The Scent of Rain

Disclaimer: I don't own YGO and I do not own the rain … unless (sticks a bucket outside) MUWHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Summary: A Christmas fic. Giving up on getting Kaiba's attention, Ryou seizes the chance to go to America. But what happens when the CEO returns his feelings? Bakura decides to start something with Yami he intends on continuing.

Warnings: OOC, shounen-ai

Author's Notes: I'M NOT DEAD PEOPLE! How did I think of this? Well, it was raining and I commented on how much I love the smell of rain on grass. Then, I decided to write a fic on it! Smart, eh? This is dedicated to my (ahem) BELOVED NAO-CHAN (huggles) and all my reviewers and fan fiction friends! MERRY CHRISTMAS MINNA!

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The Scent of Rain

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It had been raining continuously for three days and the rain showed no signs of wanting to stop. The students at Domino Senior High were getting restless, as the breaks and lunchtimes could not be spent in the courtyard and fields playing soccer and they had to sit in their classrooms all day.

One good thing that came of it, though, was that they didn't have PE. No PE meant no PE teacher and no PE teacher meant no one to make them jog endlessly around the field. That was decidedly a plus, as every student in class 2-A decided.

And now, after a gruelling day where all students remained inside class, cleaning, running errands and whatnot, the bell finally rang to go home. Multiple umbrellas began opening and swarming towards the gates in large groups, squeezing through the opening and pouring out onto the street.

All except one. The black umbrella, underneath which stood none other than Kaiba Seto himself and held by a Kaiba Corporation suit, was walking in the opposite direction to the rest of the crowd, towards the car park. Unfortunately for the youngest CEO in the world, Kaiba Seto's walk towards the car park required walking to the other side of the school from where he had originally started. That meant that, by the time he got to the car park and into the awaiting limousine, the bottom of his pants and leather shoes would be covered in mud.

"I want you all the data regarding the VR system that I gave to Sayuki yesterday," he ordered into his cell phone. "Tell her that I left it on her desk. Yes, you idiot, her desk. She should have typed it all up again, along with the corrections I marked into it."

They passed by the gymnasium, which had been open for after school sports, but was decidedly empty. Next to the gym was the school pool, which wasn't, surprisingly enough, devoid of all people. There was one person still there, drenched from head to toe in rain, dressed in nothing but swim shorts. Kaiba snapped the cell phone shut, stopping to watch.

The lone figure stood on one of the further diving blocks at one end of the fifty-metre pool, letting himself be drenched without comment. This action almost convinced Kaiba that, whoever he was, he was insane. That, or he wanted to deliberately make himself ill.

Then, all of a sudden, the boy dived smoothly into the water. He cut the water with minimal disruptions, his body arching gracefully, feet following. He disappeared for about five seconds, before he broke the surface again and continued in a powerful freestyle.

And that was what made Kaiba's mind lapse into a memory.

He used to love swimming, before he had been adopted. He had been told that he had the potential to become a world-class swimmer, maybe even take part in the Olympics if he had continued training. And that had been a dream of his for years. Unfortunately, the dream had shattered in front of his eyes when his parents had died in that car crash, leaving him and Mokuba behind.

I haven't been swimming since we were adopted, he mused, watching as the swimmer executed a perfect somersault at the other end. I either haven't had the time, or wasn't allowed to.

His cell phone rang.

"Kaiba."

"Sir, Mr. Montmorency has arrived from London."

"Tell him I'll be there in an hour," he snapped. His secretary voiced a tiny protest. "Do you want to be fired, Sayuki? Then get on with it!"

He snapped the cell phone shut yet again. The swimmer had stopped and was watching him. It was then Kaiba realised who it was.

--------

Mr. Bakura, based on your past swimming records and championship titles, we would like to offer you a scholarship to our best school in America.

Ryou stood on the diving block, just staring at the water as the raindrops pelted against its clear surface, causing multiple ripples to break out over the once-calm sheet. He had been here since the end of lunch, not bothering to go back to class once the interview had ended.

A scholarship to America, he thought. I can become a world-class swimmer.

But that would mean moving away from Domino and his friends. He had done that too often in his childhood, leaving him with no friends and no one to trust. It would be painful for him to leave Yugi and the others now, especially since they had been in first friends in such a long time.

Frustrated, Ryou launched himself into the water. As the water closed over his head, he temporarily forgot everything and began to swim. Five underwater kicks, imitating the flexibility of the dolphin, before he broke the surface. He found that he wasn't bothered by the rain, bringing his right arm down and back over in a powerful stroke. Like a continuous cycle, he brought his left arm down and back over, kicking with straight legs, knees unbent.

Bakura, you're so good at swimming, it's like you're born in water!

He contained his amusement. He had yet to tell his fawning, female classmates that it was Ryou who was good at swimming and not Bakura. Under strange, unknown circumstances, the tomb robber and the pharaoh had been able to assume their own, physical forms. Which suited Ryou just fine, since his darker side had been really rather reluctant to go near a pool, let alone swim in one. Then, in order to differentiate between them, his yami adopted his surname as his own. So the others now addressed him as 'Ryou'.

Approaching the wall on the other side of the pool, he somersaulted and, using the wall as a springboard, began to swim back to the other side. He had to decide what he was going to do, and soon. They were expecting an answer by next week at the latest, before they would move on to their second candidate.

His hand slapped against the wall and he stopped, standing up. The shallow end of the pool reached halfway up his chest, so the upper half of his body was pelted by freezing cold raindrops. He paid it no attention as he turned around to the fence on his left surrounding the pool area.

Two figures stood under a black umbrella, on the footpath barely a metre away from the fence. At first, he thought that it may have been the two representatives from the scholarship program he had had the interview with, but then he realised that one of them was wearing the school uniform. He then saw the face of the one in the uniform when the head lifted to look at him.

Kaiba? What's he doing here?

The young CEO stared at him with those blue eyes. Their gazes connected for a moment, before Ryou broke it and heaved himself out of the water, walking towards the change room, where he had left his bags.

--------

"I win again, Tomb Robber."

Bakura snarled at the former Pharaoh, snatching up his deck. He was sick and tired of the fact that Yami would not lose at anything, even when the odds against him were stacked ridiculously high. Said Pharaoh smirked and leaned back on his seat, folding his arms.

"The score stands at me: 400 you: 0. Do you still want to win my Puzzle?"

"Of course I do," Bakura huffed angrily. He shuffled his deck again. "Let's go!"

The front door opened and Yugi's voice called out cheerfully.

"GRANDPA! YAMI! I'M HOME!"

Then other voices followed his. With a groan, Bakura realised that it was the 'cheerleaders', as he (and Kaiba) and officially dubbed them. Jounouchi, Honda and Anzu greeted Yugi's grandfather cheerfully, taking off their shoes as they reached the back of the game shop, where the residential area began.

"Yami?"

Yugi's head poked around the corner of the kitchen, blinking as he spotted an angry-looking Bakura, who had just slammed his deck onto the table. Jounouchi, Honda and Anzu peered over his head, before the four of them timidly entered the kitchen, glancing at Bakura.

"How was school, Yugi?" Yami asked conversationally, drawing attention away from the murderous-looking tomb robber.

"It was wet, cold and boring."

"I'd bet," Bakura said, rolling his eyes. "Where's Ryou?"

The four teen blinked at each other, before Yugi gasped.

"We forgot to wait for him to walk with us!" he exclaimed. "He must still be in school, waiting for us!"

"WHAT?!" Bakura jumped to his feet, glaring at them angrily. "Ryou might still be in school? What on earth possessed you to just leave him and go?"

The small boy looked down at his feet, shamefaced. In truth, they had forgotten all about the pale teen in light of the new shipment of cards coming to Kame Game Shop that afternoon. They had been so excited to see the new cards, they had just left as soon as the bell rang.

"We didn't see him all afternoon," Jounouchi said. "He was called away before lunch and didn't come back to class after that."

"It's pouring out there," Yami noted. "I think we'd better go and get him."

"I'll go and bring him," Bakura said harshly. He glared at the others. "And you call yourselves goodfriends."

He glared at them a moment longer, before storming out, grabbing his umbrella on the way. Yami sighed, shook his head, and followed, bringing his own. The tomb robber was brash and his temper fiery, which made it difficult for the others to get along with him. He, having had to patience to wait out five thousand years inside the Puzzle, was patient enough to survive his tantrums.

