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: A present day nightmare: Seto's haunted by his past.
Status: 4 / ?
Archived at: http://www.phenixsol.com/Miko/FF/

* * *

The Cost of Doing Business

Ch. 4: The Path Via Hell

* * *

"Why is Yugi here?" Seto asked again, in case Mokuba hadn't heard him the first time. Or maybe he had, and Seto just hadn't caught the answer... That was entirely possible. He couldn't be sure. He felt... a little off.

"Nii-sama, that's not Yugi," Mokuba replied, patient as ever. Actually, it was the third time Seto had asked, but the black-haired teen saw no reason to point that fact out since all it would do was make Seto feel stupid for repeating himself.

Seto squinted at the slightly annoyed, slightly amused crimson-eyed man standing silently by the bed. Crimson eyes... Why was Mokuba being so nitpicky anyway? Yugi went by Yugi, regardless of which one it was. "Fine, the other Yugi," Seto growled, coughing as he fought to get some air back into his lungs. "Why is the other Yugi here?"

Mokuba wondered if he should correct him. Yami hadn't said a thing. But Mokuba felt bad for him... it had to bother him that Seto didn't recognize him. "Yami is here because he's your boyfriend," Mokuba finally told his ailing brother, emphasizing the name.

"Yami... not Yugi..." Seto mumbled, as if comparing them in his head. As if hearing the name cleared up the fog around his mind, at least momentarily. He shut his eyes, then opened them again to study the figure behind Mokuba. Yes, that was Yami, wasn't it? And Yami was his boyfriend... he had been for a while now. Why had he gotten confused? "Sorry... I'm sorry."

Swallowing his bruised pride, Yami gave his lover a thin smile. "It's okay, Seto."

"It's not!" the brunette insisted, his growing agitation causing yet another coughing fit, each breathless shudder jostling sore muscles, making them feel ten times worse, which in turn seemed to elicit a need for extra breaths and hence, even more coughing. He groaned at the stupidity of it all. Too bad breathing wasn't optional.

Mokuba sighed softly and sat down on the edge of the bed, lightly patting his brother on the shoulder. "It's okay, Nii-sama," he whispered, helplessly echoing what Yami had said moments earlier. He didn't know what else to do. He hated sitting there, having to listen as Seto coughed hard enough to hack up a lung or two, watching him weakly struggling against his nightmares only to wake up dazed and confused... being unable to do a thing about any of it.

Seto tried to shake his head. No matter what Mokuba and Yami said, it wasn't okay. It didn't matter how sick he was, or how high his fever was; there was no excuse for forgetting about Yami, even for a minute. Well, not that he'd actually forgotten him, just... the last couple of years of their life together. Ugh, that only made it worse. But for some reason when Seto had woken up and spotted Yami standing at his bedside, his mind had completely blanked. He couldn't remember where he was or what had happened, or if he was even asleep or awake. And he wasn't sure if he was even supposed to recognize the oddly familiar, nameless man standing there, staring at him. Desperately, he had grasped at the first likely name that had lazily floated into reach: Yugi. But remembering the name "Yugi" had triggered a whole different set of memories than "Yami," and it had colored the way he saw him.

At least the crimson-eyed man had been smart enough to yell for Mokuba instead of trying to deal with the situation alone. Being sick didn't change the fact that Seto's first line defense was always offense, and though he usually wouldn't have considered Yugi a threat, being disoriented as he was, anything could have happened. Really, blanking on Yami's identity was almost minor in comparison to Seto's flip out in the hallway two days prior, or the even more dramatic screaming fit yesterday, during which Seto had thrashed about in bed with such violence that he had nearly pitched himself onto the floor, gurgling cries punctuating the air with each muscle spasm, as if someone or something was tearing him apart. Not that Seto remembered any of it; hell, it was doubtful that he'd remember mistaking Yami for Yugi later on...

But, for the moment at least, that was the one thought that clung to Seto's mind. And it wasn't something that he thought even his sickness could excuse. Yami should've been so mad. He had every right. But he looked more concerned than anything. So Seto took it upon himself to be angry about it, berating himself for his lapse. He deserved to be sick and miserable. He didn't know why Yami was still there, trying to hold his hand, trying to make him feel better... when all he was doing was reminding Seto of why he ought to feel guilty.

