Author's Note: This is strictly a one-shot. There will be no sequel. I have worked on this story for months. How many months, you may ask? Several. Since the beginning of last year, actually. To be honest, halfway through this story, I got sick of looking at it. I put it away for a few weeks, but then I got back into it. That's how long this story took to write.
Also, don't ask where the lemon was. I specifically made this without a lemon. I will not be making a lemon. This story is better without a lemon. That is final and set in stone.
I must also warn you now of how long this story will take you to read. I'm sure you've seen how many words this story is. Let me put this in perspective: My chapters of things have been ten to twelve pages. Stupid Cupid, if you've read it, was twenty-four. This story is seventy-two pages long. It's a fucking long story.
That being said, enjoy!
Mokuba knew Seto was going to be pissed. However, Mokuba also knew that his own temper was flaring as he was dragged down some dark alley. He was seventeen; he was too old to be kidnapped now! If this didn't stop, then—
He dug in his heels and growled angrily. "Legg' mm, bmmhm!"
What confused him, however, was that his kidnappers (what appeared to be lower Yakuza men) had made sure to stay behind him, thrusting and prodding him to walk ahead as they traveled past warehouses to get to the docks. Every time he stopped, they forced him forward by hitting or shoving him. He wanted to know why he had to go first. So this time, instead of submitting to the pain as they hit him, instead of stumbling forward when they shoved, he stayed firm and refused to move.
One of the men circled around to grab the collar of his shirt and drag him forward.
Mokuba's eyes widened as a fist shot out of nowhere, slamming into his attacker's jaw. He heard a snap, and then the man was on the ground, tumbling a dozen feet before he came to a stop, groaning. The teen yipped into his gag as he was dragged backward a few feet and looked up at his attackers, but they were eying the shadowed area the fist had come from warily. Turning his attention to it as well, he soon learned why they were so tense.
Slowly, an old, worn sneaker slid into view, followed by ratty old jeans, and then a green jacket with a few blood stains on the cuffs. Finally, a dark, dirt-smudged face came into view, topped with a filthy mop of blond hair that was pulled back into a long, knotty ponytail. What caused the bone-chilling fear, however, was the pair of dark, wild brown eyes taking each of them in.
This stranger had blindly attacked a man, broken his jaw, and was looking at the rest of them like he was going to eat them, as well.
The blond eyed each of them before nodding his head at the teen suddenly wishing they were still on their way to God-knows-where to do God-knows-what to him. "What's that?"
The man on his left was quick to answer. "I-it's nothin', Mad-Dog. Just some kid."
The man—Mad-Dog, apparently—narrowed his eyes for a moment. "…Whatcha doin' withim?"
"T-the boss just told us t' grab him. Dunno what he wants with 'im."
Mad-Dog tilted his head, upper lip curling upward in distaste. "Your boss int' scrawny whores?"
Mokuba would normally be offended, but for some reason, he believed that he would be in more trouble in the blond's hands than any Yakuza boss that wanted him. It was best if Mad-Dog thought he was a useless whore.
When the men couldn't answer, the blond tilted his head the other way with a thoughtful expression. "…He c'n get another whore. This one's mine."
"B-but Mad-Dog, the boss wants this one!"
Mokuba gasped as Mad-Dog punched the man on his left as quick as a flash, and he heard a sickening crack of bones as he slammed into the wall beside them.
"I want this one," Mad-Dog stated coldly. "I letcha do ya dirty work down here. I want this one."
"C-cool, cool, Mad-Dog," the last man stated, thrusting the teen forward as the other man with the broken jaw hurried over to their fallen friend. "J-just stop beatin' us around. The boss won't feed ya if he hears you're beatin' around his men."
"I c'n get mah own food," the blond snarled. "Ya think I d'pend on him fer ev'rything? 'm not just some lap dog like you."
"Whatever, man! Whatever! Just take him with our blessings!" he exclaimed, before going over to help the other man with their fallen comrade.
Mokuba watched them leave, somehow feeling his heart drop as they got out of sight. He never thought he'd wish for his kidnappers to come back.
Mad-Dog eyed the younger boy for a few moments, eyes narrowed, before he smirked and reached out to ruffle his mane of black hair. "You were a squirt last time I saw ya. Yer lucky they're too scared o' me t' talk back."
Mokuba stared at him in confusion as the blond began untying the ropes around his wrists and undoing his gag. When he saw the playful glimmer in the man's eyes, however, he recognized him. "Joey!"
Joey blinked at him for a moment before smiling bashfully and reaching up to touch his hair. "Yeah, I guess I would be hard t' recognize. Haven't seen a barber in a long time."
"…Or a bar of soap…" Mokuba muttered in disbelief. "…Or a meal!"
Joey was, indeed, frighteningly thin. His bottom ribs were just barely visible, and with the amount of muscle he had, he obviously wasn't getting enough food to sustain them.
The blond's smile was sheepish as he zipped up his jacket. "Nah, I just haven't—'s not like I need t' bother with—Hey, let's get ya home. Kaiba's probably worried sick about ya." He tilted his head. "Ya got yer cell phone? Ya should call him and let him know you're okay. I'll go 'nd get my clean set o' clothes, and then I'll take ya home, 'kay?"
Mokuba watched in disbelief as the blond walked over to the warehouse opposite them and shimmied through the small window there, then got his cell phone out as if in a daze. Fourteen missed calls and five text messages. He dialed his older brother's number and frowned thoughtfully, mind already reeling with ideas and thoughts.
"Seto? Yeah, I'm okay… No, I'm okay—Damn it, I don't have much time, so just shut the fuck up and listen to me!" He took a deep breath as his brother went silent and tried to calm himself. "Joey's bringing me home. Yeah! Joey Wheeler. Yes, you have to be civil with him, because he just saved me! …Seto, I think there's something wrong with Joey. Will you talk to him? …Try to help him? He… he looks like trash, and we both know he's not. …Just have a big meal and a pair of scissors ready for when we get there." He paused as he saw Joey wriggling back out of the window, then quietly added, "And a set of clothes for him. He should fit into my clothes."
He forced a smile as the blond walked over to him; his clean clothes weren't any better than his old ones. He just wore a white shirt with a smatter of red spots on the sleeve and a different pair of ratty jeans. "So how long have you been out here, Joey?"
Joey's eyes glazed over slightly as he thought, but then he just smiled and began walking. "You know, it's been years since I've seen anyone, really; I visit Yug' and Tristan every once in a while, just so they know I'm alive, but I don't do that very often because they always look so sad t' see me. I know I look bad, but really—there are people worse than me!"
Mokuba blinked at the blatant disregard for his question. But, considering the obvious fear his kidnappers had of him, he supposed he understood; Joey must have done something pretty bad to have the Yakuza walking on eggshells around him. "…Just who could be worse than you?"
The blond frowned, brows furrowing together. "…Crack whores, prostitutes, an' cage fighters. Ya know, I used t' be a cage fighter," he continued, either unaware of the younger boy's horrified expression or just not registering it. "But they didn' feed me good, so I started losin' fights, and my masters started losin' money. They were gonna throw me in the trash, but I got outta there. I may have snapped one guy's neck, though…"
Mokuba swallowed thickly, then forced himself to smile and nod when the blond looked back at him like a puppy looking for approval. "As long as you're safe now, I guess."
"They still leave food out fer me, sometimes. 'cept I gotta pick around the mold and watch for poison. Ever since I had t' drop out an'… Ya think yer brother would let me have some food, Mokuba? It doesn't even hafta be good food, just somethin' you're throwin' out—"
The younger boy couldn't help the tears forming in his eyes in frustration and disgust for Joey's current behavior and appearance.
Seto raised an eyebrow as he saw the blond walking up beside his little brother, then turned his head. "Lita?"
The brown-haired maid turned toward him sharply, eyebrows raised. "Yes, Mr. Kaiba?"
"…Ready a bath. –The closest bath tub there is!" he added quickly. "And as quickly as possible, thank you."
She stared at him for a moment before nodding slowly. "Yes, Mr. Kaiba."
"…You'll see the method behind my madness in a moment."
Lita did not stick around. He hadn't really expected her to.
Turning back toward the door as it opened, he raised an eyebrow as his brother held it open and slowly coaxed the blond in. The younger man appeared much too agitated though, and was glancing around nervously.
Good God, Joey looked like trash.
Seto waited until Mokuba got the door closed before he made himself known. "Mokuba."
Joey flinched and turned hardened eyes on him. Mokuba launched an aerial attack that he hadn't seen for years. "Seto!"
"Oh—Fuck—You're too old for this! …I'm too old for this!"
Mokuba sat up and stuck his tongue out at him. "Yeah, working all those long nights have given you the body of an old man." Hopping to his feet, he placed his hands behind his head carelessly. "Anyway, since Joey saved my ass, I figured the least we could do is feed him. Is dinner ready?"
"Number one, that simple explanation does not fly. Number two—Mokuba, help me up." Once he was back on his feet, the brunet huffed. "Number two, I'm fairly certain that simply feeding him is not enough to repay him for saving your ass. …No matter how much he might argue otherwise," he added sharply, making the blond shut his mouth before he could start arguing. "Number three, stop cussing. And number four, I'm not letting that filthy mutt in my house. He can stay, but he needs a bath and a hair cut. I don't even want to bother thinking about trying to brush it."
Joey began backing toward the door, scowling. "I never asked for no charity, Kaiba. I'll just go—"
"Mr. Kaiba, the bath is ready now—Oh my God, you're tracking dirt all over my clean floor!" Lita shrieked, hands flying to her cheeks in shock.
The blond jumped at the volume of her voice and tried to bolt like a frightened animal, but then the older man caught him around the waist, lifting him up off the floor quickly. "YAI—LEMME GO! YEEK!" He yelped like a frightened pup, too.
"Stop running around," Seto ground out, struggling to keep the blond's old sneakers off the floor. "You're just getting more dirt everywh—for the love of God, Wheeler!"
Joey let out a frantic shriek as he was thrown over the brunet's shoulder and began clawing at his back, kicking hysterically as he was carried from the front hall. "Lemme go, lemme go! Bastard! BASTARD!"
"Mokuba," the older man called over the blond's excited shouts. "Grab one of my sweatshirts and find a pair of pants that will fit him. …And hopefully some underwear."
"PERVERT! Lemme go I swear I'll rip ya t' pieces," Joey snarled, clawing even more, before letting out a yelp as the brunet literally threw him into the bathroom. "Yipe!"
Seto slammed the door shut and glared at him momentarily; his feet had connected with his body and his ribs ached, and the blond probably hadn't cut his nails in a while; he could already feel some of the scratches beginning to bleed, even through the barrier of his shirt. When the blond only glared back at him, however, he considered it a personal challenge.
Joey couldn't help a frightened yelp as the brunet lunged at him and tried to scramble away, but then he heard a rip and he felt his shirt being torn from his body. He turned with a snarl and scratched him across the face. The brunet didn't flinch, however, and then he felt his jeans being pulled down his legs. He scrambled wildly to get away, whining and whimpering as the older man dragged his pants off, knocking off his old sneakers in the process.
Seto struggled a few more moments before letting out a frustrated roar and tossing him into the tub. "Damn it, Wheeler! Calm down!"
The blond flailed wildly and scrabbled at the side of the tub before the older boy grabbed his head and shoved him under the water. Panicking, he inhaled, only to have his lungs immediately filled with water. When he was allowed up, he began coughing and spluttering helplessly.
Seto waited for the blond's water expulsion to subside before he coldly asked, "Are you going to clean yourself now, or do you need me to do it for you?"
Joey lifted a hand quickly, as if to touch his face, then stopped, frowning. After a moment, he looked around, then slowly reached for the bar of soap. He froze again, then hesitantly looked up at the brunet. "…Cut m' hair tie out?"
Cutting the hair tie from the blond's hair proved to be easier said than done. His hair was tangled around it and knotted in it and he couldn't figure out how to cut the hair tie without cutting off a great deal of his hair. Luckily, though, it was tied at the halfway point, so he'd only be missing about a half a foot of his… hair down to his mid-back.
"I'm going to have to cut some of this off."
Joey froze again, eyes widening. "…How much?"
"About half of it."
The blond gasped quietly, then bit his bottom lip. He liked his hair long; it helped with his appearance of being wild, scary—a feral dog, for lack of a better term. He didn't bite the hand that fed him as long as the hand that fed him didn't try to force him to do anything. That's just the way it was. If he lost part of his appearance, then—
He couldn't help a high-pitched scream as he heard the snip of metal cutting through hair and he felt half of the weight on his head leave him. "What did you do t' me?"
Seto scowled. "Calm the fuck down, damn it. We'll trim the edges to be the same length and you'll be as good as new."
"B-but my hair—" Anything else he might have said was drowned out as he was shoved under the water again. "Blllbldblb!"
"Fucking pansy. Are you trying to act like that pink-haired freak Schroeder?" The brunet poured some shampoo into his hands and rubbed them together to work up a lather before working his fingers into the blond's still tangled hair.
Seto blinked as the blond immediately melted under his hands and moaned, then continued to carefully rub the shampoo into his hair, using his fingers to get out the worst of the knots and tangles. Reaching for the showerhead, he turned it on and let it run a moment to get the cold water out, then forced the younger man to sit up straight. "Close your eyes."
Joey allowed his eyes to flutter closed and moaned again as the brunet rinsed his hair out. "Mm… That feels nice…"
"…It should, seeing all of the dirt coming out of it." The older man sighed and used his free hand to help rub the shampoo out. "Put some conditioner on your hair and wash up. I'll come back to help you rinse out your hair, and then after you dry off, I'll cut it to the same length—"
"Can ya just braid it?" the blond cut in quickly, blushing a little as he curled into himself.
Seto stared at the back of his head for a moment before slowly answering, "Lita can braid your hair for you. I'll go see what's taking Mokuba so long."
Joey peered over his shoulder out of the corner of his eye as the brunet left before he slowly went back to cleaning himself. He didn't even want to think about how long it would take him to get as ragged looking as he'd been before the brunet had forced him into the tub; instead, he enjoyed the feeling of being clean for the first time in months.
"THE DEMON'S HAIR IS DONE."
Seto glanced upward, letting his eyes linger for only a moment over the completely saturated black dress and sopping wet hair. Then, he quickly averted his gaze. "Thank you, Lita."
"If you ever ask me to do that again, I'll fucking kill you," she stated, eyes narrowing. "I'm cleaning up the bathroom and going home."
Seto raised an eyebrow, then jumped a little as the blond was booted into the dining room. "Oh God!"
"Yipe!" Joey rubbed his rump and frowned, peering over his shoulder as she retreated, then walked hesitantly over to the table laden with food. After a moment, he lifted his gaze to the two Kaibas watching him. "…'m hungry," he stated quietly, and only sat down when the elder brother nodded. He stared at the food in front of him for few seconds before immediately digging in to the dish of mashed potatoes in front of him—without gravy, without salt or pepper, without anything in it at all; just eating from the serving dish.
Seto stared at him for a few seconds before sighing and opening his newspaper. "When he stops stuffing his face, I'll talk to him, Mokuba."
Mokuba's jaw dropped a little. He had realized that the blond was thin, but he hadn't realized he'd been starving. No wonder those Yakuza thugs had just dropped him and ran; Joey was strong, pissed, and he knew that Joey often gunned for a fight when he was uncomfortable or angry. But he had hunger fueling all of his fires.
Suddenly, he realized why the man in front of him had gotten his jaw broken.
The teen glanced at his brother worriedly. Seto was very good at pissing Joey off even when he was in a good mood. …He didn't want Joey to break his brother's jaw.
"Mokuba, you're going to be late for your club meeting," the brunet chided, not looking up from his newspaper.
Mokuba looked up at him fully, flabbergasted. "I was just kidnapped this morning and you want me to go to my club meeting!"
"I'd rather the press swarm your school and you escape the back way than the press swarm the mansion and none of us leave for days," Seto replied. "Besides, you offered to provide snacks this week, and your fellow club members will be sorely disappointed if you don't show up."
"Oh my Gawd, I forgot!" the teen exclaimed frantically. "What am I gonna take?"
"I had the chef put together a bento of sweets." The brunet finally lifted his gaze to glare at him. "Come home without a sugar rush or don't come home at all."
Mokuba sighed and stood to go. "Okay. I'll be back soon."
"Roland will be watching you in case another attempt is made to kidnap you," Seto added, looking back at his paper after taking a glance at the blond; he'd moved on to the plate of ham.
"Okay. I'll be back, Seto!" He grabbed the bento as it was handed to him and sprinted for the front door.
Joey watched him go for a moment before getting back to gorging himself. He couldn't remember the last time he'd had so much food in front of him! …He couldn't remember the last time he'd had a decent meal!
Seto watched him for a few moments, raising an eyebrow as he went from the ham to the salad, and then to the basket of rolls. A meal that he and Mokuba would have had leftovers of had just been swallowed by one scrawny little man that was swimming in his sweatshirt.
Once the blond had settled down and was gnawing on the bone from the ham, he finally set down his paper and laced his fingers together as he rested his elbows on the table. "Mutt."
The blond's eyes shot up to his face immediately. "…Kaib'."
"…I'm under the impression that you saved my baby brother."
Joey turned the bone so he could better chew on it. "I guess I did. I dunno what some Yakuza boss would want wit' ya though. Just, um…" He blushed and turned his gaze on the floor. "If anyone asks ya about how Mok'ba got back t' ya… tell 'em you're Mad-Dog's real master, 'kay?"
Seto stared at him for a moment, then quietly repeated, "I'm to say that I'm Mad-dog's real master?"
"Well ya always called yerself my master," the blond snarled defensively, turning away from him. His angry expression soon faded into a frown. "'nd one o' the big bosses 's been lookin' at me funny. I asked why. Said he wanted t' clean me up 'nd put me in dresses 'nd do naughty things t' me. Ya wouldn't do that t' me. Would ya? No. Okay, no ya wouldn't. …Hurt. Ya'd hurt me. Ya throw me around 'nd stuff, but ya only wanted me clean, huh?" He set the bone on the table absently, brows furrowing together as he thought. "Yer house 's really clean."
