Title: Changes
Author: bnomiko
Rating: PG-13
Pairing(s): Yami + Seto, Noa + Mokuba, Jou + Mai, Yugi + Anzu, Malik + Ryou, Rafael + Valon + Amelda
Spoilers: none
Warnings: swearing
Disclaimer: Yu-Gi-Oh! is the creation of Kazuki Takahashi. This is a not-for-profit fanwork and I do not own any of these characters.
Summary: "Pregnancy didn't suit her. She missed wearing whatever she wanted, doing whatever she wanted. That made her nervous about being a mother too. What if she wasn't cut out for motherhood? It wasn't like they had planned on having a baby."
Status: 2/?
Archived at: http://www.phenixsol.com/Miko/FF/

Setup for this particular fic:

* * *


Changes Series

* * *

Jounouichi threw himself onto the sofa like a heavy sack of potatoes and waved off Honda's elbow of protest. The blonde was damn tired, and worse yet, it wasn't something even a few days off could fix...

He sighed. It just felt like life was becoming far too hectic for his liking. He wasn't like Seto or even Otogi, guys who thrived in the fast lane. He was a simple guy with simple needs. But sometimes life throws a curveball and you just have to man up and deal.

He was going to be a father any day now. A father. He'd never been so simultaneously scared and thrilled before in his life.

Along with the baby came a lot of other changes. He and Mai had just finished moving out of their old one bedroom apartment a few weeks earlier - at least they'd found a larger unit in the same complex - and were still unpacking whenever they had a moment to spare. Not that he'd had any spare time lately. Between his jobs at the Kame Game Shop and as a mover in a moving company, he was now working up to 60 hours a week. That also meant he had no time or energy for school, not that he'd ever been scholastically inclined... He'd already accepted that he'd probably never obtain even an Associate's degree.

He knew he probably didn't have to go to such lengths. Even though Mai was a big spender, she made good money, a hell of a lot more than he did. She'd always been an independent woman too. Having a baby probably wasn't going to slow her down much. And Jou knew the whole idea of the man being the breadwinner and the wife a homemaker was an outdated notion. But he wanted to be a good husband and father; he wanted to be reliable, respectable and mature... He just hoped it'd be enough.

Sometimes he wondered what it was like living on easy street, like Yami. A big house, fast cars, credit cards that got paid off every month... it had to be nice, not worrying about the fact that a bigger apartment was $400 more a month and that medical insurance was no longer optional. Jou glanced over at his friend, then immediately felt bad for even thinking about it. Maybe Yami wasn't on a payroll, but that didn't mean he sat on his ass eating bonbons all day either. He wasn't a greedy guy. He'd sometimes help out at the old man's game shop for free. And he did a lot of work for Kaiba Corp., all behind the scenes; he had restaurants that he ran in Seto's name. Besides, Yami had to sleep next to Mr. Grouchypants McMoneybags himself every night, had to kiss him and stuff... Jou couldn't imagine torturing himself like that, not even for all the money in the universe!

Jou shook his head at the thought, as if to shake it out of his head, then looked over at Mai. If he had it his way, she'd be in the hospital already. She was that pregnant. He wouldn't ever say it to her face, but she looked like she was about to explode with babies. It wasn't a good thought. Gah, why did I watch Alien again?

He had wanted her to stay home and rest since she'd been complaining about everything from her back to her ankles hurting, but she had snapped at him and said that she didn't need him telling her what to do. Not wanting to upset her, he'd given in without a fight, but he still couldn't help but worry about her. He hated that he couldn't do anything to alleviate her various aches and pains.

"Man, I'd be a terrible pregnant lady," he mumbled aloud without realizing it.

"I think we all would," Honda loudly whispered back.

Mai turned from her converstion with Anzu and Shizuka and glared at them both. Jou swore that her sense of hearing was improving with every month of her pregnancy.

"So when are you guys going to decide on a name?" Anzu asked Jou, dragging him into the conversation even as the young man continued to squirm under his wife's glare.

