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: Virus Buster Serge is the creation of Masami Obari. 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: Seto continues deteriorating; the battle has now become an all out war.
Status: 3 / ?
Archived at: http://www.phenixsol.com/Miko/FF/

* * *

The Cost of Doing Business

Ch. 3: The Struggle Within

* * *

Yami was astonished by how badly Seto’s condition deteriorated overnight. Somehow he had gone from being sick but still more or less functional, to being a burning hot, sweaty, incoherent mess, all in less than 12 hours.

It didn’t seem possible for Seto to get worse that fast, but he did. As Mokuba called the doctor back up, Yami held Seto’s hand and silently blamed himself. He berated himself for withdrawing his mind linked support even though Seto had demanded it; he thought maybe he hadn’t been on top of things, whether it was medication, food or fluid intake. He even wondered if it had been a mistake for him to offer Seto his computer, even though he hadn’t done very much work after all was said and done. But a second visit from Dr. Shioya helped him absolve himself of the blame… a little.

It turned out that Seto had most likely developed bacterial pneumonia on top of the viral pneumonia that he already had, not an uncommon occurrence according to the doctor. There wasn’t much he could do other than to take yet another sputum sample – a bit more difficult this time since Seto seemed to have trouble comprehending what was being asked of him – and prescribe some antibiotics to go along with the oseltamivir he was already taking for the viral infection. Other than that, it was more of the same: make sure Seto got rest and plenty of fluids, keep an eye out for any changes in his condition. If he continued to worsen… if he couldn’t breathe or his temperature kept climbing, he’d have to be hospitalized.

After a quick trip to the pharmacy to fill the new prescriptions, Yami rushed home to find Mokuba hovering worriedly over his big brother, wiping the sweat off his forehead. Seto's temperature had crept up a half degree in the short time the crimson-eyed man was gone.

"I called Dr. Shioya again," Mokuba explained quickly when he saw the look on Yami’s face. "He said Seto’s borderline… He wants us to really keep a close eye on his temperature. If it goes any higher, even a little bit, he thinks we’ll should check him into a hospital."

Yami felt his breath catch as he considered Mokuba’s words. Physically, Seto had always seemed… invulnerable. Superhuman, really. How else could you describe a man capable of working long hours with amazing results, with almost no sustenance or rest? But perhaps they had all gotten a little too used to Seto pulling off the impossible on a daily basis, thinking that he couldn’t possibly be affected by it, thinking that he’d be able to do it forever. And now reality was slapping them all in the face.

"He’ll be okay. You know how tough Seto is," Noa’s voice said, and Yami looked up to see the green-haired teen standing on the other side of the bed. Yami had been so distracted, he hadn’t even heard him come in.

"I know. It’s just… difficult seeing him like this," Yami replied in a low voice. "I wish I could do more for him," and he gestured at his head, "but I gave him my word… He was afraid that I’d get sick too. He’s probably right, but still…"

"It isn’t your fault," Mokuba said softly. "It’s not anyone’s."

"Yeah, but it’d be easier if we could just blame someone for this," Noa grumbled, thinking back to the KC Grand Prix and Siegfried’s computer virus. Too bad humans didn’t work like computer systems, or else they could just run the proper anti-virus to eradicate the infection, but then again, that would suck too. As much as Noa liked computers and technology, he never wanted to be stuck in a virtual world again.

"Like Siegfried?" Mokuba finally queried, and Noa managed a grim smile at that, realizing that his boyfriend had tracked his train of thought.

"Technically, it is partially his fault…" And speaking of the Grand Prix and business matters… "Mokuba, should I tell your 9:45 to reschedule?"

"Huh?" Mokuba glanced at the clock. It was a few minutes past already… What did he have scheduled for that time slot? "I had a phone conference for… something. Oh yeah, that interview."

Noa nodded. The day before, Mokuba had worked out a deal with some reporter for a teen magazine; he had decided that it was worth putting himself out as bait in exchange for some publicity for Kaiba Corp.’s upcoming product releases. Noa had been rather unenthusiastic about the deal but since Mokuba was better about public relations stuff than he was, he ended up seconding the idea.

The black-haired teen chewed his lip a little as he glanced back down at Seto’s limp form. He didn’t really want to do the interview… he knew he was distracted and that he’d probably say something dumb because of it. But he also knew… Seto would expect him to fulfill his duties to Kaiba Corp.

"I won’t leave his side," Yami reassured Mokuba, sensing his indecision.

