Trial By Fire
Last Story in the Stay With Me Arc, following Proving to Myself
By Alecto Perdita
Rating: PG
Posted: February 15, 2004
Revised: August 8, 2008
Email: alecto . perdita (at) gmail . com

Disclaimer: Yu-Gi-Oh is the intellectual property of Kazuki Takahashi, and is being used in this fanfiction for fan purposes only. All situations, opinions and characters not belonging to Kazuki Takahashi are the intellectual property of Alecto Perdita.


...
The snow floats down upon us, mingled with rain . . .
It eddies around pale lilac lamps, and falls
Down golden-windowed walls.
...

As much as Kaiba Seto may have hated Kaiba Noa and even though Seto had been the one to kill Noa, he had attended the funerary rites and went through all the proper mourning rituals just as he did for Mokuba. Noa was still family and in some distant past, he had been human too. It was hard to remember when Noa became the monster he did.

The urns containing Mokuba's and Noa's ashes were buried in the same Buddhist cemetery as Kawai Shizuka. Mokuba's final resting place was next to Shizuka's, far from the headstones of Noa and the rest of Kaiba family on the other end. Seto had made sure Mokuba would not be put to his final resting place anywhere near the monster that had hurt his little brother so much in life.

The three unfortunate souls were buried on Christmas Day. Perhaps even stranger was that it was a white Christmas. Seto recalled thinking, No one should spend Christmas like this.

When Noa's urn was placed into the alcove of the Kaiba family grave, the Buddhist monks broke into a low monotone chant of a sutra. Seto had gritted his teeth to keep from spitting at the grave. That would have been beyond improper. Instead, he settled for cursing the green-haired devil silently over and over again in his head.

Looking around, Seto knew most of the mourners that came for Noa's burial would not be sticking around for Mokuba's burial. They were only vaguely familiar faces, but Seto knew them all to be employees of Noa's. There was just one fresh new face- for he was certain he would have remembered her if he had met her.

For one thing, she didn't wear the requisite black attire of mourning. In fact, the two burly men in suits flanking her side looked more proper. Had Seto actually cared, he might have been offended for his older adoptive brother. She was wearing a purple suit with a skirt that was too short for the frigid weather. She had brilliant blond hair- even brighter than Jounouchi's. He couldn't see the color of her eyes since she was wearing sunglasses.

The rest of the burial flew by quicker than he had expected. He was named as heir and the mourning party soon disbanded afterwards. Seto rushed off to Mokuba's burial, scheduled after Noa's because of the silly technicality of birth order, that was about to start on the other side of the cemetery.

Just as he turned away, he caught the gaze of the purple-suited woman. They both stopped in their tracks and stared at each other. She raised a hand to push her sunglasses up the bridge of her nose and he caught a glimpse of the large pink diamond set into the gold band she wore on her ring finger. With a slight quirk of her lips, she bowed her head slightly in greeting and walked past him. Her two bodyguards still flanked by her side and one holding an umbrella over her head to protect her from the snow.

When Seto had finally reached the site of Mokuba's burial, Shizuka's ceremony had just ended. One look at the tight expression on Jounouchi's face, Seto was able to tell that the presence of the blonde's mother was more than a bit straining. Seto had made sure to subtly brush his hand against the back of Jounouchi's as he passed.

Seto had never seen such a shocked expression on Jounouchi Katsuya's face before.

That had all been over a month ago.

Seto had left Domino City just a few days later. Now he was going back.

...
We were all born of flesh, in a flare of pain,
We do not remember the red roots whence we rose,
...

"Dammit, Kaiba," Yami cursed as he jabbed the send button on his cellphone for the fifth time in the last minute. "Turn on your damn phone and answer it."

If it wasn't for Seto's friendship with Yugi, Yami doubted he would be running around for Seto's sake like this. To top it all off, the bastard was always completely ungrateful. He looked up at the numbers lined over the top of the elevator doors. The floor numbers were rising at an unacceptably slow rate.

Yami slumped against the far wall of the elevator. He had headed straight for Seto's apartment as soon as he received the news from a friend with a relative on the committee selected to review Seto's case. The information Yami had received was supposed to be confidential but he wasn't above breaking a few laws for Yugi's and now Jounouchi's sake.

After what seemed like an eternity, the elevator door finally opened to the top floor of the apartment complex. Seto had moved into this building about a month ago when he first came to Tokyo. He was even attending the local high school in the area at the moment. Yami raced down the single hallway to the door at the end.

The doorman, who had become used to seeing Yami come and go since Seto moved into the building, hadn't bothered to stop him when he rushed in. Neither did Yami feel like he had the time to stop and reach Seto by intercom first. If only the bastard would just answer his cellphone… Yami pounded on the door a few time but no one came to the door for minutes afterwards.

Yami was about ready to kick down the door and just as he lifted his foot to attempt that course of action, he noticed the white peeking out from under the door. It was an envelope with Yami's name written across the front. He tore at the envelope viciously and ripped the letter inside from its shredded confines. Unfolding it, Yami found it wasn't even a letter. It was just a simple note.

I've gone back to Domino. I'm going to accept it all.

The bastard didn't even have the common courtesy to sign it! Yami's head fell forward and collided with the door to the apartment Seto had stayed in for the last month.

"You stupid bastard, you couldn't have waited until you at least heard the decision!" Yami squeezed his eyes shut and slammed his fist against the door. He tore himself away from the door and wondered how he was going to deal with this whole mess without alarming Yugi.

The Prosecution Review Board (1) had decided the public prosecutor had inappropriately decided not to prosecute Seto. There would be a good chance they would take him to court now.

...
But we know that we rose and walked, that after a while
We shall lie down again.
...

No one was more surprised than Yugi to see Kaiba Seto sitting in his old seat. Yugi had arrived to class later than usual, but still well before the first late bell. Sticking his head through the doors first, he saw that most of his classmates were gathered near the teacher's podium in the front of the classroom. That was the first sign something unusual was going on. Usually his classmates gathered around any object of interest like a swarm of locust.

He saw that neither Anzu nor Jounouchi was among the ranks of apprehensive classmates. That was no surprise either. Looking toward the back of the classroom where all his classmates' attention was focused, Yugi almost tripped over the threshold as he stepped into the classroom. What his classmates had been staring at so apprehensively was Seto.

Seto was seated in his old seat just behind Jounouchi's. Seto was ignoring the rest of the class to the best of his ability, his nose buried in a book. Equally surprising was Jounouchi sitting in front of Seto, just staring out the window on the other side of the classroom.

A low murmur swept through the group gathered when they finally noticed Yugi's arrival. Seto didn't look up from his book, but the noise did draw Jounouchi's attention away from his window.

His blond friend broke into a wide grin and waved, "Oi, Yugi! About time! Look who finally pulled his head out of the sand!" He pointed back at Seto with his thumb.

Seto finally looked up and scowled unpleasantly at the back of the blond's head.

Yugi was well aware of the fact that every other classmates eyes were on him as he approached the two. "Good morning, Jounouchi-kun," he bit his bottom lip before addressing his best friend. "Welcome home, Seto-kun."

Seto marked his place in the book and placed it gently down on the desk. "You look well, Yugi. Yami told me everything seemed fine after his last visit, but I wasn't too sure. Who knows how long it'd take before this idiot screws up yet again?" He jabbed his finger in Jounouchi's direction.

Jounouchi twisted around in his seat, "Are you trying to pick a fight already? I'd be more than glad to oblige you."

Seto smirked, "I see you've taught him a few new tricks, Yugi. Not bad. He almost talks like a human now."

Jounouchi just growled.

Yugi was suddenly overcome with the urge to hug his best friend, but he knew Seto wouldn't appreciate him doing that in front of the entire class. "I'm glad you're finally back, Seto-kun."

Seto's smile seemed a bit forced.

...
The snow floats down upon us, we turn, we turn,
Through gorges filled with light we sound and flow . . .
...

"I saw them go up to the roof." The eyes of one of Yugi's classmates darted nervously to the left and right, intent on looking everywhere except at Honda.

Honda snorted and stepped away from the boy. He heard a loud sigh of relief follow him as he left the classroom. It had taken him a few weeks and he had debated it in his head over and over again, but he finally decided he needed to warn Jounouchi about Kujaku Mai. The mere thought of who and what Kujaku Mai was made him quicken his pace in search of his wayward friend.

After doing a bit of research himself, Honda found he was right. Kujaku Mai was part of the yakuza and she was no small fry. Her father, Kujaku Seichi, had been much feared and respected oyabun of the Kujaku clan, a family with a long yakuza history. Kujaku Seichi and his wife had been killed when Mai was seven, presumably by a rival gang. Their territory was quickly broken up between rival groups afterwards, but by the age of twenty, Kujaku Mai had taken back all her father's territory and more.

Kujaku Mai, nicknamed the Harpy Lady, wasn't a woman to be taken lightly in that case.

And now she had taken an interest in Jounouchi for whatever reason…

He climbed the stairs up toward the roof, counting the number of steps as he ascended. Several more students passed him on their way down the steps. Honda was used to the looks and whispers directed at him from other students whenever he made his way through the school. It usually only took a good glare to shut them up.

He reached the last flight of stairs just below the entrance to the roof and froze when he heard the sound of laughter float down the staircase. He had to strain his ears a bit before he realized that was the sound of Jounouchi's laughter.

Honda jogged up the last couple of steps and pushed open the door to reveal the empty rooftop of the school building. The sound of laughter ended abruptly. Mostly empty except for the group of four lounging against the fence. Anzu, Yugi, Jounouchi, and an unexpected Kaiba Seto turned their heads in Honda's direction after hearing the door's hinges squeak.

He tightened his hand around the door knob as he stared at the group. He had expected Yugi and Anzu. Who else would Jounouchi be spending time with these days? But Kaiba Seto? What the fuck was the bastard doing back in Domino? Wasn't he supposed to be in Tokyo or something?

"Honda!" Jounouchi called. "Something wrong?"

Honda tore his disbelieving eyes away from Seto to Jounouchi, who was sitting right next to the bastard. Had hell frozen over yet?

"Can we help you with anything, Honda-kun?" Yugi asked as his gaze darted around in a clearly nervous manner, but Honda knew it was more in anticipation of a possible altercation than of Honda himself. He doubted he would ever hold any power over Mutou Yugi again.

Anzu and Seto remained silent, but in different manners. Anzu always seemed tolerant in the very least, but Seto was a completely different story. The other boy didn't hesitate to meet his gaze and hold it in challenge. What sort of challenge? Honda had absolutely no idea.

Feeling the weight of all four gazes on his person spurred him to straighten his posture for some reason. Maybe it was just the tension saddling the air. Honda opened his mouth to say something but closed his mouth with an audible click of his jaws instead. Something bitter welled in him as he saw the four of them sitting together.

"Just forget about it." Honda turned and shut the door behind him.

As he idled on the staircase, he almost expected Jounouchi to come after him. Jounouchi never did. Feeling all the more disappointed, he straightened the set of his shoulders and he made his way slowly back to his classroom, wondered if Ryou was done seeing Fujisaka yet.

"Honda-kun?"

"What?" Honda spun around and snapped. His entire posture was tense, as if he was readying himself to be attacked.

Not trusting his words to make things better, Ryou reached over and placed a hand on Honda's forearm. Taking another step closer, the white-haired boy finally asked, "What's wrong?"

"Kaiba's back."

Ryou's own body went suddenly stiff at the news. There was so much implied in that one little statement.

"I was going to tell Jounouchi about Kujaku Mai," Honda continued. "But…" he couldn't finish the sentence. He didn't want to make it so obvious to Ryou he wasn't a good person at all. He didn't want and couldn't let Ryou think any worse of him.

Ryou's fingers tightened around his forearm, and seemed to try and reassure Honda with his touch.

On most days, that would have been more than enough.

...
One is struck down and hurt, we crowd about him,
We bear him away, gaze after his listless body;
...

