Wow…866 hits since the last update. That's pretty cool.


"You, Seto, are an ass, a bastard and a heartless man to boot."

"Well, isn't that nice to hear?" Kaiba didn't even look up from his work at the one who had just insulted him so. "Are you feeling particularly hormonal, Mai, or is there an actual reason behind this outburst of yours?"

The blonde sneered at him, irritation painted all over her pretty face as she stalked over to the younger man's desk, the door she had slammed open falling shut behind her just as abruptly. "Always ready with the smart answers, aren't you, kid?"

His face was almost pleasant when he spoke. "I'm a kid now? You've chosen a different tune to whistle, Mai."

His flippancy only aggravated her short-fused temper that much more and she slapped a hand down on his desk, the sharp retort ruffling a stack of papers nearby, but not Kaiba's calm exterior. "Fuck you, Seto – whatever feelings I have or ever had for you, you're rapidly making me forget them." Her anger spiked at the sight of his smirk, glorious eyes flashing dangerously. "You knew I wanted to be free for the party tonight, you knew I wanted to be there!"

If she'd considered his smirk annoying, the look of clearly feigned innocence he produced next only served to make her blood boil that much faster. "Really? Is that tonight?" Kaiba just shrugged airily, spinning around in his chair in a casual and thoroughly dismissive fashion. "Well, I'm afraid that can't be helped. Work comes first after all…"

His words were halted by a furious shake of her curl-topped head, pale cheeks flushed unattractively with the sign of her anger. "And if I refuse? I know you're only doing this to further your own filthy measures."

Unlike Mai, Kaiba actually kept his cool. "In doing so, you would breach your contract with Golden Eye and would find yourself out of a job." A flicker of sapphire in her direction, taking in the stiff, irate set of her shoulders. "You'd be leaving him all alone, with all those hungry, hungry people just waiting to feed on his looks…"

There was a brief, fleeting moment in which Kaiba thought he had gone too far, but that was dispelled when her shoulders slumped, golden hair falling forwards to hide her face. "I wanted to be there tonight…" Mai said in a tired voice, clearly holding on fast to the last shreds of her dignity. There had been a time when the proud woman before him had answered to no one, had danced to her own tune instead of listening to others. She was older now and just as beautiful, but her spirit had softened, cracks appearing in a once impenetrable personality. She really was so predictable now, no fun at all – she couldn't refuse him anything now. Not a thing. "He's worked so hard…he's done so well."

"I suppose." Kaiba dismissed Ryou's successes with a flip of his hand, earning a flinch from the blonde woman before him. "He's had luck on his side, as well as outside help. I know you and Otogi's bitch boy have sheltered him from the worst of it. I'd be interested to see how he copes when he has to do his own thing."

"And you're not helping him?" Her body remained tightly wound, emotions clearly seething under the tired mask she sent him, eyes half closed while her upper lip budded tremulously.

"No," was his firm answer. "I'm moulding him."

"You're changing him."

"For the better."

"For you."


Mai was quiet for a while and, to be brutally honest, Kaiba didn't care why. He'd long since stopped caring for the Kujaku woman, probably at around the same time Mokuba had…had…

"Kaiba…" The soft-spoken comment was a plea and the brunette was roused from his musings, unblinking sapphires aimed at Mai once more. Her own amethyst eyes were misty now, wracked with indecision and he could almost see the battle raging behind the admittedly beautiful face. Curious as to what it was she wanted to beg of him, Kaiba quirked a fine brow ever so slightly, but was surprised to see her face settle again, her gaze slipping away from his. "Nothing…"


"Fucking hell!"

Ryou managed to blush, laugh and duck down behind Malik all at the same time. Compared to his flushed skin, the teen's hair really was a startling white. "That good, huh?"

His friend had a wide-eyed look on his tanned face, jaw slack as he scanned the crowd filling the greeting room. "There are so many people!"

