Joey blamed his Mom. She was the one who taught him the cardinal rule of candy shopping: buy on clearance after the holiday. Thanks to her, he'd grown up eating Christmas candy in February, Easter chicks in May and Halloween candy all the way through the new year. Which is why, a week after Valentine's Day, Joey was lugging two bags of valentine candy up the street toward KaibaCorp.
Ah, Valentine's Day. Two years ago Tea had decided to seduce Joey. She'd bribed the janitor into opening Joey's apartment, and when Joey staggered home from the late shift at work, he was treated to the sight of a naked Tea, sprawled across his bed. That was about the time he stopped pretending to like girls.
Last year, Mokuba sent roses to Joey from "Kaiba". Joey, suspecting a Tea related trick, called the florist, and confirmed that the flowers were sent by Master Kaiba. Figuring a present that nice deserved a personal brush-off, Joey had borrowed Tristan's bike and headed to the Kaiba mansion. When Seto answered the door, Joey panicked, thrust the flowers at him, and ran for the bike.
It would have ended there, except that Joey glanced backward and saw Seto standing in the doorway, clutching the flowers and grinning wildly. This seemed entirely the wrong response, so stifling a sigh, Joey tramped back up the driveway, intending to shake Kaiba until he started responding normally.
The reaching for Kaiba part went as planned, the shaking part did not. Instead, Joey found himself clutching Kaiba's coat, kissing him. Joey drew back, horrified, intending to say "I'm sorry, this is all a huge mistake and you really ought to let me go so I can leave now."
He got as far as "I'm s-" before Kaiba starting kissing his neck. 'Sorry' turned into a rather embarrassing moan, and 'this is all a huge mistake' was forgotten all together. And then they were clutching at each other, kissing, roses crumped underfoot, until they noticed that Mokuba was hanging out of the window, laughing maniacally. They had stared at each other for a long moment before Kaiba had gulped and said "Maybe you'd better come inside."
Six months ago, Kaiba had, through a combination of begging and bullying, convinced Joey to work at KaibaCorp. Much to everyone's surprise, especially Joey's, he could tell with uncanny accuracy which product concepts would be successful. Joey loved the time spent talking to younger dualists, programmers and gamers. He hated the meetings with the ... well, Seto called them suits. Joey preferred something much ruder.
And so Joey was lugging his two grocery bags of valentine candy up the street to KaibaCorp, where he would exchange his grocery bags for a briefcase and try to look ten years older, and mostly interested as he suffered through an afternoon of meetings with the ... suits.
Joey entered the elevator, and stood straighter. He had learned long ago that Seto demanded pure professionalism from all his employees. As a result, Joey had become a master at constructing sentences filled with double meanings, and Seto had perfected a series of gestures, subtle enough to be considered meaningless to everyone else. Joey entered the conference room, and realized he was smirking. He coughed, and straightened, mentally pulling on his business persona, smoothing down his shirt, adjusting his tie. He glanced at his watch, realizing with with an inward sigh of relief that he had a few minutes to get his notes in order. He flipped open his laptop, and opened a bag of candy hearts, dumping them unto a styrofoam plate. Pouring the last of the coffee, he started a fresh pot and got to work.
Joey sat next to Seto, bored out of his mind. They'd been sitting there an hour now, notes spread in front of them, plate of candy hearts between them, and the suits still hadn't gotten past the opening posturing. Joey wished desprately for his laptop, but it was sitting at the front of the room, as a peon clicked through his powerpoint presentation. Joey yawned and ran his hands through the candy, reading the messages, trying to stay awake. It wouldn't be so bad if he could talk to Seto. Out of the corner of his eye he watched Seto drum his fingers on the table-- code for 'I'm going to kill the jerk who set up this meeting and thought I needed to be here, wasting my valuable time on this drivel.' Joey jammed a handful of candies into his mouth, dropping HI LOVE A SMILE FOR YOU on the table next to Seto, and waited.
Joey caught the slightest hint of a smirk playing around the corners of Seto's mouth, as he picked up the candies and popped them in his mouth. A moment later, he gagged, and quickly gulped coffee, leaving a THANK YOU on the table.
Joey grinned, and dug through the hearts again. MISS YOU WRITE ME. He turned to Seto who was caught up in a heated discussion regarding possible market overlap, tension radiating off him and seeping across the room. He mentally rolled his eyes and dropped another heart in front of Seto. SMILE. "Perhaps we should first focus on the problem of the product its' self." Joey interjected.
