The Grains Of Time
Written By Unable To Cry
(Formerly known as Demonic Angel.)

Rating: R
Lemon in a future chapter.
Genre: Angst, Romance
Pairing: Seto/Joey, minor hints of others.
Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters used in this work of fanfiction. I merely borrow the characters for my own distorted fun. I do, however, own the plot. Please ask permission to use it.

Summary:
For nine years, a depressing secret had been kept in the dark. When it can no longer be concealed, Joey is forced to face the devastating truth. All of his hope had long since been lost and although his friends refuse to believe it, there is nothing that they can do.

Warning:
Please be aware of severe depression and violence.
Also, yaoi pairings (male x male relationships) are present and focused on.
Please read with caution.

Um…Hello? ::looks sheepishly out at the tombstones of all the waiting readers that have died from old age:: …Sorry…?

Joey: SEE! Now look at what you've done! Who'll read this now?!

Seto: For once, I agree with the blonde mutt. (Joey: HEY!) All of your readers have probably lost faith by now, if they haven't died, that is.

-sob- I AM sorry. Forgive me? -sob- I'll finish my fics even if it kills me! (Seto: And it probably will...) -glare-

Also, I sincerely thank each and every one of you for the reviews. I know that, without them, I probably would have deleted myself off of a long time ago. Thanks, all of you. I mean it. I hate to admit it, but I can't help feeling as if you wonderful reviewers/readers are the only source of recognition and support that I have. It's for love of you that I managed to get out of this prolonged depression that prevented me from writing and get back to working. Please don't give up on me.

-x-

Chapter Four
Unable To Cry

Needless to say, Yugi was very surprised that his friends even remembered his birthday. He'd always been the selfless and modest one. He certainly wasn't expecting a group of classmates to swamp him the instant he arrived to school on the morning of his birthday.

"Yugi! You're finally here! Happy birthday!" A large flat gift was promptly thrust into his face along with a lot of jostling and fighting from other people.

"Ack!" He stumbled in surprise, wildly flailing his arms in a desperate attempt to regain his balance and his sense of comprehension.

For one thing, he felt extremely squashed. People pressed towards him from all sides and all he wanted at that moment was personal space. But unfortunately, he realized that he wouldn't be able to get out on his own. With the item in front of his face, he couldn't see anything but ribbons and colored wrapping.

Of course one could also never forget Yugi's significant height difference which always seemed to put him at a major disadvantage. He was quite positive that he would be trampled to death at the tender age of seventeen. He could just imagine the next morning's headlines: "Young teen squashed by rampaging gift-givers!"

"Oi, people! Move aside so Yugi can have some room to breathe!"

"Yeah! Are you trying to smother him or something?!"

Reluctantly, the small crowd parted and Joey stood there, as regal as Moses himself. As usual, his blonde locks were messy; his clothes in dire need of an iron, and his grin so bright that no one would be able to guess the true reality of his life behind closed doors. Beside him stood Honda and Ryou, each bearing their own honest smiles, testaments to their easy-going lifestyles.

"Awww…But Onii-chan! He's so cute! I can't believe that he's still this short!" Shizuka gushed, gazing at him with wide eyes. "Are you sure he's turning seventeen?!"

Indeed, this exclamation triggered an onslaught of agreement from the surrounding group, which, Yugi found to his embarrassment, were mostly girls from his class.

"Well, I-Um…" Blushing, Yugi painfully stumbled over his words.

--I didn't know you were this popular with the girls, aibou.-- Yami chuckled mentally.

/I didn't know either!/ He protested.

Joey rolled his eyes as he approached them, Honda following. "Don't mind her, Yugi. It's my fault. She had some of my coffee this morning while walking to school." At the shorter boy's questioning gaze, he elaborated. "Long story, actually. To make it simple, she didn't want me drinking so much coffee. I didn't want to waste it. We compromised by each of us drinking half."

"And coffee makes Shizuka hyper?" Honda questioned, intrigued.

"Since mom's rarely ever let her drink the stuff, she's actually gotten quite sensitive to its effects."

"No I'm not!" Shizuka sulked, mock glaring at her older brother.

"See?"

"Onii-chan!"

Yugi grinned, glad for the distraction. Sadly, it didn't last long. Anzu quickly stepped forward and shoved that same familiar flat gift in front of his face.

"Here Yugi! You didn't open your present yet!" She beamed.

He smiled and took it from her as they all walked to their classroom. Upon opening it though, he had to bite his lip to prevent a laugh from escaping. Apparently, Anzu had stuck to the popular belief that handmade gifts were more valuable. It was obvious that no one had ever told her how badly she could paint.

"So, what do you think? Do you like it?!" Anzu demanded.

"It's uh…Really nice, Anzu. Thanks for the gift." Yugi replied; staring at the mess that was supposed to be himself. Nevertheless, he was genuinely grateful for her efforts. She glowed with pride.

In his soul room, Yami was dying from fits of laughter. --HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! That's the absolute WORST painting I've ever seen!--

"And since I didn't know when Yami's birthday was, I even made one for him!" She added, turning the picture over to reveal an even worse painting.

Yami's laughter was suddenly cut short. --Ha-WHAT?! How can that possibly look like me?!--

Yugi mentally snickered. /See what happens when you don't act nice?/ He scolded. His only reply was a mental groan.

--I sincerely hope you don't expect me to bear the sight of that hanging in our room…--

Honda leaned over the shorter boy's shoulder to inspect the art. His laughter echoed down the hall and Joey soon joined in.

"Y-You call THAT art?!" Joey choked, wiping tears from his eyes.

"That's absolutely horrible!!" Added Honda.

She glared, invisible fire poking flames of annoyance at the two boys. "What are you laughing at?! I worked REALLY hard on those paintings! And besides, Yugi said they were nice, you blind buffoons!"

"Oh, yeah! I'm sure you did your best!"

"Now, guys. Don't be mean. It was a very thoughtful gift." Ryou reasoned, rolling his eyes at Honda's snort.

"See?! At least Ryou here knows art when he sees it!"

