Joey was nervous. The only reason Seto called people into his personal office nowadays was to fire them. He walked into the main lobby, briefly noting that the clock read six, and shook some rain droplets from his coat.
"Maybe I shouldn't have hugged him," he wondered as he got into the elevator.
Cautiously, he entered the room, only to find Seto standing with an envelope in his hand, which he handed to Joey. It was bulging with cash.
"What the hell –"
"It's your salary. It just so happens to also be the amount your sister needs to pay the hospital."
Joey's eyes had doubled in size. "How did –"
"Let's go! Stop standing around like a moron!"
Joey sprinted through the hospital hallways towards Serenity's ward, envelope in hand and Seto following behind. In full speed, he turned a corner and crashed into a woman in her late forties.
"Sorry – Mom?"
Mrs. Wheeler looked older than her age. Her dusty brown hair was frazzled, and wrinkles creased her face. The first thing she did upon seeing her son was grab the envelope out of his hand.
"Shameless brat! Serenity's situation is your fault, you know!"
Joey's eyes widened as Seto's narrowed. "What?" they said simultaneously.
"You useless punk! Wasting your own life away wasn't enough; you just had to drag my precious daughter into your reckless street ways!"
People were beginning to stare.
"Mom, I don't understand …" Joey's voice quavered.
"If Serenity hadn't undergone all of the stresses and dangers of being with your disgusting crew – why, flying through the sky on a blimp, being sucked into a virtual world where she was chased down by rhinos! – she wouldn't be going b- blind again!"
"Wait a minute –" Seto began, voice low.
"You're worthless! Just like your father … I don't want to see your face!" She was screaming now, hysterical.
Joey turned and ran.
"Joey, wait!" Seto sent her a glare that could have left her cold on the floor, before turning and running after him.
The small drizzle had turned into a vicious downpour, and the streets were empty as people sought shelter from the rain. The sound of Joey's footsteps echoed in the emptiness as he ran through the deserted streets, head down and eyes clamped shut. His clothes were drenched, and he couldn't distinguish the rain running down his face from the tears.
"Joey!" A firm hand grabbed his arm and yanked him around, so that he was staring into blue eyes.
"Let go of me," he mumbled.
"Joey, listen to me. It's not true." When Joey was silent, he continued. "Serenity told me what really happened." A pair of honey brown eyes questioned him waveringly. "Earlier this afternoon, I went to the hospital to ask what her fee was, since you wouldn't tell me. While there, I visited her, and she told me what was going on."
"You … what?"
"Yeah, you should have seen her face when I walked in during visiting hours. I asked her to explain what had happened. She hadn't wanted to tell you because she was afraid you'd get really worked up." Funny how that worked out, he muttered to himself. "Her mom – your mom – was facing difficulties at work, and one night, when she was particularly stressed, she threw a vase at your sister, and it hit her in the eye."
"… What? …"
"Your sister's regression has nothing to do with you, but in your mother's eyes, you were the easiest to blame."
"I … Even so, she's right. I should have protected Serenity. I should never have let her get into those situations. What sort of a brother am I if I can't protect my little sister? She's probably better off without me … everyone's probably better off without me …"
"No! Your sister needs you, your friends need you, and …"
And what? And what?
And Seto's lips were on his own.
Joey felt himself being drawn in as a warmth enveloped him, shielding him from the cold rain. They were both soaked, and their clothes clung to them the way Joey found himself clinging to Seto. He smelled like velvet nights and candlelight. He tasted so soft. And I need you.
Slowly, tenderly, Seto pulled away. "Now, what was that cheesy fortune cookie line of yours? 'Don't let anyone tell you what you're worth, because you're priceless.'"
Joey's blush deepened. "Ya know, when I gave you that line, I did it differently."
"I can't help it if I do things better."
"Bastard," Joey murmured as he nuzzled his face into Seto's chest. Six o' clock would never be the same.