"Yes, of course." The suit replied smoothly, still glaring at Seto. Joey glanced down, flustered, and saw two hearts in front of him. :) YES DEAR.
Joey smirked and replied HOW NICE GENIUS.
Seto studied the bowl for a moment, and placed another heart gingerly on the tip of his tongue. He quickly took a sip of coffee, and Joey, who was watching carefully, was almost sure he saw Seto spit the heart into his cup. Seto put the cup down, and dropped a pair of hearts in front of Joey. MY WAY LOVER BOY.
Pompous jerk, thought Joey. He palmed a heart and slid it over to Seto. LET'S KISS.
WISE UP LOVER BOY.
Joey nibbled absently on a few hearts, and tried to figure out where the meeting was going. Oh. Slide three of thirty eight. Wonderful. ONE KISS he replied.
That was quick. Almost as if Seto had been holding it all along. Joey looked over and saw Seto surripitiously rearranging a pile of hearts. Geek. Joey bit back a grin and replied I LOVE YOU ANGEL.
Seto snorted, and quickly turned it into a cough. He left one heart on the table and added another two. ANGEL WISE UP ROMEO.
Romeo. Joey rather liked the sound of that. The candy was starting to taste a bit nasty, but he choked down a few more hearts as he dropped a YES DEAR on the table followed by an ALL MINE. Joey glanced over at Seto, but he was absorbed in the discussion. Slide nine out of thirty-eight. He waited a minute and added an I HOPE, then discreetly kicked Seto under the table.
Seto stood, and walked toward the laptop, dropping a LOVE YOU into Joey's lap as he went.
With Seto standing at the laptop, the peon flipped rapidly through the slides. Joey was nursing a vague hope that the end of the meeting was in sight, when it became apparent that the suit in charge didn't understand the color-coded, clearly labeled bar graph. After the third attempt to explain it without blatantly insulting said suit's intelligence, Seto sighed and sat down, rubbing his fingertips together, then leaning his head on his hand for a moment, as he flipped notes. 'Idiot,' Joey thought, staring at the suit, 'you just raised the final cost by fifty percent.' The peon flipped back to slide fifteen and Joey moaned quietly, not sure the increased commision was worth the hassle.
As Seto settled back, his hand brushed against the row of hearts on his chair. GOT LOVE? NICE. LET'S KISS.
Joey watched as Seto brushed his fingertip against his lips, their gesture for a kiss. Smirking, he dropped a handful of hearts in front of Seto. U R 2 KIND NOW KISS ME KISS ME KISS ME KISS ME KISS ME KISS ME.
As the suits focused on the pretty colored slides, Seto threw a heart at Joey. LET IT BE.
'You have no sense of adventure Seto.' thought Joey. 'None.' KISS ME he replied. ONE KISS, LOVER BOY.
Well, fine Seto. If that's the way you want to be. U R HOT NOW KISS ME. Joey dug through the hearts for a PLEASE, found none, and eventually gave up.
Again Seto touched his fingers to his lips and added ONLY YOU, then nudged Joey.
Joey looked up to realize that everyone was looking at him rather expectantly. "Uhm--"
"Perhaps you need to clarify your request a bit." Seto interjected.
"I repeat." The head suit huffed, "Mr Wheeler, tell me what the response to my latest game will be."
Which game? Joey thought desperately. You've mentioned at least three this afternoon. "Uhm," he said again, stalling for time, "I can give you a more accurate response if I know the segment of the population this game is targeted for."
Ten minutes later, the suit was satisfied, and the presentation moved unto slide seventeen. Joey breathed a sigh of relief-- his part of the presentation was done. Though, even with his changes he wasn't too sure about the viability of the final product. No matter. It would change several times before it hit the shelves. He made a note to talk to the lead programmer, and then relaxed, looking over at Seto, still toying with the ASK ME heart. Ask him. thought Joey. What would I ask him, given the chance. There were so many possibilities, very few of which could be spelled out with heart candies. He absently ate candy, thinking.
Seto leaned back in his chair, an expression of polite interest plastered on his face, wondering how he could get out of this meeting. Next to him, his puppy
was playing with the plate of hearts again. Seto nudged the edge of the grocery bag closest to his chair, looking at the stack of chocolates inside. How anyone could eat that much candy was beyond him, but he knew from experience that the Mutt would devour it over the next week. He smiled a bit, remembering the time the caterers brought over cold plates early; Joey had managed to eat half of it before Seto had gotten home. As Seto stood there in shock, Joey had complimented him on his well-stocked refrigerator. Seto had nodded thanks and left hastily to order more food. It was funny later. Much later.
