RECAP OF PREVIOUS CHAPTER: In Chapter 40, Kaiba and Yami duel to see who would win the dubious prize of staying behind so his comrades could use the three VR pods to go home. When the duel ends in a tie, they realize they have to find a way to go home together.

On the way to that realization though, Yami tries to win the duel by relying on all of Kaiba's faults coming out under stress, trying to save Kaiba's life by drawing out Kaiba's weaknesses to win.


Aladdin reaches out his hand to Jasmine and says, "Do you trust me?" Of course, since this is a Disney movie and he's the hero, it's perfectly safe for her to do so even though she's about to jump out of a window or onto a flying carpet.

Cinderella needed to see a pumpkin turn into a coach to believe she was going to the ball. Jasmine only needed to see Aladdin's smile. Which one was the wiser?

Or does faith just come more naturally to a much loved and pampered princess that it does to a disinherited scullery maid?


Jounouchi was behind the counter at Kame Game Shop when I walked in the door. He pushed himself upright with a grunt and came forward to greet me.

"Your turn," he said.

I nodded. I was glad to help mind the store. I'd been doing it ever since Jounouchi had told me that they were working on a VR pod so that one of them could go help Yugi and the rest.

"Thanks," he added. "Sugoroku came home with me but I wanted to let him get some rest. He's pretty badass, but he's getting old, you know? This has taken a lot out of him."

"No problem. Glad to do it," I said as I took his place behind the counter.

I meant it. At first, I'd just wanted to be busy. Watching the store was better than hanging out in an empty apartment. But I'd come to like working here. I liked having kids come in, even when they pushed each other into the shelves and left greasy fingerprints that I had to clean all over the counter. I liked watching the older ones come in in a pack, laughing and joking with each other. I loved the way the younger ones would go to their parents, toys clutched tightly in their fists, giving them the pleading looks all kids learn – the one that says without words that they know their parents are going to come through for them. I liked seeing them leave excited with their purchases. It was like a story that kept repeating over and it always had a happy ending. Best of all, I was a part of it. The Spirit of the Ring hadn't taken my life with him when he'd left.

I'd expected Jounouchi to go, but he shook his hair out of his eyes and leaned against the wall next to the cash register.

"We finished the VR pod," he announced.

I stared at Jounouchi, trying to make sense out of his words. I'd assumed that once it was finished he'd be the one using it.

He started pacing the narrow alley in front of the counter. He stopped, then said, "Pegasus is there... in the virtual world. I watched him get in the pod and vanish just like the others. I don't know what the hell I was thinking, agreeing to something like that. But Pegasus said that he had these duel monsters that could help the guys, and Anzu said we should trust him and all I could think was that Yugi would probably agree to give him a chance… and then Pegasus was gone, VR pod and all. That was our one shot at helping them. I just hope we did the right thing."

"Yugi would have done the same," I assured him.

"Yeah, but Yugi trusts everyone," Jounouchi said gloomily.

"No he doesn't. Not really." I said. I flushed as Jounouchi stared at me. It's hard trying to explain things. "Yugi trusted me to help, but he never trusted the Spirit of the Ring. Yugi's kind, not stupid. I've never seen him believe in the wrong guy."

"He's too nice. He got himself beaten up defending me even though I was picking on him and stealing his stuff," Jounouchi argued.

"And he was right about you," I reminded Jounouchi.

"I miss him," Jounouchi said, slouching a little more until he was huddled into himself.

"Me, too," I answered.

He folded his arms across his chest and looked down. His hair flopped back in front of his eyes. He pushed his bangs aside and looked at me. "You really think it'll be okay?" Jounouchi asked.

I nodded, although I was far from sure. Jounouchi must have been satisfied because he let out a sigh of relief.

"It's been odd working with Isono and Fubeta and all," Jounouchi added as he straightened up a little. He took a look at my blank face and said, "You know, the two guys with Kaiba all the time. Isono's the one with the sunglasses who call the duels."

I'd never known their names.

