Disclaimer: "Sweating Bullets" is performed and recorded by Megadeth. Yu-Gi-Oh! is the creation of Kazuki Takahashi. This is a not-for-profit fanwork and I do not own any of these characters.
This is a SHONEN-AI fic (male + male romantic relationship). If you are offended by homosexual relationships, please do not read this. Flames will be disregarded.
Setup for this fic:
- Chronologically set immediately after Epilogue 1.5 from "The Cost of Doing Business." As in, that night… Reading "Cost" first is recommended.
- Noa has been brought out of the virtual world, has a new body, and is living with Mokuba and Seto, and Yami has his own body and is separate from Yugi.
- Ages of characters: Seto and Yami are 20, Noa and Mokuba 15.
He hated hospitals – the stench of illness swathed by disinfectant, the beeping of the machines, even the sight of the sickly green and dingy white hues on the walls. If he had his druthers, he'd never step foot in one again. But there he was, rooted to the spot outside Room 325, feeling an ever-increasing need to leave and get himself some fresh air.
He didn't know why he was staying. He told himself it was only because he was concerned about Yami and wanted to give him the support he needed. That had to be it. Because it wasn't like he was family. There wasn't anything at all legally binding him and the old man together. Even if there were… his track record with parental figures and older relatives wasn't exactly stellar. People tended to drop dead around him. And he had already nearly killed Sugoroku once before. He'd rather not risk it again.
It'd be better if he left. But he couldn't do that…
Yami was getting pretty upset. Seto supposed it was time he made an appearance. With a grunt, he pushed himself off the thinly padded chair and rose to his feet, then walked the several yards to the room in the corner of the coronary care ward, pushing past the cursory curtain to stand uncertainly at the entrance of the room.
Sugoroku was an old man. But he looked positively ancient lying there on the narrow hospital bed ringed by Yami, Yugi, Anzu, Jounouichi and Honda. He was wheezing for oxygen from a system of tubes. His face sagged from pain and exhaustion, the skin brittle, like that of a dried up mummy. But despite his poor condition, he was awake and deceptively alert. He had seen Seto slip into the room.
"Kaiba… I have to talk to you… Alone."
Seto took in a deep breath, like a free-diver, before stepping forward. Everyone else backed away from the bed and seemingly melded into the shadows. Seto could almost hear them scuttling out of the room. Once they were gone, he turned his full attention to Sugoroku. "What is it?"
"Kaiba…" Sugoroku paused to cough, then in a low voice, asked, "How could you do this to me again?"
"Wha…?" Perplexed, Seto took a half step back. Maybe he misheard him. He shook his head. That had to be it. But when he lifted his eyes and looked around the room again, the hospital bed was gone and before him instead was one of the death simulation chambers from Death-T.
No… this isn't possible! But despite telling himself that, he wasn't willing to risk that it wasn't a dream. He ran forward, slamming his hands into the shatterproof glass in front of him, pounding on it in frustration. He could see Sugoroku just on the other side, scant millimeters away, cringing on the floor, his arms up over his face in a futile attempt to ward off the illusionary monsters slavering for his blood.
I just have to get to the door and pull him out of there… At least he knew exactly where it was, or… where it should've been. But it wasn't there. Seto checked over the remaining walls and even resorted to feeling for a door but again, there was nothing. How can there be no door! In a panic, he resumed pounding on the glass again, trying to get the old man's attention, but the chamber was soundproofed and even if it weren't, Sugoroku was in too terrible a state to respond.
"Hey, someone turn this thing off!" Seto commanded, but he was met with nothing but a wall of silence. Where did everyone go? Why weren't there any security staff around? And where were Yugi, Jou and Honda? Weren't they just there?
"Damn it!" The control room was on the upper floor, at the end of a hallway. Seto whirled around, intending to go up and disable the device himself since there didn't seem to be any other option, but there were no doors, no stairs, no exits of any kind visible from where he was standing. In fact, the walls seemed farther away than he remembered and were shrouded in a purplish shadow, as if someone had turned off all the auxiliary lights.
"What the hell is going on?" He turned back to check on Sugoroku, but he couldn't see the old man anymore. The darkness had closed in all around him, making it impossible to see anything further out than a yard or so. Shit… Is this the Shadow Realm?
Something stirred in the murky darkness. Seto squinted at it, feeling a cold shiver run down his spine. "Uh… Mr. Mutou? Is that you?" he asked hopefully, even though he had a feeling he knew what the answer would be.
It was a man's voice, shaky with age. But it wasn't Sugoroku. And yet, there was something familiar about it…
Disembodied hands – frail and liver spotted – suddenly burst from the darkness, reaching for him. Seto knocked them aside, scowling. "Who the hell are you?"
"Ah… my chest! My chest, it hurts," the man's voice gasped as it died away in a series of labored breaths.
"Such an unfortunate child," another man's voice whispered, at once both familiar and alien, just like the first. The young CEO spun around to face this newest adversary, but there was nothing there, only a ripple in the purple mists.
Seto frowned. He was starting to feel disoriented. "Who are you? Stop hiding; come out and face me!"
"… A cursed, wretched child," a third man threw in. This time Seto recognized the voice, even before he saw the shadowy figure weaving through the murky surroundings.
"You really are the worst," his uncle Ichiro snarled, his angry face peeking though the gloom for just a moment of visibility. Seto could see that he was accompanied by another figure, a woman with an equally twisted face. Wisps of yellowish smoke rose from her mouth like clouds of incense. "Look at what you've done to her!"
