Business And Pleasure
Business dinners were hell.
Complete, utter, total hell.
And they were even worse when they weren't actually dinners, but cocktail parties.
These were the thoughts foremost in Duke Devlin's mind as he poured himself his fifth cup of punch. Making sure to sniff the red liquid before he drank – because, for all that no one here was juvenile enough to spike the drinks, the bowl at the other end of table was the alcoholic version, and the person who refilled the punch bowls might have gotten them mixed up, after all – he ruminated to himself that he couldn't think of anything more boring or tedious than one of these 'business parties'.
Except, possibly, two of these 'business parties'.
"I thought the punch at the other end of the table was the alcoholic portion," a voice said from behind him.
Whirling around, Duke came face to face with Seto Kaiba.
Correction, he thought tiredly. There is one thing worse than even two business parties, and that's being at the same party as Mr. Rich Bitch. "It is," Duke said, answering Kaiba's implied question using as few words as possible.
"Then you're not trying to get drunk?" Kaiba asked with idle curiosity. Grabbing a cut crystal cup from the table he proceeded to get his own serving of punch.
Duke's eyes narrowed in a frown, but that was the only outward sign of emotion he allowed himself. "No…why?" he asked, unable to stop himself from adding the query to the end of his answer.
"Because this punch is so sugary sweet I can't imagine any other reason that you'd drink five cups of it," Seto said, grimacing faintly as he took a sip of said punch.
Duke almost cracked a smile at that. He'd never seen Kaiba act so…human. That's damn odd. He looks so…cute…when he frowns. Like a little kid who doesn't like the taste of his medicine.
And he's been watching me enough to know exactly how many cups of punch I've had…odder still.
And interesting. "I like sweet things," he said, only thinking after the fact about how many different ways that statement would be taken.
Kaiba's response was a quirked eyebrow. "Really? Then why have you been avoiding Serenity Wheeler as of late? Granted, her brother is a pathetic dog, but she certainly seemed…sweet…enough, all things and idiot relatives considered."
Forget smiling or even frowning, Duke was now glaring, albeit mildly. Because she was too sweet – almost totally naïve – and while not unintelligent, she certainly wasn't smart enough to hold my interest.
Plus, Tristan really liked her, and I'm not about to get in the way of what could possibly be true love. "What business is it of yours whom I choose to date?" he asked irritably, swigging down a few gulps of his punch.
Kaiba shrugged. "Just…making conversation," he said dully.
He was back to frowning – at this rate his face would be completely full of lines by the time he was thirty – as Kaiba sounded a little…off. "I didn't know you indulged in idle chit-chat with people you deemed beneath you, Kaiba," Duke said, unable to resist the jab.
Kaiba was staring at the floor; his gaze was vacant, though, and Duke had no idea what he was thinking. "Just because I'm smarter than ninety-nine percent of the people on this planet doesn't make me better than them," he said finally.
Duke was surprised; he'd thought Kaiba had an ego the size of Tokyo, and self-esteem to match. But he actually sounded rather…morose right now. Something niggled at the corner of his mind and he mentally pounced on it. Oh…that would explain it, Duke thought in dawning comprehension.
"Kaiba?" Duke said, walking over to stand next to the brunet. When his querent turned to look at him, he asked bluntly, "How much of the alcoholic punch did you have?"
"Almost three cups," Seto replied. Duke was surprised by both the other's honesty, and his verbosity as he listened to Seto expound on his answer. "The first was given to me by someone whose company I'm trying to take over and I drank it while we were talking. The second was shoved into my hand by a woman who was making thinly-veiled and rather uncouth attempts to seduce me and I drank it extremely fast so I could use it as a pretext to leave both her and the conversation. The third was actually just a few swallows; I couldn't figure out which punch bowl was non-alcoholic and had to test it to be sure."
Well, that definitely explained Kaiba's depressed demeanor. "Well, no matter how much you may loathe the sugary alcohol-free version, you'd better drink some more of that punch, Kaiba, or else you'll end up more inebriated than you already are."
"I'm not drunk," Kaiba stated with certainty. His normal, surly behavior was reasserting itself as his reply was laced with oblique contempt.
Nodding his head, Duke agreed, "No, you're not. But you're not exactly sober, either, and I can tell just from talking to you these past few minutes that if you had anymore of that vodka-laced fruit drink, you'd be one sad drunk."
Kaiba was silent for a moment. "You're probably right," he admitted at length, before downing the rest of his cup of punch, not able to hold back yet another grimace.
