Disclaimer – I do not own Yu-Gi-Oh!
*Rated T for Teen
Author's Note – This was originally intended as a multi-chapter fic, but since it took so long for me to update, I decided to turn it into a long One-Shot.
Summary: Joey and Seto have always hated each other, their relationship being as natural as oil mixing with water. But what happens when they're forced to room together during a school summer trip?
It was just your typical, dull, ordinary day in Domino City. The evening was cool and breezy…even as the sun set, making the sky's hue a combination of light pink, husky orange and deep red. Shopkeepers eagerly prepared to close up their small stores and businesses while desperate shoppers scampered across the streets like startled mice, hoping to make any last-minute purchases before the weekend started.
Seto walked along the sidewalk—which was gradually becoming vacant now that business hours were ending—wearing his usual dark pants, black long-sleeved shirt, and silver trench coat. The clothes fit him perfectly. It was as if they were made specifically for him and him alone. Why wouldn't they look good on him?
Seto wasn't headed in any particular direction, just wherever his feet took him. But it just so happened that they'd led him toward a very tall structure near the end of the city, towering over the smaller and more insignificant buildings like some unforthcoming symbol of power. It was a company, a fairly productive one known for its extraordinary games and other such items in the gaming industry.
And it was all his.
But why choose to walk when he could just have some chauffer drive him around at his beck and call? Occasionally, Seto enjoyed taking quiet walks by himself. It permitted him to…reflect on situations that occur during the day. Or, simply put, to process the goings-on in his life and just where it might be headed.
Additionally—for reasons unknown—Seto often found himself constantly thinking about a certain Joey Wheeler, the Mutt, whom he always seem to pick an argument with at school. You'd think he'd pick a fight with Yami instead, seeing as how he was his greatest rival. But alas, it is the Mutt.
It was just so annoying how his thoughts somehow managed to drift to that…that dog! Seto don't understand it! But it always seemed to happen, no matter what he did. As soon as he caught himself, he'd try to clear his mind from all thoughts of that mangy blond and contemplate on something else. He was sorry to say that it worked for roughly five minutes, sometimes even less. Why did that Mutt plague his thoughts so?
The brunet passed Kaiba Corp. and walked in the direction of his mansion, which was nearly a mile from his current location. It wasn't not that far. And he didn't mind walking from place to place. When you at for nearly ten hours straight at work, walking a mile didn't seem like such a big deal.
Furthermore, sitting in a stiff chair all day hurt his back to some degree. Being able to just get up and stretch his legs for a bit as a treat more than anything else.
Seto's thoughts were suddenly interrupted when he noticed a familiar figure headed in his direction. Smirking inwardly, he paused in his steps, eyebrow raised.
"Does the Mutt miss his Master already?" the brunet taunted. "Come now, Mutt, didn't we play enough several hours ago?" His smirk was quite visible now. During their school lunch break, let's just say the brunet gave him a little piece of my mind.
"Shut up, Seto!" he snapped. Joey responded to Seto's derision by grabbing his shirt collar. Normally, the brunet would have stopped him before he even had the opportunity to touch him, but this time, he took him by surprise.
After the shock of him taking hold of the brunet passed, Seto seized his hands—tightly—and swung him around, not only freeing himself from the blond's vivacious grip, but sending him to the ground. Much like he did to him back at Duelist Kingdom. Why he still attempted to assault the brunet, Seto had no idea. He knew it was impossible, so why bother?
"Bad dog," Seto said, scolding him as he walked away from the blond's deplorable form.
The brunet heard Joey mutter something under his breath, but he couldn't really make it out. Suddenly, an idea popped into Seto's head and another smirk soon made its way onto his face.
"That's right, Mutt. Just keep barking. It's only a matter of time before you get what you really deserve. No promises from me, though. The path you're taking will see to that. But, I suppose, it can't be helped. You were born a lowlife; therefore, you shall always be a lowlife."
"The only thing I deserve is knockin' your invincible attitude down a peg or two. For the record, Moneybags, I was gonna pass by! And if I were really a bad dog, I'd be barkin' up the wrong tree, which I know I'm not," he stated confidently.
Seto snorted, amused by the fact he'd inadvertently admitted that he was, in fact, a dog.
Walking past him, the brunet decided to just head on home, but as he glanced back, he discovered that Joey decided to just keep on walking, too. That Mutt needed to realize that he couldn't win; not at Duel Monsters, not at their little fights, and especially not at life.
Seto reached home just about twenty minutes later. As soon as he stepped through the door, he heard tiny footsteps headed in his general direction. Mokuba.
"Seto!" he yelled, launching himself at the brunet. Seto swore he dramatized everything whenever he got home. He acted as if he hadn't been home in years rather than a few hours.
"Evening, Mokuba. How was school?" Seto inquired interestedly.
"The usual. It was boring."
The both of them had the…opportunity to be educated by none other than Gozaburo Seto, meaning that they were far smarter than their ages implied. Basically, the only reason why the brunet sent Mokuba to school with kids his own age was so that he could socialize; the only reason Seto continued to go to school as so that he could keep up with teen trends and styles for the sake of his company…and because he was required to attend by law.
He could just watch T.V. to discover these things, but the brunet just didn't have the time or energy. Mokuba had continually tried to get him to stay at home to get some rest after going to both work and school every day, but the brunet consistently told him that he couldn't.
Even though Seto was smarter than everyone in his class—including the teachers—he still had to attend in order to keep his grades up. This was not only to keep up his flourishing reputation, but it allowed him to keep custody of Mokuba and work at his precious company.
"Did you do your homework?" Seto asked, trying to interrupt the direction his thoughts had taken him.
"Yeah. It was pretty easy. I finished it five minutes after our teacher assigned it," the young boy replied with a smile.
Impressive. He was becoming more and more like him every day. But Seto wasn't too sure he wanted that, though.
"Are you hungry?"
"I thought you'd never ask!" he exclaimed, grabbing his jacket. "Where are we going to go?"
They slipped into the brunet's car out front. "You tell me," he replied.
"Um…can we go to the Domino City Coffee Shop? I like the sandwiches they have there."
Grunting in annoyance and obvious disdain, Seto said, "Sure."
He hated it when Mokuba asked to got there, because every single time they went, they'd encounter Yugi or someone else from the dweeb patrol. And to make things even worse, the Mutt worked there! Sometimes he thought Mokuba purposely brought him there just for that reason; he really do.
Starting up the car, Seto backed up and drove off toward the Coffee Shop.
It took them nearly twelve minutes to get there. After Seto parked and they stepped out of the car, the brunet took in the overall presence of the place. It had been designed to look something like a wooden cabin. The windows were generously proportioned, virtually taking up the entire front of the small structure.
"Come on, Seto!" Mokuba called, taking him by the hand and dragging him inside. He ran up to the counter and looked at the familiar menu behind it; Seto was surprised the kid didn't have it memorized by now.
The brunet stood behind him, noticing that the Mutt, in fact, was working here tonight. Great. It just figured that he couldn't even get some peace and quiet with his little brother without seeing him.
"Hi, Joey! Can I have a ham and cheese sandwich with a Pepsi, please?" Seto heard Mokuba ask. "Oh! And a bag of potato chips?"
"Anythin' for ya, kiddo," Joey answered, smiling at him. It annoyed Seto how he could speak so…familiarly with Mokuba, but when it came to him…he was always so resentful. Not that he cared. It was just strange how he could switch tones so drastically between two people from the same family.
Seto realized that while he had been thinking these things, he'd been staring at Joey. Quickly shifting his gaze, he looked at the menu.
"Coffee. Black," the brunet said monotonously.
"That'll be $8.24," Joey articulated through gritted teeth. Apparently, making a scene while at work wasn't on his list of things to do, but he had other plans.
"If it's not to my liking, I want a refund," Seto said bluntly, tossing him a ten dollar bill. No reaction. "Oh, and keep the change. Maybe you can use it to get yourself a collar. Dogs need proper identification, you know."
"Kaiba," the blond growled. "Not here."
Was the Mutt actually trying to keep things civil for a change? Well, this was certainly new.
"What's that, Mutt? I didn't quite catch that. Go ahead. Speak." Inside, Seto was cracking up. He was ordering him around like a dog and he loved it.
The blond handed Mokuba his order and slammed his coffee on the counter. "Just take your damn coffee and leave me alone."
"Aw, did I make the Mutt angry?"
"Seto, come on," interrupted Mokuba, tugging on his brother's shirt sleeve. But the brunet wasn't done yet.
"I'm warnin' ya, Kaiba," Joey growled again.
"You're warning me? I think you have that backward. You see, I could have you sent to the pound, or better yet…put down."
Seto thought he made him lose it then, for the blond slammed his fist down on the counter. But in his obvious rage, he knocked over the coffee. It fell over, the contents spilling over the pristine marble, down the side, and onto the tip of Seto's left shoe.
"You idiot!" the brunet roared. Sure, it wasn't that big of a deal, but he wanted to make the Mutt feel like the lowest of the low.
"I'm sorry, Kaiba," the blond apologized pathetically. He looked frantic.
"Sorry doesn't cut it, Mutt. They're worth more that your worthless life."
"Is there a problem here?" This was getting good. It looked like the manager had arrived.
"Of course there's a problem!" Seto spat. "This moron spilled coffee on me!"
"It was an accident! I swear!" the Mutt stuttered to his boss.
Next, Joey's manager glanced at him then did a double-take. It seemed he'd just figured out who the brunet was.
"Mr. Kaiba, sir! I'll have this matter dealt with immediately. I assure you this will never happen again."
"It had better not," the brunet replied curtly. The manager turned to the Mutt, looking at him almost sympathetically. What was he—
"I'm sorry, Joey, but…you're fired."
Well, that was unexpected.
"What?" The blond looked so devastated.
"You can't fire him!" Mokuba cried suddenly. "Joey's a great employee!"
"My decision is final," the manager said, disregarding the young boy's plea. "Get your things, Joey…and leave."
Joey left the front of the Coffee Shop and went to the back. A few seconds later, he returned, carrying some things. He shoved past Seto and the brunet could have sworn the blond had tears in his eyes. Someone else in Seto's position would normally feel remorse or try to assure the manager that such a decision was unfair.
But the brunet just stood there and remained indifferent to it all; he didn't care.
Fired? No. This couldn't be happening. It couldn't. He needed this job…more than anyone would ever know.
Joey's thoughts ceased for a moment as he looked up at the apartment complex he lived in with his good-for-nothing father. It was a shabby, old building that looked like something out of a horror flick, and the people who resided within could vouch for that. He hated this place with a passion unlike any other. But did he hate it more than Seto Kaiba?
Kaiba. A new emotion surged through him, but he was unsure as to what it was. He felt all the things that he should be feeling right now: anger, hurt, and…fear. However, there was something else deep down inside him that he never thought he could feel. And that…was hopelessness. Was he losing hope? Giving up? That couldn't be…could it?
Brushing those thoughts aside, Joey trudged up the rickety steps leading into the broken-down building. He swallowed hard as he made his way through the structure and up to a door at the very end of the hall. Home. Yeah, right.
As the blond took out his key, he inserted it into the lock, and turned and twisted the brass doorknob, a loud screech emitting from the door as it opened. Cringing at the sound, he entered the apartment and tried to shut the door as quietly as he could. No such luck.
"Boy! What ya doin' home so early?" his father growled from his spot on his couch. Just great. He was awake, alert, yet still drunk.
Joey bit back the feeling of dread that threatened to consume him as he tried to keep his emotions under control. He'd lost them already when he'd headed here, and he was not going to show weakness like that again. Especially not in front of him.
"I got…fired…sir," Joey answered, adding 'sir' as an afterthought.
"Fired?" his father echoed, his eyes narrowing to tiny slits as he rose from the couch. Joey braced himself as he man approached him. "And what'd ya do to get yourself fired?"
"Some…rich guy came in and…started makin' a scene. My manager fired me to appease the guy. It wasn't even my fault, sir."
"Not your fault?" The blow finally came, knocking Joey to the floor as he was rendered partially immobile. "Everythin' is your fault! Ya can't even keep a small job, ya worthless piece of shit!"
He kicked the blond in the chest while he tried to move away, but he grabbed Joey's ankle and dragged im back, stomping on his gut as he did so. Joey let out a pained yelp, instantly covering his mouth with his hands as soon as the sound erupted.
"You're nothin' but a fuckin' disgrace! I can't take your shit anymore! I want ya out!" he roared at the blond.
Joey ignored the pain, his mind trying to wrap around what his father had just said. Out? What did he mean by out?
Suddenly, he grabbed the blond's hair, tugging him along behind him as he pulled open the door and thrust him out of it.
"I don't ever want ya back here," the man spat in distaste. "Now get outta my sight!"
With that, he slammed the door shut. The whole building seemed to rumble from the action. Slowly, Joey raised himself from the ground and stared at the closed door with wide eyes. His father had just kicked him out…for good this time. What was he going to do?
Trying to gather his wits about him, Joey left the apartment complex, but not before he glanced back at it. The structure seemed to be mocking him as he did so.
This couldn't be happening. It couldn't. He'd just lost his only job and the only home he'd ever known in one…single…evening. And a week before summer vacation, too. What the hell was he going to do now? He had nowhere to go, nothing in his possession, and no money.
Well, that wasn't entirely true. He had a bit of money that he'd saved for himself in a small savings account just for emergencies. And this was one hell of an emergency. But he needed to be smart about it. Necessities first.
Joey walked down the sidewalk, desperate to get to the nearest ATM machine he could find. He had about five-hundred dollars in his account, but he wouldn't use that money for a hotel or anything because sleeping in the park would be just fine. Some food and clothes would be good enough to start out with.
But…what was he going to tell my friends? They couldn't know about his situation, especially Yugi. Joey slammed his fist on a nearby building, drawing the attention of some pedestrians, but he didn't care. His life was too fucked up right now for him to care.
Pressing his back up against the cold brick wall, the blond slid down until he was seated on the equally chilly sidewalk. He didn't want to feel hopeless. But given how the evening was going, that was all he could feel.
Fucking Kaiba. He had always managed to make his life a living hell, but this time…he'd gone too far.
Mokuba hadn't spoken to him all weekend. Seto didn't know the young boy could stay angry for so long. Did he really like the Mutt that much? He was just some measly lowlife, right? What could his brother possibly see in him? He…didn't know.
And Mokuba avoiding him at all costs was starting to take its toll on the brunet. He couldn't bear this silent treatment. He was even starting to feel guilty! But he didn't know if Mokuba was making him feel that way…or if he was truly feeling remorseful for the Mutt being fired.
Sighing to himself, Seto stared out the window of his limo as he watched the scenery quickly pass him by. He'd be reaching school soon. And that meant he'd have to deal with the Mutt. Would he tell his friends what had happened? Would he confront him at school? The potential retaliation was something Seto couldn't predict and he didn't know why that made him so concerned.
What should he do?
Mokuba would undoubtedly question him about the blond once he got home, and if he told him that he did not interact with him whatsoever, his brother would probably continue to ignore him. So that left him one option. He had to apologize to the Mutt.