Stormy gray eyes flickered up to meet steady crimson ones. Mokuba knew Yami meant what he said, it was just that it was going to be hard walking away when he knew Seto needed him, or someone else that he could trust, at least. "Thanks, Yami," Mokuba finally answered, standing up to leave. "Boy, I hope this reporter lady won’t be too pissy."

"She better not be. You’re doing her a favor, not the other way around. And besides, you’re only a little late anyways," Noa said haughtily as he accompanied his boyfriend out of the room and to the office down the hall.

Yami couldn’t help but smile a little as the teens departed. They were really doing a good job dealing with everything going on. Even Seto, anal retentive as he was, would be proud of how quickly they had stepped up to take care of things at his company.

Yami supposed it wouldn’t hurt for him to take a few KC projects under his wing as well – despite his lack of experience Seto had had him handle things here and there before – though he knew that looking after his boyfriend would be by far his number one priority. After all, Mokuba was trusting him to take care of Seto. And the former Pharaoh was serious about living up to that responsibility.

Everyone always told Yami that Seto had changed for the better after they had hooked up, but Mokuba too had benefited from it. For much of his life, the black-haired teen had been the only one who had really supported and looked out for his big brother. It was a lot to expect out of someone so young, though Mokuba had always considered it a privilege, not a burden. But over the years, he had learned to let go of that, just a little. He had learned that there were other people they could rely on, that friendship was a strength and not a liability… that taking care of Seto didn’t have to be solely his responsibility. That he wasn’t the only one who could love Seto for who he truly was.

Still, that didn’t mean that he was going to cede Seto to Yami, ever. Mokuba, just like Seto, would always consider it his right to have a say in what went on in his brother’s life. And Yami expected nothing less. Even as recently as the KC Grand Prix, Mokuba chose to skip out on his own birthday party rather than leave Seto’s side after he passed out, even though he knew Yami would be there. But that didn’t bother the ex-spirit. His lover would always be… a real handful, to put it mildly.

But for now, Mokuba was focusing his energies on taking care of the family business, along with Noa. It was the smart and obvious choice since Yami didn’t really have any business training or experience beyond those little projects Seto had tossed his way. But given his druthers, Mokuba would rather be by his brother’s side. And Yami knew it. That’s why he thought it’d be a fair trade if he were to work on some Kaiba Corp. stuff, to buy Mokuba a bit more time with Seto.

Now Yami just needed to figure out what sort of project he was qualified to handle…

* * *

The first coherent thought that crossed Seto’s fevered mind was, Gotta get up…

He had the vague memory of someone touching his shoulder, shaking it, then helping him to sit up. It could’ve been a few seconds ago… or a minute. Had it been more than that? He knew from experience that it wouldn’t take the tutor very long to summon Gozaburo, if he were home. He probably was. That old bastard was going to be pissed that he had fallen asleep again. He’d come storming in with his riding crop or switch in hand. He wouldn’t hesitate to wake Seto with a beating… it had happened plenty of times before.

But maybe he was wrong. Maybe Gozaburo had already come by, or perhaps his tutor had taken it upon himself to discipline him. That happened sometimes too. All the brunette knew was that his body ached badly, as if he’d been pummeled. And it felt like something, or someone, was pressing down on his chest, making it hard to draw breath.

Well, whoever it was was pretty stupid if they thought he was still asleep. With his eyes still shut, Seto lashed out with his hand, scrabbling for a wrist or a shirt or anything. There was a soft grunt as he clumsily connected with some fabric, a moment of struggling by his adversary… and then a familiar, gentle voice called his name.

Surprised, Seto forced open his eyes… and was met with wide crimson ones in return.

Baby… you okay? Yami asked, sounding surprisingly calm considering there was a hand knotted in the collar of his shirt. Then again, Seto’s grip was lacking its usual strength, so it was more inconvenient than anything. Yami could’ve probably pried himself loose, but he was holding a bottle of water in one hand and a damp washcloth in the other.

Seto held on for a moment longer, as if he couldn’t believe it was Yami standing before him instead of Gozaburo or one of his cronies, then finally relaxed his fingers enough for Yami’s shirt to easily slide out of his grip. Sorry… he managed to get out as his arm fell limply back onto the bed.

You okay? the ex-spirit asked again.