"Look at the design of the place!" Yuugi was standing on the other side of Malik, just as captivated by the room and its occupants as the Egyptian was. "It's so…beautiful…"

"They're the ones who're beautiful, Yuugi," Malik said, waving a hand at the group in general. "They're all so tall…"

"And elegant…"

"And hot…"

"And sexy…"

Ryou just laughed softly, tickled by his friends' awestruck expressions. "It's a modelling company, guys; of course they're all beautiful!"

While Malik continued to stare unabashedly, Yuugi turned back to their pale friend, a crooked smile pulling at his lips with a mixture of pride and wistfulness. "And they're all here for you, Ryou – it's your party after all."

"Damn right!" All three youths jumped when a cheerful voice sounded very close to them and a lanky arm slid around Ryou's neck. "Everyone had ta turn up when Bambi earned his licence…"

"Bambi?" Malik asked in a wickedly curious tone.

"It's a model thing," another voice assured them and yet another arm looped casually around the white-haired boy's shoulders. "Big eyes…cute personality…bound to be a hottie when he grows up…"

Smiling up through his blush at Otogi and Jou, Ryou's eyes were shining with embarrassed excitement. "I get my licence tonight?"

The dark-haired man gave a feline smile, nodding at the two others present who were currently keeping both Jou and himself under close scrutiny. So these are Ryou's friends…protective much? Must be a common factor he causes in those who know him…

"Yep," he carried on, expression amiable as he ruffled that mess of white hair, feeling Ryou squirm underneath his ministrations. "Management's sold ten of the shots you've been in which fulfils your probation period. You're an official Golden Eye model now, sweetheart."

Those wide brown eyes, when turned on Otogi, made him feel warm and fuzzy, despite his customary razor sharp attitude. Bambi was just too fluffy for his own good…

"Really?" The question was tentatively put, his voice quivering with nervous anticipation – Ryou sounded as if he half-expected all of this to be some elaborate (and cruel) joke.

Seeing the grin on Jou's face and the way his lover squeezed Ryou that much more firmly around the shoulders, Otogi hid his own wide smile as he reached into a pocket, pulling out a slip of laminated card. Tossing it to Ryou, indicating that he should read it, the dark-haired man gave him a thumbs up and a wink. "Welcome to Golden Eye, Ryou. For real this time – we're never going to let you go…"

Ryou just looked disbelievingly at the card, his fingers curled protectively around it – his flesh was going white at the edges he was gripping it so hard. Even so, the text peered through his digits at him. Writing indicating his name, his age, his physical measurements were all there, as well as the swirling, golden eye that indicated just who he was working for. As a more mundane feature, the little black bar meant he could now swipe himself through private doors and the like instead of having to get Jou or Mai to do it for him, but Ryou was more touched by what this tiny rectangle meant.

It meant he belonged – he'd worked and had made his own place here. He could really claim to belong here now…

The men around him could easily see that he was battling to control his emotions and they all looked away out of consideration, choosing to study each other instead. It didn't take long for a very…obvious topic of conversation to come up.

Squinting at Yuugi with a very puzzled cast to his face, Jou looked bemused. "Hey…you wouldn't happen ta have a brother, would you?"

Looking just as confused, the doctor-in-training shook his head slowly, golden bangs accentuating the movement. "No…only child as far as I know."

The blonde chuckled, rubbing the back of his neck. "Sorry; didn't mean ta pry. It's just that yer the spitting image of a friend of ours. Come ta think of it…" He sent a speculative glance towards Malik. "You look like another friend actually…"

The tanned youth gave a lazy smile, resting an arm on Yuugi's shoulder (it was a trick he used to make the slighter youth feel even shorter) "I think I'd know if a family member was a model. Call it luck?"

Jou laughed, face lit up from just knowing that Ryou's friends were this amiable. "Serendipity, huh? You should meet them." Turning, he waved a lanky arm at the two figures by the drinks table. "Hey! Yami…Marik. Come over here for a sec."

