Part XXI: New Beginnings

Atem smiled up reassuringly at Kaiba when he rang the doorbell, pleased when he received an answering squeeze before the door opened and revealed an equally happy looking Yuugi. Kaiba ushered Atem inside with a hand on the small of his back before shutting the door behind them and slipping off his shoes to step over the threshold. Seeing Atem hugging Yuugi tightly as he greeted him with his customary, "Aibou," was somewhat disorienting for Kaiba; there were still some things that he was getting used to, apparently.

"Seto-kun," Yuugi warmly greeted him, drawing Kaiba back in from his observations.

"Do I even want to know what you did to restrain Rebecca from tackling us?" Kaiba asked him with a quirk of his eyebrow, causing Yuugi to laugh and Atem to look back at him with slight surprise.

Before Yuugi could answer with anything more than a laugh, Rebecca came around the corner and scolded, "Hey, I heard that!" When Kaiba made a scoffing noise in response, she playfully glared at him, but her brilliant smile betrayed any sense of annoyance she might have felt. "It was either wait a minute or burn your dinner, your choice."

Kaiba didn't respond immediately and Rebecca took the opportunity to hug him tightly, once again surprising Atem with the ease of the older man's acceptance of her affection. "Thank you," she whispered for Kaiba's ears alone, knowing that he would understand her multiple meanings.

"Mm," was Kaiba's only acknowledgement of her words, although he did briefly embrace her in return before pointing out, "and here I thought he was the one that would be getting all the attention."

Playfully pinching his side before releasing him, she finally allowed herself to look at Atem for the first time. His hair had been returned to its natural blackness and fell around his face with gravity rather than false attempts to defy it; he had been accepted and there was no longer a need for Atem to emulate the similarities in the appearance he had once had. His eyes were more stunning than her husband had led her to understand and she hugged him fiercely; she could scarcely believe it, but there he was.

Even though Atem had prepared himself for their meeting, he still felt a little awkward and unsure of how to handle the meeting. He felt stupid just saying, "Hey," but remaining silent wasn't much better. It made Rebecca laugh, but there was almost a sob in it that made him wince internally.

"I'm so happy to see you," Rebecca told him, meaning the words more than she could ever hope for him to understand. To know that Yuugi was finally at peace, that Kaiba was whole at last, that all was as it once should have been, it was almost overwhelming and she wasn't ready to let go of him just yet.

"So happy," she repeated, before adding his name, just because it was finally allowed to be spoken without all of the attached pain, "Atem."

"It's good to see you, too," he told her as he hugged her back, genuinely meaning it. Things hadn't always been great between them, but he had always appreciated in a weird way that she was one of the rare ones back then who truly acknowledged the differences between himself and Yuugi, never confusing them once she realized they were two separate beings. "And…thanks."

Pulling back and wiping away the start of the tears she struggled to hold back, Rebecca warned him, "And I swear to whatever gods you believe in, if you disappear again, I will hunt you down and kick your ass all the way back here, got it? I have the heels to do it, so don't even think about it!"

Of all the responses she had been expecting, having Kaiba break out into genuine laughter was not one of them. All three of them looked at him strangely, causing him to realize his slip and try to reign in his amusement; he just couldn't stop the mental image of Rebecca going after Seto and Atem in all her rage with a pair of stilettos threatening to go on a vengeful rampage.

Finally releasing Atem, she poked Kaiba in the chest and reminded him, "You're one to laugh. You of all people know what I'm capable of doing when it comes to that!"

"As I recall, it didn't involve stilettos," Kaiba retorted, having been subjected to both her rage aimed at him and against others who had opposed him.

Rebecca was about to respond when the sound of running footsteps made her grin broadly and get out of the way just in time for her son to barrel around the corner and launch himself at full speed into Kaiba's legs as he excitedly shouted, "Jiji! Jiji!"

Knowing it was futile to resist, Kaiba picked up Minoru, his gaze softening when the child threw his arms around him in a hug and continued repeatedly saying, "Jiji," over and over again as he laughed happily and snuggled against his honorary uncle.

"Aren't you supposed to be in bed?" Kaiba asked in mock seriousness, secretly amused by the little footie Blue Eyes White Dragon pajamas that he was wearing.

