Disclaimer: Lucky Charms is a product of General Mills. Taboo is a product of Hasbro, Inc. 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.


Never Drive Faster Than Your Guardian Angels Can Fly

Ch 3: Departure


As the Mercedes slowly pulled back into the roundabout at the end of the driveway, the only "family member" waiting to greet the silent pair of occupants was the little bay pony, Kuriboh. Seto paused to give his pet his customary greeting, a scratching of the mane right behind the ears, but Yami practically stomped from the car and into the house without even looking in his direction.

The taller man winced slightly. He'd hoped that his boyfriend would've cooled off a little on the drive back, but apparently he was still as mad as ever. He supposed he'd better talk to him or think of something to set things right. So he slowly followed Yami into the house, trailing him to the kitchen where there should've been some lunch waiting.

He found Yami with his head buried in the fridge. There was a sauteuse atop a trivet sitting on the counter, but it had been cleaned out. Part of Seto's brain told him that he should ask Yami if something was wrong; the other, stupider half was tempted to grab the ass that was sticking out of the refrigerator.

"Oh hey, I thought I heard you guys come in. So is everything okay?" Mokuba inquired as he wandered into the kitchen.

Seto nodded, but Mokuba barely seemed to notice his response. Instead, the black-haired teen had begun staring in Yami's direction as soon as the former Pharaoh straightened up.

"Yami… you okay?" Mokuba asked a little tentatively. Yami had the strangest look on his face. It was so foreign, it didn't seem to want to settle into place.

Yami blinked once, slowly. "Where's my lunch?"

Mokuba gave a glance at the empty pan. "Ah… you mean the casserole thing?" He looked down at the floor for a moment, then said, "You know how sometimes something is sooo good that you wish you could eat more of it?"

"I wouldn't know, considering I didn't get to taste it," Yami said in a dry monotone.

Mokuba gave a helpless shrug, then blurted out, "It's not like we didn't wait for you! I mean, we didn't eat the rest until like a half hour ago..."

Yami suddenly began to laugh, but it wasn't his normal laugh. In fact, it reminded Mokuba a bit of Seto's laugh, the crazy sounding one that had him throwing his head back…

Good thing the black-haired teen was accustomed to walking amongst lions. He shook his head at himself, then approached Yami and wrapped his arms around the shorter man's chest. "I'm really sorry. I figured… well, that you'd get something to eat while you were out. And your cooking is so good – I couldn't help myself!"

"My oysters…" Yami managed to wheeze.

"Jeez, Yami…" Seto muttered. He was a little alarmed that his lover was losing it over missing lunch – it wasn't like he cackled insanely whenever he skipped a meal – but considering everything else that had happened, he supposed he couldn't blame him.

"Oysters, Baby. For you. You know…?"

Seto just stared at him. Yami was barely making any sense, but then again, it was amazing he managed to get six words out while not taking in oxygen. "We don't need aphrodisiacs."

"Oh gross," was Mokuba's immediate knee jerk response. But he continued to hold on to Yami because he could feel the man shaking in his arms, whether from the laughter or something else, he wasn't sure. He squeezed just a little tighter, then asked softly, "Are you still mad at me?"

It seemed an eternity before Yami began calming down, enough to shake his head, just a little. Mokuba found himself letting out his breath in relief.

"… I'm so hungry," Yami finally mumbled against Mokuba's arm.

"I know. I'm sorry."

Seto barely heard his brother's apology. Instead, he heard Yugi's voice in his head, telling him, You better grab him.

What?

"No, I mean…" Yami shifted slightly. "I think my… blood sugar's crashing."

Mokuba had wondered why Yami seemed to be listing in his arms. "OH. Uh… let's see. We still have orange juice, right? Or um…" He mentally rummaged through the contents of the fridge, trying to think of what else he could offer.

"Anything will do. Here." Seto stepped in close and took a hold of Yami's arm, quickly guiding him to a seat at the kitchen table. He couldn't believe he hadn't noticed his boyfriend's condition himself, that he'd needed Yugi to alert him… "What do you want to eat?"

Feeling more irritated than ever, Yami began to get up almost as soon as he sat down. "I'll go get…"

"No, you won't," Seto insisted.