"Why?" I asked.

He frowned and dug his hands into his pockets. "I don't know. It's weird being around people who like Kaiba."

I laughed at that.

"It's not just because his name is on their paychecks either. The thing is…" he said, digging one toe of his scuffed up sneakers into the linoleum tiled floor, "I think they're rubbing off on me."

I laughed again.

"It's not funny," Jounouchi said, giving up pawing the tiles in favor of going back to pacing in front of the counter. "I swore that I'd never forgive Kaiba, not unless he apologized for trying to kill us – and even then I'd check the windows to see how many pigs were flying overhead. But the stuff they said… it got me thinking about Noa's World. Destroying KC's weapons factories, making games, letting kids into KaibaLand for free… going crazy just so he could give Mokuba a home… that's not too shabby. I remember you saying something like that at Duelist Kingdom."

I thought back. It had been one of the worst times of my life. Despite everything I'd done, the Spirit of the Ring had returned, forcing me to admit just how weak I was, how powerless when it came to anything that mattered.

"I guess I just needed to hope that someone could escape," I said.

"Escape what?" Jounouchi asked.

"Whatever's out there." I paused. Anything I added would be more about me than Kaiba, and I was used to keeping my thoughts locked tight (not that anyone but the Spirit of the Ring had been interested, anyway), but friendship's about risk. I said, "My father went all the way to Egypt to try and get away from my mother and sister's death. I wanted to escape someplace where that didn't hurt. It didn't work out."

"Running never does," Jounouchi said. He looked more serious than I'd ever seen him. "With my dad… I joined a gang. I might have gone back to them, but I met Yugi. He saw someone cool, someone who could be a great friend, and I wasn't going to give up on that." He shook his head. "Kaiba doesn't strike me as someone who'd take an escape route even if you wrapped it up in a ribbon and gave it to him for his birthday. He's a total jerk, but I got to give him two things: he's an amazing brother and he's crazy brave. Cutting and running just isn't in his playbook."

"He designs games," I pointed out.

"Yeah. Ain't that a kick in the pants? A tough-assed competitive guy like Kaiba making a bunch of kid's games."

I'd never said more than a few words to Kaiba, and I didn't know a thing about whatever compulsions were riding him. But I'd heard Kaiba's history and after working here, I knew why he made games. They were an antidote to death.

Jounouchi shook his head and laughed. "I must be getting soft. I not only let Pegasus waltz off with the VR pod we worked so hard to build, but I'm even starting to think Kaiba might not be such a bad guy."

"His game is about people changing, isn't it?" I reminded Jounouchi.

"Yeah, but I'm not playing it," he said, flinging himself into a chair. "I'm just there as a stupid NPC."

I smiled. The line between virtual and reality is a lot thinner than that, at least it always had been for me. "You're getting see to the most amazing virtual world ever designed. I'd give anything to be in your shoes," I said. I'd been jealous every time Jounouchi or Honda had talked about it.

"You wouldn't say that if you were stuck in a damn dog costume," Jounouchi grumbled.

"It would be worth it," I said. Why did everyone forget that I was the one who designed role playing worlds, not the Spirit of the Ring? And this one sounded incredible.

"I guess you could probably use Honda's avatar if you really wanted to take a look. It's got no personality at all. Even Pegasus couldn't tie it to one of us. But you know, that's a really sucky idea. The psycho is still in there. You don't want to get mixed up with him again," Jounouchi said.

I nodded because it was the easiest thing to do. But the truth was I didn't hate the Spirit of the Ring or even fear him. If anything, I felt kind of bad when I thought about him. Now that he was gone I realized: I had a life. All he had was revenge, and that wasn't anything at all.


I knew a challenge would be coming the minute we left the safe house. We'd just agreed we were going home together or not at all. But I couldn't help remembering the other thing the duel had proved: just how little Yami really thought I'd changed. I should have been mad, even though he'd apologized. But I was tired. I wondered if he was right.

Yami took a look at my face and started in again. "Seto, I'm truly sorry that I didn't show how much I respect you."