Cute wasn't a concept that Atem normally associated with Kaiba, but the sight of him holding the child dressed as he was, burrowed happily in his arms was beyond adorable. It was a side of Kaiba he wasn't used to seeing and Atem smiled at them. Rebecca sarcastically answered for her son, "Did you really think he was going to stay in bed without seeing his Jiji?"

Glowering at her, Kaiba's attention was drawn back to the child in his arms when he shifted in an attempt to get a better look at the new stranger. "Hi," Atem softly greeted, in awe of how similar he looked to Yuugi when he was younger.

Minoru's eyebrows furrowed slightly as he stared at Atem before glancing back at his father and then down at the teen once more. Although the boy's expression was guarded, he was put at ease by his father's reassurance that it was okay. Kaiba gestured with his free hand for Atem to come closer and the teen complied, knowing that the older man probably felt ridiculous for making introductions on his behalf to a toddler. "This is Atem," Kaiba told the child, somewhat surprised by the boy's subdued reaction.

After looking at Atem for a moment longer, Minoru hugged himself tighter to Kaiba as he emphasized, "My Jiji!"

The possessiveness of the action surprised Atem, but exasperated Kaiba when combined with Yuugi and Rebecca's poorly concealed attempts at covering up their mirth over the situation. It only got worse when Minoru reiterated, "Mine," as he hid his face against Kaiba's neck, peeking out just enough to keep Atem in his sights.

"Too cute," Rebecca cooed, causing Kaiba to roll his eyes at her.

"Hardly," he sarcastically muttered before he started walking toward Minoru's bedroom to put him back to bed.

Rather than protesting as Kaiba had expected, the child looked at Atem over the older man's shoulder and stuck his tongue out at the teen before once against hiding against Kaiba with more mutterings of possessiveness. It was pointless to correct him, so Kaiba said nothing as he entered Minoru's room and placed him in bed. Tucking him in, Kaiba tried not to react when the child clung to his hand so he couldn't pull away. "No, don't go," Minoru pleaded in a borderline whine.

"I'm not going anywhere," Kaiba reassured him, taking a seat on the edge of his bed and smiling slightly when Minoru cuddled next to his stuffed Blue Eyes White Dragon. "Now go to sleep."

Pouting at the order, Minoru knew from past experiences that acting petulant got him nowhere with Kaiba. He continued murmuring about his Jiji until he slowly drifted off to sleep, making Kaiba shake his head ruefully as he lightly stroked the boy's hair in affection. "He gets it from you, you know," Kaiba quietly told Rebecca, acknowledging her without having ever seen her enter the room.

"The adorable irresistibility? Of course he does," Rebecca teased with a playful wink when he gingerly stood up so as not to wake Minoru from his light sleep.

Rather than comment on it, Kaiba went to leave the room, only to be stopped by her hand on his arm. Raising an eyebrow at her, he waited for her to speak, somewhat surprised when Rebecca asked, "Are you okay?"

"With your son's possessive need to try and claim me in front of Atem?" Kaiba dryly retorted, somewhat amused by the child's behavior, but refusing to admit it to her.

Frowning in reprimand, Rebecca said, "That's not what I meant," and Kaiba could only sigh at her serious expression.

"Then enlighten me," Kaiba replied, confused by her shift in demeanor.

"With leaving Seiji," Rebecca bluntly told him, causing both of his eyebrows to rise toward his hairline in surprise.

"It was worth walking away from," Kaiba said with a shrug, having no regrets about having separated to be with Atem. It seemed odd to him that she would be voicing such a concern, especially at this late point, but he still found himself listening to her regardless.

Hugging Kaiba and pleased when he returned it without fuss, she reminded him, "That doesn't mean it still didn't hurt to leave."

"You're just pissed you'll never get to meet his ass in person now," Kaiba retorted, trying to keep the conversation from straying too far into the serious.

"Don't get me wrong, I'm glad you're with Atem," Rebecca explained as she rested her chin on his chest to look up at him, "but I know it couldn't have been easy to deal with leaving someone you actually had an emotion for."

The fact that the woman understood his terminology used to bother Kaiba, so it was hardly surprising to see her perceptiveness on the matter. "It wasn't worth losing Atem again," Kaiba stated, unwilling to refute what was essentially the truth of her statement.

"True," she agreed, kissing his cheek fondly, "and for what it's worth, I think you made the right decision."

"Of course I did," Kaiba arrogantly replied, causing her to roll her eyes at him before giving him a knowing look. The silent reproach was what made him continue speaking at a softer tone. "Your concern is…appreciated, however unnecessary it may be."

