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: The truth triggers another nightmare and raises yet more ghosts from their graves.
Status: 7 / ?
Archived at: http://www.phenixsol.com/Miko/FF/

* * *

The Cost of Doing Business

Ch. 7: Cutthroat Puppets

* * *

The first thing out of Seto’s mouth when he was awakened a few hours later was, "Tell me what happened."

Yami and Mokuba both stared at him, a little surprised that he remembered but pleased to hear it as well, for that at least confirmed that he was remaining stable. But that didn’t mean they were looking forward to explaining what had happened either…

Mokuba slanted a glance at the crimson-eyed man standing across the bed from him. "You get to tell him," he said forcefully, crossing his arms over his chest. He wanted Yami admit to what he had done, wanted Seto to hear it straight from the source… and too, he was curious what sort of excuses Yami would offer to explain his actions. After all, they really hadn’t talked since Yami Mind Crushed Seto…

Yami gave a slow nod as he sat down on the edge of the bed. He’d been thinking along the same lines as Mokuba, and was glad the teen had decided to give him the opportunity to tell his side of the story, though he was under no illusions that things would get resolved that easily. Even though Seto had come through his ordeal okay, Mokuba was still very upset. Not that this was the first time Mokuba had gotten mad at him, but in the past he’d always forgiven him once his brother had recovered...

It was different this time though; Mokuba’s expectations were different now. Back before Seto and Yami had become lovers, back before they were even friends… it had been easier to excuse the things Yami had done to Seto. They had started off as enemies – the fact that they had tried to kill one another was par for the course. And Mokuba hadn’t honestly expected anything better when they had progressed to being rivals. After all, rivals could play just as dirty, though their interest had switched to besting one another instead of flat out killing each other. But then they’d become allies… and friends. And the way Yugi and the others always went on about friendship, like it was most important thing in the whole world, Mokuba had to figure that it was a big deal to Yami, too. After that, it had almost seemed logical that they’d end up being lovers, as if they’d been traveling the whole spectrum of relationships just to discover that all they had really wanted was to be together.

Not that Mokuba had a lot of experience with how romantic relationships worked, but he had figured that it was reasonable to expect that Yami would take care of Seto no matter what, that Yami always had Seto’s best interests in mind. That’s why he had actively encouraged them during the early part of their relationship. That’s why he had even stuck by Yami’s side during the worst of the arguments between the two. And that’s why he now felt betrayed, not just for Seto, but for himself as well.

But Yami knew… Seto would understand why he had done what he had done. He’d wholeheartedly approve, because he would have done the same had the situation been reversed. Yami was completely confident of that. And it was that confidence that carried him, that got him to look Seto straight in the eye, as he began to speak.

"I think you had a bad reaction to one of your prescriptions. You’ve been hallucinating the last few days…"

Seto looked stunned, as if he’d been slapped. Clearly that wasn’t the sort of thing he was expecting to hear. "What was I hallucinating?" he asked cautiously after a slight pause.

"It doesn’t matter. It wasn’t your fault, Nii-sama," Mokuba instantly interjected.

Although grateful for his little brother’s support, what Seto wanted even more was to know the truth. Had he said something or done something inappropriate? He turned and looked at Yami expectantly, steeling himself for the worst. "Tell me."

The former Pharaoh nodded. "You were yelling at Gozaburo mostly, fighting against him and his bodyguards. There didn’t seem to be much that we could do other than to keep an eye on you so you wouldn’t accidentally hurt yourself from thrashing around."

"Gozaburo…" Seto felt a sudden flush of shame. He used to have awful, loud nightmares about his adoptive father, ones that would violently wake him from whatever scant sleep he was allowed to get, though Gozaburo had gradually beaten it into him that they were an unacceptable sign of weakness. Not that that had stopped the nightmares of course… Seto had learned to cut off his screams instead. Or at least that was something he had used to be able to swallow down, since it was obvious he hadn’t been able to restrain himself this time, and in Yami’s presence no less!

He wasn’t proud of the weakness he had shown. Even thinking about it felt like handing power over to Gozaburo again, and that was something he could not tolerate. That was why he had never revealed the lovely, sordid details of his upbringing to Yami, so how could the younger man be so sure that what he had witnessed was… "How’d you know what I was…"

Mokuba jumped in with the explanation. "I had to tell him, especially after you got him and Yugi confused. I didn’t want him and Noa to think you were going crazy. I’m sorry."

