Winter Rhapsody

Part Five – Fermata – to hold a tone or rest held beyond the written value at the discretion of the performer



It was a dream.

No, it couldn't be. There had to be some kind of sign, some lingering proof that Yami had been here. Seto could not be hallucinating. He had enough faith in himself—surely he could not have conjured the entire night out of his months of lonely and hopeless need... Surely. But he suddenly thought about how Yami had first appeared, right when he had been lost in the enthralling melodies of his winter rhapsody.

Yami had appeared out of nowhere. He had just simply been there when Seto most needed him, slender wrists adorned with heavy gold cuffs, jewelry the brunette had almost desperately believed that Yami should have, from the first moment he had seen them. The price was obscene, but in the end he'd thrown the would-be gift in the trash, in his denied, but no less savage disappointment over the fact he had not merited an invitation to Yugi's party.

Simply put, Yami could not have had the twin bracelets. The rational part of his brain pointed out that Yami would have had no reason to be in the Kaiba mansion on the night of Christmas Eve, any more than Santa Claus would actually show up by dropping down their chimney. By all rights, Yami would be spending his night with Yugi and their little circle of friends, probably teasing Mokuba about his older brother at their party.

The bitterness and pain, which had been gone so briefly—forever, he had thought—suddenly returned with twice the force. Seto pulled on his clothes numbly, and then sat down again on the edge of the bed, unable to face the prospect of going down to the kitchen, where Mokuba no doubt was waiting eagerly. Everything would serve to only confirm what logic dictated. Yami was gone.

"Don't be ridiculous," Seto said aloud to himself, fighting the sudden surge of panic. Yami was downstairs, that was all, and Mokuba was probably already showing him around. He could even imagine how dark crimson eyes would widen in amazement at the complicated things that had been invented for so simple a thing as cooking.

But he knew that Yami was gone even as he forced himself to rise and walked slowly down the flight of stairs. The muffled sound of his footsteps on the thick carpet told him. The stillness of the enormous house told him, as if it felt as overwhelmingly abandoned as he did, and was trying to share the sense of loss. The halls echoed with mocking silence, if such a paradox were possible.

Seto entered the kitchen, alive with Mokuba's energy and excitement, and he couldn't help but look around, as if by any chance a Yami might be there. Of course, there wasn't. The sudden hope that had carried him for a moment had only lifted him higher so that he would crash harder.

"Set-o, you're finally up! I thought you were going to be lazy and leave me to make the whole breakfast myself!" Mokuba poured the batter into the pan with an air of almost childish determination, concentrating so that it was just the right amount, and spread evenly over the entire surface. It was only when he was completely done, and had realized that his brother had never responded to his greeting, that he looked up.

The pancake was entirely forgotten in a moment. Seto was completely closed off and the expression on his face was eerily blank of any expression, almost as if it were a mask. Blue eyes were at sub-arctic temperatures; they flickered up to meet Mokuba's surprised gaze for a moment before lowering to study the ground dispassionately.

"Seto…?"

He kept his gaze down, wishing all of a sudden with all his heart that of all the people, he didn't have to be here with Mokuba. His younger brother was the only one who had ever been sensitive to his moods, when the slight changes he showed were imperceptible to even people who had worked with him for years and years. Mokuba was the only one who penetrated the thick walls he had put between himself in the world, slipping through them to sit besides him.

"Good morning, Mokuba," he said at last, and waited for a moment. The hesitant look on Mokuba's eyes was barely enough to capture his listless thoughts. He felt as if everything inside of him were made of heavy lead, so ridiculously heavy he couldn't move. "If you don't get back to that pancake right now, it'll be burned."

"Oh—" Mokuba dashed back to the stove hastily, flipping his creation with considerable skill and no small amount of pride, even when so worried about the very same person who had taught him how to flip pancakes. He was forced to guard over the food, although he threw flickering, worried glances at Seto, who had taken a seat in the table in the corner of the kitchen.

Five minutes later, pancakes done and task momentarily aborted although there was still enough batter to make more, Mokuba dropped into the seat across from his brother's, sliding a plate of pancakes towards Seto, and putting one in front of himself. He loved pancakes, that had been the whole reason why this Sunday tradition had been started, and yet he just didn't have the appetite this morning.

