Title: The Cost of Doing Business
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: "Operation: Mindcrime" is performed and recorded by Queensrÿche. 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: Things are almost back to normal, and yet, everything has changed… for the better.
Status: 14 / 15
Archived at: http://www.phenixsol.com/Miko/FF/

* * *

The Cost of Doing Business

Epilogue 1: Antivirus

* * *

It wasn’t an idea that Seto would have thought up on his own. He didn’t like being caught in huge crowds. He didn’t like being bombarded with pointless noise. But Yami had different tastes. He liked being around people, liked the lively hustle and bustle they created. He wanted to experience everything, no matter how crazy it was.

Yes, Yami wanted to take Mokuba to a rock concert. The crimson-eyed man had been getting music recommendations from his bosom buddy Valon, and had taken a particular interest in a metal band called Megadeth that just so happened to be on tour with a stop in their area. Seto could only imagine the sort of hooligans that would be attracted to that kind of music – he had given a few songs a shot and been rewarded with an instant headache – but at the same time, he made no attempt to dissuade Yami. For one thing, Mokuba had never been to a concert before. And he seemed to share Yami’s taste in music, at least in this case. Too, Seto secretly thought that it’d be nice for Yami and Mokuba to spend some time together since they’d had a bit of a falling out while he was ill. And if they wanted to bond over guitars, wailing vocals, and objectionable lyrics, well, good for them.

… Besides, getting them out of the house meant he could get a few extra hours of work in, since they wouldn’t be there to nag him about how he was still recovering and had to take it easy, even though they knew full well he intended to get back on his regular works schedule the next week.

The pair left late in the afternoon, several hours before the concert was scheduled to start, so that they could pick up Malik, whose taste in music was apparently as obnoxious as his taste in clothes. But Seto figured there was safety in numbers, not that anyone would make it past Yami’s Shadow Magic if things were to get out of control. And at least they were smart enough to take a limo instead of fighting with Domino’s metalheads for parking behind the concert venue.

It turned out that Seto’s plan wasn’t as perfect as he had hoped, however. He’d forgotten about Noa, or more accurately, forgotten that Noa could be just as stubborn and pigheaded as either Mokuba or Yami. And it wasn’t like any of them could forget the doctor’s warning that if Seto didn’t take care of himself, he could relapse. So as soon their respective boyfriends had left, Noa wandered into Seto’s office with his laptop so that he could keep an eye on him while they both tried to get some work done.

It wasn’t bad at first. Noa was a quiet, focused worker. But after about two hours, he'd decided that Seto had done enough work for the day – the brunette was beginning to sag in his chair and was irritably muttering at his computer. But rather than take the chance that Seto would start arguing about knowing his own limits, he simply suggested that they go something to eat. After all, if Mokuba and Yami were off having fun, he figured they should follow their lead and find something better to do than stare at their computers all night.

Seto wanted to protest. He felt a desperate need to work. But he was feeling tired and hungry, and the look on Noa’s face made it clear that the teen would fight him if he refused.

They had sandwiches delivered to the house. Then Noa asked Seto to join him on a low level test dungeon run with some of the Legends of Duel Monsters characters he was finalizing. Seto provided him with feedback, then disappeared for a short nap before getting back up to get a little more work done while he and Noa waited for Mokuba and Yami to come home. All in all, it wasn’t a bad evening.

It was a bit past 1:00 AM when the two concert goers finally arrived home. They were sweaty and disheveled, as if they’d been in the middle of a scuffle. Seto was alarmed at first, but relaxed a little when he saw Mokuba laughing, grinning broadly as he showed off the concert tees he had picked up. The teen enthusiastically proclaimed that he’d had an awesome time, even though his ears were ringing and his throat raw from having yelled whatever lyrics he’d been able to memorize over the past few days. And he was absolutely exhausted, falling asleep minutes out of the shower.

As quickly as Mokuba had gone under, he still managed to outlast his brother. By the time Yami staggered out of the bathroom after his shower, Seto was out cold, lying nearly sideways across the mattress with his legs dangling off the side, as if he had just collapsed there while waiting for his lover to come to bed. Yami considered moving him, but he didn’t want to risk waking him. So instead he relocated the pillows to suit their new orientation, then folded the edge of the comforter over Seto the best he could before following suit, curling up with the other edge of the comforter, lulled by the feel of Seto’s breath on his back.

* * *

The next morning, Yami awoke to find himself sprawled nearly diagonally across the mattress, with no sign of Seto anywhere. He rolled around until he spotted the bedside clock, then rubbed his eyes and looked at it again, before grumbling to himself about the fact that it was nearly 11:00 AM. He normally slept in, but not that late...