"Well, I like Kichirou or Masaru..." Jou finally answered.

Anzu tried sounding out the names. "Isn't Kichirou Jounouichi a bit of a mouthful?"

"It doesn't matter, he can think up whatever he wants because it's going to be a girl," Mai shot back. It was a long running argument. The doctor had said it would be a boy but she was absolutely sure it was going to be a girl. Woman's intuition and all that. "Anyhow, we still haven't settled on a name... I'm leaning towards Megumi or Takara at the moment. But I'm not making a decision 'til she's OUT of here." She folded her hands and rested them on her tummy, settling the matter just like that.

Anzu smiled. She liked Mai... she was the closest thing she had to a big sister or cousin. So in a way, she'd be something of an aunt soon. Anzu was looking forward to that. Not only did she like babies, but it'd be good practice for that someday in the future when she'd be starting a family of her own.

The brunette girl glanced over at her boyfriend as he chatted with his grandfather, Otogi and Seto about special editions of video games or something like that. She felt her cheeks warm up slightly and looked away just as quickly. Even though they'd been dating for more than two years now, wasn't it still a bit premature to think about marriage or children? They hadn't even... well, done "it" yet. And she was still in school and so was Yugi. They were only 21. But then again, so was dad-to-be Jounouichi. And Seto and Yami too, despite the fact that they'd been raising two teenagers themselves...

Speaking of Yami, the former Pharaoh was now wandering over to join the gaming discussion. Anzu looked back in time to catch Seto's smile, to see him reach out and pull his boyfriend onto his lap. Yami wrapped his arms around Seto's neck and hugged him back, looking both smug and comfortable sitting on his perch.

Once upon a time, it would've hurt, seeing Yami giving his affections to someone else. But now her eyes sought out Yugi instead...

A lot had changed. Yugi would've once been overshadowed sitting amongst such strong personalities - even though he'd grown a little taller since high school, he was still the shortest in the group - but now he held his own with a quiet confidence and strength. Everyone liked him and respected him. But thankfully not everything had changed... What she'd loved about him all along was his cheerfulness and courage, his loyalty and thoughtfulness, and those qualities he retained in spades.

Of course Anzu did still like Yami... but as a dear friend, that was all. She too had changed, matured... and she now understood that the aggressive confidence and bad boy edge that had attracted her initially weren't the sort of qualities she wanted in a boyfriend. But perhaps that was what made him the right match for Seto.

Mai and Jounouichi were quite a pair too, even if it wasn't obvious at first glance to those who didn't know them. She was model beautiful and worldly, a sexy woman with expensive tastes. He was pretty much an average Joe. But she was also an avid gamer and a bit of a tomboy, as comfortable kicking back with a beer and a burger as she was dining in a Michelin rated restaurant - and that was what made their relationship work. And... she liked having someone to boss around... and Jou was the perfect, willing candidate...

As if confirming Anzu's assessment, the blonde woman lifted her hand and waved at her husband. Jou was immediately by her side. "Help me up, Pup. God, I can't tell anymore if I actually have to use the bathroom or not..." she complained in a low voice to no one in particular. She slipped Shizuka and Anzu an apologetic look. "If you'll excuse me..."

No one said anything until she had disappeared down the hallway. Then Honda nudged Jou and asked, "Um, when was she due again?"

Jou sighed. "Five days ago. Though the doc said it's not that unusual, bein' late, 'specially for a first pregnancy."

"And she's still walking around looking like that?" Seto queried.

"Like what that?" Jou asked.

"Dressed... like that," Seto said. For being the most... well, pregnant person in the room, Mai sure was the most scantily clad as well, in a hot pink surplice top with a neckline so low that it was amazing she hadn't had a wardrobe malfunction yet, and itsy bitsy short shorts. He acknowledged that it had been unseasonably warm the past few days, but still... that was an awful lot of skin to be flashing, pregnant or not.

Jou's nose wrinkled slightly. "What's wrong with it? I like it..."

"I'm sure most straight guys would," Seto blithely responded.