Hearing soft laughter from beside him, Otogi looked down to see a (now) composed Ryou chuckling quietly, the precious licence stored away somewhere. The smile was contagious and he raised a questioning eyebrow even as he returned it. "What's so funny?"

"Nothing really," Ryou said in a low voice, but his face spoke volumes of mirth. "It's just I've been waiting forever to see how Malik and Yuugi would take meeting Yami and Marik. I suppose I sort of forgot to mention how similar they look…"

Otogi snickered, green eyes turning towards where the two models were picking their way through the crowd. "So this should be interesting?"

A serene smile. "Very." Which just proved that even Ryou was right sometimes.

"Holy shit, that guy looks just like you, Pharaoh!"

"Marik…it's rude to point."

"Except even shorter!"

Now that earned him a glare from both Yami and Yuugi, while Malik just cracked up, clutching his ribs as he struggled to rein in his riotous laughter. The peevish look on the admittedly small men's faces was a priceless one, not to mention the fact it highlighted the similarities between them.

"You have to…haha…admit that he's…hee…right, Yuugi," he managed to splutter out, choking the words through around his bubbles of laughter. The amethyst-eyed youth just sent his friend a helpless look, shrugging the arm off of his shoulder. It was an action that worked well just because it caused the Egyptian to lose his balance, effectively cutting off his laughter while he tried to stay upright. Upon seeing his face uncrinkled by laughter, it was Yami's turn to look impressed.

"You might have found yourself a long lost brother yourself, Marik," the crimson-eyed model pointed out in his stately voice. "You sure your mother didn't spread her love around."

"Probably," the irrepressible blonde said, not looking at all offended by the comment. It was much more productive to rake his eyes appreciatively over Malik. "Damn…he does. Would explain why he's so good-looking though."

Yami rolled his eyes, good-naturedly slapping Marik over the head. "He looks nicer than you - see? You could be like that if you lost some weight…"

Both Malik and Yuugi were looking vaguely stunned by the sheer charisma of the two in front of them, so Ryou took the chance to step in before Marik and Yami started having one of their usual 'friendly' debates.

"When you guys are done," he said, sending a chiding look towards his two colleagues, "Maybe I can introduce you. Marik, Yami; these are my two roommates. Yuugi, Malik; these are two of the people I work with."

"I think I've seen my double here in a pocky advert," Malik said dryly, gaining himself a grin from the taller blonde Egyptian.

"Easiest shoot I ever did – they just wanted me to suck pocky and look like I was enjoying myself," he said, sounding awfully proud of himself. Once again, Yami rolled his eyes.

"I can't believe you got paid to suck stuff – you normally do it for free." Now that had even Yuugi laughing and Yami looked vaguely pleased with himself as he turned to the smaller man. "Well, friends-of-Bambi, can we interest you in a drink? I'm surprised we've never seen you around here before."

"Well, we've all been pretty busy," Yuugi said diplomatically, but Malik sent Ryou a wicked look.

"I think he just didn't want to share all of the hot people with us," he said cheerfully, causing a ripple of laughter around the small group as the four moved off towards the drinks table leaving Ryou with Jou while Otogi quietly excused himself. He knew what was coming next.

"They seem nice…" the blonde said as he watched them head off together, talking animatedly as they went.

Ryou smiled absently, gaze drifting across the people in the room, clearly looking for someone. "They're the best…I've known Yuugi since forever and Malik's been there for me ever since I met him."

"Good people ta have around, then," Jou murmured, cocking his head at his shorter friend. Amber eyes went flat briefly before he pulled himself together, a bright if somewhat forced smile appearing on his lips. "Who're you lookin' for?"

"Mai…" came the soft answer, Ryou's attention never once leaving the crowd he was scanning so hopefully. "She said she was coming specially for tonight." He could see Isis looking as calm as always whilst she talked to an equally regal looking Dartz. Clumped together in a rough trio, Amelda and Varon, plus the stoic Raphael were present though only the brown-haired man waved when he noted Ryou's eyes on them. Even the miniature (and far too smart for her own good) Rebecca sent him a wink and a girlish smile. All of them friends…but no Mai.