He swung his legs out over the edge of the mattress. Kai-baby?

There was a slight pause before he got a response. Yes?

Ugh, I just woke up. Yami indulged in a yawn and part of a stretch before wincing at the stiffness in his neck. Where are you?

A mental sigh. Where do you think?

The former Pharaoh felt a frown forming on his face. You didn’t go to work… did you?

Seto didn’t answer, which was more telling than anything he could’ve said. In fact, Yami could almost feel his boyfriend bracing for a scolding. Seto, I thought we agreed that you’d go back starting next Tuesday. You’re not at 100% yet.

I feel fine. I even made sure to keep my work load light… And I have Noa here with me – the bugger made me bring him along – so you don’t have to worry about me. Besides, it’s a Friday, and I don’t plan on coming in tomorrow on top of that, so really… it’s not a big deal.

Why must you insist on…

I bet Mokuba’s not even up yet. So I’m filling in for him, sorta.

Yami knew it was pointless to argue or even to get Mokuba involved. Seto had been going stir crazy the last few days, so it was no surprise that he had ended up sneaking off to work. At least Noa was there to keep watch over him for the time being; Yami had no doubt that the teen would strong-arm Seto into calling it a day if he thought it necessary. Not that Yami was going to leave it all in Noa’s hands. It was Friday, as Seto had so kindly reminded him… and Fridays meant he should head down to Kaiba Corp. to have lunch with his lover.

After throwing on a pair of basic black cargo shorts and a blindingly shiny, semi-sheer gold and silver lurex skull tee, Yami finally emerged from the bedroom and went looking for Mokuba. He was a bit surprised to find the youngest Kaiba still in his room and sitting on the bed, his hair rumpled and his eyes still squinty.

"Good morning. Still recovering from the show I see."

Mokuba scratched his head, making his bedhead even worse, before grabbing at the back of his neck. "Ow… My neck is killing me…"

"Same here," Yami said sympathetically. Clearly their neck muscles weren’t developed enough to handle two hours straight of headbanging.

"I don’t think… I’ve slept in this late in a long time," he declared, then he got a better look at Yami. "You’re all shiny and stuff. Are you going somewhere?"

"Our respective boyfriends snuck off to work without telling us."

"… Oh."

"So I think we need to make them take us somewhere for lunch."

The black-haired teen managed a wry grin. "Well, it is Friday. Seto can’t complain about that."

Yami kicked up a shirt that was sitting on the floor and tossed it to Mokuba. "Let me know when you’re ready then."

* * *

They made an odd quartet, dressed as they were, sitting at a back corner booth in a hugely popular casual dining restaurant. On one end of the style spectrum were Yami and Mokuba, casual as could be, with the latter in a black and blue concert tee and a pair of slightly wrinkled True Religion jeans that he hadn’t quite grown into yet. On the other end were Noa and Seto, both fresh out of the office in full business attire despite the fact that it was business casual Friday. Noa looked every bit like the newly appointed V.P. of Technology and Development in a navy suit, with an aqua Ferragamo cephalopod print tie his only nod to the day’s relaxed dress code. Seto was no slouch either, dressed in a very pale gray knee-length coat and gray slacks that served as a more fashion forward variant on the standard business suit, with an ornate gray and gold medallion Versace tie as the formal finishing touch.

But few people paid them any attention; that was the benefit about eating at a place that was *that* busy. The downside of course was the food was taking quite a while, much to Seto’s chagrin. But he didn’t make an issue out of it. He knew not to rock the boat, that his family would rather have seen him home than take him to lunch. And he was fine just sitting back and listening as the other three freely talked about anything and everything that came to mind.

Things really were almost back to normal, and yet, it also felt like everything had changed… for the better.

Noa had to be the most chipper of the bunch at the moment. He was clearly excited about his new role at Kaiba Corp. – as well as his new office in the works on the 70th floor – and was practically bursting with ideas for everything from product improvements to system security upgrades. Seto saw a lot of potential in many of his ideas, and wondered to himself for the umpteenth time why he had waited so long to give the teen a position at his company. But there was no reason to fixate on that any longer... what mattered was that Noa was now officially part of the company. And that made him very happy, which made Seto smile in turn.

Also excited was Mokuba, who was still going on about the concert, talking about everything from the venue to the setlist to Malik’s few moments of "fun" bounding around in the mosh pit before security had broken it up. Seto was relieved that his little brother hadn’t partaken of said "fun" as it sounded like it was just a bunch of aggressive retards slamming their bodies together in an attempt to hurt themselves and one another. But despite his misgivings, the important thing was that Mokuba had had a good time and had gotten the chance to experience something new, something that served as common ground between him and Yami.