His aunt had been a heavy smoker. She had been diagnosed with lung cancer the same year he and Mokuba moved in to live with her and her husband. But that had nothing to do with him. Seto knew that, and yet… he couldn't help but sound a bit guilty as he protested, "But I didn't do…"
"You're a curse on this family. You and your brother both," Aunt Kazuko's visage hissed.
A cloud of acrid smoke, like the exhaust that had trailed behind his uncle's car as he had driven away from the orphanage without a backward glance, washed over his aunt's face, drowning out anything more she might've said, and a sickeningly familiar chuckle followed. "She's right you know. Our blood is on your hands," Gozaburo said casually as he walked up to Seto's side. He presumptuously placed an arm around the younger man's shoulders, then raised his cigar to his mouth and took another puff, exhaling slowly into Seto's face.
Wrinkling his nose in disgust, Seto coughed and pushed his adoptive father away. "Don't touch me, you bastard!"
Undaunted, Gozaburo began to laugh. It was the same laughter that had once arrived with heavy footfalls and the slap of a riding crop being tapped in the palm of a hand. Unconsciously, Seto began gritting his teeth, bracing for what would follow…
But there were no physical blows coming this time. Instead, Gozaburo was wielding words as his weapon – each as sharp as a razor's edge, cutting right to the bone. "You wanted me to die, didn't you? Admit it. You were hoping your bad luck would work to your benefit for once." Gozaburo began circling Seto, leaning in close to whisper in his ear, "Well, it did. You made me jump… You might as well have pushed me yourself. That's the malevolent intent you harbored in your heart. But don't blame me for it. It was always there."
"Bullshit. You made your bed – or in your case, your coffin – so go lie in it!"
"Is that so? You were the one who challenged me to a chess match. You thought you could take me for a fool. But who really won in the end?" Then, before Seto could spit out a retort, Gozaburo hissed, "I never laid a hand on your precious Mokuba. But you… you tried to kill him. How many others were your victims? Why, you even tried to kill the old man too, didn't you?"
Seto didn't respond. What could he say? It was true; he couldn't deny it. But he wasn't going to confirm it either, not to his adoptive father.
"Not that he was the first," Gozaburo continued, now sounding as casual as if he were talking about the weather. "Even before I had you working on special 'projects' for me, you had already left a trail of bodies in your wake. You've only yourself to blame."
"Grrr…. Shut up!"
"Don't take my word for it. Why don't we ask your mother, your father, your grandfather?"
Seto suddenly gasped. Somewhere in the back of his mind, a dormant memory stirred and awoke for the first time in years. The first voice he'd heard amongst the shadows… that had been his grandfather's voice. Those had been his grandfather's hands reaching for him. And those harsh breaths at the end… he remembered his grandfather gasping for air, clutching his chest, writhing like a dying worm, on the floor at his father's funeral. And speaking of his father…
Had it really been so long that he'd forgotten, that he'd been unable to recognize who the second voice had belonged to?
"Such an unfortunate child…" Seto heard again. It was even fainter than before. He swiftly darted in the direction that it seemed to be coming from, trying to catch a glimpse of the man that had to be there, but once more, there was nothing except a ripple in the darkness, and then even that disappeared.
"… Tou-san!" Seto called out, still desperately straining to see something – anything – but then he heard something coming from the same direction: the wail of sirens. Louder and louder they grew, as if an ambulance or police car were barreling through the mist. Seto shuddered. He didn't want them to come. He didn't want them to tell him what he already knew – his father wasn't coming back. He'd never see him again.
"My little boy… I'm so sorry," a gentle female voice whispered from behind him.
Seto froze. It couldn't… but it had to be. Not that he remembered her voice, but the tone… He turned very slowly, almost afraid to look; he didn't know if he'd recognize her.
"Kaa-san?" Her form was hidden in the shadows, but he could just make out her silhouette. She still had a pregnant belly. She turned towards him slightly, and he could see the strain on her face. She was sweating and in a great deal of pain, but she was still standing and speaking to him.
"You've forgotten me, haven't you?" she asked, sounding hurt.
Seto began shaking his head, prepared to lie if only to make her feel better, but truth be told, he only vaguely remembered her gentle hands and the softness in her voice. He hadn't remembered her face or anything else.
She sighed. "It's all right. You were so young then."
"It's not all right! There are some things I should never forget."
"At least you remembered your promise," she said, gently touching her swollen belly as if Mokuba were still in there.
Seto looked away for a moment. "I…" He swallowed hard. He wasn't sure what to tell her. He hadn't always remembered. He had almost killed Mokuba himself. But he didn't want to upset her either.
"She already knew the truth, that you did to Mokuba the same thing you did to me. You should've told her while you had the chance," Sugoroku said as he strolled back in. "Now you won't ever be able to make up for it."
Seto blinked in bewilderment. His mother had vanished. And the Sugoroku before him wasn't bedridden or locked in a death simulation chamber. He looked healthy… and very angry.
"Kaiba, why? Your grudge was against Yami. And even then, he was justified in what he did. You stole my Blue Eyes. You were the one in the wrong. So why did you drag everyone else into it for the sake of revenge?"
Seto swallowed. He didn't want to talk about it, but he did owe the old man… "Jou and the others, that was unintentional. They had gone along with Yugi on their own. But you were… leverage. I knew he valued you. And that he'd agree to participate in Death-T to save you."
"There's more to it though, isn't there? You probably could've tricked him into it, even without using me as bait."
The muscles in Seto's jaw tightened. "You had pissed me off," he confessed, no longer sure if he was angry or guilt ridden or both. "You wouldn't sell your card to me. You wouldn't even let me hold it for more than a moment! You laughed at me and gave me some bullshit about friendship and memories and crap… You might as well have told me that the world was full of sunshine and rainbows and flowers."
