Disclaimer: Same as previous. I don't own Yugioh, I never will. This is for fun, blah, blah, blah. You know the drill.

A/N: Shock, horror -- I'm actually updating. It's been a long time...erm, eight months or so, yes...but at least I've got an update now. Better now than never, right?

Responses to previous reviews will be on my LJ, which is linked on my profile, due to the new system, and replies to new reviews will be either on LJ or through individual messages.

Much thanks goes to Moe for beta-ing.

Also, a big thank you to everyone who stayed with this fic despite the infrequent updates. Some of the lovely comments have gotten me writing when I was feeling uninspired.

Completed: 6 January 2006

Chapter 9

I prided myself on my prompt awareness at all times -- especially during that vulnerable moment between sleep and wakefulness. After all, for someone with as much enemies as I had accumulated, it would certainly be in my best interests to wake up as quickly and as efficiently as possible should a tragic event (such as, say, the assassination attempt of one Seto Kaiba) occur. Of course, if that should happen, I would prefer to wake up and knock out the assassins before they could even move to within three feet. But there wasn't an assassin on this occasion. Though, smothering by hair could be classified as an assassination attempt.

Opening my eyes groggily and silently cursing myself for being so groggy in the first place, I hadn't noticed the slumbering figure on top of me. When I did, I froze and desperately tried to think of a reasonable, logical explanation for why someone was sharing my bed. And had somehow ended up half on top of me. Other than sex.

I wanted to hit my head on the wall when my mind somehow got stuck on sex and wouldn't move any further. Fortunately, or unfortunately as the case turned out to be, my memory came back -- fleetingly and almost gone before I could grasp the images, but there it was. Me. Yami. On the couch in a position some could possibly call too comfortable. I groaned silently and wondered if it could get any worse; of course, being who I am, it did. Apparently, we had some kind of heart-to-heart conversation. Worst, it had been voluntarily on my part -- even if I was under extreme, provoking circumstances. It left a distaste in my mouth that no alcohol could burn away.

Sighing sleepily, I rubbed my eyes. It was just as I thought: Yami and Yugi were contaminating me with their -- I scowled -- niceness and general do-gooder feelings. God, I needed a break. I needed a vaccine.

As if to make matters worse, a smothered cough sounded out, and I looked around in alarm -- only to be met by the grinning, impish face of my little brother. Fighting off the urge to groan loudly and destroy many, many things melodramatically, I tried to give Mokuba a warning glare; a glare I had perfected with time, but to no avail. Mokuba's high wattage grin didn't dim at all and to my horror, he gave me a thumbs up.

I wanted to explain, to loudly proclaim that nothing -- nothing at all -- had happened, but my mouth wouldn't move and my brain seemed to have short-circuited during the time between my unusual morning grogginess and the excruciating event of Mokuba showing up looking all too smug.

We wouldn't, and I definitely wouldn't, have wild sex on the living room couch right in plain view of anyone who could walk in here, and dear God, I needed to stop this trail of thought before I went crazy, so I shook my head adamantly and glared at Mokuba again.

Who winked at me.

And then walked off, whistling

I stared at the moving back of Mokuba blankly. Then I looked up at the ceiling in despair, wondering why this was happening to me. As if to answer my unspoken question, Yami let out a light snort and huddled closer, curling around me as if I was some cuddly toy. He nuzzled my neck sleepily and mumbled incomprehensible gibberish before going still again.

There was no doubt in my mind -- the deities above (whom I suspect existed just to make a mockery out of my life) were laughing at me.

Glaring at the ceiling, I decided that I was being idiotic thinking all these foolish thoughts about deities and gods and a little brother who learned just a little bit too much from me. Without a preamble, I made a resolution to carry on with my normal routine as if everything was normal and not turned upside down. I was going to my study damn it, and no Yami was going to stop me by drooling on my shoulder.


New plan: shower first, and then to the study.

