Author's Note (12/7/14): This winter tale is the sequel to "Wednesdays with Yami", and takes place approximately two months later. I'd like to thank all those who read that story and gave me such wonderful feedback. If you haven't read it, you may wish to read that story first. I don't think it's essential, but certain details may make more sense or have more meaning. This story takes place 25 years after the end of the Duel Monsters series.
It's in Yami's point of view this time, and I found pompous professor Yami to be quite a lot of fun to write. There's also something quite romantic about a snowstorm shutting a city down, even if it is "damned inconvenient."
Snuggle up warm in a cozy blanket, grab a cup of your favorite hot beverage, and get ready for this long winter's tale. I hope you enjoy!
Never All That Fond of Winter
I've never been all that fond of winter. Snow can be beautiful—falling gracefully in lovely large white flakes from the sky, but it can also be damned inconvenient—falling faster and thicker, blowing and drifting with the increasing wind, choking the roads and railroad tracks, bringing the city of Domino to an absolute standstill.
"Due to blizzard conditions in the Domino Metropolitan Area, we are suspending all train service until further notice. Passengers are asked to get off the train at the nearest stop. We will resume service once conditions are safe for travel. We apologize for the inconvenience…"
I was trying to go from the old part of town, where I was visiting my aibou at his game shop and the particularly nice tobacconist's next door, over across town to the Domino University area, which is where I lived. However, with the snow falling thickly all around me, and the train service suspended, I found myself directly in between—right in the skyscraper jungle known as the downtown business district.
I cursed Set's name as I wondered what I was going to do now. This was obviously his doing—he being the god of chaos and storms. I could see the storm—and the chaos all around me as a result. Salarymen and office ladies were rushing every which way to catch the few available taxicabs, and those left behind were rushing off to snag any available hotel rooms. I really did not want to have to spend the night down here. After all, I had a class to teach in the morning.
I could walk, but I wasn't looking forward to that prospect. My neighborhood was several kilometers away. The snow was getting thicker and it was becoming harder to see by the minute. Already, my feet were cold in my leather boots, and soon to be wet as well. I didn't see any other good options, though, so I headed off.
It was not long before I decided that I needed a cigarette. Damn cigarettes! Yugi was right—I really should quit. If it weren't for the damn cigarettes, I would have stayed home the minute I saw the damn weather report. I honestly did not think it could be as bad as they said. After all, weathermen tend to hype the hell out of these things. Domino isn't known for getting much snow —usually only a few centimeters at a time.
I cursed myself and my damn pride and independence. I could have sheltered with Yugi at his family's apartment above the game shop as the snow began to fall, but I assured him I would be all right, that I would go straight home on the train, feed my cat, snuggle up warm under the kotatsu table, and grade my endless stack of student papers. So much for that plan.
I searched for a good place to get out of the wind for a time while I smoked my cigarette and pondered my fate.
I looked up and saw a very familiar skyscraper, its top almost completely obscured by the swirling snowflakes. Of course, I would end up here. Of course. If there is one person I could not seem to get away from in the last life or this, it was he.
I found myself in the plaza in front of the Kaiba Corporation building, right next to one of the three large concrete Blue Eyes White Dragon statues installed there. Each statue had a knitted scarf tied around its neck to celebrate the Christmas and winter season. I knew who started that tradition. I knew who was still keeping it.
"Ah, Kisara," I said to one dragon as I lit my cigarette, holding my back to the wind as I did so, "what should I do now?"
The dragon did not answer, as statuary never does.
I felt quite grateful for my Zippo lighter as I lit my cigarette in the wind. It had been a gift long ago from a special friend of mine. It was engraved with what looked like strange, archaic squiggles, but was actually my name in hieratic script—a form of writing used by ancient Egyptian priests. Atemu. A name forgotten and remembered.
I exhaled a cloud of gray smoke up into the air, although I could not see it much beyond the white snowflakes swirling overhead. I pulled my wool coat tighter around me in a vain attempt to protect myself against the ever-worsening elements.
I wondered if he was even in the building, my paramour. I hate to use that word, but it was accurate. If he was smart, he'd have had his driver take him home the minute the flakes started falling. On the other hand, as smart as he was (and he was, to put it mildly, of genius-level intellect), he was also quite stubborn. I could imagine him thinking, "I'll work just a little more on this project; I'll just check on one more thing; I'll just reply to one more email," only to find himself now as stranded as I found myself at the moment.
Yes, it was very likely he was in there. I took another long drag off my cigarette.
But, even if he were inside, would that even help me in this situation? What was I to do? March right in there in my current bedraggled state and demand to see the CEO? Say, "Tell him Yami is here to see him"? And, what would he do for me, anyway? He hardly acknowledged our relationship in the best of times. Now that it had been officially announced that he was divorcing his wife, he had been keeping even more of a distance from me.
I understood the need for propriety. I didn't always like it, but I understood.
Today was Wednesday. Tomorrow was my birthday. My forty-second. Or twenty-fifth. Or 3042nd. Depends upon how you look at it. My cigarette was done, and I looked for a place to dispose of the butt properly. Something told me the landlord would not take too kindly to me tossing it on the ground and grinding it with my boot heel.
Just as I located an ashtray and was headed towards it, a cold, wet, slushy snowball smacked me squarely in the shoulder blade.
What in Horus's name? An attack upon my person? Here in late afternoon in the middle of downtown? My body acted on pure instinct, no room for reason or rationality—not one microsecond taken to realize a mere snowball was no threat. Perhaps it was the work of children at play. Perhaps it was not meant for me at all, and I was merely in the wrong place at the wrong time. No, there was no time to consider that or anything else. It was one fluid, thoughtless motion—scoop some snow off the ground, pack it quickly and tightly between my gloved hands, wind up and let it fly at the culprit I spotted just out of the corner of my eye.
Thwack! "Oof!" Bullseye.
Back in the days when I shared a body with my aibou, Yugi, there were several instances where his calm rationality was sorely needed to temper my quick judgment. He taught me much in the time we spent together. Apparently, though, I didn't learn quite enough.
"Truce…" My victim staggered out, gasping, his hands in the air. I'd gotten him square in the middle of the chest, right in the heart. "I surrender." I think he was trying to laugh, but he didn't quite have the air.
I immediately felt remorse. He wasn't even dressed for the weather. He was wearing a finely tailored dark gray business suit, which nicely complemented his shaggy chestnut hair and deep blue eyes.
I ran to him. "Seto! Are you all right?"
He leaned toward me, bent over, and put his arm on my shoulder, keeping me at arm's length. He was catching his breath and shaking his head. Snowflakes were falling from his hair. He took several deep breaths and coughs and stood upright again, taking his hand away "I should have known…"
"I'm sorry…" I looked up at him and noticed the ruddy tinge to his normally fair countenance. The warm touch of his hand, the heavy sound of his breath, the color of his cheeks-an obvious reminder of the blood that coursed through his veins-this presence of the living man known as Seto Kaiba was almost too much to bear at the moment. He was so close, so extant, and yet so forbidden to me here in this public space.
He brushed his bare hand through the spikes of my hair. "You're filling up with snow."
I moved my head away from his touch and shook it violently to rid myself of this dandruff from the sky. It was almost a futile gesture as the snow continued to fall more quickly by the minute. He laughed.
"What the hell are you doing here?" I finally asked, laughing myself in order to soften the words.
"The question is more rightly mine. After all, I do work here. I own this building and this plaza. You, on the other hand, appear to be merely loitering."
I shot him a sideways glance. "Damn trains have been suspended due to this lousy weather," I grumbled. "I'm trying to get home from Yugi's, and they dumped me out here. I needed a smoke before setting out on foot."
He looked at me with a slight bit of concern. "That's quite a walk even in good weather, Yami." He looked around. "I suppose a cab is out?"
"If I could find one, I'd take it…although automobiles are having as much trouble getting through this mess as the trains, to tell you the truth. I was watching the streets while I was smoking. I think walking would be safer."
"Good point." He brushed a hand through his own hair, which was also filling up with snow. "Let's go inside. It's freezing out here."
I agreed with the sentiment, so I followed him. We walked inside the building through revolving doors to a wide, modern, glassed-in lobby, not as bright anymore due to the deepening shadows of the December afternoon. Some utilitarian low-pile black rugs had been placed in front of the doorways as we came in, and we used these to stomp the snow off our feet.
"Come, Yami," said Seto. "Since you can't get home, you might as well have dinner with me tonight."
I looked up at him, my head cocked at an angle, wondering if his sentence was a statement or a demand or a request. I had an impulse to refuse him, just for the way he had implied that I would accede, but, then, my own stomach betrayed me. There was a smell wafting in from the corporate cafeteria, and it smelled damn good. "All right," I replied.
"Excellent." He smiled, and it was one of the broad, genuine smiles even I did not see very often, especially when sex was not involved. I couldn't help but smile back, and I felt the gesture warm me against the cold chill I still felt from being outdoors in the elements.
He led me over to a security desk, where a guard looked at my identification, took my picture and printed me a small yellow plastic badge to hang around my neck with a lanyard. It even had my full name on it: Dr. Atemu Mutou.
I held this gift out in my hand and admired it. "Snazzy," I said, "and useful, too. It'll come in handy if I ever forget my own name."
The guard laughed politely at my not-so-clever joke. Seto, on the other hand, knowing exactly why I said that, looked as if he were about to choke on something. He suddenly started coughing.
"Are you all right, Mr. Kaiba?" asked the guard.
Seto recovered and said, "Yes, quite. Something got stuck in my throat." He shot a slight look over to me. "Are you guys set up for tonight?"
"Yes, sir. Mr. Isono has arranged all the schedules for the people who are here. We are quite well covered. He's set up cots for those of us who are off-duty to rest."
Isono. There's a name I hadn't heard for quite a while. He was Seto and Mokuba's personal bodyguard growing up, and had migrated into the position of head of security for Kaiba Corporation.
"Good. Everything is going to plan. Thank you, Tanaka. I'll have Dr. Mutou return the badge to this desk when he leaves."
Dr. Mutou. I chuckled inwardly at Seto's formality. He generally didn't even call me by my real first name, much less my last. Of course, all that stems from the time when I myself did not know my own name. I liked that he still called me Yami. I liked to remember those days.
Several steps away from the guards' desk, I felt a playful punch into my shoulder. "Troublemaker."
"You should talk," I said. "What were you doing out there, anyway, pelting me with snowballs?"
"First of all, it was one snowball. Second, I happened to be walking by the window when I noticed my dragon breathing smoke. I knew it wasn't a miracle—turns out it was you. Third, if your return fire had been thrown any harder, you'd have killed me." He clutched the spot on his chest that I hit. I'd dampened his expensive silk tie. "Forget this ancient Egypt shit—go to America and try out for the major leagues!"
I chuckled slightly, not sure what to think, not sure if I could ever make that throw again on purpose. Besides, I'd never give up Egyptology. I had a very personal connection to my chosen profession. He knew that, of course.
"I am sorry," I said again.