Mokuba knew his brother well enough to know that the best thing was to act as normally as possible and carry on as if he had noticed nothing different. The problem was, he usually had no idea why his brother was in whatever mood he was in, although he had no trouble sensing them. This time, he had a feeling it had to do with last night, and his brother's unexpected visitor.

He hadn't heard voices raised in argument, but he'd fallen asleep almost immediately after Yami had left him…and the walls were thick, after all. Mokuba nervously cut his pancake into progressively smaller and smaller pieces, only taking a bite once in a while, more to maintain appearances than out of any real desire to eat.

Seto was still staring off into space in an unnervingly fixed gaze. Just when Mokuba thought he could stand the silence no more, his brother rose from the table and met his anxious eyes.

The look in Seto's eyes, shades lighter that his own, was one that Mokuba did not think he could ever forget. He had the fleeting impression of broken things, of broken souls, and he tried hard to stop there, but the thought still crossed his mind anyway. It was the look of someone pushed beyond the limits of despair. The blue was serene, not in turmoil as one might have expected, but the only word that came immediately to mind was lightning kissed…and it wasn't in a good way, but maybe like the aftermath of a horrible storm that had left devastation in its wake. Despite his instincts and best intentions, Mokuba still ended up staring at his transformed brother. The silence was positively loud.

Seto withdrew even more, if possible, and only said distantly, "I'm sorry, Mokuba, I promise I'll make it up to you later." He turned to leave, and even his movements were not the confident, one might say arrogant, movements of the Seto Kaiba the world knew.

"Seto…did you have a fight with him?" Mokuba said in a rush of fear.

Seto's heart leapt, stumbled, and pounded unevenly in his chest at those words. Him. His proof was here, maybe, at last. He was careful to keep his question absolutely toneless. "Who?"

"I…I sent Yami to say goodbye to you last night. I'm sorry, Seto," Mokuba said in a rush, eyes nearly filling with tears as he connected his brother's dark mood this morning with the events of last night that he and Yugi had collaborated on. "I know you say you hate him! I know I shouldn't have, but I just thought, it was Christmas, after all…"

"Mokuba—" he said very gently, causing Mokuba to take a horrified gulp of air before his tears brimmed over.

"I'm sorry! I didn't mean for you guys to fight again. I should've known, Yugi should've known…I guess we just didn't want it to be hate, if there were any alternatives…so we thought that maybe, if you two could see each other…"

"It's fine, Mokuba. Don't worry about it," he said as steadily as he could, but both were aware of the pretense.

"But, Seto, maybe if you find him…" Mokuba suggested earnestly, torn between heavy guilt and his natural optimism. Good intentions paved the way to hell…but sometimes to heaven, too. "I gave him your gift last night, and he really liked it, I'm positive."

So, Mokuba had saved his gift. Things were becoming painfully understandable to Seto now, like how Yami had ended up with the thick gold cuffs after all, and how he'd ended up inside the Kaiba mansion, and in his bedroom last night. Unfortunately, the clarity only drove the knife deeper.

"Don't dabble in things you can't understand, Mokuba," he said, an edge to his voice. Immediately the hurt look in those slate-blue eyes made him regret his acerbic words, and he relented. "Mokuba, I didn't mean it. I'll see you later." Even the implied apology to his own brother was difficult.

Seto had nowhere to go, so he ended up heading back to his own room, mindful of leaving Mokuba upset but not, at the moment, about to do anything about it. He found himself wishing desperately that he had the distraction of Kaiba Corp, but of course, business was simply not conducted on Sundays.

In the sanctuary of his own room, he resolutely turned to his computer, intending to lose himself in the complex code he had been developing over the last few weeks. But every time he complied the program, he only found new errors – small things like misplaced semicolons, syntactical errors he should have never made in a thousand years. He breathed deeply to try to calm himself, and stopped abruptly.

The scent was everywhere, driving him crazy. Seto wasn't even sure that he wasn't only imagining it, some kind of mixture of cinnamon and the rich flavor of dark chocolate, or perhaps it was something more unusual, like sandalwood oil. Just as exotic as Yami.

He hadn't thought that anything could possibly be worse than if Yami had been a dream. Mokuba's innocent words, unwittingly sharpened knives, had slashed into him and proved that he had been wrong.

