AN: I'm almost embarrassed by this, but plot bunnies have a way of forcing themselves on you. If you didn't see the character label, this is a puppy-shipping. Probably not strictly canon, but I tried to work the plot into the show's events. In the second half there's a vague reference to manga canon, but I'll explain it then. Now, my beta tells me that Kaiba's slightly OOC, but I tried to keep it from getting too bad.
Disclaimer: I do not own Yu-Gi-Oh! Obviously.
The first time Jounouchi saw Kaiba after the Battle City tournament was completely accidental. Kaiba had returned for a few days to deal with some business, and none of the group even knew he was in Japan, let alone Domino. Jou was leaving work late one night after a horrendously long double shift when he saw something he never would have believed.
Kaiba Seto was walking almost like a drunkard in the street, weaving blindly from side to side. When Jou looked closely, though, Kaiba really did seem blind instead of just disoriented. That was enough to catch the blond duelist's attention. It got worse when he saw a car approaching at a fair speed without headlights, and Kaiba was dressed all in dark colors. Jounouchi imagined he had left his impossibly gravity defying white trench coat somewhere. The blond pushed his tired body into a sprint and managed to knock the other teen out of the street before the car went by. They rolled a few times before ending up with Jou practically lying in Kaiba's lap. He sprang back in a flash.
Kaiba didn't seem to realize there was someone else with him. If he had realized he wasn't moving, Jou couldn't tell- the CEO seemed completely unaware of his surroundings. He took a good look at Kaiba's blue eyes. They were open, but out of focus.
Jou didn't know what to do. He certainly had never had the money for a cell phone, expensive as they were, so there was no way he could call Yuugi or one of the others for help. Maybe Kaiba had a phone, but Jou had no desire to check. The pay phone in the area had been broken for weeks, so there wasn't even that option. He grabbed Kaiba's face firmly.
"Hey, you have to wake up," Jou said, emphasizing the words with a gentle shake. "Come on, Kaiba. Wake up. Mokuba is going to be worried. I need you to come back."
Slowly, almost excruciatingly so, Kaiba blinked, and his eyes focused. He frowned. "Jounouchi?"
Jou rocked back on his heels and rubbed his hands against his jeans. "Jeez, Kaiba, you scared me half to death. What's wrong with you? You were nearly hit by a car."
"A car?" the rich teen repeated. "Why would I be hit by a car?"
The blond waited a beat. "Are you okay? You really seem out of it. I was leaving work and you were walking in the street. At first I thought you might have been drunk. A car was coming right at you and you didn't seem to see it."
"I managed to knock you out of the way," Jou answered slowly, embarrassed without really knowing why. "Sorry if I hurt you or anything, but I wasn't going to watch someone die right in front of me."
Kaiba seemed to be pulling himself together. "Hn. I'm sure anyone else could have managed more gracefully." He got to his feet, and if he was in pain from the impact, he didn't show it. "I'm going home."
Jou almost believed it, but Kaiba's focus slipped again and he nearly crashed to the ground. Jou managed to catch his arm before he fell. "Do you have a phone with you? You could call your driver."
He looked himself over and shook his head. "I must have left my coat at the office."
The smaller teen stared at him in disbelief as Kaiba fell back into a daze. "The office? You were at KaibaCorp? How the hell did you get this far on foot?" Kaiba's headquarters were about thirty kilometers across the city. "How the hell did you make it this far without hurting yourself?"
He grabbed Kaiba's shoulder to loop the other boy's arm around his neck, but the brunette winced now. Jou quickly pushed the collar of his shirt to the side and saw a violent purple bruise marring the skin. It had to be a few hours old at least, judging by the amount of swelling, making it clear that he hadn't made it so far without hurting himself.
He frowned and considered the options. He had been paid at work that evening and actually had a decent amount of money- cash he had hoped to use to pay some of his father's bills, and to cover the rent and groceries. However, he couldn't in good conscience abandon someone that was obviously hurt and ill, even if he and Kaiba were enemies more than anything. The Kaiba mansion was too far for him to reach on foot after his long day, and he severely doubted the other teen would be able to after how long he'd walked already. Jou sighed and maneuvered Kaiba to the main street to wave down a cab, grateful that this job was in a good enough area to have taxis despite the hour. His last one had been so deep in the slums that no drivers would venture there even during the day.
"The Kaiba mansion, please," he told the driver.
The old man glanced in the rearview mirror. "Shouldn't you take him to the hospital? He doesn't look too good."
Jou agreed, but he knew Kaiba well enough to understand that he wouldn't appreciate finding himself there. He didn't need to give the CEO another reason to hate him. "No, I'll have his staff call his doctor for him. We just need to get him home."
"It'll cost you a bundle," the driver warned. "Hospital's closer."
The blond shrugged. "Please," he repeated. "Could you put up the partition?"
He waited until it was in place before he glanced at Kaiba. He was staring at something Jou couldn't see again, and it was worrying him.
"Kaiba, snap out of it," he said, shaking the uninjured shoulder. "Come on, you have to wake up. You're scaring me here."
He didn't get a response, but he continued to try. The half-hour drive was passed entirely with Jou attempting to drag Kaiba back. The driver approached the gate of the mansion and used the intercom to inform the household that he had Kaiba in the cab. The gate swung open and it began the long trek up the drive.