If Seto ever claimed he never expected to see the shadows of the police darkening his doorsteps again, he was lying. So when the doorbell rang that afternoon after school and Seto was greeted by the sight of two policemen at his front door, he couldn't say he was all too surprised to see them.

"Kaiba Seto-san?" asked one of the policemen.

Seto nodded and suppressed the urge to present his bare wrists to the two men.

What shocked him was not their presence but the charges they presented him with.

"Kaiba Seto, you are under arrest for suspected act of causing bodily injury and the gross negligence leading to the death of Kaiba Mokuba. You have the right to request counsel. Can you please explain the charges against you now?"

Seto's mouth fell open- but it was not to reply to the officer.

...
But whether he lives or dies we do not know.
...

Jounouchi dropped his bookbag right by the door and reached down to slip out of his sneakers. The orange and purple light of twilight fell into the living room of their tiny apartment from the dusty window sitting over the fire escape. His hand fumbled in the descending darkness for the light switch. When he flicked it up, the room remained as dim as before.

"Tou-san?"

He received no reply and wondered where his father could have gone to at this hour of the day. It was too early to be hitting the bars, and the old geezer had been relatively clean these last few weeks.

He was momentarily blinded when a lamp next to their fold-out sofa, one that Jounouchi was sure was broken and they just hadn't gotten around to throwing it out, came on suddenly. It took a few seconds to adjust his eyes to the light but more than a few moments to take in the sight of a woman lounging on their sofa.

Jounouchi knew for a fact it wasn't their obnoxious landlady or anyone else they unfortunately knew. She was too clean-cut for a woman his old man would bring home- and his old man didn't do that type of thing. There was also the matter of the hefty black-suited man that could have only been a bodyguard standing behind her and the sofa.

"Who are you and how did you get in here?"

He was going to get straight to the point. She chuckled attractively and crossed her shapely legs. A small hand with perfectly manicured fingernails and delicate fingers accentuated by a gold ring displaying a prominent pale pink jewel gave a summoning gesture, motioning for Jounouchi to come closer. He simply stood his ground and refused to move.

"Now is that any way to treat a guest?" she drawled.

He narrowed his eyes. "I don't remember inviting you in. Who the hell are you? And I'm calling the cops right after you tell me."

"You'll find it in your best interest to listen to what I have to say," her violet eyes, nothing like Yugi's, flashed in a barely perceptible show of annoyance. "I am Kujaku Mai and I'm here to discuss some business with you."

He stared at her. What would a rich heiress, owning a line of name-brand clothing and cosmetics popular among younger woman as her hobby, be doing in his living room of all places? He shook his head and hardened himself. "You're still breaking and entering, and I'm still calling the police on ya."

"The police will come for you in time." She replied.

The words caused Jounouchi to straighten up. His gaze moved from the heavily muscled man standing by Mai to the broken window and back. Had he looked back at the front door behind him, he would have been too obvious about his intent to escape. Contrary to his threat, the last thing he wanted was the police involved.

"Fine," he crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back against the door next to the wall. "What is it that you need to say so badly? I don't know you so I don't have any business with you."

"We have a mutual acquaintance, or should I say several."

"Really?" Jounouchi's gaze moved up to the ceiling, focusing his attention on the mold clinging to it. "I don't really think I would know anyone that a miss like you would know."

"Kaiba Seto."

A silence descended upon the room. His eyes widened, he was determined to fix his attention on the grimy corner of the ceiling. His mind raced to figure out why Kujaku Mai would want to talk about Seto with him. It was silly though; there was nothing to figure out as Jounouchi didn't even have a place to begin doing so.

"Look, if you're trying to get me to introduce you to Kaiba or something, you've definitely come to the wrong person." He deadpanned as he finally lowered his eyes to meet hers.

Mai chuckled quietly to no one but herself. "So amusing, much more so than your friend Honda."

His muscles strained to not leap forward and demand more answers. "That's great, but I still can't help you."

She rose to her feet and reached inside her suit jacket. He stepped back, prepared to run if she was pulling a gun or something. He was not getting his ass framed for whatever sick crime she had in mind. Instead, she pulled out a bulkier cellphone- that resembled a small PDA- than most of the ones his female classmates favored. After pressing a few buttons, she tossed it to him and he barely caught it in time.

As he looked down at the over-sized screen, she said, "Say hello to your honored father."

Jounouchi's heart leapt into his throat. It was a live video feed of his father bound and lying against the floor, the black and blue bruise was clear despite the blurry pixels.

"Say hello to your son." Someone on the other end said.

His father looked up with a bewildered expression, one compounded by the drunken-like daze that never left him. "Katsuya! Katsuya! Where are you! What's going on?"

He gripped the phone tightly, his knuckles turning white. "Tou-san!"

...
One of us sings in the street, and we listen to him;
The words ring over us like vague bells of sorrow.
...

Yami stared at the article splashed across the front page of both Asahi Shimbun and Yomiuri Shimbun (2), and gritted his teeth. This was just unacceptable. Didn't the people in this country know the law anymore? There was Seto's name and picture displayed on the front page as good as a conviction.

He tossed it aside in disgust but then thought better of it. After digging through his backpack that contained none of the schoolwork he was skipping and barely three day's worth of clothing change, he pulled out his cellphone. Jabbing the "2" key, he dialed a number he found himself less and less willing to these days. It rang three times before someone on the other end of the line picked up.

"Hello," answered the person on the other end.

He wasted no time, "Otogi, have you seen this morning's news?"

Otogi Ryuuji snorted clearly from miles away in Tokyo. "Of course, you couldn't walk down a street right now without hearing someone talk about it or seeing it on every front page in every newsstand and bookstore."

"They can't do this," He cried in outrage and other train passengers shot him dirty looks. He glared at them in return and snarled at a businessman nearby to mind his own business. "Kaiba's sixteen, so he's protected by the Juvenile Law."

"Look, the papers are practically saying they've been tipped off by someone. And why wouldn't they run a story like this? The LDP (3) couldn't have been able to make up a better story on their own. It'll take all the attention off the tensions over the Six Party Talks with North Korea, the government's inability to petition for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council, the economy, and the energy crisis. A scandal in one of Japan's biggest company would be a perfect diversion right now. It's not as if Kaiba Seto is some no good punk, he's going to be the CEO of an international arms empire with hundreds of billions of yens in assets." Yami could see Otogi twirling the end of his ponytail as he talked.

He slumped back in his seat. "Is there any chance the Prosecutor's office will demand the papers make a retraction?"

"I doubt it," said Otogi. "You know there's been talk about reforming the Juvenile Law since the Kobe case (4) a few years ago. Kaiba's looking at a very heavy sentence if he's convicted. Many would say that the nature of the crime he's suspected of nullifies any protection he may receive under the Juvenile Law."

"They can't do that." Yami growled again in frustration. He tried not to imagine how Yugi was dealing with this news. His poor little brother must be going out of his mind.

"They already have."

"Call me if you get any news." He sunk further back into his seat.

"No problem, tell Yugi…" Otogi trailed off. "Never mind, take care."

"You too."

Just before he barely ended the call and rested the phone in his lap, the phone began vibrating to the very familiar tune of WARRIORS. A slight smile, but a tired one, passed over his lips as he read the kanji displayed on the screen.

"I thought you said you were never speaking to me again yesterday." Yami spoke into the phone.

"That was before you decided to pick up this morning and race halfway across Japan for someone you barely tolerate," a male voice snarled on the other end of the line. "What type of note did you leave your mother? She was so frantic after reading it that she was willing to look me up."

"Be real, my mother doesn't think that badly of you." Yami smirked.

"You're delusional. Now tell me why you're doing this again so I can get your goddamn mother off my back and I can go back to a more normal existence."

"This isn't about Kaiba. This is for Yugi. He'll need me."

"Fuck," the other man swore. "Your precious little brother is seventeen, not seven. He's almost in his last year of high school. He doesn't need you going all across Japan just to come to his fucking rescue."

"With a mouth like that and you still wonder why I won't take you with me whenever I go visit."

"Yami, you know the exact reason I won't go back to Domino," the other man said in a quiet and deadly tone. "Fine, get yourself involved in this media circus, throw yourself into that disaster in the makings. See if I fucking care. Don't come crying to me for help afterward. You can rot in hell for all I care."

The call ended with what must have been a vicious jab at the end button. Yami knew better than to think his boyfriend-of-sorts would throw the phone as his personality was more inclined toward. He knew his boyfriend wouldn't admit it, but the other man cherished the cellphone Yami had gifted him with this past Christmas.

From the start, their relationship had never been easy. Yami was fine with that, because some things were worth struggling for in life.

...
He sings of a house he lived in long ago.
It is strange; this house of dust was the house I lived in;
The house you lived in, the house that all of us know.
...

Ryou could literally see the swell of a well-spread rumor ripple through the student body as he bent down to slip his feet out of his outside shoes. It was barely noticeable at first, a hushed whisper here and shared looks of contemptuous "I told you so" there. Having been the subject of a rumor or two himself, he began to feel very uncomfortable and suspicious.

As he went up the stairs, he could feel the tendrils of gossip creep up alongside him, permeating the floor of every landing he reached. It followed him into his classroom, like a stalking hungry creature. He searched the classroom for Honda, hoping against all odds that the other boy might be early for once in his life. His eyes fell on a newspaper resting on top of another classmate's desk, mind numbing as it took in the characters in the headline.

Time seemed to stop for a few seconds before speeding up and crashing back into him with all the force of a wave.

With a speed Ryou never knew he possessed, he shot forward, grabbed the paper, and raced out the classroom before his classmate could begin to open his mouth in protest. His schoolbag fell to the floor with a thud, spilling pencils and books, but Ryou was too far down the hallway to care.

He didn't care who he knocked into as he ran down the length of that hallway toward Yugi's classroom. Sliding the door with all the strength in his body and causing the frame to shake, all eyes looked up at his entrance. Usually, this amount of attention would have disturbed Ryou greatly, but today was a day unlike any other.

He spotted Yugi in his usual seat in the row right next to Anzu. His palms began sweating as he approached the desk. From Yugi's curious expression, Ryou knew he hadn't heard of the news yet. Moving his gaze over to Anzu, he saw she was just as clueless. He shouldn't be surprised by this. They had all learned it was better to ignore that irritating trickle of gossip buzzing in their ears.

"Good morning, Bakura-kun." Yugi greeted him with such a bright smile that it made him feel so guilty for bearing the news that was bound to put an end to it.

"Good morning, Yugi-kun," his mouth drying as he spoke.

"Is everything alright? You seem pale today." Anzu said, the unspoken "paler than usual" dangling in the air between them.

Ryou took a deep breath and told himself it would be a good thing if he was the one to break the news to them. Better him than one of their more malicious and ill-intended classmates. Looking once more around the classroom, he saw both Jounouchi and Kaiba were absent.

"It's about Kaiba-kun," he managed to say that much.

Yugi furrowed his brows. "Now that you mention it, Kaiba-kun is late today by his usual standards."

"I don't think Kaiba-kun will be coming back to school for a while."

"Why?"

Ryou laid out the paper on Yugi's table so that Anzu could read the headline too.

A Bloody Family Feud! Kaiba Seto arrested in connection with his brothers' deaths

Yugi's face turned ashen white, but he didn't say a single word.

"Bakura-kun, please tell me this is just some cruel joke." Anzu whispered with wide disbelieving eyes.

Ryou wished he could give all of them that sort of comfort and reassurance, but there was none. "I'm afraid not."

...
And coiling slowly about him, and laughing at him,
And throwing him pennies, we bear away
...

Anzu stood in the midst of the assembly of the entire student population of the school gathered in the gymnasium. Yugi was shifting back and forth next to her to see past the rows of students standing in front of him. Even now, she could see how strong he was trying to be, knowing Seto wouldn't had wanted him to worry himself sick. Jounouchi was an entirely different story though. He was standing somewhere down the row beyond Yugi, staring listlessly at the hardwood floor.