Joey coughed mockingly, but at the sudden glare from Anzu, quickly handed Yugi a small, rectangular shaped box wrapped neatly in…Newspaper.

He raised an eyebrow skeptically. "Ran out of wrapping paper, huh?"

"Hey! It wasn't my fault! We spent loads on the gift alone!" The blonde exclaimed, exasperated.

"Yeah, that's from both of us!" Honda grinned, leaning against Joey in a brotherly pose. "If not for my help, Joey here would've been forced to get you a pair of socks." He was promptly rewarded with a painful shove.

The shorter boy rolled his eyes. After nonchalantly tearing the newspaper off and ignoring Joey's protest, he held in his hands two cards. He eyes widened.

--Sacred mother of all that is holy…--

"Joey, Honda, I can't accept this. This is…"

Joey grinned. "Don't worry about it. I promised you I'd get Exodia back. I'm just sorry it's not your grandpa's original cards."

"Yugi." Honda shot him a mock glare. "You have to accept our gift. It'd be rude not to!"

"Th-thanks a lot, you guys!" Yugi continued to stare at the two cards in his hand with gratitude.

The mob of students had just reached their destination when the bell rang. The remaining people who had yet to offer their gifts hurriedly piled it on Yugi's desk before scampering off to claim their seats. Later on at recess, Yugi opened Ryou's gift, an advanced guide on dueling strategies. Shizuka's gift, typical of a girl, was a small Kuriboh plush.

"Ryou! Only you would give a book!" Joey laughed; his eyes glimmering oddly from unshed tears.

The white haired boy jumped and grinned sheepishly. "I just thought it might help…"

-x-

Going home was the absolute last thing Joey wanted to do after school. He decided to take a walk in the park after his friends split up in their own directions. Shizuka, after much sighing, stated that there were still a few more things to be done in her temporary home before waving good bye to her brother.

As he wandered beneath the shade of the trees, he let his mind roam freely in his thoughts. Contrary to the popular belief that Joey's memory span matched that of a gold fish, he remembered full well what he thought was worth memorizing. In his head, he'd neatly arranged many important dates. Next month, Mokuba would turn a year older.

Maybe it seemed odd that he even remembered Mokuba. But the little kid did help them out on several occasions and besides, it gave him something to do…

--Great way to distract yourself, Joey. It's obvious what you're really doing. Isn't there a medical term for this? Delayed Chronic Depression something or other… I'm ashamed to be you.--

Yeah, well so am I. God, leave me alone. This IS the perfect way to say good bye to my friends. Even if they aren't aware of it…

--You're only digging a hole for yourself.--

His conscience was being truthful, though. Ever since the signs began, Joey couldn't help but feel as if he owed something to his friends and knew that he'd have to give them something before his time ran out. In fact, they were more to him than just friends; they were his family, a substitute for the one he loss in a sense. He was being serious now, although his sister was his only confidant.

Wrenching himself away from his depressing thoughts, he focused more on the matter at hand. Mokuba's birthday was soon and the only time Joey ever saw him these days was when the kid came to Domino High and waited patiently for Seto to finish school. Summer vacation would start at the end of July and Joey couldn't figure out how to catch Mokuba privately, without big brother there to watch.

--You could always go straight to their mansion…--

He snorted. Yeah, right. Am I really that stupid? No, better not answer that. Maybe I can get to him before Kaiba shows up.

-x-

Running his hand through his brown locks, Seto leaned forward onto his elbows and rested his chin on his fists. The laptop on which he had been working at scant moments ago sat completely forgotten as a flash of blonde and amber kept running through his mind. On the desk in front of him, lay Shizuka's bloodied handkerchief. For some reason, he couldn't bring himself to wash it.

--It's got Katsuya's essence on it that's why.-- His mind snapped.

He groaned, joining his hands and resting his forehead on his knuckles. Why? WHY can't I get that moronic mutt out of my head?

--Because you're wor-!--

He shook his head violently, refusing to believe it. For some minutes, he continued to stare at the handkerchief, deeply immersed in his thoughts. Little bits and pieces of information filtered through his mind and he, being the analytical strategist that he was, carefully went over each and every one relating to the blonde and of his suspicions that something was seriously wrong.

Even if everyone else had dismissed it, Shizuka's early arrival and strange outburst was odd. Even her hesitation to answer his inquiry on the cause of Joey's pain. And Seto noticed, yes he did notice, no matter how subtle the implications had been, that Joey's normal eating habits and outward demeanor were changing by slow degrees.

Seto furrowed his brow. It irritated him that everyone had been so willing to accept Joey's outright lie about his bruise. As much as he hated to admit it, Joey couldn't really be that slow in reflexes to slip on a mere book. He had seen before how fast the blonde could move when pressured – or motivated by the sight of food, after all.

He recalled their collision in the hallway. Joey had actually been reluctant to fight. The normal Joey would have attempted to strangle his throat. But he'd barely made an argument that time.

There were so many details that Seto had not failed to notice; all of which kept pointing in a negative direction. Fuck the fact that he was turning into a stalker.

Looking up, his blue eyes widened in an unfamiliar stage of shock. It suddenly hit him with an emotion not unlike disgust and self-loathing. He was actually thinking about Joey. Thinking about him. Even entertaining the idea that he'd like to find out what was making the blonde puppy droop. Him, Seto? Worried about a worthless mutt, a total hazard to his otherwise flawless reputation? Outrageous!

There was a loud screech as Seto's chair was thrown back, due to the force made by his instant lurch. He stood rigidly, staring at the ceiling, trying to force himself to believe that he didn't care. Running both of his hands through his hair, he turned around and smashed his forehead against the wall.

"I…REALLY…Hate…That…Mutt…" He muttered into the pale wallpaper.

--But… I hope he's doing alright…--

"NO! I refuse to give a damn about that-that dueling monkey!"

"About who, Onii-chan?" Mokuba chirped as he literally bounced into the office.

Seto froze. Turning around, he regarded the child apprehensively and desperately tried to cover up his slip of mouth. "No one important, Mokuba…Is there something you wanted?"

Mokuba's grin widened still further and it made Seto begin to have a sense of foreboding.