Smiling sweetly at him, Rebecca once again became playful as she said, "And the same goes to you, mister. If you run away from Atem again, I'm kicking your ass all the way back to his, okay?"

"As if I needed anymore incentive," Kaiba scoffed, but his eyes were kinder than his tone.

"I only say it because I love you," she patronizingly told Kaiba, pinching his cheek for good measure and giggling when he swatted her hand away. "Atem's in the living room and your brother should be here shortly with Anzu. I still have a few things to take care of in the kitchen, unless there's something else you need?"

Resisting the urge to make a smartass retort, Kaiba silently followed her out of the room and diverted to where Atem was waiting. He had expected to see Yuugi with him, but Atem was alone as he looked at the collection of photographs Rebecca had amassed over the years in decoration. Walking behind Atem and wrapping his arms around his waist with a kiss on the cheek in greeting, Kaiba looked over his shoulder to see which one he was looking at so intently.

"When was this taken?" Atem asked as he pointed at a picture of Kaiba, Rebecca, and Yuugi standing in front of an ocean that was obviously from their shared past he had missed. It surprised Atem to see Kaiba with the slightest hint of a smile as he looked into the camera, Rebecca laughing as she tried to draw him in closer while Yuugi grinned broadly in amusement while holding her.

Stepping around Atem and picking up the picture frame, Kaiba couldn't help but be transported back to that vacation. It had been Yoshiaki's present to Kaiba on his twenty-first birthday to take him to Maldives, a chance to escape from the prying eyes and stress of working at their corporate jobs for two straight weeks. Kaiba had initially been irritated when Yoshiaki had paid for Yuugi and Rebecca to join them the first week, but even he was forced to admit that it was fun with the four of them. Although there wasn't much to do on the island, they had explored it together, while still respecting each other's occasional need to escape to their respective hotel rooms over the clearest ocean Kaiba had ever seen.

The picture had been taken on the third day, the location and atmosphere wearing down even Kaiba's normal brusqueness to a calm ease. He could still remember the way Yoshiaki had been looking at him when he took the picture, the playful way he had taunted with a perverse smirk, "Do I need to come over there and remind you how to smile, koryuu?" The pictures taken after the one in his hands were locked away in his vault along with all the others and the rest of his past; he couldn't bring himself to destroy the images, but neither could he bear to look at them in the intervening years since his death.

"Seto?" Atem finally asked in concern, having become worried at the prolonged silence and almost blank expression on his face. It didn't make sense to him why Kaiba would be so deep in thought over a seemingly happy picture, but Atem couldn't figure out what would cause him to be so engrossed.

"It's almost been ten years…" Kaiba murmured distantly, his thumb absentmindedly brushing over the cool glass against the picture of the watch he was wearing both in the image and presently on his wrist; it was yet another gift and a rare memento he couldn't part with despite his objections. Has it really been that long? Kaiba continued to muse, somewhat stunned by the realization of the passing of time. He could still remember it as if it were yesterday, now that he allowed himself to reflect on the trip.

Misunderstanding Kaiba's source of apprehension for the elapsing of time spent apart, Atem took the picture from him as he kissed the older man tenderly. Setting it back down where it had been before, Atem said, "I was just curious where it was. It doesn't look like anywhere in Japan."

"Maldives," Kaiba informed Atem as he led them over to the comfortable leather couch. Taking the seat closest to the armrest, Kaiba gestured for Atem to settle himself next to him. Atem leaned against his chest as Kaiba wrapped his arm around the teen's shoulder, kissing his temple with the faintest press of his lips. He didn't want to think about it anymore; the weird feeling in his chest was beyond disconcerting and there was no reason for it to be present when he had Atem safe in his arms. "Rebecca wasn't too much, was she?"

Although the random shift in topics confused Atem, he wasn't too concerned about it; he just assumed that it was Kaiba reacting to the past in his normal, distant way. Turning back slightly and kissing the underside of Kaiba's chin, Atem told him, "Not at all. It's good to finally get to see her again. To be here."

"Yeah," Kaiba agreed as he squeezed Atem's shoulder gently in a loose embrace.