Jou sighed internally at the sight of the hopeful look on Ryou's face, his overly compassionate heart sinking in his chest. Why did Ryou have to be so…child-like? How did anyone get to eighteen and still act so mind-numbingly naïve? And why the hell did he have to be the one to break it to him that Mai wouldn't be here tonight?

"Bamb-…Ryou…" Clearly hearing the unease in Jou's voice, Ryou's search faltered as he turned hesitantly towards the taller youth. It was unlike his enthusiastic friend to look so worried and that in itself worried him. Running anxious fingers through perpetually ruffled hair, Jou's face creased with fretfulness. "Mai…she couldn't make it tonight…" He winced at the flash of disbelief tinged with pain that made its way like emotional lightening over Ryou's heartbreaking features. "They wanted to shoot some night shots over at the park…somethin' they couldn't do on the set and this was the only night they had permission to use it." He didn't mention that he had his suspicions about just who had organised the shoot and the actual availability of the site – Ryou looked crestfallen enough as it was without him adding fuel to the fire. "She…ah…wanted me ta give you this…" Reaching into the pocket of his green jacket, Jou pulled out a flat black box tied up with a gauzy ribbon, holding it out self-consciously towards him. "She says sorry…"

Trying to hide his cutting disappointment (and failing miserably) Ryou took the box with a hand that trembled ever so slightly. His message delivered, Jou fled, muttering something about going to make sure Otogi wasn't sweet-talking anyone else in the room. His parting wasn't noticed unduly; such was the concentration Ryou was placing upon the box as he tugged at the ribbon, not watching where it fell since he was more interested in the contents.

Inside, nestled on a snowy bed of cotton wool, Ryou found what Mai had sent in place of her and, while no replacement for her company on this day of pride, it was beautiful in itself. Gold metal gleamed softly, alluringly, under the lights above him. The light traced a path along a fine chain that coiled snakelike across the snowy bed. Still, the beauty of the necklace lay in its pendant. Ornate and archaic, the sculpted ring with its delicate pointers spoke of a time years ago, of a completely alien culture, of strange power and ancient beliefs all set in the whispering, shimmering gold. The chain lay across his palm like silk, the ring weaving a slow and steady path through the air as it hung on its anchor.

Beauty. Both in form and meaning, all doubled since it was a gift from Mai.

And there was a note. Fumbling with the box, the slip of paper and the precious piece of jewellery, Ryou opened it, scanning the curvy-scripted writing within.


I want you to know that I didn't desert you willingly – this shoot just came up and I couldn't get out of it. I wanted to be here with you tonight, but I'm so proud of you, you know that right? You'll have gotten your licence by now and that just proves what I always knew of you. I'm still sorry though…

About the gift – it's a sort of good luck charm really. The guy who sold it to me told me some long, involved story about ancient Egypt and magic, but that was boring. The main part was that this Sennen Ring will bring you luck – see those pointers? (Ryou looked at them, touching them with a gentle finger and smiled when they made a soft tinkling noise against each other, like ghostly wind chimes) They're supposed to point you the way to true happiness, so follow them where you will. It's corny…but cute somehow.

Again, I'm so proud of you sweetheart – I knew you'd get this far and you're going to get that much higher.


"Ryou! Are you going to stand there all evening? Come and celebrate!"

Ryou jumped, stuffing both the box and the note into his pocket as he hastily fastened the Ring around his neck. "Coming…"


Even with the dampening effect of Mai's conspicuous absence, Ryou enjoyed himself – watching Marik and Yami flirt shamelessly with the coy Yuugi and Malik was a popular subject of conversation. To his surprise, he wasn't the only one who missed Mai's presence; Varon, after heartily congratulating him, had looked strangely disappointed that the blonde woman wasn't there which was puzzling – as far as Ryou knew, the older man normally kept company with Raphael and Amelda. Still, even that thought was swept away as person after person came over to offer their congratulations and good wishes. Out of all those new models the day he had arrived, it seemed only he had made it to this point…to him, it was a humbling and overwhelming thought.