Jou bristled. Was Seto implying that she looked like a stripper or something? "Hmph, you're one to talk, considerin' you let you boyfriend walk around dressed like... THAT!" Jou stupidly threw back, pointing at Yami.

The former Pharaoh looked down at himself without thinking and considered the slashed up black top he was wearing. Nope, no nipple showing through the horizontal slash at the chest, nothing more than a few innocent slivers of sk... He jerked his head back up to glare at Jou. "Wait, what??"

"And why you checking her out anyhow?" Jou continued barking at Seto.

"He's gay. We notice these things," Malik loudly interrupted from across the room, sounding smug.

"I'm detail oriented. Don't lump me together with you," Seto snarled back.

"What's wrong with what I'm wearing?" Yami complained loudly, his crimson eyes flashing.

Jou blinked, then his earlier comment began to sink in. He'd been so eager to tell Seto off that he'd ended up insulting his friend instead. "Oh, sorry, man. I didn't mean... I'll just shut up now." He ducked his head, the sheepish expression on his face making him look like a young teen again. "Sorry."

Yami sighed. Why did he always get caught in the middle? "All right... I guess it's okay. And Seto..."

Seto frowned a little. "I wasn't insulting her," he quickly explained before his boyfriend got on his case. "She's just... I mean... Why isn't she in the hospital already?"

"I can't just toss her in there you know. They don't want to admit her unless she's like, already in labor."

"Maybe you should insist on it then."

Jou gave a half shrug. "B'sides, I'm not sure if insurance would cover all that. It'd be damn expensive if it don't."

"I hardly think this is the time to be cheap," Seto said, disapproval in his voice.

"Cheap? Not all of us are made of money, you jerk!"

"You think I don't know..."

"Now Seto, Jounouichi..." Sugoroku interjected, trying to cool things down a little. At least Jou and Seto were throwing words around instead of punches. And a bit of bantering between the two of them was perfectly normal. But he didn't want to risk things getting out of hand.

"If it's really a matter of money, we can loan you whatever you need, Jou," Yami offered while lightly rubbing the back of Seto's neck. It was obvious, at least to him, that his boyfriend was worried about Mai as well... he just wasn't doing a good job of conveying it.

Jou quickly glanced at Seto, but despite the fact that they'd just been arguing, the tall brunette didn't seem surprised, nor did he protest. He had a sort of bland expression, like he wasn't sure how to best handle the situation.

"I appreciate you offerin', but I have my pride too, you know," the blonde finally replied in a much calmer tone of voice. "Like you remember that time when I dueled Ryuzaki at Duelist Kingdom, and I told you to let me stand on my own? But..."

"Pride? Fuck that. Your family matters more," Seto opined, his voice clipped.

It was almost funny hearing the young billionaire say that, especially with that look on his face. But for once, Jou agreed with him. He smirked. "Ya didn't let me finish. I'm not a fool neither. If I need help, I know where to turn. Assuming the offer still stands."

"Of course," Yami assured him. "Even if you don't like what I'm wearing," he slyly added with a chuckle.

"Oh man..." Jounouichi groaned as everyone else laughed. Me and my big mouth! He was never going to live that comment down.

* * *

While everyone else returned to their conversations in the family room, Mai was just trying to get out of the bathroom. Of course she hadn't had to go, just like she'd thought, but she just couldn't tell anymore, and it was really starting to annoy her.

Who'd have thought that standing up could be such a chore? she asked herself as she struggled to push herself upright. It seemed to take forever.

After wasting an additional minute getting her shorts back on, she waddled over to the sink. While washing her hands, she took a long, good look at herself in the mirror.

I suppose I should feel fortunate that I've only really gained weight where the baby is, she sighed as she twisted in front of the mirror. That, and my chest... 'course Katsuya's pretty happy about that. But my legs are still pretty good, even if my ankles are swelling a bit, and my face isn't bloated... Oh, who am I kidding? I'm the size of a house. I feel fat.