"Fucking hell, I'm not an invalid – and would you stop ordering me around for once?!" Yami yelled, his voice echoing in the silence that followed.

Frowning, Mokuba quickly set down a glass of orange juice on the table and left the room.

"… Shit," Yami muttered, even as he grabbed the glass and proceeded to polish off the juice in a few gulps. Seto wordlessly went and got him more, along with a box of sugar-laden cereal.

"You didn't have to yell at him…" Seto finally had to say, though the second the words left his mouth, he wished he could take them back. Yami was just glaring at him, even as he began inelegantly gulping down handfuls of Lucky Charms.

I didn't! I mean, I was yelling at you and he just happened to be there, okay? I'll apologize to him later, Yami testily sniped. By the gods, can't I just eat in peace? Why do you have to harp on me like this?

I shouldn't have said… The brunette sighed. Look, I'm sorry, I really am. What can I do to make things right?

Yami ignored him for a minute. Then he finally grumbled, You're an idiot…

Sometimes.

Yami snorted. Without skipping a beat, he continued. A stubborn, insensitive, prickish…

Seto couldn't help but smile a tiny bit. At least Yami was still talking to him. I know. I can't help it, I guess. He reached out slowly to put a hand on Yami's shoulder, relaxing a little when his boyfriend didn't pull away. But I think I have an idea of what I can do to make things a little better. Are you willing to hear me out?

Actions speak louder than words, Seto.

Well, then shall I show you? He let his hand slide down to Yami's wrist, grasping it lightly in invitation, careful to avoid actually tugging on it lest that piss the younger man off all over again.

After another minute, Yami finally relented, pushing aside the cereal box and letting Seto help him to his feet. Though he still felt sweaty and shaky, the worst of the dizzy spell had passed, taking with it some of his anger and frustration. And he had to admit he was curious as to what his lover had in mind, as he had such an earnest look on his face.

He'd kick his ass if he was thinking about sex though.


The whirlpool tub. Seto had led him to the master bathroom, to the frickin' bathtub. Did the brunette actually think they had time to screw around when their friends were due to arrive in less than two hours?!

"What the hell? We don't have time for this…" Yami protested as soon as Seto started filling the tub.

"Like I said, I'll help you with whatever you need to get done for tonight. Prep work, cooking, set up, anything you ask. And this'll take ten minutes, top. Besides, you're not going to get anything done right if you're still pissed off, so just let me do this for you, okay?"

Yami didn't want to relax. He didn't want to enjoy himself. But maybe Seto had had the right idea. As soon as the bath was drawn and Yami sank into the hot water, he could feel some of the tension in his shoulders floating away. And then the brunette began undressing…

"Seto…"

"I promise, I'll be good. I don't want to fuck right now anyway," Seto assured him as he climbed into the tub as well. "How about a backrub instead?"

Yami didn't give an answer, but he scooted forward a bit to give Seto ample room to get in behind him. The taller man took the hint and slid in behind Yami, then instead of groping his lover like he normally would, began lathering up Yami's back, enjoying the feel of smooth skin beneath his fingertips and the sight of dragons emerging glistening from a splash of soap and water.

Yeah, so maybe he had lied. Fucking would be nice. He still felt a little on edge, and an outlet would be more than welcome. Besides, he'd rather see that same back glistening with sweat instead. But he had made a promise, so he'd behave himself.

"I should do this more often. You like it, don't you?" Seto asked when he heard a blissful sigh escape from his boyfriend.

"Mmhmm."

"I suppose I can do that," he said as he began tracing his name into Yami's back with the pads of his fingertips. Then he sighed, and the tone of his voice grew a little more serious. "I have a terrible temper, I know," he began telling Yami's back. "But the thought of something happening to Mokuba, or Noa, or to you…" He gulped reflexively. Suddenly sobered, he slipped his arms around Yami's shoulders; his legs braced themselves on either side of the shorter man's hips. He took in a long, slow breath, then let it go against Yami's neck. "I never want to see the police standing on my doorstep again, telling me, 'I'm so sorry…'"

"I know. But the same applies to you. How do you think we'd feel if something happened to you because you ran off half cocked? We deserve better than that, Seto. You deserve better."

"... If you say so."

"Seto!"

"What?"