Seto pulled away with a soundless snarl, laboring to roll over, turning his back to them. He wanted Yami to just go away and leave him alone. He didn't even want Mokuba there. They already knew he was positively miserable... why did they think he'd want them to watch him suffer on top of that?

"I'll go ahead and watch him for now," he heard Mokuba whispering. Well, at least that ought to get rid of Yami...

But Yami didn't leave, even though he had no reason to be there. Instead, Seto felt the mattress shift and creak softly as the other man sat down on the edge of the bed behind him. "I'll stay too. At least until he's asleep."

Well, God damn it... who could sleep with the two of them yapping? Seto considered rolling back over to complain about that, but then a hand alighted on his back and began rubbing circles into it, working out some of the tightness in the sore muscles, and he couldn't quite bring himself to shrug it off.

Mokuba held his breath as Yami did his thing, watching silently as his brother's shoulders twitched, then began relaxing, his breaths evening out a little as he slipped into a light doze. While Seto seemed okay for the moment, drifting off into deeper sleep under Yami's guidance, Mokuba couldn't help but wonder what would happen the next time he was awakened. Would he flip out again? Would he become even more agitated, argumentative, combative? He had hoped that the hallucinations would've resolved themselves on their own since Seto's fever had lifted a bit, but... Seto only seemed to be getting worse.

Someone was going to get hurt at this rate...

* * *

Once Seto was sound asleep, Yami got up and left, abiding by his boyfriend's silent request to be left alone, or about as alone as they'd leave him under the circumstances. Moments after he walked out, Mokuba got up as well, hesitantly trailing Yami out the door. The ex-spirit had asked for an explanation for the prior incidents the day before, but Mokuba hadn't been in the mood to talk about them then. Not that he had thought Yami was clueless... it was pretty clear to anyone with a working brain that Seto and Gozaburo had had a very volatile and difficult relationship even without seeing Seto's reactions to his nightmares, but it just wasn't something that was supposed to be talked about. He had figured if Yami didn't already know the details, then Seto had chosen not to talk to him about it, and Mokuba had always tried to respect his brother's wishes. But with what had just happened, Mokuba was even more worried than before... and now he really felt like he owed it to Yami to tell him what he knew.

Besides, on the off chance that they'd have to hospitalize him, or at least have to bring the hospital here, to him... Yami was the one that the doctors would turn to for information, being that he was the other adult in the household. So he needed to know exactly what he was dealing with. If Seto were to have one of his nightmares, assault a nurse or a doctor, and the resulting story got out because someone was looking to make a quick buck, it'd be disastrous.

It looked like Yami was thinking the same thing, because as soon as Mokuba reached the hallway, he found the former Pharaoh leaning up against the wall, waiting for him with purpose in his eyes.

"Noa needs to hear it too," Yami said without preamble.

Mokuba nodded. It made sense of course... not only was Noa just as confused and curious about Seto's outbursts, but he was also involved in Seto's care and needed to understand what he was dealing with. The "secret" had been kept between Seto and Mokuba for long enough... it was time to let the other two members of their family in on it, before someone got hurt. "I'll go get him."

Yami returned the nod and sat down on the floor to wait for Mokuba to return. He was glad the black-haired teen had finally gotten over his reluctance to talk. He had almost seemed relieved to see Yami in the hallway. Maybe he was glad that his brother's boyfriend cared enough to ask and wouldn't take no for an answer; maybe too, he needed to get it off his chest.

But, at the same time, Mokuba wasn't exactly eager to start once he and Noa joined Yami on the hallway floor outside Seto's room, the only spot where they could peek in to keep an eye on him but stay far away enough to converse without risk of waking him. Considering what the subject of the conversation was, Yami really couldn't blame Mokuba for his hesitation. He had to be anticipating the worst possible reaction, though Yami had faith enough in Noa's love for Mokuba that he'd listen instead of jumping straight into an argument.