The young CEO blinked. Noa knew too? Oh great, even better. He’d have to worry about that later though, since the green-haired teen was nowhere to be seen. And frankly, he didn’t want to talk about it anymore, not with anyone. Maybe they would just forget about what they’d seen if he refused to talk about it. But as far as the other thing Mokuba had mentioned… "I confused Yami and Yugi? Why was Yugi here?"

Yami lightly touched his boyfriend’s hand. "He wasn’t. You thought I was Yugi. But I think it was more that you had another flashback, because at one point you conceded that I was the ‘other’ Yugi."

"I…"

"Don’t apologize. We’ve already been through this, even if you don’t remember. I’m not mad."

Yami might’ve not been angry, but that didn’t stop Seto from shaking his head in disgust, even though the movement made his head spin. Medication or no, he couldn’t believe that anything would impair him so badly that he wouldn’t be able to recognize his own boyfriend. But there was something in Yami’s eyes that told him that that wasn’t the worst of it, not that he could imagine how anything could be more unforgivable than mistaking him for someone else. "… There’s something more, isn’t there?"

"You had another hallucination where you thought we were back in Noa’s virtual world, and you attacked him."

"I…" Seto swallowed hard, his throat remaining dry despite his efforts. "Is he okay?" he asked, feeling a bit stupid as soon as the words were out of his mouth. He’d seen Noa standing around earlier and was pretty certain that that hadn’t been a dream, and Yami hadn’t worded it like, "You injured him severely" or anything, so at least he knew he was physically okay. But now that he thought about it, Noa had been standing several yards away from the bed, a wary expression on his face. Seto grimaced. What had he done?

"Physically, he’ll heal quickly enough," Yami sighed, trusting that Seto would catch what was he leaving unsaid. "It could’ve been much worse if I hadn’t stopped you. I had to resort to using my Shadow Magic. We couldn’t get through to you at all."

The guilt coloring Yami’s voice told Seto all he needed to know. Now he understood why he’d felt off - even moreso than he had been lately - when he had woken up that morning, and why Yami had been camped out on the other side of the master suite while Mokuba had been lying by his side. That explained why Noa had been assessing him like he was a rabid dog earlier on, and why Mokuba was still glaring holes through Yami.

Seto coughed weakly, pulling Mokuba’s attention back on him. The simmering anger in the teen’s gray eyes died down immediately, replaced by concern. Seto gave him a shaky smile, then tilted his head towards Yami. "Thank you. You did the right thing."

The brunette was pleased to see Yami nodding in acknowledgement, relief softening the intense crimson of his eyes, but Mokuba looked confused, and that in turn perplexed Seto. Why was it so hard for him to understand? Had something else happened? "Mokuba, what is it?"

"But he… but you… you’re sick, and he… he Mind Crushed you. He practically put you into another coma. How can that be ‘the right thing?’ How can you thank him for it?"

Seto sighed to himself. He could feel himself beginning to fade, but there was no way he could go back to sleep with so much unresolved between them. And he knew he was probably the only person the black-haired teen would listen to at the moment. "Mokuba… we need to talk."

Yami smiled slightly in approval, though he knew fixing things wouldn’t be so simple. But it was a start. "I’ll be outside then," he told his lover, kissing him on the forehead before standing up and padding out the door.

After hearing the door click closed, Mokuba exhaled and turned back towards his brother, cocking his head in concern when he saw the wan look on Seto’s face. "You look pretty tired. We can talk later."

"No, Mokuba."

Seeing the determination in his brother’s eyes, Mokuba immediately relented. It’d do them no good to argue about it… Seto was too damn stubborn. And all that arguing would accomplish would be wearing him down even more. "All right…"

A few moments passed in silence as the young billionaire struggled to think of the best way to explain why he approved of Yami’s actions. He needed Mokuba to understand and to accept what Yami had done… that was important to him. It wasn’t good enough to have Mokuba pretending things were okay just because he wanted to make Seto happy. That wouldn’t be enough to pull them back together as a family.

"The most important thing to me… is that you’re happy and safe. Noa too, because he’s part of our family now, and I don’t shirk my responsibilities. Yami knows that, and feels the same." Blue eyes focused sharply on the grim faced teen. "He did exactly as I expected of him. I would not have forgiven him if he had stood by and done nothing to protect Noa."