The taller man nodded slowly. But to be honest, he wasn’t really sure. Now that he was a little more lucid, he remembered that he’d been diagnosed with pneumonia, that he’d been sick for several days… but he didn’t remember being quite this sick. He felt overwhelmingly drowsy and sore, and his skin was slick with sweat. His head throbbed and the entire room seemed to be tilting. Every cough made the constricting sensation in his lungs worse, as if there were big rubber bands snapped tight around his chest. Before he could stop himself, an involuntary moan of pain escaped his lips.

Yami’s lips tightened. Wordlessly, he sat down and began pressing the washcloth against Seto’s forehead, wiping off the beads of sweat accumulating there before rinsing the cloth in a small basin of water by the bed, then repeating the process.

‘S my fever worse? Seto asked, his eyes fluttering shut again.

Yami made an affirmative sound. The doctor came by again this morning… You probably don’t remember it.

Seto gave a tiny shake of his head, but all that did was make him dizzy and nauseous. He couldn’t believe how hard it was to gather his thoughts, even though he swore he’d been asleep for endless hours already. He felt himself slumping a bit, but Yami used his shoulder to buttress his lover up before he could crumple onto the mattress.

Don’t fall asleep yet. I know you’re tired, but you need to drink something, the former Pharaoh whispered. Seto heard the cracking of the water bottle as the seal on the lid was broken, then there was plastic pressed against his lips and cool liquid splashing into his mouth. He tried his best to swallow as much as he could, but all he really wanted to do was go back to sleep. Or take a bath. One or the other. He felt sticky and disgusting. Maybe he could try sleeping in the bathtub…

Yami was beginning to wipe off his face again. Seto pressed against the washcloth, wondering how well it would function as a pillow. He normally wasn’t one to sleep much, but the desire to slip back into slumber was overwhelming.

Lie down, the younger duelist finally said after a minute, and Seto was quick to comply, dropping onto the sheets in exhaustion, dully registering the sound of water splashing and the slapping of cold cloth on his neck and chest. It seemed Yami was trying to give him something of a sponge bath. Not quite as good as the real thing, but good enough; at least Seto was free to sleep through it if he felt inclined to do so.

As his lover drifted back to into a fitful sleep, Yami continued with his task, trying to make Seto as comfortable as possible, even if he wasn’t aware of his efforts. It was probably better that he was unaware, actually… Seto was a man who was proud of his self-sufficiency; he would dislike the idea that he'd require round the clock care regardless of how sick he was. And he was a lot sicker than he’d care to admit.

At least once every two hours, Yami had to wake the taller man and encourage him to drink or eat or take pills. Not that Seto was really awake for the most part. And in the intervals in between, he had to keep an eye on what Seto’s body language was trying to tell him. Despite his high fever, Seto swung from shivering as if he were freezing to sweating nonstop. He’d kick the blankets off one minute and start clawing for them the next. He would restlessly roll over the expanse of mattress, stopping to sleep wherever it was dry enough or warm enough or cold enough for his liking, then once that spot no longer suited him, he’d begin rolling around again. It had gotten bad enough that Yami had given up on the idea of sleeping in the same bed with Seto for the time being… he’d make do with a sleeping bag on the floor, or the couch and a blanket, for as many nights as needed.

But all things considered, Yami didn’t really mind the inconvenience. And though of course he didn’t like the fact that Seto was sick, he did like taking care of his boyfriend, as oddly maternal as that sounded. Hell, he liked taking care of everyone, protecting them, being both friend and guardian. It was just in his nature he supposed. That was why he knew it wasn’t enough for him to just take care of Seto… he had to make sure that Noa and Mokuba didn’t end up following too closely in their big brother’s footsteps while he was out of commission. After all, it was Seto’s penchant for too much work and too much stress with too little rest and relaxation that had driven his immune system over the breaking point. Yami didn’t want to see the teens picking up Seto’s self-destructive habits and ending up sick as well.

After taking a quick glance at the clock, Yami reluctantly stood up. He wasn’t taking very good care of Noa and Mokuba at the moment, now that he thought about it. The two younger Kaibas had been subsisting on takeout ever since Seto fell ill. Not very health conscious considering that they all needed to stay in good physical condition so that they too wouldn’t fall victim to Seto’s virus. Besides, it’d also be good for Seto if Yami were to cook something, since he was far more likely to eat whatever Yami whipped up rather than fried rice or burgers from an indeterminable origin. And since the brunette had just fallen asleep, Yami had a little time on his hands, which would be enough to allow for him to make a nice pot of soup and maybe prep for a second.