But like his brother, Mokuba was a Kaiba too, and that meant he wasn't going to back down now that he had made up his mind. So after taking a deep breath, he finally began, his voice hushed as if he were afraid Seto might wake up and hear what he was saying. "That first freak out two days ago... to be honest, I'm not exactly sure which incident Nii-sama had been reliving there, if that says anything about how bad things were between him and Gozaburo. Even when he was little, Nii-sama never went down without a fight, so Gozaburo learned to turn the odds in his favor by hiring more and more goons. When the two of them got into an argument, usually over some project or other, Gozaburo liked having his goons force Nii-sama down on his knees, as if that made him the bigger man, as if that would put him in the right... Sometimes he'd slap him across the face or kick him, then he'd give him even more work and boot him out of his office."

Yami and Noa didn't say anything, as if they knew that was only the tip of the iceberg. So Mokuba went on. "The second incident, the one from the day before..." He paused, thinking of how Seto had thrashed so violently in his panic that he had to be held down on his bed... the black-haired teen remembered exactly what that was from. His lips tightened until he was nearly snarling as he started up again. "When Nii-sama was about 12, he got really sick. He had a high fever and was totally exhausted. But Gozaburo wouldn't let him stop working... maybe he had a deadline for a military contract or something, I don't know. Nii-sama tried his best, I know he did, but he was so tired that he was falling asleep in his chair. So Gozaburo had the chair taken away. But Seto started sleeping on the floor instead. So Gozaburo's solution was to have him stand, chained to the desk like a dog, so that he couldn't lie down. He told Nii-sama if he wanted to rest, he'd have to earn it by completing his assignment on time."

Hearing Noa shift uncomfortably and Yami's sharp intake of breath, Mokuba lowered his eyes and plunged ahead, wanting to get the whole thing out before he lost momentum. "But Gozaburo made the mistake of dropping in himself to check on Seto's progress. Nii-sama turned on him as soon as he got close enough and somehow scratched Gozaburo across the cheek... I think he used the sharp end of a compass to do it. I bet he could have done some real damage if the chain he was on wasn't so short... and Gozaburo knew it. He was so pissed, he stormed out of the room and came back with that damned riding crop... He beat Nii-sama so hard that there was blood soaking the entire back of his shirt, and Nii-sama was screaming... When he was finally done, he told Nii-sama that he still expected him to finish his work on time. If he didn't make the deadline, I'd get the same sort of beating..."

Noa practically jumped out of his skin at that. "He didn't touch you, did he?!"

"No. Seto met the deadline, but he passed out shortly afterwards and remained out of commission for over a week..." Mokuba trailed off uncertainly.

Noa shook his head in disgust. He couldn't believe this was HIS father they were talking about; why, his father had never once raised a hand to him! Sure, things weren't so peachy between his father and mother - and he had witnessed enough arguments to know that his father had pushed, slapped and screamed at his mother regularly - but he had never imagined that he could have been that brutal. Besides, part of him couldn't help but wonder if Seto had been responsible for instigating most of the fights by provoking Gozaburo, though before he could actually voice that, something else occurred to him. "Did... wait a sec, so you saw all of that?!"

Mokuba looked down at his hands, trying to force down the tears welling up in his eyes, bitterly fighting against the rage and sorrow that accompanied them. "Gozaburo never paid any attention to me. I guess I'm supposed to be grateful for that. So he didn't care if I followed Seto around or whatever, as long as I didn't distract him. I was in there that day because I knew Nii-sama was sick, and I wanted him to eat. He got mad when he saw me and told me to leave him alone. But I wouldn't leave... I just wanted him to finish his lunch. And then Gozaburo came in..." He swallowed hard. "I remember putting my hands over my ears, trying to block out the sound of Nii-sama being beaten. It didn't work. It never had. But... I didn't know what else to do."

Noa wrapped an arm around Mokuba's shoulders and pulled him close, burying his face in his boyfriend's hair as Mokuba's tears soaked into his shirt. He understood how Mokuba must've felt. After all, he had been in the same boat whenever his parents had fought in front of him, and the only thing he'd been able to do was to try and ignore the sound of his mother crying, pretending everything was okay when it really wasn't. He had felt so helpless, standing there and having to force any sounds of protest down... Mokuba must've felt that way too.