Of course, it wouldn't really be a sincere apology. Just something to appease Mokuba so their relationship could get back to normal. A perfect plan, if he do say so himself.
Feeling more comfortable about attending school, Seto settled down further into his seat and propped his chin up with his hand as he continued to stare out the window.
Seto sat at his desk, the other students gradually trailing in to take their seats as well. His blue eyes fixated on the door as he waited for the Mutt to arrive, but as the minutes ticked by, so did his patience. What was taking that blond imbecile so long?
Just as that thought crossed his mind, Joey walked through the door, ultimately avoiding eye contact with everyone…including his friends. The blond slumped in his seat, staring at the board blankly as the last bell sounded, with their teacher ready to begin as soon as it stopped ringing.
"Good morning, class!" the old man greeted cheerfully—on a Monday morning? Seriously? "I hope all of you had an excellent weekend, because I have some big news! Who wants to guess what it is?"
What the fuck was this? A game show?
"You're retiring," said one student.
"You got fired," added another.
"No," the man chuckled, waving his hand as if to dismiss the comments they'd made. "You'll be going on a school trip this summer. It'll be mandatory and is worth half of your grade for next semester."
The students' mood visibly dropped.
"Um, where are we going? And for how long?" Yugi piped up. A school trip meant that they'd be away from home, which meant that all the Yamis would be on the trip and away from home, which also meant that this trip would be hell with whatever mischief they got into.
"For two weeks, we'll be going to a summer camp where there are all sorts of activities for you to sign up for. You'll be paired up and each pair will be assigned their own cabin. And the food's included. There will be no cost to you whatsoever because you have to go."
Joey raised his head slightly, becoming just a bit more attentive. Free food and shelter for two weeks? Hell, that was the greatest opportunity to come his way in a long time. It would give him the chance to rest up and recuperate, and when they came back from the trip, he'd search for a job and earn enough to pay for his own place. Yeah. He liked that idea.
Feeling a bit better about what was going to transpire, the blond relaxed in his seat and sighed. Seto noticed this, and he was both curious and puzzled by the Mutt's sudden reaction to this so-called trip. But it wasn't like he cared. He wouldn't even go on it.
"Oh, and Mr. Kaiba?" continued their teacher. "You will have to attend as well. The school took the liberty of finding out when you were taking your vacation time, and since it's right when school's out, that's when we'll leave."
The CEO glared murderously at the man who dared utter such words. What right did the school have to invade his privacy like that? He was about to retort when he was interrupted by the old fool.
"And your worry for your brother has been taken into consideration, so he may be allowed to attend also and shall room with you and another student. Furthermore, since you are still a minor, there will be no excuses as to why you may not attend. Is that understood, Mr. Kaiba?"
Clenching his fists, the brunet nodded. How dare they do something like this! The time he was taking off was so that he could spend some time with Mokuba! He didn't want to go to some stupid summer camp where he'd most likely have to be involved with his classmates. This was not fair! But it didn't seem like he had much of a choice in the matter.
With his disposition turning foul, Seto turned his eyes to the Mutt, glaring at him for all he was worth. Apologize? Not anymore. If he couldn't make the school pay for making him go on this trip then he could at least take his frustration out on the blond.
As soon as the bell rang—signaling the end of class—Seto made his move. "Hey, Mutt."
The blond froze.
"Are you sure you can go on this trip? Because I'm pretty sure you need to have all your shots first. We don't want you giving anyone rabies," the brunet taunted.
"Leave me the fuck alone," Joey growled as he turned to face him. "Haven't ya done enough?"
Seto clicked his tongue. "Barking back at you master. What a shame."
"Don't fuck with me, Kaiba. I'm warnin' ya."
Inching closer to the rigid blond, the CEO bent his head down and stared at him with an evil glint in his eyes. "You know, Mutt, I should be the one warning you. I already got you fired, so I can just as easily have you removed from your home."
A fist suddenly collided with Seto's face, making him stagger back. "That's already been taken from me!" Joey cried, tears stinging his eyes. "Why can't ya just—"
The blond spun around, only to come face to face with their teacher. "I-I can explain—"
"Enough! I have had enough of you two being at each other's throats! When we go on this school trip, you two will be paired up and you will do everything together. If not, I will make sure that the two of you do not graduate," the man snapped.
Joey felt as if his freedom had been snatched away from him again. And it was too much. He couldn't prevent the tears that suddenly ran down his cheeks. "Excuse me," he gasped as he fled the classroom.
Their teacher and Seto watched him go, both of them stunned and concerned about the blond's reaction to the situation.
"Can you two be civil on this trip?"
"Whatever," the brunet mumbled as he, also, left the classroom. Just what had been the Mutt's problem? Why'd he cry? Because he had to room with him? No, that couldn't be the reason…could it? And what was all that talk of the Mutt's home already being taken from him? And—
Wait. Why was he thinking about this? He didn't care about the blond. But if that were true, why did he feel a tiny sliver of concern? Especially after the Mutt had hit him! He should be angry because he'd hit him! However, his thoughts had immediately gone to what that stupid blond was feeling. Just what the hell was wrong with him today?
Trying to clear his head, he brushed off everything he was feeling and continued walking down the hallway to his next class, his stoic persona returning, giving him the visage he was known for. He'd give the Mutt his space for the rest of this week, but when they went on their trip, he'd seek his revenge.
Four in the fucking morning was far too early for anyone to be up. And that was just the meeting time at the school before they went on their school trip to summer camp. What a joke. Like anyone really wanted to spend two weeks of their summer vacation earning credit for school.
More than half the students looked like they were sleeping standing up as they waited for the buses to arrive. The only one who didn't seem fazed by being up this early was Seto. And that was really starting to piss Joey off.
The blond looked over at the brunet where he stood with his little brother Mokuba. According to the school, Seto was allowed to bring the kid along, so maybe being around the CEO wouldn't be too bad. Mokuba would keep him in check.
But then Joey also had to share a cabin with Seto and Mokuba. They'd be living together under the same roof. What the blond had hoped would be a nice time to relax and recuperate was turning into a time for stress and the unknown. Especially since Seto had made no move to even look his way. Was the brunet up to something or had he just decided to not waste his time with him?
His thoughts were soon interrupted, however, when the teacher who'd made the announcement of this trip—Mr. Harris—decided to come his way. "Mr. Wheeler, a word if you will," he said, practically dragging him over to the Kaiba brothers. Just what the hell did this guy want now?
"Mr. Kaiba, I'd like to speak to the both of you before we go on this trip," started Mr. Harris. "I spoke things over with the camp counselors about the…relationship between you and Mr. Wheeler and we've come to a consensus on how to get the two of you to bond, for lack of a better word."
"Bond?" Seto echoed, eyebrow raised. Was this man insane? He wasn't going to bond with the damn Mutt! No way in hell!
"We will still allow your brother to room with you at camp; however, his schedule will be like that of the other students. You and Mr. Wheeler will be on a completely different one. Sure, you'll all share your meals together along with your free time, but we want to ensure that the activities the both of you do are…well…safe."
"What the hell? We can't choose what we wanna do?" Joey exclaimed. That meant he wouldn't be able to hang out with his friends. He had to hang out with Kaiba instead. This wasn't fair!
"You can't do that!" Seto snapped at the man. "Mokuba is my responsibility and should anything hap—"
"Seto, it's okay," interrupted Mokuba. "I'll be fine. The only things we won't be doing together are the activities. And I won't pick anything dangerous. Would you feel better if I did the same things Yugi and Yami did?"
"You see? He's a smart kid. He'll be fine," continued Mr. Harris. "Oh! And the two of you will also be sitting together in the back of the bus. We'll start your bonding time early. Once everyone's seated, I'll pass out the list of activities and a blank schedule to the other students, and I'll provide the both of you with your completed schedules, all right? This is going to be fun, boys."
And with that, Mr. Harris walked away to socialize with the other students, leaving a very stunned Seto and Joey in his wake.
The brunet clenched his fists, visibly shaking from rage. No one had the right to create a schedule for him! He was the one who needed to be in control of the choices made that affected his life, not some damn teacher! Oh, yes. Someone would pay.
Joey sighed and started tugging on his hair. What was he going to do? He knew this had seriously pissed off the CEO, and the brunet would undoubtedly take his anger out on him. And since Mokuba wouldn't be hanging around, the blond was definitely going to be in for it.
"All right, everyone! The buses are here! Everybody load up!" cried Mr. Harris, beckoning them over to the buses. They put their bags in the compartments beneath before getting onboard.
Slowly trudging to the back of the bus, Joey took a seat on the right, next to the window. At least this way he'd be able to keep himself occupied. Mokuba sat in front of him while Seto sat next to him, keeping as much space between them as possible.
And after everyone was seated, Mr. Harris passed out the schedules. When Joey and Seto received theirs, they quickly scanned it over.
8:00 AM – Wake-Up
8:30 AM – Gather Outside for Announcements
8:45 AM – Breakfast
9:45 AM – Yoga
10:45 AM – Nature Hike
11:45 AM – Arts and Crafts
12:45 PM – Lunch
1:45 PM – Rest Period
2:00 PM – Ping Pong
3:00 PM – Cooking
3:50 PM – Snack
4:10 PM – General Swim
5:00 PM – Shower Hour and Free Time
6:30 PM – Gather Outside for Announcements
6:45 PM – Dinner
7:45 PM – Evening Activity with the Entire Group
9:00 PM – Free Time
10:00 PM – Lights Out
"You've gotta be fuckin' kiddin' me," mumbled Joey. Yoga? They were being forced to do yoga? The rest…he could really care less, but yoga? He glanced over at Seto to see what his reaction was to their so-called schedule…and it wasn't pretty. The brunet's hands were shaking so badly, Joey was surprised the poor paper didn't rip in half.
Suddenly, the bus made an abrupt left turn, ultimately sending Seto into Johimey. Their bodies pressed together a bit too closely for their liking, but they were too stunned to do anything else but stare at each other.
"You two look like a couple," Mokuba observed. He'd turned around in his seat to look at them, a contemplative expression on his face.
Both teens were horrified by the statement and quickly pushed themselves away from one another as fast as they could. They even looked away from each other, determined not to say anything about Mokuba's comment.
"Turn around and sit back down in your seat," Seto quipped. He was not happy. Saying that they looked like a couple. What utter nonsense. Like he'd ever think of the Mutt that way. Thank goodness none of the Mutt's friends had heard that statement. Otherwise he'd never live it down. It'd have been too embarrassing to even comprehend their reaction.
…this was going to be one hell of a school trip.
Joey stifled another yawn. They'd been driving for about eight hours. With the exception of two quick—very quick—stops to use the bathroom, they hadn't stopped. Where the hell was this camp anyway? In an unknown region of the world?
Glancing back out the window, the blond realized the scenery had taken an immediate change. The landscape was now covered in dense woods, and it was dark and pretty creepy—like some camping horror movie or something. And he hadn't seen a house for at least an hour. At least. If the scenery was like this, there was no telling what the condition of the camp would be in. It probably wasn't even on any map.
The bus gradually began to slow as it turned and carefully made its way down a dirt road. Well, this wasn't making Joey feel any better. What if Seto stabbed him in his sleep? How would an ambulance get here in time to save him?
Eventually, they pulled into the camp and Joey had to admit, he was quite surprised. It appeared brand new and had so many buildings and structures—even a huge lake—that the blond was rendered speechless. The bus slowed and came to a stop. Mr. Harris then stood to address them.
"Once we get off, grab your bags and we'll take a quick tour of the camp. Then we'll have lunch and you'll be assigned to your cabins. You'll stay there until dinnertime today and after dinner, you'll return to your cabins. Lights should be out at ten. You'll begin your official daily schedule tomorrow, is that understood?"
The students nodded, eager to get off the bus and move around since they'd been sitting for so long. As soon as Mr. Harris got off the bus, everyone quickly made their way out, stretching their limbs as they did so.
Joey grabbed his bag as soon as he found it. Tossing it over his shoulder, he waited for the tour to begin.
The camp was a lot bigger than everyone had originally thought. With the lake being in the center, the boys' cabins rested on one side while the girls' resided on the other. There was a Lodge where they'd take their meals, campfire spots, a health center, and other buildings that served as focal points for the camp.
There were athletic facilities that sponsored so many activities. Two regulation Little League baseball/softball fields; one, lighted regulation Major League baseball field; three regulation soccer/lacrosse fields; three outdoor basketball courts, two lighted, all with glass backboards and breakaway rims; eleven lighted, hard-surfaced tennis courts; two full-size, regulation, lighted roller-hockey arenas, one of which was covered, both with team benches; two beach volleyball courts; two hard-surfaced volleyball courts; an Indoor Sports Complex, housing a regulation size basketball court with glass backboards and separate facilities for Dance and including a modern, fully equipped Fitness Center; a Gymnastics Pavilion with a spring floor, tumble track and Olympic-style equipment; a golf putting green, driving cages and practice range; a full-sized running track; and a skate park with ramps.
The waterfront was also something spectacular. An Olympic-size, heated pool; a private, spring-fed lake with separate dock systems for swimming, boating and water-skiing; three Ski Nautique water-ski craft; a Slalom Course for water-skiing; twenty 'Old Town' canoes; numerous Toper and Sunfish sailboats and Windglider windsurf boards; and various kayaks and pedal boats.
However, the arts area was phenomenal as well. A building dedicated to Woodworking, Arts & Crafts and Stained Glass; a stand-alone Ceramics studio; a Photography Darkroom; an Indoor Media facility; an Indoor Video Theater; a Performing Arts Theatre; and three pianos.
And then there was the outdoor adventure! An extensive ropes course with twenty-four high and low elements; a 300-foot zip line; two 28 – 30-foot high climbing structures with five varied climbing fences; and twenty mountain bikes for in camp and out-of-camp riding.
There was so much cool stuff to do here!
But he and Seto would get to do none of it since they'd been put on such a boring schedule that the only action they'd see would probably be having meals. Either that or Seto being attacked by a bear on their Nature Hike. One could hope, right?
Joey's stomach gave a loud growl, signaling that he needed food…and he needed it now. He hadn't eaten that morning and he was desperate for food now. And thankfully, the tour was over. Which meant it was lunchtime!
They headed over to the Lodge where they'd be having their meals for the duration of their camp experience. Upon entering, Joey was slightly disappointed that it looked sort of like their school cafeteria…except it was really…oaky. Everyone gathered in a line, eager to fill their trays with food. With a camp that looked like this, they were bound to have some good grub.
By the time Joey discovered what they were having, he was having second thoughts. Staring at the plate that had been placed on his tray, he counted five chicken wings. Like that was going to fill him up. Stepping forward, he wandered over to the buffet looking thing. Hopefully there would be something more there to fill his empty stomach.
There was a salad bar with all sorts of vegetables, dressings, cheeses, hummus, and yogurt. Pass. Soy nut butter and jelly. Double pass. Fresh fruit. Triple pass. And grilled cheese sandwiches. Grumbling to himself, Joey placed a couple grilled cheese sandwiches on his tray, along with a handful of croutons, an apple, and a small thing of milk. Beggars couldn't be choosers. Perhaps dinner would be better?
