Disclaimer: I do not own Yu-Gi-Oh!
A/N: On Yuugi's use of honorifics - a friend of mine who studies Japanese has informed me that the use of '-kun' is fairly unusual these days, out-dated even, but I've chosen to keep them as part of his speech simply because he always uses them. Please forgive me if you disagree with my usage.
The meeting came as a surprise to both of them. Of course they were both busy men who had 'people' to deal with minor things like scheduling, and the exhaustion of long work hours and transcontinental travel no doubt played a part in the fact that neither of them were aware that the other was even in the same country until they found themselves face-to-face in the lobby of a five star hotel.
Kaiba was the first to recover from the shock. He brushed aside the orbiting mass of his Bluetooth-headset-equipped 'people' and scowled down at his former rival. "Yuugi," he said, with a curt nod.
Yuugi grinned, returning the gesture. It had been five years since their last meeting, five years since an awkward farewell at an airport shrouded in an Egyptian desert's haze, but from the nonchalance in Kaiba's tone it could have been mere days. America seemed to have agreed with young CEO; his unnatural skinniness had filled out somewhat, the shadows of weariness a little lighter around his eyes. He had, in fact, lost the pinched, hunted look of a man struggling with his own demons, though the low thrum of barely-contained irritation still sharpened the air around him. "It's good to see you again," he replied, honestly.
Kaiba snorted; he was scrutinising Yuugi with the same old calculating intensity that he'd always had, his expression unreadable. "No cheerleading squad?"
"Not this time," the Duel Monsters world champion replied, resting a hand on his hip. Blue eyes caught the movement, lingering for a moment, and narrowed when they met his once more. "Is Mokuba with you?"
"Despite imaginative protests, he has been condemned to serve his time in high school. Which means that we are both without company for dinner."
Apparently 'people' didn't count as company. Yuugi's grin widened; Kaiba's entourage was significantly larger and more frantic than his own, a veritable throng of suited professionals alternatively murmuring into their headsets and circling the world's youngest billionaire with palpable unease. By contrast, Yuugi's cabal of two bodyguards and a personal assistant seemed positively minuscule. "I wouldn't say that," he said, in answer to Kaiba's statement (never a question – Seto Kaiba was not a man who would deign to ask questions). He gestured to his staff. "These guys-"
"I will see you in the bar at eight," Kaiba interrupted, abruptly, then he turned on his heel with a typically ostentatious flourish and strode off in the direction of the elevator, trailing bodyguards in his wake.
Yuugi couldn't help but laugh, even as his PA gave an exasperated huff. "Who exactly does he think he is?" she demanded, scribbling furiously in her appointment book. "We have interviews tonight, does he really think the international King of Games can just-"
"Of course he does," Yuugi said, softly, cutting off her tirade. "I'd try to make time for any of my friends, Kaiba's just more direct than most. Will you be able to reschedule those interviews?"
The look she gave him could have frozen the Pamplona bulls on their run. He laughed again, raising his hands in apology, and pretended to duck behind his nearest bodyguard who, happy to join in the joke, spread his arms wide and affected to loom over the diminutive PA. She folded her arms across her chest, glaring up at the human obstacle. "Don't think I won't take you down too, Tanaka-san."
"You're more than welcome to try," the human mountain rumbled, his tone amused. "But the boss has always been very clear about his feelings on inter-personnel conflict."
Behind him, the boss stifled another laugh; it seemed that five years hadn't taken away Kaiba's instincts for causing discord. He wondered what the man had in store for him at dinner.
Nothing too explosive, he hoped.
As hotel bars went, it was nothing spectacular. The decoration was suitably slick and characterless, 'style' having come to mean 'genericism' rather than 'individuality', and the uniformed staff went about their work with a lacklustre air. Seto Kaiba studied their comings and goings with equal disinterest,second-rate scotch untouched on the table before him. A vague, dismal attempt at providing atmosphere tinkled unconvincingly from the piano player in the corner, a young woman whose aspirations clearly lay beyond providing ambient music for bored businessmen; Seto considered her for a moment, watching the precise movements of her fingers, and made a mental note to have her examined by one of his people. Wasted talent was inefficient.
It had nothing to do with compassion, no matter what Mokuba might say.
At the thought of his brother, Seto felt his fingers clench involuntarily. It had been two months since Mokuba's last vacation, two months of promotional tours for the newly-opened Duel Academy. He was growing weary of human stupidity, beginning to miss the razor-sharp mind beneath his brother's wild hair. Other people were just so...dull.
