By Alecto Perdita
Track 15 - Codetta
Posted: January 4, 2011
Email: alecto . perdita gmail . com
Disclaimer: Yu-Gi-Oh is the intellectual property of Takahashi Kazuki, and is being used in this fanfiction for fan purposes only. All situations, opinions and characters not belonging to them are the intellectual property of Alecto Perdita.
Who was I to get in the way of destiny? Certainly not little old me, Jounouchi Katsuya- underdog duelist and former gangbanger. I've never been one to really suffer from low self-esteem. Honda always said I was too confident for my own good 98 percent of the time. But destiny? Truly extraordinary people like Yugi and Yami got destinies- not poor and regular joes like me and Honda. Yet Kaiba, a man without a drop of imagination in his soul, apparently had one.
I had thought it was painful to watch Priest Set and Kisara dance around each other, but watching Kaiba Seto avoid Ryuujin Kisara like a plague was a thousand times worse. Kisara was everything a guy could want, right? She was smart, pretty, sweet, and came from a rich family. She was literally the entire package- and she should damn well be good enough for the high and mighty Kaiba Seto. It was insanely frustrating during those rare occasions when the two were even in the same room, and it always made me want to tear my own hair out after the first two minutes.
Today, it seemed Kisara was tired of it too.
Mokuba went all out for his thirteenth birthday- the poor kid said something about not having properly celebrated a birthday since he was five. The catering spread was even more impressive than the majority of Kaiba Corp-sponsored events. It didn't surprise us that neither Kaibas held back for the occasion.
"Man, there are a lot of suits here." Honda examined the occupants of the large room with apprehension.
It was true. At first glance, it looked like there were two separate parties happening in the same place. To one side were all cliques of the stuffy and suited business people, and to the other was the crowds of rowdy teens and preteens. A normal rich person would have just thrown two parties instead.
Kisara came flying out of the crowd with Mokuba on her tail and clung tightly to Shizuka. "I'm so glad you're all here. I don't know anyone else here."
If I was to complain about something about Kisara, it would be her timidness. I couldn't help but compare her to the Kisara I had seen in Yami's memory- the one who had given her life for Seth without fear or hesitation. Maybe it was because she no longer had that part of her that made up the Blue Eyes White Dragon, or maybe it was just the sheltered life she led until now.
I reached over and gave her hair a soft ruffle, earning a faint smile. "We'll keep you from being bored out of your skull."
Mokuba pouted. "I resent that!"
Kisara was quick to try and correct me. "Mokuba-kun, I'm sure Jounouchi-san doesn't really mean that. It's a fantastic party."
"Do you really mean that Kisara-chan?" Mokuba's eyes literally lit up as he spoke.
"Uh oh," Honda muttered quietly behind me. "I think Mokuba's got a crush on somebody."
"Mokuba-kun, where should we put our gifts?" Yugi asked.
"Ah, you guys didn't have to!" Mokuba grabbed Yugi by the arm and directed our attention to a table full of gifts hidden behind a large chocolate fountain. "Nii-sama already buys me everything that I can ask for. I wanted to have this party to celebrate with everyone."
"You're such a sweet kid, sometimes. Are you really related to Kaiba?" I asked as I scanned the room for signs of the older brother in question.
"If you're looking for Nii-sama, I think he's hiding out in the staff kitchen." Mokuba pointed to an inconspicuous door on the right side of the wall.
While Mokuba was distracted by Yugi and the others, I was too busy watching Kisara slip away and through the previously mentioned door. I tried to focus on the conversation at hand, but my mind kept wandering in the direction of Kaiba, Kisara, and the door.
"I'm gonna go check out the food."
Yugi may have nodded in reply, but everyone was too busy staring at the elaborate chocolate fountain decorated with candy figures of Capsule Monsters. I glanced over at the table of food before following Kisara. I wasn't being nosy. I was worried- for Kisara's sake because Kaiba was a grade A jerk ninety percent of the time.
I wasn't being nosy.
The staff kitchen must have been the size of my mom's apartment. Right through the door, I had to dance around two chefs charging through with a trolley of tiny cakes. People glared at me, but no one bothered to kick me out.
Over several rows of cooktops, I spotted Kisara thanking a chef before rounding the next corner. Several more people yelled at me as I weaved through the kitchen. I ignored them all. The dine of cooking and orders quieted when I finally trekked down the hall Kisara went.
I could see some type of pantry through the door left open at the end of the hall. There was nowhere else to go. Kisara and probably Kaiba were there. I crept closer and hated that I felt like some crackpot stalker. I should just stroll in there like I don't give a damn- because I don't.
At the door, I could definitely hear two different voices from inside.