Gravitating over toward his friends, a hand suddenly landed on his shoulder, making him flinch.
"You have an assigned seat, Mr. Wheeler," announced Mr. Harris. He pointed to a small table on the far side of the room. "Both you and Mr. Kaiba will share your meals together over there."
"What? But…that means I won't get to spend any time with my friends," protested the blond. His only chance of spending time with them now was on the off chance that they'd pick an activity that went along with his schedule. Or if he was allowed to spend his free time with them.
"You're here to make new friends," stated Mr. Harris firmly. "You don't want to fail, do you?"
"No, sir," Joey sighed in defeat.
"Good," he replied, patting the blond on the back.
It just wasn't fair. Why couldn't anything go right for him? It was like he'd be stuck with Seto 24/7! Maybe he would have been better off ditching this trip and hanging around the park. No. He couldn't think like that. He had to look at the positives. He was going to have a roof over his head, a bed to sleep in, three meals a day, and he could bathe!
With the prospects looking up, Joey sat down at the table he'd been assigned to. A few minutes later, an aggravated Seto sat down with him, Mokuba right on his heels.
"This camp looks so cool! I'm glad I got to come, Seto," started Mokuba cheerfully.
Seto grunted in response. Personally, he just wanted to get to their cabin and lose himself in his work until dinner. Bonding be damned.
After lunch, the Kaiba brothers and Joey went to find their cabin. It took them forever to find the stupid thing. For some reason, they'd been given the one far away from all the others.
The older Kaiba eyed it in distaste. Who knew if this thing had been properly cleaned? Taking the key, he unlocked the cabin door and opened it, stepping inside cautiously. Well, it was a bit better than he'd expected.
There were two beds accompanied by two nightstands, a dresser, a long couch, a table with a few chairs, a cabinet that contained towels, extra blankets and pillows, and a door that probably led to the bathroom. He opened said door, his eyes inspecting everything. It was only a small shower with a toilet and a sink. What poverty he had been reduced to?
Joey was very pleased with the place until a thought struck him. There were two beds and three people! And knowing Seto—
"Mokuba and I will take the beds. You sleep…wherever," the brunet deadpanned, interrupting the blond's thoughts.
"That's okay. Joey can have the bed. I don't mind sleeping on the couch," commented Mokuba.
Before Seto could protest, Joey interceded. "No. Ya guys take the beds. I'll…take the couch. It's okay."
"Mokuba, it's fine," Joey insisted. There was no way he would be selfish enough to deprive the young boy of a bed. And besides, a couch beat a park bench any day. Tossing his small bag onto the floor next to the couch, he plopped himself on it and started to relax.
"No fucking way!" Seto roared suddenly.
Joey and Mokuba spun around to look at him, only to see an expression of fury unlike any other on the brunet's face.
"What's wrong, Seto?" Mokuba asked timidly. He hadn't seen his brother this mad in a long time.
"There are no electrical outlets," he ground out. That meant he couldn't charge up his laptop…or cell phone! How was he going to distract himself during his free time now? Stupid, fucking camp!
The blond took that as his cue to avoid him. "I think I'm gonna take a shower. Don't wanna stink up the place," he said hesitantly as he grabbed his bag, a towel, and bolted for the bathroom. He shut the door and locked it.
This was bad. If Seto couldn't work, then that meant he'd focus his attentions elsewhere. Like on him!
His heart pounding as thoughts of the brunet tormenting him raced through his mind, the blond discarded his clothes and stepped into the shower. Turning the hot water on, he breathed deeply as his body warmed. When was the last time he'd showered in hot water? It had probably been a long time, so this…was heavenly. Yes. This could be his heaven from now on, because he knew that as soon as he walked out that door, it would be hell.
Joey glanced up at the clock on the wall. It was almost time for dinner. And he couldn't wait! He was starving! As he rose from the couch, he chanced a glance at the two Kaiba brothers. The younger one was sitting on the bed playing a card game—most likely Solitaire—while the elder glared at the far side of the cabin.
"Maybe we should head over to the Lodge," suggested Joey hesitantly. "It's almost time for dinner."
"Dinner?" Mokuba exclaimed, his head popping up. He jumped off the bed and headed for the door. "Come on, Seto! I'm hungry!" And with that, he left.
Joey made to follow, but Seto's voice stopped him. "Mutt," the brunet called, walking toward him with evil glint in his eyes.
"What do ya want?" Please, just leave me alone. All I wanna do is eat and then crash for the night, he thought to himself.
Seto's fist soon came in contact with the blond's midsection, making him hunch over while gasping in pain. "That's right, Mutt. Bow to your master," he hissed before stomping out of the cabin.
Joey collapsed onto his knees. His midsection was never going to heal properly at this rate. Fighting the urge to throw up, the blond got to his feet and gingerly left the cabin, making his way up to the Lodge. By the time he got there, nearly everyone had been served.
Getting into the fairly thin line, Joey shakily grabbed his tray, trying to ignore the pain. Taking a few calming breaths, he smiled at the woman who placed a chicken pot pie on his tray. Moving over to the buffet spot, he glanced over it. Again, there was soy nut butter and jelly, fresh fruit, and the salad bar. But there were also a couple new additions. There was a pasta bar with tomato sauce and fresh dessert.
He made himself a small salad with ranch dressing, took a bit of pasta with sauce, and grabbed two chocolate chip cookies. Hoping that his meal would go peaceably, he wandered over to the table he had to share with the Kaiba brothers. Sitting delicately in his seat, he soon dug into his food.
"You're slobbering all over the place, Mutt. Perhaps you should eat on the floor like the mongrel you are," Seto taunted.
Joey stopped eating and turned his hurt-filled eyes to the CEO. "Why can't ya just leave me alone?" he asked softly. "I don't like our situation any more than you do. I won't get in your way if ya just leave me alone."
"You'll always be in my way. Just your presence is enough to make me despise you," the brunet replied.
Knowing he couldn't win, Joey looked back down at his food. His stomach churned, but he didn't know if it was from the pain or knowing that Seto was bent on breaking his spirit this summer. It was probably both.
Losing his appetite, Joey stood up and went to find Mr. Harris. When he did, he tapped the man on the shoulder. "Is it okay if I go back to the cabin now? I'm not feelin' too good."
"Huh? Oh. I guess that's all right. Did you at least eat dinner? I saw that you were the last to arrive," replied his teacher.
"I'm not hungry."
Mr. Harris grew concerned. He liked to think he knew the blond teen very well, and him not being hungry was sending red flags. "Do you feel sick?"
Joey subconsciously crossed his arms over his stomach, becoming tense. "Can I just go? Please?"
"All right," Mr. Harris relented. "But if your condition worsens, come find me or go to the health center."
"I will. Thanks," the blond said before leaving the Lodge. He quickly made his way down to the cabin and threw open the door. Slamming it behind him, he rushed into the bathroom and spewed all the contents in his stomach into the toilet. When his heaving ceased, he flushed and moved over to the sink to rinse out his mouth.
As he left the bathroom, he walked over to the cabinet, grabbed a pillow and a couple blankets, and turned the couch into a makeshift bed. Lying down, he found that he could stretch out comfortably; that was an unexpected bonus. Resting his head on the pillow, he pulled the blankets over himself and closed his eyes, hoping that sleep would soon take over and that tomorrow would be a better day.
8:00 AM – Wake-Up
Seto nearly flew out of bed when he heard a very loud and annoying song blaring through the air. Was this supposed to be their fucking wake-up call? Covering his ears, he waited until the noise ceased before kicking off his blankets. As he peered around the room, he noticed that Mokuba was blearily waking up and that the Mutt…was gone?
Upon closer inspection, the brunet realized that the pillow and blankets that had been on the couch with the Mutt were gone also. But his bag was still there. Curiosity getting the better of him, he reached down for the bag, only to have Mokuba snatch it away from him.
"Leave Joey's stuff alone. Can't you give him a break?" the young boy sighed. "He's really nice. You just need to get to know him."
"I don't want to get to know him. The Mutt's a waste of my time," Seto replied curtly.
"If he's such a waste of your time, why do you keep picking on him?"
The CEO was saved from answering when the sound of a door opening and shutting became apparent. So the Mutt had been in the bathroom, had he?
"We need to be out there in time for announcements," Joey started. "Ya might want to get dressed and make your beds."
"And why would I resort to making a bed?" Seto inquired haughtily.
"Because the camp counselors will be inspectin' the cabins while we're listenin' to announcements," the blond replied. "If the room's not clean, we'll get in trouble."
"And you know this how?"
"I read the back of our schedule," Joey answered bluntly before heading out the door, already fully dressed.
Seto's eye twitched. How dare the Mutt make a fool of him!
8:30 AM – Gather Outside for Announcements
Mr. Harris stared at the half-dozing students and smiled. "Good morning!" he greeted cheerfully. "I hope all of you had a good night's sleep. Today is our first official day of camp, which means you should have picked out your activities by now. If not, you can make the final arrangements over breakfast.
"I'll be passing out maps of the camp for all of you, too. We don't want anyone getting lost. There will be a camp counselor at each location, so if there are any problems or questions, feel free to ask the person in charge. And with that, I wish all of you a good day."
Joey sighed in relief. It was over and he could finally get some breakfast. To be honest, he didn't have much of an appetite, but he knew he had to eat something. He'd felt weird ever since last night. And this morning he'd woken up dizzy. The dizziness had gone away after awhile, but a headache soon took its place.
"Mr. Wheeler, I'd like to speak to both you and Mr. Kaiba again before we head off for breakfast," called Mr. Harris as he jogged over to him. When he reached the blond's side, they started walking toward Seto. "Are you feeling all right?"
"I'm fine," Joey lied through his teeth. "Maybe the motion sickness from the ride just hit me late."
Mr. Harris didn't look like he believed him, but he let it slide for now since they'd reached the teen CEO. "You two have looked over your schedule, correct?"
They both nodded in response.
"Good. I'll have you know that we're not letting you venture off alone. I know how you two react to each other far too well, so I'll be with you every step of the way. Consider me your parental guardian for the time being…or chaperone. Maybe we should go with that instead. I mean, I'm only thirty. That's far too young to be considered the parent of a pair of teens…"
Joey mentally groaned. How long was he going to keep babbling?
"Oh! Sorry about that. Sometimes I just start rambling. Well, let's go to breakfast, shall we?"
8:45 AM – Breakfast
It was official. Their camp was going to be cheap when it came to food. Joey stared down at his tray, which held a bowl of cereal, some milk, and a banana. Well, it was better than nothing—and he knew that far too well.
The blond poured the milk over his cereal, pushed it around a bit with his spoon, and then ate some. It wasn't too bad. And taking that mouthful seemed to trigger his stomach; it growled.
Devouring his breakfast, he sat back in his seat, letting his eyes linger on Seto and Mokuba, who were still eating theirs. At least…Mokuba was eating. Seto just…prodded it.
"Kaiba, you're not gonna eat for at least another three hours. Just eat it."
"Why don't you just shut your damn mouth?" the brunet snapped, placing his spoon down next to his bowl. He crossed his arms and sat back in his seat.
Joey sighed. Today was going to be a long day.
9:45 AM – Yoga
Seto glared as he was forced to stand—barefoot—on the yoga mat he'd been given by Mr. Harris. There was no way in hell he was doing this. No way.
"All right, boys," started the man, "today we'll learn Downward-Facing Dog. And trust me. It'll help you to relax."
Relax, my ass, Joey thought. He just knew Seto would turn this into a dog joke. He just knew it.
"First, you'll come onto the floor on your hands and knees. Set your knees directly below your hips and your hands slightly forward of your shoulders. Spread your palms, index fingers parallel or slightly turned out, and turn your toes under.
"Exhale and lift your knees away from the floor. At first keep the knees slightly bent and the heels lifted away from the floor. Lengthen your tailbone away from the back of your pelvis and press it lightly toward the pubis. Against this resistance, lift the sitting bones toward the ceiling, and from your inner ankles draw the inner legs up into the groins.
"Then with an exhalation, push your top thighs back and stretch your heels onto or down toward the floor. Straighten your knees, but be sure not to lock them. Firm the outer thighs and roll the upper thighs inward slightly. Narrow the front of the pelvis.
"Firm the outer arms and press the bases of the index fingers actively into the floor. From these two points, lift along your inner arms from the wrists to the tops of the shoulders. Firm your shoulder blades against your back then widen them and draw them toward the tailbone. Keep the head between the upper arms; don't let it hang." After Mr. Harris demonstrated the pose, he motioned for Seto and Joey to do the same.
Joey relented. He wasn't in the mood to receive a lecture and he was tired of worrying about what the brunet would say to him every two seconds. Making the best out of his current situation was all he could pretty much do. So he decided to do as Mr. Harris instructed and did the Downward-Facing Dog.
"It just figures a mongrel like you would—"
"For someone who hates me so much, ya sure do like tryin' to get my attention," the blond interrupted.
And for once in Seto's life, he was rendered speechless.
10:45 AM – Nature Hike
Why did what the Mutt said make him so uneasy? He wasn't trying to get his attention…was he? But then…he did single him out a lot just to pick on him. He just liked getting a rise out of him; that was all. However, the blond wasn't fighting back like he normally would have. He seemed almost…docile.
Seto came to an abrupt halt on the trail when Joey suddenly stopped and clutched his chest. What the hell was he—
The brunet panicked when the blond suddenly fell to his knees, his complexion becoming pale while his breathing became labored.
"Mr. Harris!" Seto yelled, drawing the attention of their teacher as he knelt beside the blond. "Mutt, what's wrong?"
Joey just pushed him away and tried to stand up. "Nothin'."
"Hey, easy there," said Mr. Harris, coming to the blond's side. "What's going on? Talk to me."
"I just felt a little short of breath. That's all. I'm fine now," Joey insisted.
"Do you have any condition I should be aware of? Like asthma or something?" continued the man.
The blond shook his head and stared at the ground. He was fine now, so why couldn't he just be left alone?
"We're going to cut this trip short. Let's head back to camp," said Mr. Harris as he helped Joey up. He stayed with him the whole way back with Seto trailing behind them.
The brunet stared at their retreating forms, thoughts racing through his mind. What was wrong with the Mutt? He wasn't sick, was he? His mind racing, he started putting the pieces together.
It had all started with the blond getting fired from his job…and then he'd exploded at him during school and said something about not having a home. And when they'd gotten here, he'd been unnaturally cruel to him, especially when he'd punched the blond in the stomach. The Mutt hadn't eaten dinner…and by the time he and Mokuba returned to the cabin, the blond had already gone to sleep. In addition to all that, the Mutt had been out of it all day.
This was all that he knew. But still, no conclusion came to him. What was wrong with him? A nagging voice in the back of his mind told him that it was his fault. Perhaps that was guilt? True guilt? Maybe…he should ease up a bit and give the Mutt time to recuperate.