Silently and slowly, I shuffled away from the couch. I used my legs for leverage and gently pulled myself up with one hand clutching the back of the couch tightly while the other hovered around Yami. Should I risk it by pushing Yami slightly in while I simultaneously moved away or should I just leave him as he was? It was a much more difficult decision than I had envisioned, but that was life. My life, unfortunately, I thought sourly.

I watched as Yami's head softly landed on a squashed in cushion; he murmured more gibberish, and after a couple of seconds of rearranging his body back into his fetal curl, legs tucking in against his stomach, he was silent and sleeping deeply again. I sighed in relief and tried not to stumble into anything on my way upstairs.

It wasn't until I was half way up the stairs that I realised I had left my briefcase behind. Cursing, I tried to walk silently back -- and not tip-toe, because I did not tip-toe. Tip-toeing was for cowards and thieves (and while I saw nothing wrong with a little borrowing, I had no respect for those who did not do it with an ironic flourish).

With another sigh, I grabbed the briefcase, eyeing Yami's form (a lump with tufts of hair peeking out from under the blanket) and made my way back up the stairs.

Objective accomplished. Now, I just had to somehow get through the day.


When I came downstairs again, it was to the grinning, self-satisfied faces of Mokuba and Yugi -- Yugi, who supposedly knew the truth. I scowled immediately and straightened the collar of my blue school uniform as way to detract from unpleasant morning afters. Not that, I thought viciously, there were any night befores.

I walked determinedly to the table in my usual seat, ignoring shared glances between Mokuba and Yugi. It would have been awkward if I had let it, but I chose not to. Not after glancing slightly at Yami and finding casual composure staring straight back at me. So I ate whatever was in front of me without tasting it and pretended nothing important had preceded the night before.

It hadn't.

And I would considering the fact that I was actually there; yet, I couldn't quite convince myself.

It wasn't my stubborn, uncompromising nature that made denial seem like the only route to take -- it really wasn't, no matter what the world thought of me. I knew I could learn from my mistakes just as easily as other people; the problem was proving my mistakes to be thus in a satisfactory manner. I only demand from others what I would demand from myself -- perhaps that was another mistake I hadn't been aware of.

Yet, there was still a flaw I couldn't really shake off, no matter how many times I'd tried. It just so happened that it was the most obvious, irritating flaw. Yami would laugh himself senseless, no doubt.


Fear of change.

Fear of the unknown.

Fear of what I can't control.

It seemed quite simple really, when I thought about it. But when were my emotions simple? For me, it had always been like an intricate spider's web; one wrong move and you were trapped, gobbled up as easily as a fly. There was no escape, not unless you became the spider.

I became the spider.

The hard part, I was only just figuring out, was to somehow revert. Not into prey -- I could never stand for that -- but to something in between. Something not inherently flawed at its angry and cold core. That would take an inordinate amount of time changing the way I thought, the way I lived my life -- almost everything I knew about myself.

And yet... it would be the right thing to do. The only thing I could do. I needed to be the brother Mokuba wanted, the one he had known as a small child. The one I know he still misses, despite the fact that he loved me just as much as he loved him. And that was really the gist of it -- I would do anything for Mokuba. Full stop. I didn't even need to think any further. I just needed to try.

I closed my eyes briefly and then opened them again, this time, resolute and determined to change. I wouldn't have thought my capacity for change would be so stagnant, but then, I have found time and time again that I am biased in certain aspects of my life.

It was time to change.

"Please pass the salt," I said and frowned when silence greeted my words.

"Seto..." Mokuba looked stunned and pleased. I had a feeling he was privately bouncing up and down excitedly, though I had no clue what could have brought it on.

"Wow," Yugi whispered to Yami. "What did you do to him?"

My frown deepened. "He did nothing," I said, though it wasn't entirely the truth. Call it a hunch, but I had a feeling revealing anything to the contrary would lead to insanity and romantic dinners with Yami -- with full credit going to Mokuba, my own live-in Cupid and his assistant and fellow giggling accomplice, Yugi. To preserve my sanity, I needed to keep it vague, which would not be all too difficult as it were.