She frowned and gave several attempts to catch the blond's attention but failed. Jounouchi had been very distant as of late. He had completely missed school the previous day, just as the news of Seto's arrest began running rampant through all of Japan. Maybe he had been overwhelmed by Seto's problem, but she knew better than to speculate on the nature and depth of Jounouchi's relationship with Seto.

The principal walked across the raised platform at the front of the gymnasium. A hushed quiet automatically fell over the crowd of students and teachers gathered below. The principal cleared his throat into the microphone and sent a wave of feedback screeching through the air. Nearly everyone winced in pain as a teacher rushed to fix the sound.

The principal cleared his throat once again. "We are all gathered here to discuss a very important matter vital to the reputation of our esteemed school."

Anzu wanted to snort and roll her eyes. By discuss, he meant he was just going to ramble at them for what would seem like hours without end. It was times like this that Anzu wished she was back in America. She wouldn't be subjected to this sort of shabby posturing by the administrators of a school. How fake could a person possibly be?

"As you all undoubtedly know, one of our students is having trouble with the law. I will not single him out by name," the principal glared at the general crowd. "Nor do I need the student body to be spreading unsightly rumors. These are all issues that will be resolved in court and we need not concern ourselves with it."

He paused for a moment to let his oh-so-subtle warning settle in, "However, I was extremely shamed and dishonored by one student's attempt to discredit the teachings of our illustrious school. I have no choice but to be firm in these instructions. Any student found talking with the media will be severely disciplined. The reputation of this school is already at stake."

The principal droned on for what seemed like an eternity, with the occasional all-encompassing glare to emphasize his point. He finally stopped after a random tangent about respecting one's elders and not littering on the streets. With that said and done, a few other teachers took the opportunity to make some announcements. Her legs were beginning to feel numb from standing still for so long.

When it all finally ended, the students of grade 3 were the first to leave the gym as always. As a grade 1 student, she was quickly becoming annoyed with the idea of respecting one's elder if it was going to force her to stand any longer. How she just wanted to sit down there on the gym floor, but no, that wouldn't have been proper.

The grade 1 students finally began to move as the last of grade 2 vanished through the gymnasium door. Looking over Yugi, she saw Jounouchi was moving across the room like a bat out of hell. Unable to take it anymore, she jogged to catch up with the blonde in the surge of the crowd as Yugi scrambled to keep up behind her.

"Wait, Jounouchi!"

Jounouchi finally stopped and turned slowly to face her. "What do you want, Masaki?"

Her blood froze. He hadn't addressed her in that manner since they first met and certainly never in that cold of a tone.

Yugi was quicker to react though. "Jounouchi-kun, what's gotten into you? Why weren't you in school yesterday? Was it because of Kaiba-"

Jounouchi cut Yugi off. "It's none of your business and I couldn't care less what happens to that bastard."

"You don't mean that!" Yugi cried with what bordered on outrage.

"How would you know how I feel?" He glared at Yugi and turned to follow the last of the class out of the gym.

Anzu and Yugi were the last ones still standing in the deserted gymnasium.

"I don't understand what just happened, Anzu," he stared at the floor not with the desolate expression most people would have thought, but with an undying determination to unravel yet another strange turn of event. "Why did he go back to acting like the old Jounouchi?"

She narrowed her eyes in suspicion. "Something's definitely wrong here."

...
A mournful echo of other times and places,
...

Honda tried his best not to pay attention to Seto's case. After less than a week of listening to everyone in existence talk about the case, he was nothing short of sick of hearing about it. It was a nearly impossible task since that was all anyone at school, on the streets, and even at home would talk about anymore. He did the best that he could though.

As far as he was concerned, he wished they'd convict or whatever else the damn bastard so they could all return to their normal lives. Oh no, Honda wasn't the least bit bitter towards Seto for dealing what he perceived to be irreparable damage to his and Jounouchi's friendship... But he didn't really believe the prosecution could score a guilty verdict in this case. He wasn't entirely sure why they dug it up in the first place. Jounouchi's testimony as a first-hand witness was bound to be on Seto's sides.

He swallowed the bitter lump lodged in his throat. That was right. Jounouchi would do nothing short of pleading to ensure Seto's innocence. Honda knew that much about his thrice-damned honorable friend.

But there was the one piece of news he just couldn't ignore.

When he came down to breakfast that morning, his Sempai sat at the head of the table as usual. Miyuki rushed back and forth between the stove, the table, and Takaharu's high chair. He gave them all a very unenthusiastic greeting and took his usual seat across the table from his Sempai, furthest away from the rest of his family.

Catching the kanji characters in the headline of his Sempai's propped-up newspaper, Honda quickly turned his head away. He wanted to be able to keep his breakfast down first thing in the morning.

Miyuki placed a bowl of rice and a platter of vegetables and fish in front of him. She then joined the table next to Takaharu. With a hearty chorus of "ikatakimasu," they began another silent meal.

Miyuki looked down at her husband's folded newspaper on the dining table and looked like she was about to yell at him for leaving it there during breakfast. She stopped though, as she caught sight of the headline like that had been the only headline about Kaiba Seto the entire week.

"Oh, that reminds me. I saw this when I went to pick up some milk this morning." She stood and went over to the counter where she picked up a magazine.

Honda stared resolutely at his bowl of rice instead. He heard the sound of the magazine hitting the table but refused to look at it.

His sister continued, "I don't usually read these, but I just couldn't believe the headline. I thought they must be making it up, because there's no way this big of a news wouldn't be announced. But sure enough, it looks true."

The pages rustled as his Sempai picked up the magazine and flipped through the pages. A low whistle sounded through the room. "This is really going to complicate Kaiba Seto's trial. Originally, he was the last standing heir to the company, and if he's convicted, it would fall into public control. But now…this Kujaku Mai could take it on account of her child."

That finally caught Honda's undivided attention. "What!"

His gaze shot up from where it was fixed on a piece of fish to the larger than life image of Kujaku Mai splashed across the cover of the latest shuukanshi (6), along with the bold headline of:

Kujaku Mai? Kaiba Noa's Fiancée and Pregnant?

The piece of bak choi posed at the entrance of his mouth fell back into the bowl of rice. It was soon followed by Honda's chopsticks. Everyone at the table looked up sharply at the sound and stared at Honda in concern. He could only stare disbelievingly at the issue now lying face up on the dining table. His mind moved uncharacteristically quickly to piece together the various bits of the puzzle.

...
And follow a dream . . . a dream that will not stay.
...

Seto remained impassive as the judge deliberated on his attorney's request. From his guarded seat in the back of the courtroom, he could clearly see Yami fidget fitfully in his seat on the defense's side of the court. He didn't know how Yami managed to worm his way into Seto's legal team (the man was a medical student for goodness' sake), but he found himself reluctant to expose Yami's ruse.

The head of his defense team, one Yoshinobu Takagi, stood before the judge with the poker face that seemed to be a pre-requisite to being an attorney. The judge was a middle-aged man with a receding hairline that took every chance he could to glare at Seto.

It was obvious this particular judge had already formed his opinion. So much for impartiality. It was a good thing this would not be the judge presiding over his actual criminal trial.

"I'm going to have to deny your request for bail, Yoshinobu-sensei. The defendant, Kaiba Seto, is being held in custody for serious charges that can warrant ten or more years of imprisonment if convicted. Like the previous judge you went before that issued the original warrant for detention, I have reason to believe that the defendant has the resources to both destroy evidence and flee trial. Thus, to preserve this august court I must deny the defendant bail. Court is dismissed." The judge ended his small speech with the bang of his gavel.

Seto was hurled to his feet by the guard standing by his chair. Ignoring almost every protocol in the book, Yami shot out of his seat and made a bee-line for Seto. After a few minutes of uncharacteristic pleading on Yami's part, the guard allowed him to have a few quick words with Seto.

He snorted. Even this guard was overestimating the extent of his power.

"Trying to sabotage my trial from the inside now, Kagashi?" Seto asked the man that was still a few inches short of his six-one.

"I'm warning you, Kaiba," the strange-haired man growled. "If you weren't Yugi's friend-"

He didn't let Yami finish and rolled his eyes as he hissed in aggravation, "I've heard the same threats a thousand times from your mouth. You are aware of how highly suspicious this looks. You're not supposed to be talking to me like this."

Seto was caught by surprise as a painful expression lingered over Yami's face when he spoke, "This is urgent, Kaiba. It's about Jounouchi."

His blood froze. "Did something happen? He better not have chickened out and ran off somewhere." Even as the words left his mouth, he was convinced of their absurdity. Jounouchi would never run away. It just wasn't in his character.

The striking expression of pain seemed to deepen. "It's worse than that, he's going to be testifying against you. I don't know if you can win this trial…"

Seto's mind went oddly blank even as the guard laid a rough hand on his forearm. He was being dragged out of the small box cage only to go back to his slightly roomier cell at the detention center.

Yami chased after them as he was moved out of the courtroom. "Don't worry, I'm going to talk to Jounouchi. It can't be right. Even I believe he wouldn't turn on you like this without reason."

The attempt at reassurance fell to almost deaf ears because for the first time since Seto had been initially detained, he began to realize how hopeless an endeavor this might be. For the first time, he felt something- maybe the weight of his actual guilt- saddle his soul down. He had killed Noa out of a reasonable amount of malice. That much the public prosecutor had deduced correctly. But he had also done it to save Mokuba… And Jounouchi…

Had he been wrong all this time? Maybe he was truly that guilty of the crime he was accused of, but he himself was too blind to realize it? Was that the reason- the truth- Jounouchi had been able to see?

Yet Jounouchi's betrayal- impossibly more painful than Mokuba's- still craved a careful and deliberate hole into Seto's heart. Bile and something even more bitter rose to his throat when he thought about how he continued to lose to Kaiba Noa even after the monster was gone.

Would he ever wake up from this nightmare?

...
Down long broad flights of lamplit stairs we flow;
...

It occurred to Yami he ought to be concerned with the level of influence one Otogi Ryuuji managed to garner as a simple student in the Legal Training and Research Institute (5). However, that was the least of his concern. He was indebted to Otogi for getting him this far and this involved in the pre-trial process. Although this was clearly an open-and-shut case to Yami from the start, the feeling that things were going to go horribly wrong refused to leave him alone.

He hated being right sometimes.

When Yami first saw it, he was more than certain it was a typo. Jounouchi's name was written under the wrong side. There was no way the blonde was testifying on the prosecution's side. Yami immediately brought the error to the attention of Yoshinobu.

"I'm afraid that's no typo," the attorney replied with a frown on his brow. "Jounouchi Katsuya is indeed testifying for the prosecution. I'm afraid we lost a very valuable witness for Kaiba-san's defense."

"Jounouchi Katsuya would be going back on his original statements then. Wouldn't that be perjury?" Yami asked.

"Not technically. No, it doesn't make Jounouchi-san the most reliable witness, but it doesn't help our side either."

Yami sat through the rest of the strategy meeting like vegetable. Usually he had more than his share of ideas to contribute, but his mind was too busy trying to figure out how one person just managed to utterly destroy Kaiba Seto by standing on the other side of the line.

He looked up Jounouchi's address from the witness list and went there right after the meeting. He felt a pang of guilt as he climbed the stairs of Jounouchi's dilapidated apartment building. Having been in Domino for about a week now, he was going to see Jounouchi before his own little brother.

Seto almost looked broken upon hearing the news. That sort of a notion would have been impossible for Yami to imagine if he hadn't actually seen it. He wondered if Jounouchi was aware he had this incredible power, though very small but infinitely more than anyone else's, over Kaiba Seto.

Unfortunately, he wasn't the only one with the idea of visiting Jounouchi at his apartment that day. As soon as he lifted his gaze from the rotten floor of Jounouchi's hallway, he met the eyes of his younger half-brother. Yami froze for a second in the hall. This wasn't how he wanted to meet Yugi.