11:45 AM – Arts and Crafts
Even though most of Joey's friends were present, he found that he really didn't want to be with anyone. So he'd opted for sitting in a corner with a table filled with drawing materials. Grabbing some paper, he started sketching with art charcoal. When someone pulled out a chair and sat next to him, he paused.
The blond looked up, his amber eyes meeting blue ones. "How…are you doing now?" Seto asked.
"Why? Ya wanna make it worse?" Joey retorted.
Getting pissed, Seto rose from his seat, the chair toppling over and slamming to the ground as the brunet stormed off. The clattering sound stunned Joey for a moment before he relaxed. For a minute there, he thought Seto was going to hit him.
Turning his attention back to his sketch, he continued to draw, his mind swimming with anticipation. He didn't want to anger the brunet anymore. What could he do to make him leave him alone? The blond hated the fact that Seto kept disrupting the moments that should be letting him relax. It was almost as if the CEO's presence was a bad omen. And he really believed that. Because bad things kept happening to him whenever Seto was around.
Joey gasped, freezing instantly when he felt a hand on his back.
"What are you so jumpy for?" asked Mr. Harris, picking up the chair that had been knocked over and sitting in it.
"Ya just…scared me." The blond decided to at least be honest this time.
"Hm…are you feeling all right?" The man reached out and placed a hand on Joey's forehead, feeling his temperature. "I'm concerned. It's not like you to lose your appetite, and on top of that, get fatigued. Are you having any other symptoms?"
Joey wasn't used to anyone being this concerned about his health. He didn't know what to do. "It's fine. I've had worse stuff happen than this. I'm okay."
Mr. Harris sighed. "Joey," he said, using the blond's first name for a change, "if you need to talk to me about anything, I'm here for you, okay? Just because I'm a teacher doesn't mean I don't care for my students. I became a teacher because I wanted to help people. So if something's wrong, tell me. Let me help you."
"I…" Joey wanted to blurt his guts out about everything, but decided against it. What could a teacher do to help his situation?
Knowing full well that the blond wouldn't utter a word—at least for now—Mr. Harris stood and patted the teen on the head. "That's a nice drawing, by the way."
Joey gripped the charcoal in his hand. He desperately wanted to tell someone what was going on. He wanted to blab everything. But he thought that if he did so, everything would remain the same. He wanted help; he really did. The blond was just afraid that he wouldn't get it, so why keep his hopes up?
Looking back down at his sketch, his finger traced the outline of the woods he'd just drawn. The setting seemed to resonate peace…something Joey really wanted to have. But he highly doubted he would get it anytime soon.
12:45 PM – Lunch
Lunch appeared to be a bit better than breakfast, albeit meatless. Joey looked at his veggie pita pizza, milk, apple, vegetable soup, salad, and Jell-O. He had enough servings of vegetables on his plate to last him a week.
Poking the cheese on his makeshift pizza, the cheese popped and seemed to gurgle at him. When a salad looked more appetizing than pizza, something was seriously wrong. Vegetable soup it was. Tucking into his questionable meal, he noticed that Mokuba had a look of absolute horror on his face.
A kid + vegetables = DISASTER
"Seto? What is this?" the young boy asked in disgust, stabbing his food with a fork as if he were trying to kill it.
"I'm…not sure," the brunet replied honestly. To him, it looked like the pizza thing was alive. "Do they have anything else on the buffet?"
"They only have the salad bar today," whined Mokuba, but then his eyes lit up. "I'm gonna grab a bunch of croutons and some cheese." With that, he bolted.
Seto redirected his attention when he heard Joey sigh. He watched as the blond let go of his spoon and resorted to picking at the pita bread crust. If the brunet didn't know any better, he'd say the blond had lost his appetite again. Inspecting the Mutt's tray, he noticed that all he'd had was the Jell-O and the milk.
Joey jumped when a cup of Jell-O appeared in front of him. His head shot up, his eyes meeting the indifferent gaze of Seto. "Here," said the brunet.
"You need to eat something. Are you…not hungry?"
"Guess what I got?" Mokuba crowed as he sat back down in his seat with a plate full of grilled cheese sandwiches. "They just put them out. I was the first one there, so I grabbed the best looking ones." The young boy started passing grilled cheese to both Seto and Joey.
"That's okay," said the blond, refusing to accept the sandwich. "I'm good."
"Like hell you are," growled the brunet, much to Joey's surprise. "Now take a damn grilled cheese sandwich and eat it or I'll force the damn thing down your throat."
Joey took the grilled cheese. He forced himself to eat about half of it and ate the Jell-O Seto had given him.
And he brunet wasn't very pleased about that.
1:45 PM – Rest Period
"Joey!" Yugi cried, running up to him. "I feel like I haven't talked to you in ages. How's everything going with you and Kaiba?"
"You know. Same old, same old," the blond replied blandly.
"Well, I'll catch you later! Bye, Joey!"
He stared after Yugi. Why was it that the small teen had been the only one to seek him out after all this time? No one tried to approach him during their meals, and none of his friends had even offered to speak with him during the announcement. Some friends he had.
2:00 PM – Ping Pong
Joey just wanted to lie down and sleep. Why did he feel so tired? He didn't even think he had the energy to even lift a ping pong ball.
"Mr. Harris, do ya mind if I sit this out?" the blond asked. "I don't—"
"Go right ahead, Joey." Was he going to use his first name from now on? "I know you're not feeling all that great, so just rest up. You can take a seat and watch if you'd like."
"Thanks," he replied, trudging over to an empty seat. He sat down just in time to see two unlikely people enter the room: Yami and Bakura. Apparently, they didn't know what ping pong was, and their other halves had purposely neglected to enlighten them on the game. So here they were.
"I challenge you, stupid pharaoh!" started Bakura, pointing at him with the paddle.
"Challenge accepted," conceded Yami. "Prepare to lose, thief." Dropping the ping pong ball on the table, he hit it. The ball bounced on Bakura's side of the table and…popped him in the eye.
"You did that on purpose!"
"Did I?" the former pharaoh taunted. He served the ball a second time and the same thing happened.
Bakura, growing angry, was determined to hit the ball. So when the ball hit his side of the table again, he was ready. Swinging with all his might—
He lost his grip, the paddle flying from his fingers as it hit Yami where the sun don't shine—unless you're actually outside and naked in the sun, but that's beside the point. Let's just say both of them never wanted to play ping pong ever again. It was far too dangerous…even for them.
3:00 PM – Cooking
Mr. Harris led Joey and Seto into the kitchen inside the Lodge. "Since you two have Cooking right before snack time, you'll be responsible for preparing the snacks for everyone. Today we'll be having fruit. Someone can wash and rinse while the other person peels and cuts, all right?"
The two teens nodded without any argument, and with that, their teacher left.
"You can wash," said Seto as he placed a chair in front of the sink. He beckoned Joey to come over to it.
The blond eyed him warily. Was he going to try to pull the chair away when he sat down?
"I'm not going to do anything. Just sit down," the brunet declared.
Joey sat. Seto then brought him the giant bowl of fruit he was supposed to wash. After everything was set up, they started working.
"Why…are ya suddenly bein' nice?" asked the blond, keeping his eyes locked on the fruit.
"What makes you say that?"
"Ya haven't…been mean since this mornin' and it's just…I don't know," he sighed.
"Perhaps you're looking too much into things…Mutt," Seto said, adding the dog insult as an afterthought.
Joey frowned but kept quiet all the same. The brunet didn't like that at all.
3:50 PM – Snack
"So, you boys ready for swimming after this?" questioned Mr. Harris, a big smile on his face.
Joey froze. Swimming? He paled slightly at the thought. Going swimming meant he'd have to take off his shirt. And there was no way in hell he was going to let everyone see the scars he had on his back caused by his father.
"I…I don't wanna swim," the blond stated quietly.
"I just don't…l-like the water." Oh, like that was going to work.
"So you can't swim?" How the hell did Mr. Harris come to that conclusion? "That's fine. I can teach you."
Joey shook his head. "No! I don't wanna!"
"Okay, okay. You don't have to. But I at least expect you down by the lake."
4:10 PM – General Swim
Joey sat underneath a large tree near the bank of the lake, shivering slightly. Why did he feel so cold all of a sudden? It wasn't like it was chilly outside. What he wouldn't give for a jacket right about now.
"Why aren't you swimming with the rest of them?"
The blond mentally groaned at hearing Seto's voice. "I could ask the same about you."
"That you could," the brunet replied, sitting next to him.
He was tempted to lean into Seto's warmth. Was he really that cold? Joey crossed his arms and rubbed them with his hands.
"If you're cold, why don't you put on a jacket?"
"Don't have one," the blond answered bluntly.
The Mutt didn't have a jacket? Had he come to camp that ill prepared? "Then why not sit out in the sun?"
"It won't help."
"Would ya just go away?" Joey asked desperately. He really couldn't handle all these questions.
"Do you want me gone that badly?"
"Yes! I do!"
Taken aback by the blond's scream, he stood up and left, but not before glancing back at him. The Mutt had his head resting against the tree, shivering every so often. Something wasn't right. And he was determined to find out the truth.
5:00 PM – Shower Hour and Free Time
Joey dropped a pillow on the edge of the couch and laid down, pulling the blanket he'd just pulled out over himself. Getting warm had never been so difficult before. Maybe if he fell asleep, his body would right itself. Closing his eyes, he felt his consciousness slipping.
Seto and Mokuba arrived in their cabin the same time Joey decided to fall asleep. And even in his unconscious state, the blond was still trembling.
"Is Joey okay?" Mokuba asked in concern, looking at the blond worriedly.
"I don't know," the brunet replied, opening the cabinet to withdraw another blanket.
He walked over to Joey and draped the extra blanket over him. Seto stood there for a time before pushing the blond's bangs out of the way in order to feel his forehead. It didn't feel like he had a fever or anything, but he let his hand graze the rest of his face. When it came in contact with his nose, he found that it felt like it was frozen.
"Is there a thermostat in here or anything?" Seto asked his brother.
"Let me check." Mokuba searched the place and found nothing. "Do you want another blanket instead?"
"Yes." As his brother passed him one, he laid it over the sleeping blond. Staring at him for another minute, the brunet decided to sit on the floor next to him. If Joey's condition changed for the worse, he didn't care; he was going to get help.
6:30 PM – Gather Outside for Announcements
Seto looked up at the clock. It was almost time for announcements, which meant he had to wake up Joey. But he really didn't want to. And he wasn't fully aware why. The blond had finally settled down and wasn't shivering anymore; however, the brunet found himself feeling concerned.
Reaching out, he shook Joey's shoulder. The blond opened his eyes, peering at him in confusion before slowly sitting up. Rubbing his eyes, he said, "What time is it?"
"Almost time for announcements," answered the CEO.
Joey looked down at the three blankets pooling around his lap. Three? He could have sworn he'd only grabbed one.
"Let's go," urged the brunet. "Mokuba's already gone."
Nodding, the blond stood mutely and followed Seto out the door and toward their meeting place. Mr. Harris noticed them and smiled. How did he have so much energy?
"I hope all of you have had fun today so far. I'd just like to inform you that the evening activity with the entire group will be watching a movie in the theater. We'll meet there after dinner," announced their teacher, his eyes brimming with joy. The man had to be on something; he just had to be.
6:45 PM – Dinner
Joey was almost too sleepy to even eat. He stared blankly at his food, which consisted of crispy chicken, baked tater tots, California blend vegetables, salad, and a chocolate cupcake with cool whip. At least there was meat this time around. Popping a tater tot into his mouth, he chewed it slowly. His jaw felt heavy and lethargic. How was he going to eat at this rate? Looking forlornly at his meal, he poked at it instead.
Seto had had enough. "I don't care if you don't feel well, but you need to eat something. If you really are sick, not eating will only make everything worse."
Worse? The blond couldn't imagine feeling any worse.
"At least eat your chicken. You need to have something more solid in your system," continued the brunet.
Not wanting to argue, Joey started to eat his chicken. But he ate it so slowly, Seto wanted to pull his hair out strand by strand. Well, at least the blond was trying to eat. It was a start.
7:45 PM – Evening Activity with the Entire Group
Sitting down in a seat away from everybody else, Joey thought that this would be the perfect time to take another nap. He was just so tired. All he had to do was close his eyes…
The blond felt himself being shaken awake. "Mm?"
"Hey, wake up. The movie's over."
That was Seto's voice. Wait. The movie was over? But he'd just shut his eyes. It was like time had been fast forwarded. Opening his eyes slowly, he peered at the brunet, who was now hovering in front of him.
To the CEO, Joey looked confused…dazed, even. He took a step back when the blond slowly stood up, looking around the nearly empty theater. When he placed a hand to his head and wobbled, Seto reached out and caught him before he fell.
"Mutt?" started the brunet, trying to wake him. "Joey?" He was starting to panic really badly now.
"What happened?" Thank goodness Mr. Harris was still here.
"He just fainted. I don't—"
"We'll take him to the health center. Can you carry him?"
Seto nodded, lifting the blond bridal style as he followed their teacher out of the theater and into the health center. Mr. Harris led him to a small room with a bed and told the brunet to lay Joey down. He did so, staring down at the blond uneasily as the man left to find help.
A few minutes later, a doctor returned with Mr. Harris, but Seto wasn't too keen on trusting him.
"I need to ask you to leave," said the doctor, ushering out the brunet.
"Don't worry. He's in good hands. I think you'd even be impressed with his resume," commented Mr. Harris as he indicated the doctor.
Soon, Seto found himself standing outside the room, staring dumbfounded at the closed door. Just what the hell had happened?
After what felt like forever, Mr. Harris returned. "You're still here?"
"How is he?"
"Well, he had a blood test. It turns out that Joey has B12 deficiency anemia. It's a low red blood cell count due to a lack of vitamin B12. Now that I think about it, he was exhibiting some of the symptoms: fatigue, loss of appetite, pallor, shortness of breath, weakness. Let's just be glad we caught it. He's being given vitamin B12 injections. From now on he'll need to take vitamin supplements and follow a more balanced diet," explained Mr. Harris.
"Can I…see him?" asked Seto unsurely.
"Absolutely. He's awake. A bit out of it, but I think he can have some company for now."
The brunet followed Mr. Harris back to the room where Joey was. Sitting on the bed, looking nervous, was the blond. Seto felt relieved at seeing that he was okay.
"You have a visitor, Joey," said Mr. Harris.
The blond looked up to see Seto. He mutely acknowledged his presence.
"Since you've had such a rough day, perhaps we should send you home," their teacher pondered aloud. He reached for the phone. "I think I remember your home number. You live with your father, right?"
"No!" Joey stammered, a look of fear in his eyes as he stopped the man from picking up the phone. "I can't…"
Seto watched the interaction apprehensively. Why was the blond so scared?
"I can't…go there." He really wanted to tell Mr. Harris the truth, but he was afraid of what might happen to him if he did.
Their teacher sat on the bed and looked Joey straight in the eyes. "It's okay. You can tell me. I told you already that I'll help you any way I can. I promise you that."
