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: So much for forgive and forget. Trying to make things better only seems to make them worse.
Status: 5 / ?
Archived at: http://www.phenixsol.com/Miko/FF/

* * *

The Cost of Doing Business

Ch. 5: We Stand Alone

* * *

Mokuba was exhausted. Only an hour had passed since the... incident, but it might as well have been a whole year. It was hard on the teen to have to lie there helplessly beside Seto's unresponsive body while his mind wandered unbidden back to the time when he was 10, when he had maintained a similar, painful vigil over his brother...

He wished Noa would poke his head in, or even Yami... anything that would remind him that this time, things were different. That he and Seto weren't alone and wouldn't be abandoned, despite what had happened. That maybe they understood that he hadn't meant the things he had said, that he'd just been scared and upset... but he supposed he couldn't blame them for not wanting to come back in after he had blown up at them the way he did. He really did feel bad about it though...

The slight click of the doorknob turning made him raise his head, cocking it towards the sound. The door swung open and Yami stepped into the room, his expression carefully neutral as he turned to face the bed.

Either he wanted to apologize, or he was a glutton for punishment and was expecting Mokuba to apologize first. Well, he was out of luck if he thought Mokuba would just blurt out "I'm sorry." Because as soon as the teen saw him, he felt his anger picking up again. Yami really had some nerve if he thought he could treat Seto the way he had and then just come waltzing back in... did he think for even a second that Mokuba had forgotten what he had done? Did he think he'd be so easily forgiven?

Intent on holding his ground, Mokuba sat up from where he had been lying by Seto's side, and defiantly glared at the crimson-eyed man as he approached. Yami may have been older, may have held sway over ancient magics that Mokuba couldn't even begin to fathom... but Mokuba was now taller, stronger, and far more determined to protect Seto no matter the cost. There was no way he was going to back down and let Yami have his way!

But Yami didn't seem to be looking for a confrontation. He seemed a bit worn out. He didn't even try to touch Seto, though his gaze lingered on his lover for a long moment. Instead, he veered off towards the nightstand, reaching down to pick up a sheet of paper lying crumpled under a pack of pills.

Mokuba couldn't hold back any longer. "Now what are you up to?" he asked suspiciously.

Yami didn't immediately respond. He had shaken out the instruction sheet and was scanning it rapidly. Finally, he lowered the paper and picked up the pills, grimacing at them. "Delirium," he grumbled, his voice low.

That caught Mokuba off guard. "Wh... what?"

"It's one of the side effects listed. I was reading up on pneumonia online... I wonder if possibly..." He considered how long Seto had been on the oseltamivir. Four days already; he only had two more doses to go. Yami shook his head slightly. That was two doses too many in his opinion, if Seto indeed had been adversely affected by the medication or by a combination of fever and medication. And it wasn't like the pills were some sort of magic cure... from what the doctor had said, all they could do was stop the virus from spreading further, meaning at best, a 10% improvement in recovery time.

It wasn't worth it, considering the risks. Mind made up, Yami gripped the blister pack tightly as he headed towards the bathroom on the other side of the room. Mokuba heard the sound of foil being torn, then the toilet being flushed, and Yami came back sans pills.

Unsure of what to say, considering Yami had just dumped Seto's medication without even consulting him first, Mokuba stared silently at the ex-spirit, who had stopped several feet away from the bed. Yami held his gaze for a moment, then diverted his attention to Seto's still body yet again. He felt a little relief as he studied the gentle rise and fall of his boyfriend's chest... though Seto was still unconscious, he was at least physically stable. Whether his mind was finally settling down was another matter though; they'd have to wait for him to wake up to know for certain if he had improved in that regard.

As if tracking Yami's thoughts, Mokuba shifted himself until he was blocking Yami's view of his brother. "So when's he going to wake up?" he asked a bit nastily. "This isn't right... he's out cold."

Something flickered in those crimson eyes. Hurt maybe, or guilt? "Honestly, I don't know." He exhaled slowly. "I... didn't want to do it, you know. I didn't have a choi..."

Mokuba snarled softly, ignoring the excuses. "You know that if I can't wake him, he might end up at the hospital because of dehydration, or worse."

Yami nodded slowly. Yes, he was aware of that. Then again, if he hadn't done anything, Noa could have ended up in the hospital instead, and for what? For being the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time?

But now was not the time to bring that up. Clearly, Mokuba was focused on one thing and one thing only: Seto's recovery. His patching things up with Noa would unfortunately have to wait until later.

Finally, after a nearly unbearable stretch of silence, Yami said, "I have faith in him to pull through this."

"When? Tomorrow? In a week, maybe two? You've already admitted, you don't even know."

Yami sighed softly. "I'm worried too, but... I guess he needs the rest, needs to settle himself... Once he's ready, he will awaken." It wasn't the answer Mokuba was looking for, but it was the best Yami could give him.