"Yugi…"

"Yami!"

His younger brother closed the last fifty feet of distance between them. The boy stopped right in front of Yami with one hand reaching up.

"What are your doing here?"

It was the one question Yami knew his brother would ask, but he still wasn't sure how to answer it. Instead, he looked toward the door just a few feet away from them and the sign that read "Jounouchi" hanging next to it. "Is Jounouchi in?"

"I was just about to knock..."

Yami strolled past his brother and rapped against the door. There was no answer at first, so he knocked more insistently. Pressing his ear against the door, he could hear someone stumbling over something and cursing. The door opened slightly after a few more moments and a pair of amber eyes peered out of the crack.

"Yugi? No, Yami?" The blonde squinted.

"I'm here too, Jounouchi-kun." Yugi said as he moved into the view of the doorway.

"Go away, I don't want to talk to either of you."

"Fine," he snapped. "You forced me to do this. I'm here as a representative of the firm of Yoshinobu Takagi to talk about your testifying for the public prosecutor."

Jounouchi winced but stepped back and opened the door completely.

Yugi stared at his friend in complete disbelief. "What?"

"Just get in here already."

He and Yugi rushed into the small apartment before Jounouchi could change his mind and try and lock them out. Yami had never been in Jounouchi's apartment before, and he could say this wasn't what he had been expecting- even having already seen the condition of the building.

Jounouchi crossed his arms over his chest. "Just say whatever the hell you came to say and then get the hell out."

"You've been acting very strangely the past week. I don't know what's going on, but I can help." Yugi pleaded.

"My heart bleeds," the blonde sneered and leaned back against a wall. "I don't care. Just get out. I'm fine. I don't need either of your help."

"Is it because of Seto-kun?" Yugi forged on without being encouraged. "I spoke with Inoue-sensei, and she says you haven't been in to see her this week. You can't start missing these sessions now. She says you were making such good progress."

"Progress?" Jounouchi laughed. "I don't know what the fuck she defines as progress, but this," the boy gestured around the room. "Isn't it."

"I don't understand, Jounouchi! Why are you testifying against Seto-kun?" Yugi insisted, refusing to leave his point.

The blonde froze. "How the fuck did you know that?" It only took a second before a furious pair of eyes landed on Yami.

Yami stared back without hesitating or backing down. "It'd only be a matter of time before Yugi would have found out anyway. What's wrong, Jounouchi? Shamed of your blatant betrayal of trust? Perhaps I initially misjudged you, you can't possibly be a good friend to Yugi."

Jounouchi growled. "You don't know what you're talking about."

"Really?" he raised a mocking eyebrow in question. "I've been working with Kaiba's defense team for the last week or so, am I the one mistaken here then? Please correct me if I'm wrong, Jounouchi, otherwise this will turn out to be a very messy battle for both sides. Causalities would be almost a must then."

The boy clenched his fist together and stalked forward. "Are you threatening me?"

"I would do no such thing, but I can't help it if that's how you see it. A life is on the line here. Would your conscience really allow you to send an innocent man to jail? Kaiba is sixteen, he could get a life sentence or the death penalty."

"You think Kaiba's the only life on the line right now!"

Yugi turned his large violet eyes on Jounouchi's face and asked very quietly, "Are you being threatened, Jounouchi-kun?"

Jounouchi turned and punched the wall. "They took Tou-san! They'll kill him if I don't do this! Are you happy now!"

...
Noisy, in scattered waves, crowding and shouting;
In broken slow cascades.
...

Seto was surprised to find Yugi waiting with Yami in the meeting room at the detention center.

His best friend gave him a weak smile. "How are you, Seto-kun?"

"What are you doing here?" he hissed. "You shouldn't be here, Yugi." He then turned his glare on Yami.

"Hey, he bullied me into bring him along. You know how stubborn he can be." Yami shrugged.

"I was just worried about you, Seto-kun. I wanted to see for myself how you were doing. So how are you?"

"The food here is horrific." He deadpanned.

Yami sniggered.

"We found out why Jounouchi-kun is testifying against you." Yugi said quietly.

Seto turned his gaze toward a dull gray wall. "I really don't care why."

"Please understand, Kujaku Mai has taken his father hostage to make Jounouchi-kun testify for her." His best friend spoke in an urgent tone, begging him to understand.

Seto understood, just probably not what Yugi understood. He understood that he had once again drawn Jounouchi into a fight that was not his.

"It doesn't change the fact I killed Noa though."

Yami gave him an alarmed look. "You're not going to plead guilty, are you?"

"Of course not," he glared at the man. "How stupid do you take me for? I killed the bastard alright, but none of those other ridiculous charges."

"Good, because it's obvious what Mai's trying to do. All that about being engaged to Noa and being pregnant with his child. Who would honestly believe that?" Yugi sighed.

"It's more than just that, Yugi. If Kaiba is convicted, it's grounds for disinheritance. In addition, if Mai is pregnant with Noa's child, it'd place her at ahead of Kaiba in the line of succession. As an heir of the third rank, Kaiba wouldn't be entitled to any part of Noa's estate. She has strengthened her case to take on the company with that claim. Before it had worked to Kaiba's advantage that Noa had no written will, but now it'll be working against him."

Yugi stared at his brother with awe. "You really know a lot, Yami."

Seto tried not to remember the way Mokuba had worshiped him so blindly when they were still young. He watched as the two half brothers discussed his court case. In the end, these two brothers that were related so tenuously by a thin line of blood were closer than he and the little brother he had practically raised like a son. He would have easily given up everything else to have Mokuba back.

"Seto-kun?"

Seto gave a start. "What?"

"You look pale," Yugi said with concern and reached across the table. "Have you been sleeping well?"

Seto flinched but couldn't move back fast enough before his best friend's fingers pressed gently against his left cheek. A jolt of sensation darted across his face.

"Don't worry," Yugi gave his best reassuring smile while Yami glared in the background. "We'll beat this together. Everyone's cheering you on. I know Mokuba is just as hurt watching this whole thing. He wouldn't have wanted for this."

His best friend had a strange definition of "everyone." Yes, everyone but a majority of his classmates. Everyone but a majority of Domino. And definitely everyone but Jounouchi. As Yugi moved to sit back in his chair, Seto tried to recall the salient warmth of human touch and a living body.

...
The gardens extend before us . . . We spread out swiftly;
...

Valentine's Day came on a Sunday that year, and it was the Sunday right before the first hearing of Seto's trial. Ryou sat on the sofa and stared out of the large window of his apartment. He turned on his side and curled up, trying to ward off the slight chill of the room. The others weren't due for at least another hour.

His eyelids drooped and he felt the lull of slumber beckon him. Needless to say, the group of them hadn't been sleeping so well for the past week. For a second, his mind wandered to poor Jounouchi, who must spend all night and day worrying about his captured father.

Just when he was about to finally drift off, the sudden sound of the doorbell startled him and he fell off the sofa. Rubbing his forehead, he wondered who would be so early and went to answer the door. The doorbell rang a second time, more insistently, as Ryou laid a hand on the knob. Twisting it and pulling back, he opened the door to find Honda.

"Honda-kun?"

"Hey, Bakura." Honda smiled nervously, his hands never moving from their position behind his back.

Ryou thought it odd for a second before pushing the thought away. He stepped back and opened the door completely, "Come in. Why are you here so early? I thought we were all supposed to meet an hour from now. Did I remember wrong?"

"No," the brunette shook his head and stepped into the apartment, hands still firmly held behind his back. "I just wanted to…uh…be early…for once…"

He gave Honda another odd look. "Okay. Well, come in, do you want anything to drink?"

Honda grinned suddenly. "Always the perfect host, ne, Bakura?"

Ryou was sure something was off as he nodded slowly in agreement. "I try." He went straight into the kitchen to retrieve a can of soda for Honda. When he came back, the brunette had seated himself on the couch.

"Thanks." Honda said as Ryou handed him the soda.

He sat down next to Honda, and they passed the next few minutes in silence as the brunette sipped the soda. He glanced at Honda again and again out of the corner of his eyes, but he couldn't figure out what could be the problem. Why was Honda acting so strange today?

Another moment of awkward silence ensued before Honda broke it by clearing his throat. "Actually, the reason I'm here early is because I want to talk to you, Bakura."

He leaned in. "Go on."

A panicked expression overcame Honda for a second as his eyes darted around the room in search for something. "It's…um…nevermind!" He shot to his feet and moved away backwards, hands hiding behind his back again. "I'll be back later!"

"Wait!" Ryou leapt forward and grabbed one of the brunette's forearms. "What's wrong? Please tell me, Honda-kun."

"I can't!" Honda exclaimed and tried to move back again.

Ryou refused to relent and tugged harder on Honda's arm. He didn't know what the brunette was hiding behind his back, but he was going to find out, especially if it was the cause of Honda's strange behavior.

"Let go, Bakura!"

"No!"

Ryou tripped over the cuff of his pants and fell prey to gravity's undeniable persuasions. Honda tipped forward and tried to pull both of their weight back. Ryou realized he had to let go of the brunette's arm. With arms flailing in the air, Honda fell back because Newton dictated so.

Something rained down from the air and one hit Ryou's already abused forehead. His back screamed in pain, but he lifted his head and groped around for the object. Sitting up, he stared in confusion at the object. It was a chocolate heart.

Looking around his living room, he found the carpet littered with more of these chocolate hearts. He turned back to Honda, who refused to meet Ryou's gaze with eyes fixed to the ground.

"I don't understand, Honda-kun."

"It's Valentine's Day."

Ryou furrowed his brow together in deep thought. He knew it was Valentine's Day, but so what? If he recalled correctly, unlike Westerners, only the girls gave presents on Valentine's Day in Japan. He had always thought that to be strange after growing up in England, but who was he to dispute with tradition?

"What about it?"

Honda finally lifted his gaze to meet his. There was a bit of an amused light in Honda's eyes, but it was overshadowed by a visible fear. "You still don't get it?"

Ryou shook his head.

"Go out with me."

Ryou looked down dumbly at the chocolate heart now melting on his fingers. He waited for Honda's words to fully sink in and maybe make a little more sense. He leapt across the space between them and threw his arms around Honda's neck.

"Dammit, Bakura, your fingers are sticky!"

"Don't worry, I'll clean it off later."

...
Trees are above us, and darkness. The canyon fades . . .
...

Yugi looked around the living room of Ryou's apartment. The five of them had gathered for a meeting about Seto's trial, but what did they think they could actually do? They hadn't been successful in convincing Jounouchi not to testify against Seto so far.

He was glad that his brother was in Domino though. Yugi always felt a little bit more confident with Yami around. He was a bit hurt when his half-brother had not contacted him earlier, but he knew there was a good reason for that.

"So there's no way to convince Jounouchi-kun not to testify against Kaiba-kun?" Ryou asked.

Yami crossed his arms over, looking as cool as always leaning back against the wall. "I've already talked with Jounouchi a few times, personally and pleading on behalf of the defense team. He just won't change his mind."

Anzu sighed and dropped her head. "What a mess this is? How can any of us possibly do anything about this?"

"But we can't give up," Yugi urged them. "We can't just abandon Jounouchi-kun."

"And why not? He dug this hole himself." Honda snorted.

Yami spared the brunette a quick glare before turning back to stare at the clock on Ryou's wall. Yugi wondered if his brother needed to be somewhere else soon.

Anzu wasn't going to Honda get away with his callousness as easily as Yami did. "Some friend you are, Honda Hiroto. Why the hell are you even here then? If you're not going to help Jounouchi and Kaiba-kun, then get out."

The brunette rose and bared his hackles. "You think you can just tell me what to do? Fine, if you're so damn smart, tell us what we should be doing right now. I don't give a shit about Kaiba Seto, but tell me what can we do to help Jounouchi right now?"

She had no answer for him.

Honda narrowed his eyes. "So she doesn't have all the answers."

