Warnings: shounen-ai (boys kissing boys, etc...); semi-frequent cussing/swearing, mentions of abuse; AU
Pairings: Seto/Jou; Honda/Otogi;
Disclaimer: I do not own Yu-gi-oh, or any of its characters and ideas.
Chapter 17: Taking the Bull by the Horns
Life is too short to be lying around depressed when you could be doing something instead and nothing is so hopeless that you can't overcome it eventually. Even if you fall off the horse (break a few bones, get kicked and stomped on by the horse and its friends until you're bloody, bruised and broken, and perhaps crapped on just to add insult to injury), you should just get right back on that damn horse, whip it back into line and keep going.
This was what Katsuya believed. No matter what happened – and he'd been through a lot in his short life – he never stayed down for long. There was always something in him commanding him to get up, to move, to fight through to the end. Even when life became so difficult that it felt like he was drowning in the bitter pain… somehow, maybe through sheer obstinacy, he would find that ever present flicker of strength and hope within him, grab on to it, and let it take him back out into the light.
So it was in this way he finally overcame the feelings of dejection caused recently by both his father and Kaiba Seto. That morning, Katsuya blinked open his eyes after the first good sleep he'd had in awhile and found himself feeling refreshed and clearheaded. It was still quite early, he surmised as he listened to Hiroto's steady, even breaths from the bed beside him. But he didn't feel like lying down any longer. Instead, Katsuya quietly slipped off the futon he'd been using while staying at the Hondas' apartment and trudged to the bathroom to empty his bladder. Afterwards, he splashed some water on his face at the sink and looked up into the mirror, a little surprised to find that not much had changed in his appearance despite all that had happened recently. There was only a little less color in his cheeks and a slightly bruised look about his eyes from lack of sleep. There had been a lot of nightmares and restless nights…
When he returned to the bedroom, he found Hiroto sitting up in bed looking groggily back at him. His hair, lacking its usual gel, was disheveled from its usual perfected shape, giving him a younger, slightly roguish appearance. His questioning, hazel eyes met Katsuya's and for a moment they just gazed at one another silently but with an understanding that would make many a person envious. Then Katsuya felt his lips twitch and saw the reaction mirrored with relief by his friend. Small smiles grew and slowly widened into matching grins that said more than any spoken words could have.
In a sudden rush of energy, Katsuya bounded over to the bed and pounced with a yell. Hiroto was quick to retaliate and it turned into the usual roughhousing they were so fond off. The two teens were quite evenly matched in a fight – Hiroto was a bit bigger and physically stronger, but Katsuya was quick, agile and not easily brought down even with his slighter stature. The bed shook and groaned as the boys grappled with each other and shouted taunts until they were brought to a sudden halt by Hiroto's father shouting through the door for them to 'shut-up! It's quarter-to-six in the friggen morning and decent people are trying to get their sleep before they go off to work!'
The boys froze, panting heavily. Katsuya groaned as he felt the other's knee digging into his back and complained as best he could with his head trapped in an uncomfortable headlock. "Get off! Yer heavy, man!"
Hiroto laughed and let go, rolling away to allow the blond to sit up. The sheets were a tangled mess by this point. Katsuya grumbled and pushed himself up, shifting until he found a comfortable place to sit on the mattress. When he raised his eyes, he found Hiroto watching him with a more sober expression.
"It's good to see your smile again," said Hiroto quietly.
"Yeah," he agreed, "Sorry I worried you."
"Don't be. I know how upset you were by… it all."
Katsuya only nodded and flopped onto his back to stare up at the ceiling. He gripped the bed sheets between his fingers and tried to imagine what the future might bring now that both his father and Seto were out of his life. A twinge of pain at the thought made him realize that it might not be so easy to just put this all behind him. But he had to try. If he couldn't forget Seto, then he at least had to bury the selfish bastard in the very back of his mind where he could not hurt him anymore. Katsuya closed his eyes lightly with a sigh. "I've gotta be stronger, Honda."
"I think you already are," Hiroto replied sincerely. "You've come through a lot and you've survived. I don't know how much stronger someone can get."
The image of hardened, blue eyes like shards of ice taunted him in the darkness behind his eyelids. "Kaiba has more strength than anyone. He doesn't let his emotions get to him." No matter how much I wish he would…
"You think that's what strength is?" The brunet sounded surprised.
Katsuya opened one eye to glance at his friend, catching the skeptical look. "Isn't it? Look at me. I bawl my fucking eyes out whenever someone stomps on my heart, but I bet the last time he shed a tear was before he was adopted! He doesn't let anything faze 'im!"
Hiroto scoffed at this. "That isn't strength, Jou; that's just completely messed up. People like him are fucked up inside. You don't want to be like that. Kaiba's like… like a machine. He just keeps working to climb to the top without caring who he has to step on to get there. And one day he's going to break down and there'll be no one there to fix him. You know he hasn't a single friend, or even someone he can trust aside from his brother. It's just… pathetic, really."
There was a lot of truth in what Hiroto said, and yet it wasn't completely right. The time spent in the young CEO's presence had taught Katsuya that there was more to Seto than he let on. If he had learned anything, it was that Seto was very much a human being. He had nightmares and fears, and could show happiness in his own way (if one looked very, very closely and knew how to see it). He'd been able to comfort Katsuya when he'd needed it, and would give in to small things like sleeping in for an extra half hour in the morning, or going for lunch in the park even when he'd prefer to be working. And he'd shown Katsuya his smile, and had held him and kissed him and said…
'I love you…'
Aw fuck. This was not the way to put it behind him. He had to be strong. Had to forget. If he kept thinking these thoughts, he'd only be hurt more and more. It was time to move on.
"You're right, Hond'. It's pathetic. I don't need an asshole like him in my life, and I don't need my old man either! It's stupid to care about people like them. I gotta quit being so fucking dependent." That's right. He depended way too much on other people. Back in his gang days, he'd had to rely more on himself to survive the streets. Although, even then he'd had Hiroto; but it was just the two of them and no one else. Now, there were just too many others that had the ability to hurt him. "Maybe I should just stop caring about other people," he muttered darkly, half to himself.