"And that was enough to justify attempted murder?"
"No, it's not," the young billionaire admitted, deflating with a sigh. "I'm sorry. I wish I hadn't done it. But no matter what I say, I can't change what happened. I can't undo…" Seto's head jerked up as the realization dawned on him. He'd been talking to ghosts. If Sugoroku was there, if he'd been in terrible shape just minutes ago…
The elderly man confirmed it with a nod.
Seto struggled to get his next words out. "Because… of me?"
"The doctors said a second heart attack was too much for my body to take." And then, as if to prove his point, he began gasping and grabbing at his chest, just as Seto's paternal grandfather had done years earlier.
Seto went to Sugoroku and tried to help him up. Sugoroku swatted him away. "I don't need your… ahh… it hurts! … So hard to breathe…"
"I… I'm sorry!" Not again… I can't… Oh God, Yami will never forgive me for this… I'll never forgive myself…
Suddenly, out of nowhere, Seto was assaulted by memories from another time and place. He remembered having visions before of the young woman with pale hair, lying lifeless in his arms as he knelt before a tablet carved with the image of a Blue Eyes. Did it mean anything that she happened to bear a striking resemblance to his junior secretary? And then he saw himself running a man through with a sword, an older man in a robe who bore the Eye, the same Millennium Item that Pegasus had once held. Oddly, the man embraced him, even as his blood began running down the length of the blade…
"Seto!" a voice faintly called, but the brunette didn't even register it.
Fire burst out of the chasm the man with the Eye had fallen into, setting a whole village ablaze. Seto instinctively ducked his head as the smoke filled the sky, blackening out everything except the bright flames. He could hear a woman trapped within one of the buildings screaming for her son. Surely there had to be others calling for help from their homes, but he could hear no other voices, only hers. Did that mean the woman was his previous incarnation's mother? Did that mean the man with the Eye was his father or stepfather then, or some other relative?
"Seto!" Again, Seto was too caught up in the visions assaulting him to notice the familiar voice crying out his name.
There was a sudden shattering sound, like a thousand panes of glass being broken, wiping out everything else with its clarity. Seto felt like the breath had been sucked from his body. Lightheaded, he fought for something to focus on, to anchor him, and finally looked down. All he saw were glimmers of gold, speckled with blood, as numerous as pebbles on a rocky seashore. He'd lost his lover 3,000 years ago. It had destroyed him…
A tiny whimper escaped his lips before he even realized it.
Odd. That sounded like… Yami's voice. But it couldn't be, because the Puzzle was lying in pieces on the floor. Oh wait, Yami wasn't in the Puzzle anymore, was he? So did that mean he wasn't hearing things? Seto laughed at himself a little crazily. Maybe he'd finally lost it. There was only one way to know for sure…
Yami managed to scream out his boyfriend's name one more time before he abruptly materialized onto the scene, almost as if he'd fallen through a door that had finally given way. He'd been able to see everything that was going on beforehand, but hadn't been able to do a thing about it. Because it was Seto's nightmare… and he was the only one that could let Yami all the way in. But until he realized that Yami was there, the ex-spirit hadn't been able to do more than strain against the tiny opening he'd been given.
Seto was staring at Yami as if he were a specter. The crimson-eyed man grimaced. His lover seemed totally lost. His breathing was too fast and too shallow. He had to be hurting so badly…
Why this nightmare? Why now? Yami wondered, even as he tried approaching his boyfriend with cautious steps. "Seto… You can hear me – see me now, right?"
The brunette blinked slowly. "Why are you here?" he began asking, then his eyes widened and all color drained from his face. No way… Yami couldn't be dead. Seto refused to believe it. And yet there he was, keeping company with the restless ghosts, a bright figure amongst the shadows.
Seto began backing away, as if he could stave off the inevitable. "No!"
"It's okay. It's a nightmare. It's just a nightmare," Yami softly assured him as he reached a hand towards him.
"Don't touch me!" Seto screamed. He didn't want to know… If Yami was dead, his heart would shatter all over again, like it had three millennia ago, like it did at Death-T, except this time there'd be no putting it back together.
But Yami didn't back off. He had to get Seto to realize that none of what he was seeing was real, or at least, that his mind was blowing everything way out of proportion. "It's okay," Yami somberly told him as he managed to grab hold of Seto's wrist. The taller man immediately began trying to twist out of his grasp. "Baby, calm down! My hand's warm… You can feel it, right? So I can't be dead."
Sure, Yami's palm felt warm against his wrist. But Gozaburo's cigar had smelled real too… and he was dead as dead could be. Seto's head pulsed in pain, and he groaned aloud. He didn't know which way was up or down anymore.
He felt Yami's arms encircle him, but he didn't have the strength to push him off anymore. He sagged miserably in the embrace, mumbling, "I didn't mean to do it, I didn't. You have to believe me!" into Yami's hair.
"I know. And it's all right, Baby. I'm fine, and so is Jii-chan."
"But he isn't. And you can't be. Or else you wouldn't be here," Seto answered dully.
"I promise you, I'm alive." Yami sighed softly and held him even closer. "I'm here because you needed it. Because you shouldn't have to suffer like this, alone. I wanted to be here for you. And for once, you were willing to let me in."
"… You promise?"
"I wouldn't lie to you, not even in a dream," Yami said solemnly.
Seto finally relented. He shut his eyes, concentrated on the feel of Yami's arms about him and the warmth of his body, and let them guide him to the far more unpredictable realm of reality.