"Bakura!" he called, just as the other yami made a sharp turn to his left outside the Game Shop. "The school is that way!"

"I knew that, Pharaoh!" Bakura hollered, turning on his heel and storming the other way, clutching his umbrella. "Don't follow me!"

--------

They found Ryou sitting on the front steps to the school just under the shelter, arms wrapped around himself in an attempt to block out the cold. He was trembling, his book bag propped up against his side. When they ran up to him, he glanced up and they saw that his lips were turning blue.

"Ryou! Ra, why are you waiting outside?" Bakura demanded, crouching down in front of him. "You should have waited inside the school, at least it would be warmer in there!"

"B-Bakura," Ryou chattered. He smiled. "W-What are you d-doing here? W-Where are Yugi and them?"

"They left you and went back to the Game Shop," Bakura told him harshly. He glared at Yami, as if it were all his fault. "But we don't need them. I'll take you home right now, before you do yourself any more damage."

He helped Ryou to his feet, grabbing his book bag in one hand and umbrella in the other. They made their way down the stairs, Yami trailing a few steps behind. The Tomb Robber, contrary to common belief, was really rather protective of his lighter half. For some reason, Yami found this trait of his, this gruff protectiveness, fairly endearing.

"Here," he offered. "I'll take his bag. He looks cold."

Surprise flitting across the pale yami's features briefly, Bakura handed over the bag and wrapped the free arm around Ryou's shoulders, hugging him for warmth.

--------

"I apologise for Yugi's forgetfulness. I know he's really sorry about this too."

Ryou smiled up at Yami serenely from where he was nestled into the blankets. He shook his head.

"No, it's all right," he whispered, voice slightly raspy. "I wasn't in class and they wouldn't have been sure whether or not I was going with them anyway."

"What were you doing out of class, anyway?"

"I - uh." Ryou fiddled with the blankets. "I was called to the principal's office today, just before lunch. I was - um, offered a scholarship to America, to swim there. The meeting took the rest of lunch and I just didn't go back to class."

"A scholarship to America? For swimming?" Yami grinned. "That's great, Ryou! Then you can become a professional swimmer, like you wanted to be!"

"That dream was an eternity ago," Bakura snapped. He looked to Ryou. "I think you shouldn't go. Cos if you do, then I have to and then I can't get to the Puzzle."

"Don't be so selfish, Bakura," Yami snapped back. "The decision is Ryou's and, if he wants to go, you'll have to respect him! You can lay off getting the Puzzle and make Ryou happy."

Bakura froze, looking at Ryou, who was staring at his pillow.

"Is this what you want, Ryou?" he asked. "To go to America?"

"I - don't know," Ryou confessed. "It's a great opportunity, yes, but I don't really want to leave the others. I'll have to make friends all over again once I get to America and you all know how hard that is for me to do."

"When do you have to decide by?"

"Next week."

"Does he know?"

"No." Ryou's voice was miserable. "It doesn't matter."

Yami looked from Bakura to his lighter half in confusion. Who were they talking about? Ryou turned away and closed his eyes, telling them that he wanted to rest and that they should leave. Bakura sighed and pushed Yami out of the room, before pulling the door shut behind the both of them.

"Who were you two talking about?"

"Someone that doesn't concern you."

"Really, Bakura, do you want Ryou to leave Domino? Seriously?"

The tomb robber snarled.

"Of course I don't." He turned away, staring at Ryou's door, a distant look in his eyes. "I know he loves it here best and if that's the way it is, then that's the way I want to keep it as. He's my reincarnation and the lighter half of my soul. I haven't exactly been the greatest person to deal with, I know that, and it's the least I can do to keep him happy."

The pharaoh's mouth almost dropped open. Bakura noticed this and smirked, folding his arms, leaning on one leg. His eyes glinted mischievously.

"What? Surprised to hear me say stuff like this? I'm different to what you all think of me as. I don't abuse Ryou, I'm not homicidal and I definitely would not harm people just for fun. Everything I do has a purpose, so don't you dare judge me on what you see me doing without knowing why."

Yami studied him for a while, before his lips spread into his trademark grin.

"You're right," he agreed. "I'm sorry for judging you and for my prejudices."

A faint colour appeared on Bakura's cheeks, before he stomped off towards the kitchen, muttering to himself. Yami's grin widened and he followed, barely able to contain himself before he started humming. They had all been wrong about Bakura. Even though he did appear insane, he was often just blinded by his goals and his determination to achieve them. Just like a normal person.

--------

It was still raining the next morning, when Kaiba left for school. He was earlier than usual this morning, so he could catch some much needed 'relaxation time' Mokuba was always bothering him about. He wanted to take a walk around the school before the other students began arriving, since he had had not much opportunity to do so with class and his work.

"We've arrived, Mr. Kaiba."

"I'll be a while later, Kanou. Be in the car park at four thirty."

"Yes, Mr. Kaiba."

He slammed the limousine door shut and walked off, briefcase in hand and umbrella in the other. Detouring away from the main buildings, he made his way to the gym, where it was sure to be quiet.

It appeared, however, that someone was even earlier than he. That someone was at the pool again, sitting on the bench just outside the change rooms, under the shelter of the building. The boy - Bakura Ryou - was staring at the water again, lost in thought.

"Good morning, Kaiba."

The CEO turned to face the speaker. He came face to face with Bakura. Blinking, he turned back to the change room, only to find the boy still sitting there, not having moved. He turned back again and Bakura was still there, smirking.

"Did I surprise you?" he asked mockingly. "I'm sorry, I thought you knew that there was two of us."

"Two of you?" Kaiba raised an eyebrow.

"Just like the Pharaoh and his smurf."

"So you're Bakura's yami."

"I'm Bakura. The one you were staring so intently at is my lighter half, Ryou."

"Same difference."

"Not really." Bakura guided his eyes towards where Ryou sat. "He's Ryou and I'm Bakura. Calling him Bakura would not be the same. It's almost like calling Mokuba 'Kaiba' instead."

"You all call me Kaiba."

"Because you haven't given us the chance to let us call you by your name, Seto." Here, he turned back to face the CEO. "Your name is who you are. You aren't Kaiba, because you weren't given the name until later. My name has been Bakura for five thousand years, since I was born. Ryou has been Ryou since he was born. Calling him Bakura would be calling him me."

"So what do you want?"

"Simple, Seto. Come with me."

He led Kaiba towards the door in the fence that opened up the pool. The yami was drenched from head to toe in rain, but he didn't seem to mind. Leading him around the pool, careful not to slip on the concrete, Bakura stopped just a little away from Ryou.

"I want you to talk with him."

Kaiba blinked.

"Why?"

"Because you're the nicest person in the world and you love your friends so much," Bakura drawled. "Because he's upset, you asshole."

"And what has that got to do with me?"

"Let's see . . ." the crimson eyes rolled in exasperation. "Smurf and co. don't exactly 'click' with him. I have a feeling that you'd be able to talk to him. You know, get him to toughen up a bit."

"Why would I want to do that?"

Bakura growled.

"Because if you don't, then you'll most likely be responsible for more than one person's long-lasting misery and the brunt of my wrath."

"Hn."

But he walked over to Ryou and sat down. The paler teen looked up in surprise at the CEO. Bakura grinned in satisfaction and slinked away from sight.

--------

"You're early, Kaiba."

"It seems that you're much earlier than I am."

Ryou breathed a smile, staring at his shoes. He was kicking his feet back and forth, leaning forward slightly on his hands, which were gripping the edge of the bench. Kaiba set his briefcase at his feet, resting his elbows on his knees casually.

"Why are you here anyway, Kaiba? Shouldn't you be at work?"

"It's a school day. I leave my work until I'm out of school."

"That's right, I suppose." He paused, his feet out in front of him. "I saw you after school yesterday. You were watching me swimming, weren't you?"

"Yes." Another pause. "You swim well."

" . . . Thank you."

The shorter teen blushed slightly, keeping his eyes down. Kaiba turned his eyes to the water, which had risen again since yesterday, the rain rippling its surface. He had missed sitting beside a pool, even though the mansion contained one. Mokuba used it often, especially during the holidays, but he rarely had the time to go there.

"I haven't swum in a while."

"You . . . swim?"