The brunet thought about cutting into his thoughts, but the younger boy seemed to be on a roll. And, he'd always been too curious for his own good; Joey was interesting, like he'd always been, and he felt the same investigative spirit he'd forgotten until he'd seen the blond again begin to rise.
"—'s really clean. 'm sorry I messed yer floor. …'nd 'm sorry I got yer maid wet." He scratched his head absently. "But ya wouldn't hurt me fer that. Just yell. Am I pretty, Kaiba? He said I was pretty wit' my long hair, said I looked like a flat-chested girl. Do I look like a flat-chested girl?" the blond asked, peering up at him nervously from under his bangs.
Seto blinked in surprise at finally being addressed, then slowly shook his head. "You look just like the smart ass punk I knew in high school. Even if you wore a dress, you'd look like a smart ass punk. …Though I'd probably be staring at your legs the whole time. You're a leggy guy."
Joey turned his head away, chewing on his knuckle thoughtfully, then shrugged a little. "Another one said I'd be a good weapon. I can, I guess. Ev'ryone's scared o' me. Be a good body guard. But I sleep. I can't protect anyone when I'm asleep. I'm hungry, Kaib'. Got anymore food?"
"…I could order a few pizzas," the brunet offered, still trying to catch up. Apparently, Joey's attention span had shrunk as the years passed, or he'd had his thoughts broken up too regularly and couldn't remember what was more important. First he had a master, then some Yakuza boss wanted him as a whore, then another as a body guard, then he was hungry again food please and thank you.
"I like pepperoni. Have ya talked t' Yug' lately? I haven't. Is he still datin' Téa? Téa was nice. She baked and brought 'em t' school and let me eat 'em. Is she dancin', Kaiba? She always wanted t' dance. I think I scared yer little brother t'day. Am I scary person, Kaiba?"
The older boy sighed and leaned his head on his fist lightly. It appeared the blond didn't really need any answers to his rambling; he just needed to speak, like he used to.
"I dunno if I'm scary. Sometimes I'm really nice. There's this ratty old cat, too old t' chase mice anymore, 'nd I feed 'im when I got food. That means 'm nice, don't it? Will you take 'im, Kaiba? He's really nice, won't spray yer papers or anything. He's a good kitty. Am I botherin' ya, Kaiba? Are ya ready fer me t' leave? 'cause I can go. Am I botherin' ya?"
"I thought I was going to buy some pizzas for you," Seto replied, unable to help a small smile. "Would you like to move to the living room, Joey?"
Joey eyed him warily, then gave a jerky nod and stood to follow him as he made his way out of the room. "…C'n I take my bone? –No, ya wouldn't want bony stuff on yer furniture. How high is yer couch? Is there a window? Do ya have a mirror in there?" He paused in the threshold of the room, glancing around nervously, then scampered over to the couch and dove onto it, digging at the cushions and quietly singing, "Dig, dig, change, change, dig, dig, change, change—"
Seto's jaw dropped as the blond's torso effectively disappeared. A few minutes later, he popped back up, hands to his chest and looking up at him like a pleading puppy. "Finder's keepers?"
After a stunned pause, he reached out for the blond's hands. "Show me what it is you've found." The small, thin hands opened obediently, showing him a few small coins—not even two dollars, but the blond looked hopeful all the same. "…If you really want it, I suppose you can keep it."
Joey smiled brightly, clasping the change in his hands again and bringing them back to his chest. "Finder's keepers!"
"I'm going to call for pizza. I know you like pepperoni, but can I just order a couple pizzas with everything on them?"
"I like food. Do ya like food, Kaiba?" The blond looked up at him hopefully. "You'll eat wit' me? I don' wanna be a pig 'nd eat all yer food. Will ya eat wit' me, Kaiba?" He squeaked as he saw something glint on the other side of the room and rushed over to it without waiting for an answer.
Seto smiled a little as he watched the blond pull one of the five balls to the side and watch in fascination as it collided with the others and sent the ball on the other side swinging out. "I'll be right back. I'll go order the pizzas, puppy."
"Will it work if I do two balls?"
"Puppy, it will work if you move three balls." The brunet's smile grew as he heard the younger boy gasp in amazement before he left the room to go call for the pizzas. When he returned, the balls were still swinging back and forth, but the blond was in front of the mirror now, touching his face gently. "…See something unusual, pup?"
"…" Joey frowned, then reached back to gently untie his hair and let it fall around his face. "…I look like a girl."
"You only look like a girl because you're so thin and pale. Eat a couple of decent meals and you'll look more like a boy. I promise." Seto smirked a little. "But I guess we don't have to worry about how you're going to eat for a while."
The blond tilted his head a little. "…Kaib', can ya cut my hair a little more? It don't gotta look good, just… like my old hair." He blinked as he saw a drawer nearby, then opened it. Grabbing what was shiny, he lifted it to look at it, then turned quickly, holding his hands to his chest again. "Finder's keepers?"
The brunet sighed and grabbed his hands to see what was inside again. "…Puppy, you can't take the remote; I need it for the TV." When the blond's bottom lip jutted out in a pout, he pried the remote from his hands and put it back in the drawer. "Joey, you don't need the—"
Seto sighed and rubbed his temple.
"I gotta go soon. It'll be dark. I don' wanna walk home in th' dark," Joey commented, then began playing with the dragon plushies he'd been bribed to stop snooping with. "Grr, rawr om nom nom!"
"Keep still," Seto ordered quietly, scowling. "And don't make the dragons nom each other. They don't like that."
The blond paused, waiting for the scissors to stop snipping, then turned and shoved the black plushie in his face. "Om nom nom Kaiba's face!"
"Don't make the dragons nom my face," the older boy ordered sternly, scowling. "They don't like eating humans."
Joey scowled and brandished the white plushie in his face as well. "Om nom nom!"
"Damn it, Joey, don't make me take them away," the brunet snapped, standing up. He sighed when the blond went back to quietly playing with the plush toys as if he'd never annoyed him.
"Juju likes Lily but Lily dislikes the liking. Kaiba? Do dragons have sex?"
Seto nearly stabbed himself with the scissors. Taking a moment to put the hair clippings and newspaper he'd used as a cape in the trash, he set the scissors aside. "I'm sure they must."
Joey paused to look at the two plushies in his hands, brows furrowing together in confusion. After a moment, he set the black one on the ground and placed the white one on top of it; when that didn't seem to work, he turned the black one onto its side and tried again. That didn't look comfortable either. "…How?"
The brunet sighed and looked upward imploringly, mentally asking 'why me?' When no answer was forthcoming, he turned toward the younger boy. "…Well, first, the male wouldn't be on bottom."
"Ah?" Joey frowned. "Blackie's a boy?"
"His name is Ebony and yes, he's a boy," the older boy replied, plucking the animals from his hands. "The white one is Allie, short for Alabaster. She's a girl."
The blond blinked up at him innocently. "…Oh."
Seto sighed and sat down in front of him. "…I suppose, if dragons were to have sex, it would be like this," he decided after a few minutes, holding the two dragons' bellies together in the air.
Joey frowned. "That don't look comfy at all."
"…Perhaps they're having sex in freefall then. They seem to like it a lot, anyway, considering how many dragons there are being vanquished in fairytales. It's like an epidemic or something." The brunet frowned when the younger boy immediately looked up at him with wet, sad eyes. "…What?"
"You… ya won't hurt Ebony and Allie, will ya, Kaiba?" the blond asked, then looked back at the two plushies. "…Why do all the dragons gotta die?"
"…Ebony and Allie aren't going to die," Seto stated firmly, pressing the two dragons into his arms. "I'm giving them to you. You're going to take care of them and make sure no one hurts them, okay?"
Joey clutched the dragons to his chest and nodded, scowling fiercely. "No one's hurtin' my dragons!"
"…I gotta go home now," the blond added, standing up. "Don' wanna be walkin' in th' dark."
Seto sighed and rubbed his eyes tiredly. Dealing with Joey like this was a pain in the ass—but he had saved Mokuba. "Mutt, you're sleeping here tonight. You won't have to walk in the dark."
"…But 'm dirty?"
"You had a bath today, puppy." The brunet huffed when the younger boy tilted his head, then sighed in frustration. "Puppy, I swear, you're clean enough to stay here. Besides, you said I was your master."
"You said ya were my master when we were kids," the blond hissed, glaring at him. "'nd I just need ya t' say that so th' Yakuza bosses won't hurt me!"
"Yes, but they'll obviously wonder why, if I'm your master, I have you living on the streets," Seto replied coldly. "If you expect to be left alone by the Yakuza, you have to act as if I'm your master. And as much of a bastard as you think I am, I take care of what's mine. If I'm your master, you are mine, and I have to take care of you. So just shut the hell up and listen to me."
Joey growled in the back of his throat but said no more, peering angrily up at him through his bangs.
Seto snorted. "That's what I thought. Come on, mutt."
The blond glowered at his back but followed him as he began walking nonetheless. When he was led into a bedroom, however, and told it would be his for the time-being, he dove onto the bed and immediately began mussing it up. "Dig, dig, dig, dig—" When he found nothing of interest, he cuddled up in the little nest of blankets and pillows he'd made and dropped off to sleep.
Seto stared. The blond was awake, and then asleep. Like a light switch. How bizarre. …Though he did look sort of cute, curled up in that nest in the middle of the bed.
Twenty minutes later, Mokuba asked why his brother had a giant bruise on his forehead. Seto had replied that he'd disagreed with his brain and thus had punished it by smacking his head on the wall. Mokuba decided there was a reason he didn't take after his brother.
Joey had only gone back for the cat, Seto decided, sighing, then leaned his face in his hand tiredly.
The cat-creature was mangy, with large bald spots and one of its front fangs was missing. It was a crotchety old thing, too; it was mean to everyone except Joey, who it would treat kindly and sleep in his lap.
So, basically, the cat was evil.
Sighing again, the brunet took a step further into the room. "Joey, I have to go to work. Investigate wherever you want, just… put everything back as you found it." His exasperated expression turned stern. "And if you want to keep anything you find, put it back and wait until I come home from work to ask me for it. Don't just walk around with your hands full of things that aren't yours."
Joey stuck his tongue out at him. "Nyah!"
"…There's food in the kitchen, if you want to try feeding that… rat something, too."
The blond scowled as the older boy turned and walked away. "'is name's Finkleton!"
Joey waited to make sure he was gone before setting Finkleton on the ground and scampering into the kitchen. He couldn't find a lot of food in the fridge, but he did find some canned crab meat. He supposed that Finkleton would like a rich food to make up for all of the times he'd had no food at all. …Finkleton sure gobbled it up like it was crab meat.
Joey looked around the kitchen thoughtfully. If he were hiding expensive shiny things, where would he put them? In the bedroom he'd been given, for sure. Perhaps Seto kept his shiny things in his bedroom!
The blond scampered up the stairs and began investigating doors, looking for the older boy's room. When he found it, he couldn't help a giggle. The room was still covered in Duel Monsters things. There was a techno-looking thing on the desk, along with a screwdriver and some circuit boards, so he figured that that was a work-in-progress.
But the desk looked as good a place to start as any.
The top drawer contained nothing of importance—a few pens, some cards and such, a letter opener, a list of business associates. The second drawer had a box in it, but it needed a key to open. He put it in the back of his mind and went for the drawer second to the bottom. It was filled with spare printer paper. This was turning into a very disappointing endeavor.
Reaching for the bottom drawer, he steeled himself for more disappointment. What he found, however, was nothing like he'd ever have expected.
There were tons of different photos in the drawer, all from a few years ago; photos from tournaments, school photos, candids and profiles. The only thing all of the photos had in common, however… were that they all pictured either him or Yugi. Why-?
Joey frowned as he found a small box beneath the pile and pulled it out in confusion. Did he want to look inside? He was already freaked out by all of the pictures in the drawer; did he need to scare himself further? Well, he'd always been a curious puppy. Lifting the lid hesitantly, as if whatever was inside would attack him, he peeked inside to find a few more pictures. Setting the lid to the side, he turned his attention to the contents.
He gasped quietly. Where had Kaiba gotten a picture of him masturbating? And not only masturbating, but with his fingers inside-! And—and this picture of him sleeping in his own bed! How did anyone get close enough for that? Sure, this was before he'd been thrown out on the streets, so he hadn't exactly been as well aware as he now was of his surroundings, but really! Pictures of him masturbating!
Joey frowned. He thought Kaiba hated him. Why would he have these pictures and not use them against him? He had prime blackmail—he could have used them to put him even further in place than just snarling or making fun of him! So why… why were they hidden away in a box, under a pile of completely innocent photos?
After a moment, he placed the lid back on the box and carefully slid it into his pocket, murmuring a quiet 'finder's keepers.'
Seto was surprised, but not overly concerned when Joey did not immediately accost him at the door, shouting 'finder's keepers' and brandishing something shiny at him. He figured he was investigating the many, many rooms of the mansion. However, knowing how nosy the pup was, he needed to take care of some of his more… personal things.
Making his way to his room, he immediately went toward his desk, opening the first drawer and checking to make sure the false bottom hadn't been messed with. When he saw that it hadn't, he peeked beneath it, just to make sure. His valuable pictures of him with his baby brother (and, though Mokuba would be very embarrassed to hear about it, all of his school pictures) were untouched and safe. He took a moment to look through them, smiling, as he reminisced on how cute and sweet his little brother had been—AND HOW HIS MOUTH HADN'T NEEDED TO BE WASHED OUT WITH SOAP.
The second drawer still contained the metal box that he kept his most important newspaper clippings in—the ones that made him feel things, because sometimes he often forgot what it was like to have feelings, to be able to smile or cry. Sometimes he even forgot what those words meant. So the news clippings, the obituaries, the write ups of achievements, the good news and the bad—they helped him when he didn't feel human. But he didn't need anyone to know about this particular weakness, so he kept them carefully locked away. Not even Mokuba knew about them—especially not that article from that trashy magazine about him, stating that though Mokuba was sweet and caring, his older brother would probably die alone, because anything that got close to him seemed to freeze immediately or scamper away.
That article had really hurt. And he wanted to prove it wrong. Unfortunately, the only person he was interested in had hated his guts, then fallen off the radar, then had showed up much too broken to even try to court—even if he was his master. So he'd continue to pretend it didn't hurt, that nothing could touch him, and forever be the Ice Prince that teenage girls still swooned over.
Seto unlocked the box and pulled the article from its place on top. After the article, the brunet had withdrawn all advertising from the magazine, which had made its stock points dip drastically; however, some rival had managed to save the publication from certain doom. It had been like a slap in the face when the magazine posted further derogatory articles about him. However, when it had finally attacked Mokuba, he'd ruined them. Mokuba hadn't understood his reasoning and had scolded him, which had hurt even more, but… he could honestly say he didn't regret it.
He stared at the cold, painful words for a few moments, then sighed and looked down at the words he'd scrawled at the bottom of the article.
Then he heard a crash downstairs, and a horrified scream. "RAT! RAT IN THE HOUSE!"
"…Fuck. That's Finkleton," Seto mumbled, then hurried to get downstairs and assure his brother that he did not, in fact, have to grab the broom and try to beat the poor beast to death.
Joey watched the brunet zip out of his bedroom and sprint for the stairs and tilted his head, frowning. Deciding that he'd just wait in his bedroom to question him about the risqué photos, he slipped inside and peered around, instinctively looking for any changes.
THE BOX. IT WAS OPEN.
Joey scampered over to the desk and sat down, hand hovering over the different articles. He didn't know where to start. …Perhaps the one on the desk would be a good place to start. He tilted his head a little and frowned as he saw what the writing was about.
Seto Kaiba: Ice Prince for Life
Most people today come to a general consensus. Seto Kaiba is one of the most attractive bachelors today. Most people come to another consensus—Seto Kaiba will always be one of the most attractive bachelors. He's handsome, rich, and intelligent. He's also got the personality of a dragon with indigestion. Despite all of the positive aspects, this man is the least likely to ever have a special someone.
He frightens away all that come close. The only exception is his dear, adorable little brother, who seems fearless. Otherwise, his employees flee at the sight of him for fear of being fired, since he seems to be always having a bad day. He has no friends to speak of, and even if he did, they would only be interested in his money, anyway. He has no hope of finding a lover.
He doesn't even have the hope of finding a pet! He does not have the patience for a dog, which would require his constant attention. A cat would have too much of an ego to compete with his own, so felines are out of the question as well. He'd consider a hamster too trivial for his time and a mouse something that should be exterminated. The only hope any pet would have would be to be a parrot; at least that way it would repeat things he'd said, which seems to be the only intelligent conversation he acknowledges.
In fact, the only thing that would seem to be able to last even a minute with him without freezing to death or scampering away would be a mirror—and then, only because the mirror couldn't scamper away. There is no hope for the CEO of Kaiba Corp. He will die alone, and his body will only be discovered after many weeks of his little brother not hearing from him, because any other sane being would run in the opposite direction—even the stupidest of dogs.
Joey frowned. He admitted he was a little vicious when he insulted the other boy, but he never said anything this cruel to him. He knew Seto had a heart in there somewhere, and would be very sweet to whoever managed to capture his heart. People didn't really run from him, did they? He tilted his head a little when he saw the small scrawling at the bottom of the article and turned his attention on it.
My puppy doesn't run away when he sees me. He snarls and growls, but he never runs away.
The blond took a moment to take this in, then looked back at the box, brows drawing together in confusion. Lifting a picture from the box, he saw it was photo from a newspaper with four children, praising them for a job well done in a science project. One of them was Mokuba. There was another scrawling on the bottom of the photo, too.
They did it by themselves, without help from any adults. I must admit, I'm impressed and proud.
Seto was sweet, even if he never showed it. Another article, however, made his heart break a little, especially when he saw the words written at the bottom. He was big enough to admit that Seto wasn't the most socially… adept human-being, but he knew he wasn't heartless and cared, like this article implied. It was made obvious he had a heart when he saw the messy, jagged lines of the letters.