Yugi shook his head. "Please don't do this. We're not going to help either of them at this rate." Looking over at his brother that had been distracted all along, he pleaded. "Please say something, Yami. You must have some idea."

"Mai went about this in a very smart way," Yami muttered. "She knew that if given the choice, Jounouchi would choose his father over Kaiba. The only way we're going to be able to convince him to change his mind is to rescue his father from Mai."

"Great plan," said Honda sarcastically. "The only problem's we don't know where the old man is and how five teenagers are going to rescue him from the yakuza. I'm not looking to die this young."

"You shouldn't be so quick to judge." Yami's reply was interrupted halfway through by the doorbell.

Ryou, who had looked overwhelmed by the tension between the various fractions in the room, took the opportunity to get away and answer the door. The room lapsed into awkward silence as soon as their host left. Anzu sighed tiredly and leaned slightly against his side as Honda continued to glare at everyone else.

"Aniki!" Came Ryou's surprised cry from the front door.

Honda was across the room in a blink of an eye. "Bakura, what's wrong?"

Ryou came back into the living room, looking even paler than before. "It's Aniki."

Yami rose slowly to his feet and said, "You're late, Bakura."

"Fuck you, Yami," a tall white-haired man cursed as he stepped into everyone's line of sight. Yugi gawked openly at the man, just like everyone else. "You're lucky I'm even helping you with this."

"Why are you here, Aniki?"

"Because of that bastard." Ryou's older brother growled as he pointed at Yami.

"I don't understand." Ryou muttered.

Honda took one of Ryou's arms and held the boy protectively. Ryou's older brother stared at the two of them, before turning away with an expression of disgust on his face.

"It doesn't matter. I managed it. I found out where they're holding Jounouchi Tanaka." The older Bakura reached into his coat and drew out an envelope. He shoved the envelope into Yami's hand, tore his coat off, and dumped it on the couch right next to him and Anzu.

Yami knelt down and spread the contents of the envelope across the low coffee table. There were photos of a building and shots of what appeared to be the back of a blond head through a window. Yugi leaned in closer to examine him and recognized the name of Mai's cosmetic company in one of the photos.

"He's being held on the second floor, in a room toward the western part of the building. It looks like there are usually two guards placed at the door. They don't usually interact with the hostage, just when they have to give him his meals."

"How did you get these?" Yugi asked. "Why did you..." He trailed off, gaze moving in his brother's direction.

The elder Bakura just sneered unpleasantly at him and Yugi shrunk back a bit.

"Bakura..." warned Yami.

The white-haired man leaned back against the couch and crossed his arms. He stared resolutely at some distant point on the wall.

Yami looked over to where Honda was standing with an arm around Ryou's waist, supporting him. "Well, we now know where Jounouchi's father is being held. Think we can do something about it now?"

Honda stared at the floor for a few long seconds, before answering, "I'll go. I'll go get the old man."

"No!" Ryou shouted immediately.

Yami frowned. "I'm going to have to agree with Ryou-kun. It's too dangerous. It's probably best if Bakura and I go."

The brunette lifted his head and looked straight into Yami's eyes. Yugi was surprised by the amount of sheer determination he found in those dark brown eyes.

"I'm going, and you're not stopping me. Besides, I know the old man. You think he's going to just follow two strangers after being kidnapped by the yakuza. There has to be a familiar face there for him, and that's me."

Yami looked over at Ryou's older brother, and Yugi could see the silent communication working between the two older men. He wondered what his brother's real relationship with this man was.

The older Bakura just rolled his eyes and looked away, "I'm not going to stop him if he wants to risk his neck, saves me the trouble."

"Yami, don't you have to be at the trial with Yoshinobu-san?" Yugi asked.

Yami cursed and looked away. "You're right. I have to be in court tomorrow."

"I'll go with you then." Ryou said.

"No." Came two simultaneous protests from the older Bakura and Honda.

"You can't expect Honda-kun to go on his own." Ryou tightened his grip around Honda's forearm.

"Like hell, I can," Bakura stood and went over to his brother. He took Ryou's arm and pulled him away from the brunette. "There's no way you're accompanying him on his little suicide mission. This isn't your or mine problem, so leave it to them."

Ryou glared at his older brother in an unexpectedly dark manner, and Yugi suddenly didn't envy the older Bakura being in the position he was.

"Aniki, how many years has it been since we last saw each other?"

Bakura would not be intimidated by his younger brother and returned an equally steady glare. "Two years."

"Three," Ryou snapped. "You don't have the right to tell me to do anything."

The younger white-haired boy ripped his hand out of the man's grip and went back to Honda's side. Bakura's jaw dropped as his brother turned his back. His jaw moved up and down without a sound, obviously struggling to find some argument that would get through to the younger man. He finally settled for glaring at Honda instead.

"Fine," the older man grumbled. "I'm coming with the two of you then."

...
And we recall, with a gleaming stab of sadness,
Vaguely and incoherently, some dream
Of a world we came from, a world of sun-blue hills . . .
...

"This court is hereby in session. Please step forward. Are the Prosecution and the Defense ready?"

"The Prosecution is ready."

"The Defense is also ready."

It took a few moments for the buzz in the courtroom to die down. The room were full of reporters and men in business suits- men that Yugi reckoned had large stakes in Kaiba Corporations. Looking around the room, he didn't think he saw one party here for the express purpose of supporting Seto. His stomach churned angrily at the thought. They already thought Seto as good as guilty before the trial even started.

Yugi felt Anzu's hand tighten around his.

"Shouldn't they have closed the courtroom? It's a media circus in here." She snarled.

He squeezed it and offered what reassurance he could. To be truthful, he was probably more nervous for Seto than she was though. But now was not the time to compare anything that trivial.

"We can't help it since this is such a high profile trial. Everyone wants to know what's going on. But you're right, there should be a limit to all this."

"Those bastards..."

The judge banged his gavel again. "Defendant, please state your name, address of residence, occupation, and date of birth."

Seto stood tall behind the witness box- he already towered over most in the room at sixteen with a height of six feet one- and replied, "My name is Kaiba Seto and I was born October 25, 198x. I am a student at Domino High School. My residence is at 3-1, Honmachi, Takashi-shi, Domino."

The presiding judge nodded, "This trial is now being held regarding the charge against you of homicide. Have you already received the indictment? Please listen as the prosecutor reads the indictment. Will you please read the indictment?"

"Of course," the public prosecutor stood and barely repressed the smirk sneaking across his face. "Your honor. The defendant, having been determined to take the life of Kaiba Noa (then 27 years old), the defendant's legal guardian and adoptive brother, in a rage against him on account of a plot to inherit Kaiba Noa's share of the Kaiba Corporations, went into his room, located at 3-1, Honmachi, Takashi-shi, Domino, on the evening of November 16, 200x at approximately 6:30 p.m., and shot him in the left chest with a handgun in his possession, thereby causing his death soon afterwards at the same place from excessive bleeding, and thus murdered him."

Yami was tense in his seat next to Seto's defense attorney, a vicious sneer written plain across his face as he glared at the back of the public prosecutor's head. Yugi could tell his older brother didn't like the man very much.

The presiding judge nodded and continued, "The court is now going to hear this case based on the charges against you that the prosecutor has read. Be advised of the following: You have the right to remain silent. You may refuse to answer some questions, or you may remain silent through this trial. Of course, you may choose to answer any question. However, any statement you make in the court may be used as evidence either for or against you. Therefore, answer questions with that in mind. Do you understand?"

"I do." Seto said.

"Now, do you have anything to say in response to the facts just read to you by the prosecutor?"

"I do. I cannot and will not deny that I shot Noa, but I did not conspire to kill him or intend to kill him out of malice. I acted out in defense of my little brother, Mokuba, and my classmate, Jounouchi Katsuya."

Yugi noticed a slight grimace when Seto spoke Jounouchi's name. Seto might not been willing to admit it, but he knew how much Jounouchi's betrayal had hurt his best friend. He hoped that Honda and the others returned with Jounouchi's father soon.

"I see," the presiding judge frowned and exchanged glances with the two other judges on either sides of him. "What is your opinion, Mister Counsel?"

Yoshinobu stood and bowed. "Thank you, your Honor. My opinion is the same as my client's. He had no malice or forethought of homicide, and therefore is not guilty of the charges levied against him."

"Prosecutor, please make your opening statement."

"Thank you, your honor," the public prosecutor walked out from behind his desk to stand before the three judges. "Today, I intend to prove that Kaiba Seto, after being excluded from executive decisions, willfully and intentionally murdered his older brother, Kaiba Noa, on the evening of November 16, 200x in the home they shared together. The evidence clearly shows why. The defendant conspired to gain control of the company by trying to monopolizing a majority of the company stocks for a second time- his first attempt to do so was two years ago when Kaiba Gozaburo first passed away."

Anzu began quivering in anger as she listened to the extensive allegations.

"In addition, I will prove to this court that Kaiba Noa-san was not well of mind and that the defendant was aware of that fact and took advantage of it. When Kaiba Mokuba refused to sell his share of the company to the defendant, the defendant was purposefully negligent and allowed Kaiba Mokuba to be harmed at the hands of Kaiba Noa during a psychotic episode. The defendant may plead self-defense, but every step of this crime was methodically plotted out. I implore your Honors to see the defendant for what he truly is, a murderer that will stop at nothing- even harming his own brothers- to illegally gain control over a company. Please remember the lives of thousands of employees and share holders under the Kaiba Corporation depends on the outcome of this trial. Thank you."

Yugi's grip on Anzu's hand loosened and she took the opportunity to pull away from him, exclaiming. "What kind of opening statement is that? Why don't you just stone Kaiba-kun on the spot if you're going to talk like that?"

"No, Anzu, don't!" He flailed as he tried to pull her back down to her seat.

She ignored him and continued, "You have got to be kidding me if this is what you consider this a fair and speedy trial! The prosecution was obviously abusing their privilege of an opening statement. That was almost downright libel, what he said!"

"Miss, you will sit down this instant. You have no right to raise any objections as an audience member. You will stop wasting this court's time or I shall have you removed. Defense, your opening statement."

"But-"

Yugi finally managed to pull Anzu back into her seat. "Don't, it's not worth it. We can't get kicked out now."

...
A black wood whispers around us, green eyes gleam;
Someone cries in the forest, and someone kills.
...

"Who would be stupid enough to keep a hostage in their own company?" Honda muttered very quietly under his breath. Yet his words seemed so loud that Ryou couldn't help but wince.

"Maybe she's just really confident." Ryou whispered.

"Will you two shut up?" Bakura snapped, pressing his body flatter against the wall of the corridor.

Honda gave Ryou's older brother a death glare, but didn't say anything further.

The sound of footsteps moving away seemed to signify that one of the guards had moved away from his post. Bakura gestured for them to stay put and slithered expertly around the corner of their hiding place. Ryou scrambled to see what his older brother was doing and managed to catch sight of the man felling a guard far more engrossed with a far blank wall than the door he was supposed to be keeping watch over. The guard went down like a stone under Bakura's fist, without even a chance to cry out. His brother caught the yakuza before he hit the ground and dragged the limp body into a utility closet down the hall.

Honda jumped into action and went straight to the door. Ryou watched as his boyfriend concentrated on picking the lock. He thought the expression of intense concentration on the brunette's face was devilishly handsome. Honda made a slight sound of triumph when the lock gave way.

The captured man inside the room looked up in surprise when the door to his makeshift prison swung open, sound muffled behind the gag around his mouth. Ryou brought a finger to his lips and shook his head. Tanaka nodded slowly and Honda pulled down the gag as Ryou went about cutting the binding with his switch knife.

"What are you doing here, Honda-kun?"

Honda gritted his teeth. "Why the hell do you think I'm here? I'm here to rescues you so your stupid son doesn't make the biggest mistake of his life."

Bakura finally appeared in the doorway. "What's taking so long? We're running out of time here. The other guard could be back any second."

"We're doing the best we can." Honda snapped.