"No offense Kaiba, but Yami must have done something. You're in a really good mood today," Yugi turned to me and said earnestly. I could see the slight glint in his eyes. Innocent, my ass. Everyone could think what they want, but I knew the truth. Yugi was evil. An evil I had to admire on occasion, true, but that didn't make it any less annoying.

"Yugi, I didn't do anything," Yami cut in uncomfortably, giving me an apologetic look as if to say sorry, Kaiba, but Yugi's Satan and I really can't do anything about that.

"You sure about that?" Yugi raised his eyebrow and gave me a big smile. Mokuba giggled before coughing out, "Like we believe them."

I glared and said to Yugi, "What the hell are you talking about?"

"Nothing," he replied slyly and winked at my smirking little brother.

"I think what he means, big brother, is that you're in a good mood this morning." He paused before grinning. "I think it has something to do with getting laid."

I choked, Yugi stifled his laughter, and Yami just looked confused.

"Mokuba..." I warned. He shrugged at me and tried to look innocent, no doubt thinking I would go soft at his expression.

It was exasperating how often he was right.

"What is...'getting laid'?" Yami asked just as I was about drink my coffee. In response to his question, I managed to resist choking myself, but just barely.

"Well, Yami," Yugi started, grinning like mad. "When two people love each other very much, they start getting naked and doing wild things to each other. Like licking and kissing and --"

We all turned and stared at Yugi.

"What?" He shrugged. "I'm just saying what everybody's thinking."

Yami coughed politely and tried to look as if he wasn't regretting asking the question. "Uh, thank you, Yugi."

"My pleasure." Yugi smiled and took a large bite of his toast.

Since no one (meaning everyone but Yugi) wanted a repeat of that fiasco, we kept quiet and finished our breakfast. As per our routine, Yami accompanied Mokuba -- I had insisted adamantly -- and Yugi would walk with me. As Yugi insisted. I could take care of myself just fine enough, but if Yugi wanted to try and take on professionals, who was I to object? He was persistent, and if Yami couldn't even talk him out of it, I had doubts I could have done so either.


After breakfast, we all went into the limo. By now, our driver was used to our comings and goings, and didn't even bat an eyelash when Mokuba bounced into the limo, tugging Yugi and Yami in. I went inside last and decided to pretend this morning had not been an apocalyptic disaster. It could have been worse -- I didn't know how, but from various past examples (and from the devious combination of Mokuba and Yugi), I had doubts that it could have gone along a different and more diastrous track.

The ride to school, to my vast relief -- though I would never admit it -- ended up being straightforward and quick. There were no more mishaps or uncomfortable lines of questioning -- more like interrogation, if that look in Mokuba's eyes were any indication, I thought warily -- and we ended up at our classes unharmed. More or less -- if you took away the glances thrown at my way from Mokuba and Yugi, and the ceaseless giggling. And it was the giggling that really unnerved me. I was being used to looked at, judged upon -- hell, I pretty much spent most of my life like that -- but the giggling... I had no words. How do you describe that irritable itch that would twitch across your shoulders everytime murmured words were punctuated by a gleeful giggle? How do you describe the tension that thrummed through your body, every time you heard the amused tone within every chuckle?

It was damn annoying, was what I thought. But I couldn't really do or say anything -- it was Mokuba after all, and I just knew that if I snapped at Yugi, I'd feel guilty for the rest of the day, and that just wasn't worth it. I like to avoid guilt whenever I could. Hell, I'd like to avoid any emotion at all if I could. Unfortunately, I'm only human and my temper is quite...legendary.

My first class was pretty boring. I didn't even know why I went to school -- it wasn't as if I couldn't pass all my classes considering I was well beyond what was being taught at this level. In the sciences at least, though I was sure I could manage well enough for the others as well.

Fortunately, my classes managed to fly by quickly and I had ample time to avoid Yugi's persistent following. There was a close call between the cafeteria and the library, but luckily for me, Yugi had smaller steps, and I managed to lose him between the disparity in our strides and the flock of students scurrying in our way with their mindless pursuit of teenage longing and angst.