"About my birthday…You ARE planning on getting me a dog, yes?"

"NO! ABSOLUTELY NOT! GO TO YOUR ROOM!"

"FINE, your Royal Awful-ness!"

-x-

Yugi grinned happily as he bounced onto his bed. Vaguely he felt Yami pull out of his soul room and materialize. He rolled onto his back and beamed at his darker half. Yami chuckled.

"I can tell you're happy."

"Yup. Today's been a great day!"

"But today's not over yet."

Yugi sat up at this strange reply but inwardly melted when Yami shot him a mysterious smile. He blinked curiously as the taller boy walked over and placed a white box into his hands.

"What's this Yami?"

"Happy Birthday, aibou."

Yugi's face lit up with surprise and he launched himself into his darker half's arms.

"Thank you, Yami!"

"Hey, you didn't even open it yet." Nevertheless, Yami wrapped his arms around the smaller boy and hugged him close.

Unknowingly, Yugi somehow slipped into Yami's lap as he lifted the lid of the box. Inside was an arm band made entirely of gold. He gasped in delight and took it out to examine it. Simple in design, etched into the gold was the single Egyptian hieroglyph of a hawk, symbol of the sun god Horus.

"Wow. I love it!" Glowing with joy, Yugi looked up into Yami's face and planted a quick kiss on his cheek before going back to admiring the arm band, unaware that the ancient pharaoh had turned a brilliant shade of red.

Yami shook his head and smiled to himself as he endearingly held Yugi on his lap.

-x-

He fell backwards from the brutal shove and his shoulder connected sharply with the edge of a nearby bookshelf, knocking several objects from the shelves as he did so. Sudden pain erupted from his arm and he knew there would be an ugly bruise there by the following morning. Wincing, Joey gingerly cradled his left arm as he readily braced himself for the next assault.

Sadly, when he had arrived home, he had found to his dismay that his father had remained sober. And when he was sober, the insults and abuse were usually worse, mostly because they always seemed to make crystal clear sense.

"Do you have any idea how fucking worthless you are, Joey?" His father spat, effectively making his name sound like a disgusting curse.

When he received no answer, he again stepped forward and shoved him hard so that the blonde slammed painfully into the wall. "It's your fault, you know; your fucking fault that your bitch of a mother left us! In fact, you're so worthless, that she didn't want to take you with her!"

Joey cringed, leaning against the wall for support as the words echoed in his head. He truly believed each spoken lie. A swift punch was quickly aimed at his stomach and he gasped for breath as he fell to his knees.

"I hope you die soon, you bastard! All you do is fucking take up space! I don't know why I kept you when your damn mother left you here! You DESERVE to die!"

Joey's body burst into burning agony as his father vented his unstoppable rage. His feeble attempts to shield himself were in vain, he didn't even care anymore. Curling into a ball on his side, years of practice allowed him to withstand the beating with forced silence. He tried to focus on other things.

A cloud wrapped around him as a detached sense of mind quickly began overtaking his head. He could feel the physical pain almost disappear entirely although his body continued to receive unprovoked assaults.

His vision having become blurred, old memories were beginning to race across his thoughts, as vivid as though he were reliving them. Painful memories; no doubt instigated by the words that his father had so cruelly voiced to make an impression upon his already abused soul.

- Begin Flashback Sequence -

Their voices were so loud and harsh that the two siblings cowering beneath the kitchen table would frequently clamp their hands over their ears when the screaming became too much. Joey hugged tightly onto his younger sister, trying desperately to help her become less frightened with the aid of Frou-Frou.

"You're nothing but a lazy, good for nothing pig! I don't know why the fuck I married you!"

"Look, Shizuka! I think Frou-Frou's lonely! Why don't you give her a hug? Mreow." Frou-Frou looked pleadingly up at her with glistening glass eyes.

"Don't you dare talk like that to me, you damn slut!" There was a loud slap followed by a shriek and the breaking of glass. "You should be fucking grateful that I pay all the bills!"

Joey arranged the poseable kitten into a playful pounce in the middle of his favorite blue blanket. "Mreow. See Shizuka? Frou-Frou wants a hug."

"Stop lying to me! I know what you've been spending your pathetic salary on! And you call ME a slut. At least I don't go around fucking every single whore and prostitute in sight!"

Shizuka stared up at Joey, her large eyes watery and sad. "What are mommy and daddy fighting about, onii-chan?" She sobbed as she clutched Frou-Frou to her chest. "Why won't they stop?"

He paused for a moment before shaking his head sadly. " I don't know, imouto-chan." Joey lied, staring into the living room where the scene was taking place.

"You worthless pig!"

"I'm scared." The little three year old cried, snuggling into her older brother's arms as a metal stool was suddenly hurled across the room and slammed into the television set.

"Don't worry, imouto-chan." He replied, patting the top of her head lightly. "They'll stop fighting soon and then everything will go back to normal."

I hope.

-x-

Shizuka hiccuped as her father loomed ominously before her, Frou-Frou in her arms. He was angry again, but this was the first time that he'd ever been angry with her. To make matters worse, she couldn't even understand why he was angry with her in the first place. Barely turning four, she loved her father, like all young children do, and the hatred he was displaying at the moment hurt her deeply. And she was also scared. She knew what would happen next. Hadn't she seen it happen all the time with the other two members of their dysfunctional family?

"Otou-san, what did I do?" She asked fearfully as he grew even redder.

"You damn well know what you did!" He thundered. "Where'd you hide the fucking remote?!"

Her trembling grew more pronounced as he took a staggering step towards her. "I-I don't k-know! I-I didn't h-hide it!"

"Stop trying to play tricks with me!!" He raised his hand, preparing to strike as Shizuka clenched her eyes in terrified anticipation. "Why you ungrateful-!"

"LEAVE HER ALONE!" Joey screamed. He barreled into the room and threw himself in front of her. "Don't you dare hurt her! I won't let you!" Standing defiantly before his father, he hid Shizuka behind him.