"Why are you avoiding me, Kaiba-san?" Kisara asked.
I flattened myself against the wall next to the door before peering around the door frame. Kaiba leaned back against a tall shelf of pasta and rice. I couldn't help but notice the way that posture accentuated his long legs. Before him, Kisara rocked nervously back and forth on the heel of her shoes while wringing her hands.
"What gives you that impression?"
"Maybe because you try to leave the room every time I come in or the way you refuse to speak to me half the time? I want us to be friends." As Kisara took another step forward, Kaiba visibly leaned back more. "I don't understand. Have I done something to offend you? Is there something you want to tell me? Your friends always seem like they want to say something to you or me."
Kaiba raised an eyebrow. "Friends?"
"Yugi-san and everyone."
"Yugi and I are not friends. I'm not friends with any of those losers." He hissed loudly, causing Kisara to jump.
I had to smother the outrage so I wouldn't just barge into the room. After everything we had been through and after everything we tried to do for Kaiba, he still didn't think of us as friends. I was honestly more offended on behalf of Yugi- as he would be the one most hurt by Kaiba's callous words.
Kaiba continued, "I think you harbor some assumptions about me, Ryuujin. I am not the kind of man that cares to have friends, and I think you're being dishonest when you claim to want to be my friend. I think you want more."
Kisara's lips quivered. "I like you so very much, Kaiba-san."
And for a moment, even the distant sound of the kitchen and Mokuba's party was entirely swallowed by the silence in that pantry. Kaiba remained bored looking, and Kisara looked like she both wanted to and didn't want to be in that room more than anything in the world.
I wanted to strangle him for what he said next: "I know, and I don't care. I will never have any feelings for you other than apathy."
Kisara recoiled as if Kaiba had physically slapped her. "I'm sorry to have bothered you then, Kaiba-san." She bowed swiftly- probably to hide her tears- and raced out of the room.
"Wait, Kisara." I called as she flew by.
For a moment, she froze in her steps. She spoke but wouldn't turn to face me. "Please pretend as if nothing happened, Jounouchi-san."
And then she was gone.
I turned, ready to give Kaiba a piece of my mind, and nearly ran straight into him as he exited, "Kaiba, you bastard!"
I wish he could have at least looked like he was surprised to see me there. Instead, it left me feeling not much different than the position Kisara must have been in moments ago.
I grabbed the lapel of his suit jacket, wrinkling the fabric as I tried to push him back. "You're an asshole. Why couldn't you be nicer? You didn't have reject poor Kisara like that."
"I wasn't aware I had to account my every action to you. Her schoolgirl crush routine was annoying at best. There's no point in drawing it out as I will never have any interest of that kind in Ryuujin Kisara."
"You hurt her feelings."
"And she'll get over it," he sneered. "And you do realize how inappropriate this must appear to an outsider's perspective?"
My stomach lurched as I turned my head in the direction that he had indicated. There was a flurry of movement as the staff previously clustered around the corner ran back into the kitchen, and we were alone again.
"You need to apologize," I growled.
My right hook must have caught him off guard. I returned to the party to find that Kisara had already left- much to Mokuba's disappointment, and Kaiba spent the rest of the evening explaining how he'd tripped as an explanation for his bruised cheek.
It was by chance that Kaiba glanced at his cellphone during the meeting on new product line development. The text message from Honda was a heads-up on the news that would hit the net in minutes: Sophia Chang was to be charged with illegal gun possession and she had already confessed to the charge.
Kaiba remembered how ecstatic Jounouchi had been with Otonashi's text. His day was constantly plagued by the smell of Thai food and the feel of Jounouchi's lean body. The news that Sophia was not being charged with a greater offense was just a foot-in-the-door to soften the blow of the actual charge. But Kaiba knew Jounouchi, who wasn't really all that different from his teenage self- and Jounouchi wasn't going to be happy about this.
When the meeting ended an hour later, he dialed Jounouchi's number and got the actor's voicemail instead. After contacting the rest of the group, it became obvious Jounouchi was working on seeing Sophia face-to-face. Another call to Otonashi told him that the attorney had already made arrangements on Jounouchi's behalf to see Sophia at police holding. He sat at his desk and stared at his computer screen for a few moments. Jounouchi didn't need or appreciate a babysitter, and Kaiba hated to think he may already be fishing for excuses to see him again. Yet he was curious about why Sophia had confessed- she didn't seem like the type to give in or give up easily.
He buzzed his administrative assistant, "Move the rest of my meetings today."
Sachiko sighed loudly at the other end. "Of course, Seto-sama."
"And tell my driver to wait for me downstairs," he added as he pulled on his suit jacket.