We were now in the world-famous Kaiba Corporation company cafeteria, and he and I picked up our trays and started to select what we were going to eat. It's been said that a job at Kaiba Corporation is highly coveted for proximity to this cafeteria alone, and, I must say, that reputation was not unwarranted. There was a wide array of foods to choose from, including poached salmon, steaks grilled to your specifications, a luscious salad bar, a sushi chef, create your own stir-fry, and even a hamburger grill and pizza.
I decided to go for the stir-fry and a few pieces of sushi. I saw that Seto was going for the steak, salad, and baked potato. I knew that steak was rare, too. He was a man's man if I ever knew one.
I followed Seto to the cashier, who said, "Good evening, Mr. Kaiba" and waved him by, but Seto stopped and said, "His is on me as well," indicating my tray.
"Thank you," I said, actually a bit surprised by his action, although I don't know why that was, since he had invited me, after all. It was almost as if this were a date.
The cashier looked at me with that "don't I know you?" look that I never quite get used to. Seriously, I haven't dueled professionally since I was in Yugi's body, and Yugi has been long retired himself. However, he is still recognized all the time, and, by extension, I am mistaken for him just as often.
He looked at the security badge around my neck and then spoke. "You teach at the university, don't you, Dr. Mutou?"
"Yes, I do." Being recognized as myself threw me for a loop. Was the cashier a former student? I looked at him. I wished I could remember all my former students. I mumbled an "I'm sorry, I don't quite…"
"You don't know me. My name is Inoue." He stuck out his hand and I shook it. "I just read your book about the ancient Egyptian origins of Duel Monsters. It was very fascinating."
"That is kind of you to say," I replied. I had recently written a book that explains the origins of Duel Monsters on a layman's level. It was selling quite well. I was hoping, after my next expedition and the requisite academic papers that would need to be written, to write a similar sequel about the life of my successor, Pharaoh Seto, and how he restored peace and prosperity to Egypt after the end of the Shadow Games. My agent was worried that it wasn't as sexy of a topic, but it was an important one to me.
"Your writing style…you really bring those dusty tombs and the intrigue in the Pharaoh's court and the battles and the monsters to life."
"Well, thank you so much."
"I must say, your description of High Priest Seto, and his personality, it really did remind me of someone…" He indicated Seto Kaiba with his eyes. Seto was beginning to look a bit impatient. "I guess it makes sense now that I see you two know each other."
"We are old friends." I tried not to let my eyes reveal too much to the young cashier. "I suppose I did base Seto on Kaiba here just a little bit," I admitted. "They strike me as very similar. Tall, studious, serious, power-hungry…" Of course, the truth was not that I imagined High Priest Seto to be much like Seto Kaiba, but that I remembered him to be so.
"Shall I find us a table before my dinner gets ice-cold?" If anything was ice-cold, it was Seto's voice. He gets a bit annoyed when I compare him to the priest. I don't know why—it's a high compliment.
"I teach a class at Domino University based on my research for that book, you know. Tuesdays and Thursdays at 9:15, room 103 of Takahashi Hall."
"I'm actually a business student there, when I'm not working here, of course." He laughed nervously.
"Well, you should consider taking the class. It's the most popular class in the department for non-majors. Tomorrow's lecture—if it's not snowed out—will be on Seto and the Pharaoh's duel. Feel free to stop by and audit it if you'd like."
"Thank you, professor. I'll see if I can stop by."
I could see Seto tapping his foot out of the corner of my eye.
"I'd better go." I winked at the kid. "It was very nice to meet you, Inoue. Here's my card. If you have any questions about the book, send me an email."
"Wow, thank you!" He took the card. "Well, it was great meeting you, too, Dr. Mutou. Be careful out there. I hear the weather's pretty nasty."
We walked away and Seto headed for a small table near a large window. It seemed such an ideal place to sit and watch the weather unfold that I was surprised it was not already occupied. Then, it occurred to me why that might be. This must be the CEO's usual spot, and death be to anyone else who dare sit here.
I looked around the room at the other diners, who were checking smartphones, typing on laptops, and chatting quietly with each other, and it suddenly struck me how calm the situation was. These dedicated employees did not seem to be nervous at all about the storm outside or distracted from their duties. I knew I was accompanying the big boss, and perhaps people were putting on a brave face for him, but that really did not seem to be the case.
I imagined that the university right now was a large bowl of chaos and confusion in comparison. That, and my young neighbors were probably realizing just now that class would likely be cancelled tomorrow and therefore it was a perfect Wednesday night for drunken hijinks.
Hmmm…listening to drunken caterwauling of students or having a nice meal with a handsome man? I know what I would always choose.
"Yami, you're a damn flirt." Seto looked up from his phone and narrowed his gaze at me from across the table.
I wasn't quite sure what he was referring to at first. After all, I hadn't said anything to him that could be construed that way.
"Here's my card. Why don't you come up and see me sometime?" Seto said in a falsetto while batting his eyelids in a ridiculous manner.
"What, are you talking about that cashier?" I said incredulously. "I was being friendly. You should try it."
"Hmph." He looked back down at his mobile and tapped at it with his finger. Was he jealous? Actually jealous for that? Ridiculous.
"It's just my email address and office phone number. I'm promoting myself. Perhaps he'll take a class or buy another book of mine. I would think you of all people would approve of that."
"Besides," I said, dropping my voice, letting my eyelids droop in a seductive manner, "he's much too young for me."
"Yes," he replied, not exactly in an appeased manner. It was more matter-of-fact. "I need to go check on something. Confidential matter. I'll be back in a minute."
He left his dinner behind, barely touched. I sat at the table, taking bites of stir-fry and rice. It was quite good, and should have been quite satisfying, but I felt a bit ill at ease as I watched the storm swirl outside the window around the dragon statues on the plaza. It was dark now, and not much could be seen beyond that which was lit by the spotlights on the plaza.
Those statues, kept warm by knitted scarves. That was the idea of Seto's little brother, Mokuba, back when he was a child of about eleven—when they both were children, really. However, Seto, at the age of sixteen, had a man's burden by then. He was already the CEO of Kaiba Corporation after the suicide of his adoptive father, and already molding and shaping what was once a staid defense contractor bent on war and destruction into the gaming powerhouse and theme park purveyor that the company was today.
Mokuba. He'd been tragically taken in an automobile accident at seventeen years old, back when I was in my senior year as an undergraduate. I was in Egypt at the time on a study-abroad program and powerless to stop the train wreck that resulted. By the time I returned to Japan….
Well, as Seto would say, that was the past, and there was no use dwelling on it. What happened was not the worst possible outcome by any means. I should have been thanking my lucky stars he did not commit suicide. She probably saved his life.
Seto came back to the table. He sensed my melancholy mood. "Is something wrong?"
"No," I replied. I looked out the window, not able to bear looking straight at him. "Weather seems to be getting worse."
"They expect over 30 cm when this is all done. Perhaps well over. This storm is almost unprecedented. It hasn't snowed like this for twenty years."
I couldn't remember it ever snowing quite like this.
Seto tucked back into his dinner, now cold, but he didn't say anything about it. Perhaps he was used to this, these interruptions of his mealtimes.
I tried to brighten the mood. "I must say your cafeteria deserves its fine reputation. I thank you for the fine meal."
"You're very welcome, Yami." He was staring out the window himself at the falling snow. It was uncharacteristic for him to be wistful, but that seemed to be the mood of the evening.
A tall man wearing a black business suit approached the table. He had snow-white hair that stuck up in two points, one above each ear. "Sir, Operation Loki is going according to plan. We have the sub-basement all set up with cots, blankets, refreshments, and entertainment."
"Very good. And you've put the word out?"
"Yes, by company-wide email and I also have one of my men informing the supervisors directly."
"How many do you estimate will participate?"
"Looks to be perhaps 300 people."
"That many?" Seto seemed a bit surprised.
"I think the weather caught many off guard. Many tried to catch the trains and found they were already suspended."
Seto smiled towards me. Then he looked back at his employee. "Thank you, Isono."
Isono! Of course, that's who this must be. I now recognized him. It had been a very long time since I'd seen him.
Seto continued. "I've talked to the kitchen staff myself. We will have doughnuts, French pastries, muffins, scrambled eggs, and bacon in the morning, as well as coffee, tea, and orange juice. After all, that is the most important part of the plan." Seto smiled, but it was a smile tinged with a bit of sadness. That perplexed me.
"Yes, sir, it is." The same expression was on Isono's face.
Isono then turned towards me. "And, sir, what about your…companion here? Will he need accommodation?"
Seto put his hand on his chin in thought. Then, he said, "Isono, you remember Atemu Mutou, don't you? He's Dr. Mutou now, of course. He teaches at the university. And, Yami, you remember Isono, my chief of security."
I stood and stuck out my hand. "It is very nice to make your acquaintance again, Isono." He shook my hand politely, but did not return the sentiment. I sat back down at the table.
Seto looked at me. "Well, Yami, the reports I've been getting say that the trains will not be running until noon tomorrow at the earliest. You're going to need a place to stay. How about here at the Hotel Kaiba?"
I wasn't quite sure what to say. "You mean, here? In your office?"
Isono's expression darkened with suspicion.
"He can stay in the VP office. There's a hide-a-bed sofa in there."
"Sir…I…are you certain?"
"Uh…I…do you need help setting up…or?"
"We'll be fine," Seto said with finality. "I'll take care of it myself. Don't worry."
"I-I thank you for the generous offer, Seto." Was I really going to spend the night here, in an office building, with Seto Kaiba, my intermittent lover? It seemed to be the best of my available options. I felt a flutter of anticipation in my stomach.
"Good. Then, it is settled!" Seto said with a clap of his hands and a smile of satisfaction. Isono looked perturbed; I felt a bit bamboozled.
"Have a good evening, sir. Call me if you need anything from me."
"Keep me apprised of the situation. Oh, and Isono?"
Isono had been about to take a step away when he stopped. "Yes, sir?"
"Thank you. I really…I couldn't do this without you."
"Oh, well, you're welcome, sir. You're very welcome." Isono seemed embarrassed at the commendation. Praise from the CEO was perhaps more rare than it should be, but always, always sincere. "You…you have a good night." Then, he turned and walked away.
Seto continued to finish his dinner. Then, he said, "He's told me he plans to retire soon, Yami. I'm not quite sure what's going to happen when he does." He sipped at his water glass. "He's the last one left from…well, from before me."
Could that really be so? The last one who once worked for Seto's father? Had it really been that long? Although many would feel that Seto was still young for his position at 42, he had been there for quite a long time—over 25 years. Also, the complete shakeup and change of focus of the organization back then had caused a lot of fallout.
Seto's older son, Ryuichi, was already eighteen, and, as far as I was aware, was already being groomed to be the successor. Ryuichi was a lot like his father at that age—highly intelligent, headstrong, arrogant, and stubborn as hell. Seto was still that way, but Ryuichi was so in the way only the very young can be—with such a raw certainty about everything.