Mokuba simply grunted. Yami wasn't making him feel much better. What if Seto didn't wake up for days? Or for weeks, or months? A whole year? Mokuba couldn't bear the idea of sitting by his side for an endless stretch of time, waiting, hoping for some sign of consciousness... not again.

"I promise, he'll be okay," Yami breathed.

Mokuba looked up in surprise as a hand alighted on his head. He hadn't realized the crimson-eyed man had stepped within arm's reach. But he didn't want to be treated like some ignorant kid, getting a pat on the head and pretty lies in his ear...

The black-haired teen shook the hand off, ignoring Yami's sound of disappointment. He wasn't ready to forgive him. Hell, he didn't even want to be talking to Yami if all he was going to do was make vague promises. He just wanted Seto to be okay. And until he was, there was nothing more to talk about.

* * *

Frustrated with his continued inability to concentrate, Noa banged his fingers down onto his keyboard, accidentally deleting the changes he had just made on a page of code. He groaned, more from annoyance than anything else... it wasn't like the edits he had made were any good. He was beginning to feel as inept as the programmers who were relying on him to clean up their mess. Already, a whole hour had been wasted on that single page of code. But... there were so many things on his mind, and the room was just too damn quiet...

At least Yami had kept him company earlier, though neither one of them spoke about what had happened. Yami probably would have brought it up, but Noa hadn't been in the mood for conversation. Not that that had stopped Yami from fixing his sympathetic gaze on the teen's back...

The door cracked open, and Noa couldn't help but look up to watch as Yami crept back into the office. The ex-spirit's face was grim. Noa knew better than to ask if Seto was still out for the count - it was obvious he was still sleeping off whatever Yami had done to him. But Noa was curious about Mokuba... Was he beginning to regret lashing out at them? Or was he still angry? Was he crying and wanting to see Noa? Or had he not even asked about him?

Seeing the unasked questions in Noa's blue eyes, Yami went ahead and told him, "I dumped the pills. Seto seems okay for now, but he's still unconscious. Mokuba... Mokuba wasn't happy to see me..."

Noa's lips parted in slow exhalation. He had to know... "Did he... say anything about me?" he rasped. Damn, he had hoped that things would've improved at least a little bit, but apparently they hadn't.

As tempted as he was to lie, Yami could only offer the truth. He shook his head slightly as he approached the teen. "He's so worried about Seto. And he's scared. I guess I can't blame him, considering..."

Disappointed, Noa looked away, then he felt Yami's arm wrap itself around his shoulder. He shut his eyes, suddenly feeling unreasonably angry. "And he kicked you out, right?" He felt Yami shrug against his arm. "Don't bother feeling sorry for me, I don't need it."

Yami didn't let go. Instead, he began leaning against Noa a bit, resting his forehead on the younger Kaiba's shoulder, sighing. "I'm not doing this because I feel sorry for you. I'm here because I understand, and I care... I worry about you and Mokuba just as much as I worry about Seto."

Yeah, right. "And if Mokuba wasn't with Seto? You'd be there instead. You wouldn't be wasting time here, with me."

"Don't say that. This isn't a waste of time. Would it make me feel better to be with Seto? I won't lie; of course it would, because he's my lover and he's sick and he needs someone to watch over him, especially right now. And it worries me too, not knowing when he'll wake up, or... if he'll really be any better. I can only hope. But right now... even if I were there, sitting with him... that wouldn't help with either of those things. But you, on the other hand..." Yami's fingers touched down on the side of Noa's neck. There was already evidence of a bruise forming... the skin looked pink and swollen, but given the nature of Seto's attack, it wasn't nearly as bad as it could have been. "How do you feel?"

Noa froze momentarily, then mumbled, "I'll live."

"I don't doubt that. But how do you feel? Are you sure you don't want an ice pack?"

"... Why bother?"

"It might help with the bru..."

Noa snorted. "No, I mean, why do you care? Mokuba doesn't. And Seto wants me dead."

Yami nearly blurted out, "He doesn't want you dead," but given the fact that the brunette had been vigorously trying to strangle the teen only a short time ago, he couldn't say that Noa's assumption wasn't true. Clearly, something had compelled Seto to react that way, something more than just confusion.

He thought about the blind rage that had driven Seto's attack, and the things he had said...

"I won't let you take him from me. I'll save you, Mokuba, I swear."

Save him? From Noa?

Had Seto been thinking about the events from a couple months earlier, when he had found out about the change in Noa and Mokuba's relationship from being stepsiblings to being boyfriends? He had thought Noa and Seto had settled things between them... they had both apologized to each other, and Seto had promised to not lay a hand on him again after having attempted to throttle him that time...

