Chapter Eighteen:

Seto left the police station in a foul mood. Katsuya had released him without condition. His threat had been made, his ultimatum spelled out. Stay away from Atemu or be blamed for the murders.

What was Seto to do? The smartest course would be to just do what he was told and get on with his life. But he knew he couldn't do that. Never mind his feelings for Atemu, he couldn't leave him to be slaughtered by his power-hungry cousin. Even if Atemu sent him away, as soon as he returned, Yuugi would find some way to kill Atemu and take his place as King.

He had to convince Atemu to do something more drastic, but he knew Atemu would not imprison Yuugi without evidence that he deserved it. And even now, after all of that in the police station, Seto still didn't have any. Katsuya's warning to stay away was not evidence, maybe not even evidence enough to make Atemu believe Seto for sure. That was no failing on Atemu's part; it was a terrible thing to believe your own family wanted you dead.

Seto walked back to his carriage at the train station, his mind churning. Katsuya had him watched. He had read that between the lines. So if he returned to the palace, Katsuya would be informed. The problem was, Yuugi was bound to be livid about being sent away, and he would undoubtedly suspicion the reason was that Atemu suspected him. Would he, angry and nervous, kill Atemu before his departure?

Seto reached his carriage and instructed the driver home. He could not return to the palace, not yet, not until Katsuya and Yuugi were gone. But he would send a message, telling Atemu what had happened that day, and warning him to watch Yuugi until he was on his way to France. After that…

At home, Seto went into his study, immediately putting quill to paper. He wrote out a quick letter to Atemu, signed and sealed it with his family's insignia, then summoned his messenger. The letter runner was young, with a terrible Cockney accent and a fondness for ribald jokes, but he was fast and dependable. Seto told him to take the letter to the palace and be persistent until someone took the letter to Atemu.

"Gee, the King hisself?" the messenger asked, looking down at the letter in curiosity. "Right to the King hisself? You must be a right important person, sir, writin' letters to the King personal like."

"Go on," Seto said sternly. "And don't come back until you get a reply."

The messenger's eyes widened beneath his thatch of strawberry blond hair. "A reply from the King? Just like that?"

"It's important," Seto said shortly. "King Atemu will understand once he reads the letter. Now stop asking questions about things that don't concern you and take that letter."

"Yessir," the messenger said, not the least offended. "Right on, sorry, sir."

He turned and hurried from the entrance hall. Seto went back to his study and sat down in his chair, wondering if this was too little, too late.

The messenger didn't get back until after nightfall. He was exhausted, red-faced and runny-nosed from the cold, but he held out a letter when he was shown in to the library where Seto was reading. The letter bore Seto's name in fluid script and the royal seal on the back.

Seto dismissed his servants and sat back down in his reading chair, opening the letter without aid of the letter opener, which was still missing. He slid out the parchment and unfolded it. In his neat script, Atemu thanked him for telling him what had happened, and that Yuugi would be going that following morning, immediately, Katsuya with him. He was not happy, and Atemu promised to have a guard outside his bedchamber that night, begging illness as a reason not to have anyone pass. Then Yuugi and Katsuya would be gone. He told Seto to send word if any of the police force said or did anything to him, and that was all of the letter.

Seto set it down on his side table and stared into the fire. It was what it was. Yuugi and Katsuya would be gone… and then what? If there were no more attempts on Atemu's life while Yuugi was gone, would he then believe? Or would he wonder if he'd suspected his cousin for no reason, and that the true culprit had just given up?

Would Yuugi poison Atemu's mind against Seto and make him suspect that there were no more attempts because Seto was trying to frame Yuugi and so would do nothing while the other was in France?

No, Atemu was a reasonable person, beneath his lust for recklessness and danger. Surely he would see Seto had no motive.

Seto sighed as he flipped through the stack of mail his butler had fetched for him. A handful of cards from people he barely remembered from school asking after his health while not-so-subtlety fishing for information about the skating accident, a similar letter as well as an invitation from Alexandra to attend a boating on the River Thames, an invitation from Charlotte to the same damn outing, a tersely-worded letter from Mokuba about the demerit he had received for arriving without his school supplies, and finally an invitation from the parents of Rose to talk about the children's little romance.

Seto glared at that letter. This was ridiculous. The kids were fourteen, and had spent a few weeks attending parties and operas together. Mokuba may have bought Rose a few little gifts, but the wording of her mother's letter made it seem like Mokuba had proposed marriage.

Seto sighed and closed his eyes, rubbing the bridge of his nose. He couldn't ignore this. Mokuba was already mad at him, and if he snubbed his little girlfriend's parents, and Mokuba heard about it…

"I'm so glad you could make it, Mr. Kaiba," Mrs. Kensington said as Seto joined her and her husband at the table.

Seto nodded, seating himself across from the pair. The Kensingtons had chosen one of the finest restaurants in London and informed him in the invitation that they would pay for everything. Perhaps to show off their wealth and their hospitality, as if the teenagers really were prospecting marriage.

"What exactly is it you wished to discuss?" Seto asked. "Has Mokuba offended you in some manner?"