The few times I'd met the teen, I'd gotten the impression he did not like me much. I'd love to face him in a Duel Monsters duel. Unfortunately, that's the one thing he does not share with his father. He's talented, but has no love for the game. It's the younger son, Sora, who is the duelist. He's also much more likeable.
Unfortunately, the younger son was not actually Seto's genetically. He was the product of an illicit affair between his mother and one of Seto's bitter rivals. It was the discovery of that infidelity, and others, that precipitated the divorce now pending.
Neither of the boys knew yet about the particulars of the relationship between their father and myself, which was just as well for the time being. The pending divorce was difficult enough.
My phone rang. "I need to take this," I said. "It's Yugi."
"That's all right. Stay here and take your phone call. I have some things to check up on. I'll come back for you." He stood up and walked away, leaving his tray behind.
"Atemu, were you able to make it home? I just saw on TV that the train service was suspended this afternoon!" Yugi's voice was quite excitable.
"Actually, no. They kicked me off at the downtown station."
"Downtown? Were you able to get a cab? You're not still walking, are you? The roads are terrible!"
"Actually, aibou, I'm still downtown. I'm having dinner now."
"Dinner? What are you going to do after that?"
"Well…I found a place to stay."
"That's good. Where? Are you finally going to satisfy your curiosity about those capsule hotels?"
I laughed. That would have been a possible solution. However, I was always afraid that it would feel a bit too much like a sarcophagus for my taste. "No, aibou. I'm staying with a friend."
"A friend? Who…wait a minute, where are you, exactly?"
If there was one thing you could say about my aibou, it's that he was no dummy. The other thing you could say is that he knew me better than anyone else in the entire world. Therefore, there was no use hiding the truth from him.
"Kaiba Corporation. I'm eating in the cafeteria."
"Is Kaiba with you?"
"Not at this very moment. Why?"
"Atemu…he's still a married man."
I was not interested in the lecture. "He offered to let me stay and it is an emergency. He's apparently got an extra fold-out sofa somewhere in his office for me."
"So, you're not going to…"
"I don't believe that is any of your business." My voice grew harsh and intolerant.
"You're right, it's not." Yugi's voice was quiet and apologetic. "Just…be careful, OK?"
"I'm sorry, aibou. It's been a rough afternoon."
"I don't want to say 'I told you so,' but you should have stayed here. Jounouchi's walking over. We're going to play Risk. Becky's making her famous hot cocoa."
"It sounds like fun, aibou." I was a little sorry I was going to miss it. "You give those babies of yours a kiss from me."
"You just saw them a few hours ago!" Yugi laughed.
"And they're four years old now. Momoko would tell you herself that she is not a baby anymore, Uncle Atemu!"
I chuckled at this, for I could imagine the child saying it just that way. "Well, tomorrow, I will be 3042, so, compared to that, four doesn't seem quite grown up yet!"
"That's right! It is your birthday tomorrow. Happy early birthday!"
"We'll have to get together this weekend to celebrate."
"Hey, Jounouchi's here. Gotta run. You take care of yourself, OK?"
"You, too, aibou."
"And take care of him. Take care of each other."
All I could say to that was, "I'll do my best."
Yugi knew everything. He was the one I told my secrets to. He never shied away from it, but I knew that it was a burden to him. He was a great believer in the institution of marriage, so the taint of infidelity between Seto and me bothered him greatly. At least Seto and Anzu were finally moving towards a legal divorce. At least, soon, Yugi wouldn't need to be the only one to know.
Anzu. She was no saint either. Frankly, the entire situation was a huge mess. Honestly, the most advantageous strategy would be to walk away.
And, yet, I couldn't do it. I had a six-month expedition to Egypt coming up in April, which would be an ideal cooling-off period for me, and yet, there I went, inviting Seto to come visit me. And it sounded like he actually was going to take a vacation for once and do it. Me and my big mouth.
Perhaps my problem is that I think more with the little head between my legs than the large one atop my shoulders. Or, perhaps I think even more with a different organ entirely—the one in the center of my chest.
Hathor help me, I loved the man.
Seto still wasn't back from wherever he was, so I decided to have another cigarette. I sent him a text message letting him know I'd be outside.
It was quite dark by this time. The flakes continued to fall. The streets were now nearly deserted. The snowplows had given up the fight for the moment. There were cars parked along the side of the street that were entombed in snow.
It was going to be a long winter; I just knew it.
It was going to be a long, starless, night. Was the night so long and starless the night before I was born? Probably not…I was born in Egypt, where the climate was completely different.
I stubbed out my cigarette in the ashtray. I'd had enough.
I felt a hand grip my shoulder. I knew it could be no one else but Seto Kaiba.
"Looks like they tipped the snow globe of this city upside down, doesn't it, Yami?" Seto laughed that loud, broad laugh he generally reserves for his own jokes. "Now, are you done with that thing yet? Let's get inside—it's fucking freezing out here!"
My heart leapt into my throat at his touch. Did he have any idea what effect he had on me? How could he not? And yet…
His strides were bold, long, and powerful, and I had to strive to keep up with him. He led me to the elevator on the end, and we stepped inside.
He looked down; I looked up, and we gazed into each other's eyes. I felt his hand grip mine, still inside its glove.
"So cold," he said softly, still gazing at me.
I wanted the kiss that I knew would not come, for I could see the camera behind its smoked-glass dome on the ceiling, watching us for impropriety. Even alone, we could not be together.
"Soon" came from his lips soundlessly.
We arrived at the 21st floor, second from the top. I knew the top floor to be a large, glassed-in conference room. That was the room where Seto's foster father, Gozaburo, humiliated by his son Seto's takeover of the company, threw himself against one of the glass panels and managed to end up dead on the street below, the street that on this day was now softened with a fluffy blanket of snow.
Seto once told me that he won a lawsuit against the contractor of the building after that incident. The glass used in the building was much too thin. His father's suicide should never have been possible. Laughing, Seto told me, "The beauty of it was, that contractor gave me one of the best favors I've ever gotten…and then they had to replace every pane of glass in the building at their own cost and pay me restitution on top of that for that sorry bastard's life!"
"What did you do with the money?" I had asked.
"It helped build the first Kaiba Land. At the time, I felt it appropriate. I wish I'd given the money back."
I knew why he'd said that. Death-T. The amusement park tower of horrors built to kill my aibou and me. One dark incident between us among many.
Down the hallway was his office. I'd never been up here before-never in all the time we'd known each other had I been allowed into this inner sanctum. On the door was a plaque engraved with his name and title, Seto Kaiba, Chief Executive Officer. I took my glove off and ran my fingertips gently over his name. He chuckled at the gesture and tapped his badge against a panel on the door. There was a click, and he whispered, "Open it" into my ear. I pressed down on the lever and pushed gently and the door gave way.
The room was large and dark. In shadow, I saw a large desk and an executive-style office chair. The outer wall was completely glass. The sky was strangely lit, with lights from the street below being reflected on the clouds above. I walked to the glass wall to see the city below.
I felt my coat being lifted off my shoulders, and I shrugged my arms out of the sleeves to let him take it from me. I sensed his hot breath in my ear as he did so. "Beautiful, isn't it? You can take your shoes off if you like. Stay a while." His voice was breathy and seductive. It lulled me. I kicked my boots off, glad to be rid of them, as they were soaking wet.
"Should probably crumple some newspaper in those," I said, "to help dry them out."
"You don't say," said Seto, as if he'd never heard of that trick. I could hear him crumpling paper loosely and stuffing inside his shoes and mine. I guess his were a bit damp as well.
I could hear him opening a closet door, and the metallic ting of clothes hangers, and some rustling and movement behind me as I continued to watch the snow fall. Far above the city I was now, far above the cares of the world, and yet I knew this very edifice was quite rooted to it.
He slipped up behind me, slipped his arms around my shoulders, pressed his front into my back, embraced me this way, so warmly. He had removed his suit jacket and tie and was just in shirtsleeves now. I could feel his arousal even through the several layers of fabric between us, and I let out a little gasp.
"You've got me so distracted, Yami. I've got so many things to do…" he murmured. His hands were on my chest, rubbing, feeling, sneaking up under my sweater. I moved my hands back to rub his thighs in response.
I hate to use a cliché, but, if this was so wrong, why did it feel so right?
"Would you like a drink? Coffee? Tea? I'd probably better stay clear-headed, but it's going to be so, so, difficult…"
"Tea would be fine," I whispered. I knew what he meant, as even without alcohol, I could feel hormones fogging my brain.
"Right, tea." I could hear absentmindedness slipping into his voice. Slowly he slipped his hands away and backed off. I turned and could see that he had some sort of little kitchenette on the other side of the room, and he was filling and plugging in the electric kettle. "Sit down, Yami." He gestured towards an overstuffed buff-colored leather sofa.
I sat on the sofa, waiting, anticipating, feeling sensation returning to my cold feet with an almost painful tingle.
It was strange now to be alone with him and to have him entertain. He had a staff at home who took care of that…not that I went over to his house very often at all once he was married. Really, who needs that thrown in their face all the time? He always came over to my place for our rendezvous, and I'm about as good an entertainer as I am a housekeeper—not at all, I'm afraid.
But, here we were, all alone together, in this strange glimpse of a future almost possible.
He brought over a cup of green tea for each of us and a plateful of assorted cookies. I said, "Well, look at you, all prepared. It's as if you were expecting me." I took a cookie and bit in to it while looking straight at him. Some sort of shortbread. Buttery.
"I have these for meetings. We could call this a meeting." I could feel the dip of the sofa cushion as his body settled in next to mine. He ran his hand up and down my thigh.
"Even your legs are cold, Yami." He reached down to touch my shin. "Just as I thought—your pants are still wet from the snow. You really should take those off, you know."
"Well, aren't you getting straight to business!" I said. I had to admit, though, that his idea had merit. The pants were kind of uncomfortable in more ways than one.
"I hate meetings that don't get straight to the point," he said in a seductive tone. "It wastes time."
"Oh, but we have all night," I said. I moved closer to him, snuggling into him. He moved his arm and laid it across my shoulder, pulling me even closer in the darkness.
The shrill chirp of a mobile phone destroyed the moment. He fished it out of his pocket and looked at it. "Sorry, I have to take this one. It's from Germany." He swiped at the phone with his finger. "Kaiba." After a pause, a string of German words came out of his mouth, dark, loud, and forceful.
I have always, always admired the man's penchant for languages, so strange for someone who generally says so little. Even this interruption was seductive to me as I focused on the sound of his voice speaking words I did not understand. I shifted forward slightly to take up my teacup and grab another cookie and then settled back in as I was before, tucked underneath his arm, his free hand lazily threading through my unruly hair as he talked.
He ended the call. "Sorry about that."
"What was that about?" I murmured.
"Schroeder Corp wants to work out a new deal with me regarding tournaments involving the Duel Runner project. Not sure anything will come of it, to tell you the truth. Seems to be the way of the world these days—a lot of talk, nothing gets done." He leaned in and grazed my lips with his. Then, he came in for a second approach, and a third, keeping things light and playful.
"I love to hear you speak German," I admitted between kisses.
He laughed. "Why is that?"