I shrugged in place of answering. Yami could have thrown all the times I'd let him down in my face. He certainly had the ammunition. But he didn't. Instead he was acting guilty, as if he'd under-rated Yugi, not me. It was puzzling. I didn't like apologies, anyway. Just like with friendship I'd seen a lot more fake ones than true.

I frowned. The last word I'd use to describe Yami was 'false.' But it stuck in my head all the same. Which Yami was I supposed to believe in? The one who told me everything I wanted to hear, or the one I'd just dueled who felt the opposite?

But I wasn't going to doubt Yami, even if I didn't like the one inescapable conclusion that believing in him led to.

His head was down. I didn't like seeing him like that. Yami didn't do humble any more – or any better – than I did.

"Quit apologizing," I said. "For most of the time we'd known each other, banking on my sense of honor would have been a sucker's bet." I laughed, aware of how bitter the sound was, even for me. "Sometimes it seems like no matter how far we move or how fast, we're never going to leave Death-T in the dust."

"Stop that this minute, Seto Kaiba! Not another word!" Yami yelled.

"You were there," I said, crossing my arms and glaring at him, just as if this was a duel.

Yami squared off against me. Despite the height difference between us he was standing just as erectly. His head was up now; his eyes were glowing blood red as they gazed unblinkingly into mine.

"Yes. I saw you at the worst moment of your life – the one you would give anything to take back. I marched into your soul room. You were defeated and humiliated and lost. I saw the darkness that you'd surrendered to along with whatever was left of your childhood. I saw the hollowness at the core of your being. And I knew that even if you hated me for it, you had the strength to rebuild. I could see, in the wreckage of your soul, the person that could emerge, a man that I'd be honored to know and call my friend. Don't tell me how I feel about you. Seto, why do you keep doing this?"

"Because I'd rather accept that your opinion of me was fully justified than wonder if you've been stringing me along this whole time, humoring me so that we could win this game and you could get Yugi home. I'd rather do anything than that," I said.

Yami's mouth dropped open. He closed it enough to ask, with acid sweetness, "With the sex as an extra bonus?"

I shook my head. "I know better. You wouldn't lie. Not to me, not like that. So what other answer is there? Gozaburo kept telling me that no matter what I did I couldn't escape myself… that he never brought out anything that wasn't already inside of me to begin with." I laughed. "He said I should thank him for introducing me to myself."

"Will you stop repeating every lie he ever told you?" Yami screamed.

I shrugged again. "Even Sugoroku only started talking to me because he wanted to make sure I wasn't going to turn homicidal again on his grandson."

Yami drew in a deep breath, swelling like he'd swallowed a balloon. I waited for the explosion. His breath hissed out slowly. He walked over to me and reached his hand towards my face. I was half-expecting one of our fights to finally turn physical, but he caressed my cheek.

"Seto… are those really the only two choices you see? That either I've been playing you all along or else you're not worth the effort? Can't you see the third way? I wasn't using you. I couldn't stand the thought of you in danger! I didn't care what happened as long as you were safe."

I leaned down and kissed him. I was fine with any answer that made it okay for me to keep doing that. I was all for dropping the whole subject. Yami wasn't.

"You keep trying to trust me… but you don't know what trust is… you don't really believe in it do you, Seto?" he asked.

I stared at him, wondering if after all we'd been through, a wrong answer would make him walk away now that he could. I was afraid to have my pause last too long.

"You deserve my trust," I said.

"That's not an answer and you know it," he countered.

I smiled slightly. I loved the way Yami always called me out on everything everyone else would just let slide. I stood up straight and faced him. He'd asked. He deserved the truth.

"I don't trust happiness. I trust pain, I trust desperation, I trust sacrifice," I said defiantly.

"Sometimes trust is about all those things," Yami answered just as seriously. He closed the distance between us like he always did and hugged me. Then he headed for the door.

"Come on. It's time to go," he said as he walked out.