"Oh, no. No, no, of course not," Mrs. Kensington said quickly. "Mokuba is a darling."

"Quite a fine upstanding young man," Mr. Kensington added.

"Rose is quite smitten," Mrs. Kensington went on. "Perhaps more than I originally thought, and Mokuba seems to be as well. He has given our daughter three expensive gifts now. The locket, the swan, and the broach."

Seto had no knowledge of the broach, but he didn't ask. "And what do you think is going to happen now?"

The Kensingtons looked between them. Seto could tell from their expressions that they now believed they might have overestimated the situation and that a Kaiba-Kensington match was not welcome by him. However, they were saved from responding right away by the waitstaff coming to take their orders. Seto only glanced at the menu and placed an order without caring what he ate, though he had to sit through the Kensingtons choosing carefully among the offered dishes. At long last they made up their minds and the waiter left.

"Well," Mrs. Kensington started, in answer to Seto's question. "The dears do seem quite taken with each other. Our Rose does go on about Mokuba. He has made quite the impression on her."

"Yes, quite, quite," Mr. Kensington agreed.

"We might have to prepare ourselves for a more serious matter than a mere childish infatuation."

"I'm sure that's exactly what it is," Seto said dryly.

The parents exchanged glances again and the atmosphere changed. Mrs. Kensington looked at Seto with a colder stare, clearly choosing her words carefully.

"Is there something Mokuba has said? That he..." She paused. Despite whatever had caused her to now seem angry, she was trying not to offend Seto.

Seto had enough of the dodging around to spare offense. "That he what? Be blunt- I prefer it."

"Very well," Mrs. Kensington said after a brief hesitation. "Has Mokuba given indication that he is merely stringing Rose along? Does he intend to break her heart, for fun?"

Seto sighed and sipped his water. "No. Mokuba seems to be quite as fond of Rose as she is of him. What I meant was, they are a pair of fourteen-year-olds, and going to separate boarding schools. I believe it is precisely a childish infatuation, and won't last. On either side."

"I was Rose's age when I met Charles. I knew right away he was the one for me." Mrs. Kensington gave Mr. Kensington a glowing look and he smiled at her.

In truth, Seto's parents hadn't been much older. Sixteen and seventeen, respectively.

"Still, I think it's a bit early to be planning for the wedding," Seto said.

"That isn't really why we asked you here," Mrs. Kensington admitted. "I know it's early. But I did want to get to know the older brother of dear Mokuba. You are his primary caretaker and the head of your house. Rose and Mokuba are... well, not courting, per se, but involved. It is only proper to know the family of the young man wooing our daughter."

Seto sighed, wondering if there would ever be a time when he wasn't being bombarded with requests to be someone's best friend. He had no interest in this nonsense.

His mind drifted to Atemu. He wondered if the King had gotten any better. Pneumonia was no laughing matter, and it would be a cruel thing indeed if Yuugi got his wish even though Atemu had survived the sabotage at the lake and sent his cousin away to France.

Seto wanted to go and see him, he realized.

"Seto, darling!"

Seto was pulled from his thoughts and looked up. Charlotte was standing beside the table, a bright smile on her face. Mr. and Mrs. Kensington smiled at her.

"Hello, Miss Jones," Mrs. Kensington said. "Do you know Mr. Kaiba?"

"Very well," Charlotte said with a coquettish giggle. "We've known each other a long time, haven't we, darling?"

"Would you like to join us?" Mrs. Kensington asked, gesturing to the empty seat between herself and Seto. "Go on, dear. We'd be happy for you to."

Mr. Kensington got to his feet and Seto reluctantly did the same. Looking ecstatic, Charlotte immediately settled herself down without waiting for one of the men to pull her chair out, setting her little clutch bag on the corner of the table. Seto and Mr. Kensington sat back down. A waiter, ever vigilant in this high class restaurant, immediately came to ask if she wanted anything. She only asked for a tea, then turned back to the table.

"I do hope I'm not imposing," she said, though it was clear she wouldn't have left even if she was.

"Not at all, dear," Mrs. Kensington said. "That's a lovely dress."

"Thank you! Your own is so beautiful. Wherever did you get it?"

Seto wanted to pick up the knife on the table and puncture his eardrums, then slit his wrists for good measure. He glanced at Mr. Kensington, who looked about as thrilled with the conversation as he did. He turned to Seto and asked him about business. Though it was hardly better, Seto was glad to be distracted from the conversation about the latest dresses a famous boutique in downtown London was selling. As they were talking, the waitstaff brought the dinners, though Seto ignored his.

"Darling, I was so happy to run into you," Charlotte said, abruptly turning to Seto. "You never seem to go anywhere, so I was ever so surprised." She made a pout, then smiled. "You're sure I'm not interrupting?"

"No, no," Mrs. Kensington said. "We were just discussing Mokuba and Rose, actually."

"Oh, they make such a cute couple!" Charlotte squealed, looking at Seto quickly, as if to see whether she had earned any brownie points for her praise of Mokuba. "And of course, a family union with a Kensington…or a Kaiba…is a great honor."