Kaiba caught up with Jounouchi at the entrance of the police station. He noted that the blond had come alone and couldn't help but frown. It must have been by some miracle that Jounouchi managed to get here without the reporters camping the apartment building.
"What are you doing here?" Jounouchi asked halfheartedly.
"I wanted to see what Chang has to say."
As they entered the building, a woman in a red kimono passed them on her way out. Unable to ignore the strange and bone-chilling feeling gnawing on the back of his skull, Kaiba turned to stare at the retreating back. She gave no indication of noticing his open stare and vanished into Domino's midday crowd.
"Something wrong, Kaiba?" Jounouchi asked, obviously impatient to see his manager.
He just shook his head.
After a trip through the metal detector, a police officer led them into a bare room with a metal table in the center. Sophia sat handcuffed to a ring set into the table.
"Are the handcuffs really necessary?" Jounouchi glared at the officer.
"Yes, and there's to be no physical contact." The officer planted himself against the room's door.
"You look well." Kaiba said.
Despite the fact she still wore the same clothes she was arrested in, Sophia Chang looked almost none the worse after four days of police detention. There were slightly darker circles around her eyes and the hand-shaped bruises around her neck had deepened into a purple, but her countenance was accepting and almost zen. She was vastly different from the frazzled woman during Jounouchi's kidnapping.
"Why did you do it, Sophie?" Jounouchi asked. He started to reach across the table for her hand before he caught himself.
"I did it to save you, Katsuya. I wasn't going to stand there and let him beat you to death. He already got the drop on me once." She rolled her head to the side and flinched.
"No, I meant confessing." Jounouchi's knuckles turned white as he tightened his fists in his lap.
Kaiba spoke up. "You're not even going to fight this, Chang? How pathetic."
She looked up straight into his eyes. "Kaiba, I've had far more time than I've deserved. It was always going to end like this. I was going to have to pay for my crimes no matter what."
"Sophie, we're not here to talk about the past."
"I shot a man. They weren't going to just let me walk out of here. I'm surprised they're not charging me with more than just gun possession."
"I'm prepared to fight this with you."
"You don't get to make my choices for me, Katsuya. I knew from the moment I bought that weapon that I would have to be prepared to use it and accept the consequences. I had the intention of owning up to this all along. I don't want this turning into a long protracted legal battle, for yours and my sakes."
"I won't abandon you."
"And I'm asking you to respect my decision."
The room lapsed into silence as Jounouchi and Sophia stared at each other. Their willful tug-o-war finally made Kaiba feel like he was intruding.
Breaking the quiet, Kaiba asked, "And you understand that this decision of yours entails a sentence of up to ten years?"
"Ms. Otonashi has been drilling that in my head all day. There's no going back now, I signed a written confession in the first hour of my arrest. There is no going back." As her voice remained steady through her words, Kaiba begrudged the growing respect he felt for her resolve. But the fatalistic determinism in her attitude continued to bug him.
She gave Jounouchi an encouraging smile. "This is not the end for you or me, Katsuya."
For the next few minutes, Jounouchi and Sophia chatted about what was going on. At the mention of Claudia Bennett, Sophia nearly snarled. Kaiba had to wonder about what sort of bad blood was between the two woman. Jounouchi then showed off photos of the newest Mutou on his phone. That was when she fell silent.
"Are you thinking about Henry?" Jounouchi asked.
This new name seemed to rattle her a bit, because she looked down and clenched her fists tightly. "Henry will do fine. He's done fine without me all his life. She promised me that this would be the best path for him."
"Time's up." The officer at the door suddenly announced, causing Jounouchi and Sophia to jump a little.
"I'll come see you again soon." Jounouchi stood reluctantly after another moment.
As the officer turned to unlock the door, she called out to him, "Kaiba, she wanted me to deliver a message to you."
Kaiba furrowed his eyebrows. "She?"
"I swear she collects broken people like us as a hobby," Sophia laughed lowly with a tone edging on bitter. "She said you would know what it means: Make the best of your second chances, you won't get any more."
They were quickly ushered by the officer out of the room. Kaiba wasn't surprised to see Otonashi waiting outside. The lawyer gave a nod of acknowledgment before she headed in.
"Who's Henry?" Kaiba shouldn't have cared enough to ask, but his curiosity had been piqued by her parting words and the anticipation they left building in his spine.
"Henry's her estranged son."
The pieces of the mental puzzle suddenly clicked together into place. He couldn't explain how he knew, but he would never really know that full truth in reality. It was then that Kaiba figured out why the woman in the red kimono at the door felt so familiar.
