Title: Unexamined Life - Part V
Rating: M (lime ahoy!)
Pairing(s): Seto/Joey, Tristan/Joey (with brief hints of Yugi/Téa, Joey/Mai, Tristan/Duke & Duke/Mai)
Beta: Jennie B. & Angryhamster (teaming up to save the world from bad grammar once again!)
Spoilers: Slight mentions of the ending of the anime series.
Disclaimer: Don't own it. Would like to, but they won't let me. Wonder if that restraining order is still in effect? Mr. Takahashi, it was all just a big misunderstanding, I swear...
Summary: Nearly fifteen years after being forced apart from the one he loves, Joey Wheeler reminisces on the events leading up to their separation, and holds onto a dim hope that they might one day be reunited. But, after hardships faced and conquered, can things ever really go back to the way they were?
A/N: This fic counts as a space age A/U with no specific setting, based loosely on a number of popular science fiction premises. Though it does technically have a sci-fi premise, the futuristic aspects of this fic are meant to be a bare bones backdrop to the overall story itself. Do not expect to see wildly OOC behaviour or ridiculous notions such as 'Space Captain Kaiba Saves the Universe'. That's all in the sequel, folks. Not.
-- Seriously people, I'm a total feedback h0r. Take the time to let me know what you thought of the fic, even if it's just to say, 'you suck' or something, OK? I'm starting to get totally discouraged here. :-( Be forewarned, I freely glomp those who leave favourable comments... --
This fic was written for the 'Love or Lies Anniversary Challenge' at 'A Dragon's Lair'
Gazing blankly down at the letter still clutched tightly in his hand, Joey didn't realize that his vision had started to blur until the first wet droplets began to strike the page, blotting the small, precise lettering wherever they happened to fall. Shaking himself out of the trancelike state that had overcome him, Joey dressed swiftly and scrambled out the cell door at breakneck speed, and then out of the holding facility itself, not a single soul attempting to bar his way or question his frantic, headlong rush. He hurriedly glanced up at the digital readout displayed at the top of the clock tower across the street, and saw that it was more than half past eight in the morning. He increased his pace, hoping against hope that he wasn't too late. He was unsure of exactly what he would do when he arrived at the Hall of Justice; vague notions of simply wrestling Seto away from the security officers and making a run for it flitted through his confused head as he ran, and he nearly laughed out loud at the absurdity.
As he rounded the corner to his destination, Joey skidded to a halt in front of the massive stone edifice. Standing out front at the top of the steps, looking tiny and forlorn, was the figure of his friend Yugi. The smaller boy stood tense and expectant, just as if he had merely been waiting for Joey to happen along.
"Don't say it, Yug'! I'm not too late! I won't hear it!"
Yugi stepped forward, his arms outstretched, and Joey brought his fist up to his mouth, biting his knuckle sharply and trying in vain to hold back his hysterical laugh. His eyes darted around wildly like a caged animal's, as he slowly backed away from the smaller boy. Yugi stopped advancing on him and called out pleadingly, "Joey, wait!"
Joey snapped out of his stupor somewhat, his wide eyes fixing intently on his friend, as if spotting him for the first time. "You were there, weren't you, Yug'? They did it, didn't they?"
"Joey, I --"
The blond seized his best friend by the collar and lifted him until his small feet kicked several inches off the ground, shaking him like a terrier worries a rat. He was laughing and crying at the same time, though it was obvious he didn't even realize it. "Help me find him, please! I have to find him!" Joey continued to cry brokenly as Yugi wrenched himself loose from the distraught boy's trembling grasp.
"Even though I'm on the Council, they wouldn't let me in to the actual procedure! That's what I was trying to tell you! Knowing the... condemned... is a breach of ethics, they said. I only waited here to say good-bye Joey. It's all I could do for him. I'm sorry." He lifted his sorrowful gaze to Joey's own, apologizing with his heart visible in his wide, violet eyes. "He -- he wasn't afraid."