Duke smirked slightly and took Kaiba's cup from his hand, pouring him another drink before handing it back. Kaiba thanked him with a curt nod. "I take it you don't drink that often?" he asked.
"Never," Kaiba said briefly, gritting his teeth before downing another few swallows of the overly-sweet drink. "You?" he asked after a pause, as if not entirely interested in the answer, but feeling something more was required of him in this conversation than just to answer questions put to him.
"Not often, no; normally only at one of these parties," Duke replied.
Kaiba lifted an eyebrow – whether it was in disbelief or as an invitation to continue Duke wasn't sure. Either way, the dice duelist continued, "We're still underage, Kaiba, no matter how much money we make." Receiving a nod, he added, a grin on his face, "Besides, alcoholic beverages taste disgusting."
Kaiba hmmphed. "Not sweet enough for you?"
Duke shrugged. "I've heard it's an acquired taste – I just see no reason to acquire it."
This time Kaiba's snort sounded almost like suppressed laughter.
"Do you find these things as tedious as I do?" Duke asked, almost unable to believe he was actually having what could be considered a civil conversation with Seto Kaiba of all people.
And it was actually pretty interesting.
"Probably more than you do," Kaiba returned. "I've been going to gatherings like this for years; the more money you make, the more of them you have to attend."
"What's so funny?" Kaiba asked irritatedly.
"It's just…you can't even respond to a simple question with at least giving an implied insult, can you, Kaiba?" Duke asked.
Kaiba frowned. "I didn't…" Then his thoughts seemed to catch up to him and a flustered expression overtook his face.
"It's all right; I'd be worried if you were nice all of a sudden," Duke assured him.
Kaiba snorted and looked down at his feet, turning his punch cup idly back and forth in his hand. "If you'd be worried, I can just imagine the look of stark-raving terror on Wheeler's face if I ever quit calling him a dog," he joked.
Duke nodded, smiling at the image. "It's amazing how he hasn't figured it out yet, what with me using that insult as well."
"Figured out what?" Kaiba asked confusedly, though there was a small spark of panic in his eyes that confirmed Duke's suspicion.
"That the only reason you fight with him so much is because you think he's hot when he's angry," Duke returned, in a low voice, making sure no one overheard them. "Hell, I admit, it's the same reason I do it."
Seeming to relax at the other's admission, Kaiba asked sarcastically, "Are you insinuating that I have…feelings…for that mongrel, Devlin?"
Duke shook his head, teased black tresses flying. "No, I'm just saying that you, like me, can appreciate good eye candy." Taking a look around the room, he frowned. "Which is supremely lacking at these parties. Kami-sama, I feel young – I think we're the only ones here under the age of forty-five."
"Kiroto Shigun got married last month to a twenty-eight-year-old wannabe model," Kaiba returned, gesturing with a tilt of his head across the room towards a bleached blonde buxom young woman hanging on the arm of the aforementioned businessman. "Other than her, you're probably right." Giving the other boy an inscrutable look, he asked, "Do you always change subjects so fast?"
Duke shrugged nonchalantly. "Did you really want to get into an in-depth discussion of Joey Wheeler's attractiveness?"
"No," Kaiba said simply.
"Good, neither do I," Duke replied.
Kaiba eyed him for a moment, as if thinking something over. He seemed to come to a decision, because finally he said, "So are you…" He trailed off, his conviction running out.
Duke smirked, knowing what was on Kaiba's mind. He decided to tease him a little. "Thirsty?" he asked.
Kaiba glowered at him.
"Not really," Duke answered his own question. "Bored? Not now that I have you to talk to," he continued. "Gorgeous? Well, most people seem to think so…"
"Most people are idiots," Kaiba returned dryly, his tone making it obvious he included Duke in their number.
Duke went on as if he hadn't heard, only the flash of irritation in his eyes letting the CEO know he'd scored a hit. "Or, were you trying to ask, am I gay? The answer to that is no," he said smugly, wondering if Kaiba was smart enough to find the loophole.
The brunet didn't disappoint him. "So I take it that means you're bi?"
Duke inclined his head in a nod. "Exactly."
"Why tell me?" Kaiba asked, brow furrowing in confusion.
"Because it's obvious you are too," Duke replied.
"Obvious?" The only outward sign of Kaiba's concern was a slight dilation of his pupils, but Duke had always been good at reading people.
"To those of us with good Gaydar." Duke smirked.