But now that he thought about it, he realized that Seto's frightening reaction during that incident had stemmed from a much earlier occurrence. Four years ago, they had all been trapped in the virtual world that had been Noa's home. Noa had taken great pains to make the stay hellish for everyone, but had been cruelest towards Seto, whom he blamed for stealing his father's attention despite the fact that Seto hadn't even known about Noa's existence. The blame really should've been placed on Gozaburo, but because Noa couldn't bring himself to face the truth, he had turned his rage and confusion on Seto instead. In a bid for revenge, he had hit Seto where it hurt most, kidnapping Mokuba, brainwashing him, and turning him against his big brother, then turning them both to stone when Seto finally freed Mokuba from the spell he was under.

Yami had been outraged by Noa's actions at the time. But he knew his outrage had to have paled in comparison to the nightmare that Seto had been going through. No wonder it still haunted him. No wonder he and Noa had gotten into that fight a little over two months ago.

... It was like history was repeating itself. They couldn't keep going on like this.

Yami tried to think of what had happened when the two had finally sat down in Seto's office to resolve things after Seto's previous attempt to strangle Noa. It had gone more like a business meeting than a family discussion, now that Yami stopped to think about it. Negotiations with terms and conditions... finally ending with a gentleman's agreement. So maybe... they hadn't really forgiven each other. Maybe they had made up because they both loved Mokuba first and foremost, not because they had been ready to put aside their differences and truly accept one another. After all, Seto still hadn't decided to entrust Noa with responsibilities at Kaiba Corp., which definitely said *something* about his perspective on the matter. Yami wondered if Noa had noticed that as well...

"Are you still mad at Seto?" the ex-spirit asked suddenly.

The green-haired teen blinked in surprise at the query, but then raised a hand to gingerly probe at his battered throat. "What do you think?"

Yami shook his head, realizing how badly he had phrased the question. "I didn't mean... Sorry. I was referring to what happened two months ago," he muttered.

Noa gave a Yami a weird look. What the hell? "Uh... He apologized, and so did I."

"But maybe he didn't do it for the right reasons. Maybe he did it because that's what Mokuba wanted. Not to say that he wasn't sorry, because I know he realized that he had overreacted, and badly, but I don't think... he really considered his own feelings on the matter."

"Why are you bringing this up now? Are you trying to say he's still mad about me dating Mokuba?"

"No. But I'm not sure if he ever really forgave you for what happened back in the virtual world either."

Noa snorted dismissively at that, though truth be told, he wasn't sure of how he ought to respond. The time he had spent in the virtual world wasn't exactly something he thought fondly of either.

"You tore apart his bond with Mokuba... that isn't something that he can just push aside and forget, even with the passage of years," Yami continued on to say. "That latent fear fueled his latest hallucination. He thought he was back in the virtual world, and was fighting to win Mokuba back with everything he had. If the two of you really had resolved your differences, it wouldn't have happened."

"So... you're saying it's all my fault, and he's always going to hate me, he just hasn't tried killing me more often because he was able to restrain himself before," Noa commented flatly. "And Mokuba would rather stay by his side even after that, and you're the only one who cares if I live at all."

"No, because this isn't something that can be fixed by one 'side' or the other. Both of you have to want to resolve things in order for that to happen. Look, Seto may hate what you've done, but I know he doesn't hate you as a person either. He just hasn't really given himself the chance to consider how he feels about you, apart from Mokuba's feelings I mean."

"Well, I said I was sorry..." Noa muttered stubbornly.

"But you didn't apologize for the things you did in the virtual world," Yami sternly pointed out. "You never have."

Noa lowered his gaze and gave a small shrug again. "I apologized for... picking a fight with him. For hurting Mokuba's feelings that way," he mumbled, thinking back to what he had said that day. It wasn't like Seto had asked for anything more, and Noa had been willing to concede only as much as required... He had his pride too, or had everyone forgotten that?

"Are you even sorry about what you did in the virtual world? Yes or no?"

The green-haired teen swallowed hard, but his heart was lodged in his throat. It sounded like Yami was implying that he too would never forgive Noa for what he had done back then. If that was true, then he had lost the only support he had left in the world... It was a terrifying realization. He'd rather die than be alone again... "You're still mad about what I did to you and Yugi and the others, aren't you? I never said I was sorry to you, either," Noa blurted out anxiously, his voice trembling despite the efforts he made to keep it steady.

Yami gave the question careful consideration before answering. "Back when we were looking for the exit out of the virtual world, Yugi told me he believed in you. So I was willing to give you the benefit of the doubt. And then you betrayed us, again..."

"I almost didn't go through with my plan," Noa whispered. "I thought Mokuba was confused, because he still seemed to like me. I felt a little guilty for what I had done to him. But... I was scared. I didn't want to be alone. I didn't want to die, not again."

