The pearls at her throat were her mother's. Pearls were an important part of a Southern woman's attire, and while Kaori Iwate was most definitely not a Southern woman, she had accepted the gift gracefully on her wedding day from her fiance's mother. Only a decade later, the pearls found themselves around Kaede's neck as she watched her mother be buried in the church cemetery. At only six, they were overlong and seemed unbearably heavy. Nearly twenty years later, they were quite lighter around her slim neck, but still seemed to carry the weight of her mother's passing and the subsequent sorrow.

Now, on her own wedding day, it seemed fitting that she wear this small tribute to a mother she had hardly known. One last tug at her dress, and she turned from the mirror. The butterflies in her stomach could be attributed to any number of factors: the nausea associated with her pregnancy was making itself known, the rather greasy eggs and bacon she had been craving that morning, or her very near marriage to a man who was still unknown to her.

But she fought the urge to vomit, and and instead lifted her chin and walked out of Seto Kaiba's guest bedroom. Kaede had stayed there since her arrival in Domino only two days ago. Kaiba had not protested at her decision to settle into a separate bedroom, and while Kaede had agreed to the sham marriage, she wasn't quite ready to share her bed with him again.

Kaiba was waiting in the foyer of the penthouse suite. He was dressed in a suit, his linen crisply starched, cleanly cut, though the dark circles beneath his eyes seemed a bit more pronounced. He partly his lips slightly, as if to speak, and then pressed them firmly together again, swallowing audibly. Kaede gave him a thin smile, and offered up her hand. He took it, their clammy palms slick against each other. It was a small measure of comfort that he was as nervous as she.

Kaiba had at least noticed Kaede's careful preparations for their wedding. She was dressed in green, though not the same dress that had caught his eye several months prior. A strand of pearls lay delicately on her collarbone, oddly rich against her clear skin. While her middle showed little signs of thickening yet, her features had come into a sharper relief. Cheekbones, hands, jaw, all had been honed into the face a woman growing older than her years. She still was lovely, but gone was the lighthearted twinkle from her eyes. The notion struck him. He had been so consumed with his life and business, he had not paid much mind to the idea that this was not easy for Kaede either. The difference between the woman he had met and the woman before him today was nearly night and day.

He squeezed her hand as they turned, stepping into the elevator. The thin smile she wore curved upward slightly, filling out.

"Thank you." The words were soft, a caress of their own. She turned up her face to him, and gave him a sad smile. "I know this isn't what you wanted."

Kaiba coughed slightly, swallowing again. "It's not what you wanted either." He glanced down at her, her faced still upturned.

"We don't have to do this, if you don't want to."

They said the words together, their eyes locked. Though the wedding was his idea, for a brief moment Kaiba entertained the idea. She could have the child and he could simply support it from afar. He didn't have to tie himself to this woman for a child's sake. Yet the idea repulsed him the moment it sprang into his mind. How could he? His own parents had been so brutally ripped from him, and the replacement father he had gained in Gozaburo had been a gross impersonation of a parent. Would he willingly inflict a fatherless childhood on his own unborn child? And could he let Kaede stand alone in the process?

Never. Kaiba felt his eyes sting with sudden moisture, and closed them quickly. He felt a light breath on his cheek and then Kaede's lips settled there, a gentle pressure. Kaiba turned his head and met his lips with her own, his hands settling in the small of her back and pulling her to him. Everything he couldn't say, every emotion that he denied, he instead channeled into the crush of his mouth on hers. Kaede knew it wasn't a declaration of love, or even affection, but a trust. Whatever demons haunted this man in his past, he would stand at her side as long he was needed.

The elevator doors slid open with a hiss, breaking the two of them apart. But it was the sound of a young man's voice that caused Kaiba to stiffen against her.

"Seto?" The confusion was obvious in the boy's voice, face, stance. The duffel bag slid from his shoulder and hit the ground. The three of them stood there for a moment, all uncomfortably silent, until the doors began to slip back together. Seto stuck his hand out without thought, holding the doors as an incessant buzz began to echo around them.

"Mokuba. I suppose I should introduce to Kaede. My fiance."