His dark, half-crazed eyes began to gleam with a new malice. "So, you dare to defy me?" He said softly, causing a chill to go down the children's spines. "Would you rather take your little sister's place instead?"

"I don't CARE! Just don't hit her!" The young blonde snapped, prepared to take on the world if he had to.

The older man was only too glad to comply and a terrible beating ensued. Joey's young body was thrown about the room like a rag doll even as he fought to keep his dignity. The leather belt that was used lashed through the air, landing repeatedly on the blonde's sensitive skin and leaving angry red welts in its wake. He could vaguely hear Shizuka's small cries of fear. As he was once again thrown off his feet, he smiled weakly at her, but just barely managing to raise his head from the carpeted floor to look at her trembling form behind the living room couch.

"Don't worry, imouto-chan. Get out of here. I'll never let him hurt you." Joey promised encouragingly. His face, although contorted into a grimace of pain, showed no hint of regret.

"B-But-"

The belt sang shrilly before landing hard on the boy's back. A long scream of anguish tore itself through Joey's clenched lips as he curled instinctively on his side; his body trembling in barely contained agony.

"Onii-chan!"

"Shut the fuck up!"

Joey felt the following kick break one of his ribs. Later, he claimed that it was his best birthday ever, protecting his younger sister from harm. He was elated that he had discovered a use for himself.

-x-

Joey looked on in confusion as his mother ran around the house, hurriedly stuffing things into a large suitcase.

"Okaa-san?" She continued to ignore him as she pulled clothes out of a drawer.

He tried again. "Okaa-san?"

Turning sharply, she stared at him with a shrewd, calculating look. "What is it?"

He flinched at the harshness of her tone. "I-I was just wondering what…What you are doing…?" He asked timidly.

Turning back to her packing, it took several minutes before she finally answered. "Your sister and I are leaving."

Joey swallowed nervously. Although she had not said it directly, he had a child's premonition that their leaving would be permanent. "Where?"

"I don't know yet."

"W-Why?"

"Stop bothering me with your questions, Joey." Came the tart reply.

He felt tears prick at the back of his eyes and a growing sense of dread. The boy was terribly afraid to ask his next question, almost as if he could already guess the answer. With small hands, he gripped tightly onto his blue blanket, somehow knowing that he'd need it soon.

"Am I c-coming too?"

She barely glanced at him and sighed, not bothering to hide her agitation. "No. You are going to stay here with your father, Joey."

He knew that he shouldn't ask, knew that he probably wouldn't like the answer; but being a child, he couldn't bear his curiosity. "Why…Why can't I come?"

His mother finally rounded on him with an expression that she usually reserved for his father. "Look, Joey. I can't afford to keep you." He suddenly found himself unable to breathe. "I can't afford to take care of a sick child like you. You're going to die inevitably in a matter of years anyway. I'm sorry but it'd be a waste to try."

Her words cut deep. "Shizuka's sick too." Joey countered; looking desperately for a reason that might persuade her to bring him along as well.

"Yes, Shizuka is sick." She replied forcefully. "But she will not die."

That was only half the reason, he knew. His mother had always held a softness of heart whenever Shizuka was involved. He could not help but feel slightly jealous, despite his gladness at the thought that at least his sister would be taken care of. It had always been very clear that the love she held for Shizuka would never be offered to Joey. Maybe it had to do with the fact that everyone had always told him he resembled his father in appearance.

"But-But-" He floundered helplessly for words, like a fish gasping for water.

"No 'buts', Joey." She replied firmly. "You will stay here with your father and that's final. Shizuka will be staying with me."

"NO!"

Shizuka ran into the room, her little ponytail messy and coming undone. She had only heard the last two sentences but it was enough to trigger a desperate reaction. Throwing herself at Joey, she clutched determinedly onto the older blonde like a life support.

"I won't leave onii-chan!" She screamed wildly. "You can't make me! I won't leave!"

"Shizuka!" Having finished packing, she strode forward and grabbed roughly onto her tiny arm, her other hand holding onto the handle of the heavy suitcase. "You know we can't bring him! He'd only turn out like his father!"

With great difficulty, she pried Shizuka off and dragged the little girl, kicking and screaming down the hall and through the front door. Joey merely stood there, somewhat numb and still wondering why his mother could talk of him as if he wasn't there. It took a few moments for reality to sink in. Dropping his blanket in horror, he tore after them and instantly found himself running as fast as his little body could take him after the rapidly disappearing car.

"No, please don't leave! Wait! Onegai! Onegai…"

He screamed until his voice gave out and ran until he collapsed. Nevertheless, it was a useless attempt. After making his slow way back home, he hid under his tiny blanket, as if imagining it to be a warm enveloping hug from a nonexistent mother, and cried himself to sleep.

- End Flashback Sequence -

The room was dark when he regained his consciousness, and Joey could sense the quiet stillness that only hung around his home whenever his father was out to only God knows where. Heaving himself to his feet, he slumped against the wall, gasping heavily as he forced himself to bear the pains in his chest. With slow steps he stumbled his way to the bathroom where he collapsed in front of the sink and vomited what little food he'd consumed at lunch. The taste of bile still in his mouth, he looked up into the cracked mirror.

His face, although pale and shrunken, was completely unblemished save for the healing bruise. If he'd had the strength, Joey would've laughed.

He blinked, noticing that the reflections of his eyes were shimmering with what he thought to be unshed tears. It briefly confused him. Something always held him back from truly breaking into tears, and he couldn't figure out why. He knew that he should feel something, anything; even anger. But he could only feel a numb emptiness within himself. He looked away from his reflection, disgusted at what he saw.

Joey had only one guess. He believed that there was no point in crying. That there would be no point in asking for help when it was certain, no, when he was certain that none would be given in return. He knew this and accepted this; accepted the fact that he would die and nothing could be done about it. Maybe that's why he felt so numb, because it would be pointless to feel otherwise.

There was a blade on the sink, next to his toothbrush. A small combat boot knife that Honda had given him the Christmas before in case he ever needed one. Joey was immensely tempted. Picking it up, he traced the tip lightly on his left palm, running the edge along the groove of his apparently short 'lifeline'; smiling sadly.