The man that had done the Battle City tournament announcements came running down the steps as Jou reached for his wallet to pay the fare. He quickly cut the blond teen off and shoved a thick wad of cash into the driver's hand.
"Not a word of this to anyone," he said sternly. The old man nodded and drove away as soon as they had gotten Kaiba out of the cab. Jou watched his ride take off with a scowl.
"Thank you for making sure he got home, Jounouchi-san," the man said as he lifted his employer into his arms. "You should go."
Jou shook his head. "I want to make sure he's all right. He was about to be hit by a car when I saw him."
Isono frowned. "This is getting worse, then."
"This?" Jou repeated. "What's going on?"
He didn't get a reply. Isono carried Kaiba into the mansion, and Jou stubbornly followed.
"Has he woken at all since you found him?" Isono asked abruptly.
Jou nodded, a bit taken aback by the sudden question. "He came to for a bit after I managed to get him out of the street, but then he went under and I couldn't get him to wake up again."
The man paused and faced him. "You woke him up? He spoke to you?"
"Yeah…" the blond teen answered uncertainly, gaze falling automatically to Kaiba's unresponsive eyes. He'd been watching for more than a half hour and it was still creeping him out. "Is that weird?"
"No one has been able to bring him back since this started," Isono explained. "He'll come back eventually, but no one has been able to manage it. Except you."
"Me? Not Mokuba?"
He shook his head. "Mokuba-sama doesn't know."
"Mokuba doesn't know?" Jou repeated. "Where's the phone? I can call him and he'll come back and help."
"No," Isono snapped. "Seto-sama doesn't want him to know. He doesn't want anyone to know."
"He nearly died tonight," Jou said quietly. "How will Mokuba feel if he loses his brother? Do you think he'll appreciate being left in the dark?" He glanced at the other teen again, still unconscious in Isono's arms. "What's happening to him?"
Isono hesitated. "I'm not allowed to say."
"Then I'll wait," the amber eyed teen decided. "When he wakes up, he can tell me."
"It could be hours," the older man warned.
"I can try to wake him up again if it takes too long."
Besides, it wasn't like Jou had any reason to hurry home. Going back with the amount of cash he had on him was practically suicide. He'd been planning on bunking with one of his friends for the night- they never minded when he showed up unannounced.
Isono gave up and carried Kaiba upstairs. Jou heard one of the maids inform him that the doctor had been called. Jou wandered into the living room and settled onto one of the ridiculously large and plushy couches to wait. He heard the doctor come in about twenty minutes later. Tired of sitting, he got to his feet and began pacing back and forth, waiting for news. The elderly gentleman entered the room and cleared his throat. Jou spun to face him.
"How is he?"
"Kaiba-sama is fine, physically. Aside from his undoubtedly sore muscles, his injured shoulder will pain him for a few days, but it will heal. Mentally… I do not know. He is becoming very ill, and I begin to fear that he will break down completely if we cannot find a way to help him soon."
Jou chewed the inside of his lip. "Has he woken up?"
The doctor shook his head. "Not as of yet. Isono-san told me that you managed to wake him earlier. I would suggest you try again."
The teen didn't waste any more time, pushing past him and hurrying up the steps. A maid pointed him in the direction of Kaiba's bedroom. He stuck his head in first and caught a glimpse of Kaiba lying as if dead in his bed. It was shocking at least. Jou had always regarded Kaiba as a force of nature, powerful and unstoppable. To see the other boy reduced to such a state…
He gave himself a good shake (all the while hearing one of Kaiba's snide dog comments in his head) and marched into the room. "Okay, Kaiba, enough's enough. You have to snap out of it and tell me what's going on." No response. "This whole thing is freaking me out, rich boy. I need you to wake up and talk to me."
Jou jolted in shock when Kaiba blinked and looked at him. "Bonkotsu? What are you doing in my bedroom?"
"Some thanks for a guy that saved your life, Kaiba. I risked my own skin to get you out of the way of an oncoming car."
The doctor stepped in. "Seto-sama? I am glad to see you awake."
Kaiba's gaze tracked over to the other man. "What happened?"
"I am not the one with those answers," he sighed. "I am told Jounouchi-san found you and brought you home. Isono-san informs me that he refuses to leave until he has had a chance to talk to you, but first I would like to speak with you myself."
Jou understood and left the room, allowing them some privacy. In a sudden fit of impatience he began to pace again, one absurd explanation after another popping into his head as he contemplated Kaiba's 'condition'. If that was even the right word for it. It only took a few minutes for the physician to exit the room, gesturing for Jou to go back in.
When Jou did, Kaiba was sitting up against his pillows. His eyes were closed, but Jou was pretty sure he was still there.
"What do you want, bonkotsu?"
"I want to know what's going on. I found you in the streets," Jou said bluntly. "Honestly, Kaiba, seeing you like that scared me. What's happening to you?"
At first, the blond teen thought Kaiba wouldn't answer. The other boy remained silent for several heavy beats. Finally, he did. "I don't know."
"You don't know?" Jou repeated. "How do you not know?"
"I don't know!" Kaiba reiterated harshly. "I don't know what's happening to me. Ever since Battle City… This happens every few days or so. I lose touch with the world. I see a man holding a dead woman in front of a tablet of Blue Eyes. Just that, every time. At first, it only lasted a few seconds. They tell me I was gone for hours today. I don't know where I was or what I was doing. I don't know what's happening."