"Thank you, dear, that's very sweet of you to say," Mrs. Kensington said.

Seto knew Charlotte had not been looking to compliment the Kensingtons. It had been just another unsubtle suggestion directed at Seto. He stared back at her impassively. Her smile faltered briefly before it returned and she turned to Mrs. Kensington again.

"I'm having a little get-together for Valentine's next month. Just a little thing, hardly a trifle. Would you and Mr. Kensington like to come? I'll be ever so happy."

"Why, that sounds lovely, dear. Charles might not be able to make it, but I'd be glad to come."

"Wonderful. And surely you'll come, won't you, Seto?" Charlotte looked at him. "I don't know if my invitation has made it to your house yet. The postal service is ever so slow."

"It arrived yesterday."

"Oh. Well, you won't have to bother mailing a RSVP, because I'm right here." She gave a silly little giggle.

"I won't be attending."

Charlotte's smile faded entirely. "Why, darling? Surely, you don't have something that conflicts? I could change the date, I suppose, but that'll be such a bother."

"It doesn't matter what the date is, I won't be going."

Mr. and Mrs. Kensington looked at Seto with surprise, and disapproval for rudeness on Mrs. Kensington's part. Seto ignored them both, staring right at Charlotte, his expression cold and hard, willing her to get it through her head that he was not interested in her and never would be. Perhaps it did this time, because her face crumpled up a little and she looked like she was holding back tears. But rather than begin to cry—Mrs. Kensington's shushing and reaching toward her was brushed off—Charlotte jumped to her feet, knocking her chair back with a squeal of chair legs against wood floor.

"You never accept my invitations!" she shouted.

The conversation in the restaurant died. Mrs. Kensington looked around and then tried to quiet Charlotte down, but she was having none of it. On her feet, glaring down at Seto, her eyes were shiny with tears, but her teeth were bared in a snarl. Ignoring everyone else but him, her voice was rapidly becoming shrill.

"You are the rudest man I have ever met! Why don't you ever accept my invitations? Or anyone's?"

"I have no interest in your silly little parties," Seto said calmly. "You aren't just throwing a party or asking me to another. You're trying to get me to court you, even though I have no interest in you and have tried to make it clear."

Mrs. Kensington looked scandalized and even Mr. Kensington looked shocked. As Charlotte stood there, shaking, her eyes even shinier with tears, he looked between them.

"Now, that's not really necessary, is it? Bit rude, don't you think?"

"Seto knows all about rude," Charlotte said, her voice dropping to a low pitch filled with venom. "It's all he ever is, to anyone."

"What can I say? You wouldn't take a polite no for an answer. So I had to get tough."

"Would it have killed you to say yes once? You went to Alexandra's party!"

"She's not trying to marry me."

"What's wrong with me? You never showed the slightest interest in me, ever! Or anyone. No woman is good enough for you, I know. Some of my friends have had the joy of being on the receiving end of one of your nasty invectives. You never seem to like anyone." Charlotte's eyes narrowed and she frowned. "Why is that?"

Seto continued to stare passively at her, ignoring the fact that the whole restaurant was sitting and watching the spectacle. "What does it matter? None of you silly girls interest me."

A tear ran down Charlotte's cheek, but she still was furious. "That shouldn't be. People talk. Your behavior is strange. You should be going to all the gatherings, socializing with people our age, courting… and you don't do any of it. You stay locked up in your manor, like a strange hermit. It's weird."

"What would you know?"

"Mr. Kaiba!" Mrs. Kensington exclaimed. "Isn't that enough? People are staring, and you've hurt the poor girl's feelings."

"I should almost be used to it," Charlotte said before Seto could answer. "Seto, darling, you're the most vile, arrogant *sod* I've ever met."

At the Kensington's scandalized gasps at the harsh language, Seto didn't move. He couldn't help a faint smile to tick his mouth, and it only made Charlotte angrier.

"Smile all you like. You treat everyone like they're beneath you, and that's going to get you into trouble. You'll have no friends." She wiped furiously at her wet cheek, then snatched up her clutch from the table. "No one."

Seto smiled wider. He stood up from the table. "I'll try not to let the sorrow become crippling."

Charlotte slapped him. Seto stared down at her in shock and fury, but Charlotte was just as angry. Shrieking now, she went for his jugular.

"I hope you get knocked down a peg, you sodding pouf!"

Charlotte turned and stalked out of the restaurant. Mr. and Mrs. Kensington got to their feet as well.

"Well, this dinner *has* been most illuminating about you, Mr. Kaiba," Mrs. Kensington said as Mr. Kensington laid some money on the table. "If this is the way you act in public to harmless sweethearts like Charlotte Jones, I don't think I want my Rose having anything to do with the Kaibas."

The pair turned and left. The people in the restaurant were still staring, so shocked that the silence was complete. Seto turned and left the restaurant, hearing the whispers starting even before he had passed through the doors.

tbc…

A/N: Sorry about the lack of updates. I meant to have this out two weeks ago, but as I said in my other story, I've worked, had finals, and moved, so it got side-tracked. Please read and review and enjoy!