Pregnancy didn't suit her. She missed wearing whatever she wanted, doing whatever she wanted. That made her nervous about being a mother too. What if she wasn't cut out for motherhood? It wasn't like they had planned on having a baby. Actually, they'd never seriously discussed it before. What if she ended up like her parents, distant and disinterested? And... she'd worked hard for her career too. Was she going to have to give that up, just like she had to give up her beloved Peugeot convertible for a more family friendly sedan?

She sighed. She did want to do the right things and be a good mother. She was just having a hard time getting maternal over something she couldn't even see yet. Even when the baby kicked like she was in a chorus line, it was hard to imagine there was a tiny human being in there.

"Huh...?" That was odd. She'd just felt something give. It definitely wasn't a kick, but it felt like something had... popped? And there was now some sort of fluid dribbling down the insides of her legs. Her first horrified thought was that she'd lost bladder control, but then it occurred to her that it might be something even more unexpected.

Is it possible... my water broke? Am I going into labor? she asked herself as she tried to check where exactly the fluid was coming from. Her mind began to race. She'd read a lot of articles and magazines and booklets about what to expect from every stage of pregnancy all the way through birth, but reading about it and being in the midst of it were totally different things.

She exhaled, hard. "Get a hold of yourself, girl. Calm down." Panicking wasn't going to do any good. At least she wasn't actually in the middle of giving birth. There weren't any contractions yet. The baby wasn't going to suddenly fall out of her onto the floor of Seto's bathroom...

"Okay, I need to call up the doctor and find out what to do. Or... well, I need to tell Katsuya first. Then the doctor... I hope Katsuya doesn't just freak out though; that'd be no help! And geez, should I sit or stand?" she grumbled, grabbing the hand towel to try and dam the flow of fluid.

She finally settled on remaining standing since she didn't want to go through having to try and stand up again if she were to sit down. Plus she didn't really want to sit in her damp shorts. She also decided to try and get someone else's attention first - maybe Anzu's - since Jou was a pretty spastic kind of guy and would probably go bananas, and watching him freak out would NOT help matters at all. And maybe he'd take it better sitting down, hearing it from a friend.

Decision made, Mai shuffled to the door and opened it a crack. She could see and hear her friends down the hallway in the family room, but there wasn't anyone particularly close to the door. Biting her lip slightly, she decided to try and get Shizuka's attention since she could see her clearly through the doorway. The last thing she wanted to do was to alert the whole gang to her predicament, though that result might be unavoidable...

"Psst! Pssst!" Mai hissed, growing a little louder with each attempt.

Shizuka didn't immediately hear her, but when she finally did, she looked around, a little confused, until she saw Mai waving at her from the restroom. At first she thought of waving back, then she realized... something was up.

"What is it? Are you okay?" the younger woman asked once she reached the bathroom. "Should I go get Onii-san?"

"No. Well, yes, but... I uh... I think my water broke."

"What?!! Are you going into labor?!" Shizuka gasped loudly before Mai could hush her.

"You're going into labor?" Anzu echoed from the family room, and just like a wildfire, the news immediately spread around the room.

"No, I'm not!" Mai yelled back, but no one seemed to hear her over the sudden din.

Mortified, the blonde woman shut the door as the entire gang converged in the hallway outside the bathroom. She could hear her husband barking, "Hey, call an ambulance!" and someone - Sugoroku, most likely - suggesting that they call the doctor first.

"Yeah, if someone could call my doctor, that'd be great," Mai agreed. "I really don't think I'm in imminent danger of delivering or anything. But I'm not one hundred percent sure on what I'm supposed to do next, either."

"See? I told you she said she's not in labor, stupid!" Seto yelled at Jou as the blonde once again insisted that they needed the paramedics.

"But she could be, at any moment! And I don't remember the doc's number either!" Jou wailed.

Seto growled. He couldn't believe how inept Jou was sometimes. And this man was about to become a father? "What the hell is wrong with you? Don't you have it on your cellphone?!"

Jou fumbled for his phone, staring at it blankly for a second before realization dawned on him. "Huh? Oh... yeah! I do!"