I'm not a bad person. I have a heart. Don't I?
How badly had he been hurt to wonder if he still had a heart?
Joey jumped as he heard footsteps coming and dove under the desk, for some reason knowing that his presence would not be appreciated. He curled against the desk as quickly as he could as he saw the brunet's long legs extend toward him—then, he crossed one leg over the other, and the danger of his being discovered went down. He heard the brunet sigh and shuffle some things, then the soft clicking of the metal box being locked again. He heard the clack of metal meeting wood, and then the slide of wood against wood as the drawer slid closed.
He heard another drawer sliding open, and the rustling of photos brushing against each other as they were dug through. There was a pause, then more rustling as the digging became frantic. He flinched; Seto was probably looking for the box of… provocative photos that Joey had 'confiscated.' He heard the brunet let out a muttered curse, then his legs were uncrossed and he was twisting in his seat to better face the drawer.
After a moment, the relative silence of the room was broken as Seto called out, "Mokuba, have you been in my photo drawer again?"
Joey winced as he heard a muffled 'no' from somewhere outside, and he bit his bottom lip as the brunet cursed again and began throwing photos on the floor. He watched the pile of pictures grow until the older boy cursed again and stood.
"Have you seen Joey today, Mokie? I have a few things I want to ask him!"
Joey listened to him stomp out of the room, then hurriedly reached out, tucking the box of risqué photos beneath a pile of pictures before he frantically fled the room. He did not want to be killed. Bad dogs were forced into 'the never-ending sleep.' He admitted his mind may have been skewed by his years on the streets, but he was not so stupid that he didn't realize that just taking the brunet's photos (no matter how personal or indecent they may be, they were his) without permission was bad.
He squeaked as he ran into something and nearly fell, but a firm grip on his upper-arm had him upright again. He looked up in confusion and nearly squeaked again when he was met with dark, angry blue eyes. "…K-Kaiba, I—"
He didn't get to say much; the brunet didn't have much to say either, apparently. Joey was jerked out of the doorway and into the hall. That wasn't all, however. He let out a startled yelp as he was given a sharp spank and turned quickly, eyes wide as he clamped his hands over his abused rump.
Seto gave him another glare. "Bad dog! How dare you come into my room and look through my private things!"
"B-but—" Joey began, frowning, but the brunet sighed loudly and rubbed his temple.
"I don't care whatever warped reasoning you used to justify it. You must have known, in the back of your mind, that snooping was wrong." When he saw the younger man look down at his feet and nod a little, he sighed again. "…I don't want to have to make boundaries with you, puppy. I don't think your poor little brain could handle it." When the blond frowned in confusion, he rolled his eyes in frustration. "I'm sorry, puppy. I shouldn't have spanked you. But you shouldn't have been snooping through my private things. Just… go find your cat or something."
Joey winced a little, then hurriedly scampered away, unwilling to risk another spank. He was lucky he hadn't been thrown out on the street—or worse, taken to the pound, or put down. There was no way of knowing what an angry, violated Kaiba could do to him—especially since he'd snooped into obviously private and secret things that not even Mokuba snooped into.
Finkleton was curled up on his bed, unassuming and innocent. Joey curled up with him and trembled a little. He'd never seen Seto look so… tired. Had that been his fault? Was he the reason he was so exhausted, had just given up in scolding him and had finally sent him away?
…He hadn't even gotten to ask him about the photos.
Seto blinked as something bounced off his head, then glanced downward. Seeing something white on the floor, he leaned over to look at it properly. Then, his hand promptly met his face. "Really?"
Joey scampered in, grabbed the white dragon plushie, then smiled innocently and scampered back out. "Allie, away!"
Mokuba giggled. "Well, at least he's having fun."
"…At my expense," Seto deadpanned, then sighed and looked back at his paper. "I thought he'd be too hungry to be a pain in the ass—at least until I was gone."
"Rawr, grr! Kcheeeeeeeee!" There was the sound of heavy footsteps coming back toward the dining room. "Nyooo! Ebil Dr. Schneeee has returned!"
The brunet paused. Then, sighing, he rolled his eyes and called, "And who is evil Dr. Schnee?" He grunted quietly as he felt weight on his shoulder and turned his head to find wide, serious brown eyes staring at him.
"The ebil Dr. Schnee works for Kouguru. Kouguru's the one that said I'd look pretty in a dress, wanted t' do naughty things t' me. Only my master gets t' do naughty things t' me, Kaib'."
As the older man crushed the paper in his hands, startled, the blond happily skipped away, cooing at his two plushies. "What the fuck—"
"I think if he just gets all of the madness out, he has a hope of being sane again," Mokuba commented, before he shoved a piece of toast in his mouth. When his brother looked at him and raised an eyebrow, he expanded, "I mean, sort of like talking to a therapist. If he keeps talking and getting his story out, he may get better."
"He implied that I'm allowed to do naughty things to him," Seto deadpanned.
The younger boy raised an eyebrow. "Don't you want to?"
"Yes, but—that's not the point!" the brunet roared, blushing a little. "Shut up! Shut up, shut up, shut up!"
Mokuba smirked knowingly and went back to eating his breakfast. His brother was cute when he was embarrassed. "Fine."
Seto flinched at the hard-as-stone tone of the voice that had cut through the air like a knife, then turned to see all of his maids lined up in the doorway, one of them holding onto the blond's ear tightly. "…Yes?"
"You cannot leave this boy here alone with us anymore. He startles easily and messes up the rooms we've been cleaning. AS WE'RE CLEANING THEM."
Joey at least had the decency to look ashamed, even as he hugged his two plush toys.
"He leaves the house when you and your brother leave the house, sir," Lita stated firmly, then gave the blond a stern glare. "Go eat and stay out of our hair!"
Once his ear was released, the blond scampered over to the table and sat down, bottom lip jutting out as he stared at his plate. "…'m sorry."
"You will never be sorry enough! I don't even want to know how you got footprints on the ceiling!" one of the maids shrieked, before they all took their leave of the room.
Joey blushed a little when the two brothers turned to stare at him. "…Allie and Ebony took me flyin' an' I accidentally kicked the ceiling."
"…What. The hell." Seto groaned and covered his face. "What am I going to do with you? I can't dump you on Yugi because he's out of the country, dropping you at a doggy daycare would never be taken seriously, and no babysitter would want to watch you!"
"…'m sorry," the blond mumbled, sinking in his seat. "'m sorry."
Mokuba began piling bacon and hash browns onto the blond's plate. "It's okay, Joey. You eat, and me and Seto will figure something out."
The brunet didn't bother to hide his dirty look.
After a thoughtful pause, the younger boy pointed at the two plush toys seated on either side of the blond's plate. "You're supposed to take care of them, right?"
Joey's eyes took on a hardened glint. "Yeah. Kaib' told me that I can't let 'em die. I gotta protect 'em."
"…They really like watching movies," Mokuba commented, pushing a fork into the blond's hand. "And Seto's got this huge plasma TV in his office. You guys can all just watch movies while Seto's working. I can send a few DVDs with you guys to watch while Seto's doing other things."
"…They… they don't like horror or gangster movies, do they?" the older boy asked timidly.
The younger Kaiba smiled. "Oh, of course not! They're dragons, and that just doesn't suit a dragon's fancy, you know."
"They like comedies and adventure flicks. I'll just stick a few of those into Seto's briefcase and you guys can decide what to watch when you get there, okay?"
"…Okay," Joey replied quietly, then turned his big, wet brown eyes on the brunet. "…'m still sorry, Kaib'."
"It's fine," Seto sighed, rubbing his eyes tiredly. "…That's going to bother me all day, though."
"…What is?" Mokuba asked after a moment, frowning.
The brunet gesticulated wildly at the ceiling. "How the fuck did he manage to get footprints on his ceiling? I don't understand how that would happen!"
Seto couldn't help watching the blond as he stared at the large screen in awe, clutching the dragon plush toys to his chest. It was cute to see him so enraptured in a simple movie—something about dinosaurs trying to get somewhere, or something along those lines; Seto had never really cared for movies in general—and he was adorable when he gasped in terror for the main characters. He was so enthralled in the movie that it gave the brunet some time to mull over what he'd been told and what he'd discovered from some hacking.
Joey had first dropped off the radar three years ago—when, Seto had gleaned, the blond had been kicked out of his father's home after reaching the age of eighteen. He had shortly after lost his job, and was too ashamed to go to his friends for help, so had subsequently dropped out of his final year of high school. He'd spent a small amount of time as a cage fighter for a drug lord, but after being treated badly and beginning to lose fights, he lost his temper and escaped, and so assumed his identity as Mad-Dog for two and a half years; he'd been too dangerous and too unstable to try and get rid of without losing a few good men (or lots of mediocre ones), so it was merely easier to feed him the minimum amount and keep him out of the way.
Seto worried that perhaps the blond had seen too much, and was broken beyond repair. He had, after all, had blood staining his clothes, and one could only imagine what all the blond had had to do to protect himself.
Seto jerked back in his chair and toppled over. "Fuck-!" Scrambling upward, he finally managed to stand and looked frantically at the blond.
Joey began to sob and quickly covered the plushies' eyes. "Noooo! Bruton! Bruton!"
…He'd screamed because of the death of a fucking dinosaur? A dinosaur that wasn't even the main character? WHAT THE HELL!
Seto didn't have the heart to yell at him, though, when the blond turned and hid his face in the couch, tucking the dragons under his body so they couldn't 'see' the television either. He was so distraught by the character's death that he couldn't even look at the movie until he got himself under control. It was… endearing, in a way.
Sniffling, Joey turned back toward the television, wiping his eyes idly as he tried to catch up with the plot. "I don't see why ya like this movie. Bruton dies! And he's not even too bad of a guy in the end!" He clutched the plush toys closer and choked back another sob.
"…Joey? Do you need a break?" the brunet asked quietly, frowning.
After taking a few moments to think about it, he shook his head. "No. I'm fine."
Seto was ready to argue that the tears still trickling down his cheeks meant he was anything but fine, but he didn't want to start a fight; instead, he just nodded and sat back down at his desk. Then, he turned back to the papers he'd been looking at before and sighed. His poor, broken little puppy still had a heart of gold.
The pen Seto had been using to sign the paper (his last one, his last piece of paperwork) ripped violently through the paper and scratched his desk with a spray of black ink. Lifting his sharp gaze back at the blond, he couldn't help a furious growl. "Are you fucking kidding me?"
"Neera, don't just walk away! You don't know he's dead! Just 'cause he's not movin' don't mean he's dead! DON'T WALK AWAY!" Joey shrieked, then sobbed and covered his face.
Something was off with this outburst. The brunet frowned, then hesitantly got up from his seat and went over to him. Once he'd sat down beside him, however, he was startled when the smaller man lunged into his arms. "Joey!"
"How does she know he's dead? How can she just leave him like that, without even checkin' on him?" Joey bawled into the brunet's chest loudly. "He could still be alive down there and not able t' scream! She's just abandonin' him!"
Seto held him closer and began to pet the blond's hair. "Shhh, puppy…"
"He wants t' scream for help but he can't—he's got too much blood in his throat, an' he's chokin' on it, an' he can't get his voice to work around th' blood—"
The brunet stiffened, then tightened his grip further and gently nuzzled the top of his head. "Oh, puppy…"
"An' all he can see are their backs as they walk away! He's still alive down there, Kaib'! He just wants help, but no one's goin' down t' check on him! Why didn't they check on me?"
It didn't take a great leap of logic to realize that Joey had gone from crying about Kron to his own situation. He assumed that the blond was talking about the end of his cage fighting days, when he'd been beaten, and his 'masters' had just left him there to die. He hoped it had been the last straw before he'd escaped to the streets. His puppy was terribly neglected…
"They're morons. They didn't value you. I would have checked on you." When he felt the younger man trembling, he began unconsciously placing little kisses over his forehead. "You're so amazing, Joey, I have no idea why they wouldn't check on you. I'm sure you kicked their asses once you got better, though, didn't you?"
Joey mewed and tilted his head up, shivering as the brunet's lips brushed against his temple before he felt his lips travel to the corner of his eye. He squirmed for a moment uncomfortably before letting out a throaty sigh when he felt the slightly-chapped lips sip up his tears. "…K-Kaiba…"
Seto lifted a hand to brush away the tears on his other cheek, then leaned back, smiling a little. "You shouldn't cry, puppy. It's their loss; now you're back with people who care about you."
The blond blushed and lifted a hand to his cheek, brushing his fingertips over the area that still tingled from feeling the older man's lips grazing it. "…Ya kissed me."
"…I suppose I shouldn't have without your permission." The CEO tilted his head thoughtfully, then cupped the blond's cheek and gently rubbed his thumb over his cheekbone. "I'm sorry. I should have asked first."
Joey's cheeks darkened from pink to red as he watched the brunet stand and walk over to his desk. He didn't know why Seto would want to kiss him—would even respect him enough to ask to kiss him—because he was just a filthy mutt. He could have so many other people, so why was he being so kind to him? Giving him the dragons to take care of, cleaning him up, giving him a room to stay in and feeding him—it all seemed much too kind for someone like Seto Kaiba.
That was too much for him to deal with right now. Turning back to the television, he grabbed the dragons again.
Seto slipped as he began to sit and fell onto the floor, letting out a muffled curse as his chair fell on top of him. "Shit-!"
"THEY HAD BABIES! WHEN DID THAT HAPPEN? How did that happen! …Maybe dragons do it like dinosaurs… They all have big tails that would get in the way… Kaib'! How did dinosaurs have sex? Are they like dragons? Were dragons and dinosaurs friends? …Kaib'? …Kaiba…?"
Seto was aggravated by the new questions. …He was even more aggravated when he found himself wondering how stegosauruses had sex.
"Kaiba? Kaib', I can't find Finkleton. Have you seen him, Kaiba?"
Seto refused to uncover his face. How was he supposed to tell the blond that his feline companion had died? The veterinarian had insisted that the cat had been quite old, and it was amazing that it had lived that long in and of itself. But how was he supposed to tell Joey that the cat he'd looked after for so long—his only companion on the streets—was gone forever?
Mokuba had run into his room late the night before, after Joey had passed out for the night, freaking out about how the 'rat-cat' wasn't moving and had been asleep on the couch for hours. When he'd investigated only to find the tiny body cold and stiff, he hadn't known what to do.
Seto didn't really know, either, as they'd never had pets, so he'd put the little body into a shoebox and put it in the freezer. He'd felt so… guilty when he was picking up the small creature and felt just how truly fragile it was. He felt he should have done more to take care of it, then.
Joey frowned, brows furrowing together in confusion. "…Kaiba…? Have ya seen Finkleton?"
The brunet sighed helplessly, then uncovered his face and stood. "Yes. Come on, puppy."
"…Where we goin', Kaiba? Ya takin' me t' Finkleton? All I wanted t' do was feed him. Ya don't need t' go outta yer way, 'specially when he can take care of himself. Where 're we goin', Kaib'?" The blond tilted his head as they came to a stop in front of the refrigerator. "…What 're we doin' here, Kaiba? We gettin' somethin' for Finkleton t' eat? He likes cream. Are we gettin' him some cream, Kaiba-?"
Joey cut himself off as the brunet retrieved a shoebox from the freezer, then looked up at him in baffled realization as it was set in his arms. He understood what was happening, but his brain just didn't want to believe it. "…Whazzis, Kaib'?"
Seto sighed again, then cupped the blond's cheeks gently. "…Finkleton… passed away last night, puppy. The vet said he was very old, and that you must have taken very good care of him for him to have lived as long as he did. But, no matter how well you take care of something, it… it still gets old, and it can't go on." He paused, unable to think of anything to help ease the pain as the blond's face fell into a pathetic, horrified grimace. "…He really liked you, puppy."
"No, he… he was sleepin' when I went t' bed last night. He's just sleepin'. He was fine when I went t' bed. You… Yer lying!" the younger man snarled angrily, holding the box closer. "He was alive when I left him! Then ya put him in the freezer and ya killed him!"
"Joey, that's not what happened—" the CEO began, frowning, but fell silent when the blond snarled at him again.
"Ya killed my cat, ya murderer! Ya grabbed him when he was defenseless, stuffed him in a box, and threw him in the freezer t' get rid of him! Don't think I didn't notice how much ya hated him!"
He realized that the broken boy in front of him just wanted to blame him, didn't want to believe that his cat was dead, but being accused of torturing such a helpless little creature hurt. "Listen, you filthy little mongrel," he began, glaring at him. "If that's your opinion of me, I don't want you here! If you honestly believe that I would torture a helpless animal, then you don't know me at all, and I don't have to suffer through your accusations!"
Joey let out a frustrated sob even as he glared at him. "I hate you!"
Seto couldn't stop himself; his hand flew out and slapped across the blond's face. Unable to deal with his loss of control, the blond's anger, and the look of despair at being hit forming on the younger man's face, he shoved him out of the way (only adding to his guilt when the younger boy hit the counter and whimpered) and stormed past him. Maybe it would have been better to just get rid of the damn thing and insist that the stupid animal had run away.
Joey watched him go, then turned his gaze back on the box in his arms. He slid down to the floor helplessly and began to bawl, crying like he'd never cried before. His companion from the streets had died, and had only enjoyed a few weeks of pampering. He'd deserved so much more—more baths, more expensive, rich food, more brushings and snacks. Now he was gone, unable to partake in and enjoy the perks of living with a billionaire, even if said billionaire didn't care for him.
…But Seto had seemed to have genuine remorse for Finkleton's death; he'd looked sincerely distressed. He'd said good things about the cat, had tried to make him feel better about the feline's demise, and he'd… he'd accused him of murder. After all Seto had done for him, after he'd proved that he cared and wanted him safe… He could have slapped the brunet himself and not hurt him worse.
Seto had held him, had said he cared about him. He'd assured him that he'd have helped him if he'd known where he was, and he'd proved he cared now by keeping him safe and healthy. He'd even entrusted him with two little dragons, had thought he was responsible enough to take care of them even when he had shown he might have trouble just taking care of himself.