Joey wasn't listening however. His face had lit up again with a wild kind of hope. "You're on the Council, Pal! You can still help me find him!"
"They purge the records, Joey! The new data doesn't even exist anymore, you know that. I'm sorry, but... he's gone." These last words were spoken in a choked whisper as Yugi looked away, no longer able to meet his friend's grief head on.
Joey took one lurching step back down the stone steps, but Yugi held him back easily, the two falling to their knees on the concrete steps. They each wrapped their arms about the other as Joey wept bitterly, unmindful of both the busy downtown traffic and curious passers by. When the blond had finally calmed somewhat, he returned his friend's concerned stare evenly. "You said -- you said he wasn't scared?"
Yugi smiled gently. "No, Joey, he wasn't.. He seemed almost... serene, really. He said to tell you..." The shorter boy thought back briefly, mindful of choosing the exact words spoken to him by Seto just a short time ago. "He said to tell you that he was glad he hadn't led an unexamined life, after all. Do you know what that means?"
Joey nodded forcefully as he attempted to wipe away the tide of tears that stubbornly refused to be stemmed, even now. "It means I've got a promise to keep. And no matter what else comes along, I'm gonna make sure that I do."
As the hired limousine pulled up in front of their hotel, Joey gazed out at the quiet streets of the Culver Beach Colony. Tourism was practically nonexistent in the winter months, but he remembered being here years ago, one scorching hot August, enjoying the seaside air, the food, the ritzy nightlife, the surf, the devastatingly handsome CEO at his side...
"Babe, I'm gonna head on up to the room for another nap, OK? I think you gave your headache to me, you inconsiderate jerk."
Joey laughed softly at Tristan's feigned distress. "Sorry. I would have warned ya if I knew it was contagious."
"You coming up?"
"Nah. You go ahead. I think I'm gonna walk along the beach for a bit. Haven't been here since... Well, it's been a while."
Tristan nodded in understanding and leaned over to kiss the side of Joey's neck, carefully rearranging the blond's scarf back over the spot where his lips had pressed. "Keep your scarf on, you hear me? That wind is freezing the closer you get to the shore. I'll be here waiting for you, when you decide to come back." Joey's beleaguered brain pondered the possible double meaning of these words as his husband tossed a casual wave over his shoulder and disappeared inside the hotel.
Joey walked for a short time until he'd left behind most of the hotels and high rise structures, wandering into a more secluded area of beach properties consisting mostly of small, fully furnished bungalows with their own quiet sections of private shorefront. It was here that he and had Seto stayed so many years ago that distant summer, and Joey remembered being impressed that the billionaire had garnered them such humble accommodations, knowing instinctively even then in the earlier stages of their relationship, that Joey would be ill at ease in more opulent surroundings.
Nostalgia and longing gripped his heart firmly as he meandered further, passing landmarks unchanged along with newer ones he didn't recognize, until he was standing directly in front of the familiar gray beach house, looking more weathered than he remembered, but basically no different than the pictures conjured by his mind.
He also recalled treasured moments from that glorious August week, laid out like snapshots in his mind. The whispered intimacy of one dinnertime confession -- Seto had never in his life tried shrimp before. "They look like giant insects," he'd scoffed, deftly dodging the blond's repeated attempts to trick him into opening his mouth. "You wouldn't want to eat something you might come across in Weevil's deck, now would you?" Laughing, Joey had acceded the point, and the offending delicacy had made no more appearances on that trip. He recalled being pleasantly surprised to learn that the cold, often distant seeming CEO was in actuality a talented surfer, and though Seto himself had turned out to be a wonderful instructor, Joey's own attempts were less than successful, to say the least.
Joey remembered that he'd caught himself a summer cold, as well, and the two of them had spent a number of days solely indoors, holed up in the cozy bungalow, alternately discussing their respective plans and dreams, or making love in the garden hot tub, the hammock, or even, when Joey had been feeling up to it again, on the wet sand of the private strip of beach.