There was nothing easy about waking up after a bad nightmare. For a panicked millisecond Seto felt as if he were being smothered by the overwhelming weight of his nightmares, but then he inhaled and his eyes flew open, filling his senses with Yami's presence, forcing the dreamscape to recede. The shorter man had managed to half crawl onto Seto's pillow, wrapping his upper body around Seto's head and shoulders, almost like a protective cocoon. It was… a little much. And it wasn't terribly comfortable either…
Somewhat reluctantly, Seto tilted his head back and stared at Yami's face. His lover opened his eyes and stared back at him, his eyes mild… sympathetic. Seto wasn't sure what to think of that. Even though it was Yami, even though he loved him and knew he was loved in turn… his instinct was to pull away or lash out or… something.
The brunette exhaled harshly. Barely cognizant of what he was doing, he slid his hands up along Yami's chest, feeling his way over the warm skin, tracing the planes of muscle and prodding at the nipples. Yami didn't stop him… he merely looked down in curiosity as Seto intently studied his bare chest, as if he could find the answers to all his questions marked on the lightly tanned skin. Seto sighed, pursing his lips slightly… then he suddenly darted his head forward to catch a nipple between his teeth.
Yami hissed as Seto bit down – thankfully not hard enough to leave a mark, but it stung all the same. But he didn't complain. It wasn't like Seto was trying to hurt him. He was just too upset to want to be comforted – and of course that'd mean he was too upset to go back to sleep as well – and needed an outlet for his pent up frustrations. And sex was such an easy thing to fall back on. It didn't require talking or thinking.
Seto rolled the younger man onto his back, then climbed on top of him. One of his hands slipped down the front of Yami's boxers while the other gathered up Yami's wrists, pressing them into the mattress over his head, effectively pinning him in place. Seto's breaths came short and fast; his eyes were glazed over. There was desperation in each of his spastic moves, but no passion or arousal. He wasn't hard at all.
Yami didn't comment on it. He didn't encourage or discourage Seto at all, though he was starting to stiffen up under Seto's hand… But that was just physical – both emotionally and mentally, he wasn't really focused on what their bodies were doing. All he kept thinking about were the images in Seto's nightmare… and the reasons behind them. All he could think was that something must've happened when Seto went to see Sugoroku earlier that evening…
It had seemed like a very good thing at the time. Although Seto had come home a few minutes late, he'd been relaxed and in a good mood. He had been pleased that he'd soundly beaten Sugoroku in a fair duel, but more importantly, he had enjoyed playing. He'd had fun. It was probably the first time he'd played a game against a father figure of sorts with no stakes, with nothing on the line, save bragging rights. Maybe it was even the first time in his conscious memory that he'd been able to enjoy spending time with said father figure.
… But Seto's biological father had been driving home from work one day and never made it back. His grandfather had dropped dead in front of him a scant week later. Even Gozaburo – as much as Seto hated the man, he still had to be considered – had defenestrated himself in front of his adopted son, as well as the entire Board of Directors.
It was ironic that Seto was so adamant about not believing in destiny or fate when it seemed he was most at their mercy. No wonder he got a little… weird every time he was forced to look at where the road behind him led. It was understandable then, that part of his subconscious would conclude that Sugoroku would be the next to go. Because it seemed he was starting to think of Yami's grandfather as his grandfather, too.
Yami couldn't help but shake his head. He didn't know what to say. He thought it was a good thing that Seto was getting closer to Sugoroku – being a parental figure was the one thing that neither he nor Mokuba could be for Seto. And the young CEO needed one so badly, even if he thought he was too old for it, even if it seemed almost too late. But it also meant that he'd have to face some of his worst fears, old hurts that had never quite healed, like the residual scar across the chest of the fourth Blue Eyes White Dragon.
And even though Seto had let Yami glimpse his nightmares, that didn't mean he was ready to confront them head on or talk about them. But the more he tried to force his feelings back, the more confused he got and the worse he felt. And that made him angry and unpredictable…
He must've finally realized it too, because just as abruptly as he had begun, Seto pulled away, sitting back on his heels with a look that was part disgust, part confusion. Seto probably would've withdrawn completely after that, but Yami sat up and pulled his boyfriend back into his arms before he could do so.
"It's all right," Yami murmured even as Seto half-heartedly struggled in his hold.
"It's not! You keep saying that, but it's not," Seto insisted.
"I'll call him. That way you'll know for sure that he's okay."
"… I know he's okay," Seto snapped, though he was still thinking about Sugoroku's accusations from his dream. He shut his eyes, as if that would shield him from the memory.
"It'll make you feel better."
"I don't WANT to feel better!"
Yami sighed. Sometimes, there was no point in arguing. He especially didn't feel like doing so in the wee hours of the morning. And actions always spoke louder than words. He reached for the bedside phone…
Sugoroku groaned as the ringing started up again. Whoever was calling obviously wasn't going to give up until he answered the phone. He rolled over and began fumbling for it in the darkness even as his eyes sought out the bedside clock and the lit numbers on the face.
"3:24 AM…" he complained to himself as his hand finally found the phone. He picked it up and gruffly grumbled, "This had better not be a prank call."
A tiny pause, then a familiar voice said, "Jii-chan…"
Sugoroku nearly dropped the phone. "… Yami? Is something wrong?" he asked even as he sat up and turned on the lights. He gave himself a second to adjust to the sudden brightness, then began looking for his robe. It would have to suffice if it turned out he didn't have time to get dressed. "Now where is my robe?…"
"Huh? Ah, no – we're okay! It's not an emergency… well, not like you're thinking. Uh… it's a bit hard to explain actually…"
Sugoroku stared at the handset, then looked back at the clock. "… You do know what time it is, right?"