It'd be so easy, wouldn't it? If there was no point in feeling, than there would be no point in living. It'd only make sense if he were to end it now rather than force himself to suffer through the needless anticipation of death. But he couldn't bring himself to do it.

- Begin Flashback Sequence -

Joey couldn't be any happier. Shizuka had told him on the phone, only a few days ago, that after weeks of persistent whining, she'd managed to convince their mother into letting her see him at least one last time before the years of indefinite separation that would afterwards follow.

It was Christmas Day and it had been agreed that Shizuka would be dropped off at her former home to spend the night. Joey couldn't stop pacing the room in anticipation. His father was actually in a pretty good mood for once and was happily watching television in the den, not caring about anything other than the screen and its commercials of toilet paper and cereal.

The bell rang. Joey practically ripped the door off its hinges before the bell had even finished ringing and was just in time to catch a glimpse of his mother's car speeding away from sight. A moment later he was tackled to the floor by a little blob of clinging happiness.

"Onii-chan!"

"Merry Christmas, imouto-chan! Come on," He grinned, leading her to the bedroom they used to share. "You forgot to bring Frou-Frou with you when you left!"

Giggling happily, she followed him and gladly accepted the plush. Pulling off her winter coat, she took a small wrapped package from a pocket and offered it to him.

"Here, onii-chan. For you."

"Arigatou, Shizuka." He said, with a hint of sadness. "But I couldn't get anything for you. Oh, but wait. Maybe…" Suddenly brightening with an idea, he ran off to his bed and snatched his blue blanket off.

"Here, for you." He grinned.

"But isn't that yours?" She asked worriedly.

"Well it's yours now. Since it's my favorite, I want you to have it!" He reassured her. "Besides," He sniffed haughtily. "I don't need no baby's blanket anymore."

"Arigatou, onii-chan!" She smiled, hugging the blanket.

Opening her gift, he pulled out a decorated wooden picture frame, a picture of Shizuka herself was carefully protected behind the glass.

He was glad. It would be the only picture he had of her, and he vowed never to lose it. "Arigatou, imouto-chan!" Silence followed for several moments until it was broken by her soft voice.

"…Onii-chan?"

"Hai?"

"What's that…?" She pointed at a large bruise on his arm.

Suddenly the cheery mood vanished. "I-It's nothing…" He lied, withdrawing into himself.

At once Shizuka turned a tearful gaze up at him. "It was otou-san, wasn't it?" Her eyes were wide and wet. "He still hits you!"

Joey cringed, knowing that it wouldn't do any good to deny it. "I-It's nothing..."

"It's not nothing!" She replied angrily, lightly brushing her fingers across the darkened skin.

"It doesn't hurt, n-not really…Look, don't worry about me. I'm fine." He mumbled.

Her lower lip trembled as fear suddenly crept onto her face and she gripped tightly onto his sleeve. "You won't leave, will you? You'll never leave, right?"

"Leave? But you'll have to leave in the morning, you know that." He replied, more than a bit confused at her odd request. He became worried at her sudden strange behavior.

"Promise me, onii-chan!" She sobbed, nearly turning hysterical, tears dripping down her front. "Promise me you won't leave! I don't want you to leave! You can't!"

Joey was unsure what to do. They both knew that they'd end up separating tomorrow, so what was Shizuka asking? She couldn't know about his illness.

Her iron grip on his sleeve began to shake slightly. "O-Onegai?"

Damn the thinking. He couldn't allow his sister to become depressed over him. Besides, no one would have told her. "O-Of course, Shizuka. Don't worry. I'm not leaving, I promise." He smiled reassuringly.

"Never?"

"Never."

- End Flashback Sequence -

How could one so young have known of suicide?

The silence refused to give an answer.

Guess there's really no point in wondering now…I'd be breaking my promise to Shizuka if I were to do it anyway. Besides, Honda and Yugi probably would never forgive me. But…

Looking at his wrist, he drew the blade lightly across it, barely nicking the skin.

…But I sometimes regret ever making that promise…Even though I shouldn't be so selfish…

Suddenly, the knife clattered to the tiled floor, the loud metallic ringing echoing in the quiet room as Joey fell to his knees in pain, clutching his head between his fists.

- One Month Later, July 7 -

"Hey, Joey! Are you coming with us?" Asked Honda while the blonde was getting ready to leave.

"Ah, no. Sorry man, but I got things to do."

"Oh, alright then. See you tomorrow." He waved as he ran to catch up with Yugi and the others.

"Ja!"

After packing his things, Joey ran out of the room, hoping to find Mokuba before Seto. He'd told Shizuka earlier about his plan so she wouldn't wait for him and now he found himself cautiously looking out into the parking lot. Relying on pure luck that Mokuba would be there that day, he was greatly relieved to see the small kid sitting alone on a bench beneath a tree, happily swinging his legs.

He raced over there, hoping Seto wasn't behind him, when just as he reached within twenty feet of the tree, he found himself caught in a tight headlock.

"Hey, Joey! Long time no see!"

Craning his neck in fear, he half expected to see a pair of cold blue eyes glaring at him. But it was to his great surprise that he found himself staring into a pair of large violet ones instead. He gasped.

"Mai?!"

"The one and only!" She replied, grinning, as she released him from her grip.

"Wha-What are you doing here?"

Mai laughed and tightly hugged him. "I was in the neighborhood so I thought I'd drop by. So what've you been up to?"

As glad as he really was to see Mai again, he couldn't help but notice Seto striding towards Mokuba out of the corner of his eye.

Shit. Shit. Shit.

-x-

Seto could feel himself fuming. He knew Mai but he couldn't help but wonder why she was at their school and bothering Joey. Twice he nearly made the fatal mistake of openly staring at them as he approached his younger brother.

What is SHE doing here? Knowing the dangers of his own temper, he averted his gaze to stare at the ground, trying to think logically. Wait. What am I getting worked up for? She's that mutt's friend. There's nothing wrong with that.

But when the purple eyed blonde hugged Joey again and the boy's light blush deepened significantly, the brunette nearly exploded.