That last utterance sounded so weary that Yami momentarily let the matter drop and instead leaned back a little harder so that even more of his body pressed against Seto's. He couldn't help but note how ironic it was that he was comforting Seto when his boyfriend had initially brought him upstairs to make him feel better.

… And from the other side of the dividing wall, Seto's father bowed his head in guilt. He hadn't realized that his death had haunted his son so much, even now… He had hoped that time would've healed the wound, as the saying went. He had half-expected Seto to forget, because he'd been so young then. But now he realized, the scar left behind would never really go away.

"You deserve better," Yami repeated softly, his fingers now gently playing over the arms embracing him. Seto melted against his lover a little, his shoulders relaxing as if he'd been the one on the receiving end of a backrub.

But the young CEO wasn't the only one comforted by the gesture. Seto's father found himself thinking that it really made no sense for him to worry about Seto's preference for men when there were so many things that mattered more. Like love, for one, and understanding… and Yami obviously had both in spades. There probably wasn't anyone else in the world – male or female – who was a better match for his son.

As if to confirm his father's thoughts, Seto's face colored slightly as he mulled over Yami's comment. Though the thought had crossed his mind to brush it off yet again, he couldn't do it. He really was touched by his lover's concern. "Thank you," he said softly, then after another pause, "So I take it you're not still mad at me? Even if I am a… what was that you said? A 'stubborn, insensitive, prickish idiot?'"

"Something like that." Yami sighed, but there was a hint of a smile on his face as well. "Getting mad at you is one thing. Staying mad at you is another," he admitted. And wasn't that the truth? He had been angry with Seto so many times in the past – furious enough to nearly kill him – but in every instance, the anger never lasted as long as he thought it would.

On the other hand, he wouldn't have felt so forgiving if they were still out terrorizing the citizens of Domino. It was good to be home, to be soothed by a hot bath and the hands kneading his back, to have at least a little something in his stomach to tide him over until dinner. Not that that would help his enchiladas get rolled any quicker…

Seto was quick to pick up on his boyfriend's thoughts. Well, I have another idea…

Hm?

You said you wanted to make enchiladas or something right? What if we do something more like a buffet? Stuff your own burrito or make your own nachos or whatever? They use similar ingredients right? And that'd take the assembly work out of it.

Yami pursed his lips a little. It wasn't a bad idea, and they'd done similar things in the past… The more he rolled it around in his head, the better it sounded. They'd save time and effort and since their friends all had slightly different tastes anyway, giving them their choice of fillings or toppings would be a hit with them too. "Hmm… I like it."

Even with Seto behind him, the former Pharaoh could feel the responding grin. "Good," the brunette purred.

"But that doesn't mean you get to slack," Yami warned in a teasing voice.

"Hmph!"

Yami just smiled. "Well, we better get to it," he said, gently pushing Seto's arms off him and standing up in the tub to get out, the water sheeting off his backside.

It was perhaps just a little too much temptation, and Seto was so damn relieved to have Yami forgive him… He immediately latched back onto his boyfriend. "I lied. I wanna fuck you," he moaned. He nipped at the tattoo closest to his face.

"Seto!" Yami growled as he twisted out of his lover's grasp. "You said you'd behave!"

"It's not my fault. You're the one shaking an ass in my face!" Then a big, catlike grin broke across his face. "Besides, admit it… you'd be mad if I didn't try to molest you."

Yami couldn't help but laugh at that even as he began drying off. I guess you were right…

Hmm?

About the oysters. You don't need 'em!

Seto simply smirked and began quickly drying himself off as well before chasing after Yami as he went to pick out some fresh clothing.

They're quite a pair, the man commented once the young couple left. He and his wife were still in the bathroom, still behind the dividing wall, hanging back to give the two a bit more privacy.

Dear?

I approve, he said simply, knowing that his wife would understand what he was referring to.

She did, but the look on her face told him that she wasn't entirely convinced. It's… it's not that I don't… She faltered a moment as she recalled the things she'd witnessed earlier: Seto's terrible temper, his argument with Yami, that… sexual act in the car. Even now, it's a lot to take in, and I hadn't expected…

He isn't a child anymore, the man said soberly.

She gave a heavy sigh. I know that! But this isn't easy for me! I know what he's been through, that I wasn't there for him! And I still can't do anything for him…

At least he has someone to support him now. That's the important thing.