"As soon as we leave here, we're going to face a challenge," I warned him.

"I know. I think we need to. We're ready for it… and I have confidence in your game."

"How can you keep saying that? Haven't you noticed it's trying to kill us?"

"Only if we're too slow to learn," Yami said. His smirk was firmly in place.

Yami reached the edge of the lake and stripped.

I stared. I understood ambition and pride, but Yami was teaching me hunger. It wasn't just that he was beautiful, that he was slender and strong all at the same time. It was how confident he looked… how he was so comfortable in his body, new as it was; how he could reveal it so unselfconsciously. Watching him stretch and move gracefully towards the water… I was the one who felt naked.

I followed him more slowly, weighing keeping on at least some of my clothes. I felt exposed enough already. Yami entered the lake. As I gazed at his smooth strokes as he moved swiftly through the water, as he made it his natural element – matching him suddenly felt like a challenge, one I refused to duck.

We both reached the other shore – and the end of our sanctuary – at the same time. I'd dragged my pants on and had just started on the bottom buttons of my shirt when the Witty Phantom appeared. I glanced at Yami. He was fully clothed. I frowned at the floor, then transferred my glare to the Witty Phantom.

I hated him. The Witty Phantom had been my jailer when I'd been trapped by the Big 5 in their virtual world. He'd belittled me, taunted me like I was still helpless and under Gozaburo's thumb, like he could just pick up where my adoptive father had left off.

"Feeling a little exposed are we, Kaiba-boy?" He stared at my half-bared chest. "Not a bad body, if a bit on the skinny side. Was it all the missed meals?" the Witty Phantom asked, smoothing the lapel on his pinstriped suit and straightening his tie with a white-gloved hand.

I could tell myself that the Witty Phantom was just a playing card; that he didn't have a personality, but each time I looked into his sneering face none of that mattered.

"Fuck off!" I yelled.

"To sink to your level of childishness, you're going to have to make me," he said.

"Gladly," I snarled. I wasn't going to summon my duel monsters. I called in my dual kodachi instead and ran towards him, only to bounce backwards, as though I'd hit an invisible wall. I landed on my ass in the sand.

"Congratulations! You made me use up a trap card to block your attack. Now I only have 13 left. Luckily that's my favorite number. Are you ready to continue – using your cards this time instead of your fists?"

"If that's the way you'd prefer to lose, that's fine with me," I snarled.

"You always were such a recalcitrant child," he sighed.

"I'm not a child, and you're not my adoptive father – but keep going the way you are and you just might wind up like him."

"I'm curious… given your feelings, why do you keep me in your deck?" he asked, playing with his indigo hat like the answer was of no importance.

"You're useful," I replied.

He smiled. "Such a pragmatic child."

Given we were facing the Witty Phantom, the duel started out straight-forwardly enough; we were sending each other's monsters to the graveyard at a pretty good clip with each exchange. The Witty Phantom confined his preference for head games to his card selection; each monster had been picked to piss me off. Like Yami, he was trying to throw me off my game by getting me mad.

The ice monster I'd fought weeks ago returned, only to be dispatched by Yami's Summoned Skull. The Marauding Captain who'd destroyed my GPS tracker, leaving me with no way to figure out where Mokuba was or how he was doing came next. I wanted to face him myself, but I ended up delegating the task. He died under the Rabid Horseman's hooves. I could only be thankful that, like us, the game could use each spell or trap card only a limited number of times; I didn't have to worry about a Dragon Capture Jar. My dragon was waiting in my hand. I hadn't unleashed her yet.

We'd been playing this game so long, it was harder and harder deciding which monsters to choose for each challenge. Just like in a regular duel, we could only use three of each, and if they were sent to the graveyard, they'd be useless to us for as long as the game lasted, unless we burned a spell or trap card to bring them back. It had made sense at the time; I hadn't planned on getting stuck in here for weeks on end.

Despite how ordinary this duel was turning out to be – or maybe because of it – each exchange had me more keyed up than the last. Boring and routine weren't in the Witty Phantom's playbook. Ambushes were.