And as for Yami? He effortlessly bounced between all the topics that were being presented. Even though he had the least amount of technological know-how amongst the four of them, he was able to back up many of Noa’s ideas for Legends of Duel Monsters – or "LoDM," as he had dubbed it – simply by approaching it from a gamer’s point of view. And of course he was happy to second Mokuba’s request that they attend more concerts in the future, because he’d had a good time too. He even managed to tie the two threads together, suggesting that they should consider contracting with popular bands to provide exclusive songs to serve as a "soundtrack" for their MMORPG, a sort of added bonus to provide players with more bang for their buck.

Yami had put so much thought into the matter that it made Seto a little uneasy. Oh, sure, the former Pharaoh had good sense and instincts and understood intimately the hearts of gamers. That wasn’t the problem. It was just that he didn’t want Yami working for him; there was a line between business and "pleasure" that he didn’t want to cross. But he had already entrusted Yami with a variety of tasks in the past, and he’d always done a good job…

"I guess you’ll be wanting an office on the 70th floor too…" the young CEO finally muttered aloud.

The conversation at the table trickled to a stop as Mokuba, Noa and Yami all blinked at him. Seto stared back. Had he been so quiet that they’d forgotten he was there? Or was it just a case of bad timing? Now that he thought about it, he hadn’t been paying attention to whatever they’d been talking about the last minute or so… Maybe they’d moved on to a new topic of conversation?

"Nii-sama?" Mokuba prodded.

"But I don’t want you working for me, Yami," Seto clarified. Why were they all still looking at him funny?

"Okay… and I don’t want to work for you…" Yami slowly parroted back, as he tried to figure out what had suddenly brought that on. He’d been talking about how he was looking forward to their Friday night gathering, since it was the first one he’d been able to host in weeks...

"But you’re always trying to help me with stuff – making suggestions, taking on tasks that I don’t have time for…"

Yami cocked his head slightly. "Yeah. Because I want to. Because sometimes you need someone to bounce things off of, someone who’s looking at things from a different perspective. But that doesn’t mean I want to be your employee."

Was Yami just saying that to try and make him feel better? Seto didn’t want to make the same mistake with Yami that he had with Noa. He didn’t want to deny him something that he really wanted. "Then… why bother?"

"I like helping out. I like feeling useful. And I like knowing that you trust me enough to rely on me when things get a little hectic."

"That’s it?"

"Pretty much. Why, what’s wrong?" He reached for Seto’s hand, furtively checking his temperature. It seemed normal. But still, he couldn’t help but worry that Seto wasn’t feeling well and that it was affecting his thoughts in turn.

"I don’t know. I feel like… I’m taking advantage of you." Yami had taken such good care of both him and his brothers while he’d been sick, and he’d been so patient with him too, even through the eight weeks of separation that had preceded that…

Yami shook his head. Was his boyfriend nuts? Considering that Seto provided him with anything and everything he could ever want – money, material things, a home, and more importantly, love and companionship… In what universe would that equate to taking advantage of him? "Believe me, you aren’t."

Seto opened his mouth, then shut it, like a goldfish. He wasn’t sure what to say anymore. He was starting to feel stupid for having voiced his concerns at all.

Yami saw his lover floundering, and decided to intervene before he started moping. "You’ve always given me all of yourself, as much as you could. And I’ve tried to do the same for you. So what more could we possibly ask for or expect from one another?"

"So you really don’t mind?"

Yami swallowed a sigh. "Honestly, Seto…" He lifted the taller man’s hand to his lips, letting them drift over the backs of his knuckles before turning his hand over and kissing his palm. "Really, the only thing I want is…"

Seto couldn’t resist. He smirked slightly, just the tiniest twitch of the corners of his mouth. "… an office?"

"NO! Why are you obsessing over that? And besides, if that’s all I wanted, I’d just demand that you give me one or end up forcing my way into yours, and say screw the fact that neither one of us would ever get any work done!" Yami quickly retorted, though there was no anger or irritation in his voice, just a smug satisfaction that he had gotten Seto’s mind off more morose thoughts. Then he smirked as well, though it quickly melted into a saccharine smile. "The only thing I want is… to be the reason you come home every night."

Seto felt his face warming up slightly. "… Oh geez."

"Mushy," Mokuba declared, while Noa expressed his sentiments by making gagging sounds. Yami responded by making exaggerated kissy faces at Seto, who could only shake his head at everyone’s antics, even as a smile threatened to bloom across his face.

"So you feel a little better now?" Yami asked, pleased to see the amusement that Seto was trying so hard to hide.