As Jou finally began making the call, Sugoroku managed to edge closer to the door and knocked lightly on the frame. "Mai, is there anything you need?" he asked as calmly as he could. As the only "adult" there he felt like it was up to him to maintain control. He didn't want her to get too worked up or nervous just because everyone else was. Until they received further instruction, the best thing for her to do was to stay as calm and comfortable as possible.

"Um... towels?"

The old man passed the request on to Yami, then turned back to the door. "Anything else? Are you thirsty? Is there anything in your bag or your car that we can bring you?"

"Uh... well, can you... not have everyone screaming outside the door?"

Sugoroku looked to the left and right. As fond as he was of all of Yugi's friends, they certainly were... well, he couldn't help but think of them as a bunch of chickens with their heads cut off. He swallowed a sigh, then cleared his throat and said in his sternest voice, "All right, that's it! Everyone out of the hallway!"

The gang continued clucking as Sugoroku herded them back into the family room - nothing was going to shut them up until this was all over - but at least they weren't all huddled around the bathroom anymore. Jou, still on the phone, had automatically followed everyone else, but when Honda finally noticed where he was, he physically spun his friend around and told him, "What are you doing? Get back to Mai, dummy!"

Jou blinked at him, went, "Oh shit!" and ran back to the bathroom.

By the time he'd gotten back to his wife, Yami was there too, with an armload of towels. Mai had partially opened the door to allow him to pass them to her.

"Uh, um, the doc has some questions for you!" Jou told her, thrusting the phone at her before she had a chance to shut the door again.

She accepted it, covering the mouthpiece for a moment. "Mmhmm... Now stay, okay?"

"Yeah. Sorry." Jou planted both his feet firmly on the ground, in case he suddenly felt the urge to wander away again. "And don't you worry, we'll get through this!"

Mai gave him a small smile, then shut the door again.

Yami looked over at Jou, who seemed both shaken and awestruck, then joined him in leaning against the wall. "Mai seems okay for the moment, so is there anything that you need?"

"I dunno. I haven't a clue. Doc told me to stay calm. I think she's gotta go to the hospital, but it's not an emergency? She's just gotta go..." Jou babbled loudly.

Obviously Mai heard him, because the door opened again. She stepped out, a beach towel now loosely wrapped around her waist, and handed him his phone back. "Yeah, we better get going," she said, her voice almost a whisper in contrast to Jou's. "The doctor says they'll probably want to induce labor if I haven't shown any other signs of progressing by the time we get checked in, so..."

Jou was breathing like he was in a Lamaze class. "'Kay. This is it, then? Guess I should say good night to everyone..."

"Make it fast," Mai told him. He immediately ran off and began screaming his goodbyes. The blonde woman couldn't help but shake her head a little before turning to the one remaining person in the hallway. "And Yami... um, sorry about any mess in there. I tried to clean up a little, but..."

"Don't worry about it," Yami assured her. Although she'd sounded calm, her eyes betrayed her nervousness. "Take care, and I hope everything goes smoothly. And... I already told Jou this, but... if you need anything, call us, okay?"

Mai smiled. She was truly grateful; she couldn't imagine going through all of this without having good friends by her side. "Thanks. Well, I guess this is it. Can you believe it? Next time you see me, I'll be a mother."

* * *

The rest of the gang gradually left after Jou and Mai's sudden departure. There wasn't much anyone could think of to talk about other than the imminent birth, but with the parents-to-be off to the hospital, the conversation felt a little lopsided and awkward.

In the end, only Sugoroku, Seto and Yami were left in the mansion's large family room. Even Noa and Mokuba had said their good nights and left for bed. Yugi might have stayed, but he had needed to drive Anzu home, so he'd told his grandfather that he'd be back to pick him up in a little bit and said goodbye to everyone else.

It was getting late. It had also grown silent. Yet Yami and Seto sat there and kept the old man company, even though they'd run out of things to say. Sugoroku got up to get a refill on his tea, then returned to find that nothing had changed. He began fiddling with his mug. He couldn't stand it being so quiet. He wished he could think of something to talk about.