Seto blinked, forcing his attention back to the meeting, which was, as much as he hated to admit it, actually important. Beside him, Joey was stringing hearts together, patiently waiting for him to respond.
YOU & ME IT'S LOVE I HOPE.
Seto slid an OF COURSE across the table to Joey, and tapped his hand once against the table, silently snapping his fingers-- their modified sign for puppy-- and reluctantly turned his attention back to the meeting, noticing that Joey was still rummaging through the candy. Slide twenty-two, they were still on slide twenty-two. Seto resisted the urge to roll his eyes.
ANGEL AMORE I LOVE YOU WANT YOU BE MINE ALL MINE
Seto sighed. It was cute at first, but this was getting redundant. Still, Joey seemed to be trying to make some point. Damned if he knew what it was, though. And if he had to choke down one more of those nasty hearts in order to maintain the illusion of eating them, he'd be sick. He shifted in his chair again, waiting.
Joey clutched a heart in his hand. Heart in his hand. Heh. That was kinda funny, actually. He watched Seto tap his hand on the table, snap his fingers, then turn his hand over to grasp air. Joey sighed. What did he want? He wanted courage. He wanted to eat the sticky candy in his hand, instead of setting it on the table. Joey swallowed, and hastily took a gulp of coffee, trying to look as though he was thinking about the meeting. Slide thirty. When had they gotten to slide thirty? Joey glanced down at Seto's hands, wanting to see him, but afraid to look him in the eye. Seto's hands were folded over each other, thumbs and forefingers locked together. Allies. Joey thought of Tristan, Yuugi. He considered them allies; they'd never leave him in the middle of a fight, surely Seto deserved the same amount of trust if-- Joey set his fist down on the table, and slowly uncurled it, hand hovering for a moment over the smudged and sticky candy. He took a deep breath, and placed his empty hands in his lap.
What does Puppy want? It was a simple question, and Seto expected a flippant reply. Instead, he watched as Joey turned pale, staring into space. Seto watched him, but didn't say anything-- the lights were dim, and even with his eyes glazed over, Joey still looked more attentive than most of the other participants. Seto glanced at Joey again, and leaving one hand in his lap, raised the other to his face, brushing one finger against his chin. There was no response. He needs to learn restraint, Seto thought wryly. How many people's code phrases include 'Have you eaten too much candy'? Joey was trembling now, and Seto was pretty sure that it wasn't due to the horrible cover art the suit's consultant was proposing. He caught Joey's eye and slid his hand across the table towards the door. If Joey wanted to leave, the least he could do was provide him with a graceful exit. Joey shook his head and slurped coffee, eyes focusing on the slides. At least he wasn't sick. What was he worried about? Seto shrugged mentally, and folded his hands on the table, promising Joey he'd agree with him. Shrugging off the nagging feeling that he was about to promise something stupid-- the last time he had promised Joey unconditional support, he'd ended up buying roses for every secretary in the building. Seto watched as Joey dropped a single candy on the table, and turned away. Curious now, Seto picked it up, flipping it over in his hand. The writing was smeared, but Seto could still read the words: marry me.
Oh. That's why he'd been nervous. Seto smirked, causing the poor secretary taking notes to blanch white and mutter something about powdering her nose as she escaped to the bathroom. He picked up a candy heart, and stood, dropping it in his pocket. "Gentlemen." He interjected smoothly, and the room grew silent. "I am amazed at the progress we've made today. It's well after five, however, and I think we would do better to approach the problem on Monday, well-rested and refreshed."
There was a shocked silence, and then, delighted, the executives scrambled for the door, and Seto crossed the room to spit a few final pleasantries at the head suit.
Joey sat for a moment, dejected. There had been no response, and now Seto was willing to end the meeting, risking the deal, rather than sit in the same room with him. Ducking his head to hide the sudden tears, he gathered his papers, collected his laptop and slunk out. Halfway to the parking lot, he paused, realizing that he had promised Seto he'd join him for dinner. Screw that. He straightened angrily and stomped across the lobby, slamming the door behind him.
Seto watched as Joey left the conference room, and then headed for the door, pulling out his phone as he left.
Joey headed for his car, muttering curse words under his breath, as he stumbled towards his car. Running out of improbable fates for Seto and the suits, he grew silent, and walked faster, trying not to think.