As if he was answering my thoughts, the Witty Phantom sprang his trap. Golden cords worked their way around my torso. They pulled my arms back, tied my hands behind me.

"What the fuck?" I yelled as three swords, each as tall as I was, slammed into the earth, forming a circle around me. As long as I could fight, I felt free. Now I was helpless for the next three turns. I could throw as many monsters as I wanted on the field. I couldn't attack with any of them.

The Witty Phantom grinned. "An accomplished duelist like you doesn't recognize Swords of Revealing Light when he sees them?"

Of course I did. If there was one card I hated (besides the Witty Phantom), this one was it. Every time it was played against me I could see my father heading to his bedroom after working too late to spend the evening with us, stumbling a little as he walked past my and Mokuba's room. I saw him turn to wave at me as I watched through my half-open door, powerless to make him look in on Mokuba, too. I could feel the whoosh of the car door slamming after our relatives dumped us at the orphanage as casually as you'd take out the trash. I could hear the staff at the orphanage lecture me after I'd turned down yet another family, ordering me to give up my hopeless dream of finding a home for me and Mokuba. Swords of Revealing Light was everything that had ever held me back, that had tried to hold me down, put into card form.

I stopped struggling briefly as the Witty Phantom played his next card. Suddenly, a star appeared, shining down on us, although it was still day. A blinding light sprang up, separating Yami from the Witty Phantom. It was Sword of Revealing Light's partner: Wall of Revealing Light. Now Yami couldn't attack him either, while the Witty Phantom could pick off our monsters or send demons to the field to attack us directly.

Yami smirked, like the Witty Phantom had just fallen into his trap instead of the other way around. He stared into my eyes as he set the Trap card, Ricochet. With Wall of Revealing Light in place, Yami couldn't attack the Witty Phantom directly. But Ricochet provided a way around that. If I set up my monsters for Yami to annihilate, when he destroyed them, the full power of their attack would be turned against the Witty Phantom.

I'd never seen Yami use Ricochet before, even in tag team duels. I hadn't realized he'd even heard of the card.

"You only get to pick seven cards per challenge in advance. How did you know to make that one of them? I designed this virtual world, and it never occurred to me," I said.

"Because I trust this game, and you don't. I have faith that, although it might kill us, it's trying to teach us something. Because I'm listening to it and you're not. It's that simple." Yami paused for emphasis, commanding my attention. "Because I'm willing to push this as hard and as far as I have to… until you understand, until you admit – not that you want to trust me, or that you'll try to trust me – but that you already do. I know you can. Prove me right."

I felt myself icing over, as if I was still fighting the frost demon. But this ran deeper, straight to the bone, burrowing inwards, telling me that I was alone, that I was always going to be alone, that believing anyone could care was the stupidest and deadliest illusion of all. It was the ice-cold certainty of my life. For all that it lived side by side with a burning rage, neither had ever been able to melt or quench the other.

"If you know the game that well, why didn't you give me a heads up? Instead you arranged things so I was the one sending my monsters to the graveyard, not you," I snarled at him.

Yami stared at me. His eyes had opened so wide that, except for the color, he could almost have been mistaken for Yugi.

"This is why I love you," he said wonderingly. "Every time I'm completely sure of myself, you manage to knock me off balance. I'd have taken an oath that this challenge was about you – that it was your ability to trust, even when it seemed to go against your own interests, that was being judged. But it's about my arrogance as well, isn't it? I was so sure I knew what was going on, that I knew what you needed to do … but suddenly this duel is about how I keep making mistakes just when I feel at the top of my game. I've insulted you twice in less than a day, and both times all I wanted to do was help. And as mad as you are, I know you know that." Yami laughed. "Maybe this duel is about trust after all, and its lessons are meant for me as well."