"Yes. And I really am sorry for waking you. But…"
"What is it?" the old man queried, slightly calmer and more awake now that his curiosity had been perked. Yami wouldn't have called at such a late hour without good reason. And he wouldn't have called if he were trying to reach Yugi.
There was another moment of hesitation, then Yami asked in a low voice, "Could you talk to Seto for a minute?"
Before Sugoroku could say another word, he heard the phone being handed off on the other end, then he heard the sound of someone breathing heavily into the mouthpiece. "Kaiba?"
"I told him not to call," Seto said harshly, but there was a note of relief in his voice as well.
"Did something happen? Are you okay?"
"… It's nothing."
Abruptly, the phone got handed back to Yami, who must've fumbled it, because Sugoroku heard a soft thud and no response to his hails. A moment later, Yami had recovered the handset and pressed it back against his ear. "Oops," he said a bit sheepishly.
"Yami? Are you sure everything's all right?"
"I think so. It's just that Seto… well, never mind. Thanks… and sorry for waking you," the ex-spirit quickly responded, and then he hung up the phone.
Sugoroku studied the receiver in his hand a moment longer, then slowly placed it back in its cradle. He turned back to the clock. Not even a minute had passed. For a moment, he wondered if he had dreamt the whole thing up – that was how surreal it felt. But as he lay back down and stared up at the ceiling instead, he realized he was wide-awake, and that had been no dream.
He replayed in his mind the strange conversation, what little there was of it, using the scant clues to try and piece together what had happened. Yami had asked him to speak to Seto. And Seto had sounded angry and yet, relieved. Neither one had given him any sort of explanation. And yet, he thought that maybe he did understand what they hadn't wanted to tell him…
It was just like that Friday night several weeks earlier, when a still recovering Seto had shuffled into the living room and fallen asleep on Yami's lap – the brunette had reminded him of Yugi then, and now as well. When Yugi was very young, he had a certain routine that he went through every time he had a bad nightmare. No matter the hour, he'd quietly toddle into Sugoroku's room, shyly shake him, and then guiltily clam up and pretend nothing was wrong as soon as his grandfather was awake.
Well, there was nothing wrong with having nightmares. There was nothing wrong with wanting reassurance as well, no matter the form it took. Even if it was just to make sure he was alive and well. It'd be nice if it didn't take place in the wee hours of the morning, but Sugoroku didn't mind losing a few minutes of sleep if that was what was needed. That said…
The old man slowly sat back up. No, he couldn't just go back to sleep; he was worried about Seto. His dreams must've been extraordinarily bad if Yami felt the need to call… Sugoroku could just imagine the young billionaire getting up, going to his office down the hall, and staring at game codes and business communications until his eyes ached. That was how he dealt with things – burying himself in work, busying himself in order to forget. Not that it ever worked. It only delayed the inevitable. It was a habit that needed to be broken.
Sugoroku looked back at the phone. Perhaps a call back would suffice. But that seemed so impersonal. So perhaps…
He sighed, pushing back the covers so that he could get up and get dressed. As anxious as he was to get over to the mansion, he supposed there was no reason for him to show up in a robe and pajamas when he could get properly dressed by taking an extra minute or so.
Seto answered the door with an expression that bordered on disbelief. He ran his fingers through his mussed up hair, trying to smooth it down, wishing he'd had bothered stopping by the bedroom in order to throw on something more than a robe, but as soon as he'd gotten the call on his cellphone to come down, his thoughts had instantly scattered in a hundred different directions. For a long moment he simply stared at his unexpected visitor, then asked, "Why are you here?" when he finally found his voice again.
Sugoroku tried giving the younger man a reassuring smile. "I know you weren't expecting me, but I thought you'd still be up."
If anything, that made Seto even more wary. He shifted on his feet. He still wasn't sure what to say. "Uh… well, Yami's upstairs." He did a quick check via mind link. "He's still up. I'll go get…"
"I'm not here to see Yami," Sugoroku said evenly. He pulled his jacket around his shoulders a little tighter. It wasn't cold, just a bit chilly; the residual dampness from the afternoon rains didn't help. "May I come in?"
Seto knew he couldn't say no. So he simply moved out of the way, leaving the door open in mute invitation and headed back towards the stairs, pausing on the first step. "… Upstairs okay?"
Sugoroku looked up from unlacing his shoes and nodded. "Wherever is comfortable for you."
It felt like a repeat of what happened a few weeks earlier, except this time Seto wasn't taking Sugoroku up to talk about the dragon that lay between them. But he was just as wary as before, if not more so.
Kaiba, why? The words haunted him, hanging heavily in the air.
Alarmed, Seto suddenly stopped, asking over his shoulder, "Did you say something?"
"… Oh." But he could still hear the rest of it, clear as day. It clung to him like a foul stench. Your grudge was against Yami. So why did you drag everyone else into it for the sake of revenge?
Seto felt his mouth opening, ready to automatically respond, and just barely forced it shut in time to swallow the words. Bad enough that Sugoroku had come over in the middle of the goddamn night to… well, Seto wasn't even sure why he was there. But he was determined to not fall apart in front of the old man, no matter what.
Once they reached the top of the stairs, Seto paused again. He wasn't sure where they were headed. They could go to his office, where they were guaranteed privacy… but whatever Sugoroku had to say had nothing to do with business, and he didn't like mixing his personal life with his work. Or they could go to the master suite, but Yami was there and Sugoroku had said he wasn't there to see him… and Seto wasn't exactly eager to host a potential argument in his private quarters. There was the library… or maybe a random empty room would work, but only if they wanted to sit on the floor…
There's more to it though, isn't there? You probably could've tricked him into it, even without using me as bait.