"Believe it or not, I once aspired to be a world-class swimmer."

Ryou's head shot up, glancing over at Kaiba in shock. The CEO ignored him, still watching the water.

"I-I suppose that's . . . different . . . to what I would have thought of you as wanting to do," Ryou stammered. When Kaiba glanced down at him, eyebrow raised, he flushed. "I-I'm sorry, I didn't mean any offence."

"What you say is true. I find it almost ridiculous now."

They fell into an uncomfortable silence. Ryou was busy wondering why Kaiba would want to talk to him, while the CEO was wondering what to say. He silently cursed Bakura for getting him into this situation, and cursed himself for doing this in the first place. But Ryou reminded him of himself . . . a loner, one who had a dream he had given up on long ago.

"So . . . what do you want to do now? What's your dream?"

"I want to create the perfect wonderland – a theme park, or a gaming paradise where children can be happy." Ryou fell into silence again, while Kaiba smirked. "That's been my dream since Mokuba and I were sent to the orphanage."

"It's wonderful," Ryou murmured. "There's a lot of meaning behind it."

"Of course."

"I want to swim in the Olympics." Ryou leaned back against the wall of the change room. "I want to break the record for the 200m freestyle. I've been training for it since I was very young, before . . ."

"Before what?"

". . . Before my family died." Kaiba opened his mouth to apologise, but Ryou cut him off. "It doesn't matter. Anyway, I'd better be going."

He stood, followed by the CEO. Kaiba thought that he had to do something, because the boy still seemed rather upset. Bakura would have his head if he didn't at least try to pry him open a little more.

"I appreciate the talk, B – Ryou," he said uncertainly. "It's been a while."

"I'm glad to be of service, Kaiba." Ryou looked back at him and smiled. "I enjoyed our talk too."

"I have some time tomorrow, after school. Would you like to come over and use my indoor pool, instead of the school's?"

Ryou blushed again, staring down at his feet. Kaiba refrained from hitting himself on the forehead. The boy looked freaked out at his sudden invitation. He opened his mouth to take it back, or at least say that it didn't matter anyway, when his invitation was accepted.

"Sure. If it's not too much of a bother."

And suddenly, despite the rain, it felt as if it was going to be a great day.

--------

"Kaiba invited you over to his mansion."

Yami looked up from the book he was reading to look at the pale teen. Beside him, Bakura drank his coffee. They got along quite well, despite the other's obsession with getting the Puzzle, which only amused Yami all the more. Ryou sat down at the kitchen table, dropping his school bag on the floor.

"Yeah. He said that he had an indoor pool and that it would be better to use that instead of the school's outdoor one."

"Really? He doesn't seem that . . . social."

"He was really cool about it, though," Ryou mused. "You know, I never would have expected him to approach me this morning, but I guess it was okay."

"Hmm . . ."

"Anyway, I'm going to take a shower. Don't kill each other while I'm gone."

The two left in the kitchen grinned and slapped their palms together under the table. When Ryou had gone up the stairs, Yami put down his book and grinned.

"It worked, tomb robber."

"Of course it worked," Bakura huffed. "All my plans do."

Yami coughed into his fist, turning away with a smirk. Bakura slapped him over the head playfully. They bickered for a moment, before bursting into simultaneous laughter, enjoying themselves.

"You know, I never thought I could get along so well with you."

"Oh yeah? I didn't think that I could put up with your high-and-mighty attitude, especially the one you had back in Egypt."

"Was I really that bad?"

"Worse, believe me." Bakura pursed his lips, staring down into his coffee. "But I guess that I was still blaming you for Kuru Eruna, so it affected how I thought about you people. But we've both had three thousand years and I've gotten over the fact that it wasn't you who ordered my village wiped out. I'm still scheming about taking your Puzzle though, so you'd better watch out."

"Don't worry, I will." He glanced over at Bakura. "I'm - sorry about Kuru Eruna. I didn't know that . . .do you still hate me?"

"Well, if you put it that way . . . Sometimes I think I still do," Bakura told him bluntly. "But other times . . . It really depends. When I'm awake, I know it's not really your fault that you didn't make the decision and at those times - I don't hate you for it. But then, at night, I dream about it and I just want someone to blame it all on . . .and the only one I could think of was you."

The silence that followed was pensive. Bakura drained his coffee and gripped the mug in his hands tightly. Yami looked lost in thought, chin propped up on the palm of his hand as his elbow leaned on the table. They sighed together.

"You're a strange person, Bakura," Yami said finally. "I would call you heartless and immoral, especially after that incident in the throne room with my father's mummy, but you have your reasons. I think I can accept that . . ."

"And you're an arrogant bastard," Bakura replied. "You say that you see the best in people, but what you don't see is that you're very impatient with those who you don't understand."

"Am I?" Yami looked bewildered. "Like who?"

"Well, Kaiba for starters."

"He's too egotistical and it's made him too obsessive."

"Pegasus."

"He plays around with people's minds!"

"Malik."

"He's insane!"

"No, that's his darker side. Malik himself is normal. Oh and then there's Yami Malik . . ."

"He's insane, you said so yourself!"

"But can he really help being like that, Yami?" Bakura's voice was quiet and his words cut like a whip. "He was born of Malik's hate, anger, jealousy, bitterness and grief. In a sense, he is those things, made purely from them.

"That's all he knows, Yami, because he has none of those emotions you call friendship, love, joy, sympathy and all the others that you treasure so. Similarly I have not felt them in three millennia, because I have suffered more than what you have for so long. Besides to fight, there's nothing else we can do.

"If you can't understand that, Yami - if you can't understand that there are some things that just cannot be helped - then you don't deserve to call yourself anyone's friend."

The tomb robber stood up, put his mug in the sink, and walked out of the kitchen. He paused momentarily just outside the door before turning away and walking up the stairs. A door was heard closing. Yami stared at the empty doorway, in shock at such an emotional speech from the other spirit.

Was he really that horrible to the people he took as his enemies? No, not enemies - rivals. Did Bakura and Malik suffer so much? A voice from the doorway, sounding disappointed and disapproving, interrupted his thoughts.

"He's right," Ryou said.

"What should I do?"

"Try and understand him better." He shrugged. "You need a lot of patience, Yami. Despite how he acts all tough, Bakura's really sensitive, so I think you should cut back on the insults and sharp words. Talk to him."

"Isn't that what I've been doing?"

"Yes, but you have to learn when to be blunt and when to avoid things. Bakura doesn't like talking about Kuru Eruna very often. In fact, I don't think he's ever talked to me about it as he has just done with you." Then the pale teen smiled half heartedly. "But then again, I wasn't there when it happened."

Yami looked towards the corridor behind Ryou. He was right. It was really time they settled their differences once and for all, so all their misunderstandings would clear up. He knew the tomb robber had qualities to him that were really endearing once he actually trusted you enough to show them. Ryou smiled.

"His room is upstairs, first door on your right." He paused, then added. "But maybe you should just wait it out a little. Give him time to think and his temper to cool off. It'll be okay tomorrow."

--------

"I'm going to Kaiba's after school and will probably be back around five or so," Ryou told his darker half. "If there's a change of plan, I'll call."

"Sure, have fun."

Ryou leaned on the frame of Bakura's door, watching his darker half attempt to suffocate himself with the pillow, while lying on the bed on his back. He had been like that all night, not wanting to talk and not coming down to dinner. Yami had left shortly after the conversation, not bothering to stay for dinner like he usually did on his visits.

"You know, you really should let go."

"What are you, my guardian?" Bakura snapped. "I've let go enough! It's his problem, not mine."

"Is that why you still get upset when someone mentions Kuru Eruna?" Ryou asked quietly. "Is that why you walked out on him yesterday?"

"Don't you need to go to school, before you're late?" Bakura shifted onto his side to glance at the clock. "It's seven thirty. You have half an hour."

"Yeah, I need to go, but not before I give you a piece of my mind." Ryou folded his arms over his chest. "If I accept the scholarship, you won't have a chance at resolving this conflict for a long time, if at all. You can't stay behind in Domino, because you wouldn't be able to support yourself, especially now that you and Yami have fallen out with each other. Give it a thought. Hide away like this and leave with me, never to resolve anything with Yami, or let go and sort out your differences so you can stay in Domino."

He walked down the stairs, hoping that Bakura got the message.

