Warnings: mild sexual references, mild references to violence and child abuse.
News of the assassination attempt was blanketing the networks before Seto and Isono had even reached their hotel room. Even as they stood waiting for an elevator, then waiting for the doors to close, a formal female newsreader could be heard from the lobby's television.
"...interrupt this broadcast to bring you the breaking news that gunfire broke out in the Domino Gardens Hotel at around nine forty this evening, in what was is thought to have been an attempt on the life of Kaiba Seto, CEO of..."
The doors slid shut and the elevator began to grind upwards, swiftly muffling the words of the news report. Seto's left foot was tapping out a rapid staccato, his knuckles white as they clasped his folded arms. His eyes were cold, his expression impenetrable. Isono watched him askance through his glasses. The dark lenses did little hide his own concern.
"Seto-sama..." he started when they reached the top floor, but Seto strode forwards ahead of Isono's voice, quickly covering the space between the elevator and the room door in just a few wide paces.
He let himself into the room before Isono could even pull out his keycard, and Isono nearly had the door shut in his face for having lagged so far behind Seto's broad step.
Seto stood stiffly just inside the room entrance, foot tapping again, waiting impatiently for Isono to scope it out, to check for intruders or bombs or god knows what. Every movement the man made could save his life, every action a potential fatality so that Seto could stay breathing. Every moment, every second, the constant tick tock of death that swung between them. Sometimes it made his head numb.
Isono hurried to his employer's side as Seto suddenly sunk rather feebly down onto the bed. More worrying was when Seto didn't even push him away, the boy whose personal boundaries barely tolerated anyone even being in the same room. Isono disregarded etiquette and crouched before him so he could look up into his face, half covered by hair and turned to the floor.
"Seto, are you alright? We're safe."
Seto met his eyes with disdain and self-disgust, shame impelling him to drag himself upright and cross his legs, fold his arms, resume his usual picture of hostile control.
"Sit," he said, a short bark, and glanced at the bed.
Isono blinked at the command's bite, but he rose all the same and sat to join his employer. Seto's clear unease was not usual. Isono still remembered so clearly the sound of Seto's voice, brimming with cold pleasantries, when he lightly told him to hire a clean up crew to scrape the remains of his foster father off the pavement. Whatever mixed emotions he might have had over that event, Seto hadn't shown them.
His foot was tapping once again.
"You shouldn't worry," Isono ventured, unsure exactly what he was saying. "No one got hurt. The bullet didn't come anywhere near you."
"What does it matter?" Seto muttered rhetorically, glaring at nothing.
Isono faltered. "What does...? Seto, did you want to get shot?"
"Don't be an idiot, Isono," Seto snapped and resumed his directionless glaring. His voice dropped. "Why did you stop it?"
"It's my job to protect you," Isono said steadily.
"Because I pay you," Seto retorted, his tone sharp again.
"Well, yes," Isono said in that same even voice, "but also because I care about you." He wasn't sure quite what had so perturbed his employer, but he thought Seto's glare might have somewhat lessened. "The last thing in the world that I want," he continued, speaking slowly, eyes trying to study Seto's closed expression, "is for something to happen to you."
Still Seto's face stayed blank, and still Isono cast around for some context into which Seto's sudden, inexplicable discomfort might fit. He couldn't understand why this, of all the difficult things Seto had coped with, would so disturb him. Of course, he had been more upset by his brother's kidnapping, but he had been far less troubled by previous attempts on his life. They had had far closer calls. This time, Isono hadn't needed to take a literal bullet for his employer; shoving Seto roughly to the floor and lying atop him to shield his body had quite sufficed. Besides, guns had never troubled Seto before. Isono had had a minor nervous breakdown when Seto casually related how he stopped a gun with a Duel Monsters card during Duelist Kingdom. Isono went off on a long, stumbling speech about safety and loaded firearms and the structural integrity or lack thereof of Duel Monsters cards. Seto had reacted the way a petulant teenager would if their parent started lecturing them about the dangers of all that loud rock and roll music.
Isono continued in vain to think of some explanation for Seto's state, but nothing came, and eventually Seto broke his own stiff silence.
"I assume you still have the scar?" he said abruptly, inclining his head in Isono's direction but not meeting his eyes.
It took Isono a moment to realise what Seto had meant. He had a fair few scars, not uncommon in his line of work, and many were received during his employment under the Kaibas. But he knew to which Seto was referring.
"Yes, I still have it," he said, confused.
Seto turned his head completely, but still didn't meet Isono's eyes. "Show me."
Isono resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Not, "Can I see?" or, "Would you mind letting me look?" Just the imperative: do this, do it now, don't ask questions.