"But what about Yami’s responsibilities to you?"

"He restrained himself. I certainly didn’t expect that. Since when has he ever held back? He knows I can take it," he replied, almost more to himself than to Mokuba.

The teen nearly rolled his eyes. His brother was lucky to be conscious considering all that had happened… and he was wondering why Yami hadn’t blasted him harder?! "Nii-sama…!"

Seto waved off his alarm. "My point is, I’m not mad at him."

"You should be!"

"But I’m not. He did the right thing for the right reason. If anything, I’m grateful."

"So you’re mad at me instead?"

"Of course not. I’m just… concerned. You can’t stay mad at him, Mokuba. What good will that do?"

Mokuba crossed his arms, holding them tightly against his chest. "I dunno."

Seto sighed. His head hurt, and he was starting to feel a bit frustrated. While Mokuba would always be first and foremost in his heart, he could no longer pretend that Yami’s needs and desires didn’t matter. Once upon a time he would’ve simply broken up with Yami if Mokuba had become upset for any reason with the crimson-eyed man; he would’ve silently swallowed whatever damage he had dealt to Yami’s heart and burdened his own with it until it festered and devoured him from within. But that was no longer a viable solution. It was hard truth to confront: he felt like a traitor for even thinking about giving consideration to anyone outside of Mokuba, but Yami deserved it.

And too, although he had never been good at admonishing his brother, Mokuba was simply wrong in this case. Yami was not to blame for what had happened, and Seto needed Mokuba to understand that, even if it meant having to put his feelings on the table.

"Mokuba… It’s not an easy thing for me to trust people, other than you. But I trust Yami, and he upheld my faith in him by putting Noa’s needs – and yours – above my own. Above his own. If anything, what he did was proof of… just how much he loves us. That’s why… I love him, too," he finished in a hoarse whisper.

Mokuba’s mouth opened slightly, but no sound came out. He racked his brain for something to say. When was the last time his brother had expressed his feelings for Yami? Or for anyone, for that matter? I mean, I always knew that’s how he felt – everyone knows it – but he… he’s never said…

Seto reached out to lightly touch his brother’s wrist, a hint of uncertainty mixed in with the weariness in his eyes. He wasn’t sure if Mokuba understood his explanation, or if he was still too wrapped up in his anger to see that Yami had acted out of a need to protect, not to punish.

"You really… I thought you’d be mad at him. I thought you’d feel like he betrayed you. I mean, I…" The teen faltered as some of the thoughts tumbling around in his head finally collided and began to congeal. He loves him. Is it really that simple?… "Even if he hadn’t given you a reason for what he did, you’d still believe in him, wouldn’t you?"

"Always," Seto said with soft confidence before closing his eyes. Damn, he was spent. But he didn’t want to give in to sleep yet, worried that maybe he still hadn’t said enough to make Mokuba start to rethink te situation. It was about more than just the way the felt about Yami…

The black-haired teen continued to mull things over a minute longer, during which Seto nearly drifted off to sleep despite his efforts, before breaking the silence with a whispered "Nii-sama?"

"… Uhh?"

"You think you can manage to stay awake a minute longer?"

"Mm… hmm…" Actually he didn’t want to sleep at all. He wanted to talk to Yami… there were a lot of things on his mind. But he was just too tired for it.

"I think he’d like to spend some time with you, even if you’re asleep. I bet you’d like that too."

It was a relief to hear that, even though he wasn’t stupid or sleepy enough to think that things would be "all better" between Mokuba and Yami by the time he next awoke. But at least his little brother was making the effort. "Mm…"

Mokuba smiled, though he knew Seto wouldn’t see it, then shifted a little on the edge of the bed before lifting his weight from the mattress. "He should be just outside. I’ll go and get him."

It seemed that only a second had passed before another weight, this one more slight, settled beside him. It had to be Yami then, and Mokuba must’ve been feeling at least a little better about things, for he had sent the crimson-eyed man in alone.

After he had tugged the sheets up over the both of them, Yami whispered a greeting though he didn’t really expect a response. His lover was pretty much out of it. All he really wanted was to make sure Seto got the rest he needed, especially since Mokuba had entrusted him with that duty. Seto’s body was still giving off heat like an oven, but it was hard to tell if he actually felt hot or cold, so Yami figured he’d err on the side of cold and let Seto kick the blankets off if he didn’t like it.