"I know. I... we've got that in common, don't we?" Yami sighed ruefully. "Yugi was right, anyways. You came through in the end. You got us all out of there and then returned Mokuba's body to him, knowing that it was a death sentence for you. So no, I don't hold what happened in there against you anymore. How can I, when you made the ultimate sacrifice for us?"

Noa's face crumpled slightly, his eyes misting over. He looked so vulnerable, like someone who didn't have a friend in the world. He reminded Yami so much of Seto when he was younger, when it was just him and Mokuba against the world, except Noa didn't even have Mokuba at the moment... It was heartbreaking.

Yami gently pulled the teen into his arms, smoothing down his hair, whispering reassurances... and Noa just broke.

"I'm sorry. I'm really sorry," Noa choked. Like Seto, he wasn't one to give in to the urge to cry, but Yami could hear his tears in his voice. "I don't want you to be mad. I don't want you to hate me. I'm so sorry about what I did..."

"It's all right. It'll be okay. I knew, even before you said anything, that you were sorry. I've known for a long time."

Noa clung to Yami even more desperately. "But I... I never said it. And I never told Seto. That's why he hates me!" he wailed into Yami's shoulder.

"He doesn't hate you, and neither do I. Noa, we love you like a little brother..."

"Maybe you do. But I don't think... he'll ever really forgive me."

Yami shook his head, feeling Noa's hair tickling his cheek at the motion. But he didn't back off, and didn't let go. "When Seto's feeling a bit better... you need to sit down and talk to him. Tell him exactly how you feel."

Noa's breath hitched. At the moment, he was almost too scared to even be in the same room with Seto. Not that he'd admit that, not to Yami. "But what if... what if he won't listen?" he asked instead, pulling away to study Yami's reaction.

A sympathetic smile alighted on the former Pharaoh's lips. "He will. He might not say much in return, but if you broach the subject, he'll listen. And if you're worried about how he might react, I'll be happy to sit in with you. Or you could ask Mokuba to."


"It's not a hopeless situation. Mokuba's just very upset right now, and there's nothing I can do to reassure him. Not that that gives him the right to brush you aside, because you're hurting too, but I can understand his dilemma. When push comes to shove, sometimes people do things that they regret later. You understand that, right? So try not to be too angry with him..."

"I'm not. I'm just... he got mad because I stuck up for you, because I blamed Seto for what happened... but what else could I do? You tried to help me..."

"I couldn't stand idly by while your life was in danger," Yami said grimly. "I wish there had been another option, a gentler one... I tried to just pull him away, but..."

Noa nodded in sympathy, then stood up slowly. The crimson-eyed man had enough guilt to deal with. He didn't need Mokuba making things worse for him. Pushing aside his own fears and concerns, he said, "I'm going to go check in on Mokuba, and maybe try talking to him a bit. No matter how mad he is, he has to know... you did the only thing you could. It doesn't mean you don't have Seto's best interests in mind, or that you care about him any less than before."

"He might not be ready to talk. Don't force it," Yami warned, but he sounded tired.

"I won't," Noa assured him. "But since I'm not going to get any work done at this rate anyway, I might as well try and make myself useful in some other way." He shrugged to himself, then began shutting down his laptop and clearing off his workspace in anticipation of a painfully long and unproductive afternoon. "Maybe I can at least get him to tolerate your presence again, since it is your bedroom that he's holed up in."

Yami smiled slightly. Noa really was a good person, even if he was a bit abrasive and blunt at times. Then again, most people would say the same about Seto... assuming they got to know him well enough to even see that much. "Thank you. Good luck."

"Keep your fingers crossed," came Noa's reply, and once he was satisfied that the table was about as organized as it could be, he took a deep breath and walked out of the room before his own doubts could dissuade him from what he needed to do for Yami.

* * *

Mokuba felt his lips curling back into a snarl as he heard the door open yet again, and cautious footsteps began padding slowly towards the bed. Damn it, he had just begun to get himself settled again... why did Yami have to come back in? What did it take for him to get the hint that he wasn't welcome? By now, he must've realized that Seto was still as unresponsive as he'd been 15 minutes earlier... so there was no reason for him to be hanging around. Or was he thinking Mokuba had "cooled off" enough to want to talk?

Not a chance in hell! Angry that Yami was completely disregarding his wishes, Mokuba sat up, determined to just tell the ex-spirit off, but it wasn't Yami blinking back at him from across the room...

"Noa?" Mokuba let out a breath he hadn't remembered holding in. Suddenly, he felt stupid for letting his paranoia get the best of him. It was just Noa, not Yami.

"Hey," Noa responded hesitantly. Although Mokuba seemed a little calmer now, he had looked so pissed off moments earlier that the older teen had totally forgotten about what he wanted to say.

Mokuba was silent for several seconds, as if he too were considering what he wanted to say... Finally, he cocked his head, his attention caught by Noa's injuries and the memories they elicited, then in a slightly more hushed tone, asked, "How are you feeling?" He rose to his feet, stepping closer to get a better look at his boyfriend, concern clouding his eyes.