So overwhelming in fact, Ryou actually found himself separating himself from the main group, more than a little addled by all the attention and the several glasses of wine that had been pushed on him by various people. Hiding out in a corner of the room, he sighed wearily, pushing white hair out of his half-shadowed eyes. Social interaction could be so exhausting sometimes – he wasn't used to being the centre of attention; probably never would be. He just needed some air for a minute…

Not that he was going to get it.

"You aren't making merry with the rest of the rabble?" Great…just great – all he wanted was a moment of peace and he got Kaiba instead, the person who was most guaranteed to keep him on edge. It had taken a while, but Ryou had finally put a name to the breathless, tingly feel he got around the ice-eyed man – attraction. For someone as naïve as the fluffy boy, such a realisation had been hard and had only occurred after a lot of denial and a lot of arguing with himself. But it was attraction, plain and simple.

Now if he only knew why.

That had been an unsettling thought for a while. Out of all the people in the world, why did his heart have to lean towards someone who so obviously disliked him AND the world at large. Kaiba was arrogant, cold natured, detestable to both Otogi and Jou – Ryou's mind just screamed at him 'how?' Salvation had come from an unlikely source; the distant memory of a woman he called mother.

Love isn't scientific, Ryou, you can't analyse it. Love doesn't have a beginning or end to it. It defies logic and reason, it makes us all do strange things and you find it in the strangest places. Remember, Ryou; love doesn't happen…love just is.

It had never been said that his mother was an overly intelligent woman, but the words had stuck and even now they offered him peace in a time of turmoil. And turmoil was pretty much all Kaiba ever guaranteed. Maybe it wasn't love though…he could always chalk it up to hormones, couldn't he?

Gulping audibly, Ryou glanced up at him warily through strands of silver-white hair, shaking his head ever so slightly. "I just needed a break for a while."

"Hn." The sound was an admission, a thoughtful one and for just a moment, Ryou thought he saw a tiny smirk flash across that painfully handsome face. Once again, his stomach decided to tie itself in knots, just at the sound of Kaiba's voice. "Tired of them already?"

Predictably, Ryou's face darkened to a rich plum: he looked as if he could combust any moment. "It's not that, it's just…just…"

Kaiba raised a perfect eyebrow, clearly amused at his charge's flustered attitude over what he was supposed to say. Contradict the (obviously and very) scary Kaiba, or defend the reputations of the others, despite the fact that it was clear Kaiba already hated them? Decision, decisions.

Then again, Ryou never had been very good at making quick decisions on the go and he was taking far too long about it, dithering and dallying too much for the brunet's liking. Kaiba's patience had never been bounteous and he'd already lost interest in Ryou's stammerings, if not Ryou himself. He was already turning away, long trench coat radiating outwards just to make the movement flawlessly dramatic.

Ryou sighed, irrationally disappointed that he hadn't been able to hold Kaiba's attention for anything longer than three minutes. You're an idiot, he told himself miserably, an idiot and a fool and a-

"Are you coming?"

The smaller man flinched, startled and wide eyes looking nervously up towards a pair of impatient blue ones. "Excuse me?"

The brunet snorted, flapping a somehow derogatory hand at him. "Do you really want to stay here?" he asked, tone dripping with clear disdain for the people who were still happily (and obliviously) enjoying themselves just around the corner, unaware that their little friend was currently being looked at with a very predatory gaze.

"But..." Ryou was finding it hard to speak, a caged bird flapping within his chest, beating at his ribs in an effort to distract him. It hurts…it hurts and I don't want it to. "They're out there…for me. It would be rude to go." Why does no one realise I've gone? Why won't someone stop it being just me and him?