But they were fighting just a little while ago!

All couples have disputes. What matters is how they resolve it – look at how quick and eager they were to make up with one another! Besides, the way Seto looks at him, no… the way they look at each other… It reminds me a little of us when we fell in love. That's how I know it'll all work out.

She sighed again. She knew he was right. So why couldn't she just accept it? What would it take? Concrete, irrefutable evidence?

Think of the smile he had in those pictures in Mokuba's album. Then think of the one he had just moments ago. They're the same, her husband was quick to supply.

She felt a similar smile creep across her face as everything finally clicked into place. He was right. It really wasn't just coincidence that that smile began appearing at the same time Yami did – that was the smile of a man in love. And the grin Yami gave Seto in return had the same emotion behind it.

You're welcome.

Feeling like a weight had lifted off her shoulders, the woman suddenly found herself eager to get back to "spending time" with her boys. She wanted to see that grin on Seto's face again – photos just didn't do it justice. I think we've given them enough time to get ready, don't you think, Dear?

He nodded and reached out for her hand, happy and relieved as she was. So do you really think they can communicate without speaking? he had to ask, returning to an earlier topic of discussion.

Why not? We've done it a little bit too. It's just a couple thing.


Seto's suggestion proved to be the perfect solution to all of Yami's concerns. By the time Mokuba and Noa joined them in the kitchen with offers of assistance, most of the food was ready to go. The only things left were the carnitas and guacamole, but with Yami finishing up the former and Seto on the latter, they were making fairly quick work of it.

"Wow, and here I was thinking you guys would need our help," Noa commented as he shot a glance at the clock.

"Well, I wouldn't turn it down," Yami responded. He looked around, assessing their progress. "If you could, start setting this stuff out in the dining room?" He tossed his head at some plates and bowls, and the green-haired teen complied after a brief nod.

Seto raised his head as Noa left the room. He looked at Yami. They hadn't spoken much once they'd gotten down to work, each engrossed in his own tasks and thoughts, but there were things far more important than preparing for a party. It's 'later' now.

Hm? It took Yami a moment to realize what the taller man was referring to. Ah… yeah. He cleared his throat, then said, "Mokuba… sorry about earlier. I didn't mean to yell..."

Mokuba blinked, then shrugged off the unexpected apology. "Sure you did. But that's okay. I know you weren't mad at me or anything… you just weren't feeling well."

"Still, that's no excuse…" Yami began again, but Mokuba just shook his head.

"You're allowed to get mad, Yami. And today's been a little hard on everyone, so I totally understand. So don't worry about it, okay?" He gave Yami his best reassuring smile, the one that would get even Seto to settle down, and received a lopsided one in turn. "Jeez, you guys didn't really think I was upset, did you?" he asked after a moment's pause, his question addressed to both Seto and Yami.

"No, but I wanted to explain myself, regardless," the former Pharaoh responded.

"You just left the room really quick…" Seto answered at almost the same time.

"Yeah, because whatever was going on between you two… well, was between the two of you." The black-haired teen shrugged again, then walked over to where Seto was laboring over a molcajete and carefully put his hand over his brother's. "Nii-sama, it's okay, really," he assured him. Seto was pulverizing the avocados into an unrecognizable paste.

The brunette sighed and began chewing on his lower lip. The problem with cooking was it gave him time to think, and he'd always had a pretty vivid imagination. And that meant his mind had been darting back to where it shouldn't have, replaying all the events of the day, from the earlier arguments with Yami to the accident… "Are you sure you and Noa are all right?" he asked Mokuba in a lowered voice, because he didn't want Yami to butt in and tell him he worried too much. He didn't think he worried too much. He was just a realist, that was all.

"We're fine."

"… I just wanted to be sure."

"I could ask the same of you." Seto made a face, and Mokuba instantly felt bad. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean it like that," he said as he wrapped his arms around his brother's waist and hugged him from behind. "I worry about you too, you know."

"You're starting to sound like Yami," Seto complained, but there was a note of relief in his voice. Mokuba wasn't upset. He wasn't injured, scared or shaken. He was a little worried, over Seto's health of all things, but the elder Kaiba figured that was okay. That was just part of being a brother.