"Would you two quit already?" Ryou muttered as he helped Jounouchi's father stand. "They're probably going to find us because of the sound of the two of you squabbling."

Tanaka stumbled and Honda moved to catch the older man. Ryou frowned. There was probably no blood circulating through the man's legs after spending so many days in captivity like that. Ryou thought that to be exceptionally cruel of Mai. The father already had no place to run to, but she still insisted on binding and gagging him. This was also going to be a problem. They wouldn't be able to run with this load.

"You should all leave," Jounouchi's father pleaded. "This is too dangerous. They'll just go after Katsuya if I get away. I can't do that to Katsuya."

"Let's get going." Ryou looked around nervously. "Do you know why they captured you in the first place, Jounouchi-san?"

"All I know is they want Katsuya to do something for them," the father grabbed Ryou's arms and shook him. "Is he okay? Did something happen to Katsuya?"

"Jounouchi's on trial right now." Honda muttered.

"What-"

The exclamation was cut short by Bakura's hand over Tanaka's mouth. Ryou wasn't sure how his brother managed to move across the room- no matter how tiny it was- so quickly. His brother threw another death glare at Honda and growled, "Way to go, genius."

"What? He wanted to know."

Ryou sighed and turned to the frantic father muffled by his brother's hand. "Please don't overreact, Jounouchi-san. Jounouchi-kun is safe. He's testifying against Kaiba-kun in court."

Bakura released the older man after he relaxed visibly.

"Is that why they took me? To make Katsuya lie for them?"

Honda looked back at the older man in surprise. "You caught on quick, old man."

Bakura peered cautiously out the door and gestured to them. "Come on, we have to move quickly."

They moved quickly down the hallways. The corridors all looked the same to Ryou so he was glad his brother was the one leading. Bakura probably had the whole blueprint of the building memorized. If Ryou remembered correctly, the building wasn't a very tall one, but it covered a lot of area. They passed a large 2 painted onto the sterile white walls.

Ryou wondered why there weren't more workers around. It was kind of suspicious now that he thought about it. They had passed a few salarymen on their way up, and there had been plenty of other people on the first floor.

Just as they rounded a corner, a voice boomed from behind them. "Hey! This floor has been closed down! Which department are you with?"

They all tensed in unison and exchanged desperate glances.

After taking a quick look over his shoulder, Bakura quietly proclaimed, "Just run."

"What?" Ryou squeaked as his brother seemed to vanish from underneath his nose.

Honda grabbed his hand suddenly and pulled his along. He barely had enough time to take hold of Tanaka's shirt, since the man looked ready to just stand still for capture. Shots rang out suddenly overhead and they moved faster. No one was eager to become swiss cheese anytime soon.

"This isn't working." Honda exclaimed as a bullet hit the wall just over his head.

"Just keep running." Bakura shouted.

"We're not going to make it." Honda fell back suddenly to run alongside Tanaka. "Give me your jacket when we go around the next corner. We'll then split up and I'll draw their fire away."

"But-" Both Tanaka and Ryou protested.

"Just do it!"

Tanaka was struggling with his jacket when Ryou grabbed Honda's hand again. "What do you think you're doing? That's practically suicide!"

"Since your brother obviously doesn't have a better idea, one of us has to come up with something."

"I'm coming with you then."

"No," Honda answered immediately. "It's too dangerous."

"It makes more sense to split up evenly though. What if they decide to come after Aniki and use because it's three versus one? Aniki won't be able to protect me and Jounouchi-san. I don't know this place well enough to lead Jounouchi-san out either. Tell me what's to be done then?"

Ryou could see Honda give way to his suggestion. No doubt the yakuza wouldn't hesitate to shoot once they realized Honda was not Tanaka, but Ryou still knew how to fight- he could help Honda.

"Bakura," Honda barked. "We're splitting up at the next intersection. Get Ossa out of here and down to the courthouse. Your brother and I are going to draw them away in the opposite direction."

"No!" Bakura shouted. "You are not taking my little brother on your little suicide mission."

"Just do it." Ryou ordered. "We don't have time for this. Just do as Honda-kun says."

"Dammit, if anything happens to Ryou, I don't care if you're already dead. There's going to be hell to pay." Threatened Bakura as he grabbed Tanaka's arm.

Ryou and Honda lagged behind the other two and just swung around the corner as Bakura and Tanaka went around the opposite one. Ryou looked back to see half the pack break off in the direction of Bakura and Tanaka, but the rest followed close behind them.

"They took the bait," Ryou wheezed as he started to fall behind Honda. "Half of them are still after Aniki-tachi."

Honda pulled the coat over his head to perpetuate his disguise for just a little longer.

"I can't keep this up for much longer." He stumbled over his feet.

Honda grabbed his hand again. "Just a little longer. I won't leave you behind."

Just as they rounded the next corner, they saw a door left slightly ajar. Honda quickly pulled Ryou into the room. Ryou closed the door and locked it, crouching low to the ground and against the door to avoid being spotted by whomever may look through the window. His heart was pounding as he listened to the stampede of footsteps come to a stop and a conversation enunciated with confusion and anger filter in from the hallway. He looked around the room to see Honda pressed flat against a wall that should be out of line of sight.

He held his breath for a few moments until he was sure of the sound of retreating footsteps. He slumped against the door, chest heaving and burning.

Honda crawled across the floor to reach him and wrapped an arm around his shoulders. "Are you okay?"

Ryou smiled weakly. "Give me a moment to catch my breath."

Honda nodded, but tightened his sort-of embrace around Ryou. His eyes wandered around the dark room, maybe searching for anything that might help them escaped. They appeared to be hiding in someone's abandoned office. Ryou followed his boyfriend's example, eyes squinting and desperate not to miss a single detail.

Aside from the computer, the desk was clear of any papers or files. There was a plaque sitting in the center of the desk, but he couldn't read the name or position on it. Behind the desk, light flowed into the room from the large glass wall. Two standard looking office chairs faced the chair behind the desk. File cabinets lined the wall. He buried a hand into the plush carpet floor.

A tiny red light caught his attention out of the corner of his eye. He turned his head to considered the blinking object. It took him a few moments to register the outline of the object in the dark until the shifting beams of light from outside the window moved again. His heart jumped into his throat.

"Honda," Ryou reached out and grabbed the other boy's hand. His own hand trembled as he pointed to the camera mounted on the wall. "Look."

Honda's eyes widened in surprise. "Shit, we have to get out of here. They're going to know."

Just as he spoke, a shadow was cast through the small tinted window over them. The doorknob above them began to jiggle. Honda cleared the length of the room, leaping over the empty desk. He pressed his face against the glass window.

The brunette turned to face him again. "Just trust me."

Ryou just nodded mutely. Honda picked up the chair behind the desk and bashed it into the glass. Spiderweb cracks crept across the surface of the pane. Honda's arms recoiled again and slammed the hard side of the chair against the glass. Ryou's heart was racing. They weren't going to shatter enough of the glass in time. After slamming the chair a third time against the pane and still not shattering it, Honda dropped the chair and backed up to the desk.

"Bakura, come on!"

Ryou froze for a second, caught between the door giving way against the wooden frame and the pane that would not budge for them. They weren't going to escape this. They weren't going to get away.

"Ryou!"

The sound of his name upon Honda's lips broke him out of his frightened trance. A desperate plead was written all over his boyfriend's face. Ryou's feet began moving before his brain even registered the fact, his pace quickening with every step. Honda placed an arm around his waist when he came to the brunette's side and used Tanaka's jacket to shield the both of them.

The door fell open with a tremendous bang and they raced at the glass. Pain didn't register until seconds after impact. Ryou squeezed his eyes shut, finally feeling the pane give way under their combined weight and momentum. A few seconds later, he felt the sharp stings all over his body give way to wetness. And when he opened his eyes just another second later, he was on his back- the blue sky, white clouds, and a droplet of blood hovering over him.

He was flying.

He felt something slam his right arm with the force of an oncoming vehicle, jarring his bone in an unpleasant manner. The rest of the world went black, but the perfect blueness of the sky remained imprinted on the inside of his eyelids.

...
We flow to the east, to the white-lined shivering sea;
We reach to the west, where the whirling sun went down;
...

The public prosecutor stood before the witness box with his hands folded behind his back and his head held disgustingly high. What Jounouchi wouldn't give to be able to knock the bastard down a few pegs? He was sure this bastard was under Mai's payroll too.

"Jounouchi-san, please relay to this court the events you witnessed on the evening of November 16, 200x at the residence of Kaiba Noa and his family."

He glared at the man, biting down on his lower lip and trying not to meet Kaiba's gaze just over the prosecutor's shoulder. Why did the witness box have to be front and center in the courtroom, directly facing both the audience and the defendant?

"Jounouchi-san, please answer the question."

He swallowed the bitter "that wasn't even a question, jackass" reply that climbed up his throat. However, he caught a spot of purple in the monotonous sea of black and gray in the audience and knew right away it was Mai. The woman cocked her head to the side and smiled slightly; placing a finger to her temple and cocking her thumb back like the hammer of a pistol.

"Jounouchi-san…" The warning was clear in the judge's voice.

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. His mouth opened and the falsities he spent so many nights going over and over in his head spilled out with less trouble than there should have been.

About halfway through his testimony, a loud bang echoed suddenly through the courtroom. His eyes were drawn immediately to the doors where a man who looked like Bakura Ryou stood with a hand on his father's forearm.

"Don't, Katsuya!" Tanaka shouted.

The low murmur rising from the audience became a tidal wave of noise that washed over the room. Mai shot up from her seat, staring incredulously at his father. The presiding judge was trying to get the court back under order, but no one seemed to hear.

The Bakura Ryou look-alike released Tanaka's arm, and his father stumbled forward unevenly.

Jounouchi leapt out of the witness' box and toward his father. He caught the man just before he hit the ground in exhaustion. The bailiff was already moving forward to separate the two of them.

His father reached out and squeezed Jounouchi's forearms. "I'm fine, Katsuya. Don't do anything I know you're going to regret."

The world blurred into a mess of colors and sounds, but every shape and movement was outlined more boldly than ever. The reporters present were scribbling away furiously at their pads with wild speculations or shouting questions at his father. Mai had pulled out her cellphone and was yelling at the person on the other end of the line. It was the first time Jounouchi had seen her so ruffled.

His gaze moved from the woman to Seto, who was still seated in the defendant's box at the back of the room. He was finally able to meet the other boy's gaze for the first time since he had stepped into this courtroom. There was no way he could figure out what Seto was thinking. His heart constricted painfully with guilt.

He wanted to say he was sorry- that had it really been in his hands, he would have never testified against Seto. One of the bailiffs grabbed Jounouchi around his shoulders and started dragging him back to the witness box. Yugi was already moving over the pews and crowd to reach his father. The younger boy gave him an encouraging glance and a thumbs up just as Anzu pushed through the crowd to join him.

"Don't you dare mess this up, Jounouchi!" Anzu glared at him as she held his father to his feet.

"Order! Or you will all be held in contempt of the court!"

He shook off the bailiff and turned to face the three judges, squaring his shoulder. The presiding judge was still trying to regain control of the room.

"Your Honor," Jounouchi heard his voice ring strongly above the rest of the noise. "I lied. That shit I was saying before was all made up."

"What?" The judge sputtered angrily.

He hoped the man didn't have high blood pressure because this was anything but good for the judge's health.

"Are you making a mockery of this court, Jounouchi-san?"

"You mean it wasn't one to begin with? My bad."

"Jounouchi-san! Do you understand what perjury is?" Another judge to the side reprimanded as the presiding judge flapped his mouth opened and closed.

"Yeah, yeah, you can throw me in jail after I give my real testimony."

"Your Honor, I object to this!" Mai shouted as she shot to her feet. Her cellphone looked ready to crack within the hold of her vice grip.

Yami stood and pointed at Mai. "You have no right to do so in this court! Your Honor, we need to hear Jounouchi-san's truthful testimony now!"