But the young billionaire wasn’t actually asleep yet. He was just at that point where dreams and reality started to merge and meld, where it became impossible for him to discern whether he was actually awake or merely dreaming that he was awake. On some level he knew Yami was there and he took what comfort he could from it, for although he had never admitted it to his boyfriend, his presence had done a lot to stave off random nightmares over the past few years. But even Yami’s presence wasn’t enough to keep this nightmare at bay.

It felt like he was seeing things through a fog, like watching some grainy old horror movie on a broken down TV set. Or… not quite a movie, more like a video game or something. One of those horror games where you just knew that the seemingly quaint town you were in held some terrible secret, except there was no controller in his hands and even if there were, he felt like he didn’t have any control of the situation anyway.

He was standing in front of the Kaiba mansion, but it didn’t look quite right. For one, the fog had become thicker, suffocating the grounds of the estate with a pillowy layer of grayish foam. And more alarmingly, the cars in the driveway weren’t his, and there were a ton of household staff milling about, their faces obscured by the omnipresent mist, when he knew they shouldn’t have been there at all. Determined to find out what was going on, he managed to take a single step forward before his foot connected with something soft and fleshy…

A body had suddenly appeared on the ground in front of him. All he could see was the back and a pair of sock clad feet and a few wisps of hair ruffled by a clichéd breeze, but he immediately knew who it was even without seeing the face. After all, how many other people did he know with hair that shade of blue tinged green?

He wasn’t sure if Noa was alive or dead. He wasn’t moving at all. Seto tried to kneel down to check on him, but a hand suddenly materialized on his shoulder, heavy and oppressive. He didn’t like it. The fingers were digging painfully hard into his skin and muscles, causing him to wince.

"Let go," he finally snarled, after having failed to twist out of the other person’s impossibly tight grasp.

"You’ve forgotten your manners boy, if you think you can order me around," came the haughty response, and Seto froze. There was no mistaking that voice. Gozaburo. But the bastard was dead. He’d seen him go out that window. So… this had to be a dream then… right?

For a moment, everything became indistinct and fuzzy as that realization was enough to pull Seto out of his nightmare temporarily, but then Gozaburo’s voice cut through the fog and drew Seto back in like a leash on a dog.

"You really think you’re better than me, don’t you?" the older man sneered. He spun Seto around, cuffing him roughly before suddenly reaching down to grab his wrists and thrust his hands towards his face. "But just look at what you’ve done!"

Seto’s fingers were warm and sticky with blood… his clothes were stained with it. He hadn’t meant to do it. He didn’t even remember doing it. But the proof was right there in front of him.

I… killed him…

It was strange. He knew he ought to be completely horrified. But instead he was starting to feel numb, like he’d seen it all before.

He shut his eyes, as if that would somehow clear things up. And for a moment, it seemed to have worked. When he had opened them again, the mansion and grounds and even Noa’s body had all but disappeared into the encroaching darkness. For a heartbeat or two he even felt a little relieved because as long as he was alone he figured he couldn’t hurt anyone else, but then he heard a different voice taunt, "So who’ll be your next victim, murderer?"

The voice was all too familiar, but it was impossible. It couldn’t be…

He spun around to face his accuser, his breath catching in his throat when his eyes confirmed what his ears had told him: he was facing off against a younger version of himself.

His doppelganger smirked, his crisp white uniform – just like the one Seto had worn during Death-T – nearly glowing in the darkness. It made him look like an avenging angel… or an unholy specter. "Don’t be so surprised. I am a part of you after all."

"Like hell you are! Go fuck yourself."

"Now now, Seto… Baby… is that anyway to speak to yourself? Besides, you should be grateful to me. Look at everything I’ve done for you. Hell, I’ve even brought you a present." The doppelganger reached behind his back, and suddenly lobbed something at Seto. "Catch!"

The thing hit Seto’s hands with a sticky thud, and as soon as he realized what it was, he dropped it, taking a step back in disgust as it hit the ground and rolled away, leaving a scarlet trail in its wake. Gozaburo… or what was left of him at least. Apparently his doppelganger had gotten to the old bastard and lopped off his head before he’d been able to find another window to toss himself out of.

The doppelganger laughed, taking a few long strides forward to kick Gozaburo’s head out of his way like one would a soccer ball, then slid over towards Seto to circle him like a predatory cat waiting for the right moment to strike. Seto wouldn’t normally have tolerated such a thing from anyone, but he suddenly found himself unable to move, unable to even make a sound of disgust or protest.