Mokuba just smiled, even though Seto couldn't see it. "I love you, Nii-sama," he mumbled into his brother's back.

Seto leaned back slightly and let Mokuba brace him while his emotions washed over him in a gentle wave. "Love you too," he finally responded in an even softer voice, as if they were sharing a secret.

"I know." Mokuba gave Seto a final squeeze, then released him. "But I like hearing it, and I know you do as well." He could just see Yami and Noa out of the corner of his eye. The two were purposely giving them some space, and he was grateful for that, because that was what Seto needed.

Of course, there were two others in the room who had witnessed the exchange, and they were just as touched by the scene. The man had never really bothered getting to know his younger son. The woman had never had the chance. But now they both could see, Seto wasn't the only one who'd grown beyond the child they remembered – Mokuba too was becoming into a fine young man. Almost an adult in his sensibilities, like his brother, but at the same time, bright eyed like a kid his age ought to be. They knew Seto had a lot to do with that, but they hadn't considered the reverse… that maybe Mokuba too had helped Seto grow into someone who was defined by more than just his responsibilities.

They'll really be all right. Because they know they can rely on each other, and their boyfriends too, she said aloud, though mostly to herself. Funny… the words almost sounded weird because the concept was so new… and yet she had to admit, she could get used to thinking of things that way. She could get used to Seto being with Yami too, because he'd obviously played a big part in getting Seto to where he was now; how could she not approve?

Now truthfully, she was a little less sure about Noa simply because she'd only seen him during the hours her sons were at work, but she was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt as well, as her husband's evaluation of him had been pretty favorable. And more importantly, Seto and Mokuba trusted him. And she was tired of doubting their judgement just because she hadn't wanted to see the truth that was right before her face: her boys were gay. Just because it wasn't what she'd expected of them didn't mean there was anything wrong with it.

That's the first time I've heard you say 'boyfriends' without hesitation, the man pointed out, smiling gently.

She smiled back. Why not? It's the truth after all…


Yami had talked about having people over. Seto had helped him whip up an assortment of food, enough to feed an army. But Seto's parents still hadn't known what to expect beyond a simple gathering of acquaintances until the guests began arriving, surprising the pair with the friendships their sons had forged.

Yugi, Anzu and Sugoroku were the first ones there. Of course the spirits had been intensely interested in "meeting" them; they had wanted to see what Yami's family was like. And the Mutous didn't disappoint.

The first thing they noticed were the physical traits, like the crazy hair and the height – or the lack thereof – that ran in the family. But it didn't take long for them to see just how different Yami and Yugi were. While they looked a lot like one another on the surface, Yami had an edge to him, an air of danger, whereas Yugi was a little sunnier, friendlier… and a whole lot straighter. He was a good, normal kid with a nice, normal girlfriend to match. His "normalcy" should've made his twin seem that much weirder, but instead there was something reassuring about it, as it seemed to have the effect of grounding the crimson-eyed man, as if Yami needed Yugi just as Seto needed Mokuba.

And then there was Sugoroku. Amongst the teens and young adults, his age alone was enough to make him stand out. But it was more than just that. He spoke to Seto with a parent's affection. And despite the faint confusion stirring in his eyes, Seto seemed to tolerate it fairly well, even calling the old man "Jii-chan" like everyone else, the softening of his voice making it was clear that he did it because he meant it, not because he was expected to use it.

The four of them – Yugi, Yami, Seto and Sugoroku – were standing in front of the stove now, shoulder to shoulder due to lack of space, even with six burners. They were discussing, of all things, pork.

"I wanted it to crisp up a little more," Yami was saying as he scrutinized a piece of meat with a slight frown. It was cooked all the way through and tender enough to easily pull apart, but was missing the bit of crust that would've developed had he more time to work on reducing the liquids.

"It might dry out too much if you try to cook it down on high though," Sugoroku sagely pointed out.

Yami sighed, cursing the perfectionist within. "Yeah, I know. But maybe if I turn it up just a bit more it'll be okay?"

"I think it tastes good as is," Yugi said. But seeing as how his other half remained unconvinced, he slung an arm around the former Pharaoh's shoulders and hugged him, pressing his cheek against Yami's shoulder companionably. "Plus it looks delicious too. I'm definitely going to be having a serving of this!"