"I have no right! You're just a medical student, Kagashi Yami!" Mai protested.

"You are all in contempt of the court!"

Jounouchi caught the hurried looks exchanged between the prosecutor and Mai. Had he not had a roomful of audience, he would have been sure to flip the woman the bird. Upon further thought, he decided to let Mai see exactly what he thought of her.

The judge banged his gavel as he screamed with a flushed red face, "The witness will refrain from making obscene gestures at the court!"

A single suit-cladded arm was raised into the air. All gazes moved toward Seto, who was acting as if he was just volunteering an answer to a question in class.

"Yes, Kaiba-san?" The quietest of the three judges asked.

"Can we move this along? I haven't been to school in over a week and I have a company to run," Seto looked directly at the presiding judge. "Some of us don't have the time to waste on these histrionics."

The presiding judge went bright red again. "Ten minute recess! Prosecution, Defense, one of you two get your goddamn witness in order!"

...
We close our eyes to music in bright cafees.
...

The first day of the spectacular mess of a trial ended and was dismissed by the judges in the end. The public prosecutor deferred grudgingly to the decision. Taking advantage of the chaos that consumed the courthouse after the end of the trial, Jounouchi and the others rushed his father to the hospital. He couldn't help but worry about the state of his father's health after a few weeks' imprisonment by the yakuza.

His father was in a better state than he expected, and he had stepped out of the examining room to calm down. Hospitals were quickly becoming his least favorite place. He squeezed his eyes shut, trying not to think of either Shizuka or Mokuba. This tie had to end better than the last two. It had to.

Unable to take it anymore, Jounouchi walked toward the elevator. He needed to get out of the building. His father was being kept overnight for observations, and he would still be there when Jounouchi got back. This was for the sake of his sanity.

Jounouchi stopped after passing by a door left slightly ajar and hearing two familiar voices arguing.

"There's no point in calling him. Chichiue is in Israel right now, and I can't expect him to fly back for something this small."

"It's a gunshot wound, Bakura. You should at least let your father know."

He backed up and leaned his shoulder against the door frame, listening to a more subdued conversation. He couldn't see anything going on in the room from his angle. The next few lines of the conversation were lost to him.

"You can go home, Honda-kun. I'll be fine on my own. Your family must be worried."

"I don't have any more family than you."

Jounouchi pushed off the wall and swung into the room. "You know Miyuki is going crazy looking for you now."

Honda stood from his seat and glared at him, "What are you doing here?"

Ryou reached over and grabbed one of Honda's hands. "Not here, Honda-kun. Please don't fight now." The white-haired boy pulled his best friend back down into the chair but didn't let go of the hand afterwards.

Jounouchi stared at the intertwined fingers. Perhaps it was the quick look of near tenderness Honda had given Ryou that was the most telling. "Are the two of you…?"

Honda's death glare returned anew with all the fury of hell. "Got a problem, Jounouchi?"

"I don't think I have any right to judge." He muttered.

"You sure as hell don't." His best friend snapped.

Unwilling to let Honda's display of open hostility deter him, Jounouchi smiled brightly as he could manage. "I'm happy for the two of you."

Honda looked up with a bewildered expression.

"Thank you," said Ryou.

"I probably don't have to say this but if you fuck this up with Honda-"

Ryou broke into a small fit of laughter, hand tightening around Honda's. "I get the picture, loud and clear."

"Good."

In the moments of silence that followed, Ryou's eyes kept moving between Jounouchi and Honda. Finally the white-haired boy spoke again, "Jounouchi-kun, could you walk Honda-kun home? That way you two can watch out for each other. Mai may try to do something after today."

Honda looked like he was going to flat-out refuse anyway. Jounouchi wasn't so sure either. Now that Ryou mentioned it, he feared for his father's safety. Was Mai more likely to target him or his father for revenge? Maybe he should try and spend the night here? He couldn't let anything happen to his father now that he got him back again.

"Please," Ryou pleaded. "They won't let you stay here tonight anyway."

Jounouchi stepped forward and placed a hand on Honda's shoulder. "Come on, you'll only slow down his getting better if you make him worry."

Honda left reluctantly after promising to come pick Ryou up when he got discharged tomorrow. Ryou nodded and mouthed "good luck" as they left. They walked down the hallway in complete silence. More than a few doctors and nurses that passed by glanced furtively at Jounouchi. It made him very uncomfortable. They stopped to wait for the elevator. Honda stared resolutely at the lit down button and Jounouchi at anything that might hold his attention.

The sun was just setting as they walked out the hospital's automatic doors. They walked a full block before Jounouchi gathered the courage to speak.

"We'll always be friends."

Honda moved so quickly that Jounouchi didn't know what hit him until he was sprawled across the pavement with an aching jaw. The brunette leaned over him with a thunderous expression, almost ready to murder. Honda's clenched fists were shaking at his sides.

"What the fuck?" Jounouchi sprang to his feet, cradling his injured jaw in one hand.

Honda raised his fist, as if to hit Jounouchi again but stopped short. "Goddammit, Jounouchi, are you really that dumb? Why the hell do you think I went after your father like that if you weren't my best friend? I sure as hell didn't do it for the joy of getting on a yakuza hit list."

"Why? I thought you were still mad about…"

"Yeah, I'm still mad about Kaiba and Mutou, but you don't think I would have really just left you hanging like that, like that cold-hearted bastard Kaiba? Goddammit, Jounouchi."

"This isn't Kaiba's fault, not entirely."

"You're still defending him?" Honda looked away in disgust.

"Well, it's the thing to do after I nearly got him convicted of a crime he didn't commit." Jounouchi snapped.

"He is guilty of killing Kaiba Noa though. Whether or not there was 'criminal intent' is another story, and why didn't you go to the police? If you had done that in the first place, we might not be in this mess."

"Mai would've killed Tou-san then!"

Jounouchi's shoulders slumped in defeat at the mere thought. Taking a few steps back, he slid down a wall and onto the ground. "Dammit, I was really scared. I didn't know what I'd do if I lost Tou-san, and after Shizuka… I had no idea what to do. Mai, she was just too strong, I couldn't do anything against her."

Honda sat against the wall next to him, and they ignored the glares from the annoyed pedestrians that passed them. "This wasn't what we were used to dealing with, was it?"

"Yeah, Mai's definitely not one of the punk assholes like Jizawa."

Honda reached over, placed a hand on the blonde's shoulder, and squeezed. "We'll always be best buds, and I'll always be there when you need me."

"Thanks, Honda, thanks for everything."

"Don't mention it."

When he stood, he offered a hand to Honda- a reciprocal and conciliatory gesture. His best friend stared at it for a second before taking it. Jounouchi slung a casual arm around Honda's shoulders and hoped this would never change. "Congrats about you and Bakura," he said.

"Thanks, I wish I could say the same about you and Kaiba."

"Dude, there's nothing between me and Kaiba."

"Yet," Honda corrected, sneaking a sly glance. "You want it, don't you?"

Jounouchi groaned. "That's not something I need to worry about right now. I'm still not over the fact I might be gay."

"You could be bi." Honda offered.

"Besides, me and Kaiba aren't like you and Bakura. It's…"

"Complicated?" piqued Honda. "When is anything with Kaiba Seto easy?"

"Things have really changed, haven't they, Honda?"

"No shit, I'm dating a guy, you're pining after Mister Big CEO, and we're friends with the biggest walking talking disaster magnet ever, who was the first and only one of us to get a girlfriend. It's all like a bad anime," Honda then shrugged. "That's life and growing up I guess."

"When'd you get so smart?"

"Must be Ryou."

"I don't know. I think things are fine like this."

Jounouchi must have stunned his best friend with his admission because Honda stopped in the middle of the sidewalk. The brunette furrowed his brow in what must have been great concentration.

"I think you might be right." He said before he slung an arm around Jounouchi's shoulder.

...
We diverge from clamorous streets to streets that are silent.
...

Yami came up behind Bakura as the white-haired man was staring out the window of the hotel room Yami had been staying in since he arrived at Domino. He looked back to where his duffel bag was packed on the bed. Sitting next to it was Bakura's meager belongings stuffed into a bookbag. For some reason, the sight was heartwarming to him.

"Are you sure you want to leave already?" Yami asked. "What about your brother?"

"Ryou will be just fine," Bakura turned away from the window. "That Honda Hiroto better take good care of him."

He stifled his laughter. "You were always a better big brother than you'd let on."

His boyfriend glared at him, crossing his arms over his chest. "I shouldn't have come up here to help you, should have just left you to rot on your own."

Yami slipped an arm around the slightly taller man. "Are you sure you don't want to say goodbye to Ryou-kun first? He'll miss you even if you don't."

Bakura's gaze dropped suddenly, his glare turning into a somewhat desperate stare at one clenched fist. "You know why I can't stay here in Domino. I just can't."

"How many years have we known each other?" He asked, knowing that the unspoken question of "how long has it been since you left this city" was heard just as clearly.

"Don't make me do this. I've never ask you for anything, and I'm not going to start now, so if you're going to stay here, don't bother asking me to. Because I won't, I won't stay."

Yami rested his chin against Bakura's shoulder and took it to be a good sign when the other man leaned back against him. "That's fine. We'll just go home. I know Yugi will be able to take care of himself. I won't ask you to do anything painful."

Bakura tensed and Yami was afraid his boyfriend was about to refuse him. The white-haired man spun around in his arms and pushed him back onto the bed. He barely lifted his head up when Bakura saddled his lap and pinned him to the bed.

"I hate it when you're good to me." Bakura snarled viciously before sealing his lips to Yami's.

...
We loaf where the wind-spilled fountain plays.
...

"Have a seat," Seto directed brusquely to Mai as she stepped into the office. He suppressed the urge to tug at his tie and pull at his white business suit. He wasn't sure if he could ever get used to this.

Mai smiled slyly as she moved across the carpet to his desk. She looked at home with herself in this office, and he supposed she would be. Though he had had the entire office redone, it was still Noa's office in his mind. He contemplated moving into an entirely new office instead.

She looked around the room with a bored expression before speaking, "I like how Noa arranged this office better."

"I didn't call you here to consult about the interior decorating."

"What did you call me here for, Seto-sama?"

"Stay away from Jounouchi and his friends."

She smirked. "What makes you think I would have anything to do with them now? I don't hold grudges easily, and not against little boys and girls."

"That might be the case, but your reputation in both the proper and not-so-proper realms have taken a blow. I'm sure you're not deaf to what some are saying about you now."

When she glared at him, he couldn't help but notice how pretty her violet eyes were- sort of like Yugi's but not at all. It wasn't so hard to believe his older brother had been involved with this woman.

"Are you trying to anger me? I can tell now that would be an unwise thing."

He leaned back in his leather chair, Noa's leather chair- it had been the only thing he had not replaced in the office because he knew the bastard would be rolling in his grave over it. Mai was an intelligent woman, but she moved with the strategy of a chess player in mind. Chess was about outwitting the opponent, but it was all very overt. Duel Monsters was different- half of the game was about deception and hidden resources. That was how Seto aimed to act, and Mai was falling right into his trap.

"You took a risk in revealing you were pregnant with my brother's child. The tarnish that did to your respectable reputation might have been worth it if I had been convicted and your received the company. But now? You as good as told the world you're a whore."

She bristled visibly but didn't say anything.

He continued, "Let's talk about your underground reputation then. Your people, armed with both guns and greater number, were thwarted by two teenagers and a man. Who could possibly respect your group after that disaster? Your criminal career is practically over before it begins."

"All the more reason for me to take my revenge." She narrowed her eyes.

"I thought you might say so," he pulled open the top drawer of his desk and drew a thick brown envelope. "You might want to take a look at this before you do anything."

Mai gave him another death glare as she opened the envelope. She pulled out the papers he had carefully complied. As her eyes moved across and down the page, her expression became more and more thunderous. Finally, she slammed both the pages and her palm down on his desk.