"I don't know." I could feel a schoolgirl's blush warm my cheeks. "I just do. It's sexy."
He laughed again. "Du bist sexy."
"What did that mean?"
"You are sexy."
"Du bist sexy." I repeated.
"Close. Try it again. Du bist sexy."
"Du bist sexy." I did my best to copy his accent. I started to laugh.
"Hmmm…that is kind of hot," he admitted.
"I had no idea my business calls were such a turn-on."
"Didn't Anzu like hearing your deep voice bark those manly, guttural words?"
"Are you kidding me?" he scoffed. "'Why do you always ignore me, Seto? Why do you have to take those calls in the evening?'" His voice affected a nasal falsetto in imitation of his soon-to-be-ex-wife.
I thought about it. "Well, it's because of the time difference, isn't it?"
"Exactly. It's not fucking personal." I could feel him tense up.
"Shh…" I embraced him and snuggled my face into his neck. His body started to relax again.
Had she really been so unrealistic, so demanding? Or, was there something I wasn't seeing that would be obvious if I knew her side? Or was this just the result of little resentments building up on top of each other over time, each a grain of sand in a giant, drifting dune?
I felt him shift underneath me. I lifted my body off of his. He adjusted himself on the sofa. He put his hands underneath my sweater again.
"Let's take this off…"
I allowed him to remove the garment. I felt cooler and, strangely, more comfortable, in just a white button-up dress shirt. I'm certain my hair was even more of a mess than usual—damp with melting snow, starting to dry, it sticks up in funny places even in the best of times. Seto brushed through it with his fingers. I lunged forward for a kiss.
I found myself straddling his lap and threading my fingers through the back of his hair and tasting the sweetness of green tea and shortbread in his mouth. It was delectable.
His fingers were wandering, wedging their way into the space between my slacks and my briefs. He really was not one to waste time. Make hay while the sun shines is what they say. Make love while the snow flies is what I say.
I broke the kiss and my fingers came forward to open more buttons on his shirt. I got halfway down when his phone rang again.
Perhaps this was what I was missing from Anzu's point of view. Damned inconvenient.
"Fuck! Speak of the she-devil herself," he spat. "Afraid I have to take this one as well."
I removed myself from his lap and sat back next to him on the sofa, leaving space between us this time. I swallowed the rest of the cold tea in my cup.
"Yeah, I'm at the office.
"Yeah, I've got about 300 people stranded here. What do you expect me to do?"
There was a long pause here. Seto looked at me and rolled his eyes.
"Oh, Mokuba and I used to do that all the time.
"Just keep the fire extinguisher nearby. They'll be fine!
"Really. They'll be fine.
"Well, what do you want me to tell them?" He was starting to sound quite annoyed at this point.
There was another long pause.
His demeanor immediately brightened. "Hey, Ryuichi. How are you doing? You killing your brother?"
Seto laughed. "Your mother is worried you're going to burn the house down."
He laughed again. "You know, my brother and I used to do the same thing. You just got to be careful. Got the fire extinguisher handy? Bucket of water?
"Good. Be careful, all right? Don't worry your mother."
Seto laughed again. "I know. How's school going?"
"You asking Akane to the winter formal?"
Seto laughed quite broadly. "Why the hell not?
"Listen, nothing ventured, nothing gained." At this, he reached over and squeezed my hand.
Seto laughed again. "No. I didn't even want to go. I think your mother went with Yugi Mutou."
He laughed again, more loudly. "Yeah, I'm serious."
I surmised he was talking about the winter formal dance during our senior year at Domino High. Seto was right…Anzu went with Yugi. She did more than dance with him that night, if you know what I mean.
I didn't know if Seto knew about that, and I certainly wasn't going to tell him if he didn't. Yugi kept enough of my secrets, and I could keep this one for him. Besides, I could imagine the reaction.
Seto and I…we skipped the festivities entirely and made our own fun at his house. I kicked his ass at Parcheesi and we spent the rest of that winter evening in his bedroom locked in a tango of our own.
"So, you'd better go for it, then!
"All right. Well, I've got to go. You guys have fun, stay safe, and if you burn the house down, you'll get it from me. Understand?
"I'll talk to you later.
He tapped the phone to end the call and stared at the screen for several seconds. He took a deep breath.
"What are they up to?" I asked. I was dying to know, with all this talk of fire and extinguishers and whatnot.
Seto chuckled. "Roasting marshmallows in the fireplace. Mokuba and I used to do that. Anzu apparently is having a snit fit."
I chuckled. "You didn't have anyone to tell you no."
"Yeah, and we survived just fine. She babies them."
I didn't know what to say. Neither of us have much experience with mothers. My mother died when I was born. Seto's died when he was five years old.
"So, I heard something about the winter formal?"
"Yeah. Ryuichi wants to ask this girl, but he hasn't yet."
"You think he will?"
"Yeah. He knows how to go after what he wants."
"I suppose, these days, he could ask a boy to the dance if he wanted to."
"Ryuichi's not like that."
"Oh." I wanted to ask Seto how he felt about that, but I wasn't sure if I should.
"Sora, on the other hand…"
"Sora?" I gasped. "But, isn't he…?" I was going to say "Jounouchi's", but my voice trailed off before I could.
Seto nodded. "However, I had kind of an awkward conversation with him a few months ago, before I knew about that."
"Surely, he's too young. He's only fourteen."
Seto shrugged. "I was trying to figure out why he acts out so much. In the course of our conversation, I asked him, 'Are there any girls you like?', and he shook his head. Then, for whatever reason, I added, 'or boys?' and…he hesitated."
"So, there we were at a standstill. He didn't really want to admit it to me, and I didn't want to admit why I'd asked. So I recovered with, 'Don't worry, you're still young yet. You've got a long time to worry about that sort of thing.' Then, I could see him breathe again."
Seto always was a quick thinker. I felt he might have been merely postponing the problem, however.
Seto was rubbing his forehead with his hand. "Yami, what the fuck do I do? I feel like I'm living my life backwards. I was a middle-aged father at seventeen and I'm a confused teenager at forty-two."
"I saw a movie like that once. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. About a man who aged backwards."
"You know I don't watch movies."
"Don't ask me how to act your age," I said. Then I flopped my head on the back of the sofa, acting as dead as someone over 3000 years old should be.
"If you didn't smoke so many damn cigarettes, you'd probably live forever."
I opened one eye. "I don't smoke so much," I said. "Only after sex…or when I'd like to be having sex…"
"You're doomed." He leaned over to kiss me, and, after the kiss, I opened both eyes.
"Roasting marshmallows sounds like fun."
"Yeah, doesn't it? I'm just glad they're doing something together for once that doesn't involve insults or fists."
I grinned and chuckled a little bit. "Major snowstorms as a catalyst for world peace. I love it. Imagine if you and Jounouchi were trapped in here together. You could be holding hands and singing 'Kumbaya'."
"Oh, you fucking did not just say that!" OK, he was a bit perturbed by that one.
"Relax, he's with my aibou drinking hot chocolate and playing Risk."
"Yugi is a fucking saint."
"Strange…he says the same thing about me."
"Why would he…" And then Seto realized why. "I can't believe you…come here!"
I suddenly found myself being pounced upon and tickled all over, Seto's long fingers reaching up under my shirt to find my soft, sensitive underbelly. I was going for his underarms, which were still well covered, but an effective target. "You've got too many damn clothes on," I said between gasps of laughter.
"So do you," he said, reaching for buttons on my shirt.
I decided to up the game and go for his belt buckle.
He caught my lips with his as we fumbled with each other's clothing in the semi-darkness.
Suddenly, there was a knock on the door.
"Shit!" Seto swore under his breath. We broke apart and hastily reassembled ourselves. I picked my sweater off the floor and set it in my lap.
When he was pretty much just "casually rumpled" rather than "attacked by rabid fanboys" (or fangirls…Seto isn't picky), he walked over, flipped on a light switch, and opened the door.
Isono was standing there, holding a pile of neatly folded bed linens.
"I thought you might need these, sir, to make up the bed in the VP office."
"Thank you, Isono." Seto's voice was one of cool, polite restraint. I sat very still on the sofa. "How is everything going?"
"According to plan, sir. Lights out will be at 10 o'clock."
I sneaked a peek at my phone. It was almost nine.
"Good. It sounds like everything is under control."
While they talked, I felt my phone vibrate. A text message from my friend Robert, the English professor. He'd just heard that class was going to be cancelled at the university tomorrow.
I thought about the story that I would have to tell him…if I dared tell it. Robert is my other confidante. We often have lunch together and talk about all sorts of things, including my bizarre love life. He doesn't know Seto's name, though. I originally codenamed him "Blue Eyes", but somehow that morphed into "Frank", after Frank Sinatra.
"I'm with Frank. Trapped in his office downtown," I texted back.
"Oooh, how romantic!"
"Not really. So far, we've been interrupted by his wife, his son, some German guy, and one of his employees."
Robert likes me. A lot. He'd like to be more than friends, I think. And, sometimes I wonder if things wouldn't be easier with him. A lot easier.
I put the phone away as I saw Seto close the door. He set the linens on his desk.
"Hot chocolate?" he asked.
"Yes, please," I replied. "With marshmallows."
"I'll see what I can do…" He rummaged through some cupboards.
I stretched out on the sofa. It was quite comfortable.
As he was mixing in the hot chocolate powder, he looked over at me and chuckled.
"School's out for me tomorrow." I grinned.
"Lucky you. This really is a second-childhood kind of day."
"This must be my first childhood." I sat up to receive the mug of cocoa. "I didn't have much of a childhood as a kid, growing up as the heir to the throne."
Seto sighed and sat down next to me. "Know what you mean." Indeed, he did.
My mug of cocoa was topped with loads of mini-marshmallows. "You found marshmallows, I see."
"Just like Mom used to make."
"Yeah." He smiled sadly. "And Mokuba, too." He sipped his mug, which did not have any marshmallows on it.
"I miss him," I said.
"I see you still decorate the dragons for winter."
He nodded. "Winter was his favorite season."
"I didn't know that."
He got up from the sofa and turned out the lights. Then, he settled down back next to me. "Actually, there've been a lot of reminders of my brother tonight. He's the one who made all these building emergency plans. Operation Loki. He was on some sort of Norse god kick at the time. I'd asked him to do it after that last big storm twenty years ago. It had been absolute chaos that night when people couldn't take the trains home and all the hotel rooms filled up. He's the one who came up with the plan to use the old fallout shelters in the subbasement as shelter."
"Well, KaibaCorp was once a defense contractor. We made bombs, artillery, arms, you name it. Old Gozaburo wanted to be prepared for the next atomic bomb. Domino would have been a good place to hit during the Cold War. Gozaburo was a war profiteer, after all. He supplied both sides—the Soviets and the US."
Strange fact about me…although aibou was alive then, I had to learn about the Cold War from history books. By the time I emerged from the Millennium Puzzle, the Cold War was over.