Jounouchi refused to remain bedridden as he recovered from his broken ribs, but he followed doctor's orders about aggravating his injuries. He regularly received visitors at his short-term leased apartment and usually only ventured out to see Sophie or to make other work-related appearances. Not that he could go anywhere with being constantly stalked by reporters. He really hoped it wouldn't be so bad once he got back to the States.
Over the next few weeks before Sophie's first court date, Kaiba would drop by Jounouchi's apartment about two or three times a week. He always came with a bag of takeout for dinner. At first, they would just watch TV or a movie until Kaiba decided it was time to go home. The fourth time Kaiba had caught Jounouchi while he was reviewing scripts, and they spent the rest of the evening snarking over the stack. It was after the fifth or sixth time Kaiba came over that Jounouchi realized they were effectively dating.
He confronted Kaiba about this the next time, "Are we dating?"
Kaiba paused so abruptly that Jounouchi had to wonder if this was the first time the thought had even occurred to the CEO. "I suppose if you insist on a label..."
They both remained silent for the next few moments as the reality sunk in. Jounouchi thoughtfully rubbed his chin before leaning over the dining table and planting a chaste kiss on Kaiba's cold lips. He was extremely pleased with himself when he recognized the surprise that widened Kaiba's eyes. Before Jounouchi could pull away, Kaiba grabbed his collar and reeled him in for a deeper kiss.
"That was nice," Jounouchi muttered breathlessly when they broke apart.
Kaiba, the infuriating bastard, just smirked.
"Why did you leave?"
Kaiba's question caught Jounouchi off-guard when he returned from the bathroom. "Funny, you're the only person to ask that to my face so far."
"That's because they're all too happy to have you back at all. They want you to stay and that's good enough for most of them. The rest are just too polite to pry."
"But it's not good enough for you?"
"No, I'd rather know about why you fell off the face of the earth for 10 years," there was a brief pause. "The others seem to think it was mostly because of me."
Jounouchi lowered himself onto the couch next to Kaiba- their shoulders were just touching after he settled down. For several more moments of silence, he stared down at his hands resting in his lap. It had been years since he really thought about his reasoning for leaving, and those reasons seemed silly now as he was once again surrounded by his loving friends and family. "I didn't want to get left behind. I thought it might have been better if I left everyone before they could all leave me."
"That's stupid," was all Kaiba had to say in reply.
"No shit," Jounouchi rolled his eyes. "I guess the idea of graduating from high school was overwhelming. God, I was going to have to grow up and be an adult. Everyone was so excited about it and I barely managed to get the grades to graduate the same semester with the rest of you. Everyone but me had plans: you and Otogi had your businesses, Yugi and Bakura were going off to college, Anzu was going off to pursue her dreams, and Honda had already found work- respectable work. I felt like I wouldn't be able to catch up with you guys, that even after everything we've been through together, we were going to drift apart and that would be the end of it. I didn't want to see that happen."
Putting it into words- especially words spoken out loud to Kaiba Seto- made him feel very self-conscious.
"The ironic thing is that your disappearance strengthened the bond between your friends." Kaiba muttered softly.
"I was a no-good punk with no prospects and yet I was still full of myself. I thought I could make it on my own."
Suddenly, Jounouchi could feel the other man's fingers running through his hair. But whether it was because of Kaiba's small gesture of affection or simply talking through old, buried feelings, he relaxed and leaned into the touch. When Kaiba spoke again, Jounouchi could feel the breath caress more strands of his hair.
"We are who we are because of the choices we make."
He wasn't sure if Kaiba was actually addressing him or himself at that point, but decided to soldier on past it. "I met Sophie about nine years ago when the production company she worked with in Hong Kong was shooting a movie in Tokyo. I was a background extra, but they were also looking for some guys to play some thugs for a scene; the pay was better. I tried out for it and afterwards, Sophie asked me what my name was. She said: 'Jounouchi Katsuya, I am going to make you a star.' I don't know what she saw in me then, she gave up almost everything to work with me. I had no training, was inexperienced and so lost."
"It's amazing you got as far as you did."
"Hey! What's that supposed to mean?"
"I spent two years in your class in high school. Back then, you could barely string together two words in English without sounding like a complete imbecile." Kaiba rolled his eyes.
"Well, I showed you, didn't I, you smug sonuvabitch?" Jounouchi replied in English, puffing his chest with pride. It had taken many hours with a speech coach to lose the bulk of his accent.
The other man turned and smothered a quiet chuckle in Jounouchi's hair- the breath tickled across his earlobes and caused him to squirm. "You never fail to amaze me, Jounouchi...somehow."
Jounouchi shrank back as his father leaned in. The smell of alcohol was overwhelming when the toothy smile on Tanaka's face widened. "Up and at 'em, son."