Tears stung the blond's eyes, so he rubbed at them with the back of his hand. It was now or never. He just really hoped Mr. Harris would keep his word. "When I lost my job, my dad kicked me out for good. I can't go back there. I called my mom last week and asked her if I could live with her and my sister—even if it was just for the summer—but she said no. I don't have anywhere else to go."
"Where have you been staying then?"
Joey averted his eyes. "The park."
"How long have you been staying there?"
The next question Mr. Harris was about to ask was extremely important. Joey's future depended on the answer. "Was your father ever…physically abusive toward you?"
Seto felt his blood run cold when the blond nodded yes, his eyes glued to the bed after answering. This revelation was something he hadn't expected…and the brunet couldn't help but feel like the scum of the earth. It wasn't like he'd been any better to Joey. But now…things were going to change.
Mr. Harris patted Joey on the head comfortingly. "I have to report this to the authorities. You do know this, right?"
The blond nodded mutely and stared at the floor. What would happen to him now?
"You'll stay at the camp with everyone else until our two weeks are up," Mr. Harris continued. "After that…I'll see if I can pull some strings so you can stay with me. I'm registered as a foster parent. Would you be okay with that?"
Joey's head shot up and he stared at his teacher with hope-filled eyes. "I…think I'd…like that."
"Good. Now, Mr. Kaiba, would you please help Joey back to your cabin? I want him to remain in bed until further notice. We want him to get his strength back. And I'll go over all the details on how you'll be taking care of him later."
The brunet froze. Wait. He'd be taking care of the blond? Sure, he'd thought of making things change, but not to this degree. He wanted to start off small. Like not calling him Mutt anymore. Something like that. Not this!
"Sure." And yet, here he was, agreeing to it anyway.
Mr. Harris, pleased with Seto's answer, chose that time to exit, leaving the two teens all alone. They stared at each other for a minute or two before Seto did something Joey completely wasn't expecting.
"What are ya doin'?" the blond exclaimed as the brunet suddenly lifted him bridal style, carrying him out of the health center.
"What's it look like I'm doing?"
"Fine! Why are ya doin' it then?"
"Because…shut up," Seto muttered, finally reaching their cabin. He set Joey down on his feet and opened the door, only to be nearly run over by Mokuba.
"Seto! Joey! Is everything okay?" Mokuba cried, inspecting the both of them.
Before the blond could answer, Seto cut in. "Joey's not feeling too well. I took him to the health center and he was advised to take it easy, so let's make him comfortable. Can you pull out an extra pair of pajamas from my luggage?"
Joey looked up at Seto unsurely as he was led toward the bed the brunet had been using. Mokuba then handed the pajamas to his brother which he then passed onto Joey. "Take these and change."
"Obviously, I know that," stated Seto. "However, you don't seem to have very much with you, especially in terms of clothing. Now go change."
Joey reluctantly took the offered pajamas and headed into the bathroom to change. When he returned, he noticed that the couch had been moved next to the bed with a pillow and a few blankets. As he veered toward said couch, he soon found himself heading in another direction.
"I'm sleeping on the couch," Seto said softly. "You're taking the bed."
"I put the couch right here so that if you need anything, I'm within your reach," he cut in. "I'm supposed to take care of you, aren't I? Now get in the damn bed before I toss your fucking ass into it."
Climbing into the bed, Joey lay down, watching helplessly as Seto pulled the blankets over him. "Goodnight," the brunet mumbled to him as he made himself comfortable on the couch.
Joey sighed and thought over what had just transpired. How had things gotten this way? Seto was starting to be nice to him. Although…his bedside manner could use a little work. But it was pleasant. The blond just wondered how long it was going to last.
The next morning, Seto quietly ushered Mokuba out of the cabin with him, leaving Joey—who was still fast asleep—alone.
"I need to look after him today. Do you mind spending time with Yugi and the rest of the geek squad?"
Mokuba resisted rolling his eyes. "Sure. But are you going to be with Joey all day?" When the brunet nodded, the younger boy grew concerned. "Don't do anything bad to him. It looks like he's gone through enough."
Seto couldn't agree more. He just hoped that he'd be able to keep his temper in check.
Joey opened his eyes and immediately shut them. Why did it have to be so bright? Narrowing his eyes to slits, he gradually adjusted to the sunlight beaming into the cabin. Adjusting to its vibrancy, he looked around his environment and noticed that he was alone.
Figures, the blond thought to himself. I knew Kaiba didn't give a shit. Hurt by this thought, Joey pushed the blankets off himself, preparing to rise from the bed when the cabin door slammed open.
"Get back into bed," Seto snapped, stepping into the cabin with numerous items in his arms. He shut the door with his foot and set everything on the table before storming over to the stunned blond. He then pushed Joey back down into the bed and pulled the blankets back over him. "I'll have your breakfast ready for you in a minute."
Confused by the brunet's behavior, the blond sat up some with his back pressed against the pillows. He watched as Seto started putting things together and brought them toward him. Setting said things down on the nightstand, Seto sat on the couch next to him.
"Instead of taking injections for your B12 deficiency anemia, the doctor has decided to prescribe you with pills. It'll just make things easier," started the brunet, tossing the blond a bottle. "You can take them after you eat."
Seto then placed a tray filled with food in front of him. Joey stared at the contents: an omelet with cheese, sausage, milk, and an orange.
"Having more meat, eggs, and dairy in your diet will help, so I convinced the kitchen staff to make you some sausage," the brunet stated.
"Um…thanks…I guess," replied Joey, looking back down at his food. When he made no move to start eating, Seto grabbed his fork and prepared to feed him. "Hey! I can feed myself!"
The CEO paused, setting down the fork. "Then eat. All of it."
With Seto watching him like a hawk, that was pretty much all he could do. When he finished, the brunet took the tray away and returned, sitting on the couch as he had done so before.
"Ya…don't have to stay here, ya know. I can take care of myself," said Joey solemnly.
"A lot of good that did you before," Seto retaliated. Shit, he thought. The last thing I want to do is start an argument. He's in no condition to—
"Ya got me there," replied the blond, an amused yet sad look on his face.
Joey turned his eyes toward the brunet's. "The night I got fired?" Seto nodded. "I went home, told my dad I'd lost my job, he beat the shit outta me, and then kicked me out. End of story."
How could the blond be so blunt about that? Last night he'd been your typical sob story and today he was being…detached. "I'm…sorry I got you fired," Seto began slowly. "I didn't know your home life was so difficult."
"Don't get me wrong. I do blame ya for gettin' me fired, but the rest of what happened wasn't your fault."
"I know that. I'm not an idiot," Seto quipped. "I just don't understand why you never told anyone. Had I known what was going on, I wouldn't have—" He stopped himself from continuing.
"Wouldn't have what?" the blond asked, perturbed.
"Forget it," the brunet mumbled in response, rising to his feet.
Joey watched him enter the bathroom, shutting the door behind him. What had that been all about? Leaning back against the headboard, the blond took his pills and relaxed. Whatever it was, he highly doubted Seto would actually tell him.
Gripping the sink in his hands, Seto stared at himself in the mirror. What did he expect? It wasn't like things would get all happy-go-lucky just because he apologized. He'd seriously hurt Joey emotionally during the time that he'd know him.
But…had he known what the blond's home life was like, he'd have never done what he did. He knew far too well what it was like to be abused by someone who was supposed to be your parent. Perhaps he should tell Joey that. It might get the blond to open up and they might be able to…bond.
However, it wasn't like Joey was just going to disregard everything he'd done to him in the past. He'd only apologized to him about the job, not anything else. Giving the blond a sincere apology was more than likely the right way to start mending their relationship.
Wait…relationship? Did he really want to become friends with him? Sure, he might be able to connect with Joey on a more personal level now that he knew a bit of his background, but that didn't mean they could become friends. Seto didn't even know where he wanted to go from there.
"Kaiba!" Joey's sudden scream startled him. What the hell was going on?
Joey shrank back as far as he could as he stared down the raccoon sitting at the end of his bed. How long had the fucking bastard been under the damn bed? All the blond had done was reach down to pick up the pill bottle he'd knocked over and out scurried a raccoon. A fucking raccoon!
"What are you screaming for?" Seto asked as he reentered the main room of the cabin.
As soon as the brunet made his reappearance, Joey jumped from the bed and latched himself onto him. Pointing frantically at the bed, the older teen followed his gaze.
"Holy shit!" the CEO hissed, placing his arms securely around Joey as he made them back away from the curious mammal. Quickly leading the blond outside, he slammed the door to the cabin shut.
"Don't lock it in!" Joey protested, shivering slightly from the drastic change in temperature.
Seto looked down at him, a surge of protectiveness overwhelming his senses. "Stay here."
"What're ya gonna do?" the blond exclaimed. "You're not goin' after it, are ya? What if it has rabies or somethin'?"
Grabbing a large stick that was near the cabin, Seto turned back to face Joey. "Are you concerned for my wellbeing?"
"Is there somethin' wrong with me not wantin' ya to get hurt?"
"No. You just took me by surprise," the brunet replied absently. He reached for the door, but was interrupted by Joey.
"Be careful," he cautioned.
For some reason, those two words made him feel…strange, for lack of a better word. And he wasn't quite sure what it was. Oh, well. He'd figure that out later. Right now, he had a raccoon to deal with.
Joey couldn't believe that Seto actually went back inside the cabin to face off against a raccoon. If he'd had a video camera, he surely would have recorded it. But he was—in actuality—too scared and too cold to care.
A few minutes of crashes and curses later, the raccoon bolted from the cabin and took off into the woods. Seto returned as well, holding a mangled stick which he threw off to the side.
"Are ya okay? It didn't bite ya or anythin'?" Joey asked, inspecting the visible parts of Seto's body.
The brunet shook his head. "It's all clear. You can come back inside now."
Taking a hesitant step forward, Joey peeked into the cabin before moving all the way inside. But when something fell over and landed on the floor, the blond made to run for the door, only to crash into Seto.
Reaching out to steady him, the brunet stared down at Joey's quivering form. He placed his arms around the blond and pulled him into a gentle hug. He just stood there, embracing Joey in order to provide him with the comfort and security he desperately needed. This close contact finalized his decision; he now knew where he wanted to go from here. And he wouldn't have it any other way.
"For someone who acts so tough, you sure are jumpy," Seto chuckled.
His laughter startled Joey at first. He'd never heard the brunet being utterly amused before, but when he realized it was at his expense, the blond grew angry. Pushing Seto away from him, he crossed his arms. "Who asked ya?" he spat.
What was the blond doing to him? Why did he enjoy seeing the pout on his face or the way his lip jutted out when he did so? Was he attracted to him? If so…had he always felt this way or was it something new entirely? Perhaps taking the time to actually talk and not fight would reveal more.
"I saved you from the raccoon, remember?" Seto taunted childishly.
"Yeah, I remember," Joey grumbled. "Thanks."
"You're welcome. Now, you should probably get back into bed. You've had a rough few days and you need your rest."
Clambering back into the bed, Joey pulled the covers back over himself and stared up at the ceiling looking bored. It somewhat deterred Seto that the blond had done what he'd said without protest. Taking a seat on the couch next to him, the brunet propped his feet up on the edge of the bed.
"You're stayin' with me?" Joey asked, surprised. When Seto nodded, he continued. "Then can we do somethin'? I'm bored."
"What would you like to do?"
"Can we talk?"
"Aren't we doing that already?"
"Ya know what I mean!" Joey snapped.
Smirking, Seto decided to give into his request. "What would you like to talk about?"
The brunet glared at him. Of all things, he hadn't expected that. Whatever. He could do small talk. It was easy. "Why didn't you tell anyone about your home life?"
Apparently, that was the wrong question to ask, because Joey's expression immediately became grim. Perhaps this wasn't a topic for small talk.
"Why do ya wanna know?" the blond asked quietly.
Sighing, Seto stared at him fully. "Because I might…personally know a thing or two about what you've gone through. And I was wondering why you never sought help. Your friends seem to care about you a great deal."
"They haven't come to visit me, though, have they? It's like ever since we got here, they've been avoidin' me. I dunno. Maybe they're too caught up in all the activities."
"Is that why you never told them? You thought they would avoid you? Or be too caught up in their own lives to pay you any mind?"
"I…guess so. I'm not sure. They never asked why I was late for anythin' and they always believed me when I told them I got into a fight or somethin'. But they never…they never once asked who I was gettin' in a fight with."
Seto frowned. "I've seen you with cuts and bruises at school, but I always assumed you'd gone back to fighting in a gang. I would think that your friends would have at least tried to figure out what was going on with you. They're your friends. I'd expect them to help you no matter what, not blow off the matter completely."
"But Mr. Harris knows now. So that's good…right?" Joey asked unsurely.
"Right…and if you need any…help—with anything—you can…you can come to me," replied Seto unsurely. He knew this statement would change the course of their relationship, which had been practically founded on hate. But now, they'd found a common ground, and the brunet was ready to explore it.
"Yes. I don't hate you like you think I do." At least I know that I don't hate you like I thought I did. It's something else.
"I think I might feel the same way," Joey replied with a yawn.
Seto chuckled again. "Get some sleep. I'll be here if you need anything."
The blond snuggled down into the bed, a small smile on his face. He couldn't help it. Those words meant a lot to him and more. It let him fall asleep without the fear of anything bad happening to him.
Mokuba tried to stifle his laughter as he watched his brother try to wake Joey up, which was turning out to be impossible. As soon as his brother had tried to shake the blond awake, Joey had instantly grabbed the brunet and latched onto him like he was some kind of giant teddy bear.
Seto grumbled as he tried to get out of the blond's tight grip. It was like he was glued to him or something.
"Joey, wake up," he ground out. The blond didn't budge. "Mutt!"
"Huh?" Bleary amber eyes soon opened, and they widened when the person belonging to those eyes realized he was hugging Seto. "Oh! Sorry!" he exclaimed, releasing him and scrambling away.
"It's…fine," replied the brunet. "I brought you some dinner. And after you've finished eating, you'll get dressed and we'll go."
"Go? Go where?"
"Mr. Harris wants us all to do some stupid group activity. And this evening, it's sitting around a campfire and listening to stories," grumbled Seto.
"Um…okay. So, uh, what's for dinner?" the blond asked timidly, hoping the brunet wouldn't lash out at him because of some event Mr. Harris had planned.
Mokuba bounded over and placed a tray of food in front of him: steak teriyaki, rice, mixed vegetables, salad, and watermelon. Not bad. Digging into his food, Joey watched as Seto started rummaging through his luggage.
A few minutes later, Joey had finished eating—his appetite was back and he was hungry again—and the brunet waltzed over to him and tossed something at him. It was a jacket.
"It's supposed to be cool this evening. When we leave, put this on. Mr. Harris also informed me that you need to stay warm. Now that you've finished eating, go change and we'll get going."
The blond stared down at the jacket, running his hands over it delicately as he rose from the bed. Tossing it over his arm, Joey reached for his bag and headed into the bathroom. He cleaned himself up and changed into a fresh set of clothes before slipping the jacket on. It was warm, comfortable, and even smelled like Seto. And that brought a smile to his face.