Staring out across the rapidly darkening horizon, Joey was taken swiftly back in time, feeling the firm yet sticky sand once again under his back, the sensation of Seto within his body, filling him to the breaking point, the cool ocean waves lapping rhythmically at their intertwined legs. He had stared wonderingly, blissfully, up at the full moons overhead, alternating his ecstatic gaze between the handsome face above him, Seto's blue eyes closed tight in concentration, full lips slightly parted and panting with exertion, and the newly risen twin satellites, casting their hypnotic white glow over the entire scene, painting it with romance and mystery.
Tonight, as that same night so long ago, both moons were full and bright, and Joey found that pulling himself back into the present was one of the hardest things he'd ever had to do.
It was well past dusk when Joey turned to head back, spying a small family huddled around a fire pit, roasting hot dogs and marshmallows as they laughed and talked amongst themselves. One small boy of about ten was stubbornly running up and down the shoreline, trying in vain to get his box kite to soar in the listless nighttime breeze. As Joey started past, the father of the group rose then, revealing his true height and standing silhouetted by the bright glow of one of the moons. Joey was instantly transfixed in place, his breath freezing in his chest.
A voice he knew as well as his own, the voice that to this very day haunted his dreams and waking hours alike, broke through the ice in his chest, calling out in exasperation, "Michael! It's getting too dark to fly that thing! Come over here and eat some hot dogs, will you? We're leaving soon!"
Suddenly, Joey's world began to move again, but still too quickly for his shocked mind to completely comprehend. As the father turned to look past the boy, his eyes caught Joey's and the light of recognition dawned in them, bright and unmistakable in the deep blue depths. The man bent down, whispering something briefly in the ear of a woman sitting at the fireside, as she gave him a distinctly odd look and nodded absently.
Then, no matter how many times he tried to tell himself that this wasn't happening, that he was lying in his own bed asleep, dreaming fitful dreams, Seto was crossing the sand toward him, taking long, purposeful strides over to where Joey was standing, still paralyzed.
"Joey? Joey Wheeler?"
Hearing that voice speak his name for the first time in fifteen years was finally enough to restore motion to his traitorous body, but only to the point that he nodded dumbly in assent.
"I thought that was you!" Seto turned back briefly to survey the small group behind him, waving cheerfully. He whirled to face Joey once more as he smiled and said, "My wife Lynn, that's her over there, was telling me I was crazy, but I knew I recognized you!"
Joey had at last found part of his voice, and he stammered out, "S-Seto?"
The brunet frowned and looked puzzled for a moment, before smiling widely once again. "Don't tell me we've met somewhere before! I'd be horribly embarrassed at not remembering! Anyway, you're close, but it's Seth. Seth Keaton." He stuck his hand out in front of him as his smile brightened even further, if possible. "It's an honour."
Joey grasped Seto's warm hand reflexively, biting back a soft groan as those oh-so-familiar slim fingers enveloped his own smaller ones for the first time in years. "Likewise."
'Seth' pumped Joey's hand vigorously as he babbled, "I've been an admirer of yours for some time now, and I just wanted to let you know that we all appreciate what you did. It took real courage and lot of strong belief to challenge the system like that. Bah, I'm terrible at this! I guess what I'm trying to say with all my rambling is that the everyday, common folk like me and my family can never thank you enough." He finally stopped yanking up and down on Joey's limp hand, looking a bit chagrined at his own eagerness.
It was the same speech, Joey had heard at least a million different versions, from a million different faces, but he'd never expected to hear it from those lips. Lips he had kissed more times than he could count, lips that had murmured sleepy 'I love you's' in the silent, predawn hours, or shouted his name to the heavens in the throes of passion. It was too much, too surreal for him to process, and he dimly heard his own voice replying by rote, "I did what I had to do. It was the right thing. Anyone would have done the same, in my stead."
Seth laughed lightly and gave Joey a conspiratorial wink. "Oh, not just anyone, I'd bet. The thing is, all the Colonies are grateful to you. You should be proud. I've also made a point to follow along on the news everyday about that Tulin kid's trial. You really deserve a pat on the back for that one, too. You know, I used to think about going to law school myself, but I knew I didn't have the smarts for it."