I glared at Yami, although the person I was really mad at was myself – for letting Yami disarm me so easily. He'd just admitted that he'd been so high-handedly full of himself he'd put my monsters – my Blue Eyes White Dragon – in jeopardy. And here I was listening to him like a little child being told a bedtime story, wanting Yami to find a way to make it all right for me to believe in him. The Witty Phantom laughed at my dilemma.

"Well, it's easy to see who calls the shots in this relationship. Then again, causing collateral damage is what you're good at, isn't it my little weapons designer?" the Witty Phantom crooned.

That remark tipped the balance. I was still so furious at Yami that I couldn't talk. But I was going to do what he wanted. I summoned Genesis Dragon.

"I know what it's like to sacrifice your monsters, how it hurts when they go to the graveyard," Yami said.

Yami had the Black Magician on the field. He was slightly stronger than my dragon, but my dragon was more powerful than anything the Witty Phantom had shown us so far. Best of all, every time Yami destroyed my Genesis Dragon, the beast returned to my hand, ready to be sacrificed all over again. It seemed appropriate – hadn't I come into this game looking for a genesis of sorts? And I still had my Blue Eyes White Dragon, the card that I had always counted on to light the way to my future, in my hand. I was hoping against hope I wouldn't have to offer her up for sacrifice. We each only had a few cards left – enough to last until the end of Swords of Revealing Light.

But that was like asking for luck in a nightmare.

The Witty Phantom played Ally of Justice Nullifier. As Yami destroyed the Genesis Dragon, the ricochet took out the Witty Phantom's monster, but Nullifier's effect ensured that my dragon would stay in the graveyard. Stone-faced, I put up an Ally of Justice of my own – Ally of Justice Clausolas – for Yami to destroy.

I knew it wouldn't be enough.

It wasn't. The Witty Phantom put his last monster on the field. There was only one way to destroy it.

Yami equipped his Black Magician with the Axe of Fools. I wondered if it was another apology. Now his monster was powerful to take out my dragon – and the fallout would destroy the Witty Phantom's last monster, taking our foe down with his final demon.

"It's time, Seto. Do it," Yami told me. He said it quietly. It didn't matter.

I felt myself grow numb. I'd once said that unity meant that Yami expected me to do what he ordered. Now we seemed to have come full circle.

"She's not just gone for one challenge. You know how this game works. Any monster killed is gone for the entire session – and who knows how long that's going to last, unless I use up one of my last two Monster Reborns," I hissed at him.

The Blue Eyes White Dragon was my future. Yami knew that. I'd sacrificed it once for Mokuba. Now Yami was telling me to do it again. Yami looked at me, his eyes laser-bright, cutting through the frost starting to form in mine.

"I know what I'm asking for. It's the only way to win," he said.

"Because you set it up that way!" I raged at him.


I looked at Yami, at the naked plea in his eyes. Had it always been there? Yami wasn't demanding my obedience. He was asking me to forget his blunders and remember only him… who he was, what we'd shared… to believe in him even when it meant laying down my dragon for him to destroy.

"Are you really ready to throw the card that means your future away on his say so? Maybe your adoptive father was right about you after all," the Witty Phantom said, watching me as intently as Yami.

"There's more than one way to reach your future," Yami said. "I promise, even as you lay your dragon on the field, it will still be lighting the way forwards."

I nodded and summoned her. As she stretched her wings, magnificent as always, I felt, briefly, the cords tying me to my past, to the certainty I carried like another briefcase – that trust was a weakness, that belief was a danger I couldn't afford – fray just a little further. I'd been ready to destroy my future. Could a new one, like the Phoenix Reborn, rise out of its ashes?

"I promise," Yami repeated as his Black Magician attacked. My dragon exploded in a burst of light, taking the Witty Phantom's last monster with her.

"Damn you!" I hissed. I had no idea why after Yami had just ordered me around like he was still a pharaoh and I was his serf, had just admitted that he'd set up a strategy that conserved his monsters while sacrificing mine, I'd taken one look into his eyes and done what he'd wanted.

I hurt with the loss of my dragon.