His eyes widened. Wait! He was smiling because it smelled like Seto? Apparently, he was a lot sicker than he'd thought! Brushing away such ideas, he came out of the bathroom, where Seto and Mokuba had been waiting for him.
"Let's go," said Mokuba as he rushed toward the door. The two teens followed him, yet a little more slowly.
As soon as they stepped outside, Joey immediately wanted to go back in. It was freezing out here! Wasn't it supposed to be summer?
"Are you all right? You're shaking," observed the brunet.
"It's cold! Aren't ya cold?" Joey replied.
"No." He paused. "Wait right here."
Seto went back into the cabin. A couple minutes later, he returned holding a pair of blankets.
"When we get to the campfire, you can wrap these around yourself if you're still cold. And we'll make sure to get you a spot closer to the fire."
Joey nodded, trying to stop his teeth from chattering. They quickly made their way to the so-called campfire, and the blond was relieved to see that they were the first ones to arrive. The only other person there was Mr. Harris.
"Hey, Joey. How are you feeling?" started the man.
"I'm okay. Just kinda cold right now," the blond answered as he seated himself near the fire. He sighed when he felt his body start to warm. But when the wind blew, he started shaking again. He was starting to feel like a fucking leaf!
Suddenly, Joey found a blanket being placed over his lap, covering his legs. Then another one found its way over his shoulders, covering his upper body. The blond watched Seto sit down next to him, with Mokuba seating himself on his other side. It cut down the wind chill considerably, and for that, he was grateful.
"Thanks, guys," Joey whispered, taking comfort in the warmth he was now feeling. It was enough to make him drowsy.
"Joey, where the heck have you been?"
Scratch that. He was wide awake now. His friends had arrived. And that had been Tristan speaking.
Seto narrowed his eyes at the blond's so-called friends. "He's been ill," the brunet retorted, interrupting whatever Joey had been about to say.
Yugi gasped. "Really, Joey? That's why you've been gone today?"
"If you were so worried about him, then why didn't you look for him?" Seto retaliated. It was unnerving Joey slightly. Just what was the brunet trying to do?
"But we had activities to do, so we didn't have time to—"
"You didn't have enough time during breakfast to inquire as to where he was? Didn't have time during your lunch and free time to go search for him? It doesn't really seem like any of you were worried at all," Seto continued.
Yugi started getting tears in his eyes, which only angered Yami. "There's no need to be so harsh," stated the former pharaoh.
"Yeah. We care! Unlike you!" added Tristan heatedly.
"Guys, cut it out!" Joey yelled at the top of his lungs. Ooh, that was a bad idea. It made him dizzy. Even though his appetite was back, he wasn't up to snuff yet.
Joey felt Seto steady him as his head swam. When the dizziness faded, he looked back up at his friends. "It's fine. Everythin's fine," he mumbled, focusing on the fire instead of them.
He heard his friends sigh and retreat, gathering in different spots around the fire as the rest of their class showed up. Why had he exploded like that at them? Did his friends not finding out what was going on bug him that much?
"Now that everyone's here, let's get started!" Mr. Harris exclaimed excitedly as he sat on the other side of the fire so he could look at everyone. "And this evening will be a night to remember. Because it's ghost story time!"
Joey mentally groaned. Sure, he liked the idea of creepy things, but experiencing them was another thing entirely. However, knowing Mr. Harris's happy-go-lucky attitude, his story couldn't be that scary. Right?
"This tale happened a long time ago. According to legend, there's an abandoned shrine somewhere in the depths of these woods where a couple was killed, destined to never reunite. They wander this very land, hoping to reunite with each other one day. But alas, it was never meant to be. Now, let us begin our story."
The Haunted Shrine
It was not uncommon for there to be a calm fall morning in a rural village in the year 1953. The dawn's deep purple sky welcomed the orange glow with wide arms as the light stretched across the meadow recently laden with dew. Daylight danced on the water droplets, moving to the gopher frogs' song of low, ringing guttural snores.
Suki listened intently from the rotted wooden porch of the small cottage, watching the sunrise beyond the field. Her long brown kimono billowed loosely around her. The breeze gently caressed her auburn hair, resting slightly on her pale skin. Her storm-grey eyes gazed lovingly on the land she could finally call her home.
She awakened from her peaceful state as she felt two strong arms hugging her around her waist. Leaning back into the embrace, Suki looked tenderly into the russet eyes of her husband.
"What are you doing up so early, Suki?" His husky voice was accompanied by a yawn. "Aren't you cold out here?"
"I'm just watching the sunrise, Hiro," she answered sweetly. He removed the brown shawl that was on his shoulders and wrapped it around his wife. "I love it here," she sighed.
Hiro chuckled and pulled her back to him, resting his head atop hers while breathing in her scent, which smelled of fresh apples. Turning around in his arms, Suki stretched up on her toes and planted a small kiss on her husband's nose. He gently cupped her face, a smile tugging at his lips as he leaned down to return the favor.
A gunshot sounded alarmingly nearby. Hiro and Suki leapt from each other's arms and looked beyond the porch to the old dirt road leading from the cottage. Shouts and curses erupted from the edge of the woods, echoing throughout the once quiet meadow, startling all living creatures into silence. Even the recently risen sunlight seemed to halt its joyous waltz among the dewdrops.
"Who's that?" whispered Suki, panic rising in her voice. She gripped her husband's arm, her slender fingers leaving imprints on his skin.
"I don't know," he replied softly, guiding her slim figure behind him in hopes of shielding her from sight. He had an idea of who might be headed their way, but they couldn't have wanted to go this far. Could they?
"Well, look at what we have here," declared a deep, menacing voice. "A good for nothing traitor."
Five men emerged from the dirt road framed by trees. One of the men waved a gun. The others, though seemingly unarmed, appeared no less threatening.
Hiro knew who these men were. They were Buddhist monks from the shrine not too far from here. The same rank and shrine he'd denounced in order to marry. He knew that hadn't sat well with them, but he didn't think they'd go this far. They we supposed to follow a peaceful way of life.
"Suki, run! Hide! Go now!" said Hiro, pushing her roughly in the direction of the field.
"No! I'm not leaving you," she replied defiantly. She glanced warily at the other men. They were still far enough away for a gunshot to be utterly useless, but they quickly made their way toward them.
"Please, Suki, go. I'll find you. I promise," he said, pulling her into a quick, hard kiss. "Now go!"
Hiro released her from his grasp and headed down to meet the men, his hardened eyes meeting their heated glares. Suki hesitated slightly before she turned around and ran into the field, leaving a dusty trail in her wake. But she could still hear the painful cries coming from her husband.
The raged monks pounded Hiro's body relentlessly, red welts and cuts littering every visible surface of his figure. The downpour of blows from their fists and the gun accompanied the sound of sickening crunches. One of the men—the one holding the gun—thrust the butt into Hiro's head. Blood spurted from the wound.
"You two, take him back to the shrine," the man spat at them.
Painful tears soon fell from Suki's eyes. She bit back a heart-wrenching sob and ran through the field determinedly. Sharp brown thorns and branches ripped her kimono to shreds. Crimson droplets seeped from the cuts and scratches she received, discoloring the front of her kimono.
Suki stumbled toward the edge of the field, landing on her knees as she scraped them against jagged rocks near the entrance of the woods. She pushed herself off the ground, bolted up a gnarly tree, desperately clawed at the rough trunk and branches, and climbed unsteadily to the top with all her might.
She collapsed on a large branch enshrouded in dense, green foliage where she cried brokenly. Her scratched hands clutched the brown shawl, pulling it tightly around her shoulders. Suki buried her head in her arms and breathed in the cinnamon scent of her husband from the tattered shawl, hoping to calm herself.
Her tears gradually subsided, her sobs mellowing to quiet whimpers. She looked up with dry eyes. Suki cautiously spied the field she had run from through the leaves. Spotting a few of the men scouring the impenetrable shrubbery, her heart slammed into her chest as one of the men set fire to the middle of the field.
They fled as the field erupted in flames. Suki sat dumbly as she watched her life burn before her eyes. The once lush landscape turned into the deepest shade of black she had ever seen.
But then the wind changed the direction of the fire, its new path heading in her direction. Suki never even had a chance. The fire soon surrounded her completely, leaving her no chance for an escape. As it became harder and harder to breathe, Suki dropped her head in defeat, weeping bitterly into her arms as she eventually succumbed to the death that finally claimed her.
Hiro watched through swollen eyes as the fire raged. The smoke-filled air became too horrible to bear. And if Suki was gone, there would be nothing left for him.
The men finally dropped his broken body down in the shrine, where he lay on the floor now seeped in his own blood.
"No one leaves this walk of life," stated the man with the gun.
Hiro sat up, a new strength consuming him as he stood on his feet, much to the surprise of the others. He opened his arms to them.
The gun went off, a bullet piercing right through Hiro's heart. He fell to the ground, bouncing lightly on the bloodstained floor, his breath finally leaving his body.
"It is said that those men never made it out of these woods," continued Mr. Harris. "Whether it was due to the fire or the vengeful spirits of Suki and Hiro, we may never know. But we do know one thing...the young couple never knew what happened to the other, so they aimlessly wander these woods, hoping that one day, they will find each other."
A deafening silence followed.
"Goodnight, everyone!" Mr. Harris said as he rose to his feet. "I hope you all sleep well."
And with that…he left.
The students stared after him, dumbfounded. How the hell were they supposed to go to sleep after a story like that? He'd just told them the woods were haunted!
Eventually everyone got up to leave. Joey, however, stayed put.
"Get up. We need to get back," stated Seto, nudging the stiff blond.
"That story was so cool! Wasn't it, Joey?" Mokuba cried enthusiastically.
"Yeah. Sure," the blond replied softly.
"Don't tell me you're scared," Seto said bluntly.
Joey's face heated in embarrassment. "Let's just go," he started, bolting to his feet. But he still waited for Mokuba and Seto to start walking before he did. He didn't want to be alone.
Once they reached the cabin, they changed and slipped into bed. Joey, on the other hand, was wide awake. He'd never be able to sleep after a story like that. Pulling the covers over his head, he squeezed his eyes shut and tried to will away his overly vivid imagination. But when the covers were ripped away, he nearly screamed.
"You really are scared, aren't you?" Seto whispered, staring at him in the dark.
"I…I don't like stuff like that. Because I'll start thinkin' about it and I won't fall asleep. Or I will fall asleep and then have nightmares. Or—what're ya doin'?" the blond hissed when he felt Seto crawl into bed next to him.
"Helping you get to sleep."
"How is ya gettin' into bed with me gonna help me get to sleep?" he growled.
"Because nothing is going to get you while I'm here. And if you have a nightmare, I'll wake you up," replied the brunet.
Joey turned onto his side, his back facing Seto. When he felt the brunet settle down next to him, he started to blush. This was just too weird. And why was he feeling this way? It was like his heart skipped a beat whenever Seto was near and then it would do a happy dance when he was really close. Like now.
If he didn't know any better, he'd say that he liked Seto. But he wouldn't say that…because something like that couldn't possibly be true!
Mokuba felt like it was his birthday and Christmas all rolled into one. Pulling out the camera he'd stashed away when this little trip began, he took a few shots of his sleeping brother and friend before stashing it again. Making sure his future blackmail was safe, he crept over to the bed his brother and Joey were sleeping in. Or should he say, snuggling in.
Trying not to laugh, he poked the blond in the arm. Joey stirred and blearily opened his eyes. His amber orbs locked onto Mokuba's in confusion.
"What is it?" the blond asked sleepily. He started frowning when all the young boy did was giggle. It was then he realized just why he was giggling.
Joey's body stiffened slightly when he noticed that a strong pair of arms were wrapped securely around him. Shifting his body ever so slightly, he stared at Seto, who had taken to cuddling him like a teddy bear.
"Kaiba?" he called out softly, nudging him as he did so. The brunet didn't even move. "Kaiba?" he tried again. Still nothing.
Wake me up if I have a nightmare, my ass! Joey hissed inside his head. There could be bombs going off outside and Seto would still be asleep!
Well, there was one foolproof way of getting the older teen to wake up.
"What the hell?" Seto roared, finding himself on the floor, his legs tangled in the bed sheets. "What did you do that for?"
Joey blinked at him innocently. "I didn't do anythin', Kaiba. Ya fell out all on your own," he stated seriously. But his seriousness didn't last very long, especially with Mokuba trying to stifle his laughter. And soon, both of them burst out laughing.
"You two are messing with me," Seto deadpanned. "There's no way I would have just fallen out of bed."
"What were you doing in Joey's bed anyway, Seto?" Mokuba asked, his eyes twinkling mischievously.
"The Mutt was scared, so I kept him company," the brunet replied, trying to fight the blush that threatened to stain his cheeks. Stupid little brothers. They always knew how to do those types of things.
"It looked like pretty close company," the small boy continued.
Joey's face erupted into flames. The damn kid was evil. Wait. Did he think that they—
"Mokuba! We didn't do anythin'! I swear!" the blond stuttered immediately.
The younger Kaiba just smirked. "I never said you did. Why would you jump to a conclusion like that? Unless…"
While Joey sputtered uncontrollably, Seto finally managed to free himself and was now standing in the center of the cabin.
"Nothing happened. End of story. What would make you think we'd do something like that?" started the brunet, hoping his statement would dismiss the matter.
"I don't know," answered Mokuba, his face taking on an impish look. "It might have had something to do with the fact that you two were snuggling this morning."
Seto glared at him. "I…do…not…snuggle."
"I have a few pictures that say otherwise," he said, heading out of the cabin before either of the two teens could react.
There was a moment's pause. Seto and Joey stared at each other, the young boy's words finally sinking in.
"WHAT?" they screeched. The two couldn't get dressed fast enough. And once they had, hunting down Mokuba became their top priority.
"No offense, but when we find the runt, he is so dead," Joey growled, slamming himself into his seat as he started picking at his breakfast.
They'd spent a good hour trying to find him. But if Mokuba could avoid his bodyguards like the plague, there should be no reason why he couldn't keep out of their sights. However, he was bound to show up sooner or later. He had to eat sometime.
"Ya think he'll show up?"
"Knowing Mokuba, he probably grabbed something from here already and took off while we were looking for him," Seto replied, stabbing his helpless egg with a fork. "And when we catch him, he's grounded for life."
"Don't ya think ya should make a deal to get the camera and pictures first? If ya ground him right away, it'll just give him more of a reason to keep them."
"You have a point." Personally, Seto was impressed by that evaluation. Even though he was reluctant to admit it, the blond was right.
"Um…Joey? We were wondering if…we could talk to you," announced Yugi, the rest of his friends behind him.
"Preferably alone," added Yami, giving a heated glare to Seto, in which he returned tenfold.
"Whatever ya gotta say to me, ya can say in front of him. So spill," Joey stated firmly.
This took the brunet by surprise. It was okay if he stayed? Why? Did it mean the blond saw him as a friend or something?