He tried to sit up but found no strength in his arms or legs. He lay on the floor helplessly as a wave of pain made the darkness surrounding them spin in a kaleidoscope of colors. His father loomed overhead with a knife in one hand and Jounouchi struggled harder against his restraints.
"No," he croaked.
Tanaka pressed the muzzle of the gun against his side. "What? Too tired to get up? Maybe I should just put this dog down?"
"Katsuya!" His sister, mother, and Sophie screamed for him all at once.
"Jounouchi!" That was Kaiba.
And Jounouchi awoke with a jolt and a shout as his nightmare exploded with piercing pain and a shower of blood.
"Jounouchi, what's wrong?"
Outside the apartment window, Jounouchi could see the quarter moon hanging high in the night sky. The lamp on the end table behind Kaiba cast a warm halo. He looked down at the sweaty and shaking hands clenched tightly in his lap. Kaiba must have pulled a throw blanket over him when he fell asleep.
"Jounouchi," Kaiba's words were more stern this time as he grabbed hold of Jounouchi's shoulders. "You were tossing and turning."
He suddenly realized he was shivering. "It's nothing."
"I don't think so. You're still shaking." Kaiba slipped onto the couch, using his shoulders to support Jounouchi's back.
He refused to reply. This wasn't something he wanted to discuss- not with Kaiba, not with anyone. The fear he felt at the climax of the confrontation all came rushing back. His vision began to swim and he belatedly realized he might be having a panic attack.
Suddenly, Kaiba's hand on his shoulder was his only anchor to the world.
"It's okay." The words were spoken with a type of hesitation that suggested Kaiba was unused to giving comfort.
Jounouchi snapped. "No, it's not okay! How pathetic is it that I'm still dreaming about him? It's over with and I still can't get over it!" His hands curled into fists, shaking with the urge to hit something- destroy something. He moved to free himself from Kaiba's grip. He shouldn't need anyone to comfort him- the vulnerability left him feeling weak and he loathed himself for that.
"I still see Gozaburo in my dreams sometimes."
The admission caught him by surprise. "Really?"
"Jounouchi, we've both experienced a lot in life; the least of which would be our lovely fathers. It's only...human that they would haunt our subconscious."
"What do you dream about?"
There was silence. Jounouchi was afraid the other man would not answer. Had he overstepped some boundary?
"The worst ones are when I am Noa," Kaiba turned his head to look him straight in the eye. "That I am the one trapped and powerless, yet forever trying to win over Gozaburo. But I can't, because I have neither the means or the power."
Jounouchi reached out and hesitantly took the brunette's hand. He ran a finger across a discolored patch of skin he never noticed before. "What's this?"
"From soldering. I was working on the circuitry for a new product."
"Can you tell me what?"
"Yes, but I'd have to kill you."
"Thanks." He said quietly and released Kaiba's hand.
As Kaiba peeled off his suit jacket and tossed it on the adjacent armchair, Jounouchi said, "I thought you were leaving."
"And now I'm not."
"You don't have to stay because of me." Jounouchi didn't need anyone to take care of him.
"Who said I was? I'm tired and my driver has already left for the night. I think you can afford to put me up on the couch tonight seeing as I own the apartment."
Kaiba settled into the armchair and pulled his laptop from his briefcase. As the sound of Kaiba's typing filled the air, the otherwise quiet and lack of conversation dragged on. Jounouchi could have retired to his bedroom for the night, but something held him back. Because the silence and total darkness was the last thing he wanted that night. Jounouchi reached over for the remote and turned on the television, lowering the volume to barely above a whisper. NHK was showing re-runs of the old drama, Tsukigomori. He snuck glances at Kaiba, who was completely engrossed in his work. He envied Kaiba's ability to concentrate like that. Jounouchi drifted off to the dramatic sounds of Mio and Katsuki's confrontation onscreen.
The next time Jounouchi opened his eyes, the sun was peeking through the cracks in the blinds that were drawn over the apartment's large windows. The television was off and there was no sign of Kaiba anywhere. Just when he began to wonder if the previous night had all been some fevered dream, he found a terse note on the refrigerator and shook his head with a smile.
When Manami was about three weeks old, Anzu threw a small impromptu party celebrating her newborn daughter and the shedding of baby weight. It took more than a little work to get Jounouchi to the Turtle Game Shop under the nose of the watching paparazzi, but he was ecstatic to get out of the apartment. This was also the first time Jounouchi had actually held Manami. She was so tiny-everything about her screamed how fragile she was.
"I think she's going to have your eyes, Anzu." He declared as he hefted the baby into the air like that scene from Lion King.
"And with my luck, she'll have Yugi's hair." Anzu giggled over her bottle of beer- some microbrew that she had fallen in love with while living in the States and spent a pretty penny importing for special occasions.