The vulnerability he had only seen Kaiba show once before was like a fist to the gut. The last time Kaiba had seemed so fragile, he had lost his duel with Pegasus and thought he would never see Mokuba again.
Jou sighed. "Okay. Then tell me what you do know." He cautiously seated himself on the edge of the young CEO's massive bed. "Why haven't you told Mokuba?"
"He worries about me enough already."
"Don't you think he should? What would he think if something really did happen to you? If you had been hit by that car tonight, he never would have known why."
Kaiba frowned and finally opened his eyes. "I know. It would be better if he never did. I don't want him to see me like this, or anyone else for that matter."
"Then why are you telling me? I completely expected you to tell me to get out of your house when I asked," he admitted. "I never thought you would actually respond."
"Because I can't keep it a secret forever," Kaiba answered in a gentle tone that was almost as surprising as his appearance outside Jou's work. "You're right. I might have died tonight. If not tonight, another night, when someone doesn't see me in time. Only a handful of my staff knows about this. It has something to do with those Items Yuugi goes on about. I stayed away from them, but during the tournament there were so many."
For a brief time the blimp had contained all seven Items. If anything was going to be caused by them, it would've been then.
"You should try talking to Yuugi and Yami," Jou suggested. "They might be able to help you."
The blond laughed and rubbed the back of his head. "Yuugi's other self," he explained a little awkwardly. "You've seen it before, haven't you? Yuugi is a different person when he's dueling. We generally call both of them Yuugi- we really can't tell them apart very well. Yami prefers it that way; he doesn't like the extra attention. He's going to leave soon though, so you should ask before he does."
"How can Yuugi's imaginary friend leave?" Kaiba frowned. "Or help?"
"He's not an imaginary friend!" Jou protested. "I know it sounds crazy, but there really are two Yuugis. While we were in Duelist Kingdom… we ran into someone that managed to seal our souls into our favorite cards." He paused. "That sounds crazy too. Still, it happened. The one that did it didn't realize Yuugi had two souls. Yami beat him to free us. We've all talked to him. You've talked to him."
Kaiba remembered a strange conversation in a helicopter, but he hadn't paid much attention. Instead he had dismissed it as Yuugi being… well, Yuugi, the kid that was apparently suffering an overactive imagination. It was strange to hear the boy's story confirmed by someone else, though he still had his doubts. The thought of someone having two souls was just bizarre. He supposed it could just be multiple personality disorder.
"You actually believe that sort of thing?"
"Not at first," he admitted freely. "Now, yeah. It fits with a lot of the things we've seen happen."
The brunette didn't bother to argue. "I don't want to tell Yuugi about what is happening."
Jou sighed. "Of course you don't, but they might be the only ones that could help you. You already said you thought this had something to do with the Sennen Items."
"I don't care."
"You have to do something," the blond frowned. "There's no way you can keep going like this."
"I don't care," Kaiba repeated coolly. "I don't need your friend to get involved. I will handle this on my own."
"If you could handle it, that car wouldn't have come so close to killing you tonight," Jou snapped in frustration. "Kaiba, you can't deal with it alone. Isn't that obvious already?"
"It doesn't matter. I am not involving anyone else in this. It's bad enough you know, bonkotsu."
"Don't do that," the younger boy growled. Another dog joke taunted him, but he firmly pushed it away since Kaiba hadn't voiced any for once. "Don't try to make this a fight, because I'm not biting."
"Of course not, mutt."
He would make one two seconds after Jou realized he hadn't.
"Shut up, Kaiba. I want to know why you're so bent on keeping this a secret when there are people that would help you if you asked."
"What conceivable reason would Yuugi have to help me?"
Jou shook his head. "You don't get it. Yuugi never needed a reason to help people. Yami might not want to, but for Yuugi he would tell you whatever he knows. He could help. He might have some idea on how to make this stop."
"I don't want anyone to know," he snarled. "Anyone. Certainly not Yuugi, his imaginary friend, or his fan club. Not you."
"Too bad," Jou countered. "I already know, and if you don't start doing something about it, I'll tell them."
Their faces were no more than a few centimeters apart now- Kaiba had grabbed the front of Jounouchi's shirt when he had gotten angry. That was something Jounouchi generally did, not him, and another far too disconcerting example on how strange Kaiba was acting.
"Do you think this is a game?" the CEO demanded, his voice dangerously low. Any trace of softness that had been there before was gone. "Do you think people can know about this? I would be locked up. Mokuba would be taken away. This isn't something that can be shared, Jounouchi. This isn't some little thing that I can talk about with other people. It has to be a secret."
"Not from us," the blond responded forcefully. "We wouldn't do any of that. We could help, Kaiba. If you'd just talk to Yuugi or Yami, they would help you."
There was something between them. Like sparks, maybe, or the sizzle of static electricity. Whatever it was, it made Jou uneasy while Kaiba's expression became something wild.
Without warning, Kaiba's grip moved to his hair and their mouths pressed together. Jou yelped slightly in surprise and pulled back, staring.
"What the hell was that?" he gasped.
Kaiba's expression was unreadable. "You know what that was."
"Well… yes… but why? You hate me!"