After all, they proved that Yami had simply left him of his own free will. It wasn't a dream. Dreams were endowed with the special hope of coming true, no matter how outrageous or impossible. It was this hope that had fed his soul and sustained him through darker times than he had thought possible. It was this hope that he absolutely relied on, and now reality was taking that hope away, because it wasn't a dream.

The reality was that Seto might have meant something to Yami, might have not. Apparently not, or Yami wouldn't have left, he thought, as if masochistically testing how much those words would hurt. Those whispered words last night might be utterly false. The balm to the wounds in his spirit, the expression he had been thrilled to see in adamantine eyes, might only have been salt on raw wounds.

Really, he thought dully, I would have preferred it to be a dream.

xxxxx

"Hello?"

"Turtle Game Shop," Yugi answered automatically as he picked up the phone, still rather wistfully looking at the half eaten apple in his hand and wishing he could finish it. He hadn't even eaten anything for lunch, after all.

"Yugi?" The voice on the phone was tremulous, and it took him a moment to recognize it.

"Hi…Mokuba?" Yugi hadn't even known that the younger Kaiba had had his phone number, although of course, Mokuba could have looked up the listed number in a phone directory. Or, he supposed Seto Kaiba wasn't above keeping profiles on all major duelists, complete with details of what everyone's favorite foods were, in case that might affect their dueling strategy in some way.

"Is Yami there?"

"No, I thought—he isn't with you guys?" Yugi asked with some alarm. Yami hadn't come home last night, but he'd taken that as a good sign. Not if Mokuba was calling though. Had something bad had happened to Yami? A dozen scenarios ran through his head, Yami being mugged for his deck, Yami getting lost, however ridiculous the notion, and something far more likely: Yami…coming off of a fight with Kaiba. Yugi winced.

"We need to find him…maybe you could talk to him?" Mokuba didn't sound very hopeful.

"Has something happened?"

"I don't know," came the guilty confession. "I sent Yami to Seto last night, and he went pretty willingly. But this morning he was nowhere to be found, and Seto's…he's been acting devastated. I don't think I've ever seen him like this."

"And Yami's not there?"

"No!" Mokuba wailed. "He was just gone this morning. Yugi, do you think they had a fight? Were we wrong about the whole thing?"

"I hope not." A miserable pause, as both thought about how horribly things might have gone last night. "Well, I'll try to find Yami, and we'll go from there, I guess. What's your brother doing right now?"

"He's in his room."

"All right, then. Don't worry, Mokuba. Things will work out," Yugi said, trying to sound reassuring. Even to himself, he didn't sound very confident.

"Yugi, you have to find Yami," Mokuba said desperately.

"I will. I'll talk to you later." He was already thinking of where Yami could have gone; there surely couldn't be many places, right?

"I guess. Well, 'bye, Yugi." The sharp click as Mokuba hung up went unnoticed by Yugi, until he finally realized that he was simply sitting there, cradling the phone in his hands.

He really couldn't think of any special locations, but he resolved to at least go out. Maybe Téa would be willing to help look for him…although that might require an explanation of why Yami needed to be found, along with the problem of get her to leave after they found him. Besides, Yami might not appreciate being found, even by Yugi.

It was a profoundly depressing thought. Normally, the bond between them included a kind of link that filtered some of their thoughts and emotions to each other. Yugi naturally hadn't been entirely pleased to find out about this, but had later grown to appreciate that special effect of sharing one body between two minds. Of course, they'd learned later that some shields could be used to give each other privacy; a constant bond would probably drive any normal person insane. Now, Yami must be deliberately or subconsciously blocking his end, as Yugi couldn't feel a single thing even though he tried.

Yugi's musings carried him out the door, where he was greeted with the familiar sight of a spiky head bowed over a slim body sitting on the edge of the curb. So much for a search, he thought with some relief.

"Yami?"

His dark straightened abruptly and twisted his head around to meet surprised violet eyes. All in all, he didn't look as terrible as Yugi's worst fears might have imagined, but dark circles were underneath his eyes, and he certainly seemed depressed. In fact, he looked even more dejected when he saw Yugi.

Yugi almost stared, having barely caught the briefest flicker of guilt in his Yami's eyes. He dropped to sit on the curb besides Yami, a sudden suspicion striking him—a reason that might actually explain the whole sorry mess, at least if his guesses were right.

"Yami, why aren't you with Seto?" Yugi asked straightforwardly, deciding he didn't have the patience or tact to subtly approach the subject.