"Mokuba had done enough poking around in the building to realize we had hundreds and hundreds of surplus cots, blankets, and some huge empty rooms downstairs filled with survival gear. Well, most of that stuff was over thirty years old then and needed to be thrown out, but the rooms and cots and blankets remain. So, anyone who needs a place to spend the night tonight can stay down there. Or, we have a few people with larger offices who bring the cots upstairs. Doesn't really matter to me.
"What Mokuba realized twenty years ago was that people were a bit scared, confused—rumors were flying everywhere, something about storms makes everyone nervous and uptight. So, he made sure to keep up morale. He gathered up everything he could find—Duel Disks, board games, playing cards, video game consoles, paper and crayons—to keep people entertained. He turned a major inconvenience into a huge slumber party." Seto chuckled softly.
"So, after it was all over, I gave him a project. Formalize emergency plans for various scenarios—storms, power outages, earthquakes, etc. He worked with security, he worked with local officials and law enforcement—he took the project and ran with it. He did an excellent job. We still use most of those plans today. They're periodically reviewed and revised, of course—but we still use them."
"So, that's what you were checking on with Isono," I said.
"What's with the stack of sheets?" I asked, looking at the pile on Seto's desk.
"Oh, that." Seto rolled his eyes. "Isono feels the need to preserve my chastity or something. It's to make up the bed in the other room. You don't mind sleeping with me, do you?"
"Why? Do you snore?" I asked.
He stroked my hand. With a rakish grin, he said, "Exactly."
"I got the feeling Isono wasn't thrilled to see me again," I said.
"Yeah, well…" Seto sighed. "I think he's upset by the divorce. Strange the different attitudes I've gotten to the news. Then he sees you again, so I'm sure he's put two and two together. He probably thinks I invited you here or something."
"To get trapped with you in your office during a snowstorm?" Then I muttered, "I should really pay more attention to the weather report."
Seto laughed and stroked my hand some more. Then, he kissed my cheek. It felt warm and I could feel blood rush to the spot in a tingly rush.
"Actually…aibou versed some of the same objections in his phone call," I admitted.
"Well, he's still friends with her. He probably feels his loyalties divided."
"I think so."
"Well...you can tell Yugi…Anzu knows. About you and me." The admission hung thickly between us.
"I see. You told her."
I cocked my head in confusion. "Sort of?"
"She overheard me."
Now, I was really confused. We didn't make a habit of having phone conversations. Was he telling someone else? I didn't imagine Seto had many confidantes. What did Anzu hear?
He looked over at me with sideways eyes. "You'll like this. It's just one example of how messed up my life is at the moment." He settled back into the sofa and downed the rest of his hot chocolate. "So, I'm at home, in my new room. It's late at night. I've had a bit of a stressful day…so, I decide to relax with a little 'private time', if you know what I mean."
I gave a fake pout. "So selfish. I'd have come over…"
He ignored me. "So, I've got a good fantasy going, my eyes closed, and I'm…you know, stroking it…"
The picture in my head was making my pants quite tight again. I shifted in my seat.
"And, well, of course, I was…thinking about you…"
I was flattered, of course, but I wasn't sure what this would have to do with Anzu finding out about our affair.
"And, then-I was so into it- when I came, I whispered your name out loud…"
I shifted some more. I started reaching for my belt buckle.
"And…as I did…as I said 'Yami'…I heard a little squeak."
"A little squeak?"
"My eyes flew open, and there I was, dick in my hand, jizz all over…and Anzu standing right in front of me with her mouth wide open having heard very clearly what I said."
"She was in your room?" I could hardly believe it. My shock overruled my libido.
"Yeah. I said something like, 'You could knock!' But, I was caught. That's all there was to it."
"Wait a minute," I said, wanting to get the story straight, "Anzu came into your room, saw you…pleasuring yourself, and stood there and watched you finish without announcing her presence?"
Seto smirked. "Yeah, that's about the size of it. I told you my life was messed up."
"Maybe she's finally realizing what a good thing she's missing out on," I surmised. Then I chuckled. "Leave it to you to get caught in your adulterous affair by masturbating!"
Seto shook his head. "I don't even know what she wanted to tell me originally. That flew out the window. I mean, I could have lied and told her it was only a fantasy. But…" He sighed. "I just didn't feel like lying anymore."
I stared at him, my eyes wide. I wasn't sure what to say.
"Well, that was about three weeks ago. And, I've been living in this office ever since."
I looked at him with concern. "She threw you out?"
"It was a mutual decision. She told me to go, and I didn't want to stay. She…well…was pretty bothered by it. Understandably, I suppose. I'm closing on a condo in two weeks. I was able to move up the closing so that I'd have a few days to get stuff moved in before New Year's."
"Oh." I was a bit surprised, as this was the first I'd heard of this. "Where's your new place?"
"Not too far from here. Between here and the university. It's a penthouse. Nice view of the riverfront. Balcony. Jacuzzi tub. Should be easier for you to visit." Then he winked at me.
"Uh…sounds great," I said. Truth be told, it was a lot to absorb at once. I slurped the last of the cold hot chocolate out of the bottom of my mug.
"Yami…" I felt Seto stroke my hand.
I pulled my hand away. "Is Anzu OK?" I'd never meant to hurt her. At one time, she was a very trusted, dear friend. And now, I realized I'd hurt her, hurt her deeply, with my selfish actions.
"She'll be OK." Seto tried to reassure me. "It's better that she knows."
I suddenly felt sick to my stomach. I took a deep breath, willing the nausea to pass. I bent over at the waist and put my head between my knees. This was all too much. Jounouchi. Anzu. Seto. Me. Yugi. What the fuck had we all done?
Sometimes…I would think that I was supposed to lose that duel twenty-five years ago. I was dead. I was a ghost. I wasn't supposed to be here. Maybe things would have been better for everyone else if I had gone.
"I'm sorry, Seto. I just…need to think." I stood up and walked to the glass wall. Snow continued to fly. I could see hardly anything else.
Seto was silent except for his breathing, which came out in loud, deep huffs through his nose.
"Yami…" he finally said, "we should go to bed."
I stood and continued to watch the flying snowflakes. Sleep was the last thing on my mind.
I felt his hand on my shoulder. "Why don't you take a shower? You'll feel better. It's been a rough day."
"You have a shower?" That did sound pretty good.
"Of course. All the comforts of home." He kissed the top of my head.
I didn't shake him away. I hated myself for it.
Oh, Hathor, why was I so drawn to him?
Seto showed me where his bathroom was. "Feel free to use whatever you need. You can wear the bathrobe hanging in there if you want. Need to borrow pajamas or anything?"
"Oh, yes…you still sleep in the nude, don't you?"
"If it was good enough for ancient Egypt…" Truth be told, I did have one pair of pajamas—ancient flannel ones of Yugi's that he gave me right after I got my body. If I had been at home that night, I probably would have been wearing them, as my apartment was quite drafty. Seto's office was warm and airtight in comparison.
Any pajamas of Seto's would have been about a foot too long for me, anyway.
I wondered to myself if it was Seto's idea to have a shower in his office, or if his father had put it in, and what it said about their family that they were so willing to dedicate so much of their lives to this business that such a thing would be necessary.
After all, I had an office, too, at the university, but I didn't sleep or shower there. In fact, I didn't spend much time there at all. I was only required to be in my office for office hours with students. I did do a lot of work out of my home, though—grading papers, writing, researching, etc.—and that did sometimes stretch into the wee hours of the morning. Maybe that was kind of the same thing.
The water was warm and felt good on my body, still a little chilled from the snow. I started to feel good enough that I wished Seto was there to join me…and then I slapped myself mentally. Honestly, I was almost 42. Sometimes it did bother me, how much I thought about sex. I wondered if I should ask aibou if he still thought about it all the time. It was fortunate for me that he never got offended by my strange questions about the human condition.
I finally stepped out, warm, refreshed, renewed, smelling of richly scented soaps and lotions and hair products. I dried my hair as best as I could with a towel. I really could do nothing with it, the way it stood up and all those crazy colors—blond in the front, black and magenta in the back with a slight amount of silver now, too.
I took the bathrobe off the peg, a wonderful royal purple. It was ankle-length on me, which probably meant it fell just past Seto's knees. I had to roll up the sleeves so my hands would show. I felt like a little kid playing dress-up in Father's clothes. Actually, it also felt rather regal and luxurious. I felt like a king once again.
I gathered up my clothing, shaking out the wrinkles, folding it loosely, wondering where I should put it, and feeling a little awkward. Perhaps I should have taken Seto up on the pajama offer. After all, it might be a little weird to sleep next to him naked if we weren't actually going to do anything.
Yes, at that point, I'd convinced myself we weren't going to do anything. I felt I'd done enough harm already. I required some penance.
I stepped back out into the office. The sofa bed was opened up now, but Seto was nowhere to be seen.
I decided to stash my clothing under the sofa bed, as I could see no better place for it. Where could Seto be? I sat on the bed. It was very soft and comfortable. A memory-foam mattress. Seto would have nothing but the very best, of course.
I looked across the room and saw that a door that I'd hardly noticed before was propped open. I wandered over to see what was on the other side.
The room was another office, similar to Seto's, lit by a single lamp on an end table. The carpet was different, the walls were painted a darker color, the furnishings seemed a bit outdated compared to the ones in the office I just left. There was another large mahogany desk and comfortable swiveling office chair. There was another sofa, dark brown leather, which was also folded out into a sofa bed. This room also had a little kitchenette and a bathroom, and I could hear the shower running. So, that's where Seto was.
Truth be told, there was something just a little bit…off about this room, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. Perhaps the air in the room was just a bit too stale, perhaps there was just a bit too much darkness creeping into the corners. I was suddenly reminded of the Millennium Puzzle—of the inside of the Millennium Puzzle-and that bothered me.
I sat on this sofa bed. It was not quite as comfortable as the other one. Definitely not memory foam. It was just a regular mattress, but it was comfortable enough.
There was a watercolor painting of a Blue Eyes White Dragon on the wall behind the desk. It was beautiful. I wondered why Seto didn't have it in his own office. After all, that was his favorite Duel Monster. The eyes of the dragon reminded me of Seto's, and I felt that usual warmth in my core when I thought of him.
The pain I'd caused…was it unavoidable? Because I suddenly realized that loving Seto came as naturally as breathing, and had ever since that night twenty-five years ago tomorrow when I was corporally reborn.
I wondered if I should remind him of the anniversary. I wondered if he'd even remember. He'd have to remember, surely?
He'd folded out this bed. Did he mean for me to sleep here? Did he think I didn't want to sleep next to him?
This must be the room that he'd talked about with Isono—the "VP office".
My gaze wandered over to a bookcase, looking over the titles…English, Calculus,
Chemistry, World History…these were schoolbooks. Ryuichi's? There were manga collections and Capsule Monster Chess strategy books. Another shelf held a large display of the little Capsule Monster figurines and other toys. It reminded me a bit of my aibou's room back when we first met…
I heard the bathroom door open and my head snapped to attention. Seto stepped out and saw me. "Oh, hi, Yami."