"Stop caring? Even about me?" The brunet's tone was difficult to read, but he obviously didn't agree with this suggestion.
"Nah, not you. But…" Like he could ever turn his back on his best friend. That would just be impossible and more painful than anything he could imagine.
"But Yugi, then? You don't want to be there for him anymore after you've been so set on protecting him all these years?"
"Ah, well, no…"
"And what about everyone else? Anzu? Ryou? Otogi? You'd just forget them all, would you?"
"Maybe Otogi…" Katsuya said thoughtfully, before grinning at the fierce glare he received. "Just kidding!" For the most part, anyway. He still wasn't completely warmed up to the one who'd stuck him in a dog suit in the past, but he was learning to.
The blond sighed and rolled his eyes. "Fine. I won't stop caring, then. Happy?"
"Extremely," replied Hiroto dryly. "You just wouldn't be you if you didn't wear your heart on your sleeve.
"Whatever." It would have been too much effort to change that drastically anyway. Pushing himself up, he swung an arm over Hiroto's shoulders. "But you better be there when I start crying like a baby again over some stupid crap."
"You couldn't chase me off even if you tried." Hiroto grinned, shoving Katsuya over again.
Laughing, Katsuya dug himself further into the bed sheets, finally feeling the chill of the morning. He glanced around for the alarm clock, but it was too far from him to read. "What time's it, anyway?"
"Uh…" The other looked behind him at the clock. "Just after six-thirty."
"Ugh, so early." He curled up further on the bed, wincing at the thought. How the heck had he woken up so damn early by himself? Probably had gotten too used to it living with Seto… Stupid workaholic. But… Katsuya frowned as he realized he'd actually miss hearing Seto's voice try to coax him awake in the mornings. It just wasn't fair. "I'm going back to sleep."
"Good idea," Hiroto agreed, laying on his side and putting his head tiredly on the pillow. Katsuya was curled up at the foot of the bed, by the brunet's feet. "A few more hours wouldn't hurt. But let's do something fun later."
"Yeah, sure." The last few days had been mainly spent in the apartment, Katsuya being too depressed to do much. But he was ready to face the world again. At least, he was fairly sure of that. He wondered, however, if those vulture-like reporters were waiting somewhere to attack him. His last encounter with them had not been fun at all. They had been very loud and insistent with their questions and tape recorders; trying to pry some information about his and Seto's situation. While it could have been a great chance to take a bit of revenge on the CEO, Katsuya was (unfortunately) much too honorable to resort to such low tactics. He wished he was hateful enough to let slip a few secrets that could have helped Seto share the pain he was feeling, but at the same time he knew it wasn't even an option he would consider. Of course, he did take some pleasure in imagining how much more the reporters and public were probably harassing Seto at this moment. The bastard deserved it.
Katsuya scowled a little, then let out an exasperated sigh and tried to relax. He needed to stop thinking about all that. The sooner he put it out of his mind, the sooner things could get back to normal around him. Well, as close to normal as it could be anyway. Instead, he started planning activities they could do later that day and slowly his mind began to drift until finally he found sleep again.
He gazed out from his bedroom window at the gardens below, his eyes fixed on the dark water of the koi pond where he and Katsuya had shared their first mutual kiss. Gods, that seemed like ages ago. But even now he could recall the overwhelming rush of emotions when their lips had finally met. It had been wonderful and liberating and so very terrifying, and now all he could wonder was whether or not he would ever get to feel that again.
Wearily, Seto leaned against the windowsill and tried not to let all of the worries about the morning invade his mind. It was impossible not to think about it though. Too many things that could go wrong and the probability that it would work out in his favor was depressingly low. He smirked faintly, pondering where his usual confidence had fled to. That damned mutt was too unpredictable; how could Seto possibly be one hundred percent sure about the results when he hadn't the faintest clue how Katsuya was going to react? In any case, despite how unsettled it left him, he would just have to go through with his plan and hope for the best. Of course, he was not about to leave it entirely up to luck (that was Katsuya's forte, not his), which was why he had already added every precaution he could think of; including enlisting the aid of that shrimp, Yugi. At the very least, if things did not go as planned (god-forbid), nobody could claim he had not tried his hardest to make it otherwise.
But, damn, he hated not being completely secure about the outcome.
Somewhere behind him, a lamp flickered on, its glow chasing some of the darkness from the room. A soft yawn and groan were heard, accompanied by the rustle of bed sheets. And then his brother's sleepy voice softly called out, "Nii-sama? Did you get some sleep?"
Seto's expression relaxed a bit. At least he had one ally who had enough confidence in their plans for an entire army of people. He didn't know what he would have done without Mokuba's encouragement, even if the younger boy had seemed to be going a little overboard with the mothering attitude lately. Not that Seto could really blame him, however. He knew Mokuba was only worried about his big brother's health, since Seto had been frantically working to get everything done with little desire to eat or sleep. But it would soon be over, for better or for worse, and then they could get back to their normal life, whatever that was.
He tore himself from the sparkling pond and turned around, blinking a little as his eyes adjusted to the light. "Yes, a bit. I only got up a quarter of an hour ago," he assured his brother, who was sitting up in Seto's bed, rubbing the sleep from his eyes and still yawning.
"Good." Mokuba smiled and flopped down onto his back again. "How much longer before we have to get ready to go?"
Seto glanced at the clock on the table. "An hour, still." An hour in which he could have been going over everything for the hundredth time to make sure he hadn't missed anything. His fingers twitched with the desire to pull out his laptop, but he had already promised Mokuba that he would spend the last night away from any computers in order to refresh his mind. The younger boy had insisted that there was nothing more Seto could do and any last minute things for the conference could be handled by Kaiba Corp employees. That was what they were hired for, after all.
"I spoke with Yugi again yesterday evening," Mokuba said, filling in the silence. "Jounouchi finally came out of his slump. He went to the arcade with everyone and Yugi said he was laughing again."
A sudden, clear memory came unbidden to mind of Katsuya freely laughing at some dry remark Seto had made about their math teacher one evening. Light and honest, it was the type of laughter that Seto could never make. At the time, he had been merely irritated by it, maybe out of some sense of envy, but now all he wanted was to listen to it again. Even just once more.