"You know?" If anything Yami looked as if he were cringing away from Yugi, and his eyes darkened with what looked exactly like guilt…and Yugi began to really think.

Suppose Yami hadn't had a fight with Kaiba. Suppose everything, in fact, had gone exactly as planned, right up until the point that Yami suddenly realized that he was with his believed-to-be worst enemy. And in fact, Kaiba was the universally declared enemy that Yugi and his circle of friends hated with a passion. Witness Joey, for example.

Naturally, Yami might be a little conflicted. Romeo and Juliet might be a very romantic story, but no one really wanted to deal with that kind of situation—and it was a tragedy, after all. In fact, Yami might see it as a sort of…betrayal? towards Yugi. Which might explain why he flinched away as Yugi now put his hand on his shoulder.

"Yami, I know we all thought you hated Kaiba, but you really don't."

"But the rest of you do!" Yami blurted out, confirming Yugi's theory perfectly.

"Yami," he sighed, drawing his dark into a loose embrace. If he felt a few wet, hot drops on his neck, who was to know? Yami appeared as he always was: confident, steady, and strong, although a little ragged around the edges at the moment. A pharaoh still, although his kingdom had long since disappeared.

"They're my friends, but they wouldn't be yours if they didn't support you in this, Yami. Love should be a matter of choices. I can't imagine that you would think that I'd let you choose me over him and be miserable all the rest of your life."

"But, Yugi…"

"Well, don't you love him?"

"I do." It was said quietly, hopelessly.

"Then you should be happy enough to announce it to the whole world. You should be with him, making everyone envious because you have him and he has you, and because you're perfect for each other."

"Do you really meant that, Yugi? Are you all right with it?" He looked so grave; it almost pained Yugi to meet his gaze.

"Am I all right with it?" Yugi said incredulously. "Yami, I've always been all right with Kaiba, even in his worst moments, even when he pissed you off terribly. We always thought you were the one that hated him, remember?"

His diatribe finally succeeded in bringing a grudging smile to Yami's face. "I suppose that's true."

Yugi's voice suddenly softened and turned serious again, as he returned to his seat next to Yami. "You don't want to lose the best thing that's ever happened to you. I can't imagine a love that's so strong, so enduring, that it's lasted throughout the ages. I was just thinking about it earlier. The kingdom of Egypt is gone, but your love remained where it could not. Doesn't that tell you something? Can you really walk away from that?"

"I…I don't know. But I would have tried for you."

Yugi laughed, a burst of happy sound that somehow cleared the air of past, darker emotions. "Why on earth would I want you to? Yami, you might technically be over 5,000 years older than me, but sometimes you're just silly."

"Am not," Yami said, eyes flashing a little with the challenge, and relieved to be able to seize the chance to steer the conversation towards lighter waters.

"Are too."

"You realize you're pouting right now?"

"I do not pout!" came Yugi's indignant yell.

The next few minutes degenerated into an utterly childish bout of name-calling and denials, but when they finally stopped, gasping for breath from laughter, they both felt immensely better. They fell back onto the sidewalk, momentarily exhausted.

"You shouldn't keep him waiting," Yugi said not soon afterward. Yami nodded, and stood up, suddenly plagued by doubts again.

"What if…what if he doesn't want me back?"

"No one can answer that, and there's only one real way to find out," Yugi pointed out.

Yami made a resigned motion with his hands, never having been cowardly in face of anything. He suddenly spun around again; Yugi stood like a small angel. His light. His clear and pure light, to his confused darkness. "Thank you, Yugi."

The words were inadequate, but they both knew, so it didn't matter. Yugi simply threw himself at Yami to give him another unchecked show of support. As Yami drew away from him and turned to leave, he heard the faintest echo, barely heard and wordlessly sincere…

/Thank you./

xxxxx

Yami had left Seto at seven in the morning, though it could have been a little earlier. The exact time didn't matter. He hadn't known that Yami had left him until five minutes after seven, and that was all that mattered.

It was eleven-thirty now, and he sat at the table, not really doing anything, just simply contemplating. He had never really known defeat. Or maybe it was simply that he told himself he didn't want the things he couldn't obtain. But in reality, everything he wanted, he had sooner or later gained, right?