--Yes, there IS something wrong with that…--

"Um, Seto? Are you okay? Your face is all red…"

He jerked around, surprised to find Mokuba staring at him. Then he realized why he was there in the first place.

"Come, Mokuba." He said, unaware that his voice was terse and angry. "We're going."

As he passed the two, however, he couldn't resist the urge to call out.

"So, the mutt has other friends?" He sneered mockingly. "I didn't think it possible, you being the pathetic dog you are."

What he saw next was quickly dismissed as a figment of his own imagination; but Seto could have sworn that he'd seen a brief hint of sadness on Joey's face before it was quickly replaced by anger. Mai was then forced to restrain him.

"You bastard! I swear I'll get you for that!" Joey shouted, ignoring the odd looks he received from passing students.

"Calm down, Joey! Just ignore that conceited jerk." Mai protested.

Seto didn't even bother to try and stop himself. "Let him go, for all I care. That weak, dueling monkey couldn't fight his way out of a paper sack. Everyone knows that his brain is the size of a malnourished pea!"

Nearby students laughed and Joey's face turned an inconceivable shade of red in embarrassment. His fighting having ceased, Seto was purely convinced that the boy was too choked up with hatred for words and stalked dramatically away, glaring at anyone that dared look him in the eye.

Mokuba suddenly froze as he entered the limousine. Dueling monkey…? Haven't I heard that somewhere else before…?

-x-

After Mai had left, claiming that she would visit again later, Joey discovered that he had no other choice but to personally deliver Mokuba's gift to the Kaiba mansion.

He trudged dejectedly along the sidewalk; his shoulders hunched and head bowed. Seto's insults had hurt him deeply. Although he knew he was stupid and useless, it always hurt to hear the fact confirmed by another person. He was also fighting to understand his conflicting emotions.

Kaiba's always insulted me, always. Ever since he and I met. So why does it hurt a hundred times more now than it usually does? He sniffled. I don't understand his hatred towards me. I've never beaten him in a duel, and he knows I'm worthless. So why does he even bother? …Why do I even care for that matter?

--Oh, wow. Let's wonder about this for a second. Maybe it's because you want him to LIKE you for a change?--

Joey stiffened at the foreign thought. NO way. He thought fiercely, suppressing his conscience enough to make it actually squeak in protest. No fucking way. Meeting him was the worst thing to have ever happened to me. I hate that asshole! I HATE HIM!

Infuriated, he swung his right fist into the nearest thing, and regretted it when he realized he'd attempted to break through a solid wall. The pain wasn't the real problem; he'd certainly felt worse. It merely annoyed him that he now had bleeding knuckles to contend with. Shaking off tiny droplets of blood, he sighed at his own stupidity and groped in his backpack for his medical kit. Clumsily wrapping gauze around his hand he shouldered his bag and continued on.

A few seconds later he heard a sound like a breaking twig behind him. Alarmed he spun around to find - no one there. The sidewalk and street was completely deserted. Shrugging his shoulders he continued on. Less than two seconds later a dry leaf crackled, as if it were being smashed and he turned to look behind him once again.

"Alright, whoever's following me, cut it…!"

Silence. His eyes widened in fear as he scanned the area, completely spooked. He had always been the type to jump quickly to irrational conclusions. He sucked in a breath and took off running. Even so he could swear he heard hurried footsteps lightly following him but every time he looked backwards - nothing. His conclusion?

Holy shit! This street is haunted!

-x-

He collapsed in front of the gates of the Kaiba mansion, clutching at his chest. In light of his recent discovery he'd forgotten that in his current, weak state, he probably shouldn't be running so much. He rested for awhile before his gaze was drawn to the white mansion and the 10 foot tall gate that blocked him. Groaning, he hoisted himself over carefully, fully aware that there were probably a million security cameras recording his ass. He decided he didn't care. What he didn't notice was the bandage loosening from his fist and fluttering away.

He rang the doorbell, hoping Seto wouldn't be the one to answer it. After all, the guy must be rich enough to own a butler or two, maybe a few dozen maids, all of whom could answer the door, right? Unfortunately, luck just wasn't on Joey's side that day.

"What do you want, mutt?"

Cringing beneath the gaze of the taller teen, he managed a feeble grin. "Um, hi. I was, uh, hoping I could have a word with Mokuba, um, maybe…?"

Seto smirked and leaned against the doorframe. "And why the Hell should I let you in here? You're lucky I let you get this far."

"Wha – What do you mean?" Joey stared at him stupidly.

The CEO rolled his eyes. "That gate's not the only thing keeping stray dogs like you out of this place. Now I regret telling the security guards off. Go away."

"W-Wait! C'mon, please. Lemme in. I really need to speak to Mokuba!" Joey protested.

Seto glared at him. "No."

"Fine, you arrogant jerk!" The blonde exploded, his arms flapping about in an extremely juvenile way. "See if I care ----!"

Suddenly Seto wasn't listening. His eyes had been drawn to the blonde's rapidly waving fists. One of them in particular looked like it was in really bad shape. Without meaning to, he grew concerned. Ignoring Joey's squawk of protest he grabbed hold of the boy's collar and dragged him inside before slamming the door shut.

"Stupid dumb mutt…"

"Hey what's the big idea, Kaiba?! Thought you weren't going to let me in!"

The brunette shot him a glare and told him to shut up. Out of confusion more than anything else the younger boy complied and allowed the taller teen to drag him into a bathroom.

"Um, why are we - ?"

"Didn't I tell you to shut up?"

Joey watched in stunned silence as Seto gently took hold of his injured hand and rinsed out the wounds beneath the faucet. Then, reaching into the medicine cabinet, he dressed the wounds with first aid ointment before expertly wrapping a gauze bandage around the hand. Joey didn't realize he was blushing as both of Seto's hands worked to take care of his, one hand wrapped firmly around his wrist to hold it in place. The blonde couldn't help imagining how strong those hands actually were, how gentle they were being with him now. With the sole exception of his sister, no one had ever taken care of his injuries with this much care. It was ironic that Seto would be caring for injuries that were caused by thoughts of him.