"Why fight it? This is who you are," the doppelganger whispered into Seto’s ear, his voice low, his breath groping its way down Seto’s cheek. Then he reached out a hand, trailing it over the back of Seto’s neck in what felt like a teasing caress before slowly closing his fingers, one by one, around Seto’s throat. "I am you," he cooed as he began squeezing, his eyes lighting up with malicious glee. "And once you’re gone, maybe I’ll take care of Mokuba next…"

Seto suddenly jerked awake, the muscles in his chest spasming as he gasped desperately for air, sweat dripping off his forehead from more than just his illness. For an instant, all he could see were Yami’s wide crimson eyes inches away from his face, and he desperately latched onto that familiar sight in the most literal way possible, grabbing Yami by the hair to hold his head in place.

Startled, the former Pharaoh instinctively pulled back and was immediately greeted by several small spikes of pain zipping through his scalp. Seto was holding onto him as if his life depended on it. Unable to pull himself free and unwilling to resort to the use of force, Yami decided to just hold as still as possible while whispering reassurances to Seto. He tried to tell himself not to worry too much about it… At least it wasn’t like before where Seto would look in his direction and not know who he was. At least this time there was recognition in his eyes, even if it was mixed in with thinly veiled panic.

Gradually Seto’s frantic gasping slowed and quieted, and his eyes began to lose that haunted look. His fingers relaxed enough for Yami to slip free, though the younger man made no move to pull away. Instead, he carefully lay himself back down beside Seto, curling up loosely against his side while lightly, repetitively stroking whatever he could reach - shoulders and chest, neck, cheek…

Seto eventually closed his eyes, and Yami held some hope that he’d just go back to sleep, but then the brunette’s raspy voice broke the comfortable silence. "Why did you hold back?"

"Huh?"

"When you Mind Crushed me. You’ve never held back before," Seto mumbled, his eyes still closed.

Yami’s brow furrowed. Wasn’t the answer obvious? "Uh, because I didn’t want to do it in the first place…?"

"I was out of control. And you saw what I did." Blue eyes opened again and focused sharply on Yami. The bruised haze that had clouded them moments before was gone, replaced by the usual brittle frost that Seto wore for the public. The crimson-eyed man reflexively sucked in a breath, steeling himself for whatever Seto was going to say next since it was clear he wasn’t at all satisfied with Yami’s answer. "You should’ve been mad enough to finish me off completely. Why didn’t you?"

"Nothing could make me angry enough to want to hurt you again. Especially considering the circumstances… You were sick and confused. You didn’t do it deliberately. I sure as hell wasn’t going to punish you just because you had a bad reaction to some drugs."

"What does it matter if I did it on purpose or not? I could have killed him," Seto muttered bitterly.

"But you didn’t…"

"God damn it, what’s wrong with you?! You held back because you felt sorry for me because I’m sick? You think that makes any difference to Noa? You think that excuses it?" Seto exploded.

Yami instantly volleyed back. "Of course it makes a difference! You didn’t mean to hurt him, and that’s not an excuse, it’s an explanation! So stop asking me to punish you, because I won’t do it! And I’m not going to let you do it to yourself either. It won’t change anything… and won’t make anything better."

"Stop trying to sugarcoat it! All your ‘explanations’ don’t change the facts. I hurt him, period." Then with extra malice Seto snidely added, "If a rabid dog ever attacks you, I hope you don’t bother trying to reason with it… it just needs to be put down!"

Yami let out a hiss, like a kettle in danger of boiling over. He couldn’t believe how angry and frustrated he was getting when just a few minutes earlier all he had wanted was to help Seto settle down after an apparent nightmare and… and…

It was as if someone had suddenly thrown a bucket of cold water in the ex-spirit’s face, forcing him to mentally step back from the escalating fight and shocking him into clarity at the same time.

What happened in his nightmare? Yami almost felt stupid for not asking himself that earlier. Although Seto had barely made a sound the entire time, he had been tense and trembling while he’d been asleep, and the expression on his face when he had finally been startled awake had been like that of a terrified child. Clearly something had disturbed him enough to unsettle him completely and unleash his rage and anger, because that was the only way he knew to cope with losing control.