Annoyed, he quickly shook away the feeling and asked, "Any more complaints about the press hounding them?"
"No. None. Most of the reporters were cowed by your announcement that any who were caught near Jou or his friends would be banned from the conference. And the few who were stupid enough to ignore it were easily apprehended by the body guards you sent to watch over him."
"And the guards have remained undetected?"
Mokuba grinned. "Of course. I don't even want to imagine what Jou'd do to you if he knew he was being watched, but I bet there'd be a lot of bloodshed involved."
Seto didn't doubt it, but he had deemed it necessary after the first incident. He did not want anything else to happen to the unsuspecting blond. "He won't find out." He sighed and wandered over to the bed, sitting down on the edge of the mattress. Less than an hour. He hated waiting. "I think I am going insane," he muttered.
"Nii-sama, you've always been kind of insane." Mokuba snickered.
Throwing a half-hearted scowl over his shoulder, Seto persisted, "More so, then."
"Nah. In my opinion, falling in love means you're actually human."
"Who said anything about 'falling in love'?" Seto snapped.
But Mokuba ignored him. "I think this is the first time you've really shown this level of interest in someone. While I love you for the way you've always worked so hard to ensure that I'd have a good future, I'm very happy now that you are finally being a little selfish for your own sake."
Seto didn't know quite how to respond to that, so he just kept his mouth shut. As always, Mokuba surprised him with his words of wisdom.
"Anyway," Mokuba continued, "I have faith in you. I always have. It'll work out for you and Jounouchi in the end, so please try to relax."
At this point he realized his hands were clasped so tightly in his lap that his knuckles were white. Taking Mokuba's words to heart, he quickly pulled his hands apart and placed them on the mattress at his sides. But he couldn't help but look at the clock again. Half an hour. The clouds outside had turned a brilliant shade of pink and orange as the day began to dawn.
"What would you say to just leaving right now and taking my jet to escape this mess I've gotten myself into? I will even let you choose the country."
"I would say that you are no longer my brother because I'd have to disown you for being a coward." Mokuba giggled, tossing a pillow at Seto's back. "You're such a kidder!"
With a mental sigh of disappointment, Seto reluctantly let the idea go. He hadn't been completely kidding. But Mokuba was right; that was the coward's way out. And he was definitely not that. "Then remind me again why I'm about to risk my company for an idiotic proletariat who specifically ordered me never to go near him again."
"Do I have to?" Mokuba playfully whined, but at the same time shifted closer to his brother. "I think your fans would die of shock if they ever realized how insecure you can really be."
"Mokuba…" He growled impatiently.
"Oh, alright." The younger boy sighed. "It goes like this: You're in love…"
He was dreaming. In the back of his mind he knew that, and yet at the same time it felt so real and beautiful that he could not imagine living any other life outside of this dream world. He was running through a lush garden, weaving easily through the familiar territory he had come to know so well over the past three years. The garden was his favorite place. It was special to him; full of rich scents, lively sounds and vibrant colors – such a different world from the surrounding hot, dry desert. He came here almost every day to explore or relax, or even to seek some respite from the constant demands of the people who owned him. Now as he pushed past the drooping leaves of a Jujube, he did not stop to check for ripened fruit as he normally did, too busy seeking out a certain person he knew who shared his love for wandering the garden. A moment later, he spotted him standing under a large pomegranate tree, face raised to look up at the leafy canopy above. He paused for a minute to secretly watch the man he'd been looking for. The tall, priest dressed all in blue and gold and white, appeared so majestic and otherworldly as he stood with the dappled sunlight playing across his sharp features. And then, somehow sensing he was not alone, the man's eyes flickered in his direction – eyes that sparkled like the glittering sea and reminded him of the icy-cold mountain streams of a home that he had not seen since he was brought to this desert palace where the heat and dust constantly choked his throat and stung his skin. He knew that if it were not for this proud man with the soul-shattering, azure eyes, he would have dried up in this place long ago until he were nothing but an empty husk to be blown away by the scorching wind.
His priest finally turned to him with an amused smile. "You found me, my love. Were you searching for long?"
Like every day they were together, he thought his heart would burst with the happiness and love that swelled within it. He took a step forward, reaching to take the hand of the person who owned his heart and soul. "I would have searched all my life for you."
Gradually the garden and the two lovers faded away to blackness. As always, Katsuya awoke from the dream with a lingering ache in his chest and some deep sense of sorrow and loneliness. He did not open his eyes right away. This was not the first time he'd had such a dream; in fact, as of late he'd been having similar ones fairly frequently. A palace in the desert; a blue-eyed priest who reminded him all too much of a certain CEO he'd been trying hard to forget about. He hated them especially for the way they left him missing Seto's sharp gaze and warm touch.
He wasn't sure how long he lay there pondering the dream and his own situation before some noise intruded upon his thoughts and made him aware that he wasn't the only one awake. Last night, Yugi had invited Katsuya, Hiroto and Anzu to sleep over at his house, and of course everyone had agreed. They had spent the evening dueling, playing board games, and eating junk food. Now, Katsuya could hear the others whispering nearby, and it sounded like they were arguing. Strange. They were obviously trying not to wake him, so it was difficult to make out everything they were whispering, but a bit of the argument reached him whenever one of his friends got too excited and raised their voice a little.
"…What were you thinking?!" Hiroto sounded very agitated. There was a reply, but it was too low to understand. Then Hiroto again: "No! That asshole's done enough to him! I won't let him…"
Katsuya frowned. Somehow, he had the feeling that he was the subject of their disagreement, and Hiroto was in protective mode again, which meant they must also be talking about either his father or Seto. Well, whatever was going on, he had the right to be involved. Opening his eyes, he blinked against the light and quietly began to sit up. Hiroto, Anzu and Yugi were sitting nearby, but had not yet noticed Katsuya watching them. From what he could see, it was mainly Yugi and Hiroto who were arguing while the girl looked on with worried indecisiveness.