Where had he left them? He'd hurt Seto, and now he had to prove that he was still responsible enough to care for the dragons, even though he'd made a mistake. Then, when he proved that he was responsible, he'd try to apologize, that way Seto could see that he meant it.
"Damn it!" Smack. "Damn it!" Smack. "Damn it!" Smack. "DAMN IT!" Smack smack smack.
Breathless, Seto fell to his knees, leaning against the punching bag he'd been abusing even as he continued to try and hit it. "…Damn it… I'm such an asshole…" He laid his head against the bag and sighed, frowning helplessly.
It had hurt. It had hurt to be accused of killing the rat-like cat. It had especially hurt that the blond hadn't even listened to him and had continued to believe him capable of ending the life of a small, innocent animal, especially when Finkleton had looked up to him with his big, yellow-green eyes…
He'd tried to hate the cat, but when he saw how happy it made Joey, he just couldn't.
Seto snarled angrily and punched the bag a few more times, then let out a frustrated sob and leaned against it again. He didn't let any tears fall, though. He didn't deserve to cry. His life had been relatively okay compared to Joey's recently, and he felt the statute of limitation had long passed in regards to anything he'd ever cry about from his childhood.
Just because he was frustrated and angry didn't mean that he had the right to relieve some of the stress by crying. Besides, how was he supposed to be strong for Mokuba and Joey if he cried for no reason? They needed him to be the logical one, the one that wasn't as affected by emotions like they were. He was the rock, the pillar of support that they should always be able to look up to for help.
He allowed himself one more sob, then forced his tears back, trembling with adrenaline and the want to lose his temper. Returning to his feet, he began slamming his fists into the punching bag again, cursing in his head in a manner so violent that he'd probably make sailors blush. His mental cursing grew wilder as his knuckles split open and he saw blood smearing across the brown leather.
He didn't care. How far back had he sent Joey's recovery, yelling at him and slapping him like that? Would Joey even continue to stay with them, safe in the mansion, or would he scamper back to the streets, where the people that supposedly 'cared' about him couldn't hurt him? Was he going to be left alone again, wondering where his puppy was and if he was okay?
Seto froze as a timid hand came into his line of vision. It hovered over his still-extended arm for a moment, then moved over to gently rest on top of his hand; its partner was lifted to clasp his hand between them, and that was when he became aware of just how much his knuckles ached. They were torn open and bleeding, blood dribbling down his still-clenched hands to drip slowly onto the floor.
Joey looked up at him silently, frowning, then looked back at the damaged hand being carefully clasped between his own. After a quick, clinical stare, he reached out to gently work the injured fingers open. He repeated the same actions for the brunet's other hand, then gently took both of them and began walking backward, leading him away from the punching bag.
At that, Seto was baffled. He'd hurt the blond, had snapped at him and shoved him, and yet he was being kind to him in response? This was unusual! He should have been beaten into submission immediately—
…Joey wouldn't lead him somewhere else, murder him, and make it look like a suicide, would he?
"…Stupid Kaiba… Never did take care of yerself, even when we were in school…"
Seto turned his attention back to the blond as he began to mumble to himself. "What?"
"Never eatin' when lunch came, always threatenin' t' jump offa buildin's and almost gettin' 'sploded on islands. 'nd now ya busted yer knucks open. Yer really stupid. Should know better. Yer a genius. …Yer a really stupid genius…"
"…I've been told that before," the brunet murmured, frowning, and sighed quietly when the younger man only shot him a glare. "What do you care if I get hurt or not?"
"Master can't take care o' me if he can't take care o' himself," Joey stated firmly, finally leading him into his bathroom, then had him sit on the toilet. "Stay here. Saw some band'ges in my bathroom…"
Seto sighed again. "I have bandages, too. All of the bathrooms have first-aid kits in them. Mine's underneath the sink."
The blond eyed him skeptically, then opened the cupboard and peeked inside. Seeing that the older man had been telling the truth, he took out the white box and opened it. "…How come it's so dusty?"
"…It's… been a while since I've lost control enough to hurt myself," the CEO admitted quietly, turning his gaze on his feet. He closed his eyes and tried to quash the feeling of shame that built in him when he heard the blond squeak in disgruntlement. "…I don't… mean to do it."
He was answered with silence, but when he felt a cotton ball damp with cold peroxide brush against the scraped knuckle of his index finger, he realized that his puppy wasn't so disgusted with him that he'd leave him to deal with his injuries by himself. …Whether that was a good thing or not, however, was yet to be seen.
Seto watched the ex-thug carefully clean his knuckles before gently wrapping them with the bandages. Once he was finished, he let his hands fall into his lap. "…Thank you." When he still received no response, he sighed and lifted a hand to rub his temple.
"…'m sorry I said ya killed Finkleton," Joey stated after a moment, looking down at his feet and watching out of the corner of his eye as the brunet turned his gaze on him. He scuffed his toes along the floor and shrugged uncomfortably. "…I… I was just mad. I didn't mean t' hurt yer feelin's."
"…I see. I accept your apology, Joey. …And I'm sorry, too. For slapping you and shoving you," the brunet replied, turning his gaze away as well. "…We're both real pieces of work, aren't we?"
"…I used t' work a lot. And I know that ya work a lot, now, too…"
Seto chuckled softly, both amused and saddened at the lack of understanding. "Yes, I do. Mokuba's been nagging me to take time off, though."
Joey turned toward him and frowned, tilting his head innocently. "But if ya didn't work… what would ya do?"
"That's why I don't want to take time off; it's been so long since I've had a lot of free time that I don't know what I'd do when I finally had it." Sighing quietly, the CEO stood and began for the door. "I need to go clean that punching bag before Mokuba and his friends come over for Weight Wednesday. You might want to avoid the gym, since they get a little intense while they're 'pumping iron.'"
"…K-Kaib'?" The blond began wringing his hands anxiously. "…Y-ya won't kick me out, right, Kaib'?"
At that, the brunet stopped, pausing in the doorway to look back at him. "…Right…"
"…E-even if I break my word t' ya?"
"…Yes, for the most part, unless you do something completely reprehensible." Seto turned toward him fully and crossed his arms, frowning as he gazed at the pup in confusion. "Why do you ask?"
Joey seemed to shrink under his attention, his shoulders coming up in a cringe as he took a step backward. Then, he burst into tears, lunged forward, and clung to him. "I'm sorry, Kaib'! I tried t' do whatcha asked me to, but I couldn't—I'm a horrible person—"
The brunet was baffled—more than baffled, actually. He was horrified. "Joey-! What the—why are you—what's wrong?"
"I tried t' find them but I just couldn't! Somebody dragonnapped 'em!" the younger man sobbed, clenching the brunet's shirt in his fingers tightly. "Ya asked me t' take care of 'em and I failed! I should be put down! I—"
Joey gasped quietly as a hand tightly gripping his hair jerked his head back and hurriedly leaned it back the rest of the way, exposing his neck submissively. He whimpered as he heard the older man let out a growl of frustration and readied himself to be spanked or cuffed to teach him his lesson.
He was surprised, then, when the brunet nuzzled his throat and brushed a few kisses over it.
Once aware of what he was doing, Seto jerked his head back and looked away in embarrassment. "…You should never say anything to the effect that you should be dead. I like you too much to lose you again." He paused to think about what the younger boy had been crying about, then lifted his hands to gently brush the blond's flushed cheeks with his thumbs to wipe away his tears. Then, he quietly explained, "I asked the maids to get Allie and Ebony clean. You didn't lose them. They're just taking a bath."
"…So I didn't lose 'em?" Joey asked hopefully, looking up at his face. He felt his heart thump a little harder in his chest when their eyes met, though he had no idea why. He hadn't felt this way since he'd last had a crush on—
"No. They're just getting clean. You're very good at taking care of dragons, puppy. I'm glad that you're taking this job so seriously. …I'm… sorry, I… kissed you without permission again…" Seto frowned and stroked his cheek, then sighed quietly—longingly—before he smiled a little, masking the pain he always felt when Joey looked up at him with only innocent intentions. "I'll go ask one of the maids how soon Allie and Ebony will be finished with their baths. Don't worry; we'll figure this out."
Joey watched him go, mostly happy, but still confused about why Seto had kissed him. Seto had kissed him before, of course, had held him and comforted him. He looked at him with an expression he recognized from his younger, more innocent days—longing, regret, loneliness. There was something else there, though, that confused him, and he wasn't quite certain what that emotion was, but he decided he didn't like it when Seto forced himself to smile, pushing the subject of whatever had upset him away and pretending he was just fine.
That made him sad. Seto worked so hard, but he never seemed happy. He only seemed content with his current lifestyle, like he was okay working all the time, but… it was really sad that he was so used to working that he didn't know what to do in his free time. And he really wanted to make some of the loneliness and longing in the brunet's expression to go away…
Maybe it had to do with the risqué photos he had found that one day, the ones he hadn't been able to work up the courage to ask about after he'd been spanked. …Perhaps now was a better time to ask about them, once Seto was finished speaking with the maids.
Seto looked up from his desk, still frowning. "Yes, Joey?"
Joey took a moment to take in his stance. He was standing, bent slightly over his desk and looking maybe a little angry. Maybe this wasn't a good time to ask him his very personal and invasive questions… "…Ya busy, Kaib'?"
"…I was just looking over some contract proposals. Seems a smaller company is pitching a game a lot like Grand Theft Auto at us, but the copyright would be a bitch, and I have no interest in making a game that they describe includes dog fights. The press would have a field day. …Not to mention all of the animal rights groups," the brunet grumbled in annoyance, scowling.
"…D-d-dog fights?" The blond seemed to physically shrink at that. "…W-wha' company would put in d-dog fights?"
Seto sighed and looked up at him. "Some small company by the name of Mitsuhaori Inc. It's just a—Puppy?" He stood up straight when he saw the blond trembling, eyes wide with terror, then began around the desk toward him. "Joey, what—"
Joey whined pathetically and took a few steps back, distrusting the brunet not to hurt him. He saw the blue eyes widen in surprise and confusion, but then they closed, and opened again, showing a flash of soul-searing pain before the brunet schooled his face into an emotionless stare. He whined again at the blank expression; somehow, seeing the emotional agony before being shut out was much more frightening than perhaps being hurt himself.
Seto lifted his hands in defeat and stopped where he was to keep from frightening him more, unable to help a disappointed sigh. "…What's wrong, puppy?"
The blond let out a quiet keen. "—Don't wanna fight 'nymore! I don' wanna fight 'nymore, Kaiba, don't talk t' 'em!"
"You don't want to fight anymore—For Mitsuhaori Inc? Why would you ever—" The brunet paused, mulling over the information he'd had before and adding to it the information he'd just inadvertently received. "…Puppy?" he asked quietly, then held his hands out to show he wasn't going to hurt him. "Will you trust me?"
Joey whined again, body trembling more, then hesitantly reached out to touch the older man's hand. He jerked his hand back quickly, just in case it was a trap, but when the brunet's hand hadn't even closed to catch his own, he bit his bottom lip and stepped closer to hesitantly clasp the older man's hand in his own. Then, when he saw that he wasn't going to be hurt, he let out a sad, broken bleat and lunged against him, snuggling against his chest in search of protection and affection.
Seto sighed and led the blond over to the couch to sit down. "Puppy, did you… Was the person you fought for—your boss—was his name Mitsuhaori?"
"…Said 'e was m' master. But he was never m' master. You're m' master. Ya always said ya were wh'n we were kids. 'nd ya said yer m' master now. Ya won't let 'im take me again. …Will ya, Kaib'? Yer not gonna let 'im take me 'way?" The blond looked up at him with big, wet eyes, fingers clenching in his shirt desperately. "I'll let ya kiss me whenever ya want, Kaib'. Will ya keep me if I let ya kiss me, Kaib'?"
The brunet sighed again, frowning, and ran a hand through the younger boy's hair. "…Puppy, you don't have to do that. You should never feel you have to offer something to me to keep you safe. I'd do it anyway, and I'm sure you don't want me kissing you." He cupped the blond's cheek when he turned his gaze away and forced him to meet his eyes again. "Was the man you fought for named Mitsuhaori, puppy? Is that why you're afraid?"
"…Called me his little pet, liked touchin' my arms," Joey whispered, beginning to quiver again. "Like some stupid piece o' meat, like I was a horse 'r something'. Called me his moneymaker." He looked up at the brunet and bit his bottom lip. "…I didn't mind when ya kissed me b'fore. Yer a good kisser, Kaib'. If ya wanna kiss me more, I… I won't stop ya. Promise."
"…Puppy, I can't…" Seto sighed and rubbed his eyes tiredly. "…I don't want to take advantage of you; I shouldn't be kissing you right now. Not until you want—not until you acknowledge what I'm doing to you, puppy. I don't want you to look back and be disgusted with me."
"But—" Joey looked up at him in confusion, tilting his head innocently. "…But ya wanna touch me, doncha, Kaib'? Ya wanna do naughty things t' me?"
"Wha—I—How did you—"
"…I saw th' pichers ya had o' me. Fr'm when I was… t-touchin' m'self." The blond blushed and turned his gaze away. "'nd when I was sleepin'. Ya have a whole box o' pichers o' me. Even one when 'm in th' shower. How'd ya get those pichers o' me, Kaib'? Why?"
Seto mouthed at him wordlessly; he'd realized that Joey had taken the box with those pictures in it, but he'd hoped (naïvely, he saw now) that he'd only taken the box because it was silver and shiny, not because of the pictures inside of it. He'd been a fool, of course, trying to believe that Joey wouldn't be smart enough to look inside the stupid box, but he'd hoped…
Well, that probably hadn't helped the blond's recovery any.
The brunet winced at the thought that pictures he'd never intended for the pup to see had only worsened his condition, then carefully pushed the younger boy away. "I think you should leave me alone for a while, Joey. I have a lot of work to do."
Joey frowned and tilted his head again, brows drawing together in confusion. "…Did I say somethin' wrong, Kaib'? Doncha wanna do naughty things t' me?"
"I—" Seto paused for a moment, trying to figure out what to say, then sighed in defeat. "I do. But more than that, I want you to want me back. There's no chance of that happening until you get better—until you're back to the way you were before… this." He paused again, weighing his words carefully, then continued, "You used to be so carefree, so happy and strong, and you didn't depend on anyone; you were your own master. I'd like you to be your own master again, deciding to allow me to touch you, rather than offering yourself because you feel you owe it to me. I'm not saying that I don't like you now—I like you just as much as I liked you then—but I'd like to see that maybe… maybe you haven't changed so much."
The blond covered his mouth and looked down at his lap to try and think over what he'd been told. It wasn't as hard as he thought it would be, really. He was so used to being on the streets, prepared for every thought to be interrupted, but here… he could think. The biggest surprises he got were when maids randomly walked into the room, because they walked like ninjas, but they meant him no harm, so he didn't really worry about them, either.
…Seto had… liked the way they fought? Liked how he would stand up for himself, laugh at himself—protect himself? Protect himself like he protected the dragons he'd left in his care? To be the spunky, smartass street-punk he'd known before?
…To be Joey Wheeler, instead of Mad-Dog?
He decided to test the waters, see if maybe he was wrong, but also to see if maybe—hopefully—he was right. "So…"
Seto leaned in a little. "Yes, puppy?"
"…Ya do wanna do naughty things like watchin' me jack off?"
At first, all the brunet could do was stare, mouth hanging open in both shock and surprise. Then, however, with a light dusting of pink across his cheeks, he got to his feet and roared, "SHUT UP! GET OUT! GET OUT RIGHT NOW!"
When he heard the blond giggle like a moron as he ran out of the room, however, he saw a spark of mischief in those big brown eyes, and to be honest… he'd missed that.
But moving on to other matters.
Going back to his computer, Seto scowled. He was going to do some serious hacking to figure out just who exactly his puppy had been broken by and how his former master was doing business with Kaiba Corp. despite obvious ties to the Yakuza. Seto usually made sure that the ties were only questionable, not completely apparent.
Then, once he figured out who and what he was dealing with, he was going to completely crush them.
Seto scowled and lifted his hand to catch the plush toy as it was thrown at him. "I reveal my hidden trap card, Busy CEO. Your attack is rendered Ineffective."
Joey whined quietly. "That's not fair!"
"Neither is Allie and Ebony giving you a flight and forcing my maids to get your footprints off the ceiling. They wanted to tie you up and throw you in a closet."
The blond frowned and hugged Ebony to his chest. "…I didn't mean t' make 'em mad…"
The older boy sighed and stood up from his desk, walking over to slide his arm around the blond's shoulders. "You were still getting used to living in the mansion. They don't mind you and your idiosyncrasies now, puppy."
Joey blinked up at him in confusion. "…My what?"
"I'm sure they like you now, puppy," the brunet added quickly, tucking the white dragon into his arms. "Stop making Allie attack me. I don't think she likes it."
"Oh. …'m sorry."
Seto smiled and brushed his thumb over the blond's cheek. After realizing what he was doing, however, he pulled his hand away quickly and went back to his desk. "Joey, I want you to look at something for me."
The ex-thug smiled brightly, hugging the plush dragons close. "Okay. 's it a card? I like cards. It's been a while since I've played cards. How long 's it been since you played cards, Kaib'? Have ya—KYAAAAAA!"
Joey let out a screech and dropped the stuffed toys as he turned and bolted away from the desk. "No! No! No, no, no!" He screeched again and began tugging at his hair wildly, disoriented and confused but knowing that he needed out. "No! No!"
"Shit!" Jumping to his feet, Seto rushed over to grab his wrists, to keep him from hurting himself. "Joey, wait—fuck!"
"Lemme go, lemme go! No! NO! AAAAAHHHHHH!" The blond pounded on his shoulders frantically and tried to jerk away. "I don't wanna fight! I don't wanna fight! Don't make me fight, Kaib'! I don't wanna fight!"
Growing frustrated, the CEO scowled and roared, "You don't have to fight, you idiot!"