Kaiba's… Wait, what is this? Kaiba, he's… Helping me?

--He cares, maybe?--

He…

Joey was brought sharply back to reality when he noticed that Seto's warm touch had disappeared. He looked up suddenly and his gaze connected with the penetrating stare of the taller teen. The blonde felt his will weakening beneath the intensity, couldn't help but feel as if his soul was being read. The brunette's blue eyes had taken on a darker hue, icy and guarded still, but somewhere in them a faint spark of softness.

"Kaiba…"

Seto turned away and scoffed. "No way in Hell was I going to let you bleed on my front entrance steps and stain the wood."

The-the STEPS?!

When Seto turned back towards him Joey noticed that his eyes had become cold and apathetic once again, reverting back to the cool blue of ice. "But now that you're in here I suppose I won't be able to get you out again unless you've seen Mokuba. What a pain you are. Come on."

Huh?

Joey, feeling as if he'd just missed something important, had no choice but to follow Seto through a maze of corridors and up a flight of stairs until they stopped in front of a closed door that displayed a plaque bearing Mokuba's name.

"I'll be in my study. I trust you can walk yourself out?" Seto stated coldly. Without waiting for a reply he entered the room directly across the hall from Mokuba's and closed the door behind him.

"Um, thanks, I guess…" Joey sighed, aware that Seto had probably not heard him. Biting his lip, he knocked and entered.

"Oh, hi Katsuya!" Mokuba was on the floor seated before a game console and grinning happily. "Why are you here? Wanna play? Onii-sama programmed a new game for me for my birthday! It's really cool! It's a VR RPG similar to the one you 'an Yugi played a long time ago, remember? When we went to save my brother? 'Cept this one's different 'cause…"

Joey's jaw dropped. He MADE a game? Damn genius bastard makes the rest of us normal idiots look bad.

"…Well, actually it sucks. I wanted a puppy… Don't know why he doesn't like dogs…"

Inwardly Joey froze, somehow understanding the implications behind Seto's refusal to own a dog. He dislikes me that much…?

"- And I really wanted a puppy! And – hey, are you okay, Katsuya?"

The blonde snapped out of his thoughts. "Wha -? Oh. Oh, yeah, I'm alright. Heh. Thanks for the video game offer but I'm only here to deliver your present." Joey flashed one of his trademark grins before extracting a thin box from his back pack. "Sorry it ain't as fancy as your brother's gift."

"Wow! Thanks Katsuya!" Mokuba took the gift with childish glee and hastened to open it. "Don't worry about onii-sama, presents from him are always like that… I'm still mad that he didn't get me what I really wanted though – oh, hey, this is great! I really like this band!" His eyes scanned the back of the CD case. "Dead depressing, their songs. That's why I like'em. How'd you know they're my favorite?" He asked.

Head spinning from all the childish pratter, Joey laughed, although inside he couldn't stop thinking about Seto's hatred. "I didn't, really. I just gave you one of my personal favorites. I'm glad you like it. My favorite on that CD is 'In the End.'"

"Oh? I haven't heard all of these songs yet. I'll be sure to listen to 'em. Thanks!"

-x-

"What… are you doing?"

Joey nearly jumped a foot high and turned around. "Kaiba! Don't scare me like that!"

The brunette raised an eyebrow and crossed his arms. Clearly he wasn't in the mood to cater to Joey's overreactive freak alarms. "The security guards reported to me that an unidentified blonde stranger has been roaming my home for the past hour. I repeat, what the Hell are you doing?"

Blushing heatedly, the blonde looked at floor. "I-I can't find my way out…" He mumbled.

"You're lost?!"

"Yeah, well, it's not my fault your stupid house is so big!" Joey protested heatedly, crossing his arms.

Seto shook his head disbelievingly. The younger teen really was absent minded. "I guess you really can't walk yourself out."

Still grumbling beneath his breath, Joey again had no choice but to follow Seto back through the maze of corridors. It was a long walk, however, and the blonde, so used to hearing shouts and screams, found the silence to be disconcerting.

"Uh… Did you know that street a block away from here is haunted?" Joey asked nervously, testing the waters to see if casual conversation would be tolerated. Seto shot him a look that clearly said he was insane.

"No, really!" The blonde persisted, growing slightly bolder. "I could hear someone following me even though no one was there!"

The brunette rolled his eyes. "Moron. You probably allowed some little kid's idea of a prank to scare you."

Words of retaliation were already set to bubble from Joey's throat but he had no chance to voice them. Instead, he cried out as another wave of dizzyness washed over him and his world began to spin. His body lurched forward and Seto, who had turned upon hearing his cry, was too surprised to react. Joey fell hard against him, knocking both of them to the ground.

"Koinu!?"

The blonde lay on his chest, eyes wide and breathing heavily. He wasn't even aware he had fallen. Seto had no idea what the Hell was wrong. His arms instinctively curled around Joey's shoulders.

"Koinu, what's wrong?"

Joey moaned softly and Seto felt his breath catch in his throat. The smaller teen currently laying atop him shifted slightly and raised his head. Amber eyes blinked, the confusion finally fading away. Joey came to his senses only to find his face mere centimeters from Seto's. His face flushed.

"Are you all right?" The brunette murmured, genuinely concerned.

Completely speechless and mind totally blank, Joey discovered that he no longer had any control over his body whatsoever. He couldn't help but notice how much he liked being in Seto's warm embrace. Even as his mind screamed at him to run away before things got out of control, his eyes closed shut and his face slowly fell forward until he could feel Seto's hot breath on his lips.

"…Kai…ba…"

Beneath his hands, Joey felt the muscles of Seto's chest tense but he made no move to push the blonde away. Instead his arms wrapped more tightly about him, bringing him closer. The brunette's breathing hitched as he realized that in just another second, their lips would make contact.

"SETOOOOOOOOO!" Mokuba's wail echoed throughout the entire mansion, jolting the two teens on the floor out of their daze. Joey slid off of him as Seto lurched forward at the sound of Mokuba's voice. "There's a strange creep looking in the window!!! AIEEEEEEE!"