Back in the room, Bakura flung the pillow aside, staring up at the ceiling. It was painted a cream-coloured white, like the rest of the house. The paint was peeling at the corners of the ceiling, but was otherwise spotless. He spent many nights, after waking up from nightmares, staring up at the ceiling.

Ryou was right, no matter how much he didn't want to admit it. He would have to talk to Yami sooner or later, otherwise he would keep getting these nightmares. And he would always have this uncomfortable feeling in his chest. The feeling that didn't let him sleep, made him lose his appetite and made it difficult for him to breathe.

He wondered if he should give Yami a call at the Game Shop. There was a phone on his bedside table, just within his reach. It was a matter of whether or not he was bothered to reach out, take it and dial.

--------

At the school gates, a limousine pulled up next to Ryou, making him stop. Kaiba stepped out from inside, taking the black umbrella from his chauffeur and motioning for him to leave. Ryou waited patiently by the gates, holding his own, light blue umbrella as the CEO approached.

"Are you still coming over after school today?"

"Y-Yes, of course."

The tiniest of smiles flitted across the CEO's lips as Ryou blushed, looking down at his feet. The school grounds were deserted, as it was still much too early for anyone else to arrive. Ryou arrived early to use the pool, while Kaiba came around the front gates because his chauffeur had taken a wrong turn.

"Good, then I'll be waiting at the car park after school."

"Okay, see you then."

Ryou quickened his steps, walking ahead of Kaiba. Somehow, it all seemed like a date to him. But he wasn't a girl and he sure didn't want to act like one. But the CEO had a way of making him nervous and flustered, just like a teenage girl. He was a few steps from the bottom of the stairs, when Kaiba called out.

"The pool would be much colder today. Maybe you shouldn't swim this morning. And it's bad for your health if you sit out in the rain so often."

The pale teen turned around, standing still as he watched Kaiba. The CEO was standing a few feet away, the briefest amount of concern lacing through his voice and lighting his eyes. Again, Ryou blushed.

"I don't feel comfortable when I don't do my morning exercise," he admitted.

"Then maybe you should play some other sport in the meantime?" Kaiba offered. "Swimming in the rain for so long really isn't healthy for you, Ryou."

Ryou tilted his head to the side in thought, before smiling.

"Then would you like to join me for badminton?"

The CEO half-shrugged, smirking.

"If you're not afraid that I'll beat you."

"You're on."

--------

They drew the game, three to three. Ryou bent over, hands propped on his knees, panting. He used the towel around his neck to mop up the sweat from his forehead and face, grinning as he looked up at Kaiba. The CEO was drinking from his water bottle.

"I haven't had such a great workout," Kaiba said, lifting his bottle in a half-salute.

"Swimming is an all-round sport, but I've missed this kind of exercise."

"It's an alternative. I'm always up for badminton whenever you want." He smirked. "Though we won't end in a draw like this time."

Ryou stopped smiling suddenly and sighed. Noticing this abrupt change in attitude, Kaiba frowned, facing him in concern. Almost as if detecting his concern, Ryou forced another smile, not as genuine as his previous ones and more half-hearted.

"Don't mind me, Kaiba," he said cheerfully. "I'm just tired."

"If you say so . . ."

The CEO backed off the topic, but still eyed the pale boy with concern. He was usually cheerful, granted, but he wasn't really the brooding type. Kaiba was the brooding type, sullen and quiet, but Ryou was quiet and sweet.

"Well, I think I might go change now, it's almost time for class."

Ryou packed his things and left. Kaiba glanced after him, worried.

I guess I'll have to find out after school.

--------

"Bakura? What are you doing here?" Yami asked, surprised.

The tomb robber just looked at him sullenly. He had walked all the way to the Kame Game Shop and come face to face with Yami as soon as he had opened the door to the shop. Yami was sitting behind the counter, shuffling his deck absentmindedly when he walked in.

"We need to talk," Bakura growled.

"Uh - sure, come around and take a seat," Yami said quickly, motioning to the gap leading around the counter. "I have to watch the shop, so we'll have to talk here, I'm afraid."

"Anything's fine."

Bakura sat on the offered stool, next to Yami, leaning on the counter. The former pharaoh noted the smell of the rain that soaked his clothing and hair. He found it pleasant, as he had always liked the smell of rain.

"So, Bakura, what did you want to talk about?"

"Don't be stupid, Yami, you know perfectly well."

They paused uncomfortably for a while, thinking of what to say. Bakura ignored the fact that the water droplets from his hair was dripping onto the counter and just glared at the game set beneath the glass display. Finally, it was Yami who broke the silence.

"I really am sorry, you know."

"I thought we cleared that up yesterday," Bakura muttered. Then he smirked. "Then again, it's not often anyone hears you apologising, Pharaoh, so I guess I shouldn't complain."

"Damn right."

They fell silent again. Yami cursed himself for being a loudmouth and saying 'damn right'. Bakura might have taken it the wrong way and translated it as him being cocky and arrogant. He had a feeling that the conversation was about as dead as a doornail.

"I think I should apologise too."

"W-What?"

Yami blinked stupidly for a few seconds, while Bakura's last statement sunk in. Bakura said that he had to apologise? The tomb robber - apologising? He was shocked, to say the least. Bakura glared at him indignantly.

"I'm sorry." He paused, where the glare intensified. "And don't make me repeat myself, otherwise I may just lose my temper."

"Nice apology," Yami said sarcastically.

"I thought so too." Bakura turned around so that his elbows rested on the counter behind him. "Look, let's just set aside differences. I came here to apologise for getting so worked up yesterday."

"And I'm here to mind the Game Shop," Yami replied, then grinned. "But I accept your apology. Besides, I admit I was wrong first, being all one-sided about things, so we're even."

"Cool, so my job here is done." Bakura stood to go. "You might want to wipe down that counter of yours. Water leaves marks on glass, you know."

He stepped around the counter and Yami stood.

"Hey, Bakura? Would you like to stay for dinner?" he offered. 'I mean, since I've been coming over to your place more often than not, you can have dinner here too. Believe it or not, I can cook a few dishes."

"Wow, the pharaoh cooking for a tomb robber." Bakura cocked an eyebrow with a smirk. He walked around the counter again. "Why not?"

--------

Ryou stepped inside the building, his eyes wide with awe. It was an Olympic standard, fifty metre pool, one to rival the best in the world. He had always just used the school's pool, which was just an average, standard competition one, so he was really excited about using one like this.

"The shallow end's depth is three metres," Kaiba told him. "The deep end is five metres. It's got average chlorine concentration, so it won't do much damage to the skin. Impressive, isn't it?"

"It's wonderful," Ryou told him sincerely, eager to use the pool.

He crouched down and skimmed the surface of the pool with his fingertips. The water was cool, but much warmer than the school's pool, which was a relief. He smiled. It would be comfortable swimming here.

"Do you want to race?" he asked suddenly, turning around to look at Kaiba.

"Pardon?"

"Let's race," Ryou repeated. "It'll be fun. A quick 200m freestyle."

"If you want," Kaiba said, shrugging. "I don't really care."

"Afraid you'll lose?" the paler boy asked, a competitiveness lighting his dark eyes. "After all, this event is my specialty."

"You wish," Kaiba retorted. "I'm not afraid of you."

They took their positions. Ryou took fourth lane, while Kaiba took sixth. Mokuba blew the starting whistle and they both dived. Mokuba watched as they both broke the surface of the water beneath the flags, neck to neck, and moved swiftly into freestyle.

"You can beat him, big brother!" he cheered.

Kaiba pulled up in front by an arm's length, but Ryou continued to swim steadily. He seemed unfazed by the fact that he was currently in a bad position. The CEO reached the other end first and somersaulted, launching himself into the next lap. Ryou followed, seconds after.

At the beginning of the third lap, Ryou had managed to pull up in front by a head. When he turned his head to breathe, he saw Mokuba jumping up and down frantically, waving his arms and pointing to somewhere behind him. He stopped and turned around.

"Kaiba!"

He ducked under the lane ropes separating them, swimming as fast as he could towards the CEO. Using basic, life-saving techniques, he pulled Kaiba to the edge of the pool, making sure that his head was not submerged underwater.

"You'll be okay," he said reassuringly as they reached the edge.