Joey whimpered and hit him a few more times, then let out a helpless sob and snuggled against his chest. "I don't wanna fight, Kaib'! Don't make me fight!"
"I'm not going to make you fight, Joey!" Seto cupped his cheeks and frowned. "I'm sorry. I should have warned you. I didn't mean to upset you."
"I don't wanna fight!" the blond wailed against his chest, sobbing. "Don't make me, Kai—Hm-!" He shuddered as the older boy's mouth was crushed against his and fell limp against his body, trembling as he was held close. "Mm!"
Then he was moved toward the couch and helped to sit. He felt helpless. All he wanted to do was kiss and kiss and kiss, because the brunet's lips had been so soft and warm, so inviting, but he knew that Seto didn't want him until he was better. "Mm… Seto…"
"…If I'd known it would frighten you, I would have warned you. I'm sorry." Seto frowned, then tilted his head a little as he knelt in front of him. "…You recognized that man, didn't you, Joey?"
"He made me fight-!" Joey began, ready to begin crying again.
"Do you remember his name?"
"Mitsuhaori-samaaaaa!" the blond wailed, then buried his face in the older boy's chest and sobbed. "Kouguru Mistuhaori Sir! He liked t' touch me and feel me up and—" He stilled as the CEO let out an angry rumble and peered up at him with wet eyes. "…K-Kaib'?"
"What if I hurt him, puppy? Would you hate me if I hurt him? If I sent him away in pieces? If I made sure he couldn't touch you again?" Seto frowned seriously. "Because I'm going to. I'm going to make him wish he'd never set eyes on you."
Joey blinked up at him slowly, unaware of the tears he sent rolling down his cheeks at the action, then sniffed. "…Yer gonna hurt him? Yer gonna make him sorry for touchin' me and—and makin' me fight?"
"I'm going to punish him." Seto caught the blond's shoulders and gave them a small squeeze as his brows furrowed together angrily. "I'm going to buy out his company. I'm going to tear that company into pieces. I'm going to sell each piece at prices far below what they're worth to his rival company. I'm going to falsify his bank records. He'll be in debt. Millions of dollars in debt." He let out a quiet growl. "If the banks don't get him, the Yakuza will. If they don't kill him and auction off his organs, he'll be left out on the streets, penniless—worthless."
Worthless. The man that had abandoned him after a failed fight would be considered worthless. After all of the horrible treatment—scraps of food, poisoned meals, gangs trying to beat him up—the man responsible for it would be worthless. He normally wasn't a vindictive person, but…
"If he lives… will you cut off his hands and rip out his tongue?" Joey asked slowly, reaching up to grab the brunet's wrists. "He touched me a lot, but he liked touchin' little boys more."
Seto stared at him for a moment, surprised, but when he realized what he'd been told, his lips twisted into a decidedly alarming grin. "His hands and his tongue, puppy? He'd definitely have no way to communicate, then."
"…His penis, too. I want all of 'em cut off." The blond growled angrily. "I wanna be there. I wanna watch it. Ya gotta let me watch, Kaiba."
"If he's not killed and his organs auctioned off, and if no one in his family decides to help him, then yes. In fact, I'm quite certain that Roland will help us with that."
Joey smiled up at him sweetly. "Okay. I'll wear my good ass-kickin' clothes then."
Seto knew he should be alarmed. Joey didn't like hurting people unless he was in a bad mood, or if he thought it was justified. Even then, he certainly wouldn't want to mutilate anyone. However, seeing him so excited about this one man's demise… It made him incredibly happy to see the blond showing that old spark of anticipation, and while the circumstances were far from ideal… it would probably help in the blond's recovery.
And he'd be lying if he said he didn't want to see Mitsuhaori suffer, too.
Joey was disappointed that the Yakuza had decided to try and cover their losses and sold off Mitsuhaori's organs.
Seto frowned and leaned his head against the doorway as he crossed his arms. His puppy was depressed. He hadn't thought he'd be so sad that he hadn't got to make a man suffer at his own hands.
He couldn't make Joey understand that, despite how angry he was, the blood on his hands would never come off. He'd feel guilty about it, later. His thoughts wouldn't be so—
"So he's gone?" Joey asked dully, staring out the window.
Seto nodded. "Yes. He's gone."
"Oh." He dipped his head a little, staring at the wrinkles his pants made in his position. He used a finger to gently smooth one out and watched as two more replaced it on either side. "…I think I need help, Kaiba," he stated after a few minutes of silence.
The brunet raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"
"…Yeah." Joey twisted the hem of his shirt in his hands anxiously. "…I like the way ya kiss me, Kaib'. I like how ya hold me and how ya touch me. But… I know ya said that ya don't want me like this. 'nd I don't like bein' like this, either. I feel like I'm in pieces, an' I just… I just wanna be whole again," he explained, tears forming in his eyes as his voice finally broke on the last word. "I feel broken, Kaib'. I just wanna glue the pieces back t'gether." He buried his face in his hands and began to cry.
Seto walked over to him and gently pulled the blond into his arms so he could cry into his chest. "Come here…"
"Kaib'? Kaib', will ya help me put my pieces back t'gether? I want ya t' help me." He gripped the brunet's shirt tightly. "Will ya help me, Kaib'?"
"Of course," the CEO answered quietly. "I'll always help you. I'm your master, right? I need to take care of you."
Joey sniffled and snuggled closer. "Want. Want ya t' take care o' me. Take care o' me, Kaib'."
Seto nuzzled his mop of hair gently, lifting a hand to stroke down his back, then sighed. "I'll start calling around tomorrow to find someone who can help. Would you prefer to talk to a man or a woman?"
"—Wanna talk t' you, Kaib'!"
"No, no. We need someone else to help you." The brunet led him over to the bed and sat down, smiling a little when the younger boy somehow managed to curl up on his lap without moving too much. "I know how to listen, but I'm not good at relating, and I definitely wouldn't be able to help explain to you what you were feeling and why. I'll sit with you, but we do need someone there to help us both."
Joey whined quietly. "But I wanna talk t' you, Kaib', not a stranger—"
"You'll talk to me," the brunet assured. "Don't think of the person as a stranger. Think of it like… someone to mediate. Like the teachers used to do after we got into fights in high school."
Sniffling, the younger boy looked up at him and rubbed one of his eyes. "Like in high school?"
He remembered the 'mediation' sessions they'd gone through—which hadn't really helped back then, but perhaps… now that they were both older… He'd been normal in high school. Perhaps this could help him be normal again.
"…Okay," he murmured meekly. "Okay. Let's do that, Kaib'."
Seto smiled and nuzzled his head again. "Okay. I'll make an appointment as soon as possible. Is that alright?"
"Yeah. You'll help me put th' pieces back t'gether, Kaib'?" Joey peeked up at him hopefully.
The brunet stroked his cheek gently. "You bet. We'll do it together."
The younger boy smiled a smile that had Seto's heart thumping painfully in his chest; all he wanted to do was kiss him, but he knew he couldn't. Not yet.
'Forty-nine. Fifty. Fifty-one.'
"I don't like green. Can we just ignore the green?"
Seto paused in his counting of floor tiles to glance at the blond, smiling a little when he saw that he was talking to the plush dragons in his lap. He was playing with some game that had different colored beads on wires. "Why do you dislike green? You used to wear a green jacket all the time."
"Who says I liked my jacket when I wore it?" the blond replied flippantly, then reached over to poke one of the other toys, smiling when it squeaked. "You're green, but I like your squeak."
"Mr. Kaiba? Dr. Smith will see you now!"
Seto stood and offered the blond his hand to help him up. "Are you ready?"
"Shouldn't she come out and get us 'r somethin'?" Joey asked timidly, but allowed the brunet to pull him to his feet.
"No need. I know where her office is," the older boy explained, checking to make sure the blond was still clutching his dragons, then took his hand to lead him down the hallway. "I've been coming here for years. Carol only comes out to show me to her office if she moves it."
The blond looked up at him and bit his bottom lip. "Oh. …Is… is she nice?"
"Of course she's nice. I wouldn't let you meet with a mean person." Seto ruffled his hair, pausing outside a door with pink hearts painted on the doorjamb. He knocked twice, then opened the door. "Are you ready for your monthly dose of Psychosis?"
"I'm never ready for a session with you. I have to schedule a meeting with a therapist of my own after I—Well hello." The woman tucked her long black hair back behind one of her ears and blinked at Joey in surprise. "…You… said you were bringing in a puppy."
The brunet scowled. "I did." He ruffled the younger boy's hair as he pressed up against his side anxiously, clutching the plush dragons like lifelines.
"…Oh, that puppy. Be more specific next time!" she snapped, glaring at him as she placed her hands on her hips. "I'm not a mind reader, so you have to tell me these things!"
"Joey Wheeler. Joey, this is my therapist, Carol Smith. Don't worry; she only yells at me because apparently I only listen when she gets mad," Seto assured, managing a small smile for him.
Joey looked up at him and bit his bottom lip, then smiled a little and turned his gaze back on the doctor meekly. "…Kaib' says you're a nice person."
"I like to think I am. I'm just mean to him because he's an idiot," Carol replied, smiling at him. "Would you like to take a seat, Joey?"
Joey looked at her for a long moment, then sat down right where he stood. Seto sighed and hooked his arms under the blond's to lift him into a chair. "In a chair, Joey. She meant in a chair."
"She shoulda said so," the blond mumbled, blushing a little, and looked down at his shoes.
Carol blinked at him, then walked over to sit in her own chair. She pulled out the pad of paper she reserved specifically for the Kaiba brothers (this was the successor of many, many pads of paper) and made a note that Joey was with them today, then looked up at Seto as he also took a seat. "Since you did nothing to prepare me other than to say that you need mediation with a puppy, could you please go into a little more detail?"
"Joey wants to talk to me about something personal. I am terrible at relating to people. I need you to help me understand how he feels, and I need you to help him understand why he feels that way," Seto explained, reaching out to gently stop the blond from twisting the hem of his shirt. The younger man had refused new clothes, instead choosing to squirrel away some of the Kaiba brothers' clothes, and he didn't want the blond to ruin one of his favorite sweaters by stretching out the bottom hem. "Like the mediation we had in high school."
"…You complained that the mediation was useless in high school," the doctor mumbled, then sighed and pushed her glasses down to peer over the frames at him. "And you've both agreed to this?"
Sighing again, she placed her glasses back in their proper place and looked down at the notepad. "Alright. Joey, do you want to start?"
Joey hid his face in the plush dragons. "No!"
"I'll start," Seto offered, to which the blond nodded. "Okay. You didn't finish your last year of school. Why?"
The younger boy sat up a little, picking some imaginary fuzz from Allie's head, then shrugged. "Didn't have the money t' pay fer school."
"…And… why was that?"
"…Turned eighteen. Dad kicked me outta th' house. Didn't have any place t' clean up, so I came t' work all messy 'nd gross. Got fired. Had no money. Couldn't pay for school." Joey made the snouts of the dragons face each other in a little kiss.
Seto frowned. "Couldn't you have gone to one of your friends? Tristan or Yugi, maybe?"
"…Tristan's ma don't like me. She thinks I'm th' reason he was in a gang in middle school." The blond frowned and leaned his head against the black dragon. "…'nd I didn't wanna bother Yug'. I think he knew about my family problems, but he never said anything 'bout it. Didn't wanna bother him. Didn't wanna take their money."
"Why didn't you come to me?"
At that, Joey's eyes flicked upward, looking angry and sad and regretful all at once. "You. Yelled. At. Me," he ground out, face twisting into a hurt and angry scowl. "You. Were. Mean. To. Me."
The brunet sat up straight, unable to help being annoyed. "You wouldn't leave me alone!"
"You kept callin' me a dog!" the younger boy spat, sitting up straight as well.
"You kept acting like one!"
"Well maybe I wouldn't have if ya'd ever stopped pickin' on me!"
"I would have stopped picking on you if you'd stopped giving me ammunition to do it!"
"Whatta ya mean, ammunition!"
They were on their feet now, in each other's faces as if they hadn't been separated for years. It felt like high school, like they were just fighting over something petty again, but it was much more heated than it had ever been in high school now.
"I mean, if you'd stopped butting into my conversations with Yugi, I would have left you alone!"
"Maybe if you'd stopped bein' a total dick t' him, I'd have kept my mouth shut!"
"That's the only way I know how to interact with someone that publicly humiliates me on a regular basis!"
"Well ya set yourself up for that, didn't ya, plannin' all the competitions just so ya could duel Yug' at the end!"
"I just wanted to prove I was better than him!"
"And a fat lot of good that did ya! What, still second best, even after the three years I was gone?"
Seto let out a frustrated snarl, then fell back into his seat, aggravated. He leaned his head in one hand and squeezed his eyes shut, telling himself that it was to stave off a headache, not to force back tears of anger and hurt—because Joey had hurt him in this brief and surprising moment of anger and mental clarity.
Carol watched the blond's expression twist into confusion first, quickly followed by regret. "Joey, please take your seat."
The younger man frowned and sank back into his seat, clutching the dragons tighter as he ducked his head. "…'m sorry."
"It's fine, puppy," Seto muttered quietly. He took a few deep breaths to try and calm down, growing frustrated all over again when he realized he couldn't. "Damn it…!"
Carol jotted down a few notes, then lifted her head and opened her mouth to speak. She paused when she saw the blond inching out of his seat. Once he was on the very edge, he hesitantly reached his arm out, the plush dragon he held extended to the other boy. He paused, then dipped the toy a little further, brushing its snout over the brunet's cheek in a childish kiss.
She took a moment to write 'cute' in capital bubble letters before returning her attention to her patients.
Seto felt the faux fur brush over his cheek again and couldn't help a smile. "Puppy?"
"Allie doesn't like it when yer sad," Joey mumbled, frowning. He shoved the dragon at him before seeming to draw himself back into a shell in his seat, looking much smaller and meeker.
The brunet sat up straight and took the plush toy in his hands, stroking his finger affectionately across its nose. "…You know, Allie was given to me by a very special person. She's gone now, but… perhaps it's why I give the maids so much leeway." He glanced up from beneath his bangs to make sure the blond was listening, smiling a little when he saw the brown eyes staring at him intently. "…After my step-father used to beat me—for whatever petty reason he could find—one of the maids was always sent in to clean me up."
The blond let out a distressed keen. "Kaiba…"
"She never really talked to me. I suppose that's why she was always the one sent in to help me." Seto paused thoughtfully. "I thought that she didn't like me, that she thought I was weak or stupid for being beaten all the time. But… one day, my birthday, I got a gift from Mokuba, and… a gift from her. And her note called me an idiot." He frowned at the plush dragon that stared up at him innocently, ignorant of the startled snort of amusement that came from both his therapist and the blond. "…It said, 'I don't talk to you because I'm mute, you idiot. Happy birthday.'
"She gave me Allie. I was surprised that she'd been listening when I was talking to her, since she'd never shown… anything to that effect. But she smiled at me whenever I talked after that." He stared at the dragon a little longer, then pulled it to his chest, holding it tightly. "She's gone now, but I suppose I just keep hoping I might hear from her. Maybe even just a letter. …It's why I actually read through my fan mail instead of just tossing it all out. Mokuba's old enough to help me now, so the job isn't as tedious.
"The maids never abuse the power I give them," he added, mostly to himself. "They're outspoken and actually kind of rude, but they do their jobs correctly and efficiently. They only complain about things that are truly difficult, especially if they know I can fix it for them." He frowned, then turned a glare on the blond. "But we're all still baffled as to how you got your footprints on the fucking ceiling!"
Joey hummed and turned his gaze away. "Told ya. I was flyin'."
Seto sighed and rolled his eyes, unable to help his brows furrowing together in frustration. "Yes. So you've said."
Carol raised an eyebrow and looked up at them for a moment, then jotted down a few more notes. "Hmm. Flying. Of course."
The blond poked at the dragon he was holding for a few moments, then looked up at the older boy hesitantly. "…Where'd ya get Ebony?"
"Allie looked lonely, sitting on my bed all by herself. I tried to find another Blue-Eyes, but… I found Ebony first." He shrugged carelessly. "He was just as easy to sleep with. I haven't slept with them in quite some time, of course, but at the time, it was… nice. Comfortable."
"…I wish I had Ebony or Allie." Joey ducked his head, face twisting into a grimace. "I was so lonely. Even the other fighters wanted nothin' t' do with me, 'cause I was either better at fightin' 'em or they were scared o' me. 'nd Yugi and Tristan didn't say anything when I saw 'em, but… I think they were scared o' me, too."
Seto frowned. "…I don't think they were scared of you, Joey."
"But they wouldn't look at me an' they didn't talk t' me much and they never said g'bye when I left!" the blond exclaimed, hugging Ebony tightly. He hid his face in the faux fur and sniffled.
The older man sighed. "Where would they look, Joey? Even your 'good' clothes had blood splattered on them. You were filthy. Your hair was a mess. And we still need to get you into a dentist. They were probably just afraid they might offend you if they stared too long."
Joey frowned and lifted a hand to dig into his hair. "Wasn't that much 'f a mess." He paused. "…'nd my teeth 're fine."
"I'd like to have a dentist decide that, thank you," Seto replied, crossing his arms and leaning back in his chair.
The blond scowled petulantly, but it soon faded into a remorseful expression. "…I punched my last dentist in the face."
"…I suppose he deserved it," the older boy stated after a moment.
"Well I told 'im my tooth was sensitive!" Joey defended, scowling. "And then he just went and poked it with a cold thing 'just t' make sure!' It hurt so bad—what else was I s'posed t' do? Let him get away with it?"
The brunet raised an eyebrow. "Usually, yes."
"I'm not goin' t' the dentist."
"…I'll give you something shiny."
Carol raised an eyebrow as the blond flinched and nibbled his bottom lip, then turned his gaze on his shoes.
He wriggled in his chair anxiously and fidgeted with the dragon on his lap, then peered up at the older boy from beneath his bangs. "…How big a shiny?"
Seto sighed and rolled his eyes toward the ceiling. "Oh, I don't know. Anything larger than a car seems like too much."