Seto conveniently forgot the fact that he had known defeat, and that only one person had ever truly and completely defeated him.

The point was, Yami would come back to him. It was just a misunderstanding. He had gone home to tell Yugi, so that Yugi wouldn't worry that he hadn't been out all night. It was exactly the kind of thing Yami might do, because Yami was considerate and Yami took care of Yugi, who meant a lot to him. It made perfect sense.

He lay back on his bed, closed his eyes, and breathed the lingering scent, trying to keep his mind blank. Yami was probably on his way back to him, but no doubt he was hungry; he would have stopped to grab something to eat. Later, there would be plenty of time to introduce Yami to all the odd things he'd learned to cook, that secretive side of himself no one but Mokuba knew.

He could learn to make something Egyptian. He had no idea what Egyptian people ate, besides vague pictures of Arabic food. It would be a nice thing to surprise Yami with.

At two, he ventured downstairs. Mokuba was nowhere to be seen, probably in his room. Feeling as if he had decidedly lost something, he walked around, entering every room. Some of them he hadn't set foot in for months. Nothing looked out of place. The place was a silent as usual, the marble floors beautifully veined, the varnish on the wood gleaming. Seto returned to his room after a while and resolved to wait patiently for Yami.

The glowing red numbers on the clock, when he finally looked at it, felt like a physical blow. Four o'clock. His eyes burned and he wiped furiously at them. With nothing better to do, he went to sit on the piano bench. The notes still blurred as he flipped through pages and pages, Chopin and Mozart and Liszt, but it didn't matter. Seto just wanted to find the perfect thing to be playing when Yami came back, so that, like last night, he would be greeted with the soft strains of the piano chords.

At five, he wondered what Mokuba was doing, but his little brother had always been independent. Yami was probably with Yugi; he wondered abstractly about what they usually ate, and if Yugi's Grandpa cooked. He must be waiting until nightfall to come back, Seto realized. Of course, Yami was a romantic, and a meeting in the dark would be much more appealing.

He was starting to run out of rationalizations and could not ward off the thought that Yami was never going to return. They would just go back to exactly as they were, and maybe they'd meet again, staring each other down across the dueling field.

Seto returned to the piano and played Debussy's Clair de Lune three times in a row, the delicate, fragile notes a small reprieve. But he finished all too soon, the white keys almost shining in his vision, and then he began to play randomly. A slow melody on the air, pensive and wistful, aching with loss, as if pouring out some unknown story of tragedy.

Not his own, of course. He composed the story of Tristan and Isolde, perhaps, or some other famous, star-crossed pair. The music reflected some legend that which would explain why the smooth, cool coating was slippery with wetness beneath his dancing fingers.

He did not want it to ever end, because when the final notes died away, his winter rhapsody would end, not in a dream, but in plain reality. So he added to the melody, he repeated it, and he made variations, bowing his head so that his cheek rested on the darkly polished wood.

"So if you wanted to, you could hold the note forever?" the child asked, blue eyes bright with astonishment.

"Yes, I suppose you could, if you wanted to."

"As long as you want?" Just to be sure.

"Completely within your control," the lady assured him. "Though you have to remember, forever is a long time for the audience to wait!"

"Well, it's going to be my favorite, then, more than the crescendo or the trills," he said, bringing a smile to his teacher's lips, for this most gifted of pupils who so loved the music. "Fer-ma-ta," he said again, slowly, pronouncing the strange Italian syllables with care.

Hands touched the back of his neck and cupped his head lovingly, and his fingers finally ceased moving, though they froze to sustain the last soft note to his rhapsody, as he turned to look, not daring to believe.

Yami stood besides him uncertainly, and as Seto gazed into ruby eyes, he saw the color darken with determination, even as Yami leaned forward. A kiss started, gentle with feeling, and it was slow, sweet, and perfect.

Soundless apologies were said and accepted, and he finally took his hands away from the keyboard to instead grasp slender wrists still encircled with gold, pulling Yami close, skin hot and silken against his. Cinnamon, or chocolate, or sandalwood oil scented the air, rare and unusual, as Yami's head rested against his chest, and then Seto finally realized…no, it was none of those things. Just Yami.

Fermata. Forever, if you want it.

-fin-

xxxxx

A/N: Thoughts, comments, criticisms? Please review! I know the story has been complete for a long time, but every little bit of feedback is cherished!