"So..." he slowly began, his voice sounding a bit too loud in the stillness of the night, "It'll be different, having a baby around on Friday nights..."

Seto gave a small grunt, but didn't say anything.

"I wonder if Mai's right, that it'll be a girl. You'd think with technology nowadays, the doctors would be right all the time."

Still no go. Yami gave a small, polite smile, shrugged, and that was it.

"So have either one of you ever thought about having children?" Sugoroku pressed, grasping for a topic, any topic, that hadn't been talked about to death.

"Oh sure. Let me go impregnate Yami right now," Seto sarcastically responded without thinking.

Yami punched him in the shoulder, almost hard enough to bruise. "Sorry, my hand slipped," he said while rolling his eyes.

Sugoroku just shook his head at their antics. At least conversation had started back up again; that was a relief. Seto especially had seemed a bit uneasy earlier, and that had worried him. "Of course you can't have children together biologically speaking. But I was just curious if it's something you've ever discussed?"

They hadn't. At least, it hadn't ever really crossed Seto's mind. So he took a minute to think it over, and another to consider if he really wanted to answer, then said in a low voice, "Raising Mokuba - and Noa... is the best thing I've ever done. But I don't know if..."

Sugoroku nodded. He understood what Seto was saying, even if he couldn't fully voice it. He remembered his own despair at losing his only child after his wife's death a few years prior. Having Yugi had been the only consolation in the darkest time of his life. Mokuba meant just as much to Seto. But as much as Seto loved his brothers, it had to have been so draining for someone so young to dedicate himself so completely to someone else's happiness and well being...

"Of course if I had to, I would," the tall brunette added softly. "With no regrets."

It suddenly occurred to Seto that he'd answered without a clue as to how Yami felt. And it was a pretty big issue to make assumptions about. He guiltily glanced at his lover, but Yami immediately set his mind at ease.

"Although I like things as they are, you know I'll support any decision you make. I'll always stand by you, as well as our friends," Yami said sincerely.

Sugoroku sat back and carefully considered what the young billionaire had said, what Yami had implied. He knew them both well enough to understand what was bothering Seto. In a way, it was a good thing... Seto understood what friendship was now. He saw value in it. He cared. And given his family history, it made sense - he couldn't help but worry. "She'll be all right, Seto," he tried to reassure him. "She's been doing very well thus far from what I've seen."

"But there's no guarantees in life," Seto retorted.

"That's true. Sometimes all we can do is lend our support and hope for the best."

The elderly shopkeeper sounded a little like Yami, both in what he was saying and the reassuring tone of his voice. Seto snorted at the thought. He didn't like what Sugoroku had said, but he gave a curt nod anyway, acknowledging it as the truth. He just hated feeling helpless, regardless of the situation.

Sugoroku stroked his beard thoughtfully. "I'll tell you what. Let's go to the hospital together, once the baby is born."

"I don't like hospitals," was Seto's knee jerk response. He sounded like a bratty kid. But both Sugoroku and Yami were pleased that he was comfortable enough with them - as well as his past - to have mentioned it at all.

"Yes, I know. But you should come along, regardless," Yami told him.

"I didn't say I wouldn't! I'm just... never mind. It doesn't matter."

"Of course it matters. I know... this isn't easy for you. But I think you'll feel a lot better if you go and see for yourself that everything is fine."

Seto didn't think of himself a pessimist. But at the same time, it was hard being optimistic in certain situations. He wanted to believe in what Yami had said. And he knew he was being unreasonable - Sugoroku was right, Mai had been doing just fine. She hadn't had to be carted off in an ambulance, crying out in pain. And it wasn't his place to fret over her anyhow. But he just couldn't shake off the concern that plagued his thoughts.

"I'm sure Jou will keep us informed every step of the way. And if he does need help, he knows he can count on us. Like he said, he's no fool..."

Seto was sorely tempted to contradict his lover's assessment of the blonde duelist, but he held his tongue. For once, he hoped that he was wrong about him.