Jou glared. "Just 'no'? You can't say anything more helpful?"
"Argh! Just tell me what the hell is going on here!"
For a moment, there was a glimpse of that unusual gentleness in Kaiba's blue eyes. It was gone as quickly as it had appeared. "It should be obvious."
"Well, it's not! Explain!"
The taller teen slid slowly from the bed and got to his feet. His eyes blurred for a moment, but he shook it off. Instead there was a predatory gleam that was rapidly proving just as unsettling as the previous blankness.
"I want you," he said bluntly.
The way he said it was very much like Kaiba's normal tone, and for a moment that was a relief for Jounouchi. Then the implication of the words sank in.
The brunette paused, tilting his head just the tiniest bit to one side. "You aren't interested?"
"No- I… I think you hit your head," Jou decided. "Yeah, that's it. You hit your head earlier, so you've gone a little crazy."
He took several steps back, not realizing just how close to the wall he'd come. "What?"
"I didn't hit my head."
For a man that had spent a good portion of the day in a daze and injured, he could move very quickly. Kaiba had Jou pinned against the wall before the blond even realized what was happening.
"Tell me you don't want this," the taller boy challenged as he leaned over his prey.
"I- Kaiba, you're crazy. You and I, we're…"
"That's not an answer, Jounouchi." He kissed him, until Jou was nearly as disoriented as Kaiba had been. "Time's running out. Yes or no."
"I- yes, damn you!"
Kaiba's smirk was feral. "I thought so."
Jou snuck out of the mansion the next morning, not realizing Kaiba was already awake and watching. One of the employees offered a ride, and the blond was tired enough to accept. Kaiba's gaze followed the car until it was out of sight, Isono joining him a moment later.
"Are you all right?" he asked.
Isono had worked for Kaiba from the moment the teen had seized control of the company and was the closest he had to a confidante beside Mokuba. If Kaiba would discuss his personal life with anyone, it would be him.
"I'm fine. Have the jet readied; I need to get back to work."
He obviously wasn't in a confiding mood. He rarely was.
The teen turned and raised one brow, daring his employee to disagree with him. "I said have the jet readied. There's work to be done."
Jou mumbled to himself as he ran to the burger joint he was meeting his friends at, ignoring the lingering pain from his previous activities. Kaiba's actions had entirely baffled the blond, and he wasn't sure what to believe or even how to deal with the situation. He had a few hickeys, too, and how would he explain that if someone noticed?
And then it occurred to him that Kaiba had said that Jou couldn't tell his friends, not that he couldn't ask without discussing particulars. It put him in a much better mood.
The group spent the afternoon much like they normally would- lunch, some time at the arcade, the usual. Jou waited till the others had left to challenge Yuugi to a duel. Naturally, it drew Yami's attention. An instant later it was the once-Pharaoh that sat where the meek little teen had been.
"What's going on?"
"Nothing. Just wanted to duel you."
Yami sighed. "Right. You act unusual all afternoon, challenge us to a duel only after everyone else is gone, and you refuse to look me in the face. What's happening, Jounouchi-kun?"
The blond sighed. "Well, I've been thinking a lot about what happened during Battle City."
The look Yami was giving him was one Jou had always seen right before the smaller teen made it clear he knew way more than he had previously let on. He shifted the collar of his jacket just a little higher, trying to be discreet.
"The Sennen Rod started acting strange while you and Kaiba were dueling," the blond started, hoping it would distract him from whatever he suspected. "What was that about?"
The Duel King shrugged. "Your guess may be as good as mine. I don't know much about the other Sennen Items."
"But what would they do to a person that doesn't know anything about your mystery past? I mean, what would happen if I had one of the Items?"
Yami raised one brow. "An interesting question. Let me think… The Items seem to have distributed themselves in this time in a manner very similar to the past, from the little I've seen. For a normal person, I imagine nothing would happen. A true bearer, on the other hand, would likely have some amount of memory emerge."
"Or an ancient spirit."
He nodded. "Or an ancient spirit. I don't think you're involved with the Items, if that's what you're worried about."
"Yeah, thanks. That's a load off."
"It's no problem. Now, I believe we were going to duel…?"
They had been invited to the KC Grand Prix Championship, of course- Kaiba wouldn't accept any less than the best for the tournament that was meant to reassure his company's place at the top of gaming technology. So Yuugi had to go as the reigning champ, and Jounouchi was invited as a participant.
He was furious when he was introduced as the underdog while the competitors were first presented. Once the necessary pictures had been taken, he slipped away for some air, not wanting to attack the tournament's organizer in front of all those nice people. And there was that chance that attacking might turn to something else… He really didn't need an audience to see him molest Kaiba. He doubted the CEO would take it well, and the backlash definitely wasn't worth venting his frustration.
Still, Jou had to admit the new KaibaLand was spectacular. He wandered for a while before coming to a stop by a large fountain.
"What are you doing?"
He turned. "Kaiba. I thought-"
"That Yuugi would follow you? He's still busy. There are a lot of people that wanted to meet him, particularly after that incident earlier in the Duel Dome."
"Did you find out what happened?"
"Not yet. I have some ideas, but I don't know anything for sure."
"Hm. How are you feeling?" Jou asked, his antagonism from earlier already gone. He couldn't seem to stay angry with the CEO, not since that night. "You know, with everything."