The CEO clutched his leg painfully, trying his best to hide a wince. He was out of shape, having not swum for so long, and that caused his calf muscles to cramp up. Ryou heaved him out of the water, climbing out after him quickly. Mokuba was at his side immediately, looking worried.

"He's got a cramp in his calf," Ryou said. "It's nothing to be worried about. Here, let me take care of it."

He instructed Kaiba to do some gentle stretches with his leg. After a few moments, the CEO put his leg down gingerly. Ryou smiled.

"There."

"I owe you one," Kaiba muttered. "Thank you."

"It was nothing." Ryou smiled at him. "You don't have to thank me."

"I'll go get something for you guys to eat," Mokuba offered, running away.

Kaiba and Ryou watched him go. Then the CEO stood up, offering his hand to Ryou, who took it. His hand was warm and comforting, Ryou noted, and his grip was strong, lifting him up to his feet with ease. They stood like that for a while, hands still clasped.

"What do we make of the race?" Kaiba asked, amusement lighting his voice.

"I don't know," Ryou replied, "another draw?"

"Or maybe . . ." Kaiba caught his gaze in an intense stare, making Ryou swallow nervously. "Since you saved me . . .I should let you win."

"A victory like that would mean nothing," Ryou said, shaking his head. "I'd rather finish the race another time and win fair and square."

--------

It continued to rain over the next three days. Each day, the students got more impatient at being kept indoors. Ryou himself came down with the flu the night after he returned from Kaiba's. He stayed home with Bakura.

"Feeling better?" Bakura asked, coming in and sitting down on the edge of the bed. "You were pretty out of it last time I came in."

"Yeah, thanks," Ryou said, his voice still a little croaky. "I have to call about the scholarship still."

"You're taking it?"

Ryou nodded. He motioned to the suitcases he had packed already. Some were half full, others empty and one was already packed. He had been preparing to leave by the end of the month, should he accept the scholarship. The coach over there thought it was best to have an early start to training so he could adjust himself to the environment.

"I think it's best for what I want to do if I go over there," he said.

"But what about - you know, Kaiba?"

"What about him?"

"You sure you want to just leave like this?"

The tomb robber reincarnate sighed, sitting up in bed. He ran a hand through his hair and leaned back on the headboard.

"I've had feelings for him since Duellist Kingdom, but he's never shown any signs of acknowledging me, except on the Battle Ship. Even then it was you." His voice was soft, almost miserable. "But when he came up to me and talked that day, I was really happy. Then he invited me over to use his pool and though I hoped that more could have happened, I realised that the way we stood now, there was no way we could go beyond platonic friendship."

"Why not?" Bakura shifted so he now sat cross-legged at the other end of the bed, looking at Ryou. "You two get along well - better than you do with smurf and co. anyway. All you have to do is give a little nudge here and there, try and get closer to him. I'm sure you'd be able to get beyond just friends."

"It's not going to be as easy as that, Bakura. I'm leaving." He picked up the phone next to his bed and dialled. "Hello? Mr. Takado? Yes, it's Ryou. Am I still qualified for the scholarship? Yes, I've decided to take it. Thank you, yes. Bye."

Bakura glared at him as he hung up.

"You give up too easily."

"No, I've just decided that I should move on, instead of staying in the same place, as I have done for more than two years now."

--------

That night, Yami found the tomb robber at his doorstep, looking murderous.

"Bakura?"

"He's leaving."

Yami immediately surmised that it was Ryou they were discussing. He led Bakura into the Game Shop, seating them in the living room. Yugi was upstairs doing his homework, while Sugoroku was in his study, reading.

"He took the scholarship and he's leaving at the end of the month."

"Shouldn't you be happy for him then?" Yami asked, raising an eyebrow. "It's a rare opportunity for anyone."

"Not if he's taking it because he's given up on Kaiba!" Bakura growled. "He's somehow got it in his mind that he and Kaiba aren't going to go beyond friendship. Now, because of that stupid assumption, he's leaving!"

The King of Games frowned.

"Kaiba doesn't know?"

"Of course he doesn't!" Bakura huffed angrily. "He doesn't know that Ryou has been infatuated with him for two years now, he doesn't know that Ryou plans to leave because he thinks that he doesn't have a chance with him and he sure as hell doesn't know that the flight is in six days! Screw that, five days!"

It was already nearing the end of December. The date that day was the twenty third, meaning that Ryou's flight was on the twenty ninth. They had five days to convince Ryou that he should stay. Or, they could use the upcoming Christmas party as an excuse to try and play matchmaker between the two. He related this to Bakura, in hopes of calming him down.

"We can make sure they're together the whole night! That'll make them talk. Then you can spring some old tricks on them and we play matchmaker." Bakura grinned at it all. "Then you, tomb robber, and I can have our fun, while doing our job. Sound any good?"

"Brilliant."

"Do you want me to fill the others in on this?"

"Everyone." Bakura paused in thought. "Not the Ishtars though. They'd probably just destroy everything."

--------

The day of the Christmas party came around quickly. The Kame Game Shop was decked with tinsel and lights, a huge Christmas tree sitting next to the television in the living room. Everyone was there early, bringing gifts and drinks with them.

"Are they here yet?" Bakura demanded.

"Kaiba?" Yami asked. "Nope, haven't seen him or Mokuba yet."

"Food's in the kitchen, everyone!" Yugi called, walking into the living room. "Get whatever you want!"

"Yeah food!" Jounouchi yelled, running towards the kitchen. "Let's dig in!"

Ryou sat by the window with a mug of hot chocolate. He had been wrapped in a white scarf, shrugged on a dark blue sweater and worn faded jeans. His blue overcoat was hung in the corridor along with the other coats. Bakura had insisted on him wearing multiple layers of clothing, despite his protests.

"Hey, why are you missing out on all the action here, Ryou?" Honda asked, pulling up a chair and sitting next to him. "There's plenty to do in this party!"

"I'm not really in the mood at the moment," Ryou apologised. "I've just barely recovered from the flu, Honda!"

"Oh, in that case, I'll leave you to it."

He left to join Jounouchi and Otogi in the kitchen, yelling for the latter to keep away from the cheese. Ryou sighed, shook his head, and returned to staring out the window. This continued on for some time, until a hand clapped down on his shoulder again, startling him out of his reverie.

"Yami?"

"Hey, what are you doing here by yourself?" Yami asked, sitting in the seat Honda had vacated. "Still feeling sick?"

"No, not really. Just not in the mood I guess."

"Oh . . ." Yami's smile grew into a knowing smirk. "Because Kaiba isn't here?"

"No, that's not why," Ryou muttered, a blush on his cheeks.

"Sure." Then he frowned. "I want to ask you something. Aside from swimming, what has America got for you?"

Ryou stopped staring at the window, turning around to look at Yami instead. His eyes were wide with confusion, framed by his unruly, silvery hair.

"Opportunities . . ." he began slowly. "The chance to make new friends and start a new life, to learn another culture . . ."

"But that's not what you want, is it?"

"W-Why do you say that?"

"Because you don't seem happy about your decision," Yami told him. He shifted his chair a bit closer. "You're going to be leaving behind your friends and the place you've called home for over two years, which is much more than you can say about those other places you've been. You may think you want all those things you said just then, but I don't believe that's really why you're going."

"Yami - I-I . . ."

"You're avoiding Kaiba."

"I'm not."

"You are." Yami eyed him sternly. "If he's not coming now, he'll come tonight. You know you can't avoid him forever. You have to get everything out in the open, at least before you leave. Would you really be content to leave everything without knowing how he feels about this?"

Ryou shrugged and sipped his chocolate. Yami sighed, patted his shoulder and left him sitting by the window. As soon as he did, Ryou put down the mug and rested his head on his arms, folded on the windowsill.

I'm in love with someone who's most likely not in love with me, he thought miserably. And I'd rather run than face rejection.

--------

That night, he sat in the backyard of the Game Shop, eyes closed, breathing in the scent of rain. The damp, earthy smell was somewhat pleasant, along with the cold temperature, and he enjoyed the feeling on his face. The others were inside, duelling, arguing, dancing and whatnot. He found it entirely too crowded and noisy for his liking.

Kaiba hadn't arrived. It was already seven o'clock and the party had started in the morning. Yugi had a fondness for exceedingly long parties and they often were sleepovers, but Ryou never did. He had given up hope on the CEO coming and was somewhat glad of the fact, so he did not have to face him.