"Yes. Thank you. But… if you do ever change your mind, then…"

"I already told you. Then I’ll just take over your office. You’re the best seat in whole company," Yami purred.

"Don’t you mean I have the best seat?"

Yami rubbed his chin a little, then his eyes lit up. "Sure, that too. You have a great ass. But I was thinking more along the lines of sitting on you." He winked and licked his lips. Seto’s eyebrow twitched, but he made no effort to rebuff Yami’s advances as the ex-spirit leaned all the way across the table for an open mouthed kiss made awkward by their positioning.

"Hi, TMI? Hello?" Mokuba looked back and forth at the two of them. Undoubtedly they had moved the conversation to their private channel. Too bad they hadn’t done it sooner. Too bad they couldn’t take their bodies there too.

"Yeah, we’re only in PUBLIC," Noa hissed as he wondered if Seto and Yami would find alternate uses for the table, especially since their food still hadn’t come yet. He was so hungry. And this was not the sort of appetizer he’d been expecting...

"Maybe he’s just hungry. I know I am," the black-haired teen complained, gesturing at the still food-less tabletop.

Noa smiled at the fact that they were on the same page. "Starving," he said in agreement.

"We’re behaving, we’re behaving," Yami quickly assured the younger pair after he and Seto broke apart.

Noa snorted. "For now."

Yami ignored the jibe as he settled back into his seat, then he looked around as if realizing the truth in Mokuba’s words. "Where is our food anyway?"

Mokuba sighed, wishing he had a harpoon so he could reel in a server. He tried waving one down, but the man had his head down and walked right on by. "Dunno. At this rate, it’d be faster to go home and have you make something," he grumbled.

The former Pharaoh made a noncommittal sound, and began drumming his fingers on the tabletop. His stomach was starting to rumble too, reminding him that they had placed their order… half an hour ago? Forty minutes ago? Yami looked back over at his boyfriend. "If you can tolerate it Kai-baby, I have another suggestion for you."

"What’s that?"

"Have you ever considered opening a restaurant at Kaiba Corp.?"

* * *

Because of the sheer volume of business matters that required his attention, and because lunch had ended up taking nearly two whole hours, Seto had felt obligated to stay at the office later than usual. And so even with Noa aggressively pushing for him to go home, he had refused to leave until nearly 7:00 PM. Not that that extra hour had enabled him to make much headway into his work backlog – as much as he hated to admit it, he still hadn’t completely recovered, and he probably was pushing himself too hard, too soon. But once he’d gotten home, he quickly realized he wasn’t going to find respite there either…

It was a Friday night, after all. Yugi-tachi were over. They were hanging around his family room, like cows waiting to be fed.

Anzu was the first to spot him. "Kaiba! I’m glad to see you’re feeling better," she greeted him brightly as he walked into the room. The others turned and chorused similar sentiments.

Seto just grunted and settled heavily into his recliner. He didn’t know what to say to her or to anyone else, just as he hadn’t known what to say to the employees that had welcomed him back. What was he supposed to do, thank them for reminding him that he’d been sick?

She’s just concerned. Everyone is. Be polite, and say, "Thank you," Yami chided him, as if he were some mannerless child. Seto resented the interference and told Yami as much, but the ex-spirit just sent him the equivalent of a pat on the head as if that would be enough to placate him. It wasn’t.

He was more than a little tired and irritable. And he felt somewhat disconnected from everything. It should have been just a typical Friday night, but there was nothing "normal" about it anymore, not for Seto. He had missed two months worth of them while he’d been in America, attended one at Yugi’s after coming back, and then missed five weeks more from being sick. In a way it was like starting over… like that first time he had agreed to let Yami host the weekly gathering at the mansion. He had spent that first awkward session on his computer. He hadn’t known what to say then either.

Anzu was still looking at him expectantly, smiling as if she knew everything that was going through his head. Seto gritted his teeth. "Thank you." He came off sounding like a robot.

"Oh… you’re welcome!"

Then Yugi turned his attention to him. "So how are you feeling? I heard you went to work today."

He eyed the little duelist. "Yeah." Wasn’t it obvious? He certainly hadn’t put on a tie and slacks for the hell of it. Speaking of which, he probably should’ve followed Noa’s lead and gone upstairs first to change into more casual attire. But he just hadn’t had the energy to spare.

Going to work was probably a poor decision on his part. But he’d been out of the office for so long, he didn’t feel as if he’d had a choice. He sighed deeply. He really was exhausted. His eyes started to slide shut on their own accord.

If you don’t feel well, you should go lie down, Yami suggested.

… No.

"Kaiba?"