Yugi looked a bit defeated by that. "Well, uh, we just wanted to apologize for how we've been treating you these past few days."
Joey noticed that this seemed to be all the small teen was going to say, but he wasn't going to make it that easy for them this time. "What are ya apologizin' for exactly?"
"Huh?" Yugi replied.
"There's gotta be a reason why you're apologizin', right? And if you're apologizin', it means ya did somethin' to call for an apology. So what is it? What did ya guys do?"
His friends just stood there in silence, not knowing what to say.
"Ya can't just say you're sorry and expect everythin' to go back to normal. It's not just an excuse to use to blow things over and pretend it never happened. And until ya can tell me what ya guys are apologizin' for…I won't accept you're apology," Joey stated quietly.
"Joey, don't be like that," interceded Yami.
"Don't be like what?"
"Don't be so hard on us. We're your friends. Let's just put whatever happened behind us and move on," the former pharaoh continued.
"I knew you were an idiot before, but this just takes the cake," Bakura muttered. "Are you guys really that stupid?"
"That's a rhetorical question," mumbled Seto under his breath.
"As soon as we got here, everyone ignored him save Kaiba and the little brat," continued the former thief. "I ignored him as well because I was too busy trying to keep Ryou's attention on me all the time."
"Bakura," Ryou said warningly.
"Right. Moving on," he replied sheepishly. "So if anything, we should apologize for our…you know…"
"Selfishness?" offered Ryou.
"Yes. Selfishness. We should apologize for our selfishness and…and…"
"What he's trying to say is that we apologize for leaving you alone. Friendship isn't one sided. You've always been there for us, so the least we can do is be there for you. And we haven't been. We apologize for that. We'll also do our best to ensure it doesn't happen again. Right?" finished Ryou, snapping his gaze to everyone else. Who knew he could be so scary?
Joey watched as his friends nodded in agreement. Well…it was a start. But it just seemed weird that Bakura was the one to initiate fixing the problem.
"It's…gonna take me a bit of time to completely forgive ya guys. But we can still be on friendly terms. And that includes Kaiba and Mokuba," stated Joey.
"Um…what do you mean, Joey?" inquired Yugi.
"It means that ya gotta be nice to them and they'll be the same in return. And it also means ya gotta let them hang out with us," the blond clarified.
Seto almost choked on his intake of breath. When had he agreed to such terms?
"Deal!" cried Bakura, looking a little bit too happy. "Now we can all hang out together like we planned!"
Joey stared blankly at them, his eyebrows knitted in confusion. "Uh, okay," he agreed, not really knowing what he was agreeing to. The former thief started cackling maniacally at that. The blond had a hard time figuring out what was so funny.
"Then we'll hang out tonight," Bakura continued, "while we search for the haunted shrine from that story we heard last night."
Feeling his blood run cold, Joey found himself gripping the table. "What?"
"You were serious?" Yugi gasped, looking quite frightened.
"Oh, come on! It'll be fun!" cackled Bakura.
Joey stifled a whimper. He didn't want to go out into the dark, creepy woods in the middle of the night to search for some haunted shrine. What if there were ghosts or other…ghostly type things?
It seemed everyone in the group agreed; however, Yugi and Ryou needed a little coaxing. And Joey found himself nodding without even realizing he was doing it until Seto said so. After everyone left, anyways.
"I thought you were afraid of this kind of stuff," commented the brunet.
"I am," the blond replied softly.
"Then why did you agree to go?"
"I have no idea. But you'll stay with me, right? Ya won't leave me alone?" Joey demanded frantically.
"I never said I'd go," said Seto. When he noted the devastated expression on the blond's face, however, he gave in. "But if you insist, I'll go. We can't have you getting lost now."
"Thank you!" he cried, quickly hugging the brunet. "I don't wanna go alone."
"You…won't be alone. Your friends will be there."
"But they're not you," Joey replied absently.
Seto wasn't sure what to make of that statement, but perhaps he'd find that out later tonight.
"Um…what time are we supposed to meet up?"
"You weren't even listening?" the brunet asked, eyebrow raised. The blond smiled at him meekly. "We're meeting everyone at midnight."
"Midnight?" Joey echoed. That was even worse. It would probably mean that they'd be out there close to the witching hour. And if the story was real, what would happen then?
"You really do have an overactive imagination, don't you?" the brunet muttered. "Nothing's going to happen. It's just some idiotic ghost story set up to scare teens away from the woods. It's not real."
Joey gulped anyway. He really hoped Seto was right.
"What do ya mean we're gonna split up?" Joey screeched at his friends. Splitting up in the middle of these creepy ass woods had not been something they'd discussed before. And if they really were going to split up…he was doomed. Plain and simple.
"Do you want to find this shrine or not?" inquired Bakura, hands on his hips. "We'll cover more ground this way. And if anyone finds anything, just scream and everyone will come running."
"But what if we're screamin' for a very different reason?" the blond mumbled under his breath. Seto seemed to be the only one to catch it, though.
"How are we splitting up then?" Seto asked as he crossed his arms.
Bakura just smirked. "Excellent question. Marik, Malik, Ryou and myself will be in one group. The idiot pharaoh, Yugi, and Mokuba will be in another group, Duke, Tristan and Tea will be in the next group, which leaves you with Blondie here."
"Mokuba stays with us," the brunet ground out.
"Aw, come on, Seto," the younger Kaiba whined. "Let me go with them! I'll be fine! I promise!" He then pulled out the puppy-eyes-of-fawking-doom. There was no denying him now.
"Fine. But if anything happens, I want you to go back to the cabin. Is that clear?"
"Yes, Seto," replied Mokuba cheerfully as he darted off toward Yami and Yugi.
Everyone went off in a different direction into the woods, flashlights clicking on simultaneously. But in all this, Joey stood rooted to his spot.
"Are you coming or what?"
Seto's voice drew the blond out of his stupor. "Um…do we have to? We can just pretend we went searchin' for the shrine."
Resisting the urge to roll his eyes, the brunet grabbed Joey by the wrist and started dragging him off into the woods. When the blond didn't put up a fight, Seto became perturbed. Glancing back at him, he noticed that Joey's eyes were darting here and there frantically, as if he were expecting something to jump out from the shadows and scare them.
Seto stopped walking, which only caused Joey to bump into him. Amber eyes stared up into sapphire ones.
"Why'd ya stop?" the blond asked nervously.
"Are you really that scared?" the brunet asked sincerely. A shaky nod was his only reply. When he realized he was still holding Joey's wrist, a weird feeling came over him and he felt a strong urge to protect the blond no matter what. "Nothing's going to happen."
Before the brunet even knew what he was doing, Seto suddenly embraced him, cutting off what Joey had been about to say. Although odd, Seto found that he liked this. He liked this very much.
It happened almost instantly. One minute, Joey was a trembling mess, and the next, he was completely calm. The blond felt like he was melting in Seto's embrace.
"Nothing is going to happen. I promise," the brunet stated in a tone that made Joey believe him.
"Okay. But…if somethin' creepy happens, I wanna go back."
"I promise. Now let's go," urged Seto, tentatively taking Joey's hand in his own. When he did so, he felt his heart flutter. He knew that somehow his feelings had changed toward the blond; he just wasn't sure how much yet. Only time would tell.
Joey tightened his grip on Seto's hand, not caring that his face reddened in embarrassment. It wasn't like the other could see it anyway; it was dark. If the brunet was offering comfort, who was he to deny it? That meant if anything scary popped out of the woods, he'd already have a human shield. He just…wouldn't let Seto in on that little fact for awhile.
"What was that?" Joey asked hurriedly. Okay, so maybe using the brunet as a human shield would happen a bit sooner than he thought.
"What was what?" Seto replied.
Joey's jaw dropped. "Ya didn't hear it?"
"That snappin' sound!"
"That? It was probably just some animal getting out of our way."
Now it was Seto's turn to pause and listen. That was no animal getting out of their way. The sound would have depleted, not increased in volume. Something was heading toward them.
Joey nearly had a heart attack when he felt Seto push him behind him. That could only mean one thing. Something was out there.
"I wanna go back," the blond whimpered.
"Quiet," Seto hissed, trying to listen for the sound again. Silence.
"Shit!" the brunet cried, yanking Joey toward him.
"What the fuck was that?" the blond gasped.
"I don't know. Let's—"
"Kaiba!" Joey exclaimed, pointing to a shadow moving before them.
The brunet narrowed his eyes. It was all coming together. "Stay here," he growled.
"What? Don't leave me alone!" the blond protested.
"I think your friends are messing with us. Stay here."
Joey stood, completely frozen. Seto had left him to go chasing after shadows. That…bastard! He said he wouldn't leave him alone.
His head shot up. There was no way in hell that was the wind. The trees weren't even moving. Taking a step back, his eyes panned his surroundings. Nothing. Absolutely noth—
"Aah!" he screamed. Something had touched him! Grabbed him!
Aw, hell. He wasn't sticking around for this. So Joey did the only thing he could think of. He ran.
"Where the fuck are you?" Seto rasped as he wandered through the woods, trying to find whoever it was who was attempting to scare them. He just knew it was the blond's friends.
Another snapping sound drew his attention to his left. So that's where the perpetrator was, huh? Well, he'd make sure that this sort of thing never happened again.
Lunging into the bushes, his hands came in contact with—
The small boy looked up at his brother sheepishly. "Heh. Hi, Seto."
The brunet glared at him. "What are you doing?"
"Well, uh, we were just going to…scare you and Joey a bit. That's all," Mokuba replied meekly.
"We?" Seto echoed. "Who else was in on this?"
"Um…everyone? Seto, don't look at me like that! It was only for a bit of fun!"
"A bit of fun? You call scaring the crap out Joey a bit of fun? He's absolutely terrified!" roared the brunet.
Mokuba stared up at him blankly. "So you left him alone?"
"I told him to stay put," he explained.
A scream suddenly erupted in the woods. It was Joey.
"I don't think he stayed put, Seto."
Joey covered his ears as he tried to block out the sound that kept rushing past him. Why couldn't it just go away? Why did it have to be him who—
The blond collided with something hard. It wasn't a person. It wasn't an animal. It wasn't even a fucking tree. He stepped back, his eyes widening in horror as he realized just what he'd run into. Something must have hated him…because that would be the only reason why he would have found the damned haunted shrine!
Subconsciously hugging himself, he backed away from it. If what had happened in that story occurred so long ago, why didn't this place look like it had aged?
A popping sound nearly made him jump out of his skin. The unlit torches that we displayed in the front entrance of the shrine were now lit. This was just way too creepy.
Suuuuuuukiiiiiiiiii! Suuuuuuukiiiiiiiiii! Suuuuuuukiiiiiiiiii!
Joey spun around. The whispering wasn't whispering anymore! It sounded more like it was moaning, and loudly at that! He really didn't want to be here. And he really didn't want to go back into the woods.
That was it! He was going in the shrine.
Bolting for the inside, he immediately came to a stop when he reached the center of the shrine. In the middle of the floor lay a circle of blood. And it looked fresh.
Joey screamed when he felt icy breath hissing in his ear. But he didn't even have a chance to run away, for something had pushed him forward. The blond then found himself hurtling toward the center of the floor and into the fresh blood.
Panicking, Joey slipped and slid on the red liquid. He could feel it seeping into his clothes. He could feel its warmth on his skin. But no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't get up and away from it.
"Suki! Suki! Suki!"
The name kept lashing out at him. It was all around him. In his ear. In his head. It echoed all around him.
The blond finally managed to get into a sitting position. He brought his knees to his chest, covered his ears with his hands, and squeezed his eyes shut, hoping to high hell that this would all go away.
A tear escaped from his eye as he stifled a frightened sob. Seto, where are you?
"This is all your fault," Seto spat at Joey's friends as they frantically searched for the blond. Hearing him scream like that had put him on edge and he wanted more than anything to find him. "You knew he was afraid of this kind of stuff!"
"You're the one who left him alone!" Yami retaliated, looking miffed.
"I left him alone so that I could find you assholes and get you to stop! Now he's run off somewhere! And I swear, if he's hurt or anything, the lot of you will pay dearly," Seto growled threateningly.
"Seto?" Mokuba called out, halting his brother in his tracks. "What's that sound?"
Everyone stopped moving, listening intently. There was nothing but silence until a soft whimper—like someone crying—echoed around them.
Seto started jogging in the direction of the noise, leaving the others behind as he gripped his flashlight firmly in hand. When the noise started getting louder, he slowed down and shined his flashlight in the direction the sound was coming from.
There, sitting in the middle of the forest floor, was Joey. And he looked a wreck. His skin seemed deathly pale and he was rocking back and forth. The blond's eyes were shut tightly, his hands were pressed against his ears as if trying to block everything out, and his legs were forced against his torso.
Approaching the obviously terrified blond slowly, he knelt in front of him. "Joey?"
He didn't respond.
Reaching out, the brunet placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. That was a mistake.
Joey screamed and started scrambling away from him.
"It's okay, Joey. It's me! It's me!" Seto started, hoping his voice would penetrate the blond's mind. It did.
The brunet was taken aback by hearing his first name, but quickly recovered himself. "Yes, it's Seto."
At that, Joey broke down, his body trembling as sobs wracked his body.
"It's okay. I'm here. Everything's going to be okay," said the brunet, mentally cursing the blond's friends. They were going to pay for this.
"No. Not okay. Not okay," mumbled Joey as he covered his ears again. "Not okay."
"Joey?" Seto began in concern.
"It's all over me. It was everywhere. I wanna go. Let's go. I wanna go." The blond continued to rant, his dialogue becoming even more rapid and random. It was hard for the brunet to follow.
"We'll go right now, okay?" he said, hoping that this would appease him. Joey looked to him and nodded. "Can you get up?"
The blond shook his head. "Hurt my ankle when I slipped i-in the blood," he muttered.
Blood? What blood? Seto ran his flashlight over Joey, inspecting every inch of him. There…was no blood. What on earth was he talking about?
Multiple footsteps let the brunet know that Joey's friends had finally arrived. Thinking quickly, he lifted the blond in his arms and started heading back out of the woods.
Something had scared Joey…and badly. He just hoped the blond would come out of his shock soon so that he could figure out what was really going on. Because deep down, he knew it hadn't been his friends who'd frightened him.
And if they hadn't…who had?
By the time Seto had gotten Joey back to the cabin and settled down enough to hear the blond's story, he was livid. The only thing going through his mind was 'Kill the Geek Squad,' among other torturous thoughts. How dare they pull off a prank such as this! Joey was practically having a nervous breakdown thanks to them!
"Seto? Seto! Ya believe me, right? Right?" the blond asked with pleading eyes. He desperately wanted the brunet to believe him.
Seto sighed. "I believe you," he replied, ruffling Joey's hair a bit. "I need to step outside for a minute."
Hands shooting outward, the blond grabbed Seto's arm, trying to prevent him from leaving. "Don't leave me alone. I don't wanna be alone. I don't wanna be alone."