Across from the two teens, Yami silently watched as Noa comforted Mokuba. He felt a twinge of guilt for not thinking of opening his arms to Mokuba earlier, but he'd been so deep in thought over the youngest Kaiba's revelations that it hadn't occurred to him until after Noa had begun consoling Mokuba. But at least Mokuba seemed okay for now, if a little spent, and Seto hadn't stirred at all...

Yami sighed. Part of him wasn't been surprised at all by what Mokuba had told them - he had always known that Gozaburo had been hard on Seto, that he had been abusive - but the rest of him was still reeling from the stark, painful reality of what had happened. He couldn't help but imagine a much younger Seto struggling to stay conscious to complete his assignment, swaying on his feet as blood trickled down his back, reminding him of the price Mokuba would pay if he failed. Was this why Seto always pushed himself so hard at work, because the consequences had been branded into him? Because failure hadn't been an option?

Then it dawned on Yami that he'd never seen any scars on Mokuba, at least, nothing beyond the types of minor scratches that most little boys and teens seemed to accumulate. In contrast, Seto's back bore an assortment of welts and raised scars, some so faint that they could only be felt, not seen, and some still noticeably prominent despite the passage of years. How many of those resulted from a missed deadline? How many more came about because of a verbal altercation, or as retribution for something as simple as a snide comment? How many of those had Seto "earned" in Mokuba's stead?

And too, Yami found himself marveling at the level of trust Seto had shown in him... or had he mistaken shame for trust? Seto had never protested at his lover wanting to tie him up or chain him down, had never said no to being playfully paddled or whipped or slapped, had seemed to enjoy the rough and tumble of their sex life... hell, he had even bought Yami a collar! If he had felt any fear or hesitation, he certainly had hidden it well, well enough that it had been easy for Yami to avoid thinking about the scars on his back, and what had put them there. Not that Yami would've asked anyway, since Seto hadn't broached the subject first. After all, he couldn't even remember his own past; what right did he have to go poking around in Seto's?

Perhaps he had done a disservice by turning a blind eye to what was right in front of him. And maybe he'd been doing it for so long that it had become ingrained in both of them to simply pretend that Seto's past didn't matter anymore. But it was a part of who Seto was, no matter how much they wanted to deny it.

So maybe it wasn't a lack of trust that had Seto keeping Yami at bay in his mind, but rather... he didn't want a reminder of all the things that had gone wrong. He was afraid that if Yami saw the hell he'd been through, that he'd pity him. And he didn't want to be pitied because it couldn't change anything, couldn't improve anything... did nothing except to delegate him to the role of victim once again, reminding him that he had once been nearly powerless, unable to do anything but survive, and just barely...

He was wrong, anyway. If anything, Yami was proud that Seto had had the strength to persevere through everything life had hurled at him. How many people could have overcome so many hurdles to become so wildly successful at such a young age? And he had always known that Seto's need for control was more than just pride or ego... it was a desire born from his need to protect Mokuba. That was the one thing that had always mattered more than anything...

Mokuba... Yami had his answer, then. Of course Seto trusted him; he had even gone as far as sharing his guardianship of Mokuba and Noa with Yami. He could not possibly believe in him more than that.

But the two of them had wanted so much to move beyond who they used to be that they had each neglected or discarded their pasts, as if turning their backs on them would render them impotent. As if they'd simply vanish, like morning mist under the heat of the sun. And now it was coming back to bite them, nipping at their heels like a pack of starved wolves.

Yami wasn't crazy enough to think that there'd be a magic fix. They had some old habits to break, and Seto was too sick to be involved in a heart-to-heart at the moment anyhow. But once his condition improved, Yami would make his move and let Seto know that he wanted to be let in, that they both needed it... that it wasn't a bad thing to let someone help him shoulder his load. That the road to the future was never meant to be a solitary journey, the path being wide enough for more than one traveler... After all, they were kindred spirits. They could only reach their future, together.

* * *

It took several minutes before Noa was satisfied that Mokuba had sufficiently pulled himself back together, and even then, he was reluctant to let his boyfriend out of his embrace. But as soon as he did, the younger teen stood up with a nod of thanks, then immediately returned to Seto's side to finish off the rest of Yami's "shift," partially because he was worried Seto would have another episode, and partially because... well, it just made him feel better.