He unbuttoned his black suit jacket before untucking his fine white shirt from his belt, then rolled up the shirt and the vest beneath to reveal the little round indentation between his ribs where the bullet had entered. Seto finally looked at him, not at his eyes but the old wound, staring at it in blank silence.
It had been his most serious injury. They were in Kyoto for a conference and Isono had been dressing, the bulletproof vest that would have saved him a great deal of pain and trouble only a few minutes away from being secured. The gunman had dropped onto the balcony from the floor above and fired twice, swiftly, through the glass: one bullet hit Isono, one didn't even graze Seto who had dropped to the floor at the sound of the first shot. Isono didn't remember much after that, what with all the heavy bleeding that had preoccupied him, but he knew at some point the gunman had ended up with a glass decanter smashed over his head and Seto had somehow escaped unscathed. Whoever hired the assassin was never discovered. The Kaibas had so many lingering enemies.
Isono had been told he was lucky to survive. Seto hadn't mentioned the incident since.
Isono's body very visibly tensed, his well worked upon abs standing in clear definition, as Seto suddenly reached forwards to touch the round indentation. He ran his finger around the edge, then dipped inside and massaged his fingertip into the little sink of skin. Isono felt his guts shift with embarrassment and confusion and an endless list of other, unidentifiable emotions.
"You could have died," Seto said idly, a calm observation. Isono said nothing as Seto slid closer, watching him examine and probe the wound the way he might do to a prototype he was developing.
"Yes, but importantly I didn't," Isono said, his voice taut. "You do have the best doctors in the city, after all. Besides, it's part of the job. Protecting you is-"
Isono immediately fell silent as Seto's head moved up smoothly and pressed forwards in a sudden, stiff kiss. His lips remained closed, his mouth still, the strangest and coldest kiss – if you could even call it that – that Isono had ever received.
The moment his brain registered exactly what was happening Isono pulled immediately away, leaning back on the bed. Amazing how fast one's reflexes can be when it comes to gunfights, and so slow in other situations.
"Seto," Isono said in a firm, tense voice, avoiding Seto's eyes and his closed, smooth expression. It was so inscrutable it had to be deliberate. "Seto, you've had a very long day, as have I, and I think-"
The kiss happened again, this time accompanied by a hand on his thigh. Not a flirtatious touch of the knee, not a teasing caress, just an awkwardly upfront palm placed high on his leg, almost touching his groin. Isono jerked back again, leaning back even farther on the bed, then decided that was not the most appropriate position and stood, Seto unresisting as Isono pushed him away.
"Seto," Isono began, turning to face him, then stopped and tried to think how he expected to finish that sentence. He pinched the bridge of his nose and screwed up his eyes, horror and embarrassment shivering over his body. "Seto, you're like a son to me," he said hopelessly, staring down at the smart, prim form of his employer, his legs crossed and his chin held defiantly high. "This is... I mean, I just... Perhaps under other circumstances, then maybe, but..." He trailed off and shook his head.
As he stood there, staring at Seto who had now started staring at the floor, the awful thought struck him that this might be Seto's first kiss, his first anything. Kaiba Seto didn't date, didn't have friends, didn't socialise at all outside of business meetings. It was Isono's job to monitor and protect Seto's movements, to keep him safe, so if Seto had indulged in any form of romance over the past six years he must have been extremely secretive about it.
"Oh, Seto," Isono muttered, running a hand over his face. "What is this? Why did you do that?"
To the casual observer Seto didn't look like he was considering the question, but Isono knew so well the faint clouding of his gaze, the slight change in his posture, the tilt of his chin all indicated that he was giving serious thought to something, although whether it was either of the questions he'd just asked he couldn't say.
"I suppose," said Seto finally, his tone forcedly even, "that I was concerned. You saved my life today and..." His eyes flicked up, little bright blue stones. "I trust you, Isono. I don't trust many people."
Isono licked his lips nervously and leaned forwards a little. When he spoke his voice was gentle, almost apologetic. "Then, Seto, I think the solution is for you to learn to trust more people, not to... sexualise... pre-existing relationships, you know?"
A bitter 'hn' was all Isono got in response. Seto's eyes slid away from his own and focused on something distant, something indistinct, anything that wasn't Isono.
"I don't..." Isono began again, brokenly, then he sighed and took a breath, talking in an uncomfortable, but confident tone. "Seto, you know better than anyone that you're the most sought-after young man in Japan. You're intelligent and beautiful and you can do a hell of a lot better than an employee twice your age. I don't..." He sighed again and shrugged, finally slipping from his tense posture as alert bodyguard into what he was at that moment: a teenager's crush, regretfully turning him down. "I don't want your first experiences to be like this."