I gave them a disgusted look before I walked quickly towards an empty outdoor table and bench just shaded from view by the trees.

Relieved to find Yugi nowhwere in sight, I sat down and lifted my briefcase to the table. I never went anywhere without it and with recent events arriving as they did, it just made sense to be even more prepared.

Now though, was a time for action. Hirato had the upper hand for far too long, and I wasn't about to let him go on any further. I took out my cell phone, entered in the number to Hirato's private line -- one he never gave me, but which I had an incentive to find out -- and pressed the send button. It didn't take long for Hirato to pick up.

"I'm not surprised, Kaiba," he greeted me. "Though I did wonder why it took as long as you did. Perhaps I was more of a threat than you had bargined on?"

Sly bastard. "I'm not going to play your games Hirato. I want to talk," I said grudgingly.

"We're not talking now? And here I thought you liked games..."

I narrowed my eyes, but decided to wait him out. I wasn't going to be drawn into useless word play and mind games -- I wanted this to be as short and succinct as possible.

"I see you're not much of a talking person. Let's get down to business, then, shall we? What might be the point of your phone call?"

"My point is that you'll stop with your threats to my brother and my company. You'll stop your behind-the-scenes machinations to getting KaibaCorp. If you would like to ignore these orders, then be prepared for an all out attack." My tone became angrier. "Be prepared for...unethical activities to be brought to the public's knowledge"

Then I hung up, ignoring Hirato's sharpened voice through the receiver. Anger for the wrong type of person became a weakness. Hirato was such a type or else he would have tried for subtler methods when I refused his offer.

In any case, I had the advantage. Anger was something I worked along side with long before Hirato had come along. It was also something that I was proud of.

Feeling satisfied and bemused, I set about organising the contents of my briefcase. I put the cell phone back into its designated spot and rearranged my folders, making sure all the edges lined up together perfectly. Unfortunately, the lifted lid blocked my view of the environment and cost me my privacy.

The extra weight on the other end of the table was my first clue. The extra perky 'hi, Kaiba' was my next. I shut down the lid of my briefcase and glared across at Yugi, who just waved at me.

"How did you find me?"

He scratched the back of his head sheepishly. "I asked around -- it wasn't that hard, really, everybody sorta knew who the angry-looking, briefcase-carrying, and, um, did I mention angry-looking? -- guy was."

He paused and then started again, more sheepish. "Did that make sense? I lost track there for a second."

I stared at him, and then slowly sighed. "Why are you following me?"

"To keep you company. And, you know, that whole stop people from killing you thing," he said as he put his bag down and reached for his packed lunch.

I waited until he was facing me again before I gave him a scoffing, pointed look.

He huffed, "Hey, just because I'm short doesn't mean I'm harmless, you know. I mean, honestly, what have you got against short people?"

"They're short," I said.

"Fine, what else have you got against short people?" Yugi left his still-wrapped lunch alone now and crossed his arms.

"Being short isn't enough?" I said.

Yugi narrowed his eyes at me -- then, he started smiling. And smiling. Until he said slyly, "Yami's short. You like him well enough."

Cutting my instant reaction -- which was to sputter and growl -- I instead leaned back warily and said, "Who said I liked him?"

"What? You're sleeping with him even though you don't like him? Shame on you," he said.

"For the last time, we're not sleeping together," I growled.

"That's not what Mokuba said." He gave me an innocent look and then turned back to his unwrapping his lunch.

I groaned. "I can't escape you."

"Nope," he said cheerfully. "So take it like a man."


When we got home, I nodded at Mokuba and headed straight for my study. I made sure the door was locked and then went to sit behind my desk, briefcase leaning on the table, just to the left. Curbing the urge to sigh and rub my temples, I leaned back into my chair. An hour with Yugi had left my nerves frayed and my mood below sea levels. There had been several times when I had wanted nothing more than to strangle him, but unfortunately, each and every time I would get an image of Mokuba looking disapproving and sad, and that was that.

I supposed it was just as well. I didn't need Yami enraged and pestering me for killing his other half and the bearer of his soul Puzzle. I had enough on my plate as it was.