Noa would've followed, wanting to do nothing more than give Mokuba his support, but... he had a huge list of things that had to be finished by the end of the day thanks to the continued failure of the programming team to catch their own coding errors. Just sitting there contemplating skipping out on work was wasting time, and there were so many deadlines... it made his head spin. And he really wanted to do a good job on the project - the game was already being touted as the next great MMORPG - having enough pride in himself and his family to want to make it something that would exceed all expectations. He knew Mokuba would understand, and would be proud of him for his dedication too. Maybe Seto would feel the same way if he saw how Noa was handling the situation in his absence, but that would only happen if he could hit the deadlines...

Yami watched as the green-haired teen finally made up his mind and headed back to Seto's office. Having been temporarily relieved of his caretaking duties, the ex-spirit ended up following Noa to the study down the hall, intending to take a look at Seto's calendar to see if there were any projects he could take on himself. It was the least he could do under the circumstances, plus he needed something to keep himself busy or else he'd just end up running back to Seto's room, and he figured Mokuba needed some time alone with Seto, to settle himself.

Since Mokuba already had pulled up the schedule on his screen, Yami went ahead and used that laptop, scrolling through the endless list of tasks, wondering just how in over his head he was getting himself. There were all sorts of meetings and financial stuff and computer stuff, none of which were the kinds of things that he'd be qualified to handle; Mokuba and Noa would have to split those tasks amongst themselves or figure out who else in the company ought to take responsibility for them. He supposed he could work on anything that actually involved dueling... except there were no tournaments planned, and he didn't really know how images on paper cards got turned into holograms, and the research for the proposed dueling academy was still in its infancy...

There had to be *something* that he was qualified to do. After all, he was smart, a fast learner, and had a real desire to help out any way he could. And he knew that he could count on Mokuba and Noa to back him up if he really got stuck. But his intent was to try and find something he'd felt comfortable with handling because he knew if he overextended himself and had to rely on the teens to bail him out, he'd end up pulling them away from their work, which wouldn't help matters.

With a sigh, Yami settled back against the seat. And then his eyes fell on some papers that were haphazardly stacked on the corner of the desk. He stretched an arm out and snagged a few sheets, studying them with growing interest. Proposed graphics for the packaging of the new computer game Noa had been recoding... that was something he figured he could handle. Though he didn't know much about marketing, he though he had a good eye for design and layout, having done things like directing magazine cover shoots and approving content before, and he knew what sorts of things appealed to the target market of gamers...

"Are either of you working on this yet?" Yami asked Noa. He didn't want to step in if the two teens were already working on that particular project.

Noa looked up from his computer to glance at the papers Yami was waving at him, not recognizing them. "What is it?"

"Looks like sample graphics or something for the packaging of that role playing game you're working on. I spotted it on top of the pile over in the corner."

"Ah, we haven't gotten to it any of that yet... Why?"

"Maybe I can work on it then. What do you think?"

Noa shrugged. He was handling the technological side of things; that was his specialty and his interest. He didn't really have an opinion on what went on the outside of the box or the DVD sleeves or whatnot. "Just let Mokuba know. He's the one keeping track of everything," he told Yami, then he considered the situation more carefully. "If... well, the things in that pile are random paperwork that we haven't sorted through yet. If there's anything else you want to grab... I mean, we're doing okay, but," and he shrugged again, "I just don't want Mokuba to overwork himself, you know?"

Yami nodded in understanding, then gathered up the rest of the stack. He was sure that there'd be a few other things he could winnow from the pile. Hopefully, it'd be enough to make a noticeable difference.

* * *

A couple of hours later, Yami pushed aside the papers he'd been pouring over and suggested to Noa that they take a break. He was still a bit anxious about Seto's condition, and knew that Noa was probably still concerned about Mokuba as well. And a glance at the clock told him that it was almost time to wake Seto again to get more fluids into him, to keep him hydrated.

Noa almost declined... he realized now that he had overextended himself with the amount of work that needed to be done. But there were things more important than work and deadlines; in his mind, he could still see Mokuba's mournful face, and the panic stricken look on Seto's as well from the day before...