"I do," Seto said immediately, still looking away. "I understand it would be unconventional, and perhaps unhealthy, but-" -his breath caught for the briefest second- "-I want it to be with you. I don't want romance. I don't want love. I just... want..." He exhaled irritably, then looked up at Isono, eyes the cool businesslike challenge that Isono had grown so used to over the years. "I'm comfortable with you. And you already know I like men. I actually couldn't do much better."
Isono tried to interrupt with a polite protestation, but Seto silenced with with a raised hand.
"You were my supervisor throughout my formative years," Seto continued stiffly. "You know better than anyone how difficult it was for me to have unsupervised contact with anybody. All I knew was you. You were my only fantasy for years." A dry smile twisted his lips. "You still are."
In a single elegant shrug of his shoulders Seto's coat slipped down and he pulled his arms free of the sleeves, reclining against the pooled white and red fabric. He held Isono's eyes and leaned back, a hand inviting on his thigh, smiling and welcoming. Isono thought that Seto's smile wasn't as certain as he'd have liked to think.
"You might like it," he said, voice impressively calm. "I could make you feel good."
He moved his other hand to his lap, hesitated, then slid them together, moving to the button and zip of his pants.
"Seto!" Isono said suddenly, more aggressively than he'd intended. It was the first time he had ever shouted at his employer. Seto froze, fingertips curled around the button for a moment, then he let his hands drop once again. Isono looked away and cleared his throat to try and fail to hide his embarrassment, then rebuttoned his jacket over his disturbed shirt with consummate professionalism. "Seto-sama, my apologies if I am speaking out of place, but this..." Behind his glasses, his eyes dropped to the floor. "This isn't going to happen. I can't do this. I'm very sorry."
Seto's gaze was so intense Isono felt forced to meet it, somehow certain that his employer could tell when he wasn't looking at him, even behind the shades. The silence stretched on, second after second, until Seto dropped his gaze with a sharp nod.
"Yes. I understand." He remained still for a moment, then suddenly stood, once again full of business and hostility. "You were right, it has been a long day. I'm going to get an early night. We'll have a long day tomorrow if the press are anywhere near as excitable as they were last time someone tried to shoot me."
He entered the ensuite, picking up his small overnight bag on his way, and closed the door smartly behind him.
Isono let out a very long breath and collapsed back on the bed. Composure did not come naturally to him. It had always been his greatest failing when starting out in the security business. He knew he was good at his job; he had scored in the top 5% for all his martial arts classes, protection exercises, surveillance... There was no doubting he was good. But no one wanted a bodyguard who didn't know how to be part of the background. You were supposed to be an unobtrusive presence in your employer's life, just a slip of silence, invisible in a fifteen hundred dollar imported suit. You were not supposed to become emotionally involved in anything. Emotions were not in the contract.
But Seto had liked that about him. He had been disturbingly aloof as a child, not well liked by any of the house staff, even those who pitied his bruises and shrinking self. He would pass dry insults about the people three times his age who were hired to look after him, and soon what few friends Seto might have had among the house staff were permanently turned away. Seto didn't want them. They worked for his father, each and every one of them an enemy hidden behind a polite smile.
He had been the same with Isono, at first. Isono didn't care. He endured the boy's barbed comments, his superiority, his closed heart and consummate disdain for those around him. He didn't even try to hide how much the sight of fresh blue bruises on Seto's jaw broke him.
"Do you think your fretting will make them heal faster?" an eleven year old Seto had told him scathingly. "You work for the man who caused them. Your concern is pure hypocrisy."
"But I don't know how else to protect you," Isono had replied helplessly, and Seto's face had so slightly faded into something vulnerable, something young and frightened.
Eventually, Seto had little by little let down just the smallest part of his guard, until Isono felt that Seto could comfortably call him his friend. Isono privately thought of Seto as like a son he would likely never have, but he never voiced this aloud. Gozaburo would not approve. Nor would Seto, for that matter.
And, god, this was how Seto had thought of him? This is how he had interpreted those years of dutiful affection? Did he think Isono was, what, coming onto him? Did he see something sexual in the way Isono would bid him goodnight or tend to his wounds? Did he not see that as platonic? Isono desperately searched for some instance that his behaviour could have been misinterpreted, some moment in which he might have acted in a way that a confused teenager might have mistaken for desire, but nothing came to him, just fatherly affection.
Unless, Isono thought with a deeper twinge of horror, that was exactly what Seto had wanted. Some people were into that sort of thing, and Seto was already saddled with quite the set of father issues.
The door opened once again and Isono stood abruptly, forcing the thoughts from his mind, and saw Seto standing before him once again.
He looked Isono over with an odd frown.
"You're still here," he said, as if he wasn't entirely pleased with that fact.