Seto grimaced, mentally shaking off the voice floating in his head. "Where should we…?" he began asking in a lowered voice. He didn't want to wake his brothers after all.
"Although I didn't come to see Yami, I don't mind him keeping us company," Sugoroku responded just as quietly.
Seto blinked at him. Sugoroku made it sound like they were about to enjoy a spot of tea, like he was just stopping by because he happened to be in the neighborhood. At 4:00 AM. But just as before, he couldn't deny the old man's request. He turned in the direction of his bedroom. "All right."
Yami was waiting for them when they finally entered the master suite. He was sitting on the bed cross-legged, an unbuttoned pajama shirt loosely draped over his shoulders. He smiled slightly in greeting. "Jii-chan… we weren't expecting you."
"I know." Sugoroku glanced at the bedside phone. "I considered simply calling, but it just didn't seem like it would be enough." He turned back to look at Seto, who was bringing a chair over to the bed. "I'm sorry. It must seem awfully intrusive of me, to come over at this hour. But I was concerned about you."
As Sugoroku seated himself on the offered chair, Seto slowly sat down on the edge of the mattress. He didn't say anything at first, but then he managed to force out a single word. "Why?"
"You didn't seem yourself on the phone. And so… well, maybe it's just the overly concerned grandparent in me, but I couldn't pretend I didn't notice. I had to come and check on you."
"You're not…" Seto began, but he left the rest of the statement unuttered. His mouth felt dry. He was truly at a loss for words.
But Sugoroku answered anyway. "Not biologically. But that doesn't matter, does it? I still worry about you just as I do Yugi and Yami."
"Why? I'm not a little kid, or haven't you noticed?" Seto snapped, sounding precisely like… a little kid. One who wasn't used to being comforted and no longer believed in such things, who'd rather push people away than risk being hurt again. Yami reached out, intending to stroke his arm, but Seto pulled away from his grasp and glowered at him.
"And a nightmare won't kill you, yes, I know." When Seto turned his glare onto Sugoroku instead, the old man simply asked, "That is what that phone call was about, right? A bad nightmare? … Maybe you dreamt that something happened to me, and wanted to be sure that…"
"I didn't ask him to call! And how can you be so sure that it was a…"
"Ah, but you're not denying it."
Seto shut up. His entire body stiffened and his countenance grew cold. Nightmares were something children feared and he wasn't a child, just as he said. Logically then, that meant he wasn't afraid of them. He resented any implication that he was. And yet…
So I had a bad dream – so what? It's stupid. I just need to put it out of my mind, that's all, he told himself. And yet, he couldn't shake the haunting images and sounds from his mind. He couldn't afford to be afraid, or even distracted. He couldn't afford to have weaknesses or doubts. But even worse than all that was the fact the old man knew. Was he becoming so transparent that he could be read that easily?
The elderly shopkeeper sighed. "There's nothing wrong with it. Everyone has nightmares sometimes."
"Everyone isn't me," Seto snarled.
"That's true. But even you aren't immune to having them. It's not a weakness to admit that, or to want reassurance."
Seto didn't like that Sugoroku managed to confound him time and time again with his unexpected… kindness. It felt poisonous, like it was meant to weaken him so that when it all came crashing down, it'd hurt that much worse.
"Why would I need reassurance? I know it's not real, that it didn't happen. Dreams are illusions, just like one of my holograms," Seto asserted, though he knew better. The entire nightmare was a reminder of a past he'd rather not revisit.
"They can still feel real…"
It was almost like the old man was obliquely referring to the death simulation chamber. Seto's fraying temper finally hit a breaking point. "I tried to pull you out, but I couldn't. There were no doors, no off switch – I know, that makes no sense… and then… You were so angry after that. You just kept asking me, 'Why?' Well, then I'll throw it back at you. Why? Why are you here now? Why did you agree to duel me yesterday? Why did you suddenly decide to give me your Blue Eyes? I keep trying to make sense of it, but I can't. You said it wasn't because of Yami. You said you liked me. But you didn't like me when we first met. You made fun of me. You dangled that dragon in front of me, then snatched it right out of my hands, laughing the whole while. You acted like everyone else I'd ever met, like I was just some dumb kid, like I was a piece of trash to be thrown aside and trampled on."
"Seto…" Yami began saying, but Sugoroku stopped him.
"It's okay. Let him get it out." Seto was being surprisingly talkative for once. It seemed he had a lot to get off his chest. And Sugoroku hadn't realized he'd been holding on to so much resentment. It hadn't occurred to him that Seto had misconstrued his light teasing at their first meeting to be something so cruel.
And so Seto went on. His tone continued to waver between hurt and anger. "I was desperate for that card. It was my dream to have a Blue Eyes White Dragon. To know I was good enough to possess it. But from a more practical point of view, I knew if it wasn't mine, it could be used against me. And I couldn't afford to lose. No one wants to buy products associated with a loser! Memories and friendship weren't going to win duels for me. They weren't going to keep my company going. They weren't going to help me provide for Mokuba."
"I know now that what I did was wrong. But at the time…" Seto shrugged helplessly. "When it feels like everything that matters keeps slipping out of your hands like water, no matter how tightly you grasp at them, you resort to increasingly desperate measures. I was trying so hard to win a losing battle that I couldn't even remember who I was anymore or why I'd started fighting. I only knew how to push blindly forward because there was nothing behind me to go back to. Because I couldn't look down at the tightrope I was trying to balance on, or I'd fall. Not that I cared what happened to me in the end. But if I fell, Mokuba would fall with me, and I couldn't let that happen."