Seto couldn't help but give Yugi a sort of amused look, though on his face it was more like a wolf eyeing a sheep. He shook his head. "It's a good thing you're not someone else… I'd rip your head off."

"Seto…" Sugoroku sighed.

"Seto…" Yami growled at the same time, though he was still pushing carnitas around in the pot.

Yugi gave the pair a small smile in return, though he did shift his weight away from Yami so that he wasn't leaning against him so much. Seto noticed it and shrugged; he didn't want the little duelist to think that he'd been making an actual threat against him. But at the same time, the stupidly jealous part of him had been happy to see Yugi back off.

Yami sighed. "He's only being like this because he's had a bad day."

"I know," said Yugi.

It was Seto's turn to snarl. "You know?" he asked, giving Yami an accusatory look.

"I don't know the details. It's not my business," Yugi smoothly replied, taking the heat off his other half. "But even I know you well enough to know that you only get like this when you have a reason."

"Hn," was Seto's very predictable response.

"That's how friends are," Yugi added, as if he'd known Seto was struggling to come up with an explanation of his own. "We understand each other. And we worry about each other."

Yugi was harmless. But the young CEO found it a little unnerving that someone like that could read him so easily, though he knew that he couldn't complain too much about it either. Yugi was one of the most trustworthy, honest people Seto had ever known. But that didn't mean he was a wimp or pushover either – despite his stature, he'd stick up for what he believed in. He wasn't afraid of confronting Seto, to point out that he'd overlooked something important…

Uh, thanks for the warning earlier, about Yami… Seto began hesitantly. Talking to Yugi via mind link wasn't the easiest thing; theirs wasn't a "natural" connection like Yami to Yugi, or Yami to Seto. He usually couldn't feel what Yugi was feeling, which suited him just fine. But with Yami acting as a switchboard of sorts, they could at least converse as long as both parties were willing.

Huh?

This afternoon. I didn't notice…

Oh, when his blood sugar crashed?

Unable to sufficiently convey images to Yugi via thought, Seto physically nodded, a slight grimace marring his features.

It's okay. He wasn't in any danger. He just was starting to get dizzy, so I wanted to make sure he didn't stumble into anything or fall.

"But I shouldn't have needed you to tell me! What the hell kind of boyfriend am I, to not even notice that much?" Seto hissed, unaware that he had slipped out of mental conversation and that his words had attracted the ears of the other two men by the stove.

Yugi leveled a look at him. "If it was anything serious, you would've noticed. But he's completely fine. And he isn't mad about it either," he stated plainly, and Yami gave him a minute nod in agreement. "Isn't that all that matters?"

"… No."

He was really beating himself up over nothing. That was how Seto was, but Yugi couldn't help but sigh internally as he tried to think of what to respond with. Obviously he couldn't just tell him that it was no big deal, just forget about it, when Seto had convinced himself it was, but then the brunette surprised him by saying, "I won't let it happen again," with such conviction that all Yugi could do was nod and accept that as the final word. And the timing couldn't be better; Anzu, Mokuba and Noa were just walking back into the room after going over music selections for the night.

"Um… what's up?" Mokuba asked, seeing four pairs of eyes staring back at them.

"Nothing," said Seto, but Mokuba knew better than to call him out on it. No one in the room looked upset and everyone still had their limbs intact, so whatever had been going on couldn't have been that big of a deal.

"Nothing? It looks like cooking to me," the teen joked, skillfully maneuvering everyone's thoughts into safer waters. It seemed to be working, so he continued on. "Smells great – I can hardly wait to eat! When's everyone else supposed to get here, anyhow?"

Yami looked up and made a face at the clock, then turned that same look onto his carnitas, as if that would be enough to crisp them up. "Oh… any minute now…"

In the end, the carnitas made it to the table without ever developing that perfect crust, because Yami's quote of "any minute now" turned out to be a pretty accurate estimation as the rest of Yugi-tachi began arriving in small clumps. The trio of Shizuka, Honda and Otogi showed up first, followed by Malik and Bakura, and finally, the doorbell rang one last time…

Normally Mokuba would've gotten it, but he had gone upstairs to fetch a CD, so Yami went to answer it, Seto trailing behind him out of habit more than anything else.