Opening his mouth, he was about to butt in and demand an explanation, when movement from the corner of his eye turned his attention to the TV instead. It had been switched on to the news channel where currently a female reporter was speaking. The volume was fairly low, but Katsuya's sharp ears caught mention of a certain name and suddenly he couldn't focus on anything else.
"We are now going to go to Kaiba Corporation for a live conference where the world-renowned creator of the holographic duel disk system, Kaiba Seto, will comment on the rumors currently being spread about his alleged relationship with another male top duelist. Hanako, over to you."
He didn't know when he'd moved, but suddenly he was kneeling, frozen, directly in front of the TV screen. Hardly daring to even breathe, Katsuya stared with wide eyes as the scene changed to a crowded conference room. Behind the platform, in front of which a pack of eager reporters sat waiting, was the giant, silver KC logo that he knew all too well. This was the first he had heard of the press conference. Why hadn't anyone thought to mention it to him? Of course, he had been stubbornly avoiding any mention of Seto or Kaiba Corp, but still…
"Ah! Jou-kun, you're awake?"
Katsuya barely heard his friends as they hovered around him. On the TV, the reporters had gone silent as the young CEO himself strode confidently across the platform, followed by his brother and a few other men in business suits. This couldn't be real. Seto could not be going up there right now to discuss their disastrous, so-called relationship! Already, Katsuya could feel the humiliation rising as he imagined what Seto would say about him.
'That third-rate loser threw himself at me. Just some maniac fanboy who was desperate for a taste of the greatness he, himself, could never obtain.'
Seto would deny there was ever anything between them. Honestly, Katsuya could not blame him. After all, Seto had to look out for Mokuba and his company. It still hurt, though. Inside, Katsuya could feel his heart breaking into little pieces as he watched in resigned horror while Seto formally greeted the press. The tall CEO appeared as self-assured and commanding as ever. His smirk never wavered and his piercing gaze did not miss a single person. And yet… when the camera zoomed in close to Seto's face, Katsuya was a bit startled to notice little thin lines on his forehead that he was sure had never been there before, and slight shadows under those expressionless eyes that reminded Katsuya of his own restless nights. But no one else commented on it, and so Katsuya decided he was only imagining it.
Then, finally, Seto broached the subject that everyone had been waiting in so much anticipation for.
"As you are all aware, last Friday, a questionable photo was released for the public to view; in direct violation of my privacy, I might add. I would first like to state that the photographer has been severely dealt with and is guaranteed never to find work in the news business again. Now, on to what we are all here for. The photo."
With a wince, Katsuya realized this was it. After this moment, there'd be no going back to how things were between Seto and him, either before or after they were leashed together. Somehow, deep down, there had still been a spark of hope that Seto would come looking for him again to apologize, but that hope was about to be snuffed for good. Katsuya knew he would never be able to forgive Seto for doing this to him – to them.
"I will not deny the photo is authentic. It was not doctored in any way."
This information caused a bit of a stir. Some people were probably expecting him to claim the photo was entirely fake. Sharp blue eyes swept across the room, not missing a single face.
"I know what you are all waiting for. Verification. I know of every rumor that has been spread; every speculation; everything that you people have made of that photo. Now you are all here this morning to hear what I have to say about it – some out of mere curiosity, perhaps, but the majority to see how this will affect Kaiba Corporation and my standing as a top duelist."
"Come on, get to the fucking point," Katsuya muttered tensely, hating how his torture was being prolonged.
And then without warning, Seto's smirk vanished and he glared out over the crowed with a severe expression. "But I am not here today for your benefit. You may listen and do what you may with what you hear; however, my words are meant for one person alone: the other man in the photo."
Seto turned his head slightly and all of a sudden Katsuya found himself forgetting how to breathe as those unforgettable sapphire eyes gazed directly at the camera and appeared to see straight through it to where Katsuya was sitting in Yugi's living room. It didn't seem possible that Seto could know which news station they were watching, and yet when he spoke again, his eyes did not waver from that spot. Katsuya could feel the intensity of that stare even through the television, and it sent a shiver up his spine. With his heart beating a mile a minute, Katsuya tried to focus on what the CEO was saying.
"I have always been ruthless as a businessman. I am well aware of what people call me when they think I am not listening. Coldhearted. Cruel. Frigid. But it is all trivial. As CEO of such a large, demanding corporation, I have no option but to be unyielding. If I show the barest hint of a flaw, there are a thousand bloodthirsty corporate sharks just waiting to tear me to pieces. It is impossible to change that. But recently I have come to realize that that does not have to be all there is. A certain person, who somehow managed to wriggle his way in to my home and heart in spite of everything, has taught me that there can be more to life than duels and business. And he showed me what it is like to care for someone beyond my family and my corporation."
"Not me. He's not talking about me," Katsuya whispered shakily, unable to believe what Seto was doing. He felt lightheaded and wondered if he was still dreaming.
"Yes, he is." At some point Yugi had moved to his side. Now he wrapped his arms around Katsuya's side and said quietly, "He's looking at you, he's speaking to you. Just listen to him, Jou-kun."
"But I hurt him. I felt he was a weakness to me, so of course it was only logical that I needed to be rid of him."
Oh god. It hurt to hear that. Katsuya hugged himself and leaned further against Yugi as he unwillingly recalled the night the cursed leash had let them go. 'I was just a weakness he needed to be rid of. I see… But it was so cruel of him.' He wanted to reach out and slam the power button before Seto could say anything else to remind him of the pain, but he couldn't. He was frozen and couldn't look away from Seto's eyes.
"I am now going to make an impossibly difficult admission. Here it goes: I was wrong.'
"Wrong? Huh?" Was Seto apologizing? On television? What in the world was going on?
"I was wrong. I still need you."
Katsuya slowly began to shake. Why? Why?
"I know. I am being selfish again. I don't care, though. I want you back in my arms where I can hold you and protect you. I am standing here, in front of all these people, to tell you that I will do anything if only you will forgive me and speak to me again."