Of course, there were exceptions to every rule. The music faltered as the reigning King of Games sauntered into the bar, the pianist blushing as she fumbled her notes and hastily turned away, recognition bright in her eyes – a fan? Or just a girl stunned by a striking young man?
And striking he had become. Seto had been astonished, for all that he'd concealed it well. Despite the extra height (a few inches, nothing more) and the retreat of once-plump cheeks, Yuugi looked nothing like Atem. His shoulders were a touch broader, his waist a little narrower, and the extravagant crown of gothic spikes trimmed right back. The everyday stresses and strains of life had hardened his face, as exercise had hardened his muscles, the slow emergence of cheekbones balancing out his peculiar eyes. His limbs had filled out, all adolescent awkwardness long since dropped from his form, and he had met Seto's gaze squarely, with nothing but a trace of his previous shyness.
He was making his way towards Seto with the same self-assurance, content in his own space as he had never been before solving that ridiculous Egyptian trinket. "Kaiba," he said, when he reached the table, with the same bright smile he'd always had. Seto acknowledged him with a non-committal hum, gesturing him to the opposite seat; the Game King slid into the chair with economical grace, only sparing a moment to signal a waiter before turning back. "You should know, my PA is furious at you."
"Then you should replace her with someone more efficient. Last-minute schedule changes are endemic to the profession."
"Oh, I couldn't do that. She's been talent-scouted by KaibaCorp for the past two years running, it wouldn't do to let your lot snatch her up."
Seto snorted. "Please. I'm sure the fifteen countries in which we operate can offer up something more suitable than a midget gamer's leavings."
"And yet, those letters postmarked 'KC' keep on coming," the midget gamer retorted, turning away briefly to order a glass of shiraz.
"One would question why you keep opening them, if they are such a trial on your nerves," Seto replied once the waiter had swanned away. "It can't just be that recurring martyr complex you're so susceptible to."
Yuugi laughed, leaning forwards in his chair to rest his forearms on the table, hair falling into his eyes. "It's been too long, Kaiba-kun," he said, the honorific tumbling from his lips like a nickname, and Seto raised an eyebrow.
"No one's called me that for-"
"Five years?" Yuugi supplied, before he could finish, and he grunted an assent. "You've always been a bit too fond of other people's respect."
Seto allowed himself to follow Yuugi's lead, leaning forwards so that his eyes were level with his former rival's, resting his elbows on the table and clasping his hands neatly before his mouth. "The regard of others means nothing to me. It is only natural that they should respect that which they are inferior to."
"That could have been phrased more delicately, Kaiba-kun."
"Delicacy isn't exactly what I'm famous for."
"No? I wonder what Blue Eyes would say to that..."
The CEO smirked behind his hands, knowing that Yuugi would notice the amused crinkling of his eyes. "Very little, I suspect. Fictional card game creatures are famously reticent."
Yuugi clucked his tongue against his teeth, peering up through the fall of spiked blond bangs. "As are their masters, it seems."
"This is the longest conversation I've had all day."
The Game King blinked, wrong-footed, and Seto wondered at his own candidness; the boy had always been able to wrest unintended truths from him, apparently by accident, solely by virtue of being himself. Even half a decade couldn't strip him of that power. "You need more friends, Kaiba-kun," Yuugi said, eventually, smiling a brief thanks to the server who arrived with his drink. "It's no good scaring your employees out of talking to you, you'll get lonely."
Seto rolled his eyes. Only five minutes into the conversation and they'd reached the dreaded f-word. "Keep your friendship lectures to yourself, Mutou, there are better uses for that hot air."
To his surprise, Yuugi chuckled, taking a sip from his glass. "Maybe one day it won't seem so much like hot air?"
"And perhaps one day the bonkotsu will make something of himself."
"Y'know, that's not actually the best comparison you could have made," Yuugi said, mildly, though the pride in his tone was unmistakeable. "Jounouchi-kun's setting himself up to be one of Japan's most in-demand artisans. He owns a bespoke woodcarving shop in Kyoto, they're already calling him a Master Carver."
Seto was surprised; when they were younger, Yuugi's pet dog had been loathe to leave him alone for more than an afternoon at a time, self-imposed bodyguard and sycophant duties overriding any of his other concerns. Perhaps there hadn't been enough money in playing tag-along to the Game King? He covered his confusion with a sneer. "Jumped-up manual labour, then? A commoner's employment. No doubt you approve of his expertise?"