"You said that last time and still nearly got hit with a car." The blond sighed. "You're not going to discuss it, are you?"
"Of course not. Have you at least told Mokuba?"
"Kaiba, you're being ridiculous."
"I'm hardly worried about your opinion."
"Maybe you should be! Yami plans to leave for Egypt once this is over, and then he'll be gone. You need to ask him before he goes or this won't get better!"
"I don't care." He turned to face Jou, and the blond caught a glimpse of a lot of anger that didn't seem to have anything to do with his having brought up Yuugi and Yami. He was proved right when Kaiba practically exploded at him. Not really, since it was Kaiba, but as much as he'd ever seen Kaiba get mad before. "Why didn't you think of how everyone would feel after you went into that stupid, stupid duel with Mai? You were in no condition to be dueling, you idiot, and I know you knew that. Did it ever occur to you that the rest of us needed you? What did you think I meant before?"
"I thought what happened that night was just an accident," Jou said uncertainly. "And I had to help Mai. What happened to her was my fault."
"Are you in love with Mai?" Kaiba demanded.
"I don't know, Kaiba. Kaiba? Shit!" His blue eyes had just blurred, and Jou had to lunge across the little courtyard to catch the brunette before he fell into the fountain. "Kaiba!"
The smaller teen took a moment to be extremely glad that his hard life had given him plenty of muscle- Kaiba's size would have dropped them both in the water if Jou hadn't been able to reel him back. He managed to sit a little awkwardly by the fountain, both arms wrapped around the unmoving CEO. He was even holding one of Kaiba's hands.
"Kaiba, damn it, you have to snap out of it. There's no way I can get you to your room unnoticed with how crowded this place is, and I don't have a phone. You've got your fancy coat communicator, but you said no Mokuba. Come on, I need you to wake up." His heart nearly sputtered to a stop in relief when Kaiba's gaze suddenly locked onto his. He hurriedly released his grip. "Thank God. You're awake."
"You said you needed me."
Jou frowned. "I did?"
"Yes. You said you needed me and I came back."
"Great. You can hear me while you're… out of it."
Kaiba shook his head. "Only that."
"Only when you said you needed me. Have you said it before?"
"I don't know. I just keep talking to you. They say people in comas can hear it, right? So I just talk and hope you'll respond."
Kaiba's focus began to drift again, and Jou shook him sharply. The dead, blank look in the other teen's eyes was frightening. Cool, shuttered, angry- all those were fine. At least those were alive. It didn't matter how many times he saw this empty expression. He would never get used to it.
"Kaiba, come on. This really isn't funny. Well, you know it's not funny. But really! You just snapped out of it a few moments ago. You can come back, can't you? That image really can't be so fascinating that you need to see it again already. I need you to answer me, rich boy."
A faint chuckle was the first response he got. "Rich boy? I thought we were past all that."
"That was before you scared me to death again." Jou ran his hands through his crazy mop of blond hair anxiously. "Damn it, Kaiba, you have to stop doing that. And if you were faking just to get me worked up, I'll kick your ass."
"I wouldn't fake this."
Jou managed a tense bark of laughter. "No, I guess you wouldn't."
"You said it again."
"You said you needed me again."
"I- God." He curled into a little ball, hands over his eyes. "You're right. I've said it every time you've woken up. Though I'm generally saying 'I need you to snap out of it' or something along those lines. How can I be the one you'll respond to? There's no way everyone else had just not said that. What's happening?"
Kaiba slowly sat up, brushing dirt from his trench coat. "I don't know."
"This is so screwed up. First we sleep together, now I'm the only one that can wake you up? I don't even know why we had sex. I don't know what's going on. You don't like me, but apparently you need me around, but I have to be with my friends right now. Yuugi will need all of us when Yami leaves." He leapt up and kicked the fountain, ignoring the sudden pain in his foot. Still frustrated, he kicked it again. "Damn it!"
"You have a problem with me?"
"You're the one with a problem with me! You've insulted me for almost two years, Kaiba, and all the sudden we're lovers? No warning, no explanation. To top it off, I don't trust you!"
"I never hated you."
The blond moaned. "Then why the insults? What did I do that was so horrible you felt the need to mock me constantly?"
"You didn't do anything."
"Really not helping!"
"Jounouchi." Kaiba got to his feet. "Calm down."
"Calm down? Do you have any idea what sort of situation you're putting me in? I apparently need to decide between you and my friends, Kaiba! I'm not going to calm down!"
He caught the blond's hand and pulled him close. "I'm not asking you to choose. I'm asking you to listen. I don't expect you to trust me; I don't expect you to forget the way I've treated you. Go with your friends if they need you."
"I would never forgive myself if you died because I wasn't doing everything I could," Jou admitted softly, pressing his face against Kaiba's shoulder.
"I don't need a keeper."
"Yes you do. There's all those cars out on the streets just waiting for you."
"Jounouchi, you're being ridiculous."
"Probably," he muttered, "but it's still true."
Kaiba stared at the fountain. "Did you ever wonder how no one else noticed what was happening while we were dealing with Dartz?"
Jou considered. "No, but I should have. With the way you've been blacking out, someone should have caught on."