"Why?" Katsuya whimpered. He was just a weakness. A proletariat. A nobody. What use was he to Seto? And yet, he felt a warmth in his chest at Seto's words. The flicker of hope was growing, becoming stronger, and he almost dared to believe that Seto was telling the truth.
"The night I screwed up everything, those words that I said to you before the phone call from Mokuba, I meant them. I meant them with all my heart. I will say them again to you, as many times as you need me to. I would like to see you again. Meet me by our koi pond. I will wait there until you show up. I'll be there, I promise. That is all." Seto nodded his head to the camera, and then turned and walked off the stage without another word to the stunned audience.
Once around the corner and out of sight where nobody could see the mask of indifference slip, Seto leaned back against a wall and closed his eyes. He focused on trying to get his racing heartbeat back to normal. It felt strange to be so shook up to the point he was actually trembling. To go up, knowing most of Japan was watching, including his competition, and spill his heart to Katsuya like that had taken more courage than he'd thought it would. Seto only hoped that Yugi had been successful in getting Katsuya to watch the correct news channel, otherwise everything he said would have been a waste.
Taking a deep breath, he held it in for a moment before exhaling slowly, feeling himself begin to calm down. Nothing else he could do. The ball was in Katsuya's court and whether the unpredictable puppy would forgive him or not was anyone's guess. Hearing footsteps approach, Seto opened his eyes and stepped away from the wall, straightening his coat as he turned down the hall. Time to head over to the pond in his gardens and wait to see if Katsuya would come. Somehow, he had the feeling it was going to be a long wait.
"He's lying! He's gotta be. I'm not fallin' for his stupid lines again! He already made a fool of me once an' I won't let him do it again, damn it!" Katsuya fumed, chucking a pillow at the couch.
"But, Jou-kun! Why would he lie now?" Yugi argued, placing himself in front of the growling blond. "I mean, he went on National TV to declare his love to you! What would he have to gain by lying about it?"
"Humiliating Jou, for starters," said Hiroto, coming to stand beside the blond. "And I don't know about you, but I didn't hear anything about love coming out of his mouth."
Katsuya was nodding his head while squeezing another pillow tightly in his fists. "Yeah, he's never hesitated to humiliate me before! There's no way I can trust him now! I can't!"
"Do you know what he risked by saying what he did in front of the media?! How could you doubt him after what he just did? Jou-kun, just think about it!" Yugi was glaring up at his best friend fiercely, fists clenched and his face turning red with frustration.
Anzu just sighed wearily as she watched the boys bicker from her seat on the armchair. It was painful to see them like this, but she knew better than to butt in until they'd calmed down at least a little. They wouldn't listen, otherwise. Of course, she was with Yugi as far as her opinion about Seto's intentions went. Kaiba Seto was not the sort of man to risk his entire future, not to mention Mokuba's, merely to degrade Katsuya some more. If he was willing to tell the world that he needed another person, then it must be pure truth. But then again, she could see Katsuya's side of things as well. Over the years she'd come to understand the extent of the blond's trust issues, and after what Seto had done, she couldn't blame Katsuya for being suspicious now.
Katsuya had just sat down on the couch, his arms crossed, and his expression stubborn. He shouted, "No! I'm not gonna go. The bastard can rot, for all I care!"
"Argh! You're impossible!" Yugi shouted back. But Anzu could tell he was at a loss as to how to convince his friend to go meet with Seto. Finally, his face fell and he pouted somewhat resignedly. "Fine. I'm going to get our breakfast. Maybe once you've eaten you'll be able think more clearly and will change your mind." He stomped out of the living room, followed only by Katsuya's glare.
Katsuya didn't change his mind, however. They had breakfast, played Duel Monsters, some Wii games, and then dueled some more. The tension between the boys was palpable, and they played the card game almost silently for once. Even Anzu couldn't get them to cheer up at all. To make matters worse, the sky outside, which had been clear that morning, had turned dark with thick, black storm clouds. By noon, the rain was pouring down by the bucketful, accompanied by the occasional rumble of thunder. Listening to the pounding of the rain on the roof, Anzu wondered if Seto was still waiting where he'd asked Katsuya to meet him. Nobody else would stay out in this weather, but it was Kaiba Seto, one of the most willful men on the planet. The thought of the prideful duelist sitting alone, wet and cold somewhere, waiting for someone who didn't even seem likely to show up, was kind of sad. She leant her chin on her arms, pretending to watch the current duel between Yugi and Hiroto, but secretly keeping an eye on Katsuya who seemed to be following the game only halfheartedly, as if his mind were somewhere else and it didn't take a genius to guess where. Every few minutes, he'd glance out the window with a small, worried grimace. It was not difficult to guess he was thinking the same about Seto out in the rain.
Katsuya's concerned, Anzu thought with some amusement while watching his profile through her eyelashes. He would not be this worried if he didn't still have some feelings for Kaiba Seto. No matter how tough Katsuya tried to act, he was not the type of person who could cut someone off from his heart so easily. And now, he was only hurting himself more by denying his desire to go see Seto.
Anzu mentally rolled her eyes. Boys were so stupid when it came to matters of the heart. They had too much pride. She looked at the clock just as it turned one o'clock. It had been about six hours since Seto had left the conference. Six hours… A long time to wait. Unable to stand everyone's inaction any longer, she placed her hands on the table and pushed herself up. Feeling determined, she wrapped her hand around Hiroto's arm and said in a tone that brooked no argument, "I need to talk to you in privacy, please."
Hiroto was surprised, but he nodded silently and followed her out of the room, leaving Yugi and Katsuya to continue the game. Once in the kitchen, he pulled away from Anzu's grip and turned to face her. "What do you want to talk about?" He looked like he already knew the answer, though.
"Jounouchi needs to see Kaiba," she began, not one to beat about the bush. "Don't tell me you haven't noticed how he keeps looking out the window. And he's barely said two words since this morning. If he doesn't go to meet Kaiba, he's just going to keep wondering and hurting. I know you don't trust Kaiba, either, but…"
"No, you're right." Hiroto sighed and leaned back against the kitchen counter, arms folded over his chest. He looked down at the floor, apparently thinking the matter over. "I hate to admit it, but he does seem unable to let that ass go. I don't understand it, after all Kaiba's done, but I guess Jou sees something in him that I don't."