I glared at Yami, expecting him to look smug or superior, expecting him to gloat since he'd been proven right. We'd won the duel, and I expected him to tell me that that was all that mattered. But Yami's eyes were still wide open. No one would mistake him for Yugi though – he didn't look innocent; he looked haunted and somewhat lost.

He said, "I'm the one who learned something about trust… that it's most precious when it's least deserved. Thank you."

At Alcatraz, I'd thrown Yami a card. He'd put it in his deck without hesitation, without even looking at it, ignoring Jounouchi yapping away at him that it must be a trap.

"You trusted me in your duel with Malik even though you had no reason to. I haven't forgotten," I said.

"I always have reason to trust you. I know you. Remember that as well," Yami answered.

The swords disappeared. The cords from Swords of Revealing Light were still around my wrists however, tying my hands behind me. I struggled to get free, wondering why they hadn't vanished.

Mocking laughter interrupted us. The Witty Phantom applauded lightly. "Such a touching ending to this little morality play we've been engaged in… the lovers reunited, the villain vanquished, life lessons learned..."

"Speaking of that… we won. Shouldn't you be dead?" I asked.

"Don't worry… my demise is imminent," he said as he strolled up to me. He grabbed my shirt and pulled it over my head, further trapping my arms in its sleeves.

"Consider it a parting gift. You did say I was useful," he said, as his form disintegrated.

"I don't get it," I said, still straining to work the cords loose. "Why didn't these bonds vanish?"

"I think I'm going to enjoy this part of the challenge," Yami said thoughtfully. Then he grinned. His face had the same predatory look as when we dueled. He shrugged off his blue school uniform jacket, then stripped off the shirt under it. My lips suddenly felt dry. I licked them lightly. It didn't help.

Yami called in Respect Play, the card that lets duelists see each other's hands. Suddenly I saw myself through Yami's eyes: half-naked, hamstrung by my own shirt, wrists bound behind me. I looked like some random piece of porn off the Internet.

I don't know what Yami was getting from me as my half of Respect Play – confusion, probably. There's nothing right about being tied up and helpless… but this was different. I suddenly was aware of just how exposed I was, but although it made me squirm, it wasn't unpleasant. I was suddenly, almost painfully, aware of just how easy it would be for Yami to reach out and stroke my chest… to play with my nipples. How he could unzipper my pants while I stood bound in front of him.

The last thing I should have felt was desire. It went against every lesson that had ever been beaten into me, broke the rules that had been carved into my being along with each scar. I shouldn't be vulnerable; I shouldn't cede control to anyone or anything.

Most of all, I shouldn't find it hot, I shouldn't be leaning into Yami's touch, half mad with desire, I shouldn't be straining towards him so he could take my mouth as a prelude to claiming the rest. Yami kept insisting what we were doing wasn't a game. But it was a challenge. Everything is. I knew how I was supposed to feel: furious, ashamed and humiliated. But I didn't.

Standing here, tied up and half out of my mind with excitement was an odd place for an epiphany… unless it was about how good Yami's tongue felt, how it made me want to do things I'd never done – like beg for more – but I suddenly got something about trust in a way I never had before. It wasn't just about trusting Yami to have my back. I'd been doing that for a while. And hard as that had been, it was the easy part.

I trusted Yami to look at me half-naked and bound in front of him, one step away from pleading with him to finish the job and take me – and see what I'd never quite believed: that none of it added up to weakness. Even more, that in an odd way I was moving forward; I was fighting my own self-imposed taboos on what I could think or feel. That even tied up and helpless, I was still Seto Kaiba. I trusted Yami to see that, to believe it, even though I wasn't sure myself. I trusted that just as usual, Yami saw something in me even when I wasn't ready to see it myself. That he believed in my own strength just as I'd always believed in his own solidity, even before he'd proved it by fucking me senseless.

I knew with a sudden horrible clarity that I was never going to be able to hang onto this moment. I was never going to expunge the past and be someone different, someone that knew how to trust easily or well– and when I thought of how I had to protect Mokuba from the world we lived in, I didn't even want to. I was never going to be Yugi. And then I realized: Yami knew that, too.