Hearing these unfamiliar, self-deprecating words brought Joey out of his shock and made him want to fall to his knees and cry. Cry for the first time since Seto had been gone from his life, cry for this man in front of him; this shell of the person he'd loved, a shell filled with false hopes and dreams, false memories. Joey wanted to cry for himself and all that he had lost, but mostly... mostly he wanted to cry for Seto himself. Brave Seto, who had walked straight ahead with eyes wide open, knowing what awaited him, staring fate in the face and trusting Joey to keep his memory alive, preserving the love they had shared by keeping it safe within his own heart. It was all Seto had asked of him, and Joey had spent nearly fifteen years denying that last request, intent on seeking out a person who no longer existed, and resurrecting a love that could never be again. Worse, he had promised Seto he would be true to himself, and he hadn't even managed to do that. All his accomplishments paled in comparison to that one simple failure, his unforgivable lapse of faith.
Joey finally, after all this time, understood Seto's parting words to him, and as he stood underneath the stars on that cold beach, he met guileless, expectant blue eyes for the last time and intoned, "Don't sell yourself short, Seth. A very wise, very special person once told me that you can do anything you put your mind to, as long as you search within yourself and find your inner strength. He also told me, 'the unexamined life is not worth living.' Remember that, most of all, if nothing else. It means something a little different to everyone, I think. And half the journey is figuring it out for yourself."
Seth stared back at Joey for a solemn moment, a slightly wistful and confused expression clouding his open face. Finally, he smiled cheerfully again, thrusting his hand out before him once more. "I'll do that, Joey. It was a real pleasure meeting you."
Grasping Seth's warm hand in both of his own, Joey shook it firmly, reluctantly releasing his hold after a moment. "And you, Seth."
Joey smiled sadly and turned his back, hands jammed into his front pockets and his shoulders hunched against the cold that tried to penetrate his coat and scarf. He made his way back up the beach from the direction he had come as Seth returned to the warmth of both the firelight and his family's embrace.
Joey walked on, not looking back, thinking of Tristan, waiting at the hotel for him, and also of a certain manuscript, locked in a safe deposit box back home in Domino.
After all that had happened, and all the effort he had wasted running away from the good, along with the bad, after all the times he'd shut out the love, in addition to the loss, Joey Wheeler decided that he finally had a story to tell.
-- Additional story notes - For the curious, it should be mentioned that this particular fanfic was prompted by a number of sources, primarily the great REM-sama and the S/J site, 'A Dragon's Lair'. The ADL challenges are frequently just TOO good for me to pass up, and this LOLAC deal was the perfect carrot to entice this particular mule.
In addition, this fic is technically a contest prize for LiveJournal user YamiChan, who requested a 'Seto/Jou fic with a sci-fi twist.' Well, Isaac Asimov it ain't, but this was the best I could come up with on short notice. Sorry that you have to wait until the challenge is over to get it. Thanks for understanding. hugs
Also, this is in part dedicated to the one and only Anez, who sometimes thinks I make Seto a bit wishy-washy, and I'm usually inclined to agree. Usually. :-) This is for you, and your patience with my panicking, and my whining, and my general insanity.
As always, thanks beyond measure are due my lovely beta reader, Jennie B., and my rock of moral support, the incomparable Daisey. The MAS is alive and well, and thank GOD for that, or I would never have pulled this off.
Story inspiration and various triggers/ideas for the A/U itself are thanks in part to the major motion picture, 'Minority Report', one particular episode of 'Star Trek:Voyager' that got stuck in my brain, and also the song, 'One Moment More' by Mindy Smith. If any of you would like to have the song for yourselves, drop me a line at and I'll be more than happy to send it your way. It's gorgeous, moving, and perfect. Trust me, you WILL cry like a baby. It's THAT good.
So that's it. Another fic is a wrap, and I'm done running off at the mouth. Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed, and I'll see you around next time. Hopefully. --