Anzu nodded. "Exactly. But he's too stubborn to go to Kaiba's place on his own now."
"So you want me to talk to him, right?" Hiroto guessed wryly.
"Well, out of all his friends, you're the one he's most likely to listen to. It's quite obvious that he cares a lot about you what you think." Anzu smiled. She had always loved witnessing the exceptionally steadfast friendship between Hiroto and Katsuya. Their bond made her think of the bond between Yugi and Atemu; the kind that would last through the ages without weakening.
Hiroto exhaled noisily and scrubbed a hand though his gelled hair. "Okay, okay. But only 'cause I can't stand to see him so troubled. I doubt Kaiba'll still be out there, though."
"But Jounouchi won't know for sure until he goes to see for himself, will he?"
The rain still had not let up. Water was streaming down the panes of glass and forming puddles on the window sill. Katsuya could not stop himself from looking out at the grey sky every few minutes, thinking about how miserable it would be to be outside right now. Of course, these thoughts had nothing to do with Seto. That guy had most likely left to take shelter in his extravagant mansion at the first sign of bad weather – if he'd kept his word and had been waiting at the spot by the pond in the first place, which Katsuya couldn't help but doubt.
"Jou-kun? It's your move."
"Eh?" Katsuya turned his head to Yugi, and then blinked in realization. "Oh, right. Sorry." He drew a card, and placed it down without thinking. For a moment he stared down at it, wondering when he'd added it to his deck, before remembering that he was using Hiroto's until the brunet returned to the game. "Um, I play Thunder Kid in defense mode." The poor thing didn't stand a chance against Gaia the Fierce Knight, the monster currently out on Yugi's side of the field.
A rumble of distant thunder distracted him again, and unconsciously he found eyes drawn to the window for what seemed the hundredth time that day. He couldn't help it. For some reason, a gnawing sense of guilt kept growing stronger. But Seto would not still be out there. He was too self-important, not to mention impatient, to sit out in the rain waiting for a nobody mutt like Katsuya. The thought was almost laughable. Nevertheless, Katsuya chewed on his lower lip, wishing he really could laugh right now. Even though he was ninety-nine percent positive that Seto was safe and dry, probably drinking hot coffee and working away in his office as usual, it was the one percent uncertainty that bugged Katsuya the most. After all, while the workaholic CEO normally loved routine, he could also be completely unpredictable when it was least expected.
Again, Yugi's voice interrupted his brooding. "You're thinking about Kaiba, aren't you?"
"What? I'm not!" Katsuya quickly denied. "I… I just… uh, hate the rain, s'all."
The shorter duelist shook his head and said reprovingly, "Or maybe you're feeling bad about standing him up."
Katsuya snorted and glared at the cards in his hand. "Like I care. I'm over him. 'Sides, he deserves it."
"I don't understand why you can't at least go talk to him. Just hear him out."
"No, I… I can't." I'm too much of a coward, he added in his mind. I'm scared he won't be there. I'm terrified he's just setting me up to laugh in my face. But he could not say any of that out loud.
Hiroto and Anzu came back into the room right then, saving Katsuya from listening to any more of Yugi's guilt trip for the moment. But instead of taking back his place at the table, Hiroto went to stand behind Katsuya. He gripped Katsuya's shoulders and pulled the bemused teen up out of the chair.
"H-hey! Hond', what…?" His protests were quickly cut off when he caught sight of Hiroto's serious expression.
"Get your coat on, Jou. Go meet Kaiba."
"But… but, he won't even be there!" Katsuya voiced his fear, knowing Hiroto would recognize it and understand.
Hiroto smiled a little, keeping their gazes locked. He said, "Maybe. But unless you go there and check for yourself, you'll always wonder about the slight possibility that he really did keep his promise to be there, waiting for you. I know you too well. It'll hang over your head and you'll let the guilt eat at you until the day you die. So do both of us a favor and just go."
"And if he's not there…?" Katsuya asked in a whisper.
"Then at least you know for certain that it's over and you can let him go. But, if he is there…"
If he is there…? Katsuya swallowed hard, not wanting to let himself give in to hope yet. Slowly, he nodded. "Okay. Okay, I'll go. But, wait here for me, 'kay? I might need you." Hiroto was right that he'd be able to let go once he realized that Seto truly was out of reach forever, but that didn't mean it wouldn't still hurt for a while yet.
Quickly, not letting himself stop to think it over anymore, Katsuya grabbed his coat, runners and an umbrella and shot out the door. He ran down the street as fast as he could go. The pounding of his shoes on the pavement was dampened by the rain, and within minutes the bottom of his jeans became soaked from all the puddles he splashed through. The umbrella only kept his head dry, but he ignored the cold rain water seeping through his clothes. His mind was focused only on reaching the Kaiba property. Once, he slipped on some mud and almost found himself on the ground, but managed to catch his balance just in time. As he skidded around the last corner and passed through the open iron gate, he didn't stop to wonder why no security guard barred his way.
Finally. Finally. He paused at the top of the hill that led down the small koi pond. The blood was pounding in his head and he was gasping loudly for air, but still he managed to look wildly down at the place where Seto had asked to meet him. Where he'd promised he'd be waiting. At first, the area appeared deserted. Able to breathe more easily now, Katsuya stared hard at the pond which was in continuous motion from the ripples caused by the rain. Nobody there. But, before he could feel the bitter stab of disappointment, he noticed something white peeping through the drooping branches of an oak tree, and suddenly he remembered the bench where he and Seto had rested that day when they had come here for the first time.
Katsuya's heart began to speed up, and at the same time his mind began to protest that it couldn't possibly be Kaiba Seto down there. It was too wet and cold; surely the idiot would have gone inside the house a long time ago. It's not him, it's not… Katsuya's right foot lifted and took him a step forward. He won't be there. It's something else. Another step. And all of a sudden he was slipping and sliding down the wet, grassy slope, desperate to prove his doubts wrong.