They lapsed into a companionable silence, although Atem's eyes continued roaming the room and pictures as Kaiba pointedly ignored the reminder of a time best forgotten; there was no need for such a past when the future was resting safely against his chest. Of course, it would be easier to believe such things if he wasn't wearing a watch engraved with the very past he was trying to block out, but he had other things to concern himself with at the moment.

The doorbell was the perfect distraction since it meant his brother and Anzu had arrived. Yuugi answered the door and Kaiba smiled faintly at their interactions as they eagerly greeted each other. It was a brief reunion since Yuugi was quick to point out, "They're in the living room," because Anzu was the last to actually meet Atem and had been eager to see him ever since Mokuba told her what had happened.

Atem stood up, freeing Kaiba to do the same, just in time for the couple to enter the room. Anzu's eyes went wide at the sight of Atem and unlike Rebecca, she made a beeline for the teen and all but launched herself at him in a tight hug. "Oh my god, it's really you," she gushed, unsure of whether to laugh or cry in her sheer joy and relief at seeing her old friend.

"Hey, Atem," Mokuba said with a broad grin, completely amused at the slightly flummoxed expression on the teen's face as Anzu continued babbling against his shoulder in relief.

"Hi," Atem replied, the word feeling completely inadequate as he held Anzu's trembling form.

"He might actually be able to talk if you let him breathe," Mokuba teased Anzu, amused by the spectacle. The glimpse he had seen of his older brother on the couch with Atem before they stood was one that made Mokuba happier than he ever thought possible; it almost was a shame to ruin the moment, but he wouldn't deny Anzu that reunion.

It was enough to make her pull back from her deathgrip on Atem, although she held his face between her hands as she looked deep into his scarlet eyes. "We have so much catching up to do," she finally said with a brilliant smile that set Atem at ease.

"Wait until I get in there!" Rebecca called out from the kitchen before swearing at something else. "I'm almost done!"

It was enough to get everyone to move into the dining room area, all of their minds temporarily refocused on the wonderful smells of the elaborate dinner Rebecca had made for them to enjoy. Atem lingered behind momentarily, still needing a moment to recover from the sheer force of Anzu's emotions. Kaiba was instantly concerned and he reached out to touch Atem, to silently offer support and received a broad smile for his effort. "I'm okay," Atem reassured him, "it's just…well, it's just good to be back."

"It's good to have you back," Kaiba agreed as he stole a quick kiss. "Of course, it'll be better to get you back home…"

Laughing in genuine glee, Atem wrapped his arm around his lover's waist as they walked over to where the rest of their friends were waiting, feeling like he was home already in the place where he belonged, so long as Kaiba was at by side with him.

A/N: And thus ends the final arc of this Endless Loop Series.

I know a lot of you are hoping for more stories out of this series and I'm definitely not ruling that out at this point. I've got numerous prequels and even a couple of sequels planned out in my mind, but I'm not really committed to them right now. I want to take a break from this series and recoup after it, plus I doubt many of you want to read about Kaiba and Aki's past. That and I really want to focus on Entangled right now, since I've let it languish for so long.

I thank you all for braving this story with me. I know at times it made you uncomfortable, plus I'm sure I drove you up a wall with the slow and infrequent rate of updating. Aren't you glad that's not my normal pace? It was extremely tough for me to write from a psychological perspective and I really appreciate the encouragement that your reviews have given me, otherwise this would have taken even longer to finish. I look forward to your concluding thoughts on this epic journey!

If there are to be any updates in this ficverse, I will post announcements in my normal chapters and on my Livejournal and Twitter accounts, as per usual.

As I explained in last week's update of Forbidden, this is my current posting schedule:

Sunday, August 15th: There will be no update. I'm traveling that week and won't have time to post anything—however, I'll do my best to work on something.

Sunday, August 22nd: I'm going to start my newest story, which is yet untitled, but I've been calling it the Doujinshi-ka Fic. It's a lighthearted, M rated Prideshipping comedy and I think we'll need it after all this drama. The story is currently slated for eight chapters, which will allow me to get a good start on Entangled's Lost and Found. I know some of you will be disappointed that L&F is getting pushed back again, but I'd rather delay it a little bit right now, rather than have huge delays in the middle of it because of my dissertation.

So thank you again for all of your support on this story and all of my other fics! I look forward to meeting up with you all in two weeks on August 22nd with my latest story! It should be a fun comedy romp and much needed after the heaviness of this fic and Forbidden.

Until then, I look forward to your hearing from you all!