"I didn't- not once the entire time. Do you know why?" The blond shook his head, so the CEO continued. "I was too worried about you. I wanted to throttle you when I realized what you'd done, sacrificing yourself for Kujaku Mai. I was ready to go after Dartz alone for it, but your friends brought your body along. You were gone and all I could do was stare at an empty shell."
"I'm sure you've been told."
"Go back to the others. Your friends will be worried."
Jou reluctantly drew back. "I guess so."
He hurried off, leaving Kaiba alone by the fountain.
Everyone was back in Domino now, the Grand Prix concluded with Yami as the uncontested winner. It was no surprise to anyone.
Yami and Yuugi were making their preparations to leave for Egypt as the rest of the group did the same, not telling them they would be going as well. Jou worked slavishly to scrape together every yen he could, knowing nonetheless that he wouldn't have enough. When he saw Kaiba waiting for him outside his job, he breathed a sigh of relief, not really knowing why. He then cursed the other boy's stupidity.
No one knew about their strange relationship except Isono, who often chauffeured Jounouchi to or from their meetings. He had thought about telling his friends, but something always held him back, and Kaiba didn't comment. He was grateful for that.
"What brings you here so late?" he demanded once his shift ended. "If you had zoned, there's no knowing what could have happened to you. This isn't the sort of place you should be vulnerable in."
"I'm fine, Jounouchi. Nothing happened."
"Thank God." Jou grabbed his arm and hurriedly pulled him down the block to the CEO's black car- one that was only slightly more discreet than his usual limo. At least he'd had the sense to tone down his clothing to something less outrageously noticeable. "The last thing you need is to be jumped by a gang."
"Most gangs aren't foolish enough to cross me."
"You're crazy if you actually believe that. Gangs are more than willing to jump anyone that looks like they might have a few yen, and I guarantee you that you look like you have way more than that. Has that even occurred to you? Everyone knows you're rich, after all. You might be able to fight, but ten or more on one is something even you probably couldn't handle."
"Then why are you here?"
"Most of them know me well enough to steer clear. Unless they run with Hirutani, they leave me alone."
"I'm not interested in talking about my sordid past right now, Kaiba."
"I said no. Let's go before anyone realizes you're here."
Kaiba relaxed against the black leather seat as the car pulled away, studying him. "Something's bothering you."
"Yami is almost ready to leave, and I don't have enough money," Jou admitted reluctantly. "And that's not me asking. You wanted to know and I told you what it was."
"I know you weren't asking." Jou knew Kaiba was of the opinion Jou wouldn't ask him for help unless he was in a life or death situation. He couldn't argue; it was true after all. "Tell me about Hirutani."
"I thought I said to drop it."
"When have I ever listened?"
He moaned. "You won't give up until I tell you, will you?" Kaiba shook his head. "Fine. I used to run with Hirutani in middle school."
"Same reason a lot of people do, I guess. I was broke and angry with the world. With Hirutani I had prestige and started getting some money."
"I grew out of it. They were doing things I couldn't agree with, so when it was time to pick a high school I left them behind. They popped back into my life when they started threatening my friends but we got rid of them. The other gangs are still scared of me- I had a pretty bad reputation- but Hirutani likes to regularly pop in and mess with me, or send some of his goons to give it a go. If he found out about this thing with us he'd probably have me killed."
"You have scars," Kaiba said quietly.
"Not from the gangs."
Jou studied him, wondering if there was any way to dissuade him from continuing the conversation. Knowing Kaiba, there probably wasn't. "Why all the prying questions? Is something going on that you're not telling me?"
"Call it curiosity."
"So you're not going to be content until you know all the dark details of my past, is that it?"
"I hate you sometimes."
"I doubt it."
"Could you stop being so confident for a minute?"
"Well, forget it. I'm not discussing that."
"Tell me and I'll tell you about mine."
"Those scars on your back?" Jou realized. Kaiba nodded. "All right, all right. You win, again. And stop smirking."
His face became absolutely expressionless. "I'm not smirking."
"Sure you're not. Anyway. The scars are… Well, they're from my father. He's an alcoholic and when he's drunk he gets violent. It's why I don't invite friends over and why I'm always working. He can't hold down a job so I have to cover all the bills."
"Why have you stayed in school?"
"My sister, mostly. I want to be a good example for her, even if I don't see her very often. Besides, I'm only sticking it out with my father until I've graduated. After that I can get a real job and try to make something of myself."
"You surprise me, Jounouchi."
Jou froze. "Why?"
"I used to think you were an idiot that was too shallow to know what a hard life was. Now I see I entirely underestimated you." He paused. "Well, not entirely. You're still not as good a duelist as I am."
"Am I wrong?"
"No, but you didn't have to put it like that!"
He chuckled. "Maybe not."
The smaller teen subsided. "You were going to tell me?"
"I imagine you can already guess, actually."
How could Jou not know, after everything they'd learned from Noah in that bizarre virtual world he'd created just to torture Kaiba? Of course, the CEO never discussed it. He didn't know how he hadn't figured it out before. It wasn't as if there were a lot of other people with either enough guts or stupidity to try hurting the teen that way.
Kaiba nodded. "Gozaburo. After he adopted Mokuba and I, he set about turning me into the perfect Kaiba. When I rebelled, he took a belt to my back until it was raw."
"Does Mokuba know?"