* * *

The next day brought about a steady stream of phone calls and emails. Everyone wanted status updates. Seto could hardly get any work done.

But he couldn't deny his relief when, early that afternoon, Yami informed him via mind link that Mai had given birth to a baby girl. And yes, both mother and child were fine - the delivery had gone smoothly and there were no complications to speak of at all.

After a little more back and forth communication, Seto agreed to accompany his brothers, Yami and Sugoroku to the hospital the next morning. That would give Mai a bit of a chance to rest and recuperate... and give Yami the opportunity to think about what little gifts he could bring to congratulate the new parents, since Seto being wasn't much help. Sure, the brunette had made some suggestions, but a bag of dog biscuits and a puppy training book were definitely NOT appropriate!

The former Pharaoh eventually settled on a bouquet of cosmos for Mai, and, as a nod to Seto, a dozen doughnuts for Jounouichi. He told his grandfather about it too, and the elderly man was so tickled by it, he suggested a shop and asked if he could come along to select doughnuts.

So the next morning, after stopping by the florists, Yami and the Kaibas picked up Sugoroku before heading to the doughnut shop. Between Sugoroku's sense of humor and Seto's... well, Seto being Seto, they ended up with an oddball assortment of treats with names like "the gay bar" and "triple chocolate penetration." All Mokuba and Noa could do was shake their heads at the silliness of it all, but even they had to admit, it was good seeing Seto a bit more at ease since he'd been rather tightly wound the day before.

Gifts in hand, they finally arrived at the hospital. Only Yami noticed Seto's very slight hesitation as they walked into the lobby; his stride was still as long as it normally was. He was also being as authoritative as usual, leading the way to the maternity ward, then asking at the desk for Mai's room number.

As they approached the assigned room, a woman with curly hair stepped out just as they were about to enter. She paused, then smiled politely and nodded before walking away. She wasn't a nurse, but there was something familiar about her. The color of her hair and eyes were similar to Shizuka's...

They didn't really have time to think about it more, because as soon as they walked in, there was Mai, waving slowly at them, and Jou, cradling his newborn daughter in his arms.

"Congratulations!" Sugoroku, Yami, Mokuba and Noa chorused. Seto just exhaled before managing to pull himself enough together to smile.

"Hey guys!" Jou said, beaming from ear to ear. Whatever worries or doubts he'd had about fatherhood were obviously gone. Yami thought that he'd never seen his friend look prouder or happier in his life. "Well, lemme introduce ya. Everyone, this is Hitomi." He managed to unwrap the bundle in his arms just enough to reveal a scrunched up, tiny face topped with a few fine tufts of strawberry kissed blonde hair. "And Hitomi-chan, these are our friends... Yami, Mokuba, Noa, Kaiba, and Jii-chan. Jii-chan's not really my grandpa, but I guess he's like...everyone's grandpa. Guess that makes all you guys her uncles too?"

"Something like that," Mai told him. Not surprisingly, she sounded tired.

Sugoroku smiled sympathetically at her. "You did well. She's really beautiful. Here..." He handed her the flowers as Yami opened the box of doughnuts for Jou to see before setting them on the back table.

"Mmm, doughnuts..."

"Thank you." Mai dipped her head in a nod, then asked softly, "Would you like to hold her? Katsuya..."

"Sure thing." The blonde man got up, walked over, and carefully placed his daughter in Sugoroku's arms. With his hands now free, Jou wandered to the back table, grabbed two doughnuts, and promptly began stuffing them in his face. "Man, how'd you guys know I'd be hungry?"

"You're always hungry," Noa muttered under his breath.

It'd been a long time since the old man had held a baby. But as soon as Hitomi landed in his arms, he remembered exactly what to do, as if Yugi had been a baby only yesterday. "Well, look at you!" he cooed, securely cradling the infant while everyone peered over his shoulders for a better look at her.

She looks like a raisin, Yami privately commented to Seto as Hitomi squinted back at them.

The brunette smirked. Haven't been around babies much? They all look like that, Yami.