Decision made, Yami did one last check on Seto, pulling up the covers again as his lover began to shiver minutely. Then he headed over to Seto’s office to inform Mokuba and Noa that he’d be downstairs, in the kitchen, and asked if they could please check in on Seto from time to time in his stead.

"No problem," Mokuba readily agreed, thinking it might help Yami unwind a little to do something as mundane as making dinner. Not that he’d tell him that. Yami was far more likely to do something for himself if he thought he was doing someone else a favor.

Yami gave the black-haired teen a slight smile, then left.

Noa watched out of the corner of his eye as the crimson-eyed man departed, then told his boyfriend, "You know, it wouldn’t hurt for you to take a break…"

Mokuba’s fingers stilled as he caught wind of Noa’s suggestion. He was in the middle of a three-way text "chat" with the production team and public relations in regards to advertising on one of their channels… it’d be irresponsible of him to push that aside and instantly run to Seto’s side when he didn’t need immediate attention. He knew Yami wouldn’t even think of making dinner if that was the case.

So after taking a deep breath, he told Noa, "I know. And I’ll check on him in a little bit. This shouldn’t take too long. It’s pretty important and I don’t want it to get pushed back further. You could use a break too, you know."

"Yeah…" He looked at the endless lines of code he’d been touching up since there were a few glitches in that segment of the MMORPG that the programmers just couldn’t seem to fix without breaking something else. Sloppy, sloppy work… he’d be better off writing it from scratch, in all honesty. Plus they were already over their internal deadlines, which he found to be intolerable. Noa wished he had the authority to fire them all, or something… but the best he could do was have Mokuba authorize overtime. "I want to get this fixed and back to the programming crew ASAP. They’re going to need pull long hours on this as it is and I said I’d have it back to them before the end of the workday."

After a moment’s thought, Mokuba accepted Noa’s explanation with a quick nod. He figured Seto would be pretty pleased if the green-haired teen could untangle some of the problems were threatening to cause delays for the release date of their highly anticipated online role-playing game. It’d give him more reason to consider offering Noa a suitable position at Kaiba Corp.

That decided, the pair turned their attention back to their respective tasks. Minutes silently slipped by, sped up by all their work, and before they knew it, it was nearly 6 PM, officially ending the workday at Kaiba Corp. So much for their planned breaks...

Noa had just finished transferring the last of the touched up data files onto the KC server for the programming team when Mokuba suddenly stood up and cocked his head.

"Did you hear that?" Mokuba asked, one hand still on his keyboard. He had been in the middle of logging off of the messaging program when he had heard a muffled sounding thump from somewhere outside the office.

"Hear what?"

"… I thought I heard something." He quickly glanced at his monitor to confirm that he was signed off, then looked back over at the door, worry evident in his eyes. "I think I better go check on Seto."

"I’ll come with you," Noa volunteered, rising to his feet after signing off of his own laptop.

As soon as the two teens left the room, it became apparent what the source of the sound was. Seto lay on the carpet several feet from the door, twitching slightly, his head and shoulders cradled in Yami’s lap. He was mumbling something about deadlines between pained breaths while weakly trying to push Yami away.

"Ah!" Mokuba was on the floor in an instant, leaning over to brush sweat slicked hair off of Seto’s face. The stubborn strands were so damp that they continued to cling on to chalky skin despite his efforts. "Yami, what happened?"

Yami shook his head slightly, bangs swaying. "He was thinking that he had some project due or something… I’m not exactly sure. I can’t… I have to be careful of how deeply we’re linking, or else I start feeling sick too. But I tried to tell him there wasn’t a project, that he needed to stay in bed… but he’s so disoriented that I don’t think he understood…" He looked up, guilt bleeding into his eyes. "I ran up here immediately, but he had already hauled himself out of bed and collapsed here in the hallway."

There wasn’t much Mokuba could say to that. They were all equally culpable in their failure to keep an eye on Seto. "Nii-sama…" he whispered, plaintively.

Seto stirred at that, his eyes opening a crack to confirm ownership of the voice before snapping them shut, as if it were too painful to keep them open. "Mokuba…" he panted unsteadily, "already told you… don’ have time to play with you… have to finish… for Gozaburo…"

Gozaburo?!? "Nii-sama? What do you mean?"

"… deadline…" Seto managed to murmur before he was overtaken by a coughing fit.