"And just how many people does that label encompass?" Kaiba bit out.
"As far as I know? Only me," Duke admitted. "Of course, I could be wrong…" he trailed off leadingly.
Kaiba snorted. "Fine, I'll admit it; I'm bi. For all the good that does me in the dating department."
Duke raised one eyebrow in response. "If you're trying to tell me that you've never had any offers…"
Kaiba rolled his eyes and downed the rest of his punch again. "Of course; anyone in our position has, as I'm sure you well know. But why would I want to accept any of these offers? I find most girls to be sickeningly saccharine, flaky, shallow, or any combination of the three. And most boys – Wheeler included – are idiots."
It was Duke's turn to snort. "We're teenagers, Kaiba; at our age, you really can't expect much more from our peers. You want depth, wait until we get to college. If you go to college?" he ended in inquiry.
One brow rising at the use of 'peers' to describe the people – rather, morons – they went to school with, Seto asked, "Are you planning to attend college?"
Duke shrugged. "Probably not full time, but I definitely want something to fall back on if DDM ever falls through."
"Wise," Seto noted. "I plan to do much the same, though I'll probably take mostly online courses."
Duke rolled his eyes. "You and your computers."
"They're predictable," Seto said. "I can't always count on them to work right, but I can always count on how they operate. Which is more than I can say about anything else in my life."
"What about Mokuba?" Duke asked, feeling as soon as the words slipped out of his mouth that maybe he shouldn't have gone there. Cute guys, college, and boring parties were all pretty much safe conversation topics, but if there was one thing and one thing only that got under Seto Kaiba's skin, it was his kid brother.
Seto snorted, the ghost of a smile flickering across his lips. "Mokuba is a teenager; he's the most unpredictable thing in my life."
Duke smiled and, noting that Kaiba actually seemed to be acting human, decided to tease him a little. "Really? I thought the most unpredictable thing in your life would be your feelings for Joey."
Seto blanched. "I am not attracted to Wheeler," he stated staunchly.
"I never said you were," Duke replied. "But you find him attractive, don't you?" he asked craftily.
Kaiba shrugged uncomfortably. "I find a lot of people attractive," he prevaricated. "Physically, anyway. But personality-wise, they all leave much to be desired."
"Especially in the mutt's case, ne?" Duke chuckled. "And do you really mean all of them?"
Slanting the other a sideways look, Seto took a sip of his punch. "Maybe not," he allowed.
Well, well, well, Duke thought, pleasantly surprised. Is Seto Kaiba flirting with me?
I do believe he is. Ne, only proper thing to do is flirt back, right?
"So what much do the nameless masses leave to be desired?" Duke asked, the final word rolling off his tongue on a purr.
Flushing slightly, Seto asked, "What?"
"What is it you're looking for in a potential koibito?" Duke clarified. "Maybe you've set your standards too high and that's why you're having trouble finding someone to date."
"Oh?" Seto asked coyly.
Nodding sagely, Duke said modestly, "We can't all be genius billionaires, you know."
"Or even intellectually gifted millionaires," Seto returned, giving the other an evocative look.
One side of his mouth lifting up a smile, Duke thought, Oh, he's good. Knows more about me than I thought, too.
I wonder what that means?
"So, if you're not looking for someone with a similar financial and intelligence status to yourself, what are you looking for?" Duke asked, canting one hip to the side in a flagrant display of suggestiveness. Maybe you're looking for me?
Seto's gaze turned smoldering; banked embers glowing with blue fire. "Someone…interesting," he said thoughtfully. "A good conversationalist; someone who doesn't have to fill up every silence with meaningless words." He gave Duke a rakish grin. "And physical attractiveness wouldn't hurt…"
Duke gave a slow smile. Would you look at that? First flirting, now male bonding.
Seto Kaiba's indulging in actual socialization.
Will wonders never cease?
Two hours later, after six cups of overly-sweet punch – two Seto's, four Duke's – several plates of surprisingly tasty hors d'oeuvres, and numerous intriguing subject changes, the duo was at last able to vacate the party.
Noticing that, despite the intermittent two hours and four cups of punch, Seto was still a little off-kilter, Duke said, "I don't think you should be driving."
"Neither do I," Seto agreed. "But since my driver dropped me off, I just planned on calling him and having him come pick me up."
"Well, now, there's no need for that," Duke replied lightly.
"Oh?" Seto slanted him an inscrutable glance.
"I could drive you home," Duke offered.
Seto shook his head, the ghost of a smile on his face. "All right, Romeo."