It was at this point that I figured out the puzzle, but I didn't want to speak its solution…I didn't want to admit it, even to myself.
"Seto," I said quietly.
He was wearing dark blue pajamas. They appeared to be made of silk. They contrasted so nicely with his fair skin, flushed slightly pink from the shower. It was a beautiful color on him.
"You don't need to sleep here," he said. "You can sleep in my office. I'll sleep here."
"After all…this room is haunted. That's what they say."
The name rushed unbidden to my lips. I was powerless to stop it. "Mokuba."
Seto had appointed his little brother as vice president when he had taken over KaibaCorp. This must have been his office. Save for dusting, it appeared to have been almost completely untouched.
I felt the mattress dip with his weight as he sat down next to me. His voice was hushed, almost silent. "Do you have a special affinity for fellow ghosts?"
It was strange to hear him say that, to have him mention what I once was, what I had been for over 3000 years. He almost never admitted to that fact about me, as if he didn't believe it truly to be fact. I shook my head. "I saw his schoolbooks and toys on the shelf, and his painting on the wall."
"Such an incredible talent."
I nodded. And he painted that as a teenager. What masterpieces could he be making today? Had he lived, he would have been about 37 years old, probably with a family of his own.
I wished I had my powers back for just one night so I could challenge that drunk driver to a Shadow Game. Alas, the Millennium Items were gone, and those powers were taken with them deep into the earth.
"This just feels like an empty room to me," admitted Seto. "Others say differently. I have to pay the lady who cleans the offices extra to come in here and dust. No one else will even enter."
I wasn't sure if I should admit to him what I felt about the room or not. After all, it might upset him. Why would others sense Mokuba and not his own big brother who loved him so very much?
"If it's Mokuba in this room," I said, taking his hand in mine, "then there is nothing to be afraid of." I closed my eyes. I did sense shadowy presences, but I knew I had no reason to have fear in my heart.
I felt his hand clasp my shoulder. "You're not afraid of anything. That's what I like about you." I said nothing, even though he was wrong by a long shot. There's plenty I'm afraid of.
I'm afraid of loss. I'm afraid of forgetfulness.
I'm afraid of being alone once again in the dark maze of my mind.
Spiders. They just creep me out.
I thought I heard someone laugh, but, when I opened my eyes and looked at Seto, his eyes were closed, too, and he was still.
He opened his eyes. "You don't have to stay here. The other bed's more comfortable."
"I'm not leaving you," I whispered.
"I'll be right back." He stood and walked back into his office. He turned out the lights left on in there. He came back into this room and closed the door behind him. He turned out the lamp and crawled under the covers of the sofa bed.
I stood and removed my bathrobe and let it lay on the floor. I wore nothing underneath except my silver necklace with the cartouche that bears my name.
It'll come in handy in case I forget.
I slipped into bed next to Seto. He was up on his side facing me. He was quite warm and I snuggled up next to him. I stroked the silky fabric of his garment, enjoying how it slid beneath my hand. "I like how this feels," I said.
He ran his hand softly down the center of my chest. "I like how this feels."
I couldn't remember the last time I'd spent an entire night with him. It had been a long, long time. Before he was married. Before Mokuba died. That was forever ago.
The bed was cozy. I turned over onto my side and kissed him gently on the lips. "Good night, Seto."
"Good night, Yami. I love you."
Those words from Seto. Rarely spoken, always sincere. They were all I ever really needed from him.
"I love you, too."
With that, I turned over onto my other side. I snuggled my back into his front in a spooning position. He put his free arm around me in a half-embrace.
I would rather touch his bare skin, but the silk felt nice, too, against my naked body. "I like your pajamas," I murmured.
"Hmm…I could get you some of your own," he murmured back, "but, I'm afraid you'd never wear them."
"I might…on a cold winter's night."
"Well…Christmas is coming…" His hand stroked my back.
"What are you doing for Christmas Eve?" I asked sleepily.
"Don't know. What do you want to do?"
My heart leapt at the admission that he wanted to spend the holiday with me. "I don't know…you could come over and we could play cards or something. Winner gets choice…top or bottom."
"Parcheesi?" His voice had almost a pleading tone to it
"Sure." I grinned. "We could play Parcheesi."
"I'll win this time." His breath was hot on my neck.
"But, what will you choose?"
I heard a hitch in his breath. His fingertips lazily stroked my chest. "You'll have to wait and see."
I didn't want to wait. I was beginning to regret my decision to remain celibate that night. I squirmed against him and felt his own arousal through the silk pajamas.
"Sorry about that," he said, and he started to roll over onto his back.
"What are you sorry for?" I whispered.
"I know you don't want to…"
I rolled onto my back as well and brought his hand down between my legs. "I think…I've changed my mind…"
He wrapped his fingers around my arousal and stroked it strongly. The pleasure that induced made me moan into the darkness.
"Sorry," I said.
"What are you sorry for?"
"Can anyone hear us here?"
"I doubt it," he said. "Besides, this room is haunted, remember?"
I wondered if he really thought so. Seto Kaiba was the world's biggest skeptic. It was odd that he had been such a religious man in his last life. It made me wonder what that said about the afterlife, if anything.
"You know," he mumbled, "actually, we probably shouldn't get too carried away." He'd rolled up onto his side again and was stroking my chest.
"Why is that?"
"Well…it isn't exactly like I am…well…prepared….for that here." I could hear the embarrassment seeping into his voice, the tonguetiedness that he got that kept him from speaking directly about his desires.
"You mean we have a lack of prophylactics and personal lubrication? We're going to need to write that into the plan," I said with a smile. Asking him to forgo it was out of the question. He always insisted, and I respected that choice.
"It's not like I make a habit out of having sex in my office!" he snapped.
"You don't? Why not? It's lots of fun…"
There was a pause as he pondered what I had said. "You…you mean, you've done…you've done that before?" he said with a swallow.
"Well…yes," I admitted.
"You…you work in a glorified closet!"
It amused me that he focused more on the logistics of the situation than the fact that he was not involved.
"Well, there's a large desk…"
"You did it on your desk?"
"Uh…yeah…as you said, there isn't much space. Although we tried it standing as well…"
"Standing? You mean, you did this more than once?"
"Well…aibou brought me my lunch one day, and things just kind of happened…"
"Yugi! I should have fucking known!" He rolled back onto his back.
Now, he knew about my prior relationship with Yugi. There really was no reason to be jealous. This was back in the days when I assumed that Seto marrying a woman meant he wasn't all that into me anymore. But, Seto has an irrational possessive streak. At least, that's what I assumed this was.
"Am I the only one who's never slept with Yugi Mutou?" he said, exasperated.
"Uh…well, unfortunately, that ship has sailed, even for me…I'm sure Rebecca would have an issue with it now…" and then I realized what he was saying. "Oh, so you know about that."
"Of course I know who my wife lost her virginity to!"
I tried to calm him down by stroking his arm. "Well, we all have to lose it to somebody…and aibou is gentle yet adventurous. He'd be a good choice, I think."
"Are you serious, Yami?"
"It was our senior year of high school. So long ago. What does it matter?"
"I hear he's got a big dick."
"Uh…well…it's about the same size mine is." As is everything else. Aside from our skin color and eye color, our bodies are quite similar.
I wasn't sure why he was so upset. There's really not that much difference between Seto and me, sizewize. I'd never complain.
"Why was she talking about the size of aibou's…anatomy?" I asked.
"That's just how she was. We'd have some stupid fight, and she'd bring up something like that to insult me. Anzu plays dirty. Most women do. She liked to talk about you, too."
"Me?" I was wondering what I ever did. Certainly not that. Am I the only one who's never slept with Anzu Mazaki Kaiba? Apparently.
"Oh, yeah, about how great a duelist you were and how great a friend and the way you rocked those leather pants. She had the biggest crush on you."
That had been painfully obvious back then. "Hey, not too many guys can say that a woman willingly got onto a Ferris wheel being attacked by a mad bomber in the hopes that he would come out and rescue her." I stretched my arms above my head casually.
"I never heard that story."
"She was on a date with aibou at the old Domino Amusement Park. She was trying to lure me out of the puzzle to turn it into a date with me. Kind of a strange way to go about it."
"What the fuck was I thinking, getting involved with her?" groaned Seto. "I must have been out of my fucking mind. I feel like I'm waking up from a twenty-year spell."
"Like your puzzle's just been solved, and now you can come out and play." I said with a smile.
"Hey, I like that," he said with a slight chuckle.
"I like it, too." I squeezed his hand in the darkness. "I hope you'll play with me."
He leaned over to kiss me on the lips. "Will you be my aibou?"
Although the word means "partner", and could be suitable otherwise, I call Yugi my aibou because of the very unique bond we shared when his body was vessel to my spirit, long before we became lovers. Therefore, I didn't feel it quite appropriate to this situation.
"I will be your Yami." I pulled him down so I could kiss him back.
"That's perfect," he whispered. "Happy birthday."
He proceeded to trail little kisses around my neck and down my chest, nipping at my nipples, teasing me with his tongue around my navel. His ministrations felt exquisite.
"Mmmm…is this my present?"
"Well…not all of it. I've got more."
"Mmmmm…" He moved his body farther down, positioning himself on top of my legs, pushing off the blankets into a heap on his side of the bed.
He caressed my balls with feather strokes of his fingertips. His low voice just barely audible, he said, "I figured out how we can have sex in the office…without special equipment."
I gasped as his hungry mouth took bold possession of my manhood. His lips, his tongue, the wet, warm, divine pleasure he was giving…Oh, Min, he knew me! He knew every inch—every millimeter—of me.
There was no ring of the phone or knock on the door. The entire building was hushed in wintry darkness, the entire city deeply blanketed with snow.
What he was doing was wonderful, but I desired a more mutual experience.
"Seto…please turn over…let me give you pleasure, too."
I wasn't sure if he would agree to it. He's usually not a fan of the "69" position. He dislikes the difficulty of focusing on giving gratification while receiving it at the same time. For someone so fond of multitasking in other aspects of his life, he was much more single-minded in the bedroom.
His voice was husky and deep. "All right."
My heart fluttered in anticipation as he shifted his body around next to mine. We lay on our sides-his knees by my head and his head near my feet. He kissed my feet as I eased his pajama bottoms off around his legs. He removed his pajama top and tossed it on the floor.
We shifted around some more until we were in perfect position. I was determined to keep my focus on what I was doing to Seto, and not on what he was doing to me. I rested my head on his inner thigh, between his legs, and went to work. He was positioned similarly between my legs and immediately returned to what he had been doing before.
It took an immense amount of focus to block out the incredible feelings and concentrate on the task in front of me. Seto smelled amazing, fresh from the shower, almost sweet. His cock and balls were shaved quite clean, and I loved the smooth feeling as I ran my tongue all over the area.
In fact, Seto regularly shaved all his body hair save the hair on his head, as did I myself. It was a requirement of ancient Egyptian priests to do so, although this reincarnation claimed that he had always done so since puberty because it just seemed "cleaner". I knew that this was not common practice in modern Japan, to shave everything like that, and I wondered, with a strange passing thought, what Anzu thought of the custom. I also wondered if we'd ever get comfortable enough with the situation that I could ask him questions like that.