The young CEO recognized the voice as Sugoroku’s. He forced his eyes open. The old man had sat himself down on the sofa closest to him. "Yes?"

"No one will hold it against you if you need to excuse yourself and take a nap."

"I’m fine," Seto asserted, wondering why he was getting double-teamed. "I was just relaxing a little," he added, in case Sugoroku pressed for more of an explanation. Why couldn’t people leave him alone? Maybe it would help if he at least got out of his work clothes. He began loosening his tie.

"I see…"

"Thank you for your concern," Seto threw in, before Yami could get on his case again.

The elderly shopkeeper simply nodded and didn’t say anything else. That would’ve been the end of the conversation, but Seto suddenly found himself curious about something that had lain unresolved for weeks…

"Could you… I… There’s something I want to ask," he began hesitantly, unsure of the best way to phrase his request.

"What is it?"

Seto leaned in a little closer. "That Blue Eyes White Dragon… you fixed it, right?" he asked in a low voice.

Sugoroku hesitated. Seto hadn’t said anything about the card after he had returned to Domino, so he had assumed everything was all right, that the matter had been settled and that the brunette was going to keep it, just as he had hoped… "Well, I was the one who taped it up, yes. Why?"

"No, I mean… it was fixed. You must’ve…" Seto’s voice trailed off.

Sugoroku looked at Seto with uncertainty. He wasn’t sure if it was a fevered delusion, or if there was something to what he was saying. "I’m not sure what you’re referring to," he said as gently as he could.

Seto shook his head. He was already feeling dumb for bringing it up, and didn’t want anyone else inserting themselves into the conversation. He stood up. "Come with me." Without waiting for a response, he began walking out of the room, then, as if realizing the enormity of what he was asking for, suddenly came to a complete stop and looked behind him.

To his surprise, Sugoroku was already on his feet and walking up to him. Seto was stunned, quite frankly. He didn’t think the old man trusted him enough to follow him just because he had told him to. Then again, he had handed him his most valuable card, his treasured possession… was there any greater indication of trust than that?

"Lead on," Sugoroku told him, sounding calm despite his perked curiosity.

Seto led him up to the master suite. Sugoroku politely sat and waited in the sitting area – though he couldn’t help but peek at the bedroom just beyond the dividing wall – as Seto fetched his deck from the nightstand closest to the entrance.

For just a moment, the brunette hesitated, as if he were debating whether or not to go through with what he had planned, then he was back in the sitting room. He slid the top card off his deck and silently held it out to Sugoroku.

The old man peered at it, still not understanding what exactly he was being asked. "Your Blue Eyes…"

"Not mine. Yours." Seto quickly pulled the remaining three dragons from his deck as proof.

"This… was my card? How…" He couldn’t resist touching it. Seto went ahead and pushed it towards him, indicating that he wanted him to hold it. Awed, he accepted it with trembling hands and then held it up to admire it. "Amazing! It must have been incredibly difficult to fix. At least, I haven’t heard of anyone else being able to successfully refurbish a card that had been so badly damaged," he commented as his fingers traversed the smooth surface. Other than a tiny residual scratch cutting across the chest of the mighty creature, it looked almost new, and well cared for.

"But I didn’t…" Seto protested as he returned the other dragons to his deck. "It was like that when I peeled back the tape that was on it. Yami said it had to be magic. But…" He exhaled harshly. He didn’t know why he couldn’t just accept Yami’s explanation… he wanted to. But he had to know… was that the truth?

"Is that so?" Sugoroku smiled. "Well, he’s probably right then. If a shattered heart can be pieced back together, there’s no reason a damaged card can’t be mended as well." He stroked his finger down the face of the card one last time, then offered it back to Seto. The younger man accepted it without hesitation and placed it on top of the others. "Thank you for showing it to me. Knowing that even the Blue Eyes himself approves… I couldn’t be more pleased."

"Pleased?" Seto rolled the word around in his mind a little bit, then his voice dropped even lower, as if he were speaking solely to himself. "I… Even if it has forgiven me, how could you possibly… But you gave it to me so easily, without any conditions or expectations…"

"How could I not?"

"After what I did to you?!"

Sugoroku sighed. But the frustration he felt was towards himself, not Seto. He had told Seto that he had earned his dragon’s loyalty. He had thought that that would be enough. But Seto had brought up a good point. Sugoroku had talked about loyalty, but not forgiveness… and he had only addressed the card’s desires, not his own feelings.

Seto was not an easy person to talk to, despite the fact that he was a lot more open than he used to be. He remained tight-lipped and restrained, even coming across as being apathetic at times, even when he was being addressed directly. But that didn’t mean that he wasn’t listening, that he didn’t hear things both spoken and unspoken. That didn’t mean that he didn’t have feelings that could be hurt.