Joey squeaked quietly, eyes going wide. "Car?"
Deciding to have some fun with it, the brunet looked back at him and raised an eyebrow. "You want a car? Alright. Is there a certain brand you prefer? Should I assume you want it in a metallic color? Do you want a convertible? Do you want a foreign-made car?"
The younger man sank down in his seat with a miserable mewl. "I'll go t' the dentist."
"You didn't answer what sort of car you wanted."
"I don't wanna car!"
Carol scowled and reached over to smack Seto in the back of the head as he opened his mouth. "Stop that."
"Ngh!" He rubbed the back of his head and scowled at her, then shrugged. "Fine."
Glancing at her watch, the psychologist frowned. "Is there anything else you two need to say? I do actually have a patient coming in after you."
"Hmm. I don't have any other pressing questions. Well, one question." The brunet turned his gaze on the younger man and frowned. "Who is Dr. Schnee?"
Joey flinched backward, surprised by the question, then turned his gaze on the wall, frowning. He began to twitch anxiously, but eventually, his eyes darkened, and he hurried to hide them beneath his bangs. "…He was th' doctor that was s'posed t' take care o' me after th' fights. Shinozaki never did, though. Always just threw some bandages at me an' told me t' take care o' myself."
Seto frowned as the blond let out an angry growl and leaned forward in his chair, in case he tried to do something foolish. "Joey…?"
"I hated him. I hated him. He's th' one who told th' boss t' leave me behind—said I wasn't worth savin' 'nd I was worth more dead 'n alive." The younger man looked up at him and snarled. "He was th' reason I had t' run away. I was hurt an' bleedin' an' tired, but I had t' get up 'nd run fer my life. When 'e tried t' stop me, I kicked 'im in th' face. And I snapped his neck."
So saying, he growled and turned, holding Ebony tightly as he glared at the door. They'd tried to kill him. He'd only done what he'd had to so he could survive.
Seto blinked at him for a moment before turning to glance at Carol. "…Um—"
"I haven't told the police that you drove your step-father to suicide; I'm not going to tell them that he was defending himself and just so happened to kill someone." She looked up from her notes, peering over her glasses at him. "You chose me as your therapist for a reason, Seto. I like to think I still live up to those reasons despite having listened to your insanity for eight years. And yes, I still expect you to cover my bills for massage therapy. That's the only reason I've stuck around this long."
"Oh." The brunet paused for a few moments before reaching over to lay a hand on her back. "…You haven't gotten this tense from an appointment in a while."
"That's because every time I manage to relax completely, you call me," she growled. "At this rate, I'm going to have a stroke just from the stress of having you as a patient." Schooling her face into a pleasant smile, she turned to the brooding blond. "Joey?"
Joey glanced at her and frowned. "…What…?"
"Would you mind coming to see me in a few days?" she asked gently. "I think we should talk a little more." She gave the brunet beside her glare. "Maybe without Seto next time. There are some things I want you to answer without him present."
Seto let out a disgruntled huff. "I see how it is. I pay you a huge retainer and you kick me out of the room."
"Please don't make me kick you out right now. I've been practicing kickboxing for three years," she explained pleasantly, then looked back at the blond. "What do you say, Joey?"
Joey looked up at her, eyeing her carefully, then dipped his head. "…C'n Kaib' be outside?"
"Of course he can. In fact, I can even give you both a walkie-talkie, so you can tell him at any time if you're uncomfortable." She smiled. "It's what I did with Mokuba when he started coming to therapy with me."
The blond managed a small smile. That did make him feel better. "…Okay."
"I just have to warn you… the walkie-talkies are pink."
Joey blinked, then snorted, dissolving into hysterical laughter at the idea of the powerful Seto Kaiba working on his laptop with a pink walkie-talkie at his side.
"It's not funny!" Seto exclaimed, glaring at him.
The blond giggled and got to his feet, reaching out to gently grab his hand. "Yes it is."
Joey peered up at the brunet nervously, biting his bottom lip, then scooted over to him. "…Kaiba?"
Seto turned toward him and raised an eyebrow. "Yes?"
"…I…" The blond looked down at his lap and fiddled with his plushies. "Well, I was wonderin'… We had that meetin', and I thought… Could we…" He looked up at the older boy and blushed a little, then looked back down at the stuffed dragons. "…I…" He looked up at the brunet again and gently pushed the dragons together so their snouts brushed in a plush kiss. "Please?"
The brunet hummed quietly, then lifted a hand to gently cup the younger boy's chin. "Do you feel like some of the pieces are falling into place, Joey?"
Joey nodded, feeling a few tears welling up in eyes as he realized that he didn't feel as stupid or weak or guilty as he had before; he'd never told anyone about what he'd done to escape the fighting ring, and he suddenly felt as if a huge weight had been lifted off his chest—like some of the shadows in his mind had vanished in light of honesty.
"Don't cry, Joey. Don't cry," Seto murmured, frowning, and lifted his other hand to brush away a tear that had begun a path down his cheek. "I didn't mean to make you cry."
"It's okay. I'm not cryin' 'cause ya made me sad," the blond assured, then tilted his head upward. "Please, Kaiba. Please."
The older boy hummed and leaned down to gently brush their lips together. Leaning back, he smiled. "Like that?"
"Nn! No!" Joey lifted a hand to grip the brunet's shirt tightly, moving closer to kiss him again. "More-!"
"More?" The brunet dipped his head to gently brush lips with him again, then slid a hand into his hair and gently nibbled on his bottom lip.
Joey mewed as the older boy licked his bottom lip and wrapped his free hand around the back of his neck; when he felt the brunet start to pull back, he caught his lip between his teeth and refused to let go.
Seto grunted quietly; he didn't want to go too fast, because he wasn't sure what Joey could handle. However, when the blond's hand tugged gently on his shirt, he sighed and leaned in again, tightening his grip on his hair as his teeth gently clacked against the younger boy's. The blond whimpered and tugged at his shirt again.
He mewled as the brunet's tongue thrust into his mouth and tipped his head back to allow him more control. This was nice; he wouldn't mind doing this more often. In fact, if Seto wanted to do a little petting when he kissed him, he didn't mind that either.
Joey clenched the walkie-talkie in his hands tightly, Allie and Ebony tucked in each of his arms as he stared up at the woman nervously. "Yer not gonna call th' police if I make ya mad, are ya?"
Carol patted his hand gently. "Calm down, Joey. Do you really think I'd call the police on you after being Seto's therapist for over eight years?"
The blond frowned and looked away. "I feel terrible for sayin' this, but… no."
She smiled sat back in her chair. "So at least we have that understood."
"…Ya said ya had some questions t' ask without Kaib' here," Joey mumbled, curling up in his seat. "Are they bad questions?"
"No, of course not." Carol reached over to a mini-fridge. "I'm a little thirsty. Do you want some juice, Joey?"
"…Okay." He took the bottle of orange juice and watched the woman carefully as he twisted the cap. He took a few sips of juice and averted his gaze when she looked back at him. "'m ready when you are."
She took a drink from her water bottle and nodded. "You shouldn't be so nervous, Joey." When the blond merely stared at her, she sighed. "Alright. I'll get straight to the point. How do you feel about Seto?" she asked, setting the water bottle aside and instead getting ready to take notes.
Joey blushed a little and looked down at his feet. "…He's nice t' me." He stroked Allie's snout with his finger slowly. "…'nd he helps me. 'nd he's a really good kisser." His flush darkened. "He really creeps me out sometimes, 'cause he can get so intense, but when 'm upset, he holds me an' tries t' make me feel better." He closed his eyes tightly. "'nd he scares me 'cause he cares so much-!"
"Why does that scare you, Joey?" she asked gently. "Why does having someone caring for you scare you?"
He bit his bottom lip and jerked his head away, tears forming in his eyes. "'cause no one cares 'bout me. 'specially not someone like Kaiba. People always leave me. 'nd Kaiba… Kaiba keeps sayin' these things. He keeps sayin' he cares, and he woulda helped me, and… and…" A tear rolled down his cheek. "…I've always had t' fight for what I want, and he tells me I don't hafta fight anymore… I'm so… I want…" He looked up at her and whimpered.
Carol grabbed a box of tissues and slid it toward him. "Here. It's okay to cry in here."
Joey sniffled and grabbed a tissue, blowing his nose, then peered up at her with still-damp eyes. "I… I want him t' love me. 'nd I wanna love him." He sobbed and covered his face. "But I don't think I remember how!"
She reached over to rest a hand on his shoulder. "Why is that?"
"Because it's been so long since anyone's loved me!" He grabbed another tissue and blew his nose again. "'nd I've never had someone love me as a boyfriend or anything like that!" He looked up at her. "I had a crush on a girl, once, 'nd she humored me fer a bit, but I knew it'd never work out 'cause she was so much older 'n me. She was more like an older sister or somethin', and maybe I thought about sex with her a few times, but never seriously! 'nd with Kaiba—"
He cut himself off abruptly, cheeks growing flushed all over again as he remembered the pictures Seto had of him. He had to admit that he didn't mind the idea of sex with him. It wasn't as if he hadn't touched himself since those pictures had been taken. He'd jacked off and played with some toys. And, once he'd learned that Seto liked him, had even touched himself while thinking about him.
Carol blinked, taking in his bright red cheeks and suddenly mortified expression. "…Joey? Are you alright?"
"I… I just remembered somethin'," he mumbled, trying to force down the feeling of embarrassment. "I-it's nothin'."
"It's obviously something," she stated, frowning sternly. "Why don't you tell me about it?"
Joey stared at her for a moment before he ducked his head. "…Found some pichers Kaiba had o' me." He closed his eyes tightly. "…Naughty pichers."
She blinked again. "…Where on Earth would he have…?"
"That's actually a pretty good question…" Joey frowned, then looked down at the walkie-talkie he'd been given. He pressed the button and lifted it to his mouth. "Kaib'?"
The voice that replied was distracted. "What?"
"…Why did ya have a box full o' naughty pichers o' me?"
"Because I was attracted to you and I jacked off to them."
Joey blushed brightly and squealed. "Nyeek!"
"Is there anything else? I'm working on a contract right now."
"…H-how didja get those pichers o' me?" he squeaked, cheeks still burning in embarrassment.
"I bribed your father to let me install some cameras in your room and bathroom and had the feed go directly to my laptop. Those are just stills from some of the videos. Are you finished now?"
Joey squeaked again. "I… I…"
Carol sighed and fixed her glasses, then stood. "I'll be right back, Joey."
"I-!" he squeaked, turning to look up at her. "I-!"
She opened the door and left the room.
Joey clutched the walkie-talkie to his chest and watched her leave, feeling horrified, embarrassed, and almost a little flattered—however, the horror and embarrassment almost completely drowned out that feeling of maybe-admiration.
"What is—Ow! Gah! Carol! Stop—ARGH!"
The woman's voice was furious and seemed to carry through the entire building. "What the hell is wrong with you!"
"Why are you hitting me—"
"I would have hoped that seeing me would take the edge off of your possessive creepiness!"
"What are you talking about-!"
"Videotaping your former classmate in his bedroom and bathroom? Seto Kaiba!"
"Stop hitting me!"
"Grah! We need to start our weekly visits again!"
"But-! But I-!"
"I don't care if you have work and a little brother to take care of! I have an opening on Friday!"
"You will make time and you will show up for that appointment!"
"Okay! Fine! I'll be here!"
Joey stared at the doorway. He blinked as the woman stepped back inside and cleared her throat, then strode over to her seat as if nothing had ever happened. "…I…"
"He will be dealt with," Carol stated pleasantly, grabbing her papers and pen and smiling at him. "Is there anything else you'd like to mention that I should talk to Seto about?"
The blond squeaked again. For some reason, now he was frightened for Seto's safety.
Seto grumbled and reached into the freezer for a bag of frozen peas. "Why'd you have to go and mention that? She threw a bottle of water at me."
Joey frowned. "Shouldn't she be afraid of hurtin' ya? Couldn't ya sue her?" He bit his bottom lip as the brunet covered his bruised eye with the bag of peas. "It doesn't hurt too bad?"
"No, I'm fine." He waved away the concern and sighed. "I don't sue people that I like. And, unfortunately, I have come to like Carol. So few people stand up to me that she's sort of refreshing and, even though we never say anything about it…" He frowned and glanced away. "…I do respect her. I haven't had a female figure to look up to since my mother died."
"But… but she hurts ya, Kaiba," the blond whispered, frowning. "If she's s'posed t' be helpin' ya, why is she hurtin' ya?"
Seto blinked at him for a moment, frowning, then let his arm fall to his side, exposing the dark bruising around his eye. "Joey, she doesn't do this on a regular basis. Usually, we just have calm, quiet conversations. In fact, this is the first time in quite a few years that she's actually been angry enough to throw something directly at me. She thought I'd slid backward in my personal development. She didn't know that I'd taken those pictures years ago, before she was able to make me understand what was going on."
"But she hurt ya, Kaiba!" Joey exclaimed, grabbing the bag of peas from his hand and gently pressing it to the brunet's injury. "People who care about ya aren't s'posed t' hurt ya! Ya said so!"
"I hurt her first." The brunet placed his hand over the blond's and sighed. "She's been so proud of me, puppy. I'd learned to ignore some of my obsessive-compulsive tendencies, and even managed to fight some of the more unacceptable urges I have. Then she heard that I had naked pictures of you, and…" He glanced away again. "…When she learned how I'd gotten those pictures, it hurt her. She thought I'd been lying to her all this time. She didn't know that I'd had those made years ago."
Joey shook his head, tears forming in his eyes. "Stop tryin' t' make it okay! She hurt ya, Kaiba! Ya say she cares, but she hurt ya!"
"Joey…" Seto sighed, then scowled, grabbing the blond's shoulders and giving him a small shake. "Joey, do you know how many people I've hurt? How many people's lives I've ruined? I can already tell you that it's way too many to count off the top of my head. I'm sure it's well into the hundreds. Just because I'm kind and caring with you or Mokuba doesn't mean I'm that way with the rest of the world. I've fired people and I have even driven people to suicide.
"I never said it was okay. I said I understood why she did it. Just like I understood when you blamed me for your cat dying. I don't necessarily have to like what I'm hearing or experiencing to understand it. And I know she's going to apologize the next time I see her, and that she'll be sincere about it. Our relationship is built on mutual insult-based humor with some seriousness thrown in for times when pretending I'm a normal human being doesn't work! Do you understand? I'm not saying what she did was okay! I'm saying I understand that sometimes people get mad and they hurt the people they care about without meaning to!"
Joey whimpered, then sobbed, lunging forward to cry into his chest. "Kaiba-!"
Seto held him tightly, frowning. "She knows me, puppy. She knows me better than even Mokuba, in some ways. I started seeing her after Death-T. Or… after my penalty game. I was so angry and confused. I wanted to hurt all of you like you'd hurt me. She convinced me that it wouldn't make me feel better, helped me find something else to do. That's why I throw myself into work like I do." He nuzzled the blond's neck gently. "She probably saved your lives, puppy."
Joey sobbed again quietly. "She still shouldn't hurt ya, Kaiba! I don't like it! People who care about ya shouldn't hurt ya!"
The brunet sighed quietly and gave him a squeeze. "…I don't think you'll ever understand, puppy." He kissed his forehead gently. "But that's okay. I'm sure we'll come to some sort of compromise later."
"Kaibaaaa…!" He nuzzled into the brunet's chest and whimpered. "I don't like it, Kaiba! You said—"
"Unfortunately, you will find that I am often hypocritical and follow the adage 'do as I say, not as I do.'" He brushed a kiss over his temple, then sighed and leaned back, pressing the bag of peas back over his eye. "Damn… She could be a big league pitcher…"
Joey sniffed and frowned, reaching up to gently poke the bag. "Does it hurt bad?"
"Not too badly. It aches, and I'm starting to get a headache, but I'm sure that if I just take a nap or something, I'll feel better when I wake up." Seto sighed again, swiping the blond's hand away. "Stop playing with the bag, Joey."
"…But…" The younger boy frowned. "…You're not hurt like this often, are ya?"
The brunet scoffed. "Of course not. And even if I did, the other person would be scratched up even more."
Joey blinked up at him for a moment, then bit his lip quickly, unable to help an amused smile. "Scratched up?"
"Of course. Not everyone's a thug that beats everyone into submission." The older boy rolled his eyes and walked over to the refrigerator to open it and pull out a bottle of Exotic Berry wine cooler. He stared at the twist cap for a moment, then turned and shoved the bottle at him. "Open this for me please."
"Only 'cause ya need those peas on yer eye," the blond mumbled, twisting it open easily, then shoved it back at him. He eyed the older boy for a minute before innocently asking, "So ya hit like a girl instead?" He snorted when the other man spewed the fruity pink alcohol all over the counter, then giggled a little when the brunet immediately turned toward him, a little of the wine cooler dripping down his chin. "What a mess!"
"I do not hit like a girl!" Seto spat, glaring at him.
The younger boy hummed and glanced away. "Well, only girls really do that scratchin' thing, Kaib', and—" He glanced at the bottle in the brunet's hand. "—You're drinkin' a girly drink—"
The CEO snarled at him and lifted the bag of peas to smash it on the blond's head. The bag burst on contact, sending the frozen green orbs crashing to the ground to roll away. The two stared at the mess for a moment, stunned, before the brunet immediately bristled again.
"I'll have you know that these drinks are fucking delicious and just because I like drinking them once in a while doesn't make me a girl!" Seto snarled, then stomped out of the kitchen, bottle in hand. "Clean that up!"
Joey stared after him, still a little stunned, then chuckled quietly. "Ya didn't defend scratchin' like a girl, though."
"…You really need to stop this," Seto muttered, examining one of his sweaters—a very nice yellow one. Or…a formerly nice yellow one. The hem was stretched out in the front by a few inches, and the ends of the sleeves were stretched wide.
He tossed it in the ever-growing pile of clothes beside him.
"But all the clothes ya gave me in the beginnin' are gross!" the blond whined, casually sneaking the yellow sweater under his shirt so he could take it back to his room and hoard it. He yelped as the older man smacked his hand. "Ow!"