And then he was in front of the bench, only a foot away, staring down in disbelief at the slim brunet sitting primly on the wet bench under a large, white umbrella. Shocked blue eyes came up to meet his own, and the two men looked at each other in utter silence. Seto. It was really him. He was still in the same outfit that he'd worn that morning to the conference – black leather pants, black turtleneck, and white trench coat – but now he appeared somewhat less sure of himself with damp bangs hanging in his face and his nose slightly red from the cold.
"Oh," Katsuya finally managed to squeak. He cleared his throat a little, and tried again. "Y-you're here."
Seto, too, seemed to have a little trouble getting his voice to work. When he did speak, he sounded a bit hoarse. "So are you. It took you long enough."
Katsuya rubbed the back of his head, feeling a blush beginning to heat his cheeks. "Ah, well, yanno…"
"You didn't think I'd wait."
"Er, no… not really," he mumbled. "But… but I'm glad you did."
Seto's lips twitched a little at that, before he sighed quietly. "I want very much to jump up and take you into my arms to prove to you how much I have missed you, but I'm afraid that since I grew bored of pacing three hours ago I have been sitting here without moving, and so my legs have lost pretty much all feeling."
'He waited for me in the pouring rain for over six hours.' Katsuya's hands trembled as it suddenly hit him how long Seto had been out here for. "I can't fucking believe you! I… I thought… I mean, you're the one who walked out on me! I should hate you for that. I… I really should. But then you go an' pull something like this! You're a complete bastard, ya know."
Although Seto's expression did not change, Katsuya was taken aback by the amount of emotion clouding the other's eyes. Somehow during the time they'd spent so close together, Katsuya had become more adept at reading his rival duelist's face and actions, and now he could see a definite hint of sorrow, guilt and pain lurking in those sapphire depths. It made it even more difficult still to stay hurt and angry. He clenched his fists, frustrated by his own irresolution.
"I am so sorry, Jounouchi." The words were oddly soft and un-Seto-like and went straight to Katsuya's heart, worming their way deep inside to relieve the constant ache of betrayal and loneliness.
"Ass," he muttered, but at the same time tossed aside his umbrella and took a step forward to fall against Seto, hugging the taller man tightly. Burying his face against Seto's neck and catching his familiar, spicy scent, Katsuya felt suddenly as though he'd just come home. Home? Was this what 'home' felt like? So safe and warm – a place he never wanted to leave.
Seto shifted and pulled Katsuya fully onto his lap, putting his free arm around the blond's back in a firm, much needed hug. Feeling it, Katsuya sniffed and asked against Seto's chilled skin, "Did you really?"
He felt Seto's nose and lips against the top of his head as the brunet answered quietly, "Yes. Painfully so. I had no idea it would hurt so much to lose you. Can you ever forgive me?"
Forgive? Katsuya bit his lip, knowing he'd forgiven the idiot the moment he'd laid eyes on him here. He was not going to let Seto off the hook that easily, though. "I thought… I was just a weakness."
"Not you," Seto explained, tightening his hold around Katsuya, "Never you. It was my feelings for you that I thought made me weak. But… I know now that that's not how it is. You make me stronger, Jounouchi. I…" He trailed off, but Katsuya thought he understood.
Leaning back a little, Katsuya looked into Seto's eyes and said sternly, "I'm still mad that you left me so easily after everything you said."
"I know." Seto closed his eyes briefly, a look of shame breaking through the usual stony expression.
"You… you said you loved me."
Katsuya gulped, but refused to break eye contact. He needed to know, before anything else. "Did you mean it?"
"Yes. I did." Surprisingly there had been no hesitation when Katsuya had been half expecting for Seto to stall.
There was a momentary pause between them while Katsuya tried to decide what to do next. He felt as though he should not give in so easily, but at the same time he was unwilling to let go of Seto again. Sighing a bit in confusion, Katsuya raised a hand and brushed aside Seto's bangs before tracing his fingers down one soft cheek. He couldn't help but admire Seto's perfectly smooth skin. "I can't say the same back, yet. I'm sorry." He did love Seto. He was sure of it more than ever now, but actually saying the words out loud at this point felt impossibly difficult.
"I understand. I will wait patiently until you can."
Katsuya's eyebrows raised in surprise. "You got mad, last time." He clearly remembered the other's reproachful expression the first time Katsuya admitted that he could not verbally return Seto's feelings.
"I wasn't thinking clearly, then." Seto frowned, clearly upset with himself, which caused Katsuya to smile a little. It seemed that Seto was earnest. Maybe there was hope for them after all.
Bringing his face closer to Seto's, Katsuya whispered, "Alright. I'll forgive you, this time. But I need you to promise me something."
"Anything." Seto growled, his eyes suddenly becoming more alive than they had seemed a moment ago.
"Well, obviously we're gonna fight again. Hell, probably every week or more. I'm sure we'll throw insults an' try to hurt each other, maybe throw a few punches or whatever; however, no matter how bad it gets or how angry I make you, you gotta promise you won't turn your back and leave me behind again. I can stand anything but that."
Seto nodded, his expression almost gentle as he listened to Katsuya's request in all seriousness. "You have my word," he said, "I'll never leave you behind. In return, will you allow me to make you a part of my family?"
"Your family?" Katsuya echoed uncertainly. "You mean, live with you? But what about Mokuba? And the law… I'm not eighteen until January."
"Mokuba will be more than happy to have you stay with us, believe me." Katsuya wasn't quite sure how to read Seto's wry smirk, but the brunet then continued, "And don't worry about the law. My lawyers are the best. They can easily keep the legal system tied up in knots until your birthday. In the worst case scenario, I'll have them agree to let you live at Yugi's under the care of his grandfather until you turn eighteen."
"Oh. I see… I… er…" His father had left. His apartment was no longer his to live in. Of course, he could choose to go live with Yugi now, but… Looking into those icy blue depths that he'd missed so much, Katsuya realized that he wouldn't be happy being away from Seto for so long again. Maybe he was just setting himself up for another heartbreak, but for some reason he couldn't make himself care right now. "O-okay."
"Okay?" Seto raised an eyebrow.
