A/N: This story takes place during season zero—after Yami defeats Seto at Duel Monsters for the first time but before the creation of Death-T.

Placebo – My Sweet Prince

It had been three days since Seto had woken up, and he hadn't slept since. The cold, deep, darkness of the night poured into him, saturated his skin until it bled. He gulped down the sharp, stabbing bitterness of the stars like a thick, delicious poison, savoring the feeling of it boiling in his veins.

Shadows scattered across the floor, waging a silent and deadly battle with the metallic beams of moonlight that drenched his bedroom through the open window. Seto watched the delicate maneuverings, the meticulous strategy, all the planning, all the time, the blood, the bullets, that would be rendered useless by morning, when the sharp points of the sun would rule the sky again, taking back what was his.

His eyes nearly fluttered shut, but he forced them open. He had forbidden himself sleep until he found an answer, until he had uncovered an explanation. His skin itched from exhaustion, every inch of him was screaming, longing for sleep and the sweet solace of dreams and fantasy. But Seto pressed on like a ship lost at sea, scanning the horizon for one faint glimmer of salvation.

He had lost. And it was killing him.

His desk was drowning in statistical printouts, textbooks, piles of playing cards that gazed listlessly up at him with empty, expecting eyes, and reams of pages covered with his frantic, disjointed writing. The weight of the past three days bore down on him heavily, filling his lungs with despair and giving his bedroom the hopeless, heavy smell of a mortuary. As the hours had dragged on, the printer's manic pace had dwindled to a slow trickle, his hand had ceased racing across the page, but his mind was still working, still retooling every option, every possibility that had wandered into the realm of his reality.

He let the thick, black figures stab his eyes, tear through them until they seeped an inhuman mixture of blood, sweat, and fruitless agony. It was a divine, ecstatic perdition, but it was better than the alternative.

Now, when he shut his eyes, he didn't see darkness. Or rather, he didn't see just darkness. He saw blossoming bouquets of shimmering ruby, swirling spirals of ebony, broken shards of gold that pierced him like needles. He saw him, but it was so much more than seeing. Just beyond the delicate fluttering of his eyelashes, Seto could feel his breath, hear his low, melodious voice that scraped the skin off his bones and spun it into silk. With the smallest, most timid of gestures, Seto could feel his skin burning as he reached out, just daring to touch the phantom that haunted his imagination. It was evidence that he was real, if only a little.

Letting a smoky, gray sigh escape his lips, Seto's head gracelessly hit the stacks of papers that littered his desk, but he refused to let his eyes shut. His vision swerved and circled, became distorted and played out scenes that he was sure had never happened, but he held them tirelessly open with the final fragments of his dignity. It would be his final—and only—victory, to not surrender to the wild rampages of his memory.

Breathing had never felt so difficult. Every breath was a suffocation—long, weary, and iron. The beating of his heart was nearly strong enough to shatter him, to pull him apart for the inside and leave him sprawled across the floor until morning, when the sun's rays would rebuild him into a caricature of the person he had been the night before. It wasn't a new sensation, Seto had often had to reconstruct his worldview during the silence of nightfall, but it never got any easier.

He didn't notice it, but his arms were shaking. His fingers prowled the surface of his desk, searching desperately for the one last card, the key that would tear him away from the painful slices of his memory. His fingers grasped frantically, but only time flowed through his fingers.

Everything ran around him in slick, silver circles. Facing him from across the table were those glowing infernos of eyes that spilled their emotions across the table but refused to relinquish their most desperate secrets. His dragon hadn't listened to him, he hadn't listened to himself, hadn't followed his own directions. He remembered the acidic smirk that dissolved his bones. He remembered the mocking, sumptuous gestures that stamped out his shadow. The cruel laugh, the yelling, the hours pouring himself into textbooks and exams, the constant sinking pit of disappointment, the first time he ever seen a missile launch.

That roaring…it started in the soles of his feet and vibrated up through his bone marrow, rattling it into pieces. Seto had grabbed at the smooth, steel hand railing, desperately trying to hold himself up. Seto had felt earthquakes before, he was used to them, but this was different. Earthquakes were fun, they were natural, they were powerful, but in a way that left his eyes wider and his heart lighter when they were over. This was entirely different. This was a shaking that pierced planets, that silenced stars, that demolished dreams. This was death.

Gozaburo had grabbed his shoulder, his thick fingers burrowing through his flesh like termites. He had laughed, and it sounded like the firing of an engine. With a careless sweep of his arm, as if he had more energy than he knew what to do with, he had drawn Seto closer to him, then kneeled down beside him.

"You see that, Seto?" He asked, having to speak loudly over the screaming of the launchers, "that's what separates us from the rest of the people in this world."

Seto was puzzled. He looked out the window but wasn't sure what he saw.

"Look there," Gozaburo gestured towards the inscription on the side of the rocket, the one that bore his new name. "You're a different kind of person, now, Seto. You're a Kaiba now. This will be your legacy."

Somewhere behind them, an assistant was counting down the seconds to liftoff. The clock struck zero, and with a deafening blast, the missile bulleted into the sky, leaving behind a ravenous cloud of dust, smoke, and debris that swallowed the air like a black hole.

The force of the blast had shook Seto off his feet, sent him cascading into one of the monitors that had been behind them. His memories of this specific incident were a vague, flimsy film that popped and toppled easily, but he clearly remembered waking up in the hospital three days later.

The doctors had said he had a concussion. Gingerly reaching up, he had felt the heavy bandages that enshrouded his skull. When he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror, he hadn't recognized the face he saw there. He had thought that he looked like a mummy, something long ago left for dead.