"Okay, I guess. A little sore."

"... You need a doctor? Aspirin maybe, an ice pack...?"


"Good. I mean... I... uh...."

"Yeah..." Great, now they were both floundering around as if they couldn't even remember how to converse with one another. Noa shrugged helplessly as he began rubbing self consciously at his neck. He couldn't help but think of Yami asking the same question Mokuba had just asked, and the subsequent discussion / argument that had arisen. He was haunted by his own words to Yami: Why do you care? Mokuba doesn't...

"The things I said earlier... I didn't mean them," Mokuba suddenly said.

"What do you mean?" There were so many words exchanged earlier, angry ones; they'd been slung around carelessly like debris in a landfill...

"I shouldn't have snapped at you like that. You do matter to me." Mokuba's voice was so soft and sad that Noa nearly missed his admission.

"Wh... what?" Had he voiced his thoughts out loud moments earlier? He was almost certain he hadn't...

The black-haired teen looked straight at him, and took a steadying breath. "I... you had asked me if you mattered to me. Back when..." He exhaled, not wanting to finish the rest of that thought. "Well, you do. You always have."

Noa shut his eyes momentarily, feeling almost dizzy with relief and yet, at the same time, he knew that that hadn't really solved anything. They still had a lot to talk about. And as much as he hated to bring certain things up, he knew he had to. He owed it to Yami, after all. "What about Yami?"

"What about him?" Mokuba inquired, though his voice had begun to take on a slight edge.

"You said some pretty cruel things to hi..."

"Yeah, and he deserved them."

The venom and speed with which that last statement had been delivered was startling, but Noa didn't back down. "Mokuba, you kicked him out of his own bedroom, you told him to go to hell... you told him that he doesn't love Seto, Christ..."

Mokuba glanced down at his big brother, then back at Noa. The storm clouds had rolled back into his eyes. "Look at him. He's practically in a fucking coma," Mokuba hissed dangerously, his voice cracking a bit. "You telling me that's love?! How can Yami do this to him and then claim he loves him in the next breath?!"

"He was trying to protect me! You can't really think he did that to Seto on purpose?!"

"No, but... it doesn't matter! How could he... how could he do this again, when he knows..." Mokuba shook his head wildly, as if that would help him focus on what he was trying to say. "It was bad enough before, but Seto was really sick this time. There was no way he could withstand Yami's Shadow Magic, and Yami knew that and used it on him anyway."

Noa blinked, confused. This time? Again? "What do you mean?" He paused, sensing that he needed to choose his words carefully. "Has something like this happened before?"

Mokuba suddenly froze, his lips pursing slightly. His breath made a whistling sound as it escaped between his teeth. "Huh. I guess... That's right, we haven't told you..."

Okay, now Noa was truly and utterly lost. It was like trying to put together a puzzle that was missing the majority of its pieces. Grasping for anything that might help him make sense of what his boyfriend was mumbling about, Noa cautiously asked, "Does this have something to do with, um... Death-T?"

Mokuba reacted so strongly that he actually took a step back, as if he'd just seen a ghost. "How did... where did you hear that from?"

"I heard Seto mention it before," Noa explained sullenly. Mokuba was beginning to stare at him suspiciously, so he quickly followed up his explanation with the obvious question. "Why, what is it?"

The younger teen looked over at Seto again, almost apologetically. "Guess I owe it to you to explain," he told Noa after a minute, though he didn't meet his boyfriend's curious gaze. Instead, Mokuba began looking around the room, almost as if he were searching for a spot that would give them some privacy.

It didn't make sense; Seto was, as Mokuba put it, practically in a coma. What did they need privacy for? Noa was about to point that out when Mokuba came to a decision, saying, "The sitting room is probably about as good as it's going to get, huh? I don't feel like doing the hallway thing again."

"Sure... Whatever you want," Noa agreed.

But Mokuba still seemed unsettled after they sat down in the small seating area off the side of the master bedroom. He was wringing his hands a little; his gaze was still fixed on Seto's body, as if he'd already forgotten about Noa sitting there with him. But Noa wanted an answer, no matter how long it'd take.

Eventually, Mokuba sighed softly and turned back to Noa, his eyes moist. Reluctantly, he began to speak. "Seto and Yami first met because of that fourth Blue Eyes White Dragon. This was back when he was 15. Nii-sama had been trying to track down the dragons, and had seen the card at Mr. Mutou's shop. He had been so excited; it was the first time he'd seen the real deal! He offered to trade his entire briefcase of cards for it, but Mr. Mutou refused him, saying that the card was worth more to him than anything Seto had. I guess the next day, Yugi took the card to school with him, and Nii-sama felt compelled to... procure it through less than honest means," Mokuba said with distaste.