"There's nothing wrong with our hair!" Yugi- or maybe it was Yami- huffed loudly and indignantly from across the room.
Jounouchi passed Manami back over to her grandmothers, Mutou Akane and Mazaki Hina.
"I heard you were going back to work next month." Jounouchi said to Anzu.
"Yep," she scooted closer to Jounouchi when Bakura came to join them on the couch. "I love Mana-chan and Yugi, but I'm going to go stir-crazy if I don't get out of the house more. Yugi's barely let me go to the grocery store alone in the last five months."
"So who's going to look after Mana-chan while you're at work?" Bakura inquired.
"Yugi and I have already discussed this; I was always going to go back to work after giving birth. He will probably be watching her at the game shop most the time. He's hired some part-time help in fact. I would love to take Mana-chan with me to the dance school, but I'll be busy enough with teaching and all the other business stuff," she looked over to where her husband was talking with Honda. "Besides she's got a guardian angel on her side."
"I don't know if I would call Yami an angel."
Anzu elbowed him in his side, causing him to double over in pain. "Oh Jounouchi, I forgot! I'm sorry. Are you okay?"
"Yeah," he wheezed slightly. "Just need to catch my breath."
"I'll get some aspirin for you." She jumped to her feet and left the room.
Bakura gave a sympathetic smile. "How are you recovering?"
"I'm due in for another chest scan next week. I'll have a better idea then, but I'm feeling better with each day."
"Is that so?"
Jounouchi wasn't sure he liked the sly grin on Bakura's face- it reminded him a bit too much of the other Bakura. "Geeze, dude, don't do that. It's creepy."
Bakura ignored his previous statement instead. "Everyone knows Kaiba has been going over to your place."
"Knows what?" Anzu asked as she returned with a bottle of pills and a cup of warm tea.
"Kaiba," Bakura replied simply.
A knowing smile swept across Anzu's lips. "Ah."
"You guys better not be spying on me." He wasn't surprised that the rest of the group knew about Kaiba's visits. More than once, Kaiba had shown up while Yugi or Shizuka was over. It was as if the whole group had taken on the collective responsibility to entertain him during his "house arrest," an Honda loved to refer to his hiding out from the media.
"We're happy for you and Kaiba-kun," Bakura added.
Jounouchi took the items offered to him. The other two waited eagerly for him to swallow the pill. It made him feel like a specimen under the microscope.
"So what happens when you go back to America?" Anzu set her bottle aside and stared at him.
"Uh... I go back to work?"
"She means with you and Kaiba. Are you in a long-distance relationship or a more casual arrangement?" Bakura leaned in with anticipation.
It figured Bakura's relationship with Malik would have made him a gossip, Jounouchi thought.
"Don't say it like that, Bakura-kun. It sounds so cold and clinical."
Jounouchi stared down at his cup of tea before answering carefully, "I don't know."
"Let me guess, you guys haven't talked about it yet?"
"I think we're dating?"
"He thinks they're dating," Anzu threw her hands back in the air. "You're going to be separated by the Pacific Ocean in a few weeks. You have to think about what happens then, Jounouchi. Use your brain for once."
"What about you and Yugi? You guys managed it somehow." Jounouchi tried to shift the attention off himself.
She looked confused for a moment.
"Come on, Anzu, I'm not blind. You guys have been going out since our senior year of high school. You guys thought you were being all discreet, but everyone knew."
"It's true," Bakura nodded.
She rolled her eyes instead. "Fine, whatever. But Jounouchi, Yugi and I broke up before I went to New York. We agreed it would be better if we didn't make any promises that we couldn't keep. I know Yugi would have waited, but it wasn't fair to make him wait either."
He took a minute to fully absorb her words. "If you and Yugi couldn't do it, what makes you think Kaiba and I will get along in a long-distance relationship?"
"I was seventeen when I went to New York; you're 29. I really hope you can make a mature decision like this by now."
Bakura continued to watch them both, but contributed nothing further to the conversation. Jounouchi was tempted to make a comment about the man's occupation and the tendency to get involved in other people's business. He was just grateful that they kept their mouths shut when Kaiba himself joined them a few moments later.
After the party, Kaiba and he went out for a late dinner at a restaurant he used to go with Shizuka. Most of the regulars were too drunk to recognize Kaiba or care when they walked in. It was noisy, but as Kaiba had pointed out: it was often best to hide in plain sight. It was in an isolated booth where Jounouchi's only guard against recognition was a black wig and a pair of dark sunglasses that he popped the question over a plate of yakisoba.
Anzu was right; they needed to figure out their plan.
"What happens when I go back to America?"