Yuugi seemed unconcerned by the scorn. He shifted in his seat, the curve of his smile deepening. "Oh yes, Jounouchi-kun is very good with his hands," he said, no, purred, and he rolled back a shoulder as if stretching it, his smile turning lascivious.
His meaning was unmistakeable and Seto had no hope of disguising his shock. He gaped at his former rival, hands dropping to the tabletop, surprise numbing his features. "You mean- That you- You and he..."
Violet-blue eyes grew heavy-lidded with recollection, heated and fond, and restless fingertips found the empty space where the Millennium Puzzle used to hang. "When mou- When Atem went to the afterlife, he left a void inside me, a silence," Yuugi's hand stilled, curled into a fist over his heart. "Jounouchi-kun was good enough to fill it for a while."
Seto's stomach turned at that, the wistful softness in Yuugi's voice, and he hastily schooled his face into a blank expression, affecting an unimpressed grunt. "So he's carving shapes out of wood for a living."
"And working on the next generation," Yuugi added, wistfulness vanishing with a grin, to Seto's relief. "He and Mai-san have twins."
Yuugi nodded. "They're living together these days – well, whenever she's not on tour. You should see her now, she nearly beat me in the last tournament."
"Raising her children long distance." Seto folded his arms. "How civilised."
"As civilised as multinational corporate business?"
Ah. So the boy had picked up sarcastic put-downs on the road; Seto raised his glass in acknowledgement of the remark, privately amused by Yuugi's delight in having matched him. Competition cemented their relationship, defined it, made it real – it always had. It probably always would.
Comfortable quiet fell, the pause stretching between them into a lull. The two world-famous young men studied each other, as content as any old friends renewing their acquaintance, nothing to hint the wild furies of their past. Seto enjoyed the silence, the unspoken understanding that only his little brother shared. Yuugi met his eyes, his gaze knowing, and tilted his head to one side.
"Indeed. I have taken the liberty of pre-ordering the food, this hotel's menu is as uninspiring as its décor."
Seto resisted the urge to smile at Yuugi's affected horror. It was an urge that had grown uncomfortably recurrent in the boy's (man's) company. "Were it not for the location, I would never have considered staying here a second time."
"Ah," Yuugi breathed, a sigh of realisation. "The lake, of course."
There was a knowingness in his voice to match the gleam of his eyes, now. Seto frowned. "'Of course'?"
Yuugi shrugged. "It's the reason why I was booked in here, but I didn't know you were a nature-lover?"
He did not allow himself to sigh at that, contenting himself with a brief glance heavenwards. "I merely appreciate the quiet, it has nothing to do with nature or the loving thereof."
The King of Games didn't appear to be convinced. "Whatever you say, Kaiba-kun. Incidentally, did you know that Pegasus originally designed Blue-Eyes to be a water dragon?"
"All right, all right," came the gleeful response, no trace of remorse in Yuugi's delighted tone. "What are we eating, then?"
Yuugi sat back with a satisfied sigh. Despite Kaiba's earlier pronouncement, the meal had been delicious; some sort of extravagant pasta dish, rich and luxurious. Exactly what a billionaire would choose to eat. Even the ice-king himself had cleared his plate – that, at least, explained the new heft to Kaiba's frame. He would never be anything other than a slim man, but at least he no longer resembled a well-dressed skeleton. It was something of a relief.
"That," he said, to distract himself from his own musings, "was delicious. Thank you."
Kaiba, who was dabbing delicately at his lips with his napkin, eyed him. "You're paying your own damn bill, Mutou."
He laughed – couldn't help it – and refilled both their glasses from the bottle of pinot noir they'd compromised on (it had come as no surprise that Kaiba disapproved of his taste in wine as in everything else). "Of course," he agreed, watching the last drops splutter from the bottle. The alcohol had settled warmly in his veins, enough to soften an already good mood and encourage his more playful tendencies, but not enough to dull his senses or dizzy his mind. If he was beginning to feel a little light-headed, well, he was spending time with an old friend; it was to be expected.
"I'd never have imagined you as a wine drinker," Kaiba said, abruptly; glancing up, Yuugi found that the young CEO had that focused scrutiny back in his eyes.
He played with the stem of his glass, rolling heavy red liquid up against its sides with each flick of his wrist. "It's sort of difficult to convince people you can be taken seriously when you insist on drinking lemonade at corporate lunches," he said, with a grin. "Besides, mou h- Atem liked it. Whenever he could get it, that is - my taste buds became accustomed without me noticing, so it wasn't difficult to get used to."