"Is that when it got ripped up?" Noa asked, thinking back to the end of the Grand Prix and the surprised look on Mokuba's face when he saw that the card had somehow gotten fixed.

"Not quite. Yami came out to challenge Nii-sama to a Shadow Game... a penalty game, to get the card back. And the penalty was a nightmare, an illusion of death. Night after night, Seto suffered through that nightmare... He couldn't accept the fact that he had lost to Yami when he should've won. He always won! But... that Blue Eyes had turned on him, and he lost. That's why he decided to give Yami a taste of his own medicine. So he built the Death Theme Park, Death-T for short, and 'invited' Yugi and the others participate in it."

"Uh, how did he get them to agree to it? I can't imagine something called 'Death-T' would attract many willing participants..."

Mokuba made a pained sound. He seemed to be evaluating whether or not he wanted to continue, but he knew he owed Noa the truth. "He... sorta had Mr. Mutou kidnapped and forced him into a duel. After Mr. Mutou lost, Nii-sama tore up his Blue Eyes and gave him a penalty via a death simulation chamber, which he had created to replicate the nightmare Yami had given him..."

The green-haired teen shook his head as his boyfriend sucked in another breath in order to continue. Noa's thoughts momentarily drifted to Sugoroku. He liked the elderly man... like everyone else, he couldn't help but see him as a grandfather of sorts, especially since he couldn't remember if he ever had grandparents of his own. Sugoroku had even spent Christmas morning with them the previous year. He didn't remember seeing any signs of animosity between him and Seto. And he had given Seto that last Blue Eyes at the conclusion of the Kaiba Corp. Grand Prix. But... it almost didn't make sense. Seto had done such terrible things to Sugoroku; how could he stand being in the same house with him, or approve of Yami dating him? And yet, somehow he had forgiven Seto...

"... That's why Yugi and Yami finally agreed to participate, because that was the price they had to pay to get Mr. Mutou out of the death simulation chamber. It's probably a good thing they did, since the old man had a heart attack over it. Then Death-T really began. Of course, thanks to Jou and Honda and Anzu's help, they managed to get through all the obstacles to duel Seto. When Yami won again, he gave Nii-sama another penalty, Mind Crushing him and shattering his heart. He was left in a coma for nearly a year while he tried to piece it back together again... and I was left to deal with the Big Five, along with the rest of Kaiba Corp."

The news came as a shock. The Big Five had never mentioned anything about that, and that was a pretty big thing to leave out. Noa literally couldn't think of a thing to say in response, but Mokuba was now looking at him with weary expectancy, as if awaiting judgement. He focused on him so intently that Noa just blurted out the first thing that popped into his head. "And we thought it was a good idea for them to date because...?"

"That's not funny," Mokuba scolded, but reminiscing about the past had taken enough out of him that it was easier for him to just address Noa's comment instead of complaining about it further. "I wouldn't ever have considered setting them up if Nii-sama hadn't been obsessed with Yami in that way. I just wanted him to be happy... I thought it'd help him to have a boyfriend. "

"I think it has." Seto was a much bigger ass before Yami.

Mokuba's eyes slid shut, his brow furrowing. He tilted his head back. "How could he do this to him?" he moaned once again. "I trusted him. I even backed him up when Nii-sama tried to break up with him. Seto doesn't deserve this..."

"Sounds like what you're mad about is that you feel like Yami betrayed you, not Seto," Noa muttered, his bitterness infecting his tone.

"No! This isn't about me..."

"Right. Because it would've been better if Yami had done nothing at all, huh?" Noa bit out, struggling to rein in his temper.

Mokuba suddenly jumped to his feet. "That's not what I'm saying! What the hell is wrong with you?"

Noa also rose to his feet, deliberately matching the younger teen move for move. "Look, I've accepted that if I want to be with you, I'll always have to be number two in your life. Fine, whatever. You don't hear me bitching about that right now, do you? But you know Yami did the right thing; you're just so mad you can't see beyond this... betrayal. You're not even thinking about Seto right now!"

"How can you say that?! You think that..."

"I can say it because I know Seto wouldn't want to see you and Yami at odds. And he wouldn't want you fighting his fights for him. If he's gonna be mad at Yami when he wakes up - and he won't be, but if he were - then fine, then they can fight amongst themselves. But it's not up to you to do that for him, or worse, claim that you're doing it for him when you're only doing it yourself," Noa answered stiffly.

Mokuba's eyes flashed like the discharge of lightning amidst rain darkened skies. "Nii-sama's business IS my business. It sounds more to me like YOU'RE pissed because you think I didn't do enough to help you earlier. Well, what did you expect me to do?! I tried to stop him and I couldn't and don't you think I feel terrible about that? Why are you yelling at me when I didn't do anything wrong?!!"