"I will buy you a new yellow sweater. You look like you're three years old in your dad's clothes." The brunet scowled when the smaller boy grumbled. "What?"
"…But it won't… smell like you." Joey blushed brightly at the admission and turned away, closing his eyes tightly. How embarrassing! Seto probably thought he was girly, and stupid, and—
He bit his bottom lip as the brunet grabbed his shoulders to turn him slowly and whimpered a little. When he felt something soft on his lips, however, his eyes shot open, and he mewed in confusion when he realized the older boy was kissing him. Allowing himself to melt against the brunet's body, he moaned quietly and reached up to grip his shirt.
Seto broke the kiss gently and smiled a little, brushing his knuckles over the blond's jaw lightly. "Sometimes, you're so sweet, I just can't help myself, puppy. I'm sorry."
"…Ya don't hafta ask for my permission, ya know," Joey mumbled, cheeks still glowing a faint pink. "I like when ya just come up and kiss me, Kaiba."
"…I'll keep that in mind." The brunet leaned in to kiss his forehead. "Would it kill you to call me Seto, Joey? Or does that make you uncomfortable?"
The younger man blinked. "Oh. Um…"
Seto stared at him for a moment before snorting quietly. "It never even occurred to you to ask if you could, did it?"
"…'Bye." The blond turned to scamper away, squeaking when the older boy dragged him back by a grip on his hand. "Gah!"
"You can keep the yellow sweater. But we're going to go buy you your own wardrobe, now that we're sure you're comfortable staying here. I can't keep buying clothes because you keep stretching the hems."
Joey blushed again and nodded a little. "Okay. That sounds fair." He scuffed his toes over the floor before peeking up at him again. "Could I… take that green sweater, too?"
The brunet chuckled softly. "Of course. You just have to promise to stop stealing my clothes in the middle of the night."
"…I can't promise that. I can promise t' only steal one thing a week and return it, though," he offered, looking up at him hopefully.
Seto sighed. "I suppose, if that's really the best you can do." When the blond beamed at him, he chuckled again and managed to peck him on the nose.
Joey squeaked and covered his nose in embarrassment, then snatched up the two sweaters and scampered away, giggling self-consciously. "'m gonna go bother Mok'ba!"
"Then we'll go shopping tomorrow," the brunet called after him. "Be ready!"
Patience was something that Seto was very proud of having. In fact, it was something he usually commended himself for having, because of his high-stress job. It made difficult things easy to handle without the possibility of having a heart attack out of pure frustration.
But seriously. His blood pressure was skyrocketing.
"Joey, show me the damn clothes."
"But… but… They're weird!"
Seto scowled. "No, they just fit correctly. Unlike the rest of the clothes you've been wearing."
"Can't we just get 'em, and… you can see 'em later…?"
The brunet's eyebrow twitched. "If I don't see them, I'm not buying them, Joey."
Joey grumbled and turned to face the door, grumbling, "Ya sound like my ma."
"I'm not going to buy clothes I haven't seen, Joey. I want to make sure they fit correctly and whether or not they actually look…" He swallowed thickly as the door creaked open and the blond stepped into view. "…Those… those jeans aren't too tight?"
"…No…" The blond frowned and tucked his thumb into the hem, tugging lightly. "…Well, they don't feel too tight right now."
Seto jerked a little as his phone vibrated and pulled it out, scowling when he saw Mokuba texting him to please-please-please pick up some ice-cream. Looking back up at the younger man, he sighed. "Well, why don't you be—" He paused, then forced himself not to smirk. "Why don't you turn around and bend over? To check if it's too tight then, too. Being tight standing and being tight sitting are two different things, after all."
Joey blinked at him, then shrugged and turned around, reaching down to touch his toes. He grunted quietly as the hem tugged uncomfortably at his stomach. "What was on your phone?"
"Mokuba asking me to pick up some ice-cream on the way home. Does it feel too tight now?"
He hummed quietly, then sighed in defeat. It did feel too tight. "Yeah, I guess—" Squeaking in surprise as he saw a flash, he stood up straight and turned quickly, eyes widening as he saw the brunet's phone pointed at him. "Did you just take a picture of my butt?"
Seto hummed and tucked the phone back into his pocket. "Well, I—Oh, look, you dropped something."
Joey looked down quickly, baffled, then looked back up at the brunet in confusion. He snarled when he found the older man quickly walking away. "Seriously! Ya took a picture of my ass!" He growled in annoyance. "And you're runnin' away now? Really?"
Grumbling to himself, he stomped over to the shelves he'd gotten his jeans from and grabbed the next size up. "Asshole better be back t' pay fer m' clothes…" After he returned to his fitting room, he closed the door and sighed, unbuttoning his pants so he could try on the larger pair. Then, he paused.
Seto had taken a picture of his ass while he'd been bent over. That meant… that meant he thought he was still attractive to him. He'd sort of doubted everything a little, that the brunet had been kissing him and holding him out of pity, and had still been using the older pictures of him for anything, before he'd been hurt and broken, and…
…Seto still thought he was attractive, despite not looking entirely like he had before he'd been forced to live on the streets.
Seto frowned as he heard a giggle from inside the fitting room as soon as he returned. The last time he'd heard the blond giggle like that, he'd found himself super glued to his chair in homeroom. …He felt the urge to flee again. Flee, and never look back.
Joey hummed quietly as he watched the buildings outside pass by, playing idly with the hem of his sleeve and ignoring the dirty look the brunet was giving his hands. "They're my clothes, aren't they?"
"And you're stretching them out already." Seto narrowed his eyes and sighed. "I get the feeling that I'm going to be spending more money on your clothes than mine…"
The blond blew a raspberry at him before looking back out the window. After a few moments, however, he squeaked and jerked back in his seat. "Kaib-!"
"…I thought you were going to start calling me Seto." The brunet grunted as the younger man lunged on top of him. "Ow!"
"Why are ya bringin' me there!" Joey grabbed him by the shirt and shook him a little, eyes growing damp. "I don't wanna go there! Please don't make me go there!"
Seto frowned and gently pried his fingers off. "Joey, it'll be okay. I called ahead—"
"He doesn't wanna see me! I scare him!" the blond exclaimed. "He doesn't wanna—"
"He wants to see you very much," the older man stated slowly. "He's missed you, Joey. He wasn't afraid of you. He was afraid for you. He wanted you to stay, but you always slipped away while he wasn't looking."
Joey sobbed and tried to shake his head. "Stop-! I don't wanna see him! I'm gonna scare him and he's gonna be disgusted-!" He sobbed again as the brunet brushed their mouths together, reaching up to grab his wrists. "Please… He hates me…"
"He doesn't hate you," Seto assured softly. "He cares about you, Joey. You're his best friend."
"No I'm not! Not anymore!" He ducked his head and whimpered. "Not anymore…! I'm broken, Kaib'! He won't like the pieces like you do!"
"He'll love the pieces of you, Joey. And you know Yugi. He's the King of Games. Helping you figure out how the pieces fit together again is something he'd be glad to do." The brunet brushed his tears away and leaned down so he could meet his eyes. "Joey, he misses you. He doesn't hate you. I'll be right next to you. I'll even hold your hand. Okay?"
Joey sniffled quietly and leaned forward to rest his forehead on the brunet's chest. "But I don't wanna go in there and find out he hates me…"
"He doesn't hate you," Seto repeated calmly. "He has missed you. I'll walk you inside, and you'll feel silly because he'll be so happy to see you. I'll hold your hand, and if he even starts acting like he doesn't like you, we'll go, okay?"
The blond continued to sniffle and nodded, hiccupping quietly as he lifted a hand scrub at his eyes. "Okay. But he hates me, so we're just gonna hafta go as soon as we get in there."
"…Right…" Seto sighed as they pulled up outside the Turtle Game Shop, grabbing some tissues so that the younger man could wipe his face and blow his nose. "Come on. He's really excited to see you." He grunted as the blond immediately clenched his hand in his fist. "Ow! Joey, I said I'd hold your hand. I didn't say I'd let you break it."
"Seto…" Joey looked up at him but relaxed his hand a little, biting his bottom lip as they approached the door to the shop. "…He… he's gonna—"
"He's going to be happy to see you," the brunet cut in, reaching out to open the door. He led the blond inside and managed a small smile at Yugi before the smaller man immediately turned his attention to the blond. He was mildly surprised to see Tristan there, too, waiting at the counter, but he remembered vaguely that Joey had been friends with Tristan before he'd been friends with Yugi.
The air was tense and silent for a moment, the three separated friends just taking the time to examine each other, and Seto figured that they probably had a lot to take in. They had, after all, grown up a little in the past three years.
Yugi had grown a little taller. He was still short, but he no longer looked like a primary school student, despite his outrageously spiky hair. He didn't look as childlike as he had before, either, looking more mature and less impulsive as he had been when he was younger. His rounded face was more angular and cut more like a man then a cherub now.
Tristan had taken up a job in a martial arts dojo and was a personal trainer on the weekends, so he'd become a little more muscular, and he'd ditched his coats and jeans for some loose pants and a button-up shirt. He had grown, too, just not as drastically as Yugi had, and he'd cut his hair so it didn't jut out as much, even though he still gelled it up to the same point.
Joey had probably changed the most, Seto admitted, but not because he'd grown a few inches (which he had) or because he had gained muscle (and, thankfully, some fat from decent meals), or even because of his longer hair. It was because he looked terrified, eyes wide, and his jaw was clenched as if he was expecting pain. And he'd never looked so afraid around his friends. Especially not because of them.
Yugi stepped out from behind the counter. "J… Joey?"
Seto watched the blond's eyes fill with tears and couldn't help a startled squeak as the hand grasping his clamped down again. 'Oh God, something popped. Hands aren't supposed to pop like that, are they?' He sighed in relief as the grip on his hand relaxed, lifting it to his chest protectively as the blond lunged forward and fell into the smaller man's arms.
"I missed ya, Yug'! I missed ya so much!" he wailed, then reached over and grasped Tristan's shirt, yanking him closer. "And I missed ya too, Tristan! I'm sorry! I'm sorry!"
"Joey you're choking me-!" Tristan wheezed, but hugged the blond tightly nonetheless.
Seto massaged his hand and muttered under his breath, but he had to admit that the scene of the friends reuniting with someone they'd cared for and missed dearly was sort of… heartwarming.
A moment later, the door leading to the residential portion of the game shop opened, and Téa stared at the sobbing group of men. She paused, took a sip from the can of tea she'd gotten, then looked at Seto and deadpanned, "I suppose this is considered manly."
The brunet shrugged. "Can't you hear the testosterone?"
"…I hear sobbing that may not qualify as strictly 'manly,'" she muttered, then walked around the counter and gently placed her hand on the blond's head, ruffling his hair. "I sent postcards while I was at school. I sent the ones for you here. I'm sure Yugi still has them."
Joey looked up at her and whimpered, then grabbed her arm and yanked her down into the hug. "I missed ya, Téa!"
"Gwaaaah!" Téa grimaced as the can of tea went flying when she fell, dousing them all liberally in the sticky liquid. "Joey!" she began, scowling, but couldn't stay angry when he nuzzled into her arms and held her tightly. Sighing, she hugged him back, patting him softly on the back when he began to cry all over. "It's okay, Joey. Everything's alright now."
Seto smiled a little, then turned back to the door and flipped the sign to say 'CLOSED'.
"Look! The Statue of Liberty!"
Seto chuckled. "So I see, puppy."
"And—and—Look! The Empire State Building!" Joey shoved another postcard at him.
"Are you even going to read any of these?" the brunet laughed, flipping to the back of the postcard. "'Wish you were here to show me everything.' Do you even remember New York?"
"Hotdogs!" the younger man exclaimed, smiling. "I remember hotdogs and baseball!"
Seto laughed again. "Somehow, I don't think Téa would be happy with you just showing her different hotdog places. Baseball, maybe."
"YANKEE STADIUM!" Joey roared, holding up the postcard proudly. "And it's got a mustard stain on it, so she was definitely havin' hotdogs!"
"Perhaps. Or maybe someone in the mailroom was having something with mustard…" the brunet teased.
"This is baseball mustard!" the younger man snapped. "I know my mustards!"
"Alright, alright. I'll take your word for it."
Joey stuck his tongue out at him, then gasped as he saw a postcard with the Broadway stage pictured on it. He flipped it over quickly and stared at the ink flowing across the card, squinting with concentration. "I am the… the B-Black… S-Swan… Sh-shows be-gin in… O-Octo…ber… So s-save the date."
Seto made a mental note to talk to Carol about helping Joey with his reading, even though it made perfect sense; he'd dropped out of school, after all, and he doubted he'd been given books while he was a cage fighter. "Hmm, the Black Swan? And she just got out of school? That's pretty amazing."
The blond looked up at him in confusion. "Huh? Why?"
"Swan Lake is an extremely beautiful ballet," the older man explained. "It's… it's about a princess named Odette who was turned into a swan by an evil sorcerer." He couldn't help a smile as the blond's eyes widened in awe. "It's a story about the curse and the people directly affected by it. I can only assume that Téa got the part of Odette. She'll make a beautiful swan."
"A black one…?" Joey wondered, absently tugging at his sleeve.
Seto nodded. "Actually, the girl who dances the Black Swan usually dances the White Swan, as well. But the Black Swan is much more difficult to dance."
The blond's eyes widened again as he turned and looked at the Broadway stage. "Téa's amazing…"
"Indeed. She didn't even get mad when you made her spill her tea all over the place. …Though to be fair, most of it landed on you," the older man muttered, grabbing some clumped together, sticky locks of the blond's hair.
Looking up at him hopefully, the blond held up the postcard. "Can we go? T' see Téa dance? Can we go?"
Seto nodded. "I'll see when opening night is. Maybe you can take flowers to her afterward." He chuckled as the blond squealed gleefully. "Excited?"
"Yes! And look! Envelope!" Joey tore the yellow envelope open in glee, pulling out a postcard with a picture of a museum. He blinked slowly, then turned it over and squinted again. "M-met… Metro…p-p-p…"
"Metropolitan," Seto supplied.
"Metropolitan Mu…seum… of Art." He turned it over to look at the other side. "Look who I m-met at the m-museum." He blinked slowly, then reached into the envelope and pulled out a photo.
Seto frowned when the blond's eyes began to fill with tears and reached out to rest a hand on his shoulder. "Joey?"
"She… she saw Serenity," Joey whispered, breath catching in his throat as the tears welling in his eyes finally flowed down his cheeks. "I haven't seen her in years." He sniffled and laughed nervously, lifting an arm to scrub at his face with his sleeve. "Look. Isn't she pretty?"
She'd grown. She looked more like a woman and less like a girl. Her hair was curly in the photo. He wondered if it had gotten curly over the years or if it was just a hair style for one day. She had a beautiful smile.
"…She looks sad," he commented after a moment. "Beautiful in a tragic sort of way." He paused, then reached out to turn the photo over. "…She misses you."
I miss you, big brother! Call me sometime so we can make plans to hang out, okay?
Joey bit his bottom lip to keep from crying again. "I know. I miss her, too."
"…Would you like to call her when we get home?" the brunet asked softly. "So you can see her again?"
The younger man looked up at him in terror. "NO!"
Seto jerked back in surprise. "No?"
"I don't want her t' see me like this!" Joey exclaimed, unable to help feeling helpless and disgusting. "She's s'posed t' look up t' me! How can she look up t' me like this?"
"You survived. Shouldn't that be enough to look up to?" the brunet wondered. "I'd certainly look up to you simply for that."
The younger man glared at him. "You're not her! And I did terrible things! How could she possibly still look up t' me! How could she even love me?"
Seto scowled. "First, you're scared that your friends don't still care about you. Now you're telling me that you're afraid that your sister, who has loved you unconditionally, won't love you anymore?" When the blond only stared up at him, he sighed in annoyance. "Really?"
Joey frowned and began tucking his postcards and the photo into the envelope. "I don't want her t' see me. I'm still broken. I'll see her when I'm fixed."
The brunet sighed again. He didn't know how to articulate that maybe Joey needed to see his sister—that maybe Serenity would be able to help 'fix' him. Serenity knew him better than anyone, despite not being nearby. In fact, she would probably be able to better understand what was wrong with him and help him… put his pieces back together.
Joey hummed as he pulled out the book he'd been given, looking over the green cover closely. "Goodnight… Moon. I think I remember my mom reading this t' me when I was a kid…"
"Oh?" Seto sat down beside him on the bed. "I don't believe I've ever heard of it."
The blond gasped in outrage. "Never?"
"…Should I have?" the older man asked after a moment.
"EVERYONE SHOULD HEAR ABOUT GOODNIGHT MOON!" Joey roared, then yanked him closer. "Come 'ere. I'll read it t' ya."
Seto carefully didn't mention that that had been Carol's intention when she'd given the blond the old book. Instead, he settled himself more comfortably on the blond's bed and rested his head in his hand. "Alright. I'm ready."
The blond settled himself against his pillow, then tucked Allie on one side of him and Ebony on the other. "Okay. Goodnight Moon." He cleared his throat and opened the book.
"In the great g-green room, there is a tel-teleffff… telephone and a red b-balloon, and a pic-picture of the cow jumpin' over the moon."
Seto leaned in to lay his head on the blond's shoulder. "This sounds like the dumbest—"
"If you don't let me finish I'm gonna punt ya from here t' China," Joey spat, glaring at him, then cleared his throat again. "And there were th-three little bears sittin' on chairs, and two little k-kittens and a pair o' mittens."
The brunet sighed and narrowed his eyes. Perhaps next time Carol could give them a book that wasn't quite so… dumb.
"And a l-little toy house, and a toy mouse, and a comb and a b-brush and a bowl ffffull of mush. And a q-qu… qui… quiet old lady who was whis…pering 'hush.'" He turned to smile at the older man before looking back at the book. "Goodn-night room. G-goodnight moon. Goodni-night cow j-jumpin' over th' moon. G-goodnight l-light and th' r-red b-balloon."