"I know. And that's something I've always respected you for, considering your…" Sugoroku swallowed, not wanting to delve even deeper into the past. Instead, he tried to put on a reassuring smile, but his mouth wouldn't obey him. "I didn't know. I didn't realize how much was at stake for you. I thought you were just another of Yugi's classmates, a cocky kid who expected to get his way because he had money to throw around. So I thought if I tried to explain why I couldn't sell the card, maybe you'd understand…" He sighed, heavily. "I am sorry. I never intended to hurt your feelings."
If anything, hearing the apology seemed to make Seto even more upset than before. He frowned deeply and muttered, "Why are you doing this? I never asked you to like me. And I sure as hell don't want to like you, but you won't leave me alone…"
"Does there really need to be a reason? Can't I just like you for who you are?"
"But what the hell do you want from me?"
The old man found himself staring mutely at Yami. He had to admire the former Pharaoh's patience in dealing with such a frustrating lover on a daily basis. Seto's skull was that thick. "I don't want anything."
"Everyone wants something," Seto snarled, angry all over again.
"Seto…" Yami sighed.
"All right then. I want you to work on accepting the fact that I like you for who you are," Sugoroku decisively stated. Judging by the expression that landed on Seto's face, he'd just scored a point.
"God damn it…" the brunette grumbled, dropping his head and shaking it.
Normally Sugoroku would've chuckled at outmaneuvering someone like Seto, but this was definitely not the time or place for that. Instead, after a second's consideration, he stood up, then took a step towards the bed, reaching his hand out…
Seto looked up, startled, as Sugoroku's hand suddenly alighted on his cheek. For a split second he wondered if Sugoroku had been intending to slap him, but he quickly realized that that wasn't the case. He was just touching him, very lightly. Gently. It felt foreign, completely unlike Yami's caresses, or Mokuba or Noa's touch… and yet somehow familiar at the same time. It sort of reminded him of something someone else might've done a long, long time ago.
… And then the old man leaned in and hugged him.
Sugoroku wasn't surprised when Seto's entire body tensed up. He hadn't reacted well to his earlier touch. And hugging him now was the equivalent of squeezing stone. He was completely rigid and unyielding, like glass, as if he'd shatter if pressed too hard. But it was possible he'd topple over and break anyway, if the support was suddenly removed.
Keeping his hold fairly firm and steady, Surogoku murmured, "It's all right, Seto," opting to use the younger man's first name. It just didn't feel right to be calling him Kaiba in a situation like this.
Seto didn't respond at first. He'd become almost catatonic, as if the entire situation had suddenly spun so far out of control that he couldn't even orient himself. His heart was beating loudly and his breaths were coming too fast. Part of his brain told him that he ought to reciprocate, while another part wanted to push the old man off of him entirely.
He finally settled on a third option. "Why?" the brunette croaked again. It felt like it was the only word he could remember.
"You deserve to be cared for, like all children do. You deserve to be cherished. You may think you're too old for it, but you aren't," Sugoroku told him gently. When Seto once again failed to respond verbally, Sugoroku pulled back slightly, hoping to at least see a reaction on Seto's face.
There was a sort of hesitant vulnerability in those blue eyes. For a moment, Sugoroku could clearly see the child within, the one that had been abandoned and mistreated until he could only cope by building walls between himself and everyone else. He expected the dropping of the walls to only last that moment, but maybe he'd finally made a breakthrough – not only did Seto not argue back, but his arms came up slightly, just enough to embrace Sugoroku in return, and then he mutely turned to Yami, as if he needed instruction on what to do next.
Yami gave him a slight smile, one that was meant to soothe frazzled nerves. He scooted closer, his pajama shirt sliding from his shoulders, then wrapped himself around Seto from behind so that the taller duelist was snugly ensconced between two pairs of arms.
Initially, the addition of Yami into the equation seemed to do more harm than good. Seto stiffened back up, even more rigid than before, then began almost vibrating on the spot. He'd already been scared and angry and upset and uncomfortable and confused, and now he felt almost trapped as well, and it was entirely too much to handle or process all at once. He could barely even remember to breathe. So Yami kissed the nape of his neck and held his lover just a little bit tighter to remind him that he was there, but wasn't going to push him any further until he was ready to deal with it.
Finally, after what felt like an eternity, the brunette sighed and began sagging slightly, leaning back against Yami a little. He seemed tired from more than just the late hour. He seemed a bit bruised and even a little smaller, as if he wasn't able to hold his 6'1" frame erect anymore. But at least he had calmed down. He was finally breathing normally again.
Sugoroku finally let go and sat down next to the pair. His back hurt from having had to maintain a locked position for so long, but he didn't regret it. It was worth it if it helped Seto, even if only a bit.
The young CEO looked over at him, still a bit cautious. "You really meant it. Even if I don't understand, you're okay with that."
"I can't promise anything, but I'll try my best… to learn to just accept it."
"I know you will. You always give everything your all," the old man said proudly.
"And… I was out of line earlier. The things I said…"
"No… I'm glad you told me. I didn't know how you felt. I didn't understand why you were so angry and… desperate back then. I misjudged you terribly."
Seto snorted. "You didn't misjudge me. There wasn't anything to like about me back then. That Blue Eyes knew… it knew it deserved better than me."
"No. It may have been waiting for you to come around, but it has always been yours. I was just its caretaker until you were ready to claim it."