As he reached his car, two men stepped from the shadows. Joey backed against a nearby car, dropping into a defensive stance, when one of the men spoke.
"Mr. Wheeler?" Joey nodded, too nonplussed to say anything. "Your presence is needed upstairs."
"Look." Joey replied, edging towards his car, hand in his pocket, fumbling for the keys, "Guys, it's six o'clock on a Friday night. Surely this can wait until Monday." Four more steps and he'd be able to reach the door handle. Three. Two.
"No Joey, it can't." Seto replied from behind him. Joey whirled around, punching blindly into the darkness. "Now, now Pup, there'll be none of that. We're going to take a ride." He added, opening the door to the limo that had pulled up silently behind him.
Joey shook his head, and swallowed, trying for flippancy. "So, Rich Boy, are your boyfriends coming along to rough me up a bit?"
Seto bit his tongue. Joey would never forgive him if he laughed, but it was amusing to watch his puppy bluster, wide-eyed with fear. It was so amusing that he couldn't help teasing him a bit more. Surely, at some point, Joey had to realize that it was an act. "That, Puppy, depends on how quickly you get in." Joey still stood there, frozen, so he added "Jerome, did you get the cement?" and watched Joey dive headfirst into the limo. He saluted the guards, and climbed inside beside Joey, slamming the door as the limo drove off.
Joey huddled in the corner, petrified. He thought Seto might have been a bit peeved, but this! Honestly, it was enough to make one consider dating girls. Not Tea, but Mai, maybe. He wrapped his arms around his legs, resting his cheek on his knees. No matter what happened the evening would eventually end. And Seto wouldn't really hurt him, right? After all, he'd be missed at the office.
Seto leaned back, propping his legs up on the seat opposite him, and waited. Sooner or later Joey would break, his fear would change to exasperation, and he'd demand answers. And when he did, well, he'd get them.
The miles passed, and Seto waited silently, watching Joey. After a time he opened the small fridge next to him and fished out a can of soda. Opening it, he settled himself more comfortably on the seat and continued to wait.
Joey watched Seto watching him. Damn him and his patience. He's waiting for me to make the first move. Fine, Rich boy, be that way. We both know I'll crack before you will. Might as well get it over with. Just go ahead, cut my heart out with a spoon and shove it down my throat, see if I care. If you do it fast enough I might have enough time to see if Tea will take your leftovers out dancing tonight. "So what do you think you're doing, baka? Why can't you answer a simple question? What am I supposed to do after you laugh in my face? Walk home, maybe? Is that the plan? Dump the mutt in the woods and see if he comes limping home again. Screw you, Kaiba."
Seto sat there, quietly, watching as Joey slowly sputtered to a stop and sat, pouting. "Pup, why did you leave so quickly? You forgot your candy."
Joey snorted, and turned his face to the wall. "Bite me, Kaiba."
"Here." Seto replied, reaching out to slip a candy between Joey's lips. "the last heart."
Joey glared at Seto and spat the heart out. It landed silently on the leather, edges melted. Feeling a certain morbid fascination, Joey picked up the candy, turning it over so the writing showed. YES DEAR. Smirking, Seto reached over, capturing Joey's limp hand between his. Joey sat, stunned, looking from the sticky candy to the platinum band on his finger.
"You." Joey trailed off, still trying to collect his thoughts "How long have you have you had this?" he said, looking at the pair of dragons etched into the surface of the band.
"Long enough." Seto replied, slipping a matching ring unto his own hand.
"But why didn't you ask me? Why buy the rings and then wait?" Joey absently ate the melting heart, licking his hand clean.
"I knew what I wanted." Seto said, eyes glittering as he watched Joey. "But I wanted it to be your idea as well. I thought that, perhaps on Valentine's Day you might--"
"But that was the day the server crashed." Joey remembered "And you didn't get home until-- When did you get home? You never called me."
"I didn't get home. I worked until morning, showered, changed clothes, and went to the presentation."
"I thought you drank a lot of coffee that day." Joey opened a can of soda, and dug through the fridge for some food.
"And by five, all I wanted to do was sleep. Then you were helping Yuugi in the store Wednesday evening, and Mokuba had the go tournament, and yesterday you were at Otogi's store and today--"
"Seto? Where are we?" Joey asked, grabbing his soda as the car lurched to a stop.
"We, Puppy, are home."
"Your home?" Joey asked, squinting through the tinted glass.
"No, our home." Seto replied, and opening the door, he stood, heading for the house. And, after a moment, Joey smiled, and followed.