I let my tongue go farther back, and he gave a little squeak as I teased the tender spot with the tip. Did he think that little maneuver was only in his bag of tricks? I let a dark chuckle pass my lips as I worked my way back to his cock, leaving my finger to circle the spot as a reminder of the pleasure. Just because we had been caught a little unprepared didn't mean that we couldn't have a little fun with that area, after all.
In the meantime, he continued his ministrations to me for all they were worth, quickly and strongly, having also found the concentration necessary to focus completely on me and my needs. He was generally better at this focused attention than I was, which made me wonder about his disinclination towards this mutuality. I realize that having talent for something doesn't necessarily mean that it is the thing you most enjoy. It often is, but not always.
We lay there like this for a timeless moment, delivering each other immense pleasure in the dark shadows of the office. All was silent except for the sounds of muffled murmurs and moans, an occasional wet smack or gasp for breath, and a slight howl of the winter wind outdoors that still buffeted the building.
I heard a series of muffled, nasal grunts from Seto, who had my cock buried deep within his throat, and it excited me greatly—it excited me that what I was doing, the pleasure I was giving, was breaking through his mental block, was starting to overwhelm his brain. He calmed for a moment, having found his center once again, but I knew that what I was doing was having an effect, and if I kept up what I was doing, it would have the ultimate effect. I gave a little gasp, and I heard a little chuckle come through Seto's nose, and another wave of pleasure overtook me as I realized what fun he was having, and, correspondingly, what fun I was having as well.
Like many things between us, it had become a competition. We were locked in duel to see who could make the other come first, and neither of us was ever fond of losing. However, what made this game particularly pleasant is that, even in losing, you ultimately win—the pleasure you gain feels much more like the thrill of victory than the agony of defeat.
The grunts of gratification coming from Seto started up once more and they did not stop this time as he was losing himself to the pleasure, as he found himself unable to stop the wave of sensation washing over him. He took me out of his mouth, having lost all concentration, having lost all control over himself, and I continued working him steadily, quickly, over and over in a rhythmic fashion.
"Oh, God, Yami…" A cross between a moan, a plea, a whisper, a prayer escaped his lips. He was calling me and calling the darkness from whence my nickname came. Eventually, he could bear it no more, and, with a loud grunt, he released himself with hot, thick, spurts that nearly filled my mouth and throat and I quickly swallowed all of it, everything he had to give. I wanted it all.
A few breaths in the dark room and he was back to pleasuring me, and now I had nothing at all to distract me, nothing at all to keep me from being absorbed by the feelings he was giving to my body. He was still semi-hard even after all that exertion, and I kissed the tip and the shaft of his cock lovingly but absent-mindedly.
He had switched tactics on me, and was now using his lips and mouth and tongue to expertly work the tip, while one hand was pumping the shaft with furious might and the other arm was firmly wrapped around my thigh. I could feel a warmth, a tingling, a pent-up sensation of desire building up inside me, as I knew, in this moment, that all I wanted, all I ever wanted, was Seto. I made a silent prayer to the gods, to all the gods, expressing my wish that Seto could, for once, truly be mine—that he could be the only lover I would ever want or need for the rest of my life.
Even undistracted, the ferocity of my climax surprised me as it burst forth, as it wracked my body in shockwaves of ecstasy, and I cried out unintelligibly into the dark night. Seto's mouth swallowed what came forth hungrily. I was suddenly reminded of the tale of Set and Horus, how Horus had tricked Set into eating his semen as salad dressing, and I wondered what the gods must think of us now.
We held each other for a moment, still upside down to one another, caressing each other's thighs and legs languidly, gasping for breath.
Seto rolled away on his back with a breathless laugh, still breathing heavily, but more slowly with each exhalation. "Yami, that was fun."
"I'm glad you enjoyed it," I said, now flopping onto my back, feeling the need for recovery.
There were a few more breaths, and then he said, "I feel fat and happy now."
I laughed at the strange choice of words. He wasn't fat by any means. He was in quite good shape.
He chuckled, too. "I mean satisfied. Content. Ever seen a baby drink milk from the breast? He'll suckle greedily with all his might, and then, suddenly, when he's had enough, he'll turn away, eyes closed, almost immediately fast asleep, sometimes with a little dribble of milk down his chin. That look of pure utter bliss on the baby's face. That's what I feel right now."
I didn't have much experience with children, and could only imagine that Seto was remembering a scene with his own boys when they were small. However, I could picture the scenario, and was, in a way, touched that, somehow, this encounter must have brought Seto back to his own infant experiences, a time before all the painful events of his life. I didn't want to think too deeply about the metaphor, though.
"I'm glad you feel that way," I said, amused. It wasn't very often that Seto felt satisfied like this—I knew that.
He sat up and turned around, arranged the blankets on top of us once again, and lay down next to me, embracing me, warming me with the skin-to-skin contact I loved so much.
"Thank you, Yami, for making me feel the way you do." He kissed me on the lips, and I returned it ever more strongly.
"Thank you for the birthday present," I said. "I enjoyed it immensely." I turned over onto my other side and settled into a spooning position in front of him again.
I heard a slight chuckle from Seto in reply, and then the eventual slowing of his breaths as he fell asleep.
The room was dark and quiet and still, and I could hear Seto snoring lightly behind me. I tried my best to settle down into sleep as well. I've never been a very good sleeper…even after sex, I have trouble calming my brain sometimes. Normally, I would light a cigarette, but I knew that Seto would not appreciate that gesture in his clean, modern, non-smoking office.
As I willed myself to slow my breathing, to let the relaxation and release of the evening's activities carry me to dreamland—just as I drifted into the vale between wakefulness and dreams, I saw…something. Something in the dark of the room. It appeared as a red dot, not quite cohesive, a scattered spot like an unfocused laser beam. The illusion floated around the room, and I watched it as it ducked and weaved and bounced and flew.
It was a curious phenomenon, and I simply opened my mind to it, watching it like a child would, without analysis.
It again reminded me of the shadow energies I had access to when I was in the Millennium Puzzle, but this was not something I could call or control. It was only something that I could observe. I had been too long in the land of the living.
Was this perhaps Mokuba Kaiba's spirit? I decided to try to call his name. I whispered, "Mokuba…" into the darkness.
There was suddenly a picture of Mokuba in my mind, much as he appeared at age 17, tall and handsome with thick, long, black hair and stormy gray eyes and a ready smile. I imagined, if he was in this room, that he might have been embarrassed to witness what just transpired between two middle-aged men, one of whom was his own older brother. "Sorry you had to see that," I whispered.
Then again, when I was trapped in the Millennium Puzzle for 3000 years, I would have been glad for any sort of entertainment.
"I just want you to know," I whispered to the darkness, not certain if anyone was really there to listen, "that I love your brother very much. He means a lot to me. I know we've made mistakes. I know we've hurt each other. I'm hoping though, hoping that we can make a fresh start somehow."
The image of Mokuba in my mind's eye smiled more broadly, almost slyly. It struck me how much he resembled his brother.
"I hope," I continued, "that I have your support in this."
As I drifted off to sleep myself, I was filled with an overwhelming knowledge—a certainty—that I did.
I awoke the next morning relaxed and warm under thick blankets. The room was still mostly shrouded in darkness. I had no idea what time it was…my cell phone had been left in the other room with my clothing.
The door between this office and Seto's was open a crack, and light was pouring in. Seto was nowhere to be seen.
There was something under the fingers of my left hand on the bed. I brought it up to my face to examine it. It was a small, elongated box wrapped in gold paper.
I sat up. The air in the room was cold on my back. I immediately lay back down again and snuggled under the covers for warmth. I continued to turn the shiny box over and over in my hands while looking at it closely.
Was this a birthday present? I smiled at the memory of my "present" the night before. I didn't want to open the box without Seto there.
He peeked in the door and saw that I was awake. "Good morning. Did you sleep well?"
"I did. And you?"
The broad yet shy grin on his face spoke volumes.
He stepped into the room. He was fully dressed in business attire, ready to start his day as one of the movers and shakers of industry. He sat down on the sofa bed next to me. He was freshly showered and I could smell the woodsy, citrusy notes of his cologne. I closed my eyes and breathed it in.
He bent over and kissed my forehead. "Happy birthday. Why haven't you opened it yet?"
"I was waiting for you. Besides, you didn't have to get me anything."
"Actually," he confessed, "I wasn't sure when I was going to give this to you. I wasn't sure I'd see you today. But, it looks like it worked out well. Go ahead."
I slid a finger carefully under the seam to loosen the tape. Seto looked at me with great anticipation. I peeled the paper off and opened the box. Inside was an elongated clamshell jewelry box in burgundy.
Seto's eyes grew wider and more child-like in excitement as he watched me crack open the box.
Inside the box was a gold ID bracelet, two links of Cuban chain with a curved plate in the middle. It sparkled in the light that was coming in from the door. Seto reached over to turn on the lamp on the end table nearby. "There, now you can see it better."
Now, in the light, I could see it in its full glory. It was simple but beautiful. There was something engraved on the front of the plate. I held it closer to see it.
A single kanji was engraved there. "Yami".
"It's…it's…I don't know what to say…" My emotions were choking my throat. That he had remembered my birthday, and gotten me something so wonderful…I just couldn't believe it.
"Then don't say anything. Turn it over." He guided my finger to flip the plate over and see what was engraved on the other side. "Love always, Seto."
I sat there dumbstruck, tears just forming in the corners of my eyes. I was embarrassed at how emotional I was getting, even though I have always been the more emotional of the two of us.
He took it out of the box, smiling. He took my left arm and clasped the bracelet around my wrist. "There, that's better. I assume you like it?"
How could I tell him how much I loved it? I threw my arms around his neck and kissed him with full force. He already tasted like coffee. I hoped I didn't taste too bad…I hadn't even gotten a chance to brush my teeth yet.
Fortunately, he didn't say anything about that. "I'm afraid you'll need to get dressed. We open for business soon. Besides, you don't want to miss breakfast downstairs, do you?"
I didn't. I usually have a healthy appetite.
"The most important part of Mokuba's plan," I said, remembering what he had told Isono the night before.
"That it is." He paused for a moment and said, "You know, I had a dream about him last night."
"You did?" I suddenly remembered my vision…or dream, or whatever it was.
"Yeah." That shy smile came out again.
"Tell me about it."
He looked at me for a moment as if deciding whether or not he should say anything. Then, his words came out in a stream of raw thought. "It was winter, and we were at the mansion…I think, only it didn't look like the mansion…but, anyway, there was Mokuba, and he was a kid, but I wasn't a kid, or maybe I was, but anyway…"
I smiled. He was normally so eloquent and refined and spare with his words, and it was charming to see this unpolished, unedited side of his thought process that his emotions brought out.