"No. I did everything I could to keep Gozaburo from paying attention to him." They pulled up in front of the Kaiba mansion, and the CEO reached for his lover. "Stay with me tonight?"
Jou hesitated. "I should go home. My father gets mad when I'm not there to cook and stuff."
"All the more reason to stay."
"Won't Mokuba notice?"
"He's with a friend tonight. He begged me to let him for a week."
"And you let him go? No bodyguard or anything?"
"He would kill me if I did."
"Which means you just didn't tell him."
"Don't be absurd. I put a tracker in his things."
"Of course you did," Jou sighed. "You know, he's a teenager now. He's thirteen. You're going to have to trust him to look out for himself eventually."
"I didn't ask you to stay so we could argue."
"Have you eaten?"
Jounouchi's stomach rumbled, answering the question for him. "…No."
"Come inside and eat then."
He reluctantly trailed after him, still uncomfortable in the mansion despite having been there several times. Never mind he'd been told to come and go as he pleased. The kitchen alone was the size of his entire apartment. Kaiba opened the refrigerator and pulled several items out.
"You don't need to cook. I didn't even know you could cook."
"My mother taught me when I was a child. It's not something I do a lot, but with the late nights I keep I occasionally throw something together. Can you?"
"Nothing fancy, but yeah. Need help?"
Kaiba passed him some potatoes. "Could you wash these and slice them thinly?"
The companionable silence that settled unnerved Jou, who was far more comfortable with their normal tumultuous behavior. Even now, in their odd state as friends and lovers, they fought like crazy and often took great pleasure in provoking each other. Just a few days beforehand they'd had a particularly awful one where Jou had actually walked out. It had taken Kaiba having another episode for him to come back, something he still felt guilty about. Angry or not, he shouldn't have waited for that to admit he'd overreacted.
The gentle quiet was too much like being a couple.
"Are we…" He sighed. "Are we together or something?"
Kaiba looked over at him, somehow still efficiently frying the tempura. "Are we together? Why are you asking?"
"Because we've never really defined what's going on between us. We have sex sometimes and spend most of our free time together, but we don't discuss feelings or anything like that. We fight like crazy. I'm not even sure why you bother with me at all, except that I'm the only one that can snap you out of your episodes."
The other teen fished the last of the vegetables from the oil and methodically dried his hands before stalking over and backing Jou into a corner. "What do you think we are?"
"I don't know." The way Kaiba was leaning over him was unsettling, but Jou was determined not to back out this time.
"We spend all of our time together. We're lovers. What does that generally equate?"
"Exactly." He grabbed a fistful of Jou's hair and pulled him into a searing kiss.
The next time the two of them had a moment to themselves was while on the boat to Kul Elna, preparing to say good-bye to Yami. He had recovered his true name- Atem- and was ready to move on to the afterlife. All he needed was an opponent in one final game.
They had both volunteered, of course. In the end it was Yuugi himself that would take the challenge.
"Have you been all right?" Jou asked finally, more than ten minutes after joining Kaiba on deck. "With your… episodes?"
"Sorry. I would have been there for you if I could."
"You had your own responsibilities."
"That doesn't make it okay for you to struggle through it alone."
Kaiba sighed. "What do you want, Jou?"
"I want you to tell me about the things you saw in Yami- I mean, Atem's memory world. Did you find out about that girl?"
The CEO nodded. "Her name was Kisara. She died saving the priest's life."
Jou winced. "Ow." He studied his lover. "Any more since?"
Kaiba hesitated for a telltale (to Jou) fraction of a second before replying. "No."
"Don't lie to me."
He sighed. "There was one while you were with your friends. It didn't last very long."
"Did Mokuba see?"
"No. He was with you at the time."
"Are you really okay with Yami going instead of his helping you?" Jou asked in frustration. "I think there's bound to be something he could do."
"I don't want his help."
"Once he's gone, everyone that could tell you something will be dead. How are you okay with that?"
"Katsuya, please. Not tonight."
"If I don't ask tonight, there won't be any point!"
"I accepted that a long time ago."
The aforementioned teen pivoted and fused their mouths together for a heart-stopping kiss before pulling back. "Seto," he growled against his lover's lips.
"Not tonight, Katsuya. I don't want to argue with you tonight."
"You won't change your mind?" Jou pressed one last time.
"No, I won't. I'll watch tomorrow, and we'll go home. We'll graduate high school and move on with our lives."
"I mean, it's your decision to make…"
"Then let it go. After tomorrow we can all just start clean, without all of the craziness that's followed us for the past two years. Isn't that enough?"
Jou rejoined Kaiba on deck as they followed the Nile back to Cairo, hours after they had returned to the boat. "Yuugi finally fell asleep."
"Is he all right?"
"He cried for more than an hour before Anzu and I could convince him to take a sleeping pill. Poor guy's really shaken up. For the time being, at least one of us will be staying with him in case he freaks out again."
"So… Yami, hm?"
"Finally convinced he wasn't just a figment of our imaginations?"
"It's difficult continuing to disbelieve after watching a second person emerge from Yuugi. How long was Yami with him?"
Jou frowned. "How long… It's hard to say. Yuugi didn't admit to it until the Duelist Kingdom finals, but if Yami was in the Sennen Puzzle I guess he would have first shown up when Yuugi solved it, right around the time he and I became friends." His gaze slid to his lover. "Why the sudden interest?"