As expected, it was Jounouichi – looking a bit henpecked and beleaguered – and Mai, but there was another woman with them…

"I hope you don't mind, but Viv was in town and decided to pay us a visit, and it wasn't right telling her to go back to the hotel when it's New Year's Eve, you know?" Mai explained.

Yami just shrugged. He didn't mind at all. "The more the merrier, right? Nice to see you again, Vivian."

"Oh honey, call me Viv! And thank you for welcoming me into your lovely home," Vivian Wong all but purred as she batted her lashes. She couldn't help it; she was a gold digger at heart and saw nothing wrong with it. She'd been gawking at the mansion ever since they'd pulled past the endless brick and iron fence and the suited men staffing the security booth, up the long drive threading through manicured landscaping. Why, even the air in the mansion smelled of money! And as much as she liked and respected her friend Mai, she couldn't understand why the attractive blonde had married a younger man with almost nothing to his name, when surely someone like Seto Kaiba could've hooked her up with a wealthy businessman or something...

"He's not interested… and neither am I!" Seto yelled, seeing as Vivian had immediately switched her attention to him. But she merely giggled in response, thinking it unlikely that the young CEO would kick her out right after his boyfriend had welcomed her in.

Mai laughed along with her friend, though she was thinking the opposite – Seto would throw the Chinese woman out of his house if she pressed too many of his buttons. So she suggested, "Let's go say hi to everyone else," and as soon as the other woman smiled in agreement, the two sauntered off to terrorize whoever crossed their paths.

Jou exhaled in relief as soon as the ladies were out of sight. "Man, that woman has been drivin' me nuts! 'Your car sucks' and 'Can't you get a nicer apartment?' Sheesh." he complained, though he didn't really expect Yami or Seto to understand what that was like.

"Gee, I hope your wife doesn't hear you saying that about her," Mokuba remarked as he came down the stairs, grinning. "Just kidding, Jou. What woman?"

"Ms. Vivian Wong."

"Ah… I didn't know she'd be joining us."

"She just sorta showed up yesterday, outta tha' blue," Jou grumbled, and then he did a double take in Mokuba's direction. The teen cocked his head at him. "Damn… I just realized you're taller than me! Hey Yami, what've you been feedin' this kid?"

Mokuba grinned broadly at the compliment – and yes, he was a hair taller than Jou now! – while Yami couldn't resist answering, "Oysters, apparently."

"Uh… aren't those like um… aphrodisi-whatchamacallits?" Jou asked. Mokuba raised an eyebrow but didn't say anything, while Yami just gave the blonde man a funny look. "Man, I prolly don't wanna know, huh?"

"Don't overthink it, Mutt, or your brain might explode since it's not used to being called upon for anything," Seto instantly threw back, laughing. Ah, it felt great having someone to pick on.

"Grr, why you…!"

As the two continued their usual routine of throwing verbal jabs at one another, Seto's mother thought to herself, It's strange, but in a way, I'm happy he's arguing with another young man. Seto had been so irate during his heated argument with the man who'd hit his car that it was a relief to see him snarkily bantering with a friend. Or, more precisely, it was a relief to see that he understood the difference between the two situations, since he'd seemed to have some difficulty relating to others. It was good to see him with people his own age, ones that weren't employees or lackeys, ones that weren't expecting anything beyond a fun New Year's Eve with pals. Well, for the most part. She'd have to keep an eye on that Vivian woman. She'd looked a little too dazzled by the mansion and the wealth and status that obviously went along with it. Or perhaps she was overreacting, since Yami was there and would undoubtedly keep the woman at bay.

Thankfully, despite the female spirit's niggling concerns, the evening only improved as it progressed. Seto had seemed fairly relaxed at the start of it, about as relaxed as he ever got, but then he really began mellowing out as the hours passed by. Dinner went smoothly, with the guests raving over the thoughtfulness of their hosts in presenting a variety of dishes that suited all tastes – and Seto was only too happy to point out that it had been his idea – and everyone, both young and old, enjoyed the game of Taboo that followed. Even Vivian managed to behave herself well enough to not get kicked out, though Yami did exactly as expected, sitting on Seto's lap, as if to oh-so-subtly remind her that certain young CEOs were already taken… and uninterested in women. And far from being offended, Seto seemed amused by his lover's possessive gesture, with his team's victory at Taboo solidifying his good mood.