Hearing the hurt in Mokuba's voice, Noa automatically began responding to it. "I... I'm not saying you didn't do enough. But it's not up to you to punish Yami." He winced as he said that, anticipating Mokuba to yell back that yes, it was his business, and maybe Noa should butt out. Or something like that.

But Mokuba actually shut up for a second. He seemed to be mulling something over as he began restlessly pacing back and forth. Maybe some of what Noa had said was sinking into his skull. Or...

He came to a stop, then half turned towards Noa, sparing him a hesitant glance. "I was there too. Death-T, I mean," Mokuba admitted haltingly. "I wanted to kill Yami for what he had done. I had already challenged him twice before behind Nii-sama's back... but I was sure this time, I'd pull off a win. I had to; I knew Nii-sama would be watching and he already told me that I wouldn't be able to do it. I just wanted... to prove to him that I could. So on the fourth level, I challenged Yami one more time, to a game of Capsule Monsters Chess. That was my game! But I lost, again. Nii-sama... gave me the punishment that should have been Yami's. But Yami came back and pulled me out of the death simulation chamber... and, well, you know the rest."

Noa snorted. "... No wonder Yami Mind Crushed him, then," he snarled, though that was mild compared to what he wanted to say. Seto got exactly what he deserved! Bad enough that Seto wanted him dead, but Mokuba? He had thought that Mokuba was the one person that Seto would never hurt, the one person that Seto would give his life for without reservation. How wrong he was! He felt his blood boiling just thinking about it.

"He had no right. He didn't understand what Nii-sama had been through. You don't either," Mokuba accused, seeing the rage in his boyfriend's eyes. "I thought you'd understand. But I guess all that stuff I talked about out in the hallway earlier didn't mean a thing, huh?"

"What, about my father?"

"You think Seto was always like this?" Mokuba demanded.

The older teen shrugged. "Hell if I know. I don't think he was as innocent as you'd like to believe, though. Seems to me he instigated a lot of the fights with my father."

In a split second, Mokuba's face reddened with rage, and the entire room seemed to darken in reaction to his mood. He couldn't remember the last time he'd been this angry. "I dare you to say that again to my face!!" he bellowed.

"Your brother got what he deserved. He tried to play my father and got in over his head. It's his own fault!" Noa unleashed in return.

"How DARE you! You have no idea... no idea at all of the HELL my brother went through for me!"

"I know that he tried to KILL you! And yet you defend him? How can you stand by him after that?!"

"You think he wanted to be with a bastard like Gozaburo? He did it so that I would have a home, so that I would be provided for, so that I wouldn't be separated from the only family I had left since NO ONE wanted me... only him!"

Noa's eyes widened slightly. He hadn't ever considered how hard it must've been to try and convince prospective parents to take a pair of kids... and had never considered the possibility of no one wanting Mokuba when he was far more likeable than his older brother. "Mok..."

"He never would have lost himself if it weren't for me! He sacrificed everything he had, sold his heart and soul to the devil - your father - for my sake!" Mokuba continued on, viciously emphasizing each and every word, honing them into verbal daggers.

Then suddenly, Mokuba's anger seemed to dissipate slightly, though it continued to smolder like the embers left behind after a raging fire. "Do you know why he tried to kill me?" he choked out. "Gozaburo had twisted Nii-sama's soul so completely that he couldn't tell right from wrong anymore. But he knew it was his duty... no, his privilege... to protect me from anything that was a threat, and in that, he included himself. He kept trying to push me away so that he wouldn't accidentally hurt me... but I wouldn't leave him. I couldn't. The only thing I ever wanted was to be with him. And then he went too far and ended up doing what he feared most..."

Tears welled up now, stinging Mokuba's eyes, but he pressed on, his voice growing louder in agitation once again. "You think I ought to abandon him for that. You wonder why I'm sticking up for him. It's because I love him, because he loves me, and he gave up everything he had for me... and I'm not going to let you, or anyone else, disparage that!"

Noa's mouth was hanging open slightly by time the black-haired teen paused for breath, as if he'd been caught mid-sentence but was suddenly struck dumb. He didn't know what he could say to that, or if he even ought to say anything. He almost felt... numb. Why hadn't he known about any of these things earlier? Did Seto and Mokuba really have that little faith in him? Was he really that much of an intrusion into their lives?

A darkly satisfied look settled onto Mokuba's tear stained face. "It was pretty pathetic listening to you defend your father even though he wouldn't do for you half the things Nii-sama has done for me. Maybe I should feel sorry for you instead. Nii-sama and I are a team, and we always will be. He always said we never needed anyone else, because... you just can't rely on other people. I had hoped you and Yami would be the exceptions to that, but I guess Nii-sama was right!"

"Even your brother knows that's not true, not anymore," interrupted a deep voice from the doorway. Mokuba quickly spun around, scowling when he spotted Yami leaning against the doorjamb, his arms folded.