It had always been easier to be ignorant and pretend that things were okay because none of them wanted to dwell on the darker things that lay behind them. Yami knew that was true even for him… he wasn’t proud of the things he had done when he had first emerged from the Puzzle. So he couldn’t blame Seto for not wanting to talk about his time at the orphanage or his years under Gozaburo’s heel. That's why he had never asked to talk about those things.

But ignoring the past wasn’t going to make it go away… it only gave their problems time to fester like some sort of infection, bubbling closer and closer to the surface until they spilled over, tainting everything within reach. And Seto was right… he wasn’t in the habit of holding back where his lover was concerned, so why was he choosing to start now?

"Seto, what’s going on? This is about more than just what happened with Noa, isn’t it?"

"What’s that supposed to mean?"

"You weren’t this angry earlier..."

"Hmph. Maybe I just needed some time to think about what I’d done."

"Or maybe you had a nightmare, one that was bad enough to really set you off."

Seto was stunned into silence for a moment, then his eyes narrowed. "You said you’d never invade my privacy!"

Yami shook his head. "I didn’t. I wouldn’t ever do that to you. But I know you well enough that I don’t need our link to tell me that whatever you dreamt about bothered you a lot."

Seto snorted, as if he hadn’t even considered that possibility. But it didn’t lessen his anger any. "You make it sound like I’m some little kid who needs to be coddled! I’m not! I know the difference between a dream and reality."

"That may be true, but when you’re caught in the midst of a nightmare… when your pulse is racing and you’re gasping for breath, is it always so easy to tell the difference?" Yami countered. Then he sighed. He wondered how many of Seto’s nightmares he’d slept through throughout the years. Considering how adamant the older duelist was in denying his need, he was probably in fact desperate for some sort of reassurance, some sort of confirmation that this wasn’t just a lull in a never-ending nightmare. If nothing else, Seto was very predictable that way – the more he wanted something, the harder he fought against it. That way he couldn’t be disappointed when what he hoped for didn’t happen.

For a good minute, Seto sat silently brooding, perhaps mulling over the same sorts of things Yami was pondering, then he blurted out, "I don’t want to talk about it."

Yami nodded. That was exactly what he expected him to say. "If that’s your decision, then I’ll respect it. But you might feel better if you let go, just a little…"

"Why? So you can feel sorry for me? You think just because Mokuba thought it was a good idea to tell you all about the fun I had with Gozaburo that I’m obligated to do the same?"

"Is that what your nightmare was about?"

"You tell me. I bet you think you know everything about that bastard now."

"No. I’m sure there were things that happened that even Mokuba isn’t aware of."

"Shouldn’t you be worrying about what I did to Noa, instead of what Gozaburo may have done to me?"

Yami slowly shook his head. Seto was trying to redirect the discussion into relatively "safer" waters. But Yami refused to be so easily distracted. "We do need to talk about that, in a little bit. But you’re not in the right frame of mind for that right now, and Noa deserves nothing less than your full attention," he said truthfully.

"Hn."

"Besides… I think if there’s going to be any chance of the two of you patching things up, we’ll have to work on you first. After all, you’re the adult, and I think he’s so uncertain about everything right now that he wouldn’t know how broach the subject with you. Think about this logically… if you can’t even talk to me about the things that are currently upsetting you, how do you expect to do something like bridge the gap with Noa?"

"What are you, my therapist? What the fuck do you expect from me? Should we hold hands and cry and talk about our feelings? Next you’ll be suggesting that we hold a séance so I can ‘resolve my issues’ by telling that bastard Gozaburo exactly what I think of him," Seto snarled bitterly, spitting out the words as if they were poisonous.

"Don’t misunderstand me… I’m not saying you should forgive your adoptive father for the things he did to you." Yami’s voice dropped a little. "He had no right to treat you so badly. You didn’t deserve it. But you can’t spend the rest of your life fighting his ghost either, because that’s one fight you can’t win. When we were dueling at Alcatraz, I told you to look beyond your anger and hatred because it was holding you back. In a way, it still is."

"I remember what you said back then. Did you think I forgot? And I tried my best. But it wasn’t enough. Maybe Gozaburo was right about me – I’m no better than he was. Maybe that’s why he chose me to be his heir." He swallowed hard. He could still hear his doppelganger’s whispered words in his ears, still see Noa’s blood staining his hands… "I don’t know why I ever thought I could be anything more."