"Rude?" Kaiba actually laughed at that, a low laugh that came from his stomach. "No-one cares. In this world, you can't dance around foolish sensibilities and morality. You see what you want and you take it." He took a step forwards, his looming frame forcing Ryou back up against the wall. The slender young man had to tilt his head upwards, lips pressed tightly together in an effort to keep them from trembling, eyes wide in an effort to keep them from quivering. "Now do you want to stay in a place with fake little people and fake little lives?" A hand on the side of his face, smooth skin cool against the burning flush he held. Ryou saw danger in those eyes, those dragon's eyes. Mai, why aren't you here to keep me safe? "Or do you want to come with me now?"

"They're waiting…they'd worry…" His feeble protests were cut off as that hand pressed harder, sliding down to brush the hollow of his throat where a pulse beat wildly.

"Your top-heavy blonde isn't there, is she?" Kaiba didn't wait for an answer as he smirked, warm breath ghosting over Ryou's face even as his practiced fingers brushed his shoulder, touching just underneath the collar of his shirt. "She's been taking care of you, special attention. I'm sure she's told you all sorts of nasty stories about me…but haven't you ever wondered why?"

Ryou flinched as Kaiba leant in, but that beautiful face went past his, lips coming to rest by his ear. "Come with me and I'll let you in on just who she really is."

Doubt assailed him there and then, panic starting to worm its way into his bones. She wouldn't, not Mai. Anyone, but her…he's too close. Kaiba's too close and I feel so hot, hot and twitchy and I don't want him touching me, but I do want him to touch me...confused…not Mai, she wouldn't…would she?

Kaiba watched with interest as Ryou seemed to break down before him. The kid had a face like a book – a library book because everyone could read it for free. The flickering emotions on his face; pain, indecision, foolish trust – it all made a very pretty picture, but it was rapidly getting boring. Still, when those chocolate eyes looked up at him, filled with the possibility of what might be, he had to admit he knew what was coming.

"Come with me," he urged, voice as seductive as that snake all those eons ago in the Garden of Eden.

Doubt. Distrust. Choice. "Fine…"

I'm sorry, Mai…so sorry, but I have to know and he's touching me. God, he's touching me and I never want it to end. Drowning in blue…falling….have to stay focused. Maybe I should count; people always say to count when you're stressed and…he's looking at me like that again.

One, two, three…


Well, here's an update – again, the wait was annoying, but I've had some other things on my plate. Exams are killers, plus all the school plays I've had to be in/help out with. I don't know how they keep knuckling me into it…

Can anyone else tell I've been reading Angel Sanctuary? Poor Ryou though…I know what it's like to have all those thoughts running rampage through your mind and I'm feeling very sorry for her. I'm feeling sorry for quite a few of my characters, but hey…

Review Replies:

Ariadne Bassarid: You hit the nail on the head, love – that shows what made me write this piece in the first place. Laughs My inspiration is really that shallow and uneducated. I'm ashamed to admit it, but I'm completely hooked on that show…

Elle-Fatex-: I'm sure everyone should feel 'poor Ryou' Sighs I'm too evil really…

Saffron-Starlight: Madness? Good madness or bad madness…?

Amichanfan12345: Kaiba is an ass Laughs I'm still glad you liked it, even if you don't know why…

RalphiereRedux: You're a wonderful friend! Rene, who's supposed to be my best mate hates my writing – at least you like it XD You didn't do a very good job of poking me though, did you? Snickers

Incoherent: Heh – damn fanfiction net, huh? I'm still glad for you review AND your lj comments.

Dreamingsilver: Heh, you picked up on something I'd already thought about – clearly we think alike. Anyway, as you've read, people weren't unduly bothered – they put it down to chance.

Miyosuke: Heh…I DO update, just sporadically…

Temprush: Taps nose That's a secret – you'll have to carry on reading to find out, huh? Laughs Sorry – I couldn't resist…I am sorry for the wait though.

Trev: Oh my God, you found me. Hides I'm veeery happy that you like the story so far…and Gyan is not a stalker boy and I think he got the wrong impression. Sighs I was scared. Very scared.