Sugoroku found himself slowly sinking into the closest chair as he considered what he knew about the young man standing before him. Seto trusted and loved his immediate family with an intensity that bordered on obsessive, but in the same breath he was only just beginning to accept that Jounouichi, Anzu and the gang were true friends, the type he could rely on no matter the situation. Anyone outside of that circle he regarded with suspicion, and with good reason.

Seto was a survivor. He had been betrayed by his own staff and business associates. Even now, the majority of people who clustered around him only tolerated him, willing to smile their tight smiles and bow and say "Yes, sir" as long as they benefited from it. He’d been abused by the monster that had adopted him – although Sugoroku had never asked about the marks he’d seen on Seto’s back, he recognized that they weren’t the sort of things that would result from an accident or childish roughhousing. He’d been abandoned by his own relatives…

That was something the elderly shopkeeper just couldn’t fathom. It had never occurred to him to not take custody of Yugi after the accident that had claimed his parents’ lives. But Seto and Mokuba had been dumped, like bags of garbage, by their greedy, heartless relatives. Sugoroku couldn’t even begin to comprehend how someone could live with themselves after doing something like that.

He wondered, for just an instant, what Seto would’ve been like if he hadn’t gone through hell. He would’ve been an outstanding student, the pride of his parents... With his sharp wit and his natural charisma, he could’ve been popular with his classmates. The Seto that laughed with Yami and smiled at his brothers… that was the person he should’ve been all along. It was a shame that it had taken him so long to find that side of himself. Yes, he was young, he still had a long life ahead of him… but that ruined childhood… those wasted years…

Sugoroku shook his head at his melancholy thoughts, suddenly realizing that he was taking far too long to respond. He looked up and saw that Seto had sat himself down on the arm of the chair across from him. His arms were folded; he was completely silent. There was a brittle frost hardening in his eyes. He was already assuming the worst.

"You’re absolutely right. I’ve never told you how I feel," Sugoroku said slowly.

"You don’t need to. I already know."

"Do you now?"

"Yes." Seto’s countenance was as hard as stone. "It’s enough that you’re willing to tolerate me for Yami’s sake. I can respect that."

"Tolerate?" Sugoroku sighed. "I more than tolerate you, young man. I’m proud of you. And… I forgive you. Not because of Yami or Yugi or even the dragon that lies between us, but because… I like the person you’ve become."

Seto didn’t say anything in response, but his eyes betrayed his confusion. He pulled his arms tighter against his body and hunkered down a little, as if he were preparing to weather a storm.

"I should have said it sooner. But we’ve so rarely gotten the chance to talk…" Sugoroku shook his head again. "No, I shouldn’t make excuses. I didn’t know how to approach you or bring up the subject. It almost seemed better to leave things unsaid… When I gave you that card, I thought that it would be enough, that you’d accept it and understand the meaning behind the gesture. But instead, you looked at it suspiciously as if I was baiting a trap. I should’ve explained myself then…"

Sugoroku gave a slight shrug before continuing on. "It’s yours now, like I’ve said. I don’t expect anything in return. However… I would like you to consider dueling me again someday. Not for any stakes, just for fun."

The brunette was utterly flummoxed. "You want to duel me again?"

Sugoroku tilted his head. "You don’t have to feel obligated to, of course. It’s merely a suggestion. But I would enjoy the challenge. Call me an old fool, but I wouldn’t even mind losing to you again. I just want to play, that’s all. And you're quite the duelist."

Despite Sugoroku’s reassurance, Seto felt as if he couldn’t refuse the request. In a way, a trap had just been sprung. But he wasn’t upset by it; there was something tempting about the offer. It was like he was being given the opportunity to continue the conversation – if he so chose – on even footing, through their cards.

… And he did owe the old man a fair fight.

Seto nodded.

Sugoroku smiled. "Once you’re ready to take me on, you know where I’ll be. I’m looking forward to it."

Seto slowly rose to his feet and stood there for a moment in uncertainty, then he bowed his head slightly and murmured "Thank you" before turning away to go and place his deck back in the drawer. When he turned back around, the gray-haired game shop owner was gone.

* * *

Sugoroku wasn’t surprised to see Yami waiting for him in the hallway outside of the master suite. He was leaning against the wall with his arms loosely folded, but his gaze was as sharp as a hawk’s.

"Thank you for not interfering."