Katsuya's face broke into a grin at the other's perturbed look. Despite the frigid air around him, he felt the warmth of happiness filling him up inside as he clarified, "Okay! I'll stay with you!"
Before he could say anything more, Seto smirked and tugged him into a soft, yet demanding kiss. With a sigh of contentment, Katsuya allowed his eyes to fall shut as he felt the other's familiar lips against his own. This was another thing he'd genuinely missed. Whenever they kissed, everything seemed right with the world, as though all of their problems were inconsequential. Slowly the kiss deepened and became more urgent and needy. Tongues met, teeth clashed, and small moans and sighs of desire filled the damp air. Pressed flush against the other's lean body, Katsuya allowed his mouth to be almost devoured entirely. He welcomed the heat of Seto's body more than anything. How had he ever dared to think that he could live without this? Gods… a whimper escaped as Seto took Katsuya's lower lip between his teeth and nipped and sucked on it until Katsuya felt himself shivering with pleasure.
When they parted finally, both flushed and panting, they took a moment to stare heatedly into each other's eyes. Seto smirked, although it seemed different somehow from his usual mocking ways, and whispered possessively, "My puppy."
Katsuya snorted at the nickname and whispered back in some amusement, "My moneybags."
The other's eyebrows came together in a small scowl. "I hate that. Call me 'Seto'"
"Really?" He blinked at the unexpected request. It had never even entered his mind to call Seto by his first name. Somehow, it seemed so… intimate. This was his new family, though… He closed his eyes in some embarrassment. "Um, alright… Seto."
Seto smiled this time. "That's better."
Katsuya did not offer his own first name to be used. The people who called him 'Katsuya' fell on the two extreme ends of the spectrum – they either completely despised him, like his mother and father, or they held a special, unconditional and totally unbreakable love for him that went beyond just 'friends' or 'lovers'. So far, only Shizuka could be placed in that category in his opinion. Perhaps someday he would be able to ask Seto to use 'Katsuya', but for now 'Jounouchi' or 'Jou' or even, once in awhile, 'puppy' would be fine.
"Er, can I ask ya something?" Leaning forward against the brunet's chest again, Katsuya rested his head on the other's shoulder.
"You just did. But I'll let you ask another."
"Jerk. Anyway, aren't ya worried about what you said at the press conference? Is your company going to be in danger 'cause of it?" It was a worrying thought. Katsuya knew he'd feel extremely guilty if anything happened to Kaiba Corp or Mokuba.
To his amazement, however, Seto only chuckled. Combing his fingers through Katsuya's hair, Seto replied, "Don't worry about that. I have a feeling sales are about to hit an all time high."
"Huh?" Katsuya frowned in puzzlement. "I don't get it. I thought…"
"Hm, to put it simply, the majority of Kaiba Corp products are used by children and teenagers under twenty years of age, who depend almost exclusively on their parents for cash to make their purchases. In the typical Japanese family, it is normally the wife who controls the family's finances. So it is the mother whom decides whether or not she will give money to her child to buy something he or she desires. A woman… well, you have a sister. What does she like to read?"
Katsuya frowned, still confused, but answered, "Uh, the usual girly stuff, I guess. Shoujo manga, romance novels, things like that."
"And for movie preference, I suppose she enjoys 'chic flicks' as well?"
"The 'usual girly stuff,' as you put it, seems to have a powerful effect on the hearts of most women. As for my speech at the press conference… well, I believe that may have a lot of similarities to many of those shoujo manga and novels: The hard-hearted business man finally admitting how much he needs back the person who managed to break through his icy exterior. Quite romantic, don't you think? Those women will be falling all over themselves to support me now." Seto snickered again.
Cocky bastard, Katsuya amended silently. "I kinda feel used…" He pouted, making sure to angle his face in such a way that Seto could not miss it.
"Don't," said Seto calmly. "Everything I said was the truth. I was being honest… I do need you. I want you and I am lonely without you."
"Sweet talker," he mumbled jokingly, but he then pressed his lips against Seto's jaw to show how much those words really did mean to him. "Thank you."
They sank into a second kiss, only this time it remained deep and slow. Placing his hands on the other's chest, Katsuya enjoyed the feeling of Seto's heartbeat beneath his palm. This combined with the sound of the rain tapping softly against the umbrella that sheltered them made him feel more at peace with himself than he'd ever felt before and he secretly wished they could stay here like this forever. It was like being in their own little world where nothing bad could intrude. But, knowing they would have to go back and face reality again soon, Katsuya concentrated on committing to memory everything about this moment: the sensation of Seto's tongue and lips entwining with his own; Seto's long, slim fingers gripping his hip possessively; the way their breaths mingled so that they were sharing the same air… Everything. He whimpered unconsciously, and then shivered, which Seto must have felt because he slowly broke their kiss.
"You're cold." A few frown lines appeared between his thin eyebrows.
Katsuya blinked, trying to focus his mind again. He laughed and shook his head at the brunet. "Dumbass. You've been out here since this morning. You must be frozen!"
Smirking now, Seto shrugged. "My coat is fairly warm. But you may have to help me up off this bench."
It took them another few minutes to finally separate, realizing they'd probably get sick if they stayed out much longer. Seto had not been joking about needing help to stand up. Of course, Katsuya spent the next ten minutes alternating between laughing at Seto's pained expressions and curses, and trying to keep the poor brunet, who was not nearly as amused by his predicament, on his feet while his legs began to get some feeling back. Finally they stood together under the same umbrella, facing each other.
"Yeah, Kai… Seto?" Katsuya asked, wondering if he'd ever get used to saying that name.
Seto held out his hand without breaking eye contact. "Let's go home."
At that, Katsuya smiled so wide he thought his face would break.
The End - Owari!
Take the bull by the horns: Take the initiative in confronting a difficult position; face a difficulty and grapple with it without avoiding it.
(A/N) So yeah, that's basically it! I hope you enjoyed reading this fic (which took me an insanely long time to finish for some reason sorry). I may still do an epilogue if I get around to it... since I know some people were expecting lemon haha. We'll see!
Anyway, thank you so much for all the reviews and encouragement! I really would have never finished this thing without them!