Snorting, Duke said, "Romeo, am I?" He fished around in his pocket for his keys, leading the way through the darkened sidewalk to the parking lot.
"Seems like it to me," Seto replied, following in his wake.
Duke shrugged and headed down one aisle of parked cars. "I prefer Don Juan – he didn't commit suicide."
"No, just slept with half the women in Spain," Seto countered.
"Good for him," Duke joked.
"So you're in the habit of changing koibitos as often as most people change socks, then?" Seto asked.
"Not really," Duke replied, unlocking the doors with the press of a button. "Why? You worried?"
"Should I be?" Seto asked, seating himself in the passenger seat.
"I wouldn't be," Duke replied, ducking inside the car and closing the door after him. He flashed Seto a coy glance. "When something interests me, I tend to stick with it for a good long time."
"Then I will endeavor not to become boring," Seto replied dryly. Locking his seatbelt into place, he sat back in the leather seat and smiled enigmatically at the other boy.
A quick grin passing over his own lips, Duke shook his head and turned on the ignition. Revving the engine, he pulled out of the parking lot and headed for the Kaiba mansion as he said teasingly, "I should hope not."
"You didn't have to walk me to the door; I'm not that out of it," Seto protested as the two men made their way up the front walk to the Kaiba mansion.
"Ah, but while I am not always a gentleman, I do strive to support the dying art of chivalry," Duke replied, waving one finger at the CEO. "And besides, for once – despite how much I hate those parties – I don't want the evening to end so soon."
"Really?" Seto asked curiously, inching over incrementally closer to the other as they walked.
Duke mentally smiled at the obviously unconscious action. Hmm… It shouldn't surprise me that he's so amazed by someone wanting to spend time with him, he thought. Hell, it isn't like before tonight I ever went out of my way to do so. But when he discards the Ice Prince act, Seto is actually a very…interesting and complex – not mention complicated – person.
"I must warn you, however," Duke started as they neared the front door.
"Yes?" Seto quirked one eyebrow in question.
"I make it a practice never to kiss on the first date," Duke said haughtily.
Surprise chased amusement over Seto's face. A canny smile curving his lips, the brunet pointed out, "But this isn't a date. Technically you could consider this a pick-up, actually – we met at a party and you came home with me."
Tilting his head to the side in an exaggerated show of consideration, Duke mused, "True…"
"So since this isn't a date, that means your rule doesn't apply," Seto said smugly, a smile lurking around his lips.
Duke smirked. "Not like I'm one for following the rules anyway," he said, coming to a stop at the front door.
"No?" Seto asked teasingly.
Here goes nothing – or everything. "More like breaking them," Duke said. Reaching out, he slipped his hand around the back of Seto's neck, drawing the CEO's mouth to meet his.
Seto came along willingly, which, regardless of the fact that they'd been conversing civilly for most of the evening and flirting rather heavily for the past half hour or so, still managed to surprise him.
As did the intensity of the kiss.
Despite the fact that they hadn't even really talked to each other before tonight, let alone kissed each other, it was not a tentative first kiss. No awkward fumbling to keep noses from bumping. From the initial touch of Duke's lips on Seto's, it was as if they'd been born to kiss one another, Seto's lips fashioned specifically to fit his. Fire leapt between them in a blaze of passion, flaring hot and bright. Seto's tongue speared into Duke's mouth to dance with his, sending shockwaves reverberating through them both.
Duke moaned, drawing Seto closer, his hand delving into dark hair to hold the other near. He was stunned by the ardent zeal Seto put into the kiss. Who knew that beneath that ice-cold, aloof exterior lurked such a fiery passion?
Well…he did, now.
Finally, lack of breath drove them apart. Reluctantly, on both their parts. Standing there, arms wrapped around each other, they panted, sharing the same breath with each exhalation.
All Duke could think of to say was, "Wow."
Seto quirked a grin. "So, when do you want to go on our first date?"
"Huh?" Duke asked, not quite having attained his faculties again.
"I was thinking something short," Seto continued. "And immediately followed by our second date." One tawny eyebrow arched in inquiry.
Duke smiled, a soft genuine smile. Seto Kaiba… Man, you're just full of surprises tonight, aren't you? "Sounds good," he allowed. He poked the other on the chest, grinning. "But you're buying, Mr. Moneybags."
"But of course," Seto agreed with a smirk.
Duke laughed and pulled Seto down for another kiss. Maybe business dinners aren't all bad after all…