He had four days. At home, his things were more or less in order, ready to be shipped to America. And four days was more than enough for him to bear, especially since he was much too afraid of facing Kaiba in those four days. It was more than enough time for him either to be rejected or, as he wistfully hoped, accepted.

Bakura and Yami were now mutual friends, though Ryou saw that they could become more if they only gave each other the chance. The tomb robber would stay here in Domino after he left, living at his place with Yami. In fact, when they first started getting along, what with Bakura always challenging the former pharaoh, Ryou and Yugi were sure it was only a matter of time before they set aside differences totally.

Yami and Bakura are content. I can leave Domino and pursue a career in swimming. I have so much to be thankful for, but why do I still want what I can't have? Why must I pine after someone who most likely doesn't feel the same?

He had never had a proper family and if he did, he had been too young to remember. Being almost always alone, he began to long for and treasure the moments when he would witness, experience and feel love of any sort. And he saw that, first with Yugi and his friends, how they would risk their lives for each other. Then a more powerful kind of bond with Kaiba and his brother, which was the one who had touched him the most.

Kaiba's love for Mokuba, and visa versa, was something that had moved him deeply. The CEO cared so passionately about keep Mokuba safe and Ryou had longed for that kind of love for all his life. And that was how he gradually became fond of Kaiba. He began to see through the mask and into the feelings embedded deep within the CEO's soul. What he saw was the most beautiful and wonderful things he had ever seen in his life.

I want to be loved like that, he thought wistfully. I want to be able to say that I have someone who cares for me beyond life itself, not just me caring about them. The others would risk themselves for each other because they have a bond that I don't within the five of them. I'm the outsider. Somehow, I think Kaiba's the only one who would really understand what it's like to be looking in on such a powerful friendship.

--------

"It's about damn time you came, Kaiba!"

"What's it to you, mutt?"

"Not me, you jerk," Jounouchi retorted angrily, "I'm talking about -"

"Jounouchi!" Anzu hissed, stomping on his foot.

Kaiba raised an eyebrow at this. Mokuba, however, smirked and skipped inside cheerfully, motioning for the suits behind him to hand over the large presents. He then reached behind him and dragged Kaiba inside. They were welcomed by Yugi, Sugoroku and everyone else. Mokuba immediately went over to watch Yami and Bakura's duel, cheering both sides on (but Yami more than Bakura).

"I attack your life points directly," Yami said triumphantly. "I win again, Bakura. That's the eighth time tonight – and makes it a total of me: 420, you: 0."

"And now you're gonna ask me whether or not I still want to win your Puzzle," Bakura added, rolling his eyes. "The answer is as always: yes, I still do and no, I'm not about to give up on it."

They had a good laugh, until Bakura spotted Kaiba standing by the window Ryou had been sitting at hours before. He glared at the CEO and stalked over, leaving Jounouchi to take his seat and duel Yami. Kaiba glanced at him out of the corner of his eye and resolutely turned back to the rain-splashed window.

"I did what you asked," he said curtly.

"And you did a better job than I expected."

"What was the point of it all?" Kaiba stared out of the window. "Ryou is perfectly fine on his own. He doesn't need anyone to talk to him."

"That's what you think," Bakura told him. When the CEO had no response, the tomb robber growled and grabbed him by the shoulder. "Don't you pay attention to what happens around you?"

"Like what?" Kaiba sneered. "That you and Yami seem to have gotten together? Or that Yugi isn't actually all that short compared to average sixteen-year-olds?"

"Never mind." Bakura rolled his eyes and sighed, walking away.

The room resumed its noisiness as Bakura joined the crowd around the duelling table. Mokuba made his comments about Jounouchi's duelling, giving him tips on how to counter a particular move of Yami's, but the blonde insisted on doing everything by himself, which resulted in the king of games beating him within minutes. The CEO groaned and walked off.

He wandered off to the back of the house. It was much quieter, especially when the others were all too busy to go anywhere besides the living room. Then he noticed the shock of white hair sitting outside.

He's out in the rain again? I told him it wasn't good for him.

Opening the door, he stepped outside. Ryou was sitting on the veranda, just under the shelter. The rain was barely touching his shoes, but he didn't seem to mind. The CEO walked up to him, leaning against the wooden post holding the shelter up.

"What have I told you about sitting in the rain?"

Ryou started, turning around in surprise, eyes wide.

"K-Kaiba, you're here?"

"Of course I am. Mokuba and I were invited too." He motioned to the place beside Ryou. "Can I sit?"

"Oh, sure!"

He shuffled over to let him sit down. A blush spread over his cheeks when their shoulders brushed. Noticing this, Kaiba smirked.

"You were absent from school for a while," he commented. "I was beginning to wonder what happened. Then Yami told me you had the flu. But you seem to be all right."

"Yes, I've recovered a lot already."

"That's good."

They sat in silence for a while.

"Hey guys," a voice called from the back window. "Look up!"

Kaiba and Ryou turned around and saw Bakura and Yami at the window, grinning at them. The latter looked up in confusion. Then his face grew even redder than it had been. The CEO glared at the two yamis, motioning to the sprig of mistletoe tacked above their heads.

"That's the lamest trick in the book, you two," he snapped. "You should update your little schemes."

"But you were caught in it, Kaiba," Bakura nearly purred.

"Who the hell puts mistletoe on the backyard veranda?" he demanded.

"I do!" Yugi piped up, appearing next to Yami. "It's fun!"

"And you two were caught under the mistletoe with the three of us as witnesses." Bakura tutted, waving a finger at him. "The trick may be old, but it works."

Ryou stood to leave, his face dark. How dare Bakura play a trick on him like that, knowing perfectly well that Kaiba didn't know his feelings! He could almost punch him in frustration. A hand on his arm stopped him from carrying out just that. Kaiba had stood up as well, eyes flashing.

"Don't worry about it." He reached up and plucked it off the roof. He flung it back into the window. "Get lost, you three, joke's over."

Grumbling, the three of them shut the window and stalked off. Kaiba turned back to Ryou, just in time to catch a flash of – disappointment? – in his face, before he grinned sheepishly.

"Uh – I guess we should go inside then?" he ventured.

He sidled back towards the door, head bowed. His disappointment made Kaiba wonder. Had he wanted the kiss? Is that why he didn't say anything against it? Ryou had a hand on the doorknob, when Kaiba reached out for his shoulder.

"K-Kaiba?" he stammered. "W-What -?"

He froze as he felt lips on his own. Kaiba was kissing him? Him? But why? He was so furious about the mistletoe that Ryou was sure he didn't want to kiss him. Nevertheless, it was happening and he was more than happy enough to just enjoy it. It didn't matter if it turned out only to be a hoax. Kaiba was kissing him.

Kaiba, meanwhile, was wondering when he had begun to feel this way. Ryou's lips were soft, not at all like what one would expect of a boy's. He was shy about the whole thing and let Kaiba take control, which suited the CEO fine. He reached his free hand, the one not gripping Ryou's shoulder, up to wrap around his waist.

When they parted, Ryou's eyes were wide and he looked down with a flush. Kaiba still had his arm around his waist.

"Why did you kiss me?"

"Didn't you like it?"

"I-I did!" Ryou stuttered. His hands fidgeted. "I just . . . didn't think you'd feel that way. I-I mean . . . I didn't expect you to kiss me like that."

The CEO smirked and kissed him on the forehead gently. Ryou closed his eyes and smiled contentedly, leaning into the touch.

"Well, I enjoyed it too," Kaiba said in a low voice.

They went back inside, Kaiba first and then Ryou. They joined the group around the duelling table and acted as if nothing happened, though Ryou looked edgy and distracted. Bakura picked this up and grinned, nudging Yami, who was watching Yugi and Jounouchi duel each other. They snuck into the kitchen.

"So they did kiss!" Yami whispered excitedly.

"Hell yeah!" Bakura cheered.

"Now all we need to do is wait for them to announce their get-together."

--------

Jounouchi, Honda, Yami and Bakura were drunk. At least, that was the assumption made by the others as they watched them dance and sing to 'Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer'. The first two's drinks had been spiked (two guesses as to who) and were drunk by their fourth cup of eggnog. Bakura had managed to sneak in the alcohol.