"What the fuck?!" Alarmed, the CEO jumped up. As if on cue, security systems instantly went off, warning of an intruder on the premises.

Without another word, the concerned Kaiba brother dashed off in search of his sibling. Joey was left alone in the middle of the floor, completely confused and frightened. He got up and began running. Fortunately the front entrance was near and he burst through it. Through the darkened streets he ran. His eyes began to water but he dared not let the tears fall.

Wha-what the HELL just happened?!

- To Be Continued -

Hm… I wonder if this chapter had enough angst in it? Didn't feel like it… Sacred Seth. My first attempt at some fluff... It was bad, wasn't it? -sweatdrop-

UnableToCry: Yes, yes. I know. Three years it took and FINALLY my lazy butt manages to get this 4th chapter out. Oh! I have an idea! ::disappears and comes back wearing a blue poncho, a scream mask, oven mitts and rain boots:: For being such an irresponsible author, I give all of you permission to throw things at me!

Yugioh cast: -sweatdrop- …

UnableToCry: No, seriously. -smile- Take your time. In fact, I can wait here all day.

Lacrimare: I think the, uh, the scream mask is a little over the top…

Yami: Yes… That is certainly an odd look.

Bakura: Well if no one's going to throw anything I'll do it! Hahaha! ::throws a bucket of rotten vegetables:: Take that!

UnableToCrry: --; I suppose I deserve it… -sigh-

-x-

There are a few things my readers ought to know. First of all, since all copies of the original version of this chapter disappeared a couple years ago, this total rewrite may be messed up. When I first began this fic (in 2002) I had a plot all planned out but since I didn't write an outline…Basically this fic is now pretty much writing itself. -grinning feebly- Oh, well…

Also, during my absence I've set up an MSN group site that I think most Seto/Jou fans would enjoy. Web layout is crappy, I'm an amateur, I know. BUT I have posted there my entire collection of Seto/Jou images that I found on the net. Read the disclaimer on the main page before you yell at me for stealing, okay? I just wanted to share with everyone how absolutely adorable these two look together. I'll be damned if I horde over a 100 beautiful images to myself. -sigh-

Here's the address (I trust that you know the dash mark and the spaces aren't supposed to be there, ff-net wouldn't display it otherwise):
h t t p : /-/ groups . msn . com / Forever My Koinu

One more thing… I know someone said that I yap too much before and after the fic… And that's true. I'm sorry. --; It's just that I get so excited knowing someone's actually reading my fic that I get carried away. I'll try to work on that…

Here's a little something I wrote when I was bored. I hope my readers can get some amusement from it.

- Pointless Humor -

Jou: Hello! This is everyone's favorite Koinu, here -

Seto: -ahem-

Jou: -glare- - with everyone's favorite jerkwad, and -

Seto: We're here to host this page as a special contribution to all our fans. -smirk-

Jou: Hey, quit butting in! This is MY spotlight, moneybags!

Seto: -eyeroll- Down, puppy. I'll buy you all the chew toys you want, later.

Jou: Huh, really?! -freeze- Uh-I-I mean... NO! How dare you treat me like some animal! -glare-

Seto: -smiles seductively- Like it or not you'll always be a koinu - and you'll always be MY Koinu. -yanks on a leash attached to Jou and smirks-

Jou: -blush- Th-Tha- STOP THAT! -blush-

Bakura: EGADS. Get a room you two! (fangirls scream)

Seto & Jou: -freeze- ...Where'd you come from?

Yami: -eyeroll- The same place where we always come from.

Seto: -nods sagely- You mean from the improbability drive, don't you?

Yami & Bakura: Duh.

Jou: Huh? -clueless-

Ryou: It's simple, Jou. (fangirls scream) We all originated from a virtually improbable probability drive based upon the random thought stream of a singularly complex carbon based unit.

Seto: Too true. In other words, the probability of said unit containing multiple thought streams convalescing into an interconnecting strand is highly probable. So probable in fact, that the improbability of our tangible existences becomes highly probable in the end and we become two dimensional characters in a three dimensional space. - So it all works out.

Jou: O.O -blink-

Bakura: Aargh! It's so simple, you dumb mutt! Even a two year old can grasp the inter-dimensional properties of his own existence!

Seto: -growls menacingly and whacks Bakura on the head- Don't insult my Koinu, Thief!

Bakura: Hey, I resent that! sulk (fangirls cry)

Jou: Owiee... -whine- It hurts, Seto... -sniffle-

Seto: -hugs Jou- Shh. I know, Koinu, I know. That's just your brain trying to think. Here puppy, I have a present for you. -snaps around Jou's neck a black ribbon choker with a flawless diamond charm the size of a quarter- It was on sale for $3 million at Zales. I thought it'd look nice on you. -smile-

Bakura: OO; HOLY FUCK! -begins to drool as thief-instincts kick in-

Jou: -smiles shyly- Th-thanks.

Yami: -eyes the gift scathingly and scoffs- A mere trinket! When I was Pharaoh I used diamonds the size of my fist as scroll weights.

Seto: -eyeroll- And when I was High Priest even you had to respect me because I had the power to raise the dead and instigate the wrath of the gods.

Yugi: ...Actually Yami, that's true.-smile- Most ancient societies held more respect for the leader of religion rather than the leader of the people... Says so right in the school textbook.

Bakura: Hehe… So was Pharaoh Yami just a figurehead?

Ryou & Yugi:-sweatdrop- -senses conflict arising-

Yami: -smiles calmly but there's an obvious anger tick on his forehead- Aibou...


Note: I'm MAD! They no longer allow dd tags! How can I do without paragraph indentations?! AAGH. It's so ugly! How can one distinguish between paragraphs and quotations?! -sob- Oh, my precious indentations... -wail- Oh, they can have RULERS and ITALICS but not indentations? They even took away the upside-down carrot and squiggly line symbols and the- Holy Hell the ASTERISK is gone too! I can't make faces anymore or my version of a scene divider! Stupid ff-net and their stupid formatting rules! Gr... -wail-

Readers (if any): o.O;