"She kinda looks like your sister, sorta," Noa remarked. Well, not that Shizuka looked all squished like that. But the hair color was right.

Jou nodded. "Yeah, I think so too. Or my mom, I guess. She was leavin' just when ya guys got here," he said, gesticulating at the door with a maple and bacon bar.

"Oh? That's the lady we ran into then..." Mokuba mumbled.

"Are you okay with that?" Yami asked Jou in a low voice.

Jou paused, then shrugged. "We'll see. Maybe she wants to be a grandma or something. Nothin' wrong with that, I guess." He paused again, a little longer this time, then continued on to say, "My mom was here first thing this mornin'. But my dad's been a no-show even though he's just a mile or two away. Maybe it's better that way if my mom's hanging around, ya know?"

No one said anything for a minute, then Sugoroku said, "It'll work out, one way or another. I'm glad you're trying to keep an open mind about it. That's the right thing... the mature thing to do."

Jou brightened up a little. "See, that's why ya gotta listen to Jii-chan," he told his daughter, lightly tapping her nose, leaving behind a bit of icing which he quickly swiped away with a laugh.

"It's amazing how tiny she is," Mokuba said wondrously. Seto glanced over upon hearing the comment and it occurred to him, neither Mokuba nor Noa had been around babies much. Now that he thought about it, had Mokuba ever even held one before? There had been a nursery at the orphanage, but of course they'd been a long way from infancy by the time they'd landed there.

"She's not so tiny when you're the one giving birth," Mai sighed. Not that she expected any sympathy from a room full of men.

"Would you like to hold her?" Sugoroku asked, turning towards the black-haired teen.

"Um... sure, I guess. I'm not sure what to do though."

Sugoroku chuckled. "Main thing to remember is to support her head. Just hold your arms like this, and..." A bit of shifting around, and Mokuba suddenly had a baby in his arms. "Yup, just like that!"

"Wow, this is... weird. Uh, who's next?"

Mokuba ended up awkwardly passing Hitomi to Noa, who nervously handed her off to Yami as she began squirming. Yami pursed his lips as he struggled to get a good grip on the baby, even though he had her balanced on his lap. It was just too odd... on one hand, she was heavier than he'd expected, and was soft and squishy like a bag of warmed gelatin. On the other, he was afraid to hold her too tightly, even though it felt like she'd slide right out of his grasp.

Seto couldn't help but laugh at the sight. Who would've thought that, out of everyone in the room, Yami would be the one most out of his element?

"I can't help it," Yami grumbled as Seto stepped in to relieve him. "I thought... well, I thought it'd be more like holding a puppy or something?"

"It's a baby, not a puppy. Though in this case, maybe 'puppy' would do," Seto joked as he cradled the infant with ease. But despite the implied insult, his voice had softened. And he had begun to instinctively rock the baby, almost without realizing it.

"You bastard, give me back my kid!" Jou growled.

"Don't yell at me. You're going to startle her," Seto calmly told him as he lifted Hitomi to his shoulder. He shifted his hand a little to touch his cheek to the back of her head and wondered what it was about babies that made them smell like... well, babies. "Besides, Yami said it first."

"I didn't mean it like that, Seto."

"True, but I'm starting to like it. What do you think, Puppy?" he asked the baby. She made a burbling sound at him.

"Grrr... Kaiba...!!"

Seto just shrugged and handed Jounouichi his daughter back. The blonde man continued to glare at him. "What? Mai's not objecting."

Mai laughed. She knew Seto meant no harm by it. "So now I have a Pup and a Puppy?"

"Geez, Mai!" Jou groaned. He didn't get why she thought it was funny. Damn Kaiba! He couldn't believe he'd already saddled his kid with a stupid nickname; she was only a day old!

"At least you didn't have a litter," Noa joked. Everyone rolled their eyes.

"Ugh, no. One's enough... at least for now."

Jou began nodding in agreement, then the entirety of Mai's comment sank in. "Wait... for now?!"

* * *

Author's Notes:

June 10, 2010