He knew he wouldn't be able to concentrate with those stuck in his head.

Giving in to the inevitable, Noa finally grunted in agreement with Yami's suggestion, then stood up and followed the former Pharaoh out of the study and back down the hallway to Seto's bedroom, where Mokuba was in the middle of trying to wake his brother. Not wanting to startle the brunette awake, Mokuba had been gently squeezing Seto's hand and whispering his name, but he hadn't had any luck with that approach so far.

Noa bent down a little, wrapping his arms around Mokuba's shoulders, to give him a bit of support and encouragement. "Do we really need to wake him?" he asked softly, watching as Seto's fingers twitched spasmodically in response to Mokuba's pleas, though he still didn't awaken. Noa really felt bad for the elder Kaiba... Seto's skin looked waxy from all the sweat, and even though he'd been sleeping a lot lately, he had dark hollows under his eyes. "He must be really wiped out."

Seated on the other side of the bed, Yami leaned over to trail two fingers along Seto's cheekbone, noting the lack of elasticity in his skin, though at least he felt a bit cooler than he had the last few days. "I'm afraid so. I'd rather let him rest, but this is the only way to keep him out of the hospital." His hand drifted down to Seto's right shoulder, which he grasped and shook a little. "Come on Baby, wake up," he coaxed.

Seto made a soft sound of inquiry and finally opened his eyes, much to everyone's relief. He took a shaky breath and looked at the faces around him, his gaze still rather unfocused... and then, those blue eyes zeroed in on the figure standing behind Mokuba...

Noa. Gozaburo's brat. He had kidnapped Mokuba, brainwashed him, turned him against Seto... all because he wanted revenge against Seto for "stealing" Gozaburo's attention away from him, for "stealing" away his inheritance of Kaiba Corp., even though he had died before Seto had even entered the picture. Dead, but still jealous, like a spoiled brat. He had stolen Mokuba away, using him as a pawn, just to hurt Seto. Was he trying it again? Seto had thought they had escaped the virtual world... he remembered running alongside Yugi and Mokuba, trying to make it back to the ship before the entire virtual world was destroyed...

Maybe that had been another one of Noa's tricks. Maybe they hadn't made it out at all and were caught like mice instead, circling an endless loop, and now Noa was trying to poison Mokuba's mind again with his lies... Why else would he be holding Mokuba like that, restraining him? He had no right to touch even a hair on his head!

How dare he! No one comes between me and my brother! Mokuba is MINE!

With some effort, Seto pushed himself up into a sitting position, breathing heavily, ignoring Yami's insistence that he relax and lie back down. He was now glaring at Noa, who just blinked back at him in surprise. Why was Seto staring at him like that? "Se..."

Without warning, the young CEO's left hand suddenly shot out, snagging Noa by the collar with enough force to rock the teen back on his heels. Shocked, Noa took a step back as if that would be enough to allow him to break free, but Seto only tightened his grip in response. Then, as if fearing that Noa would be successful in getting away from him, Seto followed up with his free hand, locking it directly around Noa's neck as he somehow lurched to his feet, nearly falling across Mokuba's lap in his haste to get at Noa.

Horrified, Mokuba couldn't even get enough air in his lungs to scream at his brother. His first instinct was to jump to his feet to try and physically break Seto's hold even as his mind raced to catch up and make sense of what exactly was going on.

"I won't let you take him from me, Noa!" Seto seethed, his face red and his voice dripping with venom as he resettled his left hand on Mokuba's shoulder to push him away while still trying to throttle Noa with his right. "Do you hear me?! He's *MY* brother!"

Frightened, Noa kept trying to pull away, but Seto was squeezing so hard, he couldn't even draw breath. He was already starting to feel a bit lightheaded, his pulse thudding hollowly in his ears, his vision graying at the edges. Desperately, he clawed at Seto's hand and wrist, but like a pit bull, his brother refused to let up at all.

Meanwhile, Yami had swiftly moved in to lock his arms around his boyfriend's waist and was pulling back with all his strength, but to no avail. "Seto! Seto, stop it!" he hollered, but Seto's only response was to try and twist out of his hold.