Eventually the last hour of the year arrived and the minutes began their inevitable march towards midnight. Bottles of bubbly and sparkling cider appeared as conversation in the room turned towards the recollection of memories made during the last year. Mokuba summarized it as being "a good year" and Seto agreed, even though some pretty bad things had happened to him – the opening of his new theme park had nearly been ruined by Siegfried's machinations, he'd gotten pneumonia right after… But he'd improved his relationship with Noa tenfold and even managed to forge a real connection with Sugoroku, so in his mind, it had all worked out for the best.

… But for his mother, who couldn't hear the optimistic musings that her elder son silently shared with his lover, all the final moments brought were an upwelling of anxiety and worry. She hadn't known that Seto had been so sick. She hadn't known that his company had been at such risk. Given more time, she might've been able to dig up some of Seto's medical records, to make sure a doctor had seen him, to make sure there were no lingering effects on his overall health. Given more time, she could've rummaged around for company documents detailing KaibaLand America's current status, to help alleviate her concerns about their financial stability. Given more time…

As much as she tried to fight it, she couldn't help the feeling of panic that suddenly swept over her. She didn't want to leave, not yet! Twenty-four hours just wasn't enough! She knew she ought to be grateful for every second she'd been allowed to spend with her boys. But it seemed almost crueler that she'd been allowed to see the life she could've been a part of, now that it all was slipping away between her fingers, insubstantial as they were.

Would they really be all right? If the past were any indication, Mokuba would be, protected by his brother, cocooned by their friends. But Seto had never been good at taking care of himself… Would having a lover really be enough to change that if the brunette really was that determined to put himself on the line for his company, for his family? It'd be terrible, just too terrible, if what she'd seen turned out to be nothing more than a peaceful lull and five years down the road, she were to come back and find out that things had gone disastrously wrong.

It's okay, my dear. It's okay. This is the hardest part, I know, her husband whispered, his own voice heavy with emotion. He wrapped his arms around her and held on tight

It's not okay! I can't just leave! she wailed, even as she felt a powerful, unseen force drawing around them to pull them away from the scene. A quick glance at a nearby clock confirmed it - there was only a minute until midnight!

Oh, he was aware of how short their time was growing, as much as she was. But he tried to keep his head, tried to be the support that she needed. They didn't have a choice in staying or leaving. I wish I could buy you another minute with them… even another second. But I can't.

I know that! I know what I want is impossible, that I'm being ungrateful, but… She choked out the latter part of that sentence, then gave up in a fit of sobs, unable to finish.

Shh… It'll be okay. We'll get through this, together. He just held her tightly, as tightly as Seto was now holding Yami as they began counting down the final seconds of the year.

"Five! Four! Three! Two…"

It was a struggle, but she managed to lift her head in time to catch the two lovers kissing as all around them, their friends celebrated and wished each other well for the new year. It was the last thing she saw before being abruptly snapped back into the afterlife.

But despite the tears, a small smile emerged. There'd been so much hope and camaraderie and love in that room, at that last moment… If even she'd been able to feel it, through the barrier between life and death, surely it'd be enough to protect and carry her sons through whatever trials and tribulations the future brought, right? She had to believe in that. She needed that hope herself, to carry her through the next five years.

And she leaned back heavily against her husband as she began the long countdown once again.


~ OWARI ~

Author's Notes:
- Vivian dropped into the fic unexpectedly, just as she did at Jou and Mai's apartment. There's not really much to glean from her presence here... I just find her to be amusing.
- Re: the game Taboo. A minor descriptive detail (I could've just left it as "a board game"), but I couldn't resist using it because I have a previous arc named "Taboo" as well.
- I had originally planned for a happy ending, not a bittersweet one... Originally it was going to end at Seto and Yami's midnight kiss. But shortly before I hit that point Seto's mother began panicking at the prospect of leaving, and I realized, in the interest of making a well rounded story, I had to explore that part of her feelings too, because for her, there wasn't going to be a happy ending. That said, I tried to keep some humor going in this chapter since I didn't want it to feel depressing, but there just wasn't any getting around Seto's mother's reaction towards the end.