The taller teen shrugged again. "Isn't that how polite chatting goes?"
"Like you've ever worried about things like that. Admit it, you're worried about Yuugi."
"Why should I worry about Yuugi?"
"Well, I know you like him despite the way you treat him. Or at least you like him as much as you like anyone beside Mokuba."
"Still so unsure of yourself," Kaiba murmured as he tugged the blond close. "I wouldn't bother if I didn't like you, Katsuya. You should know that by now."
A bloodcurdling scream resounded through the entire boat, shaking both teens out of their private world. Jou pulled back, face paling.
He practically flew through the narrow passages below deck to reach the other boy's room, nearly colliding with Malik and Honda as they came from the other direction. Together they raced into his little cabin.
Yuugi was thrashing about wildly, despite Anzu's best efforts to hold him still. Thin sobs continued to spill from his raw throat, but his eyes were squeezed shut despite the tears leaking from beneath the lids.
"I think it's a nightmare," Anzu managed to explain as Jou took over. "At first I thought it was just a dream- he kept saying 'Yami'. That scream was when it got bad."
"How long until those pills wear off?" the blond barked at Malik.
The Egyptian frowned. "They're supposed to last at least four hours, so it'll be a while."
"Problem, bonkotsu?" Kaiba asked from the doorway.
"Yuugi!" Mokuba cried from behind his brother.
"Kaiba, unless you know a way to wake Yuugi up, you're not helping," Jou said through gritted teeth. Despite Yuugi's being practically half his size, the little guy was putting up a fight.
The CEO shrugged and elbowed Jou aside. Then, without warning, he slapped Yuugi across the cheek with a resounding crack.
"Yami!" Yuugi shrieked as he woke up, clearly panicked before his gaze met with Kaiba's. "Kaiba…kun…?"
"Get a hold of yourself," Kaiba said shortly. "I have seen you survive almost certain death without a whimper. You've defied me more times than I can count. Now look at you! What would Yami think?"
"I- Yami is-"
"He's gone. You told him to go. The sooner you deal with that fact, the better."
"Kaiba!" Jounouchi gaped. The rest of the gang only stared. "What are you doing?"
"I'm being sensible. The rest of you would only coddle him and let him mope forever."
"Nii-sama!" Mokuba said, eyes wide.
"No. Enough is enough. You're still alive, Yuugi. Act like it."
"Now that's it!" Honda snarled, advancing on the taller boy.
"No! Honda-kun, he's right. Yami… Yami wouldn't want me to behave like this." Yuugi stared at his lap. "I just don't know what to do without him."
Kaiba studied him, arms crossed against his chest. "Finish high school. Get a job, either at your grandfather's store or KaibaCorp. Maintain your title as King of Games."
The little teen shook his head. "I don't want to duel any more."
"You went through hell to get that title. You and he both. Would he abandon it if you were gone?"
"Then don't go handing it over without a fight, or I'll take it myself. You probably couldn't beat me in a duel anyway."
"I could! If I could beat Yami-" His voice caught a little on the name, but he pressed on. "I can beat you."
"Well, you'll have plenty of chances to prove it. I intend to organize another tournament right after our graduation. You'll be expected to participate."
"I don't have the energy for a drawn-out tournament, Kaiba-kun."
"You only have to play the last match."
He brushed out of the room after that, ushering Mokuba with him. The others all stared after him, stunned.
"Was Kaiba being… nice?" Anzu asked.
"As nice as Kaiba can be," Honda said dryly.
Yuugi rolled into a little ball, knees tucked beneath his chin. His hand went automatically to where the Puzzle generally hung, but fisted when there was nothing there. "I don't want to duel any more."
"Yuugi, you know he's right," Jou murmured.
"I know, but… It's like killing Yami all over again." He shook his head. "Atem. It's like killing Atem all over again."
Malik and Ishizu quietly slipped away, leaving the friends clustered around Yuugi's trembling form.
"You didn't kill him," Honda said. "He was already dead."
Anzu slapped him upside the head. "That doesn't help, you idiot."
Ryou stepped in. "Can I talk to him alone?"
Jou frowned but nodded. "Sure. Just… be careful, okay?"
Jou was leaning against the railing, waiting for Ryou to finish talking to Yuugi, when Kaiba came back to the deck.
"Are you all right?"
The blond turned. "I don't know. Yami- Atem was my friend too. Right now, though, we have to be strong for Yuugi's sake." He looked back out over the river. "That was a nice thing you did in there."
"The slapping or the orders?"
He managed a wry chuckle. "Both. I guess he needed that sort of no-nonsense attitude."
"Without understanding what he's going through, sympathy is useless. He just needs his life to return to some semblance of order."
"Who knew you were really a softie."
"Despite our many differences, Yuugi is a good person going through something terrible. He's also earned my respect, so I'll help him if he needs it." Kaiba scowled. "And I am not a 'softie', as you put it."
"Sure. If you insist." He stared out over the river again. "Still, what now?"
AN: I figured wrapping up part one (of two) with the end of the official canon worked out well. Chances are I'll be posting the next part in a few seconds though, so no need to get elaborate here. Out of curiosity, which of the two do you think really needs the other? So please review, and I'll see you next chapter!