quite ready to abandon the empty parking lot, although he knew he still had to return the truck to the shop before catching a late bus to his side of town.
He thought about the strange chain of events which had begun that morning with his father and led to his presence in the deserted parking lot, and all that had happened in between the beginning and the end. The most important of those being that he had kissed Kaiba Seto.
And that bastard had kissed him back, matching him in intensity and frenzy in a way he'd never thought possible.
Those kind of things gave a guy something about which to think, even someone like Jounouchi who deplored such introspection and analysis. But still…
It had been a spectacular eight minutes.
Jounouchi grinned to himself, vividly recalling how it had felt to wrap his arms around Kaiba, to explore his mouth thoroughly and wallow in the pleasant weight of his hands roaming over his back. Yes, he thought to himself, those were eight minutes which had not been wasted.
As wonderful as that first contact had been, it felt decidedly incomplete, interrupted all too early by Mokuba's arrival. Unbeknownst to Jounouchi, he shared Kaiba's sentiment that everything had been left unsettled.
Everything and nothing had changed in those eight minutes, a fact which aggravated Jounouchi because he knew it but couldn't articulate it. Everything would be different, if only beneath the surface. He didn't know exactly how, but it would be. He had seen something in Kaiba that he'd never seen before, found the same incomprehensible attraction he felt burning in the other's eyes. For once in their long acquaintance, Jounouchi thought he'd gained an edge over his formidable adversary because he had seen not only the attraction in those eyes but also the uncertainty, the vulnerability beneath the façade.
The momentum had changed.
He straightened from his slouched position, shifting until he was in the proper position for driving. Jounouchi hadn't lied to the younger Kaiba when he'd told him that he wanted a good night's sleep. The day had been long and tedious and tiring.
But it wasn't bad anymore. For the first time in a while, Jounouchi counted his day as one of the good ones.
And, ironically, he still thought about Kaiba.
Jounouchi felt around in the passenger seat, gingerly searching for the keys he'd tossed down when he'd gotten the clipboard for Kaiba's signature. After a moment, his hands made contact with the oily metal ring on which the keys jangled, as well as a slip of paper which had been lying beneath it. Quickly starting the car, he flipped on the cab's overhead light to inspect the square of paper clutched in his hand.
It was Midori's note from the shop on which she had jotted Kaiba's information from when he'd called. In her hurried handwriting, she covered most of the note with "KAIBA SETO" and "KAIBA BUILDING" along with a few ecstatically penned ¥ ¥ to emphasize the potential profit from answering the after-hours call.
In his rush to finish the day, Jounouchi hadn't noticed the extra doodles along the edge, a habit for which Midori was notorious when held on the phone for any length of time. Sometimes, it would be sketches of tiny flowers or twining vines while on other occassions, it was half-formed words and comments. Whenever the parts distributor left a message for her father, Midori made certain to preface his name with the much-deserved title of greedy old bastard, despite her father's belief that young ladies should not think -- not to mention write -- in such foul language.
On Kaiba's note, there was a line of words scribbled up the side, perpendicularly spaced to the large bold words and the yen symbols. Jounouchi squinted at the lightly penciled scratching, drawing it closer to his eyes to deciphered them. When the tiny words came into focus, he laughed -- heartily and richly.
With a dopey grin on his face, he stuffed the scrap paper into his jeans pocket for safekeeping before starting the car and heading out onto the road. Unlike most of Midori's writings, Jounouchi decided that this one was not disposable.
Because Rude -- but pretty like a bitch was too apt a description of Kaiba to find its way into the trash.
Still grinning goofily, Jounouchi blasted the old radio as he sped along, absently trying to remember to thank Yamada Midori for bribing him into taking that call.
This day had definitely been better than others.
Author's notes: This is my first attempt at both a Yugioh fanfiction as well as a slash pairing, so constructive criticism -- as well as any blatant ego-stroking praise -- is greatly appreciated. In fact, I really, really need it -- criticism, that is.
All information about automobile repair should be correct as I learned it all from my father who has been a mechanic for over twenty years -- and that includes the fact that Jounouchi carries a jar of Vaseline with them. It's used not only for battery terminals but also for lubricant in certain instances when an engine is being rebuilt.
Poor Kaiba. Not only have I attributed to him my personal weak spot for blue-collar workers but also my humiliating experiences at DDR. What we will do for our younger siblings if they ask it of us.
From my research, I learned that taxicabs in Japan are not only one of the nicest form of public transportation but also the most expensive. Because of this, they are often classy black BMWs with automatic backdoors as I have described herein.
¥ ¥ are symbols for Japanese currency yen.
There is one large hole in this whole scenario and that is the fact that the driving age in Japan is eighteen years. Of course, I fudged around that because I figured that Kaiba would never let anything as arbitrary as laws stop him from making it to work while Jounouchi and Midori would follow this brilliant piece of deduction: how many times have you seen a police officer pull over a tow truck? I hope that this flagrant disregard for actual Japanese law has not detracted from your enjoyment of the story.
For more information about this or any other fanfictions of mine, check out my live journal, username regann.
(02/09/2003 - Revised to correct inconstant character addresses)