Just when I thought I had no more sighs in me to give out, I sighed and closed my eyes tiredly, feeling the now usual mix of exhaustion and annoyance. Yugi and Yami's presences were taking a toll on my well-being, and I had a feeling Mokuba was going to kill me with his scheming soon.

Maybe I was overexaggerating. Maybe in the light of tomorrow morning, it wouldn't be as bad as I'd made it sound. Maybe, maybe, maybe... Too many maybes. It was better to leave it until tomorrow morning. Right now I just wanted some rest. Contrary to my own beliefs, my body wasn't invincible -- nor was it anything but human and mortal, and subject to its own failings. No amount of raging or annoyance would change that, so I might as well just accept the flaws and find a way to work around it.

I had spent the better part of last night going through Hirato's files -- before I dozed off, that was -- and before that, I had been living on average five to six hours of sleep a night. And while I was use to it, it didn't make my body crave for rest any less.

Deciding that for just once, I should probably go to bed early, I went to the bathroom, brushed my teeth, washed my face, and took off my clothes. Once I got into bed, sighing at the comfort I only allowed myself to feel at night, it only took a minute for me to drift off.


Atem was sulking.

Unfortunately for me, I had no clue as to why he was sulking, because when Atem sulked, he became resentful and quiet. He also glared and crossed his arms a lot, but it was the not talking bit that was the problem since he apparently thought I knew everything that was going through his mind.

If only, I thought, feeling my head ache already. Things with Atem was never simple, were they? I sighed. He couldn't just be like normal Pharaoh's sons, and, well, be normal. I wasn't sure what other Pharaoh's sons did, but they sure didn't stick around annoying their protectors. Maybe. I was pretty sure they didn't do that though, since why would their protectors hang around? I'd have quickly walked away in the first five minutes of intolerable annoyance.

Atem made some kind of muffled, growling noise that managed to convey both his resentment and anger, and I thought, okay, maybe I wouldn't have quickly walked away. It'd been more than five minutes already and I was still here, looking baffled as Atem made more muffled, growling noises instead of of talking.

"You going to talk to me?" I asked again, even though I probably knew the answer already.

He shook his head and glared.

"If you don't talk to me, then how should I know what you're sulking about?" I said, annoyed.

"I don't sulk!" he pouted. Then, as if realising he'd just spoken to me, he clamped his mouth shut and turned away.

"If you're not sulking, then why are your arms crossed? Why are you looking angry?" I asked, less annoyed now that I've found a way to slowly get the story out of him. The best form of attack was to distract him by something insignificant -- sooner or later, he'd mention what was on his mind by way of it being on his mind the majority of the time.

"This?" he said airily. "This is just me imitating you."

He narrowed his eyes and scrunched up his nose. "Grr," he said, and then stopped making the faces. "See, this is you being angry."

I looked at him, horrified. "No, it's not."

"Yes it is," he said firmly.

"No, it isn't," I said, shaking my head in denial.

"Do you look at yourself when you're angry?" he demanded.

Seeing the look on my face, he nodded in satisfaction. "See? Now you're making the angry face."

"No, I do not --" I took a deep breath and tried to calm myself down. The attack, remember the attack, I thought. Don't let him blindside you.

"You're still sulking though," I pointed out.

"No, I told you, imitating you." He contemplated for a moment and then said, "Maybe you sulk."

I growled, "I don't do sulking," and then shook my head. Blindsided again. Damn.

"How would you know? Do you look at yourself when you're sulking?" he demanded.

And I gave up. It was no use talking to him without being derailed into nonsensical things, like what I definitely do not look like when I was angry. Maybe if I waited him out... maybe then he would actually talk about something useful, such as why he was sulking at me. More specifically, why he was sulking aloud at me, in my presence, and not letting me go anywhere by myself.

I stared into Atem's glaring face, and wondered long-sufferingly, Why me?

Then I sat down on the edge of my bed grimly. Might as well get comfortable. Who knew how long it was going to take?