"Yes, I am," Isono answered, though he wasn't quite sure if it was a question.
"I'm going to sleep now," Seto continued in a slightly hesitant, fragmented voice. "Are you going to stay here, or..."
It wasn't quite an open question, more an incomplete one, but Isono read the unfinished sentence on his employer's face as though from a book and did not try to hide the hurt from his own.
"It's my turn for the night shift," he said. "I'm not planning on going anywhere tonight."
Seto's face turned and his expression flitted somewhere distant, and he smiled.
"Ever the protector, hm, Isono?"
Isono returned the smile stiffly. "It does come with the territory."
They fell into silence while Seto readied himself for bed and Isono made a final sweep of the room, pausing to set running a convenient, well stocked coffee maker, which he found in the other room and which would keep him awake for the night shift. Isono tidied away Seto's discarded clothes for him, biting back a smile as he did so. Obsessively tidy Seto, who would conveniently forget to put his clothes away when sharing a hotel suite with his bodyguard. He just liked having someone to run around after him. Seto would have said that it was because there was no point tidying up after himself if he was paying someone to do it for him, but they both knew that cleaning duties were not in Isono's contract. The boy just liked feeling that someone wanted to take care of him, as subconscious as that might be.
Eventually Seto was seated upright in bed, dressed in neat silk pyjamas, a slim novel in a language Isono didn't even attempt to recognise resting in his lap.
Isono took his position by the window and stood smartly, legs planted apart, the usual long night of boredom ahead replaced with one of anxiety and self-doubt, a good eight hours till the dawn to find a thousand ways to blame himself for what feelings Seto had developed for him.
He was temporarily saved from such self punishment by Seto's terse voice, cutting suddenly through the silence.
"You said you thought of me as your son."
"I'm very sorry about that," Isono said in a quick, clumsy rush. "That was out of line of me-"
"It's not that," Seto muttered with a dismissive gesture. "You just might do well not to jinx it." He gave Isono a grim smile, his eyes darkened into grey, faded hollows. "My fathers tend to die."
Isono's breath caught.
"What...? Seto, what happened to your father and Gozaburo had nothing to do with you. What happened was just..." Just bad luck, Seto, that every parent you've ever known has died. "It was just extremely unfortunate," he finished anticlimactically.
"I'm not speaking literally," Seto sad exasperatedly, but his expression didn't hold much conviction. "I just... I would just prefer that nothing happened to you, as well as them." His mouth creased coldly and he swiftly added, "Not that I think of you as a father figure." He fell back against the pillows, his strange expression gradually receding, melting into one which was naked, unguarded, and as much like how he had looked as a child that Isono gave himself into a cool flood of sudden guilt. He could call himself Seto's protector, and he might take a paycheck for it, but no one had failed more than him to protect him. Seto might be only sixteen, but the odd, uneven childishness he had once had was long, long gone. Isono realised, with a guilty stab, that this was likely the first intimate conversation Seto had had with anybody other than Mokuba in an extremely long time.
Seto let out a little, exhausted sigh. His voice dropped so it was all but inaudible and he tilted his head away. "This has all been rather disgusting of me."
"No, Seto," Isono said quickly, not believing his own words even as he said them. "There's nothing wrong with how you might feel. It's natural."
"I think wanting to screw the closest thing you have to a parent is quite decidedly unnatural," Seto murmured, his knees rising under the bedsheets and drawing protectively and unconsciously to his chest. He looked not so very much unlike the peculiar ten year old that Isono had met six years ago, shaking his hand like an adult, smiling up at him with the quiet possibility that he might just let you in on his mysterious little self one day.
He had never seemed so far away.
"I would never leave you, Seto," Isono said, not caring for etiquette or protocol any more. "No matter what, I will be here for you."
"No matter how disgusting I am," Seto said, ghosting over the words that Isono would never say.
Isono's silence shaped a soft ellipsis by way of answer. Seto very quietly laughed to himself, shaking his head, and switched off the bedside lamp.
"I do love you Seto," Isono suddenly told the silence and the patch of darkness where Seto lay.
Across the distance and the darkness and the silence between them, Seto said nothing, and the silence stretched out around the room, sinking down the hotel, eating into a softly spoken news report which only perfunctorily mentioned a bodyguard who worked for Kaiba Seto, CEO, a boy beyond his years who had walked away from another attempt on his life with poise and inscrutability. On the hotel's top floor, a nameless bodyguard sat on the bed of his employer, and stroked his hair as he slept with a love of endless, tender selflessness. It might have been the same way that Seto's father had stroked his hair as a child, but it was so long ago that he really couldn't remember.
I adore this ship, but I don't think I could ever write them in a healthy romantic relationship. The problems and the angst of it all is probably why I like it so much, really.