"How dare you!" She snarled.

"Noa has been dead since November," Seto stood and came around the desk. "It has been just short of three months, around the time when women just start to show signs of their pregnancies. No one would have questioned you about that just yet. You figured that by the time you won the court case, you could make up some sob story about losing the baby and take the entire company for yourself."

He walked behind her seat as he continued, "You were never pregnant, and all that rubbish about you being Noa's fiancée... I have the receipt from where you purchased that ring and testimony from the doctor you blackmailed into diagnosing you. I don't care what your real relationship with Noa was, but I owe you nothing. If you do anything to Jounouchi, Yugi, or anyone else involved in this because of you, I won't hesitate to release this information and ruin you completely. Your rivals will tear you, your gang, and your territories to pieces once you lose your standing in the business world."

Her shoulders slumped in defeat. "You'll do well in succeeding Noa's place."

"That's where you're wrong. I intend to make my own."

...
And, growing tired, we turn aside at last,
...

Yugi sucked in a big breath and shifted the weight of the box to secure it better against the cradle of his arms. It wasn't too heavy, but the box was large compared to his relatively smaller frame. Anzu stopped just ahead, with a box in her hands too.

"Are you okay, Yugi?" She asked.

"It's fine. I can handle it." He reassured her.

"Thanks again for helping me," she smiled. "It would have taken me forever if I had to move all of these one by one."

She became a lot busier since being elected class representative two weeks ago. Sometimes, she would take an entire lunch period to finish her extra load without any chance to eat. More often than not, he, Jounouchi, or even Ryou and Honda would lean a helping hand. More often than not, their classmates would purposely neglect their assigned chores and leave them to pile up. Anzu would be forced do the work in their stead, because she would be the one scolded by the teacher in the end. He wished there was something more he could do to help her.

"Why didn't you ask Jounouchi to help?"

That had been the wrong question to ask. Anzu never asked any of them for help. She was bent on showing the rest of the class she could take whatever they threw at her. Though he felt this route might be a bit too passive aggressive. She was stubborn like that, and that was what he liked about her. They always offered to help her. It was never the other way around.

"He's with Kaiba-kun. I think he's finally going to do something. It's Kaiba-kun's first day back to school too. This should be a good sign."

Yugi almost dropped the box. "What?"

"I know. I didn't think the two of them would ever get anywhere at the rate they were going." She said excitedly.

He looked out the window and into the courtyard expectedly, unconsciously searching for his two best friends. He couldn't find them, but he did spot Ryou and Honda sitting on the small wall overlooking the sports field. Leaning the box against the windowsill, he rested his face against the glass to get a better look.

"Is something wrong, Yugi?"

He pulled away from the window and just smiled. "I just spotted Ryou and Honda. They look good together. Come on, we need to get this done before the lunch period is over. You need to eat your lunch."

"What about you?" She teased. "Are you sure it's not just your stomach there?"

He held his head up high. "I'm not ashamed to admit it. You know my cooking is delicious anyway."

...
Remember our secret selves, seek out our towers,
...

Ryou looked back at the school and watched through the windows as Anzu and Yugi walked past on a second floor hallway.

"What are you looking at?" asked Honda.

"I can see Yugi-kun and Anzu-chan from here. I wonder if they can see us too."

"Hmm... Looks like Masaki's busy with the slack her lovely classmates left for her."

"It's so wrong how they just decided to burden her with all that."

"It's not like we can help her with much. She's the class representative of class B and we're class A. Nothing we can do for her."

"I'm not so sure about that," just as he turned around again, he caught Honda stealing a rice ball out of his bento. "Hey!"

"What?" Honda asked with rice ball in one hand and his sandwich in his other. "You weren't eating."

"You could at least ask." He grumbled.

Honda leaned over and peeked him on the cheek. "Thanks, Ryou."

Ryou felt a gratifying warmth fill his chest, like the feeling of drinking hot chocolate after a day of playing in the snow. It brought back memories of making snow angels with his brother and sister in their childhood Cambridge home as their sickly mother watched over them from the porch. He remembered love.

Sliding over along the wall, he rested his weight against Honda. He felt Honda's shoulders move with every breath he took and every bite he took of his sandwich. It was comforting in a strange way. Just a few weeks ago, they had been running from the yakuza with bullets raining down on them. He had taken a bullet in his arm, but it had healed. However, he would never have the same mobility with his right arm as before. It was a good thing he was ambidextrous.

"Honda, have you ever been to Tokyo before?" Ryou asked.

"Why'd you ask?"

"I was thinking I could go down to Tokyo to visit Aniki. He won't stay here, but I can always go to him, right?" He stared down hard at his hands clenched around his bento box.

Honda laid a hand over his. "I'm sure he'll be glad to see you at least. He'll probably try and skin me alive, but whatever."

Ryou smiled and leaned his head against Honda's shoulder.

...
Lay weary hands on the banisters, and climb;
...

Jounouchi watched as Seto sat against fence, flipping through what seemed like a long-winded report filled with a variety of colorful charts and graph. They had been up on the rooftop for about five minutes now, spent in complete silence. This was the first time he could see and talk privately with the other boy since the end of the trial. It certainly didn't stop Seto from orchestrating a whole array of things behind his back.

Crossing his arms over his chest, he said, "I gotta go to court next week, you know."

"What did you do this time?"

Jounouchi glared at Seto. "I think it's something about 'perjury' and 'missing sessions with a court-ordered therapist.' All no thanks to you, of course."

"If you need a good attorney, I can introduce you to one. Or you could just call Yami to take you case." Seto replied blandly.

"No thanks, and can you please tell that bodyguard of yours to stop following me. It's annoying and creepy."

"As you said, this was all my fault," Seto paused to browse a particularly long list of numbers. "The least I can do is keep Mai's people and the reporters away."

"Ok, fine, but don't you think helping us find a new apartment was a bit much?"

"The badlands aren't safe, as implied by the name."

"I..." Jounouchi was unable to swallow the thought and turned to look over the school grounds again. "Betrayed you."

"It was the result of unfortunate circumstances that none of us could have anticipated."

He could still feel Seto's gaze directed at his profile. He looped his fingers through the chain link fence and clenched the metal tightly. "Could you stop being so poker-faced for one damn second? Punch me or something. Hell, I'd punch myself."

"Fine, go ahead."

Jounouchi bent over to snatch the papers away. "I'm trying to apologize, you ass. I still owe you for last time. Stop doing things for me!"

Seto stared at him for a few long moments. He resisted the urge to run away from that solid blue gaze. The brunette stood suddenly and dusted off his trousers. "I think you have your facts skewed. Noa got a hold of you because of me. Mai then took hostage of your father in order to use you against me. I'm the one that owes you."

"But I almost got you convicted for murder!"

"You would have never been put in that position if it wasn't for me."

"Would you stop being so damn honorable and about such screwed up things on top of that!"

"Only when you stop being so stubborn."

Jounouchi's chest heaved up and down as they glared at each other. His head suddenly dropped, bangs drooping over his eyes. "God, I'm going to be stuck with you for the rest of my life, ain't I?"

"Some would view that as a blessing. I am rich." Seto settled closer to Jounouchi.

That wasn't an invitation, Jounouchi told himself as he turned again.

"I'm not giving up." He muttered loudly.

As silence enveloped them, he scanned the grounds for familiar faces and stopped just by the athletic field. The stark contrast of Ryou's white hair and Honda's deep brown helped to make the pair of them more visible from the rooftop vantage.

"They make a cute couple, don't you think so?" Jounouchi observed as nonchalantly as he could.

"Cute?" Seto snorted next to him, the tall brunette's back against the fence and turned away from the view of the school grounds below.

"What? I'm not allowed to say cute now?"

"If I didn't know better, I'd say you were jealous."

"What if I am?"

Seto turned abruptly to face Jounouchi. "Say that again."

Jounouchi licked his lips, enjoying catching the other boy off-guard for once. "What if I am just the tiniest bit jealous of the two of them? I mean, our communication does seem a bit fucked up compared to theirs or Yugi and Anzu's. Weren't you just listening to the conversation we just had?"

They stared at each other for an eternity. Each of them too stunned and perhaps even frightened by Jounouchi's sudden declaration. Taking a quick glance down at the other couple, Seto made up his mind.

"So you want to pay me back for all the trouble you've caused?" The brunette asked.

Moving forward with Jounouchi meeting him halfway, they kissed for the first time. A sudden wind arose and swept what was left of Seto's company report- abandoned when Jounouchi's hands reached up to grab the other's jacket- into the clear and infinite blue sky.

"Hey, I thought you said it was all your fault." He intoned bitterly minutes later.

...
Climbing, each, to his little four-square dream
Of love or lust or beauty or death or crime.
- "Our Secret Selves" by Conrad Potter Aiken
...

-The End-


(1) In Japan, the Public Prosecutor has the power to both investigate and prosecute. They had the right to decide who to bring to court or not, including the power not to prosecute an offender after guilt has been ascertained due to other circumstances like the nature of the crime. Obviously, that spells the potential for abuse. The Prosecution Review Board consist of members of the public that review cases that prosecutors decide not to move forward with. However, their decision is not legally binding and prosecutors do not have to follow the advise of the board. In this story, Mai obviously had a hand in helping certain things along.

(2) Asahi Shimbun and Yomiuri Shimbun are two of the biggest circulating newspapers in Japan (with Yomiuri ahead of Asashi). Asashi Shimbun is considered the more "liberal" of the two, according to Japanese political standards. Yomiuri is the more conservative and nationalistic of the two.

(3) LDP stands for the Liberal Democratic Party, currently the ruling party of the Japanese government. All the current event issues really did take place a year or so ago.

(4) While in the US we often see names and pictures of underage offenders from the media, the Japanese Juvenile Law prohibits the publication of any information that may lead to the disclosure of an underage offender's identity. The idea is that the offender should be protected for a better and more successful rehabilitation. There has been some debate about reforming the law since the Kobe Case, where a teenage boy had killed an eleven-year-old boy and then left the victim's severed in front of the main gate of a middle school. For more information, visit law . vanderbilt . edu / journal / 33-03 / 33-3-5 . html.

(5) The Legal Training and Research Institute is where would-be lawyers and judges go to receive their legal education. It is the Japanese equivalent to our American law schools.

(6) Shuukanshi are news magazines that are notorious for lying, exaggerating, sensationalizing, and fueling scandals. Reporters from these publications are not even allowed into press clubs (the primary source for gathering news in Japan). For more information, read A Public Betrayed: An Inside Look at Japanese Media Atrocities and Their Warnings to the West by Adam Gamble and Takesato Watanabe (www . apublicbetrayed . com)

Even though this little series started out as KaiJou, the pairing has sort of taken a backseat in the end. I'm content with the world and the storyline I've built up though. I do regret making Mai the villain in this last part, but she was the only one that I felt could pull off the role nicely. I have to say that I am the most proud of this little mini-series. I'm especially surprised at how well the HondaxRyou romance worked out. Maybe I was wasting all that time on KaiJou? Just kidding. I also didn't expect to like the idea of YamixYami Bakura so much. They have their own story, but it won't be told. This story has been very heavy in the Japanese cultural and societal references. I've tried my best to explain the important ones, but if I've ended up only confusing you, my apologies. If you want to learn more or get the links I used for research, you're more than welcome to email me for them.

To be honest, this was sitting on my harddrive 95 percent completed for almost five months. So I finally decided to finish it as one final project and as a Valentine Day fic.

So this is both an end to Stay With Me and my fanfic writing career. A belated Happy Valentine Day gift to you all. I would first like to apologize to everyone that might have actually been looking forward to more chapters of Joey or some other fic, but I doubt I will ever get around to finishing them now. Thank you to everyone that has commented in the last 6 or 7 years that I have been writing. It's almost too hard to believe I've been writing for that long, even if it wasn't on from the beginning.

If you enjoyed this, I'm glad. See you around on the Internet, minna. waves goodbye