Yami pushed away from the wall, and looked towards the closed bedroom door. "I won’t lie; I wanted to. I wasn’t sure what was going on at first. All I knew was that Seto was becoming more tense and upset by the minute, and that he wasn’t downstairs where everyone else was. Then Yugi told me he saw you leaving with him."

That he trusted both of them was implied. Sugoroku put his hand on Yami’s shoulder. "He’ll be all right."

The arms slowly unfolded. Yami exhaled. "I know. I bet it drives him crazy that I feel the need to run to his rescue." He stifled a relieved laugh. Already Seto was telling him to go fuck off.

"Perhaps. But I think part of him appreciates it as well."

Yami quirked a smile. His eyes softened a little. "By the way, I never properly thanked you for what you did, Jii-chan. That card…"

"There’s nothing to thank me for. Without a doubt, it was the right decision. I wish I had done it sooner."

"Yes. But sometimes he has difficulty expressing his gratitude…" Yami said a bit stiffly.

Sugoroku smiled back, but didn’t say anything. There was no need to further discuss it since they both knew that was the truth. So he gave Yami’s shoulder another slow pat, then turned to head back to the gathering downstairs. But surprisingly, the ex-spirit followed his lead, falling into step beside him.

"You aren’t going in?" Sugoroku asked as they passed by the still shut bedroom door.

"He says he’s getting changed and that he’ll come down once he’s ready." Yami came to a sudden stop, took a step back towards the door, then suddenly laughed. "And that I’m a pervert." He shook his head and began heading towards the stairs again.

"I suppose… I shouldn’t ask…" Sugoroku commented, managing to sound offended even though the amused twinkle in his eyes said otherwise.

"Nope!"

* * *

Why the hell is Malik so loud? Seto wondered as the Egyptian carried on a very animated conversation with Mokuba, Noa, Bakura, Honda and Jou. He should've settled somewhere else - somewhere quieter - after he had come back down to rejoin his friends, but damn it, it was his house, so why couldn't he sit wherever he wanted? But there was a price to be paid for such stubborness... and all he could do now was actively try to ignore the other man. But Malik’s laughter was literally like a battering ram, forcing itself into his ears.

"… And then the guy in front of me – a guy like Rishid’s size – suddenly decided he wanted to go the opposite way of everyone else. Why, I don’t know. But I ran right into him and literally went flying," Malik gleefully explained as he recounted his experience in the pit from the night before. "Ryou says I’m lucky I’m not more beaten up."

"I wish you’d be a little more careful, that’s all," the white-haired man responded as his boyfriend pulled his shirt back down. Malik had been showing off the bruises on his ribs to anyone who would look, as if they were badges of courage or something.

Malik was grateful for Bakura’s concern, but at the same time, he didn’t want to admit to it while everyone was looking at him. It just wasn't macho. "Don’t worry. It’s not that easy to take me down," he bragged as Yami came back into the room and took a seat on Seto’s lap. "Hey, I heard Queensrÿche is on tour too. They’re going to reprise their ‘rock opera,’ Operation: Mindcrime. Anyone wanna go? How about it, Yami?"

"Hmm," was the former Pharaoh’s noncommittal reply. He wasn’t against the idea; it sounded like it would be fun. He was just busy with other things at the moment, like cradling Seto’s head against his shoulder. You don’t have to stay down here. Come on, I’ll put you to bed, okay?

Seto stubbornly shook his head against the crook of his lover’s neck as Yami began rubbing small circles into his scalp. The brunette made a soft grunt of disapproval, but didn’t pull away. His eyelids began sagging ever so slightly…

Mokuba watched the two of them with worry in his eyes. Normally he would’ve been amused by their little displays of affection, but his brother wasn’t looking too good. Oh, sure, he looked a lot better than he had the past several weeks, but still… he seemed grumpy and listless. He really needed to rest, not sit in the family room and pretend to socialize. But since he seemed pretty adamant about staying downstairs… the only thing Mokuba could do for his brother was to try and draw attention away from his condition. "Malik… are they a metal band too?"

"More like hard rock. I have some CDs, if you want to borrow one," Malik offered. "It’ll be a good show, I think. They’ll probably have actors and props and maybe even an orchestra."

"An orchestra? Do mosh pits and orchestras really go t’gether?" Jou asked incredulously.

Malik smirked. "Haha, no. I imagine the crowd would be a lot tamer for this show."

"Doesn’t sound bad. It’d be fun if we could get a group together to go…" Mokuba said thoughtfully.

"I’d consider something like that," Honda answered, picking up on the not so subtle hint. "I wonder if I know any of the songs…"

"Probably…"

Malik continued on to list the band’s most well known songs, but Seto didn’t catch any of them. In fact, it seemed that everyone’s voices were beginning to fade in and out, even Malik’s… Was it just him? How odd… he didn’t think he was falling asleep. He felt lucid. But then why was he starting to lean more and more heavily against Yami’s shoulder? Why did his muscles feel like jelly? Crap…

Shhh. Don’t worry, no one will mind.