Yugi and Anzu dragged the aforementioned blonde and rhino-headed friend into the bathroom and systematically drenched their heads in water. Yugi shoved Jounouchi in the shower and turned the cold water on, while Anzu mercilessly dunked Honda's head into the sink, which was full of water.

Mokuba was asleep, as it was long past his bed time. He had stayed up too late at his school friend's Christmas Eve party and was tired, otherwise he would have been able to stay up later. Ryou sighed as his darker half began to re-educate Yami in singing Egyptian drinking ballads.

I guess Bakura will be staying over tonight, he sighed.

"Are you staying over here tonight?" Kaiba asked suddenly from where he was sitting, by the window. Mokuba was in Yugi's room, asleep.

"No, actually," Ryou answered with a smile. "Believe me, you wouldn't want to hang around when they wake up with massive hangovers either."

"I'll give you a lift home." Kaiba stood up.

"Oh no, it's all right. Use the limo to take Mokuba home. I'll walk. My apartment isn't that far away anyway."

Kaiba looked thoughtful. He ended up pulling out his cell phone and calling a limo anyway. Then he turned to Ryou.

"I'll walk you there. The limo is coming for Mokuba."

"That would be too much trouble, Kaiba. It's not necessary."

"We need to talk. Don't argue with me, Ryou."

The old Kaiba was back. He was the one who demanded everything and asked for nothing. He was the one Ryou had worked so hard to see past to fall in love with. To be honest, Ryou was a little frightened of this Kaiba.

"A-All right."

--------

Yami and Bakura watched them go, bursting into drunken laughter as the two left, Mokuba being carried by a KaibaCorp suit. Bakura leaned over to whisper in Yami's ear, the two falling over in an undignified heap on the ground, laughing hysterically.

"Maybe we shouldn't've - hic - played that - hic - drinking game," Yami slurred. "­Hic - we're both - hic - Ra-damned - hic - drunk . . ."

"The Pharaoh - hic - swore!" Bakura cried, giggling into his hands.

Yami seemed to pull himself up to try and regain his composure and dignity.

"I'm the Morning and Evening Star!" he boomed. "I can swear - hic - if I want to - hic - so shaddup!"

"And I'm Cleopatra," Bakura drawled, waving his hand around imperiously.

Yami tilted his head to look at him with half-lidded eyes.

"You're pretty - hic - enough to be - hic," he said.

The tomb robber stood up shakily, swaying on his feet. He steadied himself on the TV, grinning. Yami blinked up at him, still hiccuping. All composure between the two had disappeared in light of the heavy alcohol.

"I'm - hic - pretty, eh?" Bakura smirked. "Well, you're - hic - not so bad - hic - yourself - hic - Pharaoh . . ."

He took a step forward, only to trip over his own feet and land back into a heap, on top of Yami. They laughed again, barely realising their positions, until Bakura stopped. He had both hands to either side of Yami's head, straddling his waist, their faces barely inches apart. By this time, Yami had stopped laughing too and he reached out, tracing down the side of Bakura's cheek with a finger.

"I don't know why we always fight," Yami whispered, not longer hiccuping.

"Because it's natural?"

"Maybe . . ." Yami frowned. He took Bakura's face in his hands. "I don't want to fight you. Even though we've been 'enemies' for three thousand years, I don't want to fight you anymore."

"Some things run too deep to be forgotten," Bakura told him, gaze intense as he stared down at the Pharaoh.

"Can't we try?"

The question, whispered so mournfully, caused Bakura's eyes to widen. Did he want to forget all the hatred, the animosity and the grief of the last three thousand years? Was he even ready to let go, after so long? He took a deep, shaky breath, acutely aware of Yami's hands on his face.

"I want to."

With that, Yami brought him closer, brushing their lips together. When they pulled apart, Bakura immediately kissed him again, fierce and passionate. And they forgot, for that night, the pains, prejudices and differences of the past three millennia, surrendering themselves to the moment.

--------

"I don't see why you wouldn't let me take you home in the limo."

"I like walking. It's healthy." Ryou smiled from under the rim of his umbrella. "Maybe not as convenient as a car, but I enjoy it."

Kaiba shook his head and shifted his grip on his own umbrella, making it easier for him to hold. They walked a bit longer in silence, Ryou making sure to stand as far apart as possible without seeming unnatural. Why was Kaiba being so nice? What had changed between them to make the CEO notice him? He snuck a glance in his direction.

Why did you kiss me?

"Because I wanted to see you smile."

Ryou flushed as he realised that his question had been spoken aloud. Kaiba looked at him meaningfully, perfectly serious, before he stopped walking altogether. Being the polite person he was, Ryou stopped too.

"Why?"

"It's not right if you don't," Kaiba said, without a trace of embarrassment. "You're supposed to smile, because that's who you are."

They were at the front of his apartment complex.

"Why did you suddenly notice me?" Ryou asked quietly. "Why, all of a sudden, did you decide that it was necessary to make me smile? What changed between us - between your attitude towards me?"

"Your dream."

Ryou blinked in confusion at him. Sapphire blue eyes regarded him with interest, sincerity and - wistful affection. The CEO looked thoughtful.

"The day I saw you swimming, after school, the first time," he explained. "You reminded me of what I had once dreamed of being, before everything happened. My dream of building the perfect children's paradise came after my parents died. Swimming came before and you reminded me of it."

"So I became a representation of your past?"

"At first." He paused. "Then you made me want to get to know you. I don't know why, but you remind me of the me I had wanted to protect, to shield from everyone else. You helped me, even when it wasn't necessary. Unlike Yami and the others, who only help me if it were a matter of life and death. Something about you really stood out."

"You want something different."

"I want someone who cares."

Shaking his head, Ryou turned to the glass doors. He punched in the security code to open it, pushing the double doors open when the green light came on. Kaiba followed him.

"Why would you think I care?" Ryou asked him, pressing the elevator button. He still didn't look at the CEO. "I could hate you as much as Jounouchi does and this confession of yours would make excellent blackmail."

"But you don't. Otherwise you wouldn't have said you enjoyed the kiss back at the Game Shop. You wouldn't have accepted my invitation to come over to my place and you wouldn't have saved me."

"Maybe it was all a hoax to set you up? How would you know?"

"You wouldn't have said all this if it were."

The elevator arrived. Ryou hurried inside, almost screaming in frustration when Kaiba did as well. The doors closed, leaving them alone in the small, enclosed space. Ryou did his best to ignore the CEO, acting as if he wasn't bothered that the billionaire was following him home.

"Ryou, listen to me."

The paler teen pushed the button to the top floor. His apartment was double-storey, which was more expensive than the others in the complex. That done, he closed his eyes and leaned against the wall, still ignoring Kaiba.

"I'm not leaving until you do." When Ryou still didn't reply, Kaiba grabbed his shoulder roughly. Dark eyes looked up at him calmly. "I'm going to say this very clearly, in the simplest terms: I want you."

The doors slid open and Ryou pulled out of Kaiba's grasp, walking out quickly, using his hair to hide the confused, surprised and nervous expression. Kaiba followed him to the door of his apartment. They entered the apartment together, the door closing behind Kaiba. It had a function on the lock, which automatically slipped into place when the door closed.

"Why won't you listen to me?" Kaiba demanded, as Ryou made his way towards the stairs. "Why can't you understand that I want you?"

"Then why don't you try and understand me, Kaiba?" Ryou spun around, eyes hard. "I don't want to be involved in a relationship when I'm not even certain if I can trust my partner. You haven't acknowledged me before, so what changed? Why, all of a sudden, did you decide that you wanted to be with me? How do I know if you're not going to change this decision like you did with ignoring me?

"And what about your attitude? You've never given me any sign that you were sincere about asking me out. Even Yugi knew to court Anzu before he asked her out. I'm human, Kaiba, and I have feelings too. Just because I'm a guy doesn't mean I don't want to be shown affection, or courted."

He looked temporarily mortified, clapping a hand over his mouth. Kaiba just stared at him in surprise. This was the most emotional speech the boy had ever said in his presence. The CEO didn't know what to think.

"I-I'm sorry about that, Kaiba," Ryou apologised hastily. "I got carried away."

He fled up the stairs, leaving Kaiba in the corridor, staring blankly.

--------

Ryou slammed the door to his room shut, collapsing on his bed. Why had he yelled at Kaiba like that? He shouldn't have let his emotions get the better of his common sense. And besides, hadn't he wanted Kaiba to ask him out for so long?