I expected Yami to tell me that he expected better from me or that I'd disappointed him again. But Yami took my face in his hands and said, "It's okay, Seto. Let's fight one battle at a time."

His voice was husky, choked with desire. He stood on tiptoe; his mouth fit perfectly against the curve of my neck, his teeth worked the skin before he settled down to sucking as deeply as he could. Maybe it was an effect of Respect Play, but it was hard to tell which one of us was moaning. I could still sense Yami's desire; it mingled with my own until the matching strands were impossible to pick apart.

And he must have been reading me loud and clear because Yami was doing everything I wanted but had never asked for, at least not in words. His fingers trailed down my chest to play with my nipples, flirting from one to the other, teasing them until they were hard pinpricks, until I felt the ache down to my toes. I leaned in without thought, without plan. He didn't kiss me; he fucked my mouth with his tongue. I could feel his blood heat, feel it rush to his head then his groin as if it was surging in my veins instead.

I could feel Yami's heart race as he reached for the waistband of my pants, as he slid the fastening free, as he undid the zipper. I could feel his breath catch at the way my hipbone fit into the curve of his hand, as though it was made to rest in his palm. I was used to viewing my body as a weapon or a high performance machine; no one had ever taken such a simple joy in it before. And the pleasure he was taking in looking at me, in caressing every inch of skin, was stoking my own desire, like kindling thrown on an already out of control fire.

Luckily I didn't need my hands free to call in a card: Remove Trap. It swept Respect Play off the field. Yami was still caressing me; it was still hard to tell where his body ended and mine began, whether the ache I was feeling was mine or his. I bent towards him.

"The Puzzle is yours. Take it," I said hoarsely.

"Why?" he asked.

"I don't need it. And I don't need Respect Play… I don't need to see your thoughts to believe you care. I don't want to have the proof in front of me – not while we make love. That's what trust is, isn't it?" I asked, suddenly unsure.

His eyes went wide again. Once again, thankfully, he looked nothing like Yugi. "It is indeed," Yami said, sliding the Puzzle from my neck to his before pushing off his pants.

I felt Sword of Revealing Light's bindings disappear. I probably could have shrugged my wrists out of my shirt. But I didn't.

"I'm ready," I said. I meant it.

Yami grinned. I guess you can't make as many speeches as Yami without occasionally stumbling over exactly the right words.

As he reached for me that final time he said, "Of course you are. Trust is the ultimate aphrodisiac."


Thanks to Bnomiko for betaing this chapter and encouraging me to keep Kaiba tied up.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: A funny thing happened on the way to completing this chapter. I'd written a first draft and I was as sure as Yami that I knew what the duel was about: Kaiba was going to have to set up his cards for Yami to destroy to show that he trusted Yami, even when it went against his own self-interest.

Then Kaiba opened his mouth and asked Yami why, if he knew or guessed what was coming well enough to choose Ricochet as one of his seven cards, he didn't give Kaiba a heads-up. I admit my first response was to pretend I hadn't heard him and finish editing the chapter without his interference. But as soon as I heard it I knew that not only was that exactly what I thought Kaiba would say – but that he had a valid point as well. It wasn't just Kaiba's flaws on display here, but Yami's as well. He was totally high-handedly sure that he knew what Kaiba had to do. Just like in the duel in the last chapter, Yami's intention was caring, but his execution left a lot to be desired.

And then I realized that this chapter really was about trust after all – just not in the way I'd expected. Because sometimes trust isn't about trusting someone because they don't have any faults – it's also about knowing someone so well you trust who they are, even when they make mistakes, even when in trying to shore up your flaws they reveal their own.

I'd love to know what you think. Comments are appreciated.

Review Note: I reply directly to all signed reviews. I post responses to unsigned reviews on my Live Journal account. The link is on my biopage. Anyone who wants to see a summary of all my responses can also check it out. Responses to the previous chapters will be posted when a new chapter is updated.