Seto frowned, brows furrowing together as he took note of the words the blond had the most trouble with. It seemed he had most trouble with repeated words and hard F's. He'd keep that in mind for the next book.
"G-goodnight bears, goodni-ight chairs. Goodn-night kittens and good…night mittens. Goodni…ght clocks an' g-goodnight s-socks. Good…night li-little house. And good…night m-mouse. Goodnight c-comb and goodn-night brush. Goodnight no… nobody. Goodnight mush." He took a deep breath. "An' goodnight t' the old lady whisp-perin' 'hush.' Goodnight stars, goodnight air. Goodnight n-noises ever…every… everywhere!"
The brunet couldn't help a smile as the blond looked up and grinned at him proudly. "…I guess it wasn't as dumb as I thought it was."
Joey beamed at him. "See! Maybe if Carol gives me some other books, I can read ya other bedtime stories."
"…Right." Seto nodded a little, then sat up and stretched, groaning. "Maybe you can read them to me in my bed. That was uncomfortable." He froze when he heard the blond giggle, horrified with what he'd just said. "…I… Uh…"
"Maybe next time," the blond teased, leaning over to nuzzle his neck, then set the book aside and cuddled down beneath his blankets.
The older man blushed a little, then sighed and stood, placing the book on the bedside table and lifting the blankets to better cover him. "Goodnight, Joey." He leaned down to kiss his forehead and smiled when the blond mewed and snuggled closer to his pillow. He glanced over at the envelope of postcards still sitting on the desk, then patted the blond's shoulder and stood to leave. "Sweet dreams."
Seto ruffled his brother's hair and frowned. "So. Do you think it will work?"
"Of course it will!" The teen smiled. "He'll probably be angry for a while, but then he'll be so distracted that he won't be able to beat you up until you've found someplace to hide!"
The brunet scowled. "That's terrible."
"…But it's true," Mokuba added. He smiled again. "So, I'll take the limo. You can scare Joey to death with your driving—"
"I'm not a bad driver!" Seto exclaimed defensively. He glared at the younger boy when he only received a deadpanned stare. "I'm not! Have I ever gotten into an accident?"
The teen scowled. "You've gotten in seven and a half."
"…I must have gotten amnesia every single time, because I don't remember a single one—"
"I count every 'almost-accident' as a half," Mokuba snapped. "You almost gave me a heart attack every single time!"
"I haven't almost crashed fifteen times! You just don't know good driving when you see it!" Seto argued.
The younger boy glared at him. "I had Roland teach me to drive, Seto." He huffed, then held his hand out, placing the other on his hip. "Can I get some money for snacks? Airplane food is shit and Serenity's probably had a long flight."
Seto glared back at him for a moment, then muttered under his breath and pulled out his wallet. "I'm only giving you a hundred."
"What do you think I'm gonna do? Take her out for lobster? She'll probably be tired as hell and will only stay awake long enough for a Big Mac and a hug from Joey."
"…Right. JOEY! WE'RE GOING TO BE LATE!" He couldn't help a smile as the blond pounded down the stairs with Goodnight Moon in hand. "Are you ready to go?"
"On the phone she said she was gonna give me another book so I can read t' ya!" Joey exclaimed, smiling, then began toward the front door.
Seto grabbed his jacket. "Actually, we're going to the garage."
The blond blinked at him innocently. "Why?"
"Mokuba's taking the limo, so I'm driving," the older man explained.
The blond blinked at him a little longer, then looked at Mokuba. After a moment, he looked back up at the elder brother and frowned. "…Why can't Mokuba drive?"
"I don't want him driving for so long," Seto replied. "It'll be fine."
"…But I don't want ya t' drive," the younger man mumbled.
The brunet growled. "I am not a bad driver!"
Joey glanced away and hummed. "…Well…"
"GET IN THE FUCKING CAR!"
"The… Lo-Lora… Lora…?"
"Lorax, Joey," Carol stated pleasantly. "The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss. The Lorax that speaks for the trees."
"…I fuckin' loved Dr. Seuss as a kid," Joey mumbled, stroking the cover slowly. "You'll like this one, Set'."
Seeing the blond distracted by looking at the pictures, Seto immediately turned to his therapist and scowled. "I specifically told you that he has problems with repeated sounds and with hard F's. He's going to have so much trouble reading this book. Especially when the Lorax speaks f-f-for the trees," he hissed.
Carol smiled at him sweetly. "Yes, but he's told me that he's reading you stories at night because you were not allowed that growing up. This should last you a week! Maybe even two!"
"…I hate you," the brunet growled, then sighed. "Well, I hear Dr. Seuss isn't completely terrible."
"I think you'll like it. It's about pollution."
Seto frowned, brows furrowing together in confusion. "…Why would I want to read a book about pollution? I see it out my window every day."
"Maybe this will drive you to do something about it. It's f-f-for the trees," she replied, smiling brightly.
"…I hate you," Seto repeated.
"Just call me when you finish that book and I'll give you a new one!" Carol chirped, then turned and patted Joey's shoulder. "Don't forget our appointment next month!"
"Yes'm," the blond answered, smiling up at her.
She patted him on the head, then turned to look at the older man in confusion. "Seto, I didn't see your limo outside. I was surprised when my secretary said you were here."
Seto smiled a little. "Well, I drove today." When the woman gave him a look clearly stating, 'whaaaaaaat', he immediately glared at her. "I'm not a bad driver."
Carol looked at Joey and raised an eyebrow. "Joey?"
Joey immediately looked elsewhere and began humming.
Seto snarled. "I HATE YOU ALL!"
"…All the paint is scraped off…" Joey mumbled, frowning, as he stepped around the car to look at the driver's side.
"Shut up," Seto snapped, glaring at him, as he kicked his door shut. He didn't care about scuffing it or denting it anymore. It didn't matter. Some idiot had side-swiped the crap out of his car anyway. Glaring at the distorted metal, he snarled and kicked it again. "This was my fucking favorite!"
The blond looked up at him in confusion. "…Can't ya just buy a new one?"
"Of course I can buy a new one! The point is I don't want to! I didn't do this! Some asshole hit-and-run driver did! What sort of person doesn't take responsibility for his actions!"
Joey opened mouth to remind Seto that he'd run away when he'd realized that the brunet had taken pictures of his ass.
"—A fucking coward, that's what! God! Just look at my car! I HOPE HIS LOOKS WORSE!"
Joey pursed his lips and turned to look up at the brunet, scowling. "Well, we knew it was comin' anyway. You're a terrible driver."
"I! AM! NOT!" the older man roared, hands clenching into tight fists. "TAKE IT BACK!"
"…Terrible driver," the blond whispered, then hurriedly scampered out of the garage.
Joey giggled playfully as he kicked his shoes off, turning to peek over his shoulder. "Bad driver!"
Seto scowled at him as he hurried to kick his own shoes off, but was instead startled when something bashed into the blond, sending both him and whatever had hit him rolling across the floor. "…The hell?"
"I may have underestimated how excited Serenity would be to see Joey," Mokuba muttered, coming up beside him. "The first thing she asked when I picked her up was 'where's Joey'."
"…She didn't look that tall in the picture," the brunet muttered after a moment. "She's almost as tall as you."
The two brothers saw the terror in the man's eyes as he scrabbled frantically to get away from his attacker. Seto frowned in concern and took a step forward to perhaps separate them.
Then he heard a quiet sob, and when the blond stiffened, he realized that Joey must have heard it too.
Joey made certain to stay tense, still trembling a little in terror even as his mind tried to comprehend the sound coming from just between his shoulder blades. It was soft, and sort of high pitched. And it was wet. He recognized that sound. It took a moment, but eventually, his frazzled brain was able to pinpoint where he'd heard it before.
Crying. Someone was crying into his back. It was too high-pitched to be Seto or Mokuba. So who could it possibly be?
Taking a deep breath, the blond forced himself to calm down. Obviously, this person meant no harm. If they had, they would have done something by now. So, once he was reasonably relaxed under the circumstances, he carefully turned his head to peek over his shoulder.
He saw red, first, and slowly it came into focus as hair. Curly hair. He recognized it, but he had to say he preferred it straight.
"…Why are ya here?" Joey whimpered, tears forming in his eyes. He was still broken. His sister wasn't supposed to see him until he was fixed! He wasn't fixed yet! She'd hate him! He wasn't the same Joey she'd known and loved! He grunted as she sat up and immediately slammed a fist into his back, wheezing pathetically. "Owie…!"
"You should have called me sooner!" Serenity snarled, then began pounding on his shoulders angrily. "I was so worried! Do you know how many nights I've spent crying myself to sleep because I didn't know what happened to you! I worried that you were dead! Or that something terrible was happening to you! How dare you do that to me when you're perfectly safe and comfortable?"
The blond squirmed helplessly. "I didn't want ya t' see me like this! I'm—I wasn't—This isn't who I should be!"
Serenity stood and glared at him, then swung her hand out to him as he turned to face her, her hand stopping just in front of his face. "Joey, I'd love you if you were lying in the gutter and tripped out on drugs."
Joey blinked at her hand for a moment, then slowly lifted his gaze up to her face, brows furrowing together in shame when he saw just how angry she was. He looked down at his lap and frowned, feeling ashamed that he'd made his sister worry longer than she'd had to, and also ashamed that he felt he'd been right in avoiding her. Biting his bottom lip, he let out a shuddering sigh and covered his face, unable to help another sob.
She frowned as his shoulders began to shake, kneeling in front of him as he began to bawl. "Joey?"
"I didn't do anything wrong!" he exclaimed helplessly. "I didn't do anything wrong, so why-! Why did all of that happen t' me! Why are ya so mad at me when it wasn't my fault!"
Serenity bit her bottom lip, unable to help feeling a little guilty for being so angry. From what Mokuba had told her, Joey hadn't had any choice in what he did. Their mother hadn't sent him any money, and then he'd lost his job… He'd had to take care of himself, and if he had to be less than human to do that—by living on the streets, snarling at anyone who came by and eating out of the trash—he could do nothing but what he had to.
Reverting back to any semblance of normal life wouldn't be easy, and he'd probably feel ashamed about what he'd done and how he couldn't just revert back to who he'd been before he'd had to change. The circumstances had been out of his hands. It hadn't been his fault.
She felt all of the anger and resentment she'd had drain away.
"…I'm sorry," she whispered, sliding her arms around his neck. "I'm sorry."
Joey nuzzled into her shoulder and whimpered, his sobs quieting as she began to rub his back. "I've missed ya so much…! I've wanted t' see ya for so long, but I didn't want ya t' see me…!"
"I'm sorry," Serenity repeated. "I'm sorry I got so mad at you, Joey. I shouldn't have. I'm sure you had your reasons." Leaning back, she offered him a watery smile. "Do you forgive me, Joey?"
The blond looked down at his lap and nodded a little. "Yeah." Pulling at the hem of his sleeve for a moment, he lifted his arm to wipe his eyes, then began wiping the tears that had fallen off of the cover of the book in his lap. "I forgive ya."
She sniffed and looked down at the book as well. "What's this?"
"…I can't read very well anymore. Carol's been givin' me books so I can relearn." Joey smiled at her awkwardly. "…I could read it t' ya for bed. Like we used t' when we were kids."
Serenity's smile grew. "Okay. I'd like that." She lifted her hand to wipe her eyes, then looked up at the Kaiba brothers that had been too afraid to move and distract them from what obviously needed to be said to each other. "Um… I am really tired from my flights. May I know which room I'm staying in?"
"…Mokuba, go show Serenity where she'll be staying," Seto ordered, waving him away and turning to go to the kitchen.
Mokuba frowned. "Where are you going?"
The brunet snorted. "I was in an accident today. I'm going to get drunk off my ass."
"…I knew it," the younger boy whispered.
"The accident wasn't my fault!" Seto ground out.
Joey leaned toward his sister and whispered, "He drinks girly drinks, so it'll probably take a couple hours for him t' get sloshed. You'll be asleep by then."
"And my drinks aren't girly!" the brunet roared.
Joey and Mokuba were quick to rush Serenity up the stairs and away from the older man's fury.
Seto watched them go and huffed. "…I get no respect around my own damn house."
Seto ran a hand through his hair and sighed, unbuttoning his shirt as he walked to his bed. He threw his shirt in the hamper and flopped onto his bed, momentarily entertaining the thought of smothering himself, then turned onto his back and stared up at the ceiling for a few minutes.
He felt badly for thinking it, but he was jealous. He had had Joey to himself for so long, he didn't want to share. Besides, Joey had said that he was going to read him to sleep, because he'd been deprived of being read to as a child. He'd… actually been looking forward to it. But just a little bit.
And then he felt guilty for being jealous. Joey hadn't seen his sister in such a long time. They deserved a little time together, especially if it was reminiscent of their times as children, before they'd been taken away from each other. He shouldn't have been as jealous as he was…
Seto sat up and tugged his pants off, then threw them in the hamper as well. Crawling under his covers, he squirmed and hit his pillow a few times, then settled himself and stared blankly at the wall. Now, he just had to wait until he fell asleep. After numerous tests, he'd discovered that it could take up to an hour for this process to happen. He didn't want to lie in bed for an hour and stare at the wall, but he just wanted to sleep.
He could only have so many wine coolers and punch so many punching bags before he ran out of energy.
He sighed and let his eyes drift closed. At least he could rest easy, knowing that perhaps something had clicked in Joey. He'd realized it hadn't been his fault. That was good. Carol had confided that Joey felt that a lot of things were his fault, when really, they were beyond his control. This was a step in the right direction.
Seto frowned as he heard the door open and began to sit up, but then it shut again, and he heard someone scampering over to his bed. Turning quickly to face his attacker, he was ready to protect himself, until he saw the large brown eyes gazing at him anxiously. He immediately went on the defensive, lurching backward in case the blond was angry enough about him bringing Serenity to Japan and ready to pummel him.
He was in no shape to get pummeled.
Joey blinked at him slowly, then held up the thick book he'd been given, smiling an innocent smile. "I promised t' read t' ya."
"…Oh. I didn't think you would tonight, because your sister…"
"No, she read t' me until she fell asleep. I tucked her in." Joey was in his pajamas. He looked cute in his over-large t-shirt and shorts. Like a child. "Scooch!" he ordered, pushing the brunet over further. "I wanna be in the middle!"
Seto grumbled but allowed the blond to take the spot that was usually his, instead curling up beside him beneath the blankets. "I don't see why I should give you my spot."
The younger man smiled and tucked the blankets further around his shoulders, then settled back against the headboard. "'cause I'm readin' t' ya and I want this spot."
"…Terrible logic," the brunet muttered, scowling, but laid his head on his pillow anyway. "You're sure you're not too tired?"
"I'm gonna beat ya with this," Joey threatened, waving the book at him, then opened it and smiled as he flipped to the first page. "Ya ready, Seto?"
Seto sighed. "Yes."
"Good. At the f-far end of tow…town, where the gri—grickle g-grass g-grows… and the wind smells s-slow and s-sour when it blows…" He glanced at the other man as he squirmed closer and smiled a little. "And no birds sing, except… excepting old crows, is the street of the lift…ed l-lorax. And deep in the grickle g-grass some p-people say, if you look deep… en… enoooohhhhh…" He squeaked in distress and turned the book so the brunet could see it better.
After tracking to see what word the blond was stumped with, the older man quietly supplied, "Enough."
"Enough. If you look deep enough, you can s-still see to…day where the… l-lorax once stood, just as l-long as it co..uld… before some—somebody lifffted the l-lorax away. What w-was the lorax, and w-why w-was it there? And why w-was it lifffted and t-taken some…where?"
Seto let his eyes drift closed, then reached out and rested his hand on the blond's arm. "Joey, could we start the book tomorrow? I feel a little buzzed still, and my head hurts, and I just don't feel up to this tonight."
Joey turned to look at him in concern. "Your head hurts? Ya gettin' one o' those migraine thingies Mokuba told me 'bout?"
"It's not that bad yet," the brunet assured, smiling a little. "I'm just a little more tired than I usually am. Watching you and your sister meeting each other again made me feel tired. I can't imagine how you must feel." He patted the younger man's arm and sighed again, then laid his head back on his pillow and curled up under his blankets once more.
The blond stared at him for a moment, then bit his bottom lip. After a few moments, he awkwardly asked, "…Can I stay?"
Seto looked up at him in surprise, then shrugged a little. "If you want to." When the younger boy nodded quickly, he lifted the blankets to allow him under, smiling when the blond immediately cuddled up against him. "Are you sure you're comfortable like this, Joey?"
Joey nodded and nuzzled his chest, releasing a content little sigh. "Yeah…" He mewed, pressing a damp kiss to the brunet's collarbone, then immediately drifted off to sleep.
Seto curled his arms around the blond tightly, leaning his face into the golden locks. It had changed a lot since Joey had first come back into his life, but then again, so had Joey.
When he'd first been coaxed into the mansion, he'd been terrified of everything and trusted nothing. He'd been hungry and tired and hadn't been able to string two thoughts together to save his life. He'd been dirty and… so alone in the world, having abandoned his friends and family in shame.
…He really had acted like a feral dog. He'd been nervous and skittish and he had taken a while to truly trust anyone again. He'd eaten what was put in front of him, had slept when he'd been showed a bed, but he'd been so prepared to leave once he'd been cleaned up and fed. He had been relatively easy to manipulate when he came, but he supposed that that was only because Joey had known him, and had, in the back of his mind, decided that he was at least better than the people he was surrounded by on the streets.
It had taken so long for the wildness in his eyes to fade back to the normal dim light it had been before he'd dropped out of school. They'd always been a little wild, of course; Joey had grown up on the streets. But at least that wildness could be reigned in to an acceptable amount when he was surrounded by… 'normal' people.
The feral dog that had to be coaxed into his home was now a playful pup that, though still learning to be himself—an adult—was finally at home with them.
Seto smiled as the blond snuggled closer to him. He had always liked dogs. He was glad he had the chance to rescue the one he cared about so much, and doubly glad that he was cared for in return.