"I won't be gone long. I just need to speak with your friends for a minute. All right?"
"Just a minute?"
"Just a minute."
"Okay," the blond said in defeat.
Making his way to the door, Seto took one last glance at Joey before stepping outside where the blond's friends were waiting. Shutting the door behind him, the brunet mustered up a glare that could only mean all hell had broken loose. He had hadit with them! After hearing Joey's story, there was no doubt in his mind that it was the Geek Squad who'd been behind all this.
"What the hell were you guys thinking when you put him through that?" Seto spat. "Bringing that story to life had to be one of the most idiotic—"
"What are you talking about?" Yami interrupted.
The brunet's glare intensified. "You know very well what I'm talking about. To go so far as to set up a fake shrine and stage a bloody mess." He paused, for his voice had trailed off as he remembered the condition he'd found Joey in. "What happened after he got scared? Did he pass out? He did, didn't he? And then what? Did you move him out into the middle of the woods so he would think it was a real haunting?"
The group stared at him mutely, a mixture of shock and confusion on their faces.
"None…of us did that," said Tristan.
"Yeah. After we saw you heading for us, we stopped and took off," added Bakura. "We didn't go anywhere nearBlondie after that."
"You really expect me to believe that?" Seto snarled.
"We're telling the truth," stated Yami firmly.
The brunet stared hardly at each and every one of their faces, trying to find any clue that would indicate that they were lying. He found nothing. This only meant one thing: Joey had been hallucinating. Perhaps his condition hadn't improved at all.
"Just…what did Joey see?" asked Yugi, looking nervous.
"He said he kept hearing the name Suki, so he ran and came across a shrine in the woods somewhere. And he indicated that there was a pool of blood in the center of the shrine and he'd fallen into it. By then, he couldn't get up and the name just got louder and louder. When I found him, he was sitting on the ground. His eyes were shut, he had his hands over his ears, and his knees were against his chest. He was a wreck."
"Normally, I would take credit for a good scare like that, but we had nothing to do with it," said Bakura.
Seto grunted in response. "That means when he got scared while I was still with him…it triggered a hallucination or something. Maybe he went hysterical for a moment. But right now, he firmly believes that what he saw out there was real."
"Maybe it was," stated Yami thoughtfully.
"Oh, come on!" hissed Seto. "Do you really expect me to believe that some stupid ghost story is real? Things like that don't exist. They are just used as tools to frighten people from doing things that they probablyshouldn't be doing."
It was Yami's turn to look like he wanted to murder someone. "How can you say that? After everything all of us have been through, how can you still not believe in that sort of stuff? Wasn't I once a spirit? And what about Bakura…and Marik?"
"That was just a onetime deal," the brunet replied bluntly.
The former pharaoh nowlooked like he wanted to strangle him.
"I-I think what Yami is trying to say is that maybe we shouldn't rule anything out just yet. I mean…anything is possible," commented Yugi.
Seto found that veryhard to believe. "I want you all to leave now. It's been a long night," he said in a means to dismiss them. Eventually, however, the group heeded his words and left, leaving the brunet standing in the doorway of the cabin. After a few minutes, he opened the door and stepped back inside, where Mokuba was desperately trying to comfort a still frantic blond.
"I'm back," he announced, making his way over to where the two of them were.
Joey's head snapped up. "That was longer than a minute," he started anxiously. "Ya said—"
"I know what I said and I'm sorry. I really needed to talk to your friends about what happened," Seto began slowly. "I asked them if they were the ones who scared you."
The blond looked at him, confusion evident on his face. "My friends?"
"Yes. They claimed they had nothing to do with it," he continued. "Can you explain to me again what you thought you saw?"
"What I…thoughtI saw?" Joey ground out. "I knowwhat I saw! Does that mean…y-ya don't believe me? Ya said ya believed me, Seto." The blond was starting to sound helpless.
"I know…and I do believe you. It's just that I think there's a reasonable explanation for what you saw. I mean…you don't actually think what you saw was real, do you?"
That, apparently, had been the wrong thing to say.
"I'm not crazy!" Joey yelled, making both Seto and Mokuba flinch.
"I never said you were!" the brunet countered.
"No! Ya don't believe me! Ya think I was seein' things and I'm not! What I saw was real! It was real!"
"It wasn't real!" Seto roared. He was losing his patience. How was he going to get this through the blond's head? "Look, you've been through a lot lately. Getting scared probably induced a hallucination or something."
"Then did I hallucinate this?" Joey screamed, yanking up his shirt sleeve.
Seto stepped closer to the blond and inspected him. On his forearm, there was a red imprint of a hand…like someone had grabbed him quite roughly.
"Who did this?" the brunet asked immediately.
"I told ya already," Joey replied softly, on the brink of tears. "It was real. Everythin' was real, Seto. I heard that name and then somethin' grabbed me. That's when I ran and…ya know…"
"Do…you think you might have done that to yourself when you were scared?" Seto inquired, examining his arm again. It was possible. The mark was on Joey's left arm and the hand imprint was right-handed.
"Did it…to myself?" the blond echoed quietly.
Seto nodded, hoping that Joey finally understood where he was coming from. But the look of fury on the blond's face after the words sank in indicated that he hadn't.
"How can ya still not believe me?"
"Seto, maybe—" Mokuba started, but his brother cut him off.
"Fine!" Seto finally snapped. "Believe that what you saw was real. But if they come to take you and lock you away in some mental institution, don't come crying to me. You're nothing but a worthless piece of shit anyway. Perhaps it'd be better off for you to go crazy. Then I won't have to deal with taking care of your sorry ass anymore."
And with that, Seto stormed out of the cabin and slammed the door behind him. But he didn't leave. Instead, he slid down the door until he was sitting on the ground, hands buried in his hair.
He hadn't wanted to say any of that to him. Hell, he didn't even remember all of what he'd said. The only thing going through his mind at that point was…fuck. He didn't know what else to do. He thought that maybe if he could rile the blond up again, make him hate him again, then maybe…things would go back to normal in Joey's mind.
But the last thing he'd wanted to do was hurt him. And that was the image he could not erase from his mind. Seeing that devastated and hopeless look on Joey's face after he'd said all that was enough to make him want to cry himself.
"I didn't mean it, Joey," he muttered under his breath. "I promise you, I didn't mean it." But those words didn't make it hurt any less.
Joey stared blankly at the wall, Seto's words ringing in his head loud enough to drown out his thoughts. He wasn't worthless. And he wasn't crazy, either! How could he say that to him? He had trusted him.
And now, after having heard those words coming from the brunet, Joey felt more alone than ever. Seto had destroyed what little hope he'd had left of happiness.
However, the blond hesitated as that final thought went through his mind. It was just too difficult for him to figure out which side of Seto was the real one. Was he the bastard who acted cruelly toward him? Or was he the kind-hearted one who'd taken care of him and comforted him when he'd needed it? It wasn't like Joey had asked for his help. The brunet had helped him all on his own. So which Seto was the real one?
Sighing, he leaned back, a frown crossing his face. Joey let his thoughts wander, only for a replay of their argument to cross his mind. After some thought, the blond came to the conclusion that maybe Seto didn't actually hate him. If the look on the brunet's face had been any indication, the CEO had seemed worried or…scared.
Scared? Seto? Of what?
Contemplating some more, it dawned on him. He knew what Seto was afraid of. Or…well…concerned about, anyway. The brunet was more than likely anxious about whether the blond was losing his mind or not; in other words, going crazy.
Sure, his health hadn't been up to snuff, but Joey sure as hell knew he wasn't crazy. However, that left one problem.
How the hell was he going to prove that to Seto?
"I fucked up," Seto ground out, burying his face in his hands.
Mokuba stared at his brother sympathetically. He'd come outside to give Joey some alone time while he tried to talk some sense into the brunet. But it seemed his brother had taken to beating himself up instead.
"Seto, if you didn't mean what you said, why don't you just go and apologize?" inquired the young boy.
"Because I don't think he's up to accepting an apology at the moment," he snapped. "And besides, anything I say now will just make things worse."
Mokuba watched him silently, noticing the stricken look on his brother's face whenever it appeared he thought about what had happened between him and the blond.
"Do you believe him?" he muttered quietly.
Seto raised his head and sighed, hurt etched on his face. "I don't know. I want to, but I just don't know. You know I've never believed in the supernatural and I want to continue refusing to believe it. But…" His voice trailed off.
"You want to believe Joey because you don't want to accept the alternative," Mokuba said for him. At the brunet's nod, the young boy settled himself more comfortably next to his brother.
"I never wanted to hurt him," Seto stated softly. "But when he just started rambling about what happened out there, I thought he'd finally lost it. That…scared me. I don't ever want to go through that feeling again. It felt like…I was going to lose him or something. Not in body, but in mind. And now…I just don't know what to do."
"I think you two need to sit down and just talk. It sounds like you really like him…right?" Mokuba implored.
Seto let out another deep sigh and leaned his head back against the tree behind him. He stared up at the sky, which was already starting to show signs of the quickly approaching dawn. "Yes. I like him."
"Have you told him how you really feel?" continued Mokuba.
Shaking his head, he focused his gaze to the ground.
"I think you should. It might be a good way to mend things."
Half of a smile began to make its way onto the brunet's face. "Why do you have to be the one giving me advice? Shouldn't this be the other way around?"
"Nope," Mokuba answered with a smirk. "Your brain's too logical to process the emotions of other people and, therefore, the appropriate actions that should follow."
"Your genius is showing."
"And I thought I hid it so well," Mokuba laughed in response. "Let's go back to the cabin. Then you can apologize to Joey and tell him how you really feel about him."
Seto ruffled his brother's hair and turned to face the direction of the cabin. "Come on."
They headed back for the cabin, the brunet feeling a little bit better after speaking with Mokuba. It amazed him how confiding in the young boy seemed to lift his spirits.
Upon opening the door, Seto stepped inside, immediately ready to begin apologizing to Joey, but the cabin was empty. Joey was nowhere in sight.
"He's gone," his brother started as he searched the place.
Seto froze. Where could Joey have gone? And why?
"Seto?" called Mokuba, something clenched in his hands. "Joey left this."
The brunet took the slip of paper his brother passed to him and read the messy handwriting scribbled upon it. With the note dropping from his fingers, Seto raced for the door, determined to bring Joey back no matter what.
Mokuba stared at the fallen piece of paper. It read: I'm gonna prove I'm right. You'll see.
The young boy clenched his hands, growing anxious. Hopefully, Seto would find Joey before something—anything—happened to the blond.
Joey trudged through the woods, determined to find any sort of proof that would confirm he wasn't crazy. Would anything he found be tangible? Probably not. But it was worth a shot.
"Why couldn't ya just believe me, Seto?" the blond mumbled to himself.
As if in answer, the wind blew through the trees. Joey listened to the leaves whispering to him. It was as if something wanted him to follow the direction the breeze went. But before he could take a step, he detected something strange.
He sniffed the air, noting that there was definitely smoke coming from somewhere. Which meant—
"Fire," Joey gasped in realization. But where was it coming from?
The wind blew again—harder, this time—which only made the smell of smoke stronger. If the blond didn't know any better, he'd have said the wind was trying to make the fire head in his direction.
But that would be crazy…right?
Seto stared at the woods, trying to figure out which direction to take when Yugi called out to him.
"Kaiba!" the small teen cried urgently.
"What?" snapped the brunet in response.
"There's a fire in the woods! Some guys were messing around with a campfire and it got out of control. I came to get you guys. We need to head to the main camp."
Seto's heart slammed into his chest. "Get Mokuba. He's in the cabin. I need to find Joey. He went off into the woods," he said before taking off.
"Get Mokuba! I'll find Joey!" he yelled back.
Hoping that Yugi would just do as he said, he frantically made his way through the trees. How far Joey had gone, he didn't know. Where the fire was, he didn't know.
But he was starting to smell it, which meant it had to be close, right?
"Where the hell are you?" Seto hissed under his breath. Just where would he have gone?
The wind began picking up, making his eyes sting as burning pine wafted in the air. He coughed a few times and trudged ahead.
"Joey!" He paused to listen.
He nearly jumped out of his skin when a large tree about thirty feet away from him cracked and plummeted to the ground, revealing hot and hungry flames. The fire was heading his way.
Seto decided to go left, away from the fire and smoke that seemed to want to ensnare him, picking up his pace in the process. He really needed to find Joey and get the hell out of here.
"Seto?" came a faint reply.
"Joey! Where are you?"
"I'm over here! But I can't see ya!"
"Don't worry! I'll find you!"
The brunet waved his hand in front of his face, trying to clear the smoke that obstructed his vision. And when he caught sight of a blond mass of hair, he pushed forward until his hands came in contact with the teen.
"Ah!" Joey screamed. But when he realized it was just Seto, he calmed himself. "Seto. Ya came."
"Of course, I came. You had me worried sick, you idiot. Don't you ever run off like that again!"
"I'm sorry. I was just tryin' to find proof."
"We'll talk about that later. Right now, we should worry about not dying in these woods," stated the brunet.
"How're we gonna get out?"
"Uh…this way," he said, grabbing Joey's hand and heading for an area that looked clear.
Another tree fell, blocking their path. Flames licked over the trunk, making their surroundings heat up intensely, the thick, black smoke becoming stifling.
"Seto! We're trapped!" Joey said over his coughing fit. "We're gonna die out here."
They really were trapped. There was no way to escape. They were going to die.
Seto pulled Joey into his arms, burying the blond's face in his chest. "I'm sorry I didn't believe you, Joey. I'm really sorry."
"It's okay. I'm sorry I left like that. If I hadn't, we wouldn't—"
The brunet silenced him with a kiss—a kiss so passionate, that they both truly—finally—felt what they'd been wanting to say since they'd gotten together.
"I love you, Joey," whispered Seto when they broke apart. "I think I always have…deep down."
The blond smiled at him. "I love ya, too, Seto. I really do."
A strong gust of wind burst past the two, startling them. But soon, something caught Joey's eye.
"Uh, what's that?" asked the blond, pointing at something ahead of them.
Seto turned to look. And gaped.
Something was swirling around…and glowing. But then that something became two somethings. It wasn't any debris from the fire, so what was—
"Holy shit," gasped the brunet when the glowing objects started to take form. One of them took the shape of a woman, the other, a man. Both were somewhat transparent and were looking at them.
"They're…the ones from the story," said Joey breathlessly.
Suddenly, the man and woman grasped hands and smiled at each other before disappearing. A final gust a wind signified their departure before the sky rumbled and a heavy downpour fell upon them. Gradually, the fire began to dissipate.
"It…was real? They were real?" Seto asked stunned. Or was it just a hallucination brought on by the smoke.
"It was real," replied Joey with a smile. "They finally found each other. Do ya believe me now?"
The brunet looked down at the blond—his blond—through the miraculous rain that had probably saved their lives. They'd been given a chance—a chance that Hiro and Suki never had. Perhaps that was their gift to them, for helping them find one another.
"Yes, Joey. I believe you. I'll always believe you. And I'll love you. Forever and always. And every time we touch."