Mokuba looked as if someone had just slapped him across the face. He seized Seto’s shoulders, fighting against the urge to shake them, instead leaning over his brother to assert, "Nii-sama, there’s no deadline. Gozaburo died years ago… don’t you remember?"

A faint wheeze was Seto’s only response. He was fading fast.

"Let’s just get him back to bed…" Noa finally suggested, touching Mokuba’s shoulder lightly. It wasn’t doing Seto or anyone else any good to be just sitting there stupidly in the hallway.

Yami nodded and began to pull his lover up into a sitting position, encouraging him to wrap his arms around his neck so that he could help him up. The taller man complied for a few seconds, but once he got a foot planted on the ground, he pushed away from his lover and almost ended up face down on the carpet again. Mokuba and Noa managed to grab him before he fell, but Seto reacted violently, flinching as their hands made contact, flailing at them blindly in return. He even snapped his teeth and snarled when Yami finally got a hold of one arm and the teens grabbed the other, but somehow they managed to wrestle him back into a sitting position without anyone getting bitten.

"I had another hour! You said I had another hour!" the frantic brunette insisted as they all struggled to hold him in place, as if his cries would somehow convince them to release him.

Yami was both amazed and horrified at how desperate Seto seemed to be to break free of their hold. Considering how sick he was, he was putting up a pretty good fight. "Seto… calm down!"

"Stop hiding behind your goons!" Seto howled, eyes wide, staring blankly at some point in the middle of the hallway. He suddenly jerked as if he’d been struck. "Do it yourself, you old bastard!!" he screamed, even louder than before.

"Nii-sama, Gozaburo’s dead!" Mokuba yelled back, his voice cracking from the strain. "He’s dead, I swear!!"

Perhaps it was Mokuba’s voice, or just the course the latent memory had taken, but just as quickly as it had started, Seto abruptly went limp, gasping for air as he doubled over as if someone had kicked him in the gut.

Seconds passed. All three of them were afraid to let go in case Seto suddenly became combative again, but although he continued to twitch, his face taut with pain, whatever had been going through his head had apparently run its course and left him nearly unconscious.

No one said a word. What could they say? But the silence was getting to be very awkward, and the entire time, Seto was leaning more and more heavily against them, covered in such a profuse amount of sweat that their grips on him were slipping.

"If I get his shoulders, and one of you takes his feet, and the other one spots, we shouldn’t have any problem putting him back in bed," Yami finally said, his voice rough.

"Okay…" Noa slowly responded. He rose to his feet, swallowing hard. Then, as if searching for something else to say, he lamely tacked on, "I guess someone needs to be with him at all times now."

Yami tilted his head in agreement as he too stood up and began rearranging his hold on Seto so that he could lift his torso. Unfortunately, Seto was completely out cold now, his long arms dangling and his head lolling back, and it took Noa and Yami’s combined effort to safely get him off the ground. "I cou…"

"I’ll stay with him," Mokuba interrupted, scrambling to his feet to pick up Seto’s legs, fighting down the sense of helplessness that threatened to overwhelm him. As much as he loved Yami, after what had just happened, he wanted to be the one that Seto woke up to. His brother would probably need some reassurance that things were okay… that they weren’t living back in the hell that had nearly destroyed him.

Yami looked as if he wanted to argue, but he didn’t. Even he had to acknowledge that Mokuba was better equipped to deal with Seto’s ghosts than he. Tight lipped, he said, "I guess I should finish up dinner then. Seto will need to eat, once he wakes up."

"Yeah. And… ready when you are," Mokuba replied, tossing his head. "Are you two just going to back up until we’re in his bedroom?"

Noa grunted. At least Seto hadn’t gotten very far out of his room, not that it’d be too difficult to carry him with all three of them sharing the load. "Guess that works."

With a bit of teamwork, they managed to get him back into bed, and Mokuba immediately picked up where Yami had left off previously, wiping the perspiration from his brother’s face, doing whatever he could to make him comfortable. Noa sat down beside his boyfriend, lending Mokuba his silent support and offering assistance where he could.

For several minutes, Yami just stood and watched Mokuba’s ministrations, but he finally had to give in to the urge to get back down to the kitchen. They could all use a good meal. "Let me know if his condition changes. I’ll bring dinner up in a little bit," he finally said softly, and, knowing that he wouldn’t get a verbal response, he turned and padded out the door, shutting it carefully behind him.

* * *


Author’s Notes:

October 11, 2007