He had drifted in and out of sleep, unable to dwell in one realm for too long without it becoming excruciatingly painful. Life and death danced across his face like dappled sunlight. Sometimes he thought he saw his parents. Sometimes he found memories of a life that he had never lived—things like playing in riverbanks and holding life and death and everything in his hands and seeing people looking helplessly into his eyes, begging for mercy that only he could grant them. He heard footsteps, but he hadn't been allowed visitors in the hospital, Gozaburo had thought that it would set a bad precedent…


That volcanic, violet voice. Seto remembered that, too. That voice circulated and screamed through his bloodstream.

"No, no, no…" he mumbled blearily, tossing his arms about helplessly. "Not allowed visitors here, you gotta go away…"

Yami paused momentarily, carefully tracing Seto's silhouette in long, luscious glances that were both eager and afraid to drink in his every detail. He started again.

"Kaiba, get up." His voice was clear as water and rung across the room, delicately peeling away the heavy layers of cavernous silence that seemed to be Seto's constant companions. When his only response was a shudder and whimpering coming from the direction of Seto's desk, he stepped closer.

"Go away, he'll get mad if he catches you…" Seto tried to wave him away with a tepid fluttering of his arm, but Yami ensnared his hand mid-flight.

"Look at me." His voice was so solid, so sturdy and serene, that Seto could do nothing but obey him. When his eyes locked with Yami's he tried to snatch his hand away, but Yami only gripped it tighter. He lavishly lifted it to his eye level, meticulously examining the intricate mechanisms of his long, spidery fingers. Seto shivered as his red, simmering breath coated his skin like oil, dragging him deeper and deeper down into the darkness.

"Have you thought about what I said, Kaiba?" Seto wasn't sure if his hand moved on its own volition or if Yami was still manipulating it, but he could only watch with mountainous peaks of interest as it came close enough to Yami's face for him to feel the electricity radiating off his skin.

"Yuugi…what are you doing here?" His voice came out in dry, languished flakes, but he spoke volumes in the current between the luminosity of their eyes.

Yami smirked and shook his head ever so slightly. "No Kaiba, you know it's not Yuugi…Now, are you going to answer my question?"

Seto was certain that all the air had been squeezed out of him. He felt breathless, weightless, overcome by an earth-shattering thunder that left him shipwrecked and scalded. Wild conflagrations of pure, unadulterated nothingness roared inside him, turning his thoughts to ashes.

"Go away…" he murmured. "Get out of here! Leave!" He made a last attempt to win his hand back, but Yami's grip only tightened until he thought it would splinter his bones. Velvet ruffles of laughter spilled over his lips as he closed the final breathless millimeters of air between them, gently caressing his face with Seto's captive fingertips.

"Let me go, you freak!" Seto yelled. "I don't want any more of your stupid tricks!"

"A trick, now Kaiba, do you honestly believe that? "

"Just leave me alone."

"Evading? That's new for you, isn't it?"

"That's none of your business."

"Kaiba…don't be so cold with me. You know I'm only trying to help you…to free your mind…" With a smoldering sweep of his hand, Yami entwined his fingers in the silky ripples of Seto's hair, smirking softly as Seto tried draw his head away as slowly as if moving through maple syrup.

"Like hell you are." He barely managed to choke the words out; he felt like his throat was slowly sliding shut. "More like send me to the loony bin. Don't screw with me Yuugi, this is all some part of your crazy penalty game, isn't it?"

"If it wasn't, you would have shot me dead the moment you heard me come in." He let the moment stir and wallow between them. "But don't tell me that you're not enjoying it."

"Don't tell me what to think."

"I already am, Kaiba. I'm inside you now—"

"Tearing me apart."

"Out of necessity, Kaiba. If you could see your own heart with unadulterated eyes, you too would recognize that necessity."

"Bullshit—" His breath fluttered out in fragile, fractured feathers that drifted down gently to the floor. "You have no right to—"

"I create my own rights, Kaiba. I believe that's a philosophy you are familiar with." Tightening his grip on Seto's hair, he slowly, forcibly, titled his head back until their eyes were forced to blend and smear together. Seto felt his heart clamp shut as Yami leaned closer to him, drowning him in the incinerators of his eyes, breathing into him, stealing every little breath of him away.

"This is all some sort of dream…"

When he kissed him…that roaring, it burst out of the pores of skin and formed a puddle at his feet. Seto grabbed at his hair, his face, his hands, anything he could reach to keep from collapsing in on himself like a black hole. He could feel himself steaming everywhere their skin touched. There was a disaster rampaging inside him, a wild tumult of wind and water strong enough to pierce the core of the earth. This was death. This was being reborn. There was something denoting inside of him; he was bursting into bloom.

"You make me sick."


When Seto opened his eyes, his phantom was gone. The bitter smell of charcoal and storm lingered in the air and clung to his skin. The shadows, which had been so saturating and virulent before, were now beginning to wane in the wake of the first flickers of the icy morning light. Gazing out his open window, Seto saw the first spear-like fingers of the sun as they stretched across the sky. It looked like a crown, he thought, or like his silhouette in fire.

He realized what he had been doing wrong. He had been trying to defeat Yuugi in the context of his own failure, to correct something he had done wrong. But that was not the right approach. To vanquish him, to truly annihilate him, Seto would have to destroy him on his own terms, utilizing every fragment of his warped and mutilated mind.

His room smelled like death, ripe and freshly sliced.

I love season zero Yami, he's so delightfully demented. :D Review?