There's no pause or hesitation before Kaiba answers (Jounouchi suspects that he's already thought about this ahead of time). "Whatever you want. I've made my position perfectly clear, Jounouchi. You need to decide if you want to commit to a clandestine and long-distance relationship."
The problem was Jounouchi didn't know.
"Ugh, I can't believe you eat that stuff." Jounouchi wrinkled his nose as the waitress deposited a bowl of natto (1) onto the table. He continued to make a gagging gesture when Kaiba smirked and mixed a large dollop of natto into his rice.
A group of office workers seated at a nearby booth broke into sudden song. They were drunk and had no sense of pitch, but the sound filled the silence that settled between them. Jounouchi liked to take every opportunity he could to study Kaiba and his moods. Despite many years of acquaintance, Jounouchi was forced to admit he didn't actually know as much about Kaiba as he thought- the ten years they spent apart didn't help for one thing. But he was learning- picking up on facts faster than he had on the basics of Duel Monsters. Like how even with the noise, Kaiba actually liked restaurants like this one, which served simple but hearty food to all manners of white-collar workers and college students. Or that Kaiba's favorite common vintage of wine was a 2008 Graacher Himmelreich Spatlese.
Confronted with both the distance in space and time soon to be between them, Jounouchi started to panic. Did he really think he would be able to succeed at something not even Yugi and Anzu had attempted? They were both people with busy careers and unpredictable work hours. Perhaps the more troubling question is whether or not Kaiba was really willing to make the effort required?
His thoughts were interrupted when Kaiba took his hand under the table.
"Stop worrying about it so much. Mokuba and Rebecca manage just fine somehow."
Jounouchi chuckled, feeling far too vulnerable and uncertain. "I forgot about the two of them. How do they do it?"
"A lot of hard work and arguing."
"If your kid brother and the brat can do it, it's going to be a piece of cake for us," Jounouchi clung to the idea that they would be strong enough. He hoped that saying it would somehow cement it as truth. "If we can save the world more than once, we can definitely make this work."
Under the table, he squeezed Kaiba's hand. Much to his delight, Kaiba answered with a small and pleased smile.
"How does the defendant plead to the charge of illegal firearm possession?" The judge behind the bench asked. The courtroom was filled mostly with reporters and internet bloggers.
"Guilty, your honor," Otonashi replied on Sophie's behalf.
"Very well, let us begin with the review of the evidence then. Prosecutor?"
Jounouchi's only company for that first session of court was Claudia. She was busy taking what notes she could based on her limited Japanese. He wondered why she even bothered.
"Do they seriously not have an arraignment process?" Claudia muttered loudly. "Time to catch up with the 20th century, Japan."
He glared at her, and she ignored it. He was beginning to see why Sophie disliked her so much. Thankfully, Claudia would be returning to the States tomorrow and he would be free of her condescension. As the prosecutor began his summary of the event around Jounouchi's kidnapping, she continued to thumb loudly through her Japanese-English dictionary. Every pause between words were punctuated by crinkling pages. Jounouchi made a mental note that his new manager would have to be already fluent in Japanese.
The hearing lasted about three hours before the court was adjourned until the next session. He came away from the proceedings even more peeved at Sophie.
"I can't believe she got the gun from the yakuza! And those death threats? She should have told me!" He tried to keep his voice and head down as they shuffled past the group of tabloid reporters and photographers waiting outside the courtroom.
"You know Sophia, always the lone ranger." Claudia took his forearm, leading him behind a line of baliffs that kept the reporters back.
Jounouchi was still fuming silently as Claudia dragged him around the next corner. He ripped his arm out of the agent's grip, sending her tumbling into another passerbyer.
"Joey!" She shouted in fury when she went down.
He reacted quickly and managed to grab a hold of an arm flailing for support. It wasn't Claudia though, as she was busy glaring up at him from the floor.
"I'm sorry, miss."
He helped the other woman to her feet first. Her gentle smile caught him off guard, along with the familiarity of her stylish bob cut's ice blue.
As Jounouchi turned to help Claudia, she asked, "Jounouchi-san, is that you?"
Despite his initial feelings of familiarity, he couldn't draw a name.
"It's me, Ryuujin Kisara," she continued. "It's been years!"
"Oh my god, Kisara? What are you doing here?"
She clasped her hands together in obvious delight. "How is everyone? I haven't spoken to Shizu-chan in years after moving back to Kyoto."
"I think it would take more than a few minutes to cover that. Yugi and Anzu just had their first kid- a baby girl. What are you doing here?"
Claudia tugged on his sleeve and grumbled, "Flirt on your own time. We need to go before those reporters catch up."