"Nii-sama, stop it!!" Mokuba's pleas joined Yami's as the pair struggled to be heard by the enraged brunette. But Seto didn't even seem to notice them yelling, so completely fixated was he on attacking Noa. He just kept trying to push Mokuba out from between them, his fingers digging painfully into Mokuba's shoulder, but the youngest Kaiba refused to budge, planting his feet, trying futilely to shield Noa with his body. "NII-SAMA!"

"I'll save you, Mokuba, I swear," Seto growled feverishly. "I won't let anyone tear us apart!"

Mokuba understood now. God, Seto had to be thinking that they were back in the virtual world... but they weren't. No wonder he was trying so hard to get at Noa. But the more Mokuba tried to keep them apart, the harder Seto fought, thinking that Mokuba wasn't in control of his actions, that he didn't know what he was doing. But Mokuba couldn't just step away either... what could he do? He couldn't stand the thought of either of them getting hurt.

In desperation, he looked around for something, anything... he wasn't even sure what he was looking for. His eyes met Yami's. The ex-spirit looked so grim, his muscles taut as he tried to hold Seto back, but it just wasn't enough. He didn't have the physical strength that Seto had, and with all the adrenaline pumping through Seto's body, it would take a miracle to stop him.

There was no other option. Noa was beginning to shake in Seto's chokehold, wheezing loudly as he tried to get air into his oxygen-deprived lungs. Yami had sworn he'd never use his Shadow Magic on Seto again, but there was no choice...

Seto's entire body suddenly stiffened, as if he'd been shot, and then just as quickly, he went totally limp, losing consciousness, his upper torso slumping forward into Mokuba's arms, his knees buckling. Even then, he still refused to let go of Noa, though his grip had loosened enough that Noa was able to extract himself with a good tug.

The green-haired teen took a few steps back, clutching at his throat, needing to put some space between himself and Seto before collapsing to the ground in relief, greedily gulping mouthfuls of air. He was scared shitless. Seto had attacked him before; he had thought things would never be that bad between them again, but maybe he had been wrong. Maybe that was how Seto really felt about him, that he'd never trust him, ever.

Hurt, Noa looked over at Mokuba, who was still cradling his big brother in his arms, but the gray-eyed teen didn't look in Noa's direction, didn't even ask him if he was okay... Instead, his attention was completely focused on Yami, and he looked really, really pissed.

"What the fuck did you do to him?!" Mokuba snarled. He had seen the glow on Yami's forehead and the faint wisps of shadows coloring the air right before Seto had passed out, and knew exactly what that meant. "How could you?!!"

"I'm sorry, but I didn't have a choice," Yami replied, his voice fairly calm but his hands still shaking from what had happened.

"Bullshit! How could you do this to him?!!"

Yami shut his eyes for a moment. He didn't blame Mokuba for being angry... he was more than willing to accept responsibility for what he had done, but he was comforted at least by the knowledge that he had done the right thing, for the right reason. Noa's life had been in danger, and nothing they had tried had worked. Yami knew that Seto would understand, and approve of what he had done. "If Seto was aware of what he was doing... he would have expected me to stop him by any means necessary. And I tried to be as gentle as possible. He hasn't been harmed. He's just out for a little while."

"You call this unharmed!?" Mokuba screeched, clutching his brother even more tightly. Seto didn't even twitch. God, what if Yami had knocked him into another coma? "I HATE YOU!!! Get out!!"



"... No."

Mokuba's eyes flashed dangerously, like storm clouds illuminated by a flash of lightning. Carefully settling Seto back down on the bed, he stood up and approached Yami, grabbing him by the shoulders and shaking him. "I swear to God, I'm never going to forgive you for this...!"

Noa had had enough. Yami had stuck up for him, had done what needed to be done despite how abhorrent it had to have been for him... Noa was going to return the favor. Struggling to his feet, he forced his way between Mokuba and Yami, holding him arm out, yelling hoarsely, "Mokuba, don't. It's not his fault!"

"Shut up! I don't want to hear it!" Mokuba screamed into his face.

"What did you expect him to do? Seto was going to kill me!"

Mokuba shook his head vigorously, sending his long hair flying. "He was not! He wouldn't have...!"