What's the point? He thought bitterly. I'm leaving in four days. Accepting him would only make parting harder to bear. If I did accept him, I don't know how I'm ever going to let him go.

But then, if I don't try and at least experience what it would be like, how do I know if it's going to be hard to let go? I know that, if I go to America like this, I'm going to regret not taking the chance to be with Kaiba, for the rest of my life.

But did Kaiba really, really love him? Or was this just some sort of delusion of his, a passing interest that, when gone, would leave him crushed? He groaned, burying his face in his hands.

Footsteps stopped in front of his door and Kaiba's voice came through.

"Bakura? Can I come in?"

"It's open, Kaiba."

The CEO opened the door carefully, stepping inside. He lingered in the doorway, unsure of whether or not he could approach Ryou after his emotional outburst. The paler boy sat up and watched him.

"I wanted to apologise," Kaiba began.

"For what?"

"For forcing this all on you, without really caring what you feel." He looked decidedly uncomfortable. "I don't know how to - approach this carefully, so I'm also apologising for being blunt about all those other times as well.

"But I really want to know . . . Could we? Be together, I mean?"

Ryou met his eyes. The CEO had shelved his pride and apologised. It was a bit clumsy, but it was a sincere apology. And he was serious about them being together. The pale teen couldn't keep the smile from growing on his lips.

"We could," he said slowly. "If you wanted to."

Even if only for a few days, he thought. At least we can be happy for this short time. I only hope parting isn't too painful.

Kaiba's delight was evident on his face as he crossed the room and enveloped his new boyfriend in a tight embrace. Ryou buried his face in the CEO's shoulder, laughing despite himself. They loosened their grips for a moment, but Kaiba closed the gap again, kissing him.

"Merry Christmas."

--------

Four Days Later

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Domino Airport was filled with people. They were all last-minute passengers, anxious to get overseas to celebrate New Years with their families and friends. A large group were collected near the escalator, all from Domino Senior High. In the centre of the huge group was Ryou, who had a bag shouldered on his left and one held in his right hand.

"I can't believe you didn't tell us about this scholarship, Ryou," Anzu said, wiping away tears. "We're all so happy for you!"

"Yeah well, I wasn't sure if I was going to accept it," Ryou told them sheepishly, rubbing the back of his neck. "Sorry about the late notice."

"No problem, Ryou," Jounouchi told him. He clapped a hand on the shorter boy's shoulder. "We're just gonna miss ya, man. How long are you going for?"

"I don't know. Two years, at least. I'm planning to finish school there and hopefully get into university. But I'll be training as well. I'll try to get in contact with you guys, okay?"

"Here's my email, Ryou," Honda said, handing him a slip of paper.

"And ours!" the others chorused.

Ryou took it and glanced over the list. It was a long one, with almost everyone's details. He blinked back tears as he looked down at Yugi, who was also almost crying.

"I'm going to miss you guys," he sad shakily.

"Us too," Yugi replied.

He hugged the boy suddenly. Ryou felt him start crying into his shoulder and patted him on the shoulder awkwardly, embracing him around his bags. He looked over the other boy's hair at Yami and Bakura.

"Take care of my darker half for me, Yami," he said. "I'm trusting you to keep him out of trouble."

"Don't worry about a thing," Yami replied, giving him a thumbs-up. "Call us."

"Will do," Ryou said, laughing.

Yugi finally let go of Ryou and apologised for soaking his shirt. Bakura came up to him next, patting him on the shoulder, before grabbing him in a tight hug. He rested his head on his darker half's shoulder and whispered his goodbye.

"I'll be checking up on you regularly," he said sternly, after they had pulled away. "Don't forget I can visit you in our mind and I'll know if you steal something else."

"I'm not going to." Bakura leaned closer again. "I've got my hands full trying to convince Yami that I'm serious about - you know, that."

Ryou grinned. The night after the Christmas party, he had woken up to a phone call from Yugi, who was squeaking that he had found Yami and Bakura in the living room, after having sex apparently. Soon after that, Seto had taken the phone away and told Yugi off for waking him up, hanging up on him.

"Don't worry, he loves you for sure," Ryou told him. "He just wants you to humiliate yourself for his sake. It's fun, I guess."

"Sometimes I think the two of you are much more sadistic than you let on."

"I'll take that as a compliment."

They exchanged grins and Ryou turned to hug Yami.

"How did Kaiba take the news?"

Ryou frowned suddenly. He shifted the bag on his shoulder uncomfortably. Yami immediately became concerned for him.

"What's wrong?"

"Well . . . I told him and . . . he didn't say anything.'

"You know him best. Is that usually a good sign?"

"Bad one, usually."

Yami patted him on the shoulder.

"Well, he'll get over it eventually." Then he grinned. "Like he eventually got over the fact that he'll never be able to beat me in any game. Intelligence and connections, maybe, but definitely not as good as games as I am."

Ryou stifled a chuckle. He said goodbye to everyone else who was there with him, including the PE teacher, Karita, who only 'hmph'ed at him. Smiling weakly, Ryou turned to the principal, the guidance counsellor and his class teacher, bowing politely. He had never really got along with the teachers, but they were here to see him off, so he couldn't be rude.

"Make sure you don't embarrass our school," Karita growled.

"I'll do my best," Ryou replied.

He had fifteen minutes until the call would come for his flight to board and Seto hadn't shown up. Ryou was starting to think that the CEO was really angry and wasn't going to see him off.

"Hey, cheer up, he's coming."

Ryou's expression lit up as he looked past the crowd at the person standing a few feet away. Kaiba Seto, holding his briefcase in his hand and looking on as Ryou said his goodbyes. The pale teen saw him smile and realised that everything was all right. Seto wasn't angry enough to ignore him.

"About time, Kaiba!" Jounouchi yelled.

Both the CEO and his boyfriend ignored the blonde. Ryou dropped his bags and pushed past the crowd. He broke into a run when they parted for him, giving him a clear way to Seto. As he approached, Seto set down his briefcase and caught him, holding him close.

"I thought you weren't going to come," Ryou whispered, arms still wrapped tightly around his neck. "Are you still angry at me?"

"I never was," Seto told him gently.

Ryou slid down, arms now resting on Seto's upper arms, not entirely tall enough to reach his neck when on the ground.

"Do you have to go?"

"I signed the contract, Seto. And even though we're together, I don't want to give up my chance at being able to train with the best facilities and trainers the world can offer. I'll be in touch though."

Seto brushed back a lock of hair from his forehead and kissed him there. He then bent down and kissed him on the lips. Ryou raised himself to wrap his arms around Seto's neck, deepening the kiss.

"How sweet," Anzu commented to Yugi, sniffing.

"I don't think this is good for the school reputation," the guidance counsellor muttered to the principal. "Our two prodigies our both homosexual. We need to talk to them about it."

"You can," the principal told him. "Frankly, I don't think I want to face Kaiba Corporation over this affair."

Seto reached into his pocket and brought out a small box and pressed it into Ryou's palm. The shorter teen looked down and felt tears burn his eyes. He opened it and slipped the contents onto his finger, leaning up to kiss him.

"My promise, Ryou," the CEO told him. "Remember."

"I will." He hugged him tightly, tears sliding down his cheeks. "Always."

Flight QF128 is now boarding, the announcement rang out through the airport. Repeat, Flight QF128 to New York is now boarding. Please make your way to Gate B.

"I have to go now," Ryou said, voice cracking.

Seto nodded, brushing away the tears from his boyfriend's face.

"Don't worry, I'll visit every time I can," Seto promised. "I'll bring Mokuba if I have to. Just to make things a bit livelier over in New York."

Ryou laughed through his tears and hugged the CEO tightly. They jogged towards where Ryou had dropped his bags. He hugged everyone again, picked up his bags and walked over to Gate B, hand in hand with Seto, who held his boarding pass and passport. At the gate, Seto handed him back the passport and boarding pass.

"I love you," he whispered, kissing him on the cheek again.

"I love you too." Ryou kissed his lips. "See you soon."

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End

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Author's Notes:

How was that? It was LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONG! Anyhow, I might add a little epilogue thing afterwards. Depends on my mood.

So, what about a review? I worked hard on this! 33 pages!

MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR, MINNA!

REVIEW!

Relinquished