Kaiba nodded, slowly. Yuugi wondered if he'd ever let go of his cynicism concerning the past, if he'd ever honestly believed the magic that had danced crazy circles through his mind and memory, and put the query aside for another time. The man had, at least, accepted Atem's existence as something other than a schizophrenic figment of Yuugi's imagination. For some reason, that validation was enough.
Clearing his throat, Yuugi cast about for a new topic of conversation as an efficient waitress cleared their table, and found himself saying, "Well, we have an entire evening ahead of us. Would you like to play a game?"
Amusement curled Kaiba's lips and he quirked an eyebrow in question.
Yuugi laughed. "No, not Duel Monsters," he said, with a wink. "We should probably save that rematch for a charity fundraiser and an overcrowded stadium. How about chess?"
Blue eyes darkened, just for a moment, then Kaiba's expression cleared and he said, "Chess. On your own head be it, Game King."
Luck was on their side, it seemed. The bar kept a couple of chess sets and packs of playing cards for the use of the clientèle, though the server seemed a little embarrassed to be handing the ragged box over to two such esteemed figures from the gaming world. And just like that, they began; no stakes, no grandstanding, just the cool embrace of intricate strategy, the meeting of two tactic-tangled minds. The chess set was a cheap affair, battered wood showing its age in chips and stains, paint worn thin and shiny with age.
Yuugi watched Kaiba's long fingers slide over a piece, tensed to lift it, then hesitate. They were evenly matched here, equals with nothing on the line other than the joy of triumph and the disappointment of defeat, the silence once more comfortable between them. Kaiba played with none of the showy dramatics of his duelling strategy, just methodical thoughtfulness. He considered each move with a slight furrow in his brow, occasionally touching a fingertip to his lips as he thought, an ever-shifting strategy flowing behind his eyes. Yuugi, by contrast, was an instinctive player. Tactical rather than strategic; whilst he possessed the patience to formulate lengthy plans and complicated manoeuvres, he delighted in an element of unpredictability, reading Kaiba's moves with the same precision as his opponent.
Stalemate. It really was the only outcome. Still, they swept the board free of pieces and set it up again with barely a word, exchanging colours for fairness. The second game passed in a similar fashion, each of them altering their moves just enough to throw off the other's established counters, just enough to sharpen their play. Yuugi laughed aloud when Kaiba delivered a devastating checkmate, happy to see no trace of darkness in the businessman's victorious smirk, and immediately challenged him to a rematch.
Never let it be said that the King of Games could let a defeat stand.
Much to their mutual surprise, it was almost midnight when they finally declared the whole thing a draw. Seto let Yuugi put the set away – short fingers moved with the neat efficiency of a shopkeeper, tucking, slotting and packing with easy movements. Apparently those after-school shifts at the Game Shop had been of some use. He pondered saying as much, but Yuugi slid him a sly, sideways look that said he knew exactly what the billionaire was thinking.
That was also a surprise – Seto was exceptionally good at hiding his thoughts. Despite a second bottle of wine, he felt remarkably clear-headed. He'd allowed himself to slouch a little, admittedly, but that was much to avoid neckstrain as anything; Yuugi might have grown but he would never be a tall man, and Seto Kaiba was not a man to whom relaxation came easy. His muscles almost ached with it.
Yuugi set the box aside and yawned, covering his mouth half a second too late and offering an apologetic look. "Sorry, it's been sort of a long day."
"I understand. Shall we call it a night?"
Violet-blue eyes flickered with some hidden thought, then Yuugi tilted his head to one side, smiling his most charming smile. "It's been fun! I thought you might have forgotten what that feels like."
Not for the first time that evening, Seto felt his lips curl against his will. "Never believe what you read in the newspapers," he said serenely and smirked to hear Yuugi chuckle.
"Perhaps we'll do this again, before another half-decade has passed?"
Yuugi was standing now, rising to his feet with a stretch that dragged both of his arms right over his head, muscles straining before relaxing. The King of Games looked down at him, hands sliding into his pockets, and studied him for a long, intense moment. "Until next time then...Seto."
The billionaire was was struck by the familiarity of his stance, hips cocked just so, shoulders back, chin lowered so that his eyes were shaded, slim limbs and black leather... "Until next time," he echoed and watched his former rival turn and walk away.
He made a mental note to check his travel itinerary alongside the Duel Monster tournament calendar. It wouldn't do to let a promise go unfulfilled.