Seto mulled it over, then in a much lower voice, hesitantly whispered, "I used to lie on the sofa in the study and look at the Blue Eyes that Mokuba had drawn for me. It was in crayon… He was only five then, but still, he did a really good job on it." He smiled a little at the memory, obviously proud of his brother's efforts. "It made me think… I'd look out the window at the night sky, and wonder when the day would come when I'd have the real thing in my hands. Not to replace his of course, but to complement it." A slight frown creased his features.
"What happened to it, Seto?" Sugoroku asked, dreading the answer.
"It's funny how easily paper burns away, the way it glows for a final burst of brilliance and then curls up onto itself as if it's in agony, before turning into ash," Seto not-so-randomly commented. He shrugged one shoulder as if what he was saying didn't matter, even as the bitterness began leaching into his voice. "One of my tutors found my hidden deck - I wasn't allowed to have 'toys' back then - and showed it to Gozaburo. I got to watch as the bastard tore up each and every card, saving that scribbled Blue Eyes for last, before throwing the entire lot of scraps into the fireplace, in case I'd forgotten who was in control." He paused, then, almost too quiet to be heard, added, "It's ironic, don't you think?"
There really wasn't anything anyone could say to lessen the sting of that revelation, and even Seto seemed to be out of words. Yami could only hug his boyfriend to his chest, letting his embrace convey his sympathies, while Sugoroku reached out and patted the back of the young billionaire's hand. Once more, Seto started at the unexpected contact before relaxing back into Yami's arms, and Sugoroku found himself having to once again force back the contempt he had for Gozaburo. He'd never met the man. He was glad he never had the chance. Although he definitely didn't advocate violence, he would've loved to have gotten the opportunity to slug the former CEO of Kaiba Corp. at least a couple of times. It wouldn't have changed anything, but… the man deserved it. He was a complete monster. No wonder Seto always referred to him as "the bastard."
"By the way, are you going to keep calling me that?" Seto suddenly asked, his weary voice breaking the stalemate of silence. It took Sugoroku a moment to realize that the question was being addressed to him and another to figure out just what the brunette was asking about.
Well, at least it was an easier topic of conversation…
"What kind of grandfather would I be if I kept calling you by your surname?" Sugoroku sniffed, purposely taking the bait in order to try and lighten the heavy atmosphere somewhat.
At first, it seemed Seto wasn't going to answer, whether it was because of the wording Sugoroku chose or because he was still distracted by his own thoughts, or both. But then he said, "But you call the mutt 'Jounouichi' when everyone knows 'Mutt' is his first name," albeit with a little less enthusiasm than usual.
Sugoroku let the jibe slide, especially since Seto's observation had mostly been valid. And he still had no good explanation for it anyway. "If it bothers you, I'll stop."
Seto yawned, then slid down the bed a bit until he was reclining on Yami's lap. "I don't care. It beats the other things I've been called." He rolled over onto his side, then nudged Yami's leg with his nose until the former Pharaoh's hand began carding through his hair. Seemingly satisfied, he let his eyes slide shut.
The elderly shopkeeper wondered if Seto was really intending to go to sleep, just like that. He got his answer only a minute or two later, as Seto's breathing deepened and slowed to an even pace. He must've been a lot more worn out than he had looked. Maybe he'd gotten used to falling asleep in front of others while he'd been sick. Or perhaps it was a combination of the two.
"He's had a rough night. I guess he's finally realized that you mean something to him now. And he was afraid of losing that," Yami mentioned as he shifted slightly to make himself more comfortable. He was still stroking Seto's hair as if he were a favored cat or something.
"Yes, I understand."
"I'm glad you came over. He'd have stayed up otherwise, locking himself in his office and moping until the break of dawn, all so he wouldn't have to face another nightmare." Yami shook his head. "You were right when you said he was a difficult person to love."
"And you were right to defend him. Yes, he is difficult, he probably always will be… but I can see now why you care so much about him. There's something… really special about him."
"Yes, there is." Yami grinned, then glanced back down at the tall man sleeping in his lap. "I can't believe he fell asleep like this," the ex-spirit complained, but his voice was warm and there was nothing but affection in his eyes.
"Well, it is really late, even for him. So I'm not surprised." His mind finally at ease, Sugoroku matched Yami's smile with one of his own before saying with a groan, "I suppose I should get going then as well…"
"Wait, Jii-chan. Like you said, it's late. And we have plenty of guestrooms. So you're welcome to pick one and stay the rest of the night."
"Hmm. I guess that's not a bad idea." He stood up slowly. "... I hope I don't get lost."
Yami chuckled softly. "Do you really need me to walk you down?" he asked, half-serious.
Sugoroku took one look at Seto and shook his head. The brunette appeared to be sleeping peacefully; there was no way he was going to risk waking him. If he really couldn't find an appropriate room, he'd just sleep on one of the many sofas downstairs. "Don't worry, I'll find my way."
Yami gave a curt nod. "All right. Then, good night, Jii-chan."
"Good night, Yami. And good night, Seto."
Yami's amused smile followed the old man as he quietly slipped out of the bedroom.
~ OWARI ~
- References from past stories – Seto saying, "I never asked you to like me," refers back to "Cost" Epilogue 1. Yami and Sugoroku's conversation (Yami saying, "You were right when you said he was a difficult person to love" and Sugoroku saying, "And you were right to defend him") refers back to "Aftershocks" Chapter 6.
- Originally there was an additional scene in this fic between Yugi and Sugoroku, however my lovely beta Nenya85 was concerned that it didn't really add anything to the story. And it felt a little awkward to me and was really giving me a headache. So, I took it out. I'll be posting it as a snippet on my LJ in a few days, for those that may want to read it.