"HE WAS FUCKING TRYING TO KILL ME!" Noa grabbed Mokuba's chin and turned his boyfriend's head roughly towards him. "Look at me! Look at my neck. What do you think he was trying to do?! I didn't even do anything and he attacked me, and you don't even give a shit!?"

Mokuba jerked his head away, but at least he had released Yami. "Of course I give a shit! Don't you think I tried to stop him?"

"It wasn't enough," Noa said bitterly. "Yami did what he had to. Don't get all pissy with him when Seto brought this upon himself."

"Seto didn't ask to be sick. He didn't ask to be treated like this by someone who claims to love him," Mokuba bitched, turning to glare at Yami again.

"Don't say that. I know you're angry, but don't say I don't love him. You know I do," Yami said in a low voice, but seeing how angry Mokuba was still, he decided that the wise thing to do was to do as the teen had asked and back off, giving him the chance to cool down a bit. If he hung around, Mokuba would stay upset, and that wasn't going to do any of them any good. Exhaling in frustration, he turned to Noa and murmured, "I'll be outside if you need me."

"Good! And stay out!" Mokuba said nastily.

Noa watched as Yami turned to leave, then told Mokuba, "I can't believe you're acting like this. I thought... don't we matter to you at all? Don't I matter?"

Mokuba ignored his boyfriend's entreaties and turned back to Seto, who was laying like a sack of potatoes on the mattress, completely oblivious to all the yelling. There was no way he was just sleeping. Seto was normally a light sleeper. Even sick, it didn't take *that* much to wake him. So why wasn't he moving or grumbling or anything at all?

The last time Mokuba had seen Seto completely unresponsive, it had been Yami's doing, at Death-T. He had shattered Seto's heart, putting him into a coma for months. The doctors hadn't been optimistic about Seto's recovery since they couldn't even begin to comprehend what had happened. So Mokuba had drifted between cautious hope and despair the whole time, terrified that his brother would never regain consciousness again. Yami had never apologized to Seto for it as far as Mokuba knew, and if he wasn't sorry that he had done that to Seto, he certainly wasn't going to bother apologizing to Mokuba, who had been left to carry the burden his brother had left behind.

But Yami wasn't the first person to have hurt Seto like that. At least Yami could try and mitigate what he had done by pointing to Sugoroku, to Yugi, to all his friends. Gozaburo didn't even have that sort of obvious excuse. He had kept Seto overworked, sleep deprived, and beaten down simply because he could. And all Mokuba could do was watch, scampering in to offer what comfort he could before Seto was assigned yet another task.

"Nii-sama, I won't let anyone hurt you again," Mokuba breathed as he tried to arrange his brother's body into a more comfortable position, plumping the pillow under his head and pulling up the rumpled blankets from the foot of the bed. Mokuba meant that though... if no one else cared enough to take care of Seto and treat him right, then he'd do it all himself. After all, it had been just the two of them before...

Behind him, Noa shifted a little nervously on his feet, swallowing hard at the way Mokuba had callously dismissed him. Mokuba wasn't even willing to look at him now. He didn't care, even after what had happened. He had taken Seto's side. Feeling his heart clench, Noa looked away and saw Yami standing silently in the doorframe, sympathy softening the crimson of his eyes.

He didn't want to be pitied. But he'd rather deal with that than endure Mokuba's disregard. "Wait up Yami, I'll come with you," he managed to say, his voice cracking as he fought down the urge to scream, cry, something, anything... But there was no point in that. Mokuba was deaf to anything that didn't have to do with Seto.

By the time Noa left the room, Mokuba still hadn't verbally acknowledged any of what Noa had said. And he refused to even look at Yami once the former Pharaoh had turned to leave. But despite what Noa thought, Mokuba had heard every word. They just hadn't begun sinking in until Yami and Noa had shut the door, leaving behind nothing but silence to buffer the pain and hurt accompanying each of their utterances.

... And Mokuba finally realized how badly he had overreacted.

But there just wasn't anything he could do about any of it at the moment, not until he was absolutely sure Seto was okay. So he sat on the edge of the bed with his back hunched, holding Seto's hand, crying silent tears that dripped off his chin and landed on the sheets below.

* * *


Author's Notes:

November 6, 2007