"Seto…"

The brunette shook his head angrily. He must’ve been getting tired though, because he suddenly admitted, "If I could forget about the past, then maybe I could ‘get over it.’ But I can’t. It’s not that simple. I’m reminded of Gozaburo’s legacy everyday… You know there’s still people who email Kaiba Corp. to inquire about obtaining our warfare technology, or to tell us that their kid was out playing in a field that happened to be laced with old Kaiba Corp. mines? Those were planted before I was even born, and yet, I inherited the problem." A sneer twisted Seto’s lips. "Maybe the company’s default email response should be, ‘To Whom It May Concern: Sorry to hear about your son, but if you could just look beyond your anger and hatred…’"

Despite his exhaustion, Seto was still looking for a fight, pushing with the expectation that Yami would eventually push back, either in anger or frustration. But that wasn’t going to happen; Yami wasn’t going to take the bait now that he understood. It wasn’t just Gozaburo that Seto was fighting but himself as well, or more accurately… the twisted teen that he had once been. Gozaburo’s heir, modeled in his own image, whom Yami had shattered so many years ago… but still haunted Seto like a wraith…

"Seto… I know you’ve tried. That’s why I respect you so much, because you refuse to be a victim. But your fight with Gozaburo is over; he’s gone. And it’s futile to fight with a dead man… all that will do is pull you into the grave that he had dug for himself. But that doesn’t mean the shadow he cast isn’t still there. If you must have an enemy, then that’s the true evil you ought to be fighting."

"But it doesn’t mean a damn thing if I don’t succeed, if I can’t destroy it. Just like my hatred… how am I supposed to destroy something that’s been branded into the core of my being without shattering again?"

"Not everything can be destroyed. Not all battles have an end. Sometimes all you can do is stay in the fight. Because if you stop trying, that’s when you truly lose. And as far as your hatred and anger… while I wanted you to see what lay beyond them, I never intended for you to wipe them out completely. They’re a part of you, your shield and your sword. They’re what enabled you to survive." Yami sighed. "But isn’t it tiring to always be fighting, to always have to struggle, especially when it feels like it’s just you against the world? I’ve told you many times, it isn’t a weakness to trust in others, to open up to them. I won’t betray you; you know that. I love you, Baby."

Seto’s eyes fluttered shut for a moment – whether from exhaustion or disbelief or a little of both, Yami wasn’t quite sure – before opening slightly to look over Yami once more, as if trying to gauge the depth and breadth of the sincerity of his words. "Why do you insist on calling me that?" he finally asked.

Yami cocked his head. It seemed an odd tangent and an even stranger question since they both knew it was just a silly sign of affection, but Seto looked like he really needed to hear the answer. "I like having something special to call you that’s just between you and me. Something that only I have the privilege of using. I don’t do it to bother you. I thought maybe you even kinda liked it."

"I guess… I don’t mind it if you’re the one saying it."

"Who else said it?" Yami asked, a hint of possessiveness coloring his voice.

"No one. Nothing. I just… never mind." Abruptly, Seto rolled over on the bed before muttering in a quiet voice, "I’m not stupid; I know it wasn’t real."

Yami considered that, then decided it wasn’t worth getting into another fight just to squeeze some clarification out of Seto. His boyfriend undoubtedly had a lot on his mind… a lot of things that he had to think about and consider, so it was only fair to back off a little so that he’d have the time he needed to let it all sink in. But backing off wasn’t the same as walking away either… He recognized that Seto was feeling a little insecure, that he was still haunted by whatever he’d seen in his nightmare. And he didn’t want his lover to think he’d ever have to face another nightmare alone.

He gently placed one hand on Seto’s shoulder and slipped the other one over Seto’s curled up fingers. Seconds ticked by. Seto didn’t say anything, didn’t even move a muscle at first… but then slowly he relaxed his hand and let Yami’s fingers slip between his before closing his hand back around them.

Yami slid under the sheets behind him, obviously planning on staying for the long haul. Seto sighed, but didn’t pull away. He was very tired, too tired to stay awake simply to avoid his nightmares. Maybe Yami’s presence wouldn’t be enough once again. Maybe he was stupid or weak for relying on it. But Yami wanted him to believe in him, so he would try, and hope that maybe it’d be enough to at least take the edge off of the worst of it.

* * *

TBC

Author’s Notes:

February 20, 2008