Kisara cut in before he could snap at the agent. "I'm sorry, Jounouchi-san. I hope I'm not keeping you. I'm here on business so I should get going too." She dug into her purse and then handed him a business card. "Please give everyone, including Kaiba-san, my regards. My magazine would love to get an interview with you sometime."
She was gone in a flash, bursting with energy he never knew she had. The job title on her card read: Fashion Editor, Hanako Magazine (2). He just shook his head in disbelief and pocketed the card.
Morbid curiosity later drove Jounouchi to do an Internet search on Kisara. Most of what turned up was related to her job at Hanako Magazine, but he also saw references to an early failed marriage here and there. Over dinner with his family, he asked his sister.
"Yeah, I heard something about that through the alumni network." Shizuka chewed on the end of her chopsticks. "I heard that her husband wanted her to be a housewife and didn't like it when she started working. In the end, she chose her job."
His mother just smiled sadly. "Some of us are better off unattached; the problem is we often find that out too late."
He wasn't sure why, but the conversation stuck with him. After tying up the rest of his loose ends related to Claudia and giving another reassurance that he would be returning to work soon, he realized why. Twenty minutes later, he was standing outside Kaiba's office building and demanding entrance over the phone. A night security guard begrudgingly let Jounouchi into the building and directed him to the express elevator to the top floors.
The building was otherwise deserted, but he wasn't surprised by Kaiba's late work hours. He did keep an eye out for the killer robot guards Malik was so fond of joking about. Jounouchi entered the office without announcing himself.
"How was the trial?" Kaiba asked.
"As well as a guilty plead can go."
To Jounouchi's surprise, Kaiba stopped typing and stepped away from his desk. "What's so important it couldn't wait until tomorrow?"
Jounouchi flexed his hands nervously. He made no attempt to move closer to Kaiba. The other man must have sensed something was wrong, because he stopped just a few feet away.
As soon as he opened his mouths, words fell like a gushing waterfall. "I don't think you realize how scary the idea of a relationship with you really is. You're ambitious, so much larger than life, and crazy successful. A person could easily be overshadowed completely by you. If your partners aren't careful, they stop being your equal in a relationship. Why did your other relationships end?"
Kaiba's subsequent silence was the most telling. Jounouchi's mouth ran dry in response.
"I'm not giving up my career," Jounouchi confessed. He felt no guilt or anxiety over the admission- he would have felt worse if he never put it out there. "I don't care if you think it's a joke, but I worked really hard to get where I am today. I've worked my entire life to prove I'm a person in my own right. And this is something that I want to do, something I want for myself. I'm not going to give it all up just for a relationship with you, at least not now. And I think you feel the same, you've worked your ass off more for this company than anything else."
"So there is a brain up there after all," Kaiba's soft tone took the edge off his almost sneer. "I wouldn't respect you if you did anyway."
Jounouchi had always figured Kaiba to be the sort of person that worked late nights in the dark. It wasn't practical, but it fit the silly romantic image of the untouchable Kaiba Seto. The office was well-lit, but the moon hanging behind Kaiba cast a soft glow on his chestnut brown hair. In that moment, Jounouchi just knew what he wanted; he just knew he could make it work.
"There's no reason we can't try to have both though." Jounouchi's lungs burned with the air cleared between them. He took four steps forward to clear the small distance between them. His entire body felt ready to burst with confidence as he snaked a hand through his boyfriend's hair and dove in for a kiss. It was even better when Kaiba pulled him closer.
(1) Natto is fermented soy beans, usually eaten with rice. It is also Honda's least favorite food.
(2) Hanako Magazine is a lifestyle magazine published in Tokyo that is aimed at young women in their twenties with disposable income.
Wow, this fic only took 8 years (granted, I spent about 5 of those not thinking about writing fanfic) and about 100,000 words (once you take all the headers and A/N out) to completion. Joey is largely finished at this point, but there may be a short epilogue to follow within the week. Either that, or I'll use the epilogue as the beginning of any follow-up stories in this universe.
I hope you were all able to enjoy this even more than I enjoyed writing it.
As to what's next, I'm not sure. I have a number of other unfinished fics (too many maybe) that I may consider revisiting and finishing. Looking Back In Retrospective seems to be leading in the poll on my author's page. But it's a very small sample size. Go and vote in the poll, or leave a review! But I caution that there's no real guarantee.
So much thanks to my beloved SO, who had to deal with me obsessing over specific scenes for days on end and beta'ed the vast majority of this story after I returned to it earlier last year. Also thanks to my fellow puppyshippers on LJ for providing much needed distractions. Last but definitely not least, thank you to you lovely readers and reviewers! Whether you started reading today or came back to this after eight long years, this would not have been possible without you.