Noa looked over as well, albeit it more slowly, almost as if he couldn't believe Yami was standing there. He sank into the closest seat, feeling slightly disoriented and confused. He wasn't sure if he ought to be relieved at the reprieve, or horrified at the prospect of the ex-spirit having overheard the nastiest parts of the argument. "Yami..."

"What now? Come to fuck things up even worse?" Mokuba yelled, glad for a new target to fling his fury at, but Yami simply shook his head and stepped closer instead.

"Do you think Seto would want to wake up to the two of you fighting, and learn that he was the cause of it?" Yami asked.

"Well you won't have to worry about that... or did you already forget about what you've done?! " Mokuba snapped. "And just how much of our 'discussion' were you listening in on, anyways?"

Yami ignored the first accusation, knowing that there was nothing he could say to make Mokuba feel better, and concentrated instead on the latter. "I could hear you both yelling from all the way down the hallway. So it wasn't like I had to try to listen in," he explained as he sat himself down in a nearby seat. He silently urged Mokuba to do the same, but the taller teen stubbornly stayed on his feet, his body still tense with anger.

Yami sighed. "I know you love your brother more than anything, Mokuba. I know you want to protect him. I know you think I've gone too far, that I've done something to unfairly punish Seto - and you're not going to think otherwise until he's awake - but you're wrong. I love him with every fiber of my being... and it tore me apart, having to turn my magic against him. But I forced myself to do it because there was no other choice. I knew you'd be absolutely livid with me... and I thought it'd do you more harm than good for me to stay by Seto's side, so I entrusted him to your care. But I shouldn't have done that. I have a responsibility not only to Seto, but to you as well. As much as you needed time to cool off, you needed someone here with you even more. You aren't alone, Mokuba."

"Bullshit," Mokuba hissed under his breath, but it was lacking the strength of his earlier outbursts. He really wanted to stay angry, but his earlier fight with Noa had taken a lot out of him, and he just couldn't drum up the energy for another round, not right now. But that didn't mean he had forgiven Yami either...

With nothing else to say to either Noa or Yami, Mokuba abruptly whirled and stalked out of the sitting room to rejoin Seto in bed.

Yami shook his head slowly. He wished he could do something to get through to Mokuba, but until Seto was awake again, the younger teen would be deaf to anything he had to say. But at least he hadn't tried to order him out of the room again...

The sound of Noa shifting uncomfortably in his seat snapped Yami's attention back to the sitting area. The green-haired teen seemed a little bewildered still, like a deer caught in headlights. Everything that Mokuba had yelled at him had been so unexpected, so startling... he didn't even know where to start to make sense of it all.

"Noa..." Yami began, his voice softer than before. It was barely above a whisper. "What Mokuba said about not being able to rely on others... he's wrong, you know. But he's had as hard of a time as Seto... just in a different way. He had to watch it all happen. He's scarred too. Only his scars aren't physical."

"I... I didn't know," Noa stammered. He really hadn't. He wished he had just kept his mouth shut, but he'd been so upset by everything that had happened already, it hadn't taken much to get him worked up all over again. And hearing about Seto actually attempting to kill Mokuba... that had just been too much to take, and the hateful comments that had been ready and waiting, coating his tongue like bitter medicine, demanded to be spat out...

"I know. It's a lot to take in. It was my first time hearing about some of it, too," Yami admitted with a sigh. "And plus, it never occurred to me... you weren't around for it - Death-T I mean. I guess it's something none of us like talking about. But, as Seto's so fond of reminding me, the past is past, and you can't change it. All you can do is hold on to the knowledge, so that you don't repeat your mistakes. I hope you'll remember that as well."

"I'll... try." It wasn't quite a promise, but he meant what he said.

"That's all I can ask," Yami replied with a slight smile, though it didn't quite reach his eyes, and Noa realized how much this had to be bothering the ex-spirit as well. It didn't seem fair for him and Mokuba to burden him with all their problems too, but at the moment, Yami seemed to be the only pillar he could lean on.

"So... now what?" Noa risked a glance towards the bed, but Mokuba gave no indication that he was bothering to listen in on their conversation.

Yami exhaled and leaned back into his seat a little, as if he knew he'd be there for a while. And he was now looking towards the bed as well, though Noa knew Yami's attention wasn't on Mokuba. "Now... we wait."

"For Seto?"

Yami simply nodded.

Noa didn't say anything else. He got up, pulled his seat closer to Yami's, then settled himself back down onto it. But... it wasn't quite enough. So Noa hunkered down and leaned closer, seeking some sort of solace, and Yami didn't protest when his head finally made contact with his shoulder. Perhaps they both needed reassurance. It wasn't the same as sitting with their respective boyfriends, but for the time being, it would have to be enough.

* * *


Author's Notes:

December 4, 2007