"…he wanted to play in the snow, and I didn't, I had too much to do. I was way too busy; I had piles of homework and budget forecasts to analyze; I had no time to play. 'Come on, big brother, it doesn't snow like this very often-come have some fun with me!' No, I can't, I told him. 'Yes, you can, Yami said you could! Come on!'"
I raised my eyebrows at the mention of my name. Dreams were strange things.
"So, I said OK, and he pulled me outside by the hand, and we played in the snow. We went sledding, we had a snowball fight, we made snow angels, and it was wonderful. It was like we were kids again."
"Snow angels?" I wasn't familiar with this concept, having grown up in the desert where it never snows.
"You lie on your back in the snow, you put your arms and legs out like this, and you wave them around like this." He proceeded to demonstrate by lying on the bed, his arm and leg on one side long enough to rub my body as he waved them. Then he sat up. "It looks like an angel when you are done."
I looked at the wrinkles in the bedclothes. I could kind of see the concept.
"So, anyway, while we were on our backs making snow angels, that's when I remembered…that's when I remembered this shouldn't be possible…that's when I remembered…remembered he was dead."
I threw my arms around him in an effort to hold him together. He rubbed my bare back. I think he was trying to hold me together. That's how he was, always the strong one. That's how he would always be.
Seto continued his retelling of the dream, murmuring into my ear. "He told me, 'Big brother, do you like the snow? Are you having fun?' and I said yes. I told him it was lots of fun. He said, 'I want you to have fun. It's OK to have fun, big brother." I could hear emotion choke his voice.
"That's when he told me that it was time for him to go, and I ran up to him and hugged him. I remember holding him, holding him like this, so tight, like, if I just held on tight enough, he could stay with me forever, but he laughed and said, 'It doesn't work that way. But, remember this, big brother. I love you and I want you to be happy. OK?'" And, as I said yes, I think…that's when I woke up, and you were there, right there in my arms."
I heard a sniffle, and he broke the hug. "Excuse me." He fished a tissue out of his pocket, turned away, and blew his nose loudly.
He shook his head. I was a bit stunned. It was the first time I'd ever seen him cry openly like that.
He sniffled and blinked his eyes several times in an effort to control the tears within them. "Shower's open, Yami. I'll go get your clothes and put them in the bathroom for you." He stood and smoothed out the wrinkles in his suit. Then he turned toward me again. "Actually, it was a pretty good dream, as far as my dreams go. It was good to see him again." Then, he turned away again and walked into his office.
I showered in the bathroom in Mokuba's office this time. As I showered, I let the warm water run over me and I thought about Seto's and my visions of Mokuba. Coincidence? Related? I supposed that there was no way to know for certain.
It just had been that kind of a night.
Just as promised, my clothes were there in the bathroom when I got out of the shower, and I was a little disappointed that Seto had respected my privacy and not peeked in while I was washing. I touched the bracelet on my wrist, not used yet to its presence. Yami. My name in the modern world. Seto's name for me. There on my wrist so that I would never forget.
I came out of the bathroom fully dressed, my hair dry and freshly spiked. Seto even had hair gel in the bathroom for me, which surprised me since I didn't know he ever used any. Seto was sitting in Mokuba's office on the brown leather sofa, the bed part now hidden away. He was looking at his smartphone. He looked up when I entered.
"What time is it?" I asked.
I could not remember the last time I'd gotten up so much earlier than Ra.
"Do you always get up this early?" I asked.
I sat down on the sofa next to him. "How much snow did we get?"
"45 cm. It was a blizzard, all right. It's stopped now, though."
I looked out, and he was right. It was still dark outside except for the city lights below.
"Yami," he asked, "what do you think of this sofa?"
What a strange question. "It's all right. Pretty comfortable, actually. Nice, rich leather. Why?"
"Do you think you'd want it?"
"What? Why? You want to give it to me?"
"Well, I was just thinking you could use a new one. And, I'm going to be renovating this office soon, so, it's going to need a good home."
He was right about me needing a new sofa. Mine was pretty shabby. And this one was very classic looking and of good quality.
Seto continued. "I've been meaning to update this room for quite a while now, and I haven't gotten around to doing it, but Ryuichi's going to graduate soon, and I need a space for him to work."
If there is one thing Seto is not, it is a procrastinator. I doubted he just hadn't gotten around to updating the room—he wasn't able to bring himself to do it.
"Sure, I'll take your sofa," I said. "You can come by and visit it every once in a while."
"You think Yugi would want the garage kit models and Capsule Monsters?"
"Well, sure…of course, he would…but, don't your boys want them?"
"Yugi knew him, though. The boys never did."
"He's still their uncle. I'd bet you'd be surprised. Offer them a choice of the stuff. I'm sure aibou would take anything that's left."
"Yeah, I could do that."
"They still thinking the trains will be running by noon?"
"That's still the estimate. I suppose you'll be going home when they do?"
"Well, I've got a cat to feed, papers to grade, a make-up lecture to schedule…"
Seto grinned. "I guess we all have things to do. What are you doing tonight?"
"Nothing special. Why?"
"You're not going out? It's your birthday!"
"Aibou wants to celebrate this weekend."
"Hmpf. Your birthday is today." He checked his smartphone calendar. "I'll come by tonight. We'll walk over to Panda Garden and have dinner. I might be kind of late, but I'll be there."
I smiled. "All right. I've got something else I want to do with you tonight, too."
He stroked my chin. "You are insatiable, aren't you?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," I said. "I'd like to stop by the park and try making snow angels."
Seto let out a hearty laugh. "We'll do that, too, Yami. We'll do that, too."
The spread at breakfast was magnificent. It was everything Seto had told Isono he had ordered: doughnuts, pastries, eggs and bacon, juice and coffee, and there were all these employees there, perhaps not as fresh and bright-eyed as they would usually be, but they were in good spirits, and there was a lot of chatter around the cafeteria. They all noticed, of course, when Seto swept in, and, fortunately, did not pay much attention to me.
Seto walked around and said good morning to his employees as he met them and as he made his way to the buffet table that had been expertly prepared. He seemed more relaxed than usual, with no sign of his earlier emotional outburst when recounting his dream to me. It really amazed me the way he was able to compartmentalize himself like that. I think that if I had had a similar dream, I'd have been more shaken up than he was.
I sat by myself at the same table we'd sat at the evening before and ate my breakfast. This garnered a little bit of attention from some of the other employees who noticed. I wondered if I should have sat somewhere else. I didn't want to cause trouble and gossip.
I looked out the glass panel next to me and could see the plaza clearly, and the men outside with shovels and snowblowers cheerily removing all that snow that had drifted in. The snow made the city street look like a magical white wonderland.
Perhaps this is the reason Mokuba had loved winter so much. I doubted it would ever become my favorite season, but I was starting to see the appeal.
"We'll have a white Christmas this year." Seto sat down across from me.
"Is this 'your' table?"
"I like to sit here." He bit into a croissant and sipped his coffee. "Technically, all the tables are mine."
"It just looked like people were talking when I sat down here."
"People have nothing better to do than talk. They will talk about me no matter what I do. Occupational hazard."
Now, that was the Seto Kaiba I was used to. The one who didn't give a shit about what other people thought of him. The one I fell in love with twenty-five years ago.
"Does that bother you, Yami?"
I thought about it for a second. "It's really none of their business."
"Exactly." He seemed satisfied by my answer. "Stay here. I'll be right back."
He walked off in wide, proud strides towards the kitchen. I liked how he walked around like he owned the place, which, of course, he did.
He walked out of the kitchen and into the middle of the dining area. He clapped his hands loudly several times and said in a loud, clear voice, "May I have your attention, please!"
Immediately, the room hushed to silence and all eyes were on the CEO.
"Good morning, everyone. I'd like to thank all of you for being here today. I know that this was kind of a rough situation, but we all got through it with our usual good humor and grace and determination, and I would like to thank you for that.
"I'd like to thank Mr. Isono and the rest of the security staff for making the arrangements last night and for making everything run so smoothly."
He started clapping and the rest of the room followed. Isono stood there stoically receiving the attention.
"I'd also like to thank Ms. Hagiyama and the rest of the cafeteria staff for putting together this great spread this morning." Another round of applause erupted. The head of the kitchen looked a bit embarrassed for the attention and started to blush pink in response.
"I'd also like to thank everyone else for their cooperation and support and hard work…not just last night and today, but every day. This company runs well because of the efforts of each and every one of you."
There was another round of applause and a bit of chatter amongst the workers. I got the impression that this sort of speech was not one Seto made very often at all. It was completely contrary to his adoptive father's legacy and teaching. I admired him for being able to work past that negative programming of his youth.
"To finish, I have two announcements. First, I have it on good authority that they will have the trains up and running again by 12:00 noon. I ask you, please, to do your best until that time. However, once they are running, you may go home if you wish. Get some rest, recharge, relax. Be back here at your regular time tomorrow morning fresh and ready to go." He finished this with a slight smile.
The dining area erupted in loud applause. Seto let it continue for a moment, and then he waved his hands like an orchestra conductor to silence the crowd.
He waved over some kitchen workers who were pushing a wheeled cart. "Second, I'd like to introduce Dr. Atemu Mutou, who teaches Egyptology at Domino University." He waved in my direction, and all eyes were on me. You can imagine the hot blush creeping up my cheeks at the intense attention! I had no idea he was going to do this. Seto Kaiba…where were my shadow powers when I needed them?
"Dr. Mutou is a good friend of mine, and, yesterday, he was trapped here downtown like the rest of us."
I was slightly ameliorated at this. To be called his good friend…really, that's all I ever truly wanted. The rest is just icing on the cake. I smiled at him, hopefully with not too much affection. I didn't want to embarrass him.
"Well, I know it's a bit early in the day for this, but…today happens to be his birthday, and I've got a little surprise for him." On the cart was an enormous sheet cake covered in lit candles, and it was being wheeled to the middle of the room.
I was mortally embarrassed and deliriously happy at the same time as Seto and all of his employees sang "Happy Birthday" to me. Frankly, I didn't feel too bad about the snowball now. He got me back good.
"Well, Yami, come up and blow out your candles. Unless you think you can't do it…"
Oh, I could do it, all right. I would blow all those candles out in one breath. After all, there were only 42 of them. By all rights, there should be 3000 more.
I stood up proudly, calling upon every ounce of my former pharaonic identity to stroll regally up to my birthday cake.
Birthday celebrations are said to have begun with the ancient Egyptians. There were festivities held on the birthdays of the pharaohs, who were regarded as gods back in those days. Therefore, I do know the true date of my birth, as it was recorded and celebrated. I was born in the winter, but, due to inaccuracies in the calendar used back then, that date would be in the spring now if the same calendar were in use today.
I believe I'll keep the winter date.
As I blew out the candles, I made a wish, as is the custom today. However, I don't believe it was truly necessary. I already had exactly what I wished for.
Next up, "Crossroads", a prequel from 20 years in the past: Atemu Mutou returns from a year studying in Egypt to find everything in Domino turned upside down. The man he once loved, Seto Kaiba, is now preparing for marriage to Anzu! Atemu may be the best man for Seto, but the best man for Atemu may just be the one across the aisle.