He had passed out at the Grand Prix after party. That had been discomforting. But he was comfortably situated in his favorite recliner now, at home, and Yami was half sitting, half lying on top of him, pressing his lips against his forehead. Their friends were hanging around, but he didn’t feel their eyes upon him, and there wasn’t anyone yelling his name. There weren’t unknown hands fluttering about him like a murder of crows. And Mokuba wasn’t screaming for him to get up…

Seto wavered a moment longer, then with a heavy sigh, he turned his head a bit further towards Yami, and finally let his eyelids slide shut.

* * *

The group of friends – sans a still sleeping Seto – eventually migrated to the dining room to gorge themselves on Yami’s garlic cheddar biscuits and baked eggplant halves before being herded into the living room to continue their conversations over squares of butterscotch studded blondies. Yami stayed around and socialized even though part of him wanted to bow out and go sit with his boyfriend, but he had talked himself out of it. For one, Seto was only napping, and he’d probably be pretty unhappy if he found that Yami had abandoned everyone else just to watch over him when he didn’t need it. And two… as much as Yami hated to admit it, he needed a break from playing caretaker.

It wasn’t that he minded taking care of Seto… on the contrary, it was what he liked doing, what he was good at. But he’d pretty much been locked in the house for the past six weeks or so, watching Seto’s health and mood seesaw, and it was hitting him all at once just how emotionally taxing all of that was.

He shut his eyes for a moment. It felt good to just sit back and relax. It was great to see all his friends again, to hear their lively chatter. Mokuba and Noa seemed a lot more energized and upbeat too, as if the stress of the last few weeks had finally melted away. Yami smiled to himself. Yes, this was almost exactly how life ought to be. All he needed was for Seto to fully recover, and everything would be absolutely perfect.

The main discussion had turned to the subject of LoDM, and what Duel Monsters ought to be available as companion creatures - and some of the suggestions were pretty outrageous, like Jou’s request to have the Harpie Lady Sisters heaving and bobbing along behind his character – when a soft, low voice wormed its way into the conversation.

"Yami…"

Crimson eyes snapped open. Seto? Surprised, Yami looked over to see his lover standing unsteadily in the entrance to the room. Are you hungry? There’s some biscuits left, he said awkwardly. It was odd that he hadn’t heard or "felt" Seto wake up at all.

"Why’d you leave?" He sounded like a petulant child. He didn’t seem to be aware that he was speaking out loud, nor that he had gotten more than just Yami’s attention by doing so.

… We just didn’t want to wake you, Baby.

Seto frowned and began plodding towards the long sofa, dragging behind him the blanket that Yami had draped on him earlier. Feet began shifting out of his way, lest the brunette trip while beelining for his boyfriend.

Sugoroku watched with particular interest as Seto passed by. He couldn’t help but think to himself, He reminds me of how Yugi was when he was a toddler, even though Seto was far from being an innocent little kid. But there was something childlike about him, a hint of vulnerability that tugged at Sugoroku’s heart, and he resolved to do everything he could to get to know the young man better. After all, he was as much a part of his family now as Yami, Anzu or any of the other kids that had wandered into his life. And as much as he knew Seto would resist it, he needed a grandfather’s kindness more than anyone else.

But now was not the time for that, so Sugoroku stayed silent, watching out of the corner of his eye as Seto came to a stop in front of Yami, then, after a moment’s consideration, sat down, forcibly wedging himself between Yami and Yugi. Both Yugi and Anzu, who had been sitting on the far end of the sofa, quickly scrambled to find seating elsewhere.

"Don’t leave," Seto sleepily demanded before his head landed on Yami’s lap.

Mai instantly slapped her hand over Jou’s mouth, just in case her husband was thinking of making a smartass comment. But for once, the brown-eyed blonde hadn’t been planning on saying a thing. He knew Seto was still recovering; he wasn’t going to poke fun at him for it. Hell, he’d punch anyone that was enough of a jackass to make fun of a sick man like that.

Yami just smiled at his friends, grateful for their silent support as Seto pulled his long legs up onto the couch, then rolled over and squirmed around until he found a position he liked. Are you really going to be able to sleep like this? he asked as conversation around them started up once again, though at a much lower volume than before.

The young billionaire just grunted, his body already relaxing and settling into place. Apparently he had no problem